"Why, of course," the signora replied, rather confused by this irresistible argument, "you have the right, and no one will resist you. But as a favor now—" and the signora assumed her most coaxing smile, and even advanced a plump white hand to touch Matteo's sleeve.
She might as well have tried to bewitch and persuade the bronze Augustus on the Capitoline Hill.
"Things have changed since it was promised that Silvia should stay a month with you," Matteo replied. "There is work at home for her to do. Since she is not to be a nun, she must work. Let her be ready to start in an hour: my carriage is waiting at the door. I am going out into the piazza for a little while. I will send a man up for her trunk when I am ready to start."
Silvia uttered not a word. At sight of her brother she had sunk back in her chair white and speechless. On hearing his voice she had closed her eyes.
He half turned to her before going out, looking at her out of the corners of his evil eyes, a cold, strange smile wreathing his lips. "So you are not going to be a nun?" he said.
She did not respond. Only the quiver of her lowered eyelids and a slight shiver told that she knew he was addressing her.
Matteo went out, and the signora, at her wits' end, undertook to encourage Silvia. There was no time to see Monsignor Catinari or to appeal to any authority; and if there were, it would have availed nothing perhaps. Almost any one would have said that the girl's terrors were fanciful, and that it was quite natural her brother, who would lose five hundred scudi by her change of purpose, should require her to work as other girls of her condition worked.
"Cheer up and go with him, figlia mia," she said, "and leave all to me. I will see Monsignor Catinari this very evening, and post a letter to you before I go to bed. If Matteo is unkind to you, we will have you taken away from him at once. And, in any case, you shall be married in a few weeks at the most, as Monsignor promised. Don't cry so: don't say that you cannot go. I am sorry and vexed, my dear, but I see no way but for you to go. Depend upon me. No harm shall come to you. I will myself come to Monte Compatri within the week, and arrange all for you. Besides, recollect that you will see Claudio: he is there waiting for you. Perhaps you may see him this very evening."
The Signora Fantini's efforts to cheer and reassure the sister were as ineffectual as her efforts to persuade the brother had been. Silvia submitted because she had no strength to resist.
"O Madonna mia!" she kept murmuring, "he will kill me! he will kill me! O Madonna mia! pray for me."
When an Italian says that he will come back in an hour, you may look for him after two hours. Matteo was no exception to the rule. It was already mid-afternoon when the porter came up and said that Silvia's brother was waiting for her below.
The signora gave her a tumbler half full of vin santo, which she kept for special occasions—a strong, delicious wine with the perfume of a whole garden in it. "Drink every drop," she commanded: "it will give you courage. You had better be a little tipsy than fainting away. And put this bottle into your pocket to drink when you have need on the way."
More dead than alive, Silvia was placed in the little old-fashioned carriage that Matteo had hired to come to Rome in, and her brother took his seat beside her. The Signora Fantini and her daughter leaned from the window, kissing their hands to her and shaking their handkerchiefs as long as she was in sight. And as long as she was in sight they saw her pale face turned backward, looking at them. Then the tawny stone of a church-corner hid her from their eyes for ever.
Who knows or can guess what that drive was? The two passed through Frascati, and Matteo stopped to speak to an acquaintance there. They drove around Monte Porzio, and Matteo stopped again, to buy a glass of wine and some figs. He offered some to his sister, but she shook her head.
"She is sleepy," her brother said to the man of whom he had bought. "Give me another tumbler of wine: it isn't bad."
"It is the last barrel I have of the vintage of two years ago," the man replied. "It was a good vintage. If the signorina would take a drop she would sleep the better. Besides, the night is coming on and there is a chill in the air."
Silvia opened her eyes and made the little horizontal motion with her forefinger which in Italy means no.
"She will sleep well enough," Matteo said, and drove on.
Night was coming on, and they had no more towns to pass—only a bit more of lonely level road and the lonely road that wound to and fro up the mountain-side. At the best, they could not reach home before ten o'clock. The road went to and fro—sometimes open, to give a view of the Campagna and the Sabine Mountains, and Soracte swimming in a lustrous dimness on the horizon; sometimes shut in closely by trees, that made it almost black in spite of the moon. For the moon was low and gave but little light, being but a crescent as yet. There was a shooting star now and then, breaking out like a rocket with a trail of sparks or slipping small and pallid across the sky.
One of these latter might have been poor Silvia's soul slipping away from the earth. It went out there somewhere on the mountain-side. Matteo said the carriage tilted, and she, being asleep, fell out before he could prevent. Her temple struck a sharp rock, and Claudio missed his bride.
He had to keep quiet about it, though. What could he prove? what could any one prove? Where knives are sharp and people mind their own business, or express their opinions only by a shrug of the shoulders and a grimace, how is a poor boy, how is even a rich man or a rich woman, to come at the truth in such a case? Besides, the truth would not have brought her back, poor little Silvia!
Minor changes have been made to correct typesetters' errors; otherwise every effort has been made to remain true to the author's words and intent.