Yet why should she confess? The abominable impulse was gone. Something sweet and tender had taken its place. To confess to him now would be cruel. It would wound his beautiful faith in her.
And yet the seeds she had sown were beginning to fructify. They might spring up anywhere at any moment, and choke the life that was dearer to her than her own. Thank God, it was still impossible to injure him except by her will and assistance. But her will might be broken and her assistance might be forced, unless the law could be invoked to protect her against itself. It could and it should be invoked! When she was married to David Rossi no law in Italy would compel her to witness against him.
But if Rossi hesitated from any cause, if he delayed their marriage, if he replied unfavourably to the letter in which she had put aside all modesty and asked him to marry her soon—what then? How was she to explain his danger? How was she to tell him that he must marry her before Parliament rose, or she might be the means of expelling him from the Chamber, and perhaps casting him into prison for life? How was she to say: "I was Delilah; I set out to betray you, and unless you marry me the wicked work is done!"
The afternoon was far spent; she had eaten nothing since morning, and was lying face down on the bed, when a knock came to the door.
"The person in the studio to see you," said Felice.
It was Bruno in Sunday attire, with little Joseph in top-boots, and more than ever like the cub of a young lion.
"A letter from him," said Bruno.
It was from Rossi. She took it without a word of greeting, and went back to her bedroom. But when she returned a moment afterwards her face was transformed. The clouds had gone from it and the old radiance had returned. All the brightness and gaiety of her usual expression were there as she came swinging into the drawing-room and filling the air with the glow of health and happiness.
"That's all right," she said. "Tell Mr. Rossi I shall expect to see him soon ... or no, don't say that ... say that as he is over head and ears in work this week, he is not to think it necessary.... Oh, say anything you like," she said, and the pearly teeth and lovely eyes broke into an aurora of smiles.
Bruno, whose bushy face and shaggy head had never once been raised since he came into the room, said:
"He's busy enough, anyway—what with this big meeting coming off on Wednesday, and the stairs to his room as full of people as the Santa Scala."
"So you've brought little Joseph to see me at last?" said Roma.
"He has bothered my life out to bring him ever since you said he was to be your porter some day."
"And why not? Gentlemen ought to call on the ladies, oughtn't they, Joseph?"
And Joseph, whose curly poll had been hiding behind the leg of his father's trousers, showed half of a face that was shining all over.
"See! See here—do you know who this is? This gentleman in the bust?"
"Uncle David," said the boy.
"What a clever boy you are, Joseph!"
"Doesn't want much cleverness to know that, though," said Bruno. "It's wonderful! it's magnificent! And it will shut up all their damned ... excuse me, miss, excuse me."
"And Joseph still intends to be a porter?"
"Dead set on it, and says he wouldn't change his profession to be a king."
"Quite right, too! And now let us look at something a little birdie brought me the other day. Come along, Joseph. Here it is. Down on your knees, gentleman, and help me to drag it out. One—two—and away!"
From the knee-hole of the desk came a large cardboard box, and Joseph's eyes glistened like big black beads.
"Now, what do you think is in this box, Joseph? Can't guess? Give it up? Sure? Well, listen! Are you listening? Which do you think you would like best—a porter's cocked hat, or a porter's long coat, or a porter's mace with a gilt hat and a tassel?"
Joseph's face, which had gleamed at every item, clouded and cleared, cleared and clouded at the cruel difficulty of choice, and finally looked over at Bruno for help.
But Joseph only sidled over to his father, and whispered something which Roma could not hear.
"What does he say?"
"He says it is his birthday on Wednesday," said Bruno.
"Bless him! He shall have them all, then," said Roma, and Joseph's legs as well as his eyes began to dance.
The cords were cut, the box was opened, the wonderful hat and coat and mace were taken out, and Joseph was duly invested. In the midst of this ceremony Roma's black poodle came bounding into the room, and when Joseph strutted out of the boudoir into the drawing-room the dog went leaping and barking beside him.
"Dear little soul!" said Roma, looking after the child; but Bruno, who was sitting with his head down, only answered with a groan.
"What is the matter, Bruno?" she asked.
Bruno brushed his coat-sleeve across his eyes, set his teeth, and said with a savage fierceness:
"What's the matter? Treason's the matter, telling tales and taking away a good woman's character—that's what is the matter! A man who has been eating your bread for years has been lying about you, and he is a rascal and a sneak and a damned scoundrel, and I would like to kick him out of the house."
"And who has been doing all this, Bruno?"
"Myself! It was I who told Mr. Rossi the lies that made him speak against you on the day of the Pope's Jubilee, and when you asked him to come here, I warned him against you, and said you were only going to pay him back and ruin him."
"So you said that, did you?"
"Yes, I did."
"And what did Mr. Rossi say to you?"
"Say to me? 'She's a good woman,' says he, 'and if I have ever said otherwise, I take it all back, and am ashamed.'"
Roma, who had turned to the window, heaved a sigh and said: "It has all come out right in the end, Bruno. If you hadn't spoken against me to Mr. Rossi, he wouldn't have spoken against me in the piazza, and then he and I should never have met and known each other and been friends. All's well that ends well, you know."
"Perhaps so, but the miracle doesn't make the saint, and you oughtn't to keep me any longer."
"Do you mean that I ought to dismiss you?"
"Bruno," said Roma, "I am in trouble just now, and I may be in worse trouble by-and-by. I don't know how long I may be able to keep you as a servant, but I may want you as a friend, and if you leave me now...."
"Oh, put it like that, miss, and I'll never leave you, and as for your enemies...."
Bruno was doubling up the sleeve of his right arm, when Joseph and the poodle came back to the room. Roma received them with a merry cry, and there was much noise and laughter. At length the gorgeous garments were taken off, the cardboard box was corded, and Bruno and the boy prepared to go.
"You'll come again, won't you, Joseph?" said Roma, and the boy's face beamed.
"I suppose this little man means a good deal to his mother, Bruno?"
"Everything! I do believe she'd die, or disappear, or drown herself if anything happened to that boy."
"And Mr. Rossi?"
"He's been a second father to the boy ever since the young monkey was born."
"Well, Joseph must come here sometimes, and let me try and be a second mother to him too.... What is he saying now?"
Joseph had dragged down his father's head to whisper something in his ear.
"He says he's frightened of your big porter downstairs."
"Frightened of him! He is only a man, my precious! Tell him you are a little Roman boy, and he'll have to let you up. Will you remember? You will? That's right! By-bye!"
Before going to sleep that night, Roma switched on the light that hung above her head and read her letter again. She had been hoarding it up for that secret hour, and now she was alone with it, and all the world was still.
"MY DEAR ONE,—Your sweet letter brought me the intoxication of delight, and the momentous matter you speak of is under way. It is my turn to be ashamed of all the great to-do I made about the obstacles to our union when I see how courageous you can be. Oh, how brave women are—every woman who ever marries a man! To take her heart into her hands, and face the unknown in the fate of another being, to trust her life into his keeping, knowing that if he falls she falls too, and will never be the same again! What man could do it? Not one who was ever born into the world. Yet some woman does it every day, promising some man that she will—let me finish your quotation—
"'Meet, if thou require it, Both demands, Laying flesh and spirit In thy hands.'
"Don't think I am too much troubled about the Minghelli matter, and yet it is pitiful to think how merciless the world can be even in the matter of a man's name. A name is only a word, but it is everything to the man who bears it—honour or dishonour, poverty or wealth, a blessing or a curse. If it is a good name, everybody tries to take it away from him, but if it's a bad name and he has attempted to drop it, everybody tries to fix it on him afresh.
"The name I was compelled to leave behind me when I returned to Italy was a bad name in nothing except that it was the name of my father, and if the spies and ferrets of authority ever fix it upon me God only knows what mischief they may do. But one thing I know—that if they do fix my father's name upon me, and bring me to the penalties which the law has imposed on it, it will not be by help of my darling, my beloved, my brave, brave girl with the heart of gold.
"Dearest, I wrote to the Capitol immediately on receiving your letter, and to-morrow morning I will go down myself to see that everything is in train. I don't yet know how many days are necessary to the preparations, but earlier than Thursday it would not be wise to fix the event, seeing that Wednesday is the day of the great mass meeting in the Coliseum, and, although the police have proclaimed it, I have told the people they are to come. There is some risk at the outset, which it would be reckless to run, and in any case the time is short.
"Good-night! I can't take my pen off the paper. Writing to you is like talking to you, and every now and then I stop and shut my eyes, and hear your voice replying. Only it is myself who make the answers, and they are not half so sweet as they would be in reality. Ah, dear heart, if you only knew how my life was full of silence until you came into it, and now it is full of music! Good-night, again! "D. R.
"Just returned from the Capitol. The legal notice for the celebration of a marriage is longer than I expected. It seems that the ordinary term must be twelve days at least, covering two successive Sundays (on which the act of publication is posted on the board outside the office) and three days over. Only twelve days more, my dear one, and you will be mine, mine, mine, and all the world will know!"
It took Roma a good three-quarters of an hour to read this letter, for nearly every word seemed to be written out of a lover's lexicon, which bore secret meanings of delicious import, and imperiously demanded their physical response from the reader's lips. At length she put it between the pillow and her cheek, to help the sweet delusion that she was cheek to cheek with some one and had his strong, protecting arms about her. Then she lay a long time, with eyes open and shining in the darkness, trying in vain to piece together the features of his face. But in the first dream of her first sleep she saw him plainly, and then she ran, she raced, she rushed to his embrace.
Next day brought a message from the Baron:
"DEAR ROMA,—Come to the Palazzo Braschi to-morrow (Tuesday) morning at eleven o'clock. Don't refuse, and don't hesitate. If you do not come, you will regret it as long as you live, and reproach yourself for ever afterwards.—Yours, "BONELLI."
