“For the sake of her innocence, Giovanni!” she exclaimed. “Can you let a child like that suffer so? I am sure, if you really would you could manage it, with your influence. Do you not see that I am suffering too, for the girl’s sake?”
“Will you say that it is for your sake?”
“For my sake—if you will,” she cried almost impatiently.
“For your sake, then,” he answered. “Remember that it is for you, Corona.”
Before she could answer, he had left the room, without another word, without so much as touching her hand. Corona gazed sadly at the open door, and then returned to Faustina.
An hour later the nun entered the cell, with a bright smile on her face.
“Your carriage is waiting for you—for you both,” she said, addressing the princess. “Donna Faustina is free to return to her mother.”
When Giovanni Saracinesca had visited Cardinal Antonelli on the previous evening, he had been as firmly persuaded that Faustina was innocent, as Corona herself, and was at first very much astonished by the view the great man took of the matter. But as the latter developed the case, the girl’s guilt no longer seemed impossible, or even improbable. The total absence of any ostensible incentive to the murder gave Faustina’s quarrel with her father a very great importance, which was further heightened by the nature of the evidence. There had been high words, in the course of which the Princess Montevarchi had left the room, leaving her daughter alone with the old man. No one had seen him alive after that moment, and he had been found dead, evidently strangled with her handkerchief. The fact that Faustina had a bruise on her arm and a cut on her lip pointed to the conclusion that a desperate struggle had taken place. The cardinal argued that, although she might not have had the strength to do the deed if the contest had begun when both were on their feet, it was by no means impossible that so old a man might have been overcome by a young and vigorous girl, if she had attacked him when he was in his chair, and was prevented from rising by the table before him. As for the monstrosity of the act, the cardinal merely smiled when Giovanni alluded to it. Had not fathers been murdered by their children before, and in Rome? The argument had additional weight, when Giovanni remembered Faustina’s wild behaviour on the night of the insurrection. A girl who was capable of following a soldier into action, and who had spent hours in searching for him after such an appalling disaster as the explosion of the Serristori barracks, might well be subject to fits of desperate anger, and it was by no means far from likely, if her father had struck her in the face from his place at the table, that she should have laid violent hands upon him, seizing him by the throat and strangling him with her handkerchief. Her coolness afterwards might be only a part of her odd nature, for she was undoubtedly eccentric. She might be mad, said the cardinal, shaking his head, but there was every probability that she was guilty. In those days there was no appeal from the statesman’s decisions in such matters. Faustina would remain a prisoner until she could be tried for the crime.