"The misadventures have been few and unimportant, the child I spoke of being the only one killed."
"You have discovered whose child it was?"
Roma felt dizzy. A thought had flashed upon her.
"It is the child of Donna Roma's man, Bruno Rocco, and apparently...."
A choking cry rang through the room. Was it herself who made it?
"Go on, Commendatore. Apparently...."
"The child was dressed in some carnival costume, and apparently he was on his way to this house."
Roma's dizziness increased, and to save herself from falling she caught at a side-table that stood under the bust.
On this table were some sculptor's tools—a chisel and a small mallet, with which she had been working.
There was an interval in which the voices were deadened and confused. Then they became clear and sharp as before.
"But the most important fact you have not yet given me. I trust you are only saving it up for the last. The Deputy Rossi is arrested?"
"Unfortunately ... Excellency...."
"He left home immediately after the outbreak and has not been seen since. Presently the flashlight will be turned on by a separate battery from Monte Mario, and every corner of the city shall be searched. But we fear he is gone."
"Perhaps by the train that left just before the signal."
Roma felt a cry rising to her throat again, but she put up her hand to keep it down.
"No matter! Commendatore, send telegrams after the train to all stations up to the frontier, with orders that nobody is to alight until every carriage has been overhauled. Minghelli, go to the Consulta immediately, and ask the Minister of Foreign Affairs to despatch a portrait of Rossi to every foreign Government."
"But no portrait exists, Excellency. It was a difficulty I found in England."
"Yes, there is a portrait. Come this way."
Roma felt the room going round as the Baron came into it and switched on the light.
"There is the only portrait of the illustrious Deputy, and our hostess will lend it to be photographed."
"Never!" said Roma, and taking up the mallet she struck the bust a heavy blow, and it fell in fragments to the floor.
Half-an-hour afterwards Roma was sitting amid the wreck of her work when the Baron, wearing his fur-lined overcoat and pulling on his gloves, came into the boudoir.
"I am compelled," he said, "to inflict my presence upon you for a moment longer in order to tell you what my attitude in the future is to be, and what feelings are to guide you. I shall continue to think of you as my wife according to the law of nature, and of the man who has come between us as your lover. I will not give you up to him, whatever happens; and if he tries to take you away, or if you try to go to him, you must be prepared to find that I offer every resistance. Two passions are now engaged against the man, and I will not shrink from any course that seems necessary to subdue either him or you, or both."
A moment afterwards she heard the patrol challenging him on the piazza. Then "Pardon, Excellency," and the soft swish of carriage wheels in the snow.
When Rossi left home he was like a raging madman. He made straight for the Palazzo Braschi at the other side of the piazza, and going up the marble staircase on limbs that could scarcely support him, his thoughts went back in a broken maze to the scene he had left behind.
"Our little boy dead! Dead in his mother's arms! O God! let me meet the man face to face!... Our innocent darling! The light of our eyes put out in a moment! Our sweet little Joseph!... Shall there be no retribution? God forbid! The man who has been the chief cause of this crime shall be the first to suffer punishment. No use wasting time on the hounds who executed his orders. They are only delegates of police, and over them is this Minister of the Interior. He alone is responsible, and he is here!"
When he reached the green baize door to the hall, he stopped to wipe away the perspiration which stood on his forehead although his face was flecked with snow. The messengers looked scared when he stepped inside, and they answered his questions with obvious hesitation. The Minister was not in his cabinet. He had not been there that night. It was possible the Honourable might find his Excellency at home.
Rossi turned on his heel instantly, and went hurriedly downstairs. He would go to the Palazzo Leone. There was no time to lose. Presently the man would hide himself in the darkness like a toad under a stone.
As he left the Ministry of the Interior he heard the singing of the Garibaldi Hymn in the distance, and turning into the Corso Victor Emmanuel, he came upon crowds of people and some noisy and tumultuous scenes.
One group had broken into a gun-shop and seized rifles and cartridges; another group had taken possession of two electric tram-cars, and tumbled them on their sides to make a barricade across the street; and a third group was tearing up the street itself to use the stones for missiles. "Our turn now," they were shouting, and there were screams of delirious laughter.
As Rossi crossed the bridge of St. Angelo the cannon was fired from the Castle, and he knew that it was meant for a signal. "No matter!" he thought. "It will be too late when the soldiers arrive."
Notwithstanding the tumult in the city the Piazza of St. Peter's was silent and deserted. Not the sound of a footfall, not the rattle of a carriage-wheel; only the swish-swish of the fountains, whose waters were playing in the lamplight through the falling snow, and the echoing hammer of the clock of the Basilica.
The porter of the Palazzo Leone was asleep in his lodge, and Rossi passed upstairs.
"I'll bring the man to justice now," he thought. "He imagined we were only tame cats and would submit to anything. He was wrong. We'll show him we know how to punish tyrants. Haven't we always done so, we Romans? He has a sharp tongue for the people, but I have a sharper one here for him."
And he felt for the revolver in his breast-pocket to make certain it was there.
The lackey in knee-breeches and yellow stockings who answered the inside bell was almost speechless at the sight of the white face which confronted him at the door. No, the Baron was not at home. He had not been there since early in the evening. Had he gone to the Prefettura? Possibly. Or the Consulta? Perhaps.
"Which, man, which?" said Rossi, and to say something the lackey stammered "The Consulta," and closed the door.
Rossi set his face towards the Foreign Office. There was a light in the stained-glass windows of the Pope's private chapel—the Holy Father was at his prayers. A canvas-covered barrow containing a man who had been injured by the soldiers was being wheeled into the Hospital of Santo Spirito, and a woman and a child were walking and crying beside it.
The streets were covered with broken tiles which had been thrown on to the heads of the cavalry as they galloped through the principal thoroughfares. Carabineers, with revolvers in hand, were dragging themselves on their stomachs along the roofs, trying to surprise the rioters who were hiding behind chimney-stacks. Some one shouted: "Cut the electric wires," and men were clambering up the tall posts and breaking the electric lamps.
The Consulta, the office of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, stands in the Piazza of the Quirinal, and when Rossi reached it the great square of the King was as silent as the great square of the Pope had been.
Two sentries were in boxes on either side of the royal gate, and one Carabineer was in the doorway. The gardens down the long corridor lay dark in the shadows, but the fountain with sculptured horses, the splashing water, and the front of the building were white under the electric lamps as if from a dazzling moon.
Before turning into the silent courtyard of the Consulta, Rossi paused and listened to the noises that came from the city. Men were singing and women were screaming. The rattle of musketry mingled with the cries of children. And over all were the steady downfall of the snow and the dull rumble of distant thunder.
Rossi held his head between his hands to prevent his senses from leaving him. His rage was ebbing away, and he was beginning to tremble. Nevertheless, he forced himself to go on. As he rang the bell at the Foreign Office, he was partly conscious of a secret desire that the Prime Minister might not be there.
The porter was not sure. The Baron's carriage had just gone. Let him ask on the telephone.... No, there had been a messenger from the Minister of the Interior, but the Minister himself had not been there that night.
Rossi took a long breath of relief and went away. He had returned to the bright side of the piazza when the lights seemed to be wiped out as though by an invisible wing, and the whole city was plunged in darkness. At the next moment a squadron of cavalry galloped up to the Quirinal, and the gates of the royal palace and of the Consulta were closed.
For two hours the soldiers had been charging the crowds by the light of lanterns and torches. They had arrested hundreds of persons. Chained together, two and two, the insurgents had been taken to the places of detention, amid the cries of their women and children. "Who knows whether we shall see each other again?" said the prisoners, as they passed into the "House of Pain." One old woman went on her knees to the soldiers and begged them to have pity on the people. "They are your brothers, my sons," she cried.
One o'clock struck.
The streets were still dark, but a searchlight from Monte Mario was sweeping over the city like a flash of a supernatural eye. With tottering limbs and his head on his breast, David Rossi was walking down the Via due Macelli towards the column of the Immaculate Conception, when a young girl spoke to him.
"Honourable," she said, "is it true that the little boy is dead?... It is? Oh, dear! I met him in the Corso, and brought him up as far as the Varietes, and if I had only taken him all the way.... Oh, I shall never forgive myself!"
The city was quiet and all was hushed on every side when Rossi found himself on a flight of steps at the back of Roma's apartment. From these steps a door opened into the studio. One panel of the door was glazed, and a light was shining from within. Going cautiously forward, Rossi looked into the room. Roma was seated on a stool with her hands clasped in her lap and her hair hanging loose. She was very pale. Her face expressed unutterable sadness.
Rossi listened for a moment, but there was not a sound to be heard except that of the different clocks chiming the quarter. Then he tapped lightly on the glass.
"Roma!" he said in a low tone. "Roma!"
She rose up and shrank back. Then coming to the door, and shielding her eyes from the light, she put her face close to the pane. At the next moment she threw the door open.
"Is it you?" she said in a tremulous voice, and taking his hand she drew him hurriedly into the house.
After the Baron was gone, Roma had sat a long time in the dark among the ruins of the broken bust. When twelve o'clock struck she was feeling hot and feverish, and, in spite of the coldness of the night, she rose and opened the window. The snow had ceased to fall, the thunder was gone, and the city was quiet.
At that moment the revolving searchlight on Monte Mario passed over the room. The white flash lit up the broken fragments at her feet, and brought a new train of reflections. The bust she destroyed had been only the plaster cast; the piece-mould remained, and might be a cause of danger.
She closed the window, took a candle, and went down to the studio to put the mould out of the way. She had done so, and was sitting to rest and to think when Rossi's knock came at the door. In a moment all her dreams were gone. She was clasped in his arms and had put up her mouth to be kissed.
"Is it you?"
It was not at first that she realised what was happening, but after a moment she recovered from her bewilderment, and extinguished the candle lest Rossi should be seen from outside.
They were in the dark, save at intervals when the revolving light in its circuit of the city swept across the studio, and lit up their faces as by a flash of lightning. He seemed to be dazed. His weary eyes looked as if their light were almost extinct.
