Such affairs as the encounter between Giovanni and Del Ferice were very rare in Rome. There were many duels fought; but, as a general rule, they were not very serious, and the first slight wound decided the matter in hand to the satisfaction of both parties. But here there had been a fight for life and death. One of the combatants had received two such wounds as would have been sufficient to terminate an ordinary meeting, and the other was lying at death’s door stabbed through the throat. Society was frantic with excitement. Giovanni was visited by scores of acquaintances, whom he allowed to be admitted, and he talked with them cheerfully, in order to have it thoroughly known that he was not badly hurt. Del Ferice’s lodging was besieged by the same young gentlemen of leisure, who went directly from one to the other, anxious to get all the news in their power. But Del Ferice’s door was guarded jealously from intruders by his faithful Neapolitan servant—a fellow who knew more about his master than all the rest of Rome together, but who had such a dazzlingly brilliant talent for lying as to make him a safe repository for any secret committed to his keeping. On the present occasion, however, he had small use for duplicity. He sat all day long by the open door, for he had removed the bell-handle, lest the ringing should disturb his master. He had a basket into which he dropped the cards of the visitors who called, answering each inquiry with the same unchanging words:
“He is very ill, the signorino. Do not make any noise.”
“Where is he hurt?” the visitor would ask. Whereupon Temistocle pointed to his throat.
“Will he live?” was the next question; to which the man answered by raising his shoulders to his ears, elevating his eyebrows, and at the same time shutting his eyes, while he spread out the palms of his hands over his basket of cards—whereby he meant to signify that he did not know, but doubted greatly. It being impossible to extract any further information from him, the visitor had nothing left but to leave his card and turn away. Within, the wounded man was watched by a Sister of Mercy. The surgeon had pronounced his recovery probable if he had proper care: the wound was a dangerous one, but not likely to prove mortal unless the patient died of the fever or of exhaustion.
The young gentlemen of leisure who thus obtained the news of the two duellists, lost no time in carrying it from house to house. Giovanni himself sent twice in the course of the day to inquire after his antagonist, and received by his servant the answer which was given to everybody. By the time the early winter night was descending upon Rome, there were two perfectly well-authenticated stories circulated in regard to the cause of the quarrel—neither of which, of course, contained a grain of truth. In the first place, it was confidently asserted by one party, represented by Valdarno and his set, that Giovanni had taken offence at Del Ferice for having proposed to call him to be examined before the Duchessa d’Astrardente in regard to his absence from town: that this was a palpable excuse for picking a quarrel, because it was well known that Saracinesca loved the Astrardente, and that Del Ferice was always in his way.