The Pope's face whitened visibly, and an inward voice said to him, "This is God's hand. Death is waiting for the man in Rome, and he is walking blindly on to it."
The weary eyes looked with compassion on Roma's quivering face. "There's no help for it," thought the Pope.
"Suppose, my child ... suppose it were within your power to hinder evil consequences, would you do it?"
"I am a woman, Holy Father. What can a woman do to hinder anything?"
"In the history of nations it has sometimes happened that a woman has been able to save life and protect society by raising a little hand like this."
The Pope lifted Roma's quivering fingers from the table.
"If there is anything I can do, your Holiness, without breaking my promise or betraying my husband...."
"It is a terrible ordeal, my child. For a wife, God knows how terrible."
"No matter! If it will save my husband.... Tell me, your Holiness."
He told her the proposal of the Prime Minister and the promise of the King. His voice vibrated. He was like a man who was wounding himself at every word. She looked at him until he had finished, without ability to speak.
"You ask me to denounce my husband?"
"It is the only way to save him, my daughter."
She looked round the room with helpless eyes, full of a dumb appeal for mercy or the chance of escape.
"Holy Father," she said in a choking voice, "that is what his enemies have been asking me to do all this time, and because I have refused they have persecuted me with poverty and shame. And now that I come to you for refuge and shelter, thinking your fatherly arms will protect me, you ... even you...."
She broke off as by a sudden thought, and said: "But it is impossible. He is my husband, therefore I cannot witness against him."
"My heart bleeds for you, my child, and I am ashamed to gainsay you. But an oath is not necessary to a denunciation, and if it were so the law of this unchristian country would not recognise you as Rossi's wife."
"But he will know who has denounced him. I am the only one in the world to whom he has told his secrets, and he will hate me and part from me."
"You will have saved his life, my daughter."
"What is it to me to have saved his life if he is lost to me for ever?"
"Is it you that say that, my child—you that have sacrificed so much already? Doesn't the highest love remember first the welfare of the loved one and think of itself the last?"
"Yes, yes; I didn't know what I was saying. But he will curse me for destroying his cause."
"His cause will be destroyed in any case. It is doomed already. And when his visionary schemes are in the dust, and all is lost and vain, and your tears are powerless to bring back the past...."
"But he will be banished, and I shall never see him again."
"It will be the less of two evils, my child," said the Pope. And in the solemn, vibrating voice that rang in Roma's ears like the voice of Rossi, he added, "'Whosoever sheds man's blood by man shall his blood be shed.'"
Again Roma held on to the table, feeling at every moment as if she might fall with a crash.
"That's what would come to your husband if he were arrested and condemned for a conspiracy to kill the King. And even if the humane spirit of the age snatched him from death—what then? A cell in a prison on a volcanic rock in the sea, a stone sepulchre for the living dead, buried like a toad in a hole left by the running lava of life, guarded, watched, tortured in body and soul—a figure of tremendous tragedy, the hapless man once worshipped by the people spreading impotent hands to the outer world, until madness comes to his relief and suicide helps him to escape into eternity and leave only his wasted body on the earth."
Roma could bear the nervous tension no longer. "I'll do it," she said.
"My brave child!" said the Capuchin, turning from the window, with a face broken up by emotion.
"It is one thing to repeat a secret if it is to harm any one, and quite another thing if it is to do good, isn't it?" said Roma.
"Indeed it is," said the Capuchin.
"He will never forgive me—I know that quite well. He will never imagine I would have died rather than do it. But I shall know I have done it for the best."
"Indeed you will."
Roma's eyes were shining with fresh tears, and she was struggling to keep back her sobs. "When we parted on the night he went away he said perhaps we were parting for ever. I promised to be faithful to death itself, but I was thinking of my own death, not his, and I didn't imagine that to save his life I must betray his...."
But at that moment she broke down utterly, and the Pope, who had returned to his seat, rose again to comfort her.
"Calm yourself, my daughter," he said. "What you are going to do is an act of heroic self-sacrifice. Be brave and Heaven will reward you."
She grew calmer after a while, and then Father Pifferi made arrangements for the visit to the Procura. He would call for her at ten in the morning.
"Wait!" said Roma. A new light had come into her face—the light of a new idea.
"What is it, my daughter?" said the Pope.
"Holy Father, there is something I had forgotten. But I must tell you before it is too late. It may alter your view of everything. When you hear it you may say, 'You must not speak a word. You shall not speak. It is impossible.'"
"Tell me, my child."
Roma hesitated and looked from the Capuchin to the Pope. "How can I tell you," she said. "It is so difficult. I hadn't meant to tell any one."
"Go on, my daughter."
"My husband's name...."
"Rossi is not really his name, your Holiness. It is the name he took on returning to Italy, because the one he had borne abroad had been involved in trouble."
"Just so," said the Pope.
"Holy Father, David Rossi was a friendless orphan."
"I have heard so," said the Pope.
"He never knew his father—not even by name. His mother was a poor unhappy woman who had been cruelly deceived by everybody. She drowned herself in the Tiber."
"Poor soul," said the Pope.
"He was nursed in the Foundling, your Holiness, and brought up in a straw hut in the Campagna, and then sold as a boy into England."
The Pope moved uneasily in his seat.
"My father found him on the streets of London on a winter's night, your Holiness, carrying a squirrel and an accordion. He wore a ragged suit of velveteens which used to be laughed at by the London boys, and that was all that sheltered his little body from the cold. 'Some poor man's child,' my father thought. But who can say if it was so, your Holiness?"
The Pope was silent. A sudden change had come over his face. Roma's eyes were held down, her voice was agitated, she was scarcely able to speak.
"My father was angry with the boy's father, I remember, and if at that time he had known where to find him I think he would have denounced him to the public or even the police."
The Pope's head sank on his breast; the Capuchin looked steadfastly at Roma.
"But who knows if he was really to blame, your Holiness? He may have been a good man after all—one of those who have to suffer all their lives for the sins of others. Perhaps ... perhaps that very night he was walking the streets of London, looking in vain among its waifs and outcasts for the little lost boy who owned his own blood and bore his name."
The Pope's face was white and quivering. His elbows rested on the arms of his chair and his wrinkled hands were tightly clasped.
Roma stopped. There was a prolonged silence. The atmosphere of the room seemed to be whirling round with frightful rapidity to one terrific focus.
"Holy Father," said Roma at length, in a low tone, "if David Rossi were your own son, would you still ask me to denounce him?"
The Pope lifted a face full of suffering and said in his deep, vibrating voice, "Yes, yes! More than ever for that—a thousand times more than ever."
"Then I will do it," said Roma.
The Pope rose up in great emotion, laid both hands on her shoulder, and said, "Go in peace, my daughter, and may God grant you at least a little repose."
After recitation of the Rosary, the Pope, who had kept his religious retreat throughout the day, announced, to the astonishment of his chamberlains, his desire to walk in the garden at night. With Father Pifferi carrying a long Etruscan lamp he walked down the dark corridors with their surprised palfrenieri, and across the open courtyards with their startled sentinels, to where the arches of the Vatican opened upon the soft spring sky.
The night was warm and quiet, and the moon, which had just risen and was near the full, shone with steady brilliance.
The venerable old men walked without speaking, and only the beating of their sticks on the gravel seemed to break the empty air. At length the Pope stopped and said:
"How strange it all was, Father Pifferi!"
"Very strange, your Holiness," said the Capuchin.
"Rossi is not his name, it seems."
"'Not really his name' was what she said."
"His mother was deceived by every one, and she drowned herself in the Tiber."
"That was so, your Holiness."
"He was nursed in the Foundling, brought up in the Campagna, and then sold as a boy into England."
"It is really extraordinary," said Father Pifferi.
"Most extraordinary," repeated the Pope.
They looked steadily at each other for a moment, and then walked on in silence. Little sparks of blue light pulsed and throbbed and floated before their faces, and the moon itself, like a greater firefly, came and went in the interstices of the thin-leaved trees. The Pope, who shuffled in his walking, stopped again.
"Who can he be, I wonder?"
The Capuchin drew a deep breath. "We shall know everything to-morrow morning."
"Yes," said the Pope, "we shall know everything to-morrow morning."
Some dark phantom of the past was hovering about them, and they were afraid to challenge it.
At that moment the silence of the listening air was broken by a long clear call, which rang out through the night without any warning, and then stopped as suddenly.
"The nightingale," said the Pope.
A mighty flood of melody floated down from some unseen place, in varying strains of divine music broken by many pauses, and running through every phase of jubilation, sorrow, and pain. It ended in a low wail of unutterable sadness, a pleading, yearning cry of anguish, which seemed to call on God Himself to hear. When it was over, and all was hushed around, the world seemed to have become void.
The Pope's feet shuffled on the gravel. "I shall never forget it," he said.
"It was wonderful," said the Capuchin.
"I was thinking of that poor lady," said the Pope. "Her pleading voice will ring in my ears as long as I live."
"Poor child!" said the Capuchin.
"After all, we could not have acted otherwise. Don't you think so, Father Pifferi? Considering everything, we could not possibly have acted otherwise."
"Perhaps we could not, your Holiness."
They turned the bend of an avenue, where the path under their feet rustled with the thick blossom shed from the overhanging Judas trees.
"Surely this is where the little mother bird used to be," said the Pope.
