“Faustina, my child,” she said, “how could you be led into such a wild scrape?”
“Why did you treat him so unkindly?” asked the young girl with flashing eyes. “It was cruel and unkind—”
“Because he deserved it,” answered Corona, with rising anger. “How could he dare—from my house—a mere child like you—–”
“I do not know what you imagine,” said Faustina in a tone of deep resentment. “I followed him to the Serristori barracks, and I fainted when they were blown up. He found me and brought me to you, because he said I could not go back to my father’s house with him. If I love him what is that to you?”
“It is a great deal to me that he should have got you into this trouble.”
“He did not. If it is trouble, I got myself into it. Do you love him yourself that you are so angry?”
“I!” cried Corona in amazement at the girl’s audacity. “Poor Gouache!” she added with a half-scornful, half-pitying laugh. “Come, child! Let us go in. We cannot stand here all night talking. I will tell your mother that you lost your way in our house and were found asleep in a distant room. The lock was jammed, and you could not get out.”
“I think I will simply tell the truth,” answered Faustina.
“You will do nothing of the kind,” said Corona, sternly. “Do you know what would happen? You would be shut up in a convent by your father for several years, and the world would say that I had favoured your meetings with Monsieur Gouache. This is no trifling matter. You need say nothing. I will give the whole explanation myself, and take the responsibility of the falsehood upon my own shoulders.”
“I promised him to do as he bid me,” replied Faustina. “I suppose he would have me follow your advice, and so I will. Are you still angry, Corona?”
“I will try not to be, if you will be sensible.”
They knocked at the gate and were soon admitted. The whole household was on foot, though it was past one o’clock. It is unnecessary to describe the emotions of Faustina’s relations, nor their gratitude to Corona, whose explanation they accepted at once, with a delight which may easily be imagined.
“But your porter said he had seen her leave your house,” said the Princess Montevarchi, recollecting the detail and anxious to have it explained.
“He was mistaken, in his fright,” returned Corona, calmly. “It was only my maid, who ran out to see what was the matter and returned soon afterwards.”
There was nothing more to be said. The old prince and Ascanio Bellegra walked home with Corona, who refused to wait until a carriage could be got ready, on the ground that her husband might have returned from the search and might be anxious at her absence. She left her escort at her door and mounted the steps alone. As she was going up the porter came running after her.
“Excellency,” he said in low tones, “the Signor Principe came back while you were gone, and I told him that you had received a note from the Vatican and had gone away with the Zouave who brought it. I hope I did right—–”