Meanwhile Cardinal Bonpre had once more reached his own apartments, thankful enough to be there after his difficult experience at the Vatican. But he was neither fatigued nor depressed by what had occurred, -- on the contrary he was conscious of an extraordinary vigour and lightness of heart, as though he had suddenly grown young again. Changing his scarlet robes of office for his every-day cassock, he seated himself restfully, and with a deep sigh of relief, in his easy chair near the writing-table, and first of all closing his eyes for a moment, while he silently prayed for guidance to the Supreme Judge of all secret intentions, he called Manuel to his side.
|My child,| he said gently, |I want you to listen to me very attentively. I do not think you quite understand what you have done to-day, do you?|
Manuel raised his eyes with a clear look of confidence.
|Yes. I have spoken to the Head of the Church of Rome,| he answered, -- |That is all. I have said to him, as Christ once said to the very Peter whom he represents, 'Thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.'|
The Cardinal regarded him straightly.
|True! But for you, a mere child, to say to the Head of the Church what Christ said to St. Peter, will be judged as blasphemy. I have never urged you, as you know, to tell me who you are, or where you came from. I do not urge you now. For I feel that you have been sent to me for some special purpose -- that young as you are, you have been entrusted by a Higher Power with some mission to me -- for you possess the spirit of inspiration, prophecy and truth. I dare not question that spirit! Wherever I find it, in the young, in the old, in the wise or the ignorant I give it welcome. For you have uttered not only what I have myself thought, but what half the world is thinking, though you are only one of those 'babes and sucklings out of whose mouth the Lord hath ordained wisdom.' But what you have said at the Vatican will be judged as heresy -- and I shall be counted heretic for having permitted you to speak thus boldly.|
|Your permission was not asked,| said Manuel simply, |I was summoned to the Vatican, but I was not told what to say to the Pope. I spoke as I felt. No one interrupted me. The Pope listened to all my words. And I said no more than is true.|
|Truth is judged as libel nowadays in the world,| answered the Cardinal, |And we have to confront the fact that we have incurred the displeasure, and have also invited the vengeance of the Sovereign Pontiff. Thus we must expect to suffer.|
|Then he who is called the visible Head of Christianity objects to the truth, and is capable of vengeance!| said Manuel, |That is a strange contradiction! But I will suffer whatever he pleases to inflict upon me. You shall suffer nothing!|
The Cardinal smiled gravely.
|My child, I am old, and whatever trouble is in store for me cannot last long. But I must guard you from harm with all the remaining powers of my life. Having constituted myself your protector and defender, I must continue to protect and defend. And so, Manuel, tomorrow or the next day I shall take you away to England. So far, at least, I will defy the powers of Rome!|
His eyes flashed, and his whole person seemed to be invested with sudden strength, dignity and command. He pointed to the crucifix on the table before him.
|He, the Holy One of the Heavens, was crucified for speaking the truth, -- I can do no better than follow His divine example! If my soul is stretched on the crossbeams of injustice -- if every tender emotion of my heart is tortured and slain -- if I am stripped of honour and exposed to contempt, what matter! My glorious Master suffered likewise.|
Manuel was silent. He stood near the great chimney where the wood fire burned and crackled, casting a ruddy glow through the room. After a few minutes he turned his fair head towards the Cardinal with an earnest, scrutinising gaze in his expressive eyes.
|Then, dear friend, you are not angry? You do not reproach me for what I have done?|
|Reproach you? I reproach no one!| said Bonpre, -- |Least of all, a child! For you speak unconsciously -- as genius speaks; -- you cannot weigh the meaning of your words, or the effect of what you say on the worldly or callous minds which have learned to balance motives and meanings before coining them into more or less ambiguous language. No! -- I have nothing to reproach you with, Manuel, -- I am thankful to have you by my side!|
His eyes rested again upon the crucifix for a moment, and he went on, more to himself than to the boy, --
|In the early days of our Lord, He spoke to the wise men in the Temple, and they were 'astonished at his understanding and answers.' But they did not reprove Him, -- not then, -- on the contrary, they listened. How often in our own days do young children ask us questions to which we cannot reply, and which they themselves perchance could easily answer if they but knew how to clothe their thoughts with speech! For the Spirit of God is made manifest in many ways, and through many methods; -- sometimes it whispers a hint or a warning to us in the petals of the rose, sometimes in the radiance of the sunset on the sea, sometimes in the simple talk of a child younger even than you are, -- 'Except ye become as little children -- !|
He paused in his dreamy utterance, and turned in his chair listening. |What is that?| There was a noise of hurrying footsteps and murmuring voices, -- that sort of half-muffled confusion in a household which bodes something wrong, -- and all at once Prince Sovrani threw open the door of the Cardinal's apartments without ceremony, crying out as he entered, --
|Where is Angela?|
The Cardinal rose out of his chair, startled and alarmed.
