Part 6 out of 9
Spicca slowly refilled and emptied his goblet for the tenth time.
"The rest is a secret," he added, when he had finished drinking.
The dark, sunken eyes gazed into Orsino's with an expression so strange
and full of a sort of inexplicable horror, as to make the young man
think that the deep potations were beginning to produce an effect upon
the strong old head. Spicca sat quite still for several minutes after he
had spoken, and then leaned back in his cane chair with a deep sigh.
Orsino sighed too, in a sort of unconscious sympathy, for even allowing
for Spicca's natural melancholy the secret was evidently an unpleasant
one. Orsino tried to turn the conversation, not, however, without a hope
of bringing it back unawares to the question which interested him.
"And so you really mean to stay here all summer," he remarked, lighting
a cigarette and looking at the people seated at a table behind Spicca.
Spicca did not answer at first, and when he did his reply had nothing to
do with Orsino's interrogatory observation.
"We never get rid of the things we have done in our lives," he said,
dreamily. "When a man sows seed in a ploughed field some of the grains
are picked out by birds, and some never sprout. We are much more
perfectly organised than the earth. The actions we sow in our souls all
take root, inevitably and fatally--and they all grow to maturity sooner
Orsino stared at him for a moment.
"You are in a philosophising mood this evening," he said.
"We are only logic's pawns," continued Spicca without heeding the
remark. "Or, if you like it better, we are the Devil's chess pieces in
his match against God. We are made to move each in our own way. The one
by short irregular steps in every direction, the other in long straight
lines between starting point and goal--the one stands still, like the
king-piece, and never moves unless he is driven to it, the other jumps
unevenly like the knight. It makes no difference. We take a certain
number of other pieces, and then we are taken ourselves--always by the
adversary--and tossed aside out of the game. But then, it is easy to
carry out the simile, because the game itself was founded on the facts
of life, by the people who invented it."
"No doubt," said Orsino, who was not very much interested.
"Yes. You have only to give the pieces the names of men and women you
know, and to call the pawns society--you will see how very like real
life chess can be. The king and queen on each side are a married couple.
Of course, the object of each queen is to get the other king, and all
her friends help her--knights, bishops, rooks and her set of society
pawns. Very like real life, is it not? Wait till you are married."
Spicca smiled grimly and took more wine.
"There at least you have no personal experience," objected Orsino.
But Spicca only smiled again, and vouchsafed no answer.
"Is Madame d'Aranjuez coming back next winter?" asked the young man.
"Madame d'Aranjuez will probably come back, since she is free to consult
her own tastes," answered Spicca gravely.
"I hope she may be out of danger by that time," said Orsino quietly. He
had resolved upon a bolder attack than he had hitherto made.
"What danger is she in now?" asked Spicca quietly.
"Surely, you must know."
"I do not understand you. Please speak plainly if you are in earnest."
"Before she went away I called once more. When I was coming away her
maid met me in the corridor of the hotel and told me that Madame
d'Aranjuez was not quite sane, and that she, the maid, was in reality
her keeper, or nurse--or whatever you please to call her."
Spicca laughed harshly. No one could remember to have heard him laugh
"Oh--she said that, did she?" He seemed very much amused. "Yes," he
added presently, "I think Madame d'Aranjuez will be quite out of danger
Orsino was more puzzled than ever. He was almost sure that Spicca did
not look upon the maid's assertion as serious, and in that case, if his
interest in Maria Consuelo was friendly, it was incredible that he
should seem amused at what was at least a very dangerous piece of spite
on the part of a trusted servant.
"Then is there no truth in that woman's statement?" asked Orsino.
"Madame d'Aranjuez seemed perfectly sane when I last saw her," answered
"Then what possible interest had the maid in inventing the lie?"
"Ah--what interest? That is quite another matter, as you say. It may not
have been her own interest."
"You think that Madame d'Aranjuez had instructed her?"
"Not necessarily. Some one else may have suggested the idea, subject to
the lady's own consent."
"And she would have consented? I do not believe that."
"My dear Orsino, the world is full of such apparently improbable things
that it is always rash to disbelieve anything on the first hearing. It
is really much less trouble to accept all that one is told without
"Of course, if you tell me positively that she wishes to be thought
"I never say anything positively, especially about a woman--and least of
all about the lady in question, who is undoubtedly eccentric."
Instead of being annoyed, Orsino felt his curiosity growing, and made a
rash vow to find out the truth at any price. It was inconceivable, he
thought, that Spicca should still have perfect control of his faculties,
considering the extent of his potations. The second flask was growing
light, and Orsino himself had not taken more than two or three glasses.
Now a Chianti flask never holds less than two quarts. Moreover Spicca
was generally a very moderate man. He would assuredly not resist the
confusing effects of the wine much longer and he would probably become
But Orsino had mistaken his man. Spicca's nerves, overwrought by some
unknown disturbance in his affairs, were in that state in which far
stronger stimulants than Tuscan wine have little or no effect upon the
brain. Orsino looked at him and wondered, as many had wondered already,
what sort of life the man had led, outside and beyond the social
existence which every one could see. Few men had been dreaded like the
famous duellist, who had played with the best swordsmen in Europe as a
cat plays with a mouse. And yet he had been respected, as well as
feared. There had been that sort of fatality in his quarrels which had
saved him from the imputation of having sought them. He had never been a
gambler, as reputed duellists often are. He had never refused to stand
second for another man out of personal dislike or prejudice. No one had
ever asked his help in vain, high or low, rich or poor, in a reasonably
good cause. His acts of kindness came to light accidentally after many
years. Yet most people fancied that he hated mankind, with that sort of
generous detestation which never stoops to take a mean advantage. In his
duels he had always shown the utmost consideration for his adversary and
the utmost indifference to his own interest when conditions had to be
made. Above all, he had never killed a man by accident. That is a crime
which society does not forgive. But he had not failed, either, when he
had meant to kill. His speech was often bitter, but never spiteful, and,
having nothing to fear, he was a very truthful man. He was also
reticent, however, and no one could boast of knowing the story which
every one agreed in saying had so deeply influenced his life. He had
often been absent from Rome for long periods, and had been heard of as
residing in more than one European capital. He had always been supposed
to be rich, but during the last three years it had become clear to his
friends that he was poor. That is all, roughly speaking, which was known
of John Nepomucene, Count Spicca, by the society in which he had spent
more than half his life.
Orsino, watching the pale and melancholy face, compared himself with his
companion, and wondered whether any imaginable series of events could
turn him into such a man at the same age. Yet he admired Spicca, besides
respecting him. Boy-like, he envied the great duellist his reputation,
his unerring skill, his unfaltering nerve; he even envied him the fear
he inspired in those whom he did not like. He thought less highly of his
sayings now, perhaps, than when he had first been old enough to
understand them. The youthful affectation of cynicism had agreed well
with the old man's genuine bitterness, but the pride of growing manhood
was inclined to put away childish things and had not yet suffered so as
to understand real suffering. Six months had wrought a change in Orsino,
and so far the change was for the better. He had been fortunate in
finding success at the first attempt, and his passing passion for Maria
Consuelo had left little trace beyond a certain wondering regret that it
had not been greater, and beyond the recollection of her sad face at
their parting and of the sobs he had overheard. Though he could only
give those tears one meaning, he realised less and less as the months
passed that they had been shed for him.
That Maria Consuelo should often be in his thoughts was no proof that he
still loved her in the smallest degree. There had been enough odd
circumstances about their acquaintance to rouse any ordinary man's
interest, and just at present Spicca's strange hints and half
confidences had excited an almost unbearable curiosity in his hearer.
But Spicca did not seem inclined to satisfy it any further.
One or two points, at least, were made clear. Maria Consuelo was not
insane, as the maid had pretended. Her marriage with the deceased
Aranjuez had been a marriage only in name, if it had even amounted to
that. Finally, it was evident that she stood in some very near relation
to Spicca and that neither she nor he wished the fact to be known. To
all appearance they had carefully avoided meeting during the preceding
winter, and no one in society was aware that they were even acquainted.
Orsino recalled more than one occasion when each had been mentioned in
the presence of the other. He had a good memory and he remembered that
a scarcely perceptible change had taken place in the manner or
conversation of the one who heard the other's name. It even seemed to
him that at such moments Maria Consuelo had shown an infinitesimal
resentment, whereas Spicca had faintly exhibited something more like
impatience. If this were true, it argued that Spicca was more friendly
to Maria Consuelo than she was to him. Yet on this particular evening
Spicca had spoken somewhat bitterly of her--but then, Spicca was always
bitter. His last remark was to the effect that she was eccentric. After
a long silence, during which Orsino hoped that his friend would say
something more, he took up the point.
"I wish I knew what you meant by eccentric," he said. "I had the
advantage of seeing Madame d'Aranjuez frequently, and I did not notice
any eccentricity about her."
"Ah--perhaps you are not observant. Or perhaps, as you say, we do not
mean the same thing."
"That is why I would like to hear your definition," observed Orsino.
