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- Sant' Ilario - 2/92 -
horse and the feet of the startled pair of bays. The crowd closed in as near as was safe, while the confusion and the shouts of the people and the carters increased every minute.
The coachman of the private carriage threw the reins to the footman and sprang down to go to the horses' heads.
"You have run over a Zouave!" some one shouted from the crowd.
"Meno male! Thank goodness it was not one of us!" exclaimed another voice.
"Where is he? Get him out, some of you!" cried the coachman as he seized the reins close to the bit.
By this time a couple of stout gendarmes and two or three soldiers of the Antibes legion had made their way to the front and were dragging away the fallen cab-horse. A tall, thin, elderly gentleman, of a somewhat sour countenance, descended from the carriage and stooped over the injured soldier.
"It is only a Zouave, Excellency," said the coachman, with a sort of sigh of relief.
The tall gentleman lifted Gouache's head a little so that the light from the carriage-lamp fell upon his face. He was quite insensible, and there was blood upon his pale forehead and white cheeks. One of the gendarmes came forward.
"We will take care of him, Signore," he said, touching his three- cornered hat. "But I must beg to know your revered name," he added, in the stock Italian phrase. "Capira--I am very sorry--but they say your horses--"
"Put him into my carriage," answered the elderly gentleman shortly. "I am the Principe Montevarchi."
"But, Excellency--the Signorina---" protested the coachman. The prince paid no attention to the objection and helped the gendarme to deposit Anastase in the interior of the vehicle. Then he gave the man a silver scudo.
"Send some one to the Serristori barracks to say that a Zouave has been hurt and is at my house," he said. Therewith he entered the carriage and ordered the coachman to drive home.
"In heaven's name, what has happened, papa?" asked a young voice in the darkness, tremulous with excitement.
"My dear child, there has been an accident in the street, and this young man has been wounded, or killed--"
"Killed! A dead man in the carriage!" cried the young girl in some terror, and shrinking away into the corner.
"You should really control your nerves, Faustina," replied her father in austere tones. "If the young man is dead, it is the will of Heaven. If he is alive we shall soon find it out. Meanwhile I must beg you to be calm--to be calm, do you understand?"
Donna Faustina Montevarchi made no answer to this parental injunction, but withdrew as far as she could into the corner of the back seat, while her father supported the inanimate body of the Zouave as the carriage swung over the uneven pavement. In a few minutes they rolled beneath a deep arch and stopped at the foot of a broad marble staircase.
"Bring him upstairs carefully, and send for a surgeon," said the prince to the men who came forward. Then he offered his arm to his daughter to ascend the steps, as though nothing had happened, and without bestowing another look on the injured soldier.
Donna Faustina was just eighteen years old, and had only quitted the convent of the Sacro Cuore a month earlier. It might have been said that she was too young to be beautiful, for she evidently belonged to that class of women who do not attain their full development until a later period. Her figure was almost too slender, her face almost too delicate and ethereal. There was about her a girlish look, an atmosphere of half-saintly maidenhood, which was not so much the expression of her real nature as the effect produced by her being at once very thin and very fresh. There was indeed nothing particularly angelic about her warm brown eyes, shaded by unusually long black lashes; and little wayward locks of chestnut hair, curling from beneath the small round hat of the period, just before the small pink ears, softened as with a breath of worldliness the grave outlines of the serious face. A keen student of women might have seen that the dim religious halo of convent life which still clung to the young girl would soon fade and give way to the brilliancy of the woman of the world. She was not tall, though of fully average height, and although the dress of that time was ill-adapted to show to advantage either the figure or the movements, it was evident, as she stepped lightly from the carriage, that she had a full share of ease and grace. She possessed that unconscious certainty in motion which proceeds naturally from the perfect proportion of all the parts, and which exercises a far greater influence over men than a faultless profile or a dazzling skin.
Instead of taking her father's arm, Donna Faustina turned and looked at the face of the wounded Zouave, whom three men had carefully taken from the carriage and were preparing to carry upstairs. Poor Gouache was hardly recognisable for the smart soldier who had crossed the bridge of Sant' Angelo half an hour earlier. His uniform was all stained with mud, there was blood upon his pale face, and his limbs hung down, powerless and limp. But as the young girl looked at him, consciousness returned, and with it came the sense of acute suffering. He opened his eyes suddenly, as men often do when they revive after being stunned, and a short groan escaped from his lips. Then, as he realised that he was in the presence of a lady, he made an effort as though to release himself from the hands of those who carried him, and to stand upon his feet.
"Pardon me, Madame," he began to say, but Faustina checked him by a gesture.
Meanwhile old Montevarchi had carefully scrutinised the young man's face, and had recognised him, for they had often met in society.
"Monsieur Gouache!" he exclaimed in surprise. At the same time he made the men move on with their burden.
"You know him, papa?" whispered Donna Faustina as they followed together. "He is a gentleman? I was right?"
"Of course, of course," answered her father. "But really, Faustina, had you nothing better to do than to go and look into his face? Imagine, if he had known you! Dear me! If you begin like this, as soon as you are out of the convent--"
Montevarchi left the rest of the sentence to his daughter's imagination, merely turning up his eyes a little as though deprecating the just vengeance of heaven upon his daughter's misconduct.
"Really, papa--" protested Faustina.
"Yes--really, my daughter--I am much surprised," returned her incensed parent, still speaking in an undertone lest the injured man should overhear what was said.
They reached the head of the stairs and the men carried Gouache rapidly away; not so quickly, however, as to prevent Faustina from getting another glimpse of his face. His eyes were open and met hers with an expression of mingled interest and gratitude which she did not forget. Then he was carried away and she did not see him again.
The Montevarchi household was conducted upon the patriarchal principle, once general in Rome, and not quite abandoned even now, twenty years later than the date of Gouache's accident. The palace was a huge square building facing upon two streets, in front and behind, and opening inwards upon two courtyards. Upon the lower floor were stables, coach-houses, kitchens, and offices innumerable. Above these there was built a half story, called a mezzanino--in French, entresol, containing the quarters of the unmarried sons of the house, of the household chaplain, and of two or three tutors employed in the education of the Montevarchi grandchildren. Next above, came the "piano nobile," or state apartments, comprising the rooms of the prince and princess, the dining-room, and a vast suite of reception-rooms, each of which opened into the next in such a manner that only the last was not necessarily a passage. In the huge hall was the dais and canopy with the family arms embroidered in colours once gaudy but now agreeably faded to a softer tone. Above this floor was another, occupied by the married sons, their wives and children; and high over all, above the cornice of the palace, were the endless servants' quarters and the roomy garrets. At a rough estimate the establishment comprised over a hundred persons, all living under the absolute and despotic authority of the head of the house, Don Lotario Montevarchi, Principe Montevarchi, and sole possessor of forty or fifty other titles. From his will and upon his pleasure depended every act of every member of his household, from his eldest son and heir, the Duca di Bellegra, to that of Pietro Paolo, the tinder-cook's scullion's boy. There were three sons and four daughters. Two of the sons were married, to wit, Don Ascanio, to whom his father had given his second title, and Don Onorato, who was allowed to call himself Principe di Cantalupo, but who would have no legal claim to that distinction after his father's death. Last of the three came Don Carlo, a young fellow of twenty years, but not yet emancipated from the supervision of his tutor. Of the daughters, the two eldest, Bianca and Laura, were married and no longer lived in Rome, the one having been matched with a Neapolitan and the other with a Florentine. There remained still at home, therefore, the third, Donna Flavia, and the youngest of all the family, Donna Faustina. Though Flavia was not yet two and twenty years of age, her father and mother were already beginning to despair of marrying her, and dropped frequent hints about the advisability of making her enter religion, as they called it; that is to say, they thought she had better take the veil and retire from the world.
The old princess Montevarchi was English by birth and education, but thirty-three years of life in Rome had almost obliterated all traces of her nationality. That all-pervading influence, which so soon makes Romans of foreigners who marry into Roman families, had done its work effectually. The Roman nobility, by intermarriage with the principal families of the rest of Europe, has lost many Italian characteristics; but its members are more essentially
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