More than once during the past year he had brought small presents of fruit and wine and country cakes for Gloria, and both she and Griggs knew all about him, and got their wine from the little shop which he supplied. Gloria was pleased by the decent, elderly peasant's admiration of her beauty, which he never failed to express when he got a chance of speaking to her. When little Walter Crowdie was first carried out into the sun, Stefanone was in the street, and he looked long and earnestly into the baby's face.
"There is the same thing in the eyes," he muttered, as he turned away, after presenting the nurse with a beautiful jumble, which looked as though it had been varnished, and was adorned with small drops of hard pink sugar. "If it is he—an evil death on him and all his house."
And he strolled slowly back to the wine shop, his hand fumbling with the big, curved, brass-handled knife which he carried in the pocket of his blue cloth breeches.
He was certainly mistaken about the baby's eyes, which were remarkably beautiful and of a very soft brown; whereas Dalrymple's were hard, blue, and steely, and it was not possible that anything like an hereditary expression should be recognizable in the face of a child three weeks old. But his growing conviction made his imagination complete every link which chanced to be missing in the chain.
One day, in the spring, he met Griggs when the latter was going out alone.
"A word, Signore, if you permit," he said politely.
"Twenty," replied Griggs, giving the common Roman answer.
"Signore, Subiaco is a beautiful place," said the peasant. "In spring it is an enchantment. In summer, I tell you nothing. It is as fresh as Paradise. There is water, water, as much as you please. Wine is not wanting, and it seems that you know that. The butcher kills calves twice a week, and sometimes an ox when there is an old one, or one lame. Eh, in Subiaco, one is well."
"I do not doubt it when I look at you," answered Griggs, without a smile.
"Thanks be to Heaven, my health still assists me. But I am thinking of you and of your beautiful lady and of that little angel, whom God preserve. In truth, you appear to me as the Holy Family. I should not say it to every one, but the air of Subiaco is thin, the water is light, and, for a house, mine is of the better ones. One knows that we are country people, but we are clean people; there are neither chickens nor children. If you find a flea, I will have him set in gold. You shall say, 'This is the flea that was found in Stefanone's house.' In that way every one will know. I do not speak of the beds. The pope could sleep in the one in the large room at the head of the staircase, the pope with all his cardinals. They would say, 'Now we know that this is indeed a bed.' Do you wish better than this? I do not know. But if you will bring your lady and the baby, you will see. Eyes tell no lies."
"And the price?" inquired Griggs, struck by the good sense of the suggestion.
"Whatever you choose to give. If you give nothing, we shall have had your company. In general, we take three pauls a day, and we give the wine. You shall make the price as you like it. Who thinks of these things? We are Christians."
When Griggs spoke of the project to Gloria, she embraced it eagerly. He said that he should be obliged to come to Rome every week on account of his correspondence. But Subiaco was no longer as inaccessible as formerly, and there was now a good carriage road all the way and a daily public conveyance. He should be absent three days, and would spend the other four with her.
It was a sacrifice on his part, as she guessed from the way in which he spoke, but it was clearly necessary that Gloria and the child should have country air during the coming summer. He had often reproached himself with not having made some such arrangement for the preceding hot season, but he had seen that she did not suffer from the heat, and his presence in the capital had been very necessary for his work. Now, however, it looked possible enough, and before Stefanone went back to the country for his next trip a preliminary agreement had been made.
Gloria looked forward with impatience to the liberty she was to gain by his regular absences, for her life was becoming unbearable. She felt that she could not much longer sustain the perpetual comedy she was acting, unless she could get an interval of rest from time to time. At first, the hour he gave her daily when he went out alone had been a relief and had sufficed. The tears she shed, the letters she wrote to Reanda, rested her and refreshed her. For she had written others since that first one, though he had never answered any of them. But the small daily interruption of her acting was no longer enough. The taste of liberty had bred an intense craving for more of it, and she dreamed of being alone for days together.
She wrote to Reanda now without the slightest hope of receiving any reply, as madmen sometimes write endless letters to women they love, though they have never exchanged a word with them. It was a vent for her pent-up suffering. It could make no difference, and Griggs could never know. Her strange position put the point of faithfulness out of the question. She was in love with her husband, and the man who loved her held her to her play of love by the terror she felt of what lay behind his gentleness. She dreamed once that he had found out the truth, and was tearing her head from her body with those hands of his, slowly, almost gently, with mysterious eyes and still face. She woke, and found that the heavy tress of her hair was twisted round her throat and was choking her; but the impression remained, and her dread of Griggs increased, and it became harder and harder to act her part.
At the same time the attraction of secretly writing to her husband grew stronger, day by day. She did not send him all she wrote, nor a tenth part of all, and the greater portion of her outpourings went into the fire, or they were torn to infinitesimal bits and thrown into the waste-paper basket. She was critical, in a strangely morbid way, of what she wrote. The fact that she was acting for Griggs, and knew it, made her dread to write anything to Reanda which could possibly seem insincere. No aspiring young author ever took greater pains over his work than she sometimes bestowed upon the composition of these letters, or judged his work more conscientiously and severely than she. And the result was that she told of her life with wonderful sincerity and truth. Truth was her only luxury in the midst of the great lie she had to sustain. She revelled in it, and yet, fearing to lose it, she used it with a conscientiousness which she had never exhibited in anything she had done before. It was her single delight, and she treasured it with scrupulous and miserly care. In her letters, at least, she could be really herself.
But the strain was telling upon her visibly, and Griggs was very anxious about her, and hastened their departure for Subiaco as soon as the weather began to grow warm, hoping that the mountain air would bring the colour back to her pale cheeks. For her beauty's sake, he could almost have deprecated the prospect, strange to say, for she had never seemed more perfectly beautiful than now. She was thinner than she had formerly been, and her pallor had refined her by softening the look of hard and brilliant vitality which had characterized her before she had left Reanda. There is perhaps no beauty which is not beautified by a touch of sadness. Griggs saw it, and while his eyes rejoiced, his heart sank.
He knew what an utterly lonely life she was leading, even as he judged her existence, and the tender string was touched in his deep nature. She had sacrificed everything for him, as he told himself many a time in his solitary walks. All the love he had given and had to give could never repay her for what she had given him. Marriage, he reflected, was often a bargain, but such devotion as hers was a gift for which there could be no return. She had ruined herself in the eyes of the world for him, but the world would never accuse him, nor shut its doors upon him because he had accepted what she had so freely given. He was not an emotional man, but even he longed for some turn of life in which for her sake he might do something above the dead level of that commonplace heroism which begins in hard work and ends in the attainment of ordinary necessities. He felt his strength in him and about him, and he wished that he could let it loose upon some adversary in the physical satisfaction of fighting for what he loved. It was not a high aspiration, but it was a manly one.
He drew upon his resources to the utmost, in order to make her comfortable in Subiaco when they should get there. He was not a dreamer, though he dreamed when he had time. It was his nature to take all the things which came to him to be done and to do them one after another with untiring energy. He worked at his correspondence, and got additional articles to write for periodicals, though it was no easy matter in that day when the modern periodical was in its infancy.
Gloria, acting her part, complained sadly that he worked too hard. Work as he might, he had no such stress to fear as was wearing out her life. She hated him, she feared him, and she envied him. Sometimes she pitied him, and then it was easier for her to act the play. As for Griggs, he laughed and told her for the hundredth time that he was indestructible and defied fate.
So far as he could see what he had to deal with, he could defy anything. But there was that beyond of which he could not dream, and destiny, with leaden hands, was already upon him, on the day when a great, old-fashioned carriage, loaded with boxes and belongings, brought him and his to the door of Stefanone's house in Subiaco.
Sora Nanna, grey-haired, and withered as a brown apple, but tough as leather still, stood on the threshold to receive them. She no longer wore the embroidered napkin on her hair, for civilization had advanced a generation in Subiaco, and a coloured handkerchief flapped about her head, and she had caught one corner of it in her teeth to keep it out of her eyes, as the afternoon breeze blew it across her leathery face.
First at the door of the carriage she saw the baby, held up by its nurse, and the old woman threw up her hands and clapped them, and crowed to the child till it laughed. Then Griggs got out. And then, out of the dark shadow of the coach, a face looked at Sora Nanna, and it was a face she had known long ago, with dark eyes, beautiful and deadly pale, and very fateful.
She turned white herself, and her teeth chattered.
"Madonna Santissima!" she cried, shrinking back.
She crossed herself, and did not dare to meet Gloria's eyes again for some time.
SORA NANNA showed her new lodgers their rooms. They were the ones Dalrymple had occupied long ago, together with a third, opening separately from the same landing. In what had been the Scotchman's laboratory, and which was now turned into a small bedroom, a large chest stood in a corner, of the sort used by the peasant women to this day for their wedding outfits.
"If it is not in your way, I will leave it here," said Sora Nanna. "There are certain things in it."
"What things?" asked Gloria, idly, and for the sake of making acquaintance with the woman, rather than out of curiosity.
"Things, things," answered Nanna. "Things of that poor girl's. We had a daughter, Signora."
"Did she die long ago?" inquired Gloria, in a tone of sympathy.
"We lost her, Signora," said Nanna, simply. "Look at these beds! They are new, new! No one has ever slept in them. And linen there is, as much as you can ask for. We are country people, Signora, but we are good people. I do not say that we are rich. One knows—in Rome everything is beautiful. Even the chestnuts are of gold. Here, we are in the country, Signora. You will excuse, if anything is wanting."
But Gloria was by no means inclined to find fault. She breathed more freely in the mountain air, she was tired with the long drive from Tivoli, where they had spent the previous night, and she was more hungry than she had been for a long time.
It was not dark when they sat down to supper in the old guest chamber which opened upon the street. Nanna was anxious and willing to bring them their supper upstairs, but Gloria preferred the common room. She said it would amuse her, and in reality it was easier for her not to be alone with Griggs, and by going downstairs on the first evening she meant to establish a precedent for the whole summer. He had told her that he must go back to Rome for his work on the next day but one, and she counted the hours before her up to the minute when she should be free and alone.
They sat down at the old table at which Dalrymple had eaten his solitary meals so often, more than twenty years earlier. There was no change. There were the same solid, old-fashioned silver forks and spoons, there were plates of the same coarse china, tumblers of the same heavy pressed glass. Had Dalrymple been there, he would have recognized the old brass lamp with its three beaks which poor Annetta had so often brought in lighted when he sat there at dusk. On the shelf in the corner were the selfsame decanters full of transparent aniseed and pink alchermes and coarse brown brandy. Stefanone came in, laid his hat upon the bench, and put his stick in the corner just as he had always done. There was no change, except that Annetta was not there, and the husband and wife had grown almost old since those days.
"How often does the post go to Rome?" Gloria asked of Sora Nanna, while they were at supper.
"Every evening, at one of the night, Signora. There are also many occasions of sending by the carters."
"I can write to you every day when you are away," said Gloria in English to Griggs.
She was thinking of those letters which she wrote to Reanda almost in spite of herself, but the loving smile did not play her false, and Griggs believed her.
In her, the duality of her being had created two distinct lives. For him, the two elements of consciousness and perception were merged in one by his love. All that he felt he saw in her, and all that he saw in her he felt. The perfection of love, while it lasts, is in that double certainty from within and from without, which, if once disturbed, can never be restored again. Singly, the one part or the other may remain as of old, but the wholeness of the two has but one chance of life.
On that first night Gloria had an evil dream. She had fallen asleep, tired from the journey and worn out with the endless weariness of her secret suffering. She awoke in the small hours, and moonlight was streaming into the room. She was startled to find herself in a strange place, at first, and then she realized where she was, and gazed at the clouded panes of common glass as her head lay on the pillow, and she marked the moonlight on the brick floor by the joints of the bricks, and watched how it crept silently away. For the moon was waning, and had not long risen above the black line of the hills.
Her eyelids drooped, but she saw it all distinctly still—more distinctly than before, she thought. The level light rose slowly from the floor; very, very slowly, stiff and straight as a stark, shrouded corpse, and stood upright between her and the window. She felt the heavy hair rising on her scalp, and an intense horror took possession of her body, and thrilled through her from head to foot and from her feet to her head. But she could not move. She felt that something held her and pressed on her, as though the air were moulded about her like cast iron.
The thing stood between her and the window, stiff and white. It showed its face, and the face was white, too. It was Angelo Reanda. She knew it, though there seemed to be no eyes in the white thing. She felt its dead voice speaking to her.
"An evil death on you and all your house," it said.
The face was gone again, but the thing was still there. Very, very slowly, stiff and white, it lay back, straight from the heel upwards, unbending as it sank, till it laid itself upon the floor, and she was staring at the joints of the bricks in the moonlight.
Then she shrieked aloud and awoke. The moonlight had moved a foot or more, and she knew that she had been asleep.
"It was only a dream," she said to Griggs in the morning. "I thought I saw you dead, dear. It frightened me."
"I am not dead yet," he laughed. "It was that salad—there were potatoes in it."
She turned away; for the contrast between the triviality of what he said and the horror of what she had felt brought an expression to her face which even her consummate art could not have concealed.
The impression lasted all day, and when she went to bed she carefully closed the shutters so that the moonlight should not fall upon the floor. The dream did not return.
"It must have been the salad," said Griggs, when she told him that she had not been disturbed again.
But Gloria was thinking of death, and his words jarred upon her horribly, as a trivial jest would jar on a condemned man walking from his cell to the scaffold. In the evening Griggs went by the diligence to Rome, and Gloria was left alone with her child and the nurse.
Then she sat down and wrote to Reanda with a full heart and a trembling hand. She told him of her dream, and how the fear of his death had broken her nerves. She implored him to come out and see her when Griggs was in Rome. She could let him know when to start, if he would write one word. It was but a little journey, she said, and the cool mountain air would do him good. But if he would not come, she besought him to write to her, if it were only a line, to say that he was alive. She could not forget the dream until she should know that he was safe.
She was not critical of her writing any more, for she was no longer in fear of being misunderstood, and she wrote desperately. It seemed to her that she was writing with her blood. She had sent him many letters without hope of answer, but something told her that she could not appeal in vain forever, and that he would at last reply to her.
Two days passed, and she spent much of her time with the child. She felt that in time she might love it, if Griggs were not beside her. Then he came back, and in the great joy of seeing her again after that first short separation, the stern voice grew as soft as a woman's, and the still face was moved. She had looked forward with dread to his return, and she shivered when he touched her; she would have given all she had if only he would not kiss her. Then, when she felt that he might have found her cold to him at the first moment, that he might guess, that he might find out her secret, she shivered again from head to heel, in fear of him, and she forced the smile upon her face with all her will.
"I am so glad, that I am almost frightened!" she cried, and lest the smile should be imperfect, she hid it against his shoulder.
She could have bitten the cloth and the tough arm under it, as she felt him kiss the back of her neck just at the roots of the hair; as it was, she grasped his arm convulsively.
"How strong you are!" he laughed, as he felt the pressure of her fingers.
"Yes," she answered. "It is the mountain air—and you," she added.
And, as ever, it seemed to him true. The days he spent with her were heavenly to him as they were days of living earthly hell to her. He did not even leave her alone for an hour or two, as he had done in the city, for when he was in Rome without her he did double work and shortened his sleep by half, that he might lengthen the time he was to have with her. The heat of the capital and the late hours brought out dark shadows under his eyes, and gave her another excuse for saying that he was overworking for her sake, and that she was a burden upon him—she and the child.
On the morning before he next went to Rome, she received a letter from Reanda. The blood rushed scarlet to her face, but Griggs was busy with his own letters and did not see it.
She went to the baby's room. The child had been taken out by the nurse, and she sat down in the nurse's chair by the empty cradle and broke the seal of the note. There was a big sheet of paper inside, on which were written these lines in the artist's small, nervous handwriting:—
"I am perfectly well, but I understand your anxiety about my health. I do not wish to see you, but as human life is uncertain I have given instructions that you may be at once informed of the good news of my death, if you outlive me."
Gloria's hand closed upon the sheet of paper, and she reeled forward and sideways in the chair, as though she had received a stunning blow. She heard heavy footsteps on the brick floor in the next room and with a desperate effort at consciousness she hid the crumpled letter in her bosom before the door opened. But the room swam with her as she grasped the straw cradle and tried to steady herself.
In an agony of terror she heard the footsteps coming nearer and nearer, then retreating again, then turning back towards her. She prayed to God at that moment that Griggs might not open the door. To gain strength, she forced herself to rise to her feet and stand upright, but with the first step she took, she stumbled against the chest that contained Annetta's belongings. The physical pain roused her. She drew breath more freely, and listened. Griggs was moving about in the other room, probably putting together some few things which he meant to take to Rome with him that evening. It seemed an hour before she heard him go away, and the echo of his footsteps came more and more faintly as he went down the stairs. He evidently had not guessed that she was in the little room which served as a nursery—the room which had once been Dalrymple's laboratory.
She did not read the letter again, but she found a match and set fire to it, and watched it as it burned to black, gossamer-like ashes on the brick floor. It was long before she had the courage to go down and face Griggs and say that she was ready for the daily walk together before the midday meal. And all that day she went about dreamily, scarcely knowing what she did or said, though she was sure that she did not fail in acting her part, for the habit was so strong that the acting was natural to her, except when something waked her to herself too suddenly.
He went away at last in the evening, and she was free to do what she pleased with herself, to close the deadly wound she had received, if that were possible, to forget it even for an hour, if she could.
But she could not. She felt that it was her death-wound, for it had killed a hope which she had tended and fostered into an inner life for herself. She felt that her husband hated her, as she hated Paul Griggs.
She was impelled to fall upon her knees and pray to Something, somewhere, though she knew not what, but she was ashamed to do it when she thought of her life. That Something would turn upon her and curse her, as Reanda had cursed her in her dream—and in the cruel words he had written.
She hardly slept that night, and she rose in the morning heavy-eyed and weary. Going out into the old garden behind the house she met Sora Nanna with a basket of clothes on her head, just starting to go up to the convent, followed by two of her women.
"Signora," said the old woman, with her leathern smile, "you are consuming yourself because the husband is in Rome. You are doing wrong."
Gloria started, stared at her, and then understood, and nodded.
"Come up to the convent with us," said Nanna. "You will divert yourself, and while they take in the clothes, I will show you the church. It is beautiful. I think that even in Rome it would be a beautiful church. I will show you where the sisters are buried and I will tell you how Sister Maria Addolorata was burned in her cell. But she was not buried with the rest. When you come back, you will eat with a double appetite, and I will make gnocchi of polenta for dinner. Do you like gnocchi, Signora? There is much resistance in them."
Gloria went with the washerwomen. She was strong and kept pace with them, burdened as they were with their baskets. It was good to be with them, common creatures with common, human hearts, knowing nothing of her strange trouble. Sora Nanna took her into the church and showed her the sights, explaining them in her strident, nasal voice without the slightest respect for the place so long as no religious service was going on. The woman showed her the little tablet erected in memory of Maria Addolorata, and she told the story as she had heard it, and dwelt upon the funeral services and the masses which had been said.
"At least, she is in peace," said Gloria, in a low voice, staring at the tablet.
"Poor Annetta used to say that Sister Maria Addolorata sinned in her throat," said Nanna. "But you see. God can do everything. She went straight from her cell to heaven. Eh, she is in peace, Signora, as you say. Requiesca'. Come, Signora, it takes at least three-quarters of an hour to make gnocchi."
And they did not know. She was standing on her daughter's grave, and the tablet was a memorial of the mother of the woman beside her.
"You make me think of her, Signora," said the peasant. "You have her face. If you had her voice, to sing, I should think that you were she, returned from the dead."
"Could she sing?" asked Gloria, dreamily, as they left the church.
"Like the angels in Paradise," answered Nanna. "I think that now, when she sings, they are ashamed and stand silent to listen to her. If God wills that I make a good death, I shall hear her again."
She glanced at her companion's dreamy, fateful face.
"Let us not speak of the dead!" she concluded. "To-day we will make gnocchi of polenta."
IN the afternoon Gloria called Sora Nanna to move the chest against which she had stumbled in the morning. It would be more convenient, she said, to put it under the bed, if it could not be taken away altogether. It was a big, old-fashioned chest of unpainted, unvarnished wood, brown with age, and fastened by a hasp, through which a splinter of white chestnut wood had been stuck instead of a padlock. Gloria saw that it was heavy, as Sora Nanna dragged it and pushed it across the room. She remarked that, if it held only clothes, it must be packed very full.
Sora Nanna, glad to rest from her efforts, stood upright with her hand on her hip and took breath.
"Signora," she said, "who knows what is in it? Things, certain things! There are the clothes of that poor girl. This I know. And then, certain other things. Who knows what is in it? It may be a thousand years since I looked. Signora, shall we open it? But I think there are certain things that belonged to the Englishman."
"The Englishman?" asked Gloria, with some curiosity.
She was glad of anything which could interest her a little. For the moment she had not yet the courage to begin to write again after Reanda's message. Anything which had power to turn the current of her thoughts was a relief. She was sitting in the same chair beside the cradle in which she had sat in the morning, for she had called Nanna to move the box at a time when the child had been taken out for its second airing. She leaned back, resting her auburn hair against the bare wall, the waxen whiteness of her face contrasting with the bluish whitewash.
"What Englishman?" she asked again, wearily, but with a show of interest in her half-closed eyes.
"Who knows? An Englishman. They called him Sor Angoscia." Nanna sat down on the heavy box, and dropped her skinny hands far apart upon her knees. "We have cursed him much. He took our daughter. It was a night of evil. In that night the abbess died, and Sister Maria Addolorata was burned in her cell, and the Englishman took our daughter. He took our one daughter, Signora. We have not seen her more, not even her little finger. It will be twenty-two years on the eve of the feast of St. Luke. That is in October, Signora. He took our daughter. Poor little one! She was young, young—perhaps she did not know what she did."
Gloria leaned forward, resting her chin in her hand and her elbow on her knee, gazing at the old woman.
"She was a flower," said Nanna, simply. "He tore her from us with the roots. Who knows what he did with her? She will be dead by this time. May the Madonna obtain grace for her! Signora, she seemed one of those flowers that grow on the hillside, just as God wills. Rain, sun, she was always fresh. Then came the storm. Who could find her any more? Poor little one!"
"Poor child!" exclaimed Gloria.
And she made Nanna tell all she knew, and how they had found the girl's peasant dress in a corner of that very room.
"Signora, if you wish to see, I will content you," said Nanna, rising at last.
She opened the box. It exhaled the peculiar odour of heavy cloth which has been worn and has then been kept closely shut up for years. On the top lay Annetta's carpet apron. Nanna held it up, and there were tears in her eyes, glistening on her dry skin like water in a crevice of brown rock.
"Signora, there are moths in it, see! Who cares for these things? They are a memory. And this is her skirt, and this is her bodice. Eh, it was beautiful once. The shoes, Signora, I wore them, for we had the same feet. What would you? It seemed a sin to let them mould, because they were hers. The apron, too, I might have worn it. Who knows why I did not wear it? It was the affection. We are all so, we women. And now there are moths in it. I might have worn it. At least it would not have been lost."
Gloria peered into the box, and saw under the clothes a number of books packed neatly with a box made of English oak. She stretched down her hand and took one of the volumes. It was an English medical treatise. She looked at the fly-leaf.
A loud cry from Gloria startled the old woman.
"Angus Dalrymple—but—" Gloria read the name and stared at Nanna.
"Eh, eh!" assented Nanna, nodding violently and smiling a little as she at last recognized the Scotchman's name which she had never been able to pronounce. "Yes—that is it. That was the name of the Englishman. An evil death on him and all his house! Stefanone says it always. I also may say it once. It was he. He took our daughter. Stefanone went after them, but they had the beast of the convent gardener. It was a good beast, and they made it run. Stefanone heard of them all the way to the sea, but the twenty-four hours had passed, and the war-ship was far out. He could see it. Could he go to the war-ship? It had cannons. They would have killed him. Then I should have had neither daughter nor husband. So he came back."
The long habit of acting had made Gloria strong, but her hands shook on the closed volume. She had known that her mother had been an Italian, that they had left Italy suddenly and had been married on board an English man-of-war by the captain, that same Walter Crowdie, a relative of Dalrymple's, after whom Gloria and Griggs had named the child. More than that Dalrymple had never been willing to tell her. She remembered, too, that though she had once or twice begged him to take her to Tivoli and Subiaco, he had refused rather abruptly. It was clear enough now. Her mother had been this Annetta whom Dalrymple had stolen away in the night.
And the wrinkled, leathery old hag, with her damp, coarse mouth, her skinny hands, and her cunning, ignorant eyes, was her grandmother—Stefanone was her grandfather—her mother had been a peasant, like them, beautified by one of nature's mad miracles.
There could be no doubt about it. That was the truth, and it fell upon her with its cruel, massive weight, striking her where many other truths had struck her before this one, in her vanity.
She grasped the book tightly with both hands and set her teeth. After that, she did not know what Nanna said, and the old woman, thinking Gloria was not paying a proper attention to her remarks, pushed and heaved the box across the room rather discontentedly. It would not go under the bed, being too high, so she wedged it in between the foot of the bedstead and the wall. There was just room for it there.
"Signora, if ever your one child leaves you without a word, you will understand," said Nanna, a little offended at finding no sympathy.
"I understand too well," answered Gloria.
Then she suddenly realized what the woman wanted, and with great self-control she held out her hand kindly. Nanna took it and smiled, and pressed it in her horny fingers.
"You are young, Signora. When you are old, you will understand many things, when evils have pounded your heart in a mortar. Oil is sweet, vinegar is sour; with both one makes salad. This is our life. Rest yourself, Signora, for you walked well this morning. I go."
Gloria felt the pressure of the rough fingers on hers, after Nanna had left her. The acrid odour of peeled vegetables clung to her own hand, and she rose and washed it carefully, though she was scarcely conscious of what she was doing. Suddenly she dropped the towel and went back to the box. It had crossed her mind that the single book she had opened might have been borrowed from her father and that she might find another name in the others—that Nanna might have been mistaken in thinking that she recognized the English name—that it might all be a mistake, after all.
With violent hands she dragged out the moth-eaten clothes and threw them behind her upon the floor, and seized the books, opening them desperately one after the other. In each there was the name, 'Angus Dalrymple,' in her father's firm young handwriting of twenty years ago. She threw them down and lifted out the oak box. A little brass plate was let into the lid, and bore the initials, 'A. D.' There was no doubt left. The books all bore dates prior to 1844, the year in which, as she knew, her father had been married. It was impossible to hesitate, for the case was terribly clear.
She rose to her feet and carried the box to the window and set it upon a chair, sitting down upon another before it. It was not locked. She raised the lid, and saw that it was a medicine chest. There was a drawer, or little tray, on the top, full of small boxes and very minute vials, lying on their sides. Lifting this out, she saw a number of little stoppered bottles set in holes made in a thin piece of board for a frame. One was missing, and there were eleven left. She counted them mechanically, not knowing why she did so. Then she took them out and looked at the labels. The first she touched contained spirits of camphor. It chanced to be the only one of which the contents were harmless. The others were strong tinctures and acids, vegetable poisons, belladonna, aconite, and the like, sulphuric acid, nitric acid, hydrochloric acid, and others.
Gloria looked at them curiously and set them back, one by one, put in the little tray and closed the lid. Then she sat still a long time and gazed out of the window at the rugged line of the hills.
Between her and the pale sky she saw her own life, and the hideous failure of it all, culminating in the certainty that she was of the blood of the old peasant couple to whose house a seeming chance had brought her to die. She felt that she could not live, and would not live if she could. It was all too wildly horrible, too utterly desolate.
The only human being that clung to her was the one of all others whom she most feared and hated, whose very touch sent a cold shiver through her. She and fate together had pounded her heart in a mortar, as the old woman had said. With a bitterness that sickened her she thought of her brief married life, of her poor social ambition, of her hopeless efforts to be some one amongst the great. What could she be, the daughter of peasants, what could she have ever been? Probably some one knew the truth about her, in all that great society. Such things might be known. Francesca Campodonico's delicate noble face rose faintly between her and the sky, and she realized with excruciating suddenness the distance that separated her from the woman she hated, the woman who perhaps knew that Gloria Dalrymple was the daughter of a peasant and a fit wife by her birth for Angelo Reanda, the steward's son.
