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Taquisara   By: (1854-1909)

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[Transcriber's note: Both "Matilde" and "Matilda" appear in the source text.]






"Where shall I sign my name?"

Veronica Serra's thin, dark fingers rolled the old silver penholder nervously as she sat at one end of the long library table, looking up at the short, stout man who stood beside her.

"Here, if you please, Excellency," answered Lamberto Squarci, with an affable smile.

His fingers were dark, too, but not thin, and they were smooth and dingy and very pointed, a fact which the young princess noticed with dislike, as he indicated the spot on the broad sheet of rough, hand made paper, where he wished her to sign. A thrill of repulsion that was strong enough to be painful ran through her, and she rolled the penholder still more quickly and nervously, so that she almost dropped it, and a little blot of ink fell upon the sheet before she had begun to write.

"Oh! It is of no importance!" said the Neapolitan notary, in a reassuring tone. "A little ink more or less!"

He had some pink blotting paper ready, and was already applying a corner of it to the ink spot, with the neat skill of a professional scribe.

"I will erase it when it is dry," he said. "You will not even see it. Now, if your Excellency will sign that will make the will valid."

Three other persons stood around Donna Veronica as she set the point of her pen to the paper, and two of them watched the characters she traced, with eager, unwinking eyes. The third was a very insignificant personage just then, being but the notary's clerk; but his signature was needed as a witness to the will, and he patiently waited for his turn. The other two were husband and wife, Gregorio and Matilde, Count and Countess Macomer; and the countess was the young girl's aunt, being the only sister of Don Tommaso Serra, Prince of Acireale, Veronica's dead father. She looked on, with an eager, pleased expression, standing upright and bending her head in order to see the point of the pen as it moved over the rough paper. Her hands were folded before her, but the uppermost one twitched and moved once or twice, as though it would go out to get possession of the precious document which left her all the heiress's great possessions in case of Donna Veronica's death. It was a bit of paper well worth having.

The girl rose, slight and graceful, when she had written her name, and the finely chiselled lips had an upward curve of young scorn, as she turned from the table, while the notary and his clerk proceeded to witness the will. Immediately, the countess smiled, very brightly, showing beautiful teeth between smooth red lips, and her strong arms went round her young niece. She was a woman at least forty years of age, but still handsome.

"I thank you with all my heart!" she cried. "It is a proof of affection which I shall never forget! You will live a hundred years a thousand, if God will it! But the mere wish to leave me your fortune is a token of love and esteem which I shall know how to value."

Donna Veronica kissed her aunt's fresh cheek coldly, and drew back as soon as she could.

"I am glad that you are pleased," she answered in a cool and colourless voice.

She felt that she had said enough, and, so far as she expected any thanks, her aunt had said too much. She had made the will and had signed it, for the sake of peace, and she asked nothing but peace in return. Ever since she had left the convent in which she had been educated and had come to live with her aunt, the question of this will had arisen at least once every day, and she knew by heart every argument which had been invented to induce her to make it. The principal one had always been the same. She had been told that if, in the inscrutable ways of Providence, she should chance to die young, unmarried and childless, the whole of the great Acireale property would go to relations whom she had never seen and of whom she scarcely knew the names. This, the Countess Macomer had insisted, would be a terrible misfortune, and as human life was uncertain, even when one was very young, it was the duty of Veronica to provide against it, by leaving everything to the one remaining member of the Serra family who, with herself, represented the direct line, who had taken a mother's place and duties in bringing up the orphan girl, and who had been ready to sacrifice every personal consideration for the sake of the child's welfare... Continue reading book >>

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