Giovanni sat down in a deep easy-chair in his own room, and thought over the situation. His first impulse had been to be furiously angry with his father; but the latter having instantly explained that there was nothing to be said against the Duchessa, Giovanni’s anger against the Prince had turned against himself. It was bitter to think that all his self-denial, all his many and prolonged efforts to conceal his love, had been of no avail. He cursed his folly and imprudence, while wondering how it was possible that the story should have got abroad. He did not waver in his determination to hide his inclinations, to destroy the impression he had so unwillingly produced. The first means he found in his way seemed the best. To marry Donna Tullia at once, before the story of his affection for the Duchessa had gathered force, would, he thought, effectually shut the mouths of the gossips. From one point of view it was a noble thought, the determination to sacrifice himself wholly and for ever, rather than permit his name to be mentioned ever so innocently in connection with the woman he loved; to root out utterly his love for her by seriously engaging his faith to another, and keeping that engagement with all the strength of fidelity he knew himself to possess. He would save Corona from annoyance, and her name from the scandal-mongers; and if any one ever dared to mention the story—
Giovanni rose to his feet and mechanically took a fencing-foil from the wall, as he often did for practice. If any one mentioned the story, he thought, he had the means to silence them, quickly and for ever. His eyes flashed suddenly at the idea of action—any action, even fighting, which might be distantly connected with Corona. Then he tossed down the rapier and threw himself into his chair, and sat quite still, staring at the trophies of armour upon the wall opposite.
He could not do it. To wrong one woman for the sake of shielding another was not in his power. People might laugh at him and call him Quixotic, forsooth, because he would not do like every one else and make a marriage of convenience—of propriety. Propriety! when his heart was breaking within him; when every fibre of his strong frame quivered with the strain of passion; when his aching eyes saw only one face, and his ears echoed the words she had spoken that very afternoon! Propriety indeed! Propriety was good enough for cold-blooded dullards. Donna Tullia had done him no harm that he should marry her for propriety’s sake, and make her life miserable for thirty, forty, fifty years. It would be propriety rather for him to go away, to bury himself in the ends of the earth, until he could forget Corona d’Astrardente, her splendid eyes, and her deep sweet voice.
He had pledged his father his word that he would consider the marriage, and he was to give his answer before Easter. That was a long time yet. He would consider it; and if by Eastertide he had forgotten Corona, he would—he laughed aloud in his silent room, and the sound of his voice startled him from his reverie.