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CHAPTER 5
Cesare Dias encouraged the attentions which his young friend Luigi Caracciolo was paying to his ward Anna Acquaviva. He encouraged them quietly, with the temperance which he showed in all things, not with the undisguised eagerness of a father anxious to marry off his daughter.

And yet he was certainly anxious to marry her off. He was anxious to hand his responsibilities over to a husband, to confide to the care of another the safeguarding of that ardent and fragile soul, which threatened at any moment to fall into emotional errors. A thousand symptoms that could not escape his observant eye, kept him in a state of secret nervousness about her. It was true, nevertheless, that she had greatly changed for the better. Thanks to his constant watchfulness, to his habit of reproving her whenever she betrayed the impulsive side of her nature, to his sarcasm, to his biting speech, she had indeed greatly changed in manner.

A desire to obey him, to please him, a painless resignation, a loving humility, showed themselves in everything she said and did.

He saw that she was making mighty efforts to dominate the impetuousness of her character; he saw that she listened with close attention to his talk, trying to reconcile herself to those perverse theories of his which pained her mortally. That was what he called giving her a heart of bronze, strengthening her against the snares and delusions of the world. If he could but deprive her of all capacity for enthusiasm he would thereby deprive her of all capacity for suffering, as well.

Cesare Dias congratulated himself upon this labour of his, glorifying himself as a sort of creator, who had known how to make over the most refractory of all metals, human nature. And yet his mind was not quite at ease.

Her docility, her obedience, her self-control, roused his suspicions. He began to ask himself whether the girl might not be a monster of hypocrisy, whether under her tranquil surface she might not still be on fire within.

But had she not always been a model of sincerity? Her very faults, had they not sprung from the truthfulness and generosity of her nature?

No; the hypothesis of hypocrisy was untenable. Cesare Dias was far too intelligent to believe that the intimate essence of a soul can undergo alteration. It was impossible that a soul so essentially truthful as Anna's should suddenly become hypocritical.

And yet he was not easy in his mind.

What profound reason, what occult motive, could be at the bottom of Anna's change of front? What was it that enabled her and persuaded her to withhold her tears, suppress her sobs, and master the ardour of her temperament?

Ah, no! Cesare Dias was not easy in his mind. He knew the strength of his own will, he understood his own power to rule people and to impose his wishes upon them; but that was not enough to account for the conditions that puzzled him. There must be something else.

He was not anxious about Laura. The wise and beautiful Minerva he could marry whenever he liked, to whomsoever he liked. He was sure that Laura would be able to take care of herself. He held the opinion, common to men of forty, that marriage was the only destiny proper for a young girl. And it was only by means of a marriage that he would be able to relieve himself of his weight of responsibility in respect of Anna Acquaviva.

So, as often as he decently could, he brought meetings to pass between Luigi Caracciolo and his wards: sometimes at the theatre, sometimes in the Villa Nazionale, sometimes at parties and dances; indeed, it would seldom happen that Cesare would speak to the girls in public, without the handsome young Luigi Caracciolo appearing a few minutes later.

There was probably a tacit understanding between the two men.

Anna seemed to be unconscious of what was going on. Whenever her guardian approached her, presenting himself with that elegant manner which was one of his charms, she welcomed him with a luminous smile, giving him her hand, gazing at him with brilliant, joyful eyes, listening eagerly to what he had to say, and by every action showing him her good-will. And when, in turn, Luigi Caracciolo followed, she gave him a formal handshake, and exchanged a few words with him, distantly, coldly. He would try his hardest to shine before her, to bring the talk round to subjects with which he was familiar; but their interviews were always so short! At the theatre, between the acts; at the Villa, walking together for ten minutes at the utmost; at a ball, during a quadrille; and always in the presence of Laura, or Stella, or the Marchesa Scibilla, the girls' distant cousin, who often chaperoned them; and always watched from afar by their guardian Cesare Dias.

