The Cardinal did not hesitate. He had just received the fourth letter, and if he waited any longer Del Ferice would take alarm, and slip through his fingers. He wrote with his own hand a note to the chief of police, ordering the immediate arrest of Ugo dei Conti del Ferice, with instructions that he should be taken in his own house, without any publicity, and conveyed in a private carriage to the Sant' Uffizio by men in plain clothes. It was six o'clock in the evening when he wrote the order, and delivered it to his private servant to be taken to its destination. The man lost no time, and within twenty minutes the chief of police was in possession of his orders, which he hastened to execute with all possible speed. Before seven o'clock two respectable-looking citizens were seated in the chief's own carriage, driving rapidly in the direction of Del Fence's house. In less than half an hour the man who had caused so much trouble would be safely lodged in the prisons of the Holy Office, to be judged for his sins as a political spy. In a fortnight he was to have been married to Donna Tullia Mayer,—and her trousseau had just arrived from Paris.
It can hardly be said that the Cardinal's conduct was unjustifiable, though many will say that Del Fence's secret doings were easily defensible on the ground of his patriotism. Cardinal Antonelli had precisely defined the situation in his talk with Anastase Gouache by saying that the temporal power was driven to bay. To all appearances Europe was at peace, but as a matter of fact the peace was but an armed neutrality. An amount of interest was concentrated upon the situation of the Papal States which has rarely been excited by events of much greater apparent importance than the occupation of a small principality by foreign troops. All Europe was arming. In a few months Austria was to sustain one of the most sudden and overwhelming defeats recorded in military history. In a few years the greatest military power in the world was to be overtaken by an even more appalling disaster. And these events, then close at hand, were to deal the death-blow to papal independence. The papacy was driven to bay, and those to whom the last defence was confided were certainly justified in employing every means in their power for strengthening their position. That Rome herself was riddled with rotten conspiracies, and turned into a hunting-ground for political spies, while the support she received from Louis Napoleon had been already partially withdrawn, proves only how hard was the task of that man who, against such odds, maintained so gallant a fight. It is no wonder that he hunted down spies, and signed orders forcing suspicious characters to leave the city at a day's notice; for the city was practically in a state of siege, and any relaxation of the iron discipline by which the great Cardinal governed would at any moment in those twenty years have proved disastrous. He was hated and feared; more than once he was in imminent danger of his life, but he did his duty in his post. Had his authority fallen, it is impossible to say what evil might have ensued to the city and its inhabitants—evils vastly more to be feared than the entrance of an orderly Italian army through the Porta Pia. For the recollections of Count Rossi's murder, and of the short and lawless Republic of 1848, were fresh in the minds of the people, and before they had faded there were dangerous rumours of a rising even less truly Republican in theory, and far more fatal in the practical social anarchy which must have resulted from its success. Giuseppe Mazzini had survived his arch-enemy, the great Cavour, and his influence was incalculable.
But my business is not to write the history of those uncertain days, though no one who considers the social life of Rome, either then or now, can afford to overlook the influence of political events upon the everyday doings of men and women. We must follow the private carriage containing the two respectable citizens who were on their way to Del Ferice's house.
Now it chanced that Del Ferice was not at home at the hour when the carriage containing the detectives drew up at his door. Indeed he was rarely to be found at that time, for when he was not engaged elsewhere, he dined with Donna Tullia and her old countess, accompanying them afterwards to any of the quiet Lenten receptions to which they desired to go. Temistocle was also out, for it was his hour for supper, a meal which he generally ate in a small osteria opposite his master's lodging. There he sat now, finishing his dish of beans and oil, and debating whether he should indulge himself in another mezza foglietta of his favourite white wine. He was installed upon the wooden bench against the wall, behind the narrow table on which was spread a dirty napkin with the remains of his unctuous meal. The light from the solitary oil-lamp that hung from the black ceiling was not brilliant, and he could see well enough through the panes of the glass door that the carriage which had just stopped on the opposite side of the street was not a cab. Suspecting that some one had called at that unusual hour in search of his master, he rose from his seat and went out.
He stood looking at the carriage. It did not please him. It had that peculiar look which used to mark the equipages of the Vatican, and which to this day distinguishes them from all others in the eyes of a born Roman. The vehicle was of rather antiquated shape, the horses were black, the coachman wore a plain black coat, with a somewhat old-fashioned hat; withal, the turnout was respectable enough, and well kept. But it did not please Temistocle. Drawing his hat over his eyes, he passed behind it, and having ascertained that the occupants, if there had been any, had already entered the house, he himself went in. The narrow staircase was dimly lighted by small oil-lamps. Temistocle ascended the steps on tiptoe, for he could already hear the men ringing the bell, and talking together in a low voice. The Neapolitan crept nearer. Again and again the bell was rung, and the men began to grow impatient.
"He has escaped," said one angrily.
"Perhaps—or he has gone out to dinner—much more likely."
"We had better go away and come later," suggested the first.