|Angela?| he echoed, |She is not here!|
|Not here!| Prince Sovrani drew a sharp breath, and his face visibly paled, -- |It is very strange! Her studio is locked at both entrances- -yet the servants swear she has not passed out of the house! Besides she never goes out without leaving word as to where she has gone and when she is coming back!|
|Her studio is locked on both sides!| repeated the Cardinal, |But that is quite easy to understand -- her picture is unveiled, and no one is to be permitted to see it until to-morrow.|
|Yes -- yes -- | said the Prince Pietro impatiently, |I know all that, -- but where is Angela herself? There is no sign of her anywhere! She cannot have gone out. Her maid tells me she was not dressed to go out. She was in her white working gown when last seen. Santissima Madonna!| -- and old Sovrani gave a wild gesture of despair -- |If any harm has happened to the child . . .|
|Harm? Why what harm could happen? What harm could happen?| said the Cardinal soothingly, -- |My dear brother, do not alarm yourself needlessly -- |
|Let us go to the studio,| interposed Manuel suddenly -- |She may not have heard you call her.|
He moved in his gentle light way out of the room, and without another word they followed. Outside the studio door they paused, and Prince Sovrani tried again and again to open it, calling |Angela!| now loudly, now softly, now entreatingly, now commandingly, all to no purpose. The servants had gathered on the landing, afraid of they knew not what, and one old man, the Prince's valet, shook his head dolefully at the continued silence.
|Why not break open the door, Eccellenza?| he asked anxiously, |I know the trick of those old locks -- if the Eccellenza will permit I can push back the catch with a strong chisel.|
|Do so then,| replied his master, |I cannot wait -- there is something horrible in the atmosphere! -- something that chokes me! Quick! This suspense will kill me!|
The old valet hurried away, and in two or three minutes, during which time both Prince Sovrani and the Cardinal knocked and called again outside the door quite uselessly, he returned with a strong iron chisel which he forced against the lock. For some time it resisted all efforts -- then with appalling suddenness gave way and flew back, the door bursting wide open with the shock. For one instant the falling shadows of evening made the interior of the room too dim to see distinctly -- there was a confused blur of objects, -- the carved summit of a great easel, -- a gold picture-frame shining round a wonderful mass of colouring on canvas -- then gradually they discerned the outline of a small figure lying prone at the foot of the easel, stiff and motionless. With a dreadful cry of despair Sovrani dashed into the room.
Falling on his knees he raised the delicate figure in his arms, -- the little head drooped inanimate on his shoulder, and with the movement a coil of golden hair became unbound, and fell in soft waves over his trembling hands -- the fair face was calm and tranquil -- the eyes were closed, -- but as the distracted man clasped that inert, beloved form closer, he saw what caused him to spring erect with a terrible oath, and cry for vengeance.
|Murdered!| he exclaimed hoarsely -- |Murdered! Brother, come close! -- see here! Will you talk to me of God NOW! My last comfort in life -- the last gift of my Gita, murdered!|
The affrighted Cardinal tottered forward, and looking, saw that a deep stain of blood oozed over the soft white garments of the lifeless girl, and he wrung his hands in despair.
|My God! My God!| he moaned, |In what have we offended Thee that Thou shouldst visit us with such heavy affliction? Angela, my child! -- my little girl! -- Angela!|
The servants had by this time clustered round, a pale and terrified group, sobbing and crying loudly, -- only the old valet retained sufficient presence of mind to light two or three of the lamps in the studio. As this was done, and the sudden luminance dispersed some of the darker shadows in the room, the grand picture on the easel was thrown into full prominence, -- and the magnificent Christ, descending in clouds of glory, seemed to start from the painted canvas and move towards them all. And even while he wrung his hands and wept, the Cardinal's glance was suddenly caught and transfixed by this splendour, -- he staggered back amazed, and murmured feebly -- |Angela! THIS is her work! -- this her great picture, and she -- she is dead!|
Sovrani suddenly clutched him by the arm, and drew him close to the couch where he had just laid the body of his daughter down.
