“For myself, I was mistress of my secret, and I reveal it to you for the first time. Why not? I am seventy years old. You know none of the persons—you hear it as you would read a romance. My heart was broken—my faith was lost—and I have never met since any one who could restore it. I distrust the sweetest smile if it move me deeply, and although men may sometimes be sincere, yet sorrow is so sure that we must steer by memory, not by hope. In this world we must not play that we are happy. That play has a frightful forfeit. Society is wise. It eats its own children, whose consolation is that after this world there is another—and a better, say the priests. Of course—for it could not be a worse.
“Suddenly Sulpizia returned. My brother was in his library when a messenger came for him from her parents. He ran breathless and pale to his gondola. The man was conquered in that moment and the wild passion of the boy flamed up again. When he reached the Balbo palace he paused a moment, despite himself, upon the stairs, and the calmness of the man returned to him. Nature is kind in that to her noble children. Their regrets, their despairs, their lightning flashes of hope, she does not reveal to those who cause them. Every man is weak, but the weakness of the strong man is hidden. He entered the saloon. There stood Sulpizia with her parents.
“Death and victory were in her eyes. They were fearfully hollow; and the strongly-carved features, from which the flesh had fallen during the long struggles of the soul, were pure and pale as marble. It seemed as if she must fall from weakness, but not a muscle moved.
“Nothing was said. Camillo stood before the woman who had always ruled his soul, to whom it was still loyal. The parents stood appalled behind their daughter. It was a wintry noon in Venice—cold and still.
“‘Camillo,’ said Sulpizia at length, in a tone not to be described, but seemingly destitute of emotion—as the ocean might seem when a gale calmed it—’he has left me.’
“Child, I have not fathomed the human heart; but after a long, long silence my brother answered only, I know not from what feeling of duty and of sacrifice:
“‘Sulpizia, will you marry me?’
* * * * *
“Cardinal Balbo arranged the matter at Rome, and after a short time they were married. I was the only one present with the parents of Sulpizia, who were glad enough so to cover what they called their daughter’s shame. My mother would not come, but left Venice that very day and died abroad. The circumstances of the marriage were not comprehended; but the old friends of the family came occasionally to make solemn, stately visits, which my brother scrupulously returned.
“You may believe that we enjoyed a kind of mournful peace after the dark days of the last few years. I loved Sulpizia, but her cheerfulness without smiling was the awful serenity of wintry sunlight. She faded day by day. It was clear to us that the end was not far away.