Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

AFTER DARK by Wilkie Collins

Part 8 out of 8

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.9 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

ill?"

"Call her up directly," said the servant; "she is wanted at the
Ascoli Palace. My master, Count Fabio--"

Nanina waited to hear no more. She flew to the room in which the
sick-nurse slept, and awoke her, almost roughly, in an instant.

"He is ill!" she cried, breathlessly. "Oh, make haste, make
haste! He is ill, and he has sent for you!"

Marta inquired who had sent for her, and on being informed,
promised to lose no time. Nanina ran downstairs to tell the
servant that the sick-nurse was getting on her clothes. The man's
serious expression, when she came close to him, terrified her.
All her usual self-distrust vanished; and she entreated him,
without attempting to conceal her anxiety, to tell her
particularly what his master's illness was, and how it had
affected him so suddenly after the ball.

"I know nothing about it," answered the man, noticing Nanina's
manner as she put her question, with some surprise, "except that
my master was brought home by two gentlemen, friends of his,
about a couple of hours ago, in a very sad state; half out of his
mind, as it seemed to me. I gathered from what was said that he
had got a dreadful shock from seeing some woman take off her
mask, and show her face to him at the ball. How that could be I
don't in the least understand; but I know that when the doctor
was sent for, he looked very serious, and talked about fearing
brain-fever."

Here the servant stopped; for, to his astonishment, he saw Nanina
suddenly turn away from him, and then heard her crying bitterly
as she went back into the house.

Marta Angrisani had huddled on her clothes and was looking at
herself in the glass to see that she was sufficiently presentable
to appear at the palace, when she felt two arms flung round her
neck; and, before she could say a word, found Nanina sobbing on
her bosom.

"He is ill--he is in danger!" cried the girl. "I must go with you
to help him. You have always been kind to me, Marta--be kinder
than ever now. Take me with you--take me with you to the palace!"

"You, child!" exclaimed the nurse, gently unclasping her arms.

"Yes--yes! if it is only for an hour," pleaded Nanina; "if it is
only for one little hour every day. You have only to say that I
am your helper, and they would let me in. Marta! I shall break my
heart if I can't see him, and help him to get well again."

The nurse still hesitated. Nanina clasped her round the neck once
more, and laid her cheek--burning hot now, though the tears had
been streaming down it but an instant before--close to the good
woman's face.

"I love him, Marta; great as he is, I love him with all my heart
and soul and strength," she went on, in quick, eager, whispering
tones; "and he loves me. He would have married me if I had not
gone away to save him from it. I could keep my love for him a
secret while he was well; I could stifle it, and crush it down,
and wither it up by absence. But now he is ill, it gets beyond
me; I can't master it. Oh, Marta! don't break my heart by denying
me! I have suffered so much for his sake, that I have earned the
right to nurse him!"

Marta was not proof against this last appeal. She had one great
and rare merit for a middle-aged woman--she had not forgotten her
own youth.

"Come, child," said she, soothingly; "I won't attempt to deny
you. Dry your eyes, put on your mantilla; and, when we get face
to face with the doctor, try to look as old and ugly as you can,
if you want to be let into the sick-room along with me."

The ordeal of medical scrutiny was passed more easily than Marta
Angrisani had anticipated. It was of great importance, in the
doctor's opinion, that the sick man should see familiar faces at
his bedside. Nanina had only, therefore, to state that he knew
her well, and that she had sat to him as a model in the days when
he was learning the art of sculpture, to be immediately accepted
as Marta's privileged assistant in the sick-room.

The worst apprehensions felt by the doctor for the patient were
soon realized. The fever flew to his brain. For nearly six weeks
he lay prostrate, at the mercy of death; now raging with the wild
strength of delirium, and now sunk in the speechless, motionless,
sleepless exhaustion which was his only repose. At last; the
blessed day came when he enjoyed his first sleep, and when the
doctor began, for the first time, to talk of the future with
hope. Even then, however, the same terrible peculiarity marked
his light dreams which had previously shown itself in his fierce
delirium. From the faintly uttered, broken phrases which dropped
from him when he slept, as from the wild words which burst from
him when his senses were deranged, the one sad discovery
inevitably resulted--that his mind was still haunted, day and
night, hour after hour, by the figure in the yellow mask.

As his bodily health improved, the doctor in attendance on him
grew more and more anxious as to the state of his mind. There was
no appearance of any positive derangement of intellect, but there
was a mental depression--an unaltering, invincible prostration,
produced by his absolute belief in the reality of the dreadful
vision that he had seen at the masked ball--which suggested to
the physician the gravest doubts about the case. He saw with
dismay that the patient showed no anxiety, as he got stronger,
except on one subject. He was eagerly desirous of seeing Nanina
every day by his bedside; but, as soon as he was assured that his
wish should be faithfully complied with, he seemed to care for
nothing more. Even when they proposed, in the hope of rousing him
to an exhibition of something like pleasure, that the girl should
read to him for an hour every day out of one of his favorite
books, he only showed a languid satisfaction. Weeks passed away,
and still, do what they would, they could not make him so much as
smile.

One day Nanina had begun to read to him as usual, but had not
proceeded far before Marta Angrisani informed her that he had
fallen into a doze. She ceased with a sigh, and sat looking at
him sadly, as he lay near her, faint and pale and mournful in his
sleep--miserably altered from what he was when she first knew
him. It had been a hard trial to watch by his bedside in the
terrible time of his delirium; but it was a harder trial still to
look at him now, and to feel less and less hopeful with each
succeeding day.

While her eyes and thoughts were still compassionately fixed on
him, the door of the bedroom opened, and the doctor came in,
followed by Andrea d'Arbino, whose share in the strange adventure
with the Yellow Mask caused him to feel a special interest in
Fabio's progress toward recovery.

"Asleep, I see; and sighing in his sleep," said the doctor, going
to the bedside. "The grand difficulty with him," he continued,
turning to D'Arbino, "remains precisely what it was. I have
hardly left a single means untried of rousing him from that fatal
depression; yet, for the last fortnight, he has not advanced a
single step. It is impossible to shake his conviction of the
reality of that face which he saw (or rather which he thinks he
saw) when the yellow mask was removed; and, as long as he
persists in his own shocking view of the case, so long he will
lie there, getting better, no doubt, as to his body, but worse as
to his mind."

