“The prince is here,” said the sister in a low voice, as she saw that Corona’s eyes were open. The latter glanced at Faustina, whose childlike sleep was not interrupted. She slipped from the bed and went out into the corridor.
The nun would have led the two down to the parlour, but Corona would not go so far from Faustina. At their request she opened an empty cell a few steps farther on, and left Giovanni and his wife alone in the gray dawn. Corona looked eagerly into his eyes for some news concerning the young girl. He took her hand and kissed it.
“My darling—that you should have spent the night in such a place as this!” he exclaimed.
“Never mind me. Is Faustina at liberty? Did you see the cardinal?”
“I saw him.” Giovanni shook his head.
“And do you mean to say that he would not give the order at once?”
“Nothing would induce him to give it. The prefect got there before me, and I was kept waiting half an hour while they talked the matter over. The cardinal declared to me that he knew there had been an enmity between Faustina and her father concerning her love for Gouache—”
“Her love for Gouache!” repeated Corona slowly, looking into his eyes. She could not help it. Giovanni turned pale and looked away as he continued.
“Yes, and he said that the evidence was very strong, since no one had been known to enter the house, and the servants were clearly innocent—not one of them betrayed the slightest embarrassment.”
“In other words, he believes that Faustina actually did it?”
“It looks like it,” said Giovanni in a low voice.
“Giovanni!” she seized his arm. “Do you believe it, too?”
“I will believe whatever you tell me.”
“She is as innocent as I!” cried Corona, her eyes blazing with indignation. Giovanni understood more from the words than she meant to convey.
“Will you never forgive?” he asked sadly.
“I did not mean that—I meant Faustina. Giovanni—you must get her away from here. You can, if you will.”
“I will do much for you,” he answered quietly.
“It is not for me. It is for an unfortunate child who is the victim of a horrible mistake. I have comforted her by promising that she should be free this morning. She will go mad if she is kept here.”
“Whatever I do, I do for you, and I will do nothing for any one else. For you or for no one, but I must know that it is really for you.”
Corona understood and turned away. It was broad daylight now, as she looked through the grating of the window, watching the people who passed, without seeing them.
“What is Faustina Montevarchi to me, compared with your love?” Giovanni asked.
Something in the tone of his voice made her look at him. She saw the intensity of his feeling in his eyes, and she wondered that he should try to tempt her to love him with, such an insignificant bribe—with the hope of liberating the young girl. She did not understand that he was growing desperate. Had she known what was in his mind she might have made a supreme effort to deceive herself into the belief that he was still to her what he had been so long. But she did not know.