The relations between Luigi Caracciolo and Anna Acquaviva were such as, save in rare exceptional cases, always exist between people of the aristocracy. They were founded upon conventionality tempered by a certain amount of sympathy. The rigorous code of our nobility forbids anything approaching intimacy. Luigi Caracciolo's courtship of Anna was precisely like that of every other young man of his world. During the Carnival, it became a little more pressing, perhaps; he began to take on the appearance of a man in love. It seemed as if he invented pretexts for seeing her every day.

Willingly or unwillingly, Cesare Dias was his accomplice. Luigi was becoming more and more attentive. If Anna mentioned a book, he would send it to her, with a note; he would underline the sentimental passages, and when he met her again would ask her opinion upon it. If she mentioned a friend of her childhood, he would interest himself in all the particulars of the friendship. He was burning to know something about her first love affair; he had heard it vaguely rumoured that she had had one, that it had ended unhappily, and been followed by a violent illness.

And, indeed, from the way in which she would sometimes suddenly turn pale, from certain intonations of her voice, from her habit of going off into day-dreams when something said or done seemed to suggest old memories to her, it was easy for him to see that she must have passed through some immense emotional experience, and suffered from some terrible shock. She had a secret! Behind her great black eyes, behind her trembling lips, behind her silence, she hid a secret.

Luigi was in love with her, in his own way; not very deeply in love, but in love.

If Cesare Dias, in Anna's hearing, spoke of love, of the folly of passion, of the futility of hope, the girl bowed her head, listening without replying, as if she considered Cesare the infallible judge of all things.

Luigi Caracciolo saw this, and it tormented him with curiosity. Once he openly asked Dias if Anna had not already been in love. Dias, with the air of a man of the world, answered:

"Yes, she was interested in a young man, a decent young fellow, who behaved very well."

"Why didn't they marry?"

"The young man was poor."

"Was she very fond of him?"

"A mere girlish fancy."

"And now she has quite forgotten him?"

"Absolutely, absolutely."

This dialogue relieved Luigi for a moment; but he soon felt that it could not have contained the whole truth. He felt that the whole truth could only be told by Anna Acquaviva herself. And when he was alone with her he longed to question her on the subject, but his questions died unspoken on his lips.

Luigi's attentions to her had by this time become so apparent, and Cesare's manner was so much that of a father desirous of giving his consent to the betrothal of his daughter, that Anna could no longer pretend not to understand. Sometimes, when Cesare would come up to her, arm in arm with his young friend, she would look into his eyes with an expression which seemed to ask, "Oh, why are you doing this?"

He would appear not to notice this silent appeal. He knew very well that to attain his object he would have to overcome tremendous obstacles; that to persuade Anna Acquaviva to marry Luigi Caracciolo would be like taking a strong fortress. But he was a determined man, and he had determined to succeed. He saw her humility, he saw how she lowered her eyes before him, he felt that in most things she would be wax under his hand. But he was not at all sure that she would obey him when it came to a question of love, when it came to a question of her marriage. She might again rebel, as she had already rebelled.

Anna felt a latent irritation at perceiving Luigi's intentions and Cesare's approval of them, and she revenged herself by adopting towards the young man a demeanour of haughty politeness, against which he was defenceless. She took pleasure in contradicting him. If he seemed sentimental—and he was often sentimental in his way, which involved an element of sensuality—she became ironical, uttering paradoxes against sentiment in general; her voice grew hard; she seemed almost cynical. From sheer amiability Luigi Caracciolo always ended by agreeing with her, but it was easy to see that in doing so he was obeying his affection for her; he had quite the air of saying that she was right, not because he was convinced, but because she was a charming woman of whom he was devotedly fond.

"You agree with me for politeness' sake. What weakness!" she said angrily, with the impatience that women take no pains to conceal from men whom they don't like.

The slight smile with which Luigi assented to this proposition, and implied, moreover, that weakness born of a desire to please a loved one, was not altogether reprehensible, annoyed her more than ever. Anna wished the whole exterior world to keep tune to her own ruling thought, and anybody who by any means prevented such a harmony became odious to her. Such an one was Luigi Caracciolo.

