Part 8 out of 9
The giant was reading the evening paper, with the help of a particularly
"I am glad you have come home," he said, rising and taking the young
man's outstretched hand. "I should have waited until you did."
"Has anything happened?" asked Orsino nervously. It struck him that San
Giacinto might be the bearer of some bad news about his people, and the
grave expression on the strongly marked face helped the idea.
"A great deal is happening. The crash has begun. You must get out of
your business in less than three days if you can."
Orsino drew a breath of relief at first, and then grew grave in his
turn, realising that unless matters were very serious such a man as San
Giacinto would not put himself to the inconvenience of coming. San
Giacinto was little given to offering advice unasked, still less to
interfering in the affairs of others.
"I understand," said Orsino. "You think that everything is going to
pieces. I see."
The big man looked at his young cousin with something like pity.
"If I only suspected, or thought--as you put it--that there was to be a
collapse of business, I should not have taken the trouble to warn you.
The crash has actually begun. If you can save yourself, do so at once."
"I think I can," answered the young man, bravely. But he did not at all
see how his salvation was to be accomplished. "Can you tell me a little
more definitely what is the matter? Have there been any more failures
"My brother-in-law Montevarchi is on the point of stopping payment,"
said San Giacinto calmly.
Orsino did not conceal his astonishment.
"Yes. Do not speak of it. And he is in precisely the same position, so
far as I can judge of your affairs, as you yourself, though of course he
has dealt with sums ten times as great. He will make enormous sacrifices
and will pay, I suppose, after all. But he will be quite ruined. He also
has worked with Del Fence's bank."
"And the bank refuses to discount any more of his paper?"
"Precisely. Since this afternoon."
"Then it will refuse to discount mine to-morrow."
"Have you acceptances due to-morrow?"
"Yes--not much, but enough to make the trouble. It will be Saturday,
too, and we must have money for the workmen."
"Have you not even enough in reserve for that?"
"Perhaps. I cannot tell. Besides, if the bank refuses to renew I cannot
draw a cheque."
"I am sorry for you. If I had known yesterday how near the end was, I
would have warned you."
"Thanks. I am grateful as it is. Can you give me any advice?"
Orsino had a vague idea that his rich cousin would generously propose to
help him out of his difficulties. He was not quite sure whether he could
bring himself to accept such assistance, but he more than half expected
that it would be offered. In this, however, he was completely mistaken.
San Giacinto had not the smallest intention of offering anything more
substantial than his opinion. Considering that his wife's brother's
liabilities amounted to something like five and twenty millions, this
was not surprising. The giant bit his cigar and folded his long arms
over his enormous chest, leaning back in the easy chair which creaked
under his weight.
"You have tried yourself in business by this time, Orsino," he said,
"and you know as well as I what there is to be done. You have three
modes of action open to you. You can fail. It is a simple affair enough.
The bank will take your buildings for what they will be worth a few
months hence, on the day of liquidation. There will be a big deficit,
which your father will pay for you and deduct from your share of the
division at his death. That is one plan, and seems to me the best. It is
perfectly honourable, and you lose by it. Secondly, you can go to your
father to-morrow and ask him to lend you money to meet your acceptances
and to continue the work until the houses are finished and can be sold.
They will ultimately go for a quarter of their value, if you can sell
them at all within the year, and you will be in your father's debt,
exactly as in the other case. You would avoid the publicity of a
failure, but it would cost you more, because the houses will not be
worth much more when they are finished than they are now."
"And the third plan--what is it?" inquired Orsino.
"The third way is this. You can go to Del Ferice, and if you are a
diplomatist you may persuade him that it is in his interest not to let
you fail. I do not think you will succeed, but you can try. If he agrees
it will be because he counts on your father to pay in the end, but it is
questionable whether Del Ferice's bank can afford to let out any more
cash at the present moment. Money is going to be very tight, as they
Orsino smoked in silence, pondering over the situation. San Giacinto
"You are warned, at all events," he said. "You will find a great change
for the worse in the general aspect of things to-morrow."
"I am much obliged for the warning," answered Orsino. "I suppose I can
always find you if I need your advice--and you will advise me?"
"You are welcome to my advice, such as it is, my dear boy. But as for
me, I am going towards Naples to-night on business, and I may not be
back again for a day or two. If you get into serious trouble before I am
here again, you should go to your father at once. He knows nothing of
business, and has been sensible enough to keep out of it. The
consequence is that he is as rich as ever, and he would sacrifice a
great deal rather than see your name dragged into the publicity of a
failure. Good-night, and good luck to you."
Thereupon the Titan shook Orsino's hand in his mighty grip and went
away. As a matter of fact he was going down to look over one of
Montevarchi's biggest estates with a view to buying it in the coming
cataclysm, but it would not have been like him to communicate the
smallest of his intentions to Orsino, or to any one, not excepting his
wife and his lawyer.
Orsino was left to his own devices and meditations. A servant came in
and inquired whether he wished to dine at home, and he ordered strong
coffee by way of a meal. He was at the age when a man expects to find a
way out of his difficulties in an artificial excitement of the nerves.
Indeed, he had enough to disturb him, for it seemed as though all
possible misfortunes had fallen upon him at once. He had suffered on the
same day the greatest shock to his heart, and the greatest blow to his
vanity which he could conceive possible. Maria Consuelo was gone and the
failure of his business was apparently inevitable. When he tried to
review the three plans which San Giacinto had suggested, he found
himself suddenly thinking of the woman he loved and making schemes for
following her; but so soon as he had transported himself in imagination
to her side and was beginning to hope that he might win her back, he
was torn away and plunged again into the whirlpool of business at home,
struggling with unheard of difficulties and sinking deeper at every
A hundred times he rose from his chair and paced the floor impatiently,
and a hundred times he threw himself down again, overcome by the
hopelessness of the situation. Occasionally he found a little comfort in
the reflexion that the night could not last for ever. When the day came
he would be driven to act, in one way or another, and he would be
obliged to consult his partner, Contini. Then at last his mind would be
able to follow one connected train of thought for a time, and he would
get rest of some kind.
Little by little, however, and long before the day dawned, the
dominating influence asserted itself above the secondary one and he was
thinking only of Maria Consuelo. Throughout all that night she was
travelling, as she would perhaps travel throughout all the next day and
the second night succeeding that. For she was strong and having once
determined upon the journey would very probably go to the end of it
without stopping to rest. He wondered whether she too were waking
through all those long hours, thinking of what she had left behind, or
whether she had closed her eyes and found the peace of sleep for which
he longed in vain. He thought of her face, softly lighted by the dim
lamp of the railway carriage, and fancied he could actually see it with
the delicate shadows, the subdued richness of colour, the settled look
of sadness. When the picture grew dim, he recalled it by a strong
effort, though he knew that each time it rose before his eyes he must
feel the same sharp thrust of pain, followed by the same dull wave of
hopeless misery which had ebbed and flowed again so many times since he
had parted from her.
At last he roused himself, looked about him as though he were in a
strange place, lighted a candle and betook himself to his own quarters.
It was very late, and he was more tired than he knew, for in spite of
all his troubles he fell asleep and did not awake till the sun was
streaming into the room.
Some one knocked at the door, and a servant announced that Signor
Contini was waiting to see Don Orsino. The man's face expressed a sort
of servile surprise when he saw that Orsino had not undressed for the
night and had been sleeping on the divan. He began to busy himself with
the toilet things as though expecting Orsino to take some thought for
his appearance. But the latter was anxious to see Contini at once, and
sent for him.
The architect was evidently very much disturbed. He was as pale as
though he had just recovered from a long illness and he seemed to have
grown suddenly emaciated during the night. He spoke in a low, excited
In substance he told Orsino what San Giacinto had said on the previous
evening. Things looked very black indeed, and Del Ferice's bank had
refused to discount any more of Prince Montevarchi's paper.
"And we must have money to-day," Contini concluded.
When he had finished speaking his excitement disappeared and he relapsed
into the utmost dejection. Orsino remained silent for some time and then
lit a cigarette.
"You need not be so down-hearted, Contini," he said at last. "I shall
not have any difficulty in getting money--you know that. What I feel
most is the moral failure."
"What is the moral failure to me?" asked Contini gloomily. "It is all
very well to talk of getting money. The bank will shut its tills like a
steel trap and to-day is Saturday, and there are the workmen and others
to be paid, and several bills due into the bargain. Of course your
family can give you millions--in time. But we need cash to-day. That is
"I suppose the state telegraph is not destroyed because Prince
Montevarchi cannot meet his acceptances," observed Orsino. "And I
imagine that our steward here in the house has enough cash for our
needs, and will not hesitate to hand it to me if he receives a telegram
from my father ordering him to do so. Whether he has enough to take up
the bills or not, I do not know; but as to-day is Saturday we have all
day to-morrow to make arrangements. I could even go out to Saracinesca
and be back on Monday morning when the bank opens."
"You seem to take a hopeful view."
"I have not the least hope of saving the business. But the question of
ready money does not of itself disturb me."
This was undoubtedly true, but it was also undeniable that Orsino now
looked upon the prospect of failure with more equanimity than on the
previous evening. On the other hand he felt even more keenly than before
all the pain of his sudden separation from Maria Consuelo. When a man is
assailed, by several misfortunes at once, twenty-four hours are
generally enough to sift the small from the great and to show him
plainly which is the greatest of all.
"What shall we do this morning?" inquired Contini.
"You ask the question as though you were going to propose a picnic,"
answered Orsino. "I do not see why this morning need be so different
from other mornings."
"We must stop the works instantly--"
"Why? At all events we will change nothing until we find out the real
state of business. The first thing to be done is to go to the bank as
usual on Saturdays. We shall then know exactly what to do."
Contini shook his head gloomily and went away to wait in another room
while Orsino dressed. An hour later they were at the bank. Contini grew
paler than ever. The head clerk would of course inform them that no more
bills would be discounted, and that they must meet those already out
when they fell due. He would also tell them that the credit balance of
their account current would not be at their disposal until their
acceptances were met. Orsino would probably at last believe that the
situation was serious, though he now looked so supremely and scornfully
indifferent to events.
They waited some time. Several men were engaged in earnest conversation,
and their faces told plainly enough that they were in trouble. The head
clerk was standing with them, and made a sign to Orsino, signifying that
they would soon go. Orsino watched him. From time to time he shook his
head and made gestures which indicated his utter inability to do
anything for them. Contini's courage sank lower and lower.
"I will ask for Del Ferice at once," said Orsino.
He accordingly sought out one of the men who wore the bank's livery and
told him to take his card to the count.
