“It must be told to madama.” A frown came on the doctor’s face. He was evidently a true Britisher, decisive in his opinions, and frank enough to declare them openly. “Yes,” he said, curtly, “Madama, as you call her, should have been here.”
“The little angel did not once ask for her,” murmured Assunta.
“True!” he answered. And again there was silence. We stood round the small bed, looking at the empty casket that had held the lost jewel--the flawless pearl of innocent childhood that had gone, according to a graceful superstition, to ornament the festal robes of the Madonna as she walked in all her majesty through heaven. A profound grief was at my heart—mingled with a sense of mysterious and awful satisfaction. I felt, not as though I had lost my child, but had rather gained her to be more entirely mine than ever. She seemed nearer to me dead than she had been when living. Who could say what her future might have been? She would have grown to womanhood—what then? What is the usual fate that falls to even the best woman? Sorrow, pain, and petty worry, unsatisfied longings, incompleted aims, the disappointment of an imperfect and fettered life—for say what you will to the contrary, woman’s inferiority to man, her physical weakness, her inability to accomplish any great thing for the welfare of the world in which she lives, will always make her more or less an object of pity. If good, she needs all the tenderness, support, and chivalrous guidance of her master, man—if bad, she merits what she receives, his pitiless disdain and measureless contempt. From all dangers and griefs of the kind my Stella had escaped—for her, sorrow no longer existed. I was glad of it, I thought, as I watched Assunta shutting the blinds close, as a signal to outsiders that death was in the house. At a sign from the doctor I followed him out of the room—on the stairs he turned round abruptly, and asked:
“Will you tell the countess?”
“I would rather be excused,” I replied, decisively. “I am not at all in the humor for a scene.”
“You think she will make a scene?” he said with an astonished uplifting of his eyebrows. “I dare say you are right though! She is an excellent actress.”
By this time we had reached the foot of the stairs.
“She is very beautiful,” I answered evasively.
“Oh, very! No doubt of that!” And here a strange frown contracted the doctor’s brow. “For my own taste, I prefer an ugly woman to such beauty.”
And with these words he left me, disappearing down the passage which led to “madama’s” boudoir. Left alone, I paced up and down the drawing-room, gazing abstractedly on its costly fittings, its many luxurious knickknacks and elegancies—most of which I had given to my wife during the first few months of our marriage. By and by I heard the sound of violent hysterical sobbing, accompanied by the noise of hurrying footsteps and the rapid whisking