“Nay, nay! I see the subject is too sacred to be jested with—pardon my levity! I assure you, my good Ferrari, I will watch over the lady with the jealous scrutiny of a brother—an elderly brother too, and therefore one more likely to be a model of propriety. Though I frankly admit it is a task I am not specially fitted for, and one that is rather distasteful to me, still, I would do much to please you, and enable you to leave Naples with an easy mind I promise you”—here I took his hand and shook it warmly—“that I will be worthy of your trust and true to it, with exactly the same fine loyalty and fidelity you yourself so nobly showed to your dead friend Fabio! History cannot furnish me with a better example!”
He started as if he had been stung, and every drop of blood receded from his face, leaving it almost livid. He turned his eyes in a kind of wondering doubt upon me, but I counterfeited an air of such good faith and frankness, that he checked some hasty utterance that rose to his lips, and mastering himself by a strong effort, said, briefly:
“I thank you! I know I can rely upon your honor.”
“You can!” I answered, decisively—“as positively as you rely upon your own!” Again he winced, as though whipped smartly by an invisible lash. Releasing his hand, I asked, in a tone of affected regret
“And when must you leave us, carino?”
“Most unhappily, at once,” he answered “I start by the early train to-morrow morning”
“Well, I am glad I knew of this in time,” I said, glancing at my writing-table, which was strewn with unsent invitation cards, and estimates from decorators and ball furnishers. “I shall not think of starting any more gayeties till you return.”
He looked gratefully at me “Really? It is very kind of you, but I should be sorry to interfere with any of your plans—”
“Say no more about it, amico” I interrupted him lightly “Everything can wait till you come back. Besides, I am sure you will prefer to think of madama as living in some sort of seclusion during your enforced absence—”
“I should not like her to be dull!” he eagerly exclaimed.
“Oh, no!” I said, with a slight smile at his folly, as if she—Nina--would permit herself to be dull! “I will take care of that. Little distractions, such as a drive now and then, or a very quiet, select musical evening! I understand—leave it all to me! But the dances, dinners, and other diversions shall wait till your return.”
A delighted look flashed into his eyes. He was greatly flattered and pleased.
“You are uncommonly good to me, conte!” he said, earnestly. “I can never thank you sufficiently.”
“I shall demand a proof of your gratitude some day,” I answered. “And now, had you not better be packing your portmanteau? To-morrow will soon be here. I will come and see you off in the morning.”