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Lord Redin had barely glanced at the man in the blue jacket with silver buttons, whom he had seen in the deep shadow of the little wine shop as he strolled down the Via della Frezza. But Stefanone had seen him and had gone to the door as he passed, watching him when he stood talking to the one-eyed cobbler, and keeping his keen eyes on him as he passed again on his homeward way. And all the way to the hotel in the Piazza di Spagna Stefanone had followed him at a distance, watching the great loose-jointed frame and the slightly stooping head, till the Scotchman disappeared under the archway, past the porter, who stood aside, his gold-laced cap in his hand, bowing low to the 'English lord.'
Stefanone waited a few moments and then accosted the porter civilly.
"Do you know if the proprietor wishes to buy some good wine of last year, at a cheap rate?" he asked. "You understand. I am of the country. I cannot go in and look for the proprietor. But you are doubtless the director and you manage these things for him. That is why I ask you."
The porter smiled at the flattery, but said that he believed wine had been bought for the whole year.
"The hotel is doubtless full of rich foreigners," observed Stefanone. "It is indeed beautiful. I should prefer it to the Palazzo Borghese. Is it not full?"
"Quite full," answered the porter, proud of the establishment.
"For instance," said Stefanone, "I saw a great signore going in, just before I took the liberty of speaking with you. I am sure that he is a great English signore. Not perhaps a mylord. But a great signore, having much money."
"What makes you think that?" inquired the porter, with a superior smile.
"Eh, the reasons are two. First, you bowed to him, as though he were some personage, and you of course know who he is. Secondly, he lifted his hat to you. He is therefore a real signore, as good perhaps as a Roman prince. We say a proverb in the country—'to salute is courtesy, to answer is duty.' Therefore when any one salutes a real signore, he answers and lifts his hat. These are the reasons why I say this one must be a great one."
"For that matter, you are right," laughed the porter. "That signore is an English lord. What a combination! You have guessed it. His name is Lord Redin."
Stefanone's sharp eyes fixed themselves vacantly, for he did not wish to betray his surprise at not hearing the name he had expected.
"Eh!" he exclaimed. "Names? What are they, when one is a prince. Prince of this. Duke of that. Our Romans are full of names. I daresay this signore has four or five."
But the porter knew of no other, and presently Stefanone departed, wondering whether he had made a mistake, after all, and recalling the features of the man he had followed to compare them with those younger ones he remembered so distinctly. He went back to the Via della Frezza and drank a glass of wine. Then he filled the glass again and carried it carefully across the street to his friend the cobbler.
"Drink," he said. "It will do you good. A drop of wine at sunset gives force to the stomach."
The one-eyed man looked up, and smiled at his friend, a phenomenon rarely observed on his wrinkled and bearded face. He shrugged one round shoulder, by way of assent, held his head a little on one side and stretched out his black hand with the glass in it, to the light. He tasted it, smelt it, and looked up at Stefanone before he drank in earnest.
"Black soul!" he exclaimed by way of an approving asseveration. "This is indeed wine!"
"He took it for vinegar!" observed Stefanone, speaking to the air.
"It is wine," answered the cobbler when he had drained the glass. "It is a consolation."
Then they began to talk together, and Stefanone questioned him about his interview with the tall gentleman an hour earlier. The cobbler really knew nothing about him, though he remembered having seen him several times, years ago, before Gloria had come.
"You know nothing," said Stefanone. "That signore is the father of Sor Paolo's signora, who died in my house."
"You are joking," returned the cobbler, gravely. "He would have come to see his daughter while she lived—requiescat!"
"And I say that I am not joking. Do you wish to hear the truth? Well. You have much confidence with Sor Paolo. Tell him that the father of the poor Signora Gloria came to the door and asked questions. You shall hear what he will say. He will say that it is possible. Then he will ask you about him. You will tell him, so and so—a very tall signore, all made of pieces that swing loosely when he walks, with a beard like the Moses of the fountain, and hard blue eyes that strike you like two balls from a gun, and hair that is neither red nor white, and a bony face like an old horse."
