Part 3 out of 8
idea that Gregorio Macomer had ruined himself in speculations, for she
believed him to be a man of extraordinary caution, and probably
something of a miser.
Taquisara had therefore not prejudiced her at all against Bosio, nor
against the idea of marrying the latter. And Matilde, as has been said,
was quite right in supposing that Veronica would see much in favour of
Bosio was distinctly a desirable man for a husband. Nine women out of
ten would have admitted this without hesitation. The strongest argument
against the statement seemed to lie in the fact that there were a few
faintly grey streaks in his thick and silky hair. For the rest, whatever
he chose to say of himself, he was still within the limits of what one
may call second youth. He was only between fifteen and sixteen years
older than Veronica, and such a difference of age between man and wife
does not generally begin to be felt as a disadvantage until the man is
nearly sixty. He was not at all a worn-out dandy, with no illusions, and
no constitution to speak of; for circumstances, as well as his own sober
tastes, had caused him to lead a quiet and restful life, admirably
adapted to his sound but delicately organized nature. He was decidedly
good-looking, especially in a city where beauty is almost the exclusive
distinction of the other sex. His figure, though slightly inclined to
stoutness, was still graceful, and he carried himself with a good
bearing and a quiet manner, which, might well pass for dignity. So much
for his appearance. Intellectually, in Veronica's narrow experience of
the world, he was quite beyond comparison with any one she knew. It is
true that she really knew hardly any one. But her own intelligence
enabled her to judge with tolerable fairness of his capacities, and she
had found these varied and broadly developed, precisely in the direction
of her own tastes.
Lastly, Matilde was right in counting upon the existing intimacy as a
factor in the case. The idea of being suddenly betrothed to marry an
almost total stranger was as strongly repugnant to Veronica as it seems
to be attractive to most girls of her age and class in Southern Italy.
The fact is, perhaps, that the majority of such young girls learn to
think of themselves as being sure to lead hopeless and helpless lives,
unless they are married; and as very few of them possess such
attractions or advantages as to make it a positive certainty that they
can marry well, they grow up with the idea that it is better to take the
first chance than to risk waiting for a second, which may never come. To
these, marriage is a very uncertain lottery; and if they draw a prize,
they are not easily persuaded to throw it back into fate's bag, and play
for another. The very element of uncertainty lends excitement to the
game, and they readily attribute all sorts of perfections to the
imaginary stranger who is to be the partner of their lives.
But in this, Veronica's ideas were quite different. She had assuredly not
been brought up in vanity and pride of station, and though naturally
proud, she was not at all vain. From her childhood, however, she had
received something of that sort of constant consideration which is the
portion of those born to exalted fortunes. She had never had less of it,
perhaps, than in her aunt's house; for the Countess Macomer was not
only of her own race and name, and therefore too near to her to show her
any such little formalities of respect, but had also, as a matter of
policy and with considerable tact, managed to keep the dominant position
in her own house. She had shut out the little court of young friends who
would very probably have gathered round her niece--acquaintances of
Veronica's convent days, older than herself, but anxious enough to be
called her friends--and the tribe of men, old and young, who, in the
extremely complicated relationships of the Neapolitan nobility, claimed
some right to be treated as cousins and connexions of the family. All
these Matilde had strenuously kept away, isolating Veronica as much as
possible from young people of her own age, and proportionately
diminishing both the girl's power to choose a husband for herself and
her appreciation of her own right to make the choice. Nevertheless,
Veronica knew that she had that right, and she intended to exercise it.
Unconsciously, however, her judgment had been guided towards the
selection of Bosio, so that she was now by no means so free an agent as
she supposed herself to be. She did not love him at all; but she liked
him very much, and admired him, and since it was time for her to be
married, she was strongly inclined to choose for her husband the only
man of her acquaintance whom she both admired and liked.
These long and tedious explanations are necessary in order to explain
how it came about that Veronica Serra, with her great position and vast
estates, seriously thought of uniting herself with such a comparatively
obscure personage as Count Bosio Macomer. Taquisara had very fairly
described the latter's position to her that morning as that of an
insignificant poor gentleman, in no point of name or fortune the
superior of five hundred others, and who might naturally be supposed to
covet the dignities and the wealth which Veronica could confer upon
him. But Veronica had resented both the description and the suggestions
which had accompanied it, which showed well enough, how strong her
inclination really was.
On the other side, there remained the impression made upon her by what
Taquisara had said for Gianluca, and last of all the impression made
upon her by Taquisara himself, as a man, and as a standard by which to
measure other men in the future.
With regard to Gianluca, Veronica was indeed curious, but she was also
somewhat sceptical. She could not, of course, say surely that a young
man might not die of love for a girl whom he scarcely knew; and among
the acquaintances of her family she remembered at least one case in
converse, where a morbid maiden of eighteen years had died because she
was not allowed to marry the man she loved. Even there, it had been
hinted that the girl had caught a bad cold which had fastened upon her
delicate lungs. It was doubtless a romantic story, and if anything
appealed to her for Gianluca, it was the romance in his case. Her
reading had been very limited as yet, and the book she was reading so
eagerly was a French translation of the Bride of Lammermoor. The romance
of it spoke directly to her imagination; but when the book was closed
she did not believe that she had a romantic disposition. It is an
indisputable fact that the people to whom the strangest things happen
never regard themselves as romantic characters, whatever others may
think of them. They are, indeed, more often active and daring people, to
whom what others think extraordinary seems quite natural and easy. They
make the events out of which humanity's appetite for romance is fed, and
become, to humanity, themselves the unconscious embodiments of romance
itself. In her heart, therefore, Veronica was a little sceptical about
the reality of the terrific passion by which, according to Taquisara,
his friend was consumed. She recalled his face distinctly, as she had
seen him half a dozen times in the world, and she thought the definition
of him which she had given Bianca Corleone a very just one. He reminded
her of one of Perugino's angels--with a youthful beard. If angels had
beards, she thought, without a smile, they would have beards like
Gianluca della Spina's, very youthful, scanty, curling, and so fair as
to be almost colourless.
She remembered that he had looked at her rather sadly, and had spoken
little and to no purpose, making futile remarks about juvenile
amusements, and one or two harmless little jokes which she had quite
forgotten, but to which he had referred at the next short meeting, at
some other house, on the corner of some other similar sofa. That was all
that she could call up out of her memories. She had thought him insipid.
Once she remembered distinctly that while he had been talking to her,
she had been watching Bianca Corleone's handsome brother, Gianforte,
whom she had seen only once before, and that when her companion had
asked her to agree with him, she had said 'yes,' without having the
least idea of what he had been saying. He had produced only a very
slight and transparent shadow amongst the figures of her recollections.
It was a severe tax on her credulity to try and believe that he was
dying for love of her. If it were true, she thought, why had he not had
the courage to make her understand it? The fact that the offer made by
his family had not been communicated to her might have been hard to
explain, but she was not disturbed for want of an explanation. She did
not care for the man in the least, and there might be fifty reasons why
her aunt and uncle should think him undesirable. On the whole, she
believed that Taquisara had enormously exaggerated the state of the
case. The Sicilian himself impressed her as singularly honest and bold,
but she was much more ready to believe that the friend who had sent him
might have interested views, than that Bosio Macomer, whom she liked and
admired, was anxious to get possession of her fortune.
Taquisara himself had struck her as something new in the way of a man,
of a sort such as she had never seen nor dreamt of, and her mind dwelt
long on the recollection of the interview. In some way which she could
not explain, she vaguely connected him with the book she was now
reading--the Bride of Lammermoor; in other words, he appeared to her in
the light of a romantic character, and the first that had ever come
within the circle of her experience. His recklessness of formalities, of
all the limits supposed to be set upon the conversation of mere
acquaintance, of what she might or might not think of him individually,
so long as she would listen to what he had to say for his friend, seemed
to her to belong to a type of humanity with which she had never come in
contact. He, and he only, as yet had stirred some thought of another
existence than the one which seemed to lie straight before her,--a
broad, plain road, as the wife of Bosio.
Of love, indeed, there was nothing in her heart, for any man. Within her
all was yet dim and still as a sweet summer's night before the dawning.
In her firmament still shone the myriad stars that were her maiden
thoughts, not yet lost in the high twilight, to be forgotten when love's
sun should rise, in peace, or storm, as rise he must. Under her feet,
low, virgin flowers still bloomed in dusk, such as she should find not
again in the rose gardens or the thorn-land that lay before her. In
maidenhood's tender eyes the greater tenderness of woman awaited still
the coming day.
The weather changed during the night, and when Veronica awoke in the
morning the gusty southwest was driving the rain from the roof of the
opposite house into a grey whirl of spray that struck across swiftly, to
scourge the thick panes with a thousand lashes of watery lace.
As Veronica watched her maid opening the heavy old-fashioned shutters,
one by one, the sight of each wet window hurt her a little more,
progressively, until, when all were visible, she could have cried out of
sheer disappointment. For she had unconsciously been looking forward to
another day like yesterday, calm and clear and peaceful with much
sunshine. But even in Naples it cannot always be spring in
December--though it generally is in January. She had hoped for just such
another day as the preceding one. She had remembered how she and
Taquisara had stood in the sunlight by the marble steps in Bianca
Corleone's garden, and she had expected to stand there again this
morning with Gianluca, to hear what he had to say.
That was impossible, however, and while she was slowly dressing she
tried to decide what she should do. It was easy enough to make up her
mind that she must see Gianluca, but it was much more difficult to
determine exactly how she should find an excuse for going out alone on
such a morning. It seemed probable that, whatever she might propose as a
reason, her aunt would immediately wish to accompany her. They had given
her the afternoon and the evening of the previous day in which to think
over her answer, and Matilde might naturally enough expect to hear it
this morning. In any case she should not be able to order the carriage
and slip out alone as she had done the first time. She had meant to go
out on foot with her maid, and then to take a cab in the street and
drive to the villa. But in such weather as this she could not do such a
thing without exciting remark. It was a week-day, and there were no
masses to hear, as an excuse, by the time she was dressed.
She watched herself in the glass, while her maid was doing her hair. The
dull light of the rainy morning made her own face look grey and sallow.
She had not slept very well, and her eyes were heavy, she thought. The
glaring whiteness of the thing she had thrown over her shoulders while
her hair was being brushed made her look worse. She had little vanity
about her appearance, as a rule, but on that particular day she would
have been glad to look her best.
Not that she at all believed that Gianluca was dying for her; but he was
certainly in love with her. Of that she felt sure, for she could not
suppose that Taquisara himself was not convinced of the fact. Nor had
she the smallest beginning of a tender sentimentality about the
fair-haired young man. Nevertheless, if she was to meet him, she did not
wish to be positively ugly, as she seemed to be to herself when she
looked into the mirror, facing the dulness of the rain-beaten window.
