[ocr errors]

you have heard what I must say,” he an. never looked round. The door opened,
swered, turning away his face. “ Years and she was gone.
ago, before I saw you, Francesca, I fell in Francesca left the room almost in a
love with Giovanna.

dream. As she passed out the landlord " Carlo's wife ?"

asked her how her husband was. She an“Yes, Carlo's wife. Her parents would swered at random that he was much the not hear of the marriage. I was poor, and same. they made her marry Carlo. I was mis “Shall I send for a priest ?” asked the erable, but then ny uncle left me some man. money, and I saw you, and we mar “If you like, but I do not think he ried. I swear to you, and here he will see him," she replied, and passed turned his eyes pleadingly toward her, quickly out. " that for the first two years I never Francesca walked hastily on, and as she thought of Giovanna again. Then you went her power of thought seemed to rewent to Bologna to your mother when she turn to her. What was this horrible thing died, and you were away several weeks. that she had heard ? Her husband untrue While you were away,”—he was speak- to her – her husband whom she had loved ing now with great difficulty,—"Giovanna with such single-minded devotion ! and I met several times, and—and—I was Giovanna too, who had been her friend, unfaithful to you.”

the wife of his best friend! It seemed an She was kneeling, her head bowed down age since she had passed along these on the bed, and only a little shiver now streets before ; then she was anxious only ; and then showed that she was listening. now she knew that all her fancied happiHe went on : “I saw her often after that, ness bad been a dream, that her idol was and then you came home, and I refused of commonest clay, that her trust had to see her. She was angry and upbraided been shamefully abused. This was the me, but I only met her again once. She truth, then, about their married life. It wrote me letters, and I have kept some of was the greatest failure—a thing for all to them.” The increasing difficulty of speech scoff at. And she had always been so warned bim to be brief. “There are proud of her happiness, her successful life. three, in a secret drawer in my bureau ; But at least every one need not know of you will find them ; press the spring at her sorrow and her shame. The secret the back near the wall. Ah, forgive me! could be hidden ; the letters could be desay that you forgive me."

stroyed; people should think that her She never raised her head, but said in a husband was in truth what they all below voice, “I will destroy them if you lieved him to be. And then the thought wish it, Andrea."

flashed across her, What if she were too “Yes, yes ; but you must go now, at late,- if the police got there first ! Suponce,'' he said, “ because the police will posing they found the letters, and it was search the rooms. Some of the men I discovered that the model couple, as the quarrelled with here are thieves in the neighbors used to call them, were no bettown ; the police will suspect I am one of ter than the rest after all! The thought them. It is not true ; but they will gave her wings ; she hurried on along the search, and if they find the letters—” narrow streets, over the bridge, and

Ah, yes,” she said, in a cold con- through the crowd which fills the piazzas strained tone ; “ we must not let this be and streets round the Palazzo Vecchio and known. I will go now, Andrea.” : the Duomo. It was a holiday, and loiter

She moved as if to rise, but he caught ers were everywhere, impeding her progher hand. Say first that you have for- ress, sometimes speaking to her. But given me.”

she sped on, only just acknowledging their “Yes, I forgive you," she replied, still greeting, making her way steadily to her in the same quiet voice. He sighed deep- own home, hoping only to arrive in time, ly, and his hand dropped on the bed. It was with a feeling of intense relief that "Good-by," he said.

she opened her door and went through into “Good-by, Andrea." She turned the bedroom where was Andrea's bureau. from him and went slowly to the door. She knew it well, but had never suspected He followed her with his eyes, but she the secret drawer, for prying was far from

she open

her nature, and her trust in Andrea had befallen her, and Carlo's happiness should been complete. She pressed the lock as be undisturbed. She flew to the stove, Andrea bad told her to do, but no result where there was a small fire, and in one followed. Suddenly the thought came to instant the letters were blazing. Then, her, “ Could the whole thing have been a hastily, she left the room, knowing that it fignent of Andrea's brain-nothing but would be best that the police should not delirious raving ?' It was like a ray of find her there. When she returned from light in a dark room ; but a moment's an aimless wandering through the streets thought brought the certainty that there an hour or two afterward, she found the had been no trace of delirium or fever in police had come and had fruitlessly his manner.

She listened ; there was a searched the room, and had gone away noise on the stairs ; and this time, with again without giving any further trouble. renewed resolution, she bent herself to her The day of the funeral came, and at the task. She was successful. The spring funeral Mass, which took place in the little was forced, and the drawer opened. church where I first met Francesca, many

In it lay an envelope tied with silk. of Andrea's friends were present. It was She took it out and looked at it. Should here that she first saw Giovanna. Carlo

it ? Francesca was an honorable had been to see her at once ; he had been woman, and her instincts were against kind and full of deep grief for the death reading the letters. But there came the of his friend, and of sympathy with her in thought that she might have misunder- her bereavement. It had all felt like a stood Andrea ; that perhaps, after all, mockery, and it seemed to her that she things were not so bad as she fancied. could hardly bear his praises of Andrea as Who shall say what was her exact motive a friend or a husband, and his passionate - whether it was good or bad ? She expressions of grief. But the severest opened the envelope and took out the let- trial was still to come. Francesca was ters. There were three. One was dated kneeling, trying to school herself to pray about a year ago, during the time she was fervently, and to abandon the angry bitter at Bologna. It was an ordinary love-let- thoughts which assuiled her, when suddenter, rather long, containing expressions of ly she looked up, and saw a woman's eyes affection, and railing at the fate which fixed on her with strange expression of separated the writer from Andrea. The curiosity mingled with contemptuous pity. second was dated a few months back, and She knew well those large dark eyes, set ran thus :

in a handsome, rather Jewish countenance, “ Will you never come back to me? which was surrounded by a mass of coalThink of our happiness last year ; do you her husband had loved—the only person

black hair. It was Giovanna, the woman no longer love me? Have some pity on me, I love you so.

besides herself who knew of his treachery. GIOVANNA.'

Giovanna withdrew her glance as soon as The third, written a little later, was still Francesca looked up ; but it was too late, shorter.

Francesca had seen the expression, and “My loved Andrea, -Carlo is away. ** She is thinking that I am a poor credu

knew too well the feeling that it implied. I shall expect you to morrow. Yours till death,

lous fool, weeping and praying for my Giovanna.

husband, whose affection for me was only

a pretence, while she had his real love." Francesca stood with the letters in her But in the midst of her bitterness and hand, gazing at them. They seemed to jealousy the old religious feelings reasseitbe written in characters of fire, whiched their power, and there swept over her burned themselves into her brain.

a sense of the sinfulness of her thoughts, the confirmation of her shame and mis- and of the duty laid upon her, not of ery ; no doubt could now remain ; all the mere silence, but of forgiveness. She past, with its love and happiness, had been gazed at Giovanna for a moment, then, as no more than a mockery. But she had to the bell gave warning that the supreme decide at once, for the police were at moment of the service had come, she band ; she hardly hesitated ; the letters buried her face once more in her hands, should be destroyed at all events. and prayed for pardon. But she had not one should know of the sorrow which had counted the cost. The victory was not

It was

a crash.

[ocr errors]

won ; the struggle was only just begin- is it, Giovanna ? he gave it to you, I ning. Each meeting with Giovanna know. Have you got it still ?” brought fresh jealousy with it-fresh tor “Yes, yes, somewhere," said she, ture. Whether it was imagination or not, hastily; never mind now. Francesca believed that she assumed an air “Yes, but I want Francesca to see it. of superiority, that she always recollected I recollect, it's up in the bedroom. I Andrea's love for her, and his desertion saw it the other day. I will get it ;” and of his wife. Giovanna was kind to her, he was gone. and Francesca did not dare refuse her Giovanna half rose, as if to stop bim, offers of hospitality, for Carlo believed but Francesca said, “Let him get it ; I them to be friends, and would have won should like to see the frame.

You taught dered had Francesca refused to visit his him, I suppose ?'' wife. He was a bluff, kindly man, very

Giovanna bit her lip. "Yes," she said, passionate and devoted to Giovanna ; but and she bent her eyes with a slight sinile he was inclined to be jealous, and Fran on Francesca ; " and he was a clever cesca knew that it would be easy to arouse pupil.” his suspicions. So before him she was Francesca started ; but at this moment careful what she said ; but, when alone Carlo returned with the frame. " It is with Giovanna, she could not refrain at hardly a work of art,” he said, laughing, times from making allusions and insinua “ but it has merits. Perhaps you would tions. One day she had gone to Carlo's like to keep it. 'You will let ber, won't little frame shop to leave a message, and you ? ?” he added, turning to Giovanna. had found only Giovanna. She gave her Francesca dropped it on the table with message, and followed Giovanna into the

“Thanks ! no, I will not rob sitting-room. Her glance at once fell on Giovanna," she said. a photograph of Andrea, which was stand “ What is the matter ?” said Carlo ; ing on the table in an elaborately carved do


not like the frame ?!? frame.

"Perhaps she is angry because Andrea " Is this Carlo's work ?" she asked. did not tell her of his visits to us,” said

“ Yes," answered Giovanna ; “ he has Giovanna. just finished it."

Francesca felt that she had gone too “And you will keep it here ?” said far, and, incensed as she was, dared not Francesca, quickly.

trust herself to say more ; so, muttering 66 Yes, observed Giovanna ; Carlo

an excuse, she got up and took her dewishes to have Andrea's picture where he parture. But such scenes as these were can always see it.”

pot uncommon ; and while determined to 6. And so do you,


suppose, ” said preserve her secret, both for her own sake Francesca. Giovanna glanced at her, with and for Carlo's, Francesca often allowed a slightly uneasy look. But she rejoined herself to dwell on the hateful words which at once, Why should I not ?"

she could not forget. What if she were “Oh, I don't know ; I thought, per- suddenly to turn upon Giovanna with haps, you might wish to forget him.” them ? “ Will you never come back to Giovanna was silent, and Francesca said no ine? Have some pity on me, I love you more.

“ Carlo is away, I shall expect you Another day Carlo had insisted on her to-morrow.And she let these thoughts coming to take her mid-day meal with take possession of her, brooding upon them them. There was some desu!tory talk, constantly, and making no effort to conand all went well till Carlo said, “ Ah, quer them. At length one day, after a poor Andrea ! he used often to come here longer absence than usual, Francesca had for his dinner when you were away a year to go to the little frame shup. It was late ago,-let's sec, at Bologna, was it? You in the afternoon, the workman had gone had gone to nurse your mother. Poor hoine ; Carlo was out, and Giovanna was Andrea ! he was rather lonely, and liked alone. She was dusting the frames and coming here. You remember, Giovanna ?” putting them away for the night, and Giovanna assented, and Carlo went on : Francesca offered to help her.

For some “ He used to say he would learn carving, time they went on, only an occasional reand once he made a little frame. Where mark breaking the silence. All at once


Are you

Giovanna said, “ When does your sister spoken at last, and told your wife what I come to see you ?”

know.” “ In a few weeks,” returned Francesca. “And what is that ?” said Carlo, with

" You have not seen ber for some an indifference which still more exasperattime?'

ed Francesca. * Not since I was at Bologna, a year “Why, that you are a fool with your ago.

belief in her. She and my husband knew Ah, yes, you were at Bologna a year each other well, too well ; she was—" ago,” said Giovanna in a slow voice. “Stop !" cried Giovanda, who bad

"A year ; it's a long time," and she mastered herself completely on seeing her sigbed.

husband. “It is a lie, Carlo-do not " You went to nurse your mother, listen to her ; come away," and she took didn't you ??'

his hand ; but he hesitated, and FranSomething in her words or her manner cesca criedirritated Francesca beyond endurance. “Oh, she will tell you lies in plenty if The strain on her nerves bad been great, you go with her! But ask her to explain and very little was needed to throw her off why Andrea came here so often.” the balance. She went nearer to Gio • If that is all,” said Carlo, with evivanna, and looking fixedly at her, said, dent relief, “it is easily explained. You Yes, I went, to my sorrow, and to my know what friends he and I were." And husband's. Had I known what the result he went on with a half sinile, would be, I should have let my mother jealous ? There is no reason.' die alone sooner than leave Andrea—and “ There is reason,” said Francesca. you.'

“ I tell you that I know Andrea was your Giovanna started. What do you wife's lover.” mean ?” she said in a low voice.

Carlo fell back as if stunned, but recov“You know well enough what I mean. ering himself, seized Francesca by the You know that you ensnared my husband ; wrist. “ Woman !” he cried fiercely, that you—"

how dare you say such a thing? how Stop, stop! you must not say it; dare you think it ?" what do you know? It is false."

" Think

it!" retorted Francesca ; “ Is it ?" sneered Francesca ; " then “have I not burned into my own heart why did you write to ask him to come the words of her letters ?” back to you, and say you loved him till “ Letters! What letters ?" death ?"

The letters your wife wrote to my Giovanna stood pressing her hands hard husband. — Will you never come back together. “How do you know I said to me? Have soine pity on me, I love that ?" she asked.

you so. Think of our happiness last “ Have I not seen the letters ?” asked year.' Francesca, with a mocking laugh.

“ Silence !" he shouted ; “ if you dare “You have seen the letters ! I told to make such charges you must prove Andrea to destroy them, and he prom- them. You are lying ; show me these letised."

ters.Giovanna's involuntary avowal roused Francesca paused for a moment in her Francesca thoroughly, and she was now passion. “You want them? You shall quite reckless. Ab, but what if he did have them. I will send them at oncenot obey you—wbat if I have seen the to.night, when I get back.” letters ? Oh, I cannot bear it! I must tell " Don't think I believe you. I will beall to Carlo, you treacherous woman ; lieve nothing but my own eyes ; and if false wife, false friend ; I hate you, I hate you are deceiving me, if you cannot make

good your words, I will have my revenge Suddenly she felt a heavy band on her on you. shoulder, and a man's voice close to her He rushed out of the shop and down said, “What is this? What do you mean the street without another look at Gioby speaking like this to Giovanna ?” It vanda, who had stood with set face, was Carlo.

motionless, during the latter part of the Francesca turned on him and said : scene. But as Francesca turned to go, she “What do I mean ?—why, that I have said, “ You may be content, yon will have

you !"

your revenge. I was trying ta repent, to into the chapter-house, and, utterly weary, atone ; now it is not possible.”

sank down on a seat just in front of the Francesca hardly listened ; she left the great Crucifixion. She sat there quietly, shop and walked back to her house in a letting her eyes rest upon it, and, more whirlwind of tempestuous passion, feeling from babit than anything else, she mura mixture of fear and elation at the result

mured a prayer.

Then as she looked her of her daring. And she knew what she interest became awakened, and she gazed . was going to do. She had a knack of at the kneeling saints and at the figure of imitating handwriting, and she remem the Crucified with a new feeling, a deeper bered every word of the true letters. She insight. There, before her, she saw the knew that they had been written on ordi- ideal of love and the ideal of worship, and nary paper, and had nothing peculiar about they spoke their message to her passion. them. What could be easier than to imi ate heart. tate them—and where was the harm? I have said that Francesca had been a There could be none in just rewriting let- deeply religious woman, but since her ters which had really existed, and which, husband's death, and the shock to her inbut for her wish to preserve ber husband's most nature which his confession had prosecret and to shield Carlo, would never duced, her religion had been little inore have been destroyed. Without delay, than form, and a thick cloud of indiffertherefore, she went home, and after care ence seemed to have come over her. fully copying several times an old letter of Now, suddenly the cloud rolled away, and Giovanna’s which she possessed, she pro in a moment, then, there, she realized duced, after repeated efforts, copies of the what she had done. For her this pure letters which perfectly satisfied her. It and reverent devotion was impossible ; was late when she had finished, and the her sin had laid hold on her, she could post tbat night had gone. Besides, she not look up with those assembled saints to did not wish to be hasty ; she wanted to the cross. She saw clearly now the baselook at her work in the morning light, to ness of the motives which had led to her be sure it would bear inspection. When lie to Carlo, to her forgery of the letters. she did so, and compared them with Gio- She knew that in Giovanna's last words to vanna's own letter, she was sure that no her there had been a ring of truth, and eye could have detected any difference in that it was she who had made her repentthe character. She omitted no precau- ance next to impossible. She knew that tion, taking them to the post-office, and Carlo's trust would be destroyed, even as registering the packet to Carlo's address hers had been-only that on him the effect for greater safety. She supposed they would be far worse. “Oh, what have I would arrive late in the afternoon, and done, what have I done !" she moaned. she had decided to go to Carlo's house A wild thought struck her—could the letthen, in case Giovanna should have inter- ters be recovered ? But no, she knew too cepted them. There was a long time to well that it was impossible. “Holy wait after posting them, and she went Mother, holy saints, show me what I can home and tried to work ; but she was too do to atone," she prayed as she sat with restless to remain there, so she walked wide eyes gazing at the kneeling figures about the streets, pacing to and fro, wait- round the cross. A few moments later ing, waiting for the hours to pass. For she knew what to do. She rose and went the reaction had come after her long strug- straight to the little church where I met gle. She had done her worst, she had her, hoping to find Father Girolamo, and been revenged ; but already the misgivings to ask help and counsel from bim. whicb follow on any unrestrained outburst And it was this story that she told me of passion had begun to assail her. At as we sat in my little room on the Lung' length, after some time, she found herself Arno, while the sun was setting in a cloud in the Piazza di San Marco, and, tired of of glory. When she bad finished, she the pavements and of the crowd of jostling looked up at me and said, “ And now can people, she entered the old convent. She the Signora help me ?” went through the cloisters and the cells, I went to the window and looked out ; looking vacantly at the frescoes, feeling the spring air, fresh and strong, was them far remote from her present mood blowing in, and brought to me the sense of passion. At length she found her way of reawakening life and unstained happi

« VorigeDoorgaan »