“Is there no case in which a man may destroy himself deliberately?”
“You speak of suicide? It was almost that you contemplated. No. The church teaches that a man who takes his own life goes straight to hell. So does Mohammed, for that matter.”
“In any case?”
“In any case. It is a mortal sin.”
“But,” objected Gouache, “let us suppose me a very bad man, exercising a destroying influence on many other people. Suppose, in short, for the sake of argument, that my life caused others to lose their own souls, and that by killing myself I knew that they would all become good again. Suppose then, that I suddenly repented and that there was no way of saving these people but by my own suicide. Would it not be more honourable in me to say, ’Very well, I will submit to damnation rather than send all those others to eternal flames?’ Should I not be justified in blowing out my brains?”
The cardinal did not know whether to smile or to look grave. He was neither a priest nor a theologian, but a statesman.
“My dear friend,” he answered at last. “The ingenuity of your suppositions passes belief. I can only say that, when you find yourself in such a bad case as you describe, I will submit the matter for you to the Holy Father himself. But I would strongly advise you to avoid the situation if you possibly can.”
Gouache took his leave with a light heart, little guessing as he descended the great marble staircase that Giovanni Saracinesca was the prisoner of whom the cardinal had spoken so mysteriously, still less that he, too, had falsely accused himself of having killed poor old Montevarchi. He wondered, as he walked rapidly along the streets in the bright morning sunshine, who the man was, and why he had done such a thing, but his thoughts were really with Faustina, and he longed to see her and to hear from her own lips the true version of what had happened.
Arnoldo Meschini was fully conscious of what he had done when he softly closed the door of the study behind him and returned to the library; but although he knew and realised that he had murdered his employer, he could not explain the act to himself. His temples throbbed painfully and there was a bright red spot in each of his sallow cheeks. He shuffled about from one bookcase to another, and his hands trembled violently as he touched the big volumes. Now and then he glanced towards one or the other of the doors expecting at every moment that some one would enter to tell him the news, if indeed any one at such a time should chance to remember the existence of the humble librarian. His brain was on fire and seemed to burn the sockets of his eyes. And yet the time passed, and no one came. The suspense grew to be unbearable, and he felt that he would do anything to escape from it. He went to the door and laid his hand upon the latch.