Cesare Dias, with his acute insight, watched the couple rather closely. And when he saw Anna trying to avoid a conversation with Luigi, refusing to dance with him, or receiving him with scant courtesy, a slight elevation of his eyebrows testified to his discontent.

One day, when she had turned her back upon the young man at a concert, Cesare Dias, coming up, said to her, "You appear to be treating Caracciolo rather badly, Anna."

"I don't think so," she replied, trembling at his harsh tone.

"I think so," he insisted. "And I beg you to be more civil to him."

"I will obey you," she answered.

For several days after that she seemed very melancholy. Laura, who continued to sleep in the same room with her, often heard her sighing at night in her bed. Two or three times she had asked a little anxiously, "What is the matter?"

"Nothing, nothing. Go to sleep," Anna replied.

On the next occasion of her meeting Caracciolo, she treated him with exaggerated gentleness, in which, however, the effort was very apparent. He took it as so much to the good. She persevered in this behaviour during their next few interviews, and then she asked Dias, triumphantly: "Am I doing as you wish?"

"In what respect?"

"In respect of Caracciolo."

"Do you need my approbation?" he asked, in surprise. "For politeness' sake alone you should be civil to the young man."

"But it was you who told me to be so," she stammered meekly.

"I merely told you what a young lady's duty is—that's all."

She bent her head contritely. She had made a great effort to please Cesare Dias, and this was all the recognition she got. However, she could not feel towards him the least particle of anger; and the result was that her dislike of Luigi Caracciolo took a giant's stride.

Luigi Caracciolo's name was in everybody's mouth; everybody talked about him to her—Laura, Stella Martini, the Marchesa Scibilla. She shrugged her shoulders, without answering. Her silence seemed like a consent; but it is easy to guess that it was really only a means of concealing her unpleasant thoughts.

When, however, it was her guardian who mentioned Caracciolo, vaunting not only his charm, but also the seriousness of his character, she became excessively nervous. She looked at him in surprise, wondering that he could speak thus of such a disagreeable and vulgar person, and smiling ironically.

One day, overcome by impatience, she asked: "But do you really take him so seriously?"

"Who?—Caracciolo?"

"Of course—Caracciolo."

"I take every man seriously, who deserves it; and he does, I assure you."

"I don't want to contradict you," she said, softly; "but that is not my opinion."

"Have you really an opinion on the subject?" he responded, with a slight inflexion of contempt.

"Yes, indeed, I have an opinion."

"And why?"

"Why, because——"

"The opinions of young girls don't count, my dear. You are very intelligent; there's no doubt of that. But you know absolutely nothing."

"But, after all," she exclaimed, "do you really wish to persuade me that Caracciolo is a clever man?"

"Certainly."

"That he has a heart?"

"Certainly," he answered, curtly.

"That he is sympathetic?"

"Certainly," he repeated for the third time.

"Well, well," she said, disconcerted. "I find him arid in mind, hard of heart, and often absurd in his manners. No one will ever convince me of the contrary. He's a doll, not a man. Such a creature a man! It doesn't require much knowledge to see through him!"

"It is quite unnecessary to discuss it, my dear," said Cesare Dias, icily. "We won't discuss it farther. I'm not anxious to convince you, and it doesn't matter. Think what you like of anybody. It's not my affair to correct your fancies. I have unlimited indulgence still at your disposal for your extravagances; but there's one thing I can't tolerate—ingratitude. Do you understand—I hate ingratitude?"

"But what do you mean?" she cried, in anguish.

"Nothing more. Good night."

He turned on his heel and went away. For ten days he did not reappear in the Acquaviva household. He had never before let so long an interval pass without calling, unless he was out of town. Stella Martini, not seeing him, ingenuously sent to ask how he was. He replied, through his servant, that his health was perfect and that he thanked her for her concern.

