Part 5 out of 9
that he had done it, and that the Triple Alliance was a goose which
would lay many golden eggs. The believing bulls roared everything away
before them, opposition, objections, financial experience, and the
vanquished bears hibernated in secret places, sucking their paws and
wondering what, in the name of Ursa Major and Ursa Minor, would happen
next. Distinguished men wrote pamphlets in the most distinguished
language to prove that wealth was a baby capable of being hatched
artificially and brought up by hand. Every unmarried swain who could
find a bride, married her forthwith; those who could not followed the
advice of an illustrious poet and, being over-anxious to take wives,
took those of others. Everybody was decorated. It positively rained
decorations and hailed grand crosses and enough commanders' ribbons were
reeled out to have hanged half the population. The periodical attempt to
revive the defunct carnival in the Corso was made, and the yet unburied
corpse of ancient gaiety was taken out and painted, and gorgeously
arrayed, and propped up in its seat to be a posthumous terror to its
enemies, like the dead Cid. Society danced frantically and did all those
things which it ought not to have done--and added a few more,
unconsciously imitating Pico della Mirandola.
Even those comparatively few families who, like the Saracinesca, had
scornfully declined to dabble in the whirlpool of affairs, did not by
any means refuse to dance to the music of success which filled the city
with, such enchanting strains. The Princess Befana rose from her
deathbed with more than usual vivacity and went to the length of opening
her palace on two evenings in two successive weeks, to the intense
delight of her gay and youthful heirs, who earnestly hoped that the
excitement might kill her at last, and kill her beyond resurrection this
time. But they were disappointed. She still dies periodically in winter
and blooms out again in spring with the poppies, affording a perpetual
and edifying illustration of the changes of the year, or, as some say,
of the doctrine of immortality. On one of those memorable occasions she
walked through a quadrille with the aged Prince Saracinesca, whereupon
Sant' Ilario slipped his arm round Corona's waist and waltzed with her
down the whole length of the ballroom and back again amidst the applause
of his contemporaries and their children. If Orsino had had a wife he
would have followed their example. As it was, he looked rather gloomily
in the direction of a silent and high-born damsel with whom he was
condemned to dance the cotillon at a later hour.
So all went gaily on until Ash Wednesday extinguished the social flame,
suddenly and beyond relighting. And still Orsino did not meet Maria
Consuelo, and still he hesitated to make another attempt to find her at
home. He began to wonder whether he should ever see her again, and as
the days went by he almost wished that Donna Tullia would send him a
card for her lenten evenings, at which Maria Consuelo regularly assisted
as he learned from the papers. After that first invitation to dinner, he
had expected that Del Ferice's wife would make an attempt to draw him
into her circle; and, indeed, she would probably have done so had she
followed her own instinct instead of submitting to the higher policy
dictated by her husband. Orsino waited in vain, not knowing whether to
be annoyed at the lack of consideration bestowed upon him, or to admire
the tact which assumed that he would never wish to enter the Del Ferice
It is presumably clear that Orsino was not in love with Madame
d'Aranjuez, and he himself appreciated the fact with a sense of
disappointment. He was amazed at his own coldness and at the
indifference with which he had submitted to what amounted to a most
abrupt dismissal. He even went so far as to believe that Maria Consuelo
had repulsed him designedly in the hope of kindling a more sincere
passion. In that case she had been egregiously mistaken, he thought. He
felt a curiosity to see her again before she left Rome, but it was
nothing more than that. A new and absorbing interest had taken
possession of him which at first left little room in his nature for
anything else. His days were spent in the laborious study of figures and
plans, broken only by occasional short but amusing conversations with
Andrea Contini. His evenings were generally passed among a set of people
who did not know Maria Consuelo except by sight and who had long ceased
to ask him questions about her. Of late, too, he had missed his daily
visits to her less and less, until he hardly regretted them at all, nor
so much as thought of the possibility of renewing them. He laughed at
the idea that his mother should have taken the place of a woman whom he
had begun to love, and yet he was conscious that it was so, though he
asked himself how long such a condition of things could last. Corona was
far too wise to discuss his affairs with his father. He was too like
herself for her to misunderstand him, and if she regarded the whole
matter as perfectly harmless and as a legitimate subject for general
conversation, she yet understood perfectly that having been once
rebuffed by Sant' Ilario, Orsino must wish to be fully successful in his
attempt before mentioning it again to the latter. And she felt so
strongly in sympathy with her son that his work gradually acquired an
intense interest for her, and she would have sacrificed much rather
than see it fail. She did not on that account blame Giovanni for his
discouraging view when Orsino had consulted him. Giovanni was the
passion of her life and was not fallible in his impulses, though his
judgment might sometimes be at fault in technical matters for which he
cared nothing. But her love for her son was as great and sincere in its
own way, and her pride in him was such as to make his success a
condition of her future happiness.
One of the greatest novelists of this age begins one of his greatest
novels with the remark that "all happy families resemble each other, but
that every unhappy family is unhappy in its own especial way."
Generalities are dangerous in proportion as they are witty or striking,
or both, and it may be asked whether the great Tolstoi has not fallen a
victim to his own extraordinary power of striking and witty
generalisations. Does the greatest of all his generalisations, the wide
disclaimer of his early opinions expressed in the postscript
subsequently attached by him to his _Kreutzer Sonata_, include also the
words I have quoted, and which were set up, so to say, as the theme of
his _Anna Karjenina_? One may almost hope so. I am no critic, but those
words somehow seem to me to mean that only unhappiness can be
interesting. It is not pleasant to think of the consequences to which
the acceptance of such a statement might lead.
There are no statistics to tell us whether the majority of living men
and women are to be considered as happy or unhappy. But it does seem
true that whereas a single circumstance can cause very great and lasting
unhappiness, felicity is always dependent upon more than one condition
and often upon so many as to make the explanation of it a highly
difficult and complicated matter.
Corona had assuredly little reason to complain of her lot during the
past twenty years, but unruffled and perfect as it had seemed to her she
began to see that there were sources of sorrow and satisfaction before
her which had not yet poured their bitter or sweet streams into the
stately river of her mature life. The new interest which Orsino had
created for her became more and more absorbing, and she watched it and
tended it, and longed to see it grow to greater proportions. The
situation was strange in one way at least. Orsino was working and his
mother was helping him to work in the hope of a financial success which
neither of them wanted or cared for. Possibly the certainty that failure
could entail no serious consequences made the game a more amusing if a
less exciting one to play.
"If I lose," said Orsino to her, "I can only lose the few thousands I
invested. If I win, I will give you a string of pearls as a keepsake."
"If you lose, dear boy," answered Corona, "it must be because you had
not enough to begin with. I will give you as much as you need, and we
will try again."
They laughed happily together. Whatever chanced, things must turn out
well. Orsino worked very hard, and Corona was very rich in her own right
and could afford to help to any extent she thought necessary. She could,
indeed, have taken the part of the bank and advanced him all the money
he needed, but it seemed useless to interfere with the existing
In Lent the house had reached an important point in its existence.
Andrea Contini had completed the Gothic roof and the turret which
appeared to him in the first vision of his dream, but to which the
defunct baker had made objections on the score of expense. The masons
were almost all gone and another set of workmen were busy with finer
tools moulding cornices and laying on the snow-white stucco. Within, the
joiners and carpenters kept up a ceaseless hammering.
One day Andrea Contini walked into the office after a tour of
inspection, with a whole cigar, unlighted and intact, between his teeth.
Orsino was well aware from this circumstance that something unusually
fortunate had happened or was about to happen, and he rose from his
books, as soon as he recognised the fair-weather signal.
"We can sell the house whenever we like," said the architect, his bright
brown eyes sparkling with satisfaction.
"Already!" exclaimed Orsino who, though equally delighted at the
prospect of such speedy success, regretted in his heart the damp walls
and the constant stir of work which he had learned to like so well.
"Already--yes. One needs luck like ours! The count has sent a man up in
a cab to say that an acquaintance of his will come and look at the
building to-day between twelve and one with a view to buying. The sooner
we look out for some fresh undertaking, the better. What do you say, Don
"It is all your doing, Contini. Without you I should still be standing
outside and watching the mattings flapping in the wind, as I did on that
never-to-be-forgotten first day."
"I conceive that a house cannot be built without an architect," answered
Contini, laughing, "and it has always been plain to me that there can be
no architects without houses to build. But as for any especial credit to
me, I refute the charge indignantly. I except the matter of the turret,
which is evidently what has attracted the buyer. I always thought it
would. You would never have thought of a turret, would you, Don Orsino?"
"Certainly not, nor of many other things," answered Orsino, laughing.
"But I am sorry to leave the place. I have grown into liking it."
"What can one do? It is the way of the world--'lieto ricordo d'un amor
che fu,'" sang Contini in the thin but expressive falsetto which seems
to be the natural inheritance of men who play upon stringed instruments.
He broke off in the middle of a bar and laughed, out of sheer delight at
his own good fortune.
In due time the purchaser came, saw and actually bought. He was a
problematic personage with a disquieting nose, who spoke few words but
examined everything with an air of superior comprehension. He looked
keenly at Orsino but seemed to have no idea who he was and put all his
questions to Contini.
After agreeing to the purchase he inquired whether Andrea Contini and
Company had any other houses of the same description building and if so
where they were situated, adding that he liked the firm's way of doing
things. He stipulated for one or two slight improvements, made an
appointment for a meeting with the notaries on the following day and
went off with a rather unceremonious nod to the partners. The name he
left was that of a well-known capitalist from the south, and Contini was
inclined to think he had seen him before, but was not certain.