Whether she herself was ever to care for him or not, she somehow did not
wish to disappoint him by her appearance, and the undefined fear lest
she might affected her spirits. Then, before she had quite finished
dressing, Matilde Macomer knocked at the door and came in. She was
looking far worse than Veronica, and from the absence of colour in her
face, her eyes seemed to be more near together than ever. Her appearance
made Veronica feel a little more hopeful, and the young girl said to
herself that after all the light of a rainy day was unbecoming to every
one, and much more so to a woman of forty than to a girl of twenty.
She did not wish to be alone with her aunt if she could help it, and she
promptly invented several little things for her maid to do, in order to
keep the latter in the room. The maid was a thin, dark woman of middle
age, from the mountains. She was a widow, and her husband had been an
under-steward on the Serra estate at Muro, who had been brutally
murdered five years earlier by half a dozen peasants whose rents had
been raised, when he endeavoured to exact payment. The rents had been
raised by Gregorio Macomer, and the woman knew it, and remembered. But
she was very quiet and grave, and seemed to be satisfied with her
position. She was certainly devoted to Veronica. Matilde glanced at her
two or three times, as though wishing her to go, but Veronica paid no
attention to the hint.
After exchanging a few words with her niece the countess began to walk
up and down nervously and seeming to hesitate as to what she should say.
She was horribly anxious, and very much afraid of betraying her anxiety.
She knew how dangerous it might be to press Veronica for an answer
before it was ready. And Veronica stood before a tall dressing-mirror,
making disjointed remarks about the weather, between her instructions to
her maid, while apparently altogether dissatisfied with her appearance.
First she wished a little pin at her throat, and then she gave it back
to the woman and told her to look for another which she well knew would
be hard to find. Then she quarrelled with a belt she wore,--for just
then belts were in fashion, as they are periodically without the
slightest reason,--and she thought that perhaps she would not wear one
at all, and she asked Matilde's opinion.
The countess forced herself to consider the matter with an appearance of
interest. But she was not without resources, and she suddenly bethought
her of a belt of her own which Veronica might try, and sent the maid for
it, apparently oblivious of the fact that, being fitted to her own
imposing figure, it would be far too long for her niece. As soon as the
woman had shut the door Matilde seized her opportunity.
"Have you come to any conclusion, Veronica dear?" she asked, making her
voice full of a gentle preoccupation.
"I have not seen Bosio," answered the young girl. "How can I decide,
until I have seen him?"
"I thought that you did not wish to see him last night--"
"No--not last night. I wished to be alone--but--one of these days, I
should like to talk to him."
"One of these days! To-day, dear. Why not? He is naturally anxious for
"Is he? It seems so strange! We have seen each other every day, for so
long--and I never supposed--"
She broke off, not, apparently, from any shyness about going into the
subject, but because she was very much interested in the fastening of
the second pin she had tried.
"I suppose it is much better not to wear any jewelry at all," she said,
with exasperating indifference.
"Until you are married!" answered Matilde, who was not to be kept from
the matter in hand. "You see, everything turns upon that," she
continued, with a low laugh. "The sooner it is decided, the sooner you
may wear your jewels. No," she went on rapidly. "Of course you never
suspected that Bosio loved you, and he would have been very wrong to let
you know it, until your uncle and I had given our permission. But he was
diffident even about mentioning the matter to us. You cannot have known
him so long without having discovered that he has great delicacy of
feeling. He did not like to suggest the marriage. You will see when you
talk with him after this. I have very much doubt whether he will have
the boldness to speak very directly--"
"How absurd!" exclaimed Veronica. "As though we did not know each other
"Yes, but that is the man's nature, and I like it in him. You can easily
manage to let him understand at the first word what you have decided.
But if you would tell me first,--especially if you mean to refuse,--it
would be better. I myself wish only the happiness of you both. You must
be absolutely free in your decision. After all, I daresay that you will
With great mastery of her tone and manner, she spoke in an indifferent
way. She was trying the dangerous experiment of playing a little upon
Veronica's contrariety. The young girl laughed.
"That is not at all certain!" she answered. "Only I do not see why you
should all be in such a hurry. If Bosio has been in love with me so long
as you say, he will remain in love long enough for me to think over the
matter, will he not? If he has been in a state of anxiety for weeks, it
will not hurt him to be anxious for one day more--or a week more--or
even a month. After all, it is for all my life, you know, Aunt Matilde.
I must see how the idea looks when I am used to it. I am not a child,
and I am not foolishly frightened at the idea of being married, nor out
of my mind with joy at it, either, like a girl of the people."
"Of course not," said Matilde, growing a little pale with sheer
"I daresay that we should be very happy together," continued Veronica.
"But how can I possibly be sure of it? No--I suppose that one is never
sure of anything until one has tried, but one may feel almost sure that
one is going to be sure; that is what I want, before I say 'yes.' Do you
"Oh, no!" answered the countess, quickly agreeing with her. "On the
At this point the conversation was interrupted by the return of the
maid. The belt, as was to be expected, did not fit at all, and Veronica
put on her own again. The maid moved about the room, setting things in
"Give him a sign, if you wish him to speak when you meet," said Matilde,
in a low voice. "It will be so much easier for him. Wear a flower in
your frock to-night at dinner--any flower. May I tell him that?"
"Yes," answered Veronica, for it seemed a charitable suggestion so far
as Bosio was concerned. "I am going out, now," she added suddenly. "May
I have the carriage?"
"Certainly. Shall we go together?"
"Oh, no! I do not want you at all!" cried the young girl, frankly and
laughing. "I have a secret. I will take Elettra with me."
Elettra was the name of the maid.
"Very well," replied Matilde. "I suppose you will tell me the secret
some day. Is it connected with New Year's presents? There are three
weeks yet. You have plenty of time."
Veronica laughed again, which was undoubtedly equivalent to admitting
her aunt's explanation, and therefore not, in theory, perfectly
truthful. But she did not wish the countess to know that she was going
to Bianca Corleone's house, since Matilde would of course suppose, if
she knew it, that she was going to consult Bianca about accepting Bosio,
which was not true either. She laughed, therefore, and said nothing,
having got the use of the carriage, which was all she wanted.
"It is horrible weather," observed Matilde, looking at the window, upon
which the rain was beating like wet whips, making the panes rattle and
"Yes, but I want some air," answered Veronica, in a tone of decision.
At such a time it was not safe to irritate the girl even about the
smallest matter, and Matilde said nothing more, though under other
circumstances she would have made objections. As it was not yet time to
go out, and in order to get rid of her aunt, Veronica bade Elettra take
out a ball gown which needed some change and improvement, Matilde
understood well enough that it was useless to wait longer for the chance
of being again alone with her niece, and in a few minutes she went away.
On the whole, she had the impression that the prospect was very good.
But after she had closed the door, she turned in the outer room, stood
still a moment and looked back, allowing her face for a moment to betray
what she felt. The expression was a strange one; for it showed doubt,
fear, conditional hatred, and potential vengeance--a complicated state
of mind, which the cleverest judge of human faces could hardly have
understood from Matilde's features. Then, with bent head, and closed
hands hanging by her sides, she went on her way.
An hour later Veronica and her maid were driving through the rain
westward, towards Bianca's villa. As they approached their destination,
Veronica felt that she was by no means as calm and indifferent as she
had expected to be. Yesterday, it had seemed a very simple matter to go
to the garden, to find Gianluca there, to walk ten or twenty paces with
him out of hearing of Bianca, and to listen to what he had to say. In a
manner it had seemed, indeed, a wild and romantic adventure, which she
should remember all her life. But it had looked easy to do, whereas now,
all at once, it looked very hard. Again and again, on the way, she was
on the point of stopping the carriage and returning. It all looked so
different, at the last minute, from what she had expected.
It was raining, and she should find Bianca indoors. Probably she would
be sitting in her boudoir, beyond the drawing-room, and Pietro Ghisleri
would be with her. Veronica would have to give some little excuse or
reason for coming, on his account, even though Bianca was her intimate
friend. Probably Gianluca would be there already, for it was past eleven
o'clock, and Bianca would understand that his coming was the result of
what Taquisara had said to Veronica on the previous day. She would not
show that she understood, even to Veronica, because she was tactful, but
Veronica knew that she was sure to blush, in spite of herself, at the
thought that Bianca knew why she had come. Then, too, in the
drawing-room, or the boudoir, it would not be easy to be alone with
Gianluca. She could not get up and go and stare stupidly out of the
window at the rain, taking him with her.
She was naturally too obstinate to change her mind, and turn back; yet
by the time the brougham drove into Bianca's gate, she really hoped that
Gianluca might not come at all. But when she crossed the threshold of
the house, she already hoped that he might be there. Her doubts were
soon set at rest by the sight of his thin face and almost colourless
beard, in the distance, as the servant opened the door of the
drawing-room. Bianca was seated at the piano, and Gianluca was standing
on one side of her, while Ghisleri bent over her on the other, looking
at the sheet of music before her. She rose, as Veronica entered,--a
queenly young figure, with a lovely, fateful face. To-day her eyes were
dark and shadowy, and Veronica thought that she must have been crying in
Gianluca had started visibly when Veronica had appeared, but she did not
look at him until she had kissed Bianca, and had spoken to Ghisleri, who
now, for the first time, understood the meaning of Gianluca's unexpected
morning visit. Bianca had guessed it almost immediately, and had
purposely sat down to the piano to look over the music. It would seem
natural, she thought, when Veronica came, that she should resume her
seat, and play or sing, with Ghisleri to turn over the pages for her,
while Veronica and Gianluca could talk. She was too loyal to her friend,
and too discreet, to have given Ghisleri a hint, even had she been able
to do so after Gianluca had come. But events proved to her that she was
When Veronica, at last, spoke to the younger man, there was an evident
constraint in her manner. He, on his part, blushed suddenly pink, and
then turned white again, almost in a moment. He put out his hand
nervously, and then withdrew it, not finding Veronica's, but before he
had quite taken it back, hers came forward, and hesitated in the air.
Then he took it, and both smiled in momentary embarrassment over the
incident, and a little at the thought of having shaken hands at all, for
it is a custom reserved in the south for married women.
"Do you mind if I go on trying this song?" asked Bianca, sitting down to
the piano again. "Talk as much as you please," she added. "I do not know
it--I only wish to look it over."
Veronica was surprised at the ease and simplicity with which matters
were arranged, and in a few seconds she found herself sitting beside
Gianluca, on a narrow sofa at some distance from Bianca and Ghisleri.
Gianluca looked at her sideways, and then a moment later she looked at
him; but their eyes did not meet. She had only glanced at him once, and
for an instant after they had sat down, side by side, but she had got a
good view of his face in that one look. It was evident to her that he
was really ill, whatever might be the cause of his illness. The delicate
features were unnaturally thin and drawn, and there were blue shadows at
the temples such as consumptive men often have. The blue eyes were sunk
too deep, and there were hollows above the lids, under the brows. His
figure, too, though tall and well proportioned, had seemed frail to her
when she had seen him standing by the piano, and his hands were
She could not help pitying him. But it is only pity for sorrow, or for
trouble, that is akin to love, not pity for physical weakness; unless,
perhaps, a woman is very certainly sure that such weakness is indeed the
result of love for herself, wearing the man out night and day--and then
the pity she feels is instantly all but love itself and in fact often
more than love in deeds. But Veronica had no such certainty. She still
believed that Taquisara had overshot the mark of truth. She waited for
Gianluca to speak.