In reality, he was furious because in his first skirmish with Anna on the subject of Luigi Caracciolo she had beaten him; furious, not only because of the wounds his amour-propre had received, but because his schemes for the girl's marriage were delayed. His anger was mixed with certain very lively suspicions, lively, though as yet not altogether clear in substance. It was impossible that Anna's conduct should not be due to some secret motive. He began at last to wonder whether she was still in love with Giustino Morelli.

Meanwhile, he refrained from calling upon her, well aware that in dealing with women no method is more efficacious than to let them alone. And, indeed, Anna was already sorry for what she had said, not because it wasn't true, but because she felt that she had thereby offended Cesare Dias, perhaps very deeply. But what could she do, what could she do? That Cesare Dias should plead with her for another man! It was too much. She felt that she must no longer trust to time; she must take decisive action at once.

Cesare's absence caused her great bitterness. Her regret for what she had said was exceedingly sharp during the first few days. She realised that she had been wrong, at least in manner. She ought to have held her tongue when she saw his face darken, and heard his voice tremble with scorn. Instead, in her foolish pride, she had held up her head, and spoken, and offended him. For two days, and during the long watches of two nights, stifling her sobs so that Laura should not hear them, she had longed to write him a little note to ask his pardon; but then she had feared that that might increase his irritation. Mentally, she was constantly on her knees before him, begging to be forgiven, as a child begs, weeping. She believed, she hoped he would come back; on his entrance she would press his hand and whisper a submissive word of excuse. She had not yet understood what a serious thing his silent vengeance could be.

He did not call. And now a dumb grief began to take the place of Anna's contrition, a dumb, aching grief that nothing could assuage, because everything reminded her of its cause, his absence. Whenever she heard a door opened, or the sound of a carriage stopping in the street before the house, she trembled. She had no peace. She accused him of injustice. Why was he so unjust towards her, towards her who ever since that fatal day at Pompeii had only lived to obey him? Why did he punish her like this, when her only fault had been that she saw the insignificance, the nullity, of Luigi Caracciolo? Every hour that passed intensified her pain. In her reserve she never spoke of him. Stella Martini said now and again, "Signor Dias hasn't called for a long time. He must be busy."

"No doubt," replied Laura, absently.

"No doubt," assented Anna, in a weak voice.

She was burning up with anxiety, with heartache, with suspicion, and with jealousy. Yes, with jealousy. It had never occurred to her that Cesare might have some secret love in his life, as other men have their secret loves, and as he would be especially likely to have his, for he was rich and idle. In her ingenuousness and ignorance, it had never occurred to her. It was as if other women didn't exist, or as if, existing, they were quite unworthy of his interest. But now it did occur to her. In the darkness of his absence the thought came to her, and took possession of her; and sometimes it seemed so infinitely likely, that she could scarcely endure it.

It was more than probable that amongst all the beautiful women of his acquaintance there was one whom he loved. It was with her that he passed his hours—his entire days, perhaps. That was why Anna never saw him! At the end of a week her distress had become so turbulent, that her head reeled, as it used to reel when she thought of flying with Giustino Morelli. As it used to reel then? Nay, more, worse than then.

In those days she had not felt the consuming fires of jealousy, fires that destroy for ever the purest joys of love. In those days the man she cared for was so absolute in his devotion to her, she had not tasted the bitterness of jealousy, a bitterness beyond the bitterness of gall and wormwood, a poison from whose effects those who truly love never recover.

But who was she, the woman that so powerfully attracted Cesare as to make him forget his child! The Contessa d'Alemagna, perhaps. Yes, it must be she—that dark lady, with the blue eyes, the wonderful toilets, the youthful colour, the vivacious manner; she was indeed an irresistible enchantress. Poor Anna! During Cesare's absence she learned all the phases of hope and fear, of torturing jealousy, of wretched loneliness. He did not come he did not come; perhaps he would never come again. What had he said? That he detested ingratitude, that he despised people who were ungrateful. Ungrateful—she! But how could he expect her to thank him for wishing to marry her to Luigi Caracciolo? Was she really ungrateful?

