The Project Gutenberg eBook of The sword of wealth, by Henry Wilton Thomas
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Title: The sword of wealth
Author: Henry Wilton Thomas
Release Date: July 2, 2022 [eBook #68448]
Produced by: D A Alexander and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at https://www.pgdp.net (This file was made using scans of public domain works put online by Harvard University Library's Open Collections Program.)
*** START OF THE PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK THE SWORD OF WEALTH ***
Henry Wilton Thomas
Author of “The Last Lady of Mulberry.”
G. P. Putnam’s Sons
New York and London
The Knickerbocker Press
HENRY WILTON THOMAS
The Knickerbocker Press, New York
|I.||—The Unexpected Man||1|
|III.||—A Dream Realised||35|
|IV.||—A Fact of Life||48|
|V.||—The Scales of Honour||63|
|VI.||—A Censored Despatch||73|
|VII.||—A Message from Rome||84|
|VIII.||—A Wedding Journey||97|
|IX.||—A Seed of Gratitude||109|
|X.||—The Door of Fra Pandole||128|
|XI.||—By Royal Command||136|
|XII.||—An Unbidden Guest||158|
|XIII.||—An Industrial Incident||166|
|XIV.||—An Hour of Reckoning||179|
|XV.||—A Bill Payable||189|
|XVI.||—Hunting the Panther||204|
|XVII.||—The Pot Boils over||216|
|XVIII.||—Mario Plays the Demagogue||233|
|XIX.||—What Money could not Buy||249|
|XX.||—The Heart’s Law-making||263|
|XXI.||—A Call to Service||279|
|XXIII.||—Fetters Struck off||303|
|XXIV.||—A Chase in the Moonlight||310|
The Sword of Wealth
THE UNEXPECTED MAN
A week before the day set for her wedding, ina bright hour of early April, Hera rode forth fromthe park of Villa Barbiondi. Following the marginof the river, she trotted her horse to where theshores lay coupled by a bridge of pontoons—anancient device of small boats and planking littledifferent from the sort Cæsar’s soldiers threwacross the same stream. She drew up and watchedthe strife going on between the bridge and thecurrent—the boats straining at their anchor-chainsand the water rioting between them.
Italy has no lovelier valley than the one whereflowed the river on which she looked, and in thegentler season there is no water-course more expressiveof serene human character. But the riverwas tipsy to-day. The springtime sun, in its passagesof splendour from Alp to Alp, had set free[Pg 2]the winter snows, and Old Adda, flushed by hismany cups, frolicked ruthlessly to the sea.
Peasant folk in that part of the Brianza hadsmiled a few days earlier to see the great streamchange its sombre green for an earthy hue, becauseit was a promise of the vernal awakening. Yettheir joy was shadowed, as it always is in freshetdays, by dread of the havoc so often attending thespree of the waters.
Time and again Hera had ridden over when theriver was in such mood, and known only a keenenjoyment in the adventure. Now she spoke toNero, and he went forward without distrust inthe hand that guided him; still, the pose of hisears and the quivering nostrils betrayed a preferencefor roads that neither swayed nor billowed.Less than half the crossing had been accomplishedwhen the crackle of sundering timber startledher; then events confused themselves strangelyamid the rustle of the wind and the scream of thewater.
A few paces ahead, at the middle of the stream,where the current’s play was fiercest, two pontoonstore free from their anchorage, and here thebridge parted. With her consciousness of this[Pg 3]rose the blurred vision of a horse and rider flyingover the breach. Then she was aware of the beatof swift-moving hoofs, and, in the next instant,it seemed, of a voice at her side:
“Turn back, signora, I beg of you!”
She brought her horse around, but while shedid so there was a second rending of woodwork,a snapping, too, of anchor-chains, and the part ofthe bridge on which they stood—severed by a newbreach from the rest of the structure—began togo with the tide.
It was an odd bark on which they found themselvesbeing swept toward the sea. It consisted ofsix of the pontoons, held together none too securelyby the planking that made the deck.
Round and round it swung, tossed like a chipon the racing flood. The temper of Hera’s horsewas less equal to the swirling, rocking situationthan that of her companion’s mount. In vain shetried to quiet him. From side to side of the raftthe beast caracoled or rose with fore legs in theair when she drew him up, perilously near theedge.
“Dismount, dismount!” the other called to her.
Before she could heed the warning Nero began[Pg 4]to back near the brink, leaving her powerless toprevent him carrying her into the water. But thestranger had swung out of the saddle. A springforward and he had Nero by the head in a grip notto be shaken off. The animal’s effort to go overboardwas checked, but only for the moment, andwhen Hera had dismounted her deliverer passedhis own bridle-reins to her that he might be freeto manage her more restive steed.
“There, there, boy!” he said in the way to quieta nervous horse. “No fear, no fear. We shall beout of this soon. Patience! Steady, steady!”
A minute and he had Nero under such controlthat he stood with four hoofs on the deck at onetime and balked only fitfully at the restraininghand on the bridle.
Silently Hera watched the man at his task,struck by the calmness with which he performedit. By neither look nor word did he betray to herthat fear had any place in his emotions. Swifterthe river tossed them onward. Louder theircrazy vessel creaked and groaned. But hismastery of himself, his superiority to the terrorsthat bounded them, his disdain for the hazardof events while he did the needful work of the[Pg 5]moment, awoke in her a feeling akin to security.It was as if he lifted her with him above thedanger in which the maddest whim of fortunehad made them partners.
“Do you see any way out of it?” she asked,presently, following his example of coolness.
He seemed not to hear her voice. With feetset sure and a steady grip on the bridle, he peeredinto the distance ahead—far over the expanse ofviolent water, now tinted here and there withrose, caught from the glowing west, where thesun hung low over dark, wooded hills. She wonderedwhat it was that he sought so eagerly, butdid not ask. She guessed it had to do with somequickly conceived design for breaking their captivity,and when at length he turned to her shesaw in his eye the light of a discovered hope.
“Yes,” he said, “we have a good chance. Thecurrent bears us toward the point at the bend ofthe river. We must pass within a few yards ofthat if I judge rightly.”
“I shall make use of that,” he answered, pointingto a coil of rope that hung on his saddle-bow.
“What I mean to do is——”
The sound of breaking planks signalled a dangerwith which he had not reckoned. He saw one ofthe end pontoons wrench itself free. Hera saw ittoo, as it bore away to drift alone; and they knewit for a warning grimly clear that all the membersof their uncertain bark must part company erelong.
In the silence that fell between them she lookedtoward the Viadetta bank, where peasants awokethe echoes with their hue and cry. He kept hisgaze on the spear of land that marked the river’ssharpest turn. Once or twice he measured withhis eye the lessening distance between them andthe shore.
“We hold to the right course,” he said, confidently.“There will be time.”
Piece by piece Hera saw the thing that borethem scatter its parts over the river.
“What shall we do?” she asked, a shudder offear mingling strangely with trust in him.
At first he made her no answer, but continuedto watch the shore as if striving to discern somesignal. Another pontoon broke loose, carryingoff a part of the deck and leaving the rest of theplanks it had supported hanging in the water.[Pg 7]The sound of the breaking timbers did not makehim turn his head. When at last he faced her itwas to speak in tones all at odds with theirdesperate state.
“See the Old Sentinel!” he exclaimed, gleefully.“He shall save us!”
Not far to the south she could see the projectingland, a flat place and bare except for some carvedstones lying there in a semblance of order—thebleached ruins, in fact, of a temple raised by oneof her ancestors. The wash of ages had broughtthe river much nearer than it was in the days ofthat rude conqueror, and one stone, bedded deepin the mould, stood erect at the water’s edge. Itsbase was hidden, but enough remained aboveground to tell what part it had played in architecture—asection of a rounded column. Brianzafolk knew it by the name of the Old Sentinel.Always it had been there, they told the stranger.Now the magic of the low sun changed it into ashaft of gold. From childhood Hera had knownthe ancient landmark, and was the more puzzledto divine how it could serve them now.
“Can I help?” she asked, as he turned towardher again.
“Yes,” he answered, quickly. “Hold my horse.Can you manage both?”
“I will try,” she said, moving closer to him.
“We must not lose the horses,” he warned her.“They will be useful in case I—even after we areconnected once more with the land.”
She took the other bridle, which he passed toher, and grasped it firmly. Then she saw him liftfrom the saddle-bow the rope—a lariat of theplainsman’s sort, fashioned of horsehair, light ofweight, but stronger than if made of hemp. Hegathered it in an orderly coil and made sure of hisfooting. Now she knew what he was going toattempt, and the desperate chance of the featcame home to her. In a flash she comprehendedthat upon the success of it their lives dependedeven if the dismembering raft held together solong. If his aim proved false, if the lariat missedthe mark, a second throw might not avail; beforehe could make it they must be swept past thecolumn of stone.
Calmly he awaited the right moment, whichcame when their rickety outfit, in the freak of thecurrent, was moving yet toward the land. Hepoised a second and raised the coil. Twice he[Pg 9]swung it in a circle above his head—the horseswere watching him—and with a mighty fling sentit over the water. Steadily it paid out, ring forring, straight as an arrow’s course, until the noosecaught the column fairly, spread around it, anddropped to the ground.
“Bravo, Signor Sentinella!” he cried, pullingthe line taut. “A good catch!”
“Bravo, Signor—” she amended, pausing forhis name.
“Forza is my name,” he said, hauling for theshore, hand over hand.
It was work that had to be done quickly. Afew seconds and their craft would swing past thecolumn to which it was moored. To haul it backthen would mean a tug against the current. Inthis he knew that no strength of his could availeven if the lariat did not part. His sole chancewas to keep the float moving in a slanting linetoward land before it should be carried beyondthe Sentinel. The bulk of woodwork and pontoonswas of great weight, and the task took allthe strength he could muster.
“Let me help you,” Hera said, seeing that hestrained every muscle.
“No, no! Hold the horses! Now is our time.We are in shallow water.”
He looped the rope about his right hand, andwith this alone held them to the shore. Kneelingon the half-submerged planks at the edge, heleaned over the water, and, with his left hand,passed the end of the lariat under and around ayet staunch timber of the deck. In his teeth hecaught the end and held it; then clutched it againin his free hand, and, with the quick movementof one sure of his knot, made it fast.
“Now for it,” he said, on his feet once more, astheir raft, tugging hard at the line, swung aroundwith the current, and another pontoon brokeaway.
Before she was aware of his purpose he hadlifted her into the saddle and mounted his ownhorse.
“Come along,” he said, cheerfully. “It is onlywet feet at the worst,” and he put spur to hishorse.
Their animals sprang into the water togetherjust as the lariat snapped, and the raft, setfree, went on with the rushing flood. Sideby side they splashed their way to the pebbled[Pg 11]beach and up to where the ruins of Alboin’stemple reposed.
Before them was a ride in the growing duskover open lengths of hillside pass and by sylvanroads to Villa Barbiondi. On high the wind blewswiftly; clouds that had lost their lustre racedaway, and the shadows fell long on hills that weredull and bare as yet, but soon to be lightened withpassionate blossoming. Before her, in the gloamingdistance, were glimpses over the trees of herfather’s dark-walled house—a grand old villa, impressiveby contrast with its trim white neighbourspointing the perspective. Glad to feel solid groundbeneath their hoofs once more, the horses gallopedaway, and their riders let them go. Not until thepartial darkness of a grove enclosed them didthey slacken speed; there the road wore upward,and the horses of their will came to a walk. Beyondthe black stocks and naked boughs the crimsonglow of sunset lingered.
“Now that it is past,” Hera said, as if musing,“I see how great was the danger.”
“I think you were alive to it at the time,” hereturned in the manner of one who had observedand judged. “You are brave.”
“It was confidence more than bravery,” shetold him frankly.
“But you made it easy for me to do my part,”he insisted.
“That was because—well, as I see it now—becausethere was no moment when I did not feelthat we should come out of it all right.”
“Then I must tell you,” he said, “to whom weare indebted for our escape. Somewhere in thewoods, the fields, or the highways on the otherside of the river is a Guernsey heifer living justnow in the joy or sorrow of newly gained freedom.But for that we might not be here in fairlydry clothes.”
They had emerged from the grove, and hepointed toward the opposite shore, where thewhite buildings of the Social Dairy were stillvisible, though the twilight was almost gone.
“The heifer was born and bred in our littlecolony over there,” he went on, “and until anhour ago her world was bounded by its fences.But she jumped our tallest barrier, and I wasafter her with the lariat when the bridge broke.”
“I admit our debt to the heifer,” she said,laughing. “To her we owe the rope—but not the[Pg 13]throwing. I was unaware that anyone short ofthe American cowboy could wield a lasso so well.”
“It was in America that I got an inkling of theart,” he explained. “Once the life of a Californiaranchero seemed to me the one all desirable—adream which I pursued even to the buying of aranch.”
“And the awakening?” she asked, a little preoccupied.His reference to the Social Dairy hadsolved for her the riddle of his identity. She knewhim now for the leader of a certain radical groupin the Chamber of Deputies.
“The awakening came soon enough,” he said.“At the end of two years the gentleman of whomI bought the dream consented to take it back ata handsome profit to himself.”
“Then you paid dearly, I am afraid, for yourlessons in lariat throwing.”
“I thought so until to-day,” he replied, turningto meet her eyes.
They rode on at a smarter gait. She had lookedinto his clear face, and it seemed boyish for oneof whom the world heard so much—for the leaderof Italy’s most serious political cause. He was,like her, a noble type of the North’s blue-eyed race;[Pg 14]only the blood of some dark-hued genitor told inhis hair and color, while her massing tresses hadthe caprice of gold. They came to a hill and thehorses walked again.
“My deliverer, it appears, is Mario Forza, thedangerous man,” she said, with a playful accent ofdismay.
“Yes; the title is one with which my friends theenemy have honoured me.”
She leaned forward and patted her horse, sayingthe while:
“I have it in mind from some writer that todangerous men the world owes its progress.”
“Do you believe that?” he asked, seriously.
“Yes; in the way that I understand it. PerhapsI do not get the true meaning of my author.”
“One can never be certain of knowing thethought of another,” he said.
“True. For example, I am far from certainthat I know the thought of your NewDemocracy—what you are striving to do forItaly. And yet,” she added, reflectively, “Ithink I know.”
“Do you understand that we aim to fill ourcountry with true friends—to teach Italy that it[Pg 15]is possible for all her children to live and prosperin their own land?”
“Yes,” she answered, positively, gladly.
“Then you know the thought of the NewDemocracy.”
Evincing an interest that he felt was notfeigned, she asked him how the cause fared, andhe told her that among the people it gained, butin Parliament set-backs, discouragements, werealmost the rule.
“But you will fight on!” she exclaimed, out ofthe conviction he gave her of valour.
“Ah, yes; we shall fight on.”
The hush of the night’s first moments had fallenupon the scene. What light tarried in the westshowed the mountain’s contour, but relieved thedarkness no longer. Yellow windows studdedthe lower plains and the woody heights. Theycould see above the trees the shadowy towers ofVilla Barbiondi, and only a little way before themnow, but still invisible, stood the gates of thevilla park.
They had reached the foot of a sharp rise in theroad when two blazing orbs shot over the crest ofthe hill, bathing horses and riders in a stream of[Pg 16]light. A motor car came to a standstill, and theolder of the two occupants, a tall man in thefifties, sprang down nimbly.
“Hera! Hera!” he cried. “Heaven be praised!”
As he approached he snatched a mask from hisface, and there was her father, Don Riccardo.
“And to think that you are here, all ofyou, safe as ever!” he exclaimed, caressingher hand. “Ah, my daughter, this is a joyousmoment.”
“Yes; all of me saved, babbo dear,” she said.“But indeed it came near being the other way.”
“Again Heaven be praised!” said Don Riccardo.
“Heaven and this gentleman,” Hera amended,turning to Mario. “The Honourable Forza—myfather.”
“Your hand, sir!” cried Don Riccardo, goingaround her horse to where Mario stood. “Believeme, you have saved my life as well. My debt toyou is so great that I can never hope to pay.”
Mario told him that it was not such a big debt.“In plain truth,” he added, “I was obliged tosave Donna Hera in order to save myself. So itwas the sort of activity, you see, that comesunder the head of self-preservation.”
“Ah, is it so?” returned Don Riccardo, genially.“Nevertheless, sir, I shall look further into yourreport of the affair. To-night I shall sound it. Inyour presence we shall have the testimony of aneyewitness. At least we shall if you will give usyour company at dinner, which, by the way, iswaiting.”
“I am sorry, but to-night I cannot.”
“Then to-morrow, or Wednesday, Thursday,Friday?”
“Wednesday I should be glad.”
“Good! On Wednesday, then, we shall tarnishyour fame for veracity, and, if I mistake not,brighten it for modesty.”
The final tones of the sunset’s colours had givenway to deepest shadow. At Hera’s side, listeningto her account of the river episode, stood DonRiccardo’s companion of the motor car—a dark,bearded man of middle height, whose face washard and cruel, and seemed the more so in thegrim flare of the machine’s lamps.
“Signor Tarsis!” Don Riccardo called to him.“Let me present you. The Honourable Forza.Probably you have met.”
Tarsis, drawing nearer, gave Mario no more than[Pg 18]a half nod of recognition, while he said, in a mannerof one merely observing the civilities:
“I have to thank you for the service I hear youhave rendered my affianced wife.”
There was a pause before Mario replied that hecounted it a great privilege to be at hand in themoment of Donna Hera’s need. The last wordwas still on his lips when Tarsis turned to DonRiccardo and asked if he were ready to go backto the villa, and the older man answered with abare affirmative. Presently the car was broughtabout; as it shot away Hera and Mario followed.Now and again the highway bore close to theriver’s margin, and the splash of the rampantwater sounded in the dark. A little while and theystopped at the Barbiondi gates, where their waysparted—hers up the winding road to the house,his onward to the nearest bridge, that he mightcross and ride back to Viadetta.
“I regret that I cannot be with you to-night,”he told her. “An hour and I must start for Rome.”
“Until Wednesday, then?” she said, giving himher hand.
She spoke to Nero and was gone. A moment[Pg 19]Forza lingered, looking into the darkness thatenveloped her. Once or twice, as she moved upthe road, he caught the sparking of her horse’ssteel. At a turn in the way she passed into thelight of the motor car’s lamps, and he gained onemore glimpse of her, and was content. Then heset off for the Bridge of Speranza.
Among the chieftains of production who wereleading Italy to prosperity and power AntonioTarsis held the foremost place. Son of a shop-keeperin Palermo, he began life poor and withoutinfluence. It had taken him less than twentyyears to build up a fortune so large that thejournals of new ideals pointed to it as a terribleexample. Cartoonists had fallen into the habit ofpicturing him with a snout and bristled ears.There was a serious portrait of him in the directors’room of one of the companies he ruled. It waspainted by a man whose impulse to please wasstronger than his artistic courage. He told all thathe dared. In full length, it showed a man underforty, black-bearded, with a well-turned person ofmiddle height; small, adroit eyes heavily browed,prominent nose inclined to squatness, spare lipsand broad jaws; the portrait, at a glance, of a[Pg 21]fighter of firm grain, fashioned for success in thegreat battle.
So much for the Tarsis of paint and canvas.The one that faced you in the flesh had harder,crueler eyes; the living clutch of the lips wastighter; the faint yet redeeming human quality ofthe man in the picture was lacking. And in thehue of his skin, much darker than the painter hadventured, nature did not deny the land of hisbirth—Sicily. It was there, at the beginning ofmanhood, that chance threw him into the post oftime-keeper for a silk-mill. He did his work sowell that never a centesimo went to pay formoments not spent in the service of the company.
One morning Tarsis, at the door with book andpencil ready, waited in vain for the workers toarrive; and his career as a great factor in Italy’sindustrial life may be dated from the week thatfollowed, when he assembled gangs of strike-breakersto replace the men and women who hadjoined in a revolt against many wrongs. A strike-breakerhe had been ever since. By laying low thewill of others, men or masters of men, and settingup his own will, he had gained over humandestinies a dominion so practical that he cared[Pg 22]little for the theory of king and Parliament. Ofsmall import was it who made the laws or whoexecuted them so long as they did not take fromhim the power to decide what share a workershould have of the product of his hand.
For a year or two Tarsis worked at his trade ofstrike-breaking in the United States, and that wasthe making of him, so far as external things had todo with the man. He brought back to Sicily somemoney-winning ideas about manufacturing thatlifted him into the place of superintendent of thesilk-mill, and some notions about “high finance”that he picked up bore rich fruit. One day thecompany found itself reorganized, with Tarsis incommand. That was his first big victory. Hefollowed it up in due time by laying siege to thelarge silk makers of the North. His campaigntook the form of a proposal to unite their workswith those of the South. At first they greeted hisproject with smiles, but Tarsis played one companyagainst the other so craftily that in the end, obeyingthe law of self-preservation, all were eager tojoin the union.
As master mind of the general company Tarsissmashed the idols of custom, tore down everything[Pg 23]that retarded the making of money. The methodsof generations went by the board. He struck outfor new fields, and quickly Italy’s product of spunsilk was feeding the looms of Russia, Austria,Great Britain, and the United States in quantitiesdouble those of the old days. Mills were setup at places easily reached by the farmer withhis cocoons or near to shipping points. At Venicehe turned an ancient palace into a buzzing hiveand sent forth smoke and steam over the GrandCanal. There were unions of shoe factories, glassand carriage works, steamboat lines, and steel-mills;and never was Antonio Tarsis a factor unlessa factor that controlled. The journals of the NewDemocracy muttered, and likened him to creaturesof the brute world noted for their ability to reachor swallow.
One of the things Tarsis learned in the UnitedStates was that child labour in factories is a superiordevice for fattening stock dividends. Mario Forza,from his place in the National Parliament, oncedenounced him in a speech rebuking the Governmentfor lack of interest in the toiling masses.The bodily health and moral being of thousandsof children were ruined every year in Italy, he[Pg 24]said, that men like Tarsis might pile up theirabsurd fortunes—an outburst that brought loudand long applause from the seats of the NewDemocrats. This speech was green in the memoryof Tarsis that night on the riverside whenhe thanked Forza for the service rendered hispromised wife.
A situation created by the want of money hadbrought Hera and Tarsis together. He had somecold-blooded reasons for wanting the beautifulpatrician for his wife. She ministered to his senseof beauty, but it was the principle of success shetypified that gave her greatest value in his eyes.The man of peasant blood looked to an alliancewith the house of Barbiondi as the crowningtriumph of his career. Hera was the fairest prizeof the Lombard aristocracy. Men of noble bloodand large fortune had failed to win her hand,because she could not rid herself of the convictionthat to become the wife of a man for the sake ofhis fortune would be a mere bartering of hercharms. Against such a step her whole beingrose in revolt.
Tarsis had conceived the thought to possessher and had planned to do so as he had planned[Pg 25]to gain control of the Mediterranean SteamshipLine. His faithful ally was Donna Beatrice, Hera’saunt, who strove mightily in the cause. But it wasHera’s love for her father—her wish to relievehim from the torments of poverty—that made itpossible for Tarsis to attain his purpose. Thesands of the Barbiondi were almost run. Theirvilla, built two centuries before Napoleon appearedon that side of the Alps, was all that remained ofan estate once the largest in the North. Charts ofold days show its forests and hillside fields borderingthe river Adda from Lake Lecco in themountains clear to the Bridge of Lodi. Like hisforebears of many generations, Don Riccardo hadseen the money-lenders swallow his substance. Ifin his own time the bites were of necessity small,they were none the less frequent. To Donna Beatrice’sskill in concealing the actual state of theirpurse was due the fact that the Barbiondi wereable to spend a part of the winter in Milan, so thatHera, whom her aunt recognised as the family’s lastasset, might be in evidence to the fashionableworld. How she accomplished this never ceased tobe a riddle to her brother; and he gave it up, as hegave up all riddles. His idea of a master stroke in[Pg 26]contrivance was to go to his banker and arrangeanother mortgage. He was likely to go shootingor for a ride when there was a financial crisis tobe met. It was at the moment that the mortgagee’smouth watered for the last morsel thatHera, in the purest spirit of self-sacrifice, consentedto a marriage with Tarsis.
Matchmakers of Milan’s fashionable world, whohad known that the Tarsis millions were knockingat the Barbiondi gate, received the announcementof the betrothal as the extinguishment of theirlast hope, but in the world of creditors there wasa wild rejoicing. The mortgagee lost his appetitefor the last morsel of the estate. Milliners, makersof gowns and boots, purveyors of food and drink,sent in humble prayers for patronage instead ofangry demands for pay. Everywhere the bloodhoundsof debt slunk off the scent.
A day of mid-April was chosen for the wedding,and as it drew near Hera retained her studied airof cheerfulness, that Don Riccardo might notdivine the price his peace of mind demanded ofher. She rode about the countryside, sometimeswith her father, oftener alone, while the task ofpreparation for the nuptials went forward under[Pg 27]the willing hand of Aunt Beatrice. To that contentedwoman the bride-elect’s lukewarm interestin the affair was a source of wonder. With eyesuplifted and hands clasped she paused now andthen to ask if ever Heaven had given an aunt aniece of such scant enthusiasm. Such was thesituation the day that Hera had her adventureon the river. No experience of life had dwelt sopleasantly in her thought as the meeting and conversewith Mario Forza. No coming event hadever interested her so warmly as that he wasgoing to dine in Villa Barbiondi—that she wasgoing to meet him again.
She spent the closing hours of Wednesday afternoonat her window looking over the river towardthe fields and buildings of the Social Dairy. Shesaw one herd after another wind its way homewardup the pass and watched eagerly for the comingforth of Mario. When the file of poplars that borderedthe highway by the river were casting theirlongest shadows she saw him ride out and beginthe descent of the hill. For some time she wasable to keep him in view as he trotted his horsealong the level road. When he came upon theBridge of Speranza—the waters had not ended[Pg 28]their spree—she was conscious of a new anxiety,and when he had gained the nearer shore she felta strange relief. A little while and the shadows ofthe poplars were neither short nor long, anddarkness hid him from sight. Presently the voiceof her father, raised in welcome, mingled with themost genial tones of Donna Beatrice, sounding upthe staircase, told her that he had arrived.
“Ha, my friend!” she heard Don Riccardosaying, “this is the greatest of delights. Why,I knew your father, sir. The Marquis and Iserved the old king. And a gay service it wasfor blades who knew how to be gay. Magnificentold days!”
“I heard much of you, Don Riccardo, from myfather,” Mario said.
“And I have heard much of you since you cameto Milan,” the other returned. “But I neverrecognised you without the title; nor in the dimlight of the other night did I see my old comradein your face. But I see him now. By my faith!you take me back thirty years. And pictures ofyou—marvellous pictures—have I seen in thenewspapers. I remember one in particular,” heran on, a gleam in his eye. “It portrayed the[Pg 29]Honourable Forza in action, if you please. I thinkhe was performing a feat no more difficult thangetting out of a carriage; but the camera immortalisedhim as an expert in the art of standingon one foot and placing the other in his overcoatpocket.”
Hera was with them now joining in the laughter.Donna Beatrice thanked Mario effusively for savingthe life of Hera. The more she had reflected on thedeed the more heroic it had grown in her sight.Her gratitude had its golden grain, for the factloomed large to her mind that but for his timelyaction there might have been no forthcomingmarriage with Antonio Tarsis, no saving of theBarbiondi ship. She was prodigal in her praise ofhis knightly valour, as she called it, and declaredthat the age of chivalry still lived. At this pointa footman came to Mario’s rescue by announcingthat the vermouth was served.
“And what of the progress toward peace in thehuman family, Honourable?” asked Don Riccardo,merrily, as they took their places at table.
Mario answered that the progress, as to thebranch of the human family known as Italian,was for the time being somewhat backward. “The[Pg 30]trouble with our party,” he said, “is that we can’tbreak ourselves of the habit of being right at thewrong time. Our foes are better strategists.They are wise enough to be wrong at the righttime.”
“And what is this New Democracy all about,Signor Forza?” asked Donna Beatrice, as she mighthave asked concerning some doing on the island ofGuam.
“It is an effort to mend a social machine that isbadly out of repair,” he answered. “The hewer ofwood is demanding a fire, the drawer of water adrink. The producer is striving to keep a littlemore of what he produces.”
He held up a side of the industrial picture thatwas the reverse of what Don Riccardo’s prospectiveson-in-law liked to present. His wordsdid not square with Tarsis’s assertion that theheart of a statesman should be in his head. Hegave reasons why some are rich and some are poor,and though new to those at the table, they feltthat they were listening to no sentimental dreamer.He struck the key-note of the century’s newthought. If his head did lift itself toward theclouds at times, his feet remained firmly planted[Pg 31]on the earth, and his ideals were those of a mandetermined to be useful in the world.
It was good, Hera thought, to look upon him;good to hear his voice, good to feel that one admiredhim. And Donna Beatrice, looking over therims of her pince-nez, was seized with alarm. Theirguest’s discourse might be interesting, she toldherself, but she was positive there was nothing init to command such wrapt attention on the partof her niece. When they had risen, and Marioand Hera were leading the way to the receptionhall, she pulled at her brother’s coat sleeve tohold him in the alcoved passage; and, standingthere amid the tapestries and trophies of shieldsand arms, the poor woman made known herdoubts and fears.
“Riccardo, what does this mean? I say it ismost extraordinary.”
“Yes, the coffee was not delicious,” he observed.“The cook is drinking absinthe again.”
“The coffee! I speak of Hera.”
“In what has she offended now?” he inquired,clasping his hands behind him and looking up atan ancestral portrait dim with the centuries.
“You ask that?” she rejoined sceptically.[Pg 32]“But no; it is impossible that even a man couldbe so blind. I thank Heaven Antonio Tarsis wasnot present.”
“I always thank Heaven when he is not present,”Don Riccardo confessed, and his sisterwinced. “What crime has Hera committed?”
“On the eve of her marriage she is showing ascandalous interest in a man who is not to beher husband.”
Don Riccardo gave a low laugh of depreciation.“Mario Forza saved her life,” he reminded her.“If the fact has slipped your memory, it is not sowith Hera.”
“I know,” Donna Beatrice argued, “but thereare things to remember as well as things not toforget.”
“My dear sister, let our girl indulge this naturalsentiment of thankfulness.”
“Thankfulness?” the other questioned, raisingher brows.
“And what else? Come, my Beatrice, the strainof this wedding business has wrought upon yournerves. When the fuss is over you must go to theAdriatic for a rest.”
She said it was considerate of him, but she did[Pg 33]not feel the need of rest. In a corner of the receptionhall they found Hera at the piano, Mariobeside her, turning the page. They asked him tosing, and he began a ballad of the grape harvestin Tuscany. It pictured the beauty of the richclusters, the sun-burned cheeks and rugged mirthof the peasant maids, stolen kisses, troths plighted,and the ruby vintage drunk at the wedding feast.The song was manly and sung in a manly voice.
While his clear baritone filled the room andHera played the accompaniment the feelings ofDon Riccardo were stirred deeply. From his chairby the wall he looked sadly upon his daughter andhis old comrade’s son, and hoped, for her sake, thatwhat might have given him gladness at one timewould not happen now. The words of his sisterhad moved him more than he let her know. Whatif Mario Forza had come into her heart? What ifthe marriage to which she was to go should provethe funeral of a true love? What if that wereadded to the price she was going to pay for helpingher father? His impulse was to take her in hisarms, tell her to accept any happiness that destinyhad to offer, and defy the issue whatever it mightbe. Instead, he rang for a glass of cognac.
When Hera had sung a romance of old SienaDon Riccardo asked Mario about that “idealisticexperiment,” the Social Dairy, and learned thatit was no longer an experiment, but a prosperousobject lesson for those willing to listen tothe New Democracy. Mario told them a little ofthe life of the place, and Don Riccardo suggestedthat they all go and see for themselves.
“It would give me pleasure,” Mario assuredhim.
“I should like to go very much,” Hera said.
“Then we shall visit you to-morrow.” DonRiccardo decided, with an enthusiasm which AuntBeatrice did not share.
A DREAM REALISED
The following afternoon Mario, on horseback,appeared at the villa and said he had stopped toaccompany the Barbiondi in their ride to theSocial Dairy. It was a proffer Donna Beatricecould not regard with favour. From the first thetrip across the river had seemed to her a projectof questionable taste; but now that it was to includethe company of a man in whom Herahad betrayed a “scandalous interest,” it stoodin her mind as a distinctly improper proceeding.Drawing her brother aside, she said as much tohim while they waited for the horses to be broughtfrom the stables.
But Don Riccardo failed to view the affair inthat light. He was glad to see Forza, and glad ofthe opportunity the three-mile ride afforded for achat with the son of his old comrade. His expectation[Pg 36]in regard to the chat, however, was notrealised, for what Aunt Beatrice pronounced ashocking display of indiscretion on the part ofher niece occurred before they had reached theBridge of Speranza. When the cavalcade, aftera brisk trot, had dropped into a walk, Hera andMario fell behind and rode side by side. Andin the rest of the journey Donna Beatrice couldnot see that they made any appreciable effortto lessen the distance separating them from theothers.
The day was a true one of the freakish month.In the morning hours the clouds had played theirmany games, now gambolling on the blue infleecy flocks, now rolling sublimely in great whitebillows or tumbling in darker shapes that shed bigdrops of rain. But the present hour was one ofpurest sky, and all the land was gloried in sunshine.Mysterious heralds of the springtime spoketo the spirit and senses of the younger riders.The river was in gentler mood; the grey brush ofthe poplars no longer strained in the wind, mapletwigs were dimpling with buds, and the greenmantle of the hills seemed to grow brighter withevery glance. Their cheeks were smoothed by the[Pg 37]new breath that comes stealing over the land inApril days. They talked of the things about them.Hera rejoiced in the life of the outer air. Sheknew the wild growths and the architecture of thebirds, and he, if saddened easily by the uglinessmen impart to life, was ever awake to the beautiesof the world. They saw here and there a lastyear’s nest in the leafing branches.
“There was the home of an ortolan,” she wouldsay, or, “There a blackbird lived, there a thrush.”
“And soon, when passing Villa Barbiondi,” headded once, “a friend may say, ‘There DonnaHera lived.’”
“Yes,” she said; “I shall part from the dear oldnest, as the birds part from theirs.”
Where the road branched upward to the dairyDon Riccardo and his sister were waiting. Togetherthe four made the ascent of the zigzag way,passing under oaks that had clung to their brownleaves through all the assaults of winter andmoving beneath the mournful green of the needle-pines.They walked about the scrupulously clean,well-ordered houses and yards of the Social Dairy,where moral enlightenment and manual energyworked in concert. It was one of the several[Pg 38]hundred places, Mario told them, that the new,industrial plan had brought into being. He explainedthe genius of co-operation, and how inthis instance it brightened the lives of thousandsof poor farmers. Hera remarked the air of well-beingthat pervaded the place—the neat apparelof the men and women, the interest they showedin their work, and the absence from their eyes ofthe driven look she had observed in a factoryof Milan.
“How bright and fresh and—happy they are!”she said to Mario.
“They are not overworked,” he explained.“They have only themselves and their familiesto provide for.”
“I see nothing unusual in that,” observed DonnaBeatrice.
“I mean,” Mario went on, “that there are noladies and gentlemen to be fed and clothed out ofthe profits of their work. That makes it possiblefor them to earn in seven hours a day enough fortheir needs and a little to spare for the bank—thebank that gives them an interest in the earningsof their deposits.”
“Wonderful!” exclaimed Don Riccardo. “I[Pg 39]don’t profess to understand it at all. Buttell me, Honourable, how it is possible thatyou, the busiest man in Rome, can find timefrom your Parliamentary work for—this sort ofthing?”
“I like the country,” Mario answered, “andthis is the part of my work that is recreation.”
Going back to Viadetta they rode beside thepasture lands, where herds of cattle browsed. Inone field Mario pointed out a black heifer that wasfrisking alone.
