Donna Tullia’s manner changed again, from impatience to persuasion. The sudden hope he held out to her was delicious to contemplate. She could not realise that Del Ferice, having once thoroughly interested her, could play upon her moods as on the keys of an instrument. If she had been less anxious that the story he told should be true, she might have suspected that he was practising upon her credulity. But she seized the idea of obtaining some secret influence over the life of Giovanni, and it completely carried her away.
“You must tell me—I am sure you will,” she said, letting her kindest glance rest upon her companion. “Come and dine with me,—do you fast? No—nor I. Come on Friday—will you?”
“I shall be delighted,” answered Del Ferice, with a quiet smile of triumph.
“I will have the old lady, of course, so you cannot tell me at dinner; but she will go to sleep soon afterwards—she always does. Come at seven. Besides, she is deaf, you know.”
The old lady in question was the aged Countess whom Donna Tullia affected as a companion in her solitary magnificence.
“And now, will you take me back to the ball-room? I have an idea that a partner is looking for me.”
Del Ferice left her dancing, and went home in his little coupe. He was desperately fatigued, for he was still very weak, and he feared lest his imprudence in going out so soon might bring on a relapse from his convalescence. Nevertheless, before he went to bed he dismissed Temistocle, and opened a shabby-looking black box which stood upon his writing-table. It was bound with iron, and was fastened by a patent lock which had frequently defied Temistocle’s ingenuity. Prom this repository he took a great number of papers, which were all neatly filed away and marked in the owner’s small and ornamented handwriting. Beneath many packages of letters he found what he sought for, a long envelope containing several folded documents.
He spread out the papers and read them carefully over.
“It is a very singular thing,” he said to himself; “but there can be no doubt about it. There it is.”
He folded the papers again, returned them to their envelope, and replaced the latter deep among the letters in his box. He then locked it, attached the key to a chain he wore about his neck, and went to bed, worn out with fatigue.
Del Ferice had purposely excited Donna Tullia’s curiosity, and he meant before long to tell more than he had vouchsafed in his first confidence. But he himself trembled before the magnitude of what he had suddenly thought of doing, for the fear of Giovanni was in his heart. The temptation to boast to Donna Tullia that he had the means of preventing Giovanni from marrying was too strong; but when it had come to telling her what those means were, prudence had restrained him. He desired that if the scheme