“Forgive me—for I have risked such opinion of me as you may have, to say them. There may be reasonable doubt about them. But of the rest—there is no doubt. There is a man’s life in it, and death is beyond doubts, and a love that can take a man and tear him and hurt him until he dies has a right to a woman’s hearing—and to her charity—before she throws it away. I ask no forgiveness of you for saying that. Gianluca will come to-morrow at this time, and he will come again until he sees you. I have kept you too long, Donna Veronica, and you have been kind in listening to me. If you need service in your life, use mine.”
She said nothing, but gravely inclined her head a little when she had once more looked into his eyes, before she turned towards Bianca and walked slowly up the short, broad path by his side.
Bosio felt that if he remained in his room alone with the horror of his position, he should go mad before night. He was weakly resolved not to marry Veronica, but he knew and for the first time dreaded the power Matilde had over his thoughts as well as his actions. He felt that if he could avoid her, he could still cling to the remnant of honour, but that she would tear it from him if she could and cast it to the winds. The whole card-house of his ill-founded life was trembling under the breath of fate, and its near fall seemed to threaten its existence.
He went out and walked slowly through sunny, unfrequented places, high up in the city, trying to shake off the chill of his fear as a man hopes to rid himself of an ague by sitting in the sun. But the chill was in his heart, and it was his soul that shivered. He weakly wished that he were wholly bad, that he might feel less.
Then, in true Italian humour, he tried to think of something which might divert his thoughts from the duty of facing their own terrible perplexity. If it had been evening, he would have strolled into the theatre; had it been already afternoon, he would have had himself driven out along the public garden towards Posilippo, to see the faces of his friends go by. But it was morning. There was nothing but the club, and he cared little for the men he might meet there. There was nothing to do, and his eyes did not help him to forget his troubles. He wandered on through ways broad and narrow, climbing up one steep lane and descending again by the next, hardly aware of direction and not noticing whether he went east or west, north or south, up or down.
At last, at a corner, he chanced to read the name of a street. It was familiar enough to him, as a Neapolitan, but just now it reminded him of something which might possibly help to distract his attention. He stopped and got out his pocket-book, and found in it a card, glanced at the address on it, and then once more at the name of the street. Then he went on till he came to the right number, entered a gloomy doorway, black with dampness and foul air, ascended four flights of dark stone steps, and stopped before a small brown door. The card nailed upon it was like the one he had in his pocket-book. The name was ’Giuditta Astarita,’ and under it, in another character, was printed the word ‘Somnambulist.’