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AFTER DARK by Wilkie Collins

Part 7 out of 8

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despair and rage before. He swore that he would have all Italy
searched for the girl, that he would be the death of the priest,
and that he would never enter Luca Lomi's studio again--"

"And, as to this last particular, of course, being a man, he
failed to keep his word?"

"Of course. At that first visit of mine to the studio I
discovered two things. The first, as I said, that Fabio was
really in love with the girl--the second, that Maddalena Lomi was
really in love with him. You may suppose I looked at her
attentively while the disturbance was going on, and while
nobody's notice was directed on me. All women are vain, I know,
but vanity never blinded my eyes. I saw directly that I had but
one superiority over her--my figure. She was my height, but not
well made. She had hair as dark and as glossy as mine; eyes as
bright and as black as mine; and the rest of her face better than
mine. My nose is coarse, my lips are too thick, and my upper lip
overhangs my under too far. She had none of those personal
faults; and, as for capacity, she managed the young fool in his
passion as well as I could have managed him in her place."

"How?"

"She stood silent, with downcast eyes and a distressed look, all
the time he was raving up and down the studio. She must have
hated the girl, and been rejoiced at her disappearance; but she
never showed it. 'You would be an awkward rival' (I thought to
myself), 'even to a handsomer woman than I am. However, I
determined not to despair too soon, and made up my mind to follow
my plan just as if the accident of the girl's disappearance had
never occurred. I smoothed down the master-sculptor easily
enough--flattering him about his reputation. assuring him that
the works of Luca Lomi had been the objects of my adoration since
childhood, telling him that I had heard of his difficulty in
finding a model to complete his Minerva from, and offering myself
(if he thought me worthy) for the honor--laying great stress on
that word--for the honor of sitting to him. I don't know whether
he was altogether deceived by what I told him; but he was sharp
enough to see that I really could be of use, and he accepted my
offer with a profusion of compliments. We parted, having arranged
that I was to give him a first sitting in a week's time."

"Why put it off so long?"

"To allow our young gentleman time to cool down and return to the
studio, to be sure. What was the use of my being there while he
was away?"

"Yes, yes--I forgot. And how long was it before he came back?"

"I had allowed him more time than enough. When I had given my
first sitting I saw him in the studio, and heard it was his
second visit there since the day of the girl's disappearance.
Those very violent men are always changeable and irresolute."

"Had he made no attempt, then, to discover Nanina?"

"Oh, yes! He had searched for her himself, and had set others
searching for her, but to no purpose. Four days of perpetual
disappointment had been enough to bring him to his senses. Luca
Lomi had written him a peace-making letter, asking what harm he
or his daughter had done, even supposing Father Rocco was to
blame. Maddalena Lomi had met him in the street, and had looked
resignedly away from him, as if she expected him to pass her. In
short, they had awakened his sense of j ustice and his good
nature (you see, I can impartially give him his due), and they
had got him back. He was silent and sentimental enough at first,
and shockingly sulky and savage with the priest--"

"I wonder Father Rocco ventured within his reach. "

"Father Rocco is not a man to be daunted or defeated by anybody,
I can tell you. The same day on which Fabio came back to the
studio, he returned to it. Beyond boldly declaring that he
thought Nanina had done quite right, and had acted like a good
and virtuous girl, he would say nothing about her or her
disappearance. It was quite useless to ask him questions--he
denied that any one had a right to put them. Threatening,
entreating, flattering--all modes of appeal were thrown away on
him. Ah, my dear! depend upon it, the cleverest and politest man
in Pisa, the most dangerous to an enemy and the most delightful
to a friend, is Father Rocco. The rest of them, when I began to
play my cards a little too openly, behaved with brutal rudeness
to me. Father Rocco, from first to last, treated me like a lady.
Sincere or not, I don't care--he treated me like a lady when the
others treated me like--"

"There! there! don't get hot about it now. Tell me instead how
you made your first approaches to the young gentleman whom you
talk of so contemptuously as Fabio."

"As it turned out, in the worst possible way. First, of course, I
made sure of interesting him in me by telling him that I had
known Nanina. So far it was all well enough. My next object was
to persuade him that she could never have gone away if she had
truly loved him alone; and that he must have had some fortunate
rival in her own rank of life, to whom she had sacrificed him,
after gratifying her vanity for a time by bringing a young
nobleman to her feet. I had, as you will easily imagine,
difficulty enough in making him take this view of Nanina's
flight. His pride and his love for the girl were both concerned
in refusing to admit the truth of my suggestion. At last I
succeeded. I brought him to that state of ruffled vanity and
fretful self-assertion in which it is easiest to work on a man's
feelings--in which a man's own wounded pride makes the best
pitfall to catch him in. I brought him, I say, to that state, and
then _she_ stepped in and profited by what I had done. Is it
wonderful now that I rejoice in her disappointments--that I
should be glad to hear any ill thing of her that any one could
tell me?"

"But how did she first get the advantage of you?"

"If I had found out, she would never have succeeded where I
failed. All I know is, that she had more opportunities of seeing
him than I, and that she used them cunningly enough even to
deceive me. While I thought I was gaining ground with Fabio, I
was actually losing it. My first suspicions were excited by a
change in Luca Lomi's conduct toward me. He grew cold,
neglectful--at last absolutely rude. I was resolved not to see
this; but accident soon obliged me to open my eyes. One morning I
heard Fabio and Maddalena talking of me when they imagined I had
left the studio. I can't repeat their words, especially here. The
blood flies into my head, and the cold catches me at the heart,
when I only think of them. It will be enough if I tell you that
he laughed at me, and that she--"

"Hush! not so loud. There are other people lodging in the house.
Never mind about telling me what you heard; it only irritates you
to no purpose. I can guess that they had discovered--"

"Through her--remember, all through her!"

"Yes, yes, I understand. They had discovered a great deal more
than you ever intended them to know, and all through her."

"But for the priest, Virginie, I should have been openly insulted
and driven from their doors. He had insisted on their behaving
with decent civility toward me. They said that he was afraid of
me, and laughed at the notion of his trying to make them afraid
too. That was the last thing I heard. The fury I was in, and the
necessity of keeping it down, almost suffocated me. I turned
round to leave the place forever, when, who should I see,
standing close behind me, but Father Rocco. He must have
discovered in my face that I knew all, but he took no notice of
it. He only asked, in his usual quiet, polite way, if I was
looking for anything I had lost, and if he could help me. I
managed to thank him, and to get to the door. He opened it for me
respectfully, and bowed--he treated me like a lady to the last!
It was evening when I left the studio in that way. The next
morning I threw up my situation, and turned my back on Pisa. Now
you know everything."

"Did you hear of the marriage? or did you only assume from what
you knew that it would take place?"

"I heard of it about six months ago. A man came to sing in the
chorus at our theater who had been employed some time before at
the grand concert given on the occasion of the marriage. But let
us drop the subject now. I am in a fever already with talking of
it. You are in a bad situation here, my dear; I declare your room
is almost stifling."

"Shall I open the other window?"

"No; let us go out and get a breath of air by the river-side.
Come! take your hood and fan--it is getting dark--nobody will see
us, and we can come back here, if you like, in half an hour."

Mademoiselle Virginie acceded to her friend's wish rather
reluctantly. They walked toward the river. The sun was down, and
the sudden night of Italy was gathering fast. Although Brigida
did not say another word on the subject of Fabio or his wife, she
led the way to the bank of the Arno, on which the young
nobleman's palace stood.

Just as they got near the great door of entrance, a sedan-chair,
approaching in the opposite direction, was set down before it;
and a footman, after a moment's conference with a lady inside the
chair, advanced to the porter's lodge in the courtyard. Leaving
her friend to go on, Brigida slipped in after the servant by the
open wicket, and concealed herself in the shadow cast by the
great closed gates.

"The Marchesa Melani, to inquire how the Countess d'Ascoli and
the infant are this evening," said the footman.

"My mistress has not changed at all for the better since the
morning," answered the porter. "The child is doing quite well."

The footman went back to the sedan-chair; then returned to the
porter's lodge.

"The marchesa desires me to ask if fresh medical advice has been
sent for," he said.

"Another doctor has arrived from Florence today," replied the
porter.

Mademoiselle Virginie, missing her friend suddenly, turned back
toward the palace to look after her, and was rather surprised to
see Brigida slip out of the wicket-gate. There were two oil lamps
burning on pillars outside the doorway, and their light glancing
on the Italian's face, as she passed under them, showed that she
was smiling.

CHAPTER II.

WHILE the Marchesa Melani was making inquiries at the gate of the
palace, Fabio was sitting alone in the apartment which his wife
usually occupied when she was in health. It was her favorite
room, and had been prettily decorated, by her own desire, with
hangings in yellow satin and furniture of the same color. Fabio
was now waiting in it, to hear the report of the doctors after
their evening visit.

Although Maddalena Lomi had not been his first love, and although
he had married her under circumstances which are generally and
rightly considered to afford few chances of lasting happiness in
wedded life, still they had lived together through the one year
of their union tranquilly, if not fondly. She had molded herself
wisely to his peculiar humors, had made the most of his easy
disposition; and, when her quick temper had got the better of
her, had seldom hesitated in her cooler moments to acknowledge
that she had been wrong. She had been extravagant, it is true,
and had irritated him by fits of unreasonable jealousy; but these
were faults not to be thought of now. He could only remember that
she was the mother of his child, and that she lay ill but two
rooms away from him--dangerously ill, as the doctors had
unwillingly confessed on that very day.

The darkness was closing in upon him, and he took up the handbell
to ring for lights. When the servant entered there was genuine
sorrow in his face, genuine anxiety in his voice, as he inquired
for news from the sick-room. The man only answered that his
mistress was still asleep, and then withdrew, after first leaving
a sealed letter on the table by his master's side. Fabio summoned
him back into the room, and asked when the letter had arrived. He
replied that it had been delivered at the palace two days since,
and that he had observed it lying unopened on a desk in his
master's study.

Left alone again, Fabio remembered that the letter had arrived at
a time when the first dangerous symptoms of his wife's illness
had declared themselves, and that he had thrown it aside, after
observing the address to be in a handwriting unknown to him. In
his present state of suspense, any occupation was better than
sitting idle. So he took up the letter with a sigh, broke the
seal, and turned inquiringly to the name signed at the end.

It was "NANINA."

He started, and changed color. "A letter from her," he whispered
to himself. "Why does it come at such a time as this?"

His face grew paler, and the letter trembled in his fingers.
Those superstitious feelings which he had ascribed to the nursery
influences of his childhood, when Father Rocco charged him with
them in the studio, seemed to be overcoming him now. He
hesitated, and listened anxiously in the direction of his wife's
room, before reading the letter. Was its arrival ominous of good
or evil? That was the thought in his heart as he drew the lamp
near to him, and looked at the first lines.

"Am I wrong in writing to you?" (the letter began abruptly). "If
I am, you have but to throw this little leaf of paper into the
fire, and to think no more of it after it is burned up and gone.
I can never reproach you for treating my letter in that way; for
we are never likely to meet again.

"Why did I go away? Only to save you from the consequences of
marrying a poor girl who was not fit to become your wife. It
almost broke my heart to leave you; for I had nothing to keep up
my courage but the remembrance that I was going away for your
sake. I had to think of that, morning and night--to think of it
always, or I am afraid I should have faltered in my resolution,
and have gone back to Pisa. I longed so much at first to see you
once more, only to tell you that Nanina was not heartless and
ungrateful, and that you might pity her and think kindly of her,
though you might love her no longer.

"Only to tell you that! If I had been a lady I might have told it
to you in a letter; but I had never learned to write, and I could
not prevail on myself to get others to take the pen for me. All I
could do was to learn secretly how to write with my own hand. It
was long, long work; but the uppermost thought in my heart was
always the thought of justifying myself to you, and that made me
patient and persevering. I learned, at last, to write so as not
to be ashamed of myself, or to make you ashamed of me. I began a
letter--my first letter to you--but I heard of your marriage
before it was done, and then I had to tear the paper up, and put
the pen down again.

"I had no right to come between you and your wife, even with so
little a thing as a letter; I had no right to do anything but
hope and pray for your happiness. Are you happy? I am sure you
ought to be; for how can your wife help loving you?

"It is very hard for me to explain why I have ventured on writing
now, and yet I can't think that I am doing wrong. I heard a few
days ago (for I have a friend at Pisa who keeps me informed, by
my own desire, of all the pleasant changes in your life)--I heard
of your child being born; and I thought myself, after that,
justified at last in writing to you. No letter from me, at such a
time as this, can rob your child's mother of so much as a thought
of yours that is due to her. Thus, at least, it seems to me. I
wish so well to your child, that I cannot surely be doing wrong
in writing these lines.

"I have said already what I wanted to say--what I have been
longing to say for a whole year past. I have told you why I left
Pisa; and have, perhaps, persuaded you that I have gone through
some suffering, and borne some heart-aches for your sake. Have I
more to write? Only a word or two, to tell you that I am earning
my bread, as I always wished to earn it, quietly at home--at
least, at what I must call home now. I am living with reputable
people, and I want for nothing. La Biondella has grown very much;
she would hardly be obliged to get on your knee to kiss you now;
and she can plait her dinner-mats faster and more neatly than
ever. Our old dog is with us, and has learned two new tricks; but
you can't be expected to remember him, although you were the only
stranger I ever saw him take kindly to at first.

"It is time I finished. If you have read this letter through to
the end, I am sure you will excuse me if I have written it badly.
There is no date to it, because I feel that it is safest and best
for both of us that you should know nothing of where I am living.
I bless you and pray for you, and bid you affectionately
farewell. If you can think of me as a sister, think of me
sometimes still."

Fabio sighed bitterly while he read the letter. "Why," he
whispered to himself, "why does it come at such a time as this,
when I cannot dare not think of her?" As he slowly folded the
letter up the tears came into his eyes, and he half raised the
paper to his lips. At the same moment, some one knocked at the
door of the room. He started, and felt himself changing color
guiltily as one of his servants entered.

"My mistress is awake," the man said, with a very grave face, and
a very constrained manner; "and the gentlemen in attendance
desire me to say--"

He was interrupted, before he could give his message, by one of
the medical men, who had followed him into the room.

"I wish I had better news to communicate," began the doctor,
gently.

"She is worse, then?' said Fabio, sinking back into the chair
from which he had risen the moment before.

"She has awakened weaker instead of stronger after her sleep,"
returned the doctor, evasively. "I never like to give up all hope
till the very last, but--"

"It is cruel not to be candid with him," interposed another
voice--the voice of the doctor from Florence, who had just
entered the room. "Strengthen yourself to bear the worst," he
continued, addressing himself to Fabio. "She is dying. Can you
compose yourself enough to go to her bedside?"

Pale and speechless, Fabio rose from his chair, and made a sign
in the affirmative. He trembled so that the doctor who had first
spoken was obliged to lead him out of the room.

"Your mistress has some near relations in Pisa, has she not?"
said the doctor from Florence, appealing to the servant who
waited near him.

"Her father, sir, Signor Luca Lomi; and her uncle, Father Rocco,"
answered the man. "They were here all through the day, until my
mistress fell asleep."

"Do you know where to find them now?"'

"Signor Luca told me he should be at his studio, and Father Rocco
said I might find him at his lodgings."

"Send for them both directly. Stay, who is your mistress's
confessor? He ought to be summoned without loss of time."

"My mistress's confessor is Father Rocco, sir."

"Very well--send, or go yourself, at once. Even minutes may be of
importance now." Saying this, the doctor turned away, and sat
down to wait for any last demands on his services, in the chair
which Fabio had just left.

CHAPTER III.

BEFORE the servant could get to the priest's lodgings a visitor
had applied there for admission, and had been immediately
received by Father Rocco himself. This favored guest was a little
man, very sprucely and neatly dressed, and oppressively polite in
his manner. He bowed when he first sat down, he bowed when he
answered the usual inquiries about his health, and he bowed, for
the third time, when Father Rocco asked what had brought him from
Florence.

"Rather an awkward business," replied the little man, recovering
himself uneasily after his third bow. "The dressmaker, named
Nanina, whom you placed under my wife's protection about a year
ago--"

"What of her? " inquired the priest eagerly.

"I regret to say she has left us, with her child-sister, and
their very disagreeable dog, that growls at everybody."

"When did they go?"

"Only yesterday. I came here at once to tell you, as you were so
very particular in recommending us to take care of her. It is not
our fault that she has gone. My wife was kindness itself to her,
and I always treated her like a duchess. I bought dinner-mats of
her sister; I even put up with the thieving and growling of the
disagreeable dog--"

"Where have they gone to? Have you found out that?"

"I have found out, by application at the passport-office, that
they have not left Florence--but what particular part of the city
they have removed to, I have not yet had time to discover."

"And pray why did they leave you, in the first place? Nanina is
not a girl to do anything without a reason. She must have had
some cause for going away. What was it?"

The little man hesitated, and made a fourth bow.

"You remember your private instructions to my wife and myself,
when you first brought Nanina to our house?" he said, looking
away rather uneasily while he spoke.

"Yes; you were to watch her, but to take care that she did not
suspect you. It was just possible, at that time, that she might
try to get back to Pisa without my knowing it; and everything
depended on her remaining at Florence. I think, now, that I did
wrong to distrust her; but it was of the last importance to
provide against all possibilities, and to abstain from putting
too much faith in my own good opinion of the girl. For these
reasons, I certainly did instruct you to watch her privately. So
far you are quite right; and I have nothing to complain of. Go
on. "

"You remember," resumed the little man, "that the first
consequence of our following your instructions was a discovery
(which we immediately communicated to you) that she was secretly
learning to write?"

"Yes; and I also remember sending you word not to show that you
knew what she was doing; but to wait and see if she turned her
knowledge of writing to account, and took or sent any letters to
the post. You informed me, in your regular monthly report, that
she nearer did anything of the kind."

"Never, until three days ago; and then she was traced from her
room in my house to the post-office with a letter, which she
dropped into the box."

"And the address of which you discovered before she took it from
your house?"

"Unfortunately I did not," answered the little man, reddening and
looking askance at the priest, as if he expected to receive a
severe reprimand.

But Father Rocco said nothing. He was thinking. Who could she
have written to? If to Fabio, why should she have waited for
months and months, after she had learned how to use her pen,
before sending him a letter? If not to Fabio, to what other
person could she have written?

"I regret not discovering the address--regret it most deeply,"
said the little man, with a low bow of apology.

"It is too late for regret," said Father Rocco, coldly. "Tell me
how she came to leave your house; I have not heard that yet. Be
as brief as you can. I expect to be called every moment to the
bedside of a near and dear relation, who is suffering from severe
illness. You shall have all my attention; but you must ask it for
as short a time as possible."

"I will be briefness itself. In the first place, you must know
that I have--or rather had--an idle, unscrupulous rascal of an
apprentice in my business."

The priest pursed up his mouth contemptuously.

"In the second place, this same good-for-nothing fellow had the
impertinence to fall in love with Nanina."

Father Rocco started, and listened eagerly.