"I suppose, poor fellow, he is not in a fit state to be reasoned
with?"

"On the contrary, like all men with a fixed delusion, he has
plenty of intelligence to appeal to on every point, except the
one point on which he is wrong. I have argued with him vainly by
the hour together. He possesses, unfortunately, an acute nervous
sensibility and a vivid imagination; and besides, he has, as I
suspect, been superstitiously brought up as a child. It would be
probably useless to argue rationally with him on certain
spiritual subjects, even if his mind was in perfect health. He
has a good deal of the mystic and the dreamer in his composition;
and science and logic are but broken reeds to depend upon with
men of that kind."

"Does he merely listen to you when you reason with him, or does
he attempt to answer?"

"He has only one form of answer, and that is, unfortunately, the
most difficult of all to dispose of. Whenever I try to convince
him of his delusion, he invariably retorts by asking me for a
rational explanation of what happened to him at the masked ball.
Now, neither you nor I, though we believe firmly that he has been
the dupe of some infamous conspiracy, have been able as yet to
penetrate thoroughly into this mystery of the Yellow Mask. Our
common sense tells us that he must be wrong in taking his view of
it, and that we must be right in taking ours; but if we cannot
give him actual, tangible proof of that--if we can only theorize,
when he asks us for an explanation--it is but too plain, in his
present condition, that every time we remonstrate with him on the
subject we only fix him in his delusion more and mor e firmly."

"It is not for want of perseverance on my part," said D'Arbino,
after a moment of silence, "that we are still left in the dark.
Ever since the extraordinary statement of the coachman who drove
the woman home, I have been inquiring and investigating. I have
offered the reward of two hundred scudi for the discovery of her;
I have myself examined the servants at the palace, the
night-watchman at the Campo Santo, the police-books, the lists of
keepers of hotels and lodging-houses, to hit on some trace of
this woman; and I have failed in all directions. If my poor
friend's perfect recovery does indeed depend on his delusion
being combated by actual proof, I fear we have but little chance
of restoring him. So far as I am concerned, I confess myself at
the end of my resources."

"I hope we are not quite conquered yet," returned the doctor.
"The proofs we want may turn up when we least expect them. It is
certainly a miserable case," he continued, mechanically laying
his fingers on the sleeping man's pulse. "There he lies, wanting
nothing now but to recover the natural elasticity of his mind;
and here we stand at his bedside, unable to relieve him of the
weight that is pressing his faculties down. I repeat it, Signor
Andrea, nothing will rouse him from his delusion that he is the
victim of a supernatural interposition but the production of some
startling, practical proof of his error. At present he is in the
position of a man who has been imprisoned from his birth in a
dark room, and who denies the existence of daylight. If we cannot
open the shutters and show him the sky outside, we shall never
convert him to a knowledge of the truth."

Saying these words, the doctor turned to lead the way out of the
room, and observed Nanina, who had moved from the bedside on his
entrance, standing near the door. He stopped to look at her,
shook his head good-humoredly, and called to Marta, who happened
to be occupied in an adjoining room.

"Signora Marta," said the doctor, "I think you told me some time
ago that your pretty and careful little assistant lives in your
house. Pray, does she take much walking exercise?"

"Very little, Signor Dottore. She goes home to her sister when
she leaves the palace. Very little walking exercise, indeed."

"I thought so! Her pale cheeks and heavy eyes told me as much.
Now, my dear," said the doctor, addressing Nanina, "you are a
very good girl, and I am sure you will attend to what I tell you.
Go out every morning before you come here, and take a walk in the
fresh air. You are too young not to suffer by being shut up in
close rooms every day, unless you get some regular exercise. Take
a good long walk in the morning, or you will fall into my hands
as a patient, and be quite unfit to continue your attendance
here. Now, Signor Andrea, I am ready for you. Mind, my child, a
walk every day in the open air outside the town, or you will fall
ill, take my word for it!"

Nanina promised compliance; but she spoke rather absently, and
seemed scarcely conscious of the kind familiarity which marked
the doctor's manner. The truth was, that all her thoughts were
occupied with what he had been saying by Fabio's bedside. She had
not lost one word of the conversation while the doctor was
talking of his patient, and of the conditions on which his
recovery depended. "Oh, if that proof which would cure him could
only be found!" she thought to herself, as she stole back
anxiously to the bedside when the room was empty.

On getting home that day she found a letter waiting for her, and
was greatly surprised to see that it was written by no less a
person than the master-sculptor, Luca Lomi. It was very short;
simply informing her that he had just returned to Pisa, and that
he was anxious to know when she could sit to him for a new
bust--a commission from a rich foreigner at Naples.

Nanina debated with herself for a moment whether she should
answer the letter in the hardest way, to her, by writing, or, in
the easiest way, in person; and decided on going to the studio
and telling the master-sculptor that it would be impossible for
her to serve him as a model, at least for some time to come. It
would have taken her a long hour to say this with due propriety
on paper; it would only take her a few minutes to say it with her
own lips. So she put on her mantilla again and departed for the
studio.

On, arriving at the gate and ringing the bell, a thought suddenly
occurred to her, which she wondered had not struck her before.
Was it not possible that she might meet Father Rocco in his
brother's work-room? It was too late to retreat now, but not too
late to ask, before she entered, if the priest was in the studio.
Accordingly, when one of the workmen opened the door to her, she
inquired first, very confusedly and anxiously, for Father Rocco.
Hearing that he was not with his brother then, she went
tranquilly enough to make her apologies to the master-sculptor.