“That is the wayward youngster I started afterwith my lariat the other day,” he said. “Shecame back this morning. I am grateful to her,Donna Hera. But for that dash for liberty I shouldnot be with you to-day.”
She could have told him that her gratitude oughtto be more than his, and yet was not so, for thefate the river had offered now seemed kinder thanthe one in store for her.
“I perceive that the heifer soon tired of her liberty,”Donna Beatrice remarked, complacently.“Do you not think, Signor Forza, it would be thesame with your common people? Give them whatthey think they want, and quickly they will be[Pg 40]whining for what they had before and which wasbetter for them.”
“I suppose they would,” Mario assented,smiling, “if the new condition left them hungryand shelterless, as it did our heifer. She dreamedof freedom, but woke to find that her two stomachswere exceedingly real affairs. So she came homeand sold her freedom for a mess of pottage.”
“Precisely!” Donna Beatrice exclaimed, triumphantly.“In the practical brute kingdom aswell as in the human world dreamers are likelyto come to grief.”
“That is true,” Mario agreed, “and yet thedreamer’s airy product often becomes a reality.The dream of yesterday is the architect’s plan ofto-day on which the builders will be at workto-morrow. There was our great compatriot whodreamed of having the people of Italy pull togetherunder some well-laid plan, and do away with thenecessity that drives so many to seek prosperityin foreign lands. That man is dead, but part of hisvision lives in the Social Dairy. The farmers whoselot has been bettered by this system of co-operationare stout believers in that dream, you may besure.”
“In what way are the farmers benefited?”Donna Beatrice asked, sceptically.
“They get a fair share of the profit of their toil.They send their milk here, and by processes thatare moral as well as scientific it is turned first intobutter, then into coin of the realm.”
“But, Signor Forza,” Donna Beatrice protested,“I call this establishment eminently practical.”
“Everyone does now. Nevertheless, it was nomore than a theory two years ago—as much adream then as the Employers’ Liability bill isnow.”
“Will you interpret this new dream, Honourable?”Don Riccardo asked. “What is the Employers’Liability bill?”
“A Parliamentary measure to oblige the employersof men and women in dangerous work toinsure their lives; to take care of them, too, shouldthey meet with injury.”
“Then the industrial army,” said Don Riccardo,“would fare better at the hands of the statethan the military.”
“And it ought to,” Mario returned. “Work isthe hope of the world, war is its despair.”
Don Riccardo, with a shake of the head, bespoke[Pg 42]his doubt as to that idea, and his sister, lookinginto the face of Hera, was alarmed anew to readthere a frank expression of sympathy with Forza’ssentiment. Mario rode with them as far as thegates of the villa, and at parting Hera gave himher hand.
“The day will live in my memory,” he told her.
“And in mine,” she said. “Good-bye.”
Tarsis dined with the Barbiondi next day andtook them in an automobile to Milan for the opera.Hera, by his side, spent much of the ten-milejourney in reflections that gave her no peace.Before meeting Mario Forza she had begun toknow the calm there is in accepted bitterness.For the sake of others she had resolved to be patientlyunhappy. Now the future had a changedoutlook—had opened to a sudden gleam, as acloud opens to sheet lightning at sunset. Thesacrifice demanded of her seemed far greater thanit did a few days before, and she was conscious ofa growing doubt that her strength should proveequal to it. There came a throb of resentment,too, that what she had been calling duty shouldinterpret its law so remorselessly.
Not until after the meeting with Forza had the[Pg 43]sense of renunciation, of impending loss, been ofa positive nature. She had felt only that thefuture could hold no happiness for her; now shewas aware of a joy to be killed, of a destiny thatshould deny what her soul was quickening withdesire to possess. It was as if happiness had comeback from the tomb and she dared not receiveit.
In the box at La Scala she looked on the stagespectacle, but the eyes of her mind saw MarioForza, and she heard his voice above the musicof the drama. The knowledge that she cared forhim so brought no feeling of shame, but shameassailed her when she looked upon the ring andthe man who had placed it on her hand. In thegold circle and the clear stone she saw only thebadge of a hideous bargain.
They went to a restaurant where fashionableMilan assembles after the opera. At a table apartfrom the one where they seated themselves shesaw Mario Forza in the company of some menknown as leaders of Italy’s political thought; andwhen Tarsis perceived that Hera had caught sightof him he could not refrain from venting hisfeelings. Without any leading up to the subject,[Pg 44]he spoke contemptuously of the new ideas ofgovernment in the air.
“I have no patience with them,” he said.“They are no more than the wild flowering ofpoetic oratory in Parliament.”
“And like all wild flowers, they soon will fade,”chimed in Donna Beatrice.
“Nevertheless,” Tarsis went on, “these dreamersare doing much harm. They clog the wheels ofItaly’s true progress.”
“Can nothing be done to put down these dangerousmen?” asked Donna Beatrice, in alarm.
“Oh, no. Parliament is a talking machine,wound up for all time. There’s no stopping it.These demagogues delude the masses by tellingthem that labour is the parent of wealth.”
“I wonder if it isn’t?” mused Don Riccardo,lighting a cigarette.
“Admitting it,” Tarsis retorted, “should theparent try to strangle its offspring? That iswhat these rainbow statesmen would do. Theyproclaim capital a despoiler of labour, yet keeptheir addled wits at work concocting schemes forthe despoiling of capital. Take, for example, theEmployers’ Liability bill—simply a device to[Pg 45]plunder the employer under the cloak of law.”
“I agree with you fully!” exclaimed DonnaBeatrice. “I have heard of that iniquitousmeasure.”
“But capital will not flinch,” pursued the manof millions. “It has a mission to redeem Italy bymaking her industriously great. On that missionit will press forward in spite of the demagogues,and bestow the blessing of employment on thepoor in spite of themselves.”
Don Riccardo yawned behind his coffee cup,but his sister brought her hands together in showof applause, and uttered a little “Bravo!” ForHera, she gave no sign. When Tarsis was talking,somewhat heavily, with his air of a rich man, hissmall, keen eyes looking into hers now and then,she wondered what her life would be with such acompanion; but when they were moving homewardpast the darkened shop windows of CorsoVittorio Emanuele, out through the VenetianGate, and speeding in the moonlight of the opencountry, her reflections took a different cast. Hersoul cried out to be free, and to the cry for freedomcame an answering call to revolt.
In the afternoon of the next day—the one[Pg 46]before that set for the wedding—she had her horsesaddled, heedless of Donna Beatrice’s warning thatthe skies foreboded a tempest. A few paces fromthe villa gates she heard at her back the sound ofgalloping hoofs, and presently Mario was ridingat her side.
“I crossed the river yesterday,” he said, “inthe hope that you would ride, but met—disappointment.”
“I am sorry,” she told him, simply, yet heunderstood that she meant, “It must not be.”
“Frowning skies invite us at times,” he wenton, “and by that I made my hope in to-day.”
“Yesterday was beautiful—far better for aride,” she admitted, as if to tell him that he haddivined the truth.
For a while they rode in silence. They passedthe ruins of a monastery known of old as theEmbrace of the Calm Valley. It had been one ofthe many religious settlements in the domain ofthe Barbiondi in the days of their power.
“I went there yesterday,” he told her, “andfound a strange sympathy in its desolate picture.”
“To me it always has been dear,” Hera said.“My mother loved the old place. Often we went[Pg 47]there and gathered the wild roses and camelliasthat grew in the cloister.”
For a mile or more they rode on, then startedhomeward because of danger signals not to beignored. There were glimmers of far-away lightning,and they caught the distant roll of thunder.Suddenly a black curtain unfolded over the skies.
Before them was a long stretch of open road,at the end of which, where the wood began, theycould see the dark shape of the monastery walls;and towards this they were making, their horseslifted to a quicker pace, when they heard anominous rattling in the upper air.
A FACT OF LIFE
The warning was a terribly familiar one to thepeople of Lombardy. They knew it presaged oneof the severe storms of hail that plague theregion—visitations which the farmer folk dreadeven more than the sprees of the river. Withinthe space of ten minutes the growing crops of awhole province had been devastated by one ofthese onslaughts. The pellets of ice were so bigas to fell cattle and kill the herdsmen. Roof tilesof terra cotta were smashed like thin glass. Ofsuch grave import were the bombardments thatofficial means had been devised to ward them off;and now, while the keepers hurried their drovesto places of safety, the air was filled with a thunderthat did not come from the clouds. On the hilltopsand in the sloping fields cannon flashed androared. With pieces aimed at the blacknessabove, the peasant gunners fired volley aftervolley in a scientific endeavor to choke the hailstorm.The picture, as they saw it from their[Pg 49]windows, was one to carry old soldiers back to Solferinoand Magenta, when the target was not clouds,but Austrians, and the missiles were shot and shell.
Mario and Hera set their horses to a gallop andmade for the cover of the monastery, as troopersmight have dashed across a battle-field. Theygained the crumbling portico at the moment thatthe white bullets began to fall, crackling in theivy of the wall and dancing on the ground. Afew columns of the cloister were standing, andsome of the roof remained. Here they left theirhorses to paw the pavement where monks hadwalked in the ages long buried. He took herhand and they made their way over a difficultmound of earth and fallen stone to the chapel.Once or twice in the centuries something had beendone to save the little church from time’s ravage,though it stood open yet, as to door and window,for the attacks of wind and weather. Rooks hadnested there, and the flutter of invisible wingssounded from a dark corner beneath the ceiling.She told him that the chapel was built by the firstRiccardo of her line. Standing by a window, theylooked out and saw the hailstones beating on thetombs of her ancestors.
Hera pointed to a place on the wall where afresco painting once had been. Fragments of acornice carved in marble still clung about it; tothe eye there was only a patch of blank wall.
“It was the portrait of Arvida, a woman ofour race,” she said, regarding the spot and itsremnant of frame thoughtfully. “At one timeher tomb was here, under the picture.”
“And is in the chapel no longer?”
“No; they branded her a heretic and drove herto her grave, as our chronicles say; and still notsatisfied, they disinterred her body and burned itin Milan.”
“How strange it all seems in this day,” hemused, “when one may think as he will about hissoul without putting his body in peril before orafter it has returned to the ground.”
“And yet,” she said, quickly, as if in an outburstof feeling long restrained, “there is still a powerthat persecutes—that takes the soul and enchainsthe body.”
“The power you mean is duty,” he said,positively, as one who understood.
“Yes,” she affirmed, eagerly, glad in the knowledgethat he read her thought.
There was silence between them as they movedto a part of the chapel where a broad windowlooked out on the landscape of ploughed fieldsthat stretched high into the rainy distance. Whenhe spoke again it was in the tone of one who hadcome to a decision.
“The world’s cruelest wrongs have been committedin the name of duty,” he said. “Fortunatelyfor the happiness of the race, we havecut loose from many ancient notions of obligation.The zealots who persecuted Arvida acted from asense of duty. With new ideals of justice risenew conceptions of what we owe to others.”
“How can we know what to do?” she asked ofhim, humbly.
“Ah, it is hard to know what to do—to decidewhat is right. But there is a path that wemay follow with safety at all times. It is thepath which keeps us true to ourselves. We havea right to be true to ourselves!” he asserted,warmly—“a right no man may deny.”
“And when one renounces that right for thesake of others?” she asked. “What then?”
“That is the noblest of all self-sacrifices,” heanswered her, reverently.
But in her sudden release of a breath and thedrooping of her eyes he read, with the magicsensitivity of love, that his answer was a disappointment;that for the bread of censure thewoman asked he had given a stone of praise.When he spoke again Hera, with quickeningpulse, knew the calm of his character was going;and she was glad for the passion in his tone andthe anger that hardened his voice.
“The sacrifice is divine!” he exclaimed. “Butthe demand for it, the permitting of it, that ismonstrous! No human interest can justify theruin of a life, the desecration of a soul!”
He drew closer to her, his studied control of thepast all gone.
“Donna Hera!” he cried, “this must not be—thismarriage to-morrow. It is hideous in the eyeof God and man.”
There was command in his words, and theglow of a splendid hope filled her soul. But itlived only a moment, assailed by the thought thatcommiseration was all that he had for her.
“Well may you pity me,” she said, the doubtthat had risen bringing a dreary smile to herlips.
“Pity!” he exclaimed, taking her hand, fervidly.“Ah, no! It is greater than that! I love you,Hera. From the first it has been so—from thevery first. Knowing all and realising all, I haveloved you with the whole power of my being. Iwill not silence the cry of this love, and you, too,must listen.”
An alarming yet rapturous shudder wentthrough her frame, and she shrank from him.With hands at his temples, he stood like one dizzyfrom a blow.
“Are you sorry?” he asked, and she made himno answer. “Oh, not that!” he pleaded. “Notthat!”
She saw her life of despair whirling away, anda new life dawning, beautiful, glorious.
“Sorry?” she said at last, her breath going withthe words. “No; I am glad.” And he drew herto him, bent his head above hers, and kissedher lips.
The shower had ceased and the sky was clearing.From rifts in the speeding clouds streams of sunshinefound their way to earth. A golden shaftcame in by the open clerestory and lingered uponthem. Two bluebirds talked blithely on a window[Pg 54]ledge. The rook and his mate came down fromtheir dark corner to fly out into the sparkling air.
Beholding the sunshine, Mario said: “See, theglory of heaven falls upon this unison.”
They laughed together like careless children,forgetting all but their new-found joy, and fearedno more.
“I was lost; I have found my way,” shemurmured.
“And the mariner sailing under sealed ordershas learned his destiny,” he said. “I dreaded thehour that was to take you from me, dear, andreason lost hope; but not so the heart. And nowyou are my own, my own for ever.”
“Yes; they shall not part us now,” she said,nestling to him.
“Hera, how often have I dreamed of finding you!”
“And I of finding you.”
“When, my darling?”
For answer he had her eyes turned upward,timorously, fluttering under the depths of his,and then downcast, while she whispered thewords, “Always, Mario, always.” Again their lipswere locked.
“Have I your permission to enter?”
The words rang grimly in the old temple, sendingtheir echo from wall to wall. Mario and Heraknew the voice. They turned toward the door, alow opening arched in the Gothic form, and sawstanding there a dark figure sharply defined againstthe sunshine that flooded the cloister. It was thefigure of Antonio Tarsis. His posture was that ofone quite calm, his arms folded, on his lips anevil smile. He surveyed the others with a mockair of amusement; then, taking off his motoringcap, he made a low bow, and advanced with abroad affectation of humility.
“I thank you for permitting me to enter,” hebegan, the hoarseness of his tone betraying theanger that consumed him. “My apology isoffered—my apology, you understand—for breakingup a love scene between the woman who is tobe my wife to-morrow and another man.”
He paused as if expectant of some word fromthem, but they did not speak; nor did they stirfrom the spot where they stood when first theybeheld him.
“I was passing at the time of the hailstorm,and came in for shelter,” Tarsis continued, feigningthe tone of one who felt obliged to explain an[Pg 56]intrusion. “I saw your horses out there, andrecognising one of them, I judged that DonnaHera was near by. Uncertain of the other horse,I jumped to the natural—possibly you will sayfoolish—conclusion that it was her father’s.”
He paused again, and waited for one of theothers to speak, but both remained silent.
“I say this much in extenuation of the fact thatI began to look about in search of my friends,”Tarsis went on, retaining his tone of apology.“Otherwise it might appear that I was spyingupon my promised wife. I assure you that itnever occurred to me to set a watch upon you,Donna Hera. At the door I saw you and—waiteduntil the scene should come to an end. I havebeen waiting some time. I hope my conduct inthe somewhat trying situation meets with yourapproval—yours, Donna Hera, and yours, HonourableForza?”
He gave the “Honourable” a long-drawn emphasison the first syllable, and the sound cameback in a blood-chilling echo from the glisteningdamp walls.
Mario moved forward and looked him squarelyin the eye. “Signor Tarsis,” he began, his voice[Pg 57]without a quaver, “I am sorry, helplessly sorry.We are confronted with an invincible fact of life.I love Donna Hera. She loves me. By everynatural law we belong to each other.”
A flush of anger overspread the face of Tarsis.He returned a derisive laugh and put on his cap.
“Law of nature, eh!” he flung back. “Societyis not governed by laws of nature, and will not beuntil your anarchistic wishes prevail!”
“Do you mean,” Mario asked, retaining his self-control,“that after what you have seen and whatI have told you it is still your intention to holdDonna Hera to her engagement?”
“I will not answer your question,” Tarsis replied,snapping his upturned fingers at Mario in theSouthern manner. “Whatever my intention maybe is not your affair. It is a subject for myselfand my promised wife. Of course, you will havesome theory about what I ought to do,” he added,his lip curving to the sneer.
Humanly sensible that the other’s provocationwas great, Mario quelled the words of resentmentthat came to his tongue, and said, calmly: “Thereis no question of theory here. It is a factinexorable.”
“And one, I suppose, in which I am not to bereckoned with,” Tarsis retorted, his mouth twitchingand his thick neck red with the mountingblood. “You plot to rob me of the woman who ispledged to me—you do me the greatest wrongone man can do another—and you call it a factinexorable. Bah! I know your breed! Myfactories are full of fellows like you!”
Hera laid a restraining hand on Mario’s arm,saying, “Bear it, we have given him cause,” andin that instant the enormity of the situation theirlove had produced came fully to their minds. Itwas a realisation that made Hera recoil in dreadof the consequences; but Mario, convinced of thelarger justice in the course they had taken, advanceda step toward Tarsis and said—all regret,all suggestion of considerateness gone from hismanner:
“When you say that I plotted to rob you of heryou speak falsely. There was no plot, no premeditatedact. Donna Hera is wholly withoutblame. My love for her began in the moment ofour first meeting. It bore me on irresistibly,despite the hopelessness of it ever present to mythought. Had she loved you I should never have[Pg 59]spoken. I knew she did not love you; I knew shewas going to a life of thraldom, to be a hostageto the fortune of others. Understand, I do nottell you this in a spirit of excuse, but only forthe purpose of acquainting you with the facts. Ido not try to make excuse to you; I do not seekself-justification.”
Tarsis laughed at him scornfully. “Oh, bravissimo!”he sneered. “You do not see any wrongin making love to the woman who is to be mywife!”
“She is not to be your wife,” Mario said. “Youmust know that Donna Hera cannot be your wifenow.”
Tarsis was at the point of another outburst ofwrath, but checked himself as if with a purposesuddenly conceived. He riveted his gaze firstupon Hera, then upon the other, and stood silent,with knitted brows, the subtlest forces of hisnature waked by Mario’s last words. These wordswarned him that from his grasp was slipping theprize he valued above any on which he had everset his powerful will. He moved off from themand paced slowly to and fro, with bowed head.The sound of his footfalls was all that broke the[Pg 60]stillness of the chapel. Once or twice he lookedup, toward Mario and Hera, and they saw thedespair written in his strong face. They werestirred to a feeling of pity, of guilt, as they contemplatedwhat seemed to them their work. Alittle while, and he paused, drew near to Hera,and said to her, his voice that of a man crushedin spirit:
“Is it true? Has he prevailed upon you tobreak off our marriage?”
Pale and resolute, she answered: “No; he hasnot prevailed upon me. It is my choice—theonly way.”
Tarsis made a show of submission by twice inclininghis head. “I suppose you are right,” hesaid, as if resigned. “Of your purpose in engagingyourself to me I was aware, but I hoped in timeto win your affection. It is the hand of fate.”
Hera’s eyes were moistening. “I am to blame,”she said, contritely. “It was wrong of me toconsent to a marriage with you; but I was driven,oh, I was driven. Forgive me, I beg of you.”
Tarsis looked into her eyes and extended hishand, as the act of one who in the stress of hisemotion was unable to speak. “There is a request[Pg 61]I would make,” he said. “It is that you help meto come out of this in as good a light as possiblebefore the world. Help to mitigate the disgraceit puts upon me. If the marriage could be postponed,not definitely broken off; at least, if theworld could be told so at first——”
“I will do as you wish,” Hera assured him,willingly.
“I thank you, sincerely. Will you return withme to the villa, that we may make some arrangementwhile there is yet time?”
“Yes; let us go.”
She bade Mario adieu and started for the doorwith Tarsis. They had gone only a few paces whenthey heard the voice of Mario. “A word, DonnaHera, if you will be good enough to wait,” he said.
Tarsis wheeled quickly, with flashing eye, andthe others saw that once more he was his aggressiveself; but this time, as before, he checked the impulseto pour forth his anger on Mario, rememberingthat he had more important work to do. Hebowed his head and drooped his shoulders, asbecame a crushed spirit, and waited, ears alert.
“Hera,” Mario said, when they stood a littleapart from Tarsis, “I wish to tell you that I am[Pg 62]summoned to Rome to-night. I meant to leaveViadetta on the train that meets the Roman expressat Milan. If you need me I will not go. Ifyou have the slightest misgiving, the faintestsense that you want me at your side, I will gowith you now to Villa Barbiondi.”
The fists of Tarsis doubled and relaxed and hiseyes were sidelong as he watched her face andlistened. The smile of the cheat who takes a trickcame to his lips when he caught her answer.
“It will be kinder if you are absent,” she said—“kinderto him. It is all that we can do,” and sheadded, trustfully, “I have no misgiving.”
With a soft word of farewell, she turned fromhim and walked with Tarsis to the cloister, wheretheir horses stood. From his place in the chapelMario saw Tarsis help her to mount and follow herthrough the broken portico. Then the masonry hidthem from his view, and the next minute the noiseof an automobile told him they were on the road.
“God Almighty bless and keep you, Hera!” hemurmured. In the chapel he lingered, lookingupon the flaming west and darkening hillside,until his lonely horse called to him with impatientneighs.
THE SCALES OF HONOUR
That Mario and Hera were taken in by thecounterfeit despair and make-believe submissionof Tarsis proved how little they knew the manwith whom they had to deal. Tarsis had as muchthought of giving up Hera as he had of partingwith his life. In the last words spoken to him byMario—“She is not to be your wife”—he knewthat he had heard the declaration of a resolutestrike against his fondest design; and to set aboutbreaking it by means of craft instead of openresistance was only the instinctive recourse of acharacter schooled in devices. The art of throwingthe antagonist off his guard had become a secondnature with him. Always this was the first movehe made in a fight with his fellow-man. He hadachieved his earlier successes in the business worldby causing powerful rivals to despise him—toregard him as a factor not worth reckoning with.He had won victories by feigning acceptance ofdefeat.
He hated failure as a shark hates the land. Allover Italy the wedding day had been heralded,and he was determined that the marriage shouldtake place. Labour unions with which he had to doknew something of his granite will when set to thebreaking of a strike. While he moved toward thevilla, holding the motor car to the pace of Hera’shorse, he had time to think out the details of hisplan.
Arrived at the villa, a maid informed Herathat Donna Beatrice was absent in Milan. As toDon Riccardo, the serving woman said, Gh’eminga, which is the Lombardian equivalent for“not about” or “missing.” He had set out onhorseback in the direction of Lodi a half-hourbefore. Sadly Hera reflected that with her father,whom she loved for his endearing frailties, it hadalways been G’he minga. She knew his soulrebelled against the alliance with Tarsis, but thathe lacked the strength to put away the cup of easeit held to his lips. She had hoped that he wouldbe at hand now, as one at least in the household torejoice at the course she had chosen. She notedthat the news of their being alone brought a gleamof satisfaction to the eyes of Tarsis. When they[Pg 65]entered the reception hall the old sternness hadsettled on his countenance, replacing the broken-spiritedhumility that had moved her so deeplyin the chapel.
“I hope it will not be presuming on yourfavour,” were his opening words, “if I ask youfor light on one or two points?”
“No,” she answered. “It is your right. I wishto be frank—to tell you all.”
“How long have you been under the influenceof this man?”
“The question is unfair to him and to me,” shesaid. “I will answer any question that youhave a right to ask, but I will not quarrel withyou.”
Tarsis rose from where he was seated, walkedthe width of the room and back, and when hespoke again his manner was milder.
“How long have you known him?” he inquired.
“We met last week for the first time. It wason the day the bridge broke.”
“Do you think it just to me that you have keptthe affair secret?”
“Not until this hour have we spoken of ourlove.”
“But all the time you were plotting my disgrace,”he argued, eyeing her shrewdly.
“There was no plot,” she averred, rising, impatiently.“If you cannot be fair discussion isuseless.”
“Be fair!” he flung out, drawing nearer to her.“Let me ask if you think it fair to discard me atthis hour—to degrade me before the world?”
Without hesitation she answered: “I was onthe point of doing you a great injury. My lovefor Mario Forza has saved me.”
“Saved you from the crime of marrying me?”he suggested, querulously.
“Say, rather, the crime of marriage with a manI do not love,” she corrected.
“As you will; but I cannot see how it has savedyou,” he told her, coolly.
“What do you mean?”
“Merely that engagements of marriage arecontracts, and not to be treated so lightly as youand your—friend seem to think. I hold you toyour promise.”
“In the chapel you said——”
“Oh, yes,” he broke in, with a shrug. “Iaccepted the situation, but it was only pretence.[Pg 67]I did not feel called upon to discuss the subjectthen and there. The fact is, Donna Hera, themarriage must take place to-morrow, just as ithas been arranged.”
“No, no!” she exclaimed, a note of entreaty inher voice. “You must release me.”
“I will not release you!” he declared, calmly,relentlessly. “You will become my wife to-morrowin the cathedral of Milan. And do you know why?Because the honour of a Barbiondi will hold youto the right.”
“Oh, I cannot!” she cried, and moved fromhim, but he followed.
“I am sure that you will,” he persisted. “I amsure that your better self will guide you when youpause to think.”
“Oh, it is impossible!” was all she could answer.
“It was not so impossible a few days ago,” hereminded her, cynically.
“I know, I know,” she owned, helplessly,looking into his hard face. “If you were a womanyou would understand why it is different now.”
“I think I understand you,” he pursued. “Forthe moment you are governed by notions of rightand wrong that are not yours, that are unworthy[Pg 68]of you. You are swayed alone by a desire for yourown happiness. In the end you will look withless selfish eyes and see where your duty is.”
To her mind rose the assertion of Mario thatfrom a sense of duty great wrongs might spring,and she knew the force of it now, with her promisedhusband demanding the sacrifice of her love,and conscience whispering that his demand wasjust. Tarsis smiled in content to perceive that hehad brought her to a troubled state of mind.
“I am convinced,” he went on, “that you donot realise the extent of the cruelty, the wickednessof the act you contemplate. You can not beaware of the severity of the blow you would dealme. I have bought the old Barbiondi palace inMilan, and men are at work preparing it for ouroccupancy. I have the promise of the King todine with us on our return from abroad. All Italyawaits—but enough. You need not be told thedetails. To consummate the deed you have undertakenwould be infamous. For me it means adisaster that time could not repair, and for you—youwould reproach yourself for ever; it wouldhaunt you all your days, and be a curse to you.But you will not do it, Donna Hera. Ah, no; you[Pg 69]will not. Nor would Mario Forza have asked itof you had he paused to see the terrible injusticeto me. I say he would not, provided, of course,he is the high-souled gentleman you believe himto be. Could he see the wrong in the magnitudethat you see it now, I am sure that he as well asI would beg you to desist—to stand true to yourpromise.”
It was not by chance that Tarsis brought thename of Mario into his plea, and in the effect heperceived it had on Hera he knew he had reckonedwell. She stood with her back to him now, a handpressed to each temple.
“So confident am I that Signor Forza woulddo me justice,” Tarsis continued, “that I beg youin the name of your honour to appeal to him, tosend for him at once and put my fate in his hands.I pledge myself to abide by what he says.”
Slowly she moved away and sank into achair, preoccupied with the thought he hadsuggested.
“I will do as you wish,” she said, presently, confidentthat Mario would hold her to the path theirlove had chosen. “But that is impossible,” sheadded, after a glance at the clock. “He said he[Pg 70]would leave Viadetta in time to join the Romanexpress at Milan.”
“Signor Forza goes to Rome to-night?” theother asked, in astonishment that was spurious,for he had heard all that Mario said to her at theparting in the chapel.
“Yes; and it is too late to reach him,” she replied,precisely as Tarsis had expected.
“Signor Forza’s departure for Rome,” hehastened to tell her, “does not present any seriousdifficulty in the way of communicating with him,if it is still your wish to pursue that course.”
“It is my wish; of that you may be assured,”she said, positively, in the full belief that therecould be only one decision by Mario Forza. “Howcan I communicate with him?”
“By making use of the telegraph. A messageto Rome, delivered in the railway station at theinstant of his arrival, if answered at once, wouldmake it possible for you to have his advice bymidnight.”
It was Donna Beatrice. She had paused on thethreshold, and stood looking from one to the other,puzzled by the serious aspect of the scene.
“Ah, how do you do, Signor Tarsis?” she said,breezily, going forward to take his hand. “Ihave come from Milan. The finishing touch hasbeen given to the arrangements. All is in readiness.They say there has been a terrible hailstorm.Hera, my dear, I warned you a storm was brewing.I hope you were not caught in it, and you, SignorTarsis?”
He answered that they both had been overtakenand both had found shelter in the monastery.
“Indeed! How interesting!” Donna Beatriceexclaimed. “A most romantic coincidence, uponmy word!”
Neither of the others joined to her tittering theshadow of a smile, but Donna Beatrice was notsurprised, for she had guessed that some gravedisturbance of the peace had occurred. Sheshivered at the thought that the great consummationbooked for to-morrow might be in jeopardy.
“I beg your pardon, Signor Tarsis,” she chirped,“but I am going to ask Hera to come with me fora little while—just a moment before dinner. Youwill not mind, I am sure. It is—let us say—thelast pre-nuptial secret. After to-day no moresecrets.”
Her small laugh sounded again, and slippingher arm within Hera’s she drew her toward thedoor. Hera held back a little as they passedTarsis, and, to the elder woman’s deeper mystification,said to him, softly:
“I will write the telegram.”
Tarsis returned a low bow, saying, “At yourpleasure.”
They ascended to Donna Beatrice’s apartments.“Hera, I am positive that something dreadful hashappened!” the aunt announced, when they werealone.
“Something dreadful was about to happen,”Hera explained, “but I have averted it.”
“I beseech you,” cried Donna Beatrice, “not tospeak in riddles. In the name of heaven, whathave you done?”
“I have told Signor Tarsis that I cannot be hiswife.”
A CENSORED DESPATCH
Though expectant of some shocking disclosure,and nerved for it, Donna Beatrice was not equalto an utter smash-up of all that she had plannedand executed so satisfactorily to herself.
“Mario Forza!” she shrieked when the powerto articulate was hers once more. “Oh, I knew itwould be! From the first I saw the danger! Weare ruined! To-morrow they will be here with theirbills, a pack of hungry wolves. Hera! Wicked,heartless, cruel! Have you no mercy for me, foryour father?”
In her violent agitation of mind, only halfconscious of her words and acts, she moved intothe corridor, beating her temples and wailing.
“Riccardo! Oh, my brother, where are you inthis most terrible of moments?” she cried out withall the voice she could muster. “Calamity hasbefallen us! Search for him, everybody. Searchfor Don Riccardo!”
It was an outburst that startled the domestics[Pg 74]above and below stairs, and carried ominously tothe Duke himself, who had just entered the houseand was about to greet Tarsis in the receptionhall. Guessing that the trouble concerned hisappointed son-in-law, he turned away from him,dreading an appeal for assistance. To his sister’sresonant signals of distress, however, he startedto respond, but with more deliberation thaneagerness. He could not have made his way upthe staircase with less haste if the wonted calm ofthe villa had been undisturbed. Instinctively hepaused in the ante-chamber of Donna Beatrice’sapartments, hesitating to become a part of thecatastrophe, whatever it might be.
“What is the meaning of this awful affair?”he heard his sister ask of Hera.
“It means that my love is for Mario Forza. Tobe the wife of another is impossible unless he bidsme do so.”
“Unless who bids you do so?” Donna Beatricegasped.
“Heaven and the saints!” exclaimed the elderwoman. “What new madness is this? And whendo you expect to have his permission?” she asked,[Pg 75]with all the sarcasm she could summon to the words.
“Signor Tarsis says we may have his answer bymidnight.”
“Signor Tarsis! Oh, spare me these mysteries!”
“At the request of Signor Tarsis,” Hera explained,“I shall send a telegram to Signor Forza,who is on the way to Rome. In the message Ishall ask him what to do.”
“And your promised husband?” said DonnaBeatrice. “Is he by chance to be consulted—tohave a voice in the matter?”
“He has agreed to abide by what Signor Forzasays,” Hera answered.
“Agreed to abide! Monstrous! Perfectly monstrous!Abide, indeed! Will you be good enoughto tell me what alternative he has when you arecapable of breaking your promise in this consciencelessmanner? But it is not you. Thedaughter of my brother, a Barbiondi, could notcommit this crime of her will. It is the man underwhose dreadful influence she has fallen.”
“Dear aunt,” Hera pleaded, going up to her,“try to calm yourself. There has been no influence.Believe me, I do but obey the promptingof my heart.”
“Prompting of the heart!” the other repeated,vixenishly. “That is a luxury we cannot afford.Oh, where is your father?”
She rang for a servant, and unconsciouslysounded as well the signal for Don Riccardo towithdraw from the ante-room. The Duke waswell content with the step Hera had taken. Itwas the one he had longed to advise since the nightof Mario’s visit in the villa, but always he hadlacked the courage. Like Hera, he felt confidentthat Mario, his love alone inspiring the answer tothe telegram, would tell her to be true to the callof her soul; and he had no misgiving for the outcomeof his daughter’s adventure.
So he went for a stroll in the villa park, takingcare to walk where no servant sent by his sistershould be likely to find him. That poor lady wasin the last despair when Hera left the room to goto her own apartments to write the message. Sheassigned a footman to hunt for Don Riccardo, andalthough the man did his best he brought backonly the customary G’he minga. A little whileand Hera, the message in hand, was in the receptionhall, where Tarsis waited alone.
“This is what I have written,” she said. He[Pg 77]cast his eye quickly over the lines at first, rereadthem slowly, and folding the sheet nodded hishead in approval.
“You have put the case fairly,” he said, returningthe paper to her hands. “It is most graciousof you.” And then, as if in sudden memory of anappointment, he added: “I must set off forMilan. Will you make my compliments to youraunt, and say that I am unable to stay for dinner?A meeting of directors to-night calls me to the city.By midnight I shall be back—for his answer, andyours. Au revoir.”
He held out his hand, and when she had takenit he started for the door. At the threshold hepaused, turned about, and said, approaching heragain: “We pass the post-office in Castel-Minore,where there is a telegraph bureau. If you wish itI will carry the message there. Thus we shall savetime. In five minutes, with my car, we shallbe in Castel-Minore. You will appreciate thatit is of importance the telegram be sent atonce.”
Without the slightest hesitation she handed himthe message.
“I will arrange with them to bring you the[Pg 78]answer as soon as it is received,” he said, and leftthe house.
Once beyond the park gates and moving alongthe Adda bank, he crushed the paper in his fistand thrust it into a coat pocket. It had no placein the plan he began to lay. Every detail of thescheme stood definitely in his mind by the timehe told Sandro, the driver, to stop before thepost-office. He entered the telegraph bureau, butthe message he wrote and gave to the operatorwas not the one written by Donna Hera; yet itwas addressed precisely as hers had been—“Tothe Station Master at Rome, for Hon. MarioForza, to arrive by Roman express.” He hadscribbled the words, “All is well,” and signedthem “H.”
“Milan,” he said to Sandro, as he entered theautomobile, “and at the top speed.”
The false telegram was intended only to keephis trail clear—to put his undertaking beyondrisk of failure through mischance. If Hera byhazard inquired she would learn that a telegramhad been sent to Mario Forza. Tarsis had no fearthat she might carry the inquiry further, at leastuntil after it would be too late to alter an accomplished[Pg 79]fact—the fact of their wedding. Tarsis’snext need was a telephone. He could have foundone in Castel-Minore, but provincial “centrals”have wide ears and long tongues, so he put off themost important part of the undertaking until heshould reach the big town.
