Part 1 out of 8
Produced by Charles Aldarondo, Riikka Talonpoika and PG Distributed
[Transcriber's note: Both "Matilde" and "Matilda" appear in the source
F. MARION CRAWFORD
"Where shall I sign my name?"
Veronica Serra's thin, dark fingers rolled the old silver penholder
nervously as she sat at one end of the long library table, looking up at
the short, stout man who stood beside her.
"Here, if you please, Excellency," answered Lamberto Squarci, with an
His fingers were dark, too, but not thin, and they were smooth and dingy
and very pointed, a fact which the young princess noticed with dislike,
as he indicated the spot on the broad sheet of rough, hand-made paper,
where he wished her to sign. A thrill of repulsion that was strong
enough to be painful ran through her, and she rolled the penholder still
more quickly and nervously, so that she almost dropped it, and a little
blot of ink fell upon the sheet before she had begun to write.
"Oh! It is of no importance!" said the Neapolitan notary, in a
reassuring tone. "A little ink more or less!"
He had some pink blotting-paper ready, and was already applying a corner
of it to the ink-spot, with the neat skill of a professional scribe.
"I will erase it when it is dry," he said. "You will not even see it.
Now, if your Excellency will sign--that will make the will valid."
Three other persons stood around Donna Veronica as she set the point of
her pen to the paper, and two of them watched the characters she traced,
with eager, unwinking eyes. The third was a very insignificant personage
just then, being but the notary's clerk; but his signature was needed as
a witness to the will, and he patiently waited for his turn. The other
two were husband and wife, Gregorio and Matilde, Count and Countess
Macomer; and the countess was the young girl's aunt, being the only
sister of Don Tommaso Serra, Prince of Acireale, Veronica's dead father.
She looked on, with an eager, pleased expression, standing upright and
bending her head in order to see the point of the pen as it moved over
the rough paper. Her hands were folded before her, but the uppermost one
twitched and moved once or twice, as though it would go out to get
possession of the precious document which left her all the heiress's
great possessions in case of Donna Veronica's death. It was a bit of
paper well worth having.
The girl rose, slight and graceful, when she had written her name, and
the finely chiselled lips had an upward curve of young scorn, as she
turned from the table, while the notary and his clerk proceeded to
witness the will. Immediately, the countess smiled, very brightly,
showing beautiful teeth between smooth red lips, and her strong arms
went round her young niece. She was a woman at least forty years of age,
but still handsome.
"I thank you with all my heart!" she cried. "It is a proof of affection
which I shall never forget! You will live a hundred years--a thousand,
if God will it! But the mere wish to leave me your fortune is a token of
love and esteem which I shall know how to value."
Donna Veronica kissed her aunt's fresh cheek coldly, and drew back as
soon as she could.
"I am glad that you are pleased," she answered in a cool and colourless
She felt that she had said enough, and, so far as she expected any
thanks, her aunt had said too much. She had made the will and had signed
it, for the sake of peace, and she asked nothing but peace in return.
Ever since she had left the convent in which she had been educated and
had come to live with her aunt, the question of this will had arisen at
least once every day, and she knew by heart every argument which had
been invented to induce her to make it. The principal one had always
been the same. She had been told that if, in the inscrutable ways of
Providence, she should chance to die young, unmarried and childless,
the whole of the great Acireale property would go to relations whom she
had never seen and of whom she scarcely knew the names. This, the
Countess Macomer had insisted, would be a terrible misfortune, and as
human life was uncertain, even when one was very young, it was the duty
of Veronica to provide against it, by leaving everything to the one
remaining member of the Serra family who, with herself, represented the
direct line, who had taken a mother's place and duties in bringing up
the orphan girl, and who had been ready to sacrifice every personal
consideration for the sake of the child's welfare.
Veronica did not see clearly that the Countess Macomer had ever really
sacrificed anything at all in the execution of her trust as guardian,
any more than the count himself, who, with Cardinal Campodonico, was a
joint trustee, had ever been put to any inconvenience, beyond that of
being the uncle by marriage of one of the richest heiresses in Italy. It
was natural that when she had signed the will at last, she should
receive her aunt's effusive thanks rather coldly, and that she should
show very little enthusiasm when her uncle kissed her forehead and
expressed his appreciation of her loving intention. The plain truth was
that if she had refused any longer to sign the will, the two would have
made her life even more unbearable than it was already.
She knew that there was no reason why her life should be made hard to
bear. She was not only rich, and a princess in her own right. She was
young and, if not pretty, at least fairly well endowed with those gifts
which attract and please, and bring their possessor the daily little
satisfactions that make something very like happiness, before passion
throws its load into the scales of life on the right side or the wrong.
She knew that, at her age, she might have been married already, and she
wondered that her aunt should not have proposed to marry her before now.
Yet in this she was not displeased, for her best friend, Bianca
Campodonico, had been married two years already to Corleone, of evil
fame, and was desperately unhappy. Veronica dreaded a like fate, and was
in no haste to find a husband. The countess told her always that she
should be free to choose one for herself within reasonable limits of
age, name, and fortune. Such an heiress, with such a fortune, said
Matilde Macomer, could marry whom she pleased. But so far as Veronica
had been allowed to see the world, the choice seemed anything but large.
The count and countess had always been very careful in the selection of
their intimate associates--they could hardly be said to have any
intimate friends. Since Veronica had come to them from the convent in
Rome, where she had been educated according to her dead father's
desire, they had been doubly cautious and trebly particular as to the
persons they chose to receive. Their responsibility, they said openly,
was very great. The child's happiness, was wholly in their hands. They
would be held accountable if she should form an unfortunate attachment
for some ineligible young man who might chance to dine at their table.
The responsibility, they repeated with emphasis, was truly enormous. It
was also an unfortunate fact that in their Neapolitan society there were
many young men, princes and dukes by the score, who had nothing but
their names and titles to recommend them, and who would have found it
very hard to keep body and title together, so to say, if gambling had
suddenly been abolished, or had gone out of fashion unexpectedly.
Then, too, the Macomer couple had always led a retired life and had kept
aloof from the very gay portion of society. They lived well, according
to their station, and so far as any one could see; but it had always
been said that Gregorio Macomer was miserly. At the same time it suited
his wife, for reasons of her own, not to be conspicuous in the world,
and she encouraged him to lead a quiet existence, spending half the year
in the country, and receiving very few people when in Naples during the
winter and spring. Gregorio had one brother, Bosio, considerably younger
than himself and very different in character, who was not married and
who lived at the Palazzo Macomer, on excellent terms both with Gregorio
and the countess, as well as with Veronica herself. The young girl was
inclined to like him, though she felt dimly that she could never
understand him as she believed that she understood her aunt and uncle.
He was, indeed, almost the only man, excepting her uncle, whom she could
be said to know tolerably well. He was not present on that afternoon
when she signed the will, but his absence did not surprise her, for he
had always abstained from any remarks about her property or his
brother's and sister-in-law's guardianship, in such a marked way as to
make her understand that he really wished to know nothing about the
management or disposal of her fortune.
She liked him for several reasons,--for his non-interference in
discussions about her affairs, for a certain quiet consideration, just a
shade more friendly than deference, which he showed for her slightest
wishes, and chiefly, perhaps, for his conversation and perfectly even
Her uncle Macomer was not always good-tempered and he was never
considerate. He was a stiff man, of impenetrable face, much older than
his wife, cold when he was pleased, and harsh as rough ice when he was
annoyed; a tall, bony man, with flattened lips, from which the grey
moustaches and the beard were brushed smoothly away in all directions.
He had very small eyes--a witty enemy of his said they were so small
that one could not find them in his face, and those who knew him laughed
at the jest, for they always seemed hard to find when one wished to meet
them. His shoulders were unusually high and narrow, but he did not
stoop. On the contrary, he habitually threw back his head, with a
certain coldly aggressive stiffness, so that he easily looked above the
person with whom he was talking. Though he had never been given to any
sort of bodily exercise, his hands were naturally horny, and they were
almost always cold. For the rest, he was careful of his appearance and
scrupulous in matters of dress, like many of his fellow-countrymen. In
his household he insisted upon a neatness as fastidious as his own, and
nothing could have induced him to employ a Neapolitan servant. His
family colours were green and black, and the green of his servants'
liveries was of the very darkest that could be had.
He imposed his taste upon his household, and gave it a certain marked
respectability which betrayed no information about his fortune. To all
appearances he was not poor; but it would have been impossible to say
with certainty whether he were rich or only in moderate circumstances.
He was undoubtedly more careful than ninety-nine out of a hundred of his
fellow-citizens, in getting the value of what he spent, to the
uttermost splitting of farthings; and when he spoke of money there was a
certain cruel hardening of the hard lines in his face, which Veronica
never failed to notice with dislike. She wondered how her aunt could
have led an apparently tranquil life with such a man during more than
Doubtless, she thought, Bosio's presence acted as a palliative in the
somewhat grim atmosphere of the Palazzo Macomer. He was utterly
different from his brother. In the first place, he was gentle and kind
in speech and manner, though apparently rather sad than gay. He was
different in face, in figure, in voice, in carriage--having quiet brown
eyes, and brown hair only streaked with grey, with a full, silky beard;
a clear pale complexion; in frame shorter than Gregorio, with smaller
bones, slightly inclined to stoutness, but rather graceful than stiff;
small feet and well-shaped hands of pleasant texture; a clear, low voice
that never jarred upon the ear, and a kindly, half-sad laugh in which
there was a singular refinement, of the sort which shows itself more in
laughter than in speech. Laughter is, indeed, a terrible betrayer of the
character, and a surer guide in judgment than most people know. For men
learn to use their voices skilfully and to govern their tones as well as
their words; but, beyond not laughing too loud for ordinary decency of
behaviour, there are few people who care, or realize, how they laugh;
and those who do, and who, being aware that there is room for
improvement, endeavour to improve, very generally produce either a
semi-musical noise, which is false and affected, or a perfectly inane
cachinnation which has nothing human in it at all.
Bosio Macomer was a refined man, not only by education and outward
contact with the refinements he sought in others, but within himself and
by predisposition of nature. He read much, and found beauties in books
which his friends thought dull, but which appealed tenderly to his
innate love of tenderness. He had probably lost many illusions, but the
sweetest of them all was still fresh in him, for he loved nature
unaffectedly. In an unobtrusive way he was something of an artist, and
was fond of going out by himself, when in the country, to sketch and
dream all day. Veronica did not understand how with such tastes he could
bear the life in the Palazzo Macomer, for months at a time. He was free
to go and come as he pleased, and since he preferred the country, she
wondered why he did not live out of town altogether. His existence was
the more incomprehensible to her, as he rarely lost an opportunity of
finding fault with Naples as a city and with the Neapolitans as human
beings. Sometimes he did not leave the house for many days, as he
frankly admitted, preferring the little apartment in the upper story of
the house, where he lived independently, with one old servant, amongst
his books and his pictures, appearing downstairs only at dinner, and not
always then. His place was always ready for him, but no one ever
remarked his absence, nor inquired where he might be when he chose to
He was on excellent terms with every one. The servants adored him, while
they feared his brother and disliked the countess; when he appeared he
never failed to kiss the countess's hand, and to exchange a friendly
word or two with Gregorio; but as for the latter, Bosio made no secret
of the fact that he preferred the society of the ladies of the household
to that of the count, with whom he had little in common. He certainly
admired his sister-in-law, and more than once frankly confessed to
Veronica that in his opinion Matilde Macomer was still the most
beautiful woman in the world. Yet Veronica had observed that he was
critical of looks in other women, and she thought his criticisms
generally just and in good taste. For her part, however, if he chose to
consider her middle-aged aunt lovely, Veronica would not contradict him,
for she was cautious in a certain degree, and in spite of herself she
distrusted her surroundings.