"The Signor Commendatore is not coming this morning," answered the man
Orsino went back to the head clerk, interrupting his conversation with
the others. He inquired if it were true that Del Ferice were not coming.
"It is not probable," answered the clerk with a grave face. "They say
that the Signora Contessa is not likely to live through the day."
"Is Donna Tullia ill?" asked Orsino in considerable astonishment.
"She returned from Naples yesterday morning, and was taken ill in the
afternoon--it is said to be apoplexy," he added in a low voice. "If you
will have patience Signor Principe, I will be at your disposal in five
Orsino was obliged to be satisfied and sat down again by Contini. He
told him the news of Del Ferice's wife.
"That will make matters worse," said Contini.
"It will not improve them," answered Orsino indifferently. "Considering
the state of affairs I would like to see Del Ferice before speaking with
any of the others."
"Those men are all involved with Prince Montevarchi," observed Contini,
watching the group of which the head clerk was the central figure. "You
can see by their faces what they think of the business. The short, grey
haired man is the steward--the big man is the architect. The others are
contractors. They say it is not less than thirty millions."
Orsino said nothing. He was thinking of Maria Consuelo and wishing that
he could get away from Rome that night, while admitting that there was
no possibility of such a thing. Meanwhile the head clerk's gestures to
his interlocutors expressed more and more helplessness. At last they
went out in a body.
"And now I am at your service, Signor Principe," said the grave man of
business coming up to Orsino and Contini. "The usual accommodation, I
suppose? We will just look over the bills and make out the new ones. It
will not take ten minutes. The usual cash, I suppose, Signor Principe?
Yes, to-day is Saturday and you have your men to pay. Quite as usual,
quite as usual. Will you come into my office?"
Orsino looked at Contini, and Contini looked at Orsino, grasping the
back of a chair to steady himself.
"Then there is no difficulty about discounting?" stammered Contini,
turning his face, now suddenly flushed, towards the clerk.
"None whatever," answered the latter with an air of real or affected
surprise. "I have received the usual instructions to let Andrea Contini
and Company have all the money they need."
He turned and led the way to his private office. Contini walked
unsteadily. Orsino showed no astonishment, but his black eyes grew a
little brighter than usual as he anticipated his next interview with San
Giacinto. He readily attributed his good fortune to the supposed
well-known prosperity of the firm, and he rose in his own estimation. He
quite forgot that Contini, who had now lost his head, had but yesterday
clearly foreseen the future when he had said that Del Ferice would not
let the two partners fail until they had fitted the last door and the
last window in the last of their houses. The conclusion had struck him
as just at the time. Contini was the first to recall it.
"It will turn out, as I said," he began, when they were driving to their
office in a cab after leaving the bank. "He will let us live until we
are worth eating."
"We will arrange matters on a firmer basis before that," answered Orsino
confidently. "Poor old Donna Tullia! Who would have thought that she
could die! I will stop and ask for news as we pass."
He stopped the cab before the gilded gate of the detached house.
Glancing up, he saw that the shutters were closed. The porter came to
the bars but did not show any intention of opening.
"The Signora Contessa is dead," he said solemnly, in answer to Orsino's
"Two hours ago."
Orsino's face grew grave as he left his card of condolence and turned
away. He could hardly have named a person more indifferent to him than
poor Donna Tullia, but he could not help feeling an odd regret at the
thought that she was gone at last with all her noisy vanity, her
restless meddlesomeness and her perpetual chatter. She had not been old
either, though he called her so, and there had seemed to be still a
superabundance of life in her. There had been yet many years of
rattling, useless, social life before her. To-morrow she would have
taken her last drive through Rome--out through the gate of Saint
Lawrence to the Campo Varano, there to wait many years perhaps for the
pale and half sickly Ugo, of whom every one had said for years that he
could not live through another twelve month with the disease of the
heart which threatened him. Of late, people had even begun to joke about
Donna Tullia's third husband. Poor Donna Tullia!
Orsino went to his office with Contini and forced himself through the
usual round of work. Occasionally he was assailed by a mad desire to
leave Rome at once, but he opposed it and would not yield. Though his
affairs had gone well beyond his expectation the present crisis made it
impossible to abandon his business, unless he could get rid of it
altogether. And this he seriously contemplated. He knew however, or
thought he knew, that Contini would be ruined without him. His own name
was the one which gave the paper its value and decided Del Ferice to
continue the advances of money. The time was past when Contini would
gladly have accepted his partner's share of the undertaking, and would
even have tried to raise funds to purchase it. To retire now would be
possible only if he could provide for the final liquidation of the
whole, and this he could only do by applying to his father or mother, in
other words by acknowledging himself completely beaten in his struggle
The day ended at last and was succeeded by the idleness of Sunday. A
sort of listless indifference came over Orsino, the reaction, no doubt,
after all the excitement through which he had passed. It seemed to him
that Maria Consuelo had never loved him, and that it was better after
all that she should be gone. He longed for the old days, indeed, but as
she now appeared to him in his meditations he did not wish her back. He
had no desire to renew the uncertain struggle for a love which she
denied in the end; and this mood showed, no doubt, that his own passion
was less violent than he had himself believed. When a man loves with his
whole nature, undividedly, he is not apt to submit to separations
without making a strong effort to reunite himself, by force, persuasion
or stratagem, with the woman who is trying to escape from him. Orsino
was conscious of having at first felt the inclination to make such an
attempt even more strongly than he had shown it, but he was conscious
also that the interval of two days had been enough to reduce the wish to
follow Maria Consuelo in such a way that he could hardly understand
having ever entertained it.
Unsatisfied passion wears itself out very soon. The higher part of love
may and often does survive in such cases, and the passionate impulses
may surge up after long quiescence as fierce and dangerous as ever. But
it is rarely indeed that two unsatisfied lovers who have parted by the
will of the one or of both can meet again without the consciousness that
the experimental separation has chilled feelings once familiar and
destroyed illusions once more than dear. In older times, perhaps, men
and women loved differently. There was more solitude in those days than
now, for what is called society was not invented, and people generally
were more inclined to sadness from living much alone. Melancholy is a
great strengthener of faithfulness in love. Moreover at that time the
modern fight for life had not begun, men as a rule had few interests
besides love and war, and women no interests at all beyond love. We
moderns should go mad if we were suddenly forced to lead the lives led
by knights and ladies in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. The
monotonous round of such an existence in time of peace would make idiots
of us, the horrors of that old warfare would make many of us maniacs.
But it is possible that youths and maidens would love more faithfully
and wait longer for each other than they will or can to-day. It is
questionable whether Bayard would have understood a single page of a
modern love story, Tancred would certainly not have done so; but Caesar
would have comprehended our lives and our interests without effort, and
Catullus could have described us as we are, for one great civilization
is very like another where the same races are concerned.
In the days which followed Maria Consuelo's departure, Orsino came to a
state of indifference which surprised himself. He remembered that when
she had gone away in the spring he had scarcely missed her, and that he
had not thought his own coldness strange, since he was sure that he had
not loved her then. But that he had loved her now, during her last stay
in Rome, he was sure, and he would have despised himself if he had not
been able to believe that he loved her still. Yet, if he was not glad
that she had quitted him, he was at least strangely satisfied at being
left alone, and the old fancy for analysis made him try to understand
himself. The attempt was fruitless, of course, but it occupied his
He met Spicca in the street, and avoided him. He imagined that the old
man must despise him for not having resisted and followed Maria Consuelo
after all. The hypothesis was absurd and the conclusion vain, but he
could not escape the idea, and it annoyed him. He was probably ashamed
of not having acted recklessly, as a man should who is dominated by a
master passion, and yet he was inwardly glad that he had not been
allowed to yield to the first impulse.
The days succeeded each other and a week passed away, bringing Saturday
again and the necessity for a visit to the bank. Business had been in a
very bad state since it had been known that Montevarchi was ruined. So
far, he had not stopped payment and although the bank refused discount
he had managed to find money with which to meet his engagements.
Probably, as San Giacinto had foretold, he would pay everything and
remain a very poor man indeed. But, although many persons knew this,
confidence was not restored. Del Ferice declared that he believed
Montevarchi solvent, as he believed every one with whom his bank dealt
to be solvent to the uttermost centime, but that he could lend no more
money to any one on any condition whatsoever, because neither he nor the
bank had any to lend. Every one, he said, had behaved honestly, and he
proposed to eclipse the honesty of every one by the frank acknowledgment
of his own lack of cash. He was distressed, he said, overcome by the
sufferings of his friends and clients, ready to sell his house, his
jewelry and his very boots, in the Roman phrase, to accommodate every
one; but he was conscious that the demand far exceeded any supply which
he could furnish, no matter at what personal sacrifice, and as it was
therefore impossible to help everybody, it would be unjust to help a
few where all were equally deserving.
In the meanwhile he proved the will of his deceased wife, leaving him
about four and a half millions of francs unconditionally, and half a
million more to be devoted to some public charity at Ugo's discretion,
for the repose of Donna Tullia's unquiet spirit. It is needless to say
that the sorrowing husband determined to spend the legacy magnificently
in the improvement of the town represented by him in parliament. A part
of the improvement would consist in a statue of Del Ferice
himself--representing him, perhaps, as he had escaped from Rome, in the
garb of a Capuchin friar, but with the addition of an army revolver to
show that he had fought for Italian unity, though when or where no man
could tell. But it is worth noting that while he protested his total
inability to discount any one's bills, Andrea Contini and Company
regularly renewed their acceptances when due and signed new ones for any
amount of cash they required. The accommodation was accompanied with a
request that it should not be mentioned. Orsino took the money
indifferently enough, conscious that he had three fortunes at his back
in case of trouble, but Contini grew more nervous as time went on and
the sums on paper increased in magnitude, while the chances of disposing
of the buildings seemed reduced to nothing in the stagnation which had
already set in.
At this time Count Spicca received a letter from Maria Consuelo, written
from Nice and bearing a postmark more recent than the date which headed
the page, a fact which proved that the writer had either taken an
unusually long time in the composition or had withheld the missive
several days before finally despatching it.
"My father--I write to inform you of certain things which have recently
taken place and which it is important that you should know, and of which
I should have the right to require an explanation if I chose to ask it.
Having been the author of my life, you have made yourself also the
author of all my unhappiness and of all my trouble. I have never
understood the cause of your intense hatred for me, but I have felt its
consequences, even at a great distance from you, and you know well
enough that I return it with all my heart. Moreover I have made up my
mind that I will not be made to suffer by you any longer. I tell you so
quite frankly. This is a declaration of war, and I will act upon it
"You are no doubt aware that Don Orsino Saracinesca has for a long time
been among my intimate friends. I will not discuss the question, whether
I did well to admit him to my intimacy or not. That, at least, does not
concern you. Even admitting your power to exercise the most complete
tyranny over me in other ways, I am and have always been free to choose
my own acquaintances, and I am able to defend myself better than most
women, and as well as any. I will be just, too. I do not mean to
reproach you with the consequences of what I do. But I will not spare
you where the results of your action towards me are concerned.
"Don Orsino made love to me last spring. I loved him from the first. I
can hear your cruel laugh and see your contemptuous face as I write. But
the information is necessary, and I can bear your scorn because this is
the last opportunity for such diversion which I shall afford you, and
because I mean that you shall pay dearly for it. I loved Don Orsino, and
I love him still. You, of course, have never loved. You have hated,
however, and perhaps one passion may be the measure of another. It is in
my case, I can assure you, for the better I love, the better I learn to
"Last Thursday Don Orsino asked me to be his wife. I had known for some
time that he loved me and I knew that he would speak of it before long.
The day was sultry at first and then there was a thunderstorm. My nerves
were unstrung and I lost my head. I told him that I loved him. That does
not concern you. I told him, also, however, that I had given a solemn
promise to my dying husband, and I had still the strength to say that I
would not marry again. I meant to gain time, I longed to be alone, I
knew that I should yield, but I would not yield blindly. Thank God, I
was strong. I am like you in that, though happily not in any other way.
You ask me why I should even think of yielding. I answer that I love Don
Orsino better than I loved the man you murdered. There is nothing
humiliating in that, and I make the confession without reserve. I love
him better, and therefore, being human, I would have broken my promise
and married him, had marriage been possible. But it is not, as you know.
It is one thing to turn to the priest as he stands by a dying man and to
say, Pronounce us man and wife, and give us a blessing, for the sake of
this man's rest. The priest knew that we were both free, and took the
responsibility upon himself, knowing also that the act could have no
consequences in fact, whatever it might prove to be in theory. It is
quite another matter to be legally married to Don Orsino Saracinesca, in
the face of a strong opposition. But I went home that evening, believing
that it could be done and that the opposition would vanish. I believed
because I loved. I love still, but what I learned that night has killed
my belief in an impossible happiness.
"I need not tell you all that passed between me and Lucrezia Ferris. How
she knew of what had happened I cannot tell. She must have followed us
to the apartment I was furnishing, and she must have overheard what we
said, or seen enough to convince her. She is a spy. I suppose that is
the reason why she is imposed upon me, and always has been, since I can
remember--since I was born, she says. I found her waiting to dress me as
usual, and as usual I did not speak to her. She spoke first. 'You will
not marry Don Orsino Saracinesca,' she said, facing me with her bad
eyes. I could have struck her, but I would not. I asked her what she
meant. She told me that she knew what I was doing, and asked me whether
I was aware that I needed documents in order to be married to a beggar
in Rome, and whether I supposed that the Saracinesca would be inclined
to overlook the absence of such papers, or could pass a law of their own
abolishing the necessity for them, or, finally, whether they would
accept such certificates of my origin as she could produce. She showed
me a package. She had nothing better to offer me, she said, but such as
she had, she heartily placed at my disposal. I took the papers. I was
prepared for a shock, but not for the blow I received.
"You know what I read. The certificate of my birth as the daughter of
Lucrezia Ferris, unmarried, by Count Spicca who acknowledged the child
as his--and the certificate of your marriage with Lucrezia Ferris,
dated--strangely enough a fortnight after my birth--and further a
document legitimizing me as the lawful daughter of you two. All these
documents are from Monte Carlo. You will understand why I am in Nice.
Yes--they are all genuine, every one of them, as I have had no
difficulty in ascertaining. So I am the daughter of Lucrezia Ferris,
born out of wedlock and subsequently whitewashed into a sort of
legitimacy. And Lucrezia Ferris is lawfully the Countess Spicca.
Lucrezia Ferris, the cowardly spy-woman who more than half controls my
life, the lying, thieving servant--she robs me at every turn--the
common, half educated Italian creature,--she is my mother, she is that
radiant being of whom you sometimes speak with tears in your eyes, she
is that angel of whom I remind you, she is that sweet influence that
softened and brightened your lonely life for a brief space some three
and twenty years ago! She has changed since then.
"And this is the mystery of my birth which you have concealed from me,
and which it was at any moment in the power of my vile mother to reveal.
You cannot deny the fact, I suppose, especially since I have taken the
trouble to search the registers and verify each separate document.
"I gave them all back to her, for I shall never need them. The woman--I
mean my mother--was quite right. I shall not marry Don Orsino
Saracinesca. You have lied to me throughout my life. You have always
told me that my mother was dead, and that I need not be ashamed of my
birth, though you wished it kept a secret. So far, I have obeyed you. In
that respect, and only in that, I will continue to act according to your
wishes. I am not called upon to proclaim to the world and my
acquaintance that I am the daughter of my own servant, and that you were
kind enough to marry your estimable mistress after my birth in order to
confer upon me what you dignify by the name of legitimacy. No. That is
not necessary. If it could hurt you to proclaim it I would do so in the
most public way I could find. But it is folly to suppose that you could
be made to suffer by so simple a process.
"Are you aware, my father, that you have ruined all my life from the
first? Being so bad, you must be intelligent and you must realise what
you have done, even if you have done it out of pure love of evil. You
pretended to be kind to me, until I was old enough to feel all the pain
you had in store for me. But even then, after you had taken the trouble
to marry my mother, why did you give me another name? Was that
necessary? I suppose it was. I did not understand then why my older
companions looked askance at me in the convent, nor why the nuns
sometimes whispered together and looked at me. They knew perhaps that no
such name as mine existed. Since I was your daughter why did I not bear
your name when I was a little girl? You were ashamed to let it be known
that you were married, seeing what sort of wife you had taken, and you
found yourself in a dilemma. If you had acknowledged me as your daughter
in Austria, your friends in Rome would soon have found out my
existence--and the existence of your wife. You were very cautious in
those days, but you seem to have grown careless of late, or you would
not have left those papers in the care of the Countess Spicca, my
maid--and my mother. I have heard that very bad men soon reach their
second childhood and act foolishly. It is quite true.
"Then, later, when you saw that I loved, and was loved, and was to be
happy, you came between my love and me. You appeared in your own
character as a liar, a slanderer and a traitor. I loved a man who was
brave, honourable, faithful--reckless, perhaps, and wild as such men
are--but devoted and true. You came between us. You told me that he was
false, cowardly, an adventurer of the worst kind. Because I would not
believe you, and would have married him in spite of you, you killed him.
Was it cowardly of him to face the first swordsman in Europe? They told
me that he was not afraid of you, the men who saw it, and that he fought
you like a lion, as he was. And the provocation, too! He never struck
me. He was showing me what he meant by a term in fencing--the silver
knife he held grazed my cheek because I was startled and moved. But you
meant to kill him, and you chose to say that he had struck me. Did you
ever hear a harsh word from his lips during those months of waiting?
When you had done your work you fled--like the murderer you were and
are. But I escaped from the woman who says she is my mother--and is--and
I went to him and found him living and married him. You used to tell me
that he was an adventurer and little better than a beggar. Yet he left
me a large fortune. It is as well that he provided for me, since you
have succeeded in losing most of your own money at play--doubtless to
insure my not profiting by it at your death. Not that you will die--men
of your kind outlive their victims, because they kill them.
"And now, when you saw--for you did see it--when you saw and knew that
Orsino Saracinesca and I loved each other, you have broken my life a
second time. You might so easily have gone to him, or have come to me,
at the first, with the truth. You know that I should never forgive you
for what you had done already. A little more could have made matters no
worse then. You knew that Don Orsino would have thanked you as a friend
for the warning. Instead--I refuse to believe you in your dotage after
all--you make that woman spy upon me until the great moment is come, you
give her the weapons and you bid her strike when the blow will be most
excruciating. You are not a man. You are Satan. I parted twice from the
man I love. He would not let me go, and he came back and tried to keep
me--I do not know how I escaped. God helped me. He is so brave and noble
that if he had held those accursed papers in his hands and known all the
truth he would not have given me up. He would have brought a stain on
his great name, and shame upon his great house for my sake. He is not
like you. I parted from him twice, I know all that I can suffer, and I
hate you for each individual suffering, great and small.
"I have dismissed my mother from my service. How that would sound in
Rome! I have given her as much money as she can expect and I have got
rid of her. She said that she would not go, that she would write to you,
and many other things. I told her that if she attempted to stay I would
go to the authorities, prove that she was my mother, provide for her, if
the law required it and have her forcibly turned out of my house by the
aid of the same law. I am of age, married, independent, and I cannot be
obliged to entertain my mother either in the character of a servant, or
as a visitor. I suppose she has a right to a lodging under your roof. I
hope she will take advantage of it, as I advised her. She took the money
and went away, cursing me. I think that if she had ever, in all my life,
shown the smallest affection for me--even at the last, when she declared
herself my mother, if she had shown a spark of motherly feeling, of
tenderness, of anything human, I could have accepted her and tolerated
her, half peasant woman as she is, spy as she has been, and cheat and
thief. But she stood before me with the most perfect indifference,
watching my surprise with those bad eyes of hers. I wonder why I have
borne her presence so long. I suppose it had never struck me that I
could get rid of her, in spite of you, if I chose. By the bye, I sent
for a notary when I paid her, and I got a legal receipt signed with her
legal name, Lucrezia Spicca, _ta Ferris_. The document formally
releases me from all further claims. I hope you will understand that you
have no power whatsoever to impose her upon me again, though I confess
that I am expecting your next move with interest. I suppose that you
have not done with me yet, and have some new means of torment in
reserve. Satan is rarely idle long.
"And now I have done. If you were not the villain you are, I should
expect you to go to the man whose happiness I have endangered, if not
destroyed. I should expect you to tell Don Orsino Saracinesca enough of
the truth to make him understand my action. But I know you far too well
to imagine that you would willingly take from my life one thorn of the
many you have planted in it. I will write to Don Orsino myself. I think
you need not fear him--I am sorry that you need not. But I shall not
tell him more than is necessary. You will remember, I hope, that such
discretion as I may show, is not shown out of consideration for you, but
out of forethought for my own welfare. I have unfortunately no means of
preventing you from writing to me, but you may be sure that your letters
will never be read, so that you will do as well to spare yourself the
trouble of composing them.
"MARIA CONSUELO D'ARANJUEZ."
