‘You do, you do, or you would not think of excusing yourself to me,’ said Laura. ’But now, go. You have cut me in two. Carlo Ammiani may succeed where I have failed, and I have used every weapon; enough to make a mean creature hate me for life and kiss me with transports. Do your best, Carlo, and let it be your utmost.’
It remained for Ammiani to assure her that their views were different.
’The signorina persists in her determination to carry out the programme indicated by the Chief, and refuses to be diverted from her path by the false suspicions of subordinates.’ He employed a sententious phraseology instinctively, as men do when they are nervous, as well as when they justify the cynic’s definition of the uses of speech. ’The signorina is, in my opinion, right. If she draws back, she publicly accepts the blot upon her name. I speak against my own feelings and my wishes.’
‘Sandra, do you hear?’ exclaimed Laura. ’This is a friend’s interpretation of your inconsiderate wilfulness.’
Vittoria was content to reply, ’The Signor Carlo judges of me differently.’
‘Go, then, and be fortified by him in this headstrong folly.’ Laura motioned her hand, and laid it on her face.
Vittoria knelt and enclosed her with her arms, kissing her knees.
‘Beppo waits for me at the house-door,’ she said; but Carlo chose not to hear of this shadow-like Beppo.
’You have nothing to say for her save that she clears her name by giving the signal,’ Laura burst out on his temperate ‘Addio,’ and started to her feet. ’Well, let it be so. Fruitless blood again! A ‘rivederla’ to you both. To-night I am in the enemy’s camp. They play with open cards. Amalia tells me all she knows by what she disguises. I may learn something. Come to me to-morrow. My Sandra, I will kiss you. These shudderings of mine have no meaning.’
The signora embraced her, and took Ammiani’s salute upon her fingers.
‘Sour fingers!’ he said. She leaned her cheek to him, whispering, ’I could easily be persuaded to betray you.’
He answered, ‘I must have some merit in not betraying myself.’
‘At each elbow!’ she laughed. ’You show the thumps of an electric battery at each elbow, and expect your Goddess of lightnings not to see that she moves you. Go. You have not sided with me, and I am right, and I am a woman. By the way, Sandra mia, I would beg the loan of your Beppo for two hours or less.’
Vittoria placed Beppo at her disposal.
‘And you run home to bed,’ continued Laura. ’Reason comes to you obstinate people when you are left alone for a time in the dark.’
She hardly listened to Vittoria’s statement that the chief singers in the new opera were engaged to attend a meeting at eleven at night at the house of the maestro Rocco Ricci.
THE PLOT OF THE SIGNOR ANTONIO