"So it is," said the friar.
"Strange, she has not sprung out as usual. Ah, Meesh is not here, and perhaps that's the reason." And feeling for the old sarcophagus, the Pope put his hand gently down into it. A moment afterwards he said in another tone: "Father, the young birds are gone."
"Flown, no doubt," said the friar.
"No. See," said the Pope, and he brought up a little nest filled with a ruin of fluff and feathers.
"Meesh has been here indeed," said the friar.
The venerable old men walked on in silence until they re-entered the vaulted courtyards of the Vatican. Then the Pope turned to the Capuchin and said in a breaking voice, "You'll go with the poor lady to the Procura in the morning, Father Pifferi. If the magistrates ask questions which they should not ask, you will protect her, and even forbid her to reply, and if she breaks down at the last moment you will support and comfort her. After that ... we must leave all to the Holy Spirit. God's hand is in this thing ... it is in everything. He will bring out all things well—well for us, well for the Church, well for the poor lady, and even for her husband, whoever he may be."
"Whoever he may be," repeated the Capuchin.
Early in the morning of Holy Saturday, Roma was summoned as a witness before the Penal Tribunal of Rome. The citation, which was signed by a magistrate, required that she should present herself at the Procura at ten o'clock the same day, "to depose about facts on which she would then be interrogated," and she was warned that if she did not appear, "she would incur the punishment sanctioned by Article 176 of the Code of Penal Procedure."
Roma found Father Pifferi waiting for her at the door of the Procura. The old Capuchin looked anxious. He glanced at her pale face and quivering lips and inquired if she had slept. She answered that she was well, and they turned to go upstairs.
On the landing of the first floor Commendatore Angelelli, who was wearing a flower in his button-hole, approached them with smiles and quick bows to lead them to the office of the magistrate.
"Only a form," said the Questore. "It will be nothing—nothing at all."
Commendatore Angelelli led the way into a silent room furnished in red, with carpet, couch, armchairs, table, a stove, and two large portraits of the King and Queen.
"Sit down, please. Make yourselves comfortable," said the Chief of Police, and he passed into an adjoining room.
A moment afterwards he returned with two other men. One of them was an elderly gentleman, who wore with his frockcoat a close-fitting velvet cap decorated with two bands of gold lace. This was the Procurator General, and the other, a younger man, carrying a portfolio, was his private secretary. A marshal of Carabineers came to the door for a moment.
"Don't be afraid, my child. No harm shall come to you," whispered Father Pifferi. But the good Capuchin himself was trembling visibly.
The Procurator General was gentle and polite, but he dismissed the Chief of Police, and would have dismissed the Capuchin also, but for vehement protests.
"Very well, I see no objection; sit down again," he said.
It was a strange three-cornered interview. Father Pifferi, quaking with fear, thought he was there to protect Roma. The Procurator General, smiling and serene, thought she had come to complete a secret scheme of personal revenge. And Roma herself, sitting erect in her chair, in her black Eton coat and straw hat, and with her wonderful eyes turning slowly from face to face, thought only of Rossi, and was silent and calm.
The secretary opened his portfolio on the table and prepared to write. The Procurator General sat in front of Roma and leaned slightly forward.
"You are Donna Roma Volonna, daughter of the late Prince Prospero Volonna?"
"You were born in England and lived there as a child?"
"Although you were young when you lost your father, you have a perfect recollection both of him and of his associates?"
"Of some of his associates."
"One of them was a young man who lived in his house as a kind of adopted son?"
"You are aware that your father was unhappily involved in political troubles?"
"You know that he was arrested on a serious charge?"
"You also know that, when condemned to death by a military tribunal for conspiring against the person of the late sovereign, his sentence was commuted by the King, but that one of his associates, condemned at the same time, and for the same crime, escaped all punishment because he was not then at the disposition of the law?"
"That was the young man who lived with him as his adopted son?"
There was a moment's pause during which nothing could be heard but the quick breathing of the Capuchin and the scratching of the secretary's pen.
"During the past few months you have made the acquaintance in Rome of the Deputy David Rossi?"
The Capuchin moved in his seat. "Acquaintance! The lady is married to the Deputy."
The Procurator General's eyes rose perceptibly. "Married!"
"That is to say religiously married, which is all the Church thinks necessary."
"Ah, I see," said the Procurator General, suppressing a smile. "Still I must ask the lady to make her statement in her natal name."
"Go on, sir," said the Capuchin.
"Your intimacy with the Honourable Rossi has no doubt led him to speak freely on many subjects?"
"He has perhaps told you that Rossi was not his father's name."
"That it was his mother's name, and though strictly his legal name also, he has borne it only since his return to Rome?"
"That is so."
It was the Capuchin's turn to look surprised. His sandalled feet shuffled on the carpet, and he prepared to take snuff.
"The Honourable Rossi has been some weeks abroad, and during his absence you have no doubt received letters from him?"
"Can you tell me if in any of these letters he has said anything of a certain revolutionary propaganda?"
The Capuchin, with his finger and thumb half raised, stopped and said, "I forbid the question, sir."
"I mean that I counsel the lady not to answer it."
The Procurator General suppressed another smile, directed this time at Roma, and said, "Bene!"
"Be calm, my daughter," whispered the Capuchin.
"At least," said the Procurator General, "you can now be certain that you had seen the Honourable Rossi before you met him in Rome?"
"In fact you recognise in the illustrious Deputy the young man condemned in contumacy eighteen years ago?"
"Perhaps in his letters or conversations he has even admitted the identity?"
"Only one more question, Donna Roma," said the Procurator General, with another smile. "Your father's name in England was Doctor Roselli, and the name of his young confederate——"
"Courage, my child," whispered the Capuchin, taking Roma's ice-cold hand in his own trembling one.
"The name of his young confederate was——"
"David Leone," said Roma, lifting her eyes to the face of Father Pifferi.
"So David Leone and David Rossi are one and the same person?"
"Yes," said Roma, and the Capuchin dropped back in his seat as if he had been dealt a blow.
"Thank you. I need trouble you no more. My secretary will now prepare the precis."
Commendatore Angelelli returned with the Carabineer, and there was some talking in low tones. "Report for the Committee of the Chamber, sir?" "That is unnecessary at this moment, the House having risen for Easter." "Warrant for the arrest, then?" "Certainly. Here is the form. Fill it up, and I will sign."
While the secretary wrote his precis at one side of the table, the Chief of Police prepared his mandato at the other side, repeating the words to the Carabineer who stood behind his chair. "We ... considering the conclusions of the Public Minister ... according to Article 187 of the Code ... order the arrest of David Leone, commonly called David Rossi ... imputed guilty of attempted regicide in the year ... and tried and condemned in contumacy for the crime contemplated in Article.... And to such effects we require the Corps of the Royal Carabineers to conduct him before us to be interrogated on the facts above stated, and call on all officials and agents of the public force to lend a strong hand for the execution of the present warrant. Age, 34 years. Height, 1.79 metres. Forehead, lofty. Eyes, large and dark. Nose, Roman. Hair, black with short curls. Beard and moustache, clean shaven. Corporatura, distinguished."
When the secretary had finished his precis he read it aloud to Roma and his superior.
"Good! Give the lady the pen. You will sign this paper, Donna Roma—and that will do."
Roma and Father Pifferi had both risen. "Courage," the Capuchin tried to say, but his quivering lips emitted no sound. Roma stood a moment with the pen in her fingers, and her great eyes looked slowly round the room. Then she stooped and wrote her name rapidly.
At the same moment the Procurator General signed the warrant, whereupon the Chief of Police handed it to the Carabineer, saying, "Lose no time—Chiasso," and the soldier went out hurriedly.
Roma held the pen a moment longer, and then it dropped out of her fingers.
"Come," said the Capuchin, and they left the room.
There was a crowd on the embankment by the corner of the Ripetta bridge. The body of a beggar had been brought out of the river, and it was lying there for the formal inspection of the officials who report on cases of sudden death. Roma stopped to look at the dead man. It was Old John. He had committed suicide.
It was said at the Vatican that the Pope had not slept all night. The attendant whose duty it was to lie awake while the Holy Father expected to sleep said he heard him praying in the dark hours, and at one moment he heard him singing a hymn.
To the Pope it had been a night of searching self-examination. Pictures of his life had passed before him in swift review, pulsing and throbbing out of the darkness like the light of a firefly, now come, now gone.
First the Conclave, the three scrutators, and himself as one of them. The first scrutiny, the second scrutiny, the third scrutiny and his own name going up, up, up, as he proclaimed the votes in a loud voice so that all in the chapel might hear. One vote more to his own name, another, still another; his fear, his fainting; the gentle tones of an old Cardinal, saying, "Take your time, brother; rest, repose a while." Then the election, the awful sense of being God's choice, the almost unearthly joy of the supreme moment when he became the Vicar of Christ on earth.
Then the stepping forth from the dim conclave into the full light of day to be proclaimed the representative of the Almighty, the living voice of God, the infallible one. The sunless chapel, the white and crimson vestments, the fisherman's ring, the vast crowd in the blazing light of the piazza, the sudden silence, and the clear cry of the Cardinal Deacon ringing out under the blue sky, "I announce to you joyful tidings—the Most Eminent and Reverend Cardinal Leone, having taken the name of Pius X., is elected Pope." Then the call of silver trumpets, the roar of ten thousand human throats, the surging mass of living men below the balcony, and the joy-bells ringing out the glad news from every church tower in Rome, that a new King and Pontiff had been given by God to His World.
