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Chapter 17

It was late in the evening when Marcello reached the villa, and was told that his stepfather had left suddenly with his valet, before sunset, taking a good deal of luggage with him. The coachman had driven him to the station and had seen no more of him. He had not left any message or note for Marcello. This was as it should be, and Marcello did not care to know whither he had gone, since he was out of the house. He was glad, however, that he had left Rome at once instead of going to an hotel, which would have made an interesting topic of conversation for gossips.

Marcello vaguely wondered why Folco had told a perfectly gratuitous falsehood about Aurora, and whether he could possibly have lied merely for the sake of hurting him. If so, he had got his deserts. It mattered very little now, and it was a waste of thought to think of him at all.

The young man had a big fire built in the library, and sat down in his favourite leathern chair under the shaded light. He was tired, but not sleepy, and he was glad to be alone at last, for he had felt Corbario's evil presence in the house, though they had met little of late, and it was a great relief to know that he would never return.

He was glad to be alone, and yet he felt lonely, for the one condition did not make the other impossible. He was glad to be able to think in peace, but when he did think, he longed for some companionship in his thoughts, and he found that he was wishing himself back in the room that looked down upon the Forum of Trajan, with Aurora, and that she was telling him again that she could trust him; and yet the very thought seemed to mean that he was not to be trusted.

Psychological problems are only interesting when they concern other people than ourselves, for there can be no problem where there is not a difficulty, and where the inner self is concerned there can be no difficulty that does not demand immediate solution if we are to find peace. Some men of very strong and thoughtful character are conscious of a sort of second self within themselves, to which they appeal in trouble as Socrates to his Dæmon; but most men, in trouble and alone, would turn to a friend if there were one at hand.

Marcello had none, and he felt horribly lonely in his great house, as the faces of two women rose before him, on the right and left.

But he was a man now, and as he sat there he determined to face the problem bravely and to solve it once and for ever by doing what was right, wheresoever he could convince himself that right lay, and without any regard for his own inclinations.

He told himself that this must be possible, because where right and wrong were concerned it was never possible to hesitate long. A man is never so convinced that right is easy to distinguish and to do as when he has lately made up his mind to reform. Indeed, the weakness as well as the strength of all reformers lies in their blind conviction that whatever strikes them as right must be done immediately, with a haste that strongly resembles hurry, and with no regard for consequences. You might as well try, when an express train is running at full speed on the wrong track, to heave it over to the right one without stopping it and without killing the passengers. Yet most reformers of themselves and others, from the smallest to the greatest, seem to believe that this can be done, ought to be done, and must be done at once.

Marcello was just then a reformer of this sort. He had become aware in the course of that afternoon that something was seriously wrong, and as his own will and character had served him well of late, he trusted both beforehand and set to work to find out the right track, with the distinct intention of violently transferring the train of his existence to it as soon as it had been discovered. He was very sure of the result.

Besides, he had been brought up by a very religious woman, and a strong foundation of belief remained in him, and was really the basis of all his thinking about himself. He had been careless, thoughtless, reckless, since his mother had died, but he had never lost that something to which a man may best go back in trouble. Sometimes it hurt him, sometimes it comforted him vaguely, but he was always conscious that it was there, and had been there through all his wildest days. It was not a very reasoning belief, for he was not an intellectual man, but it was unchangeable and solid still in spite of all his past weakness. It bade him do right, blindly, and only because right was right; but it did not open his eyes to the terrible truth that whereas right is right, the Supreme Power, which is always in the right, does not take human life into consideration at all, and that a man is under all circumstances bound to consider the value of life to others, and sometimes its value to himself, when others depend upon him for their happiness, or safety, or welfare.

Animated by the most sincere wish to find the right direction and follow it--perhaps because Aurora had said that she trusted him--yet blind to the dangers that beset his path, there is no knowing how many lives Marcello might not have wrecked by acting on the resolutions he certainly would have made if he had been left to himself another hour.

He was deep in thought, his feet stretched out to the fire, his head leaning back against the leathern cushion of his chair, his eyes half closed, feeling that he was quite alone and beyond the reach of every one, if he chose to sit there until morning wrestling with his psychological problem.

He was roused by the sharp buzz of the telephone instrument which stood on the writing-table. It was very annoying, and he wished he had turned it off before he had sat down, but since some one was calling he got up reluctantly to learn who wanted him at that hour. He glanced at the clock, and saw that it was nearly half-past ten. The instrument buzzed again as he reached the table.

"I want to see Signor Consalvi at once; is it too late?" asked a man's voice anxiously.

"I am Consalvi. Who are you, please?" asked Marcello.

"Kalmon. Is it true that Corbario has left the villa?"

"Yes. He left this afternoon."

"Where is he now?"

"He drove to the railway station. I don't know where he is gone. He left no address."

"--railway station--no address--" Marcello heard the words as Kalmon spoke to some other person at his elbow, wherever he was.

"May I come at once?" Kalmon asked.

"Yes. I am alone. I'll have the lower gate opened."

"Thanks. I shall be at the gate in twenty minutes. Good-bye."

"Good-bye."

Marcello hung up the receiver, rang the bell, and gave the order for the gate, adding that the gentleman who came was to be shown in at once. Then he sat down and waited.

It was clear that Kalmon had learned of Corbario's departure from Aurora, perhaps through her mother. He had probably dined with them, for he was intimate at the house, and Aurora had spoken of Marcello's visit. There was no reason why she should not have done so, and yet Marcello wished that she had kept it to herself a little longer. It had meant so much to him, and it suddenly seemed as if it had meant nothing at all to her. She had perhaps repeated to her mother everything that had been said, or almost everything, for she was very fond of her.

Marcello told himself roughly that since he had no right to love her, and was determined not to, he had no claim upon such little delicacies of discretion and silence on her part; and his problem stuck up its head again out of the deep water in which it lived, and glared at him, and shot out all sorts of questions like the wriggling tentacles of an octopus, inviting him to wrestle with them, if only to see how useless all wrestling must be. He rose again impatiently, took a cigar from a big mahogany box on the table, lit it and smoked savagely, walking up and down.

It was half finished when the door opened and Kalmon was ushered in. He held out his hand as he came forward, with the air of a man who has no time to lose.

"I am glad to see you," Marcello said.

"And I am exceedingly glad that you were at home when I called you up," Kalmon answered. "Have you really no idea where Corbario is?"

"Not the slightest. I am only too glad to get rid of him. I suppose the Contessa told you--"

"Yes. I was dining there. But she only told me half an hour ago, just as I was coming away, and I rushed home to get at the telephone."

It occurred to Marcello that Kalmon need not have driven all the way to Via Sicilia from the Forum of Trajan merely for the sake of telephoning.

"But what is the hurry?" asked Marcello. "Do sit down and explain! I heard this afternoon that you had strong suspicions as to Folco's part in what happened to me."

"Something more than suspicions now," Kalmon answered, settling his big frame in a deep chair before the tire; "but I am afraid he has escaped."

"Escaped? He has not the slightest idea that he is suspected!"

"How do you know? Don't you see that as he is guilty, he must have soon begun to think that the change in your manner toward him was due to the fact that you suspected him, and that you turned him out because you guessed the truth, though you could not prove it?"

"Perhaps," Marcello admitted, in a rather preoccupied tone. "The young lady seems to have repeated to her mother everything I said this afternoon," he added with evident annoyance. "Did the Contessa tell you why I quarrelled with Folco to-day?"

"No. She merely said that there had been angry words and that you had asked him to leave the house. She herself was surprised, she said, and wondered what could have brought matters to a crisis at last."

Marcello's face cleared instantly. Aurora had not told any one that he had quarrelled with his stepfather about her; that was quite evident, for there were not two more truthful people in the world than the Contessa and Kalmon, whose bright brown eyes were at that moment quietly studying his face.

"Not that the fact matters in the least," said the Professor, resting his feet on the fender and exposing the broad soles of his wet walking-boots to the flame. "The important fact is that the man has escaped, and we must catch him."

"But how are you so sure that it was he that attacked me? You cannot arrest a man on suspicion, without going through a great many formalities. You cannot possibly have got an eye-witness to the fact, and so it must be a matter of suspicion after all, founded on a certain amount of rather weak circumstantial evidence. Now, if it was he that tried to kill me, he failed, for I am alive, and perfectly well. Why not let him alone, since I have got rid of him?"

"For a very good reason, which I think I had better not tell you."

"Why not?"

"I am not sure what you would do if you were told it suddenly. Are your nerves pretty good? You used to be a delicate boy, though I confess that you look much stronger now."

"You need not fear for my nerves," Marcello answered with a short laugh. "If they are sound after what I have been through in the last two years they will stand anything!"

"Yes. Perhaps you had better know, though I warn you that what I am going to say will be a shock to you, of which you do not dream."

"You must be exaggerating!" Marcello smiled incredulously. "You had better tell me at once, or I shall imagine it is much worse than it is."

"It could not be," Kalmon answered. "It is hard even to tell, and not only because what happened was in a distant way my fault."

"Your fault? For heaven's sake tell me what the matter is, and let us be done with it!"

"Corbario wanted to get possession of your whole fortune. That is why he tried to kill you."

"Yes. Is that all? You have made me understand that already."

"He had conceived the plan before your mother's death," said Kalmon.

"That would not surprise me either. But how do you know it?"

"Do you remember that discovery of mine, that I called 'the sleeping death'?"

"Yes. What has that to do with it?" Marcello's expression changed.

"Corbario stole one of the tablets from the tube in my pocket, while I was asleep that night."

"What?" Marcello began to grow pale.

"Your mother died asleep," said Kalmon in a very low voice.

Marcello was transfixed with horror, and grasped the arms of his chair. His face was livid. Kalmon watched him, and continued.

"Yes. Corbario did it. Your mother used to take phenacetine tablets when she had headaches. They were very like the tablets of my poison in size and shape. Corbario stole into my room when I was sound asleep, took one of mine, and dropped in one of hers. Then he put mine amongst the phenacetine ones. She took it, slept, and died."

Marcello gasped for breath, his eyes starting from his head.

"You see," Kalmon went on, "it was long before I found that my tablets had been tampered with. There had been seven in the tube. I knew that, and when I glanced at the tube next day there were seven still. The tube was of rather thick blue glass, if you remember, so that the very small difference between the one tablet and the rest could not be seen through it. I went to Milan almost immediately, and when I got home I locked up the tube in a strong-box. It was not until long afterwards, when I wanted to make an experiment, that I opened the tube and emptied the contents into a glass dish. Then I saw that one tablet was unlike the rest. I saw that it had been made by a chemist and not by myself. I analysed it and found five grains of phenacetine."

Marcello leaned back, listening intently, and still deadly pale.

"You did not know that I was trying to find out how you had been hurt, that I was in communication with the police from the first, that I came to Rome and visited you in the hospital before you recovered your memory. The Contessa was very anxious to know the truth about her old friend's son, and I did what I could. That was natural. Something told me that Corbario had tried to kill you, and I suspected him, but it is only lately that I have got all the evidence we need. There is not a link lacking. Well, when I came to Rome that time, it chanced that I met Corbario at the station. He had come by the same train, and was looking dreadfully ill. That increased my suspicion, for I knew that his anxiety must be frightful, since you might have seen him when he struck you, and might recognise him, and accuse him. Yet he could not possibly avoid meeting you. Imagine what that man must have felt. He tried to smile when he saw me, and said he wished he had one of those sleeping tablets of mine. You understand. He thought I had already missed the one he had taken, though I had not, and that he had better disarm any possible suspicion by speaking of the poison carelessly. Then his face turned almost yellow, and he nearly fainted. He said it was the heat, and I helped him to his carriage. He looked like a man terrified out of his senses, and I remembered the fact afterwards, when I found that one tablet had been stolen; but at the time I attributed it all to his fear of facing you. Now we know the truth. He tried to murder you, and on the same day he poisoned your mother."

Kalmon sat quite still when he had finished, and for a long time Marcello did not move, and made no sound. At last he spoke in a dull voice.

"I want to kill him myself."

The Professor glanced at him and nodded slowly, as if he understood the simple instinct of justice that moved him.

"If I see him, I shall kill him," Marcello said slowly. "I am sure I shall."

"I am afraid that he has escaped," Kalmon answered. "Of course there is a possibility that he may have had some object in deceiving your coachman by driving to the railway station, but it is not at all likely. He probably took the first train to the north."

"But he can be stopped at the frontier!"

"Do you think Corbario is the man to let himself be trapped easily if he knows that he is pursued?" asked Kalmon incredulously. "I do not."

He rose from his chair and began to walk up and down, his hands behind him and his head bent.

Marcello paid no attention to him and was silent for a long time, sitting quite motionless and scarcely seeming to breathe. What he felt he never could have told afterwards; he only knew that he suffered in every fibre of his brain and body, with every nerve of his heart and in every secret recess of his soul. His mother seemed to have been dead so long, beyond the break in his memory. The dreadful truth he had just heard made her die again before his eyes, by the hand of the man whom he and she had trusted.

"Kalmon," he said at last, and the Professor stopped short in his walk. "Kalmon, do you think she knows?"