|Now, where was this God you serve, think you, when this happened?| he demanded, in a hoarse whisper, while his aged eyes glittered feverishly, and his stern dark face under the tossed white hair was as a frowning mask of vengeance, -- |Is the world so rich in sweet women that SHE should be slain?|
Half paralysed with grief, the unhappy Cardinal sank on his knees beside the murdered girl, -- taking the passive hand he kissed it, the tears flowing down his furrowed cheeks. Her magnificent picture shone forth, a living presence in the room, but the thoughts of all were for the dead only, and the distracted Sovrani saw nothing but his child's pale, set face, closed eyes, and delicate figure, lying still with the red stain of blood spreading through the whiteness of her garments. None of them thought of Manuel -- and it was with a shock of surprise that the Cardinal became aware of him, and saw him approaching the couch, raising his hand as he came, warningly.
|Hush, hush!| he said, very gently, |It may be that she is not dead! She will be frightened when she wakes if she sees you weeping!|
Prince Sovrani caught the words.
|When she wakes!| he cried, |Poor boy, you do not know what you say! She will never wake! She is dead!|
But Manuel was bending closely over the couch, and looking earnestly into Angela's quiet face. Cardinal Bonpre watched him wonderingly. And the old Prince stood, arrested as it were in the very midst of his wrath and sorrow by some force more potent than even the spirit of vengeance. The sobbing servants held their breath -- and all stared as if fascinated at the young boy, as after a pause, he took Angela's hand that hung so inertly down, in one of his own, and with the other felt her heart. Then he spoke.
|She is not dead!| he said simply, -- |She has only swooned. Let someone fetch a physician to attend her -- see! -- she breathes!|
With a wild, half-smothered cry Prince Sovrani sprang forward to see for himself if this blessed news was true. He and the Cardinal both, seized with a passionate anxiety, gazed and gazed at the fair beloved face in hope, in fear and longing, -- and still Manuel stood beside the couch, stroking the small hand he held with thoughtful care and tenderness. All at once a faint sigh parted the sweet lips, -- the bosom heaved with a struggle for breath. Her father fell on his knees, overcome, and hiding his face in his hands sobbed aloud in the intensity of his relief and joy, while the Cardinal murmured a devout 'Thank God!' A few minutes passed, and still the fluttering uncertain breathings came and went, and still Manuel stood by the couch, quietly watchful. Presently the closed eyelids quivered and lifted, -- and the beautiful true eyes shone star-like out upon the world again! She stirred, and tried to raise herself, but sank back exhausted in the effort. Then seeing the Cardinal, she smiled, -- and her gaze wandered slowly to the bent, white-haired figure crouching beside her, whose whole frame was shaken by sobs.
|Father!| she murmured -- |Dearest father! What is it?|
He lifted his tear-stained, agonised face, and seeing that the tender eyes regarding him were full of fear and wonder as well as love, he instantly controlled himself, and rising from his knees, kissed her gently.
|I thought you were dead, my darling!| he said softly -- |Hush now -- do not speak! Lie quite still! You are hurt a little, -- you must rest! -- you will be better, -- much better presently!|
But Angela's looks had again wandered, and now they were fixed on Manuel. Over her whole face there came a sudden life and radiance.
|Manuel!| she said eagerly -- |Manuel, stay with me! Do not leave me!|
Manuel smiled in answer to her appealing eyes, and came nearer.
|Do not fear!| he said -- |I will stay!|
She closed her eyes again restfully, and her breathing grew lighter and easier. Just then one of the servants entered with the physician who was accustomed to attend the Sovrani household. His arrival roused Angela completely, -- she became quite conscious, and evidently began to remember something of what had happened. The doctor raised her to see where she was injured, and quickly cutting away her blood-stained vesture, tenderly and carefully examined the wound.
|I cannot understand how it is that she is not dead!| he said at last -- |It is a miracle! This is a stab inflicted with some sharply pointed instrument, -- probably a dagger -- and was no doubt intended to be mortal. As it is, it is dangerous -- but there is a chance of life.| Then he addressed himself to Angela, who was looking at him with wide-open eyes and a most piteous expression. |Do you know me, my child?|
|Oh, yes, doctor!| she murmured faintly.
|Do you suffer much pain?|
|Then can you tell me how this happened? Who stabbed you?|
She shuddered and sighed.
|No one! -- that I can remember!|
Her eyes closed -- she moved her hands about restlessly as though seeking for something she had lost.
|I am here!| answered the boy gently.
|Stay with me! I am so tired!|
Again a convulsive trembling shook her fragile body from head to foot, and again she sighed as though her heart were breaking, -- then she lay passively still, though one or two tears crept down her cheeks as they carried her tenderly up to her own room and laid her down on her simple little white bed, softly curtained, and guarded by a statue of the Virgin bending over it. There, when her cruel wound was dressed and bandaged, and the physician had given her a composing draught, she fell into a deep, refreshing slumber, and only Manuel stayed beside her as she slept.
Meanwhile, down in the studio, Prince Sovrani and the Cardinal stayed together, talking softly, and gazing in fascinated wonder, bewilderment, admiration and awe at Angela's work unveiled. All the lamps in the room were now lit, and the great picture -- a sublime Dream resolved into sublime Reality -- shone out as much as the artificial light would permit, -- a jewel of art that seemed to contain within itself all the colour and radiance of a heaven unknown, unseen yet surely near at hand. The figure and face of the approaching Saviour, instinct with life, expressed almost in positive speech the words, |Then shall ye see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory|! -- and if Cardinal Bonpre had given way to the innermost emotions of his soul, he could have knelt before the exalted purity of such a conception of the Christ,- -a god-like ideal, brought into realization by the exalted imagination, the holy thoughts, and the faithful patient work of a mere woman!
|This -- | he said, in hushed accents -- |This must be the cause of the dastardly attempt made to murder the child! Some one who knew her secret, -- some one who was aware of the wonderful power and magnificence of her work, -- perhaps the very man who made the frame for it, -- who can tell?|
Prince Pietro meditated deeply, a frown puckering his brows, -- his countenance was still pale and drawn with the stress of the mingled agony and relief he had just passed through, and the anxiety he felt concerning Angela's immediate critical condition.
|I cannot hold the position yet! -- | he said, at last -- |That is to say, I am too numb and stricken with fear to realize what has happened! See you! That picture is marvellous! -- a wonder of the world! -- it will crown my girl with all the laurels of a lasting fame, -- but what matter is it to me, -- this shouting of the public, -- if she dies? Will it console me for her loss, to call her a Raffaelle?|
|Nay, but we must not give up hope!| -- said the Cardinal soothingly -- |Please God, you will not lose her! Be glad that she is not dead, -- and remember that it is almost by a miracle that she lives!|
|That is true -- that is true!| murmured old Sovrani, ruffling his white hair with one hand, while he still stared abstractedly at his daughter's picture -- |You are very patient with me, brother! -- you have all the kindness as well as all the faithfulness of your sister, -- the sweetest woman the sun was ever privileged to shine on! Well, well! What did you say to me? That this picture must have been the cause of the attempted murder? Maybe, -- but the poor hard-working fellow who made the frame for it, could not have done such a deed, -- he has been a pensioner of Angela's for many a long day, and she has given him employment when he could not obtain it from others. Besides, he never saw the picture. Angela gave him her measurements, and when the frame was finished he brought it to her here. But he had nothing whatever to do with setting the canvas in it, -- that I know, for Angela herself told me. No, no! -- let us not blame the innocent; rather let us try to find the guilty.|
At that moment a servant entered with a large and exquisitely arranged basket of lilies-of-the-valley, and a letter.
|For Donna Sovrani,| he said, as he handed both to his master.
The Prince took the basket of lilies, and moved by a sudden fancy, set it gently in front of Angela's great work. Glancing at the superscription of the letter, he said, --
|From Varillo. I had better open it and see what he says.|
He broke the seal and read the following:
|SWEETEST ANGELA, -- I am summoned to Naples on business, and therefore, to my infinite regret, shall not be able to see the great picture to-morrow. You know, -- you can feel how sorry I am to disappoint both you and myself in a pleasure which we have so long lovingly anticipated, but as the Queen has promised to make her visit of inspection, I dare not ask you to put off the exhibition of your work till my return. But I know I shall come back to find my Angela crowned with glory, and it will be reserved for me to add the last laurel leaf to the immortal wreath! I am grieved that I have no time to come and press my 'addio' on your sweet lips, -- but in two or three days at most, I shall be again at your feet. Un bacio di
|Then he has left for Naples?| said Bonpre, to whom Prince Pietro had read this letter -- |A sudden departure, is it not?|
|He will not know what has happened to Angela -- |
|Oh he will be sure to hear that!| said the Prince -- |To-night it will be in all the newspapers both of Rome and Naples. Angela's light cannot be hidden under a bushel!|
|True. Then of course he will return at once.|
|Naturally. If he hears the news on his way, he will probably be back to-night -- | said Sovrani, but his fuzzy brows were still puckered. Some uncomfortable thought seemed to trouble him, -- and presently, as if moved by a sudden inexplicable instinct, he took the basket of lilies away from where he had set it in front of his daughter's picture, and transferred it to a side-table. Cardinal Bonpre, always observant, noticed his action.
|You will not leave the flowers there?| he queried.
|No. The picture is a sacred thing! -- it is an almost living Christ!- -in whom Varillo does not believe!|
The Cardinal lifted his eyes protestingly.
|Yet you let the child marry him?|
Sovrani passed one hand wearily across his brows.
|Let us not talk of marriage,| he said -- |Death is nearer to us to- day than life! I am opposed to the match -- I always have been, -- and who knows -- who knows what may not yet prevent it -- | He paused, thinking, -- then turning a solicitous glance on his brother-in-law's frail figure he said -- |Felix, you look weary, -- let me attend you to your own rooms, that you may rest. We need you with us, -- it may be that we shall need you more than we have ever done! Pray for us, brother! -- Pray for my Angela, that she may be spared -- |
His harsh voice broke, -- and tears trickled down his furrowed cheeks.
|See you!| he said, pointing in a kind of despair to the magnificent |Coming of Christ| -- |If Raffaelle or Angelo had dared to paint this in their day, the world would be taking a lesson from it now! If it were a modern man's work, that man would be a centre for hero- worship! But that a WOMAN should create such a masterpiece! -- and that woman my Angela! Do you know what it means, Felix? -- what Fame always means, what it always must mean -- for a woman? Just what has already happened, -- the murderous dagger-thrust -- the coward stab in the back -- and the little child's cry of the tender broken heart we heard just now -- 'Stay with me! -- I am so tired!'|
The Cardinal pressed his hand sympathetically, too profoundly moved himself to speak.
|This picture will bring down the thunders of the Vatican! -- | went on Sovrani -- |And those thunders will awaken a responsive echo from the world! But not from the Old World -- the New! The New World! -- yes- -my Angela's work is for the living present, the coming future -- not for the decayed Past!|
As he spoke, he dropped the silken curtain before the picture and hid it from view.
|We will raise it again when the painter lives -- or dies!| he said brokenly.
They left the studio, Prince Pietro extinguishing the lights, and giving orders to his servant to put a strong bar across the door they had forced open, -- and the Cardinal, feeling more lonely than he had done for many days, owing to the temporary absence of Manuel who was keeping watch over Angela, returned to his own apartments full of grave thoughts and anxious trouble. He had meant to leave Rome at once, -- but now, such a course seemed more than impossible. Yet he knew that the scene which had, through himself indirectly, occurred at the Vatican, would have its speedy results in some decisive and vengeful action, if not on the part of the Supreme Pontiff, then through his ministers and advisers, and Bonpre was sufficiently acquainted with the secret ways of the Church he served, to be well aware of its relentlessness in all cases where its authority was called into question. The first step taken, so he instinctively felt, would be to deprive him of Manuel's companionship, -- the next perhaps, to threaten him with the loss of his own diocese. He sighed heavily, -- yet in his own tranquil and pious mind he could not say that he resented the position his affairs had taken. Accustomed as he was always, to submit the whole daily course of his life to the ruling of a Higher Power, he was framed and braced as temperately for adversity as for joy, -- and nothing seemed to him either fortunate or disastrous except as concerned the attitude in which the soul received the announcement of God's will. To resent affliction was, in his opinion, sinful; to accept it reverently and humbly as a means of grace, and endeavour to make sweetness out of the seeming bitterness of the divine dispensation, appeared to him the only right and natural way of duty, -- hence his clear simplicity of thought, his patience, plain faith, and purity of aim. And even now, perplexed and pained as he was, much more for the sorrow which had befallen his brother-in-law, than for any trouble likely to occur personally to himself, he was still able to disentangle his thoughts from all earthly cares -- to lift up his heart, unsullied by complaint, to the Ruler of all destinies -- and to resign himself with that Christian philosophy, which when truly practised, is so much more powerful than all the splendid stoicism of the heroic pagans, to those
Which we, unseeing, feel and grope for blindly,
Like children in the dark, knowing that Love is near!|
Meanwhile Prince Pietro, moved by conflicting sentiments and forebodings which he was unable to explain to himself, and only strongly conscious of the desire to be avenged on his daughter's cowardly assailant, whoever it might be, muffled himself in a well- worn |Almaviva| cloak, his favourite out-door garment, pulled his hat down over his eyes, and so, looking like a fierce old brigand of the mountains, went out, not quite knowing why he went, but partly impelled by a sense of curiosity. He wanted to hear something, -- to find something, -- and yet he could not agree with himself as to the nature of the circumstance he sought to discover. There was a lurking suspicion in his mind to which he would not give a name, -- a dark thought that made him tremble with mingled rage and horror, -- but he put it away from him as a hint offered by the Evil One -- an insidious suggestion as hideous as it was unnatural. The afternoon had now closed into night, and many stars were glistening bravely in the purple depths of the clear sky, -- the air was mild and balmy, -- and as he crossed the road to turn down the little side street leading to the Tiber, where Florian Varillo had stood but a few hours previously, a flower-girl met him with a large basket of white hyacinths and held them up to his eyes.