Spicca received this letter early in the morning, and at mid-day he
still sat in his chair, holding it in his hand. His face was very white,
his head hung forward upon his breast, his thin fingers were stiffened
upon the thin paper. Only the hardly perceptible rise and fall of the
chest showed that he still breathed.
The clocks had already struck twelve when his old servant entered the
room, a being thin, wizened, grey and noiseless as the ghost of a
greyhound. He stood still a moment before his master, expecting that he
would look up, then bent anxiously over him and felt his hands.
Spicca slowly raised his sunken eyes.
"It will pass, Santi--it will pass," he said feebly.
Then he began to fold up the sheets slowly and with difficulty, but very
neatly, as men of extraordinary skill with their hands do everything.
Santi looked at him doubtfully and then got a glass and a bottle of
cordial from a small carved press in the corner. Spicca drank the
liqueur slowly and set the glass steadily upon the table.
"Bad news, Signor Conte?" asked the servant anxiously, and in a way
which betrayed at once the kindly relations existing between the two.
"Very bad news," Spicca answered sadly and shaking his head.
Santi sighed, restored the cordial to the press and took up the glass,
as though he were about to leave the room. But he still lingered near
the table, glancing uneasily at his master as though he had something to
say, but was hesitating to begin.
"What is it, Santi?" asked the count.
"I beg your pardon, Signor Conte--you have had bad news--if you will
allow me to speak, there are several small economies which could still
be managed without too much inconveniencing you. Pardon the liberty,
"I know, I know. But it is not money this time. I wish it were."
Santi's expression immediately lost much of its anxiety. He had shared
his master's fallen fortunes and knew better than he what he meant by a
few more small economies, as he called them.
"God be praised, Signor Conte," he said solemnly. "May I serve the
"I have no appetite, Santi. Go and eat yourself."
"A little something?" Santi spoke in a coaxing way. "I have prepared a
little mixed fry, with toast, as you like it, Signor Conte, and the
salad is good to-day--ham and figs are also in the house. Let me lay the
cloth--when you see, you will eat--and just one egg beaten up with a
glass of red wine to begin--that will dispose the stomach."
Spicca shook his head again, but Santi paid no attention to the refusal
and went about preparing the meal. When it was ready the old man
suffered himself to be persuaded and ate a little. He was in reality
stronger than he looked, and an extraordinary nervous energy still
lurked beneath the appearance of a feebleness almost amounting to
decrepitude. The little nourishment he took sufficed to restore the
balance, and when he rose from the table, he was outwardly almost
himself again. When a man has suffered great moral pain for years, he
bears a new shock, even the worst, better than one who is hard hit in
the midst of a placid and long habitual happiness. The soul can be
taught to bear trouble as the great self mortifiers of an earlier time
taught their bodies to bear scourging. The process is painful but
"I feel better, Santi," said Spicca. "Your breakfast has done me good.
You are an excellent doctor."
He turned away and took out his pocket-book--not over well garnished. He
found a ten franc note. Then he looked round and spoke in a gentle,
"Santi--this trouble has nothing to do with money. You need a new pair
of shoes, I am sure. Do you think that ten francs is enough?"
Santi bowed respectfully and took the money.
"A thousand thanks, Signor Conte," he said.
Santi was a strange man, from the heart of the Abruzzi. He pocketed the
note, but that night, when he had undressed his master and was arranging
the things on the dressing table, the ten francs found their way back
into the black pocket-book. Spicca never counted, and never knew.
He did not write to Maria Consuelo, for he was well aware that in her
present state of mind she would undoubtedly burn his letter unopened, as
she had said she would. Late in the day he went out, walked for an hour,
entered the club and read the papers, and at last betook himself to the
restaurant where Orsino dined when his people were out of town.
In due time, Orsino appeared, looking pale and ill tempered. He caught
sight of Spicca and went at once to the table where he sat.
"I have had a letter," said the young man. "I must speak to you. If you
do not object, we will dine together."
"By all means. There is nothing like a thoroughly bad dinner to promote
Orsino glanced at the old man in momentary surprise. But he knew his
ways tolerably well, and was familiar with the chronic acidity of his
"You probably guess who has written to me," Orsino resumed. "It was
natural, perhaps, that she should have something to say, but what she
actually says, is more than I was prepared to hear."
Spicca's eyes grew less dull and he turned an inquiring glance on his
"When I tell you that in this letter, Madame d'Aranjuez has confided to
me the true story of her origin, I have probably said enough," continued
the young man.
"You have said too much or too little," Spicca answered in an almost
"Unless you tell me just what she has told you, or show me the letter, I
cannot possibly judge of the truth of the tale."
Orsino raised his head angrily.
"Do you mean me to doubt that Madame d'Aranjuez speaks the truth?" he
"Calm yourself. Whatever Madame d'Aranjuez has written to you, she
believes to be true. But she may have been herself deceived."
"In spite of documents--public registers--"
"Ah! Then she has told you about those certificates?"
"That--and a great deal more which concerns you."
"Precisely. A great deal more. I know all about the registers, as you
may easily suppose, seeing that they concern two somewhat important acts
in my own life and that I was very careful to have those acts properly
recorded, beyond the possibility of denial--beyond the possibility of
denial," he repeated very slowly and emphatically. "Do you understand
"It would not enter the mind of a sane person to doubt such evidence,"
answered Orsino rather scornfully.
"No, I suppose not. As you do not therefore come to me for confirmation
of what is already undeniable, I cannot understand why you come to me at
all in this matter, unless you do so on account of other things which
Madame d'Aranjuez has written you, and of which you have so far kept me
Spicca spoke with a formal manner and in cold tones, drawing up his bent
figure a little. A waiter came to the table and both men ordered their
dinner. The interruption rather favoured the development of a hostile
feeling between them, than otherwise.
"I will explain my reasons for coming to find you here," said Orsino
when they were again alone.
"So far as I am concerned, no explanation is necessary. I am content not
to understand. Moreover, this is a public place, in which we have
accidentally met and dined together before."
"I did not come here by accident," answered Orsino. "And I did not come
in order to give explanations but to ask for one."
"Ah?" Spicca eyed him coolly.
"Yes. I wish to know why you have hated your daughter all her life, why
you persecute her in every way, why you--"
"Will you kindly stop?"
The old man's voice grew suddenly clear and incisive, and Orsino broke
off in the middle of his sentence. A moment's pause followed.
"I requested you to stop speaking," Spicca resumed, "because you were
unconsciously making statements which have no foundation whatever in
fact. Observe that I say, unconsciously. You are completely mistaken. I
do not hate Madame d'Aranjuez. I love her with all my heart and soul. I
do not persecute her in every way, nor in any way. On the contrary, her
happiness is the only object of such life as I still have to live, and I
have little but that life left to give her. I am in earnest, Orsino."
"I see you are. That makes what you say all the more surprising."
"No doubt it does. Madame d'Aranjuez has just written to you, and you
have her letter in your pocket. She has told you in that letter a number
of facts in her own life, as she sees them, and you look at them as she
does. It is natural. To her and to you, I appear to be a monster of
evil, a hideous incarnation of cruelty, a devil in short. Did she call
me a devil in her letter?"
"Precisely. She has also written to me, informing me that I am Satan.
There is a directness in the statement and a general disregard of
probability which is not without charm. Nevertheless, I am Spicca, and
not Beelzebub, her assurances to the contrary notwithstanding. You see
how views may differ. You know much of her life, but you know nothing of
mine, nor is it my intention to tell you anything about myself. But I
will tell you this much. If I could do anything to mend matters, I
would. If I could make it possible for you to marry Madame
d'Aranjuez--being what you are, and fenced in as you are, I would. If I
could tell you all the rest of the truth, which she does not know, nor
dream of, I would. I am bound by a very solemn promise of secrecy--by
something more than a promise in fact. Yet, if I could do good to her by
breaking oaths, betraying confidence and trampling on the deepest
obligations which can bind a man, I would. But that good cannot be done
any more. That is all I can tell you."
"It is little enough. You could, and you can, tell the whole truth, as
you call it, to Madame d'Aranjuez. I would advise you to do so, instead
of embittering her life at every turn."
"I have not asked for your advice, Orsino. That she is unhappy, I know.
That she hates me, is clear. She would not be the happier for hating me
less, since nothing else would be changed. She need not think of me, if
the subject is disagreeable. In all other respects she is perfectly
free. She is young, rich, and at liberty to go where she pleases and to
do what she likes. So long as I am alive, I shall watch over her--"
"And destroy every chance of happiness which presents itself,"
"I gave you some idea, the other night, of the happiness she might have
enjoyed with the deceased Aranjuez. If I made a mistake in regard to
what I saw him do--I admit the possibility of an error--I was
nevertheless quite right in ridding her of the man. I have atoned for
the mistake, if we call it so, in a way of which you do not dream, nor
she either. The good remains, for Aranjuez is buried."
"You speak of secret atonement--I was not aware that you ever suffered
"Nor I," answered Spicca drily.
"Then what do you mean?"
"You are questioning me, and I have warned you that I will tell you
nothing about myself. You will confer a great favour upon me by not
"Are you threatening me again?"
"I am not doing anything of the kind. I never threaten any one. I could
kill you as easily as I killed Aranjuez, old and decrepit as I look, and
I should be perfectly indifferent to the opprobrium of killing so young
a man--though I think that, looking at us two, many people might suppose
the advantage to be on your side rather than on mine. But young men
nowadays do not learn to handle arms. Short of laying violent hands upon
me, you will find it quite impossible to provoke me. I am almost old
enough to be your grandfather, and I understand you very well. You love
Madame d'Aranjuez. She knows that to marry you would be to bring about
such a quarrel with your family as might ruin half your life, and she
has the rare courage to tell you so and to refuse your offer. You think
that I can do something to help you and you are incensed because I am
powerless, and furious because I object to your leaving Rome in the same
train with her, against her will. You are more furious still to-day
because you have adopted her belief that I am a monster of iniquity.
Observe--that, apart from hindering you from a great piece of folly the
other day, I have never interfered. I do not interfere now. As I said
then, follow her if you please, persuade her to marry you if you can,
quarrel with all your family if you like. It is nothing to me. Publish
the banns of your marriage on the doors of the Capitol and declare to
the whole world that Madame d'Aranjuez, the future Princess Saracinesca,
is the daughter of Count Spicca and Lucrezia Ferris, his lawful wife.
There will be a little talk, but it will not hurt me. People have kept
their marriages a secret for a whole lifetime before now. I do not care
what you do, nor what the whole tribe of the Saracinesca may do,
provided that none of you do harm to Maria Consuelo, nor bring useless
suffering upon her. If any of you do that, I will kill you. That at
least is a threat, if you like. Good-night."
