Part 9 out of 9
short the tremendous personage you will one day be--you do not
exactly see yourself as the son-in-law of the Signora Lucrezia
Ferris, proprietor of a tourist's hotel on the Lake of Como!
Confess that the idea was an absurdity! As for me, I will confess
that I did very wrong. Had I known all the truth on that
afternoon--do you remember the thunderstorm? I would have saved you
much, and I should have saved myself--well--something. But we have
better things to do than to run after shadows. Perhaps it is as
well not even to think of them. It is all over now. Whatever you
may think of it all, forgive your old friend,
Maria Consuelo d'A."
Orsino read the long letter to the end, and sat a while thinking over
the contents. Two points in it struck him especially. In the first place
it was not the letter of a woman who wished to call back a man she had
dismissed. There was no sentiment in it, or next to none. She professed
herself contented in her life, if not happy, and in one sentence she
brought before him the enormous absurdity of the marriage he had once
contemplated. He had more than once been ashamed of not making some
further direct effort to win her again. He was now suddenly conscious of
the great influence which her first letter, containing the statement of
her parentage, had really exercised over him. Strangely enough, what she
now wrote reconciled him, as it were, with himself. It had turned out
best, after all.
That he loved her still, he felt sure, as he held in his hand the pages
she had written and felt the old thrill he knew so well in his fingers,
and the old, quick beating of the heart. But he acknowledged gladly--too
gladly, perhaps--that he had done well to let her go.
Then came the second impression. "I like to remember the time when you
used to talk to me of all your plans." The words rang in his ears and
called up delicious visions of the past, soft hours spent by her side
while she listened with something warmer than patience to the outpouring
of his young hopes and aspirations. She, at least, had understood him,
and encouraged him, and strengthened him with her sympathy. And why not
now, if then? Why should she not understand him now, when he most needed
a friend, and give him sympathy now, when he stood most in need of it?
She was in Egypt and he in Rome, it was true. But what of that? If she
could write to him, he could write to her, and she could answer him
again. No one had ever felt with him as she had.
He did not hesitate long. On that same evening, after dinner, he went
back to his own room and wrote to her. It was a little hard at first,
but, as the ink flowed, he expressed himself better and more clearly.
With an odd sort of caution, which had grown upon him of late, he tried
to make his letter take a form as similar to hers as possible.
"MY DEAR FRIEND" (he wrote)--"If people always yielded to their
impulses as you have done in writing to me, there would be more
good fellowship and less loneliness in the world. It would not be
easy for me to tell you how great a pleasure you have given me.
Perhaps, hereafter, I may compare it to your own memory of the Kiew
candied fruits! For the present I do not find a worthy comparison
to my hand.
"You ask many questions. I propose to answer them all. Will you
have the patience to read what I write? I hope so, for the sake of
the time when I used to talk to you of all my plans--and which you
say you like to remember. For another reason, too. I have never
felt so lonely in my life as I feel now, nor so much in need of a
friend--not a helping friend, but one to whom I can speak a little
freely. I am very much alone. A sort of estrangement has grown up
between my mother and me, and she no longer takes my side in all I
want to do, as she did once.
"I will be quite plain. I will tell you all my troubles, because
there is not another person in the world to whom I could tell
them--and because I know that they will not trouble you. You will
feel a little friendly sympathy, and that will be enough. But you
will feel no pain. After all, I daresay that I exaggerate, and that
there is nothing so very painful in the matter, as it will strike
you. But the case is serious, as you will see. It involves my life,
perhaps for many years to come.
"I am completely in Del Ferice's power. A year ago I had the
possibility of freeing myself. What do you think that chance was? I
could have gone to my grandfather and asked him to lay down a sum
of money sufficient to liberate me, or I could have refused Del
Ferice's new offer and allowed myself to be declared bankrupt. My
abominable vanity stood in the way of my following either of those
plans. In less than two months I shall be placed in the same
position again. But the circumstances are changed. The sum of money
is so considerable that I would not like to ask all my family, with
their three fortunes, to contribute it. The business is enormous. I
have an establishment like a bank and Contini--you remember
Contini?--has several assistant architects. Moreover we stand
alone. There is no other firm of the kind left, and our failure
would be a very disagreeable affair. But so long as I remain Del
Ferice's slave, we shall not fail. Do you know that this great and
successful firm is carried on systematically without a centime of
profit to the partners, and with the constant threat of a
disgraceful failure, used to force me on? Do you think that if I
chose the alternative, any one would believe, or that my tyrant
would let any one believe, that Orsino Saracinesca had served Ugo
Del Ferice for years--two years and a half before long--as a sort
of bondsman? I am in a very unenviable position. I am sure that Del
Ferice made use of me at first for his own ends--that is, to make
money for him. The magnitude of the sums which pass through my
hands makes me sure that he is now backed by a powerful syndicate,
probably of foreign bankers who lost money in the Roman crash, and
who see a chance of getting it back through Del Ferice's
management. It is a question of millions. You do not understand?
Will you try to read my explanation?"
And here Orsino summed up his position towards Del Ferice in a clear and
succinct statement, which it is not necessary to reproduce here. It
needed no talent for business on Maria Consuelo's part to understand
that he was bound hand and foot.
"One of three things must happen" (Orsino continued). "I must
cripple, if not ruin, the fortune of my family, or I must go
through a scandalous bankruptcy, or I must continue to be Ugo Del
Ferice's servant during the best years of my life. My only
consolation is that I am unpaid. I do not speak of poor Contini. He
is making a reputation, it is true, and Del Ferice gives him
something which I increase as much as I can. Considering our
positions, he is the more completely sacrificed of the two, poor
fellow--and through my fault. If I had only had the courage to put
my vanity out of the way eighteen months ago, I might have saved
him as well as myself. I believed myself a match for Del
Ferice--and I neither was nor ever shall be. I am a little
"That is my life, my dear friend. Since you have not quite
forgotten me, write me a word of that good old sympathy on which I
lived so long. It may soon be all I have to live on. If Del Ferice
should have the bad taste to follow Donna Tullia to Saint
Lawrence's, nothing could save me. I should no longer have the
alternative of remaining his slave in exchange for safety from
bankruptcy to myself and ruin--or something like it--to my father.
"But let us talk no more about it all. But for your kindly letter,
no one would ever have known all this, except Contini. In your calm
Egyptian life--thank God, dear, that your life is calm!--my story
must sound like a fragment from an unpleasant dream. One thing you
do not tell me. Are you happy, as well as peaceful? I would like to
know. I am not.
