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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I never heard that," said Corona.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"That is different," answered Corona, quietly.

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

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



CHAPTER V.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"It is a very good grazing ground."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"And then?"

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

But Del Ferice took no notice of the jest.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Del Ferice sighed rather sadly.

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

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

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



CHAPTER VI.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So they parted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Again? She is always confessing."

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

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

"Why?"

"Because she hates her husband and hates you."

"Why, again?"

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

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

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

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

"You have only to watch them."

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

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

"To me?"

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

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



CHAPTER VII.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Politics," he answered, and was silent.

"Well?" inquired Madame Mayer, rather anxiously.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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