Thereupon Spicca rose suddenly from his seat, leaving his dinner
unfinished, and went out.
Orsino did not leave Rome after all. He was not in reality prevented
from doing so by the necessity of attending to his business, for he
might assuredly have absented himself for a week or two at almost any
time before the new year, without incurring any especial danger. From
time to time, at ever increasing intervals, he felt strongly impelled to
rejoin Maria Consuelo in Paris where she had ultimately determined to
spend the autumn and winter, but the impulse always lacked just the
measure of strength which would have made it a resolution. When he
thought of his many hesitations he did not understand himself and he
fell in his own estimation, so that he became by degrees more silent and
melancholy of disposition than had originally been natural with him.
He had much time for reflection and he constantly brooded over the
situation in which he found himself. The question seemed to be, whether
he loved Maria Consuelo or not, since he was able to display such
apparent indifference to her absence. In reality he also doubted whether
he was loved by her, and the one uncertainty was fully as great as the
He went over all that had passed. The position had never been an easy
one, and the letter which Maria Consuelo had written to him after her
departure had not made it easier. It had contained the revelations
concerning her birth, together with many references to Spicca's
continued cruelty, plentifully supported by statements of facts. She had
then distinctly told Orsino that she would never marry him, under any
circumstances whatever, declaring that if he followed her she would not
even see him. She would not ruin his life and plunge him into a life
long quarrel with his family, she said, and she added that she would
certainly not expose herself to such treatment as she would undoubtedly
receive at the hands of the Saracinesca if she married Orsino without
his parents' consent.
A man does not easily believe that he is deprived of what he most
desires exclusively for his own good and welfare, and the last sentence
quoted wounded Orsino deeply. He believed himself ready to incur the
displeasure of all his people for Maria Consuelo's sake, and he said in
his heart that if she loved him she should be ready to bear as much as
he. The language in which she expressed herself, too, was cold and
Unlike Spicca Orsino answered this letter, writing in an argumentative
strain, bringing the best reasons he could find to bear against those
she alleged, and at last reproaching her with not being willing to
suffer for his sake a tenth part of what he would endure for her. But he
announced his intention of joining her before long, and expressed the
certainty that she would receive him.
To this Maria Consuelo made no reply for some time. When she wrote at
last, it was to say that she had carefully considered her decision and
saw no good cause for changing it. To Orsino her tone seemed colder and
more distant than ever. The fact that the pages were blotted here and
there and that the handwriting was unsteady, was probably to be referred
to her carelessness. He brooded over his misfortune, thought more than
once of making a desperate effort to win back her love, and remained in
Rome. After a long interval he wrote to her again. This time he produced
an epistle which, under the circumstances, might have seemed almost
ridiculous. It was full of indifferent gossip about society, it
contained a few sarcastic remarks about his own approaching failure,
with some rather youthfully cynical observations on the instability of
things in general and the hollowness of all aspirations whatsoever.
He received no answer, and duly repented the flippant tone he had taken.
He would have been greatly surprised could he have learned that this
last letter was destined to produce a greater effect upon his life than
all he had written before it.
In the meanwhile his father, who had heard of the increasing troubles in
the world of business, wrote him in a constant strain of warning, to
which he paid little attention. His mother's letters, too, betrayed her
anxiety, but expressed what his father's did not, to wit the most
boundless confidence in his power to extricate himself honourably from
all difficulties, together with the assurance that if worst came to
worst she was always ready to help him.
Suddenly and without warning old Saracinesca returned from his
wanderings. He had taken the trouble to keep the family informed of his
movements by his secretary during two or three months and had then
temporarily allowed them to lose sight of him, thereby causing them
considerable anxiety, though an occasional paragraph in a newspaper
reassured them from time to time. Then, on a certain afternoon in
November, he appeared, alone and in a cab, as though he had been out for
"Well, my boy, are you ruined yet?" he inquired, entering Orsino's room
The young man started from his seat and took the old gentleman's rough
hand, with an exclamation of surprise.
"Yes--you may well look at me," laughed the Prince. "I have grown ten
years younger. And you?" He pushed his grandson into the light and
scrutinised his face fiercely. "And you are ten years older," he
concluded, in a discontented tone.
"I did not know it," answered Orsino with an attempt at a laugh.
"You have been at some mischief. I know it. I can see it."
He dropped the young fellow's arm, shook his head and began to move
about the room. Then he came back all at once and looked up into
Orsino's face from beneath his bushy eyebrows.
"Out with it, I mean to know!" he said, roughly but not unkindly. "Have
you lost money? Are you ill? Are you in love?"
Orsino would certainly have resented the first and the last questions,
if not all three, had they been put to him by his father. There was
something in the old Prince's nature, something warmer and more human,
which appealed to his own. Sant' Ilario was, and always had been,
outwardly cold, somewhat measured in his speech, undemonstrative, a man
not easily moved to much expression or to real sympathy except by love,
but capable, under that influence, of going to great lengths. And
Orsino, though in some respects resembling his mother rather than his
father, was not unlike the latter, with a larger measure of ambition
and less real pride. It was probably the latter characteristic which
made him feel the need of sympathy in a way his father had never felt it
and could never understand it, and he was thereby drawn more closely to
his mother and to his grandfather than to Sant' Ilario.
Old Saracinesca evidently meant to be answered, as he stood there gazing
into Orsino's eyes.
"A great deal has happened since you went away," said Orsino, half
wishing that he could tell everything. "In the first place, business is
in a very bad state, and I am anxious."
"Dirty work, business," grumbled Saracinesca. "I always told you so.
Then you have lost money, you young idiot! I thought so. Did you think
you were any better than Montevarchi? I hope you have kept your name out
of the market, at all events. What in the name of heaven made you put
your hand to such filth! Come--how much do you want? We will whitewash
you and you shall start to-morrow and go round the world."
"But I am not in actual need of money at all--"
"Then what the devil are you in need of?"
"An improvement in business, and the assurance that I shall not
ultimately be bankrupt."
"If money is not an assurance that you will not be bankrupt, I would
like to learn what is. All this is nonsense. Tell me the truth, my
boy--you are in love. That is the trouble."
Orsino shrugged his shoulders.
"I have been in love some time," he answered.
"Young? Old? Marriageable? Married? Out with it, I say!"
"I would rather talk about business. I think it is all over now."
"Just like your father--always full of secrets! As if I did not know all
about it. You are in love with that Madame d'Aranjuez."
Orsino turned a little pale.
"Please do not call her 'that' Madame d'Aranjuez," he said, gravely.
"Eh? What? Are you so sensitive about her?"
"You are? Very well--I like that. What about her?"
"What a question!"
"I mean--is she indifferent, cold, in love with some one else?"
"Not that I am aware. She has refused to marry me and has left Rome,
that is all."
"Refused to marry you!" cried old Saracinesca in boundless astonishment.
"My dear boy, you must be out of your mind! The thing is impossible. You
are the best match in Rome. Madame d'Aranjuez refuse you--absolutely
incredible, not to be believed for a moment. You are dreaming. A
widow--without much fortune--the relict of some curious adventurer--a
woman looking for a fortune, a woman--"
"Stop!" cried Orsino, savagely.
"Oh yes--I forgot. You are sensitive. Well, well, I meant nothing
against her, except that she must be insane if what you tell me is true.
But I am glad of it, my boy, very glad. She is no match for you, Orsino.
I confess, I wish you would marry at once. I would like to see my great
grandchildren--but not Madame d'Aranjuez. A widow, too."
"My father married a widow."
"When you find a widow like your mother, and ten years younger than
yourself, marry her if you can. But not Madame d'Aranjuez--older than
you by several years."
"A few years."
"Is that all? It is too much, though. And who is Madame d'Aranjuez?
Everybody was asking the question last winter. I suppose she had a name
before she married, and since you have been trying to make her your
wife, you must know all about her. Who was she?"
"You see!" cried, the old Prince. "It is not all right. There is a
secret--there is something wrong about her family, or about her entrance
into the world. She knows perfectly well that we would never receive her
and has concealed it all from you--"
"She has not concealed it. She has told me the exact truth. But I shall
not repeat it to you."
"All the stronger proof that everything is not right. You are well out
of it, my boy, exceedingly well out of it. I congratulate you."
"I would rather not be congratulated."
"As you please. I am sorry for you, if you are unhappy. Try and forget
all about it. How is your mother?"
At any other time Orsino would have laughed at the characteristic
"Perfectly well, I believe. I have not seen her all summer," he answered
"Not been to Saracinesca all summer! No wonder you look ill. Telegraph
to them that I have come back and let us get the family together as soon
as possible. Do you think I mean to spend six months alone in your
company, especially when you are away all day at that wretched office of
yours? Be quick about it--telegraph at once."
"Very well. But please do not repeat anything of what I have told you to
my father or my mother. That is the only thing I have to ask."
"Am I a parrot? I never talk to them of your affairs."
"Thanks. I am grateful."
"To heaven because your grandfather is not a parakeet! No doubt. You
have good cause. And look here, Orsino--"
The old man took Orsino's arm and held it firmly, speaking in a lower
"Do not make an ass of yourself, my boy--especially in business. But if
you do--and you probably will, you know--just come to me, without
speaking to any one else. I will see what can be done without noise.
There--take that, and forget all about your troubles and get a little
more colour into your face."
"You are too good to me," said Orsino, grasping the old Prince's hand.
For once, he was really moved.
"Nonsense--go and send that telegram at once. I do not want to be kept
waiting a week for a sight of my family."
With a deep, good humoured laugh he pushed Orsino out of the door in
front of him and went off to his own quarters.
In due time the family returned from Saracinesca and the gloomy old
palace waked to life again. Corona and her husband were both struck by
the change in Orsino's appearance, which indeed contrasted strongly with
their own, refreshed and strengthened as they were by the keen mountain
air, the endless out-of-door life, the manifold occupations of people
deeply interested in the welfare of those around them and supremely
conscious of their own power to produce good results in their own way.
When they all came back, Orsino himself felt how jaded and worn he was
as compared with them.
Before twelve hours had gone by, he found himself alone with his mother.
Strange to say he had not looked forward to the interview with pleasure.
The bond of sympathy which had so closely united the two during the
spring seemed weakened, and Orsino would, if possible, have put off the
renewal of intimate converse which he knew to be inevitable. But that
could not be done.