"It is true," said the cobbler, reflectively. "It is he. It is his picture."
"You will also say that he is now an English lord, but that formerly they called him Sor Angoscia. You, who are friends with Sor Paolo, you should tell him this. It may be that Sor Angoscia wishes him evil. Who knows? In this world the combinations are so many!"
It was long before the cobbler got an opportunity of speaking with Griggs, and when he had the chance, he forgot all about it, though Stefanone reminded him of it from time to time. But when he at last spoke of the matter he was surprised to find that Stefanone had been quite right, as Griggs admitted without the least hesitation. He told Stefanone so, and the peasant was satisfied, though he had long been positive that he had found his man at last, and recognized him in spite of his beard and his age.
After that Stefanone haunted the Piazza di Spagna in the morning, talking a little with the models who used to stand there in their mountain costumes to be hired by painters in the days when pictures of them were the fashion. Many of them came from the neighbourhood of Subiaco, and knew Stefanone by sight. When Lord Redin came out of the hotel, as he generally did between eleven and twelve if the day were fine, Stefanone put his pipe out, stuck it into his breeches' pocket with his brass-handled clasp-knife, and strolled away a hundred yards behind his enemy.
If Lord Redin noticed him once or twice, it was merely to observe that men still came to Rome wearing the old-fashioned dress of the respectable peasants. Being naturally fearless, and at present wholly unsuspicious, it never struck him that any one could be dogging his footsteps whenever he went out of his hotel. In the evening he went out very little and then generally in a carriage. Two or three times, on a Sunday, he walked over to Saint Peter's and listened to the music at Vespers, as many foreigners used to do. Stefanone followed him into the church and watched him from a distance. Once the peasant saw Donna Francesca, whom he knew by sight as a member of the Braccio family, sitting within the great gate of the Chapel of the Choir, where the service was held. Lord Redin always followed the frequented streets, which led in an almost direct line from the Piazza di Spagna by the Via Condotti to the bridge of Saint Angelo. It was the nearest way. He never went back to the Via della Frezza, for he had no desire to see Paul Griggs, and his curiosity had been satisfied by once looking at the house in which his daughter had lived. He spent his evenings alone in his rooms with a bottle of wine and a book. Luxury had become a habit with him, and he now preferred a draught of Château Lafitte to the rough Roman wine barely a year old, while three or four glasses of a certain brandy, twenty years in bottle, which he had discovered in the hotel, were a necessary condition of his comfort. He had the intention of going out one evening, in cloak and soft hat, as of old, to dine in his old corner at the Falcone, but he put it off from day to day, feeling no taste for the coarser fare and the rougher drink when the hour came.
He often went to see Francesca Campodonico in the middle of the day, at which hour the Roman ladies used to be visible to their more intimate friends. An odd sort of sympathy had grown up between the two, though they scarcely ever alluded to past events, and then only by an accident which both regretted. Francesca exercised a refining influence upon the gloomy Scotchman, and as he knew her better, he even took the trouble to be less rough and cynical when he was with her. In character she was utterly different from his dead wife, but there was something of family resemblance between the two which called up memories very dear to him.
Her influence softened him. In his wandering life he had more than once formed acquaintances with men of tastes more or less similar to his own, which might have ripened into friendships for a man of less morose character. But in that, he and Paul Griggs were very much alike. They found an element in every acquaintance which roused their distrust, and as men to men they were both equally incapable of making a confidence. Dalrymple's life had not brought him into close relations with any woman except his wife. For her sake he had kept all others at a distance in a strange jealousy of his own heart which had made her for him the only woman in the world. Then, too, he had hated, for her, the curiosity of those who had evidently wished to know her story. That had been always a secret. He had told it to his father, and his father had died with it. No one else had ever known whence Maria had come, nor what her name had been. If Captain Crowdie had ever guessed the truth, which was doubtful, he had held his tongue.