"Pray write again, when you have time--and inclination. If there is
anything to be done for you in Rome--any little thing, or great
thing either--command your old friend,
Orsino posted his letter with an odd sensation of relief. He felt that
he was once more in communication with humanity, since he had been able
to speak out and tell some one of the troubles that oppressed him. He
had assuredly no reason for being more hopeful than before, and matters
were in reality growing more serious every day; but his heart was
lighter and he took a more cheerful view of the future, almost against
his own better judgment.
He had not expected to receive an answer from Maria Consuelo for some
time and was surprised when one came in less than ten days from the date
of his writing. This letter was short, hurriedly written and carelessly
worded, but there was a ring of anxiety for him in every line of it
which he could not misinterpret. Not only did she express the deepest
sympathy for him and assure him that all he did still had the liveliest
interest for her, but she also insisted upon being informed of the state
of his affairs as often as possible. He had spoken of three
possibilities, she said. Was there not a fourth somewhere? There might
often be an issue from the most desperate situation, of which no one
dreamed. Could she not help him to discover where it lay in this case?
Could they not write to each other and find it out together?
Orsino looked uneasily at the lines, and the blood rose to his temples.
Did she mean what she said, or more, or less? He was overwrought and
over-sensitive, and she had written thoughtlessly, as though not
weighing her words, but only following an impulse for which she had no
time to find the proper expression. She could not imagine that he would
accept substantial help from her--still less that he would consent to
marry her for the sake of the fortune which might save him. He grew very
angry, then turned cold again, and then, reading the words again, saw
that he had no right to attach any such meaning to them. Then it struck
him that even if, by any possibility, she had meant to convey such an
idea, he would have no right at all to resent it. Women, he reflected,
did not look upon such matters as men did. She had refused to marry him
when he was prosperous. If she meant that she would marry him now, to
save him from ruin, he could not but acknowledge that she was carrying
devotion near to its farthest limit. But the words themselves would not
bear such an interpretation. He was straining language too far in
"And yet she means something," he said to himself. "Something which I
He wrote again, maintaining the tone of his first letter more carefully
than she had done on her part, though not sparing the warmest
expressions of heartfelt thanks for the sympathy she had so readily
given. But there was no fourth way, he said. One of those three things
which he had explained to her must happen. There was no hope, and he was
resigned to continue his existence of slavery until Del Ferice's death
brought about the great crisis of his life. Not that Del Ferice was in
any danger of dying, he added, in spite of the general gossip about his
bad health. Such men often outlasted stronger people, as Ugo had
outlived Donna Tullia. Not that his death would improve matters, either,
as they stood at present. That he had explained before. If the count
died now, there were ninety-nine chances out of a hundred that Orsino
would be ruined. For the present, nothing would happen. In little more
than a month--in six weeks at the utmost--a new arrangement would be
forced upon him, binding him perhaps for years to come. Del Ferice had
already spoken to him of a great public undertaking, at least half of
the contract for which could easily be secured or controlled by his
bank. He had added that this might be a favourable occasion for Andrea
Contini and Company to act in concert with the bank. Orsino knew what
that meant. Indeed, there was no possibility of mistaking the meaning,
which was clear enough. The fourth plan could only lie in finding
beforehand a purchaser for buildings which could not be so disposed of,
because they were built for a particular purpose, and could only be
bought by those who had ordered them, namely persons whom Del Ferice so
controlled that he could postpone their appearance if he chose and drive
Orsino into a failure at any moment after the completion of the work.
For instance, one of those buildings was evidently intended for a
factory, and probably for a match factory. Del Ferice, in requiring that
Contini and Company should erect what he had already arranged to dispose
of, had vaguely remarked that there were no match factories in Rome and
that perhaps some one would like to buy one. If Orsino had been less
desperate he would willingly have risked much to resent the suave
insolence. As it was, he had laughed in his tyrant's face, and bitterly
enough; a form of insult, however, to which Ugo was supremely
indifferent. These and many other details Orsino wrote to Maria
Consuelo, pouring out his confidence with the assurance of a man who
asks nothing but sympathy and is sure of receiving that in overflowing
measure. He no longer waited for her answers, as the crucial moment
approached, but wrote freely from day to day, as he felt inclined.
There was little which he did not tell her in the dozen or fifteen
letters he penned in the course of the month. Like many reticent men who
have never taken up a pen except for ordinary correspondence or for the
routine work of a business requiring accuracy, and who all at once begin
to write the history of their daily lives for the perusal of one trusted
person, Orsino felt as though he had found a new means of expression and
abandoned himself willingly to the comparative pleasure of complete
confidence. Like all such men, too, he unconsciously exhibited the chief
fault of his character in his long, diary-like letters. That fault was
his vanity. Had he been describing a great success he could and would
have concealed it better; in writing of his own successive errors and
disappointments he showed by the excessive blame he cast upon himself,
how deeply that vanity of his was wounded. It is possible that Maria
Consuelo discovered this. But she made no profession of analysis, and
while appearing outwardly far colder than Orsino, she seemed much more
disposed than he to yield to unexpected impulses when she felt their
influence. And Orsino was quite unconscious that he might be exhibiting
the defects of his moral nature to eyes keener than his own.
He wrote constantly therefore, with the utmost freedom, and in the
moments while he was writing he enjoyed a faint illusion of increased
safety, as though he were retarding the events of the future by
describing minutely those of the past. More than once again Maria
Consuelo answered him, and always in the same strain, doing her best,
apparently, to give him hope and to reconcile him with himself. However
much he might condemn his own lack of foresight, she said, no man who
did his best according to his best judgment, and who acted honourably,
was to be blamed for the result, though it might involve the ruin of
thousands. That was her chief argument and it comforted him, and seemed
to relieve him from a small part of the responsibility which weighed so
heavily upon his shoulders, a burden now grown so heavy that the least
lightening of it made him feel comparatively free until called upon to
face facts again and fight with realities.
