Part 7 out of 8
He had said all he could, and his breath came with an effort at the
last. But his lips smiled bravely as he looked at her, still kneeling by
his side. Then he seemed to realize that she should not be there.
"Get up, dear," he said, with failing voice. "You must not kneel--some
one might come--they would think--that you meant--something."
His lids quivered and closed, and his lips trembled oddly. She felt his
hand relax, and she thought that he was gone. Instantly she sprang to
her feet beside him, and lifted his head, her face full of the horror
that goes before the wave of pain for those one loves. But he had not
even fainted. He opened his eyes, and smiled, and tried to speak again,
but could not.
Veronica's lips moved, too, as she stood there, supporting him a little
with her arm and stiffened with terror for his life. But she could not
speak either. She watched his face with most intense anxiety. Again and
again, he opened his eyes, and saw her, and he felt her arm under him.
"It is nothing," he said suddenly. "I was a little faint."
She drew away her arm with a deep breath of relief, and he sighed when
it was gone. But neither of them spoke. Veronica rang, and sent for his
favourite wine, and he drank a little of it. Then she sat down beside
him, where she had sat before, and the room was very still.
It was hot, too, for no one had opened the window since it had stopped
raining. Veronica rose and undid the fastenings and threw back the
glass, and the cool air rushed in, laden with the sweet smell of the wet
earth. As she came back, she saw that his eyes followed all her
movements, gravely, as a sick child watches its nurse moving about its
room. There was no reproach in their look, but they were still fixed on
her, when she sat down again by his side.
"Veronica," said the faint, far voice, presently. "May I ask you one
question, that I have no right to ask?"
"Anything," she answered. "And you have the right to ask anything."
"No--not this. Do you love another man?"
The still blue eyes widened, in earnestness.
"No, Gianluca. No--by the truth of God--no living man!"
"Nor one dead?" His tone sank almost to a whisper, and still his eyes
were wide for her answer.
A faint and tender light came into her face, so faint, so far reflected
from an infinite somewhere, that only such eyes as his could have seen
"There was Bosio," she said softly. "He spoke to me the night he
died--I could have married him--I should have loved him--perhaps."
If the little phrases were broken, it was not by hesitation; it seemed
rather as though what they meant must find each memory to have meaning,
one by one, and word by word--and finding, wondered at what had once
And Gianluca smiled, as he lay still, and the lids of his eyes closed
peacefully and naturally, opening again with another look. He was too
weak to be surprised by what he had only vaguely guessed, from some word
she had let fall, but he knew well enough, from her voice and face, that
she had never loved Bosio Macomer, nor any other man, dead or living.
And Hope, that is ever last to leave a breaking heart, nestled back into
her own sweet place, breathing soft things of love, and life, and golden
years to be.
"Thank you," he said. "I should not have asked you. It was kind to
They did not speak again, and presently the door opened. The old Duca
held it back with a stately bow, and the Duchessa swept into the room
with that sort of uncertain swaying motion, which is all that weakness
leaves of grace. And the Duca shuffled in after her, and closed the door
most precisely, for he was a precise old man.
"I thought it was time for tea, my dear," said the Duchessa. "We have
had such a good sleep!"
Though Gianluca had seemed to gain strength during the first week of his
stay at Muro, he appeared to lose it even more rapidly after that
memorable afternoon. It was not that he lost heart and control of
courage; on the contrary, he spoke all at once more hopefully, and grew
most particular in the carrying out of each detail of the day, precisely
in the manner prescribed by the doctors. He forced himself to eat, he
did his best to sleep a certain number of hours, he made Taquisara carry
him out into the air and back again at fixed times, in order that the
extreme regularity of his life might help his recovery if possible. But
all this was of no use. It had seemed inconceivable that he should grow
more thin, and yet his face and throat and hands shrunk day by day. He
could not use his legs at all, now, and he told no one that he had
hardly any sensation in them.
The Duchessa prayed for her son, always in her own room and sometimes in
the church, whither she went often alone in the afternoon, and sometimes
accompanied by her husband. She even curtailed her daily siesta in order
to have more time for prayer. No doubt, she would have given anything
in the world for Gianluca, but she had very little else to give, beyond
that sacrifice, which did not seem small or laughable to her. The Duca
said little, but often shook his head, unexpectedly, and his weak eyes
were watery. He sometimes walked twenty-five times round the top of the
big lower bastion, under the vines that grew upon the trellis over it,
before the midday breakfast, while the Duchessa was at her devotions. At
every round, when he came to the point fronting the valley he paused a
moment and repeated very much the same words each time.
"My poor son! My poor Gianluca!" he said, and then shuffled round the
Taquisara scarcely left the sick man's side except when Gianluca could
be alone with Veronica. He was evidently very anxious, though his face
betrayed little of what he felt. He knew it, and was glad that nature
had given him that bronze-like colour, which could hardly change at all.
When the whole party were together, he talked; he talked when he was
alone with Gianluca; but when he was with Gianluca and Veronica he spoke
in monosyllables. Once she noticed that he was biting his lip nervously,
just as he turned away his face.
Though Gianluca was worse, without doubt, he insisted that there should
be no change in his way of spending the day. To amuse him, Veronica and
Taquisara fenced a little of an afternoon. But the Sicilian had no heart
in it, and evidently did not care whether Veronica touched him or not,
and his indifference annoyed her, so that she sometimes worked herself
into little furies of attack, and he, rather than really attack her in
return and oppose his strength, broke ground and let himself be driven
back across the room.
"Some day I shall take the foil with the green hilt," laughed Veronica.
"Then you will really take the trouble to fight me."
The foil with the green hilt was the sharp one which had got among the
others by mistake. Taquisara smiled indifferently.
"My life is at your service," he said, in a tone that seemed a little
"Keep it for those who need it," she answered, laughing again, and
glancing at Gianluca.
Her tone was a little scornful, too, and Gianluca watched them both with
some surprise. Almost any one would have thought that they disliked each
other, but such a possibility had never struck him before. He would have
admitted that Veronica might not like Taquisara, but that any one in the
world should not like Veronica was beyond his comprehension. He spoke to
his friend about it when they were alone.
"What is the matter between you and Donna Veronica?" he asked that
evening, before dinner.
"Nothing," answered Taquisara, stopping in his walk. "What do you mean."
"I think you dislike her," said Gianluca.
"I?" The Sicilian's strong voice rang in the room. "No," he added
quietly, and recovering instantly from his astonishment. "I do not
dislike her. What makes you think that I do?"
"Little things. You seem so silent and out of temper when she is in the
room. To-day when she was laughing about the pointed foil you answered
her sarcastically. Many little things make me think that you do not like
"You are mistaken," said Taquisara, gravely. "I like Donna Veronica very
much. Indeed, I always did, ever since I first saw her. I am sorry that
my manner should have given you a wrong impression. I always feel that I
am in the way when I am with you two."
"You are never in the way," answered Gianluca.
After that, Taquisara was very careful, but more than ever he did his
best not to remain as a third when the Duca and Duchessa were away, and
Veronica and Gianluca could be together. The fencing alone was
inevitable, and he hated it, though he went through it with a good grace
almost every day, since Veronica seemed so unreasonably fond of the
She and Gianluca did not refer to what had happened, and to what had
been said, when she had told him the truth. She, on her part, felt that
she had done right, and that it was the sort of right which need not be
done again. But he, poor man, was not so wholly undeceived as she
thought him to be. Since she loved no one else, he could still hope that
she might love him.
Yet he felt his life slipping from him, and he made desperate efforts to
get well, insisting upon every detail of his invalid existence as though
each several minute of the day had a healing virtue which he must not
lose. He was sure that his chance of winning the woman he loved lay in
living to win her, and he grappled his soul to his frail body with every
thrill of energy that his dying nerve had left, with all the tense moral
grip that love and despair can give. And yet it seemed hopeless, for his
strength sank daily. At last he could not even sit up at table, and
remained lying in his low chair, while the others ate their meals
hastily in order not to leave him long alone.
The doctor came, a clever young man, whom Veronica had procured for the
good of the village. He shook his head, though he tried to speak
cheerfully to Gianluca's father and mother. But he advised them to send
for the great authority whom they had consulted in Naples, and under
whom he himself had studied. Veronica spoke with him in an outer room.
"I fear that he cannot live, but I am not infallible," he said.
"How long will he live, if he is going to die?" asked Veronica, pale and
"Do not ask me--it is guess-work," answered the young doctor. "I think
he may live a fortnight. He is practically paralyzed from his waist
downwards--it is almost complete. What he eats does not nourish him."
"What has caused this?"
The doctor shrugged his shoulders, smiled faintly, and made a gesture
which in the south signifies the inevitable.
"It is a decayed race," he said; "a family too old--there is no more
blood in them--what shall I say?"
"I do not believe that has anything to do with it," replied Veronica,
rather proudly. "The Serra are as old as they. Did you see that
gentleman who is Don Gianluca's friend? He is descended from Tancred."
"It is other blood," said the doctor.
He went away, and the great physician who lived in Naples was sent for
at once. A carriage went down to Eboli to meet him. He came, looked,
asked questions, and shook his head, very much as his pupil had done. He
stayed a night, and when it was late, Veronica and Taquisara were alone
with him. He was a fat man, with enormous shoulders and very short
legs, and a round face and dreamy eyes set too low for proportion of
feature. Taquisara thought that he was like a turtle standing on its
hind flippers, preternaturally endowed with a hemispherical black
stomach, and a large watch chain; but the idea did not seem comic to
him, for he was in no humour to be amused at anything.
The professor--for he was one--talked long and learnedly, using a number
of Latin words with edifying terminations. In spite of this, however, he
was not without common sense.
"I have known people to recover when they seemed to have no chance at
all," he said.
"But you do not expect him to live?" asked Taquisara, pressing him.
"It is a desperate case," answered the physician.
Being very fat, and having travelled all day, he went to bed. Veronica
remained alone in the drawing-room with Taquisara. The latter slowly
walked up and down between two opposite doors. Veronica kept her seat,
her head bent, listening to his regular footsteps.
"Donna Veronica--" he stopped.
"Yes," she answered, not looking up, but starting slightly at the sound
of his voice. "What do you wish to say?"
"You know that I have not always been fortunate in what I have said to
you, and that makes me hesitate to speak now. But it seems to me that,
as Gianluca is really in the care of us two--"
"Well?" Still she did not turn to him, though he paused awkwardly, and
began to walk again.
"Gianluca asked me the other day whether I disliked you," he said.
"Well? Do you?" Her tone was unnaturally cold, even to her own ears.
He stood still on the other side of the table, looking towards her.
"No," he said, as though he were making an effort. "If he asked me the
question, it must be that I have behaved rudely to you before him. Have
"I have not noticed it," answered Veronica, as coldly as before.
"It would certainly not have been intentional, if there had been
anything to notice. If I speak of it now, it is because Gianluca spoke
to me, and because, if we are to talk about him, the way must be clear.
You say that it is? May I go on?"
Veronica did not answer at once. Then she rose slowly, turned, and stood
before the low, long chimneypiece.
"Why should we talk about him at all?" she asked, at length determining
what to say. "We shall not agree, and we can only repeat what we have
both said before now. It can be of no use."
"I have something more to say," replied Taquisara.
"Yes. There may be more to be said, that may be better not said. I know
what it is. You once accused me of playing with him. You said it rudely
and roughly, but I have forgiven you for saying it. You would have more
reason for saying it now than you had then, and I should be less angry.
You have a better right to speak, and I have less right to defend
myself. But I will speak for you. I am not afraid."
"No. That is the last thing any one could say of you!"
"Or of you, perhaps," she said, more kindly, and it was the first word
of appreciation she had ever given him. "We are neither of us cowards.
That is why I am willing to tell you what I think of myself. It is
almost what you think of me--that I have done a thousand things which
might make Don Gianluca, and his father and mother, too, believe that if
he recovers I mean to marry him. But you think me a heartless woman. I
am not. There are things which you neither know, nor could understand if
you knew them. I will ask you only one question. Is there any imaginable
reason why I should wish to hurt him?"
"None that I can guess," answered Taquisara, looking into her eyes.
"Then you must understand what I have done. Out of too much friendship
I have made a great mistake. What you can never understand, I suppose,
is, that I can feel for him what you do--just that, and no more--or more
of that, perhaps, and nothing else. A woman can be a man's friend, as
well as a man can. I never played with him--as you call it--though you
have enough right to say it. I told him from the first that I could
never marry him. I told him so again on the day when we had first
fenced, and you went to walk after the rain."
"That is why he has been worse, since then. It began that very evening."
"Yes. I know it. Do you think I do not reproach myself for having gone
so far that I had to speak? Indeed, indeed, I do, more than you know.
But what am I to do? He cannot go away, ill as he is. I cannot leave you
all here. And then, I would not leave him, if I could. He is more to me
than I can ever tell you--I would give my right hand for his life. Would
you have me marry him, knowing that I can never love him? Is that what
you would have me do?"
Taquisara was silent for a moment, looking earnestly at her, and he bit
his lip a little.
"Yes," he said. "That is what you should do. It is all you can do, to
try and save his life."
The moment he had spoken he turned from her and began to walk up and
"Do you know what you are asking?" Veronica followed him with her eyes.
"It is a sacrifice," he said, pursuing his walk and not glancing at her.
"It is to give your life for his. I know it. But you can hardly give him
more than he has given you--or you have taken from him. Yes--I know what
the doctors say, that it is a disease which is known and understood. No
doubt it is. But diseases of that sort may remain latent for a lifetime,
unless something determines them. Until they have gone too far, they may
be overcome. If he had not lived for weeks in a state of nervous tension
that would almost make a strong man ill, he would not be in such a
condition now. If he had never known you, he might have been as well as
he ever was--he might have been well for twenty or thirty years, before
it attacked him. It is not all your fault, but a part of it is. Take
your friendship, and your mistakes, together--your wish that he may
live, and your responsibility if he dies--two motives are better than
one, when the one is not strong enough. You have two, and good ones.
Marry him, Donna Veronica--marry him and save his life, if you can, and
your own remorse if he dies. Let me go to him now--he is not asleep--let
me tell him that you have changed your mind, or made up your mind--that
you love him, after all--"
"Please do not go on," said Veronica, drawing back a little, till she
leaned against the mantelpiece.
He had placed himself in front of her before he had finished speaking.
He was excited, vehement, and not eloquent--like a man driven to bay by
a crowd to argue a question in which he had no conviction, but which
concerns his life. He stopped speaking when she interrupted him, and he
seemed to be waiting for her to say more. She had drawn herself up a
little proudly, with her head high.
"You hurt me," she said, breaking the silence, and hardly knowing why
she said the words.
"Do you think it costs me nothing?" he asked, in a low voice.
His eyes burned strangely in the lamp-light. But he turned away quickly,
to resume his walk. She could not help asking him a question.
"Why should it cost you anything? You are speaking for your friend--but
She did not finish the sentence, for it seemed to her selfish to throw
her right to happiness into the scale against Gianluca's life. But she
could not understand him.
"It is hard to do, for all that," he answered indistinctly. "I have said
too much," he continued, stopping before her. "I meant to do the best I
could. Perhaps I should have said nothing. This is no time to stop at
trifles. The man is dying, and I have a right to say that I believe you
might save his life--and a right to beg you to try. You have the right
to refuse, to question, to doubt--all rights that are a woman's in such
a case. As for me--there is no question of me in all this. Since I must
be here for him, since I have displeased you from the first, since you
do not like me, look upon me as a necessary evil, do not consider my
existence, think of me as a man who loves your best friend and is giving
all he has--to save him."
"All you have," repeated Veronica, thoughtfully, but without a question.
"Yes!" he exclaimed.
The single word was spoken with a sort of passion, as though it meant
much to him. She liked him better now than when he walked up and down,
giving her incoherent advice. Whatever he might mean, it was something
which had power to move him.
"You are mistaken," she said. "I like you very much."
"You--Princess!" His surprise was genuine. "You have not made me think
so," he added in a tone of wonder.
"Nor have you made me think that you liked me," she answered.
"Gianluca thought I did not," said Taquisara, slowly, as though speaking
"When I first knew you, when we talked together at the villa on that
morning before Christmas, I liked you better than him," she said.
He started sharply.
"Please--" He checked himself almost before the one word had escaped his
"Please--what?" she asked, naturally enough.
His face quickened as he walked again, and she watched him curiously.
"As friends of one friend, we must be friends," she said, after a pause.
"We have spoken frankly to-night, both of us. It is much better. With
his life between us we can say things, perhaps, which neither of us
would have said before. You are doing all you can. You ask me to do more
than I can--I think. As for his life--let us not talk of what may
happen. I think of it enough, as it is."
She turned as she spoke the last words, for she did not trust her face.
But he heard the true note of sorrow in her tone.
"Is it possible that you do not love him a little?" he asked, in a low
"It is true," she answered mechanically, as though hearing him in a
dream. "I could never love him."
Then, all at once she straightened herself and left the chimneypiece.
"We must not talk of these things any more," she said. "Good night. We
understand each other, do we not?"
She held out her hand to him, which she very rarely did. He took it
"I understand you--yes," he said.
She looked at him a moment longer, smiled faintly, and then left the
room. After she was gone, he sat down in the chair she had occupied,
crossed one knee over the other, folded his hands, and stared at the
carpet. He sat there for a long time, motionless, as though absorbed in
the study of a difficult problem. But his expression did not change, and
he did not speak aloud to himself as some men do when they are alone and
in great trouble, as he was then. He was not a man of theatrical
instincts, nor, indeed, of any great imagination. Least of all was he
given to anything like self-examination, or arguing with his conscience.
He was exceedingly simple in nature. He either loved or hated, either
respected or was indifferent or despised altogether, with no
half-measures nor compromises.
Just then he was merely revolving the situation in his mind, and trying
to see some way of escaping from it, without abandoning his friend. But
no way occurred to him which did not look cowardly, and when he rose
from his seat, he had made up his mind to face his troubles as well as
he could, since he could not avoid them.
He went to Gianluca's room before he went to bed. A small light burned
behind a shade in a corner, and at first he could barely see the white
face on the white pillow. The sick man lay sound asleep, breathing
almost inaudibly, one light hand lying upon the coverlet, the other
hidden. Gradually, as Taquisara looked, his eyes became accustomed to
the light, and he gazed earnestly at his sleeping friend. He saw the
dark rings come out beneath the drooping lids, and the paleness of the
parted lips, and the terrible emaciation of the thin hand.
But there was life still, and hope. Hope that the man might still live
and stand among men, hope that he might yet marry Veronica Serra--and be
happy. In the half-darkness, Taquisara set his teeth, biting hard, as
though he would have bitten through iron, lest a sharp breath should
escape him and disturb the sleeper's rest.
That frail thing, that ghost, that airy remnant of a man, lay there,
alive in name, between Taquisara and the mere right to think of his own
happiness; and next to the reality of the shadow of his dream, he loved
best on earth this shadow of reality that would not die. For he loved
Veronica with all his heart, and after her, Gianluca della Spina. Above
both stood honour.
He knew that he was loyal and true as he stood there, and that there was
not in the inmost inward heart of him a mean, double-faced wish that
his friend might die there, peacefully, and leave to the winning of the
strong what the weak had wooed in vain. He had spoken the truth when he
had said that for his friend's life he was giving all he had, when he
did his best to persuade Veronica that she must marry the dying man, in
the bare hope of saving him while there was yet time. He had done his
best, though it was no wonder that there was no conviction, but only
vehemence, in his tone. It had been different on that day, now long ago,
when he had first spoken for Gianluca in the garden. He had not loved
her then. She had been no more to him than any other woman. But even on
that day, when he had left her, he had half guessed that he might love
her if opportunity gave possibility the right of way. He had guessed it,
and even to guess it was to fear it, for Gianluca's sake. He was not
quixotic. Had he been first, death or life, he would not have given
another room at her side, had that or that man been twenty times his
friend or his brother. Even if it had been a little otherwise, if
Gianluca had not confided in him from the beginning, and had stood out
as any other suitor for her hand, Taquisara, as he loved her now, would
hardly have drawn back because his friend had been before him. But
Gianluca had come to him, told him all; asked his advice, taken his
help--all that, when Veronica had still been nothing to Taquisara--less
than nothing, in a way, because she was such a great heiress, and he
would have hesitated before asking for her hand, being but a poor
Sicilian gentleman of good repute, few acres, and old blood.
He was loyal to the core of his sound soul. Whatever became of him,
Gianluca was to be first in his actions, wherever Veronica might stand
in his heart, and he had the strength to do all that he meant to do. He
would do it. He knew that he should do it, and he was glad, for his
honour, that he could do it.
He had avoided all meetings, as much as possible, from the first, going
rarely to Bianca's house, and then not talking with Veronica when he
could help it. For each time that he saw her, he felt that soft mystery
of attraction in which great passion begins; that something which
touches and draws gently on, and presses and draws again more gently,
yet with stronger power, growing great on nothings by day and night,
till it drives the senses slowly mad, and overtops the soul, and pricks,
then goads, then drives--then, at the last, tears men up like straws in
its enormous arms, rising on sudden wings to outstrip wind and whirlwind
in the wild race that ends in death or blinding joy, or reckless ruin of
honour, worse than any death.
He had felt the growing danger at every one of their few meetings, and,
being simple, he mistrusted himself to be what other men were. But in
that, he was not like the many. He was not of the kind and temper to
break down in loyalty, and he could still bear much more. Under strong
pressure, he had come with Gianluca to the gates of Muro, and he had
done his best to get away at once. Fate had been against him. He was
still strong, and could face fate alone. He did not pine, and waste
bodily, as Gianluca had done. But he turned his eyes away when he could,
and spent his hours out of danger when he might, waiting for the moment
when he should be free to go and live his own life alone, husbanding the
strength which was not lacking in him, setting his teeth hard to bear
the pain,--a simple, brave, and loyal man, caught in fate's grip, but
silently unyielding to the last.
It was his nature, to suffer without complaint, when he must suffer at
all. No one can tell whether those feel pain most who show least what
they feel. The measure of pain is always man, and no man can really be
measured except by himself. We often believe that they who utter no cry
are the most badly hurt, perhaps because silence has suggestion in it,
and noise has none. No one knows the truth. No one has stood in the fire
that scorches his brother's soul, to tell us which can suffer the more.
Taquisara lay long awake that night, and every word that had passed
between Veronica and him came back to his thoughts.
More than once he rose and, crossing the intermediate room, went to
Gianluca's side. Once the latter was awake, still half dreaming, and
looked up wonderingly into his friend's eyes. He scarcely knew that he
spoke, as his lips moved.
"I am going to die," he said, in a far-off tone.
Taquisara bent over him quickly, trying to smile.
"Nonsense--no--no!" he said cheerfully. "You have been dreaming--you are
"Yes--I am dreaming--let me sleep," answered the sick man, hardly
articulating the words.
And in a moment, he was asleep again. Taquisara listened to his
breathing, bending down a moment longer. Then he went softly away. He
himself slept a little, but it seemed long before the morning broke.
When it was broad daylight, Gianluca seemed better, for the deep sleep
had refreshed him. It was still very early, when the professor appeared
and paid him a long visit, asking a few questions at first and then
suddenly, beginning to talk of politics and the public news. Taquisara
left the room with him, and they stood together in Gianluca's
"He is better, is he not?" asked the Sicilian, eagerly.
To his surprise the doctor shook his head and was silent a long time.
"I know nothing," he said, at last. "Nobody knows anything. Surgery is a
fine art, but medicine is witchcraft, or little better. You see, I
speak frankly. I can only give you my experience, and that may be worth
something. I have seen two cases of this kind in which, when the change
came, the patients partially recovered, and lived for several years,
paralyzed downwards from the point in the spine where the disease
begins. I have seen several cases where death has resulted rather
"And do you see a change coming?"
"Yes. It has begun already. Is he a devout man?"
"A religious man, at all events," answered Taquisara, gravely.
"Then, if he wishes to see a priest, it would be as well to send for one
this morning. But if he wishes to be moved as usual, and dressed, let
him have his way. Do not frighten him, if you can help it. No moral
shock can do any good. I leave it to you. It is of no use to tell his
father and mother. They are here, and you will see if he is worse. I
suppose you know that he suffers great pain when he is moved?"
"No!" said Taquisara, anxiously. "I did not know it. I sometimes hear
him draw his breath sharply once or twice--but he never complains. I
thought it hurt him a little."
"It is agony," said the doctor. "He must be a very brave man."
The professor seemed much impressed by what Taquisara had said.
Taquisara went immediately to find Don Teodoro, who was generally at
home at that hour, in his little house just opposite the castle gate. He
found him with his silver spectacles pushed up to the top of his head,
his long nose buried in a musty volume, a cup of untasted coffee at his
elbow, absorbed in study. The small room was filled with books, old and
new, and smelt of them. As Taquisara entered, the old priest looked up,
screwing his lids together in the attempt to recognize his visitor
without using his spectacles. He took him for the syndic of Muro, a
respectable countryman of fifty years, come to consult with him about
some public matters.
"Be seated," he said. "If you will pardon me, for a moment--I was
In an instant his nose almost touched the page again, and he did not
complete the sentence, before he was lost in study once more. Taquisara
sat down upon the only chair there was and waited a few moments, not
realizing that he had not been recognized. But the priest forgot his
existence immediately and if not disturbed would probably have gone on
reading till noon.
"Don Teodoro!" said Taquisara, rousing him. "Pray excuse me--"
The old man looked up suddenly, with an exclamation of surprise.
"Dear me!" he cried. "Are you there, Baron? I beg your pardon. I think I
took you for some one else."
He drew his spectacles down to the level of his eyes, and let the big
book fall back upon the table.
"Our friend is very ill," said Taquisara, gravely. "That is why I have
come to disturb you."
He told the priest what the doctor had said about Gianluca's condition.
Don Teodoro listened with an expression of concern and anxiety, for he
had become fond of the sick man during the past weeks, and Gianluca
liked him, too. Almost every day they talked together, and the refined
taste and sincere love of literature of the younger man delighted in the
profound learning of the old student, while the latter found a rare
pleasure in speaking of his favourite occupations to such an
"The fact is," Taquisara concluded, "though I have not much faith in
doctors, I really believe that he may die at any moment. You know what
kind of man he is. Go and sit with him after luncheon to-day--or
before--the sooner, the better. Do not frighten him--do not tell him
that I have spoken to you about his condition. I believe that he knows
it himself, and if he is alone with you for some time, and you speak of
the uncertainty of life, as a priest can, he will probably himself
propose to make his confession. You understand those things, Don
Teodoro--it is your business. It is our business to give you a chance."
"Yes--yes," answered the old man. "I daresay you are right. I suppose
that is what I should do." There was a reluctance in his voice which
"You do not seem convinced," said the latter.
"I wish there were another priest here," replied Don Teodoro,
thoughtfully, and his clear eyes looked away, avoiding the other's
"Why?" inquired the Sicilian, with increasing astonishment.
"It is a painful office to perform for a friend." The curate looked down
now, and fingered the corner of his old book, in evident hesitation. "It
is quite another thing to assist the poor."
"I do not understand you," said Taquisara. "I suppose that priests have
especial sensibilities of their own--"
"Sometimes--sometimes," interrupted Don Teodoro, as though speaking to
himself. "Yes--I have especial sensibilities."
"It cannot be helped," answered Taquisara, in a tone that had something
of authority in it. "Of course we laymen do not appreciate those nice
questions. A man is dying. He wants a priest. It is your place to go to
him, whether he is your own father, or a swineherd. You are alone here,
and you have no choice."
"Yes, I am alone. I wish I were not. I wish that the princess would get
me an assistant."
"It will be best if you come to the castle in about an hour," said
Taquisara, paying no attention to Don Teodoro's last remark. "By that
time Gianluca will be in his sitting-room, and I shall be with him. The
Duca and Duchessa will be out for their walk, for the weather is cool
and fine, and they do not know of his imminent danger. Come in without
warning, as though you had just come to pay him a visit of a quarter of
an hour. You have done the same thing before. I will go away after five
minutes and leave you together. Donna Veronica will not interrupt you."
"Very well," replied the priest, in a tone that was still reluctant. "If
it must be, it must be."
Taquisara looked at him curiously and went away to arrange matters as he
proposed. But Don Teodoro, though he wore his spectacles, with the help
of which he really could see very well, did not notice the young man's
glance of curiosity, as he went with him to the door, and carefully
fastened it after him, which was an unusual proceeding on his part; for
though he lived quite alone, the poor people never found that door
locked by day or night. An old woman came every day to do the little
household work that was necessary, and to cook something for him, when
he ate at home. But to-day, for once, he drew the rusty old bolt across,
before he went back to his study. He did nothing which could seem to
have justified the precaution, after he had sat down again in his big
wooden easy-chair; and if the door had been wide open, and if any one
had come in without warning, the visitor would have found the priest
before the table, slowly lifting one long, bent shank of his silver
spectacles and letting it fall upon the other, in a slow and
absent-minded fashion to which no one could have attached any especial
importance. People who have kept a secret very long and well, keep it
when they are alone, even when it turns its bones in the narrow grave of
their hearts, reminding them that it is there and would be glad to see
if it could get a vampire's dead life for a night, and come out, and
Taquisara went away and re-entered the castle, walking more slowly than
was his wont. In the narrow court within, he stopped before passing
through the door, and stood a long time staring at a fragment of a
marble tablet with a part of a Roman inscription cut on it, which was
built into the enormous masonry of the main wall and had remained white
while the surrounding blocks had grown black with age. There was no more
apparent reason why he should try to make out the meaning of the
inscription, than why Don Teodoro should play so long with his glasses,
all alone in his room. But Taquisara was not thinking of Don Teodoro. He
had a secret of his own to keep from everybody, and if possible from
But that was not easy. The thing which had taken hold of him was as
strong as he was and seemed to be watching him, grip for grip, hold for
hold, wrench for wrench. It had not beaten him yet, but he knew that to
yield a hair's breadth would mean a fall, and a bad one. He had almost
relaxed his strength that little, last night, when he had been alone
He read the letters of the inscription over twenty times, then turned
sharply on his heel and went in, having probably convinced himself that
to waste time over his own thoughts was the worst waste imaginable,
since the more he thought of anything, the more he loved Veronica. And
he had set himself to arrange the meeting between Gianluca and Don
Teodoro, and each hour was precious.
His face helped him, for he did not easily betray emotion; he rarely
changed colour at all, and was not a man of mobile features. But he had
grown thinner since he had been in Muro, and the clearly cut curves that
marked the Saracen strain in him were sharper and more defined.
He went in and met Veronica in the large room in which they usually
fenced, and which lay between what was really the drawing-room and the
apartment set aside for Gianluca and Taquisara. She was standing alone
beside the table, her face very white, and as she turned to Taquisara,
he saw something desperate in her eyes.
"I have seen the doctor again," she said, not waiting for any greeting,
and knowing that he would understand.
"And I have seen the priest," answered Taquisara.
She started, and pressed her lips tightly to suppress something. Her
eyes wandered slowly and then came back to the Sicilian before she
"You have done right," she said, and then paused a second. "He is going
to die to-day," she added, very low.
"That is not sure," replied Taquisara. "The doctor says that he has
"No," interrupted Veronica. "I know it--I feel it."
She was resting one hand on the heavy table, and as she spoke she bent
down, as though bowed in bodily pain. Taquisara saw the sharp lines in
the smooth young forehead, and his teeth bit hard on one another as he
watched her. He could not speak. With a quick-drawn breath she
straightened herself suddenly and looked at him again. He thought he
saw the very slightest moisture, not in her eyes, but on the lower lids
and just below them. It was very hard to shed tears, and not like her.
"Hope!" he said gently.
During what seemed a long time they stood looking at each other with
unchanging faces, and neither spoke. Some people know that dead silence
which descends while fate's great hand is working in the dark, and men
hold their breath and shut their eyes, listening speechless for the dull
footfall of near destiny.
At last Veronica, without a word, turned from the table and went slowly
towards a door. Taquisara did not move. When her hand was on the lock,
she turned her head.
"Stand by me, whatever I do to-day," she said earnestly.
"Yes. I will."
He did not find any eloquent words nor oaths of protest, but she saw his
face and believed him. She bent her head once, as though acknowledging
his promise, and she went out quietly, closing the door behind her.
Some minutes passed before Taquisara also left the room in the other
direction. He wondered why she had said those last words, for he had
seen again that desperate look in her face and did not understand it.
Perhaps she meant to marry Gianluca before he died, and at the thought
Taquisara felt as though a strong man had struck him a heavy blow just
on his heart, and for one instant he steadied himself by the table and
swallowed hard, as though the breath were out of him. It did not last a
moment. Then he, too, went out, to go to his friend.
Gianluca was gentle, quiet, almost cheerful, on that morning. He had
evidently forgotten that he had opened his eyes and seen Taquisara
standing by his bedside in the night, nor would he have thought anything
of so common an occurrence had it come back to his recollection. He
certainly did not remember having spoken of dying. But he was very weak,
and his face was deadly pale, rather than transparent, as it usually
Taquisara had thought of what the doctor had said about his sufferings,
and hesitated before lifting him to carry him to the next room.
"Tell me," he said, "does it hurt you very much when I take you up?"
"It hurts," answered Gianluca, with a smile. "Hurting is relative, you
know. I can bear it very well. There are things that hurt more."
"What? When you try to move alone?"
"Oh no! Imaginary things. You hurt me very little--you are so careful.
What should I have done without you?"
Taquisara had never touched him so tenderly before, though he was
always as gentle as a woman with him. He lifted him, carried him from
his bedroom and laid him in his accustomed chair. The pale head rested
with a sigh upon the brown silk cushion.
"Thank you," he said faintly. "That was better than ever. But I am
better to-day, too."
The Sicilian said nothing, but proceeded to arrange all the invalid's
small belongings near him,--his books, his cigarettes,--for he sometimes
smoked a little,--and the stimulant he took, and a few wild flowers
which Elettra renewed every morning. Gianluca drew a breath of
satisfaction when all was done. He really felt a little better, and by
Taquisara's care had suffered less than usual in the moving. His father
and mother had been in to see him as usual, before he was up, and before
they went out for their daily walk. Veronica would not come yet, but he
had the true invalid's pleasure in anticipating the coming of a
well-loved woman. As often happens in such cases he seemed quite
unconscious of his approaching danger.
He was not surprised when Don Teodoro came in, a little later, and the
two very soon fell into conversation together. Taquisara presently went
away and left them, as he often did when they began to talk of books.
Half an hour had not passed since his meeting with Veronica, but as he
again entered the room where they had met, he found her standing before
the window, looking out, and twisting her handkerchief slowly with both
her hands. She started when she heard him come in, and she turned her
head to see who it was that had opened the door. To go on, he had to
pass near her, and she kept her eyes on his face as he approached her.
"How is he?" she asked in a voice hardly recognizable as her own.
She had an agonized look, and she raised her handkerchief to her mouth
quickly, and held it, almost biting it, while he answered her.
"He says that he feels better. Don Teodoro is there. He has just come.
Is there anything that I can do?"
She shook her head, still holding the handkerchief to her lips, and
again looked out of the window. He waited a moment longer and then
passed on, leaving her alone. He saw that she was half mad with anxiety,
and he neither trusted himself to speak, nor believed that speaking
could be of any use. He went down to the lower bastion, where he could
be alone, and for a long time he walked steadily up and down, trying
hard to think of nothing, and sometimes counting his steps as he walked,
in order to keep his mind from itself.
He did not idealize the woman he loved, for he was not a man of ideals,
nor of much imagination. Such defects as she might have, he did not
see, and if he had seen them he would have been indifferent to them. To
such a man, loving meant everything and admitted of no comment, because
there was no part of him left free to judge. He was a whole-souled man,
who asked no questions of himself and no advice of others. He had never
needed counsel, in his own opinion, and for the rest, what he felt was
himself and not a secondary, dual being of separate passions and
impressions which he could analyze and examine. He had never
comprehended that strange machine of nicely-balanced doubts and
certainties, forever in a state of half-morbid equilibrium between the
wish, the thought, and the deed--such a man as Pietro Ghisleri was, for
instance, who would refuse a beggar an alms lest the giving should be a
satisfaction to his own vanity, and then, perhaps, would turn back in
pity and give the poor wretch half a handful of silver. When Taquisara
once knew that he loved Veronica, he never reverted to a state of doubt.
He fought against it, because his friend had loved her first, and
rooting himself where he stood, as it were, he would have let the
passion tear him piecemeal rather than be moved by it. But he never had
the smallest doubt as to what the passion was in itself and might be, in
its consequences, if he should be weak for one moment. Simple struggles,
when they are for life and death, are more terrible than any
complicated conflict can possibly be.
Don Teodoro was a long time alone with Gianluca. Whatever reasons he had
of his own for not wishing to comply with Taquisara's request, he
overcame them and faithfully carried out the mission imposed upon him.
In itself it was no very hard one. Gianluca was a religious man, as
Taquisara had said that he was, and he knew that he was very ill, though
he did not believe himself to be dying. With his character and in his
condition, he was glad to talk seriously with such a man as Don Teodoro,
and then to lay before him the account of his few shortcomings according
to the practice of his belief.
The old priest came out at last, grave and bent, and, going through the
rooms, he came upon Veronica standing alone where Taquisara had left
her. She did not know how long she had stood there, waiting for him. He
paused before her, and her eyes questioned him.
"He wishes to see you," he said simply.
"How is he?" He had not understood her unspoken question. "How is he?"
she repeated, as he hesitated a moment.
"To me he seems no worse. He says that he feels better to-day. But there
is something, some change--something, I cannot tell what it is, since I
last saw him."
"Stay here--please stay in the house!" said Veronica. "He may need you."
While she was speaking she had gone to the door, and she went out
without looking back. A moment later, she was by Gianluca's side. She
saw that what Don Teodoro had said was true. There was an undefinable
change in his features since the previous day, and at the first sight of
it her heart stood still an instant and the blood left her face, so that
she felt very cold. She kept her back to the light, that he might not
see that she was disturbed, and while she asked him how he was, her
hands touched, and displaced, and replaced the little objects on the
small table beside him,--the book, the glass, the flowers in the silver
cup, the silver cigarette case, the things which, being quite helpless,
he liked to have within his reach.
"I really feel better to-day," he said, watching her lovingly, as he
answered her question. "I wish I could go out."
"You can be carried out upon the balcony in a little while," she said.
"It is too cool, yet. It was a cold night, for we are getting near the
end of August."
"And in Naples they are sweltering in the heat," he answered, smiling.
"It is beautiful here. I can see the mountains through the open window,
and the flowers tell me what the hillsides are like, in the sunshine.
Taquisara says that your maid brings them every morning. Thank you--of
course it is one of your endless kind doings."
"No," replied Veronica, frankly. "It is her way of showing her devotion,
poor thing! Everybody loves you in the house--even the people who have
hardly ever seen you. The women, speak of you as 'that angel'!" She
tried to laugh cheerfully.
"I am glad they like me, though I have done nothing to be liked by them.
Please thank your maid for me. It is very kind of her."
There was a little disappointment in his voice; for he had been happy in
believing that Veronica sent the flowers herself, not because he needed
coin of kindness to prove her wealth of friendship, but because whatever
small thing came from her hand had so much more value for him than the
greatest and most that any one else could give.
She sat down beside him, and endeavoured to talk as though she were
quite unconcerned. She tried not to look at his face, upon which it
seemed to her that death was already fixing the last mask of life's
comedy. It was the more terrible, because he was so quiet and so sure of
life that morning, so convinced that he was better, so almost certain
that he should get well.
It seemed an awful thing to sit there, talking against death; but she
did her best not to think, and only to talk and talk on, and make him
believe that she was cheerful, while, in a kind way, she kept him from
coming back to within a phrase's length of his love for her. It was hard
for him, too, to make any effort. The doctor had said so. And all the
time, she fancied that his features became by degrees less mobile, and
that the transparent pallor so long familiar to her was turning to
another hue, grey and stony, which she had never seen.
Suddenly, while she was speaking of some indifferent thing, his eyelids
closed and twitched, and his hand went out towards hers, almost
spasmodically. She caught it and held it, bending far forward, and again
her heart stood still till she missed its beating.
"What is it?" she asked, staring into his face, and already half wild
He could shake his head feebly, but for a moment he could not speak.
With one of her hands she still held his, and with the other she pressed
his brow. He smiled, as in a spasm, and then his face was a little
distorted. She felt his life slipping from her, under her very touch, as
though it were her fault because she would not hold it and keep it for
"Gianluca!" she cried, repeating his name in an agonized tone.
"Gianluca! You must not die! I am here--"
He opened his eyes, and the faint smile came back, but without a spasm
"It was a little pain," he said. "I am sorry--it frightened you."
"Thank God!" she exclaimed, still bending over him. "Oh--I thought you
"Your voice--would bring me back--Veronica," he said, with many little
efforts, word by word, but with life in his face.
She moved, and held the glass to his lips. Bravely he lifted his hand,
and tried to hold it himself. He drank a little of the stimulant, and
then his pale head sank back, with the short, fair hair about his
forehead, like a glory.
"Ah yes!" he said, speaking more easily, a moment later. "Death could
never be so near but that you might stand between him and me--if you
would," he added, so softly that the three words just reached her ears,
as the far echo of sad music, full of beseeching tenderness.
Still she held his hand, and gazed down into his face. They had told her
long ago that he was dying of love for her. In that moment she believed
it true. He seemed to tell her so, to be telling it with his last
breath. And each breath might be the last. Science could not save him.
Physicians disagreed--the great authority himself could not say whether
he was to live or die. He fainted, fell back, seemed dead already, and
her voice and touch brought him to life, happy for an instant, hoping
still and living only by the beating of hope's wings. And with all that,
though she did not love him, he was to her the dearest of all living
beings. Holding his hand still, she looked upward, as though to be alone
with herself for one breathing space. But as she stood there, she
pressed his fingers little by little more tightly, not knowing what she
did, so that he wondered.
Then she bent down again, and steadily gazed into the upturned blue
eyes, and once more smoothed away the fair hair from the pallid brow.
"Do you wish it very much?" she asked simply.
Half paralyzed though he was, he started, and the light that came
suddenly to his face, wavered and sank and rose once more. She seemed to
hear his words again, saying that she could stand between death and him,
were death ever so near.
"You?" he faltered. "Wish for you? Ah God! Veronica--" his face grew
dead again. "No--no--I did not understand--"
"But I mean it!" she said, in desperate, low tones, for she thought he
was sinking back. "I will marry you, Gianluca! I will, dear--I will--I
am in earnest!"
Slowly his eyes opened again and looked at her, wide, startled, and half
blind with joy. So the leader looks who, stunned to death between the
door-posts of the hard-won gate, wakes unhurt to life in the tide of the
victory he led, and hears the strong music of triumph, and the huge
shout of brave men whose bursting throats cry out his name for very
glory's sake, their own and his.
Gianluca's eyes opened, and with sudden pressure he grasped the hand
that had so long held his, believing because he held it and felt the
flesh and blood and the warmth in his own shadowy hold.
"Veronica--love!" She would not have thought that he could press her
fingers so hard, weak as he was.
The word smote her, even then, with a small icy chill, and though she
smiled, there was a shadow in her face. Again he doubted.
"Veronica--for the love of God--you are not deceiving me, to save my
life?" The vision of despair rose in his eyes.
"Deceive you? I?" she cried, with sudden energy. "Indeed, indeed, I mean
it, as I said it."
"Yes--but--but if, to-morrow--" Again his voice was failing, and she was
hand to hand with death, for him.
"No! There shall be no to-morrow for that--it shall be now!"
"Now? To-day? Now?"
He seemed to rise and sink, and sink and rise again, on the low-surging
waves of his life's ebbing tide.
"Yes--now!" she answered. "This moment Don Teodoro is in the house--I
will call him--let me go for a moment--only one moment!"
"No--no! Do not leave me!" He clung frantically to her hand.
"But--yes--call him--call him! And Taquisara. He is my friend--Oh! It
kills me to let you go!"
It was indeed the very supreme moment. The great burst of happiness had
almost killed him, and he was like a child, not knowing what he wanted.
Still he clutched her hand. A quick thought crossed her mind. She had
gone to the window for a moment, to fasten it back, and had seen
Taquisara walking under the vines. He might be there.
"Let me go to the window," she said, regaining her self-possession.
"Taquisara may be on the bastion--I saw him there. He will call Don
Teodoro, and I shall not have to leave you."
Any reasoning which kept her by his side was divinely good. Her words
calmed him a little, and his hands gradually loosened themselves. But as
she turned quickly, he uttered a very low cry, and tried to catch her
skirt. She did not hear him. She was already speaking from the window;
for the Sicilian was still there, walking up and down, as he had done
for more than an hour. She called to him. He started, and looked up
through the broad leaves.
"Get Don Teodoro at once, and bring him," she cried. "He is in the
Taquisara thought that Gianluca was dying, and neither paused nor
answered, as he disappeared within.
Veronica came back instantly. She had not been gone thirty seconds, but
already the sick man's face was grey again, though his eyes were wide
and staring. His head had fallen to one side, on the brown silk cushion,
in his last attempt to reach her. With both hands, she raised him a
little, so that he lay straight again.
"They are coming--they are coming, dear one!" she repeated. "Live, live!
Gianluca--live, for me!"
In her agony of fighting for his life, she pushed his hair back, and
pressed her lips in one long kiss upon his forehead. A shiver ran
through him, and the sense came back to his eyes. But though she held
his hand, there was no more strength in it to grasp hers. He sighed the
words she heard.
"Love--is it you? Veronica--love--life! Ah, Christ!"
And his lids closed again. The door opened, and was shut, and Veronica
half turned her head to see, but she brought her face tenderly nearer to
his, as though to let him know that it was for his sake she looked away.
Don Teodoro and Taquisara were both in the room. Even before she spoke,
she had changed her hold upon Gianluca's fingers, and held his right
hand in hers, as those hold hands who are to be wedded.
"Bless us!" she said to the priest. "This is our marriage! Say the
Taquisara's face was livid, for he had as much of instant death in him
as the dying man, though he could not die. But he did not fail. He came
and knelt on the other side of the couch, away from Veronica. The priest
stood at the foot, in pale hesitation. Veronica's eyes commanded.
"Speak quickly!" she said. "I will marry him--I have said it!
Gianluca--say it--say that you will marry me!"
Holding his right hand, with her left thrust under his pillow she lifted
him so that he sat almost upright. It needed all her strength, and she
was very desperate for him.
"Volo!" The one word floated on the air, breathed, not spoken, and dead
Again Veronica turned to Don Teodoro.
"Say the words. I command you! I have the right--I am free!"
The priest's face was white now. He stretched out his arms, lifting his
A worse change was in Gianluca's face before Don Teodoro had spoken the
words he had to say. Taquisara saw it. Both he and Veronica bent over
the motionless head. Still Veronica held the cold hand in hers.
Taquisara knew that in another instant the priest would speak. Gently,
with womanly tenderness, though his soul was on the wheel of anguish, he
took Veronica's right hand and loosed it, and Gianluca's fell cold and
motionless from her fingers.
"He is gone," he whispered, close to her ear, and he held her right hand
firmly, in his horror at the thought that she might be wedded to a man
Veronica made a slight effort of instinct, to loose his hold and to take
the hand that had fallen from hers. But it was only instinctive and
hardly conscious at all. Her eyes were on Gianluca's face, and the
blackness of a vast grief already darkened her soul.
There was but an instant. The tall old priest, with eyes lifted
heavenwards, neither saw nor heard.
"Ego conjungo vos--" He said all the words, and then, high in air, he
made the great sign of the cross. "Benedictas vos omnipotens Deus--" and
he spoke all the benediction.
He closed his eyes a moment in instant prayer. When he opened them and
looked down, his face turned whiter still. On each side, before him,
knelt the living, Veronica and Taquisara, their hands clasped and
wedded, as they had been when he had spoken the high sacramental words,
and between them, white, motionless, the halo of his fair hair about
his marble brow, lay Gianluca della Spina, like an angel dead on earth.
"Merciful Lord! What have I done!" cried the priest.
At the sound of his voice Taquisara turned quickly. But Veronica did not
hear. The Sicilian saw where Don Teodoro's starting eyes were fixed, and
he understood, and his own blood shrieked in his ears, for he was
married to Veronica Serra. Married--half married, wholly married,
married truly or falsely, by the sudden leap of violent chance--but a
marriage it was, of some sort. Both he and the priest knew that, and
that it must be a voice of more authority than Don Teodoro's which could
say that it was no marriage. For the Church's forms of office, that are
necessary, are few and very simple, but they mean much, and what is done
by them is not easily undone. But Veronica neither saw nor heard.
"I think--I assure you that nobody knows anything--but I think that Don
Gianluca will improve rapidly after this crisis."
That was the opinion of the great doctor, when he had seen the patient
on the afternoon of that memorable day. For Veronica, Taquisara, and Don
Teodoro had all three been mistaken when they had thought that Gianluca
was dead. As the doctor said, there had been a crisis, an inward
convulsion of the nerves, a fainting which had been almost a catalepsy,
and, several hours later, a return to consciousness with a greatly
increased chance of life, though with extreme momentary exhaustion.
It was Taquisara who went to find the doctor, leaving Veronica on her
knees, while Don Teodoro stood motionless at the foot of the couch, his
hands gripping each other till his nails cut the flesh, his grotesque
face invested for the moment with an almost sublime horror of what he
had unwittingly done.
And then had come the physician's systematic and painful search for
life, his doubts, his hopes, his suspicions, his increasing hope again,
his certainty at last that all was not over--and then the necessity for
instantly carrying out his orders, the getting of all things needed for
the sick man snatched out of death, and all the confusion that rises
when the whole being of a great household must exert its utmost strength
in one direction, to save one life.
Amidst it all, too, the helpless father and mother ran about tearful,
incoherent, wringing their hands, believing no one and yet believing the
impossible, praying, crying, talking, hindering everything in their
supreme parents' right to be in the way and nearest to what they loved
best--hysterical with joy, both of them, at the end, when the physician
said that Gianluca was to live, and was not dead as they had thought
him, and wildly, pathetically, insanely grateful to Veronica.
"I saw that he was dying," she told them simply, when he was out of
danger. "I sent for Don Teodoro, and we were married."
They fell upon her neck, the old man and the prematurely old woman,
kissing her, pressing her in their arms, crying over her, not knowing
what they did.
When he saw that she was telling them, Taquisara went away from them to
his own room and stayed there some time. And Don Teodoro also went home,
and for the second time on that day he bolted his battered door and made
sure that he was alone. But he did not sit at his table playing with
his spectacles, as in the morning. He knelt in a corner, against one of
his rough bookcases, bowed to the ground as though a mountain had come
upon him unawares, and now and then he beat his forehead against the
parchment bindings of his favourite folio Muratori, as certain wild
beasts crouch on their knees and with a swinging of slow despair strike
their heads against the bars of their cage many times in succession.
For Taquisara and Don Teodoro knew, each knowing also that the other
knew, that what Veronica believed to have been done that day had not
been really done, save in the intention, and that what had really been
done must by Church law and right be undone before she could be truly
married to Gianluca della Spina. That is to say, if the thing done had
any value whatsoever before God and man.
It is easy to say that in other lands and under other practices of faith
the four persons concerned in what had happened might have honestly told
themselves that such a marriage was no marriage at all. An unbelieving
Italian, and there are many in the cities, though few in the country,
would have laughed and said that the important point was the legal union
pronounced by the municipal authority, and that since there had been
none here, there was nothing to undo. Yet if by any similar
chance--more difficult to imagine, of course, but conceivable for
argument's sake--the same mistake had occurred in a legal marriage by a
syndic, that same unbelieving Italian would have felt in regard to it
precisely what Taquisara and Don Teodoro felt, namely, that the union
was well nigh indissoluble. For Italy, as a nation and a whole, while
imitating other nations in many respects, has again and again refused to
listen to any suggestion embodying a law of divorce. To all Italians,
high, low, atheists, bigots, monarchists, republicans,--whatever they
may be,--marriage is an absolutely indissoluble bond. The most that they
will allow, and have always allowed, is that in such cases as
Veronica's, it is in the power of the highest authority, ecclesiastic or
legal, according to their persuasion, to annul a marriage altogether and
declare that it never took place at all, on the ground that the
requirements of the Church or of the law have not been properly
In society, of the two forms, which are both looked upon as necessary
together, the blessing of the Church is considered by far the more
indispensable, though most people acknowledge the importance and
validity of the other, as well as its wisdom; and society, as an
aristocratic body, as a rule refuses absolutely to receive within its
doors an Italian couple who have not been married by a priest. Among all
society's many traditions and prejudices, there is none more ancient,
more deep-rooted, or more rigorous to-day than this one.
Under these circumstances it is not surprising that Taquisara, strong,
loyal, and simple as he was, should honestly believe with all his heart
that he had been married to Veronica; nor that Don Teodoro himself
should look upon what he had unwittingly done as being something which
he alone had no power to undo, if, in all conscience and truth, it had
been done at all.
The worst point of all, in the opinion of those two men, was that
Veronica sincerely believed herself married to Gianluca, as in her
intention she really was, while Gianluca himself, having pronounced the
solemn 'I will' with his last conscious breath and being told on coming
to himself that the sacramental words had been spoken, had no reason at
all for doubting that he was actually her husband. The position was as
full of difficulties as could be imagined. To let Gianluca know the
truth would have been almost certain to kill him. To speak of it to
Veronica for the present seemed almost equally impracticable, though it
was quite impossible to take any steps towards the annulling of the
marriage without her open concurrence and help, as well as Taquisara's.
Meanwhile, not only she and Gianluca, but the Duca and Duchessa, too,
regarded the matter as altogether settled and accomplished. At any
moment Veronica had it in her power to send for the syndic of Muro and
cause the necessary formalities of the municipal marriage to be properly
executed. She would then be legally married to Gianluca, while in the
eyes of the Church she was already Taquisara's wife, by the fact of form
though not by the intention of any one.
It did not occur either to Taquisara or to the priest that they could
keep their secret forever and allow matters to proceed to such a
conclusion. Don Teodoro was far too earnest a believer and a churchman
at heart to allow what he should consider a great sin to be committed
without any attempt to hinder it, and with the Sicilian the point of
honour was concerned, as well as a deeply rooted adherence to social
tradition and to the forms and ceremonies of religion in which he had
been brought up. They were neither of them men to have so repudiated all
they held the most sacred in faith and honour, even if either of them
had held the secret alone without the other's knowledge.
But each knew that the other knew the truth, and on that first day, each
departed to his own room lest he should be suddenly brought face to face
again with the other.
It was his unwillingness to allow a thing to be done which, as a man and
a gentleman, he thought both dishonourable and wrong, that prevented
Taquisara from leaving Muro at once. For himself, his first impulse was
to escape from the situation, from the horrible temptation he endured
when he was with Veronica, from the barest possibility of any
unfaithfulness to his friend. At that time the Italians were fighting in
Massowah and as an officer of the reserve he could have volunteered for
active service at a moment's notice--with a terribly good prospect of
never coming back alive.
But even his death would hardly have mended matters, in his scrupulous
opinion, unless Veronica should of her own accord and without any
especial reason insist upon being again married in church, contrary to
the Church's own rule, but on the reasonable ground that Gianluca had
been unconscious during a part of the ceremony. If Taquisara were dead,
such a marriage would be valid, of course; but the prospect of his death
gave him no assurance that she would ever do such a thing at all; and,
moreover, in spite of his passionate temperament, he was far too
sensible a man to think deliberately of sacrificing his life for such
reasons. Like many another man suddenly placed in a hard position as an
obstacle in the path of a loved woman, he asked himself the question,
whether, in honour and against religion, he should not commit suicide.
But the answer was a foregone conclusion, and it was plainly his duty to
stand by his friend and by Veronica, alive and able to do the best he
could for them both. In immediate present circumstances his presence
was of the greatest importance to Gianluca, who depended on him almost
entirely for help, in his sensitive dislike of being touched and moved
And the man who was thus thrust into a situation from which it seemed
hard to escape at all, loved Veronica Serra with all his heart, with all
his soul, with the broad, deep, simple passion of simpler times, having
in him much of that old plainness of character which made men take
without question the things they wanted, and hold them by main strength
and stoutness of heart against all comers while they lived.
There had been a time when he had been able to speak coldly to her, and
to seem to dislike her. That was past, and his devotion was even in his
hands and visible, if he did with them the smallest act for her service.
She saw it, and was glad, for he pleased her more and more in the days
that followed the great day, while Gianluca lay pale and happy and
gaining a little strength, and she, as his wife, sat through many hours
of the day by his bedside, reading to him, and telling him much about
her life, but not often allowing him to speak much, lest he should lose
ground and be in danger again. It seemed to her at that time that
Taquisara was learning to be another friend to her, less in most ways
than Gianluca had been, but having much that Gianluca had not--the
strength, the decision, the toughness. She did not miss those things in
Gianluca. She would not have had him otherwise than he was, but she saw
them all, and felt their influence, and admired them in the other man.
She felt, too, that she had often treated him with unnecessary and
almost unmannerly coldness, and repenting of it, she meant, in pure
innocence of maiden purpose, to make it up to him now, by being more
kind. Indeed, she could not understand why she had ever been so hard to
him in former days, excepting when he had spoken so rudely to her at
Bianca's house; and since she had seen and learned to value his loyal
affection for Gianluca, she had not only forgiven him for what he had
said, but had found that, on the whole, he had been right to say it.
As for her marriage with Gianluca, it seemed to her to have changed
nothing, beyond the great change it had wrought in him for the better.
She talked with him as before. She felt, as before, that he was her
dearest and best friend. To please him, she made plans with him for
their future, though sometimes the sharp fear for his life ran through
her heart like a needle of ice. They could live half the year in Naples
and the other six months in Muro, but sometimes, when he should be quite
well, they would travel and see the world together. It was pleasant to
think that they had the right to be always together, now, for it would
have seemed terrible even to Veronica to go back to the old days of
letter-writing. To her, their marriage had been the final cementing of
the most beautiful friendship in the world. She was glad that she had
given her life for him, since, after all, the giving of it now changed
it so little. It was clear, she thought, that she was made for
friendship and not for love; and since she was so made, she had done the
best in marrying her best friend.
One day, when Gianluca was asleep, she had gone alone to her little rose
garden up by the dungeon tower. The autumn was beginning in the
mountains; there were few roses left, and the northerly breeze blew up
to her out of the vast depth at her feet. Alone there, she thought of
all these things and of how she was intended by her nature for this
friendship of hers. Seasoning about it with herself, she took an
imaginary case. Suppose, she thought, that she had begun to be
Taquisara's friend, instead of Gianluca's, on that day in Bianca's
garden. Her mind worked quickly. She pictured to herself the long
correspondence, the intimacy of thought, the meeting and the destruction
of the dividing barrier, the daily, hourly growing friendship, and
then--the marriage, the touch of hands, the first kiss.
The scarlet blood leapt up like fire to her face. She started and
looked round, half dreading lest some one might be there to see. But she
was quite alone, and she wondered at herself. It must be shame, she
thought, at the mere idea of marrying another man when she was
Gianluca's wife. At all events, she said in her heart, she would not
think of such things again. It was probably a sin, and she would
remember to speak of it, at her next confession. Don Teodoro would tell
her what he thought. For in lonely Muro, she had no other confessor, nor
desired any. Her faults, great and small, were such as she would have
acknowledged and discussed with the good man, in her own drawing-room as
willingly as in church--as, indeed, she often did. But not wishing to be
alone with herself any longer on that day, she came down from the tower
and went to her room, where she spent an hour with Elettra in examining
the state of her very much reduced wardrobe.
"Your Excellency is in rags," observed the woman. "You cannot appear in
Naples as a bride with any of the things you have. In the first place,
you have scarcely anything that is not black or white. But also, though
some of these clothes had a cheerful youth, their old age is very sad."
Veronica laughed at Elettra's way of expressing herself, and they went
over all the wardrobe together that afternoon.
As Taquisara saw how those around him seemed to have recovered from the
terrible emotions through which they had passed, and how the life in the
castle quickly subsided again to its monotonous level and ran on in its
old channel, the temptation to solve all difficulties by letting matters
alone presented itself to him with considerable force. Ten days had gone
by, and he had not once found himself alone with Don Teodoro. When they
met, they avoided each other's eyes, and each remained separately face
to face with the same trouble, while each had a trouble of his own with
which the other had nothing to do.
There was little or no change now from what had formerly been the daily
round. Again, as before, Taquisara carried his friend daily from his own
room to the large one in which Veronica and the Sicilian again fenced
almost every day. Sometimes, when it was fine and warm, Gianluca was
taken out upon the balcony for a couple of hours. He no longer suffered
in being moved; but his lower limbs were now completely paralyzed. He
hardly thought of the fact, in his constant and increasing happiness. It
was only when he saw the fencing that he sometimes looked down sadly at
his useless legs and thin hands, for fencing was the only exercise for
which he had ever cared. He had none of that sanguine vitality which
would have made such an existence intolerable to Taquisara, or even to
Veronica. With her beside him, or if he could not have her, with books
or conversation, he was not only contented, but happy. It must be
remembered, too, that he was not aware that his condition was hopeless
and that he might live a total cripple for many years to come. If he had
known that, he might have been less gay; not knowing it, married to the
woman he loved and looking forward to complete recovery, life was little
short of a paradise within sight of a heaven.
Veronica never tired of taking care of him, and one might have supposed
that she was satisfied with the prospect of nursing him all her life, or
all his. But she herself by no means believed the doctor's predictions.
She had been too sure that he was to die, and too much surprised and
delighted by his recovery, to accept on mere faith of any man's verdict
the assurance that he was never to walk again. There was the reaction,
too, after the strong emotion and the heart-rending anxiety, the
relaxation of mind and nerve, and the willingness to be happy again
after so much strain and stress.
As Gianluca's general health improved, the Duca and Duchessa began to
speak of an early departure for their own place near Avellino. Their
eldest son's illness had placed him first with them, but they had
several other children, all of whom had been under the care of a sister
of the Duchessa during the latter's stay at Muro. The motherly woman
was beginning to be anxious about them, and the old gentleman had a
fair-haired little daughter of eleven summers, whom he especially loved
and longed to see.
They thought that before long Gianluca might be moved. It was growing
colder, day by day, in the first chill of early autumn, and they
believed that a little warmth would do him good. Veronica should come
and pay them a visit, and Taquisara, too.
As for the marriage, they meant that it should be an open secret for a
little while longer. The servants knew of it, and would tell other
servants of course, and the Duchessa had written of it to her sister, on
hearing which fact Veronica had written to Bianca Corleone, telling her
exactly what had happened, lest Bianca should hear of it from some one
else. It was long before she had an answer to this letter, and when it
came Bianca's writing was full of her own desperate sadness, though
there were words of congratulation for Veronica, such as the occasion
seemed to require. Bianca wrote from a remote corner of Sicily, where
she was living almost alone on her husband's principal estate. There had
been trouble. Corleone had suddenly taken it into his head to come home
for a few weeks. Then Bianca's brother, Gianforte Campodonico, had
appeared and had taken a violent dislike to Pietro Ghisleri, so that
Bianca feared a quarrel between them. Before anything had happened, she
had induced Ghisleri to go to Switzerland, and she herself had gone to
Sicily, whither her brother had accompanied her. But he had been obliged
to leave her soon afterwards, and she suspected that he had followed
Ghisleri to the north in order to pick a quarrel with him. She was very
unhappy, and there was much more about herself in her letter than about
The old couple grew daily more anxious to leave for Avellino. They
proposed that as soon as Gianluca could safely travel, the whole party
should go there together. Before returning to Naples for the winter, the
legal formalities of the municipal wedding could be fulfilled, and the
marriage should then be formally announced. Gianluca and Veronica would
come and spend the winter in the Della Spina palace, wherein, as in all
Italian patriarchal establishments, there was a spacious apartment for
the establishment of the eldest son whenever he should marry.
Once, when this was discussed before them, Taquisara met Don Teodoro's
eyes, and the two men looked steadily at each other for several seconds.
But even after that they avoided a meeting. It did not seem absolutely
necessary yet, and each knew that the other had not yet found the
solution of the difficulty. To every one's surprise, Gianluca opposed
the plan altogether. They all seemed to have taken it for granted that
he need not be consulted, and Veronica, in her complete self-sacrifice,
would have been willing to do whatever pleased the rest. But Gianluca
quietly refused to go to Avellino at all. So long as his wife would give
him hospitality, he said with a proud smile, he would stay in Muro.
After that, he should prefer to return directly to Naples. It was not
easy to argue against an invalid's prerogative. After some fruitless
attempts to move him, his father and mother temporarily desisted.
"You shall not go to Avellino," he said to Veronica, when they were
alone. "It is a den of wild children and intolerable relations, and you
would not have a moment's peace. You have no idea how detestable that
sort of existence would be after this heavenly calm. I am very fond of
my father and mother, and my brothers and sisters, and my relations, and
most of them are very good people in their way. But that is no reason
why you and I should be set up to be looked at, and tallied at, by them
all, twelve hours every day."
"I would certainly much rather stay here," answered Veronica, with a
little laugh. "That is, if you can induce them to stay here, too."
"For that matter, they are quite unnecessary," said Gianluca. "There is
no reason in the world why, if you like, we should not have the legal
marriage here since you have a syndic and a municipality. Then we could
announce it, and there would be no objection to our staying here alone."
"That is true," replied Veronica, thoughtfully. "We could always do
that, if we chose."
But she did not propose to do it at once, and he did not like to press
her. He saw no harm, however, in speaking of the project with Taquisara.
The Sicilian looked at him, said nothing, and then carefully examined a
cigar before lighting it. He had long expected that such a proposal
would come either from Gianluca or Veronica, and he was not surprised.
But when he at last heard it made he held his breath for a moment or two
and then began to smoke in silence.
"You say nothing," observed Gianluca. "Do you see any possible objection
to our doing that? Society ought to be satisfied."
"I should think so," answered Taquisara. "I should think that anything
would be better than Avellino and all the relations. As for going back
to Naples and having a municipal wedding there, and no religious
ceremony, I would not do it if I were you. The two marriages are always
supposed to take place on consecutive days, or at least very near
together, since both are necessary nowadays."
"I know," said Gianluca.
Taquisara made up his mind that he must take the initiative and speak
with Don Teodoro. He had been willing and ready to give up all right to
hope for the woman he loved, in order that his friend might marry her,
but the idea that there should be an irregularity about the marriage, or
no real marriage at all, as he believed was the case, was more than he
could, or would, bear. To speak with Veronica was out of the question.
He knew enough of women to understand that if she ever knew how, by an
accident, she had held his hand instead of Gianluca's at the moment when
she was giving her very soul to save the dying man, she might never
forgive him. She might even turn and hate him. She would never believe
that he himself had not known what he was doing. If it were possible, he
would not incur such risk. Anything in reason and honour would be better
than to be hated by her. He had seen her change of manner, of late, and
he knew very well that she was beginning to like him much more than
In the morning, after Don Teodoro had said mass, Taquisara went to him
and found him over his books. This time the priest recognized him at
once and rose to greet him gravely, as though he had expected his visit.
"Have you made up your mind what to do?" asked the Sicilian, as he sat
It was as though they had been in the habit of discussing the situation
together, and were about to renew a conversation which had been broken
"I know what I shall have to do, if matters go any further," answered
the priest, in a dull voice, unlike his own.
"What would that be?"
"It is in my power to cause the marriage to be declared null and void."
"By appealing to your bishop, I suppose. In that event Donna Veronica
would have to be told."
"There is another way."
"Then why do you not take it and act at once? Why do you hesitate?"
Taquisara watched him keenly.
"Because it would mean the sacrifice of my whole existence. I am human.
I hesitate, as long as there is any other hope."
"I do not understand. As for sacrificing your existence--that must be an
"Not at all. If it were only my own, I should not have hesitated,
perhaps. I do not know. But what I should do would involve a great and
direct injury to many others--to hundreds of other people."
Taquisara looked at him harder than ever, understanding him less and
"You seem to have a secret," he said at last, thoughtfully.
"Yes," answered the priest, resting his elbow on the old table and
shading his eyes with his hand, though there was no strong light to
dazzle him. "Yes--yes," he repeated. "I have a secret, a great secret.
I cannot tell it to you--not even to you, though you are one of the most
discreet men I ever met. You must forgive me, but I cannot."
"I do not wish to know it," replied Taquisara. "Especially not, if it
concerns many people."
A short silence followed, during which neither moved, nor looked at the
"Don Teodoro," asked the Sicilian, at last, in a low voice, "please tell
me your view of the case, as a priest. Am I, at the present moment, in
consequence of what happened a fortnight ago, actually married to Donna
Veronica, or not?"
The priest hesitated, looked down, took off his spectacles, and put them
on again, before he answered the question.
"I think," he said, "that most people, if any had been present, would be
of opinion that it was enough of a marriage to require a formal
annullation before any other could take place. I should certainly not
dare to consider the princess and Don Gianluca as married, when it was
you who held her right hand, and received the benediction with her in
the prescribed attitude."
"Yes," answered Taquisara; "but in your own individual opinion, as a
priest, am I married to her, or not?"
"As a priest, I can have no individual opinion. I can tell you, of
course, that the marriage can be annulled. In the first place, you
neither of you had the intention of being married to each other. In all
the sacraments, the intention of those to whom they are administered is
the prime consideration. It would only be necessary for you and the
princess to swear that you had no intention of being married, and that
it was, to the best of your knowledge, entirely an accident, and all
difficulties could be removed."
"Ah, yes! But then Donna Veronica would know, and Gianluca would have to
know it, too. I came here to tell you that they are seriously thinking
of sending for the syndic, to publish the banns of marriage at the
municipality and marry them legally, after which the Duca and Duchessa
will go to Avellino, and leave them here together. Whether it costs your
existence or mine, Don Teodoro, this thing shall not be done."
"No," said Don Teodoro. "It shall not. You are in a terrible position
yourself. I feel for you."
"I?" Taquisara bent his brows. "I, in a terrible position?"
"Do not be angry," answered the priest, gently. "I know your secret well
enough, though she does not guess it yet. Do not think me indiscreet
because I mention the fact. It would be far better if you could go away
for the present. But I know how you are situated, and you are helping to
prevent mischief. We must help each other. If it is to cost the
existence of one of us, it shall be mine. You are young, and I am old.
And that is not the only reason. My secret is not like yours. I cannot
let it go down into the grave with me. I have kept it long enough, and I
should have kept it longer, if this had not happened. I shall probably
go to Naples to-morrow. You must prevent them from publishing the banns
until I come back, or until you hear from me. I may never come back. It
"What do you mean?" asked Taquisara, for he saw a strange look in the
old man's clear eyes.
"I shall not end my life here," he said quietly.
"You? End your life? You, commit suicide? Are you mad, Don Teodoro?"
"Oh no! I may live many years yet. I hope that I may, for I have much to
repent of. But I shall not live here."
"I hope you will," said Taquisara. "But if you know my secret--keep it."
"As I have kept mine till now," answered the old man.
So they parted, and Taquisara went back to the castle, leaving the
lonely priest among his books.
Veronica did not wish the people of Muro to believe that she was
marrying a cripple. That was the reason why she did not at once agree to
Gianluca's proposal and send for the syndic to perform the legal
ceremony. She had persuaded herself that by quick degrees of
improvement, he would recover the power to stand upright, at least to
the extent to which he had still retained his strength when he had first
arrived. Since he had lived through the crisis, she grew sanguine for
him and hoped much.
Her feeling was natural enough in the matter, though it was made up of
several undefined instincts about which she troubled herself very
little--pride of race, pride of personal wholeness and soundness, pride
of womanhood in the manhood of a husband. Veronica named none of these
in her thoughts, but they were all in her heart. Few women would not
have felt the same in her place.
She was sure that he was to get better, if not quite well, and she
wished that he might be well enough to stand beside her on his feet when
they should be formally married. If he continued to improve as rapidly
as during the past fortnight, she believed that the day could not be far
off. When he could stand, in another month, perhaps, the syndic should
come. It was even possible that by that time he might be able to walk a
little with her in the village.
Her people were a sort of family to her. That was a remnant of feudalism
in her character, perhaps, which had suddenly developed during the
months she had spent in Muro. But that, too, was natural, as it was
natural that they should love her and almost worship the ground she
trod. For the poorer classes of Italians are sometimes very forgetful of
benefits, but are rarely ungrateful. She had done in a few months, for
their real advantage, so that they felt it, enough to make up for the
oppression of generations of Serra, and almost enough to atone for the
extortions of Gregorio Macomer. She was the last of her name, and her
husband, if he lived, was to be the father of a new stock, which would
be called Serra della Spina, and whose men would hold the lands and take
the rents and do good, or not, according to their hearts, each in his
generation. It seemed to her that the people had a right to see Gianluca
standing on his feet beside her, since her marriage was to mean so much
Don Teodoro came to her, soon after Taquisara had left him, to tell her
that he must go to Naples without delay. She looked at him in
astonishment at the proposal, and as she looked, she saw that his face
was changed. Oddly enough, he held himself much more erect than usual;
but his features were drawn down as though by much suffering, and his
eyes, usually so clear and steady, wandered nervously about the room.
"You are not well," said Veronica. "Why must you go now?"
"It is because I must go now that I am not well," answered the priest,
shaking his head. "I am very sorry to be obliged to leave you at this
time. I only hope that, if you are thinking of fulfilling the legal
formalities of your marriage, you will give me notice of the fact, so
that I may come back, if I can. You know that all that concerns you
concerns my life."
Veronica looked at him, and wondered why he was so much disturbed. But
his words gave her an opportunity of speaking to him about her own
decision. She did not wish him to think her capricious, much less to
imagine that she looked upon the marriage as a mere piece of sentiment,
which was not to change her life at all, except to bind her as a nurse
to the bedside of a hopeless invalid. That idea itself was beginning to
be repugnant to her, and the hope that Gianluca might recover was
becoming a necessary part of her happiness, though she scarcely knew
"My dear Don Teodoro," she said, "so far as that is concerned, you may
be quite sure that I will let you know in time. I have not the slightest
intention of fulfilling any legal formalities until my husband is well
enough to stand on his feet with me before the syndic; and I am afraid
that he will not be well enough for that in less than a month, at the
The wandering eyes suddenly fixed themselves on her face, the strange
great features relaxed, and the wide, thin lips smiled at her. His
happiness was strangely founded, but it was genuine, though not
altogether noble. Her words were a reprieve; and he could keep his
secret longer, almost, perhaps, until he died, and when he should be
dying, it would be easier to tell. But that was far from being all. He
loved her, as the source of great charity and kindness from which the
people were drawing life, with all his own passionate charity; and he
loved her for herself, for her gentleness and her hardness, because she
ruled him, and because she touched his heart. All other thoughts away,
he could not bear to think of her as bound for life to be the actual
wife of a helpless cripple.
And something of her own heart he half guessed and half knew. For in her
innocence she had confessed to him how she had thought of Taquisara,
when she had been alone that day, and how the blood had flowed in her
face, and burned her so that she was almost sure that such thoughts
must be wrong. It was because she had told him these things that he had
watched Taquisara ever since, and he had seen that the man loved her
But he knew also, as well as any one could know it, that Gianluca would
never stand upon his feet again. And, moreover, he knew that though it
would seem wrong to Veronica to love Taquisara, and would be wrong, if
she had intention, as it were, yet there could be no real sin in it, for
she was not Gianluca's wife. Had she been truly married, Don Teodoro,
gentle and old, would have found strength to force Taquisara to go
away--had anything more than the force of honour been needed in such a
"I am very glad, my dear Princess," he said, and his voice trembled in
the reaction after his own anxiety. "You do not wish me to go to Naples,
now?" he said with an interrogation, after a brief pause. "You would
rather that I should wait until Christmas?"
"Of course--if you can," answered Veronica, somewhat surprised at his
change of tone. "But if you really must go, if you are so very anxious
to go at once, I must not hinder you."
"I will see," said Don Teodoro. "I will think of it. Perhaps it can be
arranged--indeed, I think it can."
He was old, she thought, and he had never been decided in character,
except about doing good to poor people, and studying Church history. So
she did not press him with questions, but let him do as he would; and he
did not go to Naples then, but he went and found Taquisara within the
hour, and told him what Veronica had said about her marriage.
The Sicilian heard him in silence, as they stood together on the lower
bastion where they had met, but Don Teodoro saw the high-cut nostrils
quiver, while the even lips set themselves to betray nothing.
"If matters go no further than they have gone," he said at last, as the
priest waited, "we need do nothing."
So they did nothing, and Don Teodoro did not go to Naples.
The daily life ran on in its channel. But Gianluca did not continue to
improve so fast. Then it seemed as though improvement had reached its
limit, and still he was helpless to stand, being completely and
hopelessly paralyzed in his lower limbs. At first, neither the old
couple nor Veronica realized that he was no longer getting better,
though he was no worse. He himself did not believe it; but Taquisara saw
and understood. Gianluca refused to be moved, insisting that he was
gaining strength, and that some day the sensation would come suddenly to
his feet, and he should stand upright. Otherwise, he was now almost as
well as when he had come to Muro. They sent for a wheel-chair from
Naples, and he wheeled himself through the endless rooms, and to
luncheon, and to dinner, Veronica walking by his side. It gave his arms
exercise, and he became very expert at it, laughing cheerfully as he
made the wheels go round, and he went so fast that Veronica sometimes
had to run a few steps to keep up with him.
Then, one day, Taquisara carried him out to the gate, and set him in the
carriage, and Veronica took him for a short drive. The poor people were,
most of them, at their work, but the very old men and the boys and girls
turned out, and flocked after the victoria as it moved slowly through
the narrow street. Some of them called out words of simple blessing on
the couple, but others hushed them and said that the princess was not
really married yet. Gianluca smiled as he looked into Veronica's face,
and she smiled, too, but less happily.
The weather changed. There had been a short touch of cold in the air at
the end of August, and breezes from the north that poured down from the
heights behind the castle, into the tremendous abyss below, and shot up
again to the walls and the windows, even as high as the dungeon tower.
Then, at the new moon, the weather had changed, the sky grew warm again,
the little clouds hung high and motionless above the peaks, melting from
day to day to a serene, deep calm, in which, all the earth seemed to be
ripening in a great stillness while heaven held its breath, and the
mountains slept. In the rich valley the grapes grew full and dark, and
the last figs cracked with full sweetness in the sun, the pears grew
golden, and the apples red, and all the green silver of the olive groves
was dotted through and through its shade, with myriad millions of dull
green points, where the oil-fruit hung by little stems beneath the
An autumn began, such as no one in Muro remembered--an autumn of golden
days and dewy moonlight nights, soft, breathless, sweet, and tender. It
was a year of plenty and of much good wine, which is rare in the south,
for when the wine is much it is very seldom good. But this year all
prospered, and the people said that the Blessed Mother of God loved the
young princess and would bless her, and hers also, and give her husband
back his strength, even by a miracle if need should be.
Gianluca clung to the place where he was happy, and would not be taken
away. His mother humoured him, and the old Duca, yearning for his little
fair-haired daughter, went alone at last to Avellino.
Then came long conversations at night between the Duchessa and Veronica.
The Duchessa loved her son very dearly, but since he was so much better,
she was tired of Muro. She wished to see her other children. It was
ridiculous to expect that she and her husband should relieve each other
as sentries of propriety in Veronica's castle, the one not daring to go
till the other came back. Why should Veronica not send for the syndic
and have the formalities fulfilled? Once legally, as well as
christianly, man and wife, the two could stay in Muro as long as they
But Veronica would not. Gianluca was improving, and before long he would
walk. She had set her heart upon it, that he should be strong again. She
would not have her people think that he was a cripple. The people were
peasants, the Duchessa answered, peasants like any others. Why should
the Princess of Acireale care what such creatures thought? But
Veronica's eyes gleamed, and she said that they were her own people and
a part of her life, and she told the Duchessa all that was in her mind,
very frankly, and so innocently, yet with such unbending determination
to have her way, that the Duchessa did not know what to do. Thereupon,
after the manner of futile people, she repeated herself, and the
struggle began again.
It was a tragedy that had begun. Veronica had escaped with her life from
Matilde Macomer to find out in the consequence of her own free deeds
what tragedy really meant, and how bitter the fruit of good could be.
Nor in the slightest degree had her affection for Gianluca diminished,
nor did it change in itself, as days followed days to full weeks, and
week choked week, cramming whole months back into time's sack, for time
to bear away and cast into the abyss of the useless and irrevocable
Still he was her friend, still she would give her life to save him, and
would have given it again if it had been to give. Still she could talk
with him, and listen to him, and answer smile and word and gesture. She
could sit beside him through quiet hours, and drive with him in the
vast, still sunshine of that golden autumn, calling him by gentler names