“Your aqueduct, indeed!” exclaimed his father. “I would like to know whose idea it was?”
“I hear you are working like an engineer yourself, Don Giovanni,” said Corona. “I have a man at work at Astrardente on some plans of roads. Perhaps some day you could give us your advice.”
Some day! How sweet the words sounded to Giovanni as he sat opposite the woman he loved, bowling along through the rich vine lands in the cool of the summer evening!
The opportunity which Giovanni sought of being alone with Corona was long in coming. Sister Gabrielle retired immediately after dinner, and the Duchessa was left alone with the two men. Old Saracinesca would gladly have left his son with the hostess, but the thing was evidently impossible. The manners of the time would not allow it, and the result was that the Prince spent the evening in making conversation for two rather indifferent listeners. He tried to pick a friendly quarrel with Giovanni, but the latter was too absent-minded even to be annoyed; he tried to excite the Duchessa’s interest, but she only smiled gently, making a remark from time to time which was conspicuous for its irrelevancy. But old Saracinesca was in a good humour, and he bore up bravely until ten o’clock, when Corona gave the signal for retiring. They were to start very early in the morning, she said, and she must have rest.
When the two men were alone, the Prince turned upon his son in semi-comic anger, and upbraided him with his obstinate dulness during the evening. Giovanni only smiled calmly, and shrugged his shoulders. There was nothing more to be said.
But on the following morning, soon after six o’clock, Giovanni had the supreme satisfaction of installing Corona beside him upon the driving-seat of his cart, while his father and Sister Gabrielle sat together behind him. The sun was not yet above the hills, and the mountain air was keen and fresh; the stamping of the horses sounded crisp and sharp, and their bells rang merrily as they shook their sturdy necks and pricked their short ears to catch Giovanni’s voice.
“Have you forgotten nothing, Duchessa?” asked Giovanni, gathering the reins in his hand.
“Nothing, thanks. I have sent our things on mules—by the bridle-path.” She smiled involuntarily as she recalled her adventure, and half turned her face away.
“Ah, yes—the bridle-path,” repeated Giovanni, as he nodded to the groom to stand clear of the horses’ heads. In a moment they were briskly descending the winding road through the town of Astrardente: the streets were quiet and cool, for the peasants had all gone to their occupations two hours before, and the children were not yet turned loose.
“I never hoped to have the honour of myself driving you to Saracinesca,” said Giovanni. “It is a wild place enough, in its way. You will be able to fancy yourself in Switzerland.”