Infomotions, Inc.The White Sister / Crawford, F. Marion (Francis Marion), 1854-1909



Author: Crawford, F. Marion (Francis Marion), 1854-1909
Title: The White Sister
Publisher: Project Gutenberg
Tag(s): sister giovanna; angela; giovanna; giovanni; madame bernard; bernard; nun; princess chiaromonte; princess; giovanni severi; madame; sister; mother superior; doctor pieri
Contributor(s): Fischer, Anton Otto, 1882-1962 [Illustrator]
Versions: original; local mirror; HTML (this file); printable
Services: find in a library; evaluate using concordance
Rights: GNU General Public License
Size: 94,030 words (short) Grade range: 9-12 (high school) Readability score: 64 (easy)
Identifier: etext18847
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Title: The White Sister

Author: F. Marion Crawford

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THE WHITE SISTER

------------------------------------------------------------------------

THE MACMILLAN COMPANY
NEW YORK . BOSTON . CHICAGO
SAN FRANCISCO

MACMILLAN & CO., Limited
LONDON . BOMBAY . CALCUTTA
MELBOURNE

THE MACMILLAN CO. OF CANADA, Ltd.
TORONTO

------------------------------------------------------------------------

[Illustration: VIOLA ALLEN AS THE WHITE SISTER]

------------------------------------------------------------------------

The White Sister
_By_ F. Marion Crawford

Author of "The Diva's Ruby," "Saracinesca," "In the Palace of the
King," etc.

A. L. BURT COMPANY
PUBLISHERS--NEW YORK

Macmillan Standard Library
All Rights Reserved

------------------------------------------------------------------------

COPYRIGHT, 1908,
BY F. MARION CRAWFORD.

COPYRIGHT, 1909,
BY F. MARION CRAWFORD.

COPYRIGHT, 1909,
BY THE MACMILLAN COMPANY.

Set up and electrotyped. Published May, 1909. Reprinted May, June,
twice, July, August, twice, September, October, November, December,
1909; February, 1910; March, November, 1910; February, 1911;
September, 1913.

------------------------------------------------------------------------




THE WHITE SISTER

CHAPTER I


'I cannot help it,' said Filmore Durand quietly. 'I paint what I see.
If you are not pleased with the likeness, I shall be only too happy to
keep it.'

The Marchesa protested. It was only a very small matter, she said, a
something in the eyes, or in the angle of the left eyebrow, or in the
turn of the throat; she could not tell where it was, but it gave her
niece a little air of religious ecstasy that was not natural to her.
If the master would only condescend to modify the expression the least
bit, all would be satisfactory.

Instead of condescending, Filmore Durand smiled rather indifferently
and gave his pallet and brushes to his man, who was already waiting at
his elbow to receive them. For the famous American portrait-painter
detested all sorts of litter, such as a painting-table, brush-jars,
and the like, as much as his great predecessor Lenbach ever did, and
when he was at work his old servant brought him a brush, a tube of
colour, a knife, or a pencil, as each was needed, from a curtained
recess where everything was kept ready and in order.

'I like it as it is,' said Giovanni Severi, resting his hands on the
hilt of his sabre, as he sat looking thoughtfully from the portrait to
the original.

The young girl smiled, pleased by his approbation of the likeness,
which she herself thought good, though it by no means flattered. On
the contrary, it made her look older than she was, and much more sad;
for though the spring laughed in her eyes when she looked at the
officer to whom people said she was engaged, their counterparts in the
portrait were deep and grave. Certain irregularities of feature, too,
were more apparent in the painting than in nature. For instance, there
was a very marked difference between the dark eyebrows; for whereas
the right one made a perfect curve, the other turned up quite sharply
towards the forehead at the inner end, as if it did not wish to meet
its fellow; and the Marchesa del Prato was quite sure that Angela's
delicate nose had not really that aquiline and almost ascetic look
which the great master had given it. In fact, the middle-aged woman
almost wished that it had, for of all things that could happen she
would have been best pleased that her niece should turn out to have a
vocation and should disappear into some religious order as soon as
possible. This was not likely, and the Marchesa was by no means ready
to accept, as an alternative, a marriage with Giovanni Severi, whom
she had long looked upon as her own private property.

Filmore Durand glanced from one to another of the three in quick
succession, stroked his rather bristly moustache, and lit a cigarette,
not because he wanted to smoke, but because he could not help it,
which is a very different thing. Then he looked at his picture and
forgot that he was not alone with it; and it still pleased him, after
a fashion, though he was not satisfied with what he had done.

Great artists and great writers are rarely troubled by theories; one
of the chief characteristics of mature genius is that it springs
directly from conception to expression without much thought as to the
means; a man who has used the same tools for a dozen years is not
likely to take his chisel by the wrong end, nor to hesitate in
choosing the right one for the stroke to be made, much less to 'take a
sledge-hammer to kill a fly,' as the saying is. His unquiet mind has
discovered some new and striking relation between the true and the
beautiful; the very next step is to express that relation in clay, or
in colour, or in words. While he is doing so he rarely stops to think,
or to criticise his own half-finished work; he is too sure of himself,
just then, to pause, and, above all, he is too happy, for all the real
happiness he finds in his art is there, between the painfully
disquieting ferment of the mental chaos that went before and the more
or less acute disappointment which is sure to come when the finished
work turns out to be less than perfect, like all things human. It is
in the race from one point to the other that he rejoices in his
strength, believes in his talent, and dreams of undying glory; it is
then that he feels himself a king of men and a prophet of mankind; but
it is when he is in this stage that he is called vain, arrogant, and
self-satisfied by those who do not understand the distress that has
gone before, nor the disillusionment which will follow soon enough,
when the hand is at rest and cool judgment marks the distance between
a perfect ideal and an attainable reality. Moreover, the less the lack
of perfection seems to others, the more formidable it generally looks
to the great artist himself.

It was often said of Durand that his portraits were prophetic; and
often again that his brushes were knives and scalpels that dissected
his sitters' characters upon the canvas like an anatomical
preparation.

'I cannot help it,' he always said. 'I paint what I see.'

It was not his fault if pretty Donna Angela Chiaromonte had thrown a
white veil over her dark hair, just to try the effect of it, the very
first time she had been brought to his studio, or that she had been
standing beside an early fifteenth century altar and altar-piece which
he had just bought and put up at one end of the great hall in which he
painted. He was not to blame if the veiling had fallen on each side of
her face, like a nun's head-dress, nor if her eyes had grown shadowy
at that moment by an accident of light or expression, nor yet if her
tender lips had seemed to be saddened by a passing thought. She had
not put on the veil again, and he had not meant that a suggestion of
suffering ecstatically borne should dim her glad girlhood in his
picture; but he had seen the vision once, and it had come out again
under his brush, in spite of him, as if it were the necessary truth
over which the outward expression was moulded like a lovely mask, but
which must be plain in her face to every one who had once had a
glimpse of it.

The painter contemplated his work in silence from within an Olympian
cloud of cigarette smoke that almost hid him from the others, who now
exchanged a few words in Italian, which he only half understood. They
spoke English with him, as they would have spoken French with a
Frenchman, and probably even German with a German, for modern Roman
society has a remarkable gift of tongues and is very accomplished in
other ways.

'What I think most wonderful,' said the Marchesa del Prato, who
detested her husband's pretty niece, 'is that he has not made a Carlo
Dolce picture of you, my dear. With your face, it would have been so
easy, you know!'

Giovanni Severi's hands moved a little and the scabbard of his sabre
struck one of his spurs with a sharp clink; for he was naturally
impatient and impulsive, as any one could see from his face. It was
lean and boldly cut; his cheeks were dark from exposure rather than by
nature, there were reddish lights in his short brown hair, and his
small but vigorous moustache was that of a rather fair man who has
lived much in sun and wind in a hot climate. His nose was Roman and
energetic, his mouth rather straight and hard; yet few would have
thought his face remarkable but for the eyes, which betrayed his
nature at a glance; they were ardent rather than merely bold, and the
warm, reddish-brown iris was shot with little golden points that
coruscated in the rays of the sun, but emitted a fiery light of their
own when his temper was roused. If his look had been less frank and
direct, or if his other features had suggested any bad quality, his
eyes would probably have been intolerably disagreeable to meet; as it
was, they warned all comers that their possessor was one of those
uncommon and dangerous men who go to the utmost extremes when they
believe themselves in the right and are constitutionally incapable of
measuring danger or considering consequences when they are roused.
Giovanni Severi was about eight-and-twenty, and wore the handsome
uniform of an artillery officer on the Staff. He had not liked the
Marchesa's remark, and the impatient little clink of his scabbard
against his spur only preceded his answer by a second.

'Happily for Angela,' he said, 'we are not in the studio of a
caricaturist.'

The Marchesa, who could be near-sighted on occasion, put up her
tortoiseshell-mounted eyeglass and looked at him aggressively; but as
he returned her gaze with steadiness, she soon turned away.

'You are extremely rude,' she said coldly.

For she herself made clever caricatures in water-colours, and she knew
what Giovanni meant. Angela's mother had been a very devout woman and
had died young, but had incurred the hatred of the Marchesa by
marrying the very man whom the latter had picked out for herself,
namely, the elder of two brothers, and the Marchesa had reluctantly
consented to marry the other, who had a much less high-sounding title
and a far smaller fortune. She had revenged herself in various small
ways, and had often turned her brother-in-law's wife to ridicule by
representing her as an ascetic mediaeval saint, in contorted attitudes
of ecstasy, with sunken cheeks and eyes like saucers full of ink. Like
many other people, Giovanni had seen some of these drawings, for the
resentful Marchesa had not destroyed them when the Princess
Chiaromonte died; but no one had yet been unkind enough to tell Angela
of their existence. The girl did not like her aunt by marriage, it was
true, but with a singularly simple and happy disposition, and a total
absence of vanity, she apparently possessed her mother's almost
saintly patience, and she bore the Marchesa's treatment with a
cheerful submission which exasperated the elder woman much more than
any show of temper could have done.

Just now, seeing that trouble of some sort was imminent, she made a
diversion by coming down from the low movable platform, on which her
chair had been placed for the sitting, and she spoke to the artist
while she studied her own portrait. Durand was a very thin man, and so
tall that Angela had to look very high to see his face as she stood
beside him.

'I could never be as good as the picture looks,' she said in English,
with a little laugh, 'nor so dreadfully in earnest! But it is very
nice of you to think that I might!'

'You will never be anything but good,' answered Filmore Durand, 'and
it's not necessarily dreadful to be in earnest about it.'

'You are a moralist. I see.' observed the Marchesa, putting on a sweet
smile as she rose and came forward, followed by Giovanni.

'I don't know,' replied the painter. 'What is a moralist?'

'A person who is in earnest about other people's morals,' suggested
Angela gaily.

'Really!' cried the Marchesa, with a most emphatic English
pronunciation of the word. 'One would think that you had been brought
up in a Freemasons' lodge!'

In view of the fact that Angela's father was one of the very last
survivors of the 'intransigent' clericals, this was quite the most
cutting speech the Marchesa could think of. But Filmore Durand failed
to see the point.

'What has Freemasonry to do with morality?' he inquired with bland
surprise.

'Nothing at all,' answered the Marchesa smartly, 'for it is the
religion of the devil.'

'Dear me!' The artist smiled. 'What strong prejudices you have in
Rome!'

'Are you a Freemason?' the noble lady asked, with evident nervousness;
and she glanced from his face to Angela, and then at the door.

'Well--no--I'm not,' the painter admitted with a slight drawl, and
evidently amused. 'But then I'm not a moralist either, though I
suppose I might be both and yet go on painting about the same.'

'I think not,' said the Marchesa so stiffly that Giovanni almost
laughed aloud. 'We must be going,' she added, suddenly relaxing to
graciousness again. 'It has been such a privilege to see you day after
day, my dear Mr. Durand, and to watch you working in your own
surroundings. My brother-in-law will come to-morrow. I have no doubt
that he will be much pleased with the portrait.'

Filmore Durand smiled indifferently but with politeness as he bowed
over the Marchesa's hand. He did not care a straw whether Angela's
father liked the picture or not, being in love with it himself, and
much more anxious to keep it than to be paid for it.

'When shall I see you again?' Giovanni had asked of Angela, almost in
a whisper, while the Marchesa was speaking.

Instead of answering she shook her head, for she could not decide at
once, but as her glance met his a delicate radiance tinged her cheeks
for a moment, as if the rosy light of a clear dawn were reflected in
her face. The young soldier's eyes flashed as he watched her; he drew
his breath audibly, and then bit his upper lip as if to check the
sound and the sensation that had caused it. Angela heard and saw, for
she understood what moved him, so far as almost childlike simplicity
can have intuition of what most touches a strong man. She was less
like the portrait now than a moment earlier; her lips, just parting in
a little half-longing, half-troubled smile, were like dark rose leaves
damp with dew, her eyelids drooped at the corners for an instant, and
the translucent little nostrils quivered at the mysterious thrill that
stirred her maiden being.

The two young people had not known each other quite a year, for she
had never seen Severi till she had left the convent to go out into
society and to take her place at her widowed father's table as his
only child; but at their first meeting Giovanni had felt that of all
women he had known, none but she had ever called his nature to hers
with the longing cry of the natural mate. At first she was quite
unconscious of her power, and for a long time he looked in vain for
the slightest outward sign that she was moved when she saw him making
his way to her in a crowded drawing-room, or coming upon her suddenly
out of doors when she was walking in the villa with her old governess,
the excellent Madame Bernard, or riding in the Campagna with her
father. Giovanni's duties were light, and he had plenty of time to
spare, and his pertinacity in finding her would have been compromising
if he had been less ingeniously tactful. It was by no means easy to
meet her in society either, for, in spite of recent social
developments, Prince Chiaromonte still clung to the antiquated
political mythology of Blacks and Whites, and strictly avoided the
families he persisted in calling 'Liberals,' on the ground that his
father had called them so in 1870, when he was a small boy. It was not
until he had bored himself to extinction in the conscientious effort
to take the girl out, that he appealed to his sister-in-law to help
him, though he knew that neither she nor his brother was truly
clerical at heart. Even then, if it had been clear to him that
Giovanni Severi had made up his mind to marry Angela if he married at
all, the Prince would have forced himself to bear agonies of boredom
night after night, rather than entrust his daughter to the Marchesa;
but such an idea had never entered his head, and he would have scouted
the suggestion that Angela would ever dare to encourage a young man of
whom he had not formally approved; and while she was meeting Giovanni
almost daily, and dancing with him almost every evening, her father
was slowly negotiating an appropriate marriage for her with the eldest
son of certain friends who were almost as clerical and intransigent as
himself. The young man was a limp degenerate, with a pale face, a weak
mouth, and an inherited form of debility which made him fall asleep
wherever he was, if nothing especial happened to keep his eyes open;
he not only always slept from ten at night till nine the next morning
with the regularity of an idiot, but he went to sleep wherever he sat
down, in church, at dinner, and even when he was driving. Neither his
own parents nor Prince Chiaromonte looked upon this as a serious
drawback in the matter of marriage. A man who slept all day and all
night was a man out of mischief, not likely to grumble nor to make
love to his neighbour's wife; he would therefore be a model husband.
When he fell asleep in the drawing-room in summer, his consort would
sit beside him and brush away the flies; in winter she would be
careful to cover him up lest he should catch cold; at mass she could
prick him with a hat-pin to keep him awake; as for the rest, she would
bear one of the oldest names in Europe, her husband would be a
strictly religious and moral person, and she would be very rich. What
more could any woman ask? Evidently nothing, and Prince Chiaromonte
therefore continued to negotiate the marriage in the old-fashioned
manner, without the least intention of speaking about it to Angela
till everything was altogether settled between the family lawyers, and
the wedding could take place in six weeks. It was not the business of
young people to fathom the intentions of their all-wise parents, and
meanwhile Angela was free to go to parties with her aunt, and her
intended husband was at liberty to sleep as much as he liked. The
negotiations would probably occupy another two or three months, for
the family lawyers had disagreed as to the number of times that Angela
should be allowed to take the carriage out every day, and this had to
be stipulated in the marriage contract, besides the number of dishes
there were to be at luncheon and dinner and the question whether, if
Angela took coffee after her meals, it should be charged to her
husband, who took none, or against the income arising from her dowry.
The family lawyers were both very old men and understood these
difficult matters thoroughly, but neither would have felt that he was
doing his duty to his client if he had not quarrelled with the other
over each point. From week to week each reported progress to his
employer, and on the whole the two fathers felt that matters were
going on well, without any undue delay.

But the Fates frowned grimly on the marriage and on all things
connected with it, for on the very morning during which Filmore Durand
finished Angela's portrait, and before she had left his studio in the
Palazzo Borghese, something happened which not only put a stop to the
leisurely labours of the two lawyers, but which profoundly changed
Angela's existence, and was the cause of her having a story quite
different from that of a good many young girls who are in love with
one man but are urged by their parents to marry another. The interest
of this tale, if it has any, lies in no such simple conflict of forces
as that, and it is enough to know that while her father had been busy
over her marriage, Angela Chiaromonte had fallen in love with Giovanni
Severi, and had, indeed, as much as promised to marry him; and that a
good many people, including the Marchesa del Prato, already suspected
this, though they had not communicated their suspicions to the girl's
father, partly because he was not liked, and partly because he hardly
ever showed himself in the world. The situation is thus clearly
explained, so far as it was known to the persons concerned at the
moment when the Great Unforeseen flashed from its hiding-place and
hurled itself into their midst.

As Filmore Durand went with the Marchesa towards the entrance hall,
followed by the young people, he called his man to open the outer
door, but almost at the same moment he heard his voice at the
telephone; the servant was a Swiss who spoke German, English, and
Italian, and had followed the artist for many years. He was evidently
answering an inquiry about the Marchesa just as he heard her step.

'The lady is here,' he said. 'She is coming to the telephone herself.'

He looked round as the four approached, for the instrument was placed
on the right side of the large door that opened upon the landing.

'Some one for your ladyship,' he said in English, holding out the
receiver to the Marchesa.

She took it and put it to her ear, repeating the usual Italian
formula.

'Ready--with whom am I speaking? Yes. I am the Marchesa del Prato, she
herself. What is it?'

There was a pause while she listened, and then Angela saw her face
change suddenly.

'Dead?' she shrieked into the telephone. 'Half-an-hour ago?'

She still held the receiver to her ear, but she was stretching out her
left hand as if she needed support. Durand took her by the arm and
elbow, prepared to hold her up if she showed signs of fainting. Angela
was already on her other side.

'Who is dead?' the girl asked quietly enough, but with evident
anxiety.

'Your father,' answered the Marchesa, with such sudden and brutal
directness that Giovanni started forward, and Durand stared in
surprise, for he knew enough Italian to understand as much as that.

Angela made two steps backwards, slowly and mechanically, like a blind
man who has unexpectedly run against a wall; like the blind, too, she
held out her hands before her, as if to assure herself that she was
getting out of reach of the obstacle. Her face had turned white and
her eyes were half closed.

The Marchesa no longer seemed to be in need of support and watched
her.

'My poor child!' she cried, in a tone of conventional sympathy. 'I
should have broken the news to you gradually----'

'You should indeed!' answered Giovanni with stern emphasis.

He was already leading Angela to one of the nearest of the high-backed
chairs that stood ranged against the dark-green wall of the hall. She
sat down, steadying herself by his arm.

'Run over by a motor car almost at his own door,' said the Marchesa,
in a lower tone and in English, as she turned slightly towards Durand.
'Killed on the spot! It is too awful! My poor brother-in-law!'

'Get some brandy and some cold water,' said the artist to his man,
watching the girl's pale face and twitching hands.

'Yes,' said Giovanni, who was bending over her anxiously. 'Bring
something quickly! She is going to faint.'

But Angela was not fainting, nor even half-unconscious. She had felt
as if something hard had struck her between the eyes, without quite
stunning her. She attempted to get up, but realised her weakness and
waited a moment before trying again. Then she rose to her feet with an
effort and stood straight and rigid before her aunt, her eyes quite
open now.

'Come!' she said, almost imperiously, and in a voice unlike her own.

In a moment they were gone, and the artist was standing before the
portrait he had finished, looking into its eyes as if it were alive.
He had been deeply shocked by what had just happened, and was
sincerely sorry for Angela, though he had not the least idea whether
she had loved her father or not, but his face was calm and thoughtful
again, now that she was gone, and expressed a quiet satisfaction which
had not been there before. For it seemed to him that the picture was a
precious reality, and that the young girl who had sat for it was only
nature's copy, and not perfect at that; and perhaps the reality would
not be taken from him, now, since Prince Chiaromonte had come to an
untimely end; and the prospect of keeping the canvas was exceedingly
pleasing to Filmore Durand. He had never painted anything that had
disappointed him less, or that he was less willing to part with, and
during the last day or two he had even thought of making a replica of
it for the Prince in order to keep the original, for no copy, though
it were made by himself most conscientiously, could ever be quite so
good. But now that the Prince was dead, it was possible that the
heirs, if there were any besides Angela, would be glad to be excused
from paying a large sum for a picture they did not want. He was sure
from the young girl's manner that she would no more care to possess a
portrait of herself than a coloured postcard of the Colosseum or a
plaster-cast of one of Canova's dancing-girls. This was not flattering
to the artist, it was true, but in the present case he would rather
keep his own painting than have it appreciated ever so highly by any
one else.

Late in the afternoon he stopped before the closed gateway of the
Palazzo Chiaromonte and pushed the little postern that stood ajar. The
big porter was within, standing dejectedly before the door of his
lodge, and already dressed in the deep mourning which is kept in
readiness in all the great Roman houses. The painter asked in broken
Italian if the bad news was true, and the man nodded gravely, pointing
to the gates. They would not be shut unless the master were dead.
Durand asked after Donna Angela, but the porter was not communicative.
She had come in with her aunt and both were upstairs; he suspected the
painter of being a foreign newspaper correspondent and would say
nothing more.

The American thanked him and went away; after all, he had come to make
sure that the Prince was really dead, and he was conscious that his
wish to keep the portrait was the only motive of his inquiry.

He strolled away through the crowded streets, blowing such clouds of
cigarette smoke about him that people looked at him in surprise. It
was almost sunset, in February, and it was just before Lent. Rome is
at her gayest then, though the old Carnival is as dead and gone as Pio
Nono, Garibaldi, the French military occupation, the hatred of the
Jesuits, and all that made the revival of Italy in the nineteenth
century the most thrilling romance that ever roused Italian passion
and stirred the world's sympathy. Durand was not old enough to
remember those times, and he had never been in Rome at all till he was
nearly thirty years of age and on the first wave of his high success;
but he had read about the past, and to his unspoiled sight and vivid
imagination Rome was still romantic and the greatest city in the
world, ancient or modern; and somehow when he thought of his picture
and of Angela's face, and remembered the scene at the telephone, he
felt that he was himself just within the sphere of some mysterious and
tragic action which he could not yet understand, but which might
possibly affect his own life.

'This is a serio-comic world,' he said to himself as he slowly made
his way down the Corso, watching the faces of the people he passed,
because he never passed a face in the street without glancing at it,
stopping now and then to look into a shop window where there was
nothing to see that he had not seen a thousand times elsewhere,
smoking cigarettes without number, thinking of Angela's portrait, and
mechanically repeating his little epigram over and over again, to a
sort of tune in his head, with variations and transpositions that
meant nothing at all.

'This is a serio-comic world. This is a comico-serious world. This
world is a serious comico-serial. This is a worldly-serious comedy.'
And so forth, and so on; and a number of more or less good-looking
women of the serio-comic world, whose portraits he had painted, and
several more or less distinguished men who had sat to him, passed the
man of genius and greeted him as if they were rather pleased to show
that they knew him; but they would have been shocked if they could
have heard the silly words the great painter was mechanically
repeating to himself as he idled along the pavement, musing on the
picture he hoped to keep, and already regarded as his masterpiece and
chief treasure.




CHAPTER II


The excellent Madame Bernard had been Angela's governess before the
child had been sent to the convent, on the Trinita dei Monti, and
whenever she was at home for the holidays, and also during the brief
interval between her leaving school and going into society; and after
that, during the winter which preceded Prince Chiaromonte's death, she
had accompanied the motherless girl to concerts and had walked with
her almost daily in the mornings. She was one of those thoroughly
trustworthy, sound-minded, well-educated Frenchwomen of the middle
class of whom many are to be found in the provinces, though the type
is rare in Paris; nearly fifty years of age, she had lived twenty
years in Rome, always occupying the same little apartment in a
respectable street of Trastevere, where she had a spare room which she
was glad to let to any French or English lady of small means who came
to Rome for a few months in the winter and spring.

Angela sent her maid for Madame Bernard on the day of the catastrophe,
since her aunt neither offered to take her in at once nor seemed
inclined to suggest any arrangement for the future. The Marchesa did,
indeed, take charge of everything in the Palazzo Chiaromonte within an
hour of her brother-in-law's death; she locked the drawers of his
private desk herself, sent for the notary and had the customary seals
placed on the doors of the inner apartments 'in the name of the
heirs'; she spoke with the undertaker and made every arrangement for
the customary lying in state of the body during the following night
and day; saw to the erection of the temporary altar at which masses
for the dead would be celebrated almost without interruption from
midnight to noon by sixteen priests in succession; gave full
instructions to the effect that the men-servants should take their
turn of duty in regular watches, day and night, until the funeral; and
finally left the palace, after showing herself to be an exceedingly
practical woman.

When she went away, she was holding her handkerchief to her eyes with
both hands and she forgot her parasol; but she remembered it as she was
just going out by the postern, her carriage being outside because the
gates were shut, and she sent her footman back for it and for the little
morocco bag in which she carried her handkerchief and card-case. It was
a small matter, but the porter, the footman, and the butler upstairs all
remembered it afterwards, and the footman himself, while coming down,
took the trouble to look into the little wallet, and saw that the
card-case was there, but nothing else; for the Marchesa sometimes
carried certain little cigarettes in it, which the man had found
particularly good. But to-day there was not even one.

Madame Bernard arrived in tears, for she was a warm-hearted woman, and
was overcome with sympathy for the lonely girl. She found Angela
sitting by a small fire in her own little morning-room on the upper
floor. A tray with something to eat had been set beside her, she knew
not by whom, but she had not tasted anything. Her eyes were dry, but
her hands were burning and when she was conscious of feeling anything
she knew that her head ached. She had forgotten that she had sent for
the governess, and looked at her with a vaguely wondering expression
as if she took the kindly Frenchwoman in black for a new shadow in her
dream.

But presently mechanical consciousness returned, though without much
definite sensation, and she let Madame Bernard have her way in
everything, not making the slightest resistance or offering the
smallest suggestion; she even submitted to being fed like a little
child, with small mouthfuls of things that had no taste whatever for
her.

By and by there was a dressmaker in the room, with an assistant, and
servants brought a number of big bandboxes with lids covered with
black oilcloth; and Angela's maid was there, too, and they tried one
thing after another on her, ready-made garments for the first hours of
mourning. Then they were gone, and she was dressed in black, and the
room was filled with the unmistakable odour of black crape, which is
not like anything else in the world.

Again time passed, and she was kneeling at a faldstool in the great
hall downstairs; but a dark screen had been placed so that she could
not be seen by any one who came in to kneel at the rail that divided
the upper part of the hall from the lower; and she saw nothing
herself--nothing but a Knight of Malta, in his black cloak with the
great white Maltese cross on his shoulder, lying asleep on his back;
and on each side of him three enormous wax torches were burning in
silver candlesticks taller than a tall man.

Quite at the end of the hall, five paces from the Knight's motionless
head, three priests in black and silver vestments were kneeling before
a black altar, reciting the Penitential Psalms in a quiet, monotonous
voice, verse and verse, the one in the middle leading; and Angela
automatically joined the two assistants in responding, but so low that
they did not hear her.

The Knight bore a resemblance to her father, that was all. Perhaps it
was only a waxen image she saw, or a wraith in that long dream of
hers, of which she could not quite remember the beginning. She knew
that she was nothing to the image, and that it was nothing to her.
While her lips repeated the grand dirge of the King-poet in Saint
Jerome's noble old Latin words, her thoughts followed broken threads,
each cut short by a question that lacks an answer, by the riddle man
has asked of the sky and the sea and the earth since the beginning:
What does it mean?

What could it mean? The senseless facts were there, plain enough.
That morning she had seen her father, she had kissed his hand in the
old-fashioned way, and he had kissed her forehead, and they had
exchanged a few words, as usual. She remembered that for the thousandth
time she had wished that his voice would soften a little and that he
would put his arms round her and draw her closer to him. But he had been
just as always, for he was bound and stiffened in the unwieldy armour of
his conventional righteousness. Angela had read of the Puritans in
history, and an Englishman might smile at the thought that she could not
fancy the sternest of them as more thoroughly puritanical than her
father, who had been brought up by priests from his childhood. But such
as he was, he had been her father that morning. The motionless figure of
the Knight of Malta on the black velvet pall was not he, nor a likeness
of him, nor anything human at all. It was the outward visible presence
of death, it was a dumb thing that knew the answer to the riddle but
could not tell it; in a way, it was the riddle itself.

While her half-stunned intelligence stumbled among chasms of thought
that have swallowed up transcendent genius, her lips unconsciously
said the Penitential Psalms after the priests at the altar. At the
convent she had been a little vain of knowing them by heart better
than the nuns themselves, for she had a good memory, and she had often
been rebuked for taking pride in her gift. It was not her fault if the
noble poetry meant nothing to her at the most solemn hour of her life,
though its deep human note had appealed profoundly to her the last
time she had repeated the words. Nothing meant anything now, in the
face of the unanswered riddle; nothing but the answer could have any
meaning.

The great apostle of modern thought asked three questions: What can I
know? As a reasoning being what is it my duty to do in life? What may
I dare to hope hereafter? Angela had never even heard of Kant; she
only asked what it all meant; and the Knight of Malta was silent under
the steady yellow light of the six wax torches. Perhaps the white
cross on his cloak was the answer, but the emblem was too far from
words for mere humanity to understand it. She wished they would take
him away, for he was not her father, and she would be far better able
to pray alone in her own room than in the stately presence of that one
master whom all living things fear, man and bird and beast, and
whatsoever has life in the sea.

To pray, yes; but for what? Rebellious against outward things, the
girl's prime intuition told her that her father was quite separated
from his mortal symbol now, having suddenly left that which could
change to become a part of the unknown truth, which must be
unchangeable if it is true; invisible, without form or dimension,
'being' not 'living,' 'conscious' not 'aware,' 'knowing' not 'seeing,'
'eternal' not 'immortal.' That might be the answer, but it meant too
much for a girl to grasp, and explained too little to be comforting.
The threads of thought broke short off again, and Angela's lips went
on making words, while she gazed unwinking on the Knight's
expressionless face.

Suddenly her mind awoke again in a sort of horror of darkness, and her
lips ceased from moving for a while, for she was terrified.

Was there anything beyond? Was it really God who had taken her father
from her in an instant, or was it a blind force that had killed him,
striking in the dark? If that was the answer, what was there left?

The sensitive girl shivered. Perhaps no bodily danger could have sent
that chill through her. It began in her head and crept quickly to her
hands and then to her feet, for it was not a fear of death that came
upon her, nor of anything outward. To lose life was nothing, if there
was heaven beyond; pain, torture, martyrdom would be nothing if God
the good was standing on the other side. All life was but one long
opportunity for sinning, and to lose it while in grace was to be safe
for ever; so much she had been taught and until now she had believed
it. But what loss could be compared with losing God? There were
unbelievers in the world, of course, but she could not understand how
they could still live on, and laugh, and seek pleasure and feel it
keenly. What had they to fill the void of their tremendous loss?
Surely, not to believe was not to hope, to be for ever without hope
was the punishment of the damned, and to live hopeless in the world
was to suffer the pains of hell on earth.

She felt them now. 'The pains of hell gat hold upon me,' she moaned,
heedless of the priest's recitation. Darkness rose like a flood-tide
all round her and she shut her eyes to keep it out, for her will
fought for hope, as her body would have struggled against drowning. It
was no longer a mere question that assailed her, but imminent
destruction itself.

It passed away this first time and she grew calm again. Not to believe
was sin, and against all sin, prayer and steadfast will must be
availing. The will, she had; she could remember many prayers, too, and
say them earnestly, and was thankful for her memory which held orisons
in readiness for every circumstance of daily duty or spiritual life.
From her childhood she had found a gentle delight in the Church's
liturgies and hymns, and now, as she prayed with the forms of language
she had always loved, habit brought back belief to lighten her
darkness. She still felt the bitter cold of the outer night that was
very near her; but she kept it off now, and warmed her poor little
soul in the fervour of her praying till she felt that she was coming
again to life and hope.

She opened her eyes at last and saw that nothing was changed. The
Knight of Malta slept on, as he was to sleep for ever; the priests
knelt motionless before the black altar; their quiet, monotonous
voices went on with the Penitential Psalms as priests had said them
for at least fifteen centuries. Angela listened till she caught the
words and then began to respond again, and once more her thoughts
followed broken threads.

Surely, by all she had been taught, her father was in heaven already.
It was not possible that any human being should obey every written and
unwritten ordinance of his religion more strictly than he had done
ever since she could remember him. He had been severe, almost to
cruelty, but he had been quite as unyieldingly austere in dealing with
himself. He had fasted rigidly, not only when fasts were ordered, but
of his free will when others only abstained, he had never begun a day
without hearing mass nor a week without confession and communion, he
had retired into spiritual retreat in Lent, he had prayed early and
late; in his dealings with men, he had not done to others what he
would not have had them do to him, he had not said of his neighbour
what he would not have said of himself, he had wronged no man; he had
given much to charity and more to the 'imprisoned' head of the Church.
He had so lived that no confessor could justly find fault with him,
and he had never failed to pray for those in whom he discerned any
shortcoming.

Who would condemn such a just person? Not God, surely. Therefore when
his life had ended so suddenly that morning, his soul had been taken
directly to heaven.

Such righteousness as his had venial sins to expiate, what hope was
there left for men of ordinary earthly passions and failings?

It was a consolation to think of that, Angela told herself, now that
the tide of darkness had ebbed back to the depth of terror whence it
had risen; and when at last the long dream slowly dissolved before
returning reality the lonely girl's eyes overflowed with natural tears
at the thought that her father's motionless lips would never move
again, even to reprove her, and that she was looking for the last time
on all that earth still held of him who had given her life.




CHAPTER III


Three days later Angela sat alone in her morning-room, reading a letter
from Giovanni Severi. All was over now--the lying in state, the funeral
at the small parish church, the interment in the cemetery of San
Lorenzo, where the late Prince had built a temporary tomb for himself
and his family, under protest, because modern municipal regulations
would not allow even such a personage as he to be buried within the
walls, in his own family vault, at Santa Maria del Popolo. But he had
been confident that even if he did not live to see the return of the
Pope's temporal power, his remains would soon be solemnly transferred to
the city, to rest with those of his fathers; and he had looked forward
to his resurrection from a sepulchre better suited to his earthly rank
and spiritual worth than a brick vault in a public cemetery, within a
hundred yards of the thrice-anathematised crematorium, and of the
unhallowed burial-ground set aside for Freemasons, anarchists,
Protestants, and Jews. But no man can be blamed fairly for wishing to
lie beside his forefathers, and if Prince Chiaromonte had failed to see
that the destiny of Italy had out-measured the worldly supremacy of the
Vatican in the modern parallelogram of forces, that had certainly been a
fault of judgment rather than of intention. He had never wavered in his
fidelity to his ideal, nor had he ever voluntarily submitted to any law
imposed by the 'usurper.'

'That excellent Chiaromonte is so extremely clerical,' Pope Leo the
Thirteenth had once observed to his secretary with his quiet smile.

But Angela missed her father constantly, not understanding that he had
systematically forced her to look to him as the judge and master of
her existence, and she wondered a little why she almost longed for his
grave nod, and his stern frown of disapproval, and even for the daily
and hourly reproof under which she had so often chafed. Madame Bernard
had been installed in the palace since the day of the fatal accident,
and she was kindness personified, full of consideration and
forethought; yet the girl was very lonely and miserable from morning
till night, and when she slept she dreamed of the dead Knight of
Malta's face, of the yellow light of the wax torches, and the voices
of the priests.

On the fourth day a letter came from Giovanni, the first she had ever
received from him. She did not even know his handwriting, and she
looked at the signature before reading the note to see who had written
to her so soon. When she understood that it was he, a flood of
sunshine broke upon her gloom. The bright morning sun had indeed been
shining through the window for an hour, but she had not known it till
then.

It was not a love-letter. He used those grammatically illogical but
superfinely courteous forms which make high Italian a mystery to
strangers who pick up a few hundred words for daily use and dream that
they understand the language. He used the first person for himself,
but spoke of her in the third singular; he began with: 'Most gentle
Donna Angela,' and he signed his full name at the end of a formal
phrase setting forth his profoundly respectful homage. She would have
been much surprised and perhaps offended if he had expressed himself
in any more familiar way. Brought up as she had been under the most
old-fashioned code in Europe when at home, and under the frigid rule
of the Ladies of the Sacred Heart when she was at school, any
familiarity of language seemed to her an outrage on good manners, and
might even be counted a sin if she condescended to it in speaking with
a man who was not yet her husband. She had been made to address her
father in the third person feminine singular ever since she had
learned to talk, precisely as Giovanni wrote to her; and if she prayed
to the Deity with the less formal second person plural, this was
doubtless because the Italian prayers had been framed in less refined
and courteous times than her own.

In spite of his stiff grammar, however, Severi managed to write things
that brought the colour to her face and the light to her eyes. He
said, for instance, that he was coming to see her that very afternoon;
that in order not to attract attention at the gate of the palace he
would wear civilian's dress, and that he hoped she would not only
receive him, but would send Madame Bernard out of the room for a
little while, so that he might speak to her alone.

The proposal was so delightful and yet so disturbing that Angela
thought it must be wicked and tried to examine her conscience at once;
but it shut up like an oyster taken out of the water and pretended to
be perfectly insensible, turn it and probe it how she would.

So she gave it up; and she did so the more readily because it would be
quite impossible to see Giovanni that afternoon, enchanting as the
prospect would have been. Her aunt the Marchesa had sent word that she
was coming at four o'clock with the lawyer to explain Angela's
position to her, and it was impossible to say how long the two might
stay. Meanwhile she must send word to Giovanni not to come, for it
would not suffice that he should be refused admittance at the gate,
since he might chance to present himself just when the Marchesa drove
up, which would produce a very bad impression. Angela was ashamed to
send her maid with a note to a young officer, and she would not trust
one of the men-servants; she turned for advice to Madame Bernard, who
was her only confidante.

'What am I to do?' she asked when she had explained everything. 'He is
generally at the War Office at this time and he may not even go home
before he comes here. I see no way but to send a note.'

'He would certainly go home to change his clothes,' answered the
practical Frenchwoman; 'but it is not necessary for you to write. I
will telephone to the War Office, and if the Count is there I will
explain everything.'

Angela looked at her doubtfully.

'But then the servant who telephones will know,' she objected.

'The servant? Why? I do not understand. I shall speak myself. No one
will be there to hear.'

'Yourself? My father never could, and I never was shown how to do it.
Are you sure you understand the thing? It is very complicated, I
believe.'

Madame Bernard was not surprised, for she knew the ways of the Palazzo
Chiaromonte; but she smiled and assured the young girl that a
telephone was not really such a dangerous instrument as she had been
led to believe.

'I once tried to make a few stitches with a sewing-machine,' Angela
said, apparently in explanation.

'A telephone is different,' Madame Bernard answered gravely. 'Shall I
ask the Count to come to-morrow at four o'clock, instead of to-day?'

Angela hesitated, and then blushed faintly.

'Do you think----' she began, but she stopped and hesitated. 'He would
be angry, I am sure----' She seemed to be suddenly distressed.

'Your father?' asked the Frenchwoman, guessing what she meant. 'My
dear Princess----'

'Oh, please don't call me that!' cried Angela. 'You never do----'

'You see, you are a great personage now, my dear child,' Madame
Bernard answered, 'and I am no longer your governess----'

'But you are my friend, dear, dear Madame Bernard! Indeed, I think you
are my only friend now!'

And thereupon Angela threw her arms round the little woman's neck and
kissed her very affectionately. Madame Bernard's fresh face beamed
with pleasure.

'Thank you, my dear,' she answered. 'And as for your father, my child,
he is without doubt in heaven; and that means that he now judges you
by your intentions and no longer by appearances only.'

This sage little speech reassured Angela, though she soon afterwards
asked herself whether it was quite loyal to allow any one to say that
the Prince had ever judged her 'by appearances only.' But while she was
making this reflection Madame Bernard was already telephoning to
Giovanni, who was at the War Office, as Angela supposed, and he answered
with alacrity that he would come to the palace on the following
afternoon and ask to see Madame Bernard on a matter of business. It was
really her business to teach French, as all the servants knew, and if
they thought that the young officer came to ask about some lessons for
himself or a friend, so much the better. Madame Bernard was naturally
practical, and Giovanni was by nature quick-witted; so the matter was
settled in a few words, to the satisfaction of both; and when Angela was
merely told that he was coming she was much more pleased than she was
willing to show, and she said no more about her father's hypothetical
disapproval.

That afternoon she received the Marchesa del Prato and the lawyer
downstairs in the second of the outer drawing-rooms. It was cold there,
but she had not quite dared to order a fire to be made, because the
Prince had never allowed fires except in the inner rooms, which were
still closed under the notarial seals. The place had a certain grandeur
of its own, for the massive decorations, the heavy furniture, and the
rich brocade curtains all dated from the best period of Louis the
Fourteenth's reign. On the walls there were four or five first-rate
pictures, the largest of which was a magnificent portrait of a former
Chiaromonte by Vandyke; there was a Holy Family by Guercino, another by
Bonifacio, a Magdalen with the box of ointment, by Andrea del Sarto, and
one or two smaller paintings of no inconsiderable value.

But at that hour the light was bad, for the afternoon had turned cold
and rainy after a beautiful morning, and at four o'clock it was still
too early to have lamps. A few moments after the hour, a servant
opened the door, held the curtains aside, and announced the visitor.

'Her Excellency, the Princess Chiaromonte!'

Angela started slightly at the name. The last Princess Chiaromonte who
had passed through that doorway had been her mother, and in her
solitude the girl had not even been told that her uncle had already
assumed the title of the head of the house. The lacquey paid no
attention whatever to the quiet man in black who followed the
Princess, holding his hat against his chest with both hands and
advancing with a bowing motion at every step, as if he were saluting
the family chairs as he passed them. Angela vaguely remembered his
solemnly obsequious face.

Her aunt seemed to have grown taller and larger, as she bent to
imprint a formal kiss on the girl's cheek, and then sat down in one of
the huge old easy-chairs, while the lawyer seated himself at a
respectful distance on an ottoman stool with his high hat on his
knees. Angela took her place at one end of the stiff sofa that stood
directly under the Vandyke portrait, and she waited for her aunt to
speak.

The Princess had evidently prepared herself, for she spoke clearly and
did not pause for some time.

'Your uncle has a slight attack of influenza,' she said; 'otherwise he
would have come with me, and I should have been more than glad if he
himself could have explained the whole situation to you instead of
leaving that painful duty to me. You are well aware, my dear Angela,
that your father always clung to the most prejudiced traditions of the
intransigent clericals, and could never be induced to conform to any
of the new regulations introduced by the Italian Government. In point
of fact, I do not think he quite realised that the old order had
passed away when he was a mere boy, and that the new was to be
permanent, if not everlasting. If he had, he would have acted very
differently, I am sure, and my present duty would have been much
easier than it is. Are you quite certain that you understand that?'

Angela was quite certain that she did, and nodded quietly, though she
could not see how her father's political convictions could affect her
own present situation.

'I have no doubt,' continued the Princess, 'that he brought you up to
consider yourself the heiress of all his fortune, though not of the
title, which naturally goes to the eldest male heir. Am I right?'

'He never told me anything about my inheritance,' Angela replied.

'So much the better. It will be easier for me to explain your rather
unusual position. In the first place, I must make it clear to you that
your father and mother declined to go before the mayor at the Capitol
when they were married, in spite of the regulations which had then
been in force a number of years. They were devout Catholics and the
blessing of the Church was enough for them. According to your father,
to go through any form of civil ceremony, before or after the wedding,
was equivalent to doubting the validity of the sacrament of marriage.'

'Naturally,' Angela assented, as her aunt paused and looked at her.

'Very naturally.' The Princess's eyes began to glitter oddly, and the
lawyer turned his hat uneasily on his knees. 'Very naturally, indeed!
Unfortunately for you, however, your father was not merely overlooking
a municipal regulation, as he supposed; he was deliberately bidding
defiance to the laws of Italy.'

'What do you mean?' asked Angela rather nervously.

'It is very painful to explain,' answered the elder woman with
gleaming eyes and a disagreeable smile. 'The simple truth is that as
your father and mother were not civilly married--civilly, you
understand--they were not legally married at all, and the law will
never admit that they were!'

Angela's hand tightened on the arm of the old sofa.

'Not married?' she cried. 'My father and mother not married? It is
impossible, it is monstrous----'

'Not "legally" married, I said,' replied the Princess. 'To be legally
married, it is absolutely necessary to go before the mayor at the
Capitol and have the civil ceremony properly performed. Am I right?'
she asked, turning suddenly to the lawyer. 'It is absolutely
necessary, is it not?'

'Absolutely, Excellency,' the legal adviser answered. 'Otherwise the
children of the marriage are not legitimate.'

'What does that mean?' asked Angela in a frightened tone.

'It means,' explained the Princess, 'that in the eyes of the law you
do not exist----'

Angela tried to laugh.

'But I do exist! Here I am, Angela Chiaromonte, to say that I am
alive!'

'Angela, but not Chiaromonte,' corrected the Princess, hardly able to
hide her satisfaction. 'I am sorry to say that your dear father would
not even submit to the regulation which requires all parents alike to
declare the birth of children, and he paid a heavy fine for his
refusal. The consequence is that when your birth was entered at the
Municipality, you were put down as a foundling child whose parents
refused to declare themselves.'

'A foundling! I, a foundling!' Angela half rose in amazed indignation,
but almost instantly sat down again, with an incredulous smile.
'Either you are quite mad,' she said, 'or you are trying to frighten
me for some reason I do not understand.'

The Princess raised her sandy eyebrows and looked at the lawyer,
evidently meaning him to speak for her.

'That is your position, Signorina,' he said calmly. 'You have,
unhappily, no legal status, no legal name, and no claim whatever on the
estate of His Excellency Prince Chiaromonte, who was not married to your
mother in the eyes of the law, and refused even to acknowledge you as
his child by registering your birth at the mayoralty. Every inquiry has
been made on your behalf, and I have here the certified copy of the
register as it stands, declaring you to be a foundling. It was still in
your father's power to make a will in your favour, Signorina, and as the
laws of entail no longer exist, His Excellency may have left you his
whole estate, real and personal, though his titles and dignities will in
any case pass to his brother. I must warn you, however, that such a will
might not prove valid in law, since His Excellency did not even legally
acknowledge you as his child. So far, no trace of a will has been found
with his late Excellency's notary, nor with his lawyer, nor deposited
with his securities at his banker's. It is barely possible that some
paper may exist in the rooms which are still closed, but I think it my
duty to tell you that I do not expect to find anything of the kind when
we break the seals to-morrow, in the presence of the heirs and
witnesses.'

He ceased speaking and looked at the Princess as if asking whether he
should say more, for Angela had bent her head and quietly covered her
eyes with one hand, and in this attitude she sat quite motionless in
her place. The lawyer thought she was going to burst into tears, for
he did not know her.

'That will do, Calvi,' said the Princess calmly. 'You have made it all
very clear, and you may retire for the present. The young lady is
naturally overcome by the bad news, and would rather be alone with me
for a little while, I daresay.'

Signor Calvi rose, made a profound obeisance to the Princess, scarcely
bent his head to Angela, and retired, apparently bowing to the family
chairs as he passed each. The young girl dropped her hand and looked
after him with a sort of dull curiosity; she was the last person in
the world to take offence or to suppose that any one meant to be rude
to her, but it was impossible not to notice the lawyer's behaviour. In
his opinion she was suddenly nobody, and deserved no more notice than
a shop-girl. She understood enough of human nature to be sure that he
counted on the Princess's approval.

The elder woman was watching her with a satisfaction she hardly tried
to conceal. Her small hands were encased in marvellously fitting black
gloves, though black gloves rarely fit so well as others, and were
crossed on her knee over the little leather bag she always carried.
She was leaning back in the great arm-chair, and the mourning she wore
made her faultless complexion look even more brilliant than it was. No
one knew how near forty the Princess might be, for she appeared in the
_Almanach de Gotha_ without a birthday, and only the date of her
marriage was given; but the year was 1884, and people said it was
impossible that she should have been less than seventeen when her
parents had brought her to Rome and had tried to marry her to the
elder of the Chiaromonte family; as twenty years had passed since they
had succeeded in capturing the second son for their daughter, it was
clear that she could not be under thirty-seven. But her complexion was
extraordinary, and though she was a tall woman she had preserved the
figure and grace of a young girl.

Angela did not look directly at her enemy for some seconds after the
lawyer had left the room, closing the door behind him, not loudly but
quite audibly; but she was the first to speak when she was sure that
he was out of hearing.

'You hate me,' she said at last. 'What have I done to you?'

The Princess was not timid, nor very easily surprised, but the
question was so direct that she drew further back into her chair with
a quick movement, and her bright eye sparkled angrily as she raised
her sandy eyebrows.

'In this world,' she said, 'the truth is always surprising and
generally unpleasant. In consideration of what I have been obliged to
tell you about yourself, I can easily excuse your foolish speech.'

'You are very kind,' Angela answered quietly enough, but in a tone
that the Princess did not like. 'I was not asking your indulgence, but
an explanation, no matter how disagreeable the rest of the truth may
be. What have I done that you should hate me?'

The Princess laughed contemptuously.

'The expression is too strong,' she retorted. 'Hatred would imply an
interest in you and your possible doings, which I am far from feeling,
I assure you! Since it turns out that you are not even one of the
family----'

She laughed again and raised her eyebrows still higher, instead of
ending the speech.

'From what you say,' Angela answered with a good deal of dignity, 'I
can only understand that if you followed your own inclination you
would turn me out into the street.'

'The law will do so without my intervention,' answered the elder
woman. 'If my brother-in-law had even taken the trouble to acknowledge
you as his child, without legitimising you, you would have been
entitled to a small allowance, perhaps two or three hundred francs a
month, to keep you from starving. But as he has left no legal proof
that you are his daughter, and since he was not properly married to
your mother, you can claim nothing, not even a name! You are, in fact,
a destitute foundling, as Calvi just said!'

'It only remains for you to offer me your charity,' Angela said.

'That was not my intention,' returned the Princess with a savage
sneer. 'I have talked it over with my husband, and we do not see why
he should be expected to support his brother's--natural child!'

Angela rose from her seat without a word and went quietly towards the
door; but before she could reach it the Princess had followed her with
a rush and a dramatic sweep of her black cloth skirt and plentiful
crape, and had caught her by the wrist to bring her back to the middle
of the great room.

'I shall not keep you long!' cried the angry woman. 'You ask me what
you have done that I should hate you, and I answer, nothing, since you
are nobody! But I hated your mother, because she robbed me of the man
I wanted, of the only man I ever loved--your father--and when I married
his brother I swore that she should pay me for that, and she has! If
she can see you as you are to-day, all heaven cannot dry her tears,
for all heaven itself cannot give you a name, since the one on her own
tombstone is not hers by any right. I hope she sees you! Oh, I hope it
was not for nothing that she fasted till she fainted, and prayed till
she was hoarse, and knelt in damp churches till she died of it! I hope
she has starved and whined her way to paradise and is looking down at
this very moment and can see her daughter turned out of my house, a
pauper foundling, to beg her bread! I hope you are in a state of
grace, as she is, and that the communion of saints brings you near
enough together for her to see you!'

'You are mad,' Angela said when the Princess paused for breath. 'You
do not know what you are saying. Let go of my wrist and try to get
back to your senses!'

Whether the Princess was really out of her mind, as seemed at least
possible, or was only in one of her frequent fits of rage, the words
had an instantaneous effect. She dropped Angela's wrist, drew herself
up, and recovered her self-control in a few seconds. But there was
still a dangerous glare in her cat-like eyes as she turned towards the
window and faced the dull yellowish light of the late afternoon.

'You will soon find out that I have not exaggerated,' she said, dropping
from her late tone of fury to a note of icy coldness. 'The seals will be
removed to-morrow at noon, and I suppose no one can prevent you from
being present if you choose. After that you will make such arrangements
for your own future as you see fit. I should recommend you to apply to
one of the two convents on which my brother-in-law lavished nearly three
millions of francs during his life. One or the other of them will
certainly take you in without a dowry, and you will have at least a
decent roof over your head.'

With this practical advice the Princess Chiaromonte swept from the
room and Angela was left alone to ask herself whether such a sudden
calamity as hers had ever before overtaken an innocent girl in her
Roman world. She went back very slowly to the sofa and sat down again
under the great Vandyke portrait; her eyes wandered from one object to
another, as if she wished to make an inventory of the things that had
seemed to be hers because they had been her father's, but she was far
too completely dazed by what had happened to think very connectedly.
Besides, though she did not dare let the thought give her courage, she
still had a secret conviction that it was all a mistake and that her
father must have left some document which would be found among his
papers the next day, and would clear away all this dreadful
misunderstanding.

As for the rest of her aunt's story, no one had ever hinted at such a
thing in her hearing, but Madame Bernard would know the truth. There
was little indeed which the excellent Frenchwoman did not know about
the old Roman families, after having lived among them and taught their
children French for nearly a quarter of a century. She was very
discreet and might not wish to say much, but she certainly knew the
truth in this case.

It was not till she was upstairs in her own room, and was trying to
repeat to her old governess just what had been said, that Angela began
to realise what it meant. Madame Bernard was by turns horrified,
righteously angry, and moved to profound pity; at first she could not
believe her ears, but when she did she invoked the divine wrath on the
inhuman monster who had the presumption to call herself a woman, a
mother, and an aunt; finally, she folded Angela in a motherly embrace
and burst into tears, promising to protect her at the risk of her own
life--a promise she would really have kept if the girl had been in
bodily danger.

In her secret heart the little Frenchwoman was also making some
reflections on the folly and obstinacy of the late Prince, but out of
sheer kindness and tact she kept them to herself for the present.
Meanwhile she said she would go and consult one of the great legal
lights, to whose daughters she had lately given lessons and who had
always been very kind to her. It was nonsense, she said, to believe
that the Prince's brother could turn Angela out of her home without
making provision for her, such a liberal provision as would be
considered a handsome dowry--four hundred thousand francs would be the
very least. The Commendatore was a judge in the Court of Appeals and
knew everything. He would not even need to consult his books! His
brain was an encyclopaedia of the law! She would go to him at once.

But Angela shook her head as she sat looking at the small wood fire in
the old-fashioned red-brick fireplace. Now that she had told her story
she saw how very sure the Princess and the lawyer must have been to
speak as they had both spoken.

But Madame Bernard put on her hat and went out to see the judge, who
was generally at home late in the afternoon; and Angela sat alone in
the dusk for a while, poking her little fire with a pair of very rusty
wrought-iron tongs, at least three hundred years old, which would have
delighted a collector but which were so heavy and clumsy that they
hurt her hands.

Her aunt's piece of advice came back to her; she had better ask to be
taken in at one of the convents which her father had enriched and
where she would be received without a dowry. She knew them both, and
both were communities of cloistered nuns; the one was established in a
gloomy mediaeval fortress in the heart of the city, built round a
little garden that looked as unhealthy as the old Prioress's own
muddy-complexioned face and stubbly chin; the other was shut up in a
hideous modern building that had no garden at all. She felt nothing
but a repugnance that approached horror when she thought of either,
though she tried to reprove herself for it because her father had
given so much money to the sisters, and had always spoken of them to
her as 'holy women.' No doubt they were; doubtless, too, Saint Anthony
of Thebes had been a holy man, though it would have been unpleasant to
share his cell, or even his meals. Angela felt that if she was to live
on bread, water, and salad, she might as well have liberty with her
dinner of herbs. It was heartless to think of marrying, no doubt, when
her father had not yet been dead a week, but since she was forced to
take the future into consideration, she felt sure that Giovanni would
marry her without a penny, and that she should be perfectly happy with
him. She could well afford to laugh at the Princess's advice so long
as Giovanni was alive. He was coming to see her to-morrow, she would
tell him everything, and when the year of her mourning expired they
would be married.

The question was, what she was to do in the meantime, since it was
quite clear that she must soon leave the home in which she had been
brought up. Like all people who have never been face to face with
want, or any state of life even distinctly resembling poverty, she had
a vague idea that something would be provided for her. It was not till
she tried to define what that something was to be that she felt a
little sinking at her heart; but the cheering belief soon returned,
that the whole affair was a mistake, unless it was a pure invention of
her aunt's, meant to frighten her into abandoning her rights. In a
little while Madame Bernard would come back, beaming with
satisfaction, with a message from the learned judge to say that such
injustice and robbery were not possible under modern enlightened laws;
and Angela smiled to think that she could have been so badly
frightened by a mad woman and an obsequious old lawyer.

Decidedly, in spite of her gift for remembering prayers and litanies,
the mere thought of a cloistered life repelled her. Like most very
religiously brought up girls she had more than once fancied that she
was going to have a 'vocation' for the veil; but a sensible confessor
had put that out of her head, discerning at once in her mental state
those touches of maiden melancholy which change the look of the young
life for a day or a week, as the shadow of a passing cloud saddens a
sunlit landscape. It was characteristic of Angela that the possibility
of becoming a nun as a refuge from present and future trouble did not
present itself to her seriously, now that trouble was really imminent.
She was too buoyant by nature, her disposition was too even and
sensible, and above all, she was too courageous to think of yielding
tamely to the fate her aunt wished to impose upon her.

It might have been expected that she should at least break down for a
little while that afternoon and have a good cry in her solitude, while
Madame Bernard was on her errand to the judge; but she did not, though
there was a moment when she felt that tears were not far off. By way
of keeping them back she went into her bedroom, lit a candle and knelt
down to recite the prayers she had selected to say daily for her
father. They were many, some of them were beautiful, and more than
half of them were centuries old. Her conviction that the very just man
was certainly in heaven already did not make it seem wholly useless to
pray for him. No one could be quite sure of what happened in paradise,
and in any case, if he was in no need of such intercession himself,
she was allowed to hope that grace might overflow and avail to help
some poor soul in purgatory, by means of the divine indulgence.

Madame Bernard came back at last, but there was consternation in her
kindly face, for the great legal light had confirmed every word the
Princess and her lawyer had said to Angela, and had shrugged his
shoulders at the suggestion that a will might still be found. He had
told the governess plainly that a man married to a woman only by a
religious ceremony was not legally her husband, and that his children
had neither name nor rights unless he went through the legal form of
recognising them before the proper authorities. If the parents died
without making a will, the children had no claim whatever on the
estate unless they had been properly recognised. If there was a will,
however, they might inherit, even if they had not been legitimised,
provided that no lawful heirs of the testators were living, ascendants
or descendants. The Commendatore had expressed great surprise that the
late Prince should not have been warned of his daughter's irregular
position by his legal advisers. It only showed, he said, how necessary
the law was, since people who disregarded it got into such terrible
trouble.

The French teacher instinctively felt that there was something wrong
with the final syllogism, but it was only too clear that the
Commendatore knew his business, and that unless a legally executed
will were found on the morrow Angela had not the smallest chance of
getting a penny from the great estate her father had left.

'If they are so inhuman as to turn you out of your home without
providing for you,' Madame Bernard said, with tears in her eyes, 'I do
not see what you are to do, my dear child. I am ashamed to offer you
the little spare room I sometimes let to single foreign ladies--and
yet--if you would take it--ah, you would be so welcome! It is not a bad
exposure--it has the sun on it all day, though there is only one
window. The carpet is getting a little threadbare, but the curtains
are new and match the furniture--a pretty flowered chintz, you know.
And I will make little dishes for you, since you have no appetite! A
"navarin," my dear, I make it well, and a real "fricassee"! We
Frenchwomen can all cook! The "navarin" was my poor husband's
predilection--when he had eaten one made by me, he used to say that the
fleshpots of Egypt were certainly the "navarin" and nothing else. But
when I am alone it is not worth while to take so much trouble. An egg,
five sous' worth of ham and brawn, and a roll--that suffices me when I
am alone! But if you will accept the little room--ah, then I will put
on an apron and go into the kitchen, and you shall taste the French
cookery of a Frenchwoman!'

Angela was not listening to all this, for she was too much touched by
the generous intention to hear half of what Madame Bernard said, and
she could only press the little governess's hand again while she tried
to edge in a word of thanks between the quick sentences.

'And as for the rest,' Madame Bernard ran on, 'I have chaperoned half
the young girls in Roman society to concerts and to the dentist's, and
I have a nice little sitting-room, and there is no reason in the world
why Count Severi should not come to see us, until you can be married!'

This, at least, did not escape Angela, who squeezed the small plump
hand very hard, and at last succeeded in speaking herself.

'You are too good!' she cried. 'Too kind! If it turns out to be true,
if I am really to be a beggar, I would rather beg of you than of
distant cousins and people I know! Besides, they are all so afraid of
my aunt's tongue that not one of them would dare to take me in, even
for a week! But I will not come unless you will let me work to help
you, in some way--I do not know how--is there nothing I know well enough
to teach?'

'Oh, la, la!' cried Madame Bernard. 'Will you please not say such
things, my dear! As if it were not the greatest happiness in the world
you will be giving me, a lonely old woman, to come and live with me,
and help me take care of the parrot and water the flowers in the
window every evening at sunset, and learn how to make a "navarin!"
Work? Oh yes! You shall work, my dear child! If you think it is easy
to please a parrot, try it! I only say that!'

'I will do my best,' Angela said, smiling. 'To-morrow, at this hour,
we shall know what is to happen.'

'What has happened, has happened,' said Madame Bernard, as calmly as
any Hindu, though she was not a fatalist. 'Even if there is a paper
somewhere, do you think the Marchesa will not be the first to find it
and tear it to a thousand bits? No, I will not call her "Princess
Chiaromonte"! I, who knew your mother, my dear! Trust me, if there is
a will in the sealed rooms, the Marchesa will discover it before any
one!'

Angela thought that this might be true, for she had a most vivid
recollection of her aunt's look and voice during the late interview.
The more she thought of the immediate future, the clearer it became to
her that she must accept her old governess's offer of shelter for the
present. She could not bring herself to beg a lodging and the bare
necessaries of life from any of those people whom she had called her
friends. There were at least half-a-dozen girls with whom she had been
intimate at the Sacred Heart, and during the past winter, and some of
them were connections of her father's and would be profoundly shocked
to learn what her position now was. No doubt their parents would take
her in for a few days, and would very possibly do more than that, and
formally protest to her aunt and uncle against the treatment she had
received. But could she stay with any of them longer than a week on
such a footing? Would she be anything better than a waif, not knowing
where she should sleep or get a meal a few days hence? No; her only
choice lay between accepting Madame Bernard's offer, and presenting
herself as a candidate for charity at one of the two convents her
father had protected. Afterwards, a year hence or more, when she
should be married to Giovanni Severi, she would find some means of
amply repaying the generous woman, without hurting her feelings. Until
then, she must accept the kindness and be thankful that it came from
such a true friend.

She had no intention of showing herself downstairs the next day, when
the seals were to be removed and the papers examined. If she had
cherished any illusion as to the existence of a document in her
favour, Madame Bernard's last speech had effectually destroyed it,
which was the best thing that could have happened. At least, she was
sure of Giovanni, and a year must pass in a year's time! That was
axiomatic, and when the twelve months were over she would be married
quietly. She would not bring him a handsome dowry as she had fully
expected to do, and though his father was well-off, there were other
children, so that she could not expect to be rich; but what difference
could that make to two young people who loved each other? Evidently,
none at all.

It rained all the morning and Angela spent most of the time in a sort
of apathy, so far as her companion could see, sitting still for an
hour with a book she did not read, then moving about to rooms in an
objectless way only to go back to her chair in a few minutes and to
sit motionless again before the smouldering wood fire.

Madame Bernard, on the contrary, was very busy in making preparations
to take her away if a sudden move should be necessary. Though the
servants were evidently informed of what was taking place, she
succeeded in getting a couple of trunks and a valise brought up, and
she began to pack them with clothing from Angela's wardrobe, taking
only such things as would be useful in the quiet life of mourning the
girl was to lead for a year. The maid had disappeared, presumably to
look for a place, and when it was time for luncheon it was not without
difficulty that Madame Bernard got a footman to bring something cold
on a tray. It was quite clear by this time that the whole household
knew the truth and expected Angela to leave the palace that day, and
the little woman paused more than once in her packing to shake her
fist at the slim visions of the Princess Chiaromonte that crossed the
field of her imagination.

Downstairs matters proceeded as she had foreseen. The Princess, two
lawyers, a notary, and several clerks had removed the seals and locked
themselves in the inner apartment to examine the papers and such
valuables as were there; but it is needless to say that they found
nothing in the nature of a will, nor any document even expressing a
wish on the part of the deceased. The notary observed that it was very
strange, but one of the lawyers shrugged his shoulders and smiled,
while the other asked why, in the nature of things, a man so young and
healthy as the late Prince should have been expected to make careful
preparations against his sudden demise when he might well expect to
live thirty years longer. The Princess said nothing, and her husband
did not appear; indeed, he never did, and on all occasions of
importance, like the present, the Princess was provided with a power
of attorney to represent him, speak for him, decide for him, and sign
documents for him. There were many stories about him in society, none
of which contained more than the merest particle of truth. Some people
said he was mad, others maintained that he was paralysed; there were
those who confidently asserted that his face was disfigured by an
unsightly claret mark, and it was even suggested that he was a leper.
When any of these tales were repeated to his wife by dear friends, she
answered that he was very well and had just gone to the Abruzzi to
look after one of the large holdings of the estate, or that he was in
Hungary, shooting with distant cousins who had lands there, or that,
if the truth must be known, he had a touch of the influenza and would
probably run down to Sicily for a change, as soon as he was able to
travel. Angela herself had not seen him since she had been a mere
child. She remembered that once, when she was at her aunt's, a tall,
pale man with a thoughtful face had passed through the room quickly
without paying the least attention to any one; she had asked her small
cousins who he was, and had been told in an awe-struck whisper that it
was their father. That was probably the only time she had ever laid
eyes on him; and somehow she did not connect him with what was
happening to her now. It was all her aunt's doing; the thin and
thoughtful man had not looked as if he were heartless, he would not
have allowed his brother's child to be turned out a beggar, under the
letter of the law.

Yet the Princess's most ultimate and affectionate enemies had not
succeeded in fathoming the mystery. Two of them, who were connections
of her husband's, had once had a theory that she had locked him up and
kept him a prisoner for her own ends; a similar case had then recently
occurred in Palermo, where a widowed lady and her daughter had been
kept in confinement during several years, and almost starved to death,
by the wicked steward of their estates. Accordingly, the aforesaid
connections had appealed to the chief of secret police for information
about their relative; but in a few days he had been able to tell them
confidently that the Marchese del Prato was in good health and quite
free, that he was an enthusiastic scholar, and was writing an
exhaustive work on the mythology of Pindar's _Odes_, and that there
was no cause for any anxiety about him. So that matter was settled for
ever.

At half-past three o'clock the Princess went away, leaving the lawyers
and clerks to finish their work, for she was more than satisfied that
no will nor any similar document would be found amongst the late
Prince's papers, and everything else was mere formality; the regular
inventories would be made later when the succession duties had to be
paid, but meanwhile there was nothing to hinder her from taking
possession in her husband's name. Before leaving the palace she sent
for the butler, and told him that 'Signorina Angela' was to be
requested to 'remove her effects' the next day. She further
condescended to inform him that the 'Signorina' had been ascertained
to be a nameless foundling who had no share in the inheritance and
must shift for herself, as it was not the intention of the Prince to
support such a person. The butler had learned something of the great
Roman families during a brilliant career in the servants' hall, and he
could have told some singularly romantic tales, but he had never had
experience of anything like this. He tried to look at the Princess for
a moment before he answered her, but he could not face her glittering
eyes.

'Very well, Excellency,' he said, bowing. 'Is the young lady to have
her meals here till she leaves? The French governess is also staying
in the house.'

'Send them up something from the servants' dinner,' the Princess
answered.

'Very well, Excellency.'

But the butler looked after her with considerable curiosity, watching
her graceful figure as she went down the grand staircase and holding
the swinging door open on the landing till she was out of sight. Then
he went in again, looked round the empty hall, and spoke aloud, asking
a question that has never had any answer.

'Women, women--who can understand you?'




CHAPTER IV


Half-an-hour later Giovanni Severi entered the gate below in
civilian's dress and asked if he could see Madame Bernard, the French
teacher, who had let him know that she was stopping in the palace. The
porter told him to ring at the right-hand door on the second landing,
but added that it was doubtful whether any one would let him in, as
there was 'confusion in the house.'

Madame Bernard was waiting for him, however; he had arrived punctually
and she let him in herself.

'Have you heard, Monsieur?' she asked, before he could speak. 'Do you
know what is happening?'

'Yes,' he answered. 'All Rome knows it by this time, for the story was
in the morning papers. May I see Donna Angela?'

'Come, Monsieur.'

She had fastened the outer door while he was speaking, and she now led
the way without any more words.

Angela knew Giovanni's step at a distance, and when he entered she was
standing in the middle of the room. He had never before seen her in
black, and she was paler than usual; he looked anxiously into her face
as he took her hand, and she, meeting his eyes expectantly, saw a
change in them. Neither Angela nor Severi spoke at first, and in the
silence Madame Bernard passed them and went into the next room,
shutting the door after her.

'Have you heard?' Angela asked, still standing and still holding
Giovanni's hand.

'Yes. It is in all the papers to-day. There is an outcry. If your aunt
shows herself in the streets she will be hissed. But she has the law
on her side. I have been to two lawyers to inquire.'

He spoke in short sentences, nervously, and when he stopped he bit his
moustache.

'There is something else,' Angela answered. 'I see it in your eyes.
There is something I do not know, some still worse news. Sit down
there by the fire opposite me and tell me everything, for I am not
afraid. Nothing can frighten me now.'

She seated herself where she had sat more than half the day, and he
took the chair to which she had pointed. She poked the small green
logs with the antiquated tongs and watched the sparks that flew
upwards with every touch while she waited for him to speak. But he
looked at her in silence, forgetting everything for a while except
that he was really alone with her, almost for the first time in his
life. He changed his position and bent forward with his elbows on his
knees and his hands together, so that he was nearer to her. Without
turning her face from the fire she saw him in a side-glance, but made
no answering motion.

'Tell me what it is,' she said softly. 'Only one thing could hurt me
now.'

'It is hard to tell,' he answered in rather a dull voice.

She misunderstood, and turned to him slowly with wondering and
frightened eyes. Her hand weakened, without quite losing its hold, and
the ends of the clumsy tongs clattered on the brick hearth. The doubt
that had sprung upon her like a living thing as soon as she saw him,
began to dig its claws into her heart.

'If it is so hard to tell,' she said, 'it must be that one thing.' She
turned resolutely to the fire again. 'If it is to be good-bye, please
go away quietly and leave me alone.'

The words were not all spoken before he had caught her arm, so
suddenly that the old tongs fell on the bricks with a clang. Like him,
she had been leaning forward in her low chair, and as he drew her to
him she involuntarily slipped from her seat and found herself kneeling
on one knee beside him. She gave a little cry, more of surprise than
of displeasure or timidity, but he did not heed her. It was the first
time they had ever been left alone together, and while he still held
her with his right hand his left stole round her neck, to bring her
face nearer.

But she resisted him almost fiercely; she set both her hands against
his chest and pushed herself from him with all her might, and the red
blush rose even to her forehead at the thought of the kiss she almost
saw on his lips, a kiss that hers had never felt. He meant nothing
against her will, and when he felt that she was matching her girl's
strength against his, as if she feared him, his arms relaxed and he
let her go. She sprang to her feet like a young animal released, and
leaned against the mantelpiece breathing hard, and fixing her burning
eyes on the old engraving of Saint Ursula, asleep in a queer four-post
bedstead with her crown at her feet, that hung over the fireplace. But
instead of rising to stand beside her, Giovanni leaned back in his
chair, his hands crossed over one knee; and instead of looking up to
her face, he gazed steadily down at the hem of her long black skirt,
where it lay motionless across the wolf's skin that served for a
hearth-rug.

'What is it?' she asked, after a long pause, and rather unsteadily.

He understood that she was going back to the question she had asked
him at first, but still he did not answer. She kept her eyes steadily
on Saint Ursula while she spoke again.

'If it is not good-bye, what is it that is so hard to say?'

'I have had a long talk with my father.'

Angela moved a little and looked down at his bent head, for he spoke
in an almost despairing tone. She thought she understood him at last.

'He will not hear of our marriage, now that I am a beggar,' she said,
prompting him.

But Giovanni raised his face at once, and rather proudly.

'You are unjust to him,' he said. 'He is not changed. It is a very
different matter. He has had a great misfortune, and has lost almost
all he had, without much hope of recovering anything. We were very
well off, and I should have had a right to marry you, though you had
not a penny, if this had not happened. As it is, my father is left
with nothing but his General's pension to support my mother. My
brothers will both need help for years to come, for they are much
younger than I am, and I must live on my pay if I mean to stay in the
service.'

'Is that all?' Angela's voice trembled a little.

'Yes, my pay, and nothing more----'

'I did not mean that,' she hastened to say, interrupting him, and
there was a note of returning gladness in her voice. 'I meant to ask
if that was all the bad news.'

'It is enough, surely, since it half ruins our lives! What right have
I to ask you to keep your promise and marry me, since I have not
enough for us to live on?'

Angela turned quite towards him now and repeated his own words.

'And what right have I to ask you to keep your promise and marry me?
When you gave your word, you thought I had a great name and was heir
to a splendid fortune. You were deceived. I am a "destitute
foundling"--the lawyers have proved it, and the proof of their proofs
is that I am obliged to accept the charity of my old governess, God
bless her! If ever a man had a right to take back his word, you have.
Take it, if you will. You are free!'

Giovanni stood up beside her, almost angry.

'Do you think I wanted your fortune?' he asked, a little pale under
his tan.

'Do you think I am afraid of poverty?'

Her lips were still parted in a smile after she had asked the
question, and with the gesture of an older woman she tapped his arm
half reproachfully. The colour came back to his brown face.

'I fear poverty for you,' he answered, 'and I am going to fight it for
your sake if you have the courage to wait for me. Have you?'

'I will wait for ever,' she said simply as she laid her hand in his.

'Then I shall leave the army at once,' he replied. 'So far, I have
made what is called a good career, but promotion is slow and the pay
is wretched until a man is very high up. An artillery officer is an
engineer, you know, and a military engineer can always find well-paid
work, especially if he is an electrician, as I am. In two years I
promise you that we shall be able to marry and be at least
comfortable, and there is no reason why I should not make a fortune
quite equal to what my father has lost.'

He spoke with the perfect confidence of a gifted and sanguine man,
sure of his own powers, and his words pleased her. Perhaps what had
attracted her most in him from the beginning had been his enthusiasm
and healthy faith in the world, which had contrasted brilliantly with
her father's pessimism and bigoted political necrolatry, if I may coin
a word from the Greek to express an old-fashioned Roman's blind
worship of the dead past.

Angela was pleased, as any woman would have been, but she protested
against what she knew to be a sacrifice.

'No,' she said decidedly, 'you must not give up the army and your
career for the sake of making money, even for me. Do no officers marry
on their pay? I am sure that many do, and manage very well indeed. You
told me not long ago that you were expecting promotion from day to
day; and in any case I could not marry you within a year, at the
least.'

'If I do not begin working at once, that will be just a year lost,'
objected Giovanni.

'A year! Will that make much difference?'

'Why not ten, then? As if a year would not be a century long, while I
am waiting for you--as if it were not already half a lifetime since
last month, when we told each other the truth! Wait? Yes, if I must;
for ever, as you said awhile ago, if there is no other way. But if it
can be helped, then not an hour, not a minute! Why should we let
happiness pass us by and not take it when we may and can? There is not
enough in the world, as it is; and you cannot even pretend that you
are generous if you do not take your share, since what fate means for
you is useless for any one else! No, dear, no! We will take the fruit
there is on the tree, and leave none to rot on the branch after we are
gone. Promise to marry me a year from to-day, and leave the rest to
me--will you?'

'Yes--but promise me one thing, too. Do not resign to-morrow, nor next
week, as I know you mean to do. Take a month to think it over, and to
look about you. You are so impulsive--well, so generous--that you are
capable of sending in your resignation to-morrow.'

'It is already written,' Giovanni answered. 'I was going to send it in
to-night.'

'I knew it! But you must not. Please, please, take a little time--it
will be so much wiser. I will wait for you for ever, or I will promise
to marry you a year from to-day, even if we have to live on bread and
water. Indeed I will! But, at least, be a little cautious! It will be
far better to marry on your pay--and you will surely get your captaincy
in a few months--than to be stranded without even that, in case you do
not find the work you hope for. Don't you see? I am sure it is good
advice.'

Giovanni knew that it was, if caution were ever worth practising
in human affairs; but that has often been doubted by brave and
light-hearted men. Giovanni yielded a little reluctantly. If she had
asked him to make it two months instead of one, he would have refused,
for it seemed to him intolerable to lose a moment between decision and
action, and his thoughts doubled their stride with every step, in a
geometrical progression; a moment hence, a minute would be an hour, an
hour a month, a month a lifetime. Men have won battles in that temper;
but it has sometimes cost them their life.

'I know you are sensible,' Giovanni said, taking Angela's hand between
his, 'but it is to please you that I agree to wait a month. It is not
because it looks wise, as it does. For one man who succeeds by wisdom,
ten win by daring. Who knows what may chance in a month, or what may
happen to put out of reach what I could do to-day?'

'Nothing!'

Angela gave her answer with the delicious little smile of superiority
which the youngest woman and even the merest girl can wear, when she
is sure that she is right and that the man she loves is wrong. It may
be only about sewing on a button, or about the weather, or it may
concern great issues; but it is always the same when it comes: it
exasperates weak men, and the stronger sort like it, as they more
especially delight in all that is womanly in woman, from heroic virtue
to pathetic weakness.

'Nothing can happen in a month to prevent you from resigning then, as
you could to-day,' Angela said confidently.

The faint smile disappeared, and she grew thoughtful, not for herself,
but for him, and looked at Saint Ursula again. Her hand still lay in
his, on the edge of the mantelpiece, and while she gazed at the
engraving she knew that he was looking at her and was moving nearer;
she felt that he was going to kiss her, but she did not resist this
time though the colour was rising in her throat, and just under the
exquisitely shaped petal of peach-blossom on which his eyes were
fixed, and which was really only the tip of her ear, though it was so
like the leaf of a flower that the scent of the bloom came to his
memory when his lips touched the spot at last.

His hand shut closer over hers at the same moment, and hers fluttered
under his fingers like a small soft bird; but there was no resistance.
He kissed the tip of her ear, and she turned towards him a little; his
kiss pressed her cool cheek, and she moved again; their eyes met, very
near, and dark, and full of light, and then his lips touched hers at
last.

Destiny has many disguises and many moods. Sometimes, as on that day
at the telephone, the unexpected leaps up from its hiding-place and
strikes stunning blows, right and left, like Orestes among the steers
in Tauris, or a maniac let loose among sane men; but sometimes Fate
lurks in her lair, silently poring over the tablets of the future, and
she notes all we say, scrawling 'Folly' against our wisest speeches,
and stamping 'So be it' under the carelessly spoken jest.

She was busy while the young lovers kissed for the first time, by the
mantelpiece; but no inward warning voice had told Angela that she
herself was sealing the order of her life irrevocably when she gave
Giovanni the best advice she could, and he accepted it to please her,
making his instinct obey his judgment for her sake. A man is foolish
who takes an important step without consulting the woman who loves him
most dearly, be she mother, sister, wife, or sweetheart; but he is
rarely wise if he follows her advice, like a rule, to the letter, for
no woman goes from thought to accomplishment by the same road as a
man. You cannot make a pointer of a setter, nor teach a bulldog to
retrieve.

If Giovanni had sent in his resignation that evening, or even during
the next day, as he was ready to do, it would have been accepted in
the ordinary course of things; he would then, without doubt, have
found employment for his talents and energy, either at home or abroad.
He would in all probability have succeeded in life, because he
possessed the elements of success; he would have married Angela in due
time, and the two would probably have lived happily for many years,
because they were suited to each other in all ways and were possessed
of excellent constitutions. If all this had happened, their story
would have little interest except for themselves, or as an example to
young couples; and it is a deplorable fact that there is hardly
anything so dull and tiresome in the world as a good example. The
hoardings along life's dusty roads are plentifully plastered with good
examples, in every stage of preservation, from those just fresh from
the moral bill-poster's roll, redolent of paste, to the good old ones
that are peeling off in tatters, as if in sheer despair because nobody
has ever stopped to look at them. May the gods of literature keep all
good story-tellers from concocting advertisements of the patent
virtues!

The most important and decisive moment in Angela's life, from its
beginning to its end, had passed so quietly that she never suspected
its presence, and almost the very next instant brought her the first
kiss of the only man she had ever loved, or was to love thereafter.




CHAPTER V


Madame Bernard had not overstated the advantages of the lodging she
occasionally let to foreign ladies who travelled alone and practised
economy, and Angela refused to occupy it till she had satisfied
herself that her old governess's own room was just as large and just
as sunny and just as comfortable.

In the first place, it was much bigger than she had expected, and when
she had spread out all her possessions and put away her clothes, and
had arranged her pretty toilet set and the few books that were quite
her own, she found that she was not at all cramped for space. The
ceiling was not very high, it was true, and there was only one window,
but it was a very wide one, and outside it there was a broad iron
shelf securely fixed, on which four good-sized flower-pots were set
out in the sunshine. It was true that there were no flowers yet, but
the two plants of carnations were full of buds and had been very
carefully tended, a tiny rose-bush promised to bear three or four
blossoms before long, and the pot of basil was beginning to send up
curly green shoots. Opposite the window, and beyond the quiet street,
there was a walled garden, in which there were some orange and
mandarin trees.

Between the two bedrooms there was the sitting-room, which was a
little smaller than either, but quite big enough for two women.
Indeed, Madame Bernard ate her meals there all winter, because the
little dining-room at the back of the house was not so cheerful and
was much colder. An enlarged coloured photograph of the long-deceased
Captain Bernard, in the uniform worn by the French artillery at the
time of the Franco-Prussian War, hung on one of the walls, over an
upright piano; it had a black frame, and was decorated with a wreath
of everlasting daisies tied with a black bow. Underneath the portrait
a tiny holy-water basin of old Tyrolese pewter was fastened to the
wall. This Madame Bernard filled every year at Easter, when the parish
priest came to bless the rooms, and every year she renewed the wreath
on the anniversary of her husband's death; for she was a faithful soul
and practised such little rites with a sort of cheerful satisfaction
that was not exactly devout, but certainly had a religious source.
Captain Bernard had been a dashing fellow and there was no knowing
what his soul might not need in the place his widow vaguely described
as 'beyond' when she spoke of his presumable state, though in the case
of Angela's father, for instance, it was always 'heaven' or
'paradise.' Apparently Madame Bernard had the impression that her
husband's immortal part was undergoing some very necessary cure before
partaking of unmixed bliss.

'Military men have so many temptations, my dear,' she said to Angela,
thinking more of the deceased Captain than of being tactful,--'I mean,'
she said, correcting herself, 'in France.'

Angela was not afraid of temptation for Giovanni; rightly or wrongly,
she trusted that her love would be his shield against the wicked world
and her name his prayer in need, and she smiled at Madame Bernard's
speech. The big old parrot on his perch cocked his head.

'Especially the cavalry and artillery,' the good lady went on to
explain.

'A drrroite--conversion!' roared the parrot in a terrific voice of
command.

Angela jumped in her chair, for it was the first time she had heard
the creature speak in that tone; but Madame Bernard laughed, as if it
pleased her.

'It is absolutely my poor husband's tone,' she said calmly. 'Coco,'
she said, turning to the bellicose bird, 'the Prussians are there!'

'Feu!' yelled the parrot suddenly, dancing with rage on his bar. 'Feu!
'cre nom d'un nom d'un p'tit bon Dieu!'

'Every intonation!' laughed the little Frenchwoman gaily. 'You
understand why I love my Coco!'

But Angela thought there was something grimly horrible in the coming
back of the dead soldier's voice from battles fought long ago.

Giovanni came to see her two days after she had moved, but this time
Madame Bernard did not leave them together very long. She had a lively
sense of her responsibility, now that the young girl was altogether in
her charge, and she felt that the proprieties must be strictly
observed. It must never be thought that Giovanni was free to see
Angela alone whenever he pleased, merely because her people had turned
her out.

He looked distressed, and the young girl at once suspected some new
trouble; and she was not mistaken, for her advice had begun to bear
fruit already, and the inevitable was closing in upon them both.

He told the story in a few words. It had been decided in the War
Office for some time that a small exploring and surveying expedition
should be sent up the country from the Italian colony at Massowah with
the idea of planning some permanent means of inland communication with
the British possessions. Giovanni's father had seen a chance for him
to distinguish himself and to obtain more rapid promotion, and by
using all the considerable influence he possessed in high quarters he
had got him appointed to be the engineering officer of the party. The
young man had already been two years in Africa, before being appointed
to the Staff, and had done exceptionally good service, which was an
excellent reason for using him again; and chance further favoured the
plan, because the officer who had first been selected for the place,
and who was an older man, was much needed in the War Office, to his
own exceeding disgust. The expedition might be attended with
considerable danger and would certainly be full of adventure, for
there had recently been trouble with the tribes in that very region;
but to send a strong force was out of the question, for political
reasons, though the work to be done was so urgently necessary that it
could not be put off much longer.

Old General Severi sincerely hoped Angela might yet marry his son, and
was convinced that the best thing possible would be to secure for the
latter the first opportunity for quick promotion, instead of allowing
him to leave the army in order to find more lucrative employment. The
expedition would be gone five or six months, perhaps, and there were
many reasons why it would be better to keep the young people apart for
a time. Any one would understand that, he was sure. While Angela was
living obscurely with a former governess, a brilliant young officer of
some distinction, like Giovanni, could not see her regularly without
seriously compromising her. It was the way of the world and could not
be helped, yet if Giovanni stayed in Rome it would be too much to
expect that he should stay away from the little apartment in
Trastevere. So the matter was settled, and when he came to see Angela
that afternoon he had just had an interview with his chief, who had
informed him of his appointment, and at the same time of his promotion
to be captain. The expedition was to leave Italy in a few days, and he
would have barely time to provide himself with what was strictly
necessary for the climate. He explained all this to Angela and Madame
Bernard.

'If you had only let me resign the other day,' he said ruefully, when
he had finished his account, 'nobody could have found fault then! But
now, I must face the laugh of every man I know!'

Angela looked up quickly, in evident surprise.

'Why?' she asked. 'I see nothing to laugh at in such an expedition.'

'I am not going to accept the appointment,' Giovanni answered with
decision. 'I asked for twenty-four hours to consider it, though the
General seemed very much surprised.'

'But you cannot refuse!' Angela cried. 'They will say you are afraid!'

'They may say whatever occurs to them, for I will not go, and I shall
resign at once, as I said I would. My mind is made up.'

'You cannot refuse this,' Angela repeated confidently. 'If you are
obliged to admit that there is some danger in it, though you wish
there were none, because you safely could refuse to go, it must be
very dangerous indeed. Tell me the truth, as far as you know it.'

'It would depend on circumstances----' Giovanni hesitated.

'You have told me that if the Government dared, it would send a large
force to protect the expedition. The larger that force would be, the
greater the danger if there is no protection at all. Is that true, or
not?'

'It is true, in one way, but----'

'There is no condition!' Angela interrupted him energetically. 'It is
enough that it is going to be dangerous in one way, as you say!'

'No one can say that I ever avoided danger before,' he objected.

'They will say many things if you refuse to go. They will shrug their
shoulders and say that you have lost your nerve, perhaps! That is a
favourite expression, and you know how people say it. Or if you make
money soon after you resign, they will say that you preferred a
fortune to risking your life for your country. Or else they will say
that a woman has made a coward of you, and that I am she!'

'Coward!' yelled the parrot in a tone of withering contempt, and the
creature actually spat in disgust.

Giovanni started violently, for he had not noticed the bird in the
room. Then he tried to laugh at his own surprise.

'I do not wonder that you are surprised, Monsieur,' said Madame
Bernard with a pleasant smile. 'Oh, Coco has exactly my poor husband's
voice!'

'I can brave a parrot's opinion,' Giovanni said, attempting to speak
gaily.

'Will you brave mine?' Angela asked.

'You certainly do not think I am afraid to go,' he answered, 'for you
know why I mean to refuse. My first duty is to you. As I am placed, it
would be cowardly to be afraid to face public opinion in doing that
duty, and to keep you waiting six months or a year longer than
necessary, when I have promised to provide means for us to marry
within a year. That would deserve to be called cowardice!'

'Sale Prussien! 'cre nom d'une pipe!' yelled Coco in a tone of
disgust.

'Really!' exclaimed Giovanni, with some annoyance. 'Does the thing
take me for an hereditary enemy, Madame?'

Madame Bernard rose with a little laugh and went to the parrot's
perch, holding out her hand.

'Come, Coco!' she said, coaxing him. 'It is peace now, and we can go
home to Paris again.'

'Paris' meant her bedroom in bird language; it also meant being bribed
to be quiet with good things, and Coco strutted from his perch to her
finger.

'Marche!' he commanded in a sharp tone, and as she moved he began to
whistle the Marseillaise with great spirit.

She marched off, laughing and keeping step to the tune till she
disappeared into her room, shutting the door behind her. As it closed
Giovanni caught Angela's left hand and drew it to him. She laid her
right on his, quietly and affectionately.

'Am I never to see you alone?' he asked, almost in a whisper.

'When you come to say good-bye before starting,' Angela answered. 'I
will ask her to leave us quite alone then. But now it will only be for
a minute or two.'

Thereupon, with the most natural movement in the world, she lifted her
hands, brought his face close to hers and kissed him, drew back a
little, looked gravely into his astonished eyes for some seconds, and
then kissed him again.

'I love you much more than you love me,' she said with great
seriousness. 'I am sure of it.'

It was all very different from what he had expected. He had vaguely
fancied that for a long time every kiss would have to be won from her
by a little struggle, and that every admission of her love would be
the reward of his own eloquence; instead, she took the lead herself
with a simplicity that touched him more than anything else could have
done.

'You see!' she cried, with the intonation of a laugh not far away. 'I
took you by surprise, because I am right about it! What have you to
say?'

He said nothing, but his lips hurt hers a little in the silence. She
shivered slightly, for she had not yet dreamed that a kiss could hurt
and yet be too short. The sound of Madame Bernard's voice came from
the next room, still talking to the parrot. Angela laid her hand on
Giovanni's gold-laced sleeve and nestled beside him, with her head in
the hollow of his shoulder.

'I have always wanted to do this,' she said in a drowsy little voice,
as if she wished she could go to sleep where she was. 'It is my place.
When you are away in Africa, at night, under the stars, you will dream
that I am just here, resting in my very own place.'

She felt his warm breath in her hair as he answered.

'I will not go; I will not leave you.'

'But you must,' she said, quickly straightening herself and looking
into his face. 'I should not love you as I do, if I could bear to
think of your staying here, to let men laugh at you, as you say they
would!'

'It is not like resigning on the day after war is declared!' he
retorted, trying to speak lightly.

'It is!' she cried, with a sort of eager anxiety in her voice. 'There
is only a difference in the degree--and perhaps it is worse! If there
were war, you would be one man in a hundred thousand, but now you will
be one in ten or twenty, or as many as are to go. Think what it would
be if you were the only man in Italy, the one, single, only officer
who could certainly accomplish something very dangerous to help your
country--and if you refused to do it!'

'There are hundreds of better men than I for the work,' objected
Giovanni.

'I doubt it. Are there hundreds of engineer officers on the General
Staff?'

'No, but there are plenty----'

'A score, perhaps, and you have been chosen, no matter why, and there
is danger, and there is a great thing to be done, perhaps a great
good, which in the end will save the lives, or help the lives, of many
Italians! And you want to refuse to do it--for what? For a woman, for a
girl you love! Do you think she will love you the more, or less, for
keeping out of danger, if she is a true Italian as she thinks you are?
Why is it that our Italy, which no one thought much of a few years
ago, is coming to the front in so many ways now? It was not by staying
at home for women's sake that our sailors have got nearer the North
Pole than all the others who have tried! It is not by avoiding danger
that our officers are learning to astonish everybody with their
riding----'

'That is different,' objected Giovanni. 'It is one thing to do daring
things----'

'Yes,' interrupted Angela, not letting him speak, 'it is the one and
only thing, when it is good daring and can bring good, and helps the
world to see that Italy is not dead yet, in spite of all that has been
said and written against us and our unity. No, no, I say! Go, do your
duty, do and dare, wherever and howsoever your country needs you, and
I will wait for you, and be glad to wait for that one reason, which is
the best of all. If you love me half as dearly as I love you, go back
at once and tell your chief that you are ready, and are proud to be
used wherever you can be of any use! And if there is danger to be
faced, think that you are to face it for my sake as well as for
Italy's, and not in spite of me, for I would ten thousand times rather
that you should die in doing your duty--ever so obscurely--than stay
here to be called a coward in order that we may be rich when we
marry!'

Giovanni listened, more and more surprised at her energy and quick
flow of words, but glad at heart that she was urging him to do what
was right and honourable.

'It was for you that I meant to stay,' he said. 'Hard as it is to
leave you, it would have been harder to refuse the appointment. I will
go.'

A little silence followed, and Madame Bernard, no longer hearing their
voices, and having said everything she had to say to her parrot,
judged that it was time for her to come back and play chaperon again.
She was careful to make a good deal of noise with the latch before she
opened the door.

'Well, Monsieur,' she asked, on the threshold, 'has Donna Angela
persuaded you that she is right? I heard her making a great speech!'

'She is a firebrand,' laughed Giovanni, 'and a good patriot as well!
She ought to be in Parliament.'

'You are a feminist, I perceive,' answered Madame Bernard. 'But Joan
of Arc would be in the Chambers if she could come back to this world.
The people would elect her, she would present herself in the tribune,
and she would say, "Aha, messieurs! Here I am! We shall talk, you and
I." And our little Donna Angela is a sort of Joan of Arc. People do
not know it, but I do, for I have often heard her make beautiful
speeches, as if she were inspired!'

'It takes no inspiration to see what is right,' Angela said, shaking
her head. 'The only difficulty is to do it!'

'Even that is easy when you lead,' Giovanni answered thoughtfully, and
without the least intention of flattering her.

He had seen a side of her character of which he had not even suspected
the existence, and there was something about it so large and imposing
that he was secretly a little ashamed of feeling less strong than she
seemed. In two successive meetings he had come to her with his own
mind made up, but in a few moments she had talked him over to her
point of view without the least apparent difficulty, and had sent him
away fully determined to do the very opposite of that which he had
previously decided to do. It was a strange experience for a young man
of great energy and distinctly exceptional intelligence, and he did
not understand it.

He stayed barely half-an-hour, for Madame Bernard showed no
disposition to leave the room again, and he felt the difficulty of
keeping up an indifferent conversation in her presence, as well as the
impossibility of talking freely to Angela of what was uppermost in her
thoughts and his own. It was true that the governess knew all about
it, and there are excellent women of that sort whose presence does not
always hinder lovers from discussing their future; but either Madame
Bernard was not one of these by nature, or else the two felt the
difference of her nationality too much. The French are perhaps the
only civilised nation whom no people of other nations can thoroughly
understand, and who, with very few individual exceptions, do not
understand any people but themselves. They have a way of looking at
life which surprises and sometimes amuses men of all other
nationalities; they take some matters very seriously which seem of
trivial consequence to us, but they are witty at the expense of
certain simple feelings and impulses which we gravely regard as
fundamentally important, if not sacred. They can be really and truly
heroic, to the point of risking life and limb and happiness, about
questions at which we snap our fingers, but they can be almost
insolently practical, in the sense of feeling no emotion while keenly
discerning their own interest, in situations where our tempers or our
prejudices would rouse us to recklessness. In their own estimation
they are always right, and so are we in ours, no doubt; but whereas
they consider themselves the Chosen People and us the Gentiles, or
compare themselves with us as the Greeks compared themselves with the
Barbarians, we, on our side, do not look down upon their art and
literature as they undoubtedly do on ours, and a good many of us are
rather too ready to accept them as something more than our equals in
both. When I say 'we,' I do not mean only English-speaking people, but
other Europeans also. I have overheard Frenchmen discussing all sorts
of things in trains, on steamers, in picture-galleries, in libraries,
in the streets, from Tiflis to London and from London to the Pacific,
but I have never yet heard Frenchmen admit among themselves that a
modern work of art, or book, or play was really first-rate, if it was
not French. There is something monumental in their conviction of their
own superiority, and I sincerely believe it has had much to do with
their success, as a nation, in the arts of peace as well as in war. A
man who is honestly convinced that he is better than his opponent is
not easily put down in peaceful competition, and will risk his life in
action with a gallantry and daring that command the admiration of all
brave men; and it is a singular fact that German soldiers did not call
Frenchmen cowards after the great war, whereas it was a very common
thing to hear Frenchmen inveigh against 'those dirty, cowardly
Prussians' who had got the better of them. Men who can take such a
point of view as that must be utterly unlike other people.