Within a week the business was concluded, the buyer took over the
mortgage as Orsino and Contini had done and paid the difference in cash
into the bank, which deducted the amounts due on notes of hand before
handing the remainder to the two young men. The buyer also kept back a
small part of the purchase money to be paid on taking possession, when
the house was to be entirely finished. Andrea Contini and Company had
realised a considerable sum of money.
"The question is, what to do next," said Orsino thoughtfully.
"We had better look about us for something promising," said his partner.
"A corner lot in this same quarter. Corner houses are more interesting
to build and people like them to live in because they can see two or
three ways at once. Besides, a corner is always a good place for a
turret. Let us take a walk--smoking and strolling, we shall find
"A year ago, no doubt," answered Orsino, who was becoming worldly wise.
"A year ago that would have been well enough. But listen to me. That
house opposite to ours has been finished some time, yet nobody has
bought it. What is the reason?"
"It faces north and not south, as ours does, and it has not a Gothic
"My dear Contini, I do not mean to say that the Gothic roof has not
helped us very much, but it cannot have helped us alone. How about those
two houses together at the end of the next block. Balconies, travertine
columns, superior doors and windows, spaces for hydraulic lifts and all
the rest of it. Yet no one buys. Dry, too, and almost ready to live in,
and all the joinery of pitch pine. There is a reason for their ill
"What do you think it is?" asked Contini, opening his eyes.
"The land on which they are built was not in the hands of Del Ferice's
bank, and the money that built them was not advanced by Del Ferice's
bank, and Del Ferice's bank has no interest in selling the houses
themselves. Therefore they are not sold."
"But surely there are other banks in Rome, and private individuals--"
"No, I do not believe that there are," said Orsino with conviction. "My
cousin of San Giacinto thinks that the selling days are over, and I
fancy he is right, except about Del Ferice, who is cleverer than any of
us. We had better not deceive ourselves, Contini. Del Ferice sold our
house for us, and unless we keep with him we shall not sell another so
easily. His bank has a lot of half-finished houses on its hands secured
by mortgages which are worthless until the houses are habitable. Del
Ferice wants us to finish those houses for him, in order to recover
their value. If we do it, we shall make a profit. If we attempt anything
on our own account we shall fail. Am I right or not?"
"What can I say? At all events you are on the safe side. But why has not
the count given all this work to some old established firm of his
"Because he cannot trust any one as he can trust us, and he knows it."
"Of course I owe the count a great deal for his kindness in introducing
me to you. He knew all about me before the baker died, and afterwards I
waited for him outside the Chambers one evening and asked him if he
could find anything for me to do, but he did not give me much
encouragement. I saw you speak to him and get into his carriage--was it
"Yes--it was I," answered Orsino, remembering the tall man in an
overcoat who had disappeared in the dusk on the evening when he himself
had first sought Del Ferice. "Yes, and you see we are both under a sort
of obligation to him which is another reason for taking his advice."
"Obligations are humiliating!" exclaimed Contini impatiently. "We have
succeeded in increasing our capital--your capital, Don Orsino--let us
strike out for ourselves."
"I think my reasons are good," said Orsino quietly. "And as for
obligations, let us remember that we are men of business."
It appears from this that the low-born Andrea Contini and the high and
mighty Don Orsino Saracinesca were not very far from exchanging places
so far as prejudice was concerned. Contini noticed the fact and smiled.
"After all," he said, "if you can accept the situation, I ought to
accept it, too."
"It is a matter of business," said Orsino, returning to his argument.
"There is no such thing as obligation where money is borrowed on good
security and a large interest is regularly paid."
It was clear that Orsino was developing commercial instincts. His
grandfather would have died of rage on the spot if he could have
listened to the young fellow's cool utterances. But Contini was not
pleased and would not abandon his position so easily.
"It is very well for you, Don Orsino," he said, vainly attempting to
light his cigar. "You do not need the money as I do. You take it from
Del Ferice because it amuses you to do so, not because you are obliged
to accept it. That is the difference. The count knows It too, and knows
that he is not conferring a favour but receiving one. You do him an
honour in borrowing his money. He lays me under an obligation in lending
"We must get money somewhere," answered Orsino with indifference. "If
not from Del Ferice, then from some other bank. And as for obligations,
as you call them, he is not the bank himself, and the bank does not lend
its money in order to amuse me or to humiliate you, my friend. But if
you insist, I shall say that the convenience is not on one side only. If
Del Ferice supports us it is because we serve his interests. If he has
done us a good turn, it is a reason why we should do him one, and build
his houses rather than those of other people. You talk about my
conferring a favour upon him. Where will he find another Andrea Contini
and Company to make worthless property valuable for him? In that sense
you and I are earning his gratitude, by the simple process of being
scrupulously honest. I do not feel in the least humiliated, I assure
"I cannot help it," replied Contini, biting his cigar savagely. "I have
a heart, and it beats with good blood. Do you know that there is blood
of Cola di Rienzo in my veins?"
"No. You never told me," answered Orsino, one of whose forefathers had
been concerned in the murder of the tribune, a fact to which he thought
it best not to refer at the present moment.
"And the blood of Cola di Rienzo burns under the shame of an
obligation!" cried Contini, with a heat hardly warranted by the
circumstances. "It is humiliating, it is base, to submit to be the tool
of a Del Ferice--we all know who and what Del Ferice was, and how he
came by his title of count, and how he got his fortune--a spy, an
intriguer! In a good cause? Perhaps. I was not born then, nor you
either, Signor Principe, and we do not know what the world was like,
when it was quite another world. That is not a reason for serving a
"Calm yourself, my friend. We are not in Del Ferice's service."
"Better to die than that! Better to kill him at once and go to the
galleys for a few years! Better to play the fiddle, or pick rags, or beg
in the streets than that, Signor Principe. One must respect oneself. You
see it yourself. One must be a man, and feel as a man. One must feel
those things here, Signor Principe, here in the heart!"
Contini struck his breast with his clenched fist and bit the end of his
cigar quite through in his anger. Then he suddenly seized his hat and
rushed out of the room.
Orsino was less surprised at the outburst than might have been expected,
and did not attach any great weight to his partner's dramatic rage. But
he lit a cigarette and carefully thought over the situation, trying to
find out whether there were really any ground for Contini's first
remarks. He was perfectly well aware that as Orsino Saracinesca he would
cut his own throat with enthusiasm rather than borrow a louis of Ugo Del
Ferice. But as Andrea Contini and Company he was another person, and so
Del Ferice was not Count Del Ferice, nor the Onorevole Del Ferice, but
simply a director in a bank with which he had business. If the interests
of Andrea Contini and Company were identical with those of the bank,
there was no reason whatever for interrupting relations both amicable
and profitable, merely because one member of the firm claimed to be
descended from Cola di Bienzo, a defunct personage in whom Orsino felt
no interest whatever. Andrea Contini, considering his social relations,
might be on terms of friendship with his hatter, for instance, or might
have personal reasons for disliking him. In neither case could the
buying of a hat from that individual be looked upon as an obligation
conferred or received by either party. This was quite clear, and Orsino
"Business is business," he said to himself, "and people who introduce
personal considerations into a financial transaction will get the worst
of the bargain."
Andrea Contini was apparently of the same opinion, for when he entered
the room again at the end of an hour his excitement had quite
"If we take another contract from the count," he said, "is there any
reason why we should not take a larger one, if it is to be had? We could
manage three or four buildings now that you have become such a good
"I am quite of your opinion," Orsino answered, deciding at once to make
no reference to what had gone before.
"The only question is, whether we have capital enough for a margin."
"Leave that to me."
Orsino determined to consult his mother, in whose judgment he felt a
confidence which he could not explain but which was not misplaced. The
fact was simple enough. Corona understood him thoroughly, though her
comprehension of his business was more than limited, and she did nothing
in reality but encourage his own sober opinion when it happened to be at
variance with some enthusiastic inclination which momentarily deluded
him. That quiet pushing of a man's own better reason against his half
considered but often headstrong impulses, is after all one of the best
and most loving services which a wise woman can render to a man whom she
loves, be he husband, son or brother. Many women have no other secret,
and indeed there are few more valuable ones, if well used and well kept.
But let not graceless man discover that it is used upon him. He will
resent being led by his own reason far more than being made the
senseless slave of a foolish woman's wildest caprice. To select the best
of himself for his own use is to trample upon his free will. To send him
barefoot to Jericho in search of a dried flower is to appeal to his
heart. Man is a reasoning animal.
Corona, as was to be expected, was triumphant in Orsino's first success,
and spent as much time in talking over the past and the future with him
as she could command during his own hours of liberty. He needed no
urging to continue in the same course, but he enjoyed her happiness and
delighted in her encouragement.
"Contini wishes to take a large contract," he said to her, after the
interview last described. "I agree with him, in a way. We could
certainly manage a larger business."
"No doubt," Corona answered thoughtfully, for she saw that there was
some objection to the scheme in his own mind.
"I have learned a great deal," he continued, "and we have much more,
capital than we had. Besides, I suppose you would lend me a few
thousands if we needed them, would you not, mother?"
"Certainly, my dear. You shall not be hampered by want of money."
"And then, it is possible that we might make something like a fortune in
a short time. It would be a great satisfaction. But then, too--" He
"What then?" asked Corona, smiling.
"Things may turn out differently. Though I have been successful this
time, I am much more inclined to believe that San Giacinto was right
than I was before I began. All this movement does not rest on a solid
A financier of thirty years' standing could not have made the statement
more impressively, and Orsino was conscious that he was assuming an
elderly tone. He laughed the next moment.
"That is a stock phrase, mother," he continued. "But it means something.
Everything is not what it should be. If the demand were as great as
people say it is, there would not be half a dozen houses--better houses
than ours--unsold in our street. That is why I am afraid of a big
contract. I might lose all my money and some of yours."
