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- Sant' Ilario - 60/92 -
was it not far nobler to earn money by good work than to inherit what others had stolen in former times? A man without a name--was not his own beginning to be famous, and was it not better to make the name Gouache glorious by his own efforts than to be called Orsini because one's ancestors had been fierce and lawless as bears, or Sciarra because one's progenitor had slapped the face of a pope? Doubtless it was a finer thing to be great by one's own efforts in the pursuit of a noble art than to inherit a greatness originally founded upon a superior rapacity, and a greater physical strength than had characterised the ordinary men of the period. Nevertheless, Gouache knew with shame that at that moment he wished that his name could be changed to Frangipani, and the fabric of his independence, of which he had so long been proud, was shaken to its foundations as he realised that in spite of all fame, all glory, all genius, he could never be what the miserly, cowardly, lying old man before him was by birth--a Roman prince. The conclusion was at once inexpressibly humiliating and supremely ludicrous. He felt himself laughable in his own eyes, and was conscious that a smile was on his face, which Montevarchi would not understand. The old gentleman was still talking.
"I cannot tell you," he was saying, "how much I regret my total inability to comply with a request which evidently proceeds from the best motives, I might almost say from the heart itself. Alas! my dear friend, we are not all masters of our actions. The cares of a household like mine require a foresight, an hourly attention, an unselfish devotion which we can only hope to obtain by constant--"
He was going to say "by constant recourse to prayer," but he reflected that Gouache was probably not of a religious turn of mind, and he changed the sentence. "--by constant study of the subject. Situated as I am, a Roman in the midst of Romans, I am obliged to consider the traditions of my own people in respect of all the great affairs of life. Believe me, I entreat you, that, far from having any prejudice against yourself, I should rejoice sincerely could I take you by the hand and call you my son. But how can I act? What can I do? Go to your own country, dear Monsieur Gouache, think no more of us, or of our daughters, marry a woman of your own nation, and you will not be disappointed in your dreams of matrimonial felicity!"
"In other words, you refuse altogether to listen to my proposal?" By this time Gouache was able to put the question calmly.
"Alas, yes!" replied the prince with an air of mock regret that exasperated the young man beyond measure. "I cannot think of it, though you are indeed a most sympathetic young man."
"In that case I will not trespass upon your time any longer," said Gouache, who was beginning to fear lest his coolness should forsake him.
As he descended the broad marble stairs his detestation of the old hypocrite overcame him, and his wrath broke out.
"You shall pay me for this some day, you old scoundrel!" he said aloud, very savagely.
Montevarchi remained in his study after Gouache had gone. A sour smile distorted his thin lips, and the expression became more and more accented until the old man broke into a laugh that rang drily against the vaulted ceiling. Some one knocked at the door, and his merriment disappeared instantly. Arnoldo Meschini entered the room. There was something unusual about his appearance which attracted the prince's attention at once.
"Has anything happened?"
"Everything. The case is won. Your Excellency's son-in-law is Prince Saracinesca."
The librarian's bright eyes gleamed with exultation and there was a slight flush in his cheeks that contrasted oddly with his yellow skin. A disagreeable smile made his intelligent face more ugly than usual. He stood half-way between the door and his employer, his long arms hanging awkwardly by his sides, his head thrust forward, his knees a little bent, assuming by habit a servile attitude of attention, but betraying in his look that he felt himself his master's master.
Montevarchi started as he heard the news. Then he leaned eagerly across the table, his fingers as usual slowly scratching the green cloth.
"Are you quite sure of it?" he asked in a trembling voice. "Have you got the verdict?"
Meschini produced a tattered pocket-book, and drew from it a piece of stamped paper, which he carefully unfolded and handed to the prince.
"There is an attested note of it. See for yourself."
Montevarchi hastily looked over the small document, and his face flushed slowly till it was almost purple, while the paper quivered in his hold. It was clear that everything had succeeded as he had hoped, and that his most sanguine expectations were fully realised. His thoughts suddenly recurred to Gouache, and he laughed again at the young man's assurance.
"Was Saracinesca in the court?" he asked presently
"No. There was no one connected with the case except the lawyers on each side. It did not amount to a trial. The Signor Marchese's side produced the papers proving his identity, and the original deed was submitted. The prince's side stated that his Excellency was convinced of the justice of the claim and would make no opposition. Thereupon the court granted an order to the effect that the Signor Marchese was the heir provided for in the clause and was entitled to enjoy all the advantages arising from the inheritance; but that, as there was no opposition made by the defendants, the subsequent transactions would be left in the hands of the family, the court reserving the power to enforce the transfer in case any difficulty should arise hereafter. Of course, it will take several months to make the division, as the Signor Marchese will only receive the direct inheritance of his great- grandfather, while the Saracinesca retain all that has come to them by their marriages during the last four generations."
"Of course. Who will be employed to make the division?"
"Half Rome, I fancy. It will be an endless business."
"But San Giacinto is prince. He will do homage for his titles next Epiphany."
"Yes. He must present his ten pounds of wax and a silver bowl-- cheap!" observed Meschini with a grin.
It may be explained here that the families of the Roman nobility were all subject to a yearly tribute of merely nominal value, which they presented to the Pope at the Feast of the Epiphany. The custom was feudal, the Pope having been the feudal lord of all the nobles until 1870. The tribute generally consisted of a certain weight of pure wax, or of a piece of silver of a specified value, or sometimes of both. As an instance of the survival of such customs in other countries, I may mention the case of one great Irish family which to this day receives from another a yearly tribute, paid alternately in the shape of a golden rose and a golden spur.
"So we have won everything!" exclaimed Montevarchi after a pause, looking hard at the librarian, as though trying to read his thoughts. "We have won everything, and the thanks are due to you, my good friend, to you, the faithful and devoted companion who has helped me to accomplish this act of true justice. Ah, how can I ever express to you my gratitude!"
"The means of expression were mentioned in our agreement," answered Meschini with a servile inclination. "I agreed to do the work for your Excellency at a certain fixed price, as your Excellency may remember. Beyond that I ask nothing. I am too humble an individual to enjoy the honour of Prince Montevarchi's personal gratitude."
"Yes, of course, but that is mere money!" said the old gentleman somewhat hastily, but contemptuously withal. "Gratitude proceeds from the heart, not from the purse. When I think of all the work you have done, of the unselfish way in which you have devoted yourself to this object, I feel that money can never repay you. Money is sordid trash, Meschini, sordid trash! Let us not talk about it. Are we not friends? The most delicate sensibilities of my soul rejoice when I consider what we have accomplished together. There is not another man in Rome whom I would trust as I trust you, most faithful of men!"
"The Signor Principe is too kind," replied Meschini. "Nevertheless, I repeat that I am quite unworthy of such gratitude for having merely performed my part in a business transaction, especially in one wherein my own interests were so deeply concerned."
"My only regret is that my son-in-law can never know the share you have had in his success. But that, alas, is quite impossible. How, indeed, would it be practicable to inform him! And my daughter, too! She would remember you in all her innocent prayers, even as I shall do henceforth! No, Meschini, it is ordained that I, and I alone, should be the means of expressing to you the heartfelt thanks of those whom you have so highly benefited, but who unfortunately can never know the name of their benefactor. Tell me now, did the men of the law look long at the documents? Did they show any hesitation? Have you any reason to believe that their attention was roused, arrested by--by the writing?"
"No, indeed! I should be a poor workman if a parcel of lawyers could detect my handwriting!"
"It is a miracle!" exclaimed Montevarcbi, devoutly. "I consider that heaven has interposed directly to accomplish the ends of justice. An angel guided your hand, my dear friend, to make you the instrument of good!"
"I am quite ready to believe it. The transaction has been as providential for me as for the Signor Marchese."
"Yes," answered the prince rather drily. "And now, my dear Meschini, will you leave me for a time? I have appointed this hour to see my last remaining daughter concerning her marriage. She is the last of those fair flowers! Ah me! How sad a thing it is to
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