“We have spoken enough,” said Fabio, turning angrily from the priest. “I expected you to help me in clearing up these mysteries, and you do your best to thicken them. What your motives are, what your conduct means, it is impossible for me to know, but I say to you, what I would say in far other terms, if they were here, to the villains who have written these letters—no menaces, no mysteries, no conspiracies, will prevent me from being at the ball to-morrow. I can listen to persuasion, but I scorn threats. There lies my dress for the masquerade; no power on earth shall prevent me from wearing it to-morrow night!” He pointed, as he spoke, to the black domino and half-mask lying on the table.
“No power on earth!” repeated Father Rocco, with a smile, and an emphasis on the last word. “Superstitious still, Count Fabio! Do you suspect the powers of the other world of interfering with mortals at masquerades?”
Fabio started, and, turning from the table, fixed his eyes intently on the priest’s face.
“You suggested just now that we had better not prolong this interview,” said Father Rocco, still smiling. “I think you were right; if we part at once, we may still part friends. You have had my advice not to go to the ball, and you decline following it. I have nothing more to say. Good-night.”
Before Fabio could utter the angry rejoinder that rose to his lips, the door of the room had opened and closed again, and the priest was gone.
The next night, at the time of assembling specified in the invitations to the masked ball, Fabio was still lingering in his palace, and still allowing the black domino to lie untouched and unheeded on his dressing-table. This delay was not produced by any change in his resolution to go to the Melani Palace. His determination to be present at the ball remained unshaken; and yet, at the last moment, he lingered and lingered on, without knowing why. Some strange influence seemed to be keeping him within the walls of his lonely home. It was as if the great, empty, silent palace had almost recovered on that night the charm which it had lost when its mistress died.
He left his own apartment and went to the bedroom where his infant child lay asleep in her little crib. He sat watching her, and thinking quietly and tenderly of many past events in his life for a long time, then returned to his room. A sudden sense of loneliness came upon him after his visit to the child’s bedside; but he did not attempt to raise his spirits even then by going to the ball. He descended instead to his study, lighted his reading-lamp, and then, opening a bureau, took from one of the drawers in it the letter which Nanina had written to him. This was not the first time that a sudden sense of his solitude had connected itself inexplicably with the remembrance of the work-girl’s letter.