On that same night, when Veronica had gone to her room, Bosio Macomer remained alone with the countess in the small drawing-room in which the family generally spent the evening. Gregorio was presumably in his study, busy with his perpetual accounts or otherwise occupied. He very often spent the hours between dinner and bed-time by himself, leaving his brother to keep his wife company if Veronica chose to retire early.
The room was small and the first impression of colour which it gave was that of a strong, deep yellow. There was yellow damask on the walls, the curtains were of an old sort of silk material in stripes of yellow and chocolate, and most of the furniture was covered with yellow satin. The whole was in the style of the early part of this century, modified by the bad taste of the Second Empire, with much gilded carving about the doors and the corners of the big panels in which the damask was stretched, while the low, vaulted ceiling was a mass of gilt stucco, modelled in heavy acanthus leaves and arabesques, from the centre of which hung a chandelier of white Venetian glass. There were no pictures on the walls, and there were no flowers nor plants in pots, to relieve the strong colour which filled the eye. Nevertheless the room had the air of being inhabited, and was less glaring and stiff and old-fashioned than it might seem from this description. There were a good many books on the tables, chiefly French novels, as yellow as the hangings; and there were writing materials and a couple of newspapers and two or three open notes. A small wood fire burned in a deep, low fireplace adorned with marble and gilt brass.
Matilde Macomer sat, leaning back, upon a little sofa which stood across a corner of the room far from the fire. One hand lay idly in her lap, the other, as she stretched out her arm, lay upon the back of the sofa, and her head with its thick, brown hair was bent down. She had fixed her eyes upon a point of the carpet and had not moved from her position for a long time. The folds of her black gown made graceful lines from her knees to her feet, and her imposing figure was thrown into strong relief against the yellow background as she leaned to the corner, one foot just touching the floor.
Bosio sat at a distance from her, on a low chair, his elbows on his knees, staring at the fire. Neither had spoken for several minutes. Matilde broke the silence first, her eyes still fixed on the carpet.
“You must marry Veronica,” she said slowly; “nothing else can save us.”
It was clear that the idea was not new to Bosio, for he showed no surprise. But he turned deliberately and looked at the countess before he answered her. There were unusual lines in his quiet face—lines of great distress and perplexity.
“It is a crime,” he said in a low voice.
Matilda raised her eyes, with an almost imperceptible movement of the shoulders.