“You may let go your hold, sir,” she said, dropping the ruler, and turning toward D’Arbino with a smile on her white lips and a wicked calmness in her steady eyes. “I can wait for a better opportunity.”
With those words she walked to the door; and, turning round there, regarded Nanina fixedly.
“I wish I had been a moment quicker with the ruler,” she said, and went out.
“There!” exclaimed the doctor; “I told you I knew how to deal with her as she deserved. One thing I am certainly obliged to her for—she has saved us the trouble of going to her house and forcing her to give up the mask. And now, my child,” he continued, addressing Nanina, “you can go home, and one of the men-servants shall see you safe to your own door, in case that woman should still be lurking about the palace. Stop! you are leaving the bag of scudi behind you.”
“I can’t take it, sir.”
“And why not?”
“She would have taken money!” Saying those words, Nanina reddened, and looked toward the door.
The doctor glanced approvingly at D’Arbino. “Well, well, we won’t argue about that now,” he said. “I will lock up the money with the mask for to-day. Come here to-morrow morning as usual, my dear. By that time I shall have made up my mind on the right means for breaking your discovery to Count Fabio. Only let us proceed slowly and cautiously, and I answer for success.”
The next morning, among the first visitors at the Ascoli Palace was the master-sculptor, Luca Lomi. He seemed, as the servants thought, agitated, and said he was especially desirous of seeing Count Fabio. On being informed that this was impossible, he reflected a little, and then inquired if the medical attendant of the count was at the palace, and could be spoken with. Both questions were answered in the affirmative, and he was ushered into the doctor’s presence.
“I know not how to preface what I want to say,” Luca began, looking about him confusedly. “May I ask you, in the first place, if the work-girl named Nanina was here yesterday?”
“She was,” said the doctor.
“Did she speak in private with any one?”
“Yes; with me.”
“Then you know everything?”
“I am glad at least to find that my object in wishing to see the count can be equally well answered by seeing you. My brother, I regret to say—” He stopped perplexedly, and drew from his pocket a roll of papers.
“You may speak of your brother in the plainest terms,” said the doctor. “I know what share he has had in promoting the infamous conspiracy of the Yellow Mask.”
“My petition to you, and through you to the count, is, that your knowledge of what my brother has done may go no further. If this scandal becomes public it will ruin me in my profession. And I make little enough by it already,” said Luca, with his old sordid smile breaking out again faintly on his face.