She ate with much nicety, opening her mouth so little that she could put no more than the tip of her spoon between her lips; with her children she talked English and Italian in equal perfection, and when she heard young Carminatti's facetious remarks she laughed with marked impudence. Signer Carminatti was tall, with a black moustache, a hooked nose, well-formed languid eyes, lively and somewhat clownish gestures; he was at the same time sad and merry, melancholy and smiling, he changed his expression every moment. He was in the habit of appearing in the salon in a dinner-jacket, with a large flower in his button-hole and two or three fat diamonds on his chest. He would come along dragging his feet, would bow, make a joke, stand mournful; and this fluency of expression, and these gesticulations, gave him a manner halfway between woman and child.
When he grew petulant, especially, he seemed like a woman. "Macche!" he would say continually, with an acrid voice and the disgusted air of an hysterical dame.
In spite of his frequent petulant fits, he was the person most esteemed by the ladies of the hotel, both young and married.
"He is the darling of the ladies," the Countess Brenda said of him, mockingly.
Laura had not the least use for him.
"I know that type by heart," she asserted with disdain.
During lunch and dinner Signor Carminatti did not leave off talking for a moment with the Maltese. The Marchesa Sciacca's children often wanted to tell their mother something; but she hushed them so as to be able to hear the bright sayings of the handsome Neapolitan.
The San Martino young ladies and the Countess Brenda's daughter kept trying to find a way to steal Carminatti for their group; but he always went back to the Maltese, doubtless because her conversation was more diverting and spicy.
THE CONTESSINA BRENDA
The Countess Brenda's daughter, Beatrice Brenda, in spite of her pea-hen air, was always endeavouring to stir up the Neapolitan and to start a conversation with him; but Carminatti in his light-hearted way would reply with a jest or a fatuous remark and betake himself again to the Marchesa Sciacca, who would make her disturbing children hush because they often prevented her from catching what the Neapolitan was saying.
She was not to be despised, not by a long shot, was Signorina Bice, not in any respect; besides being very rich, she was a beautiful girl and promised to be more beautiful; she had the type of Titian's women, an opaline white skin, as though made of mother-of-pearl, plump milky arms, and dark eyes. The one thing lacking in her was expression.
She used frequently to go about in the company of an aristocratic old maid, very ugly, with red hair and a face like a horse, but very distinguished, who ate at the next table to Laura and Caesar.
One day Carminatti brought another Neapolitan home to dinner with him, a fat grotesque person, whom he instigated to emit a series of improprieties about women and matrimony. Hearing the scandalous sallies of the rustic, the ladies said, with an amiable smile:
"He is a benedetto."
The Contessina Brenda, fascinated by the Neapolitan, went to the Marchesa Sciacca's table. As she passed, Carminatti arose with his napkin in one hand, and gesticulating with the other, said:
"Contessina. Allow me to present to you Signor Cappagutti, a merchant from Naples."
Signor Cappagutti remained leaning back tranquilly in his chair, and the Contessina burst out laughing and began to move her arms as if somebody had put a horse-fly on her skirt. Then she raised her hand to her face, to hide her laughter, and suddenly sat down.
As it rained a great deal the majority of the guests preferred not to go out. In the evenings they had dances. Caesar did not appear at the first one; but his sister told him he ought to go. Caesar was at the second dance, so as not to seem too much of an ogre. As he had no intention of dancing, he installed himself in a corner; and while the dance went on he kept talking with the Countesses Brenda and San Martino.
Various young men had arrived in the room. They exhibited that Southern vivacity which is a trifle tiresome to the onlooker, and they all listened to themselves while they spoke. The Neapolitan and two or three of his friends were introduced to Caesar; but they showed him a certain rather ostentatious and impertinent coolness.
Signor Carminatti exchanged a few words with the Countess Brenda, and purposely acted as if he did not notice Caesar's presence.
The Neapolitan's chatter did not irritate Caesar in the slightest, and as he had no intention of being his rival, he listened to him quite entertained.
Caesar noted that the San Martino ladies and some friends of theirs had a predilection for types like Carminatti, swarthy, prattling, and boastful South Italians.
The ladies showed an affectionate familiarity with the girls; they caressed them and kissed them effusively.
YOU ARE AN INQUISITOR
Laura, who was dancing with an officer, approached her brother, who was wedged into a corner, behind two rows of chairs.
"What are you doing here?" she asked him, stopping and informing her partner that she was going to sit down a moment.
"Nothing," answered Caesar, "I am waiting for this waltz to finish, so that I can get away."
"You are not enjoying yourself?"
"Nevertheless, there are amusing things about it."
"Ah, surely. Do you know what happened to me with the Countess Brenda?"
"What did happen?"
"When she came in and gave me her hand, she said: 'How hot your hands are; mine are frozen.' And she held my hands between hers. That was comical."
"How do I know?"
"It is comical to you, because you see only evil motives. She held your hand. Who knows what she may be after? Who knows if she wants to get something out of you? She has an income of eighty or ninety thousand lire, perhaps she wants to borrow money from you."
"No, I know she doesn't."
"Then, what are you afraid of?"
"Afraid! Afraid of nothing! Only it surprised me."
"That's because you look at everything with the eye of an inquisitor. One must be suspicious: be always on one's guard, always on the watch. It's the attitude of a savage."
"I don't deny it. I have no desire to be civilized like these people. But what does come to me is that the husband of our illustrious and wealthy friend wears in his breast that porte-bonheur, which I believe is called horns."
"Of course; and you haven't discovered that his family is a family of assassins? How Spanish! What a savage Spaniard I have for a brother!"
Caesar burst into laughter, and taking advantage of the moment when everybody was going to the buffet, left the room. In the corridor, one of the San Martino girls, the more sweet and angelic of the two, was in a corner with one of the dancers, and there was a sound like a kiss.
The little blonde made an exclamation of fright; Caesar behaved as if he had noticed nothing and kept on his way.
"The devil!" exclaimed Caesar, "that angelic little princess hides in corners with one of these briganti. And their mother has the face to say that they don't know how to bait a hook! I don't know what more she could wish. Although it is possible that this is the educational scheme of the future for marriageable girls."
In the entrance-hall of the hotel were the Marchesa Sciacca's two children, attended by a sleeping maid; the little girl, seated on a sofa, was watching her brother, who walked from one side to the other with a roll of paper in his hand. In the entrance hall, opposite the hotel door, there was a bulletin, which was changed every day, to announce the different performances that were to be given that night at the theatres of Rome.
The small boy walked back and forth in front of the poster, and addressing himself to a public consisting of the sleeping maid and the little girl, cried:
"Step up, gentlemen! Step up! Now is the time. We are about to perform La Geisha, the magnificent English operetta. Walk right in! Walk right in!"
While the mother was dancing with the Neapolitan in the ball-room, the children were amusing themselves thus alone.
"The truth is that our civilization is an absurdity. Even the children go mad," thought Caesar, and took refuge in his room.
During the whole night he heard from his bed the notes of the waltzes and two-steps, and dancers' laughter and shouts and shuffling feet.
THEY ARE JUST CHILDREN
The next day, Laura, before going out to make a call, appeared at lunch-time most elegantly dressed, with a gown and a hat from Paris, in which she was truly most charming.
She had a great success: the San Martinos, the Countess Brenda, the other ladies congratulated her. The hat, above all, seemed ideal to them.
Carminatti was in raptures.
"E bello, bellissimo," he said, with great enthusiasm, and all the ladies agreed that it was bellissimo, lengthening the "s" and nodding their heads with a gesture of admiration.
"And you don't say anything to me, bambino?" Laura inquired of Caesar.
"I say you are all right."
"And nothing more?"
"If you want me to pay you a compliment, I will tell you that you are pretty enough to make incest legitimate." "What a barbarian!" murmured Laura, half laughing, half blushing.
"What has he been saying to you?" two or three people inquired.
Laura translated his words into Italian, and Carminatti found them admirable.
"Very appropriate! Very witty!" he exclaimed, laughing, and gave Caesar a friendly slap on the shoulder.
The Marchesa Sciacca looked at Laura several times with reflective glances and a rancorous smile.
"The truth is that these Southern people are just children," thought Caesar, mockingly. "What an inveterate preoccupation they have in the beautiful."
The Neapolitan was one of those most preoccupied with esthetics.
Caesar had a room opposite Signor Carminatti's, and the first few days he had thought it was a woman's room. Toilet flasks, sprays, boxes of powder; the room looked like a perfumery shop.
"It is curious," Caesar used to think, "how these people from famous historic towns can combine powder and the maffia, opoponax and daggers."
Almost every night after dinner there was an improvised dance in the salon. Somebody played the languorous waltzes of the Tzigane orchestras on the piano. The Maltese and Carminatti used to sing romantic songs, of the kind whose words and music seem to be always the same, and in which there invariably is question of panting, refulgent, love, and other suggestive words.
One Sunday evening, when it was raining, Caesar stayed in the hotel.
In the salon Carminatti was doing sleight-of-hand to entertain the ladies. Afterwards the Neapolitan was seen pursuing the Marchesa Sciacca and the two San Martino girls in the corridors. They shrieked shrilly when he grabbed them around the waist. The devil of a Neapolitan was an expert at sleight-of-hand.
VII. THE CONFIDENCES OF THE ABBE PRECIOZI
NATURAL VARIETIES OF NOSES AND EXPRESSIONS
Caesar admitted before his conscience that he had no plans, or the slightest idea what direction to take. The Cardinal, no doubt, did not feel any desire to know him.
Caesar often proceeded by more or less absurd hypotheses. "Suppose," he would think, "that I had an idea, a concrete ambition. In that case it would behoove me to be reserved on such and such topics and to hint these and those ideas to people; let's do it that way, even though it be only for sport."
Preciozi was the only person who was able to give him any light in his investigations, because the guests at the hotel, most of them, on account of their position, thought of nothing but amusing themselves and of giving themselves airs.
Caesar discovered that Preciozi was ambitious; but besides lacking an opening, he had not the necessary vigour and imagination to do anything.
