It was the King's speech to his Parliament, and he read it nervously in a voice that had not learned to control itself. But the speech was sufficiently emphatic, and its words were grandiose and even florid.
It consisted of four clauses. In the first clause the King thanked God that his country was on terms of amity with all foreign countries, and invoked God's help in the preservation of peace. The second clause was about the increase of the army.
"The army," said the King, "is very dear to me, as it has always been dear to my family. My illustrious grandfather, who granted freedom to the kingdom, was a soldier; my honoured father was a soldier, and it is my pride that I am myself a soldier also. The army was the foundation of our liberty and it is now the security of our rights. On the strength and stability of the army rest the power of our nation abroad and the authority of our institutions at home. It is my firm resolve to maintain the army in the future as my illustrious ancestors have maintained it in the past, and therefore my Government will propose a bill which is intended to increase still further its numbers and its efficiency."
This was received with a great outburst of applause and the waving of many handkerchiefs. It was observed that some of the ladies shed tears.
The third clause was about the growth and spread of anarchism.
"My house," said the King, "gave liberty to the nation, and now it is my duty and my hope to give security and strength. It is known to Parliament that certain subversive elements, not in Italy alone, but throughout Europe, throughout the world, have been using the most devilish machinations for the destruction of all order, human and divine. Cold, calculating criminals have perpetrated crimes against the most innocent and the most highly placed, which have sent a thrill of horror into all humane hearts. My Government asks for an absolute power over such criminals, and if we are to bring security to the State, we must reinvigorate the authority to which society trusts the high mandate of protecting and governing."
A still greater outburst of cheering interrupted the young King, who raised his head amid the shouts, the clapping of hands, and the fluttering of handkerchiefs, and smiled his painful smile.
"More than that," continued the King, "I have to deplore the spread of associations, sodalities, and clubs, which, by an erroneous conception of liberty, are disseminating the germs of revolt against the State. Under the most noble propositions about the moral and economical redemption of the people is hidden a propaganda for the conquest of the public powers.
"My aim is to gain the affection of my people, and to interest them in the cause of order and public security, and therefore my Government will present an urgent bill, which is intended to stop the flowering of these parasitic organisations, by revising these laws of the press and of public meeting, in whose defects agitators find opportunity for their attacks on the doctrines of the State."
A prolonged outburst of applause followed this passage, mingled with a tumult of tongues, which went on after the King had begun to read again, rendering his last clause—an invocation of God's blessing on the deliberations of Parliament—almost inaudible.
The end of the speech was a signal for further cheering, and when the King left the hall, bowing as before, and smiling his painful smile, the shouts of "Long live the King," the clapping of hands, and the waving of handkerchiefs followed him to the street. The entire ceremony had occupied twelve minutes.
Then the clamour of voices drowned the sound of the royal hymn outside. Deputies were climbing about to join their friends among the ladies, whose light laughter was to be heard on every side.
David Rossi rose to go. Without lifting his head, he had been conscious that during the latter part of the King's speech many eyes were fixed upon him. Playing with his watch-chain, he had struggled to look calm and impassive. But his heart was sick, and he wished to get away quickly.
A partition, shielding the door of the corridor, stood near to his seat, and he was trying to get round it. He heard his name in the air around him, mingled with significant trills and unmistakable accents. All at once he was conscious of a perfume he knew, and of a girlish figure facing him.
"Good-day, Honourable," said a voice that thrilled him like the strings of a harp drawn tight.
He lifted his head and answered. It was Roma. Her face was lighted up with a fire he had never seen before. Only one glance he dared to take, but he could see that at the next instant those flashing eyes would burst into tears.
The tide was passing out by the front doors where the carriages and the reporters waited, but Rossi stepped round to the back. He was on the way to the office of his newspaper, and dipping into the Corso from a lane that crossed it, he came upon the King's carriage returning to the Quirinal. It was entirely surrounded by soldiers, the military commander of Rome on the right, the commander of the Carabineers on the left, and the Cuirassiers, riding two deep, before and behind, so that the King and Queen were scarcely visible to the cheering crowd. Last in the royal procession came an ordinary cab containing two detectives in plain clothes.
The office of the Sunrise was in a narrow lane out of the Corso. It was a dingy building of three floors, with the machine-rooms on the ground-level, the composing-rooms at the top, and the editorial rooms between. Rossi's office was a large apartment, with three desks, that were intended for the editor and his day and night assistants.
His day assistant received him with many bows and compliments. He was a small man with an insincere face.
Rossi drank a cup of coffee and settled to his work. It was an article on the day's doings, more fearless and outspoken than he had ever published before. Such a day as they had just gone through, with the flying of flags and the playing of royal hymns, was not really a day of joy and rejoicing, but of degradation and shame. If the people had known what they were doing, they would have hung their flags with crape and played funeral marches.
"Such a scene as we have witnessed to-day," he wrote, "like all such scenes throughout the world, whether in Germany, Russia, and England, or in China, Persia, and the darkest regions of Africa, is but proof of the melancholy fact that while man, as the individual, has been nineteen hundred years converted to Christianity, man, as the nation, remains to this day for the most part utterly pagan."
The assistant editor, who had glanced over the pages of manuscript as Rossi threw them aside, looked up at last and said:
"Are you sure, sir, that you wish to print this article?"
The man made a shrug of his shoulders, and took the copy upstairs.
The short day had closed in when Rossi was returning home. Screamers in the streets were crying early editions of the evening papers, and the cafes in the Corso were full of officers and civilians, sipping vermouth and reading glowing accounts of the King's enthusiastic reception. Pitiful! Most pitiful! And the man who dared to tell the truth must be prepared for any consequences.
David Rossi told himself that he was prepared. Henceforth he would devote himself to the people, without a thought of what might happen. Nothing should come between him and his work—nothing whatever—not even ... but, no, he could not think of it!
Two letters were awaiting David Rossi in his rooms at home.
One was a circular from the President of the Chamber of Deputies summoning Parliament for the day after to-morrow to elect officials and reply to the speech of the King.
The other was from Roma, and the address was in a large, hurried hand. David Rossi broke the seal with nervous fingers.
"MY DEAR FRIEND,—I know! I know! I know now what the obstacle is. B. gave me the hint of it on one of the days of last week, when I was so anxious to see you and you did not come. It is your unflinching devotion to your mission and to your public duties. You are one of those who think that when a man has dedicated his life to work for the world, he should give up everything else—father, mother, wife, child—and live like a priest, who puts away home, and love, and kindred, that others may have them more abundantly. I can understand that, and see a sort of nobility in it too, especially in days when the career of a statesman is only a path to vainglory of every kind. It is great, it is glorious, it thrills me to think of it.
"But I am losing faith in my unknown sister that is to be, in spite of all my pleading. You say she is beautiful—that's well enough, but it comes by nature. You say she is sweet, and true, and charming—and I am willing to take it all on trust. But when you say she is noble-hearted I respectfully refuse to believe it. If she were that, you would be sure that she would know that friendship is the surest part of love, and to be the friend of a great man is to be a help to him, and not an impediment.
"My gracious! What does she think you are? A cavaliere servente to dance attendance on her ladyship day and night? Give me the woman who wants her husband to be a man, with a man's work to do, a man's burdens to bear, and a man's triumphs to win.
"Yet perhaps I am too hard on my unknown sister that is to be, or ought to be, and it is only your own distrust that wrongs her. If she is the daughter of one brave man and really loves another, she knows her place and her duty. It is to be ready to follow her husband wherever he must go, to share his fate whatever it may be, and to live his life, because it is now her own.
"And since I am in the way of pleading for her again, let me tell you how simple you are to suppose that because you have never disclosed your secret she may never have guessed it. Goodness me! To think that men who can make women love them to madness itself can be so ignorant as not to know that a woman can always tell if a man loves her, and even fix the very day, and hour, and minute when he looked into her eyes and loved her first.
"And if my unknown sister that ought to be knows that you love her, be sure that she loves you in return. Then trust her. Take the counsel of a woman and go to her. Remember, that if you are suffering by this separation, perhaps she is suffering too, and if she is worthy of the love and friendship of a better man than you are, or ever hope to be (which, without disparaging her ladyship, I respectfully refuse to believe), let her at least have the refusal of one or both of them.
"Good-night! I go to the Chamber of Deputies again the day after to-morrow, being so immersed in public matters (and public men) that I can think of nothing else at present. Happily my bust is out of hand, and the caster (not B. this time) is hard at work on it.
"You won't hear anything about the M—— doings, yet I assure you they are a most serious matter. Unless I am much mistaken there is an effort on foot to connect you with my father, which is surely sufficiently alarming. M—— is returning to Rome, and I hear rumours of an intention to bring pressure on some one here in the hope of leading to identification. Think of it, I beg, I pray!—Your friend, "R."
Next day Rossi's editorial assistant came with a troubled face. There was bad news from the office. The morning's edition of the Sunrise had been confiscated by the police owing to the article on the King's speech and procession. The proprietors of the paper were angry with their editor, and demanded to see him immediately.
"Tell them I'll be at the office at four o'clock, as usual," said Rossi, and he sat down to write a letter.
It was to Roma. The moment he took up the pen to write to her the air of the room seemed to fill with a sweet feminine presence that banished everything else. It was like talking to her. She was beside him. He could hear her soft replies.
"If it were possible to heighten the pain of my feelings when I decided to sacrifice my best wishes to my sense of duty, a letter like your last would be more than I could bear. The obstacle you deal with is not the one which chiefly weighs with me, but it is a very real impediment, not altogether disposed of by the sweet and tender womanliness with which you put it aside. In that regard what troubles me most is the hideous inequality between what the man gives and what he gets, and the splendid devotion with which the woman merges her life in the life of the man she marries only quickens the sense of his selfishness in allowing himself to accept so great a prize.
