“Welcome to Villa Romani!”
The words fell strangely on my ears. Was I dreaming, or was I actually standing on the smooth green lawn of my own garden, mechanically saluting my own wife, who, smiling sweetly, uttered this cordial greeting? For a moment or two my brain became confused; the familiar veranda with its clustering roses and jasmine swayed unsteadily before my eyes; the stately house, the home of my childhood, the scene of my past happiness, rocked in the air as though it were about to fall. A choking sensation affected my throat. Even the sternest men shed tears sometimes. Such tears too! wrung like drops of blood from the heart. And I—I could have wept thus. Oh, the dear old home! and how fair and yet how sad it seemed to my anguished gaze! It should have been in ruins surely—broken and cast down in the dust like its master’s peace and honor. Its master, did I say? Who was its master? Involuntarily I glanced at Ferrari, who stood beside me. Not he—not he; by Heaven he should never be master! But where was my authority? I came to the place as a stranger and an alien. The starving beggar who knows not where to lay his head has no emptier or more desolate heart than I had as I looked wistfully on the home which was mine before I died! I noticed some slight changes here and there; for instance, my deep easy-chair that had always occupied one particular corner of the veranda was gone; a little tame bird that I had loved, whose cage used to hang up among the white roses on the wall, was also gone. My old butler, the servant who admitted Ferrari and myself within the gates, had an expression of weariness and injury on his aged features which he had not worn in my time, and which I was sorry to see. And my dog, the noble black Scotch colly, what had become of him, I wondered? He had been presented to me by a young Highlander who had passed one winter with me in Rome, and who, on returning to his native mountains, had sent me the dog, a perfect specimen of its kind, as a souvenir of our friendly intercourse. Poor Wyvis! I thought. Had they made away with him? Formerly he had always been visible about the house or garden; his favorite place was on the lowest veranda step, where he loved to bask in the heat of the sun. And now he was nowhere visible. I was mutely indignant at his disappearance, but I kept strict watch over my feelings, and remembered in time the part I had to play.