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´╗┐Title: A Siren
Author: Trollope, Thomas Adolphus, 1810-1892
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 "A Siren" ***

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A SIREN

By Thomas Adolphus Trollope



    CONTENTS

    BOOK I
    Ash Wednesday Morning
    CHAPTER
    I     The Last Night of Carnival
    II    Apollo Vindex
    III   St. Apollinare in Classe
    IV    Father Fabiano
    V     "The Hours passed, and still she came not"
    VI    Gigia's Opinion
    VII   An Attorney-at-Law in the Papal States
    VIII  Lost in the Forest
    IX    "Passa la bella Donna e par che dorma"

    BOOK II
    Four Months Before That Ash Wednesday Morning
    CHAPTER
    I     How the Good News came to Ravenna
    II    The Marchese Lamberto di Castelmare
    III   The Impresario's Report
    IV    Paolina Foscarelli
    V     Rivalry
    VI    The Beginning of Trouble
    VII   The Teaching of a Great Love
    VIII  A Change in the Situation
    IX    Uncle and Nephew
    X     The Coutessa Violante
    XI    The Cardinal's Reception, and the Marchese's Ball
    XII   The Arrival of the "Diva"

    BOOK III
    "Sirenum Pocula"
    CHAPTER
    I     "Diva Potens"
    II    An Adopted Father and an Adopted Daughter
    III   "Armed at All Points"
    IV    Throwing the Line
    V     After-thoughts
    VI    At the Circolo
    VII   Extremes Meet
    VIII  The Diva shows her Cards
    IX    One Struggle more

    BOOK IV
    The Last Days of the Carnival

    CHAPTER
    I     In the Cardinal's Chapel
    II    The Corso
    III   "La Sonnambula"
    IV    The Marchese Lamberto's Correspondence
    V     Bianca at Home
    VI    Paolina at Home
    VII   Two Interviews
    VIII  A Carnival Reception
    IX    Paolina's Return to the City

    BOOK V
    Who Did The Deed?
    CHAPTER
    I     At the City Gate
    II    Suspicion
    III   Guilty or Not Guilty?
    IV    The Marchese hears the Ill News
    V     Doubts and Possibilities
    VI    At the Circolo again
    VII   A Prison Visit
    VIII  Signor Giovacchino Fortini at Home
    IX    The Post-Mortem Examination
    X     Public Opinion
    XI    In Father Fabiano's Cell
    XII   The Case against Paolina

    BOOK VI
    Poena Pede Claudo
    CHAPTER
    I     Signor Fortini receives the Signora Steno in his Studio
    II    Was it Paolina after all?
    III   Could it have been the Aged Friar?
    IV    What Ravenna thought of it
    V     "Miserrimus"
    VI    The Trial
    VII   The Friar's Testimony
    VIII  The Truth!
    IX    Conclusion



A SIREN

By Thomas Adolphus Trollope



BOOK I

Ash Wednesday Morning



CHAPTER I

The Last Night of Carnival


It was Carnival time in the ancient and once imperial, but now
provincial and remote, city of Ravenna. It was Carnival time, and the
very acme and high-tide of that season of mirth and revel. For the
theory of Carnival observance is, that the life of it, unlike that of
most other things and beings, is intensified with a constantly crescendo
movement up to the last minutes of its existence. And there now remained
but an hour before midnight on the Tuesday preceding the first day of
Lent, Ash Wednesday--Dies Cinerum!--that sad and sober morrow which has
brought with it "sermons and soda-water" to so many generations of
revellers.

Of course Carnival, according to the Calendar and Time's hour-glass, is
over at twelve o'clock on the night of Shrove Tuesday. Generally,
however, in the pleasure-loving cities of Italy, a few hours' law are
allowed or winked at. The revellers are not supposed to become aware
that it is past midnight till about three or four in the morning.

Very generally the wind-up of the season of fun and frolic consists of
what is called a "Veglione," or "great making a night of it," which
means a masked ball at the theatre. And the great central chandelier
does not begin to descend into the body of the house, to have its lights
flapped out by the handkerchiefs of the revellers amid a last frantic
rondo, till some four hours after midnight. But in provincial Ravenna, a
Pope's city under the rule of a Cardinal Legate, there is--or was in the
days when the Pope held sway there--no Veglione. Its place was supplied,
as far as "the society" of the city was concerned, by a ball at the
"Circolo dei Nobili."

It was not, therefore, till four o'clock in the morning, or perhaps even
a little later, that the lights would be extinguished on the night in
question at the "Circolo dei Nobili," and Carnival would, in truth, be
over, and the tired holiday-makers would go home to their beds.

A few hours more remained, and the revelry was at its height, and the
dancers danced as knowing that their minutes were numbered.

There had been a ball on the previous night at the Palazzo of the
Marchese Lamberto di Castelmare. But the scene at the Circolo was a much
more brilliant, animated, and varied one than that of the night before
at the Castelmare palace. The Marchese Lamberto was the wealthiest noble
in Ravenna, and--putting aside his friend the Cardinal Legate--was, in
many other respects, the first and foremost man of the city. He was a
bachelor of some fifty years old. And bachelors' houses and bachelors'
balls have the reputation of enjoying the privilege of a somewhat freer
and more unreserved gaiety and jollity than those of their neighbours
more heavily weighted with the cares and responsibilities of life. But
such was not the case at the Palazzo Castelmare. Presided over on such
occasions as that of the great annual Carnival ball by a widowed
sister-in-law of the Marchese, the Castelmare palace was the most
decorous and respectable house, as its master was the most decorous and
respectable man, in Ravenna.

Not that it was a dull house. The Marchese Lamberto, though a grave and
dignified personage in the eyes of the "jeunesse doree" of Ravenna, was
looked up to as one of the best loved, as well as most respected, men in
the city. And there was not a member of the "society" who would not have
been sadly hurt at not being invited to the great annual Carnival ball
at the Castelmare palace. But the same degree of laissez aller jollity
would not have been "de mise" there as was permissible at the Circolo.
The fun was not so fast and furious as it was wont to be at the club of
the nobles on the last night of Carnival.

The whole society were at the latter gathering. All the nobles of
Ravenna were the hosts, and everybody was there solely and entirely to
amuse and enjoy themselves. Host and guests, indeed, were almost
identical. There were but few persons present, and those strangers to
the town, who did not belong to their own class.

To the Marchese, on the previous night, most of the company had
contented themselves with going in "domino." At the Circolo ball a very
large proportion of the dancers were in costume. The Conte Leandro
Lombardoni,--lady-killer, Don Juan, and poet, whose fortunes and
misfortunes in these characters had made him the butt of the entire
society, and had perhaps contributed, together with his well-known
extraordinarily pronounced propensity for cramming himself with pastry,
to give him the pale, puffed, pasty face, swelling around a pair of pale
fish-like eyes, that distinguished him,--the Conte Leandro Lombardoni;
indeed, had gone to the Castelmare palace as "Apollo," in a costume
which young Ludovico Castelmare, the Marchese Lamberto's nephew, would
insist on mistaking for that of Aesop; and had now, according to a
programme perfectly well known previously throughout the city, come to
the Circolo as "Dante." The Tuscan "lucco," or long flowing gown, had at
least the advantage of concealing from the public eye much that the
Apollo costume had injudiciously exhibited.

Ludovico Castelmare had adopted the costume of a Venetian noble of the
sixteenth century; and very strikingly handsome he looked in that most
picturesque of all dresses. The Marchese Lamberto was at the ball, of
course, but not in costume. Perhaps the most striking figure in the
rooms, however, was one of those few persons who have been mentioned as
present, but not belonging to Ravenna, or to the class of its nobles.
This was a lady, well known at that day throughout Italy as Bianca
Lalli--"La Lalli," or "La Bianca," in theatrical parlance--for she was
one of the first singers of the day. Special circumstances--to be
explained at a future page--had rendered it possible for remote little
Ravenna to secure the celebrated artist for the Carnival, which was now
expiring. The Marchese Lamberto, who, among many other avocations and
occupations, all of them contributing in some way or other to the
welfare and advantage of his native city, was a great lover and
connoisseur of music, and patron of the theatre, had been mainly
instrumental in bringing La Lalli to Ravenna. The engagement had been a
most successful one. The "Diva Bianca" had sung through the Carnival,
charming all ears and hearts in Ravenna with her voice, and all eyes
with her very remarkable and fascinating beauty. And now, on this last
night of the festive season, she was the cynosure of all eyes at the
ball.

Bianca had, as it so happened, also chosen a Venetian costume of the
same period as that of Ludovico--about the middle of the sixteenth
century. In truth, it was mere chance that had led to this similarity.
And neither of them, as it happened, had mentioned to the other the
dress they intended to wear. Bianca, in fact, used as she was to wear
costumes of all sorts, and to outshine all beauties near her in all or
any of them, had thought nothing about her dress, till the evening
before; and then had consulted the Marchese Lamberto on the subject: but
had been so much occupied with him during nearly the whole of that
evening at his ball, that she had not said a word about it to any one
else.

It could not but seem, however, to everybody that the Marchese Ludovico
and La Lalli had agreed together to represent a pair belonging to the
most gorgeous and picturesque days of Venetian history. And a most
magnificently handsome pair they made. Bianca's dress, or at least the
general appearance and effect of it, will readily be imagined by those
acquainted with the full-length portraits of Titian or Tintoretto. A
more strictly "proper" costume no lady could wish to wear. And the
jeunesse doree of Ravenna, who had thought it likely that the Diva would
appear as some light-skirted Flora, or high-kirtled Diana, were
altogether disappointed.

But there was much joking and raillery about the evident and notable
pair-ship of Ludovico and Bianca; and it came to pass that, almost
without any special intention on their own part, they were thrown much
together, and danced together frequently. And this, under the
circumstances, was still more the case than it would have otherwise
been, in consequence of the Marchese Lamberto not dancing. It was a long
time since he had done so. There were many men dancing less fitted than
he, as far as appearance and capability, and even as far as years went,
to join in such amusements. Nevertheless, all Ravenna would have been
almost as much surprised to see the Marchese Lamberto dressed in mumming
costume, and making one among Carnival revellers, as to see the Cardinal
himself doing the same things. He had made for himself a social
position, and a life so much apart from any such levities, that his
participation in them would have seemed a monstrosity.

It may be doubted, however, whether on this occasion, at least, the
dignified Marchese was satisfied with the position he had thus made for
himself. It would have been too absurd and remarkable for La Bianca to
have abstained from dancing and attached herself to him in the
ball-room, instead of consorting with the younger folks. Of course that
was entirely out of the question. But none the less for that was the
evening a time of cruel suffering and martyrdom to the Marchese. Of
course he believed that the adoption of so singularly similar a costume
by Bianca and his nephew was the result of pre-arranged agreement. And
the thought, and all that his embittered fancy built upon the thought,
were making everything around him, and all the prospect of his life
before him, utterly intolerable to him.

Ludovico and Bianca had been dancing together for the third time--a
waltz fast and furious, which they had kept up almost incessantly till
the music had ceased. Heated and breathless, he led her out of the
ball-room to get some refreshment. There was a large supper-room which,
on the cessation of the waltz, immediately became crowded by other
couples bent on a similar errand. But there had also been established a
little subsidiary buffet in a small cabinet at the furthest end of the
suite of rooms, for the purpose of drawing off some of the crowd from
the main supper-room. And thither Ludovico led Bianca, thinking to avoid
the crush of people rushing in to the larger room.

The young Marchese--the "Marchesino," as he was often called, to
distinguish him from his uncle, the Marchese Lamberto--was one of the
small committee of the Circolo, who had had the management of all the
arrangements for the ball; and was, accordingly, well aware of the
whereabouts of this little "succursale" to the supper-room. But it is
probable that the existence of it was unknown to the great majority of
the company. At all events, so it happened, that when Ludovico and
Bianca reached it, it was wholly untenanted, save by Dante, in his long
red gown, solitarily occupied in cramming himself with pastry.

"What, Dante in exile!" cried Ludovico. "Pray, Sir Poet, which bolgia
was set apart for those who are lost by the 'peccato della gola?' or is
a bilious fit in the more immediate future bolgia fearful enough?"

"It is not so bad a bolgia as that appointed some other sins," said the
Conte Leandro, with mouth stuffed with cake, as he moved out of room.

"What an animal it is!" said Ludovico, laughing, as he gave Bianca a
glass of champagne, and filled another for himself.

"Take some of this woodcock pie, Signora Bianca? You must be starved by
this time; and I can recommend it."

"How so? You have not tasted it yourself yet."

"No; but I am going to do so. And my recommendation is based on my
knowledge of the qualities of our woodcocks. They are the finest in the
world. The marshes in the neighbourhood of the Pineta breed them in
immense quantities."

"Oh, I have heard so much of the Pineta. They say it is so lovely."

"The most beautiful forest in the world. And this is just the time when
it is in its greatest beauty,--the early spring, when the wild flowers
are all beginning to blossom, and the birds are all singing. There is
nothing like our Pineta!"

"I should so like to see it. It does seem really a shame to leave
Ravenna without ever having seen the Pineta."

"Oh, you must not dream of doing so. You must make a little excursion
one of these fine spring days. It is just the time for it. Some morning,
the earlier the better. But I dare say your habits are not very
matutinal, Signora?"

"Well, not very, for the most part. But I would willingly make them
matutinal for such a purpose at any time. How far is it?"

"Oh, a mere nothing--at the city gates almost a couple of miles,
perhaps. You may go out by the Porta Nuova, at the end of the Corso, and
so to that part of the forest which lies to the southward of the city;
or by the northern road, which very soon enters the wood on that side.
Perhaps the finest part of the Pineta is that to the southwards. Of all
places in the world it is the spot for a colazione al fresco."

"I should so like it. I have heard of the Pineta di Ravenna all my
life."

"What do you say to going this very morning?" said Ludovico, after
thinking for a minute. "There is no time like the present. It will be a
charming finish to our Carnival--new and original, too! Do you feel as
if you had go enough left for it?"

"Oh, as for that," said Bianca, laughing with lips and eyes, "I am up to
anything. I should like it of all things. But--"

"Ah! what a terrible word that 'but' is. But what?" said Ludovico, who
had no sooner conceived the idea than he became eager to put it into
execution. "But what?"

"But--a great many things. Unhappily, there is no word comes oftener
into one's life than that odious 'but.' But who is to go with me? I
cannot go all alone by myself?"

"Oh, that's no but at all. Of course, Signora, I did not propose such an
expedition to you without proposing to myself the honour of accompanying
you," said Ludovico with a profound bow.

"What a scappata! I should like it of all things. But--there it comes
again! 'But' the second; will not the good people say all sorts of
ill-natured and absurd things?"

"Not a bit of it--in my case, Signora. Everybody knows that we have been
very good friends; and that I have not been coxcomb enough to have ever
hoped to be aught more to you, having been protected, as they all know,
from such danger in the only way in which a man could possibly be
protected from it," said Ludovico, bowing again.

"Dear me! What way is that? It might be so useful to know. Would it be
equally applicable to a lady, I wonder?" said Bianca, looking at him
half laughingly, half-poutingly, with her head on one side. "Oh yes!
perfectly applicable in all cases, Signora. It is only to have no heart
to lose, having lost it already," returned he.

"Oh, come! This is a confidence dans les regles! And in return for it,
Signor Ludovico, do you know--speaking in all seriousness--that--if we
really do put this wild scheme into execution--I have a confidence to
give you, and may take that opportunity of making it--a confidence, not
which may or may not be made, like yours, but which I ought to make to
you, the necessity of making which furnishes, to say the truth, a very
plausible reason for our projected tete-a-tete."

"Davvero, Signora! Better and better; I shall be charmed to receive such
a mark of your friendship," said Ludovico, thinking and caring little on
what subject it might be that the Diva purposed speaking to him: "and
then, the fact is," he continued, "that to-morrow morning will be the
best morning for the purpose of all the days of the year. For we shall
be quite sure that every soul here will be in bed and asleep. On the
first morning in Lent one is tolerably safe not to fall in with early
risers. Our little trip, you may be very sure, will never be heard of by
anybody, unless we choose to tell of it ourselves."

"And I am sure that I do not see why we should not," said Bianca.

"I see no reason against telling all the town, for my part," rejoined
Ludovico; "afterwards though--you understand; and not beforehand, or our
little escapade would be spoilt by some blockhead or other insisting on
joining us. Our friend Leandro there, for instance; think of it!"

"The idea is a nightmare! No; we will not say a word till afterwards.
'Tis the most charming notion for a finale to a Carnival that ever was
conceived. I make you my compliments on it, Signor Ludovico."

"So, then, all the 'buts' have been butted and rebutted?" said he.

"Well, I suppose so,"--by the help of a strong desire to yield to the
temptation of so pleasant a scheme, the way 'buts' generally are
answered. "But we cannot go on the expedition as we are, I suppose?"
said she.

"I don't see why not. I dare say the old pines have seen similar figures
beneath them before now. But you would not be comfortable without
changing your dress, and the mornings are still sharp. This is how it
must be. I will slip away before long, and make all preparation
necessary. I will get a bagarino and a pony--not from the Castelmare
stables, you understand, but from a man I know and can trust--and I will
come with it to the door of your lodging at six o'clock. You will stay
at the ball till the end. Everybody will go by four o'clock, or soon
after. That will give you plenty of time to change your dress. By six
o'clock every soul in Ravenna will be fast asleep. We shall drive to a
little farm-house I know on the border of the forest, leave our bagarino
there, and have our stroll under the trees just as long and as far as is
agreeable to you. Won't that do?"

"Perfect! I shall enjoy it amazingly. I will be sure to be ready when
you come at six o'clock."

"I will be there at six or thereabouts. Now we will go back to the
ball-room; but don't dance till you have not a leg left to stand on. We
must have a good long stroll in the Pineta."

"Lascia fare a me! I dare say I shan't dance another dance--unless,
indeed, we have one more turn together before you go. Is there time?"

"Oh yes, for that plenty of time. If you are not afraid of tiring
yourself, one more last dance by all means."

So giving her his arm, the Marchesino led his beautiful and fascinating
companion back to the ballroom, where the music was again making the
most of the time with another waltz.



CHAPTER II

Apollo Vindex


The Conte Leandro Lombardoni had not passed a pleasant Carnival.
Reconciled, as he had recently professed himself to be--after some one
of the frequent misfortunes that happened to his intercourse with
them--with the fair sex, he had begun his Carnival by attempting to make
his merit acceptable in the eyes of La Lalli; and had failed to obtain
any recognition from her, even as a poet, to say nothing of his
pretensions as a Don Juan. To a certain limited degree, it had been
forced upon his perception, that he had been making an ass of himself;
and the appreciation of that fact by the other young men among whom he
lived had been indicated with that coarse brutality, as the poet said to
himself, which was the outcome of minds not "softened by the study of
the ingenuous arts," as his own was. He had been consistently snubbed
and flouted, he and his poetry, and his love-making, and his carefully
prepared Carnival costumes.

The result was, that at the ball on that last night of the Carnival, the
Conte Leandro was not in charity with all men, and, indeed, hardly with
any man. He was feeling very sore, and would fain have avenged his pain
by making any one else feel equally sore, if he had it in his power to
do so.

He was especially angry with Ludovico di Castelmare. Had he not chaffed
him unmercifully about the verses he had sent to La Bianca? Was it not,
to all appearance, due to him that the Diva had never condescended to
cast a glance on either him or his poetry? Had he not called him Aesop,
when it was plain to all the world that he represented Apollo? And now
this night, again, he had taken the opportunity of turning him into
ridicule in the presence of La Bianca; and he and she had spoken of the
possibility of their being troubled with his company as of a nightmare.
For the painful fact was that their uncomplimentary expressions had been
heard by the poet; who, when he had left Ludovico and Bianca in the
little supper-room together, had retreated no further than just to the
other side of a curtain, which hung, Italian fashion, by the side of the
open door. Finding that there was nobody there--for the little buffet
was at the end of the entire suite of rooms, and all those who were not
either in the ball-room, or in the card-room, were at that moment in the
principal supper-room--it had seemed well to the Conte Leandro, in his
dudgeon and spite against all the world, to ensconce himself quietly
behind the curtain, and hear what use Ludovico and Bianca would make of
their tete-a-tete.

The first advantage he obtained was to hear himself spoken of as a
nightmare; and that naturally: prompted him to prick up his ears to hear
more. But when he had thus learned the whole secret of the projected
expedition, it struck him, as well worth considering, whether there
might not be found in this the means of making his tormentor pay him for
some of the annoyances he had suffered at his hands.

So! the Marchese Ludovico, who ought to be paying his addresses to the
Contessa Violante in the sight of all Ravenna--the Contessa Violante
Marliani was great niece of the Cardinal Legate, between whom and the
Marchese Ludovico their respective families had projected an
alliance--was, instead of that, going off on a partie fine with the
notorious Bianca Lalli! A tete-a-tete in the Pineta! Mighty fine,
indeed! So sure, too, that nobody in the world would find them out on
Ash Wednesday morning! And he is to be at her door at six o'clock in the
morning! Very good! Capitally well arranged--were it not that Leandro
Lombardoni may perhaps think fit to put a spoke in the wheel.

A little further consideration of the manner in which such spoke might
be most effectually supplied, decided the angry and malicious
poet--(poets, like women, will become malicious when scorned)--to seek
out the Marchese Lamberto, whom he thought he should probably find in
the card-room. For though the Marchese was no great card-player, and
never touched a card in his own house, he was wont, at the Circolo, on
such occasions as the present, to cast in his lot with those who so
consoled themselves for the years that made the ball-room no longer
their proper territory.

But the Conte Leandro did not find the Marchese among the card-players.

The events of the evening had already thrown him back again into a very
miserable state of mind, from which the Marchese had been suffering such
torments as the jealous only know, during all the latter half of the
Carnival. It was strange that such a man as the Marchese Lamberto--it
would have seemed passing strange to any of those his fellow-citizens
who had known him, thoroughly as they supposed, all his life; very
strange that such a man, so calm, so judicious, so little liable to the
gusts of passion of any sort; a man, the even tenor of whose
well-regulated life had ever been such as to expose him rather to the
charge of almost apathetic placidity of temper, should thus suddenly, in
the full meridian time of his mature years, become subject to such
violent oscillations of passion; to such buffetings by storms, blowing
now from one and now from the opposite quarter of the sky. But no length
of prosperous navigation in the quiet waters of a land-locked harbour
will give evidence of the vessel's fitness to encounter the storms and
the waves of the open sea. The storm-wind of a strong passion had, all
at once for the first time, blown in upon the sheltered harbour in which
that placid life had been led.

And yet that storm-wind did not produce the same effect, as it would
have produced, and is seen to produce every day on the strong,
wide-spread canvas of some young navigator on the ocean of life, putting
out into the open waters at the time when such storms are frequent.
Every day we see such craft scudding with all sails spread before the
blast without attempt at reefing or tacking. Right ahead they drive
before the wind with no doubtful course. But it was not and could not be
so in the case of the Marchese Lamberto. The whole habits of a life--the
ways, notions, hopes, desires, ambitions, that time had made into a part
of the nature of the man; the passions, which though calm and unviolent
in their nature, had become strong, not by forcible energy, but by the
deep and unconscious sinking of their roots into the depths of his
character--all these things opposed a resistance to the new and
suddenly-loosed passion-wind, such as that which the deep-rooted oak
opposes to the tempest with no result of conquering it, only with the
result of causing its own leaves and branches to be buffeted to and fro,
torn, broken, and wrecked.

Thus it was that the unhappy Marchese was violently driven to and fro
from hour to hour between the extremities of love and hate, till his
brain reeled in the terrible conflict; and alternate attraction and
repulsion bandied his soul backwards and forwards between them.

A ball-room is not a pleasant exercise-ground for a jealous man who does
not dance. No "bolgia" of the hell invented by the sombre imagination of
the great poet could have surpassed, in torment, the Circolo ball-room
on that last Carnival night to the Marchese Lamberto.

The sight of the sorceress who had bewitched him, as he watched her in
the dance, had once again scattered to the winds all resolution, all
hope of the possibility of escaping from the toils. What was all else
that he desired to be put in comparison with that raging, craving desire
that he felt and sickened with for her? That was what he really
wanted--what he must have or die. It was madness to see her, as he saw
her then, in the arms of other men, laughing, sparkling, brilliant with
animation and enjoyment. Worst hell of all to see her thus with his
nephew, her admiration for whom she had frankly confessed; whose ways
with women he knew, and whose intimacy with Bianca had already become
suspicious to him.

Yet not the less did he stand and gaze, as they danced together, clearly
the handsomest and best-matched couple in the room--matched so admirably
evidently by design and forethought.

He had seen Ludovico and Bianca leave the ball-room, after the last
dance, together with the crowd of most of those who had been joining in
it, and had begun fluttering, poor moth, after the irresistible
attraction, to follow them towards the supper-room. Missing sight of
them in the throng for a minute, he had followed on to the principal
supper-room, and not finding them there (for the reason the reader wots
of) had returned on his steps, and was sitting on the end of a divan, by
the door of the next room to the ball-room, through which all had to
pass who wished to go thence to the supper-room. There were people
passing through the centre of the room from door to door; but there was
no other, save the Marchese, sitting down in it.

There the Conte Leandro found him, and came and sat down by his side;
much, at first, to the Marchese's annoyance.

"What! you not in the supper-room, Signor Leandro. I thought your place
was always there?" said the Marchese.

"I'm no greater a supper-eater than another; let them say what they
please. But I have just been getting a glass of wine and a biscuit in
the little supper-room at the further end there."

"What, are there two supper-rooms? I did not know that!"

"Only a buffet in the little room at the end, where the papers generally
are. It was mainly Ludovico's doing,--in order to have less crowd in the
supper-room,--and perhaps to have a quiet place for a tete-a-tete supper
himself. Oh! I knew better than not to clear out, when he and La Diva
Bianca came in; specially as there was nobody else there. Faith! I left
them there alone together."

"Oh! that's where he is supping, then?" said the Marchese, in the most
unconcerned tone he could manage.

"Yes; supping,--or enjoying himself in some other way, quite as
delightful. The fact is, Signor Marchese," continued the poet, in a
lowered voice, and rapidly glancing around to see that there were no
ears within such a distance as to overhear his words,--"the fact is,
that I am afraid Signor Ludovico is less cautious than it would be well
for him to be, circumstanced as he is! I am sure I did not want to
listen to what he and the Lalli were saying to each other. It is nothing
to me. But they spoke with such little precaution, that I could not help
overhearing what they said; and what do you think Ludovico is up to
now?"

"How should I know!" said the Marchese, with the tips of his pale lips;
for he was grinding his teeth together to prevent them from chattering
in his head.

"He is off at six o'clock to-morrow morning tete-a-tete with La Bianca,
on an excursion to the Pineta. Coming it strong, isn't it?"

"To-morrow morning!" said the Marchese under his breath, and with
difficulty; for his blood seemed suddenly to rush back cold to his
heart, and he was shivering all over.

"Niente meno! I heard them arrange it all. He is to slip away from the
ball presently, in order to make all needful preparations, and to be at
her door with a bagarino at six o'clock in the morning. Doing the thing
nicely, isn't it?"

For a minute or two the Marchese was utterly unable to answer him a
word. His head swam round. He felt sick. A cold perspiration broke out
all over him; and he feared that he should have fallen from his seat.

"He is a great fool for his pains," he said at last, mastering himself
by a great effort, sufficiently to enable himself to utter the words in
an ordinary voice and manner.

"Well, it seemed to me a mad scheme, considering all things. And the
truth is, that I thought your lordship would very likely think it well
to put a stop to it. And that is why I have bored your lordship by
mentioning it to you."

"At six o'clock, you say?" asked the Marchese.

"Yes; that was the hour they fixed. Then he is to drive her to a
farm-house on the border of the forest, leave the bagarino there, and go
into the wood for a stroll. Not a bad idea for a wind-up of the
Carnival, upon my word!"

"I think you have done very wisely and kindly in telling me this, Signor
Conte," said the Marchese, in as quiet tones as he could command; "and
if you will complete your kindness by saying no word of it to anybody
else, I shall esteem myself much obliged to you."

"Oh! for that you may depend on me, Signor Marchese. I should never have
thought of mentioning it to you, but for thinking that it would be a
real kindness to Ludovico to put a stop to it."

"Thanks, Signor Conte. A rivederla!" said the Marchese, rising.

"Felicissima notte, Signor Marchese," returned Leandro, rising also, and
bowing to his companion.



CHAPTER III

St. Apollinare in Classe


The Marchese remained at the ball to see one more dance between Ludovico
and Bianca after their supper; and then left the rooms. There was
nothing at all to cause remark in his thus retiring before the evening.
He never danced;--he happened not to be playing cards on that evening.
It was quite natural that such a man should prefer going home to bed to
remaining with the jeunes gens till the break-up of the ball.

How he enjoyed that last dance, which he stayed to see, the reader may
perhaps imagine. Standing by a chimney-piece, on one corner of which he
rested his elbow, he in great measure shaded his face with his hand, yet
not so as to prevent him from seeing every movement of the persons, and
every expression of the faces of the couple he was watching. There was a
raging hell in his heart. And yet he stood there, and gazed eagerly,
greedily one would have said. And every minute, and every movement
blasted his eyes and stabbed his heart, and poured poison into his
veins.

When the dance was over he did not move for some time; for he doubted
his power to hold himself upright and walk steadily. Presently, however,
when Ludovico and Bianca had again quitted the ball-room together, he
gathered himself up, and moved slowly away, shaking in every limb, pale,
fever-lipped, and haggard.

The man who gave him his cloak in the ante-room remarked to another
servant, as soon as he was gone, that he would bet that the Marchese
Lamberto would not be at the next Carnival ball.

At six o'clock, with wonderful punctuality for an Italian, Ludovico,
with a neat little bagarino and fast-trotting pony, was at the door of
the Diva's lodging. But Bianca was not ready. Her maid came down to the
door with all sorts of apologies, and assurances that her mistress would
be ready in a few minutes. The few minutes, however, became half an
hour, as minutes will under such circumstances. And the result of this
delay was that Ludovico and his companion were not the first travellers
out of the Porta Nuova that morning.

During the whole of the past Carnival and the latter months of the
previous year there had been living in Ravenna a young girl,--an artist
from Venice, who had come to Ravenna with a commission given her by a
travelling Englishman to make copies of some of the more remarkable of
the very extraordinary and unique series of mosaics which exist in the
old imperial city. She had brought with her a letter of introduction
from her employer to the Marchese Lamberto,--a circumstance which had
led to a degree of intimacy between the Marchesino Ludovico and the
extremely attractive young artist, which threatened to stand more or
less in the way of the match which had been arranged by the
high-contracting parties between Ludovico and the Lady Violante, the
great niece of the Cardinal. The girl's name was Paolina Foscarelli.

It is probable that in due time and season the reader may become better
acquainted with Paolina. But at present there is no need of troubling
him with more particulars respecting her than the above, save to mention
that, having industriously and successfully completed the greater
portion of her task in the churches within the city, she had determined
to make her first visit to the strange old Basilica of St. Apollinare in
Classe, on that same Ash Wednesday morning. She did not purpose
beginning her task there on that day; but intended merely to reconnoitre
the ground, look to the needful preparations that had been made for her
work, and ascertain how far the spot was within her powers of walking.

Paolina, too, had felt that the morning of Ash Wednesday was a
favourable time for the first experiment of an undertaking that a little
alarmed her. For she also had calculated that on such a morning she
should be little likely to meet anybody. It was just about six o'clock
when Paolina started on her proposed walk; and she passed through the
Porta Nuova, therefore, a little more than half-an-hour before Ludovico
and his companion passed, travelling in the same direction.

The road, which it was necessary for her to follow in order to reach St.
Apollinare in Classe, is the same for the whole of the distance between
the city and the ancient church as that which Ludovico and Bianca would
follow to reach the celebrated pine forest. The soil on which the forest
stands is composed of the accumulation of sand which the rivers--mainly
the Po--have brought from distant mountains, and deposited in the bed of
the Adriatic since the old church was built "in Classe,"--where the
fleet once used to be moored. The building thus stands nearly at the
edge of the forest, hardly more than a stone's throw from the furthest
advanced sentinels of the wood. The road coming out from the city by the
Porta Nuova, on its way to the little town of Cervia, a few miles to the
southward, traverses ground once thickly covered with palaces, streets,
and churches, now open fields,--and passes by the western front and
doorway of the almost deserted old Basilica, a little before it reaches
the turning off towards the left, which enters the forest.

The walk before Paolina, when she had passed the city gate, was about
two miles or rather more. So that had La Bianca taken a few less minutes
to put the finishing touches to the charming morning toilette which
replaced the gorgeous Venetian costume she had taken off, the bagarino
which carried her and Ludovico would infallibly have overtaken the young
artist. As it was, however, having more than half-an-hour's start of it,
she reached the church before they came within sight of it.

Little Paolina had felt rather nervous when first stepping into the cool
fresh morning air from the door of the lodging she occupied. But the
street was utterly empty, and she took courage. The first human beings
she saw on her way were the octroi officers at the gate. They sat
apparently half asleep at the doorway of their den, by the side of the
city gate, wrapped in huge cloaks; and took not even so much heed of her
as to say "Good morning."

The long bit of straight flat road outside the gate was equally
deserted; and Paolina, braced by the morning air, stepped out
vigorously, and began to enjoy her walk.

There is little enough, however, in the country through which she was
passing to delight the eye. The fields in the immediate neighbourhood of
the city are cultivated, and not devoid of trees. But the cheerfulness
thence arising does not last long. Very soon the trees cease, and there
are no more hedge-rows. Large flat fields, imperfectly covered with
coarse rank grass, and divided by the numerous branches of streams, all
more or less diked to save the land from complete inundation, succeed.
The road is a causeway raised above the level of the surrounding
district; and presently a huge lofty bank is seen traversing the
desolate scene for miles, and stretching away towards the shore of the
neighbouring Adriatic. This is the dike which contains the sulkily
torpid but yet dangerous Montone.

Gradually, as the traveller proceeds, the scene grows worse and worse.
Soon the only kind of cultivation to be seen from the road consists of
rice-grounds, looking like--what in truth they are--poisonous swamps.
Then come swamps pure and simple, too bad even to be turned into rice
grounds,--or rather simply swamps impure; for a stench at most times of
the year comes from them, like a warning of their pestilential nature,
and their unfitness for the sojourn of man. A few shaggy, wild-looking
cattle may be seen wandering over the flat waste, muddy to the shoulders
from wading in the soft swamps. A scene of more utter desolation it is
hardly possible to meet with in such close neighbourhood to a living
city.

Paolina shivered, and drew her little grey cloak more closely around her
shoulders; not from cold, though a bleak wind was blowing across the
marshes. She was warmed by walking; but the aspect of the scene before
her almost frightened the Venetian girl by the savagery of its
desolation.

The raised causeway, however, keeps on its course amid the low-lying
marshes on either side of it; and presently the peculiar form of outline
belonging to a forest composed entirely of the maritime pine is
distinguishable on the horizon to the left. The road quickly draws
nearer to it; and the large, heavy, velvet-like masses of dark verdure
become visible. In a forest such as the famous Pineta, consisting of the
maritime pine only, the lines, especially when seen at a distance, have
more of horizontal and less of perpendicular direction than in any other
assemblage of trees. And the effect produced by the continuity of
spreading umbrella-like tops is peculiar.

Then, soon after the forest has become visible, the road brings the
wayfarer within sight of a vast lonely structure heaving its huge long
back against the low horizon, like some monster antidiluvian saurian,
the fit denizen of this marsh world. It is the venerable Basilica of St.
Apollinare in Classe.

Through all this dismal scene Paolina tripped lightly along with a quick
step through the crisp morning air, no little awed by the dreary,
voiceless desolation of it, but yet encouraged and not unpleased by the
solitude of it.

The walk she found to be quite within her powers, at all events at that
hour of the morning and in that season of the year; and when she stood
before the western door of the ancient church, in front of which the
road passes, Ludovico and Bianca were only then on the point of starting
from the quarters of the latter, in the Strada di Porta Sisi.

Though knowing but little of the long and strangely diversified story
which presses on the mind of a stranger read in history as he stands
before the door of that desolate old church, Paolina could not but be
much struck by the appearance of the building and of the scene around
it. If ever a spot was expressive in every way by which a locality can
speak to the imagination of the abomination of desolation, the view
which spreads before the eye at the huge doorway of the Basilica of St.
Apollinare in Classe is so. The general character of the country around
it has been described. But the church itself is the most dreary and
melancholy feature in the landscape. No desolation resulting solely from
the operations of Nature, even in her least kindly mood, can ever
suffice to speak to the imagination as the change and decay of the works
of man's hand speak. To produce the effect of desolation in its highest
degree man must have at some former period been present on the scene,
and the remains of his work must be there to show that activity, life,
energy, has once existed where it exists no more. Nature is always and
everywhere progressive, and no sentiment of sadness belongs to progress.
Man's ruined work alone imparts the suggestion--(a delusive one, indeed,
but most forcible)--of falling back from the better to the worse.

Wonderfully eloquent after this fashion are the temples of Paestum, far
away there to the south beyond Naples, on the flat strip of miserably
cultivated soil between the Apennines and the Mediterranean. But they
are too far gone in ruin and decay to speak with so living a voice of
sadness as does this old Byzantine church. The human element is at
Paestum too far away,--too utterly dead and forgotten. In St. Apollinare
life still lingers. Life, flickering in its last spark, like the
twinkling of a lamp which the next moment will extinguish, is still
there. Life more suggestive of death, than any utter absence of life
could be.

There are some dilapidated remains of conventual buildings on the
southern side of the church, mean, and of a date some thousand years
subsequent to that of the Basilica. They are nearly ruinous, but are
still--or were till within a few years--inhabited by one Capucin friar,
and one lay brother of the order, whose duty it was to mutter a mass,
with ague-chattering jaws, at the high altar, and act as guardians of
the building.

Small guardianship is needed. The huge ancient doors--made of planks
from vine trunks which grew fifteen hundred years ago on the
Bosphorus--are never closed; probably because their weight would defy
the efforts of the two poor old friars, to whom the keeping of the
building is committed, to move them. But a poor and mean low gate of
iron rails has been fitted to the colossal marble door-posts, which
suffices to prevent the wandering cattle of the waste from straying into
the church, but does not prevent the fever-laden mists from the marshes
from drifting into the huge nave, and depositing their unwholesome
moisture in great trickling drops upon the green-stained walls.

But not even the low iron gateway was closed when Paolina reached the
church. It stood partially open. After having stood a minute or two
before the building to look round upon the scene, Paolina stepped up to
the gate and looked into the church, but could see no human being.
Within, as without, all was utter death-like silence. She shivered, and
drew her cloak more closely round her, as she stood at the gate; for the
healthy blood was running rapidly through her veins after her brisk
walk, and the deadly cold damp air from the church struck her with a
shudder, which was but the physical complement of the moral impression
produced by the aspect of the place.

After a minute, however, wondering at the stillness, half frightened at
the utter solitude, and awed by the vast gloomy grandeur of the naked
but venerable building, she pushed the gate, and entered.



CHAPTER IV

Father Fabiano


Paolina entered hesitatingly, and starting at the echoes of her
footsteps on the flagstones, wet and green, and slimy from the water,
which often in every year lies many inches deep on the floor of the
church. She advanced towards a small marble altar which stands quite
isolated in the middle of the huge nave. And as she neared it she
perceived, with a violent start, that there was a living figure kneeling
at it. So still, so utterly motionless had this solitary worshipper
been, so little visible in the dim light was the hue of the Franciscan's
frock that entirely covered him, that Paolina had not imagined that
there had been any living creature in the church. She saw, however, in
the same instant that she became aware of his presence, that the figure
was that of a Capucin friar, and doubted not that he must be the
guardian of the church, whom she had been told she would find there.

The little low altar, of an antiquity coeval with that of the church,
which stands in the centre of the nave, is the sole exception to the
entire and utter emptiness of the place. There are, indeed, ranged along
the walls of the side aisles, several ancient marble coffins, curiously
carved, and with semi-circular covers, which contain the bodies of the
earliest Bishops of the See. But the little altar is the sole object
that breaks the continuity of the open floor. The body of St. Apollinare
was originally laid beneath it, but was in a subsequent age removed to a
more specially honourable position under the high altar at the eastern
end of the church. There is still, however, the slab deeply carved with
letters of ancient form, which tells how St. Romauld, the founder of the
order of Camaldoli, praying by night at that altar, saw in a vision St.
Apollinare, who bade him leave the world, and become the founder of an
order of hermits.

It was on the same stones that the knees of St. Romauld had pressed,
that the Capucin was kneeling, as Paolina walked up the nave of the
church. The peaked hood of his brown frock was drawn over his head, for
the air of the church was deadly cold, and the fever and ague of many a
successive autumn had done their work upon him. He was called Padre
Fabiano, and was said to be, and looked to be, upwards of eighty years
old. Probably, however, his age was much short of that. For the nature
of his dwelling-place was such as to stand in the place of time, in its
power to do worse than time's work on the human frame.

Of course, it can be no matter of question, why a monk is here or is
there, does this or does that. Obedience to the will of his superiors is
the only reason for all that, in the case of other human beings, depends
on their own volition. The monk has no volition.

No human being who had, it might be supposed, would consent to live at
St. Apollinare in Classe, with one lay brother for a companion, and
discharge the duties assigned to the Padre Fabiano. But the question why
his superiors sent him there, was still one that might suggest itself,
though it was little likely ever to be answered. And the absence of all
answer to such question was supplied by the gossips of Ravenna, by tales
of some terrible crime against ecclesiastical discipline of which the
Padre Fabiano had been guilty some sixty years or so ago. Certain it was
that he had occupied his dreary position for many years; and it was
wonderful that fever and ague and the marsh pestilence had not long
since dismissed him to the reward of his long penitence on earth.

He rose from his knees as Paolina approached him, and gravely bent his
cowled head to her in salutation.

"You are early, Signora," he said. "I suppose you are the person for
whom yonder scaffold has been prepared."

"Yes, father, I am the artist for whom leave has been obtained to copy
some of your mosaics."

"You will find it cold work, daughter. The church is damp somewhat. You
would do better, methinks, not to begin your day's work till the sun has
had time to warm the air a little."

"I had no thought, father, of beginning to-day. I have brought nothing
with me. I only thought that I would walk out and have a look at the job
before me. It is not so far from the city as I thought."

"It is far enough to be as lonely and as deserted as if it were a
thousand miles from a human habitation," said the monk, looking into the
girl's face with a grave smile.

"Yet you live here, from year's end to year's end all alone, Padre mio,"
said Paolina, timidly.

"Not quite so, daughter," replied he. "Brother Barnaba, a lay brother of
our order, is my companion. But he is ill with a touch of ague at
present."

"And how early would it be not inconvenient to you, Padre mio, to open
the church for me?" asked Paolina.

"I spoke not of your being early on my account, daughter. If you come
here at sunrise, you will find the gate open, and me where you found me
this morning; and if you come at midnight you will find the same."

"At midnight, father!" said Paolina, with a glance of surprise and pity.

"Last October I was down with the fever," returned the monk; "but since
that time I have not failed one night to be on my knees where the
blessed St. Romauld knelt at the stroke of midnight. But I have not had
his reward;--doubtless because I am not worthy of it."

"What was the reward of St. Romauld, father?" demanded Paolina.

"His midnight prayers were rewarded by the vision of St. Apollinare in
glory, who spoke to him, and gave him the counsel he sought. Night after
night, and hour after hour, have I knelt and prayed. And I have heard
the moaning of the wind from the Adriatic among the pines of the forest
yonder, and I have seen the great crucifix above the high altar sway and
move in the moonlight when it comes streaming through the southern
windows; and sometimes I have hoped--and prayed--and hoped--but no
vision came!"

The old monk sighed, and dropped his head upon his bosom; and Paolina
gazed at him with a feeling of awe, mingled with a suddenly rising fear,
that the tall and emaciated old man, whose light-blue eyes gleamed out
from beneath his cowl, was not wholly right in his mind. She would have
been more alarmed had she been aware that the old Padre Fabiano of St.
Apollinare was generally considered in Ravenna to be crazed by all those
who did not, instead of that, deem him a saint.

Before she had gained courage to answer him, however, he lifted his
head, with another deep sigh, and said, in a very quiet and ordinary
tone and manner,

"Your scaffold is all prepared for you there, Signora, according to the
directions of the Signor Marchese Ludovico di Castelmare, who brought
with him an order from the Archbishop's Chancellor. Will you look at it,
and see if it is as you wish, and say where you wish to have it placed."

The mosaics in the apse of the centre nave are the most remarkable of
those that remain at St. Apollinare, though many of the series of
medallion portraits of the Bishops of the See from the foundation of it,
which circle the entire nave, are very curious. Paolina had engaged to
copy two or three of the most remarkable of these; but she intended to
begin her work by attacking the larger figures in the apse. And the
scaffolding had been placed there on the southern side.

"I think that is just where I should wish to have it," said Paolina,
looking up at the vault. "If I may, I will go up and see whether it is
near enough to the figure I have to copy."

"Do so, my daughter. It looks a great height, but I have no doubt that
it is quite safe. The Signor Marchese was very particular in seeing to
it himself. See, I will go up first to give you courage."

And so saying, the old man with a slow but firm step began to ascend the
ladder of the scaffolding. And when he had reached the platform at the
top, Paolina, more used to such climbing than he, and who in truth had
felt no alarm whatever, followed him with a lighter step.

"Yes, this will do nicely, Padre mio!" she said, when she had reached
the top; "it is placed just where it should be, and this large window
gives just all the light I want. It is a much better light than I had to
work by in San Vitale."

"I never was in San Vitale," replied the monk. "I have been here
fourteen years next Easter, and I have never once been in Ravenna in all
that time, nor, indeed, further away from this church than just a stroll
within the edge of the Pineta."

"That is the Pineta we see from this window, of course, Padre mio. What
a lovely view of it! And how beautiful it is! Where does that road go
to, Padre? To Venice?"

"No, figliuola mia. It goes in exactly the opposite direction,
southwards, to Cervia. The Venice road lies away to the northward,
through the wood that you can see on the furthest horizon. It was by
that road I came to Ravenna. I shall never travel it again."

"From Venice, father? Did you come from Venice?" asked Paolina, eagerly.

"From La bella Venezia I came, daughter--fourteen years ago. And once in
every month I indulge myself by going to the top of our tower--you can't
see it from this window, it is on the northern side of the church--and
looking out over the north Pineta as far as I can see towards it. May
God and St. Mark grant that no tempter ever offer me the sight of Venice
again at the price of my soul's salvation! I shall never, never see
Venice more!"

"You must be a Venetian, father, surely, to love it so well?" said
Paolina, after a minute or two of silence.

"A Venetian I am--or was, daughter; as I well knew you were when you
first spoke. Might I ask your name?"

"Paolina Foscarelli, father. I am an orphan," said she, softly.

"No!" said the monk, shaking his head, with a deep sigh, and looking
earnestly into the girl's face, but without any appearance of
surprise,--"No; you are not Paolina Foscarelli."

"Indeed, father, that is my name," said Paolina, again recurring to her
doubt whether the monk was altogether of sound mind, and speaking very
quietly and gently; "my father's name was Foscarelli, and the baptismal
name of my mother was the same as mine--Paolina."

"Jacopo and Paolina Foscarelli, who lived in the little house at the
corner of the Campo di San Pietro and Paolo," rejoined the monk,
speaking in a dreamy far-away kind of manner.

"I have truly heard that they lived there," said she; "but I was only
four years old when they died, one very soon after the other, and since
that I have lived with a friend of my mother's, Signora Steno."

"The child of Jacopo and Paolina Foscarelli," said the monk, in the same
dreamy tone, and pressing his thin emaciated hands before his eyes as he
spoke; "and you have come here to find me?"

"Nay, father, not to find you. I knew not that the padre guardiano of
St. Apollinare was a Venetian. I came only to copy these pictures for my
employer."

"Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful are the ways of God! Paolina
Foscarelli, daughter of Jacopo and Paolina, I Fabiano---"

"Look, padre min!" cried Paolina, suddenly and sharply, turning very
pale, and grasping the parapet rung of the scaffolding as she spoke,
"look! in the bagarino there on the road, just passing the church;
certainly that must be the Signor Marchese Ludovico!--And with him--that
lady?--yes, it is--it certainly is La Lalli--the prima donna, who has
been singing at the theatre this Carnival."

She pointed as she spoke to a bagarino that had just passed the western
front of the church, and was now moving along the bit of road visible
from the high window at which the monk and Paolina were standing.

The tone in which she spoke caused the friar to look at her first,
before turning his glance in the direction to which she pointed. She was
pale, and evidently much moved, after a fashion that, taken together
with the nature of the objects to which she drew his attention, and the
fact that it was the Marchese Ludovico who had come to St. Apollinare to
make the arrangements needed for the artist's work there, left but
little doubt in the old man's mind as to the nature of her emotion.

He looked shrewdly and earnestly into her face for a moment; and then
turning his eyes to the stretch of road below, answered her:

"Certainly, my daughter, that is the Marchese Ludovico. The lady I never
saw before as far as I am aware. They are going towards Cervia."

"No! See, father! They are turning off from the road to the left. Where
does that turning to the left go?"

"Only into the forest, daughter,--or to that little farm-house you see
there just at the edge of it. You may get as far as the sea-shore
through the Pineta; but the road is very bad for a carriage."

"To the sea-shorn!" said Paolina, dreamily.

"Yes, by keeping the track due east. The shore is not above a couple of
miles away. But there is no port, or even landing-place there. And there
are many tracks through the forest. You may get to Cervia, too, that
way. But it is hardly likely that any one would leave the road to find a
longer way by worse ways through the forest. More likely the object of
the Signor Marchese is only to show the lady the famous Pineta."

Paolina, while the monk was thus speaking, had kept her eyes fixed upon
the little carriage, which was making its way along a by-road
constructed on the top of a dike by the side of one of the numerous
streams that intersect all the district; and she continued to watch it
till she saw it stop at the entrance to the yard of the little
farmhouse, to which the monk had called her attention. She then saw
Ludovico and his companion descend from the carriage, and leave it
apparently in the charge of a man, who came out from the farm-yard. And
they then left the spot where they had alighted on foot, and in another
minute were no longer visible from the window at which Paolina and the
monk stood.

"How long a walk is it, father, from here into the wood?" asked Paolina,
musingly.

"It is a very short distance, daughter. There is a footpath practicable
in dry weather like this, a good deal nearer than the road we saw the
bagarino follow. You might get to the edge of the Pineta in that way in
less than ten minutes."

"And would it be possible to return to the city that way, instead of
coming back to the road?" enquired Paolina.

"Yes; for a part of the way there is a path along the border of the
wood. Then you must fall back into the road. The way lies by the gate of
the farm-house."

"I think I will go back to the city now, father. This scaffold is just
where it will suit me. And to-morrow, a little later perhaps than this, I
hope to come and begin my work. I shall have to come in a carriage, at
all events, the first time, because of bringing my things. I am so much
obliged to you, father, for your kindness. And I am so glad that you are
a Venetian. I little thought to find a fellow-countryman here."

"Or I to see this morning a Venetian--much less--but we will speak more
of that another time--if you will permit an old man sometimes to speak
to you when you are at your work?"

"Ma come--I can talk while I work. It will be a real pleasure to me to
hear the dear home tongue. I will go down the ladder first. I am not the
least afraid."

So Paolina left the church, and the monk stood at the yawning ever-open
western door, looking after her as she took the path he had indicated to
her towards the forest.



CHAPTER V

"The Hours passed, and still she came not"


There was misgiving in the heart of the old man as he stood at the door
of the Basilica looking after the light little form of Paolina as she
moved along the path, raised above the swamp on either side, that led
towards the edge of the forest.

The rays of the sun slanting from the eastward lighted up all the path
on which she was walking; and though the western front of the church was
still in shade, had begun to suck up the mists, and to make the air feel
at least somewhat more genial and wholesome. The monk pushed back the
cowl of his frock, which had hitherto been drawn over his head, the
better to watch the receding figure of the girl as she moved slowly
along the path; and still, as he gazed after her, he shook his head from
time to time with an uneasy sense of misgiving.

It was not that the mere fact of the girl's entering the Pineta alone
seemed to him, accustomed as he was to the place and its surroundings,
to involve any danger to her of any sort, beyond, indeed, the
possibility of losing herself for a few hours in the forest. The whole
extent of it is very frequently traversed by the men in the employment
of the farmers to whom the Papal government was in the practice of
letting out the right of pasturage and management of the wood. And these
people were all known. There were, it is true, encroachers on these
rights, who might well be less known, and less responsible persons; and
possibly the forest paths might sometimes be traversed by people bound
on some errand of smuggling. But nothing had ever happened of late years
in the forest to suggest the probability of any danger.

It was rather the nature of Paolina's own motives for her expedition, as
they were patent to the old monk, that disquieted him on her behalf. He
had marked the expression of her face when she had seen the bagarino
with Ludovico and his companion pass along the road towards the forest,
and the change in her whole manner after that. And monk, and
octogenarian as he was, he had been at no loss to comprehend the nature
of the emotions which had been aroused in her mind by the sight. And he
feared that evil might arise from the collision of passions, which it
seemed likely were about to be brought into the presence of each other.

Perhaps, monk and aged as he was, the apprehensions with which his mind
was busy seemed more big with possible evil than they might to another.
Perhaps it was so long since he had had aught to do with stormy passions
that the contemplation of them affrighted his stagnant mind all the more
by reason of the long years of passionless placidity to which it was
accustomed. Perhaps he had known passions stormy enough in the long long
past, and had experience of the harvest of evils which might be expected
to be produced by them.

Report said, that when Father Fabiano had been sent by his superiors to
occupy the miserable and forlorn sentinel's post at the church-door of
St. Apollinare, amid inundations in winter, and fever and ague in
summer, his appointment to the dreary office had been of the nature of a
penance and an exile. It was said, too, that the sentence of exile,
which placed him in his present position, had been an alleviation of a
more rigorous punishment; that he had been allowed, after a period of
many years of imprisonment in a monastery of his order at Venice, to
change that punishment for the duty to which he had been appointed, and
which would scarcely have seemed an amelioration of destiny to any one
save a man who had for years been deprived of the light of the sun and
the scent of the free air. Some deed there had been in that life which
had called for such monastic discipline; some outcome of human passion
when the blood, that now crept slowly, while the aged monk passed the
hours in waiting for visions before the altar of St. Apollinare, was
running in his veins too rapidly for monastic requirements.

It was evident from the few words that he had let drop, when he became
aware who the young Venetian visitor to the church under his care was,
that some special circumstances caused him to feel a more than ordinary
interest in her. Some connection there must have been between some
portion of his life and that of some member or members of her family. Of
what nature was it? Monkish tribunals, however else they may treat those
subjected to them, at least keep their secrets. Frailties must be
expiated; but they need not be exposed. And the true story of the fault
which condemned Father Fabiano to end his days amid the swamps of St.
Apollinare, as well as the precise nature of the connection which had
existed between him and Paolina's parents, can be only matter of
conjecture.

Paolina, as has been said, pursued her path slowly. She had tripped
along much more lightly on her way from the city to St. Apollinare. And
yet she was urged on by a burning anxiety to know whither Ludovico and
Bianca had gone, and for what purpose they had come thither. But,
despite this nervous anxiety, she stepped slowly, because her heart
disapproved of the course she was taking. It seemed as if she was drawn
on towards the forest by some mysterious mechanical force, which she had
not the strength to resist. Again and again she had well nigh made up
her mind to turn aside from the path she was following. She would go
only a few steps further towards the edge of the forest. She looked out
eagerly before her, standing on tip-toe on every little bit of vantage
ground which the path afforded. She would only go as far as that next
bend in the path. But the bend in the path disclosed a stile a little
further on, from which surely a view of all the ground between the path
she was on and the farmhouse at which Ludovico and his companion had
descended, might be had. She would go so far and no further. And thus,
poor child, she went on and on, long and long after the monk had lost
sight of her, and with a deep sigh, had turned to go back again into the
church.

It had been six o'clock when Paolina started on her walk to the church,
and nothing had been settled with any accuracy between her and the old
friend and protectress, with whom she had come to Ravenna, and lived
during her stay there, as to the exact time at which she might be
expected to return. The name of the protectress in question was Signora
Orsola Steno, an old friend of her mother's, who, when Paolina
Foscarelli had been left an orphan, had, for pure charity and
friendship's sake, taken the child, and brought her up. Latterly, by the
exercise of the talent inherited from her father, Paolina had been able
to do something, not only towards meeting her own expenses, but towards
making some return for all that the good Orsola had done for her out of
her own poverty. And now this commission of the Englishman who had sent
her to Ravenna would go far towards improving the prospects of both
Paolina and her old friend.

Old Orsola did not know exactly at what time to expect Paolina back; but
she knew that Paolina's purpose on that Ash Wednesday morning was merely
to walk to the church, and, having seen the preparations that had been
made for her work, to return, without on that occasion remaining to
begin her task. So that when the hour of the midday meal arrived, and
her young friend had not returned, old Orsola began to be a little
uneasy about her.

Nor was her uneasiness lessened by her entire ignorance as to there
being little or much, or no cause at all for it. Never having left
Venice before in her life, old Orsola was as much a stranger in Ravenna,
and felt herself to be in an unknown world, as completely as an
Englishman would in Japan. Since she had been in Ravenna she had
frequently heard the Pineta spoken of, and the old church out there in
which her young friend was to do a portion of her task. But she had
heard them both mentioned as strange and wild places, not exactly like
all the rest of the world. And the old woman felt, that, for aught she
knew, this Pineta, and the old church in the wilderness on the borders
of it, might be a place full of dangers for a young girl all by herself.

And as the hours crept on, and no Paolina came, her uneasiness increased
till she felt it impossible to sit quietly at home waiting for her any
longer. She must go out, and--do what? The poor old woman did not in the
least know what to do; or of whom to make any inquiry. The only person
with whom the two Venetian strangers had become at all intimate in
Ravenna was the Marchese Ludovico. And the only step in her difficulty
which old Orsola could think of taking, after much doubt and hesitation,
was to go to the Palazzo Castelmare, and endeavour to speak with the
Marchesino. The letter of introduction, which they had brought from the
English patron, was addressed to the Marchese Lamberto. But the
acquaintance of the Venetians with him had remained very slight; and
Orsola felt so much awe of so grand and reverend a Signor, that it was
to the nephew only that she thought of applying.

So, not without much doubt and misgiving, the old woman put on her
bonnet and cloak and made the best of her way to the Castelmare palace.
There she found a porter lounging before the door, to whom she made her
petition to be allowed to speak to the Signor Marchese Ludovico.

"My name is Orsola Steno," said the old woman humbly, a little in awe of
the majestic porter, chosen for that situation for his size; "and the
Signor Marchesino knows me very well. I am sure he would not refuse to
see me."

Insolent servants in a great house are generally a sure symptom of
something amiss in the moral nature of their masters. Good and kindly
masters have and make civil and kindly servants; and the big porter of
the palazzo Castelmare was accordingly by no means a terrible personage.

"Signora Orsola Steno! To be sure. I remember you very well, Signora,
when you called on the padrone last summer. I am sure the Signor
Marchesino would have pleasure in seeing you, if he were at home. But he
is not here. And to tell you the truth, we have no idea where he is. He
came home early this morning after the ball, and instead of going to
bed, changed his dress, and went out again at once; and has not been
back since. Some devilry or other! Che vuole! We were all young once
upon a time, eh, Signora Orsola? And as for the Marchesino, he is as
good a gentleman as any in Ravenna or out of it, for that matter. But he
is young, Signora, he is young! And that's all the fault he has. Can I
give him any message for you, Signora?"

"The fact is," said old Orsola, after a few moments of rapid reflection
as to the expediency of telling her trouble to the porter, and a
decision prompted by the good-natured manner of the man, and by the poor
woman's extreme need of some one to tell her trouble to,--"the fact is,
that I wanted to ask the advice of the Signor Marchesino about a young
friend of mine, the Signora Paolina Foscarelli, who went out of the city
early this morning to go to St. Apollinare in Classe, and ought to have
been back hours ago. And I am quite uneasy about her."

"Why, your trouble, Signora, is of a piece with our own," said the
porter, with a burly laugh; "and it seems to me like enough we can help
each other. You miss a young lady; and we miss a young gentleman. When I
used to go out into the marshes a-shooting with the Marchese, we used to
be sure, when we had put up the cock bird, that the hen was not far off;
or, if we got the hen, we knew we had not far to look for the cock. Do
you see, Signora? Two to one the pair of runaways are together; and
they'll come home safe enough when they've had their fun out. I dare say
the Signor Marchesino and the Signorina you speak of are old friends?"

"Why, yes, Signore. For that matter they are old friends!" replied
Orsola, adopting the porter's phrase for want of one which could express
the meaning she had in her mind more desirably.

"To be sure--to be sure. And if you will take my advice, Signora, you
will go home, and give yourself no trouble at all about the young lady.
Lord bless us! what though 'tis Lenten-tide? Young folks will be young,
Signora Orsola. They'll come home safe enough. And maybe I might as well
say nothing to the Signor Marchesino about your coming here, you know.
When folks have come to that time of life, Signora, as brings sense with
it, they mostly learn that least said is soonest mended," said the old
porter, with a nod of deep meaning.

And Signora Orsola was fain to take the porter's advice, so far as
returning to her home went. But it was not equally easy to give herself
no further trouble about Paolina. It might be as the porter said; and if
she could have been sure that it was so the old lady would have been
perfectly easy. But it was not at all like Paolina to have planned such
an escapade without telling her old friend anything about it. She felt
sure that when Paolina said she was going to St. Apollinare to look
after the preparations for her copying there, she had no other or
further intention in her thoughts. To be sure there was the possibility
that Ludovico might have known her purpose of going thither, and might
have planned to accompany her on her expedition, without having apprized
her of any such scheme. And it might not be unlikely that in such a case
they had been tempted to spend a few hours in the Pineta. And with these
possibilities Signora Steno was obliged to tranquillize herself as she
best might.

She returned home not without some hope that she might find that Paolina
had returned during her absence; but such was not the case--Paolina was
still absent. And though it was now some eight or nine hours from the
time she had left home, old Orsola had nothing for it but to wait for
tidings of her as patiently as she could.



CHAPTER VI

Gigia's Opinion


The aged monk of St. Apollinare, after watching Paolina as she departed
from the Basilica, and took the path towards the forest, returned into
the church to his devotions at the altar of the saint, as has been said.
But he found himself unable to concentrate his attention as usual, not
on the meaning of the words of the litanies he uttered,--that, it may be
imagined, few such worshippers do, or even attempt to do,--but on such
devotional thoughts as, on other occasions, constituted his mental
attitude during the hours he spent before the altar.

He could not prevent his mind from straying to thoughts of the girl who
had just left him; of certain long-sleeping recollections of his own
past, which her name had recalled to him; of her very manifest emotion
at the sight of the couple in the bagarino, and the too easy
interpretation of the meaning of that emotion; and specially of her
implied intention of taking the same route that they had taken.

He thought of these things, and a certain sense of uneasiness and
misgiving came over him. The young artist had spoken kindly and sweetly
to him. She had seemed to him wonderfully pretty,--and that is not
without its influence even on eyes over which the cowl had been drawn
for more than three-score years; she was a fellow-Venetian too,--and
that with Italians, who find themselves in a stranger city, is a
stronger tie of fellowship than the people of less divided nations can
readily appreciate; and, above all, there were motives connected with
those awakened remembrances of the old man which made her an object of
interest to him. And the result of all this was, that he was uneasy at
seeing her depart on the errand on which he suspected that she had gone.

After awhile he arose from his knees, and, returning to the great open
door of the church, stood awhile irresolutely gazing out towards the
forest to the southward. He could not see the farmhouse, which has been
so frequently mentioned, from where he stood, because it is to the
eastward of the church. After awhile he strolled out and along the road,
till he came in sight of the house on the border of the forest. But
there was no human being to be seen. Then, apparently having taken a
resolution, he went into the dilapidated remains of the old convent, and
ascended a stair to the room where his sole companion, the lay brother,
was ill in bed. He gave the sick man a potion, placed a cup with drink
by his side, smoothed his pillow, and replaced a crucifix at the
bed-foot before the patient's eyes; and then, with a word of
consolation, descended again to the road, and after a long look towards
the forest, slowly moved off the nearest border of it.

It was between eight and nine when Father Fabiano, moving slowly and
irresolutely, thus sauntered off in the direction of the forest; but it
was nearly time for him to sound the "Angelus" at midday before he
returned.

Perhaps it was the fear that he might be late for this duty,--a task
which devolved on him, the lay brother being ill,--that made his steps,
as he returned, very different from those with which he had set forth.
He came back hurrying, with a haggard, wild terror in his eyes, shaking
in every limb, and with great drops of perspiration standing on his
brow. One would have said that all this evident perturbation could not
be caused only by the fear of being late to ring the "Angelus." His
first care, however, was to pay another visit to his patient.

"Ah! Padre, you are going to have your turn again. It is early this
year. All this wet weather. Why, your hand is shaking worse than mine!"
said the sick man, as the old monk handed him his draught. And it was
true enough that not only Father Fabiano's hands were shaking, but he
was, indeed, trembling all over; and any one but a sick man, lying as
the fevered lay-brother was lying, could not have failed to see that it
was from mental agitation, rather than from the shivering of incipient
ague, that he was suffering.

"You think of getting well yourself, brother Simone. I have not got the
fever yet," said the monk, making an effort to control himself and speak
in his ordinary manner.

"May the saints grant that your reverence do not fall ill before I am
able to get up, or I don't know what we should do."

"It is years, brother Simone, that make my hand shake, more than ague
this time, years, and many a former touch of the fever. I am not ill
this time yet. And now I must go and ring the 'Angelus.'"

And the old monk did go, and the "Angelus" was duly rung. But Brother
Simone, as he lay upon his fevered bed, was very well able to tell that
the rope was pulled by a very uncertain and unsteady hand. "Poor old
fellow! he's going fast! I wonder whether there's any chance of their
moving me when he's gone?" thought Brother Simone to himself.

But Father Fabiano, for his own part, judged that prayer and penance
were more needed for the healing of his present disorder, than either
bark or quinine. And when he had rung the bell, he betook himself again
to the altar of St. Apollinare, and with cowl drawn over his head, and
frequent prostrations till his forehead touched the marble flags of the
altar-step, spent before it most of the remaining hours of that day.
Nevertheless, it was true that, be the cause what it might, the aged
friar was ill, not in mind only, but also in the body. And before the
hour of evensong came,--his coadjutor, Fra Simone, the lay-brother,
being by that time so much better as to be able to crawl out,--Father
Fabiano was fain to stretch himself on the pallet in his cell. And Fra
Simone took it quite as a matter of course in the ordinary order of
things, that the father was laid up in his turn with an attack of fever
and ague.

It was much about the same time that Father Fabiano had set out on that
walk to the forest, from which he had returned in such a state of
agitation, that old Quinto Lalli, the prima donna's travelling
companion, was made acquainted with the escapade of his adopted
daughter. Though she bore his name, the fact was that the old man was in
no way related to the famous singer. But they had lived together in the
relationship first of teacher and pupil, and then of father and
daughter, by mutual adoption ever since the first beginning of the
singer's public career; and they mutually represented to each other the
only family ties which either of them knew or recognized in the world.
The old man had been several hours in bed, when Bianca had returned from
the ball, at about five in the morning of that Ash Wednesday. And it was
not till he came from his room, between eight and nine, that he heard
from Gigia, Bianca's maid, that her mistress had not gone to bed, but
had only changed her dress, and taken a cup of coffee before going out
with the Marchese Ludovico more than an hour ago in a bagarino.

There was nothing sufficiently strange to the former habits of his
adopted daughter in such an escapade, or so unlike to many another
frolic of the brilliant Diva in former days, as to cause any very great
surprise to the old singing-master--for such had been the original
vocation of Signor Lalli. Yet he seemed on this occasion to be not a
little annoyed at what she had done.

"And a very great fool she is for her pains," cried the old man, with an
oath; "it is just the last thing she ought to have done--the very last.
I really thought she had more sense!"

"I am sure, Signor Quinto, she has not had one bit of pleasure all this
Carnival. A nun couldn't have lived a quieter life, nor more shut up
than she has. With the exception of the old gentleman and the Marchese
Ludovico, she has never seen a soul!"

The old gentleman thus alluded to, it may be necessary to explain, was
the Marchese Lamberto. "And where's the use of never seeing a single
soul, if she throws all that she has gained by it away in this manner?"

"Why, Santa Virgine, Signor Quinto! Where's the harm? Isn't the Signor
Ludovico the old one's own nephew?" expostulated Gigia shrilly.

"The old one, as you call him, is not a bit the more likely to like it
for that. It is just the very last thing she should have done. I do
wonder she should not have more sense," grumbled Quinto.

"Misericordia! why what a piece of work about nothing! The old gentleman
will never know anything about it, you may be very sure. He is safe
enough in bed and asleep after his late hours, you may swear. Besides,
it's both best and honestest to begin as you mean to go on, and accustom
him to what he's got to expect," said Gigia, fighting loyally for her
side.

"All very well in good time. But it would be as well for Bianca to make
sure first what she has got to expect."

"Why, you don't suppose, Signor Quinto, nor yet that old Marchese don't
suppose, I should think, that he's going to marry a woman like my
mistress, to keep her caged up like a bird that's never to sing, except
for him?"

"I tell you, Gigia, and you would do well to tell her, and make her
understand, that she is not Marchesa di Castelmare yet, and is not
likely to be, if this morning's work were to come to the ears of the
Marchese. It is just the very worst thing she could have done; and I
should have thought she must know that. I had rather that she should
have gone with any other man in the town."

"I am sure," said Gigia, with a virtuous toss of the head, "she would
not wish to go with any one of them."

"And she would wish to go with the Marchese Ludovico! There's all the
mischief. Just what I am afraid of. I tell you, Gigia, that if the
Marchese Lamberto hears of her going off in this manner with his nephew,
the game is all up. He would never forgive it."

"You will excuse me, Signor Quinto," said Gigia, with a demure air of
speaking modestly on a subject which she perfectly well understood--"You
will excuse me, if I tell you that I know a great deal better than that.
There's men, Signor Quinto, who are in love because they like it; and
there's others who are in love whether they like it or no, because they
can't help themselves!"

"And you fancy the Marchese Lamberto is one of those who can't help
himself, eh?" grumbled Quinto discontentedly.

"If I ever saw a man who was so limed that he couldn't help himself,
it's that poor creature of a Marchese! He's caught safe enough, you may
take my word for that, Signor Quinto. He's caught, and can't budge, I
tell you--hand nor foot, body nor soul! Lord bless you, I know 'em. Why,
do you think he'd ever have come near my mistress a second time if he
could have helped himself? He's not like your young 'uns, who come to
amuse themselves. Likely enough, he'd give half of all he's worth this
day never to have set eyes on her; but, as for giving her up, he could
as soon give himself up!"

"Humph!" grunted the old singer, with a shrug, and a sound that was half
a sneer and half a chuckle. "I suppose he don't above half like the
price he has to pay for his plaything! But that don't make it wise in
Bianca to drive him to the wall more than need be. Limed and caught as
he is, he's one that may give her some trouble yet. For my part, I wish
she had not gone on this fool's errand this morning. Now, I will go and
get my breakfast. I shall be back in half-an-hour. I expect Signor
Ercole Stadione here this morning."

Signor Ercole Stadione was the impresario of the Ravenna theatre.

"And if he comes before you are back, Signor Quinto?" asked Gigia.

"If he should come before I am back, let the boy call me from the cafe.
And, Gigia, whenever he comes, you can let him understand, you know,
that your mistress is in her own room,--resting after the ball, you
know. He's hand and glove with the Marchese."

"I wasn't born yesterday, Signor Quinto, though you seem to think so,"
returned Gigia, as the old man began to descend the stairs.

Signor Quinto went to the cafe, and consumed his little cup of black
coffee, with its abominable potion of so-called "rhum" in it, and the
morsel of dry bread, which constituted his accustomed breakfast; and
then, as he was returning to his lodging, encountered the "impresario"
in the street.

"Well met, Signor Lalli!" cried little Signor Ercole, cheerily. "I was
on my way to your house to settle our little matters. I have not seen
you, I think, since Sunday night. The bustle of these last days of the
Carnival! How divinely she sang that night! If Bellini could have heard
her, it would have been the happiest day of his life."

"I am glad that you were contented, Signor Ercole."

"Contented! The whole city was enraptured. There never was such a
success. You have got that little memorandum of articles--?"

"No. I've got the paper signed at Milan; but not--"

"Stay, let me see. True, true. I remember now. It remained with the
Marchese. We shall want it, you know, just to put all in order. We can
call at the Palazzo Castelmare on our way, and ask the Marchese for it?"

"Will he be up at this hour, after last night's ball?" asked Quinto.

"He? The Marchese? One sees you are a stranger in Ravenna, my dear sir.
I don't suppose the Marchese has ever been in bed after eight o'clock
the last quarter of a century. He is an early man, the Marchese,--an
example to us all in that, as in all else."

"Very well; then we can call for the paper on our way to my lodging; it
is not much out of the way."

So they walked together to the Palazzo Castelmare, talking of the
brilliant success of the past theatrical season, and of the eminent
qualities and virtues of the Marchese Lamberto; and when they reached
the door the impresario desired the servant who answered the bell to
tell the Marchese that he, Signor Ercole, wished to speak with him, but
would not detain him a moment.

The Marchese, the man said, was not up yet. He, the servant, had been to
his door at the usual hour, but had received no answer to his knock; so
that it was evident that his master was still sleeping. He had been very
late the night before,--far later than was usual with him,--and no doubt
he would ring his bell as soon as he waked.

"The fact is," said Signor Ercole, as he and Quinto Lalli turned away
from the door, "that the Marchese has not been well of late. He very
often does me the honour of conversing with me,--I may say indeed of
consulting me on subjects of art;--and I grieve to say that I have of
late observed a change in him. He is not like the same man."

"Getting old, I suppose, like the rest of us," said Quinto.

"Like some of us," corrected Signor Ercole; "but, Lord bless you! the
Marchese is a young man--a young man, so to speak,--he's not above
fifty, and a very young man of his years; at least he was so a month or
two ago. But changed he is. Everybody has seen it. Let us hope that it
is merely some temporary indisposition. Ravenna can't afford to lose the
Marchese."

"I suppose we had better put off settling our little bit of business
till another time?" said Quinto. "Shall we say to-morrow, at the same
hour? And I will get that paper from the Marchese in the meantime,"
returned Signor Ercole.

"That will suit me perfectly well; to-morrow, then, at my lodgings at
ten, shall we say?"

"At ten; I will not fail to wait upon you, Signor Lalli, at that hour.
In the meantime I beg you to present my most distinguished homage to the
divina Cantatrice," said the little impresario, taking off his hat and
holding it at arm's length above his head, as he made a very magnificent
bow.

"Servitore suo, stimatissimo Signor Ercole! A dimane!" replied old
Quinto, as he returned the impresario's salutation, with a slighter and
less provincial bow.

"A dimane alle dieci!" rejoined the impresario; and so the two men
parted.

"Not a bad bit of luck," thought the old singing master to himself, as
he sauntered towards his lodging, "that the Marchese should be in bed
this morning. It gives a chance that he may never hear of this mad
scappata with the Signor Ludovico. Lose the Marchese Lamberto! No, per
Bacco! there are other people, beside the good folks of the city of
Ravenna, who can't afford to lose the Marchese Lamberto just yet!"



CHAPTER VII

An Attorney-at-law in the Papal States


At a little after twelve o'clock on that same Ash Wednesday morning, a
servant in the Castelmare livery brought a verbal message to the
"studio" of Signor Giovacchino Fortini, "procurators,"--attorney-at-law,
as we should say,--requesting that gentleman to step as far as the
Palazzo Castelmare, as the Marchese would be glad to speak with him.

The message was not one calculated to excite any surprise either in the
servant who carried it, or in Signor Fortini himself. Signor Giovacchino
was, and had been for many years, the confidential lawyer of the
Castelmare family. And the various business connected with large landed
possessions made frequent conferences necessary between the lawyer and
such a client as the Marchese, who, among his other activities, had
always been active in the management and care of his estates.

Signor Giovacchino Fortini was very decidedly the first man of his
profession in Ravenna, as indeed might be expected of the person who had
been honoured for more than one generation by the confidence of the
Castelmare family. For the lawyer was a much older man than the
Marchese, and had been the confidential adviser of his father. And old
Giovacchino Fortini's father and grandfather had sat in the same
"studio" before him, and had held the same position towards previous
generations of the Castelmare family.

For three generations also the Fortini, grandfather, father, and son,
had been lawyers to the Chapter of Ravenna; a fact which vouched the
very high standing and consideration they held in the city, and at the
same time explained the circumstances under which it had come to pass
that the "studio" they had occupied for so many years, seemed more like
some public building than the private offices of a provincial attorney.

In fact the "Studio Fortini" was a portion of an ancient building
attached to the Cathedral, in which some of the less dignified members
of the Chapter had their residences. The building in question encircled
a small cloistered court, the soil of which was on a lower level than
that of the street outside it; and the residences, to which a series of
little doors around this cloister gave access, looked as if they must
have been miserably damp and unwholesome. But the "Studio Fortini" was
not situated in any part of this damp lower floor. In the corner of the
cloister nearest to the Cathedral, there was a wide and picturesque old
stone staircase, which led to an upper cloister, as sunny and pleasant
looking as the lower one was the reverse. There, near the head of the
stair, was a round arched deeply sunk stone doorway, closed by a black
door, bearing a bright brass plate on it, conveying the information,
altogether superfluous to every man, woman, and child in Ravenna, that
there was situated the "Studio Fortini."

This black door was never quite closed during the day. It admitted
anybody who chose to push it into a small ante-room, on one side of
which might be seen through a glass door a long low vaulted room, or
gallery rather, running over some half dozen of the inhabited cells
below. And along the whole length of it on either side, up to the height
of the small round arched windows placed high up in the wall, were
ranges of shelves occupied by many hundreds of volumes, all of the same
size, and all bound alike in parchment, with two red bands of Russian
leather running across the backs of them, and all lettered and dated in
black ink, of gradually shaded degrees of fadedness. The place looked
like the archive-room of some public establishment, which kept its
archives in very unusually good order.

All these were the documents and pleadings in all the lawsuits and other
legal transactions of all the clients of the three generations of the
Fortini. And it would not have been too much to say, that Signor
Giovacchino Fortini would have deemed the destruction of this mass of
papers as a misfortune to be paralleled only by that of the Alexandrian
library.

On the opposite side to the long gallery the anteroom gave access to a
large and lofty vaulted chamber, about one-sixth part of the space of
which--that is, a third of the floor and a half of the height--was
partitioned off by a slight modern wall and ceiling. Two young clerks
occupied the larger unenclosed portion of the large hall,--for such its
size entitled it to be called,--and Signor Fortini's senior and
confidential clerk sat on the top of the ceiling, which enclosed the
smaller portion. A small wooden stair gave access to this lofty
position, which was admirably adapted for keeping an eye on the
youngsters on the floor below. Under the same ceiling, in the snug
little room thus divided off, sat Signor Fortini himself. And a very
snug and bright-looking little room it was, with a pretty
stone-mullioned three-lighted casement window opening to the south; and
in the wall at right angles to it another window, offering accommodation
of a much more unusual and peculiar kind. It opened, in fact, into the
transept of the cathedral, and had been intended to enable the occupier
or occupiers of the apartment, now inhabited by the lawyer, to enjoy the
benefit of attending mass without the trouble of descending into the
church for that purpose. If Signor Giovacchino Fortini did not often use
it for that purpose, it, at all events, had the effect of imparting an
ecclesiastical air to his habitat, which seemed to have a certain
propriety in the case of a gentleman whose business connections with the
hierarchy were so close, and unquestionably added to the savour of
unimpeachable respectability which appertained to Signor Fortini and all
belonging to him.

Signor Fortini was a tall, thin, adust old man, with a large,
well-developed forehead, a keen, bright hazel eye, and bristling,
iron-grey hair, which had once been black, and a beard to match, which
seemed as if the barber entrusted with the care of it were always two or
three days in arrear with his work. By some incomprehensible combination
of circumstances it seemed as if Signor Fortini's face were never seen
fresh shaven. His sharp chin and lanthorn jaws appeared to be
perennially clothed with a two days' old crop of grisly stubble,--two
days' growth,--neither more nor less!

Long years ago he had buried a childless wife, who was said to have been
a wonderful beauty, and to have been in many ways a trouble greater than
Signor Fortini knew how to manage, and a trial that made his life a
burthen to him. Those old troubles were now, however, long since past
and gone; and Signor Fortini lived only for his law and his artistic and
antiquarian collections. He was like many of his peers in the provincial
cities of the Papal dominions--a great antiquary and virtuoso.
Antiquarianism is a "safe" pursuit under a government the nature of
which makes and finds very many intellectual occupations unsafe. And
this may account for the fact, that very many competent historical
antiquaries and collectors are found in the Pope's territories among
such men as Signor Fortini.

The son and grandson of thriving lawyers, who had for nearly an hundred
years managed the affairs of the Chapter and the estates of the
principal landed proprietors of the neighbourhood, was not likely to be
otherwise than well off; and it was generally understood that Signor
Fortini was a wealthy man. He loudly protested on all occasions that
this was a most mistaken notion; but there never occurred an opportunity
of adding to his very remarkable collection of drawings of the old
masters, or his unrivalled series of mediaeval seals, or his all but
perfect library of the Municipal Statutes of the mediaeval Communes of
Italy, which found Signor Fortini unprepared to outbid most competitors.

There were very few among his clients whom Signor Fortini would not have
expected to call on him at his "studio," instead of summoning him to
wait on them. But the Marchese di Castelmare was one of these
few,--perhaps as much, or more, on the score of old friendship as on
that of rank and social importance.

The old lawyer was not more importantly occupied when he received the
Marchese's message, than by intently examining a bronze medal through a
magnifying-glass; and he sent back word that he would be with the
Marchese immediately. The fact was he did not like the look of this
summons at all. He, too, had observed the unmistakable change in his old
friend; and jumped to the conclusion that what he was wanted for was to
make, or to be consulted about making, the Marchese's will.

"To think of his breaking up so suddenly, in such a way as this. No
stamina! Why, he must be twenty years my junior; and I don't feel a day
older than I did ten years ago, not a day. He has led a steady life too;
and seemed as likely a man to last as one would wish to look at. I
suppose everything will go to the nephew,--legacies to servants, and
something, I should not wonder, to the town hospital,--not that I think
he can have saved much, if any thing. I should like that little cabinet
Guido and I don't suppose Signor Ludovico would care a rush about it."

With these thoughts in his mind Signor Fortini presented himself at the
door of the Castelmare palace within ten minutes of the time when he had
received the summons of the Marchese, and was immediately ushered into
the library.

A bright ray of sunshine was streaming in at the large window, and
flooding half the room with its comfortable warmth and cheerful light.
But the Marchese, though he held a scaldino (a little earthenware pot
filled with burning braise) in his hand, and was apparently shivering
with cold, sat in his large library-chair, drawn into the darkest corner
of the room, cowering over this scaldino, which he held between his
knees. He jumped up from his seat, however, to receive his visitor with
an air, one would have said, of having been startled by his entrance.

"It is kind of you to come to me so quickly, Signor Giovacchino," he
said; and then turning angrily to the servant, who was leaving the room,
added in a cross and irritable voice, very unlike his usual manner, "Why
are not those persiane shut? Close them directly, and then
begone--quick!"

The man, with a startled look, did as he was bid; and the heavy wooden
jalousies thus shut reduced the room to comparative darkness.

"I am afraid I find you very far from well, Signor Marchese. Would not a
little sun be pleasant this bright morning? the air is quite fresh
despite the sunshine."

"I don't like the sun indoors! I don't know how my rascals came to leave
the persiane open."

"I thought you seemed cold, Signor Marchese," said the lawyer, kindly.

"So I am cold--very cold," he said, and his teeth chattered as he said
it; "but the light hurts my eyes."

"It very often does so when one is not well."

"Not well! I'm well enough, man alive. But I think I must have caught a
little cold at the ball last night," rejoined the Marchese, striving
hard to speak in his usual manner.

The lawyer, whose eyes had by this time become accustomed to the
diminished light, looked hard at his old friend from beneath his great
shaggy black eye-brows, with a shrewdly examining glance, and then
slightly shook his head.

"Well, I daresay you'll be all right again in a day or two. But any way,
I am glad you sent for me all the same. These things have to be done,
you know. And a man does not die a bit the sooner for doing them. For my
part, I always advise my friends to have all such matters settled while
they are in health."

"What, in Heaven's name, are you talking about? I don't know what you
mean," said the Marchese, with an angry irritability that was totally
unlike his usual manner. "I sent for the lawyer; and you come and talk to
me as if you wanted to play the doctor."

"I assure you, Signor Marchese, I have not the slightest desire to play
any part but my own. And that I am perfectly ready to enter on. I am
ready to take your instructions, and will draw up the instrument
to-morrow or the next day. Thank God there is no cause for hurry. And
that is one of the advantages of arranging all testamentary dispositions
while we are in health. My own will, Signor Marchese, has been made
these ten years."

"What is that to me? I may make my will ten years hence, and yet get it
done in quite as good time as you have, Signor Fortini. Pray allow me to
judge for myself, when I think it right to make my will. I have usually
been able to manage my own affairs." He spoke with a degree of anger and
petulance, jumping up from his chair, and taking a turn to the window
and back again, which seemed to conquer the shivering fit from which he
had been suffering.

"Manage your own affairs, Signor Marchese! Who would dream of
interfering with your management of them? But did you not send for me to
make your will?" said the lawyer, standing also.

"Send for you to make my will! No devil told you I wanted to make my
will? I said nothing about making my will."

"I beg your pardon, Signor Marchese. Perhaps I jumped at a conclusion
over hastily. I thought it a wise thing to do, and so imagined that you
were going to do it;--that's all. Let us say no more about it. What
commands have you then to give me?"

The Marchese took another turn across the room before replying; and the
observant lawyer saw him, when his back was turned, pass his hand across
his brow, with the action of one ill at ease. Then resuming his seat,
and motioning the lawyer to take a chair, he said--"If you will take a
chair, Signor Giovacchino, I will tell you the business for which I have
sent for you. I have thought it my duty--family considerations--in fact,
I've been thinking on the subject for a long time--in short, Signor
Fortini, I am about to be married."

"Whew--w--w!" whistled the lawyer, without the least attempt at
concealing the extremity of his astonishment; and pushing back his chair
a couple of feet, as he raised his head to stare into his companion's
face.

"And pray, Signor, what is there to be astonished at in such an
intention?" said the Marchese, evidently wincing under the lawyer's
look.

"I beg your pardon, Signor Marchese, but--the fact is--one is always
astonished at what one does not expect, you know. You may depend on it,
I am not one bit more astonished than every human being in Ravenna will
be," said the lawyer, looking hard at him.

"I am not aware, Signor Fortini, that I have to answer to any one save
myself for the wisdom of my resolution," said the Marchese, with a
dignity more like his usual manner than he had yet spoken.

"Certainly not, Signor Marchese. Certainly not. But the exception is an
important one. You will have to answer for the wisdom of your resolution
to yourself," rejoined Fortini, drily.

"That, Signor Fortini, is my affair. As I told you, I have considered
the matter well; and I have made up my mind."

"May I ask, Signor Marchese, whether your intention has been
communicated to your nephew?" asked the lawyer.

"As yet I have announced it to no one save yourself. As soon as the
necessary arrangements with regard to matters of property have been
determined on, it will be the fitting time to do so."

"Before any word can be said on that head, of course, it is necessary
that your lordship should mention, what you have not yet confided to
me,--the name of the lady with whom you are about to ally yourself."

"Of course; and it is for the purpose of doing so that I have requested
your presence here this morning, Signor Fortini. Before naming the lady,
I will merely remark to you, that a man at my time of life may be
expected to know his own mind, and has a right to please himself. And
bearing these remarks in mind, you will understand that I do not wish to
hear any observations on the subject of the choice I have made. My
choice is made; and that is sufficient."

The Marchese looked up into the lawyer's face, and paused for some reply
to these preliminary observations before proceeding to tell his secret;
but the lawyer maintained a look and attitude of silent expectation.

"It is my intention," proceeded the Marchese, "to marry the Signora
Bianca Lalli;--the lady whose conduct, as well as her talent, has won
the good opinion of the entire city."

The old lawyer flung down on the table, with a clatter, a paper-knife
which he had taken into his hand while speaking, and rising abruptly
from his chair, took one or two turns across the room before he answered
a word. Then coming in front of the Marchese, and still continuing to
stand, he said,

"You have warned me, Signor Marchese, not to make any remarks on the
communication you have just made to me. There is one, however, which
perforce I must make. It is that I must decline to take any
instructions, or to act in any way, for the forwarding of such a
purpose."

"There are other attorneys in Ravenna, Signor Fortini."

"Plenty, Signor Marchese; plenty who will be abundantly ready to do your
bidding. But Giovacchino Fortini will not. Good heaven! I should expect
to have my dear and honoured old friend and patron, your father, coming
out of his grave to upbraid me. Signor Marchese, you know right well--as
well as I do myself--that at this time of day, I don't care two straws,
as a mere matter of gain, whether I continue to be honoured with the
transaction of your legal affairs or not. But I do care on other
grounds. And I do implore you to believe that I am speaking to you more
as a friend than as a lawyer;--that I am speaking to you as the whole
city would speak, and will speak when it hears of this--this
incredible--this monstrous notion,--when I entreat you to think yet
further on this most disastrous purpose."

Of course when a man speaks as Signor Fortini spoke to the Marchese, he
does it not without some hope that his words may produce an effect on
the person he addresses. But the lawyer had not much expectation that in
the present case what he said would be listened to. He spoke more for
the discharge of his own conscience, and because the feelings he
expressed were strong within him, than for any other reason. And he
fully expected that he should be answered with words of anger and
uncompromising rejection of his interference.

It was not without considerable surprise, therefore, that he heard the
Marchese's moderate answer to the strong opposition he had offered to
his intention. "Well, Signor Fortini, I cannot doubt that what you have
said has been, at all events, dictated by a strong regard for my
welfare, as you understand it. I have, as I told you, made up my mind
upon the subject. Nevertheless, counsel cannot but be useful, and it is
well not to be precipitate. I will, therefore, so far accept your advice
as to promise you that I will give myself time to deliberate yet further
on the step. In the meantime you will note that my first communication
to you on the subject was made on this first day of Lent; so that when I
again seek your assistance in the matter, you will know that I have at
least not acted in a hurry, but have given myself due time for mature
reflection."

"I am delighted, Signor Marchese, to have obtained from you at least
thus much. It is at all events something gained. And I shall still hope,
that further reflection may lead you to change your purpose. Hoping
that, I shall, you may depend upon it, breathe no word of what you have
said to me to any living soul. But you must understand that, without
such hope, I should have deemed it my duty to speak on the subject with
the Marchese Ludovico."

"How so, Signor Fortini? A lawyer--"

"Very true, Signor Marchese. A lawyer, as you would observe, is
addressed by his client in confidence, and the confidence should be
sacred. But you must remember that I have the honour to act in this, as
I and my father have done on all other occasions for now three
generations, not only for your lordship, but for the whole of the
family. I am the legal adviser of the Marchese Ludovico, as I was his
father's, and as I am yours. It is my duty, therefore, as I understand
it, to look upon myself as bound to consider the welfare and interests
of the entire family; and I need not remark to you how cruelly those of
the Marchese Ludovico would be compromised by such an event as we were
contemplating just now."

"With regard to speaking to my nephew on the subject, Signor Fortini, I
can have no objection to your doing so, if you think it your duty. He
will, of course, be informed of my intention by myself. Do not forget,
however, that my first communication to you on this subject was on the
first day of Lent, Ash Wednesday."

"Forget it, Signor Marchese! I am not likely to forget it for a long
time to come, I assure you," said the lawyer, not a little surprised.

"I mention it because I am anxious that you should not accuse me of
acting with precipitancy in this matter; that when I shall renew my
application to you, you may remember that I have had due and sufficient
time for reflection. Addio, Signor Giovacchino," said the Marchese,
reverting to the more friendly form of address; "addio, ed a rivederci
fra poco!"

"Servo suo, Lustrissimo Signor Marchese, a rivederci!"



CHAPTER VIII

Lost in the Forest


Signor Fortini went straight home to his pleasant little snuggery under
the wing,--it might almost be said, under the roof,--of the Cathedral,
and sat down in his easy chair to resume the occupation that had been
interrupted by the summons from the Marchese. He took up the medal he
had been examining, and the magnifying glass, in a manner that implied a
sort of ostentatious protest to himself that the calm and even tenour of
his own life and occupations was not to be disturbed from its course by
all the follies and extravagances of the world around him.

But "mentem mortalia tangunt!" The glass was soon laid aside: the medal
remained idly in his hand, and his mind would recur to the things he had
just seen and heard.

That an old bachelor should be caught at last by a pretty face, and make
a fool of himself in his mature age, was no unprecedented phenomenon.
That a man, who had never in any way made a fool of himself at the
proper age for such an operation, should, after all, do so when those
who did so in their salad days have become wise, was not unheard of.
Nevertheless, Signor Fortini, who, in the course of his seventy years,
had had a tolerably wide experience of mankind, was astonished that the
Marchese Lamberto di Castelmare should have been tempted to act as he
proposed to act.

"The very last man," said Signor Fortini musingly to himself, "that I
could have suspected of such a thing! The man who has the highest
reputation in the city for sound judgment and unexceptionable conduct,
to turn out the greatest fool! An old ass! How little be dreams of what
he is bringing upon himself. Let alone the terrible fall, the
disgrace,--in every way, disgrace and contempt and ridicule! It seems
impossible, even now, that he should be in earnest. He must be mad! And,
davvero, his manner was at times so strange, that I could almost believe
he really is not quite in his right mind. Very strange his manner
was,--very! And very ill he looked, too. Everybody has been saying that
he looked ill,--that he looked old,--that there must be something wrong
with him. Wrong with a vengeance! So this was the cause of it all: the
Marchese Lamberto is in love! Bah!--Bah!!--Bah!!!--(with crescendo
expression of disgust). Poor devil! Well, I was in love once, or fancied
myself so. But then. I was twenty-five years old. Un altro paio di
maniche! And I very soon found out my mistake. But he, at his time of
life! And such a woman! Well, the Emperor Justinian married Theodora.
So, I suppose we Ravennati have authority for madness in that kind. And
that poor good fellow, the Marchese Ludovico, too! It is too bad. And
all because such a creature as that is cunning enough to know how to
drive a hard bargain for the painted face she has to sell. But that is
the sort of woman who can make that sort of conquest. A good woman now,
who would have made him an honoured and good wife, would never have made
such a blind, abject slave of him. He is bewitched! He is mad! and ought
not to be allowed to carry out so insane a project! Perhaps it may still
be possible to induce him to hear reason. It was very odd, that way,
that just at last he promised me he would think of it again before he
finally decided. Very odd. Just as if a man has not finally decided in
such a matter before he sends to his lawyer! It is all very--very
strange. And I have a good mind to speak to Signor Ludovico at once. I
think it would be the right thing to do,--I do think that would be the
most proper thing to do. The old fool ought to be treated as one non
compos!"

And then the old lawyer, after spending nearly an hour in such musings,
got up and went to his house,--not two minutes' walk from his
"studio"--to his solitary but comfortable two-o'clock dinner.

By the time he had finished his repast, he had made up his mind that he
would at once confer with the Marchese Ludovico on the subject of his
uncle's disastrous project. It was by that time nearly half-past three;
and Signor Fortini walked out towards the Circolo, having little doubt
that he should find Ludovico there at that hour.

But on his way thither he met the man he was in search of in the street.
The young Marchese was walking at a hurried pace, and appeared to be
scared, troubled, and heated. Nothing could be more unlike his usual
easy, lounging, poco-curante bearing. The lawyer saw at once that
something was the matter; and thought that, in all probability, the
Marchese Lamberto had been already forestalling him, by speaking to his
nephew himself on the subject of his projected marriage.

"Oh, Signor Ludovico," said Fortini, as he met him, "I was on my way, to
the Circolo, on purpose to see if I could meet with you there."

"Why, what is it? Have you any news to tell me?" said the young man in a
hurried manner, that the lawyer thought odd.

"Yes. I wished to speak to you on rather an important matter. Have you
seen the Marchese Lamberto this morning?"

"No. I have been out of the town. I am but this moment come back,"
replied Ludovico, evidently anxiously.

"I should be glad to speak to you for a few minutes before you go to the
Palazzo Castelmare. If you are going to the Circolo, I would walk with
you, and we could speak there," said Fortini.

"I'll be there in less than ten minutes. But I want first to run just as
far as La Lalli's lodging in the Strada di Porta Sisi, only to ask a
question," said Ludovico.

"La Lalli again! The devil fly away with her! It was about her that I
wanted to speak to you," said the lawyer.

"What about her? Have you seen her? Do you know where she is?" asked
Ludovico, hurriedly and anxiously.

"I seen her! No. Where she is? In her bed most likely, after dancing all
last night, I should think!"

"Well, I must run and just ascertain whether she is at home!" said
Ludovico, again trying to escape. But the old lawyer, partly put a
little bit out of temper by the young man's evident wish to get rid of
him, partly angered by finding the nephew thus running after the same
mischief that was threatening to ruin his uncle, and partly thinking
that it was desirable that the news he had to tell should be told before
Ludovico should come to speech with his uncle, was determined not to let
him escape till he had said what he had to say.

"Very well, Signor. I can say what I have to say in the street as well
as anywhere else. Though I confess I expected a somewhat more ready
reception of information which concerns you nearly, Signor Marchese, and
which I am prompted to tell you by my interest in your welfare. Listen!
Your uncle sent for me this morning for the purpose of announcing to me
his intention of marrying this Bianca Lalli!"

"So I have been told this very morning," said Ludovico.

"I thought you said that you had not seen your uncle this morning!"
returned the lawyer.

"No more I have; but are there not two persons from whom such an
intention may be learned?" said Ludovico, with a slight approach to a
sneer.

"The lady, you mean?" said Fortini.

"Exactly so--the lady!" rejoined Ludovico.

"The lady herself told you that the Marchese Lamberto had proposed
marriage to her?" persisted the lawyer.

"The lady herself told me so," replied the Marchese.

"But I thought you said that you had only just now returned to the
city?" objected the lawyer again.

"Really, Signor Fortini, one would think that I was being examined
before a police-magistrate! However, since my tongue has let the cat out
of the bag, you may take the creature, and make the most of her! I did
receive the intelligence in question from the lady concerned, and I have
just returned to the city. She communicated the fact to me during a
little excursion we made together to the Pineta this morning, after the
ball. Now you know all about it," said Ludovico, still in a hurry to get
away.

"Not quite!" rejoined Fortini, quite imperturbably. "If you went to the
Pineta with her--(did anybody ever hear of such a mad thing?)--and
returned this morning, how can you want to go now to her house to ask
whether she is there?"

"Because, you very clever inquisitor, though I went to the Pineta with
her, I did not say that I had come back with her."

"The deuce you did not! Did another gentleman undertake the duty of
escorting the lady back to town? It is all exceedingly pleasant for the
Marchese Lamberto, upon my word!--oh, exceedingly!--and really a
foretaste to him of the joys to come, quite frankly offered to him on
the part of the lady!" sneered the old lawyer.

"Pshaw! how she may have come back, or with whom, I don't know, and
can't guess; and that is just what I am anxious to find out," said
Ludovico, in provoked impatience.

"I don't understand. Where did you part with the lady?" persisted the
lawyer, interested rather by the evident uneasiness of the Marchese
Ludovico, than by any care how and in what company Bianca might have
found her way back to the city.

"Well, that's just the curious part of the matter. If you want to know
how the thing happened, since you know so much already, walk with me to
the Strada di Porta Sisi, and I will tell you how it happened. At the
ball we spoke of the Pineta,--she had never seen it,--asked me to show
it to her. In short, we agreed to start on leaving the ball, instead of
going to bed. I got a bagarino, and drove her to the farmhouse by the
edge of the wood, just behind St. Apollinare; left the bagarino there,
and strolled into the wood. It was there that she told me of my uncle's
purpose. And I was not a little taken aback, as you may suppose.
However, that is matter for talk by-and-by. We strolled about a good
while, then sat down. She told me a good deal of the history of her
life. We must have been talking--I don't know how long; but a long time.
Then she said she was so sleepy, she must have a little sleep; she could
keep her eyes open no longer. Natural enough! She had been dancing all
night--had never closed her eyes for a minute since. The bank we were
sitting on was the most delicious place for a siesta that can be
conceived. In two minutes she was fast asleep. She slept on and on till
I was tired of waiting. No doubt I should have slept too, had not the
intelligence she had given me been of a sort to keep me waking, for one
while at least. Having my mind full of this, and not being able to
sleep, I strayed away from her, and returned in a few minutes, as I
think, to the place where I had left her, but could not find her. I
could not be sure about the place. One bit of the forest is so much like
another,--just the same thing over and over again,--that I could not
feel quite sure of the spot. I still think I went back to the right
place; but there she was not. Then I searched the wood all round, far
and near, for, I should think, a couple of hours or more. I called
aloud, again and again, all to no purpose. And what on earth has become
of her I cannot imagine."

"And why you need trouble your head about it, I don't see. I wished the
devil might fly away with her just now! And if the devil has taken the
hint and done so, I confess it seems to me about the best thing that
could happen! Why on earth you, of all people in the world, Signor
Ludovico, should be so anxious to recover the lady, I confess I cannot
understand. Would it not be the best thing in the world for you if she
were never heard of again?"

"Oh, per amore di Dio, Signor Giovacchino, don't talk in that way. Never
heard of again! I shall be really uneasy if I don't hear of her again in
a very few minutes. It is so extraordinary. What can have become of
her?"

"Become of her! Why, she waited, of course: got tired of waiting for
you, and so strolled back to the town. That sort of lady does not much
like waiting, I fancy."

"That sort of lady does not much like walking so far as from the Pineta
here, I fancy. Besides, I should have overtaken her on the road."

"In any case what is there to be uneasy about. No harm can have happened
to her. No such luck, per Bacco!"

"Harm! No; no harm can have happened to her, beyond losing herself in
the forest. What I am afraid of is that she has strayed and not been
able to find her way. And God knows how far she may wander. When I tell
you that in wandering away from the place where I left her, for not
above a quarter of an hour, I lost my way, and that when I found, as I
supposed, the place where we had been, I could not be sure whether it
was the same spot or not; you may suppose how easy it is to lose
oneself. And I don't suppose the poor girl would be able to walk very
far. If she has not returned, I must get help and go back to the forest
and search till I find her."

"It's far more likely that you will find that she has returned home. I
wish, for my part, that she had never set foot within a dozen miles of
Ravenna. Just think what it would be! But I trust--I trust we may yet be
able to induce your uncle to listen to reason."

"I'll tell you what, Signor Fortini. I should not be surprised if it
should be found more possible to make the other party hear reason."

"What, the lady!"

"Yes, the lady--if we set about the matter in the right way."

"Well, Signor Ludovico, it may be that you may understand such matters
and such people better than I can pretend to do. It is not improbable.
But my conceptions of the power of persuasion have never risen yet to a
belief in the possibility of persuading a dog who has got a lump of
butter in his mouth to relinquish it."

"Umph! you are not particularly gallant, Signor Giovacchino. We shall
see. But all that must be matter for future conversation. Here we are at
her door. Let us see if anything has been heard of her." Ludovico,
leaving his companion for an instant in the street, sprang up the stairs
to make inquiry; and in the next minute returned looking very much vexed
and annoyed, with the information that nothing had been seen or heard of
the Diva since she left the house in his company at an early hour that
morning.



CHAPTER IX

"Passa la Bella Donna e par che dorma"--Tasso


"What's to be done now? I absolutely must find her," said Ludovico,
looking, as he felt, exceedingly puzzled and annoyed.

"Well, yes. Considering the nature of the information she gave you this
morning, and bearing in mind that her existence in the flesh promises to
be the means of leaving you without the price of a crust of bread in the
world, and the further fact she was last seen starting on a tete-a-tete
expedition with you at six o'clock in the morning, I admit that it is
desirable that you should find her," said the lawyer, with somewhat grim
pleasantry.

"For heaven's sake, Signor Giovacchino, don't talk in that sort of way,
even in jest," replied the young man, looking round at the lawyer with
an uneasy eye. "After all, nothing can have happened to her, you know,
worse than losing herself in the Pineta."

"Pooh! happen to her. What should happen to her? Either you did not go
back to the place where you left her; or, likely enough, after strolling
a little away from it, and not finding you, she sat down, and two to
one, fell asleep again. I would wager that she is, at this moment, fast
asleep under the shadow of a pine-tree, making up for last night."

"But what had I better do? If she is still either sleeping or waking in
the forest, I must find her."

"Let us just step as far as the gate, and make some inquiry there. If
she returned to the city she must have come to the Porta Nuova. And she
could hardly have entered the town without drawing the attention of the
men at the gate. Just let us make inquiry there in the first place."

So they went together to the Porta Nuova, and nothing more was said
between them during the short walk. But it seemed as if the manifest
uneasiness of Ludovico had infected his companion. Yet it was evident
that thoughts of a different nature were busy in their minds. The
Marchese Ludovico pressed on faster than the old lawyer could keep up
with him, and was very unmistakably anxious about the object of his
quest, and the tidings which he should be able to hear at the gate.

Signor Fortini had apparently got some other and newly-conceived thought
in his mind. He looked two or three times shrewdly and furtively into
the face of the young Marchese; and closely compressed his thin lips
together, and drew into a knot the shaggy eye-brows over his clear and
thoughtful eyes. Some notion had been suggested to his mind which very
plainly he did not like.

At the gate nothing had been seen of the object of their search. The
octroi officers perfectly well remembered seeing the Marchese Ludovico,
who was well known to them by sight, drive through the gate very early
that morning in a bagarino with a lady. One man had recognised the lady
as the prima donna at the opera. And they were very sure that she had
not returned to the city since, at least by that gate.

But one of the officers volunteered the information that another young
lady had that morning passed out of the city on foot a little before the
time at which the bagarino had passed with the Marchese and the prima
donna. And the men, after some consultation together, were sure that
neither had that young lady returned by the gate they guarded.

Ludovico looked at the lawyer, and the lawyer looked at Ludovico; but
neither of them could suggest anything in explanation of so strange a
circumstance.

"I saw nothing of any such person either in the Pineta or on the road,"
said Ludovico. "Who could it have been?"

The old lawyer only shrugged his shoulders in reply

"There is a young lady," resumed Ludovico, after some minutes of
thought, "a friend of mine--a young artist engaged in making copies from
the mosaics in our churches. I know that it was her purpose shortly to
begin some work of this kind at St. Apollinare in Classe. It may be that
she had selected this morning for the purpose of going out to look at
her task,--though I almost think that I should have been informed of her
intention."

"The plot seems to thicken with a vengeance," said the lawyer, with an
impatient shrug, and a slight sneer of ill-humour, provoked by the
multiplicity of his young client's lady friends. "I daresay," he added,
"the young ladies are not playing hide-and-seek in the Pineta all by
themselves."

"But what had I better do?" said the young Marchese, looking with
increased anxiety into the lawyer's face; "the fact is--you see, Signor
Giovacchino, this new idea, this possibility that Paolina--that is the
young artist's name--may be--may have been in the forest--in short, I
feel more uneasy than before till I can learn what has become of both of
them."

"Do you mean," said the lawyer, with a sneer in his voice, but at the
same time looking into his companion's face with a shrewd expression of
investigation in his eye,--"do you mean that the two ladies may possibly
have fallen in with each other, and may in such case not improbably have
fallen out with each other? You know best, Signor Marchese, the
likelihood of any trouble arising out of such a meeting."

"For God's sake don't speak in such a tone, Signor Giovacchino. I tell
you I am seriously uneasy. Should they have met under such
circumstances--God only knows--What would you advise me to do, Signor
Giovacchino?" said the Marchese, looking into the lawyer's face with
increasing and now evidently painful anxiety.

"It is ill giving advice without knowing all the circumstances of a
case, Signor Marchese," returned Fortini, somewhat drily, looking hard
at the young man as he spoke, and putting a meaning emphasis on the word
"all."

"You do know all the circumstances as far as I know them myself. The
thing happened exactly as I told you," replied Ludovico.

"You left her sleeping on a bank in the forest, and have never seen her
since?" said the lawyer, thoughtfully.

"Exactly so! I returned to the spot where I had left her--at least as
far as I could tell it was the same spot--and she was no longer there,"
replied Ludovico.

"But you were not sure that you did return to the same spot? You could
not recognise it again with certainty?"

"So it seemed to me when I was there. I think it must have been the same
place. But when I did not find her, I could not feel sure of it. Every
spot in the Pineta is so like all other spots. One pine-tree is just
like another; and the grassy openings, and the little thickets of
underwood, are all the same over and over again. I felt that I could not
be sure that the place was the same."

"Was there no fallen tree, no track of road, no specialty of weed or
flower, that the spot might be identified by?"

"None I think--none that I am aware of or can remember. There was a
little rising of the ground,--a sort of bank, and the grass was
sprinkled all over with wild flowers. There were violets close at hand,
I know, because I remember the scent of them! But when I came to try, it
seem'd to me that I found all these things in a dozen other places."

"Nevertheless, you know at what point you entered the Pineta; it cannot
be very difficult to have the whole wood, within such a distance as it
is at all likely that she should have strayed to, thoroughly searched.
But the best men for the purpose would be some of the foresters in the
employ of the farmers of the forest. I dare say that we might find--what
is that coming along the road yonder?" said the lawyer interrupting
himself.

The two gentlemen had been standing during the above short conversation
just on the outside of the gate, and looking down the stretch of long
straight road towards St. Apollinare and the pine forest.

"It is a knot of men coming along the road. They are likely enough some
of the very fellows we want. In that case we might get them to go back
with us without loss of time."

"With us?" said the lawyer, who had not bargained when he left his home,
for any such expedition. "Well, I don't mind helping you, Signor
Marchese, in your search," he added, after a moment's consideration;
"but I am not going to walk to the Pineta this afternoon; and I should
think you must have had enough of it for to-day. But I will tell you
what I can do. We will send one of these fellows to my house to order my
servant to come here with my calessino as quick as he can; and if these
men are the people we want--What are they doing? They are carrying
something! Why surely--Signor Marchese!" said the old lawyer, looking
into his companion's face, while a strange expression of understanding,
mixed with a blank look of dismay and alarm, stole over his own
features.

"What is it?--What have they got?--Why, heavens and earth! it is--Signor
Fortini, is it not a dead body they are carrying? My God!"

The young man griped his companion's arm hard, as he spoke, and the
action enabled the lawyer to remark that he was shaking all over.

In another minute the men whom they had seen coming along the road were
close to the gate. They were six in number; and they were
bearing--somewhat, between them. They advanced beneath the covered
gateway, and there, as it is necessary to do in the case of everything
brought into the town, they set their burthen down on the flag-stones,
at the feet of the officers of the gate, and of the Marchese and the
lawyer.

Their burthen was a door lifted from its hinges, and supported by three
slender stakes drawn green from a hedgerow. And on the door there lay,
covered with a sheet, what was evidently a dead body.

Ludovico, with his eyes starting from his head, and horror in every
feature of his face, still clutching one hand of the old lawyer in his,
stretched forward with one advanced stride towards the extemporized
bier, and with his other hand lifted the sheet.

A shriek of horror burst from him. "Ah! Paolina mia!" he cried aloud;
and then with a deep groan, as of one in physical pain, he fell into
Signor Fortini's arms, and sunk in an insensible state of sick faintness
on the flag-stone pavement beneath the old gateway.



BOOK II

Four Months before that Ash Wednesday Morning



CHAPTER I

How the good News came to Ravenna


Such were the events of that last night of carnival, and of the Ash
Wednesday that followed it;--an Ash Wednesday remembered many a year
afterwards in Ravenna.

The old lawyer, Fortini, standing a pace behind the Marchese Ludovico,
when the latter lifted up the sheet from the face of the dead, saw only
that it was the face of a woman. Paolina Foscarelli he had never seen;
and Bianca Lalli he had seen only once or twice on the stage; the lawyer
not being much of a frequenter of the theatre. There could be little
doubt that the body lying there beneath the gateway, with the officials
standing with awe-stricken faces around it, together with the six
peasants who had brought it thither, was that of one or other of those
two young women.

Of course there were plenty of persons at hand who were able to set at
rest all doubt as to the identity of the murdered woman,--for such it
was pretty clear she must be considered to be. And of course all
interests in the little provincial city were for many days to come
absorbed in the terrible interest belonging to the investigation of the
foul deed which had been done.

But in order to set before the reader the whole of this strange story
intelligibly, and to give him the same means of estimating the
probabilities of the questions involved in it, and of reaching a
solution of the mysterious circumstances which the authorities, who were
called upon to investigate them, were in possession of, it will be
expedient to go back to a period some four months previous to that
memorable Ash Wednesday.

It was a bitterly cold night in Ravenna, towards the latter end of
November, some four months before that Ash Wednesday on which the events
that have been narrated occurred. Untravelled English people, who have
heard much of "the sweet south," of the sunny skies of Italy, and of its
balmy atmosphere, do not readily imagine that such cold is ever to be
found in that favoured clime. But the fact is that cold several degrees
below the freezing point is by no means rare in the sub-Alpine and
sub-Apennine districts of northern Italy.

And Ravenna is a specially cold place. At Florence, the winter, though
short, is often sharp enough; and the climate of the old Tuscan city is
considered a somewhat severe one for Italy. But the district which lies
to the north-eastward, on the low coast of the upper part of the stormy
Adriatic, is much colder. There is nothing, neither hill nor forest,
between the Friulian Alps and Ravenna, to prevent the north-eastern
winds, bringing with them a Siberian temperature, from sweeping the low
shelterless plain on which the ancient capital of the Exarchs is
situated.

They were so sweeping that plain, and howling fiercely through the
deserted streets of the old city, on the November evening in question.

Nevertheless there were several persons loitering around the door of
that ancient hostelry, the "Albergo della Spada," in the Via del Monte,
then as now, and for many a generation past, the principal inn of
Ravenna. They were wrapped in huge cloaks, most of them with hoods to
them, which gave the wearers a strange sort of monkish appearance. And
they from time to time blew upon their fingers, in the intervals of
using their mouths for the purpose of grumbling at the cold. But they
none of them resorted to tramping up and down, or stamping with their
feet, or threshing themselves with their arms, or had recourse to
movement of any kind to get a little warmth into their bodies, as
Englishmen may be seen to do under similar circumstances. However cold
it may be an Italian never does anything of this sort. It must be
supposed, that to him cold is a less detestable evil than muscular
exertion of any kind.

There were some half-dozen men standing about the door; and though they
were doing nothing, it was not to be supposed that they stood there in
the bitter cold for their own amusement. The fact was, they were waiting
for one of the great events of the day at Ravenna,--the arrival of the
diligenza from Bologna. It was past six o'clock in the evening; and it
could not now be long before the expected vehicle would arrive.

It is a distance of some sixty miles from Bologna to Ravenna; the
diligence started at five in the morning, and was due at the latter city
at five in the evening. But nobody expected that it would reach its
destination at that hour. It had never done so within the memory of man,
even in the fine days of summer, and now, when the roads were rough with
ridges of frozen mud! It was now, however, nearly half-past six--yes,
there went the half-hour clanging from the cracked-voiced old bell in
the top of the round brick tower, which stands on one side of the
cathedral, and by its likeness to a minaret reminds one of the Byzantine
parentage of its builders.

Half-past six! The loiterers about the inn door remark to each other,
that unless "something" has happened old Cecco Zoppo can't be far off
now.

The arrival of the Bologna diligence, the main means of communication
between remote out-of-the-way Ravenna and the rest of the world, was
always a matter of interest in the old-world little city, where matters
of interest were so few. And on a pleasant evening in spring or summer
the attendance of expectant loungers was wont to be far larger than it
was on that bitter November night, and to include a large number of
amateurs; whereas the half-dozen now waiting were all either officially
or otherwise directly interested in the arrival. Indeed, there was a
very special interest attached to the coming of the expected vehicle on
that November night; and nothing but the extreme severity of the weather
would have prevented a very distinguished assemblage from being on the
spot to hear the first news that was expected to be brought by one of
the travellers.

"Eccolo! I heard the bells, underneath the gate-way. Per Bacco, it is
time! I'm well-nigh frozen alive," said Pippo, the ostler.

"If they don't keep him an hour at the gate," rejoined a decidedly more
ragged and poverty-stricken individual, who held recognized office as
the ostler's assistant.

"Not such a night as this! Those gentlemen there at the gate can feel
the cold for themselves, if they can't feel nothing else," rejoined the
ostler, who was a frondeur and disaffected to the government, in
consequence of a drunken grandson having been turned out of the place of
third assistant scullion in the kitchen of the Cardinal Legate. "There's
the bells again! They've let him off pretty quick. I thought as much,"
added the old man, with a chuckle.

"Wasn't Signor Ercole's woman here with a lanthorn just now?" said
another of the bystanders, a young man, who, though wrapped to the eyes
in the universal all-levelling cloak, belonged evidently to a superior
class of society to the previous speakers.

"Si, Signor Conte, she is there in the kitchen. Per Dio! she would have
had no fingers to hold the light for her master, if she had stayed out
here," replied the ostler. And then the rattle of wheels became
distinct, and in the next instant the feeble light of a couple of lamps
became visible at the far end of the street, as the coach turned out of
the Piazza Maggiore into the Via del Monte, and struggled forwards
towards the knot at the inn door; it came at a miserable little trot,
but with an accompaniment of tremendous whip-cracking, that awoke echoes
in the silent streets far and near, and imparted an impression of
breathless speed to the imagination of the bystanders, who, being
Italians, accepted the symbol in despite of their certain knowledge that
the reality of the thing symbolised was not there. Like the immortal
Marchioness, Dick Swiveller's friend, in the Old Curiosity Shop, the
Italians, when the realities of circumstances are unfavourable, can
always manage to gild them a little by "making believe very strong."

"Now then, Signora Marta, bring out your light," called the deputy
ostler in at the inn door.

The individual addressed as Signor Conte became evidently excited, and
prepared himself to be the first to present himself at the door of the
coach as it drew up opposite the inn. The ostler stepped out into the
street with his stable lanthorn. Signora Marta, shivering, with a huge
shawl over her head, took up her position, lanthorn in hand, behind the
Signor Conte, and the ramshackle old coach, rattling over the uneven
round cobble-stones of the execrable pavement with a crash of noise that
seemed to threaten that every jolt would be its last, came to a
standstill at the inn door.

The Signor Conte Leandro Lombardoni--that was the name of the young man
hitherto called Il Signor Conte--opened the door with his own hand, and,
putting his head eagerly into the interior, cried,

"Are you there, Signor Ercole? Well! What news? Have you succeeded? Let
me give you a hand."

"Grazie, Signor Leandro, grazie," replied a high-pitched voice of
singularly shrill quality from within the vehicle, "I don't know whether
I can move. Misericordia! che viaggio! What a journey I have had. I am
nearly dead. My blood is frozen in my veins. I have no use of my limbs.
I shall never recover it; never!"

And then very slowly a huge bundle of cloaks and rags and furs, nearly
circular in form and about five feet in diameter, began to move towards
the door of the carriage, and gradually, by the help of Signor Leandro
and Signora Marta, to struggle through it and get itself down on the
pavement.

"And this I do and suffer for thee, Ravenna!" said the bundle in the
same shrill tenor, making an attempt, as it spoke, to raise two little
projecting fins towards the cold, unsympathising stars.

"But have you succeeded, Signor Ercole?" asked the other again,
anxiously.

"I have succeeded in sacrificing myself for my country," replied the
shrill voice with chattering teeth; "for I know I shall never get over
it. I am frozen. It is a very painful form of martyrdom."

"But you can at least say one word, Signor Ercole? You can say yes or no
to the question, whether you have succeeded in our object?" urged the
Conte Leandro.

Signor Ercole Stadione, however, who was, as the reader is aware, no
less important a personage than the impresario of the principal theatre
of Ravenna, knew too well all the importance that belonged to the news
he had to tell to part with his secret so easily. "Signor Conte," he
quavered out, "I tell you I am frozen! A man cannot speak on any subject
in such a condition. I know nothing. My intellectual faculties have not
their ordinary lucidity. I must endeavour to reach my home. Marta, hold
the lamp here."

"And I who have waited here for your arrival ever since the
venti-quattro! Per Dio! Do you think I ain't cold too? And the Marchese
is expecting you. Of course, you will go to him at once?"

"I don't know that I shall ever recover myself sufficiently to do so. It
is useless for the city to expect more from a man than he can
accomplish. When I have got thawed, I will endeavour to do my duty. Good
night, Signor Conte!" said the little impresario, preparing to follow
his servant with the lanthorn, as well as the enormous quantity of wraps
around him would allow him to do so.

"Come now, Signor Ercole, you won't be so ill-natured. You know how much
interest I take in the matter. Think how long I have waited here for
you, and nobody else has cared enough to do that. Come now, be
good-natured, and tell a fellow. Just one word. Look here now," added
the Conte Leandro, seeing that he was on the point of losing the
gratification for the sake of which he had undergone the penance of
standing sentinel in the cold for the last hour, and that his only hope
was to bring forward les grands moyens,--"see now, the only thing to
bring you round is a glass of hot punch. Now, while you go home and get
your things off, I will go to the cafe and get you a good glass of
punch, hot and strong--smoking hot! and have it brought to your house,
all hot, you know, in a covered jug. But before I go; you will just say
the one word: Have you been successful? Come now. Just one word."

Signor Ercole Stadione, the impresario, would much have preferred not
saying that one word just then. He knew perfectly well that the grand
object of his questioner was to be the first to carry the great news to
the Circolo--the club where all the young nobles of the town were in the
habit of congregating; and to make the most of the sort of reputation to
be gained by being the first in Ravenna to have accurate information on
the matter in question. He knew also that within a quarter-of-an-hour
after the news should be told to Signor Leandro Lombardoni it would be
known to all Ravenna. Further, he was perfectly aware that, frozen or
not frozen, he must wait that evening on the Marchese, of whom Signor
Leandro had spoken--the Marchese Lamberto di Castelmare, in order to
communicate to him the news which Signor Leandro was so anxious to hear;
that not to do so would be as much as his standing and position in
Ravenna were worth. And he would have preferred that the Marchese should
not have heard what he had to tell before telling it to him himself;
which he thought likely enough to happen, if he let the cat out of the
bag to Signor Leandro. But the offer of the punch was irresistible. The
poor little impresario knew how little possibility there was of finding
any such pleasant stimulant in the cold, cheerless, wifeless little
quartiere which he and Marta called their home. His teeth were
chattering with cold; and the hot punch carried the day.

"Troppo buono, Signor Conte! Truly a good glass of hot ponche would be
the saving of me! It is very kindly thought of. Well, then; listen in
your ear. But you won't say a word about it till to-morrow morning. It
is all right. The thing is done. The writings signed. Have I done well,
eh? Have I deserved well of the city, eh? But you won't say a word!"

"Bravo, Signor Ercole! Bravo, bravissimo! Not a word. Not a word. I run
to order the punch. Good night. Not a word to a living soul!"

And the Conte Leandro ran off to give a hasty order at the cafe in the
Piazza, on his way to the Circolo to spread his important news all over
the town.



CHAPTER II

The Marchese Lamberto di Castelmare


Signor Leandro Lombardoni felt himself to be abundantly repaid for his
hour of waiting in the cold street, and for the bajocchi expended on the
glass of punch, by the position he occupied at the Circolo all that
evening. He was the centre of every group anxious to gain the earliest
information respecting a matter of the highest interest to all the
society of Ravenna. And the matter belonged to a class of subjects
respecting which the Conte Leandro was especially desirous of being
thought to be thoroughly well-informed, and to have interest in the
highest quarters.

The fact was, that Signor Ercole Stadione, the Ravenna impresario, had
undertaken a journey to Milan, in the hope of accomplishing a
negotiation in which the whole of the smaller provincial city had felt
itself deeply interested. He had gone thither for the purpose of
engaging the celebrated prima donna, Bianca Lalli, to sing at Ravenna
during the coming Carnival. The pretension was a very ambitious one on
the part of the impresario--or, as it may be more properly said, on the
part of the city--for the step was by no means the result of his own
independent and unaided enterprise. Such matters were not done in that
way in the good old times in the smaller cities of Italy. The matter had
been much debated among the leading patrons of the musical drama in the
little town. The chances of success had been canvassed. The financial
question had been considered. Certain sacrifices had been determined on.
And it had been settled what terms the impresario should be empowered to
offer.

It had been fully felt and recognised that the hope of engaging the
famous Bianca Lalli to sing at remote little Ravenna, during a carnival,
was a singularly ambitious one. But there had been circumstances which
had led those who had conceived the bold idea to hope that it would not
prove to be so impossible as it might at first sight appear. There had
been whispers of certain difficulties--untoward circumstances at Milan.
Ill-natured things had been said of the "divina Lalli." Doubtless she
had been more sinned against than sinning. But to put the matter
crudely--which, of course, no Italian who had to speak of it, was ever
so ill-bred as to do--it would seem that the great singer had placed
herself, or had been placed, in such relations with somebody or other
bearing a great name in the Lombard capital, that the paternal Austrian
government, at the instance of that somebody's family, had seen good to
hint, in some gentle, but unmistakable manner, that it might, on the
whole, be better that the divine Lalli should bless some other city with
her presence during the ensuing season. And then came the consideration,
that in all probability most of the great cities of the peninsula had,
by that time, made their arrangements for the coming Carnival. Not
impossible, too, that the "diva" herself might be not disinclined to
allow a certain period of such comparative obscurity as an engagement at
Ravenna would bring with it, to pass after her exit from Milan under
such circumstances, before re-appearing on other boards where she would
be equally in the eyes of all Europe. But this ground of hope, though it
may have been felt, was never so much as alluded to in words, in
Ravenna. In short, Ravenna had determined to make the bold attempt. And
Don Signor Ercole Stadione had returned from the arduous enterprise to
announce that it had been crowned with complete success.

None but those who have had some opportunity of becoming acquainted with
the social habits and manners of the smaller cities of Italy--and that
as they were some twenty years ago, and not as they are now--can imagine
the degree in which a matter of the kind in question could be felt there
to be a subject of general public interest. From the Cardinal Legate,
who governed the province, down to the little boys who hung about the
cafe doors, in the hope of picking up a half-eaten roll, there was not a
human being in the city who did not feel that he had some part of the
glory resulting from the fact that "La Lalli" was to sing at Ravenna
during the Carnival. The contadini--the peasants outside the gates--even
though they were only just outside it, cared nothing at all about the
matter: another specialty of the social peculiarities of the peninsula.

The Cardinal Legate, restrained by the professional decorum of his
cloth, said nothing save among his quite safe intimates; but, perhaps,
like the sailor's parrot, he only thought the more.

As for the jeunesse doree of the Circolo, to whom Signor Leandro
recounted his great tidings with all the self-importance to which the
exclusive possession of news of such interest so well entitled him, it
is impossible to do justice to the enthusiasm which the news excited
among them.

All sorts of pleasing anticipations were indulged in. They were all
jealous of each other by anticipation. Already, in the gravest spirit of
business, a scheme for taking off her horses at the city gates and
harnessing their noble selves to the carriage of the expected guest was
discussed.

The reputation enjoyed by the great singer Bianca Lalli at that time was
very high throughout Italy. But, perhaps,--any one of her rival
goddesses would have said undoubtedly,--it was a reputation not wholly
and exclusively due to her strictly vocal charms. She was, in truth, a
woman of more than ordinary beauty; and was universally declared to
exercise a charm on all who came within reach of her influence beyond
that which even extraordinary beauty has always the privilege of
exercising. All kinds of stories were told of her boundless power of
fascination. In crude language, again,--such as her own countrymen never
used concerning her,--the reputation of "la diva Lalli" was tout soit
peu, a reputation de scandale. And it will be readily imagined that the
enthusiasm in her favour of the young frequenters of the Circolo at
Ravenna was none the less vehement on this account.

It must, however, be added that she undoubtedly was a very admirable
singer. Had this not been the case, the Marchese Lamberto di Castelmare
would not have interested himself so much as he had done in the plans
and negotiations for bringing her to Ravenna. The Marchese was not a man
to be much influenced by the prima donna's reputation for beauty and
fascination. But he was "fanatico per la musica." He was the
acknowledged leader in all matters musical in Ravenna; the most
influential patron of the opera in the city; and all-powerful in the
regulation of all theatrical affairs.

The Marchese Lamberto held a rather special position in the social world
in Ravenna. His fortune was large; and the nobility of his family
ancient. But it was not these circumstances only, or even mainly, that
caused him to hold the place he did in the estimation of his
fellow-citizens. He was a bachelor, now about fifty years old; and
during some thirty of those years he had always been before the public
in one manner or another, and always had in every capacity won golden
opinions from all men. Though abundantly rich enough to have gone
occasionally to Rome, or even to have resided there entirely, if he had
chosen to do so, he had, on the contrary, preferred to pass his whole
life in his native city. And Ravenna was flattered by this, to begin
with. Then his residence in the provincial city had been in many
respects a really useful one, not only to that section of the body
politic which is called, par excellence, society, but to the public in
general. He had held various municipal offices, and had discharged the
functions belonging to them with credit and applause. He was treasurer
to a hospital, and a generous contributor to its funds. He was the
founder of an artistic society for the education of young artists and
the encouragement of their seniors. He was the principal director of a
board of "publica beneficenza." He was the manager, and what we should
call the trustee for the property of more than one nunnery. He was
intimate with the Cardinal Legate, and a frequent and honoured guest at
the palace. Of course in matters of orthodoxy and well-affected
sentiments towards the Church and its government he was all that the
agents of that government could desire. It has already been said that he
was at the head of all matters musical and theatrical in Ravenna. And
besides all this, he gave every year three grand balls in Carnival; and
his house was at all times open every Sunday and Wednesday evening to
the elite of the society of the city.

Gradually it had come to be understood, rather by tacit agreement among
the society which frequented these reunions than in obedience to any
desire expressed by the Marchese on the subject, that on the Sunday
evening ladies were expected; and on those days a sister-in-law of the
Marchese, the widow of a younger brother, was always there to do the
honours of the Palazzo Castelmare. The Wednesday evening parties had
come to be meetings of gentlemen only. And on these occasions one marked
element of the society consisted of all that the city possessed in the
way of professors of natural science. For the Marchese was, in a mild
way, fond of such pursuits, and had a special liking for anatomical
inquiries and experiments.

In one respect only could the world fail to be wholly and perfectly
contented with the Marchese Lamberto di Castelmare. At the age of fifty
he was still a bachelor! Not that the continuance of the noble line of
Castelmare was thereby compromised. The sister-in-law already mentioned
had a son, a young man of two-and-twenty, at the time in question, who
was the heir to the wealth and honours of the house, and who, it was to
be hoped, would also inherit all that accumulated treasure of public
esteem and respect which his uncle had been so uninterruptedly laying
up. Neither could a social objection to the Marchese's bachelorhood be
raised on the score of any such laxity of moral conduct as the world is
wont to expect, and to tolerate with more or less of indulgence, in
persons so free from special ties. Had the Marchese been an archbishop
himself, instead of being merely the intimate friend of one, it could
not have seemed in Ravenna more out of the question to mention his
respected name in connection with any scandal or inuendo of the kind.
There was not a mother in Ravenna who would not have been proud to see
her daughter honoured by any such intercourse with the Marchese as might
be natural between a father and his child. Proud indeed the most noble
of those matrons would have been could she have supposed that any such
intercourse tended towards sentiments of a more tender nature. But all
hopes of this kind had been long given up in Ravenna. It was quite
understood that the Marchese was not a marrying man.

Not that even now, in his fiftieth year, he might not well have entered
the lists with many a younger man as a candidate for the favour of the
sex. He was a man of a remarkably fine presence, tall, well made, and
with a natural dignity and graceful bearing in all his movements, which
were very impressive. He had never given in to the modern fashion of
wearing either beard or moustache. And the contours of his face were too
good and even noble to have gained anything by being so hidden. The
large, strong, rather square jaw and chin, and smooth placid cheeks were
strongly expressive of quiet decision and dignified force of will. The
mouth, almost always the tell-tale feature of the face, seemed in his
case rather calculated to puzzle any one who would have speculated on
the meanings shadowed forth by the lines of it. It was certainly, with
its large rows of unexceptionably brilliant teeth, a very handsome
mouth. And it was often not devoid of much sweetness. Nobody had ever
imagined that they detected any evil expression among its meanings. But
whereas a physiognomist looking at that generally faithful expositor of
the moral man, when it was at rest, would have been inclined to say,
that it was a mouth indicative of much capacity for deep and strong
passion, a further study of it in its varied movements would have led
him to the conclusion that no strong or violent passions had ever been
there to leave their traces among its lines. The whole face was so
essentially calm, unruffled, and placidly dignified.

The loftly noble forehead, the strongly marked brow, the well-opened
calm grey eye, all told the same tale of a mind within well-balanced,
thoroughly at peace with itself, and thoroughly contented with its
outward manifestations, and with every particular of its position.

Clearly the Marchese di Castelmare was a remarkably handsome man. And
yet there was something about him,--and always had been even as a young
man, which seemed to be in natural accordance with the fact that he had
never seemed to seek female society, save as an amphytrion receiving all
Ravenna within his hospitable doors. There was a kind of austerity about
his bearing;--a something difficult to define, which would have
prevented any girl from fancying that he was at all likely to want to
make love to her; a something which made it as impossible that the
refined courtesy of his address should have called a pleased blush to
any girl's cheek, or made her pulse move one beat the faster, as that
she should have been so affected by the imposition of the hands of the
bishop who confirmed her!

Such as the Marchese was, any committee in the world would have chosen
him its president, any jury in the world would have named him its
foreman, any board in the world have selected him as its chairman, any
deputation in the world would have put him forward as its spokesman; any
sovereign in the world might have appointed him grand master of the
ceremonies; but never at any period of his life would the suffrages of
the ball-room have pitched upon him to be the leader of the cotillon.

Perhaps it was that his life had been always too full to spare any space
for such lighter matters. He had been left the head of his family when
quite a young man, and had at once, in a great degree, stepped into the
place he had ever since occupied in the social world of his native city.
And what with his music, which was with him really a passion, and what
with his dabblings in science, and what with the multifarious business
he had always made for himself by real and useful attention to the
affairs pertaining to all the functions he had filled, his life had
really been a fully occupied one.

Any man, woman, or child in Ravenna would have said, if such an
unpleasant idea had crossed their minds, that what Ravenna would do
without him it was frightful to think. He was very popular, as well as
profoundly respected by all classes of his fellow-citizens. Though
certainly a very proud man, his pride was of a nature that gave offence
to nobody. He was not only proud of being Marchese di Castelmare; he was
very proud of the esteem, the affection and respect of his
fellow-citizens. And perhaps this was, next to his love of music, what
most resembled a passion in his nature, and what most ministered to his
enjoyment of life.

It was to this phoenix of a Marchese that Signor Ercole Stadione, the
impresario, having comforted himself with the Conte Leandro's punch, and
got somewhat thawed, and having changed his mountain of travelling wraps
for a costume proper for presenting himself in such a presence, repaired
to report the result of his journey to Milan.



CHAPTER III

The Impresario's Report


It has been said that Signor Ercole Stadione, when he was first
introduced to the reader under circumstances somewhat unfavourable to
that dignity of appearance and deportment on which he specially prided
himself, presented the appearance of a round mass some five feet in
diameter. And it may be thence concluded, that when reduced to the
proportions familiar to the citizens of Ravenna, his utmost longitudinal
dimensions did not exceed that measure. The impresario was in truth a
very small man, weighing perhaps seven stone with his boots. But Signor
Ercole held, and very frequently expressed, an opinion that dignity and
nobility of appearance depended wholly on bearing, and in no wise on
mere corporeal altitude. Men were measured in his country (Rome), he
said, from the eyebrow upwards. And though Rome is not exactly the
place, of all others, where one might expect to find such an estimate of
human value prevailing,--unless, indeed, smallness of that which a man
has above his brow be deemed the desirable thing,--it was undeniable
that little Signor Ercole carried a mass of forehead which might have
been the share of a much taller man.

Nor were the pretensions put forward by the impresario on this score
altogether vain. He was no fool;--a shrewd as well as a dapper little
man, active and clever at his business, and well liked both by the
artists and by the public, for which he catered, despite of being one of
the vainest of mortals. Vanity makes some men very odious to their
fellows;--in others it is perfectly inoffensive; and though damaging to
a claim to respect, is perfectly compatible with a considerable amount
of liking for the victim of it.

A very dapper little man was Signor Ercole, as he stepped forth, about
eight o'clock, entirely refitted, to wait upon the Marchese at the
Palazzo Castelmare. He was dressed in complete black, somewhat
threadbare, but scrupulously brushed. He had a large frill at the bosom
of his shirt, and more frills around the wristbands of it; one or two
rings of immense size and weight on his small fingers; boots with heels
two inches high, and a rather long frock-coat buttoned closely round his
little body. Signor Ercole had never been known to wear a swallow-tailed
coat on any occasion. And spiteful people told each other, that his
motive for never quitting the greater shelter of the frock was to be
found in his fear of exhibiting to the unkindly glances of the world a
pair of knock-knees of rare perfection.

When his toilet was completed, he threw over all a handsome black cloth
cloak turned up with a broad border of velvet, which he draped around
his person with the air of an Apollo, throwing the corner of the garment
round the lower part of his face and over his shoulder, in a manner
wholly unattainable by any man born on the northern side of the Alps;
and kindly telling Marta that he would take the key, and that she had
better not sit up for him in the cold, stepped forth on his errand.

"Ben tornato, Signor Ercole! I thank you for coming to me," said the
Marchese, rising from his seat at his library-table, which was covered
with papers and books, to receive the impresario.

Despite the extreme cold, this owner of a large fortune, and of one of
the finest palaces in Ravenna, was not sitting in an easy-chair by the
fire, as an Englishman might be expected to be found at such an hour.
The Italian's day is not divided into two portions as clearly as an
Englishman's day is divided by his dinner hour into the time for
business or out-door exercise, and the time for relaxation, for a book
or other amusement. He is quite as likely to apply himself to any
business or work of any kind after dinner as before. Still less has he
the Englishman's notion of making himself comfortable in his home.

There was a miserable morsel of wood fire in the room in which the
Marchese sat; but it was at the far end of it. And in many a well-to-do
Italian home there would have been none at all. In order not to be
absolutely frozen, he sat in a large cloak, and had beside him, or in
his hands, a little earthen-ware pot filled with burning braize--a
scaldino, as it is called,--the use of which is common to the noble in
his palace, and the beggar in the street.

He pointed to a chair near the table, and as he spoke, paid his visitor
the ordinary courtesy of offering him his scaldino.

"My duty, my mere duty, Eccellenza," said Signor Ercole, letting his
cloak fall gracefully from his shoulders, and declining the proffered
pot of braize with an action that might have suited an Emperor. "Of
course my first care and object on arriving was to wait on your
Excellency. I arrived with barely a breath of life remaining in my body.
What a journey! What a journey! But if I had been frozen quite I could
not have forgotten that my first duty was to report what I have
accomplished to your Excellency."

"Thanks, good Signor Ercole, thanks; you know the interest I take in all
that concerns the honour of our theatre, and the pleasures of our
citizens; and I may truly add, in all that touches your interest, my
good Signor Ercole."

"Troppo buono! Eccellenza! Troppo buono davvero!" said the little man,
half rising from his chair, to execute a bow in return for the
Marchese's speech, while his cloak fell around his legs.

"I suppose that in such weather as this the diligence was behind its
time--E naturale--but I have already heard, in a general way, that you
have been successful. I congratulate you on it, Signor Ercole, with all
my heart!"

"I trusted that I should have been the first to tell your Excellency the
news. I am conscious that it was due to you, Signor Marchese, to be the
first to hear the result of my negotiation. But che vuole? There was the
Conte Leandro waiting for the coach, and standing at the door as I got
out of it, more dead than alive! And there was no way of getting rid of
him. I was forced to tell him, in a word, that our hopes were crowned
with success. He faithfully promised to keep the fact secret. But,
doubtless, all the town knows it by this time! Che vuole?"

"E naturale! e naturale!" returned the Marchese, with a graceful wave of
his hand; "naturally they are all anxious to know the result of our
impresario's labours. And I was not left in ignorance. My nephew ran in
from the Circolo to tell me; he had just heard it from Signor Leandro.
But I thought that I should have a visit from yourself, Signor Ercole,
before long."

"E come, e come, Signor Marchese; could your Excellency imagine that I
could so fail in my duty as to have omitted waiting on your lordship!
Had it not been that I was half killed by this awful weather, I should
have placed myself at your Excellency's orders an hour ago. Oh, Signor
Marchese, such a journey from Bologna hither! I know what is my duty to
the city; I know what is expected of me. But--Eccellenza, there are
benefactors to their country, who have statues raised to them, that have
suffered less in the gaining of them, than I have this day."

"Povero, Signor Ercole! But who knows? Perhaps we may see the day when
Ravenna will reward your exertions with a monument. Why not? It must be
a statue, life size, nothing less, with 'Ercole Stadione, La Patria
riconoscente,' on the base," said the Marchese, with an irony, the fine
flavour of which did not in the least pierce, as it was not intended to
pierce, the plate armour of the little impresario's vanity.

"Oh, Eccellenza!" said the poor little man, with the most perfect good
faith in the propriety, as well as the seriousness, of his patron's
proposition.

"And now, then," said the Marchese, "let us hear all about it. She
accepts our terms?"

"The scrittura has been signed before a notary, Eccellenza."

"Bravo! she sings--?"

"The whole repertorio, Signor Marchese! What is there she could not
sing?"

"And three representations a week?"

"Three representations a week. My instructions were formal on that
point, as your Excellency knows."

"Good! quite right! And now what is she, this diva? What is she like? We
know that Signor Ercole Stadione is as good a judge of the merits of the
lady as of the singer?" said the Marchese, with a smile. "I don't ask
you about her singing," he added. "We have all heard all that can be
said about that."

"Well, Signor Marchese, if I am to speak my own poor opinion, I take the
Signora Lalli to be decidedly the most beautiful woman it was ever my
good fortune to see," said Signor Ercole, with a voice and manner of
profound conviction.

"Paris himself, if called on to be umpire once again, could require no
more conclusive testimony, my good Signor Ercole. But that is not
exactly what I mean. Her mere beauty is a matter that does not interest
me very keenly. What I want to know, is what sort of a scenic presence
has she? Can she take the stage? I do not ask if she is captivating in a
drawing-room; but has she the face and figure needed to be effective in
the theatre? I need not tell you, my friend, that these are two
different things, and do not always go together," said the Marchese,
whose interest in the matter was, as he said, wholly theatrical; first,
that he and the society of Ravenna should enjoy some fine singing during
the coming Carnival; and, secondly that the Lalli should produce such an
enthusiasm as should lead all the theatrical world to think and say that
a great stroke had been achieved, and a very public-spirited thing done
in bringing about the engagement. He was anxious that the step, which he
had had a large share in taking, should result in a great and
universally admitted success.

"Eccellenza! I have no doubt that your lordship will be satisfied in
these respects. Most true it is, as your Excellency so judiciously
remarks, that we require something more than merely a beautiful face, or
even than a fine figure. And I have never had the good fortune to see
'La Lalli' on the boards. But as far as my poor judgment goes, she is
admirably gifted with all the requisites for achieving the result we
desire. Then there is the testimony of all Milan! And I succeeded in
speaking with an old friend who had seen her the year before last at
Naples, and whose report I can trust. The opinion seems to be universal
that few artists have ever possessed the gift of fascinating an audience
to the degree that she does. Your Excellency may take my word for it,
she is a very clever woman. My own interviews with her sufficed to
convince me of that fact. And I need not tell your Excellency, that
little as some of the empty-headed young gentlemen in the stalls may
suspect it, talent,--not only the special talent of song but general
talent,--has much to do with the power of fascination that a gifted
actress exercises."

"Most true, mio bravo Signor Ercole; you speak like an oracle; and if
she left on you the impression that she is a clever woman, I have no
doubt in the world that she is so."

There was no irony in the Marchese's mind when he said this; and the
little impresario, highly gratified again, half rose from his chair to
bow in return for the compliment.

"As for the specialties of her face and person," continued the
impresario, "they appeared to me highly favourable. Very tall,--perhaps
your lordship or I might say too tall. But--on the stage the prejudice
is in favour of a degree of tallness that we might not admire off it.
Gestures, bearing, and the movement of the person equally capable of
expressing majestic dignity, or heart-subduing pathos. A most graceful
walk. In short, a persona tutta simpatica. As for the head--magnificent
hair,--blonde, which for choice I would always prefer--the true Titian
sun-tinged auburn,--a telling eye, finely formed nose, and mouth of
inexpressible sweetness!"

"Per Bacco, Signor Ercole, a Phoenix indeed! A Diva davvero!" said the
Marchese.

"Eccellenza, she'll do," said the little man nodding his head with its
top-heavy forehead three or four times emphatically. "If she do not make
such a sensation in Ravenna as we have not known here for a long time,
say that Ercole Stadione knows nothing of his profession."

"Bravo! bravo!" cried the Marchese, gleefully rubbing his hands. "And
now, my good friend, I won't keep you from the bed and the rest you so
well deserve any longer. You may depend on it that your zeal in this
matter won't be overlooked or forgotten."

"Troppo buono, Eccellenza! But there was one word I wished to say to
your lordship," continued little Signor Ercole, dropping his voice to a
lower key, and speaking with some hesitation,--one little word that I
thought it might be useful, or--or--desirable to mention--"

"Yes, speak on, my dear Signor Ercole, I am all attention. What is it?
No drawback I hope!"

"Only this, Signor Marchese," said the little man casting a glance round
the room, dropping his voice still more, and bringing his head nearer to
the ear of the Marchese; "only this:--you see if there had been
nothing-disagreeable,--nothing untoward, as I may say--your lordship
understands, we should never have had La Lalli at Ravenna. There has
been a--sort of difficulty--your lordship understands--spiteful things
have been said--calumny--all calumny no doubt-the constant attendant of
merit, alas! we all know. But--in short--here in Ravenna--it would not
be--desirable,--your Excellency understands and appreciates what I would
say a thousand times better than I can say it. It would be in every
point of view better, as your Excellency sees, that no idle chatter of
this kind should be set about here. It would be inexpedient for more
reasons than one."

"Quite so; quite so. Your ideas on the subject are happily judicious,
Signor Ercole. What have we to do with misunderstandings that may have
arisen at Milan? Of course, it is not our business to have ever heard
anything of the kind. And I'll tell you what I'll do, and that at once,
before there is time for any mischief to be done. I will just give my
nephew a hint. He can be trusted. He is discreet. And it will be easy
for him to put down at once and discountenance any talk of the kind, or
any rumour that might find its way among our youngsters."

"The very thing, Eccellenza! The Marchese Ludovico will understand the
thing at once. And half a word from him would give the key-note, as I
may say, to the tone of talk about the lady. Ravenna must not be thought
to be contenting herself with that which Milan rejects," said Signor
Ercole, with the air of a patriot.

"I should think not, indeed! And, doubtless, Milan would have been but
too glad to retain La Lalli, had it not been for some unimportant
contretemps. Ludovico shall put the matter in its right light."

As he spoke, the Marchese rang a little hand-bell which stood on his
library table; and on a servant entering from the anteroom, he told him
just to step across to the Circolo, and request the Marchese Ludovico to
be so good as to come to him for five minutes.

In very little more than that time the man returned, saying that the
Marchese Ludovico was not at the Circolo. He had been there for a few
minutes at the beginning of the evening, but had gone away without
saying whither he was going.

The Marchese knitted his brows when this message was given to him; and
after a minute's thoughtful silence, shook his head in a manner that
showed him to be not a little displeased. From a look of intelligence
that might have been observed in Signor Ercole's eyes, it might have
been judged that he understood that the Marchese was more annoyed than
on account of the momentary frustration of his immediate purpose, and
that he was aware of the nature of his annoyance. But he did not venture
to say any word on the subject; and the Marchese took leave of him,
merely saying that he would not forget to act on Signor Ercole's caution
when he should see his nephew the next morning.



CHAPTER IV

Paolina Foscarelli


The young Marchese Ludovico di Castelmare had in the early part of the
evening lounged into the Circolo, as was the habit of most of those of
his class, seniors as well as juniors; but he had, as had been correctly
reported to his uncle, very shortly left it without saying a word to any
one as to how he intended to dispose of his evening. The Marchese
Ludovico flattered himself, as people are apt to flatter themselves in
similar cases, that his absence would be little noted, and that his
reticence would suffice to leave all Ravenna in ignorance as to the
errand on which he was bound when he left the Circolo. So far was this
from being the case, however, that there was not one, at all events
among the younger men, whom he left behind him, who did not know
perfectly well where he was gone; and that his uncle, when by the
unforeseen accident that has been related he was made aware of his
absence from the club, was at no loss to guess what he had done with
himself.

But in order that the reader may have a like advantage, it will be
necessary to mention very briefly, some circumstances which occurred
previously to the period referred to in the former chapters.

Some months before the time of Signor Ercole Stadione's journey to
Milan, a wandering Englishman had arrived at Ravenna, and having spent
three or four days in examining with much interest the wonderful wealth
of Mosaics of the fourth, fifth, and sixth centuries, still preserved in
the churches of the ancient capital of the Exarchs, had continued his
route to Venice.

There, in the gallery of the Academia, his attention had been attracted
by a female student, who was engaged in copying a canvas of Tintoretto.
As it so happened that the traveller was a competent judge of such
matters, he was struck by the goodness of the work, especially when
considered in connection with the appearance of the artist. She was
evidently very young,--a slim, slender girl, whose girlish figure looked
all the more willow-like from the simple plainness, and what seemed to
the Englishman the insufficiency, of her clothing. For the weather,
though not so severe as when it had half frozen Signor Ercole Stadione,
was already very cold,--cold enough to have depopulated the gallery of
its usual crowd of copying artists. At some distance from the young
girl's easel, sitting in a corner lighted up by a stray ray of sunshine,
there was an old woman busily knitting,--probably the girl's mother, or
protectress. And besides those two, and the Englishman, and a lounging
attendant wrapped in his cloak, there was no other soul in the gallery.

Yet the young student busily plied her task; nor was she surprised into
looking up by the stopping of the stranger behind her chair. He did not
see her face, therefore; and it would be consequently unfair to imagine
that any portion of the interest he could not help feeling in her was to
be attributed to the ordinary charm of a pretty face, whereas it was
really due partly to the artistic merit of her copy, partly to her
bravery in sticking to her work despite the severity of the season, and
partly to her youth and very apparent poverty.

Suddenly, as he watched the progress of her work slowly growing beneath
the rapid movements of her slender, blue-cold fingers, the idea came
into his mind that here might be a favourable opportunity of obtaining
what he had much wished to procure when he had been at Ravenna,--some
drawings of several of the most remarkable of the Mosaics in the
churches of San Vitale and St. Apollinare in Classe. He was quite
satisfied from what he saw that the young artist was competent to
execute the drawings he required. The conscientious determination, which
alone could have made her continue her work under such circumstances,
was a guarantee to him that she would do her best. It was not probable
that the expectations of the girl before him as to remuneration would go
beyond such sum as he was willing to pay. And lastly--though truly not
least in that Englishman's mind--it might be that such a proposal would
be a very acceptable boon to a poor and meritorious artist. So managing
to speak to the attendant, when he was at a far part of the gallery, he
learned from him that the girl's name was Paolina Foscarelli; that the
old woman was, the officer believed, her aunt; that her name was Orsola
Steno; and that they lived together at No. 8 in the Campo San Donato.

That same evening the stranger desired his servitore di piazza to make
inquiries about Signora Orsola Steno, and her niece, who copied in the
gallery; and the next morning he was told that, if he would call upon
the Director of the Gallery, that gentleman would be happy to reply to
any inquiries about the Signorina Paolina Foscarelli.

The Englishman waited on the Director forthwith, and from him learned
that such a commission as he had thought of giving to the young copyist
could not be better bestowed in any point of view. The Director spoke
highly of her artistic capabilities, and more highly still of her
character and worth. She had been left an orphan, wholly unprovided for,
several years ago. Her father had gained his living by copying in the
gallery. The old woman, Orsola Steno, with whom she lived, was no
relation to her, but had been the dear friend of her mother, and had
taken the orphan to live with her out of pure charity. They were very
poor,--very poor, indeed. But Paolina was beginning to do something. She
had already sold one or two copies of small pictures. The larger work,
on which she was engaged, she had undertaken by the advice of the
Director, in the hope of disposing of it when the following summer
should bring with it the usual incoming tide of travellers.

The result was that the stranger, taking with him a little note from the
Director, went again to the gallery the next day, and finding Signorina
Paolina at her post as usual, then and there made his proposition to
her.

He was glad, when in doing so he spoke face to face with the girl, that
the matter had been settled in his mind before he had seen her. For he
was pleased to be sure that his judgment had not been warped in the
matter by the irresistible prejudice in favour of a beautiful girl. And
had he seen Paolina first, he could have had no such assurance. In
truth, the poor Venetian painter's orphan child was very beautiful. It
is little to the purpose to attempt a detailed description of her
beauty; for such descriptions rarely, if ever, succeed in conveying to
the imagination of a reader any accurate presentation of the picture,
which the writer has in his mind's eye. She was dark. Hair, brows, eyes,
and complexion, were all dark; and the contour of the face was of the
long or oval type of conformation--very delicate--transparently
delicate--more so, the Englishman thought, not without a pull at his
heart-strings, than was quite compatible with a due daily supply of
nourishment. Still she did not look unhealthy. At seventeen a good deal
of pinching may be undergone without destroying the elastic vigour of
youth.

But the chief and most striking charm of the beautiful face was
unquestionably imparted to it from the moral and intellectual nature
within. There was a calm and quiet dignity in the expression of the pure
and noble brow, which may often have been seen in women of similar
character, and of some twenty-five years of age. But it is rare to find
such at seventeen. Doubtless the having been left alone in the world at
so tender an age, had done much towards producing the expression in
question. It was added to, moreover, by the singular grace of the girl's
figure and mode of standing there before the stranger, as she had risen
from her easel on his presenting her with the Director's note.

She was rather above the middle height, and very slender;--more so, the
Englishman thought again, than she ought to have been. She was very
poorly and even insufficiently clad. But the little bit of quite plain
linen around her slim throat was spotlessly clean; and her poor and
totally unornamented chocolate-coloured stuff dress was in decently tidy
condition, and was worn with that nameless and inexplicable grace which
causes it to be said of similarly gifted women that they may wear
anything.

And the stranger was delighted, too, with her manner in accepting his
proposition. Though she made no attempt to conceal, and, indeed, eagerly
expressed her sense of the value to her of the proposal that was made to
her, there was a modest, and at the same time self-respecting, dignity
about her acceptance of it, which was to his mind an earnest of the
highly conscientious manner in which the task would be carried out.

It was therefore settled at once that Paolina, together with her friend
and protectress, the Signora Orsola Steno, should proceed to Ravenna as
soon as she could conveniently do so. A list of the works of which she
was required to make copies was given to her. It included, besides the
whole of the very interesting Mosaics in San Vitale, and several of the
curious Mosaic portraits of the early bishops of the city in the church
of St. Apollinare in Classe, two remarkable full-length figures from the
ancient baptistery, the representation of the Saviour as the "Good
Shepherd" in the celebrated mausoleum of the Empress Galla Placidia, and
the portraits of the Apostles in the private chapel of the Cardinal. Of
all these works, exact copies were to be executed on a scale of one
sixth the size of the originals; and it was calculated that the work
would require at least fifteen months to do it in. A sufficient sum of
money was paid in advance to enable Signora Orsola Steno and her ward to
move to Ravenna, and to begin their residence there; and satisfactory
arrangements were made for subsequent quarterly payments of two-thirds
of the price to be paid for the completed copies.

Besides all this, the English patron provided the young artist with a
letter of introduction, which he doubted not would make smooth all
difficulties which might lie in the way of her obtaining the permissions
and facilities necessary for the execution of her task. This letter was
addressed to the "Illustrissimo Signor il Signor Marchese Lamberto di
Castelmare." The English traveller had brought from Rome a letter of
introduction to the Marchese, and had received from him, during his
short stay at Ravenna, all that courteous attention and friendly
interest in his artistic researches which Englishmen are always sure to
meet with in the smaller cities of Italy, even in yet larger measure
than in the larger capitals, where strangers of all sorts are more
abundant.

Thus equipped and provided, Paolina Foscarelli, accompanied by Signora
Orsola Steno, had arrived in Ravenna in the March of the same year, in
the November of which Signor Ercole Stadione had made his journey to
Milan.



CHAPTER V

Rivalry


The first care of the two Venetian women, on arriving in their new place
of abode, which seemed to them almost as much a foreign country as Pekin
might seem to an Englishman, was, of course, to present their letter of
introduction to the powerful and illustrious protector to whom they were
recommended. But there had, thereupon, arisen a difference of opinion
between the older and the younger lady. Old Orsola Steno, acting on the
wisdom which certain observations of life picked up in her sixty years
of passage through it had probably taught her, was strongly of opinion
that the important letter should be presented to the Marchese by Paolina
in person,--or if not that, by both of them together. But Paolina
strongly objected to this mode of proceeding; and urged her friend to
take upon herself the duty of waiting on the Marchese. Orsola contested
the point as strongly as she could. But as it was very rarely that
Paolina had ever opposed her in any thing, she was the less prepared to
resist opposition on the present occasion. And as Paolina was in this
matter obstinate, old Orsola yielded; and set forth by herself to walk
to the Palazzo Castelmare. Nobody had ever any difficulty in obtaining
access to the popular Marchese; and the Signora Orsola Steno was at once
ushered into his library,--presented her letter, and was received with
all courtesy and kindness.

To receive recommendations of all sorts, to be asked to render all kinds
of services, was nothing new or uncommon to the Marchese. He ran over
the Englishman's letter rapidly.

"Va bene! va bene! At your service, Signora! I shall be most happy to
give you all the assistance in my power. I remember very well that
Signor Vilobe (Willoughby was the Englishman's name) was desirous of
procuring copies of some of our mosaics. I am very happy he has found so
competent a person to execute them."

Signora Orsola made a feeble attempt to point out that she was not
herself the artist who was to make the copies in question; but what with
her awe of the grand seigneur to whom she was speaking, and what with
the strangeness of her Venetian tones to her hearer's ear, and what with
the Marchese's hurry, her explanation failed to reach his comprehension.

"Yes! You and your companion will need to find a suitable lodging, the
first thing. We must see to it for you. But the fact is, Signora
Foscarelli, that I am more than usually busy this morning. I am
expecting some gentlemen here on business every minute. If you will
excuse me, therefore, I will entrust the commission of finding a proper
quartiere for you to my nephew. He will be more likely than I am to know
where what you require is likely to be found. He shall call upon you
this morning. Where are you? At the locanda de' Tre Re! Very good. Of
course you don't want to remain in an inn longer than can be helped. I
will tell my nephew to go to you this morning."

So Signora Steno returned to the "Tre Re;" a little alarmed at the
thought that she had passed herself off for another person and a
somewhat different one, but charmed with the courtesy and kindness of
the Marchese. And in less than an hour the strangers from Venice heard
two voices below in the entrance of the locanda inquiring for two
Venetian ladies who had recently arrived in Ravenna.

Two voices!--for it had so happened that when the servant, whom the
Marchese Lamberto had sent to his nephew to request him to undertake
this little commission for him, found the Marchese Ludovico at the door
of the Circolo, the Signore Conte Leandro Lombardoni was lounging there
with him.

"Bah! what a bore? My uncle is always making himself the maestro di
casa, the manager, the protector, the servant of all the world. Tell the
Marchese I'll go directly," he said to the servant; then added to his
companion, "Come, Leandro, don't desert me! Let's go together and see
what these Venetian women want."

"I ought to go to the Contessa Giulia at two. She'll be waiting for me,
and will be furious if I disappoint her. Never mind, what must be, must
be! I Tre Re! Ugh, what a distance; why, it is at the other end of the
town?"

"Never mind, come along; it will do you good to walk half a mile for
once and away," returned Ludovico, who knew perfectly well how much to
believe about the Contessa Giulia's despair at his friend's
non-appearance.

Thus the two young men went together to the locanda de' Tre Re to
execute the commission entrusted to his nephew by the Marchese Lamberto.

"Yes," said a slatternly girl, who came forth from some back region at
the call of the two young men, and who stared at them with an offensive
mixture of surprise and understanding interest, when they inquired for
the ladies recently arrived from Venice. "Yes, they were upstairs, on
the right hand, in No. 13." So they climbed the stairs, knocked at No.
13, were told to passare by the voice of Signora Orsola, and in the next
instant were in the room with the two strangers.

The first glance at the occupants of the chamber produced a shock of
surprise, which manifested itself in so sudden a change of manner and
bearing in the two young men, that it would have been ludicrous to any
looker-on. The two hats came down from the two heads with a spring-like
suddenness and quickness; and both the young men bowed lowly.

"Ladies," said Ludovico, addressing himself mainly to the elder, but
turning also towards the younger as he spoke, while the Conte Leandro
stared unmitigatedly at Paolina; "we come to you, sent by my uncle the
Marchese di Castelmare, and charged by him to assist you in finding a
convenient quartiere for your residence in Ravenna. Permit me to say on
my own behalf," he added, turning more entirely towards Paolina, "that I
hope it may not be a short one!"

"If the Signorina would make her stay among us as long as we would wish
it, she would never leave Ravenna any more," said the Conte Leandro,
with a glance from his sharp little eyes, and a bow of his fat person,
that were meant to be quite killing.

"It is this young lady, I conclude, who has undertaken to copy some of
our mosaics for the Englishman, who writes to my uncle, then?" said
Ludovico with a good-humoured and bright smile.

"That is it, Signor--though she is but such a slip of a thing to look
at. I was afraid the Signor Marchese had taken it into his head that I
was Paolina Foscarelli. Lord love you! I could not make, nor yet copy a
picture, if it were to save my life!"

"My uncle will be equally happy to have it in his power to oblige either
lady," rejoined Ludovico.

"I am sure the Marchese is too good," said Signora Steno; "we remain
here till the Signorina Foscarelli has finished the job she has
undertaken, and no longer, nor no shorter. And some place we must find
to live in the while. And if your lordship could tell us where we would
be likely to find a couple of bedrooms, a bit of a sitting-room, and the
use of a kitchen, it would be very kind."

"There will be no difficulty about that, I think, Signora," said the
Marchese Ludovico; "I will go at once and inquire! I think I know where
what we want may be had. If you will permit me, I will return to you
here in less than half an hour."

"Troppo garbato, Signor Marchese!" said Orsola.

"If the Signorina will permit me," said Leandro, "I think I know of just
such a little quartierino as would suit her, snug, quiet, and
parfettamente libero."

To this offer, Paolina felt herself constrained to reply by a silent
little bow. His former speech had received no reply whatsoever.

"I think I had better do what my uncle has told me to do, Leandro," said
the Marchese Ludovico, drily.

And Paolina felt sufficiently grateful to him for the amount of snubbing
contained in his accent to say the first words she had spoken since they
entered the room. "We shall be exceedingly obliged to you, Signore, if
you will do so. Any quartiere which the Marchese Lamberto di Castelmare
could recommend to us," she added, with a significant emphasis on the
words, "would be sure to suit us."

"But perhaps the Marchese Lamberto may not know half as much about such
matters as I do, bella Signorina. People forget so many things by the
time they come to the age of the Marchese," said the Conte Leandro, with
a leering smile, which was meant to establish a confidential
understanding between him and Paolina. But the young girl's only answer
was to turn in her chair a little more away from him towards the window.

"I think we had better leave the ladies, and see if we can find for them
what they require. I should prefer doing myself what my uncle has
entrusted to me," said Ludovico, with a frown on his brow.

"Very good--do so. You say you shall be back here in half an hour; if
these ladies will permit me I will remain with them till you come back,
and then we can all go and look at the quartiere you have found
together," said the Conte Leandro.

Poor Paolina, though perfectly determined not to acquiesce in this
arrangement, was quite at a loss what to say or do to prevent it from
being carried out.

"But you forget your engagement to the Contessa Giulia," said Ludovico;
"surely you had better make haste to keep it."

He had no belief whatever in any such engagement, and had a very faint
hope that any care for consistency would avail to induce his friend the
Conte Leandro to affect the necessity of keeping it. But he also was
perfectly determined not to leave him in the room with the strangers,
though almost as much at a loss as Paolina how to prevent it.

"Oh, hang the Contessa Giulia! In any case, it is too late to go to her
now, and I am sure I shall like much better to stay here," said Leandro.

"Very likely. But you forget that it may not be equally agreeable to
these ladies that you should remain here, and they just arrived from a
journey too," said the Marchese Ludovico, who was inwardly cursing his
folly in having brought his friend with him on this errand, which he
unquestionably would not have done had he had the remotest idea what
manner of ladies they were that his uncle had deputed him to attend on.

"By-the-by, Leandro," he said, suddenly, as he was moving towards the
door, "you must come with me--after all; for now I remember that the
rooms I had in my mind were let a short time since, and the best thing
we can do will be to go and look at those you spoke of."

"Oh! I will tell you where they are--" said Leandro.

"No, no! that won't do at all; come--come along. I won't go there
without you. Come!" said the Marchese.

And this was said in a manner that had the effect of making Leandro take
leave of the ladies, with many hopes that they might meet again ere
long.

Very soon after the two young men were in the street together, Ludovico
protested that he must call at the Circolo before attending to the
business they were on; and when he got there he pretended to be obliged
to run home for a minute to the Palazzo Castelmare, which was hard by,
saying that he would return and rejoin the Conte Leandro in less than
five minutes. And very heartily did that deceived gentleman abuse his
friend, when he had waited an hour, and found that he did not return at
all. Then, poor gentleman! he knew that he had been bamboozled,--cruelly
treated, as he said himself. And he perfectly well understood his dear
friend's object, too!

"Such an intolerable, abominable coxcomb as that Ludovico is! As if he
fancied that nobody was to have a chance of speaking to that pretty girl
but himself. As if he thought that he had the ghost of a chance with a
woman, if I thought it worth while to cut him out!" grumbled the
gallant, gay Leandro to himself.

The Marchese Ludovico, meanwhile, the instant he had succeeded in
freeing himself from his companion, darted off in search of an
apartment, which he thought would just suit his fair clients; hurried
back to them, at the inn; and had them installed in their new quarters
by that evening.

"I am sure I do not know how to thank you enough for all your kindness,
Signor Marchese. I do not know what we should have done without it,"
said the Signora Orsola.

"For all your kindness!" repeated Paolina, with a look and an emphasis
which, while it expressed her gratitude, left him at no loss to
understand what part of all he had done for them had chiefly seemed to
the pretty Paolina to merit her special thanks.

And these were the facts and the circumstances that had brought about a
state of matters which left the Marchese Lamberto and the gossips of the
Circolo in no doubt where the young Marchese Ludovico had gone to pass
his evening, when his uncle sent for him to the club for the purpose
which the reader wots of, and failed to find him there.



CHAPTER VI

The Beginning of Trouble


Nearly eight months had elapsed between that day when the Signora Orsola
and the Signorina Paolina were installed in their new lodging and the
day when the Marchese Ludovico was sitting in the more than modest
little room over a miserable morsel of fire, with the two Venetians,
when his uncle sent for him to give him the hint about any inconvenient
gossip that might be whispered concerning the Signora Bianca Lalli, in
accordance with the suggestion of the impresario.

The Marchese Lamberto had made the personal acquaintance of the young
artist, who had been recommended to his protection very shortly after
the day on which he had deputed his nephew to find a lodging for her;
and he had instantly become aware that he had made a mistake in so
doing;--that he would certainly have deemed it better to take that care
upon himself rather than have confided it to the young Marchese, if he
had had the least idea what sort of person the Venetian artist was.
Nevertheless, he had been very strongly impressed with the propriety of
Paolina's manner and bearing, and after one or two more interviews, with
the thorough modesty of her mind, and purity and dignity of her
character. And the Marchese was a man well competent to form a sound
judgment of such matters.

He had no reason to think that the young man, his nephew, was as
prudent, as steady, as little liable to the influence of female beauty,
as cold, if you will, as he himself had been at the same age. On the
contrary, the character, which the Marchese Ludovico had made for
himself in Ravenna, was a rather diametrically opposite one. But he was
strongly of opinion that in any enterprise of an illegitimate nature
which his nephew might attempt with the young artist, he would have his
trouble only for his pains. And, of course, any enterprise of any other
nature was wholly out of the question.

Still, as the months went on he would have been far better contented
that his nephew should have been less often at the home of the two
Venetians. There were circumstances which made such visits especially
inexpedient at the present time. He knew that the young man was there
much oftener than he judged to be in any way desirable; and the young
man was there much oftener than his uncle knew. The Marchese Lamberto
was still very much persuaded that Paolina had not been led by his
nephew into any false step of a seriously blamable nature. But this was
by no means any reason with the Marchese for approving of his nephew's
conduct. The intercourse was altogether objectionable. Talk was
engendered,--talk of an undesirable description; and this was
excessively disagreeable to the Marchese, who had views for his nephew
which might be seriously compromised by it. A liaison of the kind, let
the real nature of it be what it would, was in any case discreditable to
his nephew and heir, and damaging more or less to the position which he
wished to see the young man occupy in the town. It was especially so, as
has been said, at the present conjuncture.

Then, of course, it could not be otherwise than injurious to the girl.
She had, in some sort, been recommended to his care. And it disturbed
him much, that the conduct of his nephew should be the means of damaging
her reputation.

Yet the Marchese, being a man of sense, knew very well that it would not
have done any good to attempt to exercise any such authority over the
young man as to forbid him to visit the lodging of the Venetians. In the
first place, such a step would, according to the notions and ways of
looking at things of the society in which he lived, have placed him
himself in a very ridiculous light;--a danger which was not to be
contemplated for an instant! And, besides, the Marchese was very well
aware that even if such an attempt did not cause his nephew to assume a
position of open rebellion, it would only have the effect of making him
do secretly and still more objectionably what he did, as it was,
comparatively openly.

Comparatively, it must be said; for Ludovico was very much more
frequently at the little house in the Strada di S. Eufemia than his
uncle wotted of.

Not much more frequently, however, than was very well known by most of
his contemporaries and fellow-habitues of the Circolo,--by pretty well
the whole of the "society" of Ravenna, that is to say. And in the
earlier part of the time in question,--of the eight months, that is,
from the March in which the young artist came to Ravenna, to the
November in which Signor Ercole Stadione had made his journey to Milan
there had been plenty of joking and raillery about Ludovico's
enthralment by the "bella Veneziana," and many attempts to compete with
him for so very attractive and desirable a "buona fortuna." But all this
had only been at the beginning of the time. Ludovico had taken the
matter in a tone and in a humour, that had soon put an end to all such
joking and to all such attempts. It was in all ways easy for him to do
this. He was popular, and much liked among the young men, in the first
place. His social position, as the heir of one of the first families of
the province whether for wealth or nobility of race, and of a man of
such social standing as his uncle, made it a very undesirable thing to
quarrel with him. And even without any of such vantage-ground of
position, Ludovico di Castelmare was a man, whose path it would have
been dangerous to cross in such a matter as this, and who was very well
capable of affording to any woman, in whom he was interested, a very
efficient protection against any such offence as the most enterprising
of the jeunesse doree of Ravenna might have been disposed to offer her.

The Conte Leandro Lombardoni had made the utmost of the chance that had
rendered him the earliest acquaintance of the beautiful Venetian in
Ravenna, with the exception of Ludovico himself. He had chattered, and
boasted after the manner of his kind. He had succeeded in finding out
the lodging, which Ludovico had taken so much pains to conceal from him,
and had endeavoured to establish himself on the footing of a visiting
acquaintance in the Strada Sta. Eufemia. But it had come to pass, that a
degree of intimacy had very quickly grown up between Paolina and
Ludovico, which permitted her to let him understand that, he would
render her an acceptable service by once again ridding her of the Conte
Leandro, as he had done on that first day of their acquaintance. And the
result was that, one evening, the gallant Conte, on knocking at the door
of the house in the Strada di S. Eufemia, had it opened to him by his
friend Ludovico,--and further, that he never came back there any more,
or was heard again to make any allusion whatever to his Venetian
acquaintances.

But what was no longer said jestingly before Ludovico's face was none
the less said enviously, sneeringly, or knowingly behind his back. It
was perfectly well understood by all the young men in Ravenna that he
was desperately in love with the beautiful Venetian artist. As to the
terms on which he stood with her there were differences of opinion. But
by far the more accredited notion was that the affair was quite a normal
and ordinary one; and that the charming Paolina was the young Marchese's
mistress.

Would he give her up, when the marriage, which, as was well known to all
Ravenna, his uncle had been arranging for him with the young Contessa
Violante di Marliani, and which was expected to come off shortly, should
be consummated? That was the more interesting point for speculation.
Would he, as really seemed not impossible, be mad enough to carry on
with the Venetian girl to such an extent as to give umbrage to the
family of the Contessa, and perhaps even endanger the match? This also
was debated among his young peers of the Circolo, while he was passing
the hour in the Strada di Sta. Eufemia.

His uncle was far from being aware how far matters had gone with his
nephew in this matter. But he knew enough to make him uneasy about it,
and to lead him to endeavour to push on the match with the Contessa
Violante by every means in his power: for the marriage with the Lady
Violante was, in every point of view, a desirable one. The Cardinal
Legate of Ravenna was a Marliani, and the young lady in question was his
great-niece--the granddaughter of his only brother. She had lost both
her parents at an early age, and now lived at Ravenna with a
great-aunt,--the younger sister of the Cardinal, under his protection
and wing, as it were. The family was not a rich one, but the Cardinal
had worn the purple many years. He had held very lucrative offices in
the Apostolic Court previously, and had doubtless amassed very
considerable wealth, and the Lady Violante was his only heiress. Besides
that, of course the position of her great-uncle as Legate rendered her
all that was desirable as a match for the noblest of the province--not
to mention other grander possibilities in the background. The reigning
Pontiff was a very aged man. The Cardinal di Marliani was thought to
stand very well at Rome. Who knew what might happen? It would have been
too monstrous if the hope of such a marriage as this were to be
endangered by a silly fancy for the pretty face and slim figure of a
little artist.

The Marchese Lamberto had felt his position to be a difficult one. He
really did not know what line it would be wisest to take. Ludovico had
spoken among his associates at the Circolo in a manner which had
effectually silenced all light allusion to the ladies in the Strada di
Santa Eufemia. He could not speak exactly in the same tone to his uncle;
but the hints that the Marchese Lamberto had from time to time thrown
out to the effect that, under the circumstances of the case, he did not
approve of his nephew's intimacy with the Signorina, Paolina Foscarelli,
had been received in a manner by the younger man which had warned the
elder that some caution was required in the task of guiding his nephew
in this matter. He had never had much cause to be dissatisfied with his
nephew's conduct, or with his behaviour towards himself: but some years
before the present time, he had been made aware that the Marchese
Ludovico was one of those whom it is easier to lead than to drive; and
that any attempt at a little too much driving would be likely to lead to
kicking, and perhaps to an entire breaking of reins and traces.

And, being a man of sense, he had acted on the hints thus given him with
considerable success. The Marchese Ludovico had submitted on most
occasions to be led with all desirable docility. But now, in this
matter, wherein judicious leading was more than ever before in his life
necessary to him, he seemed to decline to be led at all.

How could the perplexed Marchese do otherwise than frown when he was
told that his nephew was not at the Circolo at that hour of the evening,
knowing very well where such absence showed him to be? Yet he probably
would have done, or attempted to do, some thing else,--or, at all
events, the frown would have been a yet heavier and blacker one,--could
he not only have guessed where his nephew was at that moment, but have
also heard what was passing in the little salottino of the Strada di S.
Eufemia.

Some account of the conversation there may perhaps serve the purpose of
saving all necessity for a detailed account of the intercourse which had
taken place between Ludovico and Paolina during the last eight months.
The story of it will be sufficiently understood from a peep at its
result.



CHAPTER VII

The Teaching of a Great Love


Paolina had been working all day in the church of San Vitale. She had
very nearly completed the copies she was to make there; and they were
the most important in extent of all she had engaged to execute. It had
been necessary to erect a scaffolding for the purpose of bringing the
artist sufficiently near to her subject; and the permission to have this
done had been obtained by the all-powerful interest of the Marchese
Lamberto. Many an hour had Ludovico passed on that scaffolding by the
artist's side as she plied her slow and laborious task; and many a
"Paul" had the old sacristan pocketed with a grin of understanding, as
he had opened the door of the church to the young Marchese, the object
of whose visit he had long since learned to understand.

And Paolina herself? Did she approve of these visits made thus in the
perfect seclusion of that old church at the hours when its doors were
shut to the public? Did she like the hours so spent in tete-a-tete
conversation with the handsome young Marchese? She, who had so readily
found the means to make the entreprenant Conte Leandro keep his
distance, and had succeeded in disembarrassing herself of him
altogether,--could she find no possible means for avoiding the
assiduities of the Marchese Ludovico; could she not at least have
induced old Orsola to accompany her in the church of San Vitale, as she
had accompanied her in the gallery at Venice?

Perhaps old Orsola did not like climbing up a ladder to a scaffolding.
Perhaps she had the superstitious dislike to an empty, and lonely church
not uncommon to uneducated Italians. The fact was at all events that,
even after Ludovico had, upon more than one occasion, brought the
rushing blood into the dark face of Paolina by surprising her at her
work on the scaffolding near the vaults of the church, old Orsola never
made her appearance there. She was always at her place on one side of
the fire during the visits of the Marchese to the quartiere in the
Strada di Santa Eufemia in the evening; but it was equally true that she
almost always went to sleep.

It is so natural and so desirable that the old should sleep under such
circumstances and on such occasions! It is so evidently for the benefit
of all the parties concerned, that the tendency may be reckoned among
the instances of beneficent adaptation with which the whole order of
Nature is filled!

It can hardly be doubted,--Ludovico could hardly be blamed for the
persuasion--that Paolina did like his visits. It may be pretty safely
assumed that those blushes, which greeted the appearance of his head
above the planks as he climbed to the scaffolding, were not painful
blushes. How early in those eight months it came to pass that her heart
leaped at the click of the huge old key in the lock, as the sacristan
admitted Ludovico by a turn of it which, as she had well learned,
heralded his coming, it might be hard to say. Paolina herself could not
probably have told this to her own heart. But that such had come to be
the case long before the evening when the Marchese Lamberto sought his
nephew at the Circolo, and could not find him, can hardly be doubted.

Thus much having been admitted, it seems as if there might be reason to
fear that Paolina may appear worthy of censure to those of her own sex,
to whom her story is here commended, to a degree which truth, and an
acquaintance with times, places, and national manners, would not quite
justify. But in these matters of national appreciation, of fitness and
unfitness, and of propriety and impropriety, the nuances are so fine and
subtle, that it is somewhat difficult, in trying to explain them, to say
just what one means without seeming to say more than one means.

One thing is clear. Paolina was as thoroughly and essentially modest and
innocent a girl as ever breathed; but she was so "by the grace of
God,"--from natural idiosyncrasy and instinctive purity of heart, that
is to say, rather than from teaching of any kind, or from any knowledge
of good or evil. She was an orphan, the child of parents who were
"nobody," and she was left in the world to find her own way in it as she
could. So much the more, replies the prudent English matron, ought she
to have been extra careful lest the breath of misconception should even
for a passing moment sully her. It is the sentiment of a people, who,
"aristocratic" as they may be, do really feel that that which is best
and purest in the highest lady of the land may be, and should be, also
the heritage of lowliest. But such is not practically the feeling in
those social latitudes where Paolina was born and bred.

The breath that tarnishes the clear mirror of a noble damsel's name,
says and teaches that social feeling, brings dishonour to a noble race;
and she has failed in her duty to her race. But who could be injured by
any light word spoken or light thought of such an one as poor Paolina?
She was an "artist." What treason to art, what lese-majeste against the
beautiful in every one of its manifestations, to conceive that in that
fact any reason was to be found why a less nice conduct in such matters
should be expected of her! And yet, for reasons which it would take a
volume to elucidate, so it is, that in the countries where art is deemed
to be most at home, and where it is in the largest degree the occupation
of large sections of the people, it is deemed that a less strict rule
with reference to the matters under consideration is laid on them than
on others. What if a young female artist "perfectly free from ties," as
would be urged, and whose conduct in such a matter could hurt
nobody,--what if such an one chose to form a tie not recognized by the
Church? The Church herself would look very leniently on the venial
fault. And though Paolina was such as she has been described, it was
impossible but that such notions, not specially set forth or taught, but
pervading all the unconscious teaching of the world around her, should
have rendered her less sensitively anxious as to the possibility of
misconception lighting on her, than an equally good English girl would
have been. Could she have been indifferent to the danger that slander
should tarnish her good name? asks an Englishwoman. But the whole world
in which she lived would not have felt it to be slander. It would have
been too much in the ordinary course of things.

How Paolina felt in the matter, Ludovico was made to understand on that
evening which has been so often referred to; and the reader may gather
from the conversation that passed between them.

Paolina had worked hard all day. The mosaics in San Vitale were nearly
finished. Ludovico had been with her on her scaffolding during the few
hours of light of the short afternoon. He had become sensible that the
intercourse between him and Paolina had latterly been growing to be less
frank, unreserved, and easy than it had been. He had once been quite
sure that Paolina loved him with the whole force of a thoroughly virgin
heart. He had latterly begun almost to think that he had been mistaken
in her. She would turn from him. She would fall into long silences. She
was embarrassed in speaking to him; and it had often happened lately
that talk had passed between them, which had seemed as if they were
speaking at cross-purposes--as if there were something not understood or
misunderstood between them.

And Ludovico had come to the house in the Strada di Sta. Eufemia that
evening, safely relying on the expectation that the Signora Orsola would
go fast asleep, and determined to bring matters to an understanding
between him and Paolina.

"You can hardly, I think, doubt, Paolina mia, that I love you dearly,
far more dearly than anything else on the face of the earth. Do you not
see and know that all my life is devoted to you? You do not doubt,
darling, do you?" said Ludovico, as he sat holding one of her hands in
his.

She sat silent for awhile, and with her face turned away from him,
though she made no attempt to take her hand from his.

"You do not doubt it, Paolina?" he asked again.

"If I did doubt it,--if I had doubted it, Ludovico, you could not have
taught me the lesson which you have taught me--the lesson which you well
know you have so thoroughly taught me, to love you. We neither of us
doubt of the love of the other. But--."

She still continued to sit with her face averted from him; and, after
another pause, finished her speech only by a little sad shake of her
head.

Now the truth was that Ludovico often did doubt very much whether
Paolina really loved him. He did not understand the position in which
they stood towards each other at all. Here was a little utterly
unpretending artist, dependent on no one but herself, owing no duty to
any one, to whom he had been making love for the last eight months, as
he had never in his life made love before, who assured him that she
loved him; how was it that she had not been his mistress months and
months ago? How to account for so strange a phenomenon? He knew very
well, that if the exact truth of his position with regard to the little
Venetian artist were known or guessed at by any of the men with whom he
lived, he would have appeared to them an object of the utmost
ridicule,--a dupe,--a fool of the very first water. What on earth could
he have been about all the time?

And there were moments in which he was tempted to think the same of
himself; bitter moments of cynical world-wisdom, in which he scoffed at
himself for having been led to play the part he had played for these
last eight months. He would resolve at such moments to "speak plainly"
to Paolina; and, if such plain-speaking failed of the effect it was
intended to produce, to put her out of his mind and never waste a minute
or a thought upon her again.

But such plain-speaking had never got itself spoken,--had seemed, when
he was in presence of the intended object of it, utterly impossible to
be spoken. And as for the other alternative, he knew at the bottom of
his heart, that it was as much out of his power to put it in practice,
as it was to forget his own identity.

Something there was in the girl different from anything he had ever
known in any other specimen of the sex he had ever become acquainted
with. Something too there unmistakably was in his feeling towards her
very different from aught that he had ever felt before. What spell had
come over him? And what the deuce was the nature of her power over him?
And what the deuce was her own meaning, and feeling, and the motives of
her conduct?

It really was necessary, however, that they should in some way come to
understand each other. If he had been becoming for some time past
discontented with the state of matters between them, it was evident that
Paolina had been becoming ill at ease and unhappy also. In some fashion
or other some more or less plain speaking was evidently needed.

And Paolina herself? What was her feeling on the subject? Whence did her
unmistakable malaise, distraught behaviour in Ludovico's presence,
paling cheeks, hours of reverie, when she should have been busily at
work--whence did all this come? What was really in her mind when she
told him that doubtless they both loved each other, and then ended her
words with a "but," and a sad shake of her drooping little head?

She had found this man, her first acquaintance, in a strange land,
good-natured, pleasant, kind, useful, handsome, protecting and, at the
same time, deferential in his manner; and she had liked him. He had
delivered her from the Conte Leandro, and there had come into her mind
comparisons between the two men. He had been on her side in that matter;
they had wished the same thing, and had accomplished it against a third
person; there had been, as it were, a secret between them on the
subject; and hence had grown a bond of union. She had advanced from
liking to admiring. Thence to the consciousness that she was admired.
She had gone onwards through the usual phases of surprising herself in
the act of thinking of him at all sorts of hours, and gradually
discovering that he filled an immense portion of her lonely life there
in the strange city, till she came to the stage of mingling the avowal
"Gli voglio tanto bene" with her last prayers to Mary Mother by her
bedside at night, and meditating on the words he had said and the looks
be had looked, after she had laid her head upon the pillow.

She had thus quietly walked onwards into the deep waters of a great
love, before any question had ever suggested itself to her as to whither
she was going, and whether there might not be danger of perishing in
those deep waters.

Now nothing is clearer or more undoubted by every good and
well-conditioned girl among ourselves, than the certainty that any man
who unmistakably seeks to win her love either means and hopes to make
her his wife, or is merely fooling her for his own abominably selfish
amusement, or is insulting her and endeavouring to injure her in a
manner that makes it at once her duty and her inclination to spurn him
from her with horror and loathing.

But here, again, as the lawyers say, "locus regit actum." That which the
English girl feels, under such circumstances, so naturally, that she
deems it an inseparable part of her nature that she should so feel, she
feels because of the teaching of the whole social atmosphere in which
she has lived. The Italian girl, in the position of Paolina, does not
feel it, because she has lived in a very different social atmosphere.

It is quite certain that Paolina,--if the question, whether it was in
anywise on the cards that the Marchese Ludovico di Castelmare had
conceived, or was likely to conceive, any project of marrying her,
Paolina Foscarelli, had suggested itself, or had been suggested, to her
at any time during those eight months,--would at once have replied to
her own heart or to any other person, that such an idea was utterly
preposterous and out of the question.

But he had been striving to convince her that he loved her by every
means in his power for months past, and had succeeded in so convincing
her. Was he merely playing with her? That idea never entered into her
head. As she, with sad and transparent frankness, had told him, neither
of them could doubt the love of the other. What doubt could remain,
then, as to the alternative? What doubt of the atrocious nature of his
designs and intentions towards her? No doubt at all. Ought she not,
therefore, with the intensest scorn of what-do-you-take-me-for-sir
indignation to have repelled the insult offered to her?

Poor Paolina had no conception that any insult at all was offered to her
or intended. Ludovico was minded to offer to her that which it was in
his power to offer, for her to accept if it suited her, or to decline if
it suited her not. The species of tie that he offered her was all he
could offer her. It was one very frequently offered and very frequently
accepted in similar cases. Had the possibility that she might one day
accept such been suggested to her, it would have produced no horror in
her mind. She had no conviction during all these eight months that she
never could or would accept such a position from any man. Why, then, did
not matters proceed harmoniously and smoothly between them? Why had not
Paolina become Ludovico's mistress before this time? What was the
meaning of the averted face, and of that broken off "but--" which she
had found it so difficult to follow with a completed sentence?