Somewhere in the dark hours the Pope dozed off, and then Sleep, the maker of visions, dispelled his dream. Another picture—a picture which had pursued him at intervals both in sleeping and waking hours, ever since the great day when he stepped out on to the balcony and was saluted as a god—came to him again that night. He called it his presentiment. The scene was always the same. A darkened room, a chapel, an altar, himself on his knees, with the sense of Someone bending over him, and an awful voice saying into his ears:—"You, the Vicar of Jesus Christ; you, the rock on which the Saviour built His Church; you, the living voice of God; you, the infallible one; you, who fill the most exalted dignity on earth—remember you are but clay!"
The Pope awoke with a start, and to break the oppression of painful thoughts he turned on the light, propped himself up in bed, and taking a book from the night table, he began to read. It was the Catholic legend of a father doomed to destroy his son, or suffer the son to destroy the father. They had been separated early in the son's life, and now that they met again they met as foes, and the son drew his sword upon his father without knowing who he was!
One by one the incidents of the history linked themselves with the incidents of the day before, and the lonely old man of the Vatican—childless, kinless, homeless for all his state, and cut off from every human tie—began to think of things that were still farther back than the conclave and the proclamation—things of the dead past which nature had seemed to bury with so kind a hand, covering the grave with grass and flowers.
A sweet young face, timid and trustful; a sudden shock such as makes the world crumble beneath a man's feet; a vague sense of guilt and shame, unreasonable, unmerited, unjustifiable, yet not to be put away; a blank period of humiliation; the opening of eyes in a new world; the humblest place in a religious house, the kitchen of the Noviciate. Then a great yearning, a great restlessness; coming out of the convent; dispensations; holy orders; works of charity; travels in foreign lands and searchings day and night in the streets of a cruel city for some one who had been lost and was never found.
The Pope put down the book and turned out the light. It was then that he sang and prayed.
When Cortis came with the Pope's breakfast in the frayed edge of the morning, the chamberlain outside the bedroom door whispered to the valet, "The Holy Father has been with the angels all night long."
There was a Papal "Chapel" in St. Peter's that morning, with a procession of white vestments in honour of the Mass of the Resurrection, but the Pope did not attend. He sat alone in his simple chamber, with curtains drawn across the marble columns to obscure the bed, fingering the crucifix which hung from his neck, and waiting for the ringing of the Easter bells.
The little door to the private corridor opened quietly, and Father Pifferi entered the room.
"Well?" said the Pope.
"It is all over," said the Capuchin.
"Did the poor child ... did she bear up bravely?"
"Very bravely, your Holiness."
"No weakness, no hysteria? She did not faint or break down at the end?"
"On the contrary, she was composed—perfectly composed and quiet."
"It was most extraordinary. A woman denouncing her husband, and yet so calm, so terribly calm."
"God helped her to bear her burden. God help all of us in our hour of need!"
The Pope lifted the crucifix to his lips, and added, "And the man?"
"After she had signed the denunciation a warrant for his arrest was made out and given to the Carabineers."
"It mentioned everything?"
"Who he is and all about him?"
"Yes, your Holiness."
The Pope fingered his crucifix again, and said, "Who is he, Father Pifferi?"
The Capuchin did not reply.
"Father Pifferi, I ask you who he is?"
Still the Capuchin did not reply, and the Pope smiled a pitiful smile, touched the friar's arm with a caressing gesture, and said, "Don't be afraid for the Holy Father, carissimo. If that poor child, who would have died rather than sacrifice her husband, could be so calm and strong...."
"Holy Father," said the Capuchin, "when you asked the lady to denounce David Rossi you thought of him only as an enemy of the Church and of its head, trying to pull down both and destroy civil society—isn't that so?"
The Pope bent his head.
"Holy Father, if ... if you had known that he was something more than that ... something nearer ... if, for example, you had been told that ... that he was the relative of a priest, would you have asked for his denunciation just the same?"
The old Capuchin had stammered, but the Pope answered in a firm voice, "That would have made no difference, my son. The blessed Scriptures do not conceal the sin of Judas, and shall we conceal the offences of those who come within the circle of our own families?"
"Holy Father," said the Capuchin, "if you had been told that he was related to a prelate of your domestic household...."
He stopped, and the Pope answered in a voice that trembled slightly, "Still it would have made no difference. The enemies of the Almighty are watching day and night, and shall His holy Church be imperilled and abased by the weakness of His servant?"
"Holy Father, if ... if you had been told that ... that he was the kinsman of a Cardinal?"
The Pope was struggling to control himself. "Even then it would have made no difference. I am old and weak, but God would have supported me, and though I had been called upon to cut off my right hand, or give my body to be burned, still...."
His voice quivered and died in his throat, and there was a moment's pause.
"Holy Father," said the Capuchin, turning his eyes away, "if you had been told that he was the nearest of kin to the Pope himself...."
The Pope dropped the crucifix which was trembling in his hand, and half rose from his chair. "Then ... even then ... it would have ... but the will of God be done," he said, and he could not utter another word.
At that moment the Easter bells began to ring. The deep-toned bells of St. Peter's came first with its joyful peal, and then the bells of the other churches of the city took up the rapturous melody. In the Basilica the veil before the altar had been rent with a loud crash, and the Gloria in Excelsis was being sung.
At the same moment a prelate vested in a white tunic entered the Pope's room, and kneeling in the middle of the floor, he said, "Holy Father, I announce to you a great joy. Hallelujah! The Lord is risen again."
The Pope tried to rise from his seat, but could not do so. "Help me, Monsignor," he said faintly, and the prelate raised him to his feet. Then leaning on the prelate's arm, he walked to the door of his private chapel. On reaching it he looked back at Father Pifferi, who was going silently out of the room.
"Addio, carissimo," he said, in a pitiful voice, but the Capuchin could not reply.
Some moments afterwards the Pope was quite alone. The arched windows of the little chapel were covered with heavy red curtains, but the clanging of the brass tongues in the cupola, the deep throb of the organ, and the rolling waves of the voices of the people singing the grand Hallelujah, found their way into the darkened chamber. But above all other sounds in the ears of the Pope as he lay prostrate on the altar steps was the sound of a voice which said, "You, the Vicar of Jesus Christ; you, the rock on which the Saviour built His Church; you, the living voice of God; you, the infallible one; you, who fill the most exalted dignity on earth—remember you are but clay."
"Acqua Acetosa!" "Roba Vecchia!" "Rannocchie!"
The street cries were ringing through the Navona, the piazza was alive with people, and strangers were saluting each other as they passed on the pavement when Roma returned home. At the lodge the Garibaldian wished her a good Easter, and at the door of the apartment the curate of the parish, who in cotta and biretta was making his Easter call to sprinkle the rooms with holy water, gave her a smile and his blessing, while old Francesca, inside the house, laying the Easter sideboard of cakes, sausages, and eggs, put both hands behind her back, like a child playing a game, and cried—
"Now, what does the Signora think I've got for her?"
It was a letter, and as the old woman produced it she was glowing with happiness at the joy she was bringing to Roma.
"The porter from Trinita de' Monti brought it," she said, "and he told me to tell you there's a lay sister called Sister Angelica at the convent now, and he is afraid that other letters may go astray.... Aren't you glad you've got a letter, Signora? I thought Signora would die of delight, and I gave the man six soldi."
Roma was turning the envelope over and over in her hands, thinking what a call to joy a letter of Rossi's used to be, and wondering if she ought to open this one.
"Well, that was the way with me too when Tommaso was at the wars. But this is Easter, Signora, and the Blessed Virgin wouldn't bring you bad news to-day. Listen! That's the Gloria. I can always hear the church bells on Holy Saturday. The first time after I was deaf Joseph was a baby, and I took the wrappings off his little feet while the bells were ringing, and he walked straight away! Ah, my poor darling!... But I'm making the Signora cry."
The letter was dated from Zuerich. It ran:—
"MY DEAR ROMA,—Your letters and I seem to be running a race which shall return to you first. I was compelled to leave Berlin before my long-delayed correspondence could arrive from London, and now it seems probable that I must leave Zuerich before it can follow me from Berlin. As a consequence I have not heard from you for weeks—not since your letter about your friend, you remember—and I am in agonies of impatience to know what has happened to you in the interval.
"I came to Switzerland the day before yesterday, pushed on by the urgency of affairs at home. Here we hold the last meeting of our international committee before I go back to Italy. This will be to-morrow (Friday) night, and according to present plans I set out for Rome on Saturday morning.
"How different my return will be from my flight a few weeks ago! Then I was plunged in despair, now I am buoyed up with hope; then my soul was furrowed by doubts, now it is braced up with certainties; then my idea was a dream, now it is a practical reality.
"O Roma, my Roma, it is a good thing to live. After all, the world is no Gethsemane, and when a man has a beautiful life like yours belonging to him he may be forgiven if he forgets the voices which assail him with fears. They have come to me sometimes, dearest, in this long and cruel silence, and I have asked myself hideous questions. What is happening to my dear one in the midst of my enemies? What sufferings are being inflicted upon her for my sake? She is brave, and will bear anything, but did I do right to leave her behind? Bruno died rather than betray me, and she will do more—infinitely more in her eyes—she will see me die, rather than imperil a cause which is a thousand times more dear to me than my life.
"Addio, carissima! Set me as a seal upon thine heart, as a seal upon thine arm, for love is strong as death. If there were any possibility of our love increasing it would increase after going through dangers like these. Keep well, dearest. Preserve that sweet life which is so precious to me that I cannot live without it. Do you remember, it was the 2nd of February when we parted in the darkness at the church door, and now it is Easter, and the day after to-morrow we shall hear the Easter bells! Spring is here, and in the unchangeable changeableness of nature I see the resurrection of humanity and listen to the Gloria of God.
"You cannot answer this letter, dear, because I shall already be on the way to Rome before it reaches you, but you can send me a telegram to Chiasso. Do so. I shall look out for the telegraph boy the moment the train stops at the station. Say you are well and happy and waiting for me, and it will be like a smile from your lovely lips and eyes on the frontier of my native land.
"My train is due to arrive on Sunday morning at seven o'clock. Meet me at the railway station, and let your face be the first I see when the train draws up in Rome. Then ... let me hear your voice, and let my heart become a King.
Roma had grown paler and paler as she read this letter. The man's love and trust were crushing her. Tears filled her eyes and flooded her face. But her soul, which had been stunned and had fallen, recovered itself and arose.
PART EIGHT—THE KING
Early on the morning of Holy Saturday a little crowd of Italians stood on the open space in front of the platform at the Bahnhof of Zuerich. Most of them wore the blue smocks and peaked caps of porters and street-sweepers, but in the centre of the group was a tall man in a frockcoat and a soft felt hat.
It was Rossi. He was noticeably changed since his flight from Rome. His bronzed face was paler, his cheeks thinner, his dark eyes looked larger, his figure stooped perceptibly, and he had the air of a man who was struggling to conceal a consuming nervousness.
The bell rang for the starting of a train and Rossi shook hands with everybody.
"Going straight through, Honourable?"
"No, I shall sleep at Milan to-night and go on to Rome in the morning."
The moment the train started, Rossi gave himself up to thoughts of Roma. Where was she now? He closed his eyes and tried to picture her. She was reading his letter. He recalled particular passages, and saw the smile with which she read them. Peace be with her! The light pressure of her soft fingers was on his hands already, and through the tran-tran of the train he could hear her softest tones.
Nature as well as humanity seemed to smile on Rossi that day. He thought the lakes had never looked so lovely. It was early when they ran along the shores of Lucerne, and the white mists, wrapping themselves up on the mountains, were gliding away like ghosts. One after another the great peaks looked over each other's shoulders, covered with pines as with vast armies crossing the Alps, thick at the bottom and with thinner files of daring spirits at the top. The sun danced on the waters of the lake like fairies on a floor of glass, and when the train stopped at Fluelen the sound of waterfalls mingled with the singing of birds and the ringing of the church bells. It was the Gloria. All the earth was singing its Gloria. "Glory to God in the highest."
Rossi's happiness became almost boyish as the train approached Italy. When the great tunnel was passed through, the signs of a new race came thick and fast. Shrines of the Madonna, instead of shrines of the Christ; long lines of field-workers, each with his hoe, instead of little groups with the plough; grey oxen with great horns and slow step, instead of brisk horses with tinkling bells.
Signs of doubtful augury for the most part, but Rossi was in no mood to think of that. He let down the carriage window that he might drink in the air of his own country. In spite of his opinions he could not help doing that. The mystic call that comes to a man's heart from the soil that gave him birth was coming to him also. He heard the voice of the vine-dresser in the vineyard singing of love—always of love. He saw the oranges and lemons, and the roses white and red. He caught a glimpse of the first of the little cities high up on the crags, with its walls and tower, and Campo Santo outside. His lips parted, his breast swelled. It was home! Home!
The day waned, the sky darkened, and the passengers in the train, who had been talking incessantly, began to doze. Rossi returned to his seat, and thought more seriously about Roma. All his soul went out to the young wife who had shared his sufferings. In his mind's eye he was reading between the lines of her letters, and beginning to reproach himself in earnest. Why had he imposed his life's secret upon her, seeing the risk she ran, and the burden of her responsibility?
The battle with his soul was short. If he had not trusted Roma, he would never have loved her. If he had not stripped his heart naked before her, he would never have known that she loved him. And if she had suffered in his absence he would make it all up to her on his return. He thought of their joyous day on the Campagna, and then of the unalloyed hours before them. What would she be doing now? She would be sending off the telegram he was to receive at Chiasso. God bless her! God bless everybody!
The thought of Roma's telegram filled the whole of the last hour before he reached the frontier. He imagined the words it would contain: "Well and waiting. Welcome home." But was she well? It was weeks since he had heard from her, and so many things might have happened. If he had managed his personal affairs with more thought for himself, he might have received her letters.
Heavy clouds began to shut out the landscape. The temperature had fallen suddenly, and the wind must have risen, for the trees, as they flashed past, were being beaten about. Rossi stood in the corridor again, feeling feverish and impatient.
At length the train slackened speed, the noise of the wheels and the engine abated, and there came a clap of thunder. After a moment there was a far-off sound of church bells which were being rung to avert the lightning, and then came a downpour of rain. It was raining in torrents when the train drew up at Chiasso, but the carriages were hardly under cover of the platform when Rossi was ready to step out.
"All baggage ready!" "Hand baggage out!" "Chiasso!" "The Customs!"
The station hands and porters were shouting by the stopping train, and Rossi's dark eyes with their long lashes were looking through the line of men for some one who carried a yellow letter.
"Seen the telegraph boy about?"
Rossi leapt down to the platform, and at the same moment three Carabineers, who had been working their heads from right to left to peer into the carriages as they passed, stepped up to him and offered a folded white paper.
He took it without speaking, and for a moment he stood looking at the soldiers as if he had been stunned. Then he opened the paper and read: "Mandate di Cattura.... We ... order the arrest of David Leone, commonly called David Rossi...."
A cold sweat burst in great beads from his forehead. Again he looked into the faces of the soldiers. And then he laughed. It was a fearful laugh—the laugh of a smitten soul.
The scene had been observed by passengers trooping to the Customs, and a group of English and American tourists were making apposite comments on the event.
"It's Rossi." "Rossi?" "The anarchist." "Travelled in our train?" "Sure." "My!"
The marshal of Carabineers, a man with shrunken cheeks and the eyes of a hawk, dressed in his little brief authority, strode with a lofty look through the spectators to telegraph the arrest to Rome.
When the train started again, Rossi was a prisoner sitting between two of the Carabineers with the marshal of Carabineers on the seat in front of him. His heart felt cold and his chin buried itself in his breast. He was asking himself how many persons knew of his identity with David Leone, and could connect him with the trial of eighteen years ago. There was but one.
Rossi leapt to his feet with a muttered oath on his lips. The thing that had flashed through his mind was impossible, and he was himself the traitor to think of it. But even when the imagined agony had passed away, a hard lump lay at his heart and he felt sick and ashamed.
The marshal of Carabineers, who had mistaken Rossi's gesture, closed the carriage window and stood with his back to it until the train arrived at Milan. A police official was waiting for them there with the latest instructions from Rome. In order to avoid the possibility of a public disturbance in the capital on the day of the King's Jubilee, the prisoner was to be detained in Milan until further notice.
"Seems you're to sleep here to-night, Honourable," said the soldier. Remembering that it had been his intention to do so when he left Zuerich, Rossi laughed bitterly.
It was now dark. A prison van stood at the end of a line of hotel omnibuses, and Rossi was marched to it between the measured steps of the Carabineers. News of his arrest had already been published in Milan, and crowds of spectators were gathered in the open space outside the station. He tried to hold up his head when the people peered at him, telling himself that the arrest of an innocent man was not his but the law's disgrace; yet a sense of sickness surprised him again and he dropped his head as he buried himself in the van.
On the dark drive to the prison in the Via Filangeri the Carabineers grumbled and swore at the hard fate which kept them out of Rome at a time of public rejoicing. There was to be a dinner on Monday night at the barracks on the Prati, and on Tuesday morning the King was to present medals.
Rossi shut his eyes and said nothing. But half-an-hour later, when he had been put in the "paying" cell, and the marshal of Carabineers was leaving him, he could not forbear to speak.
"Officer," he said, fumbling his copy of the warrant, "would you mind telling me where you received this paper?"
"At the Procura, of course," said the soldier.
"Some one had denounced me there—can you tell me who it was?"
"That's no business of mine, Honourable. Still, as you wish to know...."
"A lady was there when the warrant was made out, and if I had to guess who she was...."
Rossi saw the name coming in the man's face, and he flung out at him in a roar of wrath.
During the long hours of the night he tried to account for his arrest to the exclusion of Roma. He thought of every woman whom he had known intimately in England and America, and finally of Elena and old Francesca. It was useless. There was only one woman in the world who knew the secrets of his early life. He had revealed some of them himself, and the rest she knew of her own knowledge.
