“You expect other visitors?” I inquired.
He seemed embarrassed, smiled, and hesitated.
“Well—I am not sure—but—” The bell rang. With a word of apology Ferrari hurried away to answer it. I sprung from my chair—I knew—I felt who was coming. I steadied my nerves by a strong effort. I controlled the rapid beating of my heart; and fixing my dark glasses more closely over my eyes, I drew myself up erect and waited calmly. I heard Ferrari ascending the stairs—a light step accompanied his heavier footfall—he spoke to his companion in whispers. Another instant—and he flung the door of the studio wide open with the haste and reverence due for the entrance of a queen. There was a soft rustle of silk—a delicate breath of perfume on the air—and then—I stood face to face with my wife!
How dazzlingly lovely she was! I gazed at her with the same bewildered fascination that had stupefied my reason and judgment when I beheld her for the first time. The black robes she wore, the long crape veil thrown back from her clustering hair and mignonne face, all the somber shadows of her mourning garb only served to heighten and display her beauty to greater advantage. A fair widow truly! I, her lately deceased husband, freely admitted the magnetic power of her charms! She paused for an instant on the threshold, a winning smile on her lips; she looked at me, hesitated, and finally spoke in courteous accents:
“I think I cannot be mistaken! Do I address the noble Conte Cesare Oliva?”
I tried to speak, but could not. My mouth was dry and parched with excitement, my throat swelled and ached with the pent-up wrath and despair of my emotions. I answered her question silently by a formal bow. She at once advanced, extending both her hands with the coaxing grace of manner I had so often admired.
“I am the Countess Romani,” she said, still smiling. “I heard from Signor Ferrari that you purposed visiting his studio this afternoon, and I could not resist the temptation of coming to express my personal acknowledgments for the almost regal gift you sent me. The jewels are really magnificent. Permit me to offer you my sincere thanks!”
I caught her outstretched hands and wrung them hard—so hard that the rings she wore must have dug into her flesh and hurt her, though she was too well-bred to utter any exclamation. I had fully recovered myself, and was prepared to act out my part.