The meaning was, that Paolina's own heart, during those hours of reverie
filled with the meditation of her love,--during those pourings forth of
her confessions of love to her heavenly confidant in her bedside
prayers;--during her nightly review of the love-passages of the
day,--her own heart, as it became clearer to her, had revealed to her,
that she could not accede to any such proposal as that which, she was
well persuaded, the Marchese could alone offer to her;--had revealed it
to her, not in obedience to any moral principle; not by any
what-do-you-take-me-for process of indignant virtue; but by an
instinctive feeling irresistible and not to be gainsayed, that the love
she had to bestow must possess its object wholly and entirely, or not at
all. It was quite a matter of course that Ludovico would marry some lady
in his rank of life. She was not ignorant of the position in which he
stood with regard to the Contessa Violante. And his openness to her on
this subject is a curious indication of the very wide difference between
the mode in which the whole subject would be looked at by both parties
in the world in which they lived, and in our own.

Philosophers, as the result of much learned observation and long
reasonings, come to the conclusion that monogamy is best suited, on the
whole, to the nature, the requirements, and progressive improvement of
mankind. A pure-hearted woman, who loves with a true and great love,
finds a shorter cut to the same conviction.

And the growing depth and earnestness of Paolina's love had arrived at
teaching her this with unmistakable clearness. She might pine, might
die--might compel her heart to turn to stone;--might seek the refuge of
a cloister, which is the southern equivalent for suicide;--but she could
not--she felt she could not live and be content to share her lover's
love with another. It was not any sensation of the nature of jealousy so
much as an unconquerable feeling that not to have all was to have
nothing;--that she must have all and for ever; that she and he must be
one;--one flesh and one spirit.

Of course all this ought to be taught, and is taught to all respectably
educated young persons in more regular and didactic fashion. But to poor
little unschooled Paolina it was taught not less authoritatively by the
greatness and the purity of her own love.



CHAPTER VIII

A Change in the Situation


"Neither of us can any more doubt the love of the other, Ludovico mio!"
Paolina had said in reply, to his pleading, "but--"

But what, tesoro mio? What 'but' can come between us, if there is no
such doubt to come between us?" urged Ludovico, gently drawing her
towards him by the hand he still held locked in his own.

Again Paolina paused some minutes before replying, less apparently from
hesitation to speak what was in her mind, than because she was applying
her whole mind to the better understanding of her own meaning.

"It is not, that I doubt whether you love me, Ludovico mio!" she said at
length, but still without turning towards him; "I know you love me truly
and well. But I sometimes think, that you do not love me in the same way
that I love you. I never knew before that there could be different ways
of loving. But now it seems to me,--and I have thought so much, oh, so
much of it,--that somehow you look less to the whole, of
everything,--how can I say what I mean?--less to all our lives, and all
our selves, in your love, than I do."

"What can you mean, Paolina? A different way of loving! I know but of
one way!" said Ludovico with a somewhat banal flourish.

"What would become of me, Ludovico mio," she said, now looking round
into his face, with a look in her deep true eyes, that made him feel for
the moment as though all the world were truly as nothing to him, in
comparison with her love;--"what would become of me, if you were to
cease to love me? I should wither away, and die. It is probably what
will happen to me!"

"Paolina!" he exclaimed, in a voice of strong reproach.

She put her hand upon his shoulder, as if to beg him to let her complete
what she wished to say, and continued,--"But what would happen to you,
if I were--it is impossible, but if I were--to cease to love you? would
not that show you, that there is a difference between ways of loving?"

"No, cara mia, it would shew no such thing. Look now, Paolina! They tell
of lovers' perjuries. But I never said one word to you that I did not
believe to be true. Nor will I ever do so. Were you to be taken from me,
by your own heart, and your own act, or in any other way, I do not
believe that I should wither and die. But it does not follow, that I
should suffer less. I should live on, not because my love is weaker, but
because my body is stronger than yours. God grant that such a lot may
never befall me."

"It never can befall you, amor mio! but, Ludovico, you could not only
live, but you could love--some other woman;" she uttered the words with
a little gulp of emotion, and continued: "Do you imagine, that if I
lived to a thousand years, I could ever love any other than you?"

"What right have you to say, Paolina, that I should ever, or could ever
love another but you?" said Ludovico, indignantly.

"Nay, Ludovico, must you not do so always? Are you not professing to do
so even now? Are you not promising your love to the Contessa Violante?
will she not have a better right to your love than I?"

Ludovico started, and drawing himself a little back from Paolina, looked
at her with reproachful surprise. It was not that he was surprised at
learning that she was aware of his engagement to the Contessa. He had,
as has been said, concealed nothing from her in that respect. But he was
vexed, and surprised at the feeling she manifested on the subject.

"You surprise me, Paolina!" he said. "Would it have been better if I had
concealed all this from you? Many men,--most men perhaps, in similar
circumstances would have done so. But I cannot treat you in that way. I
have been, and would always be open and sincere to you in all things.
You know all about this match. You know that it is a family arrangement
managed by my uncle. You know, that if I wished it ever so much, I can't
avoid it. You know, or ought to know, that it is not, and cannot be a
matter of affection in any way. You know that in the world such
marriages are arranged and are known and understood to be arranged, for
reasons, and on ground with which love has nothing to do. Does not all
Ravenna know, including the lady herself doubtless, that I am to marry
her because she is the great-niece of the Cardinal Legate? Can I be
expected to love her, because she is the Cardinal's niece? Surely, my
Paolina, you are not speaking or thinking of this matter, with your
usual good sense!"

"I can't help it, Ludovico; I am, at all events speaking with my whole
heart!" she said in a tone of profound sadness. "If what you say is
true,--and do not imagine, dearest, that I have the smallest doubt that
all you say to me is entirely and perfectly true,--just think of the lot
of that povera Contessa Violante! Poverina! I dare say she,--think of
the wrong I should be doing her! Think how she would hate me!" She
shuddered as she spoke. "Nobody, I think, ever hated me yet," she
continued; "and it seems to me so horrible to be hated. And more
horrible still to know that I should be justly hated! And then, tesoro
mio!--Mio!--How could I ever say mio? Never, never, never, mio!" she
cried, bursting into passionate tears. "No, never mine! The very word
itself, which comes so naturally to my lips, tells me, like a knell in
my heart, that it can never be!"

"But, Paolina, angiola mia," said Ludovico, who had heard her with a
look of consternation, "what has thus changed you? For it is a change.
You knew all these things before. What has occurred to put such notions
into your mind all of a sudden?"

"Not all of a sudden, Ludovico! The blessed Virgin knows for how many
sad and solitary hours I have been thinking, and thinking, and thinking
of all this! She knows how many nights I have passed in tears to think
of it. What has put it into my head, you say? Ludovico, it is my love
for you that has put it into my head! It is my strong love that has
opened my eyes, and made me see that I cannot--cannot--I mean--that I
cannot share your love with another!"

The words came forced from her with a great effort, and with a sob that
seemed as if it would choke her.

"Oh my Paolina, what words are these?" said he, his own voice trembling
with trouble and emotion.

"It is true, Ludovico! It is my true love that has opened my eyes. I
fear that I have done very wrong; and the blessed Saints know that I
shall have my punishment! I have done wrong in loving you, and letting
you love me! But I did not know it, I did not think, I did not see where
I was going! I ought to have known that love was not for a poor girl
like me! I ought to have known that evil and misery would come. But till
I loved you with my whole, whole heart, Ludovico; and till I found out
that I did, I did not know that--that it would be so,--that I should
feel as I feel now."

Ludovico got up from his seat, and began walking up and down the floor
of the little room, sighing deeply, and passing his hand again and again
across his forehead. Presently he sat down again, bringing his chair so
as to front her fully as he sat.

"Paolina," he said, looking sadly into her eyes with a deeper meaning in
his own than she had ever seen there; "your words have made me very,
very miserable! I never in all my life was so unhappy as I am now. You
must listen now, my Paolina, to what I am going to say; and you must
think well before you answer me. You see, dearest, that it is necessary
that we should quite understand this matter, and understand each other.
Many men, if they had been told what you have now told me, would begin
to reproach a girl with not loving them,--to say that it was clear she
did not care for them. I will not do so. I will not pretend to think
that you do not love me. I know that you do, as well as you know that I
love you with my whole heart. And with this knowledge in both our
hearts, think what is the meaning and the end of what you have been
saying. You know that this marriage is inevitable! And the consequence
of it is to be that we two are both to be broken-hearted,--to condemn
ourselves to pass loveless lives,--to give each other up,--see each
other no more,--make all the future a blank to both of us. Good God,
Paolina! You cannot mean that!"

"When you have married, Ludovico mio,--when I have said those dear words
for the last, last time, you will have plenty of things to make you
forget your poor Paolina! And for me, I shall be heart-broken doing no
wrong to any other, instead of heart-broken and doing terrible wrong all
the time! And, dearest, it would be worse than heart-break. I could
not--it is stronger than I am! It seems like a new horrible thing shown
to me, which I never saw or thought of before! When it comes close to me
I shudder at the thought--."

"At what thought, Paolina? At the thought of my being married to the
Contessa Violante?" asked Ludovico, looking steadfastly into her eyes.

She bore his gaze without withdrawing her sad, still eyes for awhile,
thinking deeply before she answered.

"No, Ludovico; not at the thought of your being married to the Contessa
Violante! That is a thought which may break my heart. But it does not
make me shudder, as that other thought does;--the thought of--of--- of
loving one, who--who--who owes his love to another; the thought of
taking by stealth whatever share of love may be given to me stolen from
the rightful owner. Never! never! never! Would you then be mine,--all
mine, for ever, and ever, and ever! Oh, my love, my love! If you don't
understand this, love has not opened your eyes as it has mine. Do you
think that I could endure the thought of being married to another man?
The bare notion is horror--horror--HORROR! Would I not rather die this
minute; ay, or die a thousand times!"

Again Ludovico got up from his chair and paced the room, sometimes
stopping abruptly in apparently deep thought, and sometimes resuming his
walk with every appearance of despair in his face and gestures. It is
needless to say that Paolina had spoken the very inmost truth that was
in her heart in all its entirety; but she had also succeeded in making
him feel that it was so.

There is often a feeling in a man's mind on such occasions--a feeling
too closely allied to selfishness--which leads him to be dissatisfied
with what seems to him the unwillingness of a woman to make sacrifices
to her love. And often a woman, knowing this, and calculating mostly
falsely, is urged to yield by a desire of proving that she does not
deserve such a suspicion. But Ludovico had no such thought in his mind.
He knew that Paolina had not only spoken truly, but had represented her
mind accurately. It was not that she "respected herself." The poor child
had never received any lessons which could teach her such respect. She
had been perfectly ready to accept the social position of Ludovico's
mistress, until the power of a great, true, and pure love had unsealed
the eyes of her understanding, of her imagination, and of her heart to
the nature--not of the social position of such a tie as that proposed to
her--but of the absolute imperious necessity of sharing such a love with
none. Putting all notion of principle, of duty, of the understood
expediency of conforming to laws divine, and human, out of the question,
such a love as Paolina felt demands this with a cogency of insistence
that cannot be set aside. And the man who hopes, or flatters himself, or
suffers himself to be persuaded that such a love has been given to him
upon any other terms, is--he may rely upon it with the certainty due to
an eternal law of nature--deceived. The quality of the love which may
have so been given to him is of a different kind.

After awhile Ludovico came again and stopped directly in front of the
chair in which Paolina was sitting; but he remained standing, and
placing his two hands, one on either of her shoulders, and looking down
into her face with moist eyes, he said,--"My love, my true and best--my
only love! I cannot lose you, Paolina; I cannot give you up.
Truly--truly I had rather that any other thing--any other evil that
could happen, should happen to me. We are, and we must be, all in all to
each other, my Paolina, now and ever. There is no alternative
possibility to this. Love has opened my eyes, too, my darling angel!
Your love has opened my eyes; I will know no other love,--no other
woman--call none other wife but you! Paolina, you will be mine?--my all?
my only one?"

"Ludovico!" she exclaimed, looking up at him with an ecstasy of joy, and
yet with a great terror upon her face; "but what will happen--what will
happen to you? What will be done to me?"

"We must see, my heart's treasure! We must have patience; you must trust
to me. You do trust me, non e vero? I must put off this marriage; then
find means to break it. And, after all, what can my uncle do? I am
dependent on him while he lives; but I must succeed to all he has when
he dies. My promised wife! Are you mine--mine for ever? Will you now put
your dear little hand in mine, and promise me, and have faith in me, and
wait for me, and have patience till I can see my way, and love me all
the time, my own--my darling?"

"I am your own, Ludovico;--yours, any way: to live for you, if such a
lot may be mine; to die still yours, if it may not! Wait! Patience! What
shall tire my patience? So I know that you are loving me--me only--all
the time, I shall ask nothing more! But, oh, I am so frightened! And
then I shall be a cause of such mischief and trouble to you. Would it
not have been better for you if you had never seen poor Paolina?"

"No, no, no, no! It would have been a thousand million times worse for
me! Be of good heart, my treasure; nothing can hurt you. We must keep
our secret for a while; and nothing will hurt me, if we manage well. But
I must think; my mind is in a confusion;--a joyful confusion, dearest!
But I must think it all over. If you see me less often, be sure that it
is because I am planning for our happiness. And now, darling,--my own,
my own, now really and for ever, my own--one kiss to seal our contract!
You won't refuse me that. I take you thus in my arms, my Paolina; for
the first time as your promised husband. Good-night--good-night--my own!
I trust I may be able to think of what I am doing at the Palazzo
tonight. Good-night, my own!"

And thus the Marchese Ludovico returned that evening to the Palazzo
Castelmare, about an hour after Signor Ercole Stadione had quitted it;
pledged to find some means of breaking off the match with the Contessa
Violante Marliani, to which all Ravenna was looking forward, and engaged
to be married to the little obscure Venetian orphan artist.



CHAPTER IX

Uncle and Nephew


Ludovico di Castelmare did not see his uncle that evening. He returned
to the Palazzo, thoughtful enough, direct from the house in the Strada
di Santa Eufemia, and there learned that the Impresario had been with
the Marchese; that he had brought the good news of his success in having
engaged "La Lalli" to sing at Ravenna during the coming Carnival; and
that he, Ludovico, had been sent for by his uncle from the Circolo. What
for, the servant could not tell him. He could only say that the Marchese
had seemed much put out at the Signor Marchese Ludovico's absence, and
that he had shortly afterwards gone out to pass the remainder of the
evening at the palace of the Cardinal Legate.

Ludovico was by no means so anxious to see his uncle as to wait to do so
till he should return at night. He betook himself to his own
quartierino, locked the door, and sat down to think.

He had said no more than the truth to Paolina when he professed that he
had never spoken a word with the intention of deceiving her. Nor had he
been otherwise than entirely sincere in all that he had just been saying
to her. Nevertheless he felt, somewhat more strongly and clearly,
perhaps, than while he had been looking into Paolina's eyes, that he had
undertaken rather a tremendous task in declaring that he would break off
the projected marriage with the Lady Violante, the great-niece of the
Cardinal,--a match which both families considered to be definitively
arranged, and which was expected and looked forward to by all Ravenna,
and that for the purpose and with the view of making so terrible a
mesalliance as that he contemplated. The Marchese Ludovico felt all the
weight of the inheritance of a great name and a still greater social
position, which devolved upon him from his uncle. It was bad enough to
contemplate the effect which would be produced, as regarded himself, by
the step he contemplated. But it was perfectly terrible to think of the
effect it would produce on the Marchese Lamberto. Ludovico was proud, in
his more easy-going way, of the position he occupied as his uncle's
nephew in the society of the city; but it was not to him the breath of
his nostrils as it was to his uncle.

He felt, as a weak man is apt to feel in similar positions of
difficulty, that the best and quickest, and, above all, the easiest, way
out of all embarrassment would be to run away from it--to quit Ravenna,
and give it up--it, and all its inhabitants for ever. He could do this.
He felt that Paolina would be worth such a sacrifice. But how to
accomplish such a step while his uncle lived?

As it was all he could do was to procrastinate, he thought of the old
Italian proverb, "Gain time, and you will pull through," and he
determined to profit by the wisdom of it. Even procrastination would not
be without difficulty. But something might be done in that way,--some
time might be gained. And then there was always that never-failing
resource and consolation of those who, in the words of Horace, limit
their ambition to adapting themselves to circumstances instead of
adapting circumstances to them, something might turn up; though, for the
present, it was difficult to see what that something could possibly be,
unless it were the death of his uncle, a perfectly robust and healthy
man in the fiftieth year of his life.

Might possibly the something take the shape of a change or mitigation of
Paolina's resolve? No sooner did the idea cross his mind than he felt
ashamed of it, and his heart smote him for having for a moment harboured
a thought that involved falseness to his promise to her. Nevertheless,
it was not the last time that the thought recurred.

The next morning he met his uncle.

"I had Stadione with me yesterday evening," said the Marchese, "and I
wanted to speak to you about something he said. I was sorry to be told
that you were not at the Circolo."

"I was sorry that Beppo did not find me. What was it? Signor Ercole has
succeeded in his mission, I hear."

"Yes; and it was on that matter I wanted to speak to you; but this
morning will do as well for that. It was not that that vexed me,
Ludovico. I won't ask you to tell me where you were, and I don't want to
play the inquisitor; but the fact is, I know very well without asking.
And, my dear nephew, I cannot but tell you that you are acting
unwisely,--imprudently even."

"What have I done that is wrong, sir? Is it not fitting that I should
show some attention to people, who came here recommended to you, and
whom you yourself first commissioned me to assist?" said Ludovico.

"What is the good of answering in that way, Ludovico. Just as if we both
did not know better than that, and know too what we both mean? Pay some
attention! Pshaw! Do you think that I am quite a fool? As if I did not
know what you go there for, and what you have been going there for these
eight months past, since first I was blockhead enough to throw that
pretty girl in your way. Now, figliuolo mio, it is my duty to tell you
that that sort of thing won't do--just at present. I don't want, as I
said, to play the inquisitor, nor do I wish to play the preacher. When
you are married you must guide your own conduct as you may think fit;
but now every consideration of propriety and prudence should teach you
that you must not continue to run after that young person in the sight
of all the town in the way you do. Here you are on the point of
contracting a marriage, which--"

"On the point, uncle? We are surely a long way from that yet?" said
Ludovico.

"A long way! I don't know what you mean by a long way; if we are not
further advanced, it is your own fault. We might bring the negotiation
to a conclusion at once. It might all be settled this Carnival.

"This Carnival, uncle? Impossible! I must have a little time. There are
so many things to be thought of."

"What is there to be thought of, that has not been thought of already?
They are in no hurry; they look upon the matter as arranged. But in
decency, we cannot show any backwardness; it does not look well.

"Well, uncle: at all events, let this Carnival pass over. Let me have
this last Carnival; then Lent is of no use: after that we will see about
it."

"Well, be it so. But, my dear boy, you know all the importance of this
marriage! You know how desirable it is in every point of view; family,
rank, station, influence, money,--though that happily we have no need to
seek; why, it was only last week,--this is a secret, and must go no
further, but I know I can trust to your discretion;--only last week,
that I got a letter from my old friend, Monsignore Paterini at Rome, in
which he speaks in almost open terms of the chance, and even
probability, that our Cardinal might--ahem!--find the next conclave a
particularly interesting one. You know how Paterini stands at Rome, and
that a hint from him is as good as a volume from another; and just think
of the possibilities that such a contingency might open before you! I
won't say any more; but do now during this Carnival, show yourself a
little more at the palace, and pay a little attention, and let the world
see that you occupy the place with regard to the Contessa Violante, that
you really do occupy. Basta!"

"I will do the best I can, sir, to merit your approbation," said
Ludovico, feeling that he was expected to say something, and not well
knowing how to do it.

"And now about the matter I wanted to speak of last night. La Lalli
comes to us, you see, for the Carnival: it is a great triumph for
Ravenna. She is certainly the first singer in Italy, since England with
its brute power of money, robbed us of poor Sparderini. But between you
and me, figliuolo mio, we should never have got her, if there had not
been certain difficulties--certain scandals,--che so io?--at Milan. All
that is no business of ours, you know, tutt' altro! But there has been
talk;--stories have got about!--mere calumny probably, as Signor Ercole
very justly remarked,--but it is very desirable that such things should
not be the talk of the town here. It is mauvais genre to chatter about
such matters. You can make it mauvais genre among the youngsters at
Ravenna, if you choose. Do so; you understand! That's all."

"Perfectly, uncle! Lasci fare a me! I'll see to it; though I confess I
do not quite understand why we need trouble ourselves about any such
gossip," said Ludovico, delighted to be able to fall in with his uncle's
wishes in something.

"Well, I should have thought that you might understand. In the first
place I don't want it to be said or imagined, either here or elsewhere,
that Ravenna has taken up with a singer, who could not get an engagement
elsewhere. Not that that is the case by any means. But don't you see, if
it is said that she was obliged to leave Milan, it puts us in the
position of a pis aller! And I don't like that. In the next place, I
don't want to have light talk about a person whom I have had so large a
share in bringing to the city. These are things you ought to learn to
think of, caro mio!" replied the Marchese, a little annoyed at having to
put his feelings on the subject into such plain words.

"I'll take care that things shall be as you wish. When is she to
arrive?" asked Ludovico.

"About the end of the year--in a month's time or thereabouts. Stadione
did not mention whether the day of her coming had been fixed. Her first
appearance will be on the night of the Beffana, the 6th of January."

"Because they were talking at the Circolo of getting up some little
matter of welcome,--taking the horses from her carriage, and drawing her
in, or some thing of that kind, and a serenata of course. Leandro is
busy already with a poem for the occasion, you may swear!"

"Bravo! bene! If only our good friend the Conte keeps his muse within
tolerable limits! It would not do to quite smother her in verse on her
first arrival; and, you know, our good Leandro has rather a special gift
that way. Well, get up any kind of dimostrasione you like for the
occasion,--it will all help to give eclat to our opening. You can
arrange all about the when, and the where, etc., with Stadione. We are
going to have a meeting of the Belle Arte Committee here this morning.
They'll be here directly!" said the Marchese Lamberto, pulling out his
watch.

"One word more, uncle, before I'm off," said Ludovico.

"What is it?--money, I suppose?" said the Marchese, again taking out his
watch.

"No, sir; not money this time,--unless, indeed, you insist on it," said
the nephew, laughing.

"Not at all, not at all! I won't press it on you by any means!" said the
uncle in a similar tone; "but what were you going to say?"

"Why, with reference to what you were saying just now, about the
Signorina Foscarelli," replied Ludovico, in quite a different tone. "I
am always anxious to shape my conduct in accordance with your advice,
uncle. You see La Foscarelli has all but finished her work at St.
Vitale, you know: she is to do her copying in the Cardinal's Palace
next, for you have kindly arranged for her permission to do so. Now, she
can't very well go to the palace, for the first time, alone, you know!
If you had not expressed the opinions you have on the subject, I should
have gone with her, thinking no harm. But perhaps--to the palace, you
know;--it would be better, if you would not mind it, to accompany her,
for the first time, yourself."

"Very right, very properly thought of, my dear boy! Yes; I can go with
her--or I can send Burini, which will come to the same thing."

"No, uncle; not the same thing--to send a mere maestro di casa,--a
servant! It would not be nice for the poor girl; it would make all the
difference with the servants and people at the palace: if I avoid going
with her to please you, you will go with her yourself, won't you?"

"Very well, very well; I'll go with her. If any man has more to do of
his own than all the rest of the city put together, there are sure to be
other folk's affairs thrust on him also; it has been sowith me all my
life. Well, I will find half an hour somehow."

"Thanks, uncle! Good-by, I wish you well through your meeting."

"We shall see each other at dinner?"

"Yes. A rivederla!"



CHAPTER X

The Contessa Violante


The Contessa Violante Marliani lived, as has been said, with her
great-aunt, a sister of the Cardinal. They occupied a small house nearly
contiguous to the palace, which was almost more their home than their
own dwelling. The Marchesa Lanfredi, the Cardinal's sister, though a
great-aunt, was not yet sixty years old. She had been left a childless
widow, very scantily provided for, early in life, and had retired from
Bologna, her husband's native place, to live first at Foligno, of which
city her brother had been bishop, and afterwards at Ravenna, to which he
had been subsequently promoted. The Cardinal was six or seven years her
senior. His elder brother, the grandfather of the Lady Violante, had
inherited the family estates in the neighbourhood of Pesaro, and had
died, leaving them to his only son, Violante's father, when the latter
was a very young man.

This Conte Alberto Marliani had married for love, as it is called. That
is to say, that he had not married for any of the reasons for which
marriages among people of his rank and his country are usually made; but
had been attracted by a pretty gentle face seen in a Roman ball-room.
The pretty gentle face had remained always gentle; but had soon ceased
to be pretty.

The Contessa Marliani was inclined to devotion. The Conte was very much
disinclined to anything of the sort. He soon got tired of his wife,
repented of his marriage, and commenced an active system of breaking her
heart. It was not a very difficult task, for she was as gentle in spirit
as in face. He completed it when his only child Violante was about nine
years old. But he had also completed, much about the same time, the
entire dissipation of the never very large Marliani property. And it so
happened that, very shortly afterwards, his own career was brought to a
conclusion, which his relatives felt to have overtaken him a few years
too late! He was travelling from Rome down to Pesaro to complete the
sale of the last portion of the estates, the proceeds of which had been
anticipated, when he was very opportunely drowned in attempting to cross
the Tiber swollen by flood.

The little Violante, thus left an almost destitute orphan, was
nevertheless a personage of some importance. She was the only remaining
scion of the family; and the position of her great-uncle seemed to
promise a renewed period of prosperity and fortune to the old name.
Violante was the Cardinal Legate's natural and sole heir. The Cardinal
was a very rich man; and in amassing wealth and attaining honours, he
had, like a true Italian, never thought the less of the additions to,
and provisions for, the fortunes and splendour of the family name, which
he was winning, because he was himself a priest, and would leave no
heirs of his name. The peculiarities in the position of a sacerdotal
aristocracy have engrafted the passion of nepotism in the hearts, as
well as the practice of it in the manners, of the members of Rome's
hierarchy.

Generally the family tie is a stronger one among the Italians than among
ourselves. In the upper classes, it is certainly so; and, probably,
among all classes. It may be thought strange, perhaps, that this should
be the case with a people whose lives are supposed to be less pervaded
by the sentiment of domesticity than our own. The explanation may,
however, perhaps be found in the greater and more frequent disruption of
family ties, which is caused by that more active social movement, which
pushes our younger sons away from the parental stock in search of the
means of founding families of their own.

And one of the results of the Italian mode of living and feeling is seen
in the very common family ambition of Churchmen.

The little Violante then, as has been said, was a personage of some
importance, at least in the eyes of the Cardinal and his sister; and
when she was left an orphan, was at once taken to live with her
great-aunt, under the auspices of her Cardinal great-uncle. Both of
those remaining members of the family would have preferred that the one
remaining scion of the race should have been a boy; but--when the young
Contessa should be married, of course her name should be thenceforward
borne as part of that of the family; into which she should marry,--as is
so commonly the case in Italy, (many of the oldest and most illustrious
names in the peninsula having survived to the present day solely by
virtue of such arrangements); and the Marliani be thus saved from
extinction.

The young Contessa Violante, when she reached the age of young-ladyhood,
had not the "fatal gift of beauty." Some people think that such a
deprivation is the most unfortunate from which a woman can suffer.
Others maintain that the absence of beauty is, upon the whole, no real
misfortune. But however philosophers may settle this question, it can
hardly be doubted that no young girl devoid of beauty, was ever yet
persuaded that to be unattractive in appearance, was otherwise than a
very, very sore affliction and misfortune. Nature often kindly mitigates
the blow by making the unlovely girl unconscious of her want of beauty.
But this was not the case with the young Contessa Violante Marliani.

Violante knew that she was not beautiful, or even pretty. Probably in
her own estimate of herself she exaggerated her plainness. She was one
of those persons who have not the gift of self-deception. Neither was
she elegant in person. And yet there was something about her bearing,
which would have prevented any one from imagining that she was other
than a high-born lady. There was strong evidence of intellect in her
face; and it was doubtless from within that came that quiet dignity of
bearing that marked her.

And it was a dignity compatible and combined with the most perfect
gentleness and almost humility of manner;--a dignity arising not from
the consciousness of any high position or high qualities, but from the
consciousness of that sort of gentle passive strength, which knows that
no external circumstance, or difficulty, or pressure will avail to make
its owner step but a hair's breadth aside from the path which conscience
has marked as that of right and duty.

Violante was tall and slender, but her figure was not graceful. People
did not say of her that she was slender; they said she was thin. And
that was incontestably true. She was very thin. But her shoulders were
high and square, and there was a sort of angularity and harshness about
all the lines of her person. Her head seemed somewhat too large for her
body; and the upper part of it seemed too large for the lower portion.
She had a large, square forehead, white enough, but strongly marked with
inequalities of surface, which, however much they might have delighted a
phrenologist, were not conducive to girlish comeliness. Her hair was of
the very light reddish quality, which has not a single touch in it of
that rich sunny auburn, which makes so many heads charming, red though
they be. Her face was perfectly white, yet not clear of complexion. And
the pale grey eyes beneath their all but colourless brows completed the
impression of a general want of vigour and vitality.

A little before the end of that year in which the Ravenna impresario
performed his memorable journey to Milan with the results that have been
recorded, Violante di Marliani reached her twenty-third birthday; a few
months before that day the Marchese Ludovico had reached his
twenty-second. It was a difference on the wrong side, but not so great
as to form any serious objection to the proposed match. But twenty-three
is a rather mature age for an Italian noble lady to reach unmarried.
That such should have been the case with the Signora Violante was by no
means because no suitor for her hand had ever presented himself. Several
such aspirants had entered the lists. For the Contessa Violante was the
great-niece of her great uncle. But some of these had appeared
objectionable to the Cardinal and his sister;--who also were not at all
likely to forget all that was due to the prospects arising from such a
relationship, and all that it implied; and all of them had been
objectionable to the young Contessa herself.

Violante's expectations, indeed, in that line, or in any other of all
the different ways in which happiness may come to mortals in this world,
was very small. For the first nine years of her life she had lived the
only companion of a very miserable mother. And all that mother's misery
had apparently come from the fact of her having a husband. Those first
years of the child's life had been very sad; very monotonous, very
depressing. Perhaps the effect of them did but confirm the speciality of
an idiosyncrasy, which would have been much the same without them. But,
at all events, when the child was brought to the house of her
great-aunt, it seemed as if her mind and character had been too long and
too uniformly toned to accord with sadness, for happiness to have any
power of taking hold of her.

The old Marchesa Lanfredi, who took the young Contessa under her roof,
and under her care, was not a bad sort of woman in the main; but she was
thoroughly and consistently worldly, and judged everything from a
worldly point of view. The Contessa Marliani was an important little
lady in her eyes; and was treated, by her with an indulgence and
consideration which she would have considered out of place in the case
of a child not born to such expectations and such a destiny. She was not
contented with her young relative; but was more perplexed and puzzled by
her than angered. And as Violante grew towards womanhood, her great-aunt
understood her less and less.

In the first place, she had a much stronger tendency towards devotion
than the Marchese Lanfredi thought either natural or becoming in a young
woman. Of course it was right and proper to pay due attention to one's
religious duties; there was no necessity to tell her, a Cardinal
Archbishop's sister, that, it was to be supposed. But she had a strong
objection to excess in such matters. And to her mind Violante carried
her devotional practices, and yet more her devotional ideas, to excess.
Of the latter, indeed, the old Marchesa Lanfredi disapproved altogether.
Young people had no ideas upon the subject in her time;--and the world
was certainly a better world then than it had been since.

And then, worst of all, it gradually became evident to the Marchesa's
mind that there was a more or less direct connection in the way of cause
and effect between her niece's religious notions and feelings and the
strange readiness she had shown to find objections to both of the two
persons who had been judged by her family to be admissible suitors for
her hand. The Marchesa began to entertain a strong apprehension that her
niece had conceived the idea of "entering into religion;" i.e. of
becoming a nun.

It had been necessary at the time of Violante's first coming to live
with her aunt, to select a governess for her; and a lady had been found
fitted to teach her all that it was proper for a noble young Italian
lady to know. But when she became seventeen it was judged expedient to
change this lady for another. A different sort of person was required.
Custom and the habits of life and convenience of the Marchesa made it
expedient that a duenna should be provided to attend on the young
Contessa; but she was supposed no longer to need an instructress.

The person selected for this trust was not perhaps altogether such as
might have been desired. By some fatality, arising probably from some
latent incompatibility between the institution itself and the eternal
order of things, it would seem as if the persons entrusted with that
responsible situation rarely did turn out to be exactly the right people
in the right place. Perhaps in the case of the young Contessa Violante
her great-aunt had sought to find some attendant and companion for her
who should have a tendency to correct that too great proclivity to
retirement from the world--to a life in which religion was the chief
interest and occupation, and to a sad and unhopeful view of the world
around and before her--which she lamented in her niece. If so, the
choice she made was not followed by the results she hoped from it; and
was attended by other inconveniences.

The Signora Assunta Fagiani, the widow of a distinguished Bolognese
professor of jurisprudence, was certainly quite free from all those
dispositions which the Marchesa regretted in her niece. But she was not
altogether discreet or judicious in the method she adopted for
reconciling the young girl to the world, and to worldly views and hopes
and objects.

She very soon perceived that to Violante the consciousness of her own
want of personal attractions was, despite her yearning for a life to be
filled with thoughts and objects to which beauty could contribute
nothing, a source of bitter and ever-present mortification. There was
inconsistency, doubtless, in regret for the deficiency of personal
attraction in persons who, with perfect sincerity, declared to
themselves that to enter a convent was their greatest object in life.
But Violante was not aware that if the beauty had been there the
devotional aspirations would not have been there! That, which causes
more deeply implanted in her nature than she knew of were impelling her
to desire and to yearn for, the imperfect teaching of the world around
her had led her to imagine to be unattainable save by the gifts of
personal beauty. And, knowing that if that were so there was no hope for
her, her bruised heart had sought the only refuge which seemed to be
open to such misfortune.

The Signora Fagiani's first attempt at finding a remedy for this state
of things consisted of a vigorous endeavour to persuade her pupil that
her own estimate of her personal appearance was altogether a mistaken
one. All the former experience of the old lady led her to consider this
an easy task. And she was much surprised to find that her insinuations,
assertions, and persuasions on this subject were totally thrown away on
her pupil. The precious gift of personal vanity had been denied to poor
Violante; and she saw herself somewhat more unfavourably than others saw
her.

Then the duenna changed her tactics; and strove to point out how very
little a pretty face signified to any girl in the position of the
Contessa di Marliani. To a poor girl, indeed, whose face was her
fortune, it was another matter. But the niece of the Cardinal Legate!
Bah! Did she imagine that she would lack suitors? She had nothing to do
but to make the most of the advantages in her hand, and she would see
herself surrounded by all the beaux, while the prettiest girls in the
room might go whistle for the smallest scrap of attention, And then,
when married, with rank, station, wealth at her command, what would it
signify?

And in urging all these considerations, the Signora Assunta Fagiani
spoke at least sincerely, and expended for the benefit of her pupil the
best wisdom that was in her.

Partly, however, she was working for her own purposes, as well as for
the advantage, as she understood it, of her charge. Of course, as she
judiciously considered, her position gave her, in a great degree, the
valuable patronage of the disposal of the Lady Violante's hand in
marriage. And, of course, this advantage of her position was equally
well understood by others; and among these by a certain Duca di San
Sisto, a Bolognese noble, whose sadly-dilapidated fortunes much needed
the aid that might be derived from the coffers of the wealthy Cardinal
Legate. The Duca di San Sisto had interests at Rome also, which might be
most importantly served by the influence of the Cardinal Marliani. So
that a marriage with the Lady Violante seemed to be exactly the very
thing for him. But the cautious, and carefully-masked inquiries which
the Duke had set on foot, after the fashion in which such things are
done in Italy, had brought him the information that a marriage was
almost as good as arranged between the lady in question and the Marchese
Ludovico di Castelmare, an old acquaintance of the family. Were it not
for that impediment, the Duke thought that he might have good reason to
hope that his plan might succeed.

Now it so happened that the Signora Assunta Fagiani was an old friend of
the Duca di San Sisto; and when the widow of the professor of
jurisprudence was promoted to the important post she held in the
household of the Marchesa Lanfredi, that nobleman did not fail to find
means for securing the continuance of her friendship. It was the object
and purpose, therefore, of Signora Assunta Fagiani that the Lady
Violante should become in due time Duchessa di San Sisto, and not
Marchesa di Castelmare. But she understood her position quite well
enough to be aware that the end she had in view must be approached
cautiously and patiently.

Violante had, of course, been informed at the proper time that her
family destined her to become the wife of the young Marchese Ludovico di
Castelmare. Now, if Violante's temper and disposition had been other
than it was; had she been able to think of herself differently from what
she did; had it been possible for her, in a word, to have supposed that
the Marchese Ludovico loved her, he was the man whom she could most
readily have taught herself to love. They had been, to a certain degree,
acquaintances from an early period of their childhood. He was the only
young man she had ever known with anything like the same degree of
intimacy; and Ludovico, as we know, was not devoid of qualities
calculated to win a lady's love.

But Violante knew right well that Ludovico did not love her, and that
there had never been any probability that he should do so; and, had she
any lingering doubt on the subject, the good Assunta took very good care
to dispel it. And there was a bitterness in this knowledge which did
much towards producing in Violante the state of mind that has been
described. She was not in love with Ludovico, but she had liked him--he
was the only man she had ever liked at all. She knew that she was to be
married to him if he could be persuaded to marry her, and if she were
sufficiently obedient to marry him. She thought that no man could ever
love her, and she knew very certainly that this man did not. Her own
hope and firmest purpose, therefore, was, if such resistance to the
higher authorities might in any way be possible to her, to avoid a
marriage with Ludovico di Castelmare: if possible to her, she would fain
escape from any marriage at all. If this should be altogether
impossible, then the Duca di San Sisto, as well as anybody else. It was
not that she had any hope that the Duca di San Sisto would love her:
but, at least, it had not been proposed to him to love her, and found
impossible by him to do so. At least the unloving husband would not be
the one man whom she felt she might have loved had he deemed it worth
his while to ask her love.

Yet, with all this, Violante had not learned, as perhaps most women in
her place would have done, to hate Ludovico for having found it
impossible to love her,--for having condemned her to feel the spreta
injuria forma, which so few of the sex can ever forgive. Had she ever
reached the point of loving him it might, perhaps, have been otherwise.
As it was, she was too gentle, too humble, in her estimate of her own
worth and power of attraction to be angry with him: and yet she was
sufficiently interested in the matter to listen not unwillingly to all
the gossip that the Signora Assunta poured into her ear about Ludovico,
tending to show that he was unworthy of pretending to her hand.

Assunta's object, of course, was to break the match with the Marchese di
Castelmare for the sake of bringing on one with the Duca di San Sisto.

Violante's object, it has been said, was to avoid any marriage at
all--specially that immediately proposed to her; and the stories, which
from time to time Assunta brought her of the goings on of Ludovico, had
a double interest for Violante. In some sort, all such intelligence was
acceptable to her, as tending to make it unlikely that her only escape
from a loveless marriage with him would be by her own resistance to the
wishes of her family. Yet, at the same time, it was bitter to her, and
ministered an unwholesome aliment to her morbid self-depreciation.



CHAPTER XI

The Cardinal's Reception, and the Marchese's Ball


On the first day of the New Year, according to long-established custom,
there was a grand reception in the evening at the palace of the Cardinal
Legate. It was to be, as always on that occasion, a very grand affair.
All the diamonds, and all the old state carriages, and all the liveries
in Ravenna were put in requisition. Old coats, gorgeously bedizened with
broad worsted lace of brilliant colours, and preserved for many a year
carefully, but not wholly successfully, against time and moth, were
taken by fours and fives from the cypress-wood chests in old family
mansions, where they lay in peace from year's end to year's end if no
marriage or other great family solemnity intervened to give them an
extra turn of service, and were used to turn dependants of all sorts
into liveried servants for the nonce; and nobody imagined or hoped that
anybody else would look upon this display as anything else than absolute
and frank ostentation. Nobody supposed that any human being would be led
into believing that this state indicated the ordinary mode of life of
the persons who exhibited it. Everybody in Italy has been for so many
generations so very much poorer than his forefathers were, that such a
state of things has long since been accepted by universal consent as a
normal one; and it is understood on all hands that these fitful displays
of the remnants of former grandeur, this vain revisiting of the glimpses
of the moon by the ghosts of long-departed glories, shall be taken and
allowed as protests on behalf of the bearers of old noble names to the
effect that their ancestors did really once live in a style conformable
to their ideas--that they perfectly know how these things should be
done, and would be found quite prepared to resume their proper state, if
only the good old days of prosperity should come again.

And there is the good as well as the seamy side (not, alas, to the old
liveries! for they had been mostly turned and turned again too often);
but to the feelings and social manners which prompted such a
manifestation of them. At least, in such a condition of social manners
and feelings mere wealth was not installed on the throne of Mammon in
the eyes of all men. If one of the old coaches was more pitiably rickety
than the rest; if the ancient-fashioned coat of some long-descended
marchese was itself as threadbare as the old family liveries; if some
widowed contessa had crept out from the last habitable corner of her
dilapidated palazzo, where she was known to live on a modicum of
chicory-water, brought in a tumbler from the nearest cafe, and a crust;
not on any such account was there the smallest tendency towards a
derisive smile on the lip, or in the mind of any man, at these pitiable
attempts to keep up appearances, which everybody considered it right to
keep up. Not on any such account was the stately courtesy of the
Legate's reception in the smallest degree modified. It was subject,
indeed, to many modifications; but these were wholly irrespective of any
such circumstances.

There is a peculiar sort of naivete about Italian ostentation, which
robs it of all its offensiveness. Nobody exhibits their finery or
grandeur for the sake of crushing another; nobody feels themselves
crushed by the exhibition of it. The old noble who turns out his gala
liveries and other bedizenments on a festal day, does it to make up his
part of the general show, which is for the gratification of all classes,
and is a gratification to them. But it is a curious commentary of the
past history of Italy that, as between city and city, there is the
feeling, the wish, and the ambition, to crush and humble a rival
community by superior magnificence.

Nobody expected much immediate gratification from attending the
Cardinal's reception. There was little to be done save to bow to the
host and to each other. Ices were handed round--none the less because it
was bitterly cold--and cakes and comfits. Old Contessa Carini, who had a
grandchild at home, and no money to buy bonbons with, emptied half a
plateful of them into her handkerchief, the old servant who handed them
helping her; and the Cardinal, who happened to be standing by, smilingly
telling her to give the little one his benediction with them. The brave
old Contessa still kept her carriage, as it became a Carini to do;
though she starved her poor old shrivelled body to enable her to keep
her half-starved horses. And "society" gave her its applause for
struggling so hard to do that which it became her to do in the state of
life to which it had pleased God to call her; and no soul in the room
dreamed of thinking the less of her because of the sharp poverty that
confessed itself in her eagerness to make the most of the opportunity of
the Legate's hospitality.

The Conte Leandro Lombardoni had a bilious headache the following
morning in consequence of overcramming himself with cakes and
sweetmeats. One active-minded old gentleman originated the remark that
the cold was greater than had been known in Ravenna for the last seven
years; and this fact, repeated again and again by most of the company to
each other, supplied the material of conversation for the first
half-hour. Then somebody, alluded to the circumstance that, whereas it
had been said that La Lalli was to have arrived before the end of the
year, the fact was, that she had not yet come: and thereupon the
Marchese Lamberto had authoritatively declared that the lady had been
detained by an unforeseen circumstance of no importance, and would
infallibly reach Ravenna on the evening of the 3rd.

And thenceforward this interesting news formed the sole topic of
conversation till the carriages were ordered; and all the finery was
taken home again to be laid up in lavender till that day twelvemonth.

There was to be, also according to annual custom, the first ball of the
Carnival at the Palazzo Castelmare on the following evening; but for
this the state trappings reserved for the Legate's reception on the Capo
d'Anno, were not required.

The balls given by the Marchese Lamberto di Castelmare every Carnival
were the grand and principal gaieties of Ravenna. The whole of the
"society" were invited, and to be prevented from going by illness or any
other contretemps was a misfortune to be lamented during all the rest of
the year. At the Palazzo Castelmare people really did expect to enjoy
themselves. There was dancing for the young, cards for the old, and
eating and drinking for all. For the Palazzo Castelmare was the only
house in Ravenna at which suppers were ever given. There three balls and
three handsome suppers were provided for all the society of Ravenna
every year! And the first of these always took place on the 2nd of
January; the Capo d'Anno being left for the state reception at the
Legate's palace.

Well might little Signor Ercole Stadione say, what would become of
Ravenna if anything were to happen to the Marchese Lamberto!

All the people came much about the same time; and there was then half an
hour or so, before the dancing commenced, during which the main object
and amusement of the assemblage was to escape from misfortune, which it
was well known the Conte Leandro meditated inflicting on the society. He
was known to have written a poem for the opening of the new year, which
was then in his pocket, and which he purposed reading aloud to the
company, if he only could get a chance! He was looking very pale, and
more sodden and pasty about the face than usual, from the effects of his
excesses at the Legate's the night before. But his friends had no hope
that this would save them from the poem, if he could in anywise obtain a
hearing.

"Take care, he is putting his hand in his coat-pocket! That's where it
is, you know; he'll have it out in half an instant, if we stop talking!
Oh, Contessina, you are always so ready! Do invent something to stop
him, for the love of heaven!" said a young man to a bright-looking girl
next him.

"Oh, Signor Leandro, since you are riconciliato con bel sesso," said the
Contessina, alluding to words which, to the great amusement of all
Ravenna, Leandro had written in the album of a lady who asked the poet
for his autograph,--"since you are reconciled to the fair sex, will you
be very kind and see if I have left my fan where I put off my shawl in
the ante-room?"

"Bravo, Contessina; now let us get to another part of the room, before
he gets back. Oh, Ludovico," he continued, addressing the young Marchese
Castelmare, whom they encountered as they were crossing the room, "for
the love of heaven, let us begin! Make the musicians strike up, or we
shall have Leandro in full swing in another minute!"

"I assure you, Signor Ludovico, the danger is imminent!" said the
Contessina.

"When I saw him at work last night at the Cardinal's pastry, I thought
he must have made himself too ill to come here to-night," said the
former speaker; "but I suppose poets can digest what would kill you or
me!"

"If Leandro begins to read, I vote we all are seized with an invincible
fit of sneezing," said another of the grown-up children.

"Well, we may as well begin at once; I will go and tell the Contessa
Violante that we are ready," said Ludovico, moving off.

It was a matter of course, that he should open the ball with the
Contessa Violante,--not only by reason of her social standing in the
city, but because of the position in which he was understood to stand
towards her.

Violante was sitting at the upper end of the room between her great-aunt
and the sister of the Marchese Lamberto, Ludovico's mother. She was very
handsomely dressed in plain white silk, but was looking pale and
dispirited. When Ludovico came up and offered his arm, bowing low as he
did so, she rose and accepted it without speaking.

"I had almost made up my mind," she said as soon as they had moved a
pace or two towards the middle of the large ball-room, "not to dance at
all to-night: I am not well."

"Oh, Signorina, how unfortunate! What a disappointment! But it would be
cruel to force you to dance, when it is against your inclination," said
Ludovico, with a very unsuccessful attempt to put a tone of tenderness
into his voice.

"I will not do so, after this dance," said Violante; "but I suppose we
must dance the first dance together!"

"I am sorry it should be a matter of such disagreeable duty to you,
Signora Violante," said Ludovico in a tone of pretended pique.

"It is equally disagreeable to me to dance with any other partner; I am
not well, as I have told you, Signor Ludovico; I have no business to be
here; I think my health becomes weaker from day to day. And the blessed
Saints only know when it may be possible to think of carrying into
effect the arrangements desired by our parents!"

"I am sure that mine would not wish to urge you on the subject to--to
decide more quickly than you would wish to. I can assure you, Signora,
nothing would be more contrary to my own feelings than to do any such
violence to yours. Indeed I may say--"

"Yes, yes! I think I understand all about it, Signor Ludovico. Might it
not be possible to find means of pleasing all parties in this matter, if
only all parties understood each other, Signor Ludovico?"

She dropped her voice almost to a whisper as she said these last words,
with a rapid furtive glance at his face.

"And now," she added, speaking in a louder tone, "we had better give our
minds to the present scene of the farce, and perform the opening
quadrille, as is expected of us!"

"I am truly sorry, Signora, that you should be called upon to do this
sort of thing, when you are so unwell, as to make it even more
disagreeable than it might be to you otherwise. But believe me,"
continued he, speaking in a low voice, and with an emphasis that
indicated that his words had reference rather to what she had spoken to
him in a similar tone than to the words of his own which had immediately
preceded them,--"believe me that it is my wish to meet your wishes in
all respects."

There was a jesuitism in this speech, which did not recommend it or its
speaker to the Contessa Violante. She would have been far better pleased
by a more open reply to the confidence which she had half offered. She
only said in reply:

"I am disposed to think, that such is the case in the matter which more
nearly concerns us both, Signor Ludovico, than anything else.
But--although we knew just now that we had to dance together, it was you
who had to ask me, you know, and not I you. Very little active power of
influencing her own destiny is allowed to a girl; come, we had better
attend now to the business in hand!"

There was nothing more, except such ordinary words between each other or
the others dancing in the same set, as the dance itself led to, spoken
by the Contessa and Ludovico. The former declined all other invitations
to dance, and went home at the earliest moment she could induce her aunt
to do so.

There was much talk going on in all parts of the room as to the
announced coming of the great singer on the morrow. The young men
settled together the last details of their plans for the triumphal entry
of the "Diva;" and the ladies were by no means uninterested in hearing
all that their cavaliers had to tell them on this subject. Much was
said, too, about the qualities of La Lalli both as a singer and as a
woman. Everybody agreed that she was admirable in the first respect; and
there was not a man there, who had not some anecdote to tell, which he
had heard from the very best authority, tending to set forth the rare
perfection of her beauty, and the wonderful power of fascination she
exercised on all who came near her.

She was to arrive quite early on the morrow. It was understood that she
purposed passing the previous night,--that night in short, which those
who were discussing her were spending at the Castelmare ball, at the
little town of Bagnacavallo, a few miles only from Ravenna. Such a
scheme looked,--or would have looked in the eyes of any other people
than Italians,--rather ridiculously like the ways and fashions of royal
progresses, and state entries into cities. But the Ravenna admirers of
the coming "Diva" neither saw nor suspected the slightest absurdity; and
it is to be supposed that La Lalli knew all the importance of first
impressions, and that she did not choose to show herself to her new
worshippers for the first time under all the disadvantages of arriving
tired and dusty from a long journey.



CHAPTER XII

The Arrival of the "Diva"


On the morrow of the Marchese's ball was the great day of the arrival of
the divine songstress. And it was as lovely a day for the gala doings,
which had been arranged in honour of the occasion, as could be desired.
A brilliant sun in a cloudless sky made the afternoon quite warm and
genial, despite the general cold. An Italian sun can do this. Where he
shines not it may be freezing. As soon as he has made his somewhat
precipitous exit from the hard blue sky, the temperature will suddenly
fall some ten degrees or more. But as long as he is in glory overhead,
it is summer in the midst of winter.

Three o'clock had been named as the hour at which the coming "Diva"
would reach the city gates. But the plans which the young habitues of
the Circolo had arranged for receiving her, had been in some degree
modified. The scheme of harnessing their noble selves to her
chariot-wheels had been abandoned; and instead of that it had been
understood that the Marchese Lamberto would himself go in his carriage
to meet her a few miles out of the city and bring her in. The Marchese
Ludovico and the young Barone Manutoli were to accompany the Marchese
Lamberto, and to assist in receiving the lady; but were to return to the
city in the carriage which she would leave, on getting into that of the
Marchese, or in any other way that might seem good to them. The Marchese
Lamberto and the lady alone were to occupy his handsome family equipage.
There was to be a band of music in attendance, which would precede the
carriage as it entered the city; and some half-dozen young officers of a
regiment of Papal cavalry, which chanced to be then stationed at
Ravenna, intended to ride at each door of the carriage as it returned to
the city. Altogether it was to be a very brilliant affair. And all the
gay world of Ravenna was on the tiptoe of expectation and delight.

The Marchese Lamberto, indeed, looked upon his share in the pageant as a
great bore. He had had put off one or two more congenial occupations for
the purpose of doing on the occasion his part of that which he deemed
his duty to the city. Professor Tomosarchi the great anatomist, who was
at the head of the hospital, and curator of the museum, was to have come
to the Palazzo Castelmare that morning to show the Marchese an
interesting experiment connected with the action of a new anodyne; and
Signor Folchi, the pianist, was to have been with him at one, to try
over a little piece of the Marchese's own composition. And both these
appointments, either of which was far more interesting to the Marchese
Lamberto than driving out in the cold to meet the stage goddess, had to
be set aside.

Nevertheless, he had deemed it due to his own position, and to the
occasion, to grace this little triumphal entry with his presence. If he
had left it wholly in the hands of his nephew, and the other young men,
it might have been the means of starting the Signora Lalli amiss on her
Ravenna career in a manner he particularly wished to avoid. After that
little hint on the subject, which the impresario had given him, he was
specially desirous that anything like an occasion for scandal should be
avoided in all that concerned the sojourn of the Signora Lalli in
Ravenna. He, the Marchese Lamberto, the intimate friend of the Cardinal,
and the most pre-eminently respectable man in Ravenna, had had a very
large--certainly the largest--share in bringing this woman to the city;
and he was anxious that the engagement should lead to no unpleasant
results of any kind.

It might be very possibly that the little matters at which the
impresario had hinted, were not altogether calumnious;--that the lady
might be one of those members of her profession who seek other triumphs
besides those of her own scenic kingdom, and the story of whose lives in
the different cities they visit is not confined to the walls and to the
records of the theatre. It might very well be that a little caution and
looking after was needed in the matter, It would be as well, therefore,
to take the thing in hand at once in a manner that should put the lady
on a right course from the beginning;--all which could be excellently
well accomplished by at once taking her, as it were, into his own hands;
and would, on the other hand, be endangered by throwing her from the
first into those of the youngsters who purposed going out to meet her.

So the Marchese sacrificed himself; put off the anatomist and the
musician; spent the morning in arranging all the details of the proposed
cavalcade with the young men who were to compose it; and at two o'clock
got into his open carriage to drive out towards Bagnacavallo. The young
Barone Manutoli and Ludovico were in the carriage with him. But it was
understood, as has been said, that they were to leave it when they met
the heroine of the day, who was to enter Ravenna with the perfectly safe
and unattackable Marchese alone in the carriage with her.

"I wonder whether she is as lovely as she is said to be?" said Manutoli,
as they drove out beyond the crumbling and ivy-grown brick wall, which
had helped to repel the attack of Odoacer the Goth; but which had, some
thirteen hundred years ago, failed to keep out the mischief brought into
the city by the comedian Empress Theodora, whose beauty had promoted her
from the stage to the throne.

Absit omen! And what, indeed, can there be common between Goths and
Greeks of the Lower Empire, who lived thirteen hundred years ago, with
the good Catholic subjects, and the quiet Catholic city of our Holy
Father the Pope, in the nineteenth century!

At all events, it may be taken as very certain that no omen of the sort
and no such thoughts were present to the minds or fancies of any of
those who were about to form the escort of the modern actress.

"All who have ever seen her, speak in the most rapturous terms of her
great beauty," said Ludovico, in reply to his friend's remark.

"Don't be too sure about it, figliuoli mio, or it is likely enough you
may be disappointed," said the Marchese Lamberto. "People repeat such
things one after the other; there is a fashion in it. I have always
found that your stage beauty is as often as not no beauty, at all off
it; and then you know stage work and the foot-lights are terribly quick
users-up of beauty. And La Lalli is not at the beginning of her career.
But what have we to do with all that! che diavolo! She is a great
singer; she comes here to delight our ears, not our eyes!"

"But time and work make havoc with the voice as well as with the face
and figure, Signor Marchese!" said Manutoli.

"Not to the same degree, Signor Barone, and not quite so rapidly,"
replied the Marchese, with the manner of one laying down the law on a
subject of which he is an acknowledged master. "Of course a voice which
has done much work, is not the same thing as a perfectly fresh one? A
chi lo dite? though, observe, you very often gain more in knowledge, and
in perfection of art, than you lose in freshness of organ. But with
proper care, voice, though a perishable thing, is not so rapidly and
fatally so, as mere beauty of face; that is sure to go very soon. I have
not troubled myself to inquire, as you may imagine, much about the state
of La Lalli's good looks. But I have informed myself of the condition of
her voice, as it was my duty to do. And I think that in that respect,
which is the only one we need care about, the city will find that we
have not done badly."

"For my part, I confess a romanzo comes very specially recommended to my
ears from a lovely mouth!" said Ludovico; "and I fully expect to find La
Lalli quite up to the mark in this respect. I shall be disappointed if
she is not."

"From all I have heard, we shall none of us be disappointed!" said
Manutoli.

"We shall see in a few minutes!" returned Ludovico, looking at his
watch.

"There's something in the road now, I think, as far as I can see!" said
Manutoli, who had stood up in the carriage, holding the rail of the
driver's seat with one hand. The road stretched long and flat, in a
perfectly straight line before them for a great distance. "Yes,"
continued he, "there is certainly something coming along the road;--a
carriage by the quickness with which it nears us: now for it!"

"Tell him to draw up, Ludovico; and he might as well turn round so as to
be ready to drive back. We will wait here till she comes; and our
friends on horseback may as well remain here too," said the Marchese.

So the little party drew up, and all eyes were turned to the small cloud
of dust rapidly approaching them.

"Yes: it is a carriage, and no mistake; and coming along at a good pace
too!" said Manutoli.

"It is she, no doubt; she was to sleep at Bagnacavallo," returned
Ludovico.

"Signori!" said the Marchese, addressing the four, or five mounted
officers, "will you kindly put your horses across the road, so that the
lady's driver may see that he is to stop, and that there may be no
mistake."

And then an open carriage became clearly visible, and in the next
minute, it could be seen that it was occupied by two persons;--a lady
and another figure--an old man apparently--muffled in a huge blue
travelling-cloak.

Then in another instant the travelling-carriage, finding the road
blocked before it, had stopped, and in the next, the Marchese Lamberto,
hat in hand, was standing at the door of it, on the lady's side;--the
two young men standing immediately behind him, and the horsemen crowded
round, craning over the necks of their horses.

Oh! per Bacco! There is no mistake about it; she is startlingly
beautiful. Report had not said half enough. And, somehow or other, it
appeared as if a travelling-costume was specially becoming to her. At
least, it seemed so to the innocent youths who so first saw her. Had
there been any women present their minds would have at once gone back
from the splendid effect produced to all the details of the artfully
combined causes which had gone to the producing of it. But there were no
ladies present, save the "Diva" alone.

Such a Diva! She wore a little blue velvet hat, with a white feather in
it very coquettishly placed on a superb wealth of hair of the richest
auburn tint. She was very delicately fair, with just such an amount of
the loveliest carnation on her cheeks as might be produced by the
perfection of health and joyousness and youth; or might be, a lady
critic would have whispered, by some other equally effectual means. She
had large--very large--wide-opened, clear, and limpid light-blue eyes,
with that trick of an appealing look in them which always seems to say
to every manly heart, "You, alone of all the harsh, cold, indifferent
crowd around us, are he to whom I can look for sympathy, comprehension,
and fellow-feeling." And now these eyes looked round from one to another
of those around her with a look of smiling, innocent surprise and
inquiry that demanded an explanation of the unprecedented circumstances
with a childish freshness the most engaging.

She wore a bright blue velvet pelisse, trimmed with ermine, which
admirably showed to the greatest advantage her magnificently shaped
bust, and round slender waist; and bent forward towards the Marchese, as
he stood at the carriage-door, with inimitable grace of gesture, and a
smile on her sweet lips that would have utterly defeated and put to
shame any St. Antony exposed to such temptation.

"Signora," said the Marchese, who looked very handsome, as he stood with
his hat in his hand, and bowed with stately courtesy, "Ravenna welcomes
you, and places itself at your feet in our persons. Permit me to present
to you these gentlemen, who have had the good fortune to be selected
among many aspirants to that honour, to assist me in welcoming you to
our city: the Barone Adolfo Manutoli; my nephew, the Marchese Ludovico
di Castelmare."

"E Lei dunque e il Marchese Lamberto di Castelmare?" said the lady, in
the sweetest possible of silvery tones, and with an air of humble wonder
at the greatness of the honour done her, mingled with grateful
appreciation of it, that was inimitably well done; and held up two
exquisitely-gloved slender little hands, as she spoke, half joining them
together in thankful astonishment, and half extending them towards him
with an almost caressing movement of appeal.

"Si, Signora; I am the man you have named; I am fortunate that my name
should have reached your ears; more fortunate still in having had a part
in making the arrangements that have brought you here;--and most
fortunate of all if I shall be so happy as to make your sojourn among us
agreeable."

"Signor Marehese! Lei e troppo garbato,--troppo buono; ma troppo buono,
davvero!" said the pretty creature; and the appealing eyes looked into
his with the semblance of a tear of emotion in them.

"Will you allow me the pleasure, Signora, of conducting you to the city
in my carriage?" said the Marchese, with a graceful wave of his hand
towards his handsome equipage. "I have thought it might possibly be
agreeable to you to place it and myself at your disposition on this
occasion."

"Ma come? It is too great an honour, davvero. But to make my first
appearance in your city under such auspices will go far towards assuring
me such a success at Ravenna, as it is my most earnest wish to attain."

The Marchese put out his hand to assist her to alight, as he
added,--"Perhaps you will allow these gentlemen to return in your
carriage, Signora? They have no other here. I did not think it necessary
to bring a second carriage."

"Come loro commandano!--as their lordships please," said La Lalli with a
graceful bow; though the young men were of opinion, that her eyes very
plainly said, as she glanced towards them, that she would have preferred
that they should have returned in the same carriage together.

She rose, as she spoke, and giving her hand to the Marchese, put one
foot on the carriage-step in the act of descending, and then paused to
say, as if she had forgotten it till that moment:

"Will you permit me, Signor Marchese, to present my father to you,
Signor Quinto Lalli? I never travel without his protection!"

The old man in the corner moved slightly, and made a sort of bow with
his head. He had remained quite still and passive in his cloak and his
corner all through the rest of the scene, taking it all apparently as
something very much in the common order of things. Perhaps the piece
that was being played had been played too often in his presence to have
any further interest for him.

While thus presenting her father, as she called him, to the Marchese,
the beautiful actress had remained for the moments necessary for that
purpose, with her matchless figure poised on the one dainty foot, which
she had stretched down to the step of the carriage. The attitude
certainly showed the svelte perfection of her form to advantage; and
from the unavoidable circumstances of the position, it also showed one
of the most beautifully formed feet that ever was seen, together with
the whole of the exquisite little bottine that clothed it, a beautifully
turned ankle, and perhaps as much as two inches of the silk stocking
above the boot.

The mere chance that caused the lady to bethink herself of presenting
her father just at that moment, was thus quite a piece of good fortune
for the young men on foot and on horseback, who were standing around,
which no other combination of circumstances could have procured for
them.

Then the Marchese handed her with graceful gallantry to his carriage,
took the place in the back of it by the side of her; and the little
cavalcade began its return to the city. At a small distance from the
walls, they found the band stationed, and thus preceded by music, and
passing through all the elite of the population in the streets, the
Marchese conducted her to the Palazzo Castelmare, and handed her up the
grand staircase to the great saloon, where all the theatrical world of
Ravenna, and many of the more notable patrons of the theatre, were
assembled to receive her.

Signor Ercole Stadione, the little impresario, was there of course, and
in high enjoyment of the triumph of the occasion, and of the importance
which his share in it reflected on him. He buzzed about the large saloon
from one group to another, raising himself on tiptoe as he looked up
into the faces of his noble friends and patrons, and rubbing his hands
together cheerily in the exuberance of his satisfaction.

"You had the happiness of accompanying the illustrissimo Signor Marchese
to receive our honoured guest to-day, Signor Barone!" said he to
Manutoli, who was giving an account of his expedition, and of the first
appearance of the new "Diva," to a knot of young men grouped around him;
"mi rallegro! Mi rallegro! Ravenna could not have had a more worthy
representative than yourself, Signor Barone! But is she not divine! What
beauty! What a grace!"

"Why, Signor Ercole, one would think you had begotten her yourself. She
is a pretty creature certainly. What a smile she has!"

"Eh bene, Signori miei! Are you satisfied? Are you content? Have we done
well?" said the little man, buzzing off to another group. "Che vi pare?
Is she up to the mark, or is she not?"

"Bravo, Signor Ercole! We are all delighted with her!" said one.

"If she sings as she looks," cried another, "Ravenna has a prima donna
such as no other city in Italy has."

"Or in Europe, per Bacco!" added a third.

"What do you think of her, Signor Leandro? Did I say too much?" asked
the happy impresario, moving off to a console, against which the poet
was leaning in an abstracted attitude, while his eye, in a fine frenzy
rolling, managed nevertheless to look out for the manifestation on the
Diva's face of that impression which he doubted not his figure and pose
must make on her.

"What a bore she must find it having to talk to all those empty-brained
fellows that have got round her there, just like buzzing blue-bottle
flies round sugar-barrel! I wonder it does not occur to the Marchese
that it would be more to the purpose to present to her some of the
brighter intelligences of the city. She must think Ravenna is a city of
blockheads! And one can see, with half an eye, that is the sort of woman
who can appreciate intellect!"

"It will be for you, Signor Conte, to prove to her that our city is not
deficient in that respect. Sapristi? Would you desire a better subject?
What do you say to an ode, now, on the rising of a new constellation on
the shores of the Adriatic? Hein! Or an inpromptu on seeing the divine
Lalli enter Ravenna through the same arch under which the Empress
Theodora must have passed?"

"I had already thought of that," snapped the poet, sharply.

"Of course you had," said the obsequious little man. "An impromptu, by
all means! You could have it ready to present to her at the theatre
to-morrow."

"Unless the Marchese thinks fit to present me to the lady presently, I
shall decline to write anything at all," rejoined Signor Leandro, thus
unjustly determining, in his ill-humour, to punish all Ravenna for the
fault of one single individual.

The Diva was, in the meantime, winning golden opinions on all sides. She
had bright smiles, and pretty captivating looks, and courteous,
prettily-turned phrases for all. But amid all this she contrived
unfailingly all the time, by means of some exquisitely subtle nuance of
manner, to impress every person present with the unconsciously-conceived
feeling that there was something more between her and the Marchese and
his nephew than between her and anybody else in the room; that she in
some sort belonged to them, and was being presented to the society under
their auspices. She remained close by the side of the Marchese. She
would look with an appealing and inquiring glance into his face at each
fresh introduction that was made to her, as if to ask his sanction and
approval. She had some little word from time to time either for his ear,
or that of his nephew, spoken in such a manner as to reach those of
nobody else; while, gracious to all, she delicately but markedly
graduated the scale of her graciousness towards those who were
introduced to her, according to the degree of intimacy which seemed to
exist between them and the Marchese. The result was that the Marchese,
without having been in the least conscious by what means and steps it
had been brought about, felt, by the time the gathering was at an end, a
sort of sense of proprietorship in the brilliant and lovely artiste;--it
was so evidently he who was presenting her to the city! She herself so
evidently felt that it would become her to rule her conduct in all
respects at Ravenna according to the Marchese's wishes and ideas, and
there was so sweet and so subtle a flattery in the way in which she made
this felt, that when, after all the crowd had retired, and she was about
to take leave of the Marchese to go to the lodging that had been
prepared for her, she ventured to take his hand between both hers, while
looking up into his face to thank him, in a voice quivering with
emotion, for his kindness to her, there passed a something into the
system of the Marchese from that contact of the palms that he found it
very difficult to rid himself of.



BOOK III

"Sirenum Pocula"



CHAPTER I

"Diva Potens"


Quinto Lalli was the name by which the prima donna had presented the old
gentleman who had shared her travelling-carriage to the Marchese
Lamberto as her father. And Quinto Lalli was his real name; but he was
not really her father. Nor had she any legitimate claim to the name of
Lalli. She had never been known by any other, however, during the whole
of her theatrical career; and there were very few persons in any of the
many cities where the Lalli was famous, who had any idea that the old
man who always accompanied her was not her father. Indeed, Bianca had so
long been accustomed to call and to consider him as such, that she often
well nigh forgot herself that he held no such relationship to her.

The real facts of the case were very simple, and had nothing romantic
about them. Old Lalli was a man of great musical gifts and knowledge. He
had been a singing-master in his day; an impresario too for a short
time; and sometimes a kind of broker, or middle-man between singers in
want of an engagement and managers seeking for "available talent;" and a
hunter-up of talent not yet available, but which, it might be hoped,
would one day become such.

It was in the pursuit of his avocations of this latter sort, that he had
one day, about fifteen years before the date of the circumstances
narrated in the last chapter, chanced to meet with a little girl, then
some twelve years old, on the hopes of whose future success he had
resolved to build his own fortunes. It was time that he should find some
foundation for them, if they were ever to be built at all, which most of
those who knew Signor Quinto Lalli deemed not a little improbable; for
he was of the sort of men who never do make fortunes.

He was fifty years old when he had met with the little girl in question,
and had done nothing yet towards laying the foundations of any sort of
fortune. Unstable, improvident, unthrifty, fond of pleasure, and not
fond of work, nothing had succeeded with him. Nevertheless, a cleverer
man in his own line, or a shrewder judge of the article he dealt in,
than Quinto Lalli did not exist in all Italy. And his judgment did not
fail him when he fell in with little Bianca degli Innocenti.

Persons unacquainted with Italian things and ways might suppose that the
above modification of the "particle noble" in Bianca's family name was
indicative of a very aristocratic origin. Italians, however--and
specially Tuscans--would draw a different conclusion from the premises.
The family "Degli Innocenti" is very frequently met with in Tuscany; but
the bearers of the name do not, for the most part, take great heed of
their family ties. The "Innocenti," in a word, is the name of the
foundling-hospital in Florence; and those of whose origin nothing is
known save that they have been brought up by that charity, are often
called after it, and known by no other name. Little Bianca's father, or
possibly her grandfather, must have been some such Jem, Jack, or Bob "of
the Foundlings," and left no other patronymic to his race.

Quinto Lalli fell in with the child one day in the dirty and miserable
little town of Acquapendente, just on the Roman side of the frontier
line dividing the Papal territory from Tuscany, as he was travelling
from Florence to Rome. He was travelling by the diligence, which always
used to remain a good hour or more at Acquapendente, for the transaction
of passport and dogana work. There, strolling, for want of something
better to do, through the dilapidated streets of the poverty-stricken
little town,--which in those days told the traveller most unmistakably
how great was the difference between prosperous Tuscany, which he had
just left, and the wretched Pope's-land which he was entering--Quinto
Lalli heard a child's voice, and instantly stopped and pricked up his
ears.

Looking round, he saw a little creature, barely clad, happy amid the
surrounding squalor, sitting with its little bare feet and legs dabbling
in the sparkling water in the broken marble tank of a once magnificent
fountain. There she sate alone in the sunshine, and carolled, with
wide-opened throat, like any other nature-made songster.

Quinto Lalli, with startled ear, listened attentively; got round to
where he could see the child's face; marked well, with knowing eye, the
little brown feet and legs bare to the knee; and then determined to
abandon the fare paid for the remainder of his diligence journey to
Rome.

The business for the sake of which he made that sacrifice was easily and
quickly done. A bargain is not difficult when that which is coveted by
one party is deemed a burden and encumbrance by the other. And Quinto
Lalli became the fortunate purchaser of the article of which he had so
judiciously appreciated the value.

Quinto had his little purchase well and carefully educated--educated her
himself in a great measure, as far as her voice was concerned--and took
care that every attention was paid, not only to her musical culture, and
to the preservation and enhancement of her beauty--which, with great
comfort as regarded the ultimate issue of his speculation, he saw every
year that passed over her develop more and more--but also to her
intellectual cultivation. For Lalli was a clever man enough to know,
that if a stupid singer with a fine voice can charm so as to be worth a
hundred, an intelligent singer with an equally fine voice, can charm so
as to be worth two hundred.

And the old singing-master was good and kind to his pupil: firstly,
because he had no unkindness in his nature, and secondly, because it was
in every way his interest to conciliate the girl. She had been brought
out at eighteen, and had now been nine years on the stage--nine years of
success, which ought to have enriched both teacher and pupil.

They had very soon come to understand each other in matters of interest.
Lalli had begun by taking all her large earnings. But Bianca very
quickly let her protector understand that such an arrangement did not
meet her views at all. The ingratitude, when she owed everything to him
alone! No, Bianca had no intention to be ungrateful--anzi! she looked
upon Lalli as her father, and hoped she always should do so; but she had
no intention of being treated like a child. So long as she could earn
anything, her adopted father should want for nothing. She asked nothing
better than to continue to live with him, and work for both of them.

And, in truth, her grateful kindness and fondness for the old man whom
she had so long looked on as a father was Bianca's strongest point in
the way of moral excellence. In all their nine years of partnership she
had worked for him as much as for herself. But her nine years of success
ought to have made both the old man and his adopted daughter comfortably
well off. And it had done nothing of the kind.

They had laid by nothing. Old Quinto had all his life been recklessly
extravagant and thriftless; and his mode of education had not made
Bianca less so. If he was fond of dissipation and pleasure, she was not
less fond of them on her side. Careful as her education had been, it was
hardly to be expected that it should have been eminently successful in
forming a high standard of moral character. The demands made by society
upon its members in general in the clime and time in question were not
of a very exacting nature; and the expectations of society in this
respect from a person in Bianca's position were more moderate still. Nor
were the precepts, counsels, example, or wisdom of her protector at all
calculated to guide the beautiful singer scatheless through the dangers
and difficulties incidental to her position.

In short, for nine years Bianca had worked hard--had earned a great deal
of money, and had spent it all (except what Lalli had spent for her) in
dissipation, the sharers in which had been chosen by the beautiful
actress--as kissing goes--by favour, and not with any view to their
ability to pay the cost.

And now La Lalli had reached her twenty-seventh year; and was very
nearly as poor as when she began her career. And certain small warnings,
unimportant as yet, and wholly unsuspected, save by herself and old
Quinto, had begun to suggest to her the expediency of thinking a little
for the future. She and Quinto Lalli had had a very serious conversation
on the subject just before the commencement of that season at Milan,
which, as has been hinted, had ended somewhat disagreeably for the
charming singer.

The real truth of the matter was that the difficulty in question had
arisen not from any tendency in the lady to behave in the Lombard
capital with more reprehensible levity than, it must unfortunately be
admitted, she had been very well known to have behaved in other places
and on other occasions; but from a change in her manners in a
diametrically opposite direction. It was a change of tactics, which the
strictest moralist must have admitted to involve an improvement in moral
conduct, that got the hardly treated Diva into trouble.

The Austrian Government, as we all know, is, or was, a paternal
government-a very paternal government. And the governor who ruled in the
Lombard capital was quite as much intent on playing the "governor," in
the modern young gentleman's sense of the word, as good old paternal
Franz himself in his own Vienna. But this paternal government was not of
the sort which ignores the well-authenticated fact that "young men will
be young men." On the contrary, it proceeded always, especially as
regarded its more distinguished sons, on the largest recognition of this
truth. Wild-oats must be sown; the "governor" knew it, and the law
allowed it. But they should be so sown as to involve as little
prejudicial an after-crop, as may be--as little prejudicial especially
to those distinguished sons who cannot be expected to refrain from such
natural sowing.

And enchanting Divas may assist in such sowing, and be tolerated in so
doing by a not too rigidly exacting paternal government--may be held in
so assisting not to step beyond the sphere of social functions assigned
to them by the natural order of things in a manner too offensive to the
mild morality of a paternal government, as long as such joint wild-oat
cultivation shall in nowise threaten to interfere with the future
tillage of less wild and more profitable crops by those distinguished
young scions of noble races, to whose youthful aberrations a paternal
government is thus wisely indulgent.

So long, and no longer. Mark it well, enchanting Divas. Enchant if you
will; 'tis your function. But do not think to enchain? Enmesh a young
Marchese in the tangles of Neaera's hair. A paternal governor puts his
fingers before his eyes; and lets a smile be seen on his lips beneath
them. But do not seek to bind him by less easily broken ties. A vigilant
and moral governor frowns on the instant; and a paternal government well
knows how to protect its distinguished sons by very summary and
effectual process.

But when for a poor Diva there comes also the time when that pleasant
wild-oat sowing seems no longer a promising pursuit, what does the
paternal wisdom decree as to her future? Why, she must reap as she has
sown--or helped to sow. See ye to it, Divas. Such providence is beyond
our function.

And thus it had come to pass that the trouble had arisen which had
resulted in inducing the Diva Bianca to turn her back on ungrateful
Milan, and her face towards welcoming Ravenna. In that conference
between Bianca and her old friend and counsellor, which has been
mentioned, it had been fully brought home to the Diva's conviction that
for her the pleasant time of wild-oat sowing had come to an end. "Would
that the year were always May." But old Quinto Lalli knew that it
wasn't. And it had been concluded between him and his adopted daughter
that it was high time for Bianca to take life au serieux;--to understand
thoroughly that noctes coenaeque deum, with champagne suppers and love
among the roses, must be, if not necessarily abandoned, yet steadily
contemplated as a means and not an end.

What if--
     Love, free as air, at sight of human ties,
     Shakes his light wings, and in a moment flies?

The warning of the verse teaches that the skittish god must not be
scared by a premature exhibition of the noose hid beneath the sieve of
corn. Champagne suppers and love among the roses--yes. But there should
be, also, cunningly hidden, the noose among the roses.

And to this wisdom the Diva her well-trained mind did seriously incline,
during that last Milan campaign. Nor did her moral aim seem to be
without good promise of success. The sleek young colts with their shiny
coats, glossy, with the rich pastures of the Lombard plains, pranced up
and nibbled, all unconscious of the hidden noose. One fine young
unsuspecting animal, the noblest of the herd, came so close to the noose
that Bianca thought her work was done, and was on the point of casting
it over his lordly head--and he all but enchanted into such docility as
to submit to it, even seeing it.

When lo! with sudden swoop of hand, sharp vibrating police decrees, an
unsleeping paternal government darts down the fabric of our hopes, sends
off the nearly captured prey, loud neighing and with heels kicked high
in air, but safe, to his ancestral Lombard pastures, and whirls away the
too dangerous enchantress into outer space.

Sorrowfully the baffled fair goes forth (a graceful picture somewhere
seen of paradise-banished Peri with pretty stooping head, recalls itself
to my mind as I write the words); sorrowfully but not despairing,--and
wiser than before.

And yet before she goes seeking fresh fields and pastures new, and
meditating new emprise, wealthy Milan shall itself equip her for the
next campaign. For much of such expedient outfit Milan can supply,
which, in remote Ravenna, might in vain be sought. There, beneath the
shadow of those marble walls, where once the sainted Borromeo preached,
the cunningest Parisian artists may be found--so rich in corn and wine
and silk are Lombard plains-modists and mercers, corset-makers, lacemen,
skilled so to clothe the limbs of beauty, that every fold shall but
display the perfect handiwork of nature, yet add to it the further grace
of art. Makers of tiny slippers and such dainty bootlets as show forth
and enhance the separate beauty of each inch of outline of rounded
ankle, arched instep, and slender length of foot, shall lend their help.
And if envious Time have something done to blur the bloom upon the
cheek, or blot the clear transparent purity of skin,--sunt certa
piacula,--there are not wanting means for helping a mortal Diva to some
of the prerogatives of immortality in these respects.

And thus equipped, everything is ready, Quinto mio; we turn our backs on
haughty Milan, and nova regna petentes cras ingens iterabimus aequor,
that is to say, the wide plains of Lombardy.

So Bianca and her faithful Quinto journeyed forth on that interminably
long flat monotonous Emilian road, with no accompanying sound of music
on their departure, but with the much-improved prospects, which have
been described, on their arrival.



CHAPTER II

An Adopted Father and an Adopted Daughter


When Bianca, on the evening of her arrival at Ravenna, rejoined Quinto
Lalli at the handsome and convenient lodging which had been provided
her, after having passed an hour or two, as has been related, in being
presented to the notabilities of the city, and receiving a great deal of
homage at the Palazzo Castelmare, she had already learned many useful
things.

Imprimis, she had learned that the Marchese Lamberto was a bachelor;
that he was--though what young girls call an old man--still almost in
the prime of life, for a man so healthy and well preserved; that he was
a remarkably handsome and dignified gentleman; that he evidently
occupied the very foremost place in the esteem and respect of his
fellow-citizens; that he was rich; and that he appeared from all those
little signs and tokens of manner, which such a woman as La Diva Bianca
can interpret so readily, the last man in the world likely to fall in
love with such a travelling Diva as herself. She had learned, further,
that the Marchese Ludovico was his heir; that the said Ludovico might be
judged, by all those same signs and tokens, to be very much such a man
as might be likely to fall over head and ears in love with a beautiful
woman, who should make it her business to cause him to do so; and yet
further, that this Marchese Ludovico was just the sort of man, whom, if
she might permit herself to join pleasure with business, she would very
well like so to operate on. She had heard a poem read to her by the
Conte Leandro, and had decided that, if he were the wealthiest man in
all Ravenna, no sense of her duty to herself could prevail to make her
do anything but run away from him at the first warning of his approach.
Nevertheless, from him, even, she had learned something. She had become
acquainted with the fact, whispered in his own exquisitely felicitous
manner, and with the tact and judicious appreciation of opportunity
peculiar to him, that Ludovico di Castelmare was, to the great sorrow of
his friends and family, enslaved by a certain Venetian artist, then
resident in Ravenna,--a girl really of no attractions whatever.

Thus much of the carte du pays of that new country, in which her own
campaign was to be made, and of which it so much imported her to have
the social map, she had learned, when she found Quinto Lalli waiting for
her to take possession of their new home.

"Well, bambina mia,--my baby," for so the old man often called her,
"what sort of folk have we come among? How do you like the appearance of
the country?"

"Eh, papa mio, che volete? I have seen only a bit of it. It is rather
early to judge yet," said Bianca.

"Not too early for your quickness, bambina mia. Besides, you may be sure
you have seen most of what you are likely to see, and what it most
concerns you to see. The Cardinal Legate was not likely to come out to
meet you, I suppose; nor does it much matter to you to see his
Eminence."

"Well, what I have seen, I like. As for the theatre, that Marchese
Lamberto, whom you saw, knows what singing is as well as you do. I shall
please him on the stage; and, if so, as I see very well, I shall please
all the rest of Ravenna. But--"

"But what? There is always a 'but.' What is it this time?" said the old
man.

"As if you did not know as well as I!" said Bianca, with a little toss.
"Is what I can do on the theatre of Ravenna the thing that is most in my
thoughts?"

"'Twas you who mentioned it first," said Quinto. "I spoke of it merely
with reference to that man, the Marchese Lamberto di Castelmare. He is
one of the first, if not the very first, man in the city; and everybody
is cap in hand before him. Evidently a rich man."

"And he is a musician, you say?" rejoined Quinto.

"Fanatico! But what matters that; except, indeed, as a stepping-stone?
What has music done for me? The Marchese Lamberto is a bachelor,
Quinto."

"Ha! what, the old man?" said Quinto, looking sharply at her.

"Yes, the old man, as you call him. Not so old but he might be your son,
friend Quinto. But there is the young man, the Marchese Ludovico, whom
you also saw, when they met us on the road. He is the nephew and heir to
the other--a bachelor too--and as pretty a fellow as one would wish to
see into the bargain; a charming fellow."

"So was the Duca di Lodi at Milan," said the old man, quietly; "a very
charming fellow--charming and charmed into the bargain. But--"

"Yes! I don't need to ask the meaning of your 'but.' We know all about
that; but what is the good of going back upon it?" said Bianca, throwing
herself at full length upon a sofa, and tossing her hat on to the
ground, with some little display of ill-temper, as she spoke.

"Only for the sake of the light past mistakes may throw on future
hopes," replied Quinto, with philosophic calmness.

"Bah-mistakes--what mistake? There was no mistake, but for that infamous
old wretch of a governor," said Bianca, with an expression which the
individual referred to would hardly have recognized as beautiful, if he
could have seen it.

"Yes! I know. May the devil give him his due! But, bambina mia, there
are wretches of governors here too, it is to be feared, no less
infamous."

"What do you mean? What did we come here then for?" cried Bianca,
rearing herself on her elbow on the sofa, and looking at her old friend
with wide-opened eyes of angry surprise.

"In the first place, cara mia, because it was necessary to go somewhere;
and, in the second place, because I should be very much at a loss to
name any place where the governors are not infamous wretches, every whit
as bad as at Milan. 'Tis the way of them, my poor child. But you see,
Bianca dear, to return to what we were saying, there was a little
mistake at Milan. The Duca di Lodi did not go off into the country, and
leave you plantee la, to please himself."

"Who ever thought he did? No, poor fellow, he was right enough. But what
was the mistake, I want to know?"

"You could bring no influence to bear, except upon himself, you know."

"Of course not. How should I? E poi?"

"And he could not do as he pleased," said Quinto, with a slight shrug of
his shoulders. "That was the mistake, cara mia, to endeavour to bring
about an object, by influencing some one who had no power to act for
themselves in the matter."

"A very pleasant Job's comforter you are to-night, Quinto. I don't know
what you are driving at?" said Bianca, staring at him.

"Only this, my precious child. I was set thinking of the mistake at
Milan by what you said of these two men, the uncle and nephew. Has it
not come into your clever head, mia bella, that we might find here the
means of avoiding a repetition of that error?"

"Ah--h! Now I see what you are at. The uncle--hum--m--m," said Bianca,
meditatively; and then shaking her head with closely shut lips.

"And why not the uncle, bambina mia? I am sure the few words you have
said about him are sufficient to point out that an alliance with the
Marchese di Castelmare would be an advantageous one for any lady in the
land," said old Quinto, with a demure air, that concealed under it just
the least flavour in the world of quiet irony.

"I won't deny, papa mio, that, being humble as becomes my station,"
replied Bianca, in the same tone, "I should be perfectly contented with
the style and title of Marchesa di Castelmare. But what reason have we
for thinking that there would be any less difficulty in becoming such
than in becoming Duchessa di Lodi? That, between ourselves, is the
question."

"And what difficulty lay in the way of becoming Duchessa di Lodi?
Certainly none that arose from the Signor Duca. Governors and fathers,
and uncles and aunts, and police commissaries, and the devil knows what,
all interfered to keep two young hearts asunder, and spoil the game. And
why did they interfere?--the devil have them all in his keeping! Because
all the world agrees to believe that such springalds as the Duca di Lodi
can't take care of themselves. Because it is considered that the titles
and acres of such, if not their persons, should be protected
against--against the impulses of their warm hearts, shall we say? Now,
do you think that the world would consider any such protection necessary
in the case of the Marchese Lamberto? Would any governors, or fathers,
or uncles, or aunts, or commissaries, interfere to prevent him from
doing as he pleased in such a matter?"

"No, I suppose not!" replied Bianca, thoughtfully; "but if no father or
uncle did, a nephew might. It is always the way; people get out of the
leading-strings put on them by their elders, only to be entangled in
others wound round them by their sons and daughters and nephews and
nieces! The poor old man is beguiled. We must prevent him from making
such a fool of himself! And the interference is all the worse, and the
more fatal, because the poor old man would not only make a fool of
himself, but beggars of his protectors."

"Ha, ha, ha!" laughed old Quinto Lalli with a quiet, almost noiseless
laugh; "it is very well and shrewdly said, bambina mia. But between the
two times of interference, my Bianca, there is a happy medium; an
intervening space, a high table-land, we may say, after the dominion of
fathers and uncles has been escaped from, and before that of sons and
nephews begins--a short time, during which a man may and can please
himself. Now, it seems to me, that your Marchese--pardon me for the
anticipation, it is a mere figure of speech, your Marchese di
Castelmare, I say, seems to me to be just in that happy position!"

"I don't know that, I have not seen enough to be sure about that yet.
That young fellow, the Marchese Ludovico, does not look to me a likely
sort of man to stand by quietly and see himself cut out of houses and
lands! And besides,--it strikes me--"

"Speak out your thought, bambina mia; I am sure it is one worth hearing.
And between us, you know--"

"Well, between ourselves then," continued Bianca; while a smile, half of
mockery and half of pleasure, writhed her lips into changing outlines,
each more bewitchingly pretty than the other, and her eyes were turned
away from Quinto to a contemplation of the slender dainty foot peeping
out from beneath her dress, as she lay on the sofa; "between ourselves,
papa mio, from one or two small observations, which I chanced to make
to-day, it strikes me that the Marchese Ludovico might possibly feel
other additional objections to the establishment of any such relations,
as you are contemplating between me and his uncle, besides the
likelihood that they might be the means of cutting him out of his
heirship."

"Ha, I see, I see; nothing more likely! Per Dio, bambina mia, you lose
no time! Brava la Bianca! And perhaps I may conclude, from one or two
small observations that I have been able to make myself, you would
prefer to win on the nephew! Eh, cara mia" said the old man, looking at
her with a sly smile.

"Pshaw!" cried Bianca, with a toss of her auburn ringlets, and a shrug
of her beautiful shoulders; "I must do my duty in that state of life to
which it has pleased God to call me,--as the nuns at St. Agata taught
me. But between uncles and nephews, I suppose any girl would say,
nephews for choice!"

"But you see, my child, the devil of it is that it would be the Milan
story over again. You would have all the family to fight against. A
Cardinal Legate can be quite as despotic, and disagreeable, and
tyrannical as an Austrian governor. You may be very sure that these
people have some marriage in view for this young Marchese, the hope of
the family! We know that the Marchese Lamberto is hand and glove with
the Cardinal. And there would be an exit from Ravenna after the same
fashion as our last!"

"I know for certain already, that there is a marriage arranged between
the young Marchese and no less a personage than the niece of the
Cardinal Legate himself," said Bianca.

"Well then; that is not very promising ground to build on, is it,
bambina mia!" replied Quinto.

"It may be, that as far as the man himself is concerned, the match that
has been made for him would be rather the reverse of a difficulty in the
way," rejoined Bianca.

"But the difficulty will not come from the man himself, cara mia! It
would be doing you wrong to suppose that to be at all likely. I don't
suppose it; but--do you imagine that the Cardinal Legate will permit you
to snatch his niece's proposed husband from out of her mouth! It would
be a worse job than the other," said Quinto, shaking his head
emphatically.

"So that you are all for the uncle, papa mio?" rejoined Bianca; yawning,
as if she were tired of discussing the subject.

"Well, I confess it seems to my poor judgment the better scheme, and
indeed a very promising scheme. Depend upon it, my child, an old man,
who is his own master, is the better and safer game," replied Quinto.

"Very well! Have at the old man then, as you call him; though, as I have
told you, Quinto, he is not an old man--not over forty-five I should
say; at all events the right side of fifty, I'd wager anything! But I
tell you fairly, that a less promising subject I never saw. A man, who
has lived till that age a bachelor, though the head of his family,--and
a bachelor of the out-and-out moral and respectable sort, mind you,--the
great friend of the Cardinal; trustee to nunneries, and all that sort of
thing!--a man who looks at you and speaks to you as if he was a master
of ceremonies presenting a Duchess to a Queen,--a man, I should say, who
had never cared for a woman in his life, and was very unlikely to begin
to do so now," said Bianca, yawning again as she finished speaking.

"Bambina mia," replied Quinto, "you are a very clever child, and you
know a great many things. But you have not yet sufficiently studied the
elderly gentleman department of human nature. If the Marchese Lamberto
is as you describe him, it may be, it is true, that he is one of those
men for whom female beauty has no charm, and on whom any kind of attack
would be thrown away and mere lost labour. But it is far more likely
that the exact reverse may be found to be the case! A thousand
circumstances of his social position, or even of his temper and turn of
mind, may have kept him a bachelor,--may have kept him out of the way of
women altogether. He may be found cautious, haughty, backward to woo,
requiring to be wooed, in love with the respectabilities of his social
standing; but depend upon it, bambina mia, if you can once awaken the
dormant passion of such a man, you may produce effects wholly
irresistible,--you may do anything with him! His love would be like a
frozen torrent when the thaw comes! It would dash aside every opposition
that could be offered it. The calculated and calculating tentatives, and
coquettings and nibblings of your practised lovers, who have been in
love a dozen times, would be as a trickling rill to an ocean wave,
compared to what might be expected from the passion of a heart first
strongly moved at the time of life the Marchese has reached. Fascinate
such a man as that, and in such a position, bambina mia, and all the
governors, and all the Cardinals that ever mumbled a mass, won't avail
to prevent him from being your own!"

"Well, I suppose you are right, Quinto. And I suppose that that is what
it must be!--But--well! it is time to be going to bed, I suppose; I am
tired and sleepy!" said Bianca, rousing herself after a pause from a
reverie into which she seemed to have fallen, and yawning as she got up
from the sofa.



CHAPTER III

"Armed at All Points"


The quartiere which La Lalli found prepared at Ravenna for her and her
travelling companion was a very eligible one. It consisted of a very
nicely-furnished sitting-room, with a bed-room opening off on one side
for herself, and another similarly situated on the other side for her
father. There was also, behind, one little closet for a servant to sleep
in, and another, still smaller, intended to serve as a kitchen.

On the morning following the conversation related in the last chapter
Bianca, hearing Quinto coming out of his bed-room into the sitting-room
about nine o'clock, called out to him from her bed:

"Oh, papa! I forgot to tell you last night that the Marchese and Signor
Stadione are to be here at one o'clock to-day to hear me, and settle
about the night of the 6th, you know."

"All right, bambina mia! I will be back in time. I'm going to the cafe
to get some breakfast," called out Quinto through the door.

"Yes. But, papa, be here at one o'clock, and do not come back before
that. E inteso? And send me a cup of chocolate from the cafe."

"Inteso! I'll be here at one, and not before," said the old man through
the door, with special emphasis on the last words.

Then Bianca called her maid, told her to bring the chocolate to her as
soon as it came from the cafe, and then to come and dress her at ten.
Whether the intervening time was spent in sleep or meditation may be
doubted; but, at all events, when the hour for action came Bianca was
ready for it.

By means of the skilled and practised assistance of Gigia Daddi, the
maid who had been with her ever since the first beginning of her stage
career, the Diva had completed her toilette by half-past eleven. But she
had had, to a certain degree, a double toilette to perform. All the
component parts of a rich and very becoming morning-costume had been
selected and assorted with due care, and minute attention to the effect
each portion of it was calculated to produce in combination with the
rest; and then they had been not put on, but laid out in order on the
bed. The more immediate purpose of the Diva was to array herself
differently--differently, but by no means with a less careful and
well-considered attention to the result which was intended to be
produced.

The magnificent hair was brushed till it gleamed like burnished gold as
the sun-rays played upon it. But when ready to be coiled in the artistic
masses, which Gigia knew well how to arrange, variously, according to
the style and nature of the effect designed to be produced, it was left
uncoiled, streaming in great ripples over back and shoulders in its
profuse abundance. An exquisite little pair of boots, of black satin,
clasping ankle and instep like a glove, were chosen to match the black
satin dress laid out on the bed: but, like the dress, were not put on.
The place of the black satin dress was supplied by a wrapper of very
fine white muslin, edged with delicate lace, so shaped with consummate
skill that, though the snowy folds seemed to lie loosely within the
girdle that confined them at the waist, no part of the effect of the
round elastic slimness of the waist was lost; open at the neck, from a
point about a span beneath the collar-bone, it allowed the whole of the
noble white column of the grandly-formed throat to be visible from its
base above the bosom to the opening out of the exquisite lines about the
nape of the neck into the tapering swelling of the classically-shaped
head. The exact arrangement of the shape of this opening of the dress,
from the throat down to about a hand's-breadth above the girdle, was
very carefully attended to; the lace-edged folds of the muslin being
three or four times drawn a little more forward so as to conceal, or a
little back so as to show, a more liberal glimpse of the swelling bosom
on either side, by the doubting Diva, as she stood before the glass.

"E troppo, cosi." she said to her attendant at last. "Is that too much
so?"

Gigia looked critically before she answered, "To receive, yes,--a
little, perhaps. But to be caught unawares, no; and then with a
handkerchief, you know--"

"Oh, yes! One knows the exercise," said Bianca, with a laugh; "blush and
call attention to it by covering it with one's handkerchief, which falls
down as often as one chooses to repeat the manoeuvre. A chi lo dite?"

"Style?" said Gigia.

"Sentimental,--eyes soft and dreamy; therefore the very faintest blush
of rouge. Yes; not a shade more."

"You won't put your bottines on?"

"No; there'll be time afterwards. Give me a pair of bronze kid slippers.
After all, there is nothing that shows a foot so well: and look here,
Gigia, draw this stocking a little better; I'd almost as soon have a
wrinkle in my face as in the silk on my instep. That's better! The
narrow black velvet with the jet cross for my neck, nothing else. Now,
you understand? Anybody who comes after one o'clock may be admitted;
before that you will let in no soul save the Marchese Lamberto, in case
he should come. I don't at all know that he will. And, Gigia," continued
her mistress, as she passed into the sitting-room, "draw this sofa over
to the other side of the fireplace, so as to face the window; ten years
hence, when you have to place a sofa for me, you may put it just
contrariwise--so, with the head at the side of the fireplace, and push
the table a little further back so as to leave room for the easy-chair
there to stand near the foot of the sofa facing the fire. That will do.
Now, be sure of your man before you let him in. The Marchese Lamberto,
mind, an elderly gentleman--not the Marchese Ludovico, who is a young
man. If he or anybody else should come before one o'clock tell them that
I can see nobody till that time. Now, don't bring me the wrong man; and,
Gigia, if he comes, don't announce him, you know. Just open the door
quietly, and let him walk into the room without disturbing me--you
understand?"

"A chi lo dite, Signora mia! Lasciate fare a me! Is it the first time?"
said Gigia.

"If only one could hope that it would be the last," returned her
mistress with a half laugh, half sigh.

By the time all these arrangements were made it was nearly twelve
o'clock; and Bianca, dismissing her maid, placed herself, not without
some care in the arrangement of her delicate draperies, on the sofa.

The judicious Gigia had said that the extent of snowy bosom exposed was
not too liberal, due consideration being had to the circumstance that
the Diva was to be caught by an unexpected surprise in an undress. So,
as Bianca meant to be very much surprised, she carefully, and with
dainty fingers, drew back the muslin on either side just a thought, so
as to permit to an exploring eye merely such a suggestive peep of the
swelling curves on either side as might furnish an estimate of the
outline of the veiled heights beyond. She smiled, half with pleased
consciousness and half with self-mockery, as she did so: then carefully
arranged her drapery so as to allow two slim ankles to be visible just
at the point where they crossed each other in a position which exhibited
the curved instep of one slender foot in a full front view, and the side
of the other negligently thrown across it. The pose was artistically
perfect. Lastly, with one or two dexterous touches and shakes, she so
arranged her wealth of hair as to combine an appearance of the most
perfect negligee with a thoroughly artistic disposition of it, which,
while it displayed to the best advantage the tresses themselves, served
also to heighten the effect of the contours of neck and bust, which they
partly showed and partly concealed.

And then the Diva waited patiently.

She had, as she had said to Gigia, no certain knowledge that he would
come, nor even any very clear reason to believe that he would do
so--that he would come, that is to say, earlier than one o'clock, at
which hour it had been arranged that he should meet Stadione there.
Nevertheless, Bianca had a strong persuasion that he would come earlier.
Despite what she had said to Quinto Lalli of the circumstances and signs
which seemed to indicate that the Marchese was not a man likely to be
exposed to danger from such attacks as the Diva meditated making on
him,--despite the fact that she had said to herself also all that she
had said to her old friend, there had been something about the
Marchese's manner--something in that last pressure of palm to palm that
had set Bianca speculating as to the meaning of it. It was not a mere
manifestation of admiration; the Diva was used enough to that in all its
forms, and could read every tone of its language. It was more like
wonder and curiosity,--at all events, it was not indifference. She had
seen with half an eye, and without the slightest appearance of seeing
it, that the Marchese could not keep his eyes away from her. During the
drive to the city, and afterwards at the Palazzo Castelmare, while she
was making the acquaintance of the principal people of the city, it had
been the same thing. And nothing could be further than was the
Marchese's manner, from the bold, unabashed staring, which such
beautiful Divas as Bianca have often to endure. He evidently was
devouring her with his eyes on the sly. Evidently he did not wish to be
observed looking at her as he did look. Whenever her own eyes caught him
in the fact, his were on the instant withdrawn: to return, as Bianca
well marked, on the next instant.

Then, after those first words, which he had addressed to her at their
meeting in the road, she had noted that he did not speak to her, as she
sat by his side in the carriage, with the simple ease and freedom of
indifference. There was almost something approaching to a manifestation
of emotion in his manner of addressing her. It could not be that this
elderly gentleman,--this very mature Marchese, had fallen in love with
her already. Such an idea would have been too absurd! Yet his whole
bearing was odd and ill at ease.

It had seemed to himself as if some subtle material influence affected
him, as he sat by her side,--as if a magnetic emanation came forth from
her that mounted to his brain, and disordered his pulses, and the flow
of his blood. He had sat by the side of women as beautiful before now,
and never been conscious of being affected in any similar manner. What
it was that produced such an effect upon his nervous system,--what was
the matter with him, he could not for the life of him imagine. It was
unpleasant; he did not like it at all. And yet some irresistible
stimulus and curiosity drove him to prolong rather than to avoid the
sorcery.

Bianca was by no means fully aware of the power and of the strength of
the sorcery which she was exercising on the Marchese. But she understood
a great deal more about it than he did. And when, in making the
appointment for him and the impresario to call on her at one o'clock, he
had asked her if that was too early for her habits, and she had replied,
that she was always afoot much earlier than that, Bianca had felt
persuaded that he would be at the door at an earlier hour.

And her experience, or her instinct, with reference to such matters had
not deceived her.

The quarter-past twelve had not struck, when the Diva heard a knock at
the door of her apartment.



CHAPTER IV

Throwing the Line


In the next instant Bianca heard the door of the room in which she was
sitting opened very gently; it was Gigia who opened it, so gently as to
enable her mistress to keep her eyes on a book she held in her hand,
apparently unconscious that she was not alone. The Marchese Lamberto
advanced two paces within the room, and then stopped gazing at the
exquisite picture before his eyes. Bianca knew that all her preparatory
cares were doing the work they were intended to do. But no sound had yet
been made to compel her to recognize her visitor's presence; and she
remained as motionless as a recumbent statue.

"I fear, Signora--," said the Marchese, after a few instants given to
profiting by the rare opportunity a singular chance had given him,--"I
fear, Signora--"

"Santa Maria, who is there!" cried Bianca in a voice of alarm, starting
to her feet as she spoke with a bound, that none but so skilled an
artist and so perfect a figure could have executed with the faultless
elegance with which she accomplished it.

"A thousand pardons, Signora; your servant--"

"The Marchese Lamberto! It is unpardonable in the woman--to have so
failed in her duty-towards your Excellency! It is I who have to beg your
indulgence, Signor Marchese. Can it be one o'clock already? In truth I
had no idea it was so late; and I have still to dress! How can I
apologize to your Excellency sufficiently for appearing before you in
this dishabille?"

"Nay, Signora, it is in truth I who have to apologize; it is not yet one
o'clock, it is not much past twelve! And I feel that I am guilty of an
unwarrantable intrusion. But I hoped for the opportunity of having a few
words of conversation before the hour named for our little business with
our good Signor Ercole. Permit me to assure you, Signora, that if your
servant had given me the least hint that you were not yet--ready to see
any visitor--"

"If only your Excellency will excuse--the fact is, I have so rarely any
visitors that the poor woman does not understand her duty in such
matters. Really I am so covered with confusion,"--she continued, putting
up her delicate little hand with a feeble sort of little attempt to draw
her dress a little more together across her throat. "I cannot forgive
her! She has exposed me to seem wanting in respect towards your
Excellency; I will dismiss her from my service!"

"Let me intercede for her, poor woman!" said the Marchese, advancing
into the room; "indeed it was mainly my fault, I ought to have asked if
you were visible."

"One word from la sua Signoria is enough. If you can forgive me, I must
forgive her! But you will own, Signor Marchese, that it is--what shall I
say--?" She hesitated and cast her eyes down with a bewitching smile and
a little movement of her head to one side, "that it really
is--embarrassing! Such a thing never happened to me before!"

"But now it has happened, Signora," said the Marchese, emboldened by the
smile, and by a shy sidelong glance, which she shot from under her
eye-lashes with a laugh in her eyes, as she spoke; "now it has happened
that I have been permitted to see you in a toilet all the more
exquisitely charming in that it wants the formality of the costume in
which the world is wont to see you,--may I not say what I came for the
purpose of saying?"

"Will you be very discreet, Signor?" she said, putting a slender rosy
finger up to her smiling lips; "and never, never let it be known to any
human being, that I ever received you save in the fullest of full dress,
as would become me in receiving the honour of a visit from your
Excellency!"

"Not a syllable, not a whisper!" replied the Marchese, taking her tone,
and putting his own finger on his lips. "And then, I may say, Signora,
that in Ravenna a visit at any hour from old Lamberto di Castelmare
would do your fair name no harm!" he added, taking the arm-chair by the
side of the sofa to which she pointed, as she resumed her former place
and attitude on the couch.

"I dare say it might not, if I am to judge of his position in the
society from your own, Signor Marchese. But I did not know, that there
was any old Signor Lamberto di Castelmare. I supposed you were the head
of the family, your uncle, perhaps?" said Bianca, very innocently.

"I have no uncle, Signora! I am the oldest Castelmare extant," said the
Marchese.

"And you call yourself old Lamberto, Marchese! Why I would wager my
pearl necklace,--and that is the most valuable possession I
have--against a daisy chain, that you are not ten years older than I am.
I shall be called old Bianca Lalli next, at that rate!"

"And how many years, since you are ready to wager on it,--have gone to
the bringing the face and form I see before me to their matchless
perfection?" said the Marchese.

"Who was ever before so prettily asked how old she was?" said Bianca,
suffering her large blue eyes to rest fully on the Marchese's face for
an instant, and then dropping them with an air of conscious
embarrassment. "Well, a frank question deserves--or at least shall
have--a frank answer! I shall never see my twenty-fourth birthday
again?"

"And you judge me then to be thirty-four!" said the Marchese, looking at
her laughingly.

"Certainly I don't think any room full of strangers would judge you to
be more than that," replied Bianca, looking at him seriously.

"Ta!--ta!--ta! Add fifteen years to that; and you will be nearer the
mark. So you see, bella Signora, that you may safely trust yourself to a
tete-a-tete with me under any circumstances."

"Ta!--ta!--ta!" said Bianca, repeating his own phrase, with a merry
laugh in her eyes, and shaking her rich auburn curls at him. "It seems
impossible, utterly incredible! But I am very glad if it is so,--very
glad. There is nothing so intolerable to me as the young lads who come
buzzing about one circumstanced as I am, and whom it is as difficult to
drive away as it is to drive away flies in summer. There is no trusting
to them; they would compromise a poor girl as soon as look at her, if
she was fool enough to let them. And I have had lessons in the necessity
of caution, Signor Marchese. I have been cruelly treated,--very cruelly
calumniated!" And Bianca, knowing, it is to be supposed, that, if it is
not always the case that "Beauty's tear is lovelier than her smile," as
the poet says, yet that it is a phase of beauty often more potent over a
male heart than the sunniest smile, raised a corner of her
daintily-embroidered handkerchief to her eyes.

The Marchese was an old man of the world,--as the cynical phrase
goes,--and of what a world?--an old Italian Marchese of the beginning of
the nineteenth century,--a period when, if crime was less rife than in
former and stronger ages, morality was never at a lower ebb. He was a
man whose musical tastes had made him conversant with the Divas of the
stage, and familiar with the interior aspects of Italian theatrical
life;--one, too, whom circumstances had caused to become specially well
acquainted with the antecedent history of this particular Diva now
stretched on the sofa before him. Yet none the less for all this did
"beauty's tear," enhanced by beauty's laced pocket-handkerchief,
exercise on him its usual glamour.

Calumniated!--that lovely creature of matchless purity before
him,--matchless purity! so white was her throat; so round and slender
her waist; so daintily snowy her muslin drapery. Calumny! Of course it
was calumny. And how he could have poignarded the calumniators, and
taken the poor, fluttering, persecuted Diva to his bosom. The desire to
execute that latter portion of retributive and poetical justice was
making itself felt stronger and stronger within him every minute, as he
sat beside the sofa exposed to the full force of the magnetic
poison-current which was intoxicating him.

"Signora--" he said, putting his hand out to take hers, which she
readily gave him. His own hand shook, and he paused in his speech,
overcome for a moment by a sort of dizziness and a sudden rush of the
blood to his brow and eyes,--a veritable electric shock caused by the
contact of her hand with his.

"Signora," he continued, recovering himself, "no such slander--no such
insults will follow you here; none such shall follow you here. Lamberto
di Castelmare can, at least in Ravenna, promise you that much. Nor if
they did follow you, would such stories here be believed."

"Generous! Just!" murmured Bianca behind the laced pocket-handkerchief
in a broken voice, just loud enough to reach the neighbouring ear of the
Marchese, while she suffered her slender fingers to press the hand which
held hers just perceptibly before withdrawing it from him;--"just," she
continued in a louder tone, taking her handkerchief from her face, and
raising her shoulders a little from the sofa, so as to turn more fully
towards him, while her eyes fired point blank into his a broadside of
uncontrollable gratitude and admiration;--"just, because generous and
noble. Oh, Signor Marchese, those who have never known what it is to
suffer from a slanderous tongue can never know the delight--the sweet
consolation of meeting with such generous appreciation."

The poor Diva was quite overcome by her own emotion; and, sinking back
on the cushions of the sofa, again lifted her handkerchief to her face,
while one or two half-stifled sobs showed how deeply she had been
moved;--and how perfect was the form and hue of the beautiful
half-covered bosom which this emotion caused to heave beneath its gauzy
veil.

Just at that minute there came, to the infinite disgust of the Marchese,
a discreet tap at the door.

Bianca rapidly passed her fingers over the tresses above her forehead,
resettled her pose on the sofa, and gave the Marchese a meaning look of
common intelligence and mutual confidence, which set forth, as well as a
volume could have done, and established the fact that there existed
thenceforward a bond of union and a fellowship between her and him, such
as shut them in together, and shut out in the cold all the rest of
Ravenna, and then said "Passi," and admitted, as she knew very well, no
more startling an interrupter than Gigia.

The well-trained servant said nothing and looked at nothing; but
silently handed to her mistress two cards.

"Of course you told these gentlemen that I was not visible, Gigia?"

"Diamine! Signora; of course I should not have let any gentleman pass
this morning more than any other morning of the year if you had not
specially told me to admit the Marchese Lamberto at any hour he might
come," said Gigia with a niaise simplicity, as she left the room.

Bianca covered her face with her pretty hands and shook a gale of
perfume from her sunny locks, as she exclaimed, sotto voce,--"Oh, the
stupidity of these servants! Signor Marchese," she continued, looking up
shyly, but with a gay laugh in her eyes, "what must you not
imagine?--not, at all events, I hope, that I contemplated the
possibility of receiving you in this dishabille? But I will do as other
criminals do;--confess when they are found out. I did think," she
continued, casting down her eyes, and hesitating with the most
charmingly becoming and naive confusion; "I had some little hope--no; I
don't mean that;--I did not mean to put that into my confession;--it did
occur to me as possible," she went on, hanging her pretty head, and
playing nervously with the folds of her dress in a manner which had the
accidental effect of causing it to leave uncovered an additional inch of
silk stocking--"it did occur to me as possible that the Marchese
Lamberto might come to me sooner than the time named for the meeting
with the impresario;--for the sake of giving me any hints that his
perfect knowledge of the subject might suggest; and I fully intended to
be dressed and ready to receive him if he should show me any such
condescending kindness--and so told my maid to make an exception in his
case to my invariable rule! And then the minutes slipped away; and I
fell into a reverie, thinking--thinking--thinking; and then, all of a
sudden, before I knew that there was any one in the room--if you think
of the devil--and I suppose it is equally true if you think of an
angel;--but there, again, that was not intended to be any part of my
confession. I think I shall give up confession, at all events to you,
Signor Marchese, for the future. But now I have confessed myself this
time, and told the whole, whole truth--may I hope for absolution?"

There was an adorable mixture of candour, and gaiety of heart, and
child-like simplicity in the beautiful features as she looked up into
his face when she finished speaking, together with an expression of
appealing confidence and almost tenderness in the eyes that achieved the
final and complete subjugation of the Marchese.

Again he took her hand, and again his head swam round with the violence
of the emotion caused by the contact of palm with palm, as he said,

"Ah, Signora, if I were equally candid perhaps it would turn out that it
was for me to confess, and for you to grant absolution--if you could. Do
you think you could?" he said, raising her hand to his lips as he said
the words.

"Ha! Signor Marchese, that would quite depend upon the nature of the
confession. When I have heard it I will do my best to be an indulgent
confessor. But, however curious I may be to hear you in the
confessional, it must not be now; or I shall really not be ready to
receive Signor Stadione. Heavens! It wants only ten minutes to one now.
I must run and dress as quickly as I possibly can. To think that almost
an hour should have run away since you came here; and it seems like ten
minutes. May I beg your indulgence, Signor Marchese, if I ask you to
wait for me while I dress? I will be as quick as I possibly can."

"On no account hurry yourself, Signora. It is my fault for having
detained you. And if I had to wait ten hours instead of one, would not
the one I have passed be cheaply purchased? Never mind Stadione; I will
explain to him that you are dressing--"

"And that you have been made to wait some time already by my abominable
unpunctuality," said Bianca, holding up one fore-finger and giving him a
look of mutual intelligence.

"Of course--of course. A chi lo dite!" returned the Marchese, giving her
once more his hand to help her to rise from the sofa.

As she did so she put into his hand, without any word of comment, but
with a slight smile and a little momentary raising of her eyebrows, the
two cards that Gigia had, a little while before, handed to her. They
bore the names of the Barone Manutoli and the Marchese Ludovico
Castelmare; and Bianca handed them to the Marchese with a
matter-of-course air that seemed to say that, in the position which the
Marchese Lamberto and she had assumed towards each other, it was natural
and proper that he should see who had called on her.

He merely nodded as he looked at them; and then, for the second time,
kissing the tips of the fingers he still held, as she got up from her
couch, he bowed low as she passed him to go towards the bedroom; and
she, before quitting the room, made a sweeping curtsey, half playfully,
and then kissed the tops of her fingers to him as she vanished into the
inner room.



CHAPTER V

After-thoughts


The Marchese Lamberto and Signor Ercole Stadione quitted the house in
which the prima donna had her lodging, together, when the business
matters, which they had come thither to arrange, had been settled.

"A wonderful woman, Signor Marchese," said the little impresario,
trotting along with short steps by the side of the Marchese, and rising
on his toes in a springy manner, that made his walk resemble that of a
cock-sparrow. "Truly a wonderful woman. I have seen and known a many in
my day, Signor Marchese, as you are well aware, sir; but such an one as
that, such an out-and-outer, I never saw before."

"She is evidently a lady, whose education and manners entitle her to be
treated with all respect," replied the Marchese, more drily, the little
man thought, than his great patron was usually in the habit of
addressing him, and somewhat quickening his stride at the same time, as
if he wanted to walk away from the impresario.

"Most undoubtedly, Signor Marchese, and every sort of respectful
treatment she shall have. There shall be a stove and a new looking-glass
put into her dressing-room this very day. If she don't draw, say Ercole
Stadione knows nothing about it. A very singular thing it is, Signor
Marchese,--and you must have observed it, Signor, as well as I,--there's
some women whose singing, let 'em sing as well as they will, is the
smallest part of their value in filling a theatre. There's no saying
what it is, but they draw--Lord bless you, as a bit of salt will draw
the cattle after it! And this Lalli is one of that sort. I know 'em,
when I see 'em. Won't she draw, that's all!" said the little man again,
rubbing his hands together, and chuckling with infinite glee.

The Marchese Lamberto would have been at a loss probably if he had been
required to state clearly why he felt angry and annoyed with the
impresario that morning, and thought him a bore, and wished to be quit
of him. But such was the case. And presently, when the well-skilled and
business-like little man began to canvass the capabilities of certain
parts in his repertorio, for the most advantageous showing off of the
personal advantages of the new acquisition, the Marchese could stand it
no longer, but replied hastily:

"Well, well. All these matters had better be submitted to the lady
herself. I think, Signor Ercole, that I will say good-morning now. You
are going to the theatre, and I am waited for at the palazzo."

And the Marchese did return to the palazzo, though nobody was specially
waiting for him there. On the contrary, he told the servant in the hall
to admit nobody, and when he reached his library, he shut the door and
bolted it. And then he threw himself into an easy chair to think.

The first thing that his thinking made clear and certain to him was that
something had happened, or was happening to him, which had never
happened to him before,--something respecting the exact nature of which
all his previous experience afforded him no light.

In love! He had never been in love; but he knew, with some tolerable
accuracy, what was generally understood by the phrase. He had read the
poets, who describe the passion under sufficiently various phases; and
he had heard plenty of lovers' talk among a people who are not wont to
suffer, or to exult, or to be happy in silence. Was he in love with this
woman? Did he, in his heart, love her--in his heart, as he was there in
the solitude of his own room, at liberty and at leisure to examine his
heart upon the subject. A heavy frown settled on the Marchese Lamberto's
brow, and an unpleasant change came over his face, as he proceeded with
the task of asking his heart this question. There rose up feelings and
promptings within him, which almost drove him to the fierce assertion to
himself that he hated this woman, who was thus occupying his thoughts
against his will.

What had become of all that warm chivalry of feeling that had urged him,
with all perfect earnestness of sincerity, to declare that no breath of
calumny or insult should come near her, beneath the aegis that he could
and would throw over her? Where was it gone? All clean gone. He knew,
with tolerable accuracy, the story of the former life of this woman.
They were facts which he knew,--certainly knew. But they had all
vanished from his mind,--had been as though they were not,--while he had
sat there by her sofa, looking at her and listening to her,--had all
vanished, even as the ardent chivalry, which had then been caused by
some sorcery to spring up in his mind, had vanished now.

It was passing strange.

That he was very sorely tempted--as he had never before in his life
been, tempted--to make love to this actress,--as it is called,--to make
love to her after the fashion, not so much of those poetical
descriptions which have been referred to, as after the fashion of those
prosaic settings-forth of the passion, which were familiar enough to his
ears, was clearly recognizable by him. He knew very certainly that he
desired that.

And was what he desired so much out of his reach? Surely all that had
happened, all that he had seen, all that he had heard at the interview
with Bianca that morning, was not calculated to lead him to think so.
And why should it be? It would be all very much according to the
ordinary current of events in such matters. He was a bachelor. He was
wealthy. He was the most prominent noble of the city. He was brought
specially into contact with the lady by his theatrical connection and
habitudes. His patronage and protection were by far the most valuable
that could be offered to her in Ravenna. The Diva herself was--such as
Divas of her sort and time were wont to be. It would seem to be all very
easy and straight-forward. What was the worst penalty wont to follow
from such peccadilloes to persons in his position? The loss of a little
money,--of a good deal of money perhaps. But he had plenty and to spare.

But none of these considerations availed to smooth the frown from the
Marchese's brow, or to make the future at all seem clear before him.

In the first place to make this singer his mistress, simple and little
objectionable as such a step might seem to most men of his country, and
rank, and period, and freedom from ties, was not an easy matter, or an
agreeable prospect to the Marchese, on purely social considerations. He
had placed himself on a special pedestal, from which such a liaison
would involve a fall. And such a fall, or the danger of such a fall, was
very dreadful to the Marchese. There was the Cardinal; there were the
good nuns, whose affairs he managed, and who looked on him as a saint on
earth. Worst of all there was his nephew. How preach to him (terribly
necessary as such preaching might be) under such circumstances?

To be sure, there was no need of doing whatever he might do in such sort
that the whole town should be his confidant. He had as good
opportunities for secrecy as could be desired. Theatrical business and
his recognized connection with it was an abundant and unsuspected excuse
for as much conversation with the lady,--as many interviews as he might
wish. It seemed safe enough upon the whole.

And yet these considerations did not avail to take the frown from the
Marchese's brow, or bring his perplexed self-examination to an end. The
very evident disposition of the lady to be kind did not avail to please
him. Instead of being pleased and triumphant at the probable prospect of
so enviable a bonne fortune, he was displeased, unhappy, irritated,
angry--angry with himself and with the sorceress who had thrown this
spell on him. How was it? By what charm had she bewitched him so?
Already he was impatient, longing to be back again in her presence. And
yet he was angry with her,--doubted whether he did not rather hate her
than love her.

At last he started from his chair and swore that he would retain the
mastery over his own self; that he would think no more of the abominable
woman,--see her no more!

Taking his hat he rushed out of the house, with an instinctive desire
for bodily movement as a means of stilling the tossing fever that was
raging within him; walked through the streets at such an unusual pace,
that the people turned round to look after him as he passed; walked by
the door of the house in the Via di Santa Eufemia in which Paolina
lived,--saw Ludovico coming from it, who was surprised indeed at thus
seeing his uncle; and more surprised still to find, that the Marchese
passed him without seeming to notice him,--walked out into the country,
and returned only at supper-time, tired and worn out; and then, when the
supper was over, and Ludovico had gone out to the Circolo as usual,
after pacing his room, and swearing to himself at every turn, that he
would see the creature no more,--slunk out of his own palazzo, feeling
afraid of being seen by his own servants, and wandered to her lodging!

And what were Bianca's meditations, when the business visit of the
impresario was over, and he and the Marchese left her room together?

First and foremost, the Marchese Lamberto was in love with her; and that
not as dozens of youngsters in many a city had been; but madly,
desperately, in love with her. That fact admitted of no doubt whatever!
It was strange, curious enough, that she should have succeeded so
brilliantly, so entirely, and so immediately in spite of all the signs
and tokens which had led her not small experience to expect so entirely
different a result. Clearly the still larger experience of old Quinto
Lalli had been more far-sighted. His view of the matter had been the
true one!

But still, how far was his view of the question a correct one? What was
the success, which had been very unmistakably so far achieved, in
reality worth? It was very plain that this Marchese Lamberto had been
caught, captivated, fascinated! But what then? There was no doubt at all
that he would very willingly suffer her to add him to the list of her
previous admirers and lovers. It never entered into the Diva's head to
conceive, after the very unmistakable testimony she had received of the
evident admiration of the Marchese, that very grave difficulties,
objections, and hesitations would, on his side, stand in the way of his
accepting any such position. She doubted not that this conquest was
perfectly within her reach; and that there would be no difficulty at all
in drawing large supplies from the Castelmare wealth towards recruiting
the needs of the Lalli exchequer.

But this, as has been explained, was not what Bianca wanted. "Major
rerum sibi nascitur ordo!" She was intent on playing a higher and
greater game. Was it likely she would be able so to fix the harpoon she
had successfully thrown in the very vitals of the prey, so to make this
man feel that she was absolutely essential to his happiness, as to
induce him to marry her? That was the question! And Bianca did not
delude herself into imagining that anything that had passed between
herself and the Marchese that morning entitled her to consider the
battle which should lead to that victory as even begun.

The Diva did not conceal from herself the greatness and arduous nature
of the task before her. She knew what a Marchese of mature age, of noble
lineage, and of unblemished reputation, was; and she knew what she was.
But she did not appreciate those extra difficulties in the case, which
arose from the special social position, and still more from the special
character and temperament of the man,--and these were the greatest
difficulties of all!

On the whole, she was sanguine; and what was perhaps more to the
purpose, old Quinto, when they talked the matter over together, and the
general result of the morning interview had been reported to him, was
sanguine too.

"Depend upon it, bambina mia," he said, "it is the best game--the real
game. Young fry will rise to the bait more readily; but they also
wriggle off the hook much more easily. It is the old fish who, when he
has it once fixed in his gills, cannot get rid of it, struggle as he
may. You play your game well,--neither relaxing, nor yet too much in a
hurry, and I prophesy that I shall live to see you Marchesa di
Castelmare."

"And many a year afterwards, I hope, papa mio. And you may depend on my
teaching my husband to behave like a good son-in-law," said Bianca, with
a bright laugh.

"As for the nephew," continued Quinto, "I can understand that it would
be more agreeable to make your attack on him--"

"I don't know that at all, papa mio," interrupted Bianca. "You may
laugh, if you will, and think that I am making a virtue of
necessity--and small blame to me if I were--but the truth is, I do like
the Marchese. I like him better, as far as I can yet tell, than any man
I ever knew. Yes! you may make grimaces, and look as wicked as you
please! But it is true. And, if you ever do see me Marchesa di
Castelmare, you will see that I shall make him a very good, ay, and a
very fond, wife."

"Who could doubt it, Signora, that has the advantage of knowing you as
well as I do?" said the old man, with a mocking bow.

"You may sneer as much as you like, Quinto; but you understand nothing
about it. The Marchese is a man any woman might love. You call him an
old man? I tell you he is younger for a man than I am for a woman, God
help me! It isn't only years that make people old."

"That's true, bambina mia, poveretta. And I am sure I have nothing to
say against it if you can fancy this Marchese a gay and handsome young
cavalier."

"Handsome he is, as far as that goes. I swear he is the handsomest man I
have seen here! His nephew is good-looking enough, but he is not to be
compared to his uncle either in face or person."

"Well, whether you have succeeded or not in making the Marchese in love
with you, cara mia, I begin to think that you have succeeded already in
falling in love with him," said Quinto, looking at her with raised
eyebrows.

Bianca remained silent awhile, nodding her head up and down in a sort of
reverie, and then said, rousing herself with a shake of her flowing
curls as she looked up, "No; not quite that. But I won't say that it is
impossible that if I am to make him love me, I may come to love him in
the doing of it. You see, amico mio, it is something new. It is not the
old weary mill-round. He did not come to me with the set purpose of
making love to me, as all those young fellows have done, and do, just
because they have nothing else to amuse them; because it's the fashion;
because it's a feather in their caps; because it's the thing to have a
prima donna for their mistress! If the Marchese has fallen, or falls, in
love with me, he does so because he cannot help himself, he does it in
despite of himself; and that flatters a woman, Quinto. Well, we shall
see," she added, after another pause: "one thing, at all events. I swear
that there shall be nothing between me and the Marchese--of--the old
sort."

"It is wisely said, bambina mia. That is the road which must lead, if
any can, to the winning of your game."



CHAPTER VI

At the Circolo


There was, at all events, one man at Ravenna who was entirely pleased
and satisfied with the famous prima donna in all respects: and this was
Signor Ercole Stadione.

The Carnival campaign of La Lalli had been thus far brilliantly
successful, and the Carnival was now about half over. She "drew," as the
little impresario had prophesied she would, to his heart's content. It
was many a year since there had been so successful a season at the
theatre. Each part she sang in was a more brilliant success than the
last; and the public enthusiasm was such as enthusiasm on such subjects
never is save in Italy.

In every respect, too, her ways and behaviour had been unexceptional.
Her attention was never distracted from her business by the visits of
young men behind the scenes--a torment which, during the reigns of other
Divas, had often driven the poor little impresario, who dared not get
rid of such intruders as he would have liked to do, almost wild. Bianca
would permit no visits of the kind. She had never behaved herself to any
of the young men in such sort as to cause any of those rivalries and
jealousies which are sometimes apt to manifest themselves in hostile
partisanship, when the Diva is on the boards--another fruitful source of
trouble to much-tried impresarios.

She had walked circumspectly and prudently in all respects--a most moral
and highly satisfactory Diva.

She was understood to receive no visitors at home--at least, none of a
compromising kind. The Marchese Lamberto was often with her: of course,
naturally! He was well known to be always a sort of second amateur
manager: neither the theatre nor little Ercole Stadione could go on
without him. And then the Marchese Lamberto was--the Marchese Lamberto!
If he had chosen to sit by the bedside of any prima donna in Italy night
after night, it would only have been supposed that he was giving her
possets for the improvement of her voice.

Occasionally, also, she would receive the visits of the Marchese
Ludovico; evidently by reason of the unavoidable intimacy of his uncle
in the house. And Ludovico reported to them all at the Circolo that she
was a most charming woman indeed--full of talent, merry as a young girl,
companionable, and fond of society, but wholly devoted to her art, and
quite inaccessible in the way of love-making. He assured the jeunesse
doree of Ravenna that they lost nothing in any such point of view by
their exclusion from her intimacy, for that all their enterprises in
that line would be quite thrown away.

The Conte Leandro Lombardoni, indeed, always carried about with him in
his breast-pocket, a carefully preserved little letter on pink
notepaper, which he gave the world to understand was part of a
correspondence carried on between him (reconciled as he was to the bel
sesso) and the Diva; and had more than once contrived to be seen hanging
about the door of her house at hours when honest Divas, as well as
mortals, ought to be in bed and asleep. But nobody believed him, or
imagined that anything save a bad cold was at all likely to result from
his vigils beneath the cold stars. He showed, indeed, with many
mysterious precautions against the remainder of the letter being seen,
that the little pink sheet of notepaper did indeed bear the signature of
"Bianca Lalli." But when one of the ingenuous youth picked his pocket of
it, it was found to be a very coldly courteous acknowledgment of a copy
of verses, which the Diva promised to read as soon as her avocations
would permit her to do so!

"Any way," said the discomfited poet, "that is more than any of you
others have got. And it's not so small a matter, when you come to think
of it!"

"Per Bacco, no! Leandro is in the right of it!" said the young Conte
Beppo Farini; "a small matter to find somebody who promises even to read
his verses! I should think not, indeed! Where will you find another to
do as much?"

"Riconciliato col bel sesso! I should think you were, indeed!" cried
another; "she absolutely thanks you for sending her your rhymes! Nobody
ever did as much as that before, Leandro mio! No wonder you haunt the
street before her door!"

"I don't haunt the street before her door. Envy, Jealousy, ye green-eyed
and loathsome monsters, how miserably small and mean can ye make the
hearts of men!" said Leandro, lifting up hands and eyes.

"Bravo, Leandro, bravo! get upon the table, man!" cried Farini.

"Get home to bed, rather. It is too bad, because no human being will
read his poetry, he takes to spouting it!" said the other.

"Let us look what she says," cried Ludovico di Castelmare; putting out
his hand to take the little note. "Upon my word she writes a pretty
hand. It is a very neatly expressed note."

"Oh, you can see that much, can you?" returned Leandro. "I should think
it was too! Is there any one of you here can show such a note from any
woman, let her be who she may? She says she will read the poem I have
been good enough to send her--good enough to send her, mark that!--as
soon as she can find time to do so! What could she say more, I should
like to know? Of course she is occupied. It stands to reason. But she
will read my poem; and then you will see!"

"Ay, then we shall see our little Leandro duly appreciated at last!"
said the Barone Manutoli. "As soon as the Diva has found time to read
the poem there will come another little pink note, adorably perfumed: he
will be summoned to her august presence, and installed as her poet in
ordinary, and who knows what else besides,--her Magnus Apollo? It is a
pity there are not eight other prime donne to make up the sacred number.
Then we should see our Leandro in his true position and vocation. Give
me a sheet of paper, and I will show you a new presentation of Apollo
and the Muses. They are all presenting him with pasticcerie and bonbons.
He has one hand on the lyre, and the other on his stomach, for the
homage of the goddesses has made him somewhat sick; his eyes, you
observe, are cast heavenwards, partly by reason of poetic inspiration,
and partly by reason of nausea!"

"Bravo! bravo, Manutoli!" cried a chorus of voices.

"Envy and jealousy, envy and jealousy, all envy and jealousy. It is
pitiable to see what they can reduce men to," cried the poet, foaming at
the mouth.

"Never mind them, Leandro mio--never mind them. It is the universal
penalty of true merit, you know; the same thing all the world over,"
said Ludovico.

"But, I say, Ludovico," rejoined Manutoli, "in the meantime, till our
Leandro's poem shall have been read and duly appreciated, you are the
only one who has been admitted to the privacy of La Lalli. What is your
report to us Gentiles of the outer court? Is she really so
unapproachable? And is she as adorable behind the scenes as before
them?"

"Well, you ought to be able to answer that question yourself, Manutoli,"
replied Ludovico; "you were with lo zio and me that day when we went out
to meet her; I am sure you had a fair look at her then."

"A look? Yes; and I looked all I could look. I saw a charming face,
younger and fresher looking than might have been expected from the
length of time she has been on the boards,--a very pretty figure, as far
as her travelling-dress would show it one; and the loveliest foot and
ankle I ever saw in my life. I could swear to that again at any time.
Don't you remember how she stood with her foot down on the step, when
she was getting out of the carriage. I thought at the time that she knew
what she was about very well."

"Of course she did. Do you think they don't always know very well, every
one of them, off the stage or on the stage?" said Farini.

"But I want to know what sort of body, she is?" returned Manutoli; "I
don't need to be told that she is a very lovely woman; but of what sort
is she? Why does she keep us all at a distance? What is her game?"

"Upon my life I don't know," answered Ludovico, "unless it's a devouring
passion for Leandro. I protest I have no reason to think she cares a
button for anything but her own art. I never tried; but it's my
impression that if I had ever whispered a word in her ear I should have
got a flea in my own for my pains."

"You don't want to make us believe that you have been seeing her
frequently all this time,--passing hours with her a quattro occhi, and
have never made love to her, Ludovico?" said Farini.

"No; I don't want to make you believe don't care a straw whether you
have it or not; but it is the the fact, for all that," returned
Ludovico.

"Ludovico has enough on his hands in quarter. What would they say about
it in the Via Santa Eufemia if he were to bow down to new and strange
goddesses?" said Manutoli.

"That, if you please, Manutoli, we will not discuss either now or at any
other time," said Ludovico, with a look that showed he was in earnest.
"But, as for La Diva Bianca, I have no objection to tell all I know to
anybody. My belief is that she is as correct and proper, and all that
sort of thing, as a Vestal."

"Che!"

"Che!"

"Che!"

A chorus of protestations of incredulity in every tone of the gamut met
the monstrous assertion.

"What, after all we heard of her doings at Milan--after all the
histories of her goddess-ship in every city of Italy?" said Manutoli.

"Well, what did we hear of her doings at Milan? The fact is, we know
nothing about the matter; and as to her previous history--of course I
don't suppose that she is, and always has been, a Diana; but it may be
that she has come to the time when she has thought it well to turn over
a new leaf. Such times do come to such women; but all I know is, that I
firmly believe that since she has been here she has lived the life of a
nun," said Ludovico, in the simple tone of a man who is stating a truth
which he has no interest in causing his hearers to credit or discredit.

"Per Bacco, it's queer!" said Farini, slapping his hand against his
thigh. "I have heard," he continued in the tone of one speaking of some
strange and almost incredible monstrosity,--"I have heard of such women
taking a turn to devozione. It's not that with La Lalli, is it?"

"Che! Nothing of the sort; she is as full of frolic as a kitten--up to
any fun. And she is a very clever woman, too, let me tell you--a good
deal of education. If you will put making love to her out of your head,
I never knew a woman who was pleasanter company," said Ludovico.

"And you really mean that you have never tried to make love to her in
any way?" reiterated Manutoli.

"I do mean it, upon my soul; but I don't care a rap whether you believe
it or not," rejoined Ludovico.

"And you are with her very frequently?" persisted Manutoli.

"Yes, I have seen a good deal of her altogether. I like her; and I fancy
she likes me to go there; she seems to wish me to come. Perhaps it is a
novelty to her to have a man about her who doesn't try to make love to
her."

"The Marchese Lamberto sees her a good deal?"

"Yes; naturally. If it had not been for that I should probably never
have made acquaintance with her at all. Lo zio is continually there. He
ought to have been an impresario. In fact, he is the real impresario.
Little Ercole only does what my uncle tells him. I don't believe she
ever sings a note on the stage that he has not heard and approved
beforehand."

"Suppose he is the dark horse; suppose she is his mistress all this
time; and he takes care to keep her all to himself," said Manutoli.

"What, lo zio. Bah! I should have thought that you knew him better than
that, Manutoli. To him a woman is a voice, and nothing else. If the same
sounds could be got out of a flute or a fiddle he would like it much
better, and think it far more convenient. I don't think my uncle
Lamberto ever knew whether a woman was pretty or plain. I wish to heaven
he would get caught for once in his life; it would suit my book very
well. He would have less leisure to think of other things."

The fact was that the Marchese had, in truth, had less leisure to think
of those other things from which Ludovico desired that his attention
should be drawn away. His visits to the Via Santa Eufemia had been more
frequent than ever; his visits to the Marchesa Anna Lanfredi and her
niece rarer than ever. And he had received neither lectures nor
remonstrances for a long time past. In truth, the Marchese had his mind
too full of other matters to think much of his nephew's affairs or
doings. And, besides that, there was a quite new and hitherto unknown
feeling in the heart of the Marchese Lamberto which made him shrink from
any such encounter with his nephew, as remonstrances respecting his
conduct with regard to Paolina would have occasioned;--a feeling which
made it seem to him that he was the watched instead of the watcher; that
suggested to him the fear that the first word he might utter upon the
subject would be met by references to doings of his own.

An utterly unfounded fear. But so it is that conscience doth make
cowards of us all.



CHAPTER VII

Extremes Meet


The Marchese was uneasy in the presence of his nephew. But the fact was
that he was uneasy and unhappy altogether, and at all times. From being
one of the most placidly cheerful and contented of men, he was becoming
nervous, anxious, and restless. People began to remark that the Marchese
was beginning to look older. They had said for years past that he had
not grown a day older in the last ten years. But this winter there was a
change in him!

It did not occur to anybody to connect any change that was observable
either in the Marchese's manner or in his appearance, with the frequency
of his visits to the quartiere inhabited by the prima donna and Signor
Quinto Lalli, in the Strada di Porta Sisi. The ordinary habits of the
Marchese, and his functions as a patron of the theatre and amateur
impresario were so well known and understood, that it seemed perfectly
natural to all Ravenna that he should be very frequently with the prima
donna. And on the other hand, the almost monastic regularity of his
life, and his character of long standing in such respects, would have
made the notion that he had any idea of flirting with the singer appear
utterly absurd and inadmissible to every man, woman, or child in the
city, if it had ever come into anybody's head.

The fact was, however, that the Marchese was much oftener in the Strada
di Porta Sisi than anybody guessed. Besides the morning visits, which
were patent to all the world, who chose to take heed of them, the
Marchese very frequently spent those evenings there, when the "Diva" did
not sing; slinking out of the Palazzo Castelmare, and taking all sorts
of precautions to prevent any human being--nephew, servants, friends, or
strangers--from guessing the secret of these nocturnal walks.

Such precautions were very needless; if anybody had noticed the Marchese
Lamberto passing under the shadow of the eaves in any part of the city
after nightfall, it would only have been supposed that he was bound on
some mission of beneficence, or good work of some sort! And if even it
had become known to a few persons given to prying into what did not
concern them, that the Marchese Lamberto di Castelmare was not more
immaculate in his conduct than his neighbours, the only result would
have been a few jests which he would have never heard, and a few sly
smiles which he would have never seen.

But the Marchese could not look at the matter in this light. He felt as
if his fall from the social eminence on which he stood would have been
as a moral earthquake in Ravenna. The idea that such jests and such
smiles could exist, however unseen and unheard, would have been
intolerable to him. And the Marchese was, accordingly, a miserable man.

A miserable man, and he could not help himself! Each time that he
quitted the siren, the chain that bound him was drawn more tightly
around him. At each visit he drank deep draughts of the philtre, that
was poisoning the fountains of his life. Again and again he had made a
violent struggle to throw off the enchantment and be free. And again and
again the effort had been too great for his strength, and he had
returned like the scorched moth, which comes back again and again to the
fatal brightness, till it perishes in it.

In his hours of solitary self-examination he loathed and mocked himself
to scorn! He, Lamberto di Castelmare, to risk and to feel humiliation,
and to suffer for the love of a woman, whose light affections had been
given to so many! He, who had been smiled on by many a high-born beauty
in vain! Love! did he love her? Again and again he told himself that
what he felt for her was far more akin to hate. He marvelled; he could
not comprehend himself! He was often inclined to believe that the old
tales of philtres and of witchery were not all false, and that he was in
truth bewitched; and he struggled angrily against the spell, and at such
times hated the beauty that had tangled him in it!

And in all this time Bianca had not yet ventured to show clearly her
real game. Nor had it yet occurred to the Marchese that such a
preposterous thought as that he could marry her could have entered into
her mind. Yet it was clear to him that he made no progress towards
making her his own upon any other terms. The alternations between
beckoning him on and warding him off had been managed with such skill,
that they appeared to be the result of the Diva's internal struggle with
her own inclinations. What was he to understand by it? If she had
been,--had always been--of unblemished character! But it was not so; he
knew better!

That her conduct at Ravenna had been correct was undeniable. Still, even
with regard to that, the Marchese was not spared the pangs of jealousy,
in addition to all the rest. Ludovico continued to frequent the house in
the Strada di Porta Sisi. It seemed, as he had said at the Circolo, as
if Bianca wished him to come there. In fact he had spoken to the young
men at the Circolo with perfect truth in all respects as to his
relations with the Diva. There had never been any word of love-making or
even flirting between them. Yet, in a sort of way, she seemed to wish to
be agreeable to him and to attract him. But she never made any secret of
his visits from the Marchese, although it was unmistakable enough that
it was disagreeable to him to hear of them.

Had he been free from the spell himself he would have rather rejoiced
that his nephew had met with an attraction, which would be likely to
have the effect of making him faithless to Paolina. As it was, it was an
additional source of irritation to the Marchese,--another drop of gall
in his cup, to hear it constantly mentioned by Bianca in the most
innocent way in the world, that Ludovico had been here with her, or
there with her, or passing the morning with her!

It was drawing towards the end of the Carnival, which the late fall of
Easter had made rather a long one that year, when, on one Saturday
night, Bianca sat by her own fireside, expecting a visit from the
Marchese. She doubted not that he would come, though no special
appointment on the subject had been made between them. There were few
"off evenings" now, that he did not spend with her. Saturday in most of
the cities of Italy is, or was, an off night at the theatre, being the
vigil of the Sunday feast-day. The ecclesiastical proprieties are less
attended to now in matters theatrical, as in other matters in Italy. But
Saturday used, in ante-revolutionary times, to be an evening on which
actors and actresses and their friends could always reckon for a
holiday.

Bianca was sitting, exquisitely dressed, it need hardly be said, in a
style which combined with inimitable skill all the requirements of the
most strict propriety with perfect adaptation to the objects of showing
off every beauty of face, hair, hand, figure, foot to the utmost, and
attracting her expected visitor as irresistibly as possible.

Quinto Lalli had been sent to enjoy himself at the Cafe, with stringent
directions not to return before he should have ascertained that the
Marchese had left the house, let the hour be as late as it might.

Bianca meditated deeply, while she waited her lover's coming.

Her lover! yes, there was no doubt about that. Bianca had felt perfectly
assured that she was justified in considering the Marchese as such on
that first morning, when he had come to her an hour in advance of the
time appointed for his visit in company with the impresario. But it was
high time that some better understanding of the footing on which they
stood as regarded each other should be arrived at.

Hitherto no direct proposals of any kind had been made to her by the
Marchese. He was not good at any such work. Any one of those
distinguished sons of paternal governments, who had constituted the
material of Bianca's experiences of that division of mankind, would have
long since said what he wanted, and have very clearly indicated the
terms on which he was willing to become the fortunate possessor of the
coveted article. And Bianca would have perfectly well known how, under
the present circumstances, to answer any such proposals, as she had
known under the other circumstances of past days. But the Marchese made
no proposals. What he wished, indeed, was abundantly clear to her. But
his mode of making it clear rendered the task of dealing with him a
somewhat difficult one.

Partially, Bianca understood the nature of the case. She was partly
aware why the Marchese was slow to say that which so many, whom she had
known, had made so little difficulty of saying. She understood that,
whatever his years might be, he was a novice at that business. She
comprehended that he was, in many respects, a younger man than many a
coulisse-frequenting youth whom she had known. But she was far from
conceiving any true notion of the Marchese's state of mind on the
subject. She was very far from imagining that he looked with disgust and
with terror at the position which she conceived him to be but too ready
to accept to-morrow, if only he knew how to ask for it, or if it could
be offered to him without his asking. She little guessed that his
feeling towards her oscillated between the maddest desire and the
fiercest hatred; that reveries, filled with pictured imaginings and
fevered recollections of her beauty, alternated with the most violent
efforts to cleanse his mind and imagination of the thought of her.

She understood nothing of all this, and it was impossible that she
should understand it. In truth, she was innocent of any conduct which
could have justified such sentiments. Why should he hate her? It was
true that she sought to attract him,--true that she was scheming to lead
him to a point at which he might find it so impossible to give her up,
that, being well convinced that he could have her on no other terms, he
might offer her marriage. But was there anything worse in that than men
had been treated "since summer first was leafy?" How many men had
married women in her position--women less capable of doing credit to the
position to which they were raised than she was? How many men had been
treated in such matters very much worse than she had any thought of
treating him? She fully proposed to make him a good and true wife, and
fully thought that she should do so. She was not deceiving him in any
way. She made the best of her past life--naturally; but was it to be for
a moment supposed that such a man as the Marchese could, or did, imagine
that she, Bianca Lalli, whose career, for the last eight years, was
known to all Italy, was in the position of a young contessa just taken
from her convent?

It is abundantly clear that there were difficulties in the way of the
desirable understanding being arrived at, greater than either the lady
was aware of, or than might usually be expected to attend similar
negotiations.

Bianca waited without impatience the coming of the Marchese. She was a
study for an artist as she lay perfectly still on her sofa, turning the
minutes of expectation to profit by arranging in her mind her plan of
attack in the coming battle; for she was thoroughly determined that that
evening should not pass without some progress towards the understanding
having been accomplished.

One lamp on the table alone lighted the small but comfortable-looking
room; but the flame was leaping cheerfully among the logs on the hearth,
and the sofa was so placed that the fitful light from the fire glanced
in a thousand capricious reflections on the Diva's auburn hair and rich
satin dress. It was black of the most lustrous quality, and fitted her
person with a perfection that showed the shape of the bust, and the
lithe suppleness of the slender waist to the utmost advantage. The dress
was made low on the superb shoulders--the dazzling whiteness of which,
as seen contrasted with the black satin, was now covered with a slight
silk scarlet shawl,--a most artistic completion of the harmonious
colouring of the picture, which yet was not so fixed in its position as
to be prevented from falling from the snowy slopes, it veiled at the
smallest movement of them.

Presently the now well-known step and well-known tap at the door were
heard, and the Diva, without stirring a hair's-breadth from her
charmingly-chosen attitude, spoke, in a silver voice, the "Passi" which
admitted her visitor.



CHAPTER VIII

The Diva shows her Cards


"Ah, Signor Marchese," she said, with a sweet, but somewhat sad, smile,
extending to him a long, white, slender, nervous-looking, ungloved hand,
but not otherwise moving from her position. "Ah, Signor Marchese, then I
am not to be disappointed this evening? I was beginning almost to fear
that the fates were against me."

He advanced to the head of the sofa and took her hand, and held it
awhile, while he continued to stand there looking down from behind her
shoulder on the beautiful form as it lay there beneath his gaze--on the
parting of the rich golden hair; on the snowy forehead; on the still
whiter neck; on the gentle heaving of the bosom beneath its light veil
of scarlet silk; on the tapering waist; on the exquisitely-formed feet
peeping in their black satin bottines from beneath the extremity of her
dress! It was all perfect: and the Marchese held the soft warm hand that
served as a conductor to the stream of magnetic poison that seemed to
flood his whole being as he gazed.

For an instant all the room seemed to swim round with him. The blood
rushed to his brow. He shut his eyes, and a nervous crispation caused
the fingers of his hands to close themselves with such force, that the
grasp of that which held her little palm hurt her.

"Ah, my hand! you hurt my hand!" she said. "You don't know how you
squeezed it, you are so strong. You don't know the quantity of force you
put out!"

"Pardon--a thousand pardons, Signora! I am such a clumsy clown! Have I
really hurt you, Bianca?"

"Not to the death, Signor," she said, with a charming smile, and holding
up to him the injured member, shaking it as she let it dangle from the
slender wrist. "But see! it is really all blushing red from the ardour
of your hand's embrace!"

"Poor little hand!--indeed, it is!" said the Marchese, taking it gently
and tenderly between both of his; then, suddenly throwing himself on his
knees by the side of the sofa, while he still held it, he said, "And how
can the great cruel hand that did the harm make fit amends?"

"Ah, Signor Marchese, it might find the way to do that, if it were so
disposed. It would not be so far to seek. But you are seeking in the
wrong direction," she continued, drawing herself back from him on the
sofa, as he, leaning forward against it, had brought himself so near to
her, that the back of the hand in which he held hers touched her waist.
"You are seeking amiss. It is not so that any remedy can be found;
and--pray rise, Signor, and take your usual chair. This must not be,--I
am sure you would not willingly give me pain, Marchese, and you are
paining me. Pray leave the sofa."

She had drawn herself back away from him as far as the breadth of the
sofa would allow, yet without withdrawing her hand from him; and she
looked at him certainly more in sorrow than in anger,--looked into his
face earnestly with grave, sad eyes, and heaved a long sigh as he, after
pressing the hurt hand to his lips, rose from his knees and took the
chair she had pointed to.

"Pain you, Bianca?" he said, as he sat down; "why should I pain you? You
do me no more than justice when you say that I would not do so
willingly; but have you thought how much pain you inflict on me by thus
keeping me at a distance from you? I think you must know that. Is there
aught to offend you in anything that I have done, or said, or hoped, or
wished?"

"I think, Signor Marchese," she said, dropping her large eyes beneath
their long fringes, and looking adorably lovely as she did so, "I am
afraid that what you have wished is--what some might deem offensive to a
lady."

And as she spoke she looked out furtively from behind her eyelashes.

"Bianca, is that reasonable?" he said, in a tone of remonstrance.
"Diamine, let us talk common sense; we are not children. Have you always
found such wishes as mine offensive in others?"

"Yes, always--always offensive, always cruel," she said, with extreme
energy; "but--can you not understand, Signor Marchese,--can you not
conceive that what from one man passes and makes no mark, and leaves no
sting, may from another--What cared I what all the empty-headed young
fops who came in my way could say or do; they were nothing to me. But--I
did not expect pain from the Marchese Lamberto di Castelmare. I--I
thought--I hoped--I--I flattered myself--fool, idiot fool that I have
been!" she exclaimed, bursting into violent sobs, and hiding her face
with her hands.

The Marchese was startled and utterly taken aback for a minute or two.
He was genuinely at a loss to interpret the cause or the meaning of the
lady's emotion. His puzzled embarrassment did not, however, prevent him
from seeing that she looked, if possible, more fascinatingly beautiful
in her grief and her tears than he had ever before seen her. And, again,
despite what she had said, he knelt down by the side of the sofa, and
gently removing her hands from before her face, murmured in her
ear,--"Bianca, what is it--what is moving you so? Don't you know that
you are dear to me;--that I would--Don't you know that I would do
anything to be agreeable to you rather than give you any sorrow or pain?
What is there within my power that I would not do? Bianca,--let me tell
you--let me speak the truth--I cannot keep it in my own heart any
longer--I love you! You have come to be all that I care for in the
world. Bianca, do you hear me? For your love I would sacrifice
all,--everything in the world; I die without it; I must have it--I must!
You have been loved before; but never as I love you--never, never! And,
Bianca, I--I--Bianca, you are my first love--my only love. Never, till I
saw you, did I care to look on a woman for a second time; I never felt
love. But, when I saw you--the first time--the first hour--Bianca, I
must have your love or die; I thirst--I hunger for it. Since I have
known you all my nature is changed; all my old life is flat and
unmeaning, and without interest to me. I care for none of the things I
used to care for; all--all has melted and slipped away from me, and
nothing remains but one great devouring rage and passion--my love for
you!"

He had spoken like a torrent, which, for a long time dammed up, at last
becomes too powerful for restraint, and bursts forth, overthrowing all
obstacles with its headlong flood.

Bianca turned her face away from him towards the back of the sofa; but
she slowly, and with an uncertain intermittent movement, drew his hand
over to her lips, and pressed it against them.

A light came into the Marchese Lamberto's eyes;--a gleam almost, one
would have said, rather fierce than fond, as he felt the pressure of her
lips; and a shock as from an electric spark ran through all his body,
making him quiver from head to heel.

"Bianca, Bianca! You are mine--you are mine!" he cried, pantingly, with
his mouth close to her ear, and encircling her waist, as he spoke, with
the hand which she had relinquished after she had kissed it in the
manner that had been described.

But she sprang away from him, pushing him from her, by putting her flat
hand against his forehead, with her face still turned towards the back
of the sofa, away from him.

"No, no, no!" she cried, violently; "it cannot be, not so--not so! I
cannot--I cannot!"

"Bianca," he cried, starting to his feet as if he had been stung; "what
does this mean? What am I to understand? What is it you wish? You know
my position. I tell you that there is no sacrifice that I am not willing
to make. I am rich; name what you would wish."

"Spare me--spare me, I deserve all; but spare me! I deserve to suffer,
but not at your band," she cried, in words interrupted by her sobs.

"Spare you what, Bianca? In truth, I do not understand you," said the
Marchese, genuinely mystified.

"Do you not understand?" she said, turning round on the sofa, so as to
face him, and looking into his face with those great appealing eyes
suffused with tears; "do you not understand? Can you not comprehend? A
woman would understand, I think; but I suppose men feel these things
differently."

"Upon my honour, Bianca, I do not know what you mean. Every word I have
spoken to you has been spoken from the very depth of my heart. I am
ready to--"

"Hush, hush, Marchese! No more of that; I could not bear it," she said,
with a great sigh that seemed as if it would burst her bosom; "it is
very--very painful to me; but I must endeavour to bring your heart to
understand me,--it must be your heart, Lamber--your heart, Signor
Marchese; for one does not arrive at the understanding of such things
with the head. See, now, I will put myself in the place I deserve to
occupy--in the dust at your feet! You may trample on me, if you will. I
say I have deserved the shame and the misery I am now suffering. I
deserve them because I have no right to resent the--the--the proposals
which you--wish to make to me. I have suffered much from calumny and
evil tongues--much from unhappy circumstances and evil surroundings. Yet
it may be that I-have--more right to--resent--what--I have heard from
you than you imagine. But let that pass. You know--or think you
know--that I have accepted from others that which I have said I cannot
accept from you; and you cannot imagine why this should be so. Oh,
Marchese, does your heart lend you no aid to the understanding of it?
What were those men,--those empty creatures whose gold could not repay
the disgust occasioned by their presence, what were they to me? Did they
love--pretend even to love--me? Did I love them? Love! Alas, alas, alas!
Ah, Marchese, a poor girl exposed to the world, as I have been from my
cradle upwards, has to suffer much that might well move the pity of a
generous heart; but it is nothing--nothing--nothing to the tragedy of
the misery, the shame, the remorse that comes upon her when at last the
day shall come that her heart speaks and shows to her the awful
chasm--the immeasurable gulf that separates such--I cannot,
Lamber--pardon, I don't know what I am saying; I cannot go on--I cannot
put it into words! Do not you--cannot you understand the difference?"

"I do understand, Bianca mia; povera anima sofferente--I do understand.
Do you imagine that I would judge you harshly--severely? I know too well
all that you would say; I know the difficulties, the impossibilities of
your position. Do you think that I cannot make allowances for all the
fatalities attending on such a combination of circumstances? And, trust
me, the difference between what has been, and what I so earnestly hope
may be now, is greater,--I feel it to be greater, not less than you can
feel it to be. Truly there is nothing in common between the
all-devouring passion which consumes me, and--such love-vows as you have
spoken of. Do I not understand the difference. And remember, Bianca,
dearest, that the protection I offer you would be the means of placing
you out of the reach,--far out of the reach of any such disgusts,--such
suffering for the future."

Bianca let her head fall on her bosom, and covered her face with her
hands, and remained silent for some moments. Then, lifting her face
slowly, and shaking her head, she sighed deeply as she looked with a
wistful earnest glance into his eyes; she said,--"You are good,--you
are,--very good and kind to me; perhaps it might have been better for my
happiness if you had been less so. But bear with me yet a little, Signor
Marchese. Sit down there,--there where I can see your face,"--pointing,
as she spoke, to a spot exactly in face of the sofa,--"and let me see if
I can explain myself to you. It is difficult; it is very difficult. A
woman, as I said, would understand it at once; but men--are so
different. You have told me, Signor Marchese, that you love me; that you
never loved before; that I am the first woman who has ever moved your
heart. Eh, bene, Signor Marchese! If I, having heard those
protestations, were to confess that--that it was with me even as with
you,"--she dropped her eyes and sighed as she made the
confession;--"that I, too--that you have taught me now for the first
time what it is to love,--though I might speak it less eloquently than
you have done, the words would be equally true,--equally true, Signor,"
she repeated, slowly nodding her head. "And when I have confessed that
it is so," she continued, speaking more rapidly, "can you wonder--can
you not understand that it is impossible to me--that it would be a
horror unspeakable to--to renew with the object of a true love--the
first--the first, as God sees my heart--the degradation that has left
nothing but bitterness and humiliation behind it? Shall the name of
Lamberto di Castelmare be written in my memory in the hateful list of
those who have been to me the occasion of remorse, of self-condemnation,
of bitterness immeasurable? Never, never, never! Come what may there
shall be one pure place in my heart; one unsoiled spot in my life; one
ever-dear remembrance unlinked with sorrow and with shame; one memory
which, however sad, shall not be humiliating."

She put her handkerchief to her eyes as she ceased speaking, and
appeared to be entirely overcome by her emotion.

The Marchese rose from his chair in a state of hardly less agitation. He
walked across the room;--returned to the sofa, and seemed for a moment
as if he were going to take her hand; then turned away, and stood on the
hearth-rug with his back to the fire. He was much moved, puzzled,
pained, disappointed,--goaded and lashed more violently than ever by the
furies of passion; more than ever wishing that he had never seen the
beautiful creature lying there before him, and more than ever writhing
in mind under the consciousness that to give her up was beyond his
power.

At length he again stepped up to the side of the sofa and took her hand.

She started; and plucked it from him.

"Go, Signor Marchese--go, and leave me. It would perhaps be better so
for both of us. I am not used to show to anybody the very inmost secrets
of my heart, as I have been doing to you,--I know not why. Forget what I
have said. Go, and forget me;--forget the poor comedian to whom your
goodness, your nobleness, and--your love--seemed for a passing minute to
open a blessed glimpse of a heaven upon earth; but never--never again
propose to me to associate the name of Lamberto di Castelmare with names
that I would--oh, so fain--forget!"

Still the Marchese had not realized the nature of the position or seen
the only outlet from the cul-de-sac into which he had been driven. It
involved too monstrous an impossibility to seem to him to be an outlet
at all. What was the real meaning of all this? Then suddenly an
in-rushing suspicion flashed across his mind like a blasting lightning
brand, bringing with it a sharp pang, as of a dagger stab in the heart.
What was the meaning of all these protestations of admiration and
affection, coupled with a denial of all that his passion drove him there
in search of? Did it perchance mean that this woman, so terrible in the
power of her beauty, so dangerously irresistible, would fain have the
protection which his position could give her, the supplies which might
be drawn from his purse, while her love--such love as he wanted from
her--would be given to a younger rival?

Suddenly he asked her, "When was the Marchese Ludovico here last?"

"The Marchese Ludovico?" said Bianca, carelessly; "oh, he is often here.
When last? Let me see: he was here this morning. As good and noble a
gentleman as any in Italy he is, too. He is worthy to bear your name,
Marchese, though it is only a poor girl like me that says it."

"He seems to have won your good will, anyhow," said the Marchese,
frowning heavily. "What answer, I wonder, would he get if he were to
speak to you as I spoke just now?"

"He would never speak so, Signor Marchese; he would know that, whatever
might have been the case in past years, alas! it would be useless or
worse to speak so now. I do not say, indeed, that--I have a sincere
regard for the Marchese Ludovico. This much you may be very sure of,
Marchese, that the feelings which you have surprised me into confessing
would make it quite impossible for me to listen to any such words from
the Marchese Ludovico. But, if ever the Marchese Ludovico were to say
any word in my ear,--it would not be," continued Bianca, dropping her
voice and speaking as if more to herself than to him--"it would not be
to offer me what his uncle was offering me just now."

And now it flashed upon the Marchese for the first time what the real
drift of Bianca's words and conduct had been. She wanted to be Marchesa
di Castelmare. And the meaning of her last words, with their reticences
and their half-uttered expressions spoken out at length might, he
thought, be read thus: If you, Marchese Lamberto, do not make me
Marchesa di Castelmare, your nephew will be ready enough to do so. The
scandal, the wrong done to the family name, the chatter of all the
tongues in Ravenna will be none the less. The matter would be, indeed,
worse instead of better. For it would involve the grave injury that
would be done to the Lady Violante, and the destruction of all the hopes
built upon that alliance. All this seemed to be revealed to him as by a
lightning flash. But the pang of jealousy, which had stung his heart,
still remained the foremost and most prominent occupation of his mind.

"If you imagine, Bianca," he said after a while, "that my nephew would,
or could, however much he might wish to do so, make any other kind of
proposal to you, you are labouring under a delusion. I speak in all
sincerity of heart."

"And I have spoken to you, God knows, with all sincerity, Signor
Marchese. I have spoken as I have never before spoken to any human
being. I have opened my heart to you to the very bottom of it. But the
effort of doing so has been a painful one. It has terribly overset me; I
feel like a wrung-out rag; and would fain rest. You will not be offended
if I ask you to leave me now. It is getting late, too; and I expect my
father home every instant. Good-night, Signor Marchese. Forgive me if I
have said aught that I should not have said; if I have in any way
offended you. I think you know how far the wish to do so is from my
heart. Good-night."

"Good-night, Bianca," said the Marchese, taking the hand she held out to
him, and retaining it in his own for some instants, despite his
intention of specially abstaining from any demonstration of the
kind--"Good-night, Bianca. We shall meet to-morrow morning."

"Yes, on business," said Bianca, looking up into his face with a sad
smile. "Signor Ercole said he should be here at midday."

And then the Marchese left her, and, carefully shunning the more
frequented parts of the city, returned to his own home.



CHAPTER IX

One Struggle more


The Marchese reached the Palazzo Castelmare unobserved by any one, save
old Quinto Lalli, who had been for some time past watching the door of
his adopted daughter from a neighbouring corner, in order to ascertain
when he might go home to his bed without infringing the order that had
been given him.

"And what do you think of it now, papa mio?" said the Diva, when she had
very faithfully, though summarily, recounted the scene which had just
passed, to her old friend and counsellor.

"Well, I see no reason to despair of the result," said Quinto. "You did
not expect him to jump at the idea of making you Marchesa di Castelmare,
I suppose? Of course he was a little staggered; and, probably, his own
notion at this moment is, that he would rather never see your face
again, than dream of such a thing. Ma, ci vuol pazienza! My notion is,
that you will have him nibbling at the hook again before long. That
little hint about the nephew was masterly. Depend upon it that will do
its work."

"But, Quinto, I did not say a word to him that was not true--hardly a
word. I do like him better, by an hundred times, than any other man I
ever knew; and if I succeed, you see if I do not make him a good wife; I
swear I will! As for Signor Ludovico, that is all trash and nonsense. He
belongs to his Venetian, body and soul: and he has enough to think of,
poor boy, in scheming to get out of the marriage they have planned for
him."

"What! he wants to marry the Venetian, does he?" asked Quinto.

"Yes; they have engaged themselves to each other; she would not hear of
anything else."

"Lord bless me! how moral and respectable the world is growing. I
suppose Cupid himself will be attended by a gentleman in cassock and
bands before long, and Mars will make Venus an honest woman, as the
phrase goes. Well, I am not sorry I had my day in the old time. It would
be rare fun, though, if these grand Signori, the uncle and the nephew,
were both to be hooked in the same fashion at the same time."

"There is nothing against the character of the Venetian of any sort,"
said Bianca, with a sigh.

"Ta, ta, ta! I'd back your chance of the uncle against her chance of the
nephew, any day of the week."

"Ludovico is solemnly engaged to her."

"I'd hold to my bet, all the same for that; and now let's get to bed,
you have to sing to-morrow night."

"Yes, and I'm regularly tired out; good-night."

The Marchese Lamberto was probably hardly less in need of rest, when he
reached the Palazzo Castelmare. But he did not equally feel that it was
within his reach. He shut himself into his room; and throwing himself
into an easy chair, with one hand pressed to his fevered brow, strove to
think; set himself to think out the possibilities of the present, and
the prospects of the future, as far as the blinding volcano bursts of
passion, which ever and anon threatened to sweep all power of thought
away, would permit him to do so.

So this was the meaning of all the difficulties, which Bianca had made.
She had absolutely conceived the idea of his marrying her. Heavens and
earth! Was she mad? But, at all events, if this notion had been the
cause of all her fighting off of his advances for the last month past,
it was not necessary to attribute her conduct to any preference for some
more favoured lover; she had assured him that she loved him--loved him
as she had never loved another. And, gracious heaven, how lovely she
looked as she said it!

He pressed his hands before his eyes, and saw again in fancy the
beautiful vision; gloated on the eloquent movement of her person in the
earnestness of her confession; looked again into those large appealing
honest eyes, which seemed to be so incapable of lending their voucher to
a lie. Surely it could not be that all those protestations and
assurances were false,--mere comedy got up for the purpose of deluding
him. That she was worldlily anxious to secure so great a prize as that
which she was trying for was natural enough--was matter of course. But
surely, surely there was genuine affection in that glance. Was it not
likely to be genuine,--that feeling that she could not be to him what
she had been to others? It must have been abundantly clear to her that
had she chosen to accept from him what he had offered her, she might
have amply satisfied any mercenary views, the most exorbitant. Therefore
her views and her feelings were of a different order.

And then the thought of being so loved by such a creature--of being
really loved for himself--loved as she had never loved before, made for
the moment all other thought impossible to him: he started from his
chair, and paced the room with rapid disordered strides. What was all
the world to the ecstasy of such a love? All--all that he had hitherto
lived for, was it not flat, stale, poor, puerile, in comparison to it?
Why not leave all, and seize a happiness so infinitely greater than any
he had ever known or imagined? Why not marry her, and be hers for ever,
as she was anxious to be his? Nobles of higher rank than his had done as
much before. Why not?

What would they all say and think? All his world, that he had lived
among, and lived for, from his cradle upwards: the Cardinal, his sister,
his nephew, Violante? The whole society which had looked up to him as
some one altogether above the sphere of human frailties and follies: how
could he face them? What say to them? Why face them at all? Why not
leave all, and make a new world for himself and the one dear companion
of it? Marry her, and take her safe away from all her past, and from all
his. Why not?

But would she consent to that? Would that be her idea of a marriage with
the Marchese di Castelmare? Was it not likely that she would prefer to
be Marchesa di Castelmare in the Palazzo Castelmare,--in Ravenna,
where--ha!--where Ludovico was, for whom she had so much regard? who was
so frequently with her. That poor Violante! Of course he knew that there
could be no love between her and his nephew. Ludovico had promised that
that marriage should be made. Ay, marry the uncle, to be the nephew's
mistress with all convenience! Such things had often been; there was
nothing new in the arrangement--nothing original in the idea--why, the
very stage was full of such examples: he to be the old duped husband of
the farce; he saw it all.

And as these thoughts also suggested themselves to his mind, his heart
seemed as though it were clutched by a hand of ice, while his brow
throbbed and his head burned with the pulsing blood.

He threw himself on to his chair again, and tore his hair with rage and
anguish; and all those vivid and palpitating love-representations which
passion had but now painted on the retina of his eye, were reproduced by
jealousy with the difference that Ludovico instead of himself was the
actor in them.

It was maddening; his brain seemed to reel; a cold sweat broke out all
over him. The fear dashed across his mind that he should really lose his
reason.

Was there, he thought to himself, as the terror of this made him
shudder--was there that night in all Ravenna so miserable a being as
himself? And that miserable man, cowering there in the restlessness of
his agony, was the Marchese Lamberto di Castelmare; he whose whole life
had been one placid scene of happiness, prosperity, and content. Never
had he known a passion strong enough and forbidden enough to cause him a
pang or a sleepless hour till now. Had not his life been happy? What did
he want with more? Ah, if he could but blot out for ever all that the
last month had brought with it. If he could but be again as he had been
before this woman had cast her sorcery on him. Ah, would to God that his
eyes had never seen her!

Was it yet too late? Could he not even now tear her from his mind, shut
his eyes to the recollection of her, so command his imagination that it
should never again present the image of her to his fancy?

And thereupon forthwith uncommanded fancy was busy with every detail of
the beauties that had so made him their slave. The line of the neck and
shoulder which he had looked down on as he stood at the sofa head; all
the white ivory from the fresh innocent rosy little ear to the swell of
the curves about the bosom; the intoxicating perfume from the heavy
tresses of the hair; the lithe slender waist, round and yielding; the
slight nervous hands, the touch of whose fingers fired the blood, as a
match fires gunpowder; the exquisite feet; and, oh God! that face, whose
every feature, as he last looked on it, was harmonized in an expression
of love.

Quite still he sate for some minutes, conscious of nothing save the
pictures which memory was passing before his eye. Then suddenly, with a
bound, he sprang from his chair, and away from it, and beat his head
against the opposite wall of the large room.

"Fool, fool; enslaved, besotted idiot! I am lost, spelled; the victim of
sorcery I cannot fight against. What am I to do, what am I to do? Surely
I can keep my steps from going near her. If I were to swear now that I
will never set eyes on her more?"

And then he recollected that it was impossible for him even to seek that
means of safety without giving rise to all kinds of observations, and
wonder, and speculation in the city. He was to see the prima donna on
the following day. His habits in such matters, well known to all the
town, brought him into frequent contact with Bianca, as with other
ladies who had been similarly engaged in Ravenna. What would be thought,
or guessed, or said, if he were suddenly to refuse to hold any further
communication with her?

And would he not thus be simply leaving the coast all free to his
nephew? To be sure. There, there, he could see it all. And that was the
worst hell of all. Anything, anything was preferable to that. Come what
would that should never, never, never be. Rather--rather anything. He
gnashed his teeth, and clenched his hand; and a sudden agony of hatred
for both Bianca and his nephew seemed to steal like a snake into his
heart, and maddened him.

And thus the miserable man passed the greater part of the night in
useless strugglings with the bonds that bound him.

It was near morning before he crept, still sleepless, but utterly worn
out, to his bed.

He did sleep, exhausted as he was, after awhile; but it was only to see
again in dreams all that he had so bitterly wished that he had never
seen at all. Sometimes he was himself by Bianca's side, licensed to
revel to the full in her every charm. And then the dream would change.
It was Ludovico he saw in her white arms; and he started from his
fevered sleep bathed in perspiration and quivering in every limb.

The next morning he was, in truth, quite ill enough to have furnished a
very sufficient and unsuspected excuse for not going to meet the
impresario at Bianca's house according to appointment. He thought at
first that he would do so. But as the time drew near, he dragged himself
from his bed, haggard, fevered, and looking very ill, and crawled to the
appointed meeting.



BOOK IV

The last Days of the Carnival



CHAPTER I

In the Cardinal's Chapel


Paolina was industriously pursuing her task in the chapel of the
Cardinal's palace. Ludovico was not so frequently with her there as he
had been while she was at work in San Vitale. But there were evident
reasons why this was necessarily the case. The chapel in question is a
private one, and is accessible only by passing through a portion of the
Cardinal's residence. At San Vitale Ludovico needed to take nobody into
his confidence, when he climbed to Paolina's scaffolding to be by her
side while she worked, save the old sacristan. But to have joined her at
her work in the Cardinal's palace, he must have knocked at the door of
the residence, and told the servants what he wanted.

And that would have been obviously inconvenient, even without mentioning
the fact that the Lady Violante, to whom the gentleman ought to have
been addressing himself, passed much of her time at the palace, and
might very possibly have been met by him there.

It was true that, ever since the ball at the Castelmare palazzo, on the
second day of the year, Ludovico had felt pretty nearly sure that
Violante was as desirous of escaping from the marriage which had been
arranged as he was himself. But it did not at all follow that it would
be an easy matter to break it off. Of course it was not to be expected
that Violante herself could take any active step towards refusing to
fulfil the promise that her family had made for her. That would be for
him to do. And except as regarded his intercourse with the lady, and her
personal feelings, the task of doing so was hardly rendered any the
easier by the knowledge that he would be consulting her wishes as well
as his own.

It would hardly, therefore, have done in any way for him to have been
visiting the young artist in the Cardinal Legate's chapel.

The intercourse, however, between Ludovico and Paolina was much
pleasanter and more unrestrained than it had been before that
explanation, which had ensued between them. He was a frequent visitor at
the house in the Via di Sta. Eufemia in the evening; and the happy hours
were passed by them on the perfectly understood footing of mutual
betrothal.

And Ludovico was perfectly honest and sincere in all that he said to
Paolina. He said nothing to her that he did not equally say to himself.
And if his conduct under the circumstances was not exactly what a father
or brother of Paolina might have desired it to be, the fault arose from
the indecision of character, which belonged to a weak man accustomed to
self-indulgence. There was difficulty and annoyance before him; and
instead of meeting it, as a strong man would have done, he turned from
it, and was content to put off the evil day, contenting himself with the
enjoyment of that which was passing. He marvelled somewhat at the ease,
with which he was permitted to pass evening after evening with his
mistress,--at the absence of surveillance, of which he was
conscious,--and at the silence of his uncle as to both his visits to Via
di Sta. Eufemia, and his no visits to the Lady Violante. But he troubled
himself little to account for this, or to question the reason of the
goods the gods provided him. It was not in his character to do so.
Paolina, on her side, was, upon the whole, trustful and contented. Yet
there had been moments at which she had suffered a passing pang from
little gossipings which had been, perhaps injudiciously, repeated to her
by Orsola Steno. Of course the great prima donna, the celebrated Lalli,
who was blessing Ravenna by her presence, was often talked of in the Via
di Sta. Eufemia, as she was in every other house in the city. That was
quite a matter of course. And then Orsola would speak of the strict
conduct of the lady; of the fact that no one of the young nobles of the
place was permitted to visit her--except, indeed, the young Marchese
Ludovico; and how people did say that half-a-dozen would be safer
company than one; and that the young Marchese was finishing the sowing
of his wild oats before becoming a married man by a flirtation with one
of the most celebrated beauties of Italy.

There was very little cause for this gossip beyond what the reader is
aware of. Still, upon the whole, it might have been better if Ludovico
had seen less of the fascinating singer. He had given cause enough for
spiteful tongues to make mischief if they could do so; and it may
probably be supposed that he was not insensible to the fascinations of
Bianca--perhaps not to the glory of the fact that he was the only young
man admitted to her society, and that he had occasionally done that
which, being repeated, might not unnaturally give umbrage to Paolina.

It was now within ten days or so of the end of Carnival; and, while
almost everybody else was amusing themselves in some way or other,
Paolina stuck close to her work in the chapel, intent on her silent and
solitary task, while, from time to time, the voices of revellers in the
streets would reach her in her seclusion.

But all her hours of work there had not passed in utter solitude.

The Contessa Violante was in the habit of spending much of her time in
the palace of her great-uncle the Cardinal Legate. It presented, among
other advantages, that of being pretty well the only place in which she
could escape for awhile from the companionship of the Signora Assunta
Fagiani, her duenna. Certainly, it would not have been consistent with
that lady's conception of her duty to allow her charge to visit any
other house whatever in the city, without the protection of her
companionship, but the palace of a Cardinal Legate--and that Legate her
great-uncle. Besides that, her great-aunt, the Cardinal's sister, was
also often at her brother's residence; and, having this facility close
at hand, Violante was wont very frequently to avail herself of the
privacy, comfort, and warmth of her uncle's chapel for the morning's
devotions, which she never missed.

One morning she found a small portable scaffold or estrade of deals
standing in one corner of the chapel; and, on inquiring for what purpose
it had been placed there, she was told that it was to enable an artist
to make a copy of some of the mosaics on the vault of the little
apartment. She learned further that the artist in question was a young
Venetian lady: that she was a protegee of the Marchese Lamberto; and
that the permission to execute the copies in question, and to have that
scaffolding placed there, had been obtained by him.

Then Violante knew right well who the Venetian artist was. The worthy
Assunta Fagiani had taken care that all the gossip of Ravenna which
connected this girl's name with that of Ludovico di Castelmare should
reach her ears. And she was glad of the easy opportunity which thus
offered itself to her of gratifying her natural curiosity respecting the
stranger--the girl who could win that love which had been promised to
her; but which she had been unable to inspire.

This Paolina Foscarelli--she well knew her name--was, in some sense, her
rival. Ludovico di Castelmare was bidden to love her, the Contessa
Violante, and instead of doing so, had given his love, as she had been
assured, to this Venetian. She knew, indeed, quite well that had the
stranger never come near Ravenna, Ludovico would not have loved her the
more. She did not love Ludovico. She was anxious to be quit of the
engagement it had been proposed to make between them; and it might be
very likely that this girl might be serviceable to her, rather than
otherwise, in helping to bring about such a consummation.

Nevertheless, there was a certain amount of bitterness--such bitterness,
more akin to self-depreciation, as could find place in the gentle heart
of Violante--in the thought of what might have been; in the thought that
she was irrevocably excluded from that which it had been so easy for
this poor stranger artist to attain; and, above all, there was a strong
curiosity to see the beauty which had accomplished this; to hear the
voice which had been able to charm; and, further, in her own interest,
to ascertain, if that should be possible, whether the tie which she had
been told existed between this girl and the man who had been assigned to
her for a husband, was, or was not, of a nature likely to lead to a
marriage between them.

At first sight this would have seemed impossible to the aristocratic
notions of the Cardinal Legate's niece. But Assunta Fagiani, whose
object had been simply to convince Violante that no union between
herself and Ludovico would ever take place, despite all appearances to
the contrary, had given her to understand that it was whispered as a
thing not impossible--such was Ludovico's infatuation--that he might
even go the length of making such an alliance.

One morning, soon after the commencement of her work in the chapel,
whither she had been escorted on her first going thither by the Marchese
Lamberto himself in person, in accordance with his promise, Violante, on
entering the chapel, saw that the little scaffold had been pulled out
from its corner and placed immediately under one of the medallion
portraits of the Apostles, on the vault of the building. She looked up,
and perceiving the artist above her at her work, paused, hesitating
before kneeling at the footstool in front of the altar.

In an instant a light step tripped down the steps of the wooden
erection, and a little figure, clad in a brown holland frock, which
wrapped it from head to foot, stood by her side.

Paolina knew very well who the lady that had entered the chapel was:
and, as may be easily imagined, she too was not without her share of
curiosity.

"Do I disturb you, Signorina?" said Paolina, in a sweet, gentle voice.
"If you would prefer it, I will wait till you have finished your prayer.
I can kneel here too the while."

Violante looked at the girlish face, bright not only with the elements
of material beauty, but with the animation of intelligence and the
informing expression of talent. One would have said that nothing could
well be less becoming than such a long shapeless wrapper as that which
the artist wore. There was the band at the waist, which showed that the
figure was slight and slender; but, for the rest, a less ornamental
costume could not well be imagined. Nevertheless, Violante perfectly
well perceived and understood at a glance that this girl had what she
had not--a something by virtue of which it was possible for her to win a
man's love, while for herself it was, or seemed to her appreciation of
herself, impossible.

"Oh, no, Signorina," answered Violante, gently, "the knowledge that you
were painting up there would not suffice to distract my thoughts. But
will you not let me look at your work? It must be very difficult to copy
these strange old wall-paintings. May I climb up? I know your friend the
Marchese Lamberto well. Do you know who I am?"

"Pray, come up, Signorina, if you have any curiosity. Oh, yes, I know
your ladyship. I saw you once in the Cardinal's carriage. You are his
niece, the Contessa Violante," replied Paolina, blushing a little at the
name of the Marchese Lamberto, only because, though assuredly not the
rose, he lived close to it.

So the two girls climbed the steps of the estrade together.

"How came you to know the Marchese Lamberto?" asked Violante, after they
had matured their acquaintanceship by a little talk about the subject of
Paolina's work.

"Only because the Englishman, who employed me to copy these mosaics,
gave me a letter to him. He seems to be very highly esteemed."

"More so than any other man in all Ravenna,--except my uncle the
Cardinal, I suppose I ought to say; he is a most excellent man in all
ways. But you know his nephew also, the Marchese Ludovico? non e vero?"
said Violante, looking down on the ground, while a pale blush came over
her white cheeks.

"Yes," replied Paolina, flushing crimson, and similarly looking down,
but stealing a side-glance under her eyelashes at her companion,--"yes;
I became acquainted with him also in the same manner--at least, on the
same occasion; and, in truth, I have seen more of him than of his uncle,
for the Marchese Lamberto is always so busy, and he commissioned his
nephew to do all that he could to assist us, when we were first settling
ourselves here."

"And you found him kind, too; as kind as his uncle?" said Violante,
stealing a sidelong glance at Paolina.

"Yes, indeed, Signorina," said she, feeling not a little embarrassment.

"Paolina--you see I know your name, and I think it such a pretty
one--Paolina," said the Contessa Violante, yielding to a sudden impulse,
and taking the hand of the blushing girl, who kept her eyes fixed on the
ground, "shall we be friends, and speak openly to each other? I should
like to."

"Oh, Signorina! so should I, so much. There is nothing I should like so
much--almost nothing," replied Paolina, looking up into her face, with
her own still crimson.

"Tell me, then, if you ever heard my name mentioned in connection with
that of the Marchese Ludovico?" said Violante, looking with a rather sad
and subdued, but yet arch, smile into Paolina's eyes.

"Yes, Signorina, I have so heard," said Paolina, raising her head with a
proud movement, and looking, with well-opened eyes and clear brow, into
Violante's face as she spoke. "I have heard that it was intended by both
your families that you and the Marchese Ludovico should be married."

"Yes; everybody in Ravenna, I believe, expects to see such a marriage
before long; do you? We are to be friends, you know, and speak frankly
to each other; do you expect it, Paolina?" asked Violante, still holding
her hand, and looking with a smile, half shrewd, half sad, into her
face.

Paolina remained silent a minute or two, again dropping her clear honest
eyes to the ground. Then raising them again, she said in an almost
whispered voice, but looking straight at her companion,

"No, Signorina, I do not expect that; for he has promised to marry me."

"Ah--h! it is a relief to hear you say so. My dear Paolina, I am so
glad," said the elder girl, putting a hand on each of Paolina's
shoulders, and kissing her on the forehead--"I am so glad; much for your
own sake, somewhat, too, for his, and much for my own sake. For,
Paolina, I could not marry Ludovico. If he asked me to do so, it would
be only done in obedience to the will of his uncle. He does not--no,
'tis no fault of yours, my child--never has loved me."

"Signora, when first I--allowed him to teach me to love him, I knew
nothing of any duty that he owed elsewhere. And when I did know it I
determined, even if it should break my heart, to refuse any such love as
should have been stolen from a wife," said Paolina.

"That was the part of a good and honest girl. And for me, I have to
thank you for it. Paolina, I hope you may be happy. We shall often meet
here, shall we not?"

"Not often here, Signora. My task here is not a long one; and I hope by
the end of Carnival to have finished it, so that I may go to St.
Apollinare, outside the town, where I have to make several copies. It is
very desirable not to go there later; because when the warm weather
comes it becomes so unhealthy there."

"Yes; but we have some days yet before the end of the Carnival; and till
then you will be at work every day here?"

"Si, Signora; I hope so."

"Then I hope we shall have several more opportunities of seeing each
other. And now I must not keep you from your work any longer. Shall we
be friends?"

"Oh, Signorina; it is too good of you to ask me, a poor artist. And
when--it would be my greatest pride to have such a friend."

And then the girls kissed and parted: Violante to kneel for her daily
devotions, at the footstool before the altar; and Paolina to continue
her copying. And after that they had frequent meetings in the little
chapel, and learned to become fast friends.

The Carnival was now drawing near its end; and the city had been
promised that before the time of cakes and ale should be over, and that
of sackcloth and ashes should begin, the divine prima donna should
appear in one more new part. And, after much deliberation and debate, it
had been decided that this should be Bellini's masterpiece, La
Sonnambula. She was to sing it on one night only--the last Sunday of the
Carnival; and the attraction on that night was proportionably great. The
Sonnambula, then in the first blush of its immense popularity, had never
yet been heard in Ravenna. It was one of the favourite parts of the
Diva; and all the city was on the tiptoe of expectation.

It was a matter of course that all the "society" would be there. The
entire first row of the boxes,--the "piano nobile," as it is called in
Italian theatres,--was the private property of the various noble
families of the city, which each had its box, with its coat of arms duly
emblazoned on the door thereof, in that tier. Nobody who did not belong
to "the society" of the town could in any way show his intruding face in
the "piano nobile." But above this sacred hemicycle there was another
range of boxes; equally private boxes; as all the boxes of an Italian
theatre are;--and the key of one of these upper "loggie" had been
secured by Ludovico, and presented to Signora Orsola and Paolina for the
great evening.

Of course he himself would be obliged to be in his proper place in the
Castelmare box, which was the stage box on the left hand of the stage.

"Whether I may be able to run up and pay you a little visit in the
course of the evening, I don't know. You may be very sure I shall if I
can; but there will be all the world there, of course, and lo zio in the
box--unless, indeed, he should choose to go behind the scenes. Talking
of that," he added, as he was on the point of leaving the room, "I don't
know what to make of lo zio of late."

"Has he said anything?"

"Not a word; but I don't like the look of him. He never was more amiable
as far as I am concerned; but he is not well; I never saw him as he is
now. He is haggard, feverish, restless; an older man in appearance by a
dozen years than he was at the beginning of Carnival."

"I suppose he has been raking too much, and wants a little rest. Lent
will be good for him."

"What, he! The Marchese Lamberto raking! You don't know him. But he
seems quite broken down; I should say, that he had got something on his
mind, if it was not impossible. He never had any trouble in his life;
and never did anything he ought not to do, I believe. But I confess he
puzzles me now. Good-night. God bless you, Paolina mia!"

That was on the Friday; and the Diva's last appearance was to take place
on the following Sunday.



CHAPTER II

The Corso


The institution of Carnival and Lent in Italy seems very much as if it
arose from a practical conviction in the minds of the Italians that they
cannot serve two masters,--at least at the same time,--Mammon in all his
forms is to be the acknowledged and exclusive lord of the hour during
the first period, on condition that higher and holier claims to service
shall be as unreservedly recognized when the second shall have set in.

    "Let us have wine and women, mirth and laughter,
    Sermons and soda water the day after."

Byron has given us the rule with the most orthodox accuracy. Whether the
second portion of the prescription is observed as heartily, punctually,
and universally as the first, may be doubted. But in all outward form
and ceremony the violence of the contrast between the two seasons is
acted out to the letter; is, or was, as may be perhaps more correctly
said now-a-days; for both Carnival jollity and licence, and Lent
strictness, are from year to year less observed than used to be the
case. At Rome, Mother Church exhorts her subjects to feast and laugh in
Carnival, in nowise less earnestly or imperatively than she enjoins on
them fasting and penances for having laughed in Lent. But her subjects
will do neither the one nor the other. And when one hears reiterated
complaints in Roman pulpits of pipings to which no dancers have
responded, and the vain exhortations of the ecclesiastical authorities
to the people to Carnival frolic and festivity, one is reminded of our
own Archbishop's "Book of Sports," and led to make comparisons, by which
hangs a very long tale.

Great Pan died once upon a time. And Carnival, as it used to be, is with
much else dying now in Italy. But in the days to which the incidents
here narrated belong, the difference between Carnival and Lent was as
marked as that between day and night.

More marked indeed. For between day and night there is twilight, but the
transition from Carnival to Lent is as sudden as a plunge from sunshine
into cold water. Carnival ends at twelve o'clock on the night of Shrove
Tuesday. And the theory of its observance is, or was, that the fun and
revelry should grow ever more fast and furious up to the last permitted
moment. Then, the clock strikes; the lights are put out, Carnival dies
amid one last hurrah. And maskers and revellers go home to rise the next
morning with grave and perhaps yellow faces.

In Ravenna, as has been said, a great reception of all the society at
the Palazzo Castelmare on the Sunday evening was as much an institution
as the High Mass on a Sunday morning. And this was the course of things
during all the year, except in Carnival time. Then, in order to leave
Sunday evening--the great time for balls and theatres, and pleasure of
all sorts free, the reception at the Palazzo Castelmare was changed to
the Monday. The programme, therefore, for the three last grand days of
the Carnival in Ravenna, on that occasion, stood thus:--On the Sunday, a
grand gala Corso from four to six in the afternoon. (That is to say,
that every available carriage of every sort in Ravenna would be put in
requisition, and would be driven in procession, at a slow foot pace, up
and down the long street called the Corso; and those who had servants
and liveries and fine horses would display them and rejoice; and those
who had none of these things would mingle with the grand carriages in
broken-down shandridans, and rejoice also at the sight of the finery,
without the smallest feeling of shame at their own poverty. This is a
Corso.) On the Sunday evening, the grand representation of the
Sonnambula, with the theatre lighted (according to advertisement) "with
wax-candles, till it was as light as day!"

Secondly, on the Monday, another Corso, with throwing of flowers and
"coriandoli" (i. e. what was supposed to be comfits, but in reality
little pills of flour made and sold by the hundredweight for the
purpose) from the carriages to each other, and from the windows and the
balconies of the houses. Then in the evening, a grand gala reception at
the Palazzo Castelmare, at which it was understood masks would be gladly
welcomed by the host.

On the night of the Tuesday, thirdly, the last great day of all, there
was to be a grand masked ball at the Circolo dei Nobili; that ball of
which and of its consequences on the Ash Wednesday morning, the reader
already wots. And this was to be the wind-up of the Carnival.

The Corso on the Sunday was a most successful one. The weather was all
that was most desirable; bright, not too cold, and free from wind and
dust. The Marchese Lamberto turned out with two handsomely appointed
equipages. He and his sister-in-law occupied one carriage, and the
Marchese Ludovico and the Conte Leandro Lombardone, who was not a rich
man, and had no carriage of his own, sat in the second.

It could not be said that the Marchese Lamberto "looked like the time!"
And, in truth, he would have given much to escape the ordeal he was
called upon to go through. But that was out of the question; unless he
had been confined to his bed--in which case the whole town would have
been at the palazzo door with inquiries, and all the doctors at his
bedside in consultation--it could not be that he should not show himself
at the Corso.

Both the Castelmare carriages had the front seats laden with huge
baskets of bouquets prepared for throwing at friends and acquaintances
in other carriages, and at windows and balconies. The occupants of the
carriages seemed to be embedded in a bank of flowers. And there sat the
Marchese amid this wealth of rainbow-colours, looking positively
ghastly,--so changed, so drawn, so aged was he. And his painful attempts
to enter into the spirit of the scene, and act the part which he was
expected to act, would have been pitiable to any eye which had observed
them closely.

He had left Bianca only just before it had been necessary to return to
the palazzo to get into his carriage for the Corso: and the interview
between them had been an important one. He had gone thither fully
purposed to explain to her, finally, the utter impossibility of his
doing as she would have him do. He meant to point out to her how
exceptionally difficult it would be for him, in the peculiar position he
occupied, to make her his wife. He intended to show her that such a step
would have the effect of pulling him down rather than that of pulling
her up. He had purposed endeavouring to induce her to accede to such
proposals as he could make to her by the exhibition of the most
unstinting generosity. And he had determined,--fully, finally, and
irrevocably determined, that if all that he could say to her on these
points should fail to persuade her to accede to such an arrangement, as
he had it in his power to propose to her, he would that day, and from
that hour, give her up, and swear to himself never to let the image of
her cross his memory again.

The visit had been long, and occasionally even somewhat tempestuous. The
Marchese had been eloquent; and now driven to bay, had been unequivocal
enough in his declarations, his determinations, and his promises. The
Diva had shown herself a Diva at every point. She had wept, she had
smiled, she had been scornful, she had been suppliant, she had been
repellent, she had been loving! And in every mood she had seemed to the
fascinated eyes of the Marchese more lovely than in that which preceded
it. Finally, she had conquered. Instead of coming away from her, never
to see her again, he came away leaving her with the offer of his hand.

And there had been a moment of supreme triumph and ecstasy when
permitted, for the first time, to take her in his arms, and press that
lovely bosom to his own, and glue his own to those heavenly lips; it had
seemed to him as if the prize that was his was worth a thousand times
all that he was paying for it. It was all for love, and the world well
lost. For not for an instant did the Marchese blind himself to the fact
that his world must be lost by such a marriage as he was contemplating.
But what did he care for all that had been hitherto to him as the breath
of his nostrils? He now felt, for the first time, what of joy and real
happiness life had in truth to offer. He would go away,--far away with
his Bianca and live only for her, and for the delights of her love! Fool
that he had been to hesitate. And blessed a thousand times was her
sweet, her dear insistence, that had led him to better things!

Such was the state of the mind of the Marchese, while he held his Diva
in his arms; and it lasted in full force, almost till he had left the
door of her house behind him as he hastened to the palazzo to discharge
the Corso duty, which was one of the most prominent functions of his
present social position.

And then it seemed as if suddenly,--with a suddenness equal to that of a
tropical sunset,--the scales had fallen from his eyes, and he was
another man.

Great God! What had he done? Had he been smitten with sudden madness?
What--what was the fatal power this fearful woman had over him? Were
then the old witchcraft and philtre tales really true? Surely he must be
the victim of some spell, some horrible enchantment. Marry her! Heavens
and earth! He hated her. He felt as if he could with pleasure take her
by that beautiful throat and squeeze the noxious life out of her.

He pressed his burning hand to his yet hotter forehead, as soon as he
found himself in the quiet and solitude of his own room, swallowed a
large glass of water, and strove to obtain such little command over
himself, for the moment at least, as might suffice to enable him to go
through the task before him.

A servant knocked at the door and put his head in to announce that the
carriages were at the door. The miserable man started from his chair as
if he had been caught in some crime, and answered that he would be down
directly. A second time he swallowed, hastily, a large glass of water,
for his throat felt parched with thirst; and then, with a vigorous
effort to appear gay and at his ease, which produced only the semblance
of a fixed unnatural grin on his face, he went down to the carriage.

It was painful to him to pass between the servants who stood in the
hall, painful to have to take his seat by the side of his
sister-in-law,--and most painful of all to meet the gaze of all the town
assembled for the Corso. He could not help thinking that all eyes were
turned on him, with glances of surprise and suspicion. He felt ashamed
to meet and be seen by his acquaintances. He, the Marchese Lamberto di
Castelmare, who had never, till that hour, known what it was to shun the
eye of any man,--who had been accustomed to be the cynosure of all eyes,
and to feel that they were all turned on him with respect and regard.

The occasion, and the part he was expected to fulfil in it, made it
necessary for him to recognize and return every minute the salutations
and greetings of his friends and those who knew him. And who in Ravenna
did not know the Marchese Lamberto? There was a good-natured word wanted
here, a gallant little phrase there, a salutation with the speaking
fingers to this carriage, a more formal bow to the occupants of another,
a gracious nod to one person, and a smile to a second.

And all this the unhappy man essayed to perform, as he had so often
performed it happily, easily, and successfully in other days.

It was impossible for anybody, whose eye rested on the Marchese for an
instant, as he sat amid the flowers in his carriage, to avoid seeing
that there was something wrong with him--that he was very unlike his
usual self. And every eye, as the carriages passed each other in the
long procession, forming two lines as one passed down the street while
the other moved in the contrary direction, did rest on him. But it never
for an instant entered into the head of a single human being there, to
guess at anything like the real cause of the change in the Marchese.

"Time begins to tell on the Marchese; he takes too much out of himself;
always busy--no rest--a bad thing!" said one.

"The Marchese Lamberto looks knocked up with this carnival. Quite time
for him that Lent was come," said another.

"The fact is that the Marchese is growing old, and he wants more rest.
He has not a minute to himself,--too many irons in the fire at once,
said a third.

"I dare say he has been worried out of his life in getting this new
Opera put upon the stage. You'll see he'll be all right enough at the
ball to-morrow night."

"Is she in the Corso--La Lalli?"

"Altro. I should think so--and looking so lovely. What a woman she is!"

"Whereabouts is she?"

"About twenty carriages further ahead. You'll see her presently, when we
are near the turn, sitting buried up to her waist nearly in flowers--a
regular Flora, and such a representative as the Goddess never had
before."

"Who has she got with her in her carriage?" asked the first speaker. "I
expected to have seen the Marchesino Ludovico there, but he is with the
Conte Leandro, in one of the Castelmare carriages."

"Che! catch her compromising herself in any such manner. I wonder how
much some of our friends would have given to have the place beside her
to-day? But not a bit of it: she has got the old man she calls her
father with her."

"Funny, isn't it? I wonder what her game is?"

"Simply to work hard at her vocation, and make as much money as she can,
I take it. Probably you would find, if you got at the truth, some animal
of a baritono robuato, who owns the Diva's heart, and for whom she works
and slaves."

"Poverina! there are the Castelmare carriages coming round again."

The manner of an Italian "Corso" is this: A certain street, or
streets--the most adapted to the exigencies of the case that the city
can supply--is selected for the purpose; and when the line of carriages
reaches the end of this, it turns and proceeds back again to the other
end; turns again, and so on. Thus, at each turn, every carriage in the
line meets every other once in each circuit.

The second Castelmare carriage, in which the Marchese Ludovico and
Leandro Lombardoni were sitting, was following next after that occupied
by the Marchese Lamberto and his sister-in-law; and thus each carriage
in the line proceeding in a contrary direction to them, passed first the
Marchese Lamberto and then his nephew. The carriage occupied by the
latter was a wholly open one with a low back. But that in which the
Marchese Lamberto sat, though also an open carriage, and entirely so in
front, had a half roof at the back, so that it was not so conveniently
adapted as the other for seeing those following it as well as those
preceding it.

The Marchese and his sister-in-law threw bouquets into almost every
carriage that passed them; and the stock with which they had started was
soon very much diminished. But one specially magnificent and large
bouquet, which conspicuously occupied the centre of the front seat of
the carriage, was evidently reserved. Everybody who saw it knew very
well for whom that was intended. Of course it was for none other than
the Diva of the theatre. And the known interest which the Marchese took
in such matters, his musical fanaticism, and the large share he had had
in bringing La Lalli to Ravenna, made it quite natural, and a matter of
course, that he should pay her such a compliment.

Presently he descried her in the opposite string of carriages, coming
towards him. Her carriage was an entirely open one, and she sate in it,
with old Quinto Lalli by her side, literally, as one observer had said,
half buried in flowers. And most assuredly neither the labours nor the
dissipations of the carnival, nor time, nor care, nor any other
circumstance, had dimmed the lustre of her beauty, or lessened the verve
and spirit of enjoyment with which she took her part in the pageant. She
was brilliant with vivacity, beauty, and happiness.

The Marchese might have been seen, had anybody been observing him
closely at the moment, to turn visibly paler as her carriage approached
his. As far as any clear thought had been in his mind, or any power of
thinking possible to him, his latest idea in reference to her had been a
desperate resolve that he would never speak to her again. And now,
again, as he saw her, in a new avatar of loveliness, he once again knew
that to keep such a resolution was above his power.

What he had to do at the moment was to be done, in any case, with the
best grace he might. Taking the huge mass of skilfully-arranged flowers
in both hands, as her carriage came opposite to his, he leaned out as
far as he could, and Quinto Lalli, who sat on the side nearest to him,
stretched out to meet him, and then handed the offering to the Goddess.
She smiled brilliantly and bowed low, sending a coquettish, sidelong
glance of private thanks under eyelashes as she bent her graceful neck.

The carriages rolled on, and passed each other; and there rushed into
the Marchese's head a sudden pulse of blood, which turned his previous
pallor into a dusky crimson, and seemed to make all the scene swim
before his eyes. Partly to hide the evidences of the emotion of which he
was conscious, and partly because he felt as if he needed the support,
he threw himself back into the corner of the carriage, turning himself
away from the scene in front of it as though to shelter his face from
the sun that was then so low in the sky as to begin to throw its
slanting rays under the hoods of the carriages. This position, as it
chanced, brought the Marchese's eye to bear on the little glass window
made in the back of the hood of the carriage, after the old-fashioned
manner of coach-building.

And what he saw through the little window was this.

A something--a white paper packet, it looked like--was in the act of
being thrown to the Diva's carriage from that immediately behind his
own, in which, it will be remembered, were his nephew and the Conte
Leandro; and the Goddess herself was leaning far out of her carriage in
the act of throwing a bouquet to the Marchese Ludovico: The Marchese
Lamberto also saw the magnificent flowers he had himself just given to
Bianca roll from her carriage on to the pavement,--an accident caused by
the movement of her person as she leaned forward to throw her flowers to
the other carriage.

With what an added torment to the hell that raged within him the
unfortunate Marchese returned from that miserable Corso to his palazzo,
may be well imagined.

Nevertheless, there had been as little meaning in what he had seen as
there often is in many things that make the madness of a jealous man's
jealousy.

With the white paper packet--for such it in truth was--the Marchese
Ludovico had nothing whatever to do. It had been thrown by the poet
Leandro, and contained an attempt to improve the occasion after a
fashion, such as he hoped must draw some reply from the Diva. Bianca had
taken the opportunity--somewhat coquettishly, but according to the laws
and customs of such occasions, quite permissibly--to pay Ludovico the
compliment in the eye of all Ravenna of throwing some flowers because
she liked him, and because she chose to mark the fact that she threw
none during all the Corso to anybody else. She would have done the same
if it had so happened that it had been in front of the Marchese
Lamberto's carriage instead of behind it; but, of course, to the
passion-blinded brain of the latter, this circumstance made all the
difference.

As to the rolling of his own superb bouquet on the pavement, it had been
quite accidental, and much regretted by Bianca. To recover anything of
the kind on such an occasion is, it must be understood, quite out of the
question. Any such fallen treasure--and half the things thrown do fall
short of the hands for which they are meant--becomes the instant prey of
the small boys who throng the streets, and are constantly on the
look-out for such windfalls around the carriages.



CHAPTER III

"La Sonnambula"


It may be easily imagined that the Marchese returned from the Corso very
little disposed to take any pleasure in the treat to which all Ravenna
was looking forward, and which he would have enjoyed more than any one
else under other circumstances--the performance at the theatre on that
Sunday evening. Nevertheless, the duty of attending it had to be done.
All Ravenna would have been astonished, and have wanted to "know the
reason why," if the Marchese had been absent from his box on such an
evening. "Society" expected it of him that he should be there, and he
had been all his life doing everything that "society" expected of him;
besides, his presence there really was needed, and poor little Ercole
Stadione would have despaired inconsolably if he had been deprived, on
such an occasion, of the support of his great friend and patron.

But if none of these reasons had existed--if the Marchese, when he
reached the shelter of his own roof after that horrible Corso, had been
entirely free to go to bed and escape the necessity of facing the eyes
of all the world of Ravenna, which seemed to him to be from hour to hour
growing into a more terrible ordeal, would he have gone to bed and
abstained from attending the theatre?

It might have been very confidently predicted that he would not have
done so. He began, in an unreasoning animal-like sort of way, to
recognize the fact that every hour that he spent away from this woman
was bare, barren, and of no value to him at all. He was conscious that
he could be said to live only in her presence. He was beginning to give
himself up as a lost man, and to acquiesce, half-stunned and stupid, in
a fatality which he could not struggle against.

And now he was longing--burning not only to have his eyes on her again,
but to speak to her. He would have plenty, of opportunities of doing so
at the theatre in the green-room, or in her dressing-room, and every
minute seemed to him an age till he could find such an opportunity.

If he had been asked at that minute--if he had himself asked of his own
mind--what he meant to do--to what future he was looking, whether he
meant to marry La Lalli or to give her up, he would probably have
repudiated either alternative with equal violence. His mind was in a
state of chaos; and what was to come in any future, except the most
immediate one, he had become incapable of considering. Now he was going
to see, to hear, to breathe the same atmosphere with her again, and to
go through the wretched task of striving to behave as usual, and look as
usual in the eyes of all Ravenna.

The performance was to commence at half-past eight o'clock, and the
Marchese, reaching the theatre nearly half-an-boar before that time,
found Bianca sufficiently nearly dressed for him to be admitted to her
dressing-room. She was putting the finishing touches to the platting of
her magnificent hair, after the fashion of a Swiss village-girl, for the
completion of her toilette as Amina. He thought that, in this new
costume, she looked more irresistibly attractive than he had yet seen
her.

"Bianca," he said, as soon as her dresser had left her, and shut the
door, "you have made me so miserable to-day. I must tell you openly at
once what is in my heart. I saw, to-day, at the Corso--by no means
intending to look at all at your carriage after it had passed mine--I
saw my poor flowers thrown away by you, while you were throwing a
bouquet to my nephew and receiving from him something thrown in return.
Bianca, is that the conduct of a woman who has the very same morning
accepted the hand of another man? Bianca, I warn you to beware; you do
not know what such a love as mine, if it should discover itself to be
betrayed, might be capable of."

"Marchese, do not look at me in that way; you frighten me, and what have
I done? It is all a mistake, entirely a mistake!" said the poor Diva,
really frightened at the manner of the Marchese.

"Did I not see you throw the flowers I had given you from your carriage;
evidently for the purpose of gratifying another person?"

"Oh, Marchese! how is it possible that such a thought should enter into
your head? Ah, how little you know. If you knew how I had grieved over
the loss of the beautiful bouquet that had come from your hand! It fell
from the carriage by accident; and it was snatched up, and a boy ran off
with it, all in a moment; I would have given anything to get it back
again."

"But how came the accident? It was caused by your leaning out of your
carriage to throw a bouquet yourself."

"Yes, exactly so; to the Marchese Ludovico. He was the only person to
whom I threw a bouquet in all the Corso."

"And why should you throw one to him?"

"To him,--to your nephew? Why not, I should not have thought of doing so
to another. But to him--"

"And what was it, pray, that he threw to you? I wonder whether he
thought, too, that he should not dream of throwing anything to anybody
except you."

"The Marchese Ludovico threw nothing to me. Just at the same moment that
troublesome idiot, the Conte Leandro, threw a packet into the carriage.
I have not even opened it; you may have it unopened the next time you
are in the Strada di Porta Sisi, if you like. No doubt it contains some
of his charming verses. It is not kind of you, Signor Marchese, to say
such things, or to have such thoughts in your head!" said Bianca,
turning away her face and putting her handkerchief to her eyes. "And
now," she added, "you have made my eyes all red just before I have to go
on the stage!"

Of course once again the unhappy Marchese was entirely routed, and the
Diva was victorious. "Forgive me, Bianca,", he whispered; "I think only
of you from the morning to the evening, and from the evening to the
morning again. And it would be impossible for any man to love, as I love
you, without a liability to jealousy. I am jealous of your love,
Bianca!"

"But it is wonderful that you should not perceive how little cause you
have for any such feeling. Oh, Marchese, how can you doubt me? Surely
you must have seen and known how entirely my love is yours. You must not
wring your poor Bianca's heart by such cruel suspicions."

And then the three knocks, which announced the raising of the curtain,
were heard; and the Marchese again murmuring a request to be forgiven,
as he kissed her hand, hurried away to take his place in his box.

The house was already nearly full, for the occasion was a notable one;
and the opera was new to Ravenna; and everybody wished to hear every
note of it. The Marchese Ludovico was not, however, in the Castelmare
box, when his uncle reached it, but he came in a minute afterwards. He
had been up to the upper tier of boxes to say a word to Paolina and her
old friend, who were in the box he had provided for them, which was on
the opposite side of the house to the Castelmare box; and exactly over
that in the "piano nobile" in which were the Marchesa Anna Lanfredi, and
her niece the Contessa Violante.

There was a little noise in the house of people not yet seated during
the opening chorus of villagers; but when the prima donna came on the
stage as Amina, after the prolonged and repeated rounds of applause,
which greeted her appearance, had subsided, a pin's fall might have been
heard in the theatre.

The Marchese Ludovico had joined cordially and boisterously, and the
Marchese Lamberto more moderately, in the applause which had saluted the
entrance of the Diva; and after that the latter had placed himself in
the corner of the box, with his back to the audience, and his face
towards the stage, and with an opera-glass at his eyes, he sat perfectly
still, feeding his passion with every glance, every change of feature,
and every movement of the woman who had enthralled him.

Then came the famous song of Amina, the happy village-bride about to be
married on the morrow to her lover--the tenor of course. The Diva sang
it admirably, and acted it equally well. The purest girlish innocence
was expressed in every trait of her features and manifested itself in
every gesture and every movement. The perfect, trusting, happy love of a
fresh and innocent heart could have had no better representative.

The recitative, "Care compagne," etc, addressed to the assembled
villagers, fell from her lips with a purity of enunciation that made
each syllable seem like a note from a silver bell. And then the air,
"Come per me sereno," held the house entranced till the final note of
it. And then burst forth such a frantic shout of applause and delight as
can be heard only in an Italian theatre.

Ludovico leant far out of the stage-box in which he sat, and joined
vociferously in the plaudits with both hand and voice. But the Marchese
remained quiet in his corner, with his face half-shaded by his hand,
conscious as he was that the expression of it might need hiding from the
others in the box. He need not have heeded them; for their attention was
too exclusively occupied with the stage for them to expend any of it on
him. Had it been otherwise his hand, covering the lower half of his
face, would not have sufficed to conceal his emotion.

Now again the hot fit of his love was in the ascendant. Never had Bianca
more thoroughly captivated him. Never had it seemed to him less possible
to live without her. What to him were all these dull and empty
blockheads for whom he had hitherto lived, and who were now--the foul
fiend seize them!--sharing with him the delight of seeing and hearing
her for the last time. Yes, it should be for the last time. He would
make her his, all his own; and carry her far away from all that could
remind either her or himself of their past lives. And then a scowl of
displeasure came over his face as his glance lighted on his nephew's
noisy and unrestrained manifestations of enthusiastic admiration.

Presently, towards the end of the first act, came the duet between Amina
and her lover, who has been made causelessly jealous, and Bianca sang
the pretty lines--

   "Son, mio bene, del zeffiro amante,
    Perche ad esso il tuo nome confido.
    Amo il sol, perche teco il divido,
    Amo il rio, perche l'onda ti da,"

with a sweetness of expression perfectly irresistible. The Marchese in
his corner, half-shrouded from the observation of the house by the
curtain, which, though undrawn, hung down by the side of the box, but
fully facing the stage, was perfectly aware that the singer had
specially addressed herself to him; and he felt the full force of the
loving rebuke for the unreasonable displeasure he had so recently
manifested in her dressing-room. His heart went out towards her; and he
felt that if it were to be done that moment, he could have led her to
the altar in the face of all Christendom.

At the end of the act the plaudits were again vociferous, and four times
was the smiling and triumphant Diva compelled by the calls and clamour
of her worshippers to return before the curtain to receive their
applause and salute them in return for it. The Marchese Ludovico again
loudly and enthusiastically joined in these manifestations; and then,
when they were over, and the noise in the house had subsided, he quietly
slipped out of the box, and springing up the stairs which communicated
with the upper tier of boxes, entered that occupied by Paolina and the
Signora Orsola Steno.

"What did you think of that, Paolina mia?" he said, sitting down by her
side, and making the action of applauding with his hands, as he spoke.
"Did you ever hear a thing more charmingly sung? Is she not divine?"

"There is no mistaking your opinion on the point, at all events, amico
mio. I never saw anybody manifest such unbounded admiration as you did
just now. But the Diva was not thinking of you, I can tell you," said
Paolina, with just the slightest possible flavour of pique in her tone.

"Thinking of me; I should imagine not indeed. But what upon earth have
you got into that dear little head of yours, my Paolina? Did not you
think both singing and acting very fine?"

"Certainly I think her voice is perhaps the finest I ever heard in my
life; and she is no doubt a great actress--a very great actress;
but--she is not simpatica to me. I don't know why, but--somehow or
other--I don't like her."

"What can you have got into your head, tesoro mio? You know nothing of
her; you have nothing to do with her except to see and hear her on the
stage."

"No; thank heaven! I should not like that she should come any nearer to
my life than that," replied Paolina, with a little shudder.

"Come, Paolina, you must admit that that is being prejudiced and
unreasonable," said Ludovico smiling at her.

"Yes; I suppose it is. But--Ludovico mio, just ask any other woman--any
other good woman--in the house; and see if they have not the same
feeling. The Contessa Violante, for example--ask her," said Paolina.

"Just because she is splendidly handsome: women cannot be just to each
other when that comes in the way. But you might afford to be charitable
even to so beautiful a creature as the Lalli, my Paolina."

"No, Signor, I won't be bribed by compliments, even from you," she
whispered, with a look that showed that the value of the bribe was not
unappreciated; "and I think that what you say is unjust to women in
general."

"But I wonder what it is then that has prejudiced you against the
Lalli?"

"I don't know. Really nothing that I can tell. One feels sometimes what
one cannot explain. She is not simpatica to me, that is all."

"But what on earth put it into your head, Paolina mia, to say that she
was not thinking of me when she was singing her part? Why should she
think of me--or of anybody else, except the primo tenore, who was
singing with her? What is it you mean?" said Ludovico, much puzzled.

"You said she was a very good actress as well as a fine singer,"
returned Paolina; "and I think she is. This is a capital box for seeing
all that goes on the opposite side of the theatre. And I can tell you
who the Lalli was thinking of, and who she was singing at during her
duet at the end of the act--your uncle, the Marchese Lamberto; and he
knew it very well, too."

"What parcel of nonsense have you got into your little brains, Paolina?
Sing at the Marchese? Of course they all do; of course they all know
that his suffrage is of more importance to them than all the rest of the
theatre put together. But as for my idea of--lo zio--of all men in the
world. Ha, ha, ha! If you had lived in Ravenna instead of Venice all
your life, carina mia, you would know how infinitely absurd the idea
seems of there being anything between the Marchese Lamberto and a stage
singer, or of its being possible for him to regard her in any other
light than that of a singing machine."

"I dare say you are right, caro mio. Still I can't quite think that the
Marchese would look at any one of the fiddles quite as I saw him look at
her," said Paolina.

And then the immense interval, which occurs between one act and another
in Italian theatres, and which is tolerated with perfect contentment by
Italian audiences, came to an end; and Ludovico hurried down to take his
place again in the Castelmare box.

The next point in the opera which excited the special enthusiasm of the
house was the impassioned finale to the second act, in which Amina on
her knees strives to convince her lover of her innocence of having ever
harboured a thought inconsistent with entire devotion to him. She sang
as if her whole soul were in her words; and the entire theatre was
electrified by the power of her acting; the entire theatre, with the
exception of one intelligent and observant little face in a box on the
upper tier, exactly opposite to that of the Marchese Lamberto.

From that vantage-ground of observation Paolina saw perfectly well both
the singer on the stage and the Marchese in the box; and again felt sure
that the actress was specially addressing herself with an implied
meaning to the latter; and that he was aware that she was doing so. She
felt no doubt that the motive for this was exactly that to which
Ludovico had attributed it. It was important to the Diva to flatter and
make a friend of so powerful a theatrical patron as the Marchese; and
she took this very objectionable method, Paolina thought, of attaining
that end. Paolina thought nothing more than this; but, nevertheless, it
made her conceive a dislike for the Diva greater, perhaps, than the
cause would seem to justify.

The interval between the second and the third act Ludovico thought
himself obliged to pass in the box of the Marchese Anna Lanfredi, in
which Violante was sitting with her aunt. There, too, he found the
ladies not quite disposed to be as frantically enthusiastic in their
praises of the singer as the whole male part of the audience. The
Marchesa Lanfredi thought that La Lalli was nothing at all in comparison
with some singer who had charmed all Bologna some forty years before.
And Violante, admitting that she had an exquisite voice and perfect
method, confessed much as Paolina had done, that she did not quite like
her, she hardly knew why.

In the third act, the song sung by the sleep-walker in her state of
unconsciousness--"Ah non credea mirarti,"--was a great success. And most
fascinatingly lovely the Diva looked in her white night-dress, with her
wreath of rich auburn tresses hanging in luxuriant curls around her
shoulders.

Shortly after this had been sung a liveried servant entered the
Castelmare box, bearing a most superb bouquet of choice flowers, tied
with a long streamer of broad rose-coloured ribbon, and deposited it on
the front of the box.

And then came the joyful finale "Ah non giunge." And in that the Diva
seemed to surpass herself. It was a passionate carol of love, and joy,
and triumph in which she seemed to pour the whole force and energy of
her soul into the words and sounds that told the truth, the entirety,
the perfection of her love, and the overwhelming happiness the
recognition of it by its object gave her.

For many minutes the vociferous applause continued. The stage was
covered with flowers flung from all sides of the house. The Marchese
Lamberto whispered a word or two to Ludovico; and then the latter,
leaning far out of the box, presented the magnificent bouquet to Bianca,
who was smiling and thanking the public for their plaudits by repeated
curtsies, and who came for it to the side of the stage. She made a very
low and graceful curtsey to Ludovico, as she took it from his hand; but
her eyes thanked the Marchese Lamberto, who still remained close in his
corner, for the gift.

The fact was that he was too much moved by violent and contending
emotions to dare to trust himself to hand the flowers himself. He knew
that he was shaking in every limb; and, therefore, had told his nephew
to give the bouquet; which, indeed, it was quite a matter of course that
a successful prima donna should receive from that box on such an
occasion.

Again and again the curtain had to be raised after it had descended in
obedience to the cries of the spectators, who were determined to make
the Diva's triumph complete. Again and again she had to step back on the
stage and make yet one more bow and smile--yet one more gracious smile.

During this delay the Marchese Lamberto slipped from his box and made
his way behind the scenes. "Can you feel as Bianca what you can so
divinely express as Amina?" he whispered in her ear as he gave her his
arm to lead her to her carriage at the stage-door.

"Try me as Amina was tried; and reward me as Amina was rewarded, and
then see," she replied in the same tone.

And so ended Bianca Lalli's Carnival engagement at Ravenna.



CHAPTER IV

The Marchese Lamberto's Correspondence


The next morning--the morning of the Monday after the gala performance
at the theatre--the post brought to the Palazzo Castelmare a letter from
Rome, before the Marchese had left his chamber. The servant took it to
his master's room, found him still in bed, though awake, and left it on
the table by his bedside.

The Marchese Lamberto was, and had been all his life, far too busy a man
to be a late riser. Italians, indeed, who do nothing all day long, are
often very early risers. Their, climate leads them to be so. They sleep
during hours which are less available for being out of doors--for your
Italian idler passes very little of his day in his own home--and they
are up and out during the delicious hours of the early morning. But the
Marchese Lamberto, whose days were filled with the multiplicity of
occupations and affairs that have been described in a previous chapter,
was wont, at all times of the year, to rise early.

On the present occasion, a sleepless night--and such nights, also, were
a new phenomenon in the Marchese's life--might have been a reason for
his being late. But he was not sleeping when his servant took the letter
in to him. The frame of mind in which he returned from the theatre has
been described. It lasted till he fell into a feverish sleep, soon after
going to his bed.

The dreams that made such sleep anything but rest may be easily guessed.
He was startled from them by the fancy that the kisses of Bianca burned
his lips; that it was a scorching flame, that he was pressing in his
arms, the contact of which turned all his blood to liquid fire.

He slept no more during the night. And the good that had seemed to him,
as he sate in his box at the opera, more desirable than all the other
goods the world could give, seemed good no longer; seemed, in the dark
stillness of his night-thoughts, like a painted bait, with which the
arch-tempter was luring him to his ruin and destruction.

Restlessly turning on his bed with a deep sigh, and pressing his hot
hand to his yet hotter brow, he took the letter that had been brought
him, and saw that it was from his Roman friend and correspondent,
Monsignore Paterini:

"Illusmo Signor Marchese E Mio Buono E Colendmo Amico," the letter
ran--"Seeing that the subject of my letter is matter adapted rather to
Carnival than to Lenten tide, I hasten to write so that it may reach
your lordship before the festive season is over. That your friends in
Rome are never forgetful of one, who so eminently deserves all their
best thoughts and good wishes, I trust I need not tell you. But in this
our Rome, where so many interests are the unceasing care of so many
powerful friends and backers, it needs such merit as that of your
lordship to make the efforts of friends successful."

"Understand, then, that his Holiness has been kept constantly aware of
all that Ravenna--the welfare of which ancient and noble city is
especially dear to him--owes to your constant and intelligent efforts
for the advancement of true civilization and improvement, as
distinguished from all that innovators, uninfluenced by the spirit of
religion, vainly, boast as such. Specially, our Holy Father has been
pleased by the energy, tact, and truly well-directed zeal, with which
you have succeeded in bringing to a satisfactory conclusion the thorny
and difficult business of the Spighi property, on which all the welfare
of our well-beloved Sisters in Christ the Augustines of St. Barnaba so
greatly depends. The lady superior of that well-deserving house is, as
you are aware, the sister of his Eminence the Cardinal Lattoli; and so
signal a service rendered in that direction is, as I need hardly tell
your lordship, not likely to be forgotten."

"It is under these circumstances that I have the great satisfaction of
having it in my power to inform your lordship, that it is the gracious
purpose of our Holy Father to mark his approbation and satisfaction at
the conduct of your illustrious lordship in this matter, in a manner
that, while it manifests to the whole world the care of his Holiness for
every portion of the dominions of the Holy Church, will, I doubt not, be
highly gratifying to yourself at the present time, and will redound to
the future glory and distinction of your noble family. It is, in a word,
the intention of the Holy Father to confer on your lordship the Grand
Cross of the Most Noble Order of the Santo Spirito. And it is further
the benignant purpose and wish of his Holiness to present you with this
most honourable mark of his approbation with his own sovereign hand."

"We may therefore hope--myself and your numerous other friends in this
city--to see you here before long. Doubtless the tidings, which I have
been anxious to be the first to give you, will be very shortly
communicated to you in a more official manner. I fancy, indeed, that I
shall not have been able to be much beforehand with the official
announcement. Make your arrangements, then, I beseech you, to give us as
long a visit as you can steal from the grave cares of watching over the
interests of your beloved Ravenna. There are many here who are anxious
to renew their acquaintance, and, if he will permit them to say so,
their friendship with the Marchese di Castelmare. And, if I may venture
to do so, my dear friend, I would, before closing my letter, whisper
that, with due care and a little activity, the present favour of our
Holy Father may be but the earnest of other things."

"The future, however, is in God's hands, and man is but as grass.
Nevertheless, as far as it is permissible to judge of the human agencies
by which the Heavenly Providence brings about its ends, I should say
that your Legate, his Eminence the Cardinal Marliani, was, of all the
present Fathers of the Church, one of the most deserving of our regards
and respect. Should you have a fitting opportunity of allowing his
Eminence to become aware how strongly such have always been my
sentiments, and how unceasingly I endeavour to impress them on others, I
should esteem it as a favour. It is well that merit even so exalted as
his should know that it is appreciated."

"Omit not, my friend, to offer to the Marchese Ludovico, your nephew,
the expression of my most distinguished regard and respect; and believe
me, Illusmo Signor Marchese, of your Excellency the devoted friend and
most obedient servant,"

"Giuseppe Paterini"

Before the Marchese had read the wordy epistle of his correspondent half
through, he raised himself briskly to an upright sitting posture in his
bed, his head was lifted with a proud movement from its drooping
attitude, and an expression of gratified pride and pleasure came into
his eyes. The much-coveted distinction which was now, he was told, to be
his, had long been the object of his eager ambition. And the manner in
which it was to be conferred on him--the attitude he should stand in
with reference to his friend the Cardinal Legate--all contributed to
make the occasion gratifying to him.

He rang his bell sharply for his servant, and said he would get up at
once.

The valet said that there was a servant from the Legate's palace below,
with a letter for the Marchese from the Cardinal--that, fearing his
master was not well, and might be getting a little sleep, he, the valet,
had been unwilling to bring the letter up; but that the man was waiting
his Excellency's pleasure, as he had been ordered to ask for an answer.

Doubtless this was the official communication of which Paterini spoke,
or the forerunner of it. The Marchese desired his man to bring him the
Cardinal's letter directly.

Yes; the pleasant duty having fallen to the lot of the Cardinal of
making a communication to the Marchese, which would doubtless be highly
gratifying to him, his Eminence was anxious to seize the earliest
opportunity of performing so agreeable a task; and would be happy to see
the Marchese at one o'clock that day, if that hour suited his lordship's
convenience.

"Delighted to have the honour of waiting on his Eminence at the hour
named."

The Marchese put the two letters on his toilet-table, and proceeded to
dress. They were large letters. That from Monsieur Paterini was written
on a sheet of foolscap paper, and addressed in a large strong hand, with
the word RAVENNA in letters half an inch high. That from the Cardinal
was contained in a large square envelope, sealed with a huge seal
bearing his Eminence's arms under a Cardinal's hat, with its long
many-tailed tassels hanging down on either side.

What a triumph would be this journey to Rome. What a yet greater triumph
the return from it. The Legate would certainly hold a special state
reception to welcome him back, and give him an opportunity of showing
the new order to all his fellow-citizens. What a proud hour it would be.

The Marchese was indulging in these thoughts; dressing himself the
while, and looking every now and then at the two letters lying on his
table, when a footman tapped at the door and handed to the valet, who
was attending on his master, yet a third epistle. Unlike the Cardinal's
servant, the man who had brought it had simply left it, and gone away
without saying anything about an answer.

This third letter did not resemble its two predecessors--at least on the
outside--at all. It was a very little letter; not a quarter of the size
of either of the others; and the seal wherewith it was sealed was not a
tenth of the size of that of his Eminence; also, instead of being white
like the Cardinal's, or whity-yellow like the Prelate's, it was
rose-coloured, and delicately perfumed. And the superscription, "All'
Illmmo Sigr il Sigr Marchese Lamberto di Castelmare," was written in
very daintily pretty and delicate small characters; as unmistakably
feminine a letter as ever a gentleman received.

The Marchese's face changed visibly as the little missive was put into
his hands. Yet he opened it eagerly, and opened his nostrils to the
perfume, which exhaled from it, with a greedily sensuous seeming of
pleasure.

This letter ran as follows:--"Dearest And Best,--If you were not indeed
and indeed so to me, could I have ever suffered the vow that binds us
mutually to each other to have been uttered?--Dearest and best, I write
mainly, I think, for the mere pleasure of addressing you. For I am sure
that it is not necessary to ask you to come to me. You can guess how
eagerly I wish to speak to you; to hear from you that you have dismissed
for ever those horrid thoughts that you vexed me with at the theatre
last night. I longed so to have sung the words I had to utter for your
ears--to your ears only: 'Amo il zeffiro, perche ad esso il tuo nome
confido.' Ah, Lamberto, if you knew how true that is. It is often--how
often--the singer's duty to utter on the stage the words of passion. But
what a thing it is--a thing I never dreamed before--to feel them as I
utter them. The opera did not go badly, did it? I think the success was
a legitimate one. But what is any success or any applause now to me,
save yours? I felt that I was singing to one only, as one only was in my
heart and in my thoughts. Do not let many hours pass before you come to
me, my love, my lord! For they go very slowly and heavily, these hours;
and as I trace the movement of the tardy hour-hand on the clock, I grow
sick with longing, and with hope deferred. Come to me, my dearest and my
best. Your own,"

"Bianca"

"P. S.--I have mentioned our engagement to no soul save my father; of
course you did not wish me to exclude him from our confidence. He is
fully worthy of it."

The Marchese sunk down into the chair that stood before his
toilet-table, with the little letter in his hand; and his hand shook,
and his eyes were dizzy, and there was a buzzy ringing in his ears. And
still the perfume from the pink paper rose to his nostrils, and seemed
to his fancy as though it were a poison that he had neither the power
nor the will to defend himself from.

He had put the little pink note down on the table where the two other
letters were, and sat looking at the three. They were manifestly,
fatally incompatible. Either the two big letters must be thrown to the
winds--they and their contents for ever--together with all thought of
honours, high social standing, and admiring respect of the world; or the
little pink note must be crushed at once and for ever, and its
writer--ah!--made to understand, to begin with, that the Marchese di
Castelmare did not know his own mind; that his offer and his plighted
word were not to be trusted.

The letters lying there on the table before him, as he sat gazing at
them almost without the power of anything that merited to be called
thought, represented themselves to his fancy as living agencies of
contrasted qualities and powers. The two large missives from his
ecclesiastical friends were creditable and useful steeds; harmless,
wholesome in blood and nature, big and pacific, apt for service, and
good for drawing him on to honour, success, and prosperity. The little
pink note was a scorpion with a power a thousand-fold greater, for its
size--a sharp, venomous, noxious power, stinging to the death, yet
imparting with its sting a terrible, a fatal delight, an acrid fierce
pleasure, which once tasted could not by any mortal strength of
resolution be dashed away from the lips.

He took the sweet-scented little paper in his hand and read it through
again. And his veins seemed to run with fire as he read. Then for the
first time he saw the postscript. It had escaped his notice before. That
old man had been informed that he had offered marriage to the girl he
called his daughter and had been accepted.

It might not be so easy to crush the little pink scorpion note, and
liberate himself from the writer of it. Proof? There might be no legal
evidence to show that he had ever made such a promise. Yet, to have such
an assertion made by Bianca and her father,--to have to deny the fact,
knowing it to be true!--he, Lamberto di Castelmare! Great God! what was
before him?

Then there was that woman, the servant, too. Might it not well be that
she, too, knew the promise he had made; overheard him possibly; set to
do so--likely enough! What was he to do?--what was he to do?

Something he must do quickly. The Cardinal Legate was expecting him at
one o'clock, and--would it be best to drive Bianca from his mind till
afterwards? Go to her he must in the course of the day!

Then, suddenly as a lightning-flash, he saw her before him as he had
gazed on her at the theatre overnight in her white night-dress, uttering
those words of passionate love--love which she told him was all
addressed to him,--which she was pining to speak to him again.

That, then, it was in his power to have, and to have now,--now at once.
"Ahi, ahi!" he gnashed, through his ground teeth, closing his eyes as
the besieging vision postured itself in every seductive guise before the
suggestions of his fancy. Ah, God! what were Cardinals, and Crosses, and
place and station, or all the world beside, to one half-hour in those
arms?

Come what come might, he would see her first before going to the
Cardinal.

Snatching his hat, cane, and gloves, breakfastless as he was, he hurried
out of the house half mad with the passion that was consuming him, yet
with enough of the old thoughts about him to turn away, on quitting his
own door, from the direction of the Porta Sisi, and to seek the goal of
his thoughts by the most unfrequented route he could find.



CHAPTER V

Bianca at Home


Quinto Lalli and Bianca were sitting together in the parlour of their
apartments in the Strada di Porta Sisi, that same Monday morning just
after the little pink note had been despatched to the Marchese. Bianca
was having her breakfast--a small quantity of black coffee in a
drinking-glass, brought, together with a roll of dry bread, from the
cafe. Old Lalli was not partaking of her repast, having previously
enjoyed a similar meal, with the addition of a modicum of some horrible
alcoholic mixture, called "rhume," poured into the coffee at the cafe in
the next street.

"That will bring him fast enough," said the old man, alluding to the
note which had been just despatched. "The game is quite in your own
hands, as I told you from the beginning it would be. That postscript was
a capital thought."

The postscript in question, which, it may be remembered, had not added
to the pleasure the billet had given the Marchese, had been added at the
suggestion of old Lalli himself.

"I would rather not have written it," replied Bianca, peevishly. "It
looked too much like putting the screw on--I don't like it."

"Be reasonable, bambina mia, whatever you are. How, in the name of all
the Saints, do you imagine that you are to become Marchesa di Castelmare
without putting the screw on--and that pretty sharply too? The man is as
thoroughly caught as ever man was caught by a woman; and I tell you,
therefore, that the game is in your own hands. But you don't suppose
that he is burningly eager to solicit the honour of your alliance, che
diamine?"

"Don't, Quinto; don't go on in that way. I tell you I hate it all,"
returned Bianca.

"Cars mia, you are in an irrational humour this morning. Do you like the
old game better? It don't pay, bambina mia, as you have found out; and,
above all, it won't last. But I am sure you have reason to be satisfied
with your success this season in any way. I never heard you sing better
in my life than you did last night; and, to say the truth, these people
seemed to appreciate it."

"I tell you, I hate it all--all--all!" said Bianca, as she swallowed the
last drop of her coffee, and threw herself on the sofa in an attitude of
languor and ennui.

"You are unreasonable, Bianca, you are not like yourself this morning; I
don't know what is come to you. What in the world do you like, or what
do you want?" said the old man, looking at her with a puzzled air.

"Did you see the Marchese Ludovico in a box on the right-hand side on
the second tier with that Venetian girl, the artist?"

"The Marchese Ludovico was in the left-hand stage-box with his uncle."

"Of course he was; but I mean between the acts. I saw him from the wing
by the side of that girl with her face the colour of mahogany, and her
half-alive look. I hate the look of her, and I know she hates me!"

Old Quinto looked at his pupil curiously for a minute before he replied
to her.

"What do you mean, Bianca mia?" he said, at last; "and what, in the name
of all the Saints, is the Venetian girl to you, or you to her? Did you
ever speak to her? Why should she hate you?"

"I tell you, she does. We women can always see those things without
needing to be told them; and she knows, you may be very sure, that I
hate her."

"But why? What is she to you?" reiterated the old man.

"You asked me, just now, what I wanted. I want, if you must know, what I
can never have--what the Venetian girl last night was getting."

"And what was she getting? I don't understand you, upon my soul!" said
Quinto, staring at her, and utterly puzzled.

"What was she getting? Love!--that was what she was getting! Ludovico
loves her," said Bianca, raising herself on her elbow, and speaking with
fierce bitterness.

"Tu, tu, tu, tu, tu, tu!" whistled Quinto, between his pursed-up lips.
"But I thought, bambina mia, that you were going to love the Marchese
Lamberto, and be a good wife to him, and all the rest of it, according
to the rules and practices of the best-regulated domestic family
circles; and I--I was so rejoiced to hear it," said the old reprobate,
casting up his eyes and hands.

"Don't, Quinto; don't talk in that manner, or you'll drive me beyond
myself. I can't bear it."

"But did you not say that you loved the Marchese Lamberto?" persisted
Quinto, dropping his mocking tone, however.

"I said that I liked him better than any of the men I have known; that I
admired him as a fine and noble gentleman; that I would be a good and
true wife to him,--and should love him," she added, with a burst of
bitterness, "better than he ever will, or can, love me."

"Well, come now, bambina mia. If you think that the Marchese is not
enough in love with you, you must have a strong appetite, indeed, and be
very hard to content. Why, if there ever was a man thoroughly caught,
fascinated--"

"Bah! Love! Ludovico loves the Venetian," said Bianca, with an
expressive emphasis on the verb.

"Ludovico, again! I protest I don't understand you, Bianca. But there,
when a man has come to my age he don't expect ever to understand a
woman. You did not want Ludovico, as you call him, to love you, did
you?"

"No: but--"

And Bianca stopped short, and seemed to fall into a sort of reverie.

"But what? If you mean that you wanted to have the uncle for a husband,
and the nephew for a lover, that is intelligible enough. The game would
have been a dangerous one. But there is no reason why you should not say
it plainly between friends."

"I tell you, Quinto, I won't hear you speak to me in that tone," said
Bianca, turning on him fiercely, and with flashing eyes. "Did I ever do
anything to attract him?" she added,--"did I try to make him love me? Do
you think that the Venetian would have stood in the way if I had chosen
to do so? I never did! I meant, if the Marchese would make me his wife,
to be true and loyal to him; though he himself seems to think it
impossible that I should be so. You know that I have never attempted to
attract Ludovico in any way."

"Very well then; let his Venetian have him in peace," said Quinto,
shrugging his shoulders.

"Why, then, does that girl hate me as she does? What harm have I ever
done her?" returned Bianca.

"Why should you think she does hate you?" expostulated Quinto.

"I have told you that I saw it. I saw it in her eyes when Ludovico was
handing me the bouquet;--which he only did because his uncle told him to
do it. She would have blasted me to death with her look at that moment
if she could have done it;--I have a good mind--a very good mind--"

"Be guided by me this once for the last time, as you have so often been
before; bambina mia," said Quinto, who thought that he now understood
the real state of the case; "make sure of your own game first. Make all
safe with the Marchese Lamberto. When you are the Marchesa di Castelmare
it will be time to take any revenge on the Venetian you please."

"Ah--h--h--h!" sighed Bianca, shaking her head with an expression of
disgust; "you understand nothing about it, Quinto; you can't--of course
you can't. Gia," she continued, after a pause of thought; "yes, I could
take from her, poor fool, what she has; but could I, Bianca Lalli, take
it and keep it for myself? Ah me, it is weary work! You might as well go
and flaner, Quinto; for I must dress ready for the Marchese, in case he
comes this morning."

"He'll come sure enough," said Quinto; as he prepared to leave the room.

"It's quite time, then, that I made myself ready to receive him,"
returned Bianca, getting up from the sofa.

"Amo il zeffiro, perche a lui suo nome confido," she sang, as she turned
listlessly to go to her chamber; and despite what she had said--and said
with perfect sincerity to her adopted father--it may be feared that the
suo did not refer in the singer's mind to the Marchese Lamberto.

Quinto Lalli was in the act of shutting the sitting-room door behind
him, when the outer door of the apartment opened and Ludovico appeared
in the doorway. He was the very last man whom Quinto, with the ideas in
his head which the above conversation with Bianca had put into it, would
have wished to see there. And perhaps there was something in his manner
of meeting the visitor that enabled the Marchesino to perceive that he
was not just then welcome.

"A thousand pardons," he said, in an easy, careless manner, "for coming
at so indiscreetly early an hour; but I could not refrain from just
saying one word to the Signorina Bianca on her last night's triumph, and
I shall have no opportunity of seeing her later in the day."

"Bianca," called out Quinto, re-opening the door he was closing, and
putting his head back into the room, "here's the Marchese Ludovico
wishes to speak to you." If the old man had not been a little bit out of
humour with his adopted daughter he would probably have found some
excuse for getting rid of the inopportune visitor.

"Pray let the Signor Marchese come in," returned Bianca, turning back
from the door of her bed-room, rather to the surprise of Signor
Quinto;--and Ludovico passed on into the sitting-room as the old man
went out and shut the outer door behind him.

Bianca, as she had said, had been about to dress to receive the Marchese
Lamberto; and Ludovico thus caught her (really surprised this time) in
her morning toilette. But there was nothing in her dress to prevent her
from being with propriety presentable, or, indeed, to prevent her from
looking very charming in her dishabille. Nevertheless, she did not
intend, as we have seen, to present herself without further adornment to
the Marchese Lamberto; and it was not without a certain feeling of
bitterness at her heart that she said to herself, "What does it
signify?" as she cast a glance at her looking-glass before stepping back
into the sitting-room to receive her visitor.

"Really, Signora, I don't know how to apologize sufficiently for thus
breaking in upon you," said Ludovico, coming forward to meet her; "but I
could not refrain from calling to say one word of congratulation. Can
you forgive me?"

"I hardly know whether I can," said Bianca, half pouting and half
laughing, and looking wholly beautiful; "to be seen when they are not
fit to be seen is an offence which we others, women, find it difficult
to forgive, you know."

"But that is an offence which, in the nature of things, cannot be
committed against the Signora Bianca Lalli," retorted Ludovico, with a
low bow, half earnest and half in fun, and a look of admiration that was
entirely sincere. "But the fact is," he continued, "that I really was
impatient to be the first to make you my compliments on last night's
immense success. To tell you that I never heard a part sung as you sang
that of Amina last night would, perhaps, appear to you to be saying
little. But I do assure you the whole city is saying that there never
was anything like it. It was superb! Perfect! Perhaps the praise of all
Ravenna is not worth very much to one who has had that of all Italy.
But, at all events, my uncle is a competent judge--and he is not an easy
one. And I do assure you he was moved as I never saw him moved by music
before."

"He is very good--too kind to me. He was good enough to see me to my
carriage at the theatre last night; and he said some word that makes me
think he purposes doing me the honour of coming here to give me the
advantage of his criticism on last night's performance," said Bianca,
who was anxious to let her visitor understand the desirability of
avoiding being caught there by his uncle.

"Yes, I am sure he would not fail to bring his tribute of admiration
this morning," returned Ludovico, carelessly; "but he will not be here
yet awhile. He is an early man in general, lo zio; but he has not been
well latterly. You must have seen yourself, Signorina, how changed he is
since you have known him. I really begin to be uneasy about him. You
must surely have observed how ill he is looking."

"I am so grieved to hear you say so. Of course any change must be far
more evident to those who have known him all his life. But I should have
said that I had rarely or never seen so remarkably young-looking a man
for his years. The Marchese happened to tell me once that he is fifty or
not far from it. It seemed to me impossible to believe it," said Bianca,
who understood perfectly well how and why it came to pass that the
Marchese should latterly be a changed man.

"Three months ago he might have well passed for five-and-thirty; but,
per Bacco, he looks his years now every day of them--and more, too, il
povero zio."

"Nay, Signor Ludovico, I think your regard for your uncle makes you
think him worse than he is. I thought he was looking very well at the
theatre last night," replied Bianca, knowing nothing more to the purpose
to say.

"At the theatre. Ah! perhaps. He was pleased and excited. I did not
specially remark him last night. But, the truth is, I am not easy about
him."

"I feel very much persuaded, Signor Ludovico, that you are alarming
yourself unnecessarily. Your fears are excited by your affection for
your uncle. I doubt whether many nephews in your position, Signor
Marchese, would feel as much anxiety about the health of an uncle whose
heirs they were; not that I mean, of course, Signor, to insinuate that
you are dependent on your uncle," added Bianca, who felt considerable
curiosity to know how matters stood in the Castelmare family in this
respect.

"Faith, though, I am dependent on him," returned Ludovico, with the most
careless frankness. "I have not a bajocco in the world but what comes to
me from him. But lo zio is more generous than uncles often are to their
nephews who are to be their heirs. And I am in no hurry to succeed to
him, I assure you."

"I am sure that would not be in your nature in any case, Signor
Ludovico," returned Bianca; "but there is some excuse for those being in
a hurry whose future depends on the caprice of old people," she added,
fishing for further information.

"But my future does depend upon his caprice--in one way, at all events.
Suppose my uncle should take it into his head to marry, and have a
family. There is nothing to prevent him. Many an older man than he by a
great deal has done so. And if that were to happen, there is not a
beggar in all Ravenna who is a poorer man than I should be. Only that lo
zio is about the most unlikely man to marry in all Italy, it is a thing
that might happen any day."

"Why should the Signor Marchese be so unlikely to marry? One would say,
to look at him, that it was not such an unlikely thing. Suppose some
designing woman were to make the attempt?"

"There does not exist the woman who could have the faintest shadow of
success in such an enterprise, Signora. If you could tell how often the
thing has been tried! He is seasoned, lo zio is. Besides, he never was a
man given much to falling in love at any time of his life. I don't think
he is much an admirer of the sex, to tell you the truth. No; there is no
fear of that."

There was a silence of some minutes, and Bianca seemed to have fallen
into a reverie; till, suddenly, raising her eyes, which had fallen
beneath their lashes, while she had been busy with her thoughts, she
said, looking up archly into Ludovico's face:

"Your attention, at all events, was not so fully occupied by the
performance last night, Signor, but that you had plenty of thoughts and
eyes at command for other matters."

"What do you mean, Signora? I am sure I was not only an attentive but a
delighted listener," said he, while the tell-tale blood flushed his
cheeks.

"Ah! I saw which way your glances and thoughts were wandering. We
artists see more things in the salle than you of the world before the
foot-lights think for. A very pretty little brunette, in No. 10 on the
upper tier, was quite equally aware of the direction of the Marchese
Ludovico's thoughts and looks."

"You might have seen not only my thoughts but me myself in the same box,
Signora, if you could have continued your observations after the curtain
was down. The lady you saw there is one for whom I have the highest
possible regard," said Ludovico, with a very slight shade of hauteur
quite foreign to his usual manner, in his tone.

It was very slightly marked, but not so slightly as to escape the notice
of Bianca, who perfectly well understood it and the meaning of it.

"I dare say she well deserves it; she looks as if she did," said the
Diva, with a pensive air, and a dash of melancholy in her voice. "I have
often wondered," she continued, after a moment's pause, "whether you
others, grand signori, ever ask yourselves, when you bestow such regards
as you speak of on a poor artist--I know who she is, merely an artist
like myself--what the result to the woman so loved is likely to be?"

"Signora!" cried Ludovico, provoked, exactly as Bianca had intended he
should be, into saying what he would not otherwise have allowed to
escape him, "permit me to assure you that, however pertinent such
speculations may be in other cases, which have doubtless fallen under
your observation, they are altogether the reverse of pertinent in the
present instance. The lady in question is, as you say, a poor artist;
not, perhaps, as you were also kind enough to say, one quite of the same
kind as yourself, neither so successful nor so celebrated"--he hastened
to add as he saw a sudden paleness come over the face of the singer, and
an expression sudden and rapidly repressed and effaced, of such a
concentration of wrath and hatred in her eyes, that momentary as it was,
pulled him up short with something very much akin to a feeling
resembling fear--"an artist neither so successful nor so celebrated as
the Signora Lalli, but, nevertheless, a lady whom it is the dearest wish
of my heart to call my wife."

"She is indeed, then, a most fortunate and happy woman," said Bianca,
who had perfectly recovered herself, with grave gentleness; "and I am
sure that neither I nor any sister artist have any right to envy her her
happiness. Would it seem presumption in a poor comedian to express her
earnest wish that you, too, Signor Ludovico, may find your happiness in
such a marriage?"

"Nay, don't speak in that tone!" said Ludovico, putting out his hand and
taking hers, which she readily gave him. "I accept your good wishes,
Signora, most thankfully. I do hope and think that I--that we shall find
happiness in our mutual choice. But, pray observe, Signora, that our
talk has led me into confiding a secret to you, that I have, as yet,
told to no living soul, and that it is important to me it should be kept
secret yet awhile longer. I know I may trust you; may I not?"

"Depend on it, Signor Marchese, your secret shall be quite safe with me.
But are you sure it is a secret? And then, do you know," continued the
Diva, resuming her air of pensive thought, "when I hear a man in your
position speaking with such noble truthfulness, the converse of the
thought that I angered you--very innocently, believe me--by expressing
just now, comes into my head. And I ask myself, if women in such a
position as the lady we speak of, are apt to take themselves to task
with sufficient strictness, as to what they are giving in return for all
that is offered to them."

"I don't quite understand your meaning, Signora," said Ludovico, who
really did not perceive the drift of his companion's words.

"I mean that a woman, so circumstanced, ought to be very sure that she
is giving her heart to the man who asks for it, and not to his position,
not to the advantages, to the wealth he offers her. She ought to feel
certain that, if all this--the advantages--the wealth were to vanish and
fly away, her love would remain the same. Suppose now--it is out of the
question, you tell me, but the case may be imagined all the
same--suppose your uncle, the Marchese, were to marry, would the
Venetian lady's love suffer no tittle of falling off?"

The red blood rushed to Ludovico's cheeks and brow, and then came an
angry gleam into his eyes. It was not that he resented the liberty which
his companion took in thus speaking to him. It was not, either, that he
felt indignant at the doubt cast, even hypothetically, on the purity of
his Paolina's love. It was rather the unreasoning animal anger against
the person who had given him pain. It was a stab to his heart, this germ
of a doubt thus placed there for the first time. He was conscious of the
pang, and resented it. In the next minute the hot flush passed from his
face, and he became very pale.

Bianca saw, and understood it all, as perfectly as if she could have
seen into his heart and brain.

"The doubt, you put before me, is so horrible an one that I could almost
wish it might be put to the test you speak of. But I have no such doubt.
However much your questioning may be justified by other examples, it is
not justified in the case of Paolina. I know her; I know her heart, and
the perfect truthfulness that wells up from the depths of her honest
eyes."

No amount of ready histrionism was sufficient to prevent a very meaning,
though momentary, sneer from passing over the beautiful face of the
singer as Ludovico spoke thus. But he was too much excited by his own
thoughts and words to perceive it.

"I trust that you may be right, Signor Marchese. I have no doubt that
you are right. Believe me that I have ventured to speak as I have
spoken, solely from interest in the welfare of one who has been so
uniformly good and kind to me as you have. Will you believe me, Signor
Ludovico, that I would do a good deal and bear a good deal to be able to
conduce to your happiness in any way?"

She put out her hand to him, as she spoke the last words, with her eyes
dropped to the ground, and with a feeling of genuine shyness, that was
quite surprising and puzzling to herself.

"Dear Signora, I will and do believe it with all my heart; and, in
truth, I am deeply grateful to you for your good will," said Ludovico,
really touched by the evident and genuine sincerity of her words.

"And now, I must ask you to leave me. I must dress myself and lose no
time about it. The Marchese will be here in a minute or two. And I could
not, you know, venture to receive him in the unceremonious manner which
you have been good enough to excuse."

She gave him a little sidelong look with half a laugh in her eyes, as
she said the latter words; and Ludovico, putting the tips of her fingers
to his lips before relinquishing her hand, bowed, and left her without
saying anything further.



CHAPTER VI

Paolina at Home


Ludovico had run up in a hurry to Bianca's lodging, as has been seen,
merely because it happened to be in his way, and because he had been
desirous, as he told her, of paying her his compliments on the success
of the preceding evening. He was hastening to pay another visit, in
which his heart was far more interested, and had not intended to remain
with La Lalli above five minutes. The conversation between them had
extended to a greater length; and the Marchesino, eager as he was to get
to the dear little room in the Via di Sta. Eufemia, would have made it
still longer, had not the Diva dismissed him.

The talk between them had become far more interesting than any which he
had thought likely to pass between him and the famous singer. This
horrible doubt--no, not a doubt--he had not, would not, could not doubt;
but this germ of a doubt deposited in his mind by the words she had
spoken? Could she have had any second motive for speaking as she had
done? Surely not; surely all her manner and her words showed
sufficiently clearly that she was actuated by kindly feelings towards
him and by no unkindly feeling towards Paolina. Yet unquestionably
Paolina's instinctive prejudice against her would not have been
diminished by a knowledge of what the Diva had said. Ludovico thought of
the bitter and burning indignation with which his darling would have
heard the expression of the possibility of a doubt of the uncalculating
purity and earnestness of her love.

Nevertheless he felt that he should have liked to talk further with
Bianca on the subject; of course only to convince her of the absolute
injustice of her suspicions. Still she was a woman, a fellow artist;
placed in some respects in the same position in relation to the world to
which he belonged, as his Paolina--in some respects similar; but oh,
thank God, how different! Yet women understood each other in a way a man
could never hope to understand them. What immediately struck Bianca,
struck her naturally and instinctively in this matter of a marriage
between him and the Venetian artist, was the idea that Paolina, almost
as a matter of course, was at least biassed in her acceptance of his
love by a consideration of the material advantages she would gain by it.
It was the natural thing then, the thing a priori to be expected, that a
girl in Paolina's position should be so influenced. Ludovico would fain
have questioned and cross-questioned La Bianca, his experienced
monitress, a little more on this point.

Yes, to be expected a priori. But when one knew Paolina; when one knew
her as he knew her, was it not impossible? Could it be that Paolina,
being such as he knew her in his inmost heart to be, should even
adulterate her love with interested calculations? He knew it was not so;
and yet--and yet other men had been as certain as he, and had been
deceived. In short the germ of doubt had been planted in his mind. And
Bianca well knew what she had been about when she planted it there.

Why had she done so? She spoke with perfect sincerity when she had told
him that she would do much and suffer much for his happiness. And yet
she had knowingly placed this thorn in his heart. Why could she not let
him, as Quinto Lalli had expressed it, have his Venetian in peace? She
spoke truly, moreover, when she said that, married to the Marchese
Lamberto, she fully purposed to make him a good and true wife; truly,
when she declared to old Lalli, and also to her own heart, that she
really did like and admire him much. And yet there was something in the
sight of the love of Ludovico and Paolina that was bitter, odious,
intolerable to her.

Ludovico hastened to the house in the Via di Santa Eufemia on quitting
that in the Via di Porta Sisi, not unhappy, not even uneasy; with no
recognized doubt, but with a germ of doubt in his mind.

Signora Orsola had gone out per fare le spese, to make the marketings
for the day; and he found Paolina alone. Such a tete-a-tete would have
been altogether contrary to all rules in the more strictly regulated
circles of Italian society. And it would have been all the more, and by
no means the less contrary to rule in consequence of the position in
which Ludovico and Paolina stood towards each other. But the world to
which Paolina belonged lives under a different code in these matters.
And ever since the day in which the memorable conversation between her
and her lover, which has been recorded in a former chapter, had taken
place, Paolina had never felt the smallest embarrassment or even shyness
in her intercourse with him. And she received him now with openly
expressed rejoicing, that the chance of Orsola's absence gave them the
opportunity of being for a little while alone together.

"I called at this early hour, tesoro mio," said Ludovico, "mainly to
tell you that I have made all the necessary arrangements at St.
Apollinare in Classe, and you can begin your work there as soon as you
like. What a dreary place it is. To think of my little Paolina working,
working away all by herself in that dismal old barn of a church out
there amid the swamps!"

"Oh, I shan't be a bit afraid. I am so accustomed to work all by
myself."

"No, there is nothing to be afraid of! Do you think I should let you go
there alone, if there were? You will find the scaffolding all ready for
you."

"Thanks, dearest, I am so much obliged to you; I should never have been
able to get my task done without your help. Ah, how strange things are!
To think, that that Englishman, in sending me here, should have been--"

"Should have been sending me my destined wife. Who ever in the world did
me so great a service as this Signor Vilobe, who never had a thought of
me in his mind."

"And if I had chanced not to be in the gallery at the Belle Arti that
day," rejoined Paolina, with a shudder at the thought of what the
consequences of such an absence would have been.

"You will have the great church entirely to yourself, anima mia," said
Ludovico; "there is not a soul near the place, save the old monk, who
keeps the keys, and a lay-brother, who was ill, the poor old frate said,
when I was there. It is a dreary place, my Paolina, and I am afraid you
will find your task a weary one. I fear it will be cold too."

"Oh, I don't mind that much! What is more important, is to get the job
done before the hot weather comes on. They say it is so unhealthy out
there, when the heat comes. What is the old frate like?"

"He is a very old, old man, and he looks as if fever and ague every
summer and autumn had pretty nearly made an end of him. He seemed quite
inclined to be civil and obliging. If he were not, you could knock him
down with a tap of your maulstick, I should think, though it be wielded
by such a tiny, dainty little bit of a hand," said Ludovico, lifting it
to his lips between both his as he spoke. "And now tell me," he
continued; "what did you think of the third act last night? Did she not
sing that finale superbly?"

"Superbly,--certainly the finest singing I heard. But--"

"What is the 'but,' anima mia? I confess I thought it perfect."

"So I suppose it was. But I think that perhaps I should have had more
pleasure in hearing a less magnificent singer, who was more simpatica to
me. I can't help it, but I do not like her; and I am sure I can't tell
why. I have no reason; but do you know, Ludovico mio, there was one
moment when, strange as it may seem, our eyes met--hers and mine--in the
theatre last night. It was just as she turned away from your box, when
you had put the bouquet into her hand. She looked up, and our eyes met;
and I can't tell you the strange feeling and impression that her look
made upon me. And I am quite sure that, for some unaccountable reason or
other, she does not like me. She looked at me--it was only half a moment
with a sort of mocking triumph and hatred in her eyes, that quite made
me shudder and turn cold.

"If it were not so entirely impossible, I should think you were jealous,
my little Paolina. If I were to--what shall we say?--if I were to set
out on a journey with la Diva, tete-a-tete, to travel from here to Rome,
should you be jealous?"

"With La Bianca?"

"Yes! with La Bianca."

"I don't know. I don't think that I should in earnest. I know in my
inmost heart, my own love, that you love me truly and entirely; I feel
it, I am sure of it. But all the same, I should rather that you did not
travel from here to Rome alone with La Lalli."

"That means that, to a certain degree, you are jealous, little one. Do
you think I should be uneasy if you were called on to travel under the
escort, for example, of our friend the Conte Leandro?"

"The Conte Leandro!" cried Paolina, laughing, "I am sure you ought to be
uneasy at the bare thought of such a thing, for you know how terrible it
would be to me. But is it quite the same thing, amico mio? La Lalli is
indisputably a very beautiful woman; and the Conte Leandro is--the Conte
Leandro. But it is not that she is beautiful. I don't know what it is.
There is something about her--ecco, I should not the least mind now your
travelling to the world's end, or being occupied in any other way, with
the Contessa Violante."

"She is not a beautiful woman, certainly."

"She is, at all events, fifty times more pleasing-looking, as well as
more attractive in every way, than the Conte Leandro. But that is not
what makes the difference. I take it, the difference is, that one feels
that the Contessa Violante is good, and that nobody would get anything
but good from her. I have got quite to love her myself."

"And yet you see, Paolina mia, somehow or other it came to pass that I
could not love her, when I was bid to do so; and, in the place of doing
that, I went and loved somebody else instead. How is that to be
accounted for, eh?"

"I am sure that is more than I can guess, Ludovico."

"One thing is clear--and a very good thing it is--that Violante has no
more desire to marry me than I have to marry her. As soon as ever
Carnival is over, my own darling, I mean to speak definitively to my
uncle, and tell him, in the first place, that he must give up all notion
of a marriage between Violante and me."

"As soon as Carnival is over. Why, that will be the day after
to-morrow,"--said Paolina, flushing all over.

"Exactly so; the day after to-morrow. But I mean only to tell him, in
the first instance, that I cannot make the marriage he would have me.
Then, when that is settled--and some little time allowed for him to get
over his mortification, il povero zio--will come the announcement of the
marriage I can make. I have quite fixed with myself to do it the day
after to-morrow. But--I don't know what to make of my uncle. He is not
in the least like himself. I am afraid he must be ill. I fully expected
that I should have to fight all through Carnival against constant
exhortations to pay my court to the Contessa. But he has never spoken to
me a word on the subject."

"Perhaps he has discovered that the lady likes the proposal no better
than you do," suggested Paolina, with a wise look of child-like gravity
up at her lover's face.

"No; it's not that. He never dreams of her having any will in the matter
apart from that of her family. I can't make him out. There's something
wrong with him. He looks a dozen years older than he did; and his habits
are changed too."

"Do you think--that is--it has just come into my head--do you remember,
Ludovico, what I said to you last night at the theatre about the way La
Lalli sung her love verses at him?"

"La Lalli again. Why, she has fascinated you at all events. You can
think of nothing else. La Lalli and lo zio. Dio mio! If you only knew
him. All the prime donne in Europe might sing at him, or make eyes at
him, or make love to him, in any manner they liked from morning till
night without making any more impression on him than a hundred years,
more or less, on the tomb of the Emperor Theodoric out there. No, anima
mia, that's not it. No, il povero zio, I am more inclined to think that
he is breaking up. It does happen, sometimes, that your men, who have
never known a day's illness in their lives, break down all of a sudden
in that way. Everybody in the city has been saying that he is changed
and ill. But I must be off, my darling. I only came to tell you that all
was in readiness for you at St. Apollinare. At least that was my excuse
for coming. But now I must go and see about all sorts of things for the
reception to-night. We shall have all the world at the Palazzo to-night.
And lo zio asked me to see to everything. Addio, Paolina mia. You know
where my heart will be all the time. Addio, anima mia."



CHAPTER VII

Two Interviews


After Ludovico had passed into the sitting-room in the Via di Porta Sisi
to pay his visit to Bianca, Quinto Lalli prepared to leave the house in
accordance with her suggestion that he should dispose of himself
out-of-doors for the present. But before going he called Gigia the maid,
and said, as he stood with the door in his hand:

"Gigia, cara mia, the Marchese Lamberto is coming here presently; just
make use of your sharp ears to hear what passes between him and Bianca;
and take heed to it, you understand, so as to be able to give an account
of it afterwards if it should be needed. You need not say anything about
it to la bambina till afterwards; I have no secrets from her, you know,
and, as soon as the Marchese is gone, you may tell her that you have
heard everything, and that I directed you to do so; but better to say
nothing about it beforehand. Inteso?"

"Si, si, Signor Quinto! Lasci fare a me!"

And, with that, the careful old man went out for his walk, and it was
not half-an-hour after Ludovico left the house before the Marchese made
his appearance.

Bianca, now having completed her toilette, started from her sofa, and
went forward to meet him with both hands extended, and with one of her
sunniest smiles.

"This is kind of you, Signor Marchese. I hoped, ah! how I hoped, that
you would come. If you had not, I don't know what would have become of
me. My heart was already sinking with the dreadful fear that my little
note might have displeased you. But, thank God, you are here: and that
is enough."

"Of course, Bianca, I came when you begged me to do so," said the
Marchese, looking at her with a sort of sad wistfulness, and retaining
both her hands in his. He advanced his face to kiss her, and she stooped
her head so as to permit him to press his lips to her forehead.

"Was it of course, amore mio?" she said, with a gushing look of
exquisite happiness, and a little movement towards clasping his hand,
which still held hers, to her heart. "Was it of course that you should
come to your own, own Bianca when she begged it? But you are looking
fagged, harassed, troubled, mio bene: have you had anything to vex you?
Henceforward, you know, all that is trouble to you is trouble to me. I
shall insist on sharing your sorrows as well as your joys, Lamberto.
What is it that has annoyed you, amore mio?"

"I have much on my mind--necessarily, Bianca mia; many things that are
not pleasant to think of. Can you not guess as much?"

"I have had but one thought, amico mio, since I heard from your lips the
dear words that told me that henceforward we should be but one; that our
lives, our hopes, our fears, would be the same; that, in the sight of
God and man, you would be my husband, and I your wife. Since then, I
have had but one thought, and it is one which would avail to gild all
others, let them be what they might, with its brightness. Is the same
thought as sweet a source of happiness to you, my promised husband?"

"That's clear enough, I hope," thought Gigia, outside the door, to
herself. "Che! If nothing had been said the other day, that would be
enough; and I think Quinto might trust nostra bambina to manage her own
affairs. She knows what she is about, the dear child: not but that it is
a good plan to be able to remind a gentleman in case he should forget.
Gentlemen will forget such things sometimes."

"You cannot doubt my love," said the Marchese, in reply to her appeal.

Those five words may possibly, in the course of the world's history,
have occurred before in the same combination. But the phrase served the
occasion as well as if it had been entirely new and original.

"Indeed, I do not, Lamberto; nor will you again, I trust, ever doubt
mine as you seemed to do last night. Ah, Lamberto! you do not know how
bitterly I wept over the remembrance of those cruel words when I had
parted from you. You will never, never say such again. Tell me you never
will."

"Doubts and fears, my Bianca, are the inevitable companions of such a
love as mine," said the Marchese, with a somewhat sickly smile; "but the
few words you said last night sufficed to dissipate them, as I assured
you."

"But there is still something troubling your mind, Lamberto. See, I
already take the wifely privilege you have given me to wish to share all
that annoys you. What is it? Come and sit by me here on the sofa, and
tell me all about it."

And then the Marchese sat himself in the seat of danger that had been
proposed to him, and, in a certain degree, explained to Bianca the
difficulties attending a marriage with her. He tried hard to recommend
to her favourable consideration the plan of a secret marriage--of a
marriage to be kept secret, at all events, for awhile for the present;
but such an arrangement, as may easily be understood, did not, in
Bianca's view, meet the requirements of the case. That was not what she
wanted. It may also be easily understood that the Marchese, occupying
the position which the enemy had assigned to him, carried on the contest
at an overpowering disadvantage, and was finally routed, utterly
conquered, and yielded at discretion.

On her side the advantages of the situation were made the most of with
the most consummate generalship. The limit between that which was
permitted to him, and that which was denied to him, was drawn with a
firmness and judgment admirably conducive to the attainment of the end
in view. He was permitted to encircle the slender, yielding waist with
one arm as he sat by her side on the sofa, and to retain possession of
her hand with the other; but any advanced movement from this base of
operations was firmly and unhesitatingly repressed. At one moment, when
the attacking party seemed to be on the point of pressing his advances
with more vigour than before, it chanced that the Diva coughed; and it
so happened that, in the next instant, Gigia entered the room, bringing
wood for the fire in her arms--a diversion which, of course, involved
the execution of a hurried movement of retreat on the part of the enemy.

The whole of Bianca's tactics, indeed, were admirable. And the result
was, as usual, victory. Once again, as long as he was in her presence
and by her side, the unfortunate Marchese felt that the spell was
irresistible--absolutely irresistible by any force of volition that he
was able to oppose to it. Once again it seemed to him that the only
thing in the world that it was utterly impossible to him to relinquish
was the possession of Bianca. The hot fit of his fever was on him in all
its intensity; and there was nothing that he could do, or suffer, or
undergo that he would not rather do, or suffer, or undergo than admit
the thought of giving her up. It really seemed as if there were some
physical emanation from her person--some magnetic stream--some
distillation from the nervous system of one organization mysteriously
potent over the nervous system of another, which mounted to his brain,
mastered the sources of his volition, and drew him helpless after her,
as helplessly as the magnetized patient obeys the will of his
magnetizer.

Suddenly both of them heard one o'clock strike from the neighbouring
church. To the Marchese it was a knell which, with horrid warning-note,
dragged him forcibly back from his Circean dalliance to the thoughts,
the things, and the people whose incompatibility with the possibility of
such dalliance was driving him mad. It was the hour at which he had
promised to wait upon the Cardinal. It was absolutely necessary that he
should go at once; and he tore himself away from that fatal sofa-seat
with a wrench, and a reflection on the purpose of his visit to the
Legate, which seemed to him really to threaten to disturb his reason.

Slinkingly he stole from the house in the Strada di Porta Sisi, and
hurried to the Cardinal's palace. His mind seemed to reel, and a cold
sweat broke out all over him as he rang the bell at the top of the great
stone stair of the Legate's dwelling.

This business that he was now here for--those high honours which were
about to be lavished upon him--would they not all make his position so
much the worse? The higher he stood, would not his fall be the more
terrible? What would be said or thought of him? At Rome, immediately
after the high distinction shown him, what would they not say? Here, in
Ravenna, how should he look his fellow-citizens in the face? Impossible,
impossible. Could he venture even to accept the high distinction offered
to him? Would there not be something dishonourable--a sort of treachery
in suffering this mark of the Holy Father's special favour to be
bestowed upon him, while he was meditating to do that which, if his
intention were known, would make it quite impossible that any such
honour should be conferred on him?

And how fair was life before him, as it would be if only this fatal
woman had never crossed his path? And was it not even yet in his own
power to make it equally fair again? Was it not sufficient for him to
will that it should be so?

What if he never saw Bianca again? What could avail any nonsense she or
her pretended father might talk of him? If they were to declare on the
house-tops that he had promised marriage to La Lalli, what human being
in all the city would believe them? The very notion that such a thing
could be possible would be treated as the impudent invention of people
who clearly had not the smallest knowledge of the man they were
attempting to practise on. No, he had but to will it to be free. If only
he could will it.

And with these thoughts passing through his mind he entered the
receiving-room of the Legate.

It was impossible to be received more cordially than he was by that high
dignitary. His Eminence felt sure that his old acquaintance and
highly-valued good friend the Marchese was aware how great his (the
Cardinal's) pleasure had been in discharging the duty that had devolved
upon him. The letter he had that morning received from the Cardinal
Secretary was a most flattering one. Perhaps he (the Cardinal) might
take some credit to himself for having performed a friend's part, as was
natural, in keeping them at Rome well acquainted with the singular
merits of the Marchese. He would, indeed, have been neglecting his duty
if he had done otherwise.

Then, after alluding lightly and gracefully to the special interest he
could not but feel, in his private capacity, in any honour which tended
yet more highly to distinguish a family with which he trusted his own
might at no distant day be allied, he told the Marchese that it was
probable that nothing would be done in the matter till after Easter.

It was the gracious wish of the Holy Father to enhance the honour
bestowed by conferring it with his own apostolic hand; and, doubtless,
as soon as Lent should be over, it would be intimated to the Marchese
that the Holy Father was desirous of seeing him at Rome. When he came
back thence his fellow-citizens would, in all probability, wish to mark,
by some little festivity or otherwise, with which he, on the part of the
government, should have great pleasure in associating himself, their
sense of the honour done to their city in the person of its most
distinguished citizen.

The Marchese, while the Cardinal Legate was making all these gracious
communications, strove to look as "like the time" and the occasion as he
could. At first it was very difficult to him to do so at all
satisfactorily. The influence of that other interview, from which he had
so recently come, was too strong upon him. All the images and ideas
called up by the Cardinal's words were too violently at variance, and
too incompatible with those other desires and thoughts to affect him
otherwise than as raising additional obstacles and piling up more and
more difficulties in the path before him. But, as the interview with the
courteous and dignified churchman proceeded,--as the genius loci of the
Cardinal's library began to exert its influence--as all the hopes and
ambitions and prospects which were opened before his eyes, falling into
their natural and proper connection of continuity with all his former
life, so linked the present moment with that past life as to make all
that had filled the last few weeks seem like a fevered dream,--gradually
the Marchese entered more and more into the spirit of the Cardinal's
conversation. Gradually all that he had hitherto lived for came to seem
to him again to be all that was worth living for. Old habitual thoughts
and ideas, the growth and outcome of a whole life, once again asserted
their wonted supremacy; and the Marchese Lamberto marvelled that it
should be possible for that to happen to him which had happened to him.

Ah! if only weak men were as prone to run away from temptation as they
are to run away from the difficulties that are created by yielding to
it. But they are ever as brave to run the risks of confronting the
tempter, as cowardly to face the results of having done so.

The Cardinal had not failed to mark the air of constraint and dispirited
lassitude which had characterized the Marchese during the commencement
of their conversation. And he, as others had done, attributed it to the
supposition that the Marchese was very rapidly growing old--likely
enough, was breaking up. Nor did he less observe the very notable change
in him as their interview proceeded--the result, as the churchman
flattered himself, of the charms of his own eloquence and felicitous
manner. He was himself a good twenty years older than the Marchese; but
he had been put into great good humour that morning by private letters
accompanying the official despatch that has been mentioned, which had
hinted at favourable possibilities in the future as to certain ambitious
hopes that had rarely failed to busy his brain every night as he laid it
on the pillow for many a year. So he smiled inwardly a gentle moralizing
smile as he thought how gratified ambition had power to stir up the
flagging passions and stimulate the sinking energies even as the golden
bowl is on the eve of being broken.

The Marchese, however, left the Cardinal's presence a much happier man
for the nonce than he had entered it, his mental vision filled with
pictures of ribbons, stars and crosses, with, perhaps, a statue--between
the two ancient columns in the Piazza Maggiore would be an excellent
site--in the background.

Ah! if only he could have had the courage to run away from temptation.



CHAPTER VIII

A Carnival Reception


On that Monday night all the world of Ravenna were assembled in the
suite of state-rooms on the piano noble of the Palazzo di Castelmare.
The cards of invitation had announced that masks would be welcomed by
the noble host; and a large number of the younger portion of the society
accordingly presented themselves in dominoes and the silk half-masks
which are usually worn in conjunction with them. But very few of either
ladies or gentlemen came in character. Such costumes were mostly
reserved for the ball, which was to take place at the Circolo dei Nobili
on the following evening. That was of course the wind-up of the
Carnival; and besides it was felt, that a shade or two more of licence
and of the ascendancy of the Lord of Misrule might fitly be permissible
at the Circolo, than was quite de mise in the rooms of so grave and
reverend a Signor as the Marchese Lamberto di Castelmare.

A few determined revellers would lose no opportunity of enjoying the
delight of dressing themselves up in costumes, which they deemed
specially adapted to show off to advantage either their physical
perfections or their intellectual and social pretensions. Sometimes, as
may have been observed by those who have witnessed such revelries, it
unfortunately happens that both the above desirable results are not
quite compatible. Our friend the Conte Leandro, for instance, having
determined to appear at the Circolo ball in the character of
Dante--which, for a poet at Ravenna, was a very proper and natural
selection--presented himself at the Palazzo Castelmare in that of
Apollo--an equally well-imagined presentation; had it not been that the
happy intellectual analogy was less striking to the vulgar eye, than the
remarkable exhibition of knock-knees and bow-legs resulting from the use
of the "fleshings;" which constituted an indispensable portion of the
god's attire.

He carried in one hand what had very much the appearance of a gilt
gridiron; but was intended to represent a lyre; and in the other a
paper, which was soon known to contain a poem of congratulation
addressed to the host, on the announcement which, all the city well knew
by this time, had been made to him that morning.

The rooms were thronged with black dominoes, and white dominoes, and
pink, and scarlet, and blue, and parti-coloured dominoes. Violante was
there in a black domino, and Bianca in a white one. There was very
little dancing, but plenty of chattering and laughing. One main thing to
be done by every person there was to congratulate the host on his new
honours. Our Conte Apollo, among the rest, would fain have read his poem
on the occasion. But as he approached the Marchese for the purpose, a
white silk domino, that was standing by the Marchese's side, burst into
such an uncontrollable fit of silvery and most musical, but too
evidently uncomplimentary laughter, that the poor god of song was too
abashed by it to make head against it.

"Surely never had Apollo such a representative before," said the
Marchese to his companion, as the mortified god turned away.

"The voice, the face, the lyre, and the legs; oh, the legs!" said the
silvery voice of the white domino in return.

The words of both speakers had been uttered sotto voce; but the Conte
Leandro had unfortunately sharp ears; and not only heard what was said,
but was at no loss to recognize the voice of the second speaker.

The poor poet was destined not to find the evening an agreeable one. A
little later he was passing by an ottoman in one of the less crowded
rooms, on which the Marchese Ludovico was sitting with the Contessa
Violante. She had, at an early period of the evening, abandoned all
pretence of keeping up her incognito, and was dangling her black mask
from her finger by its string as she sat talking to Ludovico. Leandro
turned towards them to pay his compliments to the Contessa, and possibly
in the hope of being allowed to read his copy of verses. But here again
mortification awaited him.

"What, Aesop, Leandro! What put it into your head to choose the old
story-teller for a model? You look the part to perfection, it is true;
but what is that thing you have got in your hand?"

Again his lordship was fain to retreat.

"What a shame to torment the poor man so, in your own house too, Signor
Ludovico," said Violante, who, nevertheless, could not help laughing.

"Not a bit, he's used to it. He is too absurd for anything; an egregious
vain ass," returned Ludovico; with very little precaution to prevent the
object of his animadversions from hearing them. And again Leandro's
acute ears did him the ill service of carrying every word that had been
said to his understanding.

"Indeed I think her perfectly charming," said Violante, in continuation
of the conversation, which had been interrupted by the bow-legged vision
of Apollo; "extremely pretty of course,--but a great deal more than
that. She is fresh, ingenuous, modest, full of sensibility, and as
honest-hearted as the day. You are a very fortunate man, Signor
Ludovico, to have succeeded in winning such a heart."

"How came it about at first, that you spoke to her?" asked Ludovico.

"Oh, I went into the chapel in the morning, as I very often do, to
recite the litany of the Virgin, and if she had remained on her
scaffolding I should probably not have noticed her. But she ran down in
the most obliging manner, fearing that she might disturb me, and
offering to suspend her work, as long as I should remain at my
devotions. It was so pretty of her, and so prettily said!"

"And then you answered her as prettily, I suppose, Signora?"

"Nay, it is not in my power to do that," said Violante, with a touch of
bitterness; "but I told her, that she did not disturb me in the least;
and I spoke to her of the work she was engaged on; and she asked me to
come up and look at it; and so we talked on till we became very good
friends."

"And then you were kind enough to converse with her on several
subsequent occasions?"

"Oh, yes, we had several long talks; and I liked her so much. I am sure
she is thoroughly good. I rejoice with all my heart that a destiny, so
much more brilliant than anything that could have been expected for her,
is likely to be hers."

"I wish, Signora Contessa, that it was more than likely to be hers; I
wish that our path lay clearer before us!" said Ludovico, with a sigh.

"Including me in the 'us'? I wish it were with all my heart. But
remember, Signor Marchese, how much is possible to a man, and how little
to a woman. All, that the strong expression of my own wishes and
feelings can do, shall be done when the proper time comes for the doing
of it. But you must not trust to that, or to me. You ought to save me
from being compelled to act at all in the matter. You are free to speak.
And now that another besides me is so vitally concerned, I think you
ought to do so without further delay."

"And I have fully made up my mind to do it, Signora Contessa. I have
told Paolina, this very day, that I purpose speaking very seriously to
my uncle on the subject on the day after to-morrow--the first day in
Lent. I thought I would let this Carnival time pass by first without
breaking in upon it, with business that cannot, I fear, be otherwise
than painful. I have promised Paolina, and am fully determined to speak
to my uncle on Wednesday."

"And what do you purpose saying to him?" asked Violante, looking into
his face with quiet eyes.

"In the first instance I have no intention of speaking to him on the
subject of Paolina--"

"No!" interrupted the Contessa, changing her look to one of surprise.

"Not to begin with, I think. To speak of my intention to make a
marriage, which I cannot hope will meet his approbation, would only make
my rejection of the alliance, which he hopes to see me form, the more
difficult."

"Yes, that seems true; but I doubt whether you are right there. You will
begin, then, by telling him--?"

"I shall begin by saying that it seems clear to me, that I have little
hope of any success in the quarter in which he has wished me to--"

"Nay, that will not be quite fair, Signor Marchese," interrupted
Violante, speaking very quietly. "Can you honestly tell your uncle that
you have made any very strenuous efforts in that direction?"

"But I thought, Signorina," said Ludovico, hastily; I surely had reason
to suppose that I should be speaking in support of your
sentiments--quite as much as--"Stay, Signor Marchese; excuse my
interrupting you, but it is exactly on this point that I wished to talk
with you. Let us clearly understand each other. It is, no doubt, quite
true that if you and I had been left to ourselves, if no
family-considerations had intervened to suggest other views, neither of
us would have been led by our own inclinations,--it is best to speak
openly and frankly,--neither of us, I say, would have been led by our
own inclinations to think more of the other than as an old and valued
acquaintance. This is the truth, is it not?"

"Nay, Signorina, can I say--"

"It is not fair, you would say," interrupted Violante again, "that I
should force your gallantry to make so painful an avowal. Nonsense! Let
us put aside all such trash: the question is, not--how we shall mutually
make what the circumstances require us to say to each other agreeable to
the self-love of either of us, and to silly rules of conventional
gallantry, but there is a real question of fairness between us; and it
is this: how much should each of us expect that the other will
contribute towards the difficult task of liberating both of us from
engagements we neither of us wish to undertake. You see, Signor
Marchese, I have made up my mind to speak clearly; more clearly than I
could, I think, have ventured to do, had I not the advantage of having
had those conversations with my friend Paolina in the Cardinal's
chapel."

"In what respect did it seem to you, that what I proposed saying to my
uncle in the first instance, was unfair, Signorina?"

"In this it would be unfair. To talk of your want of success in
obtaining what you never sought to obtain, is simply to throw on me the
burden and the blame of disappointing the wishes and plans of both our
families. I am ready to do my part; but it would be unreasonable to
expect that it can be so active or so large a part as your own. It will
not be for you to let it be supposed that you are ready and willing to
offer your hand to the Contessa Violante Marliani, trusting to my
refusal to accept it in the teeth of the wishes of my family. It is your
duty to say openly and plainly that you cannot make the marriage
proposed to you. If I were in your place--if I might venture to suggest,
what I would myself counsel--I should add, as a reason--an additional
reason--that I had given my heart elsewhere."

"But, Signora, you forget that the marriage between us was proposed
before I ever saw or heard of Paolina," said Ludovico, with a naivete
that should certainly have satisfied his companion that he was no longer
attempting to shape his discourse according to the rules of conventional
gallantry.

Violante, despite her gravity, could not forbear smiling, as she said in
reply:

"Not at all, Signor. I do not in the least forget that before Paolina
ever came to Ravenna, you were no whit better disposed to second the
wishes of our families."

"Nay, Signorina. I declare--"

"What, again! Do let us leave all such talk. Don't you see that we may
frankly shake hands on it. Don't you see that any pain that your
indifference might have occasioned is entirely salved by the
consciousness that I have been as bad as you. We are equally rebels
against the destiny arranged for us. Let us fight the battle together
then. I think that you would act wisely in telling your uncle at once
that it is impossible you should make any other woman your wife than her
who has your entire heart and affection. I think that this course is due
to Paolina also."

"I only wished to spare my uncle, as much as possible, in breaking to
him what I know will give him pain."

"People, who will wish what they ought not to wish, must endure the pain
that the frustration of such wishes entails. It is certainly your right
to marry according to your own inclinations."

"Yes; and in truth, as far as real power goes, there is nothing to
prevent my doing so. It is truly a desire to break to my uncle, as
gently as I can, that which will certainly be a blow to him. He is not
well, my uncle. He is deplorably changed since the beginning of this
year. Look at him, as he passes us," he added, as he observed the
Marchese Lamberto approaching the place where they were sitting, with
the white satin domino on his arm.

"He is looking changed and ill, certainly," said Violante, when the
Marchese had passed, apparently without noticing them; "he looks thin
and worn, and yet feverish and excited. Who is the lady on his arm? She
must be very tall."

Many of the assembled company had by this time, like the Contessa
Violante, discarded their masks, finding the heat, which always results
from the use of them, oppressive, and not perceiving that any further
amusement was to be got by retaining them. But the white domino, leaning
on the Marchese's arm, still retained hers. It is not likely that Bianca
herself could have had any objection to its being seen by all Ravenna
that she monopolized the attention of the Marchese during the entire
evening. And it is therefore probable that she had retained her disguise
in compliance with some hint given to that effect by the Marchese
Lamberto.

"I take it it must be La Lalli, the prima donna. I know she is here
to-night and in a white domino, though I have not yet spoken to her. I
am afraid my uncle must be tired and bored with her. He always makes a
point of showing those people attention; and besides he had so much to
do with bringing her here. I dare say we shall hear her once or twice
again in this house before she leaves Ravenna. My uncle is fond of
getting up some good music in Lent, when he can."

"The Marchese Lamberto did not look to me as if he was tired or bored,"
said Violante, thoughtfully. "I hope he is not. Here comes that absurd
animal Leandro again. Did you ever see anything so outrageously
ridiculous?"

Ludovico and the Contessa then rose from their seats, and Violante
taking his arm drew him in the direction in which the Marchese Lamberto
had led the white satin domino.