This little digression should explain why Angela and Madame Bernard
never quite understood each other, in spite of the elder woman's
almost motherly love for the girl and the latter's devoted gratitude.

They talked about Giovanni when he was gone, of course, but neither
said all she thought about him, because she feared that the other
would think a little differently. The cheerful Frenchwoman had gone
through life with the belief that it is better, on the whole, to make
oneself comfortable in this world, if it can be managed on honest
principles, than to worry oneself about heroics, and in the calm
recesses of her practical little soul she was sure that, in Angela's
place, she would have told Giovanni to resign as soon as possible and
find some pleasant and well-paid occupation for his married life. All
Angela's talk about a man's duty to his country would be very well in
time of war, when there was glory to be got; but it was nonsense in
ordinary times, where one man would do as well as another, to risk his
life in a small expedition, and when it was distinctly advisable not
to be that one. But she knew also that she had better not try to
explain this to Angela, who was evidently a little mad on the point,
most probably because she was an Italian. For Italians, Germans,
Spaniards, Englishmen, and Americans were all completely insane; there
was some little hope for Austrians and a good deal for Russians, in
Madame Bernard's opinion, but there was none for the rest, though they
might be very nice people. The safest thing was to humour them. She
had given lessons in Roman families that were half Austrian and even
half Russian, for the Romans have always been very cosmopolitan in
their marriages, but Angela was quite Italian on both sides, and so
was Giovanni. It was therefore pretty certain that they would behave
like lunatics, sooner or later, the good lady thought; and they
apparently were beginning already.

It is needless to dwell long on what followed, since what has been
narrated so far is only the introduction to Angela's story and the
exposition of the circumstances which determined her subsequent life.
As in most cases, it happened in hers that the greatest events were
the direct consequences of one very small beginning. If she had not
urged Giovanni to wait some time before leaving the army, he would not
have been obliged to remain in the service almost as a matter of
honour, yet it had seemed very sensible to advise him to do nothing in
a hurry. Everything else followed logically upon that first step.

It was the inevitable, and it was therefore already in nature tragic,
before active tragedy took the stage. Yet Angela did not feel its
presence, nor any presentiment of the future, when she bade Giovanni
farewell ten days after he had first been to see her in Madame
Bernard's apartment.

What she felt was just the common pain of parting that has been the
lot of loving men and women since the beginning; it is not the less
sharp because almost every one has felt it, but it is as useless to
describe it as it would be to write a chapter about a bad toothache, a
sick headache, or an attack of gout. Angela was a brave girl and set
herself the task of bearing it quietly because it was a natural and
healthy consequence of loving dearly. It was not like the wrench of
saying good-bye to a lover on his way to meet almost certain death.
She told herself, and Giovanni told her, that in all probability he
was not going to encounter any danger worse than may chance in a day's
hunting over a rough country or in a steeple-chase, and that the risk
was certainly far less than that of fighting a duel in Italy, where
duelling is not a farce as it is in some countries. He would come back
within a few months, with considerable credit and the certainty of
promotion; it was a hundred to one that he would, so that this was
merely a common parting, to be borne without complaint. He thought so
himself, and they consoled each other by making plans for their
married life, which would be so much nearer when he came home.

Madame Bernard left them alone for an hour in the sitting-room and
then came in to say good-bye to Giovanni herself, bringing Coco
perched upon her wrist, but silent and well-behaved. Angela was pale,
and perhaps her deep mourning made her look paler than she was, but
her face was as quiet and collected as Giovanni's. He took leave of
the governess almost affectionately.

'Take care of her, Madame,' he said, 'and write me some news of her
now and then through the War Office. It may reach me, or it may not!'

He kissed Angela's hand, looked into her eyes silently for a moment,
and went out.

'Marche! 'cre nom d'un nom!' screamed the parrot after him, as if he
were going too slowly.

But this time Angela could not speak of him with her friend just after
he was gone, and when Madame Bernard tried to talk of other things
with the idea of diverting her attention, she went and shut herself up
in her own room. It was distracting to know that he was still in Rome,
and that until nearly midnight, when the train left for Naples, it
would be possible to see him once more. If she had insisted, Madame
Bernard would have consented to go with her in a cab to find him. It
was hard to resist, as she sat by the window, listening to the distant
sound of wheels in the street; it was the first great temptation she
had ever felt in her life, and as she faced it she was surprised at
its strength. But she would not yield. In her own gentle womanliness
she found something she recognised but could not account for; was it
possible that she had some strength of character, after all? Could it
be that she inherited a little of that rigid will that had made her
father so like her idea of a Puritan? He had always told her that she
was weak, that she would be easily influenced by her surroundings,
that her only hope must be to obtain Divine aid for her feeble,
feminine nature. She had believed him, because he had taught her that
she must, even in the smallest things, and this was a great one.

But now something cruelly strong was tearing at her, to make her go into
the next room and beg Madame Bernard to help her find Giovanni, if only
that she might see his face and hear his voice and say good-bye just
once more. She laid her hands on the window-sill as if she would hold
herself down in her chair, and she refused to move; not because it
looked foolish, for that would not have mattered, but because she chose
not to yield. Perhaps she was too proud to give way, and pride, they
told her, was always a sin, but that did not matter either. There was an
unexpected satisfaction in finding one thin strand of steel among the
pliant threads of her untried young will.

Besides, she would have much to bear, and if she did not begin at
once, she would never grow used to the burden. That was another reason
for not following her instinct, and a very good one.

To help herself, she began to say one of those prayers of which she
knew so many by heart. To her surprise, it disturbed her instead of
strengthening her determination, and while her lips were moving she
felt an almost overwhelming impulse to do what she was determined not
to do at any cost. The sensation startled her, and in a moment she
felt that tide of darkness rising to drown her which had almost
overwhelmed her while she was kneeling beside her dead father. Her
hand pressed the stone window-sill in terror of the awful presence.

It is familiar to those few who have knowingly or unwittingly tried to
penetrate the darkness to the light beyond. It has been called the
Guardian, the Dweller on the Threshold, the Wall, the Destroyer, the
Giant Despair. Many have turned back from it as from death itself,
some have gone raving mad in fighting their way through it, some have
actually died in it, of failure of the heart from fright. Some come
upon it unawares in their reasoning, some in the hour of profound
meditation; some know by long experience where it is and keep away
from it; some are able to pass through it with unshaken mind and
unbroken nerves. Scarcely one in a million even guesses that it
exists; of those who do, ninety-nine in a hundred turn from it in
horror; of the remaining score of those who face it in a whole
generation of men, more than half perish in mind or body; the last
ten, perhaps, win through, and these are they that have understood the
writing over the temple door, the great 'Know thyself,' the precept of
the Delphic Oracle and of all mystics before Trophonios and since.

Angela's lips ceased moving, and very soon she was herself again,
quietly sitting there and wondering what had frightened her so badly,
and whether there might not be something wrong with her heart, because
she remembered how it had beat twice quickly in succession and then
had seemed to stand still while she could have counted ten, quite
slowly.

What she called her temptation left her at peace till she knew that
Giovanni's train had started. In imagination she could hear the engine's
whistle, the hissing of the steam from the purge-cocks at starting, the
quickening thunder of the high-pressure exhaust, the clanking noise as
the slowly moving train passed over the old-fashioned turn-tables, and
the long retreating rumble as the express gathered speed and ran out of
sight.

Then it was over, for good and all; Giovanni was gone beyond the
possibility of seeing him again and the strain relaxed. Angela put out
her light, and when she fell asleep a quarter of an hour later, drops
she did not even feel were slowly trickling from her lids to the
pillow; for there are women who do not easily cry when they are awake,
but when they are sleeping their tired eyes shed the pent-up tears and
are refreshed by them.

Angela was not left alone with Madame Bernard as much as she had
expected after the first few days, nor even as much as she might have
wished. The feeling against the Princess Chiaromonte was strong, and
as soon as it became known that Angela had found a safe refuge with
her former governess, she received several invitations from more or
less distant connections to spend some time with them in the country
during the coming summer. At the present juncture, in the height of
the season, it was natural that no one should want a forlorn young
girl in deep mourning to make a town visit. She would have been a
killjoy and a wet blanket in any house, that was clear, and nothing
could be more thoroughly respectable and proper than that she should
spend the first weeks under Madame Bernard's roof and protection.

Some of Angela's friends of her own age came to see her by and by and
offered to take her to drive in their mothers' carriages or motor
cars, but she would not go, and though she thanked them with grateful
words for thinking of her, most of them thought, and told each other,
that she had not been very glad to see them and would rather be left
alone. They supposed that she was still too much overcome to wish for
their society, and as young people who drop out of the world after
being in it a very short time are soon forgotten, they troubled
themselves very little about her. If she ever chose to come out of her
solitude, they said, she would be welcome again, but since she wished
to be left to herself it was very convenient to humour her, because
the Princess Chiaromonte had as good as declared that there were
'excellent reasons' for her own apparently heartless conduct. No one
knew what that meant, but when she spoke in that way it was more
blessed to accept her statement than to get her enmity by doubting it.
The Chiaromonte family were at liberty to settle their own affairs as
seemed best in their own eyes, and as the law could not interfere, no
one else felt inclined to do so. Angela had no near relations on her
mother's side to protect her or take her in.

Six weeks passed away without incident after Giovanni had left, and
she had received three letters from him--one from Naples, written
before going on board the steamer, one from Port Said, and one from
Massowah after his arrival there. The expedition was to start in three
days, he said; it had been waiting for him and the officer who was to
take the command, and who had gone with him.

A short time after receiving this last letter Angela was reading the
news from an evening paper to Madame Bernard, translating the
paragraphs offhand into French, by force of habit, because her old
governess had often made her do it for practice.

Suddenly her eyes became fixed, the colour left her face, and she
dropped the newspaper with a short, loud cry, falling back in her
chair at the same moment.

Madame Bernard snatched up the sheet and glanced at the place where
the girl had last been reading.

The expedition had fallen in with hostile natives a week after
starting and had been massacred to a man. The names of the dead were
given, and Giovanni's was the second on the list.




CHAPTER VI


Angela lived for weeks in a state of sleepless apathy, so far as her
companion could see. She scarcely spoke, and ate barely enough to keep
herself alive. She seemed not to sleep at all, for two or three times
during every night Madame Bernard got up and came to her room, and she
always found her lying quite motionless on her back, her eyes wide
open and staring at the tasteless little pattern of flowers stencilled
in colours on the ceiling. Once Madame Bernard proposed to take away
the night-light that burned in a cup on the floor, but Angela shook
her head almost energetically. She never opened a book either, nor
occupied herself in any way, but seemed content to sit still all day
and to lie awake all night, never complaining, and never even speaking
unless her friend asked her a direct question. Every morning at
sunrise she put on her hat and went to the ancient church of San
Crisogono, which is served by Trinitarian monks. Sometimes Madame
Bernard went with her, but more often she was accompanied by the one
woman-servant who cooked and did the housework.

The unhappy girl found neither consolation nor hope in the daily
service; she went to it because, somehow, it seemed to be the only
thing she could do for the dead. She knelt down every day on the same
spot, and remained kneeling till after the priest and the acolyte were
gone; she took her missal with her, but never looked at it, and her
lips never moved in prayer; she felt no impulse to go to confession,
nor any devotional craving for the Communion. The mass was a mere form
to her, but she attended it regularly, as if she expected that much of
herself and would not do less than the least that seemed to be her
duty. That was all. Prayer in any form of words frightened her, for it
soon brought her near to that blinding darkness which she had already
met twice and had learned to dread; her present misfortune was
incomparably greater than those that had gone before, and she was sure
that if the outer night rose round her again it would take her soul
down into itself to eternal extinction. If she had been physically
stronger, she might have tried to call this a foolish delusion; weak
as she was, and growing daily weaker, it seemed as certain as that her
body must perish instantly if she walked over a precipice. The past
was distorted, the present had no meaning, and there was no future;
she vaguely understood Dante's idea that the body may be left on
earth, apparently alive, for years after the soul has departed from
it, for the evil Alberigo's spirit told the poet that his own body and
Branca d'Oria's were still animated by demons when their souls were
already in the torment of the eternal ice. But Angela felt rather as
if her living self were a mere senseless shell, uninhabited by any
spirit, bad or good, and moved by the mechanics of nature rather than
by her own will or another's.

Madame Bernard watched her with growing anxiety as the days and weeks
brought no change. The little lodging in Trastevere was very silent,
and Coco sat disconsolately drooping his wings on his perch when his
mistress was out, as she was during more than half the day, giving the
lessons by which she and Angela lived. The girl sometimes did not move
from her chair throughout the long morning any more than if she had
been paralysed, or at most she tried to tend the flowers. The roses
were blooming now, and on fine days, when the windows were open, the
aromatic perfume of the young carnations floated in with the sunbeams.
Angela did not notice the scent, and for all the pleasure the blossoms
gave her they might have been turnips and potatoes. But there was a
feeble underlying thought of duty in plucking off a small withered
leaf here and there, and in picking out the tiny weeds that tried to
grow round the flower-stems. From very far away she heard Madame
Bernard telling her, an age ago, that she could tend the flowers and
take care of the parrot by way of helping in the house.

Coco regarded her efforts with melancholy contempt, and turned his
back on her when she came near him, and even when she changed the
water in his tin cup. As he only drank three or four drops in a day,
it probably seemed to him a work of supererogation. While his mistress
was out he rarely uttered a sound; but when he heard her footstep in
the short passage outside, he gave vent to his feelings and hailed her
return with boisterous shouts and unearthly whistling of old French
military tunes. Even the noise he made did not disturb Angela; she
hardly heard him, for her nerves were not overwrought, but deadened
almost to insensibility.

Madame Bernard consulted a young doctor, a man of talent, who was
taking lessons of her for the sake of his practice among foreigners.
She used to say that between her pupils, and their friends and
relations, she could get the best advice on any matter without paying
a penny for it. The young physician answered that he could not help
her much without seeing the patient, but that the best thing for
Angela would be to eat and sleep well and not to fret.

Some such idea had probably occurred to the little Frenchwoman, for
she laughed gaily in the doctor's face, and he, not being paid to look
serious, joined in her laughter.

'You cannot say it is bad advice,' he said, 'and you wanted me to say
something. Let me see the young lady, and I will tell you honestly
whether I know of anything that will do her good, as I would tell a
colleague.'

They agreed that he should call one evening on pretence of taking an
extra lesson in a leisure hour; he came at the appointed time, and
watched Angela narrowly during the short time she remained in the
room. When she was gone, he gave his opinion without hesitation.

'The best thing for her would be a good illness,' he said. 'You look
surprised! I will try to explain. That young lady is stronger than you
think. It would do her a world of good to shed tears, but she cannot
because her unconscious power of resistance has been exercised till it
has grown rigid. You have heard of Hindu devotees who hold up one arm
till it stiffens in that position, so that they could not move it if
they tried. That is an image of what I mean, unless it is the thing
itself. After learning the terrible news Donna Angela unconsciously
steeled herself against her natural impulse to break down. She has a
strong will, and the result is what you see. The strain of resisting
was so great that it deadened her to all sensation in a few hours. If
she could fall ill, the tension would relax; in my opinion it will do
so when her physical strength is worn out by starvation and lack of
sleep, but a simple specific malady, like the whooping-cough or the
measles, would be better for her. If you cannot break up her present
condition, and if she has any organic weakness of the heart, it may
stop beating one of these days. That is what is called dying of a
broken heart, my dear Madame Bernard. There is no medicine against
that like a broken leg!'

'Fie!' cried Madame Bernard. 'You have no human feeling at all!'

'I am sorry,' answered the physician, with a smile, 'but it is my
business to have a head instead. You asked my opinion and I have given
it, as I would to another doctor. The old-fashioned ones would laugh
at me, the younger ones would understand.'

'If you could only make the poor child sleep a little! Is there
nothing?'

'She is not neurasthenic,' the doctor objected. 'It would be of no use
to give her sleeping medicines, for after a few days they would have
no effect, except to excite her nerves unnaturally.'

'Or something to give her an appetite,' suggested Madame Bernard
vaguely.

'She has an excellent appetite if she only knew it. The reason why she
does not eat is that she does not know she is hungry, though she is
half starved. I served in the African campaign when I was a young
military surgeon. I have seen healthy men faint for want of food when
they had plenty at hand because they could not realise that they were
hungry in their intense preoccupation. Great emotions close the
entrance to the stomach, often for a considerable time. It is well
known, and it is easier than you think to form the habit of living on
next to nothing. It is the first step that counts.'

'As they said of Saint Denis when he carried his head three steps
after it was cut off,' said Madame Bernard thoughtfully, and without a
smile.

'Precisely,' the doctor assented. 'I myself have seen a man sit his
horse at a full gallop, without relaxing his hold, for fifty yards
after he had been shot through the head. The seat of the nerves that
direct automatic motion is not in the brain, but appears to be in the
body, near the spine. When it is not injured, what used to be called
unconscious cerebration may continue for several seconds after death.
Similarly, bodily habits, like feeling hunger or being insensible to
it, appear to have their origin in those ganglions and not in any sort
of thought. Consequently, thought alone, without a strong exercise of
the will, has little effect upon such habits of the body. When a man
does a thing he does not mean to do, and says "I cannot help it," he
is admitting this fact. If you were to ask Donna Angela if she means
to starve herself to death deliberately, she would deny it with
indignation, but would tell you that she really cannot eat, and
meanwhile she is starving. Give her a comparatively harmless illness
like the measles, severe enough to break up the ordinary automatic
habits of the body, and she will eat again, with an excellent
appetite. In all probability I could give her the measles by
artificial means, but unfortunately that sort of treatment is not yet
authorised!'

The young doctor, who was not by any means a dreamer, seemed much
amused at his own conclusion, which looks absurd even on paper, and
Madame Bernard did not believe a word he said. In questions of
medicine women are divided into two great classes, those who will
consult any doctor and try anything, and those who only ask the
doctor's opinion when they are forced to, and who generally do
precisely the opposite of what he suggests. This is a more practical
view and is probably the safer, if they must go to one of the two
extremes. Moreover, doctors are so much inclined to disagree that when
three of them give a unanimous opinion it is apt to be worthless.

The only immediate result of Madame Bernard's consultation with the
doctor was that she disappointed one of her pupils the next day in
order to gain an hour, which she devoted to making a very exquisite
'mousse de volaille' for Angela. The poor girl was much touched, but
could only eat two or three mouthfuls, and the effort she made to
overcome her repugnance was so unmistakable that the good little
Frenchwoman was more anxious for her than hurt at the failure.

She had tried two sciences, she said to herself, but the doctor of
medicine had talked the nonsense of theories to her, and the combined
wisdom of Vatel, Brillat-Savarin, and Careme had proved fruitless. A
person who could not eat Madame Bernard's 'mousse de volaille' could
only be cured by a miracle. Accordingly, she determined to consult a
churchman without delay, and went out early in the afternoon. Angela
did not notice that she was dressed with more than usual care, as if
for a visit of importance.

She had been gone about half-an-hour, and the young girl was sitting
in her accustomed place, listless and apathetic as usual, when the
door-bell rang, and a moment later the woman-servant came in, saying
that a foreign gentleman was on the landing who insisted on seeing
Angela, even though she was alone. After giving a long and not
flattering description of his appearance, the woman held out the card
he had given her. Angela glanced at it and read the name of Filmore
Durand, and above, in pencil, half-a-dozen words: 'I have brought you
a portrait.'

Angela did not understand in the least, though she tried hard to
concentrate her thoughts.

'Ask the gentleman to come in,' she answered at last, hardly knowing
what she said.

She turned her face to the window again, and in the course of thirty
seconds, when she was roused by Durand's voice in the room, she had
almost forgotten that he was in the house. She had not heard English
spoken since she had left his studio on the morning when her father
died, and she started at the sound. For weeks, nothing had made such
an impression on her.

She rose to receive the great painter, who was standing near the table
in the middle of the room, looking at her in surprise and real
anxiety, for she was little more than a shadow of the girl he had
painted six weeks or two months earlier. He himself had brought in a
good-sized picture, wrapped in new brown paper; it stood beside him on
the floor, reaching as high as his waist, and his left hand rested on
the upper edge. He held out the other to Angela, who took it
apathetically.

'You have been very ill,' he said in a tone of concern.

'No,' she answered. 'I am only a little tired. Will you not sit down?'

She sank into her seat again, and one thin hand lay on the cushioned
arm of the chair. Instead of seating himself, Durand lifted the
picture, still wrapped up, and set it upright on the table, so that it
faced her.

'I heard,' he said in a low voice, 'so I did this for you from memory
and a photograph.'

There was a sudden crackling and tearing of the strong paper as he
ripped it off with a single movement, and then there was absolute
silence for some time. Angela seemed not even to breathe, as she
leaned forward with parted lips and unwinking, wondering eyes.

Then, without even a warning breath, a cry broke from her heart.

'He is not dead! You have seen him again! He is alive--they have
cheated me!'

Then she choked and leaned back, pressing her handkerchief to her
mouth.

Instead of answering, the painter bent his head and looked down
sideways at his own astounding handiwork, and for the second time in
that year he was almost satisfied. Presently, as Angela said nothing
more, he was going to move the canvas, to show it in a better light,
but she thought he meant to take it away.

'No!' she cried imperatively. 'Not yet! Let me see it--let me
understand----'

Her words died away and she was silent again, her eyes fixed on the
portrait. At last she rose, came forward, and laid both her thin hands
on the narrow black and gold frame.

'I must have it,' she said. 'You must let me have it, though I cannot
pay for it. But I will some day. I will work till I can earn enough
money, or till I die--and if that comes soon, they will give you back
the picture. You cannot take it away!'

Durand saw that she had not understood.

'It is for you,' he said. 'I painted it to give to you. You see, after
your father died, I kept yours--I never meant them to have it, but it
seemed as if I owed you something for it, and this is to pay my debt.
Do you see?'

'How kind you are!' she cried. 'How very, very kind! I do not quite
follow the idea--my head is always so tired now--but I knew you would
understand how I should feel--if I accepted it without any return!'

So far as arithmetic went, the man of genius and the broken-hearted
girl were equally far from ordinary reckoning. Durand knew that by a
turn of luck he had been able to keep the only portrait he had ever
been sorry to part with when it was finished, and he was intimately
convinced that he owed somebody something for such an unexpected
pleasure; on her side, Angela was quite sure that unless the portrait
of the man she had loved was to be an equivalent for some sort of
obligation she could not be satisfied to keep it all her life unpaid
for.

It filled the little sitting-room with light and colour, as a Titian
might have done; it was as intensely alive as Giovanni Severi had
been--the eyes were full of those quick little coruscations of fire
that had made them so unlike those of other men, the impulsive
nostrils seemed to quiver, the healthy young blood seemed to come and
go in the tanned cheeks, the square shoulders were just ready to make
that quick, impatient little movement that had been so characteristic
of him, so like the sudden tension of every muscle when a thoroughbred
scents sport or danger. No ordinary artist would ever have seen all
there was in the man, even in a dozen sittings, but the twin gifts of
sight and memory had unconsciously absorbed and held the whole, and a
skill that was never outdone in its time had made memory itself
visible on the canvas. Something that was neither a 'harmless illness'
nor a 'miracle' had waked Angela from her torpor.

'How can I thank you?' she asked, after a long pause. 'You do not know
what it is to me to see his living face--you will call it an
illusion--it seems as if----'

She broke off suddenly and pressed her handkerchief to her lips again.

'Only what you call the unreal can last unchanged for a while,' the
painter said, catching at the word she had used, and thinking more of
his art than of her. 'Only an ideal can be eternal, but every honest
attempt to give it shape has a longer life than any living creature.
Nature makes only to destroy, but art creates for the very sake of
preserving the beautiful.'

She heard each sentence, but was too absorbed in the portrait to
follow his meaning closely. Perhaps it would have escaped her if she
had tried.

'Only good and evil are everlasting,' she said, almost unconsciously
repeating words she had heard somewhere when she was a child.

Durand looked at her quickly, but he saw that she was not really
thinking.

'What is "good"?' he asked, as if he were sure that there was no
answer to the question.

It attracted her attention, and she turned to him; she was coming back
to life.

'Whatever helps people is good,' she said.

'The French proverb says "Help thyself and God will help thee,"'
suggested Durand.

'No, it should be "Help others, and God will help you,"' Angela
answered.

The artist fixed his eyes on her as he nodded a silent assent; and
suddenly, though her face was so changed, he knew it was more like his
portrait of her than ever, and that the prophecy of his hand was
coming to fulfilment.

He stayed a moment longer, and asked if he could be of any service to
her or Madame Bernard. She thanked him vaguely, and almost smiled. He
felt instinctively that she was thinking of what she had last said,
and was wishing that some one would tell her how she might do
something for others, rather than that another should do anything for
her.

She went with him to the door at the head of the stairs and let him
out herself.

'Thank you,' she said, 'thank you! You don't know what you have done
for me!'

He looked at her in thoughtful silence for a few seconds, holding her
hand as if they were old friends.

'There is no such thing as death,' he said gravely.

And with this odd speech he left her and went slowly down the narrow
stone steps; and though she watched him till he disappeared at the
next landing, he did not once turn his head.

When she was in the sitting-room she set the framed picture on a
straight chair near the window and sat down before it in her
accustomed seat; and Durand's last words came back to her again and
again, as if they were begging to be remembered and understood. Her
memory brought with them many exhortations and sayings from the sacred
books, but none of them seemed to mean just what she knew that little
speech of his must mean if she could quite understand it.

She had come to life again unexpectedly, and the spell of her dreadful
solitude was broken. She did not think it strange that her eyes were
dry as she gazed at the well-loved face, while the inner voice told
her that there was 'no such thing as death.' The dead man had done his
duty, and he expected her to do hers until the time came for them to
meet for ever.

In the aimless wandering of her thoughts during the past weeks she had
only understood that he was gone. In an uncounted moment, while she
had been turning over the leaves of a book, or idly talking with
Madame Bernard, or plucking a withered leaf from one of the plants
outside the window, he had been fighting for his life and had lost it.
Perhaps she had been quietly asleep just then. She had heard people
say they were sure that if anything happened to those they dearly
loved, some warning would reach them; she had heard tales of persons
appearing at the moment of their death to those dearest to them, and
even to indifferent people. Such stories were but idle talk, for while
she had been reading the news out to Madame Bernard, she had been
expecting to hear that the expedition was advancing successfully on
its way, she had been wondering what chance there was of getting a
letter from the interior, she had been intimately convinced that
Giovanni was safe, well, and making good progress, when he had been
dead a fortnight.

Madame Bernard had read the details, so far as they were known, but
she had wisely said nothing except that the news was fully confirmed.
Angela herself had refused to touch a newspaper since that day; it had
been enough that he was gone--to know how, or even to guess, would be a
suffering she could not face. What had been found of the poor men who
had perished had been brought home; there had been a great military
funeral for them; their names were inscribed for ever on the roll of
honour. In time, when the political situation changed, an effort would
be made to avenge their death, no doubt; for every man who had been
murdered a hundred would be slain, or more, if possible, till even a
Scythian might feel satisfied that their angry spirits were appeased
by blood. Angela knew nothing of all this, for she never left the
house except to go to early mass every day, and Madame Bernard never
spoke of the dead man nor of the lost expedition.

When the governess came home, a little after sunset, Angela was still
sitting before the picture, her chin resting on her hand and her elbow
on her knee as she leaned forward to see better in the failing light.
The girl turned her head with a bright smile, and Madame Bernard
started in surprise when she saw the portrait.

'It is he!' she cried. 'It is he, to the very life!'

'Yes,' Angela answered softly, 'it is Giovanni. He has been telling me
that I must do my part, as he did his. He is waiting for me, but I
cannot go to him till my share is done.'

She was gazing at the face again, while Madame Bernard looked from it
to her in undisguised astonishment.

'I do not understand, my dear,' she said very gently. 'Who has brought
you this wonderful picture?'

She hardly expected an explanation, and she guessed that the portrait
was Durand's work, for few living painters could have made such a
likeness, and none would have painted it in that way, which was
especially his own. To her surprise Angela turned on her chair without
rising, and told her just what had happened, since he had come in
early in the afternoon bringing the picture with him. When she had
finished she turned to it again, as if there were nothing more to be
said, and at that moment Coco began to talk in a tone that made
further conversation impossible. Madame Bernard took him on her hand
and disappeared with him.

When she came back, Angela was standing on a chair holding up the
portrait with both hands and trying to hang it by the inner edge of
the frame on an old nail she had found already driven into the wall.
Madame Bernard at once began to help her, as if not at all surprised
at her sudden energy, though it seemed nothing less than miraculous.

They succeeded at last, and both got down from their chairs and drew
back two steps to judge of the effect.

'It is a little too high,' Angela said thoughtfully. To-morrow I will
get a cord and two rings to screw into the frame at the back, and then
we will hang it just as it should be.'

'Perhaps we could put it in a better light,' Madame Bernard suggested.
'The room is so dark now that one cannot judge of that.'

'He must be where he can see me,' Angela said.

Her friend looked puzzled, and the young girl smiled again, quite
naturally.

'I am not dreaming,' she said, as if answering a question not spoken.
'I do not mean that the picture can really see, any more than I
believe that what they call "miraculous images" of saints are the
saints themselves! But when I see the eyes of the portrait looking
straight at me, I feel that he himself must see me, from where he is;
and he will see me do my part, as he has done his. At least, I hope I
may.'

She went to her own room, and Madame Bernard followed her to light the
little lamp for her as she had always done of late. But to-day Angela
insisted on doing it herself.

'You must not wait on me any more,' said the girl. 'I have been very
idle for weeks, but I did not understand, and you will forgive me,
because you are so good and kind.'

'You are a little angel, my dear!' cried Madame Bernard, much
affected. 'They did right to name you Angela!'

But Angela shook her head, as she put the paper shade over the cheap
lamp, and then went to the window to close the inner shutters before
drawing the chintz curtains.

'I have been a very useless little angel,' she answered, 'and I am
sorry for it. But I mean to do better now, and you will help me, won't
you?'

'That is all I ask! But to tell the truth, I was discouraged to-day,
and I have been to ask the advice of a very good man. There! I have
told you, and I am glad of it, because I hate secrets! He has promised
to come and see you, and talk to you, but now that you are yourself
again----' She stopped, as if embarrassed.

'Who is he?' asked Angela with a shade of distrust. 'A priest?'

'Please do not be angry!' Madame Bernard began to repent of what she
had done. 'I was so much distressed--I felt that you were slipping out
of the world day by day, just dying of a broken heart, so I went to
see him this afternoon.'

'I am not going to die,' Angela said confidently. 'Who is he? I think
I know at last what I must do, without the advice of a priest. But
tell me who he is.'

'He is such a good man, my dear--Monsignor Saracinesca.'

'That is different,' Angela said, changing her tone at once. 'I shall
be very glad to see Monsignor Saracinesca. He is a real saint, if
there is one living.'




CHAPTER VII


There is a religious house in Rome, beyond the Tiber and not far from
Porta Portese, which I will call the Convent of the White Sisters of
Santa Giovanna d'Aza. Their order is a branch of a great and ancient
one, though it has not had a separate existence a very long time. The
convent contains one of the best private hospitals in Italy, and the
Sisters also go out as trained nurses, like those of several other
orders. But they do something more, which the others do not; for
almost every year two or three, or even four of them go out to the Far
East to work in the leper hospitals which missionaries have
established in Rangoon and elsewhere; and a good many have gone in the
last ten years, but few will ever return.

The convent is much larger than any one would suppose who judged
merely from the uninteresting stuccoed wall which faces the quiet
street, and in which there are a few plain windows without shutters
and a large wooden door, painted a dull green. This door, which is the
main entrance, is opened and shut by the portress as often as a
hundred times a day and more; but when it is open there is nothing to
be seen within but a dark vestibule paved with flagstones; and the
portress's wooden face is no more prepossessing than the wall itself.
If any one asks her a question, she answers civilly in a businesslike
tone, with a hard foreign accent, for she is the widow of one of the
Swiss Guards at the Vatican; but she is naturally silent, stolid,
mechanical, and trustworthy. She is a lay sister and is called Sister
Anna, and she lives in a small room on the left of the vestibule, as
you go in, five steps above the stone pavement. She is very rarely
relieved from her duties for a few hours at a time, and all the
patients must pass her when they enter or leave the house, as well as
the doctors, and the visitors whose smart carriages and motor cars
often stand waiting in the narrow street. Fifty times a day, perhaps,
the door-bell rings and Sister Anna deliberately flaps down the five
steps in her heavily-soled slippers to admit one person or another,
and fifty times, again, she flaps down to let them out again. The
reason why she does not go mad or become an imbecile is that she is
Swiss. That, at least, is how it strikes the celebrated surgeon,
Professor Pieri, who is at the convent very often because he has many
of his patients brought there to be operated on and nursed.

The truth is that the hospital is a thoroughly modern one, which has
been built as an extension of buildings that date from the thirteenth
and fourteenth centuries. It is managed on soundly scientific
principles, without the least fuss, or any 'board of trustees' or
'committee of management,' or any of that cumbrous administration
which makes so many public hospitals as intricate as labyrinths, only
to be threaded with a clue of red tape, and proportionately
unpractical.

There is a still and sunny garden within, surrounded by a wide and dry
cloister, above which the ancient building rises only one story on the
three sides of the square; but on the fourth side, which looks towards
the sun at noon, there are three stories, which have been built
lately, and the hospital wards are in that wing, one above the other.
On the opposite side, a door opens from the cloister to the choir of
the church, which has also an outer entrance from the street, now
rarely used; for the chaplain comes and goes through the cloister, the
vestibule, and the green door where the portress is.

Beyond her lodge there is a wide hall, with clerestory windows and
glass doors opening to the cloister and the garden; and from this hall
the hospital itself is reached by a passage through which all the
patients are taken. The Mother Superior's rooms are those above the
cloister on the further side of the garden, and have three beautiful
thirteenth century windows divided by pairs of slender columns, so
that each window has two little arches.

In the middle of the garden there is an old well with three arches of
carved stone that spring from three pillars and meet above the centre
of the well-head, and the double iron chain runs over a wheel, and has
two wrought copper buckets, one at each end of it; but the water is
now used only for watering the flowers. There are stone seats round
the well, too, on which three old nuns often sit and sun themselves on
fine days. They are the last of the Sisters of the old time, when
there was no hospital and no training school, and the nuns used to do
anything in the way of nursing that was asked of them by rich or poor,
with a good heart and a laudable intention, but without even the
simplest elements of modern prophylaxis, because it had not been
invented then. For that has all been discovered quite recently, as we
older men can remember only too well.

There are many roses in the garden, and where there is most sun there
is a large bed of carnations, but not of the finer sorts; they are
just plain red and white ones, that fill the air with a scent of warm
cloves on still mornings in the late spring, when it is beginning to
be hot. But if this description has seemed tedious, you must know that
Angela lived in the convent and worked there for five whole years
after Giovanni was lost in Africa; so that it was needful to say
something about her surroundings.

An accomplished psychologist would easily fill a volume with the
history of Angela's soul from the day on which she learned the bad
news till the morning when she made her profession and took the final
vows of her order in the little convent church. But one great
objection to psychological analysis in novels seems to be that the
writer never gets beyond analysing what he believes that he himself
would have felt if placed in the 'situation' he has invented for his
hero or heroine. Thus analysed, Angela Chiaromonte would not have
known herself, any more than those who knew her best, such as Madame
Bernard and her aunt the Princess, would have recognised her. I shall
not try to 'factorise' the result represented by her state of mind
from time to time; still less shall I employ a mathematical process to
prove that the ratio of _dx_ to _dy_ is twice _x_, the change in
Angela at any moment of her moral growth.

What has happened must be logical, just because it has happened; if we
do not understand the logic, that may or may not be the worse for us,
but the facts remain.

It is easy, too, to talk of a 'vocation' and to lay down the law
regarding it, in order to say that such and such a woman acted wisely
in entering a religious order, or that such another made a mistake.
The fact that there is no such law is itself the reason why neither a
man nor a woman is permitted nowadays to take permanent vows until
after a considerable period of probation, first as a 'postulant' and
then as a novice.

For my own part, when Angela Chiaromonte left Madame Bernard's
pleasant rooms in Trastevere and went into the convent hospital of
Santa Giovanna d'Aza through the green door, I do not believe that she
had the very smallest intention of becoming a nun, nor that she felt
anything like what devout persons call a 'vocation.' It was not to
disappear from the world for ever that she went there, and it was not
in order to be alone with her sorrow, though that would have been a
natural and human impulse; nor was it because she felt herself drawn
to an existence of asceticism and mystic meditation.

The prospect of work was what attracted her. She was a perfectly
healthy-minded girl, and though she might never cease to mourn the man
she had loved, it was to be foreseen that in all other respects she
might recover entirely from the terrible shock and live out a normal
life. Under ordinary circumstances that is what would have happened;
she would have gone back to the world after a time, outwardly the
same, though inwardly changed in so far as all possibilities of love
and marriage were concerned; she would have lived in society, year
after year, growing old gracefully and tenderly, as some unmarried
women do whose stories we never knew or have forgotten, but whose
hearts are far away, watching for the great To-morrow, beside a dead
man's grave, or praying before an altar whence the god has departed.
They are women whom we never call 'old maids,' perhaps because we feel
that in memory they are sharing their lives with a well-loved
companion whom we cannot see. That might have been Angela's future.

But a brutal fact put such a possibility out of the question. She was
a destitute orphan, living on the charity of her former governess,
whereas her nature was independent, brave, and self-reliant. When she
rose above the wave that had overwhelmed her, and opened her eyes and
found her senses again, her instinct was to strike out for herself,
and though she talked with Monsignor Saracinesca again and again, she
had really made up her mind after her first conversation with him. She
saw that she must work for her living, but at the same time she longed
to devote her life to some good work for Giovanni's sake. The
churchman told her that if she could learn to nurse the sick, she
might accomplish both ends.

He never suggested that she should become a nun, or take upon herself
any permanent obligation. He had seen much of human nature; the girl
was very young, and perhaps he underrated the strength of her love for
the dead man, and thought that she might yet marry happily and live a
normal woman's life. But there was no reason why she should not become
a trained nurse in the meantime, and there was room for her in the
nuns' hospital of Saint Joan of Aza, an institution which owes its
first beginnings and much of its present success to the protection of
the Saracinesca family, and more particularly to the Princess herself,
the beautiful Donna Corona of other days, and to her second son,
Monsignor Ippolito. The hospital was always in need of young nurses,
especially since a good many of the older ones were going to the Far
East, and when there was a choice the Mother Superior gave the
preference to applicants from the better classes.

The matter was therefore settled without difficulty, and Angela was
soon installed in the tiny room which remained her cell for years
afterwards. It contained a narrow iron bedstead, and during the day a
small brass cross always lay on the white coverlet; there was a chest
of drawers, a minute table on which stood an American nickeled alarum
clock; there was one rush-bottomed chair, and the only window looked
westwards over the low city wall towards Monteverde, where the powder
magazine used to stand before it was blown up. The window was latticed
half-way up, which did not hinder Angela from seeing the view when she
had time to look at it.

She wore a plain grey frock at first, but when she was in the wards it
was quite covered by the wide white cotton garment which all the
nurses wore when on duty. Occasionally Madame Bernard came and took
her for a walk, and sometimes she went out on an errand with one of
the nuns; but she did not care very much for that, possibly because
she was not under any restraint. The beautiful enclosed garden was
wide and sunny, and she could generally be alone there; when the
weather was fine she could wander about between the beds of roses and
carnations or sit on a bench, and if it rained she could walk up and
down under the cloisters. The three old nuns who came out to sun
themselves paid no attention to her, beyond nodding rather shakily
when she bent her head to them in respectful salutation. They had seen
more than a hundred girls enter the convent, to work and grow old like
themselves, and one more neither made any difference to them nor
possessed for them the least interest. That strange petrifaction had
begun in them which overtakes all very old monks and nuns who have
never had very active minds. From doing the same things, with no
appreciable variation, at the same hours for fifty, sixty, and even
seventy years, they become so perfectly mechanical that their bodies
are always in one of a limited number of attitudes, less and less
pronounced as great age advances, till they at last cease to move at
all and die, as the hands of a clock stop when it has run down.

But the three old nuns belonged to a past generation, and it was not
probable that the younger Sisters would ever be like them. The Mother
Superior was a small and active woman, with quick black eyes, a
determined mouth, and a strangely pale face. She seemed to be
incapable of being tired. Among themselves the novices called her the
little white volcano. When the one who had invented the epithet
repeated it to Monsignor Saracinesca in confession, and he gently told
her that it was wrong to speak disrespectfully of her superior, she
rather pertly asked him whether any one who lived under a volcano
could fail to 'respect' it; whereat he shook his head gravely inside
the confessional, but his spiritual mouth twitched with amusement, in
spite of himself. The four novices were inclined to distrust Angela at
first, however, as she was not even a postulant, and it was not till
she became one of themselves that she was initiated into their
language.

It was not long before this took place, however. From the first, she
showed a most unusual aptitude in learning the mechanical part of her
profession, and her extraordinary memory made it easy for her to
remember the lectures which were given for the nurses three times a
week, generally by the house surgeon, but occasionally by the great
Doctor Pieri, who had been a pupil of Basini of Padua and was a
professor in the University of Rome. He showed especial interest in
Angela, and the pert little novice wickedly suggested that he was
falling in love with her; but the truth was that he at once
distinguished in her the natural gifts which were soon to make her the
most valuable nurse at his disposal.

The Mother Superior expected that she would become vain and gave her
some energetic lectures on the evils of conceit. There was a sort of
fury of good about the pale woman that carried everything before it.
She was just, but her righteous anger was a ready firebrand, and when
it burst into flame, as often happened, her eloquence was
extraordinary. Her face might have been carved out of white ice, but
her eyes glowed like coals and her words came low, quick, and clear,
and wonderfully to the point. As a girl, her temper had been terrific,
and had estranged her from her own family; but her unconquerable will
had forged it into a weapon that never failed her in a just cause and
was never drawn in an unjust one. Monsignor Saracinesca sometimes
thought that Saint Paul must have had the same kind of fiery and
fearless temperament.

It sometimes outran facts, if it always obeyed her intention, as
happened one day when she privately gave Angela a sermon on vanity
which would have made the other novices tremble at the time and feel
very uncomfortable for several days afterwards. When she had wound up
her peroration and finished, she drew two or three fierce little
breaths and scrutinised the young girl's face; but to her surprise it
had not changed in the least. The clear young eyes were as steady and
quiet as ever; if they expressed anything, it was a quiet admiration
which the older woman had not hitherto roused in the younger members
of her community.

'Pray for me, Mother,' Angela said, 'and I will try to be less vain.'

The other looked at her again very keenly, and then, instead of
answering, asked a question.

'Why do you wish to be a nun?'

Angela had lately asked herself the same thing, but she replied with
some diffidence:

'If I can do a little good, by working very hard all my life, I hope
that it may be allowed to help the soul of a person who died
suddenly.'

The Mother Superior's white face softened a little.

'That is a good intention,' she said. 'If it is sincere and lasting,
you will be a good nun. You may begin your noviciate on Sunday if you
have made up your mind.'

'I am ready.'

'Very well. I have only one piece of advice to give you, and perhaps I
shall remind you of it often, for it was given to me very late, and I
should have been the better for it. Try to remember what I tell you.'

'I will remember, Mother.'

'It is this. Count your failures but not your successes. You cannot
surprise God by the amount of good you do. There are girls who enter
upon the noviciate just as hard-working students go up for an
examination, hoping to astonish their examiners by the amount they
know. That is well enough at the university, but it is all wrong in
religion. Work how you will, you cannot be perfect, and, if you were,
you could only be what God made man before sin came. Each student is
trying to beat all the others, and one succeeds. We are not trying to
outdo each other; there are no marks in our examination and there is
no competition. We are working together to save life in a world where
millions die for want of care. To do less than the best we can is
failure, for each of us, and the best we can all do together is very
little compared with all there is to be done. Faith, Hope, and Charity
are all we have to help us, all we can ask of Heaven. Believe, hope,
and help others while you live, and all will go well hereafter, never
fear! Not to help, not to believe, not to hope, even during one
moment, is to fail in that moment. Where the sum is light, it is easy
to count the dark places, but not the light itself. That is what I
mean, my daughter, when I say, keep account of your failures but not
of your successes. Try to remember it.'

'Indeed I will,' Angela answered.

She went back to her work, and the Mother Superior's words thereafter
became the rule of her life; but she was not sent for again to listen
to a lecture on vanity, and the small White Volcano was inclined to
think that it had made a mistake in breaking out, and inwardly offered
a conditional apology.

Angela worked hard, and made such progress that before the two years
of her noviciate were over Doctor Pieri said openly that she was the
best surgical nurse in the hospital, and one of the best for ordinary
illnesses, considering how limited her experience had been. The
nursing of wounds is more mechanical than the nursing of a fever, for
instance, and can be sooner learned by a beginner, where the surgeon
himself is always at hand. On the other hand, the value of surgical
nursing depends on relative perfection of detail and rigorous
adherence to the set rules of prophylaxis, whereas other nursing often
requires that judgment which only experience can give. Surgery is a
fine art that has reached a high degree of development in the
treatment of facts, about which good surgeons are generally right. A
great deal of noise is made over surgeons' occasional mistakes, which
are advertised by their detractors, but we hear little of their steady
and almost constant success. Medicine, on the other hand, must very
often proceed by guesswork; but for that very reason it covers up its
defects more anxiously, and is more inclined to talk loudly of its
victories. Every great physician admits that a good deal of his
science is psychological; and psychology deals with the unknown, or
with what is only partially knowable. A mathematician may smile and
answer that 'infinity' is much more than partially 'unknowable,' but
that, by using it, the differential calculus gives results of most
amazing accuracy, and is such a simple affair that, if its mere name
did not inspire terror, any fourth-form schoolboy could easily be made
to understand it, and even taught to use it. What we call the soul may
be infinite or infinitesimal, or finite, or it may be the Hegelian
Nothing, which is Pure Being under another name; whatever it is, our
acquaintance with it is not knowledge of it, since whatever we can
find out about it is based on the Criticism exercised by Pure Reason
and not on experience; and the information which Pure Reason gives us
about the soul is not categorical but antinomial; and by the time
medicine gets into these transcendental regions, consciously or
unconsciously, it ceases to be of much practical use in curing
'pernicious anaemia' or any similarly obscure disease.

All this digression only explains why Angela was a better nurse in
surgical cases than in ordinary illnesses after she had been two years
in training; but that circumstance is connected with what happened to
her later, as will be clear in due time.

In most respects she changed very little, so far as any one could see.
No one in the convent knew how she hoped against all reason, during
those two years, that Giovanni might yet be heard of, though there was
not the least ground for supposing that he could have escaped when all
the others had perished; and indeed, while she still hoped, she felt
that it was very foolish, and when she had a long talk with Monsignor
Saracinesca before taking the veil, she did not even speak of such a
possibility.

She had long ago decided that she would take the veil at the
expiration of the two years, but she wished to define her position
clearly to the three persons whom she cared for and respected most.
These were Madame Bernard, Monsignor Saracinesca, and the Mother
Superior, whose three characters were as different as it would have
been possible to pick out amongst the acquaintance of a lifetime.

Angela asked permission to go with Madame Bernard to the cemetery of
San Lorenzo, where a monument marked the grave of those who had fallen
in the expedition. It was a large square pillar of dark marble,
surmounted by a simple bronze cross. On the four sides there were
bronze tablets, on which were engraved the names of the officers and
men, and that of Giovanni Severi was second, for he had been the
second in command.

No one was near and Angela knelt down upon the lowest of the three
steps that formed the base. After a moment Madame Bernard knelt beside
her. The novice's eyes were fixed on the bronze tablet and her lips
did not move. Her companion watched her furtively, expecting to see
some sign of profound emotion, or of grief controlled, or at least the
shadow of a quiet sadness. But there was nothing, and after two or
three minutes Angela rose deliberately, went up the remaining steps,
and pressed her lips upon the first letters of Giovanni's name. She
turned and descended the steps with a serene expression, as Madame
Bernard got up from her knees.

'Death was jealous of me,' Angela said.

She had never heard of Erinna; she did not know that a maiden poetess
had made almost those very words immortal in one lovely broken line
that has come down to us from five and twenty centuries ago. In the
Everlasting Return they fell again from a maiden's lips, but they
roused no response; Madame Bernard took them for a bit of girlish
sentiment, and scarcely heeded them, while she wondered at Angela's
strangely calm manner.

They walked back slowly along the straight way between the tombs.

'I loved him living and I love him dead,' said the young novice
slowly. 'He cannot come back to me, but some day I may go to him.'

'Yes,' answered Madame Bernard without conviction.

The next world had always seemed very vague to her; and besides, poor
Giovanni had been a soldier, and she knew something of military men,
and wondered where they went when they died.

'You are a very good woman,' Angela continued, following her own train
of thought; 'do you think it is wrong for a nun to love a dead man?'

