She moved forward a little, as she spoke, and tapped her small foot upon the pavement, as though to emphasise her words. Her soft brown eyes flashed with righteous anger, and her cheek grew pale at the thought of avenging her father. There must have been something very fierce in her young face, for Meschini’s heart failed him, and his nerves seemed to collapse all at once. He tried to draw back from her, slipped and fell upon his knees with a sharp cry of fear. Even then, Faustina did not suspect the cause of his weakness, but attributed it to the illness of which he had spoken. She sprang forward and attempted to help the poor creature to his feet, but instead of making an effort to rise, he seemed to be grovelling before her, uttering incoherent exclamations of terror.
“Lean on me!” said Faustina, putting out her hand. “What is the matter? Oh! Are you going to die!”
“Oh! oh! Do not hurt me—pray—in God’s name!” cried Meschini, raising his eyes timidly.
“Hurt you? No! Why should I hurt you? You are ill—we will have the doctor. Try and get up—try and get to a chair.”
Her tone reassured him a little, and her touch also, as she did her best to raise him to his feet. He struggled a little and at last stood up, leaning upon the bookcase, and panting with fright.
“It is nothing,” he tried to say, catching his breath at every syllable. “I am better—my nerves—your Excellency—ugh! what a coward I am!”
The last exclamation, uttered in profound disgust of his own weakness, struck Faustina as very strange.
“Did I frighten you?” she asked in surprise. “I am very sorry. Now sit down and I will call some one to come to you.”
“No, no! Please—I would rather be alone! I can walk quite well now. If—if your Excellency will excuse me, I will go to my room. I have more medicine—I will take it and I shall be better.”
“Can you go alone? Are you sure?” asked Faustina anxiously. But even while she spoke he was moving towards the door, slowly and painfully at first, as it seemed, though possibly a lingering thought of propriety kept him from appearing to run away. The young girl walked a few steps after him, half fearing that he might fall again. But he kept his feet and reached the threshold. Then he made a queer attempt at a bow, and mumbled some words that Faustina could not hear. In another moment he had disappeared, and she was alone.
For some minutes she looked at the closed door through which he had gone out. Then she shook her head a little sadly, and slowly went back to her room by the way she had come. It was all very strange, she thought, but his illness might account for it. She would have liked to consult San Giacinto, but though she was outwardly on good terms with him, and could not help feeling a sort of respect for his manly character, the part he had played in attempting to separate her from Gouache had prevented the two from becoming intimate. She said nothing to any one about her interview with Meschini in the library, and no one even guessed that she had been there.