There was silence, and Veronica raised her head. The old Duca’s face was red with the exertion of much speaking. He was a good man and meant well, but in that moment Veronica hated him as she had never hated any one, not even Matilde Macomer. And yet she knew that his intention was all for the best, and that it was natural that he should press his point and exult when she gave up the fight. She opened her lips to speak.
At that moment the door turned on its hinges opposite her eyes, and Taquisara stood before her. He came in quietly and not knowing that anything extraordinary was occurring. But his eyes met hers for one moment, and instantly her cheek reddened in the evening light.
“I will give you a promise,” she said slowly. “This is the first week in December. If Gianluca is not much better by the first of January, I will do as you ask. The civil marriage shall take place here, and if he wishes to go down to Naples, we will all go together.”
The Duca began to speak again, sure that he could press her further. But she interrupted him. Taquisara had gone to the window and was turning his back on them all.
“No,” said Veronica. “That is what I will do, and I will do it—I have promised—that, and nothing else.”
She had risen, and as she pronounced the last words, she left Gianluca’s side and, with her eyes fixed before her, went straight to the door, pale and erect. She felt that she had given her life a second time. Taquisara heard her footsteps, left the window, and opened the door for her to pass, standing aside while she went by. He saw her head move a little, as though she would turn and look at him, and he saw how resolutely she resisted and looked before her. He understood that she would not trust herself to see his eyes again, and he quietly closed the door behind her. She knew what he must have felt when she had spoken, and he felt a lofty pride that she should trust him to bear the knife without warning, sure that he would utter no cry.
The tenth of December was at hand, on which day Don Teodoro had been in the habit of going to Naples to pay his annual visit to his friend Don Matteo. When Taquisara told him of what had taken place, the priest knew that he need not disturb Veronica for permission to leave Muro, merely for the sake of gaining a day or two. One day was all he needed, and there would be three weeks from the tenth of December to the first of January. He made his preparations for the little journey with much care, and went away with more luggage than usual. He also set all his manuscripts and books in order. When he was going away he gave the key of his little house to Taquisara.
“I do not expect to come back,” he said. “But you will hear from me. It will be kind of you to have my books and manuscripts sent to an address which I will give you in my letter. I do not think that we shall meet again. Good-bye. If I were not what I am, I would bless you. Good-bye.”