Both men looked grave. The suggestion was unpleasant. Such judgments had been given before and might be given again.
“We had better send for our lawyer,” said the prince, at last. “The sooner we know the real value of that bit of parchment the better it will be for us. I cannot bear the suspense of waiting a day to know the truth. Imagine that the very chair I am sitting upon may belong to San Giacinto. I never liked the fellow, from the day when I first found him in his inn at Aquila.”
“It is not his fault,” answered Giovanni, quietly. “This is a perfectly simple matter. We did not know what these papers were. Even if we had known, we should have laughed at them until we discovered that we had a cousin. After all we shall not starve, and what is a title? The Pope will give you another when he knows what has happened. I would as soon be plain Don Giovanni as Prince of Sant’ Ilario.”
“For that matter, you can call yourself Astrardente.”
“I would rather not,” said Giovanni, with something like a laugh. “But I must tell Corona this news.”
“Wait till she is herself again. It might disturb her too much.”
“You do not know her!” Giovanni laughed heartily this time. “If you think she cares for such things, you are very much mistaken in her character. She will bear the misfortune better than any of us. Courage, padre mio! Things are never so black as they look at first.”
“I hope not, my boy, I hope not! Go and tell your wife, if you think it best. I would rather be alone.”
Giovanni left the room, and Saracinesca was alone. He sank back once more in his chair and folded his strong brown hands together upon the edge of the table before him. In spite of all Giovanni could say, the old man felt keenly the horror of his position. Only those who, having been brought up in immense wealth and accustomed from childhood to the pomp and circumstance of a very great position, are suddenly deprived of everything, can understand what he felt.
He was neither avaricious nor given to vanity. He had not wasted his fortune, though he had spent magnificently a princely income. He had not that small affection for greatness which, strange to say, is often found in the very great. But his position was part of himself, so that he could no more imagine himself plain Don Leone Saracinesca, than he could conceive himself boasting of his ancient titles. And yet it was quite plain to him that he must either cease to be a prince altogether, or accept a new title as a charity from his sovereign. As for his fortune, it was only too plain that the greater part of it had never been his.