Sant' Ilario by F. Marion Crawford
When San Giacinto heard Corona's explanation of Faustina's disappearance, he said nothing. He did not believe the story in the least, but if every one was satisfied there was no reason why he should not be satisfied also. Though he saw well enough that the tale was a pure invention, and that there was something behind it which was not to be known, the result was, on the whole, exactly what he desired. He received the thanks of the Montevarchi household for his fruitless exertions with a smile of gratification, and congratulated the princess upon the happy issue of the adventure. He made no present attempt to ascertain the real truth by asking questions which would have been hard to answer, for he was delighted that the incident should be explained away and forgotten at once. Donna Faustina's disappearance was of course freely discussed and variously commented, but the general verdict of the world was contrary to San Giacinto's private conclusions. People said that the account given by the family must be true, since it was absurd to suppose that a child just out of the convent could be either so foolish or so courageous as to go out alone at such a moment. No other hypothesis was in the least tenable, and the demonstration offered must be accepted as giving the only solution of the problem. San Giacinto told no one that he thought differently.
It was before all things his intention to establish himself firmly in Roman society, and his natural tact told him that the best way to accomplish this was to offend no one, and to endorse without question the opinion of the majority. Moreover, as a part of his plan for assuring his position consisted in marrying Faustina's sister, his interest lay manifestly in protecting the good name of her family by every means in his power. He knew that old Montevarchi passed for being one of the most rigid amongst the stiff company of the strait-laced, and that the prince was as careful of the conduct of his children, as his father had formerly been in regard to his own doings. Ascanio Bellegra was the result of this home education, and already bid fair to follow in his parent's footsteps. Christian virtues are certainly not incompatible with manliness, but the practice of them as maintained by Prince Montevarchi had made his son Ascanio a colourless creature, rather non-bad than good, clothed in a garment of righteousness that fitted him only because his harmless soul had no salient bosses of goodness, any more than it was disfigured by any reprehensible depressions capable of harbouring evil.
There is a class of men in certain states of society who are manly, but not masculine. There is nothing paradoxical in the statement, nor is it a mere play upon the meanings of words. There are men of all ages, young, middle-aged, and old, who possess many estimable virtues, who show physical courage wherever it is necessary, who are honourable, strong, industrious, and tenacious of purpose, but who undeniably lack something which belongs to the ideal man, and which, for want of a better word, we call the masculine element. When we shall have microscopes so large and powerful that a human being shall be as transparent under the concentrated light of the lenses as the tiniest insect when placed in one of our modern instruments, then, perhaps, the scientist of the future may discover the causes of this difference. I believe, however, that it does not depend upon the fact of one man having a few ounces more of blood in his veins than another. The fact lies deeper hidden than that, and may puzzle the psychologist as well as the professor of anthropology. For us it exists, and we cannot explain it, but must content ourselves with comparing the phenomena which proceed from these differences of organisation. At the present day the society of the English-speaking races seems to favour the growth of the creature who is only manly but not masculine, whereas outside the pale of that strange little family which calls itself "society" the masculinity of man is more striking than among other races. Not long ago a French journalist said that many of the peculiarities of the English-speaking peoples proceeded from the omnipresence of the young girl, who reads every novel that appears, goes to every theatre, and regulates the tone of conversation and literature by her never- absent innocence. Cynics, if there are still representatives of a school which has grown ridiculous, may believe this if they please; the fact remains that it is precisely the most masculine class of men who show the strongest predilection for the society of the most refined women, and who on the whole show the greatest respect for all women in general. The masculine man prefers the company of the other sex by natural attraction, and would perhaps rather fight with other men, or at least strive to outdo them in the struggle for notoriety, power, or fame, than spend his time in friendly conversation with them, no matter how interesting the topic selected. This point of view may be regarded as uncivilised, but it may be pointed out that it is only in the most civilised countries that the society of women is accessible to all men of their own social position. No one familiar with Eastern countries will pretend that Orientals shut up their women because they enjoy their company so much as to be unwilling to share the privilege with their friends.
