Sant' Ilario by F. Marion Crawford
When Anastase Gouache was at last relieved from duty and went home in the gray dawn of the twenty-third, he lay down to rest expecting to reflect upon the events of the night. The last twelve hours had been the most eventful of his life; indeed less than that time had elapsed since he had bid farewell to Faustina in the drawing-room of the Palazzo Saracinesca, and yet the events which had occurred in that short space had done much towards making him another man. The change had begun two years earlier, and had progressed slowly until it was completed all at once by a chain of unforeseen circumstances. He realised the fact, and as this change was not disagreeable to him he set himself to think about it. Instead of reviewing what had happened, however, he did what was much more natural in his case, he turned upon his pillow and fell fast asleep. He was younger than his years, though he counted less than thirty, and his happy nature had not yet formed that horrible habit of wakefulness which will not yield even to bodily fatigue. He lay down and slept like a boy, disturbed by no dreams and troubled by no shadowy revival of dangers or emotions past.
He had placed a gulf between himself and his former life. What had passed between him and Faustina, might under other circumstances have become but a romantic episode in the past, to be thought of with a certain tender regret, half fatuous, half genuine, whenever the moonlight chanced to cast the right shadow and the artist's mind was in the contemplative mood. The peculiar smell of broken masonry, when it is a little damp, would recall the impression, perhaps; an old wall knocked to pieces by builders would, through his nostrils, bring vividly before him that midnight meeting amid the ruins of the barracks, just as the savour of a certain truffle might bring back the memory of a supper at Voisin's, or as, twenty years hence, the pasty grittiness of rough maize bread would make him remember the days when he was chasing brigands in the Samnite hills. But this was not to be the case this time. There was more matter for reminiscence than a ray of moonlight on a fair face, or the smell of crumbling mortar.
There was a deep and sincere devotion on both sides, in two persons both singularly capable of sincerity, and both foresaw that the result of this love could never be indifference. The end could only be exceeding happiness, or mortal sorrow. Anastase and Faustina were not only themselves in earnest; each knew instinctively that the other would be faithful, a condition extremely rare in ordinary cases. Each recognised that the obstacles were enormous, but neither doubted for a moment that means would be found to overcome them.
In some countries the marriage of these two would have been a simple matter enough. A man of the world, honourable, successful, beginning to be famous, possessed of some fortune, might aspire to marry any one he pleased in lands where it is not a disgrace to have acquired the means of subsistence by one's own talent and industry. Artists and poets have sometimes made what are called great marriages. But in Rome, twenty years ago, things were very different. It is enough to consider the way in which Montevarchi arranged to dispose of his daughter Flavia to understand the light in which he would have regarded Faustina's marriage with Anastase Gouache. The very name of Gouache would have raised a laugh in the Montevarchi household had any one suggested that a woman of that traditionally correct race could ever make it her own. There were persons in Rome, indeed, who might have considered the matter more leniently. Corona Sant' Ilario was one of these; but her husband and father-in-law would have opened their eyes as wide as old Lotario Montevarchi himself, had the match been discussed before them. Their patriarchally exclusive souls would have been shocked and the dear fabric of their inborn prejudices shaken to its deepest foundations. It was bad enough, from the point of view of potential matrimony, to earn money, even if one had the right to prefix "Don" to one's baptismal name. But to be no Don and to receive coin for one's labour was a far more insurmountable barrier against intermarriage with the patriarchs than hereditary madness, toothless old age, leprosy, or lack of money.
Gouache had acquired enough knowledge of Roman life to understand this, and nothing short of physical exhaustion would have prevented his spending his leisure in considering the means of overcoming such stupendous difficulties. When he awoke his situation presented itself clearly enough to his mind, however, and occupied his thoughts throughout the remainder of the day. Owing to the insurrection his departure was delayed for twenty- four hours, and his duty was likely to keep him busily engaged during the short time that remained to him. The city was in a state of siege and there would be a perpetual service of patrols, sentries and general maintenance of order. The performance of labours almost mechanical left him plenty of time for reflection, though he found it hard to spare a moment in which to see any of his friends.
He was very anxious to meet the Princess Sant' Ilario, whose conduct on the previous night had seriously alarmed him. It was to her that he looked for assistance in his troubles and the consciousness that she was angry with him was a chief source of distress. In the course of the few words he had exchanged with her, she had made it sufficiently clear to him that although she disapproved in principle of his attachment to Faustina, she would do nothing to hinder his marriage if he should be able to overcome the obstinacy of the girl's parents. He was at first at a loss to explain her severity to him when she had left her house to take Faustina home. Being wholly innocent of any share in the latter's mad course, it did not at first enter his mind that Corona could attribute to him any blame in the matter. On the contrary, he knew that if the girl's visit to the ruined barracks remained a secret, this would be owing quite as much to his own discretion and presence of mind as to the princess's willingness to help him. Not a little, too, was due to good luck, since the least difference in the course of events must have led to immediate discovery.
A little thought led him to a conclusion which wounded his pride while it explained Corona's behaviour. It was evident that she had believed in a clandestine meeting, prearranged between the lovers at the instigation of Gouache himself, and she had probably supposed this meeting to be only the preliminary to a runaway match. How, indeed, could Faustina have expected to escape observation, even had there been no revolution in Rome, that night? Corona clearly thought that the girl had never intended to come back, that Gouache had devised means for their departure, and that Faustina had believed the elopement possible in the face of the insurrection. Anastase, on finding himself in the small hours of the morning with Faustina on his hands and knowing that discovery must follow soon after day-break, had boldly brought her to the Palazzo Saracinesca and had demanded Corona's assistance.
As the artist thought the matter over, he became more and more convinced that he had understood the princess's conduct, and the reflection made him redden with shame and anger. He determined to seize the first moment that presented itself for an explanation with the woman who had wronged him. He unexpectedly found himself at liberty towards five o'clock in the afternoon and made haste at once to reach the Palazzo Saracinesca. Knowing that no one would be allowed to be in the streets after dark, he felt sure of finding Corona without visitors, and expected the most favourable opportunity for talking over the subject which distressed him.
After waiting several minutes in one of the outer halls he was ushered in, and to his extreme annoyance found himself in the midst of a family party. He had not counted upon the presence of the men of the household, and the fact that the baby was also present did not facilitate matters. Old Saracinesca greeted him warmly; Sant' Ilario looked grave; Corona herself looked up from her game with little Orsino, nodded and uttered a word of recognition, and then returned to her occupation.
Conversation under these circumstances was manifestly impossible, and Gouache wished he had not had the unlucky idea of calling. There was nothing to be done, however, but to put on a brave face and make the best of it.
"Well, Monsieur Gouache," inquired the old prince, "and how did you spend the night?"
He could scarcely have asked a question better calculated to disturb the composure of everyone present except the baby. Anastase could not help looking at Corona, who looked instinctively at her husband, while the latter gazed at Gouache, wondering what he would say. All three turned a shade paler, and during a very few seconds there was an awkward silence.
"I spent the night very uncomfortably," replied Anastase, after hesitating a little. "We were driven from pillar to post, repelling attacks, doing sentry duty, clearing the streets, marching and countermarching. It was daylight when I was relieved."
"Indeed!" exclaimed Sant' Ilario. "I had supposed that you had remained all night at the Porta San Paolo. But there are many contradictory accounts. I was in some anxiety until I was assured that you had not been blown up in that infernal plot."
Gouache was on the point of asking who had told Giovanni that he had escaped, but fortunately checked himself, and endeavoured to turn the conversation to the disaster at the barracks. Thereupon old Saracinesca, whose blood was roused by the atrocity, delivered a terrible anathema against the murderous wretches who had ruined the building, and expressed himself in favour of burning them alive, a fate, indeed, far too good for them. Anastase profited by the old gentleman's eloquence to make advances to the baby. Little Orsino, however, struck him a vigorous blow in the face with his tiny fist and yelled lustily.
"He does not like strangers," remarked Corona, coldly. She rose with the child in her arms and moved towards the door, Gouache following her with the intention of opening it for her to go out. The prince was still thundering out curses against the conspirators, and Anastase attempted to say a word unobserved as Corona passed him.
"Will you not give me a hearing?" he asked in a low tone, accompanying his words with an imploring look.
Corona raised her eyebrows slightly as though surprised, but his expression of genuine contrition softened her heart a little and rendered her answer perhaps a trifle less unkind than she had meant it to be.
"You should be satisfied--since I keep your secret," she said, and passed quickly out.
When Gouache turned after closing the door he was aware that Sant' Ilario had been watching him, by the fixed way in which he was now looking in another direction. The Zouave wished more and more fervently that he had not come to the house, but resolved to prolong his visit in the hope that Corona might return. Sant' Ilario was unaccountably silent, but his father kept up a lively conversation, needing only an occasional remark from Gouache to give a fillip to his eloquence.
This situation continued during nearly half an hour, at the end of which time Anastase gave up all hope of seeing Corona again. The two men evidently did not expect her to return, for they had made themselves comfortable and had lighted their cigarettes.
"Good-bye, Monsieur Gouache," said the old prince, cordially shaking him by the hand. "I hope we shall see you back again alive and well in a few days."
While he was speaking Giovanni had rung the bell for the servant to show the visitor out, an insignificant action, destined to produce a rather singular result. Sant' Ilario himself, feeling that after all he might never see Gouache alive again, repented a little of his coldness, and while the latter stood ready to go, detained him with a question as to his destination on leaving the city. This resulted in a lively discussion of Garibaldi's probable movements, which lasted several minutes.
Corona in the meantime had taken Orsino back to his nurse, and had bidden her maid let her know when the visitor in the drawing-room was gone. The woman went to the hall, and when Giovanni rang the bell, returned to inform her mistress of the fact, supposing that Gouache would go at once. Corona waited a few minutes, and then went back to the sitting-room, which was at the end of the long suite of apartments. The result was that she met Anastase in one of the rooms on his way out, preceded by the footman, who went on towards the hall after his mistress had passed. Corona and Gouache were left face to face and quite alone in the huge dim drawing- room. Gouache had found his opportunity and did not hesitate.
"Madame," he said, "I beg your pardon for trespassing on your time, but I have a serious word to say. I am going to the frontier and am as likely to be killed as any one else. On the faith of a man who may be dead to-morrow, I am wholly innocent of what happened last night. If I come back I will prove it to you some day. If not, will you believe me, and not think of me unkindly?"
Corona hesitated and stood leaning against the heavy curtain of a window for a moment. Though the room was very dim, she could see the honest look in the young man's eyes and she hesitated before she answered. She had heard that day that two of her acquaintances had fallen fighting against the Garibaldians and she knew that Anastase was speaking of a very near possibility when he talked of being killed. There were many chances that he was telling the truth, and she felt how deeply she should regret her unbelief if he should indeed meet his fate before they met again.
"You tell me a strange thing," she said at last. "You ask me to believe that this poor girl, of her own free will and out of love for you, followed you out of this room last night into the midst of a revolution. It is a hard thing to believe---"
"And yet I implore you to believe it, princess. A man who should love her less than I, would be the basest of men to speak thus of her love. God knows, if things had been otherwise, I would not have let you know. But was there any other way of taking her home? Did I not do the only thing that was at all possible to keep last night's doings a secret? I love her to such a point that I glory in her love for me. If I could have shielded her last night by giving up my life, you know that I would have ended my existence that very moment. It would have done no good. I had to confide in some one, and you, who knew half my secret, since I had told you I loved her, were the only person who could be allowed to guess the remainder. If it could profit her that you should think me a villain, you might think me so--even you, whom I reverence beyond all women save her. But to let you think so would be to degrade her, and that you shall not do. You shall not think that she has been so foolish as to pin her faith on a man who would lead her to destruction--ah! if I loved her less I could tell you better what I mean."
Corona was moved by his sincerity, if not by his arguments. She saw all the strangeness of the situation; how he had been forced to confide in some one, and how it seemed better in his eyes that she should know how Faustina had really behaved, than think that the young girl had agreed to a premeditated meeting. She was touched and her heart relented.
"I believe you," she said. "Forgive me if I have wronged you."
"Thank you, thank you, dear princess!" cried Gouache, taking her hand and touching it with his lips. "I can never thank you as I would. And now, good-bye--I am going. Will you give me your blessing, as my mother would?" He smiled, as he recalled the conversation of the previous evening.
"Good-bye," answered Corona. "May all blessings go with you." He turned away and she stood a moment looking after him as he disappeared in the gloom.
She was sorry for him in her heart and repented a little of having treated him so harshly. And yet, as soon as he was gone she began to doubt again, wondering vaguely whether she had not been deceived. There was an odd fascination about the soldier-artist which somehow influenced her in his favour when he was present, and of which she was not conscious until he was out of her sight. Now that she was alone, she found herself considering how this peculiar charm which he possessed would be likely to affect a young girl like Faustina, and she was obliged to acknowledge that it would account well enough for the latter's foolish doings. She could not look into Gouache's eyes and doubt what he said, but she found it hard afterwards to explain the faith she put in him.
She was roused from her short reflection by her husband who, without being observed by her, had come to her side. Seeing that she did not return to the sitting-room when Gouache was gone he had come in search of her, and by the merest chance had overheard the last words which had passed between her and Anastase, and had seen how the latter fervently kissed her hand. The phrase in which she had wished him good luck rang unpleasantly in his ears and startled the inmost sensibilities of his nature. He remembered how she had blessed him once, in her calm, gentle way, on that memorable night of the Frangipani ball nearly three years before, and there was a similarity between the words she had used then and the simple expression which had now fallen from her lips.
Giovanni stood beside her now and laid his hand upon her arm. It was not his nature to break out suddenly as his father did, when anything occurred to disturb his peace of mind. The Spanish blood he had inherited from his mother had imparted a profound reserve to his character, which gave it depth rather than coldness. It was hard for him to speak out violently when under the influence of emotion, but this very difficulty of finding words and his aversion to using them made him more sincere, more enduring and less forgiving than other men. He could wait long before he gave vent to his feelings, but they neither grew cool nor dull for the waiting. He detested concealment and secrecy more than most people, but his disinclination to speak of any matter until he was sure of it had given him the reputation of being both reticent and calculating. Giovanni now no longer concealed from himself the fact that he was annoyed by what was passing, but he denied, even in his heart, that he was jealous. To doubt Corona would be to upset the whole fabric of his existence, which he had founded upon her love and which had been built up to such great proportions during the past three years. His first impulse was to ask an explanation, and it carried him just far enough to lay his hand on his wife's arm, when it was checked by a multitude of reflections and unconscious arguments which altogether changed his determination.
"I thought he was gone," he said, quietly enough.
"So did I," replied Corona, in a cooler tone than she generally used in speaking to her husband.
She, too, was annoyed, for she suspected that Giovanni had been watching her; and since, on the previous evening he had promised to trust her altogether in this affair, she looked upon his coming almost in the light of an infringement upon the treaty, and resented it accordingly. She did not reflect that it was unlikely that Giovanni should expect her to try to meet Gouache on his way out, and would therefore not think of lying in wait for her. His accidental coming seemed premeditated. He, on his side, had noticed her marked coldness to Anastase in the sitting-room and thought it contrasted very strangely with the over-friendly parting of which he had chanced to be a witness. Corona, too, knew very well that the last words spoken were capable of misinterpretation, and as she had no intention of telling her husband Faustina's story at present she saw no way of clearing up the situation, and therefore prepared to ignore it altogether.
They turned together and walked slowly back in the direction of the sitting-room, neither speaking a word until they had almost reached the door. Then Giovanni stopped and looked at his wife.
"Is it part of last night's secret?" he asked, almost indifferently.
"Yes," answered Corona. "What could you suppose it was? I met him by accident and we exchanged a few words."
"I know. I heard you say good-bye. I confess I was surprised. I thought you meant to be rude to him when we were all together, but I was mistaken. I hope your blessing will profit him, my dear!" He spoke quite naturally and without effort.
"I hope so too," returned Corona. "You might have added yours, since you were present."
"To tell the truth," said Giovanni, with a short laugh, "I fancy it might not have been so acceptable."
"You talk very strangely, Giovanni!"
"Do I? It seems to me quite natural. Shall we go into the sitting- room?"
"Giovanni--you promised to trust me last night, and I promised to explain everything to you some day. You must keep your promise wholly or not at all."
"Certainly," answered Sant' Ilario, opening the door for his wife and thus forcing the conversation to end suddenly, since old Saracinesca must now hear whatever was said.
He would not allow the situation to last, for fear lest he should say something of which he might repent, for in spite of his words he did not wish to seem suspicious. Unfortunately, Corona's evident annoyance at having been overheard did more to strengthen the feeling of resentment which was growing in him than what he had heard and seen a few moments earlier. The way in which she had reproached him with not adding his blessing to hers showed plainly enough, he thought, that she was angry at what had occurred. They both entered the room, but before they had been long together Giovanni left his wife and father and retired to his own room under pretext of writing letters until dinner-time.
When he was alone, the situation presented itself to his mind in a very disagreeable light. Corona's assurance that the mystery was a harmless one seemed wholly inadequate to account for her meeting with Gouache and for her kind treatment of him, especially after she had shown herself so evidently cold to him in the presence of the others. Either Giovanni was a very silly fellow, or he was being deceived as no man was ever deceived before. Either conclusion was exasperating. He asked himself whether he were such a fool as to invent a misconstruction upon occurrences which to any one else would have seemed void of any importance whatsoever; and his heart answered that if he were indeed so senseless he must have lost his intelligence very recently. On the other hand to suspect Corona of actually entertaining a secret passion for Gouache was an hypothesis which seemed too monstrous to be discussed. He sat down to think about it, and was suddenly startled by the host of little circumstances which all at once detached themselves from the hazy past and stood out in condemnation of his wife. Gouache, as he himself had acknowledged, had long worshipped the princess in a respectful, almost reverential way. He had taken every occasion of talking with her, and had expressed even by his outward manner a degree of devotion he never manifested to other women. Giovanni was now aware that for some time past, even as far back as the previous winter, he had almost unconsciously watched Corona and Anastase when they were together. Nothing in her conduct had excited his suspicions in the least, but he had certainly suspected that Gouache was a little inclined to idolise her, and had laughed to himself more than once at the idea of the French artist's hopeless passion, with something of that careless satisfaction a man feels who sees a less favoured mortal in dangerous proximity to a flame which burns only for himself. It was rather a contemptible amusement, and Giovanni had never indulged in it very long. He liked Gouache, and, if anything, pitied him for his hopeless passion. Corona treated the Zouave in her grand, quiet way, which had an air of protection with it, and Giovanni would have scoffed at the thought that she cared for the man. Nevertheless, now that matters had taken such a strange turn, he recollected with surprise that Gouache was undeniably the one of all their acquaintance who most consistently followed Corona wherever they met. The young man was a favourite in society. His great talent, his modesty, and above all what people were pleased to describe as his harmlessness, made everybody like him. He went everywhere, and his opportunities of meeting the princess were almost numberless. Giovanni had certainly watched him very often, though he was hardly conscious of having bestowed so much attention on the French artist-soldier, that he never failed to glance at his wife when Anastase was mentioned.
Now, and all at once, a hundred details rushed to his recollection, and he was staggered by the vista of incidents that rose before his mind. Within the last twenty-four hours, especially, the evidence had assumed terrible proportions. In the first place there had been that scene in the drawing-room, enacted quietly enough and in a corner, while there were twenty persons present, but with the coolness of two people of the world who know what surprising things may be done unobserved in a room full of people. If Anastase had kissed Corona's hand a little differently, and with the evident intention of being seen, the action would have been natural. But there was a look in Gouache's face which Giovanni remembered, and an expression of kindness in Corona's eyes that he had not forgotten; above all they had both seemed as though they were sure that no one was watching them. Indeed, Sant' Ilario now asked himself how he had chanced to see what passed, and the only answer was that he generally watched them when they were together. This was a revelation to himself, and told much. Then there was her midnight expedition with Gouache, a far more serious matter. After all, he had only Corona's own assurance that Faustina Montevarchi had been in any way concerned in that extraordinary piece of rashness. He must indeed have had faith in his wife to pass over such conduct without a word of explanation. Next came the events of that very afternoon. Corona had been rude to Gouache, had then suddenly left the room, and in passing out had exchanged a few words with him in a low tone. She had met him again by accident, if it had been an accident, and fancying herself unseen had behaved very differently to the young man. There had been a parting which savoured unpleasantly of the affectionate, and which was certainly something more than merely friendly. Lastly, Corona had evidently been annoyed at Giovanni's appearance, a fact which seemed to conclude the whole argument with a terrible certainty.
Finding himself face to face with a conclusion which threatened to destroy his happiness altogether, Giovanni started up from his chair and began to walk backwards and forwards in the room, pausing a moment each time he turned, as though to gather strength, or to shake off an evil thought. In the light of his present reflections an explanation seemed inevitable, but when he thought of that he saw too clearly that any explanation must begin by his accusing his wife, and he knew that if he accused her justly, it would only end in a denial from her. What woman, however guilty, would not deny her guilt when charged with it. What man either, where love was concerned? Giovanni laughed bitterly, then turned pale and sat down again. To accuse Corona of loving Gouache! It was too monstrous to be believed. And yet--what did all those doings mean? There must be a reason for them. If he called her and told her what he felt, and if she were innocent, she would tell him all, everything would be explained, and he would doubtless see that all this damning evidence was no more than the natural outward appearance of perfectly harmless circumstances of which he knew nothing. Ay, but if they were harmless, why should she implore him to ask no questions? Because the honour of some one else was concerned, of course. But was he, Giovanni Saracinesca, not to be trusted with the keeping of that other person's honour as well as Corona herself? Had they ever had secrets from each other? Would it not have been simpler for her to trust him with the story, if she was innocent, than to be silent and ask him to trust her motives? Far simpler, of course. And then, if only a third person's feelings were at stake, what necessity had there been for such a sentimental parting? She had given Gouache a blessing very like the one she had given Giovanni. Worst of all, were not the circumstances the same, the very same?
Giovanni remembered the Frangipani ball. At that time Corona was married to Astrardente, who had died a few days afterwards. Giovanni had that night told Corona that he loved her, in very passionate terms. She had silenced him, and he had behaved like a gentleman, for he had asked her pardon for what he had done. She had forgiven him, and to show that she bore no malice had spoken a kind of benediction--a prayer that all might be well with him. He knew now that she had loved him even then when she repelled him.
And now that she was married to Giovanni, another had come, and had talked with her, and exchanged words in a low tone even as he himself had once done. And she had treated this man roughly before her husband, and presently afterwards had allowed him to kiss her hand and had sent him away saying that she forgave him--just as she had formerly forgiven Giovanni--and praying that all blessings might go with him. Why was it not possible that she loved this man, too? Because she was so grandly beautiful, and dark and calm, and had such a noble fearlessness in her eyes? Other women had been beautiful and had deceived wiser men than Giovanni, and had fallen. Beauty was no argument for the defence, nor brave eyes, nor the magnificent dignity of movement and speech--nor words either, for that matter.
Suspense was agony, and yet a twofold horror seemed the only issue, the one inevitable, the other possible. First, to accuse this woman whom he loved so dearly, and then, perhaps, to hear her deny the charge boldly and yet refuse all explanation. Once more Giovanni rose from his deep chair and paced his room with regular strides, though he scarcely saw the carpet under his feet, nor realised any longer where he was. At last he stopped and laughed. The sound was strange and false, as when a man tries to be merry who feels no mirth.
He was making a desperate effort to shake off this nightmare that beset him, to say to himself that he was but a fool, and that there was no cause for all this suffering which he was inflicting on his heart, nor for all these questions he had been asking of his intelligence. It was surely not true! He would laugh now, would laugh heartily within the next half hour with Corona herself, at the mere thought of supposing that she could love Gouache, Gouache, a painter! Gouache, a Zouave! Gouache, a contemptibly good-natured, harmless little foreigner!--and Corona del Carmine, Duchessa d'Astrardente, Principessa di Sant' Ilario, mother of all the Saracinesca yet to come! It was better to laugh, truly, at such an absurd juxtaposition of ideas, of personalities, of high and low. And Giovanni laughed, but the sound, was very harsh and died away without rousing one honest echo in the vaulted room.
Had Corona seen his face at that moment, or had she guessed what was passing in his mind, she would have sacrificed Faustina's secret ten times over rather than let Giovanni suffer a moment longer as he was suffering now. But Corona had no idea that he could put such a construction upon her doings. He had shown her nothing of what he felt, except perhaps a slight annoyance at not being put in possession of the secret. It was natural, she thought, that he should be a little out of temper, but as she saw no way of remedying the trouble except by exposing to him the innocent girl whom she had undertaken to protect, she held her peace and trusted that her husband's displeasure would soon be past. Had there been more time for reflection on the previous evening, in the interval between her learning from the porter that Giovanni knew of her absence, and her being confronted with Giovanni himself, she might have resolved to act differently; but having once made up her mind that he ought not to know the truth for the present, opposition only strengthened her determination. There was nothing wrong in the course she was pursuing, or her conscience would have spoken and bidden her speak out. Her nature was too like Giovanni's own, proud, reserved, and outwardly cold, to yield any point easily. It was her instinct, like his, to be silent rather than to speak, and to weigh considerations before acting upon them. This very similarity of temper in the two rendered it certain that if they were ever opposed to each other the struggle would be a serious one. They were both too strong to lead a life of petty quarrelling; if they ceased to live in perfect harmony they were only too sure to come to open hostility. There is nothing which will wound pride and raise anger so inevitably as finding unexpected but determined opposition in those who very closely resemble ourselves. In such a case a man cannot fall back upon the comfortable alternative of despising his enemy, since he has an intimate conviction that it would be paramount to despising himself; and if he is led into a pitched battle he will find his foe possessed of weapons which are exactly like his own.
Giovanni and Corona were very evenly matched, as nearly resembling each other as is possible for a man and a woman. Corona was outwardly a little the colder, Giovanni a little the more resentful of the two. Corona had learned during the years of her marriage with Astrardente to wear a mask of serene indifference, and the assumed habit had at last become in some degree a part of her nature. Giovanni, whose first impulses had originally been quicker than they now were, had learned the power of waiting by constant intercourse with his father, whose fiery temper seemed to snatch at trifles for the mere pleasure of tearing them to pieces, and did injustice to the generous heart he concealed under his rough exterior.
Under these circumstances it was not probable that Sant' Ilario would make any exhibition of his jealousy for some time to come. As he paced the floor of his room, the bitterness of his situation slowly sank from the surface, leaving his face calm and almost serene. He forced himself to look at the facts again and again, trying bravely to be impartial and to survey them as though he were the judge and not the plaintiff. He admitted at last that there was undoubtedly abundant matter for jealousy, but Corona still stood protected as it were by the love he bore her, a love which even her guilt would be unable to destroy. His love indeed, must outlast everything, all evil, all disgrace, and he knew it. He thought of that Latin poet who, writing to his mistress, said in the bitterness of his heart that though she were to become the best woman in the world he could never again respect her, but that he could not cease to love her, were she guilty of all crimes. He knew that if the worst turned out true that must be his case, and perhaps for the first time in his life he understood all the humanity of Catullus, and saw how a man might love even what he despised.
Happily matters had not yet come to that. He knew that he might be deceived, and that circumstantial evidence was not always to be trusted. Even while his heart grew cold with the strongest and most deadly passion of which man is capable, with jealousy which is cruel as the grave, the nobility of his nature rose up and made him see that his duty was to believe Corona innocent until she were proved unfaithful. The effort to quench the flame was great, though fruitless, but the determination to cover it and hide it from every one, even from Corona herself, appealed to all that was brave and manly in his strong character. When at last he once more sat down, his face betrayed no emotion, his eyes were quiet, his hands did not tremble. He took up a book and forced his attention upon the pages for nearly an hour without interruption. Then he dressed himself, and went and sat at table with his father and his wife as though nothing had occurred to disturb his equanimity.
Corona supposed that he had recovered from his annoyance at not being admitted to share the secret for which she was unconsciously sacrificing so much. She had expected this result and was more than usually cheerful. Once old Saracinesca mentioned Gouache, but both Corona and Giovanni hastened to change the subject. This time, however, Giovanni did not look at his wife when the name was pronounced. Those days were over now.