Three or four times she had written to him, begging him to come; now a simple little note; now a long passionate letter, full of contradictions, wherein, to be sure, the word "love" never appeared, but where it could be read between the lines; now a frank, short love-letter: but each in turn had struck her as worse than the others, as more trivial, more ineffectual; and she had ended by tearing them to pieces.

It was she who had put it into Stella Martini's head to send to inquire how he was; his curt response to that inquiry struck a chill to her heart: he was in town, and he was well. Then she would go out for long walks with Stella, in the hope of meeting him.

One afternoon in February, at last, she did meet him, thus, in the street.

"How do you do?" she said, nervously.

"Very well," he answered, with a smile.

"It's a long while since we have seen you," said Stella Martini.

"I hadn't noticed it."

"You haven't called for many days," said Anna, looking into his eyes.

"Many?"

"Eight days."

"Eight. Really? Are you sure?"

"I have counted them," she said, turning away her head, as if to look at the sea.

"I'm sure that's a great compliment." And he bowed gallantly.

"It wasn't a compliment. It was affection, it was gratitude."

"Good. I see you're in a better frame of mind. I'll call to-morrow."

When he had left them, Anna and Stella went on towards the Mergellina, walking more rapidly than before. Anna kept looking at the sea, with a slight smile upon her lips, a new colour in her cheeks. She buried her hands in her muff. Had he not pressed one of those hands at parting with her? Now and then she would look backwards, as if expecting to see him again; it was the hour of the promenade. She did see him again, indeed; but this time he was in a carriage, a smart trap of the Viennese pattern, driven dashingly by Luigi Caracciolo.

She saw them approaching from afar, swiftly. She bowed and smiled to both of them. Her smile was luminous with happiness; and Luigi Caracciolo imagined himself the cause of it, and drove more slowly; and Cesare Dias was pleased by it, for he took it as an earnest of her better frame of mind.

When Stella Martini asked her, "Shall we continue our walk or go home?" she answered, "Let us go home."

She had seen him; she had told him how anxiously she had counted the days of his absence; he had promised that he would call to-morrow. She had seen him again, and had smiled upon him. That was enough. She mustn't ask too much of Providence in a single day.

Anna went home as happy as if she had recovered a lost treasure. And yet Cesare Dias had been cold and distant. But what did that matter to Anna? She had got back her treasure; that was all. Again she would enjoy his dear presence, she would hear his voice, she would sit near to him, she would speak with him, answer him; he would come again every day, at his accustomed hour; she could please herself with the fancy that that hour was sacred to him, as it was to her. Nothing else mattered. It was true that she had met him by the merest chance; it was true, that had chance ordered otherwise, a fortnight might have passed without her seeing him. It was true, that he had taken no pains to bring about their meeting. It was true, also, that she and Stella had as much as begged him to call upon them. But in all this he had been so like himself, his conduct had been so characteristic, that Anna was glad of it. It was a great thing to have made her peace with him, without having had to write to him.

"Signor Dias was looking very well," said Stella Martini, "we shall see him to-morrow."

"Yes, to-morrow," said Anna, smiling.

"I missed him immensely during his long absence."

"So did I."

"You're very fond of him, aren't you?" Stella inquired ingenuously.

"Yes," answered Anna, after a little hesitation.

"He's so good—in spite of the things he says," observed the governess.

"He is as he is," murmured Anna, with a gesture.

When they got home, Laura noticed Anna's air of radiant joy. Anna moved about the room, without putting by her hat or muff.

At last she said, "You know, we met Dias."

"Ah?" responded Laura, without interest.

"He's very well."

"That's nothing extraordinary."

"He's coming to-morrow."

"Good."

But when he arrived the next day, it was Laura who received him. Anna, at the sound of the bell, had taken refuge in her own room.