"It would not be of much consequence if you did," answered Corona. "But
of course you will be guided by your own judgment, which, is much
better than mine. One must risk something, of course, but there is no
use in going into danger."
"Nevertheless, I should enjoy a big venture immensely."
"There is no reason why you should not try one, when the moment comes,
my dear. I suppose that a few months will decide whether there is to be
a crisis or not. In the meantime you might take something moderate,
neither so small as the last, nor so large as you would like. You will
get more experience, risk less and be better prepared for a crash if it
comes, or to take advantage of anything favourable if business grows
Orsino was silent for a moment.
"You are very wise, mother," he said. "I will take your advice."
Corona had indeed acted as wisely as she could. The only flaw in her
reasoning was her assertion that a few months would decide the fate of
Roman affairs. If it were possible to predict a crisis even within a few
months, speculation would be a less precarious business than it is.
Orsino and his mother might have talked longer and perhaps to better
purpose, but they were interrupted by the entrance of a servant, bearing
a note. Corona instinctively put out her hand to receive it.
"For Don Orsino," said the man, stopping before him.
Orsino took the letter, looked at it and turned it over.
"I think it is from Madame d'Aranjuez," he remarked, without emotion.
"May I read it?"
"There is no answer, Eccellenza," said the servant, whose curiosity was
"Read it, of course," said Corona, looking at him.
She was surprised that Madame d'Aranjuez should write to him, but she
was still more astonished to see the indifference with which he opened
the missive. She had imagined that he was more or less in love with
"I fancy it is the other way," she thought. "The woman wants to marry
him. I might have suspected it."
Orsino read the note, and tossed it into the fire without volunteering
"I will take your advice, mother," he said, continuing the former
conversation, as though nothing had happened.
But the subject seemed to be exhausted, and before long Orsino made an
excuse to his mother and went out.
There was nothing in the note burnt by Orsino which he might not have
shown to his mother, since he had already told her the name of the
writer. It contained the simple statement that Maria Consuelo was about
to leave Rome, and expressed the hope that she might see Orsino before
her departure as she had a small request to make of him, in the nature
of a commission. She hoped he would forgive her for putting him to so
Though he betrayed no emotion in reading the few lines, he was in
reality annoyed by them, and he wished that he might be prevented from
obeying the summons. Maria Consuelo had virtually dropped the
acquaintance, and had refused repeatedly and in a marked way to receive
him. And now, at the last moment, when she needed something of him, she
chose to recall him by a direct invitation. There was nothing to be done
but to yield, and it was characteristic of Orsino that, having submitted
to necessity, he did not put off the inevitable moment, but went to her
The days were longer now than they had been during the time when he had
visited her every day, and the lamp was not yet on the table when Orsino
entered the small sitting-room. Maria Consuelo was standing by the
window, looking out into the street, and her right hand rested against
the pane while her fingers tapped it softly but impatiently. She turned
quickly as he entered, but the light was behind her and he could hardly
see her face. She came towards him and held out her hand.
"It is very kind of you to have come so soon," she said, as she took her
old accustomed place by the table.
Nothing was changed, excepting that the two or three new books at her
elbow were not the same ones which had been there two months earlier. In
one of them was thrust the silver paper-cutter with the jewelled handle,
which Orsino had never missed. He wondered whether there were any reason
for the unvarying sameness of these details.
"Of course I came," he said. "And as there was time to-day, I came at
He spoke rather coldly, still resenting her former behaviour and
expecting that she would immediately say what she wanted of him. He
would promise to execute the commission, whatever it might be, and after
ten minutes of conversation he would take his leave. There was a short
pause, during which he looked at her. She did not seem well. Her face
was pale and her eyes were deep with shadows. Even her auburn hair had
lost something of its gloss. Yet she did not look older than before, a
fact which proved her to be even younger than Orsino had imagined.
Saving the look of fatigue and suffering in her face, Maria Consuelo had
changed less than Orsino during the winter, and she realised the fact at
a glance. A determined purpose, hard work, the constant exertion of
energy and will, and possibly, too, the giving up to a great extent of
gambling and strong drinks, had told in Orsino's face and manner as a
course of training tells upon a lazy athlete. The bold black eyes had a
more quiet glance, the well-marked features had acquired strength and
repose, the lean jaw was firmer and seemed more square. Even
physically, Orsino had improved, though the change was undefinable.
Young as he was, something of the power of mature manhood was already
coming over his youth.
"You must have thought me very--rude," said Maria Consuelo, breaking the
silence and speaking with a slight hesitation which Orsino had never
"It is not for me to complain, Madame," he answered. "You had every
He stopped short, for he was reluctant to admit that she had been
justified in her behaviour towards him.
"Thanks," she said, with an attempt to laugh. "It is pleasant to find
magnanimous people now and then. I do not want you to think that I was
capricious. That is all."
"I certainly do not think that. You were most consistent. I called three
times and always got the same answer."
He fancied that he heard her sigh, but she tried to laugh again.
"I am not imaginative," she answered. "I daresay you found that out long
go. You have much more imagination than I."
"It is possible, Madame--but you have not cared to develop it."
"What do you mean?"
"What does it matter? Do you remember what you said when I bade you
good-night at the window of your carriage after Del Ferice's dinner? You
said that you were not angry with me. I was foolish enough to imagine
that you were in earnest. I came again and again, but you would not see
me. You did not encourage my illusion."
"Because I would not receive you? How do you know what happened to me?
How can you judge of my life? By your own? There is a vast difference."
"Yes, indeed!" exclaimed Orsino almost impatiently. "I know what you are
going to say. It will be flattering to me of course. The unattached
young man is dangerous to the reputation. The foreign lady is travelling
alone. There is the foundation of a vaudeville in that!"
"If you must be unjust, at least do not be brutal," said Maria Consuelo
in a low voice, and she turned her face away from him.
"I am evidently placed in the world to offend you, Madame. Will you
believe that I am sorry for it, though I only dimly comprehend my fault?
What did I say? That you were wise in breaking off my visits, because
you are alone here, and because I am young, unmarried and unfortunately
a little conspicuous in my native city. Is it brutal to suggest that a
young and beautiful woman has a right not to be compromised? Can we not
talk freely for half an hour, as we used to talk, and then say good-bye
and part good friends until you come to Rome again?"
"I wish we could!" There was an accent of sincerity in the tone which
"Then begin by forgiving me all my sins, and put them down to ignorance,
want of tact, the inexperience of youth or a naturally weak
understanding. But do not call me brutal on such slight provocation."
"We shall never agree for a long time," answered Maria Consuelo
"Because, as I told you, there is too great a difference between our
lives. Do not answer me as you did before, for I am right. I began by
admitting that I was rude. If that is not enough I will say more--I will
even ask you to forgive me--can I do more?"
She spoke so earnestly that Orsino was surprised and almost touched. Her
manner now was even less comprehensible than her repeated refusals to
see him had been.
"You have done far too much already," he said gravely. "It is mine to
ask your forgiveness for much that I have done and said. I only wish
that I understood you better."
"I am glad you do not," replied Maria Consuelo, with a sigh which this
time was not to be mistaken. "There is a sadness which it is better not
to understand," she added softly.
"Unless one can help to drive it away." He, too, spoke gently, his voice
being attracted to the pitch and tone of hers.
"You cannot do that--and if you could, you would not."
"Who can tell?"
The charm which he had formerly felt so keenly in her presence but which
he had of late so completely forgotten, was beginning to return and he
submitted to it with a sense of satisfaction which he had not
anticipated. Though the twilight was coming on, his eyes had become
accustomed to the dimness in the room and he saw every change in her
pale, expressive face. She leaned back in her chair with eyes half
"I like to think that you would, if you knew how," she said presently.
"Do you not know that I would?"
She glanced quickly at him, and then, instead of answering, rose from
her seat and called to her maid through one of the doors, telling her to
bring the lamp. She sat down again, but being conscious that they were
liable to interruption, neither of the two spoke. Maria Consuelo's
fingers played with the silver knife, drawing it out of the book in
which it lay and pushing it back again. At last she took it up and
looked closely at the jewelled monogram on the handle.
The maid entered, set the shaded lamp upon the table and glanced sharply
at Orsino. He could not help noticing the look. In a moment she was
gone, and the door closed behind her. Maria Consuelo looked over her
shoulder to see that it had not been left ajar.
"She is a very extraordinary person, that elderly maid of mine," she
"So I should imagine from her face."
"Yes. She looked at you as she passed and I saw that you noticed it. She
is my protector. I never have travelled without her and she watches over
me--as a cat watches a mouse."
The little laugh that accompanied the words was not one of satisfaction,
and the shade of annoyance did not escape Orsino.
"I suppose she is one of those people to whose ways one submits because
one cannot live without them," he observed.
"Yes. That is it. That is exactly it," repeated Maria Consuelo. "And she
is very strongly attached to me," she added after an instant's
hesitation. "I do not think she will ever leave me. In fact we are
attached to each other."
She laughed again as though amused by her own way of stating the
relation, and drew the paper-cutter through her hand two or three times.
Orsino's eyes were oddly fascinated by the flash of the jewels.
"I would like to know the history of that knife," he said, almost
Maria Consuelo started and looked at him, paler even than before. The
question seemed to be a very unexpected one.
"Why?" she asked quickly.
"I always see it on the table or in your hand," answered Orsino. "It is
associated with you--I think of it when I think of you. I always fancy
that it has a story."
"You are right. It was given to me by a person who loved me."
"I see--I was indiscreet."
"No--you do not see, my friend. If you did you--you would understand
many things, and perhaps it is better that you should not know them."
"Your sadness? Should I understand that, too?"
"No. Not that."
A slight colour rose in her face, and she stretched out her hand to
arrange the shade of the lamp, with a gesture long familiar to him.