The abbe spoke a macaronic Spanish, which he had learned in South America, and which provoked Caesar's laughter. He was constantly saying: "My friend," and he mingled Gallicisms with a lot of coarse expressions of Indian or mulatto origin, and with Italian words. Preciozi's dialect was a gibberish worthy of Babel.
The first day they went out together, the abbe wanted to show him divers of Rome's picturesque spots. He led him behind the Quirinal, through the Via della Panetteria and the Via del Lavatore, where there is a fruit-market, to the Trevi fountain. "It is beautiful, eh?" said the abbe.
"Yes; what I don't understand," replied Caesar, "is why, in a town where there is so much water, the hotel wash-basins are so small."
Preciozi shrugged his shoulders.
"What types you have in Rome!" Caesar went on. "What a variety of noses and expressions! Jesuits with the aspect of savants and plotters; Carmelites with the appearance of highway men; Dominicans, some with a sensual air, others with a professorial air. Astuteness, intrigue, brutality, intelligence, mystic stupor.... And as for priests, what a museum! Decorative priests, tall, with white shocks of hair and big cassocks; short priests, swarthy and greasy; noses thin as a knife; warty, fiery noses. Gross types; distinguished types; pale bloodless faces; red faces.... What a marvellous collection!"
Preciozi listened to Caesar's observations and wondered if the Cardinal's nephew might be a trifle off his head.
"Point out what is noteworthy, so that I may admire it enough," Caesar told him. "I don't care to burst out in an enthusiastic phrase for something of no value."
Preciozi laughed at these jokes, as if they were a child's bright sayings; but at times Caesar appeared to him to be an innocent soul, and at other times a Machiavellian who dissembled his insidious purposes under an extravagant demeanour.
When Preciozi was involved in some historic dissertation, Caesar used to ask him ingenuously:
"But listen, abbe; does this really interest you?"
Preciozi would admit that the past didn't matter much to him, and then with one accord, they would burst out laughing.
Caesar said that Preciozi and he were the most anti-historic men going about in Rome.
One morning they went to the Piazza del Campidoglio. It was drizzling; the wet roofs shone; the sky was grey.
"This intrusion of the country into Rome," said Caesar, "is what gives the city its romantic aspect. These hills with trees on them are very pretty."
"Only pretty, Don Caesar? They are sublime," retorted Preciozi.
"What amazement I shall produce in you, my dear abbe, when I tell you that all my knowledge in respect to the Capitol reduces itself to the fact that some orator, I don't know who, said that near the Capitol is the Tarpeian Rock."
"You know nothing more about it?"
"Nothing more. I don't know if Cicero said that, or Castelar, or Sir Robert Peel."
Preciozi burst into merry laughter.
"What statue is that?" asked Caesar, indicating the one in the middle of the square.
"That is Marcus Aurelius."
"Yes, an Emperor and a philosopher."
"And why have they made him riding such a little, potbellied horse?"
"I don't know, man."
"He looks like a man taking a horse to water at a trough. Why does he ride bare-back? Hadn't they invented stirrups at that period?"
Preciozi was a bit perplexed; before making a reply he gazed at the statue, and then said, confusedly:
"I think so."
They crossed the Piazza Campidoglio and went out by the left side of the Palazzo del Senatore. Down the Via dell' Arco di Severo, a street that runs down steps to the Forum, they saw a large arch that seemed sunk in the ground, and beyond, further away, another smaller arch with only one archway, which arose in the distance as if on top of the big arch. A square yellow tower, burned by the sun, lifted itself among the ruins; some hills showed rows of romantic cypresses, and in the background the blue Alban Mountains stood out against a grey sky.
"Would you like to go down to the Forum?" said the abbe. "Down there where the stones are? No. What for?"
"Do you wish to see the Tarpeian Rock?"
"Yes, man. But explain to me what this rock was."
Preciozi got together all his information, which was not much.
They went by the Via Monte Tarpea, and came back by the Via della Consolazione.
"They must have thrown people who were already dead off the Tarpeian Rock," said Caesar, after hearing the explanation.
"But if they threw them down alive, the majority of those they chucked down here would not have died. At most they would have dislocated an arm, a leg, or a finger-joint. Unless they chucked them head first."
Preciozi could not permit the mortal effects of the Tarpeian Rock to be doubted, and he said that its height had been lessened and the level of the soil had risen.
After these explanations Caesar found the spot of Roman executions somewhat less fantastic.
"How would you like to go to that church in the Forum?" said Preciozi.
"I was going to propose that we should go to the hotel; it must be lunch-time."
THE CHURCH AND COOKING
Caesar had Marsala and Asti brought for the abbe, who was a gourmet.
While Preciozi ate and drank with all his jaws, Caesar devoted himself to teasing him. The waiter had brought some cream-puffs and informed them that that was a dish every one ate that day. Laura and Preciozi praised the puffs, and Caesar said:
"What an admirable religion ours is! For each day the church has a saint and a special dish. The truth is that the Catholic Church is very wise; it has broken all relations with science, but it remains in harmony with cooking. As Preciozi was a moment ago saying with great exactitude, this close relation that exists between the Church and the kitchen is moving."
"I said that to you?" asked Preciozi. "What a falsehood!"
"Don't pay any attention," said Laura.
"Yes, my dear abbe," retorted Caesar, "and I even believe that you added confidentially that sometimes the Pope in the Vatican gardens, imitating Francis I after the battle of Pavia, is wont to say sadly to the Secretary of State: 'All is lost, save faith and... good cooking.'"
"What a bufone! What a bufone!" exclaimed Preciozi, with his mouth full.
"You are giving a proof of irreligion which is in bad taste," said Laura. "Only janitors talk like that."
"On such questions I am an honourary janitor."
"That's all right, but you ought to realize that there are religious people here, like the abbe...."
"Preciozi? Why, he's a Voltairean."
"Oh! Oh! My friend...." exclaimed Preciozi, emptying a glass of wine.
"Voltaireanism," continued Caesar. "There is nobody here who has faith, nobody who makes the little sacrifice of not eating on Fridays in Lent. Here we are, destroying with our own teeth one of the most beautiful works of the Church. You will both ask me what that work is...."
"No, we will not ask you anything," said Laura, waving a hand in the air.
"Well, it is that admirable alimentary harmony sustained by the Church. During the whole year we are authorized to eat terrestrial animals, and in Lent aquatic ones only. Promiscuous as we are, we are undoing the equilibrium between the maritime and the land forces, we are attacking the peaceful rotation of meat and fish."
"He is a child," said Preciozi, "we must leave him alone."
"Yes, but that will not impede my Spaniard's heart, my Cardinal's nephew's heart from bleeding grievously.... Shall we go to the cafe, Abbe?"
"Yes, let us go."
THE MARVELLOUS BIRD OF ROME
They left the hotel and entered a cafe in the Piazza Esedra. Preciozi made a vague move to pay, but Caesar would not permit him to.
"What do you wish to do?" said the abbe.
"Whatever you like."
"I have to go to the Altemps palace a moment."
"To see my uncle?"
"Yes; then, if you feel like it, we can take a long walk."
They went towards the centre of the town by the Via Nazionale. It was a splendid sunny afternoon.
Preciozi went into the Altemps palace a moment; Caesar waited for him in the street. Then, together they went over to opposite the Castel Sant' Angelo, crossed the river, and approached the Piazza di San Pietro. The atmosphere was wonderfully clear and pure; the suave blue sky seemed to caress the pinnacles and decorations of the big square.
Preciozi met a dirty friar, dark, with a black beard and a mouth from ear to ear. The abbe showed no great desire to stop and speak with him, but the other detained him. This party wore a habit of a brown colour and carried a big umbrella under his arm.
"There's a type!" said Caesar, when Preciozi rejoined him.
"Yes, he is a peasant," the abbe said with disgust.
"If that chap meets any one in the road, he plants his umbrella in his chest, and demands his money or his... eternal life."
"Yes, he is a disagreeable man," agreed Preciozi.
They continued their walk, through the Piazza Cavallegeri and outside the walls. As they went up one of the hills there, they could see the facade of Saint Peter's continually nearer, with all the huge stone figures on the cornice. "The fact is that that poor Christ plays a sad role there in the middle," said Caesar.
"Oh! Oh! My friend," exclaimed the abbe in protest.
"A plebeian Jew in the midst of so many princes of the Church! Doesn't it strike you as an absurdity?"
"No, not absurd at all."
"The truth is that this religion of yours is Jewish meat with a Roman sauce."
"And yours? What is yours?"
"Mine? I have not got past fetichism. I worship the golden calf. Like the majority of Catholics."
"I don't believe it."
They looked back; they could see the dome of the great basilica shining in the sun; then, to one side, a little viaduct and a tower.
"What a wonderful bird you keep in this beautiful cage!" said Caesar.
"What bird?" asked Preciozi.
"The Pope, friend Preciozi, the Pope. Not the popinjay, but the Pope in white. What a very marvellous bird! He has a feather fan like a peacock's tail; he speaks like the cockatoo, only he differs from them in being infallible; and he is infallible, because another bird, also marvellous, which is called the Holy Ghost, tells him by night everything that takes place on earth and in heaven. What very picturesque and extravagant things!"
"For you who have no faith everything must be extravagant."
Caesar and Preciozi went on encircling the walls and reading the various marble tablets set into them, and ascended to the Janiculum, to the terrace where Garibaldi's statue stands.
"But, are you anti-Catholic, seriously?" asked Preciozi. "But do you believe any one can be a Catholic seriously?" said Caesar. "I can, yes; otherwise I shouldn't be a priest."
"But are you a priest because you believe, or do you make believe that you believe because you are a priest?"
"You are a child. I suppose you hate the Jesuits, like all Liberals."
"And I suppose you hate Masons, like all Catholics."
"No more do I hate Jesuits. What is worse, I read the life of Saint Ignatius Loyola at school, and he seemed to me a great man."
"Well, I should think so!"
"And the Jesuits have some power still?"
"Yes, man. They give the Church its direction. Oh, nobody fools the Society. You can see what happened to Cardinal Tindaro."
"I don't know what did happen to him," said Caesar, with indifference.
"Well, Cardinal Tindaro decided to follow the inspirations of the Society and made many Jesuits Cardinals with the object that when Pope Leo XIII died, they should elect him Pope; but the Jesuits smelled the rat, and when Leo XIII got very ill, the Council of Assistants of the Society had a meeting and decided that Tindaro should not be Pope, and ordered the Austrian Court to oppose its veto. When the election came, the Jesuit Cardinals gave Tindaro a fat vote, out of gratitude, but calculated not to be enough to raise him to the throne, and in case it was, the Austrian Cardinal and the Hungarian had their Empire's veto to Tindaro's election in their pocket."
"And this Tindaro, is he intelligent?"
"Yes, he is indeed; very intelligent. Style Leo XIII."
"Men of weight."
"Yes, but neither of the two had Pius IX's spirit." "And the present one? He is a poor creature, eh?"
"I don't know, I don't know...."
"And the Society of Jesus, is it on good terms with this Pope?"
"Surely. He is their creation."
"So that the Society is really powerful?"
"It certainly is! Without a doubt! It has a pleasant rule, and obedience, and knowledge, and money...."
"It has money too, eh?"
"Has it money? More than enough."
"And in what form? In paper?"
"In paper, and in property, and industries; in steamship companies, in manufactories...."
"I would make an admirable business manager."
"Well, your uncle, the Cardinal, could get you put in touch with the Society."
"Is he a friend of theirs?"
"Close as a finger-nail."
Caesar was silent a moment, and then said:
"And I have heard that the Society of Jesus was, at bottom, an anti-Christian organization, a branch of Masonry...."
"Macche!" exclaimed the abbe. "How could you believe that? Oh, no, my friend! What an absurdity!"
Then, seeing Caesar burst into laughter, he calmed himself, wondering if he was making fun of him.
They went down the hill, where the monument to Garibaldi flaunts itself, to the terrace of the Spanish Academy.
The view was magnificent; the evening, now falling, was clear; the sky limpid and transparent. From that height the houses of Rome were spread out silent, with an air of solemnity, of immobility, of calm. It appeared a flat town; one did not notice its slopes and its hills; it gave the impression of a city in stone set under a glass globe.
The sky itself, pure and diaphanous, augmented the sensation of withdrawal and quietude; not a cloud on the horizon, not a spot of smoke in the air; silence and repose everywhere. The dome of St. Peter's had the colour of a cloud, the shrubberies on the Pincio were reddened by the sun, and the Alban Hills disclosed the little white towns and the smiling villas on their declivities.
Preciozi pointed out domes and towers; Caesar did not hear him, and he was thinking, with a certain terror:
"We shall die, and these stones will continue to shine in the sunlight of other winter evenings."
THE VATICAN FAMILY
Making an effort with himself, he threw off this painful idea, and turning to Preciozi, asked:
"So you believe that I might have made a nice career in the Church?"
"You! I certainly do think so!" exclaimed Preciozi. "With a cardinal for uncle, che carriera you could have made!"
"But are there enough different jobs in the Church?"
"From the Pope to the canons and the Papal Guards, you ought to see all the hierarchies we have at the Vatican. First the Pope, then the Cardinals in bishop's orders, next, the Cardinals in priest's orders, then the Cardinal's in deacon's orders, the Secretaries, the compisteria of the Holy College of Cardinals, the Patriarchs, Archbishops, Bishops, and the Pontifical Family."
"Whose family is that? The Pope's?"
"No; it is called that, as who should say, the General Staff of the Vatican. It is made up of the Palatine Cardinals, the Palatine Prelates, the Participating Privy Chamberlains, the Archbishops and Bishops assisting the Pontifical throne, the Domestic Prelates, who form the College of Apostolic Prothonotaries, the Pontifical Masters of Ceremonies, the Princes Assisting the Throne, the Privy Participating Cape-and-Sword Chamberlains, the Privy Numbered Cape-and-Sword Chamberlains...."
"Cape-and-Sword! Didn't I tell you that that poor Christ plays a sorry part on the facade of Saint Peter's?" exclaimed Caesar.
"Because all this stuff about capes and swords doesn't seem very fitting for the soul of a Christian. Unless, of course, the knights of the sword and cape do not use the sword to wound and the cape for a shield, but only wield the sword of Faith and the cape of Charity.... And haven't you any gentlemen of Bed-and-Board, as they have at the Spanish Court?"
"That's a pity. It is so expressive,... bed and board. Bed and board, cape and sword. Who wouldn't be satisfied? One must admit that there is nobody equal to the Church, and next to her a monarchy, when it comes to inventing pretty things. That is why it is said, and very well said, that there is no salvation outside of the Church."
"You are a pagan."
"And I believe you are one, too."
"What comes after all those Privy Cape-and-Sword Chamberlains, my dear Abbe?"
"Next, there is the Pontifical Noble Guard, the Swiss Papal Guard, the Palatine Guard of Honour, the Corps of Papal Gendarmes, the Privy Chaplains, the Privy Clerics, the suite of His Holiness. Next come the members of the Palatine Administration, the Congregations, and more Secretaries."
"And do the Cardinals live well?"
"How much do they make?"
"They get twenty thousand lire fixed salary, besides extras."
"But that is very little!"
"Certainly! It used to be much more, at the time of the Papal States. Out of their twenty thousand lire they have to keep a carriage."
"Those that aren't rich must have a hard time."
"Just imagine, some of them have to live in a third-floor apartment. There have been some that bought their red robes second-hand."
"Are those robes so expensive?"
"Yes, they are expensive. Quite. They are made of a special cloth manufactured in Cologne."
"Are there many Cardinals who are not of rich families?"
"A great many."
"Well, you people have ruined that job."
They went to Trastevere and there they took the tram. Preciozi got out at the Piazza Venezia and Caesar went on to the end of the Via Nazionale.
A TALK ABOUT MONEY
"Where have you been?" asked Laura, on seeing him.
"I've been taking a walk with the abbe."
"It's evident that you find him more interesting than us women."
"Preciozi is very interesting. He is a Machiavellian. He has a candour that is assumed and a dulness that is assumed. He plays a little comedy to get out of paying, at the cafe or in the tram. He is splendid. I think, if you will pardon me for saying so, that the Italians are damned close."
"People that have no money are forced to be economical."
"No, that isn't so. I have known people in Madrid who made three pesetas a day, and spent two treating a friend."
"Yes, out of ostentation, out of a desire to show off. I don't like pretentious people."
"Well, I believe I prefer them to skinflints."
"Yes, that's very Spanish. A man wasting money, while his wife and children are dying of hunger.... The man who won't learn the value of money is not the best type."
"Money is filthy. If it were only possible to abolish it!"
"For my part, son, I should like less to have it abolished than to have a great deal of it." "I shouldn't. If I could carry out my plans, all I should need afterwards would be a hut to live in, a garret."
"Our ideas differ."
"These people that need clothes and jewels and perfumes fairly nauseate me.... All such things are only fit for Jews."
"Then I must surely be a Jewess."
VIII. OLD PALACES, OLD SALONS, OLD LADIES
THE CARDINAL UNCLE
As the Cardinal gave no indication of curiosity to see Caesar, Caesar several times said to Laura:
"We ought to call on uncle, eh?"
"Do as you choose. He isn't very anxious to see you. Apparently he takes you for an unbeliever."
"All right, that has nothing to do with calling on him."
"If you like I will go with you."
The Cardinal lived in the Palazzo Altemps. That palace is situated in the Via di S. Apellinare, opposite a seminary. The brother and sister proceeded to the palace one morning, went up the grand staircase, and in a reception-room they found Preciozi with two other priests, talking together in low tones.
One was a worn, pallid old man, with his nose and the borders of his nasal appendage extremely red. Caesar considered that so red a nose in that livid, ghastly face resembled a lantern in a melancholy landscape lighted by the evening twilight. This livid person was the house librarian.
"His Eminence is very busy," said Preciozi, after bowing to the callers. He spoke with a different voice from the one he used outside. "I will go in, in a moment, and see if you can see him."
Caesar stepped to the window of the reception-room: one could see the court of the old palace and the colonnade surrounding it.
"This house must be very large," he said.
"You shall see it later, if you like," replied the abbe. A little after this Preciozi disappeared, and reappeared again in the opening of a glass door, saying, in the discreetly lowered voice which was no doubt that of his domestic functions:
"This way, this way."
They went into a large, cold, shabby room. Through an open door they could see another bare salon, equally dark and sombre.
The Cardinal was seated at a table; he was dressed as a monk and had the air of being in a bad humour. Laura went promptly to him and kissed his hand. Caesar bowed, and as the Cardinal did not deign to look at him, remained standing, at some distance from the table.
Laura, after having saluted her uncle as a pillar of the Church, talked to him as a relative. The Cardinal cast a rapid glance at Caesar, and then, scowling somewhat less, asked him if his mother was well and if he expected to be long in Rome.
Caesar, vexed by this frigid reception, answered shortly in a few cold words, that all of them were well.
The Cardinal's secretary, who was by the window assisting at the interview, shot angry looks at Caesar.
After a brief audience, which could not have lasted over five minutes, the Cardinal said, addressing Laura:
"Pardon me, my daughter, but I must go on with my work"; and immediately, without a look at his nephew or his niece, he called the secretary, who brought him a portfolio of papers.
Caesar opened the glass door for Laura to pass.
"Would you like to see the palace?" Preciozi asked them. "There are some antique statues, magnificent marbles, and a chapel where Saint Aniceto's body is preserved."
"Let's leave Saint Aniceto's body for another day," Caesar replied sardonically.
Laura and Caesar went down the stairway.
"There was no need to come, to behave like that," she said, upset.
"How so! You behaved like a savage, no more nor less." "No, he was the one that behaved like a savage. I bowed to him, and he wasn't willing even to look at me."
"You made up for it by staring at him as if he had been some curious insect in a cage."
"It was his fault for not being even barely polite to me."
"Do you think that a Cardinal is an ordinary person to whom you say: 'Hello! How are you? How's business?'"
"I met an English Cabinet Minister in a club once and he was like anybody else."
"It's not the same thing."
"Do you believe that perhaps our uncle considers that he fulfils a providential mission, a divine mission?"
"What a question! Of course he does."
"Then he is a poor idiot. However, it's nothing to me. Our uncle is a stupid fool."
"You discovered that in such a little while?"
"Yes. Fanatical, vain, fatuous, pleased with himself.... He is of no use to me."
"Ah, so you thought he would be of some use to you?"
Her brother's arbitrary manner of taking things irritated and at the same time amused Laura.
She believed that he made it a rule to persist in always doing the contrary to other people.
Laura and her friends of both sexes used to run across one another in museums, out walking in the popular promenades, and at the races. Caesar didn't go to museums, because he said he had no artistic feeling; races didn't interest him either; and when it came to walking, he preferred to wander at random in the streets.
As his memory was not full of historical facts, he experienced no great esthetic or archeological thrills, and no sympathy whatsoever with the various herds of tourists that went about examining old stones.
At night, in the salon, he used to give burlesque descriptions, in his laconic French, of street scenes: the Italian soldiers with cock-feathers drooping from a sort of bowler hat, the porters of the Embassies and great houses, with their cocked hats, their blue great-coats, and the staff with a silver knob in their hands.
The precise, jocose, biting report of his observations offended Laura and her lady friends.
"Why do you hate Italians so much?" the Countess Brenda asked him one day.
"But I don't hate them."
"He speaks equally badly of everybody," explained Laura. "He has a bad character."
"Is it because you have had an unhappy life?" the Countess asked, interested.
"No, I don't think so," said Caesar, feeling like smiling; instead of which, and without knowing why and without any reason, he put on a sad look.
EXERCISES IN HYPOCRISY
Laura, with her feminine perspicacity, noted that from that day on the Countess looked at Caesar a great deal and with melancholy smiles; and not only the mother appeared interested, but the daughter too.
"I don't know what it is in my brother," thought Laura; "women are attracted to him just because he pays no attention to them. And he knows it; yes, indeed he does, even thought he acts as if he were unconscious of it. Both mother and daughter taken with him! Carminatti has been routed."
The Countess quickly discovered a great liking for Laura, and as they both had friends in good Roman society, they made calls together. Laura was astonished enough to hear Caesar say that if there was no objection, he would go with them.
"But the majority of our friends are old ladies, devout old ladies."
"All the better."
"All right. But if you come, it is on condition that you say nothing that would shock them." "Surely."
Caesar accompanied the Countess Brenda and his sister to various aristocratic houses, and at every one he heard the same conversation, about the King, the Pope, the Cardinals, and how few or how many people there were in the hotels. These topics, together with slanders, constituted the favourite motive for conversation in the great world.
Caesar conversed with the somewhat flaccid old ladies ("castanae molles," as Preciozi called them) with perfect hypocrisy; he regarded the classic decorations of the salons, and while he listened to rather strange French and to most elegant and pure Italian, he wondered if there might be somebody among all this Papal society whom he could use to forward his ambitions.
Sometimes among the guests he would meet a young "monsignor," discreetly smiling, whose emerald ring it was necessary to kiss. Caesar would kiss it and say to himself: "Let us practise tolerance with our lips."
In many of these salons the mania for the English game called "bridge" had caught with great violence.
Caesar hated card-games. For a man who made a study of the stock-exchange, the mechanism of a card-game was too stupid to arouse any interest. But he had no objection to playing and losing.
The Countesses Brenda and San Martino had "bridge-mania" very hard, and they used to go to Brenda's room in the evening to play.
After playing bridge a week, Caesar found that his money was insensibly melting away.
"Look here," he said to Laura.
"What is it?"
"You have got to teach me bridge."
"I don't know how to play, because I have no head for such things and I forget what cards have been played; but they gave me a little book on the game. I will lend it to you, if you like."
"Yes, give me it."
Caesar read the book, learned the intricacies of the game, and the next few evenings he acquitted himself so well that the Countess of San Martino marched off to her room with burning cheeks and almost in tears.
"What a cad you are!" Laura said to him at lunch some days later, laughing. "You are fleecing those women."
"It's their own fault. Why did they take advantage of my innocence?"
"They have decided to go and play in Carminatti's room without telling you."
"I'm glad of it."
"Do you know, bambino, I have to go away for a few days."
"To Naples. Come with me."
"No; I have things to do here. I will take you to the station."
"Ah, you rascal! You are a Don Juan."
"No, dear sister. I am a financier."
"I can see your victims from here. But I shall put them on their guard. You are a blood-thirsty hyena. You like to collect hearts the way the Red-skins did scalps."
"You mean coupons."
"No, hearts. You like to pretend to be simple, because you are wicked. I will tell the Countess Brenda and her daughter."
"What are you going to tell them?"
"That you are wicked, that you have a hyena's heart, that you want to ruin them."
"Don't tell them that, because it will make them fall in love with me. A hyena-hearted man is always run after by the ladies."
"You are right. Come along, go to Naples with me."
"Is your husband such a terrible bore, little sister?"
"A little more cream and a little less impertinence, bambino," said Laura, holding out her plate with a comic gesture.
Caesar burst out laughing, and after lunch he took Laura to the station and remained in Rome alone. His two chief occupations consisted in making love respectfully to the Countess Brenda and going to walk with Preciozi.
The Countess Brenda was manifestly coming around; in the evening Caesar would take a seat beside her and start a serious conversation about religious and philosophical matters. The Countess was a well-educated and religious woman; but beneath all her culture one could see the ardent dark woman, still young, and with intense eyes.
Caesar made it a spiritual training to talk to the Countess. She often turned the conversation to questions of love, and discussed them with apparent keenness and insight, but it was evident that all her ideas about love came out of novels. Beyond a doubt, her calm, vulgar husband did not fill up the emptiness of her soul, because the Countess was discontented and had a vague hope that somewhere, above or beneath the commonplaces of the day, there was a mysterious region where the ineffable reigned.
Caesar, who hadn't much faith in the ineffable, used to listen to her with a certain amazement, as if the plump, strong woman had been a visionary incapable of understanding reality.
In the daytime Caesar went walking with Preciozi and they talked of their respective plans.
Often Caesar went out alone, chewing the end of his thoughts as he strolled in the streets, working out possible schemes of investments or of politics.
When he got away from the main streets, he kept finding some corner at every step that left him astonished at its fantastic, theatrical air. Suddenly he would discover himself before a high wall, on top of which were statues covered with moss, or huge terra-cotta jars. Those decorations would stand out against the dark foliage of the Roman ilex and the tall, black cypresses. At the end of a street would rise a tall palm, drooping its branches over a little square, or a stone pine, like the one in the Aldobrandini garden.
"These people were real artists," Caesar would murmur, and mean it as a fact, not taking it for either praise or blame.
His curiosity got excited, despite his determination not to resemble a tourist in any way. The low windows of a palace would let him see lofty ceilings with great stretches of painting, or decorated with medallions and legends; a balcony would display a thick curtain of ivy that hid the railings; here he would read a Latin inscription cut in a marble tablet, there he would come upon a black lane between two old houses, with a battered lantern at its entrance. In the part of town between the Corso and the Tiber, which is full of narrow, crooked old streets, he loved to wander until he was lost.
Some details already familiar, he was delighted to see again; he always halted to look down the Via della Pillotta, with its arches over the street; and the little flower-market in the Piazza di Spagna always gave him a sensation of joy.
At dusk Caesar would walk in the centre of town; the bars filled up with people who loved to take cakes and sweet wine; on the sidewalks the itinerant merchants cried their trifling wares; along the Corso a procession of carriages full of tourists passed rapidly, and a few well-appointed victorias came driving back from the Pincio and the Villa Borghese.
Once in a while Caesar went out in the evening after dinner. There was scant animation in the streets, theatres didn't interest him, and he would soon return to the hotel salon to chat with the Countess Brenda.
Later, in his room, he would write to Alzugaray, giving him his impressions.
IX. NEW ACQUAINTANCES
"I PROTESTANTI DELLA SIMPATIA"
It began again to rain disastrously; the days were made up of downpours and squalls, to the great despair of the foreigners.
At night the Piazza Esedra was a fine sight from the hotel balcony. The arc lights reflected their glow in the lakes of rain beneath them, and the great jet of the fountain in the centre took on tones of blue and mother-of-pearl, where the rays of the electric light pierced through it.
In the hotel parlour one dance followed another. Everybody complained gaily of the bad weather.
Shortly before the middle of Lent there arrived a Parisian family at the hotel, composed of a mother with two daughters and a companion.
This family might be considered a representation of the entente cordiale. The mother was French, the widow first of a Spaniard, Senor Sandoval, by whom she had had one daughter, and then of an Englishman, Mr. Dawson, by whom she had had another.
Mme. Dawson was a fat, imposing lady, with tremendous brilliants in her ears and somewhat theatrical clothes; Mile. Sandoval, the elder daughter, was of Arab type, with black eyes, an aquiline nose, pale rose-coloured lips, and a malicious smile, full of mystery, as if it revealed restless and diabolical intentions.
Her half-sister, Mile. Dawson, was a contrast, being the perfect type of a grotesque Englishwoman, with a skin like a beet, and freckles.
The governess, Mile. Cadet, was not at all pretty, but she was gay and sprightly. These four women seated in the middle of the dining-room, a little stiff, a little out of temper, seemed, particularly the first few days, to defy anybody that might have wished to approach them. They replied coolly to the formal bows of the other guests, and none of them cared to take part in the dances.
The handsome Signor Carminatti shot incendiary glances at Mlle. de Sandoval; but she remained scornful; so one evening, as the Dawson family came out of the dining-room, the Neapolitan waved his hand toward them and said:
"I protestante della simpatia."
Caesar made much of this phrase, because it was apt, and he took it that Carminatti considered the ladies protestants against friendliness, because they had paid no attention to the charms that he displayed in their honour.
CONSEQUENCES OF THE RAIN
Two or three days later Mme. Dawson bowed to Caesar on passing him in the hall, and asked him:
"Aren't you Spanish?"
"But don't you speak French?"
"My daughter is Spanish too."
"She is a perfect Spanish type."
"Really?" asked the daughter referred to.
"Then I am happy."
In the evening, after dinner, Caesar again joined Mme. Dawson and began to talk with her. The Frenchwoman had a tendency to philosophize, to criticize, and to find out everything. She had no great capacity for admiration, and nothing she saw succeeded in dragging warm eulogies from her lips. There was none of the "bello! bellissimo!" of the Italian ladies in her talk, but a series of exact epithets.
Mme. Dawson had left all her capacity for admiration in France, and was visiting Italy for the purpose of arriving as soon as possible at the conclusion that there is no town like Paris, no nation like the French, and it didn't matter much to Caesar whether he agreed or denied it.
Mlle. de Sandoval had a great curiosity about things in Spain and an absurd idea about everything Spanish.
"It seems impossible," thought Caesar, "how stupid French people are about whatsoever is not French."
Mlle. de Sandoval asked Caesar a lot of questions, and finally, with an ironic gesture, said to him:
"You mustn't let us keep you from going to talk with the Countess Brenda. She is looking over at you a great deal."
Caesar became a trifle dubious; indeed, the Countess was looking at him in a fixed and disdainful way.
"The Countess is a very intelligent woman," said Caesar; "I think you would all like her very much."
Mme. Dawson said nothing; Caesar rose, took his leave of the family, and went over to speak to the Countess and her daughter. She received him coldly. Caesar thought he would stay long enough to be polite and then get away, when Carminatti, speaking to him in a very friendly way and calling him "mio caro," asked him to introduce him to Mme. Dawson.
He did so, and when he had left the handsome Neapolitan leaning back in a chair beside the French ladies, he made the excuse that he had a letter to write, and said good-night.
"I see that you are an ogre," said Mlle. de Sandoval.
"Do you want me for anything?"
"No, no; you may go when you choose."
Caesar repaired to his room.
"I don't mind those people," he said; "but if they think I am a man made for entertaining ladies, they are very clever."
The next day Mme. Dawson talked with Caesar very affably, and Mlle. de Sandoval made a few ironical remarks about his savage ways.
Of all the family Caesar conceived that Mlle. Cadet was the most intelligent. She was a French country girl, very jovial, blond, with a turned-up nose, and on the whole insignificant looking. When she spoke, her voice had certain falsetto inflexions that were very comical.
Mlle. Cadet was on to everything the moment it happened. Caesar asked her jokingly about the people in the hotel, and he was thunderstruck to find that she had discovered in three or four days who all the guests were and where they came from.
Mlle. Cadet also told him that Carminatti had sent an ardent declaration of love to the Sandoval girl the first day he saw her.
"The devil!" exclaimed Caesar. "What an inflammable Neapolitan it is! And what did she reply?"
"What would she reply? Nothing."
"As you are already familiar with everything going on here," said Caesar, "I am going to ask you a question: what is the noise in the court every night? I am always thinking of asking somebody."
"Why, it is charging the accumulator of the lift," replied Mlle. Cadet.
"You have relieved me from a terrible doubt which worried me."
"I have never heard a noise," said Mlle. de Sandoval, breaking into the conversation.
"That's because your room is on the square," Caesar answered, "and the noise is in the court; on the poor side of the house."
"Pshaw! There is no reason to complain," remarked Mlle. Cadet, "if they give us a serenade."
"Do you consider yourself poor?" Mlle. de Sandoval asked Caesar, disdainfully.
"Yes, I consider myself poor, because I am."
During the following days Mme. Dawson and her daughters were introduced to the rest of the people in the hotel, and became intimate with them. The "Contessina" Brenda and the San Martino girls made friends with the French girls, and the Neapolitan and his gentlemen friends flitted among them all.
The Countess Brenda at first behaved somewhat stiff with Mme. Dawson and her daughters, but later she little by little submitted and permitted them to be her friends.
She introduced the French ladies to the other ladies in the hotel; but doubtless her aristocratic ideas would not allow her to consider Mlle. Cadet a person worthy to be introduced, for whenever she got to her she acted as if she didn't know her.
The governess, noticing this repeated contempt, would blush at it, and once she murmured, addressing Caesar with tears ready to escape from her eyes:
"That's a nice thing to do! Just because I am poor, I don't think they ought to despise me."
"Don't pay any attention," said Caesar, quite aloud; "these middle-class people are often very rude."
Mlle. de Sandoval gave Caesar a look half startled and half reproving; and he explained, smiling:
"I was telling Mlle. Cadet a funny story."
Mme. Dawson and her daughters soon became friends with the most distinguished persons in the hotel; only the Marchesa Sciacca, the Maltese, avoided them as if they inspired her with profound contempt.
In a few days the Countess Brenda and Caesar's friendship passed beyond the bonds of friendship; but in the course of time it cooled off again.
INFLUENCE OF THE INCLINATION OF THE EARTH'S AXIS ON WHAT IS CALLED LOVE
One evening, when the Countess Brenda's daughter had left Rome to go with her father to a villa they owned in the North, the Countess and Caesar had a long conversation in the salon. They were alone; a great tenor was singing at the Costanzi, and the whole hotel was at the theatre. The Countess chatted with Caesar, she reclining in a chaise longue, and he seated in a low chair. That evening the Countess was feeling in a provocative humour, and she made fun of Caesar's mode of life and his ideas, not with the phrases and the manners of a great lady, but with the boldness and spice of a woman of the people.
The angle that the earth's axis makes with the trajectory of the ecliptic, and which produces those absurd phenomena that we Spaniards call seasons, determined at that period the arrival of spring, and spring had no doubt shaken the Countess Brenda's nerves.
Spring gave cooling inflexions to the lady's voice and made her express herself with warmth and with a shamelessly libertine air.
No doubt the core of her personality was joyful, provoking, and somewhat licentious.
Her eyes flashed, and on her lips there was a sensual expression of challenge and mockery.
Caesar, that evening, without knowing why, was dull at expressing himself, and depressed. Some of the Countess's questions left him in a stupid unreadiness.
"Poor child; I am sorry for you," she suddenly said.
"Because you are so weak; you have such an air of exhaustion. What do you do to make you like this? I am sure you ought to be given some sort of iron tonic, like the anaemic girls."
"Do you really think I am so weak?" asked Caesar.
"Isn't it written all over you?"
"Well, anyway, I am stronger than you, Countess."
"In a discussion, perhaps. But otherwise.... You have no strength except in your brains."
"And in my hands. Give me your hand."
The Countess gave him her hand and Caesar pressed it tighter and tighter.
"You are strong after all," she said.
"That is nothing. You wait," and Caesar squeezed the Countess's hand until he made her give a sharp scream. A servant entered the salon. "It's nothing," said the Countess, getting up; "I seemed to have turned my foot."
"I will take you to your room," exclaimed Caesar, offering her his arm.
"No, no. Thanks very much."
"Yes. It has to be."
"Then, all right," she murmured, and added, "Now you frighten me."
"Bah, you will get over that!" and Caesar went into her room with her....
The next day Caesar appeared in the salon looking as if he had been buried and dug up.
"What is the matter?" Mme. Dawson and her daughters asked him.
"Nothing; only I had a headache and I took a big dose of antipyrine."
The relations of the Brenda lady and Caesar soon cooled. Their temperaments were incompatible: there was no harmony between their imaginations or between their skins. In reality, the Countess, with all her romanticism, did not care for long and compromising liaisons, but for hotel adventures, which leave neither vivid memories nor deep imprints. Caesar noted that despite her lyricism and her sentimental talk, there was a great deal of firmness in this plump woman, and a lack of sensitiveness.
Moreover, this woman, so little aristocratic in intimacy, had much vanity about stupid things and a great passion for jewelry; but what contributed most to making Caesar feel a profound hatred for her was his discovering what good health she enjoyed. This good health seemed offensive to Caesar, above all when he compared it to his own, to his weak nerves and his restless brain.
From considering her a spiritual and delicate lady he passed to considering her a powerful mare, which deserved no more than a whip and spurs.
The love-affair contributed to upsetting Caesar and making him more sarcastic and biting. This spiritual ulceration of Caesar's profoundly astonished Mlle. Cadet.
One day a Roman aristocrat, nothing less than a prince, came to call on Mme. Dawson. He talked with her, with her daughters, and the Countess Brenda, and held forth about whether the hotels in Rome were full or empty, about the pensions, and the food in the restaurants, with a great wealth of details; afterwards he lamented that Mme. Dawson, as a relative of his, even though a very distant one, should have gone to a ricevimento at the French Embassy, and he boasted of belonging to the Black party in Rome.
When he was gone, Mlle. Cadet came over to Caesar, who was sunk in an arm-chair gazing at the ceiling, and asked him:
"What did you think of the prince?"
"The gentleman who was here talking a moment ago."
"Ah, was he a prince?"
"As he talked about nothing but hotels, I took him to be the proprietor of one."
Mlle. Cadet told Mme. Dawson what Caesar had said, and she and her daughters were amused at his error.
X. A BALL
A little later than the real day, they got up a ball at the hotel in celebration of the French holiday Micareme.
When Caesar was asked if he thought of going to the ball, he said no; but Mlle. de Sandoval warned him that if he didn't go she would never speak to him again, and Mme. Dawson and the governess threatened him with like excommunication.
"But you know, these balls are very amusing," said Mme. Dawson.
"Do you think so?"
"I do, and so do you."
"Besides, an observer like you," added Mlle. Cadet, "can devote himself to taking notes."
"And why do you conclude that I am an observer?" asked Caesar.
"The idea! Because it is evident."
"And an observer with very evil intentions," insisted Mlle. de Sandoval.
"You credit me with qualities I haven't got."
Caesar had to accede, and the Dawson ladies and he were the first to enter the salon and take their seats. In one corner was a glass vase hung from the ceiling by a pulley.
"What is that?" Mme. Dawson asked a servant.
"It is a glass vase full of bonbons, which you have to break with a pole with your eyes closed."
Since nobody else came in, the Dawson girls and Caesar wandered about looking into the cupboards and finding the Marchesa Sciacca's music and the Neapolitan's. They looked out one of the salon windows. It was a detestable night, raining and hailing; the great drops were bouncing on the sidewalks of the Piazza Esedra. Water and hail fell mixed together, and for moments at a time the ground would stay white, as if covered with a thin coating of pearls.
The fountain in the centre cast up its streams of water, which mingled with the rain, and the central jet shone in the lays of the arc-lights; now and again the livid brilliance of lightning illuminated the stone arches and the rumbling of thunder was heard...
Still nobody else came to the salon. Doubtless the ladies were preparing their toilets very carefully.
The first to appear, dressed for the ball, were the Marchesa Sciacca and her husband, accompanied by the inevitable Carminatti.
The Marchesa, with her habitual brutality toward everybody that lived in the house, bowed with formal coolness to Mme. Dawson, and sat down by the piano, as far away as possible from the French ladies.
She wore a gown of green silk, with lace and gold ornaments. She was very decolletee and had a fretful air. Her husband was small and stooped, with a long moustache and shiny eyes; on his cheek-bones were the red spots frequent in consumptives, and he spoke in a sharp voice.
"Are you acquainted with the Marquis?" Mme. Dawson asked Caesar.
"Yes, he is a tiresome busybody," said Caesar, "the most boresome fellow you could find. He stops you in the street to tell you things. The other day he made me wait a quarter of an hour at the door of a tourist agency, while he inquired the quickest way of getting to Moscow. 'Are you thinking of going there?' I asked him. 'No; I just wanted to find out....' He is an idiot."
"God preserve us from your comments. What will you be saying about us?" exclaimed Mlle. de Sandoval.
The Countess Brenda entered, with her husband, her daughter, and a friend. She was dressed in black, low in the neck, and wore a collar of brilliants as big as filberts, which surrounded her bosom with rays of light and blinding reflections.
Her friend was a young lady of consummate beauty; a brunette with colour in her skin and features of flawless perfection; with neither the serious air nor the statuesqueness of a great beauty, and with none of the negroid tone of most brunettes. When she smiled she showed her teeth, which were a burst of whiteness. She was rather loaded with jewels, which gave her the aspect of an ancient goddess.
"You, who find everything wrong," said Mlle. Cadet to Caesar, "what have you to say of that woman? I have been looking at her ever since she came in, and I don't find the slightest defect."
"Nor I. It is a face which gives no indication that the least shadow of sorrow has ever crossed it. It is beauty as serene as a landscape or as the sea when calm. Moreover, that very perfection robs it of character. It seems to be less a human face than a symbol of an apathetic being and an apathetic beauty."
"We have found her defect," said Mlle. Cadet.
After introducing her friend to the ladies and to the young men, who were all dazzled, the Countess Brenda sat down near Mme. Dawson, in an antique arm-chair.
She was imposing.
"You look like a queen holding audience," Mlle. de Sandoval said to her.
"Your beloved is like an actual monument," Mlle. Cadet murmured jokingly, aside to Caesar.
"Yes, I think we ought to station a veteran at the door," retorted Caesar.
"A veteran! No, for mercy's sake! Poor lady! A warrior in active service, one on whom all the antipyrine in the world would make no impression," Mlle. Cadet replied maliciously.
Caesar smiled at the allusion.
Among the people there was one gentlerman that attracted Mlle. Cadet's special attention. He was apart from any group, but he knew everybody that arrived. This gentleman was fat, smiling, smooth-shaven, with a round, chubby, rosy face and the body of a Silenus. When he spoke he arched and lowered his eyebrows alternately, rolled his eyes, gesticulated with his fat, soft hands, and smiled and showed his teeth.
His way of greeting people was splendid.
"Come sta, marchesa?" he would say. "Cavaliere!" "Commendatore!" "La contessina va bene?" "Oh! Egregio!"
And the good gentleman would spread his arms, and close them, and look as if he wanted to embrace the whole of humanity to his abdomen, covered with a white waistcoat.
"Who can that gentleman be?" Mlle. Cadet asked various times.
"That? That is Signor Sileno Macarroni," said Caesar, "Commander of the Order of the Mighty Belly, Knight of the Round Buttocks, and of other distinguished Orders."
"He is a singer," said the Countess Brenda to Mlle. de Sandoval in a low tone.
"He is a singer," repeated Mlle. de Sandoval to her governess in a similar tone.
"Sileno Macarroni is a singer," said Mlle. Cadet, with equal mysteriousness, addressing Caesar.
"But is our friend Macarroni going to sung?" asked Caesar.
The question was passed from one person to another, and it was discovered that Macarroni was going to sing. As a matter of fact, the fat Silenus did sing, and everybody was startled to hear a high tenor voice issue from within that voluminous human being. The fat Silenus had the misfortune to sing false in the midst of his bravest trills, and the poor soul was overcome, despite the applause.
"Poor Macarroni!" said Caesar, "his high tenor heart must be broken to bits." "He is going," put in Mlle. Cadet. "What a shame!" Sileno vanished and the pianist began to play waltzes.
THE WORLD AS A ZOOLOGICAL GARDEN
Carminatti was the first on the floor with his partner, who was the Marchesa Sciacca.
The Maltese lady danced with an abandon and a feline languor that imposed respect. One of the San Martino girls, dressed in white, like a vaporous fairy, danced with an officer in a blue uniform, a slim, distinguished person with languid eyes and rosy cheeks, who caused a veritable sensation among the ladies.
The other San Martino, in pale pink, was on a sofa chatting with a man of the cut-throat type, of jaundiced complexion, with bright eyes and a moustache so long as almost to touch his eyebrows.
"He is a Sicilian," Mlle. Cadet told Caesar; "behind us here they are saying rather curious things about the two of them."
The Countess Brenda's daughter was magnificent, with her milk-white skin, and her arms visible through gauze. Despite her beauty she didn't count many admirers; she was too insipid, and the majority of the young men turned with greater enthusiasm to the married women and to those of a very provocative type.
Mlle. de Sandoval, the most sought after of all, didn't wish to dance.
"My daughter is really very stiff," Mme. Dawson remarked. "Spanish women are like that."
"Yes, they often are," said Caesar.
Among all these Italians, who were rather theatrical and ridiculous, insincere and exaggerated, but who had great pliancy and great agility in their movements and their expression, there was one German family, consisting of several persons: a married couple with sons and daughters who seemed to be all made from one piece, cut from the same block. While the rest were busy with the little incidents of the ball, they were talking about the Baths of Caracalla, the aqueducts, the Colosseum. The father, the mother, and the children repeated their lesson in Roman archeology, which they had learned splendidly.
"What very absurd people they are," murmured Caesar, watching them.
"Why?" said Mlle. de Sandoval.
"It appeals to these Germans as their duty to make one parcel of everything artistic there is in a country and swallow it whole; which seems to an ignoramus like me, a stupid piece of pretentiousness. The French, on the contrary, are on more solid ground; they don't understand anything that is not French, and they travel to have the pleasure of saying that Paris is the finest thing on earth."
"It's great luck to be so perfect as you are," retorted Mlle. de Sandoval, violently, "you can see other people's faults so clearly."
"You mistake," replied Caesar, coldly, "I do not rely on my own good qualities to enable me to speak badly of others."
"Then what do you rely on?"
"On my defects."
"Ah, have you defects? Do you admit it?"
"I not only admit it, but I take pride in having them."
Mlle. de Sandoval turned her head away contemptuously; the twist Caesar gave to her questions appeared to irritate her.
"Mlle. de Sandoval doesn't like me much," said Caesar to Mlle. Cadet.
"No? She generally says nice things about you."
"Perhaps my clothes appeal to her, or the way I tie my cravat; but my ideas displease her."
"Because you say such severe things."
"Why do you say that at this moment? Because I spoke disparagingly of those Germans? Are they attractive to you?"
"Oh, no! Not at all."
"They look like hunting dogs." "But whom do you approve of? The English?"
"Not the English, either. They are a herd of cattle; sentimental, ridiculous people who are in ecstatics over their aristocracy and over their king. Latin peoples are something like cats, they are of the feline race; a Frenchman is like a fat, well-fed cat; an Italian is like an old Angora which has kept its beautiful fur; and the Spaniard is like the cats on a roof, skinny, bare of fur, almost too weak to howl with despair and hunger.... Then there are the ophidians, the Jews, the Greeks, the Armenians...."
"Then for you the world is a zoological garden?"
"Well, isn't it?"
At midnight they tried to break the glass jar of bonbons. They blindfolded various men, and one by one they made them turn around a couple of times and then try to break the jar with a stick.
It was the Marquis Sciacca that did break the glass vase, and the pieces fell on his head.
"Have you hurt yourself?" people asked him.
"No," said Caesar, reassuringly, but aside; "his head is protected."
After this cornucopia number, there was a series of other games and amusements, which required a hand-glass, a candle, and a bottle. The conversation in Mlle. de Sandoval's group jumped from one thing to another and finally arrived at palmistry.
Mlle. de Sandoval asked Caesar if he, as a Spaniard, knew how to tell fortunes by the hand, and he jokingly replied that he did. Three or four hands were stretched out toward Caesar, and he said whatsoever his imagination suggested, foolishness, absurdities, impertinences; a little of everything.
When anybody was a bit puzzled at Caesar's words, he said:
"Don't pay any attention to it; these are absurdities."
Afterwards Mlle. Cadet told Caesar that she was going to cast his horoscope. "Good! Out with it."
The governess, who was clever, studied Caesar's hand and expressed herself in sibylline terms:
"You have something of everything, a little of some things and a great deal of others; you are not a harmonious individual."
"No. You are very intelligent."
"Let the sibyl talk," said the Sandoval girl.
"You have a strong sense of logic," the governess went on.
"You are good and bad! You have much imagination and very little; you are at the same time very brave and very timid. You have a loving nature, but it is asleep, and little will-power."
"Little and... a great deal," said Caesar.
"Do you believe that I have little will-power?"
"I am telling you what your hand says."
"Look here. My hand's opinion doesn't interest me so much as yours, because you are an intelligent woman. Do you believe I have no will-power?"
"A sibyl doesn't discuss her affirmations."
"Now you are worried about your lack of will-power," said Mlle. de Sandoval, mockingly.
"Yes, I am, a bit."
"Well, I think you have will-power enough," she retorted; "what you do lack is a little more amiability."
"Fortunately for you and for me, you are not so perspicacious in psychology as this young lady."
"I don't expect to earn my living telling fortunes."
"I don't believe this young lady expects to, either. You have told me what I am," Caesar pursued; "now tell me what is going to happen to me."
"Let me look," said Mlle. Cadet; "close your hand. You will make a journey." "Very good! I like that."
"You will get into a desperate struggle...."
"I like that, too."
"And you will win, and you will be defeated...."
"I don't like that so much."
Mile. Cadet could not give other details. Her sibylline science extended no further. During this chiromantic interlude, the dancing kept up, until finally, about three in the morning, the party ended.
XI. A SOUNDING-LINE IN THE DARK WORLD
THE ADVICE OF TWO ABBES
The Abbe Preciozi several times advised Caesar to make a new attempt at a reconciliation with the Cardinal; but Caesar always refused.
"He is a man incapable of understanding me," he would insist with naive arrogance.
Preciozi felt a great liking for his new friend, who invited him to meals at good hotels and treated him very frequently. Almost every morning he went to call on Caesar on one pretext or another, and they would go for a walk and chat about various things.
Preciozi was beginning to believe that his friend was a man with a future. Some explanations that Caesar gave him about the mechanism of the stock-exchange convinced the abbe that he was in the presence of a great financier.
Preciozi talked to all his friends and acquaintances about Cardinal Fort's nephew, picturing him as an extraordinary man; some took these praises as a joke; others thought that it was really very possible that the Spaniard had great talent; only one abbe, who was a teacher in a college, felt a desire to meet the Cardinal's nephew, and Preciozi introduced him to Caesar.
This abbe was named Cittadella, and he was fat, rosy, and blond; he looked more like a singer than a priest.
Caesar invited the two abbes to dine at a restaurant and requested Preciozi to do the ordering.
"So you are a nephew of Cardinal Fort's?" asked Cittadella. "Yes."
"His own nephew?"
"His own nephew; son of his sister."
"And he hasn't done anything for you?"
"It's a pity. He is a man of great influence, of great talent."
"Influence, I believe; talent, I doubt," said Caesar.
"Oh, no, no! He is an intelligent man."
"But I have heard that his Theological Commentaries is absolutely absurd."
"A crude, banal book, full of stupidities...."
"Macche!" exclaimed the indignant Preciozi, neglecting the culinary conflict he was engaged in.
"All right. It makes no difference," replied Caesar, smiling. "Whether he is a famous man, as you two say, or a blockhead, as I think, the fact remains that my uncle doesn't wish to have anything to do with me."
"You must have done something to him," said Cittadella.
"No; the only thing is that when I was small they told me the Cardinal wished me to be a priest, and I answered that I didn't care to be."
"And why so?"
"It seems to me a poor job. It's evident that one doesn't make much at it."
"Yes, and what's more," Preciozi put in, "this gentleman says to anybody who cares to listen, that religion is a farce, that Catholicism is like a dish of Jewish meat with Roman sauce. Is it possible that a Cardinal should bother about a nephew that talks like that?"
The Abbe Cittadella looked very serious and remarked that it is necessary to believe, or at least to seem to believe, in the truths of religion.
"Is the Cardinal supposed to have money?" asked Caesar.
"Yes, I should say he is," replied Preciozi. "Your sister and you will be the only heirs," said Cittadella.
"Of course," agreed Preciozi.
"Has he made a will?" asked Caesar.
"All the better if he hasn't," said one of the abbes.
"If we could only poison him," sighed Caesar, with melancholy.
"Don't talk of such things just as we are going to eat," said Preciozi.
The dinner was brought, and the two abbes did it the honour it deserved.
Preciozi deserved congratulations for his excellent selection. They ordered good wines and drank merry toasts.
"What an admirable secretary Preciozi would be, if I got to be a personage!" exclaimed Caesar. "Twenty thousand francs or so salary, his board, and the duty of choosing the dinner for the next day. That's my proposal."
The abbe blushed with pleasure, emptied his glass of wine, and murmured:
"If it depended on me!"
"The fact is that the way things are arranged today is no good," said Caesar. "A hundred years ago, by the mere fact of being a Cardinal's nephew, I should have been somebody."
"That's true," exclaimed Preciozi.
"And as I should have no scruples, and neither would you two, we would have plunged into life strenuously, and sacked Rome, and the whole world would be ours."
"You talk like a Caesar Borgia," said Preciozi, aroused. "You are a true Spaniard."
"Today one must have something to stand on," said Cittadella, coldly.
"Friend Cittadella," retorted Caesar, "I, as you see me here, am the man who knows the most about financial matters in all Spain, and I believe I shall soon get to where I can say, in all Europe. I put my knowledge at the service of whoever pays me. I am like one of your old condottieri, a mercenary general. I am ready to win battles for the Jewish bank, or against the Jewish bank, for the Church or against the Church."
"For the Church is better. Against the Church we cannot assist you," said Preciozi.
"I will try first, for the Church. To whom can you recommend me first?"
The two abbes said nothing, and drank in silence.
"Perhaps Verry would see him," said Cittadella.
"Hm!..." replied Preciozi. "I rather doubt it."
"What sort of a party is he?" asked Caesar.
"He is one of those prelati that come out of the College of Nobles," said Cittadella, "and who get on, even if they are no good. Here they consider him a haughty Spaniard; they blame him for wearing his robes, and for always taking an automobile when he goes to Castel Gandolfo. The priests hate him because he is a Jesuit and a Spaniard."
"And wherein does his strength lie?"
"In the Society, and in his knowing several languages. He was educated in England."
"From what you two tell me of him, he gives me the impression of a fatuous person."
A bottle of champagne was brought in and the three of them drank, toasting and touching glasses.
"If I were in your place," said Cittadella, after thinking a long while, "I shouldn't try to get at people in high places, but people who are inconspicuous and yet have influence in your country."
"For instance, Father Herreros, at the convent in Trastevere."
"And Father Miro too," added Preciozi, "and if you could talk to Father Ferrer, of the Gregorian University, it wouldn't be a bad idea."
"That will be more difficult," said Cittadella.
"You could tell them," Preciozi suggested, "that your uncle the Cardinal sent you, and hint that he doesn't want anybody to know that he is backing you." "And if somebody should write to my uncle?"
"You mustn't say anything definite. You must speak ambiguously. Besides, in case they did write, we would fix it up in the office."
Caesar began to laugh naively. Afterwards, the two abbes, a little excited by the food and the good wine, started in to have a violent discussion, speaking Italian. Caesar paid the bill, and pretending that he had an urgent engagement, took leave of them and went out.
A SPANISH MONK
The next day Caesar went to look up Father Herreros. He had not yet succeeded in forming a plan. His only idea was to see if he could take advantage of some chance: to follow a scent and be on the alert, in case something new should start up on one side or the other.
Father Herreros lived in a convent in Trastevere. Caesar took the tram in the Piazza Venezia, and got out after crossing the Tiber, near the Via delle Fratte.
He soon found the convent; it had a yellow portal with a Latin inscription which sang the gymnastic glories of Saint Pascual Bailon. Above the inscription there was a picture, in which a monk, no doubt Bailon, was dancing among the clouds.
On the lintel of the gate were the arms of Spain, and at the sides, two medallions bearing hands wounded in the palm.
The convent door was old and quartered. Caesar knocked.
A lay-brother, with a suspicious glance, came out to admit him, told him to wait, and left him alone. After some while, he came back and asked him to follow him.
They went down a small passage and up a staircase, which was at the end, and then along a corridor on the main floor. On one side of this corridor, in his cell, they found Father Herreros.
Caesar, after bowing and introducing himself, sat down, as the monk asked him to do, in a chair with its back to the light. Caesar began to explain why he had come, and as he had prepared what he was going to say, he employed his attention, while speaking, on the cage and the kind of big bird which were before his eyes.
Father Herreros had a big rough head, black heavy eyebrows, a short nose, an enormous mouth, yellow teeth, and grey hair. He wore a chocolate-coloured robe, open enough to show his whole neck down to his chest. The movement of the good monk's lips was that of a man who wished to pass for keen and insinuating. His robe was dirty and he doubtless had the habit of leaving cigarette stubs on the table.
The cell had one window, and in front of it a bookcase. Caesar made an effort to read the titles. They were almost all Latin books, the kind that nobody reads.
Father Herreros began to ask Caesar questions. In his brain, he was doubtless wondering why Cardinal Fort's nephew should come to him.
After many useless words they got to the concrete point that Caesar wanted to take up, Father Herreros's acquaintance in Spain, and the monk said that he knew a very rich widow who had property in Toledo. When Caesar went to Madrid, he would give him a letter of recommendation to her.
"I cannot keep you any longer now, because a Mexican lady is waiting for me," said Father Herreros.
Caesar arose, and after shaking the monk's fat hand, he left the convent. He returned to Rome on foot, crossing the river again, and looking at the Tiberine island; and arrived without hurrying at the hotel. He wrote to his friend Azugaray, requesting him to discover, by the indications he gave him, who the rich widow that had property in Toledo could be.
THE LICENTIATE MIRO
The next day Caesar decided to pursue his investigations, and went to see Father Miro.
Father Miro lived in a college in the Via Monserrato. Caesar inspected the map of Rome, looking for that street, and found that it is located in the vicinity of the Campo de' Fiori, and took his way thither.
The spring day was magnificent; the sky was blue, without a cloud; the tiled roofs of some of the palaces were decorated with borders of plants and flowers; in the street, dry and flooded with sunshine, a water-carrier in a cart full of fat, green bottles, passed by, singing and cracking his whip.
Caesar crossed the Campo de' Fiori, a very lively, plebeian square, full of canvas awnings with open stalls of fruit under them. In the middle stood the statue of Giordano Bruno, with a crown of flowers around its neck.
Then he took the Via de' Cappellari, a narrow lane and dirty enough. From one side to the other clothes were hung out to dry.
He came to the college and entered the church contiguous to it. He asked for Father Miro; a sacristan with a long moustache and a worn blue overcoat, took him to another entrance, made him mount an old wooden staircase, and conducted him to the office of the man he was looking for.
Father Miro was a tiny little man, dark and filthy, with a worn-out cassock, covered with dandruff, and a large dirty square cap with a big rosette.
"Will you tell me what you want?" said the little priest in a sullen tone.
Caesar introduced himself, and explained in a few words who he was and what he proposed.
Father Miro, without asking him to sit down, answered rapidly, saying that he had no acquaintance with matters of finance or speculation.
Caesar felt a shudder of anger at the rudeness with which he was treated by this draggled little priest, and felt a vehement desire to take him by the neck and twist it, like a chicken's.
Despite his anger, he did not change expression, and he asked the priest smilingly if he knew who could give him advice about those questions.
"You can see Father Ferrer at the Gregorian University, or Father Mendia. He is an encyclopedist. It was he who wrote the theological portion of the encyclical Pascendi, the one about Modernism. He is a man of very great learning."
"He will do. Many thanks," and Caesar turned toward the door.
"Excuse me for not having asked you to sit down, but..."
"No matter," Caesar replied, rapidly, and he went out to the stairs.
In view of the poor result of his efforts, he decided to go to the Gregorian University. He was told it was in the Via del Seminario, and supposed it must be the large edifice with little windowed bridges over two streets.
That edifice was the Collegio Romano; the Gregorian University was in the same street, but further on, opposite the Post Office Department. Father Ferrer could not receive him, because he was holding a class; and after they had gone up and come down and taken Caesar's card for Father Mendia, they told him he was out.
Caesar concluded that it was not so easy to find a crack through which one could get information of what was going on in the clerical world.
"I see that the Church gives them all a defensive instinct which they make good use of. They are really only poor devils, but they have a great organization, and it cannot be easy to get one's fingers through the meshes of their net."
XII. A MEETING ON THE PINCIO
A WALK IN THE VILLA BORGHESE
At the beginning of Holy Week Laura returned to the hotel, at lunch-time.
"And your husband?" Caesar asked her.
"He didn't want to come. Rome bores him. He is giving all his attention to taking care of the heart-disease he says he has."
"Is it serious?"
"I think not. Every time I see him I find him with a new disease and a new diet; one time it is vegetarian, another nothing but meat, another time he says one should eat only grapes, or nothing but bread."
"Then I see that he belongs to the illustrious brotherhood of the insane."
"You are not far from joining that brotherhood yourself."
"Dear sister, I am one of the few sane men that go stumbling around this insane asylum let loose we call the earth."
"What you say about men is the truth, even though you are not an exception. Really, the more I have to do with men, the more convinced I am that any one of them who is not crazy, is stupid or vain or proud.... How much more intelligent, discreet, logical we women are!"
"Don't tell me. You are marvels; modest, kindly toward your rivals, so little given to humiliating your neighbours, male or female...."
"Yes, yes; but we are not so conceited or such play-actors as you are. A woman may think herself pretty and amiable and sweet, and not be so. That is true; but on the other hand, every man thinks himself braver than the Cid, even if he is afraid of a fly, and more talented than Seneca, even if he is a dolt."
"To sum up, men are a calamity."
"And women spend their lives fishing for these calamities."
"They need them; there are inferior things which still are necessary."
"And there are superior things which are good for nothing."
"Will you come and take a drive with me, philosopher brother?"
"Let's go to the Villa Borghese. The carriage will be here in a moment."
"All right. Let us go there."
A two-horse victoria with rubber tires was waiting at the door, and Laura and Caesar got in. The carriage went past the Treasury, and out the Porta Salaria, and entered the gardens of the Villa Borghese.
The morning had been rainy; the ground was damp; the wind waved the tree-tops gently and caused a murmur like the tide. The carriage rolled slowly along the avenues. Laura was very gay and chatty. Caesar listened to her as one listens to a bird warbling.
Many times while listening he thought: "What is there inside this head? What is the master idea of her life? Has she really any idea about life, or has she none?"
After several rounds they crossed the viaduct that unites the Villa Borghese with the Pincio gardens.
FROM THE PINCIO TERRACE
They approached the great terrace of the gardens by an avenue that has busts of celebrated men along both sides.
"Poor great men!" exclaimed Caesar. "Their statues serve only to decorate a public garden." "They had their lives," replied Laura, gaily; "now we have ours."
Laura ordered the coachman to stop a moment. The air was still murmuring in the foliage, the birds singing, and the clouds flying slowly across the sky.
A man with a black box approached the carriage to offer them postcards.
"Buy two or three," said Laura.
Caesar bought a few and put them into his pocket. The vendor withdrew and Laura continued to look at Rome with enthusiasm.
"Oh, how beautiful, how lovely it is! I never get tired of looking at it. It is my favourite city. 'O fior d'ogni citta, donna del mondo.'"
"She is no longer mistress of the world, little sister."
"For me she is. Look at St. Peter's. It looks like a shred of cloud."
"Yes, that's so. It's of a blue shade that seems transparent."
Bells were ringing and great majestic white clouds kept moving along the horizon; on the Janiculum the statue of Garibaldi rose up gallantly into the air, like a bird ready to take wing.
"When I look at Rome this way," murmured Laura, "I feel a pang, a pang of grief."
"Because I remember that I must die, and then I shall not come back to see Rome. She will be here still, century after century, full of sunlight, and I shall be dead.... It is horrible, horrible!"
"And your religion?"
"Yes, I know. I believe I shall see other things; but not these things that are so beautiful."
"You are an Epicurean."
"It is so beautiful to be alive!"
They stayed there looking at the panorama. Below, in the Piazza del Popolo, they saw a red tram slipping along, which looked, at that distance, like a toy.
A tilbury, driven by a woman, stopped near their carriage. The woman was blond with green eyes, prominent cheek-bones, and a little fur cap. At her feet lay an enormous dog with long flame-coloured hair.
"She must be a Russian," said Caesar.
"Yes. Do you like that type?"
"She has a lot of character. She looks like one of the women that would order servants to be whipped."
The Russian was smiling vaguely. Laura told the coachman to drive on. They made a few rounds in the avenues of the Pincio. The music was beginning; a few carriages, and groups of soldiers and seminarians, crowded around the bandstand; Laura didn't care for brass bands, they were too noisy for her, and she gave the coachman orders to drive to the Corso.
They passed in front of the Villa Medici, and when they got near the Piazza, della Trinita de' Monti they met a man on horseback, who, on seeing them, immediately approached the carriage. It was Archibald Marchmont, who had just arrived in Rome.
"I thought you had forgotten us," said Laura.
"I forget you, Marchesa! Never."
"You say you came to Rome...."
"From Nice I had to return to London, because my father was seriously ill with an attack of gout."
"He is well again?"
"Yes, thank you. You are coming back from a drive?"
"Don't you want to come and have tea with my wife and me?"
"At the Hotel Excelsior. We are staying there. Will you come?" "All right."
Laura accepted, and they went to the Via Veneto with the Englishman riding beside them.
They went into the hotel and passed through to the "hall" full of people, Marchmont sent word to his wife by a servant, to come down. Laura and Caesar seated themselves with the Englishman.
"This hotel is unbearable," exclaimed Marchmont; "there is nothing here but Americans."
"Your wife, however, must like that," said Caesar.
"No. Susanna is more European every day, and she doesn't care for the shrieking elegance of her compatriots. Besides, her father is here, and that makes her feel less American."
"It is an odd form of filial enthusiasm," remarked Caesar.
"It doesn't shock me. I almost think it's the rule," replied Marchmont; "at home I could see that my brothers and sisters hated one another cordially, and that every member of the family wanted to get away from the others. You two who are so fond of each other are a very rare instance. Is it frequent in Spain that brothers and sisters like one another?"
"Yes, there are instances of it," answered Caesar, laughing.
Mrs. Marchmont arrived, accompanied by an old man who evidently was her father, and two other men. Susanna was most smart; she greeted Laura and Caesar very affably, and presented her father, Mr. Russell; then she presented an English author, tall, skinny, with blue eyes, a white beard, and hair like a halo; and then a young Englishman from the Embassy, a very distinguished person named Kennedy, who was a Catholic.
After the introductions they passed into the dining-room, which was most impressive. It was an exhibition of very smart women, some of them ideally beautiful, and idle men. All about them resounded a nasal English of the American sort.
Susanna Marchmont served the tea and did the honours to her guests. They all talked French, excepting Mr. Russell, who once in a long while uttered some categorical monosyllable in his own language.
Mr. Russell was not of the classic Yankee type; he looked like a vulgar Englishman. He was a serious man, with a short moustache, grey-headed, with three or four gold teeth.
What to Caesar seemed wonderful in this gentleman was his economy of words. There was not one useless expression in his vocabulary, and not the slightest redundancy; whatever partook of merit, prestige, or nobility was condensed, for him, to the idea of value; whatever partook of arrangement, cleanliness, order, was condensed to the word "comfort"; so that Mr. Russell, with a very few words, had everything specified.
To Susanna, imbued with her preoccupation in supreme chic, her father no doubt did not seem a completely decorative father; but he gave Caesar the impression of a forceful man.
Near them, at a table close by, was a little blond man, with a hooked nose and a scanty imperial, in company with a fat lady. They bowed to Marchmont and his wife.