Entering the fiacre, I drove in it a very little way toward the city. I bade the driver stop at the corner of the winding road that led to the Villa Romani, and there I alighted. I ordered Vincenzo to go on to the hotel and send from thence my own carriage and horses up to the villa gates, where I would wait for it. I also bade him pack my portmanteau in readiness for my departure that evening, as I proposed going to Avellino, among the mountains, for a few days. He heard my commands in silence and evident embarrassment. Finally he said:
“Do I also travel with the eccellenza?”
“Why, no!” I answered with a forced sad smile. “Do you not see, amico, that I am heavy-hearted, and melancholy men are best left to themselves. Besides—remember the carnival—I told you you were free to indulge in its merriment, and shall I not deprive you of your pleasure? No, Vincenzo; stay and enjoy yourself, and take no concern for me.”
Vincenzo saluted me with his usual respectful bow, but his features wore an expression of obstinacy.
“The eccellenza must pardon me,” he said, “but I have just looked at death, and my taste is spoiled for carnival. Again—the eccellenza is sad—it is necessary that I should accompany him to Avellino.”
I saw that his mind was made up, and I was in no humor for argument.
“As you will,” I answered, wearily, “only believe me, you make a foolish decision. But do what you like; only arrange all so that we leave to-night. And now get back quickly—give no explanation at the hotel of what has occurred, and lose no time in sending on my carriage. I will wait alone at the Villa Romani till it comes.”
The vehicle rumbled off, bearing Vincenzo seated on the box beside the driver. I watched it disappear, and then turned into the road that led me to my own dishonored home. The place looked silent and deserted—not a soul was stirring. The silken blinds of the reception-rooms were all closely drawn, showing that the mistress of the house was absent; it was as if some one lay dead within. A vague wonderment arose in my mind. Who was dead? Surely it must be I—I the master of the household, who lay stiff and cold in one of those curtained rooms! This terrible white-haired man who roamed feverishly up and down outside the walls was not me—it was some angry demon risen from the grave to wreak punishment on the guilty. I was dead—I could never have killed the man who had once been my friend. And he also was dead—the same murderess had slain us both—and she lived! Ha! that was wrong—she must now die—but in such torture that her very soul shall shrink and shrivel under it into a devil’s flame for the furnace of hell!