But events would not be retarded, and Orsino's own good qualities tended
to hasten them, as they had to a great extent been the cause of his
embarrassment ever since the success of his first attempt, in making him
valuable as a slave to be kept from escaping at all risks. The system
upon which the business was conducted was admirable. It had been good
from the beginning and Orsino had improved it to a degree very uncommon
in Rome. He had mastered the science of book-keeping in a short time,
and had forced himself to an accuracy of detail and a promptness of
ready reference which would have surprised many an old professional
clerk. It must be remembered that from the first he had found little
else to do. The technical work had always been in Contini's hands, and
Del Ferice's forethought had relieved them both from the necessity of
entering upon financial negotiations requiring time, diplomatic tact and
skill of a higher order. The consequence was that Orsino had devoted the
whole of his great energy and native talent for order to the keeping of
the books, with the result that when a contract had been executed there
was hardly any accountant's work to be done. Nominally, too, Andrea
Contini and Company were not responsible to any one for their
book-keeping; but in practice, and under pretence of rendering valuable
service, Del Ferice sent an auditor from time to time to look into the
state of affairs, a proceeding which Contini bitterly resented while
Orsino expressed himself perfectly indifferent to the interference, on
the ground that there was nothing to conceal. Had the books been badly
kept, the final winding up of each contract would have been retarded for
one or more weeks. But the more deeply Orsino became involved, the more
keenly he felt the value and, at last, the vital importance, of the
most minute accuracy. If worse came to worst and he should be obliged
to fail, through Del Ferice's sudden death or from any other cause, his
reputation as an honourable man might depend upon this very accuracy of
detail, by which he would be able to prove that in the midst of great
undertakings, and while very large sums of money were passing daily
through his hands, he had never received even the very smallest share of
the profits absorbed by the bank. He even kept a private account of his
own expenditure on the allowance he received from his father, in order
that, if called upon, he might be able to prove how large a part of that
allowance he regularly paid to poor Contini as compensation for the
unhappy position in which the latter found himself. If bankruptcy
awaited him, his failure would, if the facts were properly made known,
reckon as one of the most honourable on record, though he was pleased to
look upon such a contingency as a certain source of scandal and more
than possible disgrace.
Unconsciously his own determined industry in book-keeping gave him a
little more confidence. In his great anxiety he was spared the terrible
uncertainty felt by a man who does not precisely know his own financial
position at a given critical moment. His studiously acquired outward
calm also stood him in good stead. Even San Giacinto who knew the
financial world as few men knew it watched his youthful cousin with
curiosity and not without a certain sympathy and a very little
admiration. The young man's face was growing stern and thoughtful like
his own, lean, grave and strong. San Giacinto remembered that night a
year and a half earlier when he had warned Orsino of the coming danger,
and he was almost displeased with himself now for having taken a step
which seemed to have been unnecessary. It was San Giacinto's principle
never to do anything unnecessary, because a useless action meant a loss
of time and therefore a loss of advantage over the adversary of the
moment. San Giacinto, in different circumstances, would have made a
good general--possibly a great one; his strange life had made him a
financier of a type singular and wholly different from that of the men
with whom he had to deal. He never sought to gain an advantage by a
deception, but he won everything by superior foresight, imperturbable
coolness, matchless rapidity of action and undaunted courage under all
circumstances. It needs higher qualities to be a good man, but no others
are needed to make a successful one. Orsino possessed something of the
same rapidity and much of a similar coolness and courage, but he lacked
the foresight. It was vanity, of the most pardonable kind, indeed, but
vanity nevertheless which had led him to embark upon his dangerous
enterprise--not in the determination to accomplish for the sake of
accomplishing, still less in the direct desire for wealth as an ultimate
object, but in the almost boyish longing to show to his own people that
there was more in him than they suspected. The gift of foresight is
generally weakened by the presence of vanity, but when vanity takes its
place the result is as likely to be failure as not, and depends almost
directly upon chance alone.
The crisis in Orsino's life was at hand, and what has here been finally
said of his position at that time seemed necessary, as summing up the
consequences to him of more than two years' unremitting labour, during
which he had become involved in affairs of enormous consequence at an
age when most young men are spending their time, more profitably perhaps
and certainly more agreeably, in such pleasures and pursuits as mother
society provides for her half-fledged nestlings.
On the day before his final interview with Del Ferice Orsino wrote a
lengthy letter to Maria Consuelo. As she did not receive it until long
afterwards it is quite unnecessary to give any account of its contents.
Some time had passed since he had heard from her and he was not sure
whether or not she were still in Egypt. But he wrote to her,
nevertheless, drawing much fictitious comfort and little real advantage
from the last clear statement of his difficulties. By this time, writing
to her had become a habit and he resorted to it naturally when over
wearied by work and anxiety.
On this same day also he had spent several hours in talking over the
situation with Contini. The architect, strange to say, was more
reconciled with his position than he had formerly been. He, at least,
received a certain substantial remuneration. He, at least, loved his
profession and rejoiced in the handling of great masses of brick and
stone. He, too, was rapidly making a reputation and a name for himself,
and, if business improved, was not prevented from entering into other
enterprises besides the one in which he found himself so deeply
interested. As a member of the firm, he could not free himself. As an
architect, he could have an architect's office of his own and build for
any one who chose to employ him. For his own part, he said, he might
perhaps be more profitably employed upon less important work; but then,
he might not, for business was very bad. The great works in which Del
Ferice kept him engaged had the incalculable advantage of bringing him
constantly before the public as an architect and of keeping his name,
which was the name of the firm, continually in the notice of all men of
business. He was deeply indebted to Orsino for the generous help given
when the realities of profit were so greatly at variance with the
appearances of prosperity. He would always regard repayment of the money
so advanced to him as a debt of honour and he hoped to live long enough
to extinguish it. He sympathised with Orsino in his desire to be freer
and more independent, but reminded him that when the day of liberation
came, he would not regret the comparatively short apprenticeship during
which he had acquired so great a mastery of business. Business, he said,
had been Orsino's ambition from the beginning, and business he had, in
plenty, if not with profit. For his own part, he was satisfied.
Orsino felt that his partner could not be blamed, and he felt, too, that
he would be doing Contini a great injury in involving him in a failure.
But he regretted the time when their interests had coincided and they
had cursed Del Ferice in common and with a good will. There was nothing
to be done but to submit. He knew well enough what awaited him.
On the following morning, by appointment, he went with a heavy heart to
meet Del Ferice at the bank. The latter had always preferred to see
Orsino without Contini when a new contract was to be discussed. As a
personal acquaintance he treated with Orsino on a footing of social
equality, and the balance of outwardly agreeable relations would have
been disturbed by the presence of a social inferior. Moreover, Del
Ferice knew the Saracinesca people tolerably well, and though not so
timid as many people supposed, he somewhat dreaded a sudden outbreak of
the hereditary temper; if such a manifestation really took place, it
would be more agreeable that there should be no witnesses of it.
Orsino was surprised to find that Ugo was out of town. Having made an
appointment, he ought at least to have sent word to the Palazzo
Saracinesca of his departure. He had indeed left a message for Orsino,
which was correctly delivered, to the effect that he would return in
twenty-four hours, and requesting him to postpone the interview until
the following afternoon. In Orsino's humour this was not altogether
pleasant. The young man felt little suspense indeed, for he knew how
matters must turn out, and that he should be saddled with another
contract. But he found it hard to wait with equanimity, now that he had
made up his mind to the worst, and he resented Del Ferice's rudeness in
not giving a civil warning of his intended journey.