"In my own case, the selfishness, if I yielded to it, would be greater far than anybody else could be guilty of, and of all men who have sacrificed women's lives to their own career, I should feel myself to be the most guilty and inexcusable. My dear and beloved girl is nobly born, and lives in wealth and luxury, while I am poor—poor by choice, and therefore poor for ever, brought up as a foundling, and without a name that I dare call my own.
"What then? Shall such a man as I am ask such a woman as she is to come into the circle of his life, to exchange her riches for his poverty, her comfort for his suffering? No.
"Besides, what woman could do it if I did? Women can be unselfish, they can be faithful, they can be true; but—don't ask me to say things I do not want to say—women love wealth and luxury and ease, and shrink from pain and poverty and the forced marches of a hunted life. And why shouldn't they? Heaven spare them all such sufferings as men alone should bear!
"Yet all this is still outside the greater obstacle which stands between me and the dear girl from whom I must separate myself now, whatever it may cost me, as an inexorable duty. I entreat you to spare me the pain of explaining further. Believe that for her sake my resolution, in spite of all your sweet and charming pleading, is strong and unalterable.
"Only one thing more. If it is as you say it may be, that she loves me, though I had no right to believe so, that will only add to my unhappiness in thinking of the wrench that she must suffer. But she is strong, she is brave, she is the daughter of her father, and I have faith in the natural power of her mind, in her youth and the chances of life for one so beautiful and so gifted, to remove the passing impression that may have been made.
"Good-bye yet again! And God bless you! D.
"P. S.—I am not afraid of M——, and come when he may, I shall certainly stand my ground. There is only one person in Rome who could be used against me in the direction you indicate, and I could trust her with my heart's blood."
Before two o'clock next day the Chamber of Deputies was already full. The royal chair and baldacchino had been removed, and their place was occupied by the usual bench of the President.
When the Prime Minister took his place, cool, collected, smiling, faultlessly dressed and wearing a flower in his button-hole, he was greeted with some applause from the members, and the dry rustle of fans in the ladies' tribune was distinctly heard. The leader of the Opposition had a less marked reception, and when David Rossi glided round the partition to his place on the extreme Left, there was a momentary hush, followed by a buzz of voices.
Then the President of the Chamber entered, with his secretaries about him, and took his seat in a central chair under a bust of the young King. Ushers, wearing a linen band of red, white, and green on their arms, followed with portfolios, and with little trays containing water-bottles and glasses. Conversation ceased, and the President rang a hand-bell that stood by his side, and announced that the sitting was begun.
The first important business of the day was the reply to the speech of the King, and the President called on the member who had been appointed to undertake this duty. A young Deputy, a man of letters, then made his way to a bar behind the chairs of the Ministers and read from a printed paper a florid address to the sovereign.
Having read his printed document, the Deputy proceeded to move the adoption of the reply.
With the proposal of the King and the Government to increase the army he would not deal. It required no recommendation. The people were patriots. They loved their country, and would spend the last drop of their blood to defend it. The only persons who were not with the King in his desire to uphold the army were the secret foes of the nation and the dynasty—persons who were in league with their enemies.
"That," said the speaker, "brings us to the next clause of our reply to His Majesty's gracious speech. We know that there exists among the associations aimed at a compact between strangely varying forces—between the forces of socialism, republicanism, unbelief, and anarchy, and the forces of the Church and the Vatican."
At this statement there was a great commotion. Members on the Left protested with loud shouts of "It is not true," and in a moment the tongues and arms of the whole assembly were in motion. The President rang his bell, and the speaker concluded.
"Let us draw the teeth of both parties to this secret conspiracy, that they may never again use the forces of poverty and discontent to disturb public order."
When the speaker sat down, his friends thronged around him to shake hands with him and congratulate him.
Then the eyes of the House and of the audience in the gallery turned to David Rossi. He had sat with folded arms and head down while his followers screamed their protests. But passing a paper to the President, he now rose and said:
"I ask permission to propose an amendment to the reply to the King's speech."
"You have the word," said the President.
David Rossi read his amendment. At the feet of His Majesty it humbly expressed an opinion that the present was not a time at which fresh burdens should be laid upon the country for the support of the army, with any expectation that they could be borne. Misfortune and suffering had reached their climax. The cup of the people was full.
At this language some of the members laughed. There were cries of "Order" and "Shame," and then the laughter was resumed. The President rang his bell, and at length silence was secured. David Rossi began to speak, in a voice that was firm and resolute.
"If," he said, "the statement that members of this House are in alliance with the Pope and the Vatican is meant for me and mine, I give it a flat denial. And, in order to have done with this calumny once and for ever, permit me to say that between the Papacy and the people, as represented by us, there is not, and never can be, anything in common. In temporal affairs, the theory of the Papacy rejects the theory of the democracy. The theory of the democracy rejects the theory of the Papacy. The one claims a divine right to rule in the person of the Pope because he is Pope. The other denies all divine right except that of the people to rule themselves."
This was received with some applause mingled with laughter, and certain shouts flung out in a shrill hysterical voice. The President rang his bell again, and David Rossi continued.
"The proposal to increase the army," he said, "in a time of tranquillity abroad but of discord at home, is the gravest impeachment that could be made of the Government of a country. Under a right order of things Parliament would be the conscience of the people, Government would be the servant of that conscience, and rebellion would be impossible. But this Government is the master of the country and is keeping the people down by violence and oppression. Parliament is dead. For God's sake let us bury it!"
Loud shouts followed this outburst, and some of the Deputies rose from their seats, and crowding about the speaker in the open space in front, yelled and screamed at him like a pack of hounds. He stood calm, playing with his watch-chain, while the President rang his bell and called for silence. The interruptions died down at last, and the speaker went on:
"If you ask me what is the reason of the discontent which produces the crimes of anarchism, I say, first, the domination of a Government which is absolute, and the want of liberty of speech and meeting. In other countries the discontented are permitted to manifest their woes, and are not punished unless they commit deeds of violence; but in Italy alone, except Russia, a man may be placed outside the law, torn from his home, from the bedside of his nearest and dearest, and sent to domicilio coatto to live or die in a silence as deep as that of the grave. Oh, I know what I am saying. I have been in the midst of it. I have seen a father torn from his daughter, and the motherless child left to the mercy of his enemies."
This allusion quieted the House, and for a moment there was a dead silence. Then through the tense air there came a strange sound, and the President demanded silence from the galleries, whereupon the reporters rose and made a negative movement of the hand with two fingers upraised, pointing at the same time to the ladies' tribune.
One of the ladies had cried out. David Rossi heard the voice, and, when he began again, his own voice was softer and more tremulous.
"Next, I say that the cause of anarchism in Italy, as everywhere else, is poverty. Wait until the 1st of February, and you shall see such an army enter Rome as never before invaded it. I assert that within three miles of this place, at the gates of this capital of Christendom, human beings are living lives more abject than that of savage man.
"Housed in huts of straw, sleeping on mattresses of leaves, clothed in rags or nearly nude, fed on maize and chestnuts and acorns, worked eighteen hours a day, and sweated by the tyranny of the overseers, to whom landlords lease their lands while they idle their days in the salons of Rome and Paris, men and women and children are being treated worse than slaves, and beaten more than dogs."
At that there was a terrific uproar, shouts of "It's a lie!" and "Traitor!" followed by a loud outbreak of jeers and laughter. Then, for the first time, David Rossi lost control of himself, and, turning upon Parliament with flaming eyes and quivering voice, he cried:
"You take these statements lightly—you that don't know what it is to be hungry, you that have food enough to eat, and only want sleep to digest it. But I know these things by bitter knowledge—by experience. Don't talk to me, you who had fathers and mothers to care for you, and comfortable homes to live in. I had none of these. I was nursed in a poorhouse and brought up in a hut on the Campagna. Because of the miserable laws of your predecessors my mother drowned herself in the Tiber, and I knew what it was to starve. And I am only one of many. At the very door of Rome, under a Christian Government, the poor are living lives of moral anaemia and physical atrophy more terrible by far than those which made the pagan poet say two thousand years ago—Paucis vivit humanum genus—the human race exists for the benefit of the few."
The silence was breathless while the speaker made this personal reference, and when he sat down, after a denunciation of the militarism which was consuming the heart of the civilised world, the House was too dazed to make any manifestation.
In the dead hush that followed, the President put the necessary questions, but the amendment fell through without a vote being taken, and the printed reply was passed.
Then the Minister of War rose to give notice of his bill for increased military expenditure, and proposed to hand it over to the general committee of the budget.
The Baron Bonelli rose next as Minister of the Interior, and gave notice of his bill for the greater security of the public, and the remodelling of the laws of the press and of association.
He spoke incisively and bitterly, and he was obviously excited, but he affected his usual composure.
"After the language we have heard to-day," he said, "and the knowledge we possess of mass meetings projected, it will not surprise the House that I treat this measure as urgent, and propose that we consider it on the principle of the three readings, taking the first of them in four days."
At that there were some cries from the Left, but the Minister continued:
"It will also not surprise the House that, to prevent the obstruction of members who seem ready to sing their Miserere without end, I will ask the House to take the readings without debate."
Then in a moment the whole House was in an uproar and members were shaking their fists in each other's faces. In vain the President rang his bell for silence. At length he put on his hat and left the Chamber, and the sitting was at an end.
The last post that night brought Rossi a letter from Roma.
"MY DEAR, DEAR FRIEND,—It's all up! I'm done with her! My unknown and invisible sister that is to be, or rather isn't to be and oughtn't to be, is not worth thinking about any longer. You tell me that she is good and brave and noble-hearted, and yet you would have me believe that she loves wealth, and ease, and luxury, and that she could not give them up even for the sweetest thing that ever comes into a woman's life. Out on her! What does she think a wife is? A pet to be pampered, a doll to be dressed up and danced on your knee? If that's the sort of woman she is, I know what I should call her. A name is on the tip of my tongue, and the point of my finger, and the end of my pen, and I'm itching to have it out, but I suppose I must not write it. Only don't talk to me any more about the bravery of a woman like that.
"The wife I call brave is a man's friend, and if she knows what that means, to be the friend of her husband to all the limitless lengths of friendship, she thinks nothing about sacrifices between him and her, and differences of class do not exist for either of them. Her pride died the instant love looked out of her eyes at him, and if people taunt her with his poverty, or his birth, she answers and says: 'It's true he is poor, but his glory is, that he was a workhouse boy who hadn't father or mother to care for him, and now he is a great man, and I'm proud of him, and not all the wealth of the world shall take me away.'
"One thing I will say, though, for the sister that isn't to be, and that is, that you are deceiving yourself if you suppose that she is going to reconcile herself to your separation while she is kept in the dark as to the cause of it. It is all very well for you to pay compliments to her beauty and youth and the natural strength of her mind to remove passing impressions, but perhaps the impressions are the reverse of passing ones, and if you go out of her life, what is to become of her? Have you thought of that? Of course you haven't.
"No, no, no! My poor sister! you shall not be so hard on her! In my darkness I could almost fancy that I personate her, and I am she and she is I. Conceited, isn't it? But I told you it wasn't for nothing I was a daughter of Eve. Anyhow I have fought hard for her and beaten you out and out, and now I don't say: 'Will you go to her?' You will—I know you will.
"My bust is out of the caster's hand, and ought to be under mine, but I've done no work again to-day. Tried, but the glow of soul was not there, and I was injuring the face at every touch.
"No further news of M——, and my heart's blood is cold at the silence. But if you are fearless, why should I be afraid?—Your friend's friend, R."
Before going to bed that night, Rossi replied to Roma.
"My Dearest,—Bruno will take this letter, and I will charge him on his soul to deliver it safely into your hands. When you have read it, you will destroy it immediately, both for your sake and my own.
"From this moment onward I throw away all disguises. The duplicities of love are sweet and touching, but I cannot play hide-and-seek with you any longer.
"You are right—it is you that I love, and little as I understand and deserve it, I see now that you love me with all your soul and strength. I cannot keep my pen from writing it, and yet it is madness to do so, for the obstacles to our union are just as insurmountable as before.
"It is not only my unflinching devotion to public work that separates us, though that is a serious impediment; it is not only the inequality of our birth and social conditions, though that is an honest difficulty. The barrier between us is not merely a barrier made by man, it is a barrier made by God—it is death.
"Think what that would be in the ordinary case of death by disease. A man is doomed to die by cancer or consumption, and even while he is engaged in a desperate struggle with the mightiest and most relentless conqueror, love comes to him with its dreams of life and happiness. What then? Every hour of joy is poisoned for him henceforth by visions of the end that is so near, in every embrace he feels the arms of death about him, and in every kiss the chill breath of the tomb.
"Terrible tragedy! Yet not without relief. Nature is kind. Her miracles are never-ending. Hope lives to the last. The balm of God's healing hand may come down from heaven and make all things well. Not so the death I speak of. It is pitiless and inevitable, without hope or dreams.
"Remember what I told you in this room on the night you came here first. Had you forgotten it? Your father, charged with an attempt at regicide, as part of a plan of insurrection, was deported without trial, and I, who shared his views, and had expressed them in letters that were violated, being outside the jurisdiction of the courts, was tried in contumacy and condemned to death.
"I am back in Italy for all that, under another name, my mother's name, which is my name too, thanks to the merciless marriage laws of my country, with other aims and other opinions, but I have never deceived myself for a moment. The same doom hangs over me still, and though the court which condemned me was a military court, and its sentence would be modified by a Court of Assize, I see no difference between death in a moment on the gallows, and in five, ten, twenty years in a cell.
"What am I to do? I love you, you love me. Shall I, like the poor consumptive, to whom gleams of happiness have come too late, conceal everything and go on deluding myself with hopes, indulging myself with dreams? It would be unpardonable, it would be cruel, it would be wrong and wicked.
"No, it is impossible. You cannot but be aware that my life or liberty is in serious jeopardy, and that my place in Parliament and in public life is in constant and hourly peril. Every letter that you have written to me shows plainly that you know it. And when you say your heart's blood runs cold at the thought of what may happen when Minghelli returns from England, you betray the weakness, the natural weakness, the tender and womanly weakness, which justifies me in saying that, as long as we love each other, you and I should never meet again.
"Don't think that I am a coward and tremble at the death that hangs over me. I neither fear the future nor regret the past. In every true cause some one is called to martyrdom. To die for the right, for humanity, to lay down all you hold most dear for the sake of the poor and the weak and the down-trodden and God's holy justice—it is a magnificent duty, a privilege! And I am ready. If my death is enough, let me give the last drop of my blood, and be dragged through the last degrees of infamy. Only don't let me drag another after me, and endanger a life that is a thousand times dearer to me than my own.
"I want you, dearest, I want you with my soul, but my doom is certain; it waits for me somewhere; it may be here, it may be there; it may come to me to-morrow, or next day, or next year, but it is coming, I feel it, I am sure of it, and I will not fly away. But if I go on until my beloved is my bride, and my name is stamped all over her, and she has taken up my fate, and we are one, and the world knows no difference, what then? Then death with its sure step will come in to separate us, and after death for me, danger, shame, poverty for you, all the penalties a woman pays for her devotion to a man who is down and done.
"I couldn't bear it. The very thought of it would unman me. It would turn heaven into hell. It would disturb the repose of the grave itself.
"Isn't it hard enough to do what is before me without tormenting myself with thoughts like these? It is true I have had my dreams like other men—dreams of the woman whom Heaven might give a man for his support—the anchor to which his soul might hold in storm and tempest, and in the very hour of death itself. But what woman is equal to a lot like that? Martyrdom is for man. God keep all women safe from it!
"Have I said sufficient? If this letter gives you half the pain on reading it that I have felt in writing it, you will be satisfied at last that the obstacles to our union are permanent and insuperable. The time is come when I am forced to tell you the secrets which I have never before revealed to any human soul. You know them now. They are in your keeping, and it is enough.
"Heaven be over you! And when you are reconciled to our separation, and both of us are strong, remember that if you want me I will come, and that as long as I live, as long as I am at liberty, I shall be always ready, always waiting, always near. God bless you, my dear one! Adieu! "DAVID LEONE."
During the afternoon of the following day a letter came by a flying messenger on a bicycle. It was written in pencil in large and straggling characters.
"DEAR MR. ROSSI,—Your letter has arrived and been read, and, yes, it has been destroyed, too, according to your wish, although the flames that burnt it burnt my hand also, and scorched my heart as well.
"No doubt you have done wisely. You know better than I do what is best for both of us, and I yield, I submit. Only—and therefore—I must see you immediately. There is a matter of some consequence on which I wish to speak. It has nothing to do with the subject of your letter—nothing directly, at all events—or yet is it in any way related to the Minghelli mischief-making. So you may receive me without fear. And you will find me with a heart at ease.
"Didn't I tell you that if you wouldn't come to me I must go to you? Expect me this evening about Ave Maria, and arrange it that I may see you alone. "ROMA V."
As Ave Maria approached, David Rossi became still more agitated. The sky had darkened, but there was no wind; the air was empty, and he listened with strained attention for every sound from the staircase and the street. At length he heard a cab stop at the door, and a moment afterwards a light hurrying footstep in the outer room seemed to beat upon his heart.
The door opened and Roma came in quickly, with a scarcely audible salutation. He saw her with her golden complexion and her large violet eyes, wearing a black hat and an astrachan coat, but his head was going round and his pulses were beating violently, and he could not control his eyes.
"I have come for a minute only," she said. "You received my letter?"
Rossi bent his head.
"David, I want the fulfilment of your promise."
"The promise to come to me when I stand in need of you. I need you now. My fountain is practically finished, and to-morrow afternoon I am to have a reception to exhibit it. Everybody will be there, and I want you to be present also."
"Is that necessary?" he asked.
"For my purposes, yes. Don't ask me why. Don't question me at all. Only trust me and come."
She was speaking in a firm and rapid voice, and looking up he saw that her brows were contracted, her lips were set, her cheeks were slightly flushed, and her eyes were shining. He had never seen her like that before. "What is the secret of it?" he asked himself, but he only answered, after a brief pause:
"Very well, I will be there."
"That's all. I might have written, but I was afraid you might object, and I wished to make quite certain. Adieu!"
He had only bowed to her as she entered, and now she was going away without offering her hand.
"Roma," he said, in a voice that sounded choked.
She stopped but did not speak, and he felt himself growing hot all over.
"I'm relieved—so much relieved—to hear that you agree with what I said in my letter."
"The last—in which you wish me to forget you?"
"It is better so—far better. I am one of those who think that if either party to a marriage"—he was talking in a constrained way—"entertains beforehand any rational doubt about it, he is wiser to withdraw, even at the church door, rather than set out on a life-long voyage under doubtful auspices."
"Didn't we promise not to speak of this?" she said impatiently. Then their eyes met for a moment, and he knew that he was false to himself and that his talk of renunciation was a mockery.
"Roma," he said again, "if you want me in the future you must write."
Her face clouded over.
"For your own sake, you know...."
"Oh, that! That's nothing at all—nothing now."
"But people are insulting me about you, and...."
The colour rushed to his cheeks and he smote the back of a chair with his clenched fist.
"I tell them...."
"I understand," she said, and her eyes began to shine again. But she only turned away, saying: "I'm sorry you are angry that I came."
"Angry!" he cried, and at the sound of his voice as he said the word their love for each other went thrilling through and through them.
The rain had begun to fall, and it was beating with smart strokes on the window panes.
"You can't go now," he said, "and since you are never to come here again there is something you ought to hear."
She took a seat immediately, unfastened her coat, and slipped it back on to her shoulders.
The thick-falling drops were drenching the piazza, and its pavement was bubbling like a lake.
"The rain will last for some time," said Rossi, looking out, "and the matter I speak of is one of some urgency, therefore it is better that you should hear it now."
Taking the pins out of her hat, Roma lifted it off and laid it in her lap, and began to pull off her gloves. The young head with its glossy hair and lovely face shone out with a new beauty.
Rossi hardly dared to look at her. He was afraid that if he allowed himself to do so he would fling himself at her feet. "How calm she is," he thought. "What is the meaning of it?"
He went to the bureau by the wall and took out a small round packet.
"Do you remember your father's voice?" he asked.
"That is all I do remember about my father. Why?"
"It is here in this cylinder."
She rose quickly and then slowly sat down again.
"Tell me," she said.
"When your father was deported to the Island of Elba, he was a prisoner at large, without personal restraint but under police supervision. The legal term of domicilio coatto is from one year to five, but excuses were found and his banishment was made perpetual. He saw prisoners come and go, and in the sealed chamber of his tomb he heard echoes of the world outside."
"Did he ever hear of me?"
"Yes, and of myself as well. A prisoner brought him news of one David Rossi, and under that name and the opinions attached to it he recognised David Leone, the boy he had brought up and educated. He wished to send me a message."
"Was it about...."
"Yes. The letters of prisoners are read and copied, and to smuggle out by hand a written document is difficult or impossible. But at length a way was discovered. Some one sent a phonograph and a box of cylinders to one of the prisoners, and the little colony of exiled ones used to meet at your father's house to hear the music. Among the cylinders were certain blank ones. Your father spoke on to one of them, and when the time came for the owner of the phonograph to leave Elba, he brought the cylinder back with him. This is the cylinder your father spoke on to."
With an involuntary shudder she took out of his hands a circular cardboard-box, marked in print on the outside: "Selections from Faust," and in pencil on the inside of the lid: "For the hands of D. L. only—to be destroyed if Deputy David Rossi does not know where to find him."
The heavy rain had darkened the room, but by the red light of a dying fire he could see that her face had turned white.
"And this contains my father's voice?" she said.
"His last message."
"He is dead—two years dead—and yet...."
"Can you bear to hear it?"
"Go on," she said, hardly audibly.
He took back the cylinder, put it on the phonograph, wound up the instrument, and touched the lever. Through the strokes of the rain, lashing the window like a hundred whips, the whizzing noise of the machine began.
He was standing by her side, and he felt her hand on his arm.
Then through the sound of the rain and of the phonograph there came a clear, full voice:
"David Leone—your old friend Doctor Roselli sends you his dying message...."
The hand on Rossi's arm clutched it convulsively, and, in a choking whisper, Roma said:
"Wait! Give me one moment."
She was looking around the darkening room as if almost expecting a ghostly presence.
She bowed her head. Her breath came quick and fast.
"I am better now. Go on," she said.
The whirring noise began again, and after a moment the clear voice came as before:
"My son, the promise I made when we parted in London I fulfilled faithfully, but the letter I wrote you never came to your hands. It was meant to tell you who I was, and why I changed my name. That is too long a story now, and I must be brief. I am Prospero Volonna. My father was the last prince of that name. Except the authorities and their spies, nobody in Italy knows me as Roselli and nobody in England as Volonna—nobody but one, my poor dear child, my daughter Roma."
The hand tightened on Rossi's arm, and his head began to swim.
"Little by little, in this grave of a living man, I have heard what has happened since I was banished from the world. The treacherous letter which called me back to Italy and decoyed me into the hands of the police was the work of a man who now holds my estates as the payment for his treachery."
Rossi had stopped the phonograph.
"Can you bear it?" he said.
The pale young face flushed with resolution.
"Go on," she said.
When the voice from the phonograph began again it was more tremulous and husky than before.
"After he had betrayed the father, what impulse of fear or humanity prompted him to take charge of the child, God alone, who reads all hearts, can say. He went to England to look for her, found her in the streets to which she had been abandoned by the faithlessness of the guardians to whom I left her, and shut their mouths by buying them to the perjury of burying the unknown body of an unfortunate being in the name of my beloved child."
The hand on Rossi's arm trembled feebly, and slipped down to his own hand. It was cold as ice. The voice from the phonograph was growing faint.
"She is now in Rome, living in the name that was mine in Italy, amid an atmosphere of danger and perhaps of shame. My son, save her from it. The man who betrayed the father may betray the daughter also. Take her from him. Rescue her. It is my dying prayer."
The hand in Rossi's hand was holding it tightly, and his blood was throbbing at his heart.
"David," the voice from the phonograph was failing rapidly, "when this shall come to your hands the darkness of the grave will be over me.... In my great distress of mind I torture myself with many terrors.... Do not trifle with my request. But whatever you decide to do ... be gentle with the child.... I dream of her every night, and send my heart's heart to her on the swelling tides of love.... Adieu, my son. The end is near. God be with you in all you do that I did ill or left undone. And if death's great sundering does not annihilate the memory of those who remain on earth, be sure you have a helper and an advocate in heaven."
The voice ceased, the whirring of the instrument came to an end, and an invisible spirit seemed to fade into the air. The pattering of the rain had stopped, and there was the crackle of cab wheels on the pavement below. Roma had dropped Rossi's hand, and was leaning forward on her knees with both hands over her face. After a moment, she wiped her eyes with her handkerchief and began to put on her hat.
"How long is it since you received this message?" she said.
"On the night you came here first."
"And when I asked you to come to my house on that ... that useless errand, you were thinking of ... of my father's request as well?"
"You have known all this about the Baron for a month, yet you have said nothing. Why have you said nothing?"
"You wouldn't have believed me at first, whatever I had said against him."
"Afterwards I had another reason."
"Did it concern me?"
"Now that I have to part from you I am compelled to tell you what he is."
"But if you had known that all this time he has been trying to use somebody against you...."
"That would have made no difference."
She lifted her head, and a look of fire, almost of fierceness, came into her face, but she only said, with a little hysterical cry, as if her throat were swelling:
"Come to me to-morrow, David! Be sure you come! If you don't come I shall never, never forgive you! But you will come! You will! You will!"
And then, as if afraid of breaking out into sobs, she turned quickly and hurried away.
"She can never fall into that man's hands now," he thought. And then he lit his lamp and sat down to his work, but the light was gone, and the night had fallen on him.
Next morning David Rossi had not yet risen when some one knocked at his door. It was Bruno. The great fellow looked nervous and troubled, and he spoke in a husky whisper.
"You're not going to Donna Roma's to-day, sir?"
"Why not, Bruno?"
"Have you seen her bust of yourself?"
"Hardly at all."
"Just so. My case, too. She has taken care of that—locking it up every night, and getting another caster to cast it. But I saw it the first morning after she began, and I know what it is."
"What is it, Bruno?"
"You'll be angry again, sir."
"What is it?"
"Judas—that's what it is, sir; the study for Judas in the fountain for the Municipality."
"Is that all?"
"All?... But it's a caricature, a spiteful caricature! And you sat four days and never even looked at it! I tell you it's disgusting, sir. Simply disgusting. It's been done on purpose, too. When I think of it I forget all you said, and I hate the woman as much as ever. And now she is to have a reception, and you are going to it, just to help her to have her laugh. Don't go, sir! Take the advice of a fool, and don't go!"
"Bruno," said Rossi, lying with his head on his arm, "understand me once for all. Donna Roma may have used my head as a study for Judas—I cannot deny that since you say it is so—but if she had used it as a study for Satan, I would believe in her the same as ever."
"Yes, by God! So now, like a good fellow, go away and leave her alone."
The streets were more than usually full of people when Rossi set out for the reception. Thick groups were standing about the hoardings, reading a yellow placard, which was still wet with the paste of the bill-sticker. It was a proclamation, signed by the Minister of the Interior, and it ran:
"ROMANS,—It having come to the knowledge of the Government that a set of misguided men, the enemies of the throne and of society, known to be in league with the republican, atheist, and anarchist associations of foreign countries, are inciting the people to resist the just laws made by their duly elected Parliament, and sanctioned by their King, thus trying to lead them into outbreaks that would be unworthy of a cultivated and generous race, and would disgrace us in the view of other nations—the Government hereby give notice that they will not allow the laws to be insulted with impunity, and therefore they warn the public against the holding of all such mass meetings in public buildings, squares, and streets, as may lead to the possibility of serious disturbances."
The little Piazza of Trinita de' Monti was full of carriages, and Roma's rooms were thronged. David Rossi entered with the calmness of a man who is accustomed to personal observation, but Roma met him with an almost extravagant salutation.
"Ah, you have come at last," she said in a voice that was intended to be heard by all. And then, in a low tone, she added, "Stay near me, and don't go until I say you may."
Her face had the expression that had puzzled him the day before, but with the flushed cheeks, the firm mouth and the shining eyes, there was now a strange look of excitement, almost of hysteria.
The company was divided into four main groups. The first of them consisted of Roma's aunt, powdered and perfumed, propped up with cushions on an invalid chair, and receiving the guests by the door, with the Baron Bonelli, silent and dignified, but smiling his icy smile, by her side. A second group consisted of Don Camillo and some ladies of fashion, who stood by the window and made little half-smothered trills of laughter. The third group included Lena and Olga, the journalists, with Madame Sella, the modiste; and the fourth group was made up of the English and American Ambassadors, Count Mario, and some other diplomatists.
The conversation was at first interrupted by the little pauses that follow fresh arrivals; and after it had settled down to the dull buzz of a beehive, when the old brood and her queen are being turned out, it consisted merely of hints, giving the impression of something in the air that was scandalous and amusing, but could not be talked about.
"Have you heard that" ... "Is it true that" ... "No?" "Can it be possible?" "How delicious!" and then inaudible questions and low replies, with tittering, tapping of fans, and insinuating glances.
But Roma seemed to hear everything that was said about her, and constantly broke in upon a whispered conversation with disconcerting openness.
"That man here!" said one of the journalists at Rossi's entrance. "In the same room with the Prime Minister!" said another. "After that disgraceful scene in the House, too!"
"I hear that he was abominably rude to the Baron the other day," said Madame Sella.
"Rude? He has blundered shockingly, and offended everybody. They tell me the Vatican is now up in arms against him, and is going to denounce him and all his ways."
"No wonder! He has made himself thoroughly disagreeable, and I'm only surprised that the Prime Minister...."
"Oh, leave the Prime Minister alone. He has something up his sleeve.... Haven't you heard why we are invited here to-day? No? Not heard that...."
"Really! So that explains ... I see, I see!" and then more tittering and tapping of fans.
"Certainly, he is an extraordinary man, and one of the first statesmen in Europe."
"It's so unselfish of you to say that," said Roma, flashing round suddenly, "for the Minister has never been a friend of journalists, and I've heard him say that there wasn't one of them who wouldn't sell his mother's honour if he thought he could make a sensation."
"Love?" said the voice of Don Camillo in the silence that followed Roma's remark. "What has marriage to do with love except to spoil it?" And then, amidst laughter, and the playful looks of the ladies by whom he was surrounded, he gave a gay picture of his own poverty, and the necessity of marrying to retrieve his fortunes.
"What would you have? Look at my position! A great name, as ancient as history, and no income. A gorgeous palace, as old as the pyramids, and no cook!"
"Don't be so conceited about your poverty, Gi-gi," said Roma. "Some of the Roman ladies are as poor as the men. As for me, Madame Sella could sell up every stick in my house to-morrow, and if the Municipality should throw up my fountain...."
"Senator Palomba," said Felice's sepulchral voice from the door.
The suave, oily little Mayor came in, twinkling his eyes and saying:
"Did I hear my name as I entered?"
"I was saying," said Roma, "that if the Municipality should throw up my fountain...."
The little man made an amusing gesture, and the constrained silence was broken by some awkward laughter.
"Roma," said the testy voice of the Countess, "I think I've done my duty by you, and now the Baron will take me back. Natalina! Where's Natalina?"
But half-a-dozen hands took hold of the invalid chair, and the Baron followed it into the bedroom.
"Wonderful man!" "Wonderful!" whispered various voices as the Minister's smile disappeared through the door.
The conversation had begun to languish when the Princess Bellini arrived, and then suddenly it became lively and general.
"I'm late, but do you know, my dear," she said, kissing Roma on both cheeks, "I've been nearly torn to pieces in coming. My carriage had to plough its way through crowds of people."
"Yes, indeed, and the streets are nearly impassable. Another demonstration, I suppose! The poor must always be demonstrating."
"Ah! yes," said Don Camillo. "Haven't you heard the news, Roma?"
"I've been working all night and all day, and I have heard nothing," said Roma.
"Well, to prevent a recurrence of the disgraceful scene of yesterday, the King has promulgated the Public Security Act by royal decree, and the wonderful crisis is at an end."
"Now the Prime Minister is master of the situation, and has begun by proclaiming the mass meeting which was to have been held in the Coliseum."
"Good thing too," said Count Mario. "We've heard enough of liberal institutions lately."
"And of the scandalous speeches of professional agitators," said Madame Sella.
"And of the liberty of the press," said Senator Palomba. And then the effeminate old dandy, the fashionable dressmaker, and the oily little Mayor exchanged significant nods.
"Wait! Only wait!" said Roma, in a low voice, to Rossi, who was standing in silence by her side.
"Unhappy Italy!" said the American Ambassador. "With the largest array of titled nobility and the largest army of beggars. The one class sipping iced drinks in the piazzas during the playing of music, and the other class marching through the streets and conspiring against society."
"You judge us from a foreign standpoint, dear friend," said Don Camillo, "and forget our love of a pageant. The Princess says our poor are always demonstrating. We are all always demonstrating. Our favourite demonstration is a funeral, with drums beating and banners waving. If we cannot have a funeral we have a wedding, with flowers and favours and floods of tears. And when we cannot have either, we put up with a revolution, and let our Radical orators tell us of the wickedness of taxing the people's bread."
"Always their bread," said the Princess, with a laugh.
"In America, dear General, you are so tragically sincere, but in Italy we are a race of actors. The King, the Parliament, the Pope himself...."
"Shocking!" said the little Princess. "But if you had said as much of our professional agitators...."
"Oh, they are the most accomplished and successful actors, Princess. But we are all actors in Italy, from the greatest to the least, and the 'curtain' is to him who can score off everybody else."
"So," began the American, "to be Prime Minister in Rome...."
"Is to be the chief actor in Europe, and his leading part is that in which he puts an end to his adversary amidst a burst of inextinguishable laughter."
"What is he driving at?" said the English to the American Ambassador.
"Don't you know? Haven't you heard what is coming?" And then some further whispering.
"Wait, only wait!" said Roma.
"Gi-gi," said the Princess, "how stupid you are! You're all wrong about Roma. Look at her now. To think that men can be so blind! And the Baron is no better than the rest of you. He's too proud to believe what I tell him, but he'll learn the truth some day. He is here, of course? In the Countess's room, isn't he?... How do you like my dress?"
"Really? The black and the blue make a charming effect, don't they? They are the Baron's favourite colours. How agitated our hostess is! She seems to have all the world here. When are we to see the wonderful work? What's she waiting for? Ah, there's the Baron coming out at last!"
"They're all here, aren't they?" said Roma, looking round with flushed cheeks and flaming eyes at the jangling, slandering crew, who had insulted and degraded David Rossi.
"Take care," he answered, but she only threw up her head and laughed.
Then the company went down the circular iron staircase to the studio. Roma walked first with her rapid step, talking nervously and laughing frequently.
The fountain stood in the middle of the floor, and the guests gathered about it.
"Superb!" they exclaimed one after another. "Superb!" "Superb!"
The little Mayor was especially enthusiastic. He stood near the Baron, and holding up both hands he cried:
"Marvellous! Miraculous! Fit to take its place beside the masterpieces of old Rome!"
"But surely this is 'Hamlet' without the prince," said the Baron. "You set out to make a fountain representing Christ and His twelve apostles, and the only figure you leave unfinished is Christ Himself."
He pointed to the central figure above the dish, which was merely shaped out and indicated.
"Not only one, your Excellency," said Don Camillo. "Here is another unfinished figure—intended for Judas, apparently."
"I left them to the last on purpose," said Roma. "They were so important, and so difficult. But I have studies for both of them in the boudoir, and you shall give me your advice and opinion."
"The saint and the satyr, the God and the devil, the betrayed and the betrayer—what subjects for the chisel of the artist!" said Don Camillo.
"Just so," said the Mayor. "She must do the one with all the emotions of love, and the other with all the faculties of hate."
"Not that art," said Don Camillo, "has anything to do with life—that is to say, real life...."
"Why not?" said Roma sharply. "The artist has to live in the world, and he isn't blind. Therefore, why shouldn't he describe what he sees around him?"
"But is that art? If so, the artist is at liberty to give his views on religion and politics, and by the medium of his art he may even express his private feelings—return insults and wreak revenge."
"Certainly he may," said Roma; "the greatest artists have often done so." Saying this, she led the way upstairs, and the others followed with a chorus of hypocritical approval.
"It's only human, to say the least." "Of course it is!" "If she's a woman and can't speak out, or fight duels, it's a lady-like way, at all events." And then further tittering, tapping of fans, and significant nods at Rossi when his back was turned.
Two busts stood on pedestals in the boudoir. One of them was covered with a damp cloth, the other with a muslin veil. Going up to the latter first, Roma said, with a slightly quavering voice:
"It was so difficult to do justice to the Christ that I am almost sorry I made the attempt. But it came easier when I began to think of some one who was being reviled and humiliated and degraded because he was poor and wasn't ashamed of it, and who was always standing up for the weak and the down-trodden, and never returning anybody's insult, however shameful and false and wicked, because he wasn't thinking of himself at all. So I got the best model I could in real life, and this is the result."
With that she pulled off the muslin veil and revealed the sculptured head of David Rossi, in a snow-white plaster cast. The features expressed pure nobility, and every touch was a touch of sympathy and love.
A moment of chilling silence was followed by an under-breath of gossip. "Who is it?" "Christ, of course." "Oh, certainly, but it reminds me of some one." "Who can it be?" "The Pope?" "Why, no; don't you see who it is?" "Is it really?" "How shameful!" "How blasphemous!"
Roma stood looking on with a face lighted up by two flaming eyes. "I'm afraid you don't think I've done justice to my model," she said. "That's quite true. But perhaps my Judas will please you better," and she stepped up to the bust that was covered by the wet cloth.
"I found this a difficult subject also, and it was not until yesterday evening that I felt able to begin on it."
Then, with a hand that trembled visibly, she took from the wall the portrait of her father, and offering it to the Minister, she said:
"Some one told me a story of duplicity and treachery—it was about this poor old gentleman, Baron—and then I knew what sort of person it was who betrayed his friend and master for thirty pieces of silver, and listened to the hypocrisy, and flattery, and lying of the miserable group of parasites who crowded round him because he was a traitor, and because he kept the purse."
With that she threw off the damp cloth, and revealed the clay model of a head. The face was unmistakable, but it expressed every baseness—cunning, arrogance, cruelty, and sensuality.
The silence was freezing, and the company began to turn away, and to mutter among themselves, in order to cover their confusion. "It's the Baron!" "No?" "Yes." "Disgraceful!" "Disgusting!" "Shocking!" "A scarecrow!"
Roma watched them for a moment, and then said: "You don't like my Judas? Neither do I. You're right—it is disgusting."
And taking up in both hands a piece of thin wire, she cut the clay across, and the upper part of it fell face downward with a thud on to the floor.
The Princess, who stood by the side of the Baron, offered him her sympathy, and he answered in his icy smile:
"But these artists are all slightly insane, you know. That is an evil which must be patiently endured, without noticing too much the ludicrous side of it."
Then, stepping up to Roma, and handing back the portrait, the Baron said, with a slight frown:
"I must thank you for a very amusing afternoon, and bid you good-day."
The others looked after him, and interpreted his departure according to their own feelings. "He is done with her," they whispered. "He'll pay her out for this." And without more ado they began to follow him.
Roma, flushed and excited, bowed to them as they went out one by one, with a politeness that was demonstrative to the point of caricature. She was saying farewell to them for ever, and her face was lighted up with a look of triumphant joy. They tried to bear themselves bravely as they passed her, but her blazing eyes and sweeping curtseys made them feel as if they were being turned out of the house.
When they were all gone, she shut the door with a bang, and then turning to David Rossi, who alone remained, she burst into a flood of hysterical tears, and threw herself on to her knees at his feet.
"David!" she cried.
"Don't do that. Get up," he answered.
His thoughts were in a whirl. He had been standing aside, trembling for Roma as he had never trembled for himself in the hottest moments of his public life. And now he was alone with her, and his blood was beating in his breast in stabs.
"Haven't I done enough?" she cried. "You taunted me with my wealth, but I am as poor as you are now. Every penny I had in the world came from the Baron. He allowed me to use part of the revenues of my father's estates, but the income was under his control, and now he will stop it altogether. I am in debt. I have always been in debt. That was my benefactor's way of reminding me of my dependence on his bounty. And now all I have will be sold to satisfy my creditors, and I shall be turned out homeless."
"Roma...." he began, but her tears and passion bore down everything.
"House, furniture, presents, carriages, horses, everything will go soon, and I shall have nothing whatever! No matter! You said a woman loved ease and wealth and luxury. Is that all a woman loves? Is there nothing else in the world for any of us? Aren't you satisfied with me at last?"
"Roma," he answered, breathing hard, "don't talk like that. I cannot bear it."
But she did not listen. "You taunted me with being a woman," she said through a fresh burst of tears. "A woman was incapable of friendship and sacrifices. She was intended to be a man's plaything. Do you think I want to be my husband's mistress? I want to be his wife, to share his fate, whatever it may be, for good or bad, for better or worse."
"For God's sake, Roma!" he cried. But she broke in on him again.
"You taunted me with the dangers you had to go through, as if a woman must needs be an impediment to her husband, and try to keep him back. Do you think I want my husband to do nothing? If he were content with that he would not be the man I had loved, and I should despise him and leave him."
"Then you taunted me with the death that hangs over you. When you were gone I should be left to the mercy of the world. But that can never happen. Never! Do you think a woman can outlive the man she loves as I love you?... There! I've said it. You've shamed me into it."
He could not speak now. His words were choking in his throat, and she went on in a torrent of tears:
"The death that threatens you comes from no fault of yours, but only from your fidelity to my father. Therefore I have a right to share it, and I will not live when you are dead."
"If I give way now," he thought, "all is over."
And clenching his hands behind his back to keep himself from throwing his arms around her, he began in a low voice:
"Roma, you have broken your promise to me."
"I don't care," she interrupted. "I would break ten thousand promises. I deceived you. I confess it. I pretended to be reconciled to your will, and I was not reconciled. I wanted you to see me strip myself of all I had, that you might have no answer and excuse. Well, you have seen me do it, and now ... what are you going to do now?"
"Roma," he began again, trembling all over, "there have been two men in me all this time, and one of them has been trying to protect you from the world and from yourself, while the other ... the other has been wanting you to despise all his objections, and trample them under your feet.... If I could only believe that you know all you are doing, all the risk you are running, and the fate you are willing to share ... but no, it is impossible."
"David," she cried, "you love me! If you didn't love me, I should know it now—at this moment. But I am braver than you are...."
"Let me go. I cannot answer for myself."
"I am braver than you are, for I have not only stripped myself of all my possessions, and of all my friends ... I have even compromised myself again and again, and been daring and audacious, and rude to everybody for your sake.... I, a woman ... while you, a man ... you are afraid ... yes, afraid ... you are a coward—that's it, a coward!... No, no, no! What am I saying?... David Leone!"
And with a cry of passion and remorse she flung both arms about his neck.
He had stood, during this fierce struggle of love and pain, holding himself in until his throbbing nerves could bear the strain no longer.
"Come to me, then—come to me," he cried, and at the moment when she threw herself upon him he stretched out his arms to receive her.
"You do love me?" she said.
"Indeed, yes! And you?"
"Yes, yes, yes!"
He clasped her in his arms with redoubled ardour, and pressed her to his breast and kissed her. The love so long pent up was bursting out like a liberated cataract that sweeps the snow and the ice before it.
All at once the girl who had been so brave in the great battle of her love became weak and womanish in the moment of her victory. Under the warmth of his tenderness she dropped her head on to his breast to conceal her face in her shame.
"You will never think the worse of me?" she faltered.
"The worse of you! For loving me?"
"For telling you so and forcing myself into your life?"
"My darling, no!"
She lifted her head, and he kissed away the tears that were shining in her eyes.
"But tell me," he said, "are you sure—quite sure? Do you know what is before you?"
"I only know I love you."
He folded her afresh in his strong embrace, and kissed her head as it lay on his breast.
"Think again," he said. "A man's enemies can be merciless. They may watch you and put pressure upon you, and even humiliate you for my sake."
"No matter, I am not afraid," she answered, and again he tightened his arms about her in a passionate embrace, and covered her hair and her neck and her hands and her finger-tips with kisses.
They did not speak for a long time after that. There was no need for words. He was conquered, yet he was conqueror, and she was happy and at peace. The long fight was over, and everything was well.
He put her to sit in a chair, and sat himself on the arm of it, with his face to her face, and her arms still round his neck. It was like a dream. She could scarcely believe it. He whom she had looked up to with adoration was caressing her. She was like a child in her joy, blushing and half afraid.
He ran his hand through her hair and kissed her forehead. She threw back her head that she might put her lips to his forehead in return, and he kissed her full, round throat.
Then they exchanged rings as the sign of their eternal union. When she put her diamond ring, set in gold, on to his finger, he looked grave and even sad; but when he put his plain silver one on to hers, she lifted up her glorified hand to the light, and kissed and kissed it.
They began to talk in low tones, as if some one had been listening. It was the whispering of their hearts, for the angel of happy love has no voice louder than a whisper. She asked him to say again that he loved her, but as soon as he began to say it she stopped his mouth with a kiss.
They talked of their love. She was sure she had loved him before he loved her, and when he said that he had loved her always, she protested in that case he did not love her at all.
They rose at length to close the windows, and side by side, his arm about her waist, her head leaning lightly on his shoulder, they stood for a moment looking out. The mother of cities lay below in its lightsome whiteness, and over the ridge of its encircling hills the glow of the departing sun was rising in vaporous tints of amber and crimson into the transparent blue, with the dome of St. Peter's, like a balloon ready to rise into a celestial sky.
"A storm is coming," he said, looking at the colours in the sunset.
"It has come and gone," she whispered, and then his arm folded closer about her waist.
It took him half-an-hour to say adieu. After the last kiss and the last handshake, their arms would stretch out to the utmost limit, and then close again for another and another and yet another embrace.
When at length Rossi was gone, Roma ran into her bedroom to look at her face in the glass. The golden complexion was heightened by a bright spot on either cheek, and a teardrop was glistening in the corner of each of her eyes.
She went back to the boudoir. David Rossi was no longer there, but the room seemed to be full of his presence. She sat in the chair again, and again she stood by the window. At length she opened her desk and wrote a letter:—
"DEAREST,—You are only half-an-hour gone, and here I am sending this letter after you, like a handkerchief you had forgotten. I have one or two things to say, quite matter-of-fact and simple things, but I cannot think of them sensibly for joy of the certainty that you love me. Of course I knew it all the time, but I couldn't be at ease until I had heard it from your own lips; and now I feel almost afraid of my great happiness. How wonderful it seems! And, like all events that are long expected, how suddenly it has happened in the end. To think that a month ago—only a little month—you and I were both in Rome, within a mile of each other, breathing the same air, enclosed by the same cloud, kissed by the same sunshine, and yet we didn't know it!
"Soberly, though, I want you to understand that I meant all I said so savagely about going on with your work, and not letting your anxiety about my welfare interfere with you. I am really one of the women who think that a wife should further a man's aims in life if she can; and if she can't do that, she should stand aside and not impede him. So go on, dear heart, without fear for me. I will take care of myself, whatever occurs. Don't let one hour or one act of your life be troubled by the thought of what would happen to me if you should fall. Dearest, I am your beloved, but I am your soldier also, ready and waiting to follow where my captain calls:
"'Teach me, only teach, Love! As I ought I will speak thy speech, Love! Think thy thought.'
"And if I was not half afraid that you would think it bolder than is modest in your bride to be, I would go on with the next lines of my sweet quotation.
"Another thing. You went away without saying you forgive me for the wicked duplicity I practised upon you. It was very wrong, I suppose, and yet for my life I cannot get up any real contrition on the subject. There's always some duplicity in a woman. It is the badge of every daughter of Eve, and it must come out somewhere. In my case it came out in loving you to all the lengths and ends of love, and drawing you on to loving me. I ought to be ashamed, but I'm not—I'm glad.
"I did love first, and, of course, I knew you from the beginning, and when you wrote about being in love with some one else, I knew quite well you meant me. But it was so delicious to pretend not to know, to come near and then to sheer off again, to touch and then to fly, to tempt you and then to run away, until a strong tide rushed at me and overwhelmed me, and I was swooning in your arms at last.
"Dearest, don't think I made light of the obstacles you urged against our union. I knew all the time that the risks of marriage were serious, though perhaps I am not in a position even yet to realise how serious they may be. Only I knew also that the dangers were greater still if we kept apart, and that gave me courage to be bold and to defy conventions.
"Which brings me to my last point, and please prepare to be serious, and bend your brow to that terrible furrow which comes when you are fearfully in earnest. What you said of your enemies being merciless, and perhaps watching me and putting pressure upon me to injure you, is only too imminent a danger. The truth is that I have all along known more than I had courage to tell, but I was hoping you would understand, and now I tremble to think how I have suffered myself to be silent.
"The Minghelli matter is an alarming affair, for I have reason to believe that the man has lit on the name you bore in England, and that when he returns to Rome he will try to fix it upon you by means of me. This is fearful to contemplate, and my heart quakes to think of it. But happily there is a way to checkmate such a devilish design, and it is within your own power to save me from life-long remorse.
"I don't think the laws of any civilized country compel a man's wife to compromise him, and thinking of this gives me courage to be unmaidenly and say: Don't let it be long, dearest! I could die to bring it to pass in a moment. With all my great, great happiness, I shall have the heartache until it is done, and only when it is over shall I begin to live.
"There! You didn't know what a forward hussy I could be if I tried, and really I have been surprised at myself since I began to be in love with you. For weeks and weeks I have been thin and haggard and ugly, and only to-day I begin to be a little beautiful. I couldn't be anything but beautiful to-day, and I've been running to the glass to look at myself, as the only way to understand why you love me at all. And I'm glad—so glad for your sake.
"Good-bye, dearest! You cannot come to-morrow or the next day, and what a lot I shall have to live before I see you again! Shall I look older? No, for thinking of you makes me feel younger and younger every minute. How old are you? Thirty-four? I'm twenty-four and a half, and that is just right, but if you think I ought to be nearer your age I'll wear a bonnet and fasten it with a bow.
"P.S.—Don't delay the momentous matter. Don't! Don't! Don't!"
She dined alone that night that she might be undisturbed in her thoughts of Rossi. Ordinary existence had almost disappeared from her consciousness, and every time Felice spoke as he served the dishes his voice seemed to come from far away.
She went to bed early, but it was late before she slept. For a long time she lay awake to think over all that had happened, and, when the night was far gone, and she tried to fall asleep in order to dream of it also, she could not do so for sheer delight of the prospect. But at last amid the gathering clouds of sleep she said "Good-night," with the ghost of a kiss, and slept until morning.
When she awoke it was late, and the sun was shining into the room. She lay on her back and stretched out both arms for sheer sweetness of the sensation of health and love. Everything was well, and she was very happy. Thinking of yesterday, she was even sorry for the Baron, and told herself she had been too bold and daring.
But that thought was gone in a moment. Body and soul were suffused with joy, and she leapt out of bed with a spring.
A moment afterwards Natalina came with a letter. It was from the Baron himself, and it was dated the day before:—
"Minghelli has returned from London, and therefore I must see you to-morrow at eleven o'clock. Be so good as to be at home, and give orders that for half-an-hour at least we shall be quite undisturbed."
Then the sun went out, the air grew dull, and darkness fell over all the world.
PART FIVE—THE PRIME MINISTER
It was Sunday. The storm threatened by the sunset of the day before had not yet come, but the sun was struggling through a veil of clouds, and a black ridge lay over the horizon.
At eleven o'clock to the moment the Baron arrived. As usual, he was faultlessly dressed, and he looked cool and tranquil.
"I am to show you into this room, Excellency," said Felice, leading the way to the boudoir.
"Thanks!... Anything to tell me, Felice?"
"Nothing, Excellency," said Felice. Then, pointing to the plaster bust on its pedestal in the corner, he added in a lower tone, "He remained last night after the others had gone, and...."
But at that moment there was the rustle of a woman's dress outside, and, interrupting Felice, the Baron said in a high-pitched voice:
"Certainly; and please tell the Countess I shall not forget to look in upon her before I go."
Roma came into the room with a gloomy and firm-set face. The smile that seemed always to play about her mouth and eyes had given place to a slight frown and an air of defiance. But the Baron saw in a moment that behind the lips so sternly set, and the straight look of the eyes, there was a frightened expression which she was trying to conceal. He greeted her with his accustomed calm and naturalness, kissed her hand, offered her the flower from his button-hole, put her to sit in the arm-chair with its back to the window, took his own seat on the couch in front of it, and leisurely drew off his spotless gloves.
Not a word about the scene of yesterday, not a look of pain or reproof. Only a few casual pleasantries, and then a quiet gliding into the business of his visit.
"What an age since we were here alone before! And what changes you've made! Your pretty nest is like a cell! Well, I've obeyed your mandate, you see. I've stayed away for a month. It was hard to do—bitterly hard—and many a time I've told myself it was imprudent. But you were a woman. You were inexorable. I was forced to submit. And now, what have you got to tell me?"
"Nothing," she answered, looking straight before her.
She did not move or turn her face, and he sat for a moment watching her. Then he rose, and began to walk about the room.
"Let us understand each other, my child," he said gently. "Will you forgive me if I recall facts that are familiar?"
She did not answer, but looked fixedly into the fire, while he leaned on the stove and stood face to face with her.
"A month ago, a certain Deputy, an obstructionist politician, who has for years made the task of government difficult, uttered a seditious speech, and brought himself within the power of the law. In that speech he also attacked me, and—shall I say?—grossly slandered you. Parliament was not in session, and I was able to order his arrest. In due course, he would have been punished, perhaps by imprisonment, perhaps by banishment, but you thought it prudent to intervene. You urged reasons of policy which were wise and far-seeing. I yielded, and, to the bewilderment of my officials, I ordered the Deputy's release. But he was not therefore to escape. You undertook his punishment. In a subtle and more effectual way, you were to wipe out the injury he had done, and requite him for his offence. The man was a mystery—you were to find out all about him. He was suspected of intrigue—you were to discover his conspiracies. Within a month, you were to deliver him into my hands, and I was to know the inmost secrets of his soul."
It was with difficulty that Roma maintained her calmness while the Baron was speaking, but she only shook a stray lock of hair from her forehead, and sat silent.
"Well, the month is over. I have given you every opportunity to deal with our friend as you thought best. Have you found out anything about him?"
She put on a bold front and answered, "No."
"So your effort has failed?"
"Then you are likely to give up your plan of punishing the man for defaming and degrading you?"
"I have given it up already."
"Strange! Very strange! Very unfortunate also, for we are at this moment at a crisis when it is doubly important to the Government to possess the information you set out to find. Still, your idea was a good one, and I can never be sufficiently grateful to you for suggesting it. And although your efforts have failed, you need not be uneasy. You have given us the clues by which our efforts are succeeding, and you shall yet punish the man who insulted you so publicly and so grossly."
"How is it possible for me to punish him?"
"By identifying David Rossi as one who was condemned in contumacy for high treason sixteen years ago."
"That is ridiculous," she said. "Sixteen months ago I had never heard the name of David Rossi."
The Baron stooped a little and said:
"Had you ever heard the name of David Leone?"
She dropped back in her chair, and again looked straight before her.
"Come, come, my child," said the Baron caressingly, and moving across the room to look out of the window, he tapped her lightly on the shoulder:
"I told you that Minghelli had returned from London."
"That forger!" she said hoarsely.
"No doubt! One who spends his life ferreting out crime is apt to have the soul of a criminal. But civilisation needs its scavengers, and it was a happy thought of yours to think of this one. Indeed, everything we've done has been done on your initiative, and when our friend is finally brought to justice, the deed will really be due to you, and you alone."
The defiant look was disappearing from her eyes, and she rose with an expression of pain.
"Why do you torture me like this?" she said. "After what has happened, isn't it quite plain that I am his friend, and not his enemy?"
"Perhaps," said the Baron. His face assumed a death-like rigidity. "Sit down and listen to me."
She sat down, and he returned to his place by the stove.
"I say you gave us the clues we have worked upon. Those clues were three. First, that David Rossi knew the life-story of Doctor Roselli in London. Second, that he knew the story of Doctor Roselli's daughter, Roma Roselli. Third, that he was for a time a waiter at the Grand Hotel in Rome. Two minor clues came independently, that David Rossi was once a stable-boy in New York, that his mother drowned herself in the Tiber, and he was brought up in a Foundling. By these five clues the authorities have discovered eight facts. Permit me to recite them."
Leaning his elbow on the stove and opening his hand, the Baron ticked off the facts one by one on his fingers.
"Fact one. Some thirty odd years ago a woman carrying a child presented herself at the office in Rome for the registry of births. She gave the name of Leonora Leone, and wished her child, a boy, to be registered as David Leone. But the officer in attendance discovered that the woman's name was Leonora Rossi, and that she had been married according to the religious rites of the Church, but not according to the civil regulations of the State. The child was therefore registered as David Rossi, son of Leonora Rossi and of a father unknown."
"Shameful!" cried Roma. "Shameful! shameful!"
"Fact two," said the Baron, without the change of a tone. "One night a little later the body of a woman found drowned in the Tiber was recognised as the body of Leonora Rossi, and buried in the pauper part of the Campo Verano under that name. The same night a child was placed by an unknown hand in the rota of Santo Spirito, with a paper attached to its wrist, giving particulars of its baptism and its name. The name given was David Leone."
The Baron ticked off the third of his fingers and continued:
"Fact three. Fourteen years afterwards a boy named David Leone, fourteen years of age, was living in the house of an Italian exile in London. The exile was a Roman prince under the incognito of Doctor Roselli; his family consisted of his wife and one child, a daughter named Roma, four years of age. David Leone had been adopted by Doctor Roselli, who had picked him up in the street."
Roma covered her face with her hands.
"Fact four. Four years later a conspiracy to assassinate the King of Italy was discovered at Milan. The chief conspirator turned out to be, unfortunately, the English exile known as Doctor Roselli. By the good offices of a kinsman, jealous of the honour of his true family name, he was not brought to public trial, but deported by one of the means adopted by all Governments when secrecy or safety is in question. But his confederates and correspondents were shown less favour, and one of them, still in England, being tried in contumacy by a military court which sat during a state of siege, was condemned for high treason to the military punishment of death. The name of that confederate and correspondent was David Leone."
Roma's slippered foot was beating the floor fast, but the Baron went on in his cool and tranquil tone.
"Fact five. Our extradition treaty excluded the delivery of political offenders, but after representations from Italy, David Leone left England. He went to America. There he was first employed in the stables of the Tramway Company in New York, and lived in the Italian quarter of the city, but afterwards he rose out of his poverty and low position and became a journalist. In that character he attracted attention by a new political and religious propaganda. Jesus Christ was lawgiver for the nation as well as for the individual, and the redemption of the world was to be brought to pass by a constitution based on the precepts of the Lord's Prayer. The creed was sufficiently sentimental to be seized upon by fanatics in that country of countless faiths, but it cut at the roots of order, of poverty, even of patriotism, and being interpreted into action, seemed likely to lead to riot."
The Baron twisted the ends of his moustache, and said, with a smile, "David Leone disappeared from New York. From that time forward no trace of him has yet been found. He was as much gone as if he had ceased to exist. David Leone was dead."
Roma's hands had come down from her face, and she was picking at the buttons of her blouse with twitching fingers.
"Fact six," said the Baron, ticking off the thumb of his other hand. "Twenty-five or six years after the registration of the child David Rossi in Rome, a man, apparently twenty-five or six years of age, giving the name of David Rossi, arrived in England from America. He called at a baker's shop in Soho to ask for Roma Roselli, the daughter of Doctor Roselli, left behind in London when the exile returned to Italy. They told him that Roma Roselli was dead and buried."
Roma's face, which had been pale until now, began to glow like a fire on a gloomy night, and her foot beat faster and faster.
"Fact seven. David Rossi appeared in Rome, first as a waiter at the Grand Hotel, but soon afterwards as a journalist and public lecturer, propounding precisely the same propaganda as that of David Leone in New York, and exciting the same interest."
"Well? What of it?" said Roma. "David Leone was David Leone, and David Rossi is David Rossi—there is no more in it than that."
The Baron clasped his hands so tight that his knuckles cracked, and said, in a slightly exalted tone:
"Eighth and last fact. About that time a man called at the office of the Campo Santo to know where he was to find the grave of Leonora Leone, the woman who had drowned herself in the Tiber twenty-six years before. The pauper trench had been dug up over and over again in the interval, but the officials gave him their record of the place where she had once been buried. He had the spot measured off for him, and he went down on his knees before it. Hours passed, and he was still kneeling there. At length night fell, and the officers had to warn him away."
Roma's foot had ceased to beat on the floor, and she was rising in her chair.
"That man," said the Baron, "the only human being who ever thought it worth while to look up the grave of the poor suicide, Leonora Rossi, the mother of David Leone, was David Rossi! Who was David Leone?—David Rossi! Who was David Rossi?—David Leone! The circle had closed around him—the evidence was complete."
"Oh! oh! oh!"
Roma had leapt up and was moving about the room. Her lips were compressed with scorn, her eyes were flashing, and she burst into a torrent of words, which spluttered out of her quivering lips.
"Oh, to think of it! To think of it! You are right! The man who spends his life looking for crime must have the soul of a criminal! He has no conscience, no humanity, no mercy, no pity. And when he has tracked and dogged a man to his mother's grave—his mother's grave—he can dine, he can laugh, he can go to the theatre! Oh, I hate you! There, I've told you! Now, do with me as you please!"
The death-like rigidity in the Baron's face decomposed into an expression of intense pain, but he only passed his hand over his brow, and said, after a moment of silence:
"My child, you are not only offending me, you are offending the theory and principle of Justice. Justice has nothing to do with pity. In the vocabulary of Justice there is but one word—duty. Duty called upon me to fix this man's name upon him, that his obstructions, his slanders, and his evil influence might be at an end. And now Justice calls upon you to do the same."
The Baron leaned against the stove, and spoke in a calm voice, while Roma in her agitation continued to walk about the room.
"Being a Deputy, and Parliament being in session, David Rossi can only be arrested by the authorisation of the Chamber. In order to obtain that authorisation, it is necessary that the Attorney-General should draw up a statement of the case. The statement must be presented by the Attorney-General to the Government, by the Government to the President, by the President to a Committee, and by the Committee to Parliament. Towards this statement the police have already obtained important testimony, and a complete chain of circumstantial evidence has been prepared. But they lack one link of positive proof, and until that link is obtained the Attorney-General is unable to proceed. It is the keystone of the arch, the central fact, without which all other facts fall to pieces—the testimony of somebody who can swear, if need be, that she knew both David Leone and David Rossi, and can identify the one with the other."
The Baron, who had stopped, continued in a calm voice: "My dear Roma, need I go on? Dead as a Minister is to all sensibility, I had hoped to spare you. There is only one person known to me who can supply that link. That person is yourself."
Roma's eyes were red with anger and terror, but she tried to laugh over her fear.
"How simple you are, after all!" she said. "It was Roma Roselli who knew David Leone, wasn't it? Well, Roma Roselli is dead and buried. Oh, I know all the story. You did that yourself, and now it cuts the ground from under you."
"My dear Roma," said the Baron, with a hard and angry face, "if I did anything in that matter, it was done for your welfare, but whatever it was, it need not disturb me now. Roma Roselli is not dead, and it would be easy to bring people from England to say so."
"You daren't! You know you daren't! It would expose them to persecution for perpetrating a crime."
"In England, not in Italy."
Roma's red eyes fell, and the Baron began to speak in a caressing voice:
"My child, don't fence with me. It is so painful to silence you.... It is perhaps natural that you should sympathise with the weaker side. That is the sweet and tender if illogical way of all women. But you must not imagine that when David Rossi has been arrested he will be walked off to his death. As a matter of fact, he must go through a new trial, he must be defended, his sentence would in any case be reduced to imprisonment, and it may even be wiped out altogether. That's all."
"All? And you ask me to help you to do that?"
"Then you could if you would?"
"Your first word was the better one, my child."
"Very well, I won't! I won't! Aren't you ashamed to ask me to do such a thing? According to your own story, David Leone was my father's friend, yet you wish me to give him up to the law that he may be imprisoned, perhaps for life, and at least turned out of Parliament. Do you suppose I am capable of treachery like that? Do you judge of everybody by yourself?... Ah, I know that story too! For shame! For shame!"
The Baron was silent for a moment, and then said in an impassive voice:
"I will not discuss that subject with you now, my child—you are excited, and don't quite know what you are saying. I will only point out to you that even if David Leone was your father's friend, David Rossi was your own enemy."
"What of that? It's my own affair, isn't it? If I choose to forgive him, what matter is it to anybody else? I do forgive him! Now, whose business is it except my own?"
"My dear Roma, I might tell you that it's mine also, and that the insult that went through you was aimed at me. But I will not speak of myself.... That you should change your plans so entirely, and setting out a month ago to ... to ... shall I say betray ... this man Rossi, you are now striving to save him, is a problem which admits of only one explanation, and that is that ... that you...."
"That I love him—yes, that's the truth," said Roma boldly, but flushing up to the eyes and trembling with fear.
There was a death-like pause in the duel. Both dropped their heads, and the silent face in the bust seemed to be looking down on them. Then the Baron's icy cheeks quivered visibly, and he said in a low, hoarse voice:
"I'm sorry! Very sorry! For in that case I may be compelled to justify your conclusion that a Minister has no humanity and no pity. If David Rossi cannot be arrested by the authorisation of Parliament, he must be arrested when Parliament is not in session, and then his identity will have to be established in a public tribunal. In that event you will be forced to appear, and having refused to make a private statement in the secrecy of a magistrate's office, you will be compelled to testify in the Court of Assize."
"Ah, but you can't make me do that!" cried Roma excitedly, as if seized by a sudden thought.
"Never mind why not. You can't do it, I tell you," she cried excitedly.
He looked at her as if trying to penetrate her meaning, and then said:
"We shall see."
At that moment the fretful voice of the Countess was heard calling to the Baron from the adjoining room.
Roma went to her bedroom when the Baron left her, and remained there until late in the afternoon. In spite of the bold front she had put on, she was quaking with terror and tortured by remorse. Never before had she realised David Rossi's peril with such awful vividness, and seen her own position in relation to him in its hideous nakedness.
Was it her duty to confess to David Rossi that at the beginning of their friendship she had set out to betray him? Only so could she be secure, only so could she be honest, only so could she be true to the love he gave her and the trust he reposed in her.