"Oh, wise Minerva!" cried Dias, pressing her little white hand. "You are well. You are natural. You know no weakness. You, I am sure, haven't been counting the days of my absence. I understand. I am wise, too. We are like the Seven Sages of Greece."

She responded with a smile. Cesare Dias looked at her admiringly. Then Anna came. She was embarrassed; and red and white alternated in her cheek. She spoke nervously, and kept her eyes inquiringly fixed upon Cesare's face. He, on the other hand, was calm and superior. He behaved as if he had never been away. He had the good sense not to mention Luigi Caracciolo; and Anna, who was waiting for that name as for an occasion to show her submissiveness, was disconcerted. Dias appeared to have forgotten the ingratitude with which he had reproached her. He had the countenance of a man too magnanimous to bear a grudge. And Anna was more than ever disconcerted by such unmerited generosity. For several days he did not speak of Caracciolo; then, noticing how Anna said yes to every remark he made, little by little he began to reintroduce the subject. Little by little Caracciolo regained his position, became a new, an important member of their group. He returned to the attack, encouraged by the smile he had received that day in the Mergellina. His manner was more devoted than ever. He treated the girl as a loved object before whom he could pass his life kneeling. She could not control a movement of dislike at first seeing him, because it was he who had occasioned her quarrel with Cesare Dias; but Luigi did not notice it; and she soon got herself in hand, determined to treat him as kindly as she possibly could. It was a sacrifice she was making to please Cesare Dias. She closed her eyes to shut out the vision of the peril towards which she was advancing. She compromised herself with Luigi Caracciolo day after day. She compromised herself as a girl does only with the man she means to marry; accepting flowers from him, answering his notes, listening to his compliments; and at night, when she was alone, she would tremble with anger and with self-contempt, counting the steps she had made during the afternoon towards the great danger! But the fear of seeing Cesare Dias again absent himself for eight days, the fear that he might again pass eight days at the feet of the Contessa d'Alemagna, or at those of some other beautiful woman—this fear rendered her so weak that she went on, not knowing where she might stop, feeling that she was approaching the most terrible crisis of her life.

Cesare Dias, somewhat easier in his mind about the girl appeared to be pleased in a fatherly way by her conduct; it seemed as if he was watching his chance to speak the decisive word. Anna, dreading that word, had got into an overwrought nervous condition, where her humour changed from minute to minute. Now she would cry, now she would laugh, now she would blush, now she would turn pale.

"What's the matter?" asked Dias.

"Nothing," she answered, passing her hand over her eyes.

But at his question she smiled radiantly, and he felt that he had worked a little miracle.

He was a clever man, and he knew that he must strike while the iron was hot. He must attack Anna in one of her moments of meekness, or not at all. Luigi Caracciolo became more and more pressing; he loved the girl, and he told her so in every look he gave her. And time was flying. Everybody who met Anna congratulated her upon her engagement; and when she replied: "No, I'm not engaged," people shook their heads, smiling sceptically.

One afternoon, angry with Caracciolo because of a letter he had written to her, and which he insisted upon her answering, she said to Dias, who was talking with Laura:

"I want to speak to you."

"Good. And I want to speak to you."

"Then—will you call to-morrow?"

"Yes. In the morning."

He returned to his conversation with Laura.

All night long she prayed for strength and courage.

And when, the next morning, she was alone with him, too frightened to speak, she simply handed him Caracciolo's letter. He took it, read it, and silently returned it.

"What do you think of it?" she asked.

"Ah!" he exclaimed, as if he did not wish to express an opinion.

"Does it strike you as a serious letter?"

"Yes, it's serious."

"I may easily be mistaken," she said. "That is why I want to ask your advice. You—you know so much."

"A little," he assented, smiling.

They spoke very quietly, seated side by side, without looking at each other.

"Doesn't he strike you as bold?" she asked.

"Who? Caracciolo? For having written that letter?"

"Yes."