"The world is mad on the subject of definitions," answered Spicca. "It
is more blessed to define than to be defined. It is a pleasant thing to
say to one's enemy, 'Sir, you are a scoundrel.' But when your enemy says
the same thing to you, you kill him without hesitation or regret--which
proves, I suppose, that you are not pleased with his definition of you.
You see definition, after all, is a matter of taste. So, as our tastes
might not agree, I would rather not define anything this evening. I
believe I have finished that flask. Let us take our coffee. We can
define that beforehand, for we know by daily experience how diabolically
bad it is."
Orsino saw that Spicca meant to lead the conversation away in another
"May I ask you one serious question?" he inquired, leaning forward.
"With a little ingenuity you may even ask me a dozen, all equally
serious, my dear Orsino. But I cannot promise to answer all or any
particular one. I am not omniscient, you know."
"My question is this. I have no sort of right to ask it. I know that.
Are you nearly related to Madame d'Aranjuez?"
Spicca looked curiously at him.
"Would the information be of any use to you?" he asked. "Should I be
doing you a service in telling you that we are, or are not related?"
"Frankly, no," answered Orsino, meeting the steady glance without
"Then I do not see any reason whatever for telling you the truth,"
returned Spicca quietly. "But I will give you a piece of general
information. If harm comes to that lady through any man whomsoever, I
will certainly kill him, even if I have to be carried upon the ground."
There was no mistaking the tone in which the threat was uttered. Spicca
meant what he said, though not one syllable was spoken louder than
another. In his mouth the words had a terrific force, and told Orsino
more of the man's true nature than he had learnt in years. Orsino was
not easily impressed, and was certainly not timid, morally or
physically; moreover he was in the prime of youth and not less skilful
than other men in the use of weapons. But he felt at that moment that he
would infinitely rather attack a regiment of artillery single-handed
than be called upon to measure swords with the cadaverous old invalid
who sat on the other side of the table.
"It is not in my power to do any harm to Madame d'Aranjuez," he answered
proudly enough, "and you ought to know that if it were, it could not
possibly be in my intention. Therefore your threat is not intended for
"Very good, Orsino. Your father would have answered like that, and you
mean what you say. If I were young I think that you and I should be
friends. Fortunately for you there is a matter of forty years'
difference between our ages, so that you escape the infliction of such
a nuisance as my friendship. You must find it bad enough to have to put
up with my company."
"Do not talk like that," answered Orsino. "The world is not all
"Well, well--you will find out what the world is in time. And perhaps
you will find out many other things which you want to know. I must be
going, for I have letters to write. Checco! My bill."
Five minutes later they parted.
Although Orsino's character was developing quickly in the new
circumstances which he had created for himself, he was not of an age to
be continually on his guard against passing impressions; still less
could it be expected that he should be hardened against them by
experience, as many men are by nature. His conversation with Spicca, and
Spicca's own behaviour while it lasted, produced a decided effect upon
the current of his thoughts, and he was surprised to find himself
thinking more often and more seriously of Maria Consuelo than during the
months which had succeeded her departure from Rome. Spicca's words had
acted indirectly upon his mind. Much that the old man had said was
calculated to rouse Orsino's curiosity, but Orsino was not naturally
curious and though he felt that it would be very interesting to know
Maria Consuelo's story, the chief result of the Count's half
confidential utterances was to recall the lady herself very vividly to
At first his memory merely brought back the endless details of his
acquaintance with her, which had formed the central feature of the first
season he had spent without interruption in Rome and in society. He was
surprised at the extreme precision of the pictures evoked, and took
pleasure in calling them up when he was alone and unoccupied. The events
themselves had not, perhaps, been all agreeable, yet there was not one
which it did not give him some pleasant sensation to remember. There was
a little sadness in some of them, and more than once the sadness was
mingled with something of humiliation. Yet even this last was bearable.
Though he did not realise it, he was quite unable to think of Maria
Consuelo without feeling some passing touch of happiness at the thought,
for happiness can live with sadness when it is the greater of the two.
He had no desire to analyse these sensations. Indeed the idea did not
enter his mind that they were worth analysing. His intelligence was
better employed with his work, and his reflexions concerning Maria
Consuelo chiefly occupied his hours of rest.
The days passed quickly at first and then, as September came they seemed
longer, instead of shorter. He was beginning to wish that the winter
would come, that he might again see the woman of whom he was continually
thinking. More than once he thought of writing to her, for he had the
address which the maid had given him--an address in Paris which said
nothing, a mere number with the name of a street. He wondered whether
she would answer him, and when he had reached the self-satisfying
conviction that she would, he at last wrote a letter, such as any person
might write to another. He told her of the weather, of the dulness of
Rome, of his hope that she would return early in the season, and of his
own daily occupations. It was a simply expressed, natural and not at all
emotional epistle, not at all like that of a man in the least degree in
love with his correspondent, but Orsino felt an odd sensation of
pleasure in writing it and was surprised by a little thrill of happiness
as he posted it with his own hand.
He did not forget the letter when he had sent it, either, as one forgets
the uninteresting letters one is obliged to write out of civility. He
hoped for an answer. Even if she were in Paris, Maria Consuelo might
not, and probably would not, reply by return of post. And it was not
probable that she would be in town at the beginning of September. Orsino
calculated the time necessary to forward the letter from Paris to the
most distant part of frequented Europe, allowed her three days for
answering and three days more for her letter to reach him. The interval
elapsed, but nothing came. Then he was irritated, and at last he became
anxious. Either something had happened to Maria Consuelo, or he had
somehow unconsciously offended her by what he had written. He had no
copy of the letter and could not recall a single phrase which could have
displeased her, but he feared lest something might have crept into it
which she might misinterpret. But this idea was too absurd to be tenable
for long, and the conviction grew upon him that she must be ill or in
some great trouble. He was amazed at his own anxiety.
Three weeks had gone by since he had written, and yet no word of reply
had reached him. Then he sought out Spicca and asked him boldly whether
anything had happened to Maria Consuelo, explaining that he had written
to her and had got no answer. Spicca looked at him curiously for a
"Nothing has happened to her, as far as I am aware," he said, almost
immediately. "I saw her this morning."
"This morning?" Orsino was surprised almost out of words.
"Yes. She is here, looking for an apartment in which to spend the
"Where is she?"
Spicca named the hotel, adding that Orsino would probably find her at
home during the hot hours of the afternoon.
"Has she been here long?" asked the young man.
"I will go and see her at once. I may be useful to her in finding an
"That would be very kind of you," observed Spicca, glancing at him
On the following afternoon, Orsino presented himself at the hotel and
asked for Madame d'Aranjuez. She received him in a room not very
different from the one of which she had had made her sitting-room during
the winter. As always, one or two new books and the mysterious silver
paper cutter were the only objects of her own which were visible. Orsino
hardly noticed the fact, however, for she was already in the room when
he entered, and his eyes met hers at once.
He fancied that she looked less strong than formerly, but the heat was
great and might easily account for her pallor. Her eyes were deeper, and
their tawny colour seemed darker. Her hand was cold.
She smiled faintly as she met Orsino, but said nothing and sat down at a
distance from the windows.
"I only heard last night that you were in Rome," he said.
"And you came at once to see me. Thanks. How did you find it out?"
"Spicca told me. I had asked him for news of you."
"Why him?" inquired Maria Consuelo with some curiosity.
"Because I fancied he might know," answered Orsino passing lightly over
the question. He did not wish even Maria Consuelo to guess that Spicca
had spoken of her to him. "The reason why I was anxious about you was
that I had written you a letter. I wrote some weeks ago to your address
in Paris and got no answer."
"You wrote?" Maria Consuelo seemed surprised. "I have not been in Paris.
Who gave you the address? What was it?"
Orsino named the street and the number.
"I once lived there a short time, two years ago. Who gave you the
address? Not Count Spicca?"
Orsino hesitated to say more. He did not like to admit that he had
received the address from Maria Consuelo's maid, and it might seem
incredible that the woman should have given the information unasked. At
the same time the fact that the address was to all intents and purposes
a false one tallied with the maid's spontaneous statement in regard to
her mistress's mental alienation.
"Why will you not tell me?" asked Maria Consuelo.
"The answer involves a question which does not concern me. The address
was evidently intended to deceive me. The person who gave it attempted
to deceive me about a far graver matter, too. Let us say no more about
it. Of course you never got the letter?"
"Of course not."
A short silence followed which Orsino felt to be rather awkward. Maria
Consuelo looked at him suddenly.
"Did my maid tell you?" she asked.
"Yes--since you ask me. She met me in the corridor after my last visit
and thrust the address upon me."
"I thought so," said Maria Consuelo.
"You have suspected her before?"
"What was the other deception?"
"That is a more serious matter. The woman is your trusted servant. At
least you must have trusted her when you took her--"
"That does not follow. What did she try to make you believe?"
"It is hard to tell you. For all I know, she may have been
instructed--you may have instructed her yourself. One stumbles upon odd
things in life, sometimes."
"You called yourself my friend once, Don Orsino."
"If you will let me, I will call myself so still."
"Then, in the name of friendship, tell me what the woman said!" Maria
Consuelo spoke with sudden energy, touching his arm quickly with an
"Will you believe me?"
"Are you accustomed to being doubted, that you ask?"