There were times when the Countess Macomer inspired her with confidence.
Those very beautiful dark eyes of hers had but one defect, namely, that
they were quite too near together; but they were still the best
features in the elder woman's face, and when Veronica looked at them
from such an angle as not to notice their relative position, she almost
believed that she could trust them. But she never liked the smooth red
lips, nor the over-pointed nose, which had something of the falcon's
keenness without its nobility. The thick and waving brown hair grew
almost too low on the white forehead, and, whether by art or nature, the
eyebrows were too broad and too dark for the face, though they were so
well placed as to greatly improve the defect of the close-set eyes.
There was a marvellous genuine freshness of colour in the clear
complexion, and the woman carried her head well upon a really
magnificent neck. She was strong and vital and healthy, and her
personality was as distinctly dominating as her physical self. Yet she
was generally very careful not to displease her husband, even when he
was capricious, and Veronica was sometimes surprised by the apparent
weakness with which she yielded to him in matters about which she had as
good a right as he to an opinion and a decision. The girl supposed that
her aunt was not so strong as she seemed to be, when actually brought
face to face with the rough ice of Gregorio Macomer's character.
Veronica made her observations discreetly and kept them to herself, as
was not only becoming but wise. At first the change from the
semi-cloistered existence of the convent in Rome to the life at the
Palazzo Macomer had dazzled the girl and had confused her ideas. But
with the natural desire of the very young to seem experienced, she had
begun by manifesting no surprise at anything she saw; and she had soon
discovered that, although she was supposed to be living in the society
of the most idle and pleasure-loving city in the world, her surroundings
were in reality neither gay nor dazzling, but decidedly monotonous and
dull. She had dim, childish memories of magnificent things in her
father's house, though the main impression was that of his death,
following closely, as she had been told, upon her mother's. Of the
latter, she could remember nothing. In dreams she saw beautiful things,
and brilliant light and splendid pictures and enchanted gardens, and
when she awoke she felt that the dreams had been recollections of what
she had seen, and of what still belonged to her. But she sought the
reality in vain. The grand old palace in the Toledo was hers, she was
told, but it was let for a term of years to the municipality and was
filled with public offices; the marble staircases were black and dingy
with the passing of many feet that tracked in the mud in winter and the
filthy dust of Naples in summer. Dark, poor faces and ill-clad forms
moved through the halls, and horrible voices echoed perpetually in the
corridors, where those who waited discussed taxes, and wrangled, and
cursed those in power, and cheated one another, and picked a pocket now
and then, and spat upon the marble pavement whereon royal and lordly
feet had so often trod in days gone by. It had all become a great nest
of dirt and stealing and busy chicanery, where dingy, hawk-eyed men with
sodden white faces and disgusting hands lay in wait for the unwary who
had business with the city government, to rob them on pretence of
facilitating their affairs, to cringe for a little coin flung them in
scorn sometimes by one who had grown rich in greater robbery than they
could practise--sometimes, too, springing aside to escape a kick or a
blow as ill-tempered success went swinging by, high-handed and vulgarly
cruel, a few degrees less filthy and ten thousand times more repulsive.
Once, Veronica had insisted upon going through the palace. She would
never enter it again, and after that day, when she passed it, she turned
her face from it and looked away. Vaguely, she wondered whether they
were not deceiving her and whether it were really the home she dimly
remembered. There had been splendid things in it, then--she would not
ask what had become of them, but without asking, she was told that they
had been wisely disposed of, and that instead of paying people for
keeping an uninhabited palace in order, she was receiving an enormous
rent for it from the city.
Then she had wished to see the lovely villa that came back in the
pictures of her dreams, and she had been driven out into the country
according to her desire. From a distance, as the carriage approached it,
she recognized the lordly poplars, and far at the end of the avenue the
elaborately stuccoed front and cornices of the old-fashioned "barocco"
building. But the gardens were gone. Files of neatly trimmed vines,
trained upon poles stuck in deep furrows, stretched away from the avenue
on either side. The flower garden was a vegetable garden now, and the
artichokes and the cabbages and the broccoli were planted with
mathematical regularity up to the very walls. There were hens and
chickens on the steps and running in and out of the open door, and from
a near sty the grunt of many pigs reached her ears. A pale,
earthy-skinned peasant, scantily clad in dusty canvas, grinned sadly and
kissed the hem of her skirt, calling her 'Excellency' and beginning at
once to beg for reduction of rent. A field-worn woman, filthy and
dishevelled, drove back half a dozen nearly naked children whose little
legs were crusted with dry mud, and whose faces had not been washed for
a long time.
And within, there was no furniture. In the rooms upstairs were stores of
grain and potatoes, and red peppers and grapes hanging on strings. The
cracked mirrors, built into the gilded stucco, were coated with heavy
unctuous dust, and the fine old painted tiles on the floor were loose
and broken in places. In the ceiling certain pink and well-fed cherubs
still supported unnatural thunderclouds through which Juno forever drove
her gold-wheeled car and team of patient peacocks, smiling high and
goddess-like at the squalor beneath. Still Diana bent over Endymion
cruelly foreshortened in his sleep, beyond the possibility of a waking
return to human proportions. Mars frowned, Jove threatened, Venus rose
glowing from the sea; and below, the unctuous black dust settled and
thickened on everything except the cracked floors piled with maize and
beans and lupins, and rubbed bright between the heaps by the peasants'
Veronica turned her back upon the villa, as she had turned from the
great palace in the Toledo. They whispered to her that the peasant's
rent must not be reduced, for he was well able to pay, and they pointed
to the closely planted vines and vegetables and olives that stretched
far away to right and left, where she remembered in her dreams of far
childhood that there had been lawns and walks and flowers. The man, she
was told, was not the only peasant on the place. There were other houses
now, and huts that could shelter a family, and there was land, land,
always more land, as far as she could see, all as closely and neatly
and regularly planted with vegetables and grain, vines and olives; and
it was all hers, and yielded enormous rents which were wisely invested.
She was very rich indeed, but to her it all seemed horribly sordid and
grinding and mean--and the peasants looked prematurely old, labour-worn,
filthy, wretchedly poor. If she had even had any satisfaction from so
much wealth, it might have seemed different. She said so, in her heart.
She was accustomed to tell her confessor that she was proud and
uncharitable and unfeeling--not finding any real misdeeds to confess.
She was willing to believe that she was all that and much more. If she
had been living in the whirling, golden pleasure-storm of an utterly
thoughtless world, she believed herself bad enough to have shut her
memory's eyes to the haggard peasant-mother of the dirty half-clad
children--to all the hundreds of them who doubtless lived just like the
one she had seen, all upon her lands; she could have forgotten the
busy-thieving, sodden-faced crowd that thronged the chambers wherein her
fathers had been born and had feasted kings and had died--the very room
where her own father had lain dead. She could have shut it all out, she
thought, if she had held in her hands the gold that all this brought, to
scatter it at her will; for she was sure that she had not a better heart
than other girls of her age. But she had never seen it. The reality of
her own life was too weak and colourless, by contrast, to make the name
of fortune an excuse for the sordid facts of meanness. There was no
splendour about her, no wild gaiety, none of the glorious extravagance
of conscious young wealth, and there was very little amusement to divert
her thoughts. The people she would have liked to know were kept at a
distance from her. She was advised not to buy the things which attracted
her eyes, and was told that they were not so good as they looked, and
that on the whole it was better to keep money than to spend it--but
that, of course, she might do as she pleased, and that when she wanted
money her uncle Macomer would give it to her.
It all passed through his hands, and he managed everything, with the
assistance of Lamberto Squarci the notary and of other men of
business--mostly shabby-looking men in black, with spectacles and
unhealthy complexions, who came and went in the morning when old Macomer
was in his study attending to affairs. Veronica knew none but Squarci by
name, and never spoke with any of them. There seemed to be no reason why
The count had told her that when she wished it, he was ready to render
an account of the estates and would be happy to explain everything to
her at length. She understood nothing of business and was content to
accept the roughest statement as he chose to give it to her. She was
far too young to distrust the man whom she had been taught to respect as
her guardian and as a person of scrupulous honesty. She was completely
in his power, and she was accustomed to ask him for any little sums she
needed. It never really struck her that he might misuse the authority
she indifferently left in his hands.
It was her aunt who had induced her to make the will, and for whose
conduct she felt a sort of undefined resentment and contempt.
Considering, she thought, how improbable it was that she herself should
die before Matilde Macomer, the latter had shown an absurd anxiety about
the disposal of the fortune. If Veronica had yielded the point, she had
done so in order to get rid of an importunity which wearied her
perpetually. She was to marry, of course, in due time. God would give
her children, and they would inherit her wealth. It was really
ridiculous of her aunt to be so anxious lest it should all go to those
distant relations in Sicily and Spain. Nevertheless, in order to have
peace, she signed the will, and her aunt thanked her effusively, and old
Macomer's flat lips touched her forehead while he spoke a few words of
In the evening she told Bosio, the count's brother, of what she had
done. His gentle eyes looked at her thoughtfully for a few seconds, and
he did not smile, nor did he make any observation.
A few minutes later he was talking of a picture he had seen for sale--a
mere sketch, but by Ribera, called the Spagnoletto. She made up her mind
to buy it for him as a surprise, for it pleased her to give him
But when she was alone in her room that night she recalled Bosio's
expression when she had told him about the will. She was sure that he
was not pleased, and she wondered why he had not at least said something
in reply--something quite indifferent perhaps, but yet something,
instead of looking at her in total silence, just for those few seconds.
After all, she was really more intimate with him than with her aunt and
uncle, and liked him better than either of them, so that she had a right
to expect that he should have answered with something more than silence
when she told him of such a matter.
