Roma sat facing the Princess. She was still confused and preoccupied, but when rallied upon her silence she brightened up for a moment and tried to look buoyant and happy. David Rossi, who was on her left, was still quiet and collected, but bore the same air as before, of a man going through a penance.
This was observed by Don Camillo, who sat on the right of the Princess, and led to various little scenes.
"Very good company here, Mr. Rossi. Always sure of seeing some beautiful young women," said Don Camillo.
"And beautiful young men, apparently," said David Rossi.
The beautiful young man called Lu-lu was there, and reaching over to Don Camillo, and speaking in a whisper between the puff of a cigarette and a sip of coffee, he said:
"Why doesn't the Minister buy the man up? Easy enough to buy the press these days."
"He's doing better than that," said Don Camillo. "He's drawing him from opposition by the allurements of...."
"No, the lady," whispered Don Camillo, but Roma heard him.
She was ashamed. The innuendoes which belittled David Rossi were belittling herself as well, and she wanted to get up and fly.
Rossi himself seemed to be unconscious of anything hurtful. Although silent, he was calm and cheerful, and his manner was natural and polite. The wife of one of the royal aides-de-camp sat next to him, and talked constantly of the King.
Roma found herself listening to every word that was said to David Rossi, but she also heard a conversation that was going on at the other end of the table.
"Wants to be another Cola di Rienzi, doesn't he?" said Lu-lu.
"Another Christ," said Don Camillo. "He'll be asking for a crown of thorns by-and-by, and calling on the world to immolate him for the sake of humanity. Look! He's talking to the little Baroness, but he is fifteen thousand miles above the clouds at this moment."
"Where does he come from, I wonder?" said Lu-lu, and then the two hands of Don Camillo played the invisible accordion.
"Madame de Trop says his father was Master of the House to Prince Petrolium—vice-prince, you know, and brought up in the little palace," said the Princess.
"Don't believe a word of it," said Don Camillo, "and I'll wager he never supped at a decent hotel before."
"I'll ask him! Listen now! Some fun," said the Princess. "Honourable Rossi!"
"Yes, Princess," said David Rossi.
The eyes of the little Princess swept the table with a sparkling light.
"Beautiful room, isn't it?"
"Never been here before, I suppose?"
David Rossi looked steadfastly into her eyes and answered, "Oh yes, Princess. When I first returned to Italy eight years ago I was a waiter in this house for a month."
The sparkling face of the little Princess broke up like a snowball in the sun, and the two other men dropped their heads.
Roma hardly knew what her own feelings were. Humiliation, shame, confusion, but above all, pride—pride in David Rossi's courage and strength.
The white mist from the Campagna pierced to the bone as they came out by the glass-covered hall, and an old woman with an earthenware scaldino, crouching by the marble pillars in the street, held out a chill, damp hand and cried:
"A penny for God's sake! May I die unconfessed if I've eaten anything since yesterday!... God bless you, my daughter! and the Holy Virgin and all the saints!"
At the door of her house Roma parted from the Princess, and said to Rossi, as the carriage drove away, "Come early to-morrow. I've not yet been able to work properly somehow."
She was restless and feverish, and she would have gone to bed immediately, but crossing the drawing-room she heard the fretful voice of her aunt saying, "Is that you, Roma?" and she had no choice but to go into the Countess's bedroom.
A red lamp burned before the shrine, and the old lady was in an embroidered nightdress, but she was wide awake, and her eyes flashed and her lips trembled.
"Ah, it's you at last! Sit down! I want to speak to you. Natalina!" cried the Countess. "Oh, dear me, the girl has gone to bed. Give me the cognac. There it is—on the dressing-table."
She sipped the brandy, fidgeted with her cambric handkerchief, and said:
"Roma, I'm surprised at you! You hadn't used to be so stupid! How? Don't you see what that woman is doing? What woman? The Princess, of course. Inviting you to share her box at the opera so that you may be seen in public with that man. She hates him like poison, but she would swallow anything to throw you and this Rossi together. Do you expect the Baron to approve of that? His enemy, and you on such terms with the man? Here, take back this cognac. I feel as if I would choke—Natalina...."
"You're quite mistaken, Aunt Betsy," said Roma. "The Baron was at the opera and came into the box himself, and he approved of everything."
"Tut! Don't tell me! Because he has some respect for himself and keeps his own counsel you are simple enough to think he will not be offended."
The old lady's voice was dying down to a choking whisper, but she went on without a pause.
"If you've no thought for yourself, you might have some for me. You are young, and anything may come to you, but I'm old and I'm tied down to this mattress, and what is to happen if the Baron takes offence? The income he allows us from your father's estates is under his own control still. He can cut it off at any moment, and if he does, what is to become of me?"
Roma's bosom was swelling under her heavy breathing, her heart was beating violently and her head was dizzy. All the bitterness of the evening was boiling in her throat, and it burst out at length in a flood.
"So that is all your moral protestations come to, is it?" she said. "Because the Baron is necessary to you and you cannot exist without him, you expect me to buy and sell myself according to your necessities."
"Roma! What are you saying? Aren't you ashamed...."
"Aren't you ashamed? You've been trying to throw me into the arms of the Baron, and you haven't cared what would happen so long as I kept up appearances."
"Oh, dear! I see what it is. You want to be the death of me! You will, too, before you've done. Natalina! Where is...."
"More than that, you've poisoned my mind against my father, and because I couldn't remember him, you've brought me up to think of him as selfish and vain and indifferent to his own daughter. But my father wasn't that kind of man at all."
"Who told you that, miss?"
"Never mind who told me. My father was a saint and a martyr, and a great man, and he loved me with all his heart and soul."
"Oh, my head! My poor head!... A martyr indeed! A socialist, a republican, a rebel, an anarchist, you mean!"
"Never mind what his politics were. He was my father—that is enough—and you had no right to make me think ill of him, whatever the world might do."
Roma was superb at that moment, with her head thrown back, her eyes flaming, and her magnificent figure swelling and heaving under her clinging gown.
"You'll kill me, I tell you. The cognac ... Natalina...." cried the Countess, but Roma was gone.
Before going to bed Roma wrote to the Baron:
"Certain you are wrong. Why waste time sending Charles Minghelli to London? Why? Why? Why? The forger will find out nothing, and if he does, it will only be by exercise of his Israelitish art of making bricks without straw. Stop him at once if you wish to save public money and spare yourself personal disappointment. Stop him! Stop him! Stop him!
"P.S.—To show you how far astray your man has gone, D. R. mentioned to-night that he was once a waiter at the Grand Hotel!"
Next morning David Rossi arrived early.
"Now we must get to work in earnest," said Roma. "I think I see my way at last."
It was not John the beloved disciple, John who lay in the bosom of his Lord. It was Peter, the devoted, stalwart, brave individual, human, erring but glorious Peter. "Thou art Peter, and on this rock I build my church."
"Same position as before. Eyes the other way. Thank you!... Afraid you didn't enjoy yourself last night—no?"
"At the theatre? I was interested. But the human spectacle was perhaps more to me than the artistic one. I am no artist, you see.... How did you become a sculptor?"
"Oh, I studied a little in the studios of Paris, where I went to school, you see."
"But you were born in London?"
"Why did you come to Rome?"
"Rome was the home of my people, you know. And then there was my name—Roma!"
"I knew a Roma long ago."
"Really? Another Roma?"
There was a tremor in her voice.
"It was the little daughter of the friend I've spoken about."
"How interest ... No, at the window, please—that will do."
Roma was choking with a sense of duplicity, but save for a turn of the head David Rossi gave no sign.
"She was only seven when I saw her last."
"That was long ago, you say?"
"Seventeen years ago."
"Then she will be the same age as...."
"The first time I saw her she was only three, and she was in her nightdress ready for bed."
Roma laughed a little, but she knew that every note in her voice was confused and false.
"She said her prayers with a little lisp at that time. 'Our Fader oo art in heben, alud be dy name.'"
He laughed a little now, as he mimicked the baby voice. They laughed together, then they looked at each other, and then with serious eyes they turned away.
"You'll think it strange, but I date my first conscious and definite aspiration to the memory of that hour."
"Ten years afterward, when I was in America, the words of that prayer came back to me in Roma's little lisp. 'Dy kingum tum. Dy will be done on eard as it is in heben.'"
For some time after that Roma worked on without speaking, feeling feverish and restless. But just as the silence was becoming painful, and she could bear it no longer, Felice came to announce lunch.
"You'll stay? I want so much to work on while I'm in the mood," she said.
"With pleasure," he replied.
She ate hardly at all, for she was troubled by many misgivings. Did he know her? He did; he must; every word, every tone seemed to tell her that. Then why did he not speak out plainly? Because, having revealed himself to her, he was waiting for her to reveal herself to him. And why had she not done so? Because she was enmeshed in the nets of the society she lived in; because she was ashamed of the errand that had brought them together; and most of all because she had not dared to lay bare that secret of his life which, like an escaped convict, dragged behind it the broken chain of the prison-house.
David Leone is dead! To uncover, even to their own eyes only, the fact that lay hidden behind those words was like personating the priest and listening at the grating of the confessional!
No matter! She must do it! She must reveal herself as her heart and instinct might direct. She must claim the parentage of the noblest soul that ever died for liberty, and David Rossi must trust his secret to the bond of blood which would make it impossible for her to betray the foster-son of her own father.
Having come to this conclusion, the light seemed to break in her heavy sky, but the clouds were charged with electricity. As they returned to the studio she was excited and a little hysterical, for she thought the time was near. At that moment a regiment of soldiers passed along under the ilex trees to the Pincio, with their band of music playing as they marched.
"Ah, the dear old days!" said David Rossi. "Everything reminds me of them! I remember that when she was six...."
"Yes—a regiment of troops returned from a glorious campaign, and the doctor took us to see the illuminations and rejoicings. We came to a great piazza almost as large as the piazza of St. Peter's, with fountains and a tall column in the middle of it."
"I know—Trafalgar Square!"
"Dense crowds covered the square, but we found a place on the steps of a church."
"I remember—St. Martin's Church. You see, I know London."
"The soldiers came in by the big railway station close by...."
"Charing Cross, isn't it."
"And they marched to the tune of the 'British Grenadiers' and the thunder of fifty thousand throats. And as their general rode past, a beacon of electric lights in the centre of the square blazed out like an aureole about the statue of a great Englishman who had died long ago for the cause which had then conquered."
"Gordon!" she cried—she was losing herself every moment.
"'Look, darling!' said the doctor to little Roma. And Roma said, 'Papa, is it God?' I was a tall boy then, and stood beside him. 'She'll never forget that, David,' he said."
"And she didn't ... she couldn't ... I mean.... Have you ever told me what became of her?"
She would reveal herself in a moment—only a moment—after all, it was delicious to play with this sweet duplicity.
"Have you?" she said in a tremulous voice.
His head was down. "Dead!" he answered, and the tool dropped out of her hand on to the floor.
"I was five years in America after the police expelled me from London, and when I returned to England I went back to the little shop in Soho."
She was staring at him and holding her breath. He was looking out of the window.
"The same people were there, and their own daughter was a grown-up girl, but Roma was gone."
She could hear the breath in her nostrils.
"They told me she had been missing for a week, and then ... her body had been found in the river."
She felt like one struck dumb.
"The man took me to the grave. It was the grave of her mother in Kensal Green, and under her mother's name I read her own inscription—'Sacred also to the memory of Roma Roselli, found drowned in the Thames, aged twelve years.'"
The warm blood which had tingled through her veins was suddenly frozen with horror.
"Not to-day," she thought, and at that moment a faint sound of the band on the Pincio came floating in by the open window.
"I must go," said David Rossi, rising.
Then she recovered herself and began to talk on other subjects. When would he come again? He could not say. The parliamentary session opened soon. He would be very busy.
When David Rossi was gone Roma went upstairs, and Natalina met her carrying two letters. One of them was going to the post—it was from the Countess to the Baron. The other was from the Baron to herself.
"MY DEAREST ROMA,—A thousand thanks for the valuable clue about the Grand Hotel. Already we have followed up your lead, and we find that the only David Rossi who was ever a waiter there gave as reference the name of an Italian baker in Soho. Minghelli has gone to London, and I am sending him this further information. Already he is fishing in strange waters, and I am sure you are dying to know if he has caught anything. So am I, but we must possess our souls in patience.
"But, my dearest Roma, what is happening to your handwriting? It is so shaky nowadays that I can scarcely decipher some of it.—With love. "B."
"DEAR GUARDIAN,—But I'm not—I'm not! I'm not in the least anxious to hear of what Mr. Minghelli is doing in London, because I know he is doing nothing, and whatever he says, either through his own mouth or the mouth of his Italian baker in Soho, I shall never believe a word he utters. As to Mr. Rossi, I am now perfectly sure that he does not identify me at all. He believes my father's daughter is dead, and he has just been telling me a shocking story of how the body of a young girl was picked out of the Thames (about the time you took me away from London) and buried in the name of Roma Roselli. He actually saw the grave and the tombstone! Some scoundrel has been at work somewhere. Who is it, I wonder?—Yours, "R. V."
Having written this letter in the heat and haste of the first moment after David Rossi's departure, she gave it to Bruno to post immediately.
"Just so!" said Bruno to himself, as he glanced at the superscription.
Next morning she dressed carefully, as if expecting David Rossi as usual, but when he did not come she told herself she was glad of it. Things had happened too hurriedly; she wanted time to breathe and to think.
All day long she worked on the bust. It was a new delight to model by memory, to remember an expression and then try to reproduce it. The greatest difficulty lay in the limitation of her beautiful art. There were so many memories, so many expressions, and the clay would take but one of them.
The next day after that she dressed herself as carefully as before, but still David Rossi did not come. No matter! It would give her time to think of all he had said, to go over his words and stories.
Did he know her? Certainly he knew her! He must have known from the first that she was her father's daughter, or he would never have put himself in her power. His belief in her was such a sweet thing. It was delicious.
Next day also David Rossi did not come, and she began to torture herself with misgivings. Was he indifferent? Had all her day-dreams been delusions? Little as she wished to speak to Bruno, she was compelled to do so.
Bruno hardly lifted his eyes from his chisel and soft iron hammer. "Parliament is to meet soon," he said, "and when a man is leader of a party he has enough to do, you know."
"Ask him to come to-morrow. Say I wish for one more sitting—only one."
"I'll tell him," said Bruno, with a bob of his head over the block of marble.
But David Rossi did not come the next day either, and Bruno had no better explanation.
"Busy with his new 'Republic' now, and no time to waste, I can tell you."
"He will never come again," she thought, and then everything around and within her grew dark and chill.
She was sleeping badly, and to tire herself at night she went out to walk in the moonlight along the path under the convent wall. She walked as far as the Pincio gates, where the path broadens to a circular space under a table of clipped ilexes, beneath which there is a fountain and a path going down to the Piazza di Spagna. The night was soft and very quiet, and standing under the deep shadows of the trees, with only the cruel stars shining through, and no sound in the air save the sobbing of the fountain, she heard a man's footstep on the gravel coming up from below.
It was David Rossi. He passed within a few yards, yet he did not see her. She wanted to call to him, but she could not do so. For a moment he stood by the deep wall that overlooks the city, and then turned down the path which she had come by. A trembling thought that was afraid to take shape held her back and kept her silent, but the stars beat kindly in an instant and the blood in her veins ran warm. She watched him from where she stood, and then with a light foot she followed him at a distance.
It was true! He stopped at the parapet before the church, and looked up at her windows. There was a light in one of them, and his eyes seemed to be steadfastly fixed on it. Then he turned to go down the steps. He went down slowly, sometimes stopping and looking up, then going on again. Once more she tried to call to him. "Mr. Rossi." But her voice seemed to die in her throat. After a moment he was gone, the houses had hidden him, and the church clock was striking twelve.
When she returned to her bedroom and looked at herself in the glass, her face was flushed and her eyes were sparkling. She did not want to sleep at all that night, for the beating of her heart was like music, and the moon and stars were singing a song.
"If I could only be quite, quite sure!" she thought, and next morning she tackled Bruno.
Bruno was no match for her now, but he put down his shaggy head, like a bull facing a stone fence.
"Tell you the honest truth, Donna Roma," he said, "Mr. Rossi is one of those who think that when a man has taken up a work for the world it is best if he has no ties of family."
"Really? Is that so?" she answered. "But I don't understand. He can't help having father and mother, can he?"
"He can help having a wife, though," said Bruno, "and Mr. Rossi thinks a public man should be like a priest, giving up home and love and so forth, that others may have them more abundantly."
"So for that reason...."
"For that reason he doesn't throw himself in the way of temptation."
"And you think that's why...."
"I think that's why he keeps out of the way of women."
"Perhaps he doesn't care for them—some men don't, you know."
"Care for them! Mr. Rossi is one of the men who think pearls and diamonds of women, and if he had to be cast on a desert island with anybody, he would rather have one woman than a hundred thousand men."
"Ah, yes, but perhaps there's no 'one woman' in the world for him yet, Bruno."
"Perhaps there is, perhaps there isn't," said Bruno, and his hammer fell on the chisel and the white sparks began to fly.
"You would soon see if there were, wouldn't you, Bruno?"
"Perhaps I would, perhaps I wouldn't," said Bruno, and then he wagged his wise head and growled, "In the battle of love he wins who flies."
"Does he say that, Bruno?"
"He does. One day our old woman was trying to lead him on a bit. 'A heart to share your joys and sorrows is something in this world,' says she."
"And what did Mr. Rossi say?"
"'A woman's love is the sweetest thing in the world,' he said; 'but if I found myself caring too much for anybody I should run away.'"
"Did Mr. Rossi really say that, Bruno?"
"He did—upon my life he did!"
Bruno had the air of a man who had achieved a moral victory, and Roma, whose eyes were dancing with delight, wanted to fall on his stupid, sulky face and kiss and kiss it.
During the afternoon of the day following, the Princess Bellini came in with Don Camillo. "Here's Gi-gi!" she cried. "He comes to say there's to be a meet of the foxhounds on the Campagna to-morrow. If you'd like to come I'll take you, and if you think Mr. Rossi will come too...."
"If he rides and has time to spare," said Roma.
"Precisely," said Don Camillo. "The worst of being a prophet is that it gives one so much trouble to agree with one's self, you know. Rumour says that our illustrious Deputy has been a little out of odour with his own people lately, and is now calling a meeting to tell the world what his 'Creed and Charter' doesn't mean. Still a flight into the country might do no harm even to the stormy petrel of politics, and if any one could prevail with him...."
"Leave that to Roma, and see to everything else yourself," said the Princess. "On the way to that tiresome tea-room in the Corso, my dear. 'Charity and Work,' you know. Committee for the protection of poor girls, or something. But we must see the old aunt first, I suppose. Come in, Gi-gi!"
Three minutes afterwards Roma was dressed for the street, and her dog was leaping and barking beside her.
"Not to-day, thank you! Down, Black, down! Keep the dog from following me, Felice."
As she passed the lodge the porter handed her an envelope bearing the seal of the Minister, but she did not stop to open it. With a light step she tripped along the street, hailed a coupe, cried "Piazza Navona," and then composed herself to read her letter.
When the Princess and Don Camillo came out of the Countess's room Roma was gone, and the dog was scratching at the inside of the outer door.
"Now where can she have gone to so suddenly, I wonder? And there's her poor dog trying to follow her!"
"Is that the dog that goes to the Deputy's apartment?"
"Certainly it is! His name is Black. I'll hold him while you open the door, Felice. There! Good dog! Good Black! Oh, the brute, he has broken away from me."
"Black! Black! Black!"
"No use, Felice. He'll he half way through the streets by this time."
And going down the stairs the little Princess whispered to her companion: "Now, if Black comes home with his mistress this evening it will be easy to see where she has been."
Meantime Roma in her coupe was reading her letter—
"DEAREST,—Been away from Rome for a few days, and hence the delay in answering your charming message. Don't trouble a moment about the dead-and-buried nightmare. If the story is true, so much the better. R. R. is dead, thank God, and her unhappy wraith will haunt your path no more. But if Dr. Roselli knew nothing about David Rossi, how comes it that David Rossi knows so much about Dr. Roselli? It looks like another clue. Thanks again. A thousand thanks!
"Still no news from London, but though I pretend neither to knowledge nor foreknowledge, I am still satisfied that we are on the right track.
"Dinner-party to-night, dearest, and I shall be obliged to you if I may borrow Felice. Your Princess Potiphar, your Don Saint Joseph, your Count Signorina, your Senator Tom-tit, and—will you believe it?—your Madame de Trop! I can deny you nothing, you see, but I am cruelly out of luck that my dark house must lack the light of all drawing-rooms, the sunshine of all Rome!
"How clever of you to throw dust in the eyes of your aunt herself! And these red-hot prophets in petticoats, how startled they will soon be! Adieu! "BONELLI."
As the coupe turned into the Piazza Navona, Roma was tearing the letter into shreds and casting them out of the window.
While Roma climbed the last flight of stairs to David Rossi's apartment, with the slippery-sloppery footsteps of the old Garibaldian going before her, Bruno's thunderous voice was rocking through the rooms above.
"Look at him, Mr. Rossi! Republican, democrat, socialist, and rebel! Upsets the government of this house once a day regularly—dethrones the King and defies the Queen! Catch the piggy-wiggy, Uncle David! Here goes for it—one, two, three, and away!"
Then shrieks and squeals of childish laughter, mingled with another man's gentler tones, and a woman's frightened remonstrance. And then sudden silence and the voice of the Garibaldian in a panting whisper, saying, "She's here again, sir!"
"Come in," cried David Rossi, and from the threshold of the open hall she saw him, in the middle of the floor, with a little boy pitching and heaving like a young sea-lion in his arms.
He slipped the boy to his feet and said, "Run to the lady and kiss her hand, Joseph." But the boy stood off shyly, and, stepping into the room, Roma knelt to the child and put her arms about him.
"What a big little man, to be sure! His name is Joseph, is it? And what's his age? Six! Think of that! Have I seen him before, Mrs. Rocco? Yes? Perhaps he was here the day I called before? Was he? So? How stupid of me to forget! Ah, of course, now I remember, he was in his nightdress and asleep, and Mr. Rossi was carrying him to bed."
The mother's heart was captured in a moment. "Do you love children, Donna Roma?"
"Indeed, I do!"
During this passage between the women Bruno had grunted his way out of the room, and was now sidling down the staircase, being suddenly smitten by his conscience with the memory of a message he had omitted to deliver.
"Come, Joseph," said Elena. But Joseph, who had recovered from his bashfulness, was in no hurry to be off, and Roma said:
"No, no! I've only called for a moment. It is to say," turning to David Rossi, "that there's a meet of the foxhounds on the Campagna to-morrow, and to tell you from Don Camillo that if you ride and would care to go...."
"You are going?"
"With the Princess, yes! But there will be no necessity to follow the hounds all day long, and perhaps coming home...."
"I will be there."
"How charming! That's all I came to say, and so...."
She made a pretence of turning to go, but he said:
"Wait! Now that you are here I have something to show to you."
"Come in," he cried, and, blowing a kiss to the boy, Roma followed Rossi into the sitting-room.
"One moment," he said, and he left her to go into the bedroom.
When he came back he had a small parcel in his hands wrapped in a lace handkerchief.
"We have talked so much of my old friend Roselli that I thought you might like to see his portrait."
"His portrait? Have you really got his portrait?"
"Here it is," and he put into her hands the English photograph which used to hang by his bed.
She took it eagerly and looked at it steadfastly, while her lips trembled and her eyes grew moist. There was silence for a moment, and then she said, in a voice that struggled to control itself: "So this was the father of little Roma?"
"Is it very like him?"
"What a beautiful face! What a reverend head! Did he look like that on the day ... the day he was at Kensal Green?"
The excitement she laboured under could no longer be controlled, and she lifted the picture to her lips and kissed it. Then catching her breath, and looking up at him with swimming eyes, she laughed through her tears and said:
"That is because he was your friend, and because ... because he loved my little namesake."
David Rossi did not reply, and the silence was too audible, so she said with another nervous laugh:
"Not that I think she deserved such a father. He must have been the best father a girl ever had, but she...."
"She was a child," said David Rossi.
"Still, if she had been worthy of a father like that...."
"She was only seven, remember."
"Even so, but if she had not been a little selfish ... wasn't she a little selfish?"
"You mustn't abuse my friend Roma."
Her eyes beamed, her cheeks burned, her nerves tingled. It would be a sweet delight to egg him on, but she dare not go any farther.
"I beg your pardon," she said in a soft voice. "Of course you know best. And perhaps years afterward when she came to think of what her father had been to her ... that is to say if she lived..."
Their eyes met again, and now hers fell in confusion.
"I want to give you that portrait," he said.
"You would like to have it?"
"More than anything in the world. But you value it yourself?"
"Beyond anything I possess."
"Then how can I take it from you?"
"There is only one person in the world I would give it to. She has it, and I am contented."
It was impossible to hear the strain any longer without crying out, and to give physical expression to her feelings she lifted the portrait to her lips again and kissed and kissed it.
He smiled at her, she smiled back; the silence was hard to break, but just as they were on the edge of the precipice the big shock-head of the little boy looked in on them through the chink of the door and cried:
"You needn't ask me to come in, 'cause I won't!"
By the blessed instinct of the motherhood latent in her, Roma understood the boy in a moment. "If I were a gentleman, I would, though," she said.
"Would you?" said Joseph, and in he came, with a face shining all over.
"Hurrah! A piano!" said Roma, leaping up and seating herself at the instrument. "What shall I play for you, Joseph?"
Joseph was indifferent so long as it was a song, and with head aside, Roma touched the keys and pretended to think. After a moment of sweet duplicity she struck up the air she had come expressly to play.
It was the "British Grenadiers." She sang a verse of it. She sang in English and with the broken pronunciation of a child—
"Some talk of Allisander, and some of Hergoles; Of Hector and Eyesander, and such gate names as these..."
Suddenly she became aware that David Rossi was looking at her through the glass on the mantel-piece, and to keep herself from crying she began to laugh, and the song came to an end.
At the same moment the door burst open with a bang, and the dog came bounding into the room. Behind it came Elena, who said:
"It was scratching at the staircase door, and I thought it must have followed you."
"Followed Mr. Rossi, you mean. He has stolen my dog's heart away from me," said Roma.
"That is what I say about my boy's," said Elena.
"But Joseph is going for a soldier, I see."
"It's a porter he wants to be."
"Then so he shall—he shall be my porter some day," said Roma, whereupon Joseph was frantic with delight, and Elena was saying to herself, "What wicked lies they tell of her—I wonder they are not ashamed!"
The fire was going down and the twilight was deepening.
"Shall I bring you the lamp, sir?" said Elena.
"Not for me," said Roma. "I am going immediately." But even when mother and child had gone she did not go. Unconsciously they drew nearer and nearer to each other in the gathering darkness, and as the daylight died their voices softened and there were quiet questions and low replies. The desire to speak out was struggling in the woman's heart with the delight of silence. But she would reveal herself at last.
"I have been thinking a great deal about the story they told you in London—of Roma's death and burial, I mean. Had you no reason to think it might be false?"
"It never occurred to you that it might be to anybody's advantage to say that she was dead while she was still alive?"
"How could it? Who was to perpetrate a crime for the sake of the daughter of a poor doctor in Soho—a poor prisoner in Elba?"
"Then it was not until afterward that you heard that the poor doctor was a great prince?"
"Not until the night you were here before."
"And you had never heard anything of his daughter in the interval?"
"Once I had! It was on the same day, though. A man came here from London on an infamous errand..."
"What was his name?"
"What did he say?"
"He said Roma Roselli was not dead at all, but worse than dead—that she had fallen into the hands of an evil man, and turned out badly."
"Did you ... did you believe that story?"
"Not one word of it! I called the man a liar, and flung him out of the house."
"Then you ... you think ... if she is still living...."
"My Roma is a good woman."
Her face burned up to the roots of her hair. She choked with joy, she choked with pain. His belief in her purity stifled her. She could not speak now—she could not reveal herself. There was a moment of silence, and then in a tremulous voice she said:
"Will you not call me Roma, and try to think I am your little friend?"
When she came to herself after that she was back in her own apartment, in her aunt's bedroom, and kissing the old lady's angular face. And the Countess was breaking up the stupefaction of her enchantment with sighs and tears and words of counsel.
"I only want you to preserve yourself for your proper destiny, Roma. You are the fiancee of the Baron, as one might say, and the poor maniac can't last long."
Before dressing for dinner Roma replied to the Minister:—
"DEAR BARON BONELLI,—Didn't I tell you that Minghelli would find out nothing? I am now more than ever sure that the whole idea is an error. Take my advice and drop it. Drop it! Drop it! I shall, at all events!—Yours,
"Success to the dinner! Am sending Felice. He will give you this letter.—R. V."
It was the sweetest morning of the Roman winter. The sun shone with a gentle radiance, and the motionless air was fragrant with the odour of herbs and flowers. Outside the gate which leads to the old Appian Way grooms were waiting with horses, blanketed and hooded, and huntsmen in red coats, white breeches, pink waistcoats, and black boots, were walking their mounts to the place appointed for the meet. In a line of carriages were many ladies, some in riding-habits, and on foot there was a string of beggars, most of them deformed, with here and there, at little villages, a group of rosy children watching the procession as it passed.
The American and English Ambassadors were riding side by side behind a magnificent carriage with coachman and tiger in livery of scarlet and gold.
"Who would think, to look on a scene like this, that the city is seething with dissatisfaction?" said the Englishman.
"Rome?" said the American. "Its aristocratic indifference will not allow it to believe that here, as everywhere else in the world, great and fatal changes are going on all the time. These lands, for example—to whom do they belong? Nominally to the old Roman nobility, but really to the merchants of the Campagna—a company of middlemen who grew rich by leasing them from the princes and subletting them to the poor."
"And the nobles themselves—how are they faring?"
"Badly! Already they are of no political significance, and the State knows them not."
"They don't appear to go into the army or navy—what do they go into?"
"And meantime the Italian people?"
"Meantime the great Italian people, like the great English people, the great German people, and the people of every country where the privileged classes still exist, are rising like a mighty wave to sweep all this sea-wrack high and dry on to the rocks."
"And this wave of the people," said the Englishman, inclining his head toward the carriage in front, "is represented by men like friend Rossi?"
"Would be, if he could keep himself straight," said the American.
"And where is the Tarpeian rock of friend Rossi's politics?"
The American slapped his glossy boot with his whip, lowered his voice, and said, "There!"
"A fortnight ago you heard his speech on the liveries of scarlet and gold, and look! He's under them himself already."
"You think there is no other inference?"
The American shook his head. "Always the way with these leaders of revolution. It's Samson's strength with Samson's weakness in every mother's son of them."
"Good-morning, General Potter!" said a cheerful voice from the carriage in front.
It was Roma herself. She sat by the side of the little Princess, with David Rossi on the seat before them. Her eyes were bright, there was a glow in her cheeks, and she looked lovelier than ever in her close-fitting riding-habit.
At the meeting-place there was a vast crowd of on-lookers, chiefly foreigners, in cabs and carriages and four-in-hand coaches from the principal hotels. The Master of the Hunt was ready, with his impatient hounds at his feet, and around him was a brilliant scene. Officers in blue, huntsmen in red, ladies in black, jockeys in jackets, a sea of feathers and flowers and sunshades, with the neighing of the horses and yapping of the dogs, the vast undulating country, the smell of earth and herbs, and the morning sunlight over all.
Don Camillo was waiting with horses for his party, and they mounted immediately. The horse for Roma was a quiet bay mare with limpid eyes. General Potter helped her to the saddle, and she went cantering through the long lush grass.
"What has your charming young charge been doing with herself, Princess?" said the American. "She was always beautiful, but to-day she's lovely."
"She's like Undine after she had found her soul," said the Englishman.
The little Princess laughed. "Love and a cough cannot be hidden, gentlemen," she whispered, with a look toward David Rossi.
"You don't mean...."
Meantime Rossi, in ordinary walking dress, was approaching the horse he was intended to ride. It was a high strong-limbed sorrel with wild eyes and panting nostrils. The English groom who held it was regarding the rider with a doubtful expression, and a group of booted and spurred huntsmen were closing around.
To everybody's surprise, the deputy gathered up the reins and leaped lightly to the saddle, and at the next moment he was riding at Roma's side. Then the horn was sounded, the pack broke into music, the horses beat their hoofs on the turf and the hunt began.
There was a wall to jump first, and everybody cleared it easily until it came to David Rossi's turn, when the sorrel refused to jump. He patted the horse's neck and tried it again, but it shied and went off with its head between its legs. A third time he brought the sorrel up to the wall, and a third time it swerved aside.
The hunters had waited to watch the result, and as the horse came up for a fourth trial, with its wild eyes flashing, its nostrils quivering, and its forelock tossed over one ear, it was seen that the bridle had broken and Rossi was riding with one rein.
"He'll be lucky if he isn't hurt," said some one.
"Why doesn't he give it the whip over its quarters?" said another.
But David Rossi only patted his horse until it came to the spot where it had shied before. Then he reached over its neck on the side of the broken rein, and with open hand struck it sharply across the nose. The horse reared, snorted, and jumped, and at the next moment it was standing quietly on the other side of the wall.
Roma, on her bay mare, was ashen pale, and the American Ambassador turned to her and said:
"Never knew but one man to do a thing like that, Donna Roma."
Roma swallowed something in her throat and said: "Who was it, General Potter?"
"The present Pope when he was a Noble Guard."
"He can ride, by Jove!" said Don Camillo.
"That sort of stuff has to be in a man's blood. Born in him—must be!" said the Englishman.
And then David Rossi came up with a new bridle to his sorrel, and Sir Evelyn added: "You handle a horse like a man who began early, Mr. Rossi."
"Yes," said David Rossi; "I was a stable-boy two years in New York, your Excellency."
At that moment the huntsman who was leading with two English terriers gave the signal that the fox was started, whereupon the hounds yelped, the whips whistled, and the horses broke into a canter.
Two hours afterwards the poor little creature that had been the origin of the holiday was tracked to earth and killed. Its head and tail were cut off, and the rest of its body was thrown to the dogs. After that flasks were taken out, healths were drunk, cheers were given, and then the hunt broke up, and the hunters began to return at an easy trot.
Roma and David Rossi were riding side by side, and the Princess was a pace or two behind them.
"Roma!" cried the Princess, "what a stretch for a gallop!"
"Isn't it?" said Roma, and in a moment she was off.
"I believe her mare has mastered her," said the Princess, and at the next instant David Rossi was gone too.
"Peace be with them! They're a lovely pair!" said the Princess, laughing. "But we might as well go home. They are like Undine, and will return no more."
Meantime, with the light breeze in her ears, and the beat of her horse's hoofs echoing among the aqueducts and tombs, Roma galloped over the broad Campagna. After a moment she heard some one coming after her, and for joy of being pursued she whipped up and galloped faster. Without looking back she knew who was behind, and as her horse flew over the hillocks her heart leaped and sang. When the strong-limbed sorrel came up with the quiet bay mare, they were nearly two miles from their starting-place, and far out of the track of their fellow-hunters. Both were aglow from head to foot, and as they drew rein they looked at each other and laughed.
"Might as well go on now, and come out by the English cemetery," said Roma.
"Good!" said David Rossi.
"But it's half-past two," said Roma, looking at her little watch, "and I'm as hungry as a hunter."
"Naturally," said David Rossi, and they laughed again. There was an osteria somewhere in that neighbourhood. He had known it when he was a boy. They would dine on yellow beans and macaroni.
Presently they saw a house smoking under a scraggy clump of eucalyptus. It was the osteria, half farmstead and half inn. A timid lad took their horses, an evil-looking old man bowed them into the porch, and an elderly woman, with a frightened expression and a face wrinkled like the bark of a cedar, brought them a bill of fare.
They laughed at everything—at the unfamiliar menu, because it was soiled enough to have served for a year; at the food, because it was so simple; and at the prices, because they were so cheap.
Roma looked over David Rossi's shoulder as he read out the bill of fare, and they ordered the dinner together.
"Macaroni—threepence! Right! Trout—fourpence! Shall we have fourpennyworth of trout? Good! Lamb—sixpence! We'll take two lambs—I mean two sixpenny-worths," and then more laughter.
While the dinner was cooking they went out to walk among the eucalyptus, and came upon a beautiful dell surrounded by trees and carpeted with wild flowers.
"Carnival!" cried Roma. "Now if there was anybody here to throw a flower at one!"
He picked up a handful of violets and tossed them over her head.
"When I was a boy this was where men fought duels," said David Rossi.
"The brutes! What a lovely spot! Must be the place where Pharaoh's daughter found Moses in the bulrushes!"
"Or where Adam found Eve in the garden of Eden?"
They looked at each other and smiled.
"What a surprise that must have been to him," said Roma. "Whatever did he think she was, I wonder?"
"An angel who had come down in the moonlight and forgotten to go up in the morning!"
"Nonsense! He would know in a moment she was a woman."
"Think of it! She was the only woman in the world for him!"
"And fancy! He was the only man!"
The dinner was one long delight. Even its drawbacks were no disadvantage. The food was bad, and it was badly cooked and badly served, but nothing mattered.
"Only one fork for all these dishes?" asked David Rossi.
"That's the best of it," said Roma. "You only get one dirty one."
Suddenly she dropped knife and fork, and held up both hands. "I forgot!"
"I was to be little Roma all day to-day."
"Why, so you are, and so you have been."
"That cannot be, or you would call her by her name, you know."
"I'll do so the moment she calls me by mine."
"That's not fair," said Roma, and her face flushed up, for the wine of life had risen to her eyes.
In a vineyard below a girl working among the orange trees was singing stornelli. It was a song of a mother to her son. He had gone away from the old roof-tree, but he would come back some day. His new home was bright and big, but the old hearthstone would draw him home. Beautiful ladies loved him, but the white-haired mother would kiss him again.
They listened for a short dreaming space, and their laughter ceased and their eyes grew moist. Then they called for the bill, and the old man with the evil face came up with a forced smile from a bank that had clearly no assets of that kind to draw upon.
"You've been a long time in this house, landlord," said David Rossi.
"Very long time, Excellency," said the man.
"You came from the Ciociaria."
"Why, yes, I did," said the man, with a look of surprise. "I was poor then, and later on I lived in the caves and grottoes of Monte Parioli."
"But you knew how to cure the phylloxera in the vines, and when your master died you married his daughter and came into his vineyard."
"Angelica! Here's a gentleman who knows all about us," said the old man, and then, grinning from ear to ear, he added:
"Perhaps your Excellency was the young gentleman who used to visit with his father at the Count's palace on the hill twenty to thirty years ago?"
David Rossi looked him steadfastly in the face and said: "Do you remember the poor boy who lived with you at that time?"
The forced smile was gone in a moment. "We had no boy then, Excellency."
"He came to you from Santo Spirito and you got a hundred francs with him at first, and then you built this pergola."
"If your Excellency is from the Foundling, you may tell them again, as I told the priest who came before, that we never took a boy from there, and we had no money from the people who sent him to London."
"You don't remember him, then?"
The old woman hesitated, and the old man made mouths at her.
David Rossi took a long breath. "Here is the amount of your bill, and something over. Good-bye!"
The timid lad brought round the horses and the riders prepared to mount. Roma was looking at the boy with pitying eyes.
"How long have you been here?" she asked.
"Ten years, Excellency," he replied.
He was just twelve years of age and both his parents were dead.
"Poor little fellow!" said Roma, and before David Rossi could prevent her she was emptying her purse into the boy's hand.
They set off at a trot, and for some time they did not exchange a word. The sun was sinking and the golden day was dying down. Over the broad swell of the Campagna, treeless, houseless, a dull haze was creeping like a shroud, and the long knotted grass was swept by the chill breath of evening. Nothing broke the wide silence of the desolate space except the lowing of cattle, the bleat of sheep that were moving in masses like the woolly waves of a sea, the bark of big white dogs, the shouts of cowherds carrying long staves, and of shepherds riding on shaggy ponies. Here and there were wretched straw huts, with groups of fever-stricken people crouching over the embers of miserable fires, and here and there were dirty pothouses, which alternated with wooden crosses of the Christ and grass-covered shrines of the Madonna.
The rhythm of the saddles ceased and the horses walked.
"Was that the place where you were brought up?" said Roma.
"And those were the people who sold you into slavery, so to speak?"
"And you could have confounded them with one word, and did not!"
"What was the use? Besides, they were not the first offenders."
"No; your father was more to blame. Don't you feel sometimes as if you could hate him for what he has made you suffer?"
David Rossi shook his head. "I was saved from that bitterness by the saint who saved me from so much besides. 'Don't try to find out who your father is, David,' he said, 'and if by chance you ever do find out, don't return evil for evil, and don't avenge yourself on the world. By-and-bye the world will know you for what you are yourself, not for what your father is. Perhaps your father is a bad man, perhaps he isn't. Leave him to God!'"
"It's a terrible thing to think evil of one's own father, isn't it?" said Roma, but David Rossi did not reply.
"And then—who knows?—perhaps some day you may discover that your father deserved your love and pity after all."
They had drawn up at another house under a thick clump of eucalyptus trees. It was the Trappist Monastery of Tre Fontane. Silence was everywhere in this home of silence.
They went up on to the roof. From that height the whole world around seemed to be invaded by silence.
It was the silence of all sacred things, the silence of the mass; and the undying paganism in the hearts of the two that stood there had its eloquent silence also.
Roma was leaning on the parapet with David Rossi behind her, when suddenly she began to weep. She wept violently and sobbed.
"What is it?" he asked, but she did not answer.
After a while she grew calm and dried her eyes, called herself foolish, and began to laugh. But the heart-beats were too audible without saying something, and at length she tried to speak.
"It was the poor boy at the inn," she said; "the sight of his sweet face brought back a scene I had quite forgotten," and then, in a faltering voice, turning her head away, she told him everything.
"It was in London, and my father had found a little Roman boy in the streets on a winter's night, carrying a squirrel and playing an accordion. He wore a tattered suit of velveteens, and that was all that sheltered his little body from the cold. His fingers were frozen stiff, and he fainted when they brought him into the house. After a while he opened his eyes, and gazed around at the fire and the faces about him, and seemed to be looking for something. It was his squirrel, and it was frozen dead. But he grasped it tight and big tears rolled on to his cheeks, and he raised himself as if to escape. He was too weak for that, and my father comforted him and he lay still. That was when I saw him first; and looking at the poor boy at the inn I thought ... I thought perhaps he was another ... perhaps my little friend of long ago...."
Her throat was throbbing, and her faltering voice was failing like a pendulum that is about to stop.
"Roma!" he cried over her shoulder.
Their eyes met, their hands clasped, their pent-up secret was out, and in the dim-lit catacombs of love two souls stood face to face.
"How long have you known it?" she whispered.
"Since the night you came to the Piazza Navona. And you?"
"Since the moment I heard your voice." And then she shuddered and laughed.
When they left the house of silence a blessed hush had fallen on them, a great wonder which they had never known before, the wonder of the everlasting miracle of human hearts.
The sun was sitting behind Rome in a glorious blaze of crimson, with the domes of churches glistening in the horizontal rays, and the dark globe of St. Peter's hovering over all. The mortal melancholy which had been lying over the world seemed to be lifted away, and the earth smiled with flowers and the heavens shone with gold.
Only the rhythmic cadence of the saddles broke the silence as they swung to the movement of the horses. Sometimes they looked at each other, and then they smiled, but they did not speak.
The sun went down, and there was a far-off ringing of bells. It was Ava Maria. They drew up the horses for a moment and dropped their heads. Then they started again.
The night chills were coming, and they rode hard. Roma bent over the mane of her horse and looked proud and happy.
Grooms were waiting for them at the gate of St. Paul, and, giving up their horses, they got into a carriage. When they reached Trinita de' Monti the lamplighter was lighting the lamps on the steps of the piazza, and Roma said in a low voice, with a blush and a smile:
"Don't come in to-night—not to-night, you know."
She wanted to be alone.
Felice met Roma at the door of her own apartment, and in more than usually sepulchral tones announced that the Countess had wished to see her as soon as she came home. Without waiting to change her riding-habit, Roma turned into her aunt's room.
The old lady was propped up with pillows, and Natalina was fussing about her. Her eyes glittered, her thin lips were compressed, and regardless of the presence of the maid, she straightway fell upon Roma with bitter reproaches.
"Did you wish to see me, aunt?" said Roma, and the old lady answered in a mocking falsetto:
"Did I wish to see you, miss? Certainly I wished to see you, although I'm a broken-hearted woman and sorry for the day I saw you first."
"What have I done now?" said Roma, and the radiant look in her face provoked the old lady to still louder denunciations.
"What have you done? Mercy me!... Give me my salts, Natalina!"
"Natalina," said Roma quietly, "lay out my studio things, and if Bruno has gone, tell Felice to light the lamps and see to the stove downstairs."
The old lady fanned herself with her embroidered handkerchief and began again.
"I thought you meant to mend your ways when you came in yesterday, miss—you were so meek and modest. But what was the fact? You had come to me straight from that man's apartments. You had! You know you had! Don't try to deny it."
"I don't deny it," said Roma.
"Holy Virgin! She doesn't deny it! Perhaps you admit it?"
"I do admit it."
"Madonna mia! She admits it! Perhaps you made an appointment?"
"No, I went without an appointment."
"Merciful heavens! She is on such terms with the man that she can go to his apartments without even an appointment! Perhaps you were alone with him, miss?"
"Yes, we were quite alone," said Roma.
The old lady, who was apparently about to faint right away, looked up at her little shrine, and said:
"Goodness! A girl! Not even a married woman! And without a maid, too!"
Trying not to lose control of herself, Roma stepped to the door, but her aunt followed her up.
"A man like that, too! Not even a gentleman! The hypocrite! The impostor! With his airs of purity and pretence!"
"Aunt Betsy," said Roma, "I was sorry I spoke to you as I did the other night, not because anything I said was wrong, but because you are weak and bedridden and suffering. Don't provoke me to speak again as I spoke before. I did go to Mr. Rossi's rooms yesterday, and if there is any fault in that, I alone am to blame."
"Are you indeed?" said the old lady, with a shrill, piping cry. "Holy Saints! she admits so much! Do you know what people will call you when they hear of it? A hussy! A shameless hussy!"
Roma was flaming up, but she controlled herself and put her hand on the door-handle.
"They will hear of it, depend on that," cried the Countess. "Last night at dinner the women were talking of nothing else. Felice heard all their chattering. That woman let the dog out to follow you, knowing it would go straight to the man's rooms. 'Whom did it come home with, Felice?' 'Donna Roma, your Excellency.' 'Then it's clear where Donna Roma had been.' Ugh! I could choke to think of it. My head is fit to split! Is there any cognac...?"
Roma's bosom was visibly stirred by her breathing, but she answered quietly:
"No matter! Why should I care what is thought of my conduct by people who have no morality of their own to judge me by?"
"Really now?" said the Countess, twisting the wrinkles of her old face into skeins of mock courtesy. "Upon my word, I didn't think you were so simple. Understand, miss, it isn't the opinion of the Princess Bellini I am thinking about, but that of the Baron Bonelli. He has his dignity to consider, and when the time comes and he is free to take a wife, he is not likely to marry a girl who has been talked of with another man. Don't you see what that woman is doing? She has been doing it all along, and like a simpleton you've been helping her. You've been flinging away your chances with this Rossi and making yourself impossible to the Minister."
Roma tossed her head and answered:
"I don't care if I have, Aunt Betsy. I'm not of the same mind as I used to be, and I think no longer that the holiest things are to be bought and sold like so much merchandise."
The old lady, who had been bending forward in her vehemence, fell back on the pillow.
"You'll kill me!" she cried. "Where did you learn such folly? Goodness knows I've done my best by you. I have tried to teach you your duty to the baron and to society. But all this comes of admitting these anarchists into the house. You can't help it, though. It's in your blood. Your father before you...."
Crimson and trembling from head to foot, Roma turned suddenly and left the room. Natalina and Felice were listening on the other side of the door.
But not even this jarring incident could break the spell of Roma's enchantment, and when dinner was over, and she had gone to the studio and closed the door, the whole world seemed to be shut out, and nothing was of the slightest consequence.
Taking the damp cloth from the bust, she looked at her work again. In the light of the aurora she now lived in, the head she had wrought with so much labour was poor and inadequate. It did not represent the original. It was weak and wrong.
She set to work again, and little by little the face in the clay began to change. Not Peter any longer, Peter the disciple, but Another. It was audacious, it was shocking, but no matter. She was not afraid.
Time passed, but she did not heed it. She was working at lightning speed, and with a power she had never felt before.
Night came on, and the old Rome, the Rome of the Popes, repossessed itself of the Eternal City. The silent streets, the dark patches, the luminous piazzas, the three lights on the loggia of the Vatican, the grey ghost of the great dome, the kind stars, the sweet moon, and the church bells striking one by one during the noiseless night.
At length she became aware of a streak of light on the floor. It was coming through the shutters of the window. She threw them open, and the breeze of morning came up from the orange trees in the garden below. The day was dawning over the sleepy city. Convent bells were ringing for matins, but all else was still, and the silence was sweet and deep.
She turned back to her work and looked at it again. It thrilled her now. She walked to and fro in the studio and felt as if she were walking on the stars. She was happy, happy, happy!
Then the city began to sound on every side. Cabs rattled, electric trams tinkled, vendors called their wares in the streets, and the new Rome, the Rome of the Kings, awoke.
Somebody was singing as he came upstairs. It was Bruno, coming to his work. He looked astonished, for the lamps were still burning, although the sunlight was streaming into the room.
"Been working all night, Donna Roma?"
"Fear I have, Bruno, but I'm going to bed now."
She had an impulse to call him up to her work and say, "Look! I did that, for I am a great artist." But no! Not yet! Not yet!
She had covered up the clay, and turned the key of her own compartment, when the bell rang on the floor above. It was the porter with the post, and Natalina, in curl papers, met her on the landing with the letters.
One of them was from the Mayor, thanking her for what she had done for Charles Minghelli; another was from her landlord, thanking her for his translation to Paris; a third was from the fashionable modiste, thanking her for an invitation from the Minister. A feeling of shame came over her as she glanced at these letters. They brought the implication of an immoral influence, the atmosphere of an evil life.
There was a fourth letter. It was from the Minister himself. She had seen it from the first, but a creepy sense of impending trouble had made her keep it to the last. Ought she to open it? She ought, she must!
"MY DARLING CHILD,—News at last, too, and success within hail! Minghelli, the Grand Hotel, the reference in London, and the dead-and-buried nightmare have led up to and compassed everything! Prepare for a great surprise—David Rossi is not David Rossi, but a condemned man who has no right to live in Italy! Prepare for a still greater surprise—he has no right to live at all!
"So you are avenged! The man humiliated and degraded you. He insulted me also, and did his best to make me resign my portfolio and put my private life on its defence. You set out to undo the effects of his libel and to punish him for his outrage. You've done it! You have avenged yourself for both of us! It's all your work! You are magnificent! And now let us draw the net closer ... let us hold him fast ... let us go on as we have begun...."
Her sight grew dim. The letter seemed to be full of blotches. It dropped out of her helpless fingers. She sat a long time looking out on the sunlit city, and all the world grew dark and chill. Then she rose, and her face was pale and rigid.
"No, I will not go on!" she thought. "I will not betray him! I will save him! He insulted me, he humiliated me, he was my enemy, but ... I love him! I love him!"
PART FOUR—DAVID ROSSI
David Rossi was in his bedroom writing his leader for next morning's paper. A lamp with a dark shade burned on the desk, and the rest of the room was in shadow. It was late, and the house was quiet.
The door opened softly, and Bruno, in shirt-sleeves and slippered feet, came on tiptoe into the room. He brought a letter in a large violet envelope with a monogram on the front of it, and put it down on the desk by Rossi's side. It was from Roma.
"DEAR DAVID ROSSI,—Without rhyme or reason I have been expecting to see you here to-day, having something to say which it is important that you should hear. May I expect you in the morning? Knowing how busy you are, I dare not bid you come, yet the matter is of great consequence and admits of no delay. It is not a subject on which it is safe or proper to write, and how to speak of it I am at a loss to decide. But you shall help me. Therefore come without delay! There! I have bidden you come in spite of myself. Judge from that how eager is my expectation.—In haste, "ROMA V.
"P.S.—I open my envelope, to wonder if you can ever forgive me the humiliations you have suffered for my sake. To think that I threw you into the way of them! And merely to wipe out an offence that is not worth considering! I am ashamed of myself. I am also ashamed of the people about me. You will remember that I told you they were pitiless and cruel. They are worse—they are heartless and without mercy. But how bravely you bore their insults and innuendoes! I almost cry to think of it, and if I were a good Catholic I should confess and do penance. See? I do confess, and if you want me to do penance you will come yourself and impose it."
It was the first letter that David Rossi had received from Roma, and as he read it the air seemed to him to be filled with the sweet girlish voice. He could see the play of her large, bright, violet eyes. The delicate fragrance of the scented paper rose to his nostrils, and without being conscious of what he was doing he raised the letter to his lips.
Then he became aware that Bruno was still in the room. The good fellow was in the shadow behind him, pushing things about under some pretext and trying to make a noise.
"Don't let me keep you up, Bruno."
"Sure you don't want anything, sir?" said Bruno with confusion.
David Rossi rose and walked about the room with his slow step.
"You have something to say to me?"
"Well, yes, sir—yes, I have."
"What is it?"
Bruno scratched his shock head and looked about as if for help. His eyes fell on the letter lying open in the light on the desk.
"It's about that, sir. I knew where it came from by the colour and the monogram."
Bruno began to look frightened, and then in a louder voice, that bubbled out of his mouth like water from the neck of a bottle, he said:
"Tell you the truth, sir, people are talking about you."
"What are they saying, Bruno?"
"Saying?... Ever heard the proverb, 'Sun in the eyes, the battle lost'? Sun in the eyes—that's what they're saying, sir."
"So they're saying that, are they?"
"They are. And doesn't it look like it, sir? You'll allow it looks like it, anyway. When you started the Republic, sir, the people had hopes of you. But a month is gone and you haven't done a thing."
David Rossi, with head down, continued to pace to and fro.
"'Patience,' I'm saying. 'Go slow and sure,' says I. That's all right, sir, but the Government is going fast enough. Forty thousand men called out to keep the people quiet, and when the bread-tax begins on the first of the month the blessed saints know what will happen. Next week we hold our meeting in the Coliseum. You called it yourself, sir, yet they're laying odds you won't be there. Where will you be? In the house of a bad woman?"
"Bruno!" cried Rossi in a stern voice, "what right have you to talk to me like this?"
Bruno was frightened at what he had said, but he tried to carry it off with a look of passion.
"Right? The right of a friend, sir, who can't stand by and see you betrayed. Yes, betrayed, that's the word for it. Betrayed! Betrayed! It's a plot to ruin the people through the weakness of their leader. A woman drawn across a man's trail. The trick is as old as the ages. Never heard what we say in Rome?—'The man is fire, the woman is tow; then comes the devil and puts them together.'"
David Rossi was standing face to face with Bruno, who was growing hot and trying to laugh bitterly.
"Oh, I know what I'm saying, sir. The Prime Minister is at the bottom of everything. David Rossi never goes to Donna Roma's house but the Baron Bonelli knows all about it. They write to each other every day, and I've posted her letters myself. Her house is his house. Carriages, horses, servants, liveries—how else could she support it? By her art, her sculpture?"
Bruno was frightened to the bottom of his soul, but he continued to talk and to laugh bitterly.
"She's deceiving you, sir. Isn't it as plain as daylight? You hit her hard, and old Vampire too, in your speech on the morning of the Pope's Jubilee, and she's paying you out for both of them."
"That's enough, Bruno."
"All Rome knows it, and everybody will be laughing at you soon."
"You've said enough, I tell you. Go to bed."
"Oh, I know! The heart has its reasons, but it listens to none."
"Go to bed, I tell you! Isn't it sufficient that by your tittle-tattle you caused me to wrong the lady?"
"I did not."
"You did, and if it hadn't been for the tales you told me before I knew her, or had ever seen her, I should never have spoken of her as I did."
"She deserved all you said of her."
"She didn't deserve one word of it, and it was your lies that made me slander her."
Bruno's eyes flinched as if a blow had fallen on them. Then he tried to laugh.
"Hit me again. The skin of the ass is used to blows. Only don't go too far with me, David Rossi."
"Then don't you go too far with your falsehoods and suspicion."
"Suspicion! Holy Virgin! Is it suspicion that she has had you at her studio to make a Roman holiday for her friends and cronies? By the saints! Suspicion!"
"Go on, if it becomes you."
"If what becomes me?"
"To eat her bread and talk against her."
"That's a lie, David Rossi, and you know it. It's my own bread I'm eating. My labour belongs to me, and I sell it to my employer. But my conscience belongs to God, and she cannot buy it."
David Rossi's white and angry face broke up like a snow-flake in the sun.
"I was wrong when I said that, Bruno, and I ask your pardon."
"Do you say that, sir? And after I've insulted you?"
David Rossi held out his hand, and Bruno clasped it.
"I had no right to be angry with you, Bruno, but you are wrong about Donna Roma. Believe me, dear friend, cruelly, awfully, terribly wrong."
"You think she is a good woman."
"I know she is, and if I said otherwise, I take it back and am ashamed."
"Beautiful! If I could only believe in her as you do, sir. But I've known her for two years."
"And I've known her for twenty."
"I have. Shall I tell you who she is? She is the daughter of my old friend in England."
"The one who died in Elba?"
"The good man who found you and fed you, and educated you when you were a boy in London?"
"That was the father of Donna Roma."
"Then he was Prince Volonna, after all?"
"Yes, and they lied to me when they told me she was dead and buried."
Bruno was silent for a moment, and then in a choking voice he said:
"Why didn't you strike me dead when I said she was deceiving you? Forgive me, sir!"
"I do forgive you, Bruno, but not for myself—for her."
Bruno turned away with a dazed expression.
"Forget what I said about going to Donna Roma's, sir."
Rossi sat down and took up his pen.
"No, I cannot forget it," he said. "I will not forget it. I will go to her house no more."
Bruno was silent for a moment, and then he said in a thick voice:
"I understand! God help you, David Rossi. It's a lonely road you mean to travel."
Rossi drew a long breath and made ready to write.
"Good-night," said Bruno, and the good fellow went out with wet eyes.
The night was far gone, and the city lay still, while Rossi replied to Roma.
"MY DEAR R.,—You have nothing to reproach yourself with in regard to my poor doings, or tryings-to-do. They were necessary, and if the penalties had been worse a hundredfold I should not chew the cud of my bargain now. Besides your wish, I had another motive, a secret motive, and perhaps, if I were a good Catholic, I should confess too, although not with a view to penance. Apparently, it has come out well, and now that it seems to be all over, both your scheme and mine, now that the wrong I did you is to some extent undone, and my own object is in some measure achieved, I find myself face to face with a position in which it is my duty to you as well as to myself to bring our intercourse to an end.
"The truth is that we cannot be friends any longer, for the reason that I love some one in whom you are, unhappily, too much interested, and because there are obstacles between that person and myself which are decisive and insurmountable. This alone puts it on me as a point of honour that you and I should never see each other again. Each of my visits adds to my embarrassment, to the feeling that I am doing wrong in paying them, and to the certainty that I must give them up altogether.
"Thank you again and again for the more than pleasant hours we have spent together. It is not your fault that I must bury the memory of them in oblivion. This does not mean that it is any part of the painful but unavoidable result of circumstances I cannot explain, that we should not write to each other as occasion may arise. Continue to think of me as your brother—your brother far away—to be called upon for counsel in your hour of need and necessity. And whenever you call, be sure I shall be there.
"What you say of an important matter suggests that something has come to your knowledge which concerns myself and the authorities; but when a man has spent all his life on the edge of a precipice, the most urgent perils are of little moment, and I beg of you not to be alarmed for my sake. Whatever it is, it is only a part of the atmosphere of danger I have always lived in—the glacier I have always walked upon—and 'if it is not now, it is to come; if it is not to come, it will be now—the readiness is all.' Good-bye!—Yours, dear R——, D."
Next day brought Roma's reply.
"MY DEAR D.,—Your letter has thrown me into the wildest state of excitement and confusion. I have done no work all day long, and when Black has leapt upon me and cried, 'Come out for a walk, you dear, dear dunce,' I have hardly known whether he barked or talked.
"I am sorry our charming intercourse is to be interrupted, but you can't mean that it is to be broken off altogether. You can't, you can't, or my eyes would be red with crying, instead of dancing with delight.
"Yet why they should dance I don't really know, seeing you are so indefinite, and I have no right to understand anything. If you cannot write by post, or even send messages by hand, if my man F. is your enemy, and your housemate B. is mine, isn't that precisely the best reason why you should come and talk matters over? Come at once. I bid you come! In a matter of such inconceivable importance, surely a sister has a right to command.
"In that character, I suppose, I ought to be glad of the news you give me. Well, I am glad! But being a daughter of Eve, I have a right to be curious. I want to ask questions. You say I know the lady, and am, unhappily, too deeply interested in her—who is she? Does she know of your love for her? Is she beautiful? Is she charming? Give me one initial of her name—only one—and I will be good. I am so much in the dark, and I cannot commit myself until I know more.
"You speak of obstacles, and say they are decisive and insurmountable. That's terrible, but perhaps you are only thinking of what the poets call the 'cruel madness' of love, as if its madness and cruelty were sufficient reason for flying away from it. Or perhaps the obstacles are those of circumstances; but in that case, if the woman is the right one, she will be willing to wait for such difficulties to be got over, or even to find her happiness in sharing them.
"See how I plead for my unknown sister! Which is sweet of me, considering that you don't tell me who she is, but leave me to find out if she is likely to suit me. But why not let me help you? Come at once and talk things over.
"Yet how vain I am! Even while I proffer assistance with so loud a voice, I am smitten cold with the fear of an impediment which you know a thousand times better than I do how to measure and to meet. Perhaps the woman you speak of is unworthy of your friendship and love. I can understand that to be an insurmountable obstacle. You stand so high, and have to think about your work, your aims, your people. And perhaps it is only a dream and a delusion, a mirage of the heart, that love lifts a woman up to the level of the man who loves her.
"Then there may be some fault—some grave fault. I can understand that too. We do not love because we should, but because we must, and there is nothing so cruel as the inequality of man and woman in the way the world regards their conduct. But I am like a bat in the dark, flying at gleams of light from closely-curtained windows. Will you not confide in me? Do! Do! Do!
"Besides, I have the other matter to talk about. You remember telling me how you kicked out the man M——? He turned spy as the consequence, and has been sent to England. You ought to know that he has been making inquiries about you, and appears to have found out various particulars. Any day may bring urgent news of him, and if you will not come to me I may have to go to you in spite of every protest.
"To-morrow is the day for your opening of Parliament, and I have a ticket for the Court tribune, so you may expect to see me floating somewhere above you in an atmosphere of lace and perfume. Good-night!—Your poor bewildered sister, ROMA."
Next morning David Rossi put on evening dress, in obedience to the etiquette of the opening day of Parliament. Before going to the ceremony he answered Roma's letter of the night before.
"DEAR R.,—If anything could add to the bitterness of my regret at ending an intercourse which has brought me the happiest moments of my life, it would be the tone of your sweet and charming letter. You ask me if the woman I love is beautiful. She is more than beautiful, she is lovely. You ask me if she knows that I love her. I have never dared to disclose my secret, and if I could have believed that she had ever so much as guessed at it, I should have found some consolation in a feeling which is too deep for the humiliations of pride. You ask me if she is worthy of my friendship and love. She is worthy of the love and friendship of a better man than I am or can ever hope to be.
"Yet even if she were not so, even if there were, as you say, a fault in her, who am I that I should judge her harshly? I am not one of those who think that a woman is fallen because circumstances and evil men have conspired against her. I reject the monstrous theory that while a man may redeem the past, a woman never can. I abhor the judgment of the world by which a woman may be punished because she is trying to be pure, and dragged down because she is rising from the dirt. And if she had sinned as I have sinned, and suffered as I have suffered, I would pray for strength enough to say, 'Because I love her we are one, and we stand or fall together.'
"But she is sweet, and pure, and true, and brave, and noble-hearted, and there is no fault in her, or she would not be the daughter of her father, who was the noblest man I ever knew or ever expect to know. No, the root of the separation is in myself, in myself only, in my circumstances and the personal situation I find myself in.
"And yet it is difficult for me to state the obstacle which divides us, or to say more about it than that it is permanent and insurmountable. I should deceive myself if I tried to believe that time would remove or lessen it, and I have contended in vain with feelings which have tempted me to hold on at any price to the only joy and happiness of my life.
"To go to her and open my heart is impossible, for personal intercourse is precisely the peril I am trying to avoid. How weak I am in her company! Even when her dress touches me at passing, I am thrilled with an emotion I cannot master; and when she lifts her large bright eyes to mine, I am the slave of a passion which conquers all my will.
"No, it is not lightly and without cause that I have taken a step which sacrifices love to duty. I love her, with all my heart and soul and strength I love her, and that is why she and I, for her sake more than mine, should never meet again.
"I note what you say about the man M——, but you must forgive me if I cannot be much concerned about it. There is nobody in London who knows me in the character I now bear, and can link it to the one you are thinking of. Good-bye, again! God be with you and keep you always! D."
Having written this letter, David Rossi sealed it carefully and posted it with his own hand on his way to the opening of Parliament.
The day was fine, and the city was bright with many flags in honour of the King. All the streets leading from the royal palace to the Hall of the Deputies were lined with people. The square in front of the Parliament House was kept clear by a cordon of Carabineers, but the open windows of the hotels and houses round about were filled with faces.
David Rossi entered the house by the little private door for deputies in the side street. The chamber was already thronged, and as full of movement as a hive of bees. Ladies in light dresses, soldiers in uniform, diplomatists wearing decorations, senators and deputies in white cravats and gloves, were moving to their places and saluting each other with bows and smiles.
Rossi slipped into the place he usually occupied among the deputies. It was the corner seat by the door on the left of the royal canopy, immediately facing the section, which had been apportioned to the Court tribune. He did not lift his eyes as he entered, but he was conscious of a tall, well-rounded yet girlish figure in a grey dress that glistened in a ray of sunshine, with dark hair under a large black hat, and flashing eyes that seemed to pierce into his own like a shaft of light.
Beautiful ladies with big oriental eyes were about her, and young deputies were using their opera-glasses upon them with undisguised curiosity. There was much gossip, some laughter, and a good deal of gesticulation. The atmosphere was one of light spirits, approaching gaiety, the atmosphere of the theatre or the ballroom.
The clock over the reporters' gallery showed seven minutes after the hour appointed, when the walls of the chamber shook with the vibration of a cannon-shot. It was a gun fired at the Castle of St. Angelo to announce the King's arrival. At the same moment there came the muffled strains of the royal hymn played by the band in the piazza. The little gales of gossip died down in an instant, and in dead silence the assembly rose to its feet.
A minute afterwards the King entered amid a fanfare of trumpets, the shouts of many voices, and the clapping of hands. He was a young man, in the uniform of a general, with a face that was drawn into deep lines under the eyes by ill-health and anxiety. Two soldiers, carrying their brass helmets with waving plumes, walked by his side, and a line of his Ministers followed. His Queen, a tall and beautiful girl, came behind, surrounded by many ladies.
The King took his seat under the baldacchino, with his Ministers on his left. The Queen sat on his right hand, with her ladies beside her. They bowed to the plaudits of the assembly, and the drawn face of the young King wore a painful smile.
The Baron Bonelli, in court dress and decorations, stood at the King's elbow, calm, dignified, self-possessed—the one strong face and figure in the group under the canopy. After the cheering and the shouting had subsided he requested the assembly, at the command of His Majesty, to resume their seats. Then he handed a paper to the King.