'Only what you have led me to hope these five or six months past!'
'That is just what Matteo says. How tiresome you both are!'
'O, Gianetta,' I said, passionately, 'be serious for one moment! I am a rough fellow, it is true - not half good enough or clever enough for you; but I love you with my whole heart, and an Emperor could do no more.'
'I am glad of it,' she replied; 'I do not want you to love me less.'
'Then you cannot wish to make me wretched! Will you promise me?'
'I promise nothing,' said she, with another burst of laughter; 'except that I will not marry Matteo!'
Except that she would not marry Matteo! Only that. Not a word of hope for myself. Nothing but my friend's condemnation. I might get comfort, and selfish triumph, and some sort of base assurance out of that, if I could. And so, to my shame, I did. I grasped at the vain encouragement, and, fool that I was! let her put me off again unanswered. From that day, I gave up all effort at self-control, and let myself drift blindly on - to destruction.
At length things became so bad between Mat and myself that it seemed as if an open rupture must be at hand. We avoided each other, scarcely exchanged a dozen sentences in a day, and fell away from all our old familiar habits. At this time - I shudder to remember it! - there were moments when I felt that I hated him.
Thus, with the trouble deepening and widening between us day by day, another month or five weeks went by; and February came; and, with February, the Carnival. They said in Genoa that it was a particularly dull carnival; and so it must have been; for, save a flag or two hung out in some of the principal streets, and a sort of festa look about the women, there were no special indications of the season. It was, I think, the second day when, having been on the line all the morning, I returned to Genoa at dusk, and, to my surprise, found Mat Price on the platform. He came up to me, and laid his hand on my arm.
'You are in late,' he said. 'I have been waiting for you three-quarters of an hour. Shall we dine together to-day?'
Impulsive as I am, this evidence of returning goodwill at once called up my better feelings.
'With all my heart, Mat,' I replied; 'shall we go to Gozzoli's?'
'No, no,' he said, hurriedly. 'Some quieter place - some place where we can talk. I have something to say to you.'
I noticed now that he looked pale and agitated, and an uneasy sense of apprehension stole upon me. We decided on the 'Pescatore,' a little out-of-the-way trattoria, down near the Molo Vecchio. There, in a dingy salon, frequented chiefly by seamen, and redolent of tobacco, we ordered our simple dinner. Mat scarcely swallowed a morsel; but, calling presently for a bottle of Sicilian wine, drank eagerly.
'Well, Mat,' I said, as the last dish was placed on the table, 'what news have you?'
'I guessed that from your face.'
'Bad for you - bad for me. Gianetta.'
'What of Gianetta?'
He passed his hand nervously across his lips.
'Gianetta is false - worse than false,' he said, in a hoarse voice. 'She values an honest man's heart just as she values a flower for her hair - wears it for a day, then throws it aside for ever. She has cruelly wronged us both.'
'In what way? Good Heavens, speak out!'
'In the worst way that a woman can wrong those who love her. She has sold herself to the Marchese Loredano.'
The blood rushed to my head and face in a burning torrent. I could scarcely see, and dared not trust myself to speak.
'I saw her going towards the cathedral,' he went on, hurriedly. 'It was about three hours ago. I thought she might be going to confession, so I hung back and followed her at a distance. When she got inside, however, she went straight to the back of the pulpit, where this man was waiting for her. You remember him - an old man who used to haunt the shop a month or two back. Well, seeing how deep in conversation they were, and how they stood close under the pulpit with their backs towards the church, I fell into a passion of anger and went straight up the aisle, intending to say or do something: I scarcely knew what; but, at all events, to draw her arm through mine, and take her home. When I came within a few feet, however, and found only a big pillar between myself and them, I paused. They could not see me, nor I them; but I could hear their voices distinctly, and - and I listened.'