It was a run of eight miles in the moonlight,and in a few minutes they were at the VenetianGate with the Dogana guards asking Tarsis if hehad any dutiable goods. Their pace was notdiminished much when they were under way againon the pavement of the Corso. There was a manin Rome whom Tarsis wanted to catch on thewire before he should leave his home for the opera,and time was valuable. Pedestrians cursed Sandroas he flew by with tooting horn. At ViaMonte Napoleone, where they left the Corso, Tarsissmiled as he thought of the mythical directors’meeting he told Hera he had to attend. Anotherminute and he was entering the door of his privateoffices in Piazza Pellico. All the clerks had goneto their homes, and no one but the old porter sawhim enter the building. With a key he lethimself into that part of the suite where hisexclusive apartment was, and went at once to[Pg 80]his desk and took up the receiver of a telephone.
“Put me in communication with 16 A, Quirinale,Rome,” he said. In the wait that followed hedrew from his pocket the writing of Hera, spreadout the crumpled paper, and to make sure that hisplan should fit in with the words she had written,he read again the message intended for MarioForza:
“He would hold me to engagement. I havetold him it cannot be. He maintains that ifguided by justice I must keep my word, and asksme to appeal to you. He is willing to abide byyour decision. Answer at once.
He smiled to think how well Hera had playedinto his hands in the wording of the message—howeasy she had made it for him to give practicalform to his project of withholding it from Marioand arranging with a confederate in Rome tosend an answer supposably from Mario that shouldcounsel Hera to stand by her engagement ofmarriage. About the day of reckoning, whenhis treachery should be disclosed, Tarsis was not[Pg 81]the sort of man to worry. Time enough, hetold himself to meet that difficulty when it appeared.In this moment, his crowning ambitionat stake, every consideration of life dwindledto nothingness before that of making certainof performance the ceremony appointed for thefollowing day. The telephone bell jingled.
“This is Rome?” he asked, the receiver at ear.“Quirinale, 16 A? And it is you, Signor Ulrich?Is there any one within sound of your voice?Your voice, I say. Is there any one in the roomwith you? Alone? Good. This is Signor Tarsis.I have a commission of great moment. You willpay strict attention to what I say, and if you havethe slightest doubt that you hear aright do nothesitate to stop me, and I will repeat. You willgo to the Central Railway station to-night, andawait the arrival of the Roman express from thenorth. One of its passengers is Mario Forza.Forza. F-o-r-z-a. Yes; of the Chamber of Deputies.You know him by sight? Very good. Assoon as he has left the station you will send by telegraphthe message that I now will dictate. Youwill write it down. Are you ready?
“‘To Donna Hera dei Barbiondi, Castel-Minore,[Pg 82]Brianza. Justice gives him first claim. Let justicebe your guide. M.’
“You have that? Read it slowly. Good.You will put that message on the wire as soon asMario Forza has left the station. Now, repeat myinstructions from the beginning. All right. Onething more. When you have sent the messagecall me up. Yes; I am in Milan. I shall awaityour call in Piazza Pellico. That is all. Addio.”
Signor Ulrich was the only man in Italy towhom Tarsis would have intrusted the errand—Ulrichthe Austrian, as he was known to thetoilers; superintendent of all the Tarsis silk works.As a crusher of labor revolts he had proved himselfa master, and Tarsis, perceiving a sound investmentof capital, had made him rich while makinghim loyal. He knew that the little device of thetelegram would remain as deep a secret as if itwere known to himself alone.
“You may go and return at 11:30,” he said toSandro, at the door, and the hungry driver sent hismachine forward like an arrow. On the way toCafé Cova for dinner Tarsis reflected complacentlythat the particulars of his scheme had been wellexecuted. He had no concern, therefore, as to[Pg 83]the outcome. Take care of the details and thegeneralities will take care of themselves, was abusiness adage of his own making that he hadfollowed, to the consternation many a time of hislarger-visioned rivals.
A MESSAGE FROM ROME
Don Riccardo, from his secluded ground in thevilla park, saw Tarsis’s car pass in the twilight,and guessed that the message to Rome was on itsway. He thought the moment a good one, therefore,to take shelter indoors from the dewy air.Hera greeted him with a more cheerful countenancethan he had seen her wear for many days,although she had made a brave effort to concealher feelings. She told him what he already knewfrom the dialogue he had overheard a half-hourbefore. He made no concealment of his delightthat Tarsis, after all, was not to be his son-in-law.Knowing that the blow was a heavy one for hissister, he went to her apartments to console herwith some news he had heard that afternoon fromhis old friend Colonel Rosario, whose regiment ofinfantry was stationed at Castel-Minore. Overcognac and cigars in his quarters the commandanttold Don Riccardo that Mario Forza, havinginherited the large estate of his father, the Duke of[Pg 85]Montenevica, was far from being a poor man—asyet.
“What do you mean by that ‘as yet’?” DonRiccardo had asked.
“It expresses the state of mind of certain of hisheirs expectant,” the Colonel explained. “Yousee, Forza has contracted the helping habit—spendsmoney for the good of others. His dreamsfor the betterment of the under dog are expensive,and his poor relations are alarmed lest he cometo want.”
Don Riccardo suppressed the rumor of futuredestitution, and told Beatrice only enough to showher that the exchange of bridegrooms need not beattended by financial disaster. He found hissister down with a headache, and as for consolingher, try as he would, that was impossible with thehateful name of Mario Forza on his lips. Themere pronouncing of it caused her face to wrinklein an expression of deep contempt.
“Oh, Riccardo!” she wailed. “Do you notfeel the shame of it? Our house will be disgracedforever!”
“Not forever, dear Beatrice,” he said in an effortto comfort. “It will give the gossips a nine-day[Pg 86]wonder, and then we shall hear of it no more.Better a nine-day wonder than a lifetime ofregret.”
“Regret?” she asked in genuine amazement.“For whom?”
“For all of us, my sister. With Tarsis Hera’slife could be no other than one of misery. In theend you will be glad that matters have taken thisturn. Of that I am sure.” But the other onlyshook her head and dried her eyes.
The dinner was not such a gloomy affair as ithad promised to be, although only three of thecompany of five expected were present—the Duke,Hera, and Colonel Rosario. The hearty old soldiermarvelled at the absence of the bridegroom-elect,but Don Riccardo asked him how Tarsis couldgo on being the richest man in Italy if he didnot put business before dinner. It was an explanationthat did not satisfy the Colonel, but he acceptedit with a laugh and the comment, “Italy isno longer a country; it is a machine for makingmoney.” Donna Beatrice had sent word that shewould have a bowl of broth above stairs. It waswell for her feelings she was not there to witnessthe good spirits that prevailed at the board. Don[Pg 87]Riccardo called for one of the precious bottles ofLacrimae Christi put in the cellar by his grandfather.The Colonel gave the toast “To thewedding to-morrow,” but the Duke secretly drankto Hera’s narrow escape.
The dinner ended, and the Colonel gone to his barracks,Hera, alone with her father in a corner of thereception hall where the piano stood, ran over, ina resurge of sweet memory, the ballad of the vintageMario gave that night. She remembered itall, and sang as one whose soul overflowed withjoy. For hours, awaiting the answer from Rome—theanswer their hearts had already given—theysat together in the great old room, whereportraits, one above the other, dimmed by time,covered the walls. The wings of the broad, mullionedcasements, beneath their transoms ofstained glass, stood ajar to the breath of spring,and the mysterious night lispings of the new-bornseason toned the silence at times, foretelling longsunny days, roses, and music in the woods.
Hera was first to hear the clatter of hoofs, andshe rose, keen for the tidings. A footman enteredwith a message from the Castel-Minore bureauof telegraphs. She held it under a light, read it[Pg 88]first with puzzled countenance, and again withclearer, too certain understanding. Her fathersaw her catch her breath and press a hand to herside.
“What is it?” he asked, and she handed himthe message.
“Justice gives him first claim,” he read. “Letjustice be your guide.”
He asked her what it meant, but she stood asone turned to stone.
“God!” exclaimed Don Riccardo. “He givesyou up—puts justice before love! That is themeaning. Bah! Then you are well rid of him,my daughter. The bloodless reasoner! Ah, loversdid not so in my day. Indeed it is an age ofmachine-made men.”
For Hera it was a withering disappointment.Hers was no romantic schoolgirl’s attachment,but the full-powered, storm-surviving passion of awoman of twenty-four—a passion heeding no callbefore that of itself. And fondly she had dreamedthat with Mario it was the same. But the messagetold her—what a different story! He confesseda love stronger, higher than that which hebore for her—the love of justice, a lifeless abstraction.[Pg 89]Suddenly he became little in her eyes, andshe recoiled from the chill of such a nature. Herethen was the desolate ending of the sweet poemlife had begun to read for her; the shattering of abeautiful faith, the farewell to an ideal that hadbudded in girlhood and blossomed with woman’sestate.
The sound of an affected cough startled her andDon Riccardo from their gloomy reflections.They looked up and beheld Tarsis at the threshold,but they were not in time to see the contentedsmile of comprehension that had curved hislip.
“I beg your pardon,” he said, moving towardthem. “The outer door was open, and I took theliberty of entering unannounced. I did not knowyou were here.”
Hera arose and walked to where her fatherstood surveying Tarsis with eyes that betrayed anemotion of anger strange indeed to the happy-go-luckyDuke. She asked him for the telegram, andabsently he placed it in her hand.
“It is better, I think, that you leave us for thepresent,” she said, in a low voice.
“What shall you do?” Don Riccardo asked,[Pg 90]his impulse to intercede going the way it had goneoften before.
“That which honor commands,” she answered,coldly, desperately. So Don Riccardo, torn bywarring impulses, but unable to be more thannature had ordained, made off slowly, to wait inthe library, with a glass at his elbow and a cigarin his lips.
“The answer from Rome has arrived,” Herasaid, and gave Tarsis the message.
Without betrayal of his eagerness to know thathis scheme had not miscarried, he began to readit. “I was sure Signor Forza’s sense of justicewould prevail,” he said, looking up from the paper,not the faintest note of triumph in his tone.“Believe me, Hera, it is better so—better for youas well as me. You will be glad that he did notcounsel you to do me a wrong. I honor himgreatly.”
It needed no words from her to tell him thathis appreciation of such heroism was notshared by the woman whom it sacrificed—afact he had counted upon to make his victorycertain.
“Oh, it is impossible,” Hera exclaimed, as[Pg 91]one yielding to an unconquerable aversion.“Heaven help me! I cannot!”
Tarsis perceived that his victory was yet to bewon. He drew nearer to her, and stood by thetable on which she leaned, head in hands.
“What do you mean?” he demanded.
“I cannot, oh, I cannot,” was all she couldanswer.
“Do you mean that you would break your lastpromise as well as the first?” he asked, aggressively.
“My last promise?” she repeated, as if bewilderedin mind.
“Yes. You gave me your word that you wouldaccept Signor Forza’s decision. He has pointedto you the right way. All the world will say asmuch. Honor leaves you but one course. Unlessyou persist wickedly, recklessly, in following yourown desire, putting from you every considerationof right or wrong, spurning justice, moral obligation,and the wishes of all save yourself—unlessyou do all this, you will keep your promise.”
The facts were driving Hera overhard. Hereyelids burned, but she kept back the tears thatwanted to flow. When she turned to Tarsis shefelt more like a supplicant for mercy than one[Pg 92]asserting a right which a few hours earlier hadseemed not to be gainsaid—the right to be happyin her love. With the solemnity of a womanlaying bare the most intimate secrets of her soul,she told him that all her being revolted againstsurrendering herself without affection merelybecause of the concurrence that marriage implied;it seemed a bestowal of authority to destroy herspiritual existence.
“Having this sentiment,” Tarsis asked, “whydid you promise yourself to me?”
“It is true,” she answered, “that in the interestof others I consented to become your wife; butthat was before I knew the meaning of love.”
Frankly she told him that the thought of theunion he wished was hideous in her sight; it wouldbe a sacrilege, the defilement of a sacred emotionand her nature rebelled in a degree that was beyondher control.
“Sincerely I wish to do all that honor requires,”she said, humbly, “but to live in such a state Icannot, come what may.”
Tarsis comprehended fully the difficulty as itnow presented itself, and he was equal to it. Aneffectual method of his in business was to make[Pg 93]it easy for the other party to yield to his interest.It mattered little to him on what terms sheaccepted him as her husband. He would havegiven the greater part of his fortune to assure theperformance of the ceremony which the worldawaited at noon.
“There is an alternative,” he said, solemnly,“that would satisfy the obligation honor putsupon you and at the same time leave inviolate thesentiment you have just expressed.”
“An alternative?” she repeated, wondering.
“Yes. I will be satisfied if you become mywife only in name—in the eyes of society, theChurch, and the civil law.”
Hera understood as she had not until then howdesperate was the strait to which her refusal hadbrought him. For a moment she did not answerthe entreaty in his eyes. She walked to the openwindow and looked out on the night. Tarsis hadplanned shrewdly in keeping this for the last cardto play. In her state of mind it was the oneappeal that could have the effect he desired. ToHera the offer did seem the only way that remainedof serving honor as well as saving herselffrom what she contemplated as a loathsome[Pg 94]degradation. The inevitable misery of the sortof relation he proposed rose before her mind;but of her happiness she thought no more, so eagerwas she to mitigate in some degree the wrong ofwhich she perceived he must be the greater victim.Presently Tarsis was at her side again, saying:
“Will you do this? Be my wife only in name.On these terms, if you will, you may redeem yourpromise—you may save me.”
And wishing to do that—wishing to save him,to do him justice—swayed, too, by pity for himand remorse for her broken promise, and crushedin spirit by her disappointment in Mario—sheyielded.
“There is no other way,” she said, turning tohim, wearily—“no other way to screen you—tomeet the demand of honor.”
He caught up her hand and kissed it.
“You will never regret this act of justice,”he said, confident that his complete triumph wasonly a matter of time. Perhaps he betrayed theworking of his mind in some unguarded gleam ofthe eye, some play of the lip, for she said to him,her manner showing grave determination:
“Don’t think I shall change—that you can[Pg 95]swerve me in the least from this position. Youmust foster no false hopes. When I become yourwife I shall remain to the last only that in appearance—inthe eyes of the world. In reality I shallbe as far removed from you as if I were actuallymarried to another. I tell you this as emphaticallyas possible, because it is only just that youclearly understand what our marriage will meanto both.”
“All is quite clear,” Tarsis returned, cunningly.
“Oh, it is a terrible deed!” she exclaimed, theconsequences rising to her mind and filling it withhorror. “Think well, I beg of you. In despoilingme of my life’s happiness you are going to ruinyour own. Perhaps you did not think I shouldmake the conditions so absolute, so irrevocable.If you wish to withdraw your offer do so, and saveus from a lot that can not fail to be one of miseryso long as we both are alive.”
She had only multiplied his motives for wishingto make her his wife. She understood him evenless than he understood her. At no time beforehad her beauty made such a living appeal to him.Until now it had never been his privilege to beholdher when emotion was at play. Her outward[Pg 96]image of loveliness was all she had ever revealedto him. The voice she gave him in the past wasnot the passionate one he had just heard; the soulher eyes had mirrored was not the one that lookedfrom them when she spoke the name of MarioForza. The heave of her bosom, the come and goof carnation in her cheeks, the tides of tendernessthat rose amid her promises of a vehement strength,portrayed to him a Hera he had not known before—awoman he would have given all his vastfortune to win.
“What you have said does not deter me,” hetold her, “though I apprehend the situation asfully as you wish me to. I accept.”
And thus the thread of the story took a newtwist, but one of which Aunt Beatrice neverlearned, nor did Don Riccardo.
A WEDDING JOURNEY
At noon they kneeled before the Cardinal ofMilan, in the great white cathedral, speaking thewords that welded their bonds. It was an hourof gray skies, and the many-hued sunshine thatoften had sifted through the great stained glasswindows to felicitate a bride did not fall uponHera. The gay world of Lombardy was there,filling the transept with its silks and jewels, andin the backward parts of the nave and aisles commonfolk looked on at the famous wedding.
There was to be a breakfast in Villa Barbiondi,and when the ceremony at the altar was oversome of the princes and dukes and marquises,with their dames, followed Tarsis and his brideto the main door. In the journals of that eveningwere the names of the ladies and gentlemen whocomposed the brilliant procession, with details,more or less accurate, as to the gowns.
Other particulars of the event, within thecathedral and without, were set down minutely[Pg 98]by press men and press women. They told of theconcourse of people in the square—hundreds ofthem idle working folk; how they crowded thesteps before the church, and how the Civil Guardskept open a lane to the carriages of the bridalparty; but no mention was made of the sullenfaces bordering that lane.
Nor was there any account of the doings ofLa Ferita, the woman of the scarred face, whoshook her fist at Tarsis. Before he came fromthe church she had annoyed the Civil Guards bycrying out: “Joy to the bridegroom! Death tothe children in his factories!” The guards gaveher a final warning, which she understood; andwhen Tarsis passed by her tongue was stilled,but the long scar glowed and her eyes lookedsavage hatred. Tarsis saw the woman shakingher fist at him, and so did Hera. In after days hewas aware of that face, with its deep red markrunning across one eyelid from forehead to cheekbone.Another detail overlooked or purposelyomitted by the conservative press was the lowmuttering against the bridegroom that soundedhere and there in the crowd.
The nuptial cortege started for the railway[Pg 99]station. In Corso Vittorio Emanuele it passeda café where a youthful artist, in satirical mood,was amusing some comrades with his pencil. Hethrew off a cartoon of the wedding. It depictedthe bridegroom receiving a blow on the nose fromthe brawny fist of a workman; and in the place ofblood there flowed—gold pieces! The editor ofa revolutionary journal picked it up, and whilethe merry breakfast at the villa was in progressthe thing circulated, filling many of the Milanesewith delight and moving others to indignation.
Tarsis and his bride set off for Paris by the nightexpress. The station master at Milan greetedthem as they alighted from the train that borethem from the Brianza, and with many a bow andsmile conducted them to the private car in whichthey were to travel as only the King and theQueen travel in Italy. The ceremonious tributeof the conductor and the guards as they passedalong the platform tickled the vanity of Tarsisin no small degree. To the keen eye his mannerbetrayed the pride he felt in this public displayof his husbandship to the beautiful daughter ofthe aristocracy who walked by his side.
That was Hera’s thought when they were seated[Pg 100]in their moving drawing-room. Oddly enoughshe found herself studying his attire. She recalledthat hitherto it had never given her any distinctimpression; he had always appeared dressed in theheight of fashion, with a certain mercantile brilliancybest described, perhaps, as stylish. Nowit seemed that he looked a trifle too much like abridegroom. In this moment she awoke sharplyto the truth that he was, irreparably, for better orfor worse, her husband. Again she heard thesolemn voice of the cardinal proclaiming, “Thisbond may not be severed so long as you do live.”Before, the fact had not assumed a phase of suchvivid actuality; it all had been so utterly opposedto the current of her thoughts and the desire ofher heart. Now the trial she had accepted in asentiment of duty came home to her in its practicalaspect. And in the spirit of a gentlewomanshe resolved to meet the situation with good grace.As well look the fact in the eye and make the bestof it. Then and there she decided that underthe chafing of the yoke she would not fret and loseher peace.
It turned out that the wedding journey beganwith a pleasant surprise for Tarsis. He found[Pg 101]his wife a most cheerful companion. She talkedwith him lightly and let her laughter ripple. Ofcourse, she overplayed the part in her first essay.But Tarsis, in his exultation, was completely horsde critique. This unexpected melting of his icebergproduced cups of vanity which went to hishead and intoxicated him to the verge of blindness.All he could see was his own supposed success inmaking himself agreeable to his wife. Afterdinner, when the attendant had set out the Marsalaand cigars, she bade him smoke, and while he didso she read to him from the Milanese Firefly.Together they laughed over the droll jests andanecdotes told so quaintly in the Lombardianpatter. He told her about his career in the money-makingworld; how success there was once hisonly aspiration, but that now he was aware of awaning zest in the game. He paused to look intoher eyes, while a certain softness, as of meek appeal,showed in his own. Then he said, rising andstanding near her chair:
“Life holds only one prize for me to-day. It isyour tender regard.”
A deep tide of colour dyed Hera’s cheeks, and,without making other reply, she turned her head[Pg 102]and gazed upon the sparkling electric lamps of avillage that was sailing by. A moment more, andshe rose, but only to bid him good-night and withdrawto the compartment prepared for her.Tarsis followed her with his eyes, an amused smileon his lips, and when she had disappeared he tooka cigar from the box, lighted it, and threw himselfinto a long-cushioned chair. For an hour he stayedthere, meditative, cheerful, while the train woundand climbed and burrowed its way across the Alps.
In the late afternoon they rolled into a gloomyterminal station of the French capital. It hadbeen a day of rain clouds with short-lived intervalsof clear sky; and while on their way to an obscurebut aristocratic hotel on the left bank of the Seinethey saw Paris in one of her happiest moments—aperiod of sunshine between showers. There wasan air of gladness about the passing throngs—amomentary lift of spirits imparted by the smilingheavens; the wet pavements glistened, as did theoil-cloths of cabmen and gendarmes, and themoving life everywhere gave forth a lightenedresonance. But before they reached the hotelumbrellas were up, and Paris was cross again.
So the weather served them nearly every[Pg 103]hour of their week’s stay. Tarsis made no effortto reapproach the theme of “tender regard,” andHera seemed to enter heartily into the enjoymentof the amusements he provided. The opera hadno auditor more pleased than she, and when theydrove in the Bois—between showers—she sawso many things in the spring’s unfolding, andtalked about them so brightly, that Tarsis foundhimself interested for once in the wonders ofnature’s workshop. She had put on the armour ofcontentment, believing he would perceive thatshe wore it not only in kindness but from a senseof duty consequent upon the giving of her hand.She believed that he would comprehend as wellthat it was meant no less for self-defence than forself-effacement. Upon his keenness of intellectshe had counted, and not in vain. He read herdeclaration as clearly as if she had written it in theplainest of Tuscan words: The lot he had chosenwas the one by which he must abide; her armour ofcontentment was so frail that it might be brokenby even an essay on his part at disturbing thestatus quo to which he had agreed. All this heappreciated and made believe to accept as herimmutable law.
The wedding journey took its course over theEnglish Channel. In London Hera found manyletters from Italy. From Aunt Beatrice therewere four precisely written pages, over whichthe sage spinster had spread her dictum, with afine tone of authority, on the amenities of wifehood.The letter from Don Riccardo breathed tendernessand sympathy, but proved a fresh reminder of thefrail nature that was her father’s. He chargedher that the Barbiondi were not made for slavery.Never must she sink under the burden of hermarriage. If ever it became too heavy to bearwith honour she must cast it off, come what might.Well he knew the sacrifice she was making. Wasthe father’s heart to be deceived because thedaughter was too brave to come to him with hertrouble? Ah, no!
“Beloved Hera,” he went on, “your absencetears my heart. Oh, fate! Why could it nothave spared us enough to live in our humble peace?But no—ah, well, why weep over the irreparable?A chi tocca, tocca. Is it not so? With my warmestblessing and prayers most ardent for yourhappiness, I am your affectionate
Hera was able to utter a heartfelt thanksgivingthat her father had not urged her to the marriage.She was glad he had done nothing in that affairto lessen the respect for him which she mingledwith her love. There was a letter from a comradeof the Brianza—the little Marchioness di Tramonta;she wrote from the eminence of almost ayear of married life. Letters from girl friends—daintymissives in cream and lilac—conveyedglowing wishes for a bright future.
Typewritten letters in printed envelopes hadhaunted Tarsis from the hour of his arrival inParis. And now they pursued him to London.Thanks to the eclipse of the honeymoon, he foundopportunity to read and answer many of them,as well as to spend a part of the day in Lombardstreet on “urgent matters of business,” as heexplained to his bride.
Hera sent her father a most cheerful reply.“To-day,” she said, in closing, “I have had aninteresting experience in dreary London. I promisedyou to pay a visit to the Duchess of Claychester.I did so this afternoon, and I am gladindeed. You did not tell me, babbo, that theDuchess is one of those English ladies of whom[Pg 106]we read in Italy because of their work among thepoor. We had luncheon in her house in CavendishSquare, then went to a place called a ‘settlement,’of which she is chief patroness. It is a largemodern building in the midst of the most squalidsection of Marylebone—a quarter, I am told, thatfor human wretchedness is worse than the EastEnd one hears so much about in the novels. Myheart turned sick at the sights. Is it possible thatwe have anything so bad in Milan? Signor Forzatold me of the poor of our Porta Ticinese quarterand I have heard about them from others. Ihave never been there, yet I cannot believe itequals the miserable life of this London slum.Now, what I saw gave me an idea. And what doyou think it is? That I may be useful in theworld! Yes, and in the way that the Duchessof Claychester is; but among our own peoplein Milan. I learned all that I could about thework.
“They have women called ‘visitors’ who go tothe homes of the poor people, and with one ofthese I went for an hour or more. It was anexperience I shall never forget. She told me thatshe had to employ rare tact sometimes, because[Pg 107]there were men and women in the slums whoobjected to being ‘elevated’ or ‘ameliorated.’ Itwas so that my guide expressed it. We had astriking proof of the fact in one place. The familyconsisted of a very small woman, a very large man,and two wee girls. That they were in need anyonecould see. As soon as we entered the man actedlike a hunted animal at bay. The visitor was awoman of severe manner, and I must say that Idid not detect in the way she went about this caseany of that ‘rare tact’ which she said was sonecessary. ‘Charity!’ the man roared back at her(I give it in his own language), ‘who asks yerbloody charity? What we wants is justice, we do.An’ justice we’ll ’ave some day, yer bet yerboots!’ He shook his fist in the visitor’s face, andhis wife tugged at his coat, saying: ‘Be-ive yerself,’Enry; be-ive yerself!’
“The visitor thought it time to go, andI agreed with her. These English! TheseEnglish!
“It has rained every day since we left Italy. InFrance we caught a peep of the sun now and then;here, never. If ever again I stand under our skiesI shall rejoice. Before I thought of being useful it[Pg 108]seemed that those skies could never be bright,and I dreaded going back. But now, oh, howeager I am to be there! Ever your affectionatedaughter, who counts the hours until she shallsee you,
A SEED OF GRATITUDE
In the evening they departed from CharingCross, and without interruption their journey toFrance was accomplished. When a day hadcome and gone the Alpine solitudes were behindthem, and they beheld once more the Arcadianvalleys of Vaudois. Soon after that they movedin the sunlight over stretches of Lombardian plain.Now the azure above them resembled the skycolor of pictures in old missals. How beautifulit was to Hera’s eyes! She felt the irresistiblecharm of the prospect, even as the barbarians didin ancient days. She wondered if it was anydifferent then. Through all time those plainsseemed to have been under the husbandman’srule, ever fruitful, ever smiling in their brightverdure.
Tarsis lowered a window and the breath ofspringtime fanned their faces. It brought adelicious freshness from the little man-madestreamlets that, catching the heavens’ mood,[Pg 110]wove a blue network over the land, and sparkledin the sun-play like great strings of precious stones.In their purpose of irrigation they crossed thewhite highroads and the by-paths, coursed insluices under the railway, and cut the fields howand where they pleased, too well bent upon practicalservice to care for symmetry of form. Theydrew near one another, they rambled far apart,but in the end always meeting in the wide canalthat bore elsewhere their enriching flood; and soforever running, yet never wasted. A few weeks,and this pampered soil would render its marvellousaccount; the meadows would yield their manyharvests; the rice stalks would be crowded withears; the clover would be like a blossoming thicket,the cornfields like canebrakes; but the men andwomen who toiled to produce this abundancewould live on in their poverty. The clod-breakerswere there again to-day—as they had been withthe returning springtime for ages, about theirwork—boys digging trenches, ploughmen at theirshafts, women and girls planting seed.
Hera noticed that the villages along the wayhad not the neat and cheerful look of the Frenchand Swiss hamlets. Seen from afar, crowning a[Pg 111]hilltop, their tiled roofs brightly red in the sun-glare,and the yellow walls gleaming like burnishedgold, the pictorial expression of them was full ofbeauty; but when the train halted in the heart ofone, and its wretchedness lay bare, her spirit wassaddened by the grim reality.
“I mean to do something to help the poor ofMilan,” she said to Tarsis, one of the gloomy pictureshaunting her memory.
“You have chosen a wide field of good endeavour,”he returned, in a slight tone of banter.
“And I wonder why the field is so wide,” shepursued. “Milan is called our City Prosperous.”
“I think the reason is not difficult to find,”he said, with assurance.
“Do you mean that the poor are unworthy?”
“No; I should not give that as the first cause;it is a result. This sentimental nonsense calledthe New Democracy has turned working people’sheads. It gives them puffed-up notions of theirvalue, and they will not work for the wages thatthe masters offer—the wages that it is possiblefor them to pay. They spend too much timetalking about the dignity of labour. If only theywould work for what they can get and not squander[Pg 112]their wages in the wine-shops they would bewell enough off. They want too much; more thanthey will ever get. Their warfare against capitalonly hurts themselves.”
“Do they want more than they need?” sheasked.
“I am not familiar with their needs,” he answered,with a note of petulance. “I do know,however, that they often demand more than it ispossible to pay. I am not a theorist. I happento have gained my knowledge in the school ofpractice, as you may be aware.”
“Still, suffering exists among them,” she reasoned,“and, while the fault may be as you say, thefamilies of these men—misguided though theymay be—are the victims rather than the culprits.I suppose it would be only common humanity togive them help.”
“Oh, yes; that is true,” he acknowledged.“The women and children have to play martyrwhile the men indulge in what our new economistsdelight to call divine discontent. By the way,”he went on, “I am paying some charitable concernfive thousand liras a year.”
His manner told her that it was a benefice[Pg 113]ungraced by a sense of moral obligation; that hemerely had followed the example of modern richmen by returning a part of his tremendous revenuein benefactions to the public.
“It is good to give heart to the disheartened,relief to the suffering,” she said, holding up ajournal they had obtained at Turin. “Have youseen this account of disorders in the Porta Ticinesequarter? I fear there is a hungry mouth in Milanthat will show its teeth some day.”
Tarsis could hear the voice of Mario Forza. Hebetrayed a twitching of the lips, but tried to carryit off with a careless smile, as he said:
“I suppose the money is put to good use. Preciselyhow they disburse it I do not know. Thesecretary sends printed reports, but I have notread them.”
There was a quality of absence in his manner,accounted for by the fact that his mind was busyingitself with Hera’s remark about the hungrymouth. While in Paris he had received by postfrom unknown senders not one but many copiesof the newspaper that contained the picture of hispunched nose and its plenteous flow of gold pieces.Then the cartoon had seemed to him merely one[Pg 114]more shaft of malice aimed at a successful man.In his career of achievement he had steeled hissensibility against criticism, rating it as the twinbrother of envy, and borrowing no disquiet oneither score; but now, grace to the chance observationof Hera, he saw the cartoon with a new andclearer eye. He perceived the force at workbehind it—the popular ill-will, which gave suchpoint to the product of the artist’s pencil; and heapprehended, as he never had before, that hereinsmouldered an ember easily fanned to flame.
He had accustomed himself to meeting difficultiespromptly, and turning apparent disadvantageto a factor of self-service. Now he reflected—andthe thought gleamed shrewdly in his half-closedeyes—that this ember of peril might besmothered with a few handfuls of those coins, whichwere his by right of conquest, though the growingmadness of the time found them so ignoble.Indeed, it was an excellent idea—this one of hiswife—to throw a bone to the snarling dogs. Hewould give her charitable whim his countenance,even his unstinted support. He would let hiswife scatter largesse among the malcontents; lether shine as the doer of good deeds, but the world[Pg 115]would know—the house of Barbiondi had no namefor wealth—the workers would applaud AntonioTarsis, friend of the poor. Moreover, this co-operationwould place his wife under an obligation tohim, give her one more proof of his desire togratify her every wish. So he said to her, at themoment that the train entered the suburbs ofMilan:
“I count it noble of you, Hera, to have a carefor the unfortunate. A little thought convincesme that you are right in your view. There aretimes when we should not stop to reason why.”
“I am glad that we can see alike in this,” shesaid. “There is joy, I know, in giving.”
“And I wish to be in accord with you. Believeme, you have my warmest sympathy in whateverwork you contemplate. As to funds, I need nottell you that my fortune is at your disposal.”
“You are most generous; I thank you,” shesaid, and told him of the plan conceived in London.
In the station they saw Don Riccardo and hissister coming down the platform to welcome them.
“Babbo!” Hera cried out before her fathercaught sight of her, and the next moment she wasin his arms.
“Ah, truant!” he said, holding her hands andswinging them, while he looked into her eyes as ifto read their secret. “I have you again. Andyou come to stay. Is it not so, my treasure?”
“You may be sure of that, babbo!” she laughed,and turned to receive her aunt’s caresses. “HereI am and here I stay. Long live Italia is my song,and I think Antonio will join in the chorus.”
“With all my heart!” Tarsis said genially,his hopes taking a sudden bound. It was thefirst time she had addressed him by his Christianname.
Never had anyone seen Hera in better spirits.It was good to be once more in the land she loved,to hear again the familiar “minga” and “lu” ofher native patter; but the real inspiration of hergladness, although the fact did not appear to hermind, was that she had come to dwell in the citywhose walls enclosed Mario Forza, and whose airhe breathed. Aunt Beatrice accepted her lightnessof heart triumphantly as a tribute to her ownsplendid work as a matchmaker. Tarsis’s automobileawaited them, and they got in, all four.Hera noted that the crest of her house was paintednone too small on the olive green sides of the car.
Through the spick and span wide, modernstreets they rolled to the Barbiondi palace. Milanwas gayly picturesque in her springtime magicof light and colour. An impress of the Gothicfeeling met the eye in buildings that recalledwhere they did not typify the pointed architectureof the north. They passed a procession of priestsand acolytes following a crozier that flashed thesunlight. Here and there, at a street corner, apublic porter slept peacefully while awaiting acall to work. For a minute or two they were in thebusy movement of Via Manzoni. Cavalry officersin bright uniforms lounged at the outdoor tablesof the cafés, or dragged their sabres lazily amidthe throngs of civilians.
Then they entered a quieter way, that yieldedvistas of courtyards with frescoed walls, arcadesclad in climbing greenery, playing fountains; andat the next turning they were in sight of PalazzoBarbiondi. For two months artisans had beenat work restoring the ancient family seat to lifeand splendour. In point of splendour Tarsis haddone somewhat more than recall the past. Asthey approached the arched gateway Don Riccardoexclaimed at sight of the newly-coloured iron[Pg 118]palings tipped with gilt. The fountain in thecourt was playing. Out of the pool rose an ApolloMusagetes, and from his crown a sparkling showershot down in diverging lines to symbolise the sun’srays, or—as the Greeks had it—the arrows ofApollo. The side walls of the court were frescoedwith the Barbiondi crown and the “Lux in tenebraslucet” of the once haughty and powerfulhouse.
A corps of domestics in livery of white and olivewere waiting, lined on either side of the mainentrance. The fountain statues and all the marbleornamenture of the court had been despoiled oftheir yellow patina, and showed once more innative white. The façade of the palace—accountedone of the noblest in the North—had beenspared by the renovator, but its grand staircase,rising from one side of the wide portico, and itscarved balustrade, were as white as St. Bernard’speak. Everywhere that the artisans could turnback the clock they had done so by dint ofscouring and scraping, painting and stuccoing,chiselling and carving, tearing out and buildingin.
Don Riccardo paused at the opening to the[Pg 119]grand staircase and looked up at the armorialbearings of his house done in stone.
“Bacco!” he exclaimed, “we are the first Barbiondito set foot here for more than a hundredyears.”
It was in the Duke’s heart to denounce thefungous nobility and shop-keeping snobs who hadfrom time to time violated his ancestral home withtheir occupancy; but in the presence of Tarsishe bridled his tongue.
“Yes, it is indeed more than a hundred years,”remarked Donna Beatrice, adjusting her lorgnette.“Our eighteenth Riccardo was the last of the lineto dwell here. With this day, Antonio,” sheadded, beaming upon the bridegroom, “we maysay with literal truth that the restoration begins.Ah, that eighteenth Duke was an open-handednobleman—a lord of regal expenditure. Lombardynever had so liberal a patron of the beautifularts. These mural paintings, I believe, are thefruit of his munificence.”
“Yes; our great grandfather,” mused the livingDuke, casting his eye about the stairway. “Still,I should be none the less proud of him had helavished less on his walls and more on his posterity.”
They ascended the broad steps, and DonnaBeatrice, primed with the lore of the place, beganto radiate her knowledge. The staircase, with itsbalustrade of richly carved Carrara, she announcedwas a product of Vanitelli, and the solitary workMilan possessed of that great architect. Thisacquisition, as well as many more to which shedrew his attention, proved a surprise to the newlord of the palace. The idea of buying the mediævalpile came to Tarsis—so he believed—as aninspiration, and he had lost not a second in givingit practical form. Accompanied by the owner—aGenoese money-lender—he went there one morning,and spent something less than half an hourlooking about the palace, the stables, and thegrounds. Before the day was out he had boundthe bargain with his check. Within twenty-fourhours the contractor and his gang attacked thehouse, armed with authority to renovate andrestore.
It was with a newly-awakened interest, therefore—notunmixed with an appreciation of itshumorous side—that Tarsis listened to DonnaBeatrice’s running talk. In a manner that madehim think of the guides in the Brera Gallery she[Pg 121]reeled off the history of this painting or thatmedallion, explained the frescoes of the ceiling,and identified the busts in the niches, with theirage-old faces shining again like newly scrubbedschoolboys.
A sculptured frieze that bordered the staircasepictured a battle between the Lombards and theBarbiondi in the days of King Alboin. Aboveit, following the long flight of steps, unfolded apanorama of scenes from the life of Mary. At thetop of the staircase, set in the wall, was a trophythat had been sawed out of a church by someconquering Barbiondi. It depicted St. Markpreaching at Alexandria. In the banquet hallwere some less pious conceptions of beauty.Here the mural art found expression in a huntingscene and a mediæval dance with the hills of theBrianza in the background.
The grand saloon—a gorgeous chamber inmarble and gold—was worthy of a royal abode.It had been known for centuries as the Atlanteanchamber. Engaging the eye before all else weretwo rows of Atlantes supporting the ceiling oneither side, all of heroic size. They were equalin number to the windows, between which they[Pg 122]rested on pedestals of grained marble. A hugefist of each gripped a bronze candelabra of manylights. Their torsos were undraped, but the restof them was lost in chiselled oak leaves. On theceiling pink sea nymphs sported in silvery foamand gods and angels revelled in rosy vapours.Through the stained glass of a dome the sunflowed down upon the mellow fairness of the tessellatedpavement.
They all paused before a large painting. Itwas a vivid picture of Italy’s chief industry duringthe era of her free cities—men slaying one anotherin furious combat. Where the glory of war shonebrightest—where the blood flowed fastest—therecould be seen a great car, drawn by oxen, flyingthe standard of Milan, and bearing an altar withthe host. The leather-clad warriors of the timecalled it their caroccio. Like the Israelites’ark of the covenant, it was a rallying pointin battle, and reminded the artisans thatthey had a church as well as a city to fightfor.
“It is the car of Heribert,” said Hera, for theenlightenment of Tarsis, “an Archbishop ofMilan. He was of our race.”
“And the inventor of the caroccio,” addedDonna Beatrice, proudly.
“And the first labour agitator. Isn’t that so?”put in Don Riccardo, keeping a straight face.
“I don’t know what that is,” replied his sister.
“Signor Tarsis can tell you, perhaps,” the othersuggested.
“A labour agitator?” Tarsis repeated. “Why,I should define him as a breeder of discontentand a foe to the public peace.”
“If that definition be fair,” Hera rejoinedearnestly, “Heribert was indeed a labour agitator.Undeniably he sowed discontent, but discontentagainst injustice.”
“And what was his particular method?” askedTarsis, smiling as if to make light of her remarkand keeping his eyes on the mimic warfare.
“He gave tongue to a hitherto voiceless people,”she answered, “and made them into an army, sothat they were able not only to express theirwrongs but to fight for their rights.” The wordsseemed to have a present-day meaning, and withher companions’ perception of the fact the nameof Mario Forza leaped into their minds. Itstirred them, one and all, to a fresh appreciation[Pg 124]that the man she had made no secret of lovingwas still a prevalent force in her life; her thoughtswere in sympathy with his, the colours he gaveto the world were the colours in which she beheldit.
To her father’s face the incident brought a lookof pity; it caused Donna Beatrice to screw up herlittle features into wrinkles of disgust, and in thechanging glances of Tarsis it was easy to read arising tide of resentment. When he spoke it wasin the cold vein of mockery whereof on occasionhe could be master.
“The rights of labour,” he said, “are, of course,the only rights that a nation should consider.We have a new wisdom in Italy—it has come inwith the New Democracy—the wisdom that isblind to the rights of capital and laughs at theidea of its having any virtue; all the prosperityour country enjoys to-day, understand, is due tothe champions of the horny-fisted—the dreamersof the Camera. Is not that the fact, DonRiccardo?”
“To be precise,” the Duke answered, “I don’tknow.”
“Surely you must be aware,” his son-in-law[Pg 125]asserted, “that it is not men like myself who aregiving the country what she needed so long—thebreath of industrial life. Oh, no; it is our criticswho are doing this, the silver-tongued doctrinaires.They would give us a very different sort of industry—thesort you see in that picture. Strife andbloodshed were the business of that day, and willbe in ours, depend upon it, unless a stronger handrules at Rome.”
“What do you think ought to be done?” askedDonna Beatrice, frightened by the black forecast.
“Done? The thing is simple. The Governmentshould take measures to silence these mischief-makers,these plotters against industrial peace.We build up the wealth of the nation, they wouldtear it down. They delude themselves with thenotion that they are the only patriots. Howdelicious! They are Italy’s deadliest foes.”
“I tremble to think of the consequences,” saidDonna Beatrice. “Why, our heads would notbe safe. See how those blacksmiths and clod-hopperslay about them with their pikes and terribleswords! I suppose the heads they arecracking are the heads that wouldn’t take intheir new ideas! Ugh!”
“Still, the world is somewhat hard for many,”Don Riccardo observed, for the sake of a word insupport of Hera, who had moved away, resolvednot to join issue with her husband.
“I have always found the world what I made it,”Tarsis returned, and they passed on toward thedoor of the library. The contractor had stockedthe massive oak shelves with volumes old andnew, and supplied the room with modern leatherfurniture.
“Oh, the Napoleonic relic!” exclaimed DonnaBeatrice at sight of a large oblong table of Florentinemosaic. Tarsis was all attention.
“Napoleonic relic?” he asked. “What doyou mean?”
“Ah, you must know,” she told him, “thatwhen the conqueror came to Milan he made thepalace his headquarters. This table was once inVilla Barbiondi, and my great-grandfather gaveit to Napoleon.”
Tarsis drew a chair to the table, and, witha nod of apology to the others, seated himself;resting his arms on the polished surface, he movedhis right hand in simulation of the act of writing.
“It is of convenient height,” he said, “and I[Pg 127]shall use it. I cannot tell you how pleased I amto find this relic. Napoleon Bonaparte is theman above all the world’s heroes whom I admire.”
“Truly a marvellous man, a matchless genius,”attested Donna Beatrice, gravely contemplative.
“From childhood his life has been my guidingstar,” Tarsis continued. “And to possess, touse the table that he used, is a privilege I neverthought to enjoy. And the work itself,” headded, rising and drawing back to admire it,with an interest which no other object of art in thepalace had been able to awaken in him, “isit not magnificent?”
“Quite a treasure,” acquiesced Don Riccardo,showing more concern in the bookcases, which hewas sweeping with his eyes; but for Hera—explainit she could not—the thing inspired a strangeaversion—a feeling that came vividly to her mindin after days when that table played its tragic partin the destiny of the man she called husband.
THE DOOR OF FRA PANDOLE
They followed Donna Beatrice and Tarsisacross the figured expanse of pavement, downthe grand staircase and through the portico tothe gardens. Beyond the yellow wall at thebackward limit they could see the red roofs ofVia Cappuccini—humble abodes of workmenpartly screened by the trees. All about themnature had opened her poetry book. Plants inthe great urns were dappled with snowy fairness,the maples showed richly green, the magnoliaswere unfolding their eager beauty, and the airwas rapturous with the voices of birds. Whenthey had looked upon the row of swishing tailsin the stable and surveyed the store of motor carsDonna Beatrice remarked to Tarsis, she and hestanding apart from the others:
“I perceive that your wife cannot escapehappiness. You are giving her all that mortalheart can wish.”
“I am following your advice,” he said, with a[Pg 129]smile that his companion did not see was cunning—“strivingto win her gratitude, you perceive.But I fear there is no short road to her affection.”
“My friend,” Donna Beatrice announced, impressively,“you are nearer to it than you believe.”
“Why do you think so?”
“Because it is inevitable,” she answered, positively.“Besides, I have never seen our Herain happier mood.”
“Still, it may be studied,” Tarsis suggested,out of his deeper knowledge.
“Oh, no: it is genuine; depend upon that.Listen to her laughter. Has it not the true ring?Indeed, Antonio, I confess astonishment at yourwonderful progress. For an hour I have beenaching to offer my felicitations.”
Tarsis bowed his acknowledgment, but with anair of slight incertitude.
“I fear,” he observed, “that your felicitations,in their kindly eagerness, come a trifle early.”
“Not a minute, I am sure,” Donna Beatriceinsisted.
“Of course, I shall succeed in the end,” hesaid, with cold assurance.
“In the end? Oh, bravo!” she exclaimed,[Pg 130]in a pretty effort of raillery. “This modesty!It is most amusing! Why, the end is alreadyattained. Let me tell you something: At thismoment your wife is exceedingly fond of you.”
“Do you know this?” he asked, a covetousgleam in his eye.
“As well as I know that you are her husband.”
“Has she told you so?”
“Ha! What did she say?”
“She has not spoken by word of mouth. Ah,no. A woman has other ways of revealing sucha secret. Take the word of a woman of experiencewho knows how to look into the heart of her sex.”
“Have you looked into my wife’s heart?”
“And did you see there, for example, MarioForza?”
Donna Beatrice emitted a low, gurgling titter.“Oh, my dear friend! How little you understandwomankind.”
“Did you hear what she said before the pictureof Heribert?”
“Couldn’t you see that it was Forza talking?”
She gave him a depreciatory glance. “Howinteresting! That one so keen in all else shouldbe in an affair like this so—so—well, so short-sighted!To be sure, the Forza fever lingers,”she explained, “but it is merely running itscourse.”
“Perhaps you are right,” he said, his self-loveovercoming doubt.
“Right? Let us reflect. She realises what anarrow escape she had from that sickness. Still,a woman does not surrender too easily. Our Herais no fool. How can she, in the light of reason—inany light—prefer Mario Forza to AntonioTarsis? The idea is absurd.”
At dinner Hera, queenly in a gown that effectedthe complement of her own beautiful coloring,was gracious, kindly, captivating. Like an actresswho had played a rôle many times, she was settlinginto her part. To the land of self-conceitwhere Tarsis dwelt the voice of this humanheart did not penetrate; he heard only its delusiveecho. Even the clear admonition she had soundedat Paris failed to weigh now against his self-exaltation[Pg 132]and the false notion that DonnaBeatrice had planted in his mind. Thus it fellout that when Don Riccardo and his sister hadtaken themselves away he said to her, while theylingered at the window, looking upon the lightsof the Corso:
“It affords me infinite pleasure, my wife, tosee you so happy.”
“All the worldly means are at hand,” sheresponded, in the manner of one conceding apoint, “and I should be lacking in a sense ofvalues if I were not content. You can do nomore, Antonio.”
“It is all paltry enough,” he declared, in asudden burst of feeling, “when I reflect that itis done for you. There is nothing that I wouldnot do for your sake.”
With the words he caught up her hand andkissed it fervidly. She did not turn her eyes fromthe window or withdraw her hand; for a momenthe stood holding it, looking into her avertedface, like one who had asked a question and wasawaiting the answer.
“The dinner was delightful,” she said, at length,moving from him. “There is much to do to-morrow,[Pg 133]and I shall retire early. You have youroccupations, no doubt. For your many kindnessesI thank you.”
She disengaged her hand and wished him good-night,all with an admirable effect of significance,tempered by well-bred dignity: but the peasantcunning that was in his blood asserted itself.Even while she spoke he bowed again and again,with an insinuating air of comprehension, andinstead of returning her good-night he offered an“Au revoir, eh?” to which Hera gave no response.
He followed her with his eyes, foolishly believingthat she might pause at the threshold and lookback. When she had passed from the room andhe could see her no longer, but heard still thequick rustle of silk, he moved to another pointof view, and watched her retreating figure untilit disappeared at a door, where a maid waited,far down the mirrored passage. It was theentrance to that regal chamber whither he hadconducted her a few hours before and proclaimedwith plebeian delight—on the authority of DonnaBeatrice—that it was a part of the private suiteoccupied by many dukes and duchesses of her houseand in times yet older by the rulers of Milan, for[Pg 134]the Barbiondi had given the free city seven ofits lords. The couch was modern, but its testerand rich hanging of tapestries, though new fromthe loom, retained the genius of the past in patternand phase of colour. And yonder the lord waswont to repose, in a chamber likewise beautiful,set apart by a mid-room, and beyond this a doorof mahogany, embellished with Madonnas andsaints and cherubs, carved for the glory of God byFra Pandole, famed for his pictures in wood.
Presently the reflection of Tarsis passed fromone to another of the corridor mirrors and heentered the bed-chamber of the Barbiondi lords.He found his valet there, busy yet with his taskof unpacking and putting in order. When theman had helped him into his dressing-gown andgone his way, Tarsis turned low the light andthrew himself on a settle so placed as to holdin view the corridor through his half-open door.There he watched and waited, puffing acigarette.
From Via Cappuccini came the familiar soundsof a conscript’s festa—some newly-drafted soldierand his comrades celebrating a long-dreaded eventin wine-born merriment.
“Long live the army! Long live the King!Long live the people!”
A minute more and Tarsis’s vigil ended. Hesaw Hera’s maid pass in the corridor on her wayto the servants’ quarters. Then he arose andapproached the door of Fra Pandole. It wasclosed, but his interpretations of the past hourmade him blindly confident that it would yieldto the turning of the knob. He was on the pointof turning it when he heard the sharp click of akey in the lock, then the sound of recedingfootsteps.
In the sudden impulse of his rage he threwhimself against the door, crying, “Open, open!I am your husband! It is my right!”
But the door did not swing, and from the otherside came no answer. With a Sicilian maledictionon his lips, Tarsis moved away to the window tostand in the cool of the night air. The new conscriptand his comrades, passing below, sent upa fresh gust of tipsy laughter.
BY ROYAL COMMAND
Public announcement was made next day thatthe King would arrive within the week at hissummer palace in Monza—a peaceful town reposingat the end of two rows of stately poplars tenmiles long, with a level white road between, thatstretch in direct lines from the Venetian Gate.Toward evening a courier in scarlet dashed intothe Barbiondi court bearing a message from theKing. It concerned the reception and dinner tofollow at which their Majesties would honourthe subject who had done so much to build upthe industries of the realm. The message was acommand that Signor Tarsis render at his earliestconvenience a list of the persons to be bidden.This was done at once, and in two days the listcame back with a line drawn through some of thenames and other names added.
“His Majesty directs me to say,” wrote thesecretary, “that in view of the fact that a politicalcolour was deducible from the list as it stood, he[Pg 137]has made the changes to the end that the assemblagemay be representative of all his subjects inthe Province of Milan, so far as political complexionis concerned. It appeared that certainelements were overlooked, others conspicuouslyrecognised. Therefore, he has replaced some ofthe latter with the names of two Republicans,Signor Lingua and Signor Quattrini; one Radical,Signor Parlari, and one leader of the New Democracy,the Honourable Mario Forza. His Majestydirects me to inform you that he will arrive atPalazzo Barbiondi at seven o’clock.”
It was patent to Tarsis that the situationoffered no alternative; the man who had comebetween him and the success he prized aboveall else must be asked to partake of the hospitalityof his house. And it was equally patent toMario Forza, when he received the invitation,that the royal wish might not be disregarded.He had seen Hera driving on the Bastions; onceor twice their eyes had met; he believed that theyshared alike a yearning to speak, to have anexchange of confidence—a desire which mightnot be gratified with honour; but now by theKing’s gift this opportunity was to be theirs.[Pg 138]It seemed to him a gift eminently worthy of aking. Tarsis did not deem it necessary to acquainthis wife with what had chanced. On thecontrary, he decided to take these lovers unawares,to watch them, and satisfy his mind as to asuspicion that had crept into it and was gainingstrength.
Probably no man of intelligence in Italy wasfurther from understanding Mario’s political aims,or caring to understand them, than Tarsis. Andno one understood them better than the King;he knew that in the leader of the New Democracyhe had a stalwart friend, law and order a genuinechampion. Mario’s party had frankly acceptedthe monarchy, convinced that the industrialreforms Italy needed could be accomplished byimproving rather than pulling down the existingform of government.
The duty on breadstuffs had been so high thatmany thousands of mouths found it difficultto get bread. In the past few weeks there hadbeen outbreaks of the people. In towns of middleand southern Italy and Sicily mobs of men andwomen had busied themselves taking food whereverthey could find it. This imitation of the[Pg 139]fowls of the air and the beasts of the forest workedwell enough for the feeders until the soldiersarrived and the bullets began to whistle. Oneday the King, who had never relished the campaignagainst his hungry subjects, issued a decreereducing the duty on breadstuffs. It was submittedto Parliament and passed without speechesfor or against.
There was a notion in the heads of the law-makersthat if some measure of relief was notadopted the full stomachs might not be ableto hold the empty ones at bay. Mario Forzahad much to do with inculcating that idea. Heproved himself the dangerous man his foes pronouncedhim by pointing out the peril and themeans of averting it. Upon his motion theChamber remitted taxes on many things that thepeople needed to support life, and planned publicworks to give the idle an opportunity to earn food.It voted 100,000 liras to aid the poor, and then,feeling that it had smothered the volcano, adjournedfor a fortnight to attend the Turinexposition, leaving the throne and the cabinetto keep an eye on the crater.
It was at this juncture that the King chose[Pg 140]to visit the Barbiondi palace. He had shownhis sympathy with the suffering by adding to theParliamentary fund for their relief 150,000 lirasfrom his private purse. Long before the hour forhis appearance the Milanese began to assemble,for the most part, it is believed, bent upon givinghim an evidence of good will. They gatheredabout the gates of the palace and along CorsoVenezia, through which the royal equipage wasto pass. Soon the halls and reception chambersof the house pulsated with the voices and laughter,the rustle and movement, that attend the arrivalof guests. A line of carriages set them down atthe portico.
In that stream of Lombard aristocracy wasHera’s father, with Donna Beatrice by his side,and many like them—men bearing noble nameswho owed much to the peasant-born Tarsis.He had swollen their fortunes by casting them forlucrative parts in the drama that had attractedso many gentlemen of quality—the drama of thefactory, the bank, the steamship line. Theirfamilies made up the fashionable world of Milan.Most of them had grand dwellings in town andvillas on the Lakes or in the Brianza; they entertained[Pg 141]with radiant hospitality, drove bloodedhorses, and stirred the dust of country roadswith their automobiles. Most of them werewilling to forget their titles. They belonged tothe group that was fast going away from oldideas; the notions their fathers respected, andwhich they too once respected, seemed to themabsurd and ridiculous.
Hera was gowned in something that shimmeredsoftly like the petals of a tea rose. What happenedbefore the day was over caused the journals togive a more circumstantial account of the receptionthan they might have done otherwise. Oneof the chroniclers thus pictured Hera as she stood,Tarsis at her side, receiving the guests, withHeribert and his slashing warriors for a background:“Her deep grey eyes were full of lifeand expression. She moved with marvellousgrace. Her voice was sweet and melodious. Neverhad anyone seen in the person of one womanso much charm, so much beauty, united withsuch brightness of intellect. She was gracefulwithout affectation, witty without malice, andcaptivating to every guest.”
The Honourable Mario Forza was among the[Pg 142]last to appear. He came in with the Cardinal, ahale man of sixty, with kindly blue eyes. Asthey drew near Hera felt her blood ebb and flowand her breath catch. The elder man was thefirst to be greeted, and while he paid her somehearty compliments Mario stood alone, for Tarsisdid not offer his hand. When the Cardinal hadmoved away, and they were face to face, Heranoted with a sinking heart that the rugged glowhad gone from his cheeks, and from his eyes theboyish lustre that had reflected a soul withoutbitterness.
“It is a pleasure for which I am indebted toHis Majesty,” he said, as they clasped hands,and their glances met.
“I am glad to see you again,” she returned,while Tarsis, his back to the oncoming guests,held her and the other in full survey. So intentwas he watching them that the Mayor of Milan,a rotund little man, who stood in full regaliawaiting to be noticed, was obliged to coughdiplomatically once or twice. The hosts turnedto receive the Mayor, and Forza, with a ceremoniousbow, joined the Cardinal and passed onto mingle with the throng.
The guests walked and chatted or stood ingroups, awaiting the coming of the King. Therewere staff officers of the garrison in gold lace;poor noblemen of leisure and rich ones in trade,both with their ribbons and the latter withjewelled stars of knighthood; municipal dignitariesin showy insignia of office; Senators and Deputiesof the several political shades; dowagers plumpor scrawny, spangled with gems, and matronsmore youthful in smart gowns. Then therewere the amusing men and women who did notprofess to be anybody in particular, yet the sortthat fashionable Milan was glad to have at itsreceptions.
In time the clatter of tongues filled the broadcorridors as well as the great chamber, andresounded cheerfully in the gardens, now richwith the foliage, the blossoms, and fragrance ofMay. Mario and the Cardinal joined those of thecompany who had sought the cooler air, wherefountains played and magnolias cast their shadowson statuary. A close friendship had grown withthe prelate and the statesman. The man of theChurch had taken to his heart easily the man ofthe World whom he found combating a common[Pg 144]foe. Once he had said to him, “Caro Forza,the New Democracy is an ally in the campaignfor His kingdom.” At the angle of a shadedavenue, they met Hera on the arm of ColonelRosario. In genuine enthusiasm the Cardinalgave his felicitations on the return of a Barbiondito the ancestral home, and Mario spoke to herof the beauty of the palace and gardens.
“Colonel Rosario will not agree with you,Signor Forza,” she said. “He deplores it all.”
“Pardon, Donna Hera,” the old soldier protested.“I have not been quoted accurately,as the politicians say. Deplore all? Far fromthat. In truth, my regret is for only one thing—therestoration.”
“Why?” asked the Cardinal.
“Because, the restoration has taken unto itselfthe charm of the old place.”
“Indeed?” the prelate inquired, looking upat the scoured and scraped walls. “And has somuch been lost in this refinding?”
“Yes, your Eminence,” the soldier assuredhim, as they walked away together, the man ofthe sword bemoaning the passage of old Italyand he of the red robe answering that all whichis of time must go with time. Thus it fell out[Pg 145]that Mario and Hera, standing there at the turnof the path beside the southern wall, for a momentfound themselves alone. He approached at oncethe subject of the marriage that had torn theirhearts.
“You said that Colonel Rosario deplored itall,” he began, repeating her words. “I interpretthat as an expression of your remorse for what—youhave done. I should not refer to the affairbut for the lingering hope that other than a sordidmotive impelled you. Must you tell me,” hewent on, a suggestion of contempt in his tone,“that you broke faith with me because you couldnot resist the pomp of great wealth—that youpreferred it to my love?”
At first, unable to realise that the words werefalling from his lips, she stood as one dazed; thencame the thought, and in the next instant thedelicious certainty, that there had been a misunderstanding;that Mario, of his will, had neversurrendered her to another, that he had neverput a frigid sentiment of justice above his love forher. But before she could speak he had misreadin her first look of bewilderment and in herquick-going breath an acknowledgment of what[Pg 146]he hated to believe. He gave voice to his angerin phrases that wronged her immeasurably, yetthrilled her with rapture, for they proved thatsomehow he had been cheated of her, that hehad never put her away, and that after allhis was a great passion crying out in gloriouswrath.
“It was a hideous crime to wreck two lives,” heexclaimed. “It has wrecked your life; that isthe penalty. When you bartered for moneyall that——”
“Mario, stop,” she said, softly, touching hisarm, while her face lit up in anticipation of thejoyous message she had for him. “We are thevictims of a misunderstanding.”
“Are you not his wife?” he demanded, puzzledby her smile and sparkling eyes.
“Yes; but only in the view of the world,” shetold him, yielding to an impulse, and glad in theconsciousness that this was so. “Even that Ishould not have been,” she went on, “but for amessage that bore your name. The will of othersdid not prevail. Ah, no! When I became thewife of Antonio Tarsis it was the will, as I believed,of Mario Forza.”
“Hera!” he exclaimed. “Of what message doyou speak?”
“Your despatch from Rome,” she answered,blissful in the conviction that it was not his.
“I sent no message from Rome. I have neversent you a message.”
Hera laughed for sheer joy. “Nor did youreceive one from me the night you went away,”she surmised, seeing the hand of Tarsis in it all.
“Yes; I received a message from you.”
“At Rome. It was handed to me by thestation-master on my arrival.”
“And you made no answer to that?”
“None was required. It had only three words;but those were enough to make me happy indeed,for they dispelled all fear that your strengthmight fail at the last.”
“And those three words?”
“You said, ‘All is well.’”
“No; it was not that,” she laughed; and witha gaiety which he understood now, and sharedas well, she told him of the message despatchedat the request of Tarsis, asking what she shoulddo—keep or break her engagement of marriage.[Pg 148]In that moment they forgot the trickery by whichhe had gained her hand. Enough to know thateach in spirit had been true to the promise givenand taken in the monastery; that, however greatthe disaster to their hopes, the power of theirlove had never lessened. She would have toldhim more of the events in Villa Barbiondi afterhis departure for Rome but for Donna Beatrice,who came toward them, her face a picture ofvexation.
“His Majesty is expected at any moment,” sheinformed Hera, with shaking voice; “and youwith your husband are to be in readiness toreceive him.”
“Yes, Aunt,” she answered. “I will go.”
The three walked together across the gardento the grand portico, up the staircase swarmingwith guests, and into the Atlantean chamber,where Mario took leave of the others. Thecompany was becoming impatient, for it wasthe dinner hour in many houses.
“Something of a change from their coop inVia Monte Leone,” remarked a certain Nobody-in-particular,as Hera and her father passed by.
“Yes; and there’s the magic hand that did it,”[Pg 149]observed her companion, with a movement of hishead toward Donna Beatrice, who was approachingwith Tarsis.
“Donna Beatrice! You are right. A noblefisher maiden.”
“Who hooked a golden whale.”
“She has a carriage not shared with otherbranches of the family now.”
“How is that?”
“Family secret. I’m the only outsider whoknows. Some time I may tell—you.”
“Tarsis looks as if he’d like to bite somebody.”
“Old instinct. You know the beginning ofhis career?”
“Yes; watch-dog in a silk-mill.”
“Time-keeper. I suppose that’s the kind offace he used to pull when a hand turned up late.”
“Perhaps he’ll dock the King for arriving afterthe whistle has blown.”
“Is there anything that you respect?”
“Nothing but you.”
They laughed and went up to Donna Beatriceand Tarsis to say pleasant things. An orchestraof picked players from La Scala made music,but the hum of talk and the laughter drowned[Pg 150]all save the fortissimo attacks. Mario and theCardinal stood near by that they might hear thequieter passages.
The Nobodies-in-particular continued:
“Do you know, I have an impression that thehoney in the moon has curdled.”
“I didn’t know that honey curdled. Still,I’ll waive the point. Why do you thinkso?”
“Have you detected any sign of sweetnessbetween them?”
“No; but would you have them bill and cooin public?”
“Certainly not. Nor would I have them catand dog in public.”
“You have a prolific fancy.”
“Oh, of course. It is natural that you, belongingto the blind sex, should look straight at themand see nothing.”
“What was there to see?”
“View one: His melodramatic stare whenshe gave Forza her hand. I wonder if Tarsisknows anything.”
“Let us revel in a thrill of charity and wonderif there is anything to know.”
“You may. I shall continue to use my eyesand wits.”
“Upon my word, I see nothing sensational in aman looking at his wife.”
“Modest of you, Reni, and considerate. To thepure all things are pure. You were too noble tosay it and crush me.”
“I’m afraid I might have done so, only thedeuced proverb is always taking another shapein my mind—to the poor all things are forbidden.”
“Is that the reason our Hera forbid you?”
He coloured, but had to join his laugh withhers. “I see that the shared carriage is not theonly family secret you are guarding,” he said.“How many people have you kept this one from?”
“I could answer with one word, but will not.”
“The word ‘all’ or the word ‘none’?”
“Think of being so rich that you can ignoremoney!” was her irrelevant response. “I couldtell you what happened to Donna Hera of theBarbiondi not long ago—before her marriage—whenshe ordered some things at a certain shop,but I will not. It’s a family secret. Now she’slavishing money on the unfashionable poor.”
“I wish we might go,” he said restively. “I’m[Pg 152]hungry. I want my dinner.” He screwed hisfists into his eyes and whined like a schoolboy.
“What a savage that fellow Tarsis is, though!”
“Of course. We are all savages under theskin. Come and have some champagne on anempty stomach.”
“Thank you. I’m not savage enough forthat.”
In the banquet hall servants stood with foldedarms about the waiting board. Long ago theyhad laid the napery and set the crystal and silverfor six persons—the King, the Queen, Don Riccardo,Donna Hera, Donna Beatrice, and SignorTarsis. By this hour the reception should havebeen over, the guests’ carriages rolling from thecourt, and the dinner reaching the period ofpoisson.
In the kitchen a great composer beat his templesand walked the floor frantically. Had not thesymphony been commanded for half-past seven?And at half-past seven the prelude was ready,with all the delicious harmonies that were to followcooking to such tempo that perfection wouldattend their serving. And the wines! The goldenChablis, the garnet Margaux, and the sparkling[Pg 153]ruby of Asti, the last by his Majesty so beloved—allin the ice, their cooling timed to a minute.Every second that passed made his symphonyless fit for the palate of gods and dimmed the lustreof his noble art. Even at this moment the dinnerwas a wreck. Magnificent devil! What righthad a king to ruin a masterpiece!
The people in the street called to one anotherand made jokes after the manner of a crowd thathas waited long enough to have a sense of acquaintance.Soldiers held back the multitude on eitherside of the Corso, but the space before the palacegates was kept clear by the Civil Guards. At thelatter now and then was hurled a coarse jibe, tothe delight of many; for the stovepipe hat oftheir policemen, the black gloves, and the clubthat is like a walking stick never cease to be comicin the eyes of the Milanese.
La Ferita, the woman of the scarred face, whoshook her fist at Tarsis on his wedding day, wasin the crowd before the palace. She cried outseveral times against Tarsis. Once a Civil Guardpushed her back, with a warning that he wouldtake her in charge if she did not hold her tongue.
“Arrest the man in there!” she shouted,[Pg 154]pointing toward Palazzo Barbiondi. “He takesthe life-blood of children! He works them todeath in the factories; pays them fifteen soldia day! The children die, but he lives on in hisgrand house! Who pays for it?” she shrieked,facing the crowd and waving her upraised arms.“We do, comrades; we——”
A tirade against his Majesty’s host, withinhearing almost of the distinguished man himself,was not to be permitted, and, weary of admonishingher, the Civil Guard lugged La Ferita off tothe Questura.
Tarsis and Donna Beatrice went to a windowand peered up the Corso, but there was no signof the royal equipage, no flutter in the crowd todenote its coming. Although the daylight wasfailing, they could still see the city gate andSandro in the motor car, stationed there, chargedto bear word as soon as the King and Queen weresighted, that the host and hostess might havetime to go down to the portico to receive them.To this part of the function Tarsis had lookedforward eagerly. He had even rehearsed thescene, going through the act of bowing low to theQueen and offering her his arm, while in imagination[Pg 155]his wife, on the King’s arm, led the way upthe staircase.
“I was not prepared to see Mario Forza here,”Donna Beatrice said to Tarsis, compressing herlips and patting one hand with her closed fan.
“It is by the King’s wish,” he told her.
“Oh, no,” he explained. “A political consideration.I hope no accident has prevented hisMajesty from coming.”
“It is only that athletic exhibition, I ampositive,” she said. “As he is to distribute theprizes I suppose he cannot leave graciously untilthe bore is at an end. I was at one once. Thewaits between the events were the chief feature.If there is anything that would delight to keepa king waiting it is an athletic exhibition.”
But Tarsis did not hear. His attention washeld by a dialogue at his shoulders between a manwho leaned against the lintel and one who stoodwithin the room.
“There are two sorts of women you must notknow,” said the nearer man. “They are thewomen who love you and the women who do not.”
“You are right. I know; I have suffered.”
“You make a mistake to suffer,” the firstspeaker continued. “If a woman insults you,bow to her. If she strikes you, protect yourself.If she deceives you, say nothing for fear of compromisingher. Kill yourself, if you please, butsuffer—never!”
“To this point I agree with you,” said hiscompanion: “Some life should pay—yours, hersor his.”
The other shrugged his shoulders. “That, ofcourse, is a matter of taste.”
Tarsis had glanced quickly at the men andturned his back again. Now he stood staringinto the rain of the fountain in the court below,his hard face set like stone, preoccupied darklywith what he had heard. So deep was his absorptionthat he failed to hear Donna Beatrice exclaimthat the King was approaching.
“Antonio!” she repeated, rousing him with atouch on his sleeve. “Come, let us find Hera andgo down to receive his Majesty.”
He looked out over the throngs far up the Corso,and saw Sandro speeding toward them. In thequick sweep of his eye he noted too, that the soldiersat the Venetian Gate were forming in marching[Pg 157]order, leaving the people free to break their linesalong the street sides. And as he followedDonna Beatrice from the window he was awareof a changed note in the murmur of the crowds—anote that was not of glad acclaim. In the groupnear the orchestra were the Cardinal and Herawith an arm about her chum of the Brianza, thelittle Marchioness of Tramonta, and near themDon Riccardo and Mario Forza. While theylistened to the music Donna Beatrice and Tarsiswere searching for Hera. Before they came uponher the motor car was panting in the court andSandro had started up the staircase with histidings.
AN UNBIDDEN GUEST
The inarticulate voice of the crowd had grownto a roar and the ominous note Tarsis caughtwas now a distinct expression of horror. It roseabove the tittle-chat, the tinkling of wine-glasses,the laughter and all the clack and fizzle of thegay assemblage, sending the guests to the windowsand bringing the music to a stop. Hera took thearm of her husband, and they started for thestaircase. A few steps and they were face to facewith Sandro.
“I beg your pardon, Signore,” he said, his lipstwitching.
“What is it?” Tarsis asked.
“I have to tell you, Signore, that his Majestywill not be here”—an odd fling of cynicism,innocent as it was untimely, born of the servant’sawe of his master rather than of an instinct tobreak the news by degrees.
Tarsis looked as if he would strike the man.[Pg 159]He moved closer to him, fists clinched at his side.“What do you mean?” he demanded.
“The King is dead!”
Those within hearing echoed the words, pressingnearer to Sandro, and from the windows, by whichthe news had come from the street, guests swepttoward the group about Tarsis, exclaiming, “TheKing is slain!”
Tarsis gripped Sandro’s arm. “Tell what youknow!” he commanded him.
“I know only this, Signore,” he began—and thejewelled women and decorated men narrowed thecircle about him: “I got it from a customsguard at the gate. His Majesty had just startedfrom the athletic grounds. A young workmanwalked up to the carriage and shot him at threepaces.”
“At three paces!” several women repeated,shocked anew by this detail of the crime.
“What kind of man is the assassin?”
“The guard said he is a silk-weaver and ananarchist. That was the rumor from Monza.They have him in charge.”
At the word anarchist, Tarsis, with a quickmovement, turned from Sandro and set his gaze[Pg 160]on Mario Forza. The act was so marked thatevery eye followed his. Mario returned a steadylook, and for a moment they stood thus, to theamazement of all.
Electric light flooded the scene, flashing backfrom the gems of the women. There was thehubbub of the crowd in the street, with its hueand cry. From the gardens the scent of magnoliacame in on the evening breeze. With a shudderingfear Hera saw the veins of her husband’s neckstrain, as she remembered them in that hour ofwrath in the monastery. He moved a pace closerto Mario. “Honourable Forza,” he said, hisvoice like an edged blade, “the worst hashappened. Are you content?”
The others were mystified, but Mario had aninkling of what he meant. “Why do you askthat?” he inquired, striving to be calm.
“Because it is your work!” the other answered,savagely.
“Do you mean, Signor Tarsis, that I have hada hand in this assassination?”
“That is precisely what I mean.”
“The assertion is absurd, and it is a lie!” Mariodeclared. “I regret that I have to say this to you[Pg 161]in your own house, but you have forced me to it.”
Tarsis tossed his head and laughed mockingly.His studied decorum of the gentleman was forgotten,and he stood forth in the truth of hisnative self. A moment he eyed the man he hatedin a vulgar effect of shrewdness, then shook anindex finger sidewise before Mario’s face, as theSicilian peasant uses to denote that he is not to begammoned.
“Signori,” he began, turning to the astonishedguests at his side, “this man knows how to playthe traitor and at the same time act the innocent.He and I understand each other excellently.We shall have no denial from him on that point,I think,” he added, throwing a glance at his wife.“There are one or two more here who understand.”
“I thought he knew something,” whisperedSignora Nobody-in-particular to her companion.“Delicious! He’s going to tell!”
A similar thought must have impelled Mario.He stepped forward a little, and, with the solepurpose of saving an insensate husband fromsullying his wife’s name, he spoke to Tarsis, histone severe, but not without a shade of entreaty.
“Guard your tongue,” he said. “If you have[Pg 162]a quarrel with me, this is not the time or place.”
Tarsis faced him, with blazing eyes, his lastvestige of restraint thrown off. “I will be judgeof the time and place to speak!” he exclaimed.“You know too well what I meant when I saidthis is your work. Perhaps there are some herewho do not catch my meaning. You and yourcrew of demagogues are to blame for the King’sdeath. I charge you with it publicly. Youpoison the minds of ignorant people, set theworkers against their betters, teach them to hateauthority, incite them to riot and bloodshed.I say that you have plotted against the King’slife, and are just as much the taker of it as themiscreant who fired the shot.”
It was so different from what he had expectedand dreaded that Mario felt more of relief thanresentment. That Tarsis had omitted Hera’sname seemed a full requital for the wrong donehim in that reckless accusation. Nevertheless,he would have replied to it but for the Cardinal,who raised his hand and invoked peace in the nameof heaven.
“It is hard to hold one’s peace,” Tarsis protestedsullenly, “when such a deed is done, and[Pg 163]the instigator of it stands before one’s eyes underhis own roof.”
Mario was about to leave the palace, but theCardinal touched his arm. “Stay a while,” hesaid, “and I will go with you.” For a momenthe held Tarsis in the regard of his kindly thoughkeen eyes, as if studying him. “Much of theinjustice that man does his neighbour is by reasonof his seeing him through the glass but darkly,”he affirmed, in the manner of one who would dispela misunderstanding. “It is not the first timethat the Honourable Forza has been called ademagogue, but always it has been a calumny.I, who am his friend and know him, can do noless than say this. To be a demagogue, I takeit, is to be at war with truth—to strive for popularfavour by inflaming the selfish passions of men.I am sure he has not done that. He has wieldeda lance, and an able one, but always it has beenthe lance of truth and valour. He has strivento mellow the world’s hard hopes with even-handedjustice. Wrong is not a mender of wrong. Thesorrow we all feel in this hour and revengefulpassions go ill together. The occasion does notcall for denunciation or abuse of men or doctrines.[Pg 164]Let us try to find the use there may be in this asin all adversity. Anarchy has no more determinedfoe than Signor Forza. His war is upon offendersagainst human justice, and that is the same aswar upon anarchy. No one loves his countrymore than he, no one loved the King more.I know that his public services are in harmonywith the things that we all should hold best—theChurch, which is of Christ, and Italy, whichis our country.”
In the hush that reigned Mario said, “I thankyour Eminence,” and Hera, silently, breatheda thanksgiving.
Tarsis had not spoken his last word. His lipswere curving with the sarcastic smile that hecould summon. “I perceive,” he remarked,“that your Eminence has become an apostateto the New Democracy.”
The Cardinal made no reply, though he stooda second or two weighing the words. Then,with the calmness of one who has schooled himselfto avoid fruitless and painful discussion, heturned, smiling, to Mario.
“Shall we go, Honourable?” he said, and theother inclined his head. They gave a parting[Pg 165]word to Hera, and, bowing to the rest of the company,moved toward the door. As they passednearly all made reverence to the Cardinal. Theirexit proved the signal for a general departure of theguests, and with scant ceremony the companybegan to go its way.
AN INDUSTRIAL INCIDENT
Tarsis gave orders that no bright lights beshown at the windows and that the palace inother respects preserve an air of mourning. Hepassed the night in the library, writing at hisNapoleonic table, smoking and brooding over theutter failure of his efforts to break Hera’s determination.He did not regret the attack he had madeon Mario in the presence of the guests. For theNew Democracy he harboured a deep hatred,and from a conviction born of this he had linkedthe doctrines of that party and Mario’s advocacyof them with the assassination of the King. Itwas easy for him to charge Forza with the lossof the royal visit, and easier to behold him asthe author of his marital discord. The last factclung to his meditations, which lasted into themorning hours.
Hera, alone in her apartments, thought overthe events of the day. What dwarfed all elsein her consciousness was the discovery that[Pg 167]Mario’s love had never faltered. In the joy ofthis revelation she was able to forget for themoment the bondage into which she had beenlured by Tarsis, the price she had paid for obeyingan instinct of honour. But in the days thatfollowed she was reminded of it bitterly.
At first the manner of her husband was suchas to inform her negatively that he was willingno longer to keep up even a show of compliance.Next it took on a tenor of positive vexation. Ifshe had been keenly sensible before that he exertedhimself to win her affection, she was alive now tohis studied resentment. He made no effort tomask his feelings. On the contrary, he paradedthem resolutely. The details of domestic experienceoffered opportunities without number, andshe observed that he seldom neglected them.
He did not conduct his campaign of protest asa man of finer grain might have done. From openindifference to her wishes he passed to pronouncedacts of discourtesy. Once, while she was withher maid dressing for a night at La Scala, hequitted the palace without warning, and did notreturn until long after the curtain had fallen onthe ballet. In the morning he offered an apology,[Pg 168]but no word of explanation. Every day broughta new sneer to his lip and to his eye glances ofdeepened ill-will. This mood never left him.She was made to feel it alike at the breakfasttable and when he paid her the parting civilitiesof the night.
Though all his approaches to her heart wereforeordained to failure, she had been disposedto retain a certain spark of respect for him; nowthis was extinguished because of the discoveryshe had made about the message from Rome.In its place there burned a detestation of the manwhich every hour intensified. She realised thathis was not a character to accept, even to perceive,that her attitude was, after all, just toward him,surveying it, as she did, in the light of theirpre-nuptial agreement. Her blame of him, inconsequence, was not so large as her commiserationof self for having been so weak as to heed othercounsels than those of her heart. With thefeeling that she had wronged herself was compoundeda fear that she had wronged Tarsisas well.
But the idea of surrender had never crossedher mind. Reason had no play here; it was[Pg 169]merely the intuitive firmness of a fine and wholesomesoul, for whom real marriage could neverbe aught but a profound and moral naturalism;a loving union between man and woman such asthe name of Mario Forza conjured up, ardent witha sense of the infinite—the apotheosis of a hallowedpassion. When the duplicity of Tarsis was laidbare she had known an impulse to leave his house,to release herself from an obligation he hadimposed upon her by deceit. But she listenedfor the moment to a less selfish voice, and decidedto accept the events of her ill-starred wedding—toendure, suffer silently, even stolidly, all that itshould entail. She felt so alone. To her fathershe would not go; his was a nature to be relievedof care, not one to be asked to share it. As toAunt Beatrice, try as she did, Hera could notthink of her except as the projector of the trouble,well meaning as her purpose may have been.
There was only one heart that could givesympathy, only one fellow-being that called toher, and to this one she might not go, in his counselshe might not seek guidance. Nevertheless,chance brought them together one morning inthe garden of the General Hospital. Every week[Pg 170]Hera sent roses there, and it was on Flower Day,as it had come to be known, that she met Marioin the director’s office. Soon they found themselveswalking in the garden, he telling of a planhe had for a hospital where soldiers fallen on theindustrial field might be cared for until restoredfor the struggle.
“I come as a student,” he explained. “It ismy second visit this week. The organisationhere has no superior in Europe, and in manyrespects we shall take it as our model.”
“In what respect will you not take it?” sheasked, as they passed a broad lawn where palemen and women sat in the sun.
“In our dealing with such as those,” he answered,indicating the convalescents.
“They seem to be dealt with kindly,” sheobserved. “They look contented.”
“Now, yes. Most of them, you can see, arepersons who in health are accustomed to work,and not at light employment. They belong tothe class who can rest without starving onlywhen they fall sick and go to a hospital. Mostof those patients on the lawn are done with thedoctor and the nurse. Time, fresh air, good[Pg 171]nourishment, and rest are their needs. In a fewdays they will be dismissed as cured. Thedemand for beds is pressing. Their room in thewards is wanted. They must go. They will notbe strong enough to do heavy work, the onlykind for which most of them are fitted. If a manis friendless he has an excellent chance to starvebecause the hospital turns him out before he iswell enough to earn a living. No employer wantsa gaunt-visaged convalescent.”
“You would provide for him until he is ableto provide for himself,” she said, comprehendingly.
“Yes. We should not pronounce him cureduntil he was strong enough to earn his living.”
They entered an avenue of poplars, on eitherside of which stood the rows of isolated wards,and were alone except for the flitting presencehere and there of a white-jacketed attendant ora nurse in sombre gown. Mario told her that whatshe had made known to him at Palazzo Barbiondihad lit up his world again. When the news ofthe wedding reached him, he said, his thoughtswere black indeed. It was as if the sun had fallenjust as it had begun to fill the east with glory.The love of her had given him a new heart, a[Pg 172]new mind, new senses. Suddenly all life had beentransfigured with an infinite beauty. It was inthe railway carriage returning to Milan that helearned of the wedding. He told her of thechange that came over his spirit. Bitterly hecried out against her and the universal heart.The rapture that had raised him into heavenbroke and he dropped into the pit of hell. Andso it was until he learned that she was the dupeof—the forged message. He was glad for thewarmth of sympathy that then suffused his being.He saw the cruel facts that had ruled her, theforces that had driven her to the other’s wish.
“Our temple is in ruins,” he said, filled withpity for her and himself; “but perhaps it will sometime be rebuilt. It must be!” he declared,passionately. “This love is a necessity of mylife, and will be so long as life shall endure.”
“But it must be content now,” she warnedhim, “to live as does the edelweiss of the Alps—thatlonely plant which grows amid the snow.”
“But always with a flower ready to bloomsafe and warm in its heart,” he added. And hetold her how hope had come to him the daybefore in the ruined monastery, where he had[Pg 173]gone to live again, in its delicious memories, thathour they passed during the hailstorm.
“The leaves were thick on the eglantine,” hesaid, “and the chapel was gay with sunshine andthe voices of birds. All the growing, living thingshad entered upon their heritage of joy, and thenit was that the light of a great hope, as if fromprophecy, filled——”
She had started a little and admonished him tosilence at sight of a familiar figure in the archedentrance to the main wards, whither their stepshad led them. It was the large frame, ruddy face,flaxen hair and beard of Ulrich the Austrian.The man who had sent Hera the false telegramstood wide-eyed with astonishment and comprehensionto behold her in the company of MarioForza. But he quickly recovered his air ofeffusive good nature. With uncovered headand smiling he approached to greet her.
“I have been through the wards,” said Tarsis’smost confidential retainer, “and everywhere arethe beautiful flowers your Excellency has given.Ah! the rooms are filled with their fragrance—and,”he added, bowing low, one hand pressed uponhis chest, “with the praises of your Excellency.”
Wondering that chance should have broughtthe man there, and conscious for the first timethat in this walk and converse with Mariothere was aught of indiscretion, and preoccupiedas well with an intuition that the Austrian’spresence boded a new ill, Hera replied to hiscompliments with few words, and she and Mariopassed on.
The meeting, in itself a trivial occurrence, proveda source of much illumination for the Austrian.It explained what had puzzled his mind ever sincethe night he had performed for Tarsis the serviceof sending the message that made Hera listen tohis plea. He had tried in vain to account forthat affair as some ruse in a political game wherehis resourceful master had set his skill againstthat of the leader of the New Democracy. Nowhe divined that a woman—no other than she whobecame his wife—was the stake that Tarsis hadwon. He recalled the words of the telegram, andfelt sure that he had hit the mark.
The Honourable Forza, he reasoned, was arival before the marriage, and, plainly, was a rivalstill. The thought of intrigue obtruded itselfin his survey of the situation, and, in the light of[Pg 175]his new knowledge, duty demanded that in thisbranch of his master’s affairs he perform anotherconfidential service. It was only just, he toldhimself, that Signor Tarsis, too great a man tokeep a watch on his wife, should know that shehad an interest in the General Hospital that wasnot confined to visiting the sick and cheeringtheir lot with gifts of flowers.
Together Mario and Hera entered a ward forwomen, and he was with her still as she movedthrough the great sick-room, pausing here andthere for a word to some patient. She told himthat she wished above all to visit a certain littlegirl, because it was the last opportunity she wouldhave to do so. “The doctor says that she willnot be here when I come next week. They cannotsave her. She is only twelve years old, but sheworked in a mill ten hours a day.”
“Was it there she contracted the disease?”Mario asked.
“The doctors think the bad air of the place didas much as the work and long hours to break downher health.”
“Is she alone in the world?”
“No; her mother, also a mill-worker, is alive,[Pg 176]but she was disabled for a time, and the girl hadto toil for both. In the same mill the mothermet with an accident which left her facescarred terribly. She is here now with herdaughter. Only yesterday was she let out ofprison.”
Hera indicated a bed a few yards away wherea woman was kneeling in prayer.
“It is a cruel, often-told tale,” Mario said.“In the days when most of our factories werebuilt the world had not thought much about themoral welfare or health of those obliged to workin them. With our enlightenment about otherthings, we have learned that forces for combatingfoes of the public health are as important to thestate as the army or navy. New laws are compellingbuilders of factories to have a care for thehealth of the workers.”
“The laws that the New Democracy has giventhe country,” she said, aware that Mario morethan any man in Italy had worked to this end.
“Something has been accomplished,” he toldher, “but the work is only begun. Do you knowwhat mill this girl worked in?”
“Yes,” she answered, but said no more, and[Pg 177]he understood. In all the Tarsis silk-mills childlabour was employed.
They saw the woman rise from prayer, lookdown upon the face of her child, and, with ashriek that resounded through the ward, bringingpatients up from their pillows and nurses runningto the bedside, fall upon the girl’s body, wailing,and beseeching the ashen lips to speak.
“Don’t go, Giulia! Don’t leave me! You areall I have!”
With the others Hera drew near and yieldedto an impulse to speak to the mother so alone inher grief. The sound of her voice hushed thewoman’s sobbing. She looked into Hera’s face,heavily at first, then set her gaze more sharplyand passed a hand over her brow like one ofbewildered senses. Another moment and shesprang to her feet, a malediction on her tongue,and the scar across her eyelid and cheek glowingangrily, as it had that day in the Cathedralsquare when she shook her fist at Tarsis and hisbride.
“It’s her husband’s work!” La Ferita cried,pointing her finger at Hera. “He killed myGiulia. He worked the life out of her in his[Pg 178]factory; gave her fifteen soldi for ten hours, andwhen she could toil no more left her to die like awhelp. And for what? That he might have apalace for her Excellency, and horses, carriages,jewels, and servants. Look at the two! Thereshe, there my Giulia!”
Hera, full of pity, could find no word to speakto her, and the others in the group about the bedstood speechless, divided in sympathy betweenthe great lady so mercilessly arraigned and thestricken woman malevolent in her sorrow. Inthe moment of silence a physician who had beenlistening at the girl’s heart arose and nodded hishead. This brought a fresh outburst from La Ferita.
“Oh, it’s death! Never fear!” she exclaimed.“His work was well done, your Excellency!Well done, friends, neh?”
Mario, who had moved to Hera’s side, touchedher arm. “Let us go,” he said, and as they drewaway La Ferita filled the air with new imprecationsagainst Tarsis. The doctor and the nurses triedto calm her, but without avail.
“My day will come!” were the last words of hersthat Hera caught as she passed from the room.“He shall pay. He killed her. He shall pay!”
AN HOUR OF RECKONING
Two days afterward, when Hera and Tarsiswere dining alone, he asked her about the workshe had begun among the poor of the Ticinesequarter, and she told him that she had subscribed150,000 liras to a fund to build a settlement thereafter the London plan, and that she had beenchosen an officer of the Society of Help, andintended to take an active part in its service.
“By the way,” he remarked, affecting a mannerof light concern, “I have decided to withdrawmy offer of funds for your charitable enterprises.”
“Have you changed your opinion of the work?”
“No; but I’ve changed my opinion of you,”he answered, and she saw his cold smile at play.“Perhaps it is as well you should know,” headded, “that my eyes have been opened.”
In his mind the tale that Ulrich had carriedabout the meeting with Mario at the hospital,he regarded her narrowly, studying the effectof his words; she was aware of a note of challenge[Pg 180]in them; their meaning puzzled her, and she brokethe rule of silence she had observed hithertotoward his displays of malevolence.
“Your eyes have been opened?” she said.“May I ask what you have seen?”
“I—have—seen—your—subterfuge!” he responded,leaning forward and striking the tablewith the tip of his forefinger.
“Yes; and let me tell you that it is not worthwhile to continue the masquerade of charity.I am aware of your secret designs.”
“I do not understand you.”
“My belief is that you do,” he returned,speaking fast and vehemently, “though you maymake yourself believe that you do not, just asyou delude yourself with the idea that you areexceptionally noble to wrong me, your husband,that you may be faithful to another man.”
Hera had risen from the table; it was his firstopen blow, and she met it standing. A deep flushof colour dyed her temples, but she compressedher lips resolutely, obedient to an instinct whichforbade her to quarrel with him, as it would haveforbidden her to bandy words with the domestic[Pg 181]who appeared just then with the cordial andglasses. She moved to the open window andstood with her back to him. Before her lay thegarden with its stately white urns, the rich foliageof the trees, and beyond the wall the moonlitroofs of the workers’ homes, all touched with themystery of the night, and Hera, looking out uponthe picture, endeavoured to think clearly; shetried to pacify her warring emotions, to detachright from wrong, to stand them far apart, andwith the eye of justice survey each in its nakedproportions. As to what might be the wholemeaning of the suspicions he had expressed shegave no thought; she contemplated only the causeof the angry spirit that was roused in him, andof which she saw herself the author; and for thisher conscience adjudged her guilty.
“The fault is mine,” she said, at length, turningtoward him, sadness in her face. “I have doneyou a great wrong. By reason of it I am sufferingmore than you can know. I ought never to havebecome your wife.”
“Still, it is a wrong that you may redress,”he returned, more gently, as he paused in hismeasured pacing of the room.
“No; it is impossible,” she avowed, painfully.
“It is your plain obligation to do so,” he asserted,his manner harsh again. “What right have youto accept all that your husband bestows andgive nothing in return?”
She answered him slowly, measuring everyword: “The wrong I did you was in yieldingto your solicitations—in allowing you to persuademe to marry you. I should have been stronger.For the rest, I am giving you all that I promised.Can you deny this?”
He did not answer the question. Instead, heswept her with a contemptuous glance. “Iperceive that with all this pretty show of remorse,”he said, “you are determined to keep up yourdefiance of me.”
“Indeed, I am acting in no spirit of defiance,”she replied. “You must believe that. I tellyou that, in the circumstances, I should deemmyself on a plane with the women of the Galleriaif I became to you what you wish.”
She turned again to the window, and his coarselaugh sounded in her ears.
“You would have me believe,” she heard himsneering, as he drew nearer to her, “that you are[Pg 183]living up to some poetic ideal. At the outset Iwas fool enough to swallow that fiction. Ithought that you were merely carrying idealismto the verge of absurdity, and at that point youwould come to your senses and turn back. Icredited my wife with being honest, you see.”
“Will you spare me these insinuations?” shesaid. “I beg of you to speak out.”
“Oh, your counterfeit of lofty virtue is skilful,”he went on, mocking her manner. “Though alittle cheap at times, on the whole it woulddeceive a critic who did not know the truth.I happen to know the truth, signora.”
Now she faced him with flashing eyes. “Tellme what you mean!”
He snapped his fingers in her face. “Bah!Your imperious airs do not fool me. I knowsomething of the blue blood now. It is like anyother—has the same passions and gratifies themin the same way. As a noblewoman you oughtat least to have the courage of your vices.”
She started for the door, but stopped suddenlyand faced him again. “Say what you mean indirect words or I shall go.”
“Oh, I will be plain!” he flung back, going close[Pg 184]to her. “The man by whom you pretend to beinspired so grandly is simply one who provokesyour appetite more than I do. You have nevergiven him up. He cannot come to you. Thatwould destroy the pretty illusion of virtue; soyou go to him. To this end you employ a shrewdsubterfuge. Suddenly you are seized with afever of pity for the poor of Milan. You have aburning desire to feed the hungry, to clothe thenaked. You select the Porta Ticinese quarterfor your field of labour, although the same conditionsprevail not a stone’s throw from this spot,”and he pointed towards the roofs that showedabove the garden wall.
She had turned her back to him. “Why doyou go to the Porta Ticinese?” he went on.“You wish plain speech. I answer, then, becauseMario Forza is to be found there in his Co-operativeSociety offices. He, too—snivelling demagogue!—lovesthe poor. That you may go tohim, whom you love, you come to me, whomyou choose to despise, for money!—that you maycarry on your intrigue under the cloak of charity!I was blind before, signora, but now——”
“Stop!” she commanded him, wheeling suddenly.[Pg 185]“What you say is false, madly, monstrouslyfalse!” She rose before him a queenlyyoung figure, erect and tall. Had it been givento Tarsis to know he would have perceived in thatmoment, as he looked upon her, that his angerhad driven him to a terrible misjudgment. Thepoise of her head, the intrepid, direct messageof her eyes, her bearing, so superior tovulgar graces—these were her clear ensigns of adisdain profound for the mean, the low, theperfidious; but to all this Tarsis was blind, as anenraged bull is blind to the glories of the sunset.She turned from him and moved once more towardthe door to the passage that led to her privateapartments; but still the impassioned voiceof Tarsis was at her ear.
“Oh, don’t play the grand nobility with me”;he muttered. “I have been too easy with you,too eager to serve, to please you. I have beenweak—I, who was never weak before. But thatis past. I don’t care what you do. HenceforthI shall be strong. Do you hear? I know myrights. In Sicily we have a way of spoiling suchgames as you have been playing.”
Hera kept moving toward the door, but always[Pg 186]she felt his breath panting beside her. At thethreshold she turned and paused long enoughto say, her voice issuing without a tremor:
“I repeat that what you have said is false, absolutelyfalse!”
Then she went her way down the corridor.
In solitude, she put herself face to face with thesituation’s hideous fact. Though wounded tothe depths of her being, she had no impulse totears. She felt impelled rather to bitter smilesfor her grim failure in striving to serve two masters—totravel any path but that which the heartpointed. So this was the price of her father’speaceful days, her aunt’s triumph over thebloodhounds of debt, the restoration of a Barbiondito the palace of her ancestors! Ah, well,she would end it now, and she cared not whetherthe sequel should be good or ill.
The force of events had awakened in her alatent Titanic element that lifted her superiorto weak scruple. She was conscious of a marvellousaccession of moral strength. Now shefelt that no barrier might rise high enough to[Pg 187]baffle her purpose. Fervidly she was thankfulthat her spirit had come forth unconquered, andthat, chained though she was to a rock, her soulcould be free. She thought of her father, andweighed the effect upon his fortunes that partingfrom Tarsis might produce, but not for long didshe harbour that consideration; she cast it fromher as she might have dashed a cup of hemlock,resolved that her life should be poisoned no morefor other people’s good. Come what might, inthis crisis she would honour the heart’s edict.She had learned somewhat of her great mistake.It had proved a tree of knowledge, and in eatingof the fruit her moral nature had found itself—becomewell defined and unified—so that shestood now as a law unto her own processes.
Nevertheless, she retained her sense of justice,and drew comfort from the fact that her husbandhad been the aggressor; that the deceit by whichhe had obtained her consent to the marriage, hisrash accusations, his insults, gave her warrantfor quitting his house and ending the mockeryof their relation. It never occurred to her mindthat the situation left any alternative course.She rang for her maid and directed her to prepare[Pg 188]for their departure on the morrow, by an earlytrain. Then she wrote a message to Tarsis,enclosed the sheet in an envelope, and stood itagainst a mirror, to make sure that it shouldcatch her eye in the morning.
A BILL PAYABLE
In ten hours, or at nine o’clock in the morning,Hera, and her maid, the only servant she hadbrought from the Brianza, entered a cab that hadbeen summoned to the Via Cappuccini gate anddrove to the Central railway station. They tooka train that started at about the hour that Tarsis,heavy-eyed after a sleepless night, seated himselfat the breakfast table and received her eloquentlybrief note. It was placed in his hand by Beppe,the velvety man-servant who brought the coffee:
Your groundless accusations leave me no alternativebut to withdraw from your house. It is mypurpose to make the separation permanent. I go tomy father.
Hera dei Barbiondi.
He read it a second time, then leaned back andflecked the sheet with his fingers in a studied showof cool reflection; but his bitten lip spoiled the[Pg 190]effect that he strove to produce. When he lookedup Beppe’s eyes were riveted upon him in amanner unheard of for that genius in the art ofseeing and hearing nothing. The incident, smallin itself, proclaimed loudly enough that thepalace retainers, from stable-boy to the head ofthe kitchen, were feasting already on the deliciousscandal. It advised Tarsis as well that beforenightfall the fashionable world would have thenews on its tongue, thence to fly from the twelvegates of Milan to all parts of Italy.
Though contempt for public opinion had markedhis career in all else, he had taken a keen pridein standing before the world as the husband ofhis young and beautiful high-born wife. It wasthe dearest of all his triumphs because it fed hisvanity most. And now he perceived the glareof ridicule into which her desertion must throwhim. Oddly enough, it was this realisation thatset the first brand to his wrath. He was seizedwith a wild impulse to follow her to Villa Barbiondiand assert his authority over her—compel her,by main force, if the need should be, to returnto the palace.
When he rose from the table the servant was[Pg 191]not too busy to take notice that he caught upthe bit of writing and crushed it in his fist. Whatstep this man of the South would take in the caseat hand was a question of absorbing interest tothe Northern men and maids of the household.They believed, one and all—and in hushedvoices uttered their belief as a black forecast—thatthe life of some one would be demanded inpayment of the bill, and that it would not be thelife of their master. Every item of news thatcould be carried to the kitchen and stables wasawaited avidly, and Beppe, there on the spot,knew that many ears yawned for the report of hisobservations. Tarsis was aware not only thatthe man’s eyes followed him when he moved fromthe breakfast room, but that a neck was cranedto keep him in view as he made his way acrossthe Atlantean chamber.
The splendours of that great room played uponhis feelings with a strange subtlety. He felt thepower for mockery which at certain momentsresides in lifeless things. With its spell uponhim the marble Atlantes began to breathe; theirhollow eyes had the gift of sight, and from theirhigh stations between the windows they looked[Pg 192]down upon him with cynical interest. He notedfor the first time that all the portraits of theBarbiondi were painted with a broad grin. Thevery walls of the palace chuckled in their re-echoof his solitary footfalls.
Entering the library, he closed the door andpaced before the printed wisdom of ages; but noquieting message was there for him in all thattreasury of placid thought, divine inspiration,human experience. It was as if no Greek hadever meditated, no Christ ever lived, no fellow-beingever suffered. In his own life the tragedyof ages was on for its hour, and the spirit thatswayed him was the spirit of the cave-dwellerrobbed of his female in the dawn of the centuries.The events of the last two weeks rose before him.A vision of all that had come and gone grewvivid in his mind. At first Donna Beatrice andDon Riccardo and Hera were there, each standingin proper relation to the whole; but one by onethese faded out to disclose with infuriating boldnessthe face and figure of Mario Forza.
A few minutes more and Tarsis ceased walkingto take a seat at the Napoleonic table.He rested one arm on the mosaic and drummed[Pg 193]meditatively with the tips of his fingers. There wasnaught in his bearing now to indicate the stormthrough which he had passed. Nor was there anysign that he had reached a terrible decision.Again he was the self-centred man of business,calmly at work upon the details of an importantproject. The prophecy of the kitchen and thestable yard was in the first stage of its realisation.To Mario Forza the account was to be renderedand payment demanded in full.
His native impulse was to present the bill inperson, to exact a settlement with his own hand;it would be no more than the honouring of a lawsacred to his island birthplace. By that methodthe honey of revenge was sweetest. Nevertheless,for a man of his estate its disadvantages wereundeniably real. With a cool head he countedthe possible cost and found it too great. Anancient Sicilian proverb ran with his thoughts—“’Tiseasier to shed blood than to wash out itsstains.” Here was a reasoning that appealedto his mind, accustomed as it was to weigh all inthe balance of profit and loss; and so it fell outthat he shaped a plan of vengeance that shouldenlist the service of another. Some one else,[Pg 194]skilled in the art, but of smaller importance tohimself and the world, should wait upon SignorForza and—present the bill.
So much for the main design; that was clear.But there were indispensable details, and overthese Tarsis puzzled until he opened his otherhand—the one not resting on the table—andlooked at the scrap of paper it had beenclutching. It was Hera’s note crushed into a ball.A moment he weighed the thing on his open palmand regarded it in bitter reflection. Here laythe epitome of his fondest ambition, his capitaldisappointment. It was the first and only timeshe had written to him; and with the rising ofthis fact in his mind flashed an idea that grewand supplied the details. He dramatised thefuture on a stage set with the ruins of a cloisterand an old church for the background; it was ascene redeemed from total darkness by the glimmerof a moon that hung far on the slope of the heavensand there was no sound save the breathing ofhim who watched and waited in the shadow, witha keen blade ready for work. The conceptiontouched some artistic chord of his nature, and hesmiled and told himself it was good. In the old[Pg 195]monastery Mario Forza had contracted the debt;in the old monastery he should pay.
He picked open the crumpled paper and spreadit flat on the marble. He smoothed out the creasesas best he could, then got blank paper, a pen,and a well of ink. It may have been for an hourthat he sat there copying again and again thefew lines his wife had written. In the firstessays his eye travelled often from the copy to thepen as he fashioned each letter after Hera’s handobserving minutely and matching the slightestpeculiarity. Patiently he went over and overthe precise curl of a y’s tail, the loop of an l, orthe dot of an i. At length he was able to writeoff the missive, Hera’s signature included, to hissatisfaction without once looking at the model.
His next step was to leave the library, lockingthe door to make sure that no one should enterand see the table littered with the evidence of hiswork; the next to go to the chamber that wasHera’s. There he took from a desk some of thedainty paper and envelopes that bore her monogram.A few minutes and he was back in thelibrary making a copy of her note on that paper.He held the finished product at arm’s length,[Pg 196]then at closer view, and pronounced it perfect.He was about to carry this part of his plan to itsfruition by writing a note of his own wording inthe hand of his wife when a knock stayed hispurpose. Instead of calling to the visitor toenter he rose and opened the door a few inches,mindful of the scraps on the table. Beppe wasthere with a card on his tray.
“Ask Signor Ulrich to wait a few minutes,”Tarsis said, after glancing at the name. Heappreciated the value of finishing his critical taskwhile the knack of it was warm in his brain andfingers. With composure unaffected and careunrelaxed he wrote the letter that he had shapedin his mind. It began with “My Beloved Mario”and closed with the words, “Yours, though allthe world oppose, Hera.” He inscribed theenvelope, “To the Honourable Mario Forza,17, Via Senato, Milan,” sealed it, and placed it inan inner pocket of his coat.
Beppe knocked again. “I beg your pardon,signore,” he began when Tarsis had swung thedoor no farther than before; “but the gentlemanis so urgent. He says he must see you—that hehas news which you ought to have at once. He[Pg 197]seems very full of it, signore,” he added, gravely.“I am afraid the poor gentleman will explode ifhe is not admitted very soon.”
“Ask him to wait another five minutes,”Tarsis said, and Beppe made off with a submissive“Very good, signore,” but his head shakingdubiously.
One by one his master gathered the sheets onthe table into an orderly pile, folded the lotdeliberately, and slipped them into his pocket;he looked under the table and the chair to becertain that no trace of his work remained.Then he lit a cigarette, rang for Beppe, and toldhim to show in Signor Ulrich.
The superintendent-general of the Tarsis SilkCompany bustled into the library, his lips puffing,eyes big with excitement. Tarsis greeted himstanding, waved his hand to a chair, and askedwhat had happened.
“Happened!” exclaimed Signor Ulrich. “PerDio, I could tell you sooner what has nothappened.”
“Let us have what has happened first,” wasthe other’s quiet command. “Be good enoughto give me the facts briefly.”
“Briefly, then,” cried the Austrian, too muchagitated to sit down, “hell is at large!”
“No; a revolution!”
Tarsis had schooled himself not to take the mantoo seriously; he valued the ardour that he gaveto his tasks, but took care to divide the chafffrom the wheat of his enthusiasm.
“What are the particulars?” he inquired.
“All our mills are shut down.”
“All in Milan?”
“In three provinces—Piedmont, Lombardy, andVenetia. They called the hands out by telegraph.But that was only the beginning. The mob isshouting for bread and rioting; not alone the silkworkers, but hundreds of others—all the lazyrabble of the quarter”; and the man of practicalnotions fumed in wrath against this unexpectedphase of social phenomena.
“A bread riot is hardly our affair,” Tarsisremarked, dropping into a chair. “It’s a casefor the police.”
“But they have made it our affair,” Ulrichsaid. “Every window in the Ticinese Gate millis smashed, and what is more, the place[Pg 199]would have been in flames but for the carbineers.”
“Are the soldiers out?” Tarsis asked, blowingthe ashes from his cigarette.
“Soldiers out! Horns of the devil! The soldiershave been attacked, they have dischargeda volley into the crowd, killed two, and woundednobody knows how many.”
The Austrian looked in vain for any sign ofalarm on the face of his master. To Tarsis itseemed a petty incident, indeed, by contrastwith the revolt in his own soul and the deed uponwhich he had determined.
“This has happened before,” he said, “and Ihave no doubt that order will be restored in afew hours. Now, let us consider the strike.That is more to our concern. What do they wantthis time?”
“I confess that I do not know and am unableto ascertain,” Ulrich answered, quelled in ameasure by the other’s belittlement of the situation,but not convinced.
“Have they presented a demand?”
“No, signore. It came about in this wayat the Ticinese Gate mill: Every Tuesday I[Pg 200]make a visit of inspection there. I arrived asusual at 8 o’clock this morning. In the weavingdepartment I noted a strange, brazen-facedfellow going from loom to loom distributingleaflets. I guessed that he was up to somemischief. Quietly I got a look at one of thecirculars and saw that the rascal was sowingsocialism in our own ground—under our noses,in truth.”
“What was in the circular?”
“Oh, it was a seditious, scurrilous, shamefulthing. The heading of it was ‘To the GoldenGeese,’ and it asked them how much longer theywere going to lay golden eggs for Tarsis and hisgang of conspirators against the poor. Tarsisand his gang! Those were the words, signore!Anarchism, rank anarchism!”
“And then?” Tarsis asked, glancing up whileUlrich paused for breath.
“I had the fellow arrested, of course. But nota word of protest had I uttered before. Ha!They all thought I was afraid to speak. While hewas distributing the papers I telephoned to theQuestura of Police. Quickly two Civil Guardscame and nabbed him. Then what happened?[Pg 201]Red Errico, foreman of a group of the weavers,began to cry out against me. He called me aslave, a tyrant, a jackal, all in the same breath.Think of it, signore. What ingratitude! Youyourself will remember that it was I who appearedbefore the Board of Directors and asked that thewages of the children be advanced from twelveto fifteen soldi a day. And now they call me tyrant!The whole crew of them did it, and to myteeth, signore, to my teeth!”
“And then?” asked Tarsis.
“The ringleader and the men near him begansquawking like geese and hissing. The whole roomtook it up. Red Errico started a cry of ‘Nomore golden eggs for Tarsis and his gang!’ andjoining in this every man left his loom and madefor the door. Most of them did not wait to stoptheir machines. They rushed down-stairs and ateach floor called to the others to follow. Everyman, woman, and child of them ran pell-mell intothe yard as if the mill were on fire. All the timethey hissed and shouted, ‘No more golden eggs!’The rabble of the quarter came up, joined thestrikers, and before I knew it every windowwas smashed. It was a taste of what we[Pg 202]may expect from that man Forza’s preaching.”
Signor Ulrich perceived, not without a feelingof triumph, that his recital had moved Tarsis at last.
“I have heard enough!” he exclaimed, springingto his feet. “The Government is to blame. Ithas been too soft with these Parliamentarymischief-makers. As to the strike,” he went on,“come to me to-morrow, and I shall have someplan. Should the unions send a committeemeantime, refuse them audience. Until to-morrow,then, Signor Ulrich.”
But the Austrian did not take himself off.“I beg your pardon,” he ventured, “but I cannotgo without giving you a word of warning. Thereis great danger. I beg you not to expose yourselfto it.”
“What would you have me do, my friend?Go into hiding?”
“No; and still——”
“Bah! I am not afraid.”
“Nevertheless, signore, if you had heard whatI heard. Oh, the way they cried out againstyou! Believe me, their passions are roused, andthere is no telling what a mob may do.”
“It is considerate of you,” said Tarsis, “butI think I know how to take care of myself. Good-bye.”
“Good-bye, sir; and again I beg of you not toexpose yourself until after order is restored.”
That the superintendent’s admonition was notwasted appeared when he had gone from the room.Tarsis paced the floor awhile, striving for someway to enter the furnace without getting burnt.To the quarter of the Ticinese Gate he was resolvedto go to-night at whatsoever cost.
If it were possible to sharpen his thirst for theblood of Mario Forza the turn of events, as narratedby the Austrian, had done the work. Hefelt that he could not compose himself to sleepagain until a decisive step had been taken. Asusual, his thinking bore fruit in definite waysand means; and in three hours, when the streetlamps were lit, the master of the palace watchedhis chance and stole out by the Via Cappuccinigate. He had clipped his beard; instead of awhite collar he wore a dark silk muffler; his hat wasa broad-brimmed one of felt, and a pair of colouredgoggles concealed his eyes.
HUNTING THE PANTHER
By threading one crooked back street andanother he came out behind the Cathedral, uponwhose southern wall and forest of spires a moonalmost round poured its light. That he mightkeep in the shadow of the great Gothic pile hewent to the northern side and walked there. Theorgan was pealing for even-song, and its strainsfloated out sublimely as he passed the transeptdoor. He reflected that the last time he hadheard those tones they sounded for his weddingmarch; and, his impulse to square accounts withMario Forza quickened, he struck across thesquare at faster pace.
To the bright Victor Emanuel Gallery, itsthrong of promenaders, or the laughing, talkingmen and women at the outdoor tables of thecafés, he gave no heed. The news of the day—setforth in the journals hysterically—was nottaken with much seriousness in that company.The conflict of the morning, in Milan, between[Pg 205]the workers and the soldiers was no worse in itsresult of killed and wounded than like conflictsin other towns of the kingdom that day andthe day before. All of the newspapers appreciatedthe importance of what had befallen;a small number were sensitive of the dangerthat seemed to be in the air. An alarmist editordeclared that from one end of the Peninsula tothe other the word had passed to revolutionarycentres to rise against the Government.
The trouble was due chiefly to the dearness ofbread. In the country districts it was aggravatedby the strike of the agricultural labourers. Tuscanyand Sicily, Naples and Romagna wereseething with discontent. Parma, Piacenza, andPavia in the North, Arcoli, Malpetra, and Chietiin the South, had been scenes of bloodshed.Nevertheless, in the luxurious harbours of lifethere was a tendency to discredit the journals,to judge them over-zealous in the concocting ofa sensation.
Tarsis gained the busy highway that leadstoward Porta Ticinese. Passing a man he knew,he looked at him squarely to test the efficacy ofhis disguise; the other gave no sign of recognition,[Pg 206]and he went on with renewed confidence. Hewas aware that the Milanese carried themselveswith an odd mien to-night. There was a certainanxiety in the faces of some, notably the better-dressedclass. Those who belonged to what iscalled the lower populace had a saucy, lightlydefiant air; they walked with a swagger andstared the better-dressed out of countenance;some of the young men had in their gait the swingacquired by service in a regiment of Bersaglieri,but when they passed a conscript from thebarracks they made sport of him.
Tarsis’s course lay past the Chapel of SantaMaria delle Grazie, where the Last Supper ofLeonardo da Vinci survives. Thence, by one ortwo turnings, he reached the Corso Porta Ticinese.Never had he seen that thoroughfare, alwaysteeming with life, so crowded. The peopleswarmed in from all directions and overran thesidewalks. He encountered groups of workmensinging labour songs or listening to heated oratorywhich was a confusion of old prejudice and newthought.
A little farther and he was in the heart of thequarter. There were now no vistas of gardens[Pg 207]through arched porticos. Here and there awithering flower on a window ledge struggledfor life. The champion of vested interests wasvaguely sensible of a sneer in the air—an impalpableghost that grinned at stock ideas. A deadcat whizzed from somewhere and struck a passingcarbineer, who looked back with a curse, whichthe men returned in kind and the women withhisses. In a café that had a marionette show adrama was under way. It was called The Manand the Master. Every time the Man belabouredthe Master with a club—which was very often—thebravos of the audience were loud and long.
Tarsis was seeing the social picture at closerange, but it did not give him a new appreciation.His mind was not receptive that night. He hadnot entered poverty’s region for observation andstudy, but to seek out the one human creaturein the world to whom he was willing to intrustthe task of exacting payment from Mario Forza.For the time being his whole existence was centredupon that design.
He came to the old octagonal church of SanLorenzo. From a pulpit outside a priest waspreaching the gospel of peace. Most of the auditors[Pg 208]were bare-headed women, whose faces, as theylistened, were blank; some of them wore a look ofdull scepticalness. On the skirts of the assemblageyounger persons larked among themselves orscoffed in an undertone at what the priest said—anirreverence that did not seem to grate uponanybody’s sensibilities. At times the preacher’svoice was drowned by the Marseillaise comingin mighty chorus from a tavern. When a bagon the end of a long pole wielded by a brawny-armedsacristan was passed among the congregationthe coppers chinked, as of old, to thehonour of the Lombardian proverb, “The handof the poor is the purse of God.”
News-sellers shouted the name of a revolutionaryjournal. In big headlines the revolt of thesilk workers was heralded and the militaryberated for shooting down the window-smashers.The papers were so held in the arms of the vendorsthat Tarsis saw the cartoon that had beendashed off and published on his wedding day.The editor “had judged the events of the morninga fit reason for recalling it to patriotic use, as theMinister of War had recalled some of hisreserves to service.” Wherever Tarsis looked[Pg 209]he beheld his punched nose and the flow of goldpieces.
Beyond the church, serene in the moonlight,as if a spirit of the eternal chiding men for theirvain turmoil, rose the ancient colonnade of SanLorenzo, the only large fragment of her remotepast that Milan possesses. The great Corinthiancolumns had stood there since the third century,when “Mediolanum,” second only to Rome, wasaffluent in the dignity and beauty of an imperialcity. An orator of the quarter, sowing discontent,once made use of the noble relic to point a moral.“There are two sorts of ruins, my comrades,”he said; “one is the work of time, the other ofmen.”
The place for which Tarsis was making lay alittle farther on. It was a café of the cheap andgaudy grade; its large front windows bore thelegend in yellow and green, “Café of the AncientColonnade.” Before he could traverse the Corsothere swung into view from another street avociferous collection of men and women marchingwithout order of line. They were the strikingsilk-workers. Tarsis had no taste for breakingthrough their ranks, which he must have done[Pg 210]to reach the point upon which he had his eye.He waited until they had gone by.
They made a great hubbub with their songsand outcries against facts of the existing order.At their head a blacksmith bore a huge bannerinscribed “Society for the Prevention of Crueltyto Men and Women.” Scattered through thejumbled mass of marchers were placards bearingsuch declarations as:
“We are the golden geese.”
“We want more of the golden eggs.”
“Down with the tax on bread.”
“Down with Tarsis and his gang.”
From windows and sidewalk the onlookersfilled the air with their shouts of “Bravo!” Nowand then a group of them would join the marchers.One placard read, “We Are the Heart-blood ofWealth,” but to Tarsis the demonstration didnot seem a pulse-beat of society; in his view it wasmerely another howl from the ungrateful proletariat.He was annoyed because he had to waitand indignant that the authorities did not puta stop to the incendiary display. In due courseit was broken up by the carbineers—ultima ratio[Pg 211]legis. Grape shot was scattered freely, undertakersenjoyed a revival of trade, and the wardsof the General Hospital were over-crowded. Tarsisheard the firing from a distance, and thoughtit high time the authorities took the case in hand.The last of the marching mob had passed beforethat act of the drama was played, leaving himfree to cross to the Café of the Ancient Colonnade.
He saw the Panther—the man he sought—seatedat a table by the window engrossed in a game ofmora. While he had faith enough in his disguiseas an outdoor device, he was unwilling to temptfate by entering the café. It was possible, hereflected, that one of the rough fellows there,playful in his cups, might pull the goggles fromhis eyes. That the sound of his voice alonewould be sufficient to make the one he wantedrecognise him he felt sure, but it might revealhis identity to others as well. So he walked on,to return again and again. For two hours hepassed and repassed the place, striving to catchthe eye of his man and give the signal that wouldnot fail to bring him forth. When at last hisperseverance bore fruit, the fellow who came outdid not look suitable for the employment that[Pg 212]Tarsis had to offer. He was small of stature andof sickly mien. His eyes were those of a fish,but he moved with the tread of a panther. Tarsiskept on walking, and the other followed at adiscreet distance. In that order they proceededamid the throngs of the corsos and in the streetsso quiet that they caught the sound of eachother’s footfalls.
So certain was Tarsis of the Panther that hedid not once glance behind. Before he turnedto speak to him they had crossed Via Pier Capponi,the last illuminated street, and were beyond theroofs of the town standing in the great levelplain of Army square. There was no mincingmatters. In the Sicilian patter, which was themother tongue of each, Tarsis unfolded hisscheme. The wind had blown an opaque shadeover the moon and stars. To the northward,where the long line of barrack buildings stood,they could discern lights flitting to and fro andthe shadowy movements of men. They hushedtheir voices once or twice when there came outof the blackness near by the tramp of manœuvringsoldiers, the clank of arms, the low-keyedcommands of the officers.
When the affair had been arranged, to thesmallest detail, the Panther closed his paw on athousand-lira note and vanished in the darkness.Tarsis waited a minute before he made off; thentook a path around by the cavalry barracks, andcame into the light of the street lamps behind theDal Verme Theatre. There he found a cabmandozing on his seat. He roused him and nameda certain wine-shop hard by the Monforte Gatebeyond the walls.
“Don’t drive across the city,” he said.
“How then, signore?”
“Go by the Girdle Road. I wish to have adrive.”
“As the signore desires,” said the other,clucking to his nag.
Soon they were moving in the wide thoroughfarethat girts Milan without the ramparts. Thenight was far spent, but men and women keptit alive in the taverns that clustered about theTicinese and other gates that they passed. Tarsishad no intention of visiting the wine-shop, andwhen the cabman had set him down there hetossed him his fare and walked away. Enteringthe city at once, he followed the Bastion drive[Pg 214]as far as Via Cappuccini, and by this reached therear gates of Palazzo Barbiondi. Before stoppingto press the electric button concealed in the iron-workhe took off the goggles, turned up the brimof his hat, and removed the muffler. Beppeanswered the summons, rubbing his eyes. Hewas about to close the small opening he had madeto admit his master when Tarsis commanded himto throw wide both the gates. The astonishedretainer obeyed, and wondered what new sensationwas brewing. Presently he saw two streamsof light shoot from the garage, then the swiftestof the motor cars with the master at the lever.
“I will return in an hour,” he said, rolling intoVia Cappuccini. Quickly he was beyond thewalls on the highway that he had travelled oftenin his visits to the Brianza. The moon hung low,but the road was all his own, and he let his machinego. When he stopped it was before the post-officein Castel-Minore. The village was asleepand the post-office was dark; but Tarsis knewof the iron box set in the wall, with its slot forletters, and, assured that no eye beheld him, hedrew from a pocket the forgery he had preparedwith such patience and skill. A moment he held[Pg 215]it in the light of the motor car’s lamps to makecertain that it was no other than the missiveaddressed to Mario Forza; then he went to thebox and dropped it in. The hour which he toldBeppe he would consume had not elapsed whenhe was back in Via Cappuccini touching the secretbutton at the palace gate.
THE POT BOILS OVER
The following day at dawn La Ferita and fortythousand fellow mill and factory hands brokethe time-honoured rule of their lives. Insteadof going to the work that awaited them, theyjoined the battalions of the unemployed and setabout the business of redressing their wrongs.They adopted the extraordinary course of throwingup barricades and taking possession of halfof the town. To Ulrich the Austrian and mastersof labour in general this boiling over of the socialpot was a puzzle. And the municipal authoritieswere astonished that so many thousands of thepeople should follow the banner of anarchy; thatmen and women, hundreds of them, should standtheir ground and die when cavalry charged thebarricades. The military officers could not comprehendit at all, but agreed, over their cognac inthe cafés, that such heroism was worthy of theconventional battle-field.
Mario Forza and his party in the Camera had[Pg 217]striven to avert the disaster, but always theGovernment had been deaf to the warning.Why workers should cease work and wish to upsetthe established order was as much a riddle to thecabinet as to the shop-keeper and the manufacturer.The editor of the newspaper thatprinted the famous “punched nose” of Tarsiswas asked what he thought of the situation.He defined it as a mixture of labour war andhunger begotten of incompetent, unenlightenedgovernment.
At one gate the troops—most of them countrylads—had to fight thousands of peasants armedwith pitchforks and scythes who tried to re-enforcethe rebels within the walls. Cavalry rushes andvolleys from the infantry were used against them,but their barricades did not fall until cannon wasdischarged into them. Many of the rioters hadhad more experience as soldiers than the uniformedfarm hands against whom they fought; a conditiondifficult to avoid in a country where militaryservice is the price of citizenship.
On an outer boulevard a large body of insurgents,after a company of Bersaglieri had given them apeppering from their muskets, advanced on the[Pg 218]soldiers and showed them what could be donewith stones flung by enthusiasts. They drovethe soldiers into the moat that runs round thecity wall, then returned to the barricades theywere building of overturned carts and carriages ofthe gentry and an automobile they had captured.
Every one arrested was heard before a courtmartial; all prisoners were committed to cells.From behind their bars they launched cursesagainst their captors and defiance of authority.Some of the newspapers hailed theuprising as the birth of a new and glorious Italy.These were seized promptly. Men with swordssat at the desks where men with pens had donetheir work. The Queen of Holland, who wasexpected, was advised by the Minister of theInterior not to proceed to Milan. Whereverworkmen were found grouped an unceremoniousshower of bullets dispersed them.
It had been all fun for the rebels the nightbefore, when Tarsis and the Panther, in the gloomof Piazza dell’ Armi, arranged to square theaccount against Mario Forza. There were notenough soldiers about then to interfere with themobs that took the ordering of pleasures into[Pg 219]their own hands. They swept into the Dal VermeTheatre and occupied excellent seats. The manager,wise in his hour, accepted the situation andinstructed his singers to do their best. It turnedout as he expected. Listening to the arias ofThe Huguenots proved tame work for revolutionists,and before the act was over they rushedinto the street, following a leader who had shouted,in a voice heard above the music, “On to thebakeries, comrades! On to the meat-shops!”
The same cry had begun to ring in every partof the town where the revolt was in progress. Itwas an epitome of the new movement. Afterall, the reform chiefly desired was a full stomachinstead of an empty one. Bakery windows werebroken, haunches of meat were lifted from theirhooks, slaughter-houses were sacked of drippingcarcasses. Bread! It was piled up at the streetcorners! A new type of butcher presided overthe meat. He gave it for the asking and usedno scales.
All this was pleasing and satisfactory to thePanther, who witnessed such scenes of the dramaas were enacted in the neighbourhood of theCafé of the Ancient Colonnade. It seemed to him[Pg 220]that affairs had taken a distinctly lucky turn, inview of the service Tarsis had engaged him toperform. As he sipped his coffee or puffed his“Cavour” he reflected that the minds of theofficials, press, and public were preoccupied bydoings of great moment. Therefore, they wouldhave scant attention to spare on the result of thesmall commission intrusted to his skill. In thiscarnival of bloodshed and pillage who wouldcare whether the Honourable Mario Forza werealive or dead? He had no misgiving, but it waspleasant to feel that in case his work were doneawkwardly the police would be too busy to meddlewith his business of escape.
“Easy money, and more to come,” he toldhimself, complacently, and the hand in his pockettouched the thousand-lira note that had beentransferred from the wallet of Tarsis.
In other cities there had been similar risings, andthe rulers, appalled by the power of the peopleto help themselves, decided suddenly to givethem the measures of relief that Mario Forza andhis Parliamentary group had been asking formonths. The General Government issued a decreesuspending the entire duty on wheat; the municipal[Pg 221]authorities of Milan put forth a proclamationsaying that the price of bread would be reducedat the public expense. But the concessions weretoo late. Not by bread alone was the madnessto be appeased. The fire of insurrection hadentered the blood, and the masses went on withtheir object lesson in the science of betteringsocial conditions. Refused the reasonable, theydemanded the unreasonable.
Emblems of refinement and luxury enragedthem. A blind fury which none could foreseeattacked the statues in the public squares, theornaments on the fountains, the treasure housesof painting, sculpture, and letters. A few wholoved and revered such things risked their livesto save them.
Ulrich the Austrian, on his way to PalazzoBarbiondi to learn how it fared with his master,saw and heard things that took the high colourfrom his cheeks and made him continue hisjourney with the cab-shade drawn. He had seenwomen place their children on the top of barricades,bare their breasts to musket fire, and invitedeath. Once above the wave of the mob’s ragehe had heard the tremulous cry of a child; a[Pg 222]mother, in the front rank of the rebels, was holdingit at arms’ length while the cavalry dashed uponher. And he had seen women, when struck,bandage their wounds and return to the battle.
Wherever the mob fought most savagely therewas La Ferita, the long scar on her face dullednow by the grime of the struggle. Often itwas her hand that applied the torch. With thewomen that followed her she urged on the men,or dashed alone in front of the soldiers, callingthem cowards, assassins, “slaves of Tarsis, whokilled little children.” Now and then the soldierscharged their tormentors. Although some ofthem stood their ground or were carried awaywounded, La Ferita was never among the number.
“I can die!” she told her comrades. “But itis not time. I have work to do.”
In Via Torino she led her women to a roof,from which they poured such a destructive fireon the troops that they had to retire for shelter.This was achieved without other weapons thanbits of terra cotta, and by a form of attack notset down in any manual of war. The women toreup the tiles and chimney pots and dropped themon the heads of the soldiers. A little while and[Pg 223]women lay dead on those roofs. An officer of themilitary, tired of seeing his men felled, stationedsharpshooters on other roofs to pick them off.But even from this danger La Ferita escapedunharmed.
Inured to long hours of toil, the day of battlinghad told little upon her strength, and the deedof vengeance her mind was set upon spurred herforward. Then there was the grappa, thatfiery liquor dear to the Milanese workman. Itwas as free as the bread and the meat to-day,and La Ferita did not miss her share. In ViaTorino she fell in with a part of the mob that wassweeping toward the Cathedral. Vainly shestrove to lead them on to Palazzo Barbiondi,but they lacked courage to hurl themselvesagainst the wall of men and horses that reachedacross the square.
Yet they drew nearer by inches, until theirirregular front had pressed beyond Via SilvioPellico, closing that entrance to the square andblocking its traffic. The carriage of the Cardinalof Milan, conveying his Eminence to the railwaystation, happened to be one of the vehicles stopped,and a footfarer unable to proceed for the same[Pg 224]reason was Mario Forza. From his carriagewindow the Cardinal hailed Mario. It was theirfirst meeting since the day in Palazzo Barbiondiwhen Tarsis blamed the leader of the New Democracyfor the assassination of the King. Togetherthey looked on while the legions of lawlessforce, fired with passion, approached the coolchampions of constituted power, reviling themthe while and provoking a reply by such irritantsas stones and bottles often well aimed.
Presently the reply was delivered. A bugleblast, and the line of cavalry dashed forward.La Ferita, instead of joining the stampede ofher comrades, kept to the tactics she had employedso successfully in the face of other cavalry charges.She ran toward the right flank of the onrushingtroopers, thinking to gain the shelter of the porticoof Victor Emanuel Gallery where it ends at ViaSilvio Pellico. She would have succeeded thistime but for that last glass of grappa, gulpeddown after her escape from the sharpshooterson the roofs.
A few feet from the intended refuge she stumbledand fell at full length. The thunder of hoofsand the clank of arms were loud above her head;[Pg 225]but in the next moment Mario Forza had herin his arms, the cavalcade was flying by, andshe stood safe under the portico. She neverknew who saved her, nor did she care; enoughfor her that she had cheated the soldiers oncemore, and she shook her fist after them andcursed them as they went on with their task ofdriving the mob from the square.
Nor was Mario aware that the woman he hadsaved was she who cried out so bitterly againstTarsis in the hospital. Although she came outof the incident unscathed, her rescuer had notfared so well. The dangling scabbard of the lasttrooper of the file struck him a glancing blow,but one that dazed his senses and brought fromhis forehead a crimson stream. When full consciousnessreturned he found himself in theCardinal’s carriage, which had come to a standstillin the square before La Scala Theatre.
With a handkerchief the Cardinal had donewhat he could to bandage Mario’s wound. “Itis only a little one,” he told him, “but we shalllook to it.” He had ordered the coachman todrive to the convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie.“A few minutes, Honourable,” he said, “and our[Pg 226]friends the Bernardines will stanch that flow ofblood and make you more comfortable.”
“The Bernardines?” Mario repeated. “Theyare in Corso Magenta, and your Eminence wasbound for the railway station, in the oppositedirection.”
“Never fear,” the other returned, cheerfully.“The trains for Como or anywhere else are notdeparting or arriving on the mark to-day, andif I miss one I shall take another. Ah, what havewe here?”
The way was blocked again. A detachmentof the mob which took the soldiers unawaresand succeeded in gaining the square had attemptedto pull down the statue of Leonardo da Vinci.The rope was ready, but before they could throwit over the figure and haul it from the pedestal abattalion of infantry had arrived at double quick.As the insurgents retreated up Via Manzoni theyfilled the air with shouts of defiance, mingledwith a hideous uproar of mocking laughter. Itwas the laughter of those who had taken up thecry, “On to the Supper! Down with the Supper!”
The words came distinctly enough to the earsof Mario and the Cardinal, in spite of the din all[Pg 227]about, but they did not attach to them the meaningof the grinning mob. Had they grasped thepurpose expressed in that grim cry they wouldhave been keener to reach the Bernardine communityto which they were bound, and for a morepotent reason than that of caring for the woundof Mario Forza. For centuries the refectory ofthe convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie had heldthe painting by which the world knows Leonardoda Vinci best—his Last Supper. It hadsurvived the periods of desecration begun bythe monks themselves and ended by the Frenchsoldiers in 1796, under command of the generalwhose gift to the House of Barbiondi—theNapoleonic table—Tarsis prized so highly. Thepicture must have been lost but for the devotedservice of other painters, who, with reverenthands, from age to age, brought back its beautyof form and colour. Now the monks were itsguardians; and now it was a frenzied populacethat would desecrate it—not in the old way, byneglect or rough usage, but by tearing it outof the wall and putting an end forever to therestorations.
Via Alberto was clear again, and the carriage[Pg 228]moved forward, while the voice of the destroyers,growing fainter, sounded as a hoarse murmurbehind La Scala Theatre. In Piazza Mercantihands used to far heavier tasks laid hold of thehorses’ heads and stopped the vehicle with a jerkthat threw the Cardinal and Mario from theirseats. The doors were flung open and jeeringmen and women surged about them.
“Make the gentlemen walk!”
“To the barricade with the carriage!”
“Come, let us see you use your legs!”
And the gentlemen would have walked but forthe timely recognition of Mario by one of themasters of the situation. “Back, comrades!”he cried to them. “It is Mario Forza, the friendof labour.”
Quickly the horses were released, and thecarriage rolled on amid “Vivas!” for the HonourableForza. Without mishap Corso Magentawas attained, and they drew up at the portal ofthe convent. The chubby face and mournfuleyes of Brother Sebastiano greeted the Cardinal,and the iron-bound door swung wide to him.Swift were the movements of the brothers whenthey realised what had occurred. Not only his[Pg 229]Eminence under their roof, but with him theHonourable Forza, wounded and in need of succour!Suddenly the calm of the place was changed tobustling activity. Two of the brothers luggeda cot into a large high-ceiled room where sunshineentered, and the prior Sebastiano sent othershere and there for liniment, water, lint for thebandage, and a flask of brandy.
“You have placed me in good hands,” Mariosaid to the Cardinal from the cot on which hereclined; “and I beg of you to retard your journeyno longer. Here you may leave me and have noanxiety.”
“Of that I am certain,” the Cardinal agreed,with a nod of confidence to Brother Sebastiano.“Therefore I shall try for that train.” He lookedat his watch. “Twenty minutes after the hour.That the delays to-day are of long duration is myhope; a forlorn one, yet I’ll pursue it, for to ComoI must go.”
Brother Sebastiano and his fellows held up theirhands in dismay. Passion was rioting without,but on their side of the convent walls they knewa sense of security, as if the turmoil of the world,which had turned humanity back to the instincts[Pg 230]of the jungle, was far away. They shudderedat the thought that violent hands might be laidon the Cardinal. Heaven would not permit it,but suppose—suppose his Eminence should receivea black eye!
“Travelling to-day within the city walls orwithout,” Brother Sebastiano ventured to admonishhim, “is a most perilous undertaking.”
“Difficult we have found it,” the Cardinalowned, “but hardly perilous.”
There was a low murmur of respectful dissentfrom the monks. “Perilous, too, for the body,we can assure your Eminence. Ah, what ifharm should befall you!”
“Allay your fear, my dear brothers,” the othersaid, lightly, with an assuring smile. “Supposethey do take my carriage? I can call a cab.Failing there I can walk. The problem, you see,is exceedingly simple. As to harm corporeal—come,now, why should the people harm me?To my knowledge I have not harmed them.”
“True, true,” Brother Sebastiano hastenedto assent. “And yet, if your Eminence willpardon, there is our Brother Ignazio. He, too,did them no harm; but look at his eye!”
Brother Ignazio had just entered the room,carrying a vessel of water. One of his eyelidsand the flesh above and below were of deep violetshading down to sickly yellow.
“Alas, your Eminence,” he sighed, “thosewhom we would serve raised their hand againstme. It happened this morning in the Corso atour gate, after the service of tierce. As I turnedthe corner they fell upon me. They pulled myhair, my ears and—my nose. But, with nobitterness in my soul, I passed on. Then, withoutwarning, as I was about to enter here, one of themran up and gave me—this.” He pointed to hisdiscoloured eye.
The Cardinal admitted that the evidence wasconclusive. In his offering of consolation toBrother Ignazio he told him that the spirit abroadto-day was no respecter of persons.
“Nevertheless,” he added, “I shall go to Comoif I can get a train. Addio, Honourable,” hesaid, going up to the cot, where the brotherswere busy with their patient. “If the railwayis impossible I will return. In any event, myfriend, I will send the carriage to take you toVia Senato.”
The prior and all the monks not in immediateservice to Mario accompanied the visitor to thedoor, and they gave a concurrent sigh of anxietyas his carriage rolled away. A little while andtheir patient, his wound dressed, was sitting upand telling them how it happened. He hadreached the point in the narrative where LaFerita fell and the cavalry was rushing on, whenhis ear caught a familiar, ominous murmur andhe paused. It was the voice of the mob as hehad heard it last rising from behind La Scala.Only now it grew louder. All at once itburst forth like a fury that had broken bounds,and coming in by the open windows filled theconvent in every part. And above the roar andmocking laughter Mario heard again the cry,“Down with the Supper!” Now he understoodits import, and the white faces of the brotherstold that they too comprehended the jest of thesavage throng.
MARIO PLAYS THE DEMAGOGUE
The workman sweats
And little gets;
The rich and fine
On capons dine.
Is this fair play?
Oh, yes! priests say,
For the good God wills it so.
Song of the Bread Rioters.
Mario sprang from the couch and asked thebrothers the way to the refectory—a small buildingon the Corso Magenta side of the convent’s domainseparated by tortuous passages and a courtyardfrom the rest of the structure. It was on thesouthern wall of this humble edifice that Leonardopainted the Nazarene and the Twelve at table.Here the picture had spoken to the Milanese fourhundred years ago, and here, for all who wishedto look, it told still the story of the hour beforeGethsemane. By long custom the Bernardines[Pg 234]had thrown the place open every day at a certainhour; but Brother Sebastiano, in the light ofBrother Ignazio’s black eye, had decided tobreak the rule to-day. Thus it fell out that whenthe frenzied reformers of society reached the gateto the arched passage on which the refectoryopened they found it locked and bolted andbarred. That was a condition calling for the useof axes, and it was the sound of these on themassive oak, ringing across the inner court andpenetrating the crooked hallways, that broughtMario from his couch resolved to do something—heknew not what—to save the picture.
“The Last Supper! Our Leonardo!” he exclaimed.“It must be defended!”
“But what can we do, Signor Forza?” askedBrother Sebastiano in despair. “Who can availagainst their madness? Heaven shield us! Thegate is yielding!”
Mario, trusting to chance to find the way,started off in the direction of the clamour and thesound of crackling oak. With a common impulsethe brothers followed, but he turned and besoughtthem not to add fuel to the wrath of the mob.In a flash he realised that the religious as well as[Pg 235]every other established order was an object ofhatred to-day, and that the wild beast out therewould be infuriated the more at sight of the cowland the tonsured head.
“Let me, at least, go with you!” BrotherSebastiano entreated him.
“Yes; come and guide me to the refectory,”Mario said, catching his arm and leading himaway, and with an upraised hand warning theothers to stay behind. “But you will go backwhen I bid you?”
“As you will, Honourable,” the prior acquiescedsadly, and they moved on toward the din at thegate. When they had threaded the gloom ofmany angular passages and emerged into thesunlight of the courtyard, Mario, seeing onthe opposite side the little building thatheld the picture, asked Brother Sebastiano toreturn.
“Not yet,” said the other. “If you enter itmust be by the postern door, and I have thekey.”
“No, no!” Mario protested firmly. “Youmust come no farther. Give me the key. Goback, I beg you!”
The workman sweats
And little gets;
The rich and fine
On capons dine.
Is this fair play?
Oh, yes! priests say,
For the good God wills it so.
When his ear caught the last lines, jerked outin mighty chorus by the throng in Corso Magenta,Brother Sebastiano handed Mario the key.“Addio,” he said to him, pressing his hand.“Heaven guard you in this danger.”
“Be of good cheer,” Mario returned, and struckacross the courtyard. A moment the prior stoodthere, puzzled to know what the Honourablemeant to do, and striving to reconcile his owninactivity with his duty as head of the convent.But, faithful to his promise, he returned to thebrothers’ inner sanctum to pray and commit theissue to divine care.
At the moment Mario turned the key in thepostern the outer gate gave way, and the rioters,with a yell of triumph, surged into the passage.Between them and the Last Supper stoodyet the refectory’s front door, and the sound of[Pg 237]axes on this greeted Mario as he entered. Theplace was in deep gloom, relieved only by faintgleams that stole under the heavy curtains at thewindows. To one of these he groped his way,threw back the hanging, and let in a stream oflight that fell upon the picture but left the rest ofthe room in half darkness. He would have letin more light, but there was not time. The doorcame down, and the axemen, the women withtorches, and all the vandal crew rushed into thehouse made sacred by a painter’s art. At thehead of them was Red Errico—he who startedthe revolt in the Tarsis silk-mill. Before theysaw the Narazene and the Twelve they beheldMario standing in front of the picture—a mysteriousfigure at first sight, his bandaged foreheadand upraised hand thrown into weird relief bythe narrow shaft of light that played upon himfrom the window. It was an apparition thatmade Red Errico halt and checked for the momentthe rush of those at his back.
“Mario Forza!” the leader exclaimed, and thename passed from mouth to mouth, as those inthe room moved nearer, pushed by the crowdbehind.
“Long live Mario Forza!” a stout-lungedcarpenter shouted. “But down with the Supper!”
“Well spoken! On, comrades! Down with it!”a dozen of them chimed in, and there was ageneral move toward the painting.
“You have right on your side!” Mario proclaimed,in a voice sounding above the growlof the mob. “When you wish to pull down thiswork of Leonardo it is your right to do so, and noone may say no. You are the people, and thepeople must rule!”
“Come on, then, let us rule!” the carpentercried, raising his axe, ready to spring forward, butRed Errico pulled him back.
“Wait!” he commanded. “Wait until theHonourable has spoken.”
“Just a minute, men and women,” Mario wenton. “Just a minute let us look at the picturebefore we blot it out forever. Let us have a lastlook at the face of that Blessed Workman at themiddle of the table. You all know He was acarpenter, and let me tell you that He made asgood a fight in His time to help the workingmanas you are making to-day.”
“Bravo!” the carpenter exclaimed, loweringhis axe.
“He told the rich man to sell all that he hadand give to the poor,” Mario began again, thedissentient outbursts of his audience succeedednow by sullen murmurs here and there. “Hetold him, too, that it was harder for him to getinto Paradise than for a camel to go through aneedle’s eye. He always had a good word forthe poor, and He was never afraid to speak out.And what happened? You all know. So Iask you, for your good,—men and women ofMilan,—before you kill His beautiful likenessthere, as the heedless ones of old killed Him—beforeyou do this let us look well upon His face,that we may remember long the man who daredto tell the wearers of purple and fine linen thattheir gifts were not so great as the widow’s mite.”
He paused a moment and no voice in the crowdmade reply.
“Most of you have looked upon this picturebefore,” he continued, every ear attentive now,“for I see among you the faces of those who livein the neighbourhood, and the door here hasalways been open.”
“It wasn’t open to-day!” broke in one fellow.“But we got in all the same. Eh, comrades?”
“Shut up!” commanded Red Errico, and hewas supported by others hissing for silence.“Can’t you wait till Signor Forza has finished?”
“I am not here to make a long speech, friends,”Mario said, smiling. “It is only that I thought itwould be good for all of us to have one more calmlook at the faces in this group of famous workingmen.They were toilers, like yourselves, thosemen seated on each side of Christ. It is the hourbefore Gethsemane. He is going to leave themsoon, to be nailed to the cross for telling theworld that the labourer is worthy of his hire, andother things just as true. See what honest facesthose men have—all but one! Do you see whichthis is? Can you point out Judas the traitor?”
“Yes, yes!” a score of voices answered.
“The one next to Christ.”
“Donkey! There’s one on each side of Him!”
“He of the long nose.”
“The fellow that’s grasping the bag of silver!”
“Give us more light!” cried others in the rearof the throng. “We can’t see much!”
Mario told them to pull back the hangings[Pg 241]at the windows, and this was done so promptlyand with such vigour by many hands thatsome of the curtains were jerked from theirfastenings.
“Yes; Judas has his pieces of silver,” Marioresumed, glancing toward the man who hadobserved Iscariot’s hand gripping the bribe;“and when Christ says ‘One of you shall betrayme’ the traitor holds up one hand as if to say‘Really, I can’t believe that.’ But you see thatthe brand of guilt is on his face none the less.What a picture it is, and how proud your forefathershave been of it, men and women of Milan.Do you know how long it has been on that wall?”
“I do!” Red Errico called out. “Four hundredyears!”
Mario told him he was right, and the leader’sfriends looked at Errico in awe as there roseabout his head the halo that knowledge createsfor the ignorant. “Yes; it was on this very dayfour centuries ago that Leonardo gave it the lasttouch. Through all that time it has told itswondrous story, and may go on telling it to youand your children. Who among you will be,like Judas, the first to strike a traitorous blow[Pg 242]against the best friend the wage-earner ever had?”
There was no response for what seemed a longspace, during which the insurgents looked oneanother in the face and exchanged decisiveshakings of the head. Even Red Errico had nowords to utter except “Come away, comrades,”as he pushed through the crowd, which went withhim toward the door. But the wild beast wasstill in their bosoms, lulled to sleep only for themoment by the words of an adroit orator. Theygave forth a sullen growl as they moved into thestreet, looking back darkly at Mario, as if resentfulat heart of the power that had killed their desireto violate the old picture.
For Mario, it was all he could do to keep on hisfeet and make his way back across the courtyardto where the Bemardines awaited him anxiously.The task just accomplished had almost exhaustedhis strength, ebbed to a low point, as it was, bythe blow of the cavalryman’s scabbard and theresultant loss of blood. The wound in his foreheadthrobbed painfully, and he staggered now ratherthan walked. From the farther side of the close,to which they had ventured, the brothers saw himapproach. They had caught a glimpse as well[Pg 243]of the grumbling mob as it retreated from thepassage, and they knew their Cenacolo[A] was saved.
“But at what cost!” exclaimed Brother Sebastiano,hurrying forward with the others to theaid of Mario. “Ah, Signor Forza,” he said,taking him by the arm, “you have made allmankind your debtor to-day. But do not speaknow, we beg of you. Some time you will tell usthe story. Now you must rest.”
Scarcely had they attained the inner sanctumwhen there was the sound of a halting carriagein Via Fiori, followed by a ring of the door bell.Presently the Cardinal appeared, his step quickenedby the account of the event in the refectorygiven by Brother Ignazio on the way from theouter door.
“Ah, your Eminence,” the young monk wassaying, “we feared never to look upon the Honourable’sliving face again.”
“Indeed, it is most wonderful that we do sonow,” was the prelate’s comment, as he seatedhimself beside Mario. “Why were you leftsingle-handed to cope with them?” he asked,in reproof meant for the Bemardines.
“Single-voiced, rather,” Mario amended, smilingat the Cardinal’s notion of the encounter. “Itwas at my behest and against their wish that thebrothers took no part.”
“I think I understand,” the Cardinal said.“There was a bull to be tamed and it was betterto keep red rags out of sight. A stroke of mindagainst muscle. But in taming the bull youhave almost lost—yourself.”
With words that his looks did not bear out,Mario strove to assure them all that save for thepain where his head was cut his suffering wasslight.
“If your Eminence will drive me there,” hesaid, “I will go to my apartments.”
The Bemardines protested in chorus. “Letus care for you here,” Brother Sebastianopleaded.
“It is most kind of you,” Mario said, rising,“but sooner or later we must part, and now Ifeel able to go.”
Seeing him resolute, the Cardinal rose as welland with the brothers all about them they wentto the door.
“To our meeting again, Signor Forza,” said the[Pg 245]prior in bidding adieu. “Some day you willcome and tell us the story?”
“Yes, and you may expect me soon.”
When the rumble of the carriage had drownedthe distant roar and crackle of musketry whichtold that the unequal conflict was still on, Mariospoke his regret that the Cardinal for his sakehad lost the train to Como, and an importantengagement.
“I would lose all the trains in the world in sucha cause,” the other returned. “Did your goingto the convent not save our Leonardo? As tothe journey, I shall accomplish it yet by somemeans. The railway strike is general. Traffichas ceased on all the lines north and south.When, I wonder, shall we give to the greatest ofour problems the reason we apply to the solutionof smaller ones?”
“We are still in social darkness,” Mario said,and the Cardinal detected a note of despair thatwas strange to him. To the leader of the NewDemocracy the last two days had been a seasonof broken illusion, humiliation, and quailing hopefor the cause to which he had devoted his life.He had seen the peasantry of many provinces[Pg 246]encouraged and uplifted by the co-operativeworks his party had fostered; he had enduredabuse in their behalf, for his foes delighted tobrand the movement a nursery of revolt againstthe established order. It was true that he had notrested content to develop mere industrial concord.He had striven to keep alive the ideal, the sentimentalside of the cause. Those who had risento the idea of his Democracy knew that it touchedhumanity at every point, that its aspiration wasto imbue government with the scientific leaven ofto-day as well as the Golden Rule, to the end thatItaly’s many ills might be cured. But now, inthe face of this outbreak of class hatred, so hostileto the spirit he had striven to awaken, he apprehendedas he never had before how little was theprogress made. He felt as a gardener whocontemplates the weeds growing faster than hecan uproot them. He must have betrayed hisgloomy reflections, for the Cardinal said, as theyturned into Via Senato, and the carriage stoppedat Mario’s door:
“The seed has taken root, but is not growingto your wish. For this, my dear friend, do notdespair. We set the twig in the earth, and[Pg 247]heaven sends the storm to bend it to the tree’scourse. We regret the storm; but better alwaysa storm than a calm. Beware of calms in anyform. They are nearly akin to death. Life isaction, battle, achievement. Real success bidsus shape ourselves into God’s plan as fast as it isrevealed to us.”
“I thank you,” Mario said, cordially, graspingthe Cardinal’s hand. “It is the true, the clearway, and it is full of hope. I thank your Eminence,too, for all the kindness shown me this day.Addio.”
“Addio, caro Forza.”
The man-servant who admitted Mario exclaimedin horror at sight of his bandaged head, andforgot for a time to hand him a letter inscribed“Urgent” that had arrived by the only postdelivered in Milan that day. But he broughtit in, with many excuses, at the moment that hismaster was about to seek the grateful repose ofhis own bed. It was the letter Tarsis had preparedthe day before when he decided to exactpayment of Forza—the writing forged in Hera’shand, that should make simple the task of thePanther in collecting the bill:
Castel-Minore, Brianza, Tuesday.
My Beloved Mario:
I have left Antonio Tarsis and returned to myfather’s house. Of your counsel I have need. Cometo the old monastery to-morrow (Wednesday) nightat nine. Wait for me in the cloister. Yours, thoughall the world oppose,
P.S.—Destroy this letter.
The effect was precisely what Tarsis countedupon when he made the midnight run in the motorcar to Castel-Minore and dropped the letter intothe post-office. Mario gave the sheet to a candleflame, destroying the only scrap that might be usedagainst Tarsis should the Panther, by chance,bungle his work. Next he looked at the clockand saw that with a good horse there was time toreach the monastery at the hour. The newexcitement brought back the heavy throbbingat his temples and sharper pain from the wound.He rang for the servant and astounded him bysaying:
“I must go to the Brianza. There are notrains. Have Bruno saddled at once.”
WHAT MONEY COULD NOT BUY
Tarsis spared no pains in the laying of a plan,but that done, and the work of execution satisfactorilybegun, he awaited the result withconfidence and equable temper. It was so witheven such an exceptional emprise as that of takingthe life of Mario Forza. With the decoyingletter in the post-office, he felt that the affair waswell in train; so he went to his bed and sleptsoundly. It lacked something less than two hoursof mid-day when he rang for his valet de chambre.Instead of the usual prompt appearance of thatindividual, he was surprised by the sleek face ofBeppe at the door; it was a pale and haggardface as well this morning, with alarm looking outfrom its heavy eyes. His voice and his handtrembled while he explained that all the otherdomestics had quit the palace an hour before.
“What is the matter?” Tarsis asked, eyeing himkeenly.
“Signore, they were afraid to stay any longer.”
“Of what are they afraid?”
“The mob, signore; the mob! Much hashappened since you went to bed. The workingpeople have gone mad. A gang of them enteredthe palace of the Corvini and sacked it, they say,from cellar to roof besides killing the young Dukeand three of the servants who tried to drive themback. It is war, signore. Look!”
He went to the window and swept back thedrapery, to reveal the scene of a military camp.On the opposite side of the Corso, within thepaling of the Public Gardens, a regiment ofinfantry was bivouacked. For an absorbed minuteTarsis stared out, as Beppe thought, upon therows of white tents and patrolling sentries; buthe had seen a solitary figure moving toward theVenetian Gate that had more interest for him.There was no mistaking that forward bend of thehead and slinking movement. It was the Panther.Tarsis consulted his watch and wondered if hisaccomplice were thus early on his way to themonastery. Then he turned to Beppe and remarked,in the tone of one coolly weighing thesituation:
“This part of the city, I take it, has been savedfrom disorder so far?”
“Yes, signore. The troops have cut off thequarters of the Porta Romana, Porta Ticinese,and Porta Garibaldi from the rest of the town;but, if the signore will permit me, there is notelling how long they will be able to hold theirposition. Signor Ulrich says the rioters maybreak through and attack this part of the cityat any moment.” He spoke with a shudderand gave a look of warning to his master.
“Signor Ulrich?” Tarsis repeated. “Whenhave you seen him?”
“This moment, signore. He is without.”
“Ask him to wait.”
When seated at the breakfast table, meagrelyspread with what Beppe had contrived to prepare,Tarsis allowed the superintendent to beushered in. If the servant’s disquieting reporthad needed verification, here it was. Thoserosy cheeks were not puffing now with excitementand indignation against ungrateful strikers; hislips were ashen, his voice subdued; the events ofthe morning had given him an enlarged appreciationof the meaning and possibilities of the power[Pg 252]that had risen in Italy; and the new light frightenedhim.
Believing that bad news of the man whoheld secret meetings with his wife would bepleasing to Tarsis, the visitor’s first announcementwas that Mario Forza had been wounded. Ofthe episode in Cathedral Square—the stampedeof the mob, the saving of La Ferita from therushing cavalry, and the inadvertent blow thatcut Forza’s forehead—Signor Ulrich was able tonarrate only so much as he had learned from thehastily gathered accounts of the journals.
“Is it known if the wound is severe?” Tarsisinquired, feigning a casual interest in the detail.
“One account—that of the Secolo, I think—saysit is not likely to prove mortal.”
“But it is enough to keep him from journeyingto the Brianza to-night,” Tarsis told himself, andcursed the woman whose fall and rescue hadthwarted his purpose. He saw the Pantherwaiting vainly in the gloom of the cloister and thereturn to its sheath of his blade unstained withblood. But Tarsis did not rage or brood over themiscarried plan. He knew how to bide his time.Moreover, there had begun to run in his veins a[Pg 253]terror that made all other considerations smallindeed.
Signor Ulrich told his story as one might haverecounted the devastations of a tornado. Hisrecital was grimly quiet until he touched uponthe part played by the women. Then the picturesof what he saw, filling his mind again, caused himto roll up the whites of his eyes and shake hishead in token that the world had gone to thedogs. Per Bacco! They were no longer women,but devils from the under world! Did they notgo through fire and wreck like fiends of inferno?Did they not bare their breasts to musket fire andinvite death?
Tarsis betrayed no sign of impatience, as hewas wont to do when Signor Ulrich indulged hisgift for detailed narrative. Indeed, he himselflengthened the story by putting questions tobring out salient facts. The general superintendentcould not credit the startling deduction, atfirst, but he became positive, as the evidenceincreased, that his master—Antonio Tarsis, possessorof untold wealth, the industrial ruler whoin the past had only a smile for the demonstrationsof labour—Signor Ulrich perceived that he was[Pg 254]concerned, in this avalanche of rage, for thesecurity of his person.
“Do you think the military will be able to holdthem at bay until re-enforcements come?” heasked.
“I am afraid not, signore,” the other replied.
“Because there is no certainty of the re-enforcements.”
“Two classes of reserves, you say, have beensummoned. Will they not respond?”
“Some of them tried to respond, but they werehalted by the rioters and turned back. A thousandstarted this morning from Piacenza. Menand women threw themselves in front of the trainto prevent them from proceeding. The city’ssouthern gates are held by the rioters, and theyare reinforced hourly by agricultural labourersbent on making common cause with them. Itell you, signore, the situation is critical.”
“What do you think will happen?”
“The rioters will be masters of the city beforeanother sunrise.”
Tarsis sprang up and began to pace the floor,but stopped suddenly, and, with a smile intended[Pg 255]to be taken as one of amusement, said, “Ithink you are over-counting their strength.”
“I hope so, signore; but General Bellori toldme that he thought every available man wouldbe needed to hold the gates.”
As if to bear out his words, the roll of drumsfell upon their ears. Looking out, Tarsis beheldthe regiment whose nearness had given him noslight sense of security wheeling out of the PublicGardens and moving toward Cathedral Square.With fists clinched, he stared after the retreatingbayonets until the last one had disappearedbehind the bend of Corso Vittorio Emanuele,while the superintendent, standing by, had eyesonly for the face of his employer. He saw thetide of Tarsis’s helpless anger mount and strainthe veins of his neck and crimson his cheeks andtemples.
“Maledictions upon the weak-backed Government!”he burst out, turning from the window.“If they shot down the anarchists wherever theyfound them, killed them by the thousand, theywould put a stop to this nonsense.”
“You are right, signore,” chimed in theAustrian. “They have been too easy with them,[Pg 256]particularly with the women, who are ten timesworse than the men.”
Signor Ulrich had not overdrawn the danger.The insurgents were nearer to a mastery of thecity than he or any one else supposed. At onepoint they had cut off a large body of troops byentrapping them into a ring of barricades. Atleast half an army corps was needed if theGovernment was to retain control of thesituation.
“The palace is wholly without defence,” Tarsissaid, after a moment of silence. “Somethingmust be done. I shall call up the Questura anddemand a force sufficient to protect my property.”
He went into the library and caught up thereceiver of the telephone; for some minutes he stoodwith it pressed to his ear, but there came noresponse from the central station.
“I think communication is broken,” SignorUlrich ventured to tell him. “I saw rioterscutting down wires and stringing them acrossVia Torino to impede cavalry charges.”
“Then we must get a message to them someother way,” Tarsis said. “Probably it wouldnot be—advisable for me to go out.”
The other uttered an emphatic negative. “Ithink it would be exceedingly unwise, SignorTarsis.”
“The cries they raise are for blood.”
“What do they say?”
“Oh, signore! Something terrible!”
“I heard them shouting, ‘Down with therobbers of the poor!’”
“And you think they mean me?”
“I don’t think, signore.”
“They cry my name?”
The Austrian answered with a nodding of thehead.
“What do they say, for example?” Tarsisasked.
“Some of them cry, ‘Down with Tarsis!’Others revile you, oh, with awful epithets, signore.They have gone mad!”
Tarsis threw himself in a chair, rested an armon the Napoleonic table, and tapped it nervously.“I see,” he said; “the beasts would bite thehand that has put food in their mouths. Wemust act at once. Signor Ulrich, you will go to[Pg 258]the Questura and give my message. Say thatI demand a guard for Palazzo Barbiondi.”
The little colour that had remained to thesuperintendent left his face; but he said he wouldgo, and taking up his hat he started for the door.
“Tell them,” Tarsis called after him, and theother paused—“tell them that my servants havedeserted me; that I am here absolutely alone.Make haste, and return at all speed with theiranswer.”
Signor Ulrich bowed his acquiescence and leftthe library. When he had crossed the grandsaloon and moved through the echoing corridorsa shudder came over him to see how desertedwas the great house. The homely proverb aboutrats forsaking the sinking ship occurred to hismind and made him quicken his steps. Heglanced into the open doors that he passed, andin the ante-room called out the name of Beppe;but it was as the master had said—he was alone.At the foot of the staircase, in the portico,he stood a moment irresolute, then turned andstruck across the rear court, past the stables andgarage, to the Via Cappuccini gateway. In takingthis back street the Austrian yielded to a hunted[Pg 259]feeling that had possessed him since he heard therioters cry, “Down with Tarsis and his crew!”By following Via Cappuccini he would come outby the Cathedral, and from that point it was afew rods to the Questura.
Tarsis emerged from the Library and paced thelong course of the Atlantean chamber, a littlehumbled in spirit, yet angry in the realisationthat there had risen a tyrant, somehow, fromsomewhere, who kept him a prisoner in his ownhouse. He was conscious of a power that hadawakened to render him powerless. Too rich hewas to think much about his wealth, but now hecould not avert the recurrent thought that withall his millions he was a supplicant for life’s barestnecessity.
It irritated him to reflect that he had beenobliged to send his man to beg the authoritiesfor protection. To be sure, from fixed habit ofassertive, self-important procedure, he had usedthe word demand; but he knew—and the knowledgeredoubled his vexation—that it was a demandhe could not enforce. An hour had cometo him when the whole of his vast fortune wasnot able to purchase the one thing that he[Pg 260]wanted—bodily safety. He was sensible, too,of a dread, an invincible foreboding of calamity.And while his vanity sustained a hope that theauthorities must send word of assurance, hisnewly illumined reason said the message morelikely would show him how a beggar might beanswered.
The sun neared its setting. All the afternoonits light had played through the glazed dome downon the tessellated pavement; now those cheerfulbeams had stolen away. Everything in the greatchamber upon which his eye fell seemed to mockhis wretchedness. With hideous leers the vacantorbs of the Atlantes followed him, and he endedby bowing his head to shut out the sight. Twicehe walked the length of the room, then stoppedat a window, drew the curtain, and peered out,first upon the gold-tipped foliage of the PublicGardens, then upon the reach of broad Corsonorthward as far as the Venetian Gate.
The sidewalks were alive with moving throngs.They had the aspect of people of the class he hadseen walking there on other evenings—a stratumof the bourgeois who had an hour to spare beforedinner, returning from their promenade on the[Pg 261]Bastions. He remembered that he and Herahad watched them together more than once aftera drive. At close range anxiety might have beenread in the faces of some and heard in the voicesof others; but from where he looked there wasnaught to suggest that in another part of the townriot and bloodshed had held the stage since sunrise.It was a peaceful enough concourse of citizens;and yet, the scene filled Tarsis with a shudderingdismay. That terror which makes of the stoutestheart a trembling craven was upon him—theterror of the mob.
He was about to turn from the window, impatientthat Signor Ulrich did not come back—althoughthe man had not had time, without theloss of a minute, to reach the Questura, submitthe “demand,” and retrace his steps—when henoted that the faces of the people were turningall in one direction; their gaze was setting uponsome one who approached from a point towardCathedral Square that was beyond his range ofvision. Waiting to see who or what it mightbe that attracted so much attention, he stoodthere, the curtains scarcely parted, dimly consciousof the rose flush in the sky beyond the trees.
Down the Corso he heard “Vivas!” shouted;a minute more and he saw a man on horsebackdrawing near; he wore no head covering save abandage about his brows. The grim smile thatwas common to Tarsis in moments of triumphcurved his lips. He needed no glass to know therider; the sight of him stirred a nest of stingingmemories.
“Cheer, you fools, cheer!” he muttered, glancingtoward a group of acclaiming men. “It is yourlast chance. Never again will you see him alive!”
In the sinister delight of the certainty thatthere would be work for the Panther after all,he forgot for a moment the perils that hedgedhim round. He went to the last window of thepalace’s long row, that he might keep the horsemanin view as long as possible. At length he turnedaway well content, for he had seen him passthrough the Venetian Gate.
THE HEART’S LAW-MAKING
Aunt Beatrice’s pride of blood was large andher sympathy for the peasant folk small; yet,when it came to expressing a primary emotionshe was not above borrowing from the ruggedphrases of her humbler neighbours. Thus it fellout that when she had recovered from the shockof Hera’s home-coming so far as to credit herbewildered senses, and hold the appalling situationin perspective, she summed it up in this wise:
“We have indeed returned to our muttons.”
It was in the solitude of her own apartmentthat she arrived at this homely epitome, and saw,in despair, that the final crash of the House ofBarbiondi was near. By her niece’s eccentricity,as she chose to call it, the future of ease her geniusdesigned and made a reality had been transformedinto one of poverty, with the abominable insecuritiesand detestable humiliations that had hauntednearly all her days. A picture of money-lenders,dress-makers, tailors, and purveyors of meat and[Pg 264]drink, each with a bill in hand, marching in clamorousphalanx through the villa gateway, roseto her excited fancy and made her flesh creep.She knew that she would never be able again toplay Amazon against those storming hosts. Ofcourage and strategic skill she had proved herselfthe abundant possessor throughout the family’suncertain career, but now her spirit lay crushedin the dust, like that of a military commanderwho has seen a magnificent victory ruthlesslyflung away.
The frosty welcome that Hera received fromher aunt did not surprise, however it may havepained her; but she had comfort in the assurancethat her father’s arms would be open to greet her;she knew the loyalty of his affection and sympathyas well as she comprehended the frailty of hisnature in other respects. When he entered theroom she flew to his outstretched arms, andwithout a word being spoken as to the occasionof her return she saw in his eye a light ofunderstanding.
“I have come home to stay, babbo,” was all shefelt it needful to tell him.
“Brava, daughter mine!” he said. “Ah, I[Pg 265]have longed for the day. I knew it mustcome.”
It was impossible for Aunt Beatrice to answerto the feeling of relief and gladness that expresseditself in the countenance of father and daughter;her thought turned rather to Tarsis, whom shecould see in no other light than that of a mancruelly wronged by his wife. She did not denyherself the privilege of candid observations tothis effect, which Don Riccardo and Hera heardwith patience. But when she urged Hera toreconsider her act and begged her father torealise, before it might be too late, that ruin to thefamily must result, Don Riccardo spoke his mind.He had learned somewhat through suffering, andthe example of his daughter had quickened hislatent strength.
He answered her that he did not care! Ruinor no ruin, he was glad that events had taken thisturn. The worst that could betide, he declared, atrifle grandiloquently, was material want; starvation,perhaps. Was not that a better fate than tolive on with his daughter a hostage to fortune, heldin luxurious thraldom? Hera listened and rejoicedfor the sense of respect that came now to[Pg 266]mingle with the love she had always borne herfather.
The scene was interrupted at this point by aservant’s announcement that Colonel Rosariowas in the reception hall. His regiment ofBersaglieri, on the march to Milan in responseto a call for reinforcements, had halted near by.The Duke and his daughter went at once to greethim.
“My men,” said the old soldier, “are at yourgate, and their commander is at your disposalfor luncheon.”
“Bravo! A thousand welcomes!” exclaimedDon Riccardo, as he pressed the other’s hand andchecked an impulse to add, “You could not havearrived at a more logical moment; when last youhonoured our board we were rejoicing for mydaughter’s fancied escape; now we are glad forher real one.” But no hint was given him of thereason for Hera’s presence in the villa.
Donna Beatrice did not appear until just beforethe hour for luncheon. In solitude she continuedher struggle with the new predicament until shehad to acknowledge herself beaten. She could notcope at all with this new-born spirit of disdain[Pg 267]for consequences evinced by her brother and hisamazing daughter. The poor woman’s one hopewas that the resourceful Tarsis might find a wayto save them from themselves.
When she had taken her place at the tableopposite Colonel Rosario, it seemed to her all themore urgent that some strong hand should curbtheir reckless course. Here she found herselfin an atmosphere of cheerfulness, even gaiety,that was scandalously at odds with the gloomdemanded by the terrible situation. Actually,the wife who had forsaken her husband becauseof some foible was able to sit there and eat anddrink, and laugh over the rugged jokes of an oldsoldier. And the father of this disgraced daughterwas so lost to shame that he outdid the others inmerriment. Misericordia! They were turning thecalamity into a jubilee! She breathed a thanksgivingwhen Colonel Rosario had left the houseand she saw the bayonets glinting in the sun, asthe Bersaglieri marched toward Milan.
Although convinced from the moment ofHera’s return that Mario Forza was the diabolusex machina, as she phrased it, Donna Beatrice,by a heroic act of self-restraint, had refrained[Pg 268]from speaking her mind to that effect. Bitterlyshe regretted the omission an hour after luncheonwhen she saw Hera riding forth alone, as she did inthe old days. From a window she watched her,now through breaks in the foliage, now over thetops of the trees, while she moved down thewinding road of the park. She saw the whiteplume of her hat pass under the gateway archand caught a glimpse of her beyond the wall asshe rode away.
“A tryst with Mario Forza!” she assured herself;and, stirred to action by the abhorrent thought,she sent a servant for her brother, that she mightbreak a lance with him on this aspect of the case.The footman informed her that his Excellencywas having his afternoon nap.
“Napping!” she exclaimed, audibly; and thento herself: “At this critical moment! Nappingwhen his daughter is in danger!”
Hera followed the margin of Old Adda, lightof heart, receiving the joy of verdure, and forgetfulof past trials in her new sensation of freedom.She breathed in the fragrance that blossoms gavethe surrounding air. Bird voices, few the lasttime she rode that way, sounded all about. The[Pg 269]poplars on either side of the river—grim blackbrushes a few weeks before—made two noble filesof plumes quivering silver or green in response toevery wandering breeze. The river was almostas quiet as the lake from which it flowed. Sparrowsbathed in the dust and chased one anotheron the wing close to the ground. White vapours,floating in clearest blue, were motionless aspainted clouds.
She passed idlers reclining on the greenswardof the roadside—sun-burned men and womenwho, by the immemorial law of the season, shouldhave been busy in the fields. She saw moreidlers before the village tavern. They weregathered about a comrade who read from abig-headlined journal of Milan. The group wouldhave received no attention from her but for oneboisterous fellow who crossed the road callingout the news to a neighbour in his window. Sheheard distinctly the name of Mario Forza, but morethan this she was not able to make out. Nevertheless,she had heard enough to send her backto the tavern. As she drew rein the men turnedfrom the reader and one and all bared theiruncombed heads. She asked the news from[Pg 270]Milan, and the man who had been reading cameforward, clearing his throat for a speech.
“Most excellent signora,” he began, “thebugle call has sounded, and throughout thelength and breadth of our fair land the battalionsof labour are marching. The sun of the socialrevolution has risen. The invincible industrialarmy—”
“Shut up, Pietro!” commanded a brawnyblacksmith, snatching the journal from theorator’s hand. “If your Excellency would liketo read,” he said, offering the paper to Hera.
While she cast her eye over the printed pagesome of the men gathered about her horse, theirbronzed faces upturned to hers and upon them adull expression of triumph in the story of riotand bloodshed that was unfolded. Presentlythey saw her start with catching breath, drop thepaper to her side, and sit her saddle in silence amoment, oblivious of the many eyes upon her,and staring off in the direction of Milan.
“It is a fine uprising, Excellency, neh?” oneof the men said, but Hera had only a nod of thehead for reply.
She rode on, carrying an indistinct idea, gained[Pg 271]from the huge captions, of a situation with whichthe Government found itself all but powerlessto cope; of anarchy in Milan, of hundreds of menand women laid low or killed by the troops; butthe announcement that loomed above all to hermind was that Mario Forza had been shot. “Atthis hour,” ran the account, “exact details arenot obtainable. From what could be gatheredconcerning the deplorable incident, it appearsthat the mob in Cathedral Square was at the timestampeding before the charge of a detachment ofthe Ninth Cavalry. A woman whose namecould not be learned, but who is said to be one ofthe rioters, was knocked down in the mad rushand would have been trampled to death by thehorses but for the timely appearance and intrepidaction of the Honourable Forza. He sprang infront of the advancing troopers, and catching upthe woman in his arms was bearing her out ofharm’s way, when a shot, evidently intendedfor the soldiers, was fired by one of the mob.The mark that the bullet found was Signor Forza.It was not known, however, that he was struckuntil he had borne the woman to a point ofsafety. Then he was seen to sway as if swooning,[Pg 272]but some bystanders steadied him. He wasconveyed to the General Hospital by a friendwhose carriage stood by.”
Her instinct to go to him became a masteringpurpose. Although she did no more than walkher horse for a while, she kept moving towardMilan. She reflected that the remaining distancewas little more than two leagues and that shecould travel it easily before dark. In a minuteshe was resolved, and speaking to her horse sheset forward at a smarter pace. For the proprietiesof the case she was in no mood to borrow care.He was wounded, perhaps unto death, and her onethought was to go to the hospital and be at hisside. As she pursued her way, now in the sunshineof open road, now in the shade of a wood,she had time to consider what idle tongues mightsay, but it did not make her slacken speed orthink of turning back.
On every hand her eye met evidence of thesocial recoil that had set in. Here, as in theneighbourhood of her father’s house, the farmlabourers had been caught in the wave of revoltthat surged from Milan. All the fields she passedwere deserted. The taverns of the roadside were[Pg 273]busy, and, however true the cry of bread faminemay have been, there was no famine in juice ofthe grape and no scarcity of drinkers. In thevillage of Bosco Largo she heard again the nameof Mario Forza. It fell from the lips of an impassionedploughman haranguing a crowd ofexcited men and women. Two stern-visaged carbineersstood by, but their presence only fannedthe flame of his speech.
“It was the military that shot him down,” hedeclared. “And would you know why, mycomrades? I will tell you: Because he is thefriend of the man or woman who toils. That’swhy they wanted to kill him—because he is thefriend of labour. They don’t want labour tohave any friends except dead friends.”
“True, true!” came from the crowd.
“They are trying to tell us that one of thepeople shot Mario Forza,” the orator went on.“Ha, ha! The capitalistic press wants to ramthat down our throats. But they can’t do it.I brand that assertion a lie. The press and theGovernment are the slaves of capital, and they’lldo anything, say anything to serve their masters.Bah! What right have they to come to us who do[Pg 274]the work and say, ‘You may keep one tenth ofwhat you produce; the rest you must hand overto us’? What right, I ask, have they to tax thebread out of our children’s mouths and the coatsoff our backs? And what do they do with themoney that they plunder us of? I will tell you:They use it to pay things like those over there—thosethings with the carbines—they hire themto shoot us down if we say that our souls are ourown. That’s what they spend our earningsfor!”
There was a deluge of hisses for the carbineers.They made no reply, by word, look or gesture,although some of the women shook their fists atthem and snarled in their faces like tigresses.
“On to Milan, comrades!” the ploughman cried,pointing dramatically toward the city. “Onto Milan and help our brothers pull down thecapitalistic Bastile!”
“Bravo! On to Milan! Down with thecapitalistic Bastile!”
Repeating the cry, they scattered, men andwomen alike, to their homes, to get rakes, hoes,scythes, shovels, axes, or any other implementwith which to arm themselves.
Hera had lingered to catch the words aboutMario, and then, impelled by the thought thatshe might arrive at the hospital only to find himlifeless, she pressed forward, urging her horse togreater speed. Behind her, more than a league,she had left the river, her course lying now througha country green with maize, over a road thatslanted to the south-west from the town of SanMichele; keeping to this she would enter uponthe Monza Road not far from Milan’s VenetianGate.
She was one of the many now that faredtoward the city. The road swarmed with thepeasantry, as on festal days, only it was plain thatthis was no holiday throng. In groups the peoplemoved onward, most of them afoot, a few womenon sorry nags, and others with their children inrumbling farm carts. Beneath their sullen demeanourseethed a spirit of contempt forestablished things. They called to one another inthe shrill mezzo canto of their dialect, scoffing atauthority and boasting of what they would doto pull it down.
Once or twice Hera came upon a band of farmhands marching with a semblance of line that[Pg 276]bespoke service in the army. For weapons theycarried scythes and pitchforks. Here and therea woodman, shouldering a glistening axe, swaggeredalong with fine assurance of success in hismission to fell the oak of capitalism. “Long livethe industrial army!” was the cry that greetedthe marching ones oftenest as they trudged on,their faces set with determination.
It was an experience that asked a stout heartof Hera. In the cross-currents of her thoughtshe realised that a signora from the world of easeand plenty was not a popular figure in thatconcourse. But there must have been that inher face which had power to touch those ruggedhearts, angry though they were; and she metwith no more annoyance than an occasional blackscowl.
In the suburb of Villacosa she overtook ColonelRosario’s regiment. The Bersaglieri were movingwith the spirited swing that is their pride,canteens clanking, the long plumes of their hatswaving, and the dust of the highway astir in theirwake. By people who had a well-fed aspectthey were greeted with pleased countenances,but in discreet silence; their less prosperous[Pg 277]neighbours had only hisses and hoots for theuniformed marchers. Mothers held up theirbabes and cried, “Fire now, I beg of you.” Otherwomen threw themselves on the roadside, pulledup tufts of grass, and made as if to eat them—a bitof theatricalism intended to typify the extremityto which they were reduced for food.
As Hera came up with the head of the columnthe Colonel chanced to look round; their glancesmet, and he smiled a cordial recognition. But apuzzled look succeeded the smile when Hera hadpassed ahead and he had seen the foam thatwhitened the rings of her horse’s bit and theflakes of it that dappled his chest. And she wasriding yet as fast as she could in that teeming road.The sun had set when she turned into the Monzahighway. An exodus from Milan had begun.She encountered a stream of vehicles loaded withthe fugitives and their baggage; most of themwere foreigners bound for the more tranquil airof near-by Swiss cantons.
A little longer and she was in the quarter ofMilan’s new rich, without the walls—amid dwellingsof an architecture that in Rome, Florenceor Turin produces much the same impression.[Pg 278]Every portico gate was bolted, no fountainsleaped in the courts, blinds were drawn at thewindows; nowhere in any of the grand houses wasthere sign of life. She could see the VenetianGate a short distance ahead; but between herand it rose a barrier of howling men and womenthat reached from side to side of the road save fora narrow breach through which the refugeespassed. Over the heads of the crowd she caughtthe glitter of a line of bayonets, and drawingnear she heard the jibes and maledictions thatwere poured upon the soldiers. She found thatshe could proceed no farther. An hour earlierthe King had declared Milan in a state of siege.
A CALL TO SERVICE
Hera found herself one of the hundreds ofpeaceful visitors shut out in company with therabble that was eager to feed the furnace ofrebellion. Awhile she sat her horse wonderingwhat she might do to gain entrance to the city.There was no recourse but to make herself knownto the guards and entreat them for leave to pass;and she was on the point of that appeal, whichmust have proved vain, when a burst of martialmusic and the acclaim a crowd gives marchingmen made her pause. She knew it must be theregiment of Colonel Rosario, and her heart leapedwith gladness.
First the plumes and shining brass of the musicianscame into view, then the figure of herfather’s old comrade at the head of his men. Fora minute she watched the Bersaglieri wheel intothe broad highway and swagger toward the town;but when she saw the column halt before all of ithad made the turning she rode as fast as she[Pg 280]could through the ruck of men and vehicles to theColonel’s side.
“Donna Hera!” the commander exclaimed,saluting her in military form and covering hisamazement with a smile.
“They will not let me go on,” she told himwithout ado.