"No. But this thing is very strange."
"Do not keep me waiting--it hurts me!"
"The woman stopped me as I was going away. I had never spoken to her.
She knew my name. She told me that you were--how shall I say?--mentally
Maria Consuelo started and turned very pale.
"She told you that I was mad?" Her voice sank to a whisper.
"That is what she said."
Orsino watched her narrowly. She evidently believed him. Then she sank
back in her chair with a stifled cry of horror, covering her eyes with
"And you might have believed it!" she exclaimed. "You might really have
The cry came from her heart and would have shown Orsino what weight she
still attached to his opinion had he not himself been too suddenly and
deeply interested in the principal question to pay attention to details.
"She made the statement very clearly," he said. "What could have been
her object in the lie?"
"What object? Ah--if I knew that--"
Maria Consuelo rose and paced the room, her head bent and her hands
nervously clasping and unclasping. Orsino stood by the empty fireplace,
"You will send the woman away of course?" he said, in a questioning
But she shook her head and her anxiety seemed to increase.
"Is it possible that you will submit to such a thing from a servant?" he
asked in astonishment.
"I have submitted to much," she answered in a low voice.
"The inevitable, of course. But to keep a maid whom you can turn away at
"Yes--but can I?" She stopped and looked at him. "Oh, if I only
could--if you knew how I hate the woman--"
"Do you mean to tell me that you are in some way in her power, so that
you are bound to keep her always?"
Maria Consuelo hesitated a moment.
"Are you in her power?" asked Orsino a second time. He did not like the
idea and his black brows bent themselves rather angrily.
"No--not directly. She is imposed upon me."
"No, again. By a person who has the power to impose much upon me--but
this! Oh this is almost too much! To be called mad!"
"Then do not submit to it."
Orsino spoke decisively, with a kind of authority which surprised
himself. He was amazed and righteously angry at the situation so
suddenly revealed to him, undefined as it was. He saw that he was
touching a great trouble and his natural energy bid him lay violent
hands on it and root it out if possible.
For some minutes Maria Consuelo did not speak, but continued to pace the
room, evidently in great anxiety. Then she stopped before him.
"It is easy for you to say, 'do not submit,' when you do not
understand," she said. "If you knew what my life is, you would look at
this in another way. I must submit--I cannot do otherwise."
"If you would tell me something more, I might help you," answered
"You?" She paused. "I believe you would, if you could," she added,
"You know that I would. Perhaps I can, as it is, in ignorance, if you
will direct me."
A sudden light gleamed in Maria Consuelo's eyes and then died away as
quickly as it had come.
"After all, what could you do?" she asked with a change of tone, as
though she were somehow disappointed. "What could you do that others
would not do as well, if they could, and with a better right?"
"Unless you will tell me, how can I know?"
"Yes--if I could tell you."
She went and sat down in her former seat and Orsino took a chair beside
her. He had expected to renew the acquaintance in a very different way,
and that he should spend half an hour with Maria Consuelo in talking
about apartments, about the heat and about the places she had visited.
Instead, circumstances had made the conversation an intimate one full of
an absorbing interest to both. Orsino found that he had forgotten much
which pleased him strangely now that it was again brought before him. He
had forgotten most of all, it seemed, that an unexplained sympathy
attracted him to her, and her to him. He wondered at the strength of it,
and found it hard to understand that last meeting with her in the
"Is there any way of helping you, without knowing your secret?" he asked
in a low voice.
"No. But I thank you for the wish."
"Are you sure there is no way? Quite sure?"
"May I say something that strikes me?"
"Say anything you choose."
"There is a plot against you. You seem to know it. Have you never
thought of plotting on your side?"
"I have no one to help me."
"You have me, if you will take my help. And you have Spicca. You might
do better, but you might do worse. Between us we might accomplish
Maria Consuelo had started at Spicca's name. She seemed very nervous
"Do you know what you are saying?" she asked after a moment's thought.
"Nothing that should offend you, at least."
"No. But you are proposing that I should ally myself with the man of all
others whom I have reason to hate."
"You hate Spicca?" Orsino was passing from one surprise to another.
"Whether I hate him or not, is another matter. I ought to."
"At all events he does not hate you."
"I know he does not. That makes it no easier for me. I could not accept
"All this is so mysterious that I do not know what to say," said Orsino,
thoughtfully. "The fact remains, and it is bad enough. You need help
urgently. You are in the power of a servant who tells your friends that
you are insane and thrusts false addresses upon them, for purposes which
I cannot explain."
"Nor I either, though I may guess."
"It is worse and worse. You cannot even be sure of the motives of this
woman, though you know the person or persons by whom she is forced upon
you. You cannot get rid of her yourself and you will not let any one
else help you."
"Not Count Spicca."
"And yet I am sure that he would do much for you. Can you not even tell
me why you hate him, or ought to hate him?"
Maria Consuelo hesitated and looked into Orsino's eyes for a moment.
"Can I trust you?" she asked.
"He killed my husband."
Orsino uttered a low exclamation of horror. In the deep silence which
followed he heard Maria Consuelo draw her breath once or twice sharply
through her closed teeth, as though she were in great pain.
"I do not wish it known," she said presently, in a changed voice. "I do
not know why I told you."
"You can trust me."
"I must--since I have spoken."
In the surprise caused by the startling confidence, Orsino suddenly felt
that his capacity for sympathy had grown to great dimensions. If he had
been a woman, the tears would have stood in his eyes. Being what he was,
he felt them in his heart. It was clear that she had loved the dead man
very dearly. In the light of this evident fact, it was hard to explain
her conduct towards Orsino during the winter and especially at their
For a long time neither spoke again. Orsino, indeed, had nothing to say
at first, for nothing he could say could reasonably be supposed to be of
any use. He had learned the existence of something like a tragedy in
Maria Consuelo's life, and he seemed to be learning the first lesson of
friendship, which teaches sympathy. It was not an occasion for making
insignificant phrases expressing his regret at her loss, and the
language he needed in order to say what he meant was unfamiliar to his
lips. He was silent, therefore, but his young face was grave and
thoughtful, and his eyes sought hers from time to time as though trying
to discover and forestall her wishes. At last she glanced at him
quickly, then looked down, and at last spoke to him.
"You will not make me regret having told you this--will you?" she asked.
"No. I promise you that."
So far as Orsino could understand the words meant very little. He was
not very communicative, as a rule, and would certainly not tell what he
had heard, so that the promise was easily given and easy to keep. If he
did not break it, he did not see that she could have any further cause
for regretting her confidence in him. Nevertheless, by way of reassuring
her, he thought it best to repeat what he had said in different words.
"You may be quite sure that whatever you choose to tell me is in safe
keeping," he said. "And you may be sure, too, that if it is in my power
to do you a service of any kind, you will find me ready, and more than
ready, to help you."
"Thank you," she answered, looking earnestly at him.
"Whether the matter be small or great," he added, meeting her eyes.
Perhaps she expected to find more curiosity on his part, and fancied
that he would ask some further question. He did not understand the
meaning of her look.
"I believe you," she said at last. "I am too much in need of a friend to
"You have found one."
"I do not know. I am not sure. There are other things--" she stopped
suddenly and looked away.
"What other things?"
But Maria Consuelo did not answer. Orsino knew that she was thinking of
all that had once passed between them. He wondered whether, if he led
the way, she would press him as she had done at their last meeting. If
she did, he wondered what he should say. He had been very cold then, far
colder than he was now. He now felt drawn to her, as in the first days
of their acquaintance. He felt always that he was on the point of
understanding her, and yet that he was waiting, for something which
should help him to pass that point.
"What other things?" he asked, repeating his question. "Do you mean that
there are reasons which may prevent me from being a good friend of
"I am afraid there are. I do not know."
"I think you are mistaken, Madame. Will you name some of those
reasons--or even one?"
Maria Consuelo did not answer at once. She glanced at him, looked down,
and then her eyes met his again.
"Do you think that you are the kind of man a woman chooses for her
friend?" she asked at length, with a faint smile.
"I have not thought of the matter--"
"But you should--before offering your friendship."
"Why? If I feel a sincere sympathy for your trouble, if I am--" he
hesitated, weighing his words--"if I am personally attached to you, why
can I not help you? I am honest, and in earnest. May I say as much as
that of myself?"
"I believe you are."
"Then I cannot see that I am not the sort of man whom a woman might take
for a friend when a better is not at hand."
"And do you believe in friendship, Don Orsino?" asked Maria Consuelo
"I have heard it said that it is not wise to disbelieve anything
nowadays," answered Orsino.
"True--and the word 'friend' has such a pretty sound!" She laughed, for
the first time since he had entered the room.
"Then it is you who are the unbeliever, Madame. Is not that a sign that
you need no friend at all, and that your questions are not seriously
"Perhaps. Who knows?"
"Do you know, yourself?"
"No." Again she laughed a little, and then grew suddenly grave.
"I never knew a woman who needed a friend more urgently than you do,"
said Orsino. "I do not in the least understand your position. The little
you have told me makes it clear enough that there have been and still
are unusual circumstances in your life. One thing I see. That woman whom
you call your maid is forced upon you against your will, to watch you,
and is privileged to tell lies about you which may do you a great
injury. I do not ask why you are obliged to suffer her presence, but I
see that you must, and I guess that you hate it. Would it be an act of
friendship to free you from her or not?"
"At present it would not be an act of friendship," answered Maria
"That is very strange. Do you mean to say that you submit voluntarily--"
"The woman is a condition imposed upon me. I cannot tell you more."
"And no friend, no friendly help can change the condition, I suppose."
"I did not say that. But such help is beyond your power, Don Orsino,"
she added turning towards him rather suddenly. "Let us not talk of this
any more. Believe me, nothing can be done. You have sometimes acted
strangely with me, but I really think you would help me if you could.
Let that be the state of our acquaintance. You are willing, and I
believe that you are. Nothing more. Let that be our compact. But you can
perhaps help me in another way--a smaller way. I want a habitation of
some kind for the winter, for I am tired of camping out in hotels. You
who know your own city so well can name some person who will undertake
"I know the very man," said Orsino promptly.
"Will you write out the address for me?"
"It is not necessary. I mean myself."
"I could not let you take so much trouble," protested Maria Consuelo.
But she accepted, nevertheless, after a little hesitation. For some time
they discussed the relative advantages of the various habitable quarters
of the city, both glad, perhaps, to find an almost indifferent subject
of conversation, and both relatively happy merely in being together. The
talk made one of those restful interludes which are so necessary, and
often so hard to produce, between two people whose thoughts run upon a
strong common interest, and who find it difficult to exchange half a
dozen words without being led back to the absorbing topic.
What had been said had produced a decided effect upon Orsino. He had
come expecting to take up the acquaintance on a new footing, but ten
minutes had not elapsed before he had found himself as much interested
as ever in Maria Consuelo's personality, and far more interested in her
life than he had ever been before. While talking with more or less
indifference about the chances of securing a suitable apartment for the
winter, Orsino listened with an odd sensation of pleasure to every tone
of his companion's voice and watched every changing expression of the
striking face. He wondered whether he were not perhaps destined to love
her sincerely as he had already loved her in a boyish, capricious
fashion which would no longer be natural to him now. But for the present
he was sure that he did not love her, and that he desired nothing but
her sympathy for himself, and to feel sympathy for her. Those were the
words he used, and he did not explain them to his own intelligence in
any very definite way. He was conscious, indeed, that they meant more
than formerly, but the same was true of almost everything that came into
his life, and he did not therefore attach any especial importance to the
fact. He was altogether much more in earnest than when he had first met
Maria Consuelo; he was capable of deeper feeling, of stronger
determination and of more decided action in all matters, and though he
did not say so to himself he was none the less aware of the change.
"Shall we make an appointment for to-morrow?" he asked, after they had
been talking some time.
"Yes--but there is one thing I wanted to ask you--"
"What is that?" inquired Orsino, seeing that she hesitated.
The faint colour rose in her cheeks, but she looked straight into his
eyes, with a kind of fearless expression, as though she were facing a
"Tell me," she said, "in Rome, where everything is known and every one
talks so much, will it not be thought strange that you and I should be
driving about together, looking for a house for me? Tell me the truth."
"What can people say?" asked Orsino.
"Many things. Will they say them?"
"If they do, I can make them stop talking."
"That means that they will talk, does it not? Would you like that?"
There was a sudden change in her face, with a look of doubt and anxious
perplexity. Orsino saw it and felt that she was putting him upon his
honour, and that whatever the doubt might be it had nothing to do with
her trust in him. Six months earlier he would not have hesitated to
demonstrate that her fears were empty--but he felt that six months
earlier she might not have yielded to his reasoning. It was instinctive,
but his instinct was not mistaken.
"I think you are right," he said slowly. "We should not do it. I will
send my architect with you."
There was enough regret in the tone to show that he was making a
considerable sacrifice. A little delicacy means more when it comes from
a strong man, than when it is the natural expression of an over-refined
and somewhat effeminate character. And Orsino was rapidly developing a
strength of which other people were conscious. Maria Consuelo was
pleased, though she, too, was perhaps sorry to give up the projected
"After all," she said, thoughtlessly, "you can come and see me here,
She stopped and blushed again, more deeply this time; but she turned her
face away and in the half light the change of colour was hardly
"You were going to say 'if you care to see me,'" said Orsino. "I am glad
you did not say it. It would not have been kind."
"Yes--I was going to say that," she answered quietly. "But I will not."
"Why do you thank me?"
"For not hurting me."
"Do you think that I would hurt you willingly, in any way?"
"I would rather not think so. You did once."
The words slipped from his lips almost before he had time to realise
what they meant. He was thinking of the night when she had drawn up the
carriage window, leaving him standing on the pavement, and of her
repeated refusals to see him afterwards. It seemed long ago, and the
hurt had not really been so sharp as he now fancied that it must have
been, judging from what he now felt. She looked at him quickly as though
wondering what he would say next.
"I never meant to be unkind," she said. "I have often asked myself
whether you could say as much."
It was Orsino's turn to change colour. He was young enough for that,
and the blood rose slowly in his dark cheeks. He thought again of their
last meeting, and of what he had heard as he shut the door after him on
that day. Perhaps he would have spoken, but Maria Consuelo was sorry for
what she had said, and a little ashamed of her weakness, as indeed she
had some cause to be, and she immediately turned back to a former point
of the conversation, not too far removed from what had last been said.
"You see," said she, "I was right to ask you whether people would talk.
And I am grateful to you for telling me the truth. It is a first proof
of friendship--of something better than our old relations. Will you send
me your architect to-morrow, since you are so kind as to offer his
After arranging for the hour of meeting Orsino rose to take his leave.
"May I come to-morrow?" he asked. "People will not talk about that," he
added with a smile.
"You can ask for me. I may be out. If I am at home, I shall be glad to
She spoke coldly, and Orsino saw that she was looking over his shoulder.
He turned instinctively and saw that the door was open and Spicca was
standing just outside, looking in and apparently waiting for a word from
Maria Consuelo before entering.
As Orsino had no reason whatever for avoiding Spicca he naturally waited
a moment instead of leaving the room immediately. He looked at the old
man with a new interest as the latter came forward. He had never seen
and probably would never see again a man taking the hand of a woman
whose husband he had destroyed. He stood a little back and Spicca
passed him as he met Maria Consuelo. Orsino watched the faces of both.
Madame d'Aranjuez put out her hand mechanically and with evident
reluctance, and Orsino guessed that but for his own presence she would
not have given it. The expression in her face changed rapidly from that
which had been there when they had been alone, hardening very quickly
until it reminded Orsino of a certain mask of the Medusa which had once
made an impression upon his imagination. Her eyes were fixed and the
pupils grew small while the singular golden yellow colour of the iris
flashed disagreeably. She did not bend her head as she silently gave her
Spicca, too, seemed momentarily changed. He was as pale and thin as
ever, but his face softened oddly; certain lines which contributed to
his usually bitter and sceptical expression disappeared, while others
became visible which changed his look completely. He bowed with more
deference than he affected with other women, and Orsino fancied that he
would have held Maria Consuelo's hand a moment longer, if she had not
withdrawn it as soon as it had touched his.
If Orsino had not already known that Spicca often saw her, he would have
been amazed at the count's visit, considering what she had said of the
man. As it was, he wondered what power Spicca had over her to oblige her
to receive him, and he wondered in vain. The conclusion which forced
itself before him was that Spicca was the person who imposed the serving
woman upon Maria Consuelo. But her behaviour towards him, on the other
hand, was not that of a person obliged by circumstances to submit to the
caprices and dictation of another. Judging by the appearance of the two,
it seemed more probable that the power was on the other side, and might
be used mercilessly on occasion.
"I hope I am not disturbing your plans," said Spicca, in a tone which
was almost humble, and very unlike his usual voice. "Were you going out
He shook hands with Orsino, avoiding his glance, as the young man
"No," answered Maria Consuelo briefly. "I was not going out."
"I am just going away," said Orsino by way of explanation, and he made
as though he would take his leave.
"Do not go yet," said Maria Consuelo. Her look made the words
Spicca glanced from one to the other with a sort of submissive protest,
and then all three sat down. Orsino wondered what part he was expected
to play in the trio, and wished himself away in spite of the interest he
felt in the situation.
Maria Consuelo began to talk in a careless tone which reminded him of
his first meeting with her in Gouache's studio. She told Spicca that
Orsino had promised her his architect as a guide in her search for a
"What sort of person is he?" inquired Spicca, evidently for the sake of
"Contini is a man of business," Orsino answered. "An odd fellow, full of
talent, and a musical genius. One would not expect very much of him at
first, but he will do all that Madame d'Aranjuez needs."
"Otherwise you would not have recommended him, I suppose," said Spicca.
"Certainly not," replied Orsino, looking at him.
"You must know, Madame," said Spicca, "that Don Orsino is an excellent
judge of men."
He emphasised the last word in a way that seemed unnecessary. Maria
Consuelo had recovered all her equanimity and laughed carelessly.
"How you say that!" she exclaimed. "Is it a warning?"
"Against what?" asked Orsino.
