“On the contrary, madame,” I said in a strong harsh voice, “the thanks must come entirely from me for the honor you have conferred upon me by accepting trifles so insignificant—especially at a time when the cold brilliancy of mere diamonds must jar upon the sensitive feelings of your recent widowhood. Believe me, I sympathize deeply with your bereavement. Had your husband lived, the jewels would have been his gift to you, and how much more acceptable they would then have appeared in your eyes! I am proud to think you have condescended so far as to receive them from so unworthy a hand as mine.”
As I spoke her face paled—she seemed startled, and regarded me earnestly. Sheltered behind my smoked spectacles, I met the gaze of her large dark eyes without embarrassment. Slowly she withdrew her slight fingers from my clasp. I placed an easy chair for her, she sunk softly into it with her old air of indolent ease, the ease of a spoiled empress or sultan’s favorite, while she still continued to look up at me thoughtfully Ferrari, meanwhile, busied himself in bringing out more wine, he also produced a dish of fruit and some sweet cakes, and while occupied in these duties as our host he began to laugh.
“Ha, ha! you are caught!” he exclaimed to me gayly. “You must know we planned this together, madame and I, just to take you by surprise. There was no knowing when you would be persuaded to visit the contessa, and she could not rest till she had thanked you, so we arranged this meeting. Could anything be better? Come, conte, confess that you are charmed!”
“Of course I am!” I answered with a slight touch of satire in my tone. “Who would not be charmed in the presence of such youth and beauty! And I am also flattered—for I know what exceptional favor the Contessa Romani extends toward me in allowing me to make her acquaintance at a time which must naturally be for her a secluded season of sorrow.”
At these words my wife’s face suddenly assumed an expression of wistful sadness and appealing gentleness
“Ah, poor unfortunate Fabio,” she sighed. “How terrible it seems that he is not here to greet you! How gladly he would have welcomed any friend of his father’s—he adored his father, poor fellow! I cannot realize that he is dead. It was too sudden, too dreadful! I do not think I shall ever recover the shock of his loss!”
And her eyes actually filled with tears; though the fact did not surprise me in the least, for many women can weep at will. Very little practice is necessary—and we men are such fools, we never know how it is done; we take all the pretty feigned piteousness for real grief, and torture ourselves to find methods of consolation for the feminine sorrows which have no root save in vanity and selfishness. I glanced quickly from my wife to Ferrari: he coughed, and appeared embarrassed—he was not so good an actor as she was an actress. Studying them both, I know not which feeling gained the mastery in my mind—contempt or disgust.