To some extent he was to be pardoned. The chain of circumstantial evidence was consecutive and so convincing that many a just person would have accepted Corona’s guilt as the only possible explanation of what had happened. The discoveries he had just made would alone have sufficed to set up a case against her, and many an innocent reputation has been shattered by less substantial proofs. Had he not found a letter, evidently written in a feigned hand and penned upon his wife’s own writing-paper, fastened upon Gouache’s table with her own pin? Had not the old woman confessed— before he had found the note, too,—that a lady had been there but a short time before? Did not these facts agree singularly with Corona’s having left him to wait for her during that interval in the public gardens? Above all, did not this conclusion explain at once all those things in her conduct which had so much disturbed him during the past week?
What was this story of Faustina Montevarchi’s disappearance? The girl was probably Corona’s innocent accomplice. Corona had left the house at one o’clock in the morning with Gouache. The porter had not seen any other woman. The fact that she had entered the Palazzo Montevarchi with Faustina and without Anastase proved nothing, except that she had met the young girl somewhere else, it mattered little where. The story that Faustina had accidentally shut herself into a room in the palace was an invention, for even Corona admitted the fact. That Faustina’s flight, however, and the other events of the night of the 22d had been arranged merely in order that Corona and Gouache might walk in the moonlight for a quarter of an hour, Giovanni did not believe. There was some other mystery here which was yet unsolved. Meanwhile the facts he had collected were enough—enough to destroy his happiness at a single blow. And yet he loved Corona even now, and though his mind was made up clearly enough concerning Gouache, he knew that he could not part from the woman he adored. He thought of the grim old fortress at Saracinesca with its lofty towers and impregnable walls, and when he reflected that there was but one possible exit from the huge mass of buildings, he said to himself that Corona would be safe there for ever.
He had the instincts of a fierce and unforgiving race of men, who for centuries had held the law in their own hands, and were accustomed to wield it as it seemed good in their own eyes. It was not very long since the lords of Saracinesca had possessed the right of life and death over their vassals, [Footnote: Until 1870 the right of life and death was still held, so far as actual legality was concerned, by the Dukes of Bracciano, and was attached to the possession of the title, which had been sold and subsequently bought back by the original holders of it.] and the hereditary traits of character which had been fostered by ages of power had not disappeared with the decay of feudalism. Under the circumstances which seemed imminent, it