The day passed somehow, at last, and towards evening Orsino received a
telegram from Ugo, full of excuses, but begging to put off the meeting
two days longer. The dispatch was from Naples whither Del Ferice often
went on business.
It was almost unbearable and yet it must be borne. Orsino spent his time
in roaming about the less frequented parts of the city, trying to make
new plans for the future which was already planned for him, doing his
best to follow out a distinct line of thought, if only to distract his
own attention. He could not even write to Maria Consuelo, for he felt
that he had said all there was to be said, in his last long letter.
On the morning of the fourth day he went to the bank again. Del Ferice
was there and greeted him warmly, interweaving his phrases with excuses
for his absence.
"You will forgive me, I am sure," he said, "though I have put you to
very great inconvenience. The case was urgent and I could not leave it
in the hands of others. Of course you could have settled the business
with another of the directors, but I think--indeed, I know--that you
prefer only to see me in these matters. We have worked together so long
now, that we understand each other with half a word. Really, I am very
sorry to have kept you waiting so long!"
"It is of no importance," answered Orsino coolly. "Pray do not speak of
"Of importance--no--perhaps not. That is, as you could not lose by it,
it was not of financial importance. But when I have made an engagement,
I like to keep it. In business, so much depends upon keeping small
engagements--and they may mean quite as much in the relations of
society. However, as you are so kind, we will not speak of it again. I
have made my excuses and you have accepted them. Let that end the
matter. To business, now, Don Orsino--to business!"
Orsino fancied that Del Ferice's manner was not quite natural. He was
generally more quiet. His rather watery blue eyes did not usually look
so wide awake, his fat white hands were not commonly so active in their
gestures. Altogether he seemed more nervous, and at the same time better
pleased with himself and with life than usual. Orsino wondered what had
happened. He had perhaps made some very successful stroke in his
affairs during the three days he had spent in Naples.
"So let us now have a look into your contracts, Don Orsino," he said.
"Or rather, look into the state of the account yourself if you wish to
do so, for I have already examined it."
"I am familiar enough with the details," answered the young man. "I do
not need to look over everything. The books have been audited as you
see. The only thing left to be done is to hand over the work to you,
since it is executed according to the contract. You doubtless remember
that verbal part of the agreement. You receive the buildings as they now
stand and our credit cash if there is any, in full discharge of all the
obligations of Andrea Contini and Company to the bank--acceptances
coming due, balance of account if in debit, and mortgages on land and
houses--and we are quits again, my firm being discharged of all
Del Ferice's expression changed a little and became more grave.
"Doubtless," he answered, "there was a tacit understanding to that
effect. Yes--yes--I remember. Indeed it was not altogether tacit. A word
was said about it, and a word is as good as a contract. Very well, Don
Orsino--very well. Since you desire it, we will cry quits again. This
kind of business is not very profitable to the bank--not very--but it is
not actual loss."
"It is not profitable to us," observed Orsino. "If you do not wish any
more of it, we do not."
Del Ferice looked at him rather curiously as though wishing that he
would say more. Orsino met his glance steadily, expecting to be informed
of the nature of the next contract to be forced upon him.
"So you really prefer to discontinue these operations--if I may call
them so," said Del Ferice thoughtfully. "It is strange that you should,
I confess. I remember that you much desired to take a part in affairs,
to be an actor in the interesting doings of the day, to be a financial
personage, in short. You have had your wish, Don Orsino. Your firm plays
an important part in Rome. Do you remember our first interview on the
steps of Monte Citorio? You asked me whether I could and would help you
to enter business. I promised that I would, and I have kept my word. The
sums mentioned in those papers, here, show that I have done all I
promised. You told me that you had fifteen thousand francs at your
disposal. From that small beginning I have shown you how to deal with
millions. But you do not seem to care for business, after all, Don
Orsino. You really do not seem to care for it, though I must confess
that you have a remarkable talent. It is very strange."
"Is it?" asked Orsino with a shade of contempt. "You may remember that
my business has not been profitable, in spite of what you call my
talent, and in spite of what I know to have been hard work."
Del Ferice smiled softly.
"That is quite another matter," he answered. "If you had asked me
whether you could make a fortune at this time, I would have told you
that it was quite impossible without enormous capital. Quite impossible.
Understand that, if you please. But, negatively, you have profited,
because others have failed--hundreds of firms and contractors--while you
have lost but the paltry fifteen thousand or so with which you began.
And you have acquired great knowledge and experience. Therefore, on the
whole, you have been the gainer. In balancing an account one takes but
the sordid debit and credit and compares them--but in estimating the
value of a firm one should consider its reputation and the goodwill it
has created. The name of Andrea Contini and Company is a power in Rome.
That is the result of your work, and it is not a loss."
Orsino said nothing, but leaned back in his chair, gloomily staring at
the wall. He wondered when Del Ferice would come to the point, and begin
to talk about the new contract.
"You do not seem to agree with me," observed Ugo in an injured tone.
"Not altogether, I confess," replied the young man with a contemptuous
"Well, well--it is no matter--it is of no importance--of no consequence
whatever," said Del Fence, who seemed inclined to repeat himself and to
lengthen, his phrases as though he wished to gain time. "Only this, Don
Orsino. I would remind you that you have just executed a piece of work
successfully, which no other firm in Rome could have carried out without
failure, under the present depression. It seems to me that you have
every reason to congratulate yourself. Of course, it was impossible for
me to understand that you really cared for a large profit--for actual
"And I do not," interrupted Orsino with more warmth than he had hitherto
"But, in that case, you ought to be more than satisfied," objected Ugo
Orsino grew impatient at last and spoke out frankly.
"I cannot be satisfied with a position of absolute dependence, from
which I cannot escape except by bankruptcy. You know that I am
completely in your power. You know very well that while you are talking
to me now you contemplate making your usual condition before crying
quits, as you express it. You intend to impose another and probably a
larger piece of work on me, which I shall be obliged to undertake on the
same terms as before, because if I do not accept it, it is in your power
to ruin me at once. And this state of things may go on for years. That
is the enviable position of Andrea Contini and Company."
Del Ferice assumed an air of injured dignity.
"If you think anything of this kind you greatly misjudge me," he said.
"I do not see why I should judge otherwise," retorted Orsino. "That is
exactly what took place on the last occasion, and what will take place
"I think not," said Del Ferice very quietly, and watching him.
Orsino was somewhat startled by the words, but his face betrayed
nothing. It was clear to him that Ugo had something new to propose, and
it was not easy to guess the nature of the coming proposition.
"Will you kindly explain yourself?" he asked.
"My dear Don Orsino, there is nothing to explain," replied Del Ferice
again becoming very bland.
"I do not understand."
"No? It is very simple. You have finished the buildings. The bank will
take them over and consider the account closed. You stated the position
yourself in the most precise terms. I do not see why you should suppose
that the bank wishes to impose anything upon you which you are not
inclined to accept. I really do not see why you should think anything of
In the dead silence which followed Orsino could hear his own heart
beating loudly. He wondered whether he had heard aright. He wondered
whether this were not some new manoeuvre on Del Ferice's part by which
he must ultimately fall still more completely under the banker's
domination. Ugo doubtless meant to qualify what he had just said by
adding a clause. Orsino waited for what was to follow.
"Am I to understand that this does not suit your wishes?" inquired Ugo,
"On the contrary, it would suit me perfectly," answered Orsino
controlling his voice with some difficulty.
"In that case, there is nothing more to be said," observed Del Ferice.
"The bank will give you a formal release--indeed, I think the notary is
at this moment here. I am very glad to be able to meet your views, Don
Orsino. Very glad, I am sure. It is always pleasant to find that
amicable relations have been preserved after a long and somewhat
complicated business connexion. The bank owes it to you, I am sure--"
"I am quite willing to owe that to the bank," answered Orsino with a
ready smile. He was almost beside himself with joy.
"You are very good, I assure you," said Del Ferice, with much
politeness. He touched a bell and his confidential clerk appeared.
"Cancel these drafts," he said, giving the man a small bundle of bills.
"Direct the notary to prepare a deed of sale, transferring all this
property, as was done before--" he hesitated. "I will see him myself in
ten minutes," he added. "It will be simpler. The account of Andrea
Contini is balanced and closed. Make out a preliminary receipt for all
dues whatsoever and bring it to me."
The clerk stared for one moment as though he believed that Del Ferice
were mad. Then he went out.
"I am sorry to lose you, Don Orsino," said Del Ferice, thoughtfully
rolling his big silver pencil case on the table. "All the legal papers
will be ready to-morrow afternoon."
"Pray express to the directors my best thanks for so speedily winding up
the business," answered Orsino. "I think that, after all, I have no
great talent for affairs."
"On the contrary, on the contrary," protested Ugo. "I have a great deal
to say against that statement." And he eulogised Orsino's gifts almost
without pausing for breath until the clerk returned with the preliminary
receipt. Del Ferice signed it and handed it to Orsino with a smile.
"This was unnecessary," said the young man. "I could have waited until
"A matter of conscience, dear Don Orsino--nothing more."
Orsino was free at last. The whole matter was incomprehensible to him,
and almost mysterious, so that after he had at last received his legal
release he spent his time in trying to discover the motives of Del
Ferice's conduct. The simplest explanation seemed to be that Ugo had not
derived as much profit from the last contract as he had hoped for,
though it had been enough to justify him in keeping his informal
engagement with Contini and Company, and that he feared a new and
unfavourable change in business which made any further speculations of
the kind dangerous. For some time Orsino believed this to have been the
case, but events proved that he was mistaken. He dissolved his
partnership with Contini, but Andrea Contini and Company still continued
to exist. The new partner was no less a personage than Del Ferice
himself, who was constantly represented in the firm by the confidential
clerk who has been more than once mentioned in this history, and who was
a friend of Contini's. What terms Contini made for himself, Orsino never
knew, but it is certain that the architect prospered from that time and
is still prosperous.
Late in the spring of that year 1890 Roman society was considerably
surprised by the news of a most unexpected marriage. The engagement had
been carefully kept a secret, the banns had been published in Palermo,
the civil and religious ceremonies had taken place there, and the happy
couple had already reached Paris before either of them thought of
informing their friends and before any notice of the event appeared in
the papers. Even then, society felt itself aggrieved by the laconic form
in which the information was communicated.
The statement, indeed, left nothing to be desired on the score of
plainness or conciseness of style. Count Del Ferice had married Maria
Consuelo d'Aranjuez d'Aragona.
Two persons only received the intelligence a few days before it was
generally made known. One was Orsino and the other was Spicca. The
letters were characteristic and may be worth reproducing.
"MY FATHER" (Maria Consuelo wrote)--"I am married to Count Del
Ferice, with whom I think that you are acquainted. There is no
reason why I should enter into any explanation of my reasons for
taking this step. There are plenty which everybody can see. My
husband's present position and great wealth make him what the world
calls a good match, and my fortune places me above the suspicion of
having married him for his money. If his birth was not originally
of the highest, it was at least as good as mine, and society will
say that the marriage was appropriate in all its circumstances. You
are aware that I could not be married without informing my husband
and the municipal authorities of my parentage, by presenting copies
of the registers in Nice. Count Del Ferice was good enough to
overlook some little peculiarity in the relation between the dates
of my birth and your marriage. We will therefore say no more about
the matter. The object of this letter is to let you know that those
facts have been communicated to several persons, as a matter of
necessity. I do not expect you to congratulate me. I congratulate
myself, however, with all my heart. Within two years I have freed
myself from my worthy mother, I have placed myself beyond your
power to injure me, and I have escaped ruining a man I loved by
marrying him. I have laid the foundations of peace if not of
"The Princess is very ill but hopes to reach Normandy before the
summer begins. My husband will be obliged to be often in Rome but
will come to me from time to time, as I cannot leave the Princess
at present. She is trying, however, to select among her
acquaintance another lady in waiting--the more willingly as she is
not pleased with my marriage. Is that a satisfaction to you? I
expect to spend the winter in Rome.
"MARIA CONSUELO DEL FERICE."
This was the letter by which Maria Consuelo announced her marriage to
the father whom she so sincerely hated. For cruelty of language and
expression it was not to be compared with the one she had written to
him after parting with Orsino. But had she known how the news she now
conveyed would affect the old man who was to learn it, her heart might
have softened a little towards him, even after all she had suffered.
Very different were the lines Orsino received from her at the same time.
"My dear Friend--When you read this letter, which I write on the
eve of my marriage, but shall not send till some days have passed,
you must think of me as the wife of Ugo Del Ferice. To-night, I am
still Maria Consuelo. I have something to say to you, and you must
read it patiently, for I shall never say it again--and after all,
it will not be much. Is it right of me to say it? I do not know.