"We shall end by misunderstanding each other," she continued in a harder
tone. "Perhaps it will be my fault. I wish you knew much more about me
than you do, but without the necessity of telling you the story. But
that is impossible. This paper-cutter--for instance, could tell the tale
better than I, for it made people see things which I did not see."
"After it was yours?"
"Yes. After it was mine."
"It pleases you to be very mysterious," said Orsino with a smile.
"Oh no! It does not please me at all," she answered, turning her face
away again. "And least of all with you--my friend."
"Why least with me?"
"Because you are the first to misunderstand. You cannot help it. I do
not blame you."
"If you would let me be your friend, as you call me, it would be better
for us both."
He spoke as he had assuredly not meant to speak when he had entered the
room, and with a feeling that surprised himself far more than his
hearer. Maria Consuelo turned sharply upon him.
"Have you acted like a friend towards me?" she asked.
"I have tried to," he answered, with more presence of mind than truth.
Her tawny eyes suddenly lightened.
"That is not true. Be truthful! How have you acted, how have you spoken
with me? Are you ashamed to answer?"
Orsino raised his head rather haughtily, and met her glance, wondering
whether any man had ever been forced into such a strange position
before. But though her eyes were bright, their look was neither cold nor
"You know the answer," he said. "I spoke and acted as though I loved
you, Madame, but since you dismissed me so very summarily, I do not see
why you wish me to say so."
"And you, Don Orsino, have you ever been loved--loved in earnest--by any
"That is a very strange question, Madame."
"I am discreet. You may answer it safely."
"I have no doubt of that."
"But you will not? No--that is your right. But it would be kind of
you--I should be grateful if you would tell me--has any woman ever loved
Orsino laughed, almost in spite of himself. He had little false pride.
"It is humiliating, Madame. But since you ask the question and require a
categorical answer, I will make my confession. I have never been loved.
But you will observe, as an extenuating circumstance, that I am young. I
do not give up all hope."
"No--you need not," said Maria Consuelo in a low voice, and again she
moved the shade of the lamp.
Though Orsino was by no means fatuous, he must have been blind if he had
not seen by this time that Madame d'Aranjuez was doing her best to make
him speak as he had formerly spoken to her, and to force him into a
declaration of love. He saw it, indeed, and wondered; but although he
felt her charm upon him, from time to time, he resolved that nothing
should induce him to relax even so far as he had done already more than
once during the interview. She had placed him in a foolish position once
before, and he would not expose himself to being made ridiculous again,
in her eyes or his. He could not discover what intention she had in
trying to lead him back to her, but he attributed it to her vanity. She
regretted, perhaps, having rebuked him so soon, or perhaps she had
imagined that he would have made further and more determined efforts to
see her. Possibly, too, she really wished to ask a service of him, and
wished to assure herself that she could depend upon him by previously
extracting an avowal of his devotion. It was clear that one of the two
had mistaken the other's character or mood, though it was impossible to
say which was the one deceived.
The silence which followed lasted some time, and threatened to become
awkward. Maria Consuelo could not or would not speak and Orsino did not
know what to say. He thought of inquiring what the commission might be
with which, according to her note, she had wished to entrust him. But an
instant's reflection told him that the question would be tactless. If
she had invented the idea as an excuse for seeing him, to mention it
would be to force her hand, as card-players say, and he had no intention
of doing that. Even if she really had something to ask of him, he had no
right to change the subject so suddenly. He bethought him of a better
"You wrote me that you were going away," he said quietly. "But you will
come back next winter, will you not, Madame?"
"I do not know," she answered, vaguely. Then she started a little, as
though understanding his words. "What am I saying!" she exclaimed. "Of
course I shall come back."
"Have you been drinking from the Trevi fountain by moonlight, like those
mad English?" he asked, with a smile.
"It is not necessary. I know that I shall come back--if I am alive."
"How you say that! You are as strong as I--"
"Stronger, perhaps. But then--who knows! The weak ones sometimes last
Orsino thought she was growing very sentimental, though as he looked at
her he was struck again by the look of suffering in her eyes. Whatever
weakness she felt was visible there, there was nothing in the full, firm
little hand, in the strong and easy pose of the head, in the softly
coloured ear half hidden by her hair, that could suggest a coming danger
to her splendid health.
"Let us take it for granted that you will come back to us," said Orsino
"Very well, we will take it for granted. What then?"
The question was so sudden and direct that Orsino fancied there ought to
be an evident answer to it.
"What then?" he repeated, after a moment's hesitation. "I suppose you
will live in these same rooms again, and with your permission, a certain
Orsino Saracinesca will visit you from time to time, and be rude, and be
sent away into exile for his sins. And Madame d'Aranjuez will go a great
deal to Madame Del Ferice's and to other ultra-White houses, which will
prevent the said Orsino from meeting her in society. She will also be
more beautiful than ever, and the daily papers will describe a certain
number of gowns which she will bring with her from Paris, or Vienna, or
London, or whatever great capital is the chosen official residence of
her great dressmaker. And the world will not otherwise change very
materially in the course of eight months."
Orsino laughed lightly, not at his own speech, which he had constructed
rather clumsily under the spur of necessity, but in the hope that she
would laugh, too, and begin to talk more carelessly. But Maria Consuelo
was evidently not inclined for anything but the most serious view of the
world, past, present and future.
"Yes," she answered gravely. "I daresay you are right. One comes, one
shows one's clothes, and one goes away again--and that is all. It would
be very much the same if one did not come. It is a great mistake to
think oneself necessary to any one. Only things are necessary--food,
money and something to talk about."
"You might add friends to the list," said Orsino, who was afraid of
being called brutal again if he did not make some mild remonstrance to
such a sweeping assertion.
"Friends are included under the head of 'something to talk about,'"
answered Maria Consuelo.
"That is an encouraging view."
"Like all views one gets by experience."
"You grow more and more bitter."
"Does the world grow sweeter as one grows older?"
"Neither you nor I have lived long enough to know," answered Orsino.
"Facts make life long--not years."
"So long as they leave no sign of age, what does it matter?"
"I do not care for that sort of flattery."
"Because it is not flattery at all. You know the truth too well. I am
not ingenious enough to flatter you, Madame. Perfection is not flattered
when it is called perfect."
"It is at all events impossible to exaggerate better than you can,"
answered Maria Consuelo, laughing at last at the overwhelming
compliment. "Where did you learn that?"
"At your feet, Madame. The contemplation of great masterpieces enlarges
the intelligence and deepens the power of expression."
"And I am a masterpiece--of what? Of art? Of caprice? Of consistency?"
"Of nature," answered Orsino promptly.
Again Maria Consuelo laughed a little, at the mere quickness of the
answer. Orsino was delighted with himself, for he fancied he was leading
her rapidly away from the dangerous ground upon which she had been
trying to force him. But her next words showed him that he had not yet
"Who will make me laugh during all these months!" she exclaimed with a
Orsino thought she was strangely obstinate, and wondered what she would
"Dear me, Madame," he said, "if you are so kind as to laugh at my poor
wit, you will not have to seek far to find some one to amuse you
He knew how to put on an expression of perfect simplicity when he
pleased, and Maria Consuelo looked at him, trying to be sure whether he
were in earnest or not. But his face baffled her.
"You are too modest," she said.
"Do you think it is a defect? Shall I cultivate a little more assurance
of manner?" he asked, very innocently.
"Not to-day. Your first attempt might lead you into extremes."
"There is not the slightest fear of that, Madame," he answered with some
She coloured a little and her closed lips smiled in a way he had often
noticed before. He congratulated himself upon these signs of approaching
ill-temper, which promised an escape from his difficulty. To take leave
of her suddenly was to abandon the field, and that he would not do. She
had determined to force him into a confession of devotion, and he was
equally determined not to satisfy her. He had tried to lead her off her
track with frivolous talk and had failed. He would try and irritate her
instead, but without incurring the charge of rudeness. Why she was
making such an attack upon him, was beyond his understanding, but he
resented it, and made up his mind neither to fly nor yield. If he had
been a hundredth part as cynical as he liked to fancy himself, he would
have acted very differently. But he was young enough to have been
wounded by his former dismissal, though he hardly knew it, and to seek
almost instinctively to revenge his wrongs. He did not find it easy. He
would not have believed that such a woman as Maria Consuelo could so far
forget her pride as to go begging for a declaration of love.
"I suppose you will take Gouache's portrait away with you," he observed,
changing the subject with a directness which he fancied would increase
"What makes you think so?" she asked, rather drily.
"I thought it a natural question."
"I cannot imagine what I should do with it. I shall leave it with him."
"You will let him send it to the Salon in Paris, of course?"
"If he likes. You seem interested in the fate of the picture."
"A little. I wondered why you did not have it here, as it has been
finished so long."
"Instead of that hideous mirror, you mean? There would be less variety.
I should always see myself in the same dress."
"No--on the opposite wall. You might compare truth with fiction in that
"To the advantage of Gouache's fiction, you would say. You were more
complimentary a little while ago."
"You imagine more rudeness than even I am capable of inventing."
"That is saying much. Why did you change the subject just now?"
"Because I saw that you were annoyed at something. Besides, we were
talking about myself, if I remember rightly."
"Have you never heard that a man should always talk to a woman about
himself or herself?"
"No. I never heard that. Shall we talk of you, then, Madame?"
"Do you care to talk of me?" asked Maria Consuelo.
Another direct attack, Orsino thought.
"I would rather hear you talk of yourself," he answered without the
"If I were to tell you my thoughts about myself at the present moment,
they would surprise you very much."
"Agreeably or disagreeably?"
"I do not know. Are you vain?"
"As a peacock!" replied Orsino quickly.
"Ah--then what I am thinking would not interest you."