"We have met--I have had the honour of meeting you--several times
already, Donna Veronica, since you came from the convent," he said at
last, after a little preliminary cough.
"Oh yes!" answered Veronica, with a smile. "We have often met. I know
you very well."
"I was not quite sure whether you remembered me," he said.
He looked at her, and the blood rose and fell quickly in his cheeks, and
his hands moved uneasily as he clasped them upon one of his knees.
"You must think that I have a very poor memory," observed Veronica,
still smiling, not intentionally, but because she was young enough, and
therefore cruel enough, to be amused by his embarrassment. "The last
time I saw you was at the theatre, I think--at the opening night, last
week--ten days ago--when was it?"
"Yes," he answered quickly. "That was the last time I saw you; but the
last time we spoke was at the San Giuliano's."
"Was it? I do not remember. We have often talked--a little--at different
"I remember very well," said Gianluca, with a good deal of emphasis and
looking earnestly at her.
Veronica tried to recall the conversation on the occasion to which he
referred, but could not remember a word of it.
"Did I say anything especial, that time?" she asked, wondering whether
she had then unfortunately answered 'yes,' in a fit of absence of mind,
to some question of hidden import which he had perhaps addressed to
"Oh yes!" he answered promptly. "You told me that you liked white roses
better than red ones. You see, I have a good memory."
"That was a tremendously important statement." Veronica laughed,
somewhat relieved by the information.
"I always remember everything you say," said Gianluca. "I think I know
by heart all you have ever said to me."
He spoke with a sort of grave and almost child-like conviction.
"I shall remember everything you say to-day," he added, after a moment's
"I hope not!" exclaimed Veronica. "I sometimes say very foolish things,
not at all worth remembering, I assure you."
"But what you say is worth everything to me," he said, with another
sudden blush, and a quick glance, while his hands twitched.
He was painfully shy and embarrassed, and was producing anything but a
favourable impression upon Veronica. She was sorry for him, indeed, in a
superior sort of fashion, but she thought of Taquisara's bold eyes and
strong face, and of Bosio Macomer's quiet and refined assurance of
manner, and Gianluca seemed to her slightly ridiculous. It was in her
blood, and she could not help it. Some of her people had been bad, and
some good, but most of them had been strong, and she liked strength, as
a natural consequence. Moreover, she had not enough experience of the
world to put Gianluca at his ease; and a sort of girlish feeling that
she must not encourage him to say too much made her answer in such a way
as to throw him off his track.
"It is very kind of you to say so," she answered lightly. "But I am sure
I do not recollect ever saying anything important enough for you to
remember. Take what we are saying now, for instance--"
"I shall know it all, when you are gone," interrupted Gianluca, harking
back again. "Indeed--I hope you will not think me rude or
presumptuous--but I thought that perhaps I might meet you here--if I
came often, I mean; for Taquisara--"
"Oh yes," said Veronica, as he hesitated. "I met Baron Taquisara here
yesterday. I daresay that he told you so."
As his embarrassment had increased, hers had completely
disappeared--which was a bad sign for him and his hopes.
"Yes--yes. He told me--"
Gianluca leaned back suddenly in his seat, overcome with a sort of shame
at the thought that Taquisara had spoken to her for him, and that he
himself could find nothing to say. His face pale and red, and his hands
"I like your friend," said Veronica, quietly, wondering whether he felt
"Yes--I am glad," answered Gianluca. "He is a true friend, a good
friend. If you knew him as well as I do, you would like him still
Veronica thought this probable, but refrained from saying so, and
remained silent. Bianca was touching gentle chords at the piano. Now and
then a few words, sung in deep, soft notes, sad as the south wind,
floated through the room, and then she and Ghisleri talked about the
song, paying no attention whatever to the pair on the sofa.
Gianluca sighed and caught his breath. Veronica glanced quickly at him,
and then looked again at the top of Ghisleri's head, as the latter bent
down. She had not thought that she had expected so much of the meeting.
She certainly had not the slightest personal feeling for the man beside
her. And yet, somehow, she was dismally disappointed. If this was the
man who was dying of love, she infinitely preferred Bosio Macomer.
Gianluca was evidently in bad health. He looked as though he might be in
a decline, and he was clearly very nervous and ill at ease. But he did
not speak at all as she supposed that a man would who was deeply in
love. Taquisara had spoken far better. He had seemed so much in earnest
that if he had suddenly substituted himself for Gianluca as the subject
of his phrases, Veronica could have believed him easily enough.
"Then I may hope that you will forgive me for coming here, thinking that
I might meet you?" said the young man, with a question in his voice.
"Why should you not come?" asked Veronica, not unkindly, but with the
least possible inflexion of impatience.
"There can certainly be no reason, if you are not offended," he
answered. "But if I thought that I had offended you, by coming, I should
never forgive myself."
"But I should certainly forgive you, if you offended me unintentionally.
Besides, there is no reason in the world why you should not come here to
see Bianca whenever you like, if she will receive you. She goes out very
little. She is glad to see people."
He was a man born to throw away opportunities, an older woman would have
thought; but Veronica grew impatient at his insistence upon useless
things, and his thin, nervous hands irritated her vaguely as, looking
down, or in front of her, she could not help seeing them clasped upon
his knee. Once, too, she was aware that Bianca leaned to one side and
looked towards her, round the side of the sheet of music, as though to
see how matters were progressing. Veronica began to feel that she was in
a ridiculous position. The hesitation and pauses and silences had made
the brief conversation already last nearly a quarter of an hour. In that
time Taquisara had said all he had to say. Veronica made a little
movement, a very slight indication that she would presently leave her
seat. Gianluca started and suddenly gazed earnestly into her face, so
that she turned her head and met his eyes.
"Please do not go yet!" he cried in a low and earnest voice that had
real entreaty in it.
"No," she answered quickly. "I am not going. But I must go soon. I
cannot stay long, for I must go home to luncheon, and I have not talked
with Bianca at all yet."
"Yes--I know--and I must be going too," he said nervously. "But if you
knew what it is to me to sit here beside you for a few minutes--" He
stopped suddenly, and the colour rushed to his face.
"In what way?" asked Veronica, with an impatient, womanly impulse to
make him speak and have done with it, in order that there might be no
"Because--because I love you, Donna Veronica!" He turned quite white as
he found words at last. "I must say it this once, even if you never
forgive me. This is the first happy moment I have had since I saw you
the last time. I love you--let me tell you so before I die, and I shall
die happy if you will forgive me, for I have dreamed of saying it, and
longed to say it, so often. You are my whole life, and my days and
nights only have the hours of my thoughts of you to mark them."
His words came confusedly and uncontrolled, but his voice had a longing
pathetic ring in it, as of a very hopeless appeal. Veronica had been
startled at first, and her eyes were wide and girlish as she looked at
him. It was the first time that any man had ever told her that he loved
her, and for that reason it was to be memorable; but it did not seem to
be the first time. Taquisara's manly pleading and fervent voice when he
had spoken yesterday had left her ears dull to this real first time of
hearing love speeches, so that this seemed the second, and the words she
heard, after the first little shock of realizing what they were, touched
no chord that would respond.
She did not answer at first, but half unconsciously she shook her head,
as she turned from him and looked away once more. Perhaps that was the
most unkind thing she could have done; for it was so natural, and
simple, and unaffected a refusal, that he could hardly be mistaken as to
her meaning; and, after all, she had led him on to speak. She herself
was shocked at her own heartlessness a moment later, and in one of those
absurd concatenations of ideas which run through the mind at important
moments, she felt as though she had been giving a merchant an infinity
of trouble to show his wares, only to buy nothing and go away. Then,
the brutality of the involuntary simile distressed her, too, and she
felt that she ought to say something to destroy the effect of it on her
own mind, as well as to comfort Gianluca. But she could not find much to
say. Very young women rarely do, under the circumstances.
"I am very sorry," she said gently.
She felt that he might have a right to reproach her for coming there,
and she was grateful to him for not doing so, having really very little
idea of the nature of the over-submissive and humble love which sapped
his manliness instead of rousing his courage.
"Ah, I knew it!" he almost moaned, and resting his elbows upon his knees
he covered his face with his delicate, white hands, that trembled
spasmodically now and then. "I knew it," he repeated in his broken
voice. "You were kind to let me speak--I kiss your hands--for your
kindness--I thank you--"
His voice broke altogether. Veronica heard a smothered sob, and glancing
at him nervously, saw the tears trickling down between his fingers. She
looked up quickly to see whether Bianca had noticed anything, but the
sweet, deep voice was singing softly to the subdued chords of the piano,
and Veronica sat quite still, waiting for Gianluca to recover his
She felt that she pitied him, but at the same time considered him in
some way an inferior being; and as the idea of marrying him crossed her
mind again, her heart started in repugnance at the mere thought.
Veronica left Bianca Corleone's house with a very painful sense of
disappointment, and as she drove homeward through the wet streets, she
could not get rid of Gianluca's tearful blue eyes, which seemed to
follow her into the carriage; and in the rattling and jolting, she heard
again and again that one weak sob which had so disturbed her. At that
moment she would rather have gone directly back to the convent in Rome,
to stay there for the rest of her life, than have married such an
unmanly man as she believed him to be. His words had left her cold, his
face had frozen her, his tears had disgusted her. She pitied him for his
weakness, not for his love of her, and she hoped that she might never
again hear any man speak to her as he had spoken. Nevertheless there had
been in his tone, at the last, the doubt-splitting accent of a sharp
truth that hurt him to tears. She wondered why he had not moved her at
all. The day seemed more grey and wet and desolate than ever. She
thought that everybody in the street looked draggled and disappointed.
Near Santa Lucia she passed a wretched vender of strung filberts and
doubtful cakes, mounting guard over his poor little handcart with a
dilapidated umbrella, under the half-shelter of a projecting balcony. A
couple of barefooted boys crouched on the wet pavement by the
sea-stairs, with a piece of sacking drawn over both their heads
together, gnawing hard-tack, and as the rain struck the stones, it
splashed up in their faces under their sack. On the left, the coral
shops showed their brilliant wares dimly through the rain-streaks, with
closed glass doors through which here and there the disconsolate face of
the shopkeeper was visible, as he stood gazing out upon the dismal,
dripping scene. A sailor man came out of the marine headquarters at the
turning of the Strada dei Giganti, bending his flat cap against the rain
and burying his ears in the blue linen collar of his shirt, which was
turned back over his thick jacket. The water splashed out from under his
heavy shoes, to the right and left, as he walked quickly up the hill.
Beyond that, the Piazza San Ferdinando was deserted, and the broad wet
pavement lay flat and darkly gleaming upward to the broad, watery sky
that stretched grey and even, without shading, like a sheet of wet
india-rubber over all the city. Then the Toledo, where the gutters could
not swallow the deluge, but sent their overflow in dark yellow streams
down each side of the street--then the narrower, darker ways and lanes
between the high houses and the low, black doorways, through the heart
of old Naples, home at last to the Palazzo Macomer.
Veronica was glad to get back to the fire in her own room, and to feel
dry again--for seeing so much water had given her the sensation of being
drenched. And she sat down to think over what had happened in the
morning, trying to understand her own disappointment, because she
believed that she had expected nothing, and therefore that she could not
be disappointed. She was very glad to get back to her own room. So far
as she at all knew what a home meant, the Palazzo Macomer was home to
her, and she had no distinct recollection of any other. Gregorio and
Matilde and Bosio were her own family, so far as she had ever known what
to understand by the word. They were more familiar to her than any other
people in the world possibly could be, and if she felt that she had
little affection for her aunt and uncle, yet she knew that there was a
bond; and she was sincerely attached to Bosio for his own sake.
She had photographs of all three on the mantelpiece, in silver
frames,--that of her aunt standing in the middle, and one of the men on
either side. She looked at Bosio's, taking it down from its place. She
looked at it critically, and seeing a speck of dust on the glass, just
over the face, she passed her handkerchief over it, polishing the
surface, and looking at it again. From the photograph any one would
have said that Bosio was a handsome man, for he photographed well, as
the phrase goes. His clear, pale complexion, his well-cut, refined
features, his smooth, thick, silky hair looked singularly well against
the smoked background, and had at once the strength and the transparency
which make a good photograph by adding an illusion of relief to the
flatness of mere outline and light and shade. Probably the likeness was
flattered. But Veronica did not think so just then, coming as she did
from a disillusionment which had affected her more strongly than she
knew. She compared Bosio with Gianluca, in appearance, and Gianluca
lacked almost everything which could bear comparison. She compared Bosio
with Taquisara, and she preferred the quiet refinement of the one to the
bold eyes and high aquiline features of the other. At least, she thought
so. But she also preferred Taquisara to Gianluca, by many degrees of
preference. Yet both these men were commonly spoken of as handsome.
She thought of another point, too, and with her blood it was natural
that she should think of it. If she married Bosio, he would take her
name and titles; not she, his. She would rule the house and be
independent--not of him, exactly, for she was fond of him and had no
desire to be despotic over him, but of parents and elders and relations
who would think it their right to advise and guide. All this would be
different with Gianluca for her husband. The Della Spina were proud of
their name and would expect her to bear it. They were numerous, too; the
old father and mother would oppress and burden her life, and the
brothers and sisters of Gianluca would grow up to be more or less of a
perpetual annoyance to their elder brother's wife. Of that side of life
her aunt had given her more than one picture, intentionally exaggerating
a little, perhaps, for her own purposes. And from Bianca she had heard
many things of the same kind. Married to Bosio, she would be free
altogether from any one's interference in her household.
She met them all at luncheon, and was struck by the fact that both men,
as well as Matilde, looked pale and harassed, as though they had slept
little. For there was little sleep or rest, except for Veronica, during
those days of gnawing anxiety. She was struck, too, and startled, by
Gregorio's hideous laugh, which broke out twice during the meal without
any apparent reason. Even the servants seemed to shudder at it and
looked at him anxiously, and Matilde's dark eyes tried to control him.
Indeed, when she looked at him, he seemed docile enough, except that his
face twitched very strangely as he nodded to her.
But they all talked, with the evident intention of seeming at their
ease; and in a measure they succeeded, for they were not weaklings like
Gianluca. Bosio was by far the least strong in character, but his very
remarkable self-possession made him their equal in the present case. On
the previous evening, when Veronica had not been present, they had
scarcely made an effort; but now that she was seated at table with them,
they performed their parts conscientiously and not without success.
They were encouraged, too, by Veronica's manner to Bosio. After her
experience in the morning it was a distinct pleasure to be again in his
society, and she talked enthusiastically to him of the Bride of
Lammermoor--the book he had given her and which she had begun to read
during her solitary dinner on the previous evening. She was sure of the
response to what she said, before she said it, and it came surely
enough. She felt that he understood her, and that she should be glad to
talk with him every day. Several days had passed since they had been
alone together for half an hour.
She compared him with the photograph of him, too, and she came to the
conclusion that the likeness was not so much flattered, after all. His
unusual pallor to-day had something luminous in it, and the features, in
two days of suffering, had grown thinner with a sort of finely chiselled
accentuation of their natural refinement. To-day, he reminded her of
certain portraits of Van Dyck. But when luncheon was over, she avoided
being alone with him, for she had not yet come to any decision. It would
be more true, perhaps, to say that she distrusted herself in the
decision she now seemed to have reached too suddenly. For in the
expansion of sympathy she enjoyed so much it all at once seemed to her
that she could never marry any one but Bosio, who understood her so
well, who anticipated what she was going to say, and knew beforehand
what she thought upon almost any subject of conversation.
She had never been exactly opposed to the idea, from the first; but now
it took possession of her strongly, as it had never done before, and she
might almost have taken her genuine affection for the man for love, if
she had ever been taught to suppose that love was necessary before
marriage. She had been far too carefully brought up in Italian ideas of
the old school, however, to make any such self-examination necessary.
She had been told that it was important that she should like and respect
the man she was to marry. She had no reason for not respecting Bosio, so
far as she knew, and she certainly liked him very much indeed.
But she meant to wait until the evening, and give herself a chance to
change her mind once more. After luncheon there was the usual
adjournment to another room for coffee, over which the two men smoked
cigarettes. Veronica expected that Matilde would ask her by a gesture,
or a word in a low tone, whether she were any nearer to a conclusion
than before, but the countess did nothing of the sort, for she was far
too wise; and Veronica was grateful for being left entirely to her own
thoughts in the matter. Nor did Bosio bestow upon her any questioning
glance, nor betray his anxiety in any way except by his pallor, which he
could not help, of course. Veronica thought that once or twice his eyes
brightened unnaturally, in the course of conversation; and in his manner
towards her she might have fancied that there was a shade more than
usual of that sort of affectionate deference which all women love,
though they love it most in the strong, and it sometimes irritates them
a little in the weak, for a passing moment, when their caprice would
rather be ruled than flattered. Bosio made no attempt to be alone with
her, and at the end of half an hour both he and his brother departed to
their own quarters.
Even then, when she was alone with Veronica, Matilde did not return to
the subject which was uppermost and above all important in her mind.
With amazing tact and self-control she talked pleasantly enough, though
she managed to place herself with her back to the light, so that
Veronica could not see her expression clearly. At last she rose and said
that she must go out. The weather had improved a little, and she asked
Veronica to go with her. But the young girl had no desire to be driven
through Naples in a closed carriage a second time that day, and she went
away to her own room, with the intention of spending a quiet afternoon
by the fire with her novel.
On the previous evening she had read a little over her dinner, and from
time to time during the short evening she had returned to the book,
feeling that it was easier to read than to think, and much more
satisfactory. She took the volume now, but she could not read at all.
She was overcome by a wish which seemed wholly unaccountable, to send
for Bosio to meet her in the drawing-room, and to tell him outright that
she was willing to marry him. Nothing but maidenly self-respect
prevented her from doing so at once, and the hours seemed very long
before dinner. Many times she rose from her seat by the fire and moved
about her room in an objectless way, touching things uselessly and
looking for things which were not lost, which she did not want, but
which she could not find. She wished that she had her great jewels. She
would have tried them on before the mirror--anything to pass the time.
But they were all safely stored in one of the safest banks.
She grew more and more restless as the minutes passed and the dinner
hour approached. Looking at herself in the glass, she said that her
cheeks were no longer sallow, as they had seemed to be in the morning.
There was a fresh colour in them, and it was becoming to her and pleased
her. Her soft hair had fallen a little upon each side of her brows, and
her eyes were brilliantly bright. She looked at them when the twilight
was coming on, and they seemed to shine, with wide pupils, having a
light of their own.
At last the time came. Before she rang for her maid, who had brought
lights and had gone away again, she stood a moment before the fire and
looked once more at Bosio's photograph, asking herself seriously for the
last time whether she should marry him or not. But the answer was there
before the question, and she had made up her mind.
At the last minute, she had forgotten the flower she had promised to
wear, and she sent her maid in haste to see whether she could find one
of any sort in the house. It was the middle of December, and it was not
probable that such a thing could be found in the Palazzo Macomer. The
maid came back empty-handed. Veronica told her to find an artificial
one, and Elettra, after some searching, produced a very beautiful
artificial gardenia, which Veronica pinned in her white bodice, with a
smile. She glanced at herself once more, and saw that the colour was
still in her cheeks, and she was satisfied with herself.
When she entered the drawing-room, the other three were already there,
and she saw the faces of Matilde and Bosio change as they caught sight of
the flower. Gregorio apparently knew nothing of the arrangement--another
instance of Matilde's tact which pleased Veronica. Matilde herself
was no longer pale. She had seen how desperate she looked and had put
a little rouge upon her cheeks so deftly and artistically that the young
girl did not at first detect the deception. But her features had still
been drawn and weary. They relaxed suddenly in a genuine smile when she
saw the gardenia. But Bosio grew paler, Veronica thought, and looked
very nervous. At table, he was opposite Veronica, and he reminded her
more than ever of Van Dyck's portraits, so that she wondered why she
had never before thought of the general resemblance. He talked less than
at luncheon, and sometimes his eyes rested on hers with an expression
which she could not understand. But there was admiration in it, as well
as something else. Veronica herself was animated, and had never looked
so well before, in the recollection of the other three.
After dinner Gregorio disappeared almost immediately, and at the end of
a quarter of an hour Matilde left the room, merely observing that she
was going to write letters and would come back when she had finished.
Bosio and Veronica were alone.
To her, it seemed to have come suddenly at the end, and she did not
quite realize how it was that she found herself standing on one side of
the fireplace, while he stood on the other.
They looked at each other a moment. Then Veronica smiled faintly, and
drew herself up--or lengthened herself--as slight young girls have a way
of doing when they are pleased, and she turned a little in the movement,
and glanced at the clock, still faintly smiling.
Bosio was watching her, and he could not help admiring her lithe figure
and small, well-poised head, that had a sort of girlish royalty of
carriage not at all connected with beauty; for she was not beautiful,
and she herself knew that there were times when she was almost ugly. He
saw and admired, and he cursed himself for what he meant to do. He was
not sure, even now, that he could do it.
There was no awkwardness in the silence, Veronica thought, for it seemed
to her that he understood, and that words were hardly necessary. If she
had meant to refuse him, she would have done so through Matilde. She
smiled, looking at the clock, and thinking about it all. Then she
realized that no word had been spoken on either side, and she turned her
head a little shyly, till she could just see his face, while the smile
still lingered on her lips. One hand rested on the mantelpiece, with
the other she touched the artificial gardenia in her bodice.
"That is my answer, you know," she said quietly, and her eyes waited for
But he only glanced at her face, and for a moment he did not move. Then,
with a graceful inclination he took her hand and raised it to his lips.
She noticed even then that his own hand was dry and burning. He did not
trust himself to speak. When he looked up, the room whirled with him,
and he saw strange colours. He thought his teeth were chattering.
"Are you glad?" she asked, wondering a little at his silence now, and
the room seemed strangely still all at once.
"Is it quite of your own free will?" he asked, as though it cost him an
effort to say anything.
"Yes--quite. Of course!" Her face grew bright as though she were happy
in removing the one doubt he had.
"I am very glad of that," he said quietly.
"Do you think that I would marry any one under pressure?" asked
Veronica, with a soft laugh. "I will tell you something that will
convince you. It is a secret. You must not tell my aunt that I know. I
could have married Don Gianluca della Spina. Perhaps you know that. Did
you? I did; but I will not tell you how. Only, you see--I did not care
Bosio had recovered his self-possession, which had been only momentarily
shaken. For there had been no surprise--he had known what to expect.
"I only knew lately of the Spina's proposal," he said. "But--shall I
thank you, Veronica? Or do you understand without words? We have known
each other so long, that perhaps you may."
"I think I understand," she answered.
She put out her hand again and pressed his, and again he kissed her
fingers. The action was reverential, and had nothing in it of the man
who loves and is accepted. Her gentle hand, maidenly and innocent, was
stretched down into the hell of word and thought and deed in which his
real self had its being, and he touched it with his lips, and in his
heart he knelt to kiss it, as something too holy to be in this
world--just because it was innocent, and his own was not. For herself he
set her on no pedestal, he did not worship her, he did not love her, he
admired her with the cold judgment of a man of taste. It is the purity
of the unblemished and unspotted victim that makes the outward holiness
of the sacrifice. He thought of his own life and of hers, hitherto side
by side, and he thought of their joint life in, the future, she taking
him for what he was not, and he was ashamed.
In the first moment he had a brave impulse to tell her everything and be
a man, even if he ruined the woman he had loved so long, as well as the
brother who bore his name. It was only an impulse, and his lips remained
sealed and his face calm.
"I do thank you," he said in a low voice, when he had kissed her hand
that second time. "I will do what I can to make you happy."
Yet he knew now, from the strength of that passing impulse, that if she
had not spoken first, he would not have asked her directly to marry him.
Twenty times during that long day, alone in his room, he had sworn that
he would not marry her, whatever happened. For it was not enough that
Matilde had set him free, and that he had rejoiced for one hour in his
liberty. That was not enough. Matilde could not undo the work of many
years by a word and a gesture. His hell was already a desert without
her. But now, there was no drawing back.
Forty-eight hours ago, in that very room, almost at that hour, he had
told Matilde that he would never marry Veronica Serra. And now, almost
on the same spot, and facing the same way, he was telling Veronica Serra
that he would do his best to make her happy.
"I am sure you will," she answered.
"I should deserve evil things if I did not," he said, passing his hand
over his eyes, to shut out the sight of the innocence that faced him.
Suddenly it came over him that she must expect him to say more, to be
passionate, to say that he loved her beyond all mortal things, and set
her far above immortality itself, and such unproportioned phrases of the
love-sick when the instant healing of response touches the fainting
heart. All that, she must expect. Why not? Other women expected it, and
heard all they desired, well or ill spoken, according to the man's
eloquence, but always well according to their own hearts. Surely he must
say something also. He must tell her how he had dreamed of this instant,
how her white shade had visited and soothed his dismal hours--and the
rest. As he thought what he should say, love's phrase-book turned to a
grim and fearful blasphemy in his own inner ears. But she expected it,
of course, and he must speak, when he would have given the life he had
to save her from himself and to save himself from the last fall, below
which there could be no falling. It was almost impossible. If he had not
loved Matilde Macomer still, he would have turned even then and spoken
the truth, come what might. But that remained. He gathered the weakness
of his sin into an unreal and evil strength, as best he could, and for
Matilde's sake he spoke such words as he could find--lies against
himself, against the poor rag of honour in which he still believed, even
while he was tearing it from the nakedness of a sin it could not
clothe--lies against love, against manhood, against God.
"I have loved you long, Veronica," he began. "I had not hoped to see
The awful struggle of his own soul against its last destruction sent a
strong vibration through his softened voice, and lent the base lie he
spoke such deadly beauty as might dwell in the face of Antichrist, to
deceive all living things to sin.
He was still standing, and his hand lay out towards Veronica, on the
shelf before the clock. Slowly she turned towards him, at the first
sound of his words, wondering and thrilled.
"Is it long? I do not know," he continued. "It is more than a year,
since I first knew what this love meant. For I have loved little in my
life--little, and I am glad, though I have been sorry for it often, for
all I ever had, or have, or am to have till I die, is for you, Veronica,
all of it--the love of heart and hand and soul, to live for you and die
for you, in trust and faith, and love of you. You wonder? Beloved--if
you knew yourself, you would not wonder that I love you so! There is no
man who could save himself, if he lived by your side, as I have lived.
You smile at that? Well--you are too young to know yourself, but I am
not--I know--I know--I thought I knew too well, and must pay dear for
knowing how one might love you and live. But it is not too well, now.
It is life, not death. It is hope, not despair--it is all that life and
joy can mean, in the highest."
He paused, his eyes in hers, his hand still stretched out and lying on
the shelf. Gently hers sought it and lay in it, and there was light in
her face, for she believed. And he, in his suffering within, was moved;
as a man is, who, being in his life but a poor knave, plays bright truth
and splendid passion on a stage, and the contrast that is between being
and seeming, in his heart, makes him play greatness with a strong will,
born of certain despair.
"I am glad," said Veronica, softly, and she looked down, while her hand
still lingered in his, and he went on.
"It is not easy for a man like me to believe that he has all the world
in his grasp--in the hold of his heart, to be his as long as he lives.
But you are making me believe it now--all that I did not dare to think
of as even most dimly possible in my lonely life--that is why I thank
you, that is why I bless you, and adore you, and love you as I do, as I
can never make you guess, Veronica, as I scarcely hope you dream that a
man may love a woman. That is why I would die for you, Veronica, if God
willed that I might!"
The great words lacked no outward sign of living truth. His hand burned
hers, and closed upon it, pressure for word, to the end, in the
terrible play of acted earnestness. Even his eyes brightened and filled
themselves, determined to lie with all of him that lied to her.
Had he hated her, had it been a vengeance to make her love him in
payment of a past debt of wrong, it would have seemed less foully base
in his own eyes. But he liked her. She had always trusted him and liked
him too, and there had been only kindness between them always. That made
it worse, and he knew it. But he could do the worst now, he thought, for
he had altogether given over his soul, to leave it in hell, without
"I pray God that I may be worthy of your love," said Veronica, gently
He drew her towards him by her little hand, and himself came softly
nearer to her, till his other hand was on her shoulder, drawing her
still. She yielded, not knowing what she should do. Quite close she was,
and he held her, unresisting, and kissed her. She had known, but she had
not realized. The scarlet blood leapt up in maiden shame, and she
started back a little. But she thought that he had the right to do it.
"Good night," she said, with downcast eyes, for she felt that she could
not stay to look at him.
"Good night, love," he whispered.
He let her go, and she slipped from him, leaving him still standing in
his place. The door closed behind her, and he was alone, very quiet and
pale, thinking of what he had done, and not rejoicing, for he knew the
depth of its meaning.
He was glad it was over, for if it had been to do again, he could not
have done it. His lips were parched, his throat was dry, his hands were
burning; he felt as though his head were shaking on his shoulders,
palsied by a blow. But such as the deed was, it had been well done, to
the end. The devil, if he cared for his own, would be pleased. He had
even kissed her. He knew what Judas had been, now, and what he had felt.
He did not know how long he stood there. It might have been a quarter of
an hour or more; but though he watched the clock's face, his eyes saw no
movement of the hands upon the dial. It seemed to him that the room was
Then the door opened again, and he started and looked round, fearing
lest Veronica might have come back--or her ghost, for he felt as though
he had killed her with his hands. But it was Matilde Macomer. She
glanced round the room and saw that Veronica was gone.
"Well?" she asked, coming swiftly forward to where Bosio was standing,
pale as death under her rouge.
He faced her stupidly, with heavy eyes, like a man drunk.
"It is all over" he said slowly.
She started forward, not understanding him.
"Over? Broken off?" she cried, in horror.
"Oh no!" he answered with a choking laugh, bad to hear. "It is done. It
is agreed. She accepts me."
Matilde drew breath, and pressed her hand to her left side for one
moment--she, who was so strong.
"You almost killed me!" she said, so low that Bosio hardly caught the
Slowly she straightened herself, and the colour came back to her face,
blending with the tinge of the paint. He did not move, and she came and
stood near him, leaning her elbows upon the mantelpiece and turning to
"You have saved me," she said. "I thank you."
Bad natures can be simple, if they are great enough, and Matilde spoke
simply, as she looked at him. She had been almost terrible to look at a
few moments earlier, with the rouge visible on her ghastly cheeks. No
one could have detected it now, and she was still splendid to see, as
she stood beside him, just bending her face upon her clasped hands while
her deep eyes melted in his.
He knew the difference between her and Veronica, and he straightened
himself, till he looked rigid, and an unnatural smile just wreathed his
lips, half hidden in his silky beard. He told himself that he had fallen
the last fall, to the very depths; yet he knew that there was a depth
below them, and he tried to turn his face from her, seeking refuge in
the thought of what he had done, from the evil he still might do.
"I have been thinking over all I said to you yesterday afternoon," she
said gently. "I meant it, you know--I meant it all."
"I trust to Heaven you did!" answered Bosio.
"Yes, dear, I meant it," she said in a voice of gold and velvet. "I will
try to mean it still. But--Bosio--look at me!"
He turned his eyes, but not his face.
"Yes?" His voice was not above his breath.
"Yes--but can you? Can I? Can we live without each other?"
"Yes, we must." He spoke louder, with an effort.
She drew nearer to him, strong and soft.
"Yes? Well--but say goodbye--not as yesterday--not as though it were
good bye--one kiss, Bosio, only one kiss--one, dear--one--"
And in it, her voice was silent, for it had done its tempting, and she
had her will, on the selfsame spot where he had kissed Veronica. Then he
trembled from head to foot, and his heart stood still. An instant later
he was gone, and she had not tried to keep him. She watched him as he
left her and went to the door without turning.
He walked quickly when he had shut the door behind him, and his face
was livid. The depth below the depths had been too deep. He had but one
thought as he went through the rooms, and the antechamber, and hall, and
out upon the cold staircase, and up to his own door, and on, and in,
till he turned the key of his own room behind him. There was no stopping
then, either, between the door and the table, between key and lock, and
hand and weapon.