"Probably against you," she said. "Count Spicca likes to throw out vague
hints--but I will do him the credit to say that they generally mean
something." She added the last words rather scornfully.
An expression of pain passed over the old man's face. But he said
nothing, though it was not like him to pass by a challenge of the kind.
Without in the least understanding the reason of the sensation, Orsino
felt sorry for him.
"Among men, Count Spicca's opinion is worth having," he said quietly.
Maria Consuelo looked at him in some surprise. The phrase sounded like a
rebuke, and her eyes betrayed her annoyance.
"How delightful it is to hear one man defend another!" she laughed.
"I fancy Count Spicca does not stand much in need of defence," replied
Orsino, without changing his tone.
"He himself is the best judge of that."
Spicca raised his weary eyes to hers and looked at her for a moment,
before he answered.
"Yes," he said. "I think I am the best judge. But I am not accustomed to
being defended, least of all against you, Madame. The sensation is a new
Orsino felt himself out of place. He was more warmly attached to Spicca
than he knew, and though he was at that time not far removed from loving
Maria Consuelo, her tone in speaking to the old man, which said far more
than her words, jarred upon him, and he could not help taking his
friend's part. On the other hand the ugly truth that Spicca had caused
the death of Aranjuez more than justified Maria Consuelo in her hatred.
Behind all, there was evidently some good reason why Spicca came to see
her, and there was some bond between the two which made it impossible
for her to refuse his visits. It was clear too, that though she hated
him he felt some kind of strong affection for her. In her presence he
was very unlike his daily self.
Again Orsino moved and looked at her, as though asking her permission to
go away. But she refused it with an imperative gesture and a look of
annoyance. She evidently did not wish to be left alone with the old
man. Without paying any further attention to the latter she began to
talk to Orsino. She took no trouble to conceal what she felt and the
impression grew upon Orsino that Spicca would have gone away after a
quarter of an hour, if he had not either possessed a sort of right to
stay or if he had not had some important object in view in remaining.
"I suppose there is nothing to do in Rome at this time of year," she
Orsino told her that there was absolutely nothing to do. Not a theatre
was open, not a friend was in town. Rome was a wilderness. Rome was an
amphitheatre on a day when there was no performance, when the lions were
asleep, the gladiators drinking, and the martyrs unoccupied. He tried to
say something amusing and found it hard.
Spicca was very patient, but evidently determined to outstay Orsino.
From time to time he made a remark, to which Maria Consuelo paid very
little attention if she took any notice of it at all. Orsino could not
make up his mind whether to stay or to go. The latter course would
evidently displease Maria Consuelo, whereas by remaining he was clearly
annoying Spicca and was perhaps causing him pain. It was a nice
question, and while trying to make conversation he weighed the arguments
in his mind. Strange to say he decided in favour of Spicca. The decision
was to some extent an index of the state of his feelings towards Madame
d'Aranjuez. If he had been quite in love with her, he would have stayed.
If he had wished to make her love him, he would have stayed also. As it
was, his friendship for the old count went before other considerations.
At the same time he hoped to manage matters so as not to incur Maria
Consuelo's displeasure. He found it harder than he had expected. After
he had made up his mind, he continued to talk during three or four
minutes and then made his excuse.
"I must be going," he said quietly. "I have a number of things to do
before night, and I must see Contini in order to give him time to make
a list of apartments for you to see to-morrow."
He took his hat and rose. He was not prepared for Maria Consuelo's
"I asked you to stay," she said, coldly and very distinctly.
Spicca did not allow his expression to change. Orsino stared at her.
"I am very sorry, Madame, but there are many reasons which oblige me to
Maria Consuelo bit her lip and her eyes gleamed angrily. She glanced at
Spicca as though hoping that he would go away with Orsino. But he did
not move. It was more and more clear that he had a right to stay if he
pleased. Orsino was already bowing before her. Instead of giving her
hand she rose quickly and led him towards the door. He opened it and
they stood together on the threshold.
"Is this the way you help me?" she asked, almost fiercely, though in a
"Why do you receive him at all?" he inquired, instead of answering.
"Because I cannot refuse."
"But you might send him away?"
She hesitated, and looked into his eyes.
"If you wish to be alone--and if you can. It is no affair of mine."
She turned swiftly, leaving Orsino standing in the door and went to
Spicca's side. He had risen when she rose and was standing at the other
side of the room, watching.
"I have a bad headache," she said coldly. "You will forgive me if I ask
you to go with Don Orsino."
"A lady's invitation to leave her house, Madame, is the only one which a
man cannot refuse," said Spicca gravely.
He bowed and followed Orsino out of the room, closing the door behind
him. The scene had produced a very disagreeable impression upon Orsino.
Had he not known the worst part of the secret and consequently
understood what good cause Maria Consuelo had for not wishing to be
alone with Spicca, he would have been utterly revolted and for ever
repelled by her brutality. No other word could express adequately her
conduct towards the count. Even knowing what he did, he wished that she
had controlled her temper better and he was more than ever sorry for
Spicca. It did not even cross his mind that the latter might have
intentionally provoked Aranjuez and killed him purposely. He felt
somehow that Spicca was in a measure the injured party and must have
been in that position from the beginning, whatever the strange story
might be. As the two descended the steps together Orsino glanced at his
companion's pale, drawn features and was sure that the man was to be
pitied. It was almost a womanly instinct, far too delicate for such a
hardy nature, and dependent perhaps upon that sudden opening of his
sympathies which resulted from meeting Maria Consuelo. I think that, on
the whole, in such cases, though the woman's character may be formed by
intimacy with man's, with apparent results, the impression upon the man
is momentarily deeper, as the woman's gentler instincts are in a way
reflected in his heart.
Spicca recovered himself quickly, however. He took out his case and
offered Orsino a cigarette.
"So you have renewed your acquaintance," he said quietly.
"Yes--under rather odd circumstances," answered Orsino. "I feel as
though I owed you an apology, Count, and yet I do not see what there is
to apologise for. I tried to go away more than once."
"You cannot possibly make excuses to me for Madame d'Aranjuez's
peculiarities, my friend. Besides, I admit that she has a right to treat
me as she pleases. That does not prevent me from going to see her every
"You must have strong reasons for bearing such treatment."
"I have," answered Spicca thoughtfully and sadly. "Very strong reasons.
I will tell you one of those which brought me to-day. I wished to see
you two together."
Orsino stopped in his walk, after the manner of Italians, and he looked
at Spicca. He was hot tempered when provoked, and he might have resented
the speech if it had come from any other man. But he spoke quietly.
"Why do you wish to see us together?" he asked.
"Because I am foolish enough to think sometimes that you suit one
another, and might love one another."
Probably nothing which Spicca could have said could have surprised
Orsino more than such a plain statement. He grew suspicious at once, but
Spicca's look was that of a man in earnest.
"I do not think I understand you," answered Orsino. "But I think you are
touching a subject which is better left alone."
"I think not," returned Spicca unmoved.
"Then let us agree to differ," said Orsino a little more warmly.
"We cannot do that. I am in a position to make you agree with me, and I
will. I am responsible for that lady's happiness. I am responsible
before God and man."
Something in the words made a deep impression upon Orsino. He had never
heard Spicca use anything approaching to solemn language before. He knew
at least one part of the meaning which showed Spicca's remorse for
having killed Aranjuez, and he knew that the old man meant what he said,
and meant it from his heart.
"Do you understand me now?" asked Spicca, slowly inhaling the smoke of
"Not altogether. If you desire the happiness of Madame d'Aranjuez why do
you wish us to fall in love with each other? It strikes me that--" he
"Because I wish you would marry her."
"Marry her!" Orsino had not thought of that, and his words expressed a
surprise which was not calculated to please Spicca.
The old man's weary eyes suddenly grew keen and fierce and Orsino could
hardly meet their look. Spicca's nervous fingers seized the young man's
tough arm and closed upon it with surprising force.
"I would advise you to think of that possibility before making any more
visits," he said, his weak voice suddenly clearing. "We were talking
together a few weeks ago. Do you remember what I said I would do to any
man by whom harm comes to her? Yes, you remember well enough. I know
what you answered, and I daresay you meant it. But I was in earnest,
"I think you are threatening me, Count Spicca," said Orsino, flushing
slowly but meeting the other's look with unflinching coolness.
"No. I am not. And I will not let you quarrel with me, either, Orsino. I
have a right to say this to you where she is concerned--a right you do
not dream of. You cannot quarrel about that."
Orsino did not answer at once. He saw that Spicca was very much in
earnest, and was surprised that his manner now should be less calm and
collected than on the occasion of their previous conversation, when the
count had taken enough wine to turn the heads of most men. He did not
doubt in the least the statement Spicca made. It agreed exactly with
what Maria Consuelo herself had said of him. And the statement certainly
changed the face of the situation. Orsino admitted to himself that he
had never before thought of marrying Madame d'Aranjuez. He had not even
taken into consideration the consequences of loving her and of being
loved by her in return. The moment he thought of a possible marriage as
the result of such a mutual attachment, he realised the enormous
difficulties which stood in the way of such a union, and his first
impulse was to give up visiting her altogether. What Spicca said was at
once reasonable and unreasonable. Maria Consuelo's husband was dead, and
she doubtless expected to marry again. Orsino had no right to stand in
the way of others who might present themselves as suitors. But it was
beyond belief that Spicca should expect Orsino to marry her himself,
knowing Rome and the Romans as he did.