'Dear me!' exclaimed the little Frenchwoman in some surprise. 'How can
one love a man who is dead? It is impossible; consequently it is not
wrong!'

Angela looked at her quickly and then walked on.

'There is no such thing as death,' she said.

It was Filmore Durand's odd speech that had come back to her often
during two years; when she repeated it to herself she saw his portrait
of Giovanni, which still hung in Madame Bernard's sitting-room, and
presently it was not a picture seen in memory, but Giovanni himself.

Madame Bernard shrugged her shoulders and smiled vaguely.

'Death is a fact,' she said prosaically. 'It is the reason why we
cannot live for ever!'

The reason was not convincing to Angela, but as she saw no chance of
being understood, she went back to the starting-point.

'Then you do not think it can possibly be wrong for a nun to love some
one who is dead?' she asked, her tone turning the statement into a
question.

'Of course not!' cried the governess almost impatiently. 'You might as
well think yourself in love with his tombstone and then fancy it a
sin!'

So one of Angela's three friends had answered her question very
definitely. The answer was not worthless, because Madame Bernard was a
very honest, matter-of-fact woman; on the contrary, it represented a
practical opinion, and that is always worth having, though the view it
defines may be limited. Angela did not try to explain further what she
had meant, and Madame Bernard always avoided subjects she could not
understand. The two chatted pleasantly about other things as they
returned to the convent, and the little Frenchwoman trotted
contentedly back to her lodgings, feeling that the person she loved
best in the world was certain to turn out a very good and happy nun.

Angela was not yet so sure of this, and she took the first opportunity
of consulting Monsignor Saracinesca. They sat and talked together on
one of the stone seats in the cloistered garden. He is a tall, thin
man, with a thoughtful face and a quiet manner. In his youth he was
once entangled in the quarrels of a Sicilian family, as I have
narrated elsewhere, and behaved with great heroism. After that, he
laboured for many years as a simple parish priest in a fever-plagued
district, and he only consented to return to Rome when he realised
that his health was gravely impaired.

Angela put her question with her usual directness and watched his
face. He knew her story, so that there was nothing to explain.

'Is it wrong to love him still?' she asked.

But Monsignor Ippolito did not speak until his silence had lasted so
long that Angela was a little frightened; not that he had any real
doubt as to her intention, but because it was his duty to examine such
a case of conscience in all its aspects.

'What does your own instinct tell you?' he asked at last.

'That it will not be wrong,' Angela answered with conviction. 'But I
may be mistaken. That is why I come to you for advice.'

Again the churchman mused in silence for a while.

'I will tell you what I think,' he said, when he had made up his mind.
'There is a condition, which depends only on yourself, and of which
you are the only judge. You ask my advice, but I can only show you how
to ask it of your own heart. If your love for the man who is gone
looks forward, prays and hopes, it will help you; if it looks back
with tears for what might have been and with longing for what can
never be, it will hinder you. More than that I cannot say.'

'I look forward,' Angela answered confidently. 'I pray and I hope.'

'If you are sure of that, you are safe,' said Monsignor Saracinesca.
'No one but yourself can know.'

'I began to work here hoping and praying that if I could do any good
at all it might help him, wherever he is,' Angela went on. 'That is
the only vocation I ever felt, and now I wish to take the veil because
I think that as a professed nun I may be able to use better what
little I have learned in two years and a half than if I stay on as a
lay sister. It is not for myself, except in so far as I know that the
only way to help him is to do my best here. As I hope that God may be
merciful to him, so I hope that God will accept my work, my prayers,
and my faith.'

The prelate looked at the delicate face and earnest eyes, and the
quietly spoken words satisfied him and a little more. There could be
nothing earthly in such love as that, he was sure, and such simple
faith would not be disappointed. It was not the first time in his
experience as a priest that he had known and talked with a woman from
whom sudden death had wrenched the man she loved, or whom inevitable
circumstances had divided from him beyond all hope of reunion; but he
had never heard one speak just as Angela spoke, nor seen that look in
another face. He was convinced, and felt that he could say nothing
against her intention.

But she herself was not absolutely sure even then, and she went to the
Mother Superior that evening to ask her question for the last time.
The Mother was seated at her writing-table, and one strong electric
lamp shed its vivid light from under a perfectly dark shade upon the
papers that lay under her hand and scattered before her--bills,
household accounts, doctors' and nurses' reports, opened telegrams,
humble-looking letters written on ruled paper and smart notes in
fashionable handwritings. People who imagine that the Mother Superior
of a nursing order which has branches in many parts of the world
spends her time in meditation and prayer are much mistaken.

'Sit down,' said the small white volcano, without looking up or
lifting her thin forefinger from the column of figures she was
checking.

The room would have been very dark but for the light which the white
paper reflected upwards upon the nun's whiter face, and into the dark
air. Angela sat down at a distance as she was bidden, and waited some
minutes, till the Mother Superior had set her initials at the foot of
the sheet with a blue pencil, and raised her face to peer into the
gloom.

'Who is it?' she asked in a businesslike tone, still dazzled by the
light.

'I am Angela, Mother. May I ask you a question?'

'Yes.'

The voice had changed even in that single word, and was kind and
encouraging.

'Two years ago, before I became a novice, you asked me why I wanted to
be a nun, Mother. You thought my intention was good. Now that there is
still time before I make my profession, I have come to ask you once
again what you think.'

'So far as I know, I think you can be a good nun,' answered the Mother
Superior without waiting to hear more, for she never wasted time if
she could possibly help it.

Angela understood her and told her story quickly and clearly, without
a quiver or an inflection of pain in her voice. It was necessary, for
the Mother did not know it all, and listened with concentrated
attention. But before it was ended she had made up her mind what to
say.

'My dear child,' said she, 'I am not your confessor! And besides, I am
prejudiced, for you are a good nurse and I need you and wish you to
stay. Do you feel that there is any reason why you should be less
conscientious than you have been so far, if you promise to go on
working with us as long as you live?'

'No,' Angela answered.

'Or that there is any reason why you should have less faith in God,
less hope of heaven, or less charity towards your fellow-creatures if
you promise to give your whole life to God, in nursing those who
suffer, with the hope of salvation hereafter?'

'No, I do not feel that there can be any reason.'

'Then do not torment yourself with any more questions, for life is too
short! To throw away time is to waste good, and save evil. Believe
always, and then work with all your might! Work, work, work! Work done
for God's sake is prayer to God, and a thousand hours on your knees
are not worth as much as one night spent in helping a man to live--or
to die--when you are so tired that you can hardly stand, and every bone
in your body aches, and you are half-starved too! Work for every one
who needs help, spare every one but yourself, think of every one
before yourself. It is easy to do less than your best, it is
impossible to do more, and yet you must try to do more, always more,
till the end! That should be a nun's life.'

The Mother Superior had led that life till it was little less than a
miracle that she was still alive herself, and altogether a wonder that
her fiery energy had not eaten up the small frail earthly part of her
long ago.

'But it must not be for the sake of the end,' she went on, before
Angela could speak, 'else you will be working only for the hope of
rest, and you will try to kill yourself with work, to rest the sooner!
You must think of what you are doing because it is for others, not for
what it will bring you by and by, God willing. Pray to live long and
to do much more before you die, if it be good; for there is no end of
the sickness and suffering and pain in this world; but few are willing
to help, and fewer still know how!'

She was silent, but her eyes were speaking still as Angela saw them
looking at her over the shaded light, her pale features illuminated
only by the soft reflection from the paper on the table.

The young girl felt a deep and affectionate admiration for her, and
resolved never to forget the brave words, but to treasure them with
those others spoken two years ago: 'Count your failures but not your
successes.'

She rose to take her leave, and, standing before the writing-table,
with each hand hidden in the opposite sleeve, she bent her head
respectfully.

'Thank you, Mother,' she said.

The nun nodded gravely, still looking at her, but said nothing more,
and Angela left the room, shutting the door without noise. The Mother
Superior did not go back to her accounts at once, though her hand
mechanically drew the next sheet from the pile, so that it lay ready
before her. She was thinking of her own beginnings, more than twenty
years ago, and comparing her own ardent nature with what she knew of
Angela's: and then, out of her great experience of character, a doubt
arose and troubled her strangely, though she opposed it as if it had
been a temptation to injustice, or at least to ungenerous thinking. It
was a suspicion that such marvellous calm as this novice showed could
not be all real; that there was something not quite explicable about
her perfect submission, humility, and obedience; that under the
saintly exterior a fire might be smouldering which would break out
irresistibly some day, and not for good.

The woman who had been tried doubted the untried novice. Perhaps it
was nothing more than that, and natural enough; but it was very
disturbing, because she also felt herself strongly attached to Angela,
and to suspect her seemed not only unfair, but disloyal. Yet it was
the bounden duty of the Mother to study the characters of all who
lived under her authority and direction, and to forestall their
possible shortcomings by a warning, an admonition, or an encouraging
word, as the case might be.

She had done what she could, but she was dissatisfied with herself;
and at the very moment when Angela was inwardly repeating her stirring
words and committing them to memory for her lifetime, the woman who
had spoken them was tormented by the thought that she had not said
half enough, or still worse, that she had perhaps made a mistake
altogether. For the first time since she had fought her first great
battle with herself, she had the sensation of being near a mysterious
force of nature which she did not understand; but she had been twenty
years younger then, and the present issue was not to depend on her own
strength but on another's, and it involved the salvation of another's
soul.

It was long before she bent over the columns of figures again, yet she
did not reproach herself with having wasted time. The first of all her
many duties, and the most arduous, was to think for others; to work
for them was a hundred times easier and was rest and refreshment by
contrast.

Angela would have been very much surprised if she could have known
what was passing in the Mother Superior's mind, while she herself felt
nothing but relief and satisfaction because her decision had now
become irrevocable. If she had been bidden to wait another year, she
would have waited patiently and without a murmur, because she could
not be satisfied with anything less than apparent certainty; but
instead, she had been encouraged to take the final step, after which
there could be no return.

That was the inevitable. Human destiny is most tragic when the men and
women concerned are doing their very utmost to act bravely and
uprightly, while each is in reality bringing calamity on the other.

Acting on the only evidence she had a right to trust, the Mother
Superior knew that she would not be justified in hindering Angela from
taking the veil. Few had ever done so well in the noviciate, none had
ever done better, and her natural talent for the profession of nursing
was altogether unusual. There had never been one like her in the
hospital. As for her character, she seemed to have no vanity, no
jealousy, no temper, no moodiness. The Mother had never known such an
even and well-balanced disposition as hers. Would it have been wise to
keep her back longer, because she seemed too perfect? Would it have been
just? Would it not, indeed, have been very wrong to risk discouraging
her, now that she was quite ready? She was almost twenty-one years old
and had taken no step hastily. More than two years and a half had passed
since she had entered the convent, and in all that time no one had been
able to detect the smallest fault in her, either of weakness or of
hastiness, still less of anything like the pride she might actually have
felt in her superiority. To keep her back now would be to accuse
perfection of being imperfect; it would be as irrational as to call
excellence a failing. More than that, it would have a bad effect on the
whole community, a danger which could not be overlooked.

Three years later, the Mother understood the warning doubt that had
assailed her; and when a precious life was in the balance she put
herself on trial before her judging conscience and the witness of her
memory. But though the judge was severe and the testimony unerring,
they acquitted her of all blame, and told her that she had acted for
the best, according to her light, on that memorable evening.

Within less than a month Angela took the veil in the convent church,
and thenceforth she was Sister Giovanna, for that was the name she
chose.




CHAPTER VIII


Five years after Giovanni Severi had left Rome to join the ill-fated
expedition in Africa, his brother Ugo obtained his captaincy and at
the same time was placed in charge of the powder magazine at
Monteverde, which Sister Giovanna could see in the distance from her
latticed window. The post was of considerable importance, but was not
coveted because it required the officer who held it to live at a
considerable distance from the city, with no means of getting into
town which he could not provide for himself; for there is no tramway
leading down the right bank of the Tiber. The magazine was actually
guarded by a small detachment of artillery under two subalterns who
took the night duty by turns, and both officers and men were relieved
at regular intervals by others; but the captain in command held his
post permanently and lived in a little house by himself, a stone's
throw from the gate of the large walled enclosure in which the low
buildings stood. For some time it had been intended to build a small
residence for the officer in charge, but this had not been begun at
the date from which I now take up my story.

The neighbourhood is a lonely one, but there are farm-houses scattered
about at varying distances from the high-road which follows the river,
mostly in the neighbourhood of the hill that bears the name of
Monteverde and seems to have been the site of a villa in which Julius
Caesar entertained Cleopatra.

As every one will understand, Ugo Severi's duties consisted in keeping
an account of the ammunition and explosives deposited in the vaults of
the magazine and in exercising the utmost vigilance against fire and
other accidents. The rule against smoking, for instance, did not apply
outside the enclosure, but Ugo gave up cigarettes, even in his own
house, as soon as he was appointed to the post, and took care that
every one should know that he had done so.

He was a hard-working, hard-reading, rather melancholic man who had
never cared much for society and preferred solitude to a club; a fair
man, with the face of a student and not over robust, but nevertheless
energetic and determined where his duty was concerned. He lived alone
in the little house, with his orderly, a clever Sicilian, who cooked
for him; a peasant woman from a neighbouring farm-house came every
morning to sweep the rooms, make the two beds, and scrub the two stone
steps before the door and clean the kitchen.

The house was like hundreds of other little houses in the Campagna. On
the ground floor there was a cross-vaulted hall where the Captain
transacted business and received the reports of the watch; there was a
tiny kitchen also, a stable at the back for two horses, and a narrow
chamber adjoining it, in which Pica, the orderly, slept. Upstairs
there was only one story, consisting of a large room with a loggia
looking across the river towards San Paolo, a bedroom of moderate
dimensions, and a dressing-room.

The place was more luxuriously furnished than might have been
expected, for though Captain Ugo was not a rich man, he was by no
means dependent on his pay. General Severi had lived to retrieve a
part of his fortune, and had died rather suddenly of heart-failure
after a bad attack of influenza, leaving his property to be divided
equally between his two surviving sons and their sister. The latter
had married away from Rome, and Ugo's younger brother was in the navy,
so that he was now the only member of his family left in Rome.

He was a man of taste and reading, who had entered the army to please
his father and would have left it on the latter's death if he had not
been persuaded by his superiors that he had a brilliant career before
him and might be a general at fifty, if he stuck to the service. He
had answered that he would do so if he might have some post of trust
in which he would have time for study; the command of the magazine at
Monteverde was vacant just then, and as no more influential person
wanted to live in such a dull place, he got it.

Yet his house was not much more than a mile from the gate, by a good
high-road; whence it is clear that his solitude was a matter of choice
and not of necessity. He had few friends, however, and none who showed
any inclination to come and see him, though his acquaintances were
numerous; for he had been rather popular in society when a young
subaltern, and had been welcome wherever his elder brother Giovanni
took him.

Giovanni had been very reticent about his affairs, even with his own
family, and during that last winter in Rome, when he had fallen in
love with Angela Chiaromonte, Ugo had been stationed in Pavia and had
known nothing of the affair. Ugo had a vague recollection that
Giovanni was supposed to have been unduly devoted to the gay Marchesa
del Prato when he had been a mere stripling of a sub-lieutenant, fresh
from the Military Academy and barely twenty, though the Marchesa had
been well over thirty, even then. Ugo had been introduced to her long
afterwards, when she was the Princess Chiaromonte, and she had shown
that she liked him, and had asked him to a dance, to which he had not
gone simply because he had given up dancing.

The Princess, however, had misunderstood his reason for not accepting
her invitation and had supposed that he kept away because he had known
Angela's story and resented, for his brother's sake, the treatment the
girl had received. In an hour of idleness, it now occurred to her that
she might find out whether she had been mistaken in this.

For some one had spoken of Giovanni on the previous evening, in
connection with a report that had lately reached Rome to the effect
that an Italian officer, hitherto supposed to have been among the dead
after the battle of Dogali, had been heard of and was living in
slavery somewhere in the interior of Africa. A newspaper had made a
good story of the matter, out of next to nothing, and it had been a
subject of conversation during two or three days. The lady who told it
to the Princess Chiaromonte had been one of her most assiduous and
intimate enemies for years, and, in order to make her uncomfortable,
advanced the theory that the officer in question was no other than
Giovanni Severi himself.

The Princess was not so easily disturbed, however, and smiled in her
designing friend's face. The poor man was dead and buried, she said, and
every one knew it. The report rested on nothing more substantial than a
letter said to have been written by an English traveller and lion-hunter
to one of the secretaries at the British Embassy in Washington, who was
said, again, to have mentioned the fact to an Italian colleague, who had
repeated it in writing to his sister, who lived somewhere in Piedmont
and had spoken of it to some one else; and so on, till the story had
reached the ears of a newspaper paragraph-writer who was hard up for a
'stick' of 'copy.' All this the Princess knew, or invented, and she ran
off her explanation with a fluency that disconcerted her assailant.

The immediate result was that she bethought her of Ugo Severi, whom
she had passed lately in her motor as he was riding leisurely along
the road beyond Monteverde. She had noticed him because her chauffeur
had slackened speed a little, and she had nodded to him, though it was
not likely that he should recognise her face through her veil. She had
thought no more about him at the time, but she now telephoned to a
friend at headquarters to find out where he was living, and she soon
learned that he was in charge of the magazine.

After a little reflection, she wrote him a note, recalling their
acquaintance and the fact that she had known his poor brother very
well. She had never seen a powder magazine, she said; would he show
the one at Monteverde to her and two or three friends, next Wednesday?

Ugo answered politely that this was quite impossible without a special
permission from the Commander-in-Chief or the War Office, and that he
greatly regretted his inability to comply with her request. As he was
a punctilious man, though he lived almost like a hermit, he took the
trouble to send his orderly into the city on the following afternoon
with a couple of cards to be left at the Palazzo Chiaromonte for the
Prince and Princess, in accordance with Roman social custom.

A few days later a smart 'limousine' drew up to the door of Ugo's
little house and a footman rang the old-fashioned bell, which went on
tinkling in the distance for a long time after the rusty chain had
been pulled. Ugo's Sicilian orderly opened the door at last in a
leisurely way and appeared on the threshold in grey linen fatigue
dress; on seeing the car and the Princess he straightened himself and
saluted.

His master was riding, he said, and would not come home for an hour.
The Princess wrote a message on a card, asking if Ugo would come and
see her any day after five o'clock, and she wrote down the number of
her telephone. She gave the card to the man, and by way of impressing
its importance on him, added that she was a very old friend of the
family and had known the Captain's mother as well as the brother who
had been lost in Africa. She also smiled sweetly, for the Sicilian was
a handsome young man; she had a way of smiling at handsome men when
she was speaking to them, especially if she wished them to remember
what she said.

When the car was gone, Salvatore Pica, the orderly, shut the door and
went into the hall where the telephone was. He looked at the visiting
card before leaving it on the brass salver on the table, where letters
and reports were placed for the Captain whenever he was out; and being
an intelligent man and considerably impressed by what the Princess had
told him, he promptly wrote the name, address, and telephone number in
the address-book which hung by a string beside the instrument. For Ugo
never telephoned himself if he could help it, and was careless about
addresses, which it was Pica's business to copy and have at hand when
needed.

Moreover, the Princess had represented herself as being a very old
friend of the Captain's family, and Pica mentally noted the fact,
because he had often wondered that his master should apparently have
no intimate friends at all, though he was evidently respected and
liked by his brother-officers.

When Ugo came home and dismounted at the door, Pica at once told him
of the Princess's visit, repeating her message without a mistake, and
adding that he had copied her name and address in the telephone-book.
The Captain nodded gravely and looked at the card before he went
upstairs, but said nothing to his man. Being very careful and
punctilious in such matters, as I have said, he wrote a line that
evening, thanking the Princess for her kind invitation and saying that
he hoped to avail himself of it some day, but that he was very busy
just at present. This was true, in a sense, for he had just received
an important new book in two thick volumes, which he was anxious to
read without delay. The fact that it was an exhaustive history of
Confucianism, and could not be considered as bearing on his
professional duties, was not likely to interest the Princess.

She was not used to such rebuffs, however, and before long she made
another attempt. This time she herself called up Pica and asked him at
what hour the Captain could see her on a matter of importance. When
the orderly delivered the message, Severi was at first inclined to
make an excuse; but the Princess's persistency in trying to see him
was obvious, and as he thought it possible that she might wish to ask
him some question relating to Giovanni, he bade Pica answer that he
would stay at home that afternoon, if it suited her convenience to
come. She replied that she would appear about four o'clock.

Ugo was buried in the history of Confucianism when his man came to
tell him this, and he merely nodded, but looked up quickly when Pica
turned to the door.

'Shave and dress,' he said laconically, and at once began to read
again.

It was the order he gave when he expected the visit of a superior
officer, for as a rule Pica only shaved twice a week, and never put on
a cloth tunic except when he had leave for the afternoon and evening.
The little house at Monteverde was a lonely place and the soldier did
no military duty, living the life of an ordinary house servant. It was
a good place, for the Captain was generous.

With an affectation of extreme punctuality, the Princess's footman
rang the bell at four o'clock precisely, and almost before the distant
tinkle was heard Pica opened the door wide and saluted the visitor,
flattening himself against the door-post to give her plenty of room.
He looked very smart in his best uniform, and she smiled and glanced
at his handsome Saracen face as she passed in. He shut the door at
once, leaving the footman outside.

At the same moment Captain Severi was descending the short flight of
stone steps to meet her. He was not very like Giovanni, but in the
half-light the Princess saw a resemblance that made her start. Ugo was
less energetically built, but he wore his uniform well and there was
much in his gait and the outline of his figure that recalled his
brother.

The Princess took his hand almost affectionately and held it in
silence for a moment while she looked into his mild blue eyes. Pica
noticed her manner, which certainly confirmed what she had said about
being a friend of the family.

The mere suggestion of a delicate and exotic perfume had floated into
the house with her. At first it faintly recalled Indian river grass,
but presently Ugo thought it reminded him of muscatel grapes, and then
again of dried rose leaves and violets. She smiled as she withdrew her
hand, and spoke.

'You did not guess that a woman could be so persistent, did you?'

Ugo also smiled, but without cordiality, and then led the way
upstairs. On reaching the large room, the Princess looked about her,
judged the man, and at once expressed her admiration for his good
sense in leading a student's life, instead of squandering his time in
the futilities of society.

The Captain did not ask her what she wanted of him, but offered to
make tea for her, and she saw that a little table had been set for the
purpose. Everything was very simple, but looked so serviceable that
she accepted, judging that she ran no risk of being poisoned. In Italy
it is only society that drinks tea. It was a little early for it, but
that did not matter. The water was boiling in a small copper kettle
shaped like a flat sponge-cake, the tea-caddy was Japanese, and the
teapot was of plain brown earthenware, but the two cups were of rare
old Capodimonte and the spoons were evidently English. She noticed
also that the sugar was of the 'crystallised' kind, and was in a
curiously chiselled silver bowl. The Princess had a good eye for
details.

'You seem to have made yourself very comfortable in your remote little
house,' she laughed, with approval.

'I only hope that you may be, as long as you please to stay,' he
answered, making the tea scientifically.

It was very good, and she chatted idly while she slowly drank it and
nibbled a thin, crisp biscuit. When she had finished he took her cup
and offered to refill it, but she declined and leaned back comfortably
in the big red leather easy-chair.

'I daresay you heard that story about an officer who is reported to be
living in slavery in Africa?' she said, her tone changing and becoming
very grave.

Ugo had read of it in the newspapers.

'Did it occur to you, as it did to me, that he might be Giovanni?' she
asked.

It had occurred to him and he had made inquiries at the War Office,
but had been told that the story had no foundation. He had expected no
other answer. The Princess was silent for a moment.

'One grasps at straws,' she said presently, in a low voice.

He understood that she had really cared for his brother, and looked at
her with more interest than he had hitherto shown.

'I am afraid that there is not the slightest possibility of his being
alive,' he said, with a sadness in which there was also some sympathy
for her.

She had hoped for an indiscreet question, which would allow her to say
something more. It was of no real importance to her to know whether he
bore her any grudge or not, but since she had taken so much trouble to
see him she did not mean to go away without knowing the truth, and
though her curiosity was a mere caprice, it was perhaps not a very
unreasonable one.

'Had you seen much of him during the last months before he went to
Africa?' she asked. 'I did not know you till long after that, you
know. I think you were always away?'

'I was stationed in Pavia,' the Captain answered. 'Giovanni joined the
expedition at short notice and I was not able to see him before he
started. I have always regretted it, for we had not met for eighteen
months.'

'You were never very intimate, I suppose?' suggested the Princess.

'We were always very good friends, but after he was appointed to the
Staff we saw little of each other.'

The Princess mused in silence for a few moments.

'I was very fond of him,' she said at last. 'Did he ever talk about me
to you?'

'No,' Ugo answered. 'Not that I can remember.'

Their eyes met and she saw that he was telling the truth, as, in fact,
he always did.

'I suppose you have heard that he was in love with my poor niece, who
went into a convent after he was lost?' she said tentatively, and
watching his face.

'Indeed?' He showed more interest. 'I never heard of that. Were they
engaged to be married?'

'No. At least, there was no formal engagement. My brother-in-law was
killed in a motor accident just at that time. Then Giovanni went to
Massowah, and you know the rest. But they were very much in love with
each other, and Angela was broken-hearted.'

She now knew what she had come to find out, and she did not care to
rouse his curiosity as to her own share in the story, since no gossip
had taken the trouble to enlighten him.

'Has she taken permanent vows?' he asked.

'Yes. Three years ago, and now it is said that she means to go out to
the Rangoon Leper Hospital. I daresay you have heard that a good many
nuns do that. It is almost certain death and we all feel very badly
about Angela.'

'Poor girl!' exclaimed Ugo. 'She must have cared for him so much that
she is tired of living. Very few of those Sisters ever come back, I
believe.'

'None,' said the Princess Chiaromonte in a tone that would certainly
have arrested his attention if he had known everything. 'It is the
saddest thing in the world,' she went on quickly, fearing that her
hatred had betrayed itself. 'To think that year after year those good
women voluntarily go to certain death! And not even to save life, for
lepers cannot be cured, you know. The most that can be done is to
alleviate their suffering!'

She said this very well, though the words were hackneyed.

'It is heroic,' said Captain Ugo quietly.

She stayed some time longer, and he showed her the finest of his books
and a number of old engravings and etchings; and these really
impressed her because she knew something of their current value, which
was her only standard in judging works of art. At last she showed that
she was thinking of going. Women of the world generally give warning
of their approaching departure, as an ocean steamer blows its horn at
intervals before it starts. The Princess's voice was suddenly
colourless and what she said became more and more general, till she
observed that it was really a lovely day. She looked down at her skirt
critically and then glanced quickly at the walls, one after another.
When you do not know what a woman is looking for in an unfamiliar
drawing-room, it is a mirror to see whether her hat is straight. The
Princess saw none and rose gracefully out of the deep easy-chair.

'It has been such a great pleasure to see you!' she said, the
cordiality returning to her tone as soon as she was on her feet.

'I am very much obliged for your visit,' Ugo answered politely,
because nothing else occurred to him to say, and he clapped his heels
together with a jingle of his spurs as he took her proffered hand.

He was neither shy nor dull of comprehension where women were
concerned, and he understood quite well that she had not come with the
intention of making an impression on him, nor out of mere curiosity to
see what Giovanni's brother was like. He knew what her reputation had
been, but he did not know whether she had retired from the lists at
last or still kept the field; and he cared very little, though he had
sometimes reflected that whereas Balzac had written of the Woman of
Thirty, the 'woman of forty' was still to be studied by a clever
novelist; unless, indeed, Sophocles had made an end of her for ever
when Jocasta hanged herself. One thing, however, was clear: the
Princess had not sought him out with any idea of casting upon him the
spell of a flirtation to make him a sort of posthumous substitute for
his brother. She had faced the light boldly several times in the
course of her visit, so that he had seen the fine lines of middle age
about her mouth and eyes very distinctly, and she had not made any
attempt to show herself off before him, nor to lead him on with
subdued confidences concerning the human affections as she had known
them. He believed that she had come to find out whether he thought
that Giovanni might possibly be alive or not, and he rather liked her
for what seemed to him her frankness and courage, and was
unconsciously flattered, as the best men may be, by her trusting him
so simply.

No doubt it might be true that since the world had put up with her
rather reckless behaviour for over fifteen years, her reputation would
not be lost at this late date by her spending an hour at the rooms of
an officer who was quartered out of town. No doubt, too, that same
reputation was a coat of many colours, on which one small stain more
would scarcely show at all, but she had never been in the habit of
risking spots for nothing. Moreover, it is a curious fact that men are
better pleased at being trusted by a clever woman who has had many
adventures than when an angel of virtue places her good name under
their protection: there is less irksome responsibility in playing
confidant to Lady Jezebel than in being guardian to the impeccable
Lucretia.

If nothing more had happened, the Princess's visit would have had
little or no importance in this story; but as things turned out, the
incident was one of the links in a chain of events which led to a
singularly unexpected and dramatic conclusion, as will before long
clearly appear.

Fate often behaves like a big old lion, when he opens his sleepy eyes
and catches a first sight of you as he lies alone, far out on the
plain. He lifts his tawny head and gazes at you quietly for several
seconds and then lowers it as if not caring what you do. You creep
nearer, cautiously, noiselessly, and holding your breath, till some
faint noise you make rouses his attention again and he takes another
look at you, longer this time and much less lazy, while you stand
motionless. Nevertheless, you are only a man, and not worth killing;
if he is an old lion, he may have eaten a score like you, white and
black, but he is not hungry just now and wants to sleep. Down goes his
head again, and his eyes shut themselves for another nap. On you go,
stealthily, nearer and nearer, your rifle ready in both hands. But a
dry stalk of grass cracks under your foot, and almost before you can
stand still he is up and glaring at you, his long tufted tail showing
upright against the sky. If you move, even to lift your gun to your
shoulder, he will charge; and sooner or later, move you must. Then,
suddenly, he is bounding forward, by leap after leap, hurling his huge
strength through the air, straight at you, and as the distance lessens
you see his burning eyes with frightful distinctness. Two more such
bounds as the last will do it. Take care, for within ten seconds
either you or he will be dead. There is no other end possible.

Fate does not always kill, it is true; but you have not that one
chance against her which your weapon gives you against the lion, and
she may maul you badly before she has done with you, even worse than
the biggest cat would.

It was not Ugo Severi's fate that was waking, and that began to look
towards Monteverde when Princess Chiaromonte paid him a visit. It was
not even the Princess's own.

When she was gone, he went back to his history of Confucianism, and
Pica got into his grey linen fatigue suit again, and carefully brushed
his smart uniform before folding it and putting it away in the chest.
Then he washed the tea-things, rubbed the two silver spoons with a
special leather he kept for them, and shut up everything in the
cupboard. After that, he opened the front door and sat down on the
brick seat that ran along the front of the house. He would have liked
to smoke a pipe, but Captain Ugo was very particular about that, so he
took out half of a villainous-looking 'napoletano' cigar, bit off
three-quarters of an inch of it, and returned the small remainder to
his pocket; and after a few minutes he concluded, as usual, that a
chew was far cheaper than a smoke and lasted much longer.

As the sun sank he looked across the yellow river towards Saint
Paul's, and because he had been bred in sight of the sea it struck him
that the distant belfry tower was very like a lighthouse, and he
smiled at the thought, which has occurred to men of more cultivation
than he had.

His eyes wandered to his left, and the sunset glow was on the low city
walls, not a mile away, reddening the upper story of an ancient
convent beyond. His sharp eyes counted the windows mechanically, and
one of them belonged to the cell of Sister Giovanna, the Dominican
nun, though he did not know it; and much less did he guess that before
very long he himself, and his master, and the fine lady who had come
in a motor that afternoon, were all to play their parts in the nun's
life. If he had known that, he would have tried to guess which window
was hers.

The first bitter tang of the vile tobacco was gone out of it, and Pica
thoughtfully rolled the quid over his tongue to the other side of his
mouth. At that moment he was aware of a man in a little brown hat and
shabby clothes who must have come round the house very quietly, from
the direction of the magazine, for he was already standing still near
the corner, looking at him.

'What do you want?' Pica asked rather sharply.

The man looked like a bad character, but raised his hat as he answered
with a North Italian accent.

'I am a stranger,' he said. 'Can you tell me how to reach the nearest
gate?'

'There is the road,' the soldier replied, pointing to it, 'and there
is Rome, and the nearest gate is Porta Portese.'

'Thank you,' the man said, and went on his way.




CHAPTER IX


During the month of December the Princess Chiaromonte fell ill, much
to her own surprise and that of her children, for such a thing had
never happened to her since she had been a mere child and had caught
the measles; but there was no mistaking the fact that she now had a
bad attack of the influenza, with high fever, and her head felt very
light. During the first two days, she altogether refused to stay in
her room, which made matters worse; but on the third morning she
yielded and stayed in bed, very miserable and furiously angry with
herself. It had always been her favourite boast that she never caught
cold, never had a headache, and never broke down from fatigue; and
considering the exceedingly gay life she had led she certainly had
some cause to be vain of her health.

Her eldest daughter and her maid took care of her that day, and her
maid sat up with her during the following night, after which it became
quite clear that she must have a professional nurse. The doctor
insisted upon it, though the Princess herself flew into a helpless
rage at the mere suggestion; and then, all at once, and before the
doctor had left the room, she began to talk quite quietly about
ordering baby frocks and a perambulator, though her youngest boy was
already twelve years old and went to school at the Istituto Massimo.
The doctor and the maid looked at each other.

'I will telephone for one of the White Sisters,' the doctor said.
'They are the ones I am used to and I know the Mother Superior.'

It happened that the nurses of Santa Giovanna were much in demand at
that time, for there was an epidemic of influenza in the city, and as
they were almost all both ladies and Italians, society people
preferred them to those of other orders. Three-quarters of an hour
after the doctor had telephoned, one of them appeared at the Palazzo
Chiaromonte, a rather stout, grave woman of forty or more, who knew
her business.

She at once said, however, that she had come on emergency, but could
not stay later than the evening, when another Sister would replace
her; it would be her turn on the next morning to begin her week as
supervising nun in the Convent hospital, a duty taken in rotation by
three of the most experienced nuns, and it was absolutely necessary
that she should have her night's rest before taking charge of the
wards.

The Princess had fallen into a state of semi-consciousness which was
neither sleep nor stupor, but partook of both, and her face was
scarlet from the fever. Two or three times in the course of the
afternoon, however, she was evidently aware of the nurse's presence,
and she submitted without resistance to all that was done for her. The
maid, who had been in the sick-room all night and all the morning, was
now asleep, and the doctor had advised that the children should be
kept away from their mother altogether. When the doctor came again,
about six o'clock, the nun explained her own position to him, and
begged him to communicate with the Convent before leaving the palace,
as the Princess should certainly not be left without proper care, even
for an hour. He did what she asked, and the answer came back in the
Mother Superior's own voice. She said that she was very short of
nurses, and that it would be extremely inconvenient to send one, and
she therefore begged of him to get a Sister from another order.

He replied very crossly that he would do nothing of the sort, that he
believed in the White Sisters and meant to have a White Sister, and
that a White Sister must come, and a good one; and that if it was only
a matter of inconvenience, it was better that the Convent should be
inconvenienced for him than that he should be disappointed; and he
added so much more to the same effect, with so many emphatic
repetitions, that the Mother Superior promised to break all rules and
come herself within an hour if no other Sister were available. For she
had a very high regard for him, in spite of his rough tone and harsh
voice.

Her difficulty was a very simple one. The only nurse who was free that
evening was Sister Giovanna, who had returned just before mid-day from
a case that had ended badly, and she had been asleep ever since. But
the Mother Superior knew how the Princess had treated her niece and
robbed her of her fortune, and she could not foresee what might happen
if the young nun took charge of the case. After giving her somewhat
rash promise to the doctor, she sent for her, therefore, and explained
matters.

'I do not think that my aunt will recognise me,' said Sister Giovanna.
'She has never set eyes on me since I was a girl of eighteen in deep
mourning. Our dress changes us very much, and I must have changed,
too, in five years. Even my voice is not the same, I fancy.'

The Mother Superior looked at her keenly. She was very fond of her,
but it had never occurred to her to consider whether the young
Sister's appearance had altered or not. Yet her own memory for faces
was good, and when she recalled the features of the slim, fair-haired
girl in black whom she had first seen, and compared the recollection
with the grave and almost saintly face before her, closely confined by
the white wimple and gorget, and the white veil that bound the
forehead low above the serious brow, she really did not believe that
any one could easily recognise the Angela of other days.

'I suppose I never realise how changed we all are,' she said
thoughtfully. 'But do you not think the Princess Chiaromonte may
remember you when she hears your name?'

'Many Sisters have taken it,' Sister Giovanna answered. 'And, after
all, what harm can there be? If she recognises me and is angry, she
can only send me away, and meanwhile she will be taken care of, at
least for the night. That is the main thing, Mother, and one of the
Sisters will surely be free to-morrow morning.'

So the matter was settled. Sister Giovanna got her well-worn little
black bag, her breviary, and her long black cloak, and in half-an-hour
she was ascending the grand staircase of the palace in which she had
lived as a child.

She felt more emotion than she had expected, but no sign betrayed that
she was moved, nor showed the servant who led her through the
apartments and passages that she was familiar with every turn. Though
she went through the great hall and her feet trod upon the very spot
where the dead Knight of Malta had lain in state, not a sigh escaped
her, nor one quickly-drawn breath.

She was ushered to the very room that had been her father's, and stood
waiting after the servant had tapped softly at the door. The other nun
came out noiselessly and pulled the door after her without quite
closing it. She explained the case to Sister Giovanna, and said that
the Princess seemed to be asleep again. She probably knew nothing of
any relationship between the patient and Sister Giovanna; but if she
remembered anything of the latter's story, it was not her business to
comment on the circumstance, even mentally. Even in the nursing
orders, where the real names of the Sisters may often be known to
others besides the Mother Superior, the Sisters themselves
scrupulously respect one another's secret, though it may be almost an
open one, and never discuss the identity of a member of their
community. Where nuns are cloistered, actual secrecy is preserved as
far as possible, and though a Sister may sometimes talk to another
about her former life, and especially of her childhood, she never
mentions her family by name, even though she may be aware that the
truth is known.

Sister Giovanna entered the sick-room alone, as the other nurse seemed
to think that the unexpected sight of two nuns might disturb the
patient. If the Princess noticed the new face, when she next opened
her eyes, she made no remark and showed no surprise; so that Sister
Giovanna felt quite sure of not having been recognised. There was very
little light in the room, too, by the doctor's advice, and a high
screen covered with old Cordova leather stood between the bed and the
table on which the single shaded candle was placed.

The nun stood beside the pillow and looked long at the face of the
woman who had wronged her so cruelly and shamefully. After a few
seconds she could see her very distinctly in the shadow; the features
were flushed and full, and strangely younger than when she had last
seen them, as often happens with fair people of a certain age at the
beginning of a sharp fever, when the quickened pulse sends the hot
blood to the cheeks and brings back the vivid brilliancy of youth. But
the experienced nurse knew that and was not surprised. After taking
the temperature and doing all she could for the moment, she left the
bedside and sat down to read her breviary by the light on the other
side of the screen. The illness was only an attack of influenza after
all, and she knew how strong her aunt had always been; there was no
cause for anxiety, nor any necessity for sitting constantly within
sight of the patient. Twice an hour she rose, went to the sick woman's
side and gave her medicine, or drink, or merely smoothed the pillow a
little, as the case might be, and then came back to the table. The
Princess was not so restless as most people are in fever, and she did
not try to talk, but took whatever was given her like a model of
resignation. The delirium had left her for the present.

Reading slowly, and often meditating on what she read, Sister Giovanna
did not finish the office for the day and close her book till nearly
midnight. Her old watch lay on the table beside the candlestick, and
her eyes were on the hands as she waited till it should be exactly
twelve before taking the patient's temperature again. But it still
wanted three minutes of the hour when the Princess's voice broke the
profound silence. The words were spoken quietly, in a far-away tone:

'I stole it.'

Sister Giovanna started more nervously than a nurse should, and looked
straight at the screen as if she could see her aunt's face through the
leather. In a few seconds she heard the voice again, and though the
tone was lower, the words were as distinct as if spoken close to her
ear.

'I hid it on me, and left my little bag behind on purpose because the
footman would be sure to open that, to take my cigarettes. I knew he
often did. It was very clever of me was it not? He will swear that he
went back for the bag and that there were no papers in it.'

It was not the first time, by many, that Sister Giovanna had heard a
delirious patient tell a shameful secret that had been kept long and
well. She rose with an effort, pressing one hand upon the table. It
was plainly her duty to prevent any further revelations if she could
and to forget what she had heard; for a trained nurse's standard of
honour must be as high as a doctor's, since she is trusted as he is.

Yet the nun waited a moment before going round the screen,
unconsciously arguing that if the patient did not speak again it would
be better not to disturb her at that moment. To tell the truth, too,
Sister Giovanna had not fully understood the meaning of what her aunt
had said. She stood motionless during the long pause that followed the
last words.

Then, without warning, the delirious woman began to laugh, vacantly
and foolishly at first, and with short interruptions of silence, but
then more loudly, and by degrees more continuously, till the spasms
grew wild and hysterical, and bad to hear. Sister Giovanna went
quickly to her and at once tried to put a stop to the attack. The
Princess was rolling her head from side to side on the pillows, with
her arms stretched out on each side of her and her white hands clawing
at the broad hem of the sheet with all their strength, as if they must
tear the fine linen to strips, and she was shrieking with
uncontrollable laughter.

Sister Giovanna bent down and grasped one arm firmly with both hands.

'Control yourself!' she said in a tone of command. 'Stop laughing at
once!'

The Princess shrieked again and again.

'Silence!' cried the nurse in a stern voice, and she shook the arm she
held with a good deal of roughness, for she knew that there was no
other way.

The delirious woman screamed once more, and then gulped several times
as if she were going to sob; at last she lay quite still for a moment,
gazing up into her nurse's eyes. Then a change came into her face, and
she spoke in a hoarse whisper, and as if frightened.

'Are you going to refuse me absolution for taking the will?' she
asked.

The question was so unexpected that Sister Giovanna did not find
anything to say at once, and before any words occurred to her the
Princess was speaking hurriedly and earnestly, but still in a loud
whisper, which occasionally broke into a very low and trembling tone
of voice.

'I did it for the best. What could that wretched girl have done with
the money, even if the lawyers had proved the will good? Why did not
my brother-in-law get civilly married, instead of leaving his daughter
without so much as a name? There must have been a reason. Perhaps she
was not really his wife's child! It was all his fault, and the will
was not legal and would only have given trouble if I had let them find
it! So I took it away, and burned it in my own room. What harm was
there in that? It saved so many useless complications, and we had a
right to the fortune! The lawyers said so! I cannot see that it was
really a sin at all, Father, indeed I cannot! I have confessed it from
a scruple of conscience, and you will not refuse me absolution! How
can you, when I say I am sorry for it? Yes, yes, I am!' The voice rose
to a low cry. 'Since you say it was a sin I repent, I will--what? You
are not in earnest, Father? Make restitution? Give the whole fortune
to a nun? Oh, no, no! You cannot expect me to do that! Rob my children
of what would have been theirs even if I had not taken the will? It is
out of the question, I tell you! Utterly out of the question! Besides,
it is not mine at all--I have not got a penny of it! It is all my
husband's and I cannot touch it--do you understand?'

Sister Giovanna had listened in spite of herself.

'The nun expects nothing and does not want the money,' she said,
bending down. 'Try to rest now, for you are very tired.'

'Rest?' cried the Princess, starting up in bed and leaning on one
hand. 'How can I rest when it torments me day and night? I come to you
for absolution and you refuse it, and tell me to rest!'

She broke into a wild laugh again, but Sister Giovanna instantly
seized her arm as she had done before, and spoke in the same
commanding way.

'Be silent!' she said energetically.

The delirious woman began to whine.

'You are so rough, Father--so unkind to-day! What is the matter with
you? You never treated me like this before!'

She was sobbing the next moment, and real tears trickled through her
fingers as she covered her face with her hands.

'You see--how--how penitent I am!' she managed to cry in a broken voice.
'Have pity, Father!'

She was crying bitterly, but though she was out of her mind the nun
could not help feeling that she was acting a part, even in her
delirium, and in spite of the tears that forced themselves through her
hands and ran down, wetting the lace and spotting the scarlet ribbons
of her elaborate nightdress. Sister Giovanna put aside the thought as
a possibly unjust judgment, and tried to quiet her.

'If you are really sorry for what you did, you will be forgiven,' said
the nun.

This produced an immediate effect: the sobbing subsided, the tears
ceased to flow, and the Princess repeated the Act of Contrition in a
low voice; then she folded her hands and waited in silence. Sister
Giovanna stood upright beside the pillows, and prayed very earnestly
in her heart that she might forget what she had heard, or at least
bear her aunt no grudge for the irreparable wrong.

But the delirious woman, who still fancied that her nurse was her
confessor, was waiting for the words of absolution, and after a few
moments, as she did not hear them, she broke out again in senseless
terror, with sobbing and more tears. She grasped the Sister's arms
wildly and dragged herself up till she was on her knees in bed,
imploring and weeping, pleading and sobbing, while she trembled
visibly from head to foot.

The case was a difficult one, even for an experienced nurse. A lay
woman might have taken upon herself to personate the priest and
pronounce the words of the absolution in the hope of quieting the
patient, but no member of a religious order would do such a thing,
except to save life, and such a case could hardly arise. The Princess
Chiaromonte was in no bodily danger, and the chances were that the
delirium would leave her before long; when it disappeared she would
probably fall asleep, and it was very unlikely that she should
remember anything she had said in her ravings. Meanwhile it was
certainly not good for her to go on crying and throwing herself about,
as she was doing, for the fever was high already and her wild
excitement might increase the temperature still further.

Sister Giovanna took advantage of a brief interval, when she was
perhaps only taking breath between her lamentations, out of sheer
necessity.

'You must compose yourself,' the nun said with authority. 'You seem to
forget that you have been ill. Lie down for a little while, and I will
come back presently. In the meantime, I give you my word that your
niece has forgiven you with all her heart.'

She could say that with a clear conscience, just then, and gently
disengaging herself, she succeeded without much difficulty in making
the Princess lay her head on the pillow, for the words had produced a
certain effect; then, leaving the bedside, she went back to the table.
But she did not sit down, and only remained standing about a minute
before going back to the patient.

She went round by the opposite side of the screen, however, with the
hope that the Princess, seeing her come from another direction, would
take her for a different person. Very small things sometimes affect
people in delirium, and the little artifice was successful; she came
forward, speaking cheerfully in her ordinary voice, and at once put
her arm under the pillow, propping her aunt's head in order to make
her drink comfortably. There was no resistance now.

'You are much better already,' she said in an encouraging tone. 'Does
your head ache much?'

'It feels a little light,' the Princess said, quite naturally, 'but it
does not hurt me now. I think I have been asleep--and dreaming, too.'

Perhaps some suspicion that she had been raving crossed her unsettled
brain, for she glanced quickly at the nun and then shut her eyes.

'Yes,' she said, apparently satisfied; 'I have been dreaming.'

Sister Giovanna only smiled, as sympathetically as she could, and
sitting down by the head of the bed, she stroked the burning forehead
with her cool hand, softly and steadily, for several minutes; and
little by little the Princess sank into a quiet sleep, for she was
exhausted by the effort she had unconsciously made. When she was
breathing regularly, the nun left her side and went noiselessly back
to her seat behind the screen.

She did not open her breviary again that night. For a long time she
sat quite still, with her hands folded on the edge of the table,
gazing into the furthest corner of the room with unwinking eyes.

She had said that she forgave her aunt with all her heart, and she had
believed that it was true; but she was less sure now that she could
think of her past life, and of what might have been if she had not
been driven from her home destitute and forced to take refuge with
Madame Bernard.

In the light of what she had just learned, the past had a very
different look. It was true that she had urged Giovanni to join the
expedition, and had used arguments which had convinced herself as well
as him. But she had made him go because, if he had stayed, he would
have sacrificed his career in the army in order to earn bread for her,
who was penniless. If she had inherited even a part of the fortune
that should have been hers, it never would have occurred to him to
leave the service and go into business for her support; or if it had
crossed his mind, she would have dissuaded him easily enough. So far
as mere money went, he had not wanted or needed it for himself, but
for her; and if she had been rich and had married him, he could not
have been reproached with living on her. To persuade him, she had
urged that his honour required him to accept a post of danger instead
of resigning from the army as soon as it was offered to him, and this
had been true to some extent; but if there had been no question of his
leaving the service, she would have found him plenty of satisfactory
reasons for not going to Africa, and he had not been the kind of man
whom gossips care to call a coward. Reasons? She would have invented
twenty in those days, when she was not a nun, but just a loving girl
with all her womanhood before her!

