“Then, don’t you know? About his falling into the river? I know he didn’t drown himself.”
Gregory shook his head. “When—what makes them think”—He stopped and stared at her.
“Why, they know that he went down to the Ponte Trinity last night; somebody saw him going: And then that peasant found his hat with his name in it in the drift-wood below the Cascine—”
“Yes,” said Gregory, lifelessly. He let his arms drop forward, and his helpless hands hang over his knees; his gaze fell from her face to the floor.
Neither spoke for a time that seemed long, and then it was Clementina who spoke. “But it isn’t true!”
“Oh, yes, it is,” said Gregory, as before.
“Mr. Hinkle doesn’t believe it is,” she urged.
“He’s an American who’s staying in Florence. He came this mo’ning to tell me about it. Even if he’s drowned Mr. Hinkle believes he didn’t mean to; he must have just fallen in.”
“What does it matter?” demanded Gregory, lifting his heavy eyes. “Whether he meant it or not, I caused it. I drove him to it.”
“You drove him?”
“Yes. He told me what he had said to you, and I—said that he had spoiled my life—I don’t know!”
“Well, he had no right to do it; but I didn’t blame you,” Clementina began, compassionately.
“It’s too late. It can’t be helped now.” Gregory turned from the mercy that could no longer save him. He rose dizzily, and tried to get himself away.
“You mustn’t go!” she interposed. “I don’t believe you made him do it. Mr. Hinkle will be back soon, and he will—”
“If he should bring word that it was true?” Gregory asked.
“Well,” said Clementina, “then we should have to bear it.”
A sense of something finer than the surface meaning of her words pierced his morbid egotism. “I’m ashamed,” he said. “Will you let me stay?”
“Why, yes, you must,” she said, and if there was any censure of him at the bottom of her heart, she kept it there, and tried to talk him away from his remorse, which was in his temperament, perhaps, rather than his conscience; she made the time pass till there came a knock at the door, and she opened it to Hinkle.
“I didn’t send up my name; I thought I wouldn’t stand upon ceremony just now,” he said.
“Oh, no!” she returned. “Mr. Hinkle, this is Mr. Gregory. Mr. Gregory knew Mr. Belsky, and he thinks—”
She turned to Gregory for prompting, and he managed to say, “I don’t believe he was quite the sort of person to—And yet he might—he was in trouble—”
“Money trouble?” asked Hinkle. “They say these Russians have a perfect genius for debt. I had a little inspiration, since I saw you, but there doesn’t seems to be anything in it, so far.” He addressed himself to Clementina, but he included Gregory in what he said. “It struck me that he might have been running his board, and had used this drowning episode as a blind. But I’ve been around to his hotel, and he’s settled up, all fair and square enough. The landlord tried to think of something he hadn’t paid, but he couldn’t; and I never saw a man try harder, either.” Clementina smiled; she put her hand to her mouth to keep from laughing; but Gregory frowned his distress in the untimely droning.