“Well?” asked the prince. “What is the matter? We all wish to hear the news.”
“Excellency,” began the soldier, “I must ask many pardons for appearing thus—–” Indeed his uniform was more or less disarranged and he looked pale and fatigued.
“Never mind your appearance. Speak up,” answered old Saracinesca in encouraging tones.
“Excellency,” said the man, “I must apologise, but there is a gentleman who calls himself Don Giovanni, of your revered name—–”
“I know there is. He is my son. What about him?”
“He is not the Senior Principe di Sant’ Ilario, Excellency—he calls himself by another name—Marchese di—di—here is his card, Excellency.”
“My cousin, San Giacinto, then. What about him, I say?”
“Your Excellency has a cousin—–” stammered the gendarme.
“Well? Is it against the law to have cousins?” cried the prince. “What is the matter with my cousin?”
“Dio mio!” exclaimed the soldier in great agitation. “What a combination! Your Excellency’s cousin is in the mortuary chamber at Santo Spirito!”
“Is he dead?” asked Saracinesca in a lower voice, but starting from his chair.
“No,” cried the man, “questo e il male! That is the trouble! He is alive and very well!”
“Then what the devil is he doing in the mortuary chamber?” roared the prince.
“Excellency, I beseech your pardon, I had nothing to do with locking up the Signor Marchese. It was the surgeon, Excellency, who took him for a Garibaldian. He shall be liberated at once—–”
“I should think so!” answered Saracinesca, savagely. “And what business have your asses of surgeons with gentlemen? My hat, Pasquale. And how on earth came my cousin to be in Santo Spirito?”
“Excellency, I know nothing, but I had to do my duty.”
“And if you know nothing how the devil do you expect to do your duty! I will have you and the surgeon and the whole of Santo Spirito and all the patients, in the Carceri Nuove, safe in prison before morning! My hat, Pasquale, I say!”
Some confusion followed, during which the gendarme, who was anxious to escape all responsibility in the matter of San Giacinto’s confinement, left the room and descended the grand staircase three steps at a time. Mounting his horse he galloped back through the now deserted streets to the hospital.
Within two minutes after his arrival San Giacinto heard the bolt of the heavy lock run back in the socket and the surgeon entered the mortuary chamber. San Giacinto had nearly finished his cigar and was growing impatient, but the doctor made many apologies for his long absence.
“An unexpected relapse in a dangerous case, Signor Marchese,” he said in explanation. “What would you have? We doctors are at the mercy of nature! Pray forgive my neglect, but I could send no one, as you did not wish to be seen. I locked the door, so that nobody might find you here. Pray come with me, and you shall see the young lady at once.”