It was like the cry of a child, but it came from a man who was already strong. Kalmon could only shake his head gravely; he could find nothing to say in answer to such a question, and yet he was too human and kind and simple-hearted not to understand the words that rose to Marcello's lips.

"Then she was happy to the end--then she still believes in him."

Kalmon turned his clear eyes thoughtfully towards Marcello's face.

"She is gone," he answered. "She knows the great secret now. The rest is nothing to the dead. But we are living and it is much to us. The man must be brought to justice, and you must help me to bring him down, if we have to hunt him round the world."

"By God, I will!" said Marcello, in the tone of one who takes a solemn obligation.

He rose and stood upright, as if he were ready, and though he was still pale there was no look of weak horror left in his face, nor any weakness at all.

"Good!" exclaimed Kalmon. "I would rather see you so. Now listen to me, and collect your thoughts, Marcello. Ercole is in Rome. You remember Ercole, your keeper at the cottage by the shore? Yes. I got the last link in the evidence about Corbario's attack on you from him to-day. He is a strange fellow. He has known it since last summer and has kept it to himself. But he is one of those diabolically clever peasants that one meets in the Campagna, and he must have his reasons. I told him to sleep at my house to-night, and when I went home he was sitting up in the entry with his dog. I have sent him to the station to find out whether Corbario really left or not. You don't think he will succeed? I tell you there are few detectives to be compared with one of those fellows when they are on the track of a man they hate. I told him to come here, no matter how late it might be, since he is your man. I suppose he can get in?"

"Of course. There is a night-bell for the porter. Ercole knows that. Besides, the porter will not go to bed as long as you are here. While we are waiting for him, tell me what Ercole has found out."

They sat down again, and Kalmon told Marcello the sailor's story of what his captain had seen from the deck of the brigantine. Marcello listened gravely.

"I remember that there was a small vessel very far in," he said. "Aurora will remember it, too, for she watched it and spoke of it. We thought it must run aground on the bar, it was so very near."

"Yes. She remembers it, too. The evidence is complete."

There was silence again. Marcello threw another log upon the fire, and they waited. Kalmon smoked thoughtfully, but Marcello leaned back in his chair, covering his eyes with one hand. The pain had not begun to be dulled yet, and he could only sit still and bear it.

At last the door opened, and a servant said that Ercole was waiting, and had been ordered to come, no matter how late it was. A moment later he appeared, and for once without his dog.

He stood before the door as it closed behind him waiting to be told to come forward. Marcello spoke kindly to him.

"Come here," he said. "It is a long time since we saw each other, and now we are in a hurry."

Ercole's heavy boots rang on the polished floor as he obeyed and came up to the table. He looked gloomily and suspiciously at both men.

"Well?" said Kalmon, encouraging him to speak.

"He is still in Rome," Ercole answered. "How do I know it? I began to ask the porters and the under station-masters who wear red caps, and the woman who sells newspapers and cigars at the stand, and the man who clips the tickets at the doors of the waiting-rooms. 'Did you see a gentleman, so and so, with a servant, so and so, and much luggage, going away by the train? For I am his keeper from the Roman shore, and he told me to be here when he went away, to give him a certain answer.' So I said, going from one to another, and weeping to show that it was a very urgent matter. And many shook their heads and laughed at me. But at last a porter heard, and asked if the gentleman were so and so. And I said yes, that he was so and so, and his servant was so and so, and that the gentleman was a rich gentleman. And the porter said, 'See what a combination! That is the gentleman who had all his luggage brought in this afternoon, to be weighed; but it was not weighed, for he came back after a quarter of an hour, and took some small things and had them put upon a cab, but the other boxes were left in deposit.' Then I took out four sous and showed them to the porter, and he led me to a certain hall, and showed me the luggage, which is that of the man we seek, and it is marked 'F.C.' So when I had seen, I made a show of being joyful, and gave the porter five sous instead of four. And he was very contented. This is the truth. So I say, he is still in Rome."

"I told you so," said Kalmon, looking at Marcello.

"Excuse me, but what did you tell the young gentleman?" asked Ercole suspiciously.

"That you would surely find out," Kalmon answered.

"I have found out many things," said Ercole gloomily.

His voice was very harsh just then, as if speaking so much had made him hoarse.

"He took some of his things away because he meant to spend the night in Rome," Kalmon said thoughtfully. "He means to leave to-morrow, perhaps by an early train. If we do not find him to-night, we shall not catch him in Rome at all."

"Surely," said Ercole, "but Rome is very big, and it is late."


F. Marion Crawford

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