"Take care, sir. If a man threatens me he must be prepared for the consequences. The lady knows what those consequences may be."
Rossi, breathing heavily, was trying to retain the mastery of himself.
"If you tell me that the lady...."
"I tell you that according to the law of nature and of reason the lady is my wife."
"It's a lie."
"And so I will."
Roma saw the look of triumph with which Rossi turned to her. The terrible moment she had lived in fear of had come to pass. The letters she had written to Rossi had not yet reached him, and her enemy was telling his story before she had told hers.
What was she to do? She would have said anything at that moment and believed herself justified before God. But even lying itself would be of no avail. She remembered the Baron's threat and trembled. If she told the truth her confession, coming at that moment, would be worse than vain. If she told a lie, Rossi would insult the Baron, the Baron would challenge Rossi, and they would fight with all the consequences the Baron had foretold.
"Roma," said Rossi, "forgive me for putting the question, but a falsehood like this, affecting the character of a good woman, ought to be stopped in the slanderer's throat. Don't be afraid, dear. You know I will believe you before anybody in the world. What the man says is a lie, isn't it?"
Roma stood for a moment looking in a helpless way from Rossi to the Baron, and from the Baron back to Rossi. She made an effort to speak, but at first she could not do so. At length she said:
"Can't you trust me, David?"
"Trust you? Answer me on this one point and I will trust you on all the rest. Say the man speaks falsely, and I will stake my life on your word."
Roma did not reply, and the Baron tried to laugh.
"If the lady can deny what I say, let her do so. If she cannot, you must come to your own conclusions."
"Deny it, Roma! Deny it, and I will fling the man's insult in his face."
"David, if I could tell you everything...."
"Everything! It's only one thing I want to know, Roma."
"If you had received my letters addressed to England...."
"Letters? What matter about letters now. Don't you understand, dear? This gentleman says that before you married me you ... had already belonged to him. That's what he means, and it's false, isn't it?"
"My mouth is closed. If I could say anything one way or other...."
"Yes or no—that is all that is necessary."
Roma looked up at him with a pleading expression, but seeing nothing in his face except the magistrate who was interrogating her, she turned her back and hung her head, and cried like a helpless child.
Rossi laid hold of her arm, twisted her about, and looked into her eyes.
"Crying, Roma? You don't mean to tell me that I am to believe what the man says? Deny it! For God's sake deny it!"
"I ... I cannot ... I cannot speak," she stammered, and then there was a dead silence.
When Rossi spoke again his face was dark as a thundercloud, and his voice hoarse as a raven's.
"If that is so, there is nothing more to say."
She looked up at him with a pathetic remonstrance, but he met her eyes with the gaze of a relentless judge who had tried and condemned her.
"I was not to blame, David—I swear before God I was not."
"Yet you allowed me to go on believing that falsehood. The woman who could do a thing like that could do anything. She could pretend to be poor, pretend to be tempted, pretend...."
"David, what are you saying?"
Rossi broke into a peal of mad laughter.
"Saying? That you have deceived me from the beginning, when you undertook to betray me to your master and paramour."
She tried to protest, but he bore her down with a laugh of scorn, and then wheeled round on the Baron, who had been standing in silence behind them.
"That's why you are here to-night, I suppose. You didn't expect to be disturbed, did you? You didn't expect to see me. You thought I was stowed away in a cell, and you could meet in safety.... Oh, my brain! my brain! I shall go mad!"
"It isn't true," cried Roma. And turning to the Baron with flame in her eyes she said, "Tell him it isn't true. You know it isn't true."
"True?" Again the Baron tried to laugh. "Of course it's true. Every word the man has uttered is true. Don't ask me to lie to him as you have done from first to last." At that Rossi's mad laughter stopped suddenly, and he stepped up to the Baron with fury in his face.
"You scoundrel!" he said. "You've succeeded, you've separated us, but I understand you perfectly. You have used this unhappy lady's shame to compel her to carry out your infamous designs, and now that she is done with, she must lose the man who played with her as well as the man she has played with."
Roma saw that the Baron was feeling for something in the side pocket of his overcoat, and she called to Rossi to warn him.
"One doesn't quarrel with an escaped criminal," said the Baron. "It is sufficient to call the police ... Police!" he cried, lifting his voice and taking a step forward.
Rossi stood between the Baron and the door.
"Don't stir," he said. "Don't utter a word, I warn you. I'm a hunted dog to-night, and a hunted dog is dangerous."
"Let me pass," said the Baron.
"Not yet, sir," said Rossi. "You have something to do before you go. You have to go down on your knees and beg the pardon of your victim...."
Roma saw the Baron draw the revolver. She saw Rossi spring upon him, and seize him by the collar of the Annunziata which hung over his shirt front. She saw the men go struggling through the door of the sitting-room into the dining-room. She covered her ears with her hands to shut out the sounds from the outer chamber, but she heard Rossi's hoarse voice that was like the growl of a wild beast. Then came the deafening report of a pistol-shot, then the vibration of a heavy fall, and then dead silence.
Roma was still standing with her hands over her ears, shaking with terror and scarcely able to breathe, when footsteps resounded on the floor behind her. Giddy and dazed, with one agonising thought she turned, saw Rossi, and uttered a cry of relief. But he was coming down on her with great staring eyes, and the look of a desperate maniac. For one moment he stood over her in his ungovernable rage, and scalding and blistering words poured out of him in a torrent.
"He's dead. D'you hear me? He's dead. But it's as much your work as mine, and you will never think of yourself henceforward without remorse and horror. I curse you by the love you've wronged and the heart you've broken. I curse you by the hopes you wasted and the truth you've outraged. I curse you by the memory of your father, the memory of a saint and martyr."
Before his last words were spoken Roma had ceased to hear. With a feeble moan, interrupted by a faint cry, she had slowly retreated before him, and then fallen face downwards. Everything about her, Rossi, herself, the room, the lamp on the table and the shadows cast by it, had mingled and blended, and gone out in a complete obscurity.
When Roma regained consciousness, there was not a sound in the apartment. Even the piazza outside was quiet. Somebody was playing a mandoline a long way off, and the thin notes were trembling through the still night. A dog was barking in the distance. Save for these sounds everything was still.
Roma lay for some minutes in a state of semi-consciousness. Her head was swimming with vague memories, and she was unable at first to disentangle the thread of them. At length she remembered all that had happened, and she wept bitterly.
But when the first tenderness was over the one feeling which seized and held her was hatred of the Baron. Rossi had told her the man was dead, and she felt no pity. The Baron deserved his death, and if Rossi had killed him it was no crime.
She was still lying where she had fallen when a noise as of some one moving came from the adjoining room. Then a voice called to her:
It was the Baron's voice, broken and feeble. A great terror took hold of her. Then came a sense of shame, and finally a feeling of relief. The Baron was not dead. Thank God! O thank God!
She got up and went into the dining-room. The Baron was on his knees struggling to climb to the couch. His shirt front was partly dragged out of his breast, and the Order of the Annunziata was torn away. There was a streak of blood over his left eyebrow, and no other sign of injury. But his eyes themselves were glassy, and his face was pale as death.
"I'm dying, Roma."
"I'll run for a doctor," she said.
"No. Don't do that. I don't want to be found here. Besides, it's useless. In five minutes a clot of blood will have covered the lacerated brain, and I shall lose consciousness again. Stupid, isn't it?"
"Let me call for a priest," said Roma.
"Don't do that either. You can do me more good yourself, Roma. Give me a drink."
Roma was fighting with an almost unconquerable repugnance, but she brought the Baron a drink of water, and with shaking hands held the glass to his trembling lips.
"How do you feel?" she asked.
"Worse," he answered.
He looked into her eyes with evident contrition, and said, "I wonder if it would be fair to ask you to forgive me? Would it?"
She did not answer, and he stretched himself and sighed. His breathing became laboured and stertorous, his skin hot, and his eyes dilated.
"How do you feel now?" asked Roma.
"I'm going," he replied, and he smiled again.
The human soul was gleaming out of the wretched man at the last, and he was looking at her now with pleading eyes which plainly could not see.
"Are you there, Roma?"
"Promise that you will not leave me."
"I will not leave you now," she answered in a low voice.
After a moment he roused himself with an effort and said, "And this is the end! How absurd! They'll find me here in any case, and what a chatter there'll be! The Chamber—the journals—all the scribblers and speechifiers. What will Europe say? Another Boulanger, perhaps! But I'm sorry for Italy. Nobody can say I did not love my country. Where her interest lay I let nothing interfere. And just when everything seemed to triumph...."
He attempted to laugh. Roma shuddered.
"It was the star of the Annunziata that did it. The man threw it with such force. To think that it's been the aim of my life to win that Order and now it kills me! Ridiculous, isn't it?"
Again he attempted to laugh.
"There's a side of justice in that, though, and I'm not going to whine. The Pope tried to paint an awful end, but his nightmare didn't frighten me. We must all bow our heads to the law of compensation—the Pope as well as everybody else. But to die stupidly like this..."
He was speaking with difficulty, and dragging at his shirt front. Roma opened it at the neck, and something dropped on to the floor. It was a lock of glossy black hair tied with a red ribbon such as lawyers used to bind documents together. Dull as his sight was, he saw it.