She did not think it necessary to tell him more than that she was
now occupied every day by nursing duties in a sick-room, and that
it was consequently out of her power to attend at the studio.
Luca Lomi expressed, and evidently felt, great disappointment at
her failing him as a model, and tried hard to persuade her that
she might find time enough, if she chose, to sit to him, as well
as to nurse the sick person. The more she resisted his arguments
and entreaties, the more obstinately he reiterated them. He was
dusting his favorite busts and statues, after his long absence,
with a feather-brush when she came in; and he continued this
occupation all the while he was talking--urging a fresh plea to
induce Nanina to reconsider her refusal to sit at every fresh
piece of sculpture he came to, and always receiving the same
resolute apology from her as she slowly followed him down the
studio toward the door.

Arriving thus at the lower end of the room, Luca stopped with a
fresh argument on his lips before his statue of Minerva. He had
dusted it already, but he lovingly returned to dust it again. It
was his favorite work--the only good likeness (although it did
assume to represent a classical subject) of his dead daughter
that he possessed. He had refused to part with it for Maddalena's
sake; and, as he now approached it with his brush for the second
time, he absently ceased speaking, and mounted on a stool to look
at the face near and blow some specks of dust off the forehead.
Nanina thought this a good opportunity of escaping from further
importunities. She was on the point of slipping away to the door
with a word of farewell, when a sudden exclamation from Luca Lomi
arrested her.

"Plaster!" cried the master-sculptor, looking intently at that
part of the hair of the statue which lay lowest on the forehead.
"Plaster here!" He took out his penknife as he spoke, and removed
a tiny morsel of some white substance from an interstice between
two folds of the hair where it touched the face. "It _is_
plaster!" he exclaimed, excitedly. "Somebody has been taking a
cast from the face of my statue!"

He jumped off the stool, and looked all round the studio with an
expression of suspicious inquiry. "I must have this cleared up,"
he said. "My statues were left under Rocco's care, and he is
answerable if there has been any stealing of casts from any one
of them. I must question him directly."

Nanina, seeing that he took no notice of her, felt that she might
now easily effect her retreat. She opened the studio door, and
repeated, for the twentieth time at least, that she was sorry she
could not sit to him.

"I am sorry too, child," he said, irritably looking about for his
hat. He found it apparently just as Nanina was going out; for she
heard him call to one of the workmen in the inner studio, and
order the man to say, if anybody wanted him, that he had gone to
Father Rocco's lodgings.

CHAPTER VI.

THE next morning, when Nanina rose, a bad attack of headache, and
a sense of languor and depression, reminded her of the necessity
of following the doctor's advice, and preserving her health by
getting a little fresh air and exercise. She had more than two
hours to spare before the usual time when her daily attendan ce
began at the Ascoli Palace; and she determined to employ the
interval of leisure in taking a morning walk outside the town. La
Biondella would have been glad enough to go too, but she had a
large order for dinner-mats on hand, and was obliged, for that
day, to stop in the house and work. Thus it happened that when
Nanina set forth from home, the learned poodle, Scarammuccia, was
her only companion.

She took the nearest way out of the town; the dog trotting along
in his usual steady, observant way close at her side, pushing his
great rough muzzle, from time to time, affectionately into her
hand, and trying hard to attract her attention at intervals by
barking and capering in front of her. He got but little notice,
however, for his pains. Nanina was thinking again of all that the
physician had said the day before by Fabio's bedside, and these
thoughts brought with them others, equally absorbing, that were
connected with the mysterious story of the young nobleman's
adventure with the Yellow Mask. Thus preoccupied, she had little
attention left for the gambols of the dog. Even the beauty of the
morning appealed to her in vain. She felt the refreshment of the
cool, fragrant air, but she hardly noticed the lovely blue of the
sky, or the bright sunshine that gave a gayety and an interest to
the commonest objects around her.

After walking nearly an hour, she began to feel tired, and looked
about for a shady place to rest in.

Beyond and behind her there was only the high-road and the flat
country; but by her side stood a little wooden building, half
inn, half coffee-house, backed by a large, shady pleasure.
garden, the gates of which stood invitingly open. Some workmen in
the garden were putting up a stage for fireworks, but the place
was otherwise quiet and lonely enough. It was only used at night
as a sort of rustic Ranelagh, to which the citizens of Pisa
resorted for pure air and amusement after the fatigues of the
day. Observing that there were no visitors in the grounds, Nanina
ventured in, intending to take a quarter of an hour's rest in the
coolest place she could find before returning to Pisa.

She had passed the back of a wooden summer-house in a secluded
part of the gardens, when she suddenly missed the dog from her
side; and, looking round after him, saw that he was standing
behind the summer-house with his ears erect and his nose to the
ground, having evidently that instant scented something that
excited his suspicion.

Thinking it possible that he might be meditating an attack on
some unfortunate cat, she turned to see what he was watching. The
carpenters engaged on the firework stage were just then hammering
at it violently. The noise prevented her from hearing that
Scarammuccia was growling, but she could feel that he was the
moment she laid her hand on his back. Her curiosity was excited,
and she stooped down close to him to look through a crack in the
boards before which he stood into the summer-house.

She was startled at seeing a lady and gentleman sitting inside.
The place she was looking through was not high enough up to
enable her to see their faces, but she recognized, or thought she
recognized, the pattern of the lady's dress as one which she had
noticed in former days in the Demoiselle Grifoni's show-room.
Rising quickly, her eye detected a hole in the boards about the
level of her own height, caused by a knot having been forced out
of the wood. She looked through it to ascertain, without being
discovered, if the wearer of the familiar dress was the person
she had taken her to be; and saw, not Brigida only, as she had
expected, but Father Rocco as well. At the same moment the
carpenters left off hammering and began to saw. The new sound
from the firework stage was regular and not loud. The voices of
the occupants of the summer-house reached her through it, and she
heard Brigida pronounce the name of Count Fabio.

Instantly stooping down once more by the dog's side, she caught
his muzzle firmly in both her hands. It was the only way to keep
Scarammuccia from growling again, at a time when there was no din
of hammering to prevent him from being heard. Those two words,
"Count Fabio," in the mouth of another woman, excited a jealous
anxiety in her. What could Brigida have to say in connection with
that name? She never came near the Ascoli Palace--what right or
reason could she have to talk of Fabio?

"Did you hear what I said?" she heard Brigida ask, in her
coolest, hardest tone.

"No," the priest answered. "At least, not all of it."

"I will repeat it, then. I asked what had so suddenly determined
you to give up all idea of making any future experiments on the
superstitious fears of Count Fabio?"

"In the first place, the result of the experiment already tried
has been so much more serious than I had anticipated, that I
believe the end I had in view in making it has been answered
already."

"Well; that is not your only reason?"

"Another shock to his mind might be fatal to him. I can use what
I believe to be a justifiable fraud to prevent his marrying
again; but I cannot burden myself with a crime."

"That is your second reason; but I believe you have another yet.
The suddenness with which you sent to me last night to appoint a
meeting in this lonely place; the emphatic manner in which you
requested--I may almost say ordered--me to bring the wax mask
here, suggest to my mind that something must have happened. What
is it? I am a woman, and my curiosity must be satisfied. After
the secrets you have trusted to me already, you need not
hesitate, I think, to trust me with one more."

"Perhaps not. The secret this time is, moreover, of no great
importance. You know that the wax mask you wore at the ball was
made in a plaster mold taken off the face of my brother's
statue?"

"Yes, I know that."

"My brother has just returned to his studio; has found a morsel
of the plaster I used for the mold sticking in the hair of the
statue; and has asked me, as the person left in charge of his
work-rooms, for an explanation. Such an explanation as I could
offer has not satisfied him, and he talks of making further
inquiries. Considering that it will be used no more, I think it
safest to destroy the wax mask, and I asked you to bring it here,
that I might see it burned or broken up with my own eyes. Now you
know all you wanted to know; and now, therefore, it is my turn to
remind you that I have not yet had a direct answer to the first
question I addressed to you when we met here. Have you brought
the wax mask with you, or have you not?"

"I have not."

"And why?"

Just as that question was put, Nanina felt the dog dragging
himself free of her grasp on his mouth. She had been listening
hitherto with such painful intensity, with such all-absorbing
emotions of suspense, terror, and astonishment, that she had not
noticed his efforts to get away, and had continued mechanically
to hold his mouth shut. But now she was aroused by the violence
of his struggles to the knowledge that, unless she hit upon some
new means of quieting him, he would have his mouth free, and
would betray her by a growl.

In an agony of apprehension lest she should lose a word of the
momentous conversation, she made a desperate attempt to appeal to
the dog's fondness for her, by suddenly flinging both her arms
round his neck, and kissing his rough, hairy cheek. The stratagem
succeeded. Scarammuccia had, for many years past, never received
any greater marks of his mistress's kindness for him than such as
a pat on the head or a present of a lump of sugar might convey.
His dog's nature was utterly confounded by the unexpected warmth
of Nanina's caress, and he struggled up vigorously in her arms to
try and return it by licking her face. She could easily prevent
him from doing this, and could so gain a few minutes more to
listen behind the summer-house without danger of discovery.

She had lost Brigida's answer to Father Rocco's question; but she
was in time to hear her next words.

"We are alone here," said Brigida. "I am a woman, and I don't
know that you may not have come armed. It is only the commonest
precaution on my part not to give you a chance of getting at the
wax mas k till I have made my conditions."

"You never said a word about conditions before."

"True. I remember telling you that I wanted nothing but the
novelty of going to the masquerade in the character of my dead
enemy, and the luxury of being able to terrify the man who had
brutally ridiculed me in old days in the studio. That was the
truth. But it is not the less the truth that our experiment on
Count Fabio has detained me in this city much longer than I ever
intended, that I am all but penniless, and that I deserve to be
paid. In plain words, will you buy the mask of me for two hundred
scudi?"

"I have not twenty scudi in the world, at my own free disposal."

"You must find two hundred if you want the wax mask. I don't wish
to threaten--but money I must have. I mention the sum of two
hundred scudi, because that is the exact amount offered in the
public handbills by Count Fabio's friends for the discovery of
the woman who wore the yellow mask at the Marquis Melani's ball.
What have I to do but to earn that money if I please, by going to
the palace, taking the wax mask with me, and telling them that I
am the woman. Suppose I confess in that way; they can do nothing
to hurt me, and I should be two hundred scudi the richer. You
might be injured, to be sure, if they insisted on knowing who
made the wax model, and who suggested the ghastly disguise--"

"Wretch! do you believe that my character could be injured on the
unsupported evidence of any words from your lips?"

"Father Rocco, for the first time since I have enjoyed the
pleasure of your acquaintance, I find you committing a breach of
good manners. I shall leave you until you become more like
yourself. If you wish to apologize for calling me a wretch, and
if you want to secure the wax mask, honor me with a visit before
four o'clock this afternoon, and bring two hundred scudi with
you. Delay till after four, and it will be too late."

An instant of silence followed; and then Nanina judged that
Brigida must be departing, for she heard the rustling of a dress
on the lawn in front of the summer-house. Unfortunately,
Scarammuccia heard it too. He twisted himself round in her arms
and growled.

The noise disturbed Father Rocco. She heard him rise and leave
the summer-house. There would have been time enough, perhaps, for
her to conceal herself among some trees if she could have
recovered her self-possession at once; but she was incapable of
making an effort to regain it. She could neither think nor
move--her breath seemed to die away on her lips--as she saw the
shadow of the priest stealing over the grass slowly from the
front to the back of the summer-house. In another moment they
were face to face.

He stopped a few paces from her, and eyed her steadily in dead
silence. She still crouched against the summer-house, and still
with one hand mechanically kept her hold of the dog. It was well
for the priest that she did so. Scarammuccia's formidable teeth
were in full view, his shaggy coat was bristling, his eyes were
starting, his growl had changed from the surly to the savage
note; he was ready to tear down, not Father Rocco only, but all
the clergy in Pisa, at a moment's notice.

"You have been listening," said the priest, calmly. "I see it in
your face. You have heard all."

She could not answer a word; she could not take her eyes from
him. There was an unnatural stillness in his face, a steady,
unrepentant, unfathomable despair in his eyes that struck her
with horror. She would have given worlds to be able to rise to
her feet and fly from his presence.

"I once distrusted you and watched you in secret," he said,
speaking after a short silence, thoughtfully, and with a strange,
tranquil sadness in his voice. "And now, what I did by you, you
do by me. You put the hope of your life once in my hands. Is it
because they were not worthy of the trust that discovery and ruin
overtake me, and that you are the instrument of the retribution?
Can this be the decree of Heaven--or is it nothing but the blind
justice of chance?"

He looked upward, doubtingly, to the lustrous sky above him, and
sighed. Nanina's eyes still followed his mechanically. He seemed
to feel their influence, for he suddenly looked down at her
again.

"What keeps you silent? Why are you afraid?" he said. "I can do
you no harm, with your dog at your side, and the workmen yonder
within call. I can do you no harm, and I wish to do you none. Go
back to Pisa; tell what you have heard, restore the man you love
to himself, and ruin me. That is your work; do it! I was never
your enemy, even when I distrusted you. I am not your enemy now.
It is no fault of yours that a fatality has been accomplished
through you--no fault of yours that I am rejected as the
instrument of securing a righteous restitution to the Church.
Rise, child, and go your way, while I go mine, and prepare for
what is to come. If we never meet again, remember that I parted
from you without one hard saying or one harsh look--parted from
you so, knowing that the first words you speak in Pisa will be
death to my character, and destruction to the great purpose of my
life."

Speaking these words, always with the same calmness which had
marked his manner from the first, he looked fixedly at her for a
little while, sighed again, and turned away. Just before he
disappeared among the trees, he said "Farewell," but so softly
that she could barely hear it. Some strange confusion clouded her
mind as she lost sight of him. Had she injured him, or had he
injured her? His words bewildered and oppressed her simple heart.
Vague doubts and fears, and a sudden antipathy to remaining any
longer near the summer-house, overcame her. She started to her
feet, and, keeping the dog still at her side, hurried from the
garden to the highroad. There, the wide glow of sunshine, the
sight of the city lying before her, changed the current of her
thoughts, and directed them all to Fabio and to the future.

A burning impatience to be back in Pisa now possessed her. She
hastened toward the city at her utmost speed. The doctor was
reported to be in the palace when she passed the servants
lounging in the courtyard. He saw the moment, she came into his
presence, that something had happened, and led her away from the
sick-room into Fabio's empty study. There she told him all.

"You have saved him," said the doctor, joyfully. "I will answer
for his recovery. Only let that woman come here for the reward;
and leave me to deal with her as she deserves. In the meantime,
my dear, don't go away from the palace on any account until I
give you permission. I am going to send a message immediately to
Signor Andrea d'Arbino to come and hear the extraordinary
disclosure that you have made to me. Go back to read to the
count, as usual, until I want you again; but, remember, you must
not drop a word to him yet of what you have said to me. He must
be carefully prepared for all that we have to tell him; and must
be kept quite in the dark until those preparations are made."

D'Arbino answered the doctor's summons in person; and Nanina
repeated her story to him. He and the doctor remained closeted
together for some time after she had concluded her narrative and
had retired. A little before four o'clock they sent for her again
into the study. The doctor was sitting by the table with a bag of
money before him, and D'Arbino was telling one of the servants
that if a lady called at the palace on the subject of the
handbill which he had circulated, she was to be admitted into the
study immediately.

As the clock struck four Nanina was requested to take possession
of a window-seat, and to wait there until she was summoned. When
she had obeyed, the doctor loosened one of the window-curtains,
to hide her from the view of any one entering the room.

About a quarter of an hour elapsed, and then the door was thrown
open, and Brigida herself was shown into the study. The doctor
bowed, and D'Arbino placed a chair for her. She was perfectly
collected, and thanked them for their politeness with her best
grace.

"I believe I am addressing confidential friends of Count Fabio
d'Ascoli?" Brigida began. "May I ask if you are authorized to act
for the c ount, in relation to the reward which this handbill
offers?"

The doctor, having examined the handbill, said that the lady was
quite right, and pointed significantly to the bag of money.

"You are prepared, then," pursued Brigida, smiling, "to give a
reward of two hundred scudi to any one able to tell you who the
woman is who wore the yellow mask at the Marquis Melani's ball,
and how she contrived to personate the face and figure of the
late Countess D'Ascoli?"

"Of course we are prepared," answered D'Arbino, a little
irritably. "As men of honor, we are not in the habit of promising
anything that we are not perfectly willing, under proper
conditions, to perform."

"Pardon me, my dear friend," said the doctor; "I think you speak
a little too warmly to the lady. She is quite right to take every
precaution. We have the two hundred scudi here, madam," he
continued, patting the money-bag; "and we are prepared to pay
that sum for the information we want. But" (here the doctor
suspiciously moved the bag of scudi from the table to his lap)
"we must have proofs that the person claiming the reward is
really entitled to it."

Brigida's eyes followed the money-bag greedily.

"Proofs!" she exclaimed, taking a small flat box from under her
cloak, and pushing it across to the doctor. "Proofs! there you
will find one proof that establishes my claim beyond the
possibility of doubt."

The doctor opened the box, and looked at the wax mask inside it;
then handed it to D'Arbino, and replaced the bag of scudi on the
table.

"The contents of that box seem certainly to explain a great
deal," he said, pushing the bag gently toward Brigida, but always
keeping his, hand over it. "The woman who wore the yellow domino
was, I presume, of the same height as the late countess?"

"Exactly," said Brigida. "Her eyes were also of the same color as
the late countess's; she wore yellow of the same shade as the
hangings in the late countess's room, and she had on, under her
yellow mask, the colorless wax model of the late countess's face,
now in your friend's hand. So much for that part of the secret.
Nothing remains now to be cleared up but the mystery of who the
lady was. Have the goodness, sir, to push that bag an inch or two
nearer my way, and I shall be delighted to tell you."

"Thank you, madam," said the doctor, with a very perceptible
change in his manner. "We know who the lady was already."

He moved the bag of scudi while he spoke back to his own side of
the table. Brigida's cheeks reddened, and she rose from her seat.