But Angus Dalrymple was no longer the man he had been in those days. He had changed very much in the past two or three years; for though he had almost outlived the excesses into which he had fallen in his first sorrow, his hardy constitution had been shaken, if not weakened, by them. Physically his nerves were almost as good as ever, but morally he was not the same man. He felt the need of sympathy and confidence, which with such natures is the first sign of breaking down, and of the degeneration of pride.
That was probably the secret of what he felt when he was with Francesca. She had that rarest quality in women, too, which commands men without inspiring love. It is very hard to explain what that quality is, but most men who have lived much and seen much have met with it at least once in their lives.
There is a sort of manifested goodness for which the average man of the world has a profound and unreasonable contempt. And there is another sort which most wholly commands the respect of that man who has lived hardest. From a religious point of view, both may be equally real and conducive to salvation. The cynic, the worn out man of the world, the man whose heart is broken, all look upon the one as a weakness and the other as a strength. Perhaps there is more humanity in the one than in the other. A hundred women may rebuke a man for something he has done, and he will smile at the reproach, though he may smile sadly. The one will say to him the same words, and he will be gravely silent and will feel that she is right and will like her the better for it ever afterwards. And she is not, as a rule, the woman whom such men would love.
"I have never before met a woman whom I should wish to have for my friend," said Lord Redin, one day when he was alone with Francesca. "I daresay I am not at all the kind of man you would select for purposes of friendship," he added, with a short laugh.
Francesca smiled a little at the frankness of the words, and shook her head.
"Perhaps not," she said. "Who knows? Life brings strange changes when one thinks that one knows it best."
"It has brought strange things to me," answered Lord Redin.
Then he was silent for a time. He felt the strong desire to speak out, for no good reason or purpose, and to tell her the story of his life. She would be horrorstruck at first. He fancied he could see the expression which would come to her face. But he held his peace, for she had not met him half-way, and he was ashamed of the weakness that was upon him.
"Yes," she said thoughtfully, after a little pause. "You must have had a strange life, and a very unhappy one. You speak of friendship as men speak who are in earnest, because there is no other hope for them. I know something of that."
She ceased, and her clear eyes turned sadly away from him.
"I know you do," he answered softly.
She looked at him again, and she liked him better than ever before, and pitied him sincerely. She had discovered that with all his faults he was not a bad man, as men go, for she did not know of that one deed of his youth which to her would have seemed a monstrous crime of sacrilege, beyond all forgiveness on earth or in heaven.
Then she began to speak of other things, for her own words, and his, had gone too near her heart, and presently he left her and strolled homeward through the sunny streets. He walked slowly and thoughtfully, unconscious of the man in a blue jacket with silver buttons, who followed him and watched him with keen, unwinking eyes set under heavy brows.
But Stefanone was growing impatient, and his knife was every day a little sharper as he whetted it thoughtfully upon a bit of smooth oilstone which he carried in his pocket. Would the Englishman ever turn down into some quiet street or lane where no one would be looking? And Stefanone's square face grew thinner and his aquiline features more and more eagle-like, till the one-eyed cobbler noticed the change, and spoke of it.
"You are consuming yourself for some female," he said. "You have white hair. This is a shameful thing."
But Stefanone laughed, instead of resenting the speech—a curiously nervous laugh.
"What would you have?" he replied. "We are men, and the devil is everywhere."
As he sat on the doorstep by the cobbler's bench, which was pushed far forward to get the afternoon light, he took up the short sharp shoemaker's knife, looked at it, held it in his hands and pared his coarse nails with it, whistling a little tune.
"That is a good knife," he observed carelessly.
The cobbler looked up and saw what he was doing.
"Black soul!" he cried out angrily. "That is my welt-knife, like a razor, and he pares his hoofs with it!"
But Stefanone dropped it into the little box of tools on the front of the bench, and whistled softly.
"You seem to me a silly boy!" said the cobbler, still wrathful.
"Apoplexy, how you talk!" answered Stefanone. "But I seem so to myself, sometimes."
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