"Yours, Roma! You were ill with fever when you first came to Rome, you remember. The doctors cut off your beautiful hair. This was some of it. I've worn it ever since. Silly, wasn't it?"
Tears began to shine in Roma's eyes. The cynical man who laughed at sentiment had carried the tenderest badge of it in his breast.
"I used to wear some of my mother's in the same place when I was younger. She was a good woman, too. When she put me to bed she used to repeat something: 'Hold Thou my hands,' I think.... May I hold your hands, Roma?"
Roma turned away her head, but she held out her hand, and the dying man kissed it.
"What a beautiful hand it is! I think I should know it among all the hands in the world. How stupid! People have been afraid of me all my life, Roma; even my mother was afraid of me when I was a child; but to die without once having known what it was to have some one to love you.... I believe I'm beginning to rave."
The mournful irony of the words was belied by the tremulous voice.
"My little comedy is played out, I suppose, and when the curtain is down it is time to go home. Death is a solemn sort of homegoing, Roma, and if those we've injured cannot forgive us before we go...."
But the battle of hate in Roma's heart was over. She had remembered Rossi and that had swept away all her bitterness. As the Baron stood to her, so she stood to her husband. They were two unforgiven ones, both guilty and ashamed.
"Indeed, indeed I do forgive you, as I hope to be forgiven," she said, whereupon he laughed again, but with a different note altogether.
Then he asked her to lift up his head. She placed a cushion under it, but still he called on her to lift his head higher.
"Can you lift me in your arms, Roma?... Higher still. So!... Can you hold me there?"
"How do you feel now?" she asked.
"It won't be long," he answered. His respirations came in whiffs.
Roma began to repeat as much as she could remember of the prayers for the dying which she had heard at the deathbed of her aunt. The dying man smiled an indulgent smile into the young woman's beautiful and mournful face and allowed her to go on. As she prayed faster and faster, saying the same words over and over again, she felt his breathing grow more faint and irregular. At length it seemed to stop, and thinking it was gone altogether, she made the sign of the cross and said:
"We commend to Thee, O Lord, the soul of Thy servant Gabriel, that being dead to the world he may live to Thee, and those sins which through the frailty of human life he has committed, Thou by the indulgence of Thy most merciful loving-kindness may wipe out, through Christ our Lord. Amen."
Then the glazed eyes opened wide and lighted up with a pitiful smile.
"I'm dying in your arms, Roma."
Then a long breath, and then:
He had tried to subdue all men to his will, and there was one man he had subdued above all others—himself. There is a greater man than the great man—the man who is too great to be great.
There had been no light in the dining-room except the reflection from the lamp in the sitting-room, and now it fell with awful shadows on the whitening face turned upward on the couch. The pains of death had given a distorted expression, and the eyes remained open. Roma wished to close them, but dared not try, and the image of inanimate objects standing in the light was mirrored in their dull and glassy surface. The dog in the distance was still barking, and a company of tipsy revellers were passing through the piazza singing a drinking song with a laugh in it. When they were gone the clocks outside began to strike. It was one o'clock, and the hour seemed to dance over the city in single steps.
Roma's terror became unbearable. Feeling herself to be a murderer, she acted on a murderer's impulse and prepared to fly. When she recalled the emotions with which she had determined to kill the Baron and then deliver herself up to justice, they seemed so remote that they might have existed only in a dream or belonged to another existence.
Trembling from head to foot, and scarcely able to support herself, she fixed her hat and veil afresh, put on her coat, and, taking one last fearful look at the wide-open eyes on the couch, she went backwards to the door. She dared not turn round from a creeping fear that something might touch her on the shoulder.
The door was open. No doubt Rossi had left it so, and she had not noticed the circumstance until now. She had got as far as the first landing when a poignant memory came to her—the memory of how she had first descended those stairs with Rossi, going side by side, and almost touching. The feeling that she had been fatal to the man since then nearly choked and blinded her, but it urged her on. If she remained until some one came, and the crime was discovered, what was she to say that would not incriminate her husband?
Suddenly she became aware of sounds from below—the measured footsteps of soldiers. She knew who they were. They were the Carabineers, and they were coming for Rossi, who had escaped and was being pursued.
Roma turned instantly, and with a noiseless step fled back to the door of the apartment, opened it with her latch-key, closed it silently, and bolted it on the inside. This was done before she knew what she was doing, and when she regained full possession of her faculties she was in the sitting-room, and the Carabineers were ringing at the electric bell.
They rang repeatedly. Roma stood in the middle of the floor, listening and holding her breath.
"Deuce take it!" said a voice outside. "Why doesn't the woman open the door if she doesn't want to get herself into trouble? She's at home, at all events."
"So is he, if I know anything," said a second voice. "He drove here anyway—not a doubt about that."
"Let's see the porter—he'll have another key."
"The old fool is out at the illuminations. But listen...." (the door rattled as if some one was shaking it). "This door is fastened on the inside."
There was a chuckling laugh, and then, "All right, boys! Down with it!"
A moment afterwards the door was broken open and four Carabineers were in the dining-room. Roma awaited their irruption without a word. She continued to stand in the middle of the sitting-room looking straight before her.
"Holy saints, what's this?" cried the voice she had heard first, and she knew that the Carabineers were bending over the body on the couch.
"Lord save us!"
Roma's head was dizzy, and something more was said which she did not follow. At the next moment the Carabineers had entered the sitting-room; she was standing face to face with them, and they were questioning her.
"The Honourable Rossi is here, isn't he?"
"No," she answered in a timid voice.
"But he has been here, hasn't he?"
"No," she answered more boldly.
"Do you mean to say that the Honourable Rossi has not been here to-night?"
"I do," she said, with exaggerated emphasis.
The marshal of the Carabineers, who had been speaking, looked attentively at her for a moment, and then he called on his men to search the rooms.
"What's this?" said the marshal, taking up a sealed letter from the bureau and reading the superscription: "L'on, Davide Rossi, Carceri Giudiziarie, di Milano."
"That's a letter I wrote to my husband and haven't yet posted," said Roma.
"But what's this?" cried a voice from the dining-room. "Presented to the Honourable David Rossi by the Italian colony in Zuerich."
Roma sank into a seat. It was the revolver. She had forgotten it.
"That's all right," said the marshal, with the same chuckle as before.
Dizzy and almost blind in her terror, Roma struggled to her feet. "The revolver belongs to me," she said. "Mr. Rossi left it in my keeping when he went away two months ago, and since that time he has never touched it."
"Then who fired the shot that killed his Excellency, Signora?"
"I did," said Roma.
Instinctively the man removed his hat.
Within half-an-hour Roma had repeated her statement at the Regina C[oe]li, and the Carabineers, to prevent a public scandal, had smuggled the body of the Baron, under the cover of night, to his office in the Palazzo Braschi, on the opposite side of the piazza.
One thought was supreme in David Rossi's mind when he left the Piazza Navona—that the world in which he had lived was shaken to its foundations and his life was at an end. The unhappy man wandered about the streets without asking himself where he was going or what was to become of him.
Many feelings tore his heart, but the worst of them was anger. He had taken the life of the Baron. The man deserved his death, and he felt no pity for his victim and no remorse for his crime. But that he should have killed the Minister, he who had twice stood between him and death, he who had resisted the doctrine of violence and all his life preached the gospel of peace, this was a degradation too shameful and abject.
The woman had been the beginning and end of everything. "How I hate her!" he thought. He was telling himself for the hundredth time that he had never hated anybody so much before, when he became aware that he had returned to the neighbourhood of the Piazza Navona. Without knowing what he was doing, he had been walking round and round it.
He began to picture Roma as he had seen her that night. The beautiful, mournful, pleading face, which he had not really seen while his eyes looked on it, now rose before the eye of his mind. This caused a wave of tenderness to pass over him against his will, and his heart, so full of hatred, began to melt with love.
All the cruel words he had spoken at parting returned to his memory, and he told himself that he had been too hasty. Instead of bearing her down he should have listened to her explanation. Before the Baron entered the room she had been at the point of swearing that her love, and nothing but her love, had caused her to betray him.
He told himself she had lied, but the thought was hell, and to escape from it he made for the bank of the river again. This time he crossed the bridge of St. Angelo, and passed up the Borgo to the piazza of St. Peter's. But the piazza itself awakened a crowd of memories. It was there in a balcony that he had first seen Roma, not plainly, but vaguely in a summer cloud of lace and sunshades.
Then it occurred to him that it must have been on this spot that Roma was inspired with the plot which had ended with his betrayal. At that thought all the bitterness of his soul returned. He told himself she deserved every word he had said to her, and blamed himself for the humiliation he had gone through in his attempt to make excuses for what she had done. To the curse he had hurled at her at the last moment he added words of fiercer anger, and though they were spoken only in his brain, or to the dark night and the rolling river, they intensified his fury.
"Oh, how I hate her!" he thought.
The piazza, was quiet. There was a light in the Pope's windows, and a Swiss Guard was patrolling behind the open wicket of the bronze gate to the Vatican. A porter in gorgeous livery was yawning by the door of the Prime Minister's palace. The man was waiting for his master. He would have to wait.
The clock of St. Peter's struck one, and the silent place began to be peopled with many shadows. The scene of the Pope's jubilee returned to Rossi's mind. He saw and heard everything over again. The crowd, the gorgeous procession, the Pope, and last of all his own speech. A sardonic smile crossed his face in the darkness as he thought of what he had said.
