We both together saw the woman who was afterwards brought back dead pass in a bagarino with the Marchese Ludovico di Castelmare, towards the Pineta." The lawyer looked hard at the Commissary; and the latter in obedience, as it seemed, to the look, took out his note-book again, and made a note of the declaration. "And what did the young lady who came to copy the mosaics do afterwards?
It was not that the mere fact of the girl's entering the Pineta alone seemed to him, accustomed as he was to the place and its surroundings, to involve any danger to her of any sort, beyond, indeed, the possibility of losing herself for a few hours in the forest.
"I meant that what a man could hardly have had the heart to do might, perhaps, have been done by a woman. Beauty is not, I fancy, always found to produce quite the same sort of effect on another female as it is wont to produce on the other sex." "Might have been done by a woman? That seems hardly likely, I think, caro mio. In the Pineta at that hour of the morning? Che!
Ludovico looked at the lawyer, and the lawyer looked at Ludovico; but neither of them could suggest anything in explanation of so strange a circumstance. "I saw nothing of any such person either in the Pineta or on the road," said Ludovico. "Who could it have been?" The old lawyer only shrugged his shoulders in reply
That is clear that proves that I could not have heard of it, you know," said the Marchese, with a strange sort of eagerness. "When was it, then, that you heard from the Conte Leandro, that the Marchese Ludovico was in the Pineta with La Bianca?" asked the lawyer. "At the ball," replied the Marchese, after a minute's thought, "at the ball.
I was asking about it just now. The examination will take place to-morrow morning." "But who ever heard of such a thing as going off to the Pineta at that time in the morning, and after being up all night at a ball too?" said Lombardoni, spitefully. "Why, it looks as if a man must have had some scheme, some out-of-the-way motive of some kind to do such a thing."
We must have an account of that morning stroll in the Pineta from the old gentleman's own lips. Meantime, I do not think that we need consider our trip to-day to have been altogether thrown away." "Very far from it. Very far from it, indeed. Honestly, I think that you have hit the nail on the head, Signor Pietro.
And unlike the way through the Pineta to the sea, the road, so often trodden by the victorious armies of Florence, is desolate and sombre, while beside the way to-day a disused tramway leads to Calci in the hills. On either side of this road, so deep in dust, are meadows lined with bulrushes, while there lies a village, here a lonely church.
"The accusation against the Conte Lombardoni has been abandoned, and he has been set at liberty," replied the lawyer; "there was, in fact, nothing against him, except the singular circumstance of his having gone out of the city towards the Pineta, at a very unusual hour on the morning of that same unlucky Ash Wednesday; and that he has at last thought fit to explain." "At last?" said Ludovico.
The lawyer shook his head. "I have told you," he said, "how the case stands, Signor Marchese. An idea was started at one moment that the old friar at St. Apollinare might have been the man. Strangely enough he also was in or near the Pineta much about the same time. But the total absence of all assignable motive an infirm octogenarian; no, that is not it.