"Go on, Joseph," said the woman, pointing with her knitting-needle to the line on the page. "'And it came to pass....'"
But Joseph's little eyes were peering first at the clock on the mantel-piece, and then out at the window and down the square.
"Didn't you say they were to be here at two, mamma?"
"Yes, dear. Mr. Rossi was to be set free immediately, and papa, who ran home with the good news, has gone back to fetch him."
"Oh! 'And it came to pass afterward that he loved a woman in the Valley of Sorek, whose name was Delilah. And the lords of the Philistines came unto her, and said unto her, Entice him and see wherein his great strength lieth....' But, mamma...."
"Go on with your lesson, Joseph. 'And she made him sleep....'"
"'And she made him sleep upon her knees, and she called for a man, and she caused him to shave off the seven locks of his head....'"
At that moment there came a knock at the door, whereupon the boy uttered a cry of delight, and with a radiant face went plunging and shouting out of the room.
"Uncle David! It's Uncle David!"
The tumultuous voice rolled like baby thunder through the apartment until it reached the door, and then it dropped to a dead silence.
"Who is it, Joseph?"
"A gentleman," said the boy.
It was the fashionable young Roman with the watchful eyes and twirled-up moustache, who had stood by the old Frenchman's carriage in the Piazza of St. Peter.
"I wish to speak with Mr. Rossi. I bring him an important message from abroad. He is coming along with the people, but to make sure of an interview I hurried ahead. May I wait?"
"Certainly! Come in, sir! You say he is coming? Yes? Then he is free?"
The woman's liquid eyes were glistening visibly, and the man's watchful ones seemed to notice everything.
"Yes, madam, he is free. I saw him arrested, and I also saw him set at liberty."
"Really? Then you can tell me all about it? That's good! I have heard so little of all that happened, and my boy and I have not been able to think of anything else. Sit down, sir!"
"As the police were taking him to the station-house in the Borgo," said the stranger, "the people made an attempt to rescue him, and it seemed as if they must certainly have succeeded if it had not been for his own intervention."
"He stopped them, didn't he? I'm sure he stopped them!"
"He did. The delegate had given his three warnings, and the Brigadier was on the point of ordering his men to fire, when the prisoner threw up his hands before the crowd."
"I knew it! Well?"
"'Brothers,' he said, 'let no blood be shed for my sake. We are in God's hands. Go home!'"
"How like him! And then, sir?"
"Then the crowd broke up like a bubble, and the officer who was in charge of him uncovered his head. 'Room for the Honourable Rossi!' he cried, and the prisoner went into the prison."
The liquid eyes were running over by this time, and the soft voice was trembling: "You say you saw him set at liberty?"
"Yes! I was in the public service myself until lately, so they allowed me to enter the police station, and when the order for release came I was present and heard all. 'Deputy,' said the officer, 'I have the honour to inform you that you are free.' 'But before I go I must say something,' said the Deputy. 'My only orders are that you are to be set at liberty,' said the officer. 'Nevertheless, I must see the Minister,' said Mr. Rossi. But the crowd had pressed in and surrounded him, and in a moment the flood had carried him out into the street, with shouts and the waving of hats and a whirlwind of enthusiasm. And now he is being drawn by force through the city in a mad, glad, wild procession."
"But he deserves it all, and more—far, far more!"
The stranger looked at the woman's beaming eyes, and said, "You are not his wife—no?"
"Oh, no! I'm only the wife of one of his friends," she answered.
"But you live here?"
"We live in the rooms on the roof."
"Perhaps you keep house for the Deputy?"
"Yes—that is to say—yes, we keep house for Mr. Rossi."
At that moment the room, which had been gloomy, was suddenly lighted by a shaft of sunshine, and there came from some unseen place a musical noise like the rippling of waters in a fountain.
"It's the birds," said the woman, and she threw open a window that was also a door and led to a flat roof on which some twenty or thirty canaries were piping and shrilling their little swollen throats in a gigantic bird-cage.
"Yes, and he is fond of animals also—dogs and cats and rabbits and squirrels, especially squirrels."
"He has a grey one in a cage on the roof now. But he is not like some people who love animals—he loves children, too. He loves all children, and as for Joseph...."
"The little boy who cried 'Uncle David' at the door?"
"Yes, sir. One day my husband said 'Uncle David' to Mr. Rossi, and he has been Uncle David to my little Joseph ever since."
"This is the dining-room, no doubt," said the stranger.
"Unfortunately, yes, sir."
"Because here is the hall, and here is the table, and there's not even a curtain between, and the moment the door is opened he is exposed to everybody. People know it, too, and they take advantage. He would give the chicken off his plate if he hadn't anything else. I have to scold him a little sometimes—I can't help it. And as for father, he says he has doubled his days in purgatory by the lies he tells, turning people away."
"That will be his bedroom, I suppose," said the stranger, indicating a door which the boy had passed through.
"No, sir, his sitting-room. That is where he receives his colleagues in Parliament, and his fellow-journalists, and his electors and printers and so forth. Come in, sir."
The walls were covered with portraits of Mazzini, Garibaldi, Kossuth, Lincoln, Washington, and Cromwell, and the room, which had been furnished originally with chairs covered in chintz, was loaded with incongruous furniture.
"Joseph, you've been naughty again! My little boy is all for being a porter, sir. He has got the butt-end of his father's fishing-rod, you see, and torn his handkerchief into shreds to make a tassel for his mace." Then with a sweep of the arm, "All presents, sir. He gets presents from all parts of the world. The piano is from England, but nobody plays, so it is never opened; the books are from Germany, and the bronze is from France, but the strangest thing of all, sir, is this."
"It was most extraordinary. A week ago a cylinder came from the island of Elba."
"Elba? From some prisoner, perhaps?"
"'A dying man's message,' Mr. Rossi called it. 'We must save up for an instrument to reproduce it, Sister,' he said. But, look you, the very next day the carriers brought the phonograph."
"And then he reproduced the message?"
"I don't know—I never asked. He often turns on a cylinder to amuse the boy, but I never knew him try that one. This is the bedroom, sir; you may come in."
It was a narrow room, very bright and lightsome, with its white counterpane, white bed curtains, and white veil over the looking-glass to keep it from the flies.
"How sweet!" said the stranger.
"It would be but for these," said the woman, and she pointed to the other end of the room, where a desk stood between two windows, amid heaps of unopened newspapers, which lay like fishes as they fall from the herring net.
"I presume this is a present also?" said the stranger. He had taken from the desk a dagger with a lapis-lazuli handle, and was trying its edge on his finger-nail.
"Yes, sir, and he has turned it to account as a paper-knife. A six-chamber revolver came yesterday, but he had no use for that, so he threw it aside, and it lies under the newspapers."
"And who is this?" said the stranger. He was looking at a faded picture in an ebony frame which hung by the side of the bed. It was the portrait of an old man with a beautiful forehead and a patriarchal face.
"Some friend of Mr. Rossi's in England, I think."
"An English photograph, certainly, but the face seems to me Roman for all that."
At that moment a thousand lusty voices burst on the air, as a great crowd came pouring out of the narrow lanes into the broad piazza. At the same instant the boy shouted from the adjoining room, and another voice that made the walls vibrate came from the direction of the door.
"They're coming! It's my husband! Bruno!" said the woman, and the ripple of her dress told the stranger she had gone.
Laughing, crying, cheering, chaffing, singing, David Rossi's people had brought him home in triumph, and now they were crowding upon him to kiss his hand, the big-hearted, baby-headed, beloved children of Italy.
The object of this aurora of worship stood with his back to the table in the dining-room, looking down and a little ashamed, while Bruno Rocco, six feet three in his stockings, hoisted the boy on to his shoulder, and shouted as from a tower to everybody as they entered by the door:
"Come in, sonny, come in! Don't stand there like the Pope between the devil and the deep sea. Come in among the people," and Bruno's laughter rocked through the room to where the crowd stood thick on the staircase.
"The Baron has had a lesson," said a man with a sheet of white paper in his hand. "He dreamed of getting the Collar of the Annunziata out of this."
"The pig dreamed of acorns," said Bruno.
"It's a lesson to the Church as well," said the man with the paper. "She wouldn't have anything to do with us. 'I alone strike the hour of the march,' says the Church."
"And then she stands still!" said Bruno.
"The mountains stand still, but men are made to walk," said the man with the paper, "and if the Pope doesn't advance with the people, the people must advance without the Pope."
"The Pope's all right, sonny," said Bruno, "but what does he know about the people? Only what his black-gowned beetles tell him!"
"The Pope has no wife and children," said the man with the paper.
"Old Vampire could find him a few," said Bruno, and then there was general laughter.
"Brothers," said David Rossi, "let us be temperate. There's nothing to be gained by playing battledore and shuttlecock with the name of an old man who has never done harm to any one. The Pope hasn't listened to us to-day, but he is a saint all the same, and his life has been a lesson in well-doing."
"Anybody can sail with a fair wind, sir," said Bruno.
"Let us be prudent. There's no need for violence, whether of the hand or of the tongue. You've found that out this morning. If you had rescued me from the police, I should have been in prison again by this time, and God knows what else might have happened. I'm proud of your patience and forbearance; and now go home, boys, and God bless you."
"Stop a minute!" said the man with the paper. "Something to read before we go. While the Carabineers kept Mr. Rossi in the Borgo, the Committee of Direction met in a cafe and drew up a proclamation."
"Read it, Luigi," said David Rossi, and the man opened his paper and read:
"Having appealed in vain to Parliament and to the King against the tyrannical tax which the Government has imposed upon bread in order that the army and navy may be increased, and having appealed in vain to the Pope to intercede with the civil authorities, and call back Italy to its duty, it now behoves us, as a suffering and perishing people, to act on our own behalf. Unless annulled by royal decree, the tax will come into operation on the 1st of February. On that day let every Roman remain indoors until an hour after Ave Maria. Let nobody buy so much as one loaf of bread, and let no bread be eaten, except such as you give to your children. Then, at the first hour of night, let us meet in the Coliseum, tens of thousands of fasting people, of one mind and heart, to determine what it is our duty to do next, that our bread may be sure and our water may not fail."