It would not be hard to find reasons for his wishing to avoid his
mother. Formerly his daily tale had been one of success, of hope, of
ever increasing confidence. Now he had nothing to tell of but danger and
anxiety for the future, and he was not without a suspicion that she
would strongly disapprove of his allowing himself to be kept afloat by
Del Ferice's personal influence, and perhaps by his personal aid. It was
hard to begin daily intercourse on a basis of things so different from
that which had seemed solid and safe when they had last talked together.
He had learned to bear his own troubles bravely, too, and there was
something which he associated with weakness in the idea of asking
sympathy for them now. He would rather have been left alone.
Deep down, too, was the consciousness of all that had happened between
himself and Maria Consuelo since his mother's departure. Another
suffering, another and distinctly different misfortune, to be borne
better in silence than under question even of the most affectionate
kind. His grandfather had indeed guessed at both truths and had taxed
him with them at once, but that was quite another matter. He knew that
the old gentleman would never refer again to what he had learned, and he
appreciated the generous offer of help, of which he would never avail
himself, in a way in which he could not appreciate an assistance even
more lovingly proffered, perhaps, but which must be asked for by a
confession of his own failure.
On the other hand, he was incapable of distorting the facts in any way
so as to make his mother believe him more successful than he actually
was. There was nothing dishonest, perhaps, in pretending to be hopeful
when he really had little hope, but he could not have represented the
condition of the business otherwise than as it really stood.
The interview was a long one, and Corona's dark face grew grave if not
despondent as he explained to her one point after another, taking
especial care to elucidate all that bore upon his relations with Del
Ferice. It was most important that his mother should understand how he
was placed, and how Del Ferice's continued advances of money were not to
be regarded in the light of a personal favour, but as a speculation in
which Ugo would probably get the best of the bargain. Orsino knew how
sensitive his mother would be on such a point, and dreaded the moment
when she should begin to think that he was laying himself under
obligations beyond the strict limits of business.
Corona leaned back in her low seat and covered her eyes with one hand
for a moment, in deep thought. Orsino waited anxiously for her to speak.
"My dear," she said at last, "you make it very clear, and I understand
you perfectly. Nevertheless, it seems to me that your position is not
very dignified, considering who you are, and what Del Ferice is. Do you
not think so yourself?"
Orsino flushed a little. She had not put the point as he had expected,
and her words told upon him.
"When I entered business, I put my dignity in my pocket," he answered,
with a forced laugh. "There cannot be much of it in business, at the
His mother's black eyes seemed to grow blacker, and the delicate nostril
quivered a little.
"If that is true, I wish you had never meddled in these affairs," she
said, proudly. "But you talked differently last spring, and you made me
see it all in another way. You made me feel, on the contrary that in
doing something for yourself, in showing that you were able to
accomplish something, in asserting your independence, you were making
yourself more worthy of respect--and I have respected you accordingly."
"Exactly," answered Orsino, catching at the old argument. "That is just
what I wished to do. What I said a moment since was in the way of a
generality. Business means a struggle for money, I suppose, and that, in
itself, is not dignified. But it is not dishonourable. After all, the
means may justify the end."
"I hate that saying!" exclaimed Corona hotly. "I wish you were free of
the whole affair."
"So do I, with all my heart!"
A short silence followed.
"If I had known all this three months ago," Corona resumed, "I would
have taken the money and given it to you, to clear yourself. I thought
you were succeeding and I have used all the funds I could gather to buy
the Montevarchi's property between us and Affile and in planting
eucalyptus trees in that low land of mine where the people have suffered
so much from fever. I have nothing at my disposal unless I borrow. Why
did you not tell me the truth in the summer, Orsino? Why have you let me
imagine that you were prospering all along, when you have been and are
at the point of failure? It is too bad--"
She broke off suddenly and clasped her hands together on her knee.
"It is only lately that business has gone so badly," said Orsino.
"It was all wrong from the beginning! I should never have encouraged
you. Your father was right, as he always is--and now you must tell him
But Orsino refused to go to his father, except in the last extremity. He
represented that it was better, and more dignified, since Corona
insisted upon the point of dignity, to fight the battle alone so long as
there was a chance of winning. His mother, on the other hand, maintained
that he should free himself at once and at any cost. A few months
earlier he could easily have persuaded her that he was right; but she
seemed changed since he had parted from her, and he fancied that his
father's influence had been at work with her. This he resented bitterly.
It must be remembered, too, that he had begun the interview with a
preconceived prejudice, expecting it to turn out badly, so that he was
the more ready to allow matters to take an unfavourable turn.
The result was not a decided break in his relations with his mother, but
a state of things more irritating than any open difference could have
been. From that time Corona discouraged him, and never ceased to advise
him to go to his father and ask frankly for enough money to clear him
outright. Orsino, on his part, obstinately refused to apply to any one
for help, as long as Del Ferice continued to advance him money.
In those months which followed there were few indeed who did not suffer
in the almost universal financial cataclysm. All that Contini and
others, older and wiser than he, had predicted, took place, and more
also. The banks refused discount, even upon the best paper, saying with
justice that they were obliged to hold their funds in reserve at such a
time. The works stopped almost everywhere. It was impossible to raise
money. Thousands upon thousands of workmen who had come from great
distances during the past two or three years were suddenly thrown out of
work, penniless in the streets and many of them burdened with wives and
children. There were one or two small riots and there was much
demonstration, but, on the whole, the poor masons behaved very well. The
government and the municipality did what they could--what governments
and municipalities can do when hampered at every turn by the most
complicated and ill-considered machinery of administration ever invented
in any country. The starving workmen were by slow degrees got out of the
city and sent back to starve out of sight in their native places. The
emigration was enormous in all directions.
The dismal ruins of that new city which was to have been built and which
never reached completion are visible everywhere. Houses seven stories
high, abandoned within a month of completion rise uninhabited and
uninhabitable out of a rank growth of weeds, amidst heaps of rubbish,
staring down at the broad, desolate streets where the vigorous grass
pushes its way up through the loose stones of the unrolled metalling.
Amidst heavy low walls which were to have been the ground stories of
palaces, a few ragged children play in the sun, a lean donkey crops the
thistles, or if near to a few occupied dwellings, a wine seller makes a
booth of straw and chestnut boughs and dispenses a poisonous, sour drink
to those who will buy. But that is only in the warm months. The winter
winds blow the wretched booth to pieces and increase the desolation.
Further on, tall facades rise suddenly up, the blue sky gleaming
through their windows, the green moss already growing upon their naked
stones and bricks. The Barbarini of the future, if any should arise,
will not need to despoil the Colosseum to quarry material for their
palaces. If, as the old pasquinade had it the Barbarini did what the
Barbarians did not, how much worse than barbarians have these modern
The distress was very great in the early months of 1889. The
satisfaction which many of the new men would have felt at the ruin of
great old families was effectually neutralized by their own financial
destruction. Princes, bankers, contractors and master masons went down
together in the general bankruptcy. Ugo Del Ferice survived and with him
Andrea Contini and Company, and doubtless other small firms which he
protected for his own ends. San Giacinto, calm, far-seeing, and keen as
an eagle, surveyed the chaos from the height of his magnificent fortune,
unmoved and immovable, awaiting the lowest ebb of the tide. The
Saracinesca looked on, hampered a little by the sudden fall in rents and
other sources of their income, but still superior to events, though
secretly anxious about Orsino's affairs, and daily expecting that he
And Orsino himself had changed, as was natural enough. He was learning
to seem what he was not, and those who have learned that lesson know how
it influences the real man whom no one can judge but himself. So long as
there had been one person in his life with whom he could live in perfect
sympathy he had given himself little trouble about his outward
behaviour. So long as he had felt that, come what might, his mother was
on his side, he had not thought it worth his while not to be natural
with every one, according to his humour. He was wrong, no doubt, in
fancying that Corona had deserted him. But he had already suffered a
loss, in Maria Consuelo, which had at the time seemed the greatest
conceivable, and the pain he had suffered then, together with, the deep
though, unacknowledged wound to his vanity, had predisposed him to
believe that he was destined to be friendless. The consequence was that
a very slight break in the perfect understanding which had so long
existed between him and his mother had produced serious results. He now
felt that he was completely alone, and like most lonely men of sound
character he acquired the habit of keeping his troubles entirely to
himself, while affecting an almost unnaturally quiet and equable manner
with those around him. On the whole, he found that his life was easier
when he lived it on this principle. He found that he was more careful in
his actions since he had a part to sustain, and that his opinion carried
more weight since he expressed it more cautiously and seemed less liable
to fluctuations of mood and temper. The change in his character was more
apparent than real, perhaps, as changes of character generally are when
not in the way of logical development; but the constant thought of
appearances reacts upon the inner nature in the end, and much which at
first is only put on, becomes a habit next, and ends by taking the place
of an impulse.
Orsino was aware that his chief preoccupation was identical with that
which absorbed his mother's thoughts. He wished to free himself from the
business in which he was so deeply involved, and which still prospered
so strangely in spite of the general ruin. But here the community of
ideas ended. He wished to free himself in his own way, without
humiliating himself by going to his father for help. Meanwhile, too,
Sant' Ilario himself had his doubts concerning his own judgment. It was
inconceivable to him that Del Ferice could be losing money to oblige
Orsino, and if he had desired to ruin him he could have done so with
ease a hundred times in the past months. It might be, he said to
himself, that Orsino had after all, a surprising genius for affairs and
had weathered the storm in the face of tremendous difficulties. Orsino
saw the belief growing in his father's mind, and the certainty that it
was there did not dispose him to throw up the fight and acknowledge
The Saracinesca were one of the very few Roman families in which there
is a tradition in favour of non-interference with the action of children
already of age. The consequence was that although the old Prince,
Giovanni and his wife, all three felt considerable anxiety, they did
nothing to hamper Orsino's action, beyond an occasionally repeated
warning to be careful. That his occupation was distasteful to them, they
did not conceal, but he met their expressions of opinion with perfect
equanimity and outward good humour, even when his mother, once his
staunch ally, openly advised him to give up business and travel for a
year. Their prejudice was certainly not unnatural, and had been
strengthened by the perusal of the unsavoury details published by the
papers at each new bankruptcy during the year. But they found Orsino now
always the same, always quiet, good-humoured and firm in his projects.
Andrea Contini had not been very exact in his calculation of the date at
which the last door and the last window would be placed in the last of
the houses which he and Orsino had undertaken to build. The disturbance
in business might account for the delay. At all events it was late in
April of the following year before the work was completed. Then Orsino
went to Del Ferice.
"Of course," he said, maintaining the appearance of calm which had now
become habitual with him, "I cannot expect to pay what I owe the bank,
unless I can effect a sale of these buildings. You have known that, all
along, as well as I. The question is, can they be sold?"
"You have no applicant, then?" Del Ferice looked grave and somewhat
"No. We have received no offer."
"You owe the bank a very large sum on these buildings, Don Orsino."
"Secured by mortgages on them," answered the young man quietly, but
preparing for trouble.
"Just so. Secured by mortgages. But if the bank should foreclose within
the next few months, and if the buildings do not realize the amount
secured, Contini and Company are liable for the difference."
"I know that."
"And the market is very bad, Don Orsino, and shows no signs of
"On the other hand the houses are finished, habitable, and can be let
"They are certainly finished. You must be aware that the bank has
continued to advance the sums necessary for two reasons. Firstly,
because an expensive but habitable dwelling is better than a cheap one
with no roof. Secondly, because in doing business with Andrea Contini
and Company we have been dealing with the only really honest and
economical firm in Rome."
Orsino smiled vaguely, but said nothing. He had not much faith in Del
"But that," continued the latter, "does not dispense us from the
necessity of realising what is owing to us--I mean the bank--either in
money, or in an equivalent--or in an equivalent," he repeated,
thoughtfully rolling a big silver pencil case backward and forward upon
the table under his fat white hand.
"Evidently," assented Orsino. "Unfortunately, at the present time, there
seems to be no equivalent for ready money."
"No--no--perhaps not," said Ugo, apparently becoming more and more
absorbed in his own thoughts. "And yet," he added, after a little pause,
"an arrangement may be possible. The houses certainly possess advantages
over much of this wretched property which is thrown upon the market. The
position is good and the work is good. Your work is very good, Don
Orsino. You know that better than I. Yes--the houses have advantages, I
admit. The bank has a great deal of waste masonry on its hands, Don
Orsino--more than I like to think of."
"Unfortunately, again, the time for improving such property is gone by."
"It is never too late to mend, says the proverb," retorted Del Ferice
with a smile. "I have a proposition to make. I will state it clearly. If
it is not to our mutual advantage, I think neither of us will lose so
much by it as we should lose in other ways. It is simply this. We will
cry quits. You have a small account current with the bank, and you must
sacrifice the credit balance--it is not much, I find--about thirty-five
"That was chiefly the profit on the first contract," observed Orsino.
"Precisely. It will help to cover the bank's loss on this. It will help,
because when I say we will cry quits, I mean that you shall receive an
equivalent for your houses--a nominal equivalent of course, which the
bank nominally takes back as payment of the mortgages."
"That is not very clear," said Orsino. "I do not understand you."
"No," laughed Del Ferice. "I admit that it is not. It represented rather
my own view of the transaction than the practical side. But I will
explain myself beyond the possibility of mistake. The bank takes the
houses and your cash balance and cancels the mortgages. You are then
released from all debt and all obligation upon the old contract. But the
bank makes one condition which, is important. You must buy from the
bank, on mortgage of course, certain unfinished buildings which it now
owns, and you--Andrea Contini and Company--must take a contract to
complete them within a given time, the bank advancing you money as
before upon notes of hand, secured by subsequent and successive
Orsino was silent. He saw that if he accepted, Del Ferice was receiving
the work of a whole year and more without allowing the smallest profit
to the workers, besides absorbing the profits of a previous successfully
executed contract, and besides taking it for granted that the existing
mortgages only just covered the value of the buildings. If, as was
probable, Del Ferice had means of either selling or letting the houses,
he stood to make an enormous profit. He saw, too, that if he accepted
now, he must in all likelihood be driven to accept similar conditions on
a future occasion, and that he would be binding Andrea Contini and
himself to work, and to work hard, for nothing and perhaps during years.
But he saw also that the only alternative was an appeal to his father,
or bankruptcy which ultimately meant the same thing. Del Ferice spoke
"Whether you agree, or whether you prefer a foreclosure, we shall both
lose. But we should lose more by the latter course. In the interests of
the bank I trust that you will accept. You see how frankly I speak about
it. In the interests of the bank. But then, I need not remind you that
it would hardly be fair to let us lose heavily when you can make the
loss relatively a slight one--considering how the bank has behaved to
you, and to you alone, throughout this fatal year."
"I will give you an answer to-morrow," said Orsino.
He thought of poor Contini who would find that he had worked for nothing
during a whole year. But then, it would be easy for Orsino to give
Contini a sum of money out of his private resources. Anything was better
than giving up the struggle and applying to his father.
Orsino was to all intents and purposes without a friend. How far
circumstances had contributed to this result and how far he himself was
to blame for his lonely state, those may judge who have followed his
history to this point. His grandfather had indeed offered him help and
in a way to make it acceptable if he had felt that he could accept it
at all. But the old Prince did not in the least understand the business
nor the situation. Moreover a young fellow of two or three and twenty
does not look for a friend in the person of a man sixty years older than
himself. While maintaining the most uniformly good relations in his
home, Orsino felt himself estranged from his father and mother. His
brothers were too young, and were generally away from home at school and
college, and he had no sisters. Beyond the walls of the Palazzo
Saracinesca, San Giacinto was the only man whom he would willingly have
consulted; but San Giacinto was of all men the one least inclined to
intimacy with his neighbours, and, after all, as Orsino reflected, he
would probably repeat the advice he had already given, if he vouchsafed
counsel of any kind.
He thought of all his acquaintance and came to the conclusion that he
was in reality in terms more closely approaching to friendship with
Andrea Contini than with any man of his own class. Yet he would have
hesitated to call the architect his friend, as he would have found it
impossible to confide in him concerning any detail of his own private
At a time when most young men are making friends, Orsino had been
hindered, from the formation of such ties by the two great interests
which had absorbed his existence, his attachment and subsequent love for
Maria Consuelo, and the business at which he had worked so steadily. He
had lost Maria Consuelo, in whom he would have confided as he had often
done before, and at the present important juncture he stood quite alone.
He felt that he was no match for Del Ferice. The keen banker was making
use of him for his own purposes in a way which neither Orsino nor
Contini had ever suspected. It could not be supposed that Ugo had
foreseen from the first the advantage he might reap from the firm he had
created and which was so wholly dependent on him. Orsino might have
turned out ignorant and incapable. Contini might have proved idle and
even dishonest. But, instead of this, the experiment had succeeded
admirably and Ugo found himself possessed of an instrument, as it were,
precisely adapted to his end, which was to make worthless property
valuable at the smallest possible expense, in fact, at the lowest cost
price. He had secured a first-rate architect and a first-rate
accountant, both men of spotless integrity, both young, energetic and
unusually industrious. He paid nothing for their services and he
entirely controlled their expenditure. It was clear that he would do his
utmost to maintain an arrangement so immensely profitable to himself. If
Orsino had realised exactly how profitable it was, he might have forced
Del Ferice to share the gain with him, and would have done so for the
sake of Contini, if not for his own. He suspected, indeed, that Ugo was
certain beforehand, in each case, of selling or letting the houses, but
he had no proof of the fact. Ugo did not leave everything to his
confidential clerk, and the secrets he kept to himself were well kept.
Orsino consulted Contini, as a matter of necessity, before accepting Del
Ferice's last offer. The architect went into a tragic-comic rage, bit
his cigar through several times, ground his teeth, drank several glasses
of cold water, talked of the blood of Cola di Rienzo, vowed vengeance on
Del Ferice and finally submitted.
The signing of the new contract determined the course of Orsino's life
for another year. It is surprising to see, in the existence of others,
how periods of monotonous calm succeed seasons of storm and danger. In
our own they do not astonish us so much, if at all. Orsino continued to
work hard, to live regularly and to do all those things which, under the
circumstances he ought to have done and earned the reputation of being a
model young man, a fact which surprised him on one or two occasions when
it came to his ears. Yet when he reflected upon it, he saw that he was
in reality not like other young men, and that his conduct was
undoubtedly abnormally good as viewed by those around him. His
grandfather began to look upon him as something almost unnatural, and
more than once hinted to Giovanni that the boy, as he still called him,
ought to behave like other boys.
"He is more like San Giacinto than any of us," said Giovanni,
thoughtfully. "He has taken after that branch."
"If that is the case, he might have done worse," answered the old man.
"I like San Giacinto. But you always judge superficially, Giovanni--you
always did. And the worst of it is, you are always perfectly well
satisfied with your own judgments."
"Possibly. I have certainly not accepted those of others."
"And the result is that you are turning into an oyster--and Orsino has
begun to turn into an oyster, too, and the other boys will follow his
example--a perfect oyster-bed! Go and take Orsino by the throat and
"I regret to say that I am physically not equal to that feat," said
Giovanni with a laugh.
"I should be!" exclaimed the aged Prince, doubling his hard hand and
bringing it down on the table, while his bright eyes gleamed. "Go and
shake him, and tell him to give up this dirty building business--make
him give it up, buy him out of it, put plenty of money into his pockets
and send him off to amuse himself! You and Corona have made a prig of
him, and business is making an oyster of him, and he will be a hopeless
idiot before you realise it! Stir him, shake him, make him move! I hate
your furniture-man--who is always in the right place and always ready to
be sat upon!"
"If you can persuade him to give up affairs I have no objection."
"Persuade him! I never knew a man worth speaking to who could be
persuaded to anything he did not like. Make him--that is the way."
"But since he is behaving himself and is occupied--that is better than
the lives all these young fellows are leading."
"Do not argue with me, Giovanni, I hate it. Besides, your reason is
worth nothing at all. Did I spend my youth over accounts, in the society
of an architect? Did I put water in my wine and sit up like a model
little boy at my papa's table and spend my evenings in carrying my
mamma's fan? Nonsense! And yet all that was expected in my day, in a way
it is not expected now. Look at yourself. You are bad enough--dull
enough, I mean. Did you waste the best years of your life in counting
bricks and measuring mortar?"
"You say that you hate argument, and yet you are arguing. But Orsino
shall please himself, as I did, and in his own way. I will certainly not
"Because you know you can do nothing with him!" retorted old Saracinesca
Giovanni laughed. Twenty years earlier he would have lost his temper to
no purpose. But twenty years of unruffled existence had changed him.
"You are not the man you were," grumbled his father.
"No. I have been too happy, far too long, to be much like what I was at
"And do you mean to say I am not happy, and have not been happy, and do
not mean to be happy, and do not wish everybody to be happy, so long as
this old machine hangs together? What nonsense you talk, my boy. Go and
make love to your wife. That is all you are fit for!"
Discussions of this kind were not unfrequent but of course led to
nothing. As a matter of fact Sant' Ilario was quite right in believing
interference useless. It would have been impossible. He was no more able
to change Orsino's determination than he was physically capable of
shaking him. Not that Sant' Ilario was weak, physically or morally, nor
ever had been. But his son had grown up to be stronger than he.
