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- Sant' Ilario - 20/92 -


knew, better than any living man, how well worthy she was of his utmost confidence, and he meant what he said. It must be confessed that the situation was a trying one to a man of his temper, and the depth of his love for Corona can be judged from the readiness with which he consented to her concealing anything from him. Every circumstance connected with what had happened that evening was strange, and the conclusion, instead of elucidating the mystery, only made it more mysterious still. His cousin's point-blank declaration that Faustina and Gouache were in love was startling to all his ideas and prejudices. He had seen Gouache kiss Corona's hand in a corner of the drawing-room, a proceeding which he did not wholly approve, though it was common enough. Then Gouache and Faustina had disappeared. Then Faustina had been found, and to facilitate the finding it had been necessary that Corona and Gouache should leave the palace together at one o'clock in the morning. Finally, Corona had appealed to his confidence in her and had taken advantage of it to refuse any present explanation whatever of her proceedings. Corona was a very noble and true woman, and he had promised to trust her. How far he kept his word will appear hereafter.

CHAPTER VII.

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---"


Sant' Ilario - 20/92

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