CHAPTER IX

Paolina's Return to the City


There remained now but one day more of that Carnival, which remained
memorable for many years afterwards in Ravenna, for the terrible
catastrophe that marked its conclusion.

All that these people, whose passions, and hopes, and fears have been
laid open to the reader, were doing during those Carnival weeks was
gradually leading up, after the manner of human acts, to the terrible
event which rounded off the action with such fatal completeness. And the
catastrophe was now at hand.

During the reception at the Castelmare palace on that night of the last
day of Carnival but one, the white domino, whom Ludovico had rightly
supposed to be Bianca--a guess which had been shared by many other
persons in the room--had pretty exclusively occupied the attention of
the Marchese Lamberto. And it must be supposed that the resolution was
then taken between them which led to the summons of Signor Fortini, the
family lawyer, to the palazzo on the first day of Lent, as was related
in the first book of this narrative. It was on the morning of Ash
Wednesday, it will be remembered, that the lawyer had received from the
Marchese the formal communication of his intention to marry the
Signorina Bianca Lalli.

The reader knows, also, that what took place in the interval between the
night of the reception at the Palazzo Castelmare and the morning of the
first day in Lent was not calculated, as might have been supposed, to
assist in bringing the mind of the Marchese to a final determination to
that effect. The terrible degree to which his jealousy and anger had
been excited on the night of the ball at the Circolo by Ludovico and
Bianca will also not have been forgotten. The conduct which had awakened
that jealousy was, in a great measure, if not entirely, innocent on the
part of both the offenders, as the reader will also, no doubt, remember.
The similarity of the costume adopted by the Marchesino and Bianca was
entirely accidental. And this, trifling as the circumstance may seem,
had contributed very materially to arouse the Marchese's wrath and
jealous agony. Bianca, perhaps, under the circumstances, ought not to
have danced as frequently as she did with the Marchesino. She at least
knew that the Marchese Lamberto had already conceived the most torturing
jealousy of his nephew. Ludovico, on his part, was of course utterly
unconscious that he was giving his uncle the remotest cause for umbrage
by his attentions to the successful Diva.

Then came the little tete-a-tete supper--tete-a-tete by accident rather
than by design, as the reader may remember; and the officious and
spiteful eavesdropping and tell-tale denunciation by the angry poet.

Nevertheless, and despite of all these circumstances and of the temper
of mind in which he quitted the ball-room that night, it is certain that
the Marchese did, on the morning of the following Ash Wednesday, send
for his lawyer and announce to him formally his intention to make the
Signorina Bianca Lalli his wife.

We have seen all the agonies of irresolution and indecision--all the
alternating swayings of his mind, as passion or prudence predominated at
the moment. He seemed utterly unable to bring himself, save fitfully, to
the final adoption of either line of conduct. And yet, at the moment
when his jealousy most furiously boiled over, he decided on taking the
first overt step towards the accomplishment of the deed.

Was it possibly that he was urged irresistibly forwards by the fear that
if he did not at once make the prize he so eagerly coveted irrevocably
his own, the power to make it so might pass away from him? that, after
all, his nephew might have found the goddess as irresistible as he had
found her himself; and that she might prefer the younger to the older
Marchese di Castelmare?

Whatever the reflections might have been that at last drove him to take
the definitive step of applying to his lawyer, we know that they were
not of a pleasant kind--that the state of the Marchese's mind was
anything but a happy or peaceful one during the hours that preceded his
sending the message to Signor Fortini.

The manner in which the lawyer received the communication made to him,
and his determination, on further consideration, to make the Marchese
Ludovico at once aware of the step contemplated by his uncle, will not
have been forgotten. The reader will, it is hoped, remember also how,
sallying forth after his early dinner for this purpose, Signor Fortini
encountered the Marchese Ludovico in the street; how the latter
communicated to the old lawyer the state of anxiety he was in about the
Signorina Bianca Lalli, whom he had lost in the Pineta; and finally how
the lawyer and the Marchese together had gone to the Porta Nuova, by
which the road leading to St. Apollinare and to the Pineta quits the
city, in order there to make inquiries,--and the terrible reply to their
inquiries that there met him.

What that reply was had not been immediately clear to the lawyer. For,
as far as the circumstances of the previous events were then known to
him, there were two persons, Bianca Lalli, the singer, and Paolina
Foscarelli, the Venetian artist--two young girls missing, who were both
known to have been out of the city in that direction that morning; two
young girls of whom he knew little more than this, that they had
apparently reason to feel a deadly jealousy of each other. Which of
these two was the one whose dead body lay there under the city gateway
before him, he had no immediate means of knowing. For Ludovico, who had
raised the sheet that covered the features of the dead, and had, of
course, become on the instant aware of the truth, had fallen into
unconsciousness, without uttering a word beyond the one agonized outcry
that, for the moment, had left little doubt on the mind of the lawyer
that the victim at their feet was the girl Paolina.

But, of course, the means of setting at rest the doubt on the lawyer's
mind were very soon at hand; at hand even before Ludovico recovered from
his short fainting fit. For the same man among the Octroi officers, who
had recognized La Lalli when she had passed with Ludovico in the
morning, was now able to say that the woman who now lay dead in the
gateway was in truth no other than the poor Diva.

Paolina, in fact, was by that time safe at home, and had been well
scolded by Signora Orsola for having given her such a fright by playing
the truant for so long.

Of course her old friend called upon her for an account of the hours
which had elapsed during her prolonged absence. And Paolina, in reply to
this demand, gave a very intelligible account of the time. But
unfortunately, most unfortunately, as the sequel showed it to be, this
account rested solely on her own statement. Of course old Orsola saw not
the smallest reason for doubting any part of it. And the explanations
which she gave of her movements, and of the motives which led to them,
embodied in the following statement of what happened from the time when
she left the church to the time when she re-entered the city, are the
result of her subsequent declarations, when called upon to account for
her occupation of those hours.

The aged Capucine friar had, as we know, watched her take the path that
led to the farmhouse on the border of the wood. And having looked after
her as long as she was in his sight, he sighed heavily, and, turning
away, went back to his prayers in the church. But had he been able to
watch her on her way a few minutes longer, he would, if the girl's own
account of her movements were correct, have seen her change the
direction of her walk.

About half-way between the eastern end of the church, by which the path
the friar had indicated to Paolina passed, and the farmhouse on the
border of the forest, another path, skirting what had once apparently
been the cemetery attached to the church, turned off at right angles to
the left, so as, after some distance, to rejoin the road on its way
towards the city. And this path, according to her own account, Paolina
took; thus abandoning her intention of reaching the forest at the spot
where the farmhouse stood. Why had she thus changed her purpose?

Various thoughts and feelings, which had presented themselves to her in
the space of the minute or two she had occupied in walking round to the
eastern end of the church, had contributed to produce this change in her
purpose.

Unquestionably the first feeling which arose in her mind, on seeing what
she had seen from the window of the church, was one of jealousy. But she
combated it vigorously; and if she did not succeed in altogether
conquering it,--that fiend being, by the nature of not to be vanquished
so by one single effort, however valorous--at least put it to the rout
for the present. She had known all along that Ludovico frequently saw La
Bianca. She knew that he would meet her at the ball; and, doubtless, the
object of their expedition this morning was, as the friar had suggested,
to show the stranger the celebrated Pineta. Having thus, in some
measure, tranquillized her heart, she began to think how lovely the
forest must be on that fine spring morning; how much she, too, should
like to see it; how good an opportunity the present was of doing so.
Perhaps, too, there was some little anticipation of the slight
punishment to be inflicted on her lover, when he should be told that she
had visited the Pineta alone at the very time when he had been in her
immediate vicinity engaged in showing it to another.

And with these thoughts in her head, she made her inquiries, and started
on her way. But before she had walked many steps, other thoughts began
to present themselves to her mind. How did she know how far they had
gone from the farmhouse? Might they not still be in the immediate
neighbourhood of it? Might she not, very probably, fall in with them?
And would not that be exceedingly disagreeable? Would she not have all
the appearance of having followed them purposely from motives of
jealousy? Would not her presence be unwelcome? Would there not be
something of indelicacy even in thus following one who evidently
preferred being with another?

These considerations sufficed to produce the change in her purpose, and
in the direction towards which she turned her steps, that has been
mentioned. So she returned by the path, which has been described, into
the road, and proceeded along it on her return to the city. She did not
trip along as briskly and alertly as she had done in coming thither; but
walked slowly and pensively with her eyes on the ground. She was thus a
good deal longer in returning than in going. And when she had reached
the immediate neighbourhood of the city, she turned aside before
entering the gate, into a sort of promenade under some trees near the
city wall, and sat down on one of the stone benches there to think a
little.

And presently; as she was busy thinking, she was startled into much
displeasure against herself by discovering that two large utterly
unauthorised tears were running down her cheeks.

What was the meaning of that? Surely she was not jealous still, after
all the good reasons for not being so, that she had so conclusively
pointed out to herself?

No, she was not jealous. She would not be jealous. But it would have
been so nice in the Pineta. The sun was now high in the heavens. The
birds were singing on every tree; and Ludovico was enjoying it with that
woman, whom, when she had seen her at the theatre, she had found it so
impossible to like or to tolerate. Yet she would not, could not, doubt
that Ludovico loved herself, and her only.

She dried her tears, and determined that she would not let doubts of
what she really did not doubt torment her. But still she sat on and on
upon the bench in the shade musing on many things--on the Contessa
Violante, on the steps Ludovico had said that he would take this very
first day of Lent towards the open breaking off of all engagement with
that lady, and on the amount of scandal and difficulty that would thence
arise.

Then her fancy, despite all her endeavours and determinations to the
contrary, would go back to paint pictures of the beauty of La Bianca, as
she sat by the side of Ludovico in the little carriage. How lovely she
had looked, and how happy,--so evidently pleased with herself, with her
companion, and with all about her. And Ludovico had seemed in such good
spirits--so happy, so thoroughly contented. He did not want any one else
to be with him. He was far enough from thinking of the fond and faithful
heart that would have been made so happy--oh, so happy--if it had been
given to her to sit there by his side.

She sat thinking of all these things till she was roused from her
reverie by the city clocks striking noon. It was three good hours later
than she had supposed it to be; and she jumped up from her seat,
intending to hasten home to Signora Orsola Steno.

All this Paolina stated partly to Signora Orsola on her return home, and
partly in reply to inquiries subsequently made of her by inquirers far
less easily satisfied.

But chance--or, what for want of a better designation, we are in the
habit of so calling--had decreed that Signora Orsola should not be
delivered from her suspense so quickly.

On turning into the shady promenade under the city walls, a little
before reaching the Porta Nuova, Paolina had strolled onwards, before
sitting down on one of the benches that tempted her after her walk, till
she fancied that it would be shorter for her to reach the Via di Santa
Eufemia by another gate, which gave admission to the city at the other
end of the promenade, instead of by turning back to the Porta Nuova. And
thus, though she had in truth returned to the city, the men at that gate
were quite right in their statement that she had not returned by the way
they guarded.

The road, however, by which Paolina proposed to return to her home led
her past the residence of the Cardinal, and, as she passed, it occurred
to her that it would be well, and save another walk, to look in at the
chapel and put together the things she had left in it on finishing her
task there, so that they might be ready for a porter to bring away when
she should send for them.

For this purpose she ascended the great staircase of the Cardinal's
palace, and was at once admitted to pass on into the chapel, as a matter
of course, by the servants, who had become quite used to her visits
there; and, from this point forwards, the accuracy of her statements was
easily proved by other testimony besides her own.

It would not have taken her long, as she had said to herself, to get her
things together and make them ready for being fetched away. But in the
chapel she found the Lady Violante on her knees on the fald-stool before
the altar. It was the first day in Lent, and, accordingly, a period of
extra devotion. The sins, the excesses, the frivolities, of the Carnival
had to be atoned for by extra prayers and religious exercises; and if
Violante had herself been guilty of no sins, excesses, or frivolities,
during the festive season, yet there was abundant need of her prayers
for those who had.

On hearing a light footfall behind her she looked round; and, on seeing
Paolina, rose from her knees, and advanced a step to meet her.

"You are come to take away your things, cara mia. The scaffolding has
already been removed. I suppose you are very glad that your task here is
done; and it would be selfish, therefore, to say that I am sorry. How
often it happens, Paolina, that we are tempted to wish what we ought not
to wish."

"I don't think, Signorina, that I often wish what my conscience tells me
I ought not to desire; and I should have thought that such a thing had
never occurred to you. I wished very much to do something this morning,
and I began to do it; but then I thought that I ought not to do it, and
I did not."

"Then, my child, you are all the happier. It is a happy day for you."

Paolina sighed a great sigh, and dropped her eyes to the ground.

"Then I suppose the evil wish was not wholly conquered," said Violante,
looking into her companion's eyes with a grave smile.

"It was this, Signora: I walked out very early this morning to St.
Apollinare in Classe, where I am to make some copies of the Mosaics,
which I hope to begin to-morrow. A scaffolding has been prepared for me;
and I went to see that all was ready."

And then poor little Paolina was tempted to pour out all her heart and
its troubles to her gravely kind and gentle friend. And Violante spoke
such words of comfort as her conscience would allow her to speak in the
matter. And the talk between the two girls ran on; and the minutes ran
on, too. And poor old Orsola Steno, at the end of her stock of patience
at last, had taken the step that has been narrated.

And thus it had come to pass that Paolina had played the truant, and
that her protracted absence had led to Signor Fortini's momentary doubt
as to the identity of the corpse he had seen brought into the city.



BOOK V

Who Did the Deed?



CHAPTER I

At the City Gate


Bianca Lalli lay dead at the city gate. Fresh from her triumphs, her
successes, her schemes, her hopes, her frolic, at the full tide of her
fame, and her matchless beauty, the poor Diva was--dead!

How she came by such sudden death there was nothing whatever in her
appearance to tell--scarcely anything to tell that she was dead. In a
quiet composed attitude stretched on her back, she lay in the light
white dress she had put on for her excursion with Ludovico. With the
exception of a broad blue ribbon round the waist, and another which
bound her wealth of auburn hair, her entire dress was white. It was now
scarcely whiter than her face. But there was on the features neither
disorder nor sign of pain.

From a feeling of natural respect for death, and perhaps, also, for the
extreme beauty of the young face in death, the bearers of the body had
covered it with a coarse linen sheet, such as they had chanced to find
to hand. But the duty of the officers of the gate would have required
them to uncover the face, even if Ludovico in the first agony of his
doubt had not already done so. There, amid the pitying throng of rough
men, she lay beneath the sombre old gateway vault. The extraordinary
abundance of her hair fell in great loose tresses, some making rich
contrast with the white dress that covered her shoulders, and some of it
thrown back behind over the door on which the body lay.

A terrible and deadly sickness came over Ludovico, and his face became
almost as white as that of the corpse. His head swam round; and, reeling
back from the sight that met his eyes, he swooned, and would have fallen
to the ground had the lawyer not caught him.

"I suppose," said Fortini, to the men who crowded round the body, while
he paid attention to the Marchesino,--"I suppose that there can be no
doubt that she is dead?"

"She's as dead as the door she lies on," said one of the men who had
helped to carry the body, shaking his head gravely, as he looked
pitifully down on her; "as dead as the door she lies on, more's the
pity, for she looks like one of them that find it good to live,--more's
the pity,--more's the pity."

"Che bella donna! E proprio un viso d'angiolo," said another; "and so
young too. There's some heart somewhere that'll be sore for this."

"Pretty creature; it is enough to break one's own heart to look at her
as she lies there," said a third. While a fourth of the rough fellows
stood and sobbed aloud, and let the tears run down his furrowed cheeks,
without the smallest effort to control or hide his emotion. For an
Italian, especially an Italian man of the people, unlike the men of the
Teuton races, is never ashamed of emotion. He very often manifests a
great deal which he does not genuinely feel; but he never seeks to hide
any that he does feel.

All this while the officials at the gate, some six or eight of them,
standing thus round the extemporized bier, were closely questioning the
men, who had been the bearers; Ludovico and the old lawyer were thus
shut out from the circle which had formed itself around the body, and
were on the outside of it. A boy, belonging to one of the gate
officials, brought, at the lawyer's bidding, a glass of cold water, by
the help of which the young Marchese was quickly restored to
consciousness. He was able to rise to his feet again before the officers
had concluded their official questioning of those who had brought in the
body. And the lawyer looked anxiously into his face to ascertain that he
was capable of understanding what was said to him, as he stood, still
apparently half-stunned by the shock of the event, against the doorway
of the little dwelling of the gatekeepers.

"Stand where you are and say nothing; we will go away together
presently," whispered the lawyer in his ear, griping him hard at the
same time by the arm, and giving him a little shake, as if to rouse him
to comprehension; a mode of speaking and acting on the part of Signor
Fortini, which would have seemed very extraordinary to the young
Marchese at any other time, but which he was now too much overpowered by
what had happened to notice.

Signor Fortini had no official character or function, which in any way
gave him the right, or made it his duty to meddle with the
circumstances, that had occurred by chance in his presence. But he was
so well known to all the city, was mixed in one way or another with so
many matters of business, and was so much and so generally looked up to,
that the people at the gate, hardly knowing what their own duty required
of them under circumstances so unusual, turned to him for directions as
to what they ought to do.

"What you have to do, my good friend, is simple enough," said the
lawyer, addressing the superior official at the gate; "you must, in the
first place, receive and take charge of the body. You must inquire of
these good folks all they have to tell you, together with their names
and addresses. You must draw up a processo verbale, embodying all such
information; and then you must have the body conveyed to the mortuary at
the hospital, at the same time making your report to the police, and
delivering up the body into their custody. In such a case as this, it
will be well, too, that these worthy men, who have brought the body
here, should go with you to the police, the more so," he added, as his
quick eye marked a certain blank look in the faces of the men,--"the
more so, as they must be recompensed for their trouble and labour, and
it is by the police that the payment for it must be made."

"Un processo verbale! Yes, one knows that; but under circumstances so
strange--grazie a Dio so unheard of--if your worship would have the
kindness to put one in the way of it. Your worship is familiar with
affairs of all sorts. Just an instant."

"We must hear first what these men have to say. First take down their
names and addresses."

The men gave them, as the lawyer remarked to himself, with perfect
willingness and alacrity.

They then related that having been at work in the forest, cutting up the
branches and trunk of a tree, which had fallen from old age and natural
decay, they were going to another part of the Pineta, a short distance
off, where another fallen tree awaited their axes and saws, when they
saw a lady asleep as they thought on a bank. They were about to pass on
without interfering with her in any way, when one of their party
remarked that it was odd that all the noise they had made had not
wakened her, for they had come along laughing, singing, and talking
loudly. This had led them to approach closely to her; and then,--as they
looked at her, a suspicion of the truth began to come to their minds.
They touched her, and found that she was dead. She was not quite cold,
they said, and were quite sure of that fact. They looked at her, and
looked all around to see if they could perceive any sign of the cause of
her death. But they could see nothing. There was, as far as they could
see, no trace of blood, either on her dress or anywhere around the spot
where she lay. And then they had borrowed a door from the farm near St.
Apollinare, and had brought the body here, and that was all they knew
about it.

"Had they seen any other person in the forest that morning?"

"Not a soul; and they had been in that part of the Pineta, or at least
at no great distance, all the morning from sunrise."

"Would they be able to find again and to know the spot on which they had
found the body?" the lawyer asked.

"Oh, yes," they said, "easily. It was not by the side of any of the
ordinary tracks through the forest--but not very far from one of them;
as if the lady had turned aside from the path, and sought out a quiet
spot to enjoy a siesta without being disturbed."

"It is pretty clear," said the lawyer, "that it has been a case of
sudden death during sleep--probably from disease of the heart. Now, my
friend," he said, turning to the senior of the officials, "you have only
simply to state what we have heard in writing and carry it to the
police. Meantime, it will be as well to remove the body at once. Let a
couple of your people accompany the men who brought it here--they may as
well carry it to the mortuary."

So a sheet was obtained from a neighbouring house, the more perfectly
and decently to cover the body, preparatory to its being carried through
the streets. Ludovico stepped hurriedly forward from the doorpost,
against which he had been leaning, and looked eagerly once again at the
calmly-tranquil and still beautiful face before they covered it with the
sheet. And then the six men took up their burden, and, with two of the
gate-officers marching at their head, moved off towards the hospital.

Then the lawyer put his hand on Ludovico's shoulder in a manner that was
strange, and that would at once have seemed so to the Marchese had he at
the time had any attention to give to such a circumstance, and said in a
peremptory and authoritative sort of voice, very unlike his usual manner
when speaking to a person in the social position of the Marchese,

"Now, come with me, Signor Marchese. Let us go. We can do no more good
here." And he put his arm within that of Ludovico, as if to lead him
away, as he spoke.

The Marchese suffered the old man thus to lead him from the gate without
speaking a word.

"Now, Signor Marchese," said the lawyer, as soon as they had turned the
corner of a street, which took them out of sight of the city gate, "now,
lose no time. Make for the Porta Adriana, and quit the city by that.
There is an osteria in the borgo outside the gate, where you can get a
bagarino with a quick horse for Faenza; thence cross the mountains into
Tuscany. You may easily be over the frontier this night; you have plenty
of time, only none to lose. It will be at least two hours before any
steps can be taken; you may be beyond Faenza by that time. Have you
money about you? If not I can supply you. I have a considerable sum
about me--One word more: Do not venture to remain in Florence. The grand
Ducal Government would not refuse the demand of the Nuncio in such a
case; and the demand would surely be made. Better get on to Leghorn; and
make for Marseilles."

"Good God, Signor Fortini! What are you talking of; and what are you
dreaming of? What is it that you have got into your head?" said
Ludovico, rousing himself, and stopping short in his walk to turn round
and face the lawyer.

"Look here, Signor Marchese, your father was my friend and patron; your
grandfather was my father's friend and patron; and, therefore, bad as
this business is, I think, and will think, more of old times and old
kindnesses than of what I suppose is my duty now. But don't lose time by
trying to throw dust in my eyes. What is the use of it? What I have got
in my head is what every man, woman and child in Ravenna will have in
their head before this day is over. Have you sufficient money about
you?"

"Signor Fortini, once again I don't know what you are driving at. I
insist upon your speaking out your entire meaning. What is it you
imagine?" said Ludovico, speaking angrily, but now very pale.

"Imagine! What can I imagine? The matter is, unhappily, but too clear.
Why of course I imagine that you have by some means,--which the medical
people will find out fast enough, doubt it not,--killed that unfortunate
woman in the Pineta."

"Signor Fortini!" exclaimed Ludovico, in a voice in which horror,
indignation and dismay had equal shares.

"Marchese, how can anybody have any doubt on the matter. Alas, that I
should have to say so, it is too self-evident. You persuade this poor
creature to go out alone with you into the Pineta at an extraordinary
hour of the morning, knowing then,--or according to your own showing,
becoming aware soon after you started--that it was your uncle's
intention by a marriage with this woman to destroy utterly every
prospect you have in the world. What other human being can have had any
ill-will against this woman, or any interest in destroying her? Your
interest in doing so is of the very strongest possible kind. It was no
case of robbery. The girl was put to death by some one, who had an
interest in doing so. She is last seen alive with you; I find you with a
singularly scared and troubled manner pretending to make inquiry
respecting her, your real object evidently being to ascertain whether
the fact of the murder were yet known, and to give rise to the
impression that you knew nothing of the poor woman's fate. Then, when
confronted with the corpse you are seen to be absolutely overcome by
your emotion. Now, as I have simply stated the facts, do you imagine
that a moment's doubt will be felt as to who has done this deed?"

Ludovico felt the cold sweat break out on his forehead, as he listened
to the lawyer's words. The logic of the facts did most unquestionably
seem to make out a fatally strong case against him. And it was difficult
to judge--very difficult even for the shrewd and practised lawyer to
judge--whether the consciousness of crime, or the horror of seeing by
how terribly strong evidence the suspicion of crime was brought home to
him, were the cause of the emotion he manifested.

Signor Fortini, again, with rapid and practised acuteness, ran over all
the circumstances in his mind; and his conclusion, unavoidable, as he
felt it, was that the Marchese must have done the deed. That the
criminal authorities would come to the same conclusion he could not feel
the smallest doubt.

"Good God! Signor Fortini, this is very dreadful! it is as new to my
mind--it comes upon me now for the first time, as much as if I had not
known the fact of her death. But I see it--I see it all; as you put the
matter now before me. What am I to do?--gracious heaven, what am I to
do?"

"I have already told you, what you have to do; the only thing that you
can do. You have time enough to make it quite safe, that you may be
across the frontier before any pursuit can overtake you. As for pursuing
you across the frontier, that can only be done diplomatically, and of
course by means which would leave you ample time to quit Tuscany."

"Signor Fortini, I am innocent of this crime. It is a crime which
sickens me with horror to think of. What passed in the Pineta passed
exactly as I told you. I left that unhappy girl sleeping, intending to
be absent from her but a few minutes. And as there is a God in heaven I
never again saw her till I saw her dead at the gate," said Ludovico,
speaking with intense earnestness.

"But even if you should convince me, Signor Marchese, that such were in
truth the case, whom else do you think you would be able to convince?
Not one, not a single soul; above all, certainly not one of those who
are used to the investigation of crime, or of those who would have to
pronounce judgment on it. If I were perfectly and entirely persuaded of
your innocence I should still urge you to fly. The facts of the case are
too strong against you."

"But is that the advice you would give to an innocent man, Signor
Fortini? Is that the course which an innocent man would take? Should I
not by flying add such an additional damning circumstance to the other
grounds of suspicion, as to render all possible hope of clearing myself
vain?" remonstrated Ludovico.

"It is true, it would do so; and the argument is, I am bound to say, the
argument of an innocent man. In any other case, in any other case, I
should say face inquiry and prove your innocence. But, Signor Marchese,
I dare not recommend you to do so. The facts, as I said, are too strong
for you. Remember, too, that you do not throw away any chance by flight.
For the only possible circumstance that could exonerate you would be the
discovery that the deed was done by some other; and should that ever be
proved or provable, you would at once return, plainly stating that you
fled, not from guilt, but from a due appreciation of the fatal weight of
suspicion that the circumstances and the facts cast on you. In such a
case, in such a very improbable case, I should not hesitate to testify
that, being by accident made aware of the circumstances, I had
recommended and urged you to fly. No innocent man is bound to suffer for
the misfortune of lying under a false suspicion if he can help it. You
cannot face the suspicion that will rest upon you; instant flight is the
only course open to you."

"Did you not say yourself at the gate just now, Signor Fortini," said
Ludovico, making a strong effort to recover the use of his almost
stunned faculties"--did you not yourself say that it was evidently a
case of sudden death, probably from heart disease?"

"Pshaw! to the people there; to those blockheads at the gate, I said so,
of course I did; but the medical folks will soon find out all about
that."

"But again, as you remarked very truly, the only possible motive that I
could be suspected of having for wishing the death of this unfortunate
woman must be supposed to arise from my knowledge of the fact that my
uncle had proposed marriage to her."

"And is not that motive enough, per Dio?" interrupted the lawyer.

"Doubtless it might, at all events, seem so to some people. But you
spoke of my persuading her to go on this unhappy excursion with a view,
as your words imply, of committing the crime you suspect me of. Now I
knew nothing of any such intention on the part of my uncle till she
communicated it to me when we were in the forest."

"That is your statement--"

"And you must remember, Signor Fortini, that I made that statement to
you before I knew anything of her death."

"Before you knew anything of her death. Pshaw! You are assuming your
innocence of the deed. Yes, I remember what you said. I remember only
too well. Had you not spoken to me, there might have been no proof that
you knew anything at all of your uncle's purpose. I wish to heaven you
had not said a word to me on the subject. I shall have to testify that
you declared to me, that your uncle's offer to her had been communicated
to you by her. It will be impossible to avoid that. And it will be
impossible to persuade the magistrate that you had not previous
knowledge of such a purpose from other sources."

"But why should any such intended offer on the part of my uncle be ever
heard of at all?" urged Ludovico. "He will most assuredly never be
willing to speak of it, and--"

"Che! As if that old man, her so-called father, will not be open-mouthed
as to that--as if he would not proclaim it to the whole city. Ah--h--h!
it is a bad business, Signor Marchese, a bad business.

"And is it possible, Signor Fortini, that you do really in your own
heart believe me to be guilty of this deed?" said Ludovico, with a sigh
that was almost a groan, and looking steadily and wistfully into the
eyes of his companion.

"What is more to the purpose, unfortunately, is that it does not signify
a straw whether I believe it or not. You will not be judged, Signor
Marchese, by my belief; and I am very sure what those who have to judge
you will believe. I have some experience of these matters. I know the
courts. I see the exceeding difficulty of believing anything else as to
this death than that it was done by your hands; by you, who had the
opportunity and the motive, whereas, it is impossible to suggest any
semblance of such motive on the part of any other human being; by you,
in whose company she was last seen alive. She had valuable ornaments
about her person. If you had removed them it would, at least, have left
it open to the magistrates to attribute the deed to another motive, and
to other hands. I see all this. I see the whole case before me; and, I
tell you, that your only chance is to escape while it is yet time."

"My solemn assertion, then, produces no effect on your mind, Signor
Fortini?" said Ludovico, looking at him steadily.

"Signor Marchese," said the lawyer, with an impatient shake of the head,
"let us look at the matter from the opposite point of view. If you had
killed this woman, let us say, what would your conduct be? Would you
not, in that case, make exactly the assertions that you now make? That
is the terrible consideration that makes all assertion valueless in the
case of such suspicion. But, once again, why dwell on my belief in the
matter, which is nothing to the purpose? I have put your position,
whether you are guilty or not guilty, clearly before your eyes. I
counsel you, and strongly urge you, while yet unaccused, to escape from
the accusation, which will be made against you within an hour. I am
ready to assist you with the means of escaping--"

"Signor Fortini, I cannot avail myself of them. I have made up my mind I
will not add another such damning ground of suspicion against me. Here I
will remain to answer, as best I can, all the accusations that may be
brought against me. I will not fly."

The old lawyer shook his head and sighed deeply.

"A bad business," he said, "a very bad business. It will kill the
Marchese Lamberto; and I won't say what I would not have given to have
escaped seeing your father's son, Signor Marchese, in the position in
which you stand."

"Will you carry your kindness yet one step further, Signor Fortini, and,
despite my rejection of your first advice, tell me what you think I had
better first do now immediately, I mean--on the supposition that I am
determined to remain in the city?"

"I think," said the lawyer, after a pause for consideration, "that the
best course for you to take in the case would be to go at once to the
magistrates and make your statement to them of the circumstances
according to your own version of the story,--stating that you hastened
to do so on seeing the dead body at the city gate; I think that is the
best thing you can do. Observe, I cannot say that I think it likely
that, if you do so, you will pass this night under the roof of the
Palazzo Castelmare; but, if you are determined to remain in the city, I
think that is the best thing you can do."

"That, then, I will do," returned the Marchese. "I thank you, Signor
Fortini, for the advice which I can follow, and not less for that which
I cannot follow. Good-evening."

"Good-evening, Signor Marchese. I hope it may be better with you than I
fear. And, of course, if you need me, as you will, you will summon me,
and I will not fail to be with you within a few minutes of your call."

"Thanks, Signor Fortini. Addio."

"One word more, Signor Marchese, before you go. When you uncovered the
face of the woman lying dead yonder you exclaimed, 'Paolina!' What was
the thought that led you to do so? You could not have mistaken the
identity? Of course, you know that I question you only in your own
interest?"

"Did I say 'Paolina?' replied the Marchese, with an apparent effort at
recollecting himself.

"You did. On seeing the face you exclaimed, 'Paolina mia!'--so much so,
that I felt no doubt that it was this Paolina who lay dead there. What
was it moved you to that exclamation?"

"I don't know. I can't tell. I was very anxious about Paolina. The
thought of her was uppermost in my mind, I suppose."

"Humph!" said the lawyer, thoughtfully and doubtingly.

All this conversation had passed hurriedly in the small deserted street
into which Ludovico and the lawyer had turned on leaving the city gate;
and, when they parted, the two men took different directions,--the
lawyer returning to the gate with the germ of an idea in his mind, which
the last portion of his conversation with the Marchese had generated
there, and which subsequent circumstances tended to develop, and the
Marchese Ludovico going in the direction of the Palazzo del Governo.



CHAPTER II

Suspicion


The Marchese Ludovico told the lawyer that he would go immediately to
the magistrates and make a voluntary statement of all that he knew of
the circumstances connected with Bianca's death; and he fully purposed
doing so. But he did not do it immediately. There was another visit
which he was more anxious to pay; and which the hint that had dropped
from the old lawyer to the effect that it was very probable he might not
pass that night in his own home, determined him to pay first at all
hazards.

This visit, as may readily be imagined, was to Paolina. And to the
modest little home in the Strada di Santa Eufemia he hurried as fast as
his legs would carry him, as soon as he quitted Signor Fortini. Paolina,
on returning home after her conversation with the Contessa Violante in
the Cardinal's chapel, had remained there busy with the preparation of
her materials for beginning her work at Saint Apollinare on the
following day.

She looked up as he entered the room with an arch smile on her lips and
in her eyes which, perhaps, did not reflect altogether faithfully the
feeling in her heart.

"Yes, I saw you, you naughty, inconstant boy, when you little thought my
eye was upon you. I saw you with--Ludovico, there is something wrong,"
she said, suddenly changing her laughing tone for one of alarm as her
eye marked the expression of his face. "I am sure from the way you look
at me there is something amiss. What is it, Ludovico mio? What has
happened to vex you?"

"A great and terrible misfortune has happened, my Paolina; and I have
run to you in all haste that you might not hear it from any lips but my
own. You were going to say just now that you saw me with Bianca Lalli,
were you not? Where and when did you see us?"

"In a bagarino, driving towards the Pineta. I was up at a high window in
the church on the scaffolding prepared for my work," said Paolina,
deadly pale, and breathless with apprehension.

"Ah! you saw us from the window. I took her there at her request to see
the Pineta. We started on leaving the ball-room. In the forest she
became sleepy: I left her sleeping on a bank, and meaning to return to
her in a few minutes. I could not find the spot again for some time; and
when I did find it she was gone. After searching the wood in vain for
hours I returned to the city, and--at the gate--not an hour ago--I saw
her brought in--dead!"

"Dead! La Bianca dead!" cried Paolina, much shocked; and with every
vestige of the half-formed suspicions which had been tormenting her
suddenly erased from her mind by the terrible tidings and the sadness of
the end of the unfortunate Diva.

"Dead, my Paolina; and I am suspected of having murdered her," he said
slowly, and with an accent of profound despair.

"What--what! You suspected! By whom? What does it mean? La Bianca
murdered--and by you. What does it mean, Ludovico mio? For pity's sake,
tell me, what does it mean?"

And the pale features began to work, and the large deep eyes filled with
tears, and the neat moment she fell back into a chair sobbing
hysterically.

"I was the last person with whom she was seen alive; and--there was, it
seems, strong reason why it may be supposed that I should wish her
dead--God help me! I learned this morning--the poor girl told me
herself, to my extreme surprise--that my uncle, the Marchese Lamberto,
had proposed marriage to her. You can understand, my darling, that such
a marriage would be a very dreadful misfortune to me: therefore, people
think that I put the unhappy girl to death."

"Oh, my love, my love; come to me, come to me, and let me hold you!"
said the poor girl, struggling to speak amid her convulsive sobbing, and
holding out her hands towards him. "Oh, my Ludovico, this is very
dreadful. But it is impossible--impossible! They will know that it is
impossible that you could have done such a thing. Murder! You--murder a
defenceless girl! Oh, it is nonsense. Nobody will believe anything so
monstrous."

"Thanks, my Paolina--thanks, my own darling. At least there is one heart
that knows me. And, my Paolina, it is an immense comfort to me--not that
I doubted it for an instant--but it is an infinite comfort to me to know
that you, at least in your heart of hearts, are certain that I did
not--that it never could have entered into my mind to do this thing."

"I believe it! I could just as soon imagine that I myself had done it.
But, Ludovico, my beloved, it will not be believed; it is too monstrous.
You are known here; it cannot be believed."

"And yet, my Paolina, one who has known me all my life, who was my
father's friend--one who knows me well, and who looks at things as the
magistrates will look at them--he believes it; believes it so much, and
is so certain that others will believe it, that he strongly urged me to
escape from the city, and from the country. That, Paolina, knowing my
innocence, I would not do. To save myself from the stake I would not
have gone away without telling you, my own one, that I had not done this
deed. I could not go, and so leave you--"

"My own--my own! How I love you, my Ludovico, now in the time of this
great trouble better than ever I did before. There was no need to tell
me, my love, that your hands are innocent of murder. But surely--surely
you did well not to fly, leaving the hideous accusation behind you."

"So I thought, my own love--my own high-minded right-thinking
darling--so I thought; and here I stay to answer my accusers. But the
fatality of the circumstances is such that--in truth, I see little hope
of clearing myself, save by the possible discovery of the causes that
led to this terrible death."

"Was there anything to show how she--that is, I mean, whether she--died
by violence?" asked Paolina.

"Nothing--nothing whatever. As we saw the body under the city gateway,
when the men who found it brought it in, there was not the smallest
trace of violence visible. She lay as if, save for the deadly pallor of
her face, she might have been still sleeping. And I am most anxious for
the medical examination of the body. It may be that they will be able to
discover that death was produced by some natural cause."

"Surely that is the most likely. Had any robbery been committed?" asked
Paolina thoughtfully.

"None--none whatever; and she had valuables exposed on her person which
were untouched. This is one of the worst circumstances against me; as it
excludes the idea of the dead having been done by common malefactors for
the sake of plunder."

"And no marks of violence? It must have been a natural death; such
things do happen. I remember hearing of a case-"

"I must go, darling; I must leave you. I must hasten to the Palazzo del
Governo to make my statement of what has occurred. It is hard to leave
you, my Paolina--very hard to leave you, not knowing when or under what
circumstances I am likely to see you again."

"Ludovico, see me again!" shrieked the girl, as a new and dreadful idea
presented itself for the first time to her mind; "why--you will come to
me when you have spoken to the magistrates; you will tell me what they
say."

"I fear me, Paolina, that it will not be in my power to do that,"
returned Ludovico, with a melancholy smile. "Should they leave me at
liberty, of course I shall fly to you on the instant they dismiss me.
But, you must not expect that, my love. I shall be detained doubtless,
until--until the truth has been discovered respecting this horrible
tragedy. One kiss my own, own darling before we part."

She sprang into his opened arms with a bound; almost before the words
had quitted his lips, and clasped him to her heart with all the strength
she could exert. Then drawing herself a little back, and placing her two
little hands on the front of his shoulders; she said, speaking with
breathless hurry,--"See now, my love, my only love. You must remember
all the time, that there is no hour of the day or night that I shall not
be thinking of you, and loving you all the time, always, always. And
remember, that if all the whole world says that you did this thing, I
shall still know that it was as impossible as that I did it myself.
Remember that always, my best beloved."

"Thanks, my Paolina; it will be very sweet to me to remember it. And
dearest, one thing more. It will hardly be likely that in the present
circumstances, under all this weight of misfortune, my poor uncle will
be likely to have time or attention to give to you, But if you have need
of anything--of advice, of assistance, of protection--speak to the
Contessa Violante, and--stay, you shall take a message to her from me.
Tell her that I begged you to say, as from me to her, that in the teeth
of all appearances I am innocent in thought, word, and deed in this
matter. I think she will believe it; I must go, my love, my own!"

"Pray God, it be not for long, tesoro mio. I shall pray to the Holy
Virgin for you morning and night."

"Addio, Paolina mia. Yet one kiss, anima mia, addio,"

From the Strada di Santa Eufemia Ludovico hurried as quickly as he could
to the Palazzo del Governo; but found that he was not in time to be the
first bearer to the police magistrate of the tidings of what had
happened. The report of the officials at the gate had already been given
in, and the police had already taken possession of the body.

The magistrate received him with grave courtesy, saying that he was glad
the Signor Marchese had presented himself in order to throw what light
he could on this sad affair, as rumour had already reached his (the
magistrate's) ears mixing the name of the Marchese Ludovico with the
subject in a manner that would have made it his duty to call the
Marchese, had he not of himself judged it right to anticipate the action
of justice in the matter.

Then Ludovico related clearly and shortly how the excursion to the
Pineta had been imagined and planned between him and Bianca at the ball;
how they had put their plan into execution; how he had left her sleeping
in the forest; and had been unable to find her again; how he had
returned, after spending much time in fruitless seeking, and had shortly
afterwards, being then in the company of Signor Giovacchino Fortini,
seen the dead body of the unfortunate lady brought into the city by men
who had discovered it in the forest.

The magistrate listened attentively to this history in silence, save
that he once or twice interrupted Ludovico to ask at what o'clock it had
been that the different incidents happened. Then he reduced the whole
statement to writing, and read it over to the Marchesino.

"Your lordship parted then from Signor Fortini, after witnessing in his
company the arrival of the corpse at the gate, nearly an hour ago. You
did not come to make your report to us here at once? I must ask you how
you have employed the interval?" said the magistrate shooting a sharp
glance from under his black eyebrows at Ludovico, who was sitting
opposite to him, with a little table between them, on which there were
writing-materials.

"In visiting a lady, to whom I was very anxious to tell these
unfortunate circumstances myself, instead of allowing them to come to
her ears in any other manner," answered Ludovico simply.

"The lady's name? I ask in confidence, you know; unless of course the
fact should turn out to have any bearing on the discovery of the truth
as to this most unhappy business."

"The lady is the Signorina Paolina Foscarelli, a Venetian artist sent
here to make copies of some of our mosaics, and recommended to my uncle
the Marchese Lamberto."

"With whom you had no acquaintance previous to her bringing that
recommendation?"

"None whatever."

"But since that time you have become intimate with her?"

"It is true."

"Signor Marchese, this is a most lamentable and unhappy affair. It is my
duty to point out to you, what doubtless your own good sense has already
suggested to you--that the mere facts, as you have related them to me,
place you in a very unfortunate position. But most unhappily--it is
exceedingly painful to me to have to say it--there is, if what has
already reached my ears be true, worse, much worse behind. I am obliged
to ask you what conversation, of a special nature, passed between you
and Bianca Lalli during your excursion?"

"I will make no pretence at not understanding your question, Signor, nor
any attempt to conceal the truth. I have already stated the facts; or
that, which you have evidently heard, could not have reached your ears.
The Signorina Bianca Lalli confided to me the fact, that my uncle the
Marchese Lamberto had offered marriage to her."

"Most lamentable, and to be regretted in every way," said the
magistrate, gravely shaking his head. "You perceive, Signor Marchese,
the terrible, but inevitable suggestion, that arises from the fact of
your having been made aware of a purpose so disastrous to your
interests?"

"I call your attention, Signor, again to the fact, that nothing would
have been known of any such communication having been made to me, had I
not spontaneously mentioned the circumstance myself."

"It is true, Signor Marchese, and it will not be forgotten that this
circumstance was spontaneously mentioned by you. But you must observe,
that the fact of the proposal made by the Marchese Lamberto would have
become known in more ways than one. And unhappily the fact that such a
proposal had been made, would throw a very disagreeable light on the
extraordinary circumstances of this death. To whom would the death of
this unfortunate woman be profitable? That is the fatal question, Signor
Marchese, which it is impossible to avoid asking."

"I am aware of the cruelty of the inference suggested by the
circumstance, Signor Commissario," said Ludovico sadly.

"Have you any suggestion to offer yourself as to the possible means by
which this woman may have met with her death?" asked the Commissary of
Police.

"As far as I could see at the city gate, and according to the statement
of the men who found the body, there was no indication of violence
whatever to be found on it. My suggestion therefore, and my trust is,
that the cause of her death was a natural one:"

"That will be a question for the medical authorities to decide," said
the Commissary.

"I was about to ask you whether they had proceeded to any examination
yet?" said Ludovico.

"Not yet; we shall have the report immediately; and it shall be at once
communicated to you."

"At the Palazzo Castelmare?" said Ludovico, though he had but very
little hope that he should be allowed to remain at large.

The Commissary shook his head very gravely.

"I need hardly tell you, Signor Marchese, how painful it is to me to be
compelled to announce to you that we cannot find it consistent with our
duty to allow you under the circumstances to quit this building. The
utmost that can be done to make your detention as little uncomfortable
to you as possible, shall be done. And I can only say that I trust it
may be but for a short time."

"Permit me to observe, Signor Commissario, that after seeing the dead
body at the gate, to say nothing of all the hours previously, if I had
been guilty,--I had abundance of time to escape, and to place myself
beyond the reach of the Papal authorities, before I could have been
overtaken. I might have done so, but did not. Might not that be held to
justify you in allowing me to retain my liberty until the course of your
inquiries may again require my presence?"

"I fear not, Signor Marchese, I fear not. The fact that such a crime has
been committed throws a terrible responsibility upon us. As to your not
having availed yourself of opportunity to escape, I may remark that you
may have been detained, not so much by your desire of meeting inquiry,
as of having the interview, of which you told me just now. You say that
you came directly from the Signorina Foscarelli's dwelling hither. At
that time it was too late for hope of escape. I fear, Signor Marchese,
it will not be consistent with my duty to allow you to depart."

So Ludovico was conducted to a very sufficiently comfortable chamber
reserved for similar occasions, and found himself a prisoner, waiting
trial on suspicion of murder.



CHAPTER III

Guilty or not Guilty?


Signor Fortini hurried home, when he quitted the Marchese Ludovico in
the little quiet street, in which they had talked together after the
terrible sight they had together witnessed at the city gate, and shut
himself up in his private room to think. He was much moved and
distressed, more moved than the practised calm of the manner natural to
him, and the slow movements of old age, allowed to be visible.

What a dreadful, what a miserable misfortune was this. A tragedy, if
ever there was one, which would for ever strike down from their place an
ancient and noble family, whose merit and worth had from generation to
generation been the pride and the admiration of the entire city--a
tragedy which would come home as such to the heart of every human being
in Ravenna. Great heaven, what a fall!

And this was the first outcome of the disastrous purpose of his old
friend the Marchese. Truly he had felt that nought but evil--evils
manifold and wide-spreading--could arise from so insane a line of
conduct. But he had been far from anticipating so overwhelming a
calamity as the first result of it.

Then, the deed itself! It would cause an outcry from one end of Italy to
the other. It would be a disgrace, and an opprobrium to the city for
many a year. What! Ravenna invites, entices this hapless girl, who had
been the admiration of so many cities, to come within her walls; and in
return for the delight which she had given them--murders her. Other
cities vie with each other in doing honour to the gifted artist. She
ventures to Ravenna, and--is murdered.

There was a bitterness in Signor Fortini's consideration of the matter
from this point of view, which was more poignant than any other man than
an Italian would quite understand. For nowhere else do municipal pride,
jealousy, and patriotism run so high.

A foul and cruel murder had been done: so much was certain. Signor
Fortini had not the smallest hope that the death would be found to have
resulted from natural causes. And then came the consideration whether
there could be any hope that, after all, the deed had been done by some
other hand than that of the young Marchese di Castelmare.

After thinking deeply for several minutes, the lawyer shook his head.
That such a deed might have been done in the forest on the person of one
found sleeping there, whose appearance was such as to hold out the
expectation of booty to a plunderer, was possible--not very likely, but
possible. Possible enough to suppose that lawless and evil-disposed
persons might have been wandering there-depredators on the forest, who
exist in great numbers--smugglers making their way across the country by
hidden paths, or what not? Possible enough that such a deed might have
been done, and the perpetrators of it far away before the discovery of
the body, away to the southward, and across the Apennine into Tuscany in
the space of a few hours. But all such possibilities were conclusively
negatived by the certain fact that no plunder had been attempted, that
plunder could not have been the object of the murderer.

Alarmed before they could carry their object into execution by the
approach of footsteps? Was this a plausible or a possible theory?

No; for the poor Diva had valuable ornaments visible on her person, an
enamelled gold watch at her girdle, a diamond pin or brooch at the
fastening of her dress on her chest, to possess themselves of which
would have needed less time than was required for the perpetration of
the murder. It was wholly impossible to suppose, on any hypothesis, that
the murder could have been committed for the sake of plunder, and that
these ornaments could have been left untouched.

It had been observed, and was noted--not in the report drawn up by the
officials at the gate, but in the more exact and detailed report
furnished by the police on their taking of the body into their
charge--that the brooch, which has been mentioned, was unfastened, so as
to be left hanging in the dress by its pin. But this circumstance did
not seem to be of much moment, as it might well have been that Bianca
herself had unfastened it before falling asleep.

No; it was but too clear, as the lawyer said to himself, that murder and
not robbery had been the object of the perpetrator of the crime.

There was, it was true, nothing improbable in the story told by the
Marchese Ludovico. That the girl should have been overpowered by sleep,
after having passed the night at the ball, and then started on an
expedition so foreign to her usual habits, was abundantly likely. That
he might have become tired of sitting still while she slept, and might
have strayed away from her, not intending to quit her for more than a
few minutes and a few yards, was also perfectly probable. That having so
strayed he might have been unable to find his way back again to the spot
where he had left her, or to be certain whether he had found the same
spot or not, would not seem at all unlikely to any one acquainted with
the Pineta. All this story was likely and natural enough.

But--the motive--the inevitable inference from that terrible cui bono
question. For whom was it profitable, that this poor girl should be put
to death? According to the fatal information, which, by his own account,
he had received but a short time previously from the victim herself,
information, the truth and accuracy of which were well known to the
lawyer from the Marchese Lamberto himself, the whole future prospects in
life of the Marchese Ludovico depended on the life or death of this
unhappy woman.

If the Marchese Lamberto carried out his insane intention of marrying La
Bianca Lalli his nephew would become simply destitute. After having been
accustomed, from the cradle to the age of four-and-twenty, to all that
riches could procure--after having lived in the sure expectation of
wealth up to an age when it was too late to think of making himself
capable of earning a competence for himself in any conceivable manner,
this marriage would take from him suddenly, and for ever, all such
prospect; and the death of the woman who had bewitched his uncle thus
fatally would make all safe, for the Marchese Lamberto was not a
marrying man--was, as all the town knew, the last man in the world to
have dreamed of taking a wife now at this time of his life.

No; it was the fatal fascination, the witchery, the lures of this one
woman. Remove her, and all would be right.

Ah! The mischief, the woe, the scandal, the disgrace, the irretrievable
calamity, and the misery, that this accursed folly of the Marchese
Lamberto had caused. Ah! to think of all the sorrow and trouble this
woman brought with her into the city when she was so triumphantly
welcomed within the walls by these two unhappy men--the uncle and the
nephew.

It was strongly and curiously characteristic of the Italian mind that
Signor Fortini, in coming to the conclusion that this deed must, beyond
the possibility of doubt, have been committed by the Marchese Ludovico
and none other, was mainly and specially moved by compassion for the
perpetrator of the crime. There is something in this Italian mode of
viewing human events and human conduct curiously analogous to that
conception of mortal destinies on which the pathos of the old Greek
tragedy mainly rests.

How cruel was the fate which had thus compelled the young man to
perceive that the life of this girl and his own welfare were
incompatible!

How dreadful the pitiless working of the great, blind, automatic,
destiny-machine!

To raise a murderous hand against the life of a sleeping girl--how
dreadful! How great, therefore, must have been the suffering which
impelled a man to do so!

He had evidently been driven to desperation by the prospect of the utter
and tremendous ruin that threatened him; and "desperation;" the absence
of all hope, is recognised, both by the popular mind of Italy and by its
theoretic theology, as a sufficient cause for any course of action. It
is especially taught by Roman Catholic theology that it is, above all
things, wicked so to act towards a man as to drive him to desperation;
and the popular ethics invariably visit with deeper reprobation any
cause of conduct which had tempted another man to make himself guilty of
a violent crime than it does the criminal himself.

Thus, lawyer and law-abiding man as he was, with all the habits of a
long life between him and the possibility of his raising his own band
against the life of any man, Signor Fortini, as he mused on the tragedy
which had fallen out, felt more of compassion for the Marchese Ludovico,
and more of anger against the folly of his uncle.

This thing, too, which the Marchese Lamberto had announced his intention
of doing, sinned against all those virtues which, let the professions of
the moral code say what they may, stand really highest in an Italian
estimation. It was eminently unwise; it was imprudent; it was
indecorous; it was calculated to produce scandal; it would bring
disgrace upon a noble name; it was ridiculous; and, besides all this, it
necessarily drove another to "desperation."

"A fool! An insane idiot! Worst of all fools--an old fool! To think that
a man, who had stood so many years in the eyes of all men as he had
stood, should come to such a downfall. It would serve him no more than
right, if it were possible, that all the consequences of what had been
done should fall on his own head."

Still, during all the musings which seemed to force him to the
conclusion that the crime which had been committed was the deed of the
Marchese Ludovico, the old lawyer did not lose sight of the idea which
had been suggested to his mind by that exclamation of Ludovico on the
first sight of the murdered woman. He did not, in truth, as yet think
that it was worth much; but he kept it safe at the bottom of his mind,
ready for being produced if subsequent circumstances should seem to give
any value to it.

After musing an hour while these thoughts passed through his mind, the
old lawyer thought he would go as far as the Palazzo del Governo to
learn what steps had been taken, and whether--though he had very little
doubt on that point--his unfortunate young friend had been detained in
custody.

Signor Pietro Logarini, the head of the police, was an old acquaintance
of Signor Fortini,--as, indeed was pretty well everybody in any sort of
position of authority in the city.

"A bad business this, Signor Pietro," said Fortini, shaking his head.

"The worst business, Signor Giovacchino, that has happened in Ravenna as
long as I can remember. It is very terrible."

"Is the poor young fellow--?" Signor Fortini completed his question by a
movement of his eyes, of one shoulder, and one thumb, quite as
intelligible to the person he addressed as any words would have been.

"Yes, of course. There was no help for it, you know."

"Of course not. I suppose he came here as soon as he parted from me. It
so happened that we were together at the gate when the body was brought
there," said Signor Fortini.

"So I understand. You will be called on for your evidence as to his
manner on being confronted with it."

"Of course; fortunately I have nothing to say on that point that can do
any damage. He was much moved, naturally; we both were; but nothing more
than any man in his place would have been."

"But the worst, the only fatal point in that confession of his, is that
the girl told him of the Marchese Lamberto's intention of marrying her.
Why in heaven's name did he let that slip out?"

"My notion is that it just did slip out, as you say. An old hand, a man
accustomed to be at odds with the laws and the police, would have known
better. Did he make the same statement here?" asked Fortini, rather
surprised.

"On my asking him, as I felt compelled to do, what special conversation
had passed between him and the girl that morning, he told me the fact,"
replied the Commissary.

"But what led you to ask him such a question?" said Fortini.

"Ah!--something that had reached my ears. We are forced, you know,
Signor Giovacchino, to have very long ears in our business. His
conversation with you to-day was held in the street,--a bad place for
such talk, Signor Giovacchino."

"And not chosen by me for such a purpose, as you may imagine. Little
could I guess what sort of confidence I was about to hear."

"Not that it makes any difference. All that would have had to come out,
you know, Signor Giovacchino."

"Oh, quite so, quite so; no, no difference in the world. Did he come to
you immediately on leaving me?"

"No; it would have been better upon the whole if he had done so. He went
first, it seems, to the residence of a lady, one Signorina Paolina
Foscarelli, being very desirous, he said, of not leaving her to hear of
the business from other lips than his own. It is a pity, because his
abstaining from flight might have been something in his favour, if he
had not made it appear, that his remaining in the city might have been
caused by his desire to see again this Paolina. Do you know anything
about her? I see by our books that she came here last autumn from
Venice. What is she like?"

"It so happens that I never saw her. But I am told that she is
pretty--very pretty--remarkably so." "Ah--h--h! that's what kept the
poor young fellow from running till it was too late to run. And yet,"
continued the Commissary, pausing on his words, and tapping his forehead
with his finger as if a new idea had just occurred to him--"and yet the
young Don Juan goes out tete-a-tete into the forest with this other
girl."

"Che volete?" returned the lawyer with a shrug. "Boys will be boys, and
women--are women."

"Yes; but the women sometimes don't quite like--" and the Commissary
allowed the remainder of his sentence to remain unspoken, being
apparently too much occupied with his thoughts to speak it.

"I suppose the medical report can hardly have been made yet?" asked the
lawyer, on whom the suppressed meaning of the Police Commissary's broken
sentence was not lost.

"No; there has not been time. It was too late in the afternoon.
Professor Tomosarchi will make a post-mortem examination the first thing
to-morrow morning; and I daresay we shall have his report in the course
of the day, if, as is most likely, there is nothing to call for more
than a superficial examination."

"I shall be very anxious to hear the result of his investigation--very.
I will look in, if you will allow me, to-morrow morning. And now I think
I will go to that unfortunate man, the Marchese Lamberto. I should not
be at all surprised if I were to find that he had heard nothing about
all this. Only think what it is I shall have to tell him--the woman
about whom he has been so mad as to have determined on sacrificing to
her everything, fame, position, friends, respect,--everything--is dead!
It is his monstrous proposal that has caused her death; and the same
folly has made the representative of his house a murderer and a felon.
Think, Signor Pietro, what that man's feelings must be when these
tidings are told him."

"Depend upon it, the whole city knows all about it by this time," said
the Commissary.

"But I think it exceedingly likely that he has not been out of his
library, all day," returned the lawyer.

"But the servants will have heard the news. Ill news travels fast," said
the Commissary, with a shrug.

"Yes; but the servants will hardly have ventured to repeat such tidings
to him. Two to one it will fall to my lot to tell him. A pleasant
office, isn't it, Signor Pietro?"

"Not one I should like to undertake. Good-evening, Signor Giovacchino.
If I don't see you to-morrow morning I will send you a couple of lines
with the result of the medical examination."

"Thanks, Signor Pietro; but I will look in about the beginning of your
office hours to-morrow morning. I feel as if I should be able to think
of nothing else but this terrible business for some time to come. Felice
sera."

And so the old lawyer went off to call upon his client, the Marchese
Lamberto, truly dreading the interview, and yet not without a certain
degree of satisfaction, and a kind of I-told-you-so feeling in the
prospect of announcing to the unhappy Marchese those terrible
first-fruits of the disastrous purpose, in condemnation of which the
lawyer had spoken so strongly a few hours ago.



CHAPTER IV

The Marchese hears the Ill News


Signor Fortini judged rightly, when he said that he thought it probable
that the Marchese Lamberto had not quitted his library, from the time
when he had left him there, after the conversation, in which the
Marchese had avowed his purpose with regard to La Bianca.

The shrewd lawyer had well understood, that the final decision with
regard to such a purpose, and the definite announcement of it, which the
Marchese had made to him, his lawyer, were not likely to dispose such a
man to meet the eyes of his fellow-citizens. Had Fortini known that the
Marchese had been made aware of the purposed excursion of his nephew
with the singer--as the reader knows that he had been by the officious
meddling of the Conte Leandro,--it might have seemed strange that he
should have chosen just that day and hour for the declaration of his
intention. Was it that he hastened to acquire such an authority over
Bianca, as might enable him to put an end to any such escapades for the
future? Was it that he was infatuated to that degree, that he feared,
that if he did not make haste to secure the prize, it might be taken
from him by his nephew?

However this might have been, the overt step he had taken had certainly
not had the effect of tranquillizing his mind. The hours of that day,
since the lawyer left him, had been passed in the most miserable manner
by him.

The servants had all learned, that there was something very decidedly
wrong with their master. The man who usually attended on him personally,
surprised at his master spending the day in a manner so unusual with
him, had made various excuses to enter the library two or three times in
the course of the day. Each time he had found the Marchese, instead of
being busily employed, as was usual with him, when in his library,
either sitting in his easy-chair with his hands before him, and his head
hanging on his breast, doing absolutely nothing; or else pacing up and
down the room.

As the afternoon went on, and the Marchese still did not go out, his
valet, really uneasy about him, found the means of watching him without
entering the room. Again and again he saw him rise from his chair and,
after two or three turns across the room, return to it. Often he went to
the window, and looked out, as if expecting something. Three or four
times he observed him start violently at the sound of a door banging in
some other part of the palace.

Once in the course of the afternoon the servant had had a genuine excuse
for entering the room. The Conte Leandro had called, and asked if the
Marchese was at home. He had not seen the Marchese Ludovico in the
course of the day, and was curious to find out what had been the result
of the eavesdropping that he had retailed to the Marchese Lamberto. That
it had not availed to induce the Marchese to interfere in any way to put
a stop to the excursion, the Conte Leandro had the means of knowing, as
will presently appear. But his curiosity was doomed to remain
unsatisfied. The Marchese had replied with a savage ill-humour, that the
old servant had never seen in his master before, that he did not want to
see the Conte, leaving the domestic to modify the harshness of the reply
as he might.

When, however, some hours later, Signor Fortini came to the door, and
despite what the servants told him of the state their master was in, and
of his refusal to see the Conte Leandro, insisted on being announced,
the Marchese admitted him.

The first thought that flashed through the lawyer's brain, when he came
into the presence of his old friend and client, was a profound sense of
self-congratulation at his own freedom from all connection with
womankind.

His own experience of married life, essayed in early years and happily
brought to a conclusion after a probation of a very short time, had, as
has been hinted, not been a happy one. He had very deeply felt; some
five-and-forty years ago, that nothing in the Signora Fortini's life had
become her like the leaving of it. And during all those years of
widowhood, the remembrance of that first burning of his fingers had
sufficed to make the old gentleman a consistent misogynist.

"Ah, here is another specimen of women's work," he thought to himself,
as he observed the utter wretchedness of the Marchese's appearance, and
the traces in him of a day spent in misery. "And he, too, who had
escaped for fifty years! If I had avoided the springes for fifty years,
I don't think I should have been caught at last. Maybe, it is all the
worse for coming to a man so late. Now here is this man, who had
everything the world could give to make his happiness, wrecked, ruined,
destroyed, blasted by the sight of a painted piece of woman's flesh, and
the lure of a pair of devil-instructed eyes. And he knows that it is
ruin. He knows which is the evil, and which the good, and yet is so
besotted, that he has not the power to take the one and leave the other.
Is not the sight of the unhappy wretch, as he sits cowering there,
afraid, evidently afraid to meet my eye, a warning and a caution?"

And, in truth, the appearance of the Marchese might have been held, to
justify these reflections of the lawyer, who was right in supposing that
no tidings of what had happened had reached the Marchese since he had
parted from him after their interview that morning. Attributing,
therefore, the state of utter moral prostration, mixed with a kind of
restless nervous agitation, in which he found him, to the consciousness
of the terrible results he was about to bring upon himself by the folly
he had decided on committing, the lawyer could not prevent the thought
occurring to him that were it not for the dreadful circumstances that
seemed to bring home the suspicion of murder to the Marchese Ludovico,
the tidings he brought of the death of the unfortunate woman would be,
if not a relief at the moment, yet the most fortunate exit for the
Marchese from the position he had made for himself.

"Good-evening, Signor Giovacchino. You have come, of course, to ask
whether the representations you made to me this morning have availed to
induce me to waver in the purpose I announced to you," said the
Marchese, scarcely looking up so as to meet the eye of the lawyer.

"Signor Marchese," returned Fortini, "it is my turn this time to
communicate to you intelligence which will strike you, I fear, to the
full as painfully as I was struck by what you told me this morning." The
Marchese started; and the lawyer observed that the start seemed to
continue and propagate itself, as it were, into a tremor, that ran
through all his person, as he said, with chattering teeth: "What do you
mean? Has anything happened?--anything--out of the common way,
eh?--eh?--what--what is it?"

"That has happened, Signor Marchese, which makes all further
consideration of the step you confided to me your intention of taking
this morning unnecessary. The lady, whom you purposed to make your wife,
is no more."

"No more--how no more?--what--what is it you mean?" said the Marchese,
evidently terribly shocked, as was manifested by the tremor and
shivering which seized him yet more violently than before; yet still
without looking up so as to meet the lawyer's eye.

"She is dead, Signor Marchese," said the lawyer, looking at him
curiously.

"Dead--La Bianca dead! I don't believe it. It is some scheme for
frustrating the purpose you disapproved of--some plan managed between
you and my nephew. You have sent her away, and want to persuade me that
she is dead."

"Your mind is unhinged by the shock of my intelligence, Signor
Marchese--naturally enough--or such an absurd notion would not have
occurred to you. I have seen the dead body of Bianca Lalli. It is now in
the custody of the police," said the lawyer, with slow gravity.

"The police!" cried the Marchese, shooting a momentary glance up into
the lawyer's face.

"Necessarily so; for, Signor Marchese, the unhappy--the miserable truth
is that a foul murder has been committed. The girl was murdered in the
Pineta this morning."

"Murdered! Gracious heaven! Murdered--but why murdered? Why may she not
have died by a natural death?--that is--I mean--of course I mean, if
there were no evident marks of violence on the body."

The lawyer paused a minute, as if some cause of perplexity had been
suggested to him by the words of the Marchese, before he
replied,--"There were, in truth, no marks of evident violence on the
body, or, at least, none such as an unskilled eye would observe on a
very superficial examination. But all that will be ascertained at the
medical examination, which will take place to-morrow morning. But I
think it can hardly be doubted that the death was not a natural one,"
said the lawyer, shaking his head gravely.

"And the Marchese Ludovico?" asked the Marchese, rather strangely, as it
struck the lawyer, seeing that nothing had as yet been said to connect
the young Marchese with the catastrophe, and he was not aware of the
fact that the Marchese knew of his nephew's excursion to the Pineta.

"That, alas! is the worst part of the bad story--we, at least, here in
Ravenna are perhaps excusable in thinking it the worst. The fact is,
Signor Marchese, that this death took place under circumstances which
seem to leave no doubt that the deed was done by the hand of the
Marchese Ludovico."

"The hand of the Marchese Ludovico! Gracious heaven! But that is
nonsense, Signor Fortini. No doubt? How can there be no doubt, merely
because he was with her in the forest?"

There was something in the Marchese's manner which made it seem to the
lawyer as if he must have already heard of the tragedy that had
happened, and of the suspicion that had been thrown on his nephew. "Were
you aware, then, Signor Marchese," he asked, "that the Marchese Ludovico
had gone to the Pineta with this unhappy woman?"

The Marchese dropped his head upon his chest and paused a minute,
passing his hand slowly across his brow and before his eyes, before he
replied,--"Yes, I knew that," he said, at length; "the Conte Leandro
told me of it."

"Your people told me, just now, that you had refused to see the Conte
Leandro, when he called," remarked the lawyer, again looking puzzled.

"Yes, I refused to see him because my mind was full of the conversation
we had this morning. You know I promised you, Signor Fortini, that I
would think over the matter again; and I was engaged in doing so. I have
been thinking of it all day; I was thinking of it still when you came
in."

"Thinking still of your purpose of making the woman, La Bianca, your
wife. Then you could not have heard of her miserable end when I came
in,--as I supposed, indeed, you could not have heard," remarked the
lawyer.

"Heard of it? Why of course not. That is clear--that proves that I could
not have heard of it, you know," said the Marchese, with a strange sort
of eagerness.

"When was it, then, that you heard from the Conte Leandro, that the
Marchese Ludovico was in the Pineta with La Bianca?" asked the lawyer.

"At the ball," replied the Marchese, after a minute's thought, "at the
ball. He came to me and told me that they had planned an excursion to
the forest, as soon as they left the ball-room. The Conte Leandro told
me of it, because, he said, he thought it an imprudent thing, and I
should disapprove it. But why should I, you know? I said nothing to
either of them about it. Why not let them have such an innocent
enjoyment? Young people must be young, you know, Signor Fortini. For my
part, I preferred making the best of my way to my bed, after being up
all night." There was a strange kind of nervous eagerness and hurry in
the Marchese's manner of saying this, which struck the lawyer as
affording yet further evidence of the degree to which his mind had been
utterly unhinged by the struggle which had been going on in it,
doubtless for a longer time than he, the lawyer, was aware of, between
the influence over him which the singer had acquired, and his sense of
the terrible nature of the step she was inducing him to take. It seemed
necessary to recall his attention to that view of the matter which was
now of the most urgent interest, the suspicions which rested on the
Marchese Ludovico.

"As you say, Signor Marchese," he resumed, "that Signor Ludovico should
have been with La Bianca in the forest, affords no proof sufficient to
convict him of being the author of this crime; although the fact of his
being the last person in whose company she was ever seen alive, does
suffice, in a certain degree, to throw on him the onus of showing that
he is innocent of it. But the worst is--the damning feature of the
matter is, that he had a very strong and intelligible reason for wishing
this Bianca out of the way. Remember that your marriage with her would
have the effect of reducing him to beggary. Put that fact side by side
with the facts that he takes her to a solitary place in the Pineta, and
that she is shortly afterwards found there murdered; and I am afraid--I
am dreadfully afraid that the judges will not resist the conclusion
that, in truth, seems forced upon them. It is a bad business, Signor
Marchese; a very bad and ugly business."

"But I had not mentioned to the Marchese Ludovico my intention with
regard to the girl. How could he have been led to do such an act by such
a motive, when he knew nothing of it?" said the Marchese, after several
minutes of consideration.

"Unfortunately he did know it, and has himself stated that he knew it.
It seems that the girl herself took the opportunity of their drive
together to tell him of the fact. Would to heaven that she had never
done so," said Fortini, with a deep sigh.

"But anybody must see that it is a thousand times more probable that she
should have been killed by robbers--vagabonds tramping through the
country. The Pineta is always full of them. I am sure I would no more
lie--I would no more wander there alone!--Of course the unfortunate girl
must have been murdered by brigands."

"If any robbery had been committed, there might be reason to hope so, or
at least ground for such theory. But, unfortunately, she had exposed on
her person valuables exceedingly tempting to a thief; but they remained
untouched."

At that moment there came a loud and hurried rapping at the door. The
Marchese started violently in his chair, and turned deadly pale; another
proof, if more were needed, of the degree in which his nervous system
had been shaken by the intelligence he had received, coming, as it did,
on the back of all that had previously contributed to unhinge his mind.
In the next instant, a servant put his head into the room, saying that
the Conte Leandro had returned, and was urgent to be admitted to see the
Marchese, declaring that he had a very important communication to make
to him.

"I cannot see him. I will not see him. I will see nobody. Signor
Fortini, would you have the kindness to let him understand that I am not
in a condition to see anybody?" said the Marchese, apparently much
agitated.

The lawyer stepped rapidly to the door, and at the stair-head found the
Conte Leandro, bursting with the news, which he had hoped to be the
first to communicate to the Marchese, and which, of course, showed how
wise and timely had been his own interference in telling the Marchese of
the proposed excursion of Ludovico, and how disastrous had been the
results of his not having paid due attention to it.

"My dear Conte," said Fortini, "I have just done the painful task which
you, doubtless, have kindly come to undertake. You must excuse the
Marchese if he declines, for the present, to see you. You will readily
understand how terrible the shock has been to him. He is, as might be
expected, quite broken down by it. In truth, I wish you had had the
telling him instead of me. It was most painful."

"But, Signor Fortini," urged the poet, eagerly, as the lawyer was
turning away to return to the Marchese, "are you aware--have you heard
what is said in the town?--that the Marchese had offered marriage to La
Bianca, and that this was the cause--of course I do not believe anything
of the kind myself--but I assure you it is what people are saying. And I
think the Marchese ought to be told, you know, for--"

"I will tell the Marchese of your kind intention, Signor Conte," said
the lawyer; "I think it would be better for you not to attempt seeing
him now. And, in the meantime, you cannot do better than to contradict,
most emphatically, any such monstrously absurd reports, as those you
have mentioned."

"You know, of course, that Ludovico is arrested; and I am shocked to
say, that the general opinion in the city is very much against him. Of
course I need not tell you that I am perfectly convinced of his entire
innocence. But who, except a really attached friend, would you get to
believe it, under the circumstances? Ah! I am afraid it will go hard
with him," said the Conte; speaking with eager volubility,--"I am sadly.
afraid it will go hard with him."

"It seems to me, Signor Conte, that any such speculations are a little
premature. The Marchese Ludovico has not been even officially accused as
yet. At any rate you can console yourself, Signor Conte, with the
consideration that you have a magnificent subject for a tragedy in your
hands. To such a genuine poet as yourself, that is enough to
counterbalance any misfortune that only touches our friends."

And with that the old lawyer turned away to go back to the library;
while the poet, though not altogether without a somewhat annoying notion
that he was laughed at, was nevertheless delighted with the excellent
idea that had been suggested to him.

"I made him understand that you could not see him. All he wanted was to
tell you just what I have already communicated to you," said the lawyer,
as he came back into the room. "He said too, by-the-by, that all the
town was talking of the offer of marriage made by the Marchese Lamberto
to Signora Bianca Lalli--"

"Of course, of course," groaned the Marchese, tossing himself restlessly
from one side to the other of his chair. "And to think that at the very
time,--at the hour when I was communicating to you the decision I had
arrived at with regard to--to that unfortunate--to poor Bianca, she was
even then, as it would seem, lying dead in the forest. It is very, very
terrible."

"And I told the Signor Conte that he could not do better than contradict
such a report wherever he heard it," added the lawyer, who began almost
to fancy, from a something that seemed strange to him in the Marchese's
manner, that the catastrophe which had come to relieve him in such a
terrible manner from the scrape he had got himself into with the singer,
was not altogether unwelcome to him.

"It is of no use, Fortini," returned the Marchese, with a groan; "it is
of no use. That old man, her reputed father, knows it; their servant
knows it; Ludovico knows it: and, of course, his knowledge of it will
have to be made public."

"Nevertheless, the denial of it by such a tongue as that of the Conte
Leandro Lombardoni can do no harm in the meantime," said the lawyer,
quietly. "It may be," he added, "it may be that something may turn up to
prevent any public accusation of the Marchese. It may be that he is not
guilty. It may be that the deed may yet be brought home to some other
hand."

"Do you think that, Fortini? do you think that likely?" said the
Marchese, with a quickly withdrawn anxious look into the lawyer's face.

"No, frankly, I do not think it likely. I fear that it is very certain
that his hand is the guilty one. Nevertheless, it may be--it is
difficult to say--it may be. At all events, it is always time enough to
abandon hope. I must leave you now, Signor Marchese; I will see you
again to-morrow morning."

"Many, many thanks, my good Signor Giovacchino. Do not forget to come.
Remember how dreadfully anxious I must be to hear what passes: above
all, the result of the medical examination--specially the result of the
medical examination."

"I will not fail to come. I miei saluti, Signor Marchese."



CHAPTER V

Doubts and Possibilities


In passing through the hall of the Palazzo the lawyer, who was well
acquainted with every servant in the house, took an opportunity of
speaking a few words to the Marchese's old valet, Nanni.

"The Marchese seems to have been a little overtired when he came back
from the ball this morning, Nanni; and then this is a sad affair about
the Marchese Ludovico."

"Ahi, misericordia! To think that I should live to hear of a Castelmare
arrested in Ravenna. The world is coming to an end, I think, Signor
Giovacchino."

"Vexing enough; but not so bad as all that, I hope. No doubt Signor
Ludovico will be able to clear himself before long."

"Clear himself!" re-echoed the old servant, very indignantly; "that's
just what they say when some poor devil of the popolaccio is at odds
with the police. The Marchese di Castelmare clear himself! Well, I've
lived to see a many things, but I never thought to see the day that such
people should dare to meddle with a Castelmare."

"The Marchese Ludovico himself thought fit to go to them to give
explanations."

"Ah! He'd have done better to take no notice of 'em, to my thinking,"
said the old man, shaking his head. "But is it true, Signor Giovacchino,
what people say, that--?"

"There is mostly very little truth in what people say, Nanni,"
interrupted the lawyer. "But I'll tell you what: a good servant should
hear all and repeat nothing. It's natural that such an old friend as you
should want to know all about it, and to you I shan't mind telling the
whole story as soon as I know the rights of it myself. But it vexes me
to see the Marchese so put out about it; and then I don't think he has
been quite well latterly."

"Nothing like well, these days past, Signor Giovacchino. The Marchese
has not been like himself noways. I think he is far from well."

"Does he get his rest at night? That is a great thing at his time of
life. He seems to me like a man who has not had his natural sleep. I
suppose he went to bed when he came home from the ball?"

"Yes, directly. He seemed in a hurry like to get to bed. When he was
about half undressed he said it was time I was in bed myself, and sent
me away, and I heard him lock the door."

"Does he generally lock the door at night?" asked the lawyer.

"No; and I knew by that that he meant to have a good sleep, and not be
disturbed this morning. So I never went near him till I heard his bell,
between ten and eleven o'clock; and when I went he was just getting out
of bed, so that he had a matter of six hours' sleep."

"It don't seem to have done him much good any way," rejoined the lawyer,
thinking to himself that the hours during which Nanni supposed his
master to have been sleeping, had more probably been spent in restless
agitation, the result of bringing his mind to the determination which he
had definitely announced to the lawyer, when he had summoned him about
an hour after he had risen from his sleepless bed. "I shall come and see
how he is to-morrow morning," the lawyer added; "and I hope I may bring
some good news about Signor Ludovico."

Behind the Palazzo Castelmare there was an extensive range of stabling
and coach-houses, with a large stable-yard opening on to a back street,
which was the nearest way to the house of the Signor Professore
Tomosarchi, on whom Signor Fortini thought he would call, just to ask
whether he had yet seen the body, or at what hour in the morning he
thought of making his post-mortem examination. Crossing the stable-yard
for this purpose, the lawyer was accosted by Niccolo the groom, who was
engaged in doing his office on a handsome bay mare at the stable-door.

Niccolo was the oldest servant in the establishment, having filled the
same place he now held under the Marchese's father. He was an older man
by several years than the Marchese Lamberto; and he it had been, who,
when the present Marchese was a child of ten years old, had put him on
his first pony, and been his riding-master. Old Niccolo, like every
other old Italian servant of the old school, held, as the first and most
important article of his creed, the unquestioning belief that the
Castelmare family was the most noble, the most ancient, and in every
respect the grandest in the world, and the Marchese Lamberto the
greatest and most powerful man in it. He was a good sort of man in his
way, was old Niccolo; went to confession regularly; and did his duty in
that state of life to which it had pleased Providence to call him
according to his lights; was honest in his dealings; knew in a rough
sort of way that veracity was good, and unveracity bad, to such an
extent as to understand that truth-telling should be the rule and lying
the exception; and was faithful to the death to his employer.

Old Niccolo was also a very perfect specimen of the product of a
peculiar way of thinking, which was a speciality of the rapidly
disappearing class to which he belonged. He did not imagine for a
moment, that the laws and rules of morality and duty, by which he had
been taught, that he ought to regulate his own conduct, were at all
applicable to his master. Even if he had ever troubled his mind by
plunging so far into the depths of speculation, as to consider, that in
truth the various matters forbidden in the commandments were in the
sight of God, or, what was more within his ken, in the sight of the
Church, equally forbidden to all men, still it would have been clear to
him that there was no reason why such great people as the Marchese di
Castelmare, with Cardinals for his friends, and wealth enough to pay for
any quantity of indulgences and masses he might require, should not
indulge in peccadilloes and vices which poorer folks cannot afford.
Probably, however, he had never reached any such profundity of
speculation. He saw that the Church and its ministers treated his
superiors very differently from their treatment of him, and expected
from him quite different conduct from that which they expected from
them. And the result was an habitual and practical belief, that the
great folks of the world, of whom he considered that his own master was
unquestionably the greatest, were far above the laws in every sort which
were binding on himself and the like of him.

Nor of all the many acts which honest Niccolo would have scrupled to do
on his own account, would he have hesitated a moment to become guilty at
the command, or on the behoof of, his master. As for his own soul's
weal, it probably was sufficiently safeguarded by the paramount nature
of the duty which required him to do the will of his employer; or, in
any case, what was his soul that any care for it should come into
competition with the will of the Marchese Lamberto di Castelmare?
Niccolo would have been profoundly ashamed at admitting to any one of
his own class that the family he served were not so great and so
masterful as to render it a matter of course that their will must
override all other considerations whatsoever.

To old Niccolo it was indeed as a symptom of the end of all things--as a
rising of the powers of darkness against the established order of God's
world that a Marchese di Castelmare should be arrested. It was
incomprehensible to him. There was but one power great enough, as he
understood matters, to accomplish so dread a catastrophe; and that was
the power of the Marchese Lamberto himself. And he inclined accordingly
to the belief, that if indeed the Marchese Ludovico were in prison, the
truth was that for some inscrutable reason the Marchese Lamberto chose
that so it should be.

"Is it really true, Signor Giovacchino," whispered the old man, coming
close up to the lawyer, as the latter was crossing the stable-yard; "is
it really true that the Marchese Ludovico has been put in prison?"

"Well, that much is true, I am afraid, Niccolo; but I hope it may not be
for long," said Fortini, pausing in his walk, as though he were not
unwilling to talk to the old man.

"Couldn't ye say a word to the Marchese, to take him out?" said the old
groom coaxingly; "if so be as the woman is dead, what is the use of any
more ado about it?"

"Well, I hope there may not be much more ado about it. She was probably
killed, poor woman, by some strolling vagabonds. But I wish it had not
happened to vex the Marchese just now. He is not well, the Marchese. Has
he ridden much lately?"

"Hasn't backed a horse since the first week in Carnival," said the old
groom emphatically.

"I hope he will take to his riding again, now Carnival is over. I think
it helps to keep him in health," remarked the lawyer.

"I'm sure I wish he would, for my part," returned the groom; "and I
wished it this morning, I can tell you. I was a-taking his own mare out
this morning--it's a week since she has been out of the stable--and she
was that fresh it was pretty well more than I could do to hold her. I
brought her in all of a lather, and splashed with mud to her
saddle-girths. People; must ha' thought I had been riding a race,--that
is, if any of them had seen me when I came into the yard; but there
wasn't a soul of 'em stirring. Catch any of the lot up at that time the
first morning in Lent."

"He is getting old, too. It would have been a mighty hard horse to ride
that my friend Niccolo would not have been able to hold a year or two
ago," thought the lawyer to himself, as he walked out of the stable-yard
into the little back street that runs behind the palazzo, and pursued
his way thoughtfully towards the residence of the celebrated anatomist.

And again, as he walked, the lawyer turned his mind, with all the
analytical power of which he was master, to the question whether or no
there were any possibility of hope that the Marchese Ludovico were
innocent of the crime imputed to him,--whether there were any other
theory possible by virtue of which any other person might be suspected
of the deed.

His anxiety to speak with Professor Tomosarchi indicated, indeed, that
he had not wholly abandoned, despite what he had said on that point both
to the Marchese Ludovico and his uncle, the hope that the death might be
pronounced to have resulted from natural causes. Possibly, had the
lawyer possessed more medical knowledge, this chance might have seemed
to him a somewhat better one; but, to his thinking, it was altogether
incredible that a healthy girl of Bianca's age should lie down to sleep,
and, without any such change of position as would disorder her
attire--without any evidence of a death-struggle--should simply never
wake again. Again the lawyer's meditations told him that small hope was
to be found in this direction.

Were there any persons in the city who might be supposed to feel enmity
or ill-will towards the singer? Many a one of the young nobles had,
doubtless, been kept at arms' length by Bianca in a manner that might
easily be supposed to breed hatred in a vain and ill-conditioned heart.
But murder--and such a murder! It was difficult to suppose that such a
cause should be sufficient to produce such an effect; yet vanity is a
very strong and a very evil-counselling passion.

Vanity? Ha! could it be? Surely there never was so absurdly, so grossly,
vain a creature, as that Conte Leandro? And the poor murdered Diva had
quizzed, and snubbed, and mortified him again and again. The lawyer had
heard that much; and Leandro was aware of the fact that Bianca was to be
in the Pineta at that time. So much was clear from what the Marchese had
said. But she was to be there with Ludovico--how could the poet expect
to find her alone? Could it be that he had followed them merely for the
sake of making mischief and rendering himself disagreeable, and had
chanced to come upon her asleep and alone? Could this be the clue?

But it would surely be easy to ascertain to a certainty whether the
Conte Leandro had left the city that morning or not. If only it could be
shown that he had done so? The amount of probability that he had really
been the perpetrator of the crime, or the possibility of convicting him
of it, would signify comparatively little. It would be sufficient if
only a competing theory, based on a possibility, could be set up; if
only such an alternative possibility could be presented to the minds of
the judges as should justify them in feeling that the matter was too
doubtful to warrant a conviction.

Then, suddenly, as he thought on all the causes of hatred that Bianca
might be supposed to have inspired, his mind reverted to those words
which Signor Pietro Logarini, the head of the police, had let drop when
speaking of the Signorina Paolina Foscarelli:--"Women, who are fond of a
man, don't like to see him with another woman, and a beautiful one,
under the circumstances in which the Marchese might have been seen with
Bianca."

That was the sense of the remark to which the Commissary had partially
given utterance; and now the lawyer thought of it. He was tempted to
believe that Logarini had been struck by the same idea that had before
flashed into his mind almost with the force of a revelation.

Might it not have been the hand of the Venetian girl, maddened by
jealousy, which had taken the life of her rival, while she slept?

Such a story would by no means be now told for the first time. Very far
from it. Men had not now to learn furens quid foemina possit.

Paolina was known to have left the city at that suspiciously strange
hour of the morning. She was known to have been, at all events, at no
very great distance from the spot where the crime was committed.

And was it not possible that, on the theory of Ludovico's innocence, the
true explanation of the exclamation, which had escaped from him at the
city gate, was to be found in supposing that he, too, had been struck by
a similar thought? Might not that outcry on Paolina, uttered when the
speaker knew well that it was Bianca and not Paolina that lay dead
before him, have been forced from him by the sudden thought that she had
done the deed then revealed to him?

For the first time the shrewd lawyer began to feel a real doubt as to
the author of the crime, It might be that the Marchesino was innocent
after all, that his account of the events of that morning, as far as he
was concerned, was simply true. As his mind dwelt on the matter the case
against Paolina seemed to acquire additional force. It could be proved
that this girl had been deeply and seriously attached to the Marchese
Ludovico. It could be proved that she had seen her lover tete-a-tete
with so dangerous a rival as the singer in circumstances that she had
every right to consider very suspicious. It could be proved that she had
been not far from the spot where the murder was committed much about the
time when the deed must have been done.

It is an essentially and curiously Italian characteristic that the
lawyer's rapidly growing conviction that Paolina had indeed been the
criminal was strengthened and made easier of acceptance to his mind by
the fact that the suspected criminal was not; a townswoman but a
Venetian. It would have seemed less possible to him that a young Ravenna
girl should have done such a deed. But one of those terrible Venetian
women of whom so many blood-stained tale of passion and crime were on
record!

Signor Fortini really began to think that his mind had strayed into the
true path towards the solution of the mystery at last. And he was very
much inclined to think that the germ of such a notion had already been
deposited in the mind of the Police Commissioner.

In any case here was wherewithal to establish such a case of suspicion
as should make it difficult for the tribunal to condemn the Marchesino
on such evidence as could be brought against him, supposing no new
circumstances to be brought to light.

Not for that reason, however, was the lawyer disposed to relinquish the
idea which had occurred to him as to the possibility of incriminating
the Conte Leandro. The more circumstances of doubt it was possible to
accumulate around the facts, so much the better.

Signor Fortini thought that he saw his way clearly enough to the means
to showing that it was very presumable that the Conte Leandro had
conceived a violent and bitter hatred of the murdered woman, It was
enough to base a case for suspicion on. The lawyer had no idea that the
poet had been the murderer. He did not dream of the possibility that he
should be convicted of the crime. He had, doubtless, been quietly in bed
in Ravenna at the hour it had been committed. But he might find it
difficult to prove that he had not quitted the city on that Wednesday
morning. And the suggestion of the possibility of his guilt would, at
all events, be an element of doubt and difficulty the more.

With these thoughts in his mind Signor Fortini suddenly changed his
immediate purpose of going to the Professore Tomosarchi; and determined
to walk as far as the Porta Nuova and make inquiry himself of the people
at the gate as to the testimony they might be able to give respecting
Paolina's exit from the city at a very early hour on that morning. At
the same time, it might be possible to lead them into imagining that
they had seen some other passenger, who might have been the Conte
Leandro. It was very desirable that this inquiry should be made without
delay. For it was no part of the duty of the gate officers to make any
written note of such a circumstance; and it would entirely depend on
their recollection to say whether such or such a person had passed the
gate. At the same time, that such a person as this Paolina Foscarelli
should pass out of the city at such an hour in the morning, was
sufficiently out of the ordinary course of things to make it very
unlikely that it should not be remembered by the officials.

As the lawyer pursued his way towards the gate in deep thought he was
comforted as to the complexion of his client's case by the consideration
of his own state of mind. He found it impossible to come to any
definitive conclusion as to the balance of the probabilities. At one
moment his mind swung back to his original conviction that the Marchese
Ludovico had yielded to the temptation of making himself safe from the
destitution that awaited him if his uncle's purpose were carried out.
The persuasion that it was so seemed to come like a flash of light upon
him. Then, again, thinking of all the stories of what women have done
under the influence of a maddening jealousy, he reverted to the superior
probability of the other hypothesis.

Arrived at the gate the lawyer's success was greater than he had
ventured to anticipate. Both the persons respecting whom he made inquiry
had been seen to pass out of the city at a very early hour that morning.

To his great surprise he heard that the Conte Leandro had passed the
gate before it was daylight; and the officer had been struck by the
strangeness of the circumstance. He was much muffled up in a large
cloak, with a broad-brimmed hat drawn down over his eyes and face. But
his person was perfectly well known to the official; and he had
recognized him without difficulty.

He also perfectly well remembered seeing the girl--a remarkably pretty
girl--pass through about an hour or a little more afterwards. And,
imagining that the one circumstance explained the other--that it was an
affair of some assignation outside the city in the interest of some
amourette that was attended by difficulties within the walls--he had
thought no more about it.

But Signor Fortini knew enough to feel very sure, that the exceedingly
singular facts, as they seemed to him, of both these persons having gone
out of the city in the direction of the Pineta at such an unusual hour,
was not to be accounted for by any such explanation. But neither did it
seem in any degree likely or credible, that these two facts, the passing
out of the Conte Leandro, and the passing out of Paolina, should have
had any connection with each other in reference to the murder in the
Pineta.

It was strange, very strange!

It was so strange and unaccountable that Signor Fortini felt that,
unless some fresh circumstances should be brought to light beyond those
which had as yet become known either to him, or to the police, it was
safe to predict that the tribunal would not have the means of coming to
any conclusion concerning the author of the murder.

The lawyer turned away from the gate, and strolled through the streets
without any intention as to the direction in which he walked, so deeply
was he pondering upon the possibilities that were brought within his
mental vision by the extraordinary facts he had ascertained.

He would almost have preferred, he thought, as he pursued his way
profoundly musing, that it should have been shown that one only, instead
of both the persons towards whom the possibilities he had imagined,
pointed, had gone at that strange hour towards the locality of the
crime.

Nevertheless, as he said to himself, the more doubt, the more elements
of difficulty, the better. In truth the chance seemed to be a very good
one, that it might never be known who gave that wretched girl her death.



CHAPTER VI

At the Circolo again


At the Circolo that evening there was no lack of subject for
conversation, as may be easily imagined. The rooms were very full, and
every tongue was busy with the same topic.

"For my part I don't believe that La Bianca is dead at all. What proof
have we of the fact? Somebody has been told that somebody else heard
some other pumpkin-head say so. Report, signori miei, is an habitual
liar, and I for one never believe a word she says without evidence of
the truth of it," said the Conte Luigi Spadoni, a man who was known to
make a practice of reading French novels, and was therefore held to be
an esprit fort and a philosopher, in accordance with which character he
always professed indiscriminate disbelief in everything.

"Oh come, Spadoni, that won't do this time. Bah, you are the only living
soul in the town that don't believe it then. Evidence, per Dio! Go and
ask the men at the Porta Nuova, who received the body, when the
contadini brought it in," cried a dozen voices at once.

"But Spadoni has the weakness of being so excessively credulous," said a
bald young man with gold spectacles, looking up from a game of chess he
was playing in a corner.

"Who, I? I credulous? That is a good one! Why I said, man alive, that I
disbelieved it," cried Spadoni, eagerly.

"I know it, and very credulous indeed it seems to me, to believe that
all the people, who say they have seen the prima donna's dead body,
should be mistaken in such a fact, or conspiring without motive to
declare it falsely. I call that very credulous," said the chess-player,
quietly.

"Did you ever see such an addle-pate. He can't understand the difference
between believing and disbelieving," rejoined Spadoni triumphantly, and
carrying the great bulk of the bystanders with him.

"But as to the poor girl being dead, there is unhappily no shadow of
doubt at all," said the Baron Manutoli; "I saw old Signor Fortini the
lawyer just now, who told me that he was at the Porta Nuova when the
body was brought in."

"And is it true that the Marchese Ludovico was with him, and fainted
dead away at the sight of the body?" said a very young man.

"It is true that Ludovico was there with Fortini at the gate, but I
heard nothing about his fainting; and should not think it very likely."

"Well, I don't know about that, I should have thought it likely enough
by all accounts," said the Conte Leandro Lombardoni, whose face was
looking more pasty and his eyes more fishy than usual.

"Much you know about it. Why, in the name of all the saints, should it
be likely? What should Ludovico faint for?" rejoined Manutoli, fiercely.

"What for? Well, one has heard of such things. And as for what I know
about it, Signor Barone, maybe I have the means of knowing more about it
than anybody here," said the poet.

"Here is Lombardoni confesses he knows all about it," cried one.

"That ought to be told to the Commissary of Police" said another

"I say, my notion is that Lombardoni did it himself," exclaimed a third.

"Ah, to be sure. What is more likely? We all know how the poor Diva
snubbed him. Remember the fate of his verses. If that is not enough to
drive a man and a poet to do murder I don't know what is. To be sure,
'twas Leandro did it," rejoined the first.

"I can believe that, if I never believe anything else," said Spadoni.

"Let's send to the Commissary and tell him that the Conte Leandro
confesses that it was he that murdered La Bianca, cried one of the
previous speakers.

"What on earth are you dreaming of," cried the persecuted poet, turning
ghastly livid with affright; "I know nothing about the matter, nothing!
How in the world should I know anything about it?"

"Oh, I thought you knew more about it than anybody else just now,"
sneered one of his persecutors.

"He looks to me very much as if he did know something about it in sober
earnest," said the bald-headed chess-player; who had been looking hard
at the evidences of terror on the poet's face.

