Agostino threw away the end of a cigarette and looked for firmness in Vittoria’s eyes.
“This Countess d’Isorella is opposed to Carlo’s marriage at present. She says that she is betraying the king’s secrets, and has no reliance on a woman. As a woman you will pardon her, for it is the language of your sex. You are also denounced by Barto Rizzo, a madman—he went mad as fire, and had to be chained at Varese. In some way or other Countess d’Isorella got possession of him; she has managed to subdue him. A sword-cut he received once in Verona has undoubtedly affected his brain, or caused it to be affected under strong excitement. He is at her villa, and she says—perhaps with some truth—that Carlo would in several ways lose his influence by his immediate marriage with you. The reason must have weight; otherwise he would fulfil his mother’s principal request, and be at the bidding of his own desire. There; I hope I have spoken plainly.”
Agostino puffed a sigh of relief at the conclusion of his task.
Vittoria had been too strenuously engaged in defending the steadiness of her own eyes to notice the shadow of an assumption of frankness in his.
She said that she understood.
She got away to her room like an insect carrying a load thrice its own size. All that she could really gather from Agostino’s words was, that she felt herself rocking in a tower, and that Violetta d’Isorella was beautiful. She had striven hard to listen to him with her wits alone, and her sensations subsequently revenged themselves in this fashion. The tower rocked and struck a bell that she discovered to be her betraying voice uttering cries of pain. She was for hours incapable of meeting Agostino again. His delicate intuition took the harshness off the meeting. He led her even to examine her state of mind, and to discern the fancies from the feelings by which she was agitated. He said shrewdly and bluntly, “You can master pain, but not doubt. If you show a sign of unhappiness, remember that I shall know you doubt both what I have told you, and Carlo as well.”
Vittoria fenced: “But is there such a thing as happiness?”
“I should imagine so,” said Agostino, touching her cheek, “and slipperiness likewise. There’s patience at any rate; only you must dig for it. You arrive at nothing, but the eternal digging constitutes the object gained. I recollect when I was a raw lad, full of ambition, in love, and without a franc in my pockets, one night in Paris, I found myself looking up at a street lamp; there was a moth in it. He couldn’t get out, so he had very little to trouble his conscience. I think he was near happiness: he ought to have been happy. My luck was not so good, or you wouldn’t see me still alive, my dear.”
Vittoria sighed for a plainer speaker.
ON LAGO MAGGIORE