Meanwhile Donna Faustina Montevarchi was alone in the streets. In desperate emergencies young and nervously-organised people most commonly act in accordance with the dictates of the predominant passion by which they are influenced. Very generally that passion is terror, but when it is not, it is almost impossible to calculate the consequences which may follow. When the whole being is dominated by love and by the greatest anxiety for the safety of the person loved, the weakest woman will do deeds which might make a brave man blush for his courage. This was precisely Faustina’s case.
If any man says that he understands women he is convicted of folly by his own speech, seeing that they are altogether incomprehensible. Of men, it may be sufficient for general purposes to say with David that they are all liars, even though we allow that they may be all curable of the vice of falsehood. Of women, however, there is no general statement which is true. The one is brave to heroism, the next cowardly in a degree fantastically comic. The one is honest, the other faithless; the one contemptible in her narrowness of soul, the next supremely noble in broad truth as the angels in heaven; the one trustful, the other suspicious; this one gentle as a dove, that one grasping and venomous as a strong serpent. The hearts of women are as the streets of a great town—some broad and straight and clean; some dim and narrow and winding; or as the edifices and buildings of that same city, wherein there are holy temples, at which men worship in calm and peace, and dens where men gamble away the souls given them by God against the living death they call pleasure, which is doled out to them by the devil; in which there are quiet dwellings, and noisy places of public gathering, fair palaces and loathsome charnel-houses, where the dead are heaped together, even as our dead sins lie ghastly and unburied in that dark chamber of the soul, whose gates open of their own selves and shall not be sealed while there is life in us to suffer. Dost thou boast that thou knowest the heart of woman? Go to, thou more than fool! The heart of woman containeth all things, good and evil; and knowest thou then all that is?
Donna Faustina was no angel. She had not that lofty calmness which we attribute to the angelic character. She was very young, utterly inexperienced and ignorant of the world. The idea which over-towers all other ideas was the first which had taken hold upon her, and under its strength she was like a flower before the wind. She was not naturally of the heroic type either, as Corona d’Astrardente had been, and perhaps was still, capable of sacrifice for the ideal of duty, able to suffer torment rather than debase herself by yielding, strong to stem the torrent of a great passion until she had the right to abandon herself to its mighty flood. Faustina was a younger and a gentler woman, not knowing what she did from the moment her heart began to dictate her actions, willing, above all, to take the suggestion of her soul as a command, and, because she knew no evil, rejoicing in an abandonment which might well have terrified one who knew the world.