No matter! There was no traitor so treacherous as circumstance. He would not believe the lie that fate was thrusting down his throat. Roma was faithful, she would die rather than betray him, and he was a contemptible hound to allow himself to think of her in that connection. He recalled her letters, her sacrifices, her brave and cheerful renunciation, and the hard lump that had settled at his heart rose up to his throat.
Morning broke at last. As the grey dawn entered the cell the Easter bells were ringing. Rossi remembered in what other conditions he had expected to hear them, and again his heart grew bitter. A good-natured warder came with his breakfast of bread and water, and a smuggled copy of a morning journal called the Perseveranza. It contained an account of his arrest, and a leading article on his career as a thing closed and ruined. The public would learn with astonishment that a man who had attained to great prominence in Parliament and lived several years in the fierce light of the world's eye, had all the time masqueraded in a false character, being really a criminal convicted long ago for conspiring against the person of the late King.
The sun shone, the sparrows chirped, the church bells rang the whole day long. Towards evening the warder came with another newspaper, the Corriere della Sera. It explained that the sensational arrest of the illustrious Deputy, which had fallen on the country like a thunderbolt, was not intended as punishment for an offence long past and forgotten, but as a means of preventing a political crime that was on the eve of being committed. The Deputy had been abroad since the unhappy riots of the First of February, and advices from foreign police left no doubt whatever that he had contemplated a preposterous raid of the combined revolutionary clubs of Europe against Italy, timed with almost fiendish imagination to break out on the festival of the King's Jubilee.
Rossi slept as little on Sunday night as on the night before. The horrible doubts which he had driven away were sucking at his heart like a vampire. He tried to invent excuses for Roma. She was intimidated; she was a woman and she could not help herself. Useless, and worse than useless! "I thought the daughter of Joseph Roselli would have died first," he told himself.
The good-natured warder brought him another newspaper in the morning, the Secolo, an organ of his own party. Its tone was the bitterest of all. "We have reason to believe that the unfortunate event, which cannot but have the effect of setting back the people's cause, is due to the betrayal of one of their leaders by a certain fashionable woman who is near to the person of the President of the Council. It is the old story over again, the story of man's weakness and woman's deception, with every familiar circumstance of humiliation, folly, and shame."
There could be no doubt of it. It was Roma who had betrayed him. Whatever her reasons or excuse, the result was the same. She had given up the deepest secrets of his soul, and his life's work was in the dust.
The marshal of Carabineers came to say that they were to go on to Rome, and at nine o'clock they were again in the train. People in holiday dress were promenading the platform and the station was hung with flags. A gentleman in a white waistcoat was about to step into the compartment with the Carabineers and their prisoner, when, recognising his travelling companions, he bowed and stepped back. It was the Sergeant of the Chamber, returning after the Easter vacation from his villa on one of the lakes. Rossi sent a ringing laugh after the man, and that brought him back.
"I'm sorry for you, Honourable, very sorry," he said. "You've deceived us all, but now you are seen in your true colours, and apparently throwing off all disguise."
The Sergeant was so far right that Rossi was another man. Whatever had been tender and sweet in him was now hard and bitter. The train started for Rome, and the soldiers drew the straws out of their Tuscan cigars and smoked. Rossi coiled himself up in his corner and shut his eyes. Sometimes a sneer curled his lips, sometimes he laughed aloud.
They were travelling by the coast route, and when the train ran into Genoa a military band at the foot of the monument to Mazzini was playing the royal hymn. But the festivities of the King's Jubilee were eclipsed in public interest by the arrest of Rossi and the collapse of the conspiracy which it was understood to imply. The marshal of the Carabineers bought the local papers, and one of them was full of details of "The Great Plot." An exact account was given from a semi-military standpoint of the plan of the supposed raid. It included the capture of the arsenal at Genoa and the assassination of the King at Rome.
The train ran through countless tunnels like the air through a flute, now rumbling in the darkness, now whistling in the light. Rossi closed his eyes and shut out the torment of passing scenes, and straightway he was seeing Roma. He could only see her as he had always seen her, with her golden complexion, her large violet eyes and long curved lashes, her mouth which had its own gift of smiling, and her glow of health and happiness. Whatever she had done he knew that he must always love her. This worked on him like madness, and once again he leapt to his feet and made for the corridor, whereupon the Carabineers, who had been sleeping, got up and shut the door.
Night fell, and the moon rose, large and blood-red as a setting sun. When the train shot on to the Roman Campagna, like a boat gliding into open sea, the great and solemn desolation seemed more than ever withdrawn from the sights and sounds of the living world. Rossi remembered the joy of joys with which he had expected to cross the familiar country. Then he looked across at the soldiers who were snoring in their seats.
When the train stopped at Civita Vecchia, the Carabineers opened the door to the corridor that their prisoner might stretch his legs. Some evening papers from Rome were handed into the carriage. Rossi put out his hand to pay for them, and to his surprise it was seized with an eager grasp. The newsman, who was also carrying a tray of coffee, was a huge creature, with a white apron and a paper cap.
"Caffe, sir? Caffe?" he called, and then in an undertone, "Don't you know me, old fellow? Caffe, sir? Thank you."
It was one of Rossi's colleagues in the House of Deputies.
"Milk, sir? With pleasure, sir. Venti centesimi, sir.... All right, old chap. Keep your eyes open at the station at Rome.... Change, sir? Certainly sir.... Coupe, waiting on the left side. Look alive. Addio!... Caffe! Caffe!"
The lusty voice died away down the platform, and the train started again. Rossi felt giddy. He staggered back to his seat and tried to read his evening papers.
The Sunrise, the paper founded by Rossi himself, seemed to be full of the Prime Minister. He had that day put the crown on a career of the highest distinction; the King had conferred the Collar of the Annunziata upon him; and in view of the continued rumblings of unrest it was even probable that he would be made Dictator.
The Avanti seemed to Rossi to be full of himself. When the country recovered from the delirium of that day's ridiculous doings, it would know how to judge of the infamous methods of a Minister who had condescended to use the devices of a Delilah for the defeat and confusion of a political adversary.
Rossi felt as if he were suffocating. He put a hand into a side-pocket, for his copy of the warrant crinkled there under his twitching fingers. If he could only meet with Roma for a moment and thrust the damning document in her face!
When the train ran along the side of the Tiber, they could see a great framework of fireworks which had been erected on the Pincio. It represented a gigantic crown and was all ablaze. At length the train slowed down and entered the terminus at Rome. Rossi remembered how he had expected to enter it, and he choked with wounded pride.
There were the thumpings and clankings and the blinding flashes of white light, and then the train stopped. The station was full of people. Rossi noticed Malatesta among them, the man whose life he had spared in the duel he had been compelled to fight.
"Now, then, please!" said the marshal of Carabineers, and Rossi stepped down to the platform. A soldier marched on either side of him; the marshal walked in front. The people parted to let the four men pass, and then closed up and came after them. Not a word was spoken.
With pale lips and a fixed gaze which seemed to look at nobody, Rossi walked to the end of the platform, and there the crush was greatest.
"Room!" cried the marshal of Carabineers, making for the gate at which a porter was taking tickets. A black van stood outside.
Suddenly the marshal was struck on the shoulder by a hand out of the crowd. He turned to defend himself, and was struck on the other side. Then he tried to draw a weapon, but before he could do so he was thrown to the ground. One of the two other Carabineers stooped to lift him up, and the third laid hold of Rossi. At the next instant Rossi felt the soldier's hand fall from his arm as by a sword cut, and somebody was crying in his ear:
"Now's your time, sir. Leave this to me and fly."
It was Malatesta. Before Rossi fully knew what he was doing, he crossed the lines to the opposite platform, passed through the barrier by means of his Deputy's medal permitting him to travel on the railways, and stepped into a coupe that stood waiting with an open door.
"Where to, signore?"
As the carriage rattled across the end of the Piazza Margherita a company of Carabineers was going at quick march towards the station.
At ten o'clock on Saturday night the screamers in the Piazza Navona were crying the arrest of Rossi. The telegrams from the frontier gave an ugly account of his capture. He was in disguise, and he made an effort to deny himself, but thanks to the astuteness of the Carabineer charged with the warrant the device was defeated, and he was now lodged in the prison at Milan, where it was probable that he would remain some days.
Roma's feelings took a new turn. Her crushing self-reproach at the degradation of David Rossi, fallen, lost, and in prison, gave way to an intense bitterness against the Baron, successful, radiant, and triumphant. She turned a bright light upon the incidents of the past months and saw that the Baron was responsible for everything. He had intimidated her. His intimidation had worked upon her conscience and driven her to the confessional. The confessional had taken her to the Pope, and the Pope in love and loyalty and fatal good faith had led her to denounce her husband. It was a chain of damning circumstances, helped out by the demon of chance, but the first link had been forged by the Baron, and he was to blame for all.
On Monday morning bands of music began to promenade the streets. Before breakfast the rejoicings of the day had begun. Towards mid-day drunken fellows in the piazza were embracing and crying, "Long live the King," and then "Long live the Baron Bonelli."
Roma's disgust deepened to contempt. Why were the people rejoicing? There was nothing to rejoice at. Why were they shouting and singing? It was all got-up enthusiasm, all false, all a lie. By a sort of clairvoyance, Roma could see the Baron in the midst of the scenes he had prearranged. He was sitting in the carriage with the King and Queen, smiling his icy smile, while the people bellowed by their side. And meantime David Rossi was lying in prison in Milan, in a downfall worse than death, crushed, beaten, and broken-hearted.