|Ecco la primavera, Signor!| she said, with a smile.
He shook his head, and turned abruptly away, -- as he did so, his foot struck against some slight obstacle. Stooping to examine it, he saw it was the empty leathern sheath of a dagger. He picked it up, and studied it intently. It was elaborately adorned with old rococco work, and was evidently the ornamental covering of one of those small but deadly weapons which Italians, both men and women, so often wear concealed about their persons, for the purpose of taking vengeance, when deemed necessary, on an unsuspecting enemy. Slipping the thing into his pocket, the Prince looked about him, and soon recognised his bearings, -- he was standing about six yards away from the private back-entrance to his daughter's studio. He walked up to the door and tried it, -- it was fast locked.
|Yes -- I remember! -- the servants told me -- both doors were locked, -- and from this they said the key was gone, -- | he muttered, then paused.
Presently, actuated by a sudden impulse, he turned and walked swiftly with long impatient strides through the more populated quarters of Rome towards the Corso, and he had not proceeded very far in this direction before he heard a frenzied and discordant shouting which, though he knew it did not yet bear the truth in its harsh refrain, yet staggered him and made his heart almost stand still with an agony of premonitory fear.
|Morte di Angela Sovrani!|
|Assassinamento di Angela Sovrani!|
|Morte subito di Angela Sovrani!|
|Assassinamento crudele della bella Sovrani!|
Prince Pietro held his breath in sharp pain, listening. How horrible was the persistent cry of the newsvendors! -- hoarse and shrill -- now near -- now far! --
|Morte di Angela Sovrani!|
How horrible! -- how horrible! He put his hands to his ears to try and shut out the din. He had not expected any public outcry -- not so soon -- but ill news travels fast, and no doubt the very servants of his own household were responsible for having, in the extremity of their terror, given away the report of Angela's death. The terrible shouts were like so many cruel blows on his brain, -- yet -- half- reeling with the shock of them, he still went on his way, -- straight on to the house and studio of Florian Varillo. There, he rang the bell loudly and impatiently. A servant opened the door in haste, and stared aghast at the tall old man with the white hair and blazing eyes, who was wrapped in a dark cloak, the very folds of which seemed to tremble with the suppressed rage of the form it enveloped.
|Il Principe Souvrani!| he stammered feebly, falling back a little from the threshold.
|Where is your master?| demanded Sovrani.
|Eccellenza, he has gone to Naples!|
|When did he leave?|
|But two hours ago, Eccellenza!|
Prince Pietro held up the dagger-sheath he had just found.
|This -- belongs -- to -- him -- does it not?| he asked slowly, detaching his words with careful directness.
The man answered readily and at once.