If her aunt had not stolen the will and robbed her, she would have
hindered Giovanni from leaving Italy, and she would have married him,
that was the plain truth. He would have been alive now, in his youth
and his strength and his love for her, instead of having perished in
the African desert. That was the thought that tormented the guilty
woman, too: it was the certainty that her crime had indirectly sent
him to his death. So thought Sister Giovanna as she sat staring into
the dark corner through the hours of the night, and she wondered how
she had been able to say that she forgave, or had dared to hope that
she could forget. If it had been only for herself, it might have been
quite different; but her imagination had too often unwillingly
pictured the tragic death of the man she had loved so well to forgive
the woman who had caused it, now that she had revealed herself at
last.

So long as Angela had believed that her father had left no will,
because he had been in ignorance of the law, she had been able to tell
herself that her great misfortune had been inevitable; but since it
turned out that he had provided for her and had done his duty by her,
according to his light, the element of inevitable fate disappeared,
and the awful conviction that Giovanni's life had been wantonly
sacrificed to enrich Princess Chiaromonte and her children forced
itself upon her intelligence and would not be thrust out.

It seemed to Sister Giovanna that this was the first real temptation
that had assailed her since she had taken her vows, the first moment
of active regret for what might have been, as distinguished from that
heartfelt sorrow for the man who had perished which had not been
incompatible with a religious life. Recalling the Mother Superior's
words of warning, she recorded her failure, as the first of its kind,
and prayed that it might not be irretrievable, and that resentment and
regret might ebb away and leave her again as she had been before the
unforgettable voice had pierced her ears with the truth she had never
guessed.

It was a great effort now to go to the bedside and do what must be
done for the sick woman--to smooth the pillow for the head that had
thought such thoughts and to stroke the hand that had done such a
deed. She was tempted to take the little black bag and leave the house
quietly, before any one was up. That was not a very dreadful thought,
of course, but it seemed terrible to her, whose first duty in life was
to help sufferers and soothe those who were in pain. It seemed to her
almost as bad as if a soldier in battle were suddenly tempted to turn
his back on his comrades, throw down his rifle, and run away.

She felt it each time that she had to rise and go round the screen,
and when she saw the flushed face on the pillow in the shadow, the
longing to be gone was almost greater than she could resist. She had
not understood before what it meant to loathe any living thing, but
she knew it now, and if she did her duty conscientiously that night,
easy and simple though it was, she deserved more credit than many of
the Sisters who had gone so bravely to nurse the lepers in far
Rangoon.

She did not feel the smallest wish to hurt the woman who had injured
her, let that be said in her praise; for though vengeance be the
Lord's, to long for it is human. She only desired to be out of the
house, and out of sight of the face that lay where her father's had
lain, and beyond reach of the voice that had told her what she wished
she had never known.

But there was no escape and she had to bear it; and when the night
wore away at last, it had been the longest she remembered in all her
life. Her face was as white as the Mother Superior's and her dark blue
eyes looked almost black; even Madame Bernard would not have
recognised the bright-haired Angela of other days in the weary and
sad-faced nun who met the doctor outside the door of the sick-room
when he came at eight o'clock.

She told him that the patient had been delirious about midnight, but
had rested tolerably ever since. He glanced at the temperature chart
she brought him and then looked keenly at her face and frowned.

'What is the matter with all of you White Sisters?' he growled
discontentedly. 'First they send me one who cannot stay over night,
and then they send me one who has not been to bed for a week and ought
to stay there for a month! When did you leave your last case?'

'Yesterday morning,' answered Sister Giovanna submissively. 'I slept
most of the afternoon. I am not tired and can do my work very well, I
assure you.'

'Oh, you can, can you?' The excellent man glared at her savagely
through his spectacles. 'You cannot say anything yourself, of course,
but I shall go to your hospital to-day and give your Mother Superior
such a scolding as she never had in her life! She ought to be ashamed
to send out a nurse in your worn-out condition!'

'I felt quite fresh and rested when I left the Convent in the
evening,' said the Sister in answer. 'It is not the Mother Superior's
fault.'

'It is!' retorted the doctor, who could not bear contradiction. 'She
ought to know better, and I shall tell her so. Go home at once,
Sister, and go to bed and stay there!'

'I am quite able to work,' protested Sister Giovanna quietly. 'There
is nothing the matter with me.'

Still the doctor glared at her.

'Show me your tongue!' he said roughly.

The nun meekly opened her mouth and put out her little tongue: it was
as pink as a rose-leaf. The doctor grunted, grabbed her wrist and
began to count the pulse. Presently he made another inarticulate
noise, as if he were both annoyed and pleased at having been mistaken.

'Something on your mind?' he asked, more kindly--'some mental
distress?'

'Yes.' The word was spoken reluctantly.

'I am sorry I was impatient,' he said, and his large brown eyes softened
behind his round spectacles as he turned to enter the sick-room.

It was not his business to ask what had so greatly disturbed the peace
of Sister Giovanna.




CHAPTER X


When the Princess Chiaromonte was getting well, she asked some
questions of her doctor, to which he replied as truthfully as he
could. She inquired, for instance, whether she had been delirious at
the beginning, and whether she had talked much when her mind was
wandering, and his answers disturbed her a little. As sometimes
happens in such cases, she had disjointed recollections of what she
had said, and vague visions of herself that were not mere creations of
her imagination. It was like a dream that had not been quite a dream;
opium-eaters know what the sensation is better than other men. Under
the influence of laudanum, or the pipe, or the hypodermic, they have
talked brilliantly, but they cannot remember what the conversation was
about; or else they know that they have been furiously angry, but
cannot recall the cause of their wrath nor the person on whom it was
vented; or they have betrayed a secret, but for their lives they could
not say who it was to whom they told it. The middle-aged woman of the
world felt that her reputation was a coat of many colours, and her
past, when she looked back to it, was like a badly-constructed play in
which the stage is crowded with personages who have little connection
with each other. There was much which she herself did not care to
remember, but much more that no one else need ever know; and as she
had never before been delirious, nor even ill, the thought that she
had now perhaps revealed incidents of her past life was anything but
pleasant.

'It is so very disagreeable to think that I may have talked nonsense,'
she said to the doctor, examining one of her white hands thoughtfully.

'Do not disturb yourself about that,' he answered in a reassuring
tone, for he understood much better than she guessed. 'A good trained
nurse is as silent about such accidental confessions as a good priest
is about intentional ones.'

'Confession!' cried the Princess, annoyed. 'As if I were concealing a
crime! I only mean that I probably said very silly things. By the bye,
I had several nurses, had I not? You kept changing them. Do you happen
to know who that Sister Giovanna was, who looked so ill? You sent her
back after two days, I think, because you thought she might break
down. She reminded me of a niece of mine whom I have not seen for
years, but I did not like to ask her any questions, and besides, I was
much too ill.'

'I have no idea who she was before she entered the order,' the doctor
answered.

He was often asked such futile questions about nurses, and would not
have answered them if he had been able to do so. But in asking
information the Princess was unwittingly conveying it, for it flashed
upon him that Sister Giovanna was perhaps indeed that niece of whom
she spoke, and whom she was commonly said to have defrauded of her
fortune; the nun herself had told him of the sick woman's delirious
condition, and he remembered her looks and her admission that she was
in mental distress. All this tallied very well with the guess that her
aunt had made some sort of confession of her deed while her mind was
wandering, and that she now dimly recalled something of the sort. He
put the theory away for future consideration, and left the Princess in
ignorance that he had thought of it or had even attached any special
meaning to her words.

She was far from satisfied, however, and made up her mind to follow up
the truth at all costs. As a first step, she sent a generous donation
to the Convent of the White Sisters, as soon as she was quite
recovered; and as her illness had not been serious enough to explain
such an important thank-offering, she wrote a line to say that she had
never been ill before, and had been so much impressed by the care she
had received that she felt she must really do something to help such
an excellent institution. It would give her keen pleasure to visit the
hospital, she said in conclusion, but that was no doubt too great a
favour to ask.

In thanking her, the Mother Superior replied that it would be no
favour at all, and that the Princess would be welcome whenever she
chose to send word that she was coming. On the day following that, the
Mother told Sister Giovanna what had happened, and with characteristic
directness asked what she thought about her aunt's charity.

'It is very kind of her,' answered the young nun in that monotonous,
businesslike tone which all religious use when speaking of an
apparently charitable action for the motive of which they are not
ready to vouch, though they have no reasonable ground for criticism.

People of the world often speak in that voice when unexpectedly asked
to give an opinion about some person whom they dislike but do not dare
to abuse.

The little white volcano flared up energetically, however.

'I hate that sort of answer!' she cried, with a delicate snort.

Sister Giovanna looked at her in surprise, but said nothing.

'I cannot refuse the money,' said the Mother Superior, 'but I heartily
wish I could! She has given it in order to come here and to be well
received if she chooses to come again. I am sure of that, and she can
have no object in coming here except to make mischief for you. It may
be wicked of me, but I do not trust that lady in the least! Do you?'

She asked the question suddenly.

'She cannot harm me more than she did years ago,' Sister Giovanna
answered.

'I wish that were certain!' said the other. 'I wish I had gone to
nurse her myself that night instead of sending you!'

She was so evidently in earnest that the Sister was even more
surprised than before, and wondered what was the matter. But as it was
not her place to ask questions, and as the Mother Superior's doubt, or
presentiment of trouble, was evidently suggested by sincere affection
for herself, she said nothing, and went about her work without letting
her mind dwell too long on the conversation. Men and women who lead
the religious life in earnest acquire a much greater control of their
secret thoughts than ordinary people can easily believe it possible to
exercise.

Nevertheless, the Princess's voice came back to her ears when she was
alone and told the story over and over again; and somehow her aunt was
often mentioned in the Convent as a recent benefactress who was
showing a lively interest in the hospital, and would perhaps give
further large sums to it which could be expended for good. Sister
Giovanna never said anything when the subject came up, but she could
not help thinking of Judas's suggestion that the alabaster box of
precious ointment might have been sold and given to the poor, and a
disturbing spirit whispered that Princess Chiaromonte, whose past
might well be compared with the Magdalen's, had done what Iscariot
would have advised.

In due time, too, the great lady visited the Convent and hospital, and
was shown over it systematically by the Mother Superior herself,
followed by an approving little escort of nurses and novices, for it
was of course permissible to appreciate and admire the smart clothes
of a benefactress, whereas it would have been the height of levity to
bestow so much attention on a lady visitor who was merely fashionable
and had done nothing for the institution. This, at least, was the
novices' point of view. But the little white volcano seemed quietly
cross, and held her small head very high as she led the Princess from
one ward to another to the beautifully fitted operating-room; and when
she spoke her tone was strangely cold and mordant, as a woman's voice
sometimes sounds in the Alps, when she speaks across an ice-fall or a
frozen lake.

The Princess looked behind her repeatedly, and her eyes sought her
niece's face amongst those she saw, but she asked no questions about
her, and apparently gave all her attention to what was shown her.
Sister Giovanna was in her cell during all that time, and should no
doubt have been occupied; but instead, she was standing idly at her
window, looking through one of the diamond-shaped openings in the
lattice, in the direction of Monteverde. She was hardly aware of what
she saw, however, for in imagination she was following her aunt
through the halls and wards and long corridors, and a struggle was
going on in her heart which hurt her and made her despise herself.

The woman who had ruined her life was under the same roof with her
again, and she could not forgive her; and that seemed a very great
sin. What had she gained in the five years that had gone by since the
beginning of her noviciate, if she could not even forgive an injury?
That was the question. Since her life had led her to nothing better
than smouldering resentment and sharp regret, it had not been the holy
life she had meant it to be--the failure she must score against herself
was a total one, a general defeat--and all that she had believed she
had been doing for the dead man's sake must count for nothing, since
she had not once been really in a state of grace.

No doubt her self-accusation went too far, as a confessor would have
told her, or even the Mother Superior, if that good and impulsive
woman had known what was in her mind. But Sister Giovanna did not
believe she could go far enough in finding fault with herself for such
great sins as her regret for a married life that might have been, and
her lasting anger against a person who had robbed her; and it was
while she was standing at her latticed window that morning that she
first thought of making an even more complete sacrifice by joining the
Sisters who intended to go out to the Rangoon leper hospital in the
spring.

It was not with the hope of dying young that she wished to go and face
death daily, but in the earnest desire to escape from what she called
her temptation, and to regain that peace of mind which had been hers
for a long time and now was gone. She had made for herself a little
treasure-house of grace laid up, to be offered for Giovanni's soul,
and the gold of her affliction and the jewels of her unselfish labours
had been gathered there to help him. That had been her simple and
innocent belief, but it had broken down suddenly as soon as she
discovered that she was only a human, resentful, regretful woman after
all, as far below the mystic detachment from the outward world as she
had been in those first days of her grief, at Madame Bernard's, when
she had sat listless all the day long, a broken-hearted girl. What she
had taken for gold and had stored up for Giovanni's welfare was only
the basest metal, her jewels were but chips of gaudy glass, her
sacrifice was a failure after all. Worse than that, her dead man came
back alive from his grave and haunted her in dreams, threatening
righteous judgment on the woman who had cheated her and him of earthly
happiness.

I shall not dwell on what she felt. Men and women who have honestly
tried to lead the good life for years and have suddenly realised that
they are as human as ever before, will understand what I have written.
The rest must either believe that it is true or, not believing, read
on for the sake of knowing Sister Giovanna's strange story, or else
throw my book aside for a dull novel not worth reading. We cannot
always be amusing, and real life is not always gay.

The young nun waited in her cell till the Mother Superior herself
opened the door and entered. For the Princess was gone, after seeing
everything, praising everything with the flattering indiscrimination
of total ignorance, and, finally, after asking permission to make
another visit. She had spent ten minutes in the Mother's own rooms
before leaving, and had asked the names of the three Sisters who had
taken care of her in succession, writing them down on the back of a
visiting-card. She wished to remember them in her prayers, she said;
but the little white volcano almost laughed in her face, and the black
diamond eyes twinkled furiously as they turned away to hide their
scornful amusement--so strong was the nun's conviction that the new
benefactress was a humbug. The Princess looked at the names quite
calmly after she had written them--Sister Saint Paul, Sister Giovanna,
and Sister Marius--and asked whether she had seen any of them during
her visit. But the Mother Superior answered that they were all three
either nursing private cases or not on duty, which might mean that
they were resting in their cells.

Sister Giovanna started slightly as the door of her cell opened, for
she had scarcely realised that she had not moved from the window for a
long time. The elder woman had not taken the trouble to knock, and,
strange to say, a faint blush rose in the Sister's face as if she had
been surprised and were a little ashamed of being caught in idleness
instead of reading her breviary for the day or doing something useful
with her hands. The black eyes looked at her searchingly, for nothing
escaped them.

'What have you been thinking of?' asked the impulsive woman.

There was a moment's silence.

'The Rangoon lepers,' answered the Sister in a quiet voice.

The Mother Superior's white face hardened strangely.

'The Princess Chiaromonte is gone,' she said rather sharply, 'and you
are wanted in the surgical ward at once.'

She turned without another word and went quickly away, leaving the
door open. It was clear that she was not pleased with the answer she
had received.

Six weeks later Sister Giovanna went to her rooms on the other side of
the cloistered court after first chapel and knocked at the door. It
was a Monday morning in March, and she was to be Supervising Nurse for
the week, but the custom was to go on duty at eight o'clock and it was
not yet seven.

'Well?' asked the Mother Superior, looking up from her papers, while
the young nun remained standing respectfully at the corner of the big
desk.

The tone did not invite confidence; for some reason as yet unexplained
the Mother had avoided speaking with her best nurse since that morning
in the cell.

'I have made up my mind to go to the lepers with the others, Mother,
if you will give me your permission.'

The alabaster face suddenly glowed like white fire in the early light,
the dark eyebrows knitted themselves angrily, and the lips parted to
speak a hasty word, but immediately closed again. A long silence
followed Sister Giovanna's speech, and the elder nun looked down at
her papers and moved some of them about mechanically, from one place
to another on the table.

'Are you angry with me, Mother?' asked Sister Giovanna, not
understanding.

'With you, child?' The Mother looked up, and her face had softened a
little. 'No, I am not angry with you--at least, I hope I am not.'

It was rather an ambiguous answer, to say the least, and the young nun
waited meekly for an explanation. None came, but instead, advice,
delivered in a direct and businesslike tone.

'You had better put the idea out of your mind for a month or so,
honestly and with all the intention of which you are capable. If this
is a mere impulse, felt under some mental distress, it will subside
and you will think no more about it. If it is a true call, it will
come back and you will obey it in due time. More than that, I cannot
tell you. If you are not satisfied that I am advising you well, go to
Monsignor Saracinesca the next time he is here. It is my place to
warn, not to hinder; to help you if I can, not to stand in your way.
That is all, my daughter. Go to your duties.'

Sister Giovanna bent her head obediently and left the room at once.
When she was gone, the Mother Superior rose from her desk and went
into her cell, locking the door after her. An hour later she was still
on her knees and her face was buried in her hands. She was weeping
bitterly.

In all that numerous community which she governed and guided so well
there was not one person who would have believed that she could shed
tears, scalding and passionate, even rebellious, perhaps, if the whole
truth were known; for no Sister or novice of them all could have
imagined that such irresistible grief could take possession of a woman
who, as they all said among themselves, was made of steel and ice,
merely because one more of them wished to go to the Far East where so
many had gone already.

But they did not know anything about the Mother Superior. Indeed, when
all was said, they knew next to nothing of her past, and as it was
against all rules to discuss such matters, it was not likely that they
should ever hear more, even if a new Sister joined them who chanced to
have some information. They were aware, of course, that her name, in
religion, was Mother Veronica, though they did not speak of her except
as the Mother Superior. It was true that they had never heard of a nun
of their order taking the name of Veronica, but that was not a matter
to criticise either. She spoke exceedingly pure Italian, with the
accent and intonation of a Roman lady, but it was no secret that when
she had come to take the place of her predecessor, who had died
suddenly, she had arrived from Austria; and she also spoke German
fluently, which argued that she had been in that country some time.
There was certainly nothing in these few facts to account for what she
suffered when Sister Giovanna spoke of going to Rangoon, and it would
have been hard to believe that her burning tears overflowed in spite
of her, not only that first time but often afterwards, at the mere
thought of parting with the best nurse in the hospital, even if she
felt some special sympathy for her.

Whatever the cause of her trouble was, no one knew of it; and that she
found no cause for self-accusation in what she felt is clear, since
she made no mention of it in her next confession. Indeed, she more
often found fault with herself for being harsh in her judgments and
too peremptory and tyrannical in the government of her community, than
for giving way easily to the impulses of human sympathy. She was not
nervous either, in the sense of her nerves being unsteady or
overwrought in consequence of a long-continued strain; there was
nothing in her weeping that could have suggested a neurotic breakdown
even to the most sceptical of physicians. It was genuine,
irresistible, overwhelming grief, and she knew that its cause was not
even in part imaginary, but was altogether real, and terrible beyond
any expression.

Nevertheless, she found strength to speak to Monsignor Saracinesca of
Sister Giovanna's intention, one day when he came to see her early in
the morning on a matter of business; for he managed the finances of
the Convent hospital and was also its representative in any questions
in which the institution, as distinguished from the order had secular
dealings with the world.

The prelate and the Mother met as usual in the cloistered garden, and
when Convent affairs had been disposed of, they continued their walk
in silence for a few moments.

'I want your unprejudiced opinion about the future of one of the
Sisters,' said the Mother Superior at last, in her usual tone.

'I will try to give it,' answered Monsignor Saracinesca.

'Sister Giovanna wishes to go to Rangoon with the other three.'

The churchman betrayed no surprise, and answered without hesitation:

'You know what I always say in such cases, when I am consulted.'

'Yes. I have given her that advice--to wait a month to try to put the
idea out of her mind, to make sure that it is not a passing impulse.'

'You cannot do more,' said Monsignor Saracinesca, 'nor can I.'

The Mother Superior turned up her white face and looked at him so
steadily that he gazed at her in surprise.

'It ought to be stopped,' she said, with sudden energy. 'It may be
wrong to call it suicide and to interfere on that ground, but there is
another, and a good one. I am responsible for the hospital here, for
the nursing in it, and for the Sisters who are sent out to private
cases. Year after year, one, two, and sometimes three of my best young
nurses go away to these leper asylums in Rangoon and other places in
the Far East. It is not the stupid ones that go, the dull, devoted
creatures who could do that one thing well, because it is perfectly
mechanical and a mere question of prophylaxis, precaution, and
routine--and charity. Those that go always seem to be the best, the
very nurses who are invaluable in all sorts of difficult cases from an
operation to a typhoid fever; the most experienced, the cleverest, the
most gifted! How can I be expected to keep up our standard if this
goes on year after year? It is outrageous! And the worst of it is that
the "vocation" is catching! The clever ones catch it because they are
the most sensitively organised, but not the good, simple, humdrum
little women who would be far better at nursing lepers than at a case
of appendicitis--and better in heaven than in a leper asylum, for that
matter!'

Monsignor Saracinesca listened in silence to this energetic tirade;
but when the little white volcano was quiescent for a moment, he shook
his head. It was less an expression of disapproval than of doubt.

'It is manifestly impossible to send the least intelligent of the
Sisters, if they do not offer to go,' he answered. 'Besides, how would
you pick out the dull ones? By examination?'

He was not without a sense of humour, and his sharply-chiselled lips
twitched a little but were almost instantly grave again. The Mother
Superior's profile was as still as a marble medallion.

'It ought to be stopped altogether,' she said presently, with
conviction. 'Meanwhile, though I have told Sister Giovanna that it is
not my place to hinder her, much less my right, I tell you plainly
that I will prevent her from going, if I can!'

This frank statement did not surprise the prelate, who was used to her
direct speech and energetic temper, and liked both. But he said little
in answer.

'That is your affair, Reverend Mother. You will do what your
conscience dictates.'

'Conscience?' repeated the nun with a resentful question in her tone.
'If the word really means anything, which I often doubt, it is an
instinctive discernment of right and wrong in one's own particular
case, to be applied to the salvation of one's own soul. Is it not?'

'Undoubtedly.'

'What have I to do with my own particular case?' The volcano flared up
indignantly. 'It is my duty to do what is best for the souls and
bodies of forty women and girls, more or less, and of a great number
of sick persons here and in their own homes, without considering
myself at all, my instincts, or my little individual discernment of my
own feelings, or my human likes and dislikes of people. If my duty
leads me into temptation, I have got to face temptation intentionally,
instead of avoiding it, as we are taught to do, and if I break down
under it, so much the worse for me--the good of the others will have
been accomplished nevertheless! That is one side of my life. Another
is that if my duty demands that I should tear out my heart and trample
on it, I ought not to hesitate, though I knew I was to die of the
pain!'

The clear low voice vibrated strangely.

'But I will not do it, unless it is to bring about some real good to
others,' she added.

Monsignor Saracinesca glanced at her face again before he answered.

'Your words are clear enough, but I do not understand you,' he said.
'If I can possibly help you, tell me what it is that distresses you.
If not, let us talk of other things.'

'You cannot help me.' Her thin lips closed upon each other in an even
line.

'I am sorry,' answered the churchman gravely. 'As for Sister
Giovanna's intention, I share your opinion, for I think she can do
more good here than by sacrificing herself in Burmah. If she consults
me, I shall tell her so.'

'Thank you.'

They parted, and the Mother Superior went back to her room and her
work with a steady step and holding her head high. But she did not
even see a lay sister who was scrubbing her small private staircase,
and who rose to let her pass, saluting her as she went by.

Monsignor Saracinesca left the garden by the glass door that opened
into the large hall, already described, and he went out past the
portress's little lodge. She was just opening the outer door when he
came up with her, and the next moment he found himself face to face
with Madame Bernard. He stepped back politely to let her pass, and
lifted his hat with a smile of recognition; but instead of advancing
she uttered a little cry of surprise and satisfaction, and retreated
to let him come out. He noticed that her face betrayed great
excitement, and she seemed hardly able to speak.

'What is the matter?' he asked kindly, as he emerged from the deep
doorway.

The portress was waiting for Madame Bernard to enter, but the
Frenchwoman had changed her mind and held up her hand, shaking one
forefinger.

'Not to-day, Anna!' she cried. 'Or later--I will come back, perhaps--I
cannot tell. May I walk a few steps with you, Monseigneur?'

'By all means,' answered the prelate.

The door of the Convent closed behind them, but Madame Bernard was
evidently anxious to get well out of hearing before she spoke. At the
corner of the quiet street she suddenly stood still and looked up to
her companion's face, evidently in great perturbation.

'Well?' he asked. 'What is it?'

'Giovanni Severi is alive.'

Monsignor Saracinesca thought the good woman was dreaming.

'It is impossible,' he said emphatically.

'On the contrary,' returned Madame Bernard, 'it is perfectly true. If
you do not believe me, look at this!'

She opened her governess's reticule and fumbled amongst the little
school-books and papers it contained. In a moment she brought out a
letter, sealed, stamped, and postmarked, and held it up before the
tall prelate's eyes.

It was addressed to 'Donna Angela Chiaromonte,' to the care of Madame
Bernard at the latter's lodgings in Trastevere, the stamp was an
Italian one, and the postmark was that of the military post-office in
Massowah. Monsignor Saracinesca looked at the envelope curiously, took
it from Madame Bernard and examined the stamped date. Then he asked
her if she was quite sure of the handwriting, and she assured him that
she was; Giovanni had written before he started into the interior with
the expedition, and she herself had received the letter from the
postman and had given it to Angela. What was more, after Angela had
gone to live at the Convent, Madame Bernard had found the old envelope
of the letter in a drawer and had kept it, and she had just looked at
it before leaving her house.

'He is alive,' she said with conviction; 'he has written this letter
to her, and he does not know that she is a nun. He is coming home, I
am sure!'

Monsignor Saracinesca was a man of great heart and wide experience,
but such a case as this had never come to his knowledge. He stood
still in deep thought, bending a little as he rested both his hands on
the battered silver knob of his old stick.

'He is coming home!' repeated Madame Bernard in great distress. 'What
are we to do?'

'What were you going to do just now, when I met you at the door?'
asked the prelate.

'I do not know! I was going to see her! Perhaps I would have broken
the news to her gently, perhaps I would have said nothing and kept the
letter to give it to her at another time! How can I tell what I would
have done? It would have depended so much on the way she took the
first suggestion! People have died of joy, Monseigneur! A little
weakness of the heart, a sudden joyful surprise, it stops beating--that
has happened before now!'

'Yes. It has happened before now. I knew of such a case myself.'

'And I adore the child!' cried the impulsive Frenchwoman, ready to
burst into tears. 'Oh, what shall we do? What ought we to do?'

'Do you know the Mother Superior?'

'Oh yes! Quite well. Are you going to tell me that I should take the
letter to her? She is a cold, hard woman, Monseigneur! A splendid
woman to manage a hospital, perhaps, but she has no more heart than a
steel machine! She will burn the letter, and never tell any one!'

'I think you are mistaken about her,' answered the churchman gravely.
'She has more heart than most of us, and I believe that even you
yourself are not more devoted to Sister Giovanna than she is.'

'Really, Monseigneur? Is it possible? Are you sure? What makes you
think so?'

'To the best of my knowledge and belief, what I have told you is the
truth, though I might find it hard to explain my reasons for saying
so. But before you go to the Mother Superior, or speak of the matter
to Sister Giovanna, there is something else to be done. This letter,
by some strange accident of the post, may have been written before
Giovanni Severi died. There is a bare possibility that it may have
been mislaid in the post-office, or that he may have given it to a
comrade to post, who forgot it--many things may happen to a letter.'

'Well? What must I do?'

'If he is alive, the fact is surely known already at headquarters, and
you should make inquiries. To give Sister Giovanna a letter from the
dead man would be wrong, in my opinion, for it would cause her
needless and harmful pain. If he is dead, it should be burned, I
think. But if he is really alive, after all, you have no right to burn
it, and sooner or later she must have it and know the truth, with as
little danger to her health and peace of mind as possible.'

'You are right, Monseigneur,' answered Madame Bernard. 'What you say
is full of wisdom. I have three lessons to give this morning, and as
soon as I am free I will go myself to the house of a superior officer
whose daughter I used to teach, and he will find out the truth by the
telephone in a few minutes.'

'I think that is the best course,' said the churchman.

So they parted, for he was going to Saint Peter's, and she turned in
the direction of the nearest tramway, hastening to her pupils. And
meanwhile the inevitable advanced on its unchanging course.

For Giovanni Severi was alive and well, and was on his way to Rome.




CHAPTER XI


Giovanni Severi's adventures, between his supposed death in the
massacre of the expedition and his unexpected reappearance at Massowah
nearly five years later, would fill an interesting little volume in
themselves; but inasmuch as an account of them would not make this
story clearer and would occupy much space, it is enough to state the
bare facts in a few words. Such tales of danger, suffering, and
endurance have often been told at first hand, by the heroes of them,
far more vividly and correctly than a mere story-teller can narrate
them on hearsay.

The expedition had been attacked and destroyed by a handful of natives
from a wandering tribe that was camping very near. Within a few
minutes their chief was informed of what they had done, and he rode
out to the spot with a large body of men at his heels. Among the dead,
Giovanni Severi lay bleeding from a gash in the head, but not mortally
hurt. The chief was by no means a mere dull savage, and finding an
Italian officer alive, he recognised at once that it would be a
mistake to knock him on the head and leave him with his comrades to be
disposed of by the vultures and hyaenas. On the other hand, he must not
be allowed to escape to the Italian colony with news of the disaster.
At some future time, and from a safe distance, it might be possible to
obtain a large ransom for him; or, on the other hand, if a large force
were ever sent up the country to revenge the outrage, it might be to
the credit of the chief if he could prove that the deed had been done
without his knowledge and that he had treated the only survivor
humanely. He therefore took possession of Giovanni and provided for
his safety in a simple manner by merely stating that if the prisoner
escaped he would cut off ten heads, but if any harm came to him, he
would cut off at least a hundred. As no one doubted but that he would
keep his word, as he invariably did in such matters, Giovanni had but
small chance of ever regaining his liberty, and none at all presented
itself for nearly five years. During that time he travelled with his
captors or lived in camps, many hundreds of miles from the outposts of
civilisation; he learned their language and the chief insisted on
learning his, as it might be useful; furthermore, he was required to
teach his master whatever he could about modern warfare and what
little he knew of agriculture and its arts of peace. In return he was
well fed, well lodged when possible, and as well clad as any man in
the tribe except the chief himself, which was not saying much.

His chance came at last and he did not let it pass. It involved
killing one of his guards, stunning another, and seizing the chief's
own camel, and it was not without great risk to his life that he got
away. A fortnight later he had travelled five hundred miles and
reported himself at headquarters in Massowah, dressed in a long native
shirt, a dirty turban, and nothing else, as Captain Giovanni Severi,
formerly of the Staff and late of the expedition that had perished
five years earlier.

It chanced, for the inevitable was at work, that the mail steamer for
Italy was to leave the next morning and a small man-of-war on the
following day, also homeward bound. Giovanni wrote to Angela
Chiaromonte by the former and went on board the Government vessel
twenty-four hours afterwards. He himself sent no telegram, because he
did not know where his brothers were and he feared lest a telegraphic
message might give Angela a bad shock, if it reached her at all.
Moreover, he had no news of her and could get no information whatever,
so that he addressed his letter to Madame Bernard's old lodgings on
the mere possibility that it might reach its destination.

Any one might have supposed that the news of his escape would have
been in the papers before he reached Italy, for it was telegraphed to
the War Office in Rome by the officer in command of the force at
Massowah. But the Minister chose to keep the intelligence a secret
till Giovanni's arrival, because he expected to gain much information
from him and feared lest the newspapers should get hold of him and
learn facts from him which would be more useful to Italy if not made
public; and when the Italian Government wishes to keep a secret, it
can do so quite as well as any other, to the despair of the public
press.

The consequence of the Minister's instructions was that Giovanni was
met by a superior officer who came on board the man-of-war at Naples
in order to forestall any possible attempt on the part of
correspondents to get hold of him, and also for the purpose of giving
him further directions for his conduct. He was to proceed to Rome at
once, and the Minister would receive him privately on the following
day at twelve o'clock. He was recommended not to go to an hotel, but
to put up with his brother, who, as he now learned, was at Monteverde,
and had been privately informed of his arrival and warned to be
discreet.

The mail steamer which had brought Giovanni's letter to Madame Bernard
had stopped at Port Said, Alexandria, and Messina, but the man-of-war
came direct to Naples, and though slower than the packet-boat, arrived
there only a few hours later. Madame Bernard's inquiries, made through
the old colonel whose daughter she had formerly taught, proved
fruitless, because the War Office would not allow Giovanni's coming to
be known, and the result was that she took the letter home with her in
her bag, and spent the evening in a very disturbed state of mind,
debating with herself as to what she ought to do. She would have given
anything to open the envelope, if only to see the date, and once or
twice, when she reflected on the importance of knowing whether the
writer was alive before giving his letter to Sister Giovanna, she
almost yielded; but not quite, for she was an honourable little woman,
according to her lights.

Late on that night Giovanni got into the train that was to bring him
to Rome before Madame Bernard would be ready to go out in the morning.

Ugo Severi had been summoned by the Minister some days previously, and
had been told that his brother was alive and coming home, and would
lodge with him. Meanwhile Captain Ugo was put on his honour to say
nothing of the matter to his friends. Such a recommendation was, in
fact, needed, as Ugo would otherwise have informed the Princess
Chiaromonte, if no one else. Considering how much feeling she had
shown about Giovanni's supposed death, it would have been only humane
to do so; but the Minister's instructions were precise and emphatic,
and Ugo kept what he knew to himself and thought about it so
continually that Confucianism temporarily lost its interest for him.

He had always been on good terms with Giovanni, though they had not
seen much of each other after the latter was appointed to the Staff.
As for the brother who was in the Navy, Ugo rarely saw him or even
heard of him, and since their father had died he himself had led a
very lonely existence. His delight on learning that Giovanni had
escaped and was returning may be imagined, for, in spite of his
apparent coldness and love of solitude, he was a man of heart, and
like many Italians of all classes his ideal of happiness would have
been to live quietly under one roof with his brothers and sister.
There is probably no other people in the world that finds such
permanent satisfaction in what most of us would think a dull family
life. It is a survival of the ancient patriarchal way of living, when
the 'family' was a religion and its head was at once its absolute
ruler and its high priest.

The only preparation which Ugo had made for receiving Giovanni was the
purchase of an iron folding camp-bed. He told his orderly that a
brother officer of his might have to spend a night in the house before
long, which was strictly true. In due time a soldier on a bicycle
brought him an official note from the Minister, informing him that
Giovanni had reached Naples and would appear at Monteverde on the
following morning. This note came late in the afternoon, and Ugo
thought it needless to inform Pica, as Giovanni would certainly not
wish to go to bed as soon as he arrived, so that the little bedstead
need not be set up till he actually came.

At ten o'clock that evening, Ugo rose from his easy-chair, stretched
himself, and whistled for Pica as usual. The orderly brought him his
boots, his cloak, his sabre, and his cap, all of which he put on, as
he always did, before going downstairs, for it was the hour at which
he invariably inspected the neighbourhood. It was his practice to
begin by walking round the outside of the enclosure, his man carrying
a good lantern; he then examined the interior of the space, and
finally visited the guard-room and exchanged a word with the officer
on duty for the night. Of late, he had occasionally gone out again
between twelve and one o'clock, before going to bed; for two or three
suspicious-looking characters had been seen in the neighbourhood of
the magazine, like the man in the battered brown hat who had come upon
Pica one afternoon and had asked his way. There was, in fact, a
disquieting suspicion at headquarters that an attempt might be made to
blow up one of the magazines; the detachments of soldiers on duty had
therefore been strengthened and the officers in charge had been
instructed to exercise the greatest vigilance.

When Captain Ugo went out of his door as usual, with Pica at his
heels, the night was dark and it was just beginning to rain. The two
went directly from the little house to the gate of the enclosure, and
Ugo answered the sentry's challenge mechanically and walked briskly
along the straight wall to the corner. Turning to the right then, he
was following the next stretch at a good pace when he stumbled and
nearly fell over something that lay in his path. As Pica held up the
lantern close behind him, a man sprang up from the ground, where he
must have been lying asleep, probably in liquor. By the uncertain
light and in the rain, Ugo saw only the blurred vision of an
individual in a ragged and dripping overcoat, with an ugly, blotched
face and a ruined hat.

An instant later, and just as Ugo was challenging the man, two shots
were fired. The first smashed and extinguished the lantern in Pica's
hand without hurting him; the second took effect, and the Captain
staggered against the wall, but instead of falling, sat down suddenly
on the wet ground with his back against the masonry. The ruffian was
gone and Pica had dashed after him in a fruitless pursuit, for the
breaking of the lantern in his hand had checked the orderly as he was
about to spring at the miscreant, who thus gained a sufficient start
to ensure his escape.

In a few seconds the officer on duty and three or four of the men were
on the spot with lights.

'You will have to carry me,' said the Captain calmly enough. 'I am
shot in the foot and something is broken. Turn out the guard,
Lieutenant, as a matter of principle and have the neighbourhood
searched, though you will not find any one now. The fellow has got
clean away.'

The men lifted him and carried him towards his house. Before they
reached the door Pica met them, breathing hard and muttering Sicilian
imprecations on the man who had wounded his master and got away; but
while the Captain was being taken upstairs the orderly lit a candle
and went to the telephone in the hall. He glanced at the address-book
and then without hesitation he asked the central office to give him
Princess Chiaromonte's number. His reason for doing so was simple: she
was the only person in Rome who had ever appeared in the light of a
friend of the Captain's family; she would do the right thing at once,
Pica thought, and would send the best surgeon in Rome out to
Monteverde in a motor in the shortest possible time. She was at home
that evening, as it turned out, and at Pica's request she came to the
telephone herself and heard his story.

She answered that she would try and get Doctor Pieri to go at once in
her own motor, as he had the reputation of being the best surgeon in
the city, but that if he could not be found she would send another
doctor without delay. Pica went upstairs and found the Captain
stretched on his bed in his wet clothes, while the three soldiers who
had carried him up were trying to pull his boot off instead of cutting
it. One of the younger officers from the magazine was already scouring
the neighbourhood in obedience to Ugo's orders.

Pica sent the men away at once with the authority which a favourite
orderly instinctively exercises over his less fortunate comrades. He
was neither stupid nor quite unskilled, however, and in a few minutes
he had slit the Captain's boot down the seam at the back and removed
it almost without hurting him, as well as the merino sock. The small
round wound was not bleeding much, but it was clear that the bone of
the ankle was badly injured and the whole foot was already much
swollen. The revolver had evidently been of small calibre, but the
charge had been heavy and the damage was considerable. Pica had the
sense not to attempt to make any bandage beyond laying two soft folded
handkerchiefs one upon the other to the wound and loosely confining
them with a silk one. While he was busy with this, he explained what
he had done. The Captain, who knew that he was badly hurt and guessed
that he might be lamed for life by unskilful treatment, was glad to
hear that the famous Pieri had been called. He said that he felt no
pain worth speaking of, and he questioned his man as to the latter's
impression of what had happened. Pica did not believe in anarchists
and gave it as his opinion that the ruffian was an ordinary bad
character who was in daily expectation of being arrested for some
crime and who had fallen asleep in his cups, not knowing that he was
close to the magazine. Being awakened suddenly, he had probably
supposed himself overtaken by justice, had fired and run away. The
explanation was plausible, at all events. Neither Ugo nor his man
believed that any one would really try to blow up the place, for they
regarded that as quite impossible without the collusion of some one of
the soldiers, which was not to be thought of.

While they were talking, Pica managed to get off the Captain's outer
clothes; but as they were partly wet with rain, the bed was now damp.
He therefore went and got the new camp bedstead and set it up, spread
dry blankets and sheets over it, and lifted Ugo to it without letting
the injured foot hang down, for he was a fairly strong man and was far
from clumsy.

The change had just been successfully made when a motor was heard
coming up the short stretch from the high-road to the house, and Pica
hastened downstairs to open the door for the surgeon. To his surprise,
but much to his satisfaction, the Princess Chiaromonte was the first
to get out in the rain, bareheaded, but muffled in a waterproof. She
had no footman and no umbrella, and she made a quick dash for the
door, followed at once by Doctor Pieri. She recognised the handsome
orderly and smiled at him as she shook the rain-drops from her hair
and then gave him her cloak.

'Is he badly hurt?' she asked quickly; but she saw from Pica's face
that it was not a matter of life and death, and she did not wait for
his answer. 'We will go upstairs at once,' she added, leading the way
to the steps.

On learning that Ugo was already in bed, she said she would wait in
the large sitting-room while the doctor went in to see what could be
done. If the Captain would see her, she would speak to him when Pieri
had finished his work.

Nearly three-quarters of an hour passed before he joined her.

'It is a bad fracture,' he said, 'and it will require an operation if
he is not to be lamed for life. I should much prefer to perform it in
a proper place. There is none better than the private hospital of the
White Sisters and it is by far the nearest. Do you happen to know the
place?'

The Princess said that she did and that she was a patroness of the
Convent. The surgeon observed that it was now past eleven, and that
the patient could not be moved before morning. If she agreed with him
and would lend her motor for the purpose, he would communicate with
the hospital and take the Captain there himself between eight and nine
o'clock. For the present he needed no special nursing, and the orderly
seemed to be an unusually intelligent young fellow, who could be
trusted and was sincerely attached to his master. The Princess agreed
to everything, and asked whether the Captain wished to see her.

He did, and when she stood beside him he pressed her hand gratefully
and thanked her with real feeling for her great kindness. She
answered, before Pica, that she would always do anything in her power
for any one of his name, and she explained that she would be at the
hospital on the following morning to see that he had a good private
room and received special care. He thanked her again and bade her
good-night. Two or three minutes later he heard the motor puffing and
wheezing, and Pica came back after shutting the door. Ugo now sent him
over to the guard-room with a message to the lieutenant on duty,
requesting him to write a brief official account of the occurrence and
to send it by hand to headquarters the next morning. It was necessary
that another officer should take Ugo's place in command of the fort
while he was in hospital.

Pica came back again in a few moments. Then Ugo insisted on having
writing-materials, and sat up, propped with cushions, while he wrote a
short note to the Minister of War, explaining what had happened, and
that he would not leave his home on the morrow till his brother had
arrived, but that some further arrangement must be made if Giovanni
was to lodge in the house, which would probably be wanted for the
officer who was to take his own place. Pica was to be at the
Minister's own residence at seven o'clock with this note and was to
wait for an answer. The Minister was known to be a very early riser
and would have plenty of time to arrange matters as he thought best.

Ugo was now in a good deal of pain, and it seemed very long before the
panes of his window turned from black to grey as the dawn
fore-lightened. He made Pica get him coffee, and soon after sunrise the
orderly brought one of the men from the guard-house to remain within
call in case the Captain needed anything. Pica took his bicycle and went
off to the city with the note for the Minister.

As Ugo had anticipated, Giovanni arrived in a station cab while the
orderly was still absent, and was admitted by the soldier, on his
representing that he was a relation of the Captain's and had come a long
distance to see him. The man briefly explained that Ugo was in bed,
having been wounded in the foot during the night, but was in no danger.
A moment later the brothers were together.

Ugo saw a man standing beside his bed and holding out his hand whom he
would certainly not have recognised if he had met him in the street. His
skin was almost as dark as an Arab's, and he wore a brown beard which
had reddened in streaks under the African sun. He was as lean as a
half-starved greyhound, but did not look ill, and his eyes were fiery
and deeper set than formerly. His head had been shaved when he had worn
a turban, but the hair was now more than half an inch long, and was as
thick as a beaver's fur. He was dressed in a suit of thin grey clothes
which he had picked up in Massowah, and which did not fit him, and his
canvas shoes were in a bad way. When he spoke, it was with a slight
accent, unlike any that Ugo had heard, and he occasionally hesitated as
if trying to find a word.

After the first greetings, he sat down and told the main facts of his
story. When he paused the two looked at each other and after a while
they laughed.

'The disguise is complete,' Ugo said. 'But are you going to call on the
Minister in those clothes? If you are seen near the magazine in that
condition you will be warned off and I shall have to explain who you
are.'

'I suppose I could get into a uniform of yours, since I have grown
thin,' Giovanni answered. 'We are the same height, I remember, and as I
am in the artillery no one can find fault with me for wearing the
uniform of another regiment than my own, in an emergency. It will be
better than presenting myself before the Minister in these rags! I
suppose you have got your captaincy by this time?'

'Six months ago!'

They talked on, and Ugo explained that he was to be taken to the
hospital of the White Sisters soon after eight o'clock.

'I shall go with you,' Giovanni answered, 'and see you installed in your
room. The Minister does not want me till twelve o'clock.'

They agreed to tell Pica, when he returned, that Giovanni was an
artillery officer and a relative who had just arrived from a long
journey without any luggage. As the orderly had known that the Captain
expected a visitor before long, he would not be surprised, and the
relationship would account for Giovanni's name.

The latter selected an undress uniform from his brother's well-stocked
wardrobe and proceeded to scrub and dress in the adjoining
dressing-room, talking to Ugo through the open door and asking him
questions about old friends and comrades. Ugo told him of the Princess
Chiaromonte's visit and of her kindness in coming with Doctor Pieri on
the previous evening. Giovanni appeared at the door, half dressed.

'Did you tell her that I am alive?' he asked.

'No. The Ministry has made an official secret of it, so I have told no
one.'

'And you say that she will be at the hospital this morning! We shall
meet, then. I wonder whether she will know me.'

'It is impossible, I should say,' Ugo answered, looking at his brother's
lean face and heavy beard. 'I hardly recognise you even now!'

Giovanni finished dressing and came out at last, looking very smart in
Ugo's clothes. He had asked no questions about Angela, for he felt
tolerably sure that Ugo had never known her, and it was his intention to
go directly from the hospital to Madame Bernard's lodgings, where he
hoped to find them both as he had left them. He could not bring himself
to make vague and roundabout inquiries just then, and he was still less
inclined to confide his love story to this brother whom he hardly felt
that he knew. So he kept his own counsel and waited, as he had learned
to do in five years of slavery.

The Minister sent back a line by Pica to say that Giovanni was to come
to him at noon, and would then receive his instructions as to a change
of lodging, if any should seem advisable. There was a word of sympathy
also for Ugo.

In less than an hour more, Giovanni had helped Pica to carry Ugo down to
the Princess's motor, which had appeared punctually, bringing Doctor
Pieri, and the wounded man was comfortably placed in the limousine with
the surgeon beside him and Giovanni sitting opposite. Ugo introduced his
brother as a relation who had arrived very opportunely that morning.

The motor buzzed away from the door, and reached the Convent of Santa
Giovanna d'Aza in a few minutes. The sky had cleared after the rain and
the April sun was shining gloriously.




CHAPTER XII


Sister Giovanna was the supervising nurse for the week, and in the
natural course of her duty it was she who went to the telephone when
Doctor Pieri called up the hospital at seven o'clock. In a few words
he explained the case as far as was necessary, and begged the Sister
to have a good room ready for the patient; he believed that Number Two
was vacant.

It was, and the wounded man could have it. The Doctor said he would
bring him in a motor towards nine o'clock.

'The patient's name, if you please,' said Sister Giovanna in a
businesslike tone.

'Captain Severi. I do not know his first name. What is the matter,
Sister?'

The nun had uttered a low exclamation of surprise, which Pieri had
heard distinctly.

'Nothing,' she answered, controlling her voice. 'Is he a son of the
late general of that name?'

'I do not know, Sister. He is a friend of the Princess Chiaromonte. Is
it all right? I am busy.'

'Yes,' answered the nun's voice. 'It is all right.'

She hung up the receiver and went to give the necessary orders, rather
whiter about the lips than usual. The fact that the injured officer
was a friend of her aunt's seemed to make it certain that he was one
of the brothers of whom Giovanni had often spoken, and the mere
thought that she was to see him in an hour or two was disturbing. For
a moment she was strongly impelled to beg the Mother Superior that
some one else might take her place during the morning; but in the
first place it seemed cowardly to leave her post; and secondly, in
order to explain her position, she would have been obliged to tell the
Mother Superior her whole story, which she had never done. Monsignor
Saracinesca knew it, and Madame Bernard, but no one else whom she ever
saw nowadays.

Then came the comforting inward suggestion that Giovanni would have
wished her to do all she could for his brother, and this at once made
a great difference. She went to see that the room was in perfect
order, though she was quite sure that it was, and she sent for the
orderlies on duty and told them to be especially careful in moving a
patient who would soon be brought, and to get ready a certain new
chair which was especially constructed for carrying persons who had
received injuries of the feet only, and who did not require to be
transported on the ordinary stretcher, which always gives a patient
the idea that his case is a serious one.