Twelve months passed away. During that time the young man worked, as he
had worked before, regularly and untiringly. But his object now was to
free himself, and he no longer hoped to make a fortune or to do any
thing beyond the strict execution of the contract he had in hand,
determined if possible to avoid taking another. With a coolness and
self-denial beyond his years, he systematically hoarded the allowance he
received from his father, in order to put together a sum of money for
poor Contini. He made economies everywhere, refused to go into society
and spent his evenings in reading. His acquired manner stood him in good
stead, but he could not bear more than a limited amount of the daily
talk in the family. Being witty, rather than gay, if he could be said to
be either, he found himself inclined rather to be bitter than amusing
when he was wearied by the monotonous conversation of others. He knew
this to be a mistake and controlled himself, taking refuge in solitude
and books when he could control himself no longer.
Whether he loved Maria Consuelo still, or not, it was clear that he was
not inclined to love any one else for the present. The tolerably
harmless dissipation and wildness of the two or three years he had spent
in England could not account for such a period of coldness as followed
his separation from Maria Consuelo. He had by no means exhausted the
pleasures of life and his capacity for enjoyment could not even be said
to have reached its height. But he avoided the society of women even
more consistently than he shunned the club and the card table.
More than a year had gone by since he had heard from Maria Consuelo. He
met Spicca from time to time, looking now as though he had not a day to
live, but neither of them mentioned past events. The Romans had talked a
little of her sudden change of plans, for it had been known that she had
begun to furnish a large apartment for the winter of the previous year,
and had then very unaccountably changed her mind and left the place in
the hands of an agent to be sub-let. People said she had lost her
fortune. Then she had been forgotten in the general disaster that
followed, and no one had taken the trouble to remember her since then.
Even Gouache, who had once been so enthusiastic over her portrait, did
not seem to know or care what had become of her. Once only, and quite
accidentally, Orsino had authentic information of her whereabouts. He
took up an English society journal one evening and glanced idly over the
paragraphs. Maria Consuelo's name arrested his attention. A certain very
high and mighty old lady of royal lineage was about to travel in Egypt
during the winter. "Her Royal Highness," said the paper, "will be
accompanied by the Countess d'Aranjuez d'Aragona." Orsino's hand shook a
little as he laid the sheet aside, and he was pale when he rose a few
moments later and went off to his own room. He could not help wondering
why Maria Consuelo was styled by a title to which she certainly had a
legal right, but which she had never before used, and he wondered still
more why she travelled in Egypt with an old princess who was generally
said to be anything but an agreeable companion, and was reported to be
quite deaf. But on the whole he thought little of the information
itself. It was the sight of Maria Consuelo's name which had moved him,
and he was not altogether himself for several days. The impression wore
off before long, and he followed the round of his monotonous life as
Early in the month of March in the year 1890, he was seated alone in his
room one evening before dinner. The great contract he had undertaken was
almost finished, and he knew that within two months he would be placed
in the same difficult position from which he had formerly so signally
failed to extricate himself. That he and Contini had executed the terms
of the contract with scrupulous and conscientious nicety did not better
the position. That they had made the most strenuous efforts to find
purchasers for the property, as they had a right to do if they could,
and had failed, made the position hopeless or almost as bad as that.
Whether they liked it or not, Del Ferice had so arranged that the great
mass of their acceptances should fall due about the time when the work
would be finished. To mortgage on the same terms or anything approaching
the same terms with any other bank was out of the question, so that they
had no hope of holding the property for the purpose of leasing it. Even
if Orsino could have contemplated for a moment such an act of bad faith
as wilfully retarding the work in order to gain a renewal of the bills,
such a course could have led to no actual improvement in the situation.
The property was unsaleable and Del Ferice knew it, and had no intention
of selling it. He meant to keep it for himself and let it, as a
permanent source of income. It would not have cost him in the end one
half of its actual value, and was exceptionally good property. Orsino
saw how hopeless it was to attempt resistance, unless he would resign
himself to voting an appeal to his own people, and this, as of old, he
was resolved not to do.
He was reflecting upon his life of bondage when a servant brought him a
letter. He tossed it aside without looking at it, but it chanced to slip
from the polished table and fall to the ground. As he picked it up his
attention was arrested by the handwriting and by the stamp. The stamp
was Egyptian and the writing was that of Maria Consuelo. He started,
tore open the envelope and took out a letter of many pages, written on
thin paper. At first he found it hard to follow the characters, and his
heart beat at a rate which annoyed him. He rose, walked the length of
the room and back again, sat down in another seat close to the lamp and
read the letter steadily from beginning to end.
"My Dear Friend--You may, perhaps, be surprised at hearing from me
after so long a time. I received your last letter. How long ago was
that? Twelve, fourteen, fifteen months? I do not know. It is as
well to forget, since I at least would rather not remember what you
wrote. And I write now--why? Simply because I have the impulse to
do so. That is the best of all reasons. I wish to hear from you,
which is selfish; and I wish to hear about you, which is not. Are
you still working at that business in which you were so much
interested? Or have you given it up and gone back to the life you
used to hate so thoroughly? I would like to know. Do you remember
how angry I was long ago, because you agreed to meet Del Ferice in
my drawing-room? I was very wrong, for the meeting led to many good
results. I like to think that you are not quite like all the young
men of your set, who do nothing--and cannot even do that
gracefully. I think you used those very words about yourself, once
upon a time. But you proved that you could live a very different
life if you chose. I hope you are living it still.
"And so poor Donna Tullia is dead--has been dead a year and a half!
I wrote Del Ferice a long letter when I got the news. He answered
me. He is not as bad as you used to think, for he was terribly
pained by his loss--I could see that well enough in what he wrote
though there was nothing exaggerated or desperate in the phrases.
In fact there were no phrases at all. I wish I had kept the letter
to send to you, but I never keep letters. Poor Donna Tullia! I
cannot imagine Rome without her. It would certainly not be the same
place to me, for she was uniformly kind and thoughtful where I was
concerned, whatever she may have been to others.
"Echoes reach me from time to time in different parts of the world,
as I travel, and Rome seems to be changed in many ways. They say
the ruin was dreadful when the crash came. I suppose you gave up
business then, as was natural, since they say there is no more
business to do. But I would be glad to know that nothing
disagreeable happened to you in the financial storm. I confess to
having felt an unaccountable anxiety about you of late. Perhaps
that is why I write and why I hope for an answer at once. I have
always looked upon presentiments and forewarnings and all such
intimations as utterly false and absurd, and I do not really
believe that anything has happened or is happening to distress you.
But it is our woman's privilege to be inconsistent, and we should
be still more inconsistent if we did not use it. Besides I have
felt the same vague disquietude about you more than once before and
have not written. Perhaps I should not write even now unless I had
a great deal more time at my disposal than I know what to do with.
Who knows? If you are busy, write a word on a post-card, just to
say that nothing is the matter. Here in Egypt we do not realise
what time means, and certainly not that it can ever mean money.
"It is an idle life, less idle for me perhaps than for some of
those about me, but even for me not over-full of occupations. The
climate occupies all the time not actually spent in eating,
sleeping and visiting ruins. It is fair, I suppose, to tell you
something of myself since I ask for news of you. I will tell you
what I can.
"I am travelling with an old lady, as her companion--not exactly
out of inclination and yet not exactly out of duty. Is that too
mysterious? Do you see me as Companion and general amuser to an old
lady--over seventy years of age? No. I presume not. And I am not
with her by necessity either, for I have not suffered any losses.
On the contrary, since I dismissed a certain person--an attendant,
we will call her--from my service, it seems to me that my income is
doubled. The attendant, by the bye, has opened a hotel on the Lake
of Como. Perhaps you, who are so good a man of business, may see
some connexion between these simple facts. I was never good at
managing money, nor at understanding what it meant. It seems that I
have not inherited all the family talents.
"But I return to Egypt, to the Nile, to this dahabiyah, on board of
which it has pleased the fates to dispose my existence for the
present. I am not called a companion, but a lady in waiting, which
would be only another term for the same thing, if I were not really
very much attached to the Princess, old and deaf as she is. And
that is saying a great deal. No one knows what deafness means who
has not read aloud to a deaf person, which is what I do every day.
I do not think I ever told you about her. I have known her all my
life, ever since I was a little girl in the convent in Vienna. She
used to come and see me and bring me good things--and books of
prayers--I remember especially a box of candied fruits which she
told me came from Kiew. I have never eaten any like them since. I
wonder how many sincere affections between young and old people owe
their existence originally to a confectioner!
"When I left Rome, I met her again in Nice. She was there with the
Prince, who was in wretched health and who died soon afterwards. He
never was so fond of me as she was. After his death, she asked me
to stay with her as long as I would. I do not think I shall leave
her again so long as she lives. She treats me like her own
child--or rather, her grandchild--and besides, the life suits me
very well. I am, really, perfectly independent, and yet I am
perfectly protected. I shall not repeat the experiment of living
alone for three years, until I am much older.
"It is a rather strange friendship. My Princess knows all about
me--all that you know. I told her one day and she did not seem at
all surprised. I thought I owed her the truth about myself, since I
was to live with her, and since she had always been so kind to me.
She says I remind her of her daughter, the poor young Princess
Marie, who died nearly thirty years ago. In Nice, too, like her
father, poor girl. She was only just nineteen, and very beautiful
they say. I suppose the dear good old lady fancies she sees some
resemblance even now, though I am so much older than her daughter
was when she died. There is the origin of our friendship--the
trivial and the tragic--confectionery and death--a box of candied
fruits and an irreparable loss! If there were no contrasts what
would the world be? All one or the other, I suppose. All death, or
all Kiew sweetmeats.
"I suppose you know what life in Egypt is like. If you have not
tried it yourself, your friends have and can describe it to you. I
will certainly not inflict my impressions upon your friendship. It
would be rather a severe test--perhaps yours would not bear it, and
then I should be sorry.
"Do you know? I like to think that I have a friend in you. I like
to remember the time when you used to talk to me of all your
plans--the dear old time! I would rather remember that than much
which came afterwards. You have forgiven me for all I did, and are
glad, now, that I did it. Yes, I can fancy your smile. You do not
see yourself, Prince Saracinesca, Prince Sant' Ilario, Duke of
Whatever-it-may-be, Lord of ever so many What-are-their-names,
Prince of the Holy Roman Empire, Grandee of Spain of the First
Class, Knight of Malta and Hereditary Something to the Holy See--in