"But where is the Marchese Ludovico?" asked the same young man, who had
heard that the Marchese had fainted at the sight of the body.

A general silence fell on the chattering group at this question: till
Manutoli answered with a very grave face "Ah, you must ask the
Commissary of Police that question, Signor Marco."

"You don't mean that he is arrested," returned the youngster thus
addressed.

Manutoli nodded his head two or three times gravely, as he said, "That
is the worst of the bad business; and a very bad business it is in every
way."

"You don't mean that you think Ludovico can have done it, Manutoli?"
said one of the others.

"No, I don't say I think so. I don't know what to think. I should have
said, that I was just as likely to do such a thing myself, as Ludovico
di Castelmare. But if there is any truth in what is said, that the
Marchese Lamberto was going to marry the girl, it looks very ugly. God
knows what a man might be driven to do in such a case."

"I suppose if the old Marchese were to marry and have children, Ludovico
would have about the same fortune as the old blind man that sits at the
door of the Cathedral?" asked the previous speaker.

"Just about as much. He would be absolutely a beggar," said the Conte
Leandro, who appeared to find considerable pleasure in the announcement.

"I think, that if that was the case, and Ludovico had put the unlucky
girl out of the way, it would be the Marchese Lamberto who ought to bear
the blame of it. An old fellow has no right to behave in that sort of
way," said one of the group.

"Of course he has not. To bring a fellow up to the age of Ludovico in
the expectation that he is to have the family property; and then to take
it into his head to marry when he is past fifty. If Ludovico had put a
knife into him instead of into the girl, I should have said that it
served him right," said another.

"And what was the good of murdering the girl? If the old fellow wants to
be married, he will marry some other girl if not this one. Girls are
plenty enough," said a third.

"Ay, but not such girls as La Bianca--what a lovely creature she was! I
don't wonder at the Marchese being caught by her, for my part, seeing
her every day as he did," remarked a fourth.

"Bah, girls are plenty enough, as Gino said, and pretty girls too. And
if the Marchese was minded to marry, it wasn't the murder of this poor
girl that would stop him," said one of the others.

"And that is a strong reason, as it strikes me, for thinking that
Ludovico had nothing to do with it. He must have known, as well as we,
that it was likely enough his uncle would find somebody else," remarked
Manutoli.

"Well, we shall see. But I would wager a good round sum that Ludovico
did it," said the Conte Leandro; who had by that time recovered his
tranquillity.

"Oh, now here's Leandro, who begins to think again that he does know
something about it," said the Barone Manutoli.

"I said nothing of the sort, Signor Barone. How should I know? But
everybody may have his opinion, and that is mine. We shall see
by-and-by," returned Leandro, waspishly.

"I'll tell you what, signori miei," said Manutoli; "let it turn out as
it may, it is the saddest and worst affair that has been seen in Ravenna
for many a day. I won't admit the thought, for my part, that the
Marchese Ludovico has really committed this murder. I should prefer to
suppose, that some vagabonds had done it for the sake of robbery, and
had been disturbed before they could carry out their purpose, or
anything. But it is a very sad affair. I would have done I don't know
what, rather than that it should have happened. Think what will be said.
That's what an artist gets by venturing to Ravenna. You will see the
noise that will be made all over Italy."

"But why does it follow that anybody is to blame, at all? Why may she
not have put herself to death?" said one of the previous speakers.

"A suicide! that is a new idea. But it does not seem a very promising
one. Why should she kill herself? She was in the full tide of success,
and had just received an offer of marriage, if what we hear is true,
from the richest man in Ravenna. Is it likely that she should choose
just that moment to make away with herself?" replied another.

"In any case the doctors will know what to tell us about that. They can
always tell whether anybody has killed themselves or been murdered by
somebody else."

"By the way, Signor Barone, have you heard whether the medical report
has been made yet? But I suppose the police would not let us know what
the doctor's opinion was, if it had been made. Who knows who has been
employed to examine the body?"

"I know!" answered the Baron Manutoli, "the Professore Tomosarchi. And
whatever can be found out by examining the body, he will find out,
depend upon it. I was asking about it just now. The examination will
take place to-morrow morning."

"But who ever heard of such a thing as going off to the Pineta at that
time in the morning, and after being up all night at a ball too?" said
Lombardoni, spitefully. "Why, it looks as if a man must have had some
scheme, some out-of-the-way motive of some kind to do such a thing."

"Not at all," returned Manutoli angrily, "I don't see that at all. A
charmingly imagined frolic, I should say, a capital wind-up for a last
night of carnival. I should have liked it myself."

"And then," said one of the others, "one can't refuse such a girl as La
Bianca. And it's two to one that she asked Ludovico to take her, for a
lark."

"But I happen to know," said Leandro, quickly, "that it was he who
proposed it to her. He persuaded her to go."

"And how in the world do you know that, pray?" asked Manutoli, turning
sharply upon him.

"I--I heard it said. I was told so. I am sure I don't know who it was
said so. Nobody has been talking about anything else. Some fellow or
other said that Ludovico had proposed the trip to her."

"The fact is, in short, that you know just nothing at all about it. You
happen to know, forsooth! It seems to me, Signor Conte, that you are
strangely ready to fancy you know anything that might seem to go against
Ludovico," rejoined Manutoli.

"And what would be the result if it should turn out that he was
guilty--if he were condemned?" asked one of the younger men, looking
afraid of his words, as he spoke them.

"God knows,--the galleys, I suppose. But one must not imagine such a
thing. It is too frightful," said Manutoli.

"Horrible! Shocking! Impossible!" cried a chorus of voices.

"Good God! Result! The disgrace and destruction of the noblest family in
the province. The ending of a fine old name in infamy. Gracious heaven,
it is too horrible to think of," exclaimed Manutoli, with much emotion.

"It would kill the old Marchese as dead as a door-nail, for one thing,"
said another of the group of young men.

"And serve him right too. If it is really true that he has contemplated
being guilty of such a monstrous piece of injustice and folly," said the
same man, who had before expressed a similar opinion.

Just then a servant of the Circolo came into the room and put a note
into the hands of the Baron Manutoli.

"It is from Ludovico, asking me to go to him. So there's an end to our
game of billiards, Signor Conte," said Manutoli to one of the group; "I
must go at once."

"But you'll come back here after you've seen him, won't you? You'll come
back and tell us all about it, Manutoli?" said two or three of the group
which had been discussing the topic.

"I don't know, I shall see. I will, if I can--if it's not too late. It
may be that I shall be detained with him. I suppose that he has had no
means of communicating with any of his people since the police folk
clapped their hands on him."

"Do look in here for a moment, Manutoli. We shall all be anxious to hear
about him, poor fellow,", said another of the young men, who had pressed
around Signor Manutoli as soon as it was known from whom his note had
come.

"If I can I will. It is likely enough he may want me to go somewhere
else for him. We shall see. A rivederci, Signori."



CHAPTER VII

A Prison Visit


The note which had been given to the Baron Manutoli begged him to come
with as little delay as possible to the Palazzo del Governo.

Adolfo Manutoli was a somewhat older man than the majority of those who
had formed the group which had been discussing the all-absorbing topic
of the day at the Circolo; and he was Ludovico di Castelmare's most
intimate friend among the younger members of the society in which he
lived. It was a friendship strongly approved by the Marchese Lamberto,
as might have been perceived by his selection of Manutoli to accompany
him on the occasion of meeting La Lalli on her first arrival in Ravenna,
as the reader may possibly remember. And the special ground of this
approval was Manutoli's strong advocacy of the projected marriage
between Ludovico and the Contessa Violante, and his consequent
disapproval and discouragement of his friend's friendship and admiration
for Paolina. He was not a man who would have counselled or desired his
friend to behave badly or unworthily to Paolina or to any woman; for he
was a man of honour and a gentleman. But, short of any conduct which
could be so characterized, he would have been very glad to see the
Marchese quit of an entanglement which alone stood in the way, as he
conceived, of his forming an alliance so desirable in every point of
view as the marriage with the great-niece of the Cardinal Legate.

"Can I be permitted to see the Marchese Ludovico, Signor Commissario? He
has requested me to come to him," said the Baron, on arriving at the
police-office.

"Certainly, Signor Barone. I myself sent his note to you. Though, on his
own statement of the very unfortunate circumstances connected with this
unhappy affair, I was compelled to detain him, still there is at present
no definite accusation against him which should justify me in preventing
him from having free communication with his friends. You shall be taken
to his room immediately. You will see, Signor Barone, that we have
endeavoured to make him as comfortable as the circumstances would
allow."

"Manutoli," said Ludovico, after the first expressions of astonishment
and condolence had been spoken between the young men, "of course I knew
I should see you here before long; and my note was to call you at once,
instead of waiting to see you in the morning; because I want you to do
something for me before you sleep this night--something that I don't
want to wait for till to-morrow morning."

"To be sure, my dear fellow, anything; I am ready for anything, if it
takes all night."

"Thanks. Well, now, look here: I am innocent of this deed--"

"S' intende; of course you are."

"S' intende, of course; that's just the worst of it. It is so much a
matter of course that I should say I had not done it if I had, that my
saying so is of no use at all. Nevertheless, to you I must say that I
neither did it nor have I the slightest conception or suspicion who did.
And you may guess that the fact itself is a horror and a grief to me
that I shall never get over, putting this dreadful suspicion of my own
guilt out of the question. A horror and a grief, and a remorse, too; for
if I had not moved away from her the tragedy could not have happened."

"I really do not see that you need blame yourself for--"

"I ought not to have left her side. Yet, God knows, it never entered my
head to dream of the possibility of any harm; all seemed so still, so
peaceful, so utterly quiet; yet, at that moment, the hand that did the
deed could not have been far off."

"Let the circumstances have been what they might," resumed Manutoli,
after a moment's pause, "nobody would have dreamed of connecting you
with the deed had it not been for the strong motive which seems so clear
and intelligible to every fool who sets his brains to work on the
matter. I suppose it is true that you had been informed of your uncle's
intention to offer the poor girl marriage?"

"True that I had been told of it, for the first time, by herself during
our drive, poor girl."

"Ah--h--h! To think of such a man being guilty of such insane folly--and
of all the misery that is likely to grow out of it. How on earth did she
ever contrive to get such a fatal influence over him?"

"She schemed for it from her first arrival here--aimed avowedly to
herself at nothing less than inducing the Marchese di Castelmare to
marry her--and succeeded. For all that, I'll tell you what,
Adolfo--there was a great deal more good in that poor girl than you
would have thought."

"Bah! Good in her--Well, she's gone. She has had her reward, poor soul;
and I pity her with all my heart. But as for the good in her--"

"There was good in her, and not a little. I tell you that if you or any
one else could have heard all that passed between us, I should hardly be
suspected of having murdered her, poor girl."

"That is likely enough; but--"

"Do you know, Manutoli, I have a very strong idea that if this had not
happened, the marriage with the Marchese would never have come off?"

"You think that, between us all, we should have induced him to listen to
reason?"

"I don't know about that; I was not thinking of that; I think that
Bianca would have been induced to listen to reason; I think that the
scheme would have come to nothing through her renunciation of it."

"When, according to your own account, she had been scheming all the time
she has been here to bring it about?" said Manutoli, with arched
eyebrows.

"Yes, even so. She had never known--how should she?--that such a
marriage would turn me out on the world a beggar; she had never known
what sort and what degree of misery and ruin it would bring about to all
parties."

"And you told her this?"

"Yes, in some degree I told her. As to the effect of such a marriage on
myself, I told her simply the entire truth."

"And you are disposed to think that the Diva--No, poor girl! I didn't
mean to speak sneeringly of her. She has paid for her fault a heavier
penalty than it deserved, any way. You are disposed to think, then, that
she would have given up the prize of all her scheming--this marriage,
which was to have given her everything in the world that she could
desire, and more than she could have ever dreamed of attaining; she
would have voluntarily relinquished all this, you think, for your sake?"

"I'll tell you what it is, Manutoli. A man can never appreciate,--can
never fathom, the depth of woman's generosity till he has tried it."

"But, caro mio,--after all I don't want to be hard upon her, poor soul,
God knows!--but to expect generosity on such a point from such a
woman--"

"You may say what you will, Manutoli, I know what she was, poor girl, as
well as you do--better, a great deal; for, I tell you, that there was a
real generosity in her nature. Look here," continued Ludovico; after a
pause of a minute or two, "I would not say it to anybody else than you,
or to you either, except under circumstances that make one wish to state
the whole truth exactly as it was. It seems so coxcomblike,--so like
what our friend Leandro would say; but I may say it to you. The fact is,
I have a kind of idea that that poor Bianca was inclined to like me. She
cried when I told her--"

"Aha, j'y suis! Now I begin to be able to fathom the depth of a woman's
generosity. Given the fact of becoming Marchesa di Castelmare, the lady
was not disinclined to become so by catching the nephew instead of the
uncle; and small blame to her."

"You do not do the poor woman justice, Manutoli."

"Any way, I do you justice; and I know you well enough, Ludovico mio, to
understand that the generosity of such a girl as this poor Lalli was,
taking that special form, must have been very touching to you."

"You forget, Manutoli, how little accessible I was to the flattery of
any such preference, with my whole heart full of a very different
person."

"And I was just thinking, to tell you the truth, how the little scene in
the bagarino would have struck that other person if she could have seen
La Bianca giving you to understand, amid her tears, upon what terms she
would consent not to come between you and your natural inheritance."

"That other person did see us in the bagarino; and that brings me to the
motive which led me to beg you to come to me this evening. Somehow or
other, it has become known to these people here that Paolina went out of
the Porta Nuova at a very early hour this morning. The fact is, that she
simply went to see whether the scaffolding, which I had had prepared for
her copying work there, was all right, and ready for her to begin her
task there; and all that can be proved, of course. But the same idea
that occurred to you just now, that Paolina might not have liked to see
me driving with La Bianca, has suggested itself to some other
wiseacre,--I beg your pardon, Manutoli,--and it seems that an absurd
notion--a notion the monstrous absurdity of which is a matter of
amazement to me--has been engendered that my poor Paolina may have been
the perpetrator of the crime. The idea! If they only knew her! But the
Commissary here has been cross-questioning me in a way that shows that
is the notion he has in his head. Whether they know that Paolina really
did see us in the bagarino together--she did so from the window in the
Church of St. Apollinare--or whether they only know that she left the
city by that gate early in the morning, I can't tell; but it is sure to
be found out that she did really see us,--the more so, that she will say
so to the first person who asks her" the poor innocent darling. And what
I want you do is to see her, and prepare her, poor child, for the
possibility of being arrested, and make her understand that no harm can
possibly come to her. Try to save her from being frightened. She knows
well enough, just as well as I know myself, that I have not done this
thing. Try to make her understand that a little time only is necessary
for the finding out of the real culprit; that it is sure to be
discovered, and that, as far as we are concerned, it is all sure to come
right."

"You wish me to go to her at once?"

"Yes, if you would be so kind. What I am anxious for is that you should
see her before any order for her arrest shall have been issued. But that
is not all. I want you to see Fortini also. I want you to ascertain from
him how far it is possible or probable that any suspicion may rest on
Paolina in consequence of the facts which are known; how far it is
likely that any attempt may be made to set up a case against her. And I
want you to tell him that it will be wholly and utterly vain to make any
such attempt, that the result would only be entirely to cripple my own
defence. For you must understand once for all, and make him understand
once for all, that rather than allow her to be convicted of a deed of
which she is as innocent as you are, I would confess myself to be the
guilty party. It shall not be, Manutoli, mark what I say, it shall not
be, that she shall be dragged to ruin and destruction by my misfortune,
or imprudence, call it what you will. Of this, of course, you will say
no word to her. But I beg you to leave no shade of a doubt as to my
settled purpose in this matter on the mind of Signor Fortini. It is he,
of course, who will have the duty of preparing and conducting my
defence; and it is essential that he should understand this rightly.
Will you do this for me?"

"Of course I will--this or anything else that I can do for you. But I
can't undertake to say what Signor Giovacchino Fortini may think, or
say, or do in the matter, you know. I will take your message, and then,
of course, you will see him yourself in the course of to-morrow morning.
Of course, old fellow, I need not tell you that I am sure you did not
murder the girl; but it is altogether one of the most mysterious things
I ever heard of. Nevertheless my notion is that we shall find out the
culprit yet. And you may depend on it that two-thirds of the whole
population of the town will be moving heaven and earth to get some clue
to the mystery for your sake."

"It seems to me, too, that such a deed cannot but be found out. I should
be more uneasy than I am, did I not console myself with thinking so. Now
go to Paolina, there is a dear good fellow."

"One word more--shall I see the Marchese?"

"I think, perhaps, it is best not to do so. Of course Fortini has been
with him, and told him everything. I almost thought that I should have
seen him here this evening; but, under the circumstances, I am better
pleased that he should stay away. Better leave him to Fortini."

"Good-night, then."

"Good-night. You will let me see you to-morrow?"

"I won't fail. Good-night."



CHAPTER VIII

Signor Giovacchino Fortini at Home


The Baron Manutoli was Ludovico di Castelmare's very good friend. But
there are two sorts of friends--friends who show their friendship by
wishing, and endeavouring to obtain for us, what we wish for ourselves;
and friends, whose friendship consists in wishing for us things
analogous to what they wish for themselves;--who endeavour to procure
for us, not what we wish, but what they consider to be good for us.

Now the Baron Manutoli belonged to the latter of these two categories.
He was some years older than Ludovico; had been a married man, and was
now a widower with one little boy,--the future Baron Manutoli; and
considered himself as having been blessed with a supreme and exceptional
degree of good fortune, with regard to all that appertained to that
difficult and often disastrous chapter of human destinies which concerns
the relations of mankind with the other sex. Happiness and advantages,
ordinarily incompatible and exclusive of each other, had in his case by
a kind destiny been made compatible. For the representative of an old
noble family to remain single, was bad in many points of view. But on
the other hand--when one's ancestral acres are not so extensive as they
once were, and in nowise more productive--when one likes a quiet life
enlivened by a moderate degree of bachelor's liberty,--when one sees the
interiors of divers of one's contemporaries and friends,--when one
thinks of mothers-in-law, and sisters-in-law, and a whole ramified
family-in-law!--the Baron Manutoli, though he had grieved over the loss
of his young wife when the loss was recent, was now, after some ten
years of widower's life, inclined to think that of the man, who had a
legitimately born son to inherit his name and estate, who had done his
duty towards society by taking a wife, and who was yet enabled to enjoy
all the ease and freedom from care of a bachelor's life, it might be
said, "Omne tulit punctum."

Far as he was from undervaluing the importance of the social duties of a
man and a nobleman in respect to these matters, he had always been an
earnest advocate of the marriage which Ludovico was expected to make
with the Contessa Violante; and had regarded poor Paolina, from the
first, as an intruder and disastrous mischief-maker; and Ludovico's love
for her as the unlucky caprice of a boy, respecting which, the evident
duty of all friends was to do all they could to discourage it, put it
down, and get rid of it.

So that in the matter of the commission which Ludovico had entrusted to
him, the Baron was likely enough to have somewhat different views from
those of his friend.

What a happy turning of misfortune into a blessing it would be, if this
shocking affair should be the means of getting rid of this unlucky
Paolina altogether! Not, of course, that the Baron was capable of
wishing that such getting rid of should be accomplished by the unjust
condemnation of the poor girl for such a crime. God forbid! But, if
there should be found to be a sufficient degree of suspicion--of
unexplainable mystery--to cause the exoneration of Ludovico, and at the
same time, an intimation to the Venetian stranger that she would do well
to remove herself from the happy territory of the Holy Father, what a
Godsend it would be!

Then, again, as to the real fact of Paolina's innocence, Manutoli was
seriously disposed to think that there might be grounds for considerable
doubt. Ludovico's assertions to that effect were of course unworthy of
the slightest attention; the mere ravings of a man in love. Of course,
also, the menace he held out, that if any attempt were made to throw the
onus of the crime on Paolina, he would meet it by avowing himself
guilty, was as entirely to be disregarded. The paramount business in
hand was to clear his friend of this untoward complication in the matter
of the crime which had so mysteriously been committed. The next
consideration was to set him equally free from his entanglement with
Paolina. And with these thoughts in his mind, the Baron decided that,
upon the whole, it would be better that he should have an interview with
lawyer Fortini, before making his visit to the lady.

He knew that it was too late to look for the lawyer at his "studio;" and
therefore went directly to his residence, where he found the old
gentleman just concluding his solitary supper. Being the evening of Ash
Wednesday, the meal had consisted of a couple of eggs, and a morsel of
tunny fish preserved in oil, very far from a bad relish for a flask of
good wine. And the lawyer was, when Manutoli came in, aiding his
meditations by discussing the remaining half of a small cobwebbed bottle
of the very choicest growth of the Piedmontese hills.

"I owe you a thousand apologies, Signor Fortini, for coming to trouble
you with business, and very disagreeable business too, here and at such
an hour," began the Baron; "but the interest we all feel--"

"Not a word of apology is needed, Signor Barone. About this shocking
affair in the Pineta, of course, of course? Pur troppo, we are all
interested, as you say. Will you honour my poor house, Signor Barone, by
tasting what there is in the cellar? I ought to be ashamed to offer this
wine, my ordinary drink at supper, to the Barone Manutoli"--(the old
fellow knew right well that there was not such another glass of wine in
all the city, and that it was rarely enough that his noble guest drank
such)--"but it is drinkable." And so saying, he called to his old
housekeeper to bring another bottle and a fresh glass before he would
allow Manutoli to say a word on the business that brought him there.

"And now, Signor Barone," said the old lawyer, as soon as the wine and
the praise it merited, had been both duly savoured, "about this bad
business? Do you bring me any information? Information is all we want. I
hope and trust information is all we want," he repeated, looking hard at
the Baron.

"Of course, that is all we want; information which should put us on some
clue to the real perpetrator of this crime."

"That is what we want; that is the one thing needful; and it is
absolutely needful," said the lawyer, again looking meaningly in his
companion's face.

"Of course that is what we want. But even supposing no light upon the
matter can be got at all, it is not to be supposed that--that any judge
would consider there was sufficient ground for assuming our friend to be
guilty?"

"Ah, that's just the point; just the point of the difficulty. We must
not expect, Signor Barone, that the judges will look at the question
quite with the same eyes that we do. They will have none of the strong
persuasion that we--ahem!--that the Marchese Ludovico's friends
have--that he is wholly incapable of committing such a crime. On the
other hand, they are men used to suspicion, and to the habit of
considering a certain amount of suspicion as equivalent to moral
certainty. And I confess--I must confess, my dear sir, that I am very
far from easy as to the result, if we should be unable to find at least
some counterbalancing possibilities, you understand?"

"But it seems to me, Signor, that such are already found; and it was
just upon this point that I was anxious to speak with you to-night. I
have just seen Ludovico. He sent for me to the Circolo. And what he
mainly wanted was to bid me go to the Signorina Paolina Foscarelli, in
order to prepare her for the probability of her own arrest, and to
comfort her with the assurance that no evil could come to her. Also I
was directed by him to tell you, that any attempt to fix the guilt of
this deed on the girl, would be met by an avowal--a false avowal, of
course--that he is himself the guilty person."

"Ta, ta, ta, ta! Mere stuff, chatter, the talk of a boy in love with a
pretty girl," said the lawyer.

"Just so, just so. Of course we pay no attention to all that. I promised
to go to the girl as he told me; and I shall do so presently. But I
thought it best to see you first. The fact is, Signor Fortini, that I do
not feel any one bit of the certainty that he professes to feel, that
this Venetian girl may not have been the real assassin."

The lawyer looked shrewdly into Manutoli's face, and nodded his head
slowly three or four times. "What would there be so unlikely in it,"
pursued Manutoli; "girls, and Venetian girls too, have done as much and
more before now? We know that she is in love with him. She sees him
going on such an expedition as that with such a girl as La Bianca. She
has already, no doubt, had cause to be jealous of her. Ludovico used to
see the Lalli frequently. What is more likely?"

"Stay, Signor Barone, one minute. This is an important point; you say
that this Paolina saw her lover with La Bianca. How do you know that?
and how did it come about?"

"Ludovico just told me so; and the girl, it seems, herself told him. Her
story is that she went out to St. Apollinare at an early hour this
morning to look after a scaffolding or some preparation of some kind
that had been made for her to copy some of the mosaics in the church;
and that from a window of the church, being on the scaffolding, she saw
Ludovico and La Bianca driving by in a bagarino. Now all this probably
is true enough. The question is, What did she do then, when she saw what
was so well calculated to throw her into a frenzy of jealousy? My theory
is, that she followed them into the forest, dogged their steps, and
finding her opportunity at the unlucky moment when Ludovico left Bianca
sleeping, did the murder there and then."

The old lawyer started up from his seat, and thrusting his hands into
the pockets of his trousers took a hasty turn across the room; and then
resuming his seat, tossed off a glass of wine before making any reply.

"And a very good theory too, Signor Barone. I make you my compliment on
it," he said at last. "I was not aware of all the facts, the very,
important facts, you mention. I had ascertained that this Venetian girl
left the city by the Porta Nuova at a strangely early hour this morning;
and that was enough already, to fix my eye upon her. But what you now
tell me is much more important; advances the case against her to a far
more serious point. Upon my word," continued the lawyer, after a pause
for further meditation; "upon my word I begin to think that it is the
most likely view of the case that this Signorina Paolina Foscarelli has
been the assassin. At all events it seems quite as likely a theory as
that the Marchese should have done it. Fully as likely," added the
lawyer, rubbing his hands cheerily; "the motive, as motives to such
deeds go, is quite as great in her case as in his. Greater, or at least
more probable! Jealousy has moved to such acts more frequently than mere
considerations of interest."

"To be sure it has," cried Manutoli; "I think that the circumstances
bear more conclusively against her than against him; I do, upon my
life."

"If only something do not turn up to show that it could not have been
done by her, I think--I do think that we have got all that is absolutely
necessary for us. For observe, Signor Barone, it is not necessary that
she should be convicted. If there is such a probability that she may
have been the criminal as to make it impossible to say that it is far
more likely that one of the parties suspected should be guilty than the
other, there can be no conviction, and our friend is safe."

"But I say that all the probabilities are in favour of the hypothesis
that she did the deed," cried Manutoli, warmly.

"Much will depend on the report of Tomosarchi," said the lawyer. "The
inquiry arises, how far it was possible for a young girl to do that
which was done."

"It is evident that she was murdered in her sleep," observed the Baron.

"It looks like it; it seems clear that there could have been no struggle
of any sort. Still, we must hear how the murder was done; we must know
whether the means were such as might have been in the power of this
girl," rejoined Fortini.

"Well, we shall know all that to-morrow. God grant that the Professor's
report may be a favourable one," said Manutoli, thinking little of the
savageness of his wish as regarded the poor artist. But, to the mind of
the Baron, it was a question between one who was a fellow-creature of
his own, and one who could hardly be considered such. How was it
possible to put in comparison for a moment the consideration of a
fellow-noble of his own city and that of a poor unknown foreign artist?

"I trust it may; I build much on the fact that there was no struggle.
She was put to death by some means which scarcely allowed her time to
wake from the sleep," returned the lawyer. "You are going, then, now,
Signor Barone, to see this Paolina?"

"Yes; if I find her still up, which I suppose I shall, for it is not
late," said Manutoli, looking at his watch.

"Better be a little cautious in speaking to her, you know; best to avoid
alarming her," said Fortini.

"The express object of my visit to her is to prevent her from being
alarmed," rejoined the Baron.

"Yes; but--what I mean is that--it would be desirable, you see, to lead
her to speak. What we want now is to know exactly what she did and where
she went after seeing the Marchesino and La Bianca in the bagarino
together. Also to ascertain whether she was seen by anybody to do
whatever she did or to go wherever it was she went. And, I think, that
you might very probably learn this from her more effectually than I
should. She would be more likely to be on her guard with me, you see."

"I'll try what I can do; my real belief is that she is the guilty
person," said Manutoli.

"To-morrow I will see what I can do at St. Apollinare. She cannot have
been in the church without seeing and speaking to somebody. There are a
Capucin and a lay-brother always there, I take it; we shall see what
they can tell us. But I can't go out there till after the medical
examination. I have arranged with my old friend Tomosarchi to be present
at it," said the lawyer.

"I shall be most anxious to hear the result," said the Baron.

"If you will be here about ten o'clock--my breakfast hour--I shall be
able to tell you."

"Thanks. A rivederci dunque--"

"Stay; one more word before you go, Signor Barone. As we are both
engaged in this inquiry, and both interested on the same side, I may as
well tell you, perhaps, that there is one other person to whom my
attention has been drawn as being open to suspicion in this matter--the
Conte Leandro Lombardoni."

"The Conte Leandro! You don't say so! Impossible!"

"Just listen one moment, Signor Barone. It is certain that the Conte
Leandro passed out of the city by the Porta Nuova at a very early hour
this morning--at an earlier hour than either the girl Paolina or the
Marchesino and La Bianca."

"The Conte Leandro--out of the Porta Nuova--at such an hour in the
morning. For what possible purpose?"

"Ay, that is the question. For what possible purpose? But the fact is
certain. Though endeavouring to conceal himself by means of his cloak,
he was perfectly well recognized by the men at the gate. For what
possible purpose? No doubt you know, Signor Barone, much better than I,
who am not much in the way of hearing of such things--unless in cases
where I make it my business to hear of them, you understand, Signor
Barone,--you, no doubt, know that the Signor Conte has been besieging,
as I may say, this poor Lalli woman with his attentions and verses ever
since she came here; also, that the lady would have nothing to say to
him or to his verses--that she has, in short, snubbed him and mortified
his vanity in the sight of all the town during the whole of the past
Carnival."

"That is true--it is all true," cried Manutoli, eagerly, and looking
almost scared by the ideas the lawyer was presenting to his mind. "It is
even truer, than you, perhaps, are aware of. She said sneering and
cutting things of him in his hearing both at the Marchese Lamberto's
ball and at the Circolo ball; I happen to know it."

"Hey--y--y--y?" said the lawyer, uttering a sound like a long sigh, with
a question stop at the end of it; and then thrusting out his lips and
nodding his head up and down slowly while he plunged his hands into the
pockets of his trowsers. "I'll tell you what it is Signor Barone," the
old man added, after a pause of deep thought, "I was anxious to find
such plausible grounds of suspicion against other parties, such element
of doubt, such possibilities as might make it difficult for the judges
to condemn our friend. I wanted to puzzle the court; but, per Bacco! I
have puzzled myself. This afternoon, I confess to you, I had little
doubt but that the Marchesino had, in a fatal moment of anger and
desperation, committed the crime. But, upon my word now, I know not what
to think. Here we have three parties, each of whom we know to have been
acted on by one of three strong passions. We have jealousy, and wounded
vanity. Which of the three has done the deed?"

"It is an extraordinary circumstance," said the Baron Manutoli, "that
they were jeering at the Conte Leandro at the Circolo just now, about
the way the Diva had snubbed him and his verses, and accusing him in
joke of having been her murderer. And, as sure as I am now speaking to
you, Signor Fortini, he looked in a way then that I--a--a--in short that
I thought very odd--turned all sorts of colours. But then, you know, he
is always such an unwholesome-looking animal."

"One of the vainest men I ever met with," said the lawyer, musing.

"Oh--for vanity--I believe you. Leandro has not his equal for vanity."

"And strong vanity, deeply wounded, by a woman too, will breed a hate as
violent and vicious, perhaps, as any passion that ever prompted a
crime," rejoined the lawyer, still meditating deeply. "Per Dio Santo!"
he exclaimed, after a pause of silence, striking his open palm strongly
on the table, as he spoke, and speaking with a sort of solemn
earnestness, "I am inclined to think, after all, that he is the man. The
Marchesino," he went on again, thoughtfully, "went out for a
frolic--intelligible enough; The girl went out to look after the
preparations for her work--again quite plausible. But in the name of all
the saints what took the Conte Leandro out of the Porta Nuova at that
hour of the morning, after passing the night at a ball?"

"I still think that the Venetian girl has done the deed," said Manutoli,
whose opinion was no doubt in some degree warped by his desire that the
criminal should turn out to be a foreign plebeian rather than a Ravenna
noble. "After all Leandro is not the man to do such a deed. He is such a
poor creature. Besides, it seems to me that the girl's motive for hate
was the stronger. I don't know that wounded vanity has had many such
crimes to answer for, whereas jealousy--and such a jealousy--why, it is
an old story you know."

"Well, we shall see. Any way, I am very much more easy as to the result.
Short of such evidence as it seems very highly unlikely should be
forthcoming, I do not think that there can be any conviction at all. It
is most extraordinary that in the case of such deed, done in such a
place, at such a time, there should be so many persons so fairly liable
to strong suspicion."

"Of course, to produce the result we wish, a case must be set up against
Leandro?" said the Baron.

"Of course. Leave that to me, or rather to the police. No doubt their
inquiries have already put them on his track. The fact of his having
gone out of the city by that gate, at that hour, is quite enough."

"And now I must be off to see this Signorina Foscarelli. I don't half
like the job."

"I daresay you will find her easy enough," said the lawyer, not quite
understanding the nature of Manutoli's distaste for his errand.
"Good-night, Signor Barone."



CHAPTER IX

The Post-Mortem Examination


The Baron Manutoli found Paolina quite as "easy" as the lawyer had
imagined that he would find her; but his task was not altogether an easy
one in the sense he had himself intended. She made not the slightest
difficulty of telling him, that when she had seen Ludovico and Bianca
drive past the church towards the forest she had felt a strong
temptation to follow them thither; she told him all about the
conversation she had had with the old monk, and repeated the directions
she had received from him as to the path by which she might reach the
Pineta, and return that way towards the city, without coming back into
the high-road, till she got near the walls. She confessed that, when she
had followed the path behind the church leading to the Pineta, for some
little distance, she had changed her mind, and had turned off by another
path, which had brought her back into the high-road not far from the
church; and she said that she had then walked on till she came near the
walls, where she turned aside to sit down on one of the benches under
the trees of the little promenade; that she had sat there for some
time--she did not know how long; had then gone in to the Cardinal
Legate's chapel, where she had conversed with the Contessa Violante,
whom she knew from having often met her there before; and had at last
returned home at a very much later hour than she had expected, and had
found her friend Signora Orsola Steno uneasy at her prolonged absence.

"And did you mention to the Contessa the shocking fact of the prima
donna's death?" asked Manutoli, suddenly, thinking that he was doing a
very sharp bit of lawyerly business in laying this trap for Paolina.

"How was it possible that I should do so, when I knew nothing about it
till Ludovico told me several hours later?" answered the girl, with an
unembarrassed easiness and readiness that almost changed Manutoli's
opinion as to the probability of her guilt.

He reminded himself, however, that the same woman, who could be capable
of such a deed might also be expected to have the presence of mind and
readiness necessary for avoiding any such trap as that which he had laid
for her.

He was, at the same time, strongly, but perhaps not altogether
consistently, impressed with the fact; that during the whole of his
interview with her, she did not once distinctly and directly deny that
she had had anything to do with the crime. When warning her, as he had
been charged by Ludovico to do, of the probability that she might be
arrested, he had allowed her to understand that the circumstances of
this case were such, that the question of who was the guilty person
became nearly an alternative one between herself and the Marchese. On
which, instead of protesting her own innocence, she had strongly
insisted on that of Ludovico, which seemed a very suspicious
circumstance to the Baron Manutoli.

He had tried to lead her to express some feeling, or, rather, some
remembrance of what had been her feeling when she saw Ludovico and La
Bianca in the bagarino together; but there she became reticent, and
would say little or nothing--another suspicious circumstance in the eyes
of the Baron, so that, when he quitted her, he was, upon the whole,
rather confirmed than otherwise in his previous opinion as to her guilt.

"Well, Signorina," he had said, in rising to leave her, "I came here, in
compliance with my friend's request, to re-assure you on the subject of
the warrant which will, in all probability, be issued to-morrow morning
for your arrest. You best know whether you have any reason for alarm. My
own opinion is, that if you have nothing to reproach yourself with, you
have nothing to fear. I trust it may be so."

"I am grateful to you for coming, Signor," Paolina said. "You will see
Ludovico again. Tell him that I am as sure of his innocence of this
horrid thing as if he had never quitted my side."

How Paolina passed that miserable night it is useless to attempt to
tell. How happy all, ay, even all, the days of her previous life seemed
to her in comparison with the misery of the minutes that were then so
slowly passing.

Early the next morning Signor Fortini called at the house of his friend
Dr. Buonaventura Tomosarchi, the great anatomist, for the purpose of
accompanying the Professor to the room at the hospital, where the body
of Bianca was awaiting the post-mortem examination which had been
ordered by the police.

"I suppose," said Fortini, as they walked together, "that there is no
possibility, in such a case as this, that the death may have been a
natural one?"

"Oh, I would not say that at all. Such things occur at all ages. I do
not think it is likely,--specially in the case of such a magnificent
organization as that of yonder poor girl; but there is no saying, and,
above all, no use in attempting to guess when we shall so soon know all
about it," said the Professor, a man some ten or fifteen years younger
than the old lawyer.

"Is it possible that death may have been caused by foul means, yet by
such as may elude your investigation?" asked Fortini.

"I think not--I should say almost certainly not in such a case as the
present. There are poisons that act subtly and instantaneously, but
there is the odour in most cases,--in almost all some indication of
their operation on the organization."

Arrived at the hospital they found a couple of assistants, pupils of the
Professor, awaiting his arrival. There was also an official on the part
of the police, and there were two or three persons waiting in the hope
of being allowed to be present at the examination. The police officer,
however, very summarily declared that this could not be permitted.
Fortini was so well known, and held such a kind of half-official
position and character in the city, that he passed on unquestioned on
the arm of the Professor.

The body lay exactly as it had been brought in by the labouring-men who
had found it in the Pineta. The beautiful face was perfectly calm, and
in the lineaments of it the difference that there is between death and
sleep was scarcely perceptible. The white dress was almost as unruffled
and as spotless as when she had put it on. It had been fastened about
midway between the neck and the waist by a diamond pin or brooch; but
this fastening was now undone, and the brooch was hanging loosely on one
side of the bosom of the dress. It was impossible to suppose that this
jewel should have been so left by anybody who had had the opportunity
and the desire of plunder. It might have been unfastened by the wearer
before she slept for the sake of more full enjoyment of the balmy
breezes of the pine-forest: and the result of this loosening of the
dress was that the light folds of it opened freely as far down as the
waist, so that the slightest drawing aside of them, such as even the
breeze might effect, was sufficient to leave bare the entire bosom.

On either shoulder and on the bosom lay the large heavy waves of the
rich auburn hair. In death, as she had been in life, she was still a
wonder of beauty; and the two men, the old lawyer and the Professor,
little as, from years, character, and habits of mind, their imaginations
were susceptible of being deeply touched by such a sight, stood for
awhile by the side of the table on which the body had been laid, and
gazed in sad silence on the sight before them.

"One might think she was still sleeping, poor creature," said the
lawyer, after a silence of a few minutes.

"Ay, almost. It is a wonderfully lovely face. Seems difficult to
believe, doesn't it, that any man--. Much less such a man as the
Marchese--should have stood over that figure, and so looking down on it,
have decided on destroying it?" said the Professor.

"Perhaps no man did so," said the lawyer.

"Case of death from natural causes, you mean? I am afraid not, I am
afraid not. Can't say for certain yet; but, judging from appearances, I
fear there is no likelihood that such was the case," rejoined the
Professor.

"I was not thinking of that," replied Fortini. "I meant that what a man
could hardly have had the heart to do might, perhaps, have been done by
a woman. Beauty is not, I fancy, always found to produce quite the same
sort of effect on another female as it is wont to produce on the other
sex."

"Might have been done by a woman? That seems hardly likely, I think,
caro mio. In the Pineta at that hour of the morning? Che! What woman is
likely to have been there?"

"Well, we happen to know that there was a woman very near the spot where
the crime was committed at the time that it was committed."

"You don't say so?" interrupted the anatomist. "Good heavens! This is
quite new to me, and, of course, most important. I am delighted to hear
what seems to cast so strong a doubt on the guilt of the Marchesino."

"And that is not all. We know further," continued the lawyer, eagerly,
"that the woman in question had the strongest of all the possible
motives that ever influence a female mind to hate--to desire the death
of this poor girl that now lies here. The question is, whether this
death was caused by any means which a woman--a young girl--may be
supposed to have used," said the lawyer.

"Ha! a case of jealousy, I suppose? You don't mean it. God knows, I
should be more glad than I will say if there were any means of showing
that the Marchese Ludovico had no hand in the matter. If it were brought
home to him it would kill my old friend the Marchese Lamberto outright;
I do believe it would kill him."

"I thought at first, to tell you the truth, Signor Professore, that it
must have been the Marchesino who did the deed; the circumstances seemed
so terribly strong against him. But--certain facts have come to my
knowledge--in short, I begin to have very great hopes that he was in
reality wholly innocent of it; and still greater hopes that if we cannot
succeed in bringing the crime home to any other party, yet that the
difficulty and doubt hanging about the case will be so great that all
conviction will be impossible."

"A woman, you tell me? A young woman, I suppose, from what you say?"
said the Professor, inquiringly.

"Yes; a young woman, and, as I am told, a very pretty one--a certain
young girl--a Venetian artist, of the name of Foscarelli--Paolina
Foscarelli, with whom it seems the Marchesino was foolish enough to fall
in love. Well, this girl sees the Marchese and Bianca driving out alone
together at that time in the morning to the Pineta--that much we
know--sees them cheek by jowl together in a little bagarino, doing
heaven only knows what--billing and cooing. Now it seems to me that she
would, under these circumstances, be likely to feel not altogether
kindly towards the lady in possession, eh, Signor Professore? You know
the nature of the creatures better than I do; what do you think about
it?"

"Similar little accidents have produced as terrible results before
now--ay, many a time, there is no denying that. If we can ascertain how
the deed was done it will be likely enough to throw some light on the
probabilities of the case," returned the Professor, proceeding to
scrutinize carefully the body as it lay before in any way disturbing the
position or the garments.

"Ha! what have we here?" he cried, as he perceived, and, at the same
time, pointed out the existence of a very small red spot upon the white
dress just above the waistband. In an instant, as he spoke, he whipped
out a powerful magnifying-glass, and carefully examined the tell-tale
spot by its aid.

"Yes, that is a spot of blood--blood sure enough! but it is very
singular that there should be such a minute spot, and no more; no, I can
find no further trace," he added, after a careful and minute examination
of every part of the dress.

"Might not any trifling accident--the most insignificant thing in the
world--produce such a mere spot as that--a scratched finger--either her
own or another person's?" asked the lawyer.

"Well, hardly so; a slight stain might easily be so caused; but hardly a
round spot like that. That spot must have been caused by a small drop
falling on that place--not by the muslin having been brought into
contact with any portion of blood, however small. How could that one
little round drop of blood have come there?" said the anatomist,
thoughtfully. "It is singular enough."

Then, when the dress had been removed preparatory to the examination of
the body, the Professor himself and his assistants minutely searched
every part of it--in vain. There was no other, even the smallest, mark
of blood to be found.

"Are you sure that that spot is blood?" asked the lawyer.

"Are you sure whether a deed is signed or is not signed when you see
it?" retorted the anatomist. "Yes; that spot has been caused by a drop
of blood falling there--a very minute drop. Of that there can be no
doubt. And now we must proceed to examine the body externally. If there
should be nothing to be learned from that, we must see what revelations
the knife may bring to light."

And then the Professor, aided by his pupils, proceeded to institute a
minute and careful examination of the body.

At the first sight it appeared to be as unblemished in every part of it
as Nature's choicest and most perfect handiwork could be. So little did
a mere cursory view suggest the possibility that life would have been
destroyed by any external violence, that the Professor was about to take
the necessary steps for ascertaining what light could be thrown on the
manner of her death by the internal condition of the different portions
of the organism, when the sharper eyes of one of the young assistants
were drawn to a very slight indication, which he immediately pointed out
to his superior.

The appearance in question consisted of a very small round white spot,
around which there was a slight equally circular redness. It was
situated nearly in the middle of the body, just below the meeting of the
ribs on the chest, about a broad hand's breadth above the waistband--in
such a position, in short, as to be very nearly at the point where the
neck-opening of the dress ceased.

No second glance was needed, as soon as the Professor's attention had
been called to this appearance, to ensure the riveting of his attention
on it. Nor was much examination necessary to convince him that he had
now, in truth, discovered the cause and the means of death.

The slight mark in question was, in fact, the trace of a wound inflicted
by a very fine needle, which had pierced the heart, and, having caused
immediate death, had been left in the wound, ingeniously hidden by means
which it needed a second look to discover. The effect of this discovery
on the Professor was singular. He seemed taken aback by it, and, one
would have said, alarmed at it, in a manner which it seemed difficult
for Signor Fortini to account for. "What is it astonishes you so, Signor
Professore," said he; "surely you were prepared to find that a murder
had been done? I never had any doubt of it; and why not in that way as
well as another? And a very ingenious mode of inflicting death in a
quiet way it seems to be."

"Yes, indeed. The fact is that I was struck by--"

The Professor broke off speaking suddenly with a start; and darted a
quick alarmed glance at the face of Signor Fortini, who did not fail to
remark it, and to be much puzzled by the Professor's manner.

The latter, while he had been speaking, had stooped to examine the
minute trace of the wound closely, and had put his finger on the spot;
and it was on doing so that he had interrupted himself, and shown
renewed symptoms of surprise and dismay. What this closer examination
had shown him was the fact that an infinitesimally small portion of
white wax had been very neatly and carefully introduced into the orifice
of the wound, in such a manner as to prevent all effusion of blood, and
almost to escape the observation of the naked eye.

"Why, one would say you were a novice at this sort of thing, Tomosarchi,
you seem so much affected by it," said the lawyer; "what is it that
moves you so? Why, you are as pale, man, as if you were bringing to
light a crime of your own instead of somebody else's."

"Ah! not that exactly. No, but it is a very singular thing. One would
say that this death must have been caused by some one who had some
little knowledge of anatomy, or, at least, had been put up to the trick
by some one else who possessed such knowledge," said the Professor,
recovering himself with an effort.

"And that is what our friend the Marchesino Ludovico is most assuredly
innocent of. I take note of your remark, Signor Professore," said the
lawyer.

"But one would think, that all the other persons on whom it is possible
that suspicion might rest, must be equally void of any such knowledge,"
returned Tomosarchi.

"How do we know that? How can I tell what strange odds and ends of
knowledge this Venetian artist may have picked up. Artists,--they have
constantly more or less acquaintance with medical students, and such
like. Some knowledge of anatomy is needful to them in their business.
For my part, it seems to me very likely that this girl might have such
knowledge as would teach her so easy a way of getting rid of her rival.
Then you will observe that very little physical strength was needed for
the infliction of such a wound. It might have been done perfectly easily
by the hand of a young girl. I declare it seems to me that the result of
your examinations tends to make it more probable than ever that the
Venetian is the criminal."

"Well, it may be so. Certain it is, that no degree of strength beyond
what she, or any other such person could have exerted, was needed for
giving that death to a sleepy person. But it is equally clear that a
certain amount of special knowledge was required for the purpose,"
rejoined the anatomist. "And now," added he; "I must draw up my report.
A rivederci, Signor Fortini! A rivederci, Signori!"

"One word more, Signor Professore, before I leave you," said the lawyer;
"is the special knowledge you speak of, such as--any member of your
profession we will say--would be possessed of."

"Well, I should not say that it was likely such a method of concealing a
crime would have suggested itself to such an one, more than to another.
It is the clever invention of one who meditated murder. But, I may say
at once to you, what I shall have to say in due season to the
magistrates, that the trick is not a new one. I have heard of such a
thing before now."

"But not as a common thing," pursued the lawyer.

"Quite the reverse--as a very strange and peculiar thing," replied the
Professor.

"And when did you hear of a case of murder committed in this strange and
peculiar manner?" persisted the lawyer.

The Professor shot a sharp quick glance at the lawyer's face; and his
own flushed red as he replied, "Ay--if I could remember that--but it is
a reported case; anybody may have read it. A murder was committed by
similar means in the Island of Sardinia, not very long ago!"

"Not very long ago," reiterated the lawyer, musingly.

"No, not very long ago; but the case has been reported, I tell you.
Anybody may have read it."

"Humph," said the lawyer, as he turned to go, with his mind evidently
busily at work both on the strange sort of confusion that had been
visible in the Professor's manner, and on the circumstances he had
elicited from him.

"I'll tell you what," said one of the young students to the other, while
they were engaged in preparing to consign the body of the murdered woman
to the police. "I'll tell you what: I'll be blessed if I don't think the
governor knows, or has a shrewd guess, who it is has done this job. Did
you mark the way he looked, and went as pale as death, when I showed him
the place?"

"Bah, nonsense! He was vexed that he had not seen it himself. How should
he know anything about it?"

"I don't know how; but I know him, and his ways," said the first
speaker.

"But if he thinks he has any guess at the murderer, why don't he say it
at once?" asked the younger lad.

"Ah, yes, I think so; I should like to see him at it. That's not his
business, that's the lawyer's business. You may depend on his keeping
his own secret, if he has got one. The governor likes quiet sailing in
still water, he does. But if he did not see something more in this
little bit of steel and atom of wax, that have stopped a life so
cleverly, than the mere things themselves and the effect of them,--why,
then, I know nothing about old Buonaventura Tomosarchi, that's all."

"How see something more?" said the younger lad, open-eyed.

"Saw who put 'em there, Ninny. It is not everybody who could be up to
such a dodge; and I feel sure the governor could make a shrewd guess who
did that clever trick."



CHAPTER X

Public Opinion


The post-mortem examination had taken place at an early hour, before the
members of the idler portion of the society of the city had come forth
from their homes. An Italian idler--one of the class who, in common
Italian phrase, are able to "fare vita beata," to lead a happy life, i.
e. to do nothing whatever from morning till night--an Italian of that
favoured class never passes his hours in his own house, or dwelling of
whatever kind it may be. As soon as he is up and dressed he goes out
into the city to enjoy the air and sunshine if it be fine weather, to
saunter in cafes or at the Circolo, if it rain.

Professor Tomosarchi and lawyer Fortini had been earlier afoot, and the
scene described in the last chapter had passed, and the general results
of the examination were beginning to be known in the city, when the
jeunesse doree of Ravenna began to assemble at the Circolo. It was known
also by that time that the young Venetian artist, with whom Ludovico was
well known to be on intimate terms of some kind or other, had been
arrested at her lodging at an early hour that morning, on suspicion of
having been concerned in the murder of La Bianca.

Of course that terrible event continued more than ever to occupy the
attention of all Ravenna, almost to the exclusion of every other topic
of conversation. It was very easy to understand the nature of the
motive, which might be supposed to have led Paolina to do the deed. And
when it became known farther, that the means by which the death of the
victim had been brought about were such as might easily have been
accomplished by the weakest woman's hand; and that it had been
discovered that Paolina had been in the Pineta--for such was the not
quite accurate form which the report assumed just about the time when
the crime must have been committed, the general opinion inclined very
much to the notion that she, the stranger from Venice, was, indeed, the
assassin.

Precedents were hunted up, and many a story told of women who had done
equally desperate deeds under similar provocation.

"I feel very little doubt of it, myself," said Manutoli; "there is
nothing improbable in such a solution, while it is in the highest degree
improbable that Ludovico should have raised his hand against a sleeping
woman, enticed by him in the forest for the purpose. Bah! It is
monstrous."

"He would have been more to be pitied than blamed if he had done it,"
said another of the young men, who did not bear himself a reputation of
the most brilliant sort; "if I had a rich uncle I swear by all the
saints, that I would not let the prettiest woman that ever made a fool
of a man, come between me and my inheritance."

"Ludovico was not the man to have done it any way. Besides, the mischief
had not been done; it was only a project talked of. There might have
been a hundred ways of breaking off so absurd a match. It would have
been time to have recourse to les grands moyens, when the thing had been
done, and all else had failed. To my notion jealousy has done it."

"So say I. Two to one I bet that it turns out that the Venetian girl has
done the trick."

"But have you heard, all of you, that there is a third horse in the
field?" said the Marchese Faraoni whose palazzo was close to the house
in which the Conte Leandro lived; "there is another candidate for the
galleys. Has nobody heard that our poet was arrested before he was out
of bed this morning?"

"What! Leandro?"

"The Conte Lombardoni?"

"No!"

"You don't mean that?"

"What, arrested for this murder of La Bianca?"

"Impossible!"

"But quite true, nevertheless. Anybody can easily assure themselves of
the fact by walking as far as the Palazzo del Governo."

"Leandro arrested on suspicion of murder? Well, I think the tragedy is
passing into a farce."

"It will be fatal to Leandro. He will die of fright, if no other evil
happens to him."

"Think of the cantos of verse he will make on it."

"He will die singing, like a swan."

"But do you know anything about it, Faraoni? Have you any idea how he
has come to be implicated in the matter?"

"I learnt at his own lodging that he did not come home to bed the night
of the ball, but was absent from home at the time the murder must have
been committed. And then I was told that the men at the Porta Nuova had
declared that they had seen him pass out of the city going in the
direction of the Pineta at a very early hour that morning."

"Per Bacco! it is very strange. What, in the name of all the saints,
could he be doing out there at that time, when all honest folks were in
their beds?"

"Remember all the snubbing he has had from the poor Diva all through
carnival. By Jove! it looks very queer."

"Do you remember how he turned all sorts of colours here last night,
when we were talking of it?"

"And how anxious he seemed to say everything that appeared to make it
bear hard upon Ludovico?"

"Yes, and contradicted himself. First, he knew about it, and then he
knew nothing."

"Per Dio! I don't know what to think of it."

"So, then, there are now three persons suspected--Ludovico; and the
Venetian girl, and the Conte Leandro?"

"And all three were not far from the spot where the deed was done, and
all three had motives, more or less credible, for doing it."

"Ludovico, because his uncle was going to marry the woman, which would
have cut him out of his inheritance; the Venetian girl, because she
loved Ludovico, and saw him making love to the poor Diva; and Leandro,
because she snubbed him, and laughed at him, and would have nothing to
say to either him or his verses."

"And the one certain thing is, that the unlucky Diva lies dead, and was
murdered by somebody. Upon my life, it is the queerest thing I ever
heard of."

"What do you think of it, Manutoli?" said one of the speakers in the
foregoing dialogue to the Baron, who was an older man than most of the
others there.

"My notion is that the girl is the guilty party," said Manutoli. "As for
Leandro, it seems too absurd. I don't think he has courage enough to
kill a cat: Besides, I daresay he hated La Bianca quite enough to
slander her, and backbite, and that sort of thing; but murder--"

"She made fun of him. Leandro don't like to be laughed at,--specially by
the women, and, more specially still, when other fellows are by to hear
it and then those poets are always such desperate fellows I should not
wonder--" said one of the young men.

In the meantime, while talk of this sort was going on at the Circolo,
Signor Fortini was on his way out to St. Apollinare in Classe, according
to the intention he had expressed on the preceding evening; but he was
not making the expedition alone. Signor Pietro Logarini, the Papal
Commissioner of Police, was bound on the same errand. The old lawyer, as
he passed under the gateway of the Porta Nuova in his comfortable
caleche, overtook Signor Logarini, who was about to proceed to St.
Apollinare on foot, and who had paused at the gate for the purpose of
making some inquiries of the officials there.

"Good morning, Signor Pietro. I suppose we are bound for the same place;
will you permit me to offer you a seat in my carriage?" said the lawyer.

"Thanks, Signor Giovacchino, I shall be glad of the lift. Yes, I suppose
we are about the same business, and a bad one it is. I was making a few
inquiries at the gate; but I don't see that there is much to be gleaned
there," said the Commissary, as he got into the lawyer's carriage.

"Well, it seems to me that we have reaped a pretty good harvest there
already," returned the lawyer.

"Enough to make the matter one of the most puzzling I ever had to do
with," returned the Commissary. "You have heard, I suppose, that we have
arrested the girl Paolina Foscarelli, and the Conte Leandro Lombardoni?"

"No; but it was a matter of course that you would do so--specially the
girl," said the lawyer.

"We could not avoid arresting the Conte also; it is so unaccountable
that he should have been going out of the city, and so near the place of
the crime."

"What account does he give of the matter himself?" asked the lawyer.

"No very clear one; and he seems to be frightened out of his senses; but
that proves nothing. One man takes a thing coolly, another is so flushed
that you would think he was guilty only to look at him; but there is
little to be judged from such appearances. I don't much think the Conte
had anything to do with it, for my part."

"What were you asking about at the gate?"

"Well, I thought I would just ascertain if any other parties had passed
the gate that same morning," said the Commissary.

"Others! Have we not enough to make a sufficient puzzle already?" said
Fortini.

"Yes, indeed; but information is always useful. The men say that they
are quite sure that no other person of any kind whatever passed the gate
either outwards or inwards, during the night till the Conte Leandro
passed in the morning; and then the girl not long afterwards; and then
the Marchesino with the prima donna."

The lawyer remained plunged in thought for some minutes, as the carriage
rolled over the flat dismal-looking road towards the old church; and
then he said, shaking his head, and pouting out his lips,--"I think we
shall find, Signor Pietro, that that girl has done it. There's nothing a
jealous woman will not do. We shall find, I think, that to have been the
case; that is, if we succeed in finding out anything at all. Perhaps the
most likely thing is that we may never know what hand did the deed."

"Oh, come, I hope better things than that. That would not suit our book
at all. We must find it out if we can; and it is early days yet to talk
of being beat. We are not half at the end of our means of investigation
yet, Signor Giovacchino," said the Commissary.

"It may be that something may be to be picked up at the church here."

"And then I must go on to the farm-house, where the Marchesino and the
prima donna left their carriage."

"We'll have a talk with the friars first."

As Fortini spoke the carriage drew up at the west front of the desolate
old basilica. It was a fine spring morning, and by the time the lawyer
and the Commissary reached the church, the sun had dissipated the mist,
and it was warm and pleasant.

The great doors of the church stood yawningly open as usual, and the
gate of iron rail was ajar. And at the south-western corner of the
building, just where the sun-ray from the south-west made a sharp line
against the black shadow cast by the western front of the building, an
old Franciscan was sitting; not Father Fabiano, but his sole companion,
Friar Simone, the lay-brother.

Neither Signor Fortini nor the police Commissary had ever seen the old
guardian of the Basilica; but they were sufficiently instructed in the
details of Franciscan costume to perceive at once that the figure before
them was not a priest, but only a lay-brother.

"Is there any place, frate, where I can put my horse and carriage under
shelter for half an hour or so?" said the lawyer, as the old friar,
having risen from his seat in the sunshine, came forward towards the
carriage.

"There is place enough and to spare, Signori," said the old man,
pointing with a languid and wearylike gesture to the huge pile of
half-dilapidated conventual buildings on the southern side of the
church; "you can put horse and carriage as they stand into the old barn
there, without undoing a buckle. I will open the door for your
lordships, if it will hang together so that it can be opened."

The lawyer and the Commissary dismounted from the carriage, and the
former proceeded to lead his horse into the huge barn of the convent;
while the latter employed himself in observing every detail of the
surrounding localities with those rapid all-seeing and all-remembering
glances that the habits and education of his profession had rendered a
part of his nature, preparatory to the investigations they had both come
to make.



CHAPTER XI

In Father Fabiano's Cell


"You can enter the Basilica at your pleasure, Signori; the gate is
unlocked," said the lay-brother, indicating the entrance to the church
with a half-formed gesture of his hand, which fell to his side again
when he had half raised it, as if the effort of extending his arm
horizontally had been too much for him. It was a matter of course to him
that any human beings who came to St. Apollinare could have no business
there but to see the old walls, which he, the friar, would have given so
much never to see again.

"We will do so presently," said Signor Logarini, in reply; "but, in the
first place, we wish to speak with Father Fabiano--he is the custode of
the church, is he not?"

"Father Fabiano is ill a-bed, Signor; I am only out of my bed since
yesterday, and it is as much as I can do to crawl. There's not many days
in the year, I think, that we are both well; and if we should be both
down together, God help us. It is not just the healthiest place in the
world, this."

"What is the matter with the padre? Has he been ill long?" asked the
lawyer, with a glance at the Commissary.

"Since yesterday afternoon. Why, I tell you I was in bed yesterday; he
down, I must turn out. Ah--h--h! it 'll all be over one of these days."

"But what ails the custode?" asked Signor Logarini again.

"Fever and ague, I suppose; that is what is always killing both of us
more or less. Pity it is so slow about it!" muttered the lay-brother,
returning to his seat in the sunshine.

"But I suppose that Father Fabiano is not so ill but that we can speak
with him? It is important that we should do so," said the Commissary,
eyeing the friar with a suspicious glance.

"There is nothing to prevent you or anybody else going to him that
choose to do so--nothing to prevent any one of those cattle doing so,
for that matter. There is neither bolt nor latch; you can go into his
chamber, if you are so minded," returned the lay-brother, rather
surlily.

"Will you go and tell him that--Signor Fortini from Ravenna wishes to
speak with him, and would be obliged by his permission to come into his
room for a few minutes. We don't wish to disturb him more than is
necessary."

"I'll tell him--though you might as well go to him yourselves at once
for that matter; it is weary work going up the stairs so often--and I
can hardly crawl."

And, so saying, the poor old lay-brother tottered off to one of the
numerous doorless entrances of the half-ruined mass of building, and set
himself wearily to climb a small stair, the foot of which was just
within it.

The lawyer and the Commissary looked at each other; and the latter said,
with a wink at his companion,--"I thought it better, you see, to say
nothing about the Commissary of Police; it would have frightened the old
fellow out of his wits; and it is always time enough to let him know who
we are if he won't speak without. But I know these animals of friars,
Signor Giovacchino, I know them well; and there isn't a man or woman,
townsman or countryman, noble or peasant that I wouldn't rather have to
deal with than a monk or a friar. Let 'em so much as smell the scent of
layman in any position of authority, and it makes 'em as obstinate and
contradictious and contrary as mules, and worse. If this old fellow here
has got anything to hide, you'll see that we shall not be able to get it
out of him."

"But I don't see what interest or wish he can have to hide anything from
us," said Fortini.

"N--n--no; one don't see that he should have but one can't be too
suspicious, mio buono Signor Giovacchino," said the police authority;
"and then, what does he mean by being ill?" he added, after a little
thought; "he was well yesterday. It looks me very much as if he did not
want to be questioned."

"I should not think that he can have much to tell. We shall see whether
his account confirms the story of the girl as to what took place in the
church. But the probability is that that part of her tale is all true
enough. The question is what did she do with herself during all those
hours that elapsed between the time she quitted the church and the time
when she reached her home? And I have little hope that the friar should
be able to throw any light upon that," said the lawyer.

"We shall see; here comes the lay-brother. Ugh! what a life it must be
to live in such a place as this from one year's end to the other;
nothing but a frate could stand it," said the Commissary, looking upon
the desolation around him with infinite disgust.

"Father Fabiano is not much fit to speak to anybody; the cold fit of the
ague is very strong upon him. But if you choose to go up to him you
can--specially as there is nothing to stop you. He is in the right-hand
cell on the first landing-place up that staircase," said the
lay-brother, feebly pointing to the entrance, from which he had come
out.

The lawyer and the police official followed the indications thus given
them, and found, as old Simone had said, that there was neither bolt,
lock, nor latch to prevent any creature that could push a door on its
hinges, from entering the little bare-walled room in which the friar lay
beneath a heavy quilted coverlet on a little narrow pallet.

There was not so much as a single chair in the room. The walls were
clean, and freshly whitewashed; and the brick floor was also clean.
There were a few pegs of deal in the wall on the side of the cell
opposite to the doorway, on which some garments were hanging; and on the
wall facing the bed there was a large, rudely carved, and yet more
rudely painted crucifix. By the side of the bed nearest the door there
hung, on a nail driven into the wall, a copper receptacle for holy
water, the upper part of which was ornamented with a figure of St.
Francis in the act of receiving the "Stigmata," in repousse work, by no
means badly executed. And pasted on the bare wall, immediately above the
pillow of the little bed, was a coloured print of the cheapest and
vilest description, representing the Madonna with the seven legendary
poignards sticking in her bosom, and St. Francis, supported on either
side by a friar of his order, kneeling at her feet.

These objects formed absolutely the entire furniture of the cell. There
was nothing else whatsoever in the room; neither the smallest fragment
of a looking-glass, nor any means or preparation for ablution
whatsoever.

The old monk lay on his back in the bed, wit his head propped rather
highly on a hard straw bolster; and the extreme attenuation of his body
was indicated by the very slight degree in which the clothes that
covered him were raised above the level of the bedstead. On the coverlet
upon his chest, there was a rosary of large beads turned out of
box-wood. The parts of each bead nearest to the string and in contact
with each other were black with the undisturbed dirt and dust of many
years. But the protuberant circumference of each wooden ball was
polished to a rich shining orange-colour by the constant handling of the
fingers.

It seemed both to Signor Fortini and to the Commissary, that there could
be no doubt about it, that the old man was really ill. He was lying in
his frock of thick brown woollen, and the cowl of it was drawn over his
head. He seemed to be suffering from cold, and his teeth were audibly
chattering in his head; and his thin, thin claw-like hands shook as they
clutched his crucifix. His face was lividly pale, and his eyes gleamed
out from under the cowl with a restless feverish brightness.

That he was ill could hardly be doubted. And it seemed to the lawyer and
the Commissary as well as to the old lay-brother, natural enough to
suppose that a man who fell ill at St. Apollinare was ill with fever and
ague. But whether that were really the nature of his malady, his
visitors had not sufficient medical knowledge to judge; but it was
probable enough that the aged monk had had quite sufficient experience
of fever and ague, to know pretty well himself, whether he were
suffering from that cause or not.

"We are sorry to find you ill, father," said Fortini; "and though we
have come from Ravenna on purpose to speak with you, we would not have
disturbed you if our business had not been important. Are you suffering
much now?"

"Not much more than usual," said the sick man, shutting his eyes, while
his pallid lips continued to move, as he muttered to himself an "Ave
Maria."

"And can you give us your attention for a few minutes?" rejoined the
lawyer.

"I will answer to your asking as far as I can; but my head is confused,
and I don't remember much clearly about anything. It seems to me as if I
had been lying on this bed for months and months," replied the old
friar.

"And yet, you know, you were up and well yesterday morning, when you
were with the young girl who came to copy the mosaics, you know, on the
scaffolding in the church?" said the lawyer.

"Yes; I was with the girl--Paolina Foscarelli, a Venetian--on the
scaffolding. Was it yesterday?"

"Yesterday it was that she was here. Yesterday morning. And it is hardly
necessary to ask you if you know what happened here in the Pineta much
about that time, or shortly afterwards. You have heard of the murder, of
course?"

So violent a trembling seized on the aged man as the lawyer spoke thus,
that he was unable to answer a word. His old hands shook so that he
could hardly hold the beads in his fingers, while his chattering teeth
and trembling lips tried to formulate the words of a prayer.

"Did you, or did you not hear that a dreadful murder was committed
yesterday morning in the Pineta not far from this place?" said the
Commissary, speaking for the first time, and in a less kindly manner
than the old lawyer had used.

A redoubled access of teeth-chattering and shivering was for some time
the only result elicited by this question. The old friar shook in every
limb; and the beads of the rosary rattled in his trembling fingers, as
he attempted to pass them on their string in mechanically habitual
accompaniment to the invocations his lips essayed to mutter.

"It is a terrible thing to speak of truly, father; and we are sorry to
be obliged to distress you by forcing such a subject on your thoughts;
but it is our duty to make these inquiries; and you can tell us the few
facts--they cannot be many or of much importance--which have come to
your knowledge on the subject," said the lawyer, speaking in more gentle
accents.

"I heard nothing; but I saw," said the aged man, closing his eyes, as if
to shut out the vision which was forced back upon his imagination; and
fumbling nervously with his beads, while his pale blue lips trembled
with mutterings of mechanically repeated ejaculations.

"Take your time, padre mio," said the lawyer gently, making a gesture
with his raised band, at the same time, to repress the less patient
eagerness of the Commissary of Police; "we do not want to hurry you.
Tell us what it was that you saw."



CHAPTER XII

The Case against Paolina


The old friar opened his haggard eyes, which gleamed out with a feverish
light from the bottom of their sockets, and from under the shadow of his
cowl, and looked piteously up into the lawyer's face. "A little time--a
moment to collect my thoughts," he said, passing his parched tongue over
the still dryer parchment-like skin of his drawn lips, and painfully
swaying his cowled head from one side of the hard pillow to the other,
while large drops of perspiration gathered on his brow.

The Commissary shot a meaning glance across the pallet on which the old
man lay, to the lawyer, in evident anticipation of the importance of the
revelation, heralded by so much of painful emotion.

"By all means, padre mio; collect your thoughts. We are sorry for the
necessity which obliges us to force your mind back on such painful
ones," said the lawyer, laying his hand on that of the friar, which was
still fumbling with the shining bog-wood beads, scarcely more yellow
than the claw-like fingers which held them. "You saw--?"

Still no reply came from the old friar's lips. He writhed his body in
the bed, and the manifestation of his agony became more and more
intense. The eager impatient air of the Commissary changed itself into
one of persistent dogged determination; and he quietly drew from his
pocket a note-book and the means of writing in it.

"Now, father, you will be able to tell us what you saw?" said the lawyer
in a soothing coaxing voice.

"I saw," said the old friar at length, speaking with his eyes again
closed--"I saw the dead body of the woman who had passed the church
towards the Pineta in the morning, brought back by six men from the
forest. They passed by the western front of the church, and I saw that
the body was the body of the woman I speak of."

The Commissary shut up his note-book with a gesture of provoked
disappointment, and shrugged his shoulders impatiently.

"If that is all you have to tell us, frate, you need not have made so
much difficulty about it," he said; "we knew all that before, and need
not have come here to be told it. Plenty of people saw the bringing in
from the forest of the body of the murdered woman, and would give
evidence to the fact without making so much ado about it. Is that all
you saw?"

"Did you not see," said the lawyer, again motioning his companion to be
patient; "did you not see another young woman in the forest yesterday
morning?"

"Not in the forest," replied the friar without any difficulty. "Not in
the forest; I saw another young woman here yesterday, but it was in the
church. She came here to make copies of some of the mosaics. I had been
previously told to expect such an one."

"Did she come to the church before the time when you saw the other lady
pass towards the forest?" asked the lawyer.

"Yes; about half an hour or more before," answered the friar.

"And where was she when the second lady passed, going towards the
Pineta?" asked the lawyer again.

"She was on the scaffolding in the church, which had been prepared for
her to make her copies of the mosaics."

"Do you know whether she saw, or was aware that the second lady had
passed the church to go towards the Pineta?"

"I know that she was aware of it; I was with her on the scaffolding. We
both together saw the woman who was afterwards brought back dead pass in
a bagarino with the Marchese Ludovico di Castelmare, towards the
Pineta."

The lawyer looked hard at the Commissary; and the latter in obedience,
as it seemed, to the look, took out his note-book again, and made a note
of the declaration.

"And what did the young lady who came to copy the mosaics do afterwards?
Where did you part with her?" resumed the lawyer.

"She left the church, and walked in the direction of the forest. I
parted from her at the door of the church."

"And did you see her any more in the course of that morning?" asked the
lawyer again.

"I did not: I saw her no more from that time to this," replied the
friar. During the whole of this interrogation, he had appeared far less
distressed and disturbed than he had been before speaking of his having
seen the body of La Bianca carried past the church towards the city. He
had answered all the questions concerning Paolina readily and without
hesitation.

"I don't think we need trouble you any further, frate," said the
Commissary. "I hope that you will soon get over your touch of fever; and
then, if we need you, there will be no difficulty in your attending,
when wanted, in the city. I don't see, that there is anything more to be
got at present," he added, addressing the lawyer.

So the two visitors bade the friar adieu, and went down the stairs on to
the open piazza in front of the church.

"Does that fellow know anything more than he tells us?" said the
Commissary, as they stepped out of the narrow entry on to the green
sward of the piazza.

"I fancy not; I don't see much what he is at all likely to know,"
replied the lawyer.

"Nor I; but his manner was so remarkable. One would have said that he
was conscious of having committed the murder himself. In all my
experience I never saw a man so hard put to it to tell a plain and
simple fact."

"Well, the poor old fellow is ill, you see. And then, no doubt, the
sight of the body brought back out of the forest made a terrible
impression on him. The extreme seclusion, tranquillity, and monotony of
his life here, the absence from year's end to year's end of any sort of
emotion of any kind, would naturally have the result of increasing the
painful effect which such an event and such a sight would have upon him.
My own notion is that there is nothing further to be got out of him."

"There is our friend the lay-brother sitting in the sunshine just where
we left him. We might as well just see what he can tell us before going
back to the city."

"He seems very ill, the padre," pursued the Commissary, addressing
himself to brother Simone, as he and the lawyer lounged up to the spot
where he was sitting; "the fever must have laid hold of him very
suddenly; for it seems he was well enough yesterday morning."

"That is the way with the maledetto morbo," returned the lay-brother;
"one hour you are well--as well, that is to say, as one can ever be in
such a place as this--and the next you are down on your back shivering
and burning like--like the poor souls in purgatory. Doubtless the more
of it one has had, the less there is to come. That's the only comfort."

"The padre's mind seems to have been very painfully affected by the
sight of the body of the woman, who was murdered in the forest, as it
was being carried back to the city. Did you see it too?" asked the
lawyer, observing the friar narrowly, as he spoke.

"Si, Signor, I saw it too, and a piteous sight it was. Father Fabiano
and I were both out here on the piazza when the body was carried past.
For I was just coming from the belfry yonder, where I had been to ring
Compline; and the padre was at the same time coming out of the church,
where he had been as usual with him at that hour, at his devotions
before the altar of the Saint."

"Then at the hour of Compline the father had not yet been taken ill?"
observed the Commissary. "Scusi, Signor; I think he had been struck by
the fever at that time. He fell a-shivering and a-shaking so that he
could hardly stand, when the body was carried past. But that is the way
the mischief always begins. Ah, there's never a doctor knows it better
than I do, and no wonder."

"You don't think then," said the lawyer, "that it was the sight of the
dead body that moved him so?"

"Why should it?" said the lay-brother, in the true spirit of monastic
philosophy; "why should it? all flesh is grass; there is nothing so
strange in death. He sighed and groaned a deal, but that is often Father
Fabiano's way when he comes out from his exercises in the church. He
seemed as if he could hardly stand on his legs: but, bless you, that was
the fever. He took to his bed as soon as ever the men carrying the body
were out of sight. He's an old man is Father Fabiano."

"Where had he been all the time between the time when the painter lady
left the church, and the hour of Compline?" asked the Commissary, who
had been busily thinking during the lay-brother's moralizings.

"Ever since a little after the Angelus he had been on his knees at the
altar of St. Apollinare, according to his custom. He told me so, when he
came to give me my potion; for I was down with the fever yesterday
morning."

"Do you know where he was before the Angelus?" returned the Commissary.

"He had to ring the Angelus himself, seeing that I was down with the
fever. And he came back to the convent in a hurry, fearing that he was
too late. There's very little doubt that it was heating himself that way
that made the fever take hold of him."

"Where was he hurrying back from, then? Where had he been?" asked the
Commissary, endeavouring to hide his eagerness for the reply to this
question under a semblance of carelessness.

"He told me, when he came to my cell, that he had been into the forest;
and it was plain to see that the walk had been too much for him; he's
too old for moving much now, is Father Fabiano."

"He had been into the forest; and when he came back at the hour of the
Angelus, he seemed quite overcome by his walk?" said the Commissary,
recapitulating, and taking out his note-book as he spoke.

"Yes, he did; so much so, that as I lay on my bed and listened to the
Angelus bell a-going, I thought to myself that the old man had hardly
the strength to pull the rope," said the lay-brother.

"Hardly strength to pull the rope," repeated the Commissary, as he
completed the note he was scribbling in his note-book. "Well, I hope he
will soon get over his attack of fever. I think we need not trouble you
any further at present, frate--what is your name, my friend?"

"Simone, by the mercy of God, lay-brother of the terz' ordine--"

"That will do, frate Simone," interrupted the Commissary, adding a word
to the entry in his note-book. "Now, Signor Giovacchino, if you are
ready, I think we may get your carriage out of the barn and go back to
Ravenna."

"We have not got much for our pains, I am afraid," said the lawyer to
the Commissary of police as they began to leave the Basilica behind them
on their way back to the city.

"Humph!" said the Commissary, who was apparently too much absorbed in
his own meditations to be in a mood for conversation.

"Signor Giovacchino," he said, suddenly, after they had traversed nearly
half their short journey in silence, "my belief is that your young
friend the Marchese has no hand in this matter."

"I am convinced he had not," said the lawyer, who was, however, very far
from having reached any conviction of the kind; "but what we want is
some such probable theory on the subject as shall compete successfully
with the theory of his guilt in the matter."

"That theory--shall I give it you? It is not only a theory; it is my
firm belief as to the facts of the case."

"You suspect--"

"I more than suspect--I am very strongly persuaded that this murder has
been committed by the girl Paolina Foscarelli."

"My own notion--"

"Look here, this is how it has been. The Marchese Ludovico has made love
to this girl--has made her in love with him--taking the matter au grand
serieux, in the way girls will--specially, I am told, it is the way,
with those Venetian women. Well, by ill chance, as the devil would have
it, she sees her lover starting on a tete-a-tete expedition into the
Pineta with this other girl--just the woman of all others in the world,
as I am given to understand, to be a dangerous rival, and to excite a
deadly jealousy. This much we have in evidence. Further, we know that
the girl Paolina was expected to return from her expedition to St.
Apollinare early in the morning--say at nine o'clock, or
thereabouts--whereas she did not return till several hours afterwards.
In addition to all this, we have now ascertained that when she left the
church she did not set out on her return towards the city, as she might
naturally be expected to have done; but, on the contrary, went in the
direction of the Pineta. Then, assuming the story, told by the Marchese
to be true, we know that, about the very time that this Paolina was
entering the forest, her rival was lying asleep and alone there in the
immediate neighbourhood. We know that the means adopted for the
perpetration of the crime were such as to be quite within a woman's
physical power, and that the weapon used for the purpose such as a woman
may much more readily be supposed to have about her than a man; what do
you say to that as a theory of the facts? Is not the evidence
overpoweringly strong against this Venetian?"

"Of course my own attention had been called to the case of suspicion
against her. But I confess I had not been struck by the last
circumstance you mention; and it seems to me a very strong one. How can
it be supposed that a man--a man like the Marchese Ludovico--should
chance to have a needle about him? The case of suspicion against him,
mark, altogether excludes the notion that he went out prepared to take
the life of this unfortunate woman. It is suggested that he put her to
death in order to escape from the ruin that would have ensued from his
uncle's marriage with her. No other possible motive for such a deed can
be conceived. But he knew nothing of any such purpose on the part of the
Marchese till the girl herself told him of it as they were driving
together to the forest. Therefore, he had not come out prepared with a
needle for the purpose of committing murder. Neither, it is true, does
the theory we are considering suppose that Paolina came out prepared to
do such a deed. But the weapon used is a needle. Is it more likely that
a man or that a woman should have by chance such an article about them?
I confess it seems to me that this circumstance alone is sufficient to
turn the scale of the probabilities unmistakably."

"But that is not all," said the Commissary, laying his finger
impressively on the lawyer's sleeve; "my belief is that that old friar,
padre Fabiano, is aware of the fact that the murder was committed by
Paolina Foscarelli. I am not disposed to think that he had any hand in
the doing of the deed; but I think the he has a knowledge of her guilt.
He is ill now, doubtless; but I do not believe that he is suffering from
fever and ague. He is suffering from the emotions of horror and terror.
We know that he was in the Pineta much about the time at which the
murder must have been committed, and very near the spot where it must
have been committed. And he comes back in a state of terrible emotion
and consternation. His manner in speaking to us to-day you must have
observed. I have no belief in an old friar being so terribly impressed
by the mere sight of a dead body."

"That is all true," said the lawyer, nodding his head up and down
several times; "and the circumstances do seem to point to the
probability of your conclusion; but--"

"But why, you will say, should the old man, if he has a merely innocent
knowledge of that which I suspect him to know, refuse to tell the whole
truth simply as he knows it? I will tell you why not. In the first
place, if you had had as much experience of monks, and friars, and nuns,
as I have, you would know that it is next to impossible to induce them
ever to give information to justice of any facts which it is possible
for them to conceal. It seems to them, I fancy, like recognizing a lay
authority in a manner they don't like. They will communicate nothing to
you if they can help it."

"Yes, that's true. I know that is the nature of them," assented the
lawyer.

"Then, observe, this Father Fabiano is a Venetian, a fellow-citizen of
the girl. You know how the Venetians hold together. You may feel quite
sure that if he did know her to be guilty of a crime, he would screen
her to the utmost of his power. Of course I have not done with him yet.
Tutt' altro. We must have an account of that morning stroll in the
Pineta from the old gentleman's own lips. Meantime, I do not think that
we need consider our trip to-day to have been altogether thrown away."

"Very far from it. Very far from it, indeed. Honestly, I think that you
have hit the nail on the head, Signor Pietro. There is nothing like the
practical experience of you gentlemen of the police, who pass your lives
in playing at who-is-the-sharpest with the most astute of human beings."

"And beating them at their own game," said the Commissary,
self-complacently. "If that murder was not committed by Paolina
Foscarelli, I will give you or anybody else leave to call me a
blockhead."

And therewith Signor Fortini and his companion drove under the old
archway of the Porta Nuova and entered the city.



BOOK VI

Poena Pede Claudo



CHAPTER I

Signor Fortini receives the Signora Steno in his Studio


It was the end of the first week in Lent; and all Ravenna was still
busily engaged in talking, thinking, and speculating on the mysterious
crime that had been committed on Ash Wednesday morning in the Pineta.
The excitement on the subject, indeed, was greater now than it had been
immediately after the event. For, by this time, everybody in Ravenna
knew all that anybody knew on the subject; the manner, time, and place
of the murder, and the different competing theories which had been
started to account for it, and with the conflicting probabilities of
which the judicial authorities were known to be occupying themselves.

These, as the reader knows, were three; based, in each case, on the fact
that the suspected person was known, or was supposed to be known, to
have been at, or near, to the spot where the crime was committed at the
time when it had been committed.

The Marchese Ludovico was indisputably known; on his own confession, to
have been in the immediate neighbourhood of the spot at the time when
the murder must have been done.

Paolina Foscarelli was equally indubitably, and by her own confession,
not far off from the neighbourhood of the spot at the same time.

Of the Conte Leandro Lombardoni it was known only that he had passed out
of the city gate leading in the same direction, at a time which might
have enabled him to be present where the deed was done, at the hour when
it must have been done. The evidence as to propinquity to the place was
less strong in his case than in that of either of the others; but it was
supplemented by the unaccountable strangeness of his passing out of the
Porta Nuova towards the Pineta at such an hour, and on that particular
morning.

The Marchese Ludovico stated that he went thither for the purpose of
showing the Pineta to the prima donna, who had never seen it. And there
was nothing incredible or greatly improbable in the statement.

Paolina declared that she had gone to St. Apollinare in pursuit of her
professional business. And the declaration was not only very probable in
itself, but could be shown by evidence to be true. Only, while it
accounted for her presence in the church of St. Apollinare, it left her
departure from the church with her face turned, not towards the city,
but towards the Pineta, unaccounted for.

In the case of the Conte Leandro, it was difficult to imagine the motive
that could have induced him to leave the city at that hour, in the
manner in which he was proved, by the testimony of the men at the gate,
to have done. And he gave no assistance himself towards arriving at any
satisfactory explanation of so strange a circumstance. He was unable, or
unwilling, to account in any way for his conduct on that Ash Wednesday
morning.

"He had thought it pleasanter to take a walk that fine morning, than to
go to bed after the ball."

Nothing could be more unlike the usual known habits and tastes of the
Conte Leandro, than such a freak. But supposing such a whim to have
occurred to him, would he have set out on his walk evidently intending
to be disguised--with a cloak wrapped round the fantastic costume in
which he had been at the ball? Was such a supposition in any wise
credible, or admissible?

In each of the three cases there seemed also to be a motive for the deed
that might be deemed sufficient to have led to it; and from which
neither of the parties suspected could show that they were free.

In the case of the Marchese Ludovico, it was the terrible temptation of
delivering his family name from ridicule and disgrace, and himself from
the prospect of absolute beggary.

In the case of Paolina, it was the madness of woman's jealousy, wrought
to a pitch of desperation by circumstances similar to such as had ere
now produced many a similar tragedy.

In the case of the Conte Leandro, it was the cruel mortification of a
man whose monstrous vanity was notorious to the whole city.

These were the three hypotheses between which the possibilities of the
case seemed to lie to those whose position or means of information gave
them any real knowledge of the facts. But there was a section of the
outside public which had set up for itself and preferred yet a fourth
theory--namely, that the prima donna had committed suicide. The holders
of this opinion were mainly women; and at the head of them; was the
Signora Orsola Steno. In an agony of grief, indignation, and despair at
the accusation brought against her adopted child, and the arrest by
which it had been followed up, she loudly maintained her own conviction
that the evil and wicked woman had brought her career to a fitting close
by putting herself to death.

"Likely enough she may have endeavoured to entrap the Marchese Lamberto;
but not very likely," old Orsola thought, "that that exemplary nobleman
should have been caught by her wiles. Likely enough she may have plotted
to play her last card, by giving the Marchese Ludovico to understand,
that the only way to avoid the ruin which would fall upon him by her
becoming his uncle's wife, was to take her himself. How any such
overtures would be received by the noble Marchese Ludovico, all Ravenna
ought to know; and at all events she, Orsola Steno, knew surely enough.
And upon that rebuff, and utter failure of her last hope despair had
come upon the wretched creature, as well it might, and she had put an
end to herself."

To her, Orsola Steno, the case was clear: and she only wondered that
anybody could be so blind as not to see it.

But what if such a supposition were simply inconsistent with the known
facts? What if it were simply impossible that any person should inflict
on themselves such an injury as that which it was evident the murdered
woman had sustained; and more impossible still that they should have
been able to adopt the means for concealing the wound which the assassin
had adopted? What if such was the perfectly unhesitating judgment and
declaration of the medical authorities? Such people as Orsola Steno, and
those who shared her opinion, are ordinarily impervious to any such
reasoning. It is remarkable that, in any case of doubt or circumstances
of suspicion, the popular mind--or, at all events, the Italian popular
mind--is specially disposed to mistrust the medical profession. They
suspect error exactly where scientific certainty is the most perfect,
and deception precisely in those who have the least possible imaginable
motive for deceiving. Probably it may be because the grounds and means
of the knowledge they mistrust are more wholly, than in any other case,
beyond the sphere of their own conceptions.

When old Orsola Steno was told that the doctors declared that it was not
within the bounds of possibility that La Bianca should have put herself
to death in the manner in which she had been put to death, nothing could
exceed the profundity of the contempt with which she sneered in reply:

"Ah! they'll say anything to make out that they know more than other
folks, and, maybe, they often know a deal less. Don't tell me. How
should they know what a woman will do when she is driven? I know what
women are, and I know what them doctors are; and you may believe that an
old woman, who has been a young one, knows more what such an one as that
Bianca can do, when she has no hope before her, than all the doctors."

"But it is impossible--physically impossible that she could have done
it."

"Ta, ta, ta, ta! Physic, indeed; what's physic got to do with it? I
should like to physic them that try to throw suspicion on a poor
innocent girl all to make out their own cleverness."

So Signora Orsola victoriously, and to the great increase of her
confidence in her own powers of insight, continued to hold her own
opinion, and it was shared by many other similarly-constituted minds.

The old Venetian woman had lived a very quiet life in the strange city
to which fate had brought her, making but few acquaintances, and holding
but little intercourse with those few; but now, under the terrible
misfortune which had happened, she was stirred up to activity in every
way in which activity was possible to her. She went to the Palazzo
Castelmare and endeavoured to see the Marchese Lamberto in vain. She was
told that the Marchese was ill, and could not see any one.

She went to the Contessa Violante, of whose acquaintanceship with
Paolina she was aware, though she had never before seen her, and, oddly
enough, the Contessa Violante was disposed to share, or to become a
convert to, her own opinion respecting the mode of Bianca's death. The
young Contessa was, doubtless as ignorant of all such matters as old
Orsola could be. Her education had been entirely conventual, and those
who dwell in the inner sanctums and fortresses of the Church have a
curiously instinctive aversion to the certainties and investigations of
medical--especially of surgical--science; and the Contessa Violante was,
perhaps, hence prepared to vilipend and set at naught the dicta of the
scientific authorities.

It was likely that her mind was also warped by the conceptions of what
were probable, likely to be providential, and even suitable, in the case
of such a person as the deceased singer. Of course, the whole life of
such an one was, to the Contessa Violante, a thing abominable and
accursed in the eyes of Heaven. It was more strange that all others, who
led similar lives, and were engaged in such a profession, should not
make an evil end of themselves than that one such should do so.

The Contessa Violante, therefore, was disposed to share the conviction
of her visitor, as she most sincerely and cordially sympathised with her
in her affliction. To her, also, it was wholly impossible to believe
that Paolina had done this thing; nor was it credible to her that
Ludovico should be guilty of such a deed. Of the three persons accused
she would have found it more possible to believe in the guilt of the
Conte Leandro; but, on the whole, she preferred to avoid the necessity
of assuming that either of the accused were guilty by admitting the
hypothesis of Signora Orsola.

"And if you will take my advice, Signora, I think that the best thing
you could do would be to go to Signor Fortini, the lawyer, who is
interested in the matter on account of being the lawyer of the
Castelmare family. I have always heard him spoken of as an upright and
respectable man. I have heard my uncle speak well of him. If I were you
I would go and talk to him; you will very easily find out where his
studio is. Go and tell him who you are, and what your interest in the
matter is, and I have no doubt but that he will receive you kindly and
listen to what you have to say."

And Signora Orsola took the Contessa Violante's advice, and went
directly to the lawyer's studio in the little cloister under the walls
of the cathedral, on leaving her adviser. As Violante had said, she had
no difficulty whatever in finding it.

The lawyer was at home, and Signora Orsola was at once ushered into the
inner studio, which has been described in a former chapter.

Signor Fortini was, to all appearances, entirely unoccupied; but it is
probable that his mind was fully employed in striving to see his way
through some portion of the difficulties that hedged about on all sides
the subject on which, more or less, all Ravenna was intent. He was
sitting before his table, thickly covered with papers; but had thrown
himself back in his leather-covered arm-chair, and was grasping his
stubbly chin with one hand, the elbow belonging to which rested on the
arm of his chair, while the dark eyes, shining out beneath his
contracted forehead, were fixed on the ceiling of the little room.

"Signora Orsola Steno," he said, as he half rose, and courteously
offered his visitor a seat by the side of the table, so placed as to be
fronting his own, while the sitter in it was exactly in a line between
him and the window.

"Sua Signoria mi conosce. Your lordship knows me, then," said the old
woman, whose surprise at finding herself thus recognized sufficed to put
altogether out of her head all the carefully arranged opening of her
interview with the lawyer which she had taken much pains to prepare.

Signor Fortini had, in truth, never seen the old woman, and had scarcely
ever heard of her before the terrible event, which was now bringing her
into his presence. But her name, the nature of her connection with
Paolina, and very many other particulars concerning her had become known
to the lawyer in the course of the investigations which that event had
imposed upon him.

"Sufficiently, Signora, though I never had the pleasure of speaking to
you before, to be aware of the nature of the business which has induced
you to favour me with this visit," replied the lawyer, with grave
courtesy.

"Well, then, Signor Dottore, I hope you will excuse--"

"There is not the smallest need for any apology, Signora. Anzi--I am
very glad that you should have thought it well to call on me; I shall be
most happy to hear anything that you may wish to say to me."

"You are very polite, Signor Dottore, I am sure," said the old woman,
hesitatingly; for she was alarmed at the idea, which the lawyer's
courtesy had suggested to her cautious mind, that she might be supposed
to be engaging his professional services, and might thus find herself,
before she was aware of it, involved in expenses which she had no means
of meeting, and no intention of incurring; "you are extremely polite,
but--you see, Signor, it is best to speak plainly--I am a very poor
woman; and I have not the means--and I am sure--perhaps I ought not to
have troubled sua Signoria; but it was the Contessa Violante who advised
me to come to you."

"Indeed; I am beholden to the Signora Contessa Violante. As you say most
judiciously, Signora, it is best to speak quite plainly. With regard to
any professional services, which it might be otherwise in my power to
render you, it is necessary to say at once that I am engaged in this
most unhappy business on the behalf of my old client and friend the
Marchese Ludovico di Castelmare. There can be no question, therefore, of
any professional remuneration to me in the matter from any other
quarter. Anything that may pass between us," he continued, perceiving
that his visitor had not fully comprehended what he sought to convey to
her, "must be of the nature of private conversation, and will not entail
on you," he added, yet more plainly with a good-humoured smile, and
putting his hand on her sleeve as he spoke, "any possible expense
whatever."

"Thank you kindly, sir; and, truth to say, it is not so much that I
wanted to ask you to say or to do anything, as only just not to say what
a many people in this city are wicked enough to say and to think," said
old Orsola, much re-assured, and persuaded that she was approaching the
business in hand in the most cautious and clever manner imaginable.

"I hope, Signora, that I shall not say anything which it is wicked to
say; but what is it that people are wicked enough to say?" rejoined the
lawyer, who knew now perfectly well what the wicked saying was.

"Why they say, Signor Dottore--some of them--some of them are wicked
enough to say that that dear blessed child has--it is enough to blister
one's tongue to say it--has done that dreadful thing; Santa Maria abbia
misericordia--that murder in the forest. O Dio mio! Why--"

"Is she any relative of yours, Signora, the Signorina Paolina
Foscarelli?" asked the lawyer, quietly.

"No relative by blood, Signor; but she is the same to me as a daughter.
I took her when she was left an orphan--"

"And she has lived with you ever since?"

"Ever since she has lived with me as if she was my own, Signor; and if
anybody in the world ever knew another, I know her; and, bless your
heart, she isn't capable of lifting her hand against a fly, let alone a
Christian. There never was such wicked nonsense talked in this world
since world it was; and I'm told, Signor Dottore, that you have said
that she had been the one as did this deed; and--"

"Stop, stop, my good Signora Orsola! Are you aware that you are accusing
me of being guilty of punishable defamation and slander? I say that the
Signorina Paolina Foscarelli committed murder? Who on earth could ever
have told you so monstrous an untruth? Allow me to assure you that I
never said anything of the kind."

"Oh, Signor Dottore, I am so glad to hear you say so. What lies people
do tell, to be sure; I am sure it was a very good thought of the
Contessa Violante to tell me to come to you; and since you say that the
poor child is innocent, as innocent she is, as the child unborn--"

"Stay, Signora, stay; you go too fast--somewhat too fast. Unhappily, I
am by no means in a condition to say that your young friend is innocent
of this crime; appearances, it must be admitted, are very much against
her; we must hope that they can be explained. I accuse no one; it is not
my province to do so."

"But you don't think the judges will believe that my child could have
done such a thing? If they only knew her! You don't think that, do you,
Signor Dottore?" said the poor woman, with a voice and manner of piteous
appeal.

"They will judge according to the evidence and the probabilities of the
case. It is impossible to say as yet to what conclusion these may seem
to point. The Marchese Ludovico is an acquaintance of yours and of the
Signorina Paolina, is he not?"

"An acquaintance? why they are engaged to be married," almost shrieked
poor Signora Orsola; "has not your lordship heard that they are engaged
to be married?"

"Indeed! and you are acquainted with the Contessa Violante too. Do you
know whether her ladyship is aware of the engagement you speak of? I
ask, because she is an old friend of the Marchese Ludovico."

"To be sure she is aware of it. She and Paolina have often talked it
over together. Altro che, aware of it."

"Humph," said the lawyer thoughtfully; and then remained silent for a
minute or two, while old Orsola looked at him wistfully.

"It must be very terrible to you then, Signora, to think that the
Marchese should be suspected of this shocking crime, since you have such
reason to feel an interest in him," said he at last, looking up suddenly
at his companion.

"Lord bless your heart," exclaimed the old woman in reply; "the Marchese
never did nothing of the sort, no more than my poor innocent lamb did
it. Nothing of the kind."

"Perhaps, then, you would not mind saying who did do it," said the
lawyer; "since you seem to know all about it."

"Why she did it herself to be sure. It is a wonder anybody should doubt
it. And a like enough end for such a baggage to come to," said Signora
Orsola, with much bitterness.

"You do not seem to have been among the admirers of the Signora Bianca,"
said the lawyer, with a furtively shrewd look at the old woman.

"Admirers, indeed! She had too many admirers, I am thinking. A
good-for-nothing, impudent, brazen--well, she has gone to her account,
so I won't be the one to speak ill of her."

"You seem to have had considerable opportunities of becoming acquainted
with her character, Signora Orsola. Had you much acquaintance with her?"

"I never saw her but once in my life, and that was at the theatre on the
last Sunday night of Carnival. The Marchese had given us a box."

"And it was upon that occasion then, that she impressed you so
unfavourably. The Signorina Paolina I suppose was with you at the
theatre?"

"Of course she was. Would it be likely, I ask you, Signor Dottore, that
the Marchese took the box for me?"

"And no doubt the Signorina Foscarelli was impressed by the actress in
the same manner that you yourself were."

"Of course she was, as any other decent young woman would have been; let
alone being, as Paolina is, engaged to be married to the Marchese."

"I have no doubt, Signora, that your remarks are perfectly just. If the
manners and conduct of the young women now-a-days were regulated a
little more in conformity with the ideas of such persons of discretion
as yourself, the world would be all the better for it. But I don't quite
see how the behaviour of the prima donna on the stage could have had
anything to do with the circumstance of the Marchese Ludovico's
engagement to the Signorina Foscarelli," said the lawyer, with the most
demure innocence of manner.

"You don't see it, Signor Dottore. Perhaps you were not in the theatre
that night. If you had been you would have seen it fast enough. The way
she went on, when the Marchese Ludovico was a-giving her a lovely
nosegay of flowers--hothouse flowers, if you please--as big pretty near
as this table; not just a-throwing them on to the stage the way I've
seen 'em do it many a time at the Fenice; but putting them into her
hand; and she, the minx a coming up to the box to take 'em before all
the people as bold as brass."

"Ah, I see? The Signorina Foscarelli naturally did not quite like that,"
said the lawyer, encouragingly.

"Like it! Who would have liked it in her place, I ask you? And that
painted hussy a-going on they way she did; making such eyes at him, and
smiling and a-pressing her hand to her bosom, that was just as naked as
my face; and looking for all the world if she could have jumped right
into the box, and eaten him up. Like it, indeed!"

"No doubt it was provoking enough. And your adopted daughter, Signora
Steno, would not be the right-minded and well-brought-up girl I take her
to be, if she did not express to you her disgust at such goings on,"
said the sympathizing lawyer.

"You may say that. She expressed it plain enough and not to me only, but
to the Marchese himself well, when she saw him afterwards. She let him
know what she thought of the painted huzzy. And she told him, too, some
more of the truth. She told him that the creature knew well enough what
she was doing, or trying to do. The way she looked straight up at my
poor child in the box, where we were, was enough to make the blood
curdle in your veins. If ever I saw a face look hatred, it was the face
of that woman when she looked up at our box. She looked at the poor
child as if she could have taken her heart's blood. She did. Ah! bless
your heart, she knew all about it. Talk of the old Marchese, indeed.
Yes; the creature had set her mind upon being Marchesa di Castelmare.
Not a doubt of it; but it was the nephew she wanted, not the uncle; and
she knew that my Paolina stood in the way of her scheming; and Paolina
knew that she knew it."

Old Orsola paused, out of breath with the length and vehemence of the
tirade, which her feelings had prompted her to utter with crescendo
violence. She was verbose; but the lawyer had listened with the most
perfect patience and unflagging attention to every word she had uttered.

"It is, indeed, clear enough," he said, shaking his head, "that between
two women so situated with reference to each other, there could have
been no very kindly feeling. And it must be confessed that this
unfortunate Bianca Lalli was, by all accounts, just the sort of woman
that was likely to be a very dangerous rival."

"She; a common, impudent, low-lived, brazen-faced, worn-out Jezebel. No;
not where my Paolina stood on the other side. She couldn't take the
Marchese away from her with all her arts. And that's why she went and
put an end to herself. But she's gone--she's gone, where her painted
face and her lures won't be of any more service to her. And so I won't
say any evil of her. Not I. It's a good rule that tells us to speak well
of the dead. Ave, Maria gratia plena, ora pro nobis, nunc et in hora
mortis nostrae," said the old woman, crossing herself and casting up her
eyes in attestation of the Christian nature of her sentiments.

"Amen!" said the lawyer, piously, while he waited to see if the
exuberance of his visitor's feelings would lead her to throw any further
light on the state of feeling that had existed between Paolina
Foscarelli and the murdered woman.

"I always say and think, for my part," continued the old woman,
perceiving that her companion sat silent, as if expecting her to
continue the conversation; "I always think that the blessed Virgin knows
what's best for us. Maybe it's just as well that that poor miserable
creature did as she did. For we all know what men are, Signore Dottore;
and there's no saying what hold she might have got upon the Marchese."

"And no doubt that is the feeling of our young friend Signorina
Foscarelli?" said the sympathetic lawyer.

"To be sure,--to be sure it is," said the old woman, meaning to credit
Paolina with the piety she had understood herself to have expressed;
"she did take a mortal aversion and dislike to the woman, and small
blame to her. But now she is gone, Paolina is no more likely to say
anything against her than I am myself."

"Quite so, quite so. And I hope the magistrates may take the same view
of the circumstances, that you have so judiciously expressed, Signora,"
said the lawyer, who was abundantly contented with the result of his
interview with the Signora Steno, as it stood, and did not see any
further necessity for prolonging it. "You may tell the Contessa
Violante, if you should see her, that I am much obliged to her for
having sent you to me," he added, as he rose to open the door of his
sanctum for the old lady; "Beppo, open the door for the Signora Steno.
Farewell, Signora, we shall meet again."



CHAPTER II

Was it Paolina after all?


Orsola Steno quitted the lawyer's studio as entirely contented with the
result of her interview as she left him. She doubted not that she had
fully impressed him with her own conviction as to the explanation of the
mysterious circumstances of the singer's death; that Paolina's innocence
would be readily recognized; and that her adopted daughter would shortly
be restored to her in the Via di Sta. Eufemia.

The lawyer remained for some time seated in his chair in deep thought
after his visitor had left him.

Suddenly he let his open hand fall heavily with a loud clap on the table
before him, disturbing the papers on it from their places, and causing
the fine blue sand, which stood in an open wooden basin for the purpose
of doing the office of blotting-paper, to be spilled in all directions
by the concussion, and said aloud, "By God! That girl has done it!"

"Ah, talk of the passions of men," he went on, in a lower muttering
voice, after some further moments of meditation; "they are nothing--they
are child's play compared to the blind animal-like impulses that force a
woman's will into their service when any of the master passions of the
sex are touched. A woman's jealousy; it is as plain as the sun at
noonday. And we are puzzling our brains looking on this side and on
that, to find a possible explanation of the facts. Talk of a tigress and
her whelps! There's a young girl who looks as innocent as a St. Agnes,
and speaks as if butter would not melt in her mouth. Take--threaten to
take--her lover from her, and she turns upon you like a scorpion at bay.
Furens quid foemina possit. Ay indeed. And they are all alike. That old
woman there; why she was ready, with all her 'Ave Marias' and 'Ora pro
nobis,' to kill the woman again if she were not killed already, out of
pure sympathy with the wrong done to her adopted daughter. I don't think
there is a doubt about it. I should like to wager a hundred to one that
the Venetian girl put her rival to death. The story is neither a new nor
a strange one."

"Whether the commission of the deed can be brought home to her," he
continued, after another period of musing, "that is another question;
and one with which, however interesting it may be to my good friend
Pietro Logarini, we need not trouble ourselves. And after all, what a
good thing it is that things should have fallen out as they have. That
old fool of a Marchese! It is a lesson to believe in nothing and no man,
when one thinks of it. The death of that woman is the saving of the
name. But, per Bacco! I must not say so too loudly," thought the old
lawyer to himself, with a grim smile, "or I shall be doing just what the
old fool of a woman has been doing. Yes, that was the last link in the
chain of the evidence we wanted. She was on the spot at the time--the
death-dealing weapon was essentially a woman's weapon, and the murdered
woman was her feared and hated rival--and now we have direct evidence
that she felt her to be such. If the judges can find any other
hypothesis supported by stronger circumstantial evidence than this--why,
I think that I had better go to school again."

With these thoughts in his mind, Signor Fortini determined to go and see
his crony, Signor Pietro Logarini, at the Palazzo del Governo. He found
that active and able official just returned from another visit to St.
Apollinare in Classe, which appeared not to have been very fruitful of
result.

"I can make nothing out of that old friar," said the Police Commissary
to his friend, as they sat in the private cabinet of the former; "and I
am very much afraid that we shall make nothing out of him. For quiet,
aggravating obstinacy and passive resistance, recommend me to a monk."

"What induced you to go out there to-day?" asked the lawyer.

"Why, I am very strongly persuaded--I feel sure almost--that that old
fellow could tell something to the purpose if he would speak. And I am
more convinced of it from his manner to-day than ever. The other
animal--the lay-brother--I am pretty sure knows nothing about it."

"Is the friar about again, or still in bed?" Fortini.

"Oh, he's in bed safe enough; at least I found him there, shivering and
shaking, and counting his beads, and answering a plain question with
'Ave Maria' and 'Ora pro nobis,' and the rest of it. I don't believe he
has the fever a bit. I believe that he has been scared out of his wits
by something he has seen. But the devil wouldn't get out of him what it
was if he don't choose to tell you. Oh, I know them!" said the
Commissary, provoked by his fruitless excursion.

"I suppose," said the lawyer, looking doubtfully into the Commissary's
face, "I suppose it is not on the cards that the old fellow was the
murderer himself?"

"Ha!" said the Commissary, with a start, "that is a new idea. But no,"
he added, after a little consideration,--"no, that's not it; it would be
very difficult even to imagine any motive. An old man, eighty years old.
No, it's not that. But, if I am not very much mistaken, he knows
something."

"In that case, I should have thought that means might have been found to
make him speak," said the lawyer, drily.

"What means? I profess I don't know any. The devil of it is, you see,
Signor Giovacchino, that it will not do to treat those fellows roughly.
There would be the deuce and all to pay. There he lies, shivering, and
trembling, and muttering, and going on as if he was imbecile; and
swearing he is too ill to leave his bed. I don't see how we are to get
him here into court."

"Well, I've had better luck this morning; and had not to go out to seek
it. My witness came to me; and I think I have got some important
evidence," said the lawyer, with much of the exultation of a successful
sportsman over a less fortunate rival.

"The deuce you have. There is a luck in those things. But if your
evidence came to you--Who the devil would ever think of coming to a
Commissary of Police as long as they could stay away, if they pleased."

"Well, my witness was not altogether a willing one; or at least she came
to me for the purpose of saying something very different from what she
did say."

"But you did not come here merely to boast, I am sure, Signor
Giovacchino. You are going to tell me what you have been able to learn,
eh?" said the Commissary.

"Boast, no, not I! There's nothing to boast of. Besides, you know my
interest in the matter is of a different nature from yours, Signor
Pietro. All I want is to clear my friend and client, the Marchese
Ludovico. You, of course, are anxious to bring the crime home to
somebody."

"True," said the Commissary, nodding his head.

"And of course, therefore, any light I can throw upon the matter, I am
ready enough to bring to you, unless it were of a nature to incriminate
the Marchese," returned the lawyer.

"Of course, just so. And what you have learned this morning--"

"Tell's all t'other way; I have no difficulty in allowing that, on the
first blush of the matter, I felt no doubt that the Marchese was the
guilty party. It only shows that one ought always to have doubts of
everything. It looked so very bad. The Marchese takes the girl into the
wood, comes back without her, and very shortly afterwards she is found
where he left her, murdered. And he is known to have had the greatest
possible interest in getting rid of her. Would it not have seemed a
clear case to any one?"

"So one would have said indeed," assented the Commissary.

"Well, the Marchese had nothing to do with it. At the present moment I
feel--well, hardly any doubt at all that the deed was done by the girl
Paolina Foscarelli."

"That's my notion too," said the Commissary, taking a pinch of snuff,
and proferring his box to his visitor; "but what is the new evidence."

"Well, the girl lives, it seems, with an old woman, a country-woman of
hers, a certain Orsola Steno. And this morning the old lady comes to my
studio for the avowed purpose of begging me not to countenance in any
way the very mistaken notion that her adopted daughter had murdered the
prima donna; the truth being, as she was good enough to inform me, that
the latter had committed suicide."

"Bah, what senseless nonsense!" interrupted the Commissary, indignantly.

"Of course. I pointed out to the old lady that her theory was, according
to the medical testimony, simply impossible; but that naturally made not
the slightest difference in her opinion of the matter. And then, aided
by a little gentle assistance, she prattled on, an old fool, admitting,
or insisting rather, that there had been bitter hatred and animosity
between Paolina and the murdered woman; that Paolina had conceived the
bitterest jealousy of the singer; that she was persuaded that the latter
was scheming with a set purpose to lure her acknowledged lover, the
Marchese, away from her; that she was further persuaded that the singer
nourished the bitterest hatred of her, Paolina. What do you say to that,
Signor Commissary? How does the land lie now, eh?" said the lawyer,
triumphantly, in conclusion.

Signor Pietro nodded his head with most emphatic approbation and
confirmation of his friend's opinion.

"Is not it the more likely story in every way?" pursued the lawyer;
"just look at it. The Marchese is known to every man, woman, and child
in Ravenna; and being known for what he is, it would be difficult to
persuade anybody that he had lifted his hand to murder a defenceless and
sleeping woman. But we can all of us easily understand that it is
exceedingly likely that he may have so behaved as to make these two
women furiously jealous of each other; at least to have made this girl
Paolina, to whom, it seems, he had promised marriage, desperately
furious against the other, whom she had but too good reason to suspect
of having attracted the preference of the Marchese. Then look at the
instrument with which the murder was accomplished,--a needle. Is it in
any way likely that the Marchese Ludovico should habitually carry such a
thing about with him? Is there any unlikelihood that the girl may have
had such a thing about her; Amico mio Pietro," said the lawyer, in
conclusion, tapping his fingers on the Commissary's coat-sleeve as he
spoke, "that Venetian girl is the murderess! The deed was done under the
influence of maddening jealousy."

"How on earth could that old woman come to you with a budget of such
damning facts against her friend? Do you think she--the old woman--has
any guilty knowledge of the crime?"

"Lord bless you, no! If she had, she would not have been so simple. No,
she firmly believes her own theory of the matter, that the poor Diva
killed herself. She is too firmly persuaded of it to perceive the
bearing of her admissions of the hatred that existed between the two
girls."

"I learned something yesterday," said the Commissary, "which all looks
the same way, not much, but in such a case every little helps. This old
friar--this Padre Fabiano--is, we know, a Venetian; and now I have
ascertained that, years ago, before he came here, there was some
connection of some sort--acquaintance, friendship of whatever kind you
like--between him and the parents of the girl Paolina. I think it likely
enough that the frate's friendship was more particularly with the girl's
mother rather than with her father,--we know what friars' ways are, and,
maybe, we should not go far wrong if we imagined that the Father had
reason to feel a fatherly interest of a quite special kind in the young
lady. Now all this is worth only just this. Why did the frate return
from the Pineta in such a state of terror, agitation, and horror? Why,
supposing him to have seen, or in any way become acquainted with facts
calculated to produce such an effect upon him, does he obstinately
refuse to give us any information upon the subject? How will this answer
fit? In the course of that walk to the Pineta, undertaken, no doubt,
because the old man felt anxiety as to what was likely to follow from
the probable meeting of the two girls after the scene witnessed in his
presence by Paolina from the window of the church--in the course of that
walk, let us suppose, the friar became acquainted with the fact that
this girl--his daughter, we will say, for, in all probability, she is
such--had murdered her rival. The knowledge of the fact sends him back
to his cell half dead with horror and fright. His interest in Paolina
ties his tongue, and frustrates all our efforts to get any explanation
from him. How will that do, eh, Signor Giovacchino?"

"Admirably well. Clearly helps to give consistency and probability to
our theory of the facts. I begin to think that all danger to my client
is at an end, and, upon my word, I am more glad of it than I can tell
you; it would have been a shocking thing. I am an old Ravenna man, you
know, and should have felt it differently from what you would, you
know."

"True; but I am glad enough that the Marchese should be cleared in the
matter, and so will the Government be--very glad."

"I suppose there is no objection to my seeing the Marchesino?"

"Oh, certainly not the least in the world. It is a pity that he should
be detained here any longer; but I am almost afraid to take the
responsibility of discharging him before some formal inquiry has been
made."

"Naturally, naturally. When do you suppose you will be ready to bring
the affair to a trial?"

"Oh, very soon. If there were any chance of getting that old frate into
court it would be worth while to wait for him; but I am afraid that the
longer we wait the worse his fever and ague will get. But I shall have
another try at him out there first."

And with that Signor Fortini passed to the chamber in which the Marchese
Ludovico was confined.



CHAPTER III

Could it have been the Aged Friar?


"Signor Marchese," said the old man, stretching out his hand with, for
him, a very unusual degree of impulsive cordiality, "I have come to make
amende honorable--I need hardly say how delighted I am to do so. It is
not only that I think I may say there is now very little chance of any
mischief falling on you in consequence of that unlucky excursion to the
Pineta, but that I am able, thank God, to say that I have myself no
longer the smallest suspicion that you had any hand in the crime that
has been committed there."

"Has anything been discovered, then?" asked Ludovico, eagerly.
"Ah--h--h! that would be good news indeed," added the young man, drawing
a long breath of relief,--the evident strength of which feeling afforded
a measure of the suffering he had endured more indicative of the real
state of his mind than any amount of depression which he had before
allowed to be apparent.

"Well; enough, I think, has been discovered to relieve you of all
suspicion--enough, as I said, to convince my own mind very
satisfactorily that you are innocent of all complicity in the matter."

"I confess that I should have preferred, Signor Fortini, that my own
assertion should have sufficed to produce that conviction," replied the
young man, somewhat drily.

"My dear Signor Marchese, permit me to say that such preference would
have been ill founded. Is not my conviction, based upon the
probabilities of the known facts, of much greater value than any mere
acquiescence with your assertions? These are matters, my dear sir, which
must be looked at reasonably, and not merely sentimentally. If you had
committed murder--if I had committed murder,--should we not either of
us, have denied it as resolutely as you denied this? If the
circumstances are such as to cause a man--any man--to be suspected at
all, no words of his can be worth anything whatsoever on the subject;
and you must admit that, the circumstances being as they were, it was
impossible that the first suspicion should not have fallen on you. You
may believe that no efforts or activity have been wanting on my part for
the discovery of the means of removing this suspicion. Let us be
thankful that they have, to a very great degree, been successful."

"And what has been found out? For God's sake tell me all about it! I
declare, for my own part, I could almost believe that I had done it
myself in my sleep, or in a fit of madness without knowing it, so
utterly impossible does it seem to me to imagine what hand it could have
been that did the deed."

"Signor Marchese, the hand that did that deed was no other than the hand
of the Venetian girl, Paolina Foscarelli," said the lawyer, with
deliberate and impressive slowness, emphasizing his words with extended
forefinger as he uttered them.

"Pshaw! Is that all you have to tell me?" cried the Marchese, jumping up
from his chair, and pacing the room with impatient strides. "It is an
absurdity upon the face of it; I should have hoped that nobody in
Ravenna would have believed it possible that I could have been guilty of
such a deed; but, by Heaven, the whole city will see that it is more
likely that I should have done it than Paolina! It is simply absurd."

"Signor Marchese, prepossessions, and previous notions of what might
have been expected to be possible, are of no value in such a case as
this against the logic of facts and circumstances. Other young women,
who seemed as little likely to be capable of such a deed as this
Signorina Foscarelli, have committed such--and have done it under the
pressure of motives exactly similar to those which we know with
certainty to have been vehemently operative in the heart of the
Venetian."

"Motives! What conceivable motive could have existed to--"

"What motive? The most powerful of all the passions that ever drove a
woman to become guilty of crime--jealousy; jealousy, Signor Marchese,
has been the motive of this murder. Look at the facts as they stand: we
know that this Paolina Foscarelli was in the immediate neighbourhood of
the spot where the deed was done, and as nearly as possible at the time
when it was done; we know--excuse me, Signor Marchese, for speaking very
plainly; it is absolutely necessary to be plain--we know that this girl
had great reason to feel jealous of La Bianca. Remember that she saw you
and the singer driving tete-a-tete together in that solitary place at
that unusual hour. I leave it to your own feeling to estimate the degree
of jealousy which such a sight, together with other previous
circumstances, was calculated to produce in this girl's mind; but, if
that be not enough, we know, as a matter of fact, that she had, even
previously to seeing what was, so calculated to drive her jealousy to a
pitch of fury, expressed jealousy, animosity and hatred against the
woman whom she considered as her rival. We have this in evidence--the
perfectly unimpeachable evidence of the Signora Orsola Steno. Add to
that, again, that the method of the murder was just such as a woman was
likely to adopt, and that a man was very little likely to think of, or
to have the means of, in his possession. Put all these certain facts
together, Signor Marchese; and I think it will be impossible for even
your mind to resist the conviction that must force itself upon every one
who considers the circumstances."

The Marchese stopped in his agitated walk to and fro across the floor of
the chamber, and gazed into the lawyer's face with an expression of
bewilderment and pain, which the old man met with a keen and steady
glance, and a grave shake of the head. The Marchese, after encountering
his eye for a few moments, struck his open hand on his forehead, and
threw himself on the chair he had left without uttering a word.

"And to you, Signor Marchese, it assuredly cannot appear strange that
the circumstances I have enumerated should carry with them the
conviction to other minds that Paolina Foscarelli is guilty of the
murder of the singer," continued the lawyer, speaking very slowly and
fixing the keen glance of his dark bright eyes on the working face of
his companion; "to you, above all others, this cannot appear strange,
since--to your own mind this suspicion first occurred."

"What do you mean? I! Signor Fortini. What strange notion is misleading
you? I don't know what you mean!" cried the Marchese, while a look of
horror gradually crept over his face.

"When the body of the murdered woman was brought into the city,--when we
two stood in the gateway, and when your hand raised the sheet that
covered the face of the dead, you exclaimed aloud 'Paolina!' What was
then the thought that was in your mind? I imagined, at the time, that
you recognized her in the dead woman before you. A very few minutes,
however, sufficed to show that it was not Paolina, but Bianca who lay
there murdered. And then, amid the horror of the first idea of your
guilt, which the nature of the circumstances rendered inevitable, I
thought no more of the exclamation you had uttered. But I have not
forgotten the fact. You did, on seeing Bianca dead before you, exclaim,
'Good God! Paolina!' What was the thought in your mind, Signor Marchese,
that prompted that exclamation? What but the sudden spontaneous rush of
the conviction that it was she who had done the deed on which you were
looking?"

For a few moments the Marchese seemed too much stunned by the inference,
and the appeal of the lawyer, and by the vision of the consequences,
which he purposed drawing from it, to utter any reply to the demand
which had been made on him.

"You mistake, Signor Fortini," he gasped out at last; "you are in error.
I cannot have made any such exclamation. I have no consciousness of
anything of the kind. In any case no such monstrous idea, as you would
infer from it, ever entered into my mind. You know how anxious I was
about Paolina's prolonged absence. I was thinking of her; at least, I
suppose so, if, indeed, I uttered her name. I have no recollection. I
don't know why I should have done so. All I know is that no such
horrible and impossible suggestion ever presented itself to my mind for
an instant. If it were otherwise," continued the young man, after a few
moments of painfully concentrated thought,--"if it were otherwise, why
did I not suggest such a solution of the mystery when I found myself
accused of the crime?"

"That, Signor Marchese, those who know you best will be least at a loss
to understand," replied the lawyer. "The motive that ruled your conduct
then, is the same that rules it now. You were then unwilling, as you are
now unwilling, to exculpate yourself at the cost of inculpating one who
is dear to you. Your objection, I am bound to tell you, carries no
weight with it. I cannot abandon that part of my case that rests upon
the striking fact that your own first impression was that Paolina was
guilty."

"I utterly deny, and will continue to deny, that any such impression was
ever present to my mind. I wholly refuse to avail myself of any defence
based on any such supposition; on any idea at all, that Paolina
Foscarelli is guilty. I know that she is as innocent of this deed as the
angels in heaven. I will proclaim her innocence with my last breath. I
will not accept any acquittal on the hypothesis of her guilt. I will
rather avow that I did the deed myself. In one sense I did so. In one
sense I am guilty of her death. For it was I who took her to the place,
and into the circumstance that led to her death."

"Signor Marchese, in this matter the truth of the facts is what is
wanted. It is that, and that alone that the magistrates will endeavour
to discover. A great many facts, as I have pointed out to you, will be
before them. Mere statements, one way or the other, will have little
avail. Quietly and seriously now, supposing we reject the theory of
Paolina's guilt, are you able yourself to conceive any other possible
explanations of the facts? Can you yourself suggest any other theory
whatsoever?" said the lawyer, throwing his head on one side, and
interlacing the fingers of his clasped hands in front of his person, in
calm expectation of the Marchese's answer.

"There was another theory. I heard that the Conte Leandro had been
arrested on suspicion of being the assassin. It would be very dreadful.
God forbid that I should say that I suspected the Conte Lombardoni of
having done this foul deed. But I cannot avoid seeing that it is a great
deal more likely that he should have done it than Paolina," returned the
Marchese.

"The accusation against the Conte Lombardoni has been abandoned, and he
has been set at liberty," replied the lawyer; "there was, in fact,
nothing against him, except the singular circumstance of his having gone
out of the city towards the Pineta, at a very unusual hour on the
morning of that same unlucky Ash Wednesday; and that he has at last
thought fit to explain."

"At last?" said Ludovico.

"Yes; for a long time he utterly refused to give any explanation of the
fact whatsoever; and his manner was altogether such as to strengthen the
notion that it was possible that he might have been the criminal. He has
told the truth at last. And it is no wonder that he was loth to tell it,
for it is not much calculated to increase his popularity in the city."

"Why, what is it? I never used to think anything worse of him than that
he was a fool," rejoined the Marchese.

"A fool, and a very mischievous and malicious one, as fools mostly are.
What do you think took him out of the city that morning of the first day
in Lent? Simply the desire to play the spy on you and the poor woman who
has been killed."

"No, you don't mean it? the noxious animal!" exclaimed Ludovico, with
intense disgust.

"It seems that he overheard you and the singer make your appointment for
the excursion, and that, moved by curiosity and the hope of making
mischief, he determined to be beforehand with you on the road, and
picking up, if he could, the means of paying off both the lady and
yourself for some of the mortification your ridicule had caused him,"
said the lawyer.

"I could not have believed it possible; the mean-spirited spiteful
wretch! I did not think he had it in him!" said Ludovico.

"A man is apt to be spiteful towards those who cause him to suffer
greatly. And there is no suffering greater to a man as vain as the Conte
Leandro than the mortification of his vanity. But his spitefulness has
been punished: first, by a couple of days' imprisonment, and a fright
which half killed him; and secondly, by the sort of reception which you
may suppose awaited him when he was released as the result of his
explanation. I think he has had his due," added the lawyer, grimly.

"But how does his explanation exclude the possibility that he may have
been the assassin after all? Why may not the same mortified vanity that
incited him to play the spy, have moved him to take deadly vengeance on
the woman he hated so bitterly? The man who was capable of the one is
likely enough to be capable of the other. He is the man who may fairly
be suspected of being capable of stabbing a woman as she slept!" argued
the Marchese, with intense indignation.

"No," said the lawyer, shaking his head; "depend upon it we did not let
him go till it was made clear that he could have had no hand in the
crime. He was able to prove beyond the possibility of a doubt, that he
had returned to the city, entering it by the Porta Sisi, before the
earliest time when the murder could have been committed. No; that notion
has to be abandoned."

"And no other idea has been started?--no suspicion? Have the
investigations of the police led to nothing?" asked Ludovico, with
profound discouragement.

The lawyer shook his head. "I have told you," he said, "how the case
stands, Signor Marchese. An idea was started at one moment that the old
friar at St. Apollinare might have been the man. Strangely enough he
also was in or near the Pineta much about the same time. But the total
absence of all assignable motive--an infirm octogenarian; no, that is
not it. But the truth is, Signor Marchese, that our inquiries with
reference to this Padre Fabiano have brought to light facts which tend
to make the case stronger against the girl Paolina Foscarelli."

"I tell you, Signor Fortini, that the notion of her guilt is more
entirely preposterous than any other possible imagination. I have told
you that I would, rather than accept it, avow myself the murderer;--ay,
and think that I had done it too, and forgotten it," said the Marchese,
with extreme vehemence.

"But, Signor Marchese," returned the lawyer, with imperturbable
calmness, "it matters nothing to the result, whether you will accept the
idea of the Venetian girl's guilt or not, seeing that you will not be
called upon to pronounce judgment in the case. The fact is, that every
reasonable consideration points to that conclusion. I wish with all my
heart, that the criminal was one in whom you were less interested." The
meaning of which phrase in Signor Fortini's mouth, probably was, that he
wished the Marchese felt less interest in her who was the criminal. "But
I was about to tell you that the police have become acquainted with the
fact, that this Padre Fabiano, who is a Venetian, was formerly very
closely connected in some way with the family of Paolina Foscarelli. It
seems very probable that he was, in fact, her father. Now he followed
her to the forest, and returned thence in a state of great and painful
agitation, which all mention of the subject renews and increases; and.
further, the old man obstinately refuses to give any account or
explanation of his walk to the forest. The conclusion which has
suggested itself to the police authorities--not at all an unnatural or
unreasonable one--is that the old man has been cognizant of the deed
done by the girl."

The Marchese seemed struck by this statement, and remained in silent
thought for a few minutes. "Paolina," he said, at length, "had motives
of hatred against the woman who has been killed, the friar had motives
for feeling strong interest in Paolina. Why may it not be conceivable
that he may have adopted her cause to the extent of committing a crime
with the view of righting what may have seemed to him to be her wrongs?
The explanation may seem a not very probable one; but no possible or
conceivable explanation of the terrible fact is a probable one, and,
certainly, it is more likely that the old friar should have done the
deed than the young girl."

"Humph!" said the lawyer, after spending some minutes of deep thought on
the idea the Marchese had put forward; "I am not quite so sure that it
is more likely. However, the theory is a plausible one, and deserves
attention. Depend upon it, we shall not lose sight of the old gentleman,
let him shiver and shake as much as he may; and now, Signor Marchese, I
must go to your uncle," said the lawyer, rising.

"How does he bear up under all this misery?"

"Not well, not well. I cannot say that it has fared well with him during
these days; but I have some comfort in store for him. I think I may
venture to assure him that there is no need to imagine that his name has
been disgraced by the commission of a crime, or that there is any danger
that such should continue to be believed to be the case, either by the
magistrates or by anybody else. You will come out of this dreadful
business scatheless, Signor Marchese, I thank God for it?"

"I will not come out scatheless at the cost of Paolina's condemnation,"
said the Marchese, doggedly.

"But the Marchese Lamberto, you see," continued the lawyer, without
taking any notice of his companion's interruption,--"the Marchese
Lamberto has been hit from more sides than one. The most unfortunate and
lamentable fascination that this woman seems to have exercised over
him--the deplorable fact that he should have proposed marriage to her,
and that this fact should be universally known,--it is impossible that
he should not have suffered, and still suffer terribly. Honestly, I
cannot say that I think he will ever altogether get over it--he will
never be the same man again. Would to God that fatal woman had never
come near Ravenna!"

"Many thanks for your visit, Signor Fortini, and for all the kindness
you have shown me since this sad misfortune befell. Tell my uncle how
much I have felt and feel for him. Addio, Signor Fortini. If anything
new should turn up you will not fail to let me know it? Think of what I
said about the friar; and mind, once more, and once for all, I will not
come scatheless, as you say, out of this business and leave Paolina to
be held guilty."

"Addio, Signor Marchese."



CHAPTER IV

What Ravenna thought of it


Signor Fortini had rather mitigated than exaggerated the truth in
speaking to the Marchese Ludovico of his uncle's state of mind. During
all these days his condition was truly deplorable. He had never, in all
this time, left the Palazzo, and had scarcely left his own chamber. He
absolutely refused to see anybody save Signor Fortini. He could not
sleep by night, or remain at rest in the same place for half-an-hour
together during the day.

Of course he could attend to none of the numerous duties--mostly labours
of benevolence--that usually occupied his time. His servants thought
that he was losing his reason; yet, in the midst of all the terrible
distress that was weighing him down, the usual kindness and considerate
benevolence of his nature and habitual conduct had shone out. The only
one thing that he had given any attention to was the gratification of
the wishes, and the promotion of the welfare, of an old servant.

Niccolo, the old groom who was mentioned, as the reader may, perhaps,
remember, on the occasion of a certain conversation which Lawyer Fortini
had with him, as having been all his life in the service of the
Marchese, and of his father before him, was getting, as he had himself
remarked to the lawyer, almost too old for his work. He had always
hitherto absolutely refused, with the masterful obstinacy of an old
favourite, all proposals of retirement; but, on the next morning but one
after the fatal Ash Wednesday, while the Marchese had been in such a
state of painful agitation that he could hardly bear to be addressed by
his own servant, he had, to the great surprise of all the household,
sent for old Niccolo, who had remained with him more than an hour.

On coming out from the interview the old groom said that he had himself
asked for the audience his master had given him; but it did not seem at
all clear to the other servants when or how he could have done so. He
said that he had spoken to his master on the subject long before; and
how kind and good it was of the Marchese to think of his old servant's
affairs in all his trouble. His master had arranged for him, he said,
what he had long wished for, though it seemed to all the household that
old Niccolo had always rejected any proposal of the sort. He was to have
a pension, and go to live with a niece of his who was married in Rome.

It was odd that none of his fellow-servants had ever heard anything of
any such niece. But old Niccolo was not a man of a communicative turn;
and perhaps nothing had ever chanced to lead him to speak of her. Now he
was to join her at once; he was to start for Faenza that very afternoon,
so as to catch there the diligence from Bologna to Rome.

But why such a sudden start? Why should he go off and leave them all, at
a few hours' notice.

Well, the fact was, that the day after the morrow was his niece's
birthday. And he thought he should like to give her the joyful surprise
of seeing her old uncle and learning the new arrangements on that day.
And his dear thoughtful master, who was always so kind to everybody, had
entered into his scheme, and so arranged it.

And so it was; old Niccolo was gone to Rome as he had said. But he had
given nobody any address by which to find him in the Eternal City. And a
little jealousy, perhaps, was felt at the good fortune which had thus
befallen one out of several who would have liked the same. But all
admitted that it was a remarkable proof of the thoughtful kindness of
the Marchese in the midst of his own troubles.

And how terribly those troubles pressed on him was evident to the whole
household; and, by means of their reports, to the entire city. Everybody
in Ravenna knew with how heavy a hand affliction had fallen upon the
Marchese Lamberto. And everybody talked of it. Sympathizing pity and
blame were mingled in the judgments which were being passed on the
Marchese every hour, and in every place where men or women met; and the
proportions in which they were mingled differed greatly. None, however,
could fail to see and to admit that the fall from the high pinnacle, on
which the Marchese had stood, had been a very terrible one. It was felt
that it was a fall from which he could never, under any circumstances,
entirely recover.

The women were, for the most part, more indulgent to him than the men.
As for the unfortunate Bianca, they held that a righteous and deserved
judgment had fallen upon her, in which the operation of the finger of
Providence was distinctly visible. To be sure it was a signal warning to
all men, as to the evils which might be expected to flow from any
sipping of the Circean cup which such creatures proffered to their lips.
But what fate could be too bad for the Siren herself? To think of the
audacity, the shameless effrontery of such an one in daring to spread
her lures, and wind her enchantments around such a man as the Marchese
di Castelmare. Of course he, poor man, could not but feel her death as a
terrible shock. What he had set his heart on had been violently and
awfully taken away from him. And how true it is that the blessed Saints
know what is most truly for our good! But what is all that to the
dreadful accusation hanging over the Marchese Ludovico? A Castelmare in
the prison of Ravenna under accusation of murder! And if it really were
the case, that the unfortunate young man, driven by the prospect of
being hurled down from his position and robbed of his inheritance, had
done this deed, how great, how terrible, must be the remorse of the
Marchese Lamberto!

It was curiously characteristic of the moral nature and habits of
thought of the people, that the Marchese Ludovico, even on the
hypothesis that he had committed the murder, was very leniently judged
for his share in the tragedy.

The men were more inclined to bear hard on the Marchese Lamberto. An old
fool! at his time of life, to offer marriage to such a woman as La
Bianca. To disgrace his name; to cover himself with ridicule; and above
all, and worst of all, to behave with such infamous injustice to his
nephew. Nevertheless the tragedy was so shocking and so complete, that
even those who were disposed to condemn his conduct the most severely,
could not but feel compassion for so crushing a weight of misfortune.

As the opinion, however, began to gain ground in the city, that the
Marchesino Ludovico had, after all, not been the author of the murder;
that the first impression, however clearly the circumstances seemed, at
the first blush of the thing, to point to it, was a mistaken one; and
that the far more probable opinion was that the Venetian girl, Paolina
Foscarelli, was the murderess, and jealousy the incentive to her crime,
the compassion for the Marchese Lamberto became proportionably less. The
feeling was rather, that as far as he was concerned he had got nothing
worse than what he richly deserved. And who should say that all was not
upon the whole for the best as it had pleased heaven to cause it to fall
out? The Marchese Lamberto was saved, despite his own folly, from a
disgraceful and degrading marriage; and Ludovico was saved from the ruin
which threatened him.

Nor, muttered the more cynical, was that all the good that was involved
in what, at first sight, seemed so great a misfortune. Ludovico, too,
was prevented from doing a foolish thing. It was a very different matter
in his case from that of his uncle: he would be doing no wrong to any
heir; and he was at that time of life when men do fall in love, and are
excusable if they are led by it into doing foolish things; not to
mention that, after all, the marriage he had proposed to make was a very
different one from such a monstrous alliance as the Marchese Lamberto
had meditated.

But still was it not a great blessing that the Marchesino should be
prevented from throwing himself away in that manner? The first match in
Ravenna to be carried off by an obscure and plebeian Venetian artist.
Truly it was all for the best as it was.

In their different degree these two stranger women were both noxious,
dangerous, and had done more mischief in Ravenna than the lives of
either of them were worth. And if Providence had in its wisdom decreed
that they should mutually counteract and abolish each other--why it
would behove them to see in it a signal instance of the overruling
wisdom of Heaven.

In the meantime, however, while every imaginable variety and
modification of the above ideas and opinions were forming the staple of
every conversation in every street, house, cafe, and piazza of Ravenna,
the two men, whose conduct was thus canvassed, were assuredly suffering
no light measure of retribution for aught that they had done amiss.

To Ludovico the tidings which reached him of the favourable turn matters
were taking as to the probability of his having himself to answer for
the murder of the singer, were neutralized in any effect they might
otherwise have had of bringing him happiness, by the fact that he was
exculpated only in exact proportion to the increasing probability that
Paolina might be held guilty of the crime.

If, in truth, he carried in his own bosom the consciousness of his own
guilt, it may easily be imagined how horrible to him would appear the
prospect of escaping from the consequences of it by such means. And if
that were, indeed, the dreadful truth, the repeated declarations which
he had made to Signor Fortini to the effect that, rather than see
Paolina condemned as guilty, he would confess himself to be the
murderer, would in no wise appear as mere ebullitions of his
determination to save at all price the girl he loved.

But, during those days Ludovico suffered, he either bore his sufferings
with much more of manly self-command than did his uncle, or else his
agony was (as Signor Fortini, who saw them both, could testify) much
less severe than that which seemed to be slowly dragging down the
Marchese Lamberto to the grave.

The lawyer had told Ludovico that he was then going to his uncle; and,
in fact, he did so. But the old man dreaded doing so more than he could
have himself believed that he could have feared any similar duty.

In truth, the condition of the Marchese Lamberto was pitiable.

He would see no one, save Fortini; but he was most anxious for his
visits--very naturally anxious to hear from day to day, and almost from
hour to hour, how matters were going--whether any new circumstances had
been discovered; what change there was in the probabilities as to the
final judgment respecting the crime; and there was a restless
feverishness in his anxiety, a shattered condition of the nervous system
that made the lawyer seriously fear that the Marchese's reason would
sink under the strain.

He had again and again urged him to allow a medical man to see him; and
had once mentioned the Marchese's old friend Professor Tomosarchi. But
the irritated violence with which the suffering man had rejected the
proposal, had been such as to lead the lawyer to think that he should be
doing more harm than good by reiterating it.

It was not surprising, indeed, that the Marchese should be utterly
beaten down and vanquished by the misfortunes that had fallen upon him;
they attacked him from such various and opposite sides. His love for
Bianca--or, let me say (in order to satisfy readers who are wont to
weigh the real meaning of words as well as those who are in the habit of
taking them unexamined at their current value), his longing to possess
her--was genuine and intense. The step he had determined to take gives
the measure of his eagerness in the pursuit of her--of his conviction
that he could not live without her; and the object of this great, this
intense, this all-mastering passion had been snatched away from him; the
unappeasable agony of such a bereavement can, perhaps, only be
adequately measured by those who have felt it.

Then all the evils which, despite his shrinking from them, he had faced
for the sake of gratifying this imperious passion, had fallen upon him
as fatally of though the price of his facing them had been paid to him.
All the loss of credit, of respect, of social station, which he had
found it so dreadful to contemplate, had been incurred--and for nothing.
How long and terrible had been the struggle, which of those two
incompatible objects of his intense desire--Bianca, or the social
position he held in the eyes of his fellow-citizens--he should sacrifice
to the other; it had seemed to him so impossible to give up either that
the necessity of choosing between them had almost unhinged his reason.
And now he was doomed to forego them both.

Then, again, Ludovico, and the dreadful position in which he stood! and,
if he were condemned, on whose head would fall the blame of the disgrace
which would thus overwhelm the family name? If his nephew were held to
be guilty of this crime, would not all the odium of having driven him to
it fall on him?

Truly there was wherewithal to bow down a stronger heart and head than
those of the Marchese Lamberto.

According to Fortini's view of the matter, the tidings which he had to
bring the Marchese that morning ought to have gone far to tranquillize
and comfort him. Let it be shown that the heir to the Castelmare name
and honours had not committed a terrible crime, and was not in danger of
being convicted of it, and, in his opinion, all the worst of the evils
which had fallen on the Marchese were at an end. That was the only
really irreparable mischief; the city would have its laugh at the
Marchese for his sensibility to the charms of such a charmer as the
singer. But even that would be quenched by the startling change of the
comedy into a tragedy. The Marchese had shown that he was no wiser than
many another man; and it would be but a nine days' wonder; and as to the
mere loss of the woman who had done all the mischief, the lawyer had no
patience with the mention of it as a loss at all.

Pshaw! The one really important matter was to clear the heir of the
house of all complicity in the crime of murder; and yet the lawyer had a
strong feeling, from what he had already seen of the Marchese, that the
good news of which he was the bearer in that respect would not give the
Marchese all the comfort that it ought to give him.

And the result of the visit to the Palazzo Castelmare, which he paid
immediately after leaving the Marchesino Ludovico in his prison,
perfectly responded to his anticipations in this respect.



CHAPTER V

"Miserrimus"


He found the Marchese in a state which really seemed to threaten his
life or his reason. It would scarcely be correct to say of him that he
was depressed, for that phrase is hardly consistent with the feverish
condition of excitement in which he was. There was evidence enough in
his appearance of the presence of deep-seated and torturing misery,
especially devastating in the case of men of his race, constituted as
they are with nervous systems of great delicacy, and unendowed with that
robustness of fibre which enables the more strongly-fashioned scions of
the northern peoples to stand up against misfortune, and present a bold
front to adversity.

There is no connection in the minds of this race between the repression
and control of emotion and their ideal of virile dignity. Reticence is
impossible to them. The Italian man, it is true, has been often
described as eminently reticent; and the northern popular conception
represents him as apt to seek the attainment of his object by the
concealment of it. Nor is that representation an erroneous one. But the
two statements are in no wise inconsistent. The Italian man is by
nature, habit, and training an adept at concealing his thoughts; he
rarely or never seeks to conceal his emotions.

Whether there were thoughts in the Marchese's mind, which he had no wish
or intention to disclose to his visitor, might be a matter of
speculation to the latter. But he certainly made no attempt to hide the
misery which was consuming him. The outward appearance of the man was
eloquent enough of the disorder within. He had always been wont to be
especially neat and precise in his dress; clean shaven, and with that
look of bright freshness on his clear-complexioned and well-rounded
cheeks, which is specially suggestive of health, happiness, and
well-to-do prosperity. Now his cheeks were hollow and yellow, and grisly
stubble of uncared-for beard, covered his deeply-lined jaws. He was
dressed, if dressed it could be called, in a large loose chamber
wrapper, the open neck of which, and of the shirt beneath it, allowed
the visitor's eye to mark that the emaciation which a few days of misery
and anxiety had availed to cause, was not confined to his face only.

But yet more remarkable was the terrible state of nervous restlessness
from which he was evidently suffering. He was unable to remain quiet in
his easy chair even while his visitor remained with him. He would every
now and then rise from it without reason, and pace the room for two or
three turns with the uneasy objectless manner of a wild animal confined
to a cage. Again and again he would go to the window, and gaze from it,
as though looking for some expected thing or person. He spoke and
behaved as if he had been most anxious for the coming of the lawyer, and
yet, now he was there, he seemed scarcely able to command his attention
sufficiently to take interest in the tidings Signor Fortini brought him.

"Thank God, Signor Marchese, the news I bring is good. Thank God, I am
able to express to you my conscientious opinion that the Marchese
Ludovico had no more to do with the murder of this unfortunate woman
than I had. And such is now the general opinion throughout the city."

"Is there anything new? Has any--any--discovery been made?" said the
Marchese, and his teeth chattered in his head as he spoke.

"Nothing that I can quite call a discovery," returned the lawyer; "but
small circumstances in such a case as this, when carefully put together,
form a clue, which rarely fails, when one has enough of them, to lead up
to the desired truth."

"Ah!--small circumstances, as you say--yes--but circumstances--eh?--do
they not often--must we not be very careful--eh?" and the Marchese shook
as he spoke, till the lawyer really began to think that he must be
labouring under an attack of the same illness that had seized on father
Fabiano.

"Fortunately, Signor Marchese, the circumstances all point, in the
present instance, in the direction we would wish. That is," added the
lawyer, hastily, "God forbid that I should wish such a crime to be
brought home to any human being, but in the interests of truth and
justice; and of course our first object is that the Marchese Ludovico
should be cleared."

"Of course, of course. Why naturally, you know--But--in what
direction--eh?--do the suspicions--that is, the opinions--you, yourself,
Signor Giovacchino--who do you think now could have done the deed?" said
the Marchese, finishing his sentence with an apparent effort.

"My notion is," said the lawyer, speaking strongly and distinctly, "that
the murder was committed by the Venetian girl, Paolina Foscarelli. You
are aware of the circumstances that first directed suspicion towards
her. Alone they are very strong; but some other little matters have come
out. She has now been examined several times; and the account she gives
of the hours that passed between the time she left the church of St.
Apollinare, and the time when she was first seen afterwards is a very
lame and unsatisfactory one. Then, my friend, Signor Logarini, of the
police, who has been most praiseworthily active in the matter, has
discovered that the old friar, who has the charge of the Basilica, and
who is a Venetian, was connected with the parents of this girl, which
renders it extremely probable that he may wish to screen her; and that
fact, taken in conjunction with the very strong reasons we have to think
that the friar has some knowledge of the deed, and his very manifest
reluctance to tell what he knows, seems to point in the same direction."

"The friar at St. Apollinare," said the Marchese, with blue trembling
lips, as he looked keenly into the lawyer's face; "why it is impossible
that he could know anything about it. The friar--"

"Impossible? why impossible, Signor Marchese? We know that he was in the
Pineta much about the time the deed must have been done."

The Marchese threw himself back in his deep easy chair, and covered his
face with his hand. The lawyer paused, and shook his head as he looked
at him.

"The friar in the Pineta!" he exclaimed, getting up from his chair after
a minute or two, and taking a few disorderly steps across the room.

"You see; Signor Giovacchino," he continued, returning to his seat, "I
have been so shaken by all the misery I have gone through, and all the
sleepless nights I have passed, that--that--that I am hardly in a fit
state to appreciate the value of the--the facts you lay before me. I
have been trying to think--I am afraid--very much afraid for my own part
that no weight is to be attributed to any testimony which may be got
from the friar of St. Apollinare."

"Why so, Signor Marchese?" asked the lawyer, shortly.

"I know the old man very well. I have often talked with him. He is not
in his right mind: certainly not in such a state of mind as would
justify the magistrates in paying any attention to his statements," said
the Marchese, in a more decided manner than he had before spoken.

"I spoke with the old man at some length the other day, and I cannot say
that that was my impression at all. In my opinion he was quite enough in
his senses to know how to withhold the information which, I suspect, he
could give us if he would. May I ask, Signor Marchese, how long it is
since you have spoken with him?"

"Oh! a long time. How could I speak to him, you know. I do not suppose
he often comes into the city. And it is ever so long--a year or
more--since I was out at St. Apollinare; as far as I can remember," said
the Marchese, with a rapid sidelong glance at the lawyer; "but I am
convinced the old man is not in his right mind," he added, not without
some vehemence; "and it is dangerous to put any faith, or to build at
all upon anything that such a person may say. Why, he is always seeing
visions; and what is such an one's account worth of anything he may
fancy himself to have seen."

"Well, Signor Marchese, the tribunal will form its own opinion upon that
point. For my own part, I cannot help feeling glad of any scrap of
evidence which tends to corroborate the opinion that the Marchese
Ludovico has been erroneously and precipitately accused."

"Of course, Signor Giovacchino, of course. A chi lo dite! And I am truly
obliged to you for coming to me with the news you have given me. But you
can understand, perhaps--in part, Signor Giovacchino, in part--not
altogether--what I have gone through in these days. My mind has been
shaken--sadly shaken, amico mio. I shall never recover it--never," said
the Marchese, letting his head fall on his bosom.

"Nay, Signor Marchese. I would fain hope it is not so bad as all that.
Let this business of the trial be over, and the Marchese Ludovico, as I
doubt not, entirely cleared and absolved, and all will yet go well. The
rest is matter of sorrow which time may be trusted to heal."

"The trial! Ay, the trial. When--eh?--when is it likely to come off,
Signor Giovacchino. Yes, as you say, it would be a good thing if that
were over," said the Marchese, with a manner that indicated a high state
of nervous irritability.

"It won't be long; there is little or no hope of any further light being
thrown on the matter; some day next week, I should say; I don't think
they will be longer than that; and the sooner the better--only, that I
am afraid you may find the ordeal a disagreeable one."

"Who? I? Why should I--? That is, of course, on Ludovico's account--"

"Excuse me, Signor Marchese; but you must feel, surely, that it will be
absolutely necessary for you to be present in court."

"I? I be present? Why, don't you see that I am unable to leave my
chamber--shall probably never leave it again; how can I be present in
court? It is out of the question."

"Your lordship will pardon me, Signor Marchese, if I point out to you
that it is quite indispensable that you should appear in court on the
occasion of the trial," returned the lawyer, firmly. "Your own excellent
judgment, and sense of what is fitting and due to your own position,
will, I am sure, put this matter in an unmistakeable light before you.
Think a little what the inferences, the remarks, the suggestions would
be to which your absence on such an occasion would give rise; not to
mention that it can hardly be doubted that the tribunal will think it
necessary to examine your lordship respecting certain points--"

"Me? What can I tell? What can it be necessary to examine me for? I know
absolutely nothing; it is impossible that I should know anything of the
matter; besides, I am too ill to leave my chamber."

"Of course, if Tomosarchi were, after visiting you by direction of the
tribunal, to certify that you were not in a fit state--"

"I won't see Tomosarchi; no testimony can be needed to the fact that I
am in no condition to leave the house; I tell you, Signor Fortini, I
will not see him; I cannot see anybody."

"I fear, Signor Marchese, that it would be impossible in any other way
to avoid complying with the request of the tribunal for your presence.
Besides that, it would be far better, in every point of view, that you
should show yourself in the court. The fact of your absence on such an
occasion could not but be unpleasantly remarked on," urged the lawyer.

"Why? What can I be wanted for? What can I tell them? It is very evident
that I am, and must needs be, utterly ignorant of the whole matter,"
returned the Marchese.

"There are various points on which the magistrates will, doubtless, wish
for the information which your lordship can give them, although you may
have no means of throwing any light on the main facts of the
assassination. They will wish, for instance, to ask respecting the
circumstances of the Marchese Ludovico's expedition to the Pineta. The
police, you must remember, Signor Marchese, are already aware that you
were cognizant of the Marchese Ludovico's intention of taking La Lalli
to the Pineta. That has been ascertained from the admission of the Conte
Leandro--"

"A thousand curses on the Conte Leandro," exclaimed the Marchese.

"His figure in the matter is a deplorable one, truly; but you can
understand, Signor Marchese, that the court will desire to ask some
questions of you on this head--nothing that you can have any difficulty
in answering or any objection to answer; but I am sure you will see, on
consideration, that it would have a very bad effect for your lordship to
show the least desire to avoid being present."

"It will be most distasteful to me--very painful, indeed--I don't think
it ought to be required of me under all the circumstances," pleaded the
unhappy man.

"Unpleasant it will be, doubtless; the whole affair has not been a
pleasant one for anybody concerned in it, Signor Marchese--for any one
in Ravenna, I may say. But you may depend upon it that it will be the
wish of the court and of everybody present to make it as little painful
to you as possible. And it is my very serious and very urgent advice to
you to make the necessary exertion, and not to express to any one either
the intention or the wish to absent yourself."

And then the lawyer took his leave--not surprised that the Marchese,
broken down and in the state in which he saw him, should feel it very
disagreeable to face his fellow citizens on the occasion of the trial;
but, perhaps, having some other thoughts in his mind besides those he
expressed as to the ill effect likely to be produced by any refusal of
the Marchese to make his appearance in the court.



CHAPTER VI

The Trial


The police authorities were longer in preparing their case than Signor
Fortini had anticipated they would be; but at length it was known
throughout the city that the day for the trial had been fixed. It was to
take place on a Monday morning towards the latter part of Lent.

It had been rumoured in the city that the delay had been occasioned by
hopes which the authorities had conceived that the female prisoner would
be induced to make confession of the crime. The imprisonment and the
repeated interrogatories she had undergone had produced a great effect
upon her. She had become downcast to a very much greater degree than she
had been in the days immediately following her arrest. She was very
silent, refraining even from the earnest and frequent protestations of
her innocence, which, during the early days of her imprisonment, she had
seized every opportunity of making. She passed many hours apparently
plunged in deep introspective thought; she wept much, and passed much of
her time in prayer.

And the judgment of the experienced people about her led them to
interpret these manifestations as signs of an approaching confession.
When at length the day for the trial was fixed, it was reported that
Paolina Foscarelli had confessed. But the criminal authorities keep the
secrets of their prison house in such matters; and nothing certain was
known upon the subject.

The very general impression, however, throughout the city was that,
whether she confessed or not, she was the real criminal, and that such
would be declared by the tribunal to be the case. And such a solution of
the mystery was readily accepted by the Ravenna world as the most
satisfactory that under the unhappy circumstances could be arrived at.

The disgrace that rested on the city in consequence of the perpetration
of so foul a crime, and on such a victim, had been felt throughout the
city to a degree, that can be duly appreciated only by those, who are
acquainted with the strength and the exclusiveness of Italian municipal
patriotism. And it was a matter of general congratulation that the
perpetrator of it should turn out to be no Ravennata citizen, but an
unknown stranger from Venice. It would have been dreadful indeed if such
a deed should have been brought home to the door of a scion of the
oldest and most distinguished noble family in Ravenna. Of course
everybody had all along known, and had said from the beginning, that
whatever might turn out to be the truth, this at least was impossible
and altogether out of the question.

To many minds the guilt of the Venetian girl seemed so clear that it
appeared altogether superfluous to spend time and trouble in bringing
her to confess it. Her hatred of the victim she had confessed; and the
confession of it was in evidence. The motive for that hatred was
perfectly well known and understood. It was a motive that many a time
ere now had led to similar deeds. She was close at hand when the crime
must have been committed. She could give no satisfactory account of her
reasons for going thither, or of the occupation of her time during the
hours, which must have comprised the moment of the assassination. And
the manner of the murder rendered it infinitely probable that it must
have been the deed of a female. What more could be wanted? It was rarely
that a murder had ever been brought home to the murderer by
circumstantial evidence of a more conclusive and irresistible character.

Signor Fortini was among those who thought and reasoned thus. But in the
several interviews which he had had with the Marchese Ludovico, he had
not judged it judicious to enlarge to him on this part of the subject.
While assuring him that he might make himself perfectly easy, and that
his innocence in the matter would beyond all doubt be fully recognised,
he had preferred to lead him to imagine that the result of the trial
would be altogether negative; that it would be found that no case that
would warrant a conviction should be made out against any party.

Signor Logarini had meanwhile made one or two more excursions to the
Basilica of St. Apollinare. But he had gained nothing by his pains. The
padre Fabiano was on each occasion found in bed, no whit better to all
appearance than he had been on that day when the police Commissary and
Signor Fortini visited him together. Nor had Signor Logarini's
persevering cross-examinations availed to obtain anything more from the
aged friar than repetitions of his first statements. Nevertheless the
Commissary was confirmed more than ever in his opinion that the friar
knew something; if he could only be made to speak. Still it had been
determined not to attempt to bring the old man by force before the
tribunal. There was every reason to think that nothing would be obtained
from him in addition to what he had already said. In all probability he
was really ill, more or less, as Signor Logarini said, and living under
the government of the Holy Father, it was necessary to treat
ecclesiastical personages with a greater degree of consideration than
might have been accorded to such under similar circumstances on the
other side of the frontier between the territory of the church and
Austria.

Despite the friar's illness, however, Fra Simone, the lay-brother, had
once or twice been observed lately in Ravenna. He was seen sauntering
through the streets with his long linen wallet over his shoulder,
stopping at a corner for a little gossip here, and receiving a
contribution to the store in his bag from some friar-loving devout old
woman there. There was nothing remarkable in such a sight in the streets
of Ravenna in any way. Only Fra Simone was very rarely seen there. And
when Signor Pietro Logarini, without whose knowledge scarcely a cat
stirred abroad in Ravenna, was told of the circumstance, he said to
himself that the Padre Fabiano was interested in knowing what people
said and thought of the coming trial.

Signor Fortini had in the meantime, not without infinite difficulty
succeeded in persuading the Marchese that he must bring himself to
submit to the ordeal of being present in the court on the occasion of
the trial. The Marchese's extreme dislike to appearing thus publicly had
been in no degree overcome or diminished. And it was only the lawyer's
positive and repeated declaration, that he would assuredly be sent for,
if he did not spontaneously present himself, that had availed to induce
him to say at length that he would go. Every possible attention, the
lawyer had assured him, would be paid to him, and everything done to
make his attendance as little disagreeable to him as possible. Of
course, as Fortini urged, it was well known, through the city how
dreadfully he must have been affected by the sad circumstances that had
happened--people would be prepared to see him looking ill and changed.
Curious? Yes, of course people were curious--it was impossible to
prevent them from being so; but he, Fortini, would take care that their
curiosity should not be manifested in any way that could be offensive to
the Marchese.

Thus, an unwilling consent to attend the sitting of the court on the
morning of the trial had been forced from the unhappy Marchese,--from
him who, so few weeks ago before the fatal coming of the fascinating
singer to Ravenna, had been the happiest, the most prosperous, and the
most secure of men; and it had been arranged that Signor Fortini should,
on that morning; call for him at the Palazzo and accompany him to the
tribunal.

When the morning came it seemed to Signor Fortini as if he should have
to do all his work over again. He found the Marchese up and dressed. He
had not shaved himself, however,--declaring, with abundant appearance of
truth, that, in the state he then was, it was utterly beyond his power
to do so, and he absolutely refused to allow it to be done for him; and
the effect of the stubbly grisled beard of a week's growth or so on the
hollow lantern jaws, which all the city had been accustomed to see clean
shaved, and plump, and florid with health,--was such as to render him
barely recognizable as the same man by the eyes that had known him all
his life. It seemed, too, to the lawyer that the shocking change which
had taken place in him was even more painfully marked by his attempt to
dress himself in his usual manner than it had been in his chamber
wrapper. His clothes, which were wont to fit so well, and set off to
advantage his well-made and stalwart figure, hung about him in bags and
pantaloon-like folds, a world too wide for his shrunken form.

On the first entrance of the lawyer he protested that the effort was
altogether beyond his strength,--that it was impossible for him to go
through the ordeal. Did they want him to die before their eyes on the
benches of the court?

A renewed suggestion by Fortini to the effect that the only means by
which the necessity could be avoided would be by a certificate from the
medical authority trusted in such matters by the court--his own old
friend the Professor Tomosarchi, produced only a reiterated and violent
declaration that he would not receive any visit from the Professor.

Eventually, the strong representations made by the lawyer of the much
greater unpleasantness, and the very much to be deprecated effect, of
entering the court as an unwilling witness in forced obedience to a
mandate from the tribunal, decided the wretched Marchese to allow
himself to be led down to the carriage.

Even as he came, bent and shaking, down the great staircase of the
Palazzo leaning on Fortini's arm, and had to pass, in crossing the hall
to the carriage, all the servants of his household, most of whom had not
seen him since the evening of the last day of Carnival, and who were
urged by curiosity to take this opportunity of looking at their
terribly-changed master, it seemed to him that his martyrdom had
commenced.

He passed through the streets of the city with the blinds of the
carriage drawn down, and with his eyes closed as he lay thrown back into
the corner of it: but, as he felt it draw up at the entrance to the
"prefettura," he suddenly grasped the lawyer's hand, and Fortini felt,
with a shudder, that his hand was as cold as that of a corpse. He was
altogether in such a state that Signor Fortini began to fear that there
really would be some catastrophe in the court before the business of the
day could be concluded.

With the aid of a servant on one side and of the lawyer on the other,
however, he was got out of the carriage, and, almost supporting him, the
lawyer, who had made all his arrangements previously, led him into the
building by a private door and to the chamber in which the tribunal was
sitting by a private passage used only by the magistrates, and opening
into the court in the immediate vicinity of the seats occupied by them,
by the side of which a chair had been assigned to the Marchese.

Nor had Signor Fortini's cares and preparations ended there. He had
spoken with each one of the magistrates who were to try the case, in no
wise telling them of the Marchese's unwillingness to appear, but
representing the terrible state of mental and bodily prostration to
which the dreadful nature of the late events had very naturally reduced
him, and which would have rendered it utterly impossible for him to
appear in court, but for his indomitable will, and the high sense of
duty, which had led him to think it, under the circumstances his duty to
do so.

To no soul had he whispered a word of the Marchese's very marked
reluctance to attend at the trial, save to his old and intimate friend
of many years standing, the Professor Tomosarchi, whom he had thought it
advisable to consult as to the desirability of his seeing the Marchese
before he was called on to make the effort. To his surprise he had found
Tomosarchi almost as unwilling to see the Marchese, as the Marchese had
been to see him. He did not say at once, as the latter had done, that he
would not see him, But while admitting the strong desirability that the
Marchese should be present at the trial, he yet manifested a strong
reluctance, which the lawyer could not understand, to taking any share
in the task of persuading and preparing him to do so.

The magistrates, who were all of them old friends of Signor Fortini, and
to each of whom he had spoken, separately on the subject, had seemed to
find no difficulty in understanding, that it was very natural under all
the circumstances, that the Marchese should have been terribly affected,
both in body and mind, by the late events. It had been suggested to them
by the lawyer, that it would be well to avoid, as far as possible,
anything that should make it necessary for the Marchese to speak at all,
even in saluting him on his entrance. When therefore, just after the
court had assembled, the Marchese, trembling and shivering in every
limb, was led in by the little door that opened close behind the seat he
was to occupy, the magistrates contented themselves with rising and
bowing to him in silence. The court, as might have been expected, was
very full; and it was impossible to prevent a very marked and audible
manifestation of the shock produced upon the spectators by the changed
appearance of one so well known to them from running through the crowd.

Even in the territories of the Pope, a criminal court is in these days
an open and public one. There is no jury, and the criminal, or suspected
person, may be subjected to any amount of examination on oath. But, in
other respects, the method of procedure is not very dissimilar from our
own. The prosecution is conducted by an officer analogous to our
attorney-general, or by his substitute; and is defended by any advocate
of the court whom he may employ for the purpose. The appreciation of the
credibility of testimony, the greater or lesser value of circumstantial
evidence, the application and interpretation of the law, and the award
of sentence, remain with the judges, subject to appeal to a higher
court. Moreover, in the present case, the inquiry assumed more of the
form of a general attempt to ascertain the solution of an unexplained
mystery, than would have been compatible with the forms of our criminal
courts, inasmuch as there were two prisoners to be tried for the crime,
whom no theory of the circumstances had suggested to be accomplices, and
the conviction of either of whom, according to the hypothesis which had
been started, involved the absolution of the other.

The judicial oath is administered not as with us, but by requiring the
accused person, or the witness, to assert that he is speaking the truth,
while placing the extended hand on a carved representation of the
crucified Redeemer. And there can be no doubt that this ceremony has a
very strong effect on the imagination and nervous system among the
easily moved races of the south. Many a crime has been avowed, because
the paralyzed lips of the criminal were absolutely incapable of
pronouncing the lie he fully purposed to speak, while he thus openly
appealed to the material figure which had the power of enabling the
sluggish southern imagination to realize the presence of the Creator.

There would be little interest in detailing at length the proceedings of
the trial; since nothing was elicited that would be in any way new to
the reader, or that was calculated to throw any fresh light on the
circumstances to be inquired into, until the business in hand was nearly
concluded.

Every tenderness had been shown to the misfortunes and to the terrible
state of suffering of the Marchese. A full statement of his own conduct
at the ball, and on the following morning, had been extracted, with very
little indulgence in the process, from the Conte Leandro, from whose
white and pasty face the perspiration had rained beyond the power of any
handkerchief to control it, while he described himself as an
eavesdropper, an informer, and a spy. And all that had been required
from the Marchese Lamberto was the admission that the Conte Leandro's
statements, as far as regarded what had taken place at the ball, were
correct.

But the fact was that the case was well-nigh prejudged before the
professed trial began. All Ravenna, including the police authorities,
who had investigated the matter, and the judges who came into court well
instructed in all that had been done, and all that could be known upon
the subject, had made up their minds that the stranger girl was and must
have been the criminal. It was infinitely more agreeable to everybody
concerned to suppose that such should be the case rather than that such
a damning blot should fall on the noblest house in the city, and that in
the person of one of the most popular men in it; and, at the same time,
it must be owned that the case was so strong against Paolina that a
prejudice against her could hardly be called a corrupt one.

Her own conduct during the trial had tended yet farther to impress the
minds of all present against her. Not that there was anything in her
appearance and manner that was otherwise than calculated to conciliate
pity and favourable opinion. Her entrance into the court had excited the
greatest interest. She had on a black silk dress made in the simplest
and plainest possible fashion; and the colour of it, where the neckband
encircled her slender throat, made an absolutely startling contrast with
the utterly colourless whiteness of her skin. Her manner was very
subdued, very quiet; nor did she exhibit any signs of fear; or much of
emotion, save to those who were near enough to her to perceive a quiet,
silent, and undemonstrative tear steal occasionally down her dead-white
cheek.

But when examined as to her disposal of herself after leaving the church
of Apollinare--as to her motives for changing her purpose, if it were
true, as she stated, that she did change her purpose of entering the
Pineta--she became embarrassed and failed to give any satisfactory
reply.

Ludovico had, at an early stage of the proceedings, been removed from
the court, after having been in vain again and again requested by the
judges to abstain from interfering with the progress of the case against
Paolina.

At last, when almost everybody in the court had made up their minds that
there could, in truth, be no doubt that the young Venetian, goaded to
frenzy by her jealousy, had been the author of the murder, and quite
everybody was convinced that such would be the decision of the judges,
the latter were on the point of retiring from the court to confer, and
consider their sentence, more as a matter of form, probably, than
anything else, when an incident occurred that made a change in the
aspect of matters.



CHAPTER VII

The Friar's Testimony


In a criminal trial in the states of His Holiness the Pope, there is
none of that absolute and inflexible adherence to certain rigid forms
and rules which gives to many of the proceedings of our courts that
character of an inevitable destiny-like march which is so dramatic in
its operations--that sense of the presence there of a power greater than
that of the greatest of the men concerned in the administration of it,
which constitutes on large element in an Englishman's respect for the
law. At times this automatic power, which has been thus created
Faust-like, by reason of the impossibility of pre-adapting its mechanism
to the exigences of every case, works to unforseen and undesired
ends--sometimes even to absurd ones. And, with thinkers of a certain
phase of modern thought, it has been a favourite taunt against the
average British mind, that it rather delights in the contemplation of
such abnormal workings of the great automatic law in which it has
created. Some manifest mistake or error has occurred. The man supposed
to be murdered walks into court; but it is a minute too late; the
verdict has been given--the sentence pronounced. All the court judges,
witnesses, counsel--look at each other in dismay; the great law
automaton cannot be made to swerve in its path by any power there. And
the average Englishman likes the contemplation of such a case, it is
sneered; and the sneer may be joined in by those who, under other
systems, have the immediate power of setting any such mistakes right by
a word. But the sneer, let the Englishman be assured, would by no means
be joined in by the population, who are subject to the action of courts
and judges thus able by superior word to direct the course of justice.

The new incident which suddenly arose to change all the aspects of the
trial and its results would, as far as the analogy of the Roman mode of
proceeding and our own holds good, have been too late in one of our
courts to produce the results which it did produce. The judges were on
the point of retiring to consider their decision and sentence when they
were met at the little private door, by which they were about to leave
the court, by one of the ushers. And the consequence of the few words he
spoke to them was that they gave an order--turned back, and resumed
their places.

It might well have been that the new incident might have been prevented
from bringing about the result it was calculated to bring about in the
Ravenna Court; but the miscarriage would have been caused in an
altogether different way from that which has been spoken as sometimes
characterising our own courts.

It was very clear to everybody present that the judges would pronounce
Paolina to be guilty of the crime they were investigating; and to
everybody present, with one or two exceptions, this was a very agreeable
and satisfactory winding-up of the unhappy affair. Ravenna would be able
to wash her hands of the matter. It was wholly, both in conception and
execution, the work of a stranger. Since so great a misfortune had
happened, it could not be more satisfactorily accounted for.

It is probable enough, therefore, that any Tom, Jack, or Harry, who, at
that conjuncture, had presented himself at the prefettura for the avowed
purpose of bringing a new light to the solution of the mystery which had
been already so satisfactorily solved, might have experienced
considerable difficulty in obtaining for himself any access to, or
hearing from, the judges.

But the person who had now thus presented himself at the prefettura of
Ravenna belonged to a body, the very lowest and poorest members of
which, in that country, can always find, somehow or other, some means of
compassing almost any object which is not disapproved by some superior
member of their own corporation. The new-comer was a friar--old Father
Fabiano, the priest of St. Apollinare, as the reader may have
conjectured.

The police agents had been anxious to produce him there, as the reader
knows, and he had baffled their wishes. Now the result which it had been
desired that he should contribute to had been brought about, or as good
as brought about, without him. What did he want there now?

There was an old usher about the court, however, whose advancing years
were beginning to make him disagreeably conscious that the time was at
hand when a sentence to a long term of purgatory--to say nothing of any
severer doom--might make it exceedingly desirable to him to stand well
with all those who are understood to have influence with the government
in the world beyond the grave; and,--if there had been no such person,
the friar would have known somebody--some old or young woman,
probably--or he would have known some other friar who knew some such,
who would have been able to influence some brother, lover, or husband,
in the way he wished. As it was, Father Fabiano had no difficulty at all
in conveying the message he wished to communicate to the judges.

They turned back to their places in the court, to the surprise and
sudden awakening of new interest in the audience, and ordered that the
new witness who had presented himself should be admitted and heard.

And Father Fabiano, bowed with age, and his hoary head bent down on his
breast, but neither shivering nor shaking, advanced to the
witness-table. The crucifix was lying on it, and the friar, with the
manner of a man recognizing in a new employment tools which he is well
used to, at once stretched out his emaciated and claw-like hand, and
made oath that he was about to speak the truth.

The Procuratore of the court then began to examine the old man with
reference to his knowledge of the circumstances connected with the visit
of Paolina Foscarelli to the church of St. Apollinare, and her disposal
of herself after leaving it; but the friar replied that it would be
uselessly occupying the time of the court to enter into any such
particulars, inasmuch as he had come thither to prove that Paolina had
nothing whatever to do with the crime.

"But," remarked the Procuratore, "if it is in your power to do that, why
did you not give the necessary information to the Commissary of Police
when you were, on several occasions, examined at St. Apollinare?"

"Signori miei," said the old man, addressing himself to the court in
general, "it is no affair of mine to meddle with the administration of
human justice. No words that I could say could undo the deed, or bring
the murdered woman back to life. Evil enough had been done. Why should I
cause further trouble, and sorrow, and shame, to others? It was more
fitting to one of my order to leave retribution in the hands of Him who
can best award it, and whose mercy may touch the heart of the sinner
with repentance."

"But if so, frate mio," rejoined the Procuratore, "what, pray, is the
motive that now brings you here?"

"Surely, the determination that the innocent shall not suffer for the
guilty. It seemed to me that it would never be known, save to Him who
knows the secrets of all hearts, what hand had done that terrible deed;
but now I know that the fallibility of all human judgment has led questi
Signori to the conclusion that the girl Paolina is guilty, and her
condemnation would be a misfortune greater than the first--I knowing the
hand which did that deed."

"Ha, you know the murderer; you suppose you know him? You come to offer
us your guess, your suggestion?"

"I come, Signori miei, with pain and sorrow and great reluctance, to
save you from condemning an innocent person by naming him who is
guilty."

A sort of buzz and almost shiver of interest, anxiety, and expectation
ran through the court, as the old friar spoke the above words in a
stronger voice than that in which he had yet spoken.

"Friar," said the Procuratore solemnly and severely; "it is my duty,
before you speak, to warn you to take heed to what you say. You are
about, you say, to make an accusation the most tremendous that one man
can bring against another. Bethink you whether you are able to
substantiate what you are about to utter. Remember that, if you cannot
substantiate it, it would be an hundred-fold better that your suspicion
should remain unuttered."

The Procuratore, as well as every one else in the court, had little or
no doubt that the friar was about to accuse the Marchese Ludovico as the
perpetrator of the murder. And some, among whom were Signor Fortini, and
Signor Logarini the Commissary of Police, were persuaded that the old
man was going to trump up some story in the hope of saving his
countrywoman, Paolina.

"Were it not for the necessity of protecting the innocent, Signori, God
knows how much I should prefer to carry my terrible secret with me to
the grave. Signori miei, these eyes SAW the deed done, that put the
sleeping woman to death. Only God and I, the lowest of his servants! God
and I saw the Marchese Lamberto di Castelmare do that deed!"

A loud indignant murmur of incredulity was beginning to rise throughout
the crowded court, like the first getting up of a storm wind.

But it was suddenly hushed, and turned into a spasm of horror and
intense shock, that made every man hold his breath, when the sound of a
sudden heavy fall was heard; and it was seen that the Marchese Lamberto
had fallen insensible to the ground.



CHAPTER VIII

The Truth!


The Professor Tomosarchi was in the court, and had been, as it happened,
though unseen by the Marchese, fixing his eyes on him at the moment when
the catastrophe narrated in the last chapter occurred. Springing
forwards, therefore, the medical man was in a moment by the side of his
old friend.

If, according to the strict letter of the requirements of their duty,
the magistrates or the police authorities present ought, under the
circumstances, to have prevented the free departure of the accused man
to his own home, it did not occur to any one to do so. Professor
Tomosarchi and Fortini between them, got him, still insensible, to his
carriage, and took him to his home.

"Is it more than a mere fainting fit?" said the lawyer, as they both
were supporting the person of the insensible Marchese. "Could you not do
some thing to restore consciousness? Can that old friar have spoken the
truth?"

"Apoplexy," said the Professor, with a serious and almost scared look
into the other's eyes. "Apoplexy, and no mistake about it. Don't you
hear the stertorous breathing. No, nothing can be attempted till we get
him home. We shall be at the palazzo in a minute. We shall see; but I
doubt--I doubt!"

"You mean that his life is in danger?" asked the lawyer.

"In danger! I have hardly any hope that he will ever return to
consciousness or speak another word again."

"Good God! you don't mean that," cried the lawyer, much shocked.

"Indeed I do; it is possible, but very improbable that he should rally
sufficiently to survive the attack," replied the Professor.

"Perhaps," rejoined the lawyer, gravely and sadly after a few moments of
silence; "perhaps it would be best so. I fear me--I much fear me, that
this can hardly be looked on but as the confirmation of that old man's
declaration."

The Professor looked hard into the lawyer's eyes, as he nodded his head,
without speaking, in grave assent.

They arrived in another minute at the door of the Palazzo Castelmare.
The servants ran out, and they carried him up into the chamber where,
ever since that fatal Ash Wednesday morning, he had, as Fortini now well
understood, been suffering a long agony of remorse, apprehension,
despair, all the intensity of which it was difficult to appreciate.

Life was not yet extinct when they laid him upon his bed; and the
Professor proceeded to do what the rules of his science prescribed in
the all but hopeless effort to combat the attack. But the miserable man
had suffered his last in this life, and every effort to bring him back
to further torture was unavailing. Within half-an-hour after he had been
brought back to his palace he breathed his last.

"It is all over with him," said the Professor, looking up across the bed
to the lawyer standing on the other side of it; "there was no
possibility of prolonging his life--happily for him, and happily for
everybody connected with him, and for all of us. Who would have thought
a short month ago that such a life could have so ended?"

"The 24th of March, Signor Professore, is the anniversary on which, more
fervently than on any other day of the year, I thank God for all his
mercies," said the lawyer, with grim solemnity.

"I don't understand you, Signor Dottore; what has the 24th of March to
do with this?" said Tomosarchi, staring at him.

"On the 24th of March, four-and-forty years ago, the Signora Fortini
departed this life, Signor Professore. But for that gracious disposition
of Providence, who knows that his lot, or worse, might not have been
mine? From Eve downwards, Signor Professore, from Eve downwards, it is
the same story--always the same story, in one shape or another--in one
shape or another."

The Professor, who was the lawyer's junior by some thirty years, turned
away with a shrug of the shoulders, and stepped across the room to the
small escritoire near the window. There opening, without hesitation, and
with the manner of a man familiar with the place, a small concealed
drawer, he called the lawyer to him.

"Just come here and look at the contents of this drawer, Signor Fortini.
There is a curious meaning in them."

Fortini went across from the bed to the escritoire, and the Professor
took from the drawer and showed to him a small coloured drawing of a
human form, with just such a mark on it as had been visible on the spot
of the wound which had destroyed La Bianca's life. He showed him also,
in the same secret receptacle, a long very finely tempered needle, and a
small quantity of perfectly white wax.

"Good God, Professor! Were you aware of the existence of these things
here?" cried the lawyer, aghast.

"I knew that they were where I have now found them some four or five
months ago--towards the end of last year. You do not remember, probably,
some curious details of a crime that was perpetrated a year ago or more
in the island of Sardinia. I don't know that the details were published
save in the medical journals. You know how great an interest our
unfortunate friend used to take in all such matters. We talked over that
curious case. He doubted the possibility of causing death with so little
violence, and by means which should leave so little trace behind them. I
showed him how readily and easily it might be done. You may judge then,
Signore Dottore, of the misgivings that assailed me when I discovered
how that unhappy singer had been put to death. You will understand, too,
why he so absolutely refused to see me, and how little desirous I was to
see him."

"But, Signor Professore--what should you have done if--?"

"If that girl had been condemned. You may guess that my state of mind
has not been a pleasant one. I did not know what to do: I hoped that no
conviction would have been arrived at. Of course it would have been
impossible to keep silence while that poor girl suffered the penalty of
the crime I had such strong reason to think was the work of another.
Truly it is in all ways best as it is."

"You are taking it for granted that the tribunal will give credit to the
friar's testimony; but that is not certain; nay, it is not certain--at
least, we do not yet know--we have only his assertion that he saw the
Marchese do the deed. With these evidences before us," continued the
lawyer, "we can hardly doubt that the fact was so. But stay--what is
this?--a letter addressed to me--'Al Chiarmo Signor Dottore Giovacchino
Fortini. To be opened only after my death, and in case my death shall
happen within one year from the present time!' Perhaps this may render
any further doubts as to the conduct we ought to pursue unnecessary. Let
us see."

And Signor Fortini sat down to open and read the packet; while the
Professor returned to the bed on which the dead man was lying, and
occupied himself with paying the last duties to his friend's remains.

The letter was a very long one, consisting of several sheets of
closely-written paper. It is unnecessary to add to these pages by giving
a transcript of it, because the facts which it detailed at length are
either such as the reader is already acquainted with or such as he can
readily imagine for himself.

When the narrative reached the events which had occurred at the ball in
the early hours of the Ash Wednesday morning, after mentioning the
circumstance of the information which had been conveyed to the writer by
the Conte Leandro Lombardoni as to the projected expedition to the
Pineta, the Marchese went on to describe the state of mind in which he
had left the Circolo. He protested that, although every smallest detail
of what he did had remained stamped on his memory with a vivid clearness
that would never more be obliterated, it would be unjust to judge his
conduct as that of a man in the possession of his senses. He was, he
said, mad--MAD!--and carried away by a hurricane of passions altogether
beyond his power to control. He had not formed any distinct intention of
following his nephew and La Bianca to the Pineta till he reached his own
house. He had happened to approach the Palazzo from the back, through
the stable-yard; and had there found old Niccolo, the groom, up. Then
the idea of waylaying the pair in the forest had occurred to him. He had
ordered a horse to be saddled; and had told the groom to let no one know
that he had left the palace. He then went up to his room, dismissed his
valet, and locked the door, as the servant had related to Signor
Fortini. Then descending to the stables, by one of those private doors
and stairs so frequently to be found in old Italian palaces, and
generally contrived to communicate with the principal sleeping chamber
of the dwelling, he mounted his horse, and rode furiously to the Pineta,
quitting the city, not by the Porta Nueva, but by the next gate towards
the south. He must have reached the forest before Ludovico and Bianca
had left the city. He put his steaming horse into the abandoned hovel of
a watcher of the cattle on the marshes; and then skulked about the edge
of the wood in the vicinity of the road which enters it from the city.
All this time he had, as he again and again declared in the long and
repetitive document in the lawyer's hands, no formed intention of any
sort in his mind. All he knew was that he was mad, and suffering
torments worse than any imagination had ever depicted the tortures of
the damned; the pulses were beating, and the blood was rushing in his
ears and in his eyes, he wrote, in such sort that all sounds seem to him
one universal buzzing, and all objects vague and uncertain, and tinged
with the colour of blood.

And, in this condition, he waited and waited till almost a wild hope
began to creep upon him that the Conte Leandro had lied to him.

Suddenly he saw them coming towards the edge of the wood.

With difficulty, he stood upright, resting the front of his shoulder and
his forehead against the trunk of a tree, from behind which he glared
out, while his eyes were blasted by what he saw.

Judging more sanely than the poor Marchese was able to judge, and
putting together all the circumstances and conduct and declarations of
the other parties, we may probably conclude, that though he saw enough
to madden the heart and brain of a man whose mind had already been
warped and distorted by jealousy, he did not see aught that could have
been deemed to menace the future happiness of Paolina. No doubt La
Bianca, despite her declared intention to make the Marchese Lamberto a
good and true wife, had he married her, would have preferred to become
Marchese di Castelmare by a marriage with his nephew. No doubt she had a
liking for Ludovico of a different kind from that which she had
professed to feel for his uncle. No doubt her imagination had been
fired, and her heart awakened to long for such love as she had seen
given to each other by Ludovico and Paolina, which she too well
understood to be of a kind which, despite her good resolutions, would
not be found in her union with the Marchese Lamberto. And no doubt these
feelings manifested themselves in her visible manner during the
conversation which followed her confession to him of the engagement
between her and his uncle.

It may also be suggested to those who have never been called upon to act
as Ludovico was called upon to act, under the circumstances of receiving
such a communication, so communicated from such a woman, that they would
do well not to judge too severely any such parts of his behaviour under
the ordeal, as may have been of a nature to produce a very deplorable
effect on the jaundiced mind of his uncle, though, in reality, there was
little real meaning and less serious harm in them.

Of course the unfortunate Marchese could not be expected to see or
reason on what he saw in any such mood or tone. As he said in the
writing he had left, what he saw as Ludovico and Bianca entered the
forest, side by side, in deep and close talk, made a furious madman of
him. He dodged, and watched them, as they sat down together--as they
continued to talk in close confidence--till he saw her lay herself down
on the bank to sleep, and saw him after awhile quit her side.

Then the devil entered into him, and ruled his hand with a whirlwind
power which he could no more withstand than the chaff can withstand the
tempest blast.

He came and stood over her as she lay on the turf--the beautiful,
noxious creature. She had destroyed him; body, soul, and mind, she had
destroyed him. And now--and now--ahi, ahi! After all he had suffered,
after paying all the price he had paid! Ah, how lovely as she lay there
sleeping--placidly sleeping, she! And he was to be cheated! Her beauty,
her love was to be given to another.

No, no, no, poisonous, baneful, sorceress; no, be what might, that hell
should never be!

He put his hand to the breast-pocket of his coat, and took from it a
small pocket-book.

If man will find evil passions, the devil will always find means. Surely
there must be some shadow of truth in the old legends that tell how the
fiend aids those who give themselves to him.

The Marchese had, on leaving his chamber, quickly changed the coat he
had worn at the ball for a morning one. And it so happened that in that
was a pocket-book which contained the articles needed for the
perpetration of the murder, placed there by him one day--in times that
seemed now ages ago--when he was going to ask some explanation of the
facts that had interested him from Professor Tomosarchi.

Like a balefully illumining lightning gleam, the clear memory that those
things were there at his hand flashed across his mind.

In another minute the deed was done.

And, in a few minutes more, the Marchese, looking the madman he felt
himself to be, got off his panting horse in his own stable-yard, threw
the rein to the scared old groom, and regained his room as he had left
it. Then the letter went on to speak of the terrible, the dreadful days
and hours which had elapsed since that time. It was during the hours of
that first morning, while it seemed to the excited mind of the Marchese
that every sound that was audible in the Palazzo must herald the coming
of those who had discovered the deed, that it had occurred to him to
send for his lawyer and give him instructions for the preparation of his
marriage contract. He would lose nothing by doing so, for the fact of
his offer of marriage to the murdered woman would assuredly not be kept
secret by the old man, her reputed father, and the maid-servant. And the
fact of his declaring such an intention, and giving such instructions at
that date, would very powerfully contribute to prevent any mind from
conceiving the idea that he could have been cognizant of the death of La
Bianca at the moment when he was so acting.

And in truth, as the lawyer, examining his own mind, said to himself, it
had been this fact which had mainly prevented two or three little
circumstances from pointing his suspicions in the direction of the
truth.



CHAPTER IX

Conclusion

Little more need be added to complete this story of a great singer's
Carnival engagement, and the consequences that arose out of it.

The consternation, the talk, the moralizings, of the little city may be
readily imagined.

Of course the written statement left by the unhappy Marchese made all
further judicial inquiry unnecessary. When the hand of a mightier power
than that of any earthly judge struck him down before the eyes of all
that world whose good opinion he had valued so highly, in the manner
that has been related, the tribunal, of course, declared the business
before it to be suspended. The result made it needless ever to resume
the sitting. No retarded evidence against the Marchese had been given in
court--no record of any accusation against him remained in the archives
of it: and this was deemed to be a great point among a people who do
not, by any means, hold that the law is the same "de non apparentibus et
de non existentibus."

Of course there was no further obstacle to the marriage, in due time, of
Ludovico and Paolina. A proper interval had, of course, to be allowed to
elapse before the knot was definitively tied; but it was settled, and
known to be settled by all Ravenna, and the strange and moving
circumstances which had attended the young Marchese's fortunes had the
effect of causing his marriage with the Venetian artist to be accepted
by the "Society" more tolerantly than, perhaps, might otherwise have
been the case. There was a sort of feeling that the whole affair was
exceptional; that the higher powers had visibly taken the management of
it into their own hands; that it was destined so to be, and must be, as
such, accepted. Too much of pity, of wonder, of congratulation, and of
condolence, were due from all his world to leave any space for censure
on account of his marriage.

Doubtless there were explanations between them as to that hapless
expedition to the Pineta; and doubtless they were satisfactory.
Assuredly Ludovico never in his moments of most severe self-examination,
sharpened, as such self-examination was, by the terrible nature of the
result which had seemed to grow out of his conduct on that Ash Wednesday
morning, could accuse himself of having done aught that could reasonably
be held to leave at his door the responsibility of the events that had
followed from it. Italian men are not apt to bring into any prominence
the idea that where evil or misfortune is found there fault of some kind
must exist also. They are content, for the most part, to accept the
notion that all such matters are sufficiently accounted for by
attributing them to "disgrazia"--the absence of favour, that is to
say--the want of that favour at the Heavenly Court which it is on every
occasion of life seen to be so necessary to successful well-being to
possess at the Courts of Heaven's ecclesiastical, or lay vice-gerents.

Paolina insisted on employing a part of the time which necessarily
elapsed before her marriage in completing the engagement she had
undertaken, and the promise she had made to her English patron. But she
found herself compelled to beg that some other specimen, chosen from
among the wonderful wealth of early Christian art that remains at
Ravenna, might be substituted for that in the choir of St. Apollinare.
She made the attempt to return to the scaffolding by the side of the
window, but she found that her strength was unequal to the task. She
could not bear to look on the prospect from that window. By agreement
with her employer, some further figures from the mosaics in San Vitale
were substituted for those which had originally been selected in St.
Apollinare. Her associations with the former church were of a more
pleasant character; and Paolina never visited the desolate old building
"in Classe" again. When the specimens selected in lieu of those in the
latter building had been completed, Paolina and her friend and
protectress returned with them to Venice, where it had been arranged
that they were to be delivered to the Director of the Gallery.

In the ensuing Carnival Ludovico came hither, and the marriage was there
solemnized. It is not intended to insinuate that he had not often made
the journey from Ravenna to Venice in the interval. More of his time was
probably passed there than in his native city. From Venice the newly
married couple proceeded to Rome, and it was not till three or four
years later, that the Marchese and Marchesa di Castelmare, bringing with
them their two boys Lamberto and Ludovico, and their little Violante,
the most exquisite little fairy that ever was seen, returned to make the
Marchese's ancestral palace, ancestral city, their home.

There was one other stranger in Ravenna whose lamentations over the fate
that had ever brought him thither were as loud as they were sincere. The
poor old singing-master, Quinto Lalli, was left, by the death of his
adopted daughter, as destitute of the means of support as desolate in
his home and heart. He was not worth much; but it would be unjust to
suppose of him that his violent outcry on her murderer was wholly or
mainly prompted by the former consideration. There had been a real and
strong affection between him and his adopted daughter, and her death in
truth left him utterly desolate.

Yet he never again quitted the city he so much regretted having ever
seen. His comfortable support was adequately provided for by the
Marchese Ludovico. And often in after years--on summer evenings on a
stone bench beneath a fig-tree in the garden of the cottage provided for
him, and in winter at the chimney corner of its tiny parlour--might be
seen the tall spare nun-like figure of a grave and gentle lady,
earnestly labouring at the somewhat up-hill task of consoling the old
man, and striving to shape the teachings of his Bohemian life to a
better lesson than he was apt to draw from them. It was the Contessa
Violante; and it may be concluded from her occupation both that she
succeeded in escaping the pursuit of the Duca di San Sisto, and that her
great-uncle the Cardinal did not succeed in becoming Pope at the most
recent vacancy.

After the return of the Marchese and Marchesa di Castelmare to Ravenna,
however, the greater number of the hours of the Contessa Violante were
spent in the home of her little god-daughter Violante di Castelmare, and
of her friend Paolina.


THE END





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