Sovrani uttered a terrible oath.
|Let me pass!|
The servant made a gesture of protest.
|But -- Eccellenza -- my master is not here! . . .|
Prince Pietro paying no heed to him, strode into the house, and brusquely threw open the door of a room which he knew to be Varillo's own specially private retreat. A woman with a mass of bright orange-gold hair, half-dressed in a tawdry blue peignoir trimmed with cheap lace, was sprawling lazily on a sofa smoking a cigarette. She sprang up surprised and indignant, -- but shrank back visibly as she recognised the intruder, and met the steady tigerish glare of the old man's eyes.
|Where is your lover?| he asked.
|Eccellensa! You amaze -- you insult me -- !|
|Basta!| and Sovrani came a step nearer to her, his wrath seeming to literally encompass him like a thunder-cloud -- |Play me no tricks! This is not the time for lying! I repeat my question -- where is he? You, the companion of his closest thoughts, -- you, his 'model' -- you, Mademoiselle Pon-Pon, his mistress -- you must know all his movements. Tell me then, where he is -- or by heaven, if you do not, I will have you arrested for complicity in murder!|
She fell back from him trembling, her full red mouth half open, -- and her face paling with terror.
|Murder!| she whispered -- |Dio mio! Dio mio!|
|Yes -- murder!| and the Prince thrust before her wide-opened eyes the dagger-sheath he held -- |What! Have you not heard? Not yet? Not though the whole city rings with the news? What news? That Angela Sovrani is dead! That she -- my daughter -- the sweetest, purest, most innocent and loving of women as well as the greatest and most gifted -- has been mortally stabbed in her own studio this very day by some cowardly fiend unknown! Unknown did I say? Not so -- known! This sheath belongs to Florian Varillo. Where is he? Tell me at once -- if only to save YOURSELF trouble!|
Overcome by fear, and to do her justice, horror as well, the miserable Pon-Pon threw herself on her knees.
|I swear he has gone to Naples!| she cried -- |On my word! -- as I live! -- I swear it! -- he has gone! He seemed as usual, -- he was not in any haste -- he left no message -- he said he would be back in two or three days -- he sent flowers to la Donna Sovrani -- he wrote to her . . . O Santissima Virgine! . . . I swear to you I know nothing!|
The Prince eyed her with grim attention.
|They are shouting it in the streets -- | he said -- |Listen!| He held up one hand, -- she cowered on the floor -- she could hear nothing, and she stared at him in fascinated terror -- |They are telling all Rome of the death of my child! First Rome -- and then -- the world! The world shall hear of it! For there is only one Angela Sovrani, -- and earth and heaven cry out for justice in her name! Tell this to the devil who has bought you for his pleasure! I leave the message with you, -- tell him that when the world clamours for vengeance upon her murderer, I KNOW WHERE TO FIND HIM!|
With that, he put the dagger-sheath back in his breastpocket with jealous care, and left her where she crouched, shivering and moaning. Walking as in a dream he brushed past the astonished and frightened servant unseeingly, and went out of the house into the street once more. There he paused dizzily, -- the stars appeared to rock in the sky, and the houses seemed moving slowly round him in a sort of circular procession. The shouting of the newsvendors which had ceased for a while, began again with even louder persistency.
|Morte di Angela Sovrani!|
|La bella Sovrani! -- Assassinamento crudele!|
The old man's heart beat in strong hammer-strokes, -- he listened vaguely, -- his tall figure shaking a little with the storm pent-up within him, till all at once as if the full realization of the position had only just burst upon him, he uttered a sharp cry --
|Her lover! Her promised husband! One whom she trusted and loved more than her own father! The hope of her life! -- the man whose praise was sweeter to her than the plaudits of the whole world! -- he- -even he -- her MURDERER! For even if she lives in body, he has murdered her soul!|
He looked up at the deep starlit heavens, his dark face growing livid in the intensity of his wrath and pain.
|May God curse him!| he whispered thickly -- |May all evil track his footsteps, and the terrors of a cursed conscience hound him to his death! May he never know peace by day or night! -- may the devils in his own soul destroy him! God curse him!|
He clenched his fist and raised it threateningly, -- and gathering his cloak about him tried to walk on, -- but there was a black mist before his eyes . . . he could not see -- he stumbled forward blindly, and would have fallen, had not a strong arm caught him and held him upright. He turned a dazed and wondering look on the man whose friendly grasp supported him, -- then, with an exclamation, made a trembling attempt to raise his hat.
|Il Re!| he murmured feebly -- |Il Re!|
King Humbert -- for it was he -- held him still more closely.
