Sant' Ilario by F. Marion Crawford
On the Saturday afternoon preceding the battle of Mentana, Sant' Ilario was alone in his own room, trying to pass the weary hours in the calculation of certain improvements he meditated at Saracinesca. He had grown very thin and careworn during the week, and he found it hard to distract his mind even for a moment from the thought of his misfortunes. Nothing but a strong mental effort in another direction could any longer fix his attention, and though any kind of work was for the present distasteful to him, it was at least a temporary relief from the contemplation of his misfortunes.
He could not bring himself to see Corona, though she grew daily worse, and both the physicians and the attendants who were about her looked grave. His action in this respect did not proceed from heartlessness, still less from any wish to add to her sufferings; on the contrary, he knew very well that, since he could not speak to her with words of forgiveness, the sight of him would very likely aggravate her state. He had no reason to forgive her, for nothing had happened to make her guilt seem more pardonable than before. Had she been well and strong as usual he would have seen her often and would very likely have reproached her again and again most bitterly with what she had done. But she was ill and wholly unable to defend herself; to inflict fresh pain at such a time would have been mean and cowardly. He kept away and did his best not to go mad, though he felt that he could not bear the strain much longer.
As the afternoon light faded from his chamber he dropped the pencil and paper with which he had been working and leaned back in his chair. His face was haggard and drawn, and sleepless nights had made dark circles about his deep-set eyes, while his face, which was naturally lean, had grown suddenly thin and hollow. He was indeed one of the most unhappy men in Rome that day, and so far as he could see his misery had fallen upon him through no fault of his own. It would have been a blessed relief, could he have accused himself of injustice, or of any misdeed which might throw the weight and responsibility of Corona's actions back upon his own soul. He loved her still so well that he could have imagined nothing sweeter than to throw himself at her feet and cry aloud that it was he who had sinned and not she. He tortured his imagination for a means of proving that she might be innocent. But it was in vain. The chain of circumstantial evidence was complete and not a link was missing, not one point uncertain. He would have given her the advantage of any doubt which could be thought to exist, but the longer he thought of it all, the more sure he grew that there was no doubt whatever.
He sat quite still until it was nearly dark, and then with a sudden and angry movement quite unlike him, he sprang to his feet and left the room. Solitude was growing unbearable to him, and though he cared little to see any of his associates, the mere presence of other living beings would, he thought, be better than nothing. He was about to go out of the house when he met the doctor coming from Corona's apartments.
"I do not wish to cause you unnecessary pain," said the physician, "but I think it would be better that you should see the princess."
"Has she asked for me?" inquired Giovanni, gloomily.
"No. But I think you ought to see her."
"Is she dying?" Sant' Ilario spoke under his breath, and laid his hand on the doctor's arm.
"Pray be calm, Signor Principe. I did not say that. But I repeat-- "
"Be good enough to say what you mean without repetition," answered Giovanni almost savagely.
The physician's face flushed with annoyance, but as Giovanni was such a very high and mighty personage he controlled his anger and replied as calmly as he could.
"The princess is not dying. But she is very ill. She may be worse before morning. You had better see her now, for she will know you. Later she may not."
Without waiting for more Giovanni turned on his heel and strode towards his wife's room. Passing through an outer chamber he saw one of her women sitting in a corner and shedding copious tears.
She looked up and pointed to the door in a helpless fashion. In another moment Giovanni was at Corona's bedside.
He would not have recognised her. Her face was wasted and white, and looked ghastly by contrast with the masses of her black hair which were spread over the broad pillow. Her colourless lips were parted and a little drawn, and her breath came faintly. Only her eyes retained the expression of life, seeming larger and more brilliant than he had ever seen them before.
Giovanni gazed on her in horror for several seconds. In his imagination he had supposed that she would look as when he had seen her last, and the shock of seeing her as she was, unstrung his nerves. For an instant he forgot everything that was past in the one strong passion that dominated him in spite of himself. His arms went round her and amidst his blinding tears he showered hot kisses on her death-like face. With a supreme effort, for she was so weak as to be almost powerless, she clasped her hands about his neck and pressed her to him, or he pressed her. The embrace lasted but a moment and her arms fell again like lead.
"You know the truth at last, Giovanni," she said, feebly. "You know that I am innocent or you would not--"
He did not know whether her voice failed her from weakness, or whether she was hesitating. He felt as though she had driven a sharp weapon into his breast by recalling all that separated them. He drew back a little, and his face darkened.
What could he do? She was dying and it would be diabolically cruel to undeceive her. In that moment he would have given his soul to be able to lie, to put on again the expression that was in his face when he had kissed her a moment before. But the suffering of which she reminded him was too great, the sin too enormous, and though he tried bravely he could not succeed. But he made the effort. He tried to smile, and the attempt was horrible. He spoke, but there was no life in his words.
"Yes, dear," he said, though the words choked him like hot dust, "I know it was all a mistake. How can I ever ask your forgiveness?"
Corona saw that it was not the truth, and with a despairing cry she turned away and hid her face in the pillow. Giovanni felt an icy chill of horror descending to his heart. A more terrible moment could scarcely be imagined. There he stood beside his dying wife, the conviction of her sin burnt in upon his heart, but loving her fiercely still, willing in that supreme crisis to make her think she was forgiven, striving to tell the kind lie that nevertheless would not be told, powerless to deceive her who had so horribly betrayed him.
Once more he bent over her and laid his hand on hers. The touch of her wasted fingers brought the tears to his eyes again, but the moment of passion was past. He bent down and would have comforted her had he known how, but not a word would form itself upon his lips. Her face was turned away and he could see that she was determined not to look at him. Only now and then a passionate sob shook her and made her tremble, like a thing of little weight shaken by the wind.
Giovanni could bear it no longer. Once more he kissed her heavy hair and then quickly went out, he knew not whither. When he realised what he was doing he found himself leaning against a damp wall in the street. He pulled himself together and walked away at a brisk pace, trying to find some relief in rapid motion. He never knew how far he walked that night, haunted by the presence of Corona's deathly face and by the sound of that despairing cry which he had no power to check. He went on and on, challenged from time to time by the sentinels to whom he mechanically showed his pass. Striding up hill and down through the highways and through the least frequented streets of the city, it was all the same to him in his misery, and he had no consciousness of what he saw or heard. At eight o'clock in the evening he was opposite Saint Peter's; at midnight he was standing alone at the desolate cross- roads before Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, beyond the Lateran, and only just within the walls. From place to place he wandered, feeling no fatigue, but only a burning fever in his head and an icy chill in his heart. Sometimes he would walk up and down some broad square twenty or thirty times; then again he followed a long thoroughfare throughout its whole length, and retraced his steps without seeing that he passed twice through the same street.
At last he found himself in a great crowd of people. Had he realised that it was nearly three o'clock in the morning the presence of such a concourse would have astonished him. But if he was not actually ill and out of his mind, he was at all events in such a confused state that he did not even ask himself what was the meaning of the demonstration.
The tramp of marching troops recalled the thought of Gouache, and suddenly he understood what was happening. The soldiers were leaving Rome to attack the Garibaldians, and he was near one of the gates. By the light of flaring torches he recognised at some distance the hideous architecture of the Porta Pia. He caught sight of the Zouave uniform under the glare and pressed forward instinctively, trying to see the faces of the men. But the crowd was closely packed and he could not obtain a view, try as he might, and the darkness was so thick that the torches only made the air darker around them.
He listened to the tramp of feet and the ring of steel arms and accoutrements like a man in an evil dream. Instead of passing quickly, the time now seemed interminable, for he was unable to move, and the feeling that among those thousands of moving soldiers there was perhaps that one man for whose blood he thirsted, was intolerable. At last the tramping died away in the distance and the crowd loosened itself and began to break up. Giovanni was carried with the stream, and once more it became indifferent to him whither he went. All at once he was aware of a very tall man who walked beside him, a man so large that he looked up, sure that the giant could be none but his cousin San Giacinto.
"Are you here, too?" asked the latter in a friendly voice, as he recognised Giovanni by the light of a lamp, under which they were passing.
"I came to see them off," replied Sant' Ilario, coldly. It seemed to him as though his companion must have followed him.
"So did I," said San Giacinto. "I heard the news late last night, and only lay down for an hour or two."
"What time is it?" asked Giovanni, who supposed it was about midnight.
"Five o'clock. It will be daylight, or dawn at least, in an hour."
Giovanni was silent, wondering absently where he had been all night. For some time the two walked on without speaking.
"You had better come and have coffee with me," said San Giacinto as they passed through the Piazza Barbarini. "I made my man get up so that I might have some as soon as I got home."
Giovanni assented. The presence of some one with whom he could speak made him realise that he was almost exhausted for want of food. It was morning, and he had eaten nothing since the preceding midday, and little enough then. In a few minutes they reached San Giacinto's lodging. There was a lamp burning brightly on the table of the sitting-room, and a little fire was smouldering on the hearth. Giovanni sank into a chair, worn out with hunger and fatigue, while the servant brought the coffee and set it on the table.
"You look tired," remarked San Giacinto. "One lump or two?"
Giovanni drank the beverage without tasting it, but it revived him, and the warmth of the room comforted his chilled and tired limbs. He did not notice that San Giacinto was looking hard at him, wondering indeed what could have produced so strange an alteration in his appearance and manner.
"How is the princess?" asked the big man in a tone of sympathy as he slowly stirred the sugar in his coffee.
"Thank you--she is very well," answered Giovanni, mechanically. In his mind the secret which he must conceal was so closely connected with Corona's illness that he almost unconsciously included her state among the things of which he would not speak. But San Giacinto looked sharply at him, wondering what he meant.
"Indeed? I thought she was very ill."
"So she is," replied Sant' Ilario, bluntly. "I forgot--I do not know what I was thinking of. I fear she is in a very dangerous condition."
He was silent again, and sat leaning upon the table absently looking at the objects that lay before him, an open portfolio and writing materials, a bit of sealingwax, a small dictionary, neatly laid in order upon the dark red cloth. He did not know why he had allowed himself to be led to the place, but he felt a sense of rest in sitting there quietly in silence. San Giacinto saw that there was something wrong and said nothing, but lighted a black cigar and smoked thoughtfully.
"You look as though you had been up all night," he remarked after a long pause.
Giovanni did not answer. His eyes did not look up from the red blotting-paper in the open portfolio before him. As he looked down San Giacinto almost believed he was asleep, and shook the table a little to see whether his cousin would notice it. Instantly Giovanni laid his hand upon the writing book, to steady it before him. But still he did not look up.
"You seem to be interested," said San Giacinto, with a smile, and he blew a cloud of smoke into the air.
Giovanni was indeed completely absorbed in his studies, and only nodded his head in answer. After a few minutes more he rose and took the portfolio to a dingy mirror that stood over the chimney- piece of the lodging, and held up the sheet of red blotting-paper before the reflecting surface. Apparently not satisfied with this, he brought the lamp and set it upon the shelf, and then repeated the process.
"You are an infernal scoundrel," he said in a low voice, that trembled with wrath, as he turned and faced San Giacinto.
"What do you mean?" inquired the latter with a calmness that would have staggered a less angry man.
Giovanni drew from his pocket-book the note he had found in Gouache's room. For a week he had kept it about him. Without paying any further attention to San Giacinto he held it in one hand and again placed the blotting-paper in front of the mirror. The impression of the writing corresponded exactly with the original. As it consisted of but a very few words and had been written quickly, almost every stroke had been reproduced upon the red paper in a reversed facsimile. Giovanni brought the two and held them before San Giacinto's eyes. The latter looked surprised but did not betray the slightest fear.
"Do you mean to tell me that you did not write this note?" asked Giovanni, savagely.
"Of course I wrote it," replied the other coolly.
Giovanni's teeth chattered with rage. He dropped the portfolio and the letter and seized his cousin by the throat, burying his fingers in the tough flesh with the ferocity of a wild animal. He was very strong and active and had fallen upon his adversary unawares, so that he had an additional advantage. But for all that he was no match for his cousin's giant strength. San Giacinto sprang to his feet and his great hands took hold of Giovanni's arms above the elbow, lifting him from the ground and shaking him in the air as easily as a cat worries a mouse. Then he thrust him into his chair again and stood holding him so that he could not move.
"I do not want to hurt you," he said, "but I do not like to be attacked in this way. If you try it again I will break some of your bones."
Giovanni was so much astonished at finding himself so easily overmatched that he was silent for a moment. The ex-innkeeper relinquished his hold and picked up his cigar, which had fallen in the struggle.
"I do not propose to wrestle with you for a match," said Giovanni at last. "You are stronger than I, but there are other weapons than those of brute strength. I repeat that you are an infernal scoundrel."
"You may repeat it as often as you please," replied San Giacinto, who had recovered his composure with, marvellous rapidity. "It does not hurt me at all."
"Then you are a contemptible coward," cried Giovanni, hotly.
"That is not true," said the other. "I never ran away in my life. Perhaps I have not much reason to avoid a fight," he added, looking down at his huge limbs with a smile.
Giovanni did not know what to do. He had never had a quarrel with a man who was able to break his neck, but who would not fight like a gentleman. He grew calmer, and could have laughed at the situation had it been brought about by any other cause.
"Look here, cousin," said San Giacinto, suddenly and in a familiar tone, "I am as good a gentleman as you. though I have kept an inn. If it is the custom here to play with swords and such toys I will take a few lessons and we will have it out. But I confess that I would like to know why you are so outrageously angry. How did you come by that letter? It was never meant for you, nor for any of yours. I pinned it upon Gouache's dressing-table with a pin I found there. I took the paper from your wife's table a week ago yesterday. If you want to know all about it I will tell you."
"And whom did you intend for the author of the letter? Whom but my wife?"
"Your wife!" cried San Giacinto in genuine astonishment. "You are out of your mind. Gouache was to meet Faustina Montevarchi on Sunday morning at a church, and I invented the note to prevent the meeting, and put it on his table during the previous afternoon. I am going to marry Donna Flavia, and I do not mean to allow a beggarly Zouave to make love to my future sister-in-law. Since you took the note they must have met after all. I wish you had left it alone."
Giovanni sank into a chair before the table and buried his face in his hands. San Giacinto stood looking at him in silence, beginning to comprehend what had happened, and really distressed that his comparatively harmless stratagem should have caused so much trouble. He looked at things from a lower point of view than Giovanni, but he was a very human man, after all. It was hard for him to believe that his cousin could have really suspected Corona of loving Gouache; but Giovanni's behaviour left no other explanation. On the other hand, he felt that whatever might be thought of his own part in the affair, it was Giovanni's own fault that things had turned out as they had, seeing that he had been guilty of a very serious indiscretion in entering Gouache's rooms unbidden and in reading what was meant for the Zouave.
Giovanni rose and his face was pale again, but the expression had utterly changed in the course of a few seconds. He suffered horribly, but with a pain more easy to bear than that which had tortured him during the past week. Corona was innocent, and he knew it. Every word she had spoken a week ago, when he had accused her, rang again in his ears, and as though by magic the truth of her statement was now as clear as the day. He could never forgive himself for having doubted her. He did not know whether he could ever atone for the agony he must have caused her. But it was a thousand times better that he should live long years of bitter self-reproach, than that the woman he so loved should have fallen. He forgot San Giacinto and the petty scheme which had brought about such dire consequences. He forgot his anger of a moment ago in the supreme joy of knowing that Corona had not sinned, and in the bitter contrition for having so terribly wronged her. If he felt anything towards San Giacinto it was gratitude, but he stood speechless under his great emotion, not even thinking what he should say.
"If you doubt the truth of my explanation," said San Giacinto, "go to the Palazzo Montevarchi. Opposite the entrance you will see some queer things painted on the wall. There are Gouache's initials scrawled a hundred times, and the words 'Sunday' and 'Mass' very conspicuous. A simple way, too, would be to ask him whether he did not actually meet Faustina last Sunday morning. When a man advertises his meetings with his lady-love on the walls of the city, no one can be blamed for reading the advertisement."
He laughed at the conceit and at his own astuteness; but Giovanni scarcely heeded him or his words.
"Good-bye," said the latter, holding out his hand.
"You do not want to fight any more, then?" asked San Giacinto.
"Not unless you do. Good-bye."
Without another word he left the room and descended into the street. The cold gray dawn was over everything and the air was raw and chilly. There is nothing more dismal than early dawn in a drizzling rain when a man has been up all night, but Giovanni was unconscious of any discomfort, and there were wings under his feet as he hastened homeward along the slippery pavements.
The pallor in his face had given way to a slight flush that gave colour and animation to his cheeks, and though his eyes were bright their expression was more natural than it had been for many days. He was in one of the strangest humours which can have sway over that unconsciously humorous animal, man. In the midst of the deepest self-abasement his heart was overflowing with joy. The combination of sorrow and happiness is a rare one, not found every day, but the condition of experiencing both at the same time and in the highest degree is very possible.
Giovanni, indeed, could not feel otherwise than he did. Had he suspected Corona and accused her on grounds wholly frivolous and untenable, in the unreasoning outbreak of a foolish jealousy, he could not have been so persuaded of her guilt as to feel the keenest joy on finding her innocent. In that case his remorse would have outweighed his satisfaction. Had he, on the other hand, suspected her without making the accusation, he would have been happy on discovering his mistake, but could have felt little or no remorse. As it was, he had accused her upon evidence which most tribunals would have thought sufficient for a conviction, and on seeing all doubt cleared away he realised with terrible force the extent of the pain he had inflicted. While he had still believed that she had fallen, he had still so loved her as to wish that he could take the burden of her guilt upon his own shoulders. Now that her innocence was proved beyond all doubt, he had no thought but to ask her forgiveness.
He let himself in with a latch-key and ran up the dim stairs. A second key opened the polished door into the dark vestibule, and in a moment more he was in the ante-chamber of Corona's apartment. Two or three women, pale with watching, were standing round a table, upon which something was heating over a spirit lamp. Giovanni stopped and spoke to them.
"How is she?" he asked, his voice unsteady with anxiety.
The women shook their heads, and one of them began to cry. They loved their mistress dearly and had little hope of her recovery. They had been amazed, too, at Giovanni's apparent indifference during the whole week, and seemed surprised when he went towards the door. One motioned to him to make no noise. He turned the latch very gently and advanced into the darkened chamber.
Corona was lying as he had seen her on the previous evening, and there seemed to be little or no change in her state. Her eyes were closed and her breathing was scarcely perceptible. A nurse was nodding in a chair near the night light and looked up as Giovanni entered. He pointed to the door and she went out. All was so exactly as it had been twelve hours earlier that he could hardly realise the immense change that had taken place in his own heart during the interval. He stood looking at his wife, scarcely breathing for fear of disturbing her and yet wishing that she might wake to hear what he had to say. But she did not move nor show any signs of consciousness. Her delicate, thin hand lay upon the coverlet. He stooped down very slowly and cautiously, and kissed the wasted fingers. Then he drew back quickly and noiselessly as though he had done something wrong. He thought she must be asleep, and sat down in the chair the nurse had vacated. The stillness was profound. The little night light burned steadily without flickering and cast queer long shadows from the floor upwards over the huge tapestries upon the wall. The quaint figures of heroes and saints, that had seen many a Saracinesca born and many a one die in the ancient vaulted room, seemed to take the expressions of old friends watching over the suffering woman. A faint odour like that of ether pervaded the still air, an odour Giovanni never forgot during his life. Everything was so intensely quiet that he almost thought he could hear the ticking of his watch in his pocket.
Corona stirred at last, and slowly opening her eyes, turned them gradually till they met her husband's gaze. At the first movement she made he had risen to his feet and now stood close beside her.
"Did you kiss my hand--or did I dream it?" she asked faintly.
"Yes, darling." He could not at once find words to say what he wanted.
"Why did you?"
Giovanni fell on his knees by the bedside and took her hand in both his own.
"Corona, Corona--forgive me!" The cry came from his heart, and was uttered with an accent of despair that there was no mistaking. She knew, faint and scarcely conscious though she was, that he was not attempting to deceive her this time. But he could say no more. Many a strong man would in that moment have sobbed aloud and shed tears, but Giovanni was not as other men. Under great emotion all expression was hard for him, and the spontaneity of tears would have contradicted his nature.
Corona wondered what had happened, and lay quite still, looking at his bent head and feeling the trembling touch of his hands on hers. For several seconds the stillness was almost as profound as it had been before. Then Giovanni spoke out slowly and earnestly.
"My beloved wife," he said, looking up into her face, "I know all the truth now. I know what I have done. I know what you have suffered. Forgive me if you can. I will give my whole life to deserve your pardon."
For an instant all Corona's beauty returned to her face as she heard his words. Her eyes shone softly, the colour mounted to her pale cheeks, and she breathed one happy sigh of relief and gladness. Her fingers contracted and closed round his with a tender pressure.
"It is true," she said, scarcely audibly. "You are not trying to deceive me in order to keep me alive?"
"It is true, darling," he answered. "San Giacinto wrote the letter. It was not even meant to seem to come from you. Oh, Corona--can you ever forgive me?"
She turned so as to see him better, and looked long into his eyes. The colour slowly faded again from her face, and her expression changed, growing suddenly sad.
"I will forgive you. I will try to forget it all, Giovanni. You should have believed me, for I have never lied to you. It will be long before I am strong again, and I shall have much time to think of it."
Giovanni rose to his feet, still clasping her hand. Something told him that she was not a woman who could either forgive or forget such an injury, and her tone was colder than he had hoped. The expiation had begun and he was already suffering the punishment of his unbelief. He bore the pain bravely. What right had he to expect that she would suddenly become as she had been before? She had been, and still was, dangerously ill, and her illness had been caused by his treatment of her. It would be long before their relations could be again what they had once been, and it was not for him to complain. She might have sent him away in anger; he would not have thought her too unkind. But when he remembered her love, he trembled at the thought of living without it. His voice was very gentle as he answered her, after a short pause.
"You shall live to forget it all, Corona. I will make you forget it. I will undo what I have done."
"Can you, Giovanni? Is there no blood upon your hands?" She knew her husband well, and could hardly believe that he had refrained from taking vengeance upon Gouache.
"There is none, thank God," replied Giovanni. "But for a happy accident I should have killed the man a week ago. It was all arranged."
"You must tell him that you have been mistaken," said Corona simply.
"Yes, I will."
"Thank you. That is right."
"It is the least I can do."
Giovanni felt that words were of very little use, and even had he wished to say more he would not have known how to speak. There was that between them which was too deep for all expression, and he knew that henceforth he could only hope to bring back Corona's love by his own actions. Besides, in her present state, he guessed that it would be wiser to leave her, than to prolong the interview.
"I will go now," he said. "You must rest, darling, and be quite well to-morrow."
"Yes. I can rest now."
She said nothing about seeing him again. With a humility almost pathetic in such a man, he bent down and touched her hand with his lips. Then he would have gone away, but she held his fingers and looked long into his eyes.
"I am sorry for you, dear," she said, and paused, not taking her eyes from his. "Kiss me," she added at last, with a faint smile.
A moment later, he was gone. She gazed long at the door through which he had left the room, and her expression changed more than once, softening and hardening again as the thoughts chased each other through her tired brain. At last she closed her eyes, and presently fell into a peaceful sleep.
Giovanni waited in his room until his father was awake and then went to tell him what had happened. The old gentleman looked weary and sad, but his keen sight noticed the change in his son's manner.
"You look better," he said.
"I have been undeceived," answered Giovanni. "I have been mistaken, misled by the most extraordinary set of circumstances I have ever heard of."
Saracinesca's eyes suddenly gleamed angrily and his white beard bristled round his face.
"You have made a fool of yourself," he growled. "You have made your wife ill and yourself miserable in a fit of vulgar jealousy. And now you have been telling her so."
"Exactly. I have been telling her so."
"You are an idiot, Giovanni. I always knew it."
"I have only just found it out," answered the younger man.
"Then you are amazingly slow at discovery. Why do you stand there staring at me? Do you expect any sympathy? You will not get it. Go and say a litany outside your wife's door. You have made me spend the most horrible week I ever remember, just because you are not good enough for her. How could you ever dare to suspect that woman? Go away. I shall strangle you if you stay here!"
"That consideration would not have much weight," replied Giovanni. "I know how mad I have been, much better than you can tell me. And yet, I doubt whether any one was ever so strangely mistaken before."
"With your intelligence the wonder is that you are not always mistaken. Upon my soul, the more I think of it, the more I am amazed at your folly. You acted like a creature in the theatre. With your long face and your mystery and your stage despair, you even made a fool of me. At all events, I shall know what to expect the next time it happens. I hope Corona will have the sense to make you do penance."
To tell the truth Giovanni had not expected any better treatment from his father than he actually received, and he was not in a humour to resent reproaches which he knew to be well deserved. He had only intended to tell the prince the result of what had occurred, and he relaxed nothing of his determination, even though he might have persuaded the old gentleman that the accumulated evidence had undoubtedly justified his doubts. With a short salutation he left the room and went out, hoping that Gouache had not accompanied the expedition to Mentana, improbable as that seemed.
He was, of course, disappointed, for while he was making inquiries Gouache was actually on the way to the battle with his corps, as has been already seen. Giovanni spent most of the day in the house, constantly inquiring after Corona, and trying to occupy his mind in reading, though with little success. The idea that Gouache might be killed without having learned the truth began to take possession of him and caused him an annoyance he could not explain. It was not that he felt any very profound remorse for having wronged the man. His nature was not so sensitive as that. It was rather, perhaps, because he regarded the explanation with Anastase as a part of what he owed Corona, that he was so anxious to meet him alive. Partly, too, his anxiety arose from his restlessness and from the desire for action of some sort in which to forget all he had suffered, and all he was still suffering.
Towards evening he went out and heard news of the engagement. It was already known that the enemy had fallen back upon Mentana, and no one doubted the ultimate result of the day's fighting. People were already beginning to talk of going out to take assistance to the wounded. The idea struck Giovanni as plausible and he determined to act upon it at once. He took a surgeon and several men with him, and drove out across the Campagna to the scene of the battle.
As has been told, he found Gouache at last, after a long and difficult search. The ground was so broken and divided by ditches, walls and trees, that some of the wounded were not found until the middle of the next day. Unless Giovanni had undertaken the search Anastase might have escaped notice for a long time, and it was no wonder if he expressed astonishment on waking up to find himself comfortably installed in Saracinesca's carriage, tended by the man who a few days earlier had wanted to take his life.