I recoiled from these last words in a sort of terror; they were like an electric shock! Was I indeed so changed? Was it possible that the horrors of a night in the vault had made such a dire impression upon me? My hair white?—mine! I could hardly believe it. If so, perhaps Nina would not recognize me—she might be terrified at my aspect— Guido himself might have doubts of my identity. Though, for that matter, I could easily prove myself to be indeed Fabio Romani—even if I had to show the vault and my own sundered coffin. While I revolved all this in my mind the old man, unconscious of my emotion, went on with his mumbling chatter.
“Ah, yes, yes! He was a fine fellow—a strong fellow. I used to rejoice that he was so strong. He could have taken the little throat of his wife between finger and thumb and nipped it—so! and she would have told no more lies. I wanted him to do it—I waited for it. He would have done it surely, had he lived. That is why I am sorry he died.”
Mastering my feelings by a violent effort, I forced myself to speak calmly to this malignant old brute.
“Why do you hate the Countess Romani so much?” I asked him with sternness. “Has she done you any harm?”
He straightened himself as much as he was able and looked me full in the eyes.
“See you!” he answered, with a sort of leering laugh about the corners of his wicked mouth. “I will tell you why I hate her—yes—I will tell you, because you are a man and strong. I like strong men— they are sometimes fooled by women, it is true—but then they can take revenge. I was strong myself once. And you—you are old—but you love a jest—you will understand. The Romani woman has done me no harm. She laughed—once. That was when her horses knocked me down in the street. I was hurt—but I saw her red lips widen and her white teeth glitter—she has a baby smile—the people will tell you--so innocent! I was picked up—her carriage drove on—her husband was not with her—he would have acted differently. But it is no matter—I tell you she laughed—and then I saw at once the likeness.”
“The likness!” I exclaimed impatiently, for his story annoyed me. “What likeness?”
“Between her and my wife,” the dealer replied, fixing his cruel eyes upon me with increasing intensity of regard. “Oh, yes! I know what love is. I know too that God had very little to do with the making of women. It was a long time before even He could find the Madonna. Yes—yes, I know! I tell you I married a thing as beautiful as a morning in spring-time—with a little head that seemed to droop like a flower under its weight of sunbeam hair—and eyes! ah—like those of a tiny child when it looks up and asks you for kisses. I was absent once—I returned and found her sleeping tranquilly—yes! on the breast of a black-browed street-singer from Venice—a handsome lad enough and brave as a young lion. He saw me and sprung at my throat—I held