|Courage, amico!| he said kindly -- |Courage! -- yes -- yes! -- I know -- I have heard the news! All Italy will give you vengeance for your child! We will spare no pains to discover her murderer. But now -- you are ill -- you are weary -- do not try to speak -- come with me! Let me take you home -- come!|
A great sob broke from the old man's breast as he yielded to his Sovereign's imperative yet gentle guidance, and before he could realize the situation, he was in the King's own carriage, with the King beside him, being rapidly driven back to his own house. Arrived at the Palazzo Sovrani, a strange sight greeted them. The great porte-cochere was wide open, and, pressing through it, and surrounding the stately building at every point was a vast crowd, -- densely packed and almost absolutely silent. Quite up to the inner portico these waiting thousands pressed, -- though, as they recognised the Royal liveries, they did their best to make immediate way, and a low murmur arose |Evviva il Re!| But there was no loud shouting, and the continued hush was more distinctly recognisable than the murmur. Prince Sovrani gazed bewilderedly at the great throng as the carriage moved slowly through, and putting his hand to his head murmured --
|What -- what is this! I do not understand -- why are these people here?|
The King pressed his hand.
|All the world honours and loves your daughter, my friend!| he said, |And Rome, the Mother of Nations, mourns the loss of her youngest child of genius.|
|No -- no, not loss! -- she is not dead -- | began Sovrani stammeringly, -- |I should have told your Majesty -- she is grievously wounded -- but not dead . . .|
At that moment the carriage stopped. The door of the Sovrani palace was open, and in the centre of a group of people that had gathered within, among whom were Aubrey Leigh, Sylvie Hermenstein, and the Princesse D'Agramont, stood Cardinal Bonpre and Manuel. Manuel was a little in advance of the rest, and as the King and Prince Sovrani alighted, he came fully forward, his eyes shining, and a smile upon his lips.
|She will recover!| he said, |She is sleeping peacefully, -- and all is well!| His voice rang clear and sweet, and was heard by everyone on the outskirts of the crowd. The good news ran from mouth to mouth, till all the people caught it up and responded with one brief, subdued, but hearty cheer. Then, without bidding, they began to disperse, and the King, baring his head in the presence of Cardinal Bonpre, gave up his self-imposed charge of old Sovrani, who, faint and feeble, grasped Aubrey Leigh's quickly proffered arm, and leaned heavily upon it.
|He needs care,| said Humbert gently, -- |The shock has moved him greatly!|
|Your Majesty is ever considerate of the sorrows of others,| said the venerable Felix with emotion, |And God will bless you as He blesses all good men!|
The King bowed reverently to the benediction. Then he looked up with a slight smile.
|It is not wise of your Eminence to say so, -- in Rome!| he observed,- -|But I thank you, and am grateful!|
His keen eyes rested for a moment on Manuel, -- and the fair aspect of the boy seemed to move him to a sense of wonder -- but he did not speak. With a light salute to all present he re-entered his carriage and was driven away -- and Aubrey Leigh led Prince Sovrani into his own library where, when he was seated, they all waited upon him eagerly, the fair Sylvie chafing his cold hands, and the Princesse D'Agramont practically making him drink a glass of good wine. Gradually, warmth and colour and animation came back to his pale features, -- his fears were soothed, -- his heart relieved, and a smile crossed his lips as he met Sylvie's earnest, anxious eyes.
|What a pretty rosebud it is!| he said softly, -- |Full of sunshine -- and love!|
With returning strength he gathered up the forces of his native pride and independence and rose from his chair.
|I am well -- quite well again now!| he said, |Where is the boy, Manuel?|
|Gone back to Angela,| replied the Cardinal, |He said he would watch her until she wakes.|
|An angel watching an angel!| then said the Prince musingly, |That is as it should be!| He paused a moment, |The King was very kind. And you, Princesse -- and you, bella Contessina!| and he courteously bent over Sylvie's little hand and kissed it, -- |You are all much too good to an old man like me! I am strong again -- I shall be ready to speak -- when Angela bids. But I must wait. I must wait!| He ruffled his white hair with one hand and looked at them all very strangely. |That was a great crowd outside -- all waiting to hear news of my girl! If -- if they knew who it was that stabbed her -- |
|Do you know?| cried Aubrey quickly.
|Per Dio!| And Sovrani smiled, |I thought Englishmen were phlegmatic, and here is one ablaze, and ready to burst like a bomb! No! -- I did not say I knew! -- but I say, if the crowd had known, they would have lynched him! Yes, they would have torn him to pieces! . . . and he would have deserved it! He will deserve it! -- If he is ever found! Come -- we will all sup here together this evening -- sorrow strengthens the bonds of friendship . . . and I will tell you . . .|
He paused, and again the strange far-off look came into his eyes.
|I will tell you -- | he went on slowly -- |how I found my Angela lying dead, as I thought -- dead at the feet of Christ!|