Until to-morrow I have still time to refuse to be married.
Therefore I am still a free agent, and entitled to think freely.
After to-morrow it will be different.
"I wish, dear, that I could tell you all the truth. Perhaps you
would not be ashamed of having loved the daughter of Lucrezia
Ferris. But I cannot tell you all. There are reasons why you had
better never know it. But I will tell you this, for I must say it
once. I love you very dearly. I loved you long ago, I loved you
when I left you in Rome, I have loved you ever since, and I am
afraid that I shall love you until I die.
"It is not foolish of me to write the words, though it may be
wrong. If I love you, it is because I know you. We shall meet
before long, and then meet, perhaps, hundreds of times, and more,
for I am to live in Rome. I know that you will be all you should
be, or I would not speak now as I never spoke before, at the moment
when I am raising an impassable barrier between us by my own free
will. If you ever loved me--and you did--you will respect that
barrier in deed and word, and even in thought. You will remember
only that I loved you with all my heart on the day before my
marriage. You will forget even to think that I may love you still
to-morrow, and think tenderly of you on the day after that.
"You are free now, dear, and can begin your real life. How do I
know it? Del Ferice has told me that he has released you--for we
sometimes speak of you. He has even shown me a copy of the legal
act of release, which he chanced to find among the papers he had
brought. An accident, perhaps. Or, perhaps he knows that I loved
you. I do not care--I had a right to, then.
"So you are quite free. I like to think that you have come out of
all your troubles quite unscathed, young, your name untarnished,
your hands clean. I am glad that you answered the letter I wrote to
you from Egypt and told me all, and wrote so often afterwards. I
could not do much beyond give you my sympathy, and I gave it
all--to the uttermost. You will not need any more of it. You are
free now, thank God!
"If you think of me, wish me peace, dear--I do not ask for anything
nearer to happiness than that. But I wish you many things, the
least of which should make you happy. Most of all, I wish that you
may some day love well and truly, and win the reality of which you
once thought you held the shadow. Can I say more than that? No
loving woman can.
"And so, good-bye--good-bye, love of all my life, good-bye dear,
dear Orsino--I think this is the hardest good-bye of all--when we
are to meet so soon. I cannot write any more. Once again, the
last--the very last time, for ever--I love you.
A strange sensation came over Orsino as he read this letter. He was not
able at first to realise much beyond the fact that Maria Consuelo was
actually married to Del Ferice--a match than which none imaginable could
have been more unexpected. But he felt that there was more behind the
facts than he was able to grasp, almost more than he dared to guess at.
A mysterious horror filled his mind as he read and reread the lines.
There was no doubting the sincerity of what she said. He doubted the
survival of his own love much more. She could have no reason whatever
for writing as she did, on the eve of her marriage, no reason beyond the
irresistible desire to speak out all her heart once only and for the
last time. Again and again he went over the passages which struck him as
most strange. Then the truth flashed upon him. Maria Consuelo had sold
herself to free him from his difficulties, to save him from the terrible
alternatives of either wasting his life as Del Ferice's slave or of
ruining his family.
With a smothered exclamation, between an oath and a groan of pain,
Orsino threw himself upon the divan and buried his face in his hands.
It is kinder to leave him there for a time, alone.
Poor Spicca broke down under this last blow. In vain old Santi got out
the cordial from the press in the corner, and did his best to bring his
master back to his natural self. In vain Spicca roused himself, forced
himself to eat, went out, walked his hour, dragging his feet after him,
and attempted to exchange a word with his friends at the club. He seemed
to have got his death wound. His head sank lower on his breast, his long
emaciated frame stooped more and more, the thin hands grew daily more
colourless, and the deathly face daily more deathly pale. Days passed
away, and weeks, and it was early June. He no longer tried to go out.
Santi tried to prevail upon him to take a little air in a cab, on the
Via Appia. It would be money well spent, he said, apologising for
suggesting such extravagance. Spicca shook his head, and kept to his
chair by the open window. Then, on a certain morning, he was worse and
had not the strength to rise from his bed.
On that very morning a telegram came. He looked at it as though hardly
understanding what he should do, as Santi held it before him. Then he
opened it. His fingers did not tremble even now. The iron nerve of the
great swordsman survived still.
"Ventnor--Rome. Count Spicca. The Princess is dead. I know the truth at
last. God forgive me and bless you. I come to you at once.--Maria
Spicca read the few words printed on the white strip that was pasted to
the yellow paper. Then his hands sank to his sides and he closed his
eyes. Santi thought it was the end, and burst into tears as he fell to
his knees by the bed.
Half an hour passed. Then Spicca raised his head, and made a gesture
with his hand.
"Do not be a fool, Santi, I am not dead yet," he said, with kindly
impatience. "Get up and send for Don Orsino Saracinesca, if he is still
Santi left the room, drying his eyes and uttering incoherent
exclamations of astonishment mingled with a singular cross fire of
praise and prayer directed to the Saints and of imprecations upon
himself for his own stupidity.
Before noon Orsino appeared. He was gaunt and pale, and more like San
Giacinto than ever. There was a settled hardness in his face which was
never again to disappear permanently. But he was horror-struck by
Spicca's appearance. He had no idea that a man already so cadaverous
could still change as the old man had changed. Spicca seemed little more
than a grey shadow barely resting upon the white bed. He put the
telegram into Orsino's hands. The young man read it twice and his face
expressed his astonishment. Spicca smiled faintly, as he watched him.
"What does it mean?" asked Orsino. "Of what truth does she speak? She
hated you, and now, all at once, she loves you. I do not understand."
"How should you?" The old man spoke in a clear, thin voice, very unlike
his own. "You could not understand. But before I die, I will tell you."
"Do not talk of dying--"
"No. It is not necessary. I realise it enough, and you need not realise
it at all. I have not much to tell you, but a little truth will
sometimes destroy many falsehoods. You remember the story about Lucrezia
Ferris? Maria Consuelo wrote it to you."
"Remember it! Could I forget it?"
"You may as well. There is not a word of truth in it. Lucrezia Ferris is
not her mother."
"Not her mother!"
"No. I only wonder how you could ever have believed that a Piedmontese
nurse could be the mother of Maria Consuelo. Nor am I Maria Consuelo's
father. Perhaps that will not surprise you so much. She does not
resemble me, thank Heaven!"
"What is she then? Who is she?" asked Orsino impatiently.
