Part 7 out of 9
"Yes--where we are. This was to have been your home this year."
"Was to have been?" A frightened look came into her face.
"It will not be, now. Your home is not in this house."
Again she shook her head, turning her face away.
"It must be," she said.
Orsino was surprised beyond expression by the answer.
"Either you do not know what you are saying, or you do not mean it,
dear," he said. "Or else you will not understand me."
"I understand you too well."
Orsino made her stop and took both her hands, looking down into her
"You will marry me," he said.
"I cannot marry you," she answered.
Her face grew even paler than it had been when they had stood at the
window, and so full of pain and sadness that it hurt Orsino to look at
it. But the words she spoke, in her clear, distinct tones, struck him
like a blow unawares. He knew that she loved him, for her love was in
every look and gesture, without attempt at concealment. He believed her
to be a good woman. He was certain that her husband was dead. He could
not understand, and he grew suddenly angry. An older man would have done
worse, or a man less in earnest.
"You must have a reason to give me--and a good one," he said gravely.
She turned slowly away and began to walk alone. He followed her.
"You must tell it," he said.
"Tell it? Yes, I will tell it to you. It is a solemn promise before God,
given to a man who died in my arms--to my husband. Would you have me
break such a vow?"
"Yes." Orsino drew a long breath. The objection seemed insignificant
enough compared with the pain it had cost him before it had been
"Such promises are not binding," he continued, after a moment's pause.
"Such a promise is made hastily, rashly, without a thought of the
consequences. You have no right to keep it."
"No right? Orsino, what are you saying! Is not an oath an oath, however
it is taken? Is not a vow made ten times more sacred when the one for
whom it was taken is gone? Is there any difference between my promise
and that made before the altar by a woman who gives up the world? Should
I be any better, if I broke mine, than the nun who broke hers?"
"You cannot be in earnest?" exclaimed Orsino in a low voice.
Maria Consuelo did not answer. She went towards the window and looked at
the splashing rain. Orsino stood where he was, watching her. Suddenly
she came back and stood before him.
"We must undo this," she said.
"What do you mean?" He understood well enough.
"You know. We must not love each other. We must undo to-day and forget
"If you can talk so lightly of forgetting, you have little to remember,"
answered Orsino almost roughly.
"You have no right to say that."
"I have the right of a man who loves you."
"The right to be unjust?"
"I am not unjust." His tone softened again. "I know what it means, to
say that I love you--it is my life, this love. I have known it a long
time. It has been on my lips to say it for weeks, and since it has been
said, it cannot be unsaid. A moment ago you told me not to doubt you. I
do not. And now you say that we must not love each other, as though we
had a choice to make--and why? Because you once made a rash promise--"
"Hush!" interrupted Maria Consuelo. "You must not--"
"I must and will. You made a promise, as though you had a right at such
a moment to dispose of all your life--I do not speak of mine--as though
you could know what the world held for you, and could renounce it all
beforehand. I tell you you had no right to make such an oath, and a vow
taken without the right to take it is no vow at all--"
"It is--it is! I cannot break it!"
"If you love me you will. But you say we are to forget. Forget! It is so
easy to say. How shall we do it?"
"I will go away--"
"If you have the heart to go away, then go. But I will follow you. The
world is very small, they say--it will not be hard for me to find you,
wherever you are."
"If I beg you--if I ask it as the only kindness, the only act of
friendship, the only proof of your love--you will not come--you will not
"I will, if it costs your soul and mine."
"Orsino! You do not mean it--you see how unhappy I am, how I am trying
to do right, how hard it is!"
"I see that you are trying to ruin both our lives. I will not let you.
Besides, you do not mean it."
Maria Consuelo looked into his eyes and her own grew deep and dark. Then
as though she felt herself yielding, she turned away and sat down in a
chair that stood apart from the rest. Orsino followed her, and tried to
take her hand, bending down to meet her downcast glance.
"You do not mean it, Consuelo," he said earnestly. "You do not mean one
hundredth part of what you say."
She drew her fingers from his, and turned her head sideways against the
back of the chair so that she could not see him. He still bent over her,
whispering into her ear.
"You cannot go," he said. "You will not try to forget--for neither you
nor I can--nor ought, cost what it might. You will not destroy what is
so much to us--you would not, if you could. Look at me, love--do not
turn away. Let me see it all in your eyes, all the truth of it and of
every word I say."
Still she turned her face from him. But she breathed quickly with parted
lips and the colour rose slowly in her pale cheeks.
"It must be sweet to be loved as I love you, dear," he said, bending
still lower and closer to her. "It must be some happiness to know that
you are so loved. Is there so much joy in your life that you can despise
this? There is none in mine, without you, nor ever can be unless we are
always together--always, dear, always, always."
She moved a little, and the drooping lids lifted almost imperceptibly.
"Do not tempt me, dear one," she said in a faint voice. "Let me go--let
Orsino's dark face was close to hers now, and she could see his bright
eyes. Once she tried to look away, and could not. Again she tried,
lifting her head from the cushioned chair. But his arm went round her
neck and her cheek rested upon his shoulder.
"Go, love," he said softly, pressing her more closely. "Go--let us not
love each other. It is so easy not to love."
She looked up into his eyes again with a sudden shiver, and they both
grew very pale. For ten seconds neither spoke nor moved. Then their lips
When Orsino was alone that night, he asked himself more than one
question which he did not find it easy to answer. He could define,
indeed, the relation in which he now stood to Maria Consuelo, for though
she had ultimately refused to speak the words of a promise, he no longer
doubted that she meant to be his wife and that her scruples were
overcome for ever. This was, undeniably, the most important point in the
whole affair, so far as his own satisfaction was concerned, but there
were others of the gravest import to be considered and elucidated before
he could even weigh the probabilities of future happiness.
He had not lost his head on the present occasion, as he had formerly
done when his passion had been anything but sincere. He was perfectly
conscious that Maria Consuelo was now the principal person concerned in
his life and that the moment would inevitably have come, sooner or
later, in which he must have told her so as he had done on this day. He
had not yielded to a sudden impulse, but to a steady and growing
pressure from which there had been no means of escape, and which he had
not sought to elude. He was not in one of those moods of half-senseless,
exuberant spirits, such as had come upon him more than once during the
winter after he had been an hour in her society and had said or done
something more than usually rash. On the contrary, he was inclined to
look the whole situation soberly in the face, and to doubt whether the
love which dominated him might not prove a source of unhappiness to
Maria Consuelo as well as to himself. At the same time he knew that it
would be useless to fight against that domination, for he knew that he
was now absolutely sincere.
But the difficulties to be met and overcome were many and great. He
might have betrothed himself to almost any woman in society, widow or
spinster, without anticipating one hundredth part of the opposition
which he must now certainly encounter. He was not even angry beforehand
with the prejudice which would animate his father and mother, for he
admitted that it was hardly a prejudice at all, and certainly not one
peculiar to them, or to their class. It would be hard to find a family,
anywhere, of any respectability, no matter how modest, that would accept
without question such a choice as he had made. Maria Consuelo was one of
those persons about whom the world is ready to speak in disparagement,
knowing that it will not be easy to find defenders for them. The world
indeed, loves its own and treats them with consideration, especially in
the matter of passing follies, and after it had been plain to society
that Orsino had fallen under Maria Consuelo's charm, he had heard no
more disagreeable remarks about her origin nor the circumstances of her
widowhood. But he remembered what had been said before that, when he
himself had listened indifferently enough, and he guessed that
ill-natured people called her an adventuress or little better. If
anything could have increased the suffering which this intuitive
knowledge caused him, it was the fact that he possessed no proof of her
right to rank with the best, except his own implicit faith in her, and
the few words Spicca had chosen to let fall. Spicca was still thought so
dangerous that people hesitated to contradict him openly, but his mere
assertion, Orsino thought, though it might be accepted in appearance,
was not of enough weight to carry inward conviction with it in the
minds of people who had no interest in being convinced. It was only too
plain that, unless Maria Consuelo, or Spicca, or both, were willing to
tell the strange story in its integrity, there were not proof enough to
convince the most willing person of her right to the social position she
occupied after that had once been called into question. To Orsino's mind
the very fact that it had been questioned at all demonstrated
sufficiently a carelessness on her own part which could only proceed
from the certainty of possessing that right beyond dispute. It would
doubtless have been possible for her to provide herself from the first
with something in the nature of a guarantee for her identity. She could
surely have had the means, through some friend of her own elsewhere, of
making the acquaintance of some one in society, who would have vouched
for her and silenced the carelessly spiteful talk concerning her which
had gone the rounds when she first appeared. But she had seemed to be
quite indifferent. She had refused Orsino's pressing offer to bring her
into relations with his mother, whose influence would have been enough
to straighten a reputation far more doubtful than Maria Consuelo's, and
she had almost wilfully thrown herself into a sort of intimacy with the
Countess Del Ferice.
But Orsino, as he thought of these matters, saw how futile such
arguments must seem to his own people, and how absurdly inadequate they
were to better his own state of mind, since he needed no conviction
himself but sought the means of convincing others. One point alone gave
him some hope. Under the existing laws the inevitable legal marriage
would require the production of documents which would clear the whole
story at once. On the other hand, that fact could make Orsino's position
no easier with his father and mother until the papers were actually
produced. People cannot easily be married secretly in Rome, where the
law requires the publication of banns by posting them upon the doors of
the Capitol, and the name of Orsino Saracinesca would not be easily
overlooked. Orsino was aware of course that he was not in need of his
parents' consent for his marriage, but he had not been brought up in a
way to look upon their acquiescence as unnecessary. He was deeply
attached to them both, but especially to his mother who had been his
staunch friend in his efforts to do something for himself, and to whom
he naturally looked for sympathy if not for actual help. However certain
he might be of the ultimate result of his marriage, the idea of being
married in direct opposition to her wishes was so repugnant to him as to
be almost an insurmountable barrier. He might, indeed, and probably
would, conceal his engagement for some time, but solely with the
intention of so preparing the evidence in favour of it as to make it
immediately acceptable to his father and mother when announced.
It seemed possible that, if he could bring Maria Consuelo to see the
matter as he saw it, she might at once throw aside her reticence and
furnish him with the information he so greatly needed. But it would be a
delicate matter to bring her to that point of view, unconscious as she
must be of her equivocal position. He could not go to her and tell her
that in order to announce their engagement he must be able to tell the
world who and what she really was. The most he could do would be to tell
her exactly what papers were necessary for her marriage and to prevail
upon her to procure them as soon as possible, or to hand them to him at
once if they were already in her possession. But in order to require
even this much of her, it was necessary to push matters farther than
they had yet gone. He had certainly pledged himself to her, and he
firmly believed that she considered herself bound to him. But beyond
that, nothing definite had passed.
They had been interrupted by the entrance of workmen asking for orders,
and he had thought that Maria Consuelo had seemed anxious to detain the
men as long as possible. That such a scene could not be immediately
renewed where it had been broken off was clear enough, but Orsino
fancied that she had not wished even to attempt a renewal of it. He had
taken her home in the dusk, and she had refused to let him enter the
hotel with her. She said that she wished to be alone, and he had been
fain to be satisfied with the pressure of her hand and the look in her
eyes, which both said much while not saying half of what he longed to
hear and know.
He would see her, of course, at the usual hour on the following day, and
he determined to speak plainly and strongly. She could not ask him to
prolong such a state of uncertainty. Considering how gradual the steps
had been which had led up to what had taken place on that rainy
afternoon it was not conceivable, he thought, that she would still ask
for time to make up her mind. She would at least consent to some
preliminary agreement upon a line of conduct for both to follow.
But impossible as the other case seemed, Orsino did not neglect it. His
mind was developing with his character and was acquiring the habit of
foreseeing difficulties in order to forestall them. If Maria Consuelo
returned suddenly to her original point of view maintaining that the
promise given to her dying husband was still binding, Orsino determined
that he would go to Spicca in a last resort. Whatever the bond which
united them, it was clear that Spicca possessed some kind of power over
Maria Consuelo, and that he was so far acquainted with all the
circumstances of her previous life as to be eminently capable of giving
Orsino advice for the future.
He went to his office on the following morning with little inclination
for work. It would be more just, perhaps, to say that he felt the desire
to pursue his usual occupation while conscious that his mind was too
much disturbed by the events of the previous afternoon to concentrate
itself upon the details of accounts and plans. He found himself
committing all sorts of errors of oversight quite unusual with him.
Figures seemed to have lost their value and plans their meaning. With
the utmost determination he held himself to his task, not willing to
believe that his judgment and nerve could be so disturbed as to render
him unfit for any serious business. But the result was contemptible as
compared with the effort.
Andrea Contini, too, was inclined to take a gloomy view of things,
contrary to his usual habit. A report was spreading to the effect that a
certain big contractor was on the verge of bankruptcy, a man who had
hitherto been considered beyond the danger of heavy loss. There had been
more than one small failure of late, but no one had paid much attention
to such accidents which were generally attributed to personal causes
rather than to an approaching turn in the tide of speculation. But
Contini chose to believe that a crisis was not far off. He possessed in
a high degree that sort of caution which is valuable rather in an
assistant than in a chief. Orsino was little inclined to share his
architect's despondency for the present.
"You need a change of air," he said, pushing a heap of papers away from
him and lighting a cigarette. "You ought to go down to Porto d'Anzio for
a few days. You have been too long in the heat."
"No longer than you, Don Orsino," answered Contini, from his own table.
"You are depressed and gloomy. You have worked harder than I. You should
really go out of town for a day or two."
"I do not feel the need of it."
Contini bent over his table again and a short silence followed. Orsino's
mind instantly reverted to Maria Consuelo. He felt a violent desire to
leave the office and go to her at once. There was no reason why he
should not visit her in the morning if he pleased. At the worst, she
might refuse to receive him. He was thinking how she would look, and
wondering whether she would smile or meet him with earnest half
regretful eyes, when Contini's voice broke into his meditations again.
"You think I am despondent because I have been working too long in the
heat," said the young man, rising and beginning to pace the floor before
Orsino. "No. I am not that kind of man. I am never tired. I can go on
for ever. But affairs in Rome will not go on for ever. I tell you that,
Don Orsino. There is trouble in the air. I wish we had sold everything
and could wait. It would be much better."
"All this is very vague, Contini."
"It is very clear to me. Matters are going from bad to worse. There is
no doubt that Ronco has failed."
"Well, and if he has? We are not Ronco. He was involved in all sorts of
other speculations. If he had stuck to land and building he would be as
sound as ever."
"For another month, perhaps. Do you know why he is ruined?"
"By his own fault, as people always are. He was rash."
"No rasher than we are. I believe that the game is played out. Ronco is
bankrupt because the bank with which he deals cannot discount any more
bills this week."
"And why not?"
"Because the foreign banks will not take any more of all this paper that
is flying about. Those small failures in the summer have produced their
effect. Some of the paper was in Paris and some in Vienna. It turned out
worthless, and the foreigners have taken fright. It is all a fraud, at
best--or something very like it."
"What do you mean?"
"Tell me the truth, Don Orsino--have you seen a centime of all these
millions which every one is dealing with? Do you believe they really
exist? No. It is all paper, paper, and more paper. There is no cash in
"But there is land and there are houses, which represent the millions
"Substantially! Yes--as long as the inflation lasts. After that they
will represent nothing."
"You are talking nonsense, Contini. Prices may fall, and some people
will lose, but you cannot destroy real estate permanently."
"Its value may be destroyed for ten or twenty years, which is
practically the same thing when people have no other property. Take this
block we are building. It represents a large sum. Say that in the next
six months there are half a dozen failures like Ronco's and that a panic
sets in. We could then neither sell the houses nor let them. What would
they represent to us? Nothing. Failure--like the failure of everybody
else. Do you know where the millions really are? You ought to know
better than most people. They are in Casa Saracinesca and in a few other
great houses which have not dabbled in all this business, and perhaps
they are in the pockets of a few clever men who have got out of it all
in time. They are certainly not in the firm of Andrea Contini and
Company, which will assuredly be bankrupt before the winter is out."
Contini bit his cigar savagely, thrust his hands into his pockets and
looked out of the window, turning his back on Orsino. The latter watched
his companion in surprise, not understanding why his dismal forebodings
should find such sudden and strong expression.
"I think you exaggerate very much," said Orsino. "There is always risk
in such business as this. But it strikes me that the risk was greater
when we had less capital."
"Capital!" exclaimed the architect contemptuously and without turning
round. "Can we draw a cheque--a plain unadorned cheque and not a
draft--for a hundred thousand francs to-day? Or shall we be able to draw
it to-morrow? Capital! We have a lot of brick and mortar in our
possession, put together more or less symmetrically according to our
taste, and practically unpaid for. If we manage to sell it in time we
shall get the difference between what is paid and what we owe. That is
our capital. It is problematical, to say the least of it. If we realise
less than we owe we are bankrupt."
He came back suddenly to Orsino's table as he ceased speaking and his
face showed that he was really disturbed. Orsino looked at him steadily
for a few seconds.
"It is not only Ronco's failure that frightens you, Contini. There must
be something else."
"More of the same kind. There is enough to frighten any one."
"No, there is something else. You have been talking with somebody."
"With Del Ferice's confidential clerk. Yes--it is quite true. I was with
him last night."
"And what did he say? What you have been telling me, I suppose."
"Something much more disagreeable--something you would rather not hear."
"I wish to hear it."
"You should, as a matter of fact."
"We are completely in Del Ferice's hands."
"We are in the hands of his bank."
"What is the difference? To all intents and purposes he is our bank. The
proof is that but for him we should have failed already."
Orsino looked up sharply.
"Be clear, Contini. Tell me what you mean."
"I mean this. For a month past the bank could not have discounted a
hundred francs' worth of our paper. Del Ferice has taken it all and
advanced the money out of his private account."
"Are you sure of what you are telling me?" Orsino asked the question in
a low voice, and his brow contracted.
"One can hardly have better authority than the clerk's own statement."
"And he distinctly told you this, did he?"
"He must have had an object in betraying such a confidence," said
Orsino. "It is not likely that such a man would carelessly tell you or
me a secret which is evidently meant to be kept."
He spoke quietly enough, but the tone of his voice was changed and
betrayed how greatly he was moved by the news. Contini began to walk up
and down again, but did not make any answer to the remark.
"How much do we owe the bank?" Orsino asked suddenly.
"Roughly, about six hundred thousand."
"How much of that paper do you think Del Ferice has taken up himself?"
"About a quarter, I fancy, from what the clerk told me."
A long silence followed, during which Orsino tried to review the
situation in all its various aspects. It was clear that Del Ferice did
not wish Andrea Contini and Company to fail and was putting himself to
serious inconvenience in order to avert the catastrophe. Whether he
wished, in so doing, to keep Orsino in his power, or whether he merely
desired to escape the charge of having ruined his old enemy's son out of
spite, it was hard to decide. Orsino passed over that question quickly
enough. So far as any sense of humiliation was concerned he knew very
well that his mother would be ready and able to pay off all his
liabilities at the shortest notice. What Orsino felt most deeply was
profound disappointment and utter disgust at his own folly. It seemed to
him that he had been played with and flattered into the belief that he
was a serious man of business, while all along he had been pushed and
helped by unseen hands. There was nothing to prove that Del Ferice had
not thus deceived him from the first; and, indeed, when he thought of
his small beginnings early in the year and realised the dimensions which
the business had now assumed, he could not help believing that Del
Ferice had been at the bottom of all his apparent success and that his
own earnest and ceaseless efforts had really had but little to do with
the development of his affairs. His vanity suffered terribly under the
He was bitterly disappointed. During the preceding months he had begun
to feel himself independent and able to stand alone, and he had looked
forward in the near future to telling his father that he had made a
fortune for himself without any man's help. He had remembered every word
of cold discouragement to which he had been forced to listen at the very
beginning, and he had felt sure of having a success to set against each
one of those words. He knew that he had not been idle and he had fancied
that every hour of work had produced its permanent result, and left him
with something more to show. He had seen his mother's pride in him
growing day by day in his apparent success, and he had been confident of
proving to her that she was not half proud enough. All that was gone in
a moment. He saw, or fancied that he saw, nothing but a series of
failures which had been bolstered up and inflated into seeming triumphs
by a man whom his father despised and hated and whom, as a man, he
himself did not respect. The disillusionment was complete.
At first it seemed to him that there was nothing to be done but to go
directly to Saracinesca and tell the truth to his father and mother.
Financially, when the wealth of the family was taken into consideration
there was nothing very alarming in the situation. He would borrow of his
father enough to clear him with Del Ferice and would sell the unfinished
buildings for what they would bring. He might even induce his father to
help him in finishing the work. There would be no trouble about the
business question. As for Contini, he should not lose by the transaction
and permanent occupation could doubtless be found for him on one of the
estates if he chose to accept it.
He thought of the interview and his vanity dreaded it. Another plan
suggested itself to him. On the whole, it seemed easier to bear his
dependence on Del Ferice than to confess himself beaten. There was
nothing dishonourable, nothing which could be called so at least, in
accepting financial accommodation from a man whose business it was to
lend money on security. If Del Ferice chose to advance sums which his
bank would not advance, he did it for good reasons of his own and
certainly not in the intention of losing by it in the end. In case of
failure Del Ferice would take the buildings for the debt and would
certainly in that case get them for much less than they were worth.
Orsino would be no worse off than when he had begun, he would frankly
confess that though he had lost nothing he had not made a fortune, and
the matter would be at an end. That would be very much easier to bear
than the humiliation of confessing at the present moment that he was in
Del Ferice's power and would be bankrupt but for Del Ferice's personal
help. And again he repeated to himself that Del Ferice was not a man to
throw money away without hope of recovery with interest. It was
inconceivable, too, that Ugo should have pushed him so far merely to
flatter a young man's vanity. He meant to make use of him, or to make
money out of his failure. In either case Orsino would be his dupe and
would not be under any obligation to him. Compared with the necessity of
acknowledging the present state of his affairs to his father, the
prospect of being made a tool of by Del Ferice was bearable, not to say
"What had we better do, Contini?" he asked at length.
"There is nothing to be done but to go on, I suppose, until we are
ruined," replied the architect. "Even if we had the money, we should
gain nothing by taking off all our bills as they fall due, instead of
"But if the bank will not discount any more--"
"Del Ferice will, in the bank's name. When he is ready for the failure,
we shall fail and he will profit by our loss."
"Do you think that is what he means to do?"
Contini looked at Orsino in surprise.
"Of course. What did you expect? You do not suppose that he means to
make us a present of that paper, or to hold it indefinitely until we can
make a good sale."
"And he will ultimately get possession of all the paper himself."
"Naturally. As the old bills fall due we shall renew them with him,
practically, and not with the bank. He knows what he is about. He
probably has some scheme for selling the whole block to the government,
or to some institution, and is sure of his profit beforehand. Our
failure will give him a profit of twenty-five or thirty per cent."
Orsino was strangely reassured by his partner's gloomy view. To him
every word proved that he was free from any personal obligation to Del
Ferice and might accept the latter's assistance without the least
compunction. He did not like to remember that a man of Ugo's subtle
intelligence might have something more important in view than a profit
of a few hundred thousand francs, if indeed the sum should amount to
that. Orsino's brow cleared and his expression changed.
"You seem to like the idea," observed Contini rather irritably.
"I would rather be ruined by Del Ferice than helped by him."
"Ruin means so little to you, Don Orsino. It means the inheritance of an
enormous fortune, a princess for a wife and the choice of two or three
palaces to live in."
"That is one way of putting it," answered Orsino, almost laughing. "As
for yourself, my friend, I do not see that your prospects are so very
bad. Do you suppose that I shall abandon you after having led you into
this scrape, and after having learned to like you and understand your
talent? You are very much mistaken. We have tried this together and
failed, but as you rightly say I shall not be in the least ruined by the
failure. Do you know what will happen? My father will tell me that
since I have gained some experience I should go and manage one of the
estates and improve the buildings. Then you and I will go together."
Contini smiled suddenly and his bright eyes sparkled. He was profoundly
attached to Orsino, and thought perhaps as much of the loss of his
companionship as of the destruction of his material hopes in the event
of a liquidation.
"If that could be, I should not care what became of the business," he
"How long do you think we shall last?" asked Orsino after a short pause.
"If business grows worse, as I think it will, we shall last until the
first bill that falls due after the doors and windows are put in."
"That is precise, at least."
"It will probably take us into January, or perhaps February."
"But suppose that Del Ferice himself gets into trouble between now and
then. If he cannot discount any more, what will happen?"
"We shall fail a little sooner. But you need not be afraid of that. Del
Ferice knows what he is about better than we do, better than his
confidential clerk, much better than most men of business in Rome. If he
fails, he will fail intentionally and at the right moment."
"And do you not think that there is even a remote possibility of an
improvement in business, so that nobody will fail at all?"
"No," answered Contini thoughtfully. "I do not think so. It is a paper
system and it will go to pieces."
"Why have you not said the same thing before? You must have had this
opinion a long time."
"I did not believe that Ronco could fail. An accident opens the eyes."
Orsino had almost decided to let matters go on but he found some
difficulty in actually making up his mind. In spite of Contini's
assurances he could not get rid of the idea that he was under an
obligation to Del Ferice. Once, at least, he thought of going directly
to Ugo and asking for a clear explanation of the whole affair. But Ugo
was not in town, as he knew, and the impossibility of going at once made
it improbable that Orsino would go at all. It would not have been a very
wise move, for Del Ferice could easily deny the story, seeing that the
paper was all in the bank's name, and he would probably have visited the
indiscretion upon the unfortunate clerk.
In the long silence which followed, Orsino relapsed into his former
despondency. After all, whether he confessed his failure or not, he had
undeniably failed and been played upon from the first, and he admitted
it to himself without attempting to spare his vanity, and his
self-contempt was great and painful. The fact that he had grown from a
boy to a man during his experience did not make it easier to bear such
wounds, which are felt more keenly by the strong than by the weak when
they are real.
As the day wore on the longing to see Maria Consuelo grew upon him until
he felt that he had never before wished to be with her as he wished it
now. He had no intention of telling her his trouble but he needed the
assurance of an ever ready sympathy which he so often saw in her eyes,
and which was always there for him when he asked it. When there is love
there is reliance, whether expressed or not, and where there is
reliance, be it ever so slender, there is comfort for many ills of body,
mind and soul.
Orsino felt suddenly relieved when he had left his office in the
afternoon. Contini's gloomy mood was contagious, and so long as Orsino
was with him it was impossible not to share the architect's view of
affairs. Alone, however, things did not seem so bad. As a matter of
fact it was almost impossible for the young man to give up all his
illusions concerning his own success in one moment, and to believe
himself the dupe of his own blind vanity instead of regarding himself as
the winner in the fight for independence of thought and action. He could
not deny the facts Contini alleged. He had to admit that he was
apparently in Del Ferice's power, unless he appealed to his own people
for assistance. He was driven to acknowledge that he had made a great
mistake. But he could not altogether distrust himself and he fancied
that after all, with a fair share of luck, he might prove a match for
Ugo on the financier's own ground. He had learned to have confidence in
his own powers and judgment, and as he walked away from the office every
moment strengthened his determination to struggle on with such resources
as he might be able to command, so long as there should be a possibility
of action of any sort. He felt, too, that more depended upon his success
than the mere satisfaction of his vanity. If he failed, he might lose
Maria Consuelo as well as his self-respect: He had that sensation,
familiar enough to many young men when extremely in love, that in order
to be loved in return one must succeed, and that a single failure
endangers the stability of a passion which, if it be honest, has nothing
to do with failure or success. At Orsino's age, and with his temper, it
is hard to believe that pity is more closely akin to love than
Gradually the conviction reasserted itself that he could fight his way
through unaided, and his spirits rose as he approached the more crowded
quarters of the city on his way to the hotel where Maria Consuelo was
stopping. Not even the yells of the newsboys affected him, as they
announced the failure of the great contractor Ronco and offered, in a
second edition, a complete account of the bankruptcy. It struck him
indeed that before long the same brazen voices might be screaming out
the news that Andrea Contini and Company had come to grief. But the
idea lent a sense of danger to the situation which Orsino did not find
unpleasant. The greater the difficulty the greater the merit in
overcoming it, and the greater therefore the admiration he should get
from the woman he loved. His position was certainly an odd one, and many
men would not have felt the excitement which he experienced. The
financial side of the question was strangely indifferent to him, who
knew himself backed by the great fortune of his family, and believed
that his ultimate loss could only be the small sum with which he had
begun his operations. But the moral risk seemed enormous and grew in
importance as he thought of it.
He found Maria Consuelo looking pale and weary. She evidently had no
intention of going out that day, for she wore a morning gown and was
established upon a lounge with books and flowers beside her as though
she did not mean to move. She was not reading, however. Orsino was
startled by the sadness in her face.
She looked fixedly into his eyes as she gave him her hand, and he sat
down beside her.
"I am glad you are come," she said at last, in a low voice. "I have been
hoping all day that you would come early."
"I would have come this morning if I had dared," answered Orsino.
She looked at him again, and smiled faintly.
"I have a great deal to say to you," she began. Then she hesitated as
though uncertain where to begin.
"And I--" Orsino tried to take her hand, but she withdrew it.
"Yes, but do not say it. At least, not now."
"Why not, dear one? May I not tell you how I love you? What is it, love?
You are so sad to-day. Has anything happened?"
His voice grew soft and tender as he spoke, bending to her ear. She
pushed him gently back.
"You know what has happened," she answered. "It is no wonder that I am
"I do not understand you, dear. Tell me what it is."
"I told you too much yesterday--"
"Far too much."
"Are you going to unsay it?"
"How can I?"
She turned her face away and her fingers played nervously with her
"No--indeed, neither of us can unsay such words," said Orsino. "But I do
not understand you yet, darling. You must tell me what you mean to-day."
"You know it all. It is because you will not understand--"
Orsino's face changed and his voice took another tone when he spoke.
"Are you playing with me, Consuelo?" he asked gravely.
She started slightly and grew paler than before.
"You are not kind," she said. "I am suffering very much. Do not make it
"I am suffering, too. You mean me to understand that you regret what
happened yesterday and that you wish to take back your words, that
whether you love me or not, you mean to act and appear as though you did
not, and that I am to behave as though nothing had happened. Do you
think that would be easy? And do you think I do not suffer at the mere
idea of it?"
"Since it must be--"
"There is no must," answered Orsino with energy. "You would ruin your
life and mine for the mere shadow of a memory which you choose to take
for a binding promise. I will not let you do it."
"You will not?" She looked at him quickly with an expression of
"No--I will not," he repeated. "We have too much at stake. You shall not
lose all for both of us."
"You are wrong, dear one," she said, with sudden softness. "If you love
me, you should believe me and trust me. I can give you nothing but
"You have given me the only happiness I ever knew--and you ask me to
believe that you could make me unhappy in any way except by not loving
me! Consuelo--my darling--are you out of your senses?"
"No. I am too much in them. I wish I were not. If I were mad I should--"
"Never mind. I will not even say it. No--do not try to take my hand, for
I will not give it to you. Listen, Orsino--be reasonable, listen to
"I will try and listen."
But Maria Consuelo did not speak at once. Possibly she was trying to
collect her thoughts.
"What have you to say, dearest?" asked Orsino at length. "I will try to
"You must understand. I will make it all clear to you and then you will
see it as I do."
"And then we must part," she said in a low voice.
Orsino said nothing, but shook his head incredulously.
"Yes," repeated Maria Consuelo, "we must not see each other any more
after this. It has been all my fault. I shall leave Rome and not come
back again. It will be best for you and I will make it best for me."
"You talk very easily of parting."
"Do I? Every word is a wound. Do I look as though I were indifferent?"
Orsino glanced at her pale face and tearful eyes.
"No, dear," he said softly.
"Then do not call me heartless. I have more heart than you think--and it
is breaking. And do not say that I do not love you. I love you better
than you know--better than you will be loved again when you are
older--and happier, perhaps. Yes, I know what you want to say. Well,
dear--you love me, too. Yes, I know it. Let there be no unkind words and
no doubts between us to-day. I think it is our last day together."
"For God's sake, Consuelo--"
"We shall see. Now let me speak--if I can. There are three reasons why
you and I should not marry. I have thought of them through all last
night and all to-day, and I know them. The first is my solemn vow to the
dying man who loved me so well and who asked nothing but that--whose
wife I never was, but whose name I bear. Think me mad,
superstitious--what you will--I cannot break that promise. It was almost
an oath not to love, and if it was I have broken it. But the rest I can
keep, and will. The next reason is that I am older than you. I might
forget that, I have forgotten it more than once, but the time will come
soon when you will remember it."
Orsino made an angry gesture and would have spoken, but she checked him.
"Pass that over, since we are both young. The third reason is harder to
tell and no power on earth can explain it away. I am no match for you in
The young man interrupted her now, and fiercely.
"Do you dare to think that I care what your birth may be?" he asked.
"There are those who do care, even if you do not, dear one," she
"And what is their caring to you or me?"
"It is not so small a matter as you think. I am not talking of a mere
difference in rank. It is worse than that. I do not really know who I
am. Do you understand? I do not know who my mother was nor whether she
is alive or dead, and before I was married I did not bear my father's
"But you know your father--you know his name at least?"
"Who is he?" Orsino could hardly pronounce the words of the question.
Maria Consuelo spoke quietly, but her fingers trembled nervously and
she watched Orsino's face in evident distress and anxiety. As for
Orsino, he was almost dumb with amazement.
"Spicca! Spicca your father!" he repeated indistinctly.
In all his many speculations as to the tie which existed between Maria
Consuelo and the old duellist, he had never thought of this one.
"Then you never suspected it?" asked Maria Consuelo.
"How should I? And your own father killed your husband--good Heavens!
What a story!"
"You know now. You see for yourself how impossible it is that I should
In his excitement Orsino had risen and was pacing the room. He scarcely
heard her last words, and did not say anything in reply. Maria Consuelo
lay quite still upon the lounge, her hands clasped tightly together and
straining upon each other.
"You see it all now," she said again. This time his attention was
arrested and he stopped before her.
"Yes. I see what you mean. But I do not see it as you see it. I do not
see that any of these things you have told me need hinder our marriage."
Maria Consuelo did not move, but her expression changed. The light stole
slowly into her face and lingered there, not driving away the sadness
but illuminating it.
"And would you have the courage, in spite of your family and of society,
to marry me, a woman practically nameless, older than yourself--"
"I not only would, but I will," answered Orsino.
"You cannot--but I thank you, dear," said Maria Consuelo.
He was standing close beside her. She took his hand and tenderly touched
it with her lips. He started and drew it back, for no woman had ever
kissed his hand.
"You must not do that!" he exclaimed, instinctively.
"And why not, if I please?" she asked, raising her eyebrows with a
little affectionate laugh.
"I am not good enough to kiss your hand, darling--still less to let you
kiss mine. Never mind--we were talking--where were we?"
"You were saying--" But he interrupted her.
"What does it matter, when I love you so, and you love me?" he asked
He knelt beside her as she lay on the lounge and took her hands, holding
them and drawing her towards him. She resisted and turned her face away.
"No--no! It matters too much--let me go, it only makes it worse!"
"Makes what worse?"
"We will not part. I will not let you go!"
But still she struggled with her hands and he, fearing to hurt them in
his grasp, let them slip away with a lingering touch.
"Get up," she said. "Sit here, beside me--a little further--there. We
can talk better so."
"I cannot talk at all--"
"Without holding my hands?"
"Why should I not?"
"Because I ask you. Please, dear--"
She drew back on the lounge, raised herself a little and turned her face
to him. Again, as his eyes met hers, he leaned forward quickly, as
though he would leave his seat. But she checked him, by an imperative
glance and a gesture. He was unreasonable and had no right to be
annoyed, but something in her manner chilled him and pained him in a way
he could not have explained. When he spoke there was a shade of change
in the tone of his voice.
"The things you have told me do not influence me in the least," he said
with more calmness than he had yet shown. "What you believe to be the
most important reason is no reason at all to me. You are Count Spicca's
daughter. He is an old friend of my father--not that it matters very
materially, but it may make everything easier. I will go to him to-day
and tell him that I wish to marry you--"
"You will not do that!" exclaimed Maria Consuelo in a tone of alarm.
"Yes, I will. Why not? Do you know what he once said to me? He told me
he wished we might take a fancy to each other, because, as he expressed
it, we should be so well matched."
"Did he say that?" asked Maria Consuelo gravely.
"That or something to the same effect. Are you surprised? What surprises
me is that I should never have guessed the relation between you. Now
your father is a very honourable man. What he said meant something, and
when he said it he meant that our marriage would seem natural to him and
to everybody. I will go and talk to him. So much for your great reason.
As for the second you gave, it is absurd. We are of the same age, to all
intents and purposes."
"I am not twenty-three years old."
"And I am not quite two and twenty. Is that a difference? So much for
that. Take the third, which you put first. Seriously, do you think that
any intelligent being would consider you bound by such a promise? Do you
mean to say that a young girl--you were nothing more--has a right to
throw away her life out of sentiment by making a promise of that kind?
And to whom? To a man who is not her husband, and never can be, because
he is dying. To a man just not indifferent to her, to a man--"
Maria Consuelo raised herself and looked full at Orsino. Her face was
extremely pale and her eyes were suddenly dark and gleamed.
"Don Orsino, you have no right to talk to me in that way. I loved
him--no one knows how I loved him!"
There was no mistaking the tone and the look. Orsino felt again and more
strongly, the chill and the pain he had felt before. He was silent for
a moment. Maria Consuelo looked at him a second longer, and then let her
head fall back upon the cushion. But the expression which had come into
her face did not change at once.
"Forgive me," said Orsino after a pause. "I had not quite understood.
The only imaginable reason which could make our marriage impossible
would be that. If you loved him so well--if you loved him in such a way
as to prevent you from loving me as I love you--why then, you may be
right after all."
In the silence which followed, he turned his face away and gazed at the
window. He had spoken quietly enough and his expression, strange to say,
was calm and thoughtful. It is not always easy for a woman to understand
a man, for men soon learn to conceal what hurts them but take little
trouble to hide their happiness, if they are honest. A man more often
betrays himself by a look of pleasure than by an expression of
disappointment. It was thought manly to bear pain in silence long before
it became fashionable to seem indifferent to joy.
Orsino's manner displeased Maria Consuelo. It was too quiet and cold and
she thought he cared less than he really did.
"You say nothing," he said at last.
"What shall I say? You speak of something preventing me from loving you
as you love me. How can I tell how much you love me?"
"Do you not see it? Do you not feel it?" Orsino's tone warmed again as
he turned towards her, but he was conscious of an effort. Deeply as he
loved her, it was not natural for him to speak passionately just at that
moment, but he knew she expected it and he did his best. She was
"Not always," she answered with a little sigh.
"You do not always believe that I love you?"
"I did not say that. I am not always sure that you love me as much as
you think you do--you imagine a great deal."
"I did not know it."
"Yes--sometimes. I am sure it is so."
"And how am I to prove that you are wrong and I am right?"
"How should I know? Perhaps time will show."
"Time is too slow for me. There must be some other way."
"Find it then," said Maria Consuelo, smiling rather sadly.
He meant what he said, but the difficulty of the problem perplexed him
and there was not enough conviction in his voice. He was thinking rather
of the matter itself than of what he said. Maria Consuelo fanned herself
slowly and stared at the wall.
"If you doubt so much," said Orsino at last, "I have the right to doubt
a little too. If you loved me well enough you would promise to marry me.
You do not."
There was a short pause. At last Maria Consuelo closed her fan, looked
at it and spoke.
"You say my reason is not good. Must I go all over it again? It seems a
good one to me. Is it incredible to you that a woman should love twice?
Such things have happened before. Is it incredible to you that, loving
one person, a woman should respect the memory of another and a solemn
promise given to that other? I should respect myself less if I did not.
That it is all my fault I will admit, if you like--that I should never
have received you as I did--I grant it all--that I was weak yesterday,
that I am weak to-day, that I should be weak to-morrow if I let this go
on. I am sorry. You can take a little of the blame if you are generous
enough, or vain enough. You have tried hard to make me love you and you
have succeeded, for I love you very much. So much the worse for me. It
must end now."
"You do not think of me, when you say that."
"Perhaps I think more of you than you know--or will understand. I am
older than you--do not interrupt me! I am older, for a woman is always
older than a man in some things. I know what will happen, what will
certainly happen in time if we do not part. You will grow jealous of a
shadow and I shall never be able to tell you that this same shadow is
not dear to me. You will come to hate what I have loved and love still,
though it does not prevent me from loving you too--"
"But less well," said Orsino rather harshly.
"You would believe that, at least, and the thought would always be
"If you loved me as much, you would not hesitate. You would marry me
living, as you married him dead."
"If there were no other reason against it--" She stopped.
"There is no other reason," said Orsino insisting.
Maria Consuelo shook her head but said nothing and a long silence
followed. Orsino sat still, watching her and wondering what was passing
in her mind. It seemed to him, and perhaps rightly, that if she were
really in earnest and loved him with all her heart, the reasons she gave
for a separation were far from sufficient. He had not even much faith in
her present obstinacy and he did not believe that she would really go
away. It was incredible that any woman could be so capricious as she
chose to be. Her calmness, or what appeared to him her calmness, made it
even less probable, he thought, that she meant to part from him. But the
thought alone was enough to disturb him seriously. He had suffered a
severe shock with outward composure but not without inward suffering,
followed naturally enough by something like angry resentment. As he
viewed the situation, Maria Consuelo had alternately drawn him on and
disappointed him from the very beginning; she had taken delight in
forcing him to speak out his love, only to chill him the next moment, or
the next day, with the certainty that she did not love him sincerely.
Just then he would have preferred not to put into words the thoughts of
her that crossed his mind. They would have expressed a disbelief in her
character which he did not really feel and an opinion of his own
judgment which he would rather not have accepted.
He even went so far, in his anger, as to imagine what would happen if he
suddenly rose to go. She would put on that sad look of hers and give him
her hand coldly. Then just as he reached the door she would call him
back, only to send him away again. He would find on the following day
that she had not left town after all, or, at most, that she had gone to
Florence for a day or two, while the workmen completed the furnishing of
her apartment. Then she would come back and would meet him just as
though there had never been anything between them.
The anticipation was so painful to him that he wished to have it
realised and over as soon as possible, and he looked at her again before
rising from his seat. He could hardly believe that she was the same
woman who had stood with him, watching the thunderstorm, on the previous
He saw that she was pale, but she was not facing the light and the
expression of her face was not distinctly visible. On the whole, he
fancied that her look was one of indifference. Her hands lay idly upon
her fan and by the drooping of her lids she seemed to be looking at
them. The full, curved lips were closed, but not drawn in as though in
pain, nor pouting as though in displeasure. She appeared to be
singularly calm. After hesitating another moment Orsino rose to his
feet. He had made up his mind what to say, for it was little enough, but
his voice trembled a little.
Maria Consuelo started slightly and looked up, as though to see whether
he really meant to go at that moment. She had no idea that he really
thought of taking her at her word and parting then and there. She did
not realise how true it was that she was much older than he and she had
never believed him to be as impulsive as he sometimes seemed.
"Do not go yet," she said, instinctively.
"Since you say that we must part--" he stopped, as though leaving her to
finish the sentence in imagination.
A frightened look passed quickly over Maria Consuelo's face. She made as
though she would have taken his hand, then drew back her own and bit her
lip, not angrily but as though she were controlling something.
"Since you insist upon our parting," Orsino said, after a short,
strained silence, "it is better that it should be got over at once." In
spite of himself his voice was still unsteady.
"I did not--no--yes, it is better so."
"Then good-bye, Madame."
It was impossible for her to understand all that had passed in his mind
while he had sat beside her, after the previous conversation had ended.
His abruptness and coldness were incomprehensible to her.
For a moment her eyes rested on his. It was the sad look he had
anticipated, and she put out her hand now. Surely, he thought, if she
loved him she would not let him go so easily. He took her fingers and
would have raised them to his lips when they suddenly closed on his, not
with the passionate, loving pressure of yesterday, but firmly and
quietly, as though they would not be disobeyed, guiding him again to his
seat close beside her. He sat down.
"Good-bye, then, Orsino," she repeated, not yet relinquishing her hold.
"Good-bye, dear, since it must be good-bye--but not good-bye as you said
it. You shall not go until you can say it differently."
She let him go now and changed her own position. Her feet slipped to the
ground and she leaned with her elbow upon the head of the lounge,
resting her cheek against her hand. She was nearer to him now than
before and their eyes met as they faced each other. She had certainly
not chosen her attitude with any second thought of her own appearance,
but as Orsino looked into her face he saw again clearly all the
beauties that he had so long admired, the passionate eyes, the full,
firm mouth, the broad brow, the luminous white skin--all beauties in
themselves though not, together, making real beauty in her case. And
beyond these he saw and felt over them all and through them all the
charm that fascinated him, appealing as it were to him in particular of
all men as it could not appeal to another. He was still angry, disturbed
out of his natural self and almost out of his passion, but he felt none
the less that Maria Consuelo could hold him if she pleased, as long as a
shadow of affection for her remained in him, and perhaps longer. When
she spoke, he knew what she meant, and he did not interrupt her nor
attempt to answer.
"I have meant all I have said to-day," she continued. "Do not think it
is easy for me to say more. I would give all I have to give to take back
yesterday, for yesterday was my great mistake. I am only a woman and you
will forgive me. I do what. I am doing now, for your sake--God knows it
is not for mine. God knows how hard it is for me to part from you. I am
in earnest, you see. You believe me now."
Her voice was steady but the tears were already welling over.
"Yes, dear, I believe you," Orsino answered softly. Women's tears are a
great solvent of man's ill temper.
"As for this being right and best, this parting, you will see it as I do
sooner or later. But you do believe that I love you, dearly, tenderly,
very--well, no matter how--you believe it?"
"I believe it--"
"Then say 'good-bye, Consuelo'--and kiss me once--for what might have
Orsino half rose, bent down and kissed her cheek.
"Good-bye, Consuelo," he said, almost whispering the words into her ear.
In his heart he did not think she meant it. He still expected that she
would call him back.
"It is good-bye, dear--believe it--remember it!" Her voice shook a
"Good-bye, Consuelo," he repeated.
With a loving look that meant no good-bye he drew back and went to the
door. He laid his hand on the handle and paused. She did not speak. Then
he looked at her again. Her head had fallen back against a cushion and
her eyes were half closed. He waited a second and a keen pain shot
through him. Perhaps she was in earnest after all. In an instant he had
recrossed the room and was on his knees beside her trying to take her
"Consuelo--darling--you do not really mean it! You cannot, you will
He covered her hands with kisses and pressed them to his heart. For a
few moments she made no movement, but her eyelids quivered. Then she
sprang to her feet, pushing him back violently as he rose with her, and
turning her face from him.
"Go--go!" she cried wildly. "Go--let me never see you again--never,
Before he could stop her, she had passed him with a rush like a swallow
on the wing and was gone from the room.
Orsino was not in an enviable frame of mind when he left the hotel. It
is easier to bear suffering when one clearly understands all its causes,
and distinguishes just how great a part of it is inevitable and how
great a part may be avoided or mitigated. In the present case there was
much in the situation which it passed his power to analyse or
comprehend. He still possessed the taste for discovering motives in the
actions of others as well as in his own, but many months of a busy life
had dulled the edge of the artificial logic in which he had formerly
delighted, while greatly sharpening his practical wit. Artificial
analysis supplies from the imagination the details lacking in facts, but
common sense needs something more tangible upon which to work. Orsino
felt that the chief circumstance which had determined Maria Consuelo's
conduct had escaped him, and he sought in vain to detect it.
He rejected the supposition that she was acting upon a caprice, that she
had yesterday believed it possible to marry him, while a change of
humour made marriage seem out of the question to-day. She was as
capricious as most women, perhaps, but not enough so for that. Besides,
she had been really consistent. Not even yesterday had she been shaken
for a moment in her resolution not to be Orsino's wife. To-day had
confirmed yesterday therefore. However Orsino might have still doubted
her intention when he had gone to her side for the last time, her
behaviour then and her final words had been unmistakable. She meant to
leave Rome at once.
Yet the reasons she had given him for her conduct were not sufficient in
his eyes. The difference of age was so small that it could safely be
disregarded. Her promise to the dying Aranjuez was an engagement, he
thought, by which no person of sense should expect her to abide. As for
the question of her birth, he relied on that speech of Spicca's which he
so well remembered. Spicca might have spoken the words thoughtlessly, it
was true, and believing that Orsino would never, under any circumstances
whatever, think seriously of marrying Maria Consuelo. But Spicca was not
a man who often spoke carelessly, and what he said generally meant at
least as much as it appeared to mean.
It was doubtless true that Maria Consuelo was ignorant of her mother's
name. Nevertheless, it was quite possible that her mother had been
Spicca's wife. Spicca's life was said to be full of strange events not
generally known. But though his daughter might, and doubtless did
believe herself a nameless child, and, as such, no match for the heir
of the Saracinesca, Orsino could not see why she should have insisted
upon a parting so sudden, so painful and so premature. She knew as much
yesterday and had known it all along. Why, if she possessed such
strength of character, had she allowed matters to go so far when she
could easily have interrupted the course of events at an earlier period?
He did not admit that she perhaps loved him so much as to have been
carried away by her passion until she found herself on the point of
doing him an injury by marrying him, and that her love was strong enough
to induce her to sacrifice herself at the critical moment. Though he
loved her much he did not believe her to be heroic in any way. On the
contrary, he said to himself that if she were sincere, and if her love
were at all like his own, she would let no obstacle stand in the way of
it. To him, the test of love must be its utter recklessness. He could
not believe that a still better test may be, and is, the constant
forethought for the object of love, and the determination to protect
that object from all danger in the present and from all suffering in the
future, no matter at what cost.
Perhaps it is not easy to believe that recklessness is a manifestation
of the second degree of passion, while the highest shows itself in
painful sacrifice. Yet the most daring act of chivalry never called for
half the bravery shown by many a martyr at the stake, and if courage be
a measure of true passion, the passion which will face life-long
suffering to save its object from unhappiness or degradation is greater
than the passion which, for the sake of possessing its object, drags it
into danger and the risk of ruin. It may be that all this is untrue, and
that the action of these two imaginary individuals, the one sacrificing
himself, the other endangering the loved one, is dependent upon the
balance of the animal, intellectual and moral elements in each. We do
not know much about the causes of what we feel, in spite of modern
analysis; but the heart rarely deceives us, when we can see the truth
for ourselves, into bestowing the more praise upon the less brave of two
deeds. But we do not often see the truth as it is. We know little of the
lives of others, but we are apt to think that other people understand
our own very well, including our good deeds if we have done any, and we
expect full measure of credit for these, and the utmost allowance of
charity for our sins. In other words we desire our neighbour to combine
a power of forgiveness almost divine with a capacity for flattery more
than parasitic. That is why we are not easily satisfied with our
acquaintances and that is why our friends do not always turn out to be
truthful persons. We ask too much for the low price we offer, and if we
insist we get the imitation.
Orsino loved Maria Consuelo with all his heart, as much as a young man
of little more than one and twenty can love the first woman to whom he
is seriously attached. There was nothing heroic in the passion, perhaps,
nothing which could ultimately lead to great results. But it was a
strong love, nevertheless, with much, of devotion in it and some latent
violence. If he did not marry Maria Consuelo, it was not likely that he
would ever love again in exactly the same way. His next love would be
either far better or far worse, far nobler or far baser--perhaps a
little less human in either case.
He walked slowly away from the hotel, unconscious of the people in the
street and not thinking of the direction he took. His brain was in a
whirl and his thoughts seemed to revolve round some central point upon
which they could not concentrate themselves even for a second. The only
thing of which he was sure was that Maria Consuelo had taken herself
from him suddenly and altogether, leaving him with a sense of loneliness
which he had not known before. He had gone to her in considerable
distress about his affairs, with the certainty of finding sympathy and
perhaps advice. He came away, as some men have returned from a grave
accident, apparently unscathed it may be, but temporarily deprived of
some one sense, of sight, or hearing, or touch. He was not sure that he
was awake, and his troubled reflexions came back by the same unvarying
round to the point he had reached the first time--if Maria Consuelo
really loved him, she would not let such obstacles as she spoke of
hinder her union with him.
For a time Orsino was not conscious of any impulse to act. Gradually,
however, his real nature asserted itself, and he remembered how he had
told her not long ago that if she went away he would follow her, and how
he had said that the world was small and that he would soon find her
again. It would undoubtedly be a simple matter to accompany her, if she
left Rome. He could easily ascertain the hour of her intended departure
and that alone would tell him the direction she had chosen. When she
found that she had not escaped him she would very probably give up the
attempt and come back, her humour would change and his own eloquence
would do the rest.
He stopped in his walk, looked at his watch and glanced about him. He
was at some distance from the hotel and it was growing dusk, for the
days were already short. If Maria Consuelo really meant to leave Rome
precipitately, she might go by the evening train to Paris and in that
case the people of the hotel would have been informed of her intended
Orsino only admitted the possibility of her actually going away while
believing in his heart that she would remain. He slowly retraced his
steps, and it was seven o'clock before he asked the hotel porter by what
train Madame d'Aranjuez was leaving. The porter did not know whether the
lady was going north or south, but he called another man, who went in
search of a third, who disappeared for some time.
"Is it sure that Madame d'Aranjuez goes to-night?" asked Orsino trying
to look indifferent.
"Quite sure. Her rooms will be free to-morrow."
Orsino turned away and slowly paced up and down the marble pavement
between the tall plants, waiting for the messenger to come back.
"Madame d'Aranjuez leaves at nine forty-five," said the man, suddenly
Orsino hesitated a moment, and then made up his mind.
"Ask Madame if she will receive me for a moment," he said, producing a
The servant went away and again Orsino walked backwards and forwards,
pale now and very nervous. She was really going, and was going
north--probably to Paris.
"Madame regrets infinitely that she is not able to receive the Signor
Prince," said the man in black at Orsino's elbow. "She is making her
preparations for the journey."
"Show me where I can write a note," said Orsino, who had expected the
He was shown into the reading-room and writing materials were set before
him. He hurriedly wrote a few words to Maria Consuelo, without form of
address and without signature.
"I will not let you go without me. If you will not see me, I will be in
the train, and I will not leave you, wherever you go. I am in earnest."
He looked at the sheet of note-paper and wondered that he should find
nothing more to say. But he had said all he meant, and sealing the
little note he sent it up to Maria Consuelo with a request for an
immediate answer. Just then the dinner bell of the hotel was rung. The
reading-room was deserted. He waited five minutes, then ten, nervously
turning over the newspapers and reviews on the long table, but quite
unable to read even the printed titles. He rang and asked if there had
been no answer to his note. The man was the same whom he had sent
before. He said the note had been received at the door by the maid who
had said that Madame d'Aranjuez would ring when her answer was ready.
Orsino dismissed the servant and waited again. It crossed his mind that
the maid might have pocketed the note and said nothing about it, for
reasons of her own. He had almost determined to go upstairs and boldly
enter the sitting-room, when the door opposite to him opened and Maria
Consuelo herself appeared.
She was dressed in a dark close-fitting travelling costume, but she wore
no hat. Her face was quite colourless and looked if possible even more
unnaturally pale by contrast with her bright auburn hair. She shut the
door behind her and stood still, facing Orsino in the glare of the
"I did not mean to see you again," she said, slowly. "You have forced me
Orsino made a step forward and tried to take her hand, but she drew
back. The slight uncertainty often visible in the direction of her
glance had altogether disappeared and her eyes met Orsino's directly and
"Yes," he answered. "I have forced you to it. I know it, and you cannot
reproach me if I have. I will not leave you. I am going with you
wherever you go."
He spoke calmly, considering the great emotion he felt, and there was a
quiet determination in his words and tone which told how much he was in
earnest. Maria Consuelo half believed that she could dominate him by
sheer force of will, and she would not give up the idea, even now.
"You will not go with me, you will not even attempt it," she said.
It would have been difficult to guess from her face at that moment that
she loved him. Her face was pale and the expression was almost hard. She
held her head high as though she were looking down at him, though he
towered above her from his shoulders.
"You do not understand me," he answered, quietly. "When I say that I
will go with you, I mean that I will go."
"Is this a trial of strength?" she asked after a moment's pause.
"If it is, I am not conscious of it. It costs me no effort to go--it
would cost me much to stay behind--too much."
He stood quite still before her, looking steadily into her eyes. There
was a short silence, and then she suddenly looked down, moved and turned
away, beginning to walk slowly about. The room was large, and he paced
the floor beside her, looking down at her bent head.
"Will you stay if I ask you to?"
The question came in a lower and softer tone than she had used before.
"I will go with you," answered Orsino as firmly as ever.
"Will you do nothing for my asking?"
"I will do anything but that."
"But that is all I ask."
"You are asking the impossible."
"There are many reasons why you should not come with me. Have you
thought of them all?"
"You should. You ought to know, without being told by me, that you would
be doing me a great injustice and a great injury in following me. You
ought to know what the world will say of it. Remember that I am alone."
"I will marry you."
"I have told you that it is impossible--no, do not answer me! I will not
go over all that again. I am going away to-night. That is the principal
thing--the only thing that concerns you. Of course, if you choose, you
can get into the same train and pursue me to the end of the world. I
cannot prevent you. I thought I could, but I was mistaken. I am alone.
Remember that, Orsino. You know as well as I what will be said--and the
fact is sure to be known."
"People will say that I am following you--"
"They will say that we are gone together, for every one will have reason
to say it. Do you suppose that nobody is aware of our--our intimacy
during the last month?"
"Why not say our love?"
"Because I hope no one knows of that--well, if they do--Orsino, be kind!
Let me go alone--as a man of honour, do not injure me by leaving Rome
with me, nor by following me when I am gone!"
She stopped and looked up into his face with an imploring glance. To
tell the truth, Orsino had not foreseen that she might appeal to his
honour, alleging the danger to her reputation. He bit his lip and
avoided her eyes. It was hard to yield, and to yield so quickly, as it
seemed to him.
"How long will you stay away?" he asked in a constrained voice.
"I shall not come back at all."
He wondered at the firmness of her tone and manner. Whatever the real
ground of her resolution might be, the resolution itself had gained
strength since they had parted little more than an hour earlier. The
belief suddenly grew upon him again that she did not love him.
"Why are you going at all?" he asked abruptly. "If you loved me at all,
you would stay."
She drew a sharp breath and clasped her hands nervously together.
"I should stay if I loved you less. But I have told you--I will not go
over it all again. This must end--this saying good-bye! It is easier to
end it at once."
"Easier for you--"
"You do not know what you are saying. You will know some day. If you can
bear this, I cannot."
"Then stay--if you love me, as you say you do."
"As I say I do!"
Her eyes grew very grave and sad as she stopped and looked at him again.
Then she held out both her hands.
"I am going, now. Good-bye."
The blood came back to Orsino's face. It seemed to him that he had
reached the crisis of his life and his instinct was to struggle hard
against his fate. With a quick movement he caught her in his arms,
lifting her from her feet and pressing her close to him.
"You shall not go!"
He kissed her passionately again and again, while she fought to be free,
straining at his arms with her small white hands and trying to turn her
face from him.
"Why do you struggle? It is of no use." He spoke in very soft deep
tones, close to her ear.
She shook her head desperately and still did her best to slip from him,
though she might as well have tried to break iron clamps with her
"It is of no use," he repeated, pressing her still more closely to him.
"Let me go!" she cried, making a violent effort, as fruitless as the
Then she was quite still, realising that she had no chance with him.
"Is it manly to be brutal because you are strong?" she asked. "You hurt
Orsino's arms relaxed, and he let her go. She drew a long breath and
moved a step backward and towards the door.
"Good-bye," she said again. But this time she did not hold out her hand,
though she looked long and fixedly into his face.
Orsino made a movement as though he would have caught her again. She
started and put out her hand behind her towards the latch. But he did
not touch her. She softly opened the door, looked at him once more and
When he realised that she was gone he sprang after her, calling her by
There were a few people walking in the broad passage. They stared at
Orsino, but he did not heed them as he passed by. Maria Consuelo was not
there, and he understood in a moment that it would be useless to seek
her further. He stood still a moment, entered the reading-room again,
got his hat and left the hotel without looking behind him.
All sorts of wild ideas and schemes flashed through his brain, each more
absurd and impracticable than the last. He thought of going back and
finding Maria Consuelo's maid--he might bribe her to prevent her
mistress's departure. He thought of offering the driver of the train an
enormous sum to do some injury to his engine before reaching the first
station out of Rome. He thought of stopping Maria Consuelo's carriage on
her way to the tram and taking her by main force to his father's house.
If she were compromised in such a way, she would be almost obliged to
marry him. He afterwards wondered at the stupidity of his own inventions
on that evening, but at the time nothing looked impossible.
He bethought him of Spicca. Perhaps the old man possessed some power
over his daughter after all and could prevent her flight if he chose.
There were yet nearly two hours left before the train started. If worst
came to worst, Orsino could still get to the station at the last minute
and leave Rome with her.
He took a passing cab and drove to Spicca's lodgings. The count was at
home, writing a letter by the light of a small lamp. He looked up in
surprise as Orsino entered, then rose and offered him a chair.
"What has happened, my friend?" he asked, glancing curiously at the
young man's face.
"Everything," answered Orsino. "I love Madame d'Aranjuez, she loves me,
she absolutely refuses to marry me and she is going to Paris at a
quarter to ten. I know she is your daughter and I want you to prevent
her from leaving. That is all, I believe."
Spicca's cadaverous face did not change, but the hollow eyes grew bright
and fixed their glance on an imaginary point at an immense distance, and
the thin hand that lay on the edge of the table closed slowly upon the
projecting wood. For a few moments he said nothing, but when he spoke he
seemed quite calm.
"If she has told you that she is my daughter," he said, "I presume that
she has told you the rest. Is that true?"
Orsino was impatient for Spicca to take some immediate action, but he
understood that the count had a right to ask the question.
"She has told me that she does not know her mother's name, and that you
killed her husband."
"Both these statements are perfectly true at all events. Is that all you
"All? Yes--all of importance. But there is no time to be lost. No one
but you can prevent her from leaving Rome to-night. You must help me
Spicca looked gravely at Orsino and shook his head. The light that had
shone in his eyes for a moment was gone, and he was again his habitual,
melancholy, indifferent self.
"I cannot stop her," he said, almost listlessly.
"But you can--you will, you must!" cried Orsino laying a hand on the old
man's thin arm. "She must not go--"
"Better that she should, after all. Of what use is it for her to stay?
She is quite right. You cannot marry her."
"Cannot marry her? Why not? It is not long since you told me very
plainly that you wished I would marry her. You have changed your mind
very suddenly, it seems to me, and I would like to know why. Do you
remember all you said to me?"
"Yes, and I was in earnest, as I am now. And I was wrong in telling you
what I thought at the time."
"At the time! How can matters have changed so suddenly?"
"I do not say that matters have changed. I have. That is the important
thing. I remember the occasion of our conversation very well. Madame
d'Aranjuez had been rather abrupt with, me, and you and I went away
together. I forgave her easily enough, for I saw that she was
unhappy--then I thought how different her life might be if she were
married to you. I also wished to convey to you a warning, and it did not
strike me that you would ever seriously contemplate such a marriage."
"I think you are in a certain way responsible for the present
situation," answered Orsino. "That is the reason why I come to you for
Spicca turned upon the young man rather suddenly.
"There you go too far," he said. "Do you mean to tell me that you have
asked that lady to marry you because I suggested it?"
"Then I am not responsible at all. Besides, you might have consulted me
again, if you had chosen. I have not been out of town. I sincerely wish
that it were possible--yes, that is quite another matter. But it is not.
If Madame d'Aranjuez thinks it is not, from her point of view there are
a thousand reasons why I should consider it far more completely out of
the question. As for preventing her from leaving Rome I could not do
that even were I willing to try."
"Then I will go with her," said Orsino, angrily.
Spicca looked at him in silence for a few moments. Orsino rose to his
feet and prepared to go.
"You leave me no choice," he said, as though Spicca had protested.
"Because I cannot and will not stop her? Is that any reason why you
should compromise her reputation as you propose to do?"
"It is the best of reasons. She will marry me then, out of necessity."
Spicca rose also, with more alacrity than generally characterised his
movements. He stood before the empty fireplace, watching the young man
"It is not a good reason," he said, presently, in quiet tones. "You are
not the man to do that sort of thing. You are too honourable."
"I do not see anything dishonourable in following the woman I love."
"That depends on the way in which you follow her. If you go quietly home
to-night and write to your father that you have decided to go to Paris
for a few days and will leave to-morrow, if you make your arrangements
like a sensible being and go away like a sane man, I have nothing to say
in the matter--"
"I presume not--" interrupted Orsino, facing the old man somewhat
"Very well. We will not quarrel yet. We will reserve that pleasure for
the moment when you cease to understand me. That way of following her
would be bad enough, but no one would have any right to stop you."
"No one has any right to stop me, as it is."
"I beg your pardon. The present circumstances are different. In the
first instance the world would say that you were in love with Madame
d'Aranjuez and were pursuing her to press your suit--of whatever nature
that might be. In the second case the world will assert that you and
she, not meaning to be married, have adopted the simple plan of going
away together. That implies her consent, and you have no right to let
any one imply that. I say, it is not honourable to let people think that
a lady is risking her reputation for you and perhaps sacrificing it
altogether, when she is in reality trying to escape from you. Am I
right, or not?"
"You are ingenious, at all events. You talk as though the whole world
were to know in half an hour that I have gone to Paris in the same train
with Madame d'Aranjuez. That is absurd!"
"Is it? I think not. Half an hour is little, perhaps, but half a day is
enough. You are not an insignificant son of an unknown Roman citizen,
nor is Madame d'Aranjuez a person who passes unnoticed. Reporters watch
people like you for items of news, and you are perfectly well known by
sight. Apart from that, do you think that your servants will not tell
your friends' servants of your sudden departure, or that Madame
d'Aranjuez' going will not be observed? You ought to know Rome better
than that. I ask you again, am I right or wrong?"
"What difference will it make, if we are married immediately?"
"She will never marry you. I am convinced of that."
"How can you know? Has she spoken to you about it?"
"I am the last person to whom she would come."
"Her own father--"
"With limitations. Besides, I had the misfortune to deprive her of the
chosen companion of her life, and at a critical moment. She has not
"No she has not," answered Orsino gloomily. The memory of Aranjuez was a
sore point. "Why did you kill him?" he asked, suddenly.
"Because he was an adventurer, a liar and a thief--three excellent
reasons for killing any man, if one can. Moreover he struck her
once--with that silver paper cutter which she insists on using--and I
saw it from a distance. Then I killed him. Unluckily I was very angry
and made a little mistake, so that he lived twelve hours, and she had
time to get a priest and marry him. She always pretends that he struck
her in play, by accident, as he was showing her something about fencing.
I was in the next room and the door was open--it did not look like play.
And she still thinks that he was the paragon of all virtues. He was a
handsome devil--something like you, but shorter, with a bad eye. I am
glad I killed him."
Spicca had looked steadily at Orsino while speaking. When he ceased, he
began to walk about the small room with something of his old energy.
Orsino roused himself. He had almost begun to forget his own position in
the interest of listening to the count's short story.
"So much for Aranjuez," said Spicca. "Let us hear no more of him. As for
this mad plan of yours, you are convinced, I suppose, and you will give
it up. Go home and decide in the morning. For my part, I tell you it is
useless. She will not marry you. Therefore leave her alone and do
nothing which can injure her."
"I am not convinced," answered Orsino doggedly.
"Then you are not your father's son. No Saracinesca that I ever knew
would do what you mean to do--would wantonly tarnish the good name of a
woman--of a woman who loves him too--and whose only fault is that she
cannot marry him."
"That she will not."
"That she cannot."
"Do you give me your word that she cannot?"
"She is legally free to marry whom she pleases, with or without my
"That is all I want to know. The rest is nothing to me--"
"The rest is a great deal. I beg you to consider all I have said, and I
am sure that you will, quite sure. There are very good reasons for not
telling you or any one else all the details I know in this story--so
good that I would rather go to the length of a quarrel with you than
give them all. I am an old man, Orsino, and what is left of life does
not mean much to me. I will sacrifice it to prevent your opening this
door unless you tell me that you give up the idea of leaving Rome
As he spoke he placed himself before the closed door and faced the young
man. He was old, emaciated, physically broken down, and his hands were
empty. Orsino was in his first youth, tall, lean, active and very
strong, and no coward. He was moreover in an ugly humour and inclined to
be violent on much smaller provocation than he had received. But Spicca
imposed upon him, nevertheless, for he saw that he was in earnest.
Orsino was never afterwards able to recall exactly what passed through
his mind at that moment. He was physically able to thrust Spicca aside
and to open the door, without so much as hurting him. He did not
believe that, even in that case, the old man would have insisted upon
the satisfaction of arms, nor would he have been afraid to meet him if a
duel had been required. He knew that what withheld him from an act of
violence was neither fear nor respect for his adversary's weakness and
age. Yet he was quite unable to define the influence which at last broke
down his resolution. It was in all probability only the resultant of the
argument Spicca had brought to bear and which Maria Consuelo had herself
used in the first instance, and of Spicca's calm, undaunted personality.
The crisis did not last long. The two men faced each other for ten
seconds and then Orsino turned away with an impatient movement of the
"Very well," he said. "I will not go with her."
"It is best so," answered Spicca, leaving the door and returning to his
"I suppose that she will let you know where she is, will she not?" asked
"Yes. She will write to me."
Without shaking hands, and almost without a glance at the old man,
Orsino left the room.
Orsino walked slowly homeward, trying to collect his thoughts and to
reach some distinct determination with regard to the future. He was
oppressed by the sense of failure and disappointment and felt inclined
to despise himself for his weakness in yielding so easily. To all
intents and purposes he had lost Maria Consuelo, and if he had not lost
her through his own fault, he had at least tamely abandoned what had
seemed like a last chance of winning her back. As he thought of all that
had happened he tried to fix some point in the past, at which he might
have acted differently, and from which another act of consequence might
have begun. But that was not easy. Events had followed each other with a
certain inevitable logic, which only looked unreasonable because he
suspected the existence of facts beyond his certain knowledge. His great
mistake had been in going to Spicca, but nothing could have been more
natural, under the circumstances, than his appeal to Maria Consuelo's
father, nothing more unexpected than the latter's determined refusal to
help him. That there was weight in the argument used by both Spicca and
Maria Consuelo herself, he could not deny; but he failed to see why the
marriage was so utterly impossible as they both declared it to be. There
must be much more behind the visible circumstances than he could guess.
He tried to comfort himself with the assurance that he could leave Rome
on the following day, and that Spicca would not refuse to give him Maria
Consuelo's address in Paris. But the consolation he derived from the
idea was small. He found himself wondering at the recklessness shown by
the woman he loved in escaping from him. His practical Italian mind
could hardly understand how she could have changed all her plans in a
moment, abandoning her half-furnished apartment without a word of notice
even to the workmen, throwing over her intention of spending the winter
in Rome as though she had not already spent many thousands in preparing
her dwelling, and going away, probably, without as much as leaving a
representative to wind up her accounts. It may seem strange that a man
as much in love as Orsino was should think of such details at such a
moment. Perhaps he looked upon them rather as proofs that she meant to
come back after all; in any case he thought of them seriously, and even
calculated roughly the sum she would be sacrificing if she stayed away.
Beyond all he felt the dismal loneliness which a man can only feel when
he is suddenly and effectually parted from the woman he dearly loves,
and which is not like any other sensation of which the human heart is
More than once, up to the last possible moment, he was tempted to drive
to the station and leave with Maria Consuelo after all, but he would not
break the promise he had given Spicca, no matter how weak he had been in
On reaching his home he was informed, to his great surprise, that San
Giacinto was waiting to see him. He could not remember that his cousin
had ever before honoured him with a visit and he wondered what could
have brought him now and induced him to wait, just at the hour when most
people were at dinner.