Though Gianluca had seemed to gain
strength during the first week of his stay at Muro,
he appeared to lose it even more rapidly after that
memorable afternoon. It was not that he lost heart
and control of courage; on the contrary, he spoke
all at once more hopefully, and grew most particular
in the carrying out of each detail of the day, precisely
in the manner prescribed by the doctors. He forced
himself to eat, he did his best to sleep a certain
number of hours, he made Taquisara carry him out into
the air and back again at fixed times, in order that
the extreme regularity of his life might help his
recovery if possible. But all this was of no
use. It had seemed inconceivable that he should
grow more thin, and yet his face and throat and hands
shrunk day by day. He could not use his legs
at all, now, and he told no one that he had hardly
any sensation in them.
The Duchessa prayed for her son, always
in her own room and sometimes in the church, whither
she went often alone in the afternoon, and sometimes
accompanied by her husband. She even curtailed
her daily siesta in order to have more time for prayer.
No doubt, she would have given anything in the world
for Gianluca, but she had very little else to give,
beyond that sacrifice, which did not seem small or
laughable to her. The Duca said little, but often
shook his head, unexpectedly, and his weak eyes were
watery. He sometimes walked twenty-five times
round the top of the big lower bastion, under the
vines that grew upon the trellis over it, before the
midday breakfast, while the Duchessa was at her devotions.
At every round, when he came to the point fronting
the valley he paused a moment and repeated very much
the same words each time.
“My poor son! My poor Gianluca!”
he said, and then shuffled round the bastion again.
Taquisara scarcely left the sick man’s
side except when Gianluca could be alone with Veronica.
He was evidently very anxious, though his face betrayed
little of what he felt. He knew it, and was glad
that nature had given him that bronze-like colour,
which could hardly change at all. When the whole
party were together, he talked; he talked when he was
alone with Gianluca; but when he was with Gianluca
and Veronica he spoke in monosyllables. Once
she noticed that he was biting his lip nervously,
just as he turned away his face.
Though Gianluca was worse, without
doubt, he insisted that there should be no change
in his way of spending the day. To amuse him,
Veronica and Taquisara fenced a little of an afternoon.
But the Sicilian had no heart in it, and evidently
did not care whether Veronica touched him or not,
and his indifference annoyed her, so that she sometimes
worked herself into little furies of attack, and he,
rather than really attack her in return and oppose
his strength, broke ground and let himself be driven
back across the room.
“Some day I shall take the foil
with the green hilt,” laughed Veronica.
“Then you will really take the trouble to fight
The foil with the green hilt was the
sharp one which had got among the others by mistake.
Taquisara smiled indifferently.
“My life is at your service,”
he said, in a tone that seemed a little sarcastic.
“Keep it for those who need
it,” she answered, laughing again, and glancing
Her tone was a little scornful, too,
and Gianluca watched them both with some surprise.
Almost any one would have thought that they disliked
each other, but such a possibility had never struck
him before. He would have admitted that Veronica
might not like Taquisara, but that any one in the
world should not like Veronica was beyond his comprehension.
He spoke to his friend about it when they were alone.
“What is the matter between
you and Donna Veronica?” he asked that evening,
“Nothing,” answered Taquisara,
stopping in his walk. “What do you mean.”
“I think you dislike her,” said Gianluca.
“I?” The Sicilian’s
strong voice rang in the room. “No,”
he added quietly, and recovering instantly from his
astonishment. “I do not dislike her.
What makes you think that I do?”
“Little things. You seem
so silent and out of temper when she is in the room.
To-day when she was laughing about the pointed foil
you answered her sarcastically. Many little things
make me think that you do not like her.”
“You are mistaken,” said
Taquisara, gravely. “I like Donna Veronica
very much. Indeed, I always did, ever since I
first saw her. I am sorry that my manner should
have given you a wrong impression. I always feel
that I am in the way when I am with you two.”
“You are never in the way,” answered Gianluca.
After that, Taquisara was very careful,
but more than ever he did his best not to remain as
a third when the Duca and Duchessa were away, and
Veronica and Gianluca could be together. The fencing
alone was inevitable, and he hated it, though he went
through it with a good grace almost every day, since
Veronica seemed so unreasonably fond of the exercise.
She and Gianluca did not refer to
what had happened, and to what had been said, when
she had told him the truth. She, on her part,
felt that she had done right, and that it was the
sort of right which need not be done again. But
he, poor man, was not so wholly undeceived as she
thought him to be. Since she loved no one else,
he could still hope that she might love him.
