“I will see what I can do,” said Giovanni, rising. “Probably, the best thing would be to send your military surgeon. He will not be so tender as the other leech, but he will get you away at once. My wife wished me to say that she sympathised, and hoped you might soon be well.”
“My homage and best thanks to the princess,” answered Gouache, with a slight change of tone, presumably to be referred to his sense of courtesy in speaking of the absent lady.
So Giovanni went away, promising to send the surgeon at once. The latter soon arrived, saw Gouache, and was easily persuaded to order him home without further delay. The artist-soldier would not leave the house without thanking his hostess. His uniform had been cleansed from the stains it had got in the accident, and his left arm was in a sling. The wound on his head was more of a bruise than a cut, and was concealed by his thick black hair. Considering the circumstances he presented a very good appearance. The princess received him in the drawing-room, and Flavia and Faustina were with her, but all three were now dressed to go out, so that the interview was necessarily a short one.
Gouache made a little speech of thanks and tried to forget the decoction of mallows he had swallowed, fearing lest the recollection should impart a tone of insincerity to his expression of gratitude. He succeeded very well, and afterwards attributed the fact to Donna Faustina’s brown eyes, which were not cast down as they had been when Sant’ Ilario had called, but appeared on the contrary to contemplate the new visitor with singular interest.
“I am sure my husband will not approve of your going so soon,” said the princess in somewhat anxious tones. It was almost the first time she had ever known any step of importance to be taken in her house without her husband’s express authority.
“Madame,” answered Gouache, glancing from Donna Faustina to his hostess, “I am in despair at having thus unwillingly trespassed upon your hospitality, although I need not tell you that I would gladly prolong so charming an experience, provided I were not confined to solitude in a distant chamber. However, since our regimental surgeon pronounces me fit to go home, I have no choice but to obey orders. Believe me, Madame, I am deeply grateful to yourself as well as to the Principe Montevarchi for your manifold kindnesses, and shall cherish a remembrance of your goodness so long as I live.”
With these words Gouache bowed as though he would be gone and stood waiting for the princess’s last word. But before her mother could speak, Faustina’s voice was heard.
“I cannot tell you how dreadfully we feel—papa and I—at having been the cause of such a horrible accident! Is there nothing we can do to make you forget it?”
The princess stared at her daughter in the utmost astonishment at her forwardness. She would not have been surprised if Flavia had been guilty of such imprudence, but that Faustina should thus boldly address a young man who had not spoken to her, was such a shock to her belief in the girl’s manners that she did not recover for several seconds. Anastase appreciated the situation, for as he answered, he looked steadily at the mother, although his words were plainly addressed to the brown-eyed beauty.