She also went out to the lodge, to warn the portress that Captain
Severi was expected, and must not be kept waiting even a few seconds
longer than was necessary. The excellent Anna looked up with some
surprise, for she had never kept any one waiting without good cause,
since she had been in charge of the gate, but she bent her head
obediently and said nothing. It seems to be a general rule with
religious houses that no one is ever to wait in the street for
admittance; the barrier, which is often impassable, is the door that
leads inward from the vestibule.

When everything was prepared for Ugo's reception, Sister Giovanna went
back to the duties which kept her constantly occupied in the morning
hours and often throughout the day. She was personally responsible to
the house-surgeon for the carrying out of all directions given the
nurses, as he was, in grave cases, to the operating surgeon or
visiting physician. It was her business to inspect everything
connected with the hospital, from the laundry, the sterilising
apparatus, and the kitchen, to the dispensary, where she was expected
to know from day to day what supplies were on hand and what was
needed. She was ultimately answerable for the smallest irregularity or
accident, and had to report everything to the Mother Superior every
evening after Vespers and before supper. During her week, every one in
the establishment came to her for all matters that concerned the
hospital and the nurses on duty by day or night; but she had nothing
to do with those who were sent out to private cases. They reported
themselves and gave an account of their work to the Mother Superior,
whenever they returned to the Convent.

The supervising nurse for the week did not sleep in her cell, but lay
down on a pallet bed behind a curtain, in her office on the first
floor, close to the dispensary, where she could be called at a
moment's notice, though it rarely happened that she was disturbed
between ten o'clock at night and five in the morning.

The Mother Superior had introduced the system soon after she had taken
charge of the Convent hospital, of which the management now differed
from that of most similar institutions in this respect, for the most
competent Sisters took turns in the arduous task of supervision, from
week to week. At other times they went to private cases when required,
or acted as ordinary nurses. Any one who has any knowledge of
hospitals managed by religious orders is aware that no two of them
work by precisely the same rules, and that the rules themselves are
largely the result of the Mother Superior's own experience, modified
by the personal theories and practice of the operating surgeon and the
principal visiting physician. The scale of everything relating to the
administration is, of course, very small compared with that of any
public hospital, and all responsibility therefore weighs more directly
on the doctors and nurses in charge at any given moment than on a
board of management; in other words, on the right individuals rather
than on a body.

Princess Chiaromonte rose early and drove to the Convent in a cab,
intending to come home in the motor which was to bring Ugo and the
doctor. She rang, was admitted, and asked for the supervising nurse.
The portress, who knew her by sight, at once led her to the large hall
already mentioned, and rang the bell which gave warning that some one
was waiting who had business in the hospital. She drew one of the
chairs forward for the Princess and went back to the lodge. A moment
later a novice opened the door that led to the wards, and the visitor
repeated her request, without mentioning her name.

The novice bowed and disappeared, and several minutes passed before
Sister Giovanna came. She had last seen her aunt ill in bed and
flushed with fever, but the Princess had changed too little in five
years not to be instantly recognised by any one who had known her so
recently.

Both women made a movement of surprise, and the nun stood still an
instant, still holding the handle of the door. Of the two, however,
she was the first to regain her composure. Her aunt rose with alacrity
indeed, and held out her hand, but she coloured a little and laughed
with perceptible awkwardness. She had long wished to see her niece,
but the meeting had come too unexpectedly to be pleasant.

'I hope you have felt no ill effects from your illness?' Sister
Giovanna spoke calmly, in a tone of civil inquiry.

'Oh, none at all!' answered the Princess. 'Thanks to your wonderful
nursing,' she added, with rather too much eagerness. 'I had hoped to
tell you before now how grateful I am; but though I have been here
more than once, you were never here when I came.'

Sister Giovanna bent her head slightly.

'There is really nothing to thank me for,' she said. 'The novice said
you wished to see me; can I be of any service to you?'

The elder woman inwardly resented the tone of superior calm. She was
now convinced that Sister Giovanna was no other than her niece Angela,
though she had not yet given any direct sign of recognition. She was
not quite sure of being able to meet the young eyes steadily, and when
she answered she fixed her own on the line where the veil was drawn
tightly across the nun's forehead. In this way she could not fail to
see any quick change in the other's features.

'It is about Captain Severi,' she said very distinctly, 'Ugo, as we
call him--the brother of that poor Giovanni who was murdered by savages
in Africa.'

She saw what she had hoped to see and felt that she had already got
the upper hand, for the nun's face turned the colour of smouldering
wood ashes when they are a greyish white, though the faint, hot glow
still rises in them with every passing breath of air and then fades
fitfully away.

'Captain Severi's room is ready,' said Sister Giovanna steadily.

'Yes, of course!' The Princess nodded as she spoke. 'It is not that,
Sister. He is a great friend of mine and I was quite devoted to his
unfortunate brother, so I have come to beg that he may have the very
best care while he is here.'

'You need not have any anxiety.'

Sister Giovanna sat bolt upright in her straight chair, with her hands
folded on her knees. The Princess rested one elbow on the table, in an
easy attitude, and glanced at her once or twice during the silence
that followed. Each was wondering whether the other was going to admit
that she recognised her, and each was weighing the relative advantages
of remaining on the present footing, which was one of uncertainty for
Sister Giovanna and of armed quiescence on the Princess's part.

'Thank you,' said the latter, after a long time, with a bright smile,
as if she had quite understood the nun's answer. 'It will be such a
comfort to know that he is being well cared for, poor fellow. I
believe he will be here in a few minutes.'

'We are expecting him,' answered the nun, not stirring.

Another long silence followed, and she sat so perfectly still that the
Princess began to fidget, looked at the tall old clock in the corner
and then compared her pretty watch with it, laid her olive-green
parasol across the table, but took it off again almost immediately and
dropped the tip to the floor. The Sister's impassive stillness seemed
meant for a reproach and made her nervous. The certainty that the
motionless woman opposite her was Angela, calmly declining to know
her, was very disagreeable. She tried the excuse of pretending in her
thoughts that there was still a reasonable doubt about it, but she
could no longer succeed; yet to address her niece by her baptismal
name would be to acknowledge herself finally beaten in the contest of
coolness, after having at first succeeded in making her adversary
change colour.

The ticking of the clock was so distinct that it made an echo in the
high hall; the morning sun streamed across the pavement, from the
cloistered garden the chirping of a few sparrows and the sharper
twitter of the house-swallow that had already nested under the eaves
sounded very clearly through the closed glass door.

The Princess could not bear the silence any longer, and she looked at
Sister Giovanna with a rather pinched smile.

'My dear Angela,' she said, 'there is really no reason why we should
keep up this absurd little comedy any longer, is there?'

The nun did not betray the least surprise at the sudden question.

'If you have no reason for it, I have none,' she answered, but her
gaze was so steady that the Princess looked away. 'I prefer to be
called Sister Giovanna, however,' she added, after an instant's pause.

The Princess, though not always courageous, was naturally overbearing
and rather quarrelsome, and her temper rose viciously as soon as the
restraint which an artificial situation had imposed was removed.

'I really think you should not have kept me in doubt so long,' she
said. 'After playing nurse to me in my own house, you can hardly have
taken me for another person. But as for you, your dress has changed
you so completely, and you look so much older than any one would have
thought possible, that you need not be surprised if I was not quite
sure it was really you!'

Her niece listened unmoved. A trained nurse, even if she be a nun, may
learn a good deal about human nature in five years, and Sister
Giovanna was naturally quick to perceive and slow to forget. She
understood now, much better than the Princess supposed.

'I am not at all surprised,' she said, almost smiling, 'and it cannot
possibly matter.'

The older woman began to think that her recollections of what she
thought she had said in her delirium were nothing more than the record
of a dream, but the fear of having betrayed herself still haunted her,
although four months had passed, and the present opportunity of
setting her mind at rest might not return. Rather than let it slip
away she would be bold, if not brave.

'And besides,' she said, as if finishing her last speech, 'I believe I
was more or less delirious during most of the time that you were with
me. Was I not?'

Sister Giovanna was sorely tempted to speak out. But though it would
be so easy to humiliate the woman who had injured her, it looked too
much like vengeance; and she remembered how she had told the sick
woman that she forgave, with all her heart, meaning what she said, but
it had been hard to keep the passion-flower of forgiveness from fading
as soon as it had opened.

'You were rather quiet on the whole,' she answered with truth, and so
calmly that the Princess was relieved. 'I wish all my patients were as
submissive.'

'Really? How delightful! No one ever said I was a submissive person, I
am sure!'

'You were very much so. And now, since your friend has not come yet,
and you will wish to wait for him, I must ask you to let me leave you,
for I am on duty and must not stay here too long. Should you like to
see the Mother Superior?'

Sister Giovanna rose as she spoke, for though she was sure of herself
after making the first effort, she did not mean to tell an untruth if
her aunt asked a still more direct question; she was well aware, too,
that she had turned very pale at the first mention of Giovanni, and
she did not intend to expose herself to any further surprises which
her enemy might be planning.

The Princess was disappointed now, and was not satisfied with having
so greatly diminished her own anxiety. She felt that she had come into
contact with a force which she could not hope to overcome, because it
did not proceed only from Angela's own strength of character, but was
backed by a power that was real though it was invisible. It is hard to
express what I mean, but those will understand who have personally
found themselves opposed by a member of any regular order whom they
wish to influence. It has been well said that there is no such
obstacle in life as the inert resistance of a thoroughly lazy man; but
in certain circumstances that is far inferior to the silent opposition
of a conscientious person belonging to a large body which declines, on
grounds of belief rather than of logic, to enter into any argument.
That was what Princess Chiaromonte felt.

She rose from her chair a moment after her niece had stood up.

'Thank you,' she said. 'I will wait here, if I may.'

'You are welcome.'

Sister Giovanna made a slight inclination of the head and left the
hall at once. When she was gone her aunt did not resume her seat, but
walked slowly up and down, and twice, as she reached the door that led
to the wards, she stood still for a second and smiled. It was all very
well to be as strong as Angela, she reflected, and to have a great
religious order behind one, supported by the whole body of the Roman
Catholic and Apostolic Church; and it was a fine thing to have so much
character, and such a beautiful, grave face, and solemn, saintly eyes;
but it showed weakness to turn as white as a sheet at the mention of a
man's name, though he might be dead, and in a few minutes it would be
a satisfaction to note the signs of inward distress when the grave
supervising nurse came face to face with the brother of the man she
had loved.

That was what the Princess was thinking of when she heard the distant
gate-bell tinkling, and stopped once more in her walk, preparing
herself to receive Ugo Severi with an expression of cordiality and
affectionate concern.

The portress opened the door into the hall and a confused sound of
voices came from the passage. The Princess started slightly and then
smiled, reflecting that she had never noticed the resemblance between
Ugo's tone and poor Giovanni's.

Doctor Pieri entered first, tall, grave, fair-bearded, and he was
looking back to be sure that the orderlies were careful. They followed
him closely, bringing Captain Ugo in a chair in which he sat upright
with his injured foot lying on a raised rest before him and a rug from
the motor car over his knees. He wore a covert coat and a grey felt
hat.

The Princess went forward with a bright smile, looking into his face.

'I have seen the head nurse,' she said, 'and you are to have the best
room in the hospital, and all sorts of extra care.'

Ugo said something as the orderlies set down the chair, but almost at
the same moment the Princess heard another voice. It was hard and
cold, and did not match the words it spoke.

'You have been extremely kind,' said Giovanni Severi.

She had fairly good nerves, and had been in a very small measure
prepared for the surprise by having heard him talking in the passage,
though in a very different tone; but she started and gasped audibly as
she looked up and met his resentful eyes.

'Giovanni!' she cried in amazement. 'Is it you? Are you alive?'

But she had no doubt about it, in spite of the heavy beard that hid
the lower part of his face.

'Oh, yes,' he answered rather coldly. 'Quite alive, thank you.'

She held out her hand now, but it was shaking when he took it. Doctor
Pieri looked on in some surprise, but said nothing. One of the
orderlies rang the bell that summoned the supervising nurse.

'Where have you been all these years?' asked the Princess. 'Why have
you never written to your friends?'

'That is a long story,' Giovanni answered, in the same tone as before.
'If you happen to be on friendly terms with the Ministry, you will be
doing the Government a service by not speaking of my return till it is
made public.'

'How mysterious!' The Princess was recovering from her surprise.

Ugo looked from one to the other, watching their faces. It was quite
clear that his brother disliked the middle-aged woman of the world
now, whatever their relations had been in the past, and from her
behaviour when she had recognised him it looked as if the two must
have once been very intimate.

'What are we waiting for?' asked the Captain cheerfully, in order to
break off the conversation.

'The supervising nurse,' answered Pieri. 'She will be here directly.'

'A nun, I suppose,' observed Giovanni carelessly. 'Old and hideous
too, no doubt. Poor Ugo!'

'Not so much to be pitied as you think,' said the Princess. 'She is
still young, and must have been very pretty! She is worth looking at,
I assure you.'

Her own astonishment and recent emotion were already forgotten in the
pleasure of looking forward to the recognition which must take place
within a few moments. She had hated her niece long and unrelentingly,
and she had never forgiven Giovanni for what she called in her heart
his betrayal; but the reckoning was to be settled in full at last, and
she knew that if Sister Giovanna could choose, she would rather pay it
with her flesh and blood than meet what was before her now.

Giovanni was looking towards the door when the nun opened it, and the
strong morning light fell full on her face as she came forward.
Naturally enough, her eyes were at first turned downwards towards
Ugo's face, for she had already seen the Princess and Pieri was a
familiar figure. She was aware that a bearded officer was standing on
the other side of the chair, but she did not look at him.

Giovanni's expression changed quickly; at first he saw only a strong
likeness to Angela, a striking resemblance that made him wonder
whether the nun could possibly be an elder sister of hers, of whom he
had never heard; but by quick degrees he became sure that it was
herself. She spoke to the wounded man.

'Shall we go up to your room at once?' she asked in her soft voice,
bending over him.

Before Ugo could answer, a name he did not know rang out, in a tone he
had never heard. He did not recognise his brother's voice, it was so
full of passion and joy, mingled with amazement, yet trembling with
anxiety.

'Angela!'

Sister Giovanna straightened herself with a spring and stood
transfixed, facing Giovanni. The chair was between them. In an
instant, that was an age to both, sharp lines furrowed her brow, her
cheeks grew hollow, and her pale, parted lips were distorted with
pain. Her face was like the Virgin Mother's, at the foot of the Cross.

It was only for a moment; she threw up her arms, stiff and straight,
as a man who is shot through the heart. One loud cry then, and she
fell backwards.

Pieri was in time and caught her before her head struck the pavement;
but though he was strong and she was slightly made, the impetus of her
fall dragged him down upon one knee. Giovanni could not reach her at
once, for the hospital chair with the bars by which it was carried was
between them and the foremost of the orderlies stood exactly in his
way. He almost knocked the man over as he dashed forwards.

The Princess was already bending over the unconscious Sister, with
every appearance of profound sympathy; she was trying to loosen the
wimple and gorget that confined the nun's cheeks and throat too
closely, but the fastenings were unfamiliar and she could not find
them. Giovanni, pale and determined, pushed her aside as he stooped to
lift the woman he loved. Pieri helped him, and the Princess rose and
stepped back to look on, now that she had shown her willingness to be
of use. Ugo gazed at the scene with wide, astonished eyes, turning
half round in his chair and grasping its arms to hold himself in the
position.

'Open the glass door!' said the Doctor to the nearest orderly.

They carried Sister Giovanna into the cloistered garden, towards the
stone seat by the well, where the three old nuns used to sit in the
afternoon. Before they reached the place, she opened her eyes and met
Giovanni's, already haggard with fear for her, but brightening wildly
as her consciousness returned; for he had believed that she had fallen
dead before him.

Even through the closed glass doors the Mother Superior had heard her
cry and known her voice, for the window had been open to the April
sunshine. The Mother could be swift when there was need, and she was
downstairs and at the well almost as soon as the two men could get
there, walking slowly with their burden. Exerting a strength that
amazed them, she took the young nun into her arms and sat down with
her, and laid the drooping head tenderly to her heart. Her own face
was as still and white as marble, but neither Giovanni nor Pieri saw
her eyes.

'You may go,' she said. 'I will take care of her.'

In the presence of the strange officer she would not ask the Doctor
what had happened.

'She fainted suddenly,' he said.

'Yes. I understand. Leave her to me.'

Pieri saw that Giovanni could not move of his own free will; so he
passed his arm through the young man's and whispered in his ear while
he drew him away.

'You must obey for the present,' he said. 'She is in no danger.'

For he had understood the truth at once, as was easy enough; and
Giovanni went with him, looking back again and again and unable to
speak, not yet knowing all.

When the Princess had seen the Mother Superior crossing the garden,
she had drawn back within the door, and the Doctor shut it when
Giovanni had come in. The woman of the world had believed that she
could still face the man after what she had done, and perhaps find
words that would hurt him; but when she saw his eyes, she was
frightened, for she had known him well. When he went straight towards
her she made one step backwards, in bodily fear of him; but he spoke
quietly and not rudely.

'It was your duty to warn us both,' he said.

That was all, but he stood looking at her, and her fright grew; for
men who live long in the wilderness gather a strength that may inspire
terror when they come back to the world. The Princess turned from him
without answering, and left the hall.

One of the orderlies had called another nurse from within, and Ugo was
taken to his room, still surprised, but already understanding, as
Pieri did. The latter soon took his leave, the nurse followed him for
instructions, and the brothers were alone together.

'When I left her,' Giovanni said, 'we were engaged to be married. I
wrote to her just before I sailed, but she has not received the letter
yet.'

'What shall you do?' asked Ugo, watching him with sympathy.

'Do? Marry her, of course! Do you suppose I have changed my mind?'

'But she is evidently a nun,' objected Ugo. 'She must have taken
irrevocable vows. These nurses are not like Sisters of Charity, I
believe, who make their promise for a year only and then are free
during one night, to decide whether they will renew it.'

Giovanni Severi laughed, but not lightly, nor carelessly, nor
scornfully. It was the short, energetic laughter of a determined man
who does not believe anything impossible.




CHAPTER XIII


After a long time, Sister Giovanna lifted her head very slowly, sat
up, and passed her hand over her eyes, while the Mother Superior still
kept one arm round her, thinking that she might faint again at any
moment. But she did not.

'Thank you,' she said, with difficulty. 'You are very good to me,
Mother. I think I can walk now.'

'Not yet.'

The elder woman's hand was on her wrist, keeping her in her seat.

'I must go back to my work,' she said, but not much above a whisper.

'Not yet. When you are better, you must come to my room for a little
while and rest there.'

Sister Giovanna looked old then, for her face was grey and the deep
lines of suffering were like furrows of age; she seemed much older
than Mother Veronica, who was over forty. A minute or two passed and
she made another effort, and this time the Mother helped her. She was
weak but not exactly unsteady; her feet were like leaden weights that
she had to lift at every step.

When they were alone in the small room and the door was shut, the
Mother Superior closed the window, too; for the cloister was very
resonant and voices carried far. She made Sister Giovanna sit in the
old horse-hair easy-chair, leaning her head against the round black
and white worsted cushion that was hung across the back by a cotton
cord. She herself sat in the chair she used at her writing-table.

She did not know what had happened in the hall, but what she saw told
her that the Sister's fainting fit had not been due only to a passing
physical weakness. She herself seemed to be suffering when she spoke,
and not one of all the many Sisters and novices who had come to her in
distress, at one time or another, had ever seen her so much touched by
pity, so humane, forbearing, and kind.

'If you would like me to understand what has happened, my dear child,
you can trust me,' she said. 'If you would rather keep your secret,
tell me if I can help you.'

Sister Giovanna looked at her gratefully and tried to speak, but it
was hard; not that she was choking, or near to shedding tears, but her
lips felt stiff and cold, like a dying man's, and would not form
words. But presently they came at intervals, one by one, though not
distinctly, and so low that it was not easy to hear them.

Yet Mother Veronica understood. Giovanni Severi, the man Angela had
loved, the man who had been called dead for five years--he had come
back from death--she had seen him with his brother--he had known her.

She was not going to faint again, but she sank forward, bending almost
double, her hands on the arms of the chair, her young head bowed with
woe. There was something awful in her suffering, now that she was
silent.

The Mother Superior only said three words, but her voice broke as she
pronounced the last.

'My poor child----'

Her lips were livid, but she ruled the rising storm and sat quite
still, her fingers twisted together and straining on her knee. If
Sister Giovanna had looked up, she would have wondered how mere
sympathy could be so deep and stirring. But she could not; her own
struggle was too desperate. Minutes passed before she spoke again, and
then there was a change in her, for her voice was much more steady.

'It was so easy to be good when he was dead.'

She had been happy an hour ago, yesterday, last week, working and
waiting for the blessed end, believing that he had died to serve his
country and that God would let him meet her in heaven. Why had he come
back now, too late for earth, but a lifetime too soon for heaven? It
had been so easy to be strong and brave and faithful for his sake,
when he was dead. It was little enough that she had said, but each
word had meant a page of her life. Mother Veronica heard, and she
understood.

'Pray,' she said, after a long time; and her voice came as from very
far away, for she too had told her story in that one syllable.

Human nature turned upon her, rebellious, with a rending cry.

'I cannot! He is alive! He is here! Don't you understand? How can I
pray? For what? That he may die again? God of mercy! And if not that,
can I pray to be free? Free? Free from what? Free to do what? To die?
Not even that! Others will be taken, but I shall live--thirty, forty,
fifty years, knowing that he is alive--knowing that I may see him any
day!'

The elder woman's white fingers twined round each other more
desperately, for Sister Giovanna's face was turned full to her now,
and their eyes were meeting; the young nun's were fierce with pain,
but the Mother's were strangely lustreless and dull.

'No,' she said, mechanically answering the last words, 'you must not
see him.'

'Not see him once?'

Sister Giovanna leaned far forwards, grasping the arms of the
easy-chair, and her voice came thick and hoarse. Did the woman with the
marble face think that she, too, was made of stone? Not see the man she
had loved, who had been suddenly, violently dead, who was alive again,
and had come back to her? The Mother could not be in earnest! If she
was, why did she not answer now? Why was she sitting there, with that
strange look, silently wringing her hands?

Even in her cruel distress Sister Giovanna felt a sort of wonder.
Perhaps the Mother had not meant what she said, and would not speak
lest she should contradict herself. The mere thought was a hope;
whether for good or evil the tortured girl knew not, but it loosed her
tongue.

'He will come to me!' she cried. 'He will, I tell you! You do not know
him! Did you hear his voice as I did when he called me? Did you see
his face? Could walls or bars keep such a man from the woman he loves?
I must face him myself, and to face him I must kill something in
me--cut it out, tear it up from its roots--I am only a woman after all!
A nun can be a woman still, a weak woman, who has loved a man very,
very dearly----'

'Oh, Angela, hush! For the love of Heaven, my child, my child!'

To Sister Giovanna's unspeakable amazement, the unbending nature was
breaking down, the marble saint, with the still white face, who had
bidden her pray, and never see Giovanni again. She felt herself lifted
from her seat and clasped in a despairing embrace; she felt the small
nervous frame shaking in the storm of an emotion she could not
understand, though she knew it was as great as her own and as terrible
to bear, and that the heart that beat against hers was breaking, too.

Neither shed a tear; tears would have been heavenly refreshment, but
they would not come. Another moment and Angela felt herself sinking
back into her chair, and when she opened her eyes the Mother Superior
was at the table, half seated, half lying across it, on the heaps of
papers and account-books, and her outstretching hands clasped the foot
of the old crucifix beside the leaden inkstand.

'Miserere mei, Domine!'

The voice of her prayer broke the stillness like a silver bell. Then
she began to recite the greatest of the penitential psalms.

'Out of the depths have I cried unto Thee, O Lord: Lord, hear my
voice.'

And by long habit, yet with some dim hope of peace, Sister Giovanna
responded:

'Let Thine ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications.'

They said it to the end, verse answering verse, and the prayer of the
King-Poet stilled the throbbing of hurts too deep to heal.

Two hours after she had fainted in the hall, Sister Giovanna was doing
her work in the hospital again as usual. A wonderful amount of
physical resistance can be got out of moral conviction, and there is
no such merciful shelter for mental distress as a uniform, from the
full dress of a field-marshal to a Sister of Charity's cornet.

Of the persons who had been witnesses of the scene, the Doctor and Ugo
Severi could be trusted, and Princess Chiaromonte was too much afraid of
Giovanni to brew gossip about his love-affair. There remained the two
orderlies, who could not be prevented from telling the story to their
wives and friends if they liked; but they were trusty, middle-aged men
of good character; they shared the affectionate admiration for Sister
Giovanna which almost every one in the Convent hospital felt for her,
and they would be the very last to say a word to her discredit. These
circumstances account well enough for the fact that the story did not
get into the newspapers at the time.

Sister Giovanna went back to her work, but she did not go near Ugo
Severi, and she gave strict orders that his brother, if he came to see
him again during the day, was to be accompanied to the door of the
room by an orderly. As Ugo had swallowed nothing but a cup of black
coffee before coming to the hospital, and was therefore in a condition
to take ether, Pieri had given notice that he would operate on the
injured foot at two o'clock. There would be no need for the presence
of the supervising nurse, who would have no difficulty in keeping out
of Giovanni's way for the present, as he would certainly not be
allowed to roam the hospital in search of her.

She meant to meet him once and alone, no matter how she might be
hindered, and nothing that the Mother Superior or Monsignor
Saracinesca could say should make it impossible. She knew that he
would try every means of seeing her, and when he succeeded in making
an opportunity which she could accept, she would take it, come what
might; till then, she must wait, and while she was waiting she would
find the strength she needed.

That was her plan, and it was simple enough. She might be mistaken
about many questions, but nothing could make that seem wrong which her
conscience told her was right. And it was right to see him once; she
was sure of it. The rest was confused and uncertain and she took no
thought what she should say; she only knew she must make him
understand, though it would be hard, and when that was done, she would
not see him again while she lived.

She meant to make that final parting a certainty by going to Rangoon
with the next mission; nothing should change her determination now.

Her feet were heavy that day, and her voice was dull and muffled when
she gave her orders; but she made no mistakes. Many a man has fought
more stubbornly and bravely after a wound and a fall than at the
outset, and few men could tell themselves that they were braver than
Sister Giovanna was when she recovered control of her actions after
the first stunning shock.

She stayed in her office as much of the time as possible. In due
course the assistant head-nurse came to report that Pieri had finished
his work and that Captain Ugo had recovered well from the ether; his
brother was with him and would stay till eight o'clock, the hour at
which all visitors were required to leave the hospital except in cases
of extreme danger. Sister Giovanna nodded and wrote a few lines in the
day-book.

It was then half-past three. Clearly Giovanni's plan was to spend as
many hours as possible under the roof, in the hope of seeing her; for
though the operation had been a long one, requiring the skill of a
great surgeon to perform it well, Ugo was in no danger from it, and it
might be supposed that a man who had just come back from such an
experience as Giovanni had lived through would wish to see a few old
friends on the first day of his return, or would be obliged, at the
very least, to attend to some necessary business. Sister Giovanna did
not know that his return was being purposely kept a secret from the
public press, and that he was far safer from reporters while he stayed
in the Convent hospital than he could be in his lodging.

At five o'clock the door of her office opened, and to her surprise she
saw Monsignor Saracinesca standing before her, hat in hand. She could
not remember that she had ever seen him there before, but it was an
office, after all, and there was no reason why he should not come to
it if he had business with her. She rose to receive him. He shut the
door, which was the only one, bowed gravely, and took one of the two
spare rush-bottomed chairs and seated himself, before he spoke.

'The Mother Superior sent for me,' he said, 'and I have been with her
an hour. She has asked me to come to you. Are you at leisure?'

'Unless I am called. I am on duty.'

He noticed the muffled tone and the slowness of her speech. She sat
facing him, on the other side of the plain table, her open report-book
before her.

'You will not blame the Mother Superior for sending me, Sister. She is
in the deepest distress for you. You must have seen that, when you
spoke with her this morning.'

'She was more than kind.'

Monsignor Saracinesca sighed, but the nun did not notice it. Now that
she knew why he had come, she needed all her strength and courage
again.

He went on quietly with his short explanation. Mother Veronica had
told him of what had happened in the hall; he had known the rest long
ago from Sister Giovanna herself. That was the substance, and he
wasted no words. Then he paused, and she knew what was coming next,
for he would speak of a possible meeting; but how he would regard that
she could not guess, and she waited steadily for the blow if it was to
be one.

'The Mother Superior thinks that you should not see him,' he said.

'I know. She told me so.'

'I do not agree with her,' said Monsignor Saracinesca slowly.

The nun turned her face from the afternoon light, but said nothing;
with the greatest sacrifice of her life before her she should not feel
joy rising like the dawn in her eyes, at the mere thought of seeing
the man whose love she must renounce.

'We are human,' said the churchman, 'and our victories must be human,
to be worth anything. It was in His humanity that Christ suffered and
overcame. It is not victory to slink from the fight and shut oneself
up in a fortress that is guarded by others. Men and women must be good
men and women in this world if they hope to be saints hereafter, and
there is no such thing as inactive goodness.'

Sister Giovanna looked at him again, but still she did not speak.

'Though I am a priest,' continued Monsignor Saracinesca, 'I am a man
of the world in the sense of having belonged to it, and I now live
less apart from it than I could wish, though it is not such a
thoroughly bad place as those say who do not know it. I do not feel
that I got rid of all obligations to those who still belong to it when
I was ordained, and I do not think that when you took the veil in a
working order, you dropped all obligation to the persons with whom you
had lived till then. In doing so, you might be depriving some one else
of a right.'

Sister Giovanna listened to this exposition in silence and tried to
follow it.

'In my opinion,' the prelate went on, 'Giovanni Severi has a just
claim to see you. I speak under authority and I may be wrong, but it
can only be a matter of judgment and of opinion, and since your Mother
Superior has asked for mine, I give it as well as I can. You are not a
cloistered nun, Sister. There is no reason why you should not receive
a friend whom you have believed to be dead for years and who has
unexpectedly come back to life.'

'Back to the life I left for his sake!'

Again she looked away from the light, but her face could not turn
whiter than it was.

'It was terribly sudden,' said Monsignor Saracinesca, after a moment's
pause. 'You will no doubt wait a few days before seeing him, till you
feel quite able to face what must be a very painful interview.'

'I am not afraid of it now. I was weak when we recognised each other.
I cannot quite remember--I heard him call me and I saw his eyes----'

'And you must have fainted. You were carried out to the well at once.'

'Who carried me?' asked the nun quickly.

'Doctor Pieri and Giovanni Severi.'

She made a slight movement.

'He carried me!'

She spoke almost unconsciously, and a very faint glow rose through her
paleness, as when white glass is warmed an instant in the mouth of the
furnace and then drawn back and quickly cooled again.

'Shall I talk with him before you meet?' asked the churchman
presently.

Sister Giovanna did not answer at once; she seemed to be thinking.

'You know better than any one what my life has been,' she said at
last. 'It was to you that I went for advice five years ago, and again
before I took the veil. If you had thought it even distantly possible
that he might be alive, you would not have let me take final vows.'

'Heaven forbid!' answered Monsignor Saracinesca very earnestly.

'Though I believed him dead, you knew that I loved him with all my
heart.'

'Yes. As dearly as when you had last seen him alive.'

'I love him still. Is that wrong?'

'No.'

He said the word without hesitation, in all sincerity and true
conviction, but the nun had expected another answer; a quick movement
of the head showed that she was surprised.

'Are you sure?' she asked in a low and wondering tone.

'Yes, because I am sure that your love for him is as innocent as it
ever was. The religious life is not meant to kill human affection.
Saint Benedict loved his sister Scholastica devotedly; Saint Francis
was probably more sincerely attached to Saint Clare than to any living
person.'

'I only know that I love him as dearly as ever,' said Sister Giovanna.

The churchman looked at her keenly for a moment, and she did not avoid
his eyes.

'Would you break your vows for him?' he asked, with sudden directness.

The nun started as if he had struck her and half rose from her chair.

'Break my vows?' she cried, her eyes blazing with indignation.

But Monsignor Saracinesca only nodded and laid his thin hand flat on
the table, towards her. She sank to her seat again.

'Then I know that, although you may love him more than any one in the
world, you do not love him better than the work you have promised to
do.'

'Heaven forbid!'

He had used the very same expression a few moments earlier, but with a
different tone; for him it had been an asseveration of good faith, but
with her it was more like a prayer. She had resented his question as
if it had been an insult, but when he showed how much he trusted her,
she began to distrust herself. She would die the martyr's death rather
than break her vows in deed, but she was too diffident of her own
womanhood not to fear a fall from the dignity of heartfelt resignation
to the inward ignominy of an earthly regret. Besides, 'the work she
had promised to do' had been promised for his sake, not for its own;
not for any gain to her soul, but in the earnest hope that it might
profit his, by God's mercy. Since he was not dead, but alive, the
chief purpose of it died with his return to life. She did not love the
work she had promised to do more than she loved him; that was not
true, and never had been. All had been for him--her vow, her work, and
her prayers. Heaven forbid, indeed, that she should now set him before
them; yet it was hard not to do so and there was only one possible
way; in a changed sense they must be given for him still, and for his
salvation, else she could not give at all.

Monsignor Saracinesca had watched her progress from her noviciate to
her present position of responsibility, and had often spoken of her
with the Mother Superior. He would not have advised every nun to do
what he thought best in her case. There was not another in the
community, except the Mother herself, whom he would have trusted so
fully. But, being what she was, his honourable sense of justice to a
man who had suffered much and must suffer more impelled him to act as
he did. As he himself said, it was a matter of opinion and judgment,
and his own approved the course. Those may blame him who think
otherwise, but no one can find fault with Sister Giovanna for
following his advice; she had a right to believe that it was the best,
and as for herself, she had never hesitated. The mere suggestion that
she should not see Giovanni at least once and alone looked to her
outrageous and contrary to all sense, as perhaps it was.

Monsignor Saracinesca would see him first and arrange the meeting. He
thought it should take place in the cloistered garden.

'Why not here, in my office?' asked the nun.

But the churchman objected. If the two were to talk together, out of
hearing, they must not be out of sight. Never, under any
circumstances, should any one be able to say that there had been any
secrecy about their interview. He himself would bring Giovanni to the
place and the Mother Superior would accompany the nun. He and the
Mother would withdraw into the hall and wait until Sister Giovanna
dismissed Severi. The Mother would then join her, and Monsignor
Saracinesca would go away with Giovanni.

In order to forestall evil speaking more effectually, the two should
meet on the afternoon of the day on which the nun's week of duty as
supervising nurse came to an end. On that evening she would go away to
nurse a private case, and before that patient was recovered, Ugo
Severi would certainly be well enough to go home, and Giovanni's daily
visits to the hospital would have ceased. It would thus be easy to
prove that after their only interview, in what might be called a
public place, they had not been within the same walls at the same
time.

No one who has watched the politics of the so-called 'socialist' party
in Rome during the past twenty years will wonder at these precautions
nor even call them exaggerated. To all intents and purposes the
'Vatican question' has ceased to exist; the Italian Government may
fairly be said to be at peace with the Church; the old bitterness may
survive amongst certain prejudiced people, chiefly in small towns, but
the spirit of this time is a spirit of good-will and mutual
forbearance, and the forces that were once so fiercely opposed
actually work together for the common good in many more cases than the
world knows of. The first article of the Italian Constitution states
that the religion of the Kingdom is that of the Roman Catholic Church;
it is, and it will continue to be, and no attempt will ever be made on
the part of the Monarchy to change or to cancel that opening clause.
The danger to which the Church is exposed lies in another quarter, and
threatens not only the Church, but Christianity in all its forms; not
only Christianity, but the Monarchy; and not the Monarchy only, but
all constitutional and civilised government. It is anarchy; and though
it boasts itself to be socialism, true socialists disclaim it and its
doings and all its opinions. If it can be so far honoured as to be
counted as a party, it is the party that murdered King Humbert, that
assassinated the Empress of Austria, and that would sooner or later
kill the Pope, if he left the safe refuge which some persons still
insist on calling his prison.

It is the party that continually spies upon all religious and
charitable institutions in Rome, and does not hesitate to invent
stories of crime outright when it fails to detect one of those little
flaws which its press magnifies to stains of abomination.

Monsignor Saracinesca understood these things better than the others
concerned, and at least as well as any one in Rome. As for Giovanni,
he had known him a little in former days and took him to be a man of
honour, who would submit to any conditions necessary for protecting
the nun from calumny. But he could hardly believe that the young
officer's feelings had undergone no change in five years, for he
judged men as most men judge each other. It was one thing to fall in
love with a charming young girl in her first season; it was quite
another to love her faithfully for five years, without ever seeing her
or hearing from her, and to feel no disappointment on finding her as
much changed as Angela was now, pale, sorrow-worn, and of no
particular age. The true bloom of youth is something real, but it
rarely lasts more than two years; it is as subtle and indescribable as
the bloom of growing roses, which is gone within an hour after they
are cut, though their beauty may be preserved for many days. There was
the nun's habit, too, and the veil and wimple, proclaiming another and
a greater change from which there was no return.

Ippolito Saracinesca had never been in love, even in his early youth; it
was no wonder that he was mistaken in such a man as Giovanni Severi. The
only danger he reckoned with lay in Sister Giovanna's own heart, and he
felt that he could count on her courage, her self-respect, and most of
all on her profoundly religious nature. No danger is ever overcome
without danger, said Mimos. In the case of such a woman it was better,
for her sake, to accept such risk as there might be in a single
interview which must be decisive and final, than to let her live on
haunted by disturbing memories and harassed by regret.




CHAPTER XIV


It was raining when Giovanni and Monsignor Saracinesca rang at the
door of the Convent. The Mother Superior had ordered two rush-bottomed
chairs to be brought out of the hall and placed under the shelter of
the cloister just on one side of the glass door; for Sister Giovanna
was to receive a visit, as she explained, from an officer who had
known her father and had business with her. Such things had happened
before in the community, and the lay sister was not surprised. She
carried the chairs out and set them in what she considered a proper
position, about two yards apart and both facing the garden. The rain
fell softly and steadily, the sky was of an even dove-grey, and the
smell of the damp earth and the early spring flowers filled the
cloister.

Giovanni was a soldier and would impose his military punctuality upon
the prelate, who, like most churchmen, had a clearer idea of eternity
than of definite time. As the Convent clock was striking, therefore,
the Mother Superior and Sister Giovanna came down the narrow stairs,
for they had been together a quarter of an hour, though they had
scarcely exchanged half-a-dozen words. They walked slowly round under
the vaulted cloister, the Mother on the right, the nun on the left,
according to the rigid custom, and they had just turned the last
corner and were in sight of the two chairs when the glass door opened.

Monsignor Saracinesca's voice was heard.

'Remember what I have said. I trust you, and you know that the
cloister is open to every one.'

'Yes,' Giovanni answered, as both appeared on the threshold.

They saw the two nuns already near and made a few steps to meet them.
Monsignor Saracinesca greeted the Mother, who bent her head as she
answered him; Giovanni stood still, his eyes fixed on Angela's face.
But she looked steadily down at the flagstones, and her hands were
hidden under the broad scapular of white cloth that hung straight down
from under her gorget to her feet.

There are no awkward silences when churchmen or nuns meet, still less
if the meeting takes place by appointment, for each knows exactly what
he or she is expected to say and says it, deliberately and without
hesitation. In less than a minute after they had met, the Mother and
Monsignor Saracinesca entered the hall together and closed the glass
door after them. The soldier and the nun were face to face at last.

As soon as Giovanni heard the door shut he made one step forward and
stretched out both his hands, thinking to take hers. She made no
movement, but raised her eyes, and when he saw them, they were still
and dull. Then she slowly held out her right hand, and it was cold and
inert when he took it. She drew back at once and sat down, and he took
the other chair, bringing it a little nearer, and turning it so that
he could see her. He was cruelly disappointed, but he was the first to
speak.

'I thought you were glad to know that I am alive,' he said coldly,
'but I see that you were only frightened, the other day. I am sorry to
have startled you.'

She steadied herself before answering.

'Yes, I was startled. Your letter did not reach me till afterwards.'

The garden was whirling before her as if she were being put under
ether, and the little twisted columns that upheld the arches of the
cloister chased each other furiously, till she thought she was going
to fall from her chair. She could not hear what he said next, for a
surging roar filled her ears as when the surf breaks at an angle on a
long beach and sounds one deep, uninterrupted note. He was explaining
why the mail steamer had not reached Italy several days before him,
but she did not understand; she only knew when he ceased speaking.

'It is the inevitable--always the inevitable,' she said, making a
desperate effort and yet not saying anything she wished to say.

But her tone told him how deeply she was moved, and his fiery energy
broke out.

'Nothing is inevitable!' he cried. 'There is nothing that cannot be
undone, if I can live to undo it!'

That was not what she expected, if she expected anything, but it
brought back her controlling self that had been dazed and wandering
and had left her almost helpless. She started and turned her face full
to his, but drawing back in her chair.

'What do you mean?' she asked.

'Angela!'

The appeal of love was in his voice, as he bent far forward, but she
raised her hand in warning.

'No, "Sister Giovanna," please,' she said, checking him, though
gently.

He felt the slight rebuke, and remembered that the place was public to
the community.

'It was not by chance that you took my name with the veil,' he said,
almost in a whisper. 'Did you love me then?'

'I believed that you had been dead two years,' answered the nun
slowly.

'But did you love me still, when I was dead?'

'Yes.'

She did not lower her voice, for she was not ashamed, but she looked
down. He forgot her rebuke, and called her by her old name again, that
had meant life and hope and everything to him through years of
captivity.

'Angela!' He did not heed her gesture now, nor the quick word she
spoke. 'Yes, I will call you Angela--you love me now----'

She checked him again, with more energy.

'Hush! If you cannot be reasonable, I shall go away!'

'Reasonable!'

There was contempt in his tone, but he sat upright again and said no
more.

'Listen to me,' said Sister Giovanna, finding some strength in the
small advantage she had just gained. 'I have not let you come here in
order to torment you or cheat you, and I mean to tell you the truth.
You have a right to know it, and I still have the right to tell it,
because there is nothing in it of which I am ashamed. Will you hear me
quietly, whatever I say?'

'Yes, I will. But I cannot promise not to answer, when you have done.'

'There is no answer to what I am going to say. It is to be final.'

'We shall see,' said Giovanni gravely, though with no conviction.

But the nun was satisfied, for he was clearly willing to listen. The
meeting had disturbed her peace even more than she had expected, but
she had done her best during several days to prepare herself for it,
and had found strength to decide what she must say, and to repeat it
over and over again till she knew it by heart.

'You were reported to be dead,' she began--'killed with the rest of
them. You had your share in the great military funeral, and I, and all
the world, believed that you were buried with your comrades. Your name
is engraved with theirs upon their tomb, in the roll of honour, as
that of a man who perished in his country's service. I went there with
Madame Bernard before I began my noviciate, and I went again, for the
last time, before I took the veil. I had loved you living and I loved
you dead.'

Giovanni moved as if he were going to speak, but she would not let
him.

'No, hear me!' she cried anxiously. 'I offered God my life and my
strength for your sake, and if I have done any good here in five
years, as novice and nun, it has been in the hope that it might be
accepted for you, if your soul needed it. Though you may not believe
in such things, do you at least understand me?'

'Indeed I do, and I am grateful--most grateful.'

She was a little disappointed by his tone, for he spoke with an
evident effort.

'It was gladly given,' she said. 'But now you have come back to
life----'

She hesitated. With all her courage and strength, she could not quite
control her memory, and the words she had prepared so carefully were
suddenly confused. Giovanni completed the sentence for her in his own
way.

'I have come to life to find you dead for me, as I have been dead for
you. Is that what you were going to say?'

She was still hesitating.

'Was it that?' he insisted.

'No,' she answered, at last. 'Not dead for you--alive for you.'

He would have caught at a straw, and the joy came into his face as he
quickly held out his hand to her; but she would not take it: hers were
both hidden under her white cloth scapular and she shrank from him.
The light went out of his eyes.

'I might have known!' he said, deeply disappointed. 'You do not mean
it. I suppose you will explain that you are alive to pray for me!'

'You promised to listen quietly, whatever I might say.'

'Yes.' He controlled himself. 'I will,' he added, after a moment. 'Go
on.'

'I am not changed,' said Sister Giovanna, 'but my life is. That is
what I meant by the inevitable. No person can undo what I have
done'--Giovanni moved impatiently--'no power can loose me from my vows.'

In spite of himself, the man's temper broke out.

'You are mad,' he answered roughly, 'or else you do not know that you
can be free.'

'Hush!' cried the nun, trying once more to check him. 'Your
promise--remember it!'

'I break it! I will not listen meekly to such folly! Before you took
the vow, you had given me your word, as I gave you mine, that we would
be man and wife, and since I am not dead, no promise or oath made
after that is binding! I know that you love me still, as you did then,
and if you will not try to free yourself, then by all you believe, and
by all I honour, I will set you free!'

It was a challenge if it was not a threat, and Sister Giovanna
defended herself as she could. But she was painfully conscious that
something in her responded with a thrill to the cry of the pursuer.
Nevertheless, she answered with a firm refusal.

'You cannot make me do what I will not,' she said.

'I can and I will!' he retorted vehemently. 'It is monstrous that you
should be bound by a promise made in ignorance, under a wretched
mistake, on a false report that I was dead!'

'We were not even formally betrothed----'

'We loved each other,' interrupted Giovanni, 'and we had told each
other so. That is enough. We belong to each other just as truly as if
we were man and wife----'

'Even if we were,' said the nun, interrupting him in her turn, 'if I
had taken my vows in the belief that my husband had been dead for
years, I would not ask to be released!'

He stared at her, his temper suddenly chilled in amazement.

'But if it were a mistake,' he objected, 'if the Pope offered you a
dispensation, would you refuse it?'

Sister Giovanna was prepared, for she had thought of that.

'If you had given a man your word of honour to pay a debt you owed
him, would you break your promise if you suddenly found that you could
use the money in another way, which would give you the keenest
pleasure?'

'That is quite different! How can you ask such an absurd question?'

'It is not absurd, and the case is not so different as you think. I
have given my word to God in heaven, and I must pay my debt.'

Giovanni was indignant again, and rebelled.

'You used to tell me that your God was just!'

'And I have heard you say that your only god was honour!' retorted the
nun.

'Yes!' he answered hotly. 'It is! Honour teaches that the first promise
given must be fulfilled before all others!'

'I have been taught that vows made to God must not be broken.'

She rose, as if the speech were final. Though they had been talking only
a few minutes, she already felt that she could not bear much more.

'Surely you are not going already!' he cried, starting to his feet.

Sister Giovanna turned so that she was face to face with him.

'What is there left to say?' she asked, with a great effort.

'Everything! I told you that I would answer when you had finished, and
now that you have nothing left to say, you must hear me! You said you
would----'

'I said that there could be no answer.' Nevertheless she waited,
motionless.

'But there is! The answer is that I will free you from the slavery to
which you have sold your soul! The answer is, I love you, and it is
yourself I love, the woman you are now, not the memory of your shadow
from long ago, but you, you, your very self!'

Half out of his mind, he tried to seize her by the arm, to draw her to
him; but he only caught her sleeve, and dropped it as she sprang back
with a lightness and maiden grace that almost drove him mad. She drew
herself up, offended and hurt.

'Remember what I am, and where you are!'

Giovanni's manner changed so suddenly that she would have been
suspicious, if she had not been too much disturbed to reason. She
fancied that she still controlled him.

'You are right,' he said; 'I beg your pardon. Only tell me when I may
see you again.'

'Not for a long time--not till you can give me your word that you will
control yourself. Till then, we must say good-bye.'

He was so quiet, all at once, that it was easier to say the word than
she had expected.

'No,' he answered, 'not good-bye, for even if you will not see me, I
shall be near you.'

'Near? Where?'

'I am living in my brother's rooms at the Magazine. I am in charge till
he gets well. I asked permission to take his place on the day I arrived,
from the Minister himself.'

'You have taken his place!' She could not keep her anxiety out of her
voice.

'Yes, and I hope to get a shot at the fellow who wounded Ugo. But the
post suits me, for the upper part of this house is in sight of my
windows. If you look out towards the river, you can see where I live.'

He spoke so gently that she lingered instead of leaving him at once, as
she had meant to do.

'And besides,' he went on, in the same tone, 'I shall come here every
day until my brother can go home. I may meet you at any moment, in going
to his room. You will not refuse to speak to me, will you?'

He smiled. He seemed quite changed within a few moments. But she shook
her head.

'You will not see me here again,' she answered, 'for my week's turn as
supervising nurse will be over this evening and I am going to a private
case.'

'To-night?' Giovanni asked, with a little surprise.

'Yes, to-night.'

'Do you mean to say that you do not even have a day's rest after being
on duty a whole week? What a life! But they must give you a few hours,
surely! What time do you go off duty, and at what time do you go to your
new patient? I suppose they send for you?'

'Yes, at about eight o'clock. That is the usual time, but I never know
long beforehand. Arrangements of that sort are all made by the Mother
Superior.'