"Am I to understand, sir," she said, haughtily, "that you take
advantage of my position here, as a defenseless woman, to cheat
me out of the reward?"

"By no means, madam," rejoined the doctor. "We have covenanted to
pay the reward to the person who could give us the information we
required."

"Well, sir! have I not given you part of it? And am I not
prepared to give you the whole?"

"Certainly; but the misfortune is, that another person has been
beforehand with you. We ascertained who the lady in the yellow
domino was, and how she contrived to personate the face of the
late Countess D'Ascoli, several hours ago from another informant.
That person has consequently the prior claim; and, on every
principle of justice, that person must also have the reward.
Nanina, this bag belongs to you--come and take it."

Nanina appeared from the window-seat. Brigida, thunderstruck,
looked at her in silence for a moment; gasped out, "That
girl!"--then stopped again, breathless.

"That girl was at the back of the summer-house this morning,
while you and your accomplice were talking together," said the
doctor.

D'Arbino had been watching Brigida's face intently from the
moment of Nanina's appearance, and had quietly stolen close to
her side. This was a fortunate movement; for the doctor's last
words were hardly out of his mouth before Brigida seized a heavy
ruler lying, with some writing materials, on the table. In
another instant, if D'Arbino had not caught her arm, she would
have hurled it at Nanina's head.

"You may let go your hold, sir," she said, dropping the ruler,
and turning toward D'Arbino with a smile on her white lips and a
wicked calmness in her steady eyes. "I can wait for a better
opportunity."

With those words she walked to the door; and, turning round
there, regarded Nanina fixedly.

"I wish I had been a moment quicker with the ruler," she said,
and went out.

"There!" exclaimed the doctor; "I told you I knew how to deal
with her as she deserved. One thing I am certainly obliged to her
for--she has saved us the trouble of going to her house and
forcing her to give up the mask. And now, my child," he
continued, addressing Nanina, "you can go home, and one of the
men-servants shall see you safe to your own door, in case that
woman should still be lurking about the palace. Stop! you are
leaving the bag of scudi behind you."

"I can't take it, sir."

"And why not?"

"_She_ would have taken money!" Saying those words, Nanina
reddened, and looked toward the door.

The doctor glanced approvingly at D'Arbino. "Well, well, we won't
argue about that now," he said. "I will lock up the money with
the mask for to-day. Come here to-morrow morning as usual, my
dear. By that time I shall have made up my mind on the right
means for breaking your discovery to Count Fabio. Only let us
proceed slowly and cautiously, and I answer for success."

CHAPTER VII.

THE next morning, among the first visitors at the Ascoli Palace
was the master-sculptor, Luca Lomi. He seemed, as the servants
thought, agitated, and said he was especially desirous of seeing
Count Fabio. On being informed that this was impossible, he
reflected a little, and then inquired if the medical attendant of
the count was at the palace, and could be spoken with. Both
questions were answered in the affirmative, and he was ushered
into the doctor's presence.

"I know not how to preface what I want to say," Luca began,
looking about him confusedly. "May I ask you, in the first place,
if the work-girl named Nanina was here yesterday?"

"She was," said the doctor.

"Did she speak in private with any one?"

"Yes; with me."

"Then you know everything?"

"Absolutely everything."

"I am glad at least to find that my object in wishing to see the
count can be equally well answered by seeing you. My brother, I
regret to say--" He stopped perplexedly, and drew from his pocket
a roll of papers.

"You may speak of your brother in the plainest terms," said the
doctor. "I know what share he has had in promoting the infamous
conspiracy of the Yellow Mask."

"My petition to you, and through you to the count, is, that your
knowledge of what my brother has done may go no further. If this
scandal becomes public it will ruin me in my profession. And I
make little enough by it already," said Luca, with his old sordid
smile breaking out again faintly on his face.

"Pray do you come from your brother with this petition?" inquired
the doctor.

"No; I come solely on my own account. My brother seems careless
what happens. He has made a full statement of his share in the
matter from the first; has forwarded it to his ecclesiastical
superior (who will send it to the archbishop), and is now
awaiting whatever sentence they choose to pass on him. I have a
copy of the document, to prove that he has at least been candid,
and that he does not shrink from consequences which he might have
avoided by flight. The law cannot touch him, but the Church
can--and to the Church he has confessed. All I ask is, that he
may be spared a public exposure. Such an exposure would do no
good to the count, and it would do dreadful injury to me. Look
over the papers yourself, and show them, whenever you think
proper, to the master of this house. I have every confidence in
his honor and kindness, and in yours."

He laid the roll of papers open on the table, and then retired
with great humility to the window. The doctor looked over them
with some curiosity.

The statement or confession began by boldly avowing the writer's
conviction that part of the property which the Count Fabio
d'Ascoli had inherited from his ancestors had been obtained by
fraud and misrepresentatio n from the Church. The various
authorities on which this assertion was based were then produced
in due order; along with some curious particles of evidence
culled from old manuscripts, which it must have cost much trouble
to collect and decipher.

The second section was devoted, at great length, to the reasons
which induced the writer to think it his absolute duty, as an
affectionate son and faithful servant of the Church, not to rest
until he had restored to the successors of the apostles in his
day the property which had been fraudulently taken from them in
days gone by. The writer held himself justified, in the last
resort, and in that only, in using any means for effecting this
restoration, except such as might involve him in mortal sin.

The third section described the priest's share in promoting the
marriage of Maddalena Lomi with Fabio; and the hopes he
entertained of securing the restitution of the Church property
through his influence over his niece, in the first place, and,
when she had died, through his influence over her child, in the
second. The necessary failure of all his projects, if Fabio
married again, was next glanced at; and the time at which the
first suspicion of the possible occurrence of this catastrophe
occurred to his mind was noted with scrupulous accuracy.