Yet he felt his life slipping from
him, and he made desperate efforts to get well, insisting
upon every detail of his invalid existence as though
each several minute of the day had a healing virtue
which he must not lose. He was sure that his
chance of winning the woman he loved lay in living
to win her, and he grappled his soul to his frail body
with every thrill of energy that his dying nerve had
left, with all the tense moral grip that love and
despair can give. And yet it seemed hopeless,
for his strength sank daily. At last he could
not even sit up at table, and remained lying in his
low chair, while the others ate their meals hastily
in order not to leave him long alone.
The doctor came, a clever young man,
whom Veronica had procured for the good of the village.
He shook his head, though he tried to speak cheerfully
to Gianluca’s father and mother. But he
advised them to send for the great authority whom
they had consulted in Naples, and under whom he himself
had studied. Veronica spoke with him in an outer
“I fear that he cannot live,
but I am not infallible,” he said.
“How long will he live, if he
is going to die?” asked Veronica, pale and quiet.
“Do not ask me it
is guess-work,” answered the young doctor.
“I think he may live a fortnight. He is
practically paralyzed from his waist downwards it
is almost complete. What he eats does not nourish
“What has caused this?”
The doctor shrugged his shoulders,
smiled faintly, and made a gesture which in the south
signifies the inevitable.
“It is a decayed race,”
he said; “a family too old there is
no more blood in them what shall I say?”
“I do not believe that has anything
to do with it,” replied Veronica, rather proudly.
“The Serra are as old as they. Did you see
that gentleman who is Don Gianluca’s friend?
He is descended from Tancred.”
“It is other blood,” said the doctor.
He went away, and the great physician
who lived in Naples was sent for at once. A carriage
went down to Eboli to meet him. He came, looked,
asked questions, and shook his head, very much as his
pupil had done. He stayed a night, and when it
was late, Veronica and Taquisara were alone with him.
He was a fat man, with enormous shoulders and very
short legs, and a round face and dreamy eyes set too
low for proportion of feature. Taquisara thought
that he was like a turtle standing on its hind flippers,
preternaturally endowed with a hemispherical black
stomach, and a large watch chain; but the idea did
not seem comic to him, for he was in no humour to
be amused at anything.
The professor for he was
one talked long and learnedly, using a number
of Latin words with edifying terminations. In
spite of this, however, he was not without common
“I have known people to recover
when they seemed to have no chance at all,”
“But you do not expect him to
live?” asked Taquisara, pressing him.
“It is a desperate case,” answered the
Being very fat, and having travelled
all day, he went to bed. Veronica remained alone
in the drawing-room with Taquisara. The latter
slowly walked up and down between two opposite doors.
Veronica kept her seat, her head bent, listening to
his regular footsteps.
“Donna Veronica ” he stopped.
“Yes,” she answered, not
looking up, but starting slightly at the sound of
his voice. “What do you wish to say?”
“You know that I have not always
been fortunate in what I have said to you, and that
makes me hesitate to speak now. But it seems to
me that, as Gianluca is really in the care of us two ”
“Well?” Still she did
not turn to him, though he paused awkwardly, and began
to walk again.
“Gianluca asked me the other
day whether I disliked you,” he said.
“Well? Do you?” Her
tone was unnaturally cold, even to her own ears.
He stood still on the other side of
the table, looking towards her.
“No,” he said, as though
he were making an effort. “If he asked me
the question, it must be that I have behaved rudely
to you before him. Have I?”
“I have not noticed it,”
answered Veronica, as coldly as before.
“It would certainly not have
been intentional, if there had been anything to notice.
If I speak of it now, it is because Gianluca spoke
to me, and because, if we are to talk about him, the
way must be clear. You say that it is? May
I go on?”
Veronica did not answer at once.
Then she rose slowly, turned, and stood before the
low, long chimneypiece.
“Why should we talk about him
at all?” she asked, at length determining what
to say. “We shall not agree, and we can
only repeat what we have both said before now.
It can be of no use.”
“I have something more to say,” replied
“Yes. There may be more
to be said, that may be better not said. I know
what it is. You once accused me of playing with
him. You said it rudely and roughly, but I have
forgiven you for saying it. You would have more
reason for saying it now than you had then, and I should
be less angry. You have a better right to speak,
and I have less right to defend myself. But I
will speak for you. I am not afraid.”
“No. That is the last thing any one could
say of you!”