"Is it possible that I can ever have believed those fables?"
He was tramping down the Trastevere, picturing his trial for the murder of the Baron, with Roma in the witness-box and himself in the dock. The cold horror of it all was insupportable, and he told himself that there was only one place in which he could escape from despair.
The unhappy man had begun to think of taking his own life. He had always condemned suicide. He had even condemned it in Bruno. But it was the death grip of a man utterly borne down, and there was nothing else to hold on to.
The day began to break, and he turned back towards the piazza of St. Peter's, thinking of what he intended to do and where he would do it. By the end of the Hospital of Santo Spirito there was a little blind alley bounded by a low wall. Below was the quick turn of the Tiber, and no swimmer was strong enough to live long in the turbulent waters at that point. He would do it there.
The streets were silent, and in the grey dawn, that mystic hour of parturition when the day is being born and things are seen in places where they do not exist, when ships sail in the sky and mountains rise around lowland cities, David Rossi became aware in a moment that a woman was walking on the pavement in front of him. He could almost have believed that it was Roma, the figure was so tall and full and upright. But the woman's dress was poorer, and she was carrying a bundle in her arms. When he looked again he saw that her bundle was a child, and that she was weeping over it.
"Taking her little one to the hospital," he thought.
But on turning into the little Borgo he saw that the woman went up to the Rota, knelt before it, kissed the child again and again, put it in the cradle, pulled the bell, and then, crying bitterly, hastened away.
Rossi remembered his own mother, and a great tide of simple human tenderness swept over him. What he had seen the woman do was what his mother had done thirty-five years before. He saw it all as by a mystic flash of light, which looked back into the past.
Suddenly it occurred to him that the Rota had been long since closed, and therefore it was physically impossible that anybody could have put a child into the cradle. Then he remembered that he had not heard the bell, or the woman's footsteps, or the sound of her voice when she wept.
He stopped and looked back. The woman was returning in the direction of the piazza of St. Peter's. By an impulse which he could not resist he followed her, overtook her, and looked into her face.
Again he thought he was looking at Roma. There was the same nobility in the beautiful features, the same sweetness in the tremulous mouth, the same grandeur in the great dark eyes. But he knew perfectly who it was. It was his mother.
It did not seem strange that his mother should be there. From her home in heaven she had come down to watch over her son on earth. She had always been watching over him. And now that he too was betrayed and lost, now that he too was broken-hearted and alone....
He was utterly unmanned. "Mother! Mother! I am coming to you! Every door is closed against me, and I have nowhere to go to for refuge. I am coming!... I am coming!"
Then the spirit paused, and pointing to the bronze gate of the Vatican, said, with infinite tenderness:
PART NINE—THE PEOPLE
The Pope awoke next morning in the dreary hour of cock-crow, and rang for his valet while he was still in bed. When the valet came he was greatly agitated.
"What's amiss, Gaetanino?" said the Pope.
"A madman, your Holiness," said the valet. "They wanted me to awaken your Holiness, and I wouldn't do it. A madman is down at the bronze gate, and insists on seeing you."
At this moment the Maestro di Camera came into the room. He also was greatly agitated.
"What is this about some poor madman at the bronze gate?" asked the Pope.
"I have come to tell your Holiness," said the master of the household. "The man declares he is pursued, and demands sanctuary."
"Who is he?"
"He says he will give his name to the Holy Father only; but his face...."
"The man's mad," said the valet.
"Be quiet, Gaetanino."
"His face," continued the Maestro di Camera, "is known to the Swiss Guard, and when they sent up word...."
The Pope sat up and said, "Is it perhaps..."
"It is, your Holiness."
"Where is he now?"
"He has forced his way in as far as the Sala Clementina, and nothing but physical force...."
Sounds of voices raised in dispute could be heard in a distant room. The Pope listened and said:
"Let the man come up immediately."
"Here, your Holiness?"
The Maestro di Camera had hardly gone from the Pope's bedroom when the Secretary of State entered it with hasty steps.
"Your Holiness," he said, "you will not allow yourself to receive this person? It is sufficiently clear that he must have escaped from the police during the night, probably by the help of confederates, and to shelter him will be to come into collision with the civil authorities."
"The young man demands sanctuary, your Eminence, and whatever the consequences we have no right to refuse it."
"But sanctuary is obsolete, your Holiness."
"Nothing can be obsolete that is of divine institution, your Eminence."
"But, your Holiness, it can only exist by virtue of concession from the State, and the present relation of the Church to the State of Italy..."
"Your Eminence, I will ask you to let the young man come in."
"Your Holiness, I beg, I pray, reflect..."
"Let the young man come in, your Em..."
The Pope had not finished when the words were struck out of his mouth by an apparition which appeared at his bedroom door. It was that of a young man, whose eyes were wild, whose nostrils were quivering, and whose clothes hung about him in rags as if they had been torn in a recent struggle. He had a look of despair and suffering, yet it was the same to the Pope at that moment as if he were looking at his own features in a glass.
The young man was surrounded by Swiss Guards, and the Maestro di Camera pushed in ahead of him. Coming face to face with the Pope propped up in his bed, the loud tones on which he was protesting died in his throat, and he stood in silence on the threshold of the room.
The Pope was the first to speak.
"What is it you wish to say to me, my son?"
The young man seemed to recover his self-possession, but without a genuflexion or even a bow of the head, and with a slightly defiant manner, he said, "My name is David Leone. They call me Rossi, because that was my mother's name, and they said I had no right to my father's. I am a Roman, and I have been two months abroad. For ten years I have worked for the people, and now I am denounced and betrayed to the police. Three days ago I was arrested on returning to Italy, and to-night by the help of friends I have escaped from the Carabineers. But every gate is closed against me, and I cannot get out of Rome. This is the Vatican, and the Vatican is sanctuary. Will you take me in?"
The Pope looked at the Swiss Guard, and said in a tremulous voice, "Gentlemen, you will take this young man to your own quarters, and see that no Carabineer lays hand on him without my knowledge and consent."
"Your Holiness!" protested the Cardinal Secretary, but the Pope raised his hand and silenced him.
Rossi's defiant manner left him. "Wait," he said. "Before you decide to take me in you must know more about me, and what I am charged with. I am the Deputy Rossi who is said to have instigated the late riots. The warrant for my arrest accuses me of treason and an attempt on the person of the late King. It is false, but you must look at it for yourself. Here it is."
So saying he plunged into his pocket for the paper, and then said, "It is gone! I remember now—I flung it at the feet of my betrayer."
"Gentlemen," said the Pope, still addressing the Swiss Guard, "if the civil authorities attempt to arrest this young man, you may tell them they can only do so by giving a written promise of safety for life and limb."
Rossi's wild eyes began to melt. "You are very good," he said, "and I will not deceive you. Although I am innocent of the crime they charge me with, I have broken the law of God and of my country, and if you have any fear of the consequences you must turn me out while there is still time."
"Gentlemen," said the Pope, "instead of taking this young man to your quarters, let him be lodged in the empty apartment below my own, which was formerly occupied by the Secretary of State."
Rossi broke down utterly and fell to his knees. The Pope raised two fingers and blessed him.
"Go to your room and rest, my son, and God grant you a little repose."
By an impulse he could not resist, Rossi had risen from his knees, taken two or three steps forward, knelt again by the side of the bed, and put his lips to the Pope's hand.
With wet eyes that gleamed under his grey brows the Pope followed the young man out until, surrounded by the Swiss Guard, he had passed from the room. Then he rose and turned into his private chapel for his early Mass.
Less than half-an-hour afterwards a rumour swept through the Vatican like the gust of whistling wind that goes before a storm. The Pope met it as he was coming from Mass.
"What is it, Gaetanino?" he asked.
"Something about an assassination, your Holiness," said the valet, and the Pope stood as if thunderstruck, for he thought of Rossi and the King.
After a while the vague report became more definite. It was not the King but the Prime Minister who had been assassinated.
The Pope's private room began to fill with pallid faces. The Cardinal Secretary was there, the Maestro di Camera, and at length the little Majordomo. By this time a special message had reached the Vatican from one of its watchers outside, and they were able to discuss the circumstances. The Prime Minister had been found dead in his official palace in the Piazza Navona. He had dined at the Quirinal and remained there for the opening of the State Ball, therefore he could not have reached the Palazzo Braschi before eleven or twelve o'clock. Two shots had been heard about midnight, and the body had been discovered in the early morning.
The Pope listened and said nothing.
The Cardinal Secretary told another story. The Deputy Rossi, who had been brought to Rome by the train from Genoa, which arrived punctually at 11.45, had been rescued by a gang of ruffians at the station. The rescue had been prearranged, and the man had jumped into a coupe and driven off at a gallop. The coupe had gone down the Via Nazionale, and a few minutes before twelve o'clock it had been seen to turn into the Piazza Navona. It was by the accident that the Carabineers had followed in pursuit of the escaped prisoner that the murder had been discovered.
Still the Pope said nothing. But his head was held down, and his soul was full of trouble.
The group of prelates looked into each other's faces with suspicion and terror. A storm was gathering round the Vatican, and who could say what would happen if the Pope persisted in the course he had just taken? At length the Cardinal Secretary approached his Holiness, and said, with a deep genuflexion:
"Holy Father, I fear the tenderness of your fatherly heart has betrayed you into sheltering a criminal. It is not merely that the man Rossi is a revolutionary accused of an attempt to overthrow the Government of his country. There cannot be a question that he is a murderer also, and if you keep him here you will violate the law of every civilised State and expose yourself to the condemnation of the world."
The Pope did not reply. Other words in another voice were drumming in his ears with a new and terrible meaning: "I have broken the law of God and of my country, and if you have any fear of the consequences you must turn me out while there is still time."
"Your Holiness will also remember," said the Cardinal Secretary, "that by the regulation of the civil authorities which guarantees to the Holy Father the rights of sovereignty, it is expressly stated that he holds no powers which are contrary to the laws of the State and of public order. Therefore to conceal and protect a criminal would be of itself to commit a crime, and God alone can say what the consequence might be to the Vatican and to the Church."
"Oh, silence! silence!" cried the Pope, lifting a face full of suffering. "Leave me! leave me!"
The Cardinal Secretary and his colleagues bowed to the Pope and backed out of the room. A moment afterwards the young Monsignor entered. He was bringing a newspaper in his hand, for as Cameriere Participante he was one of the Pope's readers.
"Holy Father," he said in his nervous voice, "I bring you bad news."
"What is it, my son?" said the Pope, with a pitiful expression.
"The assassin of the Prime Minister turns out to be some one..."
"Some one known to your Holiness."
"Don't be afraid for the Holy Father.... Tell me, Monsignor."
"It is a lady, your Holiness."
"She has been arrested and has confessed."
"It is Donna Roma Volonna, your Holiness. She shot the Prime Minister with a revolver, and her motive was revenge."
The Pope lifted his head, and looked at the young Monsignor with an expression which no language can describe. Relief, joy, shame, and remorse were mingled in one flash on his broken and bankrupt face. He was silent for a moment, and then he said:
"Say nothing of this to the young man in the room below. If he is in sanctuary let him also be in peace. Whatever he is to hear of the world without must come through me alone. Give that as my order to everybody. And may God who has had mercy on His servant be good to us all!"
In penance for the joy he had felt on learning that Roma, not Rossi, had assassinated the Minister, the Pope became her advocate in his own mind, and watched for an opportunity to save her. Every day for a week Monsignor Mario read the newspapers to the Pope that he might be fully abreast of what occurred.
The first morning the journals merely reported the crime. The headless one with the fearful hands had stalked over the city in the middle of night in the shape of incarnate murder, and the citizens of Rome would awake to hear the news with consternation, horror, and shame.
The evening journals contained obituary articles and appreciations of the dead man's character. He was the Richelieu of Italy, the chivalrous and devoted servant of his country, and one of the noblest figures of the age.
"Extras" were published giving descriptions of the city under the first effects of the terrible news. Rome was literally draped in mourning. It was a forest of flags at half-mast. All public buildings, embassies, cafes, and places of public amusement were closed.
The Pope was puzzled, and calling a member of his Noble Guard (it was the Count de Raymond) he sent him out into the city to see.
When the Count de Raymond returned he told another story. The people, while deploring the crime, were not surprised at it. Baron Bonelli had refused to understand the wants of the nation. He had treated the people as slaves and shed their blood in the streets. Where such opinions were not openly expressed there was a gloomy silence. Groups could be seen under the great lamps in the Corso reading the evening papers. Sometimes a man would mount a chair in front of the Cafe Aragno and read aloud from the latest "extra." The crowd would listen, stand a moment, and then disperse.
Next day the journals were full of the assassin. Many things were incomprehensible in her character, unless you approached it with the right key. Young and with a fatal beauty, fantastic, audacious, a great coquette, always giving out a perfume of seduction and feminine ruin, she was one of those women who live in the atmosphere of infamous intrigue, and her last victim had been her first friend.
Once more the Pope was puzzled, and he sent out his Noble Guard again. The Count de Raymond returned to say that in corners of the cafes people spoke of the Baron as a dead dog, and said that if Donna Roma had killed him she did a good act, and God would reward her.
Parliament opened after its Easter vacation, and the Count de Raymond was sent in plain clothes to its first sitting. The galleries and lobbies were filled, and there was suppressed but intense excitement. Rumour said the Government had resigned, and that the King, who was in despair, had been unable to form another ministry. A leader of the Right was heard to say that Donna Roma had done more for the people in a day than the Opposition could have accomplished in a hundred years. "If these agitators on the Left have any qualities of statesmen, now's their time to show it," he said. But what would Parliament say about the dead man? The President entered and took his chair. After the minutes had been read there was a moment's silence. Not a word was uttered, not a voice was raised. "Let us pass on to the next business," said the President.
The assizes happened to be in session, and the opening of the trial was reported on the following day. When the prisoner was asked whether she pleaded guilty or not guilty, she answered guilty. The court, however, requested her to reconsider her plea, assigned her an advocate, and went through all the formalities of an ordinary case. A principal object of the prosecution had been to discover accomplices, but the prisoner continued to protest that she had none. She neither denied nor extenuated the crime, and she acknowledged it to have been premeditated. When asked to state her motive, she said it was hatred of the methods adopted by the dead man to wipe out political opponents, and a determination to send to the bar of the Almighty one who had placed himself above human law.
The Pope sent his Noble Guard to the next day's hearing of the trial, and when the Count de Raymond came back his eyes were red and swollen. The beautiful and melancholy face of the young prisoner sitting behind iron bars that were like the cage of a wild beast had made a pitiful impression. Her calmness, her total self-abandonment, the sublime feelings that even in the presence of a charge of murder expressed themselves in her sweet voice, had moved everybody to tears. Then the prosecution had been so debasing in its questions about her visits to the Vatican and in its efforts to implicate David Rossi by means of a letter addressed to the prison at Milan.
"But I did it," the young prisoner had said again and again with steadfast fervour, only deepening to alarm when evidence concerning the revolver seemed to endanger the absent man.
There had been some conflicting medical evidence as to whether the death could have been due to a pistol-shot, and certain astounding disclosures of police corruption and prison tyranny. A judge of the Military Tribunal had given startling proof of the Prime Minister's complicity in an infamous case, ending with the suicide of the prisoner's man-servant in open court, and an old Garibaldian among the people, packed away beyond the barrier, had cried out:
"He was just a black-dyed villain, and God Almighty save us from such another."
This laying bare of the machinery of statecraft had made a great sensation, and even the judge on the bench, being a just man, had lowered his eyes before the accused at the bar. As the prisoner was taken back to prison past the Castle of St. Angelo and the Military College, the crowds had cheered her again and again, and sitting in an open car with a Carabineer by her side, she had looked frightened at finding herself a heroine where she had expected to be a malefactor.
"Poor child!" said the Pope. "But who knows the hidden designs of Providence, whether manifest in the path of His justice or His mercy?"
Next day, when the Noble Guard returned to the Vatican, he could scarcely speak to tell his story. The trial had ended and the prisoner was condemned. Reluctantly the judge had sentenced her to life-long imprisonment. She had preserved the same lofty demeanour to the last, thanked her advocate, and even the judge and jury, and said they had taken the only true view of her act. Her great violet eyes were extraordinarily dilated and dark, and her face was transparent as alabaster.
"You have done right to condemn me," she said, "but God, who sees all, will weigh my conduct in the scale of His holy justice." The entire court was in tears.
When the time came to remove the lady the crowd ran out to see the last of her. There was a van and a company of Carabineers, but the emotion of the people mastered them and they tried to rescue the prisoner. This was near the Castle of St. Angelo, and the gates being open, the military rushed her into the fortress for safety. She was there now.
The Pope sent his Noble Guard to the Castle of St. Angelo to inquire after the prisoner, and the young soldier brought back a pitiful tale. Donna Roma was ill and could not be removed at present. Her nervous system was completely exhausted and nobody could say what might not occur. Nevertheless, she was very brave, very sweet and very cheerful, and everybody was in love with her. The Castle was occupied by a brigade of Military Engineers, and the Major in command was a good Catholic and a faithful son of the Holy Father. He had lodged his prisoner in the bright apartments that used to be the Pope's, although the prison for persons committed by the Penal Tribunals was a dark cell in the middle of the Maschio. She had expressed a desire to be received into the Church, and had asked the Major to send for Father Pifferi.
"Go back and tell the Major that I will go instead," said the Pope.
"Ask him if the secret passage between the Vatican and the Castle of St. Angelo can still be opened up."
Count de Raymond returned to say that the Major would open it. In the present political crisis no one could tell what a day would bring forth, and in any case he would take the consequences.
The Noble Guard held four unopened letters in his hand. They were addressed to the Honourable Rossi in a woman's writing, and had been re-addressed to the Chamber of Deputies from London, Paris, and Berlin.
"An official from the post-office gave me these letters, and asked me if I could deliver them," said the young soldier.
"My son, my son, didn't you see that it was a trap?" said the Pope. "But no matter! Give them to me. We must leave all to the Holy Spirit."
"The dress of a simple priest to-day, Gaetanino," said the Pope, when his valet came to his bedroom on the following morning.
After Mass and the usual visit of the Cardinal Secretary, the Pope called for the young Count de Raymond.
"We'll go down to our guest first," he said, putting into the side-pocket of his cassock the letters which the Noble Guard had given him.
They found Rossi sitting in a large, sparsely furnished room, by an almost untouched breakfast. He lifted his head when he heard steps, and rose as the Pope entered. His pale face was a picture of despair. "Something has died in him," thought the Pope, and an aching sadness, which had been gnawing at his heart for days, returned.
"They make you comfortable in this old place, my son?"
"Yes, your Holiness."
"And you have everything you wish for?"
"More than I deserve, your Holiness."
"You have suffered, my son. But, in the providence of God, who knows what may happen yet? Don't lose heart. Take an old man's word for it—life is worth living. The Holy Father has found it so in spite of many sorrows."
A kind of pitying smile passed over the young man's miserable face. "Mine is a sorrow your Holiness can know nothing about—I have lost my wife," he said.
There was a moment of silence. Then the Pope said in a voice that shook slightly, "You don't mean that your wife is dead, but only...."
"Only," said Rossi, with a curl of the lip, "that it was she who betrayed me."
"It's hard, my son, very hard. But who knows what influences...."
"Curse them! Curse the influences, whatever they were, which caused a wife to betray her husband."
The Pope, who was sitting with both hands on the knob of his stick, quivered perceptibly. "My son," he said, "you have much to justify you, and it is not for me to gainsay you altogether. But God rules His world in righteousness, and if this had not happened, who knows but what worse might have befallen you?"
"Nothing worse could have befallen me, your Holiness."
There was another moment of silence, and then the Pope said, "Yes, I understand what it is to build one's faith on a human foundation. The foundation fails, and then the heart sinks, the soul totters. But bad as this ... this betrayal is, you do very wrong if you refuse to see that it saved you from the consequences—the awful consequences before God and man—of your intended conduct."
"What conduct, your Holiness?"
"The terrible conduct which formed the basis of your plans on returning to Rome."
"You mean ... what the newspapers talked about?"
The Pope bent his head.
"A conspiracy to kill the King?"
Again the Pope bent his head.
"You believed that, your Holiness?"
"Unhappily I was compelled to do so."
"And she ... do you suppose she believed it?"
"She believed you were engaged in conspiracies. There was nothing else she could believe in the light of what you had said and written."
After a moment Rossi began to laugh. "And yet you say the world is ruled in righteousness!" he said.
The Pope's face was whitening. "Do you tell me it was a mistake?" he asked.
"Indeed I do. The only conspiracies I was engaged in were conspiracies to found associations of freedom which had been forbidden by the tyrannical new decree. But what matter? If an error like that can lead to results like these, what's the good of trying?" And he laughed again.
The Pope, who was deeply moved, looked up into the young man's tortured face, without knowing that his own tears were streaming. Old memories were astir within him, and he was carried back into the past of his own life. He was remembering the days when he too had reeled beneath the blow of a terrible fate, and all his hopes and beliefs had been mown down as by a scythe. But God had been good. His gracious hand had healed the wound and made all things well.
Taking the letters from the pocket of his cassock, the Pope laid them on the table.
"These are for you, my son," he said, and then he turned away.
Going down the narrow roofed-in passage to the Castle of St. Angelo, with shafts of morning sunshine slanting through its lancet windows, and the voices of children at play coming up from the street below, the Pope told himself that he must be severe with Roma. The only thing irremediable in all that had happened was the assassination, and though that, in God's hands, had teen turned to the good of the people, yet it raised a barrier between two unhappy souls that might never in this life be passed.
"Poor child! Poor flower broken by the storms of fate! But I must reprove her. Before I give her the Blessed Sacrament she must confess and show a full contrition."
Roma was lying on a bed-chair in the frescoed room which had once been the Pope's salon. She was wearing a white dress, and it made her unruffled brow look like alabaster. Her large eyes, which were closed, had blue rings on the lids, and her mouth, once so rosy and so gay with laughter and light words, was colourless as marble.
A lay Sister, in a black and white habit, moved softly about the room. It was Bruno's widow, Elena. She was the Sister Angelica who had entered the convent of the Sacred Heart. It was there she had buried her own trouble until, hearing of Roma's, she had begged to be allowed to nurse her.
A door opened and an officer, in a mixed light and dark blue uniform, entered. It was the doctor of the regiment.
"Poor soul! Let her sleep as long as she can."
But at that moment Roma opened her eyes, and held out her white hand. "Is it you, doctor?" she said with a smile.
"And how is my patient this morning? Better, I think."
"Much better. In fact, I feel no pain at all to-day."
"She never does. She never feels anything if you believe her," said Elena.
"Why should I be tired, I wonder?"
"Sitting up all night with me. Your big burden is very troublesome, doctor."
"Tut! You mustn't talk like that."
"If all jailors were as good to their prisoners as mine are to me!"
"And if all prisoners were as good to their jailors.... But I forbid that subject. I absolutely forbid it.... Ah, here comes your breakfast."
A soldier in uniform trousers and a linen jacket and cap had come in with a tray on which there was a smoking basin.
"You are from Sicily, aren't you, cook?"
"Yes, from Sicily, Signora."
Roma leaned back to Elena and said in an undertone, "That's where he has gone to, isn't it?"
"Some people say so, but nobody knows where he is."
"No news yet?"
"Sicily must be a lovely place, cook?"
"It is, Signora. It's the loveliest place in the world."
"Last night I had such a beautiful dream, doctor. Somebody who had been away came back, and all the church bells rang for him. I thought it was noon, I remember, for the big gun of the Castle had just been fired. But when I awoke it was quite dark, yet there was really something going on, for I could hear people singing in the city and bands of music playing."
"Ah, that ... I'm afraid that was only ... only the sequel to the Prime Minister's funeral. Rome is not sorry that Baron Bonelli is dead, and last night a procession of men and women marched along the streets with songs and hymns, as on a night of carnival.... But I must be going. Sister, see she takes her medicine as usual, and lies quiet and does not excite herself. Good-morning!"
When the cook also had gone Roma raised herself on her elbow. "Did you hear what the doctor said, Elena? The death of the Baron has altered everything. It was really no crime to kill that man, and by rights nobody should suffer for it."
"Ah! no, I didn't mean that. Yet why shouldn't I? And why shouldn't you? Didn't he kill Bruno and our poor dear little Joseph?..."
Elena was crying. "I'm not thinking of myself," she said.
"I'm not thinking of myself, either," said Roma, "and I'm not going to give in at the eleventh hour. But David Rossi will come back. I am sure he will, and then..."
"And then... you, Donna Roma?"
Roma fell back on her bed-chair. "No, I shall not be here, that's true. It's a pity, but after all it makes no difference. And if David Rossi has to come back... over... over my dead body, as you might say... who is to know... or care... except perhaps... some day... when he..."
Roma struggled on, but Elena broke down utterly.
The door opened again, and a sentry on guard outside announced the English Ambassador.
"Ah! Sir Evelyn, is it you?"
The English gentleman held down his head. "Forgive me if I intrude upon your trouble, Donna Roma."
"Sit! Give his Excellency a chair, Sister.... Times have changed since I knew you first, Sir Evelyn. I was a thoughtless, happy woman in those days. But they are gone, and I do not regret them."
"You are very brave, Donna Roma. Too brave. Only for that your trial must have gone differently."
"It's all for the best, your Excellency. But was there anything you wished to say to me?"
"Yes. The report of your condemnation has been received with deep emotion in my country, and as the evidence given in court showed that you were born in England, I feel that I am justified in intervening on your behalf."
"But I don't want you to intervene, dear friend."
"Donna Roma, it is still possible to appeal to the Court of Cassation."
"I have no desire to appeal—there is nothing to appeal against."
"There might be much if you could be brought to see that—that.... In fact so many pleas are possible, and all of them good ones. For instance...."
The Englishman dropped both eyes and voice.
"Donna Roma, you were tried and condemned on a charge of going to the Prime Minister's cabinet with the intention of killing him, and of killing him there. But if it could be proved that he came to your house, and that, to shield another person not now in the hands of justice, you...."
"What are you saying, your Excellency?"
The Englishman had drawn from his breast-pocket a crumpled sheet of white paper.
"Last night I visited your deserted apartment in the Piazza Navona, and there, amid other signs that were clear and convincing—the marks of two pistol-shots—I found—this."
"What is it? Give it to me," cried Roma. She almost snatched it out of his hand. It was the warrant which Rossi had rolled up and flung away.
"How did that warrant come there, Donna Roma? Who brought it? What other person was with you in those rooms that night? What does he say to this evidence of his presence on the scene of the crime?"
Roma did not speak immediately. She continued to look at the Englishman with her large mournful eyes until his own eyes fell, and there was no sound but the crinkling of the warrant in her hand. Then she said, very softly:
"Excellency, you must please let me keep this paper. As you see, it is nothing in itself, and without my testimony you can make nothing of it. I shall never appeal against my sentence, and therefore it can be no good to me or to anybody. But it may prove to be a danger to somebody else—somebody whose name should be above reproach."
She stretched out a sweet white hand and touched his own.
"Haven't I done enough wrong to him already, and isn't this paper a proof of it? Must I go farther still, and bring him to the galleys? You cannot wish it. Don't you see that the police would have to deny everything? And I—if you forced me to speak, I should deny everything also."
A gentle, brave dauntlessness rang in her voice, and the Englishman could with difficulty keep back his tears.
"Excellency, Sir Evelyn, friend ... tell me I may keep the paper."
The Englishman rose and turned his head away. "It is yours, Donna Roma—you must do as you please with it."
She kissed the paper and put it in her breast.
"Good-bye, dear friend."
He tried to answer, "Good-bye! God bless you!" But the words would not come.
"The Major!" said the voice of the sentry. The Commandant of the Castle came into the room.
"Ah! Major!" cried Roma.
"The doctor tells me you are better this morning."
"It is my duty—my unhappy duty—to bring you a painful message. The authorities, thinking your presence in Rome a cause of excitement to the populace, have decided to send you to Viterbo."
"When is it to be, Major?"
"To-morrow about mid-day."
"I shall be quite-ready. But have you sent for Father Pifferi?"
"I came to speak about that also. Sister, return to your room for the present."
Elena went out.
"Donna Roma, a great personage has asked to see you in the place of the Father General. He will come in through that doorway. It leads by a passage long sealed up to the apartment of the Pope in the Vatican, and he who comes and goes by it must be unknown and unseen by any one except yourself."
But the Major was going hurriedly out of the room. A moment afterwards the Pope entered in his black cassock as a priest.
"Rise, my child! God knows if the Holy Father ought to give you his blessing. Far be it from me to add bitterness to your remorse in finding yourself in this place and guilty of this sin, but.... Are we alone?"
"Quite alone, your Holiness."
"Sit down. The Holy Father will sit beside you."
He was trying to be severe with her, but it was very difficult. His hand strayed down to hers, and at every hard word there was a tender pressure.
"The Baron is dead. He was a cruel, heartless tyrant, without mercy or humanity. His death has altered everything, and the load that lay on Italy has been lifted away. But none the less you did wrong, very, very wrong, and by the mad act of a moment.... My child! My poor child! God help you! God help this little lost one!"
He patted the hand that lay in his as if he had been quieting a crying child.
"My child, I cannot save you from the consequences of your sin. You must go where I cannot follow you. But since the Holy Father induced you to make that cruel denunciation—but let us be calm—let us be calm!"
Roma was perfectly calm, but the Pope could barely control himself.
"I see now that we made a mistake. The conspiracies of David Rossi were not criminal, and his aims were not unrighteous. I have been instructed on this subject, and now I see everything in a different light. Yes, a great mistake, although a natural and excusable one, and if that was the cause and origin of this terrible event, the Holy Father who led you so far...."
"Nay, you must not expect too much. It is little I can do. But now that governments are falling and parliaments are being dissolved, David Rossi must come back...."
Roma made a cry of joy, and the Pope raised a warning finger.
"Ah, you must never think of that, my child—you must never think of it. It is a pity, a great pity, but, alas! it cannot be otherwise now. If your husband is to come back, his name must be kept clean and unblemished, and you can never rejoin him whatever happens."
Dizzy with a sense of the Pope's awful error, Roma turned away her face.
"But if you tell me that what you did was due to the compulsion that was put upon you to denounce David Rossi, he must come forward, whatever the consequences, to defend you and plead for you. He must say to the world and to your judges: 'It is true that this poor lady has committed a crime—an awful crime, such as shuts the guilty one out of the fold of the human family—but she was provoked to it by a falsehood. The dead man deceived her. He was her betrayer, her assassin, for he tried to slay her soul. Therefore you will have mercy upon her as you hope for mercy, you will forgive her as you hope for forgiveness, and in the peace and penance of some holy convent she will wipe out the past of her unhappy life as Mary wiped out her sins in the tears with which she washed her Master's feet.'"
He had risen in the exaltation of his emotion, and raised one hand over his head, but Roma, in the toils of the terrible error, had dropped to her knees at his feet.
"Oh, I cannot die with a lie on my lips. Holy Father, let me make my confession."
A vague foreshadowing of the coming revelation seemed to light on the Pope, and he sat down again without a word. Mechanically he prepared to receive the penitent into the Church, questioning her, instructing her, calling on her to repeat the profession of faith, and finally baptizing her conditionally.
"Baptism wipes out all your sins, my daughter," he said, "but if for your soul's comfort you wish to make a full confession before I give you the Blessed Sacrament...."
"I do. I have wished it ever since the end of my trial, and that was why I asked for Father Pifferi."
"Then take care—accuse nobody else, my daughter."
Roma put her hands together, repeated the Confiteor, and then said:
"Father, I am a great, great sinner, and when I charged myself in court with having killed the Minister, I told falsehood to shield another."
"My child!" The Pope had risen to his feet.
There was a moment of painful silence, and then the Pope sat down again with rigid limbs, saying in a husky voice:
"Go on, my daughter."
Roma went on with her confession. She told of the mad impulse that came to her to kill the Baron after he had forced her to denounce her husband. She told of her preparations for killing him, and of the incidents of the night of the crime when she was making ready to set out on her awful errand.
"But he came to me in my own rooms at that very moment, your Holiness, and then...."
"In ... your own rooms?"
"Yes, indeed, and that was really the cause of everything."
"Somebody else came afterwards."
"A ... friend?"
She hesitated for a moment, and then put her hand into her breast and drew out the warrant.
"This one," she said, in a voice that was scarcely audible.
The Pope took the paper, and it rustled as he opened it. There was no other sound in the prison cell except the rasping noise of his rapid breathing.
"David Leone! You don't mean to say—to imply...."
The Pope's eyes wandered vaguely around, but they came back to the face at his feet, and he said:
"No, no! You cannot mean that, my child. Tell me I have misunderstood you and come to a wrong conclusion."
Roma did not reply. Her head sunk lower and lower, and seeing this, the Pope rose again, and standing over her he cried:
"Tell me! Tell me, I command you! You wish me to believe that it was he, not you, who committed the crime! Out on you! out on you!"
But having said this in a hoarse and angry voice, he passed his arm over his eyes as if to brush away the clouds that had gathered there, and muttered in a broken and feeble way, "O God, Thou knowest my foolishness. I am poor and needy. Make haste unto me, O God! Hide not Thy face from Thy servant, for I am in trouble."
Roma was crying at the Pope's feet, and after a moment he became aware of it, and stooped to lift her up.
"My child! My poor, poor child! You must bear with me. I am an old man now. Only a weak old man. My brain is confused. Things run together in it. But I understand. I think I understand."
She rose and kissed his trembling hand. He was still holding the warrant.
"Where did this paper come from?"
"The English Ambassador brought it this morning. He had found it in our rooms in the Piazza Navona."
"The place where the crime was committed?"
The Pope straightened himself up, and said in a firm voice:
"My daughter, you must permit me to keep this warrant."
"Yes, yes! If I said before that your husband should come out and defend you, I say now that he shall come out and accuse himself."
"He shall go to the courts and say: 'This lady is innocent. She sacrificed herself to save my life. I do not ask for mercy. I ask for justice. Liberate her and arrest me.'"
Roma had knelt again, and was fingering the skirt of the Pope's cassock.
"But, Holy Father," she said, "there is something I have not told you. He who killed the Minister did so in self-defence...."
"His act was an accident, and if it had not happened the Minister would have killed him, whereas I...."
"In self-defence, you say?"
"I am really guilty of the crime, because I intended to commit it."
"But if it was done in self-defence it was no crime, and you must not and shall not suffer."
Roma dropped the Pope's cassock and took hold of his hand.
"Holy Father," she said, "how can I wish to live when he who loved me loves me no longer? I know quite well it is better that I should go, and that when he comes it should be all over. I dreamt of it last night, your Holiness. I thought my husband had come back and all the church bells were ringing. Only a dream, and perhaps you do not believe in such foolishness. But it was very sweet to think that if I could not live for my love I could die for him, and so wipe out everything."
The Pope's white head was bent very low.
"And then I cannot suffer very much, your Holiness. I am ill, really ill, and my trouble will not last very long. And if God is using what has happened to bring out all things well, perhaps He intends that I shall give myself in the place of some one who is better and more necessary."
The Pope could bear no more. His lip quivered and his voice shook, but his eyes were shining.
"It is not for me to gainsay you, my daughter. I came here to see Mary Magdalene, and find the soul of the saints themselves. The world's judgment on a woman who has sinned is merciless and cruel, but if David Rossi is worthy of his mother and his name, he will come back to you on his knees."
"Bless me, your Holiness."
"I bless you, my daughter. May He in whose hands are the issues of life and death cover your transgressions with the vast wings of His gracious pardon and bring you joy and peace."
The Pope went out with a brightening face, and Roma staggered back to her couch.
David Rossi sat all day in his room in the Vatican reading the letters the Pope had left with him. They were the letters which Roma had addressed to him in London, Paris, and Berlin.
He read them again and again, and save for the tick of the clock there was no sound in the large gaunt room but his stifled moans. The most violently opposed feelings possessed him, and he hardly knew whether he was glad or sorry that thus late, and after a cruel fate had fallen, these messages of peace had reached him.
A spirit seemed to emanate from the thin transparent sheets of paper, and it penetrated his whole being. As he read the words, now gay, now sad, now glowing with joy, now wailing with sorrow, a world of fond and tender emotions swelled up and blotted out all darker passions.
He could see Roma herself, and his heart throbbed as of old under the influence of her sweet indescribable presence. Those dear features, those marvellous eyes, that voice, that smile—they swam up and tortured him with love and with remorse.
How bravely she had withstood his enemies! To think of that young, ardent, brilliant, happy life sacrificed to his sufferings! And then her poor, pathetic secret—how sweet and honest she had been about it! Only a pure and courageous woman could have done as she did; while he, in his blundering passion and mad wrath, had behaved like a foul-minded tyrant and a coward. What loud protestations of heroic love he had made when he imagined the matter affected another man! And when he had learned that it concerned himself, how his vaunted constancy had failed him, and he had cursed the poor soul whose confidence he had invited!
But above all the pangs of love and remorse, Rossi was conscious of an overpowering despair. It took the form of revolt against God, who had allowed such a blind and cruel sequence of events to wreck the lives of two of His innocent children. When he took refuge in the Vatican he must have been clinging to some waif and stray of hope. It was gone now, and there was no use struggling. The nothingness of man against the pitilessness of fate made all the world a blank.
Rossi had rung the bell to ask for an audience with his Holiness when the door opened and the Pope himself entered.
"Holy Father, I wished to speak to you."
"What about, my son?"
"Myself. Now I see that I did wrong to ask for your protection. You thought I was innocent, and there was something I did not tell you. When I said I was guilty before God and man, you did not understand what I meant. Holy Father, I meant that I had committed murder."
The Pope did not answer, and Rossi went on, his voice ringing with the baleful sentiments which possessed him.
"To tell you the truth, Holy Father, I hardly thought of it myself. What I had done was partly in self-defence, and I did not consider it a crime. And then, he whose life I had taken was an evil man, with the devil's dues in him, and I felt no more remorse after killing him than if I had trodden on a poisonous adder. But now I see things differently. In coming here I exposed you to danger at the hands of the State. I ask your pardon, and I beg you to let me go."
"Where will you go to?"
"Anywhere—nowhere—I don't know yet."
The Pope looked at the young face, cut deep with lines of despair, and his heart yearned over it.
"Sit down, my son. Let us think. Though you did not tell me of the assassination, I soon knew all about it.... Partly in self-defence, you say?"
"That is so, but I do not urge it as an excuse. And if I did, who else knows anything about it?"
"Is there nobody who knows?"
"One, perhaps. But it is my wife, and she could have no interest in saving me now, even if I wished to be saved.... I have read her letters."
"If I were to tell you it is not so, my son—that your wife is still ready to sacrifice herself for your safety...."
"But that is impossible, your Holiness. There are so many things you do not know."
"If I were to tell you that I have just seen her, and, notwithstanding your want of faith in her, she still has faith in you...."
The deep lines of despair began to pass from Rossi's face, and he made a cry of joy.
"If I were to say that she loves you, and would give her life for you...."
"Is it possible? Do you tell me that? In spite of everything? And she—where is she? Let me go to her. Holy Father, if you only knew! I'll go and beg her pardon. I cursed her! Yes, it is true that in my blind, mad passion I.... But let me go back to her on my knees. The rest of my life spent at her feet will not be enough to wipe out my fault."
"Stay, my son. You shall see her presently."
"Can it be possible that I shall see her? I thought I should never see her again; but I counted without God. Ah! God is good after all. And you, Holy Father, you are good too. I will beg her forgiveness, and she will forgive me. Then we'll fly away somewhere—we'll escape to Africa, India, anywhere. We'll snatch a few years of happiness, and what more has anybody a right to expect in this miserable world?"
Exalted in the light of his imaginary future, he seemed to forget everything else—his crime, his work, his people.
"Is she at home still?"
"She is only a few paces from this place, my son."
"Only a few paces! Oh, let me not lose a moment more. Where is she?"
"In the Castle of St. Angelo," said the Pope.
A dark cloud crossed Rossi's beaming face and his mouth opened as if to emit a startling cry.
"In ... in prison?"
The Pope bowed.
"The assassination of the Minister."
"Roma?... But what a fool I was not to think of it as a thing that might happen! I left her with the dead man. Who was to believe her when she denied that she had killed him?"
"She did not deny it. She avowed it."
"Avowed it? She said that she had...."
The Pope bowed again.
"Then ... then it was ... was it to shield me?"
Rossi's eyes grew moist. He was like another man.
"But the court ... surely no court will believe her."
"She has been tried and sentenced, my son."
"Sentenced? Do you say sentenced? For a crime she did not commit? And to shield me? Holy Father, would you believe that the last words I spoke to that woman ... but she is an angel. The authorities must be mad, though. Did nobody think of me? Didn't it occur to any one that I had been there that night?"
"There was only one piece of evidence connecting you with the scene of the crime, my son. It was this."
The Pope drew from his breast the warrant he had taken from Roma.
"She had it?"
Rossi's emotions whirled within him in a kind of hurricane. The despair which had clamoured so loud looked mean and contemptible in the presence of the mighty passion which had put it to shame. But after a while his swimming eyes began to shine, and he said:
"Holy Father, this paper belongs to me and you must permit me to keep it."
"What do you intend to do, my son?"
"There is only one thing to do now."
"What is that?"
"To save her."
There was no need to ask how. The Pope understood, and his breast throbbed and swelled. But now that he had accomplished what he came for, now that he had awakened the sleeping soul and given it hope and faith and courage to face justice, and even death if need be, the Pope became suddenly conscious of a feeling in his own heart which he struggled in vain to suppress.
"Far be it from me to excuse a crime, my son, but the merciful God who employs our poor passions to His own great purposes has used your acts to great ends. The world is trembling on the verge of unknown events and nobody knows what a day may bring forth. Let us wait a while."
Rossi shook his head.
"It is true that a crime will be the same to-morrow as to-day, but the dead man was a tyrant, a ferocious tyrant, and if he forced you in self-defence..."
Again Rossi shook his head, but still the Pope struggled on.
"You have your own life to think about, my son, and who knows but in God's good service..."
"Let me go."
"You intend to give yourself up?"
The Pope could say no more. He rose to his feet. His saintly face was full of a dumb yearning love and pride, which his tongue might never tell. He thought of his years of dark searching, ending at length in this meeting and farewell, and an impulse came to him to clasp the young man to his swelling and throbbing breast. But after a moment, with something of his old courageous calm of voice, he said:
"I am not surprised at your decision, my son. It is worthy of your blood and name. And now that we are parting for the last time, I could wish to tell you something."
David Rossi did not speak.
"I knew your mother, my son."
The Pope bowed and smiled.
"She was a great soul, too, and she suffered terribly. Such are the ways of God."
Still Rossi did not speak. He was looking steadfastly into the Pope's quivering face and making an effort to control himself.
The Pope's voice shook and his lip trembled.
"Naturally, you think ill of your father, knowing how much your mother suffered. Isn't that so?"
Rossi put one hand to his forehead as if to steady his reeling brain, and said, "Who am I to think ill of any one?"
The Pope smiled again, a timid smile.
Rossi caught his breath.
"If, in the providence of God, you were to meet your father somewhere, and he held out his hand to you, would you ... wherever you met and whatever he might be ... would you shake hands with him?"
"Yes," said Rossi; "if I were a King on his throne, and he were the lowest convict at the galleys."
The Pope fetched a long breath, took a step forward, and silently held out his hand. At the next moment the young man and the old Pope were hand to hand and eye to eye.
They tried to speak and could not.
"Farewell!" said the Pope in a choking voice, and turning away he tottered out of the room.
The doctor of the Engineers, not entirely satisfied with his diagnosis of Roma's illness, prescribed a remedy of unfailing virtue—hope. It was a happy treatment. The past of her life seemed to have disappeared from her consciousness and she lived entirely in the future. It was always shining in her eyes like a beautiful sunrise.
The sunrise Roma saw was beyond the veil of this life, but the good souls about her knew nothing of that. They brought every piece of worldly intelligence that was likely to be good news to her. By this time they imagined they knew where her heart lay, and such happiness was in her white face when as soldiers of the King they whispered treason that they thought themselves rewarded.
They told her of an attempted attack on the Vatican, with all its results and consequences—army disorganised, the Borgo Barracks shut up, soldiers wearing cockades and marching arm in arm, the Government helpless and the Quirinal in despair.
"I'm sorry for the young King," she said, "but still...."
It was the higher power working with blind instruments. Rossi would come back. His hopes, so nearly laid waste, would at length be realised. And if, as she had told Elena, he had to return over her own dead body, so to speak, there would be justice even in that. It would be pitiful, but it would be glorious also. There were mysteries in life and death, and this was one of them.
She was as gentle and humble as ever, but every hour she grew more restless. This conveyed to her guards the idea that she was expecting something. Notwithstanding her plea of guilty, they thought perhaps she was looking for her liberty out of the prevailing turmoil.
"I will be very good and do everything you wish, doctor. But don't forget to ask the Prefect to let me stay in Rome over to-morrow. And, Sister, do please remember to waken me early in the morning, because I'm certain that something is going to happen. I've dreamt of it three times, you know."
"A pity!" thought the doctor. "Governments may fall and even dynasties may disappear, but judicial authorities remain the same as ever, and the judgment of the court must be carried out."
Nevertheless he would speak to the Prefect. He would say that in the prisoner's present condition the journey to Viterbo might have serious consequences. As he was setting out on this errand early the following morning, he met Elena in the anteroom, and heard that Roma was paying the most minute attention to the making of her toilet.
"Strange! You would think she was expecting some one," said Elena.
"She is, too," said the doctor. "And he is a visitor who will not keep her long."
The soldier who brought Roma her breakfast that morning brought something else that she found infinitely more appetising. Rossi had returned to Rome! One of the men below had seen him in the street last night. He was going in the direction of the Piazza Navona, and nobody was attempting to arrest him.
Roma's eyes flashed like stars, and she sent down a message to the Major, asking to be allowed to see the soldier who had seen Rossi.
He was a big ungainly fellow, but in Roma's eyes who shall say how beautiful? She asked him a hundred questions. His dense head was utterly bewildered.
The doctor came back with a smiling face. The Prefect had agreed to postpone indefinitely the transfer of their prisoner to the penitentiary. The good man thought she would be very grateful.
"Ah, indefinitely? I only wished to remain over to-day! After that I shall be quite ready."
But the doctor brought another piece of news which threw her into the wildest excitement. Both Senate and Chamber of Deputies had been convoked late last night for an early hour this morning. Rumour said they were to receive an urgent message from the King. There was the greatest commotion in the neighbourhood of the Houses of Parliament, and the public tribunes were densely crowded. The doctor himself had obtained a card for the Chamber, but he was unable to get beyond the corridors. Nevertheless, the doors being open owing to the heat and crush, he had heard something. Vaguely, for five minutes, he had heard one of their great speakers.
"Was it ... was it, perhaps...."
Again the big eyes flashed like stars.
"You heard him speak?"
"I heard his voice at all events."
"It's a wonderful voice, isn't it? And you really heard him? Can it be possible?"
Elena, the sad figure in the background of these bright pathetic scenes, thought Roma was hoping for a reconciliation with Rossi. She hinted as much, and then the fierce joy in the white face faded away.
"Ah, no! I'm not thinking of that, Elena."
Her love was too large for personal thoughts. It had risen higher than any selfish expectations.
They helped her on to the loggia. The day was warm, and the fresh air would do her good. She looked out over the city with a loving gaze, first towards the Piazza Navona, then towards the tower of Monte Citorio, and last of all towards Trinita de' Monti and the House of the Four Winds. But she was seeing things as they would be when she was gone, not to Viterbo, but on a longer journey.
"Do you think he will ever learn the truth?"
"About the denunciation?"
"I should think he is certain to do so."
"Why I did it, and what tempted me, and ... and everything?"
"Yes, indeed, everything."
"Do you think he will think kindly of me then, and forgive me and be merciful?"
"I am sure he will."
A mysterious glow came into the pallid face.
"Even if he never learns the truth here, he will learn it hereafter, won't he? Don't you believe in that, Elena—that the dead know all?"
"If I didn't, how could I bear to think of Bruno?"
"True. How selfish I am! I hadn't thought of that. We are in the same case in some things, Elena."
The future was shining in the brilliant eyes with the radiance of an unseen sunrise.
"Do you think it will seem long to wait until he comes?"
"Don't talk like that, Donna Roma."
"Why not? It's only a little sooner or later, you know. Will it?"
Elena had turned aside, and Roma answered herself.
"I don't. I think it will pass like a dream—like going to bed at night and awaking in the morning. And then both together—there."
She took a long deep breath of unutterable joy.
"Oh," she said, "that I may sleep until he comes—knowing all, forgiving everything, loving me the same as before, and every cruel thought dead and gone and forgotten."
She asked for pen and paper and wrote a letter to Rossi:
"DEAREST,—I hear the good news, just as I am on the point of leaving Rome, that you have returned to it, and I write to ask you not to try to alter what has happened. Believe me, it is better so. The world wants you, dear, and it doesn't want me any longer. Therefore return to life, be brave and strong and great, and think of me no more until we meet again.
"You will know by what I have done that what you thought was quite unfounded. Whatever people say of me, you must always believe that I loved you from the first, and that I have never loved anybody but you.
"You were angry with me when we parted, but more than ever I love you now. Don't think our love has been wasted. ''Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.' How beautiful! ROMA."
Having written her letter, and put her lips to the enclosure, she addressed the envelope in a bold hand and with a brave flourish: "All' Illustrissimo Signor Davide Rossi, Camera dei Deputati."
"You'll post this immediately I am gone, Sister," she said.
Elena pretended to put the letter away for that purpose, but she really smuggled it down to the Major, who despatched it forthwith to the Chamber of Deputies.
"And now I'll go to sleep," said Roma.
She slept until mid-day with the sun's reflection from the white plaster of the groined ceiling of the loggia on her still whiter face. Then the twelve o'clock gun shook the walls of the Castle, and she awoke while the church bells were ringing.
"I thought it was my dream coming true, Sister," she said.
The doctor came up at that moment in a high state of excitement.
"Great news, Donna Roma. The King...."
"Failing to form a Government to follow that of the Baron, appealed to Parliament to nominate a successor...."
"Parliament has nominated the Honourable Rossi, the King has called for him, the warrant for his arrest has been cancelled, and all persons imprisoned for the recent insurrection have been set at liberty."
Roma's trembling and exultant eyelids told a touching story.
"Is there anything to see?"
"Only the flag on the Capitol."
"Let me look at it."
He helped her to rise. "Look! There it is on the clock tower."
"I see it.... That will do. You can put me down now, doctor."
An ineffable joy shone in her face.
"It was my dream after all, Elena."
After a moment she said, "Doctor, tell the Prefect I am quite ready to go to Viterbo. In fact I wish to go. I should like to go immediately."
"I'll tell him," said the doctor, and he went out to hide his emotion.
The Major came to the open arch of the loggia. He stood there for a moment, and there was somebody behind him. Then the Major disappeared, but the other remained. It was David Rossi. He was standing like a man transfixed, looking in speechless dismay at Roma's pallid face with the light of heaven on it.
Roma did not see Rossi, and Elena, who did, was too frightened to speak. Lying back in her bed-chair with a great happiness in her eyes, she said:
"Sister, if he should come here when I am gone ... no, I don't mean that ... but if you should see him and he should ask about me, you will say that I went away quite cheerfully. Tell him I was always thinking about him. No, don't say that either. But he must never think I regretted what I did, or that I died broken-hearted. Say farewell for me, Elena. Addio Carissima! That's his word, you know. Addio Carissimo!"
Rossi, blinded with his tears, took a step into the loggia, and in a low voice, very soft and tremulous, as if trying not to startle her, he cried:
She raised herself, turned, saw him, and rose to her feet. Without a word he opened his arms to her, and with a little frightened cry she fell into them and was folded to his breast.
It was ten days later. Rossi had surrendered to Parliament, but Parliament had declined to order his arrest. Then he had called for the liberation of Roma, but Roma had neither been liberated nor removed. "It will not be necessary," was the report of the doctor at the Castle to the officers of the Prefetura. The great liberator and remover was on his way.
At Rossi's request Dr. Fedi had been called in, and he had diagnosed the case exactly. Roma was suffering from an internal disease, which was probably hereditary, but certainly incurable. Strain and anxiety had developed it earlier in life than usual, but in any case it must have come.
At first Rossi rebelled with all his soul and strength. To go through this long and fierce fight with life, and to come out victorious, and then, when all seemed to promise peace and a kind of tempered happiness, to be met by Death—the unconquerable, the inevitable—it was terrible, it was awful!
He called in specialists; talked of a change of air; even brought himself, when he was far enough away from Roma, to the length of suggesting an operation. The doctors shook their heads. At last he bowed his own head. His bride-wife must leave him. He must live on without her.
Meantime Roma was cheerful, and at moments even gay. Her gaiety was heart-breaking. Blinding bouts of headache were her besetting trouble, but only by the moist red eyes did any one know anything about that. When people asked her how she felt, she told them whatever she thought they wished to hear. It brought a look of relief to their faces, and that made her very happy.
With Rossi, during these ten days, she had carried on the fiction that she was getting better. This was to break the news to him, and he on his part, to break the news to her, had pretended to believe the story. They made Elena help the little artifice, and even engaged the doctors in their mutual deception.
"And how is my darling to-day?"
"Splendid! There's really nothing to do with me. It's true I have suffered. That's why I look so pale. But I'm better now. Elena will tell you how well I slept last night. Didn't I sleep well, Elena? Elena.... Poor Elena is going a little deaf and doesn't always speak when she is spoken to. But I'm all right, David. In fact, I'll feel no pain at all before long, and then I shall be well."
"Yes, dear, you'll feel no pain at all before long, and then you'll be well."
It was pitiful. All their words seemed to be laden with double meanings. They could find none that were not.
But the time had come when Roma resolved she must speak plainly. Rossi had lifted her into the loggia. He did so every day, carrying her, not on his arm as a woman carries a child, but against his breast, as a man carries his wife when he loves her. She always put her arms around his neck, pretending it was necessary for her safety, and when he had laid her gently in the bed-chair she pulled down his head and kissed him. The two little journeys were the delight of the day to Roma, but to Rossi they were a deepening trouble.