“If this thing is true,” he said, “I would advise you, Giovanni, to pay a visit to the other side of the hills. It is time.”
Giovanni was silent for a moment. He was intensely interested in the situation, but he could not tell his father that he had promised Corona not to see her, and he had not yet explained to himself her sudden appearance so near Saracinesca.
“I think it would be better for you to go first,” he said to his father. “But I am not at all sure this story is true.”
“I? Oh, I will go when you please,” returned the old man, with another laugh. He was always ready for anything active.
But Gigi Secchi could not be found. He had returned to Aquaviva at once, and it was not easy to send a message. Two days later, however, Giovanni took the trouble of going to the man’s home. He was not altogether surprised when Gigi confirmed Pasquale’s tale in every particular. Corona had actually been at Saracinesca to find out if Giovanni was there or not; and on hearing that he was at the castle, she had fled precipitately. Giovanni was naturally grave and of a melancholy temper; but during the last few months he had been more than usually taciturn, occupying himself with dogged obstinacy in the construction of his aqueduct, visiting the works in the day and spending hours in the evening over the plans. He was waiting. He believed that Corona cared for him, and he knew that he loved her, but for the present he must wait patiently, both for the sake of his promise and for the sake of a decent respect of her widowhood. In order to wait he felt the necessity of constant occupation, and to that end he had set himself resolutely to work with his father, whose ideal dream was to make Saracinesea the most complete and prosperous community in that part of the mountains.
“I think if you would go over,” he said, at the end of a week, “it would be much better. I do not want to intrude myself upon her at present, and you could easily find out whether she would like to see me. After all, she may have been merely making an excursion for her amusement, and may have chanced upon us by accident. I have often noticed how suddenly one comes in view of the castle from that bridle-path.”
“On the other hand,” returned the Prince with a smile, “any one would tell her that the path leads nowhere except to Saracinesca. But I will go to-morrow,” he added. “I will set your mind at rest in twenty-four hours.”
“Thank you,” said Giovanni.
Old Saracinesca kept his word, and on the following morning, eight days after Corona’s excursion upon the hills, he rode down to Astrardente, reaching the palace at about mid-day. He sent in his card, and stood waiting beneath the great gate, beating the dust from his boots with his heavy whip. His face looked darker than ever, from constant exposure to the sun, and his close-cropped hair and short square beard had turned even whiter than before in the last six months, but his strong form was erect, and his step firm and elastic. He was a remarkable old man; many a boy of twenty might have envied his strength and energetic vitality.