“And you are obliged to return to Villa Barbiondito-night,” he added, as if comprehending.“That is a difficulty, to be sure, but one notinsurmountable. For example, I will send MajorQuaranta with you to the villa if you do notobject.”
“No, no!” she said, impulsively. “You arekind, but—oh, I cannot go back to-night. I mustenter the city at once. It is an affair—of lifeand death.”
Colonel Rosario was not the man to questionwhen a lady—and the daughter of his life-longfriend—spoke thus, although a king’s commandand the wall of a besieged city stood between himand the attainment of her wish.
“If you do not mind helping me lead the regiment,”he said, his eyes beaming, “we shallmanage it.”
He gave the order to advance. The drum-major’sbaton went up, and the column moved,Hera riding beside the Colonel. The latter kepthis eyes straight ahead, as if unconscious of theradiant woman whose skirts almost touched hisstirrup, and Hera looked neither to right nor left.Her presence was a breach of military decorumthat puzzled the officers’ minds, but pleased theireyes, as it did those of the crowd that flankedthe way. Few jibes were hurled at the soldiers,and more than once a cheer was given for thebeautiful signora. At the gate the musiciansgave forth the national quickstep, to which theBersaglieri march best, and the guards posted tomaintain the siege marvelled to see a wholeregiment escort one lady into Milan.
They passed to the inner side of the wall at themoment that Mario Forza, in response to thespurious call of Tarsis, set out from his house inVia Senato. As the head of the line wheeled intothe Bastion drive by the Public Gardens Hera,with only a look into the Colonel’s face to speakher gratitude, kept on her way in the Corso. Bythis time Mario too had entered that street, andhad she continued in it they must have met under[Pg 282]the eyes of Tarsis and set at naught his scheme ofrevenge. As it was she turned into Via Borghetto,meaning to reach the hospital in a detour throughby-ways. It could not have been more than twominutes after she had left the Corso when Tarsis,behind the window drapery, saw Mario pass on hisway to the monastery.
From little Via Borghetto Hera moved into theMonforte Bastions and followed that broadhighway to Via Cappuccini, the narrow street thatbordered the rear gardens of Palazzo Barbiondi.She had gone a few paces beyond the gatewayof the palace when the crackle of musketry notfar off startled her senses. As the reverberationsdied out there rose in stronger volume a hoarsedin of human voices sounding, it seemed, from apoint between where she was and the GeneralHospital. And she wondered if she would be able,after all to reach the place where they said Mario lay.
At a crook in the street an unseen hand gavethe bridle a violent pull and brought her horse toa standstill. The dusk of the narrow way hadbecome heavy, but in the affrighted, yellow-beardedface of the man who had stopped hershe recognised Signor Ulrich.
“A thousand pardons!” he began, out ofbreath. “There is great danger. Your Excellencyhad best go to the palace at once.”
Perceiving him unaware that the palace wasno longer her abode, she thanked him and wouldhave ridden on. “I must keep on my way,”she said.
But he held fast to the bridle rein.
“Excellency, go and warn your husband,”he entreated her. “In the face of his deadlyperil he is alone—all alone. There is not a secondto lose.”
While he spoke he turned her horse around.
“Of what would you have me warn him?” sheasked, displeased with his meddling.
“Of that!” he answered, pointing to where thefiring and human roar arose from the huddle ofnarrow streets. “It is no time for a lady to ride,”he added, offensively, “even—even if the HonourableForza is not afraid to be abroad.”
“Signor Forza?” she repeated, puzzled to knowhis meaning.
“Yes, Excellency. Oh, I saw him not very faraway,” he asserted, with an insolent effect ofshrewdness.
A moment she looked him in the eye, consciousthat in the lawless spirit of the hour, he hadspoken as he would not have dared in a calmerday; but, eager for the news of Mario, she ignoredthe insult conveyed in the Austrian’s insinuatingphrases and manner.
“The journals,” she said, “have it that SignorForza is in the hospital, dying.”
“That is false. He is not in the hospital, andhe is far from dying, if I am a judge.”
“When did you see Signor Forza?”
“Not five minutes ago.”
“In the Corso, going toward the Venetian Gate.”
“But he has been wounded.”
“Not enough to keep him from the saddle.”
“He was on horseback?”
“Yes, Excellency. Oh I beg you, go and warnyour husband of his danger.”
“He must know,” Hera said, absently, hermind dwelling on the assurance that Mario wasalive and would live.
“He does not know the worst,” the other toldher. “I went to demand protection—soldiersto guard him. At the Questura they almost[Pg 285]mocked me. The mob has broken through themilitary lines and is sweeping this way.”
“Will they attack the palace?”
“Attack! They have only to walk in.”
“Why do you think they mean to harm SignorTarsis?”
“I heard them crying out for his life. Go, oh,go and save him! There is time for escape by theCorso gate.’”
“Why do you not go to him?” Hera asked.
“I! Oh, Excellency! If you had heardthem cry out against us. They will burnand slay. None whom they hate will bespared.”
From her heart sprang a wish that dazzledwith its splendid hope, but left her in the nextinstant filled with shame. “Addio, Excellency,”she heard the Austrian saying; “for me, I am off.”Then she was aware of his waving hand as hewithdrew up a narrow way that cut through toCorso Vittorio Emanuele. Her eyes took in thebulk of his receding figure, but her thought wasnot with him. In the glimmer of an outhunglamp she saw him turn about and with a forefingerstab the air in the direction of Palazzo Barbiondi.[Pg 286]She strove to rally the forces of her mind—toset some rule over her contending impulses.
With equal power the voice of moral obligationand that of pure desire made their plea. Now theduty of a wife pointed the way, now her love forMario. Insistently the prospect of Tarsis deadmingled itself with a vision of her fetters struckoff—her heart no longer bond, but free to obeythe law it had broken. She had prayed thatMario’s life might be spared, and now she wastempted to leave her husband to his destiny, to goon to the love for which her soul hungered, toclaim the happiness that seemed ordained of events.In the minute that she waited, a captive of warringemotions, shop-keepers up and down the streetwere putting shutters to their windows andshouting to her, “To your home, signora; to yourhome!” The air grew thick with the roar of themob. A few seconds and it would be too lateto save the life that meant death to her happiness.
“Down with Tarsis!” The cry was so near asto rise distinct out of the fearful dissonance.And in an impulse that came as the words fell[Pg 287]upon her ears she gave her horse a stroke of thewhip and galloped hard for the palace gates.In the court she sprang from the saddle, ran pastthe garage and stables, reached the main portico,and hurried up the grand staircase and throughthe gloom of the corridors, calling the name ofher husband—“Antonio! Antonio!” There wasno answer save the chuckling echo of the greathalls. She gained the Atlantean chamber, and,thinking of the library where he spent so muchof his time, made for the door of it, at the farther-mostangle of the great room. Knocking stoutly,she called out again:
“It is I, Hera!”
On the other side there was the sound ofmovement, the striking of a match; then the doorwas opened, and she beheld Tarsis, a lightedcandle in his trembling hand. In that momentall the bitterness he had planted in her soul gaveway before a flood of pity.
“I knew your voice,” he said, weakly. “Whyhave you come back?”
“To tell you to fly! The mob will behere!”
He seemed to be in a stupor of fear. “I[Pg 288]thought I heard them,” he said, huskily. “Arethey coming to the palace?”
“Yes; they have broken through the militarylines. Signor Ulrich told me.”
“Signor Ulrich! You saw him?”
“Yes; he has fled. He said that he heardthem crying out against you!”
“What did they say at the Questura? AmI not to have my guard of carbineers?”
“There is no time for a guard,” she answered,taking hold of his sleeve. “I tellyou that the mob is approaching up ViaCappuccini. Come! We can go out by the Corsogate.”
“Yes; let us go,” he said, and started acrossthe vast apartment, Hera at his side, while thecandle in his shaking hand made their shadowsdo a strange fandango. In their ears was theroar of human fury, sifted by the encompassingwalls into a haunting murmur. They passedthe picture of Heribert and his warriors and wereat the point of setting foot in the corridor, whenthey halted and looked each other in theface.
“My God!” Tarsis breathed, and would have[Pg 289]let fall the candle, but Hera caught it and held itstill lighted. “It is too late!”
He was in the last extremity of fright, with aface the colour of clay and his limbs quaking asone who has an ague.
“We must go back,” Hera said, and drew athis coat sleeve, for he seemed to have lostpower to move from where he stood. Herthought flew to the library as a harbour ofsafety.
“Come,” she said to him; “they may not thinkto look there.”
Across the field of tessellated marble theyretraced their steps, he following her, clingingclose to her, as a child might have clung to itsguardian. A sudden horror had mastered him,a sense of retribution at hand. The monster ofpoverty, which he had belittled as a bogey of thedemagogue, was speaking to him with no uncertainvoice. He could hear the workers, whomhe had never thought of before as an army ofmight, coming in their corporate strength to behis executioner.
Tarsis entered the library first, and wouldhave taken no precaution other than to close the[Pg 290]door and lock it; but Hera bethought herself todraw to the silken hanging that hid the entrancefrom view on the other side. Then she closed thedoor and turned the key. Silently, powerlessly,they awaited the hazard of events.
Half a minute more and they knew the mobhad entered the Atlantean chamber. First theyheard the howl of triumph and the trampling,rough-shod feet on the marble pavement; then thethud and crash of objects falling and the shatteringof glass. They were able to guess that Demoswas venting his fury on the Barbiondi portraits,the mirrors, and the carved Atlantes. But theseincidents in the attempted remaking of Italywere of little moment to the man and woman inhiding. The only sound they dreaded was thatwhich the tearing away of the drapery beforetheir retreat would make and the trying of thehandle of the door. Tarsis had dropped into achair near the window, the curtain of which heclutched with one hand, and listened, as if withevery nerve, for the fateful signal. Hera was onher feet, calm in the consciousness of duty performed,resolved to die bravely, if die she must.Presently the summons came. The drapery was[Pg 292]jerked down and a violent hand rattled the doorknob.
“We’ve found the fox’s hole!”
“Axes, comrades! Down with the door!”
It was not many seconds before the oakenbarrier yielded to the assault of the axes that hadlevelled the gates of the Santa Maria convent;for this was the same detachment of the rioters,grown like a snowball as it moved, but led still byRed Errico. The yell of triumph which theinsensate crew set up as they poured in stoppedsuddenly, because it was not the object of theirfury that they found. Tarsis had vanished.They beheld in his stead a woman young and ofgreat beauty, standing alone—calm, imperious,unafraid. A hush came over those in front asthey fell back, every impassioned face turned tohers, and the black smoke of the torches fillingthe room.
At length one of the women spoke. “We don’twant you, signora,” she said. “It’s Tarsis.Where is he?”
“I do not know,” Hera answered, and it wasthe truth, for she had not seen him leave the place[Pg 293]at the window where he crouched before the doorwas assailed; but a general muttering and shakingof heads told her the answer was unsatisfactory.
“You ought to know,” one woman said,shrewdly, going a step nearer. “Why don’tyou?”
“I am not the guardian of Signor Tarsis,” shereplied, defiantly, but not wisely; and there was aresentful growl from the mob, which had keptpressing into the library.
“Oh, you are not his keeper, eh?” the firstquestioner snapped back.
“You’d better not play grand with us!” anotherwoman warned her, shaking a finger in Hera’s face.
“We are the bosses now,” a third announced.“And it will serve you, my fine lady, to keep acivil tongue.”
The sentiment was applauded by an outburstof “Bravas!” Some of the invaders had begunto ransack the room in search of Tarsis. Theypulled out the drawers of cabinets, flung open thedoors beneath the book-shelves, and peered intoclosets. The next one to speak to Hera was RedErrico, who had pushed his way to the front.
“If you are not his keeper, signora,” he said,[Pg 294]with mock deference, “perhaps you will condescendto tell us who you are?”
“I am his wife,” she answered, and the blacklooks faded from some of the faces. They knewher by her works among the poor of the PortaTicinese quarter. One woman who had benefitedby her charities began to acclaim her praise.
“Donna Hera of the Barbiondi!” she cried.“Evviva! She is a friend of the people!”
“Viva Donna Hera!” chimed in others who hadtasted of her bounty.
Red Errico commanded silence. “Where isyour husband, signora?” he asked, his suspicionunallayed; but before she could tell them againthat she did not know the answer came from thewoman who, above all others in that angry horde,wanted to find the master of the palace.
“Here he is!” she exclaimed, her voice weakenedwith shouting all day, and cracking now in thefrenzy of her triumph. “Here he is.”
She had grabbed the nearest torch and washolding it above the face of Tarsis. Every eyeturned to the window where she stood, the curtainjerked back, disclosing the man for whose bloodshe was mad cowering in the embrasure.
“Murderer!” she shrieked at him, shaking afist in his face. “You killed my child!”
He was like a figure of stone, save for his eyes,which contracted and expanded as fast as hegasped for breath. One of his hands gripped apaper knife that he had caught up when the doorbegan to yield. It was in the hot blood of themto fall upon him then and there, and so it wouldhave been but for Red Errico. He sprang forwardand, with one hand pushing back La Ferita, theother upraised, he commanded them to wait.
“Not yet!” he called out. “You forget! Wemust give the robber a trial. They do as muchfor us when we take rather than starve. A trial,do you understand? There are some questionswe want to ask him, neh, comrades?”
At first he was answered with howls of dissatisfaction,but with them were mingled cries ofapproval; and presently, the idea of the leader’sjoke sinking into their wits and gaining generalfavour, there were many demands, amid mockinglaughter, for a trial.
“Great fun! Bravo, Errico! A trial for therobber of the poor!”
The surge of the crowd did not move Hera from[Pg 296]where she stood—backward against the wall.She saw them lay hold of Tarsis, wrench the paper-cuttingtoy from his grasp, and, lifting him bodily,carry him through the jeering, laughing herd, andset him upon his cherished Napoleonic table.Then they flocked around with vituperative malice.In an hour of mastery they displayed the worsetraits of their class. The women put out theirclaws and scratched his face, pulled his hair, andspat upon him, and covered him with the vilestepithets of their patois. It was the barbarousculmination of a movement which to Tarsis hadalways seemed so far away. Red Errico, exercisingthe function of judge, tweaked the prisoner’snose and ordered him to sit up and look happy.
La Ferita, her scar glowing hideously, keptcrying, “Down with him, I say! Bah for yourtrial! He killed my child!”
The air was stifling with the smoke of torches.Tarsis coughed and was barely able to hold up hishead.
“Why do you persecute me?” he said, his voicefaintly audible. “I have never harmed you.”
The few who heard burst into derisive laughterand passed the words along; and the whole pack[Pg 297]took them up with such rough comments as theycould invent.
“And so, my fine fellow,” was Red Errico’ssneer, “you have never harmed us! Bravissimo!But you are a magnificent liar, signore—magnificent!Now for the trial! Question No. 1: Howcomes it that you are the possessor of millions,that you live in a grand house, eat the fat of theearth, while we who have worked for you, we whohave produced the things that have brought yourwealth, are scarcely able to keep body and soultogether?”
The others had quieted so much that nearly allcould hear the question, and they pressed abouttheir prey, brandishing clinched fists in his faceand saying, “Answer that, you thief! Answer that!”
Tarsis seemed too weak to articulate. Hemoved his hand in signal that he had no answerto make, as he did to other questions put by thejudge. Haggardly he shook his head once andavowed that he had not robbed them; that he hadgiven thousands of people work, making it possiblefor them to earn a living; but a blast ofmalevolent “Bahs!” was their reply to thatdefence.
“Yes,” Red Errico said, “you have got all thework out of us you could, and paid us enough tokeep us from starvation, so that we might go onpiling up the millions for you.”
“True! True!” the others chorused. “Butit’s our turn now. Neh? Our turn now.”
“Down with him!” was La Ferita’s argument.“He gave my little Giulia work in his mill andpaid her fifteen soldi a day. Oh, yes; he gaveher work. He worked her to death!”
For prelude to a new attack Errico shook hisfinger in Tarsis’s face. “You are a commonthief!” he declared, savagely; “but there’s nolaw for your kind of thieving except the law thatyou’re getting now. You knew how to manageso that we should never get a fair share of whatwe earned. You have been too keen for us poordevils. You have known how to keep a poundwhile you gave us a grain; and now you have thegall to say that you have given us a chance to live.It is we, poor fools, who have given you the chanceto rob us. But that time is gone. We are awakeat last!”
Tarsis was without strength to frame a replyto this exposition of industrial philosophy; but,[Pg 299]while the crowd applauded and poured anewtheir execration upon him, he raised his hand as iffor silence. Every head bent forward and everyear strained to catch his words.
“You do me a great injustice,” he said. “Ihave given much of my fortune to the poor.Others know that.”
He raised his eyes feebly and turned his headtoward where Hera stood, in mute appeal. Comprehending,she moved forward to speak, andmen and women fell back to make place for her.
“Yes; he has done more than you think,” shebegan, impressively, standing by her husband’sside. “A while ago you called me the friend ofthe people. When you did that you were callingmy husband your friend. I did but distributehis money. All that I had came from him.Once, when I asked him for funds to carry on mywork of helping the poor, what do you think hesaid?”
She paused, and Red Errico asked, sullenly:
“Well, what did he say?”
“These were his words: ‘My whole fortune isat your disposal.’ And so it has been. He gaveto the needy with generous hand. My family[Pg 300]is poor. I had no fortune of my own. Believeme, all that has been done for you in my namehas been done with his money. Men and womenof Milan, you do my husband a great injustice.”
She did her best to save him. No plea couldhave carried deeper in that moment. That itsmothered, for the time, the flame of their temper,cooled their wrath against him, was evinced in thesoftening of their faces, the fading somewhat ofthe frenzy in their eyes. And what might havebeen the ending of the chapter is lost in its actualoutcome. Even as Hera spoke, the murmur ofthe street changed to a multitude’s panic-strickencries. Those nearest the window were first tocatch the note of alarm. It caused them to startand stand motionless, ears alert. The word“soldiers” passed from lip to lip. Volleys ofmusketry, ominously large, sounding in quicksuccession, and crackling ever nearer, proclaimedthe approach of troops in overwhelming force.
An impulse to save their own lives ruled themnow. Red Errico began the cry of “Away, away!”and the others took it up. With not so much asa parting glance of contempt at Tarsis, the leadershouldered the women aside and pushed toward[Pg 301]the door, with the others moving in that direction.As they passed the man on the table they forgotto jeer him. The resounding salvos of artillery,the answering shrieks of the mob, coming to themever plainer from the Corso, were matters ofgreater import than the baiting of a poor capitalist.
It was not so, however, with one woman in thattattered collection—La Ferita. Her deed wasperformed with the ease of instinctive prompting,conviction, decision. She alone was aware of herpurpose. No one saw the blade steal from thefolds of her gown; they saw it only at the instantthat it flashed the light of the torches and descended,true, firm, cold, resting a second, as ifwith lingering joy, between the shoulders ofTarsis.
“Let him die; he killed my child,” she said,and joined the throng moving toward the door.
The effect of the thrust on the man who receivedit was, oddly enough, to make him sit erect forthe moment, and it brought back to his countenancesome of the alertness that abject, crushingterror had bereft it of; it was the animation ofstrong surprise, puzzled amazement. Hera, whenevershe lived the scene again in memory, saw[Pg 302]that look of bewildered astonishment on his faceat the moment the blow was delivered. La Ferita’scomrades seemed little impressed by what she haddone. They were fighting each other for a chanceto get out of the room—to flee from the soldiers.
FETTERS STRUCK OFF
When they all had gone Hera groped on thewall for the electric key, found it, and redeemedthe darkness with a flood of light. There wasTarsis, ashen to the lips, prostrate on the table,one arm hanging limp over the side. She threwopen all the casements, and the smoke poured out.Her next impulse was to go for aid, but she turnedfirst to her husband, lifted him to a sitting position,and by a supreme effort bore his sheer weight to alounge. Then, obeying a motion of his hand, shebowed her head and heard him whisper:
His lips continued to move, but so feeble washis voice that only fragments of what he saidwere audible. Seeing her strive to hear, he exertedhimself pitifully to speak louder, and she madeout the words:
“You will be glad when I am gone.”
Even to give him comfort in his last momentsshe could not deny the truth of his words. “Destiny[Pg 304]has served us cruelly,” she said. “I amsorry—sorry for all that has come and gone. IfI have acted harshly, ungenerously, forgive, oh,forgive me!”
A smile that chilled her blood just curved hislip. “If you had not been so bitter against me,”he answered, his voice gaining strength, “destinywould have been kinder.”
“God help me if that is true!” she exclaimed.“Oh, I tried to be—yes, I was—all that I promised.If there was bitterness in my heart before, believeme, it is not so now. If I have wronged yougrant me your pardon.”
A grimace that frightened her came over hisface, where death hues began to show. He rosea little on one elbow, but sank back again, makinga gesture of distress.
“I will go for aid,” she said, and would haveleft him, but he spoke, and she paused to listen.
“If I go he shall not live—he for whom youhated me,” he said, with a passion of malice thatshook his frame. “He shall not live!”
She thought he meant that Mario would diefrom his wound.
“He will die by my command. His end is[Pg 305]decreed—decreed by me,” Tarsis went on with ahideous chuckle.
Now she thought it the raving of a deliriousbrain.
“You do not believe me,” he said, striving tolaugh. “But you will believe when you see hiswhite face in the night. By my hand he will diewithin the hour.”
She turned away to shut out the sight of hisface.
“Still you do not believe,” she could hear himsaying. “You think I do not know; but I know.You think he is safe. He is not. I saw him goby. Yes; with my own eyes I saw him pass—amoment before you came to the door. Now heis on the way to the monastery—the monasterywhere you held your trysts and deceived me; themonastery where a knife awaits his heart.”
She wheeled suddenly, fearful now that hespoke the truth. “What do you mean?” sheasked.
A paroxysm of agony stifled the words he triedto speak. When it had passed somewhat heanswered, straining every resource of his ebbingpowers to the effort:
“I lured him to the monastery to-night. ThePanther will not fail. Not he! I did it—I!”
She comprehended, she believed. At her hearta heavy aching began, the sinking sense of anirreparable loss. She strangled a cry, and fellupon her knees before the chair and buried herface in her hands. And Tarsis, seeing her thusaffected, shook and choked with gloatinglaughter.
“I wrote the letter,” he went on, in a pitifuleffort. “I copied your hand; the letter that bidhim go to you—and he has gone,—fool, dog thatbit me!—and you will not have him when I amgone. I saw him pass—pass to his doom! Hethinks you are there awaiting him with yourkisses. The knife will be there! The kiss ofsteel will greet him!”
She could not credit her senses. The manlying there in the last breath of his life waschoking and laughing—a mocking, malevolentlaughter, as hideous a sound as human ear everheard. She shrank from him; she wished toflee where neither eye could see that face, twitchingin hateful glee, nor ear know the horror of suchdying words. But soon enough his features and[Pg 307]tongue became composed. The voices of thestreet had dwindled to a dull rumble. She drewnear to him, and looked upon his face. On hislip lingered a foam that no breath disturbed; andin his open, staring eyes she read the message thatset her free.
She kneeled again and prayed, asking mercyfor him and pardon for herself if, in following thelight of conscience, she had wronged her husband.When a little time had passed she rose and wenton the balcony to stand in the coolness of thenight. From the street came no longer sounds ofstrife or pain; order reigned again in the dwellingquarter of the well-to-do; with bullets and bayonetsthe revolution had been driven across CathedralSquare, back to the Porta Ticinese. The quieterphase checked her whirling thoughts, helped herto take facts at a clearer value. She had seen thechain that held her parted, as a silken threadmight have been snapped, but only to give herinto a new bondage, that of despair, if whatTarsis said was truth; nor could she doubt thoseterrible words. Mario was well on his way.More than half an hour before he had set out forthe monastery. It was too late, she perceived,[Pg 308]to overtake him, unless—unless she rode likethe gale.
She thought of her horse and the hard-riddenmiles he had done that afternoon, and knew thatwith him it would be impossible; but there wasthe palace stable with its long rows of horses, andsome of them fleet-footed under the saddle, asshe knew. The thought kindled a beautiful hope.Her lips set in the firmness of resolve; she threwa glance toward the lounge with its silent occupant,and started for the door. Over the wreckageof the grand saloon she made her way withoutmischance, for the moon was sending its floodthrough the glass dome; there was a streamingof light, too, from the corridor, and she beheld aman standing in the doorway arch wringing hishands. It was Beppe, quaking from causes otherthan fright.
He assured her Excellency that he was not oneof those who had deserted the palace; he had doneno more than observe the precaution to secretehimself in the wine cellar that he might be athand when the master wanted him. The velvethad gone from his voice and the steadiness fromhis speech. Plainly he had not been idle while[Pg 309]hiding amid the bottles. With an upward roll ofthe eyes and more wringing of the hands, he gaspedthe wish that no harm had befallen Signor Tarsis.
Hera pointed across the great hall to where thelight poured from the library, and kept on her way.In her veins there was a new leaping of life—hopeful,eager. The invaders had swung theiraxes and bludgeons at the corridor mirrors, andshe had to choose her steps over broken glass andshattered woodwork. The grand staircase wasilluminated; there and in the portico she metservants returning because assured that the stormhad passed.
In the rear court she looked around for herhorse. The shapes of things all about werevisible in the moonlight, but of her horse therewas no sign. Lamps were lit in the stables, andshe heard the excited voices of hostlers. Whenshe told the head man to saddle the swiftest horse,he asked her Excellency’s pardon and pointedto the rows of empty stalls. While the rioterswithin the palace were reforming society bydestroying art objects and baiting their owner,their brothers below had been plundering thestable. Every horse was gone.
A CHASE IN THE MOONLIGHT
Hera asked if the automobiles, too, were gone.The excited servants told her the garage had beenattacked and everything smashed. Had any oneseen Sandro? Yes; he was there looking throughthe ruins. She ran to the door of the place, andcalled the name of the chauffeur. From amidthe wreckage he answered her, and came forth,cap in hand.
“Are all the machines damaged?” she asked.
“All but one, your Excellency. The thirty-horsetouring car is far back in the house, and thedevils did not get to it.”
“Can it be used at once?”
“Oh, yes, your Excellency. There is not somuch as a scratch upon it.”
“I wish to go to Villa Barbiondi as swiftly asyou can make it carry us.”
“The moon is bright, and if the road is halfclear,” he said, delighted with the hazardousmission, “we can do it in thirty minutes.”
Then he called to the hostlers and other servantsto come and clear away the useless cars, for DonnaHera was going to make a dash in the night. Witha will they fell to, and one wreck after anotherwas dragged out of the garage. Sandro touchedsomething in the surviving machine, and smiledto hear it respond with coughs and sobs. He tooka minute to crawl under it, measure things withcritical eye by the light of an electric lantern, andwas on his feet again throwing in lap cloths andhanding a mask to Hera. He sprang in, pulledthe lever and shot the machine out to the court.Once or twice he ran it back and forth, cuttingfigures after the manner of fancy skaters, and witha satisfied “All right” he descended again andopened the door for Hera. When she had herseat it was touch and go. With the hostlersstanding wide-eyed, and Beppe, no longer tipsy,running from the portico big with the news ofwhat he had found in the library, the carswung out of the court, headed for the VenetianGate.
“I wish you to make the best speed that youcan,” Hera said, when they were bumping overthe cobbles of Via Borghetto.
He patted the air reassuringly as he glancedback at her. “Your Excellency need have noanxiety,” he said. “Leave it to me.”
As he spoke they leaped into a swifter pace, andthis was held in the Corso and through the streetsbeyond the walls; but when the crowds of soldiersand civilians were behind them, and Hera sightedonce more the far horizon, set with stars, he sentthe speed lever home and, like a spurred horse,the machine plunged out upon the wide, whiteroad. In the suburb of Villacosa she receivedan impression of dimly-lighted street, carbineersand gesturing workmen, bare heads at windows,barking dogs, and a thumping rise and fall over acobbled bridge.
A few seconds and all this was far at their back,and they were spinning over plains that stretchedin the silver night for miles on either hand, levelas a table. Now and then they came upon amarket wagon labouring along, but the way waswide, and they curved around it like a shootingstar.
The wind had swept all the clouds from heaven;only a few vapours thin as the moonlight flittedacross the stars; to footfarers the wind did no[Pg 313]more than whisper; for Hera and Sandro it was agale that whipped around them with a high, thinyell and caught up the powder of the road andsmote them with it in clouds that must haveblinded but for their masks.
They swerved northward into a narrow bywaythat was a short crossing to the road that followedAdda’s margin. It was a precipitate dive intothe woods. There was no light save that castby the car’s lamps, and the course was difficultwith many a sharp crook. Every minute theywere on the point of vaulting into the thicket ortrying conclusions with a sturdy oak. Theyrocked and swayed at times as if their carrier wasa boat in a choppy sea. Hera was occupied inholding fast, but Sandro seemed not to know thatthe experience was at all unusual. Forgettinghimself and all the world except the road and thedangers that the lamps revealed, he became apart of the dodging, spinning thing, meetingemergencies with a passive certainty that wasmore automatic than human. He had seen inHera’s eye that more than a lady’s caprice hadinspired this nocturnal flight, and he had prayedthat none of his steed’s airy feet might know[Pg 314]puncture, or heart-failure attack it through thecarbureter.
When they had struck again into a straight run,and through the vista of foliage could see theriver’s sheening face, Sandro shouted, in an accessof pride for his achievement:
“It was very amusing, that little bit there!I know my trade, do I not, your Excellency?”
Hera gave him an appreciative smile and a nod,although he had not made his words carry abovethe roar and yell that were with them always.
The wheels on one side clear of the earth, theyrounded a corner and darted forth on the fineriver road. Now the way was as level as a plank.Sandro moved the speed lever, and the file ofpoplars, yards apart, chased away like giants closeupon one another’s heels. Houses on the passinghillside, with lighted windows, winked at themand were gone. All the details of the landscapewere on the move. Villages streamed by injumbled masses of low masonry.
The bridge of Speranza swept past to join otherlandmarks, and Hera caught sight of a horseman,so far ahead as to be beyond the range of the lampsbut showing distinctly in the paleness of the night.[Pg 315]Standing up and leaning forward so that shemight pour all the power of her voice againstSandro’s ear-drum, she told him to “Stop!”It was two miles yet to Villa Barbiondi, and heanswered her with only an assurance that therewas no danger. And not until she had shakenhim by the shoulder and pointed to the figurenow in the lamp glare did he shut off speed andset his brake down.
The rider had gone from the highway into thelittle road that ran uphill to the monastery ruins.Within a few feet of the turning Sandro broughtthe car to a halt. He looked around for thelady, but she had disengaged herself from thelap covering, thrown off the mask, and was on theground, running toward the horseman. Withall her strength she called his name, and thegrove of maples into whose darkness he hadpassed gave back her voice.
“Mario, Mario! It is I, Hera!”
He heard, and his horse, checked violently,reared and curvetted in turning, then cametoward her at a gallop, out into the moonlight.Quickly she told him of the emancipating eventin Milan and the dying words that had sent her to[Pg 316]warn him; but there was no bitterness for any onenow in either heart. All the world was love forthe man and woman standing there beneath thestars, prisoners of honour and despair suddenlymade free. The shadow of a solitary yew treetouched them—a symbol of what had been. Thelonely cry of a bird sounded; somewhere in thedistance a dog barked; and as they started for thehighway a swishing of leafy bush drew their gazetoward a figure with loping carriage that slunkaway toward the bridge of Speranza. He neverlooked back, but went like a panther balked ofhis prey.
When a year had passed they met once more inthe cloister ruins, amid the sleeping fragrance ofthe wild flowers. As careless children theyroamed in the age-old garden, thrilled with thethought of Love set free. The afternoon hadfaded far; the sun touched only the capitals of thelow Doric columns, where ivy and honeysucklecleaved and iridescent sun-birds dipped intoflowery cups. The gentlest wind that ever triedits wings stole in by the clefts of grey wall and[Pg 317]made the tiny white bells of the vale lilies tremble.Bees murmured over the tufts of fragrant thyme.
Once they wandered a little apart, she to cullthe blooms of a strawberry plant, he to pluckwhite and pink and gold from the many grassesfor the garland that she said she would make;and they called to one another over the bushesin sheer transport of joy. They came upon abud of eglantine, called by them rosa salvatica,but for their garland they did not take it, becauseit was a symbol of love unfulfilled.
A while and they left the bright aspect of thecloister to enter the gloom of the chapel, hecarrying the big cluster of blossoms. Suddenlyshe turned and looked back, and with a little cryran to regain the hat she had tossed on a grassybank; and the trifle was enough to set theirlaughter pealing again.
They moved to the window near the square ofblank wall where Arvida’s portrait had been.For a space they stood there, while the westcaught first the faint hue of rose, then flamed inruby fire. His kiss was fresh upon her lips, andin their eyes the ardour of a passion no longer tobe conquered. From a far-off hamlet, where a[Pg 318]steeple rose out of the haze, the Angelus came tothem; they watched the toilers bow their headsin reverence and plod their way homeward. Thebroad landscape lay in the mysterious hush offolding night, but they took no thought for timeor circumstance. They seated themselves on alow stone bench of the pattern that mediævalbuilders were wont to carry around the interiorwalls of churches. He joined the ends of the garlandto fashion a chaplet, and, placing it on hermassing tresses, crowned her his queen forever.
“Myrtle Reed has certainly an instinct for the exquisitephrase, delicate touch for an allegory, a capacityfor using words somewhat after the fashion of notes inmusic, to weave together into a melody.”
A Spinner in the Sun
By MYRTLE REED
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The thousands who have enjoyed the gentle humor,the story-telling skill, and the delicate sentiment of“Lavender and Old Lace” will find the same qualitiesin “A Spinner in the Sun.” While striking the chordsof humor, pathos, and sentiment, which formerly havenever failed to charm Miss Reed’s admirers, it is morelikely to please the exacting critic than anything elseshe has written—and this because it evinces a firmergrasp of character and a more serious grapplingwith the problems of life. It also has the advantageof an interesting entanglement of plot which throwsover it the glamour of romance.
A complete descriptive circular of Miss Reed’s bookssent on application
G. P. PUTNAM’S SONS
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An exceptionally good book
A Son of the People
A Romance of the Hungarian Plains
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“Signor Fogazzaro is at the present moment undoubtedlythe greatest of Italian novelists. His nobilityof feeling, his wide sympathy, his kindliness and breezyhumor entitle him to a high place among writers of fiction.”
Villari’s “Italian Life in Town and Country.”
By ANTONIO FOGAZZARO
While The Saint concerns itself with the present-dayreligious questions and political problems ofItaly, the author has not allowed the purpose of hisstory to overweigh and impair its dramatic quality.The story is most interesting as a description ofItalian life both high and low. It is being read bythousands in Italy who care little or nothing aboutthe religious problem and who find themselvesliterally entranced by its strong human interest.
Authorized Translation by M. Agnetti Pritchard
With an Introduction by William Roscoe Thayer
Crown 8vo. $1.50
G. P. PUTNAM’S SONS
New York London
“A romance to stir the pulse.”—N. Y. Telegram.
Author of “Monsieur Martin,” etc.
A stirring story of adventure during the war of theAustrian Succession. No. 101 was the cipher used asa signature by a daring spy through whose agency theEnglish were supplied with exact and unerring informationconcerning the French plans.
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Illustrated by Wal Paget. Crown octavo, $1.50
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[A] The Lord’s Supper.
On page 22, silk-milk has been changed to silk-mill.
On page 104, spinister has been changed to spinster.
On page 122, tesselated has been changed to tessellated.
On page 138, where-ever has been changed to wherever.
On pages 164 and 166, Tarsus has been changed to Tarsis.
On page 209, silk makers has been changed to silk-makers.
On page 249, eying has been changed to eyeing.
On page 256, Uhlich has been changed to Ulrich.
On page 294, Bardioni has been changed to Barbiondi.
All other spelling and hyphenation has been retained as typeset.
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