And Carlo turned toward the door. Corilla rushed after him with an exclamation of terror.
“You will leave me now!” cried she, with anguish, “now, in this hour when you are so indispensable to me? now, when I am to celebrate a new triumph before this notable assembly? when all eyes are expectantly turned to the curtain behind which I am to appear? No, no, Carlo, from compassion remain with me only one hour, only this evening!”
Carlo smiled contemptuously. “I will remain,” said he, “for I have promised her that she shall hear you!”
“She has therefore come?” cried Corilla, with an outburst of joy.
“She is now here,” he laconically said.
Corilla no longer listened to him, she walked back and forth with a triumphant mien, a cruel, malicious smile playing upon her lips.
At this moment there was a slight knock at the door, which was opened, and a man who appeared upon the threshold glanced into the room with a grinning laugh.
Corilla gave him a sign, and at the same time pointed at Carlo, who, having his back toward her, seemed to have no suspicion of what was occurring behind him. But he saw it, nevertheless, in the tall mirror that stood in the middle of the room; he saw Corilla make signs of intelligence with that man who was in the livery of Cardinal Francesco Albani; he saw the man make answer with his fingers, and then draw forth a dagger, which he threateningly swung over his head.
Oh, Carlo had very well understood what that man said, as he also did that language of the fingers, this much-used language of the Romans and Neapolitans.
The man had said: “She is here, that beautiful lady! She can no longer escape us!”
“You will strike her?” had Corilla asked.
The man had swung the dagger over his head and held up two fingers of his right hand. That signified: “In two hours she will be dead.”
“Good! you shall be satisfied with me,” had been Corilla’s answer.
The door was again closed. Corilla turned smiling to Carlo, her former rancor seemed to have vanished; she was in high spirits.
“Carlo,” said she, “how good you are not to leave me! Let us now begin. I feel myself glowing with inspiration. Ah, I shall enrapture these good Romans, I think!”
“How long will this improvisation last?” Carlo gruffly asked.
“Well, one or two hours, according to the delight we give our public.”
“If this farce continues longer than an hour and a half, I shall throw down my harp and go away,” said Carlo, in a tone of severity. “I swear it to you by the spirit of my mother! Remember it; I shall show you the time every quarter of an hour.”
“You are a tyrant,” said she, laughing. “But I suppose I must submit. Give, therefore, the signal that we are ready.”