He smiled a pale uneasy smile, and pressed my hand. These were our last words, for with a warning shriek the train moved off, and in another minute had rushed out of sight. I was alone—alone with perfect freedom of action—I could do as I pleased with my wife now! I could even kill her if I chose—no one would interfere. I could visit her that evening and declare myself to her—could accuse her of her infidelity and stab her to the heart! Any Italian jury would find “extenuating circumstances” for me. But why? Why should I lay myself open to a charge of murder, even for a just cause? No! my original design was perfect, and I must keep to it and work it out with patience, though patience was difficult. While I thus meditated, walking from the station homeward, I was startled by the unexpected appearance of my valet, who came upon me quite suddenly. He was out of breath with running, and he carried a note for me marked “Immediate.” It was from my wife, and ran briefly thus:
“Please come at once. Stella is very ill, and asks for you.”
“Who brought this?” I demanded, quickening my pace, and signing to Vincenzo to keep beside me.
“The old man, eccellenza—Giacomo. He was weeping and in great trouble—he said the little donzella had the fever in her throat—it is the diphtheria he means, I think. She was taken ill in the middle of the night, but the nurse thought it was nothing serious. This morning she has been getting worse, and is in danger.”
“A doctor has been sent for, of course?”
“Yes, eccellenza. So Giacomo said. But—”
“But what?” I asked, quickly.
“Nothing, eccellenza! Only the old man said the doctor had come too late.”
My heart sunk heavily, and a sob rose in my throat. I stopped in my rapid walk and bade Vincenzo call a carriage, one of the ordinary vehicles that are everywhere standing about for hire in the principal thoroughfares of Naples. I sprung into this and told the driver to take me as quickly as possible to the Villa Romani, and adding to Vincenzo that I should not return to the hotel all day, I was soon rattling along the uphill road. On my arrival at the villa I found the gates open, as though in expectation of my visit, and as I approached the entrance door of the house, Giacomo himself met me.
“How is the child?” I asked him eagerly.
He made no reply, but shook his head gravely, and pointed to a kindly looking man who was at that moment descending the stairs—a man whom I instantly recognized as a celebrated English doctor resident in the neighborhood. To him I repeated my inquiry—he beckoned me into a side room and closed the door.
“The fact is,” he said, simply, “it is a case of gross neglect. The child has evidently been in a weakly condition for some time past, and therefore is an easy prey to any disease that may be lurking about. She was naturally strong—I can see that—and had I been called in when the symptoms first developed themselves, I could have cured her. The nurse tells me she dared not enter the mother’s room to disturb her after midnight, otherwise she would have called her to see the child—it is unfortunate, for now I can do nothing.”