“You are not dancing, Duchessa,” he remarked. “I suppose you have been in the ball-room?”
“Yes—but I am rather tired this evening. I will wait.”
“You were here at the last great ball, before the old prince died, were you not?” asked Giovanni, remembering that he had first seen her on that occasion.
“Yes,” she answered; “and I remember that we danced together; and the accident to the window, and the story of the ghost.”
So they fell into conversation, and though one or two of the men ventured an ineffectual remark, the little circle dropped away, and Giovanni was left alone by the side of the Duchessa. The distant opening strains of a waltz came floating down the gallery, but neither of the two heard, nor cared.
“It is strange,” Giovanni said. “They say it has always happened, since the memory of man. No one has ever seen anything, but whenever there is a great ball, there is a crash of broken glass some time in the course of the evening. Nobody could ever explain why that window fell in, five years ago—five years ago this month,—this very day, I believe,” he continued suddenly, in the act of recollection. “Yes—the nineteenth of January, I remember very well—it was my mother’s birthday.”
“It is not so extraordinary,” said Corona, “for it chances to be the name-day of the present prince. That was probably the reason why it was chosen this year.” She spoke a little nervously, as though still ill at ease.
“But it is very strange,” said Giovanni, in a low voice. “It is strange that we should have met here the first time, and that we should not have met here since, until—to-day.”
He looked towards her as he spoke, and their eyes met and lingered in each other’s gaze. Suddenly the blood mounted to Corona’s cheeks, her eyelids drooped, she leaned back in her seat and was silent.
Far off, at the entrance to the ball-room, Del Ferice found Donna Tullia alone. She was very angry. The dance for which she was engaged to Giovanni Saracinesca had begun, and was already half over, and still he did not come. Her pink face was unusually flushed, and there was a disagreeable look in her blue eyes.
“Ah!—I see Don Giovanni has again forgotten his engagement,” said Ugo, in smooth tones. He well knew that he himself had brought about the omission, but none could have guessed it from his manner. “May I have the honour of a turn before your cavalier arrives?” he asked.
“No,” said Donna Tullia, angrily. “Give me your arm. We will go and find him.” She almost hissed the words through her closed teeth.
She hardly knew that Del Ferice was leading her as they moved towards the picture-gallery, passing through the crowded rooms that lay between. She never spoke; but her movement was impetuous, and she resented being delayed by the hosts of men and women who filled the way. As they entered the long apartment, where the portraits of the Frangipani lined the walls from end to end, Del Ferice uttered a well-feigned exclamation.