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- Sant' Ilario - 6/92 -
much more lively and sonorous than might have been expected.
"You, prince!" he cried, in evident delight. "What saint has brought you?"
"I heard of your accident, and so I came to see if I could do anything for you. How are you?"
"As you see," replied Gouache. "In a hospitable tomb, with my head tied up like an imperfectly-resurrected Lazarus. For the rest there is nothing the matter with me, except that they have taken away my clothes, which is something of an obstacle to my leaving the house at once. I feel as if I had been in a revolution and had found myself on the wrong side of the barricade--nothing worse than that."
"You are in good spirits, at all events. But are you not seriously hurt?"
"Oh, nothing--a broken collar-bone somewhere, I believe, and some part of my head gone--I am not quite sure which, and a bad headache, and nothing to eat, and a general sensation as though somebody had made an ineffectual effort to turn me into a sausage."
"What does the doctor say?"
"Nothing. He is a man of action. He bled me because I had not the strength to strangle him, and poured decoctions of boiled grass down my throat because I could not speak. He has fantastic ideas about the human body."
"But you will have to stay here several days," said Giovanni, considerably amused by Gouache's view of his own case.
"Several days! Not even several hours, if I can help it."
"Things do not go so quickly in Rome. You must be patient."
"In order to starve, when there is food as near as the Corso?" inquired the artist. "To be butchered by a Roman phlebotomist, and drenched with infusions of hay by the Principessa Montevarchi, when I might be devising means of being presented to her daughter? What do you take me for? I suppose the young lady with the divine eyes is her daughter, is she not?"
"You mean Donna Faustina, I suppose. Yes. She is the youngest, just out of the Sacro Cuore. She was in the drawing-room when I called just now. How did you see her?"
"Last night, as they brought me upstairs, I was lucky enough to wake up just as she was looking at me. What eyes! I can think of nothing else. Seriously, can you not help me to get out of here?"
"So that you may fall in love with Donna Faustina as soon as possible, I suppose," answered Giovanni with a laugh. "It seems to me that there is but one thing to do, if you are really strong enough. Send for your clothes, get up, go into the drawing-room and thank the princess for her hospitality."
"That is easily said. Nothing is done in this house without the written permission of the old prince, unless I am much mistaken. Besides, there is no bell. I might as well be under arrest in the guard-room of the barracks. Presently the doctor will come and bleed me again and the princess will send me some more boiled grass. I am not very fat, as it is, but another day of this diet will make me diaphanous--I shall cast no shadow. A nice thing, to be caught without a shadow on parade!"
"I will see what I can do," said Giovanni, rising. "Probably, the best thing would be to send your military surgeon. He will not be so tender as the other leech, but he will get you away at once. My wife wished me to say that she sympathised, and hoped you might soon be well."
"My homage and best thanks to the princess," answered Gouache, with a slight change of tone, presumably to be referred to his sense of courtesy in speaking of the absent lady.
So Giovanni went away, promising to send the surgeon at once. The latter soon arrived, saw Gouache, and was easily persuaded to order him home without further delay. The artist-soldier would not leave the house without thanking his hostess. His uniform had been cleansed from the stains it had got in the accident, and his left arm was in a sling. The wound on his head was more of a bruise than a cut, and was concealed by his thick black hair. Considering the circumstances he presented a very good appearance. The princess received him in the drawing-room, and Flavia and Faustina were with her, but all three were now dressed to go out, so that the interview was necessarily a short one.
Gouache made a little speech of thanks and tried to forget the decoction of mallows he had swallowed, fearing lest the recollection should impart a tone of insincerity to his expression of gratitude. He succeeded very well, and afterwards attributed the fact to Donna Faustina's brown eyes, which were not cast down as they had been when Sant' Ilario had called, but appeared on the contrary to contemplate the new visitor with singular interest.
"I am sure my husband will not approve of your going so soon," said the princess in somewhat anxious tones. It was almost the first time she had ever known any step of importance to be taken in her house without her husband's express authority.
"Madame," answered Gouache, glancing from Donna Faustina to his hostess, "I am in despair at having thus unwillingly trespassed upon your hospitality, although I need not tell you that I would gladly prolong so charming an experience, provided I were not confined to solitude in a distant chamber. However, since our regimental surgeon pronounces me fit to go home, I have no choice but to obey orders. Believe me, Madame, I am deeply grateful to yourself as well as to the Principe Montevarchi for your manifold kindnesses, and shall cherish a remembrance of your goodness so long as I live."
With these words Gouache bowed as though he would be gone and stood waiting for the princess's last word. But before her mother could speak, Faustina's voice was heard.
"I cannot tell you how dreadfully we feel--papa and I--at having been the cause of such a horrible accident! Is there nothing we can do to make you forget it?"
The princess stared at her daughter in the utmost astonishment at her forwardness. She would not have been surprised if Flavia had been guilty of such imprudence, but that Faustina should thus boldly address a young man who had not spoken to her, was such a shock to her belief in the girl's manners that she did not recover for several seconds. Anastase appreciated the situation, for as he answered, he looked steadily at the mother, although his words were plainly addressed to the brown-eyed beauty.
"Mademoiselle is too kind. She exaggerates. And yet, since she has put the question, I will say that I should forget my broken bones very soon if I might be permitted to paint Mademoiselle's portrait. I am a painter," he added, in modest explanation.
"Yes," said the princess, "I know. But, really--this is a matter which would require great consideration--and my husband's consent- -and, for the present---"
She paused significantly, intending to convey a polite refusal, but Gouache completed the sentence.
"For the present, until my bones are mended, we will not speak of it. When I am well again I will do myself the honour of asking the prince's consent myself."
Flavia leaned towards her mother and whispered into her ear. The words were quite audible, and the girl's dark eyes turned to Gouache with a wicked laugh in them while she was speaking.
"Oh, mamma, if you tell papa it is for nothing he will be quite delighted!"
Gouache's lip trembled as he suppressed a smile, and the elderly princess's florid cheeks flushed with annoyance.
"For the present," she said, holding out her hand rather coldly, "we will not speak of it. Pray let us know of your speedy recovery, Monsieur Gouache."
As the artist took his leave he glanced once more at Donna Faustina. Her face was pale and her eyes flashed angrily. She, too, had heard Flavia's stage whisper and was even more annoyed than her mother. Gouache went his way toward his lodging in the company of the surgeon, pondering on the inscrutable mysteries of the Roman household of which he had been vouchsafed a glimpse. He was in pain from his head and shoulder, but insisted that the walk would do him good and refused the cab which his companion had brought. A broken collar-bone is not a dangerous matter, but it can be very troublesome for a while, and the artist was glad to get back to his lodgings and to find himself comfortably installed in an easy chair with something to eat before him, of a more substantial nature than the Principessa Montevarchi's infusions of camomile and mallows.
While Giovanni was at the Palazzo Montevarchi, and while Corona was busy with her dressmakers, Prince Saracinesca was dozing over the Osservatore Romano in his study. To tell the truth the paper was less dull than usual, for there was war and rumour of war in its columns. Garibaldi had raised a force of volunteers and was in the neighbourhood of Arezzo, beginning to skirmish with the outlying posts of the pontifical army along the frontier. The old gentleman did not know, of course, that on that very day the Italian Government was issuing its proclamation against the great agitator, and possibly if he had been aware of the incident it would not have produced any very strong impression upon his convictions. Garibaldi was a fact, and Saracinesca did not believe that any proclamations would interfere with his march unless backed by some more tangible force. Even had he known that the guerilla general had been arrested at Sinalunga and put in confinement as soon as the proclamation had appeared, the prince would have foreseen clearly enough that the prisoner's escape
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