“Giovannino,” he said at last very gently, “I do not want to pry into your secrets nor to ask you questions which you do not care to answer. I do not believe you are capable of having committed any serious folly which your wife could really resent. If you should be unfaithful to her, I would disown you. If, on the other hand, she has deceived you, I will do all in my power to help you.”
Perhaps Giovanni’s face betrayed something of the truth at these words. He turned away and leaned against the chimney-piece.
“I cannot tell you—I cannot tell you,” he repeated. “I think I am doing what is best. That is all I can say. You may know some day, though I trust not. Let us go away without explanations.”
“My dear boy,” replied the old man, coming up to him and laying his hand on his shoulder, “you must do as you think best. Go to Saracinesca if you will, and if you can. If not, go somewhere else. Take heart. Things are not always as black as they look.”
Giovanni straightened himself as though by an effort, and grasped his father’s broad, brown hand.
“Thank you,” he said. “Good-bye. I will come down and see you in a few days. Good-bye!”
His voice trembled and he hurriedly left the room. The prince stood still a moment and then threw himself into a deep chair, staring at the lamp and biting his gray moustache savagely, as though to hide some almost uncontrollable emotion. There was a slight moisture in his eyes as they looked steadily at the bright lamp.
The papers and parchments lay unheeded on the table, and he did not touch them again that night. He was thinking, not of his lonely old age nor of the dishonour brought upon his house, but of the boy he had loved as his own soul for more than thirty years, and of a swarthy little child that lay asleep in a distant room, the warm blood tinging its olive cheeks and its little clinched hands thrown back above its head.
For Corona he had no thought but hatred. He had guessed Giovanni’s secret too well, and his heart was hardened against the woman who had brought shame and suffering upon his son.
San Giacinto had signally failed in his attempt to prevent the meeting between Gouache and Faustina Montevarchi, and had unintentionally caused trouble of a much more serious nature in another quarter. The Zouave returned to his lodging late at night, and of course found no note upon his dressing-table. He did not miss the pin, for he of course never wore it, and attached no particular value to a thing of such small worth which he had picked up in the street and which consequently had no associations for him. He lacked the sense of order in his belongings, and the pin had lain neglected for weeks among a heap of useless little trifles, dingy cotillon favours that had been there since the previous year, stray copper coins, broken pencils, uniform buttons and