"To tell you that I must tell you the story. When I was young--very long
before you were born--I travelled much, and I was well received. I was
rich and of good family. At a certain court in Europe--I was at one time
in the diplomacy--I loved a lady whom I could not have married, even had
she been free. Her station was far above mine. She was also considerably
older than I, and she paid very little attention to me, I confess. But I
loved her. She is just dead. She was that princess mentioned in this
telegram. Do you understand? Do you hear me? My voice is weak."
"Perfectly. Pray go on."
"Maria Consuelo is her grandchild--the granddaughter of the only woman I
ever loved. Understand that, too. It happened in this way. My Princess
had but one daughter, the Princess Marie, a mere child when I first saw
her--not more than fourteen years old. We were all in Nice, one winter
thirty years ago--some four years after I had first met the Princess. I
travelled in order to see her, and she was always kind to me, though she
did not love me. Perhaps I was useful, too, before that. People were
always afraid of me, because I could handle the foils. It was thirty
years ago, and the Princess Marie was eighteen. Poor child!"
Spicca paused a moment, and passed his transparent hand over his eyes.
"I think I understand," said Orsino.
"No you do not," answered Spicca, with unexpected sharpness. "You will
not understand, until I have told you everything. The Princess Marie
fell ill, or pretended to fall ill while we were at Nice. But she could
not conceal the truth long--at least not from her mother. She had
already taken into her confidence a little Piedmontese maid, scarcely
older than herself--a certain Lucrezia Ferris--and she allowed no other
woman to come near her. Then she told her mother the truth. She loved a
man of her own rank and not much older--not yet of age, in fact.
Unfortunately, as happens with such people, a marriage was
diplomatically impossible. He was not of her nationality and the
relations were strained. But she had married him nevertheless, secretly
and, as it turned out, without any legal formalities. It is questionable
whether the marriage, even then, could have been proved to be valid, for
she was a Catholic and he was not, and a Catholic priest had married
them without proper authorisation or dispensation. But they were both in
earnest, both young and both foolish. The husband--his name is of no
importance--was very far away at the time we were in Nice, and was quite
unable to come to her. She was about to be a mother and she turned to
her own mother in her extremity, with a full confession of the truth."
"I see," said Orsino. "And you adopted--"
"You do not see yet. The Princess came to me for advice. The situation
was an extremely delicate one from all points of view. To declare the
marriage at that moment might have produced extraordinary complications,
for the countries to which, the two young people belonged were on the
verge of a war which was only retarded by the extraordinary genius of
one man. To conceal it seemed equally dangerous, if not more so. The
Princess Marie's reputation was at stake--the reputation of a young
girl, as people supposed her to be, remember that. Various schemes
suggested themselves. I cannot tell what would have been done, for fate
decided the matter--tragically, as fate does. The young husband was
killed while on a shooting expedition--at least so it was stated. I
always believed that he shot himself. It was all very mysterious. We
could not keep the news from the Princess Marie. That night Maria
Consuelo was born. On the next day, her mother died. The shock had
killed her. The secret was now known to the old Princess, to me, to
Lucrezia Ferris and to the French doctor--a man of great skill and
discretion. Maria Consuelo was the nameless orphan child of an
unacknowledged marriage--of a marriage which was certainly not legal,
and which the Church must hesitate to ratify. Again we saw that the
complications, diplomatic and of other kinds, which would arise if the
truth were published, would be enormous. The Prince himself was not yet
in Nice and was quite ignorant of the true cause of his daughter's
sudden death. But he would arrive in forty-eight hours, and it was
necessary to decide upon some course. We could rely upon the doctor and
upon our two selves--the Princess and I. Lucrezia Ferris seemed to be a
sensible, quiet girl, and she certainly proved to be discreet for a long
time. The Princess was distracted with grief and beside herself with
anxiety. Remember that I loved her--that explains what I did. I proposed
the plan which was carried out and with which you are acquainted. I took
the child, declared it to be mine, and married Lucrezia. The only legal
documents in existence concerning Maria Consuelo prove her to be my
daughter. The priest who had married the poor Princess Marie could never
be found. Terrified, perhaps, at what he had done, he
disappeared--probably as a monk in an Austrian monastery. I hunted him
for years. Lucrezia Ferris was discreet for two reasons. She received a
large sum of money, and a large allowance afterwards, and later on it
appears that she further enriched herself at Maria Consuelo's expense.
Avarice was her chief fault, and by it we held her. Secondly, however,
she was well aware, and knows to-day, that no one would believe her
story if she told the truth. The proofs are all positive and legal for
Maria Consuelo's supposed parentage, and there is not a trace of
evidence in favour of the truth. You know the story now. I am glad I
have been able to tell it to you. I will rest now, for I am very tired.
If I am alive to-morrow, come and see me--good-bye, in case you should
not find me."
Orsino pressed the wasted hand and went out silently, more affected than
he owned by the dying man's words and looks. It was a painful story of
well-meant mistakes, he thought, and it explained many things which he
had not understood. Linking it with all he knew besides, he had the
whole history of Spicca's mysterious, broken life, together with the
explanation of some points in his own which had never been clear to him.
The old cynic of a duellist had been a man of heart, after all, and had
sacrificed his whole existence to keep a secret for a woman whom he
loved but who did not care for him. That was all. She was dead and he
was dying. The secret was already half buried in the past. If it were
told now, no one would believe it.
Orsino returned on the following day. He had sent for news several
times, and was told that Spicca still lingered. He saw him again but the
old man seemed very weak and only spoke a few words during the hour
Orsino spent with him. The doctor had said that he might possibly live,
but that there was not much hope.
And again on the next day Orsino came back. He started as he entered the
room. An old Franciscan, a Minorite, was by the bedside, speaking in low
tones. Orsino made as though he would withdraw, but Spicca feebly
beckoned to him to stay, and the monk rose.
"Good-bye," whispered Spicca, following him with his sunken eyes.
Orsino led the Franciscan out. At the outer door the latter turned to
Orsino with a strange look and laid a hand upon his arm.
"Who are you, my son?" he asked.
"A friend of his?"
"He has done terrible things in his long life. But he has done noble
things, too, and has suffered much, and in silence. He has earned his
rest, and God will forgive him."
The monk bowed his head and went out. Orsino re-entered the room and
took the vacant chair beside the bed. He touched Spicca's hand almost
affectionately, but the latter withdrew it with an effort. He had never
liked sympathy, and liked it least when another would have needed it
most. For a considerable time neither spoke. The pale hand lay
peacefully upon the pillows, the long, shadowy frame was wrapped in a
gown of dark woollen material.
"Do you think she will come to-day?" asked the old man at length.
"She may come to-day--I hope so," Orsino answered.
A long pause followed.
"I hope so, too," Spicca whispered. "I have not much strength left. I
cannot wait much longer."
Again there was silence. Orsino knew that there was nothing to be said,
nothing at least which he could say, to cheer the last hours of the
lonely life. But Spicca seemed contented that he should sit there.
"Give me that photograph," he said, suddenly, a quarter of an hour
Orsino looked about him but could not see what Spicca wanted.
"Hers," said the feeble voice, "in the next room."
It was the photograph in the little chiselled frame--the same frame
which had once excited Donna Tullia's scorn. Orsino brought it quickly
from its place over the chimney-piece, and held it before his friend's
eyes. Spicca gazed at it a long time in silence.
"Take it away," he said, at last. "It is not like her."
Orsino put it aside and sat down again. Presently Spicca turned a little
on the pillow and looked at him.
"Do you remember that I once said I wished you might marry her?" he
"It was quite true. You understand now? I could not tell you then."
"Yes. I understand everything now."
"But I am sorry I said it."
"Why?" "Perhaps it influenced you and has hurt your life. I am sorry.
You must forgive me."
"For Heaven's sake, do not distress yourself about such trifles," said
Orsino, earnestly. "There is nothing to forgive."
Orsino looked at him, pondering on the peaceful ending of the strange
life, and wondering what manner of heart and soul the man had really
lived with. With the intuition which sometimes comes to dying persons,
Spicca understood, though it was long before he spoke again. There was a
faint touch of his old manner in his words.
"I am an awful example, Orsino," he said, with the ghost of a smile. "Do
not imitate me. Do not sacrifice your life for the love of any woman.
Try and appreciate sacrifices in others."
The smile died away again.
"And yet I am glad I did it," he added, a moment later. "Perhaps it was
all a mistake--but I did my best."
"You did indeed," Orsino answered gravely.
He meant what he said, though he felt that it had indeed been all a
mistake, as Spicca suggested. The young face was very thoughtful. Spicca
little knew how hard his last cynicism hit the man beside him, for whose
freedom and safety the woman of whom Spicca was thinking had sacrificed
so very much. He would die without knowing that.
The door opened softly and a woman's light footstep was on the
threshold. Maria Consuelo came silently and swiftly forward with
outstretched hands that had clasped the dying man's almost before Orsino
realised that it was she herself. She fell on her knees beside the bed
and pressed the powerless cold fingers to her forehead.
Spicca started and for one moment raised his head from the pillow. It
fell back almost instantly. A look of supreme happiness flashed over
the deathly features, followed by an expression of pain.
"Why did you marry him?" he asked in tones so loud that Orsino started,
and Maria Consuelo looked up with streaming eyes.
She did not answer, but tried to soothe him, rising and caressing his
hand, and smoothing his pillows.
"Tell me why you married him!" he cried again. "I am dying--I must
She bent down very low and whispered into his ear. He shook his head
"Louder! I cannot hear! Louder!"
Again she whispered, more distinctly this time, and casting an imploring
glance at Orsino, who was too much disturbed to understand.
"Louder!" gasped the dying man, struggling to sit up. "Louder! O my God!
I shall die without hearing you--without knowing--"
It would have been inhuman to torture the departing soul any longer.
Then Maria Consuelo made her last sacrifice. She spoke in calm, clear
"I married to save the man I loved."
Spicca's expression changed. For fully twenty seconds his sunken eyes
remained fixed, gazing into hers. Then the light began to flash in them
for the last time, keen as the lightning.
"God have mercy on you! God reward you!" he cried.
The shadowy figure quivered throughout its length, was still, then
quivered again, then sprang up suddenly with a leap, and Spicca was
standing on the floor, clasping Maria Consuelo in his arms. All at once
there was colour in his face and the fire grew bright in his glance.
"Oh, my darling, I have loved you so!" he cried.
He almost lifted her from the ground as he pressed his lips passionately
upon her forehead. His long thin hands relaxed suddenly, and the light
broke in his eyes as when a mirror is shivered by a blow. For an instant
that seemed an age, he stood upright, dead already, and then fell back
all his length across the bed with wide extended arms.
There was a short, sharp sob, and then a sound of passionate weeping
filled the silent room. Strongly and tenderly Orsino laid his dead
friend upon the couch as he had lain alive but two minutes earlier. He
crossed the hands upon the breast and gently closed the staring eyes. He
could not have had Maria Consuelo see him as he had fallen, when she
next looked up.
A little later they stood side by side, gazing at the calm dead face, in
a long silence. How long they stood, they never knew, for their hearts
were very full. The sun was going down and the evening light filled the
"Did he tell you, before he died--about me?" asked Maria Consuelo in a
"Yes. He told me everything."
Maria Consuelo went forward and bent over the face and kissed the white
forehead, and made the sign of the Cross upon it. Then she turned and
took Orsino's hand in hers.
"I could not help your hearing what I said, Orsino. He was dying, you
see. You know all, now."
Orsino's fingers pressed hers desperately. For a moment he could not
speak. Then the agonised words came with a great effort, harshly but
ringing from the heart.
"And I can give you nothing!"
He covered his face and turned away.
"Give me your friendship, dear--I never had your love," she said.
It was long before they talked together again.
This is what I know of young Orsino Saracinesca's life up to the present
time. Maria Consuelo, Countess Del Ferice, was right. She never had his
love as he had hers. Perhaps the power of loving so is not in him. He
is, after all, more like San Giacinto than any other member of the
family, cold, perhaps, and hard by nature. But these things which I have
described have made a man of him at an age when many men are but boys,
and he has learnt what many never learn at all--that there is more true
devotion to be found in the world than most people will acknowledge. He
may some day be heard of. He may some day fall under the great passion.
Or he may never love at all and may never distinguish himself any more
than his father has done. One or the other may happen, but not both, in
all probability. The very greatest passion is rarely compatible with the
very greatest success except in extraordinary good or bad natures. And
Orsino Saracinesca is not extraordinary in any way. His character has
been formed by the unusual circumstances in which he was placed when
very young, rather than by anything like the self-development which we
hear of in the lives of great men. From a somewhat foolish and
affectedly cynical youth he has grown into a decidedly hard and
cool-headed man. He is very much seen in society but talks little on the
whole. If, hereafter, there should be anything in his life worth
recording, another hand than mine may write it down for future readers.
If any one cares to ask why I have thought it worth the trouble to
describe his early years so minutely, I answer that the young man of the
Transition Period interests me. Perhaps I am singular in that. Orsino
Saracinesca is a fair type, I think, of his class at his age. I have
done my best to be just to him.