The ruin of her life spread behind her and before her. She could not face it. The confusion of it all seemed to blind her, and the confusion was pierced by the terrible thought that on the next day but one Griggs would return again, the one being who would not leave her, who believed in her, who worshipped her, and whom she hated for himself and for the destruction of her existence which had come by him.
In the box before her was death, painful perhaps, but sure as the grave itself. She was not a coward, except when she was afraid of Paul Griggs, and the fear lest he, too, should find out the truth was worse than the fear of mortal pain.
She sat still in her place, staring out of the window. After a long time, the nurse came in, carrying the child asleep in her arms, covered with a thin gauze veil. Gloria started, and then smiled mechanically as she had trained herself to smile whenever the child was brought to her. The nurse laid the small thing in its cradle, and Gloria, as in a dream, put the books and the clothes back into the box, and was glad that the nurse asked no questions. When she had shut down the lid, she rose to her feet and saw that she had left the medicine chest on the chair. She took it into the bedroom and set it upon the table.
Then she sat down and wrote to Reanda. There was no haste in the writing, and her head was clear and cool, for she was not afraid. Griggs could not return for two days, and she had plenty of time. She went over her story, as she had gone over it many times before in her letters. She told him all, but not the discovery she had just made. That should die with her, if it could. It would be easy enough, on the next day, when the nurse was out, to open the box again, and to tear out the fly-leaf from each book and so destroy the name. As for the medicine chest, Griggs might see that it had belonged to her father, but he would suppose that she had brought it amongst her belongings. He would never guess that it had lain hidden in the old box for more than twenty years. That was her plan, and it was simple enough. But she should have to wait until the next day. It was better so. She could think of what she was going to do, and nobody would disturb her. She finished her letter.
"You have killed me," she wrote at the end. "If I had not loved you to the very end, I would tell you that my death is on your soul. But it is not all your fault, if I have loved you to death. I would not die if I could be free in any other way, but I cannot live to be touched and caressed again by this man whom I loathe with all my soul. I tell you that when he kisses me it is as though I were stung by a serpent of ice. It is for your sake that I hate him as I do. For your sake I have suffered hell on earth for more than a whole year. For your sake I die. I cannot live without you. I have told you so again and a hundred times again, and you have not believed me. You write to-day and you tell me that I shall be free, when you die, to marry Paul Griggs. I would rather marry Satan in hell. But I shall be free to-morrow, for I shall be dead. God will forgive me, for God knows what I suffer. Good-bye. I love you, Angelo. I shall love you to-morrow, when the hour comes, and after that I shall love you always. This is the end. Good-bye. I love you; I kiss your soul with my soul. Good-bye, good-bye. "GLORIA."
She cut a lock from her auburn hair and twisted it round and round her wedding ring, and thrust it into the envelope.
TWO days later, Paul Griggs stood beside Gloria. She was not dead yet, but no earthly power could save her. She lay white and motionless on the high trestle bed, unconscious of his presence. They had sent a messenger for him, and he had come. The door was locked. Stefanone and his wife whispered together on the landing. In the third room, beyond, the nurse was shedding hysterical tears over the sleeping child.
The strong man stood stone still with shadowy, unblinking eyes, gazing into the dying face. Not a muscle moved, not a feature was distorted, his breath was regular and slow, for his grief had taken hold upon his soul, and his body was unconscious of time, as though it were already dead.
She had suffered horrible agonies for two nights and one day, and now the end was very near, for the wracked nerves could no longer feel. She lay on her back, lightly covered, one white arm and hand above the coverlet, the other hidden beneath it.
The room was very hot, and the sun streamed through the narrow aperture of the nearly closed shutters, and made a bright streak on the red bricks, for it was morning still.
The purple lids opened, and Gloria looked up. There was no shiver now, as she recognized the man she feared, for the nerves were almost dead. Perhaps there was less fear, for she knew that it was almost over. The dark eyes were fixed on his with a mysterious, wondering look.
He tried to speak, and his lips moved, but he could make no sound, and his chest heaved convulsively, once. He knew what she had done, for they had told him. He knew, now that he tried to speak and could not, that he was half killed by grief. She saw the effort and understood, and faintly smiled.
He wrenched the single broken word out of himself by an enormous effort, and his throat swelled and was dry. Suddenly a single great drop of sweat rolled down his pale forehead.
"I could not live," she answered, in a cool, far voice beyond suffering, and still she smiled.
The repeated word broke out twice like two sobs, but not a feature moved. The dying woman's eyelids quivered.
"I was a burden to you," she said faintly and distinctly. "You are free now, you have—only the child."
His calm broke.
"Gloria, Gloria! In the name of God Almighty, do not leave me so!"
He clasped her in his arms and lifted her a little, pressing his lips to her face. She was inert as a statue. She feared him still, and she felt the shiver of horror at his touch, but it could not move her limbs any more. Her eyes opened and looked into his, very close, but his were shut. The mask was gone. The man's whole soul was in his agonized face, and his arm shook with her. Her mind was clear and she understood. She was still herself, acting her play out in the teeth of death.
"I could not live," she said. "I could not be a millstone, dragging you down, watching you as you killed yourself in working for me. It was to be one of us. It was better so."
In his agony he laid his head beside hers on the pillow.
"Gloria—for Christ's sake—don't leave me—" The deep moan came from his tortured heart.
"Bring—the child—Walter—" she said very faintly.
Even in death she could not bear to be alone with him. He straightened himself, stood up, and saw the light fading in her eyes. Then, indeed, a shiver ran through her and shook her. Then the lids opened wide, and she cried out loudly.
"Quick—I am going—"
Rather than that she should not have what she wished, he tore himself away and wrenched the door open, forgetting that it was locked.
"Bring the child!" he cried, into the face of old Nanna, who was standing there, and he pushed her towards the door of the other room with one hand, while he already turned back to Gloria.
He started, for she was sitting up, with wide eyes and outstretched hands, gazing at the patch of sunlight on the floor. Dying, she saw the awful vision of her dream again, rising stiff and stark from the bricks to its upright horror between her and the light. Her hands pointed at it and shook, and her jaw dropped, but she was motionless as she sat.
Nanna, sobbing, came in suddenly, holding up the little child straight before her, that it might see its mother before she was gone forever. The baby hands feebly beat its little sides, and it gasped for breath.
Words came from Gloria's open mouth, articulate, clear, but very far in sound.
"An evil death on you and all your house!" the words said, as though spoken by another.
The outstretched hands sank slowly, as the vision laid itself down before her, straight and corpse-like. The beautiful head fell back upon Griggs's arm, and the eyes met his.
Nanna prayed aloud, holding up the child mechanically, and the small eyes were fixed, horrorstruck, upon the bed. A low cry trembled in the air. Stefanone, his hat in his hand, stood against the door, bowed a little, as though he were in church. The cry came again. Then there was a sort of struggle.
In an instant Gloria was standing up on the bed to her full height. And the hot, still room rang with a burst of desperate, ear-breaking song, in majestic, passionate, ascending intervals.
"Calpesta il mio cadavere, ma salva il Trovator!"
The last great, true note died away. For one instant she stood up still, with outstretched hands, white, motionless. Then the flame in the dark eyes broke and went out, and Gloria fell down dead.
"Maria Addolorata! Maria Addolorata!" Nanna screamed in deadly terror, as she heard the transcendent voice that one time, like a voice from the grave.
She sank down, fainting upon the floor, and the little child rolled from her slackened arms upon the coarse bricks and lay on its face, moaning tremulously. No one heeded it.
Stefanone, with instinctive horror of death, turned and went blindly down the steps, not knowing what he had seen, the death notes still ringing in his ears.
On the bed, the man lay dumb upon the dead woman. Only the poor little child seemed to be alive, and clutched feebly at the coarse red bricks, and moaned and bruised its small face. It bore the slender inheritance of fatal life, the inheritance of vows broken and of faith outraged, and with it, perhaps, the implanted seed of a lifelong terror, not remembered, but felt throughout life, as real and as deadly as an inheritance of mortal disease. Better, perhaps, if death had taken it, too, to the lonely grave of the outcast and suicide woman, among the rocks, out of earshot of humanity. Death makes strange oversights and leaves strange gleanings for life, when he has reaped his field and housed his harvest.
They would not give Gloria Christian burial, for it was known throughout Subiaco that she had poisoned herself, and those were still the old days, when the Church's rules were the law of the people.
Paul Griggs took the body of the woman he had loved, and loved beyond death, and he laid her in a deep grave in a hollow of the hillside. Such words as he had to speak to those who helped him, he spoke quietly, and none could say that they had seen the still face moved by sorrow. But as they watched him, a human sort of fear took hold of them, at his great quiet, and they knew that his grief was beyond anything which could be shown or understood. It was night, and they filled the grave after he had thrown earth into it with his hands. He sent them away, and they left him alone with the dead, leaving also one of their lanterns upon a stone near by.
All that night he lay on the grave, dumb. Then, when the dawn came upon him, he kissed the loose earth and stones, and got upon his feet and went slowly down the hillside to the town beyond the torrent. He went into the house noiselessly, and lay down upon the bed on which she had died. And so he did for two nights and two days. On the third, a great carriage came from Rome, bringing twelve men, singers of the Sistine Chapel and of the choir of Saint Peter's and of Saint John Lateran, twelve men having very beautiful voices, as sweet as any in the world. He had sent for them when he had been told that she could not have Christian burial.
