It was hot, too, for no one had opened the window since it had stopped raining. Veronica rose and undid the fastenings and threw back the glass, and the cool air rushed in, laden with the sweet smell of the wet earth. As she came back, she saw that his eyes followed all her movements, gravely, as a sick child watches its nurse moving about its room. There was no reproach in their look, but they were still fixed on her, when she sat down again by his side.
“Veronica,” said the faint, far voice, presently. “May I ask you one question, that I have no right to ask?”
“Anything,” she answered. “And you have the right to ask anything.”
“No—not this. Do you love another man?”
The still blue eyes widened, in earnestness.
“No, Gianluca. No—by the truth of God—no living man!”
“Nor one dead?” His tone sank almost to a whisper, and still his eyes were wide for her answer.
A faint and tender light came into her face, so faint, so far reflected from an infinite somewhere, that only such eyes as his could have seen it.
“There was Bosio,” she said softly. “He spoke to me the night he died—I could have married him—I should have loved him—perhaps.”
If the little phrases were broken, it was not by hesitation; it seemed rather as though what they meant must find each memory to have meaning, one by one, and word by word—and finding, wondered at what had once been true.
And Gianluca smiled, as he lay still, and the lids of his eyes closed peacefully and naturally, opening again with another look. He was too weak to be surprised by what he had only vaguely guessed, from some word she had let fall, but he knew well enough, from her voice and face, that she had never loved Bosio Macomer, nor any other man, dead or living. And Hope, that is ever last to leave a breaking heart, nestled back into her own sweet place, breathing soft things of love, and life, and golden years to be.
“Thank you,” he said. “I should not have asked you. It was kind to answer.”
They did not speak again, and presently the door opened. The old Duca held it back with a stately bow, and the Duchessa swept into the room with that sort of uncertain swaying motion, which is all that weakness leaves of grace. And the Duca shuffled in after her, and closed the door most precisely, for he was a precise old man.
“I thought it was time for tea, my dear,” said the Duchessa. “We have had such a good sleep!”