His Eminence was an early riser, and was not altogether surprised that Giovanni should come to him at such an hour, especially as he knew that the Princess Sant’ Ilario had spent the night with Faustina in the Termini prison He was altogether taken aback, however, by Giovanni’s manner, and by the communication he made.
“I had the honour of telling your Eminence last night, that Donna Faustina Montevarchi was innocent,” began Giovanni, who refused the offer of a seat. “I trusted that she might be liberated immediately, but you have determined otherwise. I am not willing that an innocent person should suffer unjustly. I have come, therefore, to surrender myself to justice in this case.”
The cardinal stared, and an expression of unmitigated astonishment appeared upon his delicate olive features, while his nervous hands grasped the arms of his chair.
“You!” he cried.
“I, your Eminence. I will explain myself. Yesterday the courts delivered their verdict, declaring that my cousin San Giacinto is Prince Saracinesca, instead of my father, and transferring to him all our hereditary property. The man who found out that there was a case against us, and caused it to be brought to trial, was Prince Montevarchi. You may perhaps understand my resentment against him. If you recollect the evidence which was detailed to you last night you will see that it was quite possible for me to go to him without being observed. The door chanced to be open, and there was no one in the hall. I am perfectly acquainted with the house. Several hours elapsed between the time when Donna Faustina left her father and the moment when he was found dead in his chair. You can understand how I could enter the room unseen, how angry words naturally must have arisen between us, and how, losing my self-control, I could have picked up Donna Faustina’s handkerchief which, as she says, lay upon the floor, and knotted it effectually round the old man’s neck. What could he do in my hands? The study is far from the other rooms the family inhabit, and is near the hall. To go quietly out would not have been a difficult matter for any one who knew the house. Your Eminence knows as well as I the shallowness of circumstantial evidence.”
“And do you tell me, calmly, like this, that you murdered a helpless old man out of revenge?” asked the cardinal, half-indignantly, half-incredulously.
“Would I surrender myself as the murderer, for a caprice?” inquired Giovanni, who was very pale.
The cardinal looked at him and was silent for a few moments. He was puzzled by what he heard, and yet his common sense told him that he had no course but to liberate Faustina and send Giovanni to prison. He felt, too, that he ought to experience an instinctive repulsion, for the man before him, who, by his own showing, had been guilty of such a horrible crime; but he was conscious of no such sensation. He was a man of exceedingly quick and true intuitions, who judged the persons with whom he had business very accurately. There was a lack of correspondence between his intelligence and his feelings which roused his curiosity.