“Welcome to Villa Romani!” so said my wife. Then, remarking my silence as I looked about me, she added with a pretty coaxing air,
“I am afraid after all you are sorry you have come to see me!”
I smiled. It served my purpose now to be as gallant and agreeable as I could; therefore I answered:
“Sorry, madame! If I were, then should I be the most ungrateful of all men! Was Dante sorry, think you, when he was permitted to behold Paradise?”
She blushed; her eyes drooped softly under their long curling lashes. Ferrari frowned impatiently—but was silent. She led the way into the house—into the lofty cool drawing-room, whose wide windows opened out to the garden. Here all was the same as ever with the exception of one thing—a marble bust of myself as a boy had been removed. The grand piano was open, the mandoline lay on a side-table, looking as though it had been recently used; there were fresh flowers and ferns in all the tall Venetian glass vases. I seated myself and remarked on the beauty of the house and its surroundings.
“I remember it very well,” I added, quietly.
“You remember it!” exclaimed Ferrari, quickly, as though surprised.
“Certainly. I omitted to tell you, my friend, that I used to visit this spot often when a boy. The elder Conte Romani and myself played about these grounds together. The scene is quite familiar to me.”
Nina listened with an appearance of interest.
“Did you ever see my late husband?” she asked.
“Once,” I answered her, gravely. “He was a mere child at the time, and, as far as I could discern, a very promising one. His father seemed greatly attached to him. I knew his mother also.”
“Indeed,” she exclaimed, settling herself on a low ottoman and fixing her eyes upon me; “what was she like?”
I paused a moment before replying. Could I speak of that unstained sacred life of wifehood and motherhood to this polluted though lovely creature?
“She was a beautiful woman unconscious of her beauty,” I answered at last. “There, all is said. Her sole aim seemed to be to forget herself in making others happy, and to surround her home with an atmosphere of goodness and virtue. She died young.”
Ferrari glanced at me with an evil sneer in his eyes.
“That was fortunate,” he said. “She had no time to tire of her husband, else—who knows?”
My blood rose rapidly to an astonishing heat, but I controlled myself.
“I do not understand you,” I said, with marked frigidity. “The lady I speak of lived and died under the old regime of noblesse oblige. I am not so well versed in modern social forms of morality as yourself.”
Nina hastily interposed. “Oh, my dear conte,” she said, laughingly, “pay no attention to Signor Ferrari! He is rash sometimes, and says very foolish things, but he really does not mean them. It is only his way! My poor dear husband used to be quite vexed with him sometimes, though he was so fond of him. But, conte, as you know so much about the family, I am sure you will like to see my little Stella. Shall I send for her, or are you bored by children?”