A dead silence followed, which lasted several seconds. Matilde had laid her hand upon the Duca's arm, as though to give him courage, and she felt it tremble under her touch, for he loved his son very dearly. "You might have written me this news," he said at last, in a low voice and with a dazed look. "You might you might have spared me oh, my son! My poor Gianluca!"
If the girls did not worry over his absence he would not much regret his visit to Il Duca's secluded valley. It was already midday, and his nieces would be expecting him to luncheon. When he did not appear they would make enquiries, and try to find him. It occurred to him how futile all such attempts must prove.
Thou hast the jacket, Gino, and thou mayest search in its pockets for an answer to thy letter, which I do not thank thee for having got the duca's secretary to indite. A maiden should be discreet in affairs of this sort; for one never knows but he may make a confidant of a rival."
"Thou wast born beneath the arch of some Duca's gateway," returned Maso, with a sort of reckless sarcasm, that as often cut his friends as his enemies; "thou wilt probably die in the hospital of the poor, and wilt surely be shot from the death-cart into one of the daily holes of thy Campo Santo, among a goodly company of Christians, in which legs and arms will be thrown at random like jack-straws, and in which the wisest among ye all will be puzzled to tell his own limbs from those of his neighbors, at the sound of the last trumpet."
"Tell me, Frascatti," she whispered, "isn't that Il Duca's child? Look that little one standing in the corner?" "Why, yes; it is really Tato," answered the man, before he thought to deny it. "Very well; you may now drive us home," returned Beth, a shade of triumph in her voice.
The old Duca's face was red with the exertion of much speaking. He was a good man and meant well, but in that moment Veronica hated him as she had never hated any one, not even Matilde Macomer. And yet she knew that his intention was all for the best, and that it was natural that he should press his point and exult when she gave up the fight. She opened her lips to speak.
It was a grand thing to Crocker to have been brought into contact with a man possessed of so noble a title. In his heart of hearts he reverenced "The Duca." He would willingly have stayed there till six or seven o'clock and have done all the Duca's work for him, because the Duca was a Duca.
When he heard that the invitation had actually come, he seemed suddenly so much better that the tears started to the old Duca's weak eyes. "We must go," said the old gentleman to his wife, as they left Gianluca to consult together. "What is the use of denying it? It is passion. If he does not marry that girl, he will die of it."
As her power to oppose gave way, the Duca's astonishment at his victory swelled his weakness to violence; and he raved of duties and obligations, of paternal authority, of the obedience of children and children-in-law, in all the boundless, self-assured incoherence of feebleness suddenly let loose against smitten strength. Veronica seemed to hear nothing.
"Tell me, Count Ferralti," he said, "who you really are. I had believed you were Il Duca's accomplice, until now. But if he has trapped you, and demands a ransom, it is because you are a person of some consequence, and able to pay. May I not know as much about your position in life as does this brigand duke?" The young man hesitated.