“I did not know,” Sabina said, with truth, and looking at him, as if she had found something new to like in him. “Is he to call me Sabina, mother?”
“Naturally. Well, my dear Marino—”
Malipieri started visibly. The Princess explained.
“I shall call you so, too. It looks better before people, you know. You must leave a card for the ambassador, at the porter’s, when you go downstairs, He is going to ask you to dinner, with a lot of our relations, to announce the engagement. I have arranged it all beautifully—he is so kind!”
Masin was very much relieved when his master came home, looking much calmer than when he had gone out and evidently having all his senses about him. Malipieri sent to ask at what time the mails left Rome for Florence, and he sat down to his table without remembering that he had eaten nothing that day.
It was not easy to write out in a concise form the story of all that has here been told in detail. Besides, he had not the habit of writing to the Signora Malipieri, except such brief acknowledgments of her regular letters to him as were necessary and kind. For years she had been to him little more than a recollection of his youth, a figure that had crossed his life like a shadow in a dream, taking with it a promise which he had never found it hard to keep. He remembered her as she had been then, and it had not even occurred to him to consider how she looked now. She sometimes sent him photographs of the pretty little girl, and Malipieri kept them, and occasionally looked at them, because they reminded him of his friend, of whom he had no portrait.
He found it very hard to tell this half-mythical woman and wholly mythical wife of all that had happened, while scrupulously avoiding the main fact, which was that he and Sabina loved each other. To have told that, too, would have seemed like a reproach, or still worse, like a request to be set at liberty.
He wrote carefully, reading over his sentences, now and then correcting one, and even entertaining a vague idea of copying the whole when he had finished it. The important point was that she should fully understand the necessity of announcing his engagement to marry Donna Sabina Conti, together with his firm intention of breaking it off as soon as the story should be so far forgotten as to make it safe to do so, having due regard for Donna Sabina’s reputation and good name.
He laid so much stress on these points, and expressed so strongly his repentance for having led the girl into a dangerous scrape, that many a woman would have guessed at something more. But of this he was quite unaware when he read the letter over, believing that he could judge it without prejudice, as if it had been written by some one else. The explanation was thorough and logical, but there was a little too much protest in the expressions of regret. Besides, there were several references to Sabina’s unhappy position as the daughter of an abominably worldly and heartless woman, who would lock her up in a convent for life rather than have the least trouble about her. He could not help showing his anxious interest in her future, much more clearly than he supposed.