"You are safe? You are well?" she asked.
"O God! what sights!" he said. "You have heard what has happened?"
"Yes, yes! But you are not injured?"
"The people were peaceful and meant no evil, but the soldiers were ordered to fire, and our little boy is dead."
"Don't let us speak of it.... The police were told to arrest you, but you have escaped thus far, and now...."
"Bruno is taken, and hundreds of others are in prison."
"But you are safe? You are well? You are uninjured?"
"Yes," he answered between his teeth, and then he covered his face with his hands. "God knows I did my best to prevent this bloodshed—I would have laid down my life to prevent it."
"God does know it."
He drew something from his breast-pocket and put it into her hands.
It was the revolver.
"I cannot trust myself any longer."
"You haven't used it?"
"I should have done so if I could have met the man face to face."
"I searched for him everywhere, and couldn't find him. God kept him out of my way to save me from sin and shame."
With a frightened cry she put down the revolver and clasped her hands about his neck. He began to recover his dazed senses and to smooth the hair on her damp forehead.
"My poor Roma! You didn't think we were to part like this?"
Her arms slackened, and she dropped her head on to his shoulder.
"Last night you told me to fly, and I wouldn't do so. There was no man in Rome I was afraid of then. But to-night there is some one I am afraid of. I am afraid of myself."
"You intend to go?"
"Yes! I shall feel like a captain who deserts his sinking ship. Would to God I could have gone down with her!... Yet no! She is not lost yet. Everything is in God's hands. Perhaps there is work for me abroad, now that the paths are closed to me at home. Let us wait and see."
They were both silent for a while.
"Then it's all over," she said, gulping down a sob.
"God forbid! This black night in Rome is only the beginning of the end. It will be the dawn of the resurrection everywhere."
"But it is all over between you and me."
"Indeed, no. No, no! I cannot take you with me. That is impossible. I couldn't see you suffer hunger and thirst and the privations of exile, but...."
"Our marriage cannot be celebrated now, and that being so...."
"The banns are good for half a year, Roma, and before that time I shall be back. Have no fear! The immortality stirring beneath the ruins of this old city will give us victory all over Italy. I will return and we shall be very happy. How happy we shall be!"
"Yes, yes," she brought out at intervals.
"Be brave, my girl, be brave!"
The revolving searchlight flashed through the room at that moment, and she dropped her face again.
"Dearest," she said faintly, "if I should not be here when you come back...."
He started and seized her arm.
"Roma, you cannot intend to submit to the will of that man?"
She shook her head as it rested on his shoulder.
"The man is a monster. He may put pressure upon you."
"It is not that."
"He may even make you suffer for my sake."
"Nor that either."
"By-and-by he may require everybody to take an oath of allegiance to the King."
"I have taken mine already—to my king."
"Roma, if you wish me to stay I will do so in spite of everything."
"I wish you to go, dearest."
"Then what is it you fear?"
"But you are sad. Why is it?"
"A foreboding. I feel as if we were parting for ever."
He passed his hands through her hair. "It may be so. Only God can tell."
"It was too sweet dreaming. I was too happy for a little while."
"If it must be, it must be. But let us be brave, dear! We, who take up a life like this, must learn renunciation.... Crying, Roma?"
"No! Oh, no! But renunciation! That's it—renunciation." She could feel the beating of her heart against his breast. "Love comes to every one, but to some it comes too late, and then it comes in vain." She was striving to keep down her sobs. "They have only to conquer it and renounce it, and to pray God to unite them to their loved ones in another life." She was choking, but she struggled on. "Sometimes I think it must be my lot to be like that. Other women may dream of love and home and children...."
"Don't unman me, Roma."
"Dearest, promise me that whatever happens you will think the best of me."
"Promise me that whoever says anything to the contrary you will always believe I loved you."
"Why should we talk of what can never happen?"
"If we are parting for ever ... if we are saying a long farewell to all earthly affections, promise me...."
"For God's sake, Roma!"
"I promise!" he said. "And you?"
"I promise too—I promise that as long as I live, and wherever I am and whatever becomes of me, I will ... yes, because I cannot help it ... I will love you to the last."
Saying this in passionate tones, she drew down his head and he met her kiss with his lips.
"It is our marriage, David. Others are married in church and by the hand, and with a ring. We are married in our spirits and our souls."
A long time passed, during which they did not speak. The searchlight flashed in on them again and again with its supernatural eye, and as often as it did so Rossi looked at her with strange looks of pity and of love.
Meantime, she cut a lock from her hair, tied it with a piece of ribbon, and put it in his pocket with his watch. Then she dried her eyes with her handkerchief and pushed it in his breast.
The night went on, and nothing was to be heard but the chiming of clocks outside. At length through the silence there came a muffled rumble from the streets.
"You must go now," she said, and when the next flash came round she looked up at him with a steadfast gaze, as if trying to gather into her eyes her last memories of his face.
"It is still dark, but the streets are patrolled and every gate is closed, and how are you to escape?"
"If the soldiers had wished to take me they could have done so a hundred times."
"But the city is stirring. Be careful for my sake. Adieu!"
"Roma," said Rossi, "if I do not take you with me it is partly because I want your help in Rome. Think of the poor people I leave behind me in poverty and in prison. Think of Elena when she awakes in the morning, alone with her terrible grief. Some one should be here to represent me for a time at all events—to take the messages I must send, the instructions I shall have to give. It will be a dangerous task, Roma, a task that can only be undertaken by some one who loves me, some one who...."
"That is enough. Tell me what I can do," she said.
They arranged a channel of correspondence, and then Roma began her farewells afresh.
"Roma," said Rossi again, "since I must go away before our civil marriage can be celebrated, is it not best that our spiritual one should have the blessing of the Church?"
Roma looked at him and trembled.
"When I am gone God knows what may happen. The Baron may be a free man any day, and he may put pressure on you to marry him. In that case it will be strength and courage to you to know that in God's eyes you are married already. It will be happiness and comfort to me, too, when I am far away from you and alone."
"But it is impossible."
"Not so. A declaration before a parish priest is all that is necessary. 'Father, this is my wife.' 'This is my husband.' That is enough. It will have no value in the eye of the law, but it will be a religious marriage for all that."
"There is no time. You cannot wait...."
"Hush!" The clocks were striking three. "At three o'clock there is mass at St. Andrea delle Frate. That is your parish church, Roma. The priest and his acolytes are the only witnesses we require."
"If you think ... that is to say ... if it will make you happy, and be a strength to me also...."
"Run for your cloak and hat, dearest—in ten minutes it will be done."
"But think again." She was breathing audibly. "Who knows what may happen before you return? Will you never repent?"
"But ... but there is something ... something I ought to tell you—something painful. It is about the past."
"The past is past. Let us think of the future."
"You do not wish to hear it."
"If it is painful to you—no!"
"Will nothing and nobody divide us?"
"Nothing and nobody in the world."
She gulped down another choking sob and threw both arms about his neck.
"Take me, then. I am your wife before God and man."
It was still dark overhead, and the streets with their thin covering of snow were as silent as a catacomb. Through the door of the church, when the leather covering was lifted, there came the yellow light of the candles burning on the altar. The priest in his gold vestments stood with his face to the glistening shrine, and his acolytes knelt beside him. There was only one worshipper, an old woman who was kneeling before a chair in the gloom of a side chapel. The tinkle of the acolytes' bell and the faint murmur of the priest's voice were the only sounds that broke the stillness.
Rossi and Roma stepped up on tiptoe, and as the Father finished his mass and turned to go they made their declaration. The old man was startled and disturbed, but the priest commits no crime who listens to the voice of conscience, and he took their names and gave them his blessing. They parted at the church door.
"You will write when you cross the frontier?"
"Adieu then, until we meet again!"
"If I am long away from you, Roma...."
"You cannot be long away. You will be with me every day and always."
She was assuming a lively tone to keep up his courage, but there was a dry glitter in her eyes and a tremor in her voice.
He took her full, round form in his arms for a last embrace. "If the result of this night's work is that I am arrested and brought back and imprisoned...."
"I can wait for you," she said.
"If I am banished for life...."
"I can follow you."
"If the worst comes to the worst, and one way or another death itself should be the fate that falls to me...."
"I can follow you there, too."
"If we meet again we can laugh at all this, Roma."
"Yes, we can laugh at all this," she faltered.
"If not ... Adieu!"
She disengaged her clinging arms with one last caress; there was an instant of unconsciousness, and when she recovered herself he was gone.
At the next moment there came through the darkness the measured tramp, tramp, tramp of the patrol. With a quivering heart Roma stood and listened. There was a slight movement among the soldiers, a scarcely perceptible pause, and then the tramp, tramp, tramp as before. Rossi looked back as he turned the corner, and saw Roma, in her light cloak, gliding across the silent street like a ghost.
Three or four hundred yards inside the gate of St. John Lateran in one of the half-finished tenement houses on the outskirts of Rome, there is a cellar used as a resting-place and eating-house by the carriers from the country who bring wine into the city. This cellar was the only place that seemed to be awake when Rossi walked towards the city walls. Some eight or nine men, in the rude dress of wine-carriers, lay dozing or talking on the floor. They had been kept in Rome overnight by the closing of the gate, and were waiting for it to be opened in the morning.
Without a moment's hesitation David Rossi stepped down and spoke to the men.
"Gentlemen," he said, "you know who I am. I am Rossi. The police have orders to arrest me. Will you help me to get out of Rome?"
"What's that?" shouted a drowsy voice from the smoky shadows of the cellar.
"It's the Honourable Rossi," said a lad who had shambled up. "The oysters are after him, and will we help him to escape?"
"Will we? It's not will we; it's can we, Honourable," said a thick-set man, who lifted his head from an upturned horse-saddle.
