“Nor I. It was idiotic in the last degree,” replied Giovanni, annoyed that his father should have learned the story.
“You must go and see her at once—as soon as you can go out. It is a disagreeable business.”
“Of course. What else did she say?”
“She thought that Del Ferice had challenged you on her account, because you had not danced with her.”
“How silly! As if I should fight duels about her.”
“Since there was probably a woman in the case, she might have been the one,” remarked his father.
“There was no woman in the case, practically speaking,” said Giovanni, shortly.
“Oh, I supposed there was. However, I told Donna Tullia that I advised her not to think anything more of the matter until the whole story came out.”
“When is that likely to occur?” asked Giovanni, laughing. “No one alive knows the cause of the quarrel but Del Ferice and I myself. He will certainly not tell the world, as the thing was even more disgraceful to him than his behaviour this morning. There is no reason why I should speak of it either.”
“How reticent you are, Giovanni!” exclaimed the old gentleman.
“Believe me, if I could tell you the whole story without injuring any one but Del Ferice, I would.”
“Then there was really a woman in the case?”
“There was a woman outside the case, who caused us to be in it,” returned Giovanni.
“Always your detestable riddles,” cried the old man, petulantly; and presently, seeing that his son was obstinately silent, he left the room to dress for dinner.
It may be that when Astrardente spoke so tenderly to his wife after the Frangipani ball, he felt some warning that told him his strength was failing. His heart was in a dangerous condition, the family doctor had said, and it was necessary that he should take care of himself. He had been very tired after that long evening, and perhaps some sudden sinking had shaken his courage. He awoke from an unusually heavy sleep with a strange sense of astonishment, as though he had not expected to awake again in life. He felt weaker than he had felt for a long time, and even his accustomed beverage of chocolate mixed with coffee failed to give him the support he needed in the morning. He rose very late, and his servant found him more than usually petulant, nor did the message brought back from Giovanni seem to improve his temper. He met his wife at the midday breakfast, and was strangely silent, and in the afternoon he shut himself up in his own rooms and would see nobody. But at dinner he appeared again, seemingly revived, and declared his intention of accompanying his wife to a reception given at the Austrian embassy. He seemed so unlike his usual self, that Corona did not venture to speak of the duel which had taken place in the morning; for she feared anything which might excite him, well knowing that excitement might prove fatal. She did what she could to dissuade him from going out; but he grew petulant, and she unwillingly yielded.