Old Francesca brought a morning paper. It was the Sunrise, and it contained nothing that did not concern the Baron. His wife had died on Saturday—there were three lines for that incident. The King had made him a Knight of the Order of Annunziata—there was half a column on the new cousin to the royal family. A state dinner and ball were to be held at the Quirinal that night, when it might be expected that the President of the Council would be nominated Dictator.
In another column of the Sunrise she found an interview with the Baron. The journal called for exemplary punishment on the criminals who conspired against the sovereign and endangered the public peace; the Baron, in guarded words, replied that the natural tendency of the King would be to pardon such persons, where their crimes were of old date, and their present conspiracies were averted, but it lay with the public to say whether it was just to the throne that such lenity ought to be encouraged.
When Roma read this a red light seemed to flash before her eyes, and in a moment she understood what she had to do. The Baron intended to make the King break his promise to save the life of David Rossi, casting the blame upon the country, to whose wish he had been forced to yield. There was no earthly tribunal, no judge or jury, for a man who could do a thing like that. He was putting himself beyond all human law. Therefore one course only was left—to send him to the bar of God!
When this idea came to Roma she did not think of it as a crime. In the moral elevation of her soul it seemed like an act of retributive justice. Her heart throbbed violently, but it was only from the stress of her thoughts and the intensity of her desire to execute them.
One thing troubled her, the purely material difficulties in the way. She revolved many plans in her mind. At first she thought of writing to the Baron asking him to see her, and hinting at submission to his will; but she abandoned the device as a kind of duplicity that was unworthy of her high and noble mission. At last she decided to go to the Piazza Leone late that night and wait for the Baron's return from the Quirinal. Felice would admit her. She would sit in the Council Room, under the shaded lamp, until she heard the carriage wheels in the piazza. Then as the Baron opened the door she would rise out of the red light—and do it.
In the drawer of a bureau she had found a revolver which Rossi had left with her on the night he went away. His name had been inscribed on it by the persons who sent it as a present, but Roma gave no thought to that. Rossi was in prison, therefore beyond suspicion, and she was entirely indifferent to detection. When she had done what she intended to do she would give herself up. She would avow everything, seek no means of justification, and ask for no mercy even in the presence of death. Her only defence would be that the Baron, who was guilty, had to be sent to the supreme tribunal. It would then be for the court to take the responsibility of fixing the moral weight of her motive in the scales of human justice.
With these sublime feelings she began to examine the revolver. She remembered that when Rossi had given it to her she had recoiled from the touch of the deadly weapon, and it had fallen out of her fingers. No such fear came to her now, as she turned it over in her delicate hands and tried to understand its mechanism. There were six chambers, and to know if they were loaded she pulled the trigger. The vibration and the deafening noise shook but did not frighten her.
The deaf old woman had heard the shot, and she came upstairs panting and with a pallid face.
"Mercy, Signora! What's happened? The Blessed Virgin save us! A revolver!"
Roma tried to speak with unconcern. It was Mr. Rossi's revolver. She had found it in the bureau. It must be loaded—it had gone off.
The words were vague, but the tone quieted the old woman. "Thank the saints it's nothing worse. But why are you so pale, Signora? What is the matter with you?"
Roma averted her eyes. "Wouldn't you be pale too if a thing like this had gone off in your hands?"
By this time the Garibaldian had hobbled up behind his wife, and when all was explained the old people announced that they were going out to see the illuminations on the Pincio.
"They begin at eleven o'clock and go on to twelve or one, Signora. Everybody in the house has gone already, or the shot would have made a fine sensation."
"Good-night, Tommaso! Good-night, Francesca!"
"Good-night, Signora. We'll have to leave the street door open for the lodgers coming back, but you'll close your own door and be as safe as sardines."
The Garibaldian raised his pork-pie hat and left the door ajar. It was half-past ten and the piazza was very quiet. Roma sat down to write a letter.
"Dearest," she wrote, "I have read in the newspapers what took place on the frontier and I am overwhelmed with grief. What can I say of my own share in it except that I did it for the best? From my soul and before God, I tell you that if I betrayed you it was only to save your life. And though my heart is breaking and I shall never know another happy hour until God gives me release, if I had to go through it all again I should have to do as I have done....
"Perhaps your great heart will be able to forgive me some day, but I shall never forgive myself or the man who compelled me to do what I have done. Before this letter reaches you in Milan a great act will be done in Rome. But you must know nothing more about it until it is done.
"Good-bye, dearest. Try to forgive me as soon as you can. I shall know it if you do ... where I am going to—eventually ... and it will be so sweet and beautiful. Your loving, erring, broken-hearted ROMA."
A noisy group of revellers were passing through the piazza singing a drinking song. When they were gone a church clock struck eleven. Roma put on a hat and a veil. Her impatience was now intense. Being ready to go out she took a last look round the rooms. They brought a throng of memories—of hopes and visions as well as realities and facts. The piano, the phonograph, the bust, the bed. It was all over. She knew she would never come back.
Her heart was throbbing violently, and she was opening the bureau a second time when her ear caught the sound of a step on the stairs. She knew the step. It was the Baron's.
She stopped, with an indescribable sense of terror, and gazed at the door. It stood partly open as the Garibaldian had left it.
Through the door the Baron was about to enter. He was coming up, up, up—to his death. Some supernatural power was sending him.
She grew dizzy and quaked in every limb. Still the step outside came on. At length it reached the top, and there was a knock at the door. At first she could not answer, and the knock was repeated.
Then the free use of her faculties came back to her. There was more of the Almighty in all this than of her own design. It was to be. God intended her to kill this guilty man.
"Come in!" she cried.
When the Baron awoke on Saturday he remembered Roma with a good deal of self-reproach, and everything that happened during the following days made him think of her with tenderness. During the morning an aide-de-camp brought him the casket containing the Collar of the Annunziata, and spoke a formal speech. He fingered the jewelled band and golden pendant as he made the answer prescribed by etiquette, but he was thinking of Roma and the joy she might have felt in hailing him cousin of the King.
Towards noon he received the telegram which announced the death of his maniac wife, and he set off instantly for his castle in the Alban Hills. He remained long enough to see the body removed to the church, and then returned to Rome. Nazzareno carried to the station the little hand-bag full of despatches with which he had occupied the hour spent in the train. They passed by the tree which had been planted on the first of Roma's Roman birthdays. It was covered with white roses. The Baron plucked one of them, and wore it in his button-hole on the return journey.
Before midnight he was back in the Piazza Leone, where the Commendatore Angelelli was waiting with news of the arrest of Rossi. He gave orders to have the editor of the Sunrise sent to him so that he might make a tentative suggestion. But in spite of himself his satisfaction at Rossi's complete collapse and possible extermination was disturbed by pity for Roma.
Sunday was given up to the interview with the journalist, the last preparations for the Jubilee, and various secular duties. Monday's ceremonials began with the Mass. The Piazza of the Pantheon was lined with a splendid array of soldiers in glistening breastplates and helmets, a tall bodyguard through which the little King passed to his place amid the playing of the national hymn. In the old Pantheon itself, roofed with an awning of white silk which bore the royal arms, flares were burning up to the topmost cornice of the round walls. A temporary altar decorated in white and gold was ablaze with candles, and the choir, conducted by a fashionable composer of opera, were in a golden cage. The King and Queen and royal princes sat in chairs under a velvet canopy, and there were tribunes for cabinet ministers, senators, deputies, and foreign ambassadors. Religion was necessary to all state functions, and the Mass was a magnificent political demonstration carried out on lines arranged by the Baron himself. He had forgotten God, but he had remembered the King, and he had thought of Roma also. She wept at all religious ceremonies, and would have shed tears if she had been present at this one.
From the Pantheon they passed to the Capitol, amid the playing of bands of music which showered through the streets their hail of sound. The magnificent hall was crowded by a brilliant company in silk dresses and decorations. An address was read by the Mayor, reciting the early misfortunes of Italy, and closing with allusions to the prosperity of the nation under the reigning dynasty. In his reply the King extolled the army as the hope of peace and unity, and ended with a eulogy of the President of the Council, whose powerful policy had dispelled the vaporous dreams of unpractical politicians who were threatening the stability of the throne and the welfare of its loyal subjects.
The Baron answered briefly that he had done no more than his duty to his King, who was almost a republican monarch, and to his country, which was the freest in the world. As for the visionaries and their visions, a few refugees in Zuerich, cheered on by the rabble abroad, might dream of constructing a universal republic out of the various nations and races, with Rome as their capital, but these were the delirious dreams of weak minds.
"Dangerous!" said the Baron, with a smile. "To think of the eternal dreamer being dangerous!"
The King laughed, the senators cheered, the ladies waved their handkerchiefs, and again the Baron remembered Roma.
The procession to the Quirinal was a prolonged triumph. Every house was hung with flags, every window with red and yellow damask. The clubs in the Corso were crowded with princes, nobles, diplomats, and distinguished foreigners. Civil guards by hundreds in their purple plumes lined the streets, and the pavements were packed with loyal people. It was a glorious pageant, such as Roma loved.