The fourth section narrated the manner in which the conspiracy of
the Yellow Mask had originated. The writer described himself as
being in his brother's studio on the night of his niece's death,
harassed by forebodings of the likelihood of Fabio's marrying
again, and filled with the resolution to prevent any such
disastrous second union at all hazards. He asserted that the idea
of taking the wax mask from his brother's statue flashed upon him
on a sudden, and that he knew of nothing to lead to it, except,
perhaps, that he had been thinking just before of the
superstitious nature of the young man's character, as he had
himself observed it in the studio. He further declared that the
idea of the wax mask terrified him at first; that he strove
against it as against a temptation of the devil; that, from fear
of yielding to this temptation, he abstained even from entering
the studio during his brother's absence at Naples, and that he
first faltered in his good resolution when Fabio returned to
Pisa, and when it was rumored, not only that the young nobleman
was going to the ball, but that he would certainly marry for the
second time.

The fifth section related that the writer, upon this, yielded to
temptation rather than forego the cherished purpose of his life
by allowing Fabio a chance of marrying again--that he made the
wax mask in a plaster mold taken from the face of his brother's
statue--and that he then had two separate interviews with a woman
named Brigida (of whom he had some previous knowledge ), who was
ready and anxious, from motives of private malice, to personate
the deceased countess at the masquerade. This woman had suggested
that some anonymous letters to Fabio would pave the way in his
mind for the approaching impersonation, and had written the
letters herself. However, even when all the preparations were
made, the writer declared that he shrank from proceeding to
extremities; and that he would have abandoned the whole project
but for the woman Brigida informing him one day that a work-girl
named Nanina was to be one of the attendants at the ball. He knew
the count to have been in love with this girl, even to the point
of wishing to marry her; he suspected that her engagement to wait
at the ball was preconcerted; and, in consequence, he authorized
his female accomplice to perform her part in the conspiracy.

The sixth section detailed the proceedings at the masquerade, and
contained the writer's confession that, on the night before it,
he had written to the count proposing the reconciliation of a
difference that had taken place between them, solely for the
purpose of guarding himself against suspicion. He next
acknowledged that he had borrowed the key of the Campo Santo
gate, keeping the authority to whom it was intrusted in perfect
ignorance of the purpose for which he wanted it. That purpose was
to carry out the ghastly delusion of the wax mask (in the very
probable event of the wearer being followed and inquired after)
by having the woman Brigida taken up and set down at the gate of
the cemetery in which Fabio's wife had been buried.

The seventh section solemnly averred that the sole object of the
conspiracy was to prevent the young nobleman from marrying again,
by working on his superstitious fears; the writer repeating,
after this avowal, that any such second marriage would
necessarily destroy his project for promoting the ultimate
restoration of the Church possessions, by diverting Count Fabio's
property, in great part, from his first wife's child, over whom
the priest would always have influence, to another wife and
probably other children, over whom he could hope to have none.

The eighth and last section expressed the writer's contrition for
having allowed his zeal for the Church to mislead him into
actions liable to bring scandal on his cloth; reiterated in the
strongest language his conviction that, whatever might be thought
of the means employed, the end he had proposed to himself was a
most righteous one; and concluded by asserting his resolution to
suffer with humility any penalties, however severe, which his
ecclesiastical superiors might think fit to inflict on him.

Having looked over this extraordinary statement, the doctor
addressed himself again to Luca Lomi.

"I agree with you," he said, "that no useful end is to be gained
now by mentioning your brother's conduct in public--always
provided, however, that his ecclesiastical superiors do their
duty. I shall show these papers to the count as soon as he is fit
to peruse them, and I have no doubt that he will be ready to take
my view of the matter."

This assurance relieved Luca Lomi of a great weight of anxiety.
He bowed and withdrew.

The doctor placed the papers in the same cabinet in which he had
secured the wax mask. Before he locked the doors again he took
out the flat box, opened it, and looked thoughtfully for a few
minutes at the mask inside, then sent for Nanina.

"Now, my child," he said, when she appeared, "I am going to try
our first experiment with Count Fabio; and I think it of great
importance that you should be present while I speak to him."

He took up the box with the mask in it, and beckoning to Nanina
to follow him, led the way to Fabio's chamber.

CHAPTER VIII.

ABOUT six months after the events already related, Signor Andrea
d'Arbino and the Cavaliere Finello happened to be staying with a
friend, in a seaside villa on the Castellamare shore of the bay
of Naples. Most of their time was pleasantly occupied on the sea,
in fishing and sailing. A boat was placed entirely at their
disposal. Sometimes they loitered whole days along the shore;
sometimes made trips to the lovely islands in the bay.

One evening they were sailing near Sorrento, with a light wind.
The beauty of the coast tempted them to keep the boat close
inshore. A short time before sunset, they rounded the most
picturesque headland they had yet passed; and a little bay, with
a white-sand beach, opened on their view. They noticed first a
villa surrounded by orange and olive trees on the rocky heights
inland; then a path in the cliff-side leading down to the sands;
then a little family party on the beach, enjoying the fragrant
evening air.

The elders of the group were a lady and gentleman, sitting
together on the sand. The lady had a guitar in her lap. and was
playing a simple dance melody. Close at her side a young child
was rolling on the beach in high glee; in front of her a little
girl was dancing to the music, with a very extraordinary partner
in the shape of a dog, who was capering on his hind legs in the
most grotesque manner. The merry laughter of the girl, and the
lively notes of the guitar were heard distinctly across the still
water.

"Edge a little nearer in shore," said D'Arbino to his friend, who
was steering; "and keep as I do in the shadow of the sail. I want
to see the faces of th ose persons on the beach without being
seen by them."

Finello obeyed. After approaching just near enough to see the
countenances of the party on shore, and to be barked at lustily
by the dog, they turned the boat's head again toward the offing.

"A pleasant voyage, gentlemen," cried the clear voice of the
little girl. They waved their hats in return; and then saw her
run to the dog and take him by the forelegs. "Play, Nanina," they
heard her say. "I have not half done with my partner yet." The
guitar sounded once more, and the grotesque dog was on his hind
legs in a moment.

"I had heard that he was well again, that he had married her
lately, and that he was away with her and her sister, and his
child by the first wife," said D'Arbino; "but I had no suspicion
that their place of retirement was so near us. It is too soon to
break in upon their happiness, or I should have felt inclined to
run the boat on shore."