Before the woman's kiss had been upon his lips two minutes, Bosio
Macomer lay dead, alone, under the green-shaded lamp in his own remote
Peace upon him, if there be peace for such men, in the mercy of Almighty
God. He did evil all his life, but there was an evil which even he would
not do upon the innocent life of another. He died lest he should do it,
and desperately grasping at the universal strength of death, he cast
himself and his weakness into the impregnable stronghold of the grave.
It was still early in the morning, and all Naples knew that Count Bosio
Macomer had committed suicide on the preceding evening. Every morning
newspaper had a paragraph about the shocking tragedy, but few ventured
to guess at any reason for the deed. It was merely stated that Count
Bosio's servant had been alarmed by the report of a pistol about nine
o'clock in the evening, and on finding the door of his master's room
locked had broken in, suspecting some terrible accident. He had found
the count stretched upon the floor, in evening dress, with his own
revolver lying beside him.
That was precisely what had happened, but the meagre account gave no
idea of the confusion which had ensued upon the discovery. It contained
no mention of Matilde nor of Veronica, and merely observed that the
brother of the deceased was overcome with grief.
That would have been too weak an expression to apply to what Matilde
suffered during the hours which followed the first appalling blow. In
the overpowering horror of the situation, she did not lose her mind,
but she sincerely believed that her body could not live till the
To do her justice, as she sat there beside the dead man, bent and
doubled in silent, tearless grief, a dark shawl drawn over her head to
hide her face, and utterly regardless, for once, of what any one might
think, she thought only of him and of what she had done. For she
understood, and she only, in all the household.
Beyond her conscious thoughts, if they could be called thoughts at all,
the black figures of the forbidding future loomed darkly in her
consciousness. They were the things she knew, rather than the things she
felt, but the terror of what was to be was as real as the grief for what
had been, though as yet it had less strength to move her. The blow had
struck her down, and until she should try to rise she could feel nothing
but the blow. In truth she did not think that she should live until the
It was midnight when they lit candles, and set them beside him in great
candlesticks as he lay. And she sat down at his feet and watched his
still face, from beneath the shawl that hung over her head. It had been
in her hands when they had told her, and her fingers had closed upon it
stiffly; so she had it when she came to his room. She was glad, for she
could cover herself from the eyes of those who came and went, but her
own eyes could see out, from under it, and no tears blinded her. After
she had sat down, she did not move.
Gregorio Macomer had come, and had gone away, and then he had come
again, when all was done, and had knelt a long time beside the couch on
which his brother lay, repeating prayers audibly. His face was as grey
as a stone. He only spoke to give directions in a whisper, and he said
nothing to his wife, but let her alone, bowed and covered as she sat.
When he had prayed, he went away, with reverently bent head, and she
heard that he trod softly. In two hours he came back, knelt again, and
again repeated Latin words. She knew that he was doing it for a show of
sorrow, and she wished to kill him. Then, when he was softly gone again,
she wondered how soon she herself was to die. There were two servants in
the room, behind her, keeping watch. They were relieved by two others,
changing through the night. She heard them come and go, but did not turn
When the dawn forelightened, like the ghost of a buried day risen from
the grave to see its past deeds, she was not yet dead. She had once read
how the murderers of Vittoria Accoramboni had been torn with red-hot
pincers and otherwise grievously tortured, and how knives had been
thrust deep into their breasts just where the heart was not, but near
it, and how they had died hard, for they had lived more than half an
hour with the knives in them, and at the last had been quartered alive.
She had not believed what she had read, but now she knew that it was
true. She envied them the searing, the tearing, and the knives which had
at last killed them, though they had died so hard.
The wan dawn turned the dead man's face from waxen yellow to stone grey.
The servants saw it, whispered, and closed the inner shutters, and the
yellow candle-light shone again in the room. Any light is better than
daylight on a dead face.
Matilde sat still, bowed and covered. Fixed in the world of grief, the
hours of sorrow passed her by. There was neither night nor day in the
dead watch of the closed room, under the tall candles, burning steadily.
Then, at last, other feet were on the threshold, stumbling, shuffling,
ill-shod feet of men bearing a burden. In that city, one may not lie in
his home more than one day after he is dead. They set down what they
bore, beside the couch, and waited, and the woman saw their questioning
faces and heard them whispering. Then one of them, with some reverence
and gentleness, thrust his arm under the low pillow, and with his eyes
bade another lift the feet. But Matilde rose then and came between them
and the dead. They thought that she would look at him once more, and
they drew back, while she looked, for she bent over his face. But the
shawl about her head fell about her, and they could not see that she
kissed him. They waited.
The great woman put her hands about him, and bowed herself, and lifted
him from the couch, and the men could not believe it when they saw her
turn with him and lay him down in his coffin, alone, with no one to help
For she was very strong. She stood and looked down at him a long time,
and once she stopped and moved one of his crossed hands, which touched
the edge. And then she drew from her neck, from beneath the shawl, a
piece of fine black lace, and laid it gently over and about his head.
"Cover it," she said to the men, and she stood waiting, lest they should
touch him with their hands.
She had seen his face for the last time, and when they had covered him,
they laid the coffin in another of lead which they had brought, and she
stood quite still, watching the gleaming melted stuff that ran along the
edges of the grey lead, like quicksilver, under the hot tool of copper.
When that was done, with main strength they laid him in the third, which
was covered with black velvet. And there were screws.
At last they went away, and Matilde set the tall candlesticks on each
side of the velvet thing, and looked at it again. Then she, too, with
still covered head, went towards the door. But between the coffin and
the door, she stood still, swaying a little, till she fell to her full
length backwards and straight, as a cypress tree falls when it is cut
down. But she was not dead, for she was too strong to die then. The
servants carried her away to her own room, calling others to help them,
for she was heavy, and they had to take her down the stairs. It was
afternoon then, and when she came to herself and opened her eyes, she
bitterly cursed the day, for it would have been good to die. But she
never went again to the room where she had watched.
She lay still a long time, alone in silence. Then, from a room beyond
hers, came the wild crash of her husband's laughter. She sat up. Her
face was grim and terrible, ghastly and stained with rouge, as the shawl
fell back upon her shoulders. She sat up and listened, and her smooth
lips twisted themselves angrily, one against the other, as a tiger's
sometimes do, when there is blood in the air. She knew now that she was
really alive, for she thought of Veronica.
Veronica had not known in the night. Her rooms were at the farther end
of the apartment in a quiet part of the house, and when she had left
Bosio she had gone to bed immediately and had dismissed her maid.
Elettra came from the room to find the household in the hideous uproar
and confusion which first followed the discovery of Bosio's death.
Elettra was a wise woman as well as a revengeful one. By the deeds of
the Macomer, as she looked at it, her own husband had been killed, and
she had cursed their house, living and dead. She had blood now, for her
blood, and in the dark corridor she smiled once. But no one should
disturb Veronica, and she stood there, where any one must pass to go to
the girl's room, silent, satisfied, watchful. She loved her mistress, as
she hated all the Macomer, body and soul, alive and dead. Some foolish
women of the household would have roused Veronica, for they came, two
together, asking in loud hysterical voices, whether she knew. But
Elettra kept them off, and took the news herself in the morning when
Veronica rang for her.
"A terrible thing has happened in the night," she said, when she had
opened the windows.
Veronica opened her eyes wide and then rubbed them slowly with her slim,
dark fingers and looked again at Elettra.
"It is a very terrible thing," continued the woman, gravely. "It
happened in the night, and all was confusion, but I would not let them
disturb you. They heard the pistol-shot and broke down the door. He was
already dead. He had shot himself."
"Who?" asked Veronica, in instant horror. "Some one in the house? A
Elettra shook her head.
"No. I would not tell you--but you must know. It was Count Bosio."
Veronica turned pale and started up. "Bosio? Bosio dead?" she cried in a
voice that was almost a scream.
The woman was sensible and understood her, and by that time the
household was quiet, so that there was no fear lest any one else should
come to Veronica's room.
But when she was quite sure of what had happened, Veronica wept bitterly
for a long time, burying her face in her pillows and refusing to listen
any more to Elettra. Then, if the woman had not prevented her, almost
forcibly, she would have gone upstairs to see him where he lay dead. But
Elettra would not let her go, for she knew that Matilde was there, and
why; and moreover, it was not within her ideas of custom that a young
girl should go and look at any one dead. But Veronica's tears flowed on.
At first it was only sorrow, real and heartfelt, without any attempt to
reason and explain. But by and by she began to ask herself questions for
the dead man's sake. In her dreams the sweet words he had spoken in the
evening had come back to her, and when she had first opened her eyes at
the sound of Elettra's voice she had thought that she saw his eyes
before her in the dimness, before the windows were all opened. She had
not loved him yet, but those words of his had touched something which
would have felt, by and by. And suddenly, he was gone. Why? It was so
sudden. It was as though a part of the earth had fallen through, into
space beneath, without warning. There was too much gone, all at once.
She could only ask why. And there was no answer to that.
Her eyes fell upon the artificial gardenia she had worn. It lay upon the
dressing-table where she had tossed it when she had taken it from her
bodice. Her tears broke out again, for it had meant so much last night,
and could mean now but the memory of that much, and never again anything
more. It was a long time before Veronica dried her eyes, and consented
Apart from the sorrowful horror that filled her, it seemed so very
strange that he should have killed himself just after she had promised
to marry him, within an hour after they had spoken together of the
happiness to come.
"It was an accident," she said at last, speaking to herself, as though
she had reached a conclusion. "He did not mean to do it."
Elettra shook her head, but said nothing. Accident, or no accident, it
was the blood of a Macomer for the blood of her own dead husband,
murdered up there in Muro by the peasants because Macomer had burdened
them beyond their power to pay.
She said nothing, and Veronica expected no answer, but sat still, trying
to think, while Elettra noiselessly set the big dressing-room in order.
The woman had given her a black frock without consulting her.
Though Veronica liked her, and knew that she could rely on her devotion,
she was not one of those Italian girls who readily confide in their
serving-women, and she had told Elettra nothing about the projected
marriage, and she said nothing of it now, though she was mourning her
betrothed husband. But she told Elettra to go out and buy a little crape
to put on the black frock, and to send for dressmakers to make mourning
The confusion in the house had subsided into stillness. Bosio Macomer
was in his coffin. The servants were exhausted, and there was no one to
direct. Gregorio had been heard laughing wildly in his room, and a
frightened chambermaid said that he was going mad. Elettra had great
difficulty in getting something to eat, which she brought to Veronica's
room with a glass of wine.
The girl's first outbreak of sorrow ebbed to a melancholy placidity, as
the hours went by. She got her prayer-book, and read certain prayers for
the dead. When her maid had gone out to buy the crape, she knelt down
and said prayers that were not in the book, very earnestly and simply;
and now and then her tears flowed afresh for a little while. She took
the artificial gardenia and put it away in a safe place, after she had
kissed it; and she wondered when she remembered how she had blushed last
night when Bosio kissed her that once--that only once that ever was to
be. And she took his photograph and looked at it, too. But she could not
bear that yet--at least, not to look at it too closely.
Vaguely she tried to think what the others might be doing in the house,
and why no one came to her but her maid. It seemed to her that she was
always to be alone, now, for days, for weeks, for years. As she grew
more calm, she attempted to imagine what life would be without the
companionship of Bosio. That was what she should miss, for she was but
little nearer to love than that. It all looked so blank and gloomy that
she cried again, out of sheer desolation and loneliness. But of this she
was somewhat ashamed, and she presently dried her eyes again.
She did not like to leave her room, either. It seemed to her that death
was outside, walking up and down throughout the rest of the house, until
poor Bosio should be taken away. And again she wondered about Matilde
and Gregorio, and what they were doing. She tried to read, but not the
novel Bosio had given her. She took up another book, and presently found
herself saying prayers over it. The day was very long and very sad.
Before Elettra came back from her errands, a servant knocked at
Veronica's door. He said that there was a priest who was asking for her,
and begged her to receive him for a few moments.
"It cannot be for me," answered Veronica. "It must be a mistake. He
wishes to see my aunt, or the count."
"He asked for the Princess of Acireale," said the man. "I could not be
"He does not know who I am, or he would not ask for me by that name.
Does he look poor? It must be for charity."
"So, so, Excellency. He had an old cloak, but his face is that of an
"Give him ten francs," said Veronica, rising to get her pocket-book.
"And tell him that I am sorry that I cannot receive him."
The servant took the note, and disappeared. In three minutes he came
"He does not want money, Excellency," he said. "He says he is the
Reverend Teodoro Maresca, curate of your Excellency's church in Muro,
and begs you earnestly to receive him."
Veronica rose again. She knew Don Teodoro by name, for Bosio had often
spoken of him to her, as his former tutor and his friend. It was for
Bosio's sake that he had come--that was clear. Veronica asked where her
aunt was, and on hearing that Matilde had retired to her own room, she
told the servant to bring Don Teodoro to the yellow drawing-room.
A moment later she followed. The tall priest was standing with bent head
before the fireplace, on the very spot where so much had happened during
the last two days. He held his three-cornered hat in one hand, and was
stretching out the other to warm it at the low flame. Veronica was a
little startled by his face and extraordinary features, but he looked at
her clearly and steadily through his big silver spectacles, and he had a
venerable air which she liked. She noticed that when she advanced
towards him, he bowed like a man of the world, and not at all like a
"I thank you for receiving me, princess," he said, gravely. "I have
heard the sad news. I was Bosio's friend for many years. I spent an hour
with him only the day before yesterday, during which he told me much
about himself and about you. If, before he died, he told you nothing of
what he told me, as I think probable, it is necessary for you to know it
all from me as soon as possible. Forgive me for speaking hurriedly and
abruptly. The case is urgent, and dangerous for you. Shall we be
"I think not," said Veronica, considerably surprised by his manner. "But
of course--" she paused doubtingly.
"Have you a room of your own, where you could receive me?" asked the old
man, without hesitation.
"Yes--that is--I should not like to--"
"I am an old priest, princess, and this is a time of confusion in the
house. You can risk something. It is important. Besides, I am in your
own service," he added, with a quiet smile. "I am the chaplain of your
castle at Muro."
"Yes--that is true." Veronica looked at him with a little curiosity, for
she had never been to Muro, and it was interesting to see one of her
dependents of whom she had often heard. "Come," she said suddenly. "We
shall meet no one, except my maid, perhaps--Elettra. Do you know her?
Her husband was under-steward, and was killed."
"I know of her--I buried him," answered the priest.
She led the way to her own part of the house, to the large room which
served her as dressing-room and boudoir. After all, as he had said, he
was a priest and an old man. She made him sit down beside her fire, in
her own low easy-chair, for he looked thin and cold, she thought, and
she felt charitably disposed towards him, not dreaming what he was going
to say, and supposing that he had exaggerated the importance of his
"Princess--" he began, and paused, choosing his words.
"Do not call me that," she said. "Nobody does. Call me Donna Veronica."
"I am old fashioned," he answered. "You are my princess and feudal liege
lady. Never mind. It would be better for you if you were in your own
castle of Muro, with your own people about you, though it is a gloomy
place, and the scenery is sad. You would be safe there."
"You speak as though we lived in the Middle Ages," said the young girl,
with a faint smile.
"We live in the dark ages. You are not safe here. Do you know why my
dear friend Bosio killed himself last night?"
"It was an accident! It must have been an accident!" Veronica's face was
very sorrowful again.
"I wish it had been," said Don Teodoro. "They will say so, in charity,
in order to give him Christian burial. But it was not an accident,
princess. My friend told me all the truth, the day before yesterday. It
is very terrible. He killed himself in order not to be bound to marry
The round, silver-rimmed spectacles turned slowly to her face.
"In order not to marry me! You must be mad, Don Teodoro! Or you do not
know the truth--that is it! You do not know the truth. It was only last
night that he asked me to marry him--that is--it had been my aunt who
had asked me, and I gave him the answer."
"Yes. I consented--"
"That is why he killed himself," said the priest, sadly. "I knew he
would, if it came to that. It is a terrible story."
Veronica stared at him in silence, really believing that he was out of
his mind, and beginning to feel very nervous in his presence. He shocked
her unspeakably, too, by what he said about Bosio; for if the wound was
not deep, perhaps, it was fresh, and his words were brine to it. He saw
what she felt, and made haste to be plain.
"I am sorry that I am obliged to tell you this," he continued, after a
short pause. "I cannot help it. The only thing I can do for my dead
friend is to save you, if I can. I saw the account of his death in a
newspaper an hour ago, and I came at once. Will you please not think
that I am mad, until you have heard me? I was his friend, and I have
eaten your bread these many years. I must speak."
"Tell me your story," said Veronica, leaning back in her chair and
folding her hands.
He began at the beginning, and told her all, as Bosio had told him. He
omitted nothing, for he had the astonishing memory which sometimes
belongs to students, besides the desire to be perfectly accurate, and
to exaggerate nothing. For he knew that she would find it hard to
She listened; and as he went on, describing the struggle in poor Bosio's
heart between the desire to save the woman he loved and the horror of
sacrificing Veronica as a means to that end, she leaned forward again,
drawing nearer to him, and watching his face keenly. Her eyes were wide,
and her lips parted a little; for whether true or not, the story was
terrible as he told it, and as he had said that it would be.
"I do not know what he said to you last night," he concluded. "I give
you a dead man's words, as he spoke them to me; but I have no right to
those he spoke to you. This is true, that I have told you, as I hope for
forgiveness of my own sins. If you stay in this house, by the truth of
God, I believe that your life is not safe."
"You believe it, I am sure," said Veronica. "But I cannot. The most I
can believe is that poor Bosio was already mad when he told you this. It
must be true. Even supposing that my uncle were the man you think, and
had ruined himself in speculations and had taken money of mine without
my knowledge, would it not be far more natural that he and my aunt
should come to me and confess everything, and beg me to forgive and help
them for the sake of their good name? Of course it would. You cannot
"It is what I told Bosio," answered Don Teodoro, shaking his head; "but
he answered that they feared you, and that your death would be a safer
way, because you might not be so kind. You might go to the cardinal and
lay the case before him, and they would be lost."
"I might. I probably should." Veronica paused. "That is true," she
continued, "but whatever I did, I could not allow the matter to come to
a prosecution--for the sake of my own name, if not for theirs. But I do
not believe it--I do not believe it--indeed, I do not believe it at all.
Poor Bosio was not in his right mind. That is why he killed himself. He
was mad, even when he talked with you the day before yesterday--it is
the only possible explanation."
"Nevertheless, something must be done," said Don Teodoro. "Your safety
must be thought of first, princess."
"I feel perfectly safe here," answered Veronica. "All this is madness.
The countess is my father's sister. I admit that I have not always liked
her, but she has always been kind. You really cannot expect me to
believe that she and my uncle would plot against my life--especially
now, in this terrible trouble and sorrow! I have listened to you, Don
Teodoro, and I am sure that you wish me well, but I never can believe
that you are right. Really--with all respect to you--I must say it. It
is wildly absurd!"
And the longer she thought of it, the more absurd it seemed. The girl
was naturally both sensible and brave, and the whole tale was monstrous
in her eyes, though while he had been telling it she had fallen under
the spell of its thrilling interest, forgetting that it was all about
herself. She looked at the quiet old priest, with his extraordinary face
and quiet manner, and it was far easier to believe that a man with such
features might be mad than that her Aunt Matilde meant to kill her. He
was silent for a few moments.
"There is a terrible logic in the absurdity," he said at last. "Your
aunt constrains you to make a will in her favour, Bosio knew that his
brother is ruined and that several large mortgages expire on the first
of January. He knew that his brother has defrauded you in a way which is
criminal. If they can get control of your money within three weeks they
are saved. They persuaded Bosio and you to be betrothed. But Bosio kills
himself. The main chance is gone. There remains the one with which the
countess threatened him if he would not marry you--your immediate death.
Against that, stands the possibility of penal servitude in the galleys
for a man and woman of high rank and social position--only the
possibility, to be sure, but a possibility, nevertheless. Remember that
to those who know the whole extent and criminality of the count's fraud
the case appears very much worse than it does to you, who now hear of
it for the first time, in a general way, and who do not understand the
nature of such transactions. I have been a confessor many years,
princess. I know how few penitents can be made to believe that those
they have injured will pardon them, if they frankly ask forgiveness. It
is human nature. The best of us have doubted God's willingness to
forgive--how much more do we doubt man's! It is all very logical,
princess, very logical--far too logical, whether you will believe it or
"If I believed the beginning," said Veronica, "I might believe it all.
But it is not proved that my uncle has defrauded me, and all the rest
seems absurd, if that is not true."
"I beseech you at least to be careful!" answered the priest, earnestly.
"In what way? I shall go on living here, just the same, unless we all go
into the country for the rest of the winter. Even if I thought myself in
danger, I do not see what I could do."
"Eat what the others eat. Drink what the others drink. Take nothing
especially prepared for you. Lock your door at night. If you will not
leave the house, that is all you can do."
He shook his head thoughtfully.
It was true Italian advice--against poison and smothering. Veronica
smiled, even in her sadness.
"I have no fear," she said. "Let us say no more about it. Can I do
anything for the people at Muro?" she asked, by way of preparing to send
"The people at Muro--the people at Muro," he repeated dreamily. "Oh
yes--they are all poor--almost all. Money would help them. The best
would be to come and see us yourself, princess. But if you are not
careful, you will never come now," he added, turning the big spectacles
slowly towards her and looking long into her face. "I have done what I
could to warn you," he said, beginning to rise. "I will do anything I
can to watch over you--but it will be little. Good bye. God preserve
As she rose she rang the bell beside her that her maid might come and
show him the way out. She knew that by this time Elettra must have
returned from her errands. The afternoon light was already failing.
She held out her hand, and he took it and kept it for a moment.
"God preserve you," he repeated earnestly.
He turned just as Elettra opened the door. The woman recognized him at
once, came forward and kissed his hand, he having long been her parish
priest. Then she led the way out. Don Teodoro turned at the door and
bowed again, and Veronica, standing by the fire, nodded and smiled
kindly to him. She was sorry for him. She had never seen him before,
and he seemed to be devoted to her, and yet she was sure that his mind
was feeble and unsettled. No sane person could believe the monstrous
things he had told her.
Outside, he made a few steps and then stopped Elettra, laying his
emaciated hand upon her shoulder. He looked behind him and saw that they
were alone in the passage.
"Take care of your mistress, my daughter," he said. "Naples is not Muro,
but it is no better. Let her eat what others eat, drink what others
drink, and take no medicines except from you, and make her lock her door
at night. This is not a good house."
The dark woman looked at him fixedly for several seconds, and then
"It is well that you have told me, Father Curate," she said in a low
voice. "I understand."
That was all, and she turned to lead him out.
After that, Elettra, unknown to Veronica, slept in the dressing-room
every night. After her mistress had gone to bed in the inner chamber,
the woman used to lock the outer door softly and then draw a short,
light sofa across it; on this she lay as best she might. The nights were
cold, after the fire had gone out, and she covered herself with a cloak
of Veronica's. In itself, it was no great hardship for a tough woman of
the mountains, as she was. But she slept little, for she feared
something. In the small hours she often thought she heard some one
breathing on the other side of the door, close to the lock, and once she
was quite sure that a single ray of light flashed through the keyhole,
below the half-turned key. Yet this might have been her imagination. And
as for the breathing, there was a large Maltese cat in the house that
sometimes wandered about at night. It might be purring all alone
outside, in the dark, and she might have taken the sound for that of
human breathing. No people are more suspicious and imaginative than
Italians, when they have been warned that there is danger; and this does
not proceed from natural timidity, but from the enormous value they set
upon life itself, as a good possession.
As for what Veronica ate and drank, Elettra was wise, too. She felt sure
that if any attempt were made to poison her, Matilde would manage it
quite alone; and she seriously expected that such an attempt would be
made, after what Don Teodoro had told her. Veronica, like most Italians
in the south, never took any regular breakfast, beyond a cup of coffee,
or tea, or chocolate, with a bit of bread or a biscuit, as soon as she
awoke. It was easy to be sure that such simple things had not been
within Matilde's reach, and it was Elettra's duty to go to the pantry
where coffee was made, and to bring the little tray to Veronica's room.
At night, the young girl had a glass of water and a biscuit set beside
her, when she went to sleep, but she rarely touched either. Elettra now
brought the biscuits herself and kept them in a cupboard in the
dressing-room, and she herself drew the water every night to fill the
glass. So far as any food and drink which came to her room were
concerned, Veronica was perfectly safe. But Elettra could not control
what she ate in the dining-room. She would not communicate her fears to
Veronica, either, for she knew her mistress well; and at the same time
she did not know what or how much Don Teodoro had told her during his
visit. Veronica was perfectly fearless, and was inclined to be
impatient, at any time, when any one insisted upon her taking any
precautions, for any reason whatsoever--even against catching cold. She
was not rash, however, for she had not been brought up in a way to
develop any such tendency. She was naturally courageous, and that was
all. She was unconscious of the quality, for she had not hitherto been
aware of ever being in any real danger.
As for Don Teodoro's warning, she put it down as the result of some
mental shock which had weakened his intelligence. Possibly Bosio's
sudden and terrible death had affected him in that way. At all events,
she was enough of an Italian to know how often in Italy such
extraordinary ideas of fictitious treachery find their way into the
brains of timid people. On the face of it, the whole story seemed to her
utterly absurd and foolish, from the tale of Macomer's ingenious frauds
upon her property, to the supposition that she was in danger of being
murdered for her fortune. Murder was always found out in the end, she
thought, and of course such people as her aunt and uncle, even if they
had any real reason for wishing their niece out of the way, would never
really think of doing anything at once so wicked and so unwise. But the
whole thing was absurd, she repeated to herself, and she found it easy
to put it out of her thoughts.
Meanwhile, the first days after the catastrophe passed in that sad,
unmarked succession of objectless hours by which time moves in a house
where such a death has taken place. It is not the custom among the upper
classes of Italians to attend the funerals of relations and friends. The
servants are sent, in deep mourning, to kneel before the catafalque in
church during the first requiem mass. Occasionally some of the men of a
family are present at the short ceremony in the cemetery. But that is
all. The family, as a rule, leaves the city at once.
Veronica wondered why her aunt and uncle did not propose to go to the
country. Macomer had a pretty place in the hills near Caserta, and
though it was winter the climate there was very pleasant. She did not
know that the house was already dismantled, in anticipation of the
probable foreclosure of a mortgage. Besides, in his desperate position,
Gregorio would have feared to leave Naples for a day. As for making a
journey to some other city, he was positively reduced to the point of
having no ready money with which to go. Lamberto Squarci, the notary,
positively refused to advance anything, and it was quite certain that no
one else would. For Squarci, who was a wise villain in his way, and had
aided and abetted Macomer's frauds in order to enrich himself, had only
given his assistance so long as he was quite sure that he was acting as
the paid agent of Veronica's guardian. The responsibility was then
entirely theirs, and he merely obeyed their directions in preparing any
necessary legal documents. But as soon as the guardianship had expired,
he knew that in order to be of use in helping Macomer to rob his ward,
he should be obliged to artificially construct the instruments needed,
in such a way as to appear legal to the world. In such business, forgery
could not be far off. The man had himself to think of as well as mere
money, and at the point where the smallest illegality of action on his
part would have begun, he stopped short, and refused to do anything
whatever, leaving Macomer to grapple with his creditors as best he
might, and to take care of himself if he could. It was now the middle of
December, and the guardianship had expired, legally speaking, in the
previous month of March, when Macomer's debts had already reached a very
high figure. Macomer, after that, had presumed upon his authority and
position to draw Veronica's income for his own purposes. That was easy,
as the revenues accrued almost entirely from the great landed estates,
of which the various stewards were in the habit of sending the rents,
when collected, directly to Macomer. It was clear that unless Veronica
herself protested, and until the authorities should discover that she
was being cheated, these men would naturally continue to send the rents
to the order of Gregorio Macomer.
Feeling that he was near the end of his chances, he had desperately
attempted to improve his position by using as much of the year's income
as he could extract from the stewards, in a final speculation. This had
failed. He had not been able to pay the interest on his mortgages, and
the ready money was all gone. A disastrous financial crisis had
supervened, which had made itself felt throughout the country, and the
banks which held the mortgages had given notice that they would
foreclose some of them, and not renew the others. If Gregorio Macomer
could have laid hands, no matter how, on any sum of money worth
mentioning, he would have fled, under an assumed name, to the Argentine
Republic, the usual refuge of Italians in difficulties. But he had
exhausted all he could touch, had gambled, and had lost it. If he fled
now, it must be as a penniless emigrant. As he had no taste for such
adventures, at his age, there was but one chance for him, and that lay
in somehow getting control of Veronica's fortune before the end of the
month. As for getting any more of the income, in time to be of any use
in staving off the tidal wave of ruin that rose against him, there was
no chance of that. The farmers all over the country paid their quarter's
rents on the first of January, or should do so, but there was often
difficulty in collecting, and the money would not really get to
Macomer's hands much before February. By that time all would be over;
and it was not the idea of bankruptcy which frightened Gregorio; it was
the certainty that a declaration of bankruptcy must lead to, and
involve, a minute examination into his past transactions which had led
Matilde knew all the truth, as has been shown. What she suffered in
remaining in Naples, in going and coming through the familiar rooms, in
spending her evenings in that room, of all others, in which she had last
seen Bosio alive, no one knew. She went about silently, and her face
grew daily paler and thinner. In her behaviour she was subdued and
silent, though she treated Veronica with greater consideration than
before. They had never spoken together of the possible reasons for
Bosio's death, but it had been publicly stated that he had been insane,
and Matilde, to all appearances, accepted the explanation as sufficient.
It was made the more reasonable by the evident fact that Gregorio's mind
was unsettled, and that he himself was in imminent danger of going mad.
That, at least, was the impression produced upon the household.
As the days went by, the gloom deepened in the Palazzo Macomer, and when
the three met at their meals, or sat together for a short time in the
evening, the silence was rarely broken.
At first, it was congenial to Veronica; for if her grief was not
passionate nor destined to be everlasting, her sorrow was profoundly
sincere. It was the companionship of Bosio that she missed most keenly
and constantly, through the long, empty hours.
No one who called was received during those first days. It chanced that
Cardinal Campodonico had gone to Rome to attend one of the consistories
for the creation of new cardinals, which are often held shortly before
Christmas. Had he been in Naples, he would of course have been admitted.
He wrote to Gregorio, and to Veronica, short, stiff, but sincere,
letters of condolence. He was a man of a large heart, which was terribly
tempered by a very narrow understanding; generous, rather than
charitable; sincere, more than expansive; tenacious, not sanguine; keen
beyond measure in ecclesiastical affairs, devoted to a cause, but
unresponsive to the touch and contact of humanity; hot in strife, but
cold in affection.
Society came to the door of the palace and deposited cards, with a
pencilled abbreviation for a phrase of condolence, the very shortest
shorthand of sympathy. Veronica looked through them. All the Della Spina
people had come. She found also Taquisara's plain cards,--'Sigismondo
Taquisara,'--without so much as a title, and in the corner were the
usual two letters in pencil, strong and clear, but just the same as
those on all the others. Somehow, she knew that she had looked through
them all, in order to find his and Gianluca's. The letters on the
latter's bit of pasteboard were in a feminine hand--probably his
mother's. Veronica's lip curled a little scornfully, but then she looked
suddenly grave--perhaps he had been too ill to come himself, and if so,
she was sorry for him and would not laugh at him. As for Taquisara, he
was so unlike other men, that she had unconsciously expected something
different to be visible on his card.
The lonely girl spent as much of her time as possible in reading. But it
was very gloomy. It rained, too, for days together, which made it worse.
Bianca Corleone came to see her, and they sat a long time together, but
neither referred to Gianluca, and very little was said about poor Bosio.
It was impossible to talk freely, so soon after his death, and Veronica
was not inclined to tell even her intimate friend of what had happened
on that last night. It had something of a sacred character for her, and
she said prayers nightly before the poor man's photograph, sometimes
Now and then Veronica felt so utterly desolate that she made Elettra
come and sit in her dressing-room and sew, merely to feel that there was
something human and alive near her. She enticed the Maltese cat to live
in her rooms as much as possible, for its animal company. She did not
talk with her maid, but it was less lonely to have her sitting there, by
She supposed that before long the first black cloud of mourning would
lighten a little over the house, and she had been taught at the convent
to be patient under difficulties and troubles. The memory of that
teaching was still near, and in her genuine sorrow, with the youthfully