The mayors of the province, followed by citizens under their appointed leaders and flags, came up to the Quirinal as the Baron had appointed, and called the King on to the balcony. The King accepted the call and made a sign of thanks.
Returning to the house the King ordered that papers should be prepared immediately creating the Baron Bonelli by royal decree Dictator of Italy for a period of six months from that date. "If Roma were here now," thought the Baron.
Then night came, and the state dinner at the royal palace was a moving scene of enchantment. One princess came after another, apparently clothed in diamonds. The Baron wore the Collar of the Annunziata, and the foreign ambassadors, who as representatives of their sovereigns were entitled to precedence, gave place to him, and he sat on the right of the Queen.
After dinner he led the Queen to an embroidered throne under a velvet baldachino in a gorgeous chamber which had been the chapel of the Popes. Then the ball began. What torrents of light! What a dazzling blaze of diamonds! What lovely faces and pure white skins! What soft bosoms and full round forms! What gleams of life and love in a hundred pairs of beautiful eyes! But there was a lovelier face and form in the mind of the Baron than any his eyes could see, and excusing himself to the King on the ground of Rossi's expected arrival, he left the palace.
Fireflies in the dark garden of the Quirinal were emitting drops of light as the Baron passed through the echoing courts, and the big square in front, bright with electric light, was silent save for the footfall of the sentries at the gate.
The Baron walked in the direction of the Piazza Navona. His self-reproach was becoming poignant. He remembered the threats he had made, and told himself he had never intended to carry them out. They were only meant to impress the imagination of the person played upon, as might happen in any ordinary affair of public life.
The Baron's memory went back to the last state ball before this one, and he felt some pangs of shame. But the disaster of that night had not been due to the cold calculation to which he had attributed it. The cause was simpler and more human—love of a beautiful woman who was slipping away from him, the girding sense of being bound body and soul to a wife that was no wife, and the mad intoxication of a moment.
No matter! Roma should not lose by what had happened. He would make it up to her. Considering her unconventional conduct, it was no little thing he intended to do, but he would do it, and she would see that others were capable of sacrifice.
The people were on the Pincio and the streets were quiet. When the Baron reached the Piazza Navona there was hardly anybody about, and he had difficulty in finding the house. No one saw him enter, and he met with nobody on the stairs. So much the better. He was half ashamed.
After he had knocked twice a voice which he did not recognise told him to come in. When he pushed the door open Roma, in hat and veil, stood before him, with her back to a bureau. He thought she looked frightened and ill.
"My dear Roma," said the Baron, "I bring you good news. Everything has turned out well. Nothing could have been managed better, and I come to congratulate you."
He was visibly excited, and spoke rapidly and even loudly.
"The man was arrested on the frontier—you must have heard of that. He was coming by the night train on Saturday, and to prevent a possible disturbance they kept him in Milan until this morning."
Roma continued to stand with her back to the bureau.
"The news was in all the journals yesterday, my dear, and it had a splendid effect on the opening of the Jubilee. When the King went to Mass this morning the plot had received its death-blow, and our anxiety was at an end. To-night the man will arrive in Rome, and within an hour from now he will be safely locked up in prison."
Every nerve in Roma's body was palpitating, but she did not attempt to speak.
"It is all your doing, my child—yours, not mine. Your clever brain has brought it all to pass. 'Leave the man to me,' you said. I left him to you, and you have accomplished everything."
Roma drew her lips together and tried to control herself.
"But what things you have gone through in order to achieve your purpose! Slights, slurs, insults! No wonder the man was taken in by it. Society itself was taken in. And I—yes, I myself—was almost deceived."
"Shall it be now?" thought Roma. The Baron was on the hearthrug directly facing her.
"But you knew what you were doing, my dear. It was all a part of your scheme. You drew the man on. In due time he delivered himself up to you. He surrendered every secret of his soul. And when your great hour came you were ready. You met it as you had always intended. 'At the top of his hopes he shall fall,' you said."
Roma's heart was beating as if it would burst its bounds.
"He has fallen. Thanks to you, this enemy of civil society, this slanderer of women, is down. Then the Pope too! And the confession to the Reverend Father! Who but a woman could have thought of a thing like that?—-making your denunciation so defensible, so pardonable, so plausible, so inevitable! What skill! What patience! What diplomacy! And what will and nerve too! Who shall say now that women are incapable of great things?"
The Baron had thrown open his overcoat, revealing the broad expanse of his shirt-front, crossed by the glittering collar of the Annunziata, and was promenading the hearthrug without a thought of his peril.
"The journals of half Europe will have accounts of the failure of the 'Great Plot.' There was another plot, my dear, which did not fail. Europe will hear of that also, and by to-morrow morning the world will know what a woman may do to punish the man who traduces and degrades her!"
"Why don't I do it?" thought Roma. She was fingering the revolver on the bureau behind her, and breathing fast and audibly.
"You shall have everything back, my dear. Carriages, jewellery, apartments, exactly as you parted with them. I have kept all under my own control, and in a single day you can be reinstated."
Roma's palpitating heart was hurting her.
"But won't you sit down, my child? I have something to tell you. It is important news. The Baroness is dead. Yes, she died on Saturday, poor soul. Should I play the hypocrite and weep? Why should I? For fifteen years a cruel law, which I dare not attempt to repeal by divorce in a Catholic country, has tied me to a living corpse. Shall I pretend to mourn because my burden has fallen away?... Roma, sit down, my dear; don't continue to stand there.... Roma, I am free, and we can now carry out our marriage, as we always hoped and intended."
"Now!" thought Roma, moving a little forward.
"Ah, don't be afraid of anything. I am not afraid, and you needn't be afraid either. Certainly rumour has coupled our names already. But what matter about that? No one shall insult you, whatever has occurred. Wherever I go you shall go too. If they cannot do without me they shall not do without you, and in spite of everything you shall be received everywhere."
"Is that all you had to say?" said Roma.
"Not all. There is something else, and I couldn't wait for the newspapers to tell you. The King has appointed me Dictator for six months. That means that you will be more courted than the Queen. What a revenge! The women who have been turning their backs upon you will bend their backs before you. You will break down every barrier. You will...."
"Wait," said Roma.
The Baron had been approaching her, and she lifted her hand.
"You expect me to acquiesce in this lie?"
"What lie, my child?"
"That I denounced David Rossi in order to destroy him. It is true that I did denounce him—unhappy woman that I am—but you know perfectly why I did it. I did it because I was forced to do it. You forced me."
At the sound of her own voice, her eyes had begun to fill.
"And now you ask me to pretend that it was all done from an evil motive, and you offer me the rewards of guilt. Do you think I'm a murderer that you can offer me the price of blood? Have you any shame? You come here to ask me to marry you, knowing that I am married already—here of all places, in the house of my husband."
Her eyes were blinded with tears, but her voice thickened with anger.
"My child," said the Baron, "if I have asked you to acquiesce in the idea that what you did was from a certain motive it was only to spare you pain. I thought it would be easier for you to do so now, things being as they are. It was only going back to your original purpose, forgetting all that has intervened."
His voice softened, and he said in a low tone: "If I am so much to blame for what has been done, perhaps it was because you were first of all at fault! At the beginning my one offence consisted in agreeing to your proposal. It was the statesman who committed that error, and the man has suffered for it ever since. You know nothing of jealousy, my child—how can you?—but its pains are as the pains of hell."
He tried to approach her once more.
"Come, dear, try to be yourself again. Forget this moment of fascination, and rise afresh to your old strength and wisdom. I am willing to forget ... whatever has happened—I don't ask what. I am ready to wipe it all away, just as if it had never been."
In spite of his soft words and gentle tones, Roma was gazing at him with an aversion she had never felt before for any human being.
"Have no qualms about your marriage, my child. I assure you it is no marriage at all. In the eye of the civil law it is frankly invalid, and the Church could annul it at any moment, being no sacrament, because you are unbaptized and therefore not in her sense a Christian."
He took another step towards her and said:
"But if you have lost one husband another is waiting for you—a more devoted and more faithful husband—one who can give you everything in the place of one who can give you nothing.... And then that man has gone out of your life for good. Whatever happens now, it is impossible that you and he can ever come together again. But I am here still.... Don't answer hastily, Roma. Isn't it something that I am ready to face the opprobrium that will surely come of marrying the most criticised woman in Rome?"
Roma felt herself to be suffocating with indignation and shame.
"You see I am suing to you, Roma—I who have never sued to any human being. Even when I was a child I would not sue to my own mother. Since then I have done something in life—I have justified myself, I have given my country a place among the nations, I stand for it in the eye of the world—and yet—"
"And yet I despise you," said Roma.
There was a moment of silence, and then, recovering himself, the Baron tried to laugh.
"As you will. I must needs accept the only possible interpretation of your words. I thought my devotion in spite of every provocation might burn away your bitterness. But if...." (he was getting excited) "if you have no respect for the past, you may have some regard for the future."
She looked at him with a new fear.
"Naturally, I have no desire to humiliate myself further by suing to a woman who despises me. It will be sufficient to punish the man who is responsible for my loss of esteem in the eyes of one who has so many reasons to respect me."
"You mean that you will persuade the King to break his promise?"
"The King need not be persuaded after he has appointed his Dictator."
"So the King's promise to pardon Mr. Rossi will be set aside by his successor?"
"If I leave this room without a better answer ... yes."
