“The prince is murdered!” cried the two servants in a breath. They were very pale as they came towards him.
If the cry he uttered was forced they were too much terrified to notice it. As they told their tale with every species of exaggeration, interspersed with expressions of horror and amazement, he struck his hands to his head, moaned, cried aloud, and, being half hysterical with drink, shed real tears in their presence. Then they led him away, saying that the prefect of police was in the study and that all the household had been summoned to be examined by him. He was now launched in his part, and could play it to the end without breaking down. He had afterwards very little recollection of what had occurred. He remembered that the stillness of the study and the white faces of those present had impressed him by contrast with the noisy grief of the servants who had summoned him. He remembered that he had sworn, and others had corroborated his oath, to the effect that he had spent the afternoon between the library and his room. Ascanio Bellegra’s footman remembered meeting him on the landing, and said that he had smiled pleasantly in an unconcerned way, as usual, and had passed on. For the rest, no one seemed even to imagine that he could have done the deed, for no one had ever heard anything but friendly words between him and the prince. He remembered, too, having seen the dead body extended upon the great table of the study, and he recalled Donna Faustina’s tone of voice indistinctly as in a dream. Then, before the prefect announced his decision, he was dismissed with the other servants.
After that moment all was a blank in his mind. In reality he returned to his room and sat down by his table with a candle before him. He never knew that after the examination he had begged another bottle of liquor of the butler on the ground that his nerves were upset by the terrible event. About midnight the candle burned down into the socket. Profiting by the last ray of light he drank a final draught and reeled to his bed, dressed as he was. One bottle was empty, and a third of the second was gone. Arnoldo Meschini was dead drunk.
Corona was not much surprised when the messenger brought her carriage and presented the order for Faustina’s liberation. When Giovanni had left her she had felt that he would find means to procure the young girl’s liberty, and the only thing which seemed strange to her was the fact that Giovanni did not return himself. The messenger said he had seen him with the cardinal and that Sant’ Ilario had given the order to use the carriage. Beyond that, he knew nothing. Corona at once took Faustina to the Palazzo Montevarchi, and then, with a promise to come back in the course of the day, she went home to rest.