They were talking and laughing together when they came, but when they saw his face they grew very quiet, and followed him in silence where he led them. Two little boys followed them, too, wondering what was to happen, and what the thirteen men were going to do, all dressed in black, walking so steadily together.
When they all came to the hollow in the hillside, they saw a mound, as of a grave, amidst the stones, and on it there lay a cross of black wood. The singers looked at one another in silence, and they understood that whoever lay in the grave had been refused a place in the churchyard, for some great sin. But they said nothing. The man who led them stood still at the head of the cross and took off his hat, and looked at his twelve companions, who uncovered their heads. They had sheets of written music with them, and they passed them quietly about from one to another and looked towards one who was their leader.
Overhead, the summer sky was pale, and there were twin mountains of great clouds in the northwest, hiding the sun, and in the southeast, whence the parching wind was blowing in fierce gusts. It blew the dry dust from the clods of earth on the grave, and the dust settled on the black clothes of the men as they stood near.
The voices struck the first chord softly together, and the music for the dead went up to heaven, and was borne far across the torrent to the distance in the arms of the hot wind. And one voice climbed above the others, sweet and clear, as though to reach heaven itself; and another sank deep and true and soft in the full close of the stave, as though it would touch and comfort the heart that was quite still at last in the deep earth.
Then one who was young stood a little before the rest, a strong, pale singer, with an angel's voice. And he sang alone to the sky and the dusty rocks and the solemn grave. He sang the 'Cujus animam gementem pertransivit gladius' of the Stabat Mater, as none had sung it before him, nor perhaps has ever sung it since that day—he alone, without other music.
They came also to the words 'Fac ut animae donetur Paradisi gloria,' and the word was a name to him who listened silently in their midst.
Besides these they sang also a 'Miserere,' and last of all, 'Requiem eternam dona eis.'
Then there was silence, and they looked at the still face, as though asking what they should do. The mysterious eyes met theirs with shadows. The pale head bent itself in thanks, twice or thrice, but there were no words.
So they turned and left him there on the hillside, and went back to the town, awestruck by the vastness of the man's sorrow. And afterwards, for many years, when any of them heard of a great grief, he shook his head and said that he and those who had sung with him over a lonely grave in the mountains, alone knew what a man could feel and yet live.
And Paul Griggs lived through those days, and is still alive. His grief could not spend itself, but his stern strength took hold of life again, and he took the child with him and went back to Rome, to work for it from that time forward, and to shield it from evil if he could, and to bring it up to be a man, ignorant of what had happened in Subiaco in those summer days, ignorant of the tie that made it his, to be a man free from the burden of past fates and sins and broken vows and trampled faith, and of the death his dead mother had died, having a clean name of his own, with which there could be no memories of misery and fear and horror.
He wrote a few short words to Angus Dalrymple, now Lord Redin at last, to tell him the truth as far as he knew it. The hand that had laboured so bravely for Gloria could hardly trace the words that told of her death.
Then, when the summer heat was passed, he took little Walter Crowdie with him, hiring an Englishwoman to tend the child, and he crossed the ocean and gave it to certain kinsfolk of his in America, telling them that it was the child of one who had been very dear to him, that he had taken it as his own, and would provide for it and take it back when it should be older. And so he did, and little Walter Crowdie grew up with an angel's voice, and other gifts which made him famous in his day. But many things happened before that time came.
He could do no better than that. For a time he strove to earn money with his pen in his own country. But the land was still trembling from the convulsion of a great war, and there were many before him, and he was little known. After a year had passed, he saw that he could not then succeed, and very heavy at heart he set his face eastward again, to toil at his old calling as a correspondent for a great London paper, to earn bread for himself and for the one living being that he loved.
DONNA FRANCESCA CAMPODONICO.
NOT long after this Dalrymple returned to Rome, after an absence of several years. Family affairs had kept him in England and Scotland during his daughter's married life with Reanda; and after she had left the latter, it was natural that he should not wish to be in the same city with her, considering the view he took of her actions. Then, after he had learned from Griggs's brief note that she was dead, he felt that he could not return at once, hard and unforgiving as he was. But at last the power that attracted him was too strong to be resisted any longer, and he yielded to it and came back.
He took up his abode in a hotel in the Piazza di Spagna, not far from his old lodgings. Long as he had lived in Rome, he was a foreigner there and liked the foreigners' quarter of the city. He intended once more to get a lodging and a servant, and to live in his morose solitude as of old, but on his first arrival he naturally went to the hotel. He did not know whether Griggs were in Rome. Reanda was alive, and living at the Palazzetto Borgia; for the two had exchanged letters twice a year, written in the constrained tone of mutual civility which suited the circumstances in which they were placed towards each other.
In Dalrymple's opinion, Reanda had been to blame to a certain extent, in having maintained his intimacy with Francesca when he was aware that it displeased his wife. At the same time, the burden of the fault was undoubtedly the woman's, and her father felt in a measure responsible for it. Whether he felt much more than that it would be hard to say. His gloomy nature had spent itself in secret sorrow for his wife, with a faithfulness of grief which might well atone for many shortcomings. It is certain that he was not in any way outwardly affected by the news of Gloria's death. He had never loved her, she had disgraced him, and now she was dead. There was nothing more to be said about it.
He was not altogether indifferent to the inheritance of title and fortune which had fallen to him in his advanced middle age. But if either influenced his character, the result was rather an increased tendency to live his own life in scorn and defiance of society, for it made him conscious that he should find even less opposition to his eccentricities than in former days, when he had been relatively a poor man without any especial claim to consideration.
Two or three days after he had arrived in Rome, he went to the Palazzetto Borgia and sent in his card, asking to see Francesca Campodonico. In order that she might know who he was, he wrote his name in pencil, as she would probably not have recognized him as Lord Redin. In this he was mistaken, for Reanda, who had heard the news, had told her of it. She received him in the drawing-room. She looked very ill, he thought, and was much thinner than in former times, but her manner was not changed. They talked upon indifferent subjects, and there was a constraint between them. Dalrymple broke through it roughly at last.
"Did you ever see my daughter after she left her husband?" he asked, as though he were inquiring about a mere acquaintance.
Francesca started a little.
"No," she answered. "It would not have been easy."
She remembered her interview with Griggs, but resolved not to speak of it. She would have changed the subject abruptly if he had given her time.
"It certainly was not to be expected that you should," said Lord Redin, thoughtfully. "When a woman chooses to break with society, she knows perfectly well what she is doing, and one may as well leave her to herself."
Francesca was shocked by the cynicism of the speech. The colour rose faintly in her cheeks.
"She was your daughter," she said, reproachfully. "Since she is dead, you should speak less cruelly of her."
"I did not speak cruelly. I merely stated a fact. She disgraced herself and me, and her husband. The circumstance that she is dead does not change the case, so far as I can see."
"Do you know how she died?" asked Francesca, moved to righteous anger, and willing to pain him if she could.
He looked up suddenly, and bent his shaggy brows.
"No," he answered. "That man Griggs wrote me that she had died suddenly. That was all I heard."
"She did not die a natural death."
"She poisoned herself. She could not bear the life. It was very dreadful." Francesca's voice sank to a low tone.
Lord Redin was silent for a few moments, and his bony face had a grim look. Perhaps something in the dead woman's last act appealed to him, as nothing in her life had done.
"Tell me, please. I should like to know. After all, she was my daughter."
"Yes," said Francesca, gravely. "She was your daughter. She was very unhappy with Paul Griggs, and she found out very soon that she had made a dreadful mistake. She loved her husband, after all."
"Like a woman!" interjected Lord Redin, half unconsciously.
Francesca paid no attention to the remark, except, perhaps, that she raised her eyebrows a little.
"They went out to spend the summer at Subiaco—"
"At Subiaco?" Dalrymple's steely blue eyes fixed themselves in a look of extreme attention.
"Yes, during the heat. They lodged in the house of a man called Stefanone—a wine-seller—a very respectable place."
Lord Redin had started nervously at the name, but he recovered himself.
"Very respectable," he said, in an odd tone.
"You know the house?" asked Francesca, in surprise.
"Very well indeed. I was there nearly five and twenty years ago. I supposed that Stefanone was dead by this time."
"No. He and his wife are alive, and take lodgers."
"Excuse me, but how do you know all this?" asked Lord Redin, with sudden curiosity.
"I have been there," answered Francesca. "I have often been to the convent. You know that one of our family is generally abbess. A Cardinal Braccio was archbishop, too, a good many years ago. Casa Braccio owns a good deal of property there."
"Yes. I know that you are of the family."
"My name was Francesca Braccio," said Francesca, quietly. "Of course I have always known Subiaco, and every one there knows Stefanone, and the story of his daughter who ran away with an Englishman many years ago, and never was heard of again."
Lord Redin grew a trifle paler.
"Oh!" he exclaimed. "Does every one know that story?"
There was something so constrained in his tone that Francesca looked at him curiously.
"Yes—in Subiaco," she answered. "But Gloria—" she lingered a little sadly on the name—"Gloria wrote letters to her husband from there and begged him to go and see her."
"He could hardly be expected to do that," said Lord Redin, his hard tone returning. "Did you advise him to go?"
"He consulted me," answered Francesca, rather coldly. "I told him to follow his own impulse. He did not go. He did not believe that she was sincere."
"I do not blame him. When a woman has done that sort of thing, there is no reason for believing her."
"He should have gone. I should have influenced him, I think, and I did wrong. She wrote him one more letter and then killed herself. She suffered horribly and only died two days afterwards. Shall I tell you more?"
"If there is more to tell," said Lord Redin, less hardly.