The two had been standing still in the shade. Orsino began to walk
forward again before he spoke. Something in his own reflexions shocked
him. He did not like to think that an impassable social barrier existed
between Maria Consuelo and himself. Yet, in his total ignorance of her
origin and previous life the stories which had been circulated about her
recalled themselves with unpleasant distinctness. Nothing that Spicca
had said when they had dined together had made the matter any clearer,
though the assurance that the deceased Aranjuez had come to his end by
Spicca's instrumentality sufficiently contradicted the worst, if also
the least credible, point in the tales which had been repeated by the
gossips early in the previous winter. All the rest belonged entirely to
the category of the unknown. Yet Spicca spoke seriously of a possible
marriage and had gone to the length of wishing that it might be brought
about. At last Orsino spoke.
"You say that you have a right to say what you have said," he began. "In
that case I think I have a right to ask a question which you ought to
answer. You talk of my marrying Madame d'Aranjuez. You ought to tell me
whether that is possible."
"Possible?" cried Spicca almost angrily. "What do you mean?"
"I mean this. You know us all, as you know me. You know the enormous
prejudices in which we are brought up. You know perfectly well that
although I am ready to laugh at some of them, there are others at which
I do not laugh. Yet you refused to tell me who Madame d'Aranjuez was,
when I asked you, the other day. I do not even know her father's name,
much less her mother's--"
"No," answered Spicca. "That is quite true, and I see no necessity for
telling you either. But, as you say, you have some right to ask. I will
tell you this much. There is nothing in the circumstances of her birth
which could hinder her marriage into any honourable family. Does that
Orsino saw that whether he were satisfied or not he was to get no
further information for the present. He might believe Spicca's statement
or not, as he pleased, but he knew that whatever the peculiarities of
the melancholy old duellist's character might be, he never took the
trouble to invent a falsehood and was as ready as ever to support his
words. On this occasion no one could have doubted him, for there was an
unusual ring of sincere feeling in what he said. Orsino could not help
wondering what the tie between him and Madame d'Aranjuez could be, for
it evidently had the power to make Spicca submit without complaint to
something worse than ordinary unkindness and to make him defend on all
occasions the name and character of the woman who treated him so
harshly. It must be a very close bond, Orsino thought. Spicca acted very
much like a man who loves very sincerely and quite hopelessly. There was
something very sad in the idea that he perhaps loved Maria Consuelo, at
his age, broken down as he was, and old before his time. The contrast
between them was so great that it must have been grotesque if it had not
Little more passed between the two men on that day, before they
separated. To Spicca, Orsino seemed indifferent, and the older man's
reticence after his sudden outburst did not tend to prolong the meeting.
Orsino went in search of Contini and explained what was needed of him.
He was to make a brief list of desirable apartments to let and was to
accompany Madame d'Aranjuez on the following morning in order to see
Contini was delighted and set out about the work at once. Perhaps he
secretly hoped that the lady might be induced to take a part of one of
the new houses, but the idea had nothing to do with his satisfaction. He
was to spend several hours in the sole society of a lady, of a genuine
lady who was, moreover, young and beautiful. He read the little morning
paper too assiduously not to have noticed the name and pondered over the
descriptions of Madame d'Aranjuez on the many occasions when she had
been mentioned by the reporters during the previous year. He was too
young and too thoroughly Italian not to appreciate the good fortune
which now fell into his way, and he promised himself a morning of
uninterrupted enjoyment. He wondered whether the lady could be induced,
by excessive fatigue and thirst to accept a water ice at Nazzari's, and
he planned his list of apartments in such a way as to bring her to the
neighbourhood of the Piazza di Spogna at an hour when the proposition,
might seem most agreeable and natural.
Orsino stayed in the office during the hot September morning, busying
himself with the endless details of which he was now master, and
thinking from time to time of Maria Consuelo. He intended to go and see
her in the afternoon, and he, like Contini, planned what he should do
and say. But his plans were all unsatisfactory, and once he found
himself staring at the blank wall opposite his table in a state of idle
abstraction long unfamiliar to him.
Soon after twelve o'clock, Contini came back, hot and radiant. Maria
Consuelo had refused the water ice, but the charm of her manner had
repaid the architect for the disappointment. Orsino asked whether she
had decided upon any dwelling.
"She has taken the apartment in the Palazzo Barberini," answered
Contini. "I suppose she will bring her family in the autumn."
"Her family? She has none. She is alone."
"Alone in that place! How rich she must be!" Contini found the remains
of a cigar somewhere and lighted it thoughtfully.
"I do not know whether she is rich or not," said Orsino. "I never
thought about it."
He began to work at his books again, while Contini sat down and fanned
himself with a bundle of papers.
"She admires you very much, Don Orsino," said the latter, after a pause.
Orsino looked up sharply.
"What do you mean by that?" he asked.
"I mean that she talked of nothing but you, and in the most flattering
In the oddly close intimacy which had grown up between the two men it
did not seem strange that Orsino should smile at speeches which he would
not have liked if they had come from any one but the poor architect.
"What did she say?" he asked with idle curiosity.
"She said it was wonderful to think what you had done. That of all the
Roman princes you were the only one who had energy and character enough
to throw over the old prejudices and take an occupation. That it was all
the more creditable because you had done it from moral reasons and not
out of necessity or love of money. And she said a great many other
things of the same kind."
"Oh!" ejaculated Orsino, looking at the wall opposite.
"It is a pity she is a widow," observed Contini.
"She would make such a beautiful princess."
"You must be mad, Contini!" exclaimed Orsino, half-pleased and
half-irritated. "Do not talk of such follies."
"All well! Forgive me," answered the architect a little humbly. "I am
not you, you know, and my head is not yours--nor my name--nor my heart
Contini sighed, puffed at his cigar and took up some papers. He was
already a little in love with Maria Consuelo, and the idea that any man
might marry her if he pleased, but would not, was incomprehensible to
The day wore on. Orsino finished his work as thoroughly as though he
had been a paid clerk, put everything in order and went away. Late in
the afternoon he went to see Maria Consuelo. He knew that she would
usually be already out at that hour, and he fancied that he was leaving
something to chance in the matter of finding her, though an
unacknowledged instinct told him that she would stay at home after the
fatigue of the morning.
"We shall not be interrupted by Count Spicca to-day," she said, as he
sat down beside her.
In spite of what he knew, the hard tone of her voice roused again in
Orsino that feeling of pity for the old man which he had felt on the
"Does it not seem to you," he asked, "that if you receive him at all,
you might at least conceal something of your hatred for him?"
"Why should I? Have you forgotten what I told you yesterday?"
"It would be hard to forget that, though you told me no details. But it
is not easy to imagine how you can see him at all if he killed your
husband deliberately in a duel."
"It is impossible to put the case more plainly!" exclaimed Maria
"Do I offend you?"
"No. Not exactly."
"Forgive me, if I do. If Spicca, as I suppose, was the unwilling cause
of your great loss, he is much to be pitied. I am not sure that he does
not deserve almost as much pity as you do."
"How can you say that--even if the rest were true?"
"Think of what he must suffer. He is devotedly attached to you."
"I know he is. You have told me that before, and I have given you the
same answer. I want neither his attachment nor his devotion."
"Then refuse to see him."
"We come back to the same point again," said Orsino.
"We always shall, if you talk about this. There is no other issue.
Things are what they are and I cannot change them."
"Do you know," said Orsino, "that all this mystery is a very serious
hindrance to friendship?"
Maria Consuelo was silent for a moment.
"Is it?" she asked presently. "Have you always thought so?"
The question was a hard one to answer.
"You have always seemed mysterious to me," answered Orsino. "Perhaps
that is a great attraction. But instead of learning the truth about you,
I am finding out that there are more and more secrets in your life which
I must not know."
"Why should you know them?"
"Because--" Orsino checked himself, almost with a start.
He was annoyed at the words which had been so near his lips, for he had
been on the point of saying "because I love you"--and he was intimately
convinced that he did not love her. He could not in the least understand
why the phrase was so ready to be spoken. Could it be, he asked himself,
that Maria Consuelo was trying to make him say the words, and that her
will, with her question, acted directly on his mind? He scouted the
thought as soon as it presented itself, not only for its absurdity, but
because it shocked some inner sensibility.
"What were you going to say?" asked Madame d'Aranjuez almost carelessly.
"Something that is best not said," he answered.
"Then I am glad you did not say it."
She spoke quietly and unaffectedly. It needed little divination on her
part to guess what the words might have been. Even if she wished them
spoken, she would not have them spoken too lightly, for she had heard
his love speeches before, when they had meant very little.
Orsino suddenly turned the subject, as though he felt unsure of himself.
He asked her about the result of her search, in the morning. She
answered that she had determined to take the apartment in the Palazzo
"I believe it is a very large place," observed Orsino, indifferently.