"I never heard the end of that strange adventure of the Yellow
Mask," said Finello. "There was a priest mixed up in it, was
there not?"

"Yes; but nobody seems to know exactly what has become of him. He
was sent for to Rome, and has never been heard of since. One
report is, that he has been condemned to some mysterious penal
seclusion by his ecclesiastical superiors--another, that he has
volunteered, as a sort of Forlorn Hope, to accept a colonial
curacy among rough people, and in a pestilential climate. I asked
his brother, the sculptor, about him a little while ago, but he
only shook his head, and said nothing."

"And the woman who wore the yellow mask?"

"She, too, has ended mysteriously. At Pisa she was obliged to
sell off everything she possessed to pay her debts. Some friends
of hers at a milliner's shop, to whom she applied for help, would
have nothing to do with her. She left the city, alone and
penniless."

The boat had approached the next headland on the coast while they
were talking They looked back for a last glance at the beach.
Still the notes of the guitar came gently across the quiet water;
but there mingled with them now the sound of the lady's voice.
She was singing. The little girl and the dog were at her feet,
and the gentleman was still in his old place close at her side.

In a few minutes more the boat rounded the next headland, the
beach vanished from view, and the music died away softly in the
distance.

LAST LEAVES FROM LEAH'S DIARY.

3d of June.--Our stories are ended; our pleasant work is done. It
is a lovely summer afternoon. The great hall at the farmhouse,
after having been filled with people, is now quite deserted. I
sit alone at my little work-table, with rather a crying sensation
at my heart, and with the pen trembling in my fingers, as if I
was an old woman already. Our manuscript has been sealed up and
taken away; the one precious object of all our most anxious
thoughts for months past--our third child, as we have got to call
it--has gone out from us on this summer's day, to seek its
fortune in the world.

A little before twelve o'clock last night, my husband dictated to
me the last words of "The Yellow Mask." I laid down the pen, and
closed the paper thoughtfully. With that simple action the work
that we had wrought at together so carefully and so long came to
a close. We were both so silent and still, that the murmuring of
the trees in the night air sounded audibly and solemnly in our
room.

William's collection of stories has not, thus far, been half
exhausted yet; but those who understand the public taste and the
interests of bookselling better than we, think it advisable not
to risk offering too much to the reader at first. If individual
opinions can be accepted as a fair test, our prospects of success
seem hopeful. The doctor (but we must not forget that he is a
friend) was so pleased with the two specimen stories we sent to
him, that he took them at once to his friend, the editor of the
newspaper, who showed his appreciation of what he read in a very
gratifying manner. He proposed that William should publish in the
newspaper, on very fair terms, any short anecdotes and curious
experiences of his life as a portrait-painter, which might not be
important enough to put into a book. The money which my husband
has gained from time to time in this way has just sufficed to pay
our expenses at the farmhouse up to within the last month; and
now our excellent friends here say they will not hear anything
more from us on the subject of the rent until the book is sold
and we have plenty of money. This is one great relief and
happiness. Another, for which I feel even more grateful, is that
William's eyes have gained so much by their long rest, that even
the doctor is surprised at the progress he has made. He only puts
on his green shade now when he goes out into the sun, or when the
candles are lit. His spirits are infinitely raised, and he is
beginning to talk already of the time when he will unpack his
palette and brushes, and take to his old portrait-painting
occupations again.

With all these reasons for being happy, it seems unreasonable and
ungracious in me to be feeling sad, as I do just at this moment.
I can only say, in my own justification, that it is a mournful
ceremony to take leave of an old friend; and I have taken leave
twice over of the book that has been like an old friend to
me--once when I had written the last word in it, and once again
when I saw it carried away to London.

I packed the manuscript up with my own hands this morning, in
thick brown paper, wasting a great deal of sealing-wax, I am
afraid, in my anxiety to keep the parcel from bursting open in
case it should be knocked about on its journey to town. Oh me,
how cheap and common it looked, in its new form, as I carried it
downstairs! A dozen pairs of worsted stockings would have made a
larger parcel; and half a crown's worth of groceries would have
weighed a great deal heavier.

Just as we had done dinner the doctor and the editor came in. The
first had called to fetch the parcel--I mean the manuscript; the
second had come out with him to Appletreewick for a walk. As soon
as the farmer heard that the book was to be sent to London, he
insisted that we should drink success to it all round. The
children, in high glee, were mounted up on the table, with a
glass of currant-wine apiece; the rest of us had ale; the farmer
proposed the toast, and his sailor son led the cheers. We all
joined in (the children included), except the editor--who, being
the only important person of the party, could not, I suppose,
afford to compromise his dignity by making a noise. He was
extremely polite, however, in a lofty way, to me, waving his hand
and bowing magnificently every time he spoke. This discomposed me
a little; and I was still more flurried when he said that he had
written to the London publishers that very day, to prepare them
for the arrival of our book.

"Do you think they will print it, sir?" I ventured to ask.

"My dear madam, you may consider it settled," said the editor,
confidently. "The letter is written--the thing is done. Look upon
the book as published already; pray oblige me by looking upon the
book as published already."

"Then the only uncertainty now is about how the public will
receive it!" said my husband, fidgeting in his chair, and looking
nervously at me.

"Just so, my dear sir, just so," answered the editor. "Everything
depends upon the public--everything, I pledge you my word of
honor."

"Don't look doubtful, Mrs. Kerby; there isn't a doubt about it,"
whispered the kind doctor, giving the manuscript a confident
smack as he passed by me with it on his way to the door.

In another minute he and the editor, and the poor cheap-looking
brown paper parcel, were gone. The others followed them out, and
I was left in the hall alone.

Oh, Public! Public! it all depends now upon you! The children are
to have new clothes from top to toe; I am to have a black silk
gown; William is to buy a beautiful traveling color-box; the rent
is to be paid; all our kind friends at the farmhouse are to have
little presents, and our future way in this hard world is to be
smoothed for us at the outset, if you will only accept a poor
painter's stories which his wife has written down for him After
Dark!

Book of the day: