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Title: The Child of Pleasure
Author: D'Annunzio, Gabriele
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Child of Pleasure" ***

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[Transcriber's note: although a number of obvious typographical errors
in the printed work have been corrected, the original orthography of the
book has been retained. This includes a number of compound words,
normally hyphenated, which retain their hyphenlessness.]



                         _The_
                    CHILD OF PLEASURE

                   GABRIELE D'ANNUNZIO

                     TRANSLATED BY
                    GEORGINA HARDING

                  VERSES TRANSLATED BY
                      ARTHUR SYMONS

                     INTRODUCTION BY
                       ERNEST BOYD
            [Illustration: The Modern Library logo]
                   THE MODERN LIBRARY
                 PUBLISHERS :: :: NEW YORK
        _Manufactured in the United States of America
          Bound for_ THE MODERN LIBRARY _by H. Wolff_



INTRODUCTION


It is characteristic of the atmosphere of legend in which Gabriele
d'Annunzio has lived that even the authenticity of his name has been
disputed. It was said that his real name was Gaetano Rapagnetta, and the
curious will find amongst the Letters of James Huneker the boast that he
was the first person to reveal to America the fact that d'Annunzio's
name was "Rapagnetto"--a purely personal contribution to the legend.
Yet, the plain fact, as proven by his birth certificate, is that the
author of "The Child of Pleasure" was born at Pescara, on the 12th of
March, 1863, the son of Francesco Paolo d'Annunzio and Luisa de
Benedictis. _Il Piacere_, to give this novel its Italian name, was
published when d'Annunzio was only twenty-six years of age, and except
for an unimportant and imitative volume of short stories, it was his
first sustained prose work. It is the book which at once made the
novelist famous in his own country and very soon afterwards in England
and France, where it was the first of his works to be translated. In
America d'Annunzio was already known as the author of a powerful
realistic novelette, "Episcopo & Co.," which was published in Chicago in
1896, two years before "The Child of Pleasure" appeared in London. As
has so often happened since, America led the way in introducing into the
English language a writer who is one of the foremost figures in
Continental European literature.

In order to realize the sensation which Gabriele d'Annunzio created, it
is necessary to glance back at the opinions of some of his early
champions in foreign countries. Ouida claims, I think rightly, that her
article in the _Fortnightly Review_, which was reprinted in her
"Critical Studies," was the first account in English of the author and
his work. In the main, although besprinkled with moral asides, it is,
with one exception, as good an essay as any that has since been written
on the subject. Ouida was sure that the wickedness of d'Annunzio was
such that the only work of his which will become known to the English
public in general will be the _Vergini delle Rocce_, because "(as far as
it has gone) it is not indecent. The other works could not be reproduced
in English." In proof of her contentions Ouida disclosed the fact that
the French versions of the trilogy, "The Child of Pleasure," "The
Victim," and "The Triumph of Death," were bowdlerized. At the same time
she obligingly referred her readers to some of the choicer passages in
the original, such as Chapter X of "The Child of Pleasure," where she
claimed that "ingenuities of indecency" had been gratuitously
introduced. For the guidance of those interested in such matters I may
explain that, by a coincidence, the "ingenuity" in question is almost
identical with that which was cited in the earlier part of _La Garçonne_
as proof that Victor Margueritte was unworthy of the Legion of Honor.

After Ouida in England came the venerable Vicomte Melchior de Vogüé in
France, who is best known to readers in this country for his standard
tome on the Russian novel. In the austere pages of the _Revue des Deux
Mondes_ he carefully explained to his readers that d'Annunzio's lewdness
must not be confused with the obscenities of Zola, whereat Ouida
protested that they were alike in their complacent preoccupation with
mere filth. The Frenchman is the sounder critic, it must be said, for
while d'Annunzio frequently parallels some of the most unclean--in the
literal, not the moral sense--scenes and incidents in Zola, his attitude
about sex is as unlike Zola's as that of the late W. D. Howells. Only in
"Nana" did Zola describe the life and emotions of a woman whose whole
life is given up to love, and then, as we know, he chose a singularly
crude and professional person, using her career as a symbol of the
Second Empire. D'Annunzio has never described women with any other
reason for existence but love, yet none of his heroines has poor Nana's
uninspiring motives. They are amateurs with a skill undreamed of in
Nana's philosophy; they believe in love for art's sake. Consequently,
the French critic was right in insisting that Zola and d'Annunzio are
two very different persons, although confounded in an identical obloquy
by the moralists. He is, however, not quite so subtle when he tries to
argue from this that, in the conventional sense, d'Annunzio is more
moral.

At this point I will cite an unexpectedly intelligent witness, one of
the early admirers of d'Annunzio in English, and the author of an essay
on him which is assuredly the best which has appeared in that language.
This is what Henry James has to say of "The Child of Pleasure" in his
"Notes on Novelists": "Count Andrea Sperelli is a young man who pays,
pays heavily, as we take it we are to understand, for an unbridled
surrender to the life of the senses; whereby it is primarily a picture
of that life that the story gives us. He is represented as inordinately,
as quite monstrously, endowed for the career that from the first absorbs
and that finally is to be held, we suppose to engulf him; and it is a
tribute to the truth with which his endowment is presented that we
should scarce know where else to look for so complete and convincing an
account of such adventures. Casanova de Seingalt is of course infinitely
more copious, but his autobiography is cheap loose journalism compared
with the directed, finely-condensed iridescent epic of Count Andrea."

It would be difficult to find, couched in such euphemistically
appreciative language, so accurate a summary of the intention and
quality of this book. Casanova is pale, diffuse, and unconvincing,
indeed, beside the d'Annunzio who so early gave his full measure as the
supreme novelist of sensual pleasure in this book. As Arthur Symons so
well says, "Gabriele d'Annunzio comes to remind us, very definitely, as
only an Italian can, of the reality and the beauty of sensation, of the
primary sensations; the sensations of pain and pleasure as these come to
us from our actual physical conditions; the sensation of beauty as it
comes to us from the sight of our eyes and the tasting of our several
senses; the sensation of love, which, to the Italian, comes up from a
root in Boccaccio, through the stem of Petrarch, to the very flower of
Dante. And so he becomes the idealist of material things, while seeming
to materialize spiritual things. He accepts, as no one else of our time
does, the whole physical basis of life, the spirit which can be known
only through the body."

D'Annunzio has declared that the central male character in all three
novels, Andrea Sperelli in "The Child of Pleasure," Tullio Hermil in
"The Intruder" and Giorgio Aurispa in "The Triumph of Death," are
projections of himself. They are as autobiographical as Stelio Effrena
in "The Fire of Life," which is generally accepted as an elaboration of
the poet's life with Eleonora Duse. His attitude, therefore, is clearly
defined in the passage where he says: "In the tumult of contradictory
impulses Sperelli had lost all sense of will power and all sense of
morality. In abdicating, his will had surrendered the sceptre to his
instincts; the æsthetic was substituted for the moral sense. This
æsthetic sense, which was very subtle, very powerful and always active,
maintained a certain equilibrium in the mind of Sperelli. Intellectuals
such as he, brought up in the religion of Beauty, always preserve a
certain kind of order, even in their worst depravities. The conception
of Beauty is the axis of their inmost being: all their passions turn
upon that axis." He is, in other words, the re-incarnation of Don Juan,
pursuing in woman an elusive and impossible ideal.

If d'Annunzio had not gone into the adventure of the war, with its
sequel at Fiume, we might have continued to enjoy the spectacle of the
adventures of this restless soul amongst feminine masterpieces. As a
soldier and a statesman his prestige in the English-speaking world is
low, and we are apt to forget while reading the political bombast of the
years of the war and the period after the Armistice that it differs in
no respect from all other patriotic claptrap, except that it is the work
of the greatest living master of Italian prose. Of this fact his early
novels are a needed reminder to a generation which is making its
acquaintance with Italian writers of to-day through the intermediary of
a converted anti-clerical, who cannot even retell the story of Christ
without branding himself a vulgarian. In the prim days when young
d'Annunzio first flaunted his carnal delights and sorrows before a world
not yet released from Victorian stuffiness, the word "vulgar" was a
polite English epithet for "fleshly," an adjective much beloved by
indignant gentlemen who were permitting their wrath to triumph over
their desire to be respectable. It is a word which we apply nowadays to
the writings of a vulgarian like Papini, whose name is now as familiar
to the general public as d'Annunzio's was when "The Child of Pleasure"
was first translated. That is a measure of progress in this connection
which justifies the hope that the "idealist of material things" will
find again an audience which can understand and appreciate his quest.

D'Annunzio has nothing to offer the sterile theorists of the new
illiterate literature, who are as incapable of appreciating his refined
and subtle perversities as they are of admiring the beautiful form in
which his full-blooded and exuberant imagination clothes his
conceptions. He is an æsthete, but his æstheticism has never expressed
itself in barren theory, but has always turned to life itself. He
realized at the outset of his career that life is a physical thing,
which we must compel to surrender all that it can offer us, which the
artist must bend and shape to his own creative purposes. It has been
said that d'Annunzio had a philosophy and Nietzsche and Tolstoy were
invoked as influences, but there is as little of Tolstoy's moralizing in
"The Intruder" as of Nietzsche's pessimistic idealism in "The Child of
Pleasure" or "The Triumph of Death." Whatever conclusions may be drawn
from the problem of the Eternal Feminine as postulated in all his
novels--and that is the only problem which he confronts--it is hardly to
be dignified by the name of a philosophy. One gathers that men can be
exalted and destroyed by the attraction of women, but the author
remains to the end--as late certainly as 1910, when the last of the
novels in the first mood, _Forse che si, forse che no_, appeared--of the
opinion that they are the one legitimate preoccupation of the artist in
living. Elena Muti in "The Child of Pleasure," Foscarina in "The Flame
of Life," Ippolita in "The Triumph of Death" are superb incarnations of
the one and ever varied problem which troubles the world in which
d'Annunzio lives.

An American critic, Mr. Henry Dwight Sedgwick, once demanded in tones of
passionate scorn that d'Annunzio be tried before a jury of
"English-speaking men," and he called the tale: "Colonel Newcome! Adam
Bede! Bailie Jarvie! Tom Brown! Sam Weller!"--notes of exclamation
included, from which one was to conclude that the creator of Sperelli,
Hermil and Aurispa would slink away discomfited at the very sound of
those names. Yet, on the other hand, can one imagine Andrea and Elena,
Giorgio and Ippolita arguing with our advanced thinkers of the moment:
Is Monogamy Feasible? or Can Men and Women be Friends? D'Annunzio is not
to be approached either in a mood of radical earnestness or of
evangelical fervor. He must be regarded as an artist of sensations, an
Italian of the Renaissance set down in the middle of a drab century. He
began his life by a quest for perfect physical pleasure through all the
senses, and inaugurated its last phase with a gesture of military
courage which was not only a retort to those who, like Croce, had called
him a dilettante, but an earnest of his conviction that he was a great
artist of the lineage which bred men who were simultaneously great men
of action.

Ernest Boyd.



BOOK I



CHAPTER I


Andrea Sperelli dined regularly every Wednesday with his cousin the
Marchesa d'Ateleta.

The salons of the Marchesa in the Palazzo Roccagiovine were much
frequented. She attracted specially by her sparkling wit and gaiety and
her inextinguishable good humour. Her charming and expressive face
recalled certain feminine profiles of the younger Moreau and in the
vignettes of Gravelot. There was something Pompadouresque in her manner,
her tastes, her style of dress, which she no doubt heightened purposely,
tempted by her really striking resemblance to the favourite of Louis XV.

One Tuesday evening, in a box at the Valle Theatre, she said laughingly
to her cousin, 'Be sure, you come to-morrow, Andrea. Among the guests
there will be an interesting, not to say _fatal_, personage. Forewarned
is forearmed--Beware of her spells--you are in a very weak frame of mind
just now.'

He laughed. 'If you don't mind, I prefer to come unarmed,' he replied,
'or rather in the guise of a victim. It is a character I have assumed
for many an evening lately, but alas, without result so far.'

'Well, the sacrifice will soon be consummated, _cugino mio_.'

'The victim is ready!'

The next evening, he arrived at the palace a few minutes earlier than
usual, with a wonderful gardenia in his button-hole and a vague
uneasiness in his mind. His _coupé_ had to stop in front of the
entrance, the portico being occupied by another carriage, from which a
lady was alighting. The liveries, the horses, the ceremonial which
accompanied her arrival all proclaimed a great position. The Count
caught a glimpse of a tall and graceful figure, a scintillation of
diamonds in dark hair and a slender foot on the step. As he went
upstairs he had a back view of the lady.

She ascended in front of him with a slow and rhythmic movement; her
cloak, lined with fur as white as swan's-down, was unclasped at the
throat, and slipping back, revealed her shoulders, pale as polished
ivory, the shoulder-blades disappearing into the lace of the corsage
with an indescribably soft and fleeting curve as of wings. The neck rose
slender and round, and the hair, twisted into a great knot on the crown
of her head, was held in place by jewelled pins.

The harmonious gait of this unknown lady gave Andrea such sincere
pleasure that he stopped a moment on the first landing to watch her. Her
long train swept rustling over the stairs; behind her came a servant,
not immediately in the wake of his mistress on the red carpet, but at
the side along the wall with irreproachable gravity. The absurd contrast
between the magnificent creature and the automaton following her brought
a smile to Andrea's lips.

In the anteroom while the servant was relieving her of her cloak, the
lady cast a rapid glance at the young man who entered.

The servant announced--'Her Excellency the Duchess of Scerni!' and
immediately afterwards--'Count Sperelli-Fieschi d'Ugenta!' It pleased
Andrea that his name should be coupled so closely with that of the lady
in question.

In the drawing-room were already assembled the Marchese and Marchesa
d'Ateleta, the Baron and Baroness d'Isola and Don Filippo del Monte. The
fire burned cheerily on the hearth, and several low seats were
invitingly disposed within range of its warmth, while large leaf plants
spread their red-veined foliage over the low backs.

The Marchesa, advanced to meet the two new arrivals with her delightful
ready laugh.

'Ah,' she said, 'a happy chance has forestalled me and made it
unnecessary for me to tell you one another's names. Cousin Sperelli,
make obeisance before the divine Elena.'

Andrea bowed profoundly. The Duchess held out her hand with a frank and
graceful gesture.

'I am very glad to know you, Count,' she said, looking him full in the
face. 'I heard so much about you last summer at Lucerne from one of your
friends--Giulio Musellaro. I must confess I was rather curious--Besides,
Musellaro lent me your exquisite "Story of the Hermaphrodite" and made
me a present of your etching "Sleep"--a proof copy--a real gem. You have
a most ardent admirer in me--please remember that.'

She spoke with little pauses in between. Her voice was so warm and
insinuating in tone that it almost had the effect of a caress, and her
glance had that unconsciously voluptuous and disturbing expression which
instantly kindles the desire of every man on whom it rests.

'Cavaliere Sakumi!' announced the servant, as the eighth and last guest
made his appearance.

He was one of the secretaries to the Japanese Legation, very small and
yellow, with prominent cheek-bones and long, slanting, bloodshot eyes
over which the lids blinked incessantly. His body was disproportionately
large for his spindle legs, and he turned his toes in as he walked. The
skirts of his coat were too wide, there was a multitude of wrinkles in
his trousers, his necktie bore visible evidence of an unpractised hand.
It was as if a _daimio_ had been taken out of one of those cuirasses of
iron and lacquer, so like the shell of some monstrous crustacean, and
thrust into the clothes of a European waiter. And yet, with all his
ungainliness and apparent stupidity there was a glint of malice in his
slits of eyes and a sort of ironical cunning about the corners of his
mouth.

Arrived in the middle of the room, he bowed low. His gibus slipped from
his hand and rolled over the floor.

At this, the Baroness d'Isola, a tiny blonde with a cloud of fluffy
curls all over her forehead, vivacious and grimacing as a young monkey,
called to him in her piping voice:

'Come over here, Sakumi--here, beside me.'

The Japanese cavalier advanced with a succession of bows and smiles.

'Shall we see the Princess Issé this evening?' asked Donna Francesca
d'Ateleta, who had a mania for gathering in her drawing-rooms all the
most grotesque specimens of the exotic colonies of Rome, out of pure
love of variety and the picturesque.

The Asiatic replied in a barbarous jargon, a scarcely intelligible
compound of English, French, and Italian.

For a moment everybody was speaking at once--a chorus through which now
and then the fresh laughter of the Marchesa rang like silver bells.

'I am sure I have seen you before--I cannot remember when and I cannot
remember where, but I am certain I have seen you,' Andrea Sperelli was
saying to the duchess as he stood before her. 'When I saw you going
upstairs in front of me, a vague recollection rose up in my mind,
something that took shape from the rhythm of your movements as a picture
grows out of a melody. I did not succeed in making the recollection
clear, but when you turned round, I felt that your profile answered
incontestably to that picture. It could not have been a divination,
therefore it must have been some obscure phenomenon of memory. I must
have seen you somewhere before--who knows--perhaps in a dream--perhaps
in another world, a previous existence--'

As he pronounced this last decidedly hackneyed, not to say silly remark,
Andrea laughed frankly as if to forestall the lady's smile, whether of
incredulity or irony. But Elena remained perfectly serious. Was she
listening, or was she thinking of something else? Did she accept that
kind of speech, or was she, by her gravity, amusing herself at his
expense? Did she intend assisting him in the scheme of seduction he had
begun with so much care, or was she going to shut herself up in
indifference and silence? In short, was she or was she not the sort of
woman to succumb to his attack? Perplexed, disconcerted, Andrea examined
the mystery from all sides. Most men, especially those who adopt bold
methods of warfare, are well acquainted with this perplexity which
certain women excite by their silence.

A servant threw open the great doors leading to the dining-room.

The Marchesa took the arm of Don Filippo del Monte and led the way.

'Come,' said Elena, and it seemed to Andrea that she leaned upon his arm
with a certain abandon--or was it merely an illusion of his
desire?--perhaps. He continued in doubt and suspense, but every moment
that passed drew him deeper within the sweet enchantment, and with every
instant he became more desperately anxious to read the mystery of this
woman's heart.

'Here, cousin,' said Francesca, pointing him to a place at one end of
the oval table, between the Baron d'Isola and the Duchess of Scerni with
the Cavaliere Sakumi as his _vis-à-vis_. Sakumi sat between the Baroness
d'Isola and Filippo del Monte. The Marchesa and her husband occupied the
two ends of the table, which glittered with rare china, silver, crystal
and flowers.

Very few women could compete with the Marchesa d'Ateleta in the art of
dinner giving. She expended more care and forethought in the preparation
of a menu than of a toilette. Her exquisite taste was patent in every
detail, and her word was law in the matter of elegant conviviality. Her
fantasies and her fashions were imitated on every table of the Roman
upper ten. This winter, for instance, she had introduced the fashion of
hanging garlands of flowers from one end of the table to the other, on
the branches of great candelabras, and also that of placing in front of
each guest, among the group of wine glasses, a slender opalescent Murano
vase with a single orchid in it.

'What a diabolical flower!' said Elena Muti, taking up the vase and
examining the orchid which seemed all blood-stained.

Her voice was of such rich full _timbre_ that even her most trivial
remarks acquired a new significance, a mysterious grace, like that King
of Phrygia whose touch turned everything to gold.

'A symbolical flower--in your hands,' murmured Andrea, gazing at his
neighbour, whose beauty in that attitude was really amazing.

She was dressed in some delicate tissue of palest blue, spangled with
silver dots which glittered through antique Burano lace of an
indefinable tint of white inclining to yellow. The flower, like
something evil generated by a malignant spell, rose quivering on its
slender stalk out of the fragile tube which might have been blown by
some skilful artificer from a liquid gem.

'Well, I prefer roses,' observed Elena, replacing the orchid with a
gesture of repulsion, very different from her former one of curiosity.
She then joined in the general conversation.

Donna Francesca was speaking of the last reception at the Austrian
Embassy.

'Did you see Madame de Cahen?' asked Elena. 'She had on a dress of
yellow tulle covered with humming birds with ruby eyes--a gorgeous
dancing bird-cage. And Lady Ouless--did you notice her?--in a white
gauze skirt draped with sea-weed and little red fishes, and under the
sea-weed and fish another skirt of sea-green gauze--Did you see it?--a
most effective aquarium!' and she laughed merrily.

Andrea was at a loss to understand this sudden volubility These
frivolous and malicious things were uttered by the same voice which, but
a few moments, ago had stirred his soul to its very depths; they came
from the same lips which, in silence, had seemed to him like the mouth
of the Medusa of Leonardo, that human flower of the soul rendered divine
by the fire of passion and the anguish of death. What then was the true
essence of this creature? Had she perception and consciousness of her
manifold changes, or was she impenetrable to herself and shut from her
own mystery? In her expression, her manifestation of herself, how much
was artificial and how much spontaneous? The desire to fathom this
secret pierced him even through the delight experienced by the proximity
of the woman whom he was beginning to love. But his wretched habit of
analysis for ever prevented him losing sight of himself, though every
time he yielded to its temptation he was punished, like Psyche for her
curiosity, by the swift withdrawal of love, the frowns of the beloved
object and the cessation of all delights. Would it not be better to
abandon oneself frankly to the first ineffable sweetness of new-born
love? He saw Elena in the act of placing her lips to a glass of pale
gold wine like liquid honey. He selected from among his own glasses the
one the servant had filled with the same wine, and drank at the same
moment that she did. They replaced their glasses on the table together.
The similarity of the action made them turn to one another, and the
glance they exchanged inflamed them far more than the wine.

'You are very silent,' said Elena, affecting a lightness of tone which
somewhat disguised her voice. 'You have the reputation of being a
brilliant conversationalist--exert yourself therefore a little!'

'Oh cousin! cousin!' exclaimed Donna Francesca with a comical air of
commiseration, while Filippo del Monte whispered something in his ear.

Andrea burst out laughing.

'Cavaliere Sakumi; we are the silent members of this party--we must wake
up!'

The long narrow eyes of the Asiatic--redder than ever now that the wine
had kindled a deeper crimson on his high cheek-bones--glittered with
malice. All this time he had done nothing but gaze at the Duchess of
Scerni with the ecstatic look of a _bonze_ in presence of the divinity.
His broad flat face, which might have come straight out of a page of
O-kou-sai, the great classical humorist, gleamed red among the chains of
flowers like a harvest moon.

'Sakumi is in love,' said Andrea in a low voice, and leaning over
towards Elena.

'With whom?'

'With you--have you not observed it yet?'

'No.'

'Well, look at him.'

Elena looked across at him. The amorous gaze of the disguised _daimio_
suddenly affected her with such ill-disguised mirth that the Japanese
felt deeply hurt and humiliated.

'See,' she said, and to console him she detached a white camellia and
threw it across the table to the envoy of the Rising Sun,--'find some
comparison in praise of me!'

The Oriental carried the flower to his lips with a ludicrous air of
devotion.

'Ah--ah--Sakumi!' cried the little Baroness d'Isola, 'you are unfaithful
to me!'

He stammered a few words while his face flamed. Everybody laughed
unrestrainedly, as if the foreigner had been invited solely to provide
entertainment for the other guests. Andrea turned laughing towards
Elena.

Her head was raised and a little thrown back, and she was gazing
furtively at the young man under her eyelashes with one of those
indescribably feminine glances which seem to absorb--almost one would
say drink in--all that is most desirable, most delectable in the man of
their choice. The long lashes veiled the soft dark eyes which were
looking at him a little side-long, and her lower lip had a scarcely
perceptible tremor. The full ray of her glance seemed to rest upon his
lips as the most attractive point about him.

And in truth his mouth was very attractive. Pure and youthful in outline
and rich in colouring, a little cruel when firmly closed, it reminded
one irresistibly of that portrait of an unknown gentleman in the
Borghese gallery, that profound and mysterious work of art in which the
fascinated imagination has sought to recognise the features of the
divine Cesare Borgia depicted by the divine Sanzio. As soon as the lips
parted in a smile the resemblance vanished, and the square, even
dazzlingly white teeth lit up a mouth as fresh and jocund as a child's.

The moment Andrea turned, Elena withdrew her eyes, though not so quickly
but that the young man caught the flash. His delight was so poignant
that it sent the blood flaming to his face.

'She is attracted by me!' he thought to himself, inwardly exulting in
the assurance of having found favour in the eyes of this rare creature.
'This is a joy I have never experienced before!' he said to himself.

There are certain glances from a woman's eye which a lover would not
exchange for anything else she can offer him later. He who has not seen
that first love-light kindle in a limpid eye has never touched the
highest point of human bliss. No future moment can ever approach that
one.

The conversation around them grew more animated, and Elena asked
him--'Are you staying the winter in Rome?'

'The whole winter--and longer,' was Andrea's reply, to whom the simple
question seemed to open up a promise.

'Ah, then you have set up a home here?'

'Yes, in the Casa Zuccari--_domus aurea_.'

'At the Trinità de' Monti?--Lucky being!'

'Why lucky?'

'Because you live on a spot I have a great liking for.'

'You are quite right I always think--don't you?--that there the most
perfect essence of Rome is concentrated as in a cup.'

'Quite true! I have hung up my heart--both Catholic and Pagan--as an
_ex-voto_ between the obelisk of the Trinità and the column of the
Conception.'

She laughed as she spoke. A sonnet to this suspended heart rose
instantly to his lips, but he did not give it utterance, for he was in
no mood to continue their conversation in this light vein of false
sentiment, which broke the sweet spell she had been weaving about him.
He was silent therefore.

She, too, remained a moment pensive, and then threw herself with renewed
vivacity into the general conversation, prodigal of wit and laughter,
flashing her teeth and her _bon mots_ at all in turn. Francesca was
retailing spicily a piece of gossip about the Princess di Ferentino on
the subject of a recent, and somewhat risky, adventure of hers with
Giovanella Daddi.

'By the by--the Ferentino announces another charity bazaar for
Epiphany,' said the Baroness d'Isola. 'Does anybody know anything about
it yet?'

'I am one of the patronesses,' said Elena Muti.

'And you are a most valuable patroness,' broke in Don Filippo del Monte,
a man of about forty, almost bald, a keen sharpener of epigrams, whose
face seemed a sort of Socratic mask; the right eye was forever on the
move, and flashed with a thousand changing expressions, while the left
remained stationary and glazed behind the single eye-glass, as if he
used the one for expressing himself and the other for seeing. 'At the
May bazaar, you brought in a perfect shower of gold.'

'Oh, the May bazaar--what a mad affair that was!' exclaimed the
Marchesa.

While the servants were filling the glasses with iced champagne, she
added, 'Do you remember, Elena, our stalls were close together?'

'Five louis d'or a drink--five louis d'or a bite!' Don Filippo called,
in the voice of a street-hawker. Elena and the Marchesa burst out
laughing.

'Why yes, of course, Filippo, you cried the wares,' said Donna
Francesca. 'Now what a pity you were not there, _cugino mio_! For five
louis you might have eaten fruit out of which I had had the first bite,
and have drunk champagne out of the hollow of Elena's hands for five
more.'

'How scandalous!' broke in the Baroness d'Isola, with a horrified
grimace.

'Ah, Mary, I like that! And did you not sell cigarettes that you lighted
up first yourself for a louis?' cried Francesca through her laughter.
Then she became suddenly grave. 'Every deed, with a charitable object in
view, is sacred,' she observed sententiously. 'By merely biting into
fruit, I collected at least two hundred louis.'

'And you?' Andrea Sperelli turned to Elena with as constrained
smile--'With your human drinking-cup--how much did you get?'

'I?--oh, two hundred and seventy louis.'

Everybody was full of fun and laughter, excepting the Marchese
d'Ateleta, who was old, and afflicted with incurable deafness; was
padded and painted--in a word, artificial from head to foot. He was very
like one of the figures one sees at a wax work show. From time to
time--usually the wrong one--he would give vent to a little dry cackling
laugh, like the rattle of some rusty mechanism inside him.

'However,' Elena resumed, 'you must know, that after a certain point in
the evening, the price rose to ten louis, and at last, that lunatic of a
Galeazzo Secinaro came and offered me a five hundred lire note, if I
would dry my hands on his great golden beard!'

As was ever the case at the d'Ateletas', the dinner increased in
splendour towards the end; for the true luxury of the table is shown in
the dessert. A multitude of choice and exquisite things, delighting the
eye no less than the palate, were disposed with consummate art in
various crystal and silver-mounted dishes. Festoons of camellias and
violets hung between the vine-wreathed eighteenth century candelabras,
round which sported fairies and nymphs, and on the wall-hangings more
fairies and nymphs, and all the charming figures of the pastoral
mythology--the Corydons, the Phylises, the Rosalinds--animated with
their sylvan loves one of those sunny Cytherean landscapes originated by
the fanciful imagination of Antoine Watteau.

The slightly erotic excitement, which is apt to take hold upon the
spirits at the end of a dinner graced by fair women and flowers,
betrayed itself in the tone of the conversations, and the reminiscences
of this bazaar, at which the ladies--urged on by a noble spirit of
emulation in collecting the largest sums--employed the most unheard of
audacities to attract buyers.

'And did you accept it?' asked Andrea of the Duchess.

'I sacrificed my hands on the altar of Benevolence,' she replied.
'Twenty-five louis more to my account!'

'_All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand._' He
laughed as he quoted Lady Macbeth's words, but, in reality, his heart
was sore with a confused, ill-defined pain, that bore a strong
resemblance to jealousy. And suddenly he became aware of something
excessive, almost--it might be--a touch of the courtesan, defacing the
manners of the great lady. Certain inflections of her voice, certain
tones of her laughter, here a gesture, there an attitude, certain
glances, exhaled a charm that was perhaps a trifle too Aphrodisiac. She
was, besides, somewhat over-lavish with the visible favours of her
graces, and the air she breathed was continually surcharged with the
desire she herself excited.

Andrea's heart swelled with bitterness; he could not take his eyes off
Elena's hands. Out of those hands, so delicately, ideally white and
transparent, with their faint tracery of azure veins--from those rosy
hollowed palms, wherein a chiromancer would have discovered many an
intricate crossing of lines, ten, twenty different men had drunk at a
price. He could _see_ the heads of these unknown men bending over her
and drinking the wine. But Secinaro was one of his friends--a great
handsome jovial fellow, imperially bearded like a very Lucius Verus, and
a most formidable rival to have. He felt as if the dinner would never
come to an end.

'You are such an innovator,' Elena was saying to Donna Francesca, as she
dipped her fingers into warm water in a pale blue finger-glass rimmed
with silver, 'Why do you not revive the ancient fashion of having the
water offered to one after dinner with a basin and ewer? The modern
arrangement is very ugly, do you not think so, Sperelli?'

Donna Francesca rose. Every one followed her example. Andrea, with a
bow, offered his arm to Elena and she looked at him without smiling as
she slowly laid her hand on his arm. Her last words were gaily and
lightly spoken, but her gaze was so grave and profound that the young
man felt it sink into his very soul.

'Are you going to the French Embassy to-morrow evening?' she asked him.

'Are you?' Andrea asked in return.

'I am.'

'So am I.'

They smiled at one another like two lovers.

'Sit down,' she added as she sank into a seat.

The seat was far from the fire, with its back to the curve of a grand
piano which was partially draped in some rich stuff. At one end of the
divan, a tall bronze crane held in his beak a tray hanging by three
chains like one side of a pair of scales, and on it lay a new book and a
little Japanese scimitar--a _waki-gashi_--the scabbard and hilt
encrusted with silver chrysanthemums.

Elena took up the book, which was only half cut, read the title, and
then replaced it on the tray which swung to and fro. The scimitar fell
to the ground. As both she and Andrea stooped to pick it up, their hands
met. She straightened herself up and examined the beautiful weapon with
some curiosity, retaining it in her hand while Andrea talked about the
new novel, insinuating into his remarks general arguments upon love; and
her fingers wandered absently over the chasing of the weapon, her
polished nails seeming a repetition of the delicate gems that sparkled
in her rings.

Presently, after a pause, Elena said without looking at him: 'You are
very young--have you often been in love?'

He answered by another question--'Which do you consider the truest,
noblest way of love--to imagine you have discovered every aspect of the
eternal Feminine combined in one woman, or to run rapidly over the lips
of woman as you run your fingers over the keys of a piano, till, at
last, you find the sublime chord of harmony?'

'I really cannot say--and you?'

'Nor I either--I am unable to solve the great problem of sentiment.
However, by personal instinct, I have followed the latter plan and have
now, I fear, struck the grand chord--judging, at least, by an inward
premonition.'

'You fear?'

'_Je crains ce que j'espère._'

He instinctively employed this language of affected sentiment to cloak
his really strong emotion, and Elena felt herself caught by his voice as
in a golden net and drawn forcibly out of the life surrounding them.

'Her Excellency the Princess di Micigliano!' announced a footman.

'Count di Gissi!'

'Madame Chrysoloras!'

'The Marchese and the Marchesa Massa d'Alba!'

The rooms began to fill rapidly. Long shimmering trains swept over the
deep red carpet, white shoulders emerged from bodices starred with
diamonds, embroidered with pearls, covered with flowers, and in nearly
every coiffure glittered those marvellous hereditary gems for which the
Roman nobility are so much envied.

'Her Excellency the Princess of Ferentino!'

'His Excellency the Duke of Grimiti!'

The guests formed themselves in various groups, the rallying points of
gossip and of flirtation. The chief group, composed exclusively of men,
was in the vicinity of the piano, gathered round the Duchess of Scerni,
who had risen to her feet, the better to hold her own against her
besiegers. The Princess of Ferentino came over to greet her friend with
a reproach.

'Why did you not come to Nini Santamarta's to-day? We all expected you.'

She was tall and thin with extraordinary green eyes sunk deep in their
shadowy sockets. Her dress was black, the bodice open in a point back
and front, and in her hair, which was _blond cendré_, she wore a great
diamond crescent like Diana. She waved a huge fan of red feathers
hastily to and fro as she spoke.

'Nini is at Madame Van Hueffel's this evening.'

'I am going there later on for a little while, so I shall see her,'
answered the Duchess.

'Oh, Ugenta,' said the Princess turning to Andrea, 'I was looking for
you to remind you of our appointment. To-morrow is Thursday and Cardinal
Immenraet's sale begins at twelve. Will you fetch me at one?'

'I shall not fail, Princess.'

'I simply must have that rock crystal.'

'Then you must be prepared for competition.'

'From whom?'

'My cousin for one.'

'And who else?'

'From me,' said Elena.

'You?--Well, we shall see.'

Several of the gentlemen asked for further enlightenment.

'It is a contest between ladies of the 19th century for a rock crystal
vase which belonged to Niccolo Niccoli,' Andrea explained with
solemnity; 'a vase, on which is engraved the Trojan Anchises untying one
of the sandals of Venus Aphrodite. The entertainment will be given
gratis, at one o'clock to-morrow afternoon, in the Public Sale-rooms of
the Via Sistina. Contending parties--the Princess of Ferentino, the
Duchess of Scerni and the Marchesa d'Ateleta.'

Everybody laughed, and Grimiti asked, 'Is betting permitted?'

'The odds! The odds!' yelled Don Filippo del Monte, imitating the
strident voice of the bookmaker Stubbs.

The Princess gave him an admonitory tap on the arm with her red fan, but
the joke seemed to amuse them hugely and the betting began at once.
Hearing the bursts of laughter, other ladies and gentlemen joined the
group in order to share the fun. The news of the approaching contest
spread like lightning and soon assumed the proportions of a society
event.

'Give me your arm and let us take a turn through the rooms,' said Elena
to Andrea Sperelli.

As soon as they were in the west room, away from the noisy crowd,
Andrea pressed her arm and murmured, 'Thanks.'

She leaned on him, stopping now and again to reply to some greeting. She
seemed fatigued, and was as pale as the pearls of her necklace. Each
gentleman addressed her with some hackneyed compliment.

'How stupid they all are! it makes me feel quite ill,' she said.

As they turned, she saw Sakumi was following them noiselessly, her
camellia in his button-hole, his eyes full of yearning not daring to
come nearer. She threw him a compassionate smile.

'Poor Sakumi!'

'Did you not notice him before?' asked Andrea.

'No.'

'While we were sitting by the piano, he was in the recess of the window,
and never took his eyes off your hands when you were playing with the
weapon of his native country--now reduced to being a paper-cutter for a
European novel.'

'Just now, do you mean?'

'Yes, just now. Perhaps he was thinking how sweet it would be to perform
_Hara-Kiri_ with that little scimitar, the chrysanthemums on which
seemed to blossom out of the lacquer and steel under the touch of your
fingers.'

She did not smile. A veil of sadness, almost of suffering, seemed to
have fallen over her face; her eyes, faintly luminous under the white
lids, seemed drowned in shadow, the corners of her mouth drooped
wearily, her right arm hung straight and languid at her side. She no
longer held out her hand to those who greeted her; she listened no
longer to their speeches.

'What is the matter?' asked Andrea.

'Nothing--I must go to the Van Hueffels' now. Take me to Francesca to
say good-bye, and then come with me down to my carriage.'

They returned to the first drawing-room, where Luigi Gulli, a young man,
swarthy and curly-haired as an Arab, who had left his native Calabria in
search of fortune, was executing, with much feeling, Beethoven's sonata
in C# minor. The Marchesa d'Ateleta, a patroness of his, was standing
near the piano, with her eyes fixed on the keys. By degrees, the sweet
and grave music drew all these frivolous spirits within its magic
circle, like a slow-moving but irresistible whirlpool.

'Beethoven!' exclaimed Elena in a tone of almost religious fervour, as
she stood still and drew her arm from Andrea's.

She had halted beside one of the great palms and, extending her left
hand, began very slowly to put on her glove. In that attitude her whole
figure, continued by the train, seemed taller and more erect; the shadow
of the palm veiled and, so to speak, spiritualised the pallor of her
skin. Andrea gazed at her in a kind of rapture, increased by the pathos
of the music.

As if drawn by the young man's impetuous desire, Elena turned her head a
little, and smiled at him--a smile so subtle, so spiritual, that it
seemed rather an emanation of the soul than a movement of the lips,
while her eyes remained sad and as if lost in a far away dream. Thus
overshadowed they were verily the eyes of the Night, such as Leonardo da
Vinci might have imagined for an allegorical figure after having seen
Lucrezia Crevelli at Milan.

During the second that the smile lasted, Andrea felt himself absolutely
alone with her in the crowd. An immense wave of pride flooded his heart.

Elena now prepared to put on the other glove.

'No, not that one,' he entreated in a low voice.

She understood, and left her hand bare.

He was hoping to kiss that hand before she left. And suddenly he had a
vision of the May Bazaar, and the men drinking champagne out of those
hollowed palms, and for the second time that night he felt the keen stab
of jealousy.

'We will go now,' she said, taking his arm once more.

The sonata over, conversation was resumed with fresh vigour. Three or
four new names were announced, amongst them that of the Princess Issé,
who entered smiling, with funny little tottering steps, in European
dress, her oval face as white and tiny as a little _netske_ figurine. A
stir of curiosity ran round the room.

'Good-night, Francesca,' said Elena, taking leave of her hostess, 'I
shall see you to-morrow.'

'Going so soon?'

'I am due at the Van Hueffels'. I promised to go.'

'What a pity! Mary Dyce is just going to sing.'

'I must go--good-bye!'

'Well, take this, and good-bye. Most amiable of cousins, please look
after her.'

The Marchesa pressed a bunch of double violets into her hand and hurried
away to receive the Princess Issé very graciously. Mary Dyce, in a red
dress, slender and undulating as a tongue of fire, began to sing.

'I am so tired!' murmured Elena, leaning wearily on Andrea's arm.
'Please ask for my cloak.'

He took her cloak from the attendant, and in helping her to put it on,
touched her shoulder with the tips of his fingers, and felt her shiver.
The words of one of Schumann's songs was borne to them on Mary Dyce's
passionate soprano, _Ich kann's nicht fassen, nicht glauben!_

They descended the stairs in silence. A footman preceded them to call
the duchess's carriage. The stamping of the horses rang through the
echoing portico. At every step, Andrea felt the pressure of Elena's arm
grow heavier; she held her head high, and her eyes were half closed.

'As you ascended these stairs, my admiration followed you, unknown to
you. Now, as you come down, my love accompanies you,' he said softly,
almost humbly, faltering a little between the two last words.

She made no reply, but she lifted the bunch of violets to her face, and
inhaled the perfume. In so doing, the wide sleeve of her evening cloak
slipped back over her arm beyond her elbow, thrilling the young man's
senses almost beyond control. His lips trembled, and he with difficulty
restrained the burning words that rose to them.

The carriage was standing at the foot of the great stairway; a footman
held open the door.

'To Madame Van Hueffel's,' said the duchess to him, while Andrea helped
her in.

The man left the door and returned to his seat beside the coachman. The
horses stamped, striking out sparks from the stones.

'Take care!' cried Elena, holding out her hand to the young man. Her
eyes and her diamonds flashed through the gloom.

'Oh, to be in there with her in the shadow--to press my lips to her
satin neck under the perfumed fur of her mantle!'

'Take me with you!' he would like to have cried.

But the horses plunged. 'Oh, take care!' Elena repeated.

He kissed her hand--pressing his lips to it as if to leave the mark of
his burning passion. He closed the door and the carriage rolled rapidly
away under the porch, and out to the Forum.

And thus ended Andrea Sperelli's first meeting with the Duchess of
Scerni.



CHAPTER II


The gray deluge of democratic mud, which swallows up so many beautiful
and rare things, is likewise gradually engulfing that particular class
of the old Italian nobility in which from generation to generation were
kept alive certain family traditions of eminent culture, refinement and
art.

To this class, which I should be inclined to denominate Arcadian because
it shone with greatest splendour in the charming atmosphere of the
eighteenth century life, belonged the Sperelli. Urbanity, hellenism,
love of all that was exquisite, a predilection for out-of-the-way
studies, an æsthetic curiosity, a passion for archæology, and an
epicurean taste in gallantry were hereditary qualities of the house of
Sperelli. An Alessandro Sperelli brought in 1466 to Frederic of Aragon,
son of Ferdinand King of Naples, and brother to Alfonso Duke of
Calabria, a manuscript in folio containing the 'less rude' poems of the
old Tuscan writers which Lorenzo de Medici had promised him at Pisa in
1465; and in concert with the most erudite scholars of his time, that
same Alessandro wrote a Latin elegy on the death of the divine
Simonetta--sad and melting numbers after the manner of Tibullus. Another
Sperelli--Stefano,--was during the same century in Flanders, in the
midst of all the pomp, the extravagant elegance, the almost fabulous
magnificence of the court of Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, where
he remained, having allied himself with a Flemish family. A son of his,
named Giusto, learned painting under the direction of Gossaert, in whose
company he came to Italy in the suite of Philip of Burgundy, the
ambassador of the Emperor Maximilian to Pope Julius II. in 1508. He
settled in Florence, where the chief branch of his family continued to
flourish, and had for his second master Piero di Cosimo, that jocund and
facile painter and vivid and harmonious colourist, under whose brush the
pagan deities came to life again. This Giusto was by no means a mediocre
artist, but he consumed all his forces in the vain effort to reconcile
his primary Gothic education with the newly awakened spirit of the
Renaissance. Towards the middle of the seventeenth century the Sperelli
family migrated to Naples. There a Bartolomeo Sperelli published in 1679
an astrological treatise: _De Nativitatibus_; in 1720 a Giovanni
Sperelli wrote for the theatre an opera bouffe entitled _La Faustina_
and also a lyrical tragedy entitled _Progne_; 1756 a Carlo Sperelli
brought out a book of amatory verses in which much licentious persiflage
was expressed with the Horatian elegance so much affected at that
period. A better poet, and moreover a man of exquisite gallantry, was
Luigi Sperelli, attached to the court of the _lazzaroni_ king of Naples
and his queen Caroline. His Muse was very charming, and affected a
certain epicurean melancholy. He loved much and with a fine
discrimination, and had innumerable adventures--some of them famous--as,
for instance, that with the Marchesa di Bugnano who poisoned herself out
of jealousy, and with the Countess of Chesterfield who died of
consumption, and whom he mourned in a series of odes, sonnets and
elegies--very moving, if perhaps somewhat overladen with metaphor.

Count Andrea Sperelli-Fieschi d'Ugenta, sole heir to the family, carried
on its traditions. He was, in truth, the ideal type of the young Italian
nobleman of the nineteenth century, a true representative of a race of
chivalrous gentlemen and graceful artists, the last scion of an
intellectual line.

He was, so to speak, thoroughly impregnated with art. His early youth,
nourished as it was by the most varied and profound studies, promised
wonders. Up to his twentieth year, he alternated between severe study
and long journeys, in company with his father, and could thus complete
his extraordinary æsthetic education under paternal direction, without
the restrictions and constraints imposed by tutors. And it was to his
father that he owed his taste for everything pertaining to art, his
passionate cult of the Beautiful, his paradoxical disdain of prejudice,
and his keen appetite for the sensuous.

That father, who had grown up in the midst of the last expiring
splendours of the Bourbon court of Naples, understood life on a large
scale, was profoundly initiated into all the arts of the voluptuary,
combined with a certain Byronic leaning towards fantastic romanticism.
His marriage had occurred under _quasi_ tragic circumstances, the finale
of a mad passion; then, after disturbing and undermining the conjugal
peace in every possible fashion, he had separated from his wife, and,
keeping his son always with him, had travelled about the whole of
Europe.

Andrea's education had thus been a living one; that is to say, derived
less from books than from the study of life as he had seen it. His mind
was corrupted not only by over-refined culture, but also by actual
experiments, and in him curiosity grew keener in proportion as his
knowledge grew wider. From the beginning, he had ever been prodigal of
his powers, for the great nervous force with which nature had endowed
him was inexhaustible in providing him with the treasures he dispensed
so lavishly. But the expansion of that energy caused in him the
destruction of another force: the moral one, which his own father had
not scrupled to repress in him. And he never perceived that his whole
life was a steady retrogression of all his faculties, of his hopes, his
joys--a species of gradual renunciation--and that the circle was slowly
but inexorably narrowing round him.

Among other fundamental maxims his father had given him the following:
You must _make_ your own life as you would any other work of art. The
life of a man of intellect should be of his own designing. Herein lies
the only true superiority.

Again: Never, let it cost what it may, lose the mastery over yourself
even in the most intoxicating rapture of the senses. _Habere non haberi_
is the rule from which the man of intellect should never swerve.

And again--Regret is the idle pastime of an unoccupied mind. The best
method, therefore, to avoid regret is to keep the mind constantly
occupied with new fancies, fresh sensations.

Unfortunately, however, these _voluntary_ axioms, which from their
ambiguity might just as easily be interpreted as lofty moral rules, fell
upon an _involuntary_ nature; that is to say, one in which the will
power was extremely feeble.

Another seed sown by the paternal hand had borne evil fruit in Andrea's
spirit--the seed of sophistry. Sophistry, said this imprudent teacher,
is at the bottom of all human pleasure or pain. Therefore, quicken and
multiply your sophisms and you quicken and multiply your own pleasure or
your own pain. It is possible that the whole science of life consists in
obscuring the truth. The word is a very profound matter in which
inexhaustible treasure is concealed for the man who knows how to use it.
The Greeks, who were artists in words, were the most refined
voluptuaries of antiquity. The sophists flourished in the greatest
number during the age of Pericles, the Golden Age of pleasure.

This germ had found a favourable soil in the unhealthy culture of the
young man's mind. By degrees, insincerity--rather towards himself than
towards others--became such a habit of Andrea's mind, that finally he
was incapable of being wholly sincere or of regaining dominion over
himself.

The death of his father left him alone at the age of twenty, master of a
considerable fortune, separated from his mother, and at the mercy of his
passions and his tastes. He spent fifteen months in England. His mother
married again, and he returned to Rome from choice.

Rome was his passion--not the Rome of the Cæsars, but the Rome of the
Popes--not the Rome of the Triumphal Arches, the Forums, the Baths, but
the Rome of the Villas, the Fountains, the Churches. He would have given
all the Colosseums in the world for the Villa Medici, the Campo Vaccino
for the Piazza di Spagna, the Arch of Titus for the Fountain of the
Tortoises. The princely magnificence of the Colonnas, the Dorias, the
Barberinis, attracted him far more than the ruins of imperial grandeur.
It was his dream to possess a palace crowned by a cornice of Michael
Angelo's, and with frescos by the Carracci like the Farnese palace--a
gallery of Raphaels, Titians and Domenichini like the Borghese; a villa
like that of Alessandro Albani, where deep shadowy groves, red granite
of the East, white marble from Luni, Greek statues and Renaissance
pictures should weave an enchantment round some sumptuous amour of his.
In an album of 'Confessions' at his cousin's, the Marchesa d'Ateleta,
against the question--'What would you most like to be?' he had written,
'A Roman prince.'

Arriving in Rome about the end of September, he set up his 'home' in the
Palazzo Zuccari, near the Trinità de' Monti, where the obelisk of Pius
VI. marks with its shadow the passing hours. The whole of October was
devoted to furnishing them. When the rooms were all finished and
decorated to his taste, he passed some days of invincible melancholy and
loneliness in his new abode. It was a St. Martin's summer, a 'Springtime
of the Dead,' calmly sad and sweet, in which Rome lay all golden, like a
city of the Far East, under a milk-white sky, diaphanous as the
firmament reflected in Southern seas.

All this languor of atmosphere and light, in which things seemed to lose
their substance and reality, oppressed the young man with an infinite
weariness, an inexpressible sense of discontent, of discomfort, of
solitude, emptiness and home-sickness, mostly, no doubt, the result of
the change of climate and customs.

It was just this, that he was entering upon a new phase of life. Would
he find therein the woman and the work capable of dominating his heart
and becoming an object in life to him? Within himself he felt neither
the conviction of power nor the presage of fame or happiness. Though
penetrated, impregnated with art, as yet he had not produced anything
remarkable. Eager in the pursuit of pleasure and of love, he had never
yet really loved or really enjoyed whole-heartedly. Tortured by
aspirations after an Ideal, and abhorring pain both by nature and
education, he was vulnerable on every side, accessible to pain at every
point.

In the tumult of his conflicting inclinations, he had lost all guiding
will-power and moral perception. Will, in abdicating had yielded the
sceptre to instinct and the æsthetic sense was substituted for the
moral. But, it was nevertheless precisely to his æsthetic sense--in him
most subtle and powerful--that he owed a certain strength and
equilibrium of mind, so that one might say his existence was a perpetual
struggle between contrary forces, enclosed within the limits of that
equilibrium. Men of intellect, educated in the cult of the beautiful,
preserve a certain sense of order even in their worst depravities. The
conception of the beautiful is, so to speak, the axis of their being,
round which all their passions revolve.

Over this sadness, the recollection of Constance Landbrooke still
floated like a faded perfume. His love for Conny had been a very
delicate affair, for she was a very sweet little creature. She was like
one of Lawrence's creations, with all the dainty feminine graces so dear
to that painter of furbelows and laces and velvets, of lustrous eyes and
pouting lips, a very re-incarnation of the little Countess of
Shaftesbury. Lively, chattering, never still, lavish of infantile
diminutives and silvery peals of laughter, easily moved to sudden
caresses and as sudden melancholies and quick bursts of anger, she
contributed to her share of love a vast amount of movement, much variety
and many caprices. But Conny Landbrooke's melodious twitterings had left
no more mark on Andrea's heart than the light musical echo left in one's
ear for a time by some gay ritornella. More than once in some pensive
hour of twilight melancholy, she had said to him with a mist of tears
before her eyes--'I know you do not love me.' And in truth he did not
love her, she did not by any means satisfy his longings. His ideal was
less northern in character. Ideally he felt himself attracted by those
courtesans of the sixteenth century, over whose faces there would appear
to be drawn some indefinable veil of sorcery, some transparent mask of
enchantment, some divine nocturnal spell.

The moment Andrea set eyes on the Duchess of Scerni, he said to
himself--'_This_ is my Ideal Woman!' and his whole soul went out to her
in a transport of joy, in the presentiment of the future.



CHAPTER III


The next day the public sale-room of the Via Sistina was thronged with
fashionable people, come to look on at the famous contest.

It was raining hard; the light in the low-roofed damp rooms was dull and
gray. Along the walls were ranged various pieces of carved furniture,
several large diptychs and triptychs of the Tuscan school of the
fourteenth century; four pieces of Flemish tapestry representing the
Story of Narcissus hung from ceiling to floor; Metaurensian majolicas
occupied two long shelves; stuffs--for the most part ecclesiastical--lay
spread out on chairs or heaped up on tables; antiquities of the rarest
kind--ivories, enamels, crystals, engraved gems, medals, coins,
breviaries, illuminated manuscripts, silver of delicate workmanship were
massed together in high cabinets behind the auctioneer's table. A
peculiar musty odour, arising from the clamminess of the atmosphere and
this collection of ancient things, pervaded the air.

When Andrea Sperelli entered the room with the Princess di Ferentino, he
looked about him rapidly with a secret tremor--Is _she_ here? he said to
himself.

She was there, seated at the table between the Cavaliere Davila and Don
Filippo del Monte. Before her on the table lay her gloves and her muff,
to which a little bunch of violets was fastened. She held in her hand a
little bas-relief in silver, attributed to Caradosso Foppa, which she
was examining with great attention. Each article passed from hand to
hand along the table while the auctioneer proclaimed its merits in a
loud voice, those standing behind the line of chairs leaning over to
look.

The sale began.

'Make your bids, gentlemen! make your bids!' cried the auctioneer from
time to time.

Some amateur encouraged by this cry bid a higher sum with his eye on his
competitors. The auctioneer raised his hammer.

'Going--Going--Gone!'

He rapped the table. The article fell to the last bidder. A murmur went
round the assemblage, then the bidding recommenced. The Cavaliere
Davila, a Neapolitan gentleman of gigantic stature and almost femininely
gentle manners, a noted collector and connoisseur of majolica, gave his
opinion on each article of importance. Three lots in this sale of the
Cardinal's effects were really of 'superior' quality: the Story of
Narcissus, the rock-crystal goblet, and an embossed silver helmet by
Antonio del Pollajuolo presented by the City of Florence to the Count of
Urbino in 1472 for services rendered during the taking of Volterra.

'Here is the Princess,' said Filippo del Monte to the Duchess.

Elena rose and shook hands with her friend.

'Already in the field!' exclaimed the Princess.

'Already.'

'And Francesca?'

'She has not come yet.'

Four or five young men--the Duke of Grimiti, Roberto Casteldieri,
Ludovico Barbarisi, Gianetto Rutolo--drew up round them. Others joined
them. The rattle of the rain against the windows almost drowned their
voices.

Elena held out her hand frankly to Sperelli as to everybody else, but
somehow he felt that that handshake set him at a distance from her.
Elena seemed to him cold and grave. That instant sufficed to freeze and
destroy all his dreams; his memories of the preceding evening grew
confused and dim, the torch of hope was extinguished. What had happened
to her?--She was not the same woman. She was wrapped in the folds of a
long otter-skin coat, and wore a toque of the same fur on her head.
There was something hard, almost contemptuous, in the expression of her
face.

'The goblet will not come on for some time yet,' she observed to the
Princess, as she resumed her seat.

Every object passed through her hands. She was much tempted by a centaur
cut in a sardonyx, a very exquisite piece of workmanship, part, perhaps,
of the scattered collection of Lorenzo the Magnificent. She took part in
the bidding, communicating her offers to the auctioneer in a low voice
without raising her eyes to him. Presently the competition stopped; she
obtained the intaglio for a good price.

'A most admirable acquisition,' observed Andrea Sperelli from behind her
chair.

Elena could not repress a slight start. She took up the sardonyx and
handed it to him to look at over her shoulder without turning round. It
was really a very beautiful thing.

'It might be the centaur copied by Donatello,' Andrea added.

And in his heart, with his admiration for the work of art, there rose up
also a sincere admiration for the noble taste of the lady who now filled
all his thoughts. 'What a rare creature both in mind and body!' he
thought. But the higher she rose in his imagination, the further she
seemed removed from him in reality. All the security of the preceding
evening was transformed into uneasiness, and his first doubts re-awoke.
He had dreamed too much last night with waking eyes, bathed in a
felicity that knew no bounds, while the memory of a gesture, a smile, a
turn of the head, a fold of her raiment held him captive as in a net.
Now all this imaginary world had tumbled miserably about his ears at the
touch of reality. In Elena's eyes there had been no sign of that special
greeting to which he had so ardently looked forward; she had in no wise
singled him out from the crowd, had offered him no mark of favour. Why
not? He felt himself slighted, humiliated. All these fatuous people
irritated him, he was exasperated by the things which seemed to engross
Elena's attention, and more particularly by Filippo del Monte, who
leaned towards her every now and then to whisper something to
her--scandal no doubt. The Marchesa d'Ateleta now arrived, cheerful as
ever. Her laugh, out of the centre of the circle of men who hastened to
surround her, caused Don Filippo to turn round.

'Ah--so the trinity is complete!' he exclaimed, rising from his seat.

Andrea instantly slipped into it at Elena Muti's side. As the subtle
perfume of the violets reached him, he murmured--

'These are not those of last night, are they?'

'No,' she answered coldly.

In all her varying moods, changeful and caressing as the waves of the
sea, there always lay a hidden menace of rebuff. She was often taken
with fits of cold restraint. Andrea held his tongue, bewildered.

'Make your bids, gentlemen,' cried the auctioneer.

The bids rose higher. Antonio del Pollajuolo's silver helmet was being
hotly contested. Even the Cavaliere Davila entered the lists. The very
air seemed gradually to become hotter; the feverish desire to possess so
beautiful an object seemed to spread like a contagion.

In that year the craze for _bibelots_ and _bric-à-brac_ reached the
point of madness. The drawing-rooms of the nobility and the upper middle
classes were crammed with curios; every lady must needs cover the
cushions of her sofas and chairs with some piece of church vestment, and
put her roses into an Umbrian ointment pot, or a chalcedony jar. The
sale-rooms were the favourite meeting-places, and every sale crowded. It
was the fashion for the ladies when they dropped in anywhere for tea in
the afternoon, to enter with some such remark as--'I have just come from
the sale of the painter Campos' things. Tremendous bidding! Such
Hispano-Moresque plaques! I secured a jewel belonging to Maria
Leczinska. Look!'

The bidding continued. Fashionable purchasers crowded round the table,
vieing with each other in artistic and critical comparisons between the
Giottoesque Nativities and Annunciations. Into this atmosphere of
mustiness and antiquity the ladies brought the perfume of their furs,
and more especially of the violets which each one wore on her muff,
according to the then prevailing charming fashion, and their presence
diffused a delicious air of warmth and fragrance. Outside, the rain
continued to fall, and the light to fade. Here and there a little flame
of gas struggled feebly with such daylight as remained.

'Going--going--gone!' The stroke of the hammer put Lord Humphrey
Heathfield in possession of the Florentine helmet. The bidding then
began for smaller articles, which passed in turn from hand to hand down
the long table. Elena handled them carefully, examined them, and placed
them in front of Andrea without remark. There were enamels, ivories,
eighteenth century watches, Milanese goldsmiths' work of the time of
Ludovico the Moor, Books of Hours inscribed in gold letters on pale blue
vellum. These precious things seemed to increase in value under the
touch of Elena's fingers; her little hands had a faint tremor of
eagerness when they came in contact with some specially desirable
object. Andrea watched them intently, and his imagination transformed
every movement of her hands into a caress. 'But why did she place each
thing upon the table instead of passing it to him?'

He forestalled her next time by holding out his hand. And from
thenceforth the ivories, the enamels, the ornaments passed from the
hands of the lady to those of her lover, to whom they communicated an
ineffable thrill of delight. He felt that thus some particle of the
charm of the beloved woman entered into these objects, just as a portion
of the virtue of the magnet enters into the iron. It was, in truth, the
magnetic sense of love--one of those acute and profound sensations which
are rarely felt but at love's beginning, and which, differing
essentially from all others, seem to have no physical or moral seat, but
to exist in some neutral element of our being--an element that is
intermediate, and the nature of which is unknown.

'Here again is a rapture I have never felt before,' thought Andrea.