“Or of you, perhaps,”
she said, more kindly, and it was the first word of
appreciation she had ever given him. “We
are neither of us cowards. That is why I am willing
to tell you what I think of myself. It is almost
what you think of me that I have done a
thousand things which might make Don Gianluca, and
his father and mother, too, believe that if he recovers
I mean to marry him. But you think me a heartless
woman. I am not. There are things which
you neither know, nor could understand if you knew
them. I will ask you only one question. Is
there any imaginable reason why I should wish to hurt
“None that I can guess,”
answered Taquisara, looking into her eyes.
“Then you must understand what
I have done. Out of too much friendship I have
made a great mistake. What you can never understand,
I suppose, is, that I can feel for him what you do just
that, and no more or more of that, perhaps,
and nothing else. A woman can be a man’s
friend, as well as a man can. I never played
with him as you call it though
you have enough right to say it. I told him from
the first that I could never marry him. I told
him so again on the day when we had first fenced,
and you went to walk after the rain.”
“That is why he has been worse,
since then. It began that very evening.”
“Yes. I know it. Do
you think I do not reproach myself for having gone
so far that I had to speak? Indeed, indeed, I
do, more than you know. But what am I to do?
He cannot go away, ill as he is. I cannot leave
you all here. And then, I would not leave him,
if I could. He is more to me than I can ever
tell you I would give my right hand for
his life. Would you have me marry him, knowing
that I can never love him? Is that what you would
have me do?”
Taquisara was silent for a moment,
looking earnestly at her, and he bit his lip a little.
“Yes,” he said. “That
is what you should do. It is all you can do, to
try and save his life.”
The moment he had spoken he turned
from her and began to walk up and down again.
“Do you know what you are asking?”
Veronica followed him with her eyes.
“It is a sacrifice,” he
said, pursuing his walk and not glancing at her.
“It is to give your life for his. I know
it. But you can hardly give him more than he
has given you or you have taken from him.
Yes I know what the doctors say, that it
is a disease which is known and understood. No
doubt it is. But diseases of that sort may remain
latent for a lifetime, unless something determines
them. Until they have gone too far, they may
be overcome. If he had not lived for weeks in
a state of nervous tension that would almost make
a strong man ill, he would not be in such a condition
now. If he had never known you, he might have
been as well as he ever was he might have
been well for twenty or thirty years, before it attacked
him. It is not all your fault, but a part of it
is. Take your friendship, and your mistakes,
together your wish that he may live, and
your responsibility if he dies two motives
are better than one, when the one is not strong enough.
You have two, and good ones. Marry him, Donna
Veronica marry him and save his life, if
you can, and your own remorse if he dies. Let
me go to him now he is not asleep let
me tell him that you have changed your mind, or made
up your mind that you love him, after all ”
“Please do not go on,”
said Veronica, drawing back a little, till she leaned
against the mantelpiece.
He had placed himself in front of
her before he had finished speaking. He was excited,
vehement, and not eloquent like a man driven
to bay by a crowd to argue a question in which he
had no conviction, but which concerns his life.
He stopped speaking when she interrupted him, and he
seemed to be waiting for her to say more. She
had drawn herself up a little proudly, with her head
“You hurt me,” she said,
breaking the silence, and hardly knowing why she said
“Do you think it costs me nothing?”
he asked, in a low voice.
His eyes burned strangely in the lamp-light.
But he turned away quickly, to resume his walk.
She could not help asking him a question.
“Why should it cost you anything?
You are speaking for your friend but I ”
She did not finish the sentence, for
it seemed to her selfish to throw her right to happiness
into the scale against Gianluca’s life.
But she could not understand him.
“It is hard to do, for all that,”
he answered indistinctly. “I have said
too much,” he continued, stopping before her.
“I meant to do the best I could. Perhaps
I should have said nothing. This is no time to
stop at trifles. The man is dying, and I have
a right to say that I believe you might save his life and
a right to beg you to try. You have the right
to refuse, to question, to doubt all rights
that are a woman’s in such a case. As for
me there is no question of me in all this.
Since I must be here for him, since I have displeased
you from the first, since you do not like me, look
upon me as a necessary evil, do not consider my existence,
think of me as a man who loves your best friend and
is giving all he has to save him.”
“All you have,” repeated
Veronica, thoughtfully, but without a question.
“Yes!” he exclaimed.
The single word was spoken with a
sort of passion, as though it meant much to him.
She liked him better now than when he walked up and
down, giving her incoherent advice. Whatever
he might mean, it was something which had power to
“You are mistaken,” she said. “I
like you very much.”
His surprise was genuine. “You have not
made me think so,” he added in a tone of wonder.
“Nor have you made me think
that you liked me,” she answered.
“Gianluca thought I did not,”
said Taquisara, slowly, as though speaking to himself.
“When I first knew you, when
we talked together at the villa on that morning before
Christmas, I liked you better than him,” she
He started sharply.
“Please ” He
checked himself almost before the one word had escaped
“Please what?” she asked, naturally
His face quickened as he walked again, and she watched
“As friends of one friend, we
must be friends,” she said, after a pause.
“We have spoken frankly to-night, both of us.
It is much better. With his life between us we
can say things, perhaps, which neither of us would
have said before. You are doing all you can.
You ask me to do more than I can I think.
As for his life let us not talk of what
may happen. I think of it enough, as it is.”
She turned as she spoke the last words,
for she did not trust her face. But he heard
the true note of sorrow in her tone.
“Is it possible that you do
not love him a little?” he asked, in a low voice.
“It is true,” she answered
mechanically, as though hearing him in a dream.
“I could never love him.”
Then, all at once she straightened
herself and left the chimneypiece.
“We must not talk of these things
any more,” she said. “Good night.
We understand each other, do we not?”
She held out her hand to him, which
she very rarely did. He took it quietly.
“I understand you yes,” he
She looked at him a moment longer,
smiled faintly, and then left the room. After
she was gone, he sat down in the chair she had occupied,
crossed one knee over the other, folded his hands,
and stared at the carpet. He sat there for a
long time, motionless, as though absorbed in the study
of a difficult problem. But his expression did
not change, and he did not speak aloud to himself
as some men do when they are alone and in great trouble,
as he was then. He was not a man of theatrical
instincts, nor, indeed, of any great imagination.
Least of all was he given to anything like self-examination,
or arguing with his conscience. He was exceedingly
simple in nature. He either loved or hated, either
respected or was indifferent or despised altogether,
with no half-measures nor compromises.
Just then he was merely revolving
the situation in his mind, and trying to see some
way of escaping from it, without abandoning his friend.
But no way occurred to him which did not look cowardly,
and when he rose from his seat, he had made up his
mind to face his troubles as well as he could, since
he could not avoid them.
He went to Gianluca’s room before
he went to bed. A small light burned behind a
shade in a corner, and at first he could barely see
the white face on the white pillow. The sick
man lay sound asleep, breathing almost inaudibly,
one light hand lying upon the coverlet, the other
hidden. Gradually, as Taquisara looked, his eyes
became accustomed to the light, and he gazed earnestly
at his sleeping friend. He saw the dark rings
come out beneath the drooping lids, and the paleness
of the parted lips, and the terrible emaciation of
the thin hand.
But there was life still, and hope.
Hope that the man might still live and stand among
men, hope that he might yet marry Veronica Serra and
be happy. In the half-darkness, Taquisara set
his teeth, biting hard, as though he would have bitten
through iron, lest a sharp breath should escape him
and disturb the sleeper’s rest.
That frail thing, that ghost, that
airy remnant of a man, lay there, alive in name, between
Taquisara and the mere right to think of his own happiness;
and next to the reality of the shadow of his dream,
he loved best on earth this shadow of reality that
would not die. For he loved Veronica with all
his heart, and after her, Gianluca della Spina.
Above both stood honour.
He knew that he was loyal and true
as he stood there, and that there was not in the inmost
inward heart of him a mean, double-faced wish that
his friend might die there, peacefully, and leave to
the winning of the strong what the weak had wooed
in vain. He had spoken the truth when he had
said that for his friend’s life he was giving
all he had, when he did his best to persuade Veronica
that she must marry the dying man, in the bare hope
of saving him while there was yet time. He had
done his best, though it was no wonder that there
was no conviction, but only vehemence, in his tone.
It had been different on that day, now long ago, when
he had first spoken for Gianluca in the garden.
He had not loved her then. She had been no more
to him than any other woman. But even on that
day, when he had left her, he had half guessed that
he might love her if opportunity gave possibility
the right of way. He had guessed it, and even
to guess it was to fear it, for Gianluca’s sake.
He was not quixotic. Had he been first, death
or life, he would not have given another room at her
side, had that or that man been twenty times his friend
or his brother. Even if it had been a little otherwise,
if Gianluca had not confided in him from the beginning,
and had stood out as any other suitor for her hand,
Taquisara, as he loved her now, would hardly have
drawn back because his friend had been before him.
