“I agree with you there at least,” said Saracinesca. “The only improvements worth having are certainly not to be found in Europe. Donna Tullia is calling us. We had better join that harmless flock of lambs, and give over speculating on the advantages of allying ourselves with a pack of wolves who will eat us up, house and home, bag and baggage.”
So the whole party climbed again to their seats upon the drag, and Valdarno drove them back into Borne by the Porta San Giovanni.
Corona d’Astrardente had been educated in a convent—that is to say, she had been brought up in the strict practice of her religion; and during the five years which had elapsed since she had come out into the world, she had found no cause for forsaking the habits she had acquired in her girlhood. Some people find religion a burden; others regard it as an indifferently useless institution, in which they desire no share, and concerning which they never trouble themselves; others, again, look upon it as the mainstay of their lives.
It is natural to suppose that the mode of thought and the habits acquired by young girls in a religious institution will not disappear without a trace when they first go into the world, and it may even be expected that some memory of the early disposition thus cultivated will cling to them throughout their lives. But the multifarious interests of social existence do much to shake that young edifice of faith. The driving strength of stormy passions of all kinds undermines the walls of the fabric, and when at last the bolt of adversity strikes full upon the keystone of the arch, upon the self of man or woman, weakened and loosened by the tempests of years, the whole palace of the soul falls in, a hopeless wreck, wherein not even the memory of outline can be traced, nor the faint shadow of a beauty which is destroyed for ever.
But there are some whose interests in this world are not strong enough to shake their faith in the next; whose passions do not get the mastery, and whose self is sheltered from danger by something more than the feeble defence of an accomplished egotism. Corona was one of these, for her lot had not been happy, nor her path strewn with roses.
She was a friendless woman, destined to suffer much, and her suffering was the more intense that she seemed always upon the point of finding friends in the world where she played so conspicuous a part. There can be little happiness when a whole life has been placed upon a false foundation, even though so dire a mistake may have been committed willingly and from a sense of duty and obligation, such as drove Corona to marry old Astrardente. Consolation is not satisfaction; and though, when she reflected on what she had done, she knew that from her point of view she had done her best, she knew also that she had closed upon herself the gates of the earthly paradise, and that for her