"There is not much. I went out there last year. They had refused her Christian burial. Paul Griggs bought a piece of land amongst the rock, on the other side of the torrent, and buried her there. It is surrounded by a wall, and there is a plain slab without a name. There are flowers. He pays Stefanone to have it cared for. They told me all they knew—it is too terrible. She died singing—she was out of her mind. It must have been dreadful. Old Nanna, Stefanone's wife, was in the room, and fainted with terror. It seems that poor Gloria, oddly enough, had an extraordinary resemblance to that unfortunate nun of our family who was burned to death in the convent, and whom Nanna had often seen. She sang like her, too—at the last minute Nanna thought she saw poor sister Maria Addolorata standing up dead and singing. It was rather strange."
Lord Redin said nothing. He had bowed his head so that Francesca could not see his face, but she saw that his hands were trembling violently. She thought that she had misjudged the man, and that he was really very deeply moved by the story of his daughter's death. Doubtless, his emotion had made him wish to control himself, and he had overshot the mark and spoken cruelly only in order to seem calm. No one had ever spoken to him of his wife, and even now he could hardly bear to hear her name. It was long before he looked up. Then he rose almost immediately.
"Will you allow me to come and see you occasionally?" he asked, with a gentleness not at all like his usual manner.
Francesca was touched at last, misunderstanding the cause of the change. She told him to come as often as he pleased. As he was going, he remembered that he had not asked after his son-in-law. Reanda had always seemed to belong to Francesca, and it was natural enough that he should inquire of her.
"Where is Reanda to be found?" he asked.
"He is very ill," said Francesca, in a low voice. "I am afraid you cannot see him."
"Where does he live? I will at least inquire. I am sorry to hear that he is ill."
"He lives here," she answered with a little hesitation. "He is in his old rooms upstairs."
"Oh! Yes—thank you." Their eyes met for a moment. Lord Redin's glittered, but Francesca's were clear and true. "I am sure you take good care of him," he added. "Good-bye."
He left her alone, and when he was gone, she sat down wearily and laid her head back against a cushion, with half-closed eyes. Her lips were almost colourless, and her mouth had grown ten years older.
Reanda was dying, and she knew it, and with him the light was going out of her life, as it had gone out long ago from Dalrymple's, as it had gone out of the life of Paul Griggs. The idea crossed her mind that these two men, with herself, were linked and bound together by some strange fatality which she could not understand, but from which there was no escape, and which was bringing them slowly and surely to the blank horror of lonely old age.
The same thought occurred to Lord Redin as he slowly threaded the streets, going back to his hotel, to his lonely dinner, his lonely evening, his lonely, sleepless night. He alone of the three now knew all that there was to know, and in the chronicle of his far memories all led back to that day at Subiaco, long ago, when he had first knocked at the convent gate—beyond that, to the evening when poor Annetta had told him of the beautiful nun with the angel's voice. Many lives had been wrecked since that first day, and every one of them owed its ruin to him. He felt strangely drawn to Francesca Campodonico. There was something in her face that very faintly reminded him of his dead wife, her kinswoman, and of his dead daughter, another of her race. His gloomy northern nature felt the fatality of it all. He never could repent of what he had done. The golden light of his one short happiness shone through the shrouding veil of fatal time. In his own eyes, with his beliefs, he had not even sinned in taking what he had loved so well. But all the sorrow he saw, came from that deed. Francesca Campodonico's eyes were as clear and true as her heart. But he knew that Reanda's life was everything on earth to her, and he guessed that she was to lose that, too, before long. He would willingly have parted with his own, but through all his being there was a rough, manly courage that forbade the last act of fear, and there was a stern old Scottish belief that it was wrong—plainly wrong.
He did not wish to see Paul Griggs any more than he had wished to see his daughter after she had left her husband. But no thought of vengeance crossed his mind. It seemed to him fruitless to think of avenging himself upon fate; for, after all, it was fate that had done the dire mischief. Possibly, he thought, as he walked slowly towards his hotel, fate had brought him back to Rome now, to deal with him as she had dealt with his. He should be glad of it, for he found little in life that was not gloomy and lonely beyond any words. He did not know why he had come. He had acted upon an impulse in going to see Francesca that day.
When he reached the Corso, instead of going to his hotel he walked down the street in the direction of the Piazza del Popolo. He wished to see the house in which Gloria had lived with Griggs, and he remembered the street and the number from her having written to him when she wanted money. He reached the corner of the Via della Frezza, and turned down, looking up at the numbers as he went along. He glanced at the little wine shop on the left, with its bush, its red glass lantern, and its rush-bottomed stools set out by the door. In the shadow within he saw the gleam of silver buttons on a dark blue jacket. There was nothing uncommon in the sight.
He found the house, paused, looked up at the windows, and looked twice at the number.
"Do you seek some one?" inquired the one-eyed cobbler, resting his black hands on his knees.
"Did Mr. Paul Griggs ever live here?" asked Lord Redin.
"Many years," answered the cobbler, laconically.
"Where does he live now?"
"Always here, except when he is not here. Third floor, on the left. You can ring the bell. Who knows? Perhaps he will open. I do not wish to tell lies."
The old man grunted, bent down over the shoe, and ran his awl through the sole. He was profoundly attached to Paul Griggs, who had always been kind to him, and since Gloria's death he defended him from visitors with more determination than ever.
Lord Redin stood still and said nothing. In ten seconds the cobbler looked up with a surly frown.
"If you wish to go up, go up," he growled. "If not, favour me by getting out of my light."
The Scotchman looked at him.
"You do not remember me," he observed. "I used to come here with the Signore."
"Well? I have told you. If you want him, there is the staircase."
"No. I do not want him," said Lord Redin, and he turned away abruptly.
"As you please," growled the cobbler without looking up again.
PAUL GRIGGS had gone back to the house in the Via della Frezza after his return from America, and lived alone in the little apartment in which the happy days of his life had been spent. He was a man able to live two lives,—the one in the past, the other in the active present. It was his instinct to be alone in his sorrow, and alone in the struggle which lay before him, for himself and his child. But he would have with him all that could make the memory of Gloria real. The reality of such things softened with their contrast the hardness of life.
He had taken the same rooms again. Out of boxes and trunks stored in a garret of the house, he had taken many things which had belonged to Gloria. Alone, he had arranged the rooms as they used to be. His writing-table stood in the same place, and near it was Gloria's chair; beside it, the little stand with her needlework, her silks, her scissors, and her thimble, all as it used to be. A novel she had once read when sitting there lay upon the chair. Many little objects which had belonged to her were all in their accustomed places. On the mantelpiece the cheap American clock ticked loudly as in old days.
Day after day, as of old, he sat in his place at work. He had made the room so alive with her that sometimes, looking up from a long spell of writing, he forgot, and stared an instant at the bedroom door, and listened for her footstep. Those were his happiest moments, though each was killed in turn by the vision of a lonely grave among rocks.
With intensest longing he called her back to him. In his sleep, the last words he had spoken to her were spoken again by his unconscious lips in the still, dark night. Everything in him called her, his living soul and his strong bodily self. There were times when he knew that if he opened his eyes, shut to see her, he should see her really, there in her chair. He looked, trembling, and there was nothing. In dreams he sought her and could not find her, though he wandered in dark places, across endless wastes of broken clods of earth and broken stone. It was as though her grave covered the whole world round, and his path lay on the shadowed arms of an infinite great cross. And again the grey dawn awoke him from the search, to feel that, for pity's sake, she must be alive and near him. But he was always alone.
Silent, iron-browed, iron-handed, he faced the world alone, doing all that was required of him, and more also. As he had said to Gloria in that very room, he was building up a superiority for himself, since genius was not his. He had in the rough ore of his strength the metal which some few men receive as a birth-gift from nature, ready smelted and refined, ready for them to coin at a single stroke, and throw broadcast to the applauding world. He had not much, perhaps, but he had something of the true ore, and in the furnace of his untiring energy he would burn out the dross and find the precious gold at last. It could not be for her, now. It was not for himself, but it was to be for the little child, growing up in a far country with a clean name—to be his father's friend, and nothing more, but to be happy, for the dead woman's sake who bore him.
As in all that made a part of Paul Griggs, there was in his memory of Gloria and in his sorrow for her that element of endurance which was the foundation of his nature. That portion of his life was finished, and there could never be anything like it again; but it was to be always present with him, so long as he lived. He was sure of that. It would always be in his power to close his eyes and believe that she was near him. If it were possible, he loved her more dead than he had loved her living.
And she had loved him to the last, and had given her life in the mad thought of lightening his burden. Her last words to him had told him so. Her last wish had been to see the child. And the greatest sacrifice he could now make to her was to separate himself from the child, and let him grow up to look upon the man who provided for him as his friend, but as nothing more. It was an exaggerated idea, perhaps, though it was by far the wisest course. Yet in doing what he did, Griggs deprived himself for months at a time of something that was of her, and he did it for her sake. He knew that in her heart there had been the unspoken shame of her ruined life. Shame should never come near little Walter Crowdie. The secret could be kept, and Paul Griggs meant to keep it, as he kept many things from the world.
All his lonely life grew in the perfect memory, cut short though it was by fate's cruel scythe-stroke. Even that one fearful day held no shadow of unfaithfulness. She had been mad, but she had loved him. She had done a deed of horror upon herself, but she had loved him, and madly had done it for his sake. She had laid down her life for him. All that he could do would be nothing compared with that. All that he could tear from the world and lay tenderly as an offering at her feet would be but a handful of dust in comparison with what she had done in the madness of love.
His heart strings wound themselves about their treasure, closer and closer, stronger and stronger. The two natures that strove together in him, the natures of body and soul, were at one with her, and drew life from her though she was gone. It seemed impossible that they could ever again part and smite one another for the mastery, as of old, for one sorrow had overwhelmed them both, and together they knew the depths of one grief.
Again, as of old, he defied fate. Death could take the child from him, but could not separate the three in death or life. So long as the child lived, to do or die for him was the question, while life should last. But Paul Griggs defied fate, for fate's grim hand could not uproot his heart from the strong place of his great dead love, to buffet it and tear it again. He was alone, bodily, but he was safe forever.
Out of the dimness of twilight shadows the pale face came to him, and the sweet lips kissed his; in a light not earthly the dark eyes lightened, and the red auburn hair gleamed and fell about him. In the darkness, a tender hand stole softly upon his, and words yet more tender stirred the stillness. He knew that she was near him, close to him, with him. The truth of what had been made the half dream all true. Only in his sleep he could not find her, and was wandering ever over a dreary grave that covered the whole world.
So his life went on with little change, inwardly or outwardly, from day to day, in the absolute security from danger which the dead give us of themselves. The faith that had gone beyond her death could go beyond his own life, too. He defied fate.
Then fate, silent, relentless, awful, knocked at his door.
He was at work as usual. It was a bright winter's day, and the high sun of the late morning streamed across one corner of his writing-table. He was thinking of nothing but his writing, and upon that his thoughts were closely intent in that everlasting struggle to do better which had nearly driven poor Gloria mad.
The little jingling bell rang and thumped against the outer door to which it was fastened. He paid no attention to it, till it rang again, an instant later. Then he looked up and waited, listening. Again, again, and again he heard it, at equal intervals, five times in all. That was the old cobbler's signal, and the only one to which Griggs ever responded. He laid down his pen and went to the door. The one-eyed man, his shoemaker's apron twisted round his waist, stood on the landing, and gave him a small, thick package, tied with a black string, under which was thrust a note. Griggs took it without a word, and the bandy-legged old cobbler swung away from the door with a satisfied grunt.
Griggs took the parcel back to his work-room, and stood by the window looking at the address on the note. He recognized Francesca Campodonico's handwriting, though he had rarely seen it, and he broke the seal with considerable curiosity, for he could not imagine why Donna Francesca should write to him. He even wondered at her knowing that he was in Rome. He had never spoken with her since that day long ago, when she had sent for him and begged him to take Gloria back to her father. He read the note slowly. It was in Italian, and the language was rather formal.
"SIGNORE:—My old and dear friend, Signor Angelo Reanda, died the day before yesterday after a long illness. During the last hours of his life he asked me to do him a service, and I gave him the solemn promise which I fulfil in sending you the accompanying package. You will see that it was sealed by him and addressed to you by himself, probably before he was taken ill, and he saw it before he died and said that it was the one he meant me to send. That was all he told me regarding it, and I am wholly ignorant of the contents. I have ascertained that you are in Rome, and are living, as formerly, in the Via della Frezza, and to that address I send the parcel. Pray inform me that you have received it.
"Believe me, Signore, with perfect esteem, "FRANCESCA CAMPODONICO."
Griggs read the note twice through to the end, and laid it upon the table. Then he thrust his hands into his pockets, and turned thoughtfully to the window without touching the parcel, of which he had not even untied the black string.
So Reanda was dead at last. It was nothing to him, now, though it might have meant much if the man had died two years earlier. Living people were very little to Paul Griggs. They might as well be dead, he thought. Nevertheless, the bald fact that Reanda was gone, made him thoughtful. Another figure had disappeared out of his life, though it had not meant very much. He believed, and had always believed, that Reanda had loved Francesca in secret, though she had treated him as a mere friend, as a protectress should treat one who needs her protection.
Griggs turned and took up the note to look at it keenly, for he believed himself a judge of handwriting, and he thought that he might detect in hers the indications of any great suffering. The lines ran down a little at the end, but otherwise the large, careful hand was the same as ever, learned in a convent and little changed since, even as the woman herself had changed little. She was the same always, simple, honest, strangely maidenlike, thoroughly good.
He turned to the window again. So Reanda was dead. He would not find Gloria, to whatsoever place he was gone. The shadow of a smile wreathed itself about the mouth of the lonely man—the last that was there for a long time after that day. Gloria was dead, but Gloria was his, and he hers, for ever and ever. Neither heaven nor hell could tear up his heart nor loosen the strong hold of all of him that clung to her and had grown about her and through her, till he and she were quite one.
Then, all at once, he wondered what it could be that Reanda had wished to send him from beyond the grave. He turned, took the parcel, and snapped the black string with his fingers, and took off the paper. Within was the parcel, wrapped in a second paper and firmly tied with broad tape. A few words were written on the outside.
"To be given to Paul Griggs when I am dead. A. R."
The superscription told nothing, but he looked at it curiously as one does at such things, when the sender is beyond answer. He cut the white tape, for it was tied so tightly that he could not slip a finger under it to break it. There was something of hard determination in the way it was tied.
It contained letters in their envelopes, as they had reached Reanda through the post, all of the same size, laid neatly one upon the other—a score or more of them.
Griggs felt his hand shake, for he recognized Gloria's writing. His first impulse was to burn the whole package, as it was, reverently, as something which had belonged to Gloria, in which he had no part, or share, or right. He laid his hand upon the pile of letters, and looked at the small fire to see whether it were burning well. Under his hand he felt something hard inside the uppermost envelope. His fate was upon him—the fate he had so often defied to do its worst, since all that he had was dead and was his forever.
Without another thought, he took from the envelope the letter it contained, and the hard thing which was inside the letter. He held it a moment in his hand, and it flamed in the beam of sunlight that fell across the end of the table, and dazzled him. Then he realized what it was. It was Gloria's wedding ring, and twisted round and round it and in and out of it was a lock of her red auburn hair, serpent-like, flaming in the sunshine, with a hundred little tongues that waved and moved softly under his breath.
An icy chill smote him in the neck, and his strong limbs shook to his feet as he laid the thing down upon the corner of the table. There was a fearful fascination in it. The red gold hairs stirred and moved in the sunlight still, even when he no longer breathed upon them. It was her hair, and it seemed alive.
In his other hand he still held the letter. Fate had him now, and would not let him go while he could feel. Again and again the cruel chill smote him in the back. He opened the doubled sheet, and saw the date and the name of the place,—Subiaco,—and the first words—'Heart of my heart, this is my last cry to you'—and it was to Angelo Reanda.
Rigid and feeling as though great icy hands were drawing him up by the neck from the ground, he stood still and read every word, with all the message of loathing and abject fear and horror of his touch, which every word brought him, from the dead, through the other dead.
Slowly, regularly, without wavering, moved by a power not his own, his hands took the other letters and opened them, and his eyes read all the words, from the last to the first. One by one the sheets fell upon the table, and all alone in the midst the lock of red auburn hair sent up its little lambent flame in the sunshine.
Paul Griggs stood upright, stark with the stress of rending soul and breaking heart.
As he stood there, he was aware of a man in black beside him, like himself, ghastly to see, with shadows and fires for eyes, and thin, parted lips that showed wolfish teeth, strong, stern, with iron hands.
"You are dead," said his own voice out of the other's mouth. "You are dead, and I am Gorlias."
Then the strong teeth were set and the lips closed, and the gladiator's unmatched arms wound themselves upon the other's strength, with grip and clutch and strain not of earthly men.
Silent and terrible, they wrestled in fight, arm to arm, bone to bone, breath to breath. Hour after hour they strove in the still room. The sun went westering away, the shadows deepened. The night came stealing black and lonely through the window. Foot to foot, breast to breast, in the dark, they bowed themselves one upon the other, dumb in the agony of their reeling strife.
Late in the night, in the cold room, Paul Griggs felt the carpet under his hands as he lay upon his back.
His heart was broken.
LORD REDIN had barely glanced at the man in the blue jacket with silver buttons, whom he had seen in the deep shadow of the little wine shop as he strolled down the Via della Frezza. But Stefanone had seen him and had gone to the door as he passed, watching him when he stood talking to the one-eyed cobbler, and keeping his keen eyes on him as he passed again on his homeward way. And all the way to the hotel in the Piazza di Spagna Stefanone had followed him at a distance, watching the great loose-jointed frame and the slightly stooping head, till the Scotchman disappeared under the archway, past the porter, who stood aside, his gold-laced cap in his hand, bowing low to the 'English lord.'
Stefanone waited a few moments and then accosted the porter civilly.
"Do you know if the proprietor wishes to buy some good wine of last year, at a cheap rate?" he asked. "You understand. I am of the country. I cannot go in and look for the proprietor. But you are doubtless the director and you manage these things for him. That is why I ask you."
The porter smiled at the flattery, but said that he believed wine had been bought for the whole year.
"The hotel is doubtless full of rich foreigners," observed Stefanone. "It is indeed beautiful. I should prefer it to the Palazzo Borghese. Is it not full?"
"Quite full," answered the porter, proud of the establishment.
"For instance," said Stefanone, "I saw a great signore going in, just before I took the liberty of speaking with you. I am sure that he is a great English signore. Not perhaps a mylord. But a great signore, having much money."
"What makes you think that?" inquired the porter, with a superior smile.
"Eh, the reasons are two. First, you bowed to him, as though he were some personage, and you of course know who he is. Secondly, he lifted his hat to you. He is therefore a real signore, as good perhaps as a Roman prince. We say a proverb in the country—'to salute is courtesy, to answer is duty.' Therefore when any one salutes a real signore, he answers and lifts his hat. These are the reasons why I say this one must be a great one."
"For that matter, you are right," laughed the porter. "That signore is an English lord. What a combination! You have guessed it. His name is Lord Redin."
Stefanone's sharp eyes fixed themselves vacantly, for he did not wish to betray his surprise at not hearing the name he had expected.
"Eh!" he exclaimed. "Names? What are they, when one is a prince. Prince of this. Duke of that. Our Romans are full of names. I daresay this signore has four or five."
But the porter knew of no other, and presently Stefanone departed, wondering whether he had made a mistake, after all, and recalling the features of the man he had followed to compare them with those younger ones he remembered so distinctly. He went back to the Via della Frezza and drank a glass of wine. Then he filled the glass again and carried it carefully across the street to his friend the cobbler.
"Drink," he said. "It will do you good. A drop of wine at sunset gives force to the stomach."
The one-eyed man looked up, and smiled at his friend, a phenomenon rarely observed on his wrinkled and bearded face. He shrugged one round shoulder, by way of assent, held his head a little on one side and stretched out his black hand with the glass in it, to the light. He tasted it, smelt it, and looked up at Stefanone before he drank in earnest.
"Black soul!" he exclaimed by way of an approving asseveration. "This is indeed wine!"
"He took it for vinegar!" observed Stefanone, speaking to the air.
"It is wine," answered the cobbler when he had drained the glass. "It is a consolation."
Then they began to talk together, and Stefanone questioned him about his interview with the tall gentleman an hour earlier. The cobbler really knew nothing about him, though he remembered having seen him several times, years ago, before Gloria had come.
"You know nothing," said Stefanone. "That signore is the father of Sor Paolo's signora, who died in my house."
"You are joking," returned the cobbler, gravely. "He would have come to see his daughter while she lived—requiescat!"
"And I say that I am not joking. Do you wish to hear the truth? Well. You have much confidence with Sor Paolo. Tell him that the father of the poor Signora Gloria came to the door and asked questions. You shall hear what he will say. He will say that it is possible. Then he will ask you about him. You will tell him, so and so—a very tall signore, all made of pieces that swing loosely when he walks, with a beard like the Moses of the fountain, and hard blue eyes that strike you like two balls from a gun, and hair that is neither red nor white, and a bony face like an old horse."
"It is true," said the cobbler, reflectively. "It is he. It is his picture."
"You will also say that he is now an English lord, but that formerly they called him Sor Angoscia. You, who are friends with Sor Paolo, you should tell him this. It may be that Sor Angoscia wishes him evil. Who knows? In this world the combinations are so many!"
It was long before the cobbler got an opportunity of speaking with Griggs, and when he had the chance, he forgot all about it, though Stefanone reminded him of it from time to time. But when he at last spoke of the matter he was surprised to find that Stefanone had been quite right, as Griggs admitted without the least hesitation. He told Stefanone so, and the peasant was satisfied, though he had long been positive that he had found his man at last, and recognized him in spite of his beard and his age.
After that Stefanone haunted the Piazza di Spagna in the morning, talking a little with the models who used to stand there in their mountain costumes to be hired by painters in the days when pictures of them were the fashion. Many of them came from the neighbourhood of Subiaco, and knew Stefanone by sight. When Lord Redin came out of the hotel, as he generally did between eleven and twelve if the day were fine, Stefanone put his pipe out, stuck it into his breeches' pocket with his brass-handled clasp-knife, and strolled away a hundred yards behind his enemy.
If Lord Redin noticed him once or twice, it was merely to observe that men still came to Rome wearing the old-fashioned dress of the respectable peasants. Being naturally fearless, and at present wholly unsuspicious, it never struck him that any one could be dogging his footsteps whenever he went out of his hotel. In the evening he went out very little and then generally in a carriage. Two or three times, on a Sunday, he walked over to Saint Peter's and listened to the music at Vespers, as many foreigners used to do. Stefanone followed him into the church and watched him from a distance. Once the peasant saw Donna Francesca, whom he knew by sight as a member of the Braccio family, sitting within the great gate of the Chapel of the Choir, where the service was held. Lord Redin always followed the frequented streets, which led in an almost direct line from the Piazza di Spagna by the Via Condotti to the bridge of Saint Angelo. It was the nearest way. He never went back to the Via della Frezza, for he had no desire to see Paul Griggs, and his curiosity had been satisfied by once looking at the house in which his daughter had lived. He spent his evenings alone in his rooms with a bottle of wine and a book. Luxury had become a habit with him, and he now preferred a draught of Chateau Lafitte to the rough Roman wine barely a year old, while three or four glasses of a certain brandy, twenty years in bottle, which he had discovered in the hotel, were a necessary condition of his comfort. He had the intention of going out one evening, in cloak and soft hat, as of old, to dine in his old corner at the Falcone, but he put it off from day to day, feeling no taste for the coarser fare and the rougher drink when the hour came.
He often went to see Francesca Campodonico in the middle of the day, at which hour the Roman ladies used to be visible to their more intimate friends. An odd sort of sympathy had grown up between the two, though they scarcely ever alluded to past events, and then only by an accident which both regretted. Francesca exercised a refining influence upon the gloomy Scotchman, and as he knew her better, he even took the trouble to be less rough and cynical when he was with her. In character she was utterly different from his dead wife, but there was something of family resemblance between the two which called up memories very dear to him.
Her influence softened him. In his wandering life he had more than once formed acquaintances with men of tastes more or less similar to his own, which might have ripened into friendships for a man of less morose character. But in that, he and Paul Griggs were very much alike. They found an element in every acquaintance which roused their distrust, and as men to men they were both equally incapable of making a confidence. Dalrymple's life had not brought him into close relations with any woman except his wife. For her sake he had kept all others at a distance in a strange jealousy of his own heart which had made her for him the only woman in the world. Then, too, he had hated, for her, the curiosity of those who had evidently wished to know her story. That had been always a secret. He had told it to his father, and his father had died with it. No one else had ever known whence Maria had come, nor what her name had been. If Captain Crowdie had ever guessed the truth, which was doubtful, he had held his tongue.
But Angus Dalrymple was no longer the man he had been in those days. He had changed very much in the past two or three years; for though he had almost outlived the excesses into which he had fallen in his first sorrow, his hardy constitution had been shaken, if not weakened, by them. Physically his nerves were almost as good as ever, but morally he was not the same man. He felt the need of sympathy and confidence, which with such natures is the first sign of breaking down, and of the degeneration of pride.
That was probably the secret of what he felt when he was with Francesca. She had that rarest quality in women, too, which commands men without inspiring love. It is very hard to explain what that quality is, but most men who have lived much and seen much have met with it at least once in their lives.
There is a sort of manifested goodness for which the average man of the world has a profound and unreasonable contempt. And there is another sort which most wholly commands the respect of that man who has lived hardest. From a religious point of view, both may be equally real and conducive to salvation. The cynic, the worn out man of the world, the man whose heart is broken, all look upon the one as a weakness and the other as a strength. Perhaps there is more humanity in the one than in the other. A hundred women may rebuke a man for something he has done, and he will smile at the reproach, though he may smile sadly. The one will say to him the same words, and he will be gravely silent and will feel that she is right and will like her the better for it ever afterwards. And she is not, as a rule, the woman whom such men would love.
"I have never before met a woman whom I should wish to have for my friend," said Lord Redin, one day when he was alone with Francesca. "I daresay I am not at all the kind of man you would select for purposes of friendship," he added, with a short laugh.
Francesca smiled a little at the frankness of the words, and shook her head.
"Perhaps not," she said. "Who knows? Life brings strange changes when one thinks that one knows it best."
"It has brought strange things to me," answered Lord Redin.
Then he was silent for a time. He felt the strong desire to speak out, for no good reason or purpose, and to tell her the story of his life. She would be horrorstruck at first. He fancied he could see the expression which would come to her face. But he held his peace, for she had not met him half-way, and he was ashamed of the weakness that was upon him.
"Yes," she said thoughtfully, after a little pause. "You must have had a strange life, and a very unhappy one. You speak of friendship as men speak who are in earnest, because there is no other hope for them. I know something of that."
She ceased, and her clear eyes turned sadly away from him.
"I know you do," he answered softly.
She looked at him again, and she liked him better than ever before, and pitied him sincerely. She had discovered that with all his faults he was not a bad man, as men go, for she did not know of that one deed of his youth which to her would have seemed a monstrous crime of sacrilege, beyond all forgiveness on earth or in heaven.
Then she began to speak of other things, for her own words, and his, had gone too near her heart, and presently he left her and strolled homeward through the sunny streets. He walked slowly and thoughtfully, unconscious of the man in a blue jacket with silver buttons, who followed him and watched him with keen, unwinking eyes set under heavy brows.
But Stefanone was growing impatient, and his knife was every day a little sharper as he whetted it thoughtfully upon a bit of smooth oilstone which he carried in his pocket. Would the Englishman ever turn down into some quiet street or lane where no one would be looking? And Stefanone's square face grew thinner and his aquiline features more and more eagle-like, till the one-eyed cobbler noticed the change, and spoke of it.
"You are consuming yourself for some female," he said. "You have white hair. This is a shameful thing."
But Stefanone laughed, instead of resenting the speech—a curiously nervous laugh.
"What would you have?" he replied. "We are men, and the devil is everywhere."
As he sat on the doorstep by the cobbler's bench, which was pushed far forward to get the afternoon light, he took up the short sharp shoemaker's knife, looked at it, held it in his hands and pared his coarse nails with it, whistling a little tune.