She sat a long time in a deep chair near her toilet table, thinking
about her own life, in the great dim room which half a dozen candles
barely lighted; and perhaps it was the first time that she had really
asked herself how long her present mode of existence was to continue,
how long she was to lie half-hidden, as it were, in the sombrely
respectable dimness of the Macomer establishment, how long she was to
remain unmarried. Knowing the customs of her own people in regard to
marriage, as she did, it was certainly strange that she should not have
heard of any offer made to her uncle and aunt for her hand. Surely the
mothers of marriageable sons knew of her existence, of her fortune, of
the titles she held in her own right and could confer upon her husband
and leave to her children. It was not natural that no one should wish to
marry her, that no mother should desire such an heiress for her son.
With the distrustful introspection of maiden youth, she suddenly asked
herself whether by any possibility she were different from other girls
and whether she had not some strange defect, physical or mental, of
which the existence had been most carefully concealed from her all her
life. In the quick impulse she rose and brought all the burning candles
to the toilet table, and lighted others, and stood before the mirror, in
the yellow light, gazing most critically at her own reflexion. She
looked long and earnestly and quite without vanity. She told herself,
cataloguing her looks, that her hair was neither black nor brown, but
that it was very thick and long and waved naturally; that her eyes were
very dark, with queer little angles just above the lids, under the
prominent brows; that her nose, seen in full face, looked very straight
and rather small, though she had been told by the girls in the convent
that it was aquiline and pointed; that her cheeks were thin and almost
colourless; that her chin was round and smooth and prominent, her lips
rather dark than red, and modelled in a high curve; that her ears were
very small--she threw back the heavy hair to see them better, turning
her face sideways to the glass; that her throat was over-slender, and
her neck and arms far too thin for beauty, but with a young leanness
which might improve with time, though nothing could ever make them
white. She was dark, on the whole. She was willing to admit that she was
sallow, that her eyes had a rather sad look in them, and even that one
was almost imperceptibly larger than the other, though the difference
was so small that she had never noticed it before, and it might be due
to the uncertain light of the candles in the dim room. But most
assuredly there was no physical defect to be seen. She was not beautiful
like poor Bianca Corleone; but she was far from ugly--that was certain.
And in mind--she laughed as she looked at herself in the glass. Bosio
Macomer told her that she was clever, and he certainly knew. But her own
expression pleased her when she laughed, and she laughed again with
pleasure, and watched herself in a sort of girlish and innocent
satisfaction. Then her eyes met their own reflexion, and she grew
suddenly grave again, and something in them told her that they were not
laughing with her lips, and might not often look upon things mirthful.
But she was not stupid, and she was not ugly. She had assured herself of
that. The worst that could be said was that she was a very thin girl and
that her complexion was not brilliant, though it was healthy enough, and
clear. No--there was certainly no reason why her aunt should not have
received offers of marriage for her, and many people would have thought
it strange that she should be still unmarried--with her looks, her name,
and that great fortune of which Gregorio Macomer was taking such good
On that same night, when Veronica had gone to her room, Bosio Macomer
remained alone with the countess in the small drawing-room in which the
family generally spent the evening. Gregorio was presumably in his
study, busy with his perpetual accounts or otherwise occupied. He very
often spent the hours between dinner and bed-time by himself, leaving
his brother to keep his wife company if Veronica chose to retire early.
The room was small and the first impression of colour which it gave was
that of a strong, deep yellow. There was yellow damask on the walls, the
curtains were of an old sort of silk material in stripes of yellow and
chocolate, and most of the furniture was covered with yellow satin. The
whole was in the style of the early part of this century, modified by
the bad taste of the Second Empire, with much gilded carving about the
doors and the corners of the big panels in which the damask was
stretched, while the low, vaulted ceiling was a mass of gilt stucco,
modelled in heavy acanthus leaves and arabesques, from the centre of
which hung a chandelier of white Venetian glass. There were no pictures
on the walls, and there were no flowers nor plants in pots, to relieve
the strong colour which filled the eye. Nevertheless the room had the
air of being inhabited, and was less glaring and stiff and old-fashioned
than it might seem from this description. There were a good many books
on the tables, chiefly French novels, as yellow as the hangings; and
there were writing materials and a couple of newspapers and two or three
open notes. A small wood fire burned in a deep, low fireplace adorned
with marble and gilt brass.
Matilde Macomer sat, leaning back, upon a little sofa which stood across
a corner of the room far from the fire. One hand lay idly in her lap,
the other, as she stretched out her arm, lay upon the back of the sofa,
and her head with its thick, brown hair was bent down. She had fixed her
eyes upon a point of the carpet and had not moved from her position for
a long time. The folds of her black gown made graceful lines from her
knees to her feet, and her imposing figure was thrown into strong relief
against the yellow background as she leaned to the corner, one foot just
touching the floor.
Bosio sat at a distance from her, on a low chair, his elbows on his
knees, staring at the fire. Neither had spoken for several minutes.
Matilde broke the silence first, her eyes still fixed on the carpet.
"You must marry Veronica," she said slowly; "nothing else can save us."
It was clear that the idea was not new to Bosio, for he showed no
surprise. But he turned deliberately and looked at the countess before
he answered her. There were unusual lines in his quiet face--lines of
great distress and perplexity.
"It is a crime," he said in a low voice.
Matilda raised her eyes, with an almost imperceptible movement of the
"Murder is a crime," she answered simply. Then Bosio started violently
and turned very white, almost rising from his seat.
"Murder?" he cried; "what do you mean?"
Matilde's smooth red lips smiled.
"I merely mentioned it as an instance of a crime," she said, without any
change of tone. "You said it would be a crime for you to marry Veronica.
It did not strike me that it could be called by that name. Crimes are
murder, stealing, forgery--such things. Who would say that it was
criminal for Bosio Macomer to marry Veronica Serra? There is no reason
against it. I daresay that many people wonder why you have not married
her already, and that many others suppose that you will before long. You
are young, you have never been married, you have a very good name and a
small fortune of your own."
"Take it, then!" exclaimed Bosio, impulsively. "You shall have it all
to-morrow--everything I possess. God knows, I am ready to give you all I
have. Take it. I can live somehow. What do I care? I have given you my
life--what is a little money? But do not ask me to marry her, your
niece, here, under your very roof. I am not a saint, but I cannot do
"No," answered the countess, "we are not saints, you and I, it is true.
For my part, I make no pretences. But the trouble is desperate, Bosio. I
do not know what to do. It is desperate!" she repeated with sudden
energy. "Desperate, I tell you!"
"I suppose that all I have would be of no use, then?" asked Bosio,
"It would pay the interest for a few months longer. That would be all.
Then we should be where we are now, or shall be in three weeks."
"Throw yourself upon her mercy. Ask her to forgive you and to lend you
money," suggested Bosio. "She is kind--she will do it, when she knows
"I had thought of that," answered Matilde. "But, in the first place, you
do not know her. Secondly, you forget Cardinal Campodonico."
"Since he has left the management of her fortune in Gregorio's hands, he
will not begin to ask questions at this point. Besides, the guardianship
is at an end--"
"The estate has not been made over. He will insist upon seeing the
accounts--that is no matter, for they will bear his inspection well
enough. Squarci is clever! But Veronica sees him. She would tell him of
our trouble, if we went to her. If not, she would certainly tell Bianca
Corleone, who is his niece. If he suspected anything, let alone knowing
the truth, that would be the end of everything. It would be better for
us to escape before the crash--if we could. It comes to that--unless you
will help us."
"By marrying Veronica?" asked Bosio, with a bitterness not natural to
"I see no other way. The cardinal could see the accounts. You could be
married, and the fortune could be made over to you. She would never
know, nor ask questions. You could set our affairs straight, and still
be the richest man in Naples or Sicily. It would all be over. It would
be peace--at last, at last!" she repeated, with a sudden change of tone
that ended in a deep-drawn sigh of anticipated relief. "You do not know
half there is to tell," she continued, speaking rapidly after a moment's
pause. "We are ruined, and worse than ruined. We have been, for years.
Gregorio got himself into that horrible speculation years and years ago,
though I knew nothing about it. While Veronica was a minor, he helped
himself, as he could--with her money. It was easy, for he controlled
everything. But now he can do nothing without her signature. Squarci
said so last week. He cannot sell a bit of land, a stick of timber,
anything, without her name. And we are ruined, Bosio. This house is
mortgaged, and the mortgage expires on the first of January, in three
weeks. We have nothing left--nothing but the hope of Veronica's
charity--or the hope that you will marry her and save us from starvation
and disgrace. I got her to sign the will. There was--"
The countess checked herself and stopped short, turning an emerald ring
which she wore. She was pale.
"There was what?" asked Bosio, in an unsteady tone.
"There was just the bare possibility that she might die before January,"
said Matilde, almost in a whisper. "People die young sometimes, you
know--very young. It pleases Providence to do strange things. Of course
it would be most dreadful, if she were to die, would it not? It would be
lonely in the house, without her. It seems to me that I should see her
at night, in the dark corners, when I should be alone. Ugh!"
Matilde Macomer shivered suddenly, and then stared at Bosio with
frightened eyes. He glanced at her nervously.
"I am afraid of you," he said.
"Of me?" Her presence of mind returned. "What an idea! just because I
suggested that poor little Veronica might catch a cold or a fever in
this horrible weather and might die of the one or the other? And just
because I am fond of her, and said that I should be afraid of seeing her
in the dark! Heaven give her a hundred years of life! Why should we talk
of such sad things?"
"It is certainly not I who wish to talk of them, or think of them,"
answered Bosio, thoughtfully, and turning once more to the fire. "You
are overwrought, Matilde--you are unhappy, afraid of the future--what
shall I say? Sometimes you speak in a strange way."
"Is it any wonder? The case is desperate, and I am desperate, too--"
"Do not say it--"
"Then say that you will marry Veronica, and save us all, and bring peace
into the house--for my sake, Bosio--for me!"
She leaned forward, and her hands met upon her knee in something like a
gesture of supplication, while she sought his eyes.
"For your sake," repeated Bosio, dreamily. "For your sake? But you ask
the impossible, Matilde. Besides, she would not marry me. She would
laugh at the idea. And then--for you and me--it is horrible! You have no
right to ask it."
"No right? Ah, Bosio! Have I not the right to ask anything of you, after
all these years?"
"Anything--but not that! Your niece--under your roof! No--no--no! I
cannot, even if she would consent."
"Not even--" Matilda's splendid eyes, so cruelly close together,
fastened themselves upon the weak man's face, and she frowned.
"Not even if you thought it would be much better for her?" she asked
very slowly, completing the sentence.
Again he started and shrank from her.
"Just God!" he exclaimed under his breath. "That a woman should have
such thoughts!" Then he turned upon her with an instinctive revival of
manhood and honour. "You shall not hurt her!" he cried, as fiercely as
his voice could speak. "You shall not hurt a hair of her head, not even
to save yourself! I will warn her--I will have her protected--I will
tell everything! What is my life worth?"
"You would merely be told that you were mad, and we should have you
taken out to the asylum at Aversa--as mad as I am, or soon shall be, if
this goes on! You are mad to believe that I could do such things--I, a
woman! And yet, I know I say words that have no reason in them! And I
think crimes--horrible crimes, when I am alone--and I can tell no one
but you. Have pity on me, Bosio! I was not always what I am now--"
She spoke incoherently, and her steadiness broke down all at once, for
she had been living long under a fearful strain of terror and anxiety.