"No. People in love are always writing letters. They don't always send them, but they always write them."

"Ah, is that so?"

"He loves you, therefore he writes to you."

"He loves me?" she inquired, trembling.

"Of course."

"Are you sure?"

"Certainly."

"Has he told you so?"

"He has told me so."

"And what did you answer?"

"I? Nothing. He asked me nothing. He merely announced a fact. It's from you that he expects an answer."

"From me?" she exclaimed.

"Every letter calls for an answer."

"I shan't answer this one."

"Why not?"

"Because I have nothing to say to him."

"Don't you love him?"

"No."

"Not even a little? Don't you like him?"

"No, I don't love him, I don't even like him."

"I can't believe it," he said, very gravely, as if he saw before him an insurmountable obstacle.

"You deceive yourself then," said she.

"I see that you receive him kindly, that you speak to him politely, that you listen to his compliments, apparently with pleasure. That's a great deal for a young girl to do." And he lifted his eyebrows.

"I have done it to please you—because he is a friend of yours," she cried.

"Thank you," he cried, curtly.

Then befell a silence. She played with an antique coin attached to her watch-chain, and kept her eyes cast down.

"So," he began presently, "so you won't marry Luigi Caracciolo?"

"No. Never."

"He's a splendid fellow, though. He has a noble name, a handsome fortune. And he loves you."

"I don't love him, and I won't marry him."

"Love isn't necessary in marriage," said Cesare coldly.

"Not for others, perhaps. For me it is necessary," she cried, pained in the bottom of her heart by this apothegm.

"You know nothing about life, my dear. A marriage for love and a marriage for convenience are equally likely to turn out happily or unhappily. And of what use is passion? Of none."

She bowed her head, not convinced, obstinate in her faith, but respecting the man who spoke to her.

"If you don't care for Luigi Caracciolo, you ought to try not to see him."

"I will avoid him."

"But he will seek you."

"I'll stay in the house."

"He'll write to you."

"I have already said I won't answer him."

"He will persevere; I know him. The prize at stake is important. He will persevere."

"You will tell him that the marriage is impossible."

"Ah, no, my dear. I shan't be the bearer of any such ungracious message."

"Aren't you—aren't you my guardian?"

"Yes, I am your guardian. But I heartily wish Francesco Acquaviva had not chosen me. Frankly, I would prefer to be nothing to you."

"Am I—so bad?" she pleaded, with tears in her eyes.

"I don't know whether you are good or bad. I don't waste my time trying to make such distinctions. I only know that he's a fine young fellow, handsome and rich, who loves you, and that you, without a single earthly reason, refuse him. I know that he is anxious to marry you, in spite of the fact that you don't care for him, in spite of—pass me the word—in spite of the extravagance of your character. Excuse me, dear Anna, but I want to ask you whether you think it will be easy to find another husband?"

"How can I tell?"

"I ask, do you think another will be likely to ask you for your hand?"

"Excuse me. I don't understand," she said, turning pale, because she did understand.

"My dear, have you forgotten the past?"

"What past?" she demanded, proudly.

"Nothing but a flight from home, my dear. A day passed at Pompeii with a young man. Nothing else."

"Oh, heavens!" she sobbed, burying her face in her hands.

"Don't cry out, Anna. This is a serious moment. You must control yourself. Remember that what you did respectable girls don't do. Luigi Caracciolo knows nothing about it, or nothing definite. But a man who did know about it, wouldn't marry you, my dear. It's hard; it's cruel; but it's my duty to tell it to you. Marry him; marry Luigi. That is the advice of a friend, of a true friend, Anna. Marry Luigi Caracciolo."

"I committed a great fault," she said, in a dull voice, "but haven't you forgiven me, you and Laura?"

"Yes, yes. But husbands—but young men about to marry, don't pardon such faults. With what jealous care I have kept that secret! I have guarded it as if I were your father. And now you let a chance like this slip away! Not realising that such a chance may never come again! But another man, an equal of Caracciolo, where is he to be found?"

