Part 5 out of 8
"You hurt!" he whined. "You hurt me! Oh, poor little Gregorio!"
He was really mad, and there was no more acting for him, as the tears
streamed down his vacant face, which no longer twitched at all.
His mind had broken down under Veronica's relentless accusation and
threat of vengeance.
The miserable woman's strength was all but gone, when she sat down,
alone in the room with her mad husband, and once more buried her face in
He whined and cried a little while to himself, and rubbed his arm where
she had taken hold so roughly; but presently his tears dried again, and
he leaned over the end of the couch on his elbow, and above her bowed,
veiled head he crooked his fingers at each other, and made his hands nod
and bob to each other, like little dolls, laughing gently, with a
chuckle now and then, at the funny things he heard Pulcinella saying to
That was the end of the attempt to murder Veronica Serra, and that was
the end of the old life at the Palazzo Macomer.
Veronica was not only merciful but generous to Matilde, when she finally
set her own fortune in order. Through Pietro Ghisleri she found an
honest and discreet man of business, whose fortune and good name placed
him above suspicion, and who arranged matters to her satisfaction, and
as far to her advantage as was possible under the circumstances.
Bosio had possessed a competency, which, as he died intestate, became
the inheritance of his brother. But the latter, owing to the time
required for the legal formalities, had not been able to get possession
of the money before he became insane, and was placed in an asylum at
Aversa, where he was probably to remain until he died. Bosio's little
fortune remained intact, and the use of it reverted to Matilde Macomer.
Veronica paid Gregorio's expenses at the asylum.
As for the Macomer property, she found herself obliged to raise money to
meet the mortgages which were due on the first of January after the
final catastrophe, since Macomer had used up her income and left her
momentarily in difficulties. The banker who was managing matters for
her advanced the sums necessary out of his private fortune, and the
estate at Caserta, together with the Palazzo Macomer in Naples, became
the property of Veronica Serra. By the estimates made they were worth
more than the money raised upon them by mortgage, and by the deeds of
sale the balance was to be paid to Matilde. This, with Bosio's property,
was enough to make her independent, and, for the time being, Veronica
allowed her to live in the house.
Lamberto Squarci was called in constantly, as having been Macomer's
agent. By agreement, Veronica caused the accounts of the estate to be
balanced from Macomer's books, so that everything appeared to be in
order, and she formally took over her fortune from Matilde and Cardinal
Campodonico, who knew nothing of the true state of affairs. Since
Veronica knew everything and was satisfied, it was not necessary that he
should be informed of what had taken place, and this secrecy was the
keeping of Veronica's promise that Matilde should be safe.
When all was settled upon a permanent basis, Veronica found herself
still exceedingly rich. Matilde was provided for. Gregorio was in the
insane asylum. The cardinal and the world at large were in total
ignorance of all the truth except the facts which could not be
concealed; namely, that Bosio Macomer had killed himself and that his
brother was mad. The latter fact explained the former; for everybody
said that there was insanity in the family, and that Bosio had been mad,
Veronica's first, chiefest, and most immediate difficulty lay in finding
a reason which she could give Bianca and the cardinal for refusing to
live any longer with her aunt. She cared very little what society might
say, for she was at once too inexperienced to attach the true measure of
importance to its opinion, or to understand that the unhappy Princess
Corleone was not in a position to socially take the place of a chaperon;
and, at the same time, she was too great a personage to be easily
intimidated by the fear of gossip. Bianca was her friend, and to her she
went unhesitatingly, feeling quite sure that she was doing right.
There were people, however, who thought differently; first among whom
were the cardinal and the Duchessa della Spina, Gianluca's mother. The
cardinal did not return from Rome until after the first of January, but
the duchessa came to see Veronica at Bianca's villa within a few days
after Veronica had left her aunt.
The good lady implored her to return to the countess, in the name of
society or of religion, but Veronica was not quite sure which she
invoked, for her language was not very coherent. She was not more than
five-and-forty years of age, but she seemed to be already an old woman.
Her hair was grey, she had lost many teeth, and she dressed, as
Veronica wickedly said to Bianca, like the devil's grandmother. She
spoke affectionately, as well as reprovingly, however, having known both
Veronica's parents, and as having been a third cousin of her mother; and
she begged the young girl to come and stay as long as she pleased at the
Della Spina palace, as her guest.
Veronica thanked her, but declined to change her quarters. It was clear
that the Duchessa wished her to marry Gianluca, and had by no means
given up all hopes of the match. It was all the more clear, because she
never mentioned him, though Veronica knew that he was no better; and
Veronica herself, though sorry for him, asked no questions, lest any
inquiry should be taken for a sign of an inclination which she did not
feel. The Duchessa smiled reprovingly and shook her head when she went
away. It would have been quite impossible for her to explain to Veronica
why she should not remain longer than necessary under Bianca's roof.
And, indeed, the matter might not have been easy to explain. Veronica
was glad when she was gone.
The cardinal was not so easy to deal with. He was a man of singular
intensity of opinion, so to speak, when he held any fixed opinion at
all, and he was displeased when he learned that Veronica was with his
niece. On the other hand, the fact that Bianca was his brother's
daughter gave Veronica a weapon against him. Why should she not spend a
month or two with the niece of her former guardian, her old friend, the
companion of her convent school days in Rome? Would his Eminence tell
her why not? His Eminence replied by saying that he had never approved
of Bianca's marriage; that Prince Corleone was, in his opinion, as great
a good-for-nothing as ever had appeared in Neapolitan society, and was
at present known to be leading a dissipated life in Paris and London.
Veronica answered that all these things were to the discredit of
Corleone, but that Bianca was to be pitied, since she had been so
unlucky as to marry a scoundrel, and that, on the whole, it was better
that Corleone should stay away from her, if he could not behave decently
at home. The cardinal retorted that no young girl should stay two months
in the house of any woman who was practically separated from her
husband, for whatever reason; and he said that this was an accepted
tradition in society, and that society was not to be despised. He was
not prepared for the answer he received.
"I am Veronica Serra," said the young girl, with a smile. "Society is
society. When we need each other, we will try and agree."
This was somewhat enigmatic, to say the least of it, and the cardinal
was not quite sure whether he understood it. He should be very sorry, he
said, to think that his old friend's daughter meant to cut herself off
from the world in which she had so important a part to play. Of course,
he had no longer any actual authority by which to direct her actions.
She was of age, and if she chose to live alone, without so much as an
elderly companion, no one could hinder her. To this Veronica promptly
answered that she had come to Bianca's house in order not to be alone.
"And why," inquired the cardinal, watching her face keenly, "have you
determined that you will no longer live with your aunt Macomer, who is
your only near relative and your natural companion?"
This was the real question, and Veronica had hoped that he would not ask
it; but being a good diplomatist, and knowing how hard it would be to
answer, the wise prelate had kept it back as a hammer with which to
drive the wedges he had previously inserted one by one.
"I had understood that you were always the best of friends," he added,
while she was silent for a moment.
"We have not agreed so well lately," said Veronica. "Besides, you could
hardly expect me to be happy in a house where such horrible things have
"You could live somewhere else, and have your aunt with you," suggested
"You do not understand!" Veronica smiled. "That would be quite
impossible. She has always been accustomed to being mistress in the
house, and if she lived with me, she would be my guest. She would not
like to accept that position. Just imagine! I would not even let her
"You might let her do that, by way of a compromise, my child."
"Oh--but she does it abominably! That is one reason for not living with
The cardinal could not help laughing at Veronica's statement of the
"I see," he said. "She poisoned you!" And he laughed again.
"Yes," answered Veronica. "That was exactly it. She poisoned us all."
She smiled to herself at the terrible truth of the words which so much
amused the cardinal; but she continued to talk in the same strain,
giving him the infinity of small reasons, under which a clever woman
will hide her chief one, confusing a man's impression of the whole by
her superior handling of its parts, exaggerating the one detail and
belittling the next, until all proportion and true perspective are lost,
and the man leaves her with the sensation of having been delicately
taken to pieces, and put together again with his face turned backwards,
over his shoulders.
When, on leaving him, Veronica deposited the traditional and perfunctory
kiss upon his sapphire ring, Cardinal Campodonico felt that his late
ward had been a match for him at all points, and that after all it was
not such a great thing to be a man, if one could not do better than he
had done. If he consoled himself with the fact that Eve had out-argued
Adam, he was mentally confronted by the reflexion that Adam had been a
layman, and had not been called upon to sustain the dignity of a
cardinal and an archbishop. He determined, however, that he would renew
the attempt before long. If Veronica would not leave Bianca's villa, and
live in some other way, he would oblige his niece to cut the situation
short and go away for a journey.
But Veronica had no intention of quartering herself upon her friend for
any great length of time; and perhaps, under the circumstances, she did
the best thing she could in going directly to her. Bianca was discreet,
and lived very quietly, receiving few people and going very little into
the world. The villa itself was at some distance from the centre of
Neapolitan life, so that the average idle man or woman thought twice
before calling, without a distinct object, and merely for a cup of tea
and a cup-of-tea's worth of gossip. There was not that constant coming
and going of visitors in every degree of intimacy which might have been
expected in the house of a woman of Bianca Corleone's beauty and
position. The world is easily tired of unhappy people, and men soon
weary of worshipping a goddess who never smiles upon them. As for the
fact that Pietro Ghisleri was frequently at the villa, society refrained
from throwing stones, in consideration of the extreme brittleness of its
own glass dwelling. Ghisleri was disliked in Naples, because he was a
Tuscan; but Bianca, as a Roman, might have been more popular.
It need hardly be said that she preferred the isolation she enjoyed to a
gayer existence. To Veronica it seemed as though she herself had never
before known what liberty was. The whole mode of life was different from
anything to which she had been accustomed. The villa was near the
country, and its own grounds were not small. Bianca was passionately
fond of dogs and horses, for her father bred horses on his lands in the
Roman Campagna, and she had been accustomed to animals from her
childhood. She taught Veronica to ride, and the fearless young girl was
a good pupil. They rode out together early in the morning, westward,
towards Baiae, and up to the king's preserves, and often through some
lands of Veronica's which lay in the rich Falernian district within an
easy distance. A groom followed them. Ghisleri very rarely joined the
Bianca Corleone had another accomplishment which was very unusual at
that time, and is still uncommon, among Italian women. She could fence,
and was fond of the exercise. She had been a delicate child, and it had
long been feared that her lungs were weak, so that she had been
encouraged from her earliest youth in everything which could contribute
towards increasing her strength. Her brother, Gianforte, had even as a
boy been a good fencer. He was devotedly attached to his only sister,
and as she had not gone to the convent school until she had been fifteen
years old, they had been constantly together until then, he being only a
couple of years older than she. One day she had taken up one of his
foils, laughing at the idea, and had made him show her how to hold it;
and he had forthwith amused her by teaching her to fence, on rainy days
in Rome, when she could not ride. It had seemed to do her good, and her
father had allowed her to have regular lessons, until she could handle a
foil very fairly, for a girl. She herself liked it, but she rarely
alluded to it, regarding it as a rather unfeminine amusement, and being,
at the same time, a most womanly woman.
But in her villa she had a large empty room, admirably adapted for
fencing, and three times weekly a famous master came and gave her
lessons. To her surprise Veronica had shown an irresistible desire to
learn also, and had insisted upon being properly taught by the
fencing-master. The young girl had soon shown that she had far more
natural ability and aptitude for the skilled exercise than Bianca had
possessed when she had first begun. Her lean young figure, long arms,
and unusual quickness gave her every advantage with a foil, and her
extraordinary tenacity and determination to do well at it helped her to
progress rapidly. Before she had practised two months, though by no
means yet as good as Bianca, she had been able to sustain a long bout
with her very creditably indeed.
Bianca had a very different temperament and organization. She was never
really strong, though exercise had developed her strength to the utmost.
She did many things well, but did nothing with that sort of conviction,
so to say, which proceeds from conscious inward vigour. When she was not
actually riding or fencing, or doing something of the sort, there was a
languor in her movements and her manner which told that she had no great
vital force upon which to draw. Those who already know something of her
story, will remember that her life was short as well as sad.
She watched Veronica with interest, noting how suddenly the girl changed
and developed in her new liberty. She had never suspected her of many
tastes and inclinations which now showed themselves for the first time.
She found that a certain simplicity of view and judgment which she had
set down to girlish innocence, was, in reality, the natural bent of
Veronica's character. There was a fearless directness in the girl's
ways, which delighted Bianca Corleone.
The two young women were alone one afternoon, not long after Veronica
had come, when Taquisara and Gianluca appeared together. It was a part
of Bianca's way of showing her indifference to the world, to receive any
one who came, whenever she was at home. No one should ever be able to
say that he or she had not been admitted when Bianca was in the villa.
At the door of the drawing-room, Veronica could see that Gianluca tried
to make his friend enter before him, and that Taquisara pushed him
forward, with a little friendly laugh of encouragement. It happened that
she was seated just opposite to the door. Gianluca came on, and went
directly towards Bianca. He was thinner and more transparent than ever.
Veronica could almost fancy that she could see the light through his
face. She thought he was slightly lame; or, at least, that he walked
with a little difficulty.
Bianca looked up kindly, as she gave him her hand, for she had always
liked him. Taquisara came to her a moment later, and both men turned to
Veronica. Gianluca evidently did not wish to sit down by Veronica,
whereas Taquisara, in order to oblige him to do so, took a chair on the
other side of Bianca, and spoke to her at once. Gianluca seated himself
upon a chair half-way between Bianca and Veronica.
Possibly Bianca resented the Sicilian's cool way of forcing her to talk
with him, as though he knew that she should prefer to do so. For many
reasons she was unduly sensitive to the slightest appearance of anything
even faintly resembling a liberty. She answered what he said, and made a
remark in her turn; but, without waiting for his reply, she looked round
at Gianluca and spoke to him, interrupting something which he was trying
to say to Veronica. In almost any situation, such a proceeding would
have been tactless; but Bianca had seen the result of the meeting
between Gianluca and Veronica on the former occasion, and she guessed
rightly that if they were forced into the necessity of exchanging
commonplaces, there would be an even more complete failure now than
there had been before. Taquisara had thrust him upon Veronica in an
excess of friendly zeal for his interests. He kept his place for a few
moments, and then, seeing Bianca's intention, rose and went to
Veronica's other side. Gianluca immediately drew his chair nearer to
Veronica did not remember afterwards how the Sicilian opened the
conversation, nor what she herself at first said. In spite of the strong
impression he had produced upon her when they had met in the garden
three or four weeks earlier, she now looked away from him, watching the
other two as they talked.
She saw at a glance that Gianluca's manner with Bianca was not at all
what it was with herself. He looked ill and worn; but his face had
brightened, his tone was light and cheerful, and he was evidently saying
amusing things, for Bianca laughed audibly, which was rare with her,
even when she and Veronica were alone together. He was at his ease;
instead of seeming awkward he had an especial grace, beyond that of
ordinary men; instead of being visibly disturbed by the sound of his own
voice, he appeared to be almost as sure of himself and of what he was
going to say as Taquisara.
Veronica wondered why she had never noticed him before, except when he
was talking with her. He was ill and weak, but he was undeniably a
noticeable man. She remembered all that his friend had said of him, and
her own disappointment after her last meeting with him, and she all at
once realized that she had only seen the man at his worst. She watched
him narrowly. He must have felt her eyes upon him, for he turned without
apparent reason, and met them. Instantly the blood mounted to the roots
of his hair, and he looked away again, and stumbled and hesitated in the
answer he gave to what Bianca had last said.
But Veronica remembered very distinctly his speeches to her, and she
recalled in contrast the words Bosio had spoken to her just before he
died. Then she turned her head, and listened to Taquisara.
"What did you say?" she asked.
"I have not the slightest idea," replied the Sicilian, with a little
laugh. "I suppose it must have been a compliment, and I did not expect
any answer, of course."
"I should have thanked you, if I had heard it," answered Veronica,
smiling rather absently, for she was still thinking of Gianluca.
"A man never expects thanks from a woman," said Taquisara. "Shall you
stay long with the Princess Corleone?"
"I do not know. I have not decided. Why do you ask?"
"Was I indiscreet?"
"No. Of course not. I thought you might have some reason for asking."
"A general reason, perhaps," answered Taquisara. "You have been in
trouble. I suppose that you have been unhappy, and that you will change
your life in some way--so I asked what you were going to do."
"As for staying here or not, I have not yet decided. But what I mean to
do would not interest you at all. Before very long, I shall probably go
"To Muro! I have often wished to see the place where they murdered Queen
"I have never been there myself, though it belongs to me," answered
Veronica. "Her ghost has it all to itself now. They say that she sits
at the head of the grand staircase, once a year, at midnight, and
shrieks. If you wish to see Muro, you had better go before I am there,"
she added, with a smile. "I shall be there alone, and I could not
possibly receive you, as I could not even offer you a cup of tea, you
"What an absurd institution society is," observed Taquisara, with
contempt. "The priest says, 'Ego conjungo vos'; and you are licensed to
snap your fingers at everything that has bound you until that moment, as
though the law of your marriage were your divorce from law."
"That sounds clever," said Veronica; "but I do not believe it is."
He laughed, indifferently; and after a moment or two, she looked at him,
"I did not mean to be so rude," she said.
So they talked in small, objectless remarks, and questions, and answers,
neither witty nor quite witless; but Veronica did not refer to Gianluca,
and Taquisara knew that for the present he had better let matters alone.
Presently Bianca spoke across to Veronica, and the conversation became
general. In the course of it, Gianluca spoke to Veronica, and she
answered him, and then asked him a question. She was surprised to find
that, so long as the others were joining in whatever was said, he seemed
quite at his ease, though his colour came and went frequently. On the
whole, she had a much better impression of him this time than she had
retained after the former meeting, when he had seemed so utterly
helpless and shy in her presence. But when both men rose to go away she
could not help comparing them again.
Even then, it seemed to her that the comparison was less unfavourable to
Gianluca than she had expected that it must be. He was tall and
well-proportioned, and in spite of the slight difficulty in walking,
which she had to-day noticed for the first time, he was graceful and of
easy carriage. His extreme languor in moving was, perhaps, what
displeased her the most. When he had entered the room, she had been
annoyed at his coming; but now she was rather sorry, than otherwise,
that he was going away so soon. Possibly, as she had expected nothing,
she was the more easily satisfied. Taquisara, too, had disappointed her.
He had talked very much like any one else, and not at all as he had
talked at that first meeting. Veronica felt that she was indifferent.
Bosio's untimely death had terribly changed the face of the world for
her, she thought.
A cold listlessness, unfamiliar to her nature, came over her when the
two men were gone. Before long Ghisleri appeared, and there was tea and
more conversation. He was thought to be an agreeable man, and people
said that he talked well. Veronica wondered vaguely what Bianca saw in
him that made her like him so much. But it struck her that the question
had not presented itself to her before that day, and that, on the whole,
she liked her friend's friend very well.
Presently she left them to themselves in the drawing-room and went to
her own room to write a long letter to Don Teodoro, who was now in Muro,
and actively engaged in carrying out her wishes for improving the
condition of the poor there. As she wrote, her interest in life revived,
after having been unaccountably suspended for half an hour, and she felt
again all her enthusiasm for the chief object she now had in view.
Soon after this, too, she began to examine the state of the big farms
through which she often rode with Bianca, asking questions of the people
and entering into conversation with the local under-steward when she
chanced to meet him. As was to be expected, the news that the young
princess now took an active interest in the administration of her
estates soon went abroad amongst the peasants. They soon knew her by
sight and were only too ready to come and stand at her stirrup and pour
out the tale of their woes, since she was condescending enough to
listen. Sometimes, if she found a case of anything like oppression, she
interfered. Sometimes, and this was what more often happened, she helped
some poor man with money--in order that he might be able to pay his rent
to herself. Bianca laughed once at a charity of this kind, but Veronica
held her own.
"The rule is for everybody," she said. "They must pay their rents, or
go. If I choose to help those who have had trouble, that is my affair,
and not the business of the under-steward with whom they have to do.
Besides, if the rent is remitted this year, they will expect the same
thing in the future, whereas they know that a little money is a passing
charity on which they cannot count with certainty. The less publicity
there is about charity, the more of self-respect remains to those who
profit by it."
Bianca glanced sideways at Veronica's face as the latter finished
speaking, and she felt that the girl was not cast in the same mould as
"I wonder whether you will ever marry," she said thoughtfully, after a
"Why? What has that to do with it?" asked Veronica.
"Your husband will find that it has a great deal to do with it, my
dear," Bianca answered, with a smile, and speculating upon the possible
fate of the Princess of Acireale's future husband.
"Oh,--of course, I should not let him interfere in anything of this
kind," said Veronica, gravely. "He should not come between me and my
She sat very straight on her horse, and the girl's small head and
aquiline features had a dominating expression. A struggling man, with
such a look, is a man who means to win, and generally does, whatever
the nature of the race may be.
"But I shall never marry," Veronica added presently, and her face
softened as she thought of the dead betrothed. "There is plenty to do in
the world, without marrying, if one will only do it."
"If you do not, there will be one free man more in the world," answered
Veronica laughed a little.
"I daresay I should have my own way," she said.
The longer Veronica stayed with her, the more thoroughly was Bianca
convinced of this, and she wondered why it should have taken her so long
to discover that the quiet, sallow-faced, gentle-mannered little girl,
whom she had first known at the convent school, was developing a
character which might some day astonish every one who should attempt to
oppose her. It had been a growth of strength, with an accentuation of
wilfulness, and it had not been at all apparent at first.
So they lived quietly together, in spite of the Cardinal Campodonico's
objections and arguments, and, little by little, Veronica became quite
used to her absolute independence of plan and action, and the idea of
taking an elderly gentlewoman for a companion grew more and more
distasteful to her.
Meanwhile her aunt was living all alone at the Palazzo Macomer. Many
communications passed between the two, about matters of business, during
the earlier weeks after their final separation, but they did not meet.
As neither of them ever went into the world, it was extremely improbable
that they should meet at all, except by agreement.
Gianluca came to the villa again, ten days after the visit last spoken
of. And after that he came often, at irregular intervals, generally once
or twice a week. The first disappointing impression, which Veronica had
retained so long, gradually wore away, and she liked him very much
better than she had ever thought possible. Bianca never left the two
alone together. She felt more than ever responsible for Veronica, now,
and bound to observe the customs and traditions in which both had been
brought up. She was wise enough to know, too, that after such an unlucky
beginning, it would be better for Gianluca if a long time passed before
he had another chance of pouring out his heart to the young girl. Things
might go by contraries, she thought. Contempt might turn to familiarity,
familiarity to friendship, and friendship to love. The first change had
already taken place, and the others might come in time.
Before the spring came, Veronica knew that Taquisara had not been guilty
of exaggeration in describing his friend's character. Gianluca was all
that his friend had painted him, and perhaps more. Unfortunately, he
was not at all the kind of man whom Veronica would ever be inclined to
fancy for a husband. It was easy for her to respect him, as she came to
know him better; it would have been hard not to like him, but it seemed
impossible to her that she should ever love him.
Taquisara came very rarely--not more than three or four times in the
course of the winter. He came alone, and did not stay long. Veronica saw
that he avoided her on those few occasions, and preferred to talk with
Bianca, though she was sometimes aware that he was looking at her
earnestly, when her eyes were half turned from him.
Gianluca seemed to grow a little stronger towards the spring. At least,
he was less transparently thin; but the difficulty he had in walking was
more apparent than before.
As Gianluca's spirits revived, and he began to take courage again and
find new hope that Veronica might marry him after all, her position as a
permanent guest in Bianca's house became a subject of especial
displeasure to the Della Spina family. They wished to renew their
proposals for a marriage, and they found themselves stopped by the fact
that Veronica was no longer under the charge of any relative to whom
they could have communicated their offer.
No one knew exactly what had happened before Christmas at the Palazzo
Macomer excepting the persons concerned; but there is inevitably a
certain amount of publicity about all business transactions connected
with real estate, and somehow a story had filtered from the financial to
the social world, which more or less explained Veronica's conduct. It
was said that Gregorio, whom most people had detested, had mismanaged
her fortune, though nothing was hinted about any great fraud; and people
added that when the day of reckoning had come he had found himself
ruined, and had lost his mind; Matilde, as guardian, had incurred the
young princess's displeasure, but the latter had treated her generously,
allowing her to live in the palace, which was now undoubtedly Veronica's
property. Some persons told a story of an attempt made by a servant to
poison the Macomer household, but the majority laughed at the tale, and
said that Gregorio had been too poor, or too stingy, to have his copper
saucepans properly tinned, and that a grain of verdigris would poison
half a regiment, as every Italian knows.
However that might be, no one was responsible for Veronica, but Veronica
herself, unless Cardinal Campodonico still had some authority over her,
which seemed more than doubtful. The old Duca made him a formal visit,
and a formal proposition. His Eminence smiled, looked grave, smiled
again, and replied that in a long and varied experience of the world he
could not remember to have met with just such a case; that so far as he
could understand, the young Princess of Acireale was her own mistress,
and would make her own choice, if she made any; but that she had been
heard to say that she would never marry at all. This, however, the
cardinal thought impossible.
"Then," said the Duca della Spina, "you advise me to go directly to the
young lady and ask her whether she will marry my son."
"My friend," replied the cardinal, "this is a case in which I would
rather not give advice. I have no doubt that whatever you do will be
well done, and I wish you all possible success."
The old Duca shuffled out of the cardinal's study, more puzzled than
ever, and went home to tell his wife and Gianluca and Taquisara the
result of the interview. Taquisara was in the confidence of the family,
and spent much of his time with his friend.
"I am at my wits' end," concluded the old nobleman, shaking his head,
and looking sorrowfully at his son. "If you wish it, I will go to Donna
Veronica myself. It would be--well--very informal, to say the least.
Poor Gianluca! My poor boy! If you would only be satisfied to marry your
cousin Vittoria, it would be a question of days! Of course--I
understand--her complexion is an obstacle," he added reflectively. "It
will probably improve, however."
No one answered him, Taquisara broke the silence, after a pause.
"You must either speak to the Princess Corleone," he said, "or Gianluca
must speak to Donna Veronica for himself."
Gianluca said nothing to him, but by a glance he reminded his friend of
his former attempt. So they came to no conclusion, though it was clear
that Veronica now liked Gianluca quite enough, in their opinion, to
marry him at once. But he himself, remembering his discomfiture, knew
that the time had not yet come, though he had hopes that it might not
be far off. On that very day he went to Bianca's villa, and stayed an
unreasonably long time, in the hope that Ghisleri might appear, for he
found Bianca and Veronica alone. Pietro would have talked with Bianca,
and he himself would have had a chance, perhaps, to judge of his actual
position. He was no longer shy and awkward, now, when he was with the
young girl. But Ghisleri did not come, and Gianluca went home,
disappointed and disconsolate.
"I suppose that if we were in Sicily," he said to Taquisara on the
following morning, "you would propose to carry her off by force. You
once advised me to do something of the sort."
"That is a proceeding which needs the consent of the lady," answered the
Sicilian. "The 'force' is employed against the relations. Now Donna
Veronica has none to speak of so far as I can see. It is a case for
Gianluca sighed. Matters were at a deadlock, and Veronica had announced
her intention of going to Muro alone, before long. Once established
there, she might stay in the mountains until the following autumn,
unapproachable in her maiden solitude, as she had told Taquisara.
Gianluca might knock at her gate, there, but he would certainly not be
"You despise me," he said to his friend. "You think me weak and
helpless, and you fancy that if you were in my place you could do
better. But I do not believe you could."
"No," replied the other. "I do not believe so, either. And I do not at
all despise you. You have only one chance--to make her love you. No man
is to be despised because a woman does not love him. It is not his
"I feel as though it were," said Gianluca. "I am sure that if I could
change, if I could make myself different in some way--but that is
absurd, of course."
"One cannot suddenly become some one else." For himself, without vanity,
Taquisara was probably glad of the fact, but he was sincerely sorry for
his friend. "You might write to her," he suggested.
"Love-letters--to Donna Veronica?" Gianluca smiled incredulously. "You
do not know her!"
"I know her a little," replied Taquisara. "All women like to receive
letters from men who love them, if they are well expressed and sincere."
"How horribly practical you are sometimes!" exclaimed the younger man,
unaccountably irritated at his friend's generalizations.
Taquisara laughed and knocked the ashes from his long black cigar.
"You came to me for advice, not for sentiment," he observed presently.
"Perhaps I am a bad adviser, but that is the worst you can say of me. I
daresay I do not understand women. I have known a few pretty well, but
that is all. I am not a lady killer, and I certainly never wished to
marry. You must not expect much of me--but what little there is to
expect will be practical. Perhaps Ghisleri could advise you better than
I. He is a queer fellow. If he ever cuts his throat, he will not die of
it--his heart and his head will go on living separately, just as they do
Gianluca smiled again, for the description of the man was keen and true,
as men knew him.
"No," he answered; "I shall not consult Ghisleri. You and I are
different enough to understand each other. He and I are not, though he
is a good friend of mine."
"I should not say that you resemble Ghisleri in any way," observed
"You may not see it, but I feel it. It is not easy to explain. He and I
feel about many things in the same way, but we look at ourselves
"That sounds like a woman's speech!" said Taquisara. "But you are always
making fine distinctions which I cannot understand. What do you mean
when you say that you look at yourselves differently? How do you look at
"Do you never think about yourself, as though you were another person,
and were judging yourself like a man you knew?"
"No," said Taquisara, thoughtfully. "I never thought of doing that."
"But what does self-examination mean, then?" asked Gianluca.
"I have not the slightest idea. I am myself. I know myself. I know what
I want and do not want. It seems to me that I know enough. What in the
world should I examine? You would be much better if you could get rid of
all that romance about conscience and self-examination and such trash. A
man knows perfectly well whether he is faithful to the woman he loves or
not, whether he is betraying his friend or standing by him--what else do
you want? I believe that theology and philosophy and self-examination,
and all that, were invented in early times for heathen people who did
not know whether they were doing right or wrong, because they were just
At this extraordinary view of church history Gianluca laughed.
"You may laugh," answered the Sicilian. "You will never make me believe
that old Tancred sat up all night examining his conscience before he
went to the Holy Land--any more than he fasted and prayed before he had
his daughter's lover murdered."
"No--perhaps not!" Gianluca laughed again.
"He did what struck him as right and natural," said Taquisara, gravely.
"Besides, he was sovereign prince in his own land, and it was not a
murder at all, but an execution. For a princess, his daughter behaved
outrageously. I should have done the same thing, in his place. He had
the right and the power, and he used it. But that is not the point. As
for Ghisleri, he would have cut the boy's head off in a rage, and then
he would have spent a year on his knees in a monastery. You would have
prayed yourself into a good humour, and the fellow would have got off."
"Unless I had asked your advice," suggested Gianluca.
"And if you had, you would not have acted upon it--any more than you
will write to Donna Veronica now, though I tell you that all women like
to receive love-letters. It is natural. A woman is not satisfied with
being told once a week that she is loved. She likes to know it all the
time--the oftener, the better. Two letters of one page are better than
one of two pages. Twenty notes a day, of a line or two each, will make a
woman perfectly happy--provided that you do not make a mistake and send
one less on the day following. They like repetition, provided it is in
the same pitch. If you have begun high, you must not let the strings
slacken. Women are curious creatures. In religion, they can believe
fifty times as much as any man. In love, they only believe while they
see you and hear you. As soon as your back is turned--even if they have
sent you away--they scream and cry out that you have abandoned them.
Before you come, they want you. When you are there, you weary them.
When you are gone, you have betrayed them. And they wonder that a man
cannot bear that sort of thing forever! Do you call me practical for
speaking in this way? Very well, then--I am practical. I tell you what I
Gianluca was amused, but he thought over what Taquisara had advised him
to do, and the more he thought about it, the more inclined he was to
follow the advice. Not that he regarded the writing of letters to
Veronica at all as a hopeful means of moving her; but he felt that he
might write her much which he would not say. He loved her with the
deepest sincerity, and with an almost morbid passion, and the idea of
approaching her in any way was irresistible. He had not realized before
now that he could at least try the experiment of writing. She knew that
he loved her, and at the worst, she might tell him not to write again.
He remembered his terrible awkwardness and hesitation when he had first
told her of his love, and his humiliation afterwards, when he had
reflected upon the poor figure he had made. There would be no
humiliation, now. He was sure of that. He could rely upon his pen and
his wits, though he could not trust to his wits with only his tongue to
The chief objection to this method of wooing was that, in his class, it
was untraditional. And this had some weight with him, for he had been
brought up rigidly in the practices and customs of an exclusive caste.
On the other hand, he had never thought of plunging rashly into
love-phrases, from the first. He wished to establish a correspondence
with Veronica, and then by subtle tact and delicate degrees to acquire
the right of speaking to her, by his letters, of what he felt, making no
reference to them when he met her, until she should at last give some
sign that she would listen favourably.
The plan was wise and far sighted, but it had not been the result of
wisdom nor of diplomatic instinct. He adopted it out of delicacy, and
out of respect for the woman he loved, and in the hope of reaching her
heart without ever jarring upon her sensibilities.
By nature and talent, as well as by cultivation, Gianluca was admirably
gifted for such a correspondence as he now attempted to begin. In other
circumstances of fortune he might have become eminent as a man of
letters. Without possessing any of that practical, masculine knowledge
of women, which Taquisara so roughly expressed, Gianluca had a keen and
sure understanding of the feminine mind. There is no contradiction in
that, for the men who know something of women's hearts by instinct and
experience are by no means always those who are in intellectual sympathy
with them. Very young women are sometimes surprised when they discover
this fact, but men generally know it of one another; and the man of whom
other men are jealous is rarely the one who prides himself upon knowing
and sympathizing with the feminine point of view on things in general,
from literature to dress.
Gianluca had talked with Veronica about all sorts of subjects, and she
had often asked him questions which he had not been able to answer on
the spur of the moment. It was easy for him, in his first letter, to
hark back to one of those idle questions of hers, and to make his reply
to it an excuse for a letter. Such a communication would need no
acknowledgment beyond a spoken word of thanks, which she would bestow
upon him the next time they met. It should contain nothing warmer than
the assurance of his anxiety to be of service to her, in anything she
undertook, and a protestation of respectful friendship at the end.
He wrote that first letter over twice and read it carefully before he
sent it. It referred to an historical question connected with the house
of Anjou, from which her castle of Muro had come to the Serra by a
marriage, several centuries ago, and by which marriage Veronica traced
her descent on one side to the kings of France. The castle itself had
been twice the scene of royal murders, and there were many strange
traditions connected with it. Gianluca got the information he needed
from the library downstairs, and he found ample material for a letter
of some length.
But it was not dry and uninteresting, a mere copy of notes taken from
histories and chronicles. The man had an undeveloped literary talent, as
has been said, and he instinctively found light and graceful expressions
for hard facts. He was himself discovering that he had a gift for
writing, and the pleasure of the discovery enhanced the delight of
writing to the woman he loved. The man of letters who has first found
out his own facility in the course of daily writing to a dearly loved
woman alone knows the sort of pleasure that Gianluca enjoyed, when he
found that it was his pen that helped him, and not he that was driving
He sent what he had written, and determined that on the following day he
would go to the villa again. To his surprise and joy, he received a note
from Veronica in the morning, thanking him warmly for the pains he had
taken, and asking another question. It came through the post; and with
his insight into feminine ways, he guessed that she had not wished to
send a messenger to him,--a servant, who would have at once told other
servants of the correspondence.
Veronica had been pleased by the letter. She was beginning to like him
for himself, and to forget how very foolish he had seemed to be when he
was declaring his passion for her. But his letter showed him all at
once in an entirely new light, and was at once a pleasure and a
surprise. She thought it natural to write him a few words of thanks.
Indeed, it would have seemed rude not to do so.
In the liberty she was enjoying in Bianca's house, she was rapidly
forgetting that she was only a young girl, and that society would be
shocked if it knew that she was exchanging letters with Gianluca della
Spina. There is nothing which a girl learns so easily and all at once as
independence of that social kind. What grey-haired man of the world has
not at one time or another been amazed at the full-grown assurance of
some bride of eighteen or nineteen summers? A month is enough--with
proper advantages--to make a drawing-room queen and a society tyrant of
a schoolgirl. And that sort of independence is not alone the result of
marriage. In Veronica's case, a slowly developed strength had been
suddenly set free to act, by an accidental emancipation from all
semblance of restraint; and the emancipation was so complete that even
in the widest interpretation of the law, no one could have now claimed a
right to control or direct her actions.
She was nearly twenty-two years of age; she had a great position in her
own right, and she was immensely rich. It was not until long afterwards
that she learned how many offers of marriage had been refused for her
by her aunt and uncle. For the present, the fathers and mothers of
marriageable sons were waiting until three or four months should have
elapsed, for they generally guessed that there had been a catastrophe of
some sort at the Palazzo Macomer after Bosio's death; and, moreover, as
has been seen, it was impossible to ascertain the proper person to whom
to address any such proposal.
The consequence of it all was, that Veronica was absolutely her own
mistress, and free to go and come, and to do what seemed right in her
own eyes. As she had told the cardinal, when she and society should
discover that they needed each other, they would try and agree. In case
of a disagreement, it was probable that, of the two, society would yield
to Veronica Serra. Meanwhile she would correspond with Gianluca, if she
pleased. During the arrangement of her affairs, she had constantly
written to men, about business, under the advice of the bankers to whom
she had confided the whole matter. Gianluca was merely a few years
younger, and happened to belong to her own class. That was all. Why
should he and she not write to each other? Yet it was not long since the
idea of meeting Gianluca at Bianca's house, by agreement, had seemed a
dangerous adventure, about entering upon which she had really hesitated.
To-day, for any reasonable cause, she would have walked through Naples
with him in the face of the world, at the hour when every one was in the
He came to the villa in the afternoon, after receiving her note of
thanks, and she was glad to see him, and spoke with pleasure of his
letter, before Bianca, who seemed surprised, but said nothing at the
time. He was wise enough not to stay too long, and he went away
exceedingly elated by his first success.
"What is the matter with him?" asked Veronica, of her friend, just after
he had left them. "He seems so much better--but he is growing very lame.
Did you notice how he walked to-day? He seems to drag his feet after
"He must have hurt his foot," said Bianca, calmly. "By the by, what is
this, about letters? Do you mean to say that he writes to you?"
"Yes--and I write to him," answered Veronica, with perfect calm. "You
see, as I have nobody to ask, I ask nobody. It is more simple."
"But, my dear child--a young girl--"
"Do not call me a child, and do not call me a young girl, Bianca," said
Veronica. "I am neither, in the sense of being a thing to be kept under
a glass case and fed on rose leaves. I am a woman, and as I do not think
that I shall ever marry, I refuse to be chaperoned all the way to
old-maidhood. I know that you feel responsible for me, in a sort of
way, because you are married, and I am not. It is really absurd, dear. I
am much better able to take care of myself than you are."
"No doubt, in a way. You are more energetic. But as for writing to
Gianluca--I hardly know--I wish you would not."
"He writes very well," answered Veronica. "I will show you his letter.
Besides, so far as your responsibility goes, it will not last much
longer. I shall go to Muro next month."
"Alone--yes. I always mean to live alone. Don Teodoro will come and dine
with me every evening, and we will talk about the people, and what we
are doing for them. I shall have horses to ride. If you will come, we
will fence together. I shall miss the fencing dreadfully. Could you not
come, Bianca dear?"
"I believe that you will miss the fencing more than me, dear," answered
Bianca, rather sadly.
Veronica was more to her than she could ever be to Veronica, and she
"Bianca!" exclaimed the young girl. "How can you say such things!
Because I spoke of fencing first? You know that I did not mean it in
that way! I want you for yourself--but it will be nice to have the foils
in the morning, all the same. You see, I could not even have a
fencing-master out there. It is so far! Do come."
Bianca shook her head.
"We will have glorious days together," continued Veronica. "We will do
all sorts of things together. They do say that it rains a good deal in
those mountains--well, when it rains, you can write to Signor Ghisleri,
while I write to Don Gianluca."
Her innocent laughter at the idea startled Bianca, and the beautiful
face grew paler, until it was almost wan. Veronica thought she was like
a passion flower, just then. A short silence followed.
"Veronica," said Bianca, at last, "why do you not marry Gianluca, since
you have grown to liking him so much?"
"I like him for a friend," answered Veronica, quietly. "I do not want a
husband. Some day, I will tell you my story, perhaps--some day, if you
will come to Muro, dear. Think about it."
She left the room rather abruptly, and Bianca did not refer to the
subject again. She had the power, rare in either of two friends, of not
asking questions. Confidence given for the asking, however readily, is
but the little silver coin of friendship; the gold is confidence
In the days that followed, Gianluca wrote to Veronica again and again,
about all manner of subjects which had come up in their conversation;
and Veronica's short notes of thanks grew longer, until she found that
she, too, was beginning to write real letters, and looked forward to
writing them, as well as to receiving his. And his came oftener, until
she had one almost every day.
But when he came, as he did, twice a week, to the villa, they rarely
spoke of their correspondence. Somehow it had come to be a bond linking
certain sides of their natures which they did not show to each other
when they met and talked. They never could talk as freely as they wrote,
even upon the most indifferent subjects, though Gianluca seemed
perfectly at his ease in conversation. There was a sort of undefined
restraint from time to time, together with the certainty that they would
write what they really meant, within a day or two, and understand each
other far better than by spoken words.
In Gianluca's case such a condition of things was natural enough. He
felt that she understood friendship when he meant love, and he was aware
that he was progressing slowly but surely towards the freedom to say
what was always in his heart, while his success must depend upon his
wisdom and tact in not surprising her with a declaration of passion, in
the midst of a discussion upon church history or modern systems of
charity. Compared with what he had felt in their former relations, he
was happy, now, beyond his utmost expectations; and, in the relative
happiness he had found, he was willing to be patient, rather than to
risk anything prematurely.
It was more strange, perhaps, that Veronica should regard this growing
intimacy as she did, for she had no under-thought of a future change to
something else, as he had, and she was naturally simple in reasoning and
direct in action. Yet she could not but be aware that there was a sort
of duality in their friendship, and she never confused the ideas they
exchanged when in the one state--that is to say, when writing--with
those about which they talked when an actual meeting brought them into
the other. The one state already was an intimacy; the other was hardly
yet more than a pleasant acquaintance, with the memory of a disagreeable
beginning. Such curiosities of human intercourse are more easily
understood by those who have met with them in life than explained to
those who have not. The facts were plain. When Veronica and Gianluca
were together in Bianca's drawing-room, they said nothing which might
not have been heard with indifference by all Naples. When they wrote to
each other they spoke of themselves, of their real thoughts about things
and people, of their belief, and, to some extent, of their feelings.
Veronica did not perhaps acknowledge that, little by little, Gianluca's
letters were beginning to fill the place of poor Bosio's conversation in
former times. But that was what was taking place. She was more lonely in
mind than in heart, and without making the slightest pretence to talent
or unusual cultivation, she craved a mental companionship of some sort
to take up the thread where it had been broken. She had found it
unexpectedly in her new friend's letters, and she recognized it and
clung to it, as to something almost necessary in her existence. When she
was ready to go up to Muro, she knew that without those letters life in
such a solitude would be well nigh unsupportable, whereas, being able to
look forward to them, and to answering them, her hours of idleness were
already a foretasted pleasure.
She had not even told the cardinal that she was going, and she was going
alone. In Naples this seemed so incredible that after she was gone,
people spontaneously invented a companion for her and assured one
another that she had sent for a distant and elderly old-maid cousin as a
chaperon and protectress. Even the cardinal believed it, taking it
almost for granted.
On the afternoon of the day before her departure Gianluca came, walking
with difficulty and excusing himself for bringing his stick with him
into the drawing-room. He was very pale, and looked more ill than for a
long time past. But he spoke calmly enough, though saying little more
than was required, while Bianca and Veronica kept up the conversation.
Veronica was in good spirits and was evidently looking forward to the
journey with pleasure and curiosity.
Then Ghisleri appeared, followed shortly by Taquisara, who had called
very rarely during the winter. Veronica thought that he had grown very
cold and silent. He slowly stirred a cup of tea which he did not drink,
and he scarcely joined in the conversation at all. He looked
occasionally at one or another of the party, and once or twice his eyes
fixed themselves on Veronica's face. She could not understand why his
presence chilled her, but she was aware that she spoke more coldly than
usual to Gianluca.
At the end of half an hour, the latter rose to go, glancing at Veronica
as he did so. Taquisara, on pretence of setting down his tea-cup, rose
also and managed to place himself in front of Bianca, and said something
to which Ghisleri gave an answer, just as Veronica and Gianluca were
standing close together.
"May I go on writing to you?" asked Gianluca, in a low tone and quickly.
Veronica looked up at him with a startled expression.
"Oh please--please!" she answered anxiously. "As often as you can--I
count on it! Of course!"
Gianluca's thin, pale face brightened suddenly as he heard her vehement
request and the anxiety in her tone.
"Thank you," he said. "Good-bye."
He shook hands with Bianca, nodded to the two men, and turned away
towards the door. He had not reached it, walking a little less painfully
in his excitement, when he was aware that he had left his stick leaning
against the chair in which he had sat. He stopped and looked back to be
sure that it was there, before returning to get it. Veronica was
watching him, saw what he had done, picked up the stick and carried it
swiftly to him before he could come for it.
Taquisara had seen her movement and had tried to get the stick before
she could, to take it to his friend. He had been too far out of reach,
and she had been before him. But he followed her, and he saw that as she
handed Gianluca his property, she looked up into his face and smiled
very kindly. Gianluca thanked her, smiling too, and the impression any
one would have had was that they thoroughly understood each other. He
bowed again and went out. Veronica turned to come back to the tea-table
and found herself facing Taquisara's fiery eyes. She was surprised, and
looked into his face, very near to him, and waiting for him to stand
"You are playing with him," he said in a low and angry voice.
The room was long, and Bianca and Ghisleri were at the other end of it.
After he had spoken, Veronica stared at him a moment, in genuine
amazement at his words and manner. Then her eyes gleamed, too, and the
delicate nostrils quivered.
"You are insolent," she said coldly, and turning a little to the right,
she passed him.
"No. I am his friend," he answered, scarcely above a whisper, as she
He came back, shook hands with Bianca, bowed coldly to Veronica, and
left the room within two minutes after Gianluca.
"What is the matter with Taquisara?" asked Ghisleri, carelessly. "He
Bianca looked at Veronica.
"Does he? I suppose he is anxious about Don Gianluca."
Veronica was still pale when she spoke, but the tone was cold and
Veronica had felt herself mortally insulted by Taquisara's manner, much
more than by his words, though they had been offensive enough. Her
impression of the man was completely changed, in a moment, and she hoped
that she might never see him again, so long as she lived. It had been
one thing to praise Gianluca to her, and to press his suit for him; it
was quite another to lie in wait for her, as it were, at the end of a
drawing-room and to reproach her brutally and angrily with wishing to
break Gianluca's heart. As she thought of his eyes, and his face, and
his low voice, she grew pale with anger herself, at the mere memory of
It did not strike her that there could be any truth in his accusation.
Gianluca was old enough to take care of himself. Was Taquisara his
nurse, his keeper, his doctor? Gianluca was not making love to her in
his letters, nor was she, in hers, encouraging him to do so. She was
angry at the thought that the Sicilian should know anything of their
correspondence, as it seemed evident that he must. It was true that her
own friend, Bianca, knew something about it. She could forgive
Gianluca, if he had confided too much in Taquisara, but she could not
forgive Taquisara for having been the recipient of the confidence, and
she would neither forgive nor forget the way in which he had shown her
how much he knew.
For the first time in her life, Veronica longed to be a man, that she
might not only resent the insult, but have satisfaction of the man who
had insulted her. She felt that she was emphatically not playing with
Gianluca, as Taquisara had expressed it. She had told him frankly,
several months earlier, that she could not love him,--she had shaken her
head and had said that she was sorry,--and neither he nor any one else
had a right to suppose that she was now changing her mind. Since
Gianluca was apparently willing to accept the position and to be her
friend, it was nobody's affair but his and hers. She felt that she had
been fully justified in what she had said to Taquisara. At the same time
she was half conscious of being disappointed in the man, and of being
wounded by the disappointment.
She left Bianca's house early, and as she drove away to the railway
station alone with Elettra, she felt that her life was only now really
beginning. The months of independence she had enjoyed had prepared her
for this final move. In the course of setting her affairs in order, she
had been brought face to face with a side of the world which few women
ever see or understand, and her character had hardened singularly to
meet the difficulties she had found in her path. She probably
overestimated the strength she had now acquired; for more than once, on
the way to the station, she felt a momentary reaction of timidity and a
longing to go back and stay a few days more with Bianca. She laughed
bravely at herself for her weakness, and told herself that she was going
to her own place, to be surrounded by her own people, that she was
two-and-twenty years of age and had been through troubles during the
past months which had proved her strength. Nevertheless, the fact
remained that she was a very young, unmarried woman, that she was going
to live alone, and that she was breaking through the whole hard shell of
fossilized social tradition. Even Elettra, born a peasant of the
mountains, thought her mistress's decision amazingly bold, though she
approved of it in her heart, and had been ready to go to Muro with
Veronica long ago.
"What would your father, blessed soul, have said, Excellency?" she
asked, when they were seated together in the train which was to take
them to Eboli, beyond Salerno.
"Shall I send for the Countess Macomer?" asked Veronica, with a smile.
"Heaven preserve us from her!" exclaimed Elettra, and she crossed
herself hastily, and then made the sign of the horns with her fingers,
against the evil eye, and with her other hand touched a coral charm
which she had in her pocket.
Veronica had long been in correspondence with Don Teodoro about the
arrangements for her coming. He had expected that she would bring a
staff of servants from Naples with all the paraphernalia of a great
establishment. She had replied that she intended to employ only her own
people, and meant to live very simply. He suggested that she should send
a quantity of new furniture, as the apartments in the castle had not
been inhabited for nearly twenty years, but Veronica answered that she
needed no luxuries, and repeated that she meant to live very simply
indeed. She sent her saddle horse and two pairs of strong cobs with two
country carriages and a coachman--a very young man, who had served in
Gianluca's regiment and had been his man. He was to find a man in Muro
to help him in the stables, and he was the only servant, not a native,
whom she meant to employ. Don Teodoro had kept ten people at work for a
month in cleaning the vast old place. Veronica had sent also a box of
books, some linen and silver, and her fencing things--for she still
hoped that Bianca would pay her a visit.
The journey by rail occupied between four and five hours, but it did not
seem so long to her. She was surprised at the excitement she felt, as
she passed station after station and watched the changing sights and
the mountains that loomed up in the foreground, while those behind her
dwindled in the distance. She had travelled very little in her life,
since she had come back from Rome.
On the platform of the little station at Eboli, Don Teodoro was waiting
for her. His tall bent figure and enormous nose made him conspicuous at
a distance, and she could see the big silver spectacles anxiously
searching for her along the row of carriage windows. As the door was
opened for her she waved her handkerchief to the old priest, with a
little gesture of happy enthusiasm, high above her head, and he saw her
immediately and came forward, three-cornered hat in hand. She suddenly
loved the smile with which he greeted her.
"You, at least, do not think that I am mad to come to Muro, do you?" she
asked, standing beside him on the platform while Elettra was handing out
her smaller belongings.
"Not at all," answered the old man. "You are coming to take care of your
own people, and it is a good deed. Good deeds generally seem eccentric
to society--and considering their rarity, that is not extraordinary."
He smiled again, and Veronica laughed.
"Your carriage is here," said Don Teodoro. "May I take you to it? Will
you give me the tickets, Elettra? They take them at the gate."
Veronica felt a new thrill of joyous freedom and independence, as for
the first time in her life she set her little foot upon the step of her
own carriage, and glanced at the simple, well-appointed turnout. The
coachman sat alone in the middle of the box, a broad-shouldered,
clean-shaven young fellow of six-and-twenty, in a dull green livery with
white facings--the colours of the Serra.
"You would not even have a footman," observed Don Teodoro.
"No--not I!" she laughed, still standing in the carriage. "How are the
horses doing, Giovanni?" she asked of the coachman. "Are they strong
enough for the work?"
"They are good horses, Excellency," the man answered. "They need work."
"And how is Sultana?" inquired the young girl, who had not seen the mare
for several days.
"The mare is well, Excellency."
Veronica made Don Teodoro sit beside her, and Elettra installed herself
opposite them, with her mistress's bags and other things. The luggage
was piled on a cart which was to follow, and they drove away.
"I sent the carriage down yesterday," observed Don Teodoro. "I came by
the coach this morning."
"Is it so far?" asked Veronica, whose ideas about the position of her
property were still uncertain, for it had never struck Elettra that her
mistress did not know how far it was from Eboli to Muro.
"It is over thirty miles," answered the priest, with a smile. "We are
beyond civilization in Muro--we are in the province of Basilicata. But
there are little towns on the way, and you must stop to rest the horses
and to eat something. It will be almost dark when you get home."
"Home!" repeated Veronica, thoughtfully.
A confused vision rose in her mind, of an imaginary room, looking down
from a height upon a town below--a room in which she would live
altogether, with her books and her favourite objects and the
companionship of her favourite ideas and plans, all of which were to be
realized and executed in the course of time. She fancied herself gazing
down from the wide window upon what was almost all hers, upon the
dwellings of people who lived upon her land, who pastured her flocks and
drove her cattle, living, moving, and having being as integral animate
parts of her great inheritance; children of men and women whose fathers'
fathers had laboured in old days that she might have and enjoy the
fruits of so much toil, who had given much and from whom had often been
taken even that which they had not been bound fairly to give; who had
received nothing in return for generations of blood and bone worn out,
dried up, and consumed to dust in the service of the great house of
Serra. They had a right to her, as she had a right to the lands on
which they lived. There was much talk of rights, Veronica thought,
nowadays, and those who had none were privileged to speak the loudest
and to be heard first. But those who, having right on their side, were
blinded and smitten dumb by the enormous despotism of their self-styled
betters--by the glare and noise of blatant power in possession--they
were the ones who really had rights, and if she could give any of them a
single hundredth part of what was their due, she should be glad that she
had lived. Wealth, she thought, should not be an accumulation, but a
distribution, of goods. Charity should no longer mean alms, nor should
poverty be pauperism. In the young, whole-hearted simplicity of her
desire to do good, it seemed likely that she might soon be a specimen of
the strangest of all modern anomalies--the princely socialist. It was
certainly in her power to try almost any experiment which suggested
itself, and on a scale which might ultimately prove something to herself
It was not that she meant to study political economy, or socialism, nor
to give the name of an experiment to anything she did. She had been
struck by the practical necessity for doing something, when Don Teodoro
had first written to her about the condition of the people in Muro, and
her own observations made on her farms in the Falernian district--one
of the richest corners of vine land in all Italy--had convinced her that
some sort of action was urgently necessary. And if, in the midst of such
riches, the Falernian peasants were half starved, what must be the state
of the people on her lands in the Basilicata? Don Teodoro had drawn her
an accurate picture, full of those plain details which carry more than
the weight of their mere words. Something should be done at once. She
had given him power and money to help the very poorest, before she came;
but her common sense told her that the evil lay too deep in the soil to
be reached by a light shower of silver--or even by a storm of gold rain.
Inventors, great or small, are rarely theorists; the invention must be
suited to the necessity, before all things, and the theory may come
afterwards if anybody cares for it. For a theory is nothing but an
attempted explanation, and the fact must exist before it can possibly
need explaining. Bread is a great invention against hunger, and a man
needs to know nothing about the gastric juices to save himself from
starvation when the loaf is in his hand. Veronica meant to put the
loaves where they were needed, within reach of those who needed them.
As she was driven through the rugged country on that May afternoon, she
felt that she had a future before her, that she was going into action,
and leaving stagnation behind, and that her own life, which was to be
her very own, was just beginning. It was to be a life quite different
from the existence of any one she knew, for, unlike the lives of her
friends, hers was to have an integral, independent existence of its own,
with one determined object for all its activity.
The months she had passed in Bianca's house had rather strengthened than
weakened the unformulated resolution which she had first vaguely reached
in the dark days after Bosio's death. There had been much solitude, and
many rides and drives into the country with her beautiful, silent
friend; and there had been very little contact with the world to disturb
the onward current of her thoughts. More than all, the first breath of
liberty after long restraint had enlarged and widened her determination
to be always free, in spite of the world, and society, and the drone of
the busy-bodies' gossip. In her heart, the memory of Bosio had grown in
dignity, till it was solemn and imposing out of all proportion with what
the man himself had been, even as Veronica had known him. To know the
truth of what his real life had been would have shaken her own to its
foundations. But there was no fear of that; and now, her chief companion
was to be the priest who had loved him as a friend. Possibly that last
fact had even influenced her a little in her final determination to
live at Muro, rather than in any other of four or five equally habitable
or uninhabitable places which she owned, and where she might have begun
her work under circumstances quite as favourable to success.
She had thought very little of any need she might feel for relaxation
and amusement, and she was very far from realizing what that solitude
meant, which she was seeking with so much enthusiasm. She had never yet
been as much alone as she should have liked to be, and she could not
imagine that she might possibly become tired of playing the princess in
the tower for months together, with only the company of one learned old
ecclesiastic as her sole diversion. The vision of home which she evoked
was always the same, but she did not even know whether the castle had a
room which looked down upon the little town. She imagined but a single
room; the rest was all a blank. She had been told that it was a great
old fortress, with towers and halls and courts, gloomy, grand, and
haunted by the ghosts of murdered kings and queens; but the slight
descriptions she had heard produced no prevision of the reality as
compared with what she really wanted and was sure that she should find.
She thought of Gianluca, as the carriage rolled along through the lower
hills, and she looked forward with pleasure to writing about what she
saw and expected to see. It seemed probable that she would write even
longer letters to him, now that she was to be quite alone, and she hoped
that his would be as interesting as ever. She thought again with anger
of Taquisara's extraordinary conduct, for she was positively sure that
she was not playing with his friend in any sense of the word. The very
suggestion would have been insulting, if he had made it in the most
carefully guarded and tactful language. As he had put it, it had been
nothing short of outrageous.
Gianluca must be blind indeed, she assured herself, if he fancied that
she meant more than friendship by the constant exchange of letters with
him. It might be eccentric; it might be looked upon as utterly and
unpardonably unconventional, but it could never be regarded as a
flirtation by letter. The proof of that, Veronica argued to herself, was
that both of them knew that it was nothing of the sort, a manner of
begging the question familiar to those who wish to do as they please
without hindrance from within or without.
The roads were good, for it was the month of May. In winter, even
Veronica's strong horses could hardly have dragged the light carriage to
its destination in one day. It was but little after ten o'clock in the
morning when Veronica got out upon the platform of the railway station
at Eboli; it was sunset, and the full moon was rising, when her carriage
stopped at the entrance of the mountain town.
It had been a very long day, and she had seen much that was quite new to
her, and different from what she had expected. At first, indeed, she was
amazed at the richness of the country beyond Eboli, as she was driven
for nearly an hour through what was literally a forest of ancient olive
trees, interrupted only here and there by a broad field of vines, cut
low and trained upon short stakes; and from the rising ground beyond
Carpella, where the road winds up the first hill, she looked back and
saw the shimmering grey-green light of the olive leaves, lying like a
delicate mantle over the flat country and in the great hollow, from
Eboli to the deep gorge wherein the ancient city of Campania lies as in
a nest. A part of the olive land was hers; and as she drove along, the
midday breeze blew some of the tiny, star-like olive blossoms into her
lap. She took one in her fingers and looked at it closely and could just
smell its very faint, aromatic odour.
"It is the first greeting from what is yours," said Don Teodoro, with a
"The wind brings me my own flowers," answered Veronica, and she laughed
softly and happily.
Up steep hills and down into deep valleys, across high, arched stone
bridges, beneath which the water of the Sele was streaming fast and
clear amid white limestone boulders and over broad reaches of white
pebbles that were dazzling in the sun--and the olive trees were left
behind, and here and there were patches of big timber, oaks to which the
old, brown leaves still clung in the spring, and many poplars straight
and feathery with leaves but yet half grown. But the land was by degrees
less rich and less cultivated, till gradually it changed to a rough and
stony country, and even from far off Veronica could see the little
flocks of sheep dark brown and white, and small herds of cloud-grey
cattle, pasturing and moving slowly on the hillsides above and below the
She looked at the shepherds when they were near enough for her to see
them. As she had left Eboli, she had seen one, driving a flock of sheep
along the high road, and she had wondered whether there were many of his
kind. He was a magnificently handsome young fellow of two or three and
twenty, dressed in loose brown velveteens, with a belted jacket and a
spotless shirt, strong, well-made shoes, leathern gaiters, and a flat
cap, and he carried the traditional hatchet of the southern shepherd. He
strode along with a light and easy gait, and looked more like a young
gentleman in a rather eccentric but well-made shooting-dress, than like
a herdsman. But he was from Eboli itself, and a native would have told
her that the people of Eboli were "exceedingly fanatic about dress." The
men and the clothes she now saw were very different; tall, grim figures
in vast and often ragged brown cloaks that reached almost to their feet;
small, battered, pointed hats; rough, muddy hose that should have once
been white; shoes that loaded their steps like lead; and they moved
slowly, with bent heads, rough, long-unshaven faces, eyes too hollow,
horny hands too lean--wild, half-fed creatures, worse off than the
flocks they drove, by all the degrees of the inverse ratio between man,
who needs man's help, and beast, that needs only nature.
There was that same grimness--there is no other word--in the faces of
almost all the people Veronica now met, as the road wound higher and
then descended through Oliveto, the first of the mountain villages.
There was in them all the look of men and women who know that the
struggle is hopeless, but who will not, or cannot, die and be at rest.
There was the expression of those who will no longer make any effort
except for the bare, hard bread that keeps them above ground, and who,
having toiled through the terrible daylight that is their cruel
task-master, lie down as they are, when work is done, to forget daylight
and life if they can, in a mercifully heavy sleep. But before their
bones are half rested, the pitiless day is upon them, and drives them
out to labour again till they are stupid with weariness and only not
faint enough to faint and forget.
The people sometimes stood still and stared at the young princess as she
drove by, with the old priest beside her. But the majority went on,
indifferent and far beyond anything like interest or curiosity. Only the
shepherds' great cur dogs, of all breeds and colours, but always big and
fierce, barked furiously at the carriage and plunged furiously after it,
pulling up suddenly and turning back with a growl when they had followed
it for half a minute. The women, in ragged black or dark, checked
skirts, with torn red woollen shawls hanging from their heads, glanced
sidelong at Veronica, when they were still young; but the older ones
went by without giving her a look, their leathern, Sibylline faces set,
their old lids wrinkled by everlasting effort till they almost hid the
small dark eyes. The most of them carried something in their
hands,--faggots, covered baskets, small sacks of potatoes, or corn, or
beans; and when the load was heavy they walked with a sharp, jerking
turn of the hips to right and left that was almost like a dislocation,
and the wrinkles in the faces of these heavy-laden ones were deep folds,
as in the hide of a loose-skinned beast. For in that country to be
strong is to be cursed; it means double work and double burden, where
everything that breathes and moves and can be found to labour is driven
to the very breaking point of strain.
But as Veronica drove on, there were fewer men and women in the road,
and only once in an hour or so, a huge cart, piled up with wine barrels,
lumbered along, drawn by four or five deathly-looking mules that
stumbled when they had to stop or start--shadowy creatures, the ghosts
of their kind, as it were.
The villages were worse than the open country, for in them the appalling
poverty was gathered together in its muddiest colours and set in fixed
pictures which Veronica never forgot. In the May weather, the doors of
low dwellings were open, and the black and white pigs wandered
unhindered from the filthy street without to the misery within,
fattening on the poor waste of the desperately poor, fattening in the
sun that drove their wretched betters to the daily fight with
starvation, fattening in the vile filth to which starvation was dully
indifferent, since cleanliness meant labour that brought no bread.
To the right and left the barren mountains reared their enormous
baldness to the sun, deserts raised up broadside, as it were, and set on
end, that their bareness might be the better seen and known to the world
around. Here and there, from their bases, dark wooded spurs ran out
across the rising valley, and the road wound round them, in and out, and
up and down, and over stone bridges big and little, and then up in
terribly steep ascent, southeastwards to high Laviano, looking towards
the pass by which the highway leads from Ciliento to Basilicata.
In Laviano, facing the wretched houses, stood the grand beginning of a
wretchedly unfinished building, one of those utter failures of great
hopes, which trace the track of invading liberty through the south. It
came, it saw, and it began many things--but it did not conquer and it
completed very little. In the first wild enthusiasm of the Garibaldian
revolution, even poor, hill-perched, filth-stricken, pig-breeding
Laviano was to be a city, and forthwith, in the general stye, the walls
of a great municipal building, from which lofty destinies were to be
guided and controlled in the path to greatness, began to rise, with
strength of stone masonry, and arches of well-hewn basalt, and divisions
within for halls and stairways, and many offices. But the beams of the
first story were never laid across the lower walls. There was no more
money, and what had been built was a palace for the pigs. Laviano had
spent its little all, and gone into debt, to be great, and had failed;
and though the people had earned some of their own money back as wages
in the building, more than half of it slipped into the pockets of
architects, who went away smiling, jeering, and happy, to prey upon the
next foolish village that would be great and could not. And above, from
a hill on the mountain's spur outside the village, still frowned intact
the heavy four-towered castle, complete and sound as when it had been
built, the lasting monument of those hard warriors of a sterner time,
who could not only take, but hold--and they held long and cruelly.
Veronica looked up backwards at the towers, as the horses stood a while
to breathe after the steep ascent, and she asked Don Teodoro to whom the
"It is yours," he answered. "The castle is yours, the village is yours,
the hills are yours. Your steward lives in the castle. You have much
property here, more miles of good and bad land than I can tell."
"And is it all like this? Are the people all like these?"
"No. There are poorer people in the hills."
The happy laugh that had come when the wind had blown the olive blossoms
of Eboli upon her lap had long been silent now. Her face was grave and
sorrowful, and she drew in her lips as though something hurt her. Some
half-naked children stood shyly watching her from a little distance.
Pigs grunted and rubbed themselves against the wheels of the carriage,
and the coachman lashed backwards at them with his whip. But the cruel
day was not yet over, and the people had not come back from their toil,
so that the place was almost deserted still. There was an evil smell in
the air, and the children's faces were pale and swollen and dirty.
Veronica wondered how any people could be poorer than these, and her
face grew still more sad. She tried to speak to the children, but they
could not understand her. She got some little coins from her purse, but
they were too much frightened to come forward and take them. They were
not afraid of the priest, however, and Don Teodoro got out of the
carriage and put the money into their horrible little hands, and they
ran away with strange small cries and wild, half-noiseless laughter--if
laughter can be anything but noisy. Let such words pass as come; for no
words of our tongue can quite tell all Veronica saw and heard on that
day. The great Italian myth survives in foreign nations; it has even
more life, perhaps, in Italy itself, north of the Roman line; but only
those know what Italy is, who have trudged on foot, and ridden by
mountain paths, and driven by southern highways, through hill and valley
and mountain and plain, from house to house, where there are neither
inns nor taverns, throughout that vast region which is the half of the
whole country, or more, and where the abomination of desolation reigns
supreme in broad day.
That Italy has done what she has done in thirty years, to be a power
among nations, is a marvel, a wonder, and almost a miracle. That she
should have done it at all, is the greatest mistake ever committed by a
civilized nation, and it is irrevocable, as its results are to be fatal
and lasting. But upon the good reality of unity, the deadly dream of
military greatness descended as a killing blight, and the evil vision of
political power has blasted the common sense of a whole people. It is
one thing to be one, as a united family, each working for the good of
each and all; it is another thing, and a worse thing, to be one as a
vast and idle army, sitting down to besiege its own storehouses, each
eating something of the whole and doing nothing to increase that whole,
till all is gone, and the vision fades in the awakening from the dream,
leaving the bare nakedness of desolation to tell the story of a huge
Even Veronica's strong horses were well nigh tired out when they reached
the dismal solitude of the high pass above Laviano; and she herself was
wearied and faint with the gloom, and the poverty, and the barrenness of
so much that was hers. But her mouth was set and firm, and she meant
that something should be done before many days, which should begin a
vast and lasting change. She did not know what she was undertaking, nor
how far she might be led in the attempt to do good against great odds of
evil on all sides; but she was not discouraged, and she had no intention
of drawing back.
It was a very long day. As the hours wore on, the three ate something
from time to time, from a basket of provisions which Elettra had
brought, and at which Veronica had laughed. But the air of the mountains
was keen, and there was not too much in the basket, after all.
Then, in the shadow below the sun-line cut by the mountains across the
earth, she saw a sharp peak, grey and regular as a pyramid, rising in
the midst of the high valley, and then beyond it, as the carriage rolled
along, there was a misty landscape of a far, low valley--and then, all
at once, the brown, tiled roofs of her own Muro were at her feet, and
far to the left, out of the houses, rose the round grey keep of the
fortress. The setting sun was behind the mountains, and the moon, near
to the full, hung, round and white, just above the tower, in the pale
eastern sky. From the second turning of the steep descent, Veronica
could see a huge bastion of the castle above the roofs, jutting out like
an independent round fort.
Many of the people knew that she was coming, and some had hastened from
their work to see her as soon as she arrived. Curious, silent, pale,
dirty, they thronged about the carriage. An old woman touched Veronica's
skirt, and then brought her hand back to her lips and kissed it. Then
another did the same--a thin, dark-browed girl with a ragged red shawl
on her head. The uncouth men stood shoulder to shoulder, staring with
unwinking eyes. A tall, pale shepherd youth was erect and motionless in
a tattered hat and a brown cloak, overtopping the others by his head and
thin throat, and there was something Sphinx-like in the expression of
his still, sad face.
On Veronica's right, as the carriage halted, was the public fountain.
Twenty or thirty tall, thin girls in short black frocks, displaying
grimy stockings and coarse shoes, or bare legs and muddy red feet, were
waiting their turns to fill the long wooden casks they carried on their
heads. The fountain had but two little streams of water, and it took a
long time to fill a cask. At the sound of the carriage wheels, most of
the girls turned slowly round to see the sight, their empty barrels
balanced cross-wise on their heads. They did not even lift a hand to
steady their burdens as they changed their positions. They stared
steadily. Veronica looked to the right and left and tried to smile, to
show that she was pleased. But the visible, jagged edges of their
outward misery cut cruelly at her heart, for they were her people;
nominally, by old feudal right, they were all her people, and her
father's father had held right of justice and of life and death over
them all; and in actual fact they were almost all her people, since they
lived in her houses, worked on her lands, and ate a portion of her
bread, though it was such a very little one as could barely keep them
She tried to smile, and some of the girls held out their fingers towards
her and then kissed them, as though they had touched her dress, as the
old woman had done. But the men stared stolidly from under the low brims
of their battered hats. Only the fever-struck shepherd smiled in a
sickly way and lost his Sphinx-like look all at once.
A man in a white shirt came forward, leading Veronica's mare, all
saddled for her to mount.
"The carriage cannot go through the streets," said Don Teodoro, in
explanation. "They are too narrow and too rough."
"No," answered Veronica, as she stepped from the carriage upon the
muddy stones. "I will walk. If the streets are good enough for my
people, they are good enough for me."
Even to the good priest this seemed a little exaggeration on her part.
But she had seen much that day of which she had never dreamed, and in
her generous heart there was a sort of fierce wrath against so much
misery, with a strong impulse to share it or cure it, to face the devil
on his own ground, and beat him to death, hand to hand. It was perhaps
foolish of her to walk to her own gate, but there was nothing to be
ashamed of in the feeling which prompted her to do it.
Don Teodoro walked beside her on the left, and Elettra pressed close to
her on the right, as they threaded the foul black lanes towards the
castle. The moment she had left the carriage, men and women and children
had seized eagerly upon her belongings, to carry the bags and rugs and
little packages, and now they followed her in a compact crowd, all
talking together in harsh undertones; and from the dark doorways, as she
went by, old women and old men came out, and more children, half clothed
in rags, and cripples four or five. The pigs that were out in the lanes
were caught in the press and struggled desperately to get out of it,
upsetting even strong men with their heavy bodies as they charged
through the crowd, grunting and squealing. A few people coming from the
opposite direction, too, flattened themselves against the black walls
and low, greasy doors, but there was not room even there, and they also
were taken up by the throng and driven before, till the small crowd grew
to a little multitude of miserable, curious, hungry, scrambling
humanity, squeezing along the narrow way to get sight of the lady before
she should reach the castle gate.
From time to time the tall old priest turned mildly and protested,
trying to get more air and elbow room for Veronica.
"Gently, gently, my children!" he called to them. "You will see your
princess often, for she is come to stay with you."
"Eh, uncle priest!" cried a rough young voice. "That is fair and good,
but who believes it?"
"Eh, who believes it?" echoed a dozen voices, young and old.
Veronica laid her hand upon Don Teodoro's arm to steady herself as she
trod upon the slimy stones. She could not have stopped, for the crowd,
extending far behind her in the dim street, would have pushed her down,
but she turned her head as she walked and spoke in the direction of the
people. Her voice rang high and clear over their heads.
"I have come to live with you," she said, and they heard her even far
off. "It is true. You shall see."
"God render it you!" said a woman's voice. "May God make it true!"
"More than one of them are saying that to themselves," observed Don
Teodoro, as Veronica looked before her again, and walked on.
Suddenly she came out upon a broader, cleaner way, which led out beyond
the houses and up, by a sweep, to the low gate of the castle; close
before her was the great lower bastion which she had seen from a
distance. She saw now that there was a trellis high up, all over it, on
which grew a vine; but the leaves were scarcely budding yet. She had not
time to see much, for the crowd would not let her stop, and as the way
widened, many ran before her, up to the gate, where they stopped short,
for there were half a dozen men there in dark green coats, and silver
buttons, foresters of the estate, who kept them back.
Veronica would have turned once more, to nod to the people and smile at
the poor women who pressed close upon her, but the crowd was so great
that as the foresters made way for her, she found herself driven almost
violently into her own gate, and in the rush, Elettra nearly fell to her
knees as they got in. The gate clanged behind her, and she heard the
great bolts sliding into their sockets, as it was made fast. Her men had
known well enough what to expect from the curiosity of the people. They
opened a little postern and let in the few who carried her things, and
who had been shut out with the crowd.
She drew a long breath and looked upward, before her. It was very unlike
what she had expected. She was in the dark, vaulted way, scarcely eight
feet broad, and paved with flagstones, which led up to the first small
court. The masonry was rough, enormous, damp, and blackened with
dampness and age. From the building around the little enclosure small,
dark windows looked down upon her. A narrow door was on her right. On
the left, rough stone steps led up to the keep, and to the eastern side
of the castle. The door stood open, and there was a lamp in the small
entry. Before entering, she glanced up at the lintel and saw that the
ancient arms of the Serra were roughly sculptured in the old marble, and
she knew that she was on the threshold of her home.
It was more like a gloomy dungeon than the princely castle of which she
had dreamed. That, indeed, was what it had been through many ages, and
nothing else. She wondered where the great staircase could be where the
poor ghost of Queen Joanna sat and shrieked at midnight on the twelfth
of May. It was near the day, and not being at all timid, she smiled at
the thought, as she went in. Three or four decently clad women in black
came forward into the vaulted passage, and smiled and nodded awkwardly.
They were the people Don Teodoro had engaged for her service. She had a
word for each and patted them on the shoulder, and they led the way,
two and two, carrying a light between them, for it was very dark within,
though there was still broad daylight without.
Then, all at once, she scarcely knew how, Veronica was standing upon a
little balcony. Behind her, the walls of the embrasure were fully
fifteen feet thick. Before her, under the glow of the sunset on the one
hand, and the first pale moonlight on the other, lay a great valley,
deep and long and broadening fan-like from below her to the far
distance, where the evening mists were beginning to gather the white
light of the moon, while the great mountains of the southeast were still
red with the last blood of the dying day--a view of matchless peace and
surpassing beauty, such as she had never yet seen. Just then, she looked
down, and there, at her feet, were the brown roofs of Muro. Her dream
seemed to be suddenly realized, and she had found the room of which she
had so often made the picture in her imagination. But it was far more
beautiful than she had dared to imagine or dream. The lofty fortress was
built lengthwise along the rock, facing the southwest, to meet the
winter sun from morning till night; and forever before it lay the wide
Basilicata, the peace of the valley, the height of the huge mountains,
the infinite tenderness of a distance that is seen from a vast
height--in which even what would be near in one plane, is already far by
Veronica looked out in silence for a long time, and the day faded at
last in the sky, while the moon's light whitened and strewed blackness
across the twilight shadows. The old priest stood beside her, his
three-cornered hat in his hand. But the silver spectacles had
disappeared. He could feel what was before him without seeing it
"I knew that I should find it," said Veronica, at last. "I always knew
that it was here. I shall live in this room."
"It is a good room," said Don Teodoro, quietly, and not at all
understanding what she meant.
"And I have an idea that I shall die in this room," added the young
girl, in a dreamy tone, not caring whether he heard or not. "I am the
last of them, you know. They all came from here in the beginning, ever
so long ago. It would be natural that the last of them should die here."
"For Heaven's sake, let us not talk of such sad things!" cried the
priest, protesting against the mere mention of death, as almost every
"Have they made it a sitting-room?" asked Veronica, turning from the
balcony into the deep embrasure.
She had scarcely glanced at the furniture, for she had made straight for
the window on entering. She looked about her now. There were dark
tapestries on the walls. There was a big polished table in the middle,
and a dozen or more carved chairs, covered with faded brocade, were
arranged in regular order on the three sides away from the windows. The
high vault was roughly painted in fresco, with cherubs and garlands of
flowers in the barbarous manner of Italian art fifty years ago. There
was a low marble mantelpiece, and on it stood six brass candlesticks at
precisely even distances, one from another, the six candles being all
lighted. But there was a lamp on the table. Veronica smiled.
"You must forgive me if I have not known what to do," said Don Teodoro,
humbly, but smiling also. "I have seen something of civilization in my
wanderings, but I never attempted to arrange a house before. This is a
very large house, if one calls such a place a house at all."
"I suppose there are thirty or forty rooms?"
"There are three hundred and sixty-five altogether," answered the
priest, his smile broadening. "They are all named in the inventory.
There is a legend about the place to the effect that there is a three
hundred and sixty-sixth, which no one can find. Of course the inventory
includes every roofed space between walls, from the dungeon at the top
of the keep to the dark room under the trap-door in the last hall on
this lower story. But you will be surprised, to-morrow, if you go over
the place. It is much bigger than seems possible, because you can never
really see it from outside unless you go down into the plain."
"And where do you think that other room is?" asked Veronica, who was
young enough to take interest in the mystery.
"Heaven knows! Perhaps it does not exist at all. But as I was saying, my
dear princess, I found it hard to arrange an apartment for you, not
knowing how you might choose to select your quarters. So I had the
tapestries cleaned and hung up, and the chairs dusted and the tables
polished, and some lights got ready on this floor, and your bedroom is
"The one with the trap-door?" asked Veronica. "That is very amusing!"
"I had the dark room below well cleaned, and the trap has been screwed
down," said Don Teodoro. "I thought that there might be rats there.
Elettra has the room before yours. But you are tired, and you must be
hungry. It is my fault for not leaving you at once."
"But you will dine with me? To-night and every night, Don Teodoro--that
Half an hour later, they sat down to table in the light of the lamp and
the six candles, in the room from which Veronica had looked out upon the
valley. But they were both too tired to talk, though they made faint
attempts at conversation, and as soon as the meal was over, the old
priest begged leave to go home.
"Do not be afraid," he said, as he bade Veronica good night. "There are
several men in the house. You are not all alone with your five women.
The foresters have their headquarters here."
Veronica was anything but timid or nervous, but when she was in bed in
her own room at the south corner of the castle, watching the shadows
cast up by the flickering night light upon the ancient tapestries, she
realized that she was very lonely indeed, she and scarcely a dozen
servants, in the vast fortress wherein a thousand men had once found
ample room to live. Brave as she was, she glanced once or twice at the
corner of the room where the trap-door was placed. There was a carpet
over it, and a table stood there which Elettra had arranged hastily for
the toilet table. Veronica wondered what end that dark place below had
served in ancient days, and whether she were not perhaps lying in the
very room in which Queen Joanna had been smothered by the two Hungarian
soldiers. It seemed probable.
But she was very tired, and she fell asleep before long, fancying that
she was looking out from the balcony again, with the brown roofs of her
people's houses at her feet.
Veronica was awake early in the May morning, and looked out again upon
the great valley she had seen at sunset. It was all mist and light,
without distinct outline. A fresh breeze blew into her face as she stood
at the open window, and the sun was yet on the southeast wall, so that
she stood in the clear, bluish shadow which high buildings cast only in
She had slept soundly without dreams, and she wondered how she could
have ever glanced last night towards the place in the corner where the
trap-door was hidden under her toilet table, or how she could have felt
herself lonely and not quite safe, in her own castle, with a dozen of
her own people, when she had never been afraid in the Palazzo Macomer.
She pushed back her brown hair, a little impatiently, and laughed as she
turned to Elettra.
"We are well here, Excellency," said the maid, with a smile of
She rarely spoke unless Veronica addressed her, and was never a woman of
"And you saw no ghosts?" Veronica laughed.
"I am afraid of ghosts that wear felt slippers," answered Elettra.
An hour later Veronica sent for Don Teodoro, and they went over the
castle together. He led her first to the high dungeon on the north side.
The natural rock sprang up at that end, and some of the steps were cut
in it. At the top, the tower was round, with a high parapet, and an
extension on one side, all filled with earth and planted with cabbages
and other green things.
"The under-steward had a little vegetable garden here," said Don
Teodoro. "I suppose that you will plant flowers. Will you look over the
parapet on that side?"
Veronica trod the soft earth daintily and reached the wall. She glanced
over it, and then drew a deep breath of surprise. Below her was a sheer
fall of a thousand feet, to the bottom of a desolate ravine that ran up
to northward in an incredibly steep ascent.
Then they went into the ancient prison, which was a round, vaulted
chamber, shaped like the inside of the sharp end of an eggshell, with
one small grated window, three times a man's height from the stone
floor. The little iron door had huge bolts and locks, and might have
been four or five hundred years old. On the stone walls, men who had
been imprisoned there had chipped out little crosses, and made initials,
and rough dates in the fruitless attempts to commemorate their obscure
Veronica and Don Teodoro descended again, and he led her through many
strange places, dimly lighted by small windows piercing ten feet of
masonry, and through the enormous hall which had been the guard-room or
barrack in old days, and had served as a granary since then, and up and
down dark stairs, through narrow ways, out upon jutting bastions, down
and up, backwards and forwards, as it seemed to her, till she could only
guess at the direction in which she was going, by the glimpses of
distant mountain and valley as she passed the irregularly placed
windows. Several of her people followed her, and one went before with a
huge bunch of ancient keys, opening and shutting all manner of big and
little doors before her and after her. Now and then one of the men in
green coats lighted a lantern and showed her where steep black steps led
down into dark cellars, and vaults, and underground places.
She saw it all, but she was glad to get back to the room she already
loved best, from which the balcony outside the windows looked down upon
And there she began at once to install herself, causing her books to be
unpacked and arranged, as well as the few objects familiar to her eyes,
which she had brought with her. Among these was the photograph of Bosio
Macomer. Those of Gregorio and Matilde had disappeared. She hesitated,
as she held the picture in her hand, as to whether she should keep it in
her bedroom, or in the sitting-room, in which she meant chiefly to live,
and she looked at it with sad eyes. She decided that it should be in the
sitting-room. Where everything was hers, she had a right to show what
had been all but quite hers at the last. The six brass candlesticks were
taken away, and Bosio's photograph was set upon the long, low
mantelpiece. His death had after all been more a surprise, a horror, a
disappointment, than the wound it might have been if she had really
loved him, and it is only the wound that leaves a scar. The momentary
shock is presently forgotten when the young nerves are rested and the
vision of a great moment fades to the half-tone of the general past.
Between her present, too, and the night of Bosio's death, had come the
attempt upon her own life, and all the sudden change that had followed
the catastrophe. She was too brave to realize, even now, that she might
have died at Matilde's hands. She had to go over the facts to make
herself believe that she had been almost killed. But the whole affair
had brought a revolution into her life, since Bosio had been gone.
Another companionship had taken the place of his, so that she hardly
missed him now. She would miss Gianluca's letters far more than Bosio,
if they should suddenly stop, and the mere thought that the
correspondence might be broken off gave her a sharp little pain. The
idea crossed her mind while she was arranging her writing-table near her
favourite window, for all writing seemed to be connected with Gianluca,
so that she could not imagine passing more than a day or two without
setting down something on paper which he was to read, and to answer. To
lose that close intimacy of thought would be to lose much.
But Gianluca had written on the morning of her departure, and before
Veronica had half finished what she was doing, one of her women brought
her his letter, for the post came in at about midday. It came alone, for
Bianca had not written yet, and Veronica's correspondence was not large.
She had not even thought of ordering a newspaper to be sent to her. Her
work and occupation were to be in Muro, and she cared very little about
what might happen anywhere else. She broke the seal and read the letter