“But where is my balcony?” asked Mae.
“Come here,” said Bero, leading her slightly forward. She looked up and saw the quiet side-window, where day after day the officer had flung her the sweet flowers when no one was looking. “I know this place very well,” he said meaningly. Mae smiled a little cheerfully. “You have beautiful taste,” she replied, “I have never seen such exquisite bouquets before.”
Bero stroked his moustaches complacently. “You honor me, Signorina. I hope you may receive many, many more beautiful flowers—from the same hand.” He whispered these last words, and Mae turned her head half uneasily. She looked up at the balcony. How odd it was that there, but a few feet away, were Mrs. Jerrold, Edith, and Albert. She fancied she could detect their voices, though she could not see them. The Hopkins-Rae window was vacated. “The girls” were probably down on the Corso with Eric and Norman, and Mae drew a little nearer to Bero, and looked up half appealingly. His eyes were fixed strangely on something or some one across the street. Mae followed their gaze, and saw upon the opposite balcony the beautiful veiled lady. She held in her hand a long rod tipped with a blazing taper.
“O, she is like a vestal virgin with her light, or a queen with a sceptre,” cried Mae exultingly.
“She may be the vestal virgin, but the queen is by my side,” said Bero earnestly.
Mae wished he would not talk in this way, and she tried to laugh it off. “I have no sceptre or crown; I’m but a poor queen in my common garb.”
“We’ll have the coronation day after to-morrow,” replied Bero, very earnestly still.
“Tell me about her,” and Mae nodded her head toward the strange lady. “There is little to tell,” said Bero, in a quiet tone. “Her brother is well known in Rome as an artist. He lives there with his sister and an old duenna. She wears this mysterious veil constantly, and some fanciful people see just as mysterious a cloud resting about her life. I only know she is strange and beautiful, and that her name is Lillia.”
Yet Bero had seen this woman almost daily for six months. But he only knew she was strange and beautiful, and that her name was Lillia.
Mae had never spoken to the veiled stranger, yet if Bero had turned upon her and asked, “Who is she?” she would have replied: “I do not know her name or where she lives, but I know she struggles, and despairs, and smiles over all. And I know her suffering comes from sorrow—not from sin.” But Mae did not say all this. She only looked at the veiled lady. Her vestal lamp had dropped for the moment, and she seemed to be gazing far away. A fold of her heavy veil fell over her brow quite down to her great dark eyes. They were unshaded, yet they too, seemed clouded for the moment. “Her name is Lillia,” said Mae, reassuringly to herself. “Her name is Lillia. I am sure she is like her name.” Bero smiled. Just then Lisetta appeared.