On the Saturday afternoon preceding the battle of Mentana, Sant’ Ilario was alone in his own room, trying to pass the weary hours in the calculation of certain improvements he meditated at Saracinesca. He had grown very thin and careworn during the week, and he found it hard to distract his mind even for a moment from the thought of his misfortunes. Nothing but a strong mental effort in another direction could any longer fix his attention, and though any kind of work was for the present distasteful to him, it was at least a temporary relief from the contemplation of his misfortunes.
He could not bring himself to see Corona, though she grew daily worse, and both the physicians and the attendants who were about her looked grave. His action in this respect did not proceed from heartlessness, still less from any wish to add to her sufferings; on the contrary, he knew very well that, since he could not speak to her with words of forgiveness, the sight of him would very likely aggravate her state. He had no reason to forgive her, for nothing had happened to make her guilt seem more pardonable than before. Had she been well and strong as usual he would have seen her often and would very likely have reproached her again and again most bitterly with what she had done. But she was ill and wholly unable to defend herself; to inflict fresh pain at such a time would have been mean and cowardly. He kept away and did his best not to go mad, though he felt that he could not bear the strain much longer.
As the afternoon light faded from his chamber he dropped the pencil and paper with which he had been working and leaned back in his chair. His face was haggard and drawn, and sleepless nights had made dark circles about his deep-set eyes, while his face, which was naturally lean, had grown suddenly thin and hollow. He was indeed one of the most unhappy men in Rome that day, and so far as he could see his misery had fallen upon him through no fault of his own. It would have been a blessed relief, could he have accused himself of injustice, or of any misdeed which might throw the weight and responsibility of Corona’s actions back upon his own soul. He loved her still so well that he could have imagined nothing sweeter than to throw himself at her feet and cry aloud that it was he who had sinned and not she. He tortured his imagination for a means of proving that she might be innocent. But it was in vain. The chain of circumstantial evidence was complete and not a link was missing, not one point uncertain. He would have given her the advantage of any doubt which could be thought to exist, but the longer he thought of it all, the more sure he grew that there was no doubt whatever.
He sat quite still until it was nearly dark, and then with a sudden and angry movement quite unlike him, he sprang to his feet and left the room. Solitude was growing unbearable to him, and though he cared little to see any of his associates, the mere presence of other living beings would, he thought, be better than nothing. He was about to go out of the house when he met the doctor coming from Corona’s apartments.