"But I must do the girl the justice to say that she never gave
him the slightest encouragement; and that, whenever he ventured
to speak to her, she always quietly but very decidedly repelled
him."

"A good girl!" said Father Rocco. "I always said she was a good
girl. It was a mistake on my part ever to have distrusted her."

"Among the other offenses," continued the little man, "of which I
now find my scoundrel of an apprentice to have been guilty, was
the enormity of picking the lock of my desk, and prying into my
private papers."

"You ought not to have had any. Private papers should always be
burned papers."

"They shall be for the future; I will take good care of that."

"Were any of my letters to you about Nanina among these private
papers?"

"Unfortunately they were. Pray, pray excuse my want of caution
this time. It shall never happen again."

"Go on. Such imprudence as yours can never be excused; it can
only be provided against for the future. I suppose the apprentice
showed my letters to the girl?"

"I infer as much; though why he should do so--"

"Simpleton! Did you not say that he was in love with her (as you
term it), and that he got no encouragement?"

"Yes; I said that--and I know it to be true."

"Well! Was it not his interest, being unable to make any
impression on the girl's fancy, to establish some claim to her
gratitude; and try if he could not win her that way? By showing
her my letters, he would make her indebted to him for knowing
that she was watched in your house. But this is not the matter in
question now. You say you infer that she had seen my letters. On
what grounds?"

"On the strength of this bit of paper," answered the little man,
ruefully producing a note from his pocket. "She must have had
your letters shown to her soon after putting her own letter into
the post. For, on the evening of the same day, when I went up
into her room, I found that she and her sister and the
disagreeable dog had all gone, and observed this note laid on the
table."

Father Rocco took the note, and read these lines:

"I have just discovered that I have been watched and suspected
ever since my stay under your roof. It is impossible that I can
remain another night in the house of a spy. I go with my sister.
We owe you nothing, and we are free to live honestly where we
please. If you see Father Rocco, tell him that I can forgive his
distrust of me, but that I can never forget it. I, who had full
faith in him, had a right to expect that he should have full
faith in me. It was always an encouragement to me to think of him
as a father and a friend. I have lost that encouragement
forever--and it was the last I had left to me!

"NANINA."

The priest rose from his seat as he handed the note back, and the
visitor immediately followed his example.

"We must remedy this misfortune as we best may," he said, with a
sigh. "Are you ready to go back to Florence to-morrow?"

The little man bowed again.

"Find out where she is, and ascertain if she wants for anything,
and if she is living in a safe place. Say nothing about me, and
make no attempt to induce her to return to your house. Simply let
me know what you discover. The poor child has a spirit that no
ordinary people would suspect in her. She must be soothed and
treated tenderly, and we shall manage her yet. No mistakes, mind,
this time! Do just what I tell you, and do no more. Have you
anything else to say to me?"

The little man shook his head and shrugged his shoulders.

"Good-night, then," said the priest.

"Good-night," said the little man, slipping through the door that
was held open for him with the politest alacrity.

"This is vexatious," said Father Rocco, taking a turn or two in
the study after his visitor had gone. "It was bad to have done
the child an injustice--it is worse to have been found out. There
is nothing for it now but to wait till I know where she is. I
like her, and I like that note she left behind her. It is
bravely, delicately, and honestly written--a good girl--a very
good girl, indeed!"

He walked to the window, breathed the fresh air for a few
moments, and quietly dismissed the subject from his mind. When he
returned to his table he had no thoughts for any one but his sick
niece.

"It seems strange," he said, "that I have had no message about
her yet. Perhaps Luca has heard something. It may be well if I go
to the studio at once to find out."

He took up his hat and went to the door. Just as he opened it,
Fabio's servant confronted him on the thresh old.

"I am sent to summon you to the palace," said the man. "The
doctors have given up all hope."

Father Rocco turned deadly pale, and drew back a step. "Have you
told my brother of this?" he asked.

"I was just on my way to the studio," answered the servant.

"I will go there instead of you, and break the bad news to him,"
said the priest.

They descended the stairs in silence. Just as they were about to
separate at the street door, Father Rocco stopped the servant.

"How is the child?" he asked, with such sudden eagerness and
impatience, that the man looked quite startled as he answered
that the child was perfectly well.

"There is some consolation in that," said Father Rocco, walking
away, and speaking partly to the servant, partly to himself. "My
caution has misled me," he continued, pausing thoughtfully when
he was left alone in the roadway. "I should have risked using the
mother's influence sooner to procure the righteous restitution.
All hope of compassing it now rests on the life of the child.
Infant as she is, her father's ill-gotten wealth may yet be
gathered back to the Church by her hands."

He proceeded rapidly on his way to the studio, until he reached
the river-side and drew close to the bridge which it was
necessary to cross in order to get to his brother's house. Here
he stopped abruptly, as if struck by a sudden idea. The moon had
just risen, and her light, streaming across the river, fell full
upon his face as he stood by the parapet wall that led up to the
bridge. He was so lost in thought that he did not hear the
conversation of two ladies who were advancing along the pathway
close behind him. As they brushed by him, the taller of the two
turned round and looked back at his face.

"Father Rocco!" exclaimed the lady, stopping.

"Donna Brigida!" cried the priest, looking surprised at first,
but recovering himself directly and bowing with his usual quiet
politeness. "Pardon me if I thank you for honoring me by renewing
our acquaintance, and then pass on to my brother's studio. A
heavy affliction is likely to befall us, and I go to prepare him
for it."

"You refer to the dangerous illness of your niece?" said Brigida.
"I heard of it this evening. Let us hope that your fears are
exaggerated, and that we may yet meet under less distressing
circumstances. I have no present intention of leaving Pisa for
some time, and I shall always be glad to thank Father Rocco for
the politeness and consideration which he showed to me, under
delicate circumstances, a year ago."

With these words she courtesied deferentially, and moved away to
rejoin her friend. The priest observed that Mademoiselle Virginie
lingered rather near, as if anxious to catch a few words of the
conversation between Brigida and himself. Seeing this, he, in his
turn, listened as the two women slowly walked away together, and
heard the Italian say to her companion: "Virginie, I will lay you
the price of a new dress that Fabio d'Ascoli marries again."

Father Rocco started when she said those words, as if he had
trodden on fire.

"My thought!" he whispered nervously to himself. "My thought at
the moment when she spoke to me! Marry again? Another wife, over
whom I should have no influence! Other children, whose education
would not be confided to me! What would become, then, of the
restitution that I have hoped for, wrought for, prayed for?"

He stopped, and looked fixedly at the sky above him. The bridge
was deserted. His black figure rose up erect, motionless, and
spectral, with the white still light falling solemnly all around
it. Standing so for some minutes, his first movement was to drop
his hand angrily on the parapet of the bridge. He then turned
round slowly in the direction by which the two women had walked
away.

"Donna Brigida," he said, "I will lay you the price of fifty new
dresses that Fabio d'Ascoli never marries again!"

He set his face once more toward the studio, and walked on
without stopping until he arrived at the master-sculptor's door.

"Marry again?" he thought to himself, as he rang the bell. "Donna
Brigida, was your first failure not enough for you? Are you going
to try a second time?"

Luca Lomi himself opened the door. He drew Father Rocco hurriedly
into the studio toward a single lamp burning on a stand near the
partition between the two rooms.

"Have you heard anything of our poor child?" he asked. "Tell me
the truth! tell me the truth at once!"

"Hush! compose yourself. I have heard," said Father Rocco, in
low, mournful tones.

Luca tightened his hold on the priest's arm, and looked into his
face with breathless, speechless eagerness.

"Compose yourself," repeated Father Rocco. "Compose yourself to
hear the worst. My poor Luca, the doctors have given up all
hope."

Luca dropped his brother's arm with a groan of despair. "Oh,
Maddalena! my child--my only child!"

Reiterating these words again and again, he leaned his head
against the partition and burst into tears. Sordid and coarse as
his nature was, he really loved his daughter. All the heart he
had was in his statues and in her.

After the first burst of his grief was exhausted, he was recalled
to himself by a sensation as if some change had taken place in
the lighting of the studio. He looked up directly, and dimly
discerned the priest standing far down at the end of the room
nearest the door, with the lamp in his hand, eagerly looking at
something.

"Rocco!" he exclaimed, "Rocco, why have you taken the lamp away?
What are you doing there?"

There was no movement and no answer. Luca advanced a step or two,
and called again. "Rocco, what are you doing there?"

The priest heard this time, and came suddenly toward his brother,
with the lamp in his hand- so suddenly that Luca started.

"What is it?" he asked, in astonishment. "Gracious God, Rocco,
how pale you are!"

Still the priest never said a word. He put the lamp down on the
nearest table. Luca observed that his hand shook. He had never
seen his brother violently agitated before. When Rocco had
announced, but a few minutes ago, that Maddalena's life was
despaired of, it was in a voice which, though sorrowful, was
perfectly calm. What was the meaning of this sudden panic--this
strange, silent terror?"

The priest observed that his brother was looking at him
earnestly. "Come!" he said in a faint whisper, "come to her
bedside: we have no time to lose. Get your hat, and leave it to
me to put out the lamp."

He hurriedly extinguished the light while he spoke. They went
down the studio side by side toward the door. The moonlight
streamed through the window full on the place where the priest
had been standing alone with the lamp in his hand. As they passed
it, Luca felt his brother tremble, and saw him turn away his
head.

. . . . . . . .

Two hours later, Fabio d'Ascoli and his wife were separated in
this world forever; and the servants of the palace were
anticipating in whispers the order of their mistress's funeral
procession to the burial-ground of the Campo Santo.

PART THIRD.

CHAPTER I.

