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ever had the power to bring there.
"It is not a question of heart," replied Giovanni. "We cannot keep what does not belong to us."
"We will let the law decide what we can keep. Do you realise what it would be like, what a position we should occupy if we were suddenly declared beggars? We should be absolute paupers. We do not own a foot of land, a handful of money that does not come under the provisions of that accursed clause."
"Wait a minute," exclaimed Giovanni, suddenly recollecting that he possessed something of his own, a fact he had wholly forgotten in the excitement of his discovery. "We shall not be wholly without resources. It does not follow from this deed that we must give to San Giacinto any of the property our branch of the family has acquired by marriage, from your great grandfather's time to this. It must be very considerable. To begin with me, my fortune came from my mother. Then there was your mother, and your father's mother, and so on. San Giacinto has no claim to anything not originally the property of the old Leone who made this deed."
"That is true," replied the prince, more hopefully. "It is not so bad as it looked. You must be right about that point."
"Unless the courts decide that San Giacinto is entitled to compensation and interest, because four generations have been kept out of the property."
Both men looked grave. The suggestion was unpleasant. Such judgments had been given before and might be given again.
"We had better send for our lawyer," said the prince, at last. "The sooner we know the real value of that bit of parchment the better it will be for us. I cannot bear the suspense of waiting a day to know the truth. Imagine that the very chair I am sitting upon may belong to San Giacinto. I never liked the fellow, from the day when I first found him in his inn at Aquila."
"It is not his fault," answered Giovanni, quietly. "This is a perfectly simple matter. We did not know what these papers were. Even if we had known, we should have laughed at them until we discovered that we had a cousin. After all we shall not starve, and what is a title? The Pope will give you another when he knows what has happened. I would as soon be plain Don Giovanni as Prince of Sant' Ilario."
"For that matter, you can call yourself Astrardente."
"I would rather not," said Giovanni, with something like a laugh. "But I must tell Corona this news."
"Wait till she is herself again. It might disturb her too much."
"You do not know her!" Giovanni laughed heartily this time. "If you think she cares for such things, you are very much mistaken in her character. She will bear the misfortune better than any of us. Courage, padre mio! Things are never so black as they look at first."
"I hope not, my boy, I hope not! Go and tell your wife, if you think it best. I would rather be alone."
Giovanni left the room, and Saracinesca was alone. He sank back once more in his chair and folded his strong brown hands together upon the edge of the table before him. In spite of all Giovanni could say, the old man felt keenly the horror of his position. Only those who, having been brought up in immense wealth and accustomed from childhood to the pomp and circumstance of a very great position, are suddenly deprived of everything, can understand what he felt.
He was neither avaricious nor given to vanity. He had not wasted his fortune, though he had spent magnificently a princely income. He had not that small affection for greatness which, strange to say, is often found in the very great. But his position was part of himself, so that he could no more imagine himself plain Don Leone Saracinesca, than he could conceive himself boasting of his ancient titles. And yet it was quite plain to him that he must either cease to be a prince altogether, or accept a new title as a charity from his sovereign. As for his fortune, it was only too plain that the greater part of it had never been his.
To a man of his temperament the sensation of finding himself a mere impostor was intolerable. His first impulse had of course been to fight the case, and had the attack upon his position come from San Giacinto, he would probably have done so. But his own son had discovered the truth and had put the matter clearly before him, in such a light as to make an appeal to his honour. He had no choice but to submit. He could not allow himself to be outdone in common honesty by the boy he loved, nor could he have been guilty of deliberate injustice, for his own advantage, after he had been convinced that he had no right to his possessions. He belonged to a race of men who had frequently committed great crimes and done atrocious deeds, notorious in history, from motives of personal ambition, for the love of women or out of hatred for men, but who had never had the reputation of loving money or of stooping to dishonour for its sake. As soon as he was persuaded that everything belonged to San Giacinto, he felt that he must resign all in favour of the latter.
One doubt alone remained to be solved. It was not absolutely certain that San Giacinto was the man he represented himself to be. It was quite possible that he should have gained possession of the papers he held, by some means known only to himself; such things are often sold as curiosities, and as the last of the older branch of whom there was any record preserved in Home had died in obscurity, it was conceivable that the ex-innkeeper might have found or bought the documents he had left, in order to call himself Marchese di San Giacinto. Saracinesca did not go so far as to believe that the latter had any knowledge whatsoever of the main deed which was about to cause so much trouble, unless he had seen it in the hands of Montevarchi, in which case he could not be blamed if he brought a suit for the recovery of so much wealth.
Giovanni was quite right in his prediction concerning Corona's conduct. He found her in her dressing-room, lying upon the couch near the fire, as he had found her on that fatal evening three weeks earlier. He sat down beside her and took her hand in his. She had not wholly recovered her strength yet, but her beauty had returned and seemed perfected by the suffering through which she had passed. In a few words he told her the whole story, to which she listened without showing any great surprise. Once or twice, while he was speaking, her dark eyes sought his with an expression he did not fully understand, but which was at least kind and full of sympathy.
"Are you quite sure of all the facts?" she asked when he had finished. "Are you certain that San Giacinto is the man? I cannot tell why, but I have always distrusted him since he first came to us."
"That is the only point that remains to be cleared up," answered Giovanni. "If he is not the man he will not venture to take any steps in the matter, lest he should be exposed and lose what he has."
"What will you do?"
"I hardly know. If he is really our cousin, we must give up everything without a struggle. We are impostors, or little better. I think I ought to tell him plainly how the deed is made out, in order that he may judge whether or not he is in a position to prove his identity."
"Do you imagine that he does not know all about it as well as we ourselves?"
"Probably not--otherwise he would have spoken."
"The papers came back from Montevarchi to-day," said Corona. "It is gratuitous to suppose that the old man has not told his future son-in-law what they contain. Yes--you see it yourself. Therefore San Giacinto knows. Therefore, also, if he is the man he pretends to be, he will let you know his intentions soon enough. I fancy you forgot that in your excitement. If he says nothing, it is because he cannot prove his rights."
"It is true," replied Giovanni, "I did not think of that. Nevertheless I would like to be beforehand. I wish him to know that we shall make no opposition. It is a point of honour."
"Which a woman cannot understand, of course," added Corona, calmly.
"I did not say that. I do not mean it."
"Well--do you want my advice?"
The single word was uttered with an accent implying more than mere trust, and was accompanied by a look full of strong feeling. But Corona's expression did not change. Her eyes returned the glance quietly, without affectation, neither lovingly nor unlovingly, but indifferently. Giovanni felt a sharp little pain in his heart as he realised the change that had taken place in his wife.
"My advice is to do nothing in the matter. San Giacinto may be an impostor; indeed, it is not at all unlikely. If he is, he will take advantage of your desire to act generously. He will be forewarned and forearmed and will have time to procure all the proofs he wants. What could you say to him? 'If you can prove your birth, I give you all I possess.' He will at once see that nothing else is necessary, and if he is a rogue he will succeed. Besides, as I tell you, he knows what that deed contains as well as you do, and if he is the man he will bring an action against your father in a week. If he does not, you gain the advantage of having discovered that he is an impostor without exposing yourself to be robbed."
"It goes against the grain," said Giovanni. "But I suppose you are right."
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