In a moment the men were all on their feet, asking questions and discussing chances. The gate was to be opened at six, and the first train north was to go out at half-past nine. But the difficulty was that everybody in Rome knew Rossi. Even if he got through the gate he could not get on to the train within ten miles of the city without the certainty of recognition.
"I have it!" said the thick-set man with the drowsy voice. "There's young Carlo. He got a scratch in the leg last night from one of the wet nurses of the Government, and he'll have to lie upstairs for a week at least. Why can't he lend his clothes to the Honourable? And why can't the Honourable drive Carlo's cart back to Monte Rotondo, and then go where he likes when he gets there?"
"That will do," said Rossi, and so it was settled.
* * * * *
When the train which left Rome for Florence and Milan at 9.30 in the morning arrived at the country station of Monte Rotondo, eighteen miles out, a man in top-boots, blue trousers, a white waistband and a red-lined overcoat got into the people's compartment. The train was crowded with foreigners who were flying from the risks of insurrection, and even the third-class carriages were filled with well-dressed strangers. They were talking bitterly of their experiences the night before. Most of them had been compelled to barricade their bedroom doors at the hotels, and some had even passed the night at the railway station.
"It all comes of letting men like this Rossi go at large," said a young Englishman with the voice of a pea-hen. "For my part, I would put all these anarchists on an uninhabited island and leave them to fight it out among themselves."
"Say, Rossi isn't an anarchist," said a man with an American intonation.
"What is he?"
"A dreamer of dreams."
"Bad dreams, then," said the voice of the pea-hen, and there was general laughter.
PART SIX—THE ROMAN OF ROME
Roma awoke next morning with a feeling of joy. The dangers of last night were over and David Rossi had escaped. Where would he be by this time? She looked at her little round watch and reckoned the hours that had passed against the speed of the train.
Natalina came with the tea and the morning newspaper. The maid's tongue went faster than her hands as she rattled on about the terrors of the night and the news of the morning. Meantime Roma glanced eagerly over the columns of the paper for its references to Rossi. He was gone. The authorities were unable to say what had become of him.
With boundless relief Roma turned to the other items of intelligence. The journal was the organ of the Government, and it contained an extract from the Official Gazette and the text of a proclamation by the Prefect. The first announced that the riot was at an end and Rome was quiet; the second notified the public that by royal decree the city was declared to be in a state of siege, and that the King had nominated a Royal Commissioner with full powers.
Besides this news there was a general account of the insurrection. The ringleaders were anarchists, socialists, and professed atheists, determined on the destruction of both throne and altar by any means, however horrible. Their victims had been drawn, without seeing where they were going, into a vortex of disorder, and the soldiers had defended society and the law. Happily the casualties were few. The only fatal incident had been the death of a child, seven years of age, the son of a workman. The people of Rome had to congratulate themselves on the promptness of a Government which had reinstated authority with so small a loss of blood.
Roma remembered what Rossi had said about Elena—"Think of Elena when she awakes in the morning, alone with her terrible grief"—and putting on a plain dark cloth dress she set off for the Piazza Navona.
It was eleven o'clock, and the sun was shining on the melting snow. Rome was like a dead city. The breath of revolution had passed over it. Broken tiles lay on the pavement of the slushy streets, and here and there were the remains of abandoned barricades. The shops, which are the eyes of a city, were nearly all closed and asleep.
At a flower-shop, which was opened to her knock, Roma bought a wreath of white chrysanthemums. A group of men and women stood at the door in the Piazza Navona, and she received their kisses on her hands. The Garibaldian followed her up the stairs, and his old wife, who stood at the top, called her "Little Sister," and then burst into tears.
The boy lay on the couch, just where Roma had first seen him, when David Rossi was lifting him up asleep. He might have been asleep now, so peaceful was his expression under the mysterious seal of death. The blinds were drawn, and the sun came through them with a yellow light. Four candles were burning on chairs at the head and two at the feet. The little body was still dressed in the gay clothes of the festival, and the cocked hat and gilt-headed mace lay beside it. But the chubby hands were clasped over a tiny crucifix, and the hair of the shock head was brushed smooth and flat.
"There he is," said Elena, in a cracked voice, and she went down on her knees between the candles.
Roma, who could not speak, put the wreath of chrysanthemums on the brave little breast, and knelt by the mother's side. At that they all broke down together.
The old Garibaldian wiped his rheumy eyes and began to talk of David Rossi. He was as fond of Joseph as if the boy had been his own son. But what had become of the Honourable? Before daybreak the police had made a domiciliary perquisition in the apartment, carried off his papers and sealed up his rooms.
"Have no fear for him," said Roma, and then she asked about Bruno. All they knew was that Bruno had been arrested and locked up in the prison called Regina C[oe]li.
"Poor Bruno! He'll be dying to know what is happening here," said Elena.
"I'll see him," said Roma.
It was well she had come early. In the stupefaction of their sorrow the three poor souls were like helpless children and had done nothing. Roma sent the Garibaldian to the sanitary office for the doctor who was to verify the death, to the office of health to register it, and to the municipal office to arrange for the funeral. It was to be a funeral of the third category, with a funeral car of two horses and a coach with liveried coachmen. The grave was to be one of the little vaults, the Fornelli, set apart for children. The priest was to be instructed to buy many candles and order several Frati. The expense would be great, but Roma undertook to bear it, and when she left the house the old people kissed her hands again and loaded her with blessings.
The Roman prison with the extraordinary name, "The Queen of Heaven," is a vast yellow building on the Trastevere side of the river. Behind it rises the Janiculum, in front of it runs the Tiber, and on both sides of it are narrow lanes cut off by high walls.
On the morning after the insurrection a great many persons had gathered at the entrance of this prison. Old men, who were lame or sick or nearly blind, stood by a dead wall which divides the street from the Tiber, and looked on with dazed and vacant eyes. Younger men nearer the entrance read the proclamations posted up on the pilasters. One of these was the proclamation of the Prefect announcing the state of siege; another was the proclamation of the Royal Commissioner calling on citizens to consign all the arms in their possession to the Chief of Police under pain of imprisonment.
In the entrance-hall there was a crowd of women, each carrying a basket or a bundle in a handkerchief. They were young and old, dressed variously as if from different provinces, but nearly all poor, untidy, and unkempt.
An iron gate was opened, and an officer, two soldiers, and a warder came out to take the food which the women had brought for their relatives imprisoned within. Then there was a terrible tumult. "Mr. Officer, please!" "Please, Mr. Officer!" "Be kind to Giuseppe, and the saints bless you!" "My turn next!" "No, mine!" "Don't push!" "You're pushing yourself!" "You're knocking the basket out of my hands!" "Getaway!" "You cat! You...."
"Silence! Silence! Silence!" cried the officer, shouting the women down, and meantime the men in the street outside curled their lips and tried to laugh.
Into this wild scene, full of the acrid exhalations of human breath, and the nauseating odour of unclean bodies, but moved, nevertheless, by the finger of God Himself, the cab which brought Roma to see Bruno discharged her at the prison door.
The officer on the steps saw her over the heads of the women with their outstretched arms, and judging from her appearance that she came on other business, he called to a Carabineer to attend to her.
"I wish to see the Director," said Roma.
"Certainly, Excellency," said the Carabineer, and with a salute he led the way by a side door to the offices on the floor above.
The Governor of Regina C[oe]li was a middle-aged man with a kindly face, but under the new order he could do nothing.
"Everything relating to the political prisoners is in the hands of the Royal Commissioner," he said.
"Where can I see him, Cavaliere?"
"He is with the Minister of War to-day, arranging for the military tribunals, but perhaps to-morrow at his office in the Castle of St. Angelo...."
"Thanks! Meantime can I send a message into the prison?"
"And may I pay for a separate cell for a prisoner, with food and light, if necessary?"
Roma undertook the expense of these privileges and then scribbled a note to Bruno.
"DEAR FRIEND,—Don't lose heart! Your dear ones shall be cared for and comforted. He whom you love is safe and your darling is in heaven. Sleep well! These days will pass. "R. V."
That night Roma wrote the first part of a letter to David Rossi:
"David—my David! It is early days to call you by a dearer name, but the sweet word is on the tip of my pen, and I can hardly help myself from scribbling it. You wished me to tell you what is happening in Rome, and here I am beginning to write already, though when and how and where this letter is to reach you, I must leave it to Fate and to yourself to determine. Fancy! Only eighteen hours since we parted! It seems inconceivable! I feel as if I had lived a lifetime.
"Do you know, I did not go to bed when you left me. I had so many things to think about. And, tired as I was, I slept little, and was up early. The morning dawned beautifully. It was perfectly tragic. So bright and sunny after that night of slaughter. No rattle of cars, no tinkle of trams, no calls of the water-carriers and of the pedlars in the streets. It was for all the world like that awful quiet of the sea the morning after a tempest, with the sun on its placid surface and not a hint of the wrecks beneath.
"I remembered what you said about Elena, and went down to see her. The poor girl has just parted with her dead child. She did it with a brave heart, God pity her! taking comfort in the Blessed Virgin, as the mother in heaven who knows all our sorrows and asks God to heal them. Ah, what a sweet thing it must be to believe that! Do you believe it?"
Here she wanted to say something about her great secret. She tried, but she could not do it.
"I couldn't see Bruno to-day, but I hope to do so to-morrow, and meantime I have ordered food to be supplied to him. If I could only do something to some purpose! But five hundred of your friends are in Regina C[oe]li, and my poor little efforts are a drop of water in a mighty ocean.
"Rome is a deserted city to-day, and but for the soldiers, who are everywhere, it would look like a dead one! The steps of the Piazza di Spagna are empty, not a model is to be seen, not a flower is to be bought, and the fountain is bubbling in silence. After sunset a certain shiver passes over the world, and after an insurrection something of the same kind seems to pass over a city. The churches and the hospitals are the only places open, and the doctors and their messengers are the only people moving about.
