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- Sant' Ilario - 30/92 -
Pincio. To do so was to be ridiculous in the extreme, and besides, though he liked to be with Corona, he detested visiting, and hated of all things to stop a dozen times in the course of a drive in order to send a footman upstairs with cards. He preferred to walk or to lounge in the club or to stay at home and study the problems of his improvements for Saracinesca. Corona's manner irritated him therefore, and made him think more than ever of the subject which he would have done better to abandon from the first.
Nevertheless, he would not show that he was wearied by his wife's attention, still less that he believed her behaviour to be prompted by a desire to deceive him. He was uniformly courteous and gentle, acquiescing in her little plans whenever he could do so, and expressing a suitable degree of regret when he was prevented from joining her by some previous engagement. But the image of the French Zouave was ever present with him. He could not get rid of Gouache's dark, delicate features, even in his dreams; the sound of the man's pleasant voice and of his fluent conversation was constantly in his ears, and he could not look at Corona without fancying how she would look if Anastase were beside her whispering tender speeches.
All the time, he submitted with a good grace to do whatever she proposed, and on this afternoon he found himself waiting for her beside the band-stand. At first he watched the passing carriages indifferently enough, supposing that his own liveries would presently loom up in the long line of high-seated coachmen and lacqueys, and having no especial desire to see them. His position when in Corona's company grew every day more difficult, and he thought as he stood by the stone pillar at the corner that he would on the whole be glad if she did not come. He was egregiously mistaken in himself, however. As the minutes passed he grew uneasy, and watched the advancing carriages with a feverish anxiety, saying to himself that every one must bring Corona, and actually growing pale with emotion as each vehicle turned the distant corner and came into view. The time seemed interminable after he had once yielded to the excitement, and before another quarter of an hour had elapsed, Sant' Ilario turned angrily away and left the Pincio by the stairs that descend near the band-stand towards the winding drive by which the Piazza del Popolo is reached.
It is not easy for a person who is calm to comprehend the workings of a brain over excited with a strong passion. To a man who has lost the sober use of his faculties in the belief that he has been foully betrayed, every circumstance, every insignificant accident, seems a link in the chain of evidence. A week earlier Giovanni would have thought himself mad if the mere idea had suggested itself to him that Corona loved Gouache. To-day he believed that she had purposely sent him to wait upon the Pincio, in order that she might be sure of seeing Gouache without fear of interruption. The conviction thrust itself upon him with overwhelming force. He fancied himself the dupe of a common imposition, he saw his magnificent love and trust made the sport of a vulgar trick. The blood mounted to his dark face and as he descended the steps a red mist seemed to be spread between his eyes and all surrounding objects. Though he walked firmly and mechanically, saluting his acquaintances as he passed, he was unconscious of his actions, and moved like a man under the influence of a superior force. Jealousy is that one of all the passions which is most sure to break out suddenly into deeds of violence when long restrained.
Giovanni scarcely knew how he reached the Corso nor how it was that he found himself ascending the dusky staircase which led to Gouache's lodgings. It was less than a quarter of an hour since San Giacinto had been there, and the old woman still held her pot of coals in her hand as she opened the door. As she had pointed to the door when San Giacinto had come, so she now directed Giovanni in the same way. But Giovanni, on hearing that Anastase was out, began to ask questions.
"Has any one been here?" he inquired.
"Eh! There was a gentleman a quarter of an hour ago," replied the woman.
"Has any lady been here?"
"A lady? Macche!" The old creature laughed. "What should ladies do here?"
Giovanni thought he detected some hesitation in the tone. He was in the mood to fancy himself deceived by every one.
"Are you fond of money?" he asked, brutally.
"Eh! I am an old woman. What would you have? Am I crazy that I should not like money? But Signor Gouache is a very good gentleman. He pays well, thank Heaven!"
"What does he pay you for?"
"What for? For his lodging--for his coffee. Bacchus! What should he pay me for? Strange question in truth. Do I keep a shop? I keep lodgings. But perhaps you like the place? It is a fine situation-- just in the Corso and only one flight of stairs, a beautiful position for the Carnival. Of course, if you are inclined to pay more than Signor Gouache, I do not say but what---"
"I do not want your lodgings, my good woman," returned Giovanni in gentler tones. "I want to know who comes to see your lodger."
"Who should come? His friends of course. Who else?"
"A lady, perhaps," said Giovanni in a thick voice. It hurt him to say it, and the words almost stuck in his throat. "Perhaps a lady comes sometimes," he repeated, pulling out some loose bank notes.
The old woman's filmy eyes suddenly twinkled in the gloom. The sound of the crisp pieces of paper was delightful to her ear.
"Well," she said after a moment's hesitation, "if a beautiful lady does come here, that is the Signore's affair. It is none of my business."
Giovanni thrust the notes into her palm, which was already wide open to receive them. His heart beat wildly.
"She is beautiful, you say?"
"Oh! As beautiful as you please!" chuckled the hag.
"Is she dark?"
"Of course," replied the woman. There was no mistaking the tone in which the question was asked, for Giovanni was no longer able to conceal anything that he felt.
"And tall, I suppose? Yes. And she was here a quarter of an hour ago, you say? Speak out!" he cried, advancing a step towards the old creature. "If you lie to me, I will kill you! She was here--do not deny it."
"Yes--yes," answered the woman, cowering back in some terror. "Per carita! Don't murder me--I tell you the truth."
With a sudden movement Giovanni turned on his heel and entered Gouache's sitting-room. It was now almost dark in the house and he struck a match and lighted a candle that stood on the stable. The glare illuminated his swarthy features and fiery eyes, and the veins stood out on his forehead and temples like strained and twisted cords. He looked about him in every direction, examining the table, strewn with papers and books, the floor, the furniture, expecting every moment to find something which should prove that Corona had been there. Seeing nothing, he entered the bedroom beyond. It was a small chamber and he had scarcely passed through the door when he found himself before the toilet-table. The note San Giacinto had left was there pinned upon the little cushion with the gold pin, as he had placed it.
Giovanni stared wildly at the thing for several seconds and his face grew deadly white. There was no evidence lacking now, for the pin was Corona's own. It was a simple enough object, made of plain gold, the head being twisted into the shape of the letter C, but there was no mistaking its identity, for Giovanni had designed it himself. Corona used it for fastening her veil.
As the blood sank from his head to his heart Giovanni grew very calm. He set the candle upon the toilet-table and took the note, after putting the pin in his pocket. The handwriting seemed to be feigned, and his lip curled scornfully as he looked at it and then, turning it over, saw that the envelope was one of Corona's own. It seemed to him a pitiable piece of folly in her to distort her writing when there was such abundant proof on all sides to convict her. Without the slightest hesitation he opened the letter and read it, bending down and holding it near the candle. One perusal was enough. He smiled curiously as he read the words, "I am so watched that I can do nothing. Some one suspects something." His attention was arrested by the statement that a trusty person-- the words were underlined--would bring the note. The meaning of the emphasis was explained by the pin; the trusty person was herself, who, perhaps by an afterthought, had left the bit of gold as a parting gift in case Gouache marched before they met again.
Giovanni glanced once more round the room, half expecting to find some other convicting piece of evidence. Then he hesitated, holding the candle in one hand and the note in the other. He thought of staying where he was and waiting for Gouache, but the idea did not seem feasible. Nothing which implied waiting could have satisfied him at that moment, and after a few seconds he thrust the note into his pocket and went out. His hand was on the outer door, when he remembered the old woman who sat crouching over her pan of coals, scarcely able to believe her good luck, and longing for Giovanni's departure in order that she might count the crisp notes again. She dared not indulge herself in that pleasure while he was present, lest he should repent of his generosity and take back a part of them, for she had seen how he had taken them from his pocket and saw that he had no idea how much he had given.
"You will say nothing of my coming," said Giovanni, fixing his eyes upon her.
"I, Signore? Do not be afraid! Money is better than words."
"Very good," he answered. "Perhaps you will get twice as much the next time I want to know the truth."
"God bless you!" chuckled the wrinkled creature. He went out, and the little bell that was fastened to the door tinkled as the latch sprang back into its place. Then the woman counted the price of
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