ABOUT eight months after the Countess d'Ascoli had been laid in
her grave in the Campo Santo, two reports were circulated through
the gay world of Pisa, which excited curiosity and awakened
expectation everywhere.

The first report announced that a grand masked ball was to be
given at the Melani Palace, to celebrate the day on which the
heir of the house attained his majority. All the friends of the
family were delighted at the prospect of this festival; for the
old Marquis Melani had the reputation of being one of the most
hospitable, and, at the same time, one of the most eccentric men
in Pisa. Every one expected, therefore, that he would secure for
the entertainment of his guests, if he really gave the ball, the
most whimsical novelties in the way of masks, dances, and
amusements generally, that had ever been seen.

The second report was, that the rich widower, Fabio d'Ascoli, was
on the point of returning to Pisa, after having improved his
health and spirits by traveling in foreign countries; and that he
might be expected to appear again in society, for the first time
since the death of his wife, at t he masked ball which was to be
given in the Melani Palace. This announcement excited special
interest among the young ladies of Pisa. Fabio had only reached
his thirtieth year; and it was universally agreed that his return
to society in his native city could indicate nothing more
certainly than his desire to find a second mother for his infant
child. All the single ladies would now have been ready to bet, as
confidently as Brigida had offered to bet eight months before,
that Fabio d'Ascoli would marry again.

For once in a way, report turned out to be true, in both the
cases just mentioned. Invitations were actually issued from the
Melani Palace, and Fabio returned from abroad to his home on the
Arno.

In settling all the arrangements connected with his masked ball,
the Marquis Melani showed that he was determined not only to
deserve, but to increase, his reputation for oddity. He invented
the most extravagant disguises, to be worn by some of his more
intimate friends; he arranged grotesque dances, to be performed
at stated periods of the evening by professional buffoons, hired
from Florence. He composed a toy symphony, which included solos
on every noisy plaything at that time manufactured for children's
use. And not content with thus avoiding the beaten track in
preparing the entertainments at the ball, he determined also to
show decided originality, even in selecting the attendants who
were to wait on the company. Other people in his rank of life
were accustomed to employ their own and hired footmen for this
purpose; the marquis resolved that his attendants should be
composed of young women only; that two of his rooms should be
fitted up as Arcadian bowers; and that all the prettiest girls in
Pisa should be placed in them to preside over the refreshments,
dressed, in accordance with the mock classical taste of the
period, as shepherdesses of the time of Virgil.

The only defect of this brilliantly new idea was the difficulty
of executing it. The marquis had expressly ordered that not fewer
than thirty sheperdesses were to be engaged--fifteen for each
bower. It would have been easy to find double this number in
Pisa, if beauty had been the only quality required in the
attendant damsels. But it was also absolutely necessary, for the
security of the marquis's gold and silver plate, that the
shepherdesses should possess, besides good looks, the very homely
recommendation of a fair character. This last qualification
proved, it is sad to say, to be the one small merit which the
majority of the ladies willing to accept engagements at the
palace did not possess. Day after day passed on; and the
marquis's steward only found more and more difficulty in
obtaining the appointed number of trustworthy beauties. At last
his resources failed him altogether; and he appeared in his
master's presence about a week before the night of the ball, to
make the humiliating acknowledgment that he was entirely at his
wits' end. The total number of fair shepherdesses with fair
characters whom he had been able to engage amounted only to
twenty-three.

"Nonsense!" cried the marquis, irritably, as soon as the steward
had made his confession. "I told you to get thirty girls, and
thirty I mean to have. What's the use of shaking your head when
all their dresses are ordered? Thirty tunics, thirty wreaths,
thirty pairs of sandals and silk stockings, thirty crooks, you
scoundrel--and you have the impudence to offer me only
twenty-three hands to hold them. Not a word! I won't hear a word!
Get me my thirty girls, or lose your place." The marquis roared
out this last terrible sentence at the top of his voice, and
pointed peremptorily to the door.

The steward knew his master too well to remonstrate. He took his
hat and cane, and went out. It was useless to look through the
ranks of rejected volunteers again; there was not the slightest
hope in that quarter. The only chance left was to call on all his
friends in Pisa who had daughters out at service, and to try what
he could accomplish, by bribery and persuasion, that way.

After a whole day occupied in solicitations, promises, and
patient smoothing down of innumerable difficulties, the result of
his efforts in the new direction was an accession of six more
shepherdesses. This brought him on bravely from twenty-three to
twenty-nine, and left him, at last, with only one anxiety--where
was he now to find shepherdess number thirty?

He mentally asked himself that important question, as he entered
a shady by-street in the neighborhood of the Campo Santo, on his
way back to the Melani Palace. Sauntering slowly along in the
middle of the road, and fanning himself with his handkerchief
after the oppressive exertions of the day, he passed a young girl
who was standing at the street door of one of the houses,
apparently waiting for somebody to join her before she entered
the building.

"Body of Bacchus!" exclaimed the steward (using one of those old
Pagan ejaculations which survive in Italy even to the present
day), "there stands the prettiest girl I have seen yet. If she
would only be shepherdess number thirty, I should go home to
supper with my mind at ease. I'll ask her, at any rate. Nothing
can be lost by asking, and everything may be gained. Stop, my
dear," he continued, seeing the girl turn to go into the house as
he approached her. "Don't be afraid of me. I am steward to the
Marquis Melani, and well known in Pisa as an eminently
respectable man. I have something to say to you which may be
greatly for your benefit. Don't look surprised; I am coming to
the point at once. Do you want to earn a little money? honestly,
of course. You don't look as if you were very rich, child."

"I am very poor, and very much in want of some honest work to
do," answered the girl, sadly.

"Then we shall suit each other to a nicety; for I have work of
the pleasantest kind to give you, and plenty of money to pay for
it. But before we say anything more about that, suppose you tell
me first something about yourself--who you are, and so forth. You
know who I am already."

"I am only a poor work-girl, and my name is Nanina. I have
nothing more, sir, to say about myself than that."

"Do you belong to Pisa?"

"Yes, sir--at least, I did. But I have been away for some time. I
was a year at Florence, employed in needlework."

"All by yourself?"

"No, sir, with my little sister. I was waiting for her when you
came up."

"Have you never done anything else but needlework? never been out
at service?"

"Yes, sir. For the last eight months I have had a situation to
wait on a lady at Florence, and my sister (who is turned eleven,
sir, and can make herself very useful) was allowed to help in the
nursery."

"How came you to leave this situation?"

"The lady and her family were going to Rome, sir. They would have
taken me with them, but they could not take my sister. We are
alone in the world, and we never have been parted from each
other, and never shall be--so I was obliged to leave the
situation."

"And here you are, back at Pisa--with nothing to do, I suppose?"

"Nothing yet, sir. We only came back yesterday."

"Only yesterday! You are a lucky girl, let me tell you, to have
met with me. I suppose you have somebody in the town who can
speak to your character?"

"The landlady of this house can, sir."

"And who is she, pray?"

"Marta Angrisani, sir."

"What! the well-known sick-nurse? You could not possibly have a
better recommendation, child. I remember her being employed at
the Melani Palace at the time of the marquis's last attack of
gout; but I never knew that she kept a lodging-house."

"She and her daughter, sir, have owned this house longer than I
can recollect. My sister and I have lived in it since I was quite
a little child, and I had hoped we might be able to live here
again. But the top room we used to have is taken, and the room to
let lower down is far more, I am afraid, than we can afford."

"How much is it?"

Nanina mentioned the weekly rent of the room in fear and
trembling. The steward burst out laughing.

"Suppose I offered you money enough to be able to take that room
for a whole year at once?" he said.

Nanina looked at him in speechless amazement.
"Suppose I offered you that?" continued the steward. "And
suppose I only ask you in return to put on a fine dress and serve
refreshments in a beautiful room to the company at the Marquis
Melani's grand ball? What should you say to that?"

Nanina said nothing. She drew back a step or two, and looked more
bewildered than before.

"You must have heard of the ball," said the steward, pompously;
"the poorest people in Pisa have heard of it. It is the talk of
the whole city."

Still Nanina made no answer. To have replied truthfully, she must
have confessed that "the talk of the whole city" had now no
interest for her. The last news from Pisa that had appealed to
her sympathies was the news of the Countess D'Ascoli's death, and
of Fabio's departure to travel in foreign countries. Since then
she had heard nothing more of him. She was as ignorant of his
return to his native city as of all the reports connected with
the marquis's ball. Something in her own heart--some feeling
which she had neither the desire nor the capacity to analyze--had
brought her back to Pisa and to the old home which now connected
itself with her tenderest recollections. Believing that Fabio was
still absent, she felt that no ill motive could now be attributed
to her return; and she had not been able to resist the temptation
of revisiting the scene that had been associated with the first
great happiness as well as with the first great sorrow of her
life. Among all the poor people of Pisa, she was perhaps the very
last whose curiosity could be awakened, or whose attention could
be attracted by the rumor of gayeties at the Melani Palace.

But she could not confess all this; she could only listen with
great humility and no small surprise, while the steward, in
compassion for her ignorance, and with the hope of tempting her
into accepting his offered engagement, described the arrangements
of the approaching festival, and dwelt fondly on the magnificence
of the Arcadian bowers, and the beauty of the shepherdesses'
tunics. As soon as he had done, Nanina ventured on the confession
that she should feel rather nervous in a grand dress that did not
belong to her, and that she doubted very much her own capability
of waiting properly on the great people at the ball. The steward,
however, would hear of no objections, and called peremptorily for
Marta Angrisani to make the necessary statement as to Nanina's
character. While this formality was being complied with to the
steward's perfect satisfaction, La Biondella came in,
unaccompanied on this occasion by the usual companion of all her
walks, the learned poodle Scarammuccia.

