Corte asked her curiously—for she had surprised and vexed his softer side—why she distinguished him with such remarkable phrases only to declare her contempt for him.
“It’s the flag whipping the flag-pole,” murmured Agostino; and he now spoke briefly in support of the expedition to Rome; or at least in favour of delay until the King of Sardinia had gained a battle. While he was speaking, Merthyr entered the room, and behind him a messenger who brought word that Bergamo had risen.
The men drew hurriedly together, and Countess Ammiani, Vittoria and Laura stood ready to leave them.
“You will give me, five minutes?” Vittoria whispered to her husband, and he nodded.
“Merthyr,” she said, passing him, “can I have your word that you will not go from me?”
Merthyr gave her his word after he had looked on her face.
“Send to me every two hours, that I may know you are near,” she added; “do not fear waking me. Or, no, dear friend; why should I have any concealment from you? Be not a moment absent, if you would not have me fall to the ground a second time: follow me.”
Even as he hesitated, for he had urgent stuff to communicate to Carlo, he could see a dreadful whiteness rising on her face, darkening the circles of her eyes.
“It’s life or death, my dearest, and I am bound to live,” she said. Her voice sprang up from tears.
Merthyr turned and tried in vain to get a hearing among the excited, voluble men. They shook his hand, patted his shoulder, and counselled him to leave them. He obtained Carlo’s promise that he would not quit the house without granting him an interview; after which he passed out to Vittoria, where Countess Ammiani and Laura sat weeping by the door.
THE WIFE AND THE HUSBAND
When they were alone Merthyr said: “I cannot give many minutes, not much time. I have to speak to your husband.”
She answered: “Give me many minutes—much time. All other speaking is vain here.”
“It concerns his safety.”
“It will not save him.”
“But I have evidence that he is betrayed. His plans are known; a trap is set for him. If he moves, he walks into a pit.”
“You would talk reason, Merthyr,” Vittoria sighed. “Talk it to me. I can listen; I thirst for it. I beat at the bars of a cage all day. When I saw you this afternoon, I looked on another life. It was too sudden, and I swooned. That was my only show of weakness. Since then you are the only strength I feel.”
“Have they all become Barto Rizzos?” Merthyr exclaimed.