Corona was silent, and her eyes grew soft again as she looked kindly at the man beside her. She did not understand him, but she knew that he meant to express something which was not bad. Gouache waited for her to speak.
“It was not for that I asked you to come with me,” she said at last.
“I am glad I said it,” replied Gouache. “I am going away to-morrow, and it might never have been said. You asked me if I loved her. I trust you. I say, yes, I do. I am going to say good-bye this afternoon.”
“I am sorry you love her. Is it serious?”
“Absolutely, on my part. Why are you sorry? Is there anything unnatural in it?”
“No, on the contrary, it is too natural. Our lives are unnatural. You cannot marry her. It seems brutal to tell you so, but you must know it already.”
“There was once a little boy in Paris, Madame, who did not have enough to eat every day, nor enough clothes when the north wind blew. But he had a good heart. His name was Anastase Gouache.”
“My dear friend,” said Corona, kindly, “the atmosphere of Casa Montevarchi is colder than the north wind. A man may overcome almost anything more easily than the old-fashioned prejudices of a Roman prince.”
“You do not forbid me to try?”
“Would the prohibition make any difference?”
“I am not sure.” Gouache paused and looked long at the princess. “No,” he said at last, “I am afraid not.”
“In that case I can only say one thing. You are a man of honour. Do your best not to make her uselessly unhappy. Win her if you can, by any fair means. But she has a heart, and I am very fond of the child. If any harm comes to her I shall hold you responsible. If you love her, think what it would be should she love you and be married to another man.”
A shade of sadness darkened Corona’s brow, as she remembered those terrible months of her own life. Gouache knew what she meant and was silent for a few moments.
“I trust you,” said she, at last. “And since you are going to-morrow, God bless you. You are going in a good cause.”
She held out her hand as she rose to leave him, and he bent over it and touched it with his lips, as he would have kissed the hand of his mother. Then, skirting the little assembly of people, Anastase went back towards the piano, in search of Donna Faustina. He found her alone, as young girls are generally to be found in Roman drawing-rooms, unless there are two of them present to sit together.
“What have you been talking about with the princess?” asked Donna Faustina when Gouache was seated beside her.
“Could you see from here?” asked Gouache instead of answering. “I thought the plants would have hindered you.”
“I saw you kiss her hand when you got up, and so I supposed that the conversation had been serious.”
“Less serious than ours must be,” replied Anastase, sadly. “I was saying good-bye to her, and now—”