"This is Nanina's sister," said the good-natured sick-nurse,
taking the first opportunity of introducing La Biondella to the
great marquis's great man. "A very good, industrious little girl;
and very clever at plaiting dinner-mats, in case his excellency
should ever want any. What have you done with the dog, my dear?"

"I couldn't get him past the pork butcher's, three streets off,"
replied La Biondella. "He would sit down and look at the
sausages. I am more than half afraid he means to steal some of
them."

"A very pretty child," said the steward, patting La Biondella on
the cheek. "We ought to have her at the hall. If his excellency
should want a Cupid, or a youthful nymph, or anything small and
light in that way, I shall come back and let you know. In the
meantime, Nanina, consider yourself Shepherdess Number Thirty,
and come to the housekeeper's room at the palace to try on your
dress to-morrow. Nonsense! don't talk to me about being afraid
and awkward. All you're wanted to do is to look pretty; and your
glass must have told you you could do that long ago. Remember the
rent of the room, my dear, and don't stand in your light and your
sister's. Does the little girl like sweetmeats? Of course she
does! Well, I promise you a whole box of sugar-plums to take home
for her, if you will come and wait at the ball."

"Oh, go to the ball, Nanina; go to the ball!" cried La Biondella,
clapping her hands.

"Of course she will go to the ball," said the nurse. "She would
be mad to throw away such an excellent chance."

Nanina looked perplexed. She hesitated a little, then drew Marta
Angrisani away into a corner, and whispered this question to her:

"Do you think there will be any priests at the palace where the
marquis lives?"

"Heavens, child, what a thing to ask!" returned the nurse.
"Priests at a masked ball! You might as well expect to find Turks
performing high mass in the cathedral. But supposing you did meet
with priests at the palace, what then?"

"Nothing," said Nanina, constrainedly. She turned pale, and
walked away as she spoke. Her great dread, in returning to Pisa,
was the dread of meeting with Father Rocco again. She had never
forgotten her first discovery at Florence of his distrust of her.
The bare thought of seeing him any more, after her faith in him
had been shaken forever, made her feel faint and sick at heart.

"To-morrow, in the housekeeper's room," said the steward, putting
on his hat, "you will find your new dress all ready for you."

Nanina courtesied, and ventured on no more objections. The
prospect of securing a home for a whole year to come among people
whom she knew, reconciled her--influenced as she was also by
Marta Angrisani's advice, and by her sister's anxiety for the
promised present--to brave the trial of appearing at the ball.

"What a comfort to have it all settled at last," said the
steward, as soon as he was out again in the street. "We shall see
what the marquis says now. If he doesn't apologize for calling me
a scoundrel the moment he sets eyes on Number Thirty, he is the
most ungrateful nobleman that ever existed."

Arriving in front of the palace, the steward found workmen
engaged in planning the external decorations and illuminations
for the night of the ball. A little crowd had already assembled
to see the ladders raised and the scaffoldings put up. He
observed among them, standing near the outskirts of the throng, a
lady who attracted his attention (he was an ardent admirer of the
fair sex) by the beauty and symmetry of her figure. While he
lingered for a moment to look at her, a shaggy poodle-dog
(licking his chops, as if he had just had something to eat)
trotted by, stopped suddenly close to the lady, sniffed
suspiciously for an instant, and then began to growl at her
without the slightest apparent provocation. The steward advancing
politely with his stick to drive the dog away, saw the lady
start, and heard her exclaim to herself amazedly:

"You here, you beast! Can Nanina have come back to Pisa?"

This last exclamation gave the steward, as a gallant man, an
excuse for speaking to the elegant stranger.

"Excuse me, madam," he said, "but I heard you mention the name of
Nanina. May I ask whether you mean a pretty little work-girl who
lives near the Campo Santo?"

"The same," said the lady, looking very much surprised and
interested immediately.

"It may be a gratification to you, madam, to know that she has
just returned to Pisa," continued the steward, politely; "and,
moreover, that she is in a fair way to rise in the world. I have
just engaged her to wait at the marquis's grand ball, and I need
hardly say, under those circumstances, that if she plays her
cards properly her fortune is made."

The lady bowed, looked at her informant very intently and
thoughtfully for a moment, then suddenly walked away without
uttering a word.

"A curious woman," thought the steward, entering the palace. "I
must ask Number Thirty about her to-morrow."

CHAPTER II.

THE death of Maddalena d'Ascoli produced a complete change in the
lives of her father and her uncle. After the first shock of the
bereavement was over, Luca Lomi declared that it would be
impossible for him to work in his studio again--for some time to
come at least--after the death of the beloved daughter, with whom
every corner of it was now so sadly and closely associated. He
accordingly accepted an engagement to assist in restoring several
newly discovered works of ancient sculpture at Naples, and set
forth for that city, leaving the care of his work-rooms at Pisa
entirely to his
brother.

On the master-sculptor's departure, Father Rocco caused the
statues and busts to be carefully enveloped in linen cloths,
locked the studio doors, and, to the astonishment of all who knew
of his former industry and dexterity as a sculptor, never
approached the place again. His clerical duties he performed with
the same assiduity as ever; but he went out less than had been
his custom hitherto to the houses of his friends. His most
regular visits were to the Ascoli Palace, to inquire at the
porter's lodge after the health of Maddalena's child, who was
always reported to be thriving admirably under the care of the
best nurses that could be found in Pisa. As for any
communications with his polite little friend from Florence, they
had ceased months ago. The information--speedily conveyed to
him--that Nanina was in the service of one of the most
respectable ladies in the city seemed to relieve any anxieties
which he might otherwise have felt on her account. He made no
attempt to justify himself to her; and only required that his
over-courteous little visitor of former days should let him know
whenever the girl might happen to leave her new situation.

The admirers of Father Rocco, seeing the alteration in his life,
and the increased quietness of his manner, said that, as he was
growing older, he was getting more and more above the things of
this world. His enemies (for even Father Rocco had them) did not
scruple to assert that the change in him was decidedly for the
worse, and that he belonged to the order of men who are most to
be distrusted when they become most subdued. The priest himself
paid no attention either to his eulogists or his depreciators.
Nothing disturbed the regularity and discipline of his daily
habits; and vigilant Scandal, though she sought often to surprise
him, sought always in vain.

Such was Father Rocco's life from the period of his niece's death
to Fabio's return to Pisa.

As a matter of course, the priest was one of the first to call at
the palace and welcome the young nobleman back. What passed
between them at this interview never was precisely known; but it
was surmised readily enough that some misunderstanding had taken
place, for Father Rocco did not repeat his visit. He made no
complaints of Fabio, but simply stated that he had said
something, intended for the young man's good, which had not been
received in a right spirit; and that he thought it desirable to
avoid the painful chance of any further collision by not
presenting himself at the palace again for some little time.
People were rather amazed at this. They would have been still
more surprised if the subject of the masked ball had not just
then occupied all their attention, and prevented their noticing
it, by another strange event in connection with the priest.
Father Rocco, some weeks after the cessation of his intercourse
with Fabio, returned one morning to his old way of life as a
sculptor, and opened the long-closed doors of his brother's
studio.

Luca Lomi's former workmen, discovering this, applied to him
immediately for employment; but were informed that their services
would not be needed. Visitors called at the studio, but were
always sent away again by the disappointing announcement that
there was nothing new to show them. So the days passed on until
Nanina left her situation and returned to Pisa. This circumstance
was duly reported to Father Rocco by his correspondent at
Florence; but, whether he was too much occupied among the
statues, or whether it was one result of his cautious resolution
never to expose himself unnecessarily to so much as the breath of
detraction, he made no attempt to see Nanina, or even to justify
himself toward her by writing her a letter. All his mornings
continued to be spent alone in the studio, and all his afternoons
to be occupied by his clerical duties, until the day before the
masked ball at the Melani Palace.

Early on that day he covered over the statues, and locked the
doors of the work-rooms once more; then returned to his own
lodgings, and did not go out again. One or two of his friends who
wanted to see him were informed that he was not well enough to be
able to receive them. If they had penetrated into his little
study, and had seen him, they would have been easily satisfied
that this was no mere excuse. They would have noticed that his
face was startlingly pale, and that the ordinary composure of his
manner was singularly disturbed.

Toward evening this restlessness increased, and his old
housekeeper, on pressing him to take some nourishment, was
astonished to hear him answer her sharply and irritably, for the
first time since she had been in his service. A little later her
surprise was increased by his sending her with a note to the
Ascoli Palace, and by the quick return of an answer, brought
ceremoniously by one of Fabio's servants. "It is long since he
has had any communication with that quarter. Are they going to be
friends again?" thought the housekeeper as she took the answer
upstairs to her master.

"I feel better to-night," he said as he read it; "well enough
indeed to venture out. If any one inquires for me, tell them that
I am gone to the Ascoli Palace." Saying this, he walked to the
door; then returned, and trying the lock of his cabinet,
satisfied himself that it was properly secured; then went out.

He found Fabio in one of the large drawing-rooms of the palace,
walking irritably backward and forward, with several little notes
crumpled together in his hands, and a plain black domino dress
for the masquerade of the ensuing night spread out on one of the
tables.

"I was just going to write to you," said the young man, abruptly,
"when I received your letter. You offer me a renewal of our
friendship, and I accept the offer. I have no doubt those
references of yours, when we last met, to the subject of second
marriages were well meant, but they irritated me; and, speaking
under that irritation, I said words that I had better not have
spoken. If I pained you, I am sorry for it. Wait! pardon me for
one moment. I have not quite done yet. It seems that you are by
no means the only person in Pisa to whom the question of my
possibly marrying again appears to have presented itself. Ever
since it was known that I intended to renew my intercourse with
society at the ball to-morrow night, I have been persecuted by
anonymous letters--infamous letters, written from some motive
which it is impossible for me to understand. I want your advice
on the best means of discovering the writers; and I have also a
very important question to ask you. But read one of the letters
first yourself; any one will do as a sample of the rest."

Fixing his eyes searchingly on the priest, he handed him one of
the notes. Still a little paler than usual, Father Rocco sat down
by the nearest lamp, and shading his eyes, read these lines:

"COUNT FABIO---It is the common talk of Pisa that you are likely,
as a young man left with a motherless child, to marry again. Your
having accepted an invitation to the Melani Palace gives a color
of truth to this report. Widowers who are true to the departed do
not go among all the handsomest single women in a city at a
masked ball. Reconsider your determination, and remain at home. I
know you, and I knew your wife, and I say to you solemnly, avoid
temptation, for you must never marry again. Neglect my advice and
you will repent it to the end of your life. I have reasons for
what I say--serious, fatal reasons, which I cannot divulge. If
you would let your wife lie easy in her grave, if you would avoid
a terrible warning, go not to the masked ball!"

"I ask you, and I ask any man, if that is not infamous?"
exclaimed Fabio, passionately, as the priest handed him back the
letter. "An attempt to work on my fears through the memory of my
poor dead wife! An insolent assumption that I want to marry
again, when I myself have not even so much as thought of the
subject at all! What is the secret object of this letter, and of
the rest here that resemble it? Whose interest is it to keep me
away from the ball? What is the meaning of such a phrase as, 'If
you would let your wife lie easy in her grave'? H ave you no
advice to give me--no plan to propose for discovering the vile
hand that traced these lines? Speak to me! Why, in Heaven's name,
don't you speak?"

The priest leaned his head on his hand, and, turning his face
from the light as if it dazzled his eyes, replied in his lowest
and quietest tones:

"I cannot speak till I have had time to think. The mystery of
that letter is not to be solved in a moment. There are things in
it that are enough to perplex and amaze any man!"

"What things?"

"It is impossible for me to go into details--at least at the
present moment."

"You speak with a strange air of secrecy. Have you nothing
definite to say--no advice to give me?"

"I should advise you not to go to the ball."

"You would! Why?"

"If I gave you my reasons, I am afraid I should only be
irritating you to no purpose."

"Father Rocco, neither your words nor your manner satisfy me. You
speak in riddles; and you sit there in the dark with your face
hidden from me--"

The priest instantly started up and turned his face to the light.

"I recommend you to control your temper, and to treat me with
common courtesy," he said, in his quietest, firmest tones,
looking at Fabio steadily while he spoke.

"We will not prolong this interview," said the young man, calming
himself by an evident effort. "I have one question to ask you,
and then no more to say."

The priest bowed his head, in token that he was ready to listen.
He still stood up, calm, pale, and firm, in the full light of the
lamp.

"It is just possible," continued Fabio, "that these letters may
refer to some incautious words which my late wife might have
spoken. I ask you as her spiritual director, and as a near
relation who enjoyed her confidence, if you ever heard her
express a wish, in the event of my surviving her, that I should
abstain from marrying again?"

"Did she never express such a wish to you?"

"Never. But why do you evade my question by asking me another?"

"It is impossible for me to reply to your question."

"For what reason?"

"Because it is impossible for me to give answers which must
refer, whether they are affirmative or negative, to what I have
heard in confession."

"We have spoken enough," said Fabio, turning angrily from the
priest. "I expected you to help me in clearing up these
mysteries, and you do your best to thicken them. What your
motives are, what your conduct means, it is impossible for me to
know, but I say to you, what I would say in far other terms, if
they were here, to the villains who have written these
letters--no menaces, no mysteries, no conspiracies, will prevent
me from being at the ball to-morrow. I can listen to persuasion,
but I scorn threats. There lies my dress for the masquerade; no
power on earth shall prevent me from wearing it to-morrow night!"
He pointed, as he spoke, to the black domino and half-mask lying
on the table.

"No power on _earth!_" repeated Father Rocco, with a smile, and
an emphasis on the last word. "Superstitious still, Count Fabio!
Do you suspect the powers of the other world of interfering with
mortals at masquerades?"

Fabio started, and, turning from the table, fixed his eyes
intently on the priest's face.

"You suggested just now that we had better not prolong this
interview," said Father Rocco, still smiling. "I think you were
right; if we part at once, we may still part friends. You have
had my advice not to go to the ball, and you decline following
it. I have nothing more to say. Good-night."

Before Fabio could utter the angry rejoinder that rose to his
lips, the door of the room had opened and closed again, and the
priest was gone.

CHAPTER III.

THE next night, at the time of assembling specified in the
invitations to the masked ball, Fabio was still lingering in his
palace, and still allowing the black domino to lie untouched and
unheeded on his dressing-table. This delay was not produced by
any change in his resolution to go to the Melani Palace. His
determination to be present at the ball remained unshaken; and
yet, at the last moment, he lingered and lingered on, without
knowing why. Some strange influence seemed to be keeping him
within the walls of his lonely home. It was as if the great,
empty, silent palace had almost recovered on that night the charm
which it had lost when its mistress died.

He left his own apartment and went to the bedroom where his
infant child lay asleep in her little crib. He sat watching her,
and thinking quietly and tenderly of many past events in his life
for a long time, then returned to his room. A sudden sense of
loneliness came upon him after his visit to the child's bedside;
but he did not attempt to raise his spirits even then by going to
the ball. He descended instead to his study, lighted his
reading-lamp, and then, opening a bureau, took from one of the
drawers in it the letter which Nanina had written to him. This
was not the first time that a sudden sense of his solitude had
connected itself inexplicably with the remembrance of the
work-girl's letter.

He read it through slowly, and when he had done, kept it open in
his hand. "I have youth, titles, wealth," he thought to himself,
sadly; "everything that is sought after in this world. And yet if
I try to think of any human being who really and truly loves me,
I can remember but one--the poor, faithful girl who wrote these
lines!"

Old recollections of the first day when he met with Nanina, of
the first sitting she had given him in Luca Lomi's studio, of the
first visit to the neat little room in the by-street, began to
rise more and more vividly in his mind. Entirely absorbed by
them, he sat absently drawing with pen and ink, on some sheets of
letter-paper lying under his hand, lines and circles, and
fragments of decorations, and vague remembrances of old ideas for
statues, until the sudden sinking of the flame of his lamp awoke
his attention abruptly to present things.

He looked at his watch. It was close on midnight.

This discovery at last aroused him to the necessity of immediate
departure. In a few minutes he had put on his domino and mask,
and was on his way to the ball.

Before he reached the Melani Palace the first part of the
entertainment had come to an end. The "Toy Symphony" had been
played, the grotesque dance performed, amid universal laughter;
and now the guests were, for the most part, fortifying themselves
in the Arcadian bowers for new dances, in which all persons
present were expected to take part. The Marquis Melani had, with
characteristic oddity, divided his two classical
refreshment-rooms into what he termed the Light and Heavy
Departments. Fruit, pastry, sweetmeats, salads, and harmless
drinks were included under the first head, and all the
stimulating liquors and solid eatables under the last. The thirty
shepherdesses had been, according to the marquis's order, equally
divided at the outset of the evening between the two rooms. But
as the company began to crowd more and more resolutely in the
direction of the Heavy Department, ten of the shepherdesses
attached to the Light Department were told off to assist in
attending on the hungry and thirsty majority of guests who were
not to be appeased by pastry and lemonade. Among the five girls
who were left behind in the room for the light refreshments was
Nanina. The steward soon discovered that the novelty of her
situation made her really nervous, and he wisely concluded that
if he trusted her where the crowd was greatest and the noise
loudest, she would not only be utterly useless, but also very
much in the way of her more confident and experienced companions.

When Fabio arrived at the palace, the jovial uproar in the Heavy
Department was at its height, and several gentlemen, fired by the
classical costumes of the shepherdesses, were beginning to speak
Latin to them with a thick utterance, and a valorous contempt for
all restrictions of gender, number, and case. As soon as he could
escape from the congratulations on his return to his friends,
which poured on him from all sides, Fabio withdrew to seek some
quieter room. The heat, noise, and confusion had so bewildered
him, after the tranquil life he had been leading for many months
past, that it
was quite a relief to stroll through the half deserted
dancing-rooms, to the opposite extremity of the great suite of
apartments, and there to find himself in a second Arcadian bower,
which seemed peaceful enough to deserve its name.

A few guests were in this room when he first entered it, but the
distant sound of some first notes of dance music drew them all
away. After a careless look at the quaint decorations about him,
he sat down alone on a divan near the door, and beginning already
to feel the heat and discomfort of his mask, took it off. He had
not removed it more than a moment before he heard a faint cry in
the direction of a long refreshment-table, behind which the five
waiting-girls were standing. He started up directly, and could
hardly believe his senses, when he found himself standing face to
face with Nanina.

Her cheeks had turned perfectly colorless. Her astonishment at
seeing the young nobleman appeared to have some sensation of
terror mingled with it. The waiting-woman who happened to stand
by her side instinctively stretched out an arm to support her,
observing that she caught at the edge of the table as Fabio
hurried round to get behind it and speak to her. When he drew
near, her head drooped on her breast, and she said, faintly: "I
never knew you were at Pisa; I never thought you would be here.
Oh, I am true to what I said in my letter, though I seem so false
to it!"

"I want to speak to you about the letter--to tell you how
carefully I have kept it, how often I have read it," said Fabio.

She turned away her head, and tried hard to repress the tears
that would force their way into her eyes "We should never have
met," she said; "never, never have met again!"

Before Fabio could reply, the waiting-woman by Nanina's side
interposed.

"For Heaven's sake, don't stop speaking to her here!" she
exclaimed, impatiently. "If the steward or one of the upper
servants was to come in, you would get her into dreadful trouble.
Wait till tomorrow, and find some fitter place than this."

Fabio felt the justice of the reproof immediately. He tore a leaf
out of his pocketbook, and wrote on it, "I must tell you how I
honor and thank you for that letter. To-morrow--ten o'clock--the
wicket-gate at the back of the Ascoli gardens. Believe in my
truth and honor, Nanina, for I believe implicitly in yours."
Having written these lines, he took from among his bunch of
watch-seals a little key, wrapped it up in the note, and pressed
it into her hand. In spite of himself his fingers lingered round
hers, and he was on the point of speaking to her again, when he
saw the waiting-woman's hand, which was just raised to motion him
away, suddenly drop. Her color changed at the same moment, and
she looked fixedly across the table.

He turned round immediately, and saw a masked woman standing
alone in the room, dressed entirely in yellow from head to foot.
She had a yellow hood, a yellow half-mask with deep fringe
hanging down over her mouth, and a yellow domino, cut at the
sleeves and edges into long flame-shaped points, which waved
backward and forward tremulously in the light air wafted through
the doorway. The woman's black eyes seemed to gleam with an evil
brightness through the sight-holes of the mask, and the tawny
fringe hanging before her mouth fluttered slowly with every
breath she drew. Without a word or a gesture she stood before the
table, and her gleaming black eyes fixed steadily on Fabio the
instant he confronted her. A sudden chill struck through him, as
he observed that the yellow of the stranger's domino and mask was
of precisely the same shade as the yellow of the hangings and
furniture which his wife had chosen after their marriage for the
decoration of her favorite sitting-room.

"The Yellow Mask!" whispered the waiting-girls nervously,
crowding together behind the table. "The Yellow Mask again!"

"Make her speak!"

"Ask her to have something!"

"This gentleman will ask her. Speak to her, sir. Do speak to her!
She glides about in that fearful yellow dress like a ghost."

Fabio looked around mechanically at the girl who was whispering
to him. He saw at the same time that Nanina still kept her head
turned away, and that she had her handkerchief at her eyes. She
was evidently struggling yet with the agitation produced by their
unexpected meeting, and was, most probably for that reason, the
only person in the room not conscious of the presence of the
Yellow Mask

"Speak to her, sir. Do speak to her!" whispered two of the
waiting-girls together.

Fabio turned again toward the table. The black eyes were still
gleaming at him from behind the tawny yellow of the mask. He
nodded to the girls who had just spoken, cast one farewell look
at Nanina, and moved down the room to get round to the side of
the table at which the Yellow Mask was standing. Step by step as
he moved the bright eyes followed him. Steadily and more steadily
their evil light seemed to shine through and through him, as he
turned the corner of the table and approached the still, spectral
figure.

He came close up to the woman, but she never moved; her eyes
never wavered for an instant. He stopped and tried to speak; but
the chill struck through him again. An overpowering dread, an
unutterable loathing seized on him; all sense of outer
things--the whispering of the waiting-girls behind the table, the
gentle cadence of the dance music, the distant hum of joyous
talk--suddenly left him. He turned away shuddering, and quitted
the room.

Following the sound of the music, and desiring before all things
now to join the crowd wherever it was largest, he was stopped in
one of the smaller apartments by a gentleman who had just risen
from the card table, and who held out his hand with the
cordiality of an old friend.

"Welcome back to the world, Count Fabio!" he began, gayly, then
suddenly checked himself. "Why, you look pale, and your hand
feels cold. Not ill, I hope?"

"No, no. I have been rather startled--I can't say why--by a very
strangely dressed woman, who fairly stared me out of
countenance."

"You don't mean the Yellow Mask?"

"Yes I do. Have you seen her?"

"Everybody has seen her; but nobody can make her unmask, or get
her to speak. Our host has not the slightest notion who she is;
and our hostess is horribly frightened at her. For my part, I
think she has given us quite enough of her mystery and her grim
dress; and if my name, instead of being nothing but plain Andrea
d'Arbino, was Marquis Melani, I would say to her: 'Madam, we are
here to laugh and amuse ourselves; suppose you open your lips,
and charm us by appearing in a prettier dress!' "

During this conversation they had sat down together, with their
backs toward the door, by the side of one of the card-tables.
While D'Arbino was speaking, Fabio suddenly felt himself
shuddering again, and became conscious of a sound of low
breathing behind him.

He turned round instantly, and there, standing between them, and
peering down at them, was the Yellow Mask!

Fabio started up, and his friend followed his example. Again the
gleaming black eyes rested steadily on the young nobleman's face,
and again their look chilled him to the heart.

"Yellow Lady, do you know my friend?" exclaimed D'Arbino, with
mock solemnity.

There was no answer. The fatal eyes never moved from Fabio's
face.

"Yellow Lady," continued the other, "listen to the music. Will
you dance with me?"

The eyes looked away, and the figure glided slowly from the room.

"My dear count," said D'Arbino, "that woman seems to have quite
an effect on you. I declare she has left you paler than ever.
Come into the supper-room with me, and have some wine; you really
look as if you wanted it."

They went at once to the large refreshment-room. Nearly all the
guests had by this time begun to dance again. They had the whole
apartment, therefore, almost entirely to themselves.

Among the decorations of the room, which were not strictly in
accordance with genuine Arcadian simplicity, was a large
looking-glass, placed over a well-furnished sideboard. D'Arbino
led Fabio in this direction, exchanging greetings as he advanced
with a gentleman who stood near the glass looking into it, a nd
carelessly fanning himself with his mask.

"My dear friend!" cried D'Arbino, "you are the very man to lead
us straight to the best bottle of wine in the palace. Count
Fabio, let me present to you my intimate and good friend, the
Cavaliere Finello, with whose family I know you are well
acquainted. Finello, the count is a little out of spirits, and I
have prescribed a good dose of wine. I see a whole row of bottles
at your side, and I leave it to you to apply the remedy. Glasses
there! three glasses, my lovely shepherdess with the black
eyes--the three largest you have got."

The glasses were brought; the Cavaliere Finello chose a
particular bottle, and filled them. All three gentlemen turned
round to the sideboard to use it as a table, and thus necessarily
faced the looking-glass.

"Now let us drink the toast of toasts," said D'Arbino. "Finello,
Count Fabio--the ladies of Pisa!"

Fabio raised the wine to his lips, and was on the point of
drinking it, when he saw reflected in the glass the figure of the
Yellow Mask. The glittering eyes were again fixed on him, and the
yellow-hooded head bowed slowly, as if in acknowledgment of the
toast he was about to drink. For the third time the strange chill
seized him, and he set down his glass of wine untasted.

"What is the matter?" asked D'Arbino.

"Have you any dislike, count, to that particular wine?" inquired
the cavaliere.

"The Yellow Mask!" whispered Fabio. "The Yellow Mask again!"

They all three turned round directly toward the door. But it was
too late--the figure had disappeared.

"Does any one know who this Yellow Mask is?" asked Finello. "One
may guess by the walk that the figure is a woman's. Perhaps it
may be the strange color she has chosen for her dress, or perhaps
her stealthy way of moving from room to room; but there is
certainly something mysterious and startling about her."

"Startling enough, as the count would tell you," said D'Arbino.
"The Yellow Mask has been responsible for his loss of spirits and
change of complexion, and now she has prevented him even from
drinking his wine."

"I can't account for it," said Fabio, looking round him uneasily;
"but this is the third room into which she has followed me--the
third time she has seemed to fix her eyes on me alone. I suppose
my nerves are hardly in a fit state yet for masked balls and
adventures; the sight of her seems to chill me. Who can she be?"

"If she followed me a fourth time," said Finello, "I should
insist on her unmasking."

"And suppose she refused?" asked his friend

"Then I should take her mask off for her."

"It is impossible to do that with a woman," said Fabio. "I prefer
trying to lose her in the crowd. Excuse me, gentlemen, if I leave
you to finish the wine, and then to meet me, if you like, in the
great ballroom."

He retired as he spoke, put on his mask, and joined the dancers
immediately, taking care to keep always in the most crowded
corner of the apartment. For some time this plan of action proved
successful, and he saw no more of the mysterious yellow domino.
Ere long, however, some new dances were arranged, in which the
great majority of the persons in the ballroom took part; the
figures resembling the old English country dances in this
respect, that the ladies and gentlemen were placed in long rows
opposite to each other. The sets consisted of about twenty
couples each, placed sometimes across, and sometimes along the
apartment; and the spectators were all required to move away on
either side, and range themselves close to the walls. As Fabio
among others complied with this necessity, he looked down a row
of dancers waiting during the performance of the orchestral
prelude; and there, watching him again, from the opposite end of
the lane formed by the gentlemen on one side and the ladies on
the other, he saw the Yellow Mask.

He moved abruptly back, toward another row of dancers, placed at
right angles to the first row; and there again; at the opposite
end of the gay lane of brightly-dressed figures, was the Yellow
Mask. He slipped into the middle of the room, but it was only to
find her occupying his former position near the wall, and still,
in spite of his disguise, watching him through row after row of
dancers. The persecution began to grow intolerable; he felt a
kind of angry curiosity mingling now with the vague dread that
had hitherto oppressed him. Finello's advice recurred to his
memory; and he determined to make the woman unmask at all
hazards. With this intention he returned to the supper-room in
which he had left his friends.

They were gone, probably to the ballroom, to look for him. Plenty
of wine was still left on the sideboard, and he poured himself
out a glass. Finding that his hand trembled as he did so, he
drank several more glasses in quick succession, to nerve himself
for the approaching encounter with the Yellow Mask. While he was
drinking he expected every moment to see her in the looking-glass
again; but she never appeared--and yet he felt almost certain
that he had detected her gliding out after him when he left the
ballroom.

He thought it possible that she might be waiting for him in one
of the smaller apartments, and, taking off his mask, walked
through several of them without meeting her, until he came to the
door of the refreshment-room in which Nanina and he had
recognized each other. The waiting-woman behind the table, who
had first spoken to him, caught sight of him now, and ran round
to the door.

"Don't come in and speak to Nanina again," she said, mistaking
the purpose which had brought him to the door. "What with
frightening her first, and making her cry afterward, you have
rendered her quite unfit for her work. The steward is in there at
this moment, very good-natured, but not very sober. He says she
is pale and red-eyed, and not fit to be a shepherdess any longer,
and that, as she will not be missed now, she may go home if she
likes. We have got her an old cloak, and she is going to try and
slip through the rooms unobserved, to get downstairs and change
her dress. Don't speak to her, pray, or you will only make her
cry again; and what is worse, make the steward fancy--"

She stopped at that last word, and pointed suddenly over Fabio's
shoulder.

"The Yellow Mask!" she exclaimed. "Oh, sir, draw her away into
the ballroom, and give Nanina a chance of getting out!"

Fabio turned directly, and approached the Mask, who, as they
looked at each other, slowly retreated before him. The
waiting-woman, seeing the yellow figure retire, hastened back to
Nanina in the refreshment-room.

Slowly the masked woman retreated from one apartment to another
till she entered a corridor brilliantly lighted up and
beautifully ornamented with flowers. On the right hand this
corridor led to the ballroom; on the left to an ante-chamber at
the head of the palace staircase. The Yellow Mask went on a few
paces toward the left, then stopped. The bright eyes fixed
themselves as before on Fabio's face, but only for a moment. He
heard a light step behind him, and then he saw the eyes move.
Following the direction they took, he turned round, and
discovered Nanina, wrapped up in the old cloak which was to
enable her to get downstairs unobserved.

"Oh, how can I get out? how can I get out?" cried the girl,
shrinking back affrightedly as she saw the Yellow Mask.

"That way," said Fabio, pointing in the direction of the
ballroom. "Nobody will notice you in the cloak; it will only be
thought some new disguise." He took her arm as he spoke, to
reassure her, and continued in a whisper, "Don't forget
to-morrow."

At the same moment he felt a hand laid on him. It was the hand of
the masked woman, and it put him back from Nanina.

In spite of himself, he trembled at her touch, but still retained
presence of mind enough to sign to the girl to make her escape.
With a look of eager inquiry in the direction of the mask, and a
half suppressed exclamation of terror, she obeyed him, and
hastened away toward the ballroom.

"We are alone," said Fabio, confronting the gleaminng black eyes,
and reaching out his hand resolutely toward the Yellow Mask.
"Tell me who you are, and why you follow me, or I will uncover
your f ace, and solve the mystery for myself."

The woman pushed his hand aside, and drew back a few paces, but
never spoke a word. He followed her. There was not an instant to
be lost, for just then the sound of footsteps hastily approaching
the corridor became audible.

"Now or never," he whispered to himself, and snatched at the
mask.

His arm was again thrust aside; but this time the woman raised
her disengaged hand at the same moment, and removed the yellow
mask.

The lamps shed their soft light full on her face.

It was the face of his dead wife.

CHAPTER IV.

SIGNOR ANDREA D'ARBINO, searching vainly through the various
rooms in the palace for Count Fabio d'Ascoli, and trying as a
last resource, the corridor leading to the ballroom and grand
staircase, discovered his friend lying on the floor in a swoon,
without any living creature near him. Determining to avoid
alarming the guests, if possible, D'Arbino first sought help in
the antechamber. He found there the marquis's valet, assisting
the Cavaliere Finello (who was just taking his departure) to put
on his cloak.

While Finello and his friend carried Fabio to an open window in
the antechamber, the valet procured some iced water. This simple
remedy, and the change of atmosphere, proved enough to restore
the fainting man to his senses, but hardly--as it seemed to his
friends--to his former self. They noticed a change to blankness
and stillness in his face, and when he spoke, an indescribable
alteration in the tone of his voice.

"I found you in a room in the corridor," said D'Arbino. "What
made you faint? Don't you remember? Was it the heat?"

Fabio waited for a moment, painfully collecting his ideas. He
looked at the valet, and Finello signed to the man to withdraw.

"Was it the heat?" repeated D'Arbino.

"No," answered Fabio, in strangely hushed, steady tones. "I have
seen the face that was behind the yellow mask."

"Well?"

"It was the face of my dead wife."

"Your dead wife!"

"When the mask was removed I saw her face. Not as I remember it
in the pride of her youth and beauty--not even as I remember her
on her sick-bed--but as I remember her in her coffin."

"Count! for God's sake, rouse yourself! Collect your
thoughts--remember where you are--and free your mind of its
horrible delusion."

"Spare me all remonstrances; I am not fit to bear them. My life
has only one object now--the pursuing of this mystery to the end.
Will you help me? I am scarcely fit to act for myself."

He still spoke in the same unnaturally hushed, deliberate tones.
D'Arbino and Finello exchanged glances behind him as he rose from
the sofa on which he had hitherto been lying.

"We will help you in everything," said D'Arbino, soothingly.
"Trust in us to the end. What do you wish to do first?"

"The figure must have gone through this room. Let us descend the
staircase and ask the servants if they have seen it pass."

(Both D'Arbino and Finello remarked that he did not say _her_.)

They inquired down to the very courtyard. Not one of the servants
had seen the Yellow Mask.

The last resource was the porter at the outer gate. They applied
to him; and in answer to their questions he asserted that he had
most certainly seen a lady in a yellow domino and mask drive
away, about half an hour before, in a hired coach.

"Should you remember the coachman again?" asked D'Arbino.

"Perfectly; he is an old friend of mine."

"And you know where he lives?"

"Yes; as well as I know where I do."

"Any reward you like, if you can get somebody to mind your lodge,
and can take us to that house."

In a few minutes they were following the porter through the dark,
silent streets. "We had better try the stables first," said the
man. "My friend, the coachman, will hardly have had time to do
more than set the lady down. We shall most likely catch him just
putting up his horses."

The porter turned out to be right. On entering the stable-yard,
they found that the empty coach had just driven into it.

"You have been taking home a lady in a yellow domino from the
masquerade?" said D'Arbino, putting some money into the
coachman's hand.

"Yes, sir; I was engaged by that lady for the evening--engaged to
drive her to the ball as well as to drive her home."

"Where did you take her from?"

"From a very extraordinary place--from the gate of the Campo
Santo burial-ground."

During this colloquy, Finello and D'Arbino had been standing with
Fabio between them, each giving him an arm. The instant the last
answer was given, he reeled back with a cry of horror.

"Where have you taken her to now?" asked D'Arbino. He looked
about him nervously as he put the question, and spoke for the
first time in a whisper.

"To the Campo Santo again," said the coachman.

Fabio suddenly drew his arms out of the arms of his friends, and
sank to his knees on the ground, hiding his face. From some
broken ejaculations which escaped him, it seemed as if he dreaded
that his senses were leaving him, and that he was praying to be
preserved in his right mind.

"Why is he so violently agitated?" said Finello, eagerly, to his
friend.

"Hush!" returned the other. "You heard him say that when he saw
the face behind the yellow mask, it was the face of his dead
wife?"

"Yes. But what then?"

"His wife was buried in the Campo Santo."

CHAPTER V.

OF all the persons who had been present, in any capacity, at the
Marquis Melani's ball, the earliest riser on the morning after it
was Nanina. The agitation produced by the strange events in which
she had been concerned destroyed the very idea of sleep. Through
the hours of darkness she could not even close her eyes; and, as
soon as the new day broke, she rose to breathe the early morning
air at her window, and to think in perfect tranquillity over all
that had passed since she entered the Melani Palace to wait on
the guests at the masquerade.

On reaching home the previous night, all her other sensations had
been absorbed in a vague feeling of mingled dread and curiosity,
produced by the sight of the weird figure in the yellow mask,
which she had left standing alone with Fabio in the palace
corridor. The morning light, however, suggested new thoughts. She
now opened the note which the young nobleman had pressed into her
hand, and read over and over again the hurried pencil lines
scrawled on the paper. Could there be any harm, any forgetfulness
of her own duty, in using the key inclosed in the note, and
keeping her appointment in the Ascoli gardens at ten o'clock?
Surely not--surely the last sentence he had written, "Believe in
my truth and honor, Nanina, for I believe implicitly in yours,"
was enough to satisfy her this time that she could not be doing
wrong in listening for once to the pleading of her own heart. And
besides, there in her lap lay the key of the wicket-gate. It was
absolutely necessary to use that, if only for the purpose of
giving it back safely into the hand of its owner.

As this last thought was passing through her mind, and plausibly
overcoming any faint doubts and difficulties which she might
still have left, she was startled by a sudden knocking at the
street door; and, looking out of the window immediately, saw a
man in livery standing in the street, anxiously peering up at the
house to see if his knocking had aroused anybody.

"Does Marta Angrisani, the sick-nurse, live here?" inquired the
man, as soon as Nanina showed herself at the window.

"Yes," she answered. "Must I call her up? Is there some person

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