"He is sure to come home. We had better wait. The orders are to take him in his lodgings."
"We might go into the osteria opposite and drink a foglietta."
"No," said the other, who seemed to be the one in authority. "We must wait here, if we wait till midnight. Those are the orders."
The second detective grumbled something not clearly audible, and silence ensued. But Temistocle had heard quite enough. He was a quick-witted fellow, as has been seen, much more anxious for his own interests than for his master's, though he had hitherto found it easy to consult both. Indeed, in a certain way he was faithful to Del Ferice, and admired him as a soldier admires his general. The resolution he now formed did honour to his loyalty to Ugo and to his thievish instincts. He determined to save his master if he could, and to rob him at his leisure afterwards. If Del Ferice failed to escape, he would probably reward Temistocle for having done his best to help him; if, on the other hand, he got away, Temistocle had the key of his lodgings, and would help himself. But there was one difficulty in the way. Del Ferice was in evening dress at the house of Donna Tullia. In such a costume he would have no chance of passing the gates, which in those days were closed and guarded all night. Del Ferice was a cautious man, and, like many another in those days, kept in his rooms a couple of disguises which might serve if he was hard pressed. His ready money he always carried with him, because he frequently went into the club before coming home, and played a game of ecarte, in which he was usually lucky. The question was how to enter the lodgings, to get possession of the necessary clothes, and to go out again, without exciting the suspicions of the detectives.
Temistocle's mind was soon made up. He crept softly down the stairs, so as not to appear to have been too near, and then, making as much noise as he could, ascended boldly, drawing the key of the lodgings from his pocket as he reached the landing where the two men stood under the little oil-lamp.
"Buona sera, signori," he said, politely, thrusting the key into the lock without hesitation. "Did you wish to see the Conte del Ferice?"
"Yes," answered the elder man, affecting an urbane manner. "Is the Count at home?"
"I do not think so," returned the Neapolitan. "But I will see. Come in, gentlemen. He will not be long—sempre verso quest'ora—he always comes home about this time."
"Thank you," said the detective. "If you will allow us to wait—"
"Altro—what? Should I leave the padrone's friends on the stairs? Come in, gentlemen—sit down. It is dark. I will light the lamp." And striking a match, Temistocle lit a couple of candles and placed them upon the table of the small sitting-room. The two men sat down, holding their hats upon their knees.
"If you will excuse me," said Temistocle, "I will go and make the signore's coffee. He dines at the restaurant, and always comes home for his coffee. Perhaps the signori will also take a cup? It is the same to make three as one."
But the men thanked Temistocle, and said they wanted none, which was just as well, since Temistocle had no idea of giving them any. He retired, however, to the small kitchen which belongs to every Roman lodging, and made a great clattering with the coffee-pot. Presently he slipped into Del Ferice's bedroom, and extracted from a dark corner a shabby black bag, which he took back with him into the kitchen. From the kitchen window ran the usual iron wire to the well in the small court, bearing an iron traveller with a rope for drawing water. Temistocle, clattering loudly, hooked the bag to the traveller and let it run down noisily; then he tied the rope and went out. He had carefully closed the door of the sitting-room, but he had been careful to leave the door which opened upon the stairs unlatched. He crept noiselessly out, and leaving the door still open, rushed down-stairs, turned into the little court, unhooked his bag from the rope, and taking it in his hand, passed quietly out into the street. The coachman was dozing upon the box of the carriage which still waited before the door, and would not have noticed Temistocle had he been awake. In a moment more the Neapolitan was beyond pursuit. In the Piazza di Spagna he hailed a cab and drove rapidly to Donna Tullia's house, where he paid the man and sent him away. The servants knew him well enough, for scarcely a day passed without his bringing some note or message from his master to Madame Mayer. He sent in to say that he must speak to his master on business. Del Ferice came out hastily in considerable agitation, which was by no means diminished by the sight of the well-known shabby black bag.
Temistocle glanced round the hall to see that they were alone.
"The forza—the police," he whispered, "are in the house, Eccellenza. Here is the bag. Save yourself, for the love of heaven!"
Del Ferice turned ghastly pale, and his face twitched nervously.
"But—" he began, and then staggering back leaned against the wall.
"Quick—fly!" urged Temistocle, shaking him roughly by the arm. "It is the Holy Office—you have time. I told them you would be back, and they are waiting quietly—they will wait all night. Here is your overcoat," he added, almost forcing his master into the garment—"and your hat—here! Come along, there is no time to lose. I will take you to a place where you can dress."
Del Ferice submitted almost blindly. By especial good fortune the footman did not come out into the hall. Donna Tullia and her guests had finished dinner, and the servants had retired to theirs; indeed the footman had complained to Temistocle of being called away from his meal to open the door. The Neapolitan pushed his master out upon the stairs, urging him to use all speed. As the two men hurried along the dark street they conversed in low tones. Del Ferice was trembling in every joint.
"But Donna Tullia," he almost whined. "I cannot leave her so—she must know—"
"Save your own skin from the Holy Office, master," answered Temistocle, dragging him along as fast as he could. "I will go back and tell your lady, never fear. She will leave Rome to-morrow. Of course you will go to Naples. She will follow you. She will be there before you."
Del Ferice mumbled an unintelligible answer. His teeth were chattering with cold and fear; but as he began to realise his extreme peril, terror lent wings to his heels, and he almost outstripped the nimble Temistoele in the race for safety. They reached at last the ruined part of the city near the Porta Maggiore, and in the shadow of the deep archway where the road branches to the right towards Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, Temistocle halted.
"Here," he said, shortly. Del Ferice said never a word, but began to undress himself in the dark. It was a gloomy and lowering night, the roads were muddy, and from time to time a few drops of cold rain fell silently, portending a coming storm. In a few moments the transformation was complete, and Del Ferice stood by his servant's side in the shabby brown cowl and rope-girdle of a Capuchin monk.
"Now comes the hard part," said Temistocle, producing a razor and a pair of scissors from the bottom of the bag. Del Ferice had too often contemplated the possibility of flight to have omitted so important a detail.
"You cannot see—you will cut my throat," he murmured plaintively.
But the fellow was equal to the emergency. Retiring deeper into the recess of the arch, he lit a cigar, and holding it between his teeth, puffed violently at it, producing a feeble light by which he could just see his master's face. He was in the habit of shaving him, and had no difficulty in removing the fair moustache from his upper lip. Then, making him hold his head down, and puffing harder than ever, he cropped his thin hair, and managed to make a tolerably respectable tonsure. But the whole operation had consumed half an hour at the least, and Del Ferice was trembling still. Temistocle thrust the clothes into his bag.
"My watch!" objected the unfortunate man, "and my pearl studs—give them to me—what? You villain! you thief! you—"
"No chiacchiere, no talk, padrone," interrupted Temistocle, snapping the lock of the bag. "If you chance to be searched, it would ill become a mendicant friar to be carrying gold watches and pearl studs. I will give them to Donna Tullia this very evening. You have money—you can say that you are taking that to your convent."
"Swear to give the watch to Donna Tullia," said Del Ferice. Whereupon Temistocle swore a terrible oath, which he did not fail to break, of course. But his master had to be satisfied, and when all was completed the two parted company.
"I will ask Donna Tullia to take me to Naples on her passport," said the Neapolitan.
"Take care of my things, Temistoele. Burn all the papers if you can—though I suppose the sbirri have got them by this time. Bring my clothes—if you steal anything, remember there are knives in Rome, and I know where to write to have them used." Whereat Temistocle broke into a torrent of protestations. How could his master think that, after saving him at such risk, his faithful servant would plunder him?
"Well," said Del Ferice, thoughtfully, "you are a great scoundrel, you know. But you have saved me, as you say. There is a scudo for you."
Temistocle never refused anything. He took the coin, kissed his master's hand as a final exhibition of servility, and turned back towards the city without another word. Del Ferice shuddered, and drew his heavy cowl over his head as he began to walk quickly towards the Porta Maggiore. Then he took the inside road, skirting the walls through the mud to the Porta San Lorenzo. He was perfectly safe in his disguise. He had dined abundantly, he had money in his pocket, and he had escaped the clutches of the Holy Office. A barefooted friar might walk for days unchallenged through the Roman Campagna and the neighbouring hills, and it was not far to the south-eastern frontier. He did not know the way beyond Tivoli, but he could inquire without exciting the least suspicion. There are few disguises more complete than the garb of a Capuchin monk, and Del Ferice had long contemplated playing the part, for it was one which eminently suited him. His face, much thinner now than formerly, was yet naturally round, and without his moustache would certainly pass for a harmless clerical visage. He had received an excellent education, and knew vastly more Latin than the majority of mendicant monks. As a good Roman he was well acquainted with every convent in the city, and knew the names of all the chief dignitaries of the Capuchin order. When a lad he had frequently served at Mass, and was acquainted with most of the ordinary details of monastic life. The worst that could happen to him might be to be called upon in the course of his travels to hear the dying confession of some poor wretch who had been stabbed after a game of mora. His case was altogether not so bad as might seem, considering the far greater evils he had escaped.
At the Porta San Lorenzo the gates were closed as usual, but the dozing watchman let Del Ferice out of the small door without remark. Any one might leave the city, though it required a pass to gain admittance during the night. The heavily-ironed oak clanged behind the fugitive, and he breathed more freely as he stepped upon the road to Tivoli. In an hour he had crossed the Ponte Mammolo, shuddering as he looked down through the deep gloom at the white foam of the Teverone, swollen with the winter rains. But the fear of the Holy Office was behind him, and he hurried on his lonely way, walking painfully in the sandals he had been obliged to put on to complete his disguise, sinking occasionally ankle-deep in mud, and then trudging over a long stretch of broken stones where the road had been mended; but not noticing nor caring for pain and fatigue, while he felt that every minute took him nearer to the frontier hills where he would be safe from pursuit. And so he toiled on, till he smelled the fetid air of the sulphur springs full fourteen miles from Rome; and at last, as the road began to rise towards Hadrian's Villa, he sat down upon a stone by the wayside to rest a little. He had walked five hours through the darkness, seeing but a few yards of the broad road before him as he went. He was weary and footsore, and the night was growing wilder with gathering wind and rain as the storm swept down the mountains and through the deep gorge of Tivoli on its way to the desolate black Campagna. He felt that if he did not die of exposure he was safe, and to a man in his condition bad weather is the least of evils.
His reflections were not sweet. Five hours earlier he had been dressed as a fine gentleman should be, seated at a luxurious table in the company of a handsome and amusing woman who was to be his wife. He could still almost taste the delicate chaud froid, the tender woodcock, the dry champagne; he could still almost hear Donna Tullia's last noisy sally ringing in his ears—and behold, he was now sitting by the roadside in the rain, in the wretched garb of a begging monk, five hours' journey from Rome. He had left his affianced bride without a word of warning, had abandoned all his possessions to Temistocle—that scoundrelly thief Temistocle!—and he was utterly alone.
But as he rested himself, drawing his monk's hood closely over his head and trying to warm his freezing feet with the skirts of his rough brown frock, he reflected that if he ever got safely across the frontier he would be treated as a patriot, as a man who had suffered for the cause, and certainly as a man who deserved to be rewarded. He reflected that Donna Tullia was a woman who had a theatrical taste for romance, and that his present position was in theory highly romantic, however uncomfortable it might be in the practice. When he was safe his story would be told in the newspapers, and he would himself take care that it was made interesting. Donna Tullia would read it, would be fascinated by the tale of his sufferings, and would follow him. His marriage with her would then add immense importance to his own position. He would play his cards well, and with her wealth at his disposal he might aspire to any distinction he coveted. He only wished the situation could have been prolonged for three weeks, till he was actually married. Meanwhile he must take courage and push on, beyond the reach of pursuit. If once he could gain Subiaco, he could be over the frontier in twelve hours. From Tivoli there were vetture up the valley, cheap conveyances for the country people, in which a barefooted friar could travel unnoticed. He knew that he must cross the boundary by Trevi and the Serra di Sant' Antonio. He would inquire the way from Subiaco.
While Del Ferice was thus making his way across the Campagna, Temistocle was taking measures for his own advantage and safety. He had the bag with his master's clothes, the valuable watch and chain, and the pearl studs. He had also the key to Del Ferice's lodgings, of which he promised himself to make some use, as soon as he should be sure that the detectives had left the house. In the first place he made up his mind to leave Donna Tullia in ignorance of his master's sudden departure. There was nothing to be gained by telling her the news, for she would probably in her rash way go to Del Ferice's house herself, as she had done once before, and on finding he was actually gone she would take charge of his effects, whereby Temistocle would be the loser. As he walked briskly away from the ruinous district near the Porta Maggiore, and began to see the lights of the city gleaming before him, his courage rose in his breast. He remembered how easily he had eluded the detectives an hour and a half before, and he determined to cheat them again.
But he had reckoned unwisely. Before he had been gone ten minutes the two men suspected, from the prolonged silence, that something was wrong, and after searching the lodging perceived that the polite servant who had offered them coffee had left the house without taking leave. One of the two immediately drove to the house of his chief and asked for instructions. The order to arrest the servant if he appeared again came back at once. The consequence was that when Temistocle boldly opened the door with a ready framed excuse for his absence, he was suddenly pinioned by four strong arms, dragged into the sitting-room, and told to hold his tongue in the name of the law. And that is the last that was heard of Temistocle for some time. But when the day dawned the men knew that Del Ferice had escaped them.
The affair had not been well managed. The Cardinal was a good detective, but a bad policeman. In his haste he had made the mistake of ordering Del Ferice to be arrested instantly and in his lodgings. Had the statesman simply told the chief of police to secure Ugo as soon as possible without any scandal, he could not have escaped. But the officer interpreted the Cardinal's note to mean that Del Ferice was actually at his lodgings when the order was given. The Cardinal was supposed to be omniscient by his subordinates, and no one ever thought of giving any interpretation not perfectly literal to his commands. Of course the Cardinal was at once informed, and telegrams and mounted detectives were dispatched in all directions. But Del Ferice's disguise was good, and when just after sunrise a gendarme galloped into Tivoli, he did not suspect that the travel-stained and pale-faced friar, who stood telling his beads before the shrine just outside the Roman gate, was the political delinquent whom he was sent to overtake.
Donna Tullia spent an anxious night. She sent down to Del Ferice's lodgings, as Temistocle had anticipated, and the servant brought back word that he had not seen the Neapolitan, and that the house was held in possession by strangers, who refused him admittance. Madame Mayer understood well enough what had happened, and began to tremble for herself. Indeed she began to think of packing together her own valuables, in case she should be ordered to leave Rome, for she did not doubt that the Holy Office was in pursuit of Del Ferice, in consequence of some discovery relating to her little club of malcontents. She trembled for Ugo with an anxiety more genuine than any feeling of hers had been for many a day, not knowing whether he had escaped or not. But on the following evening she was partially reassured by hearing from Valdarno that the police had offered a large reward for Del Ferice's apprehension. Valdarno declared his intention of leaving Rome at once. His life, he said, was not safe for a moment. That villain Gouache, who had turned Zouave, had betrayed them all, and they might be lodged in the Sant' Uffizio any day. As a matter of fact, after he discovered how egregiously he had been deceived by Del Ferice, the Cardinal grew more suspicious, and his emissaries were more busy than they had been before. But Valdarno had never manifested enough wisdom, nor enough folly, to make him a cause of anxiety to the Prime Minister. Nevertheless he actually left Rome and spent a long time in Paris before he was induced to believe that he might safely return to his home.
Roman society was shaken to its foundations by the news of the attempted arrest, and Donna Tullia found some slight compensation in becoming for a time the centre of interest. She felt, indeed, great anxiety for the man she was engaged to marry; but for the first time in her life she felt also that she was living in an element of real romance, of which she had long dreamed, but of which she had never found the smallest realisation. Society saw, and speculated, and gossiped, after its fashion; but its gossip was more subdued than of yore, for men began to ask who was safe, since the harmless Del Ferice had been proscribed. Old Saracinesca said little. He would have gone to see the Cardinal and to offer him his congratulations, since it would not be decent to offer his thanks; but the Cardinal was not in a position to be congratulated. If he had caught Del Ferice he would have thanked the Prince instead of waiting for any expressions of gratitude; but he did not catch Del Ferice, for certain very good reasons which will appear in the last scene of this comedy.
Three days after Ugo's disappearance, the old Prince got into his carriage and drove out to Saracinesca. More than a month had elapsed since the marriage, and he felt that he must see his son, even at the risk of interrupting the honeymoon. On the whole, he felt that his revenge had been inadequate. Del Fence had escaped the Holy Office, no one knew how; and Donna Tullia, instead of being profoundly humiliated, as she would have been had Del Ferice been tried as a common spy, was become a centre of attraction and interest, because her affianced husband had for some unknown cause incurred the displeasure of the great Cardinal, almost on the eve of her marriage—a state of things significant as regards the tone of Roman society. Indeed the whole circumstance, which, was soon bruited about among all classes with the most lively adornment and exaggeration, tended greatly to increase the fear and hatred which high and low alike felt for Cardinal Antonelli—the man who was always accused and never heard in his own defence.
People wondered that Giovanni and Corona should have chosen to retire into the country for their honeymoon, instead of travelling to France and England, and ending their wedding-trip in Switzerland. The hills were so very cold at that early season, and besides, they would be utterly alone. People could not understand why Corona did not take advantage of the termination of her widowhood to mix at once with the world, and indemnify herself for the year of mourning by a year of unusual gaiety. But there were many, on the other hand, who loudly applauded the action, which, it was maintained, showed a wise spirit of economy, and contrasted very favourably with the extravagance recently exhibited by young couples who in reality had far more cause to be careful of their money. Those who held this view belonged to the old, patriarchal class, the still flourishing remnant of the last generation, who prided themselves upon good management, good morals, and ascetic living; the class of people in whose marriage-contracts it was stipulated that the wife was to have meat twice a-day, excepting on fast days, a drive—the trottata, as it used to be called—daily, and two new gowns every year. Even in our times, when most of that generation are dead, these clauses are often introduced; in the first half of the century they were universal. A little earlier it used to be stipulated that the "meat" was not to be copra, goat's-flesh, which was considered to be food fit only for servants. But the patriarchal generation were a fine old class in spite of their economy, and they loudly aplauded Giovanni's conduct.
No one, however, understood that the solitude of Saracinesca was really the greatest luxury the newly-married couple could desire. They wanted to be left alone, and they got their wish. No one had known of the preparations Giovanni had made for his wife's reception, and had any idea of the changes in the castle reached the ears of the aforesaid patriarchs, they would probably have changed their minds in regard to Giovanni's economy. The Saracinesca were not ostentatious, but they spent their money royally in their own quiet way, and the interior of the old stronghold had undergone a complete transformation, while the ancient grey stones of the outer walls and towers frowned as gloomily as ever upon the valley. Vast halls had been decorated and furnished in a style suited to the antiquity of the fortress, small sunny rooms had been fitted up with the more refined luxury which was beginning to be appreciated in Italy twenty years ago. A great conservatory had been built out upon the southern battlement. The aqueduct had been completed successfully, and fountains now played in the courts. The old-fashioned fireplaces had been again put into use, and huge logs burned upon huge fire-dogs in the halls, shedding a ruddy glow upon the trophies of old armour, the polished floors, and the heavy curtains. Quantities of magnificent tapestry, some of which had been produced when Corona first visited the castle, were now hung upon the stairs and in the corridors. The great baldacchino, the canopy which Roman princes are privileged to display in their antechambers, was draped above the quartered arms of Saracinesca and Astrardente, and the same armorial bearings appeared in rich stained glass in the window of the grand staircase. The solidity and rare strength of the ancient stronghold seemed to grow even more imposing under the decorations and improvements of a later age, and for the first time Giovanni felt that justice had been done to the splendour of his ancestral home.
Here he and his dark bride dwelt in perfect unity and happiness, in the midst of their own lands, surrounded by their own people, and wholly devoted to each other. But though much of the day was passed in that unceasing conversation and exchange of ideas which seem to belong exclusively to happily-wedded man and wife, the hours were not wholly idle. Daily the two mounted their horses and rode along the level stretch towards Aquaviva till they came to the turning from which Corona had first caught sight of Saracinesca. Here a broad road was already broken out; the construction was so far advanced that two miles at least were already serviceable, the gentle grade winding backwards and forwards, crossing and recrossing the old bridle-path as it descended to the valley below; and now from the furthest point completed Corona could distinguish in the dim distance the great square palace of Astrardente crowning the hills above the town. Thither the two rode daily, pushing on the work, consulting with the engineer they employed, and often looking forward to the day when for the first time their carriage should roll smoothly down from Saracinesca to Astrardente without making the vast detour which the old road followed as it skirted the mountain. There was an inexpressible pleasure in watching the growth of the work they had so long contemplated, in speculating on the advantages they would obtain by so uniting their respective villages, and in feeling that, being at last one, they were working together for the good of their people. For the men who did the work were without exception their own peasants, who were unemployed during the winter time, and who, but for the timely occupation provided for them, would have spent the cold months in that state of half-starved torpor peculiar to the indigent agricultural labourer when he has nothing to do—at that bitter season when father and mother and shivering little ones watch wistfully the ever-dwindling sack of maize, as day by day two or three handfuls are ground between the stones of the hand-mill and kneaded into a thick unwholesome dough, the only food of the poorer peasants in the winter. But now every man who could handle pickaxe and bore, and sledge-hammer and spade, was out upon the road from dawn to dark, and every Saturday night each man took home a silver scudo in his pocket; and where people are sober and do not drink their wages, a silver scudo goes a long way further than nothing. Yet many a lean and swarthy fellow there would have felt that he was cheated if besides his money he had not carried home daily the remembrance of that tall dark lady's face and kindly eyes and encouraging voice, and they used to watch for the coming of the "gran principessa" as anxiously as they expected the coming of the steward with the money-bags on a Saturday evening. Often, too, the wives and daughters of the rough workers would bring the men their dinners at noonday, rather than let them carry away their food with them in the morning, just for the sake of catching a sight of Corona, and of her broad-shouldered manly husband. And the men worked with a right good will, for the story had gone abroad that for years to come there would be no lack of work for willing hands.
So the days sped, and were not interrupted by any incident for several weeks. One day Gouache, the artist Zouave, called at the castle. He had been quartered at Subiaco with a part of his company, but had not been sent on at once to Saracinesca as he had expected. Now, however, he had arrived with a small detachment of half-a-dozen men, with instructions to watch the pass. There was nothing extraordinary in his being sent in that direction, for Saracinesca was very near the frontier, and lay on one of the direct routes to the Serra di Sant' Antonio, which was the shortest hill-route into the kingdom of Naples; the country around was thought to be particularly liable to disturbance, and though no one had seen a brigand there for some years, the mountain-paths were supposed to be infested with robbers. As a matter of fact there was a great deal of smuggling carried on through the pass, and from time to time some political refugee found his way across the frontier at that point.
Gouache was received very well by Giovanni, and rather coldly by Corona, who knew him but slightly.
"I congratulate you," said Giovanni, noticing the stripes on the young man's sleeves; "I see that you have risen in grade."
"Yes. I hold an important command of six men. I spend much time in studying the strategy of Conde and Napoleon. By the bye, I am here on a very important mission."
"I suppose you give yourselves the luxury of never reading the papers in this delightful retreat. The day before yesterday the Cardinal attempted to arrest our friend Del Ferice—have you heard that?"
"No—what—has he escaped?" asked Giovanni and Corona in a breath. But their tones were different. Giovanni had anticipated the news, and was disgusted at the idea that the fellow had got off. Corona was merely surprised.
"Yes. Heaven knows how—he has escaped. I am here to cut him off if he tries to get to the Serra di Sant' Antonio."
"He will scarcely try to come this way—under the very walls of my house," he said.
"He may do anything. He is a slippery fellow." Gouache proceeded to tell all he knew of the circumstances.
"That is very strange," said Corona, thoughtfully. Then after a pause, she added, "We are going to visit our road, Monsieur Gouache. Will you not come with us? My husband will give you a horse."