"Because if it is not flattering it would wound you, and if it is
flattering it would disappoint you--by falling short of your ideal of
"Yet I confess that I would like to know what you think of me, though I
would much rather hear what you think of yourself."
"On one condition, I will tell you."
"What is that?"
"That you will give me your word to give me your own opinion of me
"The adjectives are ready, Madame, I give you my word."
"You give it so easily! How can I believe you?"
"It is so easy to give in such a case, when one has nothing disagreeable
"Then you think me agreeable?"
"How can you doubt it?"
"And in all other respects exactly like all the women in society to whom
you repeat the same commonplaces every day of your life?"
The feint had been dexterous and the thrust was sudden, straight and
"Madame!" exclaimed Orsino in the deprecatory tone of a man taken by
"You see--you have nothing to say!" She laughed a little bitterly.
"You take too much for granted," he said, recovering himself. "You
suppose that because I agree with you upon one point after another, I
agree with you in the conclusion. You do not even wait to hear my
answer, and you tell me that I am checkmated when I have a dozen moves
from which to choose. Besides, you have directly infringed the
conditions. You have fired before the signal and an arbitration would go
against you. You have done fifty things contrary to agreement, and you
accuse me of being dumb in my own defence. There is not much justice in
that. You promise to tell me a certain secret on condition that I will
tell you another. Then, without saying a word on your own part you
stone me with quick questions and cry victory because I protest. You
begin before I have had so much as--"
"For heaven's sake stop!" cried Maria Consuelo, interrupting a speech
which threatened to go on for twenty minutes. "You talk of chess,
duelling and stoning to death, in one sentence--I am utterly confused!
You upset all my ideas!"
"Considering how you have disturbed mine, it is a fair revenge. And
since we both admit that we have disturbed that balance upon which alone
depends all possibility of conversation, I think that I can do nothing
more graceful--pardon me, nothing less ungraceful--than wish you a
pleasant journey, which I do with all my heart, Madame."
Thereupon Orsino rose and took his hat.
"Sit down. Do not go yet," said Maria Consuelo, growing a shade paler,
and speaking with an evident effort.
"Ah--true!" exclaimed Orsino. "We were forgetting the little commission
you spoke of in your note. I am entirely at your service."
Maria Consuelo looked at him quickly and her lips trembled.
"Never mind that," she said unsteadily. "I will not trouble you. But I
do not want you to go away as--as you were going. I feel as though we
had been quarrelling. Perhaps we have. But let us say we are good
friends--if we only say it."
Orsino was touched and disturbed. Her face was very white and her hand
trembled visibly as she held it out. He took it in his own without
"If you care for my friendship, you shall have no better friend in the
world than I," he said, simply and naturally.
"Thank you--good-bye. I shall leave to-morrow."
The words were almost broken, as though she were losing control of her
voice. As he closed the door behind him, the sound of a wild and
passionate sob came to him through the panel. He stood still, listening
and hesitating. The truth which would have long been clear to an older
or a vainer man, flashed upon him suddenly. She loved him very much, and
he no longer cared for her. That was the reason why she had behaved so
strangely, throwing her pride and dignity to the winds in her desperate
attempt to get from him a single kind and affectionate word--from him,
who had poured into her ear so many words of love but two months
earlier, and from whom to draw a bare admission of friendship to-day she
had almost shed tears.
To go back into the room would be madness; since he did not love her, it
would almost be an insult. He bent his head and walked slowly down the
corridor. He had not gone far, when he was confronted by a small dark
figure that stopped the way. He recognised Maria Consuelo's elderly
"I beg your pardon, Signore Principe," said the little black-eyed woman.
"You will allow me to say a few words? I thank you, Eccellenza. It is
about my Signora, in there, of whom I have charge."
"Of whom, you have charge?" repeated Orsino, not understanding her.
"Yes--precisely. Of course, I am only her maid. You understand that. But
I have charge of her though she does not know it. The poor Signora has
had terrible trouble during the last few years, and at times--you
understand? She is a little--yes--here." She tapped her forehead. "She
is better now. But in my position I sometimes think it wiser to warn
some friend of hers--in strict confidence. It sometimes saves some
little unnecessary complication, and I was ordered to do so by the
doctors we last consulted in Paris. You will forgive me, Eccellenza, I
Orsino stared at the woman for some seconds in blank astonishment. She
smiled in a placid, self-confident way.
"You mean that Madame d'Aranjuez is--mentally deranged, and that you are
her keeper? It is a little hard to believe, I confess."
"Would you like to see my certificates, Signor Principe? Or the written
directions of the doctors? I am sure you are discreet."
"I have no right to see anything of the kind," answered Orsino coldly.
"Of course, if you are acting under instructions it is no concern of
He would have gone forward, but she suddenly produced a small bit of
note-paper, neatly folded, and offered it to him.
"I thought you might like to know where we are until we return," she
said, continuing to speak in a very low voice. "It is the address."
Orsino made an impatient gesture. He was on the point of refusing the
information which he had not taken the trouble to ask of Maria Consuelo
herself. But he changed his mind and felt in his pocket for something to
give the woman. It seemed the easiest and simplest way of getting rid of
her. The only note he had, chanced to be one of greater value than
"A thousand thanks, Eccellenza!" whispered the maid, overcome by what
she took for an intentional piece of generosity.
Orsino left the hotel as quickly as he could.
"For improbable situations, commend me to the nineteenth century and the
society in which we live!" he said to himself as he emerged into the
It was long before Orsino saw Maria Consuelo again, but the
circumstances of his last meeting with her constantly recurred to his
mind during the following months. It is one of the chief characteristics
of Rome that it seems to be one of the most central cities in Europe
during the winter, whereas in the summer months it appears to be
immensely remote from the rest of the civilised world. From having been
the prey of the inexpressible foreigner in his shooting season, it
suddenly becomes, and remains during about five months, the happy
hunting ground of the silent flea, the buzzing fly and the insinuating
mosquito. The streets are, indeed, still full of people, and long lines
of carriages may be seen towards sunset in the Villa Borghesa and in the
narrow Corso. Rome and the Romans are not easily parted as London and
London society, for instance. May comes--the queen of the months in the
south. June follows. Southern blood rejoices in the first strong
sunshine. July trudges in at the gates, sweating under the cloudless
sky, heavy, slow of foot, oppressed by the breath of the coming
dog-star. Still the nights are cool. Still, towards sunset, the
refreshing breeze sweeps up from the sea and fills the streets. Then
behind closely fastened blinds, the glass windows are opened and the
weary hand drops the fan at last. Then men and women array themselves in
the garments of civilisation and sally forth, in carriages, on foot, and
in trams, according to the degrees of social importance which provide
that in old countries the middle term shall be made to suffer for the
priceless treasure of a respectability which is a little higher than the
tram and financially not quite equal to the cab. Then, at that magic
touch of the west wind the house-fly retires to his own peculiar
Inferno, wherever that may be, the mosquito and the gnat pause in their
work of darkness and blood to concert fresh and more bloodthirsty deeds,
and even the joyous and wicked flea tires of the war dance and lays down
his weary head to snatch a hard-earned nap. July drags on, and terrible
August treads the burning streets bleaching the very dust up on the
pavement, scourging the broad campagna with fiery lashes of heat. Then
the white-hot sky reddens in the evening when it cools, as the white
iron does when it is taken from the forge. Then at last, all those who
can escape from the condemned city flee for their lives to the hills,
while those who must face the torment of the sun and the poison of the
air turn pale in their sufferings, feebly curse their fate and then grow
listless, weak and irresponsible as over-driven galley slaves,
indifferent to everything, work, rest, blows, food, sleep and the hope
of release. The sky darkens suddenly. There is a sort of horror in the
stifling air. People do not talk much, and if they do are apt to quarrel
and sometimes to kill one another without warning. The plash of the
fountains has a dull sound like the pouring out of molten lead. The
horses' hoofs strike visible sparks out of the grey stones in broad
daylight. Many houses are shut, and one fancies that there must be a
dead man in each whom no one will bury. A few great drops of rain make
ink-stains on the pavement at noon, and there is an exasperating,
half-sulphurous smell abroad. Late in the afternoon they fall again. An
evil wind comes in hot blasts from all quarters at once--then a low roar
like an earthquake and presently a crash that jars upon the overwrought
nerves--great and plashing drops again, a sharp short flash--then crash
upon crash, deluge upon deluge, and the worst is over. Summer has
received its first mortal wound. But its death is more fatal than its
life. The noontide heat is fierce and drinks up the moisture of the rain
and the fetid dust with it. The fever-wraith rises in the damp, cool
night, far out in the campagna, and steals up to the walls of the city,
and over them and under them and into the houses. If there are any yet
left in Rome who can by any possibility take themselves out of it, they
are not long in going. Till that moment, there has been only suffering
to be borne; now, there is danger of something worse. Now, indeed, the
city becomes a desert inhabited by white-faced ghosts. Now, if it be a
year of cholera, the dead carts rattle through the streets all night on
their way to the gate of Saint Lawrence, and the workmen count their
numbers when they meet at dawn. But the bad days are not many, if only
there be rain enough, for a little is worse than none. The nights
lengthen and the September gales sweep away the poison-mists with kindly
strength. Body and soul revive, as the ripe grapes appear in their
vine-covered baskets at the street corners. Rich October is coming, the
month in which the small citizens of Rome take their wives and the
children to the near towns, to Marino, to Froscati, to Albano and
Aricia, to eat late fruits and drink new must, with songs and laughter,
and small miseries and great delights such as are remembered a whole
year. The first clear breeze out of the north shakes down the dying
leaves and brightens the blue air. The brown campagna turns green again,
and the heart of the poor lame cab-horse is lifted up. The huge porter
of the palace lays aside his linen coat and his pipe, and opens wide the
great gates; for the masters are coming back, from their castles and
country places, from the sea and from the mountains, from north and
south, from the magic shore of Sorrento, and from distant French bathing
places, some with brides or husbands, some with rosy Roman babies making
their first trumphal entrance into Rome--and some, again, returning
companionless to the home they had left in companionship. The great and
complicated machinery of social life is set in order and repaired for
the winter; the lost or damaged pieces in the engine are carefully
replaced with new ones which will do as well or better, the joints and
bearings are lubricated, the whistle of the first invitation is heard,
there is some puffing and a little creaking at first, and then the big
wheels begin to go slowly round, solemnly and regularly as ever, while
all the little wheels run as fast as they can and set fire to their
axles in the attempt to keep up the speed, and are finally jammed and
caught up and smashed, as little wheels are sure to be when they try to
act like big ones. But unless something happens to one of the very
biggest the machine does not stop until the end of the season, when it
is taken to pieces again for repairs.
That is the brief history of a Roman year, of which the main points are
very much like those of its predecessor and successor. The framework is
the same, but the decorations change, slowly, surely and not, perhaps,
advantageously, as the younger generation crowds into the place of the
older--as young acquaintances take the place of old friends, as faces
strange to us hide faces we have loved.
Orsino Saracinesca, in his new character as a contractor and a man of
business, knew that he must either spend the greater part of the summer
in town, or leave his affairs in the hands of Andrea Contini. The latter
course was repugnant to him, partly because he still felt a beginner's
interest in his first success, and partly because he had a shrewd
suspicion that Contini, if left to himself in the hot weather, might be
tempted to devote more time to music than to architecture. The business,
too, was now on a much larger scale than before, though Orsino had taken
his mother's advice in not at once going so far as he might have gone.
It needed all his own restless energy, all Contini's practical talents,
and perhaps more of Del Ferice's influence than either of them
suspected, to keep it going on the road to success.
In July Orsino's people made ready to go up to Saracinesca. The old
prince, to every one's surprise, declared his intention of going to
England, and roughly refused to be accompanied by any one of the family.
He wanted to find out some old friends, he said, and desired the
satisfaction of spending a couple of months in peace, which was quite
impossible at home, owing to Giovanni's outrageous temper and Orsino's
craze for business. He thereupon embraced them all affectionately,
indulged in a hearty laugh and departed in a special carriage with his
Giovanni objected to Orsino's staying in Rome during the great heat.
Though Orsino had not as yet entered into any explanation with his
father, but the latter understood well enough that the business had
turned out better than had been expected and began to feel an interest
in its further success, for his son's sake. He saw the boy developing
into a man by a process which he would naturally have supposed to be the
worst possible one, judging from his own point of view. But he could not
find fault with the result. There was no disputing the mental
superiority of the Orsino of July over the Orsino of the preceding
January. Whatever the sensation which Giovanni experienced as he
contemplated the growing change, it was not one of anxiety nor of
disappointment. But he had a Roman's well-founded prejudice against
spending August and September in town. His objections gave rise to some
discussion, in which Corona joined.
Orsino enlarged upon the necessity of attending in person to the
execution of his contracts. Giovanni suggested that he should find some
trustworthy person to take his place. Corona was in favour of a
compromise. It would be easy, she said, for Orsino to spend two or three
days of every week in Rome and the remainder in the country with his
father and mother. They were all three quite right according to their
own views, and they all three knew it. Moreover they were all three very
obstinate people. The consequence was that Orsino, who was in
possession, so to say, since the other two were trying to make him
change his mind, got the best of the argument, and won his first pitched
battle. Not that there was any apparent hostility, or that any of the
three spoke hotly or loudly. They were none of them like old
Saracinesca, whose feats of argumentation were vehement, eccentric and
fiery as his own nature. They talked with apparent calm through a long
summer's afternoon, and the vanquished retired with a fairly good grace,
leaving Orsino master of the field. But on that occasion Giovanni
Saracinesca first formed the opinion that his son was a match for him,
and that it would be wise in future to ascertain the chances of success
before incurring the risk of a humiliating defeat.
Giovanni and his wife went out together and talked over the matter as
their carriage swept round the great avenues of Villa Borghesa.
"There is no question of the fact that Orsino is growing up--is grown up
already," said Sant' Ilario, glancing at Corona's calm, dark face.
She smiled with a certain pride, as she heard the words.
"Yes," she answered, "he is a man. It is a mistake to treat him as a boy
"Do you think it is this sudden interest in business that has changed
"Of course--what else?"
"Madame d'Aranjuez, for instance," Giovanni suggested.
"I do not believe she ever had the least influence over him. The
flirtation seems to have died a natural death. I confess, I hoped it
might end in that way, and I am glad if it has. And I am very glad that
Orsino is succeeding so well. Do you know, dear? I am glad, because you
did not believe it possible that he should."
"No, I did not. And now that I begin to understand it, he does not like
to talk to me about his affairs. I suppose that is only natural. Tell
me--has he really made money? Or have you been giving him money to lose,
in order that he may buy experience."
"He has succeeded alone," said Corona proudly. "I would give him
whatever he needed, but he needs nothing. He is immensely clever and
immensely energetic. How could he fail?"
"You seem to admire our firstborn, my dear," observed Giovanni with a
"To tell the truth, I do. I have no doubt that he does all sorts of
things which he ought not to do, and of which I know nothing. You did
the same at his age, and I shall be quite satisfied if he turns out like
you. I would not like to have a lady-like son with white hands and
delicate sensibilities, and hypocritical affectations of exaggerated
morality. I think I should be capable of trying to make such a boy bad,
if it only made him manly--though I daresay that would be very wrong."
"No doubt," said Giovanni. "But we shall not be placed in any such
position by Orsino, my dear. You remember that little affair last year,
in England? It was very nearly a scandal. But then--the English are
easily led into temptation and very easily scandalised afterwards.
Orsino will not err in the direction of hypocritical morality. But that
is not the question. I wish to know, from you since he does not confide
in me, how far he is really succeeding."
Corona gave her husband a remarkably clear statement of Orsino's
affairs, without exaggeration so far as the facts were concerned, but
not without highly favourable comment. She did not attempt to conceal
her triumph, now that success had been in a measure attained, and she
did not hesitate to tell Giovanni that he ought to have encouraged and
supported the boy from the first.
Giovanni listened with very great interest, and bore her affectionate
reproaches with equanimity. He felt in his heart that he had done right,
and he somehow still believed that things were not in reality all that
they seemed to be. There was something in Orsino's immediate success
against odds apparently heavy, which disturbed his judgment. He had not,
it was true, any personal experience of the building speculations in the
city, nor of financial transactions in general, as at present
understood, and he had recently heard of cases in which individuals had
succeeded beyond their own wildest expectations. There was, perhaps, no
reason why Orsino should not do as well as other people, or even better,
in spite of his extreme youth. Andrea Contini was probably a man of
superior talent, well able to have directed the whole affair alone, if
other circumstances had been favourable to him, and there was on the
whole nothing to prove that the two young men had received more than
their fair share of assistance or accommodation from the bank. But
Giovanni knew well enough that Del Ferice was the most influential
personage in the bank in question, and the mere suggestion of his name
lent to the whole affair a suspicious quality which disturbed Orsino's
father. In spite of all reasonable reflexions there was an air of
unnatural good fortune in the case which he did not like, and he had
enough experience of Del Ferice's tortuous character to distrust his
intentions. He would have preferred to see his son lose money through
Ugo rather than that Orsino should owe the latter the smallest thanks.
The fact that he had not spoken with the man for over twenty years did
not increase the confidence he felt in him. In that time Del Ferice had
developed into a very important personage, having much greater power to
do harm than he had possessed in former days, and it was not to be
supposed that he had forgotten old wounds or given up all hope of
avenging them. Del Ferice was not very subject to that sort of
When Corona had finished speaking, Giovanni was silent for a few
"Is it not splendid?" Corona asked enthusiastically. "Why do you not say
anything? One would think that you were not pleased."
"On the contrary, as far as Orsino is concerned, I am delighted. But I
do not trust Del Ferice."
"Del Ferice is far too clever a man to ruin Orsino," answered Corona.
"Exactly. That is the trouble. That is what makes me feel that though
Orsino has worked hard and shown extraordinary intelligence--and
deserves credit for that--yet he would not have succeeded in the same
way if he had dealt with any other bank. Del Ferice has helped him.
Possibly Orsino knows that, as well as we do, but he certainly does not
know what part Del Ferice played in our lives, Corona. If he did, he
would not accept his help."
In her turn Corona was silent and a look of disappointment came into her
face. She remembered a certain afternoon in the mountains when she had
entreated Giovanni to let Del Ferice escape, and Giovanni had yielded
reluctantly and had given the fugitive a guide to take him to the
frontier. She wondered whether the generous impulse of that day was to
bear evil fruit at last.
"Orsino knows nothing about it at all," she said at last. "We kept the
secret of Del Ferice's escape very carefully--for there were good
reasons to be careful in those days. Orsino only knows that you once
fought a duel with the man and wounded him."
"I think it is time that he knew more."
"Of what use can it be to tell him those old stories?" asked Corona.
"And after all, I do not believe that Del Ferice has done so much. If
you could have followed Orsino's work, day by day and week by week, as I
have, you would see how much is really due to his energy. Any other
banker would have done as much as he. Besides, it is in Del Ferice's own
"That is the trouble," interrupted Giovanni. "It is bad enough that he
should help Orsino. It is much worse that he should help him in order to
make use of him. If, as you say, any other bank would do as much, then
let him go to another bank. If he owes Del Ferice money at the present
moment, we will pay it for him."
"You forget that he has bought the buildings he is now finishing, from
Del Ferice, on a mortgage."
Giovanni laughed a little.
