At this I cried out suddenly. The sting and surprise of it were more than I could bear. In my shame I would even have tried to drown his voice with babblings but after this one cry I could not speak for a while. He went on triumphantly:
“This rascal, my dear ladies, who has persuaded you to ask him to dinner, this camel who claims to be my excellent brother, he, for a few francs, in Paris, shaved his head and showed it for a week to the people with an advertisement painted upon it of the worst ballet in Paris. This is the gentleman with whom you ask Caravacioli to dine!”
It was beyond my expectation, so astonishing and so cruel that I could only look at him for a moment or two. I felt as one who dreams himself falling forever. Then I stepped forward and spoke, in thickness of voice, being unable to lift my head:
“Again it is true what he says. I was that man of the painted head. I had my true brother’s little daughters to care for. They were at the convent, and I owed for them. It was also partly for myself, because I was hungry. I could find not any other way, and so—but that is all.”
I turned and went stumblingly away from them.
In my agony that she should know, I could do nothing but seek greater darkness. I felt myself beaten, dizzy with beatings. That thing which I had done in Paris discredited me. A man whose head-top had borne an advertisement of the Folie-Rouge to think he could be making a combat with the Prince Caravacioli!
Leaning over the railing in the darkest corner of the terrace, I felt my hand grasped secondarily by that good friend of mine.
“God bless you!” whispered Poor Jr.
“On my soul, I believe he’s done himself. Listen!”
I turned. That beautiful lady had stepped out into the light from the salon door. I could see her face shining, and her eyes —ah me, how glorious they were! Antonio followed her.
“But wait,” he cried pitifully.
“Not for you!” she answered, and that voice of hers, always before so gentle, rang out as the Roman trumpets once rang from this same cliff. “Not for you! I saw him there with his painted head and I understood! You saw him there, and you did nothing to help him! And the two little children—your nieces, too,— and he your brother!”
Then my heart melted and I found myself choking, for the beautiful lady was weeping.
“Not for you, Prince Caravacioli,” she cried, through her tears, —“Not for you!”
All of the beggars in Naples, I think, all of the flower-girls and boys, I am sure, and all the wandering serenaders, I will swear, were under our windows at the Vesuve, from six o’clock on the morning the “Princess Irene” sailed; and there need be no wonder when it is known that Poor Jr. had thrown handfuls of silver and five-lire notes from our balcony to strolling orchestras and singers for two nights before.