"Just one of the newspapers has been published to-day, and it is full of proclamations. Everybody is to be indoors by nine o'clock and the cafes are to be closed at eight. Arms are to be consigned at the Questura, and meetings of more than four persons are strictly forbidden. Rewards of pardon are offered to all rioters who will inform on the ringleaders of the insurrection, and of money to all citizens who will denounce the conspirators. The military tribunals are to sit to-morrow and domiciliary visitations are already being made. Your own apartments have been searched and sealed and the police have carried off papers.
"Such are the doings of this evil day, and yet—selfish woman that I am—I cannot for my life think it is all evil. Has it not given me you? And if it has taken you away from me as well, I can wait, I can be patient. Where are you now, I wonder? And are you thinking of me while I am thinking of you? Oh, how splendid! Think of it! Though the train may be carrying you away from me every hour and every minute, before long we shall be together. In the first dream of the first sleep I shall join you, and we shall be cheek to cheek and heart to heart. Good-night, my dear one!"
Again she tried to say something about her secret. But no! "Not to-night," she thought, and after switching off the light and kissing her hand in the darkness to the stars that hung over the north, she laughed at her own foolishness and went to bed.
Roma awoke next day with a sense of pain. Thus far she had beaten the Baron—yes! But David Rossi? Had she sinned against God and against her husband? She must confess. There was no help for it. And there must be no hesitation and no delay.
Natalina came into the bedroom and threw open the shutters. She was bringing a telegram, and Roma almost snatched it out of her hands. It was from Rossi and had been sent off from Chiasso. "Crossed frontier safe and well."
Roma made a cry of joy and leapt out of bed. All day long that telegram was like wings under her heels and made her walk with an elastic step.
While taking her coffee she remembered the responsibilities she had undertaken the day before—for the boy's funeral and Bruno's maintenance—and for the first time in her life she began to consider ways and means. Her ready money was getting low, and it was necessary to do something.
Then Felice came with a sheaf of papers. They were tradesmen's bills and required immediate payment. Some of the men were below and refused to go away without the cash.
There was no help for it. She opened her purse, discharged her debts, swept her debtors out of the house, and sat down to count what remained.
Very little remained. But what matter? The five words of that telegram were five bright stars which could light up a darker sky than had fallen on her yet.
In this high mood she went down to the studio—silent now in the absence of the humorous voice that usually rang in it, and with Bruno's chisels and mallet lying idle, with his sack on a block of half-hewn marble. Uncovering her fountain, she looked at it again. It was good work; she knew it was good; she could be certain it was good. It should justify her yet, and some day the stupid people who were sheering away from her now would come cringing to her feet afresh.
That suggested thoughts of the Mayor. She would write to him and get some money with which to meet the expenses of yesterday as well as the obligations which she might perhaps incur to-day or in the future.
"Dear Senator Palomba," she wrote, "no doubt you have often wondered why your much-valued commission has not been completed before. The fact is that it suffered a slight accident a few days ago, but a week or a fortnight ought to see it finished, and if you wish to make arrangements for its reception you may count on its delivery in that time. Meantime as I am pressed for funds at the moment, I shall be glad if you can instruct your treasurer at the Municipality to let me have something on account. The price mentioned, you remember, was 15,000 francs, and as I have not had anything hitherto, I trust it may not be unreasonable to ask for half now, leaving the remainder until the fountain is in its place."
Having despatched this challenge by Felice, not only to the Mayor, but also to herself, her pride, her poverty, and to the great world generally, she put on her cloak and hat and drove down to the Castle of St. Angelo.
When she returned, an hour afterwards, there was a dry glitter in her eyes, which increased to a look of fever when she opened the drawing-room door and saw who was waiting there. It was the Mayor himself. The little oily man in patent-leather boots, holding upright his glossy silk hat, was clearly nervous and confused. He complimented her on her appearance, looked out of the window, extolled the view, and finally, with his back to his hostess, began on his business.
"It is about your letter, you know," he said awkwardly. "There seems to be a little misunderstanding on your part. About the fountain, I mean."
"None whatever, Senator. You ordered it. I have executed it. Surely the matter is quite simple."
"Impossible, my dear. I may have encouraged you to an experimental trial. We all do that. Rome is eager to discover genius. But a simple member of a corporate body cannot undertake ... that is to say, on his own responsibility, you know...."
Roma's breath began to come quickly. "Do you mean that you didn't commission my fountain?"
"How could I, my child? Such matters must go through a regular form. The proper committee must sanction and resolve...."
"But everybody has known of this, and it has been generally understood from the first."
"Ah, understood! Possibly! Rumour and report perhaps."
"But I could bring witnesses—high witnesses—the very highest if needs be...."
The little man smiled benevolently.
"Surely there is no witness of any standing in the State who would go into a witness-box and say that, without a contract, and with only a few encouraging words...."
The dry glitter in Roma's eyes shot into a look of anger. "Do you call your letters to me a few encouraging words only?" she said.
"My letters?" the glossy hat was getting ruffled.
"Your letters alluding to this matter, and enumerating the favours you wished me to ask of the Prime Minister."
"My dear," said the Mayor after a moment, "I'm sorry if I have led you to build up hopes, and though I have no authority ... if it will end matters amicably ... I think I can promise ... I might perhaps promise a little money for your loss of time."
"Do you suppose I want charity?"
"Charity, my dear?"
"What else would it be? If I have no right to everything I will have nothing. I will take none of your money. You can leave me."
The little man shuffled his feet, and bowed himself out of the room, with many apologies and praises which Roma did not hear. For all her brave words her heart was breaking, and she was holding her breath to repress a sob. The great bulwark she had built up for herself lay wrecked at her feet. She had deceived herself into believing that she could be somebody for herself. Going down to the studio, she covered up the fountain. It had lost every quality which she had seen in it before. Art was gone from her. She was nobody. It was very, very cruel.
But that glorious telegram rustled in her breast like a captive song-bird, and before going to bed she wrote to David Rossi again.
"Your message arrived before I was up this morning, and not being entirely back from the world of dreams, I fancied that it was an angel's whisper. This is silly, but I wouldn't change it for the greatest wisdom, if, in order to be the most wise and wonderful among women, I had to love you less.
"Business first and other things afterwards. Most of the newspapers have been published to-day, and some of them are blowing themselves out of breath in abuse of you, and howling louder than the wolves of the Capitol before rain. The military courts began this morning, and they have already polished off fifty victims. Rewards for denunciations have now deepened to threats of imprisonment for non-denunciation. General Morra, Minister of War, has sent in his resignation, and there is bracing weather in the neighbourhood of the Palazzo Braschi. An editor has been arrested, many journals and societies have been suppressed, and twenty thousand of the contadini who came to Rome for the meeting in the Coliseum have been despatched to their own communes. Finally, the Royal Commissioner has written to the Pope, calling on him to assist in the work of pacifying the people, and it is rumoured that the Holy Office is to be petitioned by certain of the Bishops to denounce the 'Republic of Man' as a secret society (like the Freemasons) coming within the ban of the Pontifical constitutions.
"So much for general news, and now for more personal intelligence. I went down to the Castle of St. Angelo this morning, and was permitted to speak to the Royal Commissioner. Recognised him instantly as a regular old-timer at the heels of the Baron, and tackled him on our ancient terms. The wretch—he squints, and he smoked a cigarette all through the interview—couldn't allow me to see Bruno during the private preparation of the case against him, and when I asked if the instruction would take long he said, 'Probably, as it is complicated by the case of some one else who is not yet in custody.' Then I asked if I might employ separate counsel for the defence, and he shuffled and said it was unnecessary. This decided me, and I walked straight to the office of the great lawyer Napoleon Fuselli, promised him five hundred francs by to-morrow morning, and told him to go ahead without delay.
"But heigh-ho, nonny! Coming home I felt like the witches in 'Macbeth.' 'By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes.' It was Senator Tom-tit, the little fat Mayor of Rome. His great ambition is to wear the green ribbon of St. Maurice and Lazarus, as none know better than myself. Wanting money on my fountain, I had written to the old wretch, but the moment we met I could see what was coming, so I braved it out, bustled about and made a noise. It was a mistake! There had been no commission at all! But if a little money would repay me for a loss of time....
"It wasn't so much that I cared about the loss of the fees, badly as I needed them. It was mainly that I had allowed the summer flies who buzzed about me for the Baron's sake to flatter me into the notion that I was an artist, when I was really nobody for myself at all.
"This humour lasted all afternoon, and spoiled my digestion for dinner, which was a pity, for there was some delicious wild asparagus. But then I thought of you and your work, and the future when you will come back with all Rome at your feet, and my vexation disappeared and I was content to be nothing and nobody except somebody whom you loved and who loved you, and that was to be everything and everybody in the world.
"I don't care a rush about the matter now, but what do you think I've done? Sold my carriage and horses! Actually! The little job-master, with his tight trousers, close-cropped head, and chamois-leather waistcoat, has just gone off after cheating me abominably. No matter! What do I want with a grand carriage while you are going about as an exile and an outcast? I want nothing you have not got, and all I have I wish you to have too, including my heart and my soul and everything that is in them...."
She stopped. This was the place to reveal her great secret. But she could not find her way to begin. "To-morrow will do," she thought, and so laid down the pen.
Early next morning Roma received a visit from the lawyer who conducted the business of her landlord. He was a middle-aged man in pepper-and-salt tweeds, and his manner was brusque and aggressive.
"Sorry to say, Excellency, that I've had a letter from Count Mario at Paris saying that he will require this apartment for his own use. He regrets to be compelled to disturb you, but having frequently apprised you of his intention to live here himself...."
"When does he want to come?" said Roma.
"That will do. My aunt is ill, but if she is fit to be moved...."
"Thanks! And may I perhaps present...."
A paper in the shape of a bill came from the breast-pocket of the pepper-and-salt tweeds. Roma took it, and, without looking at it, replied:
"You will receive your rent in a day or two."
"Thanks again. I trust I may rely on that. And meantime...."