A kind of torpor seemed creeping over him. Little by little, he was
losing consciousness of time and place.

'I recommend this clock to your notice,' Elena was saying to him, with a
look the full significance of which he did not for the first moment
understand.

It was a small Death's-head, carved in ivory with extraordinary power
and anatomical skill. Each jaw was furnished with a row of diamonds, and
two rubies flashed from the deep eye-sockets. On the forehead was
engraved, _Ruit Hora_; and on the occiput _Tibi_, _Hippolyta_. It opened
like a box, the hinging being almost imperceptible, and the ticking
inside lent an indescribable air of life to the diminutive skull. This
sepulchral jewel, the offering of some unknown artist to his mistress,
had doubtless marked many an hour of rapture, and served as a warning
symbol to their amorous souls.

Could a lover wish for anything more exquisite and more suggestive? 'Has
she any special reason for recommending this to me?' thought Andrea, all
his hopes reviving on the instant. He threw himself into the bidding
with a sort of fury. Two or three others bid against him, notably
Giannetto Rutolo, who, being in love with Donna Ippolita Albonico, was
attracted by the dedication: _Tibi, Hippolyta_.

Presently Rutolo and Sperelli were left alone in the contest. The
bidding rose higher than the actual value of the article, which forced a
smile from the auctioneer. At last, vanquished by his adversary's
determination, Giannetto Rutolo was silent.

'Going--going--!'

Donna Ippolita's lover, a little pale, cried one last sum. Sperelli
named a higher--there was a moment's silence. The auctioneer looked from
one to the other, then he raised his hammer and slowly, still looking at
the two--'Going--going--gone!'

The Death's-head fell to the Conte d'Ugenta. A murmur ran round the
room. A sudden flood of light burst through the windows, lit up the
gleaming gold backgrounds of the triptychs, and played over the
sorrowfully patient brow of the Siennese Madonna and the glittering
steel scales on the Princess di Ferentino's little grey hat.

'When is the goblet coming on?' asked the princess impatiently.

Her friends consulted the catalogue. There was no hope of the goblet for
that day. The unusual amount of competition made the sale go slowly.
There was still a long list of smaller articles--cameos, medallions,
coins. Several antiquaries and Prince Stroganow disputed each piece
hotly. The rest felt considerably disappointed. The Duchess of Scerni
rose to go.

'Good-bye, Sperelli,' she said. 'I shall see you again this
evening--perhaps.'

'Why perhaps?'

'I do not feel well.'

'What is the matter?'

She turned away without replying, and took leave of the others. Many of
them followed her example and left with her. The young men were making
fun of the 'spectacle manqué.' The Marchesa d'Ateleta laughed, but the
princess was evidently thoroughly out of temper. The footmen waiting in
the hall called for the carriages as if at the door of a theatre or
concert hall.

'Are you not coming on to Laura Miano's?' Francesca asked the duchess.

'No, I am going home.'

She waited on the pavement for her brougham to come up. The rain was
passing over; patches of blue were beginning to appear between the great
banks of white cloud; a shaft of sunshine made the wet flags glitter.
Flooded by this pale rose splendour, her magnificent furs falling in
straight symmetrical folds to her feet, Elena was very beautiful. As
Andrea caught a glimpse of the inside of her brougham, all cosily lined
with white satin like a little boudoir, with its shining silver
foot-warmer for the comfort of her small feet, his dream of the
preceding evening came back to him--'Oh, to be there with her alone,
and feel the warm perfume of her breath mingling with the
violets--behind the mist-dimmed windows through which one hardly sees
the muddy streets, the gray houses, the dull crowd!'

But she only bowed slightly to him at the door, without even a smile,
and the next moment the carriage had flashed away in the direction of
the Palazzo Barberini, leaving the young man with a dim sense of
depression and heartache.

She only said 'perhaps,' so it was quite possible that she would not be
at the Palazzo Farnese that evening. What should he do then? The thought
that he might not see her was intolerable; already every hour he passed
far from her weighed heavily on his spirits. 'Am I then so deeply in
love with her already?' he asked himself. His spirit seemed imprisoned
within a circle in which the phantoms of all his sensations in presence
of this woman surged and wheeled around him. Suddenly there would emerge
from this tangle of memory, with singular precision, some phrase of
hers, an inflection of her voice, an attitude, a glance, the seat where
they had sat, the finale of the Beethoven sonata, a burst of melody from
Mary Dyce, the face of the footman who had held back the
_portière_--anything that happened to have caught his attention at the
moment--and these images obscured by their extreme vividness the actual
life around him. He pleaded with her; said to her in thought what he
would say to her in reality by and by.

Arrived in his own rooms, he ordered tea of his man-servant, installed
himself in front of the fire and gave himself up to the fictions of his
hope and his desire. He took the little jewelled skull out of its case
and examined it carefully. The tiny diamond teeth flashed back at him in
the firelight, and the rubies lit up the shadowy orbits. Behind the
smooth ivory brow time pulsed unceasingly--_Ruit Hora_. Who was the
artist who had contrived for his Hippolyta so superb and bold a fantasy
of Death, at a period too when the masters of enamelling had been wont
to ornament with tender idylls the little watches destined to warn
Coquette of the time of the rendezvous in the parks of Watteau? The
modelling gave evidence of a masterly hand--vigorous and full of
admirable style; altogether it was worthy of a fifteenth century artist
as forcible as Verrocchio.

'I recommend this clock to your consideration.' Andrea could not help
smiling a little at Elena's words uttered in so peculiar a tone after so
cold a silence. He was assured that she intended him to put the
construction upon her words which he had afterwards done, but then why
retire into impenetrable reserve again--why take no further notice of
him--what ailed her? Andrea lost himself in a maze of conjecture.
Nevertheless, the warm atmosphere of the room, the luxurious chair, the
shaded lamp, the fitful gleams of firelight, the aroma of the tea--all
these soothing influences combined to mitigate his pain. He went on
dreamingly, aimlessly, as if wandering through a fantastic labyrinth.
With him reverie sometimes had the effect of opium--it intoxicated him.

'May I take the liberty of reminding the Signor Conte that he is
expected at the Casa Doria at seven o'clock,' observed his valet in a
subdued and discreet murmur, one of his offices being to jog his
master's memory. 'Everything is ready.'

He went into an adjoining octagonal room to dress, the most luxurious
and comfortable dressing-room any young man of fashion could possibly
desire. On a great Roman sarcophagus, transformed with much taste into a
toilet table, were ranged a selection of cambric handkerchiefs, evening
gloves, card and cigarette cases, bottles of scent, and five or six
fresh gardenias in separate little pale blue china vases--all these
frivolous and fragile things on this mass of stone, on which a funeral
_cortège_ was sculptured by a masterly hand!



CHAPTER IV


At the Casa Doria, speaking of one thing and another, the Duchess
Angelieri remarked--'It seems that Laura Miano and Elena Muti have
quarrelled.'

'About Giorgio perhaps?' returned another lady laughing.

'So they say. The story began this summer at Lucerne--'

'But Laura was not at Lucerne,'

'Exactly--but her husband was--'

'I believe it is a pure invention,' broke in the Florentine countess
Donna Bianca Dolcebuono--'Giorgio is in Paris now.'

Andrea heard it all in spite of the chattering of the little Contessa
Starnina, who sat at his right hand, and never gave him a moment's
peace. Bianca Dolcebuono's words did little to ease the smart of his
wound. At least, he would have liked to know the whole story. But the
Duchess Angelieri did not resume the thread of her discourse, and other
conversations crossed and recrossed the table under the great gorgeous
roses from the Villa Pamfili.

Who was this Giorgio? A former lover? Elena had spent part of the summer
at Lucerne,--she had just come from Paris. After the sale she had
refused to go to Laura Miano's. A fierce desire assailed him to see her,
to speak to her again. The invitation at the Palazzo Farnese was for ten
o'clock--half past ten found him there waiting anxiously.

He waited long. The rooms filled rapidly; the dancing began. In the
Carracci gallery the divinities of fashionable Rome vied in beauty with
the Ariadnes, the Galateas, the Auroras, the Dianas of the frescos;
couples whirled past; heads glittering with jewels drooped or raised
themselves, bosoms panted, the breath came fast through parted crimson
lips.

'You are not dancing, Sperelli?' asked Gabriella Barbarisi, a girl brown
as the _oliva speciosa_, as she passed him on the arm of her partner,
fanning herself and smiling to show a dimple she had at the corner of
her mouth.

'Yes--later on,' Andrea responded hastily--'later on.'

Heedless of introductions or greetings, his torment increased with every
moment of this fruitless expectation, and he roamed aimlessly from room
to room. That 'perhaps' made him sadly afraid that Elena would not come.
And supposing she really did not? When was he likely to see her again?
Donna Bianca Dolcebuono passed, and, almost without knowing why, he
attached himself to her side, saying a thousand agreeable things to her,
feeling some slight comfort in her society. He had the greatest desire
to speak to her about Elena, to question her, to reassure himself; but
the orchestra struck up a languorous mazurka and the Florentine countess
was carried off by her partner.

Thereupon, Andrea joined a group of young men near one of the
doors--Ludovico Barbarisi, the Duke di Beffi, Filippo del Gallo and Gino
Bomminaco. They were watching the couples, and exchanging observations
not over refined in quality. One of them turned to Andrea as he came up.

'Why, what has become of you this evening? Your cousin was looking for
you a moment ago. There she is dancing with my brother now.'

'Look!' exclaimed Filippo del Gallo--'the Albonico has come back, she is
dancing with Giannetto.'

'The Duchess of Scerni came back last week,' said Ludovico; 'what a
lovely creature!'

'Is she here?'

'I have not seen her yet,'

Andrea's heart stopped beating for a moment, fearing that something
would be said against her by one or other of these malicious tongues.
But the passing of the Princess Issé on the arm of the Danish Minister
diverted their attention. Nevertheless, his desire for further knowledge
was so intense, that it almost drove him to lead back the conversation
to the name of his lady-love. But he was not quite bold enough. The
mazurka was over; the group broke up. 'She is not coming! She is not
coming!' His secret anxiety rose to such a pitch that he half thought of
leaving the place altogether; the contact of this laughing, careless
throng was intolerable.

As he turned away, he saw the Duchess of Scerni entering the gallery on
the arm of the French ambassador. For one instant their eyes met, but
that one glance seemed to draw them to each other, to penetrate to the
very depths of their souls. Both knew that each had only been looking
for the other, and at that moment there seemed to fall a silence upon
both hearts, even in the midst of the babel of voices, and all their
surroundings to vanish and be swept away by the force of their own
absorbing thought.

She advanced along the frescoed gallery where the crowd was thinnest,
her long white train rippling like a wave over the floor behind her. All
white and simple, she passed slowly along, turning from side to side in
answer to the numerous greetings, with an air of manifest fatigue and a
somewhat strained smile which drew down the corners of her mouth, while
her eyes looked larger than ever under the low white brow, her extreme
pallor imparting to her whole face a look so ethereal and delicate as to
be almost ghostly. This was not the same woman who had sat beside him at
the Ateleta's table, nor the one of the Sale Rooms, nor the one standing
waiting for a moment on the pavement of the Via Sistina. Her beauty at
this moment was of ideal nobility, and shone with additional splendour
among all these women heated with the dance, over-excited and restless
in their manner. The men looked at her and grew thoughtful; no mind was
so obtuse or empty that she did not exercise a disturbing influence upon
it, inspire some vague and indefinable hope. He whose heart was free
imagined with a thrill what such a woman's love would be; he who loved
already conceived a vague regret, and dreamed of raptures hitherto
unknown; he who bore a wound dealt by some woman's jealousy or
faithlessness suddenly felt that he might easily recover.

Thus she advanced amid the homage of the men, enveloped by their gaze.
Arrived at the end of the gallery, she joined a group of ladies who were
talking and fanning themselves excitedly under the fresco of Perseus
turning Phineus to stone. They were the Princess di Ferentino, Hortensa
Massa d'Alba, the Marchesa Daddi-Tosinghi and Bianca Dolcebuono.

'Why so late?' asked the latter.

'I hesitated very much whether to come at all--I don't feel well.'

'Yes, you look very pale.'

'I believe I am going to have neuralgia badly again, like last year.'

'Heaven forefend!'

'Elena, do look at Madame de la Boissière,' exclaimed Giovanella Daddi
in her queer husky voice; 'doesn't she look like a camel with a yellow
wig!'

'Mademoiselle Vanloo is losing her head over your cousin,' said Hortensa
Massa d'Alba to the Princess as Sophie Vanloo passed on Ludovico
Barbarisi's arm. 'I heard her say just now when they passed me in the
mazurka--_Ludovic, ne faites plus ça en dansant; je frissonne toute_--'

The ladies laughed in chorus, fluttering their fans. The first notes of
a Hungarian waltz floated in from the next room. The gentlemen came to
claim their partners. At last Andrea was able to offer Elena his arm and
carry her off.

'I thought I should have died waiting for you! If you had not come I
should have gone to find you--anywhere. When I saw you come in I could
scarcely repress a cry. This is only the second evening I have met you,
and yet I feel as if I had loved you for years. The thought of you and
you alone is now the life of my life.'

He uttered his burning words of love in a low voice, looking straight
before him, and she listened in a similar attitude, apparently quite
impassive, almost stony. Only a sprinkling of people remained in the
gallery. Between the busts of the Cæsars along the walls, lamps with
milky globes shaped like lilies shed an even, tempered light. The
profusion of palms and flowering plants gave the whole place the look of
a sumptuous conservatory. The music floated through the warm-scented air
under the vaulted roof and over all this mythology like a breeze though
an enchanted garden.

'Can you love me?' he asked: 'tell me if you think you can ever love
me.'

'I came only for you,' she returned slowly.

'Tell me that you will love me,' he repeated, while every drop of blood
seemed to rush in a tumult of joy to his heart.

'Perhaps----' she answered, and she looked into his face with that same
look which, on the preceding evening, had seemed to hold a divine
promise, that ineffable gaze which acts like the velvet touch of a
loving hand. Neither of them spoke; they listened to the sweet and
fitful strains of the music, now slow and faint as a zephyr, now loud
and rushing like a sudden tempest.

'Shall we dance?' he asked with a secret tremor of delight at the
prospect of encircling her with his arm.

She hesitated a moment before replying. 'No; I would rather not.'

Then, seeing the Duchess of Bugnare, her aunt, entering the gallery with
the Princess Alberoni and the French ambassadress, she added hurriedly,
'Now--be prudent, and leave me.'

She held out her gloved hand to him and advanced alone to meet the
ladies with a light firm step. Her long white train lent an additional
grace to her figure, the wide and heavy folds of brocade serving to
accentuate the slenderness of her waist. Andrea, as he followed her with
his eyes, kept repeating her words to himself, 'I came for you alone--I
came for you alone!' The orchestra suddenly took up the waltz measure
with a fresh impetus. And never, through all his life, did he forget
that music, nor the attitude of the woman he loved, nor the sumptuous
folds of the brocade trailing over the floor, nor the faintest shadow on
the rich material, nor one single detail of that supreme moment.



CHAPTER V


Elena left the Farnese palace very soon after this, almost stealthily,
without taking leave of Andrea or of any one else. She had therefore not
stayed more than half an hour at the ball. Her lover searched for her
through all the rooms in vain. The next morning, he sent a servant to
the Palazzo Barberini to inquire after the duchess, and learned from him
that she was ill. In the evening he went in person, hoping to be
received; but a maid informed him that her mistress was in great pain
and could see no one. On the Saturday, towards five o'clock, he came
back once more, still hoping for better luck.

He left his house on foot. The evening was chill and gray, and a heavy
leaden twilight was settling over the city. The lamps were already
lighted round the fountain in the Piazza Barberini like pale tapers
round a funeral bier, and the Triton, whether being under repair or for
some other reason, had ceased to spout water. Down the sloping roadway
came a line of carts drawn by two or three horses harnessed in single
file, and bands of workmen returning home from the new buildings. A
group of these came swaying along arm in arm, singing a lewd song at the
pitch of their voices.

Andrea stopped to let them pass. Two or three of the debased,
weather-beaten faces impressed themselves on his memory. He noticed that
a carter had his hand wrapped in a blood-stained bandage, and that
another, who was kneeling in his cart, had the livid complexion, deep
sunken eyes and convulsively contracted mouth of a man who has been
poisoned. The words of the song were mingled with guttural cries, the
cracking of whips, the grinding of wheels, the jingling of horse bells
and shrill discordant laughter.

His mental depression increased. He found himself in a very curious
mood. The sensibility of his nerves was so acute that the most trivial
impression conveyed to them by external means assumed the gravity of a
wound. While one fixed thought occupied and tormented his spirit, the
rest of his being was left exposed to the rude jostling of surrounding
circumstances. Groups of sensations rushed with lightning rapidity
across his mental field of vision, like the phantasmagoria of a magic
lantern, startling and alarming him. The banked-up clouds of evening,
the form of the Triton surrounded by the cadaverous lights, this sudden
descent of savage looking men and huge animals, these shouts and songs
and curses aggravated his condition, arousing a vague terror in his
heart, a foreboding of disaster.

A closed carriage drove out of the palace garden. He caught a glimpse of
a lady bowing to him, but he failed to recognise her. The palace rose up
before him, vast as some royal residence. The windows of the first floor
gleamed with violet reflections, a pale strip of sunset sky rested just
above it; a brougham was turning away from the door.

'If I could but see her!' he thought to himself, standing still for a
moment. He lingered, purposely to prolong his uncertainty and his hope.
Shut up in this immense edifice she seemed to him immeasurably far
away--lost to him.

The brougham stopped, and a gentleman put his head out of the window and
called--'Andrea!'

It was the Duke of Grimiti, a near relative of his.

'Going to call on the Scerni?' asked the duke with a significant smile.

'Yes,' answered Andrea, 'to inquire after her--she is ill, you know.'

'Yes, I know--I have just come from there. She is better.'

'Does she receive?'

'Me--no. But she may perhaps receive you.' And Grimiti laughed
maliciously through the smoke of his cigarette.

'I don't understand,' Andrea answered coldly.

'Bah!' said the duke. 'Report says you are high in favour. I heard it
last night at the Pallavicinis', from a lady, a great friend of
yours--give you my word!'

Andrea turned on his heel with a gesture of impatience.

'_Bonne chance_!' cried the duke.

Andrea entered the portico. In reality he was delighted and flattered
that such a report should be circulated already. Grimiti's words had
suddenly revived his courage like a draught of some cordial. As he
mounted the steps, his hopes rose high. He waited for a moment at the
door to allow his excitement to calm down a little. Then he rang.

The servant recognised him and said at once: 'If the Signor Conte will
have the kindness to wait a moment I will go and inform _Mademoiselle_.'

He nodded assent, and began pacing the vast ante-chamber, which seemed
to echo the violent beating of his heart. Hanging lamps of wrought iron
shed an uncertain light over the stamped leather panelling of the walls,
the carved oak chests, the antique busts on pedestals. Under a
magnificently embroidered baldachin blazed the ducal arms: a unicorn on
a field gules. A bronze card-tray, heaped with cards, stood in the
middle of a table, and happening to cast his eye over them, Andrea
noticed the one which Grimiti had just left lying on the top--_Bonne
chance!_--The ironical augury still rang in his ears.

Mademoiselle now made her appearance. 'The duchess is feeling a little
better,' she said. 'I think the Signor Conte might see her for a moment.
This way, if you please.'

She was a woman past her first youth, rather thin and dressed in black,
with a pair of gray eyes that glittered curiously under the curls of her
false fringe. Her step and her movements generally were light, not to
say furtive, as of one who is in the habit of attending upon invalids
or of executing secret orders.

'This way, Signor Conte.'

She preceded Andrea though the long flight of dimly-lighted rooms, the
thick soft carpets deadening every sound; and even through the almost
uncontrollable tumult of his soul, the young man was conscious of an
instinctive feeling of repulsion against her, without being able to
assign an adequate reason for it.

Arrived in front of a door concealed by two pieces of tapestry of the
Medicean period, bordered with deep red velvet, she stopped.

'I will go first and announce you. Please to wait here.'

A voice from within, which he recognised as Elena's, called,
'Christina!'

At the sound of her voice coming thus unexpectedly, Andrea began to
tremble so violently that he thought to himself--'I am sure I am going
to faint.' He had a dim presentiment of some more than mortal happiness
in store for him which should exceed his utmost expectations, his
wildest dreams--almost beyond his powers to support. She was there--on
the other side of that door. All perception of reality deserted him. It
seemed to him that he had already imagined--in some picture, some
poem--a similar adventure, under the self-same circumstances, with these
identical surroundings and enveloped in the same mystery, but of which
_another_--some fiction of his own brain--was the hero. And now, by some
strange trick of the imagination, the fictitious was confounded with the
real, causing him an indescribable sense of confusion and bewilderment.
On each of the pieces of tapestry was a large symbolical figure--Silence
and Slumber--two Genii, tall and slender, which might have been designed
by Primaticcio of Bologna, guarding the door. And he--he himself--stood
before the door waiting, and on the other side of it was his divine
lady. He almost thought he could hear her breathe.

At last Mademoiselle returned. Holding back the heavy draperies she
smiled, and in a low voice said:

'Please go in.'

She effaced herself, and Andrea entered the room.

He noticed first of all that the air was very hot, almost stifling, and
that there was a strong odour of chloroform. Then, through the
semi-darkness, he became aware of something red--the crimson of the wall
paper and the curtains of the bed--and then he heard Elena's languid
voice murmuring, 'Thank you so much for coming, Andrea--I feel better
now.'

He made his way to her with some difficulty, being unable to distinguish
things very clearly in the half light.

She smiled wanly at him from among the pillows out of the gloom. Across
her forehead and round her face, like a nun's wimple, lay a band of
white linen which was scarcely whiter than the cheeks it encircled, such
was her extreme pallor. The outer angles of her eyelids were contracted
by the pain of her inflamed nerves, the lower lids quivering
spasmodically from time to time, and the eyes were dewy and infinitely
melting as if veiled by a mist of unshed tears under the trembling
lashes.

A flood of pity and tenderness swept over the young man's heart when he
came close to her and could see her clearly. Very slowly she drew one
hand from under the coverlet and held it out to him. He bent over it
till he half knelt on the edge of the couch and rained kisses thick and
fast upon that burning, fevered hand, and the white wrist with its
hurrying pulse.

'Elena--Elena--my love!'

Elena had closed her eyes, as if to resign herself more wholly to the
ecstasy that penetrated to the most hidden fibre of her being. Then she
turned her hand over that she might feel those kisses on her palm, on
each finger, all round her wrist, on every vein, in every pore.

'Enough!' she murmured at last, opening her eyes again, and passed her
languid hand softly over Andrea's hair.

Her caress, though light, was so ineffably tender, that to the lover's
soul it had the effect of a rose leaf falling into a full cup of water.
His passion brimmed over. His lips trembled under a confused torrent of
words which rose to them but which he could not express. He had the
violent and divine sensation as of a new life spreading in widening
circles round him beyond all physical perception.

'What bliss!' said Elena, repeating her fond gesture, and a tremor ran
through her whole person, visible through the coverlet.

But when Andrea made as if to take her hand again--'No,' she entreated,
'do not move--stay as you are, I like to have you so.'

She gently pressed his head down till his cheek lay against her knee.
She gazed at him a little, still with that caressing touch upon his
head, and then in a voice that seemed to faint with ecstasy she
murmured, lingering over the syllables--

'How I love you!'

There was an ineffable seduction in the way she pronounced the words--so
liquid, so enthralling on a woman's lips.

'Again!' whispered her lover, whose senses were languishing with passion
under the touch of those hands, the sound of that caressing voice. 'Say
it again--go on speaking.'

'I love you,' repeated Elena, noticing that his eyes were fixed upon her
lips, and being perhaps aware of the fascination that emanated from them
while pronouncing the words.

With a sudden movement she raised herself from the pillows, and taking
Andrea's head between her two hands, she drew him to her, and their lips
met in a long and passionate kiss.

Afterwards she fell back again, and lying with her arms stretched
straight along the coverlet at her sides, she gazed at Andrea with wide
open eyes, while one by one the great tears gathered slowly, and
silently rolled down her cheeks.

'What is it, Elena--tell me--What is it?' asked her lover, clasping her
hands and leaning over her to kiss away the tears.

She clenched her teeth and bit her lips to keep back the sobs.

'Nothing--nothing--go now, leave me--please! You shall see me
to-morrow--go now.'

Her voice and her look were so imploring that Andrea obeyed.

'Good-bye,' he said, and kissed her tenderly on the lips, carrying away
upon his own the taste of her salt tears. 'Good-bye! Love me--and do not
forget.'

As he crossed the threshold, he seemed to hear her break into sobs
behind him. He went on a little unsteadily, like a man who is not sure
of his sight. The odour of chloroform lingered in his nostrils like the
fumes of an intoxicating vapour; but, with every step he took, some
virtue seemed to go out of him, to be dissipated in the air. The rooms
lay empty and silent before him. 'Mademoiselle' appeared at a door
without any warning sound of steps or rustle of garments, like a ghost.

'This way Signor Conte, you will not be able to find your way.'

She smiled in an ambiguous and irritating manner, her gray eyes
glittering with ill-concealed curiosity. Andrea did not speak. Once more
the presence of this woman annoyed and disturbed him, arousing an
undefined sense of repulsion and anger in him.

No sooner was he outside the door than he drew a deep breath like a man
relieved from some heavy burden. The gentle splash of the fountain came
through the trees, broken now and then by some clearer, louder sound;
the whole firmament glittered with stars, veiled here and there by long
trailing strips of cloud like tresses of pale hair; carriage lamps
flitted rapidly hither and thither, the life of the great city sent up
its breath into the keen air, bells were ringing far and near. At last,
he had the full consciousness of his overwhelming felicity.



CHAPTER VI


Thus began for them a bliss that was full, frenzied, for ever changing
and for ever new; a passion that wrapped them round and rendered them
oblivious of all that did not minister immediately to their mutual
delight.

'What a strange love!' Elena said once, recalling those first days--her
illness, her rapid surrender--'My heart was yours from the first moment
I saw you.'

She felt a certain pride in the fact.

'And when, on that evening, I heard my name announced immediately after
yours,' her lover replied, 'I don't know why, but I suddenly had the
firm conviction that my life was bound to yours--for ever!'

And they really believed what they said. Together they re-read Goethe's
Roman elegy--_Lass dich, Geliebte, nicht reu'n, dass du mir so schnell
dich ergeben!_--Have no regrets, my Beloved, that thou didst yield thee
so soon--'Believe me, dearest, I do not attribute one base or impure
thought to you. Cupid's darts have varying effects--some inflict but a
slight scratch, and the poison they insinuate lingers for years before
it really touches the heart, while others, well feathered and armed with
a sharp and penetrating point, pierce to the heart's core at once and
send the fever racing through the blood. In the old heroic days of the
loves of the gods and goddesses desire followed upon sight. Think you
that the goddess of Love considered long in the grove of Ida that day
Anchises found favour in her eyes? And Luna?--had she hesitated, envious
Aurora would soon have wakened her handsome shepherd.'

For them, as for Faustina's divine singer, Rome was illumined by a new
light. Wherever their footsteps strayed they left a memory of love. The
forgotten churches of the Aventine--Santa Sabina with its wonderful
columns of Parian marble, the charming garden of Santa Maria del
Priorata, the campanile of Santa Maria in Cosmedin piercing the azure
with its slender rose-coloured spire grew to know them well. The villas
of the cardinals and the princes--the Villa Pamfili mirrored in its
fountains and its lakes, all sweetness and grace, where every shady
grove seems to harbour some noble idyll; the Villa Albani, cold and
silent as a church, with its avenues of sculptured marble and
centenarian trees; where in the vestibules, under the porticos and
between the granite pillars, Caryatides and Hermes, symbols of
immobility, gaze at the immutable symmetry of the verdant lawns; and the
Villa Medici--like a forest of emerald green spreading away in a fairy
tale, and the Villa Ludovici--a little wild--redolent of violets,
consecrated by the presence of that Juno adored by Goethe in the days
when the plane-trees and the cypresses, that one might well have thought
immortal, had already begun to tremble with the foreboding of sale and
death--all the patrician villas, the crowning glory of Rome, became well
acquainted with their love. The picture and sculpture galleries too--the
room in the Borghese where, before Correggio's 'Danae' Elena smiled as
at her own reflection; and the Mirror Room, where her image glided among
the Cupids of Ciro Ferri and the garlands of Mario de' Fiori; the
chamber of Heliodorus, where Raphael has succeeded in making the dull
walls throb and palpitate with life; and the apartments of the Borgias,
where the great fantasia of Penturicchio unfolds its marvellous web of
history, fable, dreams, caprices and audacities; and the Galatea Room,
through which is diffused an ineffable freshness, a perennial serenity
of light and grace; and the room where the Hermaphrodite, that gentle
monster, offspring of the loves of a nymph and a demi-god, extends his
ambiguous form amidst the sparkle of polished stone--all these
unfrequented abodes of Beauty were well acquainted with them.

They echoed fervently the sublime cry of the poet--_Eine Welt zwar bist
du, O Rom!_ Thou art a world in thyself, oh Rome! But as without love
the world would not be the world, so Rome without love would not be
Rome, and the stairway of the Trinità, glorified by the slow ascension
of the Day, became the Stairway of Felicity by the ascent of Elena the
Fair on her way to the Palazzo Zuccari.

'At times,' Elena said to him, 'my feeling for you is so delicate, so
profound, that it becomes--how shall I describe it?--maternal almost!'

Andrea laughed, for she was his senior by barely three years.

'And at times,' he rejoined, 'I feel the communion of our spirits to be
so chaste that I could call you sister while I kiss your hands.'

These fallacious ideas of purity and loftiness of sentiment were but the
reaction after more carnal delights, when the soul experiences a vague
yearning for the ideal. At such times too, the young man's aspirations
towards the art he so much loved were apt to revive. The desire to give
pleasure to his mistress by his literary or artistic efforts drove him
to work. He accordingly wrote _La Simona_, and executed his two
engravings: _The Zodiac_ and _Alexander's Bowl_.

For the execution of his art, he chose by preference, the most
difficult, exact, and incorruptible vehicles--verse and engraving; and
he aimed at adhering strictly to, and reviving, the traditional Italian
methods, by going back to the poets of the _stil novo_, and the painters
who were precursors of the Renaissance. His tendencies were essentially
towards form; his mind more occupied by the expression of his thought
than the thought itself. Like Taine, he considered it a greater
achievement to write three really fine lines, than to win a pitched
battle. His _Story of the Hermaphrodite_ imitated in its structure
Poligiano's _Story of Orpheus_ and contained lines of extraordinary
delicacy, power and melody, particularly in the choruses of hybrid
monsters--the Centaurs, Sirens and Sphinxes. His new tragedy, _La
Simona_, of moderate length, possessed a most singular charm. Written
and rhymed though it was, on the ancient Tuscan rules, it might have
been conceived by an English poet of Elizabeth's time, after a story
from the _Decameron_, and it breathed something of the strange and
delicious charm of certain of the minor dramas of Shakespeare.

On the frontispiece of the single copy, the author had signed his work:
A. S. CALCOGRAPHUS AQUA FORTI SIBI TIBI FECIT.

Copper had greater attractions for him than paper, nitric acid than ink,
the graving-tool than the pen. One of his ancestors before him, Giusto
Sperelli, had tried his hand at engraving. Certain plates of his,
executed about 1520, showed distinct evidences of the influence of
Antonio del Pollajuolo by the depth and acidity, so to speak, of the
design. Andrea used the Rembrandt method _a tratti liberi_ and the
_maniera nera_ so much affected by the English engravers of the school
of Green, Dixon, and Earlom. He had formed himself on all models, had
studied separately the effects sought after by each engraver, had
schooled himself under Albrecht Dürer and Parmigianino, Marc' Antonio
and Holbein, Hannibal Carracci, MacArdell, Guido, Toschi and Audran; but
once his copper plate before him, his one aim was to light up, by
Rembrandtesque effects, the elegance in design of the fifteenth-century
Florentines of the second generation, such as Botticelli, Ghirlandajo
and Filippino Lippi.

One of Andrea's most precious possessions was a bed-cover of finest silk
in faded blue, round the border of which circled the twelve signs of the
Zodiac, each with its appropriate legend: Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer,
Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius, Capricornus, Aquarius,
Pisces--in gothic characters. A flaming golden sun occupied the centre;
the animal figures, drawn in somewhat archaic style, as one sees in
mosaics, were extraordinarily brilliant. The whole thing was worthy to
grace an Emperor's bed, and had, in fact, formed part of the trousseau
of Bianca Maria Sforza, niece of Ludovico the Moor, when she espoused
the Emperor Maximilian.

One of the engravings represented Elena asleep under this celestial
counterpane. The rounded limbs appeared outlined under the silken folds,
the head thrown carelessly back towards the edge of the couch, the hair
rippling in a torrent to the floor, one arm hanging down, the other
stretched along her side. The parts which were left uncovered, the face,
the neck, the shoulders, and the arms, were extremely luminous, and the
stile had reproduced most effectively the glitter of the embroidery in
the half-light and the mysterious quality of the symbols. A tall white
hound, Famulus, brother to the one which lays its head on the knee of
the Countess of Arundel in Rubens' picture, stretched his muzzle towards
the lady, guarding her slumbers, and was designed with much felicitous
boldness of foreshortening. The background of the room was sumptuous and
shadowy.

The other engraving referred to an immense silver basin which Elena had
inherited from her aunt Flaminia.

This basin was historical, and was known as Alexander's Bowl. It had
been given to the Princess of Bisenti by Caesar Borgia on his departure
for France, when he went to carry the Papal Bill of divorce and
dispensation to Louis XII. The design for the figures running round it
and the two which rose over the edge at either side were attributed to
Raphael.

It was called the Bowl of Alexander because it purported to be a
reproduction of the prodigious vessel out of which the famous King of
Macedonia was wont to drink at his splendid festivals. Groups of archers
surrounded its base, their bows stretched, in the admirable attitudes of
those painted by Raphael aiming their arrows at Hermes in the fresco of
that room in the Borghese decorated by John of Bologna. They were in
pursuit of a great Chimera, which emerged over the edge of the bowl in
guise of a handle, while on the opposite side bounded the youthful
Bellerophon, his bow at full stretch against the monster. The ornaments
of the base and the edge were of rare elegance. The inside was gilded,
the metal sonorous as a bell, and weighed three hundred pounds. Its
shape was extremely harmonious.

Never had Andrea Sperelli experienced so intensely both the delight and
the anxiety of the artist who watches the blind and irreparable action
of the acid; never before had he brought so much patience to bear upon
the delicate work of the dry point. The fact was, that like Lucas of
Leyden, he was a born engraver, possessed of an admirable knowledge, or,
more properly speaking, a rare instinct as to the most minute
particularity of time and degree, which may aid in varying the efficacy
of the acid on copper. It was not only practice, industry, and
intelligence, but more especially this inborn, well-nigh infallible
instinct which warned him of the exact instant at which the corrosion
had proceeded far enough to give such and such a value to the shadows
as, in the artist's intention, the engraving required. It was just this
triumph of mind over matter, this power of infusing an æsthetic spirit
into it, as it were, this mysterious correspondence between the throb of
his pulses and the progressive gnawing of the acid that was his pride,
his torment, and his joy.

In his dedication of these works to her, Elena felt herself deified by
her lover as was Isotta di Rimini by the medals which Sigismondo
Malatesta caused to be struck in her honour; and yet, on those days when
Andrea was at work, she would become moody and taciturn, as if under the
influence of some secret grief, or she would give way to such sudden
bursts of tenderness, mingled with tears and half-suppressed sobs, that
the young man was startled and, not understanding her, became
suspicious.

One evening, they were returning on horseback from the Aventine down the
Via di Santa Sabina, their eyes still filled with a vision of imperial
palaces flaming under the setting sun that burned red through the
cypresses and seemed to cover them with golden dust. They rode in
silence, for Elena seemed out of spirits, and her depression had
communicated itself to her lover. As they passed the church of Santa
Sabina, Andrea reined up his horse.

'Do you remember?' he said.

Some fowls, picking about peacefully in the grass, skurried away at the
barking of Famulus. The whole place was as quiet and unassuming as the
purlieus of a village church, but the walls had that singular luminous
glow which the buildings of Rome seem to give out at 'Titian's hour.'

Elena drew up beside him.

'That day--how long ago it seems now!' she said with a little tremor in
her voice.

In truth, the memory of it had already dropped away into the gulf of
time as if their love had endured for years. Elena's words raised that
illusion in Andrea's mind, but, at the same time, a certain uneasiness.
She began recalling the details of their visit to Santa Sabina one
afternoon in January under a prematurely mild sun. She dwelt insistently
upon the most trivial incidents, breaking off from time to time as if
following a separate train of thought, distinct from the words she
uttered. Andrea fancied he caught a note of regret in her voice. Yet,
what had she to regret? Surely their love had many a sweeter day before
it still--the Spring had come again to Rome. Doubting and perplexed, he
ceased to listen to her. The horses went on down the hill at a walk,
side by side, snorting noisily from time to time, and putting their
heads together, as if exchanging confidences. Famulus sped on before, or
bounded after them, perpetually on the gallop.

'Do you remember,' Elena went on, 'do you remember the Brother who came
to open the gates for us when we rang the bell?'

'Yes--yes.'

'And how perfectly aghast he looked when he saw who it was? He was such
a little, little red-faced man without any beard. When he went to get
the keys of the church, he left us alone in the vestibule--and you
kissed me--do you remember?'

'Yes.'

'And all those barrels in the vestibule! And the smell of wine while the
Brother was explaining the legends carved on the cypress-wood door. And
then about the Madonna of the Rosary--do you remember?--his explanation
made you laugh, and I could not help laughing too, and the poor man was
so put out, that he would not open his mouth again, not even to thank
you at the last--'

There was a little pause. Then she began again.

'And at Sant' Alexio, where you would not let me look at the cupola
through the keyhole. How we laughed then too!'

Renewed silence. Along the road towards them came a party of men
carrying a coffin, and followed by a hired conveyance full of tearful
relatives. They were on their way to the Jewish cemetery. It was a grim
and silent funeral. The men with their hooked noses and rapacious eyes
were all as like one another as brothers. The two horses separated to
let the procession pass, keeping close to the wall on either side, and
the lovers looked at each other across the dead, their spirits sinking
lower with every moment.

When presently they rejoined one another, Andrea said--'Tell me--what is
the matter? What is on your mind?'

She hesitated a moment before replying, keeping her eyes on her horse's
neck and stroking it with the end of her riding whip, irresolute and
very pale.

'You have something on your mind,' persisted the young man.

'Very well then--yes--and I had better tell you and get it over. I am
going away next Wednesday. I do not know for how long--perhaps for a
long time--perhaps for ever. I cannot say. We must break with one
another. It is entirely my fault. But do not ask me why--do not ask me
anything, I entreat you--I could not answer you.'

Andrea looked at her incredulously. The thing seemed to him so utterly
impossible that it did not affect him painfully.

'Of course you are only joking, Elena?'

She shook her head; there was a lump in her throat, and she could not
speak. She suddenly set her horse into a trot.

Behind them the bells of Santa Sabina and Santa Prisca began to ring
through the twilight. They trotted on in silence, awakening the echoes
under the arches and among the temples--all the solitary and desolate
ruins on their way. They passed San Giorgio in Velabo on their left,
which still retained a gleam of rosy light on its campanile; they passed
the Roman Forum, the Forum of Nerva already full of blue shadow like
that which hovers over the glaciers at night, and stopped at last at the
Arco dei Pantani, where their grooms and carriages awaited them.

Hardly was Elena out of the saddle, than she held out her hand to Andrea
without meeting his eyes. She seemed in a great hurry to be gone.

'Well?' said Andrea as he helped her into the carriage.

'To-morrow--not this evening--I cannot----'



CHAPTER VII


The Campagna stretched away before them under an ideal light, as a
landscape seen in dreams, where the objects seem visible at a great
distance by virtue of some inward irradiation which magnifies their
outlines.

The closed carriage rolled along smoothly at a brisk trot; the walls of
ancient patrician villas, grayish-white and dim, slid past the windows
with a continuous and gentle motion. Great iron gateways came in view
from time to time, through which you caught a glimpse of an avenue of
lofty beech trees, or some verdant cloister inhabited by antique
statues, or a long green arcade pierced here and there by a laughing ray
of pale sunshine.

Wrapped in her ample furs, her veil drawn down, her hands encased in
thick chamois leather gloves, Elena sat and mutely watched the passing
landscape. Andrea breathed with delight the subtle perfume of heliotrope
exhaled by the costly fur, while he felt Elena's arm warm against his
own. They felt themselves far from the haunts of men--alone--although
from time to time the black carriage of a priest would flit past them,
or a drover on horseback, or a herd of cattle.

Just before they reached the bridge she said--'Let us get out here.'

Here in the open country the light was translucent and cold as the
waters of a spring, and when the trees waved in the wind their
undulation seemed to communicate itself to all the surrounding objects.

She clung close to his arm, stumbling a little on the uneven ground. 'I
am going away this evening,' she said,--'this is the last time----'

There was a moment's silence; then in plaintive tones, and with frequent
pauses in between, she began to speak of the necessity of her departure,
the necessity of their rupture. The wind wrenched the words from her
lips, but she continued in spite of it, till Andrea interrupted her by
seizing her hand.

'Don't!' he cried--'be quiet.'

They walked on struggling against the fierce gusts of wind.

'Don't go--don't leave me! I want you--want you always.'

He had managed to unfasten her glove and laid hold of her bare wrist
with a caressing insistent clasp that was full of tormenting desire.

She threw him one of those glances that intoxicate like wine. They were
quite near the bridge now, all rosy under the setting sun. The river
looked motionless and steely throughout its sinuous length. Reeds swayed
and shivered on the banks, and some stakes, fixed in the clay of the
river-bed to fasten nets, shook with the motion of the water.

He then endeavoured to move her by reminiscences. He recalled those
first days--the ball at the Farnese palace, a certain hunting party out
in the Campagna, their early morning meetings in the Piazza di Spagna in
front of the jewellers' windows, or in the quiet and aristocratic Via
Sistina when she came out of the Barberini palace followed by the flower
girls offering her baskets of roses.

'Do you remember--do you remember?'

'Yes.'

'And that evening--quite at the beginning, when I brought in such a mass
of flowers.--You were alone--beside the window--reading. You remember?'

'Yes--yes.'

'I came in. You scarcely turned your head and you spoke quite harshly to
me--what was the matter?--I do not know. I laid the flowers upon the
tables and waited. You spoke of trivial things at first, with
indifference--without interest. I thought to myself bitterly--"She is
tired of me already--she does not love me." But the scent of the flowers
was very strong--the room was full of it. I can see you now--how you
suddenly seized the whole mass in your two hands and buried your face in
it, drinking in the perfume. When you lifted it again all the blood
seemed to have left your face, and your eyes were swimming in a kind of
ecstasy----'

'Go on--go on!' said Elena feverishly, as she leaned over the parapet
fascinated by the rushing waters below.

'Afterwards, you remember on the sofa--I smothered you in flowers--your
face, your bosom, your shoulders, and you raised yourself out of them
every moment to offer me your lips, your throat, your half closed lids.
And between your skin and my lips I felt the rose leaves soft and cool.
I kissed your throat and a shiver ran through you, and you put out your
hands to keep me away.--Oh, then--your head was sunk in the cushions,
your breast hidden under the roses, your arms bare to the elbow--nothing
in this world could be so dear and sweet as the little tremor of your
white hands upon my temples--do you remember?'

'Yes--go on.'

He went on with ever-increasing fervour. Carried away by his own
eloquence, he was hardly conscious of what he said. Elena, her back
turned to the light, leaned nearer and nearer to him. Under them the
river flowed cold and silent; long slender rushes, like strands of hair,
bent with every gust and trailed on the surface of the water.

He had ceased to speak, but they were gazing into one another's eyes and
their ears were filled with a low continuous murmur which seemed to
carry away part of their life's being--as if something sonorous had
escaped from their very brains and were spreading away in waves of sound
till it filled the whole air about them.

Elena rose from her stooping posture. 'Let us go on,' she said. 'I am so
thirsty--where can we get some water?' They crossed the bridge to a
little inn on the other side, in front of which some carters were
unharnessing their horses with much lively invective. The setting sun
lit up the group of men and beasts vividly.

The people at the inn showed not the faintest sign of surprise at the
entry of the two strangers. Two or three men shivering with ague, morose
and jaundiced, were crouching round a square brazier. A red-haired
bullock-driver was snoring in a corner, his empty pipe still between his
teeth. A pair of haggard, ill-conditioned young vagabonds were playing
at cards, fixing one another in the pauses with a look of tigerish
eagerness. The woman of the inn, corpulent to obesity, carried in her
arms a child which she rocked heavily to and fro.

While Elena drank the water out of a rude earthenware mug, the woman,
with wails and plaints, drew her attention to the wretched infant.

'Look, signora mia--look at it!'

The poor little creature was wasted to a skeleton, its lips purple and
broken out, the inside of its mouth coated with a white eruption. It
looked as if life had abandoned the miserable little body, leaving but a
little substance for fungoid growths to flourish in.

'Feel, dear lady,--its hands are icy cold. It cannot eat, it cannot
drink--it does not sleep any more----'

The mother broke into loud sobs. The ague-stricken men looked on with
eyes full of utter prostration, while the sound of the weeping only drew
an impatient movement from the two youths.

'Come away--come away!' said Andrea, taking Elena by the arm and
dragging her away, after throwing a piece of money on the table.

They returned over the bridge. The river was lighted up by the flames of
the dying day, and in the distance the water looked smooth and
glistening as if great spots of oil or bitumen were floating on it. The
Campagna, stretching away like an ocean of ruins, was of a uniform
violet tint. Nearer the town the sky flushed a deep crimson.

'Poor little thing!' murmured Elena in a tone of heartfelt compassion,
and pressing closer to Andrea.

The wind had risen to a gale. A flock of crows swept across the burning
heavens, very high up, croaking hoarsely.

A sudden passionate exaltation suddenly filled the souls of the two at
sight of this vast solitude. Something tragic and heroic seemed to enter
into their love and the hill-tops of their passion to catch the blaze of
the stormy sunset. Elena stood still.

'I can go no further,' she gasped.

The carriage was still at some distance, standing motionless where they
had left it.

'A little further, Elena, just a step or two! Shall I carry you?'

Then, seized with a sort of frenzy, he burst out again--Why was she
going away? Why did she want to break with him? Surely their destinies
were indissolubly knit together now? He could not live without
her--without her eyes, her voice, the constant thought of her. He was
saturated through and through with love of her--his whole blood was on
fire as with some deadly poison. Why was she running away from him?--He
would hold her fast--would suffocate her on his heart first----No--it
could not, must not be--never!

Elena listened, with bent head to meet the blast, but she did not
answer. Presently she raised her hand and beckoned to the coachman. The
horses pawed and pranced as they started.

'Stop at the Porta Pia,' she called to the man, and entered the carriage
with her lover. Then she turned and with a sudden gesture yielded
herself to his desire, and he kissed her greedily--her lips, her brow,
her hair, her eyes--rapidly, without giving himself time to breathe.

'Elena! Elena!'

A vivid gleam of crimson light reflected from the red brick houses
penetrated the carriage. The ringing trot of several horses came nearer
along the road.

Leaning against her lover's shoulder with ineffable tenderness she
said--'Good-bye, dear love--good-bye--good-bye!'

As she raised herself again, ten or twelve red-coated horsemen passed
to right and left of the carriage returning from a fox hunt. One of
them, the Duke di Beffi, bent low over his saddle to peer in at the
window as he rode by.

Andrea said no more. His whole soul was weighed down by hopeless
depression. The first impulse of revolt over, the childish weakness of
his nature almost led him to give way to tears. He wanted to cast
himself at her feet, to humble himself, to beg and entreat, to move this
woman to pity by his tears. He felt giddy and confused; a subtle
sensation of cold seemed to grip the back of his head and penetrate to
the roots of his hair.

'Good-bye,' repeated Elena for the last time, and the carriage stopped
under the archway of the Porta Pia to let him get out.



CHAPTER VIII


Their final farewells _au grand air_, by Elena's desire, did nothing
towards dissipating Andrea's suspicions. 'What could be her secret
reasons for this abrupt departure?' He tried in vain to penetrate the
mystery; he was oppressed with doubt and fear.

During the first days, the anguish of his loss was so cruelly poignant
that he thought he must die of it. His jealousy, lulled to sleep by the
persistent ardour of Elena's affection, awoke now with redoubled vigour,
and the suspicion that a man was at the bottom of this enigmatical
affair increased his sufferings a hundredfold. Sometimes he would be
seized with sullen anger against the absent woman, a bitter rancour,
almost a desire for revenge, as if she had mystified and duped him in
order to give herself to another. Then again he would feel that he did
not long for her, did not love her any more, had never loved her. But
these fits of oblivion were but of short duration. The Spring had come
again to Rome in a riot of colour and sunshine. The city of limestone
and brick absorbed the light as a parched forest the rain, the papal
fountains rose into a limpid sapphire sky, the Piazza di Spagna was
fragrant as a rose-garden, and above the great flight of steps, alive
with little children, the Trinità de' Monti shone in a blaze of gold.

Excited by the re-awakened beauty of Rome, all that still remained of
Elena's fascination in his blood and his spirit revived and re-kindled.
He was stirred to his very depths by sudden invincible pain, by
implacable inward tumults, by indefinable languors, almost like some
strange renewal of his adolescence.

Andrea's liaison with Elena Muti had been perfectly well known, as
sooner or later every adventure and every flirtation becomes known in
Roman society, or the society of any other city for the matter of that.
Precautions are useless. To the initiated a look, a gesture, a smile
suffices to betray the secret. Besides which, in every society there are
certain persons who make it their business in life to ferret out and
follow up the traces of a love affair with an assiduity only to be
equalled by the hunter of rare game. They are ever on the watch, though
not apparently so; never, by any chance, miss a murmured word, the
faintest smile, a tremor, a blush, a lightning glance. At balls or any
large gatherings, where there is more probability of imprudence, they
are ubiquitous, with ear stretched to catch a fragment of dialogue, and
eye keenly on the watch to note a stolen hand-clasp, a tremulous sigh,
the nervous pressure of delicate fingers on a partner's shoulder.

One such terrible trapper, for example, was Don Filippo del Monte. But
to tell the truth, Elena Muti did not trouble herself overmuch about
what society said of her covering her every audacity with the mantle of
her beauty, her wealth, and her ancient name; and she went on her way
serenely, surrounded by adulation and homage, by reason of a certain
good-natured tolerance which is one of the most pleasing qualities of
Roman society, amounting almost to an article of faith.

In any case, Andrea's connection with the Duchess of Scerni had
instantly raised him enormously in the estimation of the women. An
atmosphere of favour surrounded him and his successes became
astonishing. Moreover, he owed something to his reputation as a
mysterious artist, and two sonnets which he wrote in the Princess di
Ferentino's album became famous, in which, as in an ambiguous diptych,
he lauded in turn a diabolical and an angelic mouth--the one that
destroys souls and the other that sings 'Ave!'

He responded, without a moment's hesitation, to every advance. No longer
restrained by Elena's complete dominion over him, his energies returned
to their original state of disorder. He passed from one liaison to
another with incredible frivolity, carrying on several at the same time,
and weaving without scruple a great net of deceptions and lies, in which
to catch as much prey as possible. The habit of duplicity undermined his
conscience, but one instinct remained alive, implacably alive in
him--the repugnance at all this which attracted without holding him
captive. His will, as useless to him now as a sword of indifferently
tempered steel, hung as if at the side of an inebriated or paralysed
man.

One evening, at the Dolcebuonos', when he had outstayed the rest of the
guests in the drawing-room, full of flowers and still vibrating with a
_Cachoucha_ of Raff's, he had spoken of love to Bianca. He did it almost
without thinking, attracted instinctively by the reflected charm of her
being a friend of Elena's. Maybe too, that the little germ of sympathy
sown in his heart by her kindly championship at the dinner in the Doria
palace was now bearing fruit. Who can say by what mysterious process
some contact--whether spiritual or material--- between a man and a woman
may generate and nourish in them a sentiment which, latent and
unsuspected for long, may suddenly wake to life through unforeseen
circumstances? It is the same phenomenon so often encountered in our
mental world, when the germ of an idea or a shadowy fancy suddenly
reappears before us after a long interval of unconscious development as
a finished picture, a complex thought. The same law governs all the
varying activities of our being; and the activities of which we are
conscious form but a small part of the whole.

Donna Bianca Dolcebuono was the ideal type of Florentine beauty, such as
Ghirlandajo has given us in the portrait of Giovanna Tornabuoni at Santa
Maria Novella. Her face was fair and oval, with a broad white brow, a
sweet and expressive mouth, a nose a trifle _retroussé_ and eyes of that
deep hazel so dear to Firenzuola. She was fond of wearing her hair
parted and arranged in full puffs half way over her cheeks in the quaint
old style. Her name suited her admirably for into the artificial life of
fashionable society she brought a great natural sweetness of temper,
much indulgence for the failings of others, courtesy accorded
impartially to high and low, and a most melodious voice.

On hearing Andrea's hackneyed phrases, she exclaimed in graceful
surprise--

'What, have you forgotten Elena so soon?'

Then after a few days of engaging hesitation, it pleased her to yield to
his solicitations, and she often spoke of Elena to the faithless young
lover, but with perfect frankness and without jealousy.

'But why did she go away sooner than usual this year?' she asked him one
day with a smile.

'I have no idea,' answered Andrea, not without a touch of impatience and
bitterness.

'Then it is all over between you--quite over?'

'For pity's sake, Bianca, let us talk about ourselves,' he retorted
sharply. The subject disturbed and irritated him.

She remained pensive for a moment, as if seeking to unravel some enigma,
then she smiled and shook her head with a little fugitive shadow of
melancholy in her eyes.

'Such is love!' she sighed, and returned Andrea's kisses.

In her he seemed to possess all those charming women of whom Lorenzo the
Magnificent sang:

    'And on every side we find,
    Absence, as men say, estranges,
    Fancy ranges as the eye ranges,
    Out of sight is out of mind.

    Love departs and is not love:
    As from sight the eye departs
    Even so do hearts from hearts;
    And at other hands we prove
    Fancies love as the eyes rove,
    Parted pleasures come again.'

When the summer came, and she was on the point of leaving Rome, she
said to him, without seeking to conceal her gentle emotion--

'When we meet again I know you will not love me any more. That is love.
But think of me always as a friend.'

He did not love her, certainly; nevertheless during the heat and tedium
of the days that followed, certain cadences of that dulcet voice
returned to him like a haunting melody, suggesting visions of a garden,
fresh with splashing fountains, where Bianca wandered in company with
other fair women playing on the viol and singing as in a vignette of the
'Dream of Polyphilo.'

And Bianca passed and was succeeded by others--sometimes two at a time;
but it was finally the little ivory Death's-head which had belonged to
the Cardinal Immenraet, the funereal jewel dedicated to an unknown
Ippolita, that suggested to him the caprice of tempting Donna Ippolita
Albonico.



CHAPTER IX


Donna Ippolita Albonico had a great air of princely nobility in her
whole person, and bore some resemblance to Maria Maddalena of Austria,
wife of Cosimo II. of Medici, whose portrait by Suttermans is at
Florence in the possession of the Corsinis. She affected a sumptuous
style of dress--brocades, velvets, laces--and the high Medici collars
which seemed the most appropriate setting to her superb and imperial
head.

One day at the races, when seated beside her, Andrea was suddenly seized
with the whim to get her to promise to come to the Palazzo Zuccari and
receive the mysterious little clock dedicated to her namesake. Hearing
his audacious words, she frowned, wavering between curiosity and
prudence; but as he, nothing daunted, persevered in the attack, an
irrepressible smile quivered on her lips. Under the shadow of her large
hat with its white plumes, and with her lace-flounced parasol as a
background, she was marvellously handsome.

'_Tibi, Hippolyta!_ Then you will come? I shall be on the look-out for
you all the afternoon, from two o'clock till evening--Is that settled?'

'You must be mad!'

'What have you to fear? I swear that I will not rob Your Majesty of so
much as a glove. You shall remain seated as on a throne, as befits your
regal state, and even in taking a cup of tea, you shall not lay aside
the invisible sceptre you carry for ever in your imperial right hand. On
these conditions is the grace accorded?'

'No.'

But she smiled nevertheless, flattered by this exaltation of the regal
aspect of her beauty, wherein she gloried. And Sperelli continued to
tempt her, always in a tone of banter or entreaty, but adding to the
seduction of his voice a gaze so subtle, so penetrating and disturbing
that, at length, Donna Ippolita, half offended and blushing faintly,
said to him--

'I will not have you look at me like that.'

Few persons besides themselves remained upon the stand. Ladies and
gentlemen strolled up and down across the grass, along the barrier, or
surrounded the victorious horse or the yelling bookmakers, under the
inconstant rays of the sun that came and went between the floating
archipelago of clouds.

'Let us go down,' she said, unaware of Giannetto Rutolo leaning with
watchful eyes upon the railing of the staircase.

As they passed him, Sperelli called back over his shoulder--

'Addio, Marchese--see you again soon. Our race is on directly.'

Rutolo bowed profoundly to Donna Ippolita, and a deep flush rose
suddenly to his face. He seemed to have caught a touch of derision in
Sperelli's greeting. Leaning on the railing, he followed the retreating
couple with hungry eyes. He was obviously suffering.

'Rutolo, be on your guard!' said the Contessa di Lucoli with a malicious
laugh as she passed down the stairs on the arm of Don Filippo del Monte.

The blow struck home. Donna Ippolita and the Conte d'Ugenta having
penetrated as far as the umpire's stand were now retracing their steps.
The lady held her sunshade over her shoulder, twirling the handle
languidly in her fingers; the white cupola stood out round her head like
a halo, and the lace frills rose and fluttered incessantly. Within this
revolving circle, she laughed from time to time at what her companion
said, and a delicate flush stained the noble pallor of her face.
Sometimes they would both stand still.

Under pretext of examining the horses now entering the race-course,
Giannetto turned his field-glass upon the two. His hands trembled
visibly. Every smile, every movement, every glance of Ippolita's was a
sword-thrust in his heart. When he dropped his glass, he was deadly
pale. He had surprised a look in the eyes that met Sperelli's which he
knew full well of old. Everything seemed crumbling to ruins around him.
The love of years was over--irrevocably lost--slain by that glance. The
sun was the sun no longer, life was not life any more.

The grand stand was rapidly refilling; the signal for the third race was
about to be given. The ladies stood up on their seats. A murmur ran
along the tiers like a breeze over a sloping garden. The bell rang. The
horses started like a flight of arrows.

'I shall ride in your honour, Donna Ippolita,' said Andrea Sperelli as
he look leave of her to get ready for the next race, which was for
gentlemen riders--'_Tibi, Hippolyta, Semper!_'

She pressed his hand warmly for luck, never remembering that Giannetto
Rutolo was also among the competitors. When, a moment later, she noticed
him going down the stairs, pale and alone, the unconcealed cruelty of
indifference shone in her beautiful dark eyes. The old love had fallen
away from her like a useless garment, and had given place to the new.
This man was nothing to her, had no claims of any kind upon her now that
she no longer loved him. It is inconceivable how quickly a woman regains
entire possession of her own heart once she has ceased to love a man.

'He has stolen her from me!' he thought to himself, as he made his way
to the Jockey Club tent, and the grass seemed to give beneath his feet
like sand. At a little distance in front of him walked the other with a
firm and elastic step. In his long gray overcoat his tall and shapely
figure had that peculiar and inimitable air of elegance which only
breeding can give. He was smoking, and Giannetto Rutolo, coming up
behind him, caught the delicate aroma of the cigarette with every puff,
causing him an intolerable nausea as if it had been poison.

The Duke di Beffi and Paolo Caligaro were at the entrance, already in
racing dress. The duke was making gymnastic movements to test the
elasticity of his leather breeches and the strength of his knees. Little
Caligaro was execrating last night's rain, which had made the ground
heavy.

'You have a very good chance with _Miching Mallecho_, I consider,' he
remarked to Sperelli when he came up.

Giannetto Rutolo heard this forecast with a bitter pang. He had founded
a vague hope on the event of his own victory. He represented to himself
the advantage he might gain over his enemy by a victorious race and a
successful duel. As he changed his clothes his every movement betrayed
his preoccupation.

'Here is a man who before getting on horseback sees the grave open
before him,' said the duke, laying his hand on the young man's shoulder
with a serio-comic air--'_Ecce homo novus_.'

Andrea Sperelli, who felt in the best of spirits at that moment, gave
vent to one of those frank bursts of laughter which were the most
engaging trait of his youth.

'What are you laughing at?' demanded Rutolo, lividly pale, glaring at
him from under frowning brows.

'It seems to me, my dear fellow,' returned Sperelli unmoved 'that you
are a little out of temper----'

'And if I am?'

'You are at liberty to think what you like about my laughing.'

'Then I think it is idiotic.'

Sperelli bounded to his feet and made a stride forward with uplifted
whip. By a miracle, Paolo Caligaro managed to catch his arm. Violent
words followed. Don Marc Antonio Spada appeared upon the scene and heard
the altercation.

'That's enough, boys--you both know what you have to do
to-morrow--you've got to ride now.'

The two adversaries finished their dressing in silence and then went
out. The news of the quarrel had already spread through the enclosure
and up to the grand stand, increasing the excitement of the race. With
a refinement of perfidy, the Contessa di Lucoli repeated it to Donna
Ippolita.

The latter gave no sign of inward perturbation. 'I am sorry to hear
that,' was her only comment, 'I thought they were friends.'

The crowd surged round the bookmakers. _Miching Mallecho_, the horse of
the Conte d'Ugenta, and _Brummel_, that of the Marchese Rutolo, were the
favourites; then came the Duke di Beffi's _Satirist_ and Caligaro's
_Carbonilla_. However, the best judges had not overmuch confidence in
the two first, thinking that the nervous excitement of their riders must
inevitably tell upon the racing.

But Andrea Sperelli was perfectly calm, not to say gay.

His sense of superiority over his rival gave him assurance; moreover,
his romantic taste for any adventure savouring of peril, inherited from
his Byronic father, shed a halo of glory round the situation, and all
the inborn generosity of his young blood awoke at the prospect of
danger.

With a beating heart, he went forward to meet his horse as to a friend
who was bringing him the news of some great good fortune. He stroked its
nose fondly, and the glances of the animal's eye, an eye that flashed
with the inextinguishable fire of noblest breeding, intoxicated him like
a woman's magnetic gaze.

'Mallecho,' he whispered as he caressed the horse, 'this is a great
day--we must win!'

His trainer, a little red-faced man, who was engaged in scrutinising the
other horses as they were led past by their grooms, answered in his
rough husky voice,--'There's no doubt but you will!'

Miching Mallecho was a superb bay from the stables of the Baron de
Soubeyran, and combined extreme elegance of build with extraordinary
strength of muscle. His fine and shining coat, under which the tracery
of veins was distinctly visible on chest and flank, seemed almost to
exhale a fiery vapour, so intense was the creature's vitality. A
splendid jumper, he had often carried his master in the hunting-field
over every obstacle of the Roman countryside, irrespective of the nature
of the ground, never refusing the highest gate, the most forbidding
wall, for ever at the tail of the hounds. A word from his rider had more
effect on him than the spur, a caress made him quiver with delight.

Before mounting, Andrea carefully examined every strap and buckle, then
with a smile he vaulted into the saddle. As he watched his master move
away the trainer expressed his confidence in an eloquent gesture.

A crowd of bettors pressed round the indicator. Andrea felt that every
eye was upon him. Gazing eagerly at the stand to the right, he tried to
catch sight of Ippolita Albonico, but could distinguish no one among the
multitude of ladies. The Marchesa d'Ateleta, who had heard of the
quarrel, made him a sign of reproof from afar.

'How is the betting on Mallecho?' he asked of Ludovico Barbarisi.

As he moved towards the starting-post, he reflected calmly on the means
he would employ for winning, and considered his three rivals critically,
calculating the strength and science of each of them. Paolo Caligaro was
a tricky devil, as thoroughly versed in all the knavery of the stable as
any jockey; but Carbonilla, although fast, had little staying power. The
Duke di Beffi, a rider of the 'haute école' style, who had come off
victorious in more than one race in England, was mounted on an animal of
uncertain temper which would probably refuse some of the jumps.
Giannetto Rutolo, on the contrary, was riding a well-bred and
well-trained horse, but though he was a very capable rider he was too
impetuous; moreover, this was the first time he had taken part in a
public race. Besides, he must be in a terrible state of nervous
irritation, as was apparent from numerous signs.

As he looked at him, Andrea thought to himself--'I have no doubt that my
victory to-day would influence the course of the duel to-morrow. In both
instances, he will lose his head--it behoves me to keep calm on both
fields----' Then--'I wonder what Donna Ippolita feels about it?' There
seemed to be an unusual silence round about him. With his eye he
measured the distance that separated him from the first hurdle; he
noticed a shining stone on the course; he observed that Rutolo was
watching him, and a tremor ran through him from head to foot.

The bell gave the signal, but Brummel was off too soon and the start was
no good. The second time too they made a false start, and again through
Brummel's fault. Sperelli and the duke exchanged a furtive smile.

The third start was successful. Brummel instantly detached himself from
the group and swept along by the palings. The other three horses
followed abreast for a moment or so, and cleared the first hurdle and
then the second very well. Each of the three riders played a different
game. The Duke di Beffi tried to keep with the group, so that Satirist
might be induced to follow the example of the other horses at the
obstacles; Caligaro moderated Carbonilla's pace in order to save up her
strength for the last five hundred yards. Sperelli increased his speed
gradually with the intention of catching up with his adversary in the
neighbourhood of the most difficult obstacle. In effect, Mallecho soon
distanced his two companions and began to press Brummel very closely.

Rutolo heard the rapidly approaching hoof-thuds behind him and was
seized with such nervousness that his sight seemed to fail him.
Everything swam before his eyes as if he were on the point of swooning.
He made a frightful effort to keep his spurs at his horse's sides,
overcome by terror at the thought that his senses might leave him. There
was a muffled roar in his ears, and through that roar he caught the
hard, clear sound of Andrea Sperelli's 'Hi!'

More susceptible to the voice than any other mode of urging, Mallecho
simply devoured the intervening space; he was not more than two or three
lengths behind Brummel--was on the point of joining--of passing him.

'Hi!'

A high barrier intersected the course. Rutolo actually did not see it,
having lost all sense of his surroundings, and only preserved a furious
instinct to remain glued to his horse and force it along, never mind
how. Brummel jumped, but receiving no aid from his rider, caught his
hind legs against the barrier, and came down so awkwardly on the other
side that the rider lost his stirrups, without, however, coming out of
the saddle, and he continued to run. Andrea Sperelli now took the lead,
Giannetto Rutolo, without having recovered his stirrups, being second,
with Paolo Caligaro close upon his heels; the duke, retarded by a
refusal from Satirist, came last. In this order they passed the grand
stand. They heard a confused clamour but it soon died away.

The spectators held their breath in suspense. From time to time,
somebody would remark aloud on the various incidents of the running. At
every change in the order of the horses numerous exclamations sounded
through the continuous murmur, and the ladies thrilled visibly. Donna
Ippolita Albonico, mounted on a seat, with her hands on the shoulders of
her husband who stood below her, watched the race with marvellous
self-control and without a trace of apparent emotion, unless the
over-tight compression of her lips and a scarcely perceptible furrow
between her brows might have revealed the effort to an observant eye. At
a certain moment, however, she drew her hands away from her husband's
shoulder, fearful of betraying herself by some involuntary movement.

'Sperelli is down!' announced the Contessa di Lucoli in a loud voice.

Mallecho, in jumping, had slipped on the wet grass and come down on his
knees, but recovered himself in an instant. Andrea had gone over his
head, but was none the worse, and with lightning rapidity was back in
the saddle as Rutolo and Caligaro came up with him. Brummel performed
prodigies, in spite of the wounded leg, and showed the quality of his
blood. Carbonilla was at last putting out all her speed, guided with
consummate skill by her rider. There were still about eight hundred
yards to the winning post.

Sperelli saw victory escaping him and gathered up all his forces to
grasp it again. Standing in the stirrups, bent low over his horse's
neck, he uttered from time to time that short, sharp, ringing word which
always acted so effectively upon the noble creature. While Brummel and
Carbonilla, fatigued by the heaviness of the ground, began to lose the
pace, Mallecho steadily increased the vehemence of his rush and had
nearly reconquered his former position, scenting victory already with
his fiery nostrils. Flying over the last obstacle, he passed
Brummel--his head was level with Carbonilla's shoulder--a hundred yards
from the post he skirted the barrier--on--on--leaving Caligaro's black
mare ten lengths behind. The bell rang--a furious clapping of hands,
like the pelting of hail-stones, and then a dull roar spread through the
great crowd on the green sward under the flood of brilliant sunshine.

As he entered the enclosure, Andrea Sperelli thought to
himself--'Fortune is with me to-day, but how will it be to-morrow?' And
feeling the breath of triumph surge round him, a vague sense of
resentment rose up in him against the possibilities of the morrow. He
would have preferred to face it to-day and get it over, that he might
enjoy a double victory and then taste the fruit offered to him by the
hand of Ippolita Albonico. He was possessed, for the moment, by that
inexplicable intoxication which results--with certain men of
intellect--from the exercise of their physical powers, the experience of
their courage and the revelation of their inherent brutality. The
substratum of primitive ferocity which exists at the bottom of most of
us rushes to the surface, on occasion, with curious vehemence, and under
the skin-deep varnish of modern civilisation, our hearts swell sometimes
with a nameless sanguinary fury, and visions of carnage rise up before
us. Inhaling the hot and acrid exhalations of his horse, Andrea Sperelli
felt that none of the delicate perfumes affected by him up till now, had
ever afforded him such intense enjoyment.

He had scarcely quitted the saddle, before he found himself surrounded
by friends of both sexes, eager to congratulate him. Mallecho, breathing
hard, smoking and covered with foam, snorted and stretched his neck,
shaking the bridle. His sides rose and fell with a deep continuous
movement, as if they must burst; his muscles vibrated under skin like a
bow-string after the shot; his eyes, dilated and bloodshot, had the
cruel glare of those of a beast of prey; his coat, now showing great
patches of darker colour, ran down with rivulets of perspiration. The
incessant trembling of his whole body was pitiable to see, like the
suffering of a human being.

'Poor fellow!' murmured one of the ladies.

Andrea examined his knees to see if he had taken any hurt from his fall.
They were sound. Then patting him softly on the neck, he said in an
indefinable tone of gentleness--'Go, Mallecho, go----'

And he followed him with his eyes till he disappeared.

Directly he had changed his clothes, he went in search of Ludovico
Barbarisi and the Baron di Santa Margherita.

Both instantly accepted the office of arranging preliminaries with
Rutolo. He begged them to hasten matters as much as possible.

'Fix it all by this evening. To-morrow by one o'clock I absolutely must
be free. But let me sleep till nine to-morrow morning. I dine with the
Ferentinos, then I shall look in at the Palazzo Giustiniani, and after
that I shall go to the Club, but it will be late--You will know where to
find me. Many thanks, my dear fellows, and _a rividerci_.'

He repaired to the grand stand, but avoided approaching Donna Ippolita
at once. He smiled, feeling every feminine eye upon him. Many
a fair hand was held out, many a sweet voice called him
familiarly--'Andrea'--some of them even a little ostentatiously. The
ladies who had bet upon his horses told him the amount of their
winnings, others asked curiously if he were really going to fight.

It seemed to him that in one day he had reached the summit of
adventurous glory. He had come out victor in a record race, had gained
the graces of a new love, magnificent and serene as a Venetian
Dogaressa, had provoked a man to mortal combat and now was passing calm
and courteous--but neither more so nor less than usual--amid the openly
adoring smiles of all these fair women.

'See the conquering hero comes!' cried Ippolita's husband with
outstretched hand and pressing Andrea's with unusual warmth.

'Yes, indeed; quite a hero!' echoed Donna Ippolita in the superficial
tone of necessary compliment, affecting ignorance of the real drama.

Sperelli bowed and passed on, feeling strangely embarrassed by
Albonico's excessive friendliness. A suspicion crossed his mind that he
was grateful to him for having provoked a quarrel with his wife's lover,
and the cowardice of the man brought a supercilious smile to his lips.

Returning from the races on the Prince di Ferentino's mail coach, he
espied Giannetto Rutolo tearing back to Rome in a little two-wheeled
trap behind a great fast-trotting roan; bending forward with head down,
a cigar between his teeth and utterly regardless of the injunctions of
the police to keep in the line. Rome rose up before them, black against
a band of saffron light, and in the violet sky above that light the
statues on the Basilica of San Giovanni stood out exaggeratedly large.
And Andrea then fully realised the pain he was inflicting on this man's
soul.



CHAPTER X


At the Palazzo Giustiniani that evening, Andrea said to Ippolita
Albonico, 'Well then, it is a fixed thing that I expect you to-morrow
between two and five?'

She would like to have said: 'Then you are not going to fight
to-morrow?' but she did not dare.

'I have promised,' she replied.

A minute or two afterwards, her husband came up to Andrea and taking his
arm with much effusion, began asking particulars about the duel. He was
a youngish man, slim, with very thin fair hair and colourless eyes and
projecting teeth. He had a slight stammer.

'Well, well--so it is to come off to-morrow, is it?'

Andrea could not repress his disgust, and let his arm hang loosely at
his side to show that he was in no mood for these familiarities. Seeing
the Baron di Santa Margherita enter the room, he disengaged himself
quickly.

'Excuse me, Count,' he said, 'I want to speak to Santa Margherita.'

The Baron met him with the assurance that all was in order. 'Very
good--at what hour?'

'Half-past ten at the Villa Sciarra. Rapiers and fencing-gloves, _à
outrance_.'

'Whom else have you got for seconds?'

'Roberto Casteldieri and Carlo de Souza. We settled everything as
quickly as possible, avoiding formalities. Giannetto had got his seconds
already. We arranged the proceedings at the Club without any fuss. Try
not to be too late in going to bed--you must be dead tired.'

But, heedless of this good advice, on leaving the Palazzo Giustiniani,
Andrea betook himself to the Club, where Santa Margherita came upon him
at two o'clock in the morning, and, forcing him to leave the
card-tables, bore him off on foot to the Palazzo Zuccari.

'My dear boy,' he said reproachfully as they walked along, 'you are
really foolhardy. In a case like this, the smallest imprudence might
lead to fatal results. To preserve his full strength and activity, a
good swordsman should have as much care for his person as a tenor has
for his voice. The wrist is as delicate an organ as the throat--the
articulations of the legs as sensitive as the vocal chords. The
mechanism suffers from the smallest disturbance; the instrument gets out
of gear and will not answer to the player. After a night of play or
drink, Camillo Agrippa himself could not thrust straight, and his
parries were neither sure nor rapid. An error of a hair's breadth will
suffice to let three inches of steel into one's body.' They were at the
top of the Via Condotti, and in the distance they could see the Piazza
di Spagna, lighted up by the full moon, the stairway bathed in silver,
and the Trinità de' Monti rising into the soft blue.

'Certainly,' continued the Baron, 'you have great advantages over your
adversary, amongst others, a cool head--also you have been out before. I
saw you in Paris in your affair with Gauvaudan--you remember? A grand
duel that! You fought like a god!'

Andrea laughed, much gratified. The praise of this unrivalled duellist
made his heart swell with pride, and infused fresh vigour into his
muscles. Instinctively, he grasped his walking stick, and repeated the
famous pass which pierced the arm of the Marquis de Gauvaudan the
previous winter.

'Yes,' he said, 'it was a direct return hit after a parry of "contre de
tierce."'

'On the floor, Giannetto Rutolo is a skilful swordsman, but in the open
he gets confused. He has only been out once before with my cousin
Cassibile, and he came off badly. He does far too much of the one,
two,--one, two, three business in attacking. Stop thrusts and hits with
a _half volte_ would be useful to you. It was just in that way that my
cousin touched him in the second round. And those thrusts are your
special _forte_. Keep a sharp look-out and try to keep your distance.
And do not forget that you have to do with a man whom, as I hear, you
have robbed of his mistress, and to whom you lifted your whip.'

They had reached the Piazza di Spagna. The Barcaccia splashed and
gurgled softly, glistening under the moon that was mirrored in its
waters. Four or five hackney carriages stood in a line with their lamps
lighted. From the Via del Babuino came a tinkle of bells, and the dull
tramp of hoofs, as of a herd in motion.

At the foot of the steps the Baron took leave of him.

'Good-bye then, till to-morrow. I shall be with you a little before nine
with Ludovico. You must make a pass or so, just to unstiffen the
muscles. We will see about the doctor. Off with you now and get a good
sleep.'

Andrea mounted the steps. At the first broad landing, he stood still to
listen to the tinkle of the approaching bells. In truth, he did feel
rather tired, and even a little heartsick. Now that the excitement
called up by the conversation on fencing, and the recollection of his
former doughty deeds in that line had subsided, a sense of
dissatisfaction had come upon him, confusedly, as yet, and mingled with
doubt and regret. After being on the stretch throughout the violent
feverish incidents of the day, his nerves relaxed under the balmy
influences of the spring night. Why should he, without any excuse of
passion, out of mere caprice, from pure vanity and arrogance, have taken
pleasure in awakening the hatred, and deeply wounding the heart of a
fellow man? The thought of the horrid pain that must be torturing his
adversary filled him with a sort of compassion. Elena's image flashed
before him, and he called to mind the anguish he had endured the year
before, what time he had lost her--his jealousy, his anger, his nameless
torments. Then, as now, the nights were serene and calm, and filled
with perfume, and yet how they weighed upon his spirit! He inhaled the
fragrant breath of the roses blooming in the little gardens about, and
watched the flock of sheep passing through the Piazza below.

The mass of thick white fleece advanced with a continuous undulating
motion, a compact and unbroken surface, like a muddy wave pouring over
the pavement. A sharp quavering bleat would mingle with the tinkling
bells to be answered by other voices, fainter and more timid; from time
to time, the mounted shepherds, riding at either side or behind the
flock, gave a sharp word of command, or used their long staves. The
splendour of the moonlight lent to this passage of flocks through the
midst of the slumbering city the mystery of things seen in a dream.

Andrea recalled one serene February night when, on coming away from a
ball at the English Embassy, he and Elena had met a flock of sheep in
the Via Venti Settembre which obliged their carriage to stop. Elena, her
face pressed to the window, watched the sheep crowding against the
carriage wheels, and pointed to the little lambs with childish delight;
and he with his face close to hers, his eyes half closed, listened to
the pattering hoofs, the bleating, the tinkling bells.

Why should these recollections of Elena come back to him just now?--He
resumed his way slowly up the steps, his feet heavy with fatigue, his
knees giving way beneath him. Suddenly the thought of death flashed
across his mind. 'What if I were killed, or received such a wound as to
maim me for life?' But his thirst for life and pleasure caused his whole
being to revolt against such a sinister possibility. 'I _must_ come off
victorious!' he said to himself. And he began reviewing all the
advantages that would fall to him from this second victory: the prestige
of his success, the fame of his prowess, Ippolita's kisses, new loves,
new pleasures, the gratification of new whims.

Presently, however, he bethought him of the necessary precautions for
insuring his bodily vigour. He went to bed and slept soundly till he
was awakened by the arrival of his seconds; took his customary
shower-bath; had a strip of linoleum laid down and invited Santa
Margherita and then Barbarisi to exchange a few passes with him, during
which he executed with precision several stop thrusts.

'In capital form!' the Baron congratulated him.

Sperelli then took two cups of tea and some biscuits, donned a very easy
pair of trousers, comfortable shoes with low heels and a very slightly
starched shirt; he prepared his gloves by moistening the palm slightly
and rubbing in powdered resin; arranged a leather strap for fastening
the guard to his wrist; examined the blade and the point of both
rapiers; omitted no precaution, no detail.

When all was to his satisfaction--'Let us be going now,' he said;
'better be on the ground before the others. What about the doctor?'

'He will be waiting for us there.'

On the way down stairs they met Grimiti, who had come on behalf of the
Marchesa d'Ateleta.

'I shall follow you to the Villa and then bring the news as quickly as
possible to Francesca,' said he.

They all went down together. The Duke jumped into his buggy and the
others entered a closed carriage. Andrea made no show of indifference or
good spirits--to make jokes before engaging in a serious duel seemed to
him execrably bad taste--but he was perfectly calm. He smoked and
listened composedly to Santa Margherita and Barbarisi, who were
discussing--apropos of a recent case in France--whether it was
legitimate or not to use the left hand against an adversary. Now and
again, he leaned forward to look out of the window.

On this May morning Rome shone resplendent under the caressing sun. Here
a fountain lit up with its silvery laughter a little piazzetta still
plunged in shadow; there the open gates of a palace disclosed a vista of
courtyard with a background of portico and statues; from the baroque
architecture of a brick church hung the decorations for the month of
Mary. Under the bridge, the Tiber gleamed and glistened as it hurried
away between the gray-green houses towards the island of San Bartolomeo.
After a short ascent, the whole city spread out before them, immense,
imperial, radiant, bristling with spires and columns and obelisks,
crowned with cupolas and rotundas, clean cut out of the blue like a
citadel.

'_Ave Roma, moriturus te salutat!_' exclaimed Andrea Sperelli, throwing
away the end of his cigarette. 'Though, to tell the truth, my dear
fellows.' he added, 'a sword-thrust would decidedly inconvenience me
this morning.'

They had reached the Villa Sciarra, already partially profaned by the
builders of modern houses, and were passing through an avenue of tall
and slender laurels bordered by hedges of roses. Santa Margherita,
putting his head out of the window, caught sight of another carriage
standing in the drive before the villa.

'They are waiting for us,' he said.

He consulted his watch--ten minutes yet to the hour agreed upon. He got
out of the carriage and went across with the other seconds and the
surgeons to the opponents. Andrea stayed behind in the avenue. He went
over, in his own mind, certain points of attack and defence he hoped to
employ successfully, but the miracles of light and shadow playing
fitfully through the interlacing laurels distracted his attention. While
his mind was occupied with the position of the wound he intended
inflicting, his eyes were attracted by the reeds shivering in the
morning breeze, and the trees, tender as the amorous allegories of
Petrarch, sighed gently over a head that was wholly absorbed in plans of
dealing a mortal blow.

Barbarisi came to call him.

'Everything is ready,' he said. 'The caretaker has opened the villa for
us--we have the rooms on the ground floor at our disposal--most
convenient. Come and undress.'

Andrea followed him. While he undressed, the two surgeons opened their
surgical cases and displayed the array of glittering steel instruments
within. One of them was a youngish man, pale, bald, and with feminine
hands and a hard mouth, with a continual and visible contraction of the
lower jaw, which was extraordinarily developed. The other was a thickset
man of mature years with a freckled face, bushy red beard and the neck
of an ox. The one seemed the antithesis of the other, and their
disparity excited Sperelli's curiosity and attention. They set out upon
a table bandages and carbolic acid for disinfecting the weapons. The
smell of the acid diffused itself through the room.

As soon as Sperelli was ready, he went out accompanied by his second and
the surgeons. Once again, the view of Rome seen through the laurels
attracted his eyes and made his heart beat fast. He was full of
impatience. He wished he could put himself on guard at that very
instant, and hear the signal for the attack. He seemed to have the
decisive thrust, the victory in his hand.

'Ready?' asked Santa Margherita advancing to meet him.

'Quite ready.'

The spot chosen for the encounter was a path at the side of the villa,
in the shade, and covered with fine rolled gravel. Rutolo was already
stationed there, at the further end, with Roberto Casteldieri and Carlo
di Souza. Everybody wore a grave, not to say solemn, air. The two
adversaries were placed opposite to one another and their eyes met.
Santa Margherita, who had the direction of the combat, noticed that
Rutolo's shirt was very stiffly starched and the collar too high. He
remarked upon it to Casteldieri who exchanged a few words with his
principal, and Sperelli saw the blood rush to his adversary's face while
he proceeded resolutely to divest himself of his shirt. Andrea with cold
composure followed his example. He then turned up his trousers and Santa
Margherita handed him the glove, the strap and the rapier. He armed
himself with scrupulous care, and shook his weapon slightly to see that
he had it well in hand. The movement brought out the play of his biceps
very visibly bearing witness to long practice of the arm and the
strength it had thereby acquired.

When the two combatants measured their swords for the distance, that of
Giannetto Rutolo shook convulsively. After the usual set phrases as to
the honour and good faith of the combatants, Santa Margherita gave the
word in a ringing powerful voice.

'Gentlemen--on guard!'

The duellists threw themselves on guard simultaneously; Rutolo, with a
stamp of the foot, Sperelli, bending forward lightly. Rutolo was of
medium height, very slender, all nerves, with an olive face, to which
the curled moustaches and the little pointed beard à la Charles I. in
Van Dyck's pictures lent a certain piquant and dashing air. Sperelli was
taller, more dignified, admirable of attitude, calm and collected,
perfectly balanced between grace and strength, his whole person
proclaiming the _grand seigneur_. They looked each other full in the
eye, and each experienced a curious internal thrill at the sight of the
bare flesh against which he pointed his sharp blade. Through the silence
came the fresh murmur of the fountain mingled with the rustle of the
breeze among the climbing rose-bushes, where innumerable yellow and
white roses nodded their fragrant heads.

'Play!' cried the Baron.

Andrea was prepared for an impetuous attack from Rutolo, but the latter
did not move. For about a minute, they stood watching each other closely
without ever crossing swords, almost motionless. Sperelli bending his
knees still more, on guard with the point low, assumed the tierce guard
and sought to provoke his adversary by the insolent challenge of his
eyes and by stamping his foot. Rutolo made a step forward with a menace
of straight thrust, accompanying it with a cry after the manner of
certain Sicilian fencers. The duel began.

Sperelli avoided any decisive movement, restricting himself to parrying
only, forcing his opponent to discover his intentions, to exhaust all
his methods, to bring out his whole repertoire of sword-play. His
parries were neat and rapid, never yielding a foot of ground, admirable
in precision, as if he were taking part in a fencing match in the school
with blunt foils; whereas Rutolo attacked him warmly, accompanying each
thrust with a hoarse cry like that of the wood-cutters when they use
their hatchets.

'Halt!' cried Santa Margherita, whose vigilant eye marked every flash of
the blades.

He went up to Rutolo, 'You are touched, if I am not mistaken,' he said.

True, Rutolo had a scratch on the forearm, but so slight that there was
no need even of sticking-plaster. Nevertheless, he was breathing hard,
and his livid pallor bore witness to his suppressed anger.

'I know my man thoroughly now,' whispered Sperelli with a smile to
Barbarisi. 'You watch the second round. I mean to pink him on the right
breast.'

As he spoke, he absently rested the point of his rapier on the ground.
The bald young surgeon with the strong jaw immediately came up to him
with a sponge soaked in carbolic acid and proceeded to purify the weapon
again.

'Good heavens!' Andrea exclaimed in a low voice to Barbarisi, 'he has
all the air of a _jettatore_. This rapier is certain to break.'

A thrush began to sing somewhere in the trees. Here and there a rose
scattered its petals on the breeze. Some low-lying fleecy clouds rose to
meet the sun, broke up into airy flakes and gradually dispersed.

'On guard!'

Conscious of his inferiority, Rutolo determined to hamper his opponent's
play, to attack him at close quarters and so break his continuity of
action. For this he enjoyed the advantage of shorter stature and a frame
which, being wiry, thin and flexible, offered but little mark to the
other's weapon.

Andrea foresaw that Rutolo would adopt this plan. He stood on guard,
bent like a taut bow, watching for the right moment.

'Halt!' cried Santa Margherita.

A streak of blood showed on Rutolo's breast. The rapier had penetrated,
just under the right breast, almost to the rib. The surgeons hurried
over, but the wounded man instantly turned to Casteldieri, and with a
tremor of anger in his voice said roughly:--

'It is a mere scratch. I shall go on.'

He refused to go inside to have the wound-dressed. The bald doctor,
after squeezing the small hole, which scarcely bled, and sponging it
with antiseptic lotion, applied a simple piece of lint and said:--

'You may go on now.'

At Casteldieri's invitation, the Baron gave the word without delay for
the third round.

'On guard!'

Sperelli perceived his danger. Directly in front of him stood his
adversary, his knees firmly bent, masked, as it were, behind his rapier,
his whole strength resolutely collected for one supreme effort. His eyes
had a singular glitter, and the calf of his left leg quivered
perceptibly under the excessive tension of the muscles. This time, in
order to avoid the shock of his opponent's impetus, Andrea determined to
throw himself to one side and repeat the thrust which Cassibile had
employed so successfully, the white patch of lint on Rutolo's breast
serving him as a mark. It was there he proposed wounding him again, but,
this time, the rapier should enter the intercostal space and not be
deterred by the rib. The silence all about them deepened, the spectators
felt the homicidal desire that animated the two men, and were seized
with apprehension, their hearts sinking at the thought that doubtless
they would have to carry away a dead or dying man. The sun, veiled by
fleecy cloudlets, shed a milky light over the scene, the trees rustled
fitfully, the thrush sang on invisible.

'Play!'

Rutolo charged his adversary with a double derobe. Sperelli parried and
returned, giving way a step. Rutolo followed up furiously with a rush of
rapid thrusts, nearly all in the low line, without uttering the usual
cries. Sperelli, nothing daunted by this onslaught, and wishing to avoid
an actual hand-to-hand fight, parried vigorously, and returned with such
directness that he might, had he so wished, have run his adversary
through the body each time. Rutolo's leg was bleeding near the groin.

'Halt!' cried Santa Margherita the moment he perceived it.

But in the same instant Sperelli, parrying low quarte and not
encountering his adversary's blade, received a thrust full in the
breast. He fell back into Barbarisi's arms and fainted.

'Wound penetrating the thorax through the fourth intercostal space on
the right side with superficial wound of the lung,' pronounced the
bull-necked surgeon, after his examination in the room to which they had
conveyed the wounded man.



BOOK II



CHAPTER I


Convalescence is a purification, a new birth. Never is life so sweet as
after the pangs of physical suffering, and never is the human soul so
inclined towards purity and faith as after having had a glimpse into the
abyss of death.

After his terrible wound, after a long, slow, agonising struggle, Andrea
Sperelli came back to life renewed in body and spirit--like another man,
like a creature risen out of the icy waters of death, with a mind swept
bare of all that has gone before. The past had receded into the dim
perspective, the troubled waters had calmed, the mud sunk to the bottom;
his soul was cleansed. He returned to the bosom of Mother Nature, and he
felt her re-inforce him maternally with goodness and with strength.

The guest of his cousin at her villa of Schifanoja, Andrea returned to
life again in sight of the sea. The convalescent drew his breath in
harmony with the deep, calm breath of the ocean; his mind was
tranquillised by the serenity of the horizon. Little by little, in these
hours of enforced idleness and retirement, his spirit expanded, bloomed
out, erected itself slowly, like the grass trodden under foot on the
pathway, and he returned to truth and simple faith, became natural and
free of heart, open to the knowledge and disposed to the contemplation
of pure things.

August was drawing to a close. An ecstatic serenity reigned over the
sea; the waters were so transparent that they repeated every image with
absolute fidelity, and their ultimate line melted so imperceptibly into
the sky that the two elements seemed as one, impalpable and
supernatural. The wide amphitheatre of hills, clothed with olives,
oranges and pines and all the noblest forms of Italian vegetation,
embraced the silent sea, and seemed not a multiplicity of things, but a
single vast object under the all-pervading sunshine.

Lying on the grass, or sitting on a rock or under a tree, the young man
felt the river of life flow within him; as in a trance, he seemed to
feel the whole universe throb and palpitate in his breast; in a species
of religious rapture, he felt that he possessed the infinite. That which
he experienced was ineffable, divine. The vista before him opened out by
degrees into a profound and long continued vision, the branches of the
trees overhead supported the firmament, filling the blue, and shining
like the garlands of immortal poets. And he gazed and listened and
breathed with the sea and the earth, placid as a god.

Where were now all his vanities and his cruelties, his schemes and his
duplicities? What had become of all his loves and his illusions, his
disappointments and his disgusts, and the implacable reaction after
pleasure? He remembered none of them. His spirit had renounced them all,
and with the absence of desire, he had found peace.

Desire had abandoned its throne and intellect was free to follow its
proper course, and reflect the objective world purely from the outside
point of view; things appeared clearly and precisely under their true
form, in their true colours, in all their real significance and beauty;
every personal sentiment was in abeyance.

'_Die Sterne, die begehrt man nicht--Man freut sich ihrer Pracht._'

One desires not the stars, but rejoices in their splendour--and for the
first time in his life the young man really recognised the poetic
harmony of summer skies at night.

These were the last nights of August, and there was no moon. Innumerable
in the deep starry vault, the constellations throbbed and palpitated
with ardent life. The two Bears, Hercules, Cassiopeia, glittered with so
rapid a palpitation that they seemed almost to approach the earth, to
penetrate the terrestrial atmosphere. The Milky Way flowed wide like a
regal aërian river, a confluence of the waters of Paradise, over a bed
of crystal between starry banks. Brilliant meteors cleft the motionless
air from time to time, gliding lightly and silently as a drop of water
over a sheet of glass. The slow and solemn respiration of the sea
sufficed to measure the peace of the night without disturbing it, and
the pauses were almost sweeter than the music.

In every aspect of the things around him he beheld some analogy to his
own inner life. The landscape became to him a symbol, an emblem, a sign
to guide him through the labyrinthine passes of his own soul. He
discovered secret affinities between the visible life around him and the
intimate life of his desires and memories. 'To me, high mountains are a
_feeling_'--and as the mountains were to Byron, so the sea was to him a
_sentiment_.

Oh, that limpid September sea! Calm and guileless as a sleeping child,
it lay outstretched beneath the pearly sky--now green, the delicate and
precious green of malachite, the little red sails upon it like
flickering tongues of fire, now intensely--almost one might call it
heraldically--blue, and veined with gold like lapis-lazuli, with
pictured sails upon it as in a church procession. At other times, it
took on a dull metallic lustre as polished silver mingled with the
greenish-yellow tint of ripe lemons, indefinable, strange and delicate,
and the sails would come crowding like the wings of the cherubim in the
background of a Giotto picture.

Forgotten sensations of early youth came back to him, that impression of
freshness which the salt breath of the sea infuses into young blood, the
indescribable effects produced by the changing lights and shadows, the
tints, the smell of the salt water upon the unsullied soul. The sea was
not only a delight to his eyes, but also an inexhaustible wellspring of
peace, a magic fount of youth wherein his body regained health, and his
spirit nobility. The ocean had for him the mysterious attraction of a
mother country, and he abandoned himself to it with filial confidence,
as a feeble child might sink into the arms of an omnipotent mother. And
he received comfort and encouragement; for who ever confided his pain,
his yearnings or his dreams to her in vain?

For him the sea had ever a profound word, some sudden revelation, some
unlocked for enlightenment, some unexpected significance. She revealed
to him, in the secret recesses of his soul, a wound still gaping though
quiescent, and she made it bleed again, but only to heal it with balm
that was doubly sweet. She re-awakened the dragon that slumbered within
him, till he felt once more the terrible grip of its claws, and then she
slew it once for all and buried it deep in his heart never to rise
again. No corner of his being but lay open to the great Consolatrix.

But at times, under the continuous dominion of this influence, under the
persistent tyranny of this fascination, the convalescent was conscious
of a sort of bewilderment and fear, as if both the dominion and
fascination were insupportable to his weak state. The incessant colloquy
between him and the sea gave him a vague sense of prostration, as if the
sublime language were beyond his restricted powers, so eager to grasp
the meaning of the incomprehensible.

But this period of visions, of abstractions, of pure contemplativeness
was of short duration. By degrees, he began to resume his attitude of
self-consciousness, to recover the sensation of his personality, to
return to his original frame of mind. One day at the hour of high noon,
the vast and terrible silence when all life seems suspended, a sudden
glimpse into his own heart revealed shuddering abysses, inextinguishable
desires, ineffaceable memories, accumulations of suffering and
regret--all the wretchedness he had gone through, all the inevitable
scars of his vices, all the results of his passions. He seemed to be
witnessing the shipwreck of his whole life. A thousand voices cried to
him for succour, imploring aid, cursing death--voices that he knew, that
he had listened to in days gone by. But they cried and implored and
cursed in vain, feeling that they were perishing, choked by the hungry
waves; then the voices grew faint, broken, irrecognisable--and died away
into silence.

He was alone. Of all his youth, of all his boasted fulness of inner
life, of all his ideality, not a vestige remained; within--a black and
yawning abyss, around him--impassive nature, endless source of pain to
solitary souls. Every hope was dead, every voice mute, every anchor
gone--what use was life?

Suddenly the image of Elena rose up before him, then that of other women
whom he had known and loved. Each of them smiled a hostile smile, and
each one, as she vanished, seemed to carry away something of him--what,
he could not definitely say. An unspeakable distress weighed upon him,
an icy breath of age swept over him, a tragic, warning voice rang
through his heart--Too late! Too late!

All his recent comfort and peace seemed now a vain delusion, a dream
that had flown, a pleasure enjoyed by some other spirit. Every wound he
had ruthlessly dealt to his soul's dignity bled afresh; every
degradation he had inflicted upon his conscience started out and spread
like a leprosy. Every violation he had committed upon his ideality
roused an endless, despairing, terrible remorse in him. He had lied too
flagrantly, had deceived, debased himself beyond all power of redress.
He loathed himself and all his evil works--Shame! Shame! Nothing could
wipe out those dishonouring stains, no balm could ever heal those
wounds, he must for ever endure the torment of that
self-loathing.--Shame!----

His eyes filled with tears, and dropping his head upon his arms he
abandoned himself to the weight of his misery, prostrate as a man who
has no hope of salvation.

With the new day, he awoke to new life, one of those awakenings, so
fresh and limpid, that are only vouchsafed to adolescence in its
triumphant springtide. It was a marvellous morning--only to breathe the
air was pure delight. The whole earth rejoiced in the living light; the
hills were wrapped about with a diaphanous silvery veil and seemed to
quiver with life, the sea appeared to be traversed by rivulets of milk,
by rivers of crystal and of emerald, by a thousand currents forming the
rippling intricacies of a watery labyrinth. A sense of nuptial joy and
religious grace emanated from the concord between earth and sky.

And he breathed and gazed and listened, not a little surprised During
his sleep the fever had left him. He had slumbered, lulled by the voice
of the waters as if by the voice of a faithful friend--and he who sleeps
to the sound of that lullaby enjoys a repose that is full of healing
peace.

He gazed and listened mutely, fondly, letting the flood of immortal life
penetrate to his heart's core. Never had the sacred music of a great
master--an Offertory of Haydn, a Te Deum of Mozart--produced in him the
emotion caused now by the simple chimes of the distant village churches,
as they greeted the rising of the sun into the heavens. His soul swelled
and overflowed with unspeakable emotion. Some vision, vague but sublime,
hovered over him like a rippling veil through which gleamed the
splendour of the mysterious treasure of ultimate felicity. Up till now,
he had always known exactly what he wished for, and had never found any
pleasure in desiring vainly. Now, he could not have named his desire,
but he had no doubts that the thing wished for was infinitely sweet,
since the very act of wishing was bliss. The words of the Chimera in
'The King of Cyprus'--old world, half-forgotten verses, recurred to him
with all the force of a caressing appeal--

                                   'Would'st thou fight?
    Would'st kill? would'st thou behold rivers of blood?
    Great heaps of gold? white herds of captive women?
    Slaves? other, and far other spoils? Would'st thou
    Bid marble breathe? Would'st thou set up a temple?
    Would'st fashion an immortal hymn? Would'st (hearken,
    Hearken, O youth, hearken!)--would'st thou divinely
    Love?'

He smiled faintly to himself. 'Whom should I love?--Art?--a woman?--what
woman?' Elena seemed far removed from him, lost to him, a
stranger--dead. The others--still further off, dead for evermore.
Therefore he was free. But why renew a pursuit so useless and so
perilous? Why stretch out his hand again towards the tree of knowledge?
'The tree of knowledge has been plucked--all's known!' as Byron said in
Don Juan. What he desired, at the bottom of his heart, was to give
himself freely, gratefully to some higher and purer being. But where to
find that being was the question.

Truly his salvation in the future lay rather in the practice of caution,
prudence, sagacity. His tone of mind seemed to him admirably expressed
in a sonnet of a contemporary poet, whom, from a certain affinity of
literary tastes and similar æsthetic education, he particularly
affected--

    'I am as one who lays himself to rest
    Under the shadow of a laden tree;
    Above his head hangs the ripe fruit, and he
    Is weary of drawing bow or arbalest.

    He shakes not the fair bough that lowliest
    Droops, neither lifts he hand, nor turns to see;
    But lies, and gathers to him indolently
    The fruits that drop into his very breast.

    In that juiced sweetness, over-exquisite,
    He bites not deep; he fears the bitterness;
    Yet sets it to his lips, that he may smell,

    Sucks it with pleasure, not with greediness,
    And he is neither grieved nor glad at it.
    This is the ending of the parable.'

Art! Art! She was the only faithful mistress--forever young--immortal;
there was the Fountain of all pure joys, closed to the multitude but
freely open to the elect; that was the precious Food which makes a man
like unto a god! How could he have quaffed from other cups after having
pressed his lips to that one?--how have followed after other joys when
he had tasted that supreme one?

'But what if my intellect has become decadent?--if my hand has lost its
cunning? What if I am no longer _worthy_?' He was seized with such panic
at the thought, that he set himself wildly to find some immediate means
of proving to himself the irrational nature of his fears. He would
instantly compose some difficult verses, draw a figure, engrave a plate,
solve some problem of form. Well--and what then? Might not the result be
entirely fallacious? The slow decay of power may be imperceptible to the
possessor--that is the terrible thing about it. The artist who loses his
genius little by little is unaware of his progressive feebleness, for as
he loses his power of production he also loses his critical faculty, his
judgment. He no longer perceives the defects of his work--does not know
that it is mediocre or bad. That is the horror of it! The artist who has
fallen from his original high estate is no more conscious of his
failings than the lunatic is aware of his mental aberration.

Andrea was seized with terror. Better--far better be dead! Never, as at
this moment, had he so fully grasped the divine nature of that _gift_,
never had the _spark_ of genius appeared to him so sacred. His whole
being was shaken to its foundations by the mere suggestion that that
gift might be destroyed, that spark extinguished. Better to die!

He lifted his head and shook off his inertia, then he went down to the
park and walked slowly under the trees, unable to form a definite plan.
A light breeze rippled through the tree tops, now and again the leaves
rustled as if a band of squirrels were passing through them; patches of
blue sky gleamed between the branches like eyes beneath their lids.
Arrived at a favourite spot of his, a sort of tiny _lucus_ presided over
by a four-fronted Hermes plunged in quadruple meditation, he stopped and
seated himself on the grass, with his back against the pedestal of the
statue and his face turned to the sea. Before him the tree-trunks,
straight but of uneven height, like the pipes of the great god Pan,
intercepted his view of the sea; all around him the acanthus spread the
exquisite grace of its foliage, symmetrical as the capitals of
Callimachus.

He thought of the words of Salamis in the _Story of the Hermaphrodite_,

    'Noble acanthus, in the woods of Earth
    Tokens of peace, high-flowering coronals,
    Of most pure form; O ye, the slender basket
    That Silence weaves with light, untroubled hand
    To gather up the flowers of woody dreams,
    What virtue have ye poured on this fair youth
    Out of those dusky and sweet-smelling leaves?
    Naked he sleeps; his arm supports his head.'

Other lines came back to him, and yet others--a riot of verse. His soul
was filled with the music of rhymes and rhythmic measures. He was
overjoyed; coming to him thus spontaneously and unexpectedly, this
poetic agitation caused him inexpressible happiness. And he gave ear to
the music, delighting himself in rich imagery, in rare epithets, in the
luminous metaphors, the exquisite harmonies, the subtle refinements
which distinguished his metrical style and the mysterious artifices of
the endecasyllabic verse learned from the admirable poets of the
fourteenth century, and more especially from Petrarch. Once more the
magic spell of versification subjugated his soul, and he felt the full
force of the sentiment of a contemporary poet--Verse is everything!

A perfect line of verse is absolute, immutable, deathless. It encloses a
thought as within a clearly marked circle which no force can break; it
belongs no more to the poet, it belongs to all and yet to none, as do
space, light, all things intransitory and perpetual. When the poet is
about to bring forth one of these deathless lines he is warned by a
divine torrent of joy which sweeps over his soul.

Andrea half closed his eyes to prolong this delicious tremor which with
him was ever the forerunner of inspiration, and more especially of
poetic inspiration, and he determined in a moment upon the metrical form
into which he would pour his thoughts, like wine into a cup--the sonnet.

While composing Andrea studied himself curiously. It was long since he
had made verses. Had this interval of idleness been harmful to his
technical capacities? It seemed to him that the lines, rising one by one
out of the depths of his brain, had a new grace. The consonance came of
itself, and ideas were born of the rhymes. Then suddenly some obstacle
would intercept the flow, a line would rebel and the whole verse would
be displaced like a shaken puzzle; the syllables would struggle against
the constraint of the measure; a musical and luminous word which had
taken his fancy had to be excluded by the severity of the rhythm, do
what he would to retain it, and the verse was like a medal which has
turned out imperfect through the inexperience of the caster, who has not
calculated the proper quantity of metal necessary for filling the mould.
With ingenious patience he poured the metal back into the crucible and
began all over again. Finally the verse came out full and clear, and the
whole sonnet lived and breathed like a free and perfect creature.

Thus he composed--now slow, now fast--with a delight never felt before.
As the day grew, the sea cast luminous darts between the trees as
between the columns of a jasper portico. Here Alma Tadema would have
depicted a Sappho with hyacinthine locks, seated at the foot of the
marble Hermes, singing to a seven-stringed lyre and surrounded by a
chorus of maidens with locks of flame, all pallid and intent, drinking
in the pure harmony of the verses.

Having accomplished the four sonnets, he heaved a sigh and proceeded to
recite them silently but with inward emphasis. Then he wrote them on the
quadrangular pedestal of the Hermes, one on each surface in the
following order--


I

    'Four-fronted Hermes, to thy four-fold sense
    Have these my marvellous tidings been made known?
    Suave spirits, singing on their way, have flown
    Forth from my heart, light-hearted; and from thence

    Have cast forth every foul intelligence,
    And every foul stream dammed, and overthrown
    The old unguarded bridges, stone by stone,
    And quenched the flame of my impenitence.

    Singing, the spirits ascend; I know the voice,
    The hymn; and, inextinguishable and vast,
    Delighting laughters from my heart arise.

    Pale, but a king, I bid my soul rejoice
    To hearken my heart's laughter, as at last
    Low in the dust the conquered evil lies.


II

    The glad soul laughs, because its loves have fled,
    Because the conquered evil bites the dust
    Which into intertangled fires had thrust,
    As into fiery thickets, feet now led

    Into the circle human sorrows tread;
    It leaves the treacherous labyrinths of lust,
    Where the fair pagan monsters lure the just,
    In hyacinth robes, a novice, garmented.

    Now may no Sphinx with golden nails ensnare,
    No Gorgon freeze it out of snaky folds,
    No Siren lull it on a sleepy coast;

    But, at the circle's summit, see, a fair
    White woman, in the act of worship, holds
    In her pure hands the sacrificial Host.


III

    Beyond all harm, all ambush, and all hate,
    Tranquil of face, and strong at heart, she stands,
    And knows till death, and scorns, and understands
    All evil things that on her passage wait.

    _Thou hast in ward and keeping every gate,
    The winds breathe sweetness at thy sweet commands,
    Might'st thou but take, when with these restless hands
    I lay at thine untroubled feet my fate!_

    _Even now there shines before me in thy meek
    And holy hands the Host, like to a sun.
    Have I attained, have I then paid the price?_

    She, that is favourable to all that seek,
    Lifting the Host, declares: _Now is begun
    And ended the eternal sacrifice!_


IV

    _For I_, she saith, _am the unnatural Rose,
    I am the Rose of Beauty. I instil
    The drunkenness of ecstasy, I fill
    The spirit with my rapture and repose_.

    _Sowing with tears, sorrowful still are those
    That with much singing gather harvest still.
    After long sorrow, this my sweetness will
    Be sweeter than all sweets thy spirit knows._

    So be it, Madonna; and from my heart outburst
    The blood of tears, flooding all mortal things,
    And the immortal sorrow be yet whole;

    Let the depths swallow me, let there as at first
    Be darkness, so I see the glimmerings
    Of light that rain on my unconquered soul!

            Die XII. Septembris MDCCCLXXXVI.'



CHAPTER II


Schifanoja was situated on the heights at that point where the chain of
hills, after following the curving coast line, took a landward bend and
sloped away towards the plain. Notwithstanding that it had been built in
the latter half of the eighteenth century--by the Cardinal Alfonso
Carafa d'Ateleta--the villa showed a certain purity of architectural
design. It was a square building of two stories, with arched colonnades
alternating with the apartments, which imparted to the whole edifice a
look of lightness and grace. It was a real summer palace, open on all
sides to the breath of the sea. At the side towards the sloping gardens,
a wide hall opened on to a noble double flight of steps leading to a
platform like a vast terrace, surrounded by a stone balustrade and
adorned by two fountains. At either end of this terrace, other flights
of steps interrupted by more terraces led by easy stages almost to the
sea, affording a full view from the level ground of their seven-fold
windings through superb verdure and masses of roses. The special glories
of Schifanoja were its cypresses and its roses. Roses were there of
every kind and for every season, enough '_pour en tirer neuf ou dix
muytz d'eaue rose_' as the poet of the _Vergier d'honneur_ would have
said. The cypresses, sharp-pointed and sombre, more hieratic than the
Pyramids, more enigmatic than the obelisks, were in no respect inferior
either to those of the Villa d'Este, or the Villa Mondragone or any of
the giants growing round the glorious Roman villas.

The Marchesa d'Ateleta was in the habit of spending the summer and part
of the autumn at Schifanoja; for, though a thorough woman of the world,
she was fond of the country and its freedom, and liked to keep open
house there for her friends. She had lavished every care and attention
upon Andrea during his illness; had been to him like an elder sister,
almost a mother, and untiring in her devotion. She cherished a profound
affection for her cousin, was ever ready to excuse or pardon, was a good
and frank friend to him, capable of understanding many things, always at
his beck and call, always cheerful, always bright and witty. Although
she had overstepped the thirties by a year, she had lost nothing of her
youth, vivacity and great personal charm, for she possessed the secret
of Madame de Pompadour's fascination, that '_beauté sans traits_' which
lights up with unexpected graces. Moreover, she possessed that rare gift
commonly called tact. A fine feminine sense of the fitness of things was
an infallible guide to her. In her relations with a host of
acquaintances of either sex she always succeeded in steering her course
discreetly; she never committed an error of taste, never weighed heavily
on the lives of others, never arrived at an inopportune moment nor
became importunate, no deed or word of hers but was entirely to the
point. Her treatment of Andrea during the somewhat trying period of his
convalescence was beyond all praise. She did her utmost to avoid
disturbing or annoying him, and, what is more, managed that no one else
should; she left him complete liberty, pretended not to notice his whims
and melancholies; never worried him with indiscreet questions; made her
company sit as lightly as possible on him at obligatory moments, and
even went so far as to refrain from her usual witty remarks in his
presence to save him the trouble of forcing a smile.

Andrea recognised her delicacy and was profoundly grateful.

Returning from the garden with unwonted lightness of heart on that
September morning after writing his sonnets on the Hermes, he
encountered Donna Francesca on the steps, and, kissing her hand, he
exclaimed in laughing tones:

'Cousin Francesca, I have found the Truth and the Way!

'Alleluja!' she returned, lifting up her fair rounded arms,--'Alleluja!'

And she continued on her way down to the garden while Andrea went on to
his room with heart refreshed.

A little while afterwards there came a gentle knock at the door and
Francesca's voice asking--'May I come in?'

She entered with the lap of her dress and both arms full of great
clusters of dewy roses, white, yellow, crimson, russet brown. Some were
wide and transparent like those of the Villa Pamfili, all fresh and
glistening, others were densely petalled, and with that intensity of
colouring which recalls the boasted magnificence of the dyes of Tyre and
Sidon; others again were like little heaps of odorous snow, and gave one
a strange desire to bite into them and eat them. The infinite gradations
of red, from violent crimson to the faded pink of over-ripe
strawberries, mingled with the most delicate and almost imperceptible
variations of white, from the immaculate purity of freshly fallen snow
to the indefinable shades of new milk, the sap of the reed, dull silver,
alabaster and opal.

'It is a _festa_ to-day,' she said, her laughing face appearing over the
flowers that covered her whole bosom up to the throat.

'Thanks! Thanks!' Andrea cried again and again as he helped her to empty
the mass of bloom on to the table, all over the books and papers and
portfolios--'_Rosa rosarum!_'

Her hands once free, she proceeded to collect all the vases in the room
and fill them with roses, arranging each cluster with rare artistic
skill. While she did so, she talked of a thousand things with her usual
blithe volubility, almost as if compensating herself for the parsimony
of words and laughter she had exercised up till now, out of regard for
Andrea's taciturn melancholy.

Presently she remarked, 'On the 15th we expect a beautiful guest, Donna
Maria Ferrès y Capdevila, the wife of the Plenipotentiary for Guatemala.
Do you know her?'

'I think not,'

'No, I do not suppose you could. She only returned to Italy a few months
ago, but she will spend next winter in Rome because her husband has been
appointed to that post. She is a very dear friend of mine--we knew each
other as children, and were three years together at the Convent of the
Annunciation in Florence. She is younger than I am.'

'Is she an American?'

'No, an Italian. She is from Sienna. She comes of the Bandinelli family,
and was baptized with water from the "Fonte Gaja." For all that, she is
rather melancholy by nature, but very sweet. The story of her marriage
is not a very cheerful one. Ferrès is a most unsympathetic person.
However, they have a little girl--a perfect darling--you will see; a
little white face with enormous eyes and masses of dark hair. She is
very like her mother--Look, Andrea, is not that rose just like velvet?
And this--I could eat it--look--it is like glorified cream. How
delicious!'

She went on picking out the different roses and chatting pleasantly. A
wave of perfume, intoxicating as century-old wine, streamed from the
massed flowers; some of the petals dropped and hung in the folds of
Francesca's gown; beneath the window the dark shaft of a cypress pierced
the golden sunshine, and through Andrea's memory ran persistently, like
a phrase of music, a line from Petrarch:--

_'Cosi partia le rose e le parole._'

Two days afterwards he repaid his cousin by presenting her with a sonnet
curiously fashioned on an antique model and inscribed on vellum with
illuminated ornaments in the style of those that enliven the missals of
Attavante and of Liberale of Verona.

    'Ferrara, for its d'Estes glorious,
    Where Cossa strove in triumphs to recall
    Cosimo Tura's triumphs on the wall,
    Saw never feast more fair and plenteous.

    Monna Francesca plucked and bore to us
    Such store of roses, and so shed on all,
    That heaven had lacked for such a coronal
    The little angels it engarlands thus.

    She spoke, and shed the roses in such showers,
    And such a loveliness was seen in her,
    _This_ said I, _is some Grace the sun discloses._

    I trembled at the sweetness of the flowers.
    A verse of Petrarch mounted in the air:
    _She scatters words and scatters with them roses_.



CHAPTER III


On the following Wednesday, the 15th of September, the new guest
arrived.

The Marchesa, accompanied by Andrea and her eldest son, Fernanindo,
drove over to Rovigliano, the nearest station, to meet her. As they
drove along the road shadowed by lofty poplars, the Marchesa spoke to
Andrea of her friend with much affection.

'I think you will like her,' she remarked in conclusion.

Then she began to laugh as if at some sudden thought.

'Why do you laugh?' asked Andrea.

'I am making a comparison.'

'What comparison?'

'Guess.'

'I can't.'

'Well, I was thinking of another introduction I gave you about two years
ago, which I accompanied by a delightful prophecy--you remember?'

'Ah--ha--'

'And I laughed because this time again there is an unknown lady in
question and this time too I may play the part of--an involuntary
providence.'

'Oh--oh!'

'But this case is very different, or rather the difference lies in the
heroine of the possible drama.'

'You mean--'

'That Maria Ferrès is a _turris eburnea_.'

'And I am now a _vas spirituale_.'

'Ah yes, I had forgotten that you had, at last, found the Truth and the
Way--"'The glad soul laughs because its loves have fled--'"

'What--you are quoting my verses?'

'I know them by heart.'

'How sweet of you!'

'However, I confess, my dear cousin, that your "fair white woman"
holding the Host in her pure hands seems to me a trifle suspicious. She
has, to my mind, too much of the air of a hollow shape, a robe without a
body inside it, at the mercy of whatever soul, be it angel or demon,
that chooses to enter it and offer you the communion.

'But this is sacrilege--rank sacrilege!'

'Ah, you had better take care! Watch that figure and use plenty of
exorcisms--But there, I am prophesying again! Really, it seems a
weakness of mine.'

'Here we are at the station.'

They both laughed, and all three entered the little station to wait for
the train, which was due in a few minutes. Fernandino a sickly-looking
boy of twelve, was carrying a bouquet which he was to present to Donna
Maria. Andrea, put in excellent spirits by his little conversation with
his cousin, took a tea-rose from the bouquet and stuck it in his
button-hole, then cast a rapid glance over his light summer clothes and
noticed with complaisance that his hands had become whiter and thinner
since his illness. But he did it all without reflection, simply from an
instinct of harmless vanity which had suddenly awakened in him.

'Here comes the train,' said Fernandino.

The Marchesa hurried forward to greet her friend, who was already
leaning out of the carriage window waving her hand and nodding. Her head
was enveloped in a large gray gauze veil which half covered her large
black hat.

'Francesca! Francesca!' she cried with a little tremor of joy in her
voice.

The sound of that voice made a singular impression on Andrea--it
reminded him vaguely of a voice he knew--but whose?

Donna Maria left the carriage with a rapid and light step, and with a
pretty grace raised her veil above her mouth to kiss her friend.
Suddenly Andrea was struck by the profound charm of this slender,
graceful, veiled woman of whose face he saw only the mouth and chin.

'Maria, let me present my cousin to you--Count Andrea Sperelli-Fieschi
d'Ugenta.'

Andrea bowed. The lady's lips parted in a smile that was rendered
mysterious from the rest of the face being concealed by the veil.

The Marchesa then introduced Andrea to Don Manuel Ferrès y Capdevila;
then, stroking the hair of the little girl who was gazing at the young
man with a pair of wide-open, astonished eyes, 'This is Delfina,' she
said.

In the carriage, Andrea sat opposite to Donna Maria and beside her
husband. She kept her veil down still; Fernandino's bouquet lay in her
lap and from time to time she raised it to her face to inhale the
perfume while she answered the Marchesa's questions. Andrea was right;
there were tones in her voice exactly like Elena's. He was seized with
impatient curiosity to see her face--its expression and colouring.

'Manuel,' she was saying, 'has to leave on Friday. He will come back for
me later on.'

'Much later, let us hope,' said Donna Francesca cordially. 'A month, at
the very least, eh, Don Manuel? The best plan would be to wait and all
go on the same day. We are at Schifanoja till the first of November.'

'If my mother were not expecting me, nothing would delight me more than
to stay with you. But I have promised faithfully to be in Sienna for the
17th of October--Delfina's birthday.'

'What a pity! on the 20th there is the Festival of the Donations at
Rovigliano--so very beautiful and peculiar.'

'What is to be done? If I do not keep my promise, my mother will be
dreadfully disappointed. She adores Delfina.'

The husband took no part whatever in the conversation, he seemed a very
taciturn man. He was of middle height, inclined to be stout and bald,
and his skin of a most peculiar hue--something between green and violet,
in which the whites of the eyes gleamed as they moved like the enamel
eyes of certain antique bronze heads. His moustache, which was harsh and
black and cut evenly like the bristles of a brush, shadowed a coarse and
sardonic mouth. He appeared to be about forty, or rather more. In his
whole appearance there was something disagreeably hybrid and morose,
that indefinable air of viciousness which belongs to the later
generations of bastard races brought up in the midst of moral disorder.

'Look, Delfina--orange trees, all in flower!' exclaimed Donna Maria,
stretching out her hand to pluck a spray as they passed.

Near Schifanoja, the road lay between orange groves, the trees being so
high that they afforded a pleasant shade, through which the sea-breeze
sighed and fluttered, so laden with perfume that one might almost have
quaffed it like a draught of cool water.

Delfina was kneeling on the carriage seat and leaned out to catch at the
branches. Her mother wound an arm about her to keep her from falling
out.

'Take care! Take care! You will tumble--wait a moment till I untie my
veil. Would you mind helping me, Francesca?'

She bent her head towards her friend to let her unfasten the veil from
her hat, and in doing so the bouquet of roses fell at her feet. Andrea
promptly picked them up, and as he rose from his stooping position, he
at last saw her whole face uncovered.

It was an oval face, perhaps the least trifle too long, but hardly worth
mentioning--that aristocratic oval which the most graceful portrait
painters of the fifteenth century were rather fond of exaggerating. The
refined features had that subtle expression of suffering and lassitude
which lends the human charm to the Virgins of the Florentine _tondi_ of
the time of Cosimo. A soft and tender shadow, the fusion of two
diaphanous tints--violet and blue, lay under her eyes, which had the
leonine irises of the brown-haired angels. Her hair lay on her forehead
and temples like a heavy crown, and was gathered into a massive coil on
her neck. The shorter locks in front were thick and waving as those that
cover the head of the Farnese Antinous. Nothing could exceed the charm
of that delicate head, which seemed to droop under its burden as under
some divine chastisement.

'Dio mio!' she sighed, endeavouring to lighten with her hands the weight
of tresses gathered up and compressed under her hat. 'My head aches as
if I had been hanging by the hair for an hour. I cannot keep it fastened
up for long together, it tires me so. It is a perfect slavery.'

'Do you remember at school,' broke in Francesca, 'how we were all wild
to comb your hair? It led to furious quarrels every day. Fancy,
Andrea--at last it came to bloodshed! Oh, I shall never forget the scene
between Carlotta Fiordelise and Gabriella Vanni. It got to be sheer
monomania. To comb Maria Bandinelli's hair was the one ambition in life
of every school-girl there--big or little. The epidemic spread through
the whole school, and resulted in scoldings, punishments, and finally
threats to have your hair cut off. Do you remember, Maria? Our very
souls were enthralled by the magnificent black plait that hung like a
rope to your heels!'

Donna Maria smiled a mournful, dreamy smile. Her lips were slightly
parted, the upper one projecting the least little bit beyond the under
one; the corners of her mouth drooped plaintively, the soft curve losing
itself in shadow which gave her an expression both sad and kind, but
with a dash of that pride which reveals the moral elevation of those who
have suffered much and been strong.

To Andrea the story of these girls enamoured of a plait of hair,
enflamed with passion and jealousy, wild to pass a comb or their fingers
through the living treasure, seemed a charming and poetic episode of
convent life, and in his imagination, this woman with the sumptuous hair
became vaguely illumined like the heroine of some Christian legend of
the childhood of a saint destined for martyrdom and future canonisation.
At the same time, it struck him what rich and varied lines might be
afforded to the design of a female figure by the undulating masses of
that black hair.

Not that it was really black, as Andrea perceived next day at dinner,
when a ray of sunshine touched the lady's head, bringing out sombre
violet lights, reflections as of tempered steel or burnished silver.
Notwithstanding its density too, it was perfectly light, each hair
seeming to stand apart as if permeated by and breathing the air. Her
conversation revealed keen intelligence and a delicate mind, much
refinement of taste and pleasure in the æsthetic. She possessed abundant
and varied culture, a vivid imagination, and the rich, descriptive
language of one who has seen many lands, lived under widely different
climes, known many people. To Andrea, she seemed to exhale some exotic
charm, some strange fascination, some spell born of the phantoms of the
far off things she had looked upon, the scenes she still preserved
before her mind's eye, the memories that filled her soul; as if she
still bore about her some traces of the sunshine she had basked in, the
perfumes she had inhaled, the strange dialects she had heard--all the
magic of these countries of the Sun.

That evening, in the great room opening off the hall, she went over to
the piano, and opening it, she said: 'Do you still play, Francesca?'

'Oh, no,' replied the Marchesa, 'I have not practised for years. I feel
that listening to others is decidedly preferable. However, I affect to
be a patroness of Art, and during the winter I gladly preside at the
execution of a little good music. Is that not so, Andrea?'

'My cousin is too modest, Donna Maria; she does something more than
merely patronise--she is a reviver of good taste. Only last February,
thanks to her, we were made acquainted with a quintett, a quartett, and
a trio of Boccherini, and besides that with a quartett of
Cherubini--music that was well-nigh forgotten, but admirable and always
new. Boccherini's adagios and minuets are deliciously fresh; only the
finales seem to me a trifle antiquated. I am sure you must know
something of his.'

'I remember having heard one of his quintetts four of five years ago at
the Conservatoire in Brussels, and I thought it magnificent--in the very
newest style and full of unexpected episodes. I remember perfectly that
in certain passages the quintett was reduced to a duet by employing the
unison, but the effects produced by the difference in the tone of the
instruments was something marvellous! I cannot recall anything the least
like it in other instrumental compositions.'

She discussed music with all the subtlety of a true connoisseur, and in
describing the sentiments aroused in her by some particular composition,
or the entire work of a master, she expressed herself most felicitously.

'I have played and heard a great deal of music,' she said, 'and of every
symphony, every sonata, every nocturne I have a separate and distinct
picture, an impression of shape and colour, of a figure, a group, a
landscape, so that each of my favourite compositions has a name
corresponding to the picture;--for instance, the Sonata of the Forty
Daughters-in-law of Priam; the Nocturne of the Sleeping Beauty in the
Wood, the Gavotte of the Yellow Ladies, the Gigue of the Mill, the
Prelude of the Drops of Water, and so on.'

She laughed softly, a laugh which surprised one with its ineffable grace
on that plaintive mouth.

'You remember, Francesca, the multitude of notes with which we afflicted
the margins of our favourite pieces at school. One day, after a most
serious consultation, we changed the title of every piece of Schumann's
we possessed, and each title had a long explanatory note. I have the
papers still. Now, when I play the _Myrthen_ or the _Albumblätter_, all
these mysterious annotations are quite incomprehensible to me; my
emotions and my point of view have changed completely, but there is a
delicate pleasure in comparing the sentiments of the present with those
of the past, the new picture and the old. It is a pleasure very similar
to that of re-reading one's diary, only perhaps rather more mournful and
intense. A diary is generally the description of real events, a
chronicle of days happy or otherwise, the gray or rosy traces left by
time in its flight; the notes written in youth on the margin of a piece
of music are, on the contrary, fragments of the secret poems of a soul
that is just breaking into bloom, the lyric effusions of our ideality as
yet untouched, the story of our dreams. What language? What a flow of
words! You remember, Francesca?'

She talked with perfect freedom, even with a touch of spiritual
exaltation, like a person long condemned to intercourse with inferiors,
who has the irresistible desire to open her mind and heart to a breath
of the higher life. Andrea listened to her and was conscious of a
pleasing sense of gratitude towards her. It seemed to him that in
speaking of these things in his presence, she offered him a kindly proof
of friendship, and permitted him to draw nearer to her. He thereby
caught a glimpse of her inner world, less through the actual words she
uttered than by the modulations of her voice. And again he recognised
the accents of _the other_.

It was an ambiguous voice, a voice with double chords in it, so to
speak. The more virile tones, deep and slightly veiled, would soften,
brighten, become feminine, as it were, by a transition so harmonious
that the ear of the listener was at once surprised, delighted, and
perplexed by it. The phenomenon was so singular that it sufficed by
itself to occupy the mind of the listener independently of the sense of
the words, so that after a few minutes the mind yielded to the
mysterious charm and remained suspended between expectation and desire
to hear the sweet cadence, as if waiting for a melody played upon an
instrument. It was the feminine note in this voice which recalled _the
other_.

'You sing?' asked Andrea half shyly.

'A little,' she replied.

'Then please sing a little,' entreated Donna Francesca.

'Very well, but I can only give you a sort of idea of the music, for,
during the last year, I have almost lost my voice.'

In the adjoining room, Don Manuel was silently playing cards with the
Marchese d'Ateleta. In the drawing-room the light of the lamps shone
softly red through a great Japanese shade. The sea-breeze, entering
through the pillars of the hall, shook the high Karamanieh curtains and
wafted the perfume of the garden on its wings. Beyond the pillars was a
vista of tall cypresses, massive and black as ebony against a diaphanous
sky throbbing with stars.

'As we are on the subject of old music,' said Donna Maria seating
herself at the piano, 'I will give you an air of Paisiello's out of
_Nina Pazza_, an exquisite thing.'

She accompanied herself as she sang. In the fervour of the song, the two
tones of her voice blended into one another like two precious metals
combining to make a single one--sonorous, warm, caressing, vibrating.
Paisiello's melody--simple, pure and spontaneous, full of delicious
languor and winged sadness, with a delicately light
accompaniment--issued from that plaintive mouth and rose with such a
flame of passion that the convalescent was moved to the depths of his
being, and felt the notes drop one by one through his veins, as if all
the blood in his body had stopped in its course to listen. A cold shiver
stirred the roots of his hair, shadows, thick and rapid, passed before
his eyes, he held his breath with excitement. In the weak state of his
nerves his sensations were so poignant that it was all he could do to
keep back his tears.

'Oh, dearest Maria!' exclaimed Donna Francesca, kissing her fondly on
the hair when she stopped.

Andrea could not utter a word; he remained seated where he was, with his
back to the light and his face in shadow.

'Please go on,' said Francesca.

She sang an Arietta by Antonio Salieri, then she played a Toccata by
Leonardo Leo, a Gavotte by Rameau, a Gigue by Sebastian Bach. Under her
magic fingers the music of the eighteenth century lived again--so
melancholy in its dance airs, that sound as if they were intended to be
danced to in a languid afternoon of a Saint Martin's summer, in a
deserted park, amid silent fountains and statueless pedestals, on a
carpet of dead roses by pairs of lovers on the point of ceasing to love
one another.



CHAPTER IV


'Let down a rope of your hair to me that I may climb up,' Andrea called
laughingly from the terrace below to Donna Maria, where she stood
between two pillars of the loggia opening out of her rooms.

It was morning, and she had come out into the sun to dry her wet hair,
which hung round her like a heavy mantle, and accentuated the soft
pallor of her face. The black border of the vivid orange-coloured awning
hung above her head like a frieze, such as one sees round the antique
Greek vases of the Campagna. Had she had a garland of narcissus on her
brows and at her side a great nine-stringed lyre with bas-reliefs of
Apollo and a greyhound, she might have been taken for a pupil of the
school of Mytilene, or a Lesbian musician in repose as imagined by a
Pre-Raphaelite.

'You send me up a madrigal,' she answered in the same playful tone, but
drawing back a little from view.

'Very well, I will go and write one in your honour on the marble
balustrade of the lowest terrace. Come down and read it when you are
ready.'

Andrea proceeded slowly to descend the steps leading to the lower level.
In that September morning his soul seemed to dilate with every breath he
drew. A certain sanctity seemed to pervade the air; the sea shone with a
splendour of its own, as if the sources of magic rays lay in its depths;
the whole landscape was steeped in sunshine.

He stood still from time to time. The thought that Donna Maria was
perhaps watching him from the loggia disturbed him curiously, made his
heart beat fast and flutter timidly, as if he were a boy in love for
the first time. It was unspeakable bliss merely to breathe the same warm
and limpid air that she did. An immense wave of tenderness flooded his
heart and communicated itself to the trees, the rocks, the sea, as if to
beings who were his friends and confidants. He was filled with a desire
to worship humbly and purely; to bend his knee and clasp his hands and
offer up to some one this vague mute adoration which he would have been
at a loss to explain. He felt as if the goodness of all created things
was being poured out upon him and mingling with all he possessed of
goodness into one jubilant stream.

'Can it be that I love her?' he asked himself. But he dared not look
closely into his soul, lest the delicate enchantment should disperse and
vanish like a dream at break of day.

'Do I love her? And what does she think? And if she comes alone, shall I
tell her that I love her?' He took pleasure in thus asking himself
questions which he did not answer, intercepting the reply of his heart
by another question, prolonging his uncertainty--at once so tormenting
and so sweet. 'No, no--I shall not tell her that I love her. She is far
above all the others.'

Arrived at the lowest terrace, he turned round and looked up, and there
in the loggia, in the full blaze of the sun, he could just make out the
indistinct outline of a woman's form. Had she followed him with her eyes
and her thoughts down the long flights of steps? A childish impulse made
him suddenly pronounce her name aloud on the deserted terrace. 'Maria!
Maria!' he repeated, listening to his own voice. No word, no name had
ever seemed to him so sweet, so melodious so caressing. How happy he
would be if she would only allow him to call her Maria, like a sister.

This woman--so spiritual, so soulful--inspired him with the highest
sentiment of devotion and humility. If he had been asked what he
considered the sweetest possible task, he would have answered in all
sincerity--'To obey her.' Nothing in the world would have mortified him
so much as to be accounted by her a commonplace man. By no other woman
had he so ardently desired to be praised, admired, understood,
appreciated in his tastes, his cultivation, his artistic aspirations,
his ideals, his dreams, all the noblest parts of his spirit and his
life. And his highest ambition was to fill her heart.

She had now been ten days at Schifanoja, and in those ten days how
entirely she had subjugated him! They had conversed sometimes for hours
seated on the terrace or on one of the numerous marble benches scattered
about the grounds or in the long rose-bordered avenues, while Delfina
sped like a little gazelle through the winding paths of the orange
groves. In her conversation she displayed a charming flow of language,
many gems of delicate yet keen observation, occasionally affording
glimpses of her inner self with a candour that was full of grace; and
when speaking of her travels, she would often, by a single picturesque
phrase, call up before Andrea's eyes wide vistas of distant lands and
seas. On his part, he did his utmost to show himself to the best
advantage, to impress upon her the wide range of his culture, the
refinement of his taste, the exquisite keenness of his susceptibilities,
and his heart swelled with pride when she said in tones of unfeigned
sincerity after reading his _Story of the Hermaphrodite_--

'No music has ever carried me away like this poem, nor has any statue
ever given me such an impression of harmonious beauty. Certain lines
haunt me persistently, and will continue to do so for long, I am
sure--they are so intense.'

As he sat now on the marble balustrade, he was thinking of these words
of hers. Donna Maria was no longer in the loggia, the awning concealed
the whole space between the pillars. Perhaps she would soon be
down--should he write the madrigal he had promised her? But even the
slight effort necessary for writing the lines thus in hot haste seemed
intolerable to him here in the wide and opulent garden, blossoming under
the September sunshine in a sort of magical Spring. Why disturb these
rare and delicious emotions by a hurried search after rhymes? why
reduce this far reaching sentiment to a brief metrical sigh?

He resolved to break his promise and remained as he was, idly watching
the sails on the distant horizon, like fiery torches outshining the sun.

But as time went on, he grew restless and nervous, turning round every
minute to see if a feminine form had not appeared between the columns of
the vestibule which gave access to the steps--'Was this then a love
tryst? Did he expect her to join him here for some secret interview? Had
she any idea of his agitation?'

His heart gave a great throb--it was she!

She was alone. Slowly she descended the steps, and when she reached the
first terrace she stopped beside the fountain. Andrea followed her
intently with his eyes; her every movement, every attitude sent a
delicious thrill through him, as if each one of them had some special
significance, were a form of individual expression. Thus she passed down
the succession of steps and terraces, appearing and disappearing, now
completely hidden by the rose-bushes, now only her head or her rounded
bust visible above them. Sometimes the thickly interlaced boughs hid her
for several minutes, then, where the bushes were thinner, the colour of
her dress would show through them and the pale straw of her hat would
catch the sunlight. The nearer she came the more slowly she walked,
loitering among the verdant shrubs, stopping to gaze at the cypresses,
stooping to gather a handful of fallen leaves. From the last terrace but
one, she waved her hand to Andrea standing waiting for her at the foot
of the steps, and threw down to him the leaves she had gathered, which
first rose fluttering in the air like a cloud of butterflies and then
floated down--now fast, now slow,--noiseless as snowflakes on the
stones.

'Well?' she asked, leaning over the balustrade, 'what have you got for
me?'

Andrea bent his knee to the step and lifted his clasped hands.

'Nothing!' he was obliged to confess. 'I implore you to forgive me;
but, this morning, you and the sun together filled the whole world for
me with sweetness and light. _Adoremus!_

The confession was perfectly sincere, as was the adoration also, though
both were uttered in a tone of banter. Donna Maria evidently felt the
sincerity, for she coloured slightly as she said with peculiar
earnestness--

'No--don't--please don't kneel.'

He rose, and she offered him her hand, adding, 'I will forgive you this
time because you are an invalid.'

She wore a dress of a curious indefinable dull rusty red, one of those
so-called æsthetic colours one meets with in the pictures of the Early
Masters or of Dante Gabriel Rossetti. It was arranged in a multitude of
straight regular folds beginning immediately under the arms, and was
confined at the waist by a wide blue-green ribbon, of the pale tinge of
a faded turquoise, that fell in a great knot at her side. The sleeves
were very full and soft, and were gathered in closely at the wrist.
Another ribbon of the same shade, but much narrower, encircled her neck
and was tied at the left side in a small bow, and a similar ribbon
fastened the end of the prodigious plait which fell from under her straw
hat, round which was twined a wreath of hyacinths like that of Alma
Tadema's Pandora. A great Persian turquoise, her sole ornament, shaped
like a scarabeus and engraved with talismanic characters, fastened her
dress at the throat.

'Let us wait for Delfina,' she said, 'and then, what do you say to our
going as far as the gate of the Cybele? Would that suit you?'

She was full of delicate consideration for the convalescent Andrea was
still very pale and thin, which made his eyes look extraordinarily
large, the somewhat sensual expression of his mouth forming a singular
and not unattractive contrast to the upper part of his face.

'Yes,' he replied, 'and I am deeply grateful to you.' Then, after a
moment's hesitation--'Do you mind if I am rather silent this morning?'

'Why do you ask me that?'

'Because I feel as if I had lost my tongue and could find nothing to
say; and yet silence becomes burdensome and annoying if it is prolonged.
That is why I ask if, during our walk, you will allow me to be silent
and only listen to you.'

'Why, then, we will be silent together,' she said with a little smile.

She looked up towards the villa with evident impatience--'What a long
time Delfina is!'

'Was Francesca up when you came out?' asked Andrea.

'Oh no, she is incredibly lazy--ah, there is Delfina, do you see her?'

The little girl came hurrying down, followed by her governess. Though
not visible on the flight of steps, she appeared upon the terraces which
she traversed at a run, her hair floating over her shoulders in the
breeze from under a broad-brimmed straw hat wreathed with poppies. On
the last step she opened her arms wide to her mother and covered her
face with kisses. After this she said--'Good morning, Andrea,' and
presented her forehead to his kiss with childlike and adorable grace.

She was a fragile creature, highly strung and vibrating as an instrument
fashioned of sentient material, her flesh so delicately transparent as
to seem incapable of concealing or even veiling the radiance of the
spirit that dwelt within it like a flame in a precious lamp.

'Heart's dearest!' murmured her mother, gazing at her with a look in
which was concentrated all the tenderness of a soul wholly occupied by
this one absorbing affection. But at those words, that look, that
caress, Andrea felt a sudden stab of jealousy, something like a rebuff,
as if her heart were turning away from him, eluding him, becoming
inaccessible.

The governess asked permission to return to the villa, and the three
turned into a path bordered by orange-trees. Delfina ran on in front
with her hoop, her straight slender little legs in their long black
stockings, moving with rhythmic grace.

'You seem a little out of spirits now,' said Donna Maria to her
companion, 'and only a little while ago, when you came down, you seemed
so bright. Is something troubling you?--do you not feel so well?'

She put these questions in an almost sisterly manner soberly and kindly,
inviting his confidence. A timid desire, a vague temptation assailed the
invalid to slip his arm through hers, and let her lead him in silence
through the flickering shadows and the perfumes, over the flower-strewn
ground, down the pathways measured off at intervals by ancient
moss-grown statues. He seemed, all at once, to have returned to the
first days of his illness, those never-to-be-forgotten days of happy
languor and semi-unconsciousness, and felt as if he had great need of a
friendly support, an affectionate, a familiar arm. The desire grew so
intense that the words which would give it voice rushed to his lips.
However he merely replied--

'No, Donna Maria, thank you, I feel quite well. It is only that the
September weather rather affects me.'

She looked at him as if she rather doubted the sincerity of his reply;
but, to avoid an awkward silence after his evasive remark, she asked--

'Which of the neutral months do you like best--April or September?'

'Oh, September. It is more feminine, more discreet, more
mysterious--like a Spring seen in a dream. Then all the plants slowly
lose their vital forces, and, at the same time, some of their reality.
Look at the sea over there--has it not more the appearance of an
atmosphere than of a solid mass of water? And never, to my mind, does
the union of sea and sky seem so mystical, so profound as in September.'

They had very nearly reached the end of the path. Why should Andrea be
suddenly seized with a tremor of nervous fear on approaching the spot
where, a fortnight ago, he had written the sonnets on his deliverance?
Why this struggle between hope and anxiety lest she should discover them
and read them? Why did some of the lines keep running in his mind to
the exclusion of others, as if they expressed his actual sentiments at
that moment, his aspirations, the new dream he carried in his heart?

'I lay at thine untroubled feet my fate!'

It was true! It was true! He loved her, he laid his whole life at her
feet--was conscious of but one desire--humble and absorbing--to be the
earth between her footsteps.

'How beautiful it is here!' exclaimed Donna Maria, as she entered the
demesne of the four-fronted Hermes, into the paradise of the acanthus.
'But what a strange scent!'

The whole air was full of the odour of musk, as from the unseen presence
of some musk-breathing insect or animal. The shadows were deep and
mysterious, the rays of light which pierced the foliage, already touched
by the finger of autumn, seemed like shafts of moonlight shining through
the storied windows of a cathedral. A mixed sentiment, partly Pagan,
partly Christian, seemed to emanate from this sylvan retreat, as from a
mythological picture painted by an early Christian artist.

'Oh look, look, Delfina!' her mother exclaimed in the excited tones of
one who suddenly comes upon a thing of beauty.

Delfina had skilfully woven little sprays of orange blossom into a
garland, and now, with the fancifulness of childhood, she was eager that
it should encircle the head of the marble deity. She could not reach it,
but did her best to accomplish her object by standing on tip-toe and
stretching her arm to its utmost extent; her slender, elegant and
vivacious little figure offering a striking contrast to the rigid,
square and solemn form of the statue, like a lily-stem against an oak.
All her efforts were, however, fruitless.

Smilingly, her mother came to her aid. Taking the wreath from the
child's hand, she placed it on the pensive brows of the god. As she did
so, her eyes fell involuntarily upon the inscriptions.

'Who has been writing verses here.--You?' she asked, turning to Andrea
in surprise and pleasure. 'Yes--I recognise your hand.'

Forthwith, she knelt upon the grass to read with eager curiosity. While
Donna Maria read the words in a low voice, Delfina leaned upon her
mother's shoulder, one arm about her neck, cheek pressed to cheek. The
two figures thus bending over the pedestal of the tall flower-wreathed
statue, in the uncertain light, surrounded by the emblematical acanthus,
formed a group so harmonious in line and colouring that the poet stood a
moment lost in pure æsthetic pleasure and admiration.

But the next moment the old obscure sense of jealousy was upon him once
more. The fragile little creature clinging to the mother, indissolubly
connected with her mother's very being, seemed to him an enemy, an
insurmountable obstacle rising up against his love, his desires, his
hopes. He was not jealous of the husband, but he was of the daughter. It
was not the body but the soul of this woman that he longed to possess,
and to possess it wholly, undivided, with all its tenderness, all its
joys, its hopes, its fears, its pain, its dreams--in short the sum total
of her spiritual being, and be able to say--'I am the life of her life.'

But instead, it was the daughter who possessed all this incontestably,
absolutely, continuously. When her idol left her side, even for a short
time, the mother seemed to miss some essential element of her existence.
Her face was instantaneously and visibly transfigured when, after a
brief absence, that childish voice fell upon her ear once more. At
times, unconsciously and as if by some occult correspondence, some law
of common vital accordance, she would repeat a gesture of the child's, a
smile, an attitude, a pose of the head. Again, when the child was in
repose or asleep, she had moments of contemplation so intense that she
seemed to have lost all sense of her surroundings and to have absorbed
herself into the creature she was contemplating. When she spoke to her
darling, every word was a caress, and the plaintive lines vanished from
her mouth. Under the child's kisses, her lips quivered and her eyes
filled with ineffable happiness like the eyes of an ecstatic at a
beatific vision. If she happened to be conversing with other people or
listening to their talk, she would appear to have sudden lapses of
attention, momentary absence of mind, and this was for her daughter--for
her--always for her.

Who could ever break that chain? Could any one ever succeed in
conquering a part--even the very smallest atom of that heart? Andrea
suffered as under an irreparable loss, some forced renunciation, some
shattered hope. At this moment, this very moment, was not the child
stealing something from him?

For Delfina was playfully constraining her mother to remain upon her
knees. She hung with all her weight round Donna Maria's neck, crying
through her laughter--

'No--no--no--you shall not get up!'

And whenever her mother opened her mouth to speak, she clapped her
little hands over it to prevent her, made her laugh, bandaged her eyes
with the long plait--played a hundred pranks.

Watching her, Andrea felt, that by all this playful commotion, she was
dispelling from her mother all that his verses had possibly instilled
into her mind.

When, at last, Donna Maria succeeded in freeing herself from her darling
tyrant, she saw his annoyance in his face, and hastened to say--'Forgive
me, Andrea, Delfina is sometimes taken with these fits of wildness.'

With a deft hand she re-arranged the disordered folds of her dress.
There was a faint flush under her eyes and her breath came quickly.

'And forgive her too,' she continued with a smile to which the unwonted
animation of colour lent a singular light, 'out of consideration for her
unconscious homage, for it was she who had the happy inspiration to
place a nuptial wreath over your verses which sing of nuptial communion.
That sets a seal upon the alliance.'

'My thanks both to you and to Delfina,' answered Andrea. It was the
first time she had called him by his Christian name, and the unexpected
familiarity, combined with her gentle words, restored his confidence.
Delfina had run off down one of the paths.

'These verses are a spiritual record, are they not?' Donna Maria
resumed. 'Will you give them to me that I may not forget them?'

His natural impulse was to answer--'They are yours by right to-day, for
they speak of you and to you----' But he only said--

'You shall have them.'

They continued their way towards the Cybele, but as they were leaving
the little enclosure, Donna Maria suddenly turned round towards the
Hermes as if some one had called her; her brow seemed heavy with
thought.

'What are you thinking about?' Andrea asked her almost timidly.

'I was thinking about you,' she replied.

'What were you thinking about me?'

'I was thinking of your past life, of which I know nothing whatever. You
have suffered greatly?'

'I have greatly sinned.'

'And loved much?'

'I do not know. Perhaps it was not love that I felt. Perhaps I have yet
to learn what love is--really I cannot say.'

She did not answer. They walked on in silence for a little way. To their
right, the path was bordered by high laurels, alternating at regular
intervals with cypress trees, and in the background, through the
fluttering leaves, the sea rippled and laughed, blue as the flower of
the flax. On their left ran a kind of parapet like the back of a long
stone bench, ornamented throughout its whole length with the Ateleta
shield and arms and a griffin alternately, under each of which again was
a sculptured mask through whose mouth a slender stream of water fell
into a basin below, shaped like a sarcophagus and ornamented with
mythological subjects in low relief. There must have been a hundred of
these mouths, for the walk was called the avenue of the Hundred
Fountains, but many of them were stopped up by time and had ceased to
spout, while others did very little. Many of the shields were broken and
moss had obliterated the coats of arms; many of the griffins were
headless and the figures on the sarcophagi appeared through a veil of
moss like fragments of silver work through an old and ragged velvet
cover. On the water in the basins--more green and limpid than
emerald--maiden-hair waved and quivered, or rose leaves, fallen from the
bushes overhead, floated slowly while the surviving waterpipes sent
forth a sweet and gurgling music that played over the murmur of the sea
like the accompaniment to a melody.

'Do you hear that?' said Donna Maria, standing still to listen,
attracted by the charm of the sound. 'That is the music of salt and of
sweet waters!'

She stood in the middle of the path, finger on lip, leaning a little
towards the fountains, in the attitude of one who listens and fears to
be disturbed. Andrea, who was next the parapet, turned and saw her thus
against a background of delicate and feathery verdure such as an Umbrian
painter would have given to an Annunciation or a Nativity.

'Maria!' he murmured, his heart filling with fond adoration,
'Maria!--Maria--!'

It afforded him untold pleasure to mingle the soft accents of her name
with the music of the waters. She did not look at him, but she laid her
finger on her lips as a sign to him to be silent.

'Forgive me,' he said, unable to control his emotion--'but I cannot help
myself--it is my soul that calls to you.'

A strange nervous exaltation had taken possession of him, all the
hill-tops of his soul had caught the lyric glow and flamed up
irresistibly; the hour, the place, the sunshine, everything about them
suggested love--from the extreme limits of the sea to the humble little
ferns of the fountains--all seemed to him part of the same magic circle
whose central point was this woman.

'You can never know,' he went on in a subdued voice as if fearful of
offending her--'You can never know how absolutely my soul is yours.'

She grew suddenly very pale, as if all the blood in her veins had rushed
to her heart. She did not speak, she did not look at him.

'Delfina!' she cried, with a tremor of agitation in her voice.

There was no answer; the little girl had wandered off among the trees at
the end of the long avenue.

'Delfina,' she repeated, louder than before, in a sort of terror.

In the pause that followed her cry the songs of the two waters seemed to
make the silence deeper.

'Delfina!'

There was a rustling in the leaves as if from the passage of a little
kid, and the child came bounding through the laurel thicket, carrying in
her hands her straw hat heaped to the brim with little red berries she
had gathered. Her exertions and the running had brought a deep flush to
her cheeks, broken twigs were sticking in her frock, and some leaves
hung trembling in the meshes of her ruffled hair.

'Oh mamma, come quick--do come with me!'

She began dragging her mother away--'There is a perfect forest over
there--heaps and heaps of berries! Come with me, mamma, do come--'

'No, darling, I would rather not--it is getting late.'

'Oh, do come!'

'But it is late.'

'Come! Come!'

Donna Maria was obliged to give in and let herself be dragged along by
the hand.

'There is a way of reaching the arbutus wood without going through the
thicket,' said Andrea.

'Do you hear, Delfina? There is a better way.'

'No, mamma, I want you to come with me.'

Delfina pulled her mother along towards the sea through the laurel
thicket, and Andrea followed, content to be able to gaze without
restraint at the beloved figure in front of him, to devour her with his
eyes, to study her every movement and her rhythmic walk, interrupted
every moment by the irregularities of the path, the obstacles presented
by the trees and their interlaced branches. But while his eyes feasted
on these things, his mind was chiefly occupied in recalling the one
attitude, the one look--oh, that pallor, that sudden pallor just now
when he had proffered those few low words! And the indefinable tone of
her voice when she called Delfina.

'Is it far now?' asked Donna Maria.

'No, no, mamma, we are just there--here it is!'

As they neared the spot a sort of shyness came over Andrea. Since those
words of his he had not met Maria's eye. What did she think? What were
her feelings? What would her eyes say when, at last, she looked at him?

'Here it is!' cried the little girl.

The laurels had grown thinner, affording a freer view of the sea, and
the next moment the mass of arbutus flushed rosy-red before them like a
forest of coral with large tassels of blossom at the end of their
branches.

'What a glory!' murmured Maria.

The marvellous wilderness bloomed and bore fruit in a deep and sunny
space curved like an amphitheatre, in which all the delicious sweetness
of that aromatic shore seemed gathered up and concentrated. The stems,
tall and slender, crimson for the most part, but here and there yellow,
bore great shining green leaves, all motionless in the calm air.
Innumerable tassels of blossom, like sprays of lily-of-the-valley, white
and dewy, hung from the young boughs, while the maturer ones were loaded
with red or orange-yellow fruit. And all this wondrous pomp of blossom
and fruit, of green leaves and rosy stems displayed against the
brilliant blue of the sea, like a garden in a fairy tale, intense and
fantastic as a dream.

'What a marvel!'

Donna Maria advanced slowly, no longer led by Delfina, who, wild with
delight, rushed about with no thought but for stripping the whole wood.

Andrea plucked up his courage.

'Can you forgive me?' he asked anxiously. 'I did not mean to offend you.
Indeed, seeing you so far above me, so pure, so unapproachable, I
thought that never in this world could I reveal my secret to you, never
ask anything of you, never put myself in your way. Since ever I saw you,
I have thought of you night and day, but without hope, without any
definite end in view. I know that you do not love me, that you never can
love me. And yet, believe me, I would renounce every promise that life
may have in store for me, just for the hope of living in a little corner
of your heart----'

She continued to advance slowly under the sun-flecked trees, while the
delicate tassels of pink and white blossom swayed gently above her head.

'Believe me, Maria--only believe me! If I were bidden at this moment to
give up every desire and every ambition, the dearest memories of the
past and the most flattering promises of the future, and to live solely
in the thought of and for you--without a to-morrow, without a yesterday,
without other ties or attachments, far from the world, lost to
everything but you, till death--to all eternity--I would not hesitate
for one instant. You have looked at me and talked to me, have smiled and
answered; you have sat at my side pensive and silent; side by side with
me you have lived your own inner life, that inscrutable and inaccessible
existence of which I know nothing--can never know anything--- and your
soul has taken full and absolute possession of mine to its deepest
depths, but without ever a thought, without being aware of it, as the
ocean swallows up a river.--What is my love to you? What is any one's
love to you? The word has too often been profaned, and the sentiment too
often a make-believe.--I do not offer you love. But surely you will not
refuse the humble tribute of devotion that my spirit offers up to a
being nobler and higher than itself.'

She walked on at the same slow pace, her head bent, her face bloodless,
towards a seat at the further end of the wood and facing the sea.

It was a wide semicircle of white marble with a back running round the
entire length and, for sole ornamentation, a lion's paw at each end as a
support. It recalled those antique seats on which, in some island of the
Archipelago or in Greece or Pompeii, ladies reclined and listened to a
reading from the poets, under the shade of the oleanders, within sight
of the sea. Here the arbutus cast the shadow of its blossom and its
fruit, and in contrast to the marble, the coral of the stems seemed more
vivid than elsewhere.

'I care for everything that interests you; you possess all those things
after which I am seeking. Pity from you would be more precious to me
than passionate love from any other woman. Your hand upon my heart--I
know--would cause a second youth to spring up in me far purer than the
first and stronger. The ceaseless vacillation which makes up the sum of
my inner life would find rest and stability in you. My unsatisfied and
restless spirit, harried by a perpetual warfare between attraction and
repulsion, eternally and irremediably alone, would find in yours a haven
of refuge against the doubts which contaminate every ideal, and weaken
the will. There are men more unfortunate, but I doubt if in the whole
wide world there was ever one less happy than I.'

He was making use of Obermann's words as his own. In the sort of
sentimental intoxication to which he had worked himself up, all his
melancholy broodings surged to his lips, and the mere sound of his own
voice--with a little quiver of humble entreaty in it--served to augment
his emotions.

'I do not venture to tell you all my thoughts. At your side, during the
few days since I first met you, I have had moments of oblivion so
complete as almost to make me feel that I was back in the first days of
my convalescence, when the sense of another world was still present with
me. The past, the future were obliterated--as if the former had never
been, and the latter never would be. The whole world was without form
and void. Then, something like a dream, dim but stupendous, rose upon my
soul--a fluttering veil, now impenetrable, now transparent, and yielding
intermittent glimpses of a splendid but unattainable treasure. What did
you know or care about me in such moments? Doubtless your spirit was far
away from me. And yet, your mere bodily presence was sufficient to
intoxicate me--I felt it flowing through my veins like blood, taking
hold upon my soul with superhuman force----'

She sat silent and motionless, gazing straight before her, her figure
erect, her hands rigidly clasped in her lap, in the attitude of one who
makes a supreme effort to brace himself against his own weakness. Only
her mouth--the expression of the lips she vainly strove to keep
firm--betrayed a sort of anguished rapture.

'I dare not tell you all I feel.--Maria, Maria, can you forgive me?--say
that you forgive me.'

Two little hands came suddenly from behind the seat and clasped
themselves over the mother's eyes, and a voice panting with fun and
mischief cried--

'Guess who it is--guess who it is!'

She smiled, and allowed herself to be drawn backwards by Delfina's
clinging fingers, and instantly, with preternatural clearness, Andrea
saw that smile wipe away all the obscure, delicious pain from her lips,
efface every sign that might be construed into an avowal, put to flight
the least lingering shadow of uncertainty that he might possibly have
converted into a gleam of hope. He sat there like a man who has expected
to drink from an overflowing cup and suddenly finds it has nothing but
the empty air to offer to his thirsty lips.

'Guess!'

The little girl covered her mother's head with loud, quick kisses, in a
kind of frenzy, even hurting her a little.

'I know who it is--I know who it is,' cried Donna Maria--'Let me go!'

'What will you give me if I do?'

'Anything you like.'

'Well, I want a pony to carry back my berries to the house. Come and see
what a heap I have collected.'

She ran round the seat and pulled her mother by the hand. Donna Maria
rose rather wearily, and as she stood up she closed her eyes for a
moment as if overcome by sudden giddiness. Andrea rose too, and both
followed in Delfina's wake.

The mischievous child had stripped half the wood of fruit. The lower
branches had not a single berry left. With the aid of a stick, picked up
goodness knows where, she had reaped a prodigious harvest and then piled
up the fruit into one great heap, so intense in colouring against the
dark soil, that it looked like a heap of glowing embers. The flowers had
apparently not attracted her; there they hung, white and pink and yellow
and translucent, more delicate than the flowering locks of the acacia,
more graceful than the lily-of-the-valley, all bathed in dim golden
light.

'Oh Delfina! Delfina!' exclaimed Donna Maria, looking round upon the
devastation, 'what have you done!'

The child laughed and clapped her hands with glee in front of the
crimson pyramid.

'You will have to leave it all here.'

'No--no--'

At first she refused, but she thought for a moment, and then said, half
to herself with beaming eyes: 'The doe will come and eat them.'

She had probably noticed the beautiful creature moving about in the
park, and the thought of having collected so much food for it pleased
her and fired her imagination, already full of stories in which deer are
beneficent and powerful fairies who repose on silken cushions and drink
from jewelled cups. She remained silent and absorbed, picturing to
herself the beautiful tawny animal browsing on the fruit under the
flowering trees.'

'Come,' said Donna Maria, 'it is getting late.'

Holding Delfina by the hand, she walked on till they came to the edge of
the wood. Here she stopped to look at the sea, which, catching the
reflection of the clouds, was like a vast undulating, glittering sheet
of silk.

Without a word, Andrea plucked a spray of blossom, so full that the twig
it hung from bent beneath its weight, and offered it to Donna Maria. As
she took it from his hand she looked at him, but she did not open her
lips.

They passed on down the avenue, Delfina talking, talking incessantly;
repeating the same things over and over again, infatuated about the doe,
inventing long monotonous tales in which she ran one fairy story into
another, losing herself in labyrinths of her own creation, as if the
sparkling freshness of the morning air had gone to her head. And round
about the doe she grouped the children of the king, Cinderellas, fairy
queens, magicians, monsters--all the familiar personages of those
imaginary realms, crowding them in tumultuously with the kaleidoscopic
rapidity of a dream. Her prattle sounded like the warbling of a bird;
full of sweet modulations, with now and then a rapid succession of
melodious notes that were not words,--a continuation of the wave of
music already set in motion, like the vibrations of a string during a
pause--when in the childish mind, the connection between the idea and
its verbal expression met with a momentary interruption.

The other two neither spoke nor listened. To them the little girl's
bird-like twittering covered the murmur of their own thoughts, and if
Delfina stopped for a moment's breathing space, they felt as strangely
perturbed and apprehensive as if the silence might disclose or lay bare
their souls.

The avenue of the Hundred Fountains stretched away before them in
diminishing perspective; a peacock, perched upon one of the shields,
took flight at their approach, scattering the rose leaves into a
fountain below. A few steps further on, Andrea recognised the one beside
which Donna Maria had stood, and listened to the music of the waters.

In the retreat of the Hermes the smell of musk had evaporated. The
statue, all pensive under its garland, was flecked with patches of
sunshine which filtered through the surrounding foliage. Blackbirds
piped and answered one another.

Taken with a sudden fancy, Delfina exclaimed, 'Mamma, I want the wreath
again.'

'No, leave it there--why should you take it away?'

'I want it for Muriella.'

'But Muriella will spoil it.'

'Do, please, give it me.'

Donna Maria looked at Andrea. He slowly went up to the statue, lifted
the wreath and handed it to Delfina. In the exaltation of their spirits,
this simple little episode had all the mysterious significance of an
allegory--was in some way symbolical. One of his own lines ran
persistently in Andrea's head--

'Have I attained, have I then paid the price?'

The nearer they approached the end of the pathway, the fiercer grew the
pain at his heart; he would have given half his life for a word from the
woman he loved. A dozen times she seemed on the point of speaking, but
she did not.

'Look, mamma, there are Fernandino and Muriella and Ricardo,' cried
Delfina, catching sight of Francesca's children; and she started off
running towards them and waving her wreath.

'Muriella! Muriella! Muriella!'



CHAPTER V


Maria Ferrès had always remained faithful to her girlhood's habit of
setting down daily in her journal the passing thoughts, the joys, the
sorrows, the fancies, the doubts, the aspirations, the regrets and the
hopes--all the events of her spiritual life as well as the various
incidents of her outward existence, compiling thereby a sort of
Itinerary of the Soul which she liked occasionally to study, both for
guidance on the path still to be pursued and also to follow the traces
of things long dead and forgotten.

Perpetually denied, by force of circumstances, the relief of
self-expansion, enclosed within the magic circle of her purity as in a
tower of ivory for ever incorruptible and inaccessible, she found solace
and refreshment in the daily outpourings she confided to the white pages
of her private book. Therein she was free to make her moan, to abandon
herself to her griefs, to seek to decipher the enigma of her own heart,
to interrogate her conscience; here she gained courage in prayer,
tranquillised herself by meditation, laid her troubled spirit once more
in the hands of the Heavenly Father. And from every page shone the same
pure light--the light of Truth.

'_September 15th_ (Schifanoja).--How tired I feel! The journey was
rather fatiguing and the unaccustomed sea air makes my head ache at
first. I need rest, and I already seem to have a foretaste of the
sweetness of sleep and the happiness of awaking in the morning in the
house of a friend and to the pleasures of Francesca's cordial
hospitality at Schifanoja with its lovely roses and its tall cypress
trees. I shall wake up to the knowledge that I have some weeks of peace
before me--twenty days, perhaps even more, of congenial intellectual
companionship. I am very grateful to Francesca for her invitation. To
see her again was like meeting a sister. How much and how profoundly I
have changed since the dear old days in Florence!

'Speaking to-day of my hair, Francesca began recalling stories of our
absurd childish passions and melancholies in those days; of Carlotta
Fiordelise and Gabriella Vanni and various incidents of that distant
school life which seems to me now as though I had never lived it, but
only read it of it in some old forgotten book or seen it in a dream. My
hair has not fallen, but for every hair of my head there has been a
thorn in my destiny.

'But why let my sad thoughts get the upper hand over me again? And why
let memory cause me pain? It is useless to lament over a grave which
never gives back its dead. Would to Heaven I could remember that, once
for all!

'Francesca is still young, and has retained the frank and charming
gaiety which, in our school days, exercised such a strange fascination
over my somewhat gloomy temperament. She has one great and rare virtue:
though she is light-hearted herself, she can enter into the troubles of
others and knows how to lighten them by her kindly sympathy and pity.
She is above all things a woman of high intelligence and refined tastes,
a perfect hostess and a friend who never palls upon one. She is perhaps
a trifle too fond of witty _mots_ and sparkling epigrams, but her darts
are always tipped with gold, and she aims them with inimitable grace.
Among all the women of the great world I have ever known there is
certainly not one to compare with her, and of all my friends, she is the
one I care for most.

'Her children are not like her, they are not handsome. But the youngest,
Muriella, is a dear little thing, with the sweet laugh and the eyes of
her mother. She did the honours of the house to Delfina with all the air
of a little lady; she has certainly inherited her mother's perfect
manner.

'Delfina seems to be happy. She has already explored the greater part of
the grounds, as far as the sea, and has run down all the flights of
steps. She came to tell me about all the wonderful things she had
seen--panting, swallowing half the words, her eyes looking almost
dazzled. She spoke continually of her new friend Muriella--a pretty name
that sounds still prettier from her lips.

'She is fast asleep. When her eyes are closed, her lashes cast a long,
long shadow on her cheeks. Francesca's cousin was struck by their length
this evening and quoted a beautiful line from Shakespeare's Tempest on
Miranda's eyelashes.

'The scent of the flowers is too strong in this room. Delfina was
anxious to keep the bouquet of roses by her bedside, but now that she is
asleep I shall take them away and put them out into the loggia in the
fresh air.

'I am tired, and yet I have written four pages; I am sleepy, and yet I
would gladly prolong this languor of soul, lulled by I know not what
unwonted sense of tenderness diffused around me. It is so long--so
long--since I have felt myself surrounded by a little kindness!

'I have just carried the vase of roses into the loggia and stayed there
a few moments to listen to the voices of the night, moved by the regret
of losing in the blindness of sleep the hours that pass under so
beautiful a sky. How strange is the harmony between the song of the
fountains and the murmur of the sea! The cypresses seemed to be the
pillars of the firmament; the stars shining just above them tipped their
summits with fire.

'_September 16th._--A delightful afternoon, spent almost entirely in
conversation with Francesca in the loggia, on the terraces, in the
avenues, at the various points of outlook of this villa, which looks as
if it had been built by a princely poet to drown a grief. The name of
the Palace at Ferrara suits it admirably.

'Francesca gave me a sonnet of Count Sperelli's to read--a trifle, but
of rare literary charm, and inscribed on vellum. Sperelli has a mind of
a very high order, and is most intense. To-day at dinner, he said
several very beautiful things. He is recovering from a terrible wound
received in a duel in Rome last May. In all his actions, his looks, his
words, there is that affectionate and charming licence which is the
prerogative of the convalescent, of those who have newly escaped the
clutches of death. He must be very young, but he has gone through much
and lived fast. He bears the evidences of it.... A charming evening of
conversation and music all by ourselves after dinner. I talked too much,
or, at any rate, with two much eagerness. But Francesca listened and
encouraged me, and so did Count Sperelli. That is just the delightful
part of a conversation not on common subjects--to feel the same degree
of warmth animating the minds of all present. Only then do one's words
have the true ring of sincerity and give real pleasure, both to the
speaker and the hearer.

'Francesca's cousin is a most cultivated judge of music. He greatly
admires the masters of the eighteenth century, Domenico Scarlatti being
his special favourite. But his most ardent devotion is reserved for
Sebastian Bach. He does not care much for Chopin, and Beethoven affects
him too profoundly and perturbs his spirit.

'He listened to me with a singular expression, almost as if dazed or
distressed. I nearly always addressed myself to Francesca, but I felt
his eyes upon me with an insistence which embarrassed but did not offend
me. He must still be weak and ill and a prey to his nerves. Finally he
asked me--"Do you sing?" in the same tone in which he would have
said--"Do you love me?"

'I sang an air of Paisiello's and another by Salieri, and I played a
little eighteenth century music. I was in good voice and my touch on the
piano happy.

'He gave me no word of thanks or praise, but remained perfectly silent.
I wonder why?

'Delfina was in bed by that time. When I went upstairs afterwards to see
her, I found her asleep, but with her eyelashes wet as if with tears.
Poor darling! Dorothy told me that my voice could be heard distinctly up
here, and that Delfina had wakened from her first sleep and begun to
sob, and wanted to come down.

'She is asleep again now, but from time to time her little bosom heaves
with a suppressed sob which sends a vague distress into my own heart,
and a desire to respond to that involuntary sob, to this grief which
sleep cannot assuage. Poor darling!

'Who is playing the piano downstairs, I wonder? With the soft pedal
down, some one is trying over that gavotte of Rameau's, so full of
bewitching melancholy, that I was playing just now. Who can it be?
Francesca came up with me--it is late.

'I went out and leaned over the loggia. The room opening into the
vestibule is dark, but there is light in the room next to it, where
Manuel and the Marchese are still playing cards.

'The gavotte has stopped, some one is going down the steps into the
garden.

'Why should I be so alert, so watchful, so curious? Why should every
sound startle me to-night?

'Delfina has wakened and is calling me.

'_September 17th._--Manuel left this morning. We accompanied him to the
station at Rovigliano. He will return about the 10th of October to fetch
me, and we all go on to Sienna, to my mother. Delfina and I will
probably stay at Sienna till after the New Year. I shall see the Loggia
of the Pope and the Fonte Gaja, and my beautiful black and white
Cathedral once more--that beloved dwelling-place of the Blessed Virgin,
where a part of my soul has ever remained to pray in a spot that my
knees know well.

'I always have a vision of that spot clearly before me, and when I go
back I shall kneel on the exact stone where I always used to. I know it
as well as if my knees had left a deep hollow there. And there too I
shall find that portion of my soul which still lingers there in prayer
beneath the starry blue vault above, which is mirrored in the marble
floor like a midnight sky in a placid lake.

'Assuredly nothing there is changed. In the costly chapel, full of
palpitating shadow and mysterious gloom, alive with the glint of
precious marble, the lamps burned softly, all their light seemingly
gathered into the little globe of oil that fed the flame as into some
limpid topaz. Little by little, under my intent gaze, the sculptured
stone grew less coldly white, took on warm ivory tints, became gradually
penetrated by the pallid life of the celestial beings, and over the
marble forms crept the faint transparency of angelic flesh.

'Ah, how fervent and spontaneous were my prayers then! When I absorbed
myself in meditation, I seemed to be walking through the secret paths of
my soul as in a garden of delight, where nightingales sang in the
blossoming trees and turtle-doves cooed beside the running waters of
Grace divine.

'_September 18th._--A day of nameless torture. Something seems to be
forcing me to gather up, to re-adjust, to join together the fragments of
a dream, half of which is being confusedly realised outside of me, and
the other half going on equally confusedly in my own heart. And try as I
will, I cannot succeed in piecing it completely together.

'_September 19th._--Continued torture. Long ago, some one sang to me but
never finished the song. Now some one is taking up the strain at the
point where it broke off, but meanwhile, I have forgotten the beginning.
And my spirit loses itself in vain gropings after the old melody, nor
can it find any pleasure in the new.

'_September 20th._--To-day, after lunch, Andrea Sperelli invited me and
Francesca to come to his room and look at some drawings that had arrived
for him yesterday from Rome.

'It would not be too much to say that an entire Art has passed before
our eyes to-day--an art studied and analysed by the hand of a master
draughtsman. I have never experienced a more intense pleasure.

'The drawings are Sperelli's own work--studies, sketches, notes,
mementos of every gallery in Europe; they are, so to speak, his
breviary, a wonderful breviary in which each of the Old Masters has his
special page, affording a condensed example of his manner, bringing out
the most lofty and original beauties of his work, the _punctum saliens_
of his entire productions. In going through the large collection, not
only have I received a distinct impression of the various schools, the
movements, the influences which have combined to develop the art of
painting in various countries, but I feel that I have had a glimpse into
the spirit, the essential meaning of the art of each individual painter.
I am as if intoxicated with art, my brain is full of lines and figures,
but in the midst of the apparent confusion there stand out clearly
before me the women of the early masters, those never-to-be-forgotten
heads of Saints and Virgins which smiled down upon my childish piety in
old Sienna from the frescoes of Taddeo and Simone.

'No masterpiece of art, however advanced and brilliant, leaves upon the
mind so strong and enduring an impression. All these slender forms,
delicate and drooping as lily-buds, these grave and noble attitudes for
receiving a flower offered by an angel, placing the fingers on an open
book, bending over the Holy Infant, or supporting the body of Christ; in
the act of blessing, of agonising, of ascending into Heaven--all these
things, so pure, so sincere, so profoundly touching, affect the soul to
its depths and imprint themselves for ever on the memory.

'Thus, one by one, the women of the Early Masters passed in review
before us. Francesca and I were seated on a low couch with a great stand
before us, on which lay the portfolio containing the drawings which the
artist, seated opposite, slowly turned over, commenting on each in
succession. I watched his hand as he took up a sheet and placed it with
peculiar care on the other side of the portfolio, and each time I felt a
sort of thrill, as if that hand were going to touch me--Why?--

'Presently, his position doubtless becoming uncomfortable, he knelt on
the floor, and in that attitude continued turning over the drawings. In
speaking, he nearly always addressed himself to me, not at all with the
air of imparting instruction, but as if discussing the pictures with a
person as familiar with the subject as he was himself; and, at the
bottom of my heart, I was conscious of a sense of complacency mingled
with gratitude. Whenever I exclaimed in admiration, he looked at me with
a smile which I can still see, but cannot define. Two or three times,
Francesca rested her arm on his shoulder in unconscious familiarity.
Looking at the head of the first-born of Moses, copied from Botticelli's
fresco in the Sistine Chapel, she said--"It has a look of you when you
are in one of your melancholy moods."--And when we came to the head of
the Archangel Michael from Perugino's Madonna of Pavia, she
remarked---"It is a little like Giulia Moceto, is it not?" He did not
answer, but only turned the page over rather sooner than usual. Upon
which she added with a laugh--"Away with the pictures of sin!"

'This Giulia Moceto is, I suppose, some one he was once in love with.
The page once turned, I had a wild, unreasoning desire to look at the
Michael again and examine the face more closely. Was it merely artistic
curiosity?

'I cannot say, I dare not pry into my heart, I prefer to temporise, to
deceive myself; I have not the courage to face the battle, I am a
coward.

'And yet the present is so sweet. My imagination is as excited as if I
had drunk strong tea. I have no desire to go to bed. The night is soft
and warm as if it were August, the sky is cloudless but dimly veiled,
the breathing of the sea comes slow and deep, but the fountains fill up
the pauses. The loggia attracts me--shall we go out and dream a little,
my heart and I?--dream of what?

'The eyes of the Virgins and the Saints pursue me--deep-set, long and
narrow, with meekly downcast lids, from under which they gaze at one
with that charmed look--innocent as the dove, and yet a little side-long
like the serpent. "Be ye harmless as doves and wise as serpents," said
Our Lord--

'Yes, be wise--go, say your prayers, and then, to bed and sleep----

'_September 21st._--Alas, must the heavy task ever painfully begin again
from the beginning, the steep path be climbed, the battle that was won
fought over again!

'_September 22nd._--He has given me one of his poems, _The Story of the
Hermaphrodite_, the twenty-first of the twenty-five copies, printed on
vellum and with two proof engravings of the frontispiece.

'It is a remarkable work, enclosing a mystic and profound idea, although
the musical element predominates, entrancing the soul by the unfamiliar
magic of its melody, which envelopes the thoughts that shine out like a
glister of gold and diamonds through a limpid stream. Certain lines
pursue me incessantly and will continue to do so for long, no
doubt--they are so intense.... Every day and every hour he subjugates me
more and more, mind and soul--against my will, despite my resistance.
His every word and look, his slightest action sinks into my heart.

'_September 23rd._--When we converse with one another, I sometimes feel
as if his voice were an echo of my soul. At times, a sudden wild frenzy
comes over me, a blind desire, an unreasoning impulse to make some
remark, utter some word that would betray my secret weakness. I only
save myself from it by a miracle, and then there falls an interval of
silence, during which I am shaken with inward terror. Then, when I do
speak again, it is to say something trivial in the lightest tone I can
command, but I feel as if a flame were rushing over my face--that I am
going to blush. If he were to seize this moment to look me boldly in the
eyes, I should be lost!

'I played a good deal this evening, chiefly Bach and Schumann. As on the
first evening, he sat in a low chair to the right but a little behind
me. From time to time, at the end of each piece, he rose and leaned over
me, turning the pages to point out another Fugue or Intermezzo. Then he
would sit down again and listen, motionless, profoundly absorbed, his
eyes fixed on me, forcing me to _feel_ his presence.

'Did he understand, I wonder, how much of myself, of my thoughts and
griefs found voice in the music of others?

'It is a threatening night. A hot moist wind blows over the garden and
its dull moaning dies away in the darkness only to begin again more
loudly. The tops of the cypresses wave to and fro under an almost inky
sky in which the stars burn with feeble ray. A band of clouds spans the
heavens from side to side, ragged, contorted, blacker than the sky, like
the tragic locks of a Medusa. The sea is invisible through the darkness,
but it sobs as if in measureless and uncontrollable grief--forsaken and
alone.

'Why this unreasoning terror? The night seems to warn me of approaching
disaster, a warning that finds its echo in a dim remorse within my
heart.

'But I always take comfort from my daughter, she heals my fever like
some blessed balm.

'She is asleep now, shaded from the lamp which shines with the soft
radiance of the moon. Her face--white with dewy freshness of a white
rose, seems half buried in the masses of her dark hair. One would think
the eyelids were too delicately transparent to veil the splendour of her
eyes. As I lean over her and gaze at her, all the sinister voices of the
night are silenced for me, and the silence is measured only by her
gentle respiration.

'She feels the vicinity of her mother. The longer I contemplate her, the
more does she assume in my eyes the aspect of some ethereal creature, of
a being formed of "such stuff as dreams are made of."

'She shall grow up nourished and enwrapped by the flame of my love--of
my great, my _only_ love----

'_September 24th._--I can form no resolve--I can decide upon no plan of
action. I am simply abandoning myself a little to this new sentiment,
shutting my eyes to the distant peril, and my ears to the warning voice
of conscience, with the shuddering temerity of one who, in gathering
violets, ventures too near the edge of a precipice at the foot of which
roars a hungry torrent.

'He shall never know anything from my lips, I shall never know anything
from his. Our two souls will mount together, for a brief space, to the
mountain-tops of the Ideal, will drink side by side at the perennial
fountains, and then each go on its separate way, encouraged and
refreshed.

'How still the air is this afternoon! The sea has the faint milky-blue
tints of the opal, of Murano glass, with here and there a patch like a
mirror dimmed by a breath.

'I am reading Shelley, a favourite poet with him, that divine Ariel
feeding upon light and speaking with the tongues of angels. It is
night----

'_September 25th._--_Mio Dio! Mio Dio!_ His voice when he spoke my
name--the tremor in it--oh, I thought my heart was breaking in my bosom,
and that I must inevitably lose consciousness.--"You will never know,"
he said--"never know how utterly my soul is yours."

'We were in the avenue of the fountains--I was listening to the sound of
the water; but from that moment, I heard nothing more. Everything around
me seemed to flee away, carrying my life with it, and the earth to open
beneath my feet. I made a superhuman effort to control myself. Delfina's
name rose to my lips and I was seized with a wild impulse to fly to her
for protection, for safety. Three times I cried that name, but in the
intervals my heart ceased to beat and the breath died away upon my lips.

'_September 26th._--Was it true? Was it not merely some illusion of my
overwrought and distracted spirit? Why should that hour yesterday seem
to me so far away, so _unreal_?

'He spoke a second time, at greater length, close to my side while I
walked on under the trees as in a dream.--Under the trees was it? It
seemed to me rather that I was walking through the hidden pathways of my
soul, among flowers born of my imagination, listening to the words of an
invisible spirit that yet was part of myself.

'I can still hear the sweet and dreadful words--"I would renounce all
that the future may hold for me to live in a small corner of your
heart--Far from the world, wholly lost in the thought of you--until
death, to all eternity"--And again--"Pity from you would be far dearer
to me than love from any other woman. Your mere presence suffices to
intoxicate me--I feel it flowing into my veins like my life's blood and
filling my soul with rapture beyond all telling."

'_September 27th._--When he gathered the spray of blossom at the
entrance to the wood and offered it to me, did I not, in my heart, call
him--_Life of my life_?

'When, in the avenue, we passed again by the fountain where he first
spoke to me, did I not call him _Life of my life_?

'When he took the wreath from off the Hermes and gave it back to my
child, did he not give me to understand that the woman exalted in these
verses had fallen from her high estate, and that I, I alone, was all his
hope? And once more I called him _Life of my life_.

'_September 28th._--How long I have been in finding peace!

'From that moment onwards, what hours of struggle and travail I have
had, how painfully I have striven to penetrate the real state of my
mind, to see things in their true light, bring a calm and fair judgment
to bear upon what has happened, to recognise and determine upon my duty!
But I continually evaded myself, my mind became confused, my will was
but a broken reed on which to lean, every effort was vain. By a sort of
instinct, I have avoided being alone with him, kept close to Francesca
or my child, or stayed here in my room as in a haven of refuge. When my
eyes did meet his, I seemed to read in them a profound and imploring
sadness. Does he not know how deeply, deeply, deeply I love him?

'He does not know it, nor ever will. That is my firm resolve--that is my
duty. Courage!

'Help me, oh my God!

'_September 29th._--Why did he speak? Why did he break the enchanted
silence in which I let my soul be steeped, almost without regret or
fear? Why tear away the veil of uncertainty and put me face to face with
his unveiled love? Now I have no further excuse for temporising, for
deluding myself. The danger is there--certain, undeniable, manifest--it
attracts me to its dizzy edge like a precipice. One moment of weakness,
of languor, and I am lost.

'I ask myself--am I sincere in my pain and regret at this unexpected
revelation? How is it that I think perpetually of those words? And why,
when I repeat them to myself, does a wave of ineffable rapture sweep
over my soul? Why do I thrill to the heart's core at the imagined
prospect of hearing more--more such words?

'Night. The agitation of my soul takes the forms of questions,
riddles--I ask myself endless questions to which I never have an answer.
I have not had the courage to look myself through and through--to form a
really bold and honest resolution. I am pusillanimous, I am a coward. I
shrink from pain, I want to suffer as little as possible, I prefer to
temporise, to hang back, to resort to subterfuges, to wilfully blind
myself instead of courageously facing the risks of a decisive battle.

'The fact of the matter is this--that I am _afraid_ of being alone with
him, of having a serious conversation with him, and so my life is
reduced to a series of petty schemes and manoeuvrings and pretexts for
avoiding his company. Such devices are unworthy of me. Either I must
renounce this love altogether, and he shall hear my sad but firm
resolve, or I shall accept it, in so far as it is pure, and he will
receive my spiritual consent.

'And now I ask myself--What do I really want? Which of the two paths am
I to choose? Must I renounce--shall I accept?

'My God! my God! answer Thou for me--light up the path before me!

'To renounce is like tearing out a piece of my heart with my own hands.
The agony would be supreme, the wrench would exceed the limits of the
endurable. But, by God's grace, such heroism would be crowned by
resignation, would be rewarded by that sweet and holy calm which follows
upon every high moral impulse, every victory of the soul over the dread
of suffering.

'I shall renounce--my daughter shall keep possession of my whole life,
of my whole soul. That is the path of duty, and I will walk in it.

'Sow in tears, oh mourning souls, that ye may reap with songs of
gladness!

'_September 30th._--I feel somewhat calmer in writing these pages. I
regain, at least for the moment, some slight balance of mind. I can look
my misfortune more clearly in the face, and my heart seems relieved as
if after confession.

'Oh, if I could but go to confession!--could implore counsel and help of
my old friend and comforter, Dom Luigi!

'What sustains me most of all in my tribulation, is the thought that in
a short time I shall see him again and be able to pour out all my griefs
and fears to him, show him all my wounds, ask of him a balm for all my
ills, as I used to in the days when his benign and solemn words would
call up tears of tenderness to my eyes, that knew not then the
bitterness of other tears or--more terrible by far--the burning pain of
dry-eyed misery.

'Will he understand me still? Can he fathom the deep anguish of the
woman as he understood the vague and fitful melancholy of the girl?
Shall I ever again see him lean towards me in pity and consolation, that
gentle brow, crowned with silvery locks, illumined with purity and
holiness, and sanctified by the hand of the Lord?

'In the chapel, after mass, I played on the organ music of Bach and of
Cherubini. I played the same prelude as the other evening.

'A soul weeps and moans, weighed down with anguish, weeps and moans and
cries to God, asking His pardon, imploring His aid, with a prayer that
rises to heaven like a tongue of fire. It cries and it is heard--its
prayer is answered; it receives light from above, utters songs of
gladness reaches at length the haven of Peace and Truth and rests in the
Lord----

'The organ is not large nor is the chapel, but, nevertheless, my soul
expanded as in a basilica, soared up as under some vast dome, and
touched the pinnacle of high Heaven where blazes the Sign of Signs in
the azure of Paradise, in the sublime ether.

'Night. Alas: nothing is of any avail--nothing gives me one hour, one
minute, one second's respite. Nothing can ever cure me, no dream of my
mind can ever efface the dream of my heart.--All has been in vain; this
anguish is killing me. I feel that my hurt is mortal, my heart pains me
as if some one were actually crushing it, were tearing it to pieces. My
agony of mind is so great that it has become a physical
torment--atrocious, unbearable. I know perfectly well that I am
overwrought, nervous--the victim of a sort of madness; but I cannot get
the upper hand over myself, cannot pull myself together, cannot regain
control of my reason. I cannot--I simply cannot!

'So this, then, is love!

'He went off somewhere this morning on horseback accompanied by a
servant before I saw him, and I spent the whole morning in the chapel.
When lunch time came he had not returned. His absence caused me such
misery that I myself was astonished at the violence of my pain. I came
up to my room afterwards, and to ease my heart I wrote a page of my
journal, a devotional page, seeking to revive my fainting spirit at the
glowing memory of my girlhood's faith. Then I read a few pieces, here
and there, of Shelley's _Epipsychidion_, after which I went down into
the park looking for Delfina. But no matter what I did, the thought of
him was ever present with me, held me captive and tortured me
relentlessly.

'When, at last, I heard his voice again, I was on the first terrace. He
was speaking to Francesca in the vestibule. She came out and called to
me to come up.

'I felt my knees giving way beneath me at each step. He held out his
hand to me and he must have noticed the trembling of mine, for I saw a
sudden gleam flash into his eyes. We all three sat down on low cane
lounges in the vestibule, facing the sea. He complained of feeling very
tired, and smoked while he told us of his ride. He had gone as far as
Vicomile, where he had made a halt.

'Vicomile, he said, possesses three wonderful treasures--a pine wood, a
tower, and a fifteenth-century monstrance. Imagine a pine wood, between
the sea and the hill, interspersed by a number of pools that multiply
the trees indefinitely; a campanile in the old rugged Lombardy style
that goes back to the eleventh century--a tree-trunk of stone, as it
were, covered with sculptured sirens and peacocks, serpents and griffins
and dragons--a thousand and one monsters and flowers; and a silver-gilt
monstrance all enamelled, engraved and chased--Gothico-Byzantine in
style and form with a foretaste of Renaissance, the work of Gallucci, an
almost unknown artist, but who was the great forerunner of Benvenuto
Cellini----

'He addressed himself all the time to me. Strange how exactly I remember
every word he says! I could set down any conversation of his, word for
word, from beginning to end; if there were any means of doing so, I
could reproduce every modulation of his voice.

'He showed us two or three little sketches he had made, and then began
again describing the wonders of Vicomile with that warmth with which he
always speaks of beautiful things and that enthusiasm for art which is
one of his most potent attractions.

'"I promised the Canonico to come back to-morrow. We will all go, will
we not, Francesca? Donna Maria ought to see Vicomile!"

'Oh, my name on his lips! If it were possible, I could reproduce the
very movements of his lips in uttering each syllable of those two
words--Donna Maria----But what I never could express is my own emotion
on hearing it; could never explain the unknown, undreamed-of sensation
awakened in me by the presence of this man.

'We sat there till dinner-time. Contrary to her usual habit, Francesca
seemed a little pensive and out of spirits. There were moments when
heavy silence fell upon us. But between him and me there then occurred
one of those _silent colloquies_ in which the soul exhales the Ineffable
and hears the murmur of its thoughts. He said things to me then that
made me sink back against the cushions of my chair faint with
rapture--things that his lips will never repeat to me, that my ears will
never hear.

'In front of us, the cypresses, tipped with fire by the setting sun,
stood up tall and motionless like votive candles. The sea was the colour
of aloe leaves, dashed here and there with liquid turquoise; there was
an indescribable delicacy of varying pallor--a diffusion of angelic
light, in which each sail looked like an angel's wing upon the waters.
And the harmony of faint and mingled perfumes seemed like the soul of
the declining day.

'Oh sweet and tranquil death of September!

'Another month ended, lost, dropped away into the abyss of
Time--Farewell!

'I have lived more in this last fortnight than in fourteen years; and
not one of my long weeks of unhappiness has ever equalled in sharpness
of torture this one short week of passion. My heart aches, my head
swims; in the depths of my being, I feel a something obscure and
burning--a something that has suddenly awakened in me like a latent
disease, and now begins to creep through my blood and into my soul in
spite of myself, baffling every remedy--desire.

'It fills me with shame and horror as at some dishonour, some sacrilege
or outrage; it fills me with wild and desperate terror as at some
treacherous enemy who will make use of secret paths to enter the citadel
which are unknown to myself.

'And here I sit in the night watches, and while I write these pages,
with all the feverish ardour that lovers put into their love-letters, I
cease to listen to the gentle breathing of my child. She sleeps in
peace; she little knows how far away from her her mother's spirit is!

'_October 1st._--I see much in him that I did not observe before. When
he speaks, I cannot take my eyes off his mouth--the play of his lips and
their colouring occupies my attention more than the sound or the sense
of his words.

'_October 2nd._--To-day is Saturday--just a week since the
never-to-be-forgotten day, the 25th of September.

'By some strange chance, although I no longer avoid being alone with
him--for I am anxious now for the dread and heroical moment--by some
strange chance, that moment has not yet occurred.

'Francesca has always been with me the whole day long. This morning we
had a ride along the road to Rovigliano, and we spent the best part of
the afternoon at the piano. She made me play some sixteenth-century
dance music, and then Clementi's famous Toccata and two or three
Caprices of Scarlatti's, and, after that, I had to sing certain songs
from Schumann's _Frauenliebe_--what contrasts!

'Francesca has lost much of her old gaiety, she is not as she used to be
in the first days of my stay here. She is often silent and preoccupied,
and when she does laugh or make fun, her gaiety seems to me very forced.
I said to her once. "Is something worrying you?"

'"Why?" she answered with assumed surprise.

'"Because you seem to me a little out of spirits lately."

'"Out of spirits? oh, no, you are quite mistaken," she answered, and she
laughed, but with an involuntary note of bitterness. This troubles me
and causes me a vague sense of uneasiness.

'We are going to Vicomile to-morrow afternoon.

'He asked me--"Would it tire you too much to come on horseback? In that
way we could cut right through the pine wood!"

'So we are going to ride and Francesca will join us. The others,
including Delfina, will come in the mail-coach.

'What a strange state of mind I am in this evening! I feel a kind of
dull and angry bitterness at the bottom of my heart, without knowing
why--am impatient with myself, my life, the whole world--my nervous
irritation rises, at times, to such a pitch, that I am seized with an
insane desire to scream aloud, to dig my nails into my flesh, to bruise
my fingers against the wall--any physical suffering would be better than
this intolerable mental discomfort, this unbearable wretchedness. I feel
as if I had a burning knot in my bosom, that my throat were closed by a
sob I dared not give vent to--I am icy cold and burning hot by turns
and, from time to time, a sudden pang darts through me, an irrational
terror that I can neither shake off nor control. Thoughts and images
flash suddenly across my brain, coming from I know not what ignoble
depths of my soul.

'_October 3rd._--How weak and miserable is the human soul, how utterly
defenceless against the attacks of all that is least noble and least
pure in us, and that slumbers in the obscurity of our unconscious life,
in those unexplored abysses where dark dreams are born of hidden
sensations!

'A dream can poison a whole soul, a single involuntary thought is
sufficient to corrupt and break down the force of will.

'We are just starting for Vicomile. Delfina is in raptures.

'It is the festival of Our Lady of the Rosary. Courage, my heart!

'_October 4th._--I found no courage.

'Yesterday was so full of trifling incidents and great emotions, so
joyful and so sad, so strangely agitating that I am almost at a loss
when I try to remember it all. And yet all--all other recollections pale
and vanish before the one.

'After having visited the tower and admired the monstrance, we prepared
to return home at about half-past five. Francesca was tired and
preferred going back in the coach to getting on horseback again. We
followed them for a while, riding behind or beside them, while Delfina
and Muriella waved long flowering bulrushes at us, laughing and
threatening us with their splendid spears.

'The evening was calm, not a breath of wind stirred. The sun was sinking
behind the hill at Rovigliano in a sky all rosy-red, like a sunset in
the Far East.

'When we came in sight of the pine-wood, he suddenly said to me: "Shall
we ride through it?"

'The high road skirted the wood, describing a wide curve, at one part of
which it almost touched the sea-shore. The wood was already growing dark
and was full of deep-green twilight, but under the trees the pools
gleamed with a pure and intense light, like fragments of a sky far
fairer than the one above our heads.

'Without giving me time to answer, he said to Francesca, "We are going
to ride through the wood and shall join you at the other side, on the
high road, by the bridge"--and he reined in his horse.

'Why did I consent--why did I follow him? There was a sort of dazzle
before my eyes. I felt as if I were under the influence of some nameless
fascination, as if the landscape, the light, this incident, the whole
combination of circumstances were not new to me, but things that had all
happened to me before, in another existence, and were now only being
repeated. The impression is quite indescribable. My will seemed
paralysed. It was as when some incident of one's life reappears in a
dream, but with added details that differ from the real circumstances. I
shall never be able to adequately describe even a part of this strange
phenomenon.

'We rode in silence at a foot's pace; the cawing of the rooks, the dull
beat of the horses' hoofs and their noisy breathing in no way disturbed
the all-pervading peace that seemed to grow every minute deeper and more
magical.

'Ah, why did he break the spell we ourselves had woven?

'He began to speak; he poured out upon me a flood of burning
words--words which, in the silence of the wood, frightened me because
they carried with them an impression of something preternatural,
something indefinably weird and compelling. He was no longer the humble
suppliant of that morning in the park, spoke no more of his diffident
hopes, his half-mystical aspirations, his incurable sense of sorrow.
This time he did not beg and entreat. It was the voice of passion, full
of audacity and virile power, a voice I did not know in him.

'"You love me, you love me--you cannot help but love me--tell me that
you love me!"

'His horse was close beside mine. I felt him brush me; I almost felt the
breath of his burning words upon my cheek, and I thought I must swoon
with anguish and fall into his arms.

'"Tell me that you love me," he repeated obstinately, relentlessly.
"Tell me that you love me!"

'Under the terrible strain of his insistent voice, I believe I answered
wildly--whether with a cry or a sob, I do not know--

'"I love you, I love you, I love you!" and I set my horse at a gallop
down the narrow rugged path between the crowded tree-trunks, unconscious
of what I was doing.

'He followed me crying--"Maria, Maria, stop--you will hurt yourself."

'But I fled blindly on. I do not know how my horse managed to keep clear
of the trees, I do not know why I was not thrown; I am incapable of
retracing my impressions in that mad flight through the dark wood, past
the gleaming patches of water. When at last I came out upon the road,
near the bridge, I seemed to have come out of some hallucination.

'"Do you want to kill yourself?" he said almost fiercely. We heard the
sound of the approaching carriage and turned to meet it. He was going to
speak to me again.

'"Hush, for pity's sake," I entreated, for I felt I was at the end of my
forces.

'He was silent. Then, with an assurance that stupefied me, he said to
Francesca--"Such a pity you did not come! It was perfectly enchanting."

'And he went on talking as quietly and unconcernedly as if nothing had
happened, even with a certain amount of gaiety. I was only too thankful
for his dissimulation which screened me, for if I had been obliged to
speak, I should inevitably have betrayed myself, and for both of us to
have been silent would doubtless have aroused Francesca's suspicions.

'A little further on, the road wound up the hill towards Schifanoja. Oh,
the boundless melancholy of the evening! A new moon shone in the
faintly-tinted, pale-green sky, where my eyes, and perhaps mine alone,
detected a lingering rosy tinge--that same rosy light that gleamed upon
the pools down in the pine wood.

'_October 5th._--He knows now that I love him, and knows it from my own
lips. Nothing is left for me but flight--this is what I have come to!

'When he looks at me now, there is a strange gleam in the depths of his
eyes that was not there before. To-day, while Francesca was absent for a
moment, he took my hand and made as if he would kiss it. I managed to
draw it away, but I saw his lips tremble; I caught, as it were, the
reflection of the kiss that never left his lips, and the image of that
kiss haunts me now--it haunts me--haunts me----

'_October 6th._--On the 25th of September, on the marble seat in the
arbutus wood, he said to me--"I know you do not love me and that you
never will love me!" And on the 3rd of October--"You love me--you love
me--you cannot help but love me----"

'In Francesca's presence, he asked if I would allow him to make a study
of my hands, and I consented. He will begin to-day.

'I am nervous and frightened, as if I were going to expose my hands to
some nameless ordeal.

'Night. It has begun, the slow, sweet, unspeakable torture.

'He drew with red and black chalk. My right hand lay on a piece of
velvet; near me on the table stood a Corean vase, yellow and spotted
like the skin of a python, and in the vase was a group of orchids,
those grotesque flowers for which Francesca has so curious a
predilection.

'When I felt that I could no longer bear the ordeal, I looked at the
flowers to distract my thoughts, and their strange, distorted shapes
carried me to the distant countries of their birth, giving me a moment's
respite from my haunting grief. He went on drawing in silence; his eyes
passing continually from the paper to my hand. Two or three times he
looked at the vase; at last, rising from his chair, he said--"Excuse
me"--and lifting the vase, he carried it away and placed it on another
table. I do not know why.

'After that, he resumed his drawing with much greater freedom, as if
relieved of an annoyance.

'I cannot describe the sensation produced in me by his eyes. I felt as
if not my hand, but a part of my soul were laid bare to his scrutinising
gaze, that his eyes pierced to its very depths, exploring its most
secret recesses. Never had my hand felt so alive, so expressive, so
responsive to my heart, revealing so much that I would fain have kept
secret. Under his gaze I felt it quiver imperceptibly but continuously,
and the tremor spread to my innermost veins. When his gaze grew too
intense, I was seized with an instinctive desire to withdraw my hand
altogether, arising from a sense of shame.

'Now and then, he would stop drawing and sit for quite an appreciable
time with his eyes fixed, and then I had the impression that he was
absorbing something of me through his pupils, or that he was caressing
me with a touch that was softer than the velvet beneath my hand. At
other times, while he bent over the drawing, transferring maybe into the
lines what he had taken from me, a faint smile played round his mouth,
so faint that I only just caught it. I do not know why, but that smile
sent a pang of delight thrilling through my heart. Once or twice, I saw
the image of a kiss appear again upon his lips.

'At last, curiosity got the better of me and I said--"Well--what is
it?"

'Francesca was at the piano with her back turned to us, her fingers
wandering over the keys, trying to remember Rameau's Gavotte _of the
Yellow Ladies_ that I have played so often, and which will always be
connected in my mind with my stay at Schifanoja. She muffled the notes
with the soft pedal and broke off frequently. These interruptions and
gaps in the melody which was so familiar to me and which my ear filled
up each time, in advance, added immeasurably to my distress. All at
once, she struck one note hard several times in succession as if under
the spur of some nervous irritation; then she started up and came and
bent over the drawing.

'I looked at her--I understood it all.

'This last drop was wanting in my cup of bitterness. God had still this
last and cruelest trial of all reserved for me.--His will be done!

'_October 7th._--I have now but one thought, one desire--to fly from
here--to escape.

'I have come to the end of my strength. This love is crushing me, is
killing me, and the unexpected discovery I have made increases my
wretchedness a thousand-fold. What are her feelings towards me? What
does she think? So she loves him too?--and since when? Does he know it?
Or has he no suspicion of the fact?

'_Mio Dio! Mio Dio!_ I believe I am going out of my mind--all my
strength of will is forsaking me. At long intervals there comes a pause
in my torment, as when the wild elements of the tempest hold their
breath for a moment, only to break forth again with redoubled fury. I
sit then in a kind of stupor, with heavy head and my limbs feeling as
bruised and tired as if I had been beaten, and while my pain gathers
itself up for a fresh onslaught, I do not succeed in collecting
sufficient strength to resist it.

'What does she think of me? What does she think? How much does she know?

'Oh, to be misjudged by her--my best, my dearest friend--the one to
whom I have always been able to open my heart! This is my crowning
grief, my bitterest trial--

'I must speak to her before I go. She must know all from me, I must know
all from her--that is only right and just.

'Night. About five o'clock she proposed a drive along the Rovigliano
road. We two went alone in the open carriage. I was trembling with
agitation as I said to myself--"Here is my opportunity for speaking to
her." But my nervousness deprived me of every vestige of courage. Did
she expect me to confide in her? I cannot tell.

'We sat silent for a long while, listening to the steady trot of the
horses, looking at the trees and the meadows by the side of the road.
From time to time, by a brief remark or a sign, she drew my attention to
some detail of the autumnal landscape.

'All the witchery of the Autumn concentrated itself into this hour. The
slanting rays of the evening sun lit up the rich and sombre harmonies of
the dying foliage. Gold, amber, saffron, violet, purple,
sea-green--tints the most faded and the most violent mingled in one deep
strain, not to be surpassed by any melody of Spring, however sweet.

'"Look," she said, pointing to the acacias, "would you not say they were
in flower?"

'At last, after an interval of silence, to make a beginning I said:
"Manuel is sure to be here by Saturday. I expect a telegram from him
to-morrow, and we shall leave by the early train on Sunday. You have
been very good to me while I have been with you--I am deeply grateful to
you."

'My voice broke, a flood of tenderness swelled my heart. She took my
hand and clasped it tight without speaking or looking at me. We remained
silent for a long time, holding one another by the hand.

'Presently she asked--"How long will you be with your mother?"

'"Till the end of the year, I hope--perhaps longer."

'"As long as that?"

'We fell silent again. By this time, I felt I should never have the
courage to face an explanation; besides which, I felt that it was less
necessary now. Francesca seemed to have come back to me, to understand
me, to be once more the sweet kind sister of old. My sorrow drew out her
sadness as the moon attracts the waters of the ocean.

'"Listen!" she said.

'The sound of women's voices, singing, floated over to us from the
fields, a slow song, full and solemn as a Gregorian chant. Further on,
we came in sight of the singers. They were coming away from a field of
dried sunflowers; walking in single file like a religious procession,
and the sunflowers on their long leafless stalks, their great discs
stripped of their halo of petals and their wealth of seed, were like
liturgic emblems or monstrances of pale gold.

'My emotion waxed greater. The song spread wide through the evening air.
We passed through Rovigliano, where the lamps were beginning to twinkle,
and came out again upon the high road. The church bells rang softly
behind us. A moist breeze rustled in the trees that cast a faint blue
shadow on the white road, and in the air a shadow as liquid as water.

'"Are you not cold?" she asked me, and she ordered the footman to spread
a rug over us, and told the coachman to turn homewards.

'In the belfry at Rovigliano, a bell tolled with deep slow strokes as
for some solemn rite, and the wave of sound seemed to send a wave of
cold through the air. With a simultaneous movement, we drew closer to
one another, settling the rug more warmly over our knees, and a shiver
ran through us both. The carriage entered the town at a walk.

'"What can that bell be ringing for?" she murmured in a voice that
hardly seemed like her own.

'I answered--"I fancy it must be for the Viaticum."

'And in fact, a little further on we saw the priest just entering a door
while a clerk held the canopy over him, and two others stood upon the
threshold, straight as candelabra, holding up lighted lanterns. A
single window of the house was lighted up, the one behind which the
dying Christian was awaiting Extreme Unction. Faint shadows flitted
across the brightness of that pale yellow square on which was outlined
the whole mysterious drama of Death.

'The footman bent down from the box and asked in a low voice--"Who is
it?"

'The person addressed answered in dialect and mentioned a woman's name.

'I would have liked to muffle the sound of the carriage wheels upon the
stones, to have made our passage a silent one past the spot where a soul
was about to take flight. Francesca, I am sure, shared my feeling.

'The carriage turned into the road to Schifanoja and the horses set off
at a brisk trot. The moon, ringed by a halo, shone like an opal in the
milk-white sky. A train of cloud rose out of the sea and stretched away
by degrees in spiral form, like a trail of smoke. The somewhat stormy
sea drowned all other sounds with its roar. Never, I think, did a
heavier sadness weigh upon two spirits.

'I felt something wet upon my cold cheek, and turning to Francesca to
see if she noticed that I was crying, I met her eyes--they were full of
tears. And so we sat, side by side, with mute, convulsively closed lips,
clasping one another's hand, the tears rolling silently drop by drop
over our cheeks, both knowing that they were for him.

'As we neared Schifanoja I dried my eyes, and she did the same, each
striving to hide her own weakness.

'He was standing in the hall with Delfina and Muriella looking out for
us. Why did I feel a sudden vague distrust of him, as if some instinct
warned me of hidden danger? What troubles are in store for me in the
future? Shall I be able to escape from the passion that attracts and
blinds me?

'And yet, those few tears have given me much relief! I feel less broken,
less scorched, more self-confident; and it affords me an indescribable
fond pleasure to retrace again, for myself alone, that last drive, while
Delfina sleeps, made happy by the storm of kisses I rained upon her
face, and while the moon that so lately saw me weep smiles sadly through
the window panes.

'_October 8th._--Did I sleep last night--did I wake? I could not say.
Through my brain, like thick dark shadows, flitted terrifying thoughts,
insupportable images of torment; and my heart gave sudden throbs and
bounds, and I would find myself staring wide-eyed into the darkness, not
knowing whether I had just awakened from a dream or whether I had never
been asleep at all. And this state of semi-consciousness--infinitely
more unbearable than real sleeplessness--continued throughout the night.

'Nevertheless, when I heard my little girl's morning call, I did not
answer, but pretended to be sound asleep, so that I need not rise, so
that I might remain a few minutes longer in bed and thus retard for a
while the inexorable certainty of the realities of life. The torments of
thought and imagination seemed to me less cruel than those, so
impossible to foresee, which awaited me in these last two days.

'A little while later, Delfina came in on tip-toe, holding her breath.
She looked at me and then whispered to Dorothy, with a little fond
tremor in her voice--

'"She is fast asleep! We will not wake her!"

'Night. I do not believe I have a spark of life left in me. As I came
upstairs I felt, at each step, as if every drop of blood had left my
veins. I am as weak as one at the point of death.

'Courage! courage!--only a few hours more. Manuel will be here to-morrow
morning. We shall leave on Sunday, and on Monday I shall be with my
mother.

'Just now, I returned him two or three books he had lent me. In the
volume of Shelley I underlined with my nail the last two lines of a
certain verse and put a mark in the page--

    "And forget me, for I _can never_--
    Be thine!"

'_October 9th._--Night. All day long he has sought an opportunity for
speaking to me. His distress is evident. And all day long I have done my
utmost to avoid him, so that he might not sow fresh seeds of pain, of
desire, of regret and remorse in my heart. And I have triumphed--I was
strong and brave--My God, I thank Thee!

'This night is the last. To-morrow we leave--all will be over.

'All will be over? A voice out of the depths cries unto me--I do not
understand its words, but I know that it tells me of coming disaster,
unknown but inevitable, mysterious and inexorable as death. The future
is lugubrious as a cemetery full of open graves, ready to receive the
dead, with here and there a flicker of pale torches which I can scarce
distinguish, and I know not if they are there to lure me on to
destruction or to show me to a path of safety.

'I have re-read my Journal slowly, carefully, from the 15th of
September, the day of my arrival. What a difference between the first
entry and the last!

'I wrote:--I shall wake up in the house of a friend, to the enjoyment of
Francesca's cordial hospitality, in Schifanoja, where the roses are so
fair and the cypresses so tall and grand. I shall wake with the prospect
of some weeks of peace before me--twenty days or more of congenial
intellectual companionship--Alas! where is that promised peace? But the
roses, the beautiful roses, were they, too, faithless to their promise?
Did I perhaps, on that first night in the loggia, open my heart too wide
to their seductive fragrance while Delfina slept? And now the October
moon floods the sky with its cold radiance, and through the closed
windows I see the sharp points of the cypresses, all sombre and
motionless, and on that night they seemed to touch the stars.

'Of that prelude there is but one phrase which finds a place in this sad
finale: So many hairs on my head, so many thorns in my woeful destiny!

'I am going, and what will he do when I am far away? What will Francesca
do?

'The change in Francesca still remains incomprehensible,
inexplicable--an enigma that torments and bewilders me. She loves
him--but since when?--and does he know it? Confess, oh, my soul, to this
fresh misery. A new poison is added to that already infecting me--I am
jealous!

'But I am prepared for any suffering, even the most horrible; I know
well the martyrdom that awaits me; I know that the anguish of these days
is as nought compared to that which I must face presently, the terrible
cross on which my soul must hang. I am ready. All I ask, oh my God, is a
respite, a short respite for the hours that remain to me here. To-morrow
I shall have need of all my strength.

'How strangely sometimes the incidents of one's life repeat themselves!
This evening in the drawing-room, I seemed to have gone back to the 16th
of September, when I first played and sang and my thoughts began to
occupy themselves with him. This evening again I was seated at the
piano, and the same subdued light illumined the room, and next door
Manuel and the Marchese were at the card-table. I played the Gavotte _of
the Yellow Ladies_, of which Francesca is so fond and which I heard some
one trying to play on the 16th of September while I sat up in my room
and began my nightly vigils of unrest.

'He, I am sure, is not asleep. When I came upstairs, he went in and took
the Marchese's place opposite to my husband. Are they playing still?
Doubtless he is thinking and his heart aches while he plays. What are
his thoughts?--what are his sufferings?

'I cannot sleep. I shall go out into the loggia. I want to see if they
are still playing, or if he has gone to his room. His windows are at the
corner, in the second story.

'It is a clear, mild night. There are lights still in the card-room. I
stayed a long time in the loggia looking down at the light shining out
against the cypresses and mingling with the silvery whiteness of the
moon. I am trembling from head to foot. I cannot describe the almost
tragic effect of those lighted windows behind which the two men are
playing, opposite to one another, in the deep silence of the night,
scarcely broken by the dull sob of the sea. And they will perhaps play
on till morning, if he will pander so far to my husband's terrible
failing. So we shall all three wake till the dawn and take no rest, each
a prey to his own passion.

'But what is he really thinking of? Of what nature is his pain? What
would I not give, at this moment, to see him, to be able to gaze at him
till the day breaks, even if it were only through the window, in the
night dews, trembling, as I do now, from head to foot. The maddest,
wildest thoughts rush through my brain like flashes of lightning,
dazzling and confusing me. I feel the prompting of some evil spirit to
do some rash and irreparable thing, I feel as if I were treading on the
edge of perdition. It would, I feel, lift the great weight from my
heart, would take this suffocating knot from my throat if, at this
moment, I could cry aloud, into the silence of the night, with all the
strength of my soul--"I love him! I love him! I love him!"'



BOOK III



CHAPTER I


Two or three days after the departure of the Ferrès, Sperelli and his
cousins returned to Rome, Donna Francesca, contrary to her custom,
wishing to shorten her stay at Schifanoja.

After a brief stay at Naples, Andrea reached Rome on the 24th of
October, a Sunday, in the first heavy morning rain of the Autumn season.
He experienced an extraordinary pleasure in returning to his apartments
in the Casa Zuccari, his tasteful and charming _buen retiro_. There he
seemed to find again some portion of himself, something he had missed.
Nothing was altered; everything about him retained, in his eyes, that
indescribable look of life which material objects assume, amongst which
one has lived and loved and suffered. His old servants, Jenny and
Terenzio, had taken the utmost care of everything, and Stephen had
attended to every detail likely to conduce to his master's comfort.

It was raining. Andrea went to the window and stood for some time
looking out upon his beloved Rome. The piazza of the Trinità de' Monti
was solitary and deserted, left to the guardianship of its obelisk. The
trees along the wall that joins the church to the Villa Medici, already
half stripped of their leaves, rustled mournfully in the wind and the
rain. The Pincio alone still shone green, like an island in a lake of
mist.

And as he gazed, one sentiment dominated all the others in his heart;
the sudden and lively re-awakening of his old love for Rome--fairest
Rome--that city of cities, immense, imperial, unique--like the sea, for
ever young, for ever new, for ever mysterious.

'What time is it?' Andrea asked of Stephen.

It was about nine o'clock. Feeling somewhat tired, he determined to have
a sleep: also, that he would see no one that day and spend the evening
quietly at home. Seeing that he was about to re-enter the life of the
great world of Rome, he wished, before taking up the old round of
activity, to indulge in a little meditation, a slight preparation; to
lay down certain rules, to discuss with himself his future line of
conduct.

'If any one calls,' he said to Stephen, 'say that I have not yet
returned; and let the porter know it too. Tell James I shall not want
him to-day, but he can come round for orders this evening. Bring me
lunch at three--something very light--and dinner at nine. That is all.

He fell asleep almost immediately. The servant woke him at two and
informed him that, just before twelve o'clock, the Duke of Grimiti had
called, having heard from the Marchesa d'Ateleta that he had returned to
town.

'Well?'

'Il Signor Duca left word that he would call again in the afternoon.'

'Is it still raining? Open the shutters wide.'

The rain had stopped, the sky was lighter. A band of pale sunshine
streamed into the room and spread over the tapestry representing _The
Virgin with the Holy Child and Stefano Sperelli_, a work of art brought
by Giusto Sperelli from Flanders in 1508. Andrea's eyes wandered slowly
over the walls, rejoicing in the beautiful hangings, the harmonious
tints; and all these things so familiar and so dear to him seemed to
offer him a welcome. The sight of them afforded him intense pleasure,
and then the image of Maria Ferrès rose up before him.

He raised himself a little on the pillows, lit a cigarette and abandoned
himself luxuriously to his meditations. An unwonted sense of comfort and
well-being filled his body, while his mind was in its happiest vein. His
thoughts mingled with the rings of smoke in the subdued light in which
all forms and colours assume a pleasing vagueness.

Instead of reverting to the days that were past, his thoughts carried
him forward into the future.--He would see Donna Maria again in two or
three months--perhaps much sooner; there was no saying. Then he would
resume the broken thread of that love which held for him so many obscure
promises, so many secret attractions. To a man of culture, Donna Maria
Ferrès was the Ideal Woman, Baudelaire's _Amie avec des hanches_, the
perfect _Consolatrix_, the friend who can hold out both comfort and
pardon. Though she had marked those sorrowful lines in the volume of
Shelley, she had, most assuredly, said very different words in her
heart. 'I can never be thine!' Why _never_? Ah, there had been too much
passionate intensity for that in the voice in which she answered him
that day in the wood at Vicomile--'I love you! I love you! I love you!'

He could hear her voice now, that never-to-be-forgotten voice!

Stephen knocked at the door. 'May I remind the Signor Conte that it is
three o'clock?'

Andrea rose and passed into the octagonal room to dress. The sun shone
through the lace window screens and sparkled on the Hispano-Mauresque
tiles, the innumerable toilet articles of crystal and silver, the
bas-reliefs on the antique sarcophagus; its dancing reflections
imparting a delightful sense of movement to the air. He felt in the best
of spirits, completely cured, full of the joy and the vivacity of life.
He was inexpressibly happy to be back in his home once more. All that
was most frivolous, most capricious, most worldly in him awoke with a
bound. It was as if the surrounding objects had the power to evoke in
him the man of former days. His sensual curiosity, his elasticity, his
ubiquity of mind reappeared. He already began to feel the necessity of
expansion, of mixing in the world of pleasure and with his friends.

He discovered that he was very hungry, and ordered the servant to bring
the lunch at once. He rarely dined at home, but for special
occasions--some _recherché_ lunch or private little supper--he had a
dining-room decorated with eighteenth century Neapolitan tapestries
which Carlo Sperelli had ordered of Pietro Dinanti in 1766 from designs
by Storace. The seven wall panels represented episodes of Bacchic love,
the portières and the draperies above the doors and windows having
groups of fruit and flowers. Shades of gold--pale or
tawny--predominated, and mingling with the warm, pearly flesh-tints and
sombre blues, formed a harmony of colour that was both delicate and
sumptuous.

'When the Duke of Grimiti comes back, show him up,' he said to the
servant.

Into this room too, the sun, sinking towards the Monte Mario, shot his
dazzling rays. You could hear the rumble of the carriages in the piazza
of the Trinità de' Monti. The rain over, it looked as if all the
luminous gold of the Roman October were spread out over the city.

'Open the window,' he said to the servant.

The noise of the carriage wheels was louder now, a soft damp breeze
stirred the curtains lightly.

'Divine Rome!' he thought as he looked at the sky between the wide
curtains.

An irresistible curiosity drew him to the open window.

Rome appeared, all pearly gray, spread out before him, its lines a
little blurred like a faded picture, under a Claude Lorrain sky,
sprinkled with ethereal clouds, their noble grouping lending to the
clear spaces between an indescribable delicacy, as flowers lend a new
grace to the verdure which surrounds them. On the distant heights the
gray deepened gradually to amethyst. Long trailing vapours slid through
the cypresses of the Monte Mario like waving locks through a comb of
bronze. Close by, the pines of the Monte Pincio spread their sun-gilded
canopies. Below, on the piazza, the obelisk of Pius VI. looked like a
pillar of agate. Under this rich autumnal light everything took on a
sumptuous air.

Divine Rome!

He feasted his eyes on the prospect before him. Looking down, he saw a
group of red-robed clerics pass along by the church; then the black
coach of a prelate with its two black, long-tailed horses; then other
open carriages containing ladies and children. He recognised the
Princess of Ferentino with Barbarella Viti, followed by the Countess of
Lucoli driving a pair of ponies and accompanied by her great Danish
hound. A perturbing breath of the old life passed over his spirit,
awakening indeterminate desires in his heart.

He left the window and returned to his lunch. The sun shone on the wall
and lit up a dance of satyrs round a Silenus.

'The Duke of Grimiti and two other gentlemen,' announced the servant.

The Duke entered with Ludovico Barbarisi and Giulio Musellaro. Andrea
hastened forward to meet them and they greeted him warmly.

'You, Giulio!' exclaimed Sperelli, who had not seen his friend for more
than two years. How long have you been in Rome?'

'Only a week. I was going to write to you to Schifanoja, but thought I
would rather wait till you came back. And how are you? You are looking a
little thin, but very well. It was only when I got back to Rome that I
heard of your affair; otherwise, I would certainly have come from India
to offer you my services. At the beginning of May, I was at Padmavati in
the Bahara. What a heap of things I have to tell you!'

'And so have I!'

They shook hands heartily a second time. Sperelli seemed overjoyed. None
of his friends were so dear to him as Musellaro, for his noble
character, his keen and penetrating mind and rare culture.

'Ruggiero--Ludovico--sit down. Giulio, will you sit here?'

He offered them tea, cigarettes, liqueurs. The conversation grew very
lively. Grimiti and Barbarisi gave the news of Rome, especially the more
spicy items of society gossip. The aroma of the tea mingled with that of
the tobacco.

'I have brought you a chest of tea,' said Musellaro to Sperelli, 'and
much better tea too than your famous Kien Loung used to drink.'

'Ah, do you remember, in London, how he used to make tea after the
poetical method of the Great Emperor?'

'I say,' said Grimiti, 'do you know that the fair Clara Green is in
Rome? I saw her on Sunday at the Villa Borghese. She recognised me and
stopped her carriage to speak to me. She is as lovely as ever. You
remember her passion for you, and how she went on when she thought you
were in love with Constance Landbrooke? She instantly asked for news of
you.'

'I should be very pleased to see her again. Does she still dress in
green and wear sunflowers in her hat?

'Oh no. She has apparently abandoned the æsthetic for good and all. She
goes in for feathers now. On Sunday, she was wearing an enormous hat à
la Montpensier with a perfectly fabulous feather in it.'

'The season is in full swing, I suppose?'

'Earlier than usual this year, both as to saints and sinners.'

'Which of the saints are already in Rome?'

'Almost all--Giulia Moceto, Barbarella Viti, the Princess of Micigliano,
Laura Miano, the Marchesa Massa d'Alba, the Countess Lucoli----'

'I saw her just now from the window, driving. And I saw your cousin too
with Barbarella Viti.'

'My cousin is only here till to-morrow, then she goes back to Frascati.
On Wednesday, she gives a kind of garden party at the villa in the style
of the Princess of Sagan. Costume is not absolutely _de rigueur_, but
the ladies will all wear Louis XV. or Directoire hats. We are going.'

'You are not leaving Rome again so soon, I hope?' Grimiti asked of
Sperelli.

'I shall stay till the beginning of November. Then I am going to France
for a fortnight to see about some horses. I shall be back in Rome about
the end of the month.'

'Talking of horses,' said Ludovico, 'Leonetto Lanza wants to sell
_Campomorto_. You know it--a magnificent animal, a first-rate jumper.
That would be something for you.'

'How much does he want for it?'

'Fifteen thousand lire, I think.'

'Well, we might see----'

'Leonetto is going to be married directly. He got engaged this summer at
Aix-les-Bains.'

'I forgot to tell you,' said Musellaro, 'that Galeazzo Secinaro sends
you his remembrances. We travelled back from India together. If you only
knew of all Galeazzo's doughty deeds on the journey! He is at Palermo
now, but he will be in Rome in January.'

'And Gino Bomminaco begs to be remembered to you,' added Barbarisi.

'Ah, ha!' exclaimed the duke with a burst of laughter, 'you should get
Gino to tell you the story of his adventure with Donna Giulia Moceto.
You are, I fancy, in a position to give us some details on the subject
of Donna Giulia.'

Ludovico, too, began to laugh.

'Oh, I know,' broke in Musellaro, 'you have made the most tremendous
conquests in Rome. _Gratulator tibi_!'

'But tell me--do tell me about this adventure,' asked Andrea with
impatient curiosity.

These subjects excited him. Encouraged by his friends, he launched forth
into a discourse on female beauty, displaying the profound knowledge and
fervour of a connoisseur, taking a pleasure in using the most
highly-coloured expressions, with the subtle distinctions of an artist
and a libertine. Indeed, had any one taken the trouble to write down the
conversation of the four young men within these walls, hung with the
voluptuous scenes of the Bacchic tapestries, it might well have formed
the _Breviarium arcanum_ of upper-class corruption at the end of the
nineteenth century.

The shades of evening were falling, but the air was still permeated with
light as a sponge absorbs the water. Through the windows, one caught a
glimpse of the horizon and a band of orange against which the cypresses
of the Monte Mario stood out sharply like the teeth of a great ebony
rake. Ever and anon, came the cawing of the rooks, assembling in groups
on the roof of the Villa Medici before descending on the Villa Borghese
and into the narrow Valley of Sleep.

'What are you going to do this evening?' Barbarisi asked Andrea.

'I really don't know.'

'Well, then, come with us--dinner at eight, at Doney's, to inaugurate
his new restaurant at the Teatro Nazionale.'

'Yes, come with us, do come with us!' entreated Giulio Musellaro.

'Besides the three of us,' continued the duke, 'there will be Giulia
Arici, Bébé Silva and Maria Fortuna--That reminds me--capital idea!--you
bring Clara Green.'

'A capital idea!' echoed Ludovico Barbarisi.

'And where shall I find Clara Green?'

'At the Hotel de l'Europe, close by, in the Piazza di Spagna. A note
from you would put her in the seventh heaven. She is certain to give up
any other engagement she may have.'

Andrea was quite agreeable to the plan.

'But it would be better if I called on her,' he said. 'She is pretty
sure to be in now. Don't you think so, Ruggiero?'

'Well, dress quick and come out with us now.'

Clara Green had just come in. She received Andrea with childish delight.
No doubt she would have preferred to dine alone with him, but she
accepted the invitation without hesitating, wrote a note to excuse
herself from a previous engagement, and sent the key of her box at the
theatre to a lady friend. She seemed overjoyed. She told him a string of
sentimental stories and vowed that she had never been able to forget
him; holding Andrea's hands in hers while she talked.

I love you more than words can say, Andrew:

She was still young. With her pure and regular profile, her pale gold
hair parted and knotted very low on her neck, she looked like a beauty
in a Keepsake. A certain affectation of æstheticism clung to her since
her liaison with the poet-painter Adolphus Jeckyll, a disciple in poetry
of Keats, in painting of Holman Hunt; a composer of obscure sonnets, a
painter of subjects from the _Vita Nuova_. She had sat to him for a
_Sibylla Palmifera_ and a _Madonna with the Lily_. She had also sat to
Andrea for a study of the head of Isabella in Boccaccio's story. Art
therefore had conferred upon her the stamp of nobility. But, at bottom,
she possessed no spiritual qualities whatsoever; she even became
tiresome in the long-run by reason of that sentimental romanticism so
often affected by English _demi-mondaines_ which contrasts so strangely
with the depravity of their licentiousness.

'Who would have thought that we should ever be together again, Andrew?'

An hour later, Andrea left her and returned to the Palazzo Zuccari by
the little flight of steps leading from the Piazza Mignanelli to the
Trinità. The murmur of the city floated up the solitary little stairway
through the mild air of the October evening. The stars twinkled in a
cool pure sky. Down below, at the Palazzo Casteldelfina, the shrubs
inside the little gate cast vague uncertain shadows in the mysterious
light, like marine plants waving at the bottom of an aquarium. From the
palace, through a lighted window with red curtains, came the tinkle of a
piano. The church bells were ringing. Andrea felt his heart suddenly
grow heavy. The recollection of Donna Maria came back to him with a
rush, filling him with a dim sense of regret, almost of remorse. What
was she doing at this moment? Thinking? Suffering? Deep sadness fell
upon him. He felt as if something in the depths of his heart had taken
flight--he could not define what it was, but it affected him as some
irreparable loss.

He thought of his plan of the morning--an evening of solitude in the
rooms to which some day perhaps she might come, an evening, sad yet
sweet, in company with remembrances and dreams, in company with her
spirit, an evening of meditation and self-communings. In truth, he had
kept well to his promises! He was on his way to a dinner with friends
and _demi-mondaines_ and, doubtless, would go home with Clara Green
afterwards.

His regret was so poignant, so intolerable, that he dressed with
unwonted rapidity, jumped into his brougham and arrived at the hotel
before the appointed time. He found Clara ready and waiting, and offered
her a drive round the streets of Rome to pass the time till eight
o'clock.

They drove through the Via del Babuino, round the obelisk in the Piazza
del Popolo, along the Corso and to the right down the Via della
Fontanella di Borghese, returning by the Montecitorio to the Corso which
they followed as far as the Piazza di Venezia and so to the Teatro
Nazionale. Clara kept up an incessant chatter, bending, every other
minute, towards her companion to press a kiss on the corner of his
mouth, screening the furtive caress behind a fan of white feathers which
gave out a delicate odour of 'white rose.' But Andrea appeared not to
hear her, and even her caress only drew from him a slight smile.

'_Che pensi?_' she asked, pronouncing the Italian words with a certain
hesitation which was very taking.

'Nothing,' returned Andrea, taking up one of her ungloved hands and
examining the rings.

_'Chi lo sa!_' she sighed, throwing a vast amount of expression into
these three words, which foreign women pick up at once, because they
imagine that they contain all the pensive melancholy of Italian love.
'_Chi lo sa!_'

With a sudden change of humour, Andrea kissed her on the ear, slipped an
arm round her waist and proceeded to say a host of foolish things to
her. The Corso was very lively, the shop windows resplendent,
newspaper-vendors yelled, public and private vehicles crossed the path
of their carriage; all the stir and animation of Roman evening life was
in full swing from the Piazza Colonna to the Piazza di Venezia.

It was ten minutes past eight by the time they reached Doney's. The
other guests were already there. Andrea Sperelli greeted the assembled
company, and taking Clara Green by the hand--

'This,' he said, 'is Miss Clara Green, _ancilla Domini, Sibylla
palmifera, candida puella_.'

'_Ora pro nobis!_' replied Musellaro, Barbarisi, and Grimiti in chorus.

The women laughed though they did not understand. Clara smiled, and
slipping out of her cloak appeared in a white dress, quite simple and
short, with a V-shaped opening back and front, a knot of sea-green
ribbon on her left shoulder, and emeralds in her ears, perfectly
unabashed by the triple scrutiny of Giulia Arici, Bébé Silva and Maria
Fortuna.

Musellaro and Grimiti were old acquaintances; Barbarisi was introduced.

Andrea proceeded--'Mercedes Silva, surnamed Bébé--_chica pero qualsa_.

'Maria Fortuna, a veritable _Fortuna publica_ for our Rome which has the
good fortune to possess her.'

Then, turning to Barbarisi--'Do us the honour to present us to this lady
who is, if I am not mistaken, the divine Giulia Farnese.'

'No--Arici,' Giulia broke in.

'Oh, I beg your pardon, but really, to believe that, I should have to
call upon all my powers of credulity and to consult Pinturicchio in the
Fifth Room.'

He uttered these absurdities with a grave smile, amusing himself by
bewildering and teasing these pretty fools. In the _demi-monde_ he
adopted a manner and style entirely his own, using grotesque phrases,
launching the most ridiculous paradoxes or atrocious impertinences under
cover of the ambiguity of his words; and all this in most original
language, rich in a thousand different flavours, like a Rabelaisian
_olla podrida_ full of strong spices and succulent morsels.

'Pinturicchio,' asked Giulia turning to Barbarisi; 'who's that?'

'Pinturicchio,' exclaimed Andrea, 'oh, a sort of feeble house-painter
who once took it into his head to paint your picture on a door in the
Pope's apartments. Never mind him--he is dead.'

'Dead? How?'

'In a most appalling manner! His wife's lover was a soldier from Perugia
in garrison at Sienna--ask Ludovico--he knows all about it, but has
never liked to tell you, for fear of hurting your feelings. Allow me to
inform you, Bébé, that the Prince of Wales does not begin to smoke till
between the second and third courses--never sooner. You are
anticipating.'

Bébé Silva had lighted a cigarette and was eating oysters, while she let
the smoke curl through her nostrils. She was like a restless schoolboy,
a little depraved hermaphrodite; pale and thin, the brightness of her
eyes heightened by fever and kohl, with lips that were too red, and
short and rather woolly hair that covered her head like an astrachan
cap. Fixed tightly in her left eye was a single eye-glass; she wore a
high stiff collar, a white necktie, an open waistcoat, a little black
coat of masculine cut and a gardenia in her button-hole. She affected
the manners of a dandy and spoke in a deep husky voice. And just therein
lay the secret of her attraction--in this imprint of vice, of depravity,
of abnormity in her appearance, her attitudes and her words. _Sal y
pimienta_.

Maria Fortuna, on the contrary, was of somewhat bovine type, a Madame de
Parabère with a tendency to stoutness.

Like the fair mistress of the Regent, she possessed a very white skin,
one of those opaque white complexions which seem only to flourish and
improve on sensual pleasure. Her liquid violet eyes swam in a faint blue
shadow; and her lips, always a little parted, disclosed a vague gleam of
pearl behind their soft rosy line, like a half-opened shell.

Giulia Arici took Andrea's fancy very much on account of her
golden-brown tints and her great velvety eyes of that soft deep
chestnut that sometimes shows tawny gleams. The somewhat fleshy nose,
and the full, dewy scarlet, very firm lips gave the lower part of her
face a frankly animal look. Her eye-teeth, which were too prominent,
raised her upper lip a little and she continually ran the point of her
tongue along the edge to moisten it, like the thick petal of a rose
running over a row of little white almonds.

'Giulia,' said Andrea with his eyes on her mouth, 'Saint Bernard uses,
in one of his sermons, an epithet which would suit you marvellously. And
I'll be bound you don't know this either.'

Giulia laughed her sonorous rather vacant laugh, exhaling, in the
excitement of her hilarity, a more poignant perfume, like a scented
shrub when it is shaken.

'What will you give me,' continued Andrea, 'if I extract from the holy
sermon a voluptuous motto to fit you?'

'I don't know,' she replied laughing, holding a glass of Chablis in her
long slender fingers. 'Anything you like.'

'The substantive of the adjective.'

'What?'

'We will come back to that presently. The word is: _linguatica_--Messer
Ludovico, you can add this clause to your litanies--'_Rosa linguatica,
glube nos_.'

'What a pity,' said Musellaro, 'that you are not at the table of a
sixteenth-century prince, sitting between a Violante and an Imperia with
Pietro Aretino, Giulio Romano, and Marc' Antonio!'



CHAPTER II


The year was dying gracefully. A late wintry sun filled the sky over
Rome with a soft, mild, golden light that made the air feel almost
spring-like. The streets were full as on a Sunday in May. A stream of
carriages passed and repassed rapidly through the Piazza Barberini and
the Piazza di Spagna, and from thence a vague and continuous rumble
mounted to the Trinità de' Monti and the Via Sistina and even faintly
reached the apartments of the Palazzo Zuccari.

The rooms began slowly to fill with the scent exhaled from numberless
vases of flowers. Full-blown roses hung their heavy heads over crystal
vases that opened like diamond lilies on a golden stem, similar to those
standing behind the Virgin in the _tondo_ of Botticelli in the Borghese
Gallery. No other shape of vase is to be compared with this for
elegance; in that diaphanous prison, the flowers seemed to etherealise
and had more the air of a religious than an amatory offering.

For Andrea Sperelli was expecting Elena Muti.

He had met her only yesterday morning in the Via Condotti, where she was
looking at the shops. She had returned to Rome a day or two before,
after her long and mysterious absence. They had both been considerably
agitated by the unexpected encounter, but the publicity of the street
compelled them to treat one another with ceremonious, almost cold
politeness. However, he had said with a grave, half-mournful air,
looking her full in the eyes--'I have much to say to you, Elena; will
you come to my rooms to-morrow? Everything is just as it used to
be--nothing is changed.' To which she replied quite simply--'Very well,
I will come. You may expect me about four o'clock. I too have something
to say to you--but leave me now.'

That she should have accepted the invitation so promptly, without demur,
without imposing any conditions or seemingly attaching the smallest
importance to the matter, roused a certain vague suspicion in Andrea's
mind. Was she coming as friend or lover?--to renew old ties or to
destroy all hope of such a thing for ever? What vicissitudes had not
occurred in this woman's soul during the last two years? Of that he was
necessarily ignorant, but he had carried away with him the thrill of
emotion called up in him by Elena's glance when they suddenly met in the
street and he bent his head in greeting before her. It was the same look
as of old--so tender, so deep, so infinitely seductive from under the
long lashes.

Everything in the arrangement of the rooms showed evidences of special
loving care. Logs of juniper wood burned brightly on the hearth; the
little tea-table stood ready with its cups and saucers of Castel-Durante
majolica, of antique shape and inimitable grace, whereon were depicted
mythological subjects by Luzio Dolci, with lines from Ovid underneath in
black characters and a running hand. The light from the windows was
tempered by heavy curtains of red brocade embroidered all over with
silver pomegranates, trailing leaves and mottos. The declining sun, as
it caught the window-panes, cast the shadow of the lace blinds on the
carpet.

The clock of the Trinità struck half-past three. He had half an hour
still to wait. Andrea rose from the sofa where he had been lying and
opened one of the windows; he wandered aimlessly about the room, took up
a book, read a few lines and threw it down again; looked about him
undecidedly as if searching for something. The suspense was so trying
that he felt the necessity of rousing himself, of counteracting his
mental disquietude by physical means. He went over to the fireplace,
stirred up the logs and put on a fresh one. The glowing mass collapsed,
sending up a shower of sparks, and part of it rolled out as far as the
fender. The flames broke into a quantity of little tongues of blue fire,
springing up and disappearing fitfully, while the broken ends of the log
smoked.

The sight brought back certain memories to him. In days gone by Elena
had been fond of lingering over this fireside. She expended much art and
ingenuity in piling the wood high on the fire-dogs, grasping the heavy
tongs in both hands and leaning her head slightly back to avoid the
sparks. Her hands were small and very supple, with that tendril-like
flexibility, so to speak, of a Daphne at the very first onset of the
fabled metamorphose.

Scarcely were these matters arranged to her satisfaction than the logs
would catch and send forth a sudden blaze, and the warm ruddy light
would struggle for a moment with the icy gray shades of evening
filtering through the windows. The sharp fumes of the burning wood
seemed to rise to her head, and facing the glowing mass Elena would be
seized with fits of childish glee. She had a rather cruel habit of
pulling all the flowers to pieces and scattering them over the carpet at
the end of each of her visits and then stand ready to go, fastening a
glove or a bracelet, and smile in the midst of the devastation she had
wrought.

Nothing was changed since then. A host of memories were associated with
these things which Elena had touched, on which her eyes had rested, and
scenes of that time rose up vividly and tumultuously before him. After
nearly two years' absence, Elena was going to cross his threshold once
more. In half an hour, she would be seated in that chair--a little out
of breath at first, as of yore--would have removed her veil--be
speaking. All these familiar objects would hear the sound of her voice
again--perhaps even her laugh--after two long years.

'How shall I receive her--what shall I say?'

He was quite sincere in his anxiety and nervousness, for he had really
begun to love this woman once more, but the expression of his
sentiments, whether verbal or otherwise, was ever with him such an
artificial matter, so far removed from truth and simplicity, that he had
recourse to these preparations from pure habit even when, as was the
case now, he was sincerely and deeply moved.

He tried to imagine the scene beforehand, to compose some phrases; he
looked about him in the room, considering where would be the most
appropriate spot for the interview. Then he went over to a looking-glass
to see if his face were as pale as befitted the occasion, and his gaze
rested complacently on his forehead, just where the hair began at the
temples and where, in the old days, Elena was often wont to press a
delicate kiss. In matters of love, his vitiated and effeminate vanity
seized upon every advantage of personal grace or of dress to heighten
the charm of his appearance, and he knew how to extract the greatest
amount of pleasure therefrom. The chief reason of his unfailing success
lay in the fact that, in the game of love, he shrank from no artifice,
no duplicity, no falsehood that might further his cause. A great portion
of his strength lay in his capacity for deception.

'What shall I do--what shall I say when she comes?'

His mind was all undecided and yet the minutes were flying. Besides, he
had no idea in what frame of mind Elena might arrive.

It wanted but two or three minutes now to the hour. His excitement was
so great that he felt half suffocated. He returned to the window and
looked out at the steps of the Trinità. She used always to come up those
steps, and when she reached the top, would halt for a moment before
rapidly crossing the square in front of the Casa Casteldelfina. Through
the silence, he often heard the tapping of her light footsteps on the
pavement below.

The clock struck four. The rumble of carriage wheels came up from the
Piazza di Spagna and the Pincio. A great many people were strolling
under the trees in front of the Villa Medici. Two women seated on a
stone bench beside the church were keeping watch over some children
playing round the obelisk, which shone rosy red under the sunset, and
cast a long, slanting, blue-gray shadow.

The air freshened as the sun sank lower. Farther off, the city stood out
golden against the colourless clear sky, which made the cypresses on the
Monte Mario look jet black.

Andrea started. A shadow stole up the little flight of steps beside the
Casa Casteldelfina leading up from the Piazzetta Mignanelli. It was not
Elena; it was some other lady, who slowly turned the corner into the Via
Gregoriana.

'What if she did not come at all?' he said to himself as he left the
window. Coming away from the colder outside air he felt the warmth of
the room all the more cosy, the scent of the burning wood and the roses
more piercing sweet, the shadow of the curtains and portières more
delightfully mysterious. At that moment the whole room seemed on the
alert for the arrival of the woman he loved. He imagined Elena's
sensations on entering. It was hardly possible that she should be able
to resist the influence of these surroundings, so full of tender
memories for her; she would suddenly lose all sense of time and reality,
would fancy herself back at one of the old rendezvous, the Elena of
those happy days. Since nothing was altered in the _mise-en-scène_ of
their love, why should their love itself be changed? She must of
necessity feel the profound charm of all these things which once upon a
time had been so dear to her.

And now the anguish of hope deferred created a fresh torture for him.
Minds that have the habit of imaginative contemplation and poetic
dreaming attribute to inanimate objects a soul, sensitive and variable
as their own, and recognise in all things--be it form or colour, sound
or perfume--a transparent symbol, an emblem of some emotion or thought;
in every phenomenon and every group of phenomena they claim to discover
a psychical condition, a moral significance. At times the vision is so
lucid as to produce actual pain in such minds, they feel themselves
overwhelmed by the plenitude of life revealed to them and are terrified
by the phantom of their own creation.

Thus Andrea saw his own dire distress reflected in the aspect of the
objects surrounding him, and as his own fond desires seemed wasting
fruitlessly in this protracted expectation, so the erotic essence, so to
speak, of the room appeared to be evaporating and exhaling uselessly. In
his eyes these apartments in which he had loved and also suffered so
much had acquired something of his own sensibility--had not only been
witness of his loves, his pleasures, his sorrows, but had taken part in
it all. In his memories, every outline, every tint harmonised with some
feminine image, was a note in a chord of beauty, an element in an
ecstasy of passion. The very nature of his tastes led him to seek for a
diversity of enjoyment in his love, and seeing that he set out upon that
quest as an accomplished artist and æsthetic it was only natural that he
should derive a great part of his delight from the world of external
objects. To this fastidious actor the comedy of love was nothing without
the scenery.

From that point of view his stage was certainly quite perfect, and he
himself a most adroit actor-manager; for he almost always entered heart
and soul into his own artifice, he forgot himself so completely that he
was deceived by his own deception, fell into the trap of his own laying,
and wounded himself with his own weapons--a magician enclosed in the
spells of his own weaving.

The roses in the tall Florentine vases, they too were waiting and
breathing out their sweetness. On the divan cover and on the walls
inscriptions on silver scrolls singing the praises of woman and of wine
gleamed in the rays of the setting sun, and harmonised admirably with
the faded colours of the sixteenth century Persian carpet. Elsewhere the
shadow was deeply transparent and as if animated by that indefinable
luminous tremor felt in hidden sanctuaries where some mystic treasure
lies enshrined. The fire crackled on the hearth, each flame, as Shelley
puts it, like a separate jewel dissolved in ever moving light. To Andrea
it seemed that at that moment every shape, every colour, every perfume
gave forth the essential and delicate spirit of its being. And yet _she_
came not, _she_ came not!

For the first time, the thought of her husband presented itself to him.

Elena was no longer free. Some months after her abrupt departure from
Rome, she had renounced the agreeable liberty of widowhood to marry an
English nobleman, Lord Humphrey Heathfield. Andrea had seen the
announcement of the marriage in a society paper in the October following
and had heard a world of comment on the new Lady Humphrey in every
country house he stayed in during the autumn. He remembered also having
met Lord Humphrey some half a score of times during the preceding winter
at the Saturdays of the Princess Giustiniani-Bandini, or in the public
sale-rooms. He was a man of about forty, with colourless fair hair, bald
at the temples, an excessively pale face, a pair of piercing light eyes
and a prominent forehead, on which a network of veins stood out. He had
his name of Heathfield from that lieutenant-general who was the hero of
the defence of Gibraltar and afterwards immortalised by the brush of Sir
Joshua Reynolds.

What part had this man in Elena's life? What ties, beyond the convention
of marriage, bound her to him? What transformations had the physical and
moral contact of this husband brought to pass in her?

These enigmas rose tumultuously before him, making his pain so
intolerable, that he started up with the instinctive bound of a man who
has been stabbed unawares. He crossed the room to the ante-chamber and
listened at the door which he had left ajar. It was on the stroke of a
quarter to five.

The next moment he heard footsteps on the stair, the rustle of skirts
and a quick panting breath. A woman was coming up hurriedly. His heart
beat with such vehemence that--his nerves all unstrung by his long
suspense--he felt hardly able to stand on his feet. The steps drew
nearer, there was a long-drawn sigh--a step upon the landing--at the
door--Elena entered.

'O Elena--at last!'

There was in that cry such a profound accent of agony endured, that it
brought to Elena's lips an indescribable smile, mingled of pleasure and
pity. He took her by her ungloved right hand and drew her into the room.
She was still a little out of breath, and under her black veil a faint
flush diffused itself over her whole face.

'Forgive me, Andrea! I could not get away any sooner--there is so much
to do--so many calls to return--such tiring days! I hardly know where to
turn. How warm it is in here! What a delicious smell!'

She was standing in the middle of the room--a little undecided and ill
at ease in spite of her rapid and lightly spoken words. A velvet coat
with Empire sleeves, very full at the shoulders and buttoned closely at
the wrists and with an immense collar of blue fox for sole trimming,
covered her from head to foot, but without disguising the grace of her
figure. She looked at Andrea with eyes in which a curious tremulous
smile softened the flash and sparkle.

'You have changed somehow,' she said; 'I don't quite know what it
is--but round your mouth, for instance, there are bitter lines that used
not to be there.'

She spoke in a tone of affectionate familiarity. The sound of her voice
once more in this room caused him such exquisite delight that he
exclaimed--'Speak again, Elena--go on speaking!'

She laughed. 'Why?' she asked.

'You know why,' he answered, taking her hand again.

She drew her hand away and looked the young man deep in the eyes. 'I
know nothing any more.'

'Then you have changed very much.'

'Yes--very much indeed.'

They had both dropped their bantering tone. Elena's answer threw a
sudden search-light upon much that was problematical before. Andrea
understood, and with that rapid and precise intuition so often found in
minds practised in psychological analysis, he instantly divined the
moral attitude of his visitor, and foresaw the further development of
the coming scene. Moreover, he was already under the spell of this
woman's fascination as in the former days, besides being greatly piqued
by curiosity.

'Will you not sit down?' he asked.

'Yes--for a moment.'

'Here--in this arm-chair.'

'Ah--_my_ arm-chair!' she was on the point of exclaiming, for she
recognised an old friend, but she stopped herself in time.

The chair was deep and roomy, and covered with antique leather on which
pale dragons ramped in relief, after the style of the wall decorations
of one of the rooms in the Chigi palace. The leather had taken on that
warm and sumptuous tone which recalls the background of certain Venetian
portraits, or a fine bronze still retaining traces of former gilding, or
a piece of tortoise-shell with gleams of gold here and there. A great
cushion covered with a piece of a dalmatic of faded colouring--of that
peculiar shade which the Florentine silk merchants used to call 'rosa di
gruogo,' saffron red, contributed to its inviting easiness.

Elena seated herself in it, placing on the tea-table beside her her
right hand glove and her card-case, a fragile toy in polished silver
with a device and motto engraven on it. She then proceeded to remove her
veil, raising her arms high to unfasten the knot, her graceful attitude
throwing gleams of changeful light on the velvet of her coat, along the
sleeves and over the contour of her bust. The heat of the fire was very
strong, and with her bare hand, which shone transparent like rosy
alabaster, she screened her face from it. The rings on her fingers
glittered in the firelight.

'Please screen the fire,' she said, 'it is really too fierce.'

'What--have you lost your fondness for the flames?--and you used to be a
perfect salamander. This hearth is full of memories----'

'Let memory sleep,--do not stir the embers,' she interrupted him.
'Screen the fire and let us have some light. I will make the tea.'

'Won't you take off your coat?'

'No, I must go directly--it is late.'

'But you will be melted.'

She rose with a little gesture of impatience. 'Very well then--help me,
please.'

As he helped her off with the mantle, Andrea noticed that the scent was
not the same as the familiar one of old. However, it was so delicious
that it thrilled his every sense.

'You have a new scent,' he said with peculiar emphasis.

'Yes,' she answered simply, 'do you like it?'

Andrea still held the mantle in his hands. He buried his face in the fur
collar which had been next her throat and her hair--'What is it called?'
he inquired.

'It has no name.'

She re-seated herself in the arm-chair within the circle of the
firelight. Her dress was of black lace, on which sparkled a mass of tiny
jet and steel beads.

The day was fading from the windows. Andrea lit candles of twisted
orange-coloured wax in wrought-iron candlesticks, after which he drew a
screen before the fire.

During this pause, both felt a certain perplexing uneasiness; Elena was
no longer exactly conscious of the moment, nor was she quite mistress of
herself. In spite of all her efforts she was unable to recall with
precision her motives for coming here, to follow out her
intentions--even to regain her force of will. In the presence of this
man to whom, once upon a time, she had been bound by such passionate
ties, and in this spot where she lived the most ardent moments of her
life, she felt her reserve melting, her mind wavering and growing
feeble. She was at that dangerously delicious point of sentiment at
which the soul receives its every impulse, its attitudes, its form from
its external surroundings as an aërial vapour from the mutations of the
atmosphere. But she checked herself before wholly giving way to it.

'Is that right now?' asked Andrea in a low, almost humble voice.

She smiled without replying. His words had given her inexpressibly keen
delight.

She began her delicate manipulations--lit the spirit-lamp under the
kettle, opened the lacquer tea-caddy and put the necessary quantity of
aromatic leaves into the tea-pot, and finally prepared two cups. Her
movements were slow and a little hesitating, as happens when the mind is
busied with other things than the occupation of the moment; her
exquisite white hands hovered over the cups with the airiness of
butterflies, and from her whole lithe form there emanated an indefinable
charm which enveloped her lover like a caress.

Seated quite close to her, gazing at her from under his half-closed
lids, Andrea drank in the subtle fascination of her presence. Neither of
them spoke. Elena, leaning back in the cushions, waited for the water to
boil, with her eyes fixed on the blue flame while she absently slipped
her rings up and down her fingers, lost in a dream apparently. But it
was no dream; it was rather a vague reminiscence, faint, confused and
evanescent. All the recollections of the love that was past rose up in
her mind, but dimly and uncertain, leaving an indistinct impression, she
hardly knew whether of pleasure or of pain. It was like the indefinable
perfume of a faded bouquet, in which each separate flower has lost the
vivacity proper to its colour and its fragrance, but from which emanates
a common perfume wherein all the diverse component elements are
indistinguishably blended. She seemed to carry in her heart the last
breath of memories already faded, the last trace of joys departed for
ever, the last tremor of a happiness that was dead--something akin to a
mist from out of which images emerge fitfully without shape or name. She
knew not, was it pleasure or pain, but by degrees this mysterious
agitation, this nameless disquiet waxed greater and filled her soul with
joy and bitterness.

She was silent--withdrawn within herself--for though her heart was full
to overflowing, her emotion was pleasurably increased by that silence.
Speech would have broken the charm.

The kettle began its low song.

Andrea on a low seat, with his elbow on his knee and his chin in his
hand, sat watching the fair woman so intently that Elena, without
turning, felt that persistent gaze upon her with a sense of physical
discomfort. And while he gazed upon her he thought to himself that she
seemed altogether a new woman to him--one who had never been his, whom
he had never clasped to his heart.

And in truth, she was even more desirable than in the former days, the
plastic enigma of her beauty more obscure and more enthralling. Her head
with the low broad forehead straight nose and arched eyebrows--so pure
and firm in outline, so classically antique in the modelling--might have
come from some Syracusan coin. The expression of the eyes and that of
the mouth were in singular contrast, giving her that passionate,
ambiguous, almost preternatural look that only one or two master-hands,
deeply imbued in all the profoundest corruption of art, have been able
to infuse into such immortal types of woman as the Mona Lisa and Nelly
O'Brien.

The steam began to escape through the hole in the lid of the kettle, and
Elena turned her attention once more to the tea-table. She poured a
little water on the leaves; put two lumps of sugar in one of the cups,
then poured some more water into the tea-pot and extinguished the lamp;
doing it all with a certain fond care, but never once looking in
Andrea's direction. By this time her inward agitation had resolved
itself into such melting tenderness, that there was a lump in her throat
and her eyes filled involuntarily; all her contradictory thoughts, all
her trouble and agitation of heart, concentrated themselves in those
tears.

A movement of her arm knocked the little silver card-case off the table.
Andrea picked it up and examined the device: two true lovers' knots each
bearing an inscription in English--_From Dreamland_, and _A Stranger
here_.

When he raised his head, Elena offered him the fragrant beverage with a
mist of tears before her eyes.

He saw that mist, and, filled with love and gratitude at such an
unlooked-for sign of melting, he put down the cup, sank on his knees
before her, and seizing her hand pressed his lips passionately to it.

'Elena! Elena!' he murmured, his face close to hers as if he would drink
the breath from her lips. His emotion was quite sincere, though some of
the things he said were not. He loved her--had always loved her--had
never, never, never been able to forget her. On meeting her again, he
had felt his passion rekindle with such vehemence that it had given him
a kind of shock of terror--as if in one lightning flash he had witnessed
the upheaval, the convulsion of his whole life.

'Hush--hush----' said Elena with a look of pain, and turning very pale.

But Andrea went on, still on his knees, fanning the flames of his
passion by the images he himself evoked. When she had left him so
abruptly, he had felt that the greater and better part of him went with
her. Afterwards----never, never could he tell her all the misery of
those days, the agony of regret, the ceaseless, implacable, devouring
torture of mind and body. His wretchedness grew and increased daily till
it burst all bounds and overwhelmed him utterly. Despair lay in wait for
him at every turn. The mere flight of time became an intolerable burden.
His regrets were less for the happy days gone by than for those that
were passing all profitless for love. Those, at least, had left him a
memory, these nothing but profoundest regret--nay, almost remorse. His
life was preying upon itself, consumed in secret by the inextinguishable
flame of one desire, by the unconquerable distaste to any other form of
pleasure. Of all the fiery ardour of his youth nothing now remained to
him but a handful of ashes. Sometimes, like a dream that vanishes at
dawn, all the past, all the present would fade and fall away from his
inner consciousness--like a tale that is told, a useless garment. Then
he would remember the past no more, as a man newly risen from a long
illness, a convalescent still overcome with stupor. At last he could
forget--his tortured soul was sinking gently down to death.----But
suddenly, out of the depths of this lethal tranquillity his pain had
sprung up afresh, and the fallen idol was re-established higher than
ever. She and she alone held every fibre of his heart captive beneath
her spells, crushing out his intelligence, keeping the doors of his soul
against any other passion, any sorrow, any dream to the end of all
time----

He was lying of course, but his words were so fervid, his voice so
thrilling, the clasp of his hands so fondly caressing that Elena was
profoundly touched.

'Hush,' she said, 'I must not, dare not listen to you--I am yours no
longer, I never can be yours again--never. Do not say these things----'

'No--listen----'

'I will not--good-bye--I must go now. Good-bye, Andrea,--it is late--let
me go.'

She drew her hands out of the young man's clasp, and, successfully
throwing off the dangerous languor that was creeping over her, she
prepared to rise.

'Then why did you come?' he asked almost roughly, and preventing her
from doing so.

Slight as was the force he used, she frowned. She paused before
answering.

'I came,' she said in measured accents and looking her lover full in the
eyes--'I came because you asked me. For the sake of the love that was
once between us, for the manner in which that love was broken and for
the long and unexplained silence of my absence I had not the heart to
refuse your invitation. Besides, I wanted to say what I have said: that
I am no longer yours--that I never can be again--never. That is what I
wanted to tell you, honestly and frankly, to save you and myself all
painful disillusionment, all danger or bitterness in the future.--Do you
understand?'

Andrea bowed his head almost to her knee in silence. She stroked his
hair with a familiar gesture of old.

'And then,' she went on in a voice that thrilled him to the heart's
core--'and then--I wanted to tell you--that I love you--love you as much
as ever: that you are still the heart of my heart and that I will be the
fondest of sisters to you, the best of friends--do you understand?'

Andrea made no reply. She took his head between her hands and raised it,
forcing him to look her in the face.

'Do you understand?' she repeated in a still lower, sweeter tone. Her
eyes under the shadow of the long lashes were suffused with a pure and
tender light, her lips were slightly open and trembling.

'No; you never loved me, and you do not love me now!' Andrea burst out
at last, pulling Elena's hands from his temples and drawing away from
her, for he was sensible of the fire that was kindling in his veins
under the mere gaze of those eyes, and his regret at having lost
possession of this fairest of women grew more bitter and poignant than
before. 'No, you never loved me. You had the heart to strike your love
dead at a blow--treacherously almost--just when it had reached its
supremest height. You ran away, you deserted me, left me alone in my
bewilderment, my misery, while I was still blinded by your promises. You
never loved me--neither then nor now. And now, after such a long
absence, so full of mystery, so silent and inexorable, after I have
wasted the bloom of my life in cherishing a wound that was dear to me
because your hand had dealt it--after so much joy and so much pain, you
return to this room, in which every object is replete for us with living
memories, and you say to me calmly--"I am yours no
longer--good-bye."--Oh no--you do not love me.'

'Oh, you are ungrateful!' she cried, deeply wounded by the young man's
incensed tone. 'What do you know of all that has occurred, or of what I
have had to go through?--What do you know?'

'I know nothing, and what is more, I do not want to,' Andrea retorted
stubbornly, enveloping her in a darkling look in which burned the fever
of his desire. 'All I know is that you were mine once--wholly and
without reserve, and I know that body and soul I shall never forget
it----'

'Be silent!'

'What do I care for your sisterly affection? In spite of yourself you
offer it with your eyes full of quite another kind of love, and you
cannot touch me without your hands trembling. I have seen that look in
your eyes too often, you have too often felt me tremble with passion
beneath your hands--I love you!'

Carried away by his own words he grasped her wrists tightly and drew so
close to her that she felt his hot breath on her cheek. 'I love you, I
tell you--more than ever before,' he went on, slipping an arm about her
waist to draw her to his kiss--'Have you forgotten--have you forgotten?'

She pushed him forcibly from her and rose to her feet, trembling in
every limb.

'I will not--do you hear?'

But he would not hear. He came towards her with arms outstretched, very
pale and determined.

'Could you bear,' she cried turning at bay at last, indignant at his
violence, 'could you bear to share me with another?'

She flung the cruel question at him point-blank, without reflection, and
now stood looking at her lover with wide open frightened eyes, like one
who in self-defence has dealt a blow without measuring his strength, and
fears to have struck too deep.

Andrea's frenzy dropped on the instant, and his face expressed such
overwhelming pain that Elena was stricken to the heart.

After a moment's silence--'Good-bye!' he said, but that one word
contained all the bitterness of the words he refrained from saying.

'Good-bye,' she answered gently, 'forgive me.'

They both felt the necessity of putting an end, at least for that
evening, to this perilous conversation. Andrea affected an almost
over-strained courtesy. Elena became even gentler, almost humble. A
nervous tremor shook her continually.

She took her cloak from the chair and Andrea hastened to assist her. As
she did not succeed in finding the armholes, Andrea guided her hand to
it but scarcely touched her. He then offered her her hat and veil.
'There is a looking-glass in the next room if you would like----'

'No, thank you.' She went over beside the fireplace, where on the wall
hung a quaint little old mirror in a frame surrounded by little figures,
carved in so airy and vivacious a style that they seemed rather to be of
malleable gold than of wood. It was a charming thing, the work doubtless
of some delicate artist of the fifteenth century and designed to reflect
the charms of some Mona Amorrosisca or some Laldomine. Many a time in
the old happy days Elena had put on her veil in front of this dim, lack
lustre mirror. She remembered it again now.

On seeing her reflection rise out of its misty depths she was stirred by
a singular emotion. A rush of profound sadness came over her. She did
not speak.

All this time Andrea was watching her intently.

Her preparations concluded, she said, 'It must be very late.'

'Not very--about six o'clock, I think.'

'I sent away my carriage. I would be very grateful if you could send for
a closed cab for me.'

'Will you excuse me then if I leave you alone for a moment? My servant
is out.'

She assented. 'And please tell the man yourself where to go to--the
Hotel Quirinal.'

He went out and shut the door behind him. She was alone.

She cast a rapid glance around her, embracing the whole room with an
indefinable look that lingered on the vases of flowers. The room seemed
to her larger, the ceiling higher than she remembered. She began to feel
a little giddy. She did not notice the scent of the flowers any longer,
but the atmosphere of the room was close and heavy as in a hot-house.
Andrea's image appeared to her in a sort of intermittent flashes--a
vague echo of his voice rang in her ears. Was she going to faint?--Oh,
the delight of it if she might close her eyes and abandon herself to
this languor!

She gave herself a little shake and went over to one of the windows,
which she opened, and let the breeze blow in her face. Somewhat revived
by this she turned back into the room. The pale flame of the candles
sent flickering shadows over the walls. The fire burned low but sufficed
to light up in part the pious figures on the screen made of stained
glass from a church window. The cup of tea stood where Andrea had laid
it down on the table, cold and untouched. The chair cushion retained the
impress of the form that had leaned against it. All the objects
surrounding her breathed an ineffable melancholy, which condensed itself
in a heavy weight upon Elena's heart, till it sank beneath the well nigh
insupportable burden.

_'Mio Dio! mio Dio!'_

She wished she could make her escape unseen. A puff of wind inflated the
curtains, made the candles flicker, raised a general rustle through the
room. She shivered, and almost without knowing what she did, she
called--

'Andrea!'

Her own voice--that name in the silence startled her strangely, as if
neither voice nor name had come from her lips. Why was Andrea so long in
returning? She listened.----There was no sound but the dull deep
inarticulate murmur of the city. Not a carriage passed across the piazza
of the Trinità de' Monti. As the wind came in strong gusts from time to
time, she closed the window, catching a glimpse as she did so of the
point of the obelisk, black against the starry sky.

Possibly Andrea had not found a conveyance at once on the Piazza
Barberini. She sat herself down to wait on the sofa and tried to calm
her foolish agitation, avoiding all heartsearchings and endeavouring to
fix her attention on external objects. Her eyes wandered to the figures
on the fire-screen, faintly visible by the light of the dying logs. On
the mantelpiece a great white rose in one of the vases was dropping its
petals softly, languidly, one by one, giving an impression of something
subtly feminine and sensuous. The cup-like petals rested delicately on
the marble, like flakes of snow.

Ah, how sweet that fragrant snow had been _then_! she thought.
Rose-leaves strewed the carpets, the divan, the chairs, and she was
laughing, happy in the midst of the devastation, and her happy lover was
at her feet----

A carriage stopped down in the street. She rose and shook her aching
head to banish the dull weight that seemed to paralyse her. The next
moment, Andrea entered out of breath.

'Forgive me,' he said, 'for keeping you so long, but I could not find
the porter, so I went down to the Piazza di Spagna. The carriage is
waiting for you.'

'Thanks,' answered Elena with a timid glance at him through her black
veil.

He was grave and pale but quite calm.

'I expect my husband to-morrow,' she went on in a low faint voice. 'I
will send you a line to let you know when I can see you again.'

'Thank you,' answered Andrea.

'Good-bye then,' she said, holding out her hand.

'Shall I see you down to the street? There is no one there.'

'Yes--come down with me.'

She looked about her a little hesitatingly.

'Have you forgotten anything?' asked Andrea.

She was looking at the flowers, but she answered, 'Ah--yes--my
card-case.'

Andrea sprang to fetch it from the table. '_A stranger here_?' he read
as he handed it to her.

'_No, my dear, a friend_----'

Her answer was quick, her voice eager. Then suddenly with a smile
peculiarly her own, half imploring, half seductive, a mixture of
timidity and tenderness, she said: '_Give me a rose._'

Andrea went from vase to vase gathering all the roses into one great
bunch which he could scarcely hold in his hands--some of them shed their
petals.

'They were for you--all of them,' he said without looking at her.

Elena hung her head and turned to go in silence followed by Andrea. They
descended the stairs still in silence. He could see the nape of her neck
so fair and delicate where the little dark curls mingled with the
gray-blue fur.

'Elena!' he cried her name in a low voice, incapable any longer of
fighting against the passion that filled his heart to bursting.

She turned round to him with a finger on her lips--a gesture of agonised
entreaty--but her eyes burned through the shadow. She hastened her
steps, flung herself into the carriage and felt rather than saw him lay
the roses in her lap.

'Good-bye! Good-bye!'

And when the carriage turned away she threw herself back exhausted and
burst into a passion of sobs, tearing the roses to pieces with her poor
frenzied hands.



CHAPTER III


So she had come, she had come! She had re-entered the rooms in which
every piece of furniture, every object must retain some memory for her,
and she had said--'I am yours no more, can never be yours again, never!'
and--'Could you suffer to share me with another?'--Yes, she had dared to
fling those words in his face, in that room, in sight of all these
things!

A rush of pain--atrocious, immeasurable, made up of a thousand wounds,
each distinct from the other and one more piercing than the other, came
over him and goaded him to desperation. Passion enveloped him once more
in a thousand tongues of fire, re-kindling in him an inextinguishable
desire for this woman who belonged to him no more, re-awakening in his
memory every smallest detail of past caresses and all the sweet mad
doings of those days. And yet through it all, there persisted the
strange difficulty in identifying that Elena with the Elena of to-day,
who seemed to him altogether another woman, one whom he had never known,
never held in his arms. The torture of his senses was such that he
thought he must die of it. Impurity crept through his blood like a
corroding poison.

The impurity which _then_ the winged flame of the soul had covered with
a sacred veil, had surrounded with a mystery that was half divine,
appeared _now_ without the veil and without the mystery as a mere carnal
lust, a piece of gross sensuality. He knew that the ardour he had felt
to-day in her presence was not Love--had nothing in common with
Love--for when she had cried--'Could you suffer to share me with
another?'--Why, yes, he could suffer it perfectly.

Nothing therefore--nothing in him had remained intact. Even the memory
of his grand passion was now corrupted, sullied, debased. The last spark
of hope was extinct. He had reached his lowest level, never to rise
again.

He was seized by a terrible and frenzied desire to overthrow the idol
that still persistently rose up lofty and enigmatic before his
imagination, do what he would to abase it. With cynical cruelty, he set
himself to insult, to undermine, to mutilate it. The destructive
analysis he had already employed upon himself, he now turned upon Elena.
To those dubious problems which, at one time, he had resolutely put away
from him, he now sought the answer; of all the suspicions which had
formerly presented themselves to him only to disappear without leaving a
trace, he now studied the origin, found them justified and obtained
their confirmation. But whereas he thought to find relief in this
furious work of demolition, he only increased his sufferings, aggravated
his malady and deepened his wounds.

What had been the true cause of Elena's departure two years before?
There were many conflicting rumours at the time, and again when she
married Humphrey Heathfield; but the actual truth of the matter was what
he heard, quite by chance, among other scraps of society gossip, from
Giulio Musellaro one evening as they left the theatre together, nor did
Andrea doubt it for a moment. Donna Elena had been obliged to leave Rome
for pecuniary reasons, to work some 'operation' which should extricate
her from the serious embarrassments into which her outrageous
extravagance had plunged her. The marriage with Humphrey Heathfield, who
was Marquis of Mount Saint Michael and Earl of Broadford, and besides
possessing a considerable fortune was related to the highest nobility of
Great Britain, had saved her from ruin. Donna Elena had managed matters
with the utmost adroitness and succeeded marvellously in steering clear
of the threatening peril. It was not to be denied that the interval of
her three years of widowhood had been none too chaste a prelude to a
second marriage--neither chaste nor prudent--nevertheless, there was
also no denying that Elena Muti was a great lady----

'Ah, my boy, a grand creature!' said Musellaro, 'as you very well know.'

Andrea said nothing.

'But take my advice,' his friend went on, throwing away the cigarette
which had gone out while he talked, 'do not resume your relations with
her. It is the same with love as with tobacco--once out, it will not
bear relighting. Let us go and get a cup of tea from Donna Giulia
Moceto. They tell me one may go to her house after the theatre--it is
never too late.'

They were close by the Palazzo Borghese.

'You can,' answered Andrea, 'I am going home to bed. I am rather tired
after to-day's run with the hounds. My regards to Donna Giulia--my
blessing go with you!'

Musellaro went up the steps of the palace and Andrea continued on his
way past the Borghese fountain towards the Trinità.

It was one of those wonderful January nights, cold and serene, which
turn Rome into a city of silver set in a ring of diamonds. The full
moon, hanging in mid-sky, shed a triple purity of light, of frost, and
of silence.

He walked along in the moonlight like a somnambulist, conscious of
nothing but his pain. The last blow had been struck, the idol was
shattered, nothing remained standing above the ruins--this was the end!

So it was true--she had never really loved him. She had not scrupled to
break with him in order to contract a marriage of convenience. And now
she put on the airs of a martyr before him, wrapped herself round with a
mantle of conjugal inviolability! A bitter laugh rose to his lips, and
then a rush of sullen blind rage against the woman came over him. The
memory of his passion went for nothing--all the past was one long fraud,
one stupendous, hideous lie; and this man, who throughout his whole life
had made a practice of dissimulation and duplicity, was now incensed at
the deception of another, was as indignant at it as at some unpardonable
backsliding, some inexcusable and inexplicable perfidy. He was quite
unable to understand how Elena could have committed such a crime; he
denied her all possibility of justification, and rejected the hypothesis
of some secret and dire necessity having driven her to sudden flight. He
could see nothing but the bare brutal fact, its baseness, its
vulgarity--above all its vulgarity, gross, manifest, odious, without one
extenuating circumstance. In short, the whole matter reduced itself to
this: a passion which was apparently sincere, which they had vowed was
profound and inextinguishable, had been broken off for a question of
money, for material interests, for a commercial transaction.

'Oh, you are ungrateful! What do you know of all that has happened, of
all I have suffered!'

Elena's words recurred to him with everything else she had said, from
beginning to end of their interview--her words of fondness, her offer of
sisterly affection, all her sentimental phrases. And he remembered, too,
the tears that had dimmed her eyes, her changes of countenance, her
tremors, her choking voice when she said good-bye, and he laid the roses
in her lap. 'But why had she ever consented to come? Why play this part,
call up all these emotions, arrange this comedy? Why?

By this time he had reached the top of the steps, and found himself in
the deserted piazza. Suddenly the beauty of the night filled him with a
vague but desperate yearning towards some unknown good. The image of
Maria Ferrès flashed across his mind; his heart beat fast, he thought of
what it would be to hold her hands in his, to lean his head upon her
breast, to feel that she was consoling him without words, by her pity
alone. This longing for pity, for a refuge, was like the last struggle
of a soul that will not be content to perish. He bent his head and
entered the house without turning again to look at the night.

Terenzio was waiting up for him and followed him to the bedroom, where
there was a fire.

'Will the Signor Conte go to bed at once?' he asked.

'No, Terenzio, bring me some tea,' replied his master, sitting down
before the fire and stretching out his hands to the blaze.

He was shivering all over with a little nervous tremor.

'The Signor Conte is cold?' asked Terenzio, hastening with affectionate
interest to stir up the fire and put on fresh logs.

He was an old servant of the house of Sperelli, having served Andrea's
father for many years, and his devotion for the son reached the pitch of
idolatry. No human being seemed to him so handsome, so noble, so worthy
of devotion. He belonged to that ideal race which furnished faithful
retainers to the romance writers of old, but differed from the servants
of romance in that he spoke little, never offered advice, and concerned
himself with no other business than that of carrying out his master's
orders.

'That will do very nicely,' said Andrea, trying to repress the
convulsive trembling of his limbs and crouching closer over the fire.

The presence of the old man in this hour of misery and distress moved
him singularly. It was an emotion somewhat similar to that which, in the
presence of some very kind and sympathetic person, affects a man
determined upon suicide. Never before had the old man brought back to
him so strongly the recollection of his father, the memory of the
beloved dead, his grief for the loss of a great and good friend. Never
so much as now had he felt the want of that comforting voice, that
paternal hand. What would his father say could he see his son thus
crushed under the weight of a nameless distress? How would he have
sought to relieve him--what would he have done?

His thoughts turned to the dead father with boundless yearning and
regret. And he had not the shadow of a suspicion that in the very
teachings of that father lay the primary cause of his wretchedness.

Terenzio brought the tea. He then proceeded slowly to arrange the bed
with a care and solicitude that were almost womanly, forgetting nothing,
as if he wished to ensure to his master refreshing and unbroken slumbers
till the morrow.

Andrea watched him with growing emotion. 'Go to bed now, Terenzio,' he
said. 'I shall not want anything more.'

The old man retired and left him alone before the fire--alone with his
heart, alone with his misery. Tortured by his inward agitation, he rose
and began to pace the room. He was haunted by a vision of Elena, and
each time he came as far as the window and turned, he fancied he saw her
and started violently. His nerves were in such an overstrung condition
that they only increased the disorder of his imagination. The
hallucination grew more distinct. He stood still and covered his face
with his hands for a moment to control his excitement, and then returned
to his seat by the fire.

This time another image rose before him--that of Elena's husband.

He knew him better now. That very evening in a box at the theatre, Elena
had introduced them to one another, and he had seized that opportunity
to examine him attentively in detail with the keenest curiosity, as
though he hoped to obtain some revelation, to draw some secret from him.
He could still hear the man's voice--a voice of very peculiar tone,
somewhat harsh and strident, with an interrogative inflection at the end
of each sentence. Again he saw those pale, pale eyes under the great
prominent forehead, eyes that at times assumed a hideous, glassy, dead
look, and at others lit up with an indefinable gleam that savoured of
madness. Those hands too, he saw--white and smooth and thickly covered
with sandy yellow down, and with something obscene in their every
movement; their way of raising the opera-glass, of unfolding a
handkerchief, of reclining on the cushion in front of the box or turning
over the pages of the libretto--hands instinct with vice.

Oh, horror! he saw those hands touching Elena, profaning her with their
odious caresses.

The torture became insupportable. He rose once more, went to the
window, opened it, shivered under the biting breeze and shook himself.
The Trinità de' Monti glittered in the deep blue sky, sharply outlined
as if sculptured in faintly tinted marble. Rome, spread out beneath him,
had a sheen as of crystal, like a city cut in a glacier.

The calm and sparkling cold brought his mind back to the realities of
life and enabled him to recognise the true condition of his mind. He
closed the window and sat down again. Once more the enigmatical aspect
of Elena's character occupied him, questions crowded in upon him
tumultuously, persistently. But he had the strength of mind to
co-ordinate them, to attack them one by one, with singular lucidity. The
deeper he went in his analysis the more lucid became his mental vision,
and he worked out his psychological revenge with cruel relish. At last
he felt that he had laid bare a soul, penetrated a mystery. It seemed to
him, that thus he made Elena infinitely more his own than in the days of
their passion.

What, after all, was this woman?--An unbalanced mind in a sensually
inclined body. As with all who are greedy of pleasure, the foundation of
her moral being was overweening egotism. Her dominant faculty, her
intellectual axis, so to speak, was imagination--an imagination
nourished upon a wide range of literature, connected with her sex and
perpetually stimulated by neurotic excitement. Possessed of a certain
degree of intellectual capacity, brought up in all the luxury of a
princely Roman house--that papal luxury which is made up of art and
history--she had received a thin coating of æsthetic varnish, had
acquired a graceful taste, and, having thoroughly grasped the character
of her beauty, sought by skilful simulation and a sapient use of her
marked histrionic talents to enhance its spirituality by surrounding it
with a delusive halo of ideality.

Into the comedy of human life she thus brought some highly perilous
elements, and was thereby the occasion of more ruin and disaster than if
she had been a _demi-mondaine_ by profession.

Under the glamour of her imagination, every caprice assumed an
appearance of pathos. She was the woman of fulminating passions, of
suddenly blazing desire. She covered the lusts of the flesh with a
mantle of ethereal flame, and could transform into a noble sentiment
what was merely a base appetite.

Such was the scathing judgment brought by Andrea against the woman he
had once adored. At the root of every action, every expression of
Elena's love he now discovered studied artifice, an admirable natural
gift for carrying out a pre-arranged scheme, for playing a dramatic part
or organising a striking scene. He did not spare their most memorable
episodes--neither the first meeting at the Ateletas' dinner, nor the
Cardinal Immenraet's sale, nor the ball at the French Embassy, nor the
sudden offer of her love in the red room at the Barberini palace, nor
their farewells out in the country in the biting March blast. The magic
draught which had intoxicated him then now seemed but an insidious
poison.

Yet, in spite of it all, certain points perplexed him, as if in
penetrating Elena's soul he had penetrated his own, and in the woman's
perfidy had seen a reflection of his own. There was much affinity
between their two natures. Therefore he _understood_, and little by
little, his contempt changed to ironical indulgence. He was so
thoroughly conversant with his own mode of procedure.

Then with cold lucidity, he mapped out his plan of campaign. He reviewed
every detail of the interview that had taken place on New Year's
Eve--more than a week ago--and it pleased him to re-construct the scene,
but without the slightest indignation or excitement, only smiling
cynically both at Elena and himself. Why had she come?--Simply because
this impromptu _tête-à-tête_ with a former lover, in the well-known
place, after a lapse of two years, had tempted a spirit always on the
look-out for fresh emotions, had inflamed her imagination and her
curiosity. She thirsted to see into what new situations, new intrigues
the dangerous game would lead her. She was perhaps attracted by the
novelty of a platonic affection with a person who had already been the
object of her sensual passion. As ever, she had thrown herself into the
new part with a certain imaginative fervour. Also it was quite possible
that, for the moment, she believed what she said, and that this illusory
sincerity had furnished her with that deep tenderness of accent, those
despairing attitudes, those tears. How well he knew it all! She had a
sentimental hallucination as other people have a physical one. She
forgot that she was acting a lie, was no longer conscious whether she
were living in a world of truth or falsehood, of fiction or reality.

Now this was precisely the moral phenomenon which so constantly took
place in himself. Therefore he could not reproach her without injustice.
But the discovery very naturally deprived him of the hope of deriving
any pleasure from her other than sensual ones. In any case, mistrust
would poison all the sweetness of abandon, all soulful rapture. To
deceive a confiding and faithful heart, dominate a soul by artifice,
possess it wholly and make it vibrate like an instrument--_habere non
haberi_--all this, doubtless, gives intense pleasure; but to deceive,
and know that one is being deceived in return, is a stupid and fruitless
labour, a tiresome and aimless pursuit.

He must therefore work upon Elena to renounce the sisterly scheme and to
return to his arms once more. He must regain possession of this
beautiful woman, extract the utmost possible pleasure from her beauty
and free himself for ever of this passion by reaching the point of
satiety. But it was a task demanding prudence and patience. In that
first interview, his ardour had availed him nothing. Obviously, she had
founded her plan of impeccability on the grand phrase--'Could you endure
to share me with another?' The mainspring of the great platonic business
was a virtuous horror of divided possession. For the rest, it was just
within the bounds of possibility that this horror was not feigned. Most
women addicted to the practice of free love, if they do eventually
marry, affect, during the early days of their marriage, a savage
virtue, and make professions of conjugal fidelity with the most honest
determination. Perhaps, therefore, Elena had been affected by this
common scruple, in which case, nothing would be more ill-advised than to
show his hand too boldly and offend against her new-found virtue. The
better plan would be to second her spiritual aspirations, accept her as
'the fondest of sisters, the truest of friends,' intoxicate her with the
ideal, be skilfully platonic and then make her glide imperceptibly from
frank sisterly relations to a more passionate friendship, and from
thence to the complete surrender of her person. In all probability these
transitions would occur very rapidly. It all depended upon a wise
adjustment of circumstances----

Thus Andrea Sperelli reasoned, sitting in front of the fire which had
glowed upon Elena, laughing among the scattered rose leaves. A boundless
lassitude weighed upon him, a lassitude which did not invite sleep, a
sense of weariness, so empty, so disconsolate as to be almost a longing
for death; while the fire died out on the hearth and the tea grew cold
in the cup.



CHAPTER IV


He waited in vain during the days that followed for the promised note to
tell him when he might see Elena again----So she did intend to make
another appointment with him; the question was--where? At the Casa
Zuccari again? Would she risk such an imprudence a second time? This
uncertainty kept him on the rack. He passed whole hours in searching for
some way of meeting her, of seeing her again. He went several times to
the Hotel Quirinal in the hope of being received, but never once did he
find her at home. One evening, he saw her again in the theatre with
'Mumps,' as she called her husband. Though only saying the usual things
about the music, the singers, the ladies, he infused a supplicating
melancholy into his gaze. She seemed greatly taken up by the arrangement
of their house. They were going back to the Palazzo Barberini, her old
quarters, but were having them much enlarged, and she was for ever
occupied with upholsterers and decorators, giving orders and
superintending the placing of the furniture.

'Are you going to stay long in Rome?' asked Andrea.

'Yes,' she answered--'Rome will be our winter residence.' Then, after a
moment's pause--'You could give us some very good advice about the
furniture. Come to the palace one of these days. I am always there from
ten to twelve.'

He took advantage of a moment when Lord Heathfield was talking to Giulio
Musellaro, who had just entered the box, to say to her, looking her full
in the eyes.

'To-morrow?'

'By all means,' she replied with perfect simplicity, as if she had not
noticed the tone of his question.

The next morning, about eleven, he set off on foot to the Palazzo
Barberini through the Via Sistina. It was a road he had often traversed
before--and, for a moment, the impressions of those days seemed to come
back to him, and his heart swelled. The fountain of Bernini shone
curiously luminous in the sunshine, as if the dolphins and the Triton
with his conch-shell had, by some interrupted metamorphose transformed
themselves into a more diaphanous material--not stone, nor yet quite
crystal. The noise of the building of new Rome filled all the piazza and
the adjoining streets; country children ran in and out between the carts
and horses offering violets for sale.

As he passed through the gate and entered the garden, he felt that he
was beginning to tremble. 'Then I _do_ love her still?' he thought to
himself--'Is she still the woman of _my dreams_?'

He looked at the great palace, radiant under the morning sun, and his
spirit flew back to the days when, in certain chill and misty dawns,
this same palace had assumed for him a look of enchantment. That was in
the early times of his happiness, when he came away warm from her kisses
and full of his new-found bliss; the bells of Trinità de' Monti, of San
Isidoro and the Cappuccini rang out the Angelus into the dawning day,
with a muffled peal as if out of the far distance--at the corner of the
street, fires glowed red round cauldrons of boiling asphalt--a little
herd of goats stood against the white wall of the slumbering house----

These forgotten sensations rose up once more out of the depths of his
consciousness, and, for an instant, a wave of the old love swept over
his soul, for one moment he tried to imagine that Elena was still the
Elena of those days, that his happiness had endured till now, that none
of these miserable things were true. As he crossed the threshold of the
palace, all this illusory ferment died away on the instant, for Lord
Heathfield came forward to greet him with his habitual and somewhat
ambiguous smile.

With that his torture began.

Elena appeared, and shaking hands cordially with him in her husband's
presence, she said--'Bravo, Andrea! Come and help us, come and help us!'

She talked and gesticulated with much vivacity and looked very girlish
in a close-fitting jacket of dark-blue cloth, trimmed round the high
collar and the cuffs with black astrachan and fine black braiding. She
kept one hand in her pocket in a graceful attitude, and with the other
pointed out the various wall-hangings, the pictures, the furniture,
asking his advice as to their most advantageous disposal.

'Where would you put these two chests? Look--Mumps picked them up at
Lucca. These pictures are your beloved Botticelli's.--Where would you
hang these tapestries?'

Andrea recognised the four pieces of tapestry from the Immenraet sale
representing the Story of Narcissus. He looked at Elena, but could not
catch her eye. A profound sense of irritation against her, against her
husband, against all these things took possession of him. He would have
liked to go away, but politeness demanded that he should place his good
taste at the service of the Heathfields; it also obliged him to submit
to the archæological erudition of 'Mumps,' who was an ardent collector
and was anxious to show him some of his finds. In one cabinet Andrea
caught sight of the Pollajuolo helmet, and in another of the
rock-crystal goblet which had belonged to Niccolo Niccoli. The presence
of that particular goblet in this particular place moved him strangely
and sent a flash of mad suspicion through his mind.

So it had fallen into the hands of Lord Heathfield! The famous
competition between the Countesses having come to nothing, nobody
troubled themselves further about the fate of the goblet, and none of
the party had returned to the sale after that day. Their ephemeral zeal
had languished and finally died out and passed away, like everything
else in the world of fashion, and the goblet had been abandoned to the
competition of other collectors. The thing was perfectly natural, but
at that moment it appeared to Andrea most extraordinary.

He purposely stopped before the cabinet and gazed long at the precious
goblet on which the story of Venus and Anchises glittered as if cut in a
pure diamond.

'Niccolo Niccoli!' said Elena, pronouncing the name with an indefinable
accent in which the young man seemed to catch a note of sadness.

The husband had just gone into another room to open a cabinet.

'Remember--remember!' murmured Andrea, turning towards her.

'I do remember.'

'Then when may I see you?'

'Ah, when?'

'But you promised me----'

Lord Heathfield returned. They passed on into an adjoining room, making
the tour of the apartments. Everywhere they met workmen hanging papers,
draping curtains, carrying furniture. Each time Elena asked his opinion,
Andrea had to make an effort before answering her, in order to disguise
his ill-humour and his impatience. At last, he managed to seize a moment
when her husband was occupied with one of the men to say to her in a low
voice, unable any longer to conceal his chagrin--

'Why inflict this torture upon me? I expected to find you alone.'

Passing through one of the doors, Elena's hat caught in the portière and
was dragged out of place. She laughed and called to Mumps to come and
unfasten her veil. And Andrea was forced to look on while those odious
hands touched the hair of the woman he desired, ruffling the little
curls at the back of her neck, those curls which under his caresses had
seemed to breathe out a mysterious perfume, unlike any other, and
sweeter and more intoxicating than all the rest.

He hurriedly took his leave under pretext of being due at lunch with
some one else.

'We shall move in here on the 1st of February,' Elena said to him, 'and
then I hope you will be one of our _habitués_.'

Andrea bowed.

He would have given worlds not to be obliged to touch Lord Heathfield's
hand. He went away filled with rancour, jealousy and disgust.



CHAPTER V


At a late hour that same evening, happening to look in at the Club,
where he had not been for a long time, whom should he see at one of the
card-tables but Don Manuel Ferrès y Capdevila. Andrea greeted him with
effusion and inquired after Donna Maria and Delfina--whether they were
still at Sienna--when they were coming to Rome.

Don Manuel, who remembered to have won several thousand lire from the
young Count during the last evening at Schifanoja, and had recognised in
Andrea Sperelli a player of the best form and perfect style, responded
with the utmost courtesy and cordiality.

'They have been here some days already; they arrived on Monday,' he
answered. 'Maria was much disappointed not to find the Marchesa
d'Ateleta in town. I am sure it would give her the greatest pleasure if
you would call on her. We are in the Via Nazionale. Here is the exact
address.'

He handed one of his cards to Andrea and then returned to the game.

The Duke di Beffi, who was standing with a knot of gentlemen, called
Andrea over to them.

'Why did you not come to Cento Celli this morning?' asked the duke.

'I had another appointment,' Andrea replied without reflecting.

'At the Palazzo Barberini perhaps?' said the duke with a shy laugh, in
which he was joined by the others.

'Perhaps.'

'Perhaps, indeed?--why, Ludovico saw you go in.'

'And where were you, may I ask?' said Andrea turning to Barbarisi.

'Over the way, at my Aunt Saviano's.'

'Ah!'

'I don't know if you had better luck than we had,' Beffi went on, 'but
we had a run of forty-two minutes and got two foxes. The next meet is on
Thursday at the Three Fountains.'

'You understand--at the _Three_ Fountains, not at the _Four_,' Gino
Bomminaco admonished him with comic gravity.

The others burst into a roar of laughter which Andrea could not help
joining. He was by no means displeased at their gibes; on the contrary,
now that there was no truth in their suspicions, it flattered him for
his friends to think he had renewed his relations with Elena. He turned
away to speak to Giulio Musellaro, who had just come in. From a few
strays words that reached his ear, he found that the group behind him
were discussing Lord Heathfield.

'I knew him in London six or seven years ago,' Beffi was saying. 'He was
Gentleman of the Bed-chamber to the Prince of Wales as far as I
remember----'

The duke lowered his voice, he was evidently retailing the most
appalling things. Andrea caught scraps here and there of a highly-spiced
nature and, once or twice, the name of a newspaper famous in the annals
of London scandal. He longed to hear more; a terrible curiosity took
possession of him. His imagination conjured up Lord Heathfield's hands
before him--so white, so significant, so expressive, so impossible to
forget. Musellaro was still talking, and now said--

'Let us go--I want to tell you----'

On the stairs they encountered Albonico, who was coming up. He was in
deep mourning for Donna Ippolita, and Andrea stopped to ask for details
of the sad event. He had heard of her death when he was in Paris in
November from Guido Montelatici, a cousin of Donna Ippolita.

'Was it really typhus?'

The wan and pale-eyed widower grasped at an occasion for pouring out his
griefs, for he made a display of his bereavement as, at one time, he had
made a display of his wife's beauty. He stammered and grew lachrymose
and his colourless eyes seemed bulging from his head.

Seeing that the widower's elegy threatened to be somewhat long drawn
out, Musellaro said to Andrea--

'If we don't take care, we shall be late.'

Andrea accordingly took leave of Albonico, promising to hear the rest of
the funeral oration very shortly, and went away with Musellaro.

The meeting with Albonico had re-awakened the singular emotion--partly
regret, partly a certain peculiar satisfaction--which he had experienced
for several days after hearing the news of this death. The image of
Donna Ippolita, half obliterated by his illness and convalescence, by
his love for Maria Ferrès, by a variety of incidents, had reappeared to
him then as in the dim distance, but invested with a nameless ideality.
He had received a promise from her which, though it was never fulfilled,
had procured to him the greatest happiness that can befall a man: the
victory over a rival, a brilliant victory in the presence of the woman
he desired. Later on, between desire and regret another sentiment grew
up--the poetic sentiment for beauty idealised by death. It pleased him
that the adventure should end thus for ever. This woman who had never
been his, but to gain whom he had nearly lost his life, now rose up
noble and unsullied before his imagination in all the sublime ideality
of death. _Tibi, Hippolyta, semper!_

'But where are we going to?' asked Musellaro, stopping short in the
middle of the Piazza de Venezia.

At the bottom of all Andrea's perturbation and all his varying thoughts,
was the excitement called up in him by his meeting with Don Manuel
Ferrès and the consequent thought of Donna Maria; and now, in the midst
of these conflicting emotions, a sort of nervous longing drew him to her
house.

'I am going home,' he answered; 'we can go through the Via Nazionale.
Come along with me.'

He paid no heed to what his friend was saying. The thought of Maria
Ferrès occupied him exclusively. Arrived in front of the theatre, he
hesitated a moment, undecided which side of the street he had better
take. He would find out the direction of the house by seeing which way
the numbers ran.

'What is the matter?' asked Musellaro.

'Nothing--go on,--I am listening.'

He looked at one number and calculated that the house must be on the
left hand side, somewhere about the Villa Aldobrandini. The tall pines
round the villa looked feathery light against the starry sky. The night
was icy but serene; the Torre delle Milizie lifted up its massive bulk,
square and sombre among the twinkling stars; the laurels on the wall of
Servius slumbered motionless in the gleam of the street lamps.

A few numbers more and they would reach the one mentioned on Don
Manuel's card. Andrea trembled as if he expected Donna Maria to appear
upon the threshold. He passed so close to the great door that he brushed
against it; he could not refrain from looking up at the windows.

'What are you looking at?' asked Musellaro.

'Nothing--give me a cigarette and let us walk a little faster; it is
awfully cold.'

They followed the Via Nazionale as far as the Four Fountains in silence.
Andrea's preoccupation was patent.

'You must decidedly have something serious on your mind,' said his
friend.

Andrea's heart beat so fast that he was on the point of pouring his
confidences into his friend's ear, but he restrained himself. Memories
of Schifanoja passed across his spirit like an exhilarating perfume, and
in the midst of them beamed the figure of Maria Ferrès with a radiance
that almost dazzled him. But most distinctly and more luminously than
all the rest, he saw that moment in the wood at Vicomile, when she had
flung those burning words at him. Would he ever hear such words from her
lips again? What had she been doing--what had been her thoughts--how had
she spent the days since they parted? His agitation increased with every
step. Fragments of scenes passed rapidly before him like the
phantasmagoria of a dream--a bit of country, a glimpse of the sea, a
flight of steps among the roses, the interior of a room, all the places
in which some sentiment had had its birth, round which she had diffused
some sweetness, where she had breathed the charm of her person. And he
thrilled with profound emotion at the idea that perchance she still
carried in her heart that living passion, had perhaps suffered and wept,
had dreamed and hoped.

'Well?' said Musellaro, 'and how is your affair with Donna Elena
progressing?'

They happened to be just in front of the Palazzo Barberini. Behind the
railings and the great stone pillars of the gates stretched the garden,
dimly visible through the gloom, animated by the low murmur of the
fountains and dominated by the massive white palace where in the portico
alone was light.

'What did you say?' asked Andrea.

'I asked how you were getting on with Donna Elena.'

Andrea glanced up at the palace. At that moment he seemed to feel a
blank indifference in his heart, the absolute death of desire--the final
renunciation.

'I am following your advice. I have not tried to relight the cigarette.'

'And yet, do you know, in this one instance, I believe it would be worth
while. Have you noticed her particularly? It seems to me that she has
become more beautiful. I cannot help thinking there is something--how
shall I express it?--something new, something indescribable about her.
No, _new_ is not the word. She has gained intensity without losing
anything of the peculiar character of her beauty; in short, she is _more
Elena_ than the Elena of two years ago--the quintessence of herself. It
is, most likely, the effect of her second spring, for I should fancy
she must be hard on thirty. Don't you think so?'

As he listened, Andrea felt the dull ashes of his love stir and kindle.
Nothing revives and excites a man's desire so much as hearing from
another the praises of a woman he has loved too long or wooed in vain. A
love in its death-throes may thus be prolonged as the result of the envy
or the admiration of another; for the disgusted or wearied lover
hesitates to abandon what he possesses or is struggling to possess in
favour of a possible successor.

'Don't you think so?' Musellaro repeated. 'And, besides, to make a
Menelaus of that Heathfield would in itself be an unspeakable
satisfaction.'

'So I think,' answered Andrea, forcing himself to adopt his friend's
light tone. 'Well, we shall see.'



BOOK IV



CHAPTER I


'Maria, grant me this one moment of unalloyed sweetness! Let me tell you
all that is in my heart.'

She rose. 'Forgive, me,' she said gently, without anger or bitterness
and with an audible quiver of emotion in her voice. 'Forgive me but I
cannot listen to you. You pain me very much.'

'Well, I will not say anything--only stay--I implore you.'

She seated herself once more. It was like the days of Schifanoja come
back again. The same matchless grace of the delicate head drooping under
the masses of hair as under some divine chastisement, the same deep and
tender shadow, a fusion of diaphanous violet and soft blue, surrounding
the tawny brown eyes.

'I only wanted,' Andrea went on humbly, 'I only wanted to remind you of
the words I spoke, the words you listened to that morning in the park
under the shadow of the trees, in an hour that will always remain sacred
in my memory.'

'I have not forgotten them.'

'Since that day my unhappiness has become ever deeper, darker, more
poignant. I can never tell you all I have suffered, all the abject
misery of that time: can never tell you how often in spirit I have
called upon you as if my last hour had come, nor describe to you the
thrill of joy, the upward bound of my whole soul towards the light of
hope, if, for one moment, I dared to think that the remembrance of me
still lived in your heart.'

He spoke in the accents of that morning long ago; he seemed to have
regained the same passionate rapture: all his vaguely felt happiness
rose to his lips. And she sat motionless, listening with drooping head,
almost in the same attitude as on that day; and round her lips, those
lips which she vainly sought to keep firm, there played the same
expression of dolorous rapture.

'Do you remember Vicomile? Do you remember our ride through the wood on
that evening in October?'

Donna Maria bent her head slightly in sign of assent.

'And the words you said to me?' the young man went on in a lower voice,
but in a tone of suppressed passion and bending down to look into the
eyes she kept steadfastly fixed upon the ground.

She raised them now to his--those sweet, patient, pathetic eyes.

'I have forgotten nothing,' she replied, 'nothing, nothing! Why should I
hide my heart from you? You are good and noble-minded, and I have
absolute trust in your generosity. Why should I act towards you like an
ordinary foolish woman? I told you that evening that I loved you. Your
question implies another one, I see that very well--you want to ask me
if I love you still.'

She faltered for a moment and her lips quivered. 'I love you.'

'Maria!'

'But you must give up all claim upon my love, you must keep away from
me. Be noble, be generous, and spare me the struggle which frightens me.
I have suffered much, Andrea, I have borne much; but the thought of
having to struggle with you, to defend myself against you, fills me with
a nameless terror. You do not know at the cost of what sacrifices I have
at last gained peace of heart; you do not know what lofty and cherished
ideals I have been obliged to bid farewell to--poor ideals! I am a
changed woman because I could not help it; I have had to place myself on
a lower level.'

There was a note of grave, sweet sadness in her voice.

'In those first days after I met you, I abandoned myself to the alluring
sweetness, let myself drift with eyes closed to the distant peril. I
thought--he shall never know anything from me, I shall never know
anything from him. I had nothing to regret and therefore I felt no fear.
But you spoke--you said things to me that no one had ever said before,
and then you forced my avowal from me. The danger suddenly appeared
before me, unmistakable, imminent. And then I abandoned myself to a
fresh dream. Your mental distress touched me to the heart, caused me
profound pain. "Impurity has sullied his soul," I thought to myself.
"Oh, that I had the power to purify it again! What happiness to offer
myself up as a sacrifice for his regeneration!" Your unhappiness
attracted mine. I thought I might scarcely be able to console you, but I
hoped at least you might find relief in having another soul to answer
eternally _Amen_ to all your plaints.'

She uttered the last words with a face so suffused with spiritual
exaltation that Andrea felt a wave of half-religious joy sweep over him,
and his one desire, at that moment, was to take those dear and spotless
hands in his and breathe upon them the ineffable rapture of his soul.

'But it cannot--it may not be.' she went on, shaking her head in sad
regret. 'We must renounce that hope for ever. Life is inexorable.
Without intending it, you would destroy a whole existence--and more than
one perhaps----'

'Maria, Maria! do not say such things!' the young man broke in, leaning
over her once more and taking one of her hands with a sort of timid
entreaty, as if looking for some sign of permission before venturing on
the liberty. 'I will do anything you tell me; I will be humble and
obedient, my one thought shall be to carry out your wishes, my one
desire, to die with your name upon my lips. In renouncing you, I
renounce my salvation, I fall back into irremediable ruin and disaster.
I have no words to express my love for you. I have need of you. You
alone are _true_--you are Truth itself, for which my soul is ever
seeking. All else is vanity--all else is nought. To give you up is like
signing my death-warrant. But if this immolation is necessary to your
peace of mind, it shall be done--I owe it to you. Do not fear, Maria, I
will never do anything to hurt you.'

He held her hand, but he did not press it. His voice had none of the old
passionate ardour, it was submissive, disconsolate, heart-broken, full
of infinite weariness. And Maria was so blinded by her compassion that
she did not draw away her hand, but let it lie in his, abandoning
herself for a moment to the unutterable rapture of that light contact--a
rapture so subtle as hardly to have any physical origin--as if some
magnetic fluid, issuing from her heart, diffused itself through her arm
to her fingers and there flowed forth in a wave of ineffable sweetness.
When Andrea ceased speaking, certain words of his, uttered on that
memorable morning in the park and revived by the recent sound of his
voice, returned to her memory--'Your mere presence suffices to
intoxicate me--I feel it flowing through my veins like blood, flooding
my soul with nameless emotion----'

There was an interval of silence. From time to time, a gust of wind
shook the window-panes and bore fitfully with it the distant roar of the
city and the rumbling of carriage wheels. The light was cold and limpid
as spring water; shadows were gathering thickly in the corners of the
room and in the folds of the Oriental curtains; from pieces of
furniture, here and there, came gleams of ivory and mother-of-pearl; a
great gilded Buddha shone out of the background under a tall palm.
Something of the exotic mystery of these things was diffused over the
drawing-room.

'And what do you suppose is going to become of me now?' asked Andrea.

She seemed lost in perplexing thought. There was a look of irresolution
on her face as if she were listening to two contending voices.

'I cannot describe to you,' she answered, passing her hand over her eyes
with a rapid gesture, 'I cannot describe to you the strange foreboding
that has weighed upon me for a long time past. I do not know what it is,
but I am _afraid_.'

Then, after a pause--'Oh, to think that you may be suffering, sick at
heart,--my poor darling--and that I can do nothing to ease your pain,
may not be with you in your hour of anguish--may not even know that you
have called me--_Mio Dio!_'

There was a quiver of tears in her breaking voice. Andrea hung his head
but did not speak.

'To think that my spirit will follow you always, always, and yet that it
may never, never mingle with yours, will never, never be understood by
you!--Alas, poor love!'

Her voice was full of tears and her mouth was drawn with pain.

Ah, do not desert me--do not desert me!' cried the young man, seizing
her two hands and half-kneeling at her feet, a prey to overwhelming
excitement--'I will never ask anything of you--I want nothing but your
pity. A little pity from you is more--far more--to me than passionate
love from any other woman--you know it. Your hand alone can heal me, can
bring me back to life, can raise me out of the slough into which I have
sunk, give me back my faith and free me from the bondage of those
shameful things that corrupt me and fill me with horror.
Dear--dear--hands!'

He bent over them and pressed his lips to them in a long kiss,
abandoning himself with half-closed eyes to the utter sweetness of it.

'I can feel you tremble,' he murmured in an indefinable tone.

She rose abruptly, trembling from head to foot, giddy, paler still than
on the morning when they walked together beneath the flower-laden trees.
The wind still shook the panes; there was a dull clamour in the distance
as of a riotous crowd. The shrill cries borne on the wind from the
Quirinal increased her agitation.

'Go, Andrea--please go--you must not stay here any longer. You shall see
me some other time--whenever you like, but go now, I entreat you----'

'Where shall I see you again?'

'At the concert to-morrow--good-bye.'

She was as perturbed and agitated as if she had been guilty of some
grave fault. She accompanied him to the door of the room. When she found
herself alone, she hesitated, not knowing what to do next, still under
the sway of her terror. Her temples throbbed, her cheeks and her eyes
burned with fierce intensity, while cold shivers ran through her limbs.
But on her hands she still felt the pressure of that beloved mouth, a
sensation so surpassingly sweet that she wished it might remain there
for ever indelible like some divine impress.

She looked about her. The light was fading, things looked shapeless in
the shadows, the great Buddha gleamed with a weird pale light. The cries
came up from the street fitfully. She went over to a window, opened it
and leaned out. An icy wind blew through the street; in the direction of
the Piazza dei Termini, they were already lighting the lamps. Across the
way, at the Villa Aldobrandini, the trees swayed to and fro, their tops
touched with a faint red glow. A huge crimson cloud hung solitary in the
sky over the Torre delle Milizie.

The evening struck her as strangely lugubrious. She withdrew from the
window and seated herself again where she had just had her conversation
with Andrea. Why had Delfina not returned yet? She earnestly desired to
escape from her thoughts, and yet she weakly allowed herself to linger
in the place where, only a few minutes ago, Andrea had breathed and
spoken, had sighed out his love and his unhappiness. The struggles, the
resolutions, the contrition, the prayers, the penances of four months
had been wiped out, made utterly unavailing in one second of time, and
she sank down more weary and vanquished than ever, without the will or
the power to fight against the foes that beset her in her own heart,
against the feelings that were upheaving her whole moral foundations.
And while she gave way to the anguish and despair of a conscience which
feels all its courage oozing from it, she still had the feeling that
something of _him_ lingered in the shadows of the room and enveloped her
with all the sweetness of a passionate caress.



CHAPTER II


The next day, she arrived at the Palazzo dei Sabini, her heart beating
fast under a bunch of violets.

Andrea was looking out for her at the door of the concert-hall.

'Thanks,' he said, and pressed her hand.

He conducted her to a seat and sat down beside her.

'I thought the anxiety of waiting for you would have killed me,' he
murmured. 'I was so afraid you would not come. How grateful I am to you!
Late last night,' he went on, 'I passed your house. There was a light in
one window--the third looking towards the Quirinal--I would have given
much to know if you were up there. Who gave you those violets?' he asked
abruptly.

'Delfina,' she answered.

'Did Delfina tell you of our meeting this morning in the Piazza di
Spagna?'

'Yes--all.'

The concert began with a Quartett by Mendelssohn. The hall was already
nearly full, the audience consisting, for the most part, of foreign
ladies--fair-haired women very quietly and simply dressed, grave of
attitude, religiously silent, as in some sacred spot. The wave of music
passing over these motionless heads spread out into the golden light, a
light that filtered from above through faded yellow curtains and was
reflected from the bare white walls. It was the old hall of the
Philharmonic concerts. The whiteness of the walls was unbroken by any
ornament, with only here and there a trace of former frescoes and its
meagre blue portières threatening to come down at any moment. It had
all the air of a place that had been closed for a century and opened
again that day for the first time. But just this faded look of age, the
air of poverty, the nakedness of the walls lent a curious additional
flavour to the exquisite enjoyment of the audience, making their delight
seem more absorbing, loftier, purer by contrast. It was the 2nd of
February; at Montecitorio the Parliament was disputing over the massacre
of Dogali; the neighbouring streets and squares swarmed with the
populace and with soldiers.

Musical memories of Schifanoja came back to the lovers, a reflected
gleam from those fair autumn days illumined their thoughts.
Mendelssohn's Minuet called up before them a vision of the villa by the
sea, of rooms filled with the perfume of the terraced garden, of
cypresses lifting their dark heads into the soft sky, of flaming sails
upon a glassy sea.

Bending towards his companion, Andrea whispered softly: 'What are you
thinking about?'

With a smile so faint that he hardly caught it, she answered:

'Do you remember the 22nd of September?'

Andrea had no very clear recollection of this date, but he nodded his
head.

The Andante, calm, broad and solemn, dominated by a wonderful and
pathetic melody, had ended in a sudden outburst of grief. The Finale
lingered in a certain rhythmic monotony full of plaintive weariness.

'Now comes your favourite Bach,' said Donna Maria.

And when the music commenced they both felt an instinctive desire to
draw closer to each other. Their shoulders touched; at the end of each
part Andrea leant over her to read the programme which she held open in
her hands, and in so doing pressed against her arm, inhaling the perfume
of her violets, and sending a wild thrill of ecstasy through her. The
Adagio rose with so exultant a song, soared with so jubilant a strain to
the topmost summits of rapture, and flowed wide into the Infinite, that
it seemed like the voice of some celestial being pouring out the joy of
a deathless victory. The spirits of the audience were borne along on
that irresistible torrent of sound. When the music ceased, the tremor of
the instruments continued for a moment in the hearers. A murmur ran from
one end of the hall to the other. A moment later and the applause broke
forth vehemently.

The lovers turned simultaneously and looked at one another with swimming
eyes.

The music continued; the light began to fade; a gentle warmth pervaded
the air, and Donna Maria's violets breathed a fuller fragrance. Seeing
nobody near him whom he knew, Andrea almost felt as if he were alone
with her.

But he was mistaken. Turning round in one of the pauses, he caught sight
of Elena standing at the back of the hall with the Princess of
Ferentino. Instantly their eyes met. As he bowed to her, he seemed to
catch a singular smile on Elena's lips.

'To whom are you bowing?' asked Donna Maria, turning round too, 'who are
those ladies?'

'Lady Heathfield and the Princess of Ferentino.'

She noticed a tremor of annoyance in his voice.

'Which of them is the Princess of Ferentino?'

'The fair one.'

'The other is very beautiful.'

Andrea said nothing.

'But is she English?' she asked again.

'No, she is a Roman. She was the widow of the Duke of Scerni, and now
married again to Lord Heathfield.'

'She is very lovely.'

'What is coming next?' Andrea asked hurriedly.

'The Brahms Quartett in C minor.'

'Do you know it?'

'No.'

'The second movement is marvellous.'

He went on speaking to hide his embarrassment.

'When shall I see you again?' he asked.

'I do not know.'

'To-morrow?'

She hesitated. A cloud seemed to have come over her face.

'To-morrow,' she answered, 'if it is fine I shall take Delfina to the
Piazza di Spagna about twelve o'clock.'

'And if it is not fine?'

'On Saturday evening I shall be at the Countess Starnina's----'

The music began once more. The first movement expressed a sombre and
virile struggle, the Romance a memory full of passionate but sad desire,
followed by a slow uplifting, faltering and tentative, towards the
distant dawn. Out of this a clear and melodious phrase developed itself
with splendid modulations. The sentiment was very different from that
which animated Bach's Adagio; it was more human, more earthly, more
elegiacal. A breath of Beethoven ran through this music.

Andrea's nervous perturbation was so great that he feared every moment
to betray himself. All his pleasure was embittered. He could not exactly
analyse his discomfort; he could neither gather himself together and
overcome it, nor put it away from him; he was swayed in turn by the
charm of the music and the fascination exercised over him by each of
these women without being really dominated by any of the three. He had a
vague sensation as of some empty space, in which heavy blows perpetually
resounded followed by dolorous echoes. His thoughts seemed to break up
and crumble away into a thousand fragments, and the images of the two
women to melt into and destroy one another without his being able to
disconnect them or to separate his feeling for the one from his feeling
for the other. And above all this mental disturbance was the anxiety
occasioned by the immediate circumstances, by the necessity for adopting
some practical line of action. Donna Maria's slight change of attitude
had not escaped him, and he seemed to feel Elena's gaze riveted upon
him. What course should he pursue? He could not make up his mind whether
to accompany Donna Maria when she left the concert, or to approach
Elena, nor could he determine where this incident would be favourable to
him or otherwise with either of the ladies.

'I am going,' said Donna Maria, rising at the end of the movement.

'You will not wait till the end?'

'No, I must be home by five o'clock.'

'Do not forget--to-morrow morning----'

She held out her hand. It was perhaps the air of the close room that
sent a flush to her pale cheek. A velvet mantle of a dull leaden shade,
with a deep border of chinchilla, covered her to her feet, and amid the
soft gray fur the violets were dying exquisitely. As she passed out, she
moved with such a queenly grace that many of the ladies turned to follow
her with their eyes. It was the first time that in this spiritual
creature, the pure Siennese Madonna, Andrea also beheld the elegant
woman of the world.

The third movement of the Quartett began. The daylight had diminished so
much that the yellow curtains had to be drawn back. Several other ladies
left. A low hum of conversation was audible here and there. The fatigue
and inattention which invariably marks the end of a concert began to
make itself apparent in the audience. By one of those strange and abrupt
manifestations of moral elasticity, Andrea experienced a sudden sense of
relief, not to say gaiety. In a moment, he had forgotten his sentimental
and passionate pre-occupations, and all that now appealed to him--to his
vanity, to his corrupt senses--was the licentious aspect of the affair.
He thought to himself that in granting him these little innocent
rendezvous, Donna Maria had already set her foot on the gentle downward
slope of the path at the bottom of which lies sin, inevitable even to
the most vigilant soul; he also argued that doubtless a little touch of
jealousy would do much towards bringing Elena back to his arms and that
thus the one intrigue would help on the other--was it not a vague fear,
a jealous foreboding that had made Donna Maria consent so quickly to
their next meeting? He saw himself, therefore, well on the way to a
two-fold conquest, and he could not repress a smile as he reflected that
in both adventures the chief difficulty presented itself under the same
guise: both women professed a wish to play the part of sister to him; it
was for him to transform these sisters in something closer. He remarked
upon other resemblances between the two--That voice! How curiously like
Elena's were some tones in Donna Maria's voice! A mad thought flashed
through his brain. That voice might furnish him with the elements of a
study of imagination--by virtue of that affinity, he might resolve the
two fair women into one, and thus possess a third, imaginary, mistress,
more complex, more perfect, more _true_ because she would be ideal----

The third movement, executed in faultless style, finished in a burst of
applause. Andrea rose and approached Elena--

'Oh, there you are, Ugenta! Where have you been all this time?'
exclaimed the Princess--'In the "pays du Tendre?"'

'And your incognita?' asked Elena lightly as she pulled a bunch of
violets out of her muff and sniffed them.

'She is a great friend of my cousin Francesca's, Donna Maria Ferrès y
Capdevila, the wife of the new minister for Guatemala,' Andrea replied
without turning a hair--'a beautiful creature and very cultivated--she
was at Schifanoja with Francesca last September.'

'And what of Francesca?' Elena broke in--'do you know when she is coming
back?'

'I had the latest news from her a day or two ago--from San Remo.
Fernandino is better, but I am afraid she will have to stay on there
another month at least, perhaps longer.'

'What a pity!'

The last movement, a very short one, began. Elena and the Princess
occupied two chairs at the end of the room, against the wall under a dim
mirror in which the melancholy hall was reflected. Elena listened with
bent head, slowly drawing through her fingers the long ends of her boa.

The concert over, she said to Sperelli: 'Will you see us to the
carriage?'

As she entered her carriage after the Princess, she turned to him
again--'Won't you come too? We will drop Eva at the Palazzo Fiano, and I
can put you down wherever you like.'

'Thanks,' answered Andrea, nothing loath. On the Corso they were obliged
to proceed very slowly, the whole roadway being taken up by a seething,
tumultuous crowd. From the Piazza di Montecitorio and the Piazza Colonna
came a perfect uproar that swelled and rose and fell and rose again,
mingled with shrill trumpet-blasts. The tumult increased as the gray
cold twilight deepened. Horror at the tragedy enacted in a far-off land
made the populace howl with rage; men broke through the dense crowd
running and waving great bundles of newspapers. Through all the clamour,
the one word Africa rang distinctly.

'And all this for four hundred brutes who had died the death of brutes!'
murmured Andrea, withdrawing his head from the carriage window.

'What are you saying!' cried the Princess.

At the corner of the Chigi palace the commotion assumed the aspect of a
riot. The carriage had to stop. Elena leaned forward to look out, and
her face emerging from the shadows and lighted up by the glare of the
gas and the reflection of the sunset seemed of a ghastly whiteness, an
almost icy pallor, reminding Andrea of some head he had seen before, he
could not say where or when--in some gallery or chapel.

'Here we are,' said the Princess, as the carriage drew up at last at the
Palazzo Fiano. 'Good-bye--we shall meet again at the Angelieris' this
evening. Ugenta will come and lunch with us to-morrow? You will find
Elena and Barbarella Viti and my cousin there----'

'At what time?'

'Half-past twelve.'

'Thanks, I will.'

The Princess got out. The footman stood at the carriage door awaiting
further orders.

'Where shall I take you?' Elena asked Sperelli, who had promptly taken
the place of the Princess beside her.

'Far, far away----'

'Nonsense--tell me now,--home?' And without waiting for his answer she
said--'To the Palazzo Zuccari, Trinità de' Monti.'

The footman closed the carriage door and they drove off down the Via
Frattina leaving all the turmoil of the crowd behind them.

'Oh, Elena--after so long----' Andrea burst out, leaning down to gaze
at the woman he so passionately desired and who had shrunk away from him
into the shadow as if to avoid his contact.

The brilliant lights of the shop windows pierced the gloom in the
carriage as they passed, and he saw on Elena's white face a slow
alluring smile.

Still smiling thus, with a rapid movement she unwound the boa from her
neck and cast it over Andrea's head like a lasso, and with that soft
loop, all fragrant with the same perfume he had noticed in the blue fox
of her coat, she drew the young man towards her and silently held up her
lips to his.

Well did those two pairs of lips remember the rapture of by-gone days,
those terrible and yet deliriously sweet meetings prolonged to anguish.
They held their breath to taste the sweetness of that kiss to the full.

Passing through the Via due Macelli the carriage drove up the Via dei
Tritone, turned into the Via Sistina and stopped at the door of the
Palazzo Zuccari.

Elena instantly released her captive, saying rather huskily--

'Go now, good-bye.'

'When will you come?'

'_Chi sa!_'

The footman opened the door and Andrea got out. The carriage turned back
to the Via Sistina and Andrea, still vibrating with passion, a veil of
mist before his eyes, stood watching to see if Elena's face would not
appear at the window; but he saw nothing. The carriage drove rapidly
away.

As he ascended the stairs to his apartment, he said to himself--'So she
has come round at last!' The intoxication of her presence was still upon
him, on his lips he still felt the pressure of her kiss, and in his eyes
was the flash of the smile with which she had thrown that sort of smooth
and perfumed snake about his neck. And Donna Maria?--Most assuredly it
was to her he owed these unexpected favours. There was no doubt that at
the bottom of Elena's strange and fantastic behaviour lay a decided
touch of jealousy. Fearing perhaps that he was escaping her she sought
thus to lure him back and rekindle his passion. 'Does she love me, or
does she not?' But what did it matter to him one way or another? What
good would it do him to know? The spell was broken irremediably. No
miracle that ever was wrought could revive the least little atom of the
love that was dead. The only thing that need occupy him now was the
carnal body, and that was divine as ever.

He indulged long in pleasurable meditation on this episode. What
particularly took his fancy was the arch and graceful touch Elena had
given to her caprice. The thought of the boa evoked the image of Donna
Maria's coils, and so, confusedly, all the amorous fancies he had woven
round that virginal mass of hair by which, once on a time, the very
school-girls of the Florentine convent had been enthralled. And again he
let his two loves melt into one and form the third--the Ideal.

The musing mood still upon him while he dressed for dinner, he thought
to himself--'Yesterday, a grand scene of passion almost ending in tears;
to-day, a little episode of mute sensuality--and I seemed to myself as
sincere in my sentiment yesterday as I was in my sensations to-day.
Added to which, scarcely an hour before Elena's kiss, I had a moment of
lofty lyrical emotion at Donna Maria's side. Of all this not one vestige
remains. To-morrow, most assuredly I shall begin the same game over
again. I am unstable as water; incoherent, inconsistent, a very
chameleon! All my efforts towards unity of purpose are for ever vain. I
must resign myself to my fate. The law of my being is comprised in the
one word--_Nunc_--the will of the Law be done!'

He laughed at himself, and from that moment began a new phase of his
moral degradation.

Without mercy, without remorse, without restraint, he set all his
faculties to work to compass the realisation of his impure imaginings.
To vanquish Maria Ferrès he had recourse to the most subtle artifices,
the most delicate machinations; taking care to deceive her in matters of
the soul, of the spiritual, the ideal, the inmost life of the heart. In
carrying on the two campaigns--the conquest of the new and the
re-conquest of the old love--with equal adroitness, and in turning to
the best advantage the chance circumstances of each enterprise, he was
led into an infinity of annoying, embarrassing, and ridiculous
situations, to extricate himself from which he was obliged to descend to
a series of lies and deceptions, of paltry evasions, ignoble subterfuges
and equivocal expedients. All Donna Maria's goodness and faith and
single mindedness were powerless to disarm him. As the foundation of his
work of seduction with her he had taken a verse from one of the
Psalms:--_Asperges me hyssopo et mundabor--lavabis me et super nirem
dealbabor_. And she, poor, hapless, devoted creature, imagined that she
was saving a soul alive, redeeming an intellect, washing away by her own
purity the stains that sin had left on him. She still believed
implicitly in the ever-remembered words he had spoken to her in the
park, on that Epiphany of Love, within sight of the sea; and it was just
in this belief that she found comfort and support in the midst of the
religious conflict that rent her conscience; this belief that blinded
her to all suspicion and filled her with a soil of mystic intoxication
wherein she opened the secret floodgates of her heart and let loose all
her pent-up tenderness, and let the sweetest flowers of her womanhood
blossom out resplendently.

For the first time in his life, Andrea Sperelli found himself face to
face with a _real_ passion--one of those rare and supreme manifestations
of woman's capacity for love which occasionally flash their superb and
terrible lightnings across the shifting gray sky of earthly loves. But
he did not care a jot, and went on with the pitiless work which was to
destroy both himself and his victim.



CHAPTER III


The next day, according to their agreement at the concert, Andrea found
Donna Maria in the Piazza di Spagna with Delfina, looking at the antique
jewellery in a shop window. At the first sound of his voice she turned,
and a bright flush stained the pallor of her cheek. Together they then
examined the eighteenth-century jewels, the paste buckles and hair
ornaments, the enamelled watches, the gold and ivory tortoise-shell
snuff-boxes, all these pretty trifles of a by-gone day which afforded an
impression of harmonious richness under the clear morning sun.
Everywhere about them, the flower-sellers were offering yellow and white
jonquils, double violets, and long branches of flowering almond. There
was a breath of Spring in the air. The column of the Immaculate
Conception rose lightly into the sunshine, like a flower stem with the
_Rosa mystica_ on its summit; the Barcaccia glistened in a shower of
diamonds, the stairway of the Trinità opened its arms gaily towards the
church of Charles VIII., the two towers of which stood out boldly
against the blue cloud-flecked sky.

'How exquisite!' exclaimed Donna Maria. 'No wonder you are so deeply
enamoured of Rome!'

'Oh, you don't know it yet,' Andrea replied, 'I wish I might be your
guide'--she smiled--'and undertake a pilgrimage of sentiment with you
this spring.'

She smiled again, and her whole person assumed a less grave and
chastened air. Her dress, this morning, had a quiet elegance about it,
but revealed the refined taste of an expert in style and in the delicate
combinations of colour. Her jacket, of a shade of gray inclining to
green, was of cloth trimmed round the edge with beaver and opening over
a vest of the same fur, the blending of the two tones--indefinable gray
and tawny gold--forming a harmony that was a delight to the eye.

'What did you do yesterday evening?' she asked.

'I left the concert-hall a few minutes after you and went home; and I
stayed there because I seemed to feel your spirit near me. I thought
much. Did you not _feel_ my thought?'

'No, I cannot say I did. I passed a very cheerless evening. I do not
know why. I felt so dreadfully alone!'

The Contessa di Lucoli passed in her dog-cart, driving a big roan.
Giulia Moceto, accompanied by Musellaro, passed on foot, and then Donna
Isotta Cellesi.

Andrea bowed to each. Donna Maria asked him the names of the ladies.
That of Giulia Moceto was not new to her. She recalled the day on which
she heard Francesca mention it while looking at Perugino's Archangel
Michael, when they were turning over Andrea's drawings at Schifanoja.
She followed her curiously with her eyes, seized with a sudden vague
fear. Everything connecting Andrea with his former life was distasteful
to her. She wished that that life, of which she knew next to nothing,
could be entirely wiped out of the memory of this man who had flung
himself into it with such avidity and dragged himself out with so much
weariness, so many losses, so many wounds--'To live solely in you and
for you, with no to-morrow and no yesterday--without other bond or
preference--far from the world----' Were not those his words to her?
What a dream!

Matters of very different import were troubling Andrea. It was fast
approaching the Princess of Ferentino's lunch hour.

'Where are you bound for?' he asked of his companion.

'Wishing to make the most of the sunshine, Delfina and I had tea and
sandwiches at Nazzari's and thought of going up to the Pincio and
visiting the Villa Medici. If you would care to come with us----'

He had a moment of painful hesitation. The Pincio, the Villa Medici, on
a February afternoon--with her! But he could not well get out of the
lunch; besides, he was desperately anxious to meet Elena again after
yesterday's episode, for though he had gone to the Angelieris', she did
not put in an appearance.

He therefore answered with an inconsolable air--'How wretchedly
unfortunate! I am obliged to be at a lunch in a quarter of an hour. I
accepted the invitation a week ago, but if I had known, I would have
found some way of getting out of it--What a nuisance!'

'Oh, then you must go without losing a moment--you will be late.'

He looked at his watch.

'I can walk a little further with you.'

'Mamma, do let us go up the steps,' begged Delfina. 'I went up yesterday
with Miss Dorothy. You should see it!'

They turned back and crossed the square. A child followed them
persistently, offering a great branch of flowering almond, which Andrea
bought and presented to Delfina. Blonde ladies issued from the hotels
armed with red Bædekers; clumsy hackney coaches with two horses jogged
past with a glint of brass on their oldfashioned harness; the
flower-sellers thrust their overflowing baskets in front of the
strangers, vociferating at the pitch of their voices.

'Will you promise me,' Andrea said to Donna Maria, as they began to
ascend the steps--'will you promise me not to go to the Villa Medici
without me? Give it up for to-day--please do.'

For a moment she seemed preoccupied by sad thoughts, then she answered:
'Very well, I will give it up.'

'Thanks!'

Before them the great stairway rose triumphantly, its sun-warmed steps
giving out a gentle heat, the stone itself having the polished gleam of
old silver like that of the fountains at Schifanoja. Delfina ran on in
front with her almond-branch and, caught by the breeze of her movement,
some of its faint pink petals fluttered away like butterflies.

A poignant regret pierced the young man's heart. He pictured to himself
the delights of a sentimental walk through the quiet glades of the Villa
Medici in the early hours of the sunny afternoon.

'With whom do you lunch?' asked Donna Maria, after an interval of
silence.

'With the old Princess Alberoni,' he replied.

He lied to her once more, for some instinct warned him that the name
Ferentino might arouse some suspicion in Donna Maria's mind.

'Good-bye, then,' she said, and held out her hand.

'No--I will come up to the Piazza. My carriage is waiting for me there.
Look--that is where I live,' and he pointed to the Palazzo Zuccari, all
flooded with sunshine.

Donna Maria's eyes lingered upon it.

'Now there you have seen it, will you come there sometimes--in spirit?'

'In spirit always.'

'And shall I not see you before Saturday evening?'

'I hardly think so.'

They parted--she turning with Delfina into the avenue, Andrea jumping
into his brougham and driving off down the Via Gregoriana.

He arrived at the Ferentinos' a few minutes late. He made his apologies.
Elena was already there with her husband.

Lunch was served in a dining room gay with tapestries representing
scenes after the manner of Peter Loar. In the midst of these beautiful
seventeenth-century grotesques, a brisk fire of wit and sarcasm soon
began to flash and scintillate. The three ladies were in high spirits
and prompt at repartee. Barbare la Viti laughed her sonorous masculine
laugh, throwing back her handsome boyish head and making free play with
her sparkling black eyes. Elena was in a more than usually brilliant
vein, and impressed Andrea as being so far removed from him, so
unfamiliar, so unconcerned, that he almost doubted whether yesterday's
scene had not been all a dream. Ludovico Barbarisi and the Prince of
Ferentino aided and abetted the ladies; Lord Heathfield entertained his
'young friend' by boring him to extinction with questions as to the
coming sales and giving him minute details of a very rare edition of the
_Metamorphoses_ of Apuleius--Roma, 1469--in folio, which he had acquired
a day or two ago for fifteen hundred and twenty lire. He broke off every
now and then to watch Barbarella, and then that gleam of dementia would
flash into his eyes, and his repulsive hands trembled strangely.

Andrea's irritation, disgust, and boredom at last reached such a pitch
that he was unable to conceal his feelings.

'You seem out of spirits, Ugenta,' said the princess.

'Well, a little, perhaps--Miching Mallecho is ill.'

Barbarisi at once overwhelmed him with importunate questions about the
horse's ailments; and then Lord Heathfield recommenced the story of the
_Metamorphoses_ from the beginning.

The Princess turned to her cousin. 'What do you think, Ludovico,' she
said with a laugh, 'yesterday, at the concert, we surprised him in a
flirtation with an Incognita!'

'So we did,' added Elena.

'An Incognita?' exclaimed Ludovico.

'Yes, but perhaps you can give us further information. She is the wife
of the new Minister for Guatemala.'

'Aha--I know.'

'Well?'

'For the moment, I only know the Minister. I see him playing at the Club
every night.'

'Tell me, Ugenta, has she been received at court yet?'

'I really do not know, Princess,' Andrea returned with some impatience.

The whole business had become simply intolerable to him. Elena's gaiety
jarred horribly on him, and her husband's presence was more odious than
ever. But if he was out of temper, it was more with himself than with
the rest of the company. At the root of his irritation lay a dim longing
after the pleasure he had so lately rejected. Hurt and offended by
Elena's indifference, his heart turned with poignant regret to the other
woman, and he pictured her wandering pensive and alone through the
silent avenues, more beautiful, more noble than ever before.

The Princess rose and led the way into an adjoining room. Barbarella ran
to the piano, which was entirely enveloped in an immense antique
caparison of red velvet embroidered with dull gold, and began to sing
Bizet's Tarantelle dedicated to Christine Nilsson. Elena and Eva leaned
over her to read the music, while Ludovico stood behind them smoking a
cigarette. The Prince had disappeared.

But Lord Heathfield kept firm hold of Andrea. He had drawn him into a
window and was discoursing to him on certain little Urbanese '_coppette
amatorie_' which he had picked up at the Cavaliere Davila's sale, and
the rasping voice with its aggravating interrogative inflections, the
gestures with which he indicated the dimensions of the cups, and his
glance--now dull and fishy, now keen as steel under the great prominent
brow--in short, the whole man was so unendurably obnoxious to Andrea
that he clenched his teeth convulsively like a patient under the
surgeon's knife.

His one absorbing thought was how to get away. His plan was to rush to
the Pincio in the hope of finding Donna Maria and taking her, after all,
to the Villa Medici. It was about two o'clock. He looked out of the
window at the glorious sunshine; he turned back into the room, and saw
the group of pretty women at the piano, bathed in the red glow struck
out of the velvet cover by a strong golden ray. With this red glow the
smoke of the cigarette mingled lightly as the talking and laughter
mingled with the chords Barbarella Viti struck haphazard on the keys.
Ludovico whispered a word or two in his cousin's ear, which the Princess
forthwith communicated to her friends, for there was a renewed burst of
laughter, ringing and deep, like a string of pearls dropping into a
silver bowl. Then Barbarella took up Bizet's air again in a low voice--

'Tra, la la--Le papillon s'est envolé--Tra, la la----'

Andrea was anxiously on the watch for a favourable moment at which to
interrupt Lord Heathfield's harangue and make his escape. But the
collector had entered upon a series of rounded periods, each intimately
connected with the other, without one break, without one pause for
breath. A single stop would have saved the persecuted listener, but it
never came, and the victim's torments grew more unbearable every minute.

'Oui! Le papillon s'est envolé--Oui! Ah! ah! ah! ah!'

Andrea looked at his watch.

'Two o'clock already! Excuse me, Marquis, but I must go.'

He left the window and went over to the ladies.

'Will you excuse me, Princess, I have a consultation at two with the
veterinary surgeons at my stables?'

He took leave in a great hurry. Elena gave him the tips of her fingers,
Barbarella presented him with _fondant_, saying--'Give it to poor
Mallecho with my love.'

Ludovico offered to accompany him.

'No, no--stay where you are.'

He bowed and left--flew down the stairs like lightning and jumped into
his carriage, shouting to the coachman--

'To the Pincio--quick!'

He was filled with a frenzied longing to reach Maria Ferrès' side, to
enjoy the delights which he had refused before. The rapid pace of his
horses was not quick enough for him. He looked out anxiously for the
Trinità de' Monti, the avenue--the gates.

The carriage flashed through the gates. He ordered the coachman to
moderate his pace and to drive through each of the avenues. His heart
gave a bound every time the figure of a woman appeared in the distance
through the trees. He got out and, on foot, explored the paths forbidden
to vehicles. He searched every nook and corner--in vain.

The Villa Borghese being open to the public, the Pincio lay deserted and
silent under the languid smile of the February sun. Few carriages or
foot-passengers disturbed the peaceful solitude of the place. The
grayish-white trees, tinged here and there with violet, spread their
leafless branches against a diaphanous sky, and the air was full of
delicate spider-webs which the breeze shook and tore asunder. The pines
and cypresses--all the evergreen trees--took on something of this
colourless pallor, seemed to fade and melt into the all-prevailing
monotone.

Surely something of Donna Maria's sadness still lingered in the
atmosphere. Andrea stood for several minutes leaning against the
railings of the Villa Medici, crushed beneath a load of melancholy too
heavy to be borne.



CHAPTER IV


In the days that followed, the double pursuit continued with the same
tortures, or worse, and with the same odious mendacity. By a phenomenon
which is of frequent occurrence in the moral degradation of men of keen
intellect, he now had a terrible lucidity of conscience, a lucidity
without interruptions, without a moment of dimness or eclipse. He knew
what he was doing and criticised what he had done. With him self-scorn
went hand in hand with feebleness of will.

But his variable humour, his incertitude, his unaccountable silences and
equally unaccountable effusions, in short, all the peculiarities of
manner which such a condition of mind inevitably brings along with it,
only increased and excited the passionate commiseration of Donna Maria.
She saw him suffer, and it filled her with grief and tenderness. 'By
slow degrees I shall cure him,' she thought. But slowly and surely,
without being aware of it, she was losing her strength of purpose and
was bending to the sick man's will.

The downward slope was gentle.

In the drawing-room of the Countess Starnina, an indefinable thrill ran
through her when she felt Andrea's gaze upon her bare shoulders and
arms. It was the first time he had seen her in evening dress. Her face
and her hands were all he knew. This evening he saw how exquisite was
the shape of her neck and shoulders and of her arms too, although they
were a little thin.

She was dressed in ivory-white brocade trimmed with sable. A narrow band
of fur edged the low bodice and imparted an indescribable delicacy to
the tints of the skin. The line of the shoulders, from the neck to the
top of the arms, had that gracious slope which is such a sure mark of
physical aristocracy and so rare nowadays. In her magnificent hair,
arranged in the manner affected by Verocchio for his busts, there was
not one jewel, not one flower.

At two or three propitious moments, Andrea murmured words of passionate
admiration in her ear.

'This is the first time we have met in society,' he said to her. 'Give
me a glove as a souvenir.'

'No.'

'Why not, Maria?'

'No, no. Be quiet.'

'Oh, those hands of yours! Do you remember when I copied them at
Schifanoja? I feel as if I had a right to them; as if you ought to grant
them to me; of your whole person they are the part that is most
intimately connected with your soul, the most spiritualised, almost, one
might say, the purest--Oh, hands of kindness--hands of pardon. How
dearly I should love to possess at least a semblance of their form, some
token to which their delicate perfume still clings. You will give me a
glove before you leave?'

She did not answer. The conversation dropped. A short time afterwards,
on being asked to play, she consented, and drawing off her gloves laid
them on the music-stand in front of her. Her fingers, tapering and
glittering with rings, looked very white as she drew off their delicate
covering. On the ring finger of her left hand blazed a great opal.

She played the two Sonata-Fantasias of Beethoven (Op. 27). The one,
dedicated to Giulietta Guicciardi, expressed a hopeless renunciation,
told of an awakening after a dream that had lasted too long. The other,
from the first bars of the _Andante_, described by its full smooth
rhythm the calm that comes after the storm; then, passing through the
disquietude of the second movement, opened out into an _Adagio_ of
luminous serenity, and ended in an _Allegro Vivace_ in which there was a
rising note of courage, almost of fervour.

Though surrounded by an attentive audience, Andrea felt that she was
playing for him alone. From time to time, his eyes wandering from the
fingers of the pianist to the long gloves hanging from the music stand,
which still retained the form of those hands, still preserved an
inexpressible charm in the small opening at the wrist where, but a short
time ago, a tiny morsel of her soft flesh had been visible.

Maria rose amidst a round of applause. She left the piano, but she did
not take away her gloves. Andrea was tempted to steal them.--Had she not
perhaps left them for him?--But he only wanted one. As a connoisseur in
amatory matters has said, a pair of gloves is a totally different thing
from a single one.

Led back to the piano by the insistence of the Countess Starnina, Maria
removed her gloves from the desk and placed them in a corner of the
keyboard, in the shadow. She then played Rameau's Gavotte--_the Gavotte
of the Yellow Ladies_--the never-to-be-forgotten dance of Indifference
and Love.

Andrea regarded her fixedly with a little trepidation. When she rose,
she took up one of her gloves. The other she left in the shadowy corner
of the piano--for him.

Three days afterwards, when astonished Rome had awakened to find itself
under a covering of snow, Andrea received a note to the following
effect--

'_Tuesday, 2 p. m._--To-night, between eleven and twelve o'clock, you
will wait for me in a carriage in front of the Palazzo Barberini,
outside the gates. If by midnight I am not there, you can go away
again.--_A stranger_.'

The tone of the note was mysterious and romantic. Was it in remembrance
of the 25th of March two years ago? Lady Heathfield seemed particularly
fond of the use of carriages in her love affairs. Had she the intention
of taking up the adventure at the point where it broke off? And why--_A
stranger_? Andrea could not repress a smile. He had just come back from
a visit to Maria--a very pleasing visit--and his heart inclined, for the
moment, more to the Siennese than to the other. His ear still retained
the sound of her sweet and gentle words as they stood together at the
window and watched the snow falling soft as peach or apple blossom on
the trees of the Villa Aldobrandini, already touched with the
presentiment of the coming Spring. However, before going out to dinner,
he gave very particular orders to Stephen.

Eleven o'clock found him in front of the palace, devoured by impatience
and curiosity. The novelty of the situation, the spectacle of the snowy
night, the mystery and uncertainty of it all, inflamed his imagination
and transported him beyond the realities of life.

Over Rome, on that memorable February night, there shone a full moon of
fabulous size and unheard of splendour. In that immense radiance, the
surrounding objects seemed to exist only as in a dream, impalpable,
meteoric, and visible at a great distance by virtue of some fantastic
irradiation of their own. The snow covered the railings of the gateway,
concealing the iron and transforming it into a piece of open-work, more
frail and airy than filigree; while the white-robed Colossi supported it
as oaks support a spider's web. The garden looked like a motionless
forest of enormous and mis-shapen lilies all of ice; a garden under some
lunar enchantment, a lifeless paradise of Selene. Mute, solemn and
massive the Palazzo Barberini reared its great bulk into the sky, its
most salient points standing out dazzlingly white and casting a pale
blue shadow as transparent as light.

He waited, leaning forward on the watch; and under the fascination of
that marvellous spectacle, he felt the spirits that wait on love awake
in him, that the lyric summits of his sentiment began to gleam and
glitter like the frozen shafts of the gateway under the moon. But he
could not make up his mind which of the two women he would prefer as the
centre of this fantastic scenery: Elena Heathfield robed in imperial
purple, or Maria Ferrès robed in ermine. And as he lingered pleasurably
over this uncertainty of choice, he ended by mingling and confounding
his two anxieties--the real one for Elena and the imaginary one for
Maria.

A clock near by struck in the silence with a clear vibrating sound, and
each stroke seemed to break something crystalline in the air. The clock
of the Trinità de' Monti responded to the call, and after that the clock
of the Quirinal--then others faintly out of the distance. It was a
quarter past eleven.

Andrea strained his eyes towards the portico. Would she dare to traverse
the garden on foot? He pictured the figure of Elena in the midst of all
this dazzling whiteness, then, in an instant, that of Donna Maria
appeared to him, obliterating the other, triumphant over the whiteness,
_Candida super nivem_. This night of moonlight and snow then was under
the dominance of Maria Ferrès as under some invincible actual influence.
The image of the pure creature grew symbolically out of the sovereign
purity of the surrounding aspect of things. The symbol re-acted forcibly
on the spirit of the poet.

While still watching to see if the other one would come, he gave himself
up to a vision suggested by the scene before him.

It was a poetic, almost a mystic dream. He was waiting for Donna
Maria--she had chosen this night of supernatural purity on which to
sacrifice her own purity to her lover's desire. All the white things
about her, cognisant of the great sacrifice about to be accomplished,
were waiting to cry _Ave_ and _Amen_ at the passage of their sister. The
silence was alive.

And behold, she comes! _Incedit per lilia et super nivem._ She comes,
robed in ermine; her tresses bound about with a fillet; her steps
lighter than a shadow; the moon and the snow are less pale than
she--_Ave_!

A shadow, azure as the light that tints the sapphire, accompanies her.
The great mis-shapen lilies bend not as she passes; the frost has
congealed them, has made them like the asphodels that illumine the paths
of Hades. And yet, like those of the Christian paradise, they have a
voice and say with one accord--_Amen_.

So be it--the Beloved glides on to the sacrifice. Already she nears the
watcher sitting mute and icy, but whose eyes are burning and eloquent.
And on her hands, the dear hands that close his wounds and open the
doors of dreams, he presses his kiss.--So be it.

Then on her lips, the dear lips that know no word of falseness, he lays
his kiss. Released from the fillet, her hair spreads like a glorious
flood in which all the shadows of the night put to flight by the moon
and the snow seem to have taken refuge. _Comis suis obumbrabit tibi, et
sub comis peccavit. Amen._

And still the other did not come! Through the silence, through the
poetry, the hours of men sounded again from the towers and belfries of
Rome. A carriage or two rolled noiselessly past the Four Fountains
towards the Piazza or crawled slowly up towards Santa Maria Maggiore;
and each street-lamp shone yellow as a topaz in the light. It seemed as
if the night, reaching its highest point, had grown more luminously
radiant. The filigree of the gateway twinkled and flashed as if its
silver embroideries were studded with jewels. In the palace, great
circles of dazzling light shone on the windows like diamond florins.

'What if she does not come?' thought Andrea to himself.

The flood of lyric fervour that had passed over his soul at Maria's name
had submerged the anxiety of his vigil, had appeased his desire and
calmed his impatience. For a moment, the thought that she would not come
only made him smile. But the next, the anguish of uncertainty began
again worse than ever, and he was tortured by the vision of the joys
that might have been his, here in the warm carriage where the roses
breathed so sweet an atmosphere. Besides which, his sufferings were
further increased, as on New Year's Eve, by a sharp touch of wounded
vanity; it annoyed him particularly that his delicate preparations for a
love scene should thus be wasted and useless.

In the carriage, the cold was tempered by the pleasant warmth diffused
by a metal foot-warmer, full of hot water. A bunch of white roses,
snowy, moonlike, lay on the bracket in front of the seat. A white
bear-skin covered his knees. Everything pointed to an intentional
arrangement of a sort of _Symphonie en blanc-majeur_.

The clocks struck for the third time. It was a quarter to twelve. The
vigil had lasted too long--Andrea was growing tired and cross. In
Elena's apartments, in the left wing of the palace, there was no light
but that which came from outside. Was she coming? And if so, in what
manner? Secretly? Under what pretext? Lord Heathfield was certainly in
Rome--how would she explain her nocturnal absence? Once more the soul of
the former lover was torn with curiosity; once more jealousy gnawed at
his heart and carnal passion inflamed him. He thought of Musellaro's
derisive suggestion about the husband, and he determined to have Elena
again at all costs, both for pleasure and for revenge. Oh, if only she
would come!

A carriage drove through the gates and into the garden. He leaned
forward to look at it. He recognised Elena's horses and caught a glimpse
inside of the figure of a woman. The carriage disappeared into the
portico. He remained perplexed. She had been out then? She had returned
alone? He fixed a scrutinising gaze upon the portico. The carriage came
out, passed through the garden and drove away towards the Via Rasella;
it was empty.

It wanted but two or three minutes to midnight and she had not come!

It struck the hour. A bitter pang smote the heart of the deluded
watcher. She was not coming.

Unable to see any cause for her having missed the appointment he turned
upon her in sudden anger; he even had a suspicion that she might have
wished to inflict a humiliation, a punishment upon him, or else that she
had merely indulged in a whim in order to inflame his desire afresh. The
next moment he called to the coachman--

'Piazza del Quirinale.'

He yielded to the attraction of Maria Ferrès; he abandoned himself once
more to the vaguely tender sentiment which, ever since his visit in the
afternoon, had left, as it were, a perfume in his soul and suggested to
him thoughts and images of poetic beauty. The recent disappointment,
proving, as he considered, Elena's malice and indifference, urged him
more strongly than ever towards the love and goodness of the other. His
regret for the loss of so beautiful a night increased, under the
influence of the vision he had dreamed just now. And, truth to tell, it
was one of the most enchanting nights Rome had ever known; one of those
spectacles that oppress the human soul with deep sadness, because they
transcend all power of admiration, all possibility of human expression.

The Piazza del Quirinale, magnified by the all-pervading whiteness, lay
spread out solitary and dazzling, like an Olympian acropolis above the
silent city. The edifices surrounding it reared their stately
proportions into the deep sky; Bernini's great portal to the royal
palace surmounted by the loggia offered an optical delusion by seeming
to detach itself from the building and stand out all alone in all its
unwieldy magnificence, like some mausoleum sculptured out of a meteoric
block of stone. The rich architraves to the Palazzo della Consulta were
curiously transformed by the accumulated masses of snow. Sublime amidst
the uniform whiteness, the colossal statues seemed to dominate all
things. The grouping of the Dioscuri and the horses looked bolder and
larger in that light; the broad backs of the steeds glittered under
jewelled trappings, there was a sparkle as of diamonds on the shoulders
and the uplifted arm of each demi-god.

An august solemnity flowed from the monument. Rome lay plunged in a
death-like silence, motionless, empty--a city under a spell. The houses,
the churches, the spires and turrets, all the confusion and
intermingling of Christian and Pagan architecture, resolved itself into
one unbroken forest between the heights of the Janiculum and the Monte
Mario, drowned in a silvery vapour, far off, infinitely immaterial,
reminding one a little of a lunar landscape, calling up visions of some
half extinct planet peopled by shades. The dome of St. Peter's, shining
with a peculiar metallic lustre in the blue atmosphere looked gigantic
and so close that one might have thought to touch it. And the two
youthful Heroes, sons of the Swan, radiant with beauty in the vast
expanse of whiteness as in the apotheosis of their origin, seemed to be
the immortal Genii of Rome guarding the slumbers of the sacred city.

The carriage stopped in front of the palace and remained there for a
long time. The poet was once more absorbed in his impossible dream. And
Maria Ferrès was quite near, was perhaps watching and dreaming also,
perhaps she too felt the grandeur of the night weighing upon her heart
and crushing it in vain.

Slowly the carriage passed her closed door, while the windows reflected
the full moon gazing at the hanging gardens of the Villa Aldobrandini
where the trees looked like aërial miracles. And as he passed, the poet
threw the bunch of roses on to the snow before Donna Maria's door in
token of homage.



CHAPTER V


'I saw--I guessed--I had been at the window for a long time, unable to
tear myself away from the fascination of all that whiteness. I saw the
carriage pass slowly in the snow. I felt that it was you, before I saw
you throw the roses. No words can describe to you the tenderness of my
tears. I wept for you from love and for the roses out of pity. Poor
roses! It seemed to me that they were alive and must suffer and die in
the snow. I seemed to hear them call to me and lament like human
creatures that have been deserted. As soon as your carriage had
disappeared, I leaned out of the window to look at them. I was on the
point of going down into the street to pick them up. But a servant was
still in the hall waiting up for some one. I thought of a thousand plans
but could find none that was practicable. I was in despair--You smile?
Truly, I hardly know what madness had come over me. I watched the
passers-by anxiously, my eyes full of tears. If any one of them had
trodden on the roses, he would have trampled upon my heart. And yet in
all this torment I was happy, happy in your love, in the delicacy of
your passionate homage, in your gentleness, your kindness.--When, at
last I fell asleep, I was sad and happy together; the roses must have
been nearly dead by that time. After an hour or two of sleep, the sound
of spades upon the pavement woke me up. They were shovelling away the
snow just in front of my door. I listened; the noise and the voices
continued till after daylight and filled me with unutterable
sadness!--Poor roses! But they will always live and bloom in my heart.
There are certain memories that can perfume a soul for ever--Do you
love me very much, Andrea?'

She hesitated for a moment, and then--'Do you love only me? Have you
forgotten all the rest? Do all your thoughts belong to me?'

Her breath came fast and she was trembling.

'I suffer--at the thought of your former life,--the past of which I know
nothing--of your memories, of all the marks left upon your soul, of that
in you which I shall never understand never possess. Oh, if I could but
wipe it all out for you! Incessantly, Andrea, I hear your first, your
very first words. I believe I shall hear them at the moment of my
death----'

She panted and trembled, shaken by the force of all-conquering passion.

'Every day I love you more, every day more!'

He intoxicated her with words of honied sweetness; he was more fervent
than herself; he told her of his visions in the night of snow and of his
despairing desire and some plausible story of the roses and a thousand
other lyric fancies. He judged her to be on the point of yielding--he
saw her eyes swim in melting languor, and on her plaintive mouth that
nameless contraction which seems like an instinctive dissimulation of
the physical desire to kiss; he looked at her hands, so delicate and yet
so strong, the hands of an archangel, and saw them trembling like the
strings of an instrument expressing all the anguish of her soul. 'If,
to-day, I could succeed in stealing even the most fleeting kiss from
her,' he thought, 'I should find myself considerably nearer the goal of
my desires.'

But, conscious of her peril, she rose hastily with an apology and,
ringing the bell, ordered tea and sent to ask Miss Dorothy to bring
Delfina to the drawing-room.

'It is better so,' she said, turning to Andrea with the traces of her
agitation still visible in her face; 'forgive me!'

And from that day she avoided receiving him except on Tuesday and
Saturday when she was at home to every one.

Nevertheless, she allowed Andrea to conduct her on long peregrinations
through the Rome of the Emperors and the Rome of the Popes, through the
villas, the museums, the churches, the ruins. Where Elena Muti had
passed, there Maria Ferrès passed also. Often enough, the sights they
visited suggested to the poet the same eloquent effusions which Elena
had once heard. Often enough, some recollection carried him away
suddenly from the present and disturbed him strangely.

'What are you thinking of at this moment?' Donna Maria would ask him,
looking him deep in the eyes with a shade of suspicion.

'Of you--always of you!' he answered. 'I am sometimes seized with
curiosity to look into my own soul to see if there remains one tiny
particle that does not belong to you, one smallest corner still closed
to your light It is an exploration made for you, as you cannot make it
for yourself. I may say with truth, Maria, that I have nothing more to
give you. You have absolute dominion over me. Never, I think, in spirit
has one human being possessed another so entirely. If my lips were to
meet yours my whole life would be absorbed in yours--I believe I should
die of it.'

She had full faith in his words, for his voice lent them the fire of
truth.

One day, they were in the Belvedere of the Villa Medici and were
watching the gold of the sun fade slowly from the sky while the Villa
Borghese, still bare and leafless, sank gently into a violet mist.
Touched with sudden melancholy she said:

'Who knows how many times you have come here to feel yourself beloved?'

'I do not know,' he answered, like a man lost in a dream, 'I do not
remember. What are you saying?'

She was silent. Then she rose to read the inscriptions written on the
pillars of the little temple. They were, for the most part, written by
lovers, by newly-married couples, by solitary dreamers. All expressed
some sentiment of love, grave or gay; they sang the praises of a beauty
or mourned a lost delight; they told of some burning kiss or ecstasy of
languor; they thanked the ancient wooded glades that had sheltered their
love, pointed out some secret nook to the happy visitor of the morrow,
described the lingering charms of a sunset they had watched. All of
them, whether lovers or married, under the fascination of the eternal
feminine had been seized with lyric fervour in this little lonely
Belvedere to which they ascended by a flight of steps carpeted with moss
as thick as velvet. The very walls spoke. An indefinable melancholy
emanated from these unknown voices of vanished lovers, a sadness that
seemed almost sepulchral, as if they had been epitaphs in a chapel.

Suddenly Maria turned to Andrea. 'You have been here too,' she said.

'I do not know,' he answered again, looking at her in the same dreamy
way as before, 'I do not remember. I remember nothing. I love you.'

She read, written in Andrea's hand, an epigram of Goethe's, a distich,
the one beginning--_Sage, wie lebst du?_ Say, how livest thou? _Ich
lebe!_ I live! 'And were it mine to live a hundred, hundred years, my
only wish would be that to-morrow should be as to-day.' Underneath this
there was a date: _Die ultima februarii_ 1885, and a name: _Helena
Amyclæ_.

'Let us go,' she said.

The canopy of branches cast deep shadows over the little moss-carpeted
stairway.

'Will you take my arm?' he asked.

'No, thank you,' she replied.

They went on in silence. The heart of each was heavy.

Presently she said--'You were very happy two years ago.'

And he, persisting in his tone of reverie--'I do not know--I do not
remember.'

In the green twilight, the path was mysterious. The trunks and branches
of the trees were coiled and interlaced like serpents; here and there a
leaf gleamed through the shade like an emerald green eye.

After an interval of silence, she began again--'Who was that Elena?'

'I do not know, I have forgotten. I remember nothing but that I love
you. I love none but you. I think only of you. I live for you alone. I
know nothing, I wish for nothing but your love. Every fetter that binds
me to my former life is broken. Now I am far from the world, utterly
lost in you. I live in your heart and in your soul; I _feel myself_ in
every throb of your pulse; I do not touch you, and yet I am as close to
you as if I held you in my arms, pressed to my lips, to my heart. I love
you and you love me; and that has been for ages and will last for ages,
to all eternity. At your side, thinking of you, living in you, I am
conscious of the infinite--the eternal--I love you and you love me. I
know nothing else--I remember nothing else.'

On all her sadness, all her suspicions, he poured out a flood of warm
fond eloquence. And she listened, standing straight and slender in front
of the balustrade that runs round the wide terrace.

'Is it true? is it true?' she repeated, in a faint voice like the echo
of a moan out of the depth of her soul--'is that true?'

'Yes, it is true--and that alone is true. All the rest is a dream. I
love you and you love me. I am yours as you are mine. I know you to be
so absolutely mine that I ask for no caress; I ask for no proof of your
love. I can wait. My dearest delight is to obey you. I ask for no
caresses, but I can feel them in your voice, in your eyes, your
attitudes, your slightest movement. All that comes to me from you
intoxicates me like a kiss, and when I touch your hand I know not which
is greater, the rapture of my senses or the exaltation of my soul.'

He lightly laid his hand on hers. She trembled, drawn by a wild desire
to throw herself upon his breast to offer him, at last, her lips, her
kiss, herself. It seemed to her--for she believed blindly in Andrea's
words--that by so doing, she would bind him to her finally with an
indissoluble bond. She felt that she was going to swoon, to die. It was
as if the tumults of passion from which she had already suffered swelled
her heart and increased the present storm; as if, into this one moment
of time were gathered all the varying emotions she had experienced since
she first knew this man. The roses of Schifanoja bloomed again among the
shrubs and laurels of the Villa Medici.

'I shall wait, Maria. I shall be true to my promises. I ask nothing of
you. I wait and look forward to the supreme moment. That moment will
come, I know it, for the power of love is invincible. And all your
fears, all your terrors will vanish; and the communion of the body will
seem to you as pure as the communion of the soul; for all flames are
alike in purity.'

He clasped Maria's ungloved hand in his. The gardens seemed deserted.
From the palace of the Accademia came not a sound, not a voice. Clear
through the silence, they heard the lisp of the fountain in the middle
of the esplanade; the avenues stretched away towards the Pincio,
straight and rigid as if enclosed between two walls of bronze, upon
which the gilding of the sunset still lingered; the absolute immobility
of all things suggested the idea of a petrified labyrinth; the reeds
round the basin of the fountain were not less motionless than the
statues.

'I feel,' said Donna Maria, half-closing her eyes, 'as if I were on one
of the terraces at Schifanoja--far, far away from Rome--alone--with you.
When I shut my eyes, I see the sea.'

Born of her love and of the silence, she saw a vision rise up before her
and spread wide under the setting sun. Andrea's gaze was upon her; she
said no more, but she smiled faintly. As she uttered the two
words--'with you'--she closed her eyes, but her mouth seemed suddenly to
grow luminous as if on it were concentrated all the splendour veiled by
her quivering lids and her eyelashes.

'I feel as if none of these things existed outside of my consciousness,
but that you had created them in my soul, for my delight. I am
profoundly affected with this illusion each time I stand before some
spectacle of beauty and you are at my side.'

The words came slowly, with pauses in between, as if her voice were the
halting echo of some other voice imperceptible to the senses, imparting
to her words a singular accent, a tone of mystery, revealing that they
proceeded from the innermost depths of her heart; they were no longer
the ordinary imperfect symbols of thoughts, they were transformed into a
more intense means of expression, transcendant, quivering with life, of
infinitely ampler signification.

    'And from her lips, as from a hyacinth full
      Of honey-dew, a liquid murmur drops,
    Killing the sense with passion, sweet as stops
      Of planetary music heard in trance.'

Andrea thought of Shelley's lines. He repeated them to Maria, feeling
the contagion of her emotion, penetrated by the charm of the hour and
the scene.

'Never, in my hours of loftiest spiritual flights, have I attained to
such heights. You lift yourself above my sublimest dream, shine
resplendent above my most radiant thoughts; you illumine me with a ray
that is almost brighter than I can bear.'

She stood up straight and slender against the balustrade, her hands
clasping the stone, her head high, her face more pallid than on the
memorable morning when they walked beneath the flowering trees. Tears
filled her half-closed eyes and glittered upon her lashes, and as she
gazed before her, she saw the sky all rosy-red through the mist of her
tears.

The sky seemed to rain roses as on that evening in October when the sun,
sinking behind the hill at Rovigliano, lit up the deep pools in the
pine-wood. The Villa Medici, eternally green and flowerless, received
upon the tops of its rigid arboreal walls this gentle rain of
innumerable petals showered down from the celestial gardens.

She turned to go down. Andrea followed her. They walked in silence
towards the stairway; they looked at the wood that stretched between the
terrace and the Belvedere. The light seemed to stop short at the
entrance to it, where stood the two guardian statues, unable to pierce
the further gloom; and the trees looked as if they spread their branches
in a different atmosphere, or rather in some dark waters at the bottom
of the sea, like giant marine plants.

She was seized with sudden terror. Hastening towards the steps, she ran
down five or six and then stopped, dazed and panting. Through the
silence, she heard the beating of her heart like the roll of distant
thunder. The Villa Medici was no longer in sight; the stairway was
enclosed between two walls, damp and gray and with grass growing in the
cracks, gloomy as a subterranean dungeon. She saw Andrea lean down
swiftly to kiss her on the lips.

'No, no, Andrea--no!'

He stretched out his hands to draw her to him, to hold her fast.

'No!'

Wildly she seized one of his hands and carried it to her lips; she
kissed it twice--thrice, with frenzied passion. Then she fled down the
steps to the gate like a mad creature.

'Maria! Maria! Stop!'

They stood together before the closed gate, pale, panting, shaken,
trembling from head to foot, gazing at one another with wide distraught
eyes, their ears filled with the throb of their mad pulses, a sense of
choking in their throats. Then suddenly, with one impulse, they were in
each other's arms, heart to heart, lips to lips.

'Enough--you are killing me,' she murmured, leaning, half fainting,
against the gateway, with a gesture of supreme entreaty.

For a moment, they stood facing one another without touching. All the
silence of the Villa seemed to weigh upon them in this narrow spot
enclosed in its high walls like an open tomb. High above them sounded
the hoarse cawing of the rooks gathering on the roofs of the palaces or
crossing the sky. Once more, a strange fear possessed Maria's heart. She
cast a terror-stricken glance up at the top of the walls. Then, with a
visible effort she said quickly:

'We can go now; will you open the gate!'

And, in her uncontrollable haste to get away, her hand met Andrea's on
the latch of the gate.

As she passed between the two granite columns and under the jasmin,
Andrea said--'Look, the jasmin is just going to blossom!'

She did not turn but she smiled--a smile that was infinitely sad because
of the shadow cast upon her heart by the sudden recollection of the name
she had read in the Belvedere. And while she walked through the
mysterious gloom of the avenue, and she felt his kiss flame in her
blood, a ruthless torture graved deep into her heart, that name--oh,
that name!



CHAPTER VI


Lord Heathfield opened the great book-case containing his private
collection, and turning to Sperelli--

'You should design the clasps for this volume,' he said; 'it is in
quarto and dated from Lampsacus, 1734. The engravings seem to me
extremely fine. What do you think?'

He handed Andrea the rare volume, which was illustrated with erotic
vignettes.

'Here is a very notable figure,' he continued, pointing to one of the
vignettes--'something that was quite new to me. None of my erotic
authors mention it.'

He talked incessantly, discussing each detail and following the lines of
the drawing with a flabby white finger, covered with hairs on the first
joint and ending in a polished, pointed nail, a little livid like the
nail of an ape. His voice grated hideously on Sperelli's ear.

'This Dutch edition of Petronius is magnificent. And here is the
_Erotopoegnion_ printed in Paris, 1798. Do you know the poem
attributed to John Wilkes, _An Essay on Women_? This is an edition of
1763.'

The collection was very complete. It comprised all the most infamous,
the most refinedly sensual works that the human mind has produced in the
course of centuries to serve as a commentary to the ancient hymn in
honour of the god of Lampsacus, _Salve! Sancte pater._

The collector took the books down from their shelves and showed them in
turn to his 'young friend,' never pausing in his discourse. His hands
grew caressing as he touched each volume bound in priceless leather or
material. A subtle smile played continually round his lips, and a gleam
as of madness flashed from time to time into his eyes.

'I also possess a first edition of the Epigrams of Martial--the Venice
one, printed by Windelin of Speyer, in folio. This is it. The clasps are
by a master hand.'

Sperelli listened and looked in a sort of stupor that changed by degrees
into horror and distress. His eyes were continually drawn to a portrait
of Elena hanging on the wall against the red damask background.

'That is Elena's portrait by Frederick Leighton. But now, look at this!
The frontispiece, the headings, the initial letters, the marginal
ornaments combine all that is most perfect in the matter of erotic
iconography. Look at the clasps!'

The binding was exquisite. Shark-skin, wrinkled and rough as that which
surrounds the hilts of Japanese sabres covered the sides and back; the
clasps and bosses, of richly silvered bronze, were chased with
consummate elegance, and were worthy to rank with the best work of the
sixteenth century.

'The artist, Francis Redgrave, died in a lunatic asylum. He was a young
genius of great promise. I have all his studies. I will show them to
you.'

The collector warmed to his subject. He went away to fetch the portfolio
from the next room. His gait was somewhat jerky and uncertain, like that
of a man who already carries in his system the germ of paralysis, the
first touch of spinal disease; his body remained rigid without following
the movement of his limbs, like the body of an automaton.

Andrea Sperelli followed him with his eyes till he crossed the threshold
of the room. The moment he was alone, unspeakable anguish rent his soul.
This room, hung with dark-red damask, exactly like the one in which
Elena had received him two years ago, seemed to him tragic and sinister.
These were, perhaps, the very same hangings that had heard Elena say to
him that day, 'I love you.' The book-case was open, and he could see the
rows of obscene books, the bizarre bindings stamped with symbolic
decorations. On the wall hung the portrait of Lady Heathfield side by
side with a copy of Sir Joshua Reynolds's Nelly O'Brien. And the two
women looked out of the canvas with the same, self-same piercing
intensity, the same glow of passion, the same flame of sensual desire,
the same marvellous eloquence; each had a mouth that was ambiguous,
enigmatical, sibylline, the mouth of the insatiable absorber of souls;
and each had a brow of marble whiteness, immaculately, radiantly pure.

'Poor Redgrave!' said Lord Heathfield, returning with the portfolio of
drawings. 'There was a genius for you. There never was an erotic
imagination to equal his. Look! look! What style! What profound
knowledge of the potentialities of the human figure for expression.'

He left Andrea's side for a moment in order to close the door. Then he
returned to the table in the window and began turning over the
collection under Sperelli's eyes, talking without a pause, pointing out
with that ape-like finger the peculiar characteristics of each figure.

He spoke in his own language, beginning each sentence with an
interrogative intonation and ending with a monotonous irritating drop of
the voice. Certain words lacerated Andrea's ear like the sound of filing
iron or the shriek of a steel knife over a pane of glass.

And the drawings passed in review before him, appalling pictures which
revealed the terrible fever that had taken hold upon the artist's hand,
and the terrible madness that possessed his brain.

'Now here,' said Lord Heathfield, 'is the work which inspired these
masterpieces. A priceless book--rarest of the rare! You are not
acquainted with Daniel Maclisius?'

He handed Andrea the treatise: _De verberatione amatoria_. He had warmed
more and more to his subject. His bald temples were flushed, and the
veins stood out on his great forehead; every minute his mouth twitched a
little convulsively and his hands, those detestable hands, were
perpetually on the move, while his arms retailed their paralytic
immobility. The unclean beast in him appeared in all its brazen
ugliness and ferocity.

'Mumps! Mumps! are you alone?'

It was Elena's voice. She knocked softly at one of the doors.

'Mumps!'

Andrea started violently; the blood rushed to his head and drew a veil
of mist before his eyes, and there was a roar in his ears as if he were
going to be seized with vertigo. In the midst of the fever of excitement
into which he had been thrown by these books, these pictures, the
maddening discourses of his host, a furious instinct rose out of the
blind depths of his being, the same brutal impetus which he had already
experienced on the race-course after his victory over Rutolo amid the
acrid exhalations of his steaming horse. The phantasm of a crime of love
tempted and beckoned to him: to kill this man, take the woman by force,
wreak his brutal will upon her, and then kill himself. But it passed
rapidly as it had come.

'No, I am not alone,' answered the husband, without opening the door.
'In a few minutes I shall have the pleasure of bringing Count Sperelli
to you--he is here with me.'

He replaced the book in the book-case, closed the portfolio and carried
it back into the next room.

Andrea would have given all he possessed not to have to undergo the
ordeal that awaited him, and yet it attracted him strangely. Once more,
he raised his eyes to the crimson wall and the dark frame out of which
Elena's pallid face looked forth, that face with the haunting eyes and
the sibylline mouth. A penetrating and continuous fascination emanated
from that imperious image. That strange pallor dominated tragically the
whole crimson gloom of the apartment. And once again he felt that his
miserable passion was incurable.

'Will you come into the drawing-room?' asked the husband, reappearing in
the doorway perfectly calm and composed. 'Then, you will design those
clasps for me?'

'I will try,' answered Andrea.

He was quite unable to control his inward agitation. Elena looked at him
with a provocative smile.

'What were you doing in there?' she asked him, still smiling in the same
manner.

'Your husband was showing me some unique curiosities.'

'Ah!'

There was a sardonic sneer upon her lips, a manifest mocking scorn in
her voice. She settled herself on a wide divan covered with a Bokhara
carpet of faded amaranthine hues on which languished great cushions
embroidered with spreading palms of dull gold. Here she leaned back in
an easy, graceful attitude, and gazed at Andrea from under her drooping
eyelids, while she spoke of trivial society matters in a voice that
insinuated its tones into the young man's heart, and crept through his
blood like an invisible fire.

Two or three times, he surprised a look which Lord Heathfield fixed upon
his wife--a look that seemed surcharged with all the infamies he had
stirred up just now. Again that criminal thought sped through his mind.
He trembled in every fibre of his being. He started to his feet, livid
and convulsed.

'Going already?' exclaimed Lord Heathfield. 'Why, what is the matter?'
and he smiled a singular smile at his 'young friend.' He knew well the
effect of his books.

Sperelli bowed. Elena gave him her hand without rising. Her husband
accompanied him to the door, where he repeated in a low voice--'You
won't forget those clasps?'

As Andrea stood in the portico, he saw a carriage coming up the drive. A
man with a great golden beard nodded to him from the window. It was
Galeazzo Secinaro.

In a flash, the recollection of the May Bazaar came back to him, and the
episode of Galeazzo offering Elena a sum of money if she would dry her
beautiful hands, all wet with champagne, on his beard. He hurried
through the garden and out into the street. He had a dull confused sense
as of some deafening noise going on inside his head.

It was an afternoon at the end of April, warm and moist.

The sun appeared and disappeared again among the fleecy slow-sailing
clouds. The languor of the sirocco lay over Rome.

On the pavement in front of him in the Via Sistina, he perceived a lady
walking slowly in the direction of the Trinità. He recognised her as
Donna Maria Ferrès. He looked at his watch; it was on the stroke of
five; only a minute or two before the accustomed hour of meeting. Maria
was assuredly on her way to the Palazzo Zuccari.

He hastened forward to join her. When he reached her side, he called her
by name.

She started violently. 'What? You here? I was just going up to you. It
is five o'clock.'

'It wants a minute or two yet to the hour. I was hurrying on to receive
you. Forgive me.'

'But you seem quite upset and very pale. Where were you coming from?'

She frowned slightly, regarding him fixedly through her veil.

'From my stables,' Andrea replied, meeting her look unblushingly as
though he had not a drop of blood left to send to his face. 'A horse
that I thought a great deal of has been hurt in the knee--the fault of
the jockey--and now it will not be able to run in the Derby on Sunday.
It has annoyed and upset me very much. Please forgive me, I over-stayed
the time without noticing it. But it is still a few minutes to five.'

'It does not matter. Good-bye. I am going back.'

They had reached the Piazza del Trinità. She stopped and held out her
hand. A furrow still lingered between her brows. With all her great
sweetness of temper, she occasionally had moments of angry impatience
and petulancy that seemed to transform her into another creature.

'No, Maria--come, be kind! I am going up now to wait for you. Go on as
far as the gates of the Pincio and then come back. Will you?'

The clock of the Trinità de' Monti begun to strike.

'You hear that?' he added.

She hesitated for a moment.

'Very well, I will come.'

'Thank you so much! I love you.'

'And I love you.'

They parted.

Donna Maria went on across the piazza and into the avenue. Over her
head, the languid breath of the sirocco sent a broken murmur through the
green trees. Subtle waves of perfume rose and fell upon the warm, damp
breeze. The clouds seemed lower; the swallows skimmed close to the
ground; and in the languorous heaviness of the air there was something
that melted the passionate heart of the Siennese.

Ever since she had yielded to Andrea's persuasions, her heart had been
filled with a happiness that was deeply fraught with fear. All her
Christian blood was on fire with the hitherto undreamed-of raptures of
her passion, and froze with terror at her sin. Her passion was
all-conquering, supreme, immense, so despotic that for hours sometimes
it obliterated all thought of her child. She went so far as to forget,
to neglect Delfina! And afterwards, she would have a sudden access of
remorse, of repentance, of tenderness, in which she covered the
astonished little girl's face with tears and kisses, sobbing in horrible
despair as over a corpse.

Her whole being quickened at this flame, grew keener, more acute,
acquired a marvellous sensibility, a sort of clairvoyance, a faculty of
divination which caused her endless torture. Hardly a deception of
Andrea's but seemed to send a shadow across her spirit; she felt an
indefinite sense of disquietude which sometimes condensed itself into a
suspicion. And this suspicion would gnaw at her heart, embittering
kisses and caresses, till it was dissipated by the transports and ardent
passion of her incomprehensible lover.

She was jealous. Jealousy was her implacable tormentor; not jealousy of
the present but of the past. With the cruelty that jealous people
exercise against themselves, she would have wished to read the secrets
of Andrea's memory, to find the traces left there by former mistresses,
to know--to know--. The question that most often rose to her lips if
Andrea seemed moody and silent was, 'What are you thinking about?' And
yet, at the very moment of asking the question, a shadow would cross her
eyes and her spirit, an inevitable rush of sadness would rise out of her
heart.

To-day again, when he turned up so unexpectedly in the street, had she
not had an instinctive movement of suspicion? With a flash of lucidity,
the idea had leapt into her mind that Andrea was coming from the Palazzo
Barberini, from Lady Heathfield.

She knew that Andrea had been this woman's lover; she knew that her name
was Elena; she knew also that she was the Elena of the inscription--'Ich
lebe!' Goethe's distich rang painfully in her heart. That lyric cry gave
her the measure of Andrea's love for this most beautiful woman. He must
have loved her boundlessly!

Walking slowly under the trees, she recalled Elena's appearance in the
concert-hall and the ill-disguised uneasiness of the old lover. She
remembered her own terrible agitation one evening at the Austrian
Embassy when the Countess Starnina said to her, seeing Elena pass
by--'What do you think of Lady Heathfield? She was, and is still, I
fancy, a great flame of our friend Sperelli's.'

'Is still, I fancy.' What tortures in a single sentence! She followed
her rival persistently with her eyes through the throng, and more than
once her gaze met that of the other, sending a nameless shiver through
her. Later on in the evening, when they were introduced to one another
by the Baroness Bockhorst, in the middle of the crowd, they merely
exchanged an inclination of the head. And that perfunctory salutation
had been repeated on the rare occasions on which Maria Ferrès had joined
in any social function.

Why should these doubts and suspicions, beaten down and stifled under
the flood of her passion, rise up again now with so much vehemence? Why
had she not the strength to repress them or put them away from her
altogether? The least touch brought them up to the surface as lively as
ever.

Her distress and unhappiness increased with every moment. Her heart was
not satisfied; the dream that had risen up within her on that mystical
morning under the flowering trees in sight of the sea, had not come
true. All that was purest and fairest in that love had remained down
there in the sequestered glades in the symbolical forest that bloomed
and bore fruit perpetually in contemplation of the Infinite.

She stood and leaned against the parapet that looks towards San
Sebastianello. The ancient oaks, their foliage so dark as almost to seem
black, spread a sombre artificial roof over the fountain. There were
great rents in their trunks filled up with bricks and mortar like the
breaches in a wall. Oh, the young arbutus-trees all radiant and
breathing in the light! The fountain, dripping from the higher into the
lower basin, moaned at intervals, like a heart that fills with anguish
and then overflows in a torrent of tears; oh, the melody of the Hundred
Fountains in the laurel avenue! The city lay as dead, as if buried under
the ashes of an invisible volcano, silent and funereal as a city ravaged
by the plague, enormous, shapeless, dominated by the cupola that rose
out of its bosom like a cloud. Oh, the sea, the tranquil sea!

Her uneasiness increased. An obscure menace emanated from these things.
She was seized with the feeling of terror she had already experienced on
so many occasions. Across her pious spirit there flashed once more the
thought of punishment.

Nevertheless, the recollection that her lover awaited her, thrilled her
to the heart's core; at the thought of his kisses, his caresses, his mad
endearments, her blood was on fire and her soul grew faint. The thrill
of passion triumphed over the fear of God. She turned her steps towards
her lover's house with all the palpitating emotion of her first
rendezvous.

'At last!' cried Andrea, gathering her into his arms, and drinking the
breath from her panting lips.

He took one of her hands and held it against his breast.

'Feel my heart. If you had stayed away a minute longer, it would have
broken.'

But instead of her hand, she laid her cheek upon it. He kissed the white
nape of her neck.

'Do you hear it beat?'

'Yes, and it speaks to me.'

'What does it tell you?'

'That you do not love me.'

'What does it tell you?' repeated the young man, biting her neck softly
and preventing her from raising her head.

She laughed.

'That you love me.'

She removed her cloak, her hat and her gloves, and then went to smell
the bouquets of white lilac that filled the high Florentine vases like
those of the _tondo_ in the Borghese Gallery. Her step on the carpet was
extraordinarily light, and nothing could exceed her grace of attitude as
she buried her face in the delicate tassels of bloom.

She bit off the end of a spray, and holding it between her lips--

'Take it,' she said.

They exchanged a long, long kiss in among the perfume.

He drew her closer and said with a tremor in his voice, 'Come.'

'No, Andrea--no; let us stay here. I will make the tea for you.'

She took her lover's hand and twined her fingers into his. 'I don't know
what is the matter with me. My heart is so full of love that I could
almost cry.'

The words trembled on her lips; her eyes were full of tears.

'Oh, if only I need not leave you, if I could stay here always!'

Her heart was so full that it lent an indefinable sadness to her words.

'When I think that you can never know the whole extent of my love! That
I can never know yours! Do you love me? Tell me, say it a hundred, a
thousand times--always--you love me?'

'As if you did not know!'

'No, I do not know.'

She uttered the words in so low a tone that Andrea hardly caught them.

'Maria!'

She silently laid her head on Andrea's breast, waiting for him to speak,
as if listening to his heart.

He regarded that hapless head, weighed down by the burden of a sad
foreboding; he felt the light pressure of that noble, mournful brow upon
his breast, which was hardened by falsehood, encased in duplicity as in
a cuirass of steel. He was stirred by genuine emotion; a sense of human
pity for this most human suffering gripped him by the throat. And yet
this agitation of soul resolved itself into lying words and lent a
quiver of seeming sincerity to his voice.

'You do not know!--Your voice was so low that it died away upon your
lips; at the bottom of your heart something protested against your
words; all, all the memories of our love rose up and protested against
them. Oh! _you do not know_ that I love you!--'

She remained leaning against him, listening, trembling, recognising or
fancying that she recognised in his moving voice the accents of true
passion, the accents that intoxicated her and that she supposed were
inimitable. And he went on speaking, almost in her ear, in the silence
of the room, with his hot breath on her cheek and with pauses that were
almost sweeter than words. '--To have one sole thought, continually,
every hour, every moment--not to be able to conceive of any happiness
but the transcendent one that beams upon me from your mere presence--to
live throughout the day in the anticipation--impatient, restless,
fierce--of the moment when I shall see you again, and, after you have
gone to caress and cherish your image in my heart,----to believe in you
alone, to swear by you alone, in you alone to put my faith, my strength,
my pride, my whole world, all that I dream and all that I hope----'

She lifted her face all bathed in tears. He ceased to speak, and with
his lips arrested the course of the warm drops that flowed over her
cheeks. She wept and smiled, caressing his hair with trembling hands,
shaken with irrepressible sobs.

'My heart, my dearest heart!'

He made her sit down and knelt before her without ceasing to kiss her
lids. Suddenly he started. He had felt her long lashes tremble on his
lips like the flutter of an airy wing. Time was, when Elena had
laughingly given him that caress twenty times in succession. Maria had
learned it from him, and at that caress he had often managed to conjure
up the image of _the other_.

His start made Maria smile; and as a tear still lingered on her
lashes--'This one too,' she said.

He kissed it away, and she laughed softly without a thought of
suspicion.

Her tears had ceased, and, reassured, she turned almost gay and full of
charming graces.

'I am going to make the tea now,' she said.

'No, stay where you are.' The image of Elena had suddenly interposed
between them.

'No, let me get up,' begged Maria, disengaging herself from his
constraining arms. 'I want you to taste my tea. The aroma will penetrate
to your very soul.'

She was alluding to some costly tea she had received from Calcutta which
she had given to Andrea the day before.

She rose and went over to the arm-chair with the dragons in which the
melting shades of the _rosa di gruogo_ of the ancient dalmatic continued
to languish exquisitely. The little cups of fine Castel-Durante Majolica
still glittered on the tea-table.

While preparing the tea, she said a thousand charming things, she let
all the goodness and tenderness of her fond heart bloom out with entire
freedom; she took an ingenuous delight in this dear and secret intimacy,
the hushed calm of the room with all its accessories of refined luxury.
Behind her, as behind the Virgin in Botticelli's _tondo_, rose the tall
vases crowned with sprays of white lilac, and her archangelic hands
moved about among the little mythological pictures of Luzio Dolci and
the hexameters of Ovid beneath them.

'What are you thinking about?' she asked Andrea, who was sitting on the
floor beside her, leaning his head against the arm of her chair.

'I am listening to you. Go on!'

'I have nothing more to say.'

'Yes, you have. Tell me a thousand, thousand things----'

'What sort of things?'

'The things that you alone know how to say.'

He wanted Maria's voice to lull the anguish caused him by _the other_;
to animate for him the image of _the other_.

'Do you smell that?' she exclaimed, as she poured the boiling water on
to the aromatic leaves.

A delicious fragrance diffused itself through the air with the steam.

'How I love that!' she cried.

Andrea shivered. Were not those the very words--and spoken in her very
tone--that Elena had used on the evening she offered him her love? He
fixed his eyes on Maria's mouth.

'Say that again.'

'What?'

'What you just said.'

'Why?'

'The words sound so sweet when you pronounce them--you cannot understand
it, of course. Say them again.'

She smiled, divining nothing, and a little troubled, even a little shy,
under her lover's strange gaze.

'Well then--I love that!'

'And me?'

'What?'

'And me?----you----'

She looked down puzzled at her lover writhing at her feet, his face
haggard and drawn, waiting for the words he was trying to draw out of
her.

'And me?----'

'Ah! you----I love you----'

'That is it! That is it!--Say it again--again----'

She did so, quite unsuspecting. He felt a spasm of inexpressible
pleasure.

'Why do you shut your eyes?' she asked, not because of any suspicion in
her mind, but to lead him on to explain his emotion.

'So that I may die.'

He laid his head on her knee and remained for some minutes in that
attitude, silent and abstracted. She gently stroked his hair, his
brow--that brow behind which his infamous imagination was working.
Shadows began to fill the room, and the fragrance of the flowers and the
aromatic beverage mingled in the air; the outlines of the surrounding
objects melted into one vague form, harmonious, dim, unsubstantial.

Presently she said: 'Get up, dearest, I must go. It is getting late.'

'Stay a little longer with me,' he entreated.

He drew her over to the divan where the gold on the cushions still
gleamed through the shadows. There he suddenly clasped her head between
his hands and covered her face with fierce hot kisses. He let himself
imagine it was the other face he held, and he thought of it as sullied
by the lips of her husband; and instead of disgust, was filled with
still more savage desire of it. All the turbid sensations he had
experienced in the presence of this man now rose to the surface of his
consciousness, and with his kisses these vile things swept over the
cheeks, the brow, the hair, the throat, the lips of Maria.

'Let me go--let me go,' she cried, struggling out of his arms.

She ran across to the tea-table to light the candles.

'You must be good,' she said, panting a little still, and with an air of
fond reproof.

He did not move from the divan, but looked at her in silence.

She went over to the side of the mantelpiece, where, on the wall, hung
the little old mirror. She put on her hat and veil before its dim
surface, that looked so like a pool of dull and stagnant water.

'I am so loath to leave you this evening!' she murmured, oppressed by
the melancholy of the twilight hour. 'This evening more than ever
before.'

The violet gleam of the sunset struggled with the light of the candles.
The lilac in the crystal vases looked waxen white. The cushion in the
arm-chair retained the impress of the form that had leaned against it.

The clock of the Trinità began to strike.

'Heavens! how late! Help me to put on my cloak,' exclaimed the poor
creature, turning to Andrea.

He only clasped her once more in his arms, kissing her furiously,
blindly, madly, with a devouring passion, stifling on her lips his own
insane desire to cry aloud the name of Elena.

At last she managed to gasp in an expiring voice--

'You are drawing my life out of me.' But his passionate vehemence seemed
to make her happy.

'My love, my soul, all, all mine!' she said.

And again, blissfully--'I can feel your heart beating--so fast, so
fast.'

At last, with a sigh, 'I must go now.'

Andrea was as lividly pale and convulsed as if he had just committed a
murder.

'What ails you?' she asked with tender solicitude.

He tried to smile. 'I never felt so profound an emotion,' he answered.

'I thought I should have died.'

He took the bouquet of flowers from one of the vases and handed it to
her and went with her towards the door, almost hurrying her departure,
for this woman's every look and gesture and word was a fresh
sword-thrust in his heart.

'Good-bye, dear heart!' said the hapless creature to him with
unspeakable tenderness. 'Think of me.'



CHAPTER VII


On the morning of the 20th of May, as Andrea Sperelli was walking along
the Corso in the radiant sunshine, he heard his name called from the
doorway of the Club.

On the pavement in front of it was a group of gentlemen amusing
themselves by watching the ladies pass and talking scandal. They were
Giulio Musellaro, Ludovico Barbarisi, the Duke of Grimiti, Galeazzo
Secinaro, Gino Bomminaco, and two or three others.

'Have you heard what happened last night?' Barbarisi asked him.

'No, what?'

'Don Manuel Ferrès, the Minister for Guatemala----'

'Well?'

'Was caught red-handed cheating at cards.'

Sperelli retained his self-command, although some of the men were
looking at him with a certain malicious curiosity.

'How was that?'

'Galeazzo was there and was playing at the same table.'

Secinaro proceeded to give him the details.

Andrea did not affect indifference, he listened with a grave and
attentive air. At the end of the story, he said, 'I am extremely sorry
to hear it.'

After remaining a minute or two longer with the group, he bowed and
passed on.

'Which way are you going?' asked Secinaro.

'I am going home.'

'I will go with you part of the way.'

They went off together in the direction of the Via de' Condotti. The
Corso was one glittering stream of sunshine from the Piazzo di Venezia
to the Piazzo del Popolo. Ladies in light spring dress passed along by
the brilliant shop-windows--the Princess of Ferentino with Barbarella
Viti under one big lace parasol; Bianca Dolcebuono; Leonetto Lanza's
young wife.

'Do you know this man--this Ferrès?' asked Galeazzo of Andrea, who had
not spoken as yet.

'Yes, I met him last year at Schifanoja, at my cousin Ateleta's. The
wife is a great friend of Francesca's. That is why the affair annoys me
so much. We must see that it is hushed up as much as possible. You will
be doing me the greatest favour if you will help me about it.'

Galeazzo promised his assistance with the most cordial alacrity.

'I think,' said he, 'that the worst of the scandal might be avoided if
the Minister sends in his resignation to his Government without a
moment's delay. That is what the President of the Club advised, but
Ferrès refused last night. He blustered and did the insulted. And yet
the proofs were there, as clear as daylight. He will have to be
persuaded.'

They continued on the subject as they walked along. Sperelli was
grateful to Secinaro for his assistance, and the intimate tone of the
conversation predisposed Secinaro to friendly confidences.

At the corner of the Via de' Condotti, they caught sight of Lady
Heathfield strolling along the left side of the street past the Japanese
shop-windows, with her undulating, rhythmic, captivating walk.

'Ah--Donna Elena,' said Galeazzo.

Both the men watched her, and both felt the glamour of that rhythmic
gait.

When they came up to her, they both bowed but passed on. They no longer
saw her, but she saw them; and for Andrea it was a form of torture to
have to walk beside a rival under the gaze of the woman he desired, and
feel that those piercing eyes were perhaps taking a delight in weighing
the merits of both men. He compared himself with Secinaro.

Galeazzo was of the bovine type, a Lucius Verus with golden hair and
blue eyes; while amid the magnificent abundance of his golden beard
shone a full red mouth, handsome, but without the slightest expression.
He was tall, square-shouldered and strong, with an air of elegance that
was not exactly refined, but easy and unaffected.

'Well?' Sperelli asked, goaded on by a sort of madness. 'Are matters
going on favourably?'

He knew he might adopt this tone with a man of this sort.

Galeazzo turned and looked at him half surprised, half suspicious. He
certainly did not expect such a question from him, and still less the
airy and perfectly calm tone in which the question was uttered.

'Ah, the time that siege of mine has lasted!' groaned the bearded
prince. 'Ages simply--I have tried every kind of manoeuvre but always
without success. I always came too late, some other fellow had always
been before me in storming the citadel. But I never lost heart. I was
convinced that sooner or later my turn would come. _Attendre pour
atteindre._ And sure enough----'

'Well?'

'Lady Heathfield is kinder to me than the Duchess of Scerni. I shall
have, I hope, the very enviable honour of being set down after you on
the list.'

He burst into a rather coarse laugh, showing his splendid teeth.

'I fancy that my doughty deeds in India, which Giulio Musellaro spread
abroad, have added to my beard several heroic strands of irresistible
virtue.'

'Ah, just in these days that beard of yours should fairly quiver with
memories.'

'What memories?'

'Memories of a Bacchic nature.'

'I don't understand.'

'What, have you forgotten the famous May Bazaar of 1884?'

'Well, upon my word, now that you remind me of it, the third anniversary
does fall on one of these next days. But you were not there--who told
you?

'You want to know more than is good for you, my dear boy.'

'Do tell me!'

'Bend your mind rather to making the most skilful use of this
anniversary and give me news as soon as you have any.'

'When shall I see you again?'

'Whenever you like.'

'Then dine with me to-night at the Club--about eight o'clock. That will
give us an opportunity of seeing after the other affair too.'

'All right. Good-bye, Goldbeard. Run!'

They parted in the Piazza di Spagna, at the foot of the steps, and as
Elena came across the square in the direction of the Via due Macelli to
go up to the Quattro Fontane, Secinaro joined her and walked on with
her.

The strain of dissimulation once over, Andrea's heart sank within him
like a leaden weight. He did not know how he was to drag himself up the
steps. He was quite assured that, after this, Secinaro would tell him
everything, and somehow this seemed to him a point to his advantage. By
a sort of intoxication, a species of madness, resulting from the
severity of his sufferings, he rushed blindly into new and ever more
cruel and senseless torments; aggravating and complicating his miserable
state in a thousand ways; passing from perversion to perversion, from
aberration to aberration, without being able to hold back or to stop for
one moment in his giddy descent. He seemed to be devoured by an
inextinguishable fever, the heat of which made all the germs of human
lust lying dormant in the hidden depths of his being flourish and grow
big. His every thought, his every emotion showed the same stain.

And yet, it was the very deception itself that bound him so strongly to
the woman he deceived. His mind had adapted itself so thoroughly to the
monstrous comedy that he was no longer capable of conceiving any other
way of satisfying his passion. This incarnation of one woman in another
was no longer a result of exasperated desire, but a deliberate habit of
vice, and now finally an imperious necessity. From thenceforth, the
unconscious instrument of his vicious imagination had become as
necessary to him as the vice itself. By a process of sensual depravity,
he had almost come to think that the real possession of Elena would not
afford him such exquisite and violent delight as the imaginary. He was
hardly able to separate the two women in his thoughts. And just as he
felt that his pleasure would be diminished by the actual possession of
the one, so his nerves received a shock if by some lassitude of the
imagination he found himself in the presence of the other without the
interposing image of her rival.

Thus he felt crushed to the earth at the thought that Don Manuel's ruin
meant for him the loss of Maria.

When she came to him that evening, he saw at once that the poor thing
was ignorant as yet of her misfortune. But the next day, she arrived,
panting, convulsed, pale as death. She threw herself into his arms, and
hid her face on his breast.

'You know?' she gasped between her sobs.

The news had spread. Disgrace and ruin were inevitable, irremediable.
There followed days of hideous torture, during which Maria, left alone
after the precipitate flight of the gamester, abandoned by the few
friends she possessed, persecuted by the innumerable creditors of her
husband, bewildered by the legal formalities of the seizure of their
effects, by bailiffs, money-lenders and rogues of all sorts, gave
evidences of a courage that was nothing less than heroic, but failed to
avert the utter ruin that overwhelmed the family.

From her lover she would receive no assistance of any kind; she told him
nothing of the martyrdom she was enduring even when he reproached her
for the brevity of her visits. She never complained; for him she always
managed to call up a less mournful smile; still obeyed the dictates of
her lover's capricious passion, and lavished upon her ruthless destroyer
all the treasures of her fond heart.

Her presentiments had not deceived her. Everything was falling in ruins
around her. Punishment had overtaken her without a moment's warning.

But she never regretted having yielded to her lover; never repented
having given herself so utterly to him, never bewailed her lost purity.
Her one sorrow--stronger than remorse, or fear, or any other trouble of
mind--was the thought that she must go away, must be separated from this
man who was the life of her life.

'My darling, I shall die. I am going away to die far from
you--alone--all alone--and you will not be there to close my eyes----'

She smiled as she spoke with certainty and resignation. But Andrea
endeavoured to kindle an illusive hope in her breast, to sow in her
heart the seeds of a dream that could only lead to future suffering.

'I will not let you die! You will be mine again and for a long time to
come. We have many happy days of love before us yet!'

He spoke of the immediate future.--He would go and establish himself in
Florence; from there he could go over as often as he liked to Sienna
under the pretext of study--could pass whole months there copying some
Old Master or making researches in ancient chronicles. Their love should
have its hidden nest in some deserted street, or beyond the city, in the
country, in some villa decorated with rural ornaments and surrounded by
a meadow. She would be able to spare an hour now and then for their
love. Sometimes she would come and spend a whole week in Florence, a
week of unbroken happiness. They would air their idyll on the hillside
of Fiesole in a September as mild as April, and the cypresses of
Montughi would not be less kind to them than the cypresses of
Schifanoja.

'Would it were true! Would it were true!' sighed Maria.

'You don't believe me?'

'Oh yes, I believe you; but my heart tells me that all these sweet
things will remain a dream.'

She made Andrea take her in his arms and hold her there for a long time;
and she leaned upon his breast, silently crouching into his embrace as
if to hide herself, with the shiver of a sick person or of one who seeks
protection from some threatening danger. She asked of Andrea only the
delicate caresses that in the language of affection she called 'kisses
of the soul' and that melted her to tears sweeter than any more carnal
delights. She could not understand how in these moments of supreme
spirituality, in these last sad hours of passion and farewell her lover
was not content to kiss her hands.

'No--no, dear love,' she besought him, half repelled by Andrea's crude
display of passion, 'I feel that you are nearer to me, closer to my
heart, more entirely one with me, when you are sitting at my side, and
take my hand in yours and look into my eyes and say the things to me
that you alone know how to say. Those other caresses seem to put us far
away from each other, to set some shadow between you and me----I don't
know how to express my thought properly----And afterwards it leaves me
so sad, so sad--I don't know what it is----I feel then so tired--but a
tiredness that has something evil about it----!'

She entreated him, humbly, submissively, fearing to make him angry. Then
she fell to recalling memories of things recent and passed, down to the
smallest details, the most trivial words, the most insignificant facts,
which all had a vast amount of significance for her. But it was towards
the first days of her stay at Schifanoja that her heart returned most
fondly.

'You remember? You remember?'

And suddenly the tears filled her downcast eyes.

One evening Andrea, thinking of her husband, asked her--'Since I knew
you, have you always been _wholly_ mine?'

'Always.'

'I am not speaking of the soul----'

'Hush!----yes, always wholly yours.'

And he, who had never before believed one of his mistresses on this
point, believed Maria without a shadow of doubt as to the truth of her
assertion.

He believed her even while he deceived and profaned her without remorse;
he knew himself to be boundlessly loved by a lofty and noble spirit,
that he was face to face with a grand and all-absorbing passion, and
recognised fully both the grandeur of that passion and his own vileness.
And yet under the lash of his base imaginings he would go so far as to
hurt the mouth of the fond and patient creature, to prevent himself from
crying aloud upon her lips the name that rose invincibly to his; and
that loving and pathetic mouth would murmur, all unconscious, smiling
though it bled--

'Even thus you do not hurt me.'



CHAPTER VIII


It wanted but a few days now to their parting. Miss Dorothy had taken
Delfina to Sienna, and then returned to help her mistress in the last
and most trying arrangements and to accompany her on the journey. In the
mother's house in Sienna the truth of the story was not known, and
Delfina of course knew nothing. Maria had merely written that Don Manuel
had been suddenly recalled by his government. And she made ready to
go--to leave these rooms, so full of cherished things, to the hands of
the public auctioneers who had already drawn up the inventory and fixed
the date of the sale for the 20th of June, at ten in the morning.

On the evening of the 9th, as she was leaving Andrea, she missed a
glove. While looking for it she came upon a volume of Shelley, the one
which Andrea had lent her in Schifanoja, the dear and affecting book in
which, before the excursion to Vicomile, she had underlined the words

    'And forget me, for I can _never_
    Be thine.'

She took up the book with visible emotion and turned over the pages till
she came to the one which bore the mark of her underlining.

'_Never!_' she murmured with a shake of the head. 'You remember? And
hardly eight months have passed since.'

She pensively turned over a few more leaves and read other verses.

'He is our poet,' she went on. 'How often you promised to take me to the
English Cemetery! You remember, we were to take flowers for his grave.
Shall we go? You might take me before I leave. It will be our last walk
together.'

'Let us go to-morrow,' he answered.

The next evening, when the sun was already declining, they went in a
closed carriage; on her knees lay a bunch of roses. They drove along the
foot of the leafy Aventino and caught a glimpse of the boats laden with
Sicilian wine anchored in the port of Ripa Grande.

In the neighbourhood of the cemetery they left the carriage and went the
rest of the way to the gates on foot and in silence. At the bottom of
her heart, Maria felt that not only was she here to lay flowers on the
tomb of a poet, but that in this place of death she would weep for
something of herself irreparably lost. A _Fragment_ of Shelley, read in
the sleepless watches of the night echoed through her spirit as she
gazed at the cypresses pointing to the sky on the other side of the
white wall.

    'Death is here, and Death is there,
    Death is busy everywhere;
    All around, within, beneath,
    Above, is death--and we are death.

    Death has set his mark and seal
    On all we are and all we feel,
    On all we know and all we fear--

    First our pleasures die, and then
    Our hopes, and then our fears: and when
    These are dead, the debt is due,
    Dust claims dust--and we die too.

    All things that we love and cherish,
    Like ourselves must fade and perish.
    Such is our rude mortal lot:
    Love itself would, did they not----'

As she passed through the gateway she put her arm through Andrea's and
shivered.

The cemetery was solitary and deserted. A few gardeners were engaged in
watering the plants along by the wall, swinging their watering-cans
from side to side with an even and continuous motion and in silence.

The funeral cypresses stood up straight and motionless in the air; only
their tops, gilded by the sun, trembled lightly. Between the rigid,
greenish-black trunks rose the white tombs--square slabs of stone,
broken pillars, urns, sarcophagi. From the sombre mass of the cypresses
fell a mysterious shadow, a religious peace, a sort of human kindness,
as limpid and beneficent waters gush from the hard rock. The unchanging
regularity of the trees and the chastened whiteness of the sepulchral
monuments affected the spirit with a sense of solemn and sweet repose.
But between the stiff ranks of the trees, standing in line like the deep
pipes of an organ, and interspersed among the tombs, graceful oleanders
swayed their tufts of pink blossom; roses dropped their petals at every
light touch of the breeze, strewing the ground with their fragrant snow;
the eucalyptus shook its pale tresses--now dark, now silvery white;
willows wept over the crosses and crowns; and, here and there, the
cactus displayed the glory of its white blooms like a swarm of sleeping
butterflies or an aigrette of wonderful feathers. The silence was
unbroken save by the cry, now and then, of some solitary bird.

Andrea pointed to the top of the hill.

'The poet's tomb is up there,' he said, 'near that ruin to the left,
just below the last tower.'

She dropped his arm and went on in front of him through the narrow paths
bordered with low myrtle hedges. She walked as if fatigued, turning
round every few minutes to smile back at her lover. She was dressed in
black and wore a black veil that cast over her faint and trembling smile
a shadow of mourning. Her oval chin was paler and purer than the roses
she carried in her hand.

Once, as she turned, one of the roses shed its petals on the path.
Andrea stooped to pick them up. She looked at him and he fell on his
knees before her.

'_Adorata!_' he exclaimed.

A scene rose up before her, vividly as a picture.

'You remember,' she said, 'that morning at Schifanoja when I threw a
handful of leaves down to you from the higher terrace? You bent your
knee to me while I descended the steps. I do not know how it is, but
that time seems to me so near and yet so far away! I feel as if it had
happened yesterday, and then again, a century ago. But perhaps, after
all it only happened in a dream.'

Passing along between the low myrtle hedges, they at last reached the
tower near which lies the tomb of the poet and of Trelawny. The jasmin
climbing over the old ruin was in flower, but of the violets nothing was
left but their thick carpet of leaves. The tops of the cypresses, which
here just reached the line of vision, were vividly illumined by the last
red gleams of the sun as it sank behind the black cross of the Monte
Testaccio. A great purple cloud edged with burning gold sailed across
the sky in the direction of the Aventino--

    'These are two friends whose lives were undivided.
    So let their memory be, now they have glided
    Under their grave; let not their bones be parted
    For their two hearts in life were single-hearted.'

Maria repeated the last line. Then, moved by a delicate
inspiration--'Please unfasten my veil,' she said to Andrea.

She leaned her head back slightly so that he might untie the knot, and
Andrea's fingers touched her hair--that magnificent hair, in the dense
shadow of which he had so often tasted all the delights of his
perfidious imagination, evoked the image of her rival.

'Thank you,' she said.

She then drew the veil from before her face and looked at Andrea with
eyes that were a little dazed. She looked very beautiful. The shadows
round her eyes were darker and deeper, but the eyes themselves burned
with a more intense light. Her hair clung to her temples in heavy
hyacinthine curls tinged with violet. The middle of her forehead, which
was left free, gleamed, by contrast, in moonlike purity. Her features
had fined down and lost something of their materiality through stress of
love and sorrow.

She wound the veil about the stems of the roses, tied the two ends
together with much care, and then buried her face in the flowers,
inhaling their perfume. Then she laid them on the simple stone that
bears the poet's name engraved upon it. There was an indefinable
expression in the gesture, which Andrea could not understand.

As they moved away, he suddenly stopped short, and looking back towards
the tower, 'How did you manage to get those roses?' he asked.

She smiled, but her eyes were wet.

'They are yours--those of that snowy night--they have bloomed again this
evening. Do you not believe it?'

The evening breeze was rising, and behind the hill the sky was
overspread with gold, in the midst of which the purple cloud dissolved,
as if consumed by fire. Against this field of light, the serried ranks
of the cypresses looked more imposing and mysterious than before. The
Psyche at the end of the middle avenue seemed to flush with pale tints
as of flesh. A crescent moon rose over the pyramid of Cestius, in a deep
and glassy sky, like the waters of a calm and sheltered bay.

They went through the centre avenue to the gates. The gardeners were
still watering the plants, and two other men held a velvet and silver
pall by the two ends, and were beating it vigorously, while the dust
rose high and glittered in the air.

From the Aventine came the sound of bells.

Maria clung to her lover's arm, unable to control her anguish, feeling
the ground give way beneath her feet, her life ebb from her at every
step. Once inside the carriage, she burst into a passion of tears,
sobbing despairingly on her lover's shoulder.

'I shall die!'

But she did not die. Better a thousand times for her that she had!



CHAPTER IX


Two days after this, Andrea was lunching with Galeazzo Secinaro at a
table in the Caffé di Roma. It was a hot morning. The place was almost
empty; the waiters nodded drowsily among the buzzing flies.

'And so,' the bearded prince went on, 'knowing that she had a fancy for
strange and out-of-the-way situations, I had the courage to----'

He was relating in the crudest terms the extremely audacious means by
which he had at last succeeded in overcoming Lady Heathfield's
resistance. He exhibited neither reserve nor scruples, omitting no
single detail, and praising the acquisition to the connoisseur. He only
broke off, from time to time, to put his fork into a piece of juicy red
meat, or to empty a glass of red wine. His whole bearing was expressive
of robust health and strength.

Andrea Sperelli lit a cigarette. In spite of all his efforts, he could
not bring himself to swallow a mouthful of food, and with the wine
Secinaro poured out for him, he seemed to be drinking poison.

There came a moment at last, when the prince, in spite of his
obtuseness, had a qualm of doubt, and he looked sharply at Elena's
former lover. Except his want of appetite, Andrea gave no outward sign
of inward agitation; with the utmost calm he puffed clouds of smoke into
the air, and smiled his habitual, half-ironical smile, at his jocund
companion.

The prince continued: 'She is coming to see me to-day for the first
time.'

'To you--to-day?'

'Yes, at three o'clock.'

The two men looked at their watches.

'Shall we go?' asked Andrea.

'Let us,' assented Galeazzo rising. 'We can go up the Via de' Condotti
together. I want to get some flowers. As you know all about it, tell
me--what flowers does she like best?'

Andrea laughed. An abominable answer was on the tip of his tongue, but
he restrained himself and replied unmoved--

'Roses, at one time.'

In front of the Barcaccia they parted.

At that hour the Piazza di Spagna had the deserted look of high summer.
Some workmen were repairing a main water-pipe, and a heap of earth dried
by the sun threw up clouds of dust in the hot breath of the wind. The
stairway of the Trinità gleamed white and deserted.

Slowly, slowly, Andrea went up, standing still every two or three steps,
as if he were dragging a terrible weight after him. He went into his
rooms and threw himself on his bed, where he remained till a quarter to
three. At a quarter to three he got up and went out. He turned into the
Via Sistina, on through the Via Quattro Fontane, passed the Palazzo
Barberini and stopped before a book-stall to wait for three o'clock. The
bookseller, a little wrinkled, dried-up old man, like a decrepit
tortoise, offered him books, taking down his choicest volumes one by
one, and spreading them out under his eyes, speaking all the time in an
insufferable nasal monotone. Three o'clock would strike directly; Andrea
looked at the titles of the books, keeping an eye on the gates of the
palace, while the voice of the bookseller mingled confusedly with the
loud thumping of his heart.

A lady passed through the gates, went down the street towards the
piazza, got into a cab, and drove away through the Via del Tritone.

Andrea went home. There he threw himself once more on his bed, and
waited till Maria should come, keeping himself in a state of such
complete immobility, that he seemed not to be suffering any more.

At five Maria came.

'Do you know,' she said, panting, 'I can stay with you the whole
evening--till to-morrow. It will be our first and last night of love. I
am going on Tuesday.'

She sobbed despairingly, and clung to him, her lips pressed convulsively
to his.

'Don't let me see the light of another day--kill me!' she moaned.

Then, catching sight of his discomposed face, 'You are suffering?' she
exclaimed. 'You too--you think we shall never meet again?'

He had almost insuperable difficulty in speaking, in answering her. His
tongue clove to the roof of his mouth, the words failed him. He had an
instinctive desire to hide his face from those observant eyes, to avoid
her questions at all cost. He was neither capable of consoling her nor
of practising fresh deceptions.

'Hush!' he whispered in a choking, almost irrecognisable voice.

Crouching at her feet, he laid his head in her lap and remained like
that for a long time without speaking, while she laid her tender hands
upon his temples and felt the wild, irregular beating of his arteries.
She realised that he was suffering fiercely, and in his pain forgot all
thought of her own, grieving now only for his grief--only for him.

Presently he rose, and clasped her with such mad vehemence to him that
she was frightened.

'What has come to you! What is it?' she cried, trying to look in his
eyes, to discover the reason of his sudden frenzy. But he only buried
his face deeper in her bosom, her neck, her hair--anywhere out of sight.

All at once, she struggled free of his embrace, her whole form convulsed
with horror, her face ghastly and distraught as if she had at that
moment torn herself from the arms of Death.

That name! That name!--She had heard that name!

A deep and awful silence fell upon her soul, and in it there suddenly
opened one of those great gulfs into which the whole universe seems to
be hurled at the touch of one thought. She heard nothing more. Andrea
might writhe and supplicate and despair as he would--in vain.

She heard nothing. Some instinct directed her actions. She found her
things and put them on.

Andrea lay upon the floor, sobbing, frenzied, mad.

He was conscious that she was preparing to leave the room.

'Maria! Maria!

He listened.

'Maria!'

He only heard the sound of the door closing behind her--she was gone.



CHAPTER X


At ten o'clock in the morning of June 20th the sale began of the
furniture and hangings belonging to His Excellency the Minister
Plenipotentiary for Guatemala.

It was a burning hot morning. Summer blazed already over Rome. Up and
down the Via Nationale ran the tram-cars, drawn by horses with funny
white caps over their heads to protect them against the sun. Long lines
of heavily-laden carts encumbered the road, while the blare of trumpets
mingled with the cracking of whips and the hoarse cries of the carters.

Andrea could not make up his mind to cross the threshold of that house,
but wandered about the street a long time, weighed down by a horrible
sense of lassitude, a lassitude so overwhelming and desperate as to be
almost a physical longing for death.

At last, seeing a porter come out of the house with a piece of furniture
on his shoulder, he decided to go in. He ran rapidly up the stairs. From
the landing already he could hear the voice of the auctioneer.

The sale was going on in the largest room of the suite--the one in which
the Buddha had stood. The buyers were gathered round the auctioneer's
table. They were, for the most part, shopkeepers, second-hand furniture
dealers and the lower classes generally. There being little competition
in summer when town was empty, the dealers rushed in, sure of obtaining
costly articles for next to nothing. A vile odour permeated the hot air
exhaled by the crowd of dirty and perspiring people.

Andrea felt stifled. He wandered into the other rooms, where nothing had
been left but the wall hangings, the curtains, and the portières, the
other things having been collected in the sale room. Although he was
walking on a thick carpet, he heard his footsteps as distinctly as if
the boards had been bare.

He found himself presently in a semicircular room. The walls were deep
red, with here and there a sparkle of gold, giving the impression of a
temple or a tomb, a sad and mysterious sanctuary fit for praying in, or
for dying. The crude, hard light blazing in through the open windows
seemed like a violation.

He returned to the auction room. Again he breathed the nauseating
atmosphere. He turned round, and in a corner of the room perceived the
Princess of Ferentino and Barbarella Viti. He bowed and went over to
them.

'Well, Ugenta, what have you bought?'

'Nothing.'

'Nothing? Why, I should have thought you would buy everything.'

'Indeed, why?'

'Oh, it was just an idea of mine--a romantic idea.'

The princess laughed and Barbarella joined in.

'We are going. It is impossible to stay any longer in this perfume.
Good-bye, Ugenta--console yourself!'

Andrea went to the auctioneer's table. The man recognised him.

'Does the Signor Conte wish for anything in particular?'

'I will see,' Andrea answered.

The sale proceeded rapidly. He looked about him at the low faces of the
dealers, felt their elbows pushing him, their feet touching his, their
horrid breath upon him. Nausea gripped his throat.

'Going--going--gone!'

The stroke of the hammer rang like a knell through his heart and set his
temples throbbing painfully.

He bought the Buddha, a great carved cabinet, some china, some pieces
of drapery. Presently he heard the sound of voices, and laughter, and
the rustle of feminine skirts. He turned round to see Galeazzo Secinaro
entering, accompanied by Lady Heathfield and followed by the Countess
Lucoli, Gino Bomminaco and Giovanella Daddi. They were all laughing and
talking noisily.

He did his best to conceal himself from them in the crowd that besieged
the auctioneer's table. He shuddered at the thought of being discovered.
Their voices and laughter reached him over the heads of the perspiring
people through the suffocating heat. Fortunately the gay party very soon
afterwards took themselves off.

He forced himself a passage through the closely packed bodies,
repressing his disgust as well as he could, and making the most
tremendous efforts to ward off the faintness that threatened to overcome
him. There was a bitter and sickening taste in his mouth. He felt that
from the contact of all these unclean people he was carrying away with
him the germs of obscure and irremediable diseases. Physical torture
mingled with his moral anguish.

When he got down into the street in the full blaze of noon-day, he had a
touch of giddiness. With an unsteady step, he set off in search of a
cab. He found one in the Piazza del Quirinale and drove straight home.

Towards evening, however, a wild desire came over him to revisit those
dismantled rooms. He went upstairs and entered, on the pretext of asking
if the furniture he had bought had been sent away yet.

A man answered him: the things had just gone, the Signor Conte must have
passed them on his way here.

Hardly anything remained in the rooms. The crimson splendour of the
setting sun gleamed through the curtainless windows and mingled with the
noises of the street. Some men were taking down the hangings from the
walls, disclosing a paper with great vulgar flowers, torn here and there
and hanging in strips. Others were engaged in taking up and rolling the
carpets, raising a cloud of dust that glittered in the sunlight. One of
them sang scraps of a lewd song. Dust and tobacco-smoke mingled and rose
to the ceiling.

Andrea fled.

In the Piazza del Quirinale a brass band was playing in front of the
royal palace. Great waves of metallic music spread through the glowing
air. The obelisk, the fountain, the statues looked enormous and seemed
to glow as if impregnated with flame. Rome, immense and dominated by a
battle of clouds, seemed to illumine the sky.

Half-demented, Andrea fled; through the Via del Quirinale, past the
Quattro Fontane and the gates of the Palazzo Barberini with its many
flashing windows and, at last, reached the Cassa Zuccari.

There the porters were just taking his purchases off a cart,
vociferating loudly. Several of them were carrying the cabinet up the
stairs with a good deal of difficulty.

He went in. As the cabinet occupied the whole width of the staircase, he
could not pass. So he had to follow it, slowly, slowly, step by step, up
to his door.


THE END

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AIKEN, CONRAD          Modern American Poetry 127
ANDERSON, SHERWOOD     Poor White 115
ANDERSON, SHERWOOD     Winesburg, Ohio 104
ANDREYEV, LEONID       The Seven That Were Hanged; and the Red Laugh 45

BALZAC                 Short Stories 40
BAUDELAIRE             Prose and Poetry 70
BEARDSLEY, AUBREY      64 Reproductions 42
BEEBE, WILLIAM         Jungle Peace 30
BEERBOHM, MAX          Zuleika Dobson 116
BIERCE, AMBROSE        In the Midst of Life 133
BLAKE, WILLIAM         Poems 91
BRONTE, EMILY          Wuthering Heights 106
BROWN, GEORGE DOUGLAS  The House with the Green Shutters 129
BUTLER, SAMUEL         Erewhon 136
BUTLER, SAMUEL         The Way of All Flesh 13

CABELL, JAMES BRANCH   Beyond Life 25
CABELL, JAMES BRANCH   The Cream of the Jest 126
CARPENTER, EDWARD      Love's Coming of Age 51
CARROLL, LEWIS         Alice in Wonderland, etc. 79
CELLINI, BENVENUTO     Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini 3
CHEKHOV, ANTON         Rothschild's Fiddle, etc. 31
CHESTERTON, G. K.      Man Who Was Thursday 35
CRANE, STEPHEN         Men, Women and Boats 102

D'ANNUNZIO, GABRIELE   Flame of Life 65
D'ANNUNZIO, GABRIELE   The Child of Pleasure 98
D'ANNUNZIO, GABRIELE   The Maidens of the Rocks 118
D'ANNUNZIO, GABRIELE   The Triumph of Death 112
DAUDET, ALPHONSE       Sapho 85
DEFOE, DANIEL          Moll Flanders 122
DOSTOYEVSKY            Poor People 10
DOUGLAS, NORMAN        Old Calabria 141
DOUGLAS, NORMAN        South Wind 5
DOWSON, ERNEST         Poems and Prose 74
DREISER, THEODORE      Free, and Other Stories 50
DUMAS, ALEXANDRE       Camille 69
DUNSANY, LORD          A Dreamer's Tales 34
DUNSANY, LORD          Book of Wonder 43

ELLIS, HAVELOCK        The New Spirit 95

FABRE, JEAN HENRI      The Life of the Caterpillar 107
FLAUBERT               Madame Bovary 28
FLAUBERT               Temptation of St. Anthony 92
FRANCE, ANATOLE        Crime of Sylvestre Bonnard 22
FRANCE, ANATOLE        The Queen Pedauque 110
FRANCE, ANATOLE        The Red Lily 7
FRANCE, ANATOLE        Thais 67
FRENSSEN, GUSTAV       Jorn Uhl 101

GAUTIER, THEOPHILE     Mlle. De Maupin 53
GEORGE, W. L.          A Bed of Roses 75
GILBERT, W. S.         The Mikado, Iolanthe, etc, 26
GILBERT, W. S.         Pinafore and Other Plays 113
GISSING, GEORGE        New Grub Street 125
GISSING, GEORGE        Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft 46
GONCOURT, E. AND J. DE Renée Mauperin 76
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DE GOURMONT, REMY      A Night in the Luxembourg 120
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HARDY, THOMAS          Jude the Obscure 135
HARDY, THOMAS          The Mayor of Casterbridge 17
HARDY, THOMAS          The Return of the Native 121
HAWTHORNE, NATHANIEL   The Scarlet Letter 93
HEARN, LAFCADIO        Some Chinese Ghosts 130
HECHT, BEN             Erik Dorn 29
HUDSON, W. H.          Green Mansions 89
HUDSON, W. H.          The Purple Land 24
HUXLEY, ALDOUS         A Virgin Heart 131

IBSEN, HENRIK          A Doll's House, Ghosts, etc. 6
IBSEN, HENRIK          Hedda Gabler, Pillars of Society,
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IBSEN, HENRIK          The Wild Duck, Rosmersholm,
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JAMES, HENRY           Daisy Miller, etc. 63
JAMES, WILLIAM         The Philosophy of William James 114
JOYCE JAMES            Dubliners 124

KIPLING, RUDYARD       Soldiers Three 71

LATZKO, ANDREAS        Men in War 88
LAWRENCE, D. H.        The Rainbow 128
LAWRENCE, D. H.        Sons and Lovers 109
LEWISOHN, LUDWIG       Upstream 123
LOTI, PIERRE           Mme. Chrysantheme 94

MACY, JOHN             The Spirit of American Literature 56
MAETERLINCK, MAURICE   Pelleas and Melisande, etc. 11
DE MAUPASSANT, GUY     Love and Other Stories 72
DE MAUPASSANT, GUY     Mademoiselle Fifi, and Twelve Other Stories 8
DE MAUPASSANT, GUY     Une Vie 57
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MEREDITH, GEORGE       Diana of the Crossways 14
MEREDITH, GEORGE       The Ordeal of Richard Feverel 134
MEREJKOWSKI, DMITRI    The Romance of Leonardo da Vinci 132
MISCELLANEOUS          A Modern Book of Criticism 81
                       Best Ghost Stories 73
                       Best American Humorous Short
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                       Best Russian Short Stories 18
                       Contemporary Science 99
                       Evolution in Modern Thought 37
                       Outline of Psychoanalysis 66
                       The Woman Question 59
MOLIERE                Plays 78
MOORE, GEORGE          Confessions of a Young Man 16
MORRISON, ARTHUR       Tales of Mean Streets 100

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NIETZSCHE, FRIEDRICH   Thus Spake Zarathustra 9
NIETZSCHE, FRIEDRICH   Beyond Good and Evil 20
NIETZSCHE, FRIEDRICH   Genealogy of Morals 62

O'NEILL, EUGENE        Seven Plays of the Sea 111

PATER, WALTER          The Renaissance 86
PATER, WALTER          Marius the Epicurean 90
PAINE, THOMAS          Writings 108
PEPYS, SAMUEL          Samuel Pepys' Diary 103
POE, EDGAR ALLEN       Best Tales 82
PREVOST, ANTOINE       Manon Lescaut 85
RENAN, ERNEST          The Life of Jesus 140
RODIN                  64 Reproductions 41
RUSSELL, BERTRAND      Selected Papers of Bertrand Russell 137

SALTUS, EDGAR          The Imperial Orgy 139
SCHNITZLER, ARTHUR     Anatol, Green Cockatoo, etc. 32
SCHNITZLER, ARTHUR     Bertha Garlan 39
SCHOPENHAUER           Studies in Pessimism 12
SCHREINER, OLIVE       The Story of an African Farm 132
SHAW, G. B.            An Unsocial Socialist 15
SPINOZA                The Philosophy of Spinoza 60
STEVENSON, ROBERT L.   Treasure Island 4
STIRNER, MAX           The Ego and His Own 49
STRINDBERG, AUGUST     Married 2
STRINDBERG, AUGUST     Miss Julie, The Creditor, etc. 52
SUDERMANN, HERMANN     Dame Care 33
SWINBURNE, CHARLES     Poems 23

THOMPSON, FRANCIS      Complete Poems 38
TOLSTOY, LEO           Redemption and Other Plays 77
TOLSTOY, LEO           The Death of Ivan Ilyitch and Four Other Stories 64
TURGENEV, IVAN         Fathers and Sons 21
TURGENEV, IVAN         Smoke 80

VAN LOON, HENDRIK W.   Ancient Man 105
VILLON FRANCOIS        Poems 58
VOLTAIRE               Candide 47

WELLS, H. G.           Ann Veronica 27
WHITMAN, WALT          Poems 97
WILDE, OSCAR           An Ideal Husband, A Woman of No Importance 84
WILDE, OSCAR           De Profundis 117
WILDE, OSCAR           Dorian Gray 1
WILDE, OSCAR           Poems 19
WILDE, OSCAR           Fairy Tales, Poems in Prose 61
WILDE, OSCAR           Pen, Pencil and Poison 96
WILDE, OSCAR           Salome, The Importance of Being Ernest, etc 83
WILSON, WOODROW        Selected Addresses and Papers 55

YEATS, W. B.           Irish Fairy and Folk Tales 44

ZOLA, EMILE            Nana 142





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