"How you have learned to talk about mortgages and deeds and all sorts of
business!" he exclaimed. "But what you say is not an objection. We can
pay off these mortgages, I suppose, and take the risk ourselves."
"Of course we could do that," Corona answered, thoughtfully. "But I
really think you exaggerate the whole affair. For the time being, Del
Ferice is not a man, but a banker. His personal character and former
doings do not enter into the matter."
"I think they do," said Giovanni, still unconvinced.
"At all events, do not make trouble now, dear," said Corona in earnest
tones. "Let the present contract be executed and finished, and then
speak to Orsino before he makes another. Whatever Del Ferice may have
done, you can see for yourself that Orsino is developing in a way we had
not expected, and is becoming a serious, energetic man. Do not step in
now, and check the growth of what is good. You will regret it as much as
I shall. When he has finished these buildings he will have enough
experience to make a new departure."
"I hate the idea of receiving a favour from Del Ferice, or of laying him
under an obligation. I think I will go to him myself."
"To Del Ferice?" Corona started and looked round at Giovanni as she sat.
She had a sudden vision of new trouble.
"Yes. Why not? I will go to him and tell him that I would rather wind up
my son's business with him, as our former relations were not of a nature
to make transactions of mutual profit either fitting or even permissible
between any of our family and Ugo Del Ferice."
"For Heaven's sake, Giovanni, do not do that."
"And why not?" He was surprised at her evident distress.
"For my sake, then--do not quarrel with Del Ferice--it was different
then, in the old days. I could not bear it now--" she stopped, and her
lower lip trembled a little.
"Do you love me better than you did then, Corona?"
"So much better--I cannot tell you."
She touched his hand with hers and her dark eyes were a little veiled as
they met his. Both were silent for a moment.
"I have no intention of quarrelling with Del Ferice, dear," said
His face had grown a shade paler as she spoke. The power of her hand and
voice to move him, had not diminished in all the years of peaceful
happiness that had passed so quickly.
"I do not mean any such thing," he said again. "But I mean this. I will
not have it said that Del Ferice has made a fortune for Orsino, nor
that Orsino has helped Del Ferice's interests. I see no way but to
interfere myself. I can do it without the suspicion of a quarrel."
"It will be a great mistake, Giovanni. Wait till there is a new
"I will think of it, before doing anything definite."
Corona well knew that she should get no greater concession than this.
The point of honour had been touched in Giovanni's sensibilities and his
character was stubborn and determined where his old prejudices were
concerned. She loved him very dearly, and this very obstinacy of his
pleased her. But she fancied that trouble of some sort was imminent. She
understood her son's nature, too, and dreaded lest he should be forced
into opposing his father.
It struck her that she might herself act as intermediary. She could
certainly obtain concessions from Orsino which Giovanni could not hope
to extract by force or stratagem. But the wisdom of her own proposal in
the matter seemed unassailable. The business now in hand should be
allowed to run its natural course before anything was done to break off
the relations between Orsino and Del Ferice.
In the evening she found an opportunity of speaking with Orsino in
private. She repeated to him the details of her conversation with
Giovanni during the drive in the afternoon.
"My dear mother," answered Orsino, "I do not trust Del Ferice any more
than you and my father trust him. You talk of things which he did years
ago, but you do not tell me what those things were. So far as I
understand, it all happened before you were married. My father and he
quarrelled about something, and I suppose there was a lady concerned in
the matter. Unless you were the lady in question, and unless what he did
was in the nature of an insult to you, I cannot see how the matter
concerns me. They fought and it ended there, as affairs of honour do. If
it touched you, then tell me so, and I will break with Del Ferice
Corona was silent, for Orsino's speech was very plain, and if she
answered it all, the answer must be the truth. There could be no escape
from that. And the truth would be very hard to tell. At that time she
had been still the wife of old Astrardente, and Del Ferice's offence had
been that he had purposely concealed himself in the conservatory of the
Frangipan's palace in order to overhear what Giovanni Saracinesca was
about to say to another man's wife. The fact that on that memorable
night she had bravely resisted a very great temptation did not affect
the difficulty of the present case in any way. She asked herself rather
whether Del Ferice's eavesdropping would appear to Orsino to be in the
nature of an insult to her, to use his own words, and she had no doubt
but that it would seem so. At the same time she would find hard to
explain to her son why Del Ferice suspected that there was to be
anything said to her worth overhearing, seeing that she bore at that
time the name of another man then still living. How could Orsino
understand all that had gone before? Even now, though she knew that she
had acted well, she humbly believed that she might have done much
better. How would her son judge her? She was silent, waiting for him to
"That would be the only conceivable reason for my breaking with Del
Ferice," said Orsino. "We only have business relations, and I do not go
to his house. I went once. I saw no reason for telling you so at the
time, and I have not been there again. It was at the beginning of the
whole affair. Outside of the bank, we are the merest acquaintances. But
I repeat what I said. If he ever did anything which makes it
dishonourable for me to accept even ordinary business services from him,
let me know it. I have some right to hear the truth."
Corona hesitated, and laid the case again before her own conscience, and
tried to imagine herself in her son's position. It was hard to reach a
conclusion. There was no doubt but that when she had learned the truth,
long after the event, she had felt that she had been insulted and justly
avenged. If she said nothing now, Orsino would suspect something and
would assuredly go to his father, from whom he would get a view of the
case not conspicuous for its moderation. And Giovanni would undoubtedly
tell his son the details of what had followed, how Del Ferice had
attempted to hinder the marriage when it was at last possible, and all
the rest of the story. At the same time, she felt that so far as her
personal sensibilities were concerned, she had not the least objection
to the continuance of a mere business relation between Orsino and Del
Ferice. She was more forgiving than Giovanni.
"I will tell you this much, my dear boy," she said, at last. "That old
quarrel did concern me and no one else. Your father feels more strongly
about it than I do, because he fought for me and not for himself. You
trust me, Orsino. You know that I would rather see you dead than doing
anything dishonourable. Very well. Do not ask any more questions, and do
not go to your father about it. Del Ferice has only advanced you money,
in a business way, on good security and at a high interest. So far as I
can judge of the point of honour involved, what happened long ago need
not prevent your doing what you are doing now. Possibly, when you have
finished the present contract, you may think it wiser to apply to some
other bank, or to work on your own account with my money."
Corona believed that she had found the best way out of the difficulty,
and Orsino seemed satisfied, for he nodded thoughtfully and said
nothing. The day had been filled with argument and discussion about his
determination to stay in town, and he was weary of the perpetual
question and answer. He knew his mother well, and was willing to take
her advice for the present. She, on her part, told Giovanni what she had
done, and he consented to consider the matter a little longer before
interfering. He disliked even the idea of a business relation extremely,
but he feared that there was more behind the appearances of commercial
fairness than either he or Orsino himself could understand. The better
Orsino succeeded, the less his father was pleased, and his suspicions
were not unfounded. He knew from San Giacinto that success was becoming
uncommon, and he knew that all Orsino's industry and energy could not
have sufficed to counterbalance his inexperience. Andrea Contini, too,
had been recommended by Del Ferice, and was presumably Del Ferice's man.
On the following day Giovanni and Corona with the three younger boys
went up to Saracinesca leaving Orsino alone in the great palace, to his
own considerable satisfaction. He was well pleased with himself and
especially at having carried his point. At his age, and with his
constitution, the heat was a matter of supreme indifference to him, and
he looked forward with delight to a summer of uninterrupted work in the
not uncongenial society of Andrea Contini. As for the work itself, it
was beginning to have a sort of fascination for him as he understood it
better. The love of building, the passion for stone and brick and
mortar, is inherent in some natures, and is capable of growing into a
mania little short of actual insanity. Orsino began to ask himself
seriously whether it were too late to study architecture as a profession
and in the meanwhile he learned more of it in practice from Contini than
he could have acquired in twice the time at any polytechnic school in
He liked Contini himself more and more as the days went by. Hitherto he
had been much inclined to judge his own countrymen from his own class.
He was beginning to see that he had understood little or nothing of the
real Italian nature when uninfluenced by foreign blood. The study
interested and pleased him. Only one unpleasant memory occasionally
disturbed his peace of mind. When he thought of his last meeting with
Maria Consuelo he hated himself for the part he had played, though he
was quite unable to account logically, upon his assumed principles, for
the severity of his self-condemnation.
Orsino necessarily led a monotonous life, though, his occupation was an
absorbing one. Very early in the morning he was with Contini where the
building was going on. He then passed the hot hours of the day in the
office, which, as before, had been established in one of the unfinished
houses. Towards evening, he went down into the city to his home,
refreshed himself after his long day's work, and then walked or drove
until half past eight, when he went to dinner in the garden of a great
restaurant in the Corso. Here he met a few acquaintances who, like
himself, had reasons for staying in town after their families had left.
He always sat at the same small table, at which there was barely room
for two persons, for he preferred to be alone, and he rarely asked a
passing friend to sit down with him.
On a certain hot evening in the beginning of August he had just taken
his seat, and was trying to make up his mind whether he were hungry
enough to eat anything or whether it would not be less trouble to drink
a glass of iced coffee and go away, when he was aware of a lank shadow
cast across the white cloth by the glaring electric light. He looked up
and saw Spicca standing there, apparently uncertain where to sit down
for the place was fuller than usual. He liked the melancholy old man and
spoke to him, offering to share his table.
Spicca hesitated a moment and then accepted the invitation. He deposited
his hat upon a chair beside him and leaned back, evidently exhausted
either in mind or body, if not in both.
"I am very much obliged to you, my dear Orsino," he said. "There is an
abominable crowd here, which means an unusual number of people to
avoid--just as many as I know, in fact, excepting yourself."