The Palazzo Braschi is a triangular palace, whereof one front faces to the Piazza Navona and the two other fronts to side streets. It is the official palace of the Minister of the Interior, usually the President of the Council and Prime Minister of Italy.
Roma arrived at eleven o'clock, and was taken to the Minister's room immediately, by way of an outer chamber, in which colleagues and secretaries were waiting their turn for an interview. The Baron was seated at a table covered with books and papers. There was a fur rug across his knees, and at his right hand lay a small ivory-handled revolver. He rose as Roma entered, and received her with his great but glacial politeness.
"How prompt! And how sweet you look to-day, my child! On a cheerless morning like this you bring the sun itself into a poor Minister's gloomy cabinet. Sit down."
"You wished to see me?" said Roma.
The Baron rested his elbow on the table, leaned his head on his hand, looked at her with his never-varying smile, and said:
"I hear you are to be congratulated, my dear."
She changed colour slightly.
"Are you surprised that I know?" he asked.
"Why should I be surprised?" she answered. "You know everything. Besides, this is published at the Capitol, and therefore common knowledge."
His smiling face remained perfectly impassive.
"Now I understand what you meant on Sunday. It is a fact that a wife cannot be called as a witness against her husband."
She knew he was watching her face as if looking into the inmost recesses of her soul.
"But isn't it a little courageous of you to think of marriage?"
"Why courageous?" she asked, but her eyes fell and the colour mounted to her cheek.
"Why courageous?" he repeated.
He allowed a short time to elapse, and then he said in a a low tone, "Considering the past, and all that has happened...."
Her eyelids trembled and she rose to her feet.
"If this is all you wish to say to me...."
"No, no! Sit down, my child. I sent for you in order to show you that the marriage you contemplate may be difficult, perhaps impossible."
"I am of age—there can be no impediment."
"There may be the greatest of all impediments, my dear."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean ... But wait! You are not in a hurry? A number of gentlemen are waiting to see me, and if you will permit me to ring for my secretary.... Don't move. Colleagues merely! They will not object to your presence. My ward, you know—almost a member of my own household. Ah, here is the secretary. Who now?"
"The Minister of War, the Prefect, Commendatore Angelelli, and one of his delegates," replied the secretary.
"Bring the Prefect first," said the Baron, and a severe-looking man of military bearing entered the room.
"Come in, Senator. You know Donna Roma. Our business is urgent—she will allow us to go on. I am anxious to hear how things stand and what you are doing."
The Prefect began on his report. Immediately the new law was promulgated by royal decree, he had sent out a circular to all the Mayors in his province, stating the powers it gave the police to dissolve associations and forbid public meetings.
"But what can we expect in the provincial towns, your Excellency, while in the capital we are doing nothing? The chief of all subversive societies is in Rome, and the directing mind is at large among ourselves. Listen to this, sir."
The Prefect took a newspaper from his pocket and began to read:
"ROMANS,—The new law is an attempt to deprive us of liberties which our fathers made revolutions to establish. It is, therefore, our duty to resist it, and to this end we must hold our meeting on the 1st of February according to our original intention. Only thus can we show the Government and the King what it is to oppose the public opinion of the world.... Meet in the Piazza del Popolo at sundown and walk to the Coliseum by way of the Corso. Be peaceful and orderly, and God put it into the hearts of your rulers to avert bloodshed."
"That is from the Sunrise?"
"Yes, sir, the last of many manifestoes. And what is the result? The people are flocking into Rome from every part of the province."
"And how many political pilgrims are here already?"
"Fifty thousand, sixty, perhaps a hundred thousand. It cannot be allowed to go on, your Excellency."
"It is a levee-en-masse certainly. What do you advise?"
"That the enemies of the Government and the State, whose erroneous conceptions of liberty have led to this burst of anarchist feelings, be left to the operation of the police laws."
The Baron glanced at Roma. Her face was flushed and her eyes were flashing.
"That," he said, "may be difficult, considering the number of the discontented. What is the strength of your police?"
"Seven hundred in uniform, four hundred in plain clothes, and five hundred and fifty municipal guards. Besides these, sir, there are three thousand Carabineers and eight thousand regular troops."
"Say twelve thousand five hundred armed men in all?"
"Precisely, and what is that against fifty, a hundred, perhaps a hundred and fifty thousand people?"
"You want the army at call?"
"Exactly! but above everything else we want the permission of the Government to deal with the greater delinquents, whether Deputies or not, according to the powers given us by the statute."
The Baron rose and held out his hand. "Thanks, Senator! The Government will consider your suggestions immediately. Be good enough to send in my colleague, the Minister of War."
When the Prefect left the room Roma rose to go.
"You cannot suppose this is very agreeable to me?" she said in an agitated voice.
"Wait! I shall not be long ... Ah, General Morra! Roma, you know the General, I think. Sit down, both of you.... Well, General, you hear of this levee-en-masse?"
"The Prefect is satisfied that the people are moved by a revolutionary organisation, and he is anxious to know what force we can put at his service to control it."
The General detailed his resources. There were sixteen thousand men always under arms in Rome, and the War Office had called up the old-timers of two successive years—perhaps fifty thousand in all.
"As a Minister of State and your colleague," said the General, "I am at one with you in your desire to safeguard the cause of order and protect public institutions, but as a man and a Roman I cannot but hope that you will not call upon me to act without the conditions required by law."
"Indeed, no," said the Baron; "and in order to make sure that our instructions are carried out with wisdom and humanity, let these be the orders you issue to your staff: First, that in case of disturbance to-morrow night, whether at the Coliseum or elsewhere, the officers must wait for the proper signal from the delegate of police."
"Next, that on receiving the order to fire, the soldiers must be careful that their first volley goes over the heads of the people."
"If that does not disperse the crowds, if they throw stones at the soldiers or otherwise resist, the second volley—I see no help for it—the second volley, I say, must be fired at the persons who are leading on the ignorant and deluded mob."
The General hesitated, and Roma, whose breathing came quick and short, gave him a look of tenderness and gratitude.
"You agree, General Morra?"
"I'm afraid I see no alternative. But if the blood of their leader only infuriates the people, is the third volley...."
"That," said the Baron, "is a contingency too terrible to contemplate. My prediction would be that when their leader falls, the poor, misguided people will fly. But in all human enterprises the last word has to be left to destiny. Let us leave it to destiny in the present instance. Adieu, dear General! Be good enough to tell my secretary to send in the Chief of Police."
The Minister of War left the room, and once more Roma rose to go.
"You cannot possibly imagine that a conversation like this...." she began, but the Baron only interrupted her again.
"Don't go yet. I shall be finished presently. Angelelli cannot keep me more than a moment. Ah, here is the Commendatore."
The Chief of Police came bowing and bobbing at every step, with the extravagant politeness which differentiates the vulgar man from the well-bred.
"About this meeting at the Coliseum, Commendatore—has any authorisation been asked for it?"
"None whatever, your Excellency."
"Then we may properly regard it as seditious?"
"Quite properly, your Excellency."
"Listen! You will put yourself into communication with the Minister of War immediately. He will place fifty thousand men at the disposition of your Prefect. Choose your delegates carefully. Instruct them well. At the first overt act of resistance, let them give the word to fire. After that, leave everything to the military."
"Quite so, your Excellency."
"Be careful to keep yourself in touch with me until midnight to-morrow. It may be necessary to declare a state of siege, and in that event the royal decree will have to be obtained without delay. Prepare your own staff for a general order. Ask for the use of the cannon of St. Angelo as a signal, and let it be understood that if the gun is fired to-morrow night, every gate of the city is to be closed, every outward train is to be stopped, and every telegraph office is to be put under control. You understand me?"
"After the signal has been given let no one leave the city, and let no telegraphic message of any kind be despatched. In short, let Rome from that hour onward be entirely under the control of the Government."
"Entirely, your Excellency."
"The military have already received their orders. After the call of the delegate of police, the first volley is to be fired over the heads of the people, and the second at the ringleaders. But if any of these should escape...."
The Baron paused, and then repeated in a low tone with the utmost deliberation:
"I say, if any of these should escape, Commendatore...."
"They shall not escape, your Excellency."
There was a moment of profound silence, in which Roma felt herself to be suffocating, and could scarcely restrain the cry that was rising in her throat.
"Let me go," she said, when the Chief of Police had backed and bowed himself out; but again the Baron pretended to misunderstand her.
"Only one more visitor! I shall be finished in a few minutes," and then Charles Minghelli was shown into the room.
The man's watchful eyes blinked perceptibly as he came face to face with Roma, but he recovered himself in a moment, and began to brush with his fingers the breast of his frockcoat.
"Sit down, Minghelli. You may speak freely before Donna Roma. You owe your position to her generous influence, you may remember, and she is abreast of all our business. You know all about this meeting at the Coliseum?"
Minghelli bent his head.
"The delegates of police have received the strictest orders not to give the word to the military until an overt act of resistance has been committed. That is necessary as well for the safety of our poor deluded people as for our own credit in the eyes of the world. But an act of rebellion in such a case is a little thing, Mr. Minghelli."
Again Minghelli bent his head.
"A blow, a shot, a shower of stones, and the peace is broken and the delegate is justified."
A third time Minghelli bent his head.
"Unfortunately, in the sorrowful circumstances in which the city is placed, an overt act of resistance is quite sure to be committed."
Minghelli flecked a speck of dust from his spotless cuff and said:
"Quite sure, your Excellency."
There was another moment of profound silence, in which Roma felt her heart beat violently.
"Adieu, Mr. Minghelli. Tell my secretary as you pass out that I wish to dictate a letter."
The letter was to the Minister of Foreign Affairs.
"Dear colleague," dictated the Baron, "I entirely approve of the proposal you have made to the Governments of Europe and America to establish a basis on which anarchists should be suppressed by means of an international net, through which they can hardly escape. My suggestion would be the universal application of the Belgian clause in all existing extradition treaties, whereby persons guilty of regicide may be dealt with as common murderers. In any case please say that the Government of Italy intends to do its duty to the civilised world, and will look to the Governments of other countries to allow it to follow up and arrest the criminals who are attempting to reconstruct society by burying it under ruins."
Notwithstanding all her efforts to appear calm, Roma felt as if she must go out into the streets and scream. Now she knew why she had been sent for. It was in order that the Baron might talk to her in parables—in order that he might show her by means of an object lesson, as palpable as pitiless, what was the impediment which made her marriage with David Rossi impossible.
The marriage could not be celebrated until after eleven days, but the meeting at the Coliseum must take place to-morrow, and as surely as it did so it must result in riot and David Rossi must be shot.
The secretary gathered up his note-book and left the room, and then the Baron turned to Roma with beaming eyes and lips expanding to a smile.
"Finished at last! A thousand apologies, my dear! Twelve o'clock already! Let us go out and lunch somewhere."
"Let me go home," said Roma.
She was trembling violently, and as she rose to her feet she swayed a little.
"My dear child! you're not well. Take this glass of water."
"It's nothing. Let me go home."
The Baron walked with her to the head of the staircase.
"I understand you perfectly," she said in a choking voice, "but there is something you have not counted upon, and you are quite mistaken."
And making a great call on her resolution, she threw up her head and walked firmly down the stairs.
Immediately on reaching home she wrote to David Rossi:
"I must see you to-night. Where can it be? To-night! Mind, to-night. To-morrow will be too late. ROMA."
Bruno delivered the note by hand, and brought back an answer:
"DEAREST,—Come to the office at nine o'clock. Sorry I cannot go to you. It is impossible. D. R.
"P.S.—You have converted Bruno, and he would die for you. As for the 'little Roman boy,' he is in the seventh heaven over your presents, and says he must go up to Trinita de' Monti to begin work at once."
The office of the Sunrise at nine o'clock that night tingled with excitement. A supplement had already gone to press, and the machines in the basement were working rapidly. In the business office on the first floor people were constantly coming and going, and the footsteps on the stairs of the composing-room sounded through the walls like the irregular beat of a hammer.
The door of the editor's room was frequently swinging open, as reporters with reports, messengers with telegrams, and boys with proofs came in and laid them on the desk at which the sub-editor sat at work.
David Rossi stood by his desk at the farther end of the room. This was the last night of his editorship of the Sunrise, and by various silent artifices the staff were showing their sympathy with the man who had made the paper and was forced to leave it.
The excitement within the office of the Sunrise corresponded to the commotion outside. The city was in a ferment, and from time to time unknown persons, the spontaneous reporters of tumultuous days, were brought in from the outer office to give the editor the latest news of the night. Another trainful of people had arrived from Milan! Still another from Bologna and Carrara! The storm was growing! Soon would be heard the crash of war! Their faces were eager and their tone was one of triumph. They pitched their voices high, so as to be heard above the reverberation of the machines, whose deep thud in the rooms below made the walls vibrate like the side of a ship at sea.
David Rossi did not catch the contagion of their joy. At every fresh announcement his face clouded. The unofficial head of the surging and straining democracy, which was filling itself hourly with hopes and dreams, was unhappy and perplexed. He was trying to write his last message to his people, and he could not get it clear because his own mind was confused.
"Romans," he wrote first, "your rulers are preparing to resist your right of meeting, and you will have nothing to oppose to the muskets and bayonets of their soldiers but the bare breasts of a brave but peaceful people. No matter. Fifty, a hundred, five hundred of you killed at the first volley, and the day is won! The reactionary Government of Italy—all the reactionary Governments of Europe—will be borne down lay the righteous indignation of the world."
It would not do! He had no right to lead the people to certain slaughter, and he tore up his manifesto and began again.
"Romans," he wrote the second time, "when reforms cannot be effected without the spilling of blood, the time for them has not yet come, and it is the duty of a brave and peaceful people to wait for the silent operation of natural law and the mighty help of moral forces. Therefore at the eleventh hour I call upon you, in the names of your wives and children...."
It was impossible! The people would think he was afraid, and the opportune moment would be lost.
One man in the office of the Sunrise was entirely outside the circle of its electric currents. This was the former day-editor, who had been appointed by the proprietors to take Rossi's place, and was now walking about with a silk hat on his head, taking note of everything and exercising a premature and gratuitous supervision.
David Rossi was tearing up the second of his manifestoes when this person came to say that a lady in the outer office was asking to see him.
"Show her into the private waiting-room," said Rossi.
"But may I suggest," said the man, "that considering who the lady is, it would perhaps be better to see her elsewhere?"
"Show her into the private room, sir," said Rossi, and the man shrugged his shoulders and disappeared.
As David Rossi opened the door of a small room at his right hand, something rustled lightly in the corridor outside, and a moment afterwards Roma glided into his arms. She was pale and nervous, and after a moment she began to cry.
"Dear one," said Rossi, pressing her head against his breast, "what has happened? Tell me! Something has frightened you. You look anxious."
"No wonder," she said, and then she told him of her summons to the Palazzo Braschi, and of the business she saw done there.
There was to be a riot at the meeting at the Coliseum, because, if need be, the Government itself would provoke violence. The object was to kill him, not the people, and if he stayed in Rome until to-morrow night there would be no possibility of escape.
"You must fly," she said. "You are the victim marked out by all these preparations—you, you, nobody but you."
"It is the best news I've heard for days," he said. "If I am the only one who runs a risk...."
"Risk! My dearest, don't you understand? Your life is aimed at, and you must fly before it is quite impossible."
"It is already impossible," he answered.
He drew off one of her white gloves and kissed her finger-tips. "My dear one," he said, "if there were nothing else to think of, do you suppose I could go away and leave you behind me? That is just what somebody expected me to do when he permitted you to witness his preparations. But he was mistaken. I cannot and I will not leave you."
Her pale face was suddenly overspread by a burning blush, and she threw both arms about his neck.
"Very well," she said, "I will go with you."
"Darling!" he cried, and he clasped her to his breast again. "But no! That is impossible also. Our marriage cannot take place for ten days."
"No matter! I'll go without it."
"My dear child, you don't know what you are saying. You are too good, too pure...."
"Hush! Our marriage is nothing to anybody but ourselves, and if we choose to go without it...."
"My dear girl!"
"I can't hear you," she said. Loosening her hands from his neck, she had covered her ears.
"Dearest, I know what you are thinking of, but it must not be."
"I can't hear a word you're saying," she said, beating her hands over her ears. "I'm ready to go now, this very minute—and if you don't take me, it is because you love other things better than you love me."
"My darling, don't tempt me. If you only knew what it costs me ... but I would rather die...."
"I don't want you to die. That's just it! I want you to live, and I am willing to risk everything—everything...."
Her warm and lovely form was quivering in his arms, and his heart was labouring wildly.
"Dearest," he whispered over her head, "you are so good, so pure, so noble, that you don't know how evil tongues can wag at a woman because she is brave and true. But I must remember my mother—and if your poor father is to rest in his grave...."
His voice broke and he stopped.
"See how much I love you," he whispered again, "when I would rather lose you than see you lower yourself in your own esteem.... And then think of my people! my poor people who trust me and look up to me so much more than I deserve. I called them and they have come. They are here now, tens of thousands of them. And they will be here to-morrow wherever I may be. Shall I desert them in their hour of need, thinking of my own safety, my own happiness? No! You cannot wish it! You do not wish it! I know you too well!"
She lifted her head from his breast. "You are right," she said. "You must stay."
"My sweet girl!"
"Can you ever forgive me for being frightened at the first note of danger and telling you to fly?"
"I will always love you for it."
"And you will never think the worse of me for offering to go with you?"
"I will love you for that too."
"I must be brave," she said, drawing herself up proudly, though her lips were trembling, her voice was breaking, and her eyes were wet. "Whether you are right or wrong in what you are doing it is not for me to decide, but if your heart tells you to do it you must do it, and I must be your soldier, ready and waiting for my captain's call."
"My brave girl!"
"It is not for nothing that I am my father's daughter. He risked everything and so will I, and if they come to me to-morrow night and say that ... that you ... that you are...."
The proud face had fallen on his breast again. But after a moment it was raised afresh, and then it was shining all over.
"That's right! How beautiful your face is when it smiles, Roma! Roma, do you know what I'm going to do when this is all over? I'm going to spend my life in making you smile all the time."
She gave him a sudden kiss, and then broke out of his arms.
"I must be going. I've stayed too long. I may not see you before the meeting, but I won't say 'good-bye.' I've thought of something, and now I know what I'm going to do."
"What is it?"
"Don't ask me."
She opened the door.
"Come to me to-morrow night—I shall expect you," she whispered, and waving her glove to him over her head she disappeared from the room.
He stood a moment where she had left him, trying to think what she intended to do, and then he returned to his desk in the outer office. His successor was there, looking sour and stubborn.
"Mr. Rossi," he said, "this afternoon I was told at the Press Club that the authorities were watching for a plausible excuse for suppressing the paper; and considering the relations of this lady to the Minister of the Interior, and the danger of spies...."
"Listen to this carefully, sir," interrupted Rossi. "When you come into possession of the chair I occupy, you may do as you think well, but to-night it is mine, and I shall conduct the paper as I please."
"Still, you will allow me to say...."
"Not one word."
"Permit me to protest...."
"Leave the room immediately."
When the man was gone, David Rossi wrote a third and last version of his manifesto:
"Romans.—Have no fear. Do not allow yourselves to be terrified by the military preparations of your Government. Believe a man who has never deceived you—the soldiers will not fire upon the people! Violate no law. Assail no enemy. Respect property. Above all, respect life. Do not allow yourself to be pushed into the doctrine of physical force. If any man tries to provoke violence, think him an agent of your enemies and pay no heed. Be brave, be strong, be patient, and to-morrow night you will send up such a cry as will ring throughout the world. Romans, remember your fathers and be great."
Rossi was handing his manuscript to the sub-editor, that it might be sent upstairs, when all at once the air seemed to become empty and the world to stand still. The machine in the basement had ceased to work. There was a momentary pause, such as comes on a steamship at sea when the engines are suddenly stopped, and then a sound of frightened voices and the noise of hurrying feet. Somebody ran along the corridor outside and rapped sharply at the door.
At the next moment the door opened and four men entered the room. One of them was an inspector, another was a delegate, and the others were policemen in plain clothes.
"The journal is sequestered," said the inspector to David Rossi. And turning to one of his men, he said, "Go up to the composing-room and superintend the distribution of the type."
"Allow no one to leave the building," said the delegate to the other policeman.
"Gentlemen," said the inspector, "we are charged to make a perquisition, and must ask you for the keys of your desks."
"What is this?" said the delegate, taking the manifesto out of Rossi's fingers, and proceeding to read it.
At that moment the editor-elect came rushing into the room with a face like the rising sun.
"I demand to see a list of the things sequestered," he cried.
"You shall do so at the police-office," said the inspector.
"Does that mean that we are all arrested?"
"Not all. The Honourable Rossi, being a Deputy, is at liberty to leave."
"Thought as much," said the new editor, with a contemptuous snort. And turning to Rossi, and showing his teeth in a bitter smile, he said: "What did I say would happen? Has it followed quickly enough to satisfy you?"
The inspector and the delegate opened the editors' desks and were rummaging among their papers when David Rossi put on his hat and went home.
At the door of the lodge the old Garibaldian was waiting in obvious excitement.
"Old John has been here, sir," he said. "Something to tell you. Wouldn't tell me. But Bruno got it out of him at last. Must be something serious, for the big booby has been drinking ever since. Hear him in the cafe, sir. I'll send him up."
Half-an-hour afterwards Bruno staggered into Rossi's room. He had a tearful look in his drink-deadened eyes, and was clearly struggling with a desire to put his arms about Rossi's neck and weep over him.
"D'ye know wha'?" he mumbled in a maudlin voice. "Ole Vampire is a villain! Ole John—'member ole John?—well, ole John heard his grandson, the d'ective, say that if you go to the Coliseum to-morrow night...."
"I know all about it, Bruno. You may go to bed."
"Stop a minute, sir," said Bruno, with a melancholy smile. "You don't unnerstand. They're going t' shoot you. See? Ole John—'member ole John? Well, ole John...."
"I know, Bruno. But I'm going nevertheless."
Bruno fought with the vapour in his brain, and said: "You don' mean t' say you inten' t' let yourself be a target...."
"That's what I do mean, Bruno."
Bruno burst into a loud laugh. "Well, I'll be ... wha' the devil.... But you sha'n't go. I'll ... I'll see you damned first!"
"You're drunk, Bruno. Go and put yourself to bed."
The drink-deadened eyes flashed, and to grief succeeded rage. "Pu' mysel t' bed! D'ye know wha' I'd like t' do t' you for t' nex' twenty-four hours? I'd jus' like—yes, by Bacchus—I'd jus' like to punch you in t' belly and put you t' bed."
And straightening himself up with drunken dignity, Bruno stalked out of the room.
* * * * *
The Baron Bonelli in the Piazza Leone was rising from his late and solitary dinner when Felice entered the shaded dining-room and handed him a letter from Roma. It ran:
"This is to let you know that I intend to be present at the meeting in the Coliseum to-morrow night. Therefore, if any shots are to be fired by the soldiers at the crowd or their leader, you will know beforehand that they must also be fired at me."
As the Baron held the letter under the red shade of the lamp, the usual immobility of his icy face gave way to a rapturous expression.
"The woman is magnificent! And worth fighting for to the bitter end."
Then, turning to Felice, he told the man to ring up the Commendatore Angelelli and tell him to send for Minghelli without delay.
Next day began with heavy clouds lying low over the city, a cold wind coming down from the mountains, and the rumbling of distant thunder. Nevertheless the people who had come to Rome for the demonstration at the Coliseum seemed to be in the streets the whole day long. From early morning they gathered in the Piazza Navona, inquired for David Rossi, stood by the fountains, and looked up at his windows.
As the day wore on the crowds increased.
All the public squares seemed to be full of motley, ill-clad, ill-nourished, but formidable multitudes. Towards evening the tradesmen began to shut up their shops, and a regiment of cavalry paraded the principal streets with a band that played the royal march.
Meantime, the leader, to whom thousands were looking up, was miserable and alone. He had cried "Peace," but the perils of protest were so many and so near. A blow, a push, a quarrel at a street corner, and God knows what might happen!
Elena came with his coffee. The timid creature kept looking at him out of her liquid eyes as if struggling with a desire to speak, but when she did so it was only on indifferent subjects.
Bruno had got up with a headache and gone off to work. Little Joseph was very trying this morning, and she had threatened to whip him.
Her father had been upstairs to say that countless people were asking for the Deputy, and he wished to know if anybody was to come up.
"Tell him I wish to be quite alone to-day," said Rossi, and then the soft voice ceased, and the timid creature went out with a guilty look.
Like a man who is going on a long and perilous journey, David Rossi spent the morning in arranging his affairs. He looked over his letters and destroyed most of them. The letters from Roma were hard to burn, but he read each of them again, as if trying to stamp their words and characters on his brain, and with a deep sigh he committed them to the flames.
It was twelve o'clock by this time, and Francesca, in her red cotton handkerchief, brought up his lunch. The good old thing looked at him with a comical expression of pity on her wrinkled face, and he knew that Bruno had told his story.
"Come now, my son! Put away your papers and get something on your stomach. People eat even if they're going to the gallows, you know."
After lunch Rossi called upstairs for Joseph, and the shock-headed little cub was brought down, with his wet eyes twinkling and his petted lip beginning to smile.
"Joseph has been naughty, Uncle David," said Elena. "He is crying for the clothes Donna Roma gave him, and he says he must go out because it is his birthday."
"Does a man cry when he is seven?" said Uncle David.
Thereupon Joseph, keeping his eyes upon his mother, whispered something in Uncle David's ear, and straightway the gorgeous garments were produced.
"Joseph will promise not to go out to-day; won't you, Joseph?"
And Joseph rolled his fists into his eyes and was understood to say "Yes."
At four o'clock Bruno came home, looking grim and resolute.
"I was pretty drunk last night, sir," he said, "but if there's shooting to be done this evening I'm going to be there."
The time came for the two men to go, and everybody saw them to the door.
"Adieu!" said Rossi. "Thank you for all you've done for me, and may God bless you! Take care of my little Roman boy. Kiss me, Joseph! Again! For the last time! Adieu!"
"Ah, God is a good old saint. He'll take care of you, my son," said the old woman.
"Adieu, Uncle David! Adieu, papa!" cried Joseph over the banisters, and the brave little voice, with its manly falsetto, was the last the men heard as they descended the stairs.
The Piazza del Popolo was densely crowded, and seemed to be twice as large as usual. Bruno elbowed a way through for himself and Rossi until they came to the obelisk in the centre of the great circle. On the steps of the obelisk a company of artillery was stationed with a piece of cannon which commanded the three principal thoroughfares of the city, the Corso, the Ripetta, and the Babunio, which branch off from that centre like the ribs from the handle of a fan. Without taking notice of the soldiers, the people ranged themselves in order and prepared for their procession. At the ringing of Ave Maria the great crowd linked in files and turned their faces towards the Corso.
Bruno walked first, carrying from his stalwart breast a standard, on which was inscribed, under the title of the "Republic of Man," the words, "Give us this day our daily bread." Rossi had meant to walk immediately behind Bruno, but he found himself encircled by a group of his followers. No sovereign was ever surrounded by more watchful guards.
By the spontaneous consent of the public, traffic in the street was suspended, and crowds of the people of the city had turned out to look on. The four tiers of the Pincian Hill were packed with spectators, and every window and balcony in the Corso was filled with faces. All the shops were shut, and many of them were barricaded within and without. A regiment of infantry was ranged along the edge of the pavement, and the people passed between two lines of rifles.
As the procession went on it was constantly augmented, and the column, which had been four abreast when it started from the Popolo, was eight abreast before it reached the end of the Corso. There were no bands of music, and there was no singing, but at intervals some one at the head of the procession would begin to clap, and then the clapping of hands would run down the street like the rattle of musketry.
Going up the narrow streets beyond the Venezia, the people passed into the Forum—out of the living city of the present into the dead city of the past, with its desolation and its silence, its chaos of broken columns and cornices, of corbels and capitals, of wells and watercourses, lying in the waste where they had been left by the earthquake which had passed over them, the earthquake of the ages—and so on through the arch of Titus to the meeting-place in the Coliseum.
All this time David Rossi's restless eyes had passed nervously from side to side. Coming down the Corso he had been dimly conscious of eyes looking at him from windows and balconies. He was struggling to be calm and firm, but he was in a furnace of dread, and beneath his breath he was praying from time to time that God would prevent accident and avert bloodshed. He was also praying for strength of spirit and feeling like a guilty coward. His face was deadly pale, the fire within seemed to consume the grosser senses, and he walked along like a man in a dream.
Half-an-hour before Ave Maria, Roma had put on an inconspicuous cloak, a plain hat, and a dark veil, and walked down to the Coliseum. Soldiers were stationed on all the high ground about the circus, and large numbers of persons were already assembled inside. The people were poor and ill-clad, and they smelt of garlic and uncleanness. "His people, though," thought Roma, and so she conquered her repulsion.
Three tiers encircle the walls of the Coliseum, like the galleries of a great theatre, and the lowest of these was occupied by a regiment of Carabineers. There was some banter and chaff at the expense of the soldiers, but the people were serious for all that, and the excitement beneath their jesting was deep and strong.
The low cloud which had hung over the city from early morning seemed to lie like a roof over the topmost circle of the amphitheatre, and as night came on the pit below grew dark and chill. Then torches were lit and put in prominent places—long pitch sticks covered with rags or brown paper. The people were patient and good-humoured, but to beguile the tedium of waiting they sang songs. They were songs of labour chiefly, but one man started the Te Deum, and the rest joined in with one voice. It was like the noise the sea makes on a heavy day when it breaks on a bank of sand.
After a while there was a deep sound from outside. The procession was approaching. It came on like a great tidal wave and flowed into the vast place in the gathering darkness with the light of a hundred fresh torches.
In less than half-an-hour the ruined amphitheatre was a moving mass of heads from the ground to its upmost storey. Long sinuous trails of blue smoke swept across the people's faces, and the great brown mass of circular stones was lit up in fitful gleams.
Roma was lifted off her feet by the breaker of human beings that surged around. At one moment she was conscious of some one behind who was pressing the people back and making room for her. At the next moment she was aware that through the multitudinous murmur of voices that rumbled as in a vault somebody near her was trying to speak.
The speaking ceased and there was a sharp crackle of applause which had the effect of producing silence. In this silence another voice, a clear, loud, vibrating voice, said, "Romans and brothers," and then there was a prolonged shout of recognition from ten thousand throats.
In a moment a dozen torches were handed up, and the speaker was in a circle of light and could be seen by all. It was Rossi. He was standing bareheaded on a stone, with a face of unusual paleness. He was wearing the loose cloak of the common people of Rome, thrown across his breast and shoulder. Bruno stood by his left side holding a standard above their heads. At his right hand were two other men who partly concealed him from the crowd. Roma found herself immediately below them, and within two or three paces.
After a moment the shouting died down, and there was no sound in the vast place but a soft, quick, indrawn hiss that was like the palpitating breath of an immense flock of sheep. Then Rossi began again.
"First and foremost," he said, "let me call on you to preserve the peace. One false step to-night and all is lost. Our enemies would like to fix on us the name of rebels. Rebels against whom? There is no rebellion except rebellion against the people. The people are the true sovereigns, and the only rebels are the classes who oppress them."
A murmur of assent broke from the crowd. Rossi paused, and looked around at the soldiers.
"Romans," he said, "do not let the armed rebels of the State provoke you to violence. It is to their interest to do so. Defeat them. You have come here in the face of their rifles and bayonets to show that you are not afraid of death. But I ask you to be afraid of doing an unrighteous thing. It is on my responsibility that you are here, and it would be an undying remorse to me if through any fault of yours one drop of blood were shed.
"I call on you as earnestly as if my nearest and dearest were among you, liable to be shot down by the rifles of the military, not to give any excuse for violence."
Roma turned to look at the soldiers. As far as she could see in the uncertain light, they were standing passively in their circle, with their rifles by their sides.
"Romans," said Rossi again, "a month ago we protested against an iniquitous tax on the first necessary of life. The answer is sixty thousand men in arms around us. Therefore we are here to-night to appeal to the mightiest force on earth, mightier than any army, more powerful than any parliament, more absolute than any king—the force of moral sympathy and public opinion throughout the world."
At this there were shouts of "Bravo!" and some clapping of hands.
"Romans, if your bread is moistened by tears to-day, think of the power of suffering and be strong. Think of the history of these old walls. Think of the words of Christ, 'Which of the prophets have not your fathers stoned?' The prophets of humanity have all been martyrs, and God has marked you out to be the martyr nation of the world. Suffering is the sacred flame that sanctifies the human soul. Pray to God for strength to suffer, and He will bless you from the heights of Heaven."
People were weeping on every hand.
"Brothers, you are hungry, and I say these things to you with a beating heart. Your children are starving, and I swear before God that from this day forward I will starve with them. If I have eaten two meals a day hitherto, for the future I will eat but one. But leave it to the powers that are over you to do their worst. If they imprison you for resisting their tyrannies, others will take your place. If they kill your leader, God will raise up another who will be stronger than he. Swear to me in this old Coliseum, sacred to the martyrs, that, come what may, you will not yield to injustice and wrong."
There was something in Rossi's face at that last moment that seemed to transcend the natural man. He raised his right arm over his head and in a loud voice cried, "Swear!"
The people took the oath with uplifted hands and a great shout. It was terrible.
Rossi stepped down, and the excitement was overwhelming. The vast crowd seemed to toss to and fro under the smoking lights like a tumultuous sea. The simple-hearted Roman populace could not contain themselves.
The crowd began to break up, and the people went off singing. Rossi and his group of friends had disappeared when Roma turned to go. She found herself weeping and singing, too, but for another reason. The danger was passed, and all was over!
Going out by one of the arches, she was conscious of somebody walking beside her. Presently a voice said:
"You don't recognise me in the darkness, Donna Roma?"
It was Charles Minghelli. He had been told to take care of her. Could he offer her his escort home?
"No, thank you," she replied, and she was surprised at herself that she experienced no repulsion.
Her heart was light, a great weight had been lifted away, and she felt a large and generous charity. At the top of the hill she found a cab, and as it dipped down the broad avenue that leads out of the circle of the dead centuries into the world of living men, she turned and looked back at the Coliseum. It was like a dream. The moving lights—the shadows of great heads on the grim old walls—the surging crowds—the cheers from hoarse throats. But the tinkle of the electric tram brought her back to reality, and then she noticed that it had begun to snow.
* * * * *
Bruno ploughed a way for David Rossi, and they reached home at last.
Elena was standing at the door of David Rossi's rooms, with an agitated face.
"Have you seen anything of Joseph?" she asked.
"I opened the window to look if you were coming, and in a moment he was gone. On a night like this, too, when it isn't too safe for anybody to be in the streets."
"Has he still got the clothes on?" said Bruno.
"Yes, and the naughty boy has broken his promise and must be whipped."
The men looked into each other's faces.
"Donna Roma?" said Rossi.
"I'll go and see," said Bruno.
"I must have a rod, whatever you say. I really must!" said Elena.
Roma reached home in a glow of joy. She told herself that Rossi would come to her in obedience to her command. He must dine with her to-night. Seven was now striking on all the clocks outside, and to give him time to arrive she put back the dinner until eight. Her aunt would dine in her own room, so they would be quite alone. The conventions of life had fallen absolutely away, and she considered them no more.
Meantime she must dress and perhaps take a bath. A certain sense of soiling which she could not conquer had followed her up from that glorious meeting. She felt a little ashamed of it, but it was there, and though she told herself "They were his people, poor things," she was glad to take off the clothes she had worn at the Coliseum.
She combed out the curls of her glossy black hair, put herself into a loose tea gown and red slippers, took one backward glance at herself in the glass, and then going into the drawing-room, she stood by the window to dream and wait. The snow still fell in thin flakes, but the city was humming on, and the piazza down below was full of people.
After a while the electric bell of the outer door was rung, and her heart beat against her breast. "It's he," she thought, and in the exquisite tumult of the moment she lifted her arms and turned to meet him.
But when the door was opened it was the Baron Bonelli who was shown into the room. He was in evening dress, with black tie and studs which had a chilling effect, and his manner was as cold and calm as usual.
"I regret," he said, "that we must enter on a painful interview."
"As you please," she answered, and sitting on a stool by the fire she rested her elbows on her knees, and looked straight before her.
"Your letter of last night, my dear, produced the result you desired. I sent for Commendatore Angelelli, invented some plausible excuses, and reversed my orders. I also sent for Minghelli and told him to take care of you on your reckless errand. The matter has thus far ended as you wished, and I trust you are satisfied."
She nodded her head without turning round, and bore herself with a certain air of defiance.
"But it is necessary that we should come to an understanding," he continued. "You have driven me hard, my child. With all the tenderness and sympathy possible, I am compelled to speak plainly. I wished to spare your feelings. You will not permit me to do so."
The incisiveness of his speech cut the air like ice dropping from a glacier, and Roma felt herself turning pale with a sense of something fearful whirling around her.
"According to your own plans, Rossi is to marry you within a week, although a month ago he spoke of you in public as an unworthy woman. Will you be good enough to tell me how this miracle has come to pass?"
She laughed, and tried to carry herself bravely.
"If it is a miracle, how can I explain it?" she said.
"Then permit me to do so. He is going to marry you because he no longer thinks as he thought a month ago; because he believes he was wrong in what he said, and would like to wipe it out entirely."
"He is going to marry me because he loves me," she answered hotly; "that's why he is going to marry me."
At the next moment a faintness came over her, and a misty vapour flashed before her sight. In her anger she had torn open a secret place in her own heart, and something in the past of her life seemed to escape as from a tomb.
"Then you have not told him?" said the Baron in so low a voice that he could scarcely be heard.
"Told him what?" she said.
"The truth—the fact."
She caught her breath and was silent.
"My child, you are doing wrong. There is a secret between you already. That is a bad basis to begin life upon, and the love that is raised on it will be a house built on the sand."
Her heart was beating violently, but she turned on him with a burning glance.
"What do you mean?" she said, while the colour increased in her cheeks and forehead. "I am a good woman. You know I am."
"To me, yes! The best woman in the world."
She had risen to her feet, and was standing by the chimney-piece.
"Understand me, my child," he said affectionately. "When I say you are doing wrong, it is only in keeping a secret from the man you intend to marry. Between you and me ... there is no secret."
She looked at him with haggard eyes.
"For me you are everything that is sweet and good, but for another who knows? When a man is about to marry a woman, there is one thing he can never forgive. Need I say what that is?"
The glow that had suffused her face changed to the pallor of marble, and she turned to the Baron and stood over him with the majesty of a statue.
"Is it you that tell me this?" she said. "You—you? Can a woman never be allowed to forget? Must the fault of another follow her all her life? Oh, it is cruel! It is merciless.... But no matter!" she said in another voice; and turning away from him she added, as if speaking to herself: "He believes everything I tell him. Why should I trouble?"
The Baron followed her with a look that pierced to the depths of her soul.
"Then you have told him a falsehood?" he said.
She pressed her lips together and made no answer.
"That was foolish. By-and-by somebody may come along who will tell him the truth."
"What can any one tell him that he has not heard already? He has heard everything, and put it all behind his back."
"Could nobody bring conviction to his mind? Nobody whatever? Not even one who had no interest in slandering you?"
"You don't mean that you...."
"Why not? He has come between us. What could be more natural than that I should tell him so?"
A look of dismay came over her face, and it was followed by an expression of terror.
"But you wouldn't do that," she stammered. "You couldn't do it. It is impossible. You are only trying me."
His face remained perfectly passive, and she seized him by the arm.
"Think! Only think! You would do no good for yourself. You might stop the marriage—yes! But you wouldn't carry out your political purpose. You couldn't! And while you would do no good for yourself, think of the harm you would do for me. He loves me, and you would hurt his beautiful faith in me, and I should die of grief and shame."
"You are cruel, my child," said the Baron, speaking with dignity. "You think I am hard and unrelenting, but you are selfish and cruel. You are so concerned about your own feelings that you don't even suspect that perhaps you are wounding mine."
"Ah, yes, it is too bad," she said, dropping to her knees at his feet. "After all, you have been very good to me thus far, and it was partly my own fault if matters ended as they did. Yes, I confess it. I was vain and proud. I wanted all the world. And when you gave me everything, being so tied yourself, I thought I might forgive you.... But I was wrong—I was to blame—nothing in the world could excuse you—I saw that the moment afterwards. I really hadn't thought at all until then—but then my soul awoke. And then...."
She turned her head aside that he might not see her face.
"And then love came, and I was like a woman who had married a man thirty years older than herself—married without love—just for the sake of her pride and vanity. But love, real love, drove all that away. It is gone now; I only wish to lead a good life, however simple and humble it may be. Let me do so!... Do not take him away from me! Do not...."
She stammered and stopped, with a sudden consciousness of what she was doing.
"What a fool I am!" she said, leaping to her feet. "What fresh story can you tell him that he is likely to believe?"
"I can tell him that, according to the law of nature and of reason, you belong to me," said the Baron.
"Very well! It will be your word against mine, will it not? Tell him, and he will fling your insult in your face."
The Baron rose and began to walk about the room, and there were some moments in which nothing could be heard but the slight creaking of his patent-leather boots. Then he said:
"In that case I should be compelled to challenge him."
"Challenge him!" She repeated the words with scorn. "Is it likely? Do you forget that duelling is a crime, that you are a Minister, that you would have to resign, and expose yourself to penalties?"
"If a man insults me grievously in my affections and my honour, I will challenge him," said the Baron.
"But he will not fight—it would be contrary to his principles," said Roma.
"In that event he will never be able to lift his head in Italy again. But make no mistake on that point, my child. The man who is told that the woman he is going to marry is secretly the wife of another must either believe it or he must not. If he believes it, he casts her off for ever. If he does not believe it, he fights for her name and his own honour. If he does neither, he is not a man."
Roma had returned to the stool, and was resting her elbows on her knees and gazing into the fire.
"Have you thought of that?" said the Baron. "If the man fights a duel, it will be in defence of what you have told him. In the blindness of his belief in your word he will be ready to risk his life for it. Are you going to stand by and see him fight for a lie?"
Roma hid her face in her hands.
"Say he is wounded—it will be for a lie! Say he wounds his adversary—that will be for a lie too! Say that David Rossi kills me—what then? He must fly from Italy, and his career is at an end. If he is alone, he is a miserable exile who has earned what he may not enjoy. If you are with him, you are both miserable, for a lie stands between you. Every hour of your life is poisoned by the secret you cannot share with him. You are afraid of blurting it out in your sleep. At last you go to him and confess everything. What then? The idol he worshipped has turned to clay. What he thought an act of retribution is a crime. The dead man had told the truth, and he committed murder on the word of a woman who was a deceiver—a drab."
Roma raised her hands to her head as if to avert a blow.
"Stop! stop!" she cried in a choking voice, and lifting her face, distorted with suffering, tears rose in her eyes. To see Roma cry touched the only tenderness of which his iron nature was capable. He patted the beautiful head at his feet, and said in a caressing tone:
"Why will you make me seem so hard, my child? There is really no need to talk of these things. They will not occur. How can I have any desire to degrade you since I must degrade myself at the same time? I have no wish to tell any one the secret which belongs only to you and me. In that matter you were not to blame either. It was all my doing. I was sweltering under the shameful law which tied me to a dead body, and I tried to attach you to me. And then your beauty—your loveliness...."
At that moment Felice announced Commendatore Angelelli. Roma walked over to the window and leaned her face against the glass. Snow was still falling, and there were some rumblings of thunder. Sheets of light shone here and there in the darkness, but the world outside was dark and drear. Would David Rossi come to-night? She almost hoped he would not.
Behind her the Prime Minister, who had apologised for turning her house into a temporary Ministry of the Interior, was talking to his Chief of Police.
"You were there yourself?"
"I was, Excellency. I went up into a high part and looked down. It was a strange and wild sight."
"How many would there be?"
"Impossible to guess. Inside and outside, Romans, country people, perhaps a hundred thousand."
"And Rossi's speech?"
"The usual appeal to the passions of the people, Excellency. An extraordinary exhibition of the art of flying between wind and water. We couldn't have found a word that was distinctly seditious, even if we hadn't had your Excellency's order to let the man go on."
"You have stopped the telegraph wires?"
"When the meeting was over, Rossi went home?"
"He did, Excellency."
"And the hundred thousand?"
"In their excitement they began to sing and to march through the streets. They are still doing so. After going down to the Piazza Navona, they are coming up by the Piazza del Popolo and along the Babuino with banners and torches."
"Men, women, and children."
"You would say that their attitude is threatening?"
"Distinctly threatening, your Excellency."
"Let your delegates give the legal warning and say that the gathering of great mobs at this hour will be regarded as open rebellion. Allow three minutes' grace for the sake of the women and children, and then ... let the military do their duty."
"Quite so, your Excellency."
"After that you may carry out the instructions I gave you yesterday."
"Certainly, your Excellency."
"Keep in touch with all the leaders. Some of them will find that the air of Rome is a little dangerous to their health to-night, and may wish to fly to Switzerland or England, where it would be impossible to follow them."
Roma heard behind her the thin cackle as of a hen over her nest, which always came when Angelelli laughed.
"Their meeting itself was illegal, and our license has been abused."
"Grossly abused, your Excellency."
"The action of the Government was too conciliatory, and has rendered them audacious, but the new law is clear in prohibiting the carrying of seditious flags and emblems."
"We'll deal with them according to Articles 134 and 252 of the Penal Code, your Excellency."
"You can go. But come back immediately if anything happens. I must remain here for the present, and in case of riot I may have to send you to the King."
Angelelli's thin voice fell to a whisper of awe at the mention of Majesty, and after a moment he bowed and backed out of the room.
Roma did not turn round, and the Minister, who had touched the bell and called for pen and paper, spoke to her from behind.
"I daresay you thought I was hard and inhuman at the Palazzo Braschi yesterday, but I was really very merciful. In letting you see the preparations to enclose your friend as in a net, I merely wished you to warn him to fly from the country. He has not done so, and now he must take the consequences."
Felice brought the writing materials, and the Baron sat down at the table. There was a long silence in which nothing could be heard but the scratching of the Minister's pen, the snoring of the poodle, and the deadened sound through the wall of the Countess's testy voice scolding Natalina.
Roma stepped into the boudoir. The room was dark, and from its unlit windows she could see more plainly into the streets. Masses of shadow lay around, but the untrodden steps were white with thin snow, and the piazza were alive with black figures which moved on the damp ground like worms on an upturned sod.
She was leaning her hot forehead against the glass and looking out with haggard eyes, when a deep rumble as of a great multitude came from below. The noise quickly increased to a loud uproar, with shouts, songs, whistles, and shrill sounds blown out of door-keys. Before she was aware of his presence the Baron was standing behind her, between the window and the pedestal with the plaster bust of Rossi.
"Listen to them," he said. "The proletariat indeed!... And this is the flock of bipeds to whom men in their senses would have us throw the treasures of civilisation and hand over the delicate machinery of government."
He laughed bitterly, and drew back the curtain with an impatient hand.
"Democracy! Christian Democracy! Vox Populi vox Dei! The sovereignty and infallibility of the people! Pshaw! I would as soon believe in the infallibility of the Pope!"
The crowds increased in the piazza until the triangular space looked like the rapids of a swollen river, and the noise that came up from it was like the noise of falling cliffs and uprooted trees.
"Fools! Rabble! Too ignorant to know what you really want, and at the mercy of every rascal who sows the wind and leaves you to reap the whirlwind."
Roma crept away from the Baron with a sense of physical repulsion, and at the next moment, from the other window, she heard the blast of a trumpet. A dreadful silence followed the trumpet blast, and then a clear voice cried:
"In the name of the law I command you to disperse."
It was the voice of a delegate of the police. Roma could see the man on the lowest stage of the steps with his tricoloured scarf of office about him. A second blast came from the trumpet, and again the delegate cried:
"In the name of the law I command you to disperse."
At that moment somebody cried, "Long live the Republic of Man!" and there was great cheering. In the midst of the cheering the trumpet sounded a third time, and then a loud voice cried "Fire!"
At the next moment a volley was fired from somewhere, a cloud of white smoke was coiling in front of the window at which Roma stood, and women and children in the vagueness below were uttering acute cries.
"Oh! oh! oh!"
"Don't be afraid, my child. Nothing has happened yet. The police had orders to fire first over the people's heads."
In her fear and agitation Roma ran back to the outer room, and a moment afterwards Angelelli opened the door and stood face to face with her.
"What have you done?" she demanded.
"An unfortunate incident, Excellency," said Angelelli, as the Baron appeared. "After the warning of the delegate the mob laughed and threw stones, and the Carabineers fired. They were in the piazza and fired up the steps."
"Unluckily there were a few persons on the upper flights at the moment, and some of them are wounded, and a child is dead."
Roma muttered a low moan and sank on to the stool.
"Whose child is it?"
"We don't yet know, but the father is there, and he is raging like a madman, and unless he is arrested he will provoke the people to frenzy, and there will be riot and insurrection."
The Baron took from the table a letter he had written and sealed.
"Take this to the Quirinal instantly. Ask for an immediate audience with the King. When you receive his written reply, call up the Minister of War and say you have the royal decree to declare a state of siege."
Angelelli was going out hurriedly.
"Wait! Send to the Piazza Navona and arrest Rossi. Be careful! You will arrest the Deputy under Articles 134 and 252 on a charge of using the great influence he has acquired over the people to urge the masses by speeches and writings to resist public authority and to change violently the form of government and the constitution of the State."
Angelelli disappeared, the acute cries outside died away, the scurrying of flying feet was no more heard, and Roma was still on the stool before the fire, moaning behind the hands that covered her face. The Baron came near to her and touched her with a caressing gesture.
"I'm sorry, my child, very sorry. Rossi is a dreamer, not a statesman, but he is none the less troublesome on that account No wonder he has fascinated you, as he has fascinated the people, but time will wipe away an impression like that. The best thing that can happen for both of you is that he should be arrested to-night. It will save you so many ordeals and so much sorrow."
At that moment a cannon-shot boomed through the darkness outside, and its vibration rattled the windows and walls.
"The signal from St. Angelo," said the Baron. "The gates are closed and the city is under siege."
When, in the commotion of the household caused by the near approach of the crowd which brought Rossi home from the Coliseum, little Joseph slipped down the stairs and made a dash for the street, he chuckled to himself as he thought how cleverly he had eluded his mother, who had been looking out of the bedroom window, and those two old watch-dogs, his grandfather and grandmother, who were nearly always at the door.
It was not until he was fairly plunged into the great sea of the city, and had begun to be a little dazed by more lights than he ever saw when he closed his eyes in bed, that he remembered that he had disobeyed orders and broken his promise not to go out. But even then, he told himself, he was not responsible. He was Donna Roma's porter now. Therefore, he couldn't be Joseph, could he?
So, with his magic mace in hand, the serious man of seven marched on, and reconciled himself to his disobedience by thinking nothing more about it. People looked at him and smiled as he passed through the Piazza Madama, where the Senate House stands, and that made him lift his head and walk on proudly, but as he went through the Piazza of the Pantheon a boy who was coming out of a cookshop with a tray on his head cried, "Helloa, kiddy! playing Pulcinello?" and that dashed his worshipful dignity for several minutes.
It began to snow, and the white flakes on his gold braid clouded his soul at first, but when he remembered that porters had to work in all weathers, he wagged his sturdy head and strode on. He was going to Donna Roma's according to her invitation, and he found his way by his recollection of what he had seen when he made the same journey on Sunday—here a tramcar coming round a corner, there a line of posts across a narrow thoroughfare, and there a fat man with a gruff voice shouting something at the door of a trattoria.
At the corner of a lane there was a shop window full of knives and revolvers. He didn't care for knives—they cut people's fingers—but he liked guns, and when he grew up to be a man he would buy one and kill somebody.
Coming to the Piazza Monte Citorio, he remembered the soldiers at the door of the House of Parliament, and the cellar full of long guns with knives (bayonets) stuck on the ends of their muzzles. One of the soldiers laughed, called him "Uncle," and asked him something about enlisting, but he only struck his mace firmly on the flags and marched on.
At the corner of the Piazza Colonna he had to wait some time before he could cross the Corso, for the crowds were coming both ways and the traffic frightened him. He had made various little sorties and had been driven back, when a soft hand was slipped into his fat palm and he was piloted across in safety. Then he looked up at his helper. It was a girl with big white feathers in her hat, and her face painted pink and white like the face of the little Jesus in the cradle in church at Christmas. She asked him what his name was, and he told her; also where he was going, and he told her that too. It was dark by this time, and the great little man was beginning to be glad of company.
"Aren't you tired of carrying that heavy stick?" she said.
It wasn't a stick, and he wasn't a bit tired of carrying it.
"But aren't you tired yourself?" she said, and he admitted that perhaps it was so.
So she picked him up, and carried him in her arms, while he carried the mace, and for some minutes both were satisfied. But presently some one in the Via Tritone cried out, "Helloa! here comes the Blessed Bambino," whereupon his worshipful dignity was again wounded, and he wriggled to the ground.
It began to thunder and there were some flashes of lightning, whereupon Joseph shuddered and crept closer to the girl's side.
"Are you afraid of lightning, Joseph?" she asked.
He wasn't. He often saw it at home when he went to bed. His mother held his hand and he covered up his head in the clothes, and then he liked it.
The girl took the wee, fat hand again, and the little feet toddled on.
After vain efforts to snatch a kiss, which were defeated by a proper withdrawal of the manly head in the cocked hat, the girl with the feathers and the doll's face left him in the Via due Macelli under a bright electric lamp that hung over the door of a cafe-chantant.
Joseph knew then that he was not far from Donna Roma's, and he began to think of what he would do when he got there. If the big porter at the door tried to stop him he would say, "I'm a little Roman boy," and the man would have to let him go up. Then he would take charge of the hall, and when he had not to open the door he would play with the dog, and sometimes with Donna Roma.
With sound practical sense he thought of his wages. Would it be a penny a week or twopence? He thought it would be twopence. Men didn't work for nothing nowadays. He had heard his father say so.
Then he remembered his mother, and his lip began to drop. But it rose again when he told himself that of course she would come every night to put him to bed as usual. "Good-night, mamma! See you in the morning," he would say, and when he opened his eyes it would be to-morrow.
He was feeling sleepy now, and do what he would he could hardly keep his eyes from closing. But he was in the Piazza di Spagna by this time, and his little feet in their top-boots began to patter up the snowy steps.
There are three principal landings to the Spanish Steps, and the great little man of seven had reached the second of them when a noise in the streets below made him stop and turn his head.
A great crowd, carrying hundreds of torches, was marching into the piazza. They were singing, shouting, and blowing whistles and trumpets. It was like Befana in the Piazza Navona, and when Joseph blinked his eyes he almost thought he was at home in bed.
All at once silence—then soldiers—then a jump all over his body like that which came to him when he was falling asleep—then a sense of something warm—then a buzzing noise—then a boom like that of the gun of St. Angelo at dinner-time ... then a deep, familiar voice calling and calling to him, and his eyes opened for a moment and saw his father's face.
"Good-night, papa! So sleepy! See you in the morning!"
And then nothing more.
* * * * *
While Elena waited for Bruno's return with little Joseph, she went up and downstairs between David Rossi's apartment and her own on all manner of invented errands. Meantime she tried to keep down her anxiety by keeping up her anger. Joseph was so worrisome. When he came home he would have to be whipped and sent to bed without his supper. It was true his verdura was already on the stove, but he must not be allowed to touch it. You really must be strict with children. They would like you all the better for it when they grew up to be men and women.
But every moment broke down this brave severity, until the desire to punish Joseph for his disobedience was all gone. She stood at the head of the stairs and listened for his voice and his little pattering feet. If she had heard them, her anxious expression would have given way to a cross look and she would have scolded both father and son all the way up to bed. But they did not come, and she turned to the dining-room with a downcast face.
"Where can the boy be? If I could only have him back! I will never let him out of my sight again. Never!"
David Rossi, who was walking in the sitting-room to calm his nerves after a trying time, tried to comfort her. It would be all right. Depend upon it, Joseph had gone up to Donna Roma's. She was to remember what Bruno told them on Sunday. "The little Roman boy." Joseph had thought of nothing else for three days, and this being his birthday....
"You think so? You really think...."
"I'm sure of it. Bruno will be back presently, carrying Joseph on his back. Or perhaps Donna Roma will send the boy home in the carriage, and the great little man will come upstairs like the Mayor. Meantime she has kept him to play with, and...."
"Yes, that must be it," said Elena, with shining eyes. "The Signorina must have kept him to play with! He must be playing now with the Signorina!"
At that moment through the open door there came the sound of a heavy tread on the stairs, mingled with various voices. Elena's shining face suddenly clouded, and Rossi, who read her thought, went out on to the landing. Bruno was coming up the staircase with something in his arms, and behind him were the Garibaldian and his old wife and a line of strangers.
Rossi ran down two flights of stairs and met them. He saw everything as by a flash of lightning. The boy lay in his father's arms. He was white and cold, with his head fallen back, and his hair matted with flakes of snow. His gay coat was open, and his little stained shirt was torn out at the breast. A stranger behind was carrying the cocked hat and mace.
Elena, who was at the head of the stairs by this time, was screaming.
"Keep her away, sir," said Bruno. The poor fellow was trying to be brave and strong, but his voice was like a voice from the other side of an abyss.
They took the boy into the dining-room, and laid him on a sofa. There was no keeping the mother back. She forced her way through and laid hold of the child.
"Get away, he's mine," she cried fiercely.
And then she dropped on her knees before the boy, threw her arms about him and called on him by his name.
"Joseph! Speak to me! Open your eyes and speak!... What have you been doing with my child? He is ill. Why don't you send for a doctor? Don't stand there like fools. Go for a doctor, I tell you ... Joseph! Only a word!... Have you carried him home without his hat on? And it's snowing too! He'll get his death of cold ... what's this? Blood on his shirt? And a wound? Look at this red spot. Have they shot him? No, no, it's impossible! A child! Joseph! Joseph! Speak to me!... Yes, his heart is beating." She was pressing her ear to the boy's breast. "Or is it only the beating in my head? Oh, where is the doctor? Why don't you send for him?"
They could not tell her that it was useless, that a doctor had seen the child already, and that all was over. All they could do was to stand round her with awe in their faces. She understood them without words. Her hair fell from its knot, and her eyes began to blaze like the eyes of a maniac.
"They've killed my child!" she cried. "He's dead! My little boy is dead! Only seven, and it was his birthday! O God! My child! What had he done that they should kill him?"
And then Bruno, who was standing by with a wild lustre in his eyes, said between his teeth, "Done? Done nothing but live under a Government of murderers and assassins."
The room filled with people. Neighbours who had never before set foot in the rooms came in without fear, for death was among them. They stood silent for the most part, only handing round the table the little cocked hat and the mace, with sighs and deep breathing. But some one speaking to Rossi told him what had happened. It was at the Spanish Steps. The delegate gave the word, and the Carabineers fired over the people's heads. But they hit the child and made him cold. His little heart had burst.
"And I was going to whip him," said Elena. "Not a minute before I was talking about the rod, and not giving him his supper. O God! I can never forgive myself."
And then the blessed tears came and she wept bitterly.
David Rossi put his arms about her, and her head fell on his breast. All barriers were broken down, and she clung to him and cried.
Just then cries came from the piazza—"Hurrah for the Revolution!" and "Down with the destroyers of the people!"—the woolly tones of voices shouting in the snow. Somebody on the stairs explained that a young man was going about waving a bloody handkerchief, and that the sight of it was exasperating the people to frenzy. Women were marching through the streets, and the entire city was on the point of insurrection.
In the dining-room the stricken ones still stood around the couch. Presently there was a sound of singing outside. A great crowd was coming into the piazza, singing the Garibaldi Hymn. Bruno heard it, and the wild lustre in his eyes gave place to a look of savage joy. An awful oath burst from his lips, and he ran out of the house. At the next moment he was heard in the street, singing in a thundering voice:
"The tombs are uncovered, The dead arise, The martyrs are rising Before our eyes."
The old Garibaldian threw up his head like a warhorse at the call of battle, and his rickety limbs were going towards the door.
"Stay here, father," said Rossi, and the old man obeyed him.
Elena was quieter by this time. She was sitting by the child and stroking his little icy hand.
David Rossi, who had hardly spoken, went into his bedroom. His lips were tightly pressed together, his eyes were bloodshot, and his breath was labouring hard in his heaving breast.
He took up his dagger paper-knife, tried its point on his palm with two or three reckless thrusts and threw it back on the desk. Then he went down on his hands and knees and rummaged among the newspapers lying in heaps under the window. At last he found what he looked for. It was the six-chambered revolver which had been sent to him as a present. "I'll kill the man like a dog," he thought.
He loaded the revolver, put it in his breast-pocket, went back to the sitting-room, and made ready to go out.
Ten was striking on the different clocks of the city. Felice had lit the stove in the boudoir and the wood was burning in fitful blue and red flames. There was no other light in the room, and Roma lay with her body on the floor, and her face buried in the couch.
The world outside was full of fearful and unusual noises. Snow was still falling, and the voices heard through it had a peculiar sound of sobbing. The soft rolling of thunder came from a long way off, like the boom of a slow wave on a distant beach. At intervals there was the crackle of musketry, like the noise of rockets sent up in the night, and sometimes there were pitiful cries, smothered by the unreverberating snow, like the cries of a drowning man on a foundering ship at sea.
Roma, face downward, heard these sounds in the lapses of a terrible memory. She was seeing, as in a nightmare, the incidents of a night that was hardly six weeks past. One by one the facts flashed back upon her with a burning sense of shame, and she felt herself to be a sinner and a criminal.
It was the night of the royal ball at the Quirinal. The blaze of lights, the glitter of jewels, the brilliant throng of handsome men and lovely women, the clash of music, the whirl of dancing, and finally the smiles and compliments of the King. Then going home in the carriage in the early morning, swathed in furs over her thin white silk, with the Baron, in his decorations worn diagonally over his white breast, and through the glass the waning moon, the silent stars, the empty streets.
Then this room, this couch, sinking down on it, very tired, with eyes smiling and half closed, and nearly gone already into the mists of sleep. And then the Baron at her feet, pressing his lips to her wrist where the pulse was beating, kissing her arms and shoulders.... "Oh, dear! You are mad! I must not listen to you." And then burning words of love and passion: "My wife! My wife that is to be!" And then the call of her aunt from the adjoining chamber, "Roma!"
The sobbing sounds from outside broke in on Roma's nightmare, and when the chain of memory linked on again it was morning in her vision, and the Countess was comforting her in a whimpering voice:
"After all, God is merciful, and things that happen to everybody can be atoned for by prayer and penance. Besides, the Baron is a man of honour, and the poor maniac cannot last much longer."
The sobbing sounds in the snow, the cries far away, the crackle of the rifle-shots, the rumble of the thunder broke in again, and the elements outside seemed to whirl round her in the tempest of her trouble. For a moment she lifted her head and heard voices in the next room.
The Baron was still there, and from time to time, as he wrote his despatches, messengers came to take them away, to bring replies, and to deliver the latest news of the night. The populace had risen in all parts of the city, and the soldiers had charged them. There had been several misadventures and many arrests. The large house of detention by St. Andrea delle Frate was already full, but the people continued to hold out. They had disconnected the gas at the gasometer and cut the electric wires, and the city was plunged in darkness.
"Tell the electric light company to turn on the flashlight from Monte Mario," said the Baron.
And when the voices ceased in the drawing-room there came the deadened sound of the Countess's frightened treble behind the wall.
"O Holy Virgin, full of grace, save me! It would be a sin to let me die to-night! Holy Virgin, see! I have given thee two more candles. Art thou not satisfied? Save me from murder, Mother of God."
Roma saw another phase of her vision. It was filled with a new face, which made her at once happy and unhappy, proud and ashamed. Hitherto the only condition on which she had been able to live with the secret of her life was that she should think nothing about it. Now she was compelled to think, and she was asking herself if it was her duty to confess.
Before she married David Rossi she must tell him everything. She saw herself trying to do so. He was looking vacantly before him with the deep furrow that came to his forehead when he was strongly moved. She had sobbed out her story, telling all, excusing nothing, and now she was waiting for him to speak. He would take her side, he would tell her she had been more sinned against than sinning, that she had been young and alone at the mercy of an evil man, and that her will had not consented.
"No, no! It is impossible!" she cried aloud, and, startled by the sound of her voice, the Baron came into the room.
"My dear child!" he said, and he picked her up from the floor. "I shall never be able to forgive myself if you take things like this. Every tear you shed will burn my flesh like fire. Come now, dry these beautiful eyes and be calm."
She did not listen to him, but leaning on the stove and fingering with one hand the frame of her father's picture which hung above it, she said:
"I see now that happiness was not for me. There must be some punishment for every sin, however little one has been guilty of it, and perhaps this is God's way of asking for an expiation. It is very, very hard ... it seems more than I deserve ... and heavier than I can bear ... but there is no help for it."
The tears she brushed from her eyes seemed to be gathering in her throat.
"The bitterest part of it is that I must make others suffer for it also. He must suffer who has loved and trusted me. His love for me, my love for him, this has been dragging him down since the first day I knew him. Perhaps he is in prison by this time."
Sobs interrupted her for a moment, and in a caressing tone the Baron tried to comfort her. It was natural that she should feel troubled, very natural and very womanly. But time was the great remedy for human ills. It would heal everything.
"Roma, you have wounded and humiliated and insulted me, but you are the only woman in the world I would give one straw to have. I will make you the wife of the Dictator of Italy, and when all these troubles are over and you are great, and have forgotten what has taken place...."
"I can never forget and I don't want to be great. I only want to be good. Leave me!"
"You are good. You have always been good. What happened was my fault alone, and you have nothing to reproach yourself with. I found you growing up to be a great woman, and passing out of my legal control, while I was bound down to a poor, helpless, living corpse. Some day you would meet a younger, freer man, and you would be lost to me for good. Wasn't it human to try to hold you to me until the time came when I could claim you altogether? And if meanwhile this man has interposed...."
He pointed to the bust on the pedestal. She looked up at it, and then dropped her head.
"Put the man out of your mind, my dear, and all will be well. Probably he is in the hands of the authorities already. God grant it may be so! No trouble about his arrest this time! It cannot be complicated by the danger of scandal. Nobody else's name and character will be concerned in it. And if it serves to dispose of a dangerous man and a subversive politician, I am willing to let everything else sleep."
He paused a moment, and then added in his most incisive accents: "But if not, the law must take its course, and Roma Roselli must complete what Roma Volonna has begun."
At that moment Felice's dark form stood against the light in the open door.
"Commendatore Angelelli and Charles Minghelli, Excellency."
As the Baron went back to the drawing-room Roma returned to the window. Scales of snow adhered to the glass, and it was difficult to see anything outside. But the masses of shadow and sheets of light were gone, and the city lay in utter darkness. The sobbing sounds, the crackle of musketry and the rumble of thunder were all gone, and the air was empty and void.
At one moment there was a soft patter as of a flock of sheep passing under the window in the darkness. It was a company of riflemen going at a quick march over the snow, with torches and lanterns.
Voices came from the next room, and Roma found herself listening.
"Apparently the insurrection is suppressed, your Excellency."
"I congratulate you."
"The soldiers are patrolling the streets, and all is quiet."
"We have some hundreds of rioters in the house of detention, and the military courts will begin to sit to-morrow morning."