"Yes," she answered in the same tone. "I mean to receive this winter.
But it will be a tiresome affair to furnish such a wilderness."
"I suppose you mean to establish yourself in Rome for several years."
His face expressed a satisfaction of which he was hardly conscious
himself. Maria Consuelo noticed it.
"You seem pleased," she said.
"How could I possibly not be?" he asked.
Then he was silent. All his own words seemed to him to mean too much or
too little. He wished she would choose some subject of conversation and
talk that he might listen. But she also was unusually silent.
He cut his visit short, very suddenly, and left her, saying that he
hoped to find her at home as a general rule at that hour, quite
forgetting that she would naturally be always out at the cool time
He walked slowly homewards in the dusk, and did not remember to go to
his solitary dinner until nearly nine o'clock. He was not pleased with
himself, but he was involuntarily pleased by something he felt and would
not have been insensible to if he had been given the choice. His old
interest in Maria Consuelo was reviving, and yet was turning into
something very different from what it had been.
He now boldly denied to himself that he was in love and forced himself
to speculate concerning the possibilities of friendship. In his young
system, it was absurd to suppose that a man could fall in love a second
time with the same woman. He scoffed at himself, at the idea and at his
own folly, having all the time a consciousness amounting to certainty,
of something very real and serious, by no means to be laughed at,
overlooked nor despised.
It was to be foreseen that Orsino and Maria Consuelo would see each
other more often and more intimately now than ever before. Apart from
the strong mutual attraction which drew them nearer and nearer together,
there were many new circumstances which rendered Orsino's help almost
indispensable to his friend. The details of her installation in the
apartment she had chosen were many, there was much to be thought of and
there were enormous numbers of things to be bought, almost each needing
judgment and discrimination in the choice. Had the two needed reasonable
excuses for meeting very often they had them ready to their hand. But
neither of them were under any illusion, and neither cared to affect
that peculiar form of self-forgiveness which finds good reasons always
for doing what is always pleasant. Orsino, indeed, never pressed his
services and was careful not to be seen too often in public with Maria
Consuelo by the few acquaintances who were in town. Nor did Madame
d'Aranjuez actually ask his help at every turn, any more than she made
any difficulty about accepting it. There was a tacit understanding
between them which did away with all necessity for inventing excuses on
the one hand, or for the affectation of fearing to inconvenience Orsino
on the other. During some time, however, the subjects which both knew to
be dangerous were avoided, with an unspoken mutual consent for which
Maria Consuelo was more grateful than for all the trouble Orsino was
giving himself on her account. She fancied, perhaps, that he had at last
accepted the situation, and his society gave her too much happiness to
allow of her asking whether his discretion would or could last long.
It was an anomalous relation which bound them together, as is often the
case at some period during the development of a passion, and most often
when the absence of obstacles makes the growth of affection slow and
regular. It was a period during which a new kind of intimacy began to
exist, as far removed from the half-serious, half-jesting intercourse of
earlier days as it was from the ultimate happiness to which all those
who love look forward with equal trust, although few ever come near it
and fewer still can ever reach it quite. It was outwardly a sort of
frank comradeship which took a vast deal for granted on both sides for
the mere sake of escaping analysis, a condition in which each understood
all that the other said, while neither quite knew what was in the
other's heart, a state in which both were pleased to dwell for a time,
as though preferring to prolong a sure if imperfect happiness rather
than risk one moment of it for the hope of winning a life-long joy. It
was a time during which mere friendship reached an artificially perfect
beauty, like a summer fruit grown under glass in winter, which in
thoroughly unnatural conditions attains a development almost impossible
even where unhelped nature is most kind. Both knew, perhaps, that it
could not last, but neither wished it checked, and neither liked to
think of the moment when it must either begin to wither by degrees, or
be suddenly absorbed into a greater and more dangerous growth.
At that time they were able to talk fluently upon the nature of the
human heart and the durability of great affections. They propounded the
problems of the world and discussed them between the selection of a
carpet and the purchase of a table. They were ready at any moment to
turn from the deepest conversation to the consideration of the merest
detail, conscious that they could instantly take up the thread of their
talk. They could separate the major proposition from the minor, and the
deduction from both, by a lively argument concerning the durability of a
stuff or the fitness of a piece of furniture, and they came back each
time with renewed and refreshed interest to the consideration of matters
little less grave than the resurrection of the dead and the life of the
world to come. That their conclusions were not always logical nor even
very sensible has little to do with the matter. On the contrary, the
discovery of a flaw in their own reasoning was itself a reason for
opening the question again at their next meeting.
At first their conversation was of general things, including the
desirability of glory for its own sake, the immortality of the soul and
the principles of architecture. Orsino was often amazed to find himself
talking, and, as he fancied, talking well, upon subjects of which he had
hitherto supposed with some justice that he knew nothing. By and by they
fell upon literature and dissected the modern novel with the keen zest
of young people who seek to learn the future secrets of their own lives
from vivid descriptions of the lives of others. Their knowledge of the
modern novel was not so limited as their acquaintance with many other
things less amusing, if more profitable, and they worked the vein with
lively energy and mutual satisfaction.
Then, as always, came the important move. They began to talk of love.
The interest ceased to be objective or in any way vicarious and was
transferred directly to themselves.
These steps are not, I think, to be ever thought of as stages in the
development of character in man or woman. They are phases in the
intercourse of man and woman. Clever people know them well and know how
to produce them at will. The end may or may not be love, but an end of
some sort is inevitable. According to the persons concerned, according
to circumstances, according to the amount of available time, the
progression from general subjects to the discussion of love, with
self-application of the conclusions, more or less sincere, may occupy an
hour, a month or a year. Love is the one subject which ultimately
attracts those not too old to talk about it, and those who consider that
they have reached such an age are few.
In the case of Orsino and Maria Consuelo, neither of the two was making
any effort to lead up to a certain definite result, for both felt a real
dread of reaching that point which is ever afterwards remembered as the
last moment of hardly sustained friendship and the first of something
stronger and too often less happy. Orsino was inexperienced, but Maria
Consuelo was quite conscious of the tendency in a fixed direction.
Whether she had made up her mind, or not, she tried as skilfully as she
could to retard the movement, for she was very happy in the present and
probably feared the first stirring of her own ardently passionate
As for Orsino, indeed, his inexperience was relative. He was anxious to
believe that he was only her friend, and pretended to his own conscience
that he could not explain the frequency with which the words "I love
you" presented themselves. The desire to speak them was neither a
permanent impulse of which he was always conscious nor a sudden strong
emotion like a temptation, giving warning of itself by a few heart-beats
before it reached its strength. The words came to his lips so naturally
and unexpectedly that he often wondered how he saved himself from
pronouncing them. It was impossible for him to foresee when they would
crave utterance. At last he began to fancy that they rang in his mind
without a reason and without a wish on his part to speak them, as a
perfectly indifferent tune will ring in the ear for days so that one
cannot get rid of it.
Maria Consuelo had not intended to spend September and October
altogether in Rome. She had supposed that it would be enough to choose
her apartment and give orders to some person about the furnishing of it
to her taste, and that after that she might go to the seaside until the
heat should be over, coming up to the city from time to time as occasion
required. But she seemed to have changed her mind. She did not even
suggest the possibility of going away.
She generally saw Orsino in the afternoon. He found no difficulty in
making time to see her, whenever he could be useful, but his own
business naturally occupied all the earlier part of the day. As a rule,
therefore, he called between half-past four and five, and so soon as it
was cool enough they went together to the Palazzo Barberini to see what
progress the upholsterers were making and to consider matters of taste.
The great half-furnished rooms with the big windows overlooking the
little garden before the palace were pleasant to sit in and wander in
during the hot September afternoons. The pair were not often quite
alone, even for a quarter of an hour, the place being full of workmen
who came and went, passed and repassed, as their occupations required,
often asking for orders and probably needing more supervision than Maria
Consuelo bestowed upon them.
On a certain evening late in September the two were together in the
large drawing-room. Maria Consuelo was tired and was leaning back in a
deep seat, her hands folded upon her knee, watching Orsino as he slowly
paced the carpet, crossing and recrossing in his short walk, his face
constantly turned towards her. It was excessively hot. The air was
sultry with thunder, and though it was past five o'clock the windows
were still closely shut to keep out the heat. A clear, soft light filled
the room, not reflected from a burning pavement, but from grass and
They had been talking of a chimneypiece which Maria Consuelo wished to
have placed in the hall. The style of what she wanted suggested the
sixteenth century, Henry Second of France, Diana of Poitiers and the
durability of the affections. The transition from fireplaces to true
love had been accomplished with comparative ease, the result of daily
practice and experience. It is worth noting, for the benefit of the
young, that furniture is an excellent subject for conversation for that
very reason, nothing being simpler than to go in three minutes from a
table to an epoch, from an epoch to an historical person and from that
person to his or her love story. A young man would do well to associate
the life of some famous lover or celebrated and unhappy beauty with
each style of woodwork and upholstery. It is always convenient. But if
he has not the necessary preliminary knowledge he may resort to a
"What a comfortable chair!" says he, as he deposits his hat on the floor
and sits down.