"It is true that I committed a great fault," she said, returning always to the same idea; "but my honour was untouched."

"I am the only person who knows that."

"It is enough for me that you know it."

"Anna, Anna, you're a foolish child; that's what you are. You fall in love with a penniless nobody, you escape from your home, you risk your honour, and you are saved by a miracle. Afterwards, you are ill, you get well, you forget the young beggar; and then when a fine fellow like Caracciolo falls in love with you, you refuse him. You're mad, Anna. Marry Luigi Caracciolo. I beg you to marry him."

"You can't ask me that," she murmured.

"Love is a fancy. Marry Caracciolo."

"I can't."

"But why not? It's not a sufficient reason to say that you don't love him."

"Look for another reason, then," she said.

"I'll find it."

Cesare Dias had spoken these words in a threatening tone, unusual to him. He rarely lost his temper.

After a long pause he asked, smiling sarcastically, "You are in love with some one else, I suppose?"

Anna did not answer. She wrung her hands and hid her eyes.

"Why don't you answer? You've fallen in love again, have you not?"

"Again? What do you mean?" she exclaimed.

"I mean that to explain your refusal of Luigi Caracciolo, you must be in love with some other man. You little girls believe that passion is everlasting. You believe in faithfulness that lasts, if not beyond the grave, at least up to its brink. Are you still in love with Giustino Morelli?"

"Oh, don't insult me like that," she cried, in a convulsion of sobs.

"Calm yourself," said he, studying her with cold curiosity, while she wept.

"For pity's sake, don't think that of me," she besought him; "Say anything that I deserve, but not that, not that."

"Calm yourself," repeated Dias. "We will speak of this another day."

"Listen, listen," she cried. "Don't go away yet. Forgive me, first, for having interfered with one of your plans. But marry Luigi Caracciolo—I can't, indeed I can't. I never can. You smile at my word never. You are right, the human heart is such a fickle thing. Forgive me. But you will see that I am not wrong. You will never never have any more trouble with me. I will be so obedient, so meek. I will do everything you wish. Compared to you I am such a little, poor, worthless thing."

She was weeping. Giustino Morelli and Luigi Caracciolo had disappeared from the conversation; only Cesare Dias and Anna Acquaviva remained in it. He listened with growing curiosity. If in one sense he had lost a battle, in another his vanity had gained a victory. A smile passed over his face.

"Don't cry," he said.

"Oh, let me cry. I am so unhappy, so miserable. I have played away my life so foolishly. But I didn't know. I swear to you, I didn't understand. Now all is over. I am a lost woman——"

"Don't exaggerate."

"Oh, you yourself said it. You are right. A respectable girl, who holds dear her honour, who is jealous of her reputation, doesn't fly from her home, doesn't throw herself into the arms of a man. You are right—you only—you are always right—you who are so wise. But if you knew—if you knew what it is like, this madness that springs up from my heart to my brain—if you knew how I lose my head, when my feelings get the better of me—you would be sorry for me."

"Don't cry any more," he said, very low.

"Ah, if tears could only wash out the past," she sighed.

"Good-bye, Anna," he said, rising.

"Don't go away." And she took his hand. "I haven't said anything to you yet. I haven't explained. You are going away angry with me. But you are right. The sooner it is finished the better. To-day I have no strength. I irritate you. Women who make scenes are always tiresome. But you ought to know, you ought. I will write to you—I will write everything. You permit me to, don't you? Say that you permit me. I can't live unless you let me write and tell you everything."

"Write," he said, softly.

"And you forgive me?"

"I have nothing to forgive. Write. Good-bye, Anna."

She sat down. Dias went away. Laura and Stella came into the room.

"Well, is the marriage arranged?" asked Stella, not noticing Anna's red eyes and pale cheeks.

"No. It will never be arranged."

An hour later Laura asked: "Are you in love with Cesare Dias?"

"Yes," answered Anna, simply.
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