But Gianluca had come to him, told him all; asked
his advice, taken his help all that, when
Veronica had still been nothing to Taquisara less
than nothing, in a way, because she was such a great
heiress, and he would have hesitated before asking
for her hand, being but a poor Sicilian gentleman
of good repute, few acres, and old blood.
He was loyal to the core of his sound
soul. Whatever became of him, Gianluca was to
be first in his actions, wherever Veronica might stand
in his heart, and he had the strength to do all that
he meant to do. He would do it. He knew
that he should do it, and he was glad, for his honour,
that he could do it.
He had avoided all meetings, as much
as possible, from the first, going rarely to Bianca’s
house, and then not talking with Veronica when he
could help it. For each time that he saw her,
he felt that soft mystery of attraction in which great
passion begins; that something which touches and draws
gently on, and presses and draws again more gently,
yet with stronger power, growing great on nothings
by day and night, till it drives the senses slowly
mad, and overtops the soul, and pricks, then goads,
then drives then, at the last, tears men
up like straws in its enormous arms, rising on sudden
wings to outstrip wind and whirlwind in the wild race
that ends in death or blinding joy, or reckless ruin
of honour, worse than any death.
He had felt the growing danger at
every one of their few meetings, and, being simple,
he mistrusted himself to be what other men were.
But in that, he was not like the many. He was
not of the kind and temper to break down in loyalty,
and he could still bear much more. Under strong
pressure, he had come with Gianluca to the gates of
Muro, and he had done his best to get away at once.
Fate had been against him. He was still strong,
and could face fate alone. He did not pine, and
waste bodily, as Gianluca had done. But he turned
his eyes away when he could, and spent his hours out
of danger when he might, waiting for the moment when
he should be free to go and live his own life alone,
husbanding the strength which was not lacking in him,
setting his teeth hard to bear the pain, a
simple, brave, and loyal man, caught in fate’s
grip, but silently unyielding to the last.
It was his nature, to suffer without
complaint, when he must suffer at all. No one
can tell whether those feel pain most who show least
what they feel. The measure of pain is always
man, and no man can really be measured except by himself.
We often believe that they who utter no cry are the
most badly hurt, perhaps because silence has suggestion
in it, and noise has none. No one knows the truth.
No one has stood in the fire that scorches his brother’s
soul, to tell us which can suffer the more.
Taquisara lay long awake that night,
and every word that had passed between Veronica and
him came back to his thoughts.
More than once he rose and, crossing
the intermediate room, went to Gianluca’s side.
Once the latter was awake, still half dreaming, and
looked up wonderingly into his friend’s eyes.
He scarcely knew that he spoke, as his lips moved.
“I am going to die,” he said, in a far-off
Taquisara bent over him quickly, trying to smile.
“Nonsense no no!”
he said cheerfully. “You have been dreaming you
“Yes I am dreaming let
me sleep,” answered the sick man, hardly articulating
And in a moment, he was asleep again.
Taquisara listened to his breathing, bending down
a moment longer. Then he went softly away.
He himself slept a little, but it seemed long before
the morning broke.
When it was broad daylight, Gianluca
seemed better, for the deep sleep had refreshed him.
It was still very early, when the professor appeared
and paid him a long visit, asking a few questions at
first and then suddenly, beginning to talk of politics
and the public news. Taquisara left the room
with him, and they stood together in Gianluca’s
“He is better, is he not?” asked the Sicilian,
To his surprise the doctor shook his head and was
silent a long time.
“I know nothing,” he said,
at last. “Nobody knows anything. Surgery
is a fine art, but medicine is witchcraft, or little
better. You see, I speak frankly. I can
only give you my experience, and that may be worth
something. I have seen two cases of this kind
in which, when the change came, the patients partially
recovered, and lived for several years, paralyzed
downwards from the point in the spine where the disease
begins. I have seen several cases where death
has resulted rather suddenly.”
“And do you see a change coming?”
“Yes. It has begun already. Is he
a devout man?”
“A religious man, at all events,” answered
“Then, if he wishes to see a
priest, it would be as well to send for one this morning.
But if he wishes to be moved as usual, and dressed,
let him have his way. Do not frighten him, if
you can help it. No moral shock can do any good.
I leave it to you. It is of no use to tell his
father and mother. They are here, and you will
see if he is worse. I suppose you know that he
suffers great pain when he is moved?”
“No!” said Taquisara,
anxiously. “I did not know it. I sometimes
hear him draw his breath sharply once or twice but
he never complains. I thought it hurt him a little.”
“It is agony,” said the doctor. “He
must be a very brave man.”
The professor seemed much impressed by what Taquisara