“I trust you were not offended at my remark concerning Nina Romani’s marriage with you? I fear I was too hasty?”
“Not so, madame,” I answered, with all the earnestness I felt. “Nothing is more pleasant to me than a frank opinion frankly spoken. I have been so accustomed to deception—” Here I broke off and added hastily, “Pray do not think me capable of judging you wrongly.”
She seemed relieved, and smiling that shadowy, flitting smile of hers, she said:
“No doubt you are impatient, signor; Nina shall come to you directly,” and with a slight salutation she left me.
Surely she was a good woman, I thought, and vaguely wondered about her past history—that past which she had buried forever under a mountain of prayers. What had she been like when young—before she had shut herself within the convent walls—before she had set the crucifix like a seal on her heart? Had she ever trapped a man’s soul and strangled it with lies? I fancied not—her look was too pure and candid; yet who could tell? Were not Nina’s eyes trained to appear as though they held the very soul of truth? A few minutes passed. I heard the fresh voices of children singing in the next room:
“D’ou vient le petit Gesu?
Ce joli bouton de rose
Qui fleurit, enfant cheri
Sur le coeur de notre mere Marie.”
Then came a soft rustle of silken garments, the door opened, and my wife entered.
She approached with her usual panther-like grace and supple movement, her red lips parted in a charming smile.
“So good of you to come!” she began, holding out her two hands as though she invited an embrace; “and on Christmas morning too!” She paused, and seeing that I did not move or speak, she regarded me with some alarm. “What is the matter?” she asked, in fainter tones; “has anything happened?”
I looked at her. I saw that she was full of sudden fear, I made no attempt to soothe her, I merely placed a chair.
“Sit down,” I said, gravely. “I am the bearer of bad news.”
She sunk into the chair as though unnerved, and gazed at me with terrified eyes. She trembled. Watching her keenly, I observed all these outward signs of trepidation with deep satisfaction. I saw plainly what was passing in her mind. A great dread had seized her— the dread that I had found out her treachery. So indeed I had, but the time had not yet come for her to know it. Meanwhile she suffered—suffered acutely with that gnawing terror and suspense eating into her soul. I said nothing, I waited for her to speak. After a pause, during which her cheeks had lost their delicate bloom, she said, forcing a smile as she spoke—
“Bad news? You surprise me! What can it be? Some unpleasantness with Guido? Have you seen him?”
“I have seen him,” I answered in the same formal and serious tone; “I have just left him. He sends you this,” and I held out my diamond ring that I had drawn off the dead man’s finger.