Page images
[ocr errors]

only a mad assassin? But her deep belief in his story still lay behind, and it was more in sympathy than in fear that she avoided the risk of paining him by any show of doubt.

"Tell me,” she said, as gently as she could, “how did you lose your memory - your scholarship?"

“I was ill. I can't tell how long - it was a blank. I remember nothing, only at last I was sitting in the sun among the stones, and everything else was darkness. And slowly, and by degrees, I felt something besides that: a longing for something I did not know what that never came. And when I was in the ship on the waters I began to know what I longed for; it was for the Boy to come back -- it was to find all my thoughts again, for I was locked away outside them all. And I am outside now. I feel nothing but a wall and darkness.”

Baldassarre had become dreamy again, and sank into silence, resting his head between his hands; and again Romola's belief in him had submerged all cautioning doubts. The pity with which she dwelt on his words seemed like the revival of an old pang. Had she not daily seen how her father missed Dino and the future he had dreamed of in that son?

“It all came back once,” Baldassarre went on presently, "I was master of everything. I saw all the world again, and my gems, and my books; and I thought I had him in my power, and I went to expose him where where the lights were and the trees; and he lied again, and said I was mad, and they dragged me away to prison. Wickedness is strong; and he wears armour.”

The fierceness had flamed up again., He spoke with his former intensity, and again he grasped Romola's arm.

"But you will help me? He has been false to you too. He has another wife, and she has children. He makes her believe he is her husband, and she is a foolish, helpless thing. I will show you where she lives."

The first shock that passed through Romola was visibly one of anger. The woman's sense of indignity was inevitably foremost. Baldassarre instinctively felt her in sympathy with him.

“You hate him," he went on. "Is it not true? There is no love between you; I know that. I know women can hate; and you have proud blood. You hate falseness, and

you can

love revenge."

Romola sat paralysed by the shock of conflicting feelings. She was not conscious of the grasp that was bruising her tender arm.

“You shall contrive it," said Baldassarre, presently, in an eager whisper. “I have learned by heart that you are his rightful wife. You are a noble woman. You go to hear the preacher of vengeance; you will help justice. But you will think for me. My mind goes everything goes sometimes

all but the fire. The fire is God: it is justice: it will not die. You believe that is it not true? If they will not hang him for robbing me, you will take away

his armour you will make him go without it, and I will stab him. I have a knife, and my arm is still strong enough."

He put his hand under his tunic, and reached out the hidden knife, feeling the edge abstractedly, as if he needed the sensation to keep alive his ideas.

It seemed to Romola as if every fresh hour of her life were to become more difficult than the last. Her judgment was too vigorous and rapid for her to fall into the mistake of using futile deprecatory words to a man in Baldassarre's state of mind. She chose not to answer his last speech. She would win time for his excitement to allay itself by asking something else that she cared to know. She spoke rather tremulously

“You say she is foolish and helpless — that other wife – and believes him to be her real husband. Perhaps he is: perhaps he married her before he married me."

“I cannot tell," said Baldassarre, pausing in that action of feeling the knife, and looking bewildered. “I can remember no more. I only know where she lives. You shall see her.

[ocr errors]

I will take you: but not now," he added hurriedly, "he may be there. The night is coming on."

“It is true,” said Romola, starting up with a sudden consciousness that the sun had set and the hills were darkening;“but you will come and take me - when?”

"In the morning," said Baldassarre, dreaming that she, too, wanted to hurry to her vengeance.

“Come to me, then, where you came to me to-day, in the church. I will be there at ten; and if you are not there, I will go again towards midday. Can you remember?"

“Midday,” said Baldassarre - only midday. The same place, and midday. And, after that,” he added, rising, and grasping her arm again with his left hand, while he held the knife in his right; "we will have our revenge. He shall feel the sharp edge of justice. The world is against me, but you will help me.”

“I would help you in other ways,” said Romola, making a first, timid effort to dispel his illusion about her. “I fear you are in want; you have to labour, and get little. I should like to bring you comforts, and make you feel again that there is some one who cares for you.”

"Talk no more about that,” said Baldassarre, fiercely. "I will have nothing else. Help me to wring one drop of vengeance on this side of the grave. I have nothing but my knife. It is sharp; but there is a moment after the thrust when men see the face of death, - and it shall be my face that he will see.”

He loosed his hold, and sank down again in a sitting posture. Romola felt helpless: she must defer all intentions till the morrow.

“Midday, then," she said, in a distinct voice.

“Yes," he answered, with an air of exhaustion. “Go! I will rest here.”

She hastened away. Turning at the last spot whence he was likely to be in sight, she saw him seated stilī.


The Evening and the Morning. Romola had a purpose in her mind as she was hastening away; a purpose which had been growing through the afternoon hours like a side-stream, rising higher and higher along with the main current. It was less a resolve than a necessity of her feeling. Heedless of the darkening streets, and not caring to call for Maso's slow escort, she hurried across the bridge where the river showed itself black before the distant dying red, and took the most direct way to the Old Palace. She might encounter her husband there. No matter. She could not weigh probabilities; she must discharge her heart. She did not know what she passed in the pillared court or up the wide stairs; she only knew that she asked an usher for the Gonfaloniere, giving her name, and begging to be shown into a private room.

She was not left long alone with the frescoed figures and the newly-lit tapers. Soon the door opened, and Bernardo del Nero entered, still carrying his white head erect above his silk lucco.

“Romola, my child, what is this?” he said, in a tone of anxious surprise as he closed the door.

She had uncovered her head and went towards him without speaking. He laid his hand on her shoulder, and held her & little way from him that he might see her better. Her face was haggard from fatigue and long agitation, her hair had rolled down in disorder; but there was an excitement in her eyes that seemed to have triumphed over the bodily conscious

"What has he done?” said Bernardo, abruptly. “Tell me everything, child; throw away pride. I am your father."

“It is not about myself - nothing about myself,” said Romola, hastily. “Dearest godfather, it is about you. I have heard things — some I cannot tell you. But you are in


danger in the palace; you are in danger everywhere. There are fanatical men who would harm you, and — and there are traitors. Trust nobody. If you trust, you will be betrayed."

Bernardo smiled.

"Have you worked yourself up into this agitation, my poor child,” he said, raising his hand to her head and patting it gently, “to tell such old truths as that to an old man like me?"

“Oh, no, no! they are not old truths I mean,” said Romola, pressing her clasped hands painfully together, as if that action would help her to suppress what must not be told. “They are fresh things that I know, but cannot tell. Dearest godfather, you know I am not foolish. I would not come to you without reason. Is it too late to warn you against any one, every one who seems to be working on your side? Is it too late to say, 'Go to your villa and keep away in the country when these three more days of office are over?' Oh, God! perhaps it is too late! and if any harm comes to you, it will be as if I had done it!”

The last words had burst from Romola involuntarily: a long-stifled feeling had found spasmodic utterance. But she herself was startled and arrested.

"I mean," she added, hesitatingly, "I know nothing positive. I only know what fills me with fears.”

“Poor child !” said Bernardo, looking at her with quiet penetration for a moment or two. Then he said Romola, go home and rest. These fears may be only big ugly shadows of something very little and harmless. Even traitors must see their interest in betraying; the rats will run where they smell the cheese, and there is no knowing yet which way the scent will come.”

He paused, and turned away his eyes from her with an air of abstraction, till, with a slow shrug, he added

"As for warnings, they are of no use to me, child. I enter into no plots, but I never forsake my colours. If I march abreast with obstinate men, who will rush on guns and pikes,

[ocr errors]


« PreviousContinue »