San Giacinto was pre-eminently a masculine man, as indeed were all the Saracinesca, in a greater or less degree. He understood women instinctively, and, with a very limited experience of the world, knew well enough the strength of their influence. It was characteristic of him that he had determined to marry almost as soon as he had got a footing in Roman society. He saw clearly that if he could unite himself with a powerful family he could exercise a directing power over the women which must ultimately give him all that he needed. Through his cousins he had very soon made the acquaintance of the Montevarchi household, and seeing that there were two marriageable daughters, he profited by the introduction. He would have preferred Faustina, perhaps, but he foresaw that he should find fewer difficulties in obtaining her sister for his wife. The old prince and princess were in despair at seeing her still unmarried, and it was clear that they were not likely to find a better match for her than the Marchese di San Giacinto. He, on his part, knew that his past occupation was a disadvantage to him in the eyes of the world, although he was the undoubted and acknowledged cousin of the Saracinesca, and the only man of the family besides old Leone and his son Sant' Ilario. His two boys, also, were a drawback, since his second wife's children could not inherit the whole of the property he expected to leave. But his position was good, and Flavia was not generally considered to be likely to marry, so that he had good hopes of winning her.
It was clear to him from the first that there must be some reason why she had not married, and the somewhat disparaging remarks concerning her which he heard from time to time excited his curiosity. As he had always intended to consult the head of his family upon the matter he now determined to do so at once. He was not willing, indeed, to let matters go any further until he had ascertained the truth concerning her, and he was sure that Prince Saracinesca would tell him everything at the first mention of a proposal to marry her. The old gentleman had too much pride to allow his cousin to make an unfitting match. Accordingly, on the day following the events last narrated San Giacinto called after breakfast and found the prince, as usual, alone in his study. He was not dozing, however, for the accounts of the last night's doings in the Osservatore Romano were very interesting.
"I suppose you have heard all about Montevarchi's daughter?" asked Saracinesca, laying his paper aside and giving his hand to San Giacinto.
"Yes, and I am delighted at the conclusion of the adventure, especially as I have something to ask you about another member of the family."
"I hope Flavia has not disappeared now," remarked the prince.
"I trust not," answered San Giacinto with a laugh. "I was going to ask you whether I should have your approval if I proposed to marry her."
"This is a very sudden announcement," said Saracinesca with some surprise. "I must think about it. I appreciate your friendly disposition vastly, my dear cousin, in asking my opinion, and I will give the matter my best consideration."
"I shall be very grateful," replied the younger man, gravely. "In my position I feel bound to consult you. I should do so in any case for the mere benefit of your advice, which is very needful to one who, like myself, is but a novice in the ways of Rome."
Saracinesca looked keenly at his cousin, as though expecting to discover some touch of irony in his tone or expression. He remembered the fierce altercations he had engaged in with Giovanni when he had wished the latter to marry Tullia Mayer, and was astonished to find San Giacinto, over whom he had no real authority at all, so docile and anxious for his counsel.
"I suppose you would like to know something about her fortune," he said at last. "Montevarchi is rich, but miserly. He could give her anything he liked."
"Of course it is important to know what he would like to give," replied San Giacinto with a smile.
"Of course. Very well. There are two daughters already married. They each had a hundred thousand scudi. It is not so bad, after all, when you think what a large family he has--but he could have given more. As for Flavia, he might do something generous for the sake of---"
The old gentleman was going to say, for the sake of getting rid of her, and perhaps his cousin thought as much. The prince checked himself, however, and ended his sentence rather awkwardly.
"For the sake of getting such a fine fellow for a husband," he said.
"Why is she not already married?" inquired San Giacinto with a very slight inclination of his head, as an acknowledgment of the flattering speech whereby the prince had helped himself out of his difficulty.
"Who knows!" ejaculated the latter enigmatically.
"Is there any story about her? Was she ever engaged to be married? It is rather strange when one thinks of it, for she is a handsome girl. Pray be quite frank--I have taken no steps in the matter."
"The fact is that I do not know. She is not like other girls, and as she gives her father and mother some trouble in society, I suppose that young men's fathers have been afraid to ask for her. No. I can assure you that there is no story connected with her. She has a way of stating disagreeable truths that terrifies Montevarchi. She was delicate as a child and was brought up at home, so of course she has no manners."
"I should have thought she should have better manners for that," remarked San Giacinto. The prince stared at him in surprise.
"We do not think so here," he answered after a moment's pause. "On the whole, I should say that for a hundred and twenty thousand you might marry her, if you are so inclined--and if you can manage her. But that is a matter for you to judge."
"The Montevarchi are, I believe, what you call a great family?"
"They are not the Savelli, nor the Frangipani--nor the Saracinesca either. But they are a good family--good blood, good fortune, and what Montevarchi calls good principles."
"You think I could not do better than marry Donna Flavia, then?"
"It would be a good marriage, decidedly. You ought to have married Tullia Mayer. If she had not made a fool of herself and an enemy of me, and if you had turned up two years ago--well, there were a good many objections to her, and stories about her, too. But she was rich--eh! that was a fortune to be snapped up by that scoundrel Del Ferice!"
"Del Ferice?" repeated San Giacinto. "The same who tried to prove that your son was married by copying my marriage register?"
"The same. I will tell you the rest of the story some day. Then at that time there was Bianca Valdarno--but she married a Neapolitan last year; and the Rocca girl, but Onorato Cantalupo got her and her dowry--Montevarchi's second son--and--well, I see nobody now, except Flavia's sister Faustina. Why not marry her? It is true that her father means to catch young Frangipani, but he will have no such luck, I can tell him, unless he will part with half a million."
"Donna Faustina is too young," said San Giacinto, calmly. "Besides, as they are sisters and there is so little choice, I may say that I prefer Donna Flavia, she is more gay, more lively."
"Vastly more, I have no doubt, and you will have to look after her, unless you can make her fall in love with you." Saracinesca laughed at the idea.
"With me!" exclaimed San Giacinto, joining in his cousin's merriment. "With me, indeed! A sober widower, between thirty and forty! A likely thing! Fortunately there is no question of love in this matter. I think I can answer for her conduct, however."
"I would not be the man to raise your jealousy!" remarked Saracinesca, laughing again as he looked admiringly at his cousin's gigantic figure and lean stern face. "You are certainly able to take care of your wife. Besides, I have no doubt that Flavia will change when she is married. She is not a bad girl-- only a little too fond of making fun of her father and mother, and after all, as far as the old man is concerned, I do not wonder. There is one point upon which you must satisfy him, though--I am not curious, and do not ask you questions, but I warn you that glad as he will be to marry his daughter, he will want to drive a bargain with you and will inquire about your fortune."
San Giacinto was silent for a few moments and seemed to be making a calculation in his head.
"Would a fortune equal to what he gives her be sufficient?" he asked at length.
"Yes. I fancy so," replied the prince looking rather curiously at his cousin. "You see," he continued, "as you have children by your first marriage, Montevarchi would wish to see Flavia's son provided for, if she has one. That is your affair. I do not want to make suggestions."
"I think," said San Giacinto after another short interval of silence, "that I could agree to settle something upon any children which may be born. Do you think some such arrangement would satisfy Prince Montevarchi?"
"Certainly, if you can agree about the terms. Such things are often done in these cases."
"I am very grateful for your advice. May I count upon your good word with the prince, if he asks your opinion?"
"Of course," answered Saracinesca, readily, if not very cordially.
He had not at first liked his cousin, and although he had overcome his instinctive aversion to the man, the feeling was momentarily revived with more than its former force by the prospect of being perhaps called upon to guarantee, in a measure, San Giacinto's character as a suitable husband for Flavia. He had gone too far already however, for since he had given his approval to the scheme it would not become him to withhold his cooperation, should his assistance be in any way necessary in order to bring about the marriage. The slight change of tone as he uttered the last words had not escaped San Giacinto, however. His perceptions were naturally quick and were sharpened by the peculiarities of his present position, so that he understood Saracinesca's unwillingness to have a hand in the matter almost better than the prince understood it himself.
"I trust that I shall not be obliged to ask your help," remarked San Giacinto. "I was, indeed, more anxious for your goodwill than for any more material aid."
"You have it, with all my heart," said Saracinesca warmly, for he was a little ashamed of his coldness.
San Giacinto took his leave and went away well satisfied with what he had accomplished, as indeed he had good cause to be. Montevarchi's consent to the marriage was not doubtful, now that San Giacinto was assured that he was able to fulfil the conditions which would be asked, and the knowledge that he was able to do even more than was likely to be required of him gave him additional confidence in the result. To tell the truth, he was strongly attracted by Flavia; and though he would assuredly have fought with his inclination had it appeared to be misplaced, he was pleased with the prospect of marrying a woman who would not only strengthen his position in society, but for whom he knew that he was capable of a sincere attachment. Marriage, according to his light, was before all things a contract entered into for mutual advantage; but he saw no reason why the fulfilment of such a contract should not be made as agreeable as possible.
The principal point was yet to be gained, however, and as San Giacinto mounted the steps of the Palazzo Montevarchi he stopped more than once, considering for the last time whether he were doing wisely or not. On the whole he determined to proceed, and made up his mind that he would go straight to the point.
Flavia's father was sitting in his study when San Giacinto arrived, and the latter was struck by the contrast between the personalities and the modes of life of his cousin whom he had just left and of the man to whom he was about to propose himself as a son-in-law. The Saracinesca were by no means very luxurious men, but they understood the comforts of existence better than most Romans of that day. If there was massive old-fashioned furniture against the walls and in the corners of the huge rooms, there were on the other hand soft carpets for the feet and cushioned easy- chairs to sit in. There were fires on the hearths when the weather was cold, and modern lamps for the long winter evenings. There were new books on the tables, engravings, photographs, a few objects of value and beauty not jealously locked up in closets, but looking as though they were used, if useful, or at least as if some one derived pleasure from looking at them. The palace itself was a stern old fortress in the midst of the older part of the city, but within there was a genial atmosphere of generous living, and, since Sant' Ilario's marriage with Corona, an air of refinement and good taste such as only a woman can impart to the house in which she dwells.
The residence of the Montevarchi was very different. Narrow strips of carpet were stretched in straight lines across cold marble floors, from one door to another. Instead of open fires in the huge chimney-places, pans of lighted charcoal were set in the dim, empty rooms. Half a dozen halls were furnished alike. Each had three marble tables and twelve straight-backed chairs ranged against the walls, the only variety being that some were covered with red damask and some with green. Vast old-fashioned mirrors, set in magnificent frames built into the wall, reflected vistas of emptiness and acres of cold solitude. Nor were the rooms where the family met much better. There were more tables and more straight- backed chairs there than in the outer halls, but that was all. The drawing-room had a carpet, which for many years had been an object of the greatest concern to the prince, who never left Rome for the months of August and September until he had assured himself that this valuable object had been beaten, dusted, peppered, and sewn up in a linen case as old as itself, that is to say, dating from a quarter of a century back. That carpet was an extravagance to which his father had been driven by his English daughter-in-law; it was the only one of which he had ever been guilty, and the present head of the family meant that it should last his lifetime, and longer too, if care could preserve it. The princess herself had been made to remember for five and twenty years that since she had obtained a carpet she must expect nothing else in the way of modem improvements. It was the monument of a stupendous energy which she had expended entirely in that one struggle, and the sight of it reminded her of her youth. Long ago she had submitted once and for ever to the old Roman ways, and though she knew that a very little saved from the expense of maintaining a score of useless servants and a magnificent show equipage would suffice to make at least one room in the house comfortable for her use, she no longer sighed at the reflection, but consoled herself with making her children put up with the inconveniences she herself had borne so long and so patiently.
Prince Montevarchi's private room was as comfortless as the rest of the house. Narrow, high, dim, carpetless, insufficiently warmed in winter by a brazier of coals, and at present not warmed at all, though the weather was chilly; furnished shabbily with dusty shelves, a writing-table, and a few chairs with leather seats, musty with an ancient mustiness which seemed to be emitted by the rows of old books and the moth-eaten baize cover of the table--the whole place looked more like the office of a decayed notary than the study of a wealthy nobleman of ancient lineage. The old gentleman himself entered the room a few seconds after San Giacinto had been ushered in, having slipped out to change his coat when his visitor was announced. It was a fixed principle of his life to dress as well as his neighbours when they could see him, but to wear threadbare garments whenever he could do so unobserved. He greeted San Giacinto with a grave dignity which contrasted strangely with the weakness and excitement he had shown on the previous night.
"I wish to speak to you upon a delicate subject," began the younger man, after seating himself upon one of the high-backed chairs which cracked ominously under his weight.
"I am at your service," replied the old gentleman, inclining his head politely.
"I feel," continued San Giacinto, "that although my personal acquaintance with you has unfortunately been of short duration, the familiarity which exists between your family and mine will entitle what I have to say to a share of your consideration. The proposal which I have to make has perhaps been made by others before me and has been rejected. I have the honour to ask of you the hand of your daughter."
"Faustina, I suppose?" asked the old prince in an indifferent tone, but looking sharply at his companion out of his small keen eyes.
"Pardon me, I refer to Donna Flavia Montevarchi."
"Flavia?" repeated the prince, in a tone of unmistakable surprise, which however was instantly moderated to the indifferent key again as he proceeded. "You see, we have been thinking so much about my daughter Faustina since last night that her name came to my lips quite naturally."
"Most natural, I am sure," answered San Giacinto; who, however, had understood at once that his suit was to have a hearing. He then remained silent.
"You wish to marry Flavia, I understand," remarked the prince after a pause. "I believe you are a widower, Marchese. I have heard that you have children."
"Two boys, eh? I congratulate you. Boys, if brought up in Christian principles, are much less troublesome than girls. But, my dear Marchese, these same boys are an obstacle--a very serious obstacle."
"Less serious than you may imagine, perhaps. My fortune does not come under the law of primogeniture. There is no fidei commissum. I can dispose of it as I please."
"Eh, eh! But there must be a provision," said Montevarchi, growing interested in the subject.
"That shall be mutual," replied San Giacinto, gravely.
"I suppose you mean to refer to my daughter's portion," returned the other with more indifference. "It is not much, you know-- scarcely worth mentioning. I am bound to tell you that, in honour."
"We must certainly discuss the matter, if you are inclined to consider my proposal."
"Well, you know what young women's dowries are in these days, my dear Marchese. We are none of us very rich."
"I will make a proposal," said San Giacinto. "You shall give your daughter a portion. Whatever be the amount, up to a reasonable limit, which you choose to give, I will settle a like sum in such a manner that at my death it shall revert to her, and to her children by me, if she have any."
"That amounts merely to settling upon herself the dowry I give her," replied Montevarchi, sharply. "I give you a scudo for your use. You settle my scudo upon your wife, that is all."
"Not at all," returned San Giacinto. "I do not wish to have control of her dowry---"
"The devil! Oh--I see--how stupid of me--I am indeed so old that I cannot count any more! How could I make such a mistake? Of course, it would be exactly as you say. Of course it would."
"It would not be so as a general rule," said San Giacinto, calmly, "because most men would not consent to such an arrangement. That, however, is my proposal."
"Oh! For the sake of Flavia, a man would do much, I am sure," answered the prince, who began to think that his visitor was in love with the girl, incredible as such a thing appeared to him. The younger man made no answer to this remark, however, and waited for Montevarchi to state his terms.
"How much shall we say?" asked the latter at length.
"That shall be for you to decide. Whatever you give I will give, if I am able."
"Ah, yes! But how am I to know what you are able to give, dear Marchese?" The prince suspected that San Giacinto's offer, if he could be induced to make one, would not be very large.
"Am I to understand," inquired San Giacinto, "that if I name the amount to be settled so that at my death it goes to my wife and her children by me for ever, you will agree to settle a like sum upon Donna Flavia in her own right? If so, I will propose what I think fair."
Montevarchi looked keenly at his visitor for some moments, then looked away and hesitated. He was very anxious to marry Flavia at once, and he had many reasons for supposing that San Giacinto was not very rich.
"How about the title?" he asked suddenly.
"My title, of course, goes to my eldest son by my first marriage. But if you are anxious on that score I think my cousin would willingly confer one of his upon the eldest son of your daughter. It would cost him nothing, and would be a sort of compensation to me for my great-grandfather's folly."
"How?" asked Montevarchi. "I do not understand."
"I supposed you knew the story. I am the direct descendant of the elder branch. There was an agreement between two brothers of the family, by which the elder resigned the primogeniture in favour of the younger who was then married. The elder, who took the San Giacinto title, married late in life and I am his great-grandson. If he had not acted so foolishly I should be in my cousin's shoes. You see it would be natural for him to let me have some disused title for one of my children in consideration of this fact. He has about a hundred, I believe. You could ask him, if you please."
San Giacinto's grave manner assured Montevarchi of the truth of the story. He hesitated a moment longer, and then made up his mind.
"I agree to your proposal, my dear Marchese," he said, with unusual blandness of manner.
"I will settle one hundred and fifty thousand scudi in the way I stated," said San Giacinto, simply. The prince started from his chair.
"One--hundred--and--fifty--thousand!" he repeated slowly. "Why, it is a fortune in itself! Dear me! I had no idea you would name anything so large---"
"Seven thousand five hundred scudi a year, at five per cent," remarked the younger man in a businesslike tone. "You give the same. That will insure our children an income of fifteen thousand scudi. It is not colossal, but it should suffice. Besides, I have not said that I would not leave them more, if I chanced to have more to leave."
The prince had sunk back into his chair, and sat drumming on the table with his long thin fingers. His face wore an air of mingled surprise and bewilderment. To tell the truth, he had expected that San Giacinto would name about fifty thousand as the sum requisite. He did not know whether to be delighted at the prospect of marrying his daughter so well or angry at the idea of having committed himself to part with so much money.
"That is much more than I gave my other daughters," he said at last, in a tone of hesitation.
"Did you give the money to them or to their husbands?" inquired San Giacinto.
"To their husbands, of course."
"Then allow me to point out that you will now be merely settling money in your own family, and that the case is very different. Not only that, but I am settling the same sum upon your family, instead of taking your money for my own use. You are manifestly the gainer by the transaction."
"It would be the same, then, if I left Flavia the money at my death, since it remains in the family," suggested the prince, who sought an escape from his bargain.
"Not exactly," argued San Giacinto. "First there is the yearly interest until your death, which I trust is yet very distant. And then there is the uncertainty of human affairs. It will be necessary that you invest the money in trust, as I shall do, at the time of signing the contract. Otherwise there would be no fairness in the arrangement."
"So you say that you are descended from the elder branch of the Saracinesca. How strange are the ways of Providence, my dear Marchese!"
"It was a piece of great folly on the part of my great- grandfather," replied the other, shrugging his shoulders. "You should never say that a man will not marry until he is dead."
"Ah no! The ways of heaven are inscrutable! It is not for us poor mortals to attempt to change them. I suppose that agreement of which you speak was made in proper form and quite regular."
"I presume so, since no effort was ever made to change the dispositions established by it."
"I suppose so--I suppose so, dear Marchese. It would be very interesting to see those papers."
"My cousin has them," said San Giacinto. "I daresay he will not object. But, pardon me if I return to a subject which is very near my heart. Do I understand that you consent to the proposal I have made? If so, we might make arrangements for a meeting to take place between our notaries."
"One hundred and fifty thousand," said Montevarchi, slowly rubbing his pointed chin with his bony lingers. "Five per cent--seven thousand five hundred--a mint of money, Signor Marchese, a mint of money! And these are hard times. What a rich man you must be, to talk so lightly about such immense sums! Well, well--you are very eloquent, I must consent, and by strict economy I may perhaps succeed in recovering the loss."
"You must be aware that it is not really a loss," argued San Giacinto, "since it is to remain with your daughter and her children, and consequently with your family."
"Yes, I know. But money is money, my friend," exclaimed the prince, laying his right hand on the old green tablecover and slowly drawing his crooked nails over the cloth, as though he would like to squeeze gold out of the dusty wool. There was something almost fierce in his tone, too, as he uttered the words, and his small eyes glittered unpleasantly. He knew well enough that he was making a good bargain and that San Giacinto was a better match than he had ever hoped to get for Flavia. So anxious was he, indeed, to secure the prize that he entirely abstained from asking any questions concerning San Giacinto's past life, whereby some obstacle might have been raised to the intended marriage. He promised himself that the wedding should take place at once.
"It is understood," he continued, after a pause, "that we or our notaries shall appear with the money in cash, and that it shall be immediately invested as we shall jointly decide, the settlements being made at the same time and on the spot."
"Precisely so," replied San Giacinto. "No money, no contract."
"In that case I will inform my daughter of my decision."
"I shall be glad to avail myself of an early opportunity to pay my respects to Donna Flavia."
"The wedding might take place on the 30th of November, my dear Marchese. The 1st of December is Advent Sunday, and no marriages are permitted during Advent without a special licence."
"An expensive affair, doubtless," remarked San Giacinto, gravely, in spite of his desire to laugh.
"Yes. Five scudi at least," answered Montevarchi, impressively. "Let us by all means be economical."
"The Holy Church is very strict about these matters, and you may as well keep the money."
"I will," replied San Giacinto, rising to go. "Do not let me detain you any longer. Pray accept my warmest thanks, and allow me to say that I shall consider it a very great honour to become your son-in-law."
"Ah, indeed, you are very good, my dear Marchese. As for me I need consolation. Consider a father's feelings, when he consigns his beloved daughter--Flavia is an angel upon earth, my friend--when, I say, a father gives his dear child, whom he loves as the apple of his eye, to be carried off by a man--a man even of your worth! When your children are grown up, you will understand what I suffer."
"I quite understand," said San Giacinto in serious tones. "It shall be the endeavour of my life to make you forget your loss. May I have the honour of calling to-morrow at this time?"
"Yes, my dear Marchese, yes, my dear son--forgive a father's tenderness. To-morrow at this time, and---" he hesitated. "And then--some time before the ceremony, perhaps--you will give us the pleasure of your company at breakfast, I am sure, will you not? We are very simple people, but we are hospitable in our quiet way. Hospitality is a virtue," he sighed a little. "A necessary virtue," he added with some emphasis upon the adjective.
"It will give me great pleasure," replied San Giacinto.
Therewith he left the room and a few moments later was walking slowly homewards, revolving in his mind the probable results of his union with the Montevarchi family.
When Montevarchi was alone, he smiled pleasantly to himself, and took out of a secret drawer a large book of accounts, in the study of which he spent nearly half an hour, with evident satisfaction. Having carefully locked up the volume, and returned the sliding panel to its place, he sent for his wife, who presently appeared.
"Sit down, Guendalina," he said. "I will change my coat, and then I have something important to say to you."
He had quite forgotten the inevitable change in his satisfaction over the interview with San Giacinto, but the sight of the princess recalled the necessity for economy. It had been a part of the business of his life to set her a good example in this respect. When he came back he seated himself before her.
"My dear, I have got a husband for Flavia," were his first words.
"At last!" exclaimed the princess. "I hope he is presentable," she added. She knew that she could trust her husband in the matter of fortune.
"The new Saracinesca--the Marchese di San Giacinto."
Princess Montevarchi's ruddy face expressed the greatest astonishment, and her jaw dropped as she stared at the old gentleman.
"A pauper!" she exclaimed when she had recovered herself enough to speak.
"Perhaps, Guendalina mia--but he settles a hundred and fifty thousand scudi on Flavia and her heirs for ever, the money to be paid on the signing of the contract. That does not look like pauperism. Of course, under the circumstances I agreed to do the same. It is settled on Flavia, do you understand? He does not want a penny of it, not a penny! Trust your husband for a serious man of business, Guendalina."
"Have you spoken to Flavia? It certainly looks like a good match. There is no doubt about his being of the Saracinesca, of course. How could there be? They have taken him to their hearts. But how will Flavia behave?"
"What a foolish question, my dear!" exclaimed Montevarchi. "How easily one sees that you are English! She will be delighted, I presume. And if not, what difference does it make?"
"I would not have married you against my will, Lotario," observed the princess.
"For my part, I had no choice. My dear father said simply, 'My son, you will pay your respects to that young lady, who is to be your wife. If you wish to marry anyone else, I will lock you up.' And so I did. Have I not been a faithful husband to you, Guendalina, through more than thirty years?"
The argument was unanswerable, and Montevarchi had employed it each time one of his children was married. In respect of faithfulness, at least, he had been a model husband.
"It is sufficient," he added, willing to make a concession to his wife's foreign notions, "that there should be love on the one side, and Christian principles on the other. I can assure you that San Giacinto is full of love, and as for Flavia, my dear, has she not been educated by you?"
"As for Flavia's Christian principles, my dear Lotario, I only hope they may suffice for her married life. She is a terrible child to have at home. But San Giacinto looks like a determined man. I shall never forget his kindness in searching for Faustina last night. He was devotion itself, and I should not have been surprised had he wished to marry her instead."
"That exquisite creature is reserved for a young friend of ours, Guendalina. Do me the favour never to speak of her marrying anyone else."
The princess was silent for a moment, and then began to make a series of inquiries concerning the proposed bridegroom, which it is unnecessary to recount.
"And now we will send for Flavia," said Montevarchi, at last.
"Would it not be best that I should tell her?" asked his wife.
"My dear," he replied sternly, "when matters of grave importance have been decided it is the duty of the head of the house to communicate the decision to the persons concerned."
So Flavia was sent for, and appeared shortly, her pretty face and wicked black eyes expressing both surprise and anticipation. She was almost as dark as San Giacinto himself, though of a very different type. Her small nose had an upward turn which disturbed her mother's ideas of the fitness of things, and her thick black hair waved naturally over her forehead. Her figure was graceful and her movements quick and spontaneous. The redness of her lips showed a strong vitality, which was further confirmed by the singular brightness of her eyes. She was no beauty, especially in a land where the dark complexion predominates, but she was very pretty and possessed something of that mysterious quality which charms without exciting direct admiration.
"Flavia," said her father, addressing her in solemn tones, "you are to be married, my dear child. I have sent for you at once, because there was no time to be lost, seeing that the wedding must take place before the beginning of Advent. The news will probably give you pleasure, but I trust you will reflect upon the solemnity of such engagements and lay aside---"
"Would you mind telling me the name of my husband?" inquired Flavia, interrupting the paternal lecture.
"The man I have selected for my son-in-law is one whom all women would justly envy you, were it not that envy is an atrocious sin, and one which I trust you will henceforth endeavour---"
"To drown, crush out and stamp upon in the pursuit of true Christian principles," said Flavia with a laugh. "I know all about envy. It is one of the seven deadlies. I can tell you them all, if you like."
"Flavia, I am amazed!" cried the princess, severely.
"I had not expected this conduct of my daughter," said Montevarchi. "And though I am at present obliged to overlook it, I can certainly not consider it pardonable. You will listen with becoming modesty and respect to what I have to say."
"I am all modesty, respect and attention--but I would like to know his name, papa--please consider that pardonable!"
"I do not know why I should not tell you that, and I shall certainly give you all such information concerning him as it is proper that you should receive. The fact that he is a widower need not surprise you, for in the inscrutable ways of Providence some men are deprived of their wives sooner than others. Nor should his age appear to you in the light of an obstacle--indeed there are no obstacles---"
"A widower--old--probably bald--I can see him already. Is he fat, papa?"