"I am glad you do not wish to avoid me, too," observed Orsino, by way of
"You are a less evil--so I choose you in preference to the greater,"
Spicca answered. But there was a not unkindly look in his sunken eyes as
He tipped the great flask of Chianti that hung in its swinging plated
cradle in the middle of the table, and filled two glasses.
"Since all that is good has been abolished, let us drink to the least of
evils," he said, "in other words, to each other."
"To the absence of friends," answered Orsino, touching the wine with his
Spicca emptied his glass slowly and then looked at him.
"I like that toast," he said. "To the absence of friends. I daresay you
have heard of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden. Do they still teach
the dear old tale in these modern schools? No. But you have heard
it--very well. You will remember that if they had not allowed the
serpent to scrape acquaintance with them, on pretence of a friendly
interest in their intellectual development, Adam and Eve would still be
inventing names for the angelic little wild beasts who were too
well-behaved to eat them. They would still be in paradise. Moreover
Orsino Saracinesca and John Nepomucene Spicca would not be in daily
danger of poisoning in this vile cookshop. Summary ejection from Eden
was the first consequence of friendship, and its results are similar to
this day. What nauseous mess are we to swallow to-night? Have you looked
at the card?"
Orsino laughed a little. He foresaw that Spicca would not be dull
company on this particular evening. Something unusually disagreeable had
probably happened to him during the day. After long and melancholy
hesitation he ordered something which he believed he could eat, and
Orsino followed his example.
"Are all your people out of town?" Spicca asked, after a pause.
"Yes. I am alone."
"And what in the world is the attraction here? Why do you stay? I do not
wish to be indiscreet, and I was never afflicted with curiosity. But
cases of mental alienation grow more common every day, and as an old
friend of your father's I cannot overlook symptoms of madness in you. A
really sane person avoids Rome in August."
"It strikes me that I might say the same to you," answered Orsino. "I am
kept here by business. You have not even that excuse."
"How do you know?" asked Spicca, sharply. "Business has two main
elements--credit and debit. The one means the absence of the other. I
leave it to your lively intelligence to decide which of the two means
Rome in August, and which means Trouville or St. Moritz."
"I had not thought of it in that light."
"No? I daresay not. I constantly think of it."
"There are other places, nearer than St. Moritz," suggested Orsino. "Why
not go to Sorrento?"
"There was such a place once--but my friends have found it out.
Nevertheless, I might go there. It is better to suffer friendship in the
spirit than fever in the body. But I have a reason for staying here just
at present--a very good one."
"No, certainly not without considerable indiscretion. Take some more
wine. When intoxication is bliss it is folly to be sober, as the proverb
says. I cannot get tipsy, but you may, and that will be almost as
amusing. The main object of drinking wine is that one person should make
confidences for the other to laugh at--the one enjoys it quite as much
as the other."
"I would rather be the other," said Orsino with a laugh.
"In all cases in life it is better to be the other person," observed
Spicca, thoughtfully, though the remark lacked precision.
"You mean the patient and not the agent, I suppose?"
"No. I mean the spectator. The spectator is a well fed, indifferent
personage who laughs at the play and goes home to supper--perdition upon
him and his kind! He is the abomination of desolation in a front stall,
looking on while better men cut one another's throats. He is a fat man
with a pink complexion and small eyes, and when he has watched other
people's troubles long enough, he retires to his comfortable vault in
the family chapel in the Campo Varano, which is decorated with coloured
tiles, embellished with a modern altar piece and adorned with a bust of
himself by a good sculptor. Even in death, he is still the spectator,
grinning through the window of his sanctuary at the rows of nameless
graves outside. He is happy and self-satisfied still--even in marble. It
is worth living to be such a man."
"It is not an exciting life," remarked Orsino.
"No. That is the beauty of it. Look at me. I have never succeeded in
imitating that well-to-do, thoroughly worthy villain. I began too late.
Take warning, Orsino. You are young. Grow fat and look on--then you will
die happy. All the philosophy of life is there. Farinaceous food, money
and a wife. That is the recipe. Since you have money you can purchase
the gruel and the affections. Waste no time in making the investment."
"I never heard you advocate marriage before. You seem to have changed
your mind, of late."
"Not in the least. I distinguish between being married and taking a
wife, that is all."
"Rather a fine distinction."
"The only difference between a prisoner and his gaoler is that they are
on opposite sides of the same wall. Take some more wine. We will drink
to the man on the outside."
"May you never be inside," said Orsino.
Spicca emptied his glass and looked at him, as he set it down again.
"May you never know what it is to have been inside," he said.
"You speak as though you had some experience."
"Yes, I have--through an acquaintance of mine."
"That is the most agreeable way of gaining experience."
"Yes," answered Spicca with a ghastly smile. "Perhaps I may tell you the
story some day. You may profit by it. It ended rather dramatically--so
far as it can be said to have ended at all. But we will not speak of it
just now. Here is another dish of poison--do you call that thing a fish,
Checco? Ah--yes. I perceive that you are right. The fact is apparent at
a great distance. Take it away. We are all mortal, Checco, but we do not
like to be reminded of it so very forcibly. Give me a tomato and some
"And the birds, Signore? Do you not want them any more?"
"The birds--yes, I had forgotten. And another flask of wine, Checco."
"It is not empty yet, Signore," observed the waiter lifting the
rush-covered bottle and shaking it a little.
Spicca silently poured out two glasses and handed him the empty flask.
He seemed to be very thirsty. Presently he got his birds. They proved
eatable, for quails are to be had all through the summer in Italy, and
he began to eat in silence. Orsino watched him with some curiosity
wondering whether the quantity of wine he drank would not ultimately
produce some effect. As yet, however, none was visible; his cadaverous
face was as pale and quiet as ever, and his sunken eyes had their usual
"And how does your business go on, Orsino?" he asked, after a long
Orsino answered him willingly enough and gave him some account of his
doings. He grew somewhat enthusiastic as he compared his present busy
life with his former idleness.
"I like the way you did it, in spite of everybody's advice," said
Spicca, kindly. "A man who can jump through the paper ring of Roman
prejudice without stumbling must be nimble and have good legs. So
nobody gave you a word of encouragement?"
"Only one person, at first. I think you know her--Madame d'Aranjuez. I
used to see her often just at that time."
"Madame d'Aranjuez?" Spicca looked up sharply, pausing with his glass in
"You know her?"
"Very well indeed," answered the old man, before he drank. "Tell me,
Orsino," he continued, when he had finished the draught, "are you in
love with that lady?"
Orsino was surprised by the directness of the question, but he did not
"Not in the least," he answered, coolly.
"Then why did you act as though you were?" asked Spicca looking him
through and through.
"Do you mean to say that you were watching me all winter?" inquired
Orsino, bending his black eyebrows rather angrily.
"Circumstances made it inevitable that I should know of your visits.
There was a time when you saw her every day."
"I do not know what the circumstances, as you call them, were," answered
Orsino. "But I do not like to be watched--even by my father's old
"Keep your temper, Orsino," said Spicca quietly. "Quarrelling is always
ridiculous unless somebody is killed, and then it is inconvenient. If
you understood the nature of my acquaintance with Maria Consuelo--with
Madame d'Aranjuez, you would see that while not meaning to spy upon you
in the least, I could not be ignorant of your movements."
"Your acquaintance must be a very close one," observed Orsino, far from
"So close that it has justified me in doing very odd things on her
account. You will not accuse me of taking a needless and officious
interest in the affairs of others, I think. My own are quite enough for
me. It chances that they are intimately connected with the doings of
Madame d'Aranjuez, and have been so for a number of years. The fact that
I do not desire the connexion to be known does not make it easier for me
to act, when I am obliged to act at all. I did not ask an idle question
when I asked you if you loved her."
"I confess that I do not at all understand the situation," said Orsino.
"No. It is not easy to understand, unless I give you the key to it. And
yet you know more already than any one in Rome. I shall be obliged if
you will not repeat what you know."
"You may trust me," answered Orsino, who saw from Spicca's manner that
the matter was very serious.
"Thank you. I see that you are cured of the idea that I have been
frivolously spying upon you for my own amusement."
Orsino was silent. He thought of what had happened after he had taken
leave of Maria Consuelo. The mysterious maid who called herself Maria
Consuelo's nurse, or keeper, had perhaps spoken the truth. It was
possible that Spicca was one of the guardians responsible to an unknown
person for the insane lady's safety, and that he was consequently daily
informed by the maid of the coming and going of visitors, and of other
minor events. On the other hand it seemed odd that Maria Consuelo should
be at liberty to go whithersoever she pleased. She could not reasonably
be supposed to have a guardian in every city of Europe. The more he
thought of this improbability the less he understood the truth.
"I suppose I cannot hope that you will tell me more," he said.
"I do not see why I should," answered Spicca, drinking again. "I asked
you an indiscreet question and I have given you an explanation which you
are kind enough to accept. Let us say no more about it. It is better to
avoid unpleasant subjects."
"I should not call Madame d'Aranjuez an unpleasant subject," observed
"Then why did you suddenly cease to visit her?" asked Spicca.
"For the best of all reasons. Because she repeatedly refused to receive
me." He was less inclined to take offence now than five minutes earlier.
"I see that your information was not complete."
"No. I was not aware of that. She must have had a good reason for not
"But you cannot guess what the reason was?"
"Yes--and no. It depends upon her character, which I do not pretend to
"I understand it well enough. I can guess at the fact. You made love to
her, and one fine day, when she saw that you were losing your head, she
quietly told her servant to say that she was not at home when you
called. Is that it?"
"Possibly. You say you know her well--then you know whether she would
act in that way or not."
"I ought to know. I think she would. She is not like other women--she
has not the same blood."
"Who is she?" asked Orsino, with a sudden hope that he might learn the
"A woman--rather better than the rest--a widow, too, the widow of a man
who never was her husband--thank God!"