"Good!" "Beautiful!" "Splendid!"
"Only wants the signature of the president," said the reader, and Bruno called for pen and ink.
"Before I sign it," said Rossi, "let it be understood that none come armed. There is nothing our enemies would like better than to fix on us the names of rioters and rebels. We must defeat them. We must show the world that we alone are the people of law and order. Therefore I call on you to promise that none come armed."
"We promise," cried several voices.
"And now go home, boys, and God bless you."
After a moment there was only one man left in the room. It was the fashionable young Roman with the watchful eyes and twirled-up moustache.
"For you, sir!" said the young man, taking a letter from a pocket inside his waistcoat.
David Rossi opened the letter and read: "The bearer of this, Charles Minghelli, is one of ourselves. He has determined upon the accomplishment of a great act, and wishes to see you with respect to it."
"You come from London?"
"You wish to speak to me?"
"You may speak freely."
The young man glanced in the direction of Bruno and of Bruno's wife, who stood beside him.
"It is a delicate matter, sir," he said.
"Come this way," said David Rossi, and he took the stranger into his bedroom.
David Rossi took his seat at the desk between the windows, and made a sign to the man to take a chair that stood near.
"Your name is Charles Minghelli?" said David Rossi.
"Yes. I have come to propose a dangerous enterprise."
"What is it?"
"That somebody on behalf of the people should take the law into his own hands."
The man had spoken with perfect calmness, and after a moment of silence David Rossi replied as calmly:
"I will ask you to explain what you mean."
The man smiled, made a deferential gesture, and answered, "You will permit me to speak plainly?"
"Thanks! I have read your Creed and Charter. I have even signed my name to it. It is beautiful as a theory—most beautiful! And the Republic of Man is beautiful too. Beautiful!"
"But more beautiful than practical, dear sir, and the ideal thread that runs through your plan will break the moment the rough world begins to tug at it."
"I will ask you to be more precise," said David Rossi.
"With pleasure. You have called a meeting in the Coliseum to protest against the bread-tax. What if the Government prohibits it? Your principle of passive resistance will not permit you to rebel, and without the right of public meeting your association is powerless. Then where are you?"
David Rossi had taken up his paper-knife dagger and was drawing lines with the point of it on the letter of introduction which now lay open on the desk. The man saw the impression he had produced, and went on with more vigour.
"If the Governments of the world deny you the right of meeting, where are your weapons of warfare? On the one side armies on armies of men marshalled and equipped with all the arts and engines of war; on the other side a helpless multitude with their hands in their pockets, or paying a penny a week subscription to the great association that is to overcome by passive suffering the power of the combined treasuries of the world!"
David Rossi had risen from his seat, and was walking backward and forward with a step that was long and slow.
"Well, and what do you say we ought to do?" he said.
A flash came from the man's eyes, and he said in a thick voice:
"Remove the one man in Rome whose hand crushes the nation."
"The Prime Minister?"
There was silence.
"You expect me to do that?"
"No! I will do it for you.... Why not? If violence is wrong, it is right to resist violence."
David Rossi returned to his seat at the desk, touched the letter of introduction, and said:
"That is the great act referred to in this letter from London?"
"Why do you come to me?" he said.
"Because you can help me to accomplish this act. You are a Member of Parliament, and can give me cards to the Chamber. You can show me the way to the Prime Minister's room in Monte Citorio, and tell me the moment when he is to be found alone."
"I do not deny that the Prime Minister deserves death."
"A thousand deaths, sir, and everybody would hail them with delight."
"I do not deny that his death would be a relief to the people."
"On the day he dies, sir, the people will live."
"Or that crimes—great crimes—have been the means of bringing about great reforms."
"You are right, sir—but it would be no crime."
The stranger's face flushed up, his eyes seemed to burn, and he leaned over to the desk and took up the dagger.
"See! Give me this! It's exactly what I want. I'll put it in a bouquet of flowers, and pretend to offer them. Only a way to do it, sir! Say the word—may I take it?"
"But the man who assumes such a mission," said David Rossi, "must know himself free from every thought of personal vengeance."
The dagger trembled in the stranger's hand.
"He must be prepared to realise the futility of what he has done—to know that even when he succeeds he only changes the persons, not the things; the actors, not the parts."
The man stood like one who had been stunned, with his mouth partly open, and balancing the dagger on one hand.
"More than that," said David Rossi; "he must be prepared to be told by every true friend of freedom that the man who uses force is not worthy of liberty—that the conflict of intellects alone is human, and to fight otherwise is to be on the level of the brute."
The man threw the dagger back on the desk and laughed.
"I knew you talked like that to the people—statesmen do sometimes—that's all right—it's pretty, and it keeps the people quiet—but we...."
David Rossi rose with a sovereign dignity, but he only said:
"Mr. Minghelli, our interview is at an end."
"So you dismiss me?"
"I do," said David Rossi. "It is such men as you who put back the progress of the world and make it possible for the upholders of authority to describe our efforts as devilish machinations for the destruction of all order, human and divine. Besides that, you speak as one who has not only a perverted political sentiment, but a personal quarrel against an enemy."
The man faced round sharply, came back with a quick step, and said:
"You say I speak as one who has a personal quarrel with the Prime Minister. Perhaps I have! I heard your speech this morning about his mistress, with her livery of scarlet and gold. You meant the woman who is known as Donna Roma Volonna. What if I tell you she is not a Volonna at all, but a girl the Minister picked up in the streets of London, and has palmed off on Rome as the daughter of a noble house, because he is a liar and a cheat?"
David Rossi gave a start, as if an invisible hand had smitten him.
"Her name is Roma, certainly," said the man; "that was the first thing that helped me to seize the mysterious thread."
David Rossi's face grew pale, and he scarcely breathed.
"Oh, I'm not talking without proof," said the man. "I was at the Embassy in London ten years ago when the Ambassador was consulted by the police authorities about an Italian girl who had been found at night in Leicester Square. Mother dead, father gone back to Italy—she had been living with some people her father gave her to as a child, but had turned out badly and run away."
David Rossi had fixed his eyes on the stranger with a kind of glassy stare.
"I went with the Ambassador to Bow Street, and saw the girl in the magistrate's office. She pleaded that she had been ill-treated, but we didn't believe her story, and gave her back to her guardians. A month later we heard that she had run away once more and disappeared entirely."
David Rossi was breathing audibly, and shrinking like an old man into his shoulders.
"I never saw that girl again until a week ago, and where do you think I saw her?"
David Rossi swallowed his saliva, and said:
"In Rome. I had trouble at the Embassy, and came back to appeal to the Prime Minister. Everybody said I must reach him through Donna Roma, and one of my relatives took me to her rooms. The moment I set eyes on her I knew who she was. Donna Roma Volonna is the girl Roma Roselli, who was lost in the streets of London."
David Rossi seemed suddenly to grow taller.
"You scoundrel!" he said, in a voice that was hollow and choked.
The man staggered back and stammered:
"Why ... what...."
"I knew that girl. Until she was seven years of age she was my constant companion—she was the same as my sister—and her father was the same as my father—and if you tell me she is the mistress.... You infamous wretch! You calumniator! You villain! I could confound you with one word, but I won't. Out of my house this moment! And if ever you cross my path again I'll denounce you to the police as a cut-throat and an assassin."
Stunned and stupefied, the man opened the door and fled.
David Rossi came out with his long slow step, looking pale but calm, and tearing a letter into small pieces, which he threw into the fire.
"What was amiss, sir? They could hear you across the street," said Bruno.
"A man whose room was better than his company, that's all."
"What's his name?" said Bruno.
"Why, that must be the secretary who was suspected of forgery at the Embassy in London, and got dismissed."
"I thought as much!" said David Rossi. "No doubt the man attributed his dismissal to the Prime Minister, and wanted to use me for his private revenge."
"That was his game, was it? Why didn't you let me know, sir? He would have gone downstairs like a falling star. Now that I remember, he's the nephew of old Polomba, the Mayor, and I've seen him at Donna Roma's."
A waiter in a white smock, with a large tin box on his head, entered the hall, and behind him came the old woman from the porter's lodge, with the wrinkled face and the red cotton handkerchief.
"Come in," cried Bruno. "I ordered the best dinner in the Trattoria, sir, and thought we might perhaps dine together for once."
"Good," said David Rossi.
"Here it is, a whole basketful of the grace of God, sir! Out with it, Riccardo," and while the women laid the table, Bruno took the dishes smoking hot from their temporary oven with its charcoal fire.
"Artichokes—good. Chicken—good again. I must be a fox—I was dreaming of chicken all last night! Gnocchi! (potatoes and flour baked). Agradolce! (sour and sweet). Fagioletti! (French beans boiled) and—a half-flask of Chianti! Who said the son of my mother couldn't order a dinner? All right, Riccardo; come back at Ave Maria."
The waiter went off, and the company sat down to their meal, Bruno and his wife at either end of the table, and David Rossi on the sofa, with the boy on his right, and the cat curled up into his side on the left, while the old woman stood in front, serving the food and removing the plates.
"Look at him!" said the old woman, who was deaf, pointing to David Rossi, with his two neighbours. "Now, why doesn't the Blessed Virgin give him a child of his own?"
"She has, mother, and here he is," said David Rossi.
"You'll let her give him a woman first, won't you?" said Bruno.
"Ah! that will never be," said David Rossi.
"What does he say?" said the old woman with her hand at her ear like a shell.
"He says he won't have any of you," bawled Bruno.
"What an idea! But I've heard men say that before, and they've been married sooner than you could say 'Hail Mary.'"
"It isn't an incident altogether unknown in the history of this planet, is it, mother?" said Bruno.
"A heart to share your sorrows and joys is something, and the man is not wise who wastes the chance of it," said the old woman. "Does he think parliaments will make up for it when he grows old and wants something to comfort him?"
"Hush, mother!" said Elena, but Bruno made mouths at her to let the old woman go on.
"As for me, I'll want somebody of my own about me to close my eyes when the time comes to put the sacred oil on them," said the old woman.
"If a man has dedicated his life to work for humanity," said David Rossi, "he must give up many things—father, mother, wife, child."
The corner of Elena's apron crept up to the corner of her eye, but the old woman, who thought the subject had changed, laughed and said:
"That's just what I say to Tommaso. 'Tommaso,' I say, 'if a man is going to be a policeman he must have no father, or mother, or wife, or child—no, nor bowels neither,' I say. And Tommaso says, 'Francesca,' he says, 'the whole tribe of gentry they call statesmen are just policemen in plain clothes, and I do believe they've only liberated Mr. Rossi as a trap to catch him again when he has done something.'"
"They won't catch you though, will they, mother?" shouted Bruno.
"That they won't! I'm deaf, praise the saints, and can't hear them."
A knock came to the door, and seizing his mace the boy ran and opened it. An old man stood on the threshold. He was one of David Rossi's pensioners. Ninety years of age, his children all dead, he lived with his grandchildren, and was one of the poor human rats who stay indoors all day and come out with a lantern at night to scour the gutters of the city for the refuse of cigar-ends.
"Come another night, John," said Bruno.
But David Rossi would not send him away empty, and he was going off with the sparkling eyes of a boy, when he said:
"I heard you in the piazza this morning, Excellency! Grand! Only sorry for one thing."
"And what was that, sonny?" asked Bruno.
"What his Excellency said about Donna Roma. She gave me a half-franc only yesterday—stopped the carriage to do it, sir."
"So that's your only reason...." began Bruno.
"Good reason, too. Good-night, John!" said David Rossi, and Joseph closed the door.
"Oh, she has her virtues, like every other kind of spider," said Bruno.
"I'm sorry I spoke of her," said David Rossi.
"You needn't be, though. She deserved all she got. I haven't been two years in her studio without knowing what she is."
"It was the man I was thinking of, and if I had remembered that the woman must suffer...."
"Tut! She'll have to make her Easter confession a little earlier, that's all."
"If she hadn't laughed when I was speaking...."
"You're on the wrong track now, sir. That wasn't Donna Roma. It was the little Princess Bellini. She is always stretching her neck and screeching like an old gandery goose."
Dinner was now over, and the boy called for the phonograph. David Rossi went into the sitting-room to fetch it, and Elena went in at the same time to light the fire. She was kneeling with her back to him, blowing on to the wood, when she said in a trembling voice:
"I'm a little sorry myself, sir, if I may say so. I can't believe what they say about the mistress, but even if it's true we don't know her story, do we?"
Then the phonograph was turned on, and Joseph marched to the tune of "Swannee River" and the strains of Sousa's band.
"Mr. Rossi," said Bruno, between a puff and a blow.
"Have you tried the cylinder that came first?"
"How's that, sir?"
"The man who brought it said the friend who had spoken into it was dead." And then with a shiver, "It would be like a voice from the grave—I doubt if I dare hear it."
"Like a ghost speaking to a man, certainly—especially if the friend was a close one."
"He was the closest friend I ever had, Bruno—he was my father."
"Foster-father, anyway. For four years he clothed and fed and educated me, and I was the same as his own son."
"Had he no children of his own?"
"One little daughter, no bigger than Joseph when I saw her last—Roma."
"Yes, her father was a Liberal, and her name was Roma."
"What became of her?"
"When the doctor came to Italy on the errand which ended in his imprisonment he gave her into the keeping of some Italian friends in London. I was too young to take charge of her then. Besides, I left England shortly afterward and went to America."
"Where is she now?" said Elena.
"When I returned to England ... she was dead."
"Well, there's nothing new under the sun of Rome—Donna Roma came from London," said Bruno.
David Rossi felt the muscles of his face quiver.
"Her father was an exile in England, too, and when he came back on the errand that ended in Elba, he gave her away to some people who treated her badly—I've heard old Teapot, the Countess, say so when she's been nagging her poor niece."
David Rossi breathed painfully.
"Strange if it should be the same," said Bruno.
"But Mr. Rossi's Roma is dead," said Elena.
"Ah, of course, certainly! What a fool I am!" said Bruno.
David Rossi had a sense of suffocation, and he went out on to the lead flat.
The Ave Maria was ringing from many church towers, and the golden day was going down with the sun behind the dark outline of the dome of St. Peter's, while the blue night was rising over the snow-capped Apennines in a premature twilight with one twinkling star.
David Rossi's ears buzzed as with the sound of a mighty wind rushing through trees at a distance. Bruno's last words on top of Charles Minghelli's had struck him like an alarum bell heard through the mists of sleep, and his head was stunned and his eyes were dizzy. He buttoned his coat about him, and walked quickly to and fro on the lead flat by the side of the cage, in which the birds were already bunched up and silent.
Before he was aware of the passing of time, the church bells were tolling the first hour of night. Presently he became aware of flares burning in the Piazza of St. Peter, and of the shadows of giant heads cast up on the walls of the vast Basilica. It was the crowd gathering for the last ceremonial of the Pope's Jubilee, and at the sound of a double rocket, which went up as with the crackle of musketry, little Joseph came running on to the roof, followed by his mother and Bruno.
David Rossi took the boy into his arms and tried to dispel the gloom of his own spirits in the child's joy at the illuminations.
"Ever see 'luminations before, Uncle David?" said Joseph.
"Once, dear, but that was long ago and far away. I was a boy myself in those days, and there was a little girl with me then who was no bigger than you are now. But it's growing cold, there's frost in the air, besides it's late, and little boys must go to bed."
"Well, God is God, and the Pope is His Prophet," said Bruno, when Elena and Joseph had gone indoors. "It was like day! You could see the lightning conductor over the Pope's apartment! Pshew!" blowing puffs of smoke from his twisted cigar. "Won't keep the lightning off, though."
"Donna Roma's father would be Prince Volonna?"
"Yes, the last prince of the old papal name. When the Volonna estates were confiscated, the title really lapsed, but old Vampire got the lands."
"Did you ever hear that he bore any other name during the time he was in exile?"
"Sure to, but there was no trial and nothing was known. They all changed their names, though."
"Why ... what...." said David Rossi in an unsteady voice.
"Why?" said Bruno. "Because they were all condemned in Italy, and the foreign countries were told to turn them out. But what am I talking about? You know all that better than I do, sir. Didn't your old friend go under a false name?"
"Very likely—I don't know," said David Rossi, in a voice that testified to jangled nerves.
"Did he ever tell you, sir?"
"I can't say that he ever.... Certainly the school of revolution has always had villains enough, and perhaps to prevent treachery...."
"You may say so! The devil has the run of the world, even in England. But I'm surprised your old friend, being like a father to you, didn't tell you—at the end anyway...."
"Perhaps he intended to—and then perhaps...."
David Rossi put his hand to his brow as if in pain and perplexity, and began again to walk backward and forward.
A screamer in the piazza below cried "Trib-un-a!" and Bruno said:
"That's early! What's up, I wonder? I'll go down and get a paper."
Darkness had by this time re-invaded the sky, and the stars looked down from their broad dome, clear, sweet, white, and serene, putting to shame by their immortal solemnity the poor little mimes, the paltry puppet-shows of the human jackstraws who had just been worshipping at their self-made shrine.
As David Rossi returned to the house, Elena, who was undressing the boy, saw a haggard look in his eyes, but Bruno, who was reading his evening journal, saw nothing, and cried out:
"Helloa! Listen to this, sir. It's Olga. She's got a pen, I can tell you. 'Madame de Pompadour. Hitherto we have had the pleasure of having Madame ——, whose pressure on the State and on Italy's wise counsellors was only incidental, but now that the fates have given us a Madame Pompadour....' Then there's a leading article on your speech in the piazza. Praises you up to the skies. Look! 'Thank God we have men like the Honourable Rossi, who at the risk of....'"
But with a clouded brow David Rossi turned away from him and passed into the sitting-room, and Bruno looked around in blank bewilderment.
"Shall you want the lamp, sir?" said Elena.
"Not yet, thank you," he answered through the open door.
The wood fire was glowing on the hearth, and in the acute state of his nerves he shuddered involuntarily as its reflection in the window opposite looked back at him like a fiery eye. He opened the case of the phonograph, which had been returned to its place on the piano, and then from a drawer in the bureau he took a small cardboard box. The wood in the fire flickered at that moment and started some ghastly shadows on the ceiling, but he drew a cylinder from the box and slid it on to the barrel of the phonograph. Then he stepped to the door, shut and locked it.
"Well!" said Bruno. "If that isn't enough to make a man feel as small as a sardine!"
There was only one thing to do, but to conceal the nature of it Bruno flourished the newspaper and said:
"Elena, I must go down to the lodge and read these articles to your father. Poor Donna Roma, she'll have to fly, I'm afraid. Bye-bye, Garibaldi-Mazzini! Early to bed, early to rise, and time enough to grow old, you know!... As for Mr. Rossi, he might be a sinner and a criminal instead of the hero of the hour! It licks me to little bits." And Bruno carried his dark mystery down to the cafe to see if it might be dispelled by a litre of autumnal light from sunny vineyards.
Meantime, Joseph, being very tired, was shooting out a pettish lip because he had to go to bed without saying good-night to Uncle David; and his mother, making terms with this pretence, consented to bring down his nightdress, thinking Rossi might be out of the sitting-room by that time, and the boy be pacified. But when she returned to the dining-room the sitting-room door was still closed, and Joseph was pleading to be allowed to lie on the sofa until Uncle David carried him to bed.
"I'm not asleep, mamma," came in a drowsy voice from the sofa, but almost at the same moment the measured breath slowed down, the watch-lights blinked themselves out, and the little soul slid away into the darksome kingdom of unconsciousness.
Suddenly, in the silence of the room, Elena was startled by a voice. It came from the sitting-room. Was it Mr. Rossi's voice? No! The voice was older and feebler than Mr. Rossi's, and less clear and distinct. Could it be possible that somebody was with him? If so, the visitor must have arrived while she was in the bedroom above. But why had she not heard the knock? How did it occur that Joseph had not told her? And then the lamp was still on the dining-room table, and save for the firelight the sitting-room must be dark.
A chill began to run through her blood, and she tried to hear what was said, but the voice was muffled by its passage through the wall, and she could only catch a word or two. Presently the strange voice, without stopping, was broken in upon by a voice that was clear and familiar, but now faltering with the note of pain: "I swear to God I will!"
That was Mr. Rossi's voice, and Elena's head began to go round. Whom was he speaking to? Who was speaking to him? He went into the room alone, he was sitting in the dark, and yet there were two voices.
A light dawned on Elena, and she could have laughed. What had terrified her as a sort of supernatural thing was only the phonograph! But after a moment a fresh tremor struck upon her in the agony of the exclamations with which David Rossi broke in upon the voice that was being reproduced by the machine. She could hear his words distinctly, and he was in great trouble. Hardly knowing what she did, she crept up to the door and listened. Even then, she could only follow the strange voice in passages, which were broken and submerged by the whirring of the phonograph, like the flight of a sea-bird which dips at intervals and leaves nothing but the wash of the waves.
"David," said the voice, "when this shall come to your hands ... in my great distress of mind ... do not trifle with my request ... but whatever you decide to do ... be gentle with the child ... remember that ... Adieu, my son ... the end is near ... if death does not annihilate ... those who remain on earth ... a helper and advocate in heaven ... Adieu!" And interrupting these broken words were half-smothered cries and sobs from David Rossi, repeating again and again: "I will! I swear to God I will!"
Elena could bear the pain no longer, and mustering up her courage she tapped at the door. It was a gentle tap, and no answer was returned. She knocked louder, and then an angry voice said:
"It's I—Elena," she answered timidly. "Is anything the matter? Aren't you well, sir?"
"Ah, yes," came back in a calmer voice, and after a shuffling sound as of the closing of drawers, David Rossi opened the door and came out.
As he crossed the threshold he cast a backward glance into the dark room, as if he feared that some invisible hand would touch him on the shoulder. His face was pale and beads of perspiration stood on his forehead, but he smiled, and in a voice that was a little hoarse, yet fairly under control, he said:
"I'm afraid I've frightened you, Elena."
"You're not well, sir. Sit down, and let me run for some cognac."
"No! It's nothing! Only...."
"Take this glass of water, sir."
"That's good! I'm better now, and I'm ashamed. Elena, you mustn't think any more of this, and whatever I may do in the future that seems to you to be strange, you must promise me never to mention it."
"I needn't promise you that, sir," said Elena.
"Bruno is a brave, bright, loyal soul, Elena, but there are times...."
"I know—and I'll never mention it to anybody. But you've taken a chill on the roof at sunset looking at the illuminations—that's all it is! The nights are frosty now, and I was to blame that I didn't send out your cloak."
Then she tried to be cheerful, and turning to the sleeping boy, said:
"Look! He was naughty again and wouldn't go to bed until you came out to carry him."
"The dear little man!" said David Rossi. He stepped up to the couch, but his pale face was preoccupied, and he looked at Elena again and said:
"Where does Donna Roma live?"
"Trinita de' Monti—eighteen," said Elena.
"Is it late?"
"It must be half-past eight at least, sir."
"We'll take Joseph to bed then."
He was putting his arms about the boy to lift him when a slippery-sloppery step was heard on the stairs, followed by a hurried knock at the door.
It was the old Garibaldian porter, breathless, bareheaded, and in his slippers.
"Father!" cried Elena.
"It's she. She's coming up."
At the next moment a lady in evening dress was standing in the hall. It was Donna Roma. She had unclasped her ermine cloak, and her bosom was heaving with the exertion of the ascent.
"May I speak to Mr. Rossi?" she began, and then looking beyond Elena and seeing him, where he stood above the sleeping child, a qualm of faintness seemed to seize her, and she closed her eyes for a moment.
David Rossi's face flushed to the roots of his hair, but he stepped forward, bowed deeply, led the way to the sitting-room, and, with a certain incoherency in his speech, said:
"Come in! Elena will bring the lamp. I shall be back presently."
Then, lifting little Joseph in his arms, he carried him up to bed, tucked him in his cot, smoothed his pillow, made the sign of the cross over his forehead, and came back to the sitting-room with the air of a man walking in a dream.
Being left alone, Roma looked around, and at a glance she took in everything—the thin carpet, the plain chintz, the prints, the incongruous furniture. She saw the photograph on the piano, still standing open, with a cylinder exposed, and in the interval of waiting she felt almost tempted to touch the spring. She saw herself, too, in the mirror above the mantel-piece, with her glossy black hair rolled up like a tower, from which one curly lock escaped on to her forehead, and with the ermine cloak on her shoulders over the white silk muslin which clung to her full figure.
Then she heard David Rossi's footsteps returning, and though she was now completely self-possessed she was conscious of a certain shiver of fear, such as an actress feels in her dressing-room at the tuning-up of the orchestra. Her back was to the door and she heard the whirl of her skirt as he entered, and then he was before her, and they were alone.
He was looking at her out of large, pensive eyes, and she saw him pass his hand over them and then bow and motion her to a seat, and go to the mantel-piece and lean on it. She was tingling all over, and a certain glow was going up to her face, but when she spoke she was mistress of herself, and her voice was soft and natural.
"I am doing a very unusual thing in coming to see you," she said, "but you have forced me to it, and I am quite helpless."
A faint sound came from him, and she was aware that he was leaning forward to see her face, so she dropped her eyes, partly to let him look at her, and partly to avoid meeting his gaze.
"I heard your speech in the piazza this morning. It would be useless to disguise the fact that some of its references were meant for me."
He did not speak, and she played with the glove in her lap, and continued in the same soft voice:
"If I were a man, I suppose I should challenge you. Being a woman, I can only come to you and tell you that you are wrong."
"Cruelly, terribly, shamefully wrong."
"You mean to tell me...."
He was stammering in a husky voice, and she said quite calmly:
"I mean to tell you that in substance and in fact what you implied was false."
There was a dry glitter in her eyes which she tried to subdue, for she knew that he was looking at her still.
"If ... if...."—his voice was thick and indistinct—"if you tell me that I have done you an injury...."
"You have—a terrible injury."
She could hear his breathing, but she dared not look up, lest he should see something in her face.
"Perhaps you think it strange," she said, "that I should ask you to accept my assurance only. But though you have done me a great wrong I believe you will accept it."
"If ... if you give me your solemn word of honour that what I said—what I implied—was false, that rumour and report have slandered you, that it is all a cruel and baseless calumny...."
She raised her head, looked him full in the face.
"I do give it," she said.
"Then I believe you," he answered. "With all my heart and soul, I believe you."
She dropped her eyes again, and turning with her thumb an opal ring on her finger, she began to use the blandishments which had never failed with other men.
"I do not say that I am altogether without blame," she said. "I may have lived a thoughtless life amid scenes of poverty and sorrow. If so, perhaps it has been partly the fault of the men about me. When is a woman anything but what the men around have made her?"
She dropped her voice almost to a whisper, and added: "You are the first man who has not praised and flattered me."
"I was not thinking of you," he said. "I was thinking of another, and perhaps of the poor working women who, in a world of luxury, have to struggle and starve."
She looked up, and a half-smile crossed her face.
"I honour you for that," she said. "And perhaps if I had earlier met a man like you my life might have been different. I used to hope for such things long ago—that a man of high aims and noble purposes would come to meet me at the gate of life. Perhaps you have felt like that—that some woman, strong and true, would stand beside you for good or for ill, in your hour of danger and your hour of joy?"
Her voice was not quite steady—she hardly knew why.
"A dream! We all have our dreams," he said.
"A dream indeed! Men came—he was not among them. They pampered every wish, indulged every folly, loaded me with luxuries, but my dream was dispelled. I respected few of them, and reverenced none. They were my pastime, my playthings. And they have revenged themselves by saying in secret ... what you said in public this morning."
He was looking at her constantly with his wistful eyes, the eyes of a child, and through all the joy of her success she was conscious of a spasm of pain at the expression of his sad face and the sound of his tremulous voice.
"We men are much to blame," he said. "In the battle of man with man we deal out blows and think we are fighting fair, but we forget that behind our foe there is often a woman—a wife, a mother, a sister, a friend—and, God forgive us, we have struck her, too."
The half-smile that had gleamed on Roma's face was wiped out of it by these words, and an emotion she did not understand began to surge in her throat.
"You speak of poor women who struggle and starve," she said. "Would it surprise you to hear that I know what it is to do that? Yes, and to be friendless and alone—quite, quite alone in a cruel and wicked city."
She had lost herself for a moment, and the dry glitter in her eyes had given way to a moistness and a solemn expression. But at the next instant she had regained her self-control, and went on speaking to avoid a painful silence.
"I have never spoken of this to any other man," she said. "I don't know why I should mention it to you—to you of all men."
She had risen to her feet, and he stepped up to her, and looking straight into her eyes he said:
"Have you ever seen me before?"
"Never," she answered.
"Sit down," he said. "I have something to say to you."
She sat down, and a peculiar expression, almost a crafty one, came into her face.
"You have told me a little of your life," he said. "Let me tell you something of mine."
She smiled again. These big children called men were almost to be pitied. She had expected a fight, but the man had thrown up the sponge from the outset, and now he was going to give himself into her hands. Only for that pathetic look in his eyes and that searching tone in his voice she could have found it in her heart to laugh.
She let her cape drop back from her shoulders, revealing her round bust and swanlike arms, and crossing one leg over the other she displayed the edge of a lace skirt and the point of a red slipper. Then she coughed a little behind a perfumed lace handkerchief and prepared to listen.
"You are the daughter of an ancient family," he said, "older than the house it lived in, and prouder than a line of kings. And whatever sorrows you may have seen, you knew what it was to have a mother who nursed you and a father who loved you, and a home that was your own. Can you realise what it is to have known neither father nor mother, to be homeless, nameless, and alone?"
She looked up—a deep furrow had crossed his brow, which she had not seen there before.
"Happy the child," he said, "though shame stands beside his cradle, who has one heart beating for him in a cruel world. That was not my case. I never knew my mother."
The mocking fire had died out of Roma's face, and she uncrossed her knees.
"My mother was the victim of a heartless man and a cruel law. She tied to her baby's wrist a paper on which she had written its father's name, placed it in the rota at the Foundling of Santo Spirito, and flung herself into the Tiber."
Roma drew the cape over her shoulders.
"She lies in an unnamed pauper's grave in the Campo Verano."
"Yes. My earliest memory is of being put out to nurse at a farmstead in the Campagna. It was the time of revolution; the treasury of the Pope was not yet replaced by the treasury of the King, the nuns at Santo Spirito had no money with which to pay their pensions; and I was like a child forsaken by its own, a fledgling in a foreign nest."
"Those were the days when scoundrels established abroad traded in the white slavery of poor Italian boys. They scoured the country, gathered them up, put them in railway trucks like cattle, and despatched them to foreign countries. My foster-parents parted with me for money, and I was sent to London."
Roma's bosom was heaving, and tears were gathering in her eyes.
"My next memory is of living in a large half-empty house in Soho—fifty foreign boys crowded together. The big ones were sent out into the streets with an organ, the little ones with a squirrel or a cage of white mice. We had a cup of tea and a piece of bread for breakfast, and were forbidden to return home until we had earned our supper. Then—then the winter days and nights in the cold northern climate, and the little southern boys with their organs and squirrels, shivering and starving in the darkness and the snow."
Roma's eyes were filling frankly, and she was allowing the tears to flow.
"Thank God, I have another memory," he continued. "It is of a good man, a saint among men, an Italian refugee, giving his life to the poor, especially to the poor of his own people."
Roma's labouring breath seemed to be arrested at that moment.
"On several occasions he brought their masters to justice in the English courts, until, finding they were watched, they gradually became less cruel. He opened his house to the poor little fellows, and they came for light and warmth between nine and ten at night, bringing their organs with them. He taught them to read, and on Sunday evenings he talked to them of the lives of the great men of their country. He is dead, but his spirit is alive—alive in the souls he made to live."
Roma's eyes were blinded with the tears that sprang to them, and her throat was choking, but she said:
"What was he?"
"What was his name?"
David Rossi passed his hand over the furrow in his forehead, and answered:
"They called him Joseph Roselli."
Roma half rose from her seat, then sank back, and the lace handkerchief dropped from her hand.
"But I heard afterwards—long afterwards—that he was a Roman noble, one of the fearless few who had taken up poverty and exile and an unknown name for the sake of liberty and justice."
Roma's head had fallen into her bosom, which was heaving with an emotion she could not conceal.
"One day a letter came from Italy, telling him that a thousand men were waiting for him to lead them in an insurrection that was to dethrone an unrighteous king. It was the trick of a scoundrel who has since been paid the price of a hero's blood. I heard of this only lately—only to-night."
There was silence for a moment. David Rossi had put one arm over his eyes.
"He was enticed back from England to Italy; an English minister violated his correspondence with a friend, and communicated its contents to the Italian Government; he was betrayed into the hands of the police, and deported without trial."
"Was he never heard of again?"
"Once—only once—by the friend I speak about."
Roma felt dizzy, as if she were coming near to some deep places; but she could not stop—something compelled her to go on.
"Who was the friend?" she asked.
"One of his poor waifs—a boy who owed everything to him, and loved and revered him as a father—loves and reveres him still, and tries to follow in the path he trod."
"What—what was his name?"
She looked at him for a moment without being able to speak. Then she said:
"What happened to him?"
"The Italian courts condemned him to death, and the English police drove him from England."
"Then he has never been able to return to his own country?"
"He has never been able to visit his mother's grave except by secret and at night, and as one who was perpetrating a crime."
"What became of him?"
"He went to America."
"Did he ever return?"
"Yes! Love of home in him, as in all homeless ones, was a consuming passion, and he came back to Italy."
"Where—where is he now?"
David Rossi stepped up to her, and said:
"In this room."
"Then you are David Leone!"
He raised one hand:
"David Leone is dead!"
There was silence for a moment. She could hear the thumping of her heart. Then she said in an almost inaudible whisper:
"I understand. David Leone is dead, but David Rossi is alive."
He did not speak, but his head was held up and his face was shining.
"Are you not afraid to tell me this?"
Her eyes glistened and her lips quivered.
"You insulted and humiliated me in public this morning, yet you think I will keep your secret?"
"I know you will."
She felt a sensation of swelling in her throbbing heart, and with a slow and nervous gesture she held out her hand.
"May I ... may I shake hands with you?" she said.
There was a moment of hesitation, and then their hands seemed to leap at each other and clasp with a clasp of fire.
At the next instant he had lifted her hand to his lips and was kissing it again and again.
A sensation of triumphant joy flashed through her, and instantly died away. She wished to cry out, to confess, to say something, she knew not what. But David Leone is dead rang in her ears, and at the same moment she remembered what the impulse had been which brought her to that house.
Then her eyes began to swim and her heart to fail, and she wanted to fly away without uttering another word. She could not speak, he could not speak; they stood together on a precipice where only by silence could they hold their heads.
"Let me go home," she said in a breaking voice, and with downcast head and trembling limbs she stepped to the door.
Reaching the door, she stopped, as if reluctant to leave, and said in a voice still soft, but coming more from within:
"I wished to meet you face to face, but now that I have met you, you are not the man I thought you were."
"Nor you," he said, "the woman I pictured you."
A light came into her eyes at that, and she looked up and said:
"Then you had never seen me before?"
And he answered after a moment:
"I had never seen Donna Roma Volonna until to-day."
"Forgive me for coming to you," she said.
"I thank you for doing so," he replied, "and if I have sinned against you, from this hour onward I am your friend and champion. Let me try to right the wrong I have done you. What I said was the result of a mistake—let me ask your forgiveness."
"You mean publicly?"
"You are very good, very brave," she said; "but no, I will not ask you to do that."
"Ah! I understand. I know it is impossible to overtake a lie. Once started it goes on and on, like a stone rolling down-hill, and even the man who started can never stop it. Tell me what better I can do—tell me, tell me."
Her face was still down, but it had now a new expression of joy.
"There is one thing you can do, but it is difficult."
"No matter! Tell me what it is."
"I thought when I came here ... but it is no matter."
"Tell me, I beg of you."
He was trying to look into her face again, and she was eluding his gaze as before, but now for another, a sweeter reason.
"I thought if—if you would come to my house when my friends are there, your presence as my guest, in the midst of those in whose eyes you have injured me, might be sufficient of itself to wipe out everything. But...."
"Is that all?" he said.
"Then you are not afraid?"
For one moment they looked at each other, and their eyes were shining.
"I have thought of something else," she said.
"What is it?"
"You have heard that I am a sculptor. I am making a fountain for the Municipality, and if I might carve your face into it...."
"It would be coals of fire on my head."
"You would need to sit to me."
"When shall it be?"
"To-morrow morning to begin with, if that is not too soon."
"It will be years on years till then," he said.
She bent her head and blushed. He tried again to look at her beaming eyes and golden complexion, and for sheer joy of being followed up she turned her face away.
"Forgive me if I have stayed too long," she said, making a feint of opening the door.
"I should have grudged every moment if you had gone sooner," he answered.
"I only wished that you should not think of me with hatred and bitterness."
"If I ever had such a feeling it is gone."
"Mine has gone too," she said softly, and again she prepared to go.
One hook of her cape had got entangled in the silk muslin at her shoulder, and while trying to free it she looked at him, and her look seemed to say, "Will you?" and his look replied, "May I?" and at the physical touch a certain impalpable bridge seemed in an instant to cross the space that had divided them.
"Let me see you to the door?" he said, and her eyes said openly, "Will you?"
They walked down the staircase side by side, going step by step, and almost touching.
"I forgot to give you my address—eighteen Trinita de' Monti," she said.
"Eighteen Trinita de' Monti," he repeated.
They had reached the second storey. "I am trying to remember," she said. "After all, I think I have seen you before somewhere."
"In a dream, perhaps," he answered.
"Yes," she said. "Perhaps in the dream I spoke about."
They had reached the street, and Roma's carriage, a hired coupe, stood waiting a few yards from the door.
They shook hands, and at the electric touch she raised her head and gave him in the darkness the look he had tried to take in the light.
"Until to-morrow then," she said.
"To-morrow morning," he replied.
"To-morrow morning," she repeated, and again in the eye-asking between them she seemed to say, "Come early, will you not?—there is still so much to say."
He looked at her with his shining eyes, and something of the boy came back to his world-worn face as he closed the carriage door.
She drew up the window, and as the carriage moved away she smiled and bowed through the glass.
The Piazza of Trinita de' Monti takes its name from a church and convent which stand on the edge of the Pincian Hill.
A flight of travertine steps, twisted and curved to mask the height, goes down from the church to a diagonal piazza, the Piazza di Spagna, which is always bright with the roses of flower-sellers, who build their stalls around a fountain.
At the top of these steps there stands a house, four-square to all winds, and looking every way over Rome. The sun rises and sets on it, the odour of the flowers comes up to it from the piazza, and the music of the band comes down to it from the Pincio. Donna Roma occupied two floors of this house. One floor, the lower one, built on arches and entered from the side of the city, was used as a studio, the other was as a private apartment.
Donna Roma's home consisted of ten or twelve rooms on the second floor, opening chiefly out of a central drawing-room, which was furnished in red and yellow damask, papered with velvet wall-papers, and lighted by lamps of Venetian glass representing lilies in rose-colour and violet. Her bedroom, which looked to the Quirinal, was like the nest of a bird in its pale-blue satin, with its blue silk counterpane and its embroidered cushion at the foot of the bed; and her boudoir, which looked to the Vatican, was full of vases of malachite and the skins of wild animals, and had a bronze clock on the chimney-piece set in a statue of Mephistopheles. The only other occupant of her house, besides her servants, was a distant kinswoman, called her aunt, and known to familiars as the Countess Betsy; but in the studio below, which was connected with the living rooms by a circular staircase, and hung round with masks, busts, and weapons, there was Bruno Rocco, her marble-pointer, the friend and housemate of David Rossi.
On the morning after Donna Roma's visit to the Piazza Navona a letter came from the Baron. He was sending Felice to be her servant. "The man is a treasure and sees nothing," he wrote. And he added in a footnote: "Don't look at the newspapers this morning, my child; and if any of them send to you say nothing."
But Roma had scarcely finished her coffee and roll when a lady journalist was announced. It was Lena, the rival of Olga both in literature and love.
"I'm 'Penelope,'" she said. "'Penelope' of the Day, you know. Come to see if you have anything to say in answer to the Deputy Rossi's speech yesterday. Our editor is anxious to give you every opportunity; and if you would like to reply through me to Olga's shameful libels.... Haven't you seen her article? Here it is. Disgraceful insinuations. No lady could allow them to pass unnoticed."
"Nevertheless," said Roma, "that is what I intend to do. Good-morning!"
Lena had barely crossed the doorstep when a more important person drove up. This was the Senator Palomba, Mayor of Rome, a suave, oily man, with little twinkling eyes.
"Come to offer you my sympathy, my dear! Scandalous libels. Liberty of the press, indeed! Disgraceful! It's in all the newspapers—I've brought them with me. One journal actually points at you personally. See—'A lady sculptor who has recently secured a commission from the Municipality through the influence of a distinguished person.' Most damaging, isn't it? The elections so near, too! We must publicly deny the statement. Ah, don't be alarmed! Only way out of a nest of hornets. Nothing like diplomacy, you know. Of course the Municipality will buy your fountain just the same, but I thought I would come round and explain before publishing anything."
Roma said nothing, and the great man backed himself out with the air of one who had conferred a favour, but before going he had a favour to ask in return.
"It's rumoured this morning, my dear, that the Government is about to organise a system of secret police—and quite right, too. You remember my nephew, Charles Minghelli? I brought him here when he came from Paris. Well, Charles would like to be at the head of the new force. The very man! Finds out everything that happens, from the fall of a pin to an attempt at revolution, and if Donna Roma will only say a word for him.... Thanks!... What a beautiful bust! Yours, of course? A masterpiece! Fit to put beside the masterpieces of old Rome."
The Mayor was not yet out of the drawing-room when a third visitor was in the hall. It was Madame Sella, a fashionable modiste, with social pretensions, who contrived to live on terms of quasi-intimacy with her aristocratic customers.
"Trust I am not de trop! I knew you wouldn't mind my calling in the morning. What a scandalous speech of that agitator yesterday! Everybody is talking about it. In fact, people say you will go away. It isn't true, is it? No? So glad! So relieved!... By the way, my dear, don't trouble about those stupid bills of mine, but ... I'm giving a little reception next week, and if the Baron would only condescend ... you'll mention it? A thousand thanks! Good-morning!"
"Count Mario," announced Felice, and an effeminate old dandy came tripping into the room. He was Roma's landlord and the Italian Ambassador at St. Petersburg.
"So good of you to see me, Donna Roma. Such an uncanonical hour, too, but I do hope the Baron will not be driven to resign office on account of these malicious slanders. You think not? So pleased!"
Then stepping to the window, "What a lovely view! The finest in Rome, and that's the finest in Europe! I'm always saying if it wasn't Donna Roma I should certainly turn out my tenant and come to live here myself.... That reminds me of something. I'm ... well, I'm tired of Petersburg, and I've written to the Minister asking to be transferred to Paris, and if somebody will only whisper a word for me.... How sweet of you! Adieu!"
Roma was sick of all this insincerity, and feeling bitter against the person who had provoked it, when an unseen hand opened the door of a room on the Pincio side of the drawing-room, and the testy voice of her aunt called to her from within.
The old lady, who had just finished her morning toilet and was redolent of scented soap, reclined in a white robe on a bed-sofa with a gilded mirror on one side of her and a little shrine on the other. Her bony fingers were loaded with loose rings, and a rosary hung at her wrist. A cat was sitting at her feet, with a gold cross suspended from its ribbon.
"Ah, is it you at last? You come to me sometimes. Thanks!" she said in a withering whimper. "I thought you might have looked in last night, and I lay awake until after midnight."
"I had a headache and went to bed," said Roma.
"I never have anything else, but nobody thinks of me," said the old lady, and Roma went over to the window.
"I suppose you are as headstrong as ever, and still intend to invite that man in spite of all my protests?"
"He is to sit to me this morning, and may be here at any time."
"Just so! It's no use speaking. I don't know what girls are coming to. When I was young a man like that wouldn't have been allowed to cross the threshold of any decent house in Rome. He would have been locked up in prison instead of sitting for his bust to the ward of the Prime Minister."
"Aunt Betsy," said Roma, "I want to ask you a question."
"Be quick, then. My head is coming on as usual. Natalina! Where's Natalina?"
"Was there any quarrel between my father and his family before he left home and became an exile?"
"Certainly not! Who said there was? Quarrel indeed! His father was broken-hearted, and as for his mother, she closed the gate of the palace, and it was never opened again to the day of her death. Natalina, give me my smelling salts. And why haven't you brought the cushion for the cat?"
"Still, a man has to live his own life, and if my father thought it right...."
"Right? Do you call it right to break up a family, and, being an only son, to let a title be lost and estates go to the dogs?"
"I thought they went to the Baron, auntie."
"Roma, aren't you ashamed to sneer at me like that? At the Baron, too, in spite of all his goodness! As for your father, I'm out of patience. He wasted his wealth and his rank, and left his own flesh and blood to the mercy of others—and all for what?"
"For country, I suppose."
"For fiddlesticks! For conceit and vanity and vainglory. Go away! My head is fit to split. Natalina, why haven't you given me my smelling salts? And why will you always forget to...."
Roma left the room, but the voice of her aunt scolding the maid followed her down to the studio.
Her dog was below, and the black poodle received her with noisy demonstrations, but the humorous voice which usually saluted her with a cheery welcome she did not hear. Bruno was there, nevertheless, but silent and morose, and bending over his work with a sulky face.
She had no difficulty in understanding the change when she looked at her own work. It stood on an easel in a compartment of the studio shut off by a glass partition, and was a head of David Rossi which she had roughed out yesterday. Not yet feeling sure which of the twelve apostles around the dish of her fountain was the subject that Rossi should sit for, she had decided to experiment on a bust. It was only a sketch, but it was stamped with the emotions that had tortured her, and it showed her that unconsciously her choice had been made already. Her choice was Judas.
Last night she had laughed when looking at it, but this morning she saw that it was cruel, impossible, and treacherous. A touch or two at the clay obliterated the sinister expression, and, being unable to do more until the arrival of her sitter, she sat down to write a letter.
"MY DEAR BARON,—Thanks for Cardinal Felice. He will be a great comfort in this household if only he can keep the peace with Monsignor Bruno, and live in amity with the Archbishop of Porter's Lodge. Senator Tom-tit has been here to suggest some astonishing arrangement about my fountain, and to ask me to mention his nephew, Charles Minghelli, as a fit and proper person to be chief of your new department of secret police. Madame de Trop and Count Signorina have also been, but of their modest messages more anon.
"As for D. R., my barometer is 'set fair,' but it is likely to be a stormier time than I expected. Last night I decked myself in my best bib and tucker, and, in defiance of all precedent, went down to his apartment. But the strange thing was that, whereas I had gone to find out all about him, I hadn't been ten minutes in his company before he told all about me—about my father, at all events, and his life in London. I believe he knew me in that connection and expected to appeal to my filial feelings. Did too, so strong is the force of nature, and then and thereafter, and all night long, I was like somebody who had been shaken in an earthquake and wanted to cry out and confess. It was not until I remembered what my father had been—or rather hadn't—and that he was no more to me than a name, representing exposure to the cruellest fate a girl ever passed through, that I recovered from the shock of D. R.'s dynamite.
"He has promised to sit to me for his bust, and is to come this morning!—Affectionately, ROMA.
"P. S.—My gentleman has good features, fine eyes, and a wonderful voice, and though I truly believe he trembles at the sight of a woman and has never been in love in his life, he has an astonishing way of getting at one. But I could laugh to think how little execution his fusillade will make in this direction."
"Honourable Rossi!" said Felice's sepulchral voice behind her, and at that moment David Rossi stepped into the studio.
In spite of her protestations, Roma was nervous and confused. Putting David Rossi to sit in the arm-chair on the platform for sitters, she rattled on about everything—her clay, her tools, her sponge, and the water they had forgotten to change for her. He must not mind if she stared at him—that wasn't nice, but it was necessary—and he must promise not to look at her work while it was unfinished—children and fools, you know—the proverb was musty.
And while she talked she told herself that Thomas was the apostle he must stand for. These anarchists were all doubters, and the chief of doubters was the figure that would represent them.
David Rossi did not speak much at first, and he did not join in Roma's nervous laughter. Sometimes he looked at her with a steadfast gaze, which would have been disconcerting if it had not been so simple and childlike. At length he looked out of the window to where the city lay basking in the sunshine, and birds were swirling in the clear blue sky, and began to talk of serious subjects.
"How beautiful!" he said. "No wonder the English and Americans who come to Italy for health and the pleasure of art think it a paradise where every one should be content. And yet...."
"Under the smile of this God-blessed land there is suffering such as can hardly be found in any other country of the world. Sometimes I think I cannot bear it any longer, and must go away, as others do."
"A little more this way, please—thank you! That doesn't do much for them, does it?"
"For them? No! God comfort the poor exiles—their path is a bridge of sighs! Poor, friendless, forgotten, huddled together in some dingy quarter of a foreign city, one a music-master, another a teacher of languages, a third a supernumerary at a theatre, a fourth an organ-man or even a beggar in the streets, yet weapons in the hand of God and shaking the thrones of the world!"
"You have seen something of that, haven't you?"
"Yes. There's an old quarter on the fringe of the fashionable district. It is called Soho. Densely populated, infested with vice, the very sewer of the city, yet an asylum of liberty for all that. The refugees of Europe fly to it. Its criminals, too, perhaps; for misery, like poverty, has many bedfellows."
"You lived there?"
Roma was wiping her fingers with the sponge, and looking sideways out of the window. "And your old friend, Doctor Roselli—he lived in Soho?"
"In Soho Square when I knew him first. The house faced to the north, and had a porch and trees in front of it."
The sponge had dropped to the floor, but Roma did not observe it. She took up a tooth-tool and began to work on the clay again.
"A little more that way, please—thanks! Do you think your friend had a right to renounce his rank and to break up his family in Italy? Think of his father—he would be broken-hearted."
"He was—I've heard my old friend say so. He cursed him at last and forbade him to call himself his son."
"But he would never hear a word against the old man. 'He's my father—that's enough,' he would say."
The tooth-tool, like the sponge, dropped out of Roma's fingers.
"How stupid! But his mother...."
"That was sadder still. In the early years of his exile she would pray him to come home. 'You are the best of mothers,' he would answer, 'but I cannot do so.'"
"He never saw her again?"
"Never, but he worshipped her very name and she was a tower of strength to him. 'Mothers!' he used to say, 'if you only knew your power! God be merciful to the wayward one who has no mother!'"
Roma's throat was throbbing. "He ... he was married?"
"Yes. His wife was an Englishwoman, almost as friendless as himself."
"Eyes the other way, at the window—thank you!... Did she know who he was?"
"Nobody knew. He was only a poor Italian doctor to all of us in Soho."
"They ... they were ... happy?"
"As happy as love and friendship could make them. And even when poverty came...."
"He became poor—very poor?"
"Very! It got known that Doctor Roselli was a revolutionary, and then his English patients began to be afraid. The house in Soho Square had to be given up at last, and we went into a side street. Only two rooms now, one to the front, the other to the back, and four of us to live in them, but the misery of that woman's outward circumstances never dimmed the radiance of her sunny soul."
Roma's bosom was heaving and her voice was growing thick. "She ... died?"
David Rossi bent his head and spoke in short, jerky sentences. "Her death came at the bitterest moment of want. It was Christmas time. Very cold and raw. We hadn't too much at home to keep us warm. She caught a cold and it settled on her chest. Pneumonia! Only three or four days altogether. She lay in the back room; it was quieter. The doctor nursed her constantly. How she fought for life! She was thinking of her little daughter. Just six years of age at that time, and playing with her doll on the floor."
His voice had enough to do to control itself.
"When it was all over we went into the front room and made our beds on a blanket spread out on the bare boards. Only three of us now—the child with her father, weeping for the mother lying cold the other side of the wall."
His eyes were still looking out at the window. In Roma's eyes the tears were gathering.
"We were nearly penniless, but our good angel was buried somehow. Oh, the poor are the richest people in the world! I love them! I love them!"
Roma could not look at him any longer.
"It was in the cemetery of Kensal Green. There was a London fog and the grave-diggers worked by torches, which smoked in the thick air. But the doctor stood all the time with his head uncovered. The child was there too, and driving home she looked out of the window and sometimes laughed at the sights in the streets. Only six—and she had never been in a coach before!"
At that moment was heard the boom of the gun that is fired from the Castle of St. Angelo at mid-day, and Roma put down her tools.
"If you don't mind, I'll not try to do any more to-day," she said in a husky voice. "Somehow it isn't coming right this morning. It's like that sometimes. But if you can come at this time to-morrow...."
"With pleasure," said David Rossi, and a moment later he was gone.
She looked at her work and obliterated the expression again.
"Not Thomas," she thought. "John—the beloved disciple! That would fit him exactly."
As she went upstairs to dress for lunch, Felice gave her an envelope bearing the seal of the Prime Minister, and told her the dog was missing.
"He must have followed Mr. Rossi," said Roma, and without ado she read the letter.
"DEAR ROMA,—A thousand thanks for suggesting Charles Minghelli. I sent for him, saw him, and appointed him immediately. Thanks, too, for the clue about your father. Highly significant! I mentioned it to Minghelli, and the dark fire in his eyes shone out instantly. Adieu, my dear! You are on the right track! I will observe your request and not come near you.—Affectionately,
Next morning Roma found herself dressing with extraordinary care.
After coffee she went into the Countess's room as usual. The old lady had made her toilette, and her cat was purring on a cushion by her side.
"Aunt Betsy, is it true that my father was decoyed back to Italy by the police?"
"How do I know that? But if he was, it was no more than he might have expected. He had been breeding sedition at the safe distance of a thousand miles, and it was time he was brought to justice. Besides...."
"There were the estates, and naturally the law could not assign them to anybody else while there was no judgment against your father."
"So my father was enticed back to Italy in the interests of the next of kin."
"Roma! How dare you talk like that? About your best friend, too!"
"I didn't say anything against the Baron, did I?"
"You would be an ungrateful girl if you did. As for your father, I'm tired of talking. Only for his exile you would have had possession of your family estates at this moment, and been a princess in your own right."
"Only for this exile I shouldn't have been here at all, auntie, and somebody else would have been the princess, it seems to me."
The old lady dropped the perfumed handkerchief that was at her nose and said:
"What do you talk about downstairs all day long, miss? Pretty thing if you allow a man like that to fill you with his fictions. He is a nice person to take your opinions from, and you are a nice girl to stand up for a man who sold you into slavery, as I might say! Have you forgotten the baker's shop in London—or was it a pastry cook's, or what?—where they made you a drudge and a scullery-maid, after your father had given you away?"
"Don't speak so loud, Aunt Betsy."
"Then don't worry me by defending such conduct. Ah, how my head aches! Natalina, where are my smelling salts? Natalina!"
"I'm not defending my father, but still...."
"Should think not, indeed! If it hadn't been for the Baron, who went in search of you, and found you after you had run away and been forced to go back to your slave-master, and then sent you to school in Paris, and now permits you to enjoy half the revenue of your father's estates, and forbids us to say a word about his generosity, where would you be? Madonna mia! In the streets of London, perhaps, to which your father had consigned you!"
The Princess Bellini was waiting for Roma when she returned to the drawing-room. The little lady was as friendly as if nothing unusual had occurred.
"Just going for a walk in the Corso, my dear. You'll come? No? Ah, work, work, work!"
The little lady tapped Roma's arm with her pince-nez and laughed.
"Everybody has heard that he is sitting to you, and everybody understands. That reminds me—I've a box at the new opera to-morrow night:—'Samson' at the Costanzi, you know. Only Gi-gi and myself, but if you would like me to take you and to ask your own particular Samson...."
"Honourable Rossi," said Felice at the door, and David Rossi entered the room, with the black poodle bounding before him.
"I must apologise for not sending back the dog," he said. "It followed me home yesterday, but I thought as I was coming to-day...."
"Black has quite deserted me since Mr. Rossi appeared," said Roma, and then she introduced the deputy to the Princess.
The little lady was effusive. "I was just saying, Honourable Rossi, that if you would honour my box at the opera to-morrow night...."
David Rossi glanced at Roma.
"Oh yes, Donna Roma is coming, and if you will...."
"With pleasure, Princess."
"That's charming! After the opera we'll have supper at the Grand Hotel. Good-day!" said the Princess, and then in a low voice at the door, "I leave you to your delightful duties, my dear. You are not looking so well, though. Must be the scirocco. My poor dear husband used to suffer from it shockingly. Adieu!"
Roma was less confused but just as nervous when she settled to her work afresh.
"I've been thinking all night long of the story you told me yesterday," she said. "No, that way, please—eyes as before—thank you! About your old friend, I mean. He was a good man—I don't doubt that—but he made everybody suffer. Not only his father and mother, but his wife also. Has anybody a right to sacrifice his flesh and blood to a work for the world?"
"When a man has taken up a mission for humanity his kindred must reconcile themselves to that," said Rossi.
"Yes, but a child, one who cannot be consulted. Your friend's daughter, for example. She was to lose everything—her father himself at last. How could he love her? I suppose you would say he did love her."
"Love her? He lived for her. She was everything on earth to him, except the one thing to which he had dedicated his life."
A half-smile parted her lovely lips.
"When her mother was gone he was like a miser who had been robbed of all his jewels but one, and the love of father, mother, and wife seemed to gather itself up in the child."
The lovely lips had a doubtful curve.
"How bright she was, too! I can see her still in the dingy London house with her violet eyes and coal-black hair and happy ways—a gleam of the sun from our sunny Italy."
She looked at him. His face was calm and solemn. Did he really know her after all? She felt her cheeks flush and tingle.
"And yet he left her behind to come to Italy on a hopeless errand," she said.
"How could he know what would happen?"
"He couldn't, and that troubled him most of all. He lived in constant fear of being taken away from his daughter before her little mind was stamped with the sense of how much he loved her. Delicious selfishness! Yet it was not altogether selfish. The world was uncharitable and cruel, and in the rough chance of life it might even happen that she would be led to believe that because her father gave her away, and left her, he did not love her."
Roma looked up again. His face was still calm and solemn.
"He gave her away, you say?"
"Yes. When the treacherous letter came from Italy he could not resist it. It was like a cry from the buried-alive calling upon him to break down the door of their tomb. But what could he do with the child? To take her with him was impossible. A neighbour came—a fellow-countryman—he kept a baker's shop in the Italian quarter. 'I'm only a poor man,' he said, 'but I've got a little daughter of the same age as yours, and two sticks will burn better than one. Give the child to me and do as your heart bids you!' It was like a light from heaven. He saw his way at last."
Roma listened with head aside.
"One day he took the child and washed her pretty face and combed her glossy hair, telling her she was going to see another little girl and would play with her always. And the child was in high glee and laughed and chattered and knew no difference. It was evening when we set out for the stranger's house, and in the twilight of the little streets happy-hearted mothers were calling to their children to come in to go to bed. The doctor sent me into a shop to buy a cake for the little one, and she ate it as she ran and skipped by her father's side."
Roma was holding her breath.
"The baker's shop was poor but clean, and his own little girl was playing on the hearthrug with her cups and saucers. And before we were aware of it two little tongues were cackling and gobbling together, and the little back-parlour was rippling over with a merry twitter. The doctor stood and looked down at the children, and his eyes shone with a glassy light. 'You are very good, sir,' he said, 'but she is good too, and she'll be a great comfort and joy to you always.' And the man said, 'She'll be as right as a trivet, doctor, and you'll be right too—you'll be made triumvir like Mazzini, when the republic is proclaimed, and then you'll send for the child, and for me too, I daresay.' But I could see that the doctor was not listening. 'Let us slip away now,' I said, and we stole out somehow."
Roma's eyes were moistening, and the little tool was trembling in her hand.
There was silence for some moments, and then from without, muffled by the walls it passed through, there came the sound of voices. The nuns and children of Trinita de' Monti were singing their Benediction—Ora pro nobis!
"I don't think I'll do any more to-day," said Roma. "The light is failing me, and my eyes...."
"The day after to-morrow, then," said Rossi, rising.
"But do you really wish to go to the opera to-morrow night?"
He looked steadfastly into her face and answered "Yes."
She understood him perfectly. He had sinned against her and he meant to atone. She could not trust herself to look at him, so she took the damp cloth and turned to cover up the clay. When she turned back he was gone.
After dinner she replied to the Baron's letter of the day before.
"DEAR BARON,—I have misgivings about being on the right track, and feel sorry you have set Minghelli to work so soon. Do Prime Ministers appoint people at the mere mention of their names by wards, second cousins, and lady friends generally? Wouldn't it have been wise to make inquiries? What was the fault for which Minghelli was dismissed in London?
"As for D. R., I must have been mistaken about his knowing me. He doesn't seem to know me at all, and I believe his shot at me by way of my father was a fluke. At all events, I'm satisfied that it is going in the wrong direction to set Minghelli on his trail. Leave him to me alone.—Yours, ROMA.
"P.S.—Princess Potiphar and Don Saint Joseph are to take me to the new opera to-morrow night. D. R. is also to be there, so he will be seen with me in public!
"I have begun work on King David for a bust. He is not so wonderfully good-looking when you look at him closely."
The little Princess called for Roma the following night, and they drove to the opera in her magnificent English carriage. Already the theatre was full and the orchestra was tuning up. With the movement of people arriving and recognising each other there was an electrical atmosphere which affected everybody. Don Camillo came, oiled and perfumed, and when he had removed the cloaks of the ladies and they took their places in the front of the box, there was a slight tingling all over the house. This pleased the little Princess immensely, and she began to sweep the place with her opera-glass.
"Crowded already!" she said. "And every face looking up at my box! That's what it is to have for your companion the most beautiful and the most envied girl in Rome. What a sensation! Nothing to what it will be, though, when your illustrious friend arrives."
At that moment David Rossi appeared at the back, and the Princess welcomed him effusively.
"So glad! So honoured! Gi-gi, let me introduce you—Honourable Rossi, Don Camillo Luigi Murelli."
Roma looked at him—he had an air of distinction in a dress coat such as comes to one man in a thousand. He looked at Roma—she wore a white gown with violets on one shoulder and two rows of pearls about her beautiful white throat. The Princess looked at both of them, and her little eyes twinkled.
"Never been here before, Mr. Rossi? Then you must allow me to explain everything. Take this chair between Roma and myself. No, you must not sit back. You can't mind observation—so used to it, you know."
Without further ado David Rossi took his place in front of the box, and then a faint commotion passed over the house. There were looks of surprise and whispered comments, and even some trills of laughter.
He bore it without flinching, as if he had come for it and expected it, and was taking it as a penance.
Roma dropped her head and felt ashamed, but the little Princess went on talking. "These boxes on the first tier are occupied by Roman society generally, those on the second tier mainly by the diplomatic corps, and the stalls are filled by all sorts and conditions of people—political people, literary people, even trades-people if they're rich enough or can pretend to be."
"And the upper circles?" asked Rossi.
"Oh," in a tired voice, "professional people, I think—Collegio Romano and University of Rome, you know."
"And the gallery?"
"Students, I suppose." Then eagerly, after bowing to somebody below, "Gi-gi, there's Lu-lu. Don't forget to ask him to supper.... All the beautiful young men of Rome are here to-night, Mr. Rossi, and presently they'll pay a round of calls on the ladies in the boxes."
The voice of the Princess was suddenly drowned by the sharp tap of the conductor, followed by the opening blast of the overture. Then the lights went down and the curtain rose, but still the audience kept up a constant movement in the lower regions of the house, and there was an almost unbroken chatter.
The curtain fell on the first act without anybody knowing what the opera had been about, except that Samson loved a woman named Delilah, and the lords of the Philistines were tempting her to betray him. Students in the gallery, recognisable by their thin beards, shouted across at each other for the joy of shouting, and spoke by gestures to their professors below. People all over the house talked gaily on social subjects, and there was much opening and shutting of the doors of boxes. The beautiful young man called Lu-lu came to pay his respects to the Princess, and there was a good deal of gossip and laughter.
The second act was more dramatic than the first, showing Samson in his character as a warrior, and when the curtain came down again, General Morra, the Minister of War, visited the Princess's box.
"So you're taking lessons in the art of war from the professor who slew an army with the jaw-bone of an ass?" said Don Camillo.
"Wish we could enlist a few thousands of him—jaw-bones as well," said the General. "The gentleman might be worth having at the War Office, if it was only as a jettatura." And then in a low voice to the Princess, with a glance at Roma, "Your beautiful young friend doesn't look so well to-night."
The Princess shrugged her shoulders. "Of the pains of love one suffers but does not die," she whispered.
"You surely cannot mean...."
The Princess put the tip of her fan to his lips and laughed.
Roma was conscious of a strange conflict of feelings. The triumph she had promised herself by David Rossi's presence with her in public—the triumph over the envious ones who would have rejoiced in her downfall—brought her no pleasure.
The third act dealt with the allurements of Delilah, and was received with a good deal of laughter.
"Ah, these sweet, round, soft things—they can do anything they like with the giants," said Don Camillo.
The Baron, who had dined with the King, came round at the end of the next act, wearing a sash diagonally across his breast, with crosses, stars, and other decorations. He bowed to David Rossi with ceremonious politeness, greeted Don Camillo familiarly, kissed the hand of the Princess, and offered his arm to Roma to take her into the corridor to cool—she was flushed and overheated.
"I see you are getting on, my child! Excellent idea to bring him here! Everybody is saying you cannot be the person he intended, so his trumpet has brayed to no purpose."
"You received my letters?" she said in a faltering voice.
"Yes, but don't be uneasy. I'm neither the prophet nor the son of a prophet if we are not on the right track. What a fortunate thought about the man Minghelli! An inspiration! You asked what his fault was in London—forgery, my dear!"
"That's serious enough, isn't it?"
"In a Secretary of Legation, yes, but in a police agent...."
He laughed significantly, and she felt her skin creep.
"Has he found out anything?" she asked.
"Not yet, but he is clearly on the track of great things. It is nearly certain that your King David is a person wanted by the law."
Her hand twitched at his arm, but they were turning at the end of the corridor and she pretended to trip over her train.
"Some clues missing still, however, and to find them we are sending Minghelli to London."
"London? Anything connected with my father?"
"Possibly! We shall see. But there's the orchestra and here's your box! You're wonderful, my dear! Already you've undone the mischief he did you, and one half of your task is accomplished. Diplomatists! Pshaw! We'll all have to go to school to a girl. Adieu!"
All through the next act Roma seemed to feel a sting on her arm where the Baron had touched it, and she was conscious of colouring up when the Princess said:
"Everybody is looking this way, my dear! See what it is to be the most talked-of girl in Rome!"
And then she felt David Rossi's hand on the back of her chair, and heard his soft voice saying:
"The light is in your eyes, Donna Roma. Let me change places with you for a while."
After that everything passed in a kind of confusion. She heard somebody say:
"He's putting a good deal of heart into it, poor thing!"
And somebody answered, "Yes, of broken heart apparently."
Then there was a crash and the opera was over, and she was going out in a crowd on David Rossi's arm, and feeling as if she would fall if she dropped it.
The magnificent English carriage drew up under the portico and all four of them got into it.
"Grand Hotel!" cried Don Camillo. Then dropping back to his place he laughed and chanted:
"And the dead he slew at his death were more than he slew in his life ... and he judged Israel twenty years."
A marshy air from the Campagna shrouded the city as with a fog, and pierced through the closed windows of the carriage, but there was warmth and glow in the Grand Hotel.
One woman after another came in clothed in diamonds under the fur cloak which hung over her bare arms and shoulders, until the room was a dazzling blaze of jewels.
People caught each other's eyes through lorgnettes and eye-glasses, and there were constant salutations. The men chattered, the women laughed, and there was an affectation of baby-talk at nearly every table. Then supper was served, glasses were held up as signals, and bright eyes began to play about the room, until the atmosphere was tingling with electric currents and heated by human passion.