“I suppose you do not want her to know—” said the Prince, who had suddenly recovered his gravity.
Giovanni bowed his head silently.
“Quite right, my boy,” said the old man, gravely. “I do not want to know anything about it either. How the devil could they have found out?”
The question was addressed more to himself than to his son, and the latter volunteered no answer. He was grateful to his father for his considerate silence.
When Astrardente saw the elder Saracinesca’s face during his short interview with the diplomatist, his curiosity was immediately aroused. He perceived that there was something the matter, and he proceeded to try and ascertain the circumstances from his acquaintance. The ambassador returned to his pate and his champagne with an air of amused interest, but vouchsafed no information whatever.
“What a singularly amusing fellow old Saracinesca is!” remarked Astrardente.
“When he likes to be,” returned his Excellency, with his mouth full.
“On the contrary—when he least meditates it. I never knew a man better suited for a successful caricature. Indeed he is not a bad caricature of his own son, or his own son of him—I am not sure which.”
The ambassador laughed a little and took a large mouthful.
“Ha! ha! very good,” he mumbled as he ate. “He would appreciate that. He loves his own race. He would rather feel that he is a comic misrepresentation of the most hideous Saracinesca who ever lived, than possess all the beauty of the Astrardente and be called by another name.”
The diplomatist paused for a second after this speech, and then bowed a little to the Duchessa; but the hit had touched her husband in a sensitive spot. The old dandy had been handsome once, in a certain way, and he did his best, by artificial means, to preserve some trace of his good looks. The Duchessa smiled faintly.
“I would wager,” said Astrardente, sourly, “that his excited manner just now was due to one of two things—either his vanity or his money is in danger. As for the way he yelled after Spicca, it looked as though there were a duel in the air—fancy the old fellow fighting a duel! Too ridiculous!”
“A duel!” repeated Corona in a low voice.
“I do not see anything so very ridiculous in it,” said the diplomatist, slowly twisting his glass of champagne in his fingers, and then sipping it. “Besides,” he added deliberately, glancing at the Duchessa from the corner of his eyes, “he has a son.”
Corona started very slightly.
“Why should there be a duel?” she asked.
“It was your husband who suggested the idea,” returned the diplomatist.
“But you said there was nothing ridiculous in it,” objected the Duchessa.
“But I did not say there was any truth in it, either,” answered his Excellency with a reassuring smile. “What made you think of duelling?” he asked, turning to Astrardente.