“I ask you, and I ask any man, if that is not infamous?” exclaimed Fabio, passionately, as the priest handed him back the letter. “An attempt to work on my fears through the memory of my poor dead wife! An insolent assumption that I want to marry again, when I myself have not even so much as thought of the subject at all! What is the secret object of this letter, and of the rest here that resemble it? Whose interest is it to keep me away from the ball? What is the meaning of such a phrase as, ’If you would let your wife lie easy in her grave’? Have you no advice to give me—no plan to propose for discovering the vile hand that traced these lines? Speak to me! Why, in Heaven’s name, don’t you speak?”
The priest leaned his head on his hand, and, turning his face from the light as if it dazzled his eyes, replied in his lowest and quietest tones:
“I cannot speak till I have had time to think. The mystery of that letter is not to be solved in a moment. There are things in it that are enough to perplex and amaze any man!”
“It is impossible for me to go into details—at least at the present moment.”
“You speak with a strange air of secrecy. Have you nothing definite to say—no advice to give me?”
“I should advise you not to go to the ball.”
“You would! Why?”
“If I gave you my reasons, I am afraid I should only be irritating you to no purpose.”
“Father Rocco, neither your words nor your manner satisfy me. You speak in riddles; and you sit there in the dark with your face hidden from me—”
The priest instantly started up and turned his face to the light.
“I recommend you to control your temper, and to treat me with common courtesy,” he said, in his quietest, firmest tones, looking at Fabio steadily while he spoke.
“We will not prolong this interview,” said the young man, calming himself by an evident effort. “I have one question to ask you, and then no more to say.”
The priest bowed his head, in token that he was ready to listen. He still stood up, calm, pale, and firm, in the full light of the lamp.
“It is just possible,” continued Fabio, “that these letters may refer to some incautious words which my late wife might have spoken. I ask you as her spiritual director, and as a near relation who enjoyed her confidence, if you ever heard her express a wish, in the event of my surviving her, that I should abstain from marrying again?”
“Did she never express such a wish to you?”
“Never. But why do you evade my question by asking me another?”
“It is impossible for me to reply to your question.”
“For what reason?”
“Because it is impossible for me to give answers which must refer, whether they are affirmative or negative, to what I have heard in confession.”