"He approaches the gigantic; but as I have often told you, Flavia, the qualities a wise father should seek in choosing a husband for his child are not dependent upon outward---"
"For heaven's sake, mamma," cried Flavia, "tell me the creature's name!"
"The Marchese di San Giacinto--let your father speak, and do not interrupt him."
"While you both insist on interrupting me," said Montevarchi, "it is impossible for me to express myself."
"I wish it were!" observed Flavia, under her breath. "You are speaking of the Saracinesca cousin, San Giacinto? Not so bad after all."
"It is very unbecoming in a young girl to speak of men by their last names---"
"Giovanni, then. Shall I call him Giovanni?"
"Flavia!" exclaimed the princess. "How can you be so undutiful! You should speak of him as the Marchese di San Giacinto."
"Silence!" cried the prince. "I will not be interrupted! The Marchese di San Giacinto will call to-morrow, after breakfast, and will pay his respects to you. You will receive him in a proper spirit."
"Yes, papa," replied Flavia, suddenly growing meek, and folding her hands submissively.
"He has behaved with unexampled liberality," continued Montevarchi, "and I need hardly say that as the honour of our house was concerned I have not allowed myself to be outdone. Since you refuse to listen to the words of fatherly instruction which it is natural I should speak on this occasion, you will at least remember that your future husband is entirely such a man as I would have chosen, that he is a Saracinesca, as well as a rich man, and that he has been accustomed in the women of his family to a greater refinement of manner than you generally think fit to exhibit in the presence of your father."
"Yes, papa. May I go, now?"
"If your conscience will permit you to retire without a word of gratitude to your parents, who in spite of the extreme singularities of your behaviour have at last provided you with a suitable husband; if, I say, you are capable of such ingratitude, then, Flavia, you may certainly go."
"I was going to say, papa, that I thank you very much for my husband, and mamma, too."
Thereupon she kissed her father's and her mother's hands with great reverence and turned to leave the room. Her gravity forsook her, however, before she reached the door.
"Evviva! Hurrah!" she cried, suddenly skipping across the intervening space and snapping her small fingers like a pair of castanets. "Evviva! Married at last! Hurrah!" And with this parting salute she disappeared.
When she was gone, her father and mother looked at each other, as they had looked many times before in the course of Flavia's life. They had found little difficulty in bringing up their other children, but Flavia was a mystery to them both. The princess would have understood well enough a thorough English girl, full of life and animal spirits, though shy and timid in the world, as the elderly lady had herself been in her youth. But Flavia's character was incomprehensible to her northern soul. Montevarchi understood the girl better, but loved her even less. What seemed odd in her to his wife, to him seemed vulgar and ill-bred, for he would have had her like the rest, silent and respectful in his presence, and in awe of him as the head of the house, if not in fact, at least in manner. But Flavia's behaviour was in the eyes of Romans a very serious objection to her as a wife for any of their sons, for in their view moral worth was necessarily accompanied by outward gravity and decorum, and a light manner could only be the visible sign of a giddy heart.
"If only he does not find out what she is like!" exclaimed the princess at last.
"I devoutly trust that heaven in its mercy may avert such a catastrophe from our house," replied Montevarchi, who, however, seemed to be occupied in adding together certain sums upon his fingers.
San Giacinto understood Flavia better than either of her parents; and although his marriage with her was before all things a part of his plan for furthering his worldly interests, it must be confessed that he had a stronger liking for the girl than her father would have considered indispensable in such affairs. The matter was decided at once, and in a few days the preliminaries were settled between the lawyers, while Flavia exerted the utmost pressure possible upon the parental purse in the question of the trousseau.
It may seem strange that at the time when all Rome was convulsed by an internal revolution, and when the temporal power appeared to be in very great danger, Montevarchi and San Giacinto should have been able to discuss so coolly the conditions of the marriage, and even to fix the wedding day. The only possible explanation of this fact is that neither of them believed in the revolution at all. It is a noticeable characteristic of people who are fond of money that they do not readily believe in any great changes. They are indeed the most conservative of men, and will count their profits at moments of peril with a coolness which would do honour to veteran soldiers. Those who possess money put their faith in money and give no credence to rumours of revolution which are not backed by cash. Once or twice in history they have been wrong, but it must be confessed that they have very generally been right.
As for San Giacinto, his own interests were infinitely more absorbing to his attention than those of the world at large, and being a man of uncommonly steady nerves, it seems probable that he would have calmly pursued his course in the midst of much greater disturbances than those which affected Rome at that time.