Roma drew from behind the revolver she had held in her hand.
"Then you will never leave this room," she said.
The Baron stood perfectly still, and there was a moment of deadly silence.
Then came the rattle of carriage wheels on the stones of the piazza, followed immediately by a hurried footstep on the stairs.
Roma heard it. She was trembling all over.
A moment afterwards there was a knock at the door. Then another knock, and another. It was imperative, irregular knocking.
Roma, who had forgotten all about the Baron, was rooted to the spot on which she stood. The Baron, who had understood everything, was also transfixed.
Then came a thick, vibrating voice, "Roma!"
Roma made a faint cry, and dropped the revolver out of her graspless hand. The Baron picked it up instantly. He was the first to recover himself.
"Hush!" he said in a whisper. "Let him come in. I will go into this room. I mean no harm to any one; but if he should follow me—if you should reveal my presence—remember what I said before about a challenge. And if I challenge him his shrift will have to be swift and sure."
The Baron stepped into the bedroom. Then the voice came again, "Roma! Roma!"
Roma staggered to the door and opened it.
Flying from the railway station in the coupe, down the Via Nazionale and the Corso Vittorio Emanuele, Rossi had seen by the electric light the remains of the day's festoons, triumphal arches, banners, embroideries, emblems, and flowers. These things had passed before his eyes like a flash, yet they had deepened the bitterness of his desire to meet with Roma that he might thrust the evidence of her treachery into her face.
But when he came to his own house and Roma opened the door to him, and he saw her, looking so ill, her cheeks so pale, her beautiful eyes so large and timid, and her whole face expressing such acute suffering, his anger began to ebb away, and he wanted to take her into his arms in spite of all.
Roma knew she was opening the door to Rossi, whatever the strange chance which had brought him there, and when she saw him she made a faint cry and a helpless little run toward him, and then stopped and looked frightened. The momentary sensation of joy and relief had instantly died away. She looked at his world-worn face, so disfigured by pain and humiliation, and the arms she had outstretched to meet him she raised above her head as if to ward off a blow.
He saw under the veil she wore the terror which had seized her at sight of him, and by that alone he knew the depths of the abyss between them. But this only increased the measureless pity he felt for her. And he could not look at her without feeling that whatever she had done he loved her, and must continue to love her to the last.
Tears rose to his throat and choked him. He opened his mouth to speak, but at first he could not utter a word. At length he fumbled at his breast, tore at his shirt front, so that his loose neckerchief became untied, and finally drew from an inner pocket a crumpled paper.
"Look!" he said with a kind of gasp.
She saw at a glance what the paper was, and dared not look at it a second time. It was the warrant. She dropped into a chair with bowed head and humble attitude, as if trying to sink out of sight.
"Tell me you know nothing about it, Roma."
She covered her face with both hands and was silent.
She had expected that he would flame out at her, but his voice was breaking. She lifted her head and tried to look at him. His eyes were fixed on her with an expression she had never seen before. She wanted to speak, and could not do so. Her lip trembled, and she hung her head and covered her face again, unable to say a word.
By this time he knew full well that she was guilty, but he tried to persuade himself that she was innocent, to make excuses for her, and to find her a way out.
"The newspapers say that the warrant was made at your instruction, Roma—that you were the informer who denounced me. It cannot be true. Tell me it is not true."
She did not speak.
"Look at the name on it—David Leone. There was only one person in the world who knew me by that name—only one."
She began to cry beneath her hands.
"I told you everything myself, Roma. It was in this very room, you remember, the night you came here first. You asked me if I wasn't afraid to tell you, and I answered no. You couldn't deceive the son of your own father. It wasn't natural. I was right, wasn't I?"
She felt him take hold of her hand and draw it down from her face.
"Look at the ring on your hand, dear. And look at this one on mine. You are my wife, Roma. Does a man's wife betray him?"
His voice cracked at every word.
"When we parted you promised that as long as you lived, wherever you might be, and whatever the world might do with us, you would be faithful to me to the last. You have kept your promise, haven't you? It isn't true that you have denounced me to the police."
He paused, but she did not reply, and he dropped her hand, and it fell like a lifeless thing to her side.
"I know it isn't true, dear, but I want to hear it from your own lips. One word—only one. Why shouldn't you speak? Say you know nothing of this warrant. Say that somebody else knew David Leone. It may be so—I cannot remember. Say ... say anything. Don't you see I will believe you whatever you say, Roma?"
Roma could control herself no longer.
"I know quite well it is impossible for you to forgive me, David."
"But if I could explain...."
"Explain? What can there be to explain? Did you denounce me to the magistrate?"
"If you could only know what happened...."
"Did you denounce me to the magistrate?"
She looked with frightened eyes at the bedroom door, and then dropped to her knees.
"Have pity upon me."
"Did you denounce me to the magistrate?"
His pale face became ashen.
"Then it's true," he said in a voice that hardly passed his throat. "What my friends have been saying all along is true. They warned me against you from the first, but I wouldn't believe them. I was a fool, and this is my reward."
So saying he crushed the warrant in his hand and flung it at her feet.
Roma could bear no more. Making a great call on her resolution, she rose, turned towards the bedroom door, and, speaking in a loud voice in order that he who was within might hear, she said:
"David, I don't want to excuse myself or to blame anybody else, whoever it may be, and however wickedly he may have acted. But, from my soul and before God, I tell you that if I denounced you I did it for the best."
He laughed bitterly, but she forced herself to go on.
"When you went away you warned me that your enemies could be merciless. They have been merciless. First, they tempted me with the fear of poverty. I had been accustomed to wealth, comfort, luxury. Look round you, David—they are gone. Did I ever regret them? Never! I was rich enough in your love, and I would not have sacrificed that for a queen's crown."
She looked up at his tortured face and saw that it was full of scorn, but still she struggled on.
"Then they tempted me with jealousy. The forged letter which killed Bruno was intended to poison me. Did I believe it? No! I knew you loved me, and if you didn't, if you had deceived me, that made no difference. I loved you, and even if I lost you I should always love you, whatever happened."
Again she looked up into his face with her glistening eyes. It was not anger she saw there now, but an expression of bewilderment and of pain.
"Last of all, they tempted me with love itself. The treacherous tyrants deceived and intimidated the Pope—the good and saintly Pope—and through him they told me that your arrest was certain, your life in danger, and nothing could save you from your present peril but that I should denounce you for your past offences. The phantom of conspiracy rose up before me, and I remembered my father, doomed to life-long exile and a lonely death. It was my dark hour, dearest, and when they promised me—faithfully promised me—that your life should be spared...."
A faint sound came from the bedroom. Roma heard it, but Rossi, in the tumult of his emotion, heard nothing.
"I know what you will say, dear—that you would have given your life a hundred times rather than save it at the loss of all you hold so dear. But I am no heroine, David. I am only a woman who loves you, and I could not see you die."
He felt his soul swell with love and forgiveness, and he wanted to sob like a child, but Roma went on, and without trying to keep back her tears.
"That's all, dear. Now you know everything. It is not your fault that the love you have brought home to me is dead. I hoped that before you came home I might die too. I think my soul must be dead already. I do not hope for pardon, but if your great heart could pardon me...."
"Roma," said Rossi at last, while tears filled his eyes and choked his voice, "when I escaped from the police I came here to avenge myself; but if you say it was your love that led you to denounce me...."
"I do say so."
"Your love, and nothing but your love...."
"Though I am betrayed and fallen, and may be banished or condemned to death, yet...."
Her heart swelled and throbbed. She held out her arms to him.
"David!" she cried, and at the next moment she was clasped to his breast.
Again there was a faint sound from the adjoining room.
"The woman lies," said a voice behind them.
The Baron stood in the bedroom door.
The Baron's impulse on going into the bedroom had been merely to escape from one who must be a runaway prisoner, and therefore little better than a madman, whose worst madness would be provoked by his own presence; but when he realised that Rossi was self-possessed, and even magnanimous in his hour of peril, the Baron felt ashamed of his hiding-place, and felt compelled to come out. In spite of his pride he had been forced to overhear the conversation, and he was humiliated by the generosity of the betrayed man, but what humbled him most was the clear note of the woman's love.
Knight of the Annunziata! Cousin of the King! President of the Council! Dictator! These things had meant something to him an hour ago. What were they now?
The agony of the Baron's jealousy was intolerable. For the first time in his life his ideas, usually so clear and exact, became confused. Roma was lost to him. He was going mad.
He looked at the revolver which he had snatched up when Roma let it fall, examined it, made sure it was loaded, cocked it, put it in the right-hand pocket of his overcoat, and then opened the door.
The two in the other room did not at first see him. He spoke, and their arms slackened and they stood apart.
After a moment of silence Rossi spoke. "Roma," he said, "what is this gentleman doing here?"
The Baron laughed. "Wouldn't it be more reasonable to ask what you are doing here, sir?" he asked.
Then trying to put into logical sequence the confused ideas which were besieging his tormented brain, he said, "I understand that this apartment belongs now to the lady; the lady belongs to me, and when she denounced you to the police it was merely in fulfilment of a plan we concocted together on the day you insulted both of us in your speech in the piazza."
Rossi made a step forward with a threatening gesture, but Roma intervened. The Baron gripped firmly the revolver in his pocket, and said: