The good woman looked at me with a sort of kindly pity mingled with awe, then murmuring once more her thanks and blessing, she left the room. A few minutes afterward Vincenzo entered. I addressed him cheerfully.
“Absence is the best test of love, Vincenzo; prepare all for our departure! We shall leave Avellino the day after to-morrow.”
And so we did. Lilla looked slightly downcast, but Vincenzo seemed satisfied, and I augured from their faces, and from the mysterious smile of Signor Monti, that all was going well. I left the beautiful mountain town with regret, knowing I should see it no more. I touched Lilla’s fair cheek lightly at parting, and took what I knew was my last look into the sweet candid young face. Yet the consciousness that I had done some little good gave my tired heart a sense of satisfaction and repose—a feeling I had not experienced since I died and rose again from the dead.
On the last day of January I returned to Naples, after an absence of more than a month, and was welcomed back by all my numerous acquaintance with enthusiasm. The Marquis D’Avencourt had informed me rightly—the affair of the duel was a thing of the past—an almost forgotten circumstance. The carnival was in full riot, the streets were scenes of fantastic mirth and revelry; there was music and song, dancing and masquerading, and feasting. But I withdrew from the tumult of merriment, and absorbed myself in the necessary preparations for—my marriage.
Looking back on the incidents of those strange feverish weeks that preceded my wedding-day, they seemed to me like the dreams of a dying man. Shifting colors, confused images, moments of clear light, hours of long darkness—all things gross, refined, material, and spiritual were shaken up in my life like the fragments in a kaleidoscope, ever changing into new forms and bewildering patterns. My brain was clear; yet I often questioned myself whether I was not going mad—whether all the careful methodical plans I formed were but the hazy fancies of a hopelessly disordered mind? Yet no; each detail of my scheme was too complete, too consistent, too business-like for that. A madman may have a method of action to a certain extent, but there is always some slight slip, some omission, some mistake which helps to discover his condition. Now, I forgot nothing—I had the composed exactitude of a careful banker who balances his accounts with the most elaborate regularity. I can laugh to think of it all now; but then—then I moved, spoke, and acted like a human machine impelled by stronger forces than my own— in all things precise, in all things inflexible.
Within the week of my return from Avellino my coming marriage with the Countess Romani was announced. Two days after it had been made public, while sauntering across the Largo del Castello, I met the Marquis D’Avencourt. I had not seen him since the morning of the duel, and his presence gave me a sort of nervous shock. He was exceedingly cordial, though I fancied he was also slightly embarrassed After a few commonplace remarks he said, abruptly: