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The Faun of Rome: A Romance

by Oscar Wilde, edited by Nate Maturin

Nate Maturin, Author

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Chapter 18: The Faun Departs

“At last, here is Kenyon! He will give us the reason for the ungentlemanly delay,” Miriam cried teasingly as Kenyon joined her and Hilda once again in the dining room of their hotel.

“Kenyon, your serious expression bodes ill. Tell us at once what is the matter,” Hilda instructed him.

“Yes, where is Donatello?”

“Miriam, Hilda, I fear I must make a confession to you both,” Kenyon said quietly, sitting down. “Donatello has fled Florence. He has committed a breach of trust in which I have unwittingly become implicated.” Hilda blanched, but made no gesture at this ominous beginning.

“Well, tell us at once what he has done!” Miriam exclaimed.

“He has read your letter, Miriam, and it has baffled him. Rather than confess to you that breach, he has fled to Rome, to deliver it as he promised in the hope of escaping any consequences for his action.”

There was silence for a moment, and Miriam’s eyes searched the table-top as though they might find an answer there. Then, she fixed Kenyon with her gaze, her dark eyes questioning and fearful.

“You have read it, too, Kenyon?”

He pursed his lips but felt his honour was in peril should he delay his answer. No lie could pass his lips when he looked into Miriam’s deep dark eyes, wide and insistent. “Miriam, I have.” The words seemed to float for a moment only in order to oppress him heavily from above. “It was a breach of trust that I cannot forgive myself for having committed. I confess it to you. I throw myself entirely on your mercy. I will be banished from your society forever, should you wish it, but I swear that I will never breathe a word of what I read, or speculate upon its meaning.”

“I cannot… But why did he…? I had thought to trust him…” Miriam caught and dropped at the thread of each thought, her voice thickened by doubt and distress. “So everything is at an end!” she exclaimed, and then started up from the table and fled, causing something of a commotion at the lobby door, where an elderly couple was just entering.

“Good Lord have mercy,” Kenyon muttered to himself, sinking his head into his hands.

“Kenyon, I do not understand and do not ask you to explain. I feel only that a breach which was inevitable between Miriam and Donatello is now upon us, and I hope for your sake that you do not also fall victim to it!” Hilda rose from the table. “I must go with Miriam. I will help her through this, if I can.”

No word from Hilda or Miriam came that evening, but the following morning a message was sent up which summoned him to their hotel. It was to Hilda that the hotel reception directed him, waiting for him in the morning room.

“Hilda! What news?”

“Good morning, Kenyon.”

Kenyon took a seat beside her on the pea-green couch, padded to excess as an invitation to the hotel’s guests to languish. It felt to him that his life had reached a moment of crisis, and that the comfortable surroundings of the hotel were set against him as a mockery, but suppressed the twinge of anger that followed that impression. It would not be Hilda’s way to taunt him. “That you leave me in such suspense bodes ill, Hilda,” he said grimly.

“Oh, Kenyon. I know everything,” she said, by way of preface. “The letter’s contents, and its meaning. It will little profit you to know all of what passed last night, but Miriam’s heart is wounded by that revelation of the innocent deception which she perpetrated upon us all. I can only tell you that the reasons which she had for doing so were sincere and should not cast doubt upon her character. Her relations with Antonio—you must know this—were familial, and this explains her care for him in death. Her efforts to communicate to his near relations about his death were cryptic merely in order to protect herself.”

“I never for one moment doubted her character, or her motivations, Hilda. Will she not see me?”

“She would explain everything to you herself, I believe, if she could,” Hilda answered him gently. “And yet, her sense of shame is too great, and she has not the courage needed for it.”

“And have you revealed to her our own secret? That complement to Donatello’s betrayal?”

Hilda paused. “I have. That too has sapped her courage. She wishes now that Donatello did not bear that message to her cousins, but she will write today in hope of superseding that note with a fresh one.”

“Hilda, let me take that message! Will she consent? I will ride day and night to reach Rome before Donatello.” Kenyon was animated now, and he leapt up from the couch as though the energy which he wished to expend on Miriam’s behalf could not be contained.

“Kenyon, you are generous and kind. I will ask Miriam whether she will consent, but this will not be a way back into her society,” Hilda told him very seriously, rising from the couch to stand before him. “Your affection for her is known, and I believe might have been reciprocated, but for this interruption.”

“You chastise me, Hilda, and I well deserve it. But ask her, please, whether I may follow in Donatello’s wake. I would speak with him again and seek to reason with him. He was our friend once.”

“His actions were impulsive, only. You will find no reasons when you speak with him,” Hilda cautioned. “I know you think me prejudiced in this, Kenyon,” she added a little more sharply, and he sensed that perhaps his face has betrayed him, although he had not thought to give any particular impression. “Donatello’s fondness for Miriam was too strong—I do not mean that as veiled reproach of you, so please do not take it thus,” she added, holding up a hand. “Yours is a gentle affection, and I believe a true one. His was selfishness disguised as servility. We see now Donatello as he really is. If you do cross paths with him, do not hope to reason with him!” she warned again.

“I understand, Hilda, and I am inclined to think you see the situation more clearly than I.”

“Wait here a moment, then, Kenyon. Please, finish the tea. I will ask them for another cup as I go up. I will return as swiftly as can be.”

Kenyon thanked the maid for the extra cup, but could not bring himself to sit or to take tea. Instead, he paced the morning room, relieved that he had no company there, awaiting Hilda’s return. Five minutes passed, and then five minutes more, according to the mantel clock above the fireplace, which held his attention as he watched the hands turn. The marble plinth upon which the clock stood was of a fine red colour, and the bust atop the small clock-face was a pretty woman who cast her glance aside towards the floor, in dismay or shyness, he could not determine. “Damned amateurs,” he muttered to himself about the clock’s maker, as he turned again and paced towards the windows.

“Kenyon.” Hilda reappeared at the door. “Miriam has consented. She has written a further note, if you will take it.”

“I will, Hilda.” Kenyon stepped forward, his hand outstretched to receive the envelope. The letter bore the address Sr Carlo Binbua, Santa María de Montserrat de los Españoles. “Rome is but a few day’s travel, done hastily. I will have my things sent on to me.”

“Remember, Kenyon, my advice. Donatello’s actions were impulsive, only. Do not seek him out to reason with, but press on with your task and then allow things to take their course.”

“Your advice is always so very sensible, Hilda. I would be a fool not to follow it,” Kenyon said with a smile. “Will you write to me?”

“I will, at your studio, and I will visit when I return to Rome,” she promised kindly. “I must return to Miriam. She is very tired, but will gather her strength soon enough. She has too much liveliness in her to be long cowed by the shocks that the past few months have brought her, and by her sad past.”

“I hope so, too, Hilda, and that she will feel strong enough to return to her old life in Rome as the winter draws in,” Kenyon said fervently. “Adieu, gentle Hilda. You are the best friend that Miriam could have hoped to have sustain her.”

“Until we meet again in Rome, dear friend.”

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