Gouache was charmed. He preferred talking to Giovanni and looking at Corona's face to returning to his six Zouaves, or patrolling the hills in search of Del Ferice. In a few minutes the three were mounted, and riding slowly along the level stretch towards the works. As they entered the new road Giovanni and Corona unconsciously fell into conversation, as usual, about what they were doing, and forgot their visitor. Gouache dropped behind, watching the pair and admiring them with true artistic appreciation. He had a Parisian's love of luxury and perfect appointments as well as an artist's love of beauty, and his eyes rested with unmitigated pleasure on the riders and their horses, losing no detail of their dress, their simple English accoutrements, their firm seats and graceful carriage. But at a turn of the grade the two riders suddenly slipped from his field of vision, and his attention was attracted to the marvellous beauty of the landscape, as looking down the valley towards Astrardente he saw range on range of purple hills rising in a deep perspective, crowned with jagged rocks or sharply defined brown villages, ruddy in the lowering sun. He stopped his horse and sat motionless, drinking in the loveliness before him. So it is that accidents in nature make accidents in the lives of men.
But Giovanni and Corona rode slowly down the gentle incline, hardly noticing that Gouache had stopped behind, and talking of the work. As they again turned a curve of the grade Corona, who was on the inside, looked up and caught sight of Gouache's motionless figure at the opposite extremity of the gradient they had just descended. Giovanni looked straight before him, and was aware of a pale-faced Capuchin friar who with downcast eyes was toiling up the road, seemingly exhausted; a particularly weather-stained and dilapidated friar even for those wild mountains.
"Gouache is studying geography," remarked Corona.
"Another of those Capuccini!" exclaimed Giovanni, instinctively feeling in his pocket for coppers. Then with a sudden movement he seized his wife's arm. She was close to him as they rode slowly along side by side.
"Good God! Corona," he cried, "it is Del Ferice!" Corona looked quickly at the monk. His cowl was raised enough to show his features; but she would, perhaps, not have recognised his smooth shaven face had Giovanni not called her attention to it.
Del Ferice had recognised them too, and, horror-struck, he paused, trembling and uncertain what to do. He had taken the wrong turn from the main road below; unaccustomed to the dialect of the hills, he had misunderstood the peasant who had told him especially not to take the bridle-path if he wished to avoid Saracinesca. He stopped, hesitated, and then, pulling his cowl over his face, walked steadily on. Giovanni glanced up and saw that Gouache was slowly descending the road, still absorbed in contemplating the landscape.
"Let him take his chance," muttered Saracinesca. "What should I care?"
"No—no! Save him, Giovanni,—he looks so miserable," cried Corona, with ready sympathy. She was pale with excitement.
Giovanni looked at her one moment and hesitated, but her pleading eyes were not to be refused.
"Then gallop back, darling. Tell Gouache it is cold in the valley—anything. Make him go back with you—I will save him since you wish it."
Corona wheeled her horse without a word and cantered up the hill again. The monk had continued his slow walk, and was now almost at Giovanni's saddle-bow. The latter drew rein, staring hard at the pale features under the cowl.
"If you go on you are lost," he said, in low distinct tones. "The Zouaves are waiting for you. Stop, I say!" he exclaimed, as the monk attempted to pass on. Leaping to the ground Giovanni seized his arm and held him tightly. Then Del Ferice broke down.
"You will not give me up—for the love of Christ!" he whined. "Oh, if you have any pity—let me go—I never meant to harm you—"
"Look here," said Giovanni. "I would just as soon give you up to the Holy Office as not; but my wife asked me to save you—"
"God bless her! Oh, the saints bless her! God render her kindness!" blubbered Del Ferice, who, between fear and exhaustion, was by this time half idiotic.
"Silence!" said Giovanni, sternly. "You may thank her if you ever have a chance. Come with me quietly. I will send one of the workmen round the hill with you. You must sleep at Trevi, and then get over the Serra as best you can." He ran his arm through the bridle of his horse and walked by his enemy's side.
"You will not give me up," moaned the wretched man. "For the love of heaven do not betray me—I have come so far—I am so tired."
"The wolves may make a meal of you, for all I care," returned Giovanni. "I will not. I give you my word that I will send you safely on, if you will stop this whining and behave like a man."
At that moment Del Ferice was past taking offence, but for many a year afterwards the rough words rankled in his heart. Giovanni was brutal for once; he longed to wring the fellow's neck, or to give him up to Gouacho and the Zouaves. The tones of Ugo's voice reminded him of injuries not so old as to be yet forgotten. But he smothered his wrath and strode on, having promised his wife to save the wretch, much against his will. It was a quarter of an hour before they reached the works, the longest quarter of an hour Del Ferice remembered in his whole life. Neither spoke a word. Giovanni hailed a sturdy-looking fellow who was breaking stones by the roadside.
"Get up, Carluccio," he said. "This good monk has lost his way. You must take him round the mountain, above Ponza to Arcinazzo, and show him the road to Trevi. It is a long way, but the road is good enough after Ponza—it is shorter than to go round by Saracinesca, and the good friar is in a hurry."
Carluccio started up with alacrity. He greatly preferred roaming about the hills to breaking stones, provided he was paid for it. He picked up his torn jacket and threw it over one shoulder, setting his battered hat jauntily on his thick black curls.
"Give us a benediction, padre mio, and let us be off—non e mica un passo—it is a good walk to Trevi."
Del Ferice hesitated. He hardly knew what to do or say, and even if he had wished to speak he was scarcely able to control his voice. Giovanni cut the situation short by turning on his heel and mounting his horse. A moment later he was cantering up the road again, to the considerable astonishment of the labourers, who were accustomed to see him spend at least half an hour in examining the work done. But Giovanni was in no humour to talk about roads. He had spent a horrible quarter of an hour, between his desire to see Del Ferice punished and the promise he had given his wife to save him. He felt so little sure of himself that he never once looked back, lest he should be tempted to send a second man to stop the fugitive and deliver him up to justice. He ground his teeth together, and his heart was full of bitter curses as he rode up the hill, hardly daring to reflect upon what he had done. That, in the eyes of the law, he had wittingly helped a traitor to escape, troubled his conscience little. His instinct bade him destroy Del Ferice by giving him up, and he would have saved himself a vast deal of trouble if he had followed his impulse. But the impulse really arose from a deep-rooted desire for revenge, which, having resisted, he regretted bitterly—very much as Shakespeare's murderer complained to his companion that the devil was at his elbow bidding him not murder the duke. Giovanni spared his enemy solely to please his wife, and half-a-dozen words from her had produced a result which no consideration of mercy or pity could have brought about.
Corona and Gouache had halted at the top of the road to wait for him. By an imperceptible nod, Giovanni informed his wife that Del Ferice was safe.
"I am sorry to have cut short our ride," he said, coldly. "My wife found it chilly in the valley."
Anastase looked curiously at Giovanni's pale face, and wondered whether anything was wrong. Corona herself seemed strangely agitated.
"Yes," answered Gouache, with his gentle smile; "the mountain air is still cold."
So the three rode silently back to the castle, and at the gate Gouache dismounted and left them, politely declining a rather cold invitation to come in. Giovanni and Corona went silently up the staircase together, and on into a small apartment which in that cold season they had set apart as a sitting-room. When they were alone, Corona laid her hands upon Giovanni's shoulders and gazed long into his angry eyes. Then she threw her arms round his neck and drew him to her.
"My beloved," she cried, proudly, "you are all I thought—and more too."
"Do not say that," answered Giovanni. "I would not have lifted a finger to save that hound, but for you."
"Ah, but you did it, dear, all the same," she said, and kissed him.
On the following evening, without any warning, old Saracinesca arrived, and was warmly greeted. After dinner Giovanni told him the story of Del Ferice's escape. Thereupon the old gentleman flew into a towering rage, swearing and cursing in a most characteristic manner, but finally declaring that to arrest spies was the work of spies, and that Giovanni had behaved like a gentleman, as of course he could not help doing, seeing that he was his own son.
* * * * *
And so the curtain falls upon the first act. Giovanni and Corona are happily married. Del Ferice is safe across the frontier among his friends in Naples, and Donna Tullia is waiting still for news of him, in the last days of Lent, in the year 1866. To carry on the tale from this point would be to enter upon a new series of events more interesting, perhaps, than those herein detailed, and of like importance in the history of the Saracinesca family, but forming by their very nature a distinct narrative—a second act to the drama, if it may be so called. I am content if in the foregoing pages I have so far acquainted the reader with those characters which hereafter will play more important parts, as to enable him to comprehend the story of their subsequent lives, and in some measure to judge of their future by their past, regarding them as acquaintances, if not sympathetic, yet worthy of some attention.
Especially I ask for indulgence in matters political. I am not writing the history of political events, but the history of a Roman family during times of great uncertainty and agitation. If any one says that I have set up Del Ferice as a type of the Italian Liberal party, carefully constructing a villain in order to batter him to pieces with the artillery of poetic justice, I answer that I have done nothing of the kind. Del Ferice is indeed a type, but a type of a depraved class which very unjustly represented the Liberal party in Rome before 1870, and which, among those who witnessed its proceedings, drew upon the great political body which demanded the unity of Italy an opprobrium that body was very far from deserving. The honest and upright Liberals were waiting in 1866. What they did, they did from their own country, and they did it boldly. To no man of intelligence need I say that Del Ferice had no more affinity with Massimo D'Azeglio, with the great Cavour, with Cavour's great enemy Giuseppe Mazzini, or with Garibaldi, than the jackal has with the lion. Del Ferice represented the scum which remained after the revolution of 1848 had subsided. He was one of those men who were used and despised by their betters, and in using whom Cavour himself was provoked into writing "Se noi facessimo per noi quel che faciamo per l'Italia, saremmo gran bricconi"—if we did for ourselves what we do for Italy, we should be great blackguards. And that there were honourable and just men outside of Rome will sufficiently appear in the sequel to this veracious tale.