The consciousness that she could say with safety whatever came first to
her lips helped to weaken her. She half expected that Bosio would rise,
and come to her and comfort her, perhaps, as she hid her face in her
hands, shivering in fear of herself and shaking a little with the
convulsive sob that was so near.
But Bosio did not move from his seat. He sat quite still, staring at the
fire. He was not a physical coward, but, morally speaking, he was
terrified and stunned by what he had understood her to say. Probably no
man of any great strength of character, however bad, could have lived
the life he had led in that house for many years, dominated by such a
woman as Matilde Macomer. And now his weakness showed itself, to himself
and to her, in what he felt, and in what he did, respectively. A strong
man, having once felt that revival of manly instinct, would have turned
upon her and terrified her and mastered her; and, within himself, his
heart might have broken because he had ever loved such a woman. But
Bosio sat still in his seat and said nothing more, though his brow was
moist with a creeping, painful, trembling emotion that twisted his heart
and tore his delicate nerves. He felt that his hands were very cold,
but that he could not speak. She dominated him still, and he was ashamed
of the weakness, and of his own desire to go and comfort her and forget
the things she had said.
If he had spoken to her, she would have burst into tears; but his
silence betrayed that he had no strength, and she suddenly felt that she
was strong again, and that there was hope, and that he might marry
Veronica, after all. A woman rarely breaks down to very tears before a
man weaker than herself, though she may be near it.
"You must marry her," said Matilde, with returning steadiness. "You owe
it to your brother and to me. Should I say, 'to me,' first? It is to
save us from disgrace--from being prosecuted as well as ruined, from
being dragged into court to answer for having wilfully defrauded--that
is the word they would use!--for having wilfully defrauded Veronica
Serra of a great deal of money, when we were her guardians and
responsible for everything she had. My hands are clean of that--your
brother did it without my knowledge. But no judge living would believe
that I, being a guardian with my husband, could be so wholly ignorant of
his affairs. There are severe penalties for such things, Bosio--I
believe that we should both be sent to penal servitude; for no power on
earth could save us from a conviction, any more than anything but
Veronica's money can save us from ruin now. Gregorio has taken much,
but it has been, nothing compared with the whole fortune. If you marry
her, she will never know--no one will know--no one will ever guess. As
her husband you will have control of everything, and no one then will
blame you for taking a hundredth part of your wife's money to save your
brother. You will have the right to do it. Your hands will be clean,
too, as they are to-day. What is the crime? What is the difficulty? What
is the objection? And on the other side there is ruin, a public trial, a
conviction and penal servitude for your own brother, Gregorio, Count
Macomer, and Matilde Serra, his wife."
"My God! What a choice!" exclaimed Bosio, pressing both his cold hands
to his wet forehead.
"There is no choice!" answered the woman, with low, quick emphasis.
"Your mind is made up, and we will announce the engagement at once. I do
not care what objection Veronica makes. She likes you, she is half in
love with you--what other man does she know? And if she did--she would
not repent of marrying you rather than any one else. You will make her
happy--as for me, I shall at least not die a disgraced woman. You talk
of choice! Mine would be between a few drops of morphia and the
galleys,--a thousand times more desperate than yours, it seems to me!"
Her large eyes flashed with the furious determination to make him do
what she desired. His hands had fallen from his face, and he was looking
at her almost quietly, not yielding so much as she thought, but at least
listening gravely instead of telling her that she asked the impossible.
The door opened discreetly, and a servant appeared upon the threshold.
"The Signor Duca della Spina begs your Excellency to receive him for a
moment, if it is not too late."
"Certainly," answered the countess, instantly, and with perfect
The servant closed the door and went back to deliver the short message.
Matilde threw the folds of her black gown away from her feet, so that
she might rise to meet the visitor, who was an old man and a person of
importance. She looked keenly at Bosio.
"Do not go away," she said quickly, in a low voice. "Your forehead is
wet--dry it--compose yourself--be natural!"
Before Bosio had returned his handkerchief to his pocket the door opened
again, and a tall old man entered with a stooping gait. He had weak and
inquiring eyes that looked about the room as he walked. His head was
bald, and shone like a skull in the yellow reflexion from the damask
hangings. His gait was not firm, and as he passed Bosio in order to
reach the countess, he had an uncertain movement of head and hand, as
though he were inclined to speak to him first. Matilde had risen,
however, and had moved a step forward to meet the visitor, speaking at
the same time, as though to direct him to herself, with the somewhat
maternal air which even young women sometimes assume in greeting old
The Duca della Spina smiled rather feebly as he took the outstretched
hand, and slowly sat down upon the sofa beside Matilde.
"I feared it might be too late," he began, and his watery blue eyes
sought her face anxiously. "But my son insisted that I should come this
evening, when he found that I had not been able to see you this
"How is he?" asked the countess, suddenly assuming an expression of
"Eh! How he is! He is--so," answered the Duca, with a gesture which
meant uncertainty. "Signora Contessa," he added, "he is not well at all.
It is natural with the young. It is passion. What else can I tell you?
He is impatient. His nerves shake him, and he does not eat. Morning and
evening he asks, 'Father, what will it be?' So, to content him, I have
come to disturb you."
"Not in the least, dear Duca!"
The door opened again, and Gregorio Macomer entered the room, having
been informed of the presence of a visitor. The Duca looked up, and his
head shook involuntarily, as he at once began the slow process of
getting upon his legs. But Macomer was already pressing him into his
seat again, holding the old hand in both of his with an appearance of
"I hope that Gianluca is no worse?" he said, with an interrogation that
expressed friendly interest.
"Better he is not," answered the Duca, sadly. "What would you? It is
passion. That is why I have come at this hour, and I have made my
excuses to the Signora Contessa for disturbing her."
"Excuses?" cried Gregorio, promptly. "We are delighted to see you, dear
But as he spoke he turned a look of inquiry upon his wife, and she
answered by a scarcely perceptible sign of negation.
They had been taken by surprise, for they had not expected the Duca's
visit. Not heeding them, his heart full of his son, the old man
continued to speak, in short, almost tremulous sentences.
"It is certain that Gianluca is very ill," he said. "Taquisara has been
with him to-day, and Pietro Ghisleri--but Taquisara is his best friend.
You know Taquisara, do you not?"
"A Sicilian?" asked the countess, encouraging the old man to go on.
"Yes," said Macomer, answering for the Duca, for he was proud of his
genealogical knowledge, "The only son of the old Baron of Guardia. But
every one calls him Taquisara, though his father is dead. There is a
story which says that they are descended from Tancred."
"It may be," said the old Duca. "There are so many legends--but he is
Gianluca's best friend, and he comes to see him every day. The boy is
ill--very ill." He shook his head, and bent it almost to his breast. "He
wastes away, and I do not know what to do for him."
The Count and Countess Macomer also shook their heads gravely, but said
nothing. Bosio, seated at a little distance, looked on, his brain still
disturbed by what had gone before, and wondering at Matilde's power of
seeming at her ease in such a desperate situation; wondering, too, at
his brother's hard, cold face--the mask that had so well hidden the
passion of the gambler, and perhaps many other passions as well, of
which even Bosio knew nothing, nor cared to know anything, having
secrets of his own to keep.
All at once, and without warning, after the short pause, the old man
broke out in tremulous entreaty.
"Oh! my friends!" he cried. "Do not say no! I shall not have the courage
to take such a message to my poor son! Eh, they say that nowadays
old-fashioned love is not to be found. But look at Gianluca--he consumes
himself, he wastes away before my eyes, and one day follows another, and
I can do nothing. You do not believe? Go and see! One day follows
another--he is always in his room, consuming himself for love! He is
pale--paler than a sheet. He does not eat, he does not drink, he does
not smoke--he, who smoked thirty cigarettes a day! As for the theatre,
or going out, he will not hear of it. He says, 'I will not see her, for
if she will not have me, it is better to die quickly.' A father's heart,
dear Macomer--think of what I suffer, and have compassion! He is my only
one--such a beautiful boy, and so young--"
"We are sorry," said Matilde, with firm-voiced sympathy that was already
"You will not!" cried the old man, shakily, in his distress. "Say you
will not--but not that you are sorry! And Heaven knows it is not for
Donna Veronica's money! The contract shall be as you please--we do not
"Who has spoken of money?" The countess's tone expressed grave
indifference to such a trifle. "Dear Duca, do not be distressed. We
cannot help it. We cannot dictate to Providence. Had circumstances been
different, what better match could we have found for her than your dear
son? But I told you that the girl's inclinations must be consulted, and
that we had little hope of satisfying you. And now--" She looked
earnestly at her husband, as though to secure his consent
beforehand--"and now it has turned out as we foresaw. Courage, dear
Duca! Your son is young. He has seen Veronica but a few times, and they
have certainly never been alone together--what can it really be, such
love-passion as that? Veronica has made her choice."
Not a muscle of Macomer's hard face moved. He knew that if his wife had
a surprise for him on the spur of the moment, it must be for their joint
interest. But the Duca della Spina's jaw dropped, and his hands shook.
"Yes,"--continued the countess, calmly, "Veronica has made her choice.
It is hard for us to tell you, knowing how you feel for your son.
Veronica is engaged to be married to Bosio, here."
Bosio started violently, for he was a very nervously organized man; but
his brother's face did not change, though the small eyes suddenly
flashed into sight brightly from beneath the drooping, concealing lids.
A dead silence followed, which lasted several seconds. Matilde had laid
her hand upon the Duca's arm, as though to give him courage, and she
felt it tremble under her touch, for he loved his son very dearly.
"You might have written me this news," he said at last, in a low voice
and with a dazed look. "You might--you might have spared me--oh, my son!
My poor Gianluca!" His voice broke, and the weak, sincere tears broke
from the watery eyes and trickled down the wasted cheeks piteously,
while his head turned slowly from side to side in sorrowfully hopeless
"It has only been decided this evening," said Matilde. "We should have
written to you in the morning."
"Of course," echoed her husband, gravely. "It was our duty to let you
know at once."
The Duca della Spina rose painfully to his feet. He seemed quite
unconscious of the tears he had shed, and too much shaken to take leave
with any formality. Bosio stood quite still, when he had risen too, and
his face was white. The old man passed him without a word, going to the
"My poor son! my poor Gianluca!" he repeated to himself, as Gregorio
Macomer accompanied him.
Matilde and Bosio were left alone for a moment, but they knew that the
count would return at once. They stood still, looking each at the other,
with very different expressions.
Bosio felt that, in his place, a strong, brave man would have done
something, would have stood up to deny the engagement, perhaps, or would
have left the room rather than accept the situation in submissive
silence, protesting in some way, though only Matilde should have
understood the protest. She, on her side, slowly nodded her approval of
his conduct, and in her dark eyes there was a yellow reflexion from the
predominating colour of the room; there was triumph and satisfaction,
and there was the threat of the woman who dominates the man and is sure
of doing with him as she pleases. Yet she was not so sure of herself as
she seemed, and wished to seem, for she dreaded Bosio's sense of honour,
which was not wholly dead.
"Do not deny it to Gregorio," she said, in a low tone, when she heard
her husband's footstep returning through the room beyond.
Old Macomer came back and closed the door behind him.
"What is this?" he asked, at once; but though his voice was hard, it was
trembling with the anticipation of a great victory. "Has Veronica
"No one has spoken to her," answered Bosio, before Matilde could speak.
"As though that mattered!" cried the countess, with contempt. "There is
time for that!"
Gregorio's eyelids contracted with an expression of cunning.
"Oh!" he exclaimed thoughtfully, "I understand." He began to walk up and
down in the narrow space between the furniture of the small
sitting-room, bending his head between his high shoulders. "I see," he
repeated. "I understand. But if Veronica refuses? You have been rash,
"Veronica loves him," answered the countess. "And of course you know
that he loves her," she added, and her smooth lips smiled. "You need
not deny it before us, Bosio. You have loved her ever since she came
from the convent--"
"I?" Bosio's pale face reddened with anger.
"See how he blushes!" laughed Matilde. "As for Veronica, she will talk
to no one else. They are made for each other. She will die if she does
not marry Bosio soon."
The yellow reflexion danced in her eyes, as she fastened them upon her
brother-in-law's face, and he shuddered, remembering what she had said
before the Duca had come.
"If that is the case," said Macomer, "the sooner they are married, the
better. Save her life, Bosio! Save her life! Do not let her die of love
He, who rarely laughed, laughed now, and the sound was horrible in his
brother's ears. Then he suddenly turned away and left the room, still
drily chuckling to himself. It was quite unconscious and an effect of
his overwrought and long-controlled nerves.
Matilde and Bosio were alone again, and they knew that he would not come
back. Bosio sank into his chair again, and pressed the palms of his
hands to his eyes, resting his elbows on his knees.
"The infamy of it!" he groaned, in the bitterness of his weak misery.
Matilde stood beside him, and gently stroked his hair where it was
streaked with grey. He moved impatiently, as though to shake off her
"No," she said, and her voice grew as soft as velvet. "It is to save
me--to save us all."
He shook her off, and rose to his feet with spasmodic energy.
"I cannot--I will not--never!" he cried, walking away from her with
"But it will be so much better--for Veronica, too," she said softly, for
she knew how to frighten him.
He turned with startled eyes. Then, with the impulse of a man escaping
from something which he is not strong enough to face, he reached the
door in two quick strides, and went out without looking back.
Matilde watched the door, as it closed, and stood still a few seconds
before she left the room. Her eyes wandered to the clock, and she saw
that it was nearly midnight.
The look of triumph faded slowly from her face, and the brows contracted
in a look which no one could easily have understood, except Bosio
himself, perhaps, had he still been there. The smooth lips were drawn in
and tightly compressed; and she held her breath, while her right hand
strained upon her left with all her might. Then the lips parted with a
sort of little snap as she drew breath again; and she turned her head
suddenly, and looked behind her, growing a trifle paler, as though she
expected to see something startling.
She tried to smile, and roused herself, rang the bell for the servant to
put out the lights, and left the room. It was long before she slept that
night. In the next room she could hear Gregorio's slow and regular
footsteps, as he walked up and down without ceasing. In his own room
upstairs, Bosio Macomer sat staring at the ashes of the burnt-out fire
on his hearth. Only Veronica was asleep, dreamless, young, and restful.
Naples, more than any other city of Italy, is full of the violent
contrasts which belong to great old cities everywhere, and the absence
of which makes new cities dull, be they as well built, as well situated,
as civilized and as beautiful as they can be made by art handling nature
for the greater glory of modern humanity.
In Naples, there is a fashionable new quarter, swept, watered, and
garnished with plants and trees, but many of the great palaces stand in
old and narrow streets, rising up, grim and solemn and proud, out of the
recklessly vital life of one of the worst populaces in the world. Fifty
paces away, again, is a wide thoroughfare, perhaps, raging and roaring
with traffic from the port. A hundred yards in another direction, and
there is a clean, deserted court, into which the midday sun pours itself
as into a reservoir of light,--a court with a quiet church and simple
old houses, through the doors of which pale-faced ecclesiastics silently
come and go.
Round the next corner leads a dark lane, between hugely high buildings
that press the air and keep out the sun and all sky but a thin ribband
of blue. And the air is heavy with all vile things, from the ill-washed
linen that hangs, slowly drying, from the upper windows, thrust out into
the draught with sticks, to the rotting garbage in the gutters below.
The low-arched doors open directly upon the slimy, black pavement; and
in the deep shadows within sit strange figures with doughy faces and
glassy eyes, breathing in the stench of the nauseous, steamy
air,--working a little, perhaps, at some one of the shadowy, back-street
trades of a great city, but poisoned to death from birth by the air they
live in, diseased of the diseased, from very childhood, and prolific as
disease itself, multiplying to fatten death at the next pestilence.
And then, again, a vast square, gaudy with coloured handbills, noisy
with wheels and the everlasting Neapolitan chattering of a thick-lipped,
loud, degenerate dialect. There the little one-horse cabs tear hither
and thither, drivers lashing their wretched beasts, wheels whirling,
arms gesticulating, bad eyes flashing and leering, thick lips chattering
everlastingly: and the tram-cars roll along, crowded till the people
cling to one another on the steps; and the small boys dodge in and out
between the cars and the carriages and the horses and the
foot-passengers, some screaming out papers for sale, some looking for
pockets to pick, some hunting for stumps of cigars in the dust,--dirty,
ragged, joyous, foul-mouthed, God-forsaken little boys; and then through
the midst of all, as a black swan swimming stately through muddy waters,
comes a splendid, princely equipage, all in mourning, from the black
horses to the heavy veil just raised across a young widow's white
face--and so, from contrast to contrast, through the dense city, and
down to the teeming port, and out at last to the magic southern sea,
where the clean life of the white-sailed ships passes silently, and
scarce leaves a momentary wake to mar the pure waters of the tideless
But there is life everywhere,--reckless, excessive, and the desire for
life as a supreme good, worth living for its own sake--even if it is to
be food for the next year's pestilence--a life that can support itself
on anything, and thrive in its own fashion in the flashing sun, and the
dust and the dirt, and multiply beyond measure and mysteriously fast.
Only here and there in the swarm something permanent and fossilized
stands solid and unchanging, and divides the flight of the myriad
ephemeral lives--a monument, a church, a fortress, a palace: or,
perhaps, the figure of some man of sterner race, with grave eyes and
strong, thin lips, and manly carriage, looms in the crowd, and by its
mere presence seems to send all the rest down a step to a lower level of
Such a man was Taquisara, the Sicilian, of whom the old Duca della Spina
had spoken. He had no permanent abode in Naples, but lived in a hotel
down by the public gardens, beyond Santa Lucia; and on the day after the
Duca had been to see the Countess Macomer, he strolled up as usual, by
short cuts and narrow streets, to see his friend Gianluca in the Spina
palace, in the upper part of the city. Many people looked at him, as he
went by, and some knew him for a Sicilian, by his face, while some took
him for a foreigner, and pressed upon him to beg, or made faces and vile
gestures at him, as soon as he could not see, after the manner of the
lower Neapolitans. But he passed calmly on, supremely indifferent, his
handsome, manly face turning neither to the right nor the left.
He might have stood for the portrait of a Saracen warrior of the
eleventh century, with his high, dark features and keen eyes, his even
lips, square jaw, and smooth, tough throat. He had, too, something of
the Arabian dignity in his bearing, and he walked with long,
well-balanced steps, swiftly, but without haste, as the Arab walks
barefooted in the sand, not even suspecting that weariness can ever come
upon him; erect, proud, without self-consciousness, elastic; collected
and ever ready, in his easy and effortless movement, for sudden and
violent action. He was not pale, as dark Italians are, but his skin had
the colour and look of fresh light bronze, just chiselled, and able to
reflect the sun, while having a light of its own from the strong blood
beneath. That was the reason why the Neapolitans who did not chance to
have seen Sicilians often, took him for a foreigner and got into his
way, holding out their hands to beg, and making ape-like grimaces at him
behind his back. But those who knew the type of his race and recognized
it, did nothing of that sort. On the contrary, they were careful not to
The friend whom he sought, high up in the city, in a luxurious, sunlit
room overlooking the harbour and the wide bay, was as unlike him as one
man could be unlike another--white, fair-haired, delicate, with soft
blue eyes and silken lashes, and a passive hand that accepted the
pressure of Taquisara's rather than returned it--the pale survival of
another once conquering race.
Gianluca was evidently ill and weak, though few physicians could have
defined the cause of his weakness. He moved easily enough when he rose
to greet his friend, but there was a mortal languor about him, and an
evident reluctance to move again when he had resumed his seat in the
sun. He was muffled in a thickly wadded silk coat of a dark colour. His
fair, straight hair was brushed away from his thin, bluish temples, and
the golden young beard could not conceal the emaciation of his throat
when his head leaned against the back of his easy-chair.
Taquisara sat down and looked at him, lighted a black cigar and looked
again, got up, stirred the fire and then went to the window.
"You are worse to-day," he said, looking out. "What has happened?" He
turned again, for the answer.
"It is all over," said Gianluca. "My father was there last night. She is
betrothed to Bosio Macomer."
His voice sank low, and his head fell forward a little, so that his chin
rested upon his folded hands. Taquisara uttered an exclamation of
surprise, and bit the end of his cigar.
"She? To marry Bosio Macomer? No--no--I do not believe it."
"Ask my father," said Gianluca, without raising his eyes. "Bosio was
there, in the room, when they told my father the news."
"No doubt," said Taquisara, beginning to walk up and down. "No doubt,"
he repeated. "But--" He lit his cigar instead of finishing the sentence,
and his eyes were thoughtful.
"But--what?" asked his friend, dejectedly. "If it had not been true,
they would not have said it. It is all over."
"Life, you mean? I doubt that. Nothing is over, for nothing is done.
They are not married yet, are they?"
"No, of course not!"
"Then they may never marry."
"Who can prevent it? You? I? My father? It is over, I tell you. There is
no hope. I will see her once more, and then I shall die. But I must see
her once more. You must help me to see her."
"Of course," answered Taquisara. "But what strange people you are!" he
exclaimed, after a moment's pause. "Who can understand you? You are
dying for love of her. That is curious, in the first place. I understand
killing for love, but not dying oneself, just by folding one's hands and
looking at the stars and repeating her name. Then, you do nothing. You
do not say, 'She shall not marry Macomer, because I, I who speak, will
prevent it, and get her for myself.' No. Because some one has said that
she will marry him, you feel sure that she will, and that ends the
question. For the word of a man or a woman, all is to be finished. You
are all contemplation, no action--all heart, no hands--all love, no
anger! You deserve to die for love. I am sorry that I like you."
"You always talk in that way!" said Gianluca, with a wearily sad
intonation. "I suppose that life is different in Sicily."
"Life is life, everywhere," returned the Sicilian. "If I love a woman,
it is not for the pleasure of loving her, nor for the glory of having it
written on my tombstone that I have died for her. It is better that
some one else should die and that I should have what I want. How does
that seem to you? Is it not logic? It is true that I have never loved
any woman in that way. But then, I am young, though I am older than you
"What can I do?" The pale young man smiled sadly and shook his head.
"You do not understand our society. I cannot even see her except at a
distance, unless they choose to permit it. I cannot write love letters
to her, can I? In our world one cannot do such things, and it would be
of no use if I could--"
"I would," said Taquisara. "I would write. I would see her--I would
empty hell and drag Satan out by the hair to help me, if the saints
would not. But you! You sit still and die of love. And when you are
dead, what will you have? A fine tomb out in the country, and lights,
and crowns, and some masses--but you will not get the woman you love. It
is not love that consumes you. It is imagination. You imagine that you
are going to die, and unless you recover from this, you probably will.
With your temperament, the best thing you can do is to come with me to
Sicily and forget all about Donna Veronica Serra. No woman would ever
look at a man who loves as you do. She might pity you enough to marry
you, if no one else presented himself just then; but when she was tired
of pitying you she would love some one else. It is not life to be
always pitying. That is the business of saints and nuns--not of men and
Gianluca was hurt by his friend's tone.
"You admit that you never were in love," he said; "how can you
"That is just it! I do not understand you. But if I were you, I would
take matters into my own hands. I will wager anything you please that
Donna Veronica has never so much as heard that you wish to marry her--"
"But they have told her, of course!" interrupted Gianluca. "They have
"Who told you so?" inquired Taquisara, incredulously. "And if any one
has told you, why should you believe it? There are several millions on
the one side, which Macomer wishes to possess, and there can be nothing
on the other but the word of one of the interested persons. You have met
her in the world and exchanged a few words--that has been all--"
"I have spoken with her five times," said Gianluca, thoughtfully.
"Have you counted?" Taquisara smiled. "Very good--five times--seventeen,
if you like--you, sitting on the edge of your chair and opening your
eyes wide to see her profile while she was looking at her aunt--you,
saying that it was a fine day, or that Tamagno was a great singer; and
she, saying 'yes' to everything. And you love her. Well, no doubt. I
could love a woman with whom I might never have spoken at
all--surely--and why not? But you take it for granted that she knows you
love her and expects you to ask for her, and has been told that you have
done so and has herself dictated the refusal. You are credulous and
despondent, and you are not strong. Besides, you sit here all day long,
brooding and doing nothing but expecting to die, and hoping that she
will shed a tear when she hears of your untimely end. Is that what you
call making love in Naples?"
"I have told you that I can do nothing."
"It does not follow that there is nothing to be done."
"What is there, for instance?"
"Go to the Palazzo Macomer and find out the truth yourself. Write to
her--take your place before the door and stand there day and night until
she sees you and notices you." Taquisara laughed. "Do anything--but do
not sit here waiting to die in cotton wool with your feet to the fire
and your head in the clouds."
"All that is absurd!" answered Gianluca, petulantly.
"Is it absurd? Then I will begin by doing it for you, and see what
"You?" The younger man turned in surprise.
"I. Yes. All the more, as I have nothing to lose. I will go and find
Bosio Macomer and talk with him--"
"You will insult him," said Gianluca, anxiously. "There will be a
quarrel--I know you--and a quarrel about her."
"Why should we quarrel?" asked Taquisara. "I will congratulate him on
his betrothal. I know him well enough for that, and in the course of
conversation something may appear which we do not know. Besides, if I go
to the house, I may possibly meet Donna Veronica; if I do, I shall soon
know everything, for I will speak to her of you. I know her."
"One sees that you are not a Neapolitan," said Gianluca, smiling
"No," answered the other, "I am not." And he laughed with a sort of
quiet consciousness of strength which his friend secretly envied. "It is
true," he added, "that things look easy to me here, which would be
utterly impossible in Palermo. We are different with our women--and we
are different when we love. Thank Heaven, for the present--I am as I
He smiled and relit his cigar, which had gone out.
"No," said Gianluca. "You have never been in love, I think."
His fair young head leaned back wearily against the chair, and his eyes
were half closed as he spoke.
"Nor ever shall be, in your way, my friend," answered the Sicilian,
rising from his seat. "I suppose it is because we are so different that
we have always been such good friends. But then--one need not look for
reasons. It is enough that it is so."
Again he took the delicate, thin hand in his and pressed it, and went
away, much more anxious about Gianluca than he was willing to show. For
though he had suspected much of what he now saw, as a possibility, it
was a phase too new and startling not to trouble him greatly. It will
readily be conceived that if Gianluca had always been the weak and
dejected and despairing individual from whom Taquisara parted that
morning, there could never have been much friendship between the two.
But Gianluca, not in love, had been a very different person. With an
extremely delicate organization and a very sensitive nature, he was
naturally of a gay and sunny temper. The two had done voluntary military
service in the same regiment during more than a year, and their rank,
together with the fact that they were both from the south, had in the
first place drawn them together. Before long they had become firm
friends. In his normal condition Gianluca, though never strong, was
brave, frank, and cheerful. Taquisara thought him at times poetic and
visionary, but liked the impossible loftiness of his young ideals,
because Taquisara himself was naturally attracted by all that looked
impossible. Amongst a number of rather gay and thoughtless young men,
who jested at everything, Gianluca adhered to his faith openly, and no
one thought of laughing at him. He must have possessed something of that
wonderful simplicity, together with much of the extraordinary tact,
which helped some of the early saints to be what they were--the saints
who were beloved rather than those who were persecuted. Not, indeed,
that his conduct was always saintly, by any means, nor his life without
reproach. But in an existence which ruins many young men forever he
preserved an absolutely unaffected admiration for everything good and
high and true, and had the rare power of asserting the fact, now and
then, without being offensive to others. Taquisara had no desire to
imitate him, but was nevertheless very strongly attracted by him, and if
Gianluca had ever needed a defender, the Sicilian would have silenced
his enemies at the risk of his own life. Gianluca, however, was
universally liked, and had never been in need of any such old-fashioned
Since he had been in love with Veronica Serra, he was completely
changed, and it was no wonder that his friend was anxious about him.
Taquisara, like most men of perfectly healthy mind and body, would have
found it hard to believe that Gianluca was merely love-sick, and was
literally 'consuming himself,' even to the point of death, in an
unrequited passion. It was certainly true, however, that he had lost
strength rapidly and without the influence of any illness which could be
defined, ever since the negotiations for Veronica's hand had shown signs
of coming to an unsatisfactory conclusion. And they had lasted long.
Many letters had been exchanged. The old Duca had been several times to
the Palazzo Macomer, and the count and countess had found many reasons
by which to put off their decision. For Gianluca was a good match, and
altogether an exceedingly desirable young man, and the countess had
always thought that if she could not marry Veronica to Bosio, it might
be wisest to accept Gianluca. He was always in delicate health, Matilda
reflected, and he might possibly die and leave his wife still absolute
mistress of her fortune, if the marriage contract were cleverly framed
with a view to that contingency.
But the young man himself had been diffident from the beginning, and at
the first hesitation on the other side he had taken it for granted that
all was lost. His slight vitality sank instantly under the
disappointment, he refused to eat, he could not sleep, and he was in a
really dangerous state before ten days had passed. Then he had sent for
Taquisara, who visited him daily for nearly a week, encouraging him in
every way, until to-day, when the news of the refusal was no more to be
denied. It was characteristic of the Sicilian that he at once attempted
to interfere with destiny in favour of his friend. He was not a man to
lose time when time was precious. His ardent temper loved difficulties,
even when they were not his own. Bold, untiring, discreet, and loyal, if
there were anything to be done in Gianluca's case, he was the man to do
Bosio Macomer was somewhat surprised that morning, when his old servant
informed him that Taquisara was at the door. He knew him but slightly in
the way of acquaintance, though very well by name and reputation, and he
wondered what had brought him at that hour. He was inclined to say that
he could not receive him, offering as an excuse that he was ill, which
was almost true. But he reflected that such a man must have a good
reason for wishing to see him. He remembered, too, that the Duca had
spoken of him as Gianluca's friend, and in the terrible position in
which Bosio himself was placed, it seemed to him possible that one of
Gianluca's friends might help him,--how, he had not the power of
concentrating his mind enough to guess,--and he ordered the servant to
Bosio had not slept that night. He had spent the six hours between
midnight and the December dawn in his easy-chair before the fireplace.
Once or twice, towards morning, he had felt sleep creeping upon him
through sheer physical exhaustion, but he had fought it off, afraid to
lose one of the precious moments which he still had before him in which
to think over what he should do. They were few enough, for a man of his
He knew the absolute truth of all that Matilde had told him, and he had
even suspected much of it before she had first spoken. He knew that his
brother had secretly ruined himself in financial speculations, in which
he had employed Lamberto Squarci as his agent, and that, with Squarci's
assistance, Gregorio had staved off the consequences of his actions by a
fraudulent use of Veronica's fortune,--of such part of it as he could
control, of course,--absorbing much of the enormous income, and even,
from time to time, obtaining the consent of Cardinal Campodonico for the
sale of certain lands, on pretence of making more profitable
investments. During fully ten years, Gregorio's management of the estate
must have been a systematic fraud upon Veronica Serra, carried on with
sufficient skill to evade all inquiry from the cardinal. Gregorio's
fictitious reputation as a strictly honourable man had helped him,
together with the fact that his wife was the ward's own aunt, which was
a strong presumption in favour of her honesty as a guardian. Then, too,
it was generally believed that Macomer was a miser, and much richer than
he allowed any one to suppose. As for the accounts of the estate, they
could bear inspection, as Matilde had said, provided that no attempt
were made to verify the existence of all the property therein described.
The worst of the case was that Squarci had been an accomplice from the
beginning, and had doubtless enriched himself while Macomer had lost
everything. In the event of a suit brought by the ward against the
guardians, it would be in Squarci's power to turn evidence in favour of
Veronica, and expose the whole enormous theft; and it would be like him
to keep on the side of wealth against ruin. For Veronica was still very
rich, in spite of all that had been stolen.
There could be little doubt but that in the event of an action, Gregorio
and Matilde Macomer would be condemned to penal servitude, as the
countess herself anticipated. It was equally certain that if Veronica
married any one but Bosio, her husband and his family would demand that
the accounts of the estate should be formally audited and the property
scheduled; this must ultimately lead to the dreaded prosecution, which
could have no possible conclusion but conviction and infamy.
Whatever Bosio's true relations with Matilde had been in the course of
the last ten years, he had at least loved her faithfully, with the
complete devotion of a man who not only loves a woman, but is morally
dominated by her in all the circumstances of life. He had not the
character which seeks ideals, and he asked for none.
Matilde's beauty and conversation had sufficed him, for in his opinion
he had never known any one to be compared with her; and on her side she
had been strong enough to make a slave of him from the first. To the
extent of his weak character and considerable physical courage, there
was no sacrifice which Bosio would not have been ready to make for her,
and few dangers which he would not at least have attempted to face for
But where all moral sense of right and all natural action of conscience
were gone, there remained in the man an inheritance of traditional
feeling, which even Matilde's influence could not make him wittingly
violate any further,--a remnant of honour, a thread, as it were, by
which his soul was still held above the level of total destruction.
There was nothing, perhaps, involving himself alone, which he would have
refused to do for Matilde's sake, under the pressure of her strong will.
But what she required of him now was more than that, and worse. After a
night of thought, he still felt that he could not do it.
Of course, there was the possibility that Veronica herself might
absolutely refuse to marry him, and thus save his weakness from the
necessity of trying to be strong. But Bosio thought this improbable.
The fatherless and motherless girl had been purposely kept from all
outside influences by Gregorio and Matilde, in order that they might
control her disposition for their own interests. She had been taught to
expect that in due time they would select a husband for her from the men
who might offer themselves, and that it would be more or less her duty
to accept their decision, as being really the best for her own
happiness. They had hindered her from forming friendships with girls of
her own age, and altogether from acquaintanceship with young married
women, excepting Bianca Corleone, who had been her friend in the
convent. In society, when she went with them, men were introduced to her
very rarely. Bosio had been present once or twice on such occasions, and
he remembered having seen her with Gianluca. It had been very much as
Taquisara had described it to Gianluca himself--a mere exchange of a few
words, while the girl watched her aunt almost all the time with a sort
of childish fear of doing something not quite right. Veronica could not
be said to know any man to the extent of exchanging ideas with him,
except her uncle and Bosio himself. And she liked Bosio very much. It
was not at all improbable, considering all the circumstances, that she
might be delighted with the idea of marrying him, merely because she
liked him, and he was familiar in her daily life. Bosio knew that
Matilde would speak to her about it at once; and when he tried to think
what he should do if Veronica readily accepted the proposition, the pain
in his head grew intolerable, and he found it impossible to think
connectedly. The horrible dishonour of it stared him in the face--and
beyond the dishonour, still more fearfully imposing, rose the vision of
sure disgrace and infamy for the woman he loved, if he himself refused
to do this vile deed.
He looked ill, worn out with mental distress and physical exhaustion,
when Taquisara entered the room, and the servant closed the door. The
Sicilian came forward, and Bosio rose to meet him, still wondering why
he had come, but far too much disturbed by his own troubles to care.
Nevertheless, he supposed that the matter must be of some importance.
Taquisara was surprised by his appearance, for he was evidently
"I ought almost to ask you to excuse me for having received you, in my
condition," said Bosio, politely. "I have a violent headache. But I am
wholly at your service. In what can I be of use to you?"
Taquisara found himself in an awkward position. He had expected to find
Bosio Macomer radiant and ready to be congratulated by any one who chose
to knock at his door. Instead, he found a man apparently both ill and
distressed. He hesitated a moment, for he knew Bosio but slightly, after
"I do not know whether you will think it strange that I should come," he
said, and his square face grew more square as he looked straight at
Bosio. "I am Gianluca della Spina's best friend."
"Ah! Yes--I think I have heard so," answered Bosio, not startled, but
considerably disturbed, as his gentle eyes met Taquisara's bold glance.
"I have come, as a friend, to ask whether it is really true that you are
to marry Donna Veronica Serra," continued Taquisara, feeling that after
all he might as well go straight to the point.
Bosio straightened himself a little in his chair, and there was a look
of surprise in his face. But he hesitated an instant, in his turn.
"That was the answer which my brother and his wife gave to the Duca
della Spina," he replied coldly.
"Yes," said Taquisara. "I know it was. That is the reason why I have
come to you, directly, as Gianluca's friend."
"Does Don Gianluca propose to call me out, because he cannot marry Donna
Veronica?" asked Bosio, in surprise, and in a tone which showed that he
was already offended.
"No. He is very ill, and in no condition for that sort of amusement."
"I am sorry to hear it," said Bosio, with cold civility. "But you come
to represent him, in some way. Do I understand?"
"He is ill--of love, as they say." Taquisara smiled at the idea, in
spite of himself. "It is serious, at all events--so serious, that I have
come in person to ask whether it is really true that you are betrothed
to Donna Veronica, in order that I may take him the truth as I hear it
from your lips. I daresay you think me indiscreet, Count Macomer, for I
am only slightly acquainted with you. But I am sincerely devoted to
Gianluca, and if you were a total stranger to me, I should come to you
as I have come now."
"And if I refuse to answer your question, Baron Taquisara--what then?"
"As the answer--yes or no--cannot possibly involve anything in the
slightest degree indelicate, I shall of course infer that you have no
answer to give, and that the matter is not yet really settled."
Bosio's eyebrows contracted spasmodically, and his white hand stroked
his silky beard, while his eyes turned quickly from his guest and looked
down at the carpet. In two passes, as though they had been fencing
together, this singularly direct man had thrust him to the wall, and was
forcing him to make a decision. Of course it was still in his power to
answer in one way or the other, though he was yet undecided. But he
honestly could not bring himself to say that he would marry Veronica,
and yet, if he denied that he was betrothed to her, he must put his
brother and Matilde in the position of having told a deliberate lie to
Gianluca's father. He felt that he was growing confused, and that his
hesitation and confusion were every moment making it clearer to
Taquisara that the betrothal was by no means as yet a fact. He tried to
"It depends upon what you understand by an engagement," he said. "With
us, here in Naples, the betrothal means the signing of the marriage
contract. Now, the contract has not even been discussed. I think that my
brother's announcement was premature, though it was perhaps justifiable,
as he wished to discourage any false expectations on the part of Don
"I am not a diplomatist," answered the Sicilian. "The statement was
categorical--that you were betrothed to Donna Veronica. For the sake of
my friend, I am indiscreet enough to wish to hear the confirmation of
the statement from your own lips, without in the least questioning the
right of the Count Macomer to make it last night. Gianluca is honestly
and very deeply in love. The happiness of his whole life is involved.
With his delicate constitution and sensitive temper, I believe that his
life itself is in danger. You will be doing him an honourable kindness
in letting him know the truth, through me."
"I will," said Bosio, absently, "I will--as soon as--" He checked
himself and glanced nervously at Taquisara.
"As soon as you yourself have decided," said the latter, quietly. "I
think I understand. Your brother and the countess feel quite sure of the
fact, as though it had already taken place, but for some reason which
does not concern me, you yourself are not so certain of the result. To
be plain, there is still a possibility that the marriage may not take
place. I need not tell you that in speaking to Gianluca I shall be very
careful not to raise any false hopes in his mind. But I am exceedingly
indebted to you for being so honourably frank with me."
Taquisara repressed a smile at his own words as he rose from his seat,
for he was very far from wishing to offend Bosio. The latter rose, too,
and looked at him with a dazed, uncertain expression, like a man not
quite sure of being in his senses. He put out his hand mechanically,
without speaking, and a moment later he was alone with the horror of his
The Sicilian descended the stairs slowly, and paused to look out of one
of the big windows at a landing, which offered nothing in the way of a
view but an almost blank wall on the other side of the narrow street. He
did not know what to do next, and yet, being eminently a man of action,
rather than of reflexion, he knew that he must do more to satisfy
himself, for his suspicions were aroused. He had expected to find Bosio
jubilant. From what he had seen, he had understood well enough that
there was some mysterious trouble. He could not hope to extort any
information from Macomer or his wife, and he had no means of reaching
Veronica, nor could he have asked direct questions if he had succeeded
in seeing her.
Suddenly, he thought of the young Princess Corleone, whom he knew
tolerably well, Corleone being a Sicilian like himself. She was
Veronica's only intimate friend. She was the niece of Cardinal
Campodonico, one of Veronica's guardians. If any one knew the truth, she
might be expected to know it.
Taquisara looked at his watch, lit a cigar, and left the gloomy Palazzo
Macomer, glad to be outside and to turn his face to the sunshine, and
his back upon all the wickedness of which its old walls kept the
The villas along the shore towards Posilippo face the sun all day in
winter, for they look due south from the water's edge, and their marble
steps lead down into the tideless sea, as though it were a landlocked
lagoon or a Swiss lake. In winter the roses blossom amongst the laurels,
and before the rose leaves are all fallen the violets peep out in the
borders; the broad, fan-like palms stand unsheltered in the south wind,
and the oranges and lemons are left hanging on the trees for beauty's
sake. There are but two changes in the year, from spring to summer, and
from summer back to spring.
It is sometimes cold in Naples, high up in the city, when the northeast
wind comes screaming from the snowy Abruzzi, and when Vesuvius is clad
in white almost to the lower villages. In Naples it is sometimes dreary
when the water-laden southwest sends up its mountains of black clouds.
But somehow in soft Posilippo the wind is tempered and the rain seems
but a shower, and spring and summer, summer and spring, ever join hands
amongst the ilexes and the laurels and the orange trees.
On this day it was all summer, for there was not a cloud in the air nor
a whitecap on the sea as the water gently lapped against the steps at
the foot of Bianca Corleone's garden. It was so warm that she was
sitting there herself, a book unread on her knees, her marvellous face
towards the day, her small feet resting on the lower rail of another
chair before her, just because the gravel might possibly be damp.
Beside her, and turned towards her, looking earnestly to her averted
eyes, sat Pietro Ghisleri, the man who many years afterwards married
Lady Herbert Arden, of whom many have heard,--a man young at that time
and not world-worn as he was later, nor prematurely gaunt and
weather-beaten. He was only five-and-twenty years of age, then, and the
beautiful Bianca was but twenty-one, and had already been married two
years to Corleone. But the suffering of a lifetime had been crushed into
those two years; for Corleone was bad, from his head to his heart, all
through, and she had believed that she loved him.
Then, half broken-hearted, she had listened to Ghisleri; and he loved
her truly, with all his heart. Even society found little to say at that,
and perhaps there was little enough to be said. To all intents and
purposes, Corleone had abandoned her, and Ghisleri was often with her.
It was not until later that her brother, Gianforte Campodonico, lifted
up his hand against Ghisleri for the first time.
So Ghisleri was sitting beside Bianca on that morning, in her garden,
when there was a sound of wheels, behind the house; and then,
unannounced, as one familiar with the place, Veronica Serra came swiftly
down the walk towards the pair. Ghisleri rose to his feet,--a tall, fair
man, sunburnt, lean and strong, with bright blue eyes,--and Bianca
turned in her chair, with a smile, and held out her hand, as she sat, to
the young girl.
"You do not mind?" asked Veronica, smiling innocently. "Am I not
"No, dear--no." A very faint dawn of colour rose in Bianca's almost
"Something so strange has happened," said Veronica.
Then she nodded to Pietro Ghisleri, realizing that she had forgotten
him. He moved forward for her the chair on which he had been sitting,
while he continued to stand. Veronica had often met him there before.
"Donna Veronica has something to say to you," he said to Bianca. "If you
will allow me, I will go up to the stable and look at that dog."
Bianca nodded, as though it were a matter of course that Pietro should
look after her dogs when there was anything the matter with them, and
Veronica sat down. Her expression was strange, Bianca thought, as
though she did not know whether to laugh or cry. Yet she looked fresh
and well and not tired. The girl told her story in half a dozen words,
as soon as Ghisleri was out of hearing.
"They want me to marry Bosio," she said, and then drew breath, holding
both of Bianca's hands and looking into her eyes.
"You? Marry Bosio Macomer? Oh! no--Veronica--no!"
Bianca's voice expressed the greatest apprehension, for Veronica was
almost her only intimate friend. Veronica seemed surprised.
"Why not?" she asked. "That is, if I wished to. Why do you speak in that
way? Do you know anything about him which I do not know? You must have
Bianca's exquisite face grew calm and grave, and she looked away, and
waited some seconds before she spoke. The sins of the earth were
familiar to her before her time, and suffering and the payment. But
Veronica was a child.
"It seems unfitting," she said quietly. "He is almost like your uncle.
Of course, one may marry one's uncle--but he is too old for you, dear.
And, after all, with your name, and all you have--"
"But I like Bosio," answered Veronica, simply. "He is always good to me.
I talk with him a great deal. And he is really not old, though his hair
is a little grey. I think I would perhaps rather have him just for a
friend, instead of a husband. But then, he would be both. I do not know
what to do, so I came to you for advice."
"Why do you not marry Gianluca della Spina?" asked Bianca, suddenly.
"Don Gianluca?" repeated Veronica, rather blankly. "Why him,
particularly? I have only seen him three or four times."
"He is dying of love for you, my dear," said Bianca. "At least, every
one says so. I have heard it from Taquisara and from Signor Ghisleri,
who are friends of his."
"Dying of love for me?" Veronica broke out in a girlish laugh. "How
absurd! Why does he not ask for me, if that is true? Not that I would
ever marry him! He is like a Perugino angel, with his yellow hair and
She laughed again. Bianca knew from Ghisleri that Gianluca's father had
done his best to bring about the marriage. She was amazed to find that
Veronica knew nothing of the negotiations.
"It is very strange," she said thoughtfully, and hesitating as to how
much she should tell of what she had heard.
"What is strange?" asked the young girl.
"That you should not have known about Gianluca. They go to see him every
day. He is really madly in love with you, and is positively ill about
it. That is why I say that you should marry him, if you marry at
all--but not your uncle Bosio."
"He is not my uncle," said Veronica. "He is my aunt's brother-in-law."
"It is the same thing--"
"No. It is not the same. Tell me all about Don Gianluca. It is
interesting--I feel like a heroine in a book--a man dying for love of
me, whom I scarcely know! It is too ridiculous! He must be in love with
my fortune, as my aunt says that so many people are."
"No, dear," said Bianca, gravely, "do not say that. It is for yourself,
and he does not need your fortune."
"I did not mean to say anything unkind," answered Veronica. "But I
scarcely know him--and I have heard nothing about it. Have they spoken
of the marriage?"
They were interrupted by a servant, who came quickly down from the
house. The man asked if the princess would receive Baron Taquisara.
Bianca ordered him to be admitted, and told the man to ask Ghisleri to
come back from the stables.
"Do you know Taquisara?" she asked Veronica.
"A Sicilian? With a bronze face and fiery eyes? I have seen him once or
twice at balls, I think. Yes--he was introduced to me somewhere. I
remember him because they say he is descended from Tancred."
"Yes," said Bianca. "I could not refuse to receive him, because Signor
Ghisleri is here. They will both go away before long, and then we can
talk. Can you stay to breakfast with me?"
"Oh, no! I should not dare to do that!" Veronica laughed a little. "No
one knows where I am," she added. "My aunt thinks I have gone for a
drive to think over the matter. I just pulled down the curtain of the
brougham and told the man to bring me here--all alone."
At this moment Taquisara and Ghisleri appeared on the gravel path,
walking side by side, two men strongly contrasted with each other,
Italians of the Lombard and the Saracen types, fine specimens both, in
the prime of youth and strength. Bianca gave the Sicilian her hand, and
he bowed gravely to Veronica. Ghisleri brought out more chairs, and
without the slightest hesitation sat down beside Bianca, forcing
Taquisara to place himself near the young girl.
Taquisara was a man almost incapable of anything like social timidity,
in whatever position he might be placed, and he was in reality delighted
at thus being thrust upon Donna Veronica, from whom he felt sure that he
should learn something about the projected marriage. For he had great
and unaffected confidence in himself. But he hesitated a moment before
he spoke, for he did not now remember that he had ever before entered
intentionally into a serious conversation with a young girl, in the
whole course of his life. The customs of the society in which he lived
made such things well-nigh impossible. As usual with him, he meditated
going straight to the matter in hand, and he only paused to consider
what words he should use. Veronica, as she had been taught to do in such
a position, looked vacantly before her at the roots of the trees,
waiting for him to say something.
He had not seen her, except from a distance, since Gianluca had fallen
so madly in love with her, and while she looked away from him, his bold
eyes scrutinized her face. He saw what she had seen, when she had looked
into the glass on the previous evening--neither more nor less, except
that she was dressed for walking, and something feathery was around her
slender throat--and she wore a hat, which, in her own opinion, changed
her appearance very much. But, as he looked, he was aware that there was
more in her face than he had supposed.
There was something in the expression which was, all at once, far more
beautiful to him, than anything he had ever discovered in the sad and
faultless features of the already famous beauty who sat beside her.
Unconsciously, as he realized it, he forgot that he was expected to
Then, wondering at his silence, and conscious of his gaze, Veronica
turned her face to his, with a shy look of girlish inquiry, and their
eyes met. Taquisara was too dark to blush, but to his own surprise he
felt that the blood had mounted in his face, and in Veronica's own thin,
young cheeks there was a faint and lovely tinge which lasted but a
moment and then faded, coming again more strongly as she turned her eyes
away. Then he felt that he must speak. Ghisleri and Bianca, on the other
side, had begun at once to talk, and their voices, unknown to
themselves, had sunk to a low key.
"I am very glad I have met you here, this morning, Donna Veronica," said
Taquisara, leaning forward so as to speak close to her, but looking down
at the gravel under his feet. "I had something especial to say to you."
Veronica glanced at him, half startled. His tone and manner were quite
different from anything she had hitherto heard and seen. She saw that he
was not looking at her, and her eyes went back to the roots of the
"Yes," she said, almost inaudibly, for she did not know whether he
expected her to say anything.
"I have a very good friend, Donna Veronica," he continued; "I have been
with him this morning. You have heard his name often of late, I think,
and you know him--Gianluca della Spina."
Veronica started a little, and again the colour came and went in her
"Yes," she said. "I--I know him a little."
"He loves you, Donna Veronica," Taquisara said, his voice softening
almost to a whisper, for he did not wish Bianca Corleone to hear him.
"He loves you so much that he is almost dangerously ill--indeed, I think
it is dangerous--because you will not marry him."
He paused to see what she would do. She quickly turned her startled eyes
to him, and her lips parted, but she said nothing. He raised his face
and met her look as he went on.
"Last night, his father was at your house, and he was told that there
was no hope, because you were betrothed to Count Bosio Macomer."
"They told him that?" asked Veronica, quickly, and the colour mounted a
third time in her cheeks. "But it is not true!" she added; and her eyes
set themselves sharply, for she was angry.
"No," said Taquisara, "I know that it is not quite true, for I have been
to see Count Bosio. I was there half an hour ago."
"You have quarrelled?" asked Veronica, in sudden anxiety.
"Quarrelled? no. Why should we quarrel? He gave me to understand that
nothing was settled. I thanked him, and came away. I did not hope to see
you; but I knew that the Princess Corleone was your best friend, as I
am Gianluca's. I thought I would speak to her. Since, by a miracle, we
have met, I have spoken directly to you. Do you forgive me? I hope so,
though I daresay that no mere acquaintance has ever talked as I am
talking. If you blame me, remember that it is for Gianluca, that he is
my friend, that he knows nothing of my speaking to you, since you and I
have met by chance, and that he is perhaps dying--dying for you, Donna
The girl's face was white and grave now, for Taquisara spoke in earnest.
"How dreadful!" she exclaimed.
Bianca turned her head, for she was not so much absorbed in her
conversation with Ghisleri as not to have noticed that Veronica and
Taquisara were speaking almost in whispers, which was strange conduct
for a young girl with a mere acquaintance, to say the least of it.
"What is so dreadful?" she asked, with a smile.
"Oh!--nothing," answered Veronica, glancing at her, and turning back
instantly to Taquisara.
A shade of annoyance was in his face, and Veronica felt suddenly that
this was the first real crisis in her life, and that she must hear all
he had to say, to the end, at any cost of propriety.
"Come!" she said to Taquisara.
She rose as calmly as a married woman, many years older than she, might
have done, and Taquisara was on his feet at the same moment. She led
the way down to the marble steps that descended to the sea, and stood on
the uppermost one, looking out. Bianca and Ghisleri watched her in
surprise and Bianca made a slight movement, as though to follow, but
then leaned back again. There was then, and still is, a very strong
feeling in Southern Italy against allowing a young girl to be out of
earshot with a man.
Though Bianca and Veronica had been children, together, and there was
little difference of age between them, Bianca felt that, as the married
woman, she was responsible for the observance of social custom. But in a
moment she realized that Taquisara was talking of Gianluca, and that
anything would be better than to allow Veronica to marry Bosio Macomer.
"I understand," she said to Ghisleri; "let them alone. It is better, so
long as only you and I see it."
Down by the steps, Veronica stood very still, looking out over the blue
water, and Taquisara was beside her. She waited for him to speak again,
sure that he had not said all.
"Such things seem improbable in these days," he said quietly. "You say
that it is dreadful. It is. I have seen it, and have been with him day
after day. I am not very sensitive, as a rule, but I have had a strange
impression which I shall never forget. Gianluca and I met when we were
serving our time as volunteers. He was unlike the rest of us, even then.
That was why we became friends--because he was unlike me, I suppose."
"Unlike--in what way?" asked Veronica, still looking at the sea.
"It is hard to explain. He is a man of ideals, a religious man, a good
man." Taquisara smiled gravely. "That was enough to make him quite
different from us all, was it not?"