"Do you like comfortable chairs?"
"Of course. Fancy what life was in the days of stiff wooden seats, when
you had to carry a cushion about with you. You know that sort of
thing--twelfth century, Francesca da Rimini and all that."
If she does not say "Poor Francesca!" as she probably will, you can say
it yourself, very feelingly and in a different tone, after a short
pause. The one kiss which cost two lives makes the story particularly
useful. And then the ice is broken. If Paolo and Francesca had not been
murdered, would they have loved each other for ever? As nobody knows
what they would have done, you can assert that they would have been
faithful or not, according to your taste, humour or personal intentions.
Then you can talk about the husband, whose very hasty conduct
contributed so materially to the shortness of the story. If you wish to
be thought jealous, you say he was quite right; if you desire to seem
generous, you say with equal conviction that he was quite wrong. And so
forth. Get to generalities as soon as possible in order to apply them to
your own case.
Orsino and Maria Consuelo were the guileless victims of furniture,
neither of them being acquainted with the method just set forth for the
instruction of the innocent. They fell into their own trap and wondered
how they had got from mantelpieces to hearts in such an incredibly short
"It is quite possible to love twice," Orsino was saying.
"That depends upon what you mean by love," answered Maria Consuelo,
watching him with half-closed eyes.
"What I mean by love? I suppose I mean very much what other people mean
by it--or a little more," he added, and the slight change in his voice
"Do you think that any two understand the same thing when they speak of
love?" she asked.
"We two might," he answered, resuming his indifferent tone. "After all,
we have talked so much together during the last month that we ought to
understand each other."
"Yes," said Maria Consuelo. "And I think we do," she added thoughtfully.
"Then why should we think differently about the same thing? But I am not
going to try and define love. It is not easily defined, and I am not
clever enough." He laughed again. "There are many illnesses which I
cannot define--but I know that one may have them twice."
"There are others which one can only have once--dangerous ones, too."
"I know it. But that has nothing to do with the argument."
"I think it has--if this is an argument at all."
"No. Love is not enough like an illness--it is quite the contrary. It is
a recovery from an unnatural state--that of not loving. One may fall
into that state and recover from it more than once."
"What a sophism!"
"Why do you say that? Do you think that not to love is the normal
condition of mankind?"
Maria Consuelo was silent, still watching him.
"You have nothing to say," he continued, stopping and standing before
her. "There is nothing to be said. A man or woman who does not love is
in an abnormal state. When he or she falls in love it is a recovery. One
may recover so long as the heart has enough vitality. Admit it--for you
must. It proves that any properly constituted person may love twice, at
"There is an idea of faithlessness in it, nevertheless," said Maria
Consuelo, thoughtfully. "Or if it is not faithless, it is fickle. It is
not the same to oneself to love twice. One respects oneself less."
"I cannot believe that."
"We all ought to believe it. Take a case as an instance. A woman loves a
man with all her heart, to the point of sacrificing very much for him.
He loves her in the same way. In spite of the strongest opposition, they
agree to be married. On the very day of the marriage he is taken from
her--for ever--loving her as he has always loved her, and as he would
always have loved her had he lived. What would such a woman feel, if she
found herself forgetting such a love as that after two or three years,
for another man? Do you think she would respect herself more or less? Do
you think she would have the right to call herself a faithful woman?"
Orsino was silent for a moment, seeing that she meant herself by the
example. She, indeed, had only told him that her husband had been
killed, but Spicca had once said of her that she had been married to a
man who had never been her husband.
"A memory is one thing--real life is quite another," said Orsino at
last, resuming his walk.
"And to be faithful cannot possibly mean to be faithless," answered
Maria Consuelo in a low voice.
She rose and went to one of the windows. She must have wished to hide
her face, for the outer blinds and the glass casement were both shut and
she could see nothing but the green light that struck the painted wood.
Orsino went to her side.
"Shall I open the window?" he asked in a constrained voice.
"No--not yet. I thought I could see out."
Still she stood where she was, her face almost touching the pane, one
small white hand resting upon the glass, the fingers moving restlessly.
"You meant yourself, just now," said Orsino softly.
She neither spoke nor moved, but her face grew pale. Then he fancied
that there was a hardly perceptible movement of her head, the merest
shade of an inclination. He leaned a little towards her, resting against
the marble sill of the window.
"And you meant something more--" he began to say. Then he stopped short.
His heart was beating hard and the hot blood throbbed in his temples,
his lips closed tightly and his breathing was audible.
Maria Consuelo turned her head, glanced at him quickly and instantly
looked back at the smooth glass before her and at the green light on the
shutters without. He was scarcely conscious that she had moved. In love,
as in a storm at sea, matters grow very grave in a few moments.
"You meant that you might still--" Again he stopped. The words would not
He fancied that she would not speak. She could not, any more than she
could have left his side at that moment. The air was very sultry even in
the cool, closed room. The green light on the shutters darkened
suddenly. Then a far distant peal of thunder rolled its echoes slowly
over the city. Still neither moved from the window.
"If you could--" Orsino's voice was low and soft, but there was
something strangely overwrought in the nervous quality of it. It was not
hesitation any longer that made him stop.
"Could you love me?" he asked. He thought he spoke aloud. When he had
spoken, he knew that he had whispered the words.
His face was colourless. He heard a short, sharp breath, drawn like a
gasp. The small white hand fell from the window and gripped his own with
sudden, violent strength. Neither spoke. Another peal of thunder, nearer
and louder, shook the air. Then Orsino heard the quick-drawn breath
again, and the white hand went nervously to the fastening of the window.
Orsino opened the casement and thrust back the blinds. There was a vivid
flash, more thunder, and a gust of stifling wind. Maria Consuelo leaned
far out, looking up, and a few great drops of rain, began to fall.
The storm burst and the cold rain poured down furiously, wetting the two
white faces at the window. Maria Consuelo drew back a little, and Orsino
leaned against the open casement, watching her. It was as though the
single pressure of their hands had crushed out the power of speech for a
For weeks they had talked daily together during many hours. They could
not foresee that at the great moment there would be nothing left for
them to say. The rain fell in torrents and the gusty wind rose and
buffeted the face of the great palace with roaring strength, to sink
very suddenly an instant later in the steadily rushing noise of the
water, springing up again without warning, rising and falling, falling
and rising, like a great sobbing breath. The wind and the rain seemed to
be speaking for the two who listened to it.
Orsino watched Maria Consuelo's face, not scrutinising it, nor realising
very much whether it were beautiful or not, nor trying to read the
thoughts that were half expressed in it--not thinking at all, indeed,
but only loving it wholly and in every part for the sake of the woman
herself, as he had never dreamed of loving any one or anything.
At last Maria Consuelo turned very slowly and looked into his eyes. The
passionate sadness faded out of the features, the faint colour rose
again, the full lips relaxed, the smile that came was full of a
happiness that seemed almost divine.
"I cannot help it," she said.
Her hand was lying on the marble ledge. Orsino laid his own upon it, and
both trembled a little. She understood more than any word could have
"For how long?" she asked.
"For all our lives now, and for all our life hereafter."
He raised her hand to his lips, bending his head, and then he drew her
from the window, and they walked slowly up and down the great room.
"It is very strange," she said presently, in a low voice.
"That I should love you?"
"Yes. Where were we an hour ago? What is become of that old time--that
was an hour ago?"
"I have forgotten, dear--that was in the other life."
"The other life! Yes--how unhappy I was--there, by that window, a
hundred years ago!"
She laughed softly, and Orsino smiled as he looked down at her.
"Are you happy now?"
"Do not ask me--how could I tell you?"
"Say it to yourself, love--I shall see it in your dear face."
"Am I not saying it?"
Then they were silent again, walking side by side, their arms locked and
pressing one another.
It began to dawn upon Orsino that a great change had come into his life,
and he thought of the consequences of what he was doing. He had not said
that he was happy, but in the first moment he had felt it more than she.
The future, however, would not be like the present, and could not be a
perpetual continuation of it. Orsino was not at all of a romantic
disposition, and the practical side of things was always sure to present
itself to his mind very early in any affair. It was a part of his nature
and by no means hindered him from feeling deeply and loving sincerely.
But it shortened his moments of happiness.
"Do you know what this means to you and me?" he asked, after a time.
Maria Consuelo started very slightly and looked up at him.
"Let us think of to-morrow--to-morrow," she said. Her voice trembled a
"Is it so hard to think of?" asked Orsino, fearing lest he had
"Very hard," she answered, in a low voice.
"Not for me. Why should it be? If anything can make to-day more
complete, it is to think that to-morrow will be more perfect, and the
next day still more, and so on, each day better than the one before it."
Maria Consuelo shook her head.
"Do not speak of it," she said.
"Will you not love me to-morrow?" Orsino asked. The light in his face
told how little earnestly he asked the question, but she turned upon him
"Do you doubt yourself, that you should doubt me?" There was a ring of
terror in the words that startled him as he heard them.
"Beloved--no--how can you think I meant it?"
"Then do not say it." She shivered a little, and bent down her head.
"No--I will not. But--dear--do you know where we are?"
"Where we are?" she repeated, not understanding.