"As I am personally responsible to the Count for all moneys due to him, may I ask your Excellency to promise me that nothing shall be removed from this apartment until my arrears of rent have been paid?"
"I promise that you shall receive what is due from me in two days. Is not that enough?"
The pepper-and-salt tweeds bowed meekly before Roma's flashing eyes.
The man was hardly out of the house when a woman was shown in. It was Madame Sella, the fashionable modiste.
"So unlucky, my dear! I'm driven to my wits' end for money. The people I deal with in Paris are perfect demons, and are threatening all sorts of pains and penalties if I don't send them a great sum straight away. Of course if I could get my own money in, it wouldn't matter. But the dear ladies of society are so slow, and naturally I don't like to go to their gentlemen, although really I've waited so long for their debts that if...."
"Can you wait one day longer for mine?"
"Donna Roma! And we've always been such friends, too!"
"You'll excuse me this morning, won't you?" said Roma, rising.
"Certainly. I'm busy, too. So good of you to see me. Trust I've not been de trop. And if it hadn't been for those stupid bills of mine...."
Roma sat down and wrote a letter to one of the strozzini (stranglers), who lend money to ladies on the security of their jewels.
"I wish to sell my jewellery," she wrote, "and if you have any desire to buy it, I shall be glad if you can come to see me for this purpose at four o'clock to-morrow."
"Roma!" cried a fretful voice.
She was sitting in the boudoir, and her aunt was calling to her from the adjoining room. The old lady, who had just finished her toilet, and was redolent of perfume and scented soap, was propped up on pillows between the mirror and her Madonna, with her cat purring on the cushion at the foot of her bed.
"Ah, you do come to me sometimes, don't you?" she said, with her embroidered handkerchief at her lips. "What is this I hear about the carriage and horses? Sold them! It is incredible. I will not believe it unless you tell me so yourself."
"It is quite true, Aunt Betsy. I wanted money for various purposes, and among others to pay my debts," said Roma.
"Goodness! It's true! Give me my salts. There they are—on the card-table beside you.... So it's true! It's really true! You've done some extraordinary things already, miss, but this ... Mercy me! Selling her horses! And she isn't ashamed of it!... I suppose you'll sell your clothes next, or perhaps your jewels."
"That's just what I want to do, Aunt Betsy."
"Holy Virgin! What are you saying, girl? Have you lost all sense of decency? Sell your jewels! Goodness! Your ancestral jewels! You must have grown utterly heartless as well as indifferent to propriety, or you wouldn't dream of selling the treasures that have come down to you from your own mother's breast, as one might say."
"My mother never set eyes on any of them, auntie, and if some of them belonged to my grandmother, she must have been a good woman because she was the mother of my father, and she would rather see me sell them all than live in debt and disgrace."
"Go on! Go on with your English talk! Or perhaps it's American, is it? You want to kill me, that's what it is! You will, too, and sooner than you expect, and then you'll be sorry and ashamed ... Go away! Why do you come to worry me? Isn't it enough ... Natalina! Nat-a-lina!"
Late that night Roma resumed her letter to David Rossi:
"DEAREST,—You are always the last person I speak to before I go to bed, and if only my words could sail away over Monte Mario in the darkness while I sleep, they would reach you on the wings of the morning.
"You want to know all that is happening, and here goes again. The tyrannies of military rule increase daily, and some of its enormities are past belief. Military court sat all day yesterday and polished off eighty-five poor victims. Ten of them got ten years, twenty got five years, and about fifty got periods of one month to twelve.
"Lawyer Napoleon F. was here this afternoon to say that he had seen Bruno and begun work in his defence. Strangely enough he finds a difficulty in a quarter from which it might least be expected. Bruno himself is holding off in some unaccountable way which gives Napoleon F. an idea that the poor soul is being got at. Apparently—you will hardly credit it—he is talking doubtfully about you, and asking incredible questions about his wife. Lawyer Napoleon actually inquired if there was 'anything in it,' and the thing struck me as so silly that I laughed out in his face. It was very wrong of me not to be jealous, wasn't it? Being a woman, I suppose I ought to have leapt at the idea, according to all the natural laws of love. I didn't, and my heart is still tranquil. But poor Bruno was more human, and Napoleon has an idea that something is going on inside the prison. He is to go there again to-morrow and to let me know.
"Such doings at home too! I've been two years in debt to my landlord, and at the end of every quarter I've always prayed like a modest woman to be allowed to pass by unnoticed. Celebrity has fallen on me at last, though, and I'm to go at Easter. Madame de Trop, too, has put the screw on, and everybody else is following suit. Yesterday, for example, I had the honour of a call from every one in the world to whom I owed twopence. Remembering how hard it used to be to get a bill out of these people, I find their sudden business ardour humorous. They do not deceive me nevertheless. I see the die is cast, the fact is known. I have fallen from my high estate of general debtor to everybody and become merely an honest woman.
"Do I suffer from these slings of fortune? Not an atom. When I was rich, or seemed to be so, I was often the most miserable woman in the world, and now I'm happy, happy, happy!
"There is only one thing makes me a little unhappy. Shall I tell you what it is? Yes, I will tell you because your heart is so true, and like all brave men you are so tender to all women. It is a girl friend of mine—a very close and dear friend, and she is in trouble. A little while ago she was married to a good man, and they love each other dearer than life, and there ought to be nothing between them. But there is, and it is a very serious thing too, although nobody knows about it but herself and me. How shall I tell you? Dearest, you are to think my head is on your breast and you cannot see my face while I tell you my poor friend's secret. Long ago—it seems long—she was the victim of another man. That is really the only word for it, because she did not consent. But all the same she feels that she has sinned and that nothing on earth can wash away the stain. The worst fact is that her husband knows nothing about it. This fills her with measureless regret and undying remorse. She feels that she ought to have told him, and so her heart is full of tears, and she doesn't know what it is her duty to.
"I thought I would ask you to tell me, dearest. You are kind, but you mustn't spare her. I didn't. She wanted to draw a veil over her frailty, but I wouldn't let her. I think she would like to confess to her husband, to pour out her heart to him, and begin again with a clean page, but she is afraid. Of course she hasn't really been faithless, and I could swear on my life she loves her husband only. And then her sorrow is so great, and she is beginning to look worn with lying awake at nights, though some people still think she is beautiful. I dare say you will say, serve her right for deceiving a good man. So do I sometimes, but I feel strangely inconsistent about my poor friend, and a woman has a right to be inconsistent, hasn't she? Tell me what I am to say to her, and please don't spare her because she is a friend of mine."
She lifted her pen from the paper. "He'll understand," she thought. "He'll remember our other letters and read between the lines. Well, so much the better, and God be good to me!"
"Good-night! Good-night! Good-night! I feel like a child—as if the years had gone back with me, or rather as if they had only just begun. You have awakened my soul and all the world is different. Nearly everything that seemed right to me before seems wrong to me now, and vice versa. Life? That wasn't life. It was only existence. I fancy it must have been some elder sister of mine who went through everything. Think of it! When you were twenty and I was only ten! I'm glad there isn't as much difference now. I'm catching up to you—metaphorically, I mean. If I could only do so physically! But what nonsense I'm talking! In spite of my poor friend's trouble I can't help talking nonsense to-night."
Two days later Natalina, coming into Roma's bedroom, threw open the shutters and said:
"Letter with a foreign postmark, Excellency—'Sister Angelica, care of the Porter.' It was delivered at the Convent, and the porter sent it over here."
"Give it to me," said Roma eagerly. "It's quite right. I know whom it is for, and if any more letters come for the same person bring them to me immediately."
Almost before the maid had left the room Roma had torn the letter open. It was dated from a street in Soho.
"MY DEAR WIFE,—As you see, I have reached London, and now I am thinking of you always, wondering what sufferings are being inflicted upon you for my sake and how you meet and bear them. To think of you there, in the midst of our enemies, is a spur and an inspiration. Only wait! If my absence is cruel to you it is still more hard to me. I will see your lovely eyes again before long, and there will be an end of all our sadness. Meantime continue to love me, and that will work miracles. It will make all the slings and slurs of life seem to be a long way off and of no account. Only those who love can know this law of the human heart, but how true it is and how beautiful!
"We reached London in the early morning, when the grey old city was beginning to stir after its sleepless rest. I had telegraphed the time of my arrival to the committee of our association, and early as it was some hundreds of our people were at Charing Cross to meet me. They must have been surprised to see a man step out of the train in the disguise of driver of a wine-cart on the Campagna, but perhaps that helped them to understand the position better, and they formed into procession and marched to Trafalgar Square as if they had forgotten they were in a foreign country.
"To me it was a strange and moving spectacle. The mist like a shroud over the great city, some stars of leaden hue paling out overhead, the day dawning over the vast square, the wide silence with the far-off hum of awakening life, the English workmen stopping to look at us as they went by to their work, and our company of dark-bearded men, emigrants and exiles, sending their hearts out in sympathy to their brothers in the south. As I spoke from the base of the Gordon statue and turned towards St. Martin's Church, I could fancy I saw your white-haired father on the steps with his little daughter in his arms.
"I will write again in a day or two, telling you what we are doing. Meantime I enclose a Proclamation to the People, which I wish you to get printed and posted up. Take it to old Albert Pelegrino in the Stamperia by the Trevi. Tell him to mention the cost and the money shall follow. Call at the Piazza Navona and see what is happening to Elena. Poor girl! Poor Bruno! And my poor dear little darling!
"Take care of yourself, my dear one. I am always thinking of you. It is a fearful thing to have taken up the burden of one who is branded as an outcast and an outlaw. I cannot help but reproach myself. There was a time when I saw my duty to you in another way, but love came like a hurricane out of the skies and swept all sense of duty away. My wife! my Roma! You have hazarded everything for me, and some day I will give up everything for you. D. R."
"DEAREST,—Your letter to Sister Angelica arrived safely, and worked more miracles in her cloistered heart than ever happened to the 'Blessed Bambino.' Before it came I was always thinking, 'Where is he now? Is he having his breakfast? Or is it dinner, according to the difference of time and longitude?' All I knew was that you had travelled north, and though the sun doesn't ordinarily set in that direction, the sky over Monte Mario used to glow for my special pleasure like the gates of the New Jerusalem.
"Your letters are so precious that I will ask you not to fill them with useless things. Don't tell me to love you. The idea! Didn't I say I should think of you always? I do! I think of you when I go to bed at night, and that is like opening a jewel-case in the moonlight. I think of you when I am asleep, and that is like an invisible bridge which unites us in our dreams; and I think of you when I wake in the morning, and that is like a cage of song-birds that sing in my breast the whole day long.
"But you are dying to hear what is really happening in Rome, so your own special envoy must send off her budget as a set-off against those official telegrams. 'Not a day with out a line,' so my letter will look like words shaken out of a literary pepper-box. Let me bring my despatches up to date.
"Military rule severer than ever, and poverty and misery on all sides. Families of reserve soldiers starving, and meetings of chief citizens to succour them. Donation from the King and from the 'Black' Charity Circle of St. Peter. Even the clergy are sending francs, so none can question their sincerity. Bureau of Labour besieged by men out of work, and offices occupied by Carabineers. People eating maize in polenta and granturco with the certainty of sickness to follow. Red Cross Society organised as in time of war, and many sick and wounded hidden in houses.
"And now for more personal matters. The proclamation is in hand, and paid for, and will be posted first thing in the morning. From the printer's I went on to the Piazza Navona and found a wilderness of woe. Elena has gone away, leaving an ambiguous letter behind her, saying that she wished her Madonna to be given to me, as she would have no need of it in the place she was going to. This led the old people to believe that for the loss of her son and husband she had become demented and had destroyed herself. I pretended to think differently, and warned them to say nothing of their daughter's disappearance, thinking that Bruno might hear of it, and find food for still further suspicions.
"Lawyer Napoleon F. has seen the poor soul again, and been here this evening to tell me the result. It will seem to you incredible. Bruno will do nothing to help in his own defence. Talks of 'treachery' and the 'King's pardon.' Napoleon F. thinks the Camorra is at work with him, and tells how criminals in the prisons of Italy have a league of crime, with captains, corporals, and cadets. My own reading of the mystery is different. I think the Camorra in this case is the Council, and the only design is to entrap by treachery one of the 'greater delinquents not in custody.' I want to find out where Charles Minghelli is at present. Nobody seems to know.
"As for me, what do you suppose is my last performance? I've sold my jewels! Yesterday I sent for one of the strozzini, and the old Shylock came this evening and cheated me unmercifully. No matter! What do I want with jewellery, or a fine house, and servants to follow me about as if I were a Cardinal? If you can do without them so can I. But you need not say you are anxious about what is happening to me. I'm as happy as the day is long. I am happy because I love you, and that is everything.
"Only one thing troubles me—the grief of the poor girl I told you of. She follows me about, and is here all the time, so that I feel as if I were possessed by her secret. In fact, I'm afraid I'll blab it out to somebody. I think you would be sorry to see her. She tries to persuade herself that because her soul did not consent she was really not to blame. That is the thing that women are always saying, isn't it? They draw this distinction when it is too late, and use it as a quibble to gloss over their fault. Oh, I gave it her! I told her she should have thought of that in time, and died rather than yield. It was all very fine to talk of a minute of weakness—mere weakness of bodily will, not of virtue, but the world splits no straws of that sort. If a woman has fallen she has fallen, and there is no question of body or soul.
"Oh dear, how she cried! When I caught sight of her red eyes, I felt she ought to get herself forgiven. And after all I'm not so sure that she should tell her husband, seeing that it would so shock and hurt him. She thinks that after one has done wrong the best thing to do next is to say nothing about it. There is something in that, isn't there?
"One thing I must say for the poor girl—she has been a different woman since this happened. It has converted her. That's a shocking thing to say, but it's true. I remember that when I was a girl in the convent, and didn't go to mass because I hadn't been baptized and it was agreed with the Baron that I shouldn't be, I used to read in the Lives of the Saints that the darkest moments of 'the drunkenness of sin' were the instants of salvation. Who knows? Perhaps the very fact by which the world usually stamps a woman as bad is in this case the fact of her conversion. As for my friend, she used to be the vainest young thing in Rome, and now she cares nothing for the world and its vanities.
"Two days hence my letter will fall into your hands—why can't I do so too? Love me always. That will lift me up to your own level, and prove that when you fell in love with me love wasn't quite blind. I'm not so old and ugly as I was yesterday, and at all events nobody could love you more. Good-night! I open my window to say my last good-night to the stars over Monte Mario, for that's where England is! How bright they are to-night! How beautiful! ROMA."
Next morning the Countess was very ill, and Roma went to her immediately.
"I must have a doctor," she said. "It's perfectly heartless to keep me without one all this time."
"Aunt Betsy," said Roma, "you know quite well that but for your own express prohibition you would have had a doctor all along."
"For mercy's sake, don't nag, but send for a doctor immediately. Let it be Dr. Fedi. Everybody has Dr. Fedi now."
Fedi was the Pope's physician, and therefore the most costly and fashionable doctor in Rome.
Dr. Fedi came with an assistant who carried a little case of instruments. He examined the Countess, her breast, her side, and the glands under her arms, shot out a solemn under-lip, put two fingers inside his collar, twisted his head from side to side, and announced that the patient must have a nurse immediately.
"Do you hear that, Roma? Doctor says that I must have a nurse. Of course I must have a nurse. I'll have one of the English nursing Sisters. Everybody has them now. They're foreigners, and if they talk they can't do much mischief."
The Sister was sent for. She was a mild and gentle creature, in blue and white, but she talked perpetually of her Mother Superior, who had been bedridden for fifteen years, yet smiled sweetly all day long. That exasperated the Countess and fretted her. When the doctor came again the patient was worse.
"Your aunt must have dainties to tempt her appetite and so keep up her strength."
"Do you hear, Roma?"
"You shall have everything you wish for, auntie."
"Well, I wish for strawberries. Everybody eats them who is ill at this season."
The strawberries were bought, but the Countess scarcely touched them, and they were finally consumed in the kitchen.
When the doctor came a third time the patient was much emaciated and her skin had become sallow and earthy.
"It would not be right to conceal from you the gravity of your condition, Countess," he said. "In such a case we always think it best to tell a patient to make her peace with God."
"Oh, don't say that, doctor," whimpered the poor withered creature on the bed.
"But while there's life there's hope, you know; and meantime I'll send you an opiate to relieve the pain."
When the doctor was gone, the Countess sent for Roma.
"That Fedi is a fool," she said. "I don't know what people see in him. I should like to try the Bambino of Ara C[oe]li. The Cardinal Vicar had it, and why shouldn't I? They say it has worked miracles. It may be dear, but if I die you will always reproach yourself. If you are short of money you can sign a bill at six months, and before that the poor maniac woman will be gone and you'll be the wife of the Baron."
"If you really think the Bambino will...."
"It will! I know it will."
"Very well, I will send for it."
Roma sent a letter to the Superior of the Franciscans at the Friary of Ara C[oe]li asking that the little figure of the infant Christ, which is said to restore the sick, should be sent to her aunt, who was near to death.
At the same time she wrote to an auctioneer in the Via due Macelli, requesting him to call upon her. The man came immediately. He had little beady eyes, which ranged round the dining-room and seemed to see everything except Roma herself.
"I wish to sell up my furniture," said Roma.
"All of it?"
"Except what is in my aunt's room and the room of her nurse, and such things in the kitchen, the servants' apartments, and my own bedroom as are absolutely necessary for present purposes."
"Quite right. When?"
"Within a week if possible."
The Bambino came in a carriage with two horses, and the people in the street went down on their knees as it passed. One of the friars in priest's surplice carried it in a box with the lid open, and two friars in brown habits walked before it with lifted candles. But as the painted image in its scarlet clothes and jewels entered the Countess's bedroom with its grim and ghostly procession, and was borne like a baby mummy to the foot of her bed, it terrified her, and she screamed.
"Take it away!" she shrieked. "Do you want to frighten me out of my life? Take it away!"
The grim and ghostly procession went out. Its visit had lasted thirty seconds and cost a hundred francs.
When the doctor came again the outline of the Countess's writhing form had shrunk to the lines of a skeleton under the ruffled counterpane.
"It's not the Bambino you want—it's the priest," he said, and then the poor mortal who was still afraid of dying began to whimper.
"And, Sister," said the doctor, "as the Countess suffers so much pain, you may increase the opiate from a dessert-spoonful to a tablespoonful, and give it twice as frequently."
That evening the Sister went home for a few hours' leave, and Roma took her place by the sick-bed. The patient was more selfish and exacting than ever, but Roma had begun to feel a softening towards the poor tortured being, and was trying her best to do her duty.
It was dusk, and the Countess, who had just taken her opiate in the increased doses, was out of pain, and wished to make her toilet. Roma brought up the night-table and the mirror, the rouge-pot, the rabbit's foot, the puff, the pencil, and the other appurtenances of her aunt's toilet-box. And when the fragile thing, so soon to be swallowed up by the earth in its great earthquake, had been propped by pillows, she began to paint her wrinkled face as if going to dance a minuet with death. First the black rings about the languid eyes were whitened, then the earthen cheeks were rouged, and finally the livid lips and nostrils were pencilled with the rosy hues of health and youth.
Roma had turned on the electric light, but the glare oppressed the patient, and she switched it off again. The night had now closed in, and the only light in the room came from the little red oil-lamp which burned before the shrine.
The drug began to operate, and its first effect was to loosen the old lady's tongue. She began to talk of priests in a tone of contempt and braggadocio.
"I hate priests," she said, "and I can't bear to have them about me. Why so? Because they are always about the dead. Their black cassocks make me think of funerals. The sight of a graveyard makes me faint. Besides, priests and confessions go together, and why should a woman confess if she can avoid it? When people confess they have to give up the thing they confess to, or they can't get absolution. Fedi's a fool. Give it up indeed! I might as well talk of giving up the bed that's under me."
Roma sat on a stool by the bedside, listening intently, yet feeling she had no right to listen. The drug was rapidly intoxicating the Countess, who went on to talk as if some one else had been in the room.
"A priest would be sure to ask questions about that girl. I would have to tell him why the Baron put me here to look after her, and then he would prate about the Sacraments and want me to give up everything."
The Countess laughed a hard, evil laugh, and Roma felt an icy shudder pass over her.
"'I'm tied,' said the Baron. 'But you must see that she waits for me. Everything depends upon you, and if all comes out well....'"
The old woman's tongue was thickening, and her eyes in the dull red light were glazed and stupid.
Roma sat motionless and silent, watching with her own dilated eyes the grinning sinner, as she poured out the story of the plot for her capture and corruption. At that moment she hated her aunt, the unclean, malignant, unpitying thing who had poisoned her heart against her father and tried to break down every spiritual impulse of her soul.
The diabolical horse-laughter came again, and then the devil who had loosened the tongue of the dying woman in the intoxication of the drug made her reveal the worst secret of her tortured conscience.
"Why did I let him torment me? Because he knew something. It was about the child. Didn't you know I had a child? It was born when my husband was away. He was coming home, and I was in terror."
The red light was on the emaciated face. Roma was sitting in the shadow with a roaring in her ears.
"It died, and I went to confession.... I thought nobody knew.... But the Baron knows everything.... After that I did whatever he told me."
The thick voice stopped. Only the ticking of a little clock was audible. The Countess had dozed off. All her vanity of vanities, her intrigues, her life-long frenzies, her sins and sufferings were wrapt in the innocence of sleep.
Roma looked down at the poor, wrinkled, rouged face, now streaked with sweat and with black lines from the pencilled eyebrows, and noiselessly rose to go. She was feeling a sense of guilt in herself that stirred her to the depths of abasement.
The Countess awoke. She was again in pain, and her voice was now different.
"Roma! Is that you?"
"Why are you sitting in the darkness? I have a horror of darkness. You know that quite well."
Roma turned on the lights.
"Have I been speaking? What have I been saying?"
Roma tried to prevaricate.
"You are telling me a falsehood. You know you are. You gave me that drug to make me tell you my secrets. But I know what I told you and it was all a lie. You needn't think because you've been listening.... It was a lie, I tell you...."
The Sister came back at that moment, and Roma went to her room. She did not write her usual letter to David Rossi that night. Instead of doing so, she knelt by Elena's little Madonna, which she had set up on a table by her bed.
Her own secret was troubling her. She had wanted to take it to some one, some woman, who would listen to her and comfort her. She had no mother, and her tears had begun to fall.
It was then that she thought of the world-mother, and remembered the prayer she had heard a thousand times but never used before.
"Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now, and at the hour of death—Amen!"
When she rose from her knees she felt like a child who had been crying and was comforted.
For some days after this the house was in a tumult. Men in red caps labelled "Casa di Vendita" were tearing up carpets, dragging out pieces of furniture and marking them. The catalogue was made, and bills were posted outside the street door announcing a sale of "Old and New Objects of Art" in the "Appartamento Volonna." Then came the "Grand Esposizione"—it was on Sunday morning—and the following day the auction.
Roma built herself an ambush from prying eyes in one corner of the apartment. She turned her boudoir into a bedroom and sitting-room combined. From there she heard the shuffling of feet as the people assembled in the large dismantled drawing-room without. She was writing at a table when some one knocked at the door. It was the Commendatore Angelelli, in light clothes and silk hat. At that moment the look of servility in his long face prevailed over the look of arrogance.
"Good-morning, Donna Roma. May I perhaps...."
The lanky person settled himself comfortably and began on a confidential communication.
"The Baron, sincerely sorry to hear of your distresses, sends me to say that you have only to make a request and this unseemly scene shall come to an end. In fact, I have authority to act on his behalf—as an unknown friend, you know—and stop these proceedings even at the eleventh hour. Only a word from you—one word—and everything shall be settled satisfactorily."
Roma was silent for a moment, and the Commendatore concluded that his persuasions had prevailed. Somebody else knocked at the door.
"Come in," said the Commendatore largely.
This time it was the auctioneer. "Time to begin the sale, Signorina. Any commands?" He glanced from Roma to Angelelli with looks of understanding.
"I think her Excellency has perhaps something to say," said Angelelli.
"Nothing whatever. Go on," said Roma.
The auctioneer disappeared through the door, and Angelelli put on his hat.
"Then you have no answer for his Excellency?"
"Bene," said the Commendatore, and he went off whistling softly.
The auction began. At a table on a platform where the piano used to stand sat the chief auctioneer with his ivory hammer. Beneath him at a similar table sat an assistant. As the men in red caps brought up the goods the two auctioneers took the bidding together, repeating each other in the manner of actor and prompter at an Italian theatre.
The English Sister came to say that the Countess wished to see her niece immediately. The invalid, now frightfully emaciated and no longer able to sit up, was lying back on her lace-edged pillows. She was plucking with shrivelled and bony fingers at her figured counterpane, and as Roma entered she tried to burst out on her in a torrent of wrath. But the sound that came from her throat was like a voice shouted on a windy headland, and hardly louder than the muffled voices of the auctioneers as they found their way through the walls.
Roma sat down on the stool by the bedside, stroked the cat with the gold cross suspended from its neck, and listened to the words within the room and without as they fell on her ear alternately.
"Roma, you are treating me shamefully. While I am lying here helpless you are having an auction—actually an auction—at the door of my very room."
"Camera da letto della Signorina! Bed in noce, richly ornamented with fruit and flowers." "Shall I say fifty?" "Thank you, fifty." "Fifty." "Fifty-five." "Fifty-five." "No advance on fifty-five?" "Gentlemen, gentlemen! The beautiful bed of a beautiful lady, and only fifty-five offered for it!..."
"If you wanted money you had only to ask the Baron, and if you didn't wish to do that, you had only to sign a bill at six months, as I told you before. But no! You wanted to humble and degrade me. That's all it is. You've done it, too, and I'm dying in disgrace...."
"Secretaire in walnut! Think, ladies, of the secrets this writing-desk might whisper if it would! How much shall I say?" "Sixty lire." "Sixty." "Sixty-five." "Sixty-five." "Writing-desk in walnut with the love letters hardly out of it, and only sixty-five lire offered!..."
"This is what comes of a girl going her own way. Society is not so very exacting, but it revenges itself on people who defy the respectabilities. And quite right, too! Pity they could not be the only ones to suffer, but they can't. Their friends and relations are the real sufferers; and as for me...."
The Countess's voice broke down into a maudlin whimper. Without a word Roma rose up to go. As she did so she met Natalina coming into the room with the usual morning plate of forced strawberries. They had cost four francs the pound.
Some time afterwards, from her writing-table in the boudoir-bedroom, Roma heard a shuffling of feet on the circular iron stairs. The people were going down to the studio. Presently the auctioneer's voice came up as from a vault.
"And now what am I offered for this large and important work of modern art?"
There was a ripple of derisive laughter.
"A fountain worthy, when finished, to rank with the masterpieces of ancient Rome."
More derisive laughter.
"Now is the time for anti-clericals. Gentlemen, don't all speak at once. Every day is not a festa. How much? Nothing at all? Not even a soldo? Too bad. Art is its own reward."
Still more laughter, followed by the shuffling of feet coming up the iron stairs, and a familiar voice on the landing—it was the Princess Bellini's—"Madonna mia! what a fright it is, to be sure!"
Then another voice—it was Madame Bella's—"I thought so the day of the private view, when she behaved so shockingly to the dear Baron."
Then a third voice—it was the voice of Olga the journalist—"I said the Baron would pay her out, and he has. Before the day is over she'll not have a stick left or a roof to cover her."
Roma dropped her head on to the table. Try as she might to keep a brave front, the waves of shame and humiliation were surging over her.
Some one touched her on the shoulder. It was Natalina with a telegram: "Letter received; my apartment is paid for to end of June; why not take possession of it?"
From that moment onward nothing else mattered. The tumultuous noises in the drawing-room died down, and there was no sound but the voices of the auctioneer and his clerk, which rumbled like a drum in the empty chamber.
It was four o'clock. Opening the window, Roma heard the music of a band. At that a spirit of defiance took possession of her, and she put on her hat and cloak. As she passed through the empty drawing-room, the auctioneer, who was counting his notes with the dry rustle of a winnowing machine, looked up with his beady eyes and said:
"It has come out fairly well, Madame—better than we might have expected."
On reaching the piazza she hailed a cab. "The Pincio!" she cried, and settled in her seat. When she returned an hour afterwards she wrote her usual letter to David Rossi.
"High doings to-day! Have had a business on my own account, and done a roaring trade! Disposed of everything in the shop except what I wanted for myself. It isn't every trades-woman who can say that much, and I'm only a beginner to boot!
"Soberly, I've sold up. Being under notice to leave this apartment, I didn't want all this useless furniture, so I thought I might as well get done with it in good time. Besides, what right had I to soft beds and fine linen while you were an exile, sleeping Heaven knows where? And then my aunt, who is very ill and wants all sorts of luxuries, is rather expensive. So for the past week my drawing-room has been as full of fluting as a frog-pond at sunset, and on Sunday morning people were banging away at my poor piano as if it had been a hurdy-gurdy at an osteria.
"But, oh dear! how stupid the world is! People thought because I was selling what I didn't want I must be done. You would have laughed to hear their commentaries. To tell you the truth, I was so silly that I could have cried, but just at the moment when I felt a wee bit badly, down came your telegram like an angel from Heaven—and what do you think I did? The old Adam, or say the new Eve, took possession of me, and the minute the people were gone I hired a cab—a common garden cab, Roman variety, with a horse on its last legs and a driver in ragged tweeds—and drove off to the Pincio! I wanted to show those fine folk that I wasn't done, and I did! They were all there, my dear friends and former flatterers—every one of them who has haunted my house for years, asking for this favour or that, and paying me in the coin of sweetest smiles. It seemed as if fate had gathered them all together for my personal inspection and wouldn't let a creature escape.
"Did they see me? Not a soul of them! I drove through them and between them, and they bowed across and before and behind me, and I might have been as invisible as Asmodeus for all the consciousness they betrayed of my presence. Was I humiliated? Confused? Crushed? Oh, dear no! I was proud. I knew the day would come, the day was near, when they must try to forget all this and to persuade themselves it had never been, when for my own sake, even mine, and for yours, most of all for yours, they would come back humble, so humble and afraid.
"So I gave them every chance. I was bold and I did not spare them. And when the sun began to sink behind St. Peter's and the band stopped, and we turned to go, I know which of us went home happy and unashamed. Oh, David Rossi! If you could have been there!
"I must write again on other matters. Meantime, one item of news. Lawyer Napoleon, who continues to go to Regina C[oe]li to see the bewildering Bruno, saw Charles Minghelli there in prison clothes! If the God who settles the question of sex had only remembered to make your wife the procurator-general, think how different the history of the world would have been! The worst of it is he mightn't have remembered to make you a woman; and in any case, things being so nicely settled as they are, I don't think I want to be a man. I waft a kiss to you on the wings of the wind. It's ponente to-day, so it ought to be warm. "ROMA.
"P.S.—My poor friend is still in trouble. Although not a religious woman, she has taken to saying a 'Hail Mary' every night on going to bed, and if it wasn't for that I'm afraid she would commit suicide, so frightful are the visions that enter her head sometimes. I've told her how wrong it would be to do away with herself, if only for the sake of her husband, who is away. Didn't I tell you he was away at present? It would hurt you dreadfully if I were to die before you return, wouldn't it? But I'm dying already to hear what you think of her. Write! Write! Write!"
When the King of Terrors could no longer be beaten back the Countess sent for the priest. Before he arrived she insisted on making her toilet and receiving him in the dressing-gown which she used to wear when people made ante-camera to her in the days of her gaiety and strength.
During the time of the Countess's confession Roma sat in her own room with a tremor of the heart which she had never felt before. Something personal and very intimate was creeping over her soul. She heard the indistinct murmur of the priest's voice at intervals, followed by a sibilant sound as of whispers and sobs.
The confession lasted fifteen minutes and then the priest came out of the room. "Now that your relative has made her peace with God," he said, "she must receive the Blessed Sacrament, Extreme Unction, and the Apostolic Blessing."
He went away to prepare for these offices, and the English Sister came to see Roma. "The Countess is like another woman already," she said, but Roma did not go into the sickroom.
The priest returned in half-an-hour. He had now two assistants, one carrying the cross and banner, the other a vessel of holy water and the volume of the Roman ritual. The Sister and Felice met them at the door with lighted candles.
"Peace be to this house!" said the priest.
And the assistants said, "And to all dwelling in it."
Then the priest took off an outer cloak, revealing his white surplice and violet stole, and followed the candles into the Countess's room. The little card-table had been covered with a damask napkin and laid out as an altar. All the dainty articles of the dying woman's dressing-table, her scent-flasks, rouge pots and puffs, were huddled together with various medicine bottles on a chest of drawers at the back. It was two o'clock in the afternoon and the sun was shining, so the curtains were drawn and the shutters closed. In the darkened room the candles burned like stars.
The ghostly viaticum being over, the priest and his assistants left the house. But the pale, grinning shadow of death continued to stand by the perfumed couch.
Roma had not been present at the offices, and presently the English Sister came to say that the Countess wished to see her.
"It's perfectly miraculous," said the Sister. "She's like another woman."
"Has she had her opiate lately?" said Roma, and the Sister answered that she had.
Roma found her aunt in a kind of mystical transport. A great light of joy, almost of pride, was shining in her face.
"All my pains are gone," she said. "All my sorrows and trials too. I have laid them all on Christ, and now I am going to mount up with Him to God."
Clearly she had no sense of her guilt towards Roma. She began to take a high tone with her, the tone of a saint towards a sinner.
"You must conquer your worldly passions, Roma. You have been a sinner, but you must not die a bad death. For instance, you are selfish. I am sorry to say it, but you know you are. You must confess and dedicate your life to fighting the sin in your sinful heart, and commend your soul to His mercy who has washed me from all stain."
But the Countess's ethereal transports did not wholly eclipse her worldly vanities when she proceeded to preparations for her funeral.
"Let there be a Requiem Mass, Roma. Everybody has it. It costs a little, certainly, but we can't think of money in a case like this. And send for the Raveggi Company to do the funeral pomps, and see they don't put me on a tressel. I am a noble and have a right to be laid on the church floor. See they bury me on high ground. The little Pincio is where the best people are buried now, above the tomb of Duke Massimo."
Roma continued to say "Yes," and "Yes," and "Yes," though her very heart felt sore.
Two hours afterwards the Countess was in her death agony. The tortured body had prevailed over the rapturous soul, and she was calling for more and more of the opiate. Everybody was odious to her, and her angular face was snapping all round.
The priest came to say the prayers for the dying. It was near to sunset, but the shutters were still closed, and the room had a grim solemnity. A band was playing on the Pincio, and the strains of an opera mingled with the petitions of the "breathing forth."
Everybody knelt except Roma. She alone was standing, but her heart was on its knees and her whole soul was prostrate.
The priest put a crucifix in the Countess's hand and she kissed it fervently, pronouncing all the time with gasping breath the name, "Gesu, Gesu, Gesu!"
The passing bell of the parish church was tolling in slow strokes, and the priest was praying fast and loud:
"May Christ who called thee receive thee, and let angels lead thee into the bosom of Abraham."
At one moment the crucifix dropped from the dying woman's hands, and her diamond rings, now too large for the shrivelled fingers, fell on to the counterpane. A little later her wig fell off, and for an instant her head was bald. Her forehead was perspiring; her breath was rattling in her chest. At last she became delirious.
"It's a lie!" she cried. "Everything I've said is a lie! I didn't kill it!" Then she rolled aside, and the crucifix fell on to the floor.
The priest, who had been praying faster and faster every moment, rose to his feet and said in an altered tone, "We commend to Thee, O Lord, the soul of Thy handmaiden, Elizabeth, that being dead to the world she may live to Thee, and those sins which through the frailty of human life she has committed Thou by the indulgence of Thy loving kindness may wipe out, through Christ our Lord, Amen."
The priest's voice died down to an inarticulate murmur and then stopped. A moment afterwards the curtains were drawn back, the shutters parted, and the windows thrown open. A flood of sunset light streamed into the room. The candles burnt yellow and went out. The mystic rites were at an end.
Roma fled back to her own room. Her storm-tossed soul was foundering.
The band was still playing on the Pincio, and the sun was going down behind St. Peter's, when Roma took up her pen to write.
"She is dead! The life she clung to so desperately has left her at last. How she held on to it! And now she has gone to give an account of the deeds done in this body. Yet who am I to talk like this? Only a poor, unhappy fellow-sinner.
"After confession she thought she was forgiven. She imagined she was pure, sinless, soulful. Perhaps she was so, and only the pains of death made her seem to fall away. But what a power in confession! Oh, the joy in her poor face when she had lifted the burden of her sins and secrets off her soul! Forgiveness! What a thing it must be to feel one's self forgiven!...
"I cannot write any more to-day, my dear one, but there will be news for you next time, great and serious news."
Roma fulfilled her promise. The funeral pomps, if the Countess could have seen them, would have satisfied her vain little mind. On going to the parish church the procession covered the entire length of the street. First the banner with skull, cross-bones, and hour-glass, then a confraternity of lay people, then twenty paid mourners in evening dress, then fifty Capuchins at two francs a head with yellow candles at three francs each, then the cross, then the secular clergy two and two, then the parish priest in surplice and black stole with servitors and acolytes, then a stately funeral car with four horses richly harnessed, and finally four coaches with coachmen and footmen in gala livery. The bier was loaded with flowers and streamers, and the cost of the cortege was nearly a thousand francs.
As Roma passed out of the church with head down some one spoke to her. It was the Baron, carrying his hat, on which there was a deep black band. His tall spare figure, high forehead, straight hair, and features hard as iron, made a painful impression.
"Sorry I cannot go on to the Campo Santo," he said, and then he added something about breaks in the chain of life which Roma did not hear.
"I trust it is not true, as I am given to understand, that on leaving your apartment you are going to live in the house of a certain person whom I need not name. That would, I assure you, be a grave error, and I would earnestly counsel you not to commit it."
She made no reply but walked on to the door of the carriage. He helped her to enter it, and then said: "Remember, my attitude is the same as ever. Do not deny me the satisfaction of serving you in your hour of need."
When Roma came to full possession of herself after the Requiem Mass, the cortege was on its way to the cemetery. There was a line of carriages. Most of them were empty as the mourning of which they formed a part. The parish priest sat with his acolyte, who held a crucifix before his eyes so that his thoughts might not wander. He took snuff and said his Matins for to-morrow.
The necropolis of Rome is outside the Porta San Lorenzo, by the church of that name. The bier drew up at the House of Deposit. When the coaches discharged their occupants, Roma saw that except the paid servants of the funeral she was the only mourner. The Countess's friends, like herself, disliked the sight of churchyards.
The House of Deposit, a low-roofed chamber under a chapel, contained tressels for every kind and condition of the dead. One place was labelled "Reserved for distinguished corpses." The coffin of the Countess was put to rest there until the buriers should come to bury it in the morning, the wreaths and flowers and streamers were laid over it, the priest sprinkled it again with holy water, and then the funeral was at an end.