is a lady here I want to see," Maria stammered
. "At least she was here for some time in the spring. You see, she is my sister, and we have not met for twenty years. It may appear strange, but I don't even know her name."
It seemed to Maria that this was a proper precaution on her part. Though her explanation sounded weak enough, to her great relief she saw the servant smile and open the door a little
wider. "That is all right, madam," the servant said. "I can see that you are my mistress's sister by the likeness. Will you please come this way." The
next five minutes seemed like an hour to Maria. Then the door opened, and a tall, dark woman came in. The two looked at one another for quite a minute in absolute silence. It was so st
range to meet after all these years, so sad for both to see how the other had altered. Then Maria Delahay moved forward, and the two women kissed each other almost coldly. "Why did you come here?"
the Countess said. "How did you manage to find me out? I thought you were dead." "I thought you were dead, too, till the other night," Maria said. "I was told that twenty ye
ars ago. I should not be here at all but for an amazing chance. You will remember that you were staying at the Grand Hotel some time in the spring, and it so happens that my rooms are on the same floor as yours, and that the same chambermaid is still there. When she welcomed me as an old customer I guessed by instinct that you were still alive. And if you only knew it, there is a providence behind this thing." Countess Flavio appeared to be listening in a dull, mechanical kind of way. There was no disguising the fact that she was both distressed and disconcerted to find herself face to ring onc
o face with her long-lost sister again. "You know nothing of my
history?" she asked. "Not till tonight," Maria said. "I have recently been listening to it. I knew nothing.
How could I know anything? When our dream of happiness came so suddenly to an end I became practically a pri
soner in that dreadful old house of ours near Naples. I was told that you were dead, and I believed the stor
y. I knew nothing of your existence till a day or two ago. I was utterly ignorant of the fact that you had h
ad such a dreadful time. Not that I would believe anything they say, Carlotta, because I know what you were
in the old days. But however dreadful your experiences have been, you, at any rate, snatched a brief happine
ss. You married the man of your choice. How did you manage to escape?" "Oh, don't ask me," Carlotta Flavi
o said bitterly. "If you only knew everything you would see that you were far better off in your prison than
I was with my liberty. Do you know that I was five times tried for my life? Do you know that for four years
I was the most execrated woman in South Italy? But I am not going into that now. I want to know what brings
you here this evening. Why you should come at such an inconvenient time?" "But why inconvenient?" Mrs. D
elahay protested. "We were fond of one another in the old times. And what more natural than I should seek ou
have had my misfortunes, too. Of course you have heard