The door opened and her maid appeared.
“Will your Excellency receive Monsieur Gouache?” asked the woman from the threshold.
“No! certainly not!” answered Corona, in a voice that frightened the servant. “I am not at home.”
“Yes, your Excellency.”
The amount of work which Arnoldo Meschini did in the twenty-four hours of the day depended almost entirely upon his inclinations. The library had always been open to the public once a week, on Mondays, and on those occasions the librarian was obliged to be present. The rest of his time was supposed to be devoted to the incessant labour connected with so important a collection of books, and, on the whole, he had done far more than was expected of him. Prince Montevarchi had never proposed to give him an assistant, and he would have rejected any such offer, since the presence of another person would have made it almost impossible for him to carry on his business of forging ancient manuscripts. The manual labour of his illicit craft was of course performed in his own room, but a second librarian could not have failed to discover that there was something wrong. Night after night he carried the precious manuscripts to his chamber, bringing them back and restoring them to their places every morning. During the day he studied attentively what he afterwards executed in the quiet hours when he could be alone. Of the household none but the prince himself ever came to the library, no other member of the family cared for the books or knew anything about them. His employer being dead, Meschini was practically master of all the shelves contained. No one disturbed him, no one asked what he was doing. His salary would be paid regularly by the steward, and he would in all probability be left to vegetate unheeded for the rest of his natural lifetime. When he died some one else would be engaged in his place. In the ordinary course of events no other future would have been open to him.
He awoke very late in the morning on the day after the murder, and lay for some time wondering why he was so very uncomfortable, why his head hurt him, why his vision was indistinct, why he could remember nothing he had done before going to bed. The enormous quantity of liquor he had drunk hid temporarily destroyed his faculties, which were not hardened by the habitual use of alcohol. He turned his head uneasily upon the pillow and saw the bottles on the table, the candle burnt down in the brass candlestick and the general disorder in the room. He glanced at his own body and saw that he was lying dressed upon his bed. Then the whole truth flashed upon his mind with appalling vividness. A shock went through his system as though some one had struck him violently on the back of the head, while the light in the room was momentarily broken into flashes that pained his eyes. He got upon his feet with difficulty, and steadied himself by the bed-post, hardly able to stand alone.