It did not seem unnatural that he should ask questions about her
occupation, now that he was calmer, nor could she think it wrong to
answer them. Any one might have listened to what they were saying.

'I daresay you do not even know where you are going this evening?'
Giovanni said.

She thought that he was talking only to keep her with him a little
longer. Overstrained as she had been, it was a relief to exchange a few
words quietly before parting from him.

'It is true,' she answered, after a moment's thought. 'I daresay the
Mother Superior mentioned the name of the family, but if she did I have
forgotten it. I shall get my instructions before I leave the house, as
usual. I only know that it is a new case.'

'Yes,' Giovanni said, as if it did not interest him further. 'All the
same, it is a shame that you should be made to work so hard! Before I
go, tell me that you have forgiven me for losing my head just now. I
think you have, but I want to hear you say so. Will you?'

It seemed little enough to forgive. Sister Giovanna felt so much
relieved by his change of manner that she was even able to smile
faintly. If he would always be as gentle, she could perhaps ask leave to
see him again in six months. Now that the storm was over, it was a pure
and innocent happiness to be with him.

'You will not do it again,' she said simply. 'Of course I forgive you.'

'Thank you. It is all I can expect, since you have told me that I was
asking the impossible. You see Madame Bernard sometimes, do you not?'

'Yes. Almost every week.'

'She will give me news of you. I suppose I must not send you a message
by her. That would be against the rules!'

'The message might be!' Sister Giovanna actually smiled again. 'But if
it is not, there is no reason why she should not bring me a greeting
from you.'

'But not a letter?'

'No. I would not take it from her. It would have to be given to the
Mother Superior. If she were willing to receive it at all, it would be
her duty to read it, and she would judge whether it should be given to
me or not.'

'Is that the rule?' Giovanni asked, more indifferently than she had
expected.

'Yes. It is the rule in our order. If it were not, who could prevent any
one from writing to a nun?'

'I was not finding fault with it. I must not keep you standing here any
longer. If you will not sit down and talk a little more, I had better be
going.'

'Yes. You have been here long enough, I think.'

He did not press her. He was so submissive that if he had begged
permission to stay a few minutes more she would have consented, and she
wished he would, when she saw him holding out his hand to say good-bye;
but she was too well pleased at having dominated his wild temper to make
a suggestion which might betray weakness in herself.

She took his hand and was a little surprised to find it as cold as hers
had been when he came; but his face was not pale--she forgot that five
years of Africa had bronzed it too much for paleness--and he was very
quiet and collected. She went to the door of the hall with him and
opened it before he could do so for himself.

They parted almost like mere acquaintances, he bowing on the step, she
bending her head. The Mother Superior and Monsignor Saracinesca had been
sitting by the table, talking, but both had risen and come forward as
soon as the pair appeared outside the glass door. It all passed off very
satisfactorily, and the Mother Superior gave a little sigh of relief
when the churchman and the soldier went away together, leaving her and
Sister Giovanna standing in the hall. She felt that Monsignor
Saracinesca had been right, after all, in approving the meeting, and
that she had been mistaken in thinking that it must endanger the nun's
peace.

She said nothing, but she was quietly pleased, and a rare, sweet smile
softened her marble features. She asked no questions about what had
passed, being quite sure that all was well, and that if there had ever
been anything to fear, it was gone.

The prelate and Giovanni walked along the quiet street in silence for
some distance; then Severi stopped suddenly, as many Italians do when
they are going to say something important.

'You will help me, I am sure,' he said, speaking impetuously from the
first. 'Though I never knew you well in old times, I always felt that
you were friendly. You will not allow her to ruin both our lives, will
you?'

'What sort of help do you want from me?' asked the tall churchman,
bending his eyes to the energetic young face.

'The simplest thing in the world!' Giovanni answered. 'We were engaged
to be married when I left with that ill-fated expedition. She thought me
dead. She must be released from her vows at once! That is all.'

'It is out of the question,' answered Monsignor Saracinesca, with
supernal calm.

'Out of the question?' Giovanni frowned angrily. 'Do you mean that it
cannot be done? But it is only common justice! She is as much my wife as
if you had married us and I had left her at the altar to go to Africa!
You cannot be in earnest!'

'I am. In the first place, there is no ground for granting a
dispensation.'

'No ground?' cried Severi indignantly. 'We loved each other, we meant to
marry! Is that no reason?'

'No. You were not even formally betrothed, either before your parish
priest or the mayor. Without a solemn promise in the proper form and
before witnesses, there is no binding engagement to marry. That is not
only canonical law, but Italian common law, too.'

'We had told each other,' Giovanni objected. 'That was enough.'

'You are wrong,' answered Monsignor Saracinesca gently. 'The Church will
do nothing that the law would not do, and the law would not release
Sister Giovanna, or any one else, from a legal obligation taken under
the same circumstances as the religious one she has assumed.'

'What do you mean?'

'This. If, instead of becoming a nun, Angela had married another man
after you were lost, Italian law would not annul the marriage in order
that she might become your wife.'

'Of course not!'

'Then why should the Church annul an obligation which is quite as solemn
as marriage?'

Giovanni thought he had caught the churchman in a fallacy.

'I beg your pardon,' he replied. 'I was taught as a boy that marriage is
a sacrament, but I never heard that taking the veil was one!'

'Quite right, in principle. In reality, it is considered, for women, the
equivalent of ordination, and therefore as being of the nature of a
sacrament.'

'I am not a theologian, to discuss equivalents,' retorted Giovanni
roughly.

'Very true, but a man who knows nothing of mathematics may safely accept
the statement of a mathematician about a simple problem. That is not the
point, however. If you remember, I said that "under the same
circumstances" the Church would not do what the law would not. The
Church considers a nun's final vows to be as binding under its
regulations as the law considers that any civil contract is. The
"circumstances" are therefore exactly similar.'

Giovanni was no match for his cool antagonist in an argument. He cut the
discussion short by a direct question.

'Is it in the Pope's power to release Sister Giovanna from her vows, or
not?'

'Yes. It is--in principle.'

'Then put your principles into practice and make him do it!' cried the
soldier rudely.

Monsignor Saracinesca was unmoved by this attack, which he answered with
calm dignity.

'My dear Captain,' he said, 'in the first place, no one can "make" the
Pope do things. That is not a respectful way of speaking.'

Giovanni was naturally courteous and he felt that he had gone too far.

'I beg your pardon,' he answered. 'I mean no disrespect to the Pope,
though I tell you frankly that I do not believe in much, and not at all
in his authority. What I ask is common justice and your help as a
friend. I ask you to go to him and lay the case before him fairly, as
before a just man, which I heartily believe him to be. You will see that
he will do what you admit is in his power and give Sister Giovanna her
dispensation.'

'If you and she had been married before your disappearance,' argued the
churchman, 'His Holiness would assuredly not refuse. If you had been
solemnly betrothed before your parish priest as well as legally promised
in marriage at the Capitol, he might make an exception, though a civil
betrothal is valid only for six months, under Italian law. But there was
no marriage and no such engagement.'

Giovanni found himself led into argument again.

'We had intended to bind ourselves formally,' he objected. 'I have heard
it said by priests that everything depends on the intention and that
without it the most solemn sacrament is an empty show! Will you doubt
our intention if I give you my word that it was mine, and if Sister
Giovanna assures you that it was hers?'

'Certainly not! The Pope would not doubt you either, I am sure.'

'Then, in the name of all that is just and right, what is the obstacle?
If you admit that the intention is the one important point, and that it
existed, what ground have you left?'

'That is begging the question, Captain. It is true that without the
intention a sacrament is an empty show, but the intention without the
sacrament is of no more value than intention without performance would
be in law. Less, perhaps. There is another point, however, which you
have quite overlooked. If a request for a dispensation were even to be
considered, it ought to come from Sister Giovanna herself.'

'And you will never allow her to ask for her freedom!' cried Giovanni
angrily. 'That settles it, I suppose! Oh, the tyranny of the Church!'

Monsignor Saracinesca's calm was not in the least disturbed by this
outbreak, and he answered with unruffled dignity.

'That is easily said, Captain. You have just been speaking with Sister
Giovanna and I daresay you talked of this. What was her answer?'

'She is under the influence of her surroundings, of course! What could I
expect?'

But the churchman had a right to a more direct reply.

'Did she refuse to listen to your suggestion that she should leave her
order?' he asked.

Giovanni did not like to admit the fact, and paused a moment before
answering; but he was too truthful to quibble.

'Yes, she did.'

'What reason did she give for refusing?'

'None!'

'Did she merely say, "No, I will not"?'

'You are cross-examining me!' Giovanni fancied that he had a right to be
offended.

'No,' protested Monsignor Saracinesca, 'or at least not with the
intention of catching you in your own words. You made an unfair
assertion; I have a right to ask a fair question. If I were not a
priest, but simply Ippolito Saracinesca, and if you accused me or my
family of unjust dealings, you would be glad to give me an opportunity
of defending my position, as man to man. But because I am a priest you
deny me that right. Are you just?'

'I did not accuse you personally,' argued the younger man. 'I meant that
the Church would never allow Sister Giovanna to ask for her freedom.'

'The greater includes the less,' replied the other. 'The Church is my
family, it includes myself, and I claim the right to defend it against
an unjust accusation. Sister Giovanna is as free to ask for a
dispensation as you were to resign from the army when you were ordered
to join an expedition in which you nearly lost your life.'

'You say so!' Severi was incredulous.

'It is the truth. Sister Giovanna has devoted herself to a cause in
which she too may risk her life.'

'The risk a nurse runs nowadays is not great!'

'You are mistaken. If she carries out her intention, she will be exposed
to a great danger.'

'What intention?' asked Giovanni, instantly filled with anxiety.

'She has asked permission to join the other Sisters of the order who are
going out to Rangoon to nurse the lepers there.'

'Lepers!' Severi's features were convulsed with horror. 'She, nurse
lepers! It is not possible! It is certain death.'

'No, it is not certain death, by any means, but you will admit the
risk.'

Giovanni was beside himself in an instant.

'She shall not go!' he cried furiously. 'You shall not make her kill
herself, make her commit suicide, for your glorification--that what you
call your Church may add another martyr to its death-roll! You shall
not, I say! Do you hear me?' He grasped the prelate's arm roughly. 'If
you must have martyrs, go yourselves! Risk your own lives for your own
glory, instead of sacrificing women on your altars--women who should
live to be wives and mothers, an honour to mankind!'

'You are utterly unjust----'

'No, I am human, and I will not tolerate your human sacrifice! I am a
man, and I will not let the woman I love be sent to a horrible death, to
delight your Moloch of a God!'

'Captain Severi, you are raving.'

Giovanni's fiery rage leapt from invective to sarcasm.

'Raving! That is your answer, that is the sum of your churchman's
argument! A man who will not let you make a martyr of the woman he
adores is raving! Do you find that in Saint Thomas Aquinas, or in Saint
Augustine, or in Saint Jerome?' He dropped his voice and suddenly spoke
with cold deliberation. 'She shall not go. I swear that I will make it
impossible.'

Monsignor Saracinesca shook his head.

'If that is an oath,' he said, 'it is a foolish one. If it is a threat,
it is unworthy of you.'

'Take it how you will. It is my last word.'

'May you never regret it,' answered the prelate, lifting his
three-cornered hat; for Giovanni was saluting, with the evident
intention of leaving him at once.

So they parted.




CHAPTER XV


A carriage came early for Sister Giovanna that evening, and the
footman sent in a message by the portress. The patient was worse, he
said, and the doctor hoped that the nurse would come as soon as she
conveniently could. She came down in less than five minutes, in her
wide black cloak, carrying her little black bag in her hand. It was
raining heavily and she drew the hood up over her head before she left
the threshold, though the servant was holding up a large umbrella.

The portress had asked the usual questions of him as soon as he
presented himself, but Sister Giovanna repeated them. Was the carriage
from the Villino Barini? It was. To take the nurse who was wanted for
Baroness Barini? Yes; the Signora Baronessa was worse, and that was
why the carriage had come half-an-hour earlier. The door of the
brougham was shut with a sharp snap, the footman sprang to the box
with more than an average flunkey's agility, and the nun was driven
rapidly away. Knowing that the house she was going to was one of those
little modern villas on the slope of the Janiculum which have no
arched entrance and often have no particular shelter at the front
door, she did not take the trouble to push her hood back, as she would
need it again so soon.

In about ten minutes the carriage stopped, the footman jumped down
with his open umbrella in his hand, and let her into the house. Before
she could ask whether she had better leave her cloak in the hall, the
man was leading the way upstairs; it was rather dark, but she felt
that the carpet under her feet was thick and soft. She followed
lightly, and a moment later she was admitted to a well-lighted room
that looked like a man's library; the footman disappeared and shut the
door, and the latch made a noise as if the key were being turned; as
she supposed such a thing to be out of the question, however, she was
ashamed to go and try the lock.

She thought she was in the study of the master of the house and that
some one would come for her at once, and she stood still in the middle
of the room; setting down her bag on a chair, she pushed the hood back
from her head carefully, as nuns do, in order not to discompose the
rather complicated arrangement of the veil and head-band.

She had scarcely done this when, as she expected, a door at the end of
the room was opened. But it was not a stranger that entered; to her
unspeakable amazement, it was Giovanni Severi. In a flash she
understood that by some trick she had been brought to his brother's
dwelling. She was alone with him and the door was locked on the
outside.

She laid one hand on the back of the nearest chair, to steady herself,
wondering whether she were not really lying ill in her bed and
dreaming in the delirium of a fever. But it was no dream; he was
standing before her, looking into her face, and his own was stern and
dark as an Arab's. When he spoke at last, his voice was low and
determined.

'Yes. You are in my house.'

Her tongue was loosed, with a cry of indignation.

'If you are not a madman, let me go!'

'I am not mad.'

His eyes terrified her, and she backed away from him towards the
locked door. She almost shrieked for fear.

'If you have a spark of human feeling, let me out!'

'I am human,' he answered grimly, but he did not move to follow her.

'By whatever you hold sacred, let me go!' She was wrenching at the
lock in despair with both hands, but sideways, while she kept her eyes
on his.

'I hold you sacred--nothing else.'

'Sacred!' Her anger began to outbrave her terror now. 'Sacred, and you
have trapped me by a vile trick!'

'Yes,' he answered, 'I admit that.'

He had not moved again and there was a window near her. She sprang to
it and thrust the curtains aside, hoping to open the frame before he
could stop her. But though she moved the fastenings easily, she could
do no more, with all her strength, and Giovanni still stood
motionless, watching her.

'You cannot open that window,' he said quietly. 'If you scream, no one
will hear you. Do you think I would have brought you to a place where
you could get help merely by crying out for it? The risk was too
great. I have made sure of being alone with you as long as I choose.'

The nun drew herself up against the red curtains.

'I did not know that you were a coward,' she said.

'I am what you have made me, brave, cowardly, desperate--anything you
choose to call it! But such as I am, you must hear me to the end this
time, for you have no choice.'

Sister Giovanna understood that there was no escape and she stood
quite still; but he saw that her lips moved a little.

'God is not here,' he said, in a hard voice, for he knew that she was
praying.

'God is here,' she answered, crossing her hands on her breast.

He came a step nearer and leaned on the back of a chair; he was
evidently controlling himself, for his movements were studiedly
deliberate, though his voice was beginning to shake ominously.

'If God is with you, Angela, then He shall hear that I love you and
that you are mine, not His! He shall listen while I tell you that I
will not give you up to be murdered by priests for His glory! Do what
He will, He shall not have you. I defy Him!'

The nun shrank against the curtain, not from the man, but at the
words.

'At least, do not blaspheme!'

'I must, if it is blasphemy to love you.'

'Yours is not love. Would to heaven it were, as I thought it was to-day.
Love is gentle, generous, tender----'

'Then be all three to me; for you love me, in spite of everything!'

'You have taught me to forget that I ever did,' she answered.

'Learn to remember that you did, to realise that you do, and forget
only that I have used a trick to bring you here--a harmless trick, one
carriage for another, my brother's orderly for a servant. I found out
from Madame Bernard where you were going and I sent for you before the
hour. You are as safe here as if you were praying in your chapel; in a
few minutes the carriage will take you back, you will say you got into
the wrong one by mistake, which is quite true, and the right one will
take you where you are to go; you will be scarcely half-an-hour late
and no one will ever know anything more about it.'

Sister Giovanna had listened patiently to his explanation, and
believed what he said. He had always been impulsive to rashness, but
now that her first surprise had subsided she was less afraid. He had
evidently yielded to a strong temptation with the idea of forcing her
to listen to him, and in reality, if she had understood herself, she
was not able to believe that he would hurt her or bring any disgrace
upon her.

'If you are in earnest,' she said, when he had finished, 'then let me
go at once.'

'Presently,' he answered. 'This afternoon you made me promise to hear
quietly what you had to say, and I did my best. I could not help your
being frightened just now, I suppose--after all, I have carried you off
from the door of your Convent, and I meant you to understand that you
were helpless, and must listen. I ought to have put it differently,
but I am not clever at such things. All I ask is that you will hear
me. After all, that is what you asked of me to-day.'

He had begun to walk up and down before her, while he was speaking;
but he did not come near her, for the chair stood between her and the
line along which he was pacing backwards and forwards. Something in
his way of speaking reassured her, as he jerked out the rather
disconnected sentences. Women often make the mistake of thinking that
when we men begin to stumble away from the straight chalk-line of that
logic in which we are supposed by them to take such pride, our purpose
is wavering, whereas the opposite is often the case. Men capable of
sudden, direct, and strong action are often poor talkers, particularly
when they are just going to spring or strike. A little hesitation is
more often the sign of a near outbreak than of any inward weakening.
But Sister Giovanna was deceived.

'I shall be forced to listen, if you insist,' she said, moving half a
step forward from the curtain, 'but how can I trust you, while I am
your prisoner?'

'You can trust me, if you will be generous,' Giovanni answered.

'I do not know what you mean by the word,' replied the nun cautiously.
'If I am not generous, as you mean it, what then?'

Severi stopped in his walk; his face began to darken again, and his
voice was rough and hard.

'What then? Why then, remember what I am and where you are!'

Sister Giovanna drew back again.

'I would rather trust in God than trust you when you speak in that
tone,' she said.

He had used the very words she had spoken in the cloister when he had
tried to take her by the arm, but they had a very different meaning
now; his dangerous temper was rising again and he was threatening her.
Yet her answer produced an effect she was far from expecting. He
turned to the writing-table near him, opened one of the drawers and
took out an army revolver. Sister Giovanna watched him. If he was only
going to kill her she was not afraid.

'I will force you to trust me,' he said, quickly examining the charge
as he came towards her.

'By threatening me with that thing?' she asked with contempt. 'You are
mistaken!'

He was close to her, but he offered her the butt-end of the weapon.

'No,' he said, 'I am not mistaken. It is I who fear death, as long as
you are alive, and here it is, in your hand.' But she would not take
the revolver from him. 'You will not take it? Well, there it is.' He
laid it on the chair, which he placed beside her. 'If I come too near
you, or try to touch even your sleeve, you can use it. The law will
acquit you, and even praise you for defending yourself in need.'

'There must be no need,' she answered, looking at him fixedly. 'Say
quickly what you have to say.'

'Will you not sit down, then?'

'No, thank you. I would rather not.'

It would have seemed like consenting to be where she was; and besides,
the revolver lay on the nearest available chair and she would not
touch it, much less hold it in her hand, if she sat down to listen.
Giovanni leaned back against the heavy table at some distance from
her, resting his hands on the edge, on each side of him.

'After I left you to-day,' he began, 'I had a long talk with Monsignor
Saracinesca in the street. I asked him questions about obtaining a
dispensation for you. He made it look impossible, of course--that was
to be expected! But I got one point from him, which is important. He
made it quite clear to me that the request to be released from your
vows must come from you, if it is to be considered at all. You
understand that, do you not?'

'Is it possible that you yourself do not yet understand?' Sister
Giovanna asked, as quietly as she could. 'Did I not tell you to-day
that no power could loose me from my vows?'

'You were mistaken. There is a power that can, and that rests with the
Pope, and he shall exercise it.'

'I will not ask for a dispensation. I have told you that it is an
impossibility----'

'There is no such thing as impossibility for men and women who love,'
Giovanni answered. 'Have you forgotten the last words you said to me
before I sailed for Africa?' He spoke gently now, and Sister Giovanna
turned her face from him. 'You said, "I will wait for you for ever."
Do you remember?'

'Yes. I remember.'

'Did you "wait for ever," Angela?'

She looked at him again, and then came forward a little, drawn by an
impulse she could not resist.

'Did I love another man, that you reproach me?' she asked. 'Such as my
life has been, have I lived it as a woman lives who has forgotten? I
know I have not. Yes, Giovanni, I have waited, but as one waits who
hopes to meet in heaven the dear one who is dead on earth. Do you
still find fault with me? Would you rather have had me go back to the
world and to society after mourning you as long as a girl of nineteen
could mourn for a man to whom she had not been openly engaged? Was I
wrong? If you had really been dead and could have seen me, would you
have wished that I were living differently?'

For a moment he was moved and held out one hand towards her, hoping
that she would come nearer.

'No,' he answered--'no, dear----'

'But that was the only question,' she said earnestly, 'and you have
answered it!'

She would not take his hand and Giovanni dropped his own with a
gesture of disappointment.

'No,' he replied, in a colder tone, 'it is not the question, for you
have not told me all the truth. If I had not been gone five years, if
I had come back the day before you took the last vows, would you have
taken them?'

'No, indeed!'

'If I had come the very next day after, would you not have done your
best to be set free?'

There was an instant's pause before she spoke; then the answer came,
clear and distinct.

'No.'

Severi turned from her with an impatient movement of his compact head,
and tapped the carpeted floor with his heel. His answer broke from his
lips harshly.

'You never loved me!'

She would have done wisely if she had been silent then; but she could
not, for his words denied the truth that had ruled her life.

'Better than I knew,' she said. 'Better than I knew, even then.'

'Even then?' The words had hope in them. 'And now?' He was suddenly
breathless.

'Yes, even now!' The tide of truth lifted her from her feet and swept
her onward, helpless. 'Giovanni! Giovanni! Do you think it costs me
nothing to keep my word with God?'

But he had been disappointed too often now, and he could not believe
at once.

'It costs you less than it would to keep your faith with me,' he
answered.

'It is not true! Indeed, it is not true!'

'Then let the truth win, dear! All the rest is fable!'

He was at her side now. She had tried to resist, but not long, and her
hand was in his, though her face was turned away.

'No--no----' she faltered, but he would not let her speak.

'All a fable of sorrow and a dream of parting, sweetheart! And now we
have waked to meet again, your hand in my hand, my heart to your
heart--your lips to mine----'

She almost shrieked aloud in terror then and threw herself back
bodily, as from the edge of a precipice. She might have fallen if he
had not still held her hand, and as she recovered herself she tried to
withdraw it. In her distress, words came that she regretted
afterwards.

'Do you think that only you are human, of us two?' she cried, in
passionate protest against passion itself, against him, against life,
but still twisting her wrist in his grip and trying to wrench it away.
'For the love of heaven, Giovanni----'

'No--for love of me----'

She broke from him, for when he felt that he was hurting her his
fingers relaxed. But she could not stay her own words.

'Yes, I love you,' she cried almost fiercely, as she stepped
backwards. 'Right or wrong, I cannot unmake myself, and as for lying
to you, I will not! God is my witness that I mean to love you living
as I have loved you dead, without one thought of earth or one regret
for what might have been! But, oh, may God forgive me, too, if I wish
that we were side by side in one grave, at peace for ever!'

'Dead? Why? With life before us----'

'No!' She interrupted him with rising energy. 'No, Giovanni, no! I was
weak for a moment, but I am strong again. I can wait for you, and you
will find strength to wait for me. You are so brave, Giovanni, you can
be so generous, when you will! You will wait, too!'

'For what?'

'For the end that will be the beginning, for God's great To-morrow,
when you will come to be with me for ever and ever, beyond the world,
and all parting and all pain!'

There was a deep appeal to higher things in her words and in her
voice, too, but it did not touch him; he only knew that at the very
moment when she had seemed to be near yielding, the terrible
conviction of her soul had come once more between him and her.

'There is no beyond,' he answered, chilled and sullen again. 'You live
in a lying legend; your life is a fable and your sacrifice is a
crime.'

The cruel words struck her tormented heart, as icy hailstones bruise
the half-clad body of a starving child, out in the storm.

'You hurt me very much,' she said in a low voice.

'Forgive me!' he cried quickly. 'I did not mean to. I forget that you
believe your dreams, for I cannot live in visions as you do. I only
see a blind force, striking in the dark, a great injustice done to us
both--a wrong I will undo, come what may!'

'You know my answer to that. You can undo nothing.'

'I am not answered yet. You say you love me--prove it!'

'Only my life can,' said the nun; 'only our two lives can prove our
love, for we can live for each other still, perhaps we shall be
allowed to die for each other, and in each other we shall find
strength to resist----'

'Not to resist love itself, Angela.'

'No, not to resist all that is good and true in love.'

'I cannot see what you see,' he answered. 'Nothing human is beyond my
comprehension, good or bad, but you cannot make a monk of me, still
less a saint--a Saint Louis of Gonzaga, who was too modest to look his
own mother in the face!'

He laughed roughly, but checked himself at once, fearing to hurt her
again.

She turned to him with a look of gentle authority.

'In spite of what you have done to-night,' she said, 'you are such a
manly man, that you can be the man you will. Listen! If another woman
tried to get your love, could you resist her? Would you, for love of
me?'

'She would have small chance, you know that well enough.'

'There is another woman in me, Giovanni. Resist her!'

'I do not understand.'

'You must try! There is another woman in me, or what is left of her,
and she is quite different from my real self. Resist her for my sake,
as I am fighting her with all my strength. It was she who tempted you
to bring me here by a trick you are ashamed of already; it was she
that made me weak, just now; but she is not the woman you love, she is
not Angela, she is not worthy of you; and as for me, I hate her, with
all my soul!'

Severi had said truly that he could not understand, and instead of
responding to her appeal, he turned impatient again.

'You choose your words well enough,' he answered, 'but women's fine
speeches persuade women, not men. No man was ever really moved to
change his mind by a woman's eloquence, though we will risk our lives
for a look of yours, for a touch--for a kiss!'

Sister Giovanna sighed and turned from him. The razor-edge of
extremest peril was passed, for the words that left him cold and
unbelieving had brought back conviction to her soul. She could live
for him, pray for him, die for him, but she would not sin for him nor
lift a hand to loose the vows that bound her to the religious life.
Yet she did not see that she was slowly driving him to a state of
temper in which he might break all barriers. Very good women rarely
understand men well until it is too late, because men very rarely make
any appeal to what is good in woman, whereas they lie in wait for all
her weaknesses. It is almost a proverbial truth that men of the most
lawless nature, if not actually of the worst character, are often
loved by saintly women, perhaps because the true saint sees some good
in every one and believes that those who have least of it are the ones
who need help most. Sister Giovanna was not a saint yet, but she was
winning her way as she gained ground in the struggle that had been
forced upon her that night, so cruelly against her will, and having
got the better of a temptation, her charity made her think that
Giovanni Severi was farther from it than he was. Outward danger was
near at hand, just when inward peril was passed.

As if he were weary of the contest of words, he left the writing-table,
sat down in a big chair farther away, and stared at the pattern in the
carpet.

'You are forcing me to extremities,' he said, after a long pause, and
rather slowly. 'Unless you consent to appeal to the Pope for your
freedom, I will not let you leave this house. You are in my power
here, and here you shall stay.'

She was more surprised and offended than indignant at what she took
for an empty threat, and she was not at all frightened. Women never
are, when one expects them to be. She drew her long cloak round her
with simple dignity, crossed the room without haste, and stopped
before the locked door, turning her head to speak to him.

'It is time for me to go,' she said gravely. 'Open the door at once,
please.'

She could not believe that he would refuse to obey her, but he did not
move; he did not even look up, as he answered:

'If I keep you a prisoner, there will be a search for you. You may
stay here a day, a week, or a month, but in the end you will be found
here, in my rooms.'

'And set free,' the nun answered, from the door, with some contempt.

'Not as you think. You will be expelled from your order for scandalous
behaviour in having spent a night, or a week, or a month in an
officer's lodging. What will you do then?'

'If such a thing were possible, I would tell the truth and I should be
believed.' But her anger was already awake.

'The thing is very possible,' Giovanni answered, 'and no one will
believe you. It will be out of the question for you to go back to your
Convent, even for an hour. Even if the Mother Superior were willing,
it could not be done. In the Middle Ages, you would have been sent to
a prison for penitents for the rest of your life; nowadays you will
simply be turned out of your order with public disgrace, the papers
will be full of your story, your aunt will make Rome ring with it----'

'What do you mean by all this?' cried the Sister, breaking out at
last. 'Are you trying to frighten me?'

'No. I wish you to know that I will let nothing stand between you and
me--nothing, absolutely nothing.' He repeated the word with cold
energy. 'When it is known that you have been here for twenty-four
hours, you will be forced to marry me. Nothing else can save you from
infamy. Even Madame Bernard will not dare to give you shelter, for she
will lose every pupil she has if it is found out that she is
harbouring a nun who has broken her vows, a vulgar bad character who
has been caught in an officer's lodgings! That is what they will call
you!'

At first she had not believed that he was in earnest, but she could
not long mistake the tone of a man determined to risk much more than
life and limb for his desperate purpose. Her just anger leaped up like
a flame.

'Are you an utter scoundrel, after all? Have you no honour left? Is
there nothing in you to which a woman can appeal? You talk of being
human! You prate of your man's nature! And in the same breath you
threaten an innocent girl with public infamy, if she will not disgrace
herself of her own free will! Is that your love? Did I give you mine
for that? Shame on you! And shame on me for being so deceived!'

Her voice rang like steel and the thrusts of her deadly reproach
pierced deep. He was on his feet, in the impulse of self-defence,
before she had half done, trying to silence her--he was at her side,
calling her by her name, but she would not hear him.

'No, I believed in you!' she went on. 'I trusted you! I loved you--but
I have loved a villain and believed a liar, and I am a prisoner under
a coward's roof!' Beseeching, he tried to lay his hand upon her
sleeve; she mistook his meaning. 'Take care!' she cried, and suddenly
the revolver was in her hand. 'Take care, I say! A nun is only a woman
after all!'

He threw himself in front of her in an instant, his arms wide out, and
as the muzzle came close against his chest, he gave the familiar word
of command in a loud, clear tone:

'Fire!'

Their eyes met, and they were both mad.

'If you despise me for loving you beyond honour and disgrace, then
fire, for I would rather die by your hand than live without you! I am
ready! Pull the trigger! Let the end be here, this instant!'

He believed that she would do it, and for one awful moment she had
felt that she was going to kill him. Then she lowered the weapon and
laid it on the chair beside her with slow deliberation, though her
hands shook so much that she almost dropped it. As if no longer seeing
him, she turned to the door, folded her hands on the panel, and leaned
her forehead against them.

He heard her voice, low and trembling:

'Forgive us our sins, as we forgive them that trespass against us!'

His own hand was on the revolver to do what she had refused to do. As
when the cyclone whirls on itself, just beyond the still storm-centre,
and strikes all aback the vessel it has driven before it for hours, so
the man's passion had turned to destroy him. But the holy words stayed
his hand.

'Angela! Forgive me!' he cried in agony.

The nun heard him, raised her head and turned; his suffering was
visible and appalling to see. But she found speech to soothe it.

'You did not know what you were saying.'

'I know what I said.'

He could hardly speak.

'You did not mean to say it, when you brought me here.' She was
prompting him gently.

'No.' He almost whispered the one word, and then he regretted it. 'I
hardly know what I meant to say,' he went on more firmly, 'but I know
what I meant to accomplish. That is the truth, such as it is. I saw
this afternoon that I should never persuade you to ask for your
freedom unless I could talk to you alone where you must hear me; the
chance came unexpectedly and I took it, for it would never have come
again. I had no other place, I had not thought of what I should say,
but I was ready to risk everything, all for all--as I have done----'

'You have, indeed,' the nun said slowly, while he hesitated.

'And I have failed. Forgive me if you can. It was for love of you and
for your sake.'

'For my sake, you should be true and brave and kind,' answered the
Sister. 'But you ask forgiveness, and I forgive you, and I will try to
forget, too. If I cannot do that, I can at least believe that you were
mad, for no man in his senses would think of doing what you
threatened! If you wish to live so that I may tell God in my prayers
that I would have been your wife if I could, and that I hope to meet
you in heaven--then, for my sake, be a man, and not a weakling willing
to stoop to the most contemptible villainy to cheat a woman. Your
brother was nearly killed in doing his duty here and you have taken
his place. Make it your true calling, as I have made it mine to nurse
the sick. At any moment, either of us may be called to face danger,
till we die; we can feel that we are living the same life, for the
same hope. Is that nothing?'

'The same life? A nun and a soldier?'

'Why not, if we risk it that others may be safe?'

'And in the same hope? Ah no, Angela! That is where it all breaks
down!'

'No. You will live to believe it is there that all begins. Now let me
go.'

Severi shook his head sadly; she was so unapproachably good, he
thought--what chance had a mere man like himself of really
understanding her splendid, saintly delusion?

Pica had turned the key on the outside and had taken it out, obeying
his orders; but Giovanni had another like it in his pocket and now
unlocked and opened the door. The nun went out, drawing her black hood
quite over her head so that it concealed her face, and Giovanni
followed her downstairs and held an umbrella over her while she got
into the carriage, for it was still raining.

'Good-night,' he said, as Pica shut the door.

He did not hear her answer and the brougham drove away. When he could
no longer see the lights, he went upstairs again, and after he had
shut the door he stood a long time just where she had stood last. The
revolver was still on the chair under the bright electric light. He
fancied that the peculiar faint odour of her heavy cloth cloak, just
damped by the few drops of rain that had reached it, still hung in the
air. With the slightest effort of memory, her voice came back to his
ears, now gentle, now gravely reproachful, but at last ringing like
steel on steel in her generous anger. She had been present, in that
room, in his power, during more than twenty minutes, and now she was
gone and would never come again.

He had done the most rash, inconsequent, and uselessly bad deed that
had ever suggested itself to his imagination, and now that all was
over he wondered how he could have been at once so foolish, so brutal,
and so daring. Perhaps five years of slavery in Africa had unsettled
his mind; he had heard of several similar cases and his own might be
another; he had read of officers who had lost all sense of
responsibility after months of fighting in the tropics, perhaps from
having borne responsibility too long and unshared, who had come back,
after doing brave and honourable work, to find themselves morally
crippled for civilised life, and no longer able to distinguish right
from wrong or truth from falsehood.

It had all happened quickly but illogically, as events follow each
other in dreams, from the moment when he had gone to the Convent
hospital with Monsignor Saracinesca till the brougham drove away in
the dark, taking Angela back. He understood for the first time how men
whom every one supposed to be of average uprightness could commit
atrocious crimes; he shuddered to think what must have happened if a
mere chance had not changed his mood, making him ask Angela's
forgiveness and prompting him to let her go. She had touched him, that
was all. If her voice had sounded only a little differently at the
great moment, if her eyes had not looked at him with just that
expression, if her attitude had been a shade less resolute, what might
not have happened? For the conviction that he could force her to be
his wife if he chose to keep her a prisoner had taken possession of
him suddenly, when all his arguments had failed. It had come with
irresistible strength: the simplicity of the plan had been axiomatic,
its immediate execution had been in his power, and while she was
within the circle of his senses, his passion had been elemental and
overwhelming. He tried to excuse himself with that; men in such cases
had done worse things by far, and at least Angela had been safe from
violence.

But his own words accused him; he had threatened her, he had talked of
bringing infamy and public disgrace on the woman he loved, in order to
force her to marry him; he had thought only of that end and not at all
of the vile means; it all took shape now, and looked ugly enough. He
felt the blood surging to his sunburnt forehead for shame, perhaps for
the first time in his life, and the sensation was painfully
humiliating.

It made a deep impression on him when he realised it. Often enough he
had said that honour was his god, and he had taken pleasure in proving
that he who makes the rule of honour the law of his life must of
necessity be a good man, incapable of any falsehood or meanness or
cruelty, and therefore truthful, generous, and kind; in other words,
such an one must really be all that a good Christian aims at being.
The religion of honour, Giovanni used to say, was of a higher nature
than Christianity, since Christians might sin, repent, and be forgiven
again and again, to the biblical seventy times seven times; but a man
who did one dishonourable deed in his whole life ceased to be a man of
honour for ever. Having that certainty before his eyes, how could he
ever be in danger of a fall?

But now he was ashamed, for he had fallen; he had forsaken his deity
and his faith; the infamy he had threatened to bring on Angela had
come back upon him and branded him. It was not because he had brought
her to his lodging to talk with him alone, for he saw nothing
dishonourable in that, since he felt sure that no harm could come to
her in consequence. The dishonour lay in having thought of the rest
afterwards, and in having been on the point of carrying out his
threat. If he had kept her a prisoner only a few hours, the whole
train of results would most probably have followed; if he had not let
her go till the next day, they would have been inevitable and
irretrievable. Nothing could have saved Sister Giovanna then.

As he saw the truth more and more clearly, shame turned into something
more like horror, and as different from mere humiliation as remorse is
from repentance. Thinking over what he had done, he attempted to put
himself in Angela's place, and to see, or guess, how he would behave
if some stronger being tried to force him to choose between public
ignominy and breaking a solemn oath. Moreover, he endeavoured to
imagine what the nun, as distinguished from the mere woman, must have
felt when she found herself trapped in a man's rooms and locked in.
Even his unbelief instinctively placed Sister Giovanna higher in the
scale of goodness than Angela Chiaromonte; he was an unbeliever, but
not a scoffer, for somehow the rule of honour influenced him there,
too. Nuns could really be saints, and were often holy women, and the
fact that they were mistaken, in his opinion, only made their
sacrifice more complete, since they were to receive no reward where
they hoped for an eternal one; and he no longer doubted that Sister
Giovanna was as truly good in every sense as any of them. What must
she not have felt, less than an hour ago, when he had entered the
room, telling her roughly that she was in his power, beyond all reach
of help? Yet he had cherished the illusion that he was an honourable
man, who would never take cruel advantage of any woman, still less of
an innocent girl, far less, still, of a nursing nun, whose dress alone
would have protected her from insult amongst any men but criminals.

In his self-contempt he hung his head as he sat alone by the table,
half-fancying that if he raised his eyes he would see his own image
accusing him. Sister Giovanna herself would have been surprised if she
could have known how complete her victory had been. His god had
forsaken him in his great need, and though he could not believe in
hers, he was asking himself what inward strength that must be which
could make a woman in extremest danger so gentle and yet so strong, so
quick to righteous anger and yet so ready to forgive what he could
never pardon in himself.




CHAPTER XVI


Sister Giovanna's nerves were good. The modern trained nurse is a
machine, and a wonderfully good one on the whole; when she is
exceptionally endowed for her work she is quite beyond praise. People
who still fancy that Rome is a mediaeval town, several centuries behind
other great capitals in the application of useful discoveries and
scientific systems, would be surprised if they knew the truth and
could see what is done there, and not as an exception, but as the
general rule. The common English and American belief, that Roman nuns
nurse the sick chiefly by prayer and the precepts of the school of
Salerno, is old-fashioned nonsense; the Pope's own authority requires
that they should attend an extremely modern training-school where they
receive a long course of instruction, probably as good as any in the
world, from eminent surgeons and physicians.

One of the first results of proper training in anything is an
increased steadiness of the nerves, which quite naturally brings with
it the ability to bear a long strain better than ordinary persons can,
and a certain habitual coolness that is like an armour against
surprises of all kinds. One reason why Anglo-Saxons are generally
cooler than people of other nations is that they are usually in better
physical condition than other men.

A digression is always a liberty which the story-teller takes with his
readers, and those of us have the fewest readers who make the most
digressions; hence the little old-fashioned civility of apologising
for them. The one I have just made seemed necessary to explain why
Sister Giovanna was able to go to her patient directly from Severi's
rooms, and to take up her work with as much quiet efficiency as if
nothing unusual had happened.

She had found the portress in considerable perturbation, for the right
carriage had just arrived, a quarter of an hour late instead of
half-an-hour too soon. Sister Giovanna said that there had been a
mistake, that she had been taken to the wrong house, that the first
carriage should not have come to the hospital of the White Nuns at all,
and that she had been kept waiting some time before being brought back.
All this was strictly true, and without further words she drove away to
the Villino Barini, the brougham Severi had hired having already
disappeared. As he had foreseen, it was impossible that any one should
suspect what had happened, for the nun was above suspicion, and when his
carriage had once left the Convent door no one could ever trace the sham
coachman and footman in order to question them. In that direction,
therefore, there was nothing to fear. The authority of an Italian
officer over his orderly is great, and his power of making the
conscript's life singularly easy or perfectly unbearable is greater.
Even Sister Giovanna knew that, and she felt no anxiety about the
future.

Her mind was the more free to serve her conscience in examining her
own conduct. It was not her right to analyse Giovanni's, however; he
had made the circumstances in which she had been placed against her
will, and the only question was, whether she had done right in a
position she could neither have foreseen, so as to avoid it, nor have
escaped from when once caught in it.

Examinations of conscience are tedious to every one except the subject
of them, who generally finds them disagreeable, and sometimes
positively painful. Sister Giovanna was honest with herself and was
broad-minded enough to be fair; her memory had always been very good,
she could recall nearly every word of the long interview, and she
accused herself of having been weak twice, namely, when she had
admitted that she was tempted, and when she had raised the revolver
and Giovanni had thrown himself against it. The danger had been great
at that moment, she knew, for she had felt that her mind was losing
its balance. But she had not wished to kill him, even for a moment,
though a terrifying conviction that her finger was going to pull the
trigger in spite of her had taken away her breath. Looking back, she
thought it must have been the sensation some people have at the edge
of a precipice, when they feel an insane impulse to jump off, without
having the slightest wish to destroy themselves. If a man affected in
this way should lose his head and leap to destruction, his act would
assuredly not be suicide. The nun knew it very well, and she was
equally sure that if she had been startled into pulling the trigger,
and had killed the man she had loved so well, it would not have been
homicide, whatever the law might have called it. But the consequences
would have been frightful, and the danger had been real. She could be
thankful for her good nerves, since nothing had happened, that was
all. Where she had done wrong had been in taking up the weapon, great
as the provocation to self-defence had been.

Morally speaking, and apart from the possible fatal result, her main
fault lay in having confessed to Giovanni that she was really tempted
to ask release from her vows. Now that he was not near, no such
temptation assailed her, but there had been a time when to resist it
had seemed the greatest sacrifice that any human being could make. She
could only draw one conclusion from this fact, but it was a grave one:
in spite of her past life, her vows and her heartfelt faith, she was
not free from material and earthly passion. Innocence is one thing,
ignorance is another, and a trained nurse of twenty-five cannot and
should not be as ignorant as a child, whether she be a nun or a lay
woman. Sister Giovanna knew what she had felt: it had been the thrill
of an awakened sense, not the vibration of a heartfelt sympathy; it
belonged neither to the immortal spirit nor to the kingdom of the
mind, but to the dying body. Temptation is not sin, but it is wrong to
expose oneself to it willingly, except for a purpose so high as to
justify the risk. Sister Giovanna quietly resolved that she would
never see Severi again, and she judged that the surest way of abiding
by her resolution was to join the mission to the Far East and leave
Italy for ever. Having already thought of taking the step merely in
order to get away from the possibility of hating a person who had
wronged her and robbed her, it seemed indeed her duty to take it now
for this much stronger reason. Since she could still be weak, her
first and greatest duty was to put herself beyond the reach of
weakening influences. Giovanni would not leave Rome while she stayed
there, that was certain; there was no alternative but to go away
herself, for a man capable of such a daring and lawless deed as
carrying her off from the door of the Convent, under the very eyes of
the portress, might do anything. Indeed, he might even follow her to
Rangoon; but she must risk that, or bury herself in a cloister, which
she would not do if she could help it.

While she was nursing the new case to which she had been called, her
resolution became irrevocable. When the patient finally recovered she
returned to the Convent, and it was not till she had been doing
ordinary work in the hospital during several days that she asked to
see the Mother Superior alone. Captain Ugo Severi had gone to the
baths of Montecatini to complete his cure, nothing more had been heard
of Giovanni, and the Mother was inclined to believe that his meeting
with Sister Giovanna had been final, and that he would make no further
attempt to see her. But the nun herself thought otherwise.

She sat where she always did when she came to the Mother Superior's
room, on a straight-backed chair between the corner of the table and
the wall, and she told her story without once faltering or hesitating,
though without once looking up, from the moment when she had got into
the wrong carriage till she had at last reached the Villino Barini in
safety. Though it was late in the afternoon and the light was failing,
the Mother shaded her eyes with one hand while she listened.

There was neither rule nor tradition under which Sister Giovanna could
have felt it her duty to tell her superior what had happened, and she
had necessarily been the only judge of what her confessor should know
of the matter. Even now, if she had burst into floods of tears or
shown any other signs of being on the verge of a nervous crisis, the
elder woman would probably have stopped her and told her not to make
confidences that concerned another person until she was calmer. But
she evidently had full control of her words and outward bearing, and
the Mother listened in silence. Then the young nun expounded the
conclusion to which she believed herself forced: she must leave a
country in which Giovanni might at any moment make another meeting
inevitable, and the safest refuge was the Rangoon Leper Asylum. She
formally asked permission to be allowed to join the mission.

The Mother Superior's nervous little hand contracted spasmodically
upon her eyes, and then joined its fellow on her knee. She sat quite
still for a few seconds, looking towards the window; the evening glow
was beginning to fill the garden and the cloisters with purple and
gold, and a faint reflection came up to her suffering face.

'It kills me to let you go,' she said at last, just above a whisper.

The words and the tone took Sister Giovanna by surprise, though she
had lately understood that the Mother Superior's affection for her was
much stronger than she would formerly have believed possible; it was
something more than the sincere friendship which a middle-aged woman
might feel for one much younger, and it was certainly not founded on
the fact that the latter was an exceptionally gifted nurse, whose
presence and activity were of the highest importance to the hospital.
Neither friendship nor admiration for a fellow-worker could explain an
emotion of such tragic depth and strength that it seemed almost too
human in a woman otherwise quite above and beyond ordinary humanity.
Sister Giovanna could find nothing to say, and waited in silence.

'I did not know that one could feel such pain,' said Mother Veronica,
looking steadily out of the window; but her voice was little more than
a breath.

The Sister could not understand, but in the midst of her own great
trouble, the sight of a suffering as great as her own, and borne on
account of her, moved her deeply.

All at once the Mother Superior swayed to one side on her chair, as if
she were fainting, and she might have fallen if the nun had not darted
forward to hold her upright; but at the touch, she straightened
herself with an effort and gently pushed the young Sister away from
her.

'If it is for me that you are in such pain, Mother,' said Sister
Giovanna gently, 'I cannot thank you enough for being so sorry! But I
do not deserve that you should care so much--indeed, I do not!'

'If I could give my life for yours, it would still be too little!'

'You are giving your life for many,' Sister Giovanna answered gently.
'That is better.'

'No. It is not better, but it is the best I can do. You do not
understand.'

'How can I? But I am grateful----'

'You owe me nothing,' the Mother Superior answered with sudden energy,
'but I owe you everything. You have given me the happiest hours of my
life. But it was too much. God sent you to me, and God is taking you
away from me--God's will be done!'

Sister Giovanna felt that she was near something very strange and
great which she might not be able to comprehend if it were shown
clearly, and which almost frightened her by its mysterious veiled
presence. The evening light penetrated Mother Veronica's translucid
features, as if they were carved out of alabaster, and the hues that
lingered in them might have been reflected from heaven; her upturned
eyes, that sometimes looked so small and piercing, were wide and
sorrowful now. The young Sister saw, but guessed nothing of the truth.

'The happiest hours in your life!' She repeated the words with wonder.

'Yes,' said the elder woman slowly, 'the happiest by far! Since you
have been here, you have never given me one bad moment, by word or
deed, excepting by the pain you yourself have had to bear. If you go
away, and if I should not live long, remember what I have told you,
for if you have some affection for me, it will comfort you to think
that you have made me very, very happy for five long years.'

'I am glad, though I have done nothing but my duty, and barely that. I
cannot see how I deserve such praise, but if I have satisfied you, I
am most glad. You have been a mother to me.'

Slowly the transfigured face turned to her at last, full of radiance.

'Do you mean it just as you say it, my dear?'

'Indeed, indeed, I do!' Sister Giovanna answered, wondering more and
more, but in true earnest.

The dark eyes gazed on her steadily for a long time, with an
expression she had never seen in human eyes before. Then the truth
came, soft and low.

'I am your mother.'

'You are a mother to us all,' the young Sister answered.

'I am your mother, dear, your own mother that bore you--you, my only
child. Do you understand?'

Sister Giovanna's eyes opened wide in amazement, but there was a
forelightening of joy in her face.

'You?' she cried. 'But I knew my mother--my father----'

'No. She whom you called your mother was my elder sister. I ran away
with the man I loved, because he was a Protestant and poor, and my
parents would not allow the marriage. We were married in his Church,
but my family would have nothing more to do with me. I was an outcast
for them, disgraced, never to be mentioned. Your own father died of
typhoid fever a few days before you were born. I was ill a long time,
ill and poor, almost starving. I wrote to my sister, imploring help.
She and her husband bargained with me. They agreed to make a long
journey and bring you back as their child. They promised that you
should be splendidly provided for; you would be an heiress, all that
my brother-in-law could legally dispose of should go to you; but I was
to disappear for ever and never let the truth be known. What could I
do? You were two months old and I was penniless. I let them take you,
and I became a nursing sister. It was like tearing off a limb, but I
let you go to the glorious future that was before you. At least, you
would have all the world held, to make up for my love, and I knew they
would be kind to you. They were ashamed of me, that was all. They said
that I was not married! You know how rigid they were, with their
traditions and prejudices! That is my story. I have kept my word, and
their secret, until to-day.'

Sister Giovanna listened with wide eyes and parted lips, for the world
she had lived in during more than five-and-twenty years was wrenched
from its path and sent whirling into space at a tangent she could not
follow; there was nothing firm under her feet, she had nothing
substantial left, not even the name she had once called her own. It
had all been unreal. The dead Knight of Malta lying in state in the
great palace had not been her father; the delicate woman with the
ascetic face, who had died when she had been a little child, had not
been her mother; they had never registered her birth at the
Municipality because she had not been their child and had not even
been born in Rome; they had not taken the proper legal steps to adopt
her and make her their heir, because they had been ashamed of her own
mother. And her own mother was before her, Mother Veronica, the
Superior of the Convent in which she had taken refuge because they had
left her a destitute, nameless, penniless waif, after promising to
make her their daughter in the eyes of the law. She knew that without
a certificate of birth a girl could not easily be legally married in
Italy; if the Prince had lived and she had been about to marry, what
would he have done about that? But he was gone, and she would not ask
herself such a question, for the answer seemed to be that he would
have done something dishonest rather than admit the truth. A deep
resentment sprang up in her against the dead man and woman who had not
honourably kept their solemn promise to her mother, and her aunt's
lawless act and hatred of her sank into insignificance beside their
sin of omission. If the Princess's confession during her illness had
not been altogether the invention of a fevered brain, and if there had
really been a will, it had been worthless, and its destruction had not
robbed Angela of a farthing. She and her mother had been cheated and
their lives made desolate by those other two; she must not think of
it, lest she should hate the dead, as she had dreaded to hate the
living.

All this had flashed upon her mind in one of those quick visions of
the truth by which we sometimes become aware of many closely connected
facts simultaneously, without taking account of each. After the Mother
Superior had ceased speaking the silence lasted only a few seconds,
but it seemed long to her now that she had told her secret and was
waiting to be answered. Would her daughter forgive her? The young
nun's face expressed nothing she felt at that moment; for the staring
eyes and parted lips remained mechanically fixed in a look of blind
surprise long after her thoughts were on the wing; and her thoughts
flew far, but their wide-circling flight brought them back, like
swallows, as swiftly as they had flown away.

Then her heart spoke, and in another moment she was at her mother's
knee, like a child, with a little natural cry that had never passed
her lips before. For a breathing-space both guessed what heaven might
hold of rest, refreshment, and peace, and the march of tragic fate was
stayed while mother and daughter communed together, and dreamed of
never parting on earth but to meet in heaven, of keeping their sweet
secret from all the world as something sacred for themselves, of
working side by side, in one life, one love, one faith, one hope, of
facing all earthly trouble together, and of fighting every battle of
the spirit hand in hand.

Two could bear what one could not. Sister Giovanna felt that fresh
strength was given her, and the long-tried elder woman was conscious
that her will to do good was renewed and doubled and trebled, so that
it could accomplish twice and three times as much as before. Her
daughter would not leave her now, to be a martyr in the East, as the
only escape from herself and from the man who loved her too daringly.
Why should she go? If she still felt that she must leave Rome for a
time, she could go to one of the order's houses far away, but not to
the East, the deadly East! Heaven did not love useless suffering; the
Church condemned all self-sacrifice that was not meet, right, and
reasonable. In due time she would come back, when all danger was over,
when Giovanni had lived through the first days of surprise,
disappointment, and passion.

The sunset glow had faded and twilight was coming on when the two went
down the steps and crossed the cloistered garden to the chapel, for it
was the hour for Vespers. They walked as usual, with an even,
noiseless tread, the young nun on the left of her superior and keeping
step with her, but not quite close to her, for that would not have
been respectful; yet each felt as if the other's hand were in hers and
their hearts were beating gently with the same loving thought. Peace
had come upon them and they felt that it would be lasting.

At the chapel door they separated; the Mother Superior passed to her
high-backed, carved seat at the end, the three aged nuns who had
survived from other times sat next to her in the order of their years,
and Sister Giovanna took her appointed place much farther down. A
number of seats were empty, belonging to those nurses who were
attending private cases.

Cloistered nuns spend many hours of the day and night in chapel, but
the working orders use short offices and have much latitude as to the
hours at which their services are held. Except on Sundays and at daily
mass, no priest officiates; the Mother Superior or Mother Prioress
leads with her side of the choir, the Sub-Prioress, or the Mistress of
the Novices, or whoever is second in authority, responds with the
other nuns. The Office of Saint Dominic for Vespers practically
consists of one short Psalm, a very diminutive Lesson, one Hymn, and
the beautiful Canticle 'My soul doth magnify the Lord'; then follows a
little prayer and the short responsory, and all is over. The whole
service does not last ten minutes.

The women's voices answered each other peacefully, and then rose
together in the quaint old melody of the hymn, the sweet notes of the
younger ones carried high on the stronger tones of the elder Sisters,
while the three old nuns droned on in a sort of patient, nasal,
half-mannish counter-tenor, scarcely pronouncing the words they sang,
but making an accompaniment that was not wholly unpleasing.

Two versicles of responsory next, and then the Mother Superior began to
intone the Magnificat, and Sister Giovanna took up the grand plain-chant
with the others. In spite of her deep trouble, the words had never meant
to her what they meant now, and she felt her world lifted up from earth
to the gates of Peace.

But she was not to reach the end of the wonderful song that day.

'And His mercy is on them that fear Him, from generation to
generation,' the nuns sang.

With a crash, as if a thunderbolt had fallen at their feet in the
choir, the Great Unforeseen once more flashed from its hiding-place
and hurled itself into their midst.

The chapel rocked to and fro twice with a horrible noise of loosened
masonry grinding on itself, and the panes of the high windows fell in
three separate showers and were smashed to thousands of splinters on
the stone floor, the lights went out, the sacred ornaments on the
altar toppled and fell upon each other, the twilight that glimmered
through the broken windows alone overcame the darkness in the wrecked
church. The destruction was sudden, violent, and quick. In less than
fifteen seconds after the shock, perfect stillness reigned again.

The Sisters, in their first terror, caught at each other
instinctively, or grasped the woodwork with convulsed hands. One or
two novices had screamed outright, but the most of them uttered an
ejaculatory prayer, more than half unconscious. The Mother Superior
was standing upright and motionless in her place.

'Is any one hurt?' she asked steadily, and looking round the
semicircle in the gloom.

No answer came to her question.

'If any one of you was struck by anything,' she said again, 'let her
speak.'

No one had been hurt, for the small choir was under the apse of the
chapel and there were no windows there.

'Let us go to the hospital at once,' she said. 'The patients will need
us.'

Her calm imposed itself upon the young novices and one or two of the
more nervous Sisters; the others were brave women and had only been
badly startled and shaken, for which no one could blame them. They
filed out, two and two, by the side door of the choir, Mother Veronica
coming last. From the cloister they could see that the big glass door
of the reception-hall was smashed, and that the windows overhead on
that side were also broken. Singularly enough, not one of those on the
other side was injured.

All had felt the certainty that a dynamite bomb had been exploded
somewhere in the building with the intention of blowing up the
hospital. As they fell out of their ranks and scattered in twos and
threes, hastening to the different parts of the establishment where
each did her accustomed work, Sister Giovanna naturally found herself
beside the Mother Superior. As one of the supervising nurses, she was,
of course, needed in the hospital itself with her superior.

'What do you think it was, Mother?' she asked in a low tone.

'Nothing but dynamite could have done such damage----'

She was still speaking, when a lay sister rushed out of the door they
were about to enter, with a broom in her hand, which she had evidently
forgotten to put down.

'The powder magazine at Monteverde!' she cried excitedly. 'I saw it
from the window! It was like fireworks! It has blown up with everybody
in it, I am sure!'




CHAPTER XVII


The lay sister was right. The great powder magazine at Monteverde had
been blown up, but by what hands no one has ever surely known. The
destruction was sudden, complete, tremendous, for a large quantity of
dynamite had been stored in the deep vaults. Today, a great hollow in
the side of the hill and near the road marks the spot where the
buildings stood. Many stories have been told of the catastrophe; many
tales have been repeated about suspicious characters who had been seen
in the neighbourhood before the fatal event, and for some of these
there is fairly good authority.

All those who were in the city when the explosion took place, and I
myself was in Rome at the time, will remember how every one was at
first convinced that his own house had been struck by lightning or
suddenly shaken to its foundations. Every one will remember, too, the
long and ringing shower of broken glass that followed instantly upon
the terrific report. Every window looking westward was broken at once,
except some few on the lower stories of houses protected by buildings
opposite.

Giovanni Severi was in the main building over the vaults a short time
before the catastrophe, having just finished a special inspection
which had occupied most of the afternoon. He was moving to leave the
place when an unfamiliar sound caught his ears, a noise muffled yet
sharp, like that of the discharge of musketry heard through a thick
wall. The junior officers and the corporal who were with him heard it,
too, but did not understand its meaning. Giovanni, however, instantly
remembered the story told by one of the survivors from a terrible
explosion of ammunition near Naples many years previously. That
muffled sound of quick firing came from metallic cartridges exploding
within the cases that held them; each case would burst and set fire to
others beside it; like the spark that runs along a fuse, the train of
boxes would blow up in quick succession till the large stores of
gunpowder were fired and then a mass of dynamite beyond. There were
divisions in the vaults, there were doors, there were walls, but
Giovanni well knew that no such barriers would avail for more than a
few minutes.

Without raising his voice, he led his companions to the open door,
speaking as he went.

'The magazine will blow up in two or three minutes at the outside,' he
said. 'Send the men running in all directions, and go yourselves, to
warn the people in the cottages near by to get out of doors at once.
It will be like an earthquake; every house within five hundred yards
will be shaken down. Now run! Run for your lives and to save the lives
of others! Call out the men as you pass the gates.'

The three darted away across the open space that lay between the
central building and the guard-house. Giovanni ran, too, but not away
from the danger. There were sentries stationed at intervals all round
the outer wall, as round the walls of a prison, and they would have
little chance of life if they remained at their posts. Giovanni ran
like a deer, but even so he lost many seconds in giving his orders to
each sentinel, to run straight for the open fields to the nearest
cottages and to give warning. The astonished sentinels obeyed
instantly, and Giovanni ran on. He reached the very last just too
late; at that moment the thunder of the explosion rent the air. He
felt the earth rock and was thrown violently to the ground; then
something struck his right arm and shoulder, pinning him down; he
closed his eyes and was beyond hearing or feeling.

Within three-quarters of an hour the road to Monteverde was thronged
with vehicles of all sorts and with crowds of people on foot. The
nature of the disaster had been understood at once by the soldiery,
and the explanation had spread among the people, rousing that strange
mixture of curiosity and horror that draws the common throng to the
scene of every accident or crime. But amongst the very first the King
was on the spot with half-a-dozen superior officers, and in the
briefest possible time the search for dead and wounded began. The
story of Giovanni's splendid presence of mind and heroic courage ran
from mouth to mouth. The junior officers and the men whom he had sent
in all directions came in and reported themselves to the officer who
had taken charge of everything for the time being. Only one man was
missing--only one man and Giovanni himself. A few casualties amongst
the peasants were reported, but not a life had been lost and hardly a
bone was broken. Yet Giovanni was missing.

With the confidence of men who understood that the magazine must have
been so entirely destroyed at once as to annihilate all further danger
in an instant, the searchers went up to the ruin of the outer wall and
peered into the great dusty pit out of which the foundations of the
magazine had been hurled hundreds of feet into the air. Something of
the outline of the enclosure could still be traced, and the sentinels
whom Giovanni had warned from their post had already told their story.
They found, too, that the missing man himself had been one of the
sentries, and the inference was clear: their commanding officer had
been killed before he had reached the last post.

For a long time they searched in vain. Great masses of masonry had
shot through the outer wall and had rolled on or been stopped by the
inequalities of the ground. Most of the wall itself was fallen and its
direction could only be traced by a heap of ruins. Twilight had turned
to darkness, and the search grew more and more difficult as a fine
rain began to fall. Below, the multitude was already ebbing back to
Rome; it was dark, it was wet, hardly any one had been hurt, and there
was nothing to see: the best thing to be done was to go home.

It was late when a squad of four artillerymen heard a low moan that
came from under a heap of stones close by them. In an instant they
were at work with the pickaxes and spades they had borrowed from the
peasants' houses, foreseeing what their work would be. From time to
time they paused a moment and listened. Before long they recognised
their comrade's voice.

'Easy, brothers! Don't crack my skull with your pickaxes, for Heaven's
sake!'

'Is the Captain there?' asked one of the men.

'Dead,' answered the prisoner. 'He was warning me when we were knocked
down together. Make haste, but for goodness' sake be careful!'

They were trained men and they did their work quickly and well. What
had happened was this. The heavy and irregular mass of masonry that
had pinned Giovanni to the ground by his arm had helped to make a sort
of shelter, across which a piece of the outer wall had fallen without
breaking, followed by a mass of rubbish. By what seemed almost a
miracle to the soldiers, their companion was entirely unhurt, and no
part of the officer's body had been touched except the arm that lay
crushed beneath the stones.

They cleared away the rubbish and looked at him as he lay on his back
pale and motionless under the light of their lanterns. They knew what
he had done now; they understood that of them all he was the hero. One
of the men took off his cap reverently, and immediately the others
followed his example, and so they all stood for a few moments looking
at him in silence and in deference to his brave deeds. Then they set
to work in silence to move the heavy block of broken masonry that had
felled him, and their comrade helped them too, though he was stiff and
bruised and dazed from the terrific shock. As the mass yielded at last
before their strength and rolled away, one of the men uttered a cry.

'He is alive!' he exclaimed. 'He moved his head!'

Before he had finished speaking the man was on his knees beside
Giovanni, tearing open his tunic and his shirt to listen for the
beating of his heart. It was faint but audible. Giovanni Severi was
not dead yet, and a few moments later his artillerymen were carrying
him down the hill towards the road, his injured arm swinging like a
rag at his side.

They did not wait for orders; there were a number of carriages still
in the road and the men had no idea where their superiors might be.
Their first thought was to get Giovanni conveyed to a hospital as soon
as possible.

'We must take him to the White Sisters,' said the eldest of them.
'That is where his brother was so long.'

The others assented readily enough; and finding an empty cab in the
road, they lifted the wounded officer into it and pulled up the hood
against the rain, whilst two of them crept in under it, telling the
cabman where to go.

In less than a quarter of an hour the cab stopped before the hospital
of the White Sisters, and when the portress opened the door, the two
artillerymen explained what had happened and begged that their officer
might be taken in at once; and, moreover, that the portress would
kindly get some money with which to pay the cabman, as they could only
raise seven sous between them.

The Mother Superior had supposed that there would be many wounded, and
had directed that the orderlies should be ready at the door with
stretchers, although the Convent hospital did not receive accident
cases or casualties except in circumstances of extreme emergency. The
hospital of the Consolazione, close to the Roman Forum, was the proper
place for these, but it was very much farther, and the White Sisters
were so well known in all Trastevere that they were sometimes called
upon, even in the middle of the night, to take in a wounded man who
could not have lived to reach the great hospital beyond the Tiber.

Under the brilliant electric light in the main hall, the Mother
Superior recognised Giovanni's unconscious face; his crushed arm,
hanging down like a doll's, and his torn and soiled uniform, told the
rest. He was taken at once to the room his brother had occupied so
long. The Mother Superior herself helped the surgeon and another
Sister to do all that could be done then. Sister Giovanna knew nothing
of his coming, for she was in the wards, where there was much to be
done. The patients who had fever had been severely affected by the
terrible explosion, and most of them were more or less delirious and
had to be quieted. In the windows that look westward every pane of
glass was broken, though the outer shutters had been closed at sunset,
a few minutes before the catastrophe. There were heaps of broken glass
to be cleared away, and the patients whose beds were now exposed to
draughts were moved. Sister Giovanna, who was not the supervising
nurse for the week, worked quietly and efficiently with the others,
carrying out all directions as they were given; but her heart misgave
her, and when one of the nuns came in and said in a low voice that an
officer from Monteverde had been brought in with his arm badly
crushed, she steadied herself a moment by the foot of an iron
bedstead. In the shaded light of the ward no one noticed her agonised
face.

Presently she was able to ask where the officer was, and the Sister
who had brought the news announced that he was in Number Two. It was
Giovanni now, and not his brother, the unhappy woman was sure of that,
and every instinct in her nature bade her go to him at once. But the
unconscious volition of those long trained to duty is stronger than
almost any impulse except that of downright fear, and Sister Giovanna
stayed where she was, for there was still much to be done.

About half-an-hour later the Mother Superior entered the ward and
found her and led her quietly out. When they were alone together, the
elder woman told her the truth.

'Giovanni Severi has been brought here from Monteverde,' she said.
'His right arm is so badly crushed that unless it is amputated he will
certainly die.'

Sister Giovanna did not start, for she had guessed that he had
received some terrible injury. She answered quietly enough, by a
question.

'Is he conscious?' she asked. 'I believe that, by the law, his consent
must be obtained before the operation.'

'He came to himself, but the doctor thought it best to give him a
hypodermic of morphia and he is asleep.'

'Did he speak, while he was conscious?'

The Mother Superior knew what was passing in her daughter's mind, and
looked quietly into the expectant eyes.

'He did not pronounce your name, but he said that he would rather die
outright than lose his right arm. In any case, it would not be
possible to amputate it during the night. He had probably dined before
the accident, and it will not be safe to put him under ether before
to-morrow morning.'

Sister Giovanna did not speak for a few moments, though the Mother
Superior was almost quite sure what her next words would be, and that
the young nun was mentally weighing her own strength of character with
the circumstances that might arise.

'May I take care of him to-night?' she asked at last rather suddenly,
like a person who has decided to run a grave risk.

'Can you be sure of yourself?' asked the elder woman, trying to put
the question in the authoritative tone which she would have used with
any other Sister in the community.

But it was of no use; when she thought of all it meant, and of what
the delicate girl was to her, all the coldness went out of her voice
and the deepest motherly sympathy took its place. The answer came
after a short pause in which the question was finally decided.

'Yes. I can be sure of myself now.'

'Then come with me,' answered the Mother Superior.

They followed the passage to the lift, were taken up to the third
floor, and a few moments later were standing before the closed door of
Number Two. The Mother Superior paused with her hand on the door knob.
She looked silently at her young companion, as if repeating the
question she had already asked; and Sister Giovanna understood and
slowly bent her head.

'I can bear anything now,' she said.

She opened the door, and the two entered the quiet room, where one of
the Sisters sat reading her breviary by the shaded light in the
corner. The wounded man lay fast asleep under the influence of the
morphia, and the white coverlet was drawn up to his chin. He was not
very pale, Sister Giovanna thought; but she could not see well,
because there was a green shade over the small electric lamp in the
corner of the room.

'Sister Giovanna will take your place for to-night,' said the Mother
Superior to the nun, who had risen respectfully, and who left the room
at once.

The mother and daughter turned to the bedside and stood looking down
at the sleeping man's face. Instinctively their hands touched and then
held each other. Experience told them both that in all probability
Giovanni would sleep till morning under the drug, and would wake in a
dreamy state in which he might not recognise his nurse at once; but
sooner or later the recognition must take place, words must be spoken,
and a question must be asked. Would he or would he not consent to the
operation which alone could save his life? So far as the two women
knew and understood the law, everything depended on that. If he
deliberately refused, it would be because he chose not to live without
Angela, not because he feared to go through life a cripple. They were
both sure of that, and they were sure also that if any one could
persuade him to choose life where the choice lay in his own hands, it
would be Sister Giovanna herself. The operation was not one which
should be attended with great danger; yet so far as the law provided
it was of such gravity as to require the patient's own consent.

Neither of the two nuns spoke again till the Mother Superior was at
the door to go out.

'If you want me, ring for the lay sister on duty and send for me,' she
said. 'I will come at once.'

She did not remember that she had ever before said as much to a nurse
whose night was beginning.

'Thank you,' answered Sister Giovanna; 'I think he will sleep till
morning.'

The door closed and she made two steps forward till she stood at the
foot of the bed. For a few moments she gazed intently at the face she
knew so well, but then her glance turned quickly toward the corner
where the other nurse had sat beside the shaded lamp. That should be
her place, too, but she could not bear to be so far from him.
Noiselessly she brought a chair to the bedside and sat down so that
she could look at his face. Since she had been in the room she had
felt something new and unexpected--the deep, womanly joy of being alone
to take care of the beloved one in the hour of his greatest need. She
would not have thought it possible that a ray of light could penetrate
her darkness, or that in her deep distress anything approaching in the
most distant degree to a sensation of peace and happiness could come
near her. Yet it was there and she knew it, and her heart rested. It
was an illusion, no doubt, a false dawn such as men see in the
tropics, only to be followed by a darker night; but while it lasted it
was the dawn for all that. It was a faint, sweet breath of happiness,
and every instinct of her heart told her that it was innocent. She
would have, been contented to watch over him thus, in his sleep, for
ever, seeing that he too was momentarily beyond suffering.

It seemed, indeed, as if it might be long before any change came; his
breathing was a little heavy, but was regular as that of a sleeping
animal; his colour was even and not very pale; his eyes were quite
shut and the eyelids did not quiver nor twitch. The tremendous drug
had brought perfect calm and rest after a shock that would have
temporarily shattered the nerves of the strongest man. Then, too,
there was nothing to be seen and there was nothing in the room to
suggest the terrible injury that was hidden under the white
coverlet--nothing but the lingering odour of iodoform, to which the nun
was so well used that she never noticed it.

Hour after hour she sat motionless on the chair, her eyes scarcely
ever turning from his face. He was so quiet that there was absolutely
nothing to be done; to smooth his pillow or to pass a gentle hand over
his forehead would have been to risk disturbing his perfect quiet, and
she felt not the slightest desire to do either. For a blessed space
she was able to put away the thought of the question which would be
asked when he wakened, and which he only could answer. It was not a
night of weary waiting nor of anxious watching; while its length
lasted, he was hers to watch, hers alone to take care of, and that was
so like happiness that the hours ran on too swiftly and she was
startled when she heard the clock of the San Michele hospice strike
three; she remembered that it had struck nine a few minutes after she
had sat down beside him.

Her anxiety awoke again now, and that delicious state of peace in
which she had passed the night began to seem like a past dream. In a
little more than an hour the dawn would begin to steal through the
outer blinds--the dawn she had watched for and longed for a thousand
times in five years of nursing. It would be unwelcome now; it would
mean the day, and the day could only mean for her the inevitable
question.

She sat down again to watch him, for she had risen nervously in the
first moment of returning distress; and she felt the cold of the early
morning stealing upon her as she became gradually sure that his
breathing was softer, and that from time to time a very slight
quivering of the closed lids proclaimed the gradual return of
consciousness. He would not wake in pain, or at least not in any acute
suffering; she knew that by experience, for in such cases the nerves
near the injured part generally remained paralysed for a long time.
But he would wake sleepily at first, wondering where he was, glancing
vaguely from one wall to another, from the foot of the bed or the
window to her own face, without recognising it or understanding
anything. That first stage might last a few minutes, or half-an-hour;
he might even fall asleep again and not wake till much later. But
sooner or later recognition would come, and with it a shock to him, a
sudden tension of the mind and nerves, under which he might attempt to
move suddenly in his bed, and that might be harmful, though she could
not tell how. She wondered whether it would not be her duty to leave
him before that moment. It was true that he would recognise the room
in which he had so often spent long hours with his brother; he would
know, as soon as he was conscious, that he was in the Convent hospital
and under the same roof with her; then he would ask for her. Perhaps
the surgeon would think it better that he should see her, but she
would not be left alone with him; possibly she might be asked by the
Mother Superior or by Monsignor Saracinesca, if he chanced to come
that morning, to use her influence with Giovanni in order that he
might submit to what alone could save him from death. It was going to
be one of the hardest days in all her life--would God not stay the dawn
one hour?

It was stealing through the shutters now, grey and soft, and the
wounded man's sleep was unmistakably lighter. Sister Giovanna drew
back noiselessly from the bedside and carried her chair to the corner
where the little table stood, and sat down to wait again. It might be
bad for him to wake and see some one quite near him, looking into his
face.

At that moment the door opened quietly and the Mother Superior stood
on the threshold, looking preternaturally white, even for her. Sister
Giovanna rose at once and went to meet her. They exchanged a few words
in a scarcely audible whisper. The Mother had come in person to take
the nun's place for a while, judging that it would not be well if
Giovanni wakened and found himself alone with her.

The Sister went to her cell, where she had not been since the
explosion on the previous evening. The brick floor was strewn with
broken glass and was damp with the fine rain, driven through the
lattice by the southwest wind during the night. Even the rush-bottomed
chair was all wet, and the edge of the white counterpane on the little
bed. It was all very desolate.




CHAPTER XVIII


Giovanni opened his eyes at last, looked at the ceiling for a few
moments, and then closed them again. Plain white ceilings are very
much alike, and for all he could see as he looked up he was at home in
his own bed, at dawn, and there was plenty of time for another nap. He
felt unaccountably heavy, too, though not exactly sleepy, and it would
be pleasant to feel himself going off into unconsciousness again for a
while, knowing that there was no hurry.

But his eyes had not been shut long before he became aware that he was
in a strange place. He could not sleep again because an unfamiliar
odour of iodoform irritated his nostrils; he missed something, too,
either some noise outside to which he was used or some step near him.
In the little house at Monteverde he could always hear his orderly
cleaning the stable early in the morning; he grew suddenly uneasy and
tried to turn in his bed, and instead of the noise of broom and bucket
and sousing, he heard the indescribably soft sound of felt shoes on
tiles as the Mother Superior came to his side.

Then, in a flash, he remembered everything, up to the time when he had
been hurt, and after the moment when he had at first come to himself
in the room where he now was. His eyes opened again, and he saw and
recognised the Mother Superior, whom he had often seen and spoken with
during his brother's stay in the hospital. Suddenly he was quite
himself, for his hurt was altogether local and he had lost little
blood; he only felt half paralysed on that side.

'Were there many killed?' he asked quietly.

'We do not know,' the Mother answered. 'When it is a little later I
will telephone for news. It is barely five o'clock yet.'

'Thank you, Mother.' He shut his eyes again and said no more.

The Mother Superior opened the window and let in the fresh morning
air, full of the glow of the rising sun, for the room looked to the
eastward, across the broad bend of the Tiber and towards the Palatine.
She turned out the electric light in the corner, then went to the
window again and refreshed herself by drawing long breaths at regular
intervals, as she had been taught to do when she was a beginner at
nursing. Presently the injured man called her and she went to the
bedside again.

'It would be very kind of you to take down a few words which I should
like to dictate,' he said. 'No,' he continued quickly, as he saw a
grave look in the nun's face, 'it is not my will! It will be a short
report of what happened before the explosion. They will want it at
headquarters and my head is quite clear now. Will you write for me,
Mother?'

'Of course.'

There is always a pencil with a memorandum-pad in every private room
of a hospital, for the use of the nurse and the doctor. The Mother
Superior took both from the table and sat down close to the bed, and
Giovanni dictated what he had to say in a clear and businesslike way
that surprised her, great as her experience had been. When he had
finished, he asked her to read it over to him, and pointed out one
small correction to be made.

'I think I can sign it with my left hand, if you will hold it up for
me,' he said.

His fingers traced his name with the pencil, though very unsteadily,
and he begged her to send it to headquarters at once. There was always
some one on duty there, he explained, if it was only the subaltern
commanding the guard. She need not be afraid of leaving him alone for
a few moments, he added, for he was in no pain and did not feel at all
faint. Besides, she would now send him another nurse--he had not
thanked her for taking care of him herself during the night--he hoped
she would forgive his omission--he was still----

And thereupon, while in the very act of speaking, he fell asleep
again, exhausted by the effort he had made, and still under the
influence of the strong drug. The Mother understood, glanced at him
and slipped away, closing the door very softly. She knew that stage of
awakening from the influence of opium, with its alternating 'zones' of
sleep and waking.

It was half-past five now, and a spring morning, and all was astir
downstairs; lay sisters were gathering the broken glass into baskets,
the portress was clearing away the wreck of broken panes from the
outer hall, and the nun who had charge of the chapel was preparing the
altar for matins. No one was surprised to see the Mother Superior in
the cloister so early, for she was often the first to rise and almost
always the last to go to rest; the novices said that the little white
volcano never slept at all, but was only 'quiescent' during a part of
the night.

She found one of the orderlies scrubbing the outer doorstep, and
despatched him at once with Giovanni's report, which she had put into
an envelope and directed. He was to bring back an answer if there was
any; and when he was gone, as he had not finished his job, she took
the scrubbing broom in her small hands and finished it herself, with
more energy, perhaps, than had been expended upon the stones for some
time. Before she had quite done, the portress caught sight of her and
was filled with horror.

'For the love of heaven!' she cried, trying to take the broom herself.

The nun would not let it go, however, and pushed her aside gently,
with a smile.

'If any one should see your Reverence!' protested the portress.

'My dear Anna,' answered the Mother Superior, giving the finishing
strokes, 'they would see an old woman washing a doorstep, and no harm
would be done.'

But the example remained impressed on the good lay sister's mind for
ever, and to her last days she will never tire of telling the novices
how the Mother Superior washed the doorstep of the hospital herself on
the morning after the explosion at Monteverde.

The delivery of the report produced a more immediate result than
either Giovanni or the Mother had expected. The accident had happened
near sunset, and the story of Giovanni's heroic behaviour had been
repeated everywhere before midnight. The men who had found him had, of
course, reported the fact after the first confusion was over, but it
was some time before the news got up to any superior officer, though
the King's aide-de-camp had left instructions that any information
about Giovanni was to be telephoned to the Quirinal at once. When it
had been understood at last that he was in the private hospital of the
White Sisters, badly injured but alive, it was too late to think of
sending an officer to make inquiries in person. On the other hand, six
o'clock in the morning is not too early for most modern sovereigns,
general officers, and members of the really hard-working professions,
among which literature is sometimes included. In half-an-hour
Giovanni's little report had been read, copied, telephoned, and
telegraphed, and in less than half-an-hour more a magnificent
personage in the uniform of a colonel of cavalry on the General Staff,
accompanied by a less gorgeous but extremely smart subaltern, stopped
at the door of the Convent hospital in a Court carriage. He came to
ask after Captain Severi on behalf of the Sovereign, and to ascertain
whether he could perhaps be seen during the morning. He was told that
this must depend on the surgeon's decision; he expressed his thanks to
the portress with extreme civility and drove away again. Before long
other officers came to make similar inquiries, in various uniforms and
in slightly varying degrees of smartness, from the representative of
the War Office and the Commander-in-Chief's aide-de-camp to
unpretending subalterns in undress uniform, who were on more or less
friendly terms with Giovanni and were suddenly very proud of it, since
he had become a hero.

Then came the reporters and besieged the door for news--an untidy lot
of men at that hour, unshaven, hastily dressed, and very sorry for
themselves because they had been beaten up by their respective papers
so early in the morning. They were also extremely disappointed because
the portress had no story to tell and would not hear of letting them
in; and they variously described her afterwards as Cerberus, Argus,
and the Angel of the Flaming Sword, which things agree not well
together. The portress had a busy morning, even after Doctor Pieri had
come and had written out a bulletin which she could show to all comers
as an official statement of the injured man's condition.

The great surgeon and the Mother Superior sat on opposite sides of his
bed, and now that the sun had risen high the blinds were half drawn
together and hooked in the old-fashioned Roman way, to keep out some
of the light, while the glass was left open. A broad stripe of
sunshine fell across the counterpane below Giovanni's knees, and a
sharp twittering and a rushing of wings broke the stillness every few
seconds, as the circling swallows flew past the half-open window.

'So you refuse to undergo the operation?' Pieri said, after a long
pause. 'Is that your last word? Shall I go away and leave you to die?'

'How long will that take?' asked Giovanni calmly.

'Probably from four to ten days, according to circumstances,' replied
the surgeon.

'Say a week, more or less. Will it hurt much?'

'Not unless you have lockjaw, which is possible. If you do, you will
suffer.'

'Horribly,' said the Mother Superior, unconsciously covering her eyes
with one hand for a moment; she had seen men die of tetanus.

'You will give me anaesthetics,' Giovanni answered philosophically.
'Besides, I would rather bear pain for a day or two than go through
life a cripple with an empty sleeve!'

'It is deliberate suicide,' said the Mother Superior sadly.

'I incline to think so, too,' echoed the surgeon, 'though I believe
the priests do not exactly consider it so.'

Though he was half paralysed by his injury, Giovanni Severi smiled
grimly.

'It would be very amusing if I died with the priests on my side after
all,' he said, 'and against our good Mother Superior, too! You don't
know how kind she is, Doctor; she has sat up all night with me
herself!'

Pieri was surprised, and looked quietly at the nun, who immediately
rose and went to the window, pretending to arrange the blinds better.
But there are moments when the truth seems to reveal itself directly
to more than one person at the same time. The surgeon, whose
intuitions were almost feminine in their swift directness, guessed at
once why the Mother did not answer: not only she had not sat up with
Giovanni herself, but she had allowed Sister Giovanna to do so, and as
the patient had not wakened and recognised his nurse, it was not
desirable that he should now know the truth. As for Giovanni himself,
the certainty that came over him was more like 'thought-reading,' for
neither he himself nor any one else could have explained the steps of
reasoning by which he reached his conclusion. It was probably a mere
guess, which happened to be right, and was founded on a little anxious
shrinking of the Mother Superior's head and shoulders when she crossed
the room and went to the window, as if she had something to hide.
Giovanni saw it, and then his eyes met Pieri's for a moment, and each
was sure that the other knew.

'I need not ask you,' Giovanni said, 'whether you are absolutely sure
that I must die if you do not take off my arm at the shoulder?'

'Humanly speaking,' replied the other gravely, 'I am quite sure that
gangrene will set in before to-morrow morning, and that is certain
death in your case.'

'Why do you say, in my case?'

'Because,' Pieri answered with a little impatience, 'if it began in
your foot, for instance, or in your hand, it would take some little
time to reach the vital parts, and the arm or leg could still be
amputated; but in your case it will set in so near the heart that no
operation will be of any use after it begins. Do you understand?'

'Perfectly. I shall take less time to die, for the same reason.'

Severi was very quiet about it; but the Mother Superior turned on him
suddenly from the window, her small face very white.

'It is suicide,' she said--'deliberate, intentional suicide, and no
right-thinking man, priest or layman, would call it by any other name,
let Doctor Pieri say what he will! You are in full possession of your
senses, and even of your health and strength, at this moment, and you
are assured that you run no risk if you submit to the doctors, but that
if you will not you must die! You are choosing death where you can
choose life, and that is suicide if anything is! Doctor Pieri knows well
enough what a good priest would say, and so do I, who have been a nurse
for a quarter of a century! If the injury were internal, and if there
were a real risk to your life in operating, you would have the right,
the moral right, to choose between the danger of dying under ether and
the comparative certainty of dying of the injury. But this is a specific
case. You are young, strong, absolutely healthy, and the chance of your
dying from the anaesthetic is not one in thousands, whereas, if nothing
is done, death is certain. I ask you, before God and man and on your
honour, whether you do not know that you are committing suicide--nothing
less than cowardly, dastardly self-murder!'

'If I am, it is my affair,' answered Giovanni coldly; 'but you need
not leave out the rest. You believe that if I choose to die I shall go
straight to everlasting punishment. I believe that if there is a
God--and I do not deny that there may be--I shall not be damned because
I would rather not live at all than go on living as half a man. And
now, if you will let me have a cup of coffee and a roll, I shall be
very grateful, for I have had nothing to eat since yesterday at one
o'clock!'

He probably knew well enough what such a request meant just then--the
putting off of a possible operation for hours, owing to the
impossibility of giving ether to a man who has lately eaten anything.
The Mother Superior and the surgeon looked at each other rather
blankly.

'Shall I die any sooner if I am starved?' asked Giovanni almost
roughly.

Pieri began to explain the danger, but Severi at once grew more
impatient.

'I know all that,' he said, 'and I have told you my decision. I refuse
to undergo an operation. If you choose to make me suffer from
starvation I suppose it is in your power, though I am not sure. I
fancy I can still stand and walk, and even my one hand may be of some
use! If you do not give me something to eat, I shall get out of bed
and fight my way to the larder!'

He smiled as he uttered the threat, as if he were not jesting about
his own death. Pieri did not like it, and turned to the door.

'Since you talk of fighting,' he said, 'I would give you ether by
force, if I could, and let the law do what it would after I had saved
your life in spite of you! If you chose to blow your brains out
afterwards, that would not concern me!'

Thereupon he disappeared, shutting the door more sharply than doctors
usually do when they leave a sick-room. The Mother Superior went to
the bedside and leaned over Giovanni, looking into his eyes with an
expression of profoundest entreaty.

'I implore you to change your mind,' she said in a low and beseeching
voice, 'for the sake of the mother who bore you----'

'She is dead,' Giovanni answered quietly.

'For the sake of them that live and love you, them----'

'There is only one, Mother, and you know it; but for that only one's
love I would live, not merely with one arm, but if every bone in my
body were broken and twisted out of shape beyond remedy. Mother, go
and tell her so, and bring me her answer--will you?'

The nun straightened herself, and her face showed what she suffered;
but Giovanni did not understand.

'You are afraid,' he said, with rising contempt in his tone. 'You are
afraid to take my message. It would move her! It might tempt her from
the right way! It might put it into her head to beg for a dispensation
after all, and the sin would be on your soul! I understand--I did not
really mean that you should ask her. You let her watch here last night
when you knew I could not waken, but you were careful that she should
be gone before I opened my eyes. You see, I have guessed the truth! I
only wonder why you let her stay at all!'

He moved his head impatiently on the pillow. The Mother Superior had
drawn herself up rather proudly, folding her hands under her scapular
and looking down at him coldly, her face like a marble mask again.

'You are quite mistaken,' she said. 'I will deliver your message and
Sister Giovanna shall give you her answer herself.'

She went towards the door, gliding across the floor noiselessly in her
felt shoes; but just before she went out she turned to Giovanni again,
and suddenly her eyes were blazing like live coals.

'And if you have the heart to kill yourself when you have talked with
her,' she said, 'you are a coward, who never deserved to live and be
called a man!'

She was gone before Giovanni could have answered, and the man who had
risked life and limb to save others twelve hours earlier smiled
faintly at the good Mother's womanly wrath and feminine invective.

He lay still on his back, staring at the ceiling, and he began to
wonder what day of the week it would be when he would not be able to
see it any more, and whether the end would come at night, or when the
sunlight was streaming in, or on a rainy afternoon. He did not believe
that Angela would be with him in a few minutes, and if she came--she
would say----

The strength of the morphia was not yet quite spent, and he fell
asleep in the middle of his train of thought, as had happened while he
was speaking to the Mother in the early morning.

When he awoke the broad stripe of sunshine no longer fell across the
counterpane, but lay on the gleaming tiles beyond the foot of the bed;
and it fell, too, on Sister Giovanna's white frock and veil, for she
was standing there motionless, waiting for him to waken. His head felt
queer for a moment, and he wondered whether she would be standing on
the same spot, with the same look, when he would be dying, a few days
hence. There were deep purplish-brown rings under her eyes, which
seemed to have sunk deeper in their sockets; there was no colour in
her lips, or scarcely more than a shade; her young cheeks had grown
suddenly hollow. For the Mother--her mother--had told her everything,
and it was almost more than she could bear.

He looked at her two or three times, fixing his eyes on the ceiling in
the intervals, to make sure that it was she and that he was awake; for
there was something in his head that disturbed him now, a sort of
beating on one side of the brain, with a dull feeling at the back, as if
there were a quantity of warm lead there that kept his skull on the
pillow. It was the beginning of fever, but he did not know it; it was
the forewarner of the death he was choosing. The experienced nurse saw
it in his face.

'Giovanni, do you know me?' she asked softly, coming a step nearer.
Instantly, he had all his faculties again.

'Yes; come to me,' he answered.

She came nearer and stood beside him.

'Sit down,' he said. 'This is the side--the side of my good arm. Sit
down and let me take your hand, dear.'

She wondered at his quiet tone and gentle manner. They almost frightened
her, for she remembered taking care of impatient, short-tempered people
who had suddenly softened like this just at the end. But there was no
reason in the world why he should die now, and she dismissed the thought
as she took the hand he put out and held it. It was icy cold, as strong
men's hands generally are when a fever is just beginning. She tried to
warm it between hers, covering it up between her palms as much as she
could; but she herself was not warm either, for she had been in her
cell, where there was no sun in the morning, and the air was chilly and
damp, because it had rained in all night.

Giovanni spoke again before she could find words.

'My life is in your hands, with my hand, Angela,' he said. 'Do what
you will with it.'

He felt that she shook from head to foot, like a young tree that is
rudely struck. He went on, as if he had prepared his words, though he
had not even thought of them.

'With your love and your companionship, I shall not miss a limb, I
shall not regret my profession, I shall be perfectly happy. Alone, I
will not be forced artificially to live out my life a wretched
cripple.'

It was brutal, and perhaps he knew it; but he was desperate and fate
had given him a weapon to move any woman. In plain truth, it was as
cruel as if he had put a pistol to his head and threatened to pull the
trigger if she would not marry him. He had not done that yet, even
when she had been in his room at Monteverde and the loaded revolver
had been between them.

Sister Giovanna kept his hand bravely in hers and sat still, though it
was hard. The question which must be answered, and which she alone
could answer, had been asked with frightful directness, and though she
had known only too well that it was coming, its tremendous import
paralysed her and she could not speak.

It was plainly this: Should she kill him, of her own free will, for
the sake of the solemn vow she had taken? Or should she save his life
by breaking, even under permission, what she looked on as an
absolutely inviolable promise?

What made her position most terrible was the absolute certainty of the
fatal result, and its close imminence. In his condition, to put off
the operation for another day, in order to consider her answer, would
be to condemn him to death according to all probability of human
science, since a few hours longer than that would put probability out
of the question and make it a positive certainty. She could not speak;
her tongue would not move when she tried to form words and her breath
made no sound in her throat.

For some time Giovanni said nothing more, and lay quite still. When he
spoke again, his voice was gentle.

'Dear, since it must be, I should like it to come like this, if you
will--with my hand between yours.'

It was too much, and she cried aloud and bowed herself. But the mortal
pain freed her tongue, and a moment later she broke out in a fervent
appeal.

'Live, Giovanni, live--for Christ's good sake who died for you--for my
sake, too--for your own! Live the life that is still before you, and
you can make it great! If you love me, make it a noble life for that,
if for nothing else! Do you know, all Rome is ringing with the story
of what you did last night--the King, the Court, the Ministers are
sending for news of you every half-hour--the world is calling you a
hero--will you let them think that you are afraid of an operation, or
will you let my enemy tell the world that you have let yourself die
for my sake? That is what it comes to, one or the other of those
things!'

Severi smiled faintly and shook his head without lifting it from the
pillow.

'No man will call me coward,' he answered; 'and no one would believe
Princess Chiaromonte--not if she took oath on her death-bed!'

'Will nothing move you?' cried the unhappy woman, in utter despair.
'Nothing that I can say? Not the thought of what life will mean to me
when you are gone? Not my solemn assurance that I can do
nothing--nothing----'

'You can!' Giovanni cried, with sudden and angry energy. 'You are
willing to let me die rather than risk the salvation of your own soul.
That is the naked truth of all this.'

Her hands left his as if they had lost their strength, and she rose at
the same instant and tottered backwards against the near wall,
speechless and transfixed with horror at the mere thought that what he
said might be true.

But Giovanni's eyes did not follow her; the door had opened quietly,
and Monsignor Saracinesca was there and had heard the last words.

The prelate's face expressed neither displeasure nor reproach; it was
only very thoughtful.

Giovanni was in no humour to receive a visit from a priest just then,
even though the latter was an old acquaintance and had once been a
friend. Moreover, the last time they had been together, they had
parted on anything but good terms. Giovanni spoke first.

'Have you come, like the others, to accuse me of committing suicide?'
he asked.

The answer was unexpected and uncompromising.

'No.'

Sister Giovanna, still half-stunned and steadying herself against the
wall, turned wondering eyes to the speaker. The angry look in Severi's
face changed to one of inquiry. He strongly suspected that the
churchman had come to 'convert' him, as the phrase goes, and he was
curious to see what line of argument a man of such intelligence and
integrity would take.

'No,' repeated Monsignor Saracinesca, 'I have come for quite another
purpose, which I hope to accomplish if you will listen to reason.'

The nun stood erect now, though still leaning back against the wall,
and she had hidden her hands under her scapular.

'I do not think I am unreasonable,' Giovanni answered quietly. 'My
position is this----'

'Do not tire yourself by going over it all,' the prelate answered. 'I
understand your position perfectly, for I have been with the Mother
Superior nearly half-an-hour. I am going to take something upon
myself, as a man, which some of my profession may condemn. I am going
to do it because I believe it is the right course, and I trust that
God will forgive me if it is not.'

There was a tremor in the good man's voice, and he ceased speaking, as
if to repeat inwardly the solemn words he had just spoken.

'What are you going to do?' asked Giovanni Severi.

On the question, the nun came forward and rested one hand on the chair
in which she had sat, leaning towards the prelate at the same time,
with parted lips and eyes full of a strange anticipation.

'You know, I daresay, that I am Secretary to the Cardinal Vicar, and
that such cases as yours are to a great extent within my province?'

Giovanni did not know this, but nodded; the nun, who knew it, bent her
head, wondering more and more what was coming, and not daring to
guess. Neither spoke.

'I am going to lay the whole matter before the Cardinal Vicar at
once,' Monsignor Saracinesca continued calmly. 'I can be with him in
twenty minutes, and I am going to tell him the plain truth. I do not
think that any nun was ever more true to her vows than Sister Giovanna
has been since your return. But there is a limit beyond which fidelity
to an obligation may bring ruin and even death on some one whom the
promise did not at first concern. When the limit is reached, it is the
plain duty of those who have received that promise to relieve the
maker of it from its observance, even though not asked to do so. That
is what I am going to say to the Cardinal Vicar in half-an-hour. Are
you satisfied?'

Sister Giovanna sank sideways upon the chair, with her arm resting on
the back of it, and she hid her face in her sleeve.

'Will the Cardinal listen to you?' asked Giovanni, his voice unsteady
with emotion.

'What I recommend is usually done,' answered the prelate, without a
shade of arrogance, but with the quiet certainty of a man in power.
'What I ask of you is, to submit at once to the operation that alone
can save you, on the strength of my assurance that I am going to do my
utmost to obtain what you desire.'

'It is hard to believe!' Giovanni exclaimed, almost to himself.

The nun moved her head silently from side to side without lifting her
face from her arm.

'You can believe me,' Monsignor Saracinesca answered. 'I give you my
solemn promise before God, and my word of honour before men, that I
will do the utmost in my power to succeed. Do you believe me?'

Giovanni held out his sound hand. The churchman came nearer and took
it.

'Will you risk the operation on that?' he asked.

The light of a profound gratitude illuminated the young soldier's
tired face, and his fingers pressed Monsignor Saracinesca's
spasmodically; but his voice was quiet when he spoke.

'Sister Giovanna----'

'Yes?'

The nun looked up suddenly and drew a sharp breath, for her joy was
almost agonising.

'Will you kindly go and tell Doctor Pieri that I am ready?'

The nun rose with a spring and was at the door in an instant, and in
her heart rang such a chorus of glory and rejoicing as not even the
angels have heard since the Morning Stars sang together.

       *       *       *       *       *

Of her, I think the most rigid cannot say that she had not endured to
the end, for her vow's sake. Whether the churchman was too human in
his sympathies or not may be an open question; if he was, he had the
courage to make himself alone responsible, for, as he had foretold,
what he recommended was done; if he was wrong, he has at least the
consolation of having brought unspeakable happiness to three human
beings. For the mother, whose heart had so nearly broken for her
child, had her share of joy, too, and it was no small one.

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