Part 1 out of 6
Produced by Paul Murray, Ari J Joki and the Online Distributed
A ROMAN SINGER
F. MARION CRAWFORD
[Illustration: "Shut the door and double turned the lock."--Chap.
I, Cornelio Grandi, who tell you these things, have a story of my own,
of which some of you are not ignorant. You know, for one thing, that I
was not always poor, nor always a professor of philosophy, nor a
scribbler of pedantic articles for a living. Many of you can remember
why I was driven to sell my patrimony, the dear castello in the
Sabines, with the good corn-land and the vineyards in the valley, and
the olives, too. For I am not old yet; at least, Mariuccia is older,
as I often tell her. These are queer times. It was not any fault of
mine. But now that Nino is growing to be a famous man in the world,
and people are saying good things and bad about him, and many say that
he did wrong in this matter, I think it best to tell you all the whole
truth and what I think of it. For Nino is just like a son to me; I
brought him up from a little child, and taught him Latin, and would
have made a philosopher of him. What could I do? He had so much voice
that he did not know what to do with it.
His mother used to sing. What a piece of a woman she was! She had a
voice like a man's, and when De Pretis brought his singers to the
festa once upon a time, when I was young, he heard her far down below,
as we walked on the terrace of the palazzo, and asked me if I would
not let him educate that young tenor. And when I told him it was one
of the contadine, the wife of a tenant of mine, he would not believe
it. But I never heard her sing after Serafino--that was her
husband--was killed at the fair in Genazzano. And one day the fevers
took her, and so she died, leaving Nino a little baby. Then you know
what happened to me, about that time, and how I sold Castel Serveti
and came to live here in Rome. Nino was brought to me here. One day in
the autumn a carrettiere from Serveti, who would sometimes stop at my
door and leave me a basket of grapes in the vintage, or a pitcher of
fresh oil in winter, because he never used to pay his house-rent when
I was his landlord--but he is a good fellow, Gigi--and so he tries to
make amends now; well, as I was saying, he came one day and gave me a
great basket of fine grapes, and he brought Nino with him, a little
boy of scarce six years--just to show him to me, he said.
He was an ugly little boy, with a hat of no particular shape and a
dirty face. He had great black eyes, with ink-saucers under them,
_calamai_, as we say, just as he has now. Only the eyes are bigger
now, and the circles deeper. But he is still sufficiently ugly. If it
were not for his figure, which is pretty good, he could never have
made a fortune with his voice. De Pretis says he could, but I do not
Well, I made Gigi come in with Nino, and Mariuccia made them each a
great slice of toasted bread and spread it with oil, and gave Gigi a
glass of the Serveti wine, and little Nino had some with water. And
Mariuccia begged to have the child left with her till Gigi went back
the next day; for she is fond of children and comes from Serveti
herself. And that is how Nino came to live with us. That old woman has
no principles of economy, and she likes children.
"What does a little creature like that eat?" said she. "A bit of
bread, a little soup--macche! You will never notice it, I tell you.
And the poor thing has been living on charity. Just imagine whether
you are not quite as able to feed him as Gigi is!" So she persuaded
me. But at first I did it to please her, for I told her our proverb,
which says there can be nothing so untidy about a house as children
and chickens. He was such a dirty little boy, with only one shoe and a
battered hat, and he was always singing at the top of his voice, and
throwing things into the well in the cortile.
Mariuccia can read a little, though I never believed it until I found
her one day teaching Nino his letters out of the _Vite dei Santi_.
That was probably the first time that her reading was ever of any use
to her, and the last, for I think she knows the _Lives of the Saints_
by heart, and she will certainly not venture to read a new book at her
age. However, Nino very soon learned to know as much as she, and she
will always be able to say that she laid the foundation of his
education. He soon forgot to throw handfuls of mud into the well, and
Mariuccia washed him, and I bought him a pair of shoes, and we made
him look very decent. After a time he did not even remember to pull
the cat's tail in the morning, so as to make her sing with him, as he
said. When Mariuccia went to church she would take him with her, and
he seemed very fond of going, so that I asked him one day if he would
like to be a priest when he grew up, and wear beautiful robes, and
have pretty little boys to wait on him with censers in their hands.
"No," said the little urchin, stoutly, "I won't be a priest." He
found in his pocket a roast chestnut Mariuccia had given him, and
began to shell it.
"Why are you always so fond of going to church then?" I asked.
"If I were a big man," quoth he, "but really big, I would sing in
church, like Maestro De Pretis."
"What would you sing, Nino?" said I, laughing. He looked very grave,
and got a piece of brown paper and folded it up. Then he began to beat
time on my knees and sang out boldly, _Cornu ejus exaltabitur_.
It was enough to make one laugh, for he was only seven years old, and
ugly too. But Mariuccia, who was knitting in the hall-way, called out
that it was just what Maestro Ercole had sung the day before at
vespers, every syllable.
I have an old piano in my sitting-room. It is a masterpiece of an
instrument, I can tell you; for one of the legs is gone and I propped
it up with two empty boxes, and the keys are all black except those
that have lost the ivory--and those are green. It has also five
pedals, disposed as a harp underneath; but none of them make any
impression on the sound, except the middle one, which rings a bell.
The sound-board has a crack in it somewhere, Nino says, and two of the
notes are dumb since the great German maestro came home with my boy
one night, and insisted on playing an accompaniment after supper. We
had stewed chickens and a flask of Cesanese, I remember, and I knew
something would happen to the piano. But Nino would never have any
other, for De Pretis had a very good one; and Nino studies without
anything--just a common tuning-fork that he carries in his pocket. But
the old piano was the beginning of his fame. He got into the
sitting-room one day, by himself, and found out that he could make a
noise by striking the keys, and then he discovered that he could make
tunes, and pick out the ones that were always ringing in his head.
After that he could hardly be dragged away from it, so that I sent him
to school to have some quiet in the house.
He was a clever boy, and I taught him Latin and gave him our poets to
read; and as he grew up I would have made a scholar of him, but he
would not. At least, he was willing to learn and to read; but he was
always singing too. Once I caught him declaiming "Arma virumque cano"
to an air from Trovatore, and I knew he could never be a scholar then,
though he might know a great deal. Besides, he always preferred Dante
to Virgil, and Leopardi to Horace.
One day, when he was sixteen or thereabouts, he was making a noise, as
usual, shouting some motive or other to Mariuccia and the cat, while I
was labouring to collect my senses over a lecture I had to prepare.
Suddenly his voice cracked horribly and his singing ended in a sort of
groan. It happened again once or twice, the next day, and then the
house was quiet. I found him at night asleep over the old piano, his
eyes all wet with tears.
"What is the matter, Nino?" I asked. "It is time for youngsters like
you to be in bed."
"Ah, Messer Cornelio," he said, when he was awake, "I had better go to
bed, as you say. I shall never sing again, for my voice is all broken
to pieces"; and he sobbed bitterly.
"The saints be praised," thought I; "I shall make a philosopher of you
But he would not be comforted, and for several months he went about as
if he were trying to find the moon, as we say; and though he read his
books and made progress, he was always sad and wretched, and grew
much thinner, so that Mariuccia said he was consuming himself, and I
thought he must be in love. But the house was very quiet.
I thought as he did, that he would never sing again, but I never
talked to him about it, lest he should try, now that he was as quiet
as a nightingale with its tongue cut out. But nature meant
differently, I suppose. One day De Pretis came to see me; it must have
been near the new year, for he never came often at that time. It was
only a friendly recollection of the days when I had a castello and a
church of my own at Serveti, and used to have him come from Rome to
sing at the festa, and he came every year to see me; and his head grew
bald as mine grew grey, so that at last he wears a black skull-cap
everywhere, like a priest, and only takes it off when he sings the
Gloria Patri, or at the Elevation. However, he came to see me, and
Nino sat mutely by, as we smoked a little and drank the syrup of
violets with water that Mariuccia brought us. It was one of her
eternal extravagances, but somehow, though she never understood the
value of economy, my professorship brought in more than enough for us,
and it was not long after this that I began to buy the bit of vineyard
out of Porta Salara, by instalments from my savings. And since then we
have our own wine.
De Pretis was talking to me about a new opera that he had heard. He
never sang except in church, of course, but he used to go to the
theatre of an evening; so it was quite natural that he should go to
the piano and begin to sing a snatch of the tenor air to me,
explaining the situation as he went along, between his singing.
Nino could not sit still, and went and leaned over Sor Ercole, as we
call the maestro, hanging on the notes, not daring to try and sing,
for he had lost his voice, but making the words with his lips.
"Dio mio!" he cried at last, "how I wish I could sing that!"
"Try it," said De Pretis, laughing and half interested by the boy's
earnest look. "Try it--I will sing it again." But Nino's face fell.
"It is no use," he said. "My voice is all broken to pieces now,
because I sang too much before."
"Perhaps it will come back," said the musician kindly, seeing the
tears in the young fellow's eyes. "See, we will try a scale." He
struck a chord. "Now, open your mouth--so--Do-o-o-o!" He sang a long
note. Nino could not resist any longer, whether he had any voice or
not. He blushed red and turned away, but he opened his mouth and made
"Do-o-o-o!" He sang like the master, but much weaker.
"Not so bad; now the next, Re-e-e!" Nino followed him. And so on, up
After a few more notes, De Pretis ceased to smile, and cried, "Go on,
go on!" after every note, authoritatively, and in quite a different
manner from his first kindly encouragement. Nino, who had not sung for
months, took courage and a long breath, and went on as he was bid, his
voice gaining volume and clearness as he sang higher. Then De Pretis
stopped and looked at him earnestly.
"You are mad," he said. "You have not lost your voice at all."
"It was quite different when I used to sing before," said the boy.
"Per Bacco, I should think so," said the maestro. "Your voice has
changed. Sing something, can't you?"
Nino sang a church air he had caught somewhere. I never heard such a
voice, but it gave me a queer sensation that I liked--it was so true,
and young, and clear. De Pretis sat open-mouthed with astonishment
and admiration. When the boy had finished, he stood looking at the
maestro, blushing very scarlet, and altogether ashamed of himself. The
other did not speak.
"Excuse me," said Nino, "I cannot sing. I have not sung for a long
time. I know it is not worth anything." De Pretis recovered himself.
"You do not sing," said he, "because you have not learned. But you
can. If you will let me teach you, I will do it for nothing."
"Me!" screamed Nino, "you teach _me_! Ah, if it were any use--if you
"Any use?" repeated De Pretis half aloud, as he bit his long black
cigar half through in his excitement. "Any use? My dear boy, do
you know that you have a very good voice? A remarkable voice," he
continued, carried away by his admiration, "such a voice as I have
never heard. You can be the first tenor of your age, if you please--in
three years you will sing anything you like, and go to London and
Paris, and be a great man. Leave it to me."
I protested that it was all nonsense, that Nino was meant for a
scholar and not for the stage, and I was quite angry with De Pretis
for putting such ideas into the boy's head. But it was of no use. You
cannot argue with women and singers, and they always get their own way
in the end. And whether I liked it or not, Nino began to go to Sor
Ercole's house once or twice a week, and sang scales and exercises
very patiently, and copied music in the evening, because he said he
would not be dependent on me, since he could not follow my wishes in
choosing a profession. De Pretis did not praise him much to his face
after they had begun to study, but he felt sure he would succeed.
"Caro Conte,"--he often calls me Count, though I am only plain
Professore, now--"he has a voice like a trumpet and the patience of
all the angels. He will be a great singer."
"Well, it is not my fault," I used to answer; for what could I do?
When you see Nino now, you cannot imagine that he was ever a dirty
little boy from the mountains, with one shoe, and that infamous little
hat. I think he is ugly still, though you do not think so when he is
singing, and he has good strong limbs and broad shoulders, and carries
himself like a soldier. Besides, he is always very well dressed,
though he has no affectations. He does not wear his hair plastered
into a love-lock on his forehead, like some of our dandies, nor is he
eternally pulling a pair of monstrous white cuffs over his hands.
Everything is very neat about him and very quiet, so that you would
hardly think he was an artist after all; and he talks but little,
though he can talk very well when he likes, for he has not forgotten
his Dante nor his Leopardi. De Pretis says the reason he sings so well
is because he has a mouth like the slit in an organ pipe, as wide as a
letter-box at the post-office. But I think he has succeeded because he
has great square jaws like Napoleon. People like that always succeed.
My jaw is small, and my chin is pointed under my beard--but then, with
the beard, no one can see it. But Mariuccia knows.
Nino is a thoroughly good boy, and until a year ago he never cared for
anything but his art; and now he cares for something, I think, a great
deal better than art, even than art like his. But he is a singer
still, and always will be, for he has an iron throat, and never was
hoarse in his life. All those years when he was growing up, he never
had a love-scrape, or owed money, or wasted his time in the caffe.
"Take care," Mariuccia used to say to me, "if he ever takes a fancy to
some girl with blue eyes and fair hair he will be perfectly crazy. Ah,
Sor Conte, _she_ had blue eyes, and her hair was like the corn-silk.
How many years is that, Sor Conte mio?" Mariuccia is an old witch.
I am writing this story to tell you why Mariuccia is a witch, and why
my Nino, who never so much as looked at the beauties of the generone,
as they came with their fathers and brothers and mothers to eat
ice-cream in the Piazza Colonna, and listen to the music of a summer's
evening,--Nino, who stared absently at the great ladies as they rolled
over the Pincio, in their carriages, and was whistling airs to himself
for practice when he strolled along the Corso, instead of looking out
for pretty faces,--Nino, the cold in all things save in music, why he
fulfilled Mariuccia's prophecy, little by little, and became perfectly
crazy about blue eyes and fair hair. That is what I am going to tell
you, if you have the leisure to listen. And you ought to know it,
because evil tongues are more plentiful than good voices in Rome,
as elsewhere, and people are saying many spiteful things about
him--though they clap loudly enough at the theatre when he sings.
He is like a son to me, and perhaps I am reconciled, after all, to his
not having become a philosopher. He would never have been so famous
as he is now, and _he_ really knows so much more than Maestro De
Pretis--in other ways than music--that he is very presentable indeed.
What is blood, nowadays? What difference does it make to society
whether Nino Cardegna, the tenor was the son of a vine-dresser? Or
what does the University care for the fact that I, Cornelio Grandi, am
the last of a race as old as the Colonnas, and quite as honourable?
What does Mariuccia care? What does anybody care? Corpo di Bacco! if
we begin talking of race we shall waste as much time as would make us
all great celebrities! I am not a celebrity--I never shall be now,
for a man must begin at that trade young. It is a profession--being
celebrated--and it has its signal advantages. Nino will tell you so,
and he has tried it. But one must begin young, very young! I cannot
And then, as you all know, I never began at all. I took up life in the
middle, and am trying hard to twist a rope of which I never held the
other end. I feel sometimes as though it must be the life of another
that I have taken, leaving my own unfinished, for I was never meant to
be a professor. That is the way of it; and if I am sad and inclined to
melancholy humours, it is because I miss my old self, and he seems to
have left me without even a kindly word at parting. I was fond of my
old self, but I did not respect him much. And my present self I
respect, without fondness. Is that metaphysics? Who knows? It is
vanity in either case, and the vanity of self-respect is perhaps a
more dangerous thing than the vanity of self-love, though you may call
it pride if you like, or give it any other high-sounding title. But
the heart of the vain man is lighter than the heart of the proud.
Probably Nino has always had much self-respect, but I doubt if it has
made him very happy--until lately. True, he has genius, and does what
he must by nature do or die, whereas I have not even talent, and I
make myself do for a living what I can never do well. What does it
serve, to make comparisons? I could never have been like Nino, though
I believe half my pleasure of late has been in fancying how I should
feel in his place, and living through his triumphs by my imagination.
Nino began at the very beginning, and when all his capital was one
shoe and a ragged hat, and certainly not more than a third of a shirt,
he said he would be a great singer; and he is, though he is scarcely
of age yet. I wish it had been something else than a singer, but since
he is the first already, it was worth while. He would have been great
in anything, though, for he has such a square jaw, and he looks so
fierce when anything needs to be overcome. Our forefathers must have
looked like that, with their broad eagle noses and iron mouths. They
began at the beginning, too, and they went to the very end. I wish
Nino had been a general, or a statesman, or a cardinal, or all three
But you want to hear of Nino, and you can pass on your ways, all of
you, without hearing my reflections and small-talk about goodness,
and success, and the like. Moreover, since I respect myself now, I
must not find so much fault with my own doings, or you will say that
I am in my dotage. And, truly, Nino Cardegna is a better man, for all
his peasant blood, than I ever was; a better lover, and perhaps a
better hater. There is his guitar, that he always leaves here, and it
reminds me of him and his ways. Fourteen years he lived here with me,
from child to boy and from boy to man, and now he is gone, never to
live here any more. The end of it will be that I shall go and live
with him, and Mariuccia will take her cat and her knitting, and her
_Lives of the Saints_ back to Serveti, to end her life in peace,
where there are no professors and no singers. For Mariuccia is older
than I am, and she will die before me. At all events, she will take
her tongue with her, and ruin herself at her convenience without
ruining me. I wonder what life would be without Mariuccia? Would
anybody darn my stockings, or save the peel of the mandarins to make
cordial? I certainly would not have the mandarins if she were
gone--it is a luxury. No, I would not have them. But then, there
would be no cordial, and I should have to buy new stockings every
year or two. No, the mandarins cost less than the stockings--and--well,
I suppose I am fond of Mariuccia.
It was really not so long ago--only one year. The sirocco was blowing
up and down the streets, and about the corners, with its sickening
blast, making us all feel like dead people, and hiding away the sun
from us. It is no use trying to do anything when it blows sirocco, at
least for us who are born here. But I had been persuaded to go with
Nino to the house of Sor Ercole to hear my boy sing the opera he had
last studied, and so I put my cloak over my shoulders, and wrapped its
folds over my breast, and covered my mouth, and we went out. For it
was a cold sirocco, bringing showers of tepid rain from the south, and
the drops seemed to chill themselves as they fell. One moment you are
in danger of being too cold, and the next minute the perspiration
stands on your forehead, and you are oppressed with a moist heat. Like
the prophet, when it blows a real sirocco you feel as if you were
poured out like water, and all your bones were out of joint.
Foreigners do not feel it until they have lived with us a few years,
but Romans are like dead men when the wind is in that quarter.
I went to the maestro's house and sat for two hours listening to the
singing. Nino sang very creditably, I thought, but I allow that I
was not as attentive as I might have been, for I was chilled and
uncomfortable. Nevertheless, I tried to be very appreciative, and I
complimented the boy on the great progress he had made. When I thought
of it, it struck me that I had never heard anybody sing like that
before; but still there was something lacking; I thought it sounded a
little unreal, and I said to myself that he would get admiration, but
never any sympathy. So clear, so true, so rich it was, but wanting a
ring to it, the little thrill that goes to the heart. He sings very
Maestro Ercole De Pretis lives in the Via Paola, close to the Ponte
Sant' Angelo, in a most decent little house--that is, of course, on a
floor of a house, as we all do. But De Pretis is well-to-do, and he
has a marble door plate, engraved in black with his name, and two
sitting-rooms. They are not very large rooms, it is true, but in
one of them he gives his lessons, and the grand piano fills it up
entirely, so that you can only sit on the little black horsehair sofa
at the end, and it is very hard to get past the piano on either side.
Ercole is as broad as he is long, and takes snuff when he is not
smoking. But it never hurts his voice.
It was Sunday, I remember, for he had to sing in St. Peter's in the
afternoon; and it was so near, we walked over with him. Nino had never
lost his love for church music, though he had made up his mind that it
was a much finer thing to be a primo tenore assoluto at the Apollo
Theatre than to sing in the Pope's choir for thirty scudi a month. We
walked along over the bridge, and through the Borgo Nuovo, and across
the Piazza Rusticucci, and then we skirted the colonnade on the left,
and entered the church by the sacristy, leaving De Pretis there to put
on his purple cassock and his white cotta. Then we went into the
Capella del Coro to wait for the vespers.
All sorts of people go to St. Peter's on Sunday afternoon, but they
are mostly foreigners, and bring strange little folding chairs, and
arrange themselves to listen to the music as though it were a concert.
Now and then one of the young gentlemen-in-waiting from the Vatican
strolls in and says his prayers, and there is an old woman, very
ragged and miserable, who has haunted the chapel of the choir for many
years, and sits with perfect unconcern, telling her beads at the foot
of the great reading-desk that stands out in the middle and is never
used. Great ladies crowd in through the gate when Raimondi's hymn is
to be sung, and disreputable artists make sketches surreptitiously
during the benediction, without the slightest pretence at any devotion
that I can see. The lights shine out more brightly as the day wanes,
and the incense curls up as the little boys swing the censers, and the
priests and canons chant, and the choir answers from the organ loft;
and the crowd looks on, some saying their prayers, some pretending to,
and some looking about for the friend or lover they have come to meet.
That evening when we went over together I found myself pushed against
a tall man with an immense gray moustache standing out across his face
like the horns of a beetle. He looked down on me from time to time,
and when I apologised for crowding him his face flushed a little, and
he tried to bow as well as he could in the press, and said something
with a German accent which seemed to be courteous. But I was separated
from Nino by him. Maestro Ercole sang, and all the others, turn and
turn about, and so at last it came to the benediction. The tall old
foreigner stood erect and unbending, but most of the people around him
kneeled. As the crowd sank down I saw that on the other side of him
sat a lady on a small folding stool, her feet crossed one over the
other, and her hands folded on her knees. She was dressed entirely in
black, and her fair face stood out wonderfully clear and bright
against the darkness. Truly she looked more like an angel than a
woman, though perhaps you will think she is not so beautiful after
all, for she is so unlike our Roman ladies. She has a delicate nose,
full of sentiment, and pointed a little downward for pride; she has
deep blue eyes, wide apart and dreamy, and a little shaded by brows
that are quite level and even, with a straight pencilling over them,
that looks really as if it were painted. Her lips are very red and
gentle, and her face is very white, so that the little ringlet that
has escaped control looks like a gold tracery on a white marble
And there she sat with the last light from the tall windows and the
first from the great wax candles shining on her, while all around
seemed dark by contrast. She looked like an angel; and quite as cold,
perhaps most of you would say. Diamonds are cold things, too, but they
shine in the dark; whereas a bit of glass just lets the light through
it, even if it is coloured red and green and put in a church window,
and looks ever so much warmer than the diamond.
But though I saw her beauty and the light of her face, all in a
moment, as though it had been a dream, I saw. Nino, too; for I had
missed him, and had supposed he had gone to the organ loft with De
Pretis. But now, as the people kneeled to the benediction, imagine a
little what he did; he just dropped on his knees with his face to the
white lady, and his back to the procession; it was really disgraceful,
and if it had been lighter I am sure everyone would have noticed it.
At all events, there he knelt, not three feet from the lady, looking
at her as if his heart would break. But I do not believe she saw him,
for she never looked his way. Afterwards everybody got up again, and
we hurried to get out of the Chapel; but I noticed that the tall old
foreigner gave his arm to the beautiful lady, and when they had pushed
their way through the gate that leads into the body of the church,
they did not go away but stood aside for the crowd to pass. Nino
said he would wait for De Pretis, and immediately turned his whole
attention to the foreign girl, hiding himself in the shadow and never
taking his eyes from her.
I never saw Nino look at a woman before as though she interested him
in the least, or I would not have been surprised now to see him lost
in admiration of the fair girl. I was close to him and could see his
face, and it had a new expression on it that I did not know. The
people were almost gone and the lights were being extinguished when De
Pretis came round the corner, looking for us. But I was astonished to
see him bow low to the foreigner and the young lady, and then stop and
enter into conversation with them. They spoke quite audibly, and it
was about a lesson that the young lady had missed. She spoke like a
Roman, but the old gentleman made himself understood in a series of
stiff phrases, which he fired out of his mouth like discharges of
"Who are they?" whispered Nino to me, breathless with excitement and
trembling from head to foot. "Who are they, and how does the maestro
"Eh, caro mio, what am I to know?" I answered indifferently. "They are
some foreigners, some pupil of De Pretis, and her father. How should I
"She is a Roman," said Nino between his teeth. "I have heard
foreigners talk. The old man is a foreigner, but she--she is Roman,"
he repeated with certainty.
"Eh," said I, "for my part she may be Chinese. The stars will not fall
on that account." You see, I thought he had seen her before, and I
wanted to exasperate him by my indifference so that he should tell me;
but he would not, and indeed I found out afterwards that he had
really never seen her before.
Presently the lady and gentleman went away, and we called De Pretis,
for he could not see us in the gloom. Nino became very confidential
and linked an arm in his as we went away.
"Who are they, caro maestro, these enchanting people?" inquired the
boy when they had gone a few steps, and I was walking by Nino's side,
and we were all three nearing the door.
"Foreigners--my foreigners," returned the singer proudly, as he took a
colossal pinch of snuff. He seemed to say that he in his profession
was constantly thrown with people like that, whereas I--oh, I, of
course, was always occupied with students and poor devils who had no
voice, nothing but brains.
"But she," objected Nino,--"she is Roman, I am sure of it."
"Eh," said Ercole, "you know how it is. These foreigners marry and
come here and live, and their children are born here; and they grow up
and call themselves Romans, as proudly as you please. But they are not
really Italians, any more than the Shah of Persia." The maestro smiled
a pitying smile. He is a Roman of Rome, and his great nose scorns
pretenders. In his view Piedmontese, Tuscans, and Neapolitans are as
much foreigners as the Germans or the English. More so, for he likes
the Germans and tolerates the English, but he can call an enemy by no
worse name than "Napoletano" or "Piemontese."
"Then they live here?" cried Nino in delight.
"In fine, maestro mio, who are they?"
"What a diavolo of a boy! Dio mio!" and Ercole laughed under his big
moustache, which is black still. But he is bald, all the same, and
wears a skull-cap.
"Diavolo as much as you please, but I will know," said Nino sullenly.
"Oh bene! Now do not disquiet yourself, Nino--I will tell you all
about them. She is a pupil of mine, and I go to their house in the
Corso and give her lessons."
"And then?" asked Nino impatiently.
"Who goes slowly goes surely," said the maestro sententiously; and he
stopped to light a cigar as black and twisted as his moustache. Then
he continued, standing still in the middle of the piazza to talk at
his ease, for it had stopped raining and the air was moist and sultry,
"They are Prussians, you must know. The old man is a colonel, retired,
pensioned, everything you like, wounded at Koeniggratz by the
Austrians. His wife was delicate, and he brought her to live here long
before he left the service, and the signorina was born here. He has
told me about it, and he taught me to pronounce the name Koeniggratz,
so--Conigherazzo," said the maestro proudly, "and that is how I know."
"Capperi! What a mouthful," said I.
"You may well say that, Sor Conte, but singing teaches us all
languages. You would have found it of great use in your studies." I
pictured to myself a quarter of an hour of Schopenhauer, with a piano
accompaniment and some one beating time.
"But their name, their name I want to know," objected Nino, as he
stepped aside and flattened himself against the pillar to let a
carriage pass. As luck would have it, the old officer and his daughter
were in that very cab, and Nino could just make them out by the
evening twilight. He took off his hat, of course, but I am quite sure
they did not see him.
"Well, their name is prettier than Conigherazzo," said Ercole. "It is
Lira--Erre Gheraffe fonne Lira." (Herr Graf von Lira, I suppose he
meant. And he has the impudence to assert that singing has taught him
to pronounce German.) "And that means," he continued, "Il Conte di
Lira, as we should say."
"Ah! what a divine appellation!" exclaimed Nino enthusiastically,
pulling his hat over his eyes to meditate upon the name at his
"And her name is Edvigia," volunteered the maestro. That is the
Italian for Hedwig, or Hadwig, you know. But we should shorten it and
call her Gigia just as though she were Luisa. Nino does not think it
so pretty. Nino was silent. Perhaps he was always shy of repeating the
familiar name of the first woman he had ever loved. Imagine! At twenty
he had never been in love! It is incredible to me,--and one of our own
people, too, born at Serveti.
Meanwhile the maestro's cigar had gone out, and he lit it with a
blazing sulphur match before he continued; and we all walked on again.
I remember it all very distinctly, because it was the beginning
of Nino's madness. Especially I call to mind his expression of
indifference when Ercole began to descant upon the worldly possessions
of the Lira household. It seemed to me that if Nino so seriously cast
his eyes on the Contessina Edvigia, he might at least have looked
pleased to hear she was so rich; or he might have looked disappointed,
if he thought that her position was an obstacle in his way. But he did
not care about it at all, and walked straight on, humming a little
tune through his nose with his mouth shut, for he does everything to a
"They are certainly gran' signor," Ercole said. "They live on the
first floor of the Palazzo Carmandola,--you know, in the Corso--and
they have a carriage, and keep two men in livery, just like a Roman
prince. Besides, the count once sent me a bottle of wine at Christmas.
It was as weak as water, and tasted like the solfatara of Tivoli, but
it came from his own vineyard in Germany, and was at least fifty years
old. If he has a vineyard, he has a castello, of course. And if he has
a castello, he is a gran' signor,--eh? what do you think, Sor Conte?
You know about such things."
"I did once, maestro mio. It is very likely."
"And as for the wine being sour, it was because it was so old. I am
sure the Germans cannot make wine well. They are not used to drinking
it good, or they would not drink so much when they come here." We were
crossing the bridge, and nearing Ercole's house.
"Maestro," said Nino, suddenly. He had not spoken for some time, and
he had finished his tune.
"Is not to-morrow our day for studying?"
"Diavolo! I gave you two hours to-day. Have you forgotten?"
"Ah,--it is true. But give me a lesson to-morrow, like a good maestro
as you are. I will sing like an angel if you will give me a lesson
"Well, if you like to come at seven in the morning, and if you promise
to sing nothing but solfeggi of Bordogni for an hour, and not to
strain your voice, or put too much vinegar in your salad at supper, I
will think about it. Does that please you? Conte, don't let him eat
too much vinegar."
"I will do all that if I may come," said Nino readily, though he would
rather not sing at all, at most times, than sing Bordogni, De Pretis
"Meglio cosi,--so much the better. Good-night, Sor Conte. Good-night,
Nino." And so he turned down the Via Paola, and Nino and I went our
way. I stopped to buy a cigar at the little tobacco shop just opposite
the Tordinona Theatre. They used to be only a baiocco apiece, and I
could get one at a time. But now they are two for three baiocchi; and
so I have to get two always, because there are no half baiocchi any
more--nothing but centimes. That is one of the sources of my
extravagance. Mariuccia says I am miserly; she was born poor, and
never had to learn the principles of economy.
"Nino mio," I said, as we went along, "you really make me laugh."
"Which is to say--" He was humming a tune again, and was cross because
I interrupted him.
"You are in love. Do not deny it. You are already planning how you can
make the acquaintance of the foreign contessa. You are a fool. Go
home, and get Mariuccia to give you some syrup of tamarind to cool
"Well? Now tell me, were you never in love with anyone yourself?" he
asked, by way of answer; and I could see the fierce look come into his
eyes in the dark as he said it.
"Altro,--that is why I laugh at you. When I was your age I had been in
love twenty times. But I never fell in love at first sight--and with a
doll; really a wax doll, you know, like the Madonna in the presepio
that they set up at the Ara Coeli, at Epiphany."
"A doll!" he cried. "Who is a doll, if you please?" We stopped at the
corner of the street to argue it out.
"Do you think she is really alive?" I asked, laughing. Nino disdained
to answer me, but he looked savagely from under the brim of his hat.
"Look here," I continued, "women like that are only made to be looked
at. They never love, for they have no hearts. It is lucky if they
have souls, like Christians."
"I will tell you what I think," said he stoutly; "she is an angel."
"Oh! is that all? Did you ever hear of an angel being married?"
"You shall hear of it, Sor Cornelio, and before long. I swear to you,
here, that I will marry the Contessina di Lira--if that is her
name--before two years are out. Ah, you do not believe me. Very well.
I have nothing more to say."
"My dear son," said I,--for he is a son to me,--"you are talking
nonsense. How can anybody in your position hope to marry a great lady,
who is an heiress? Is it not true that it is all stuff and nonsense?"
"No, it is not true," cried Nino, setting his square jaw like a bit
and speaking through his teeth. "I am ugly, you say; I am dark, and I
have no position, or wealth, or anything of the kind. I am the son of
a peasant and of a peasant's wife. I am anything you please, but I
will marry her if I say I will. Do you think it is for nothing that
you have taught me the language of Dante, of Petrarca, of Silvio
Pellico? Do you think it is for nothing that Heaven has given me my
voice? Do not the angels love music, and cannot I make as good songs
as they? Or do you think that because I am bred a singer my hand is
not as strong as a fine gentleman's--contadino as I am? I will--I will
and I will, Basta!"
I never saw him look like that before. He had folded his arms, and he
nodded his head a little at each repetition of the word, looking at me
so hard, as we stood under the gas lamp in the street, that I was
obliged to turn my eyes away. He stared me out of countenance--he, a
peasant boy! Then we walked on.
"And as for her being a wax doll, as you call her," he continued
after a little time, "that is nonsense, if you want the word to be
used. Truly, a doll! And the next minute you compare her to the
Madonna! I am sure she has a heart as big as this," and he stretched
out his hands into the air. "I can see it in her eyes. Ah, what eyes!"
I saw it was no use arguing on that tack, and I felt quite sure that
he would forget all about it, though he looked so determined, and
talked so grandly about his will.
"Nino," I said, "I am older than you." I said this to impress him, of
course, for I am not really so very old.
"Diamini!" he cried impertinently, "I believe it!"
"Well, well, do not be impatient. I have seen something in my time,
and I tell you those foreign women are not like ours, a whit. I fell
in love, once, with a northern fairy,--she was not German, but she
came from Lombardy, you see,--and that is the reason why I lost
Serveti and all the rest."
"But I have no Serveti to lose," objected Nino.
"You have a career as a musician to lose. It is not much of a career
to be stamping about with a lot of figuranti and scene-shifters, and
screaming yourself hoarse every night." I was angry because he laughed
at my age. "But it is a career, after all, that you have chosen for
yourself. If you get mixed up in an intrigue now, you may ruin
yourself. I hope you will."
"Grazie! And then?"
"Eh, it might not be such a bad thing after all. For if you could be
induced to give up the stage--"
"I--_I_ give up singing?" he cried, indignantly.
"Oh, such things happen, you know. If you were to give it up, as I was
saying, you might then possibly use your mind. A mind is a much
better thing than a throat, after all."
"Ebbene! talk as much as you please, for, of course, you have the
right, for you have brought me up, and you have certainly opposed my
singing enough to quiet your conscience. But, dear professor, I will
do all that I say, and if you will give me a little help in this
matter, you will not repent it."
"Help? Dio mio! What do you take me for? As if I could help you, or
would! I suppose you want money to make yourself a dandy, a piano, to
go and stand at the corner of the Piazza Colonna and ogle her as she
goes by! In truth! You have fine projects."
"No," said Nino quietly, "I do not want any money or anything else at
present, thank you. And do not be angry, but come into the caffe and
drink some lemonade; and I will invite you to it, for I have been paid
for my last copying that I sent in yesterday." He put his arm in mine,
and we went in. There is no resisting Nino when he is affectionate.
But I would not let him pay for the lemonade. I paid for it myself.
Now I ought to tell you that many things in this story were only told
me quite lately, for at first I would not help Nino at all, thinking
it was but a foolish fancy of his boy's heart and would soon pass. I
have tried to gather and to order all the different incidents into one
harmonious whole, so that you can follow the story; and you must not
wonder that I can describe some things that I did not see, and that I
know how some of the people felt; for Nino and I have talked over the
whole matter very often, and the baroness came here and told me her
share, though I wonder how she could talk so plainly of what must have
given her so much pain. But it was very kind of her to come; and she
sat over there in the old green arm-chair by the glass case that has
the artificial flowers under it, and the sugar lamb that the padre
curato gave Nino when he made his first communion at Easter. However,
it is not time to speak of the baroness yet, but I cannot forget her.
Nino was very amusing when he began to love the young countess, and
the very first morning--the day after we had been to St. Peter's--he
went out at half-past six, though it was only just sunrise, for we
were in October. I knew very well that he was going for his extra
lesson with De Pretis, but I had nothing to say about it, and I only
recommended him to cover himself well, for the sirocco had passed and
it was a bright morning, with a clear tramontana wind blowing fresh
from the north. I can always tell when it is a tramontana wind before
I open my window, for Mariuccia makes such a clattering with the
coffee-pot in the kitchen, and the goldfinch in the sitting-room sings
very loud; which he never does if it is cloudy. Nino, then, went off
to Maestro Ercole's house for his singing, and this is what happened
De Pretis knew perfectly well that Nino had only asked for the extra
lesson in order to get a chance of talking about the Contessina di
Lira, and so, to tease him, as soon as he appeared, the maestro made a
great bustle about singing scales, and insisted on beginning at once.
Moreover, he pretended to be in a bad humour; and that is always
pretence with him.
"Ah, my little tenor," he began; "you want a lesson at seven in the
morning, do you? That is the time when all the washerwomen sing at the
fountain! Well, you shall have a lesson, and by the body of Bacchus it
shall be a real lesson! Now, then! Andiamo--Do-o-o!" and he roared out
a great note that made the room shake, and a man who was selling
cabbage in the street stopped his hand-cart and mimicked him for five
"But I am out of breath, maestro," protested Nino, who wanted to talk.
"Out of breath? A singer is never out of breath. Absurd! What would
you do if you got out of breath, say, in the last act of _Lucia_,
so--Bell'alma ado--?? Then your breath ends, eh? Will you stay with
the 'adored soul' between your teeth? A fine singer you will make!
Nino saw he must begin, and he set up a shout, much against his will,
so that the cabbage-vendor chimed in, making so much noise that the
old woman who lives opposite opened her window and emptied a great
dustpan full of potato peelings and refuse leaves of lettuce right on
his head. And then there was a great noise. But the maestro paid no
attention, and went on with the scale, hardly giving Nino time to
breathe. Nino, who stood behind De Pretis while he sang, saw the copy
of Bordogni's solfeggi lying on a chair, and managed to slip it under
a pile of music near by, singing so lustily all the while that the
maestro never looked round.
When he got to the end of the scale Ercole began hunting for the
music, and as he could not find it, Nino asked him questions.
"Can she sing,--this contessina of yours, maestro?" De Pretis was
overturning everything in his search.
"An apoplexy on those solfeggi and on the man who made them!" he
cried. "Sing, did you say? Yes, a great deal better than you ever
will. Why can you not look for your music, instead of chattering?"
Nino began to look where he knew it was not.
"By the by, do you give her lessons every day?" asked the boy.
"Every day? Am I crazy, to ruin people's voices like that?"
"Caro maestro, what is the matter with you this morning? You have
forgotten to say your prayers!"
"You are a donkey, Nino; here he is, this blessed Bordogni,--now
"Sor Ercole mio," said Nino in despair, "I must really know something
about this angel, before I sing at all." Ercole sat down on the piano
stool, and puffed up his cheeks, and heaved a tremendous sigh, to show
how utterly bored he was by his pupil. Then he took a large pinch of
snuff, and sighed again.
"What demon have you got into your head?" he asked, at length.
"What angel, you mean," answered Nino, delighted at having forced the
maestro to a parley. "I am in love with her--crazy about her," he
cried, running his fingers through his curly hair, "and you must help
me to see her. You can easily take me to her house to sing duets as
part of her lesson. I tell you I have not slept a wink all night for
thinking of her, and unless I see her I shall never' sleep again as
long as I live. Ah!" he cried, putting his hands on Ercole's
shoulders, "you do not know what it is to be in love! How everything
one touches is fire, and the sky is like lead, and one minute you are
cold and one minute you are hot, and you may turn and turn on your
pillow all night and never sleep, and you want to curse everybody you
see, or to embrace them, it makes no difference--anything to express
"Devil! and may he carry you off!" interrupted Ercole, laughing. But
his manner changed. "Poor fellow," he said presently, "it appears to
me you are in love."
"It appears to you, does it? 'Appears'--a beautiful word, in faith. I
can tell you it appears to me so, too. Ah! it 'appears' to you--very
good indeed!" And Nino waxed wroth.
"I will give you some advice, Ninetto mio. Do not fall in love with
anyone. It always ends badly."
"You come late with your counsel, Sor Ercole. In truth, a very good
piece of advice when a man is fifty, and married, and wears a
skull-cap. When I wear a skull-cap and take snuff I will follow your
instructions." He walked up and down the room, grinding his teeth, and
clapping his hands together. Ercole rose and stopped him.
"Let us talk seriously," he said.
"With all my heart; as seriously as you please."
"You have only seen this signorina once."
"Once!" cried Nino,--"as if once were not--"
"Diavolo; let me speak. You have only seen her once. She is noble, an
heiress, a great lady--worse than all, a foreigner; as beautiful as a
statue, if you please, but twice as cold. She has a father who knows
the proprieties, a piece of iron, I tell you, who would kill you just
as he would drink a glass of wine, with the greatest indifference, if
he suspected you lifted your eyes to his daughter."
"I do not believe your calumnies," said Nino still hotly, "She is not
cold, and if I can see her she will listen to me. I am sure of it."
"We will speak of that by and by. You--what are you? Nothing but a
singer, who has not even appeared before the public, without a baiocco
in the world or anything else but your voice. You are not even
"What difference does that make to a woman of heart?" retorted Nino
angrily. "Let me only speak to her--"
"A thousand devils!" exclaimed De Pretis impatiently; "what good will
you do by speaking to her? Are you Dante, or Petrarca, or a
preacher--what are you? Do you think you can have a great lady's hand
for the asking? Do you flatter yourself that you are so eloquent that
nobody can withstand you?"
"Yes," said Nino, boldly. "If I could only speak to her--"
"Then in heaven's name, go and speak to her. Get a new hat and a pair
of lavender gloves, and walk about the Villa Borghese until you meet
her, and then throw yourself on your knees and kiss her feet, and the
dust from her shoes; and say you are dying for her, and will she be
good enough to walk as far as Santa Maria del Popolo and be married to
you! That is all; you see it is nothing you ask--a mere politeness on
her part--oh, nothing, nothing." And De Pretis rubbed his hands and
smiled, and seeing that Nino did not answer, he blew his nose with his
great blue cotton handkerchief.
"You have no heart at all, maestro," said Nino at last. "Let us sing."
They worked hard at Bordogni for half an hour, and Nino did not open
his mouth except to produce the notes. But as his blood was up from
the preceding interview he took great pains, and Ercole, who makes him
sing all the solfeggi he can from a sense of duty, himself wearied of
the ridiculous old-fashioned runs and intervals.
"Bene," he said; "let us sing a piece now, and then you will have done
enough." He put an opera on the piano, and Nino lifted up his voice
and sang, only too glad to give his heart passage to his lips. Ercole
screwed up his eyes with a queer smile he has when he is pleased.
"Capperi!" he ejaculated, when Nino had done.
"What has happened?" asked the latter.
"I cannot tell you what has happened," said Ercole, "but I will tell
you that you had better always sing like that, and you will be
applauded. Why have you never sung that piece in that way before?"
"I do not know. Perhaps it is because I am unhappy."
"Very well, never dare to be happy again, if you mean to succeed. You
can make a statue shed tears if you please." Ercole took a pinch of
snuff, and turned round to look out of the window. Nino leaned on the
piano, drumming with his fingers and looking at the back of the
maestro's head. The first rays of the sun just fell into the room and
gilded the red brick floor.
"Then instead of buying lavender kid gloves," said Nino at last, his
face relaxing a little, "and going to the Villa Borghese, you advise
me to borrow a guitar and sing to my statue? Is that it?"
"Che Diana! I did not say that!" said Ercole, still facing the window
and finishing his pinch of snuff with a certain satisfaction. "But if
you want the guitar, take it--there it lies. I will not answer for
what you do with it." His voice sounded kindly, for he was so much
pleased. Then he made Nino sing again, a little love song of Tosti,
who writes for the heart and sings so much better without a voice than
all your stage tenors put together. And the maestro looked long at
Nino when he had done, but he did not say anything. Nino put on his
hat gloomily enough, and prepared to go.
"I will take the guitar, if you will lend it to me," he said.
"Yes, if you like, and I will give you a handkerchief to wrap it up
with," said De Pretis, absently, but he did not get up from his seat.
He was watching Nino, and he seemed to be thinking. Just as the boy
was going with the instrument under his arm he called him back.
"Ebbene?" said Nino, with his hand on the lock of the door.
"I will make you a song to sing to your guitar," said Ercole.
"Yes--but without music. Look here, Nino--sit down. What a hurry you
are in. I was young myself, once upon time."
"Once upon a time! Fairy stories--once upon a time there was a king,
and so on." Nino was not to be easily pacified.
"Well, perhaps it is a fairy tale, but it is in the future. I have an
"Oh, is that all? But it is the first time. I understand."
Listen. Have you read Dante?"
"I know the _Vita Nuova_ by heart, and some of the _Commedia_. But how
the diavolo does Dante enter into this question?"
"And Silvio Pellico, and a little literature?" continued Ercole, not
heeding the comment.
"Yes, after a fashion. And you? Do you know them?"
"Che c'entro io?" cried Ercole, impatiently; "what do I want to know
such things for? But I have heard of them."
"I congratulate you," replied Nino, ironically.
"Have patience. You are no longer an artist. You are a professor of
"I--a professor of literature? What nonsense are you talking?"
"You are a great stupid donkey, Nino. Supposing I obtain for you an
engagement to read literature with the Contessina di Lira, will you
not be a professor? If you prefer singing--" But Nino comprehended in
a flash the whole scope of the proposal, and threw his arm round
Ercole's neck and embraced him.
"What a mind! Oh, maestro mio, I will die for you! Command me, and
I will do anything for you; I will run errands for you, black
your boots, anything--" he cried in the ecstasy of delight that
"Piano, piano," objected the maestro, disengaging himself from his
pupil's embrace. "It is not done yet. There is much, much to think of
first." Nino retreated, a little disconcerted at not finding his
enthusiasm returned, but radiant still.
"Calm yourself," said Ercole, smiling. "If you do this thing you must
act a part. You must manage to conceal your occupation entirely. You
must look as solemn as an undertaker and be a real professor. They
will ultimately find you out, and throw you out of the window, and
dismiss me for recommending you. But that is nothing."
"No," said Nino, "that is of no importance." And he ran his fingers
through his hair, and looked delighted.
"You shall know all about it this evening, or to-morrow--"
"This evening, Sor Ercole, this evening, or I shall die. Stay, let me
go to the house with you, when you give your lesson, and wait for you
at the door."
"Pumpkin-head! I will have nothing to do with you," said De Pretis.
"Ah, I will be as quiet as you please. I will be like a lamb, and wait
until this evening."
"If you will really be quiet, I will do what you wish. Come to me
this evening about the Ave Maria--or a little earlier. Yes, come at
twenty-three hours. In October that is about five o'clock, by French
"And I may take the guitar?" said Nino, as he rose to go.
"With all my heart. But do not spoil everything by singing to her, and
So Nino thanked the maestro enthusiastically and went away, humming a
tune, as he now and again struck the strings of the guitar that he
carried under his arm, to be sure it was there.
Do not think that because De Pretis suddenly changed his mind, and
even proposed to Nino a plan for making the acquaintance of the young
countess, he is a man to veer about like a weather-cock, nor yet a bad
man, willing to help a boy to do mischief. That is not at all like
Ercole de Pretis. He has since told me he was much astonished at the
way Nino sang the love song at his lesson; and he was instantly
convinced that in order to be a great artist Nino must be in love
always. Besides, the maestro is as liberal in his views of life as he
is conservative in his ideas about government. Nino is everything the
most straight-laced father could wish him to be, and as he was then
within a few months of making his first appearance on the stage, De
Pretis, who understands those things, could very well foresee the
success he has had. Now De Pretis is essentially a man of the people,
and I am not; therefore he saw no objection in the way of a match
between a great singer and a noble damigelia. But had I known what was
going on, I would have stopped the whole affair at that point, for I
am not so weak as Mariuccia seems to think. I do not mean now that
everything is settled I would wish it undone. Heaven forbid! But I
would have stopped it then, for it is a most incongruous thing, a
peasant boy making love to a countess.
Nino, however, has one great fault, and that is his reticence. It is
true, he never does anything he would not like me, or all the world,
to know. But I would like to know, all the same. It is a habit I have
fallen into, from having to watch that old woman, for fear she should
be too extravagant. All that time he never said anything, and I
supposed he had forgotten all about the contessina, for I did not
chance to see De Pretis; and when I did he talked of nothing but
Nino's _debut_ and the arrangements that were to be made. So that I
knew nothing about it, though I was pleased to see him reading so
much. He took a sudden fancy for literature, and read when he was not
singing, and even made me borrow Ambrosoli, in several volumes, from a
friend. He read every word of it, and talked very intelligently about
it too. I never thought there was any reason.
But De Pretis thinks differently. He believes that a man may be the
son of a ciociaro--a fellow who ties his legs up in rags and thongs,
and lives on goats' milk in the mountains--and that if he has brains
enough, or talent enough, he may marry any woman he likes without ever
thinking whether she is noble or not. De Pretis must be old-fashioned,
for I am sure I do not think in that way, and I know a hundred times
as much as he--a hundred times.
I suppose it must have been the very day when Nino had been to De
Pretis in the morning that he had instructions to go to the house of
Count von Lira on the morrow; for I remember very well that Nino acted
strangely in the evening, singing and making a noise for a few
minutes, and then burying himself in a book. However that may be, it
was very soon afterwards that he went to the Palazzo Carmandola,
dressed in his best clothes, he tells me, in order to make a
favourable impression on the count. The latter had spoken to De Pretis
about the lessons in literature, to which he attached great
importance, and the maestro had turned the idea to account for his
pupil. But Nino did not expect to see the young contessa on this first
day, or at least he did not hope he would be able to speak to her. And
so it turned out.
The footman, who had a red waistcoat, and opened the door with
authority, as if ready to close it again on the smallest provocation,
did not frighten Nino at all, though he eyed him suspiciously enough,
and after ascertaining his business departed to announce him to the
count. Meanwhile, Nino, who was very much excited at the idea of being
under the same roof with the object of his adoration, set himself down
on one of the carved chests that surrounded the hall. The green baize
door at the other end swung noiselessly on its hinges, closing itself
behind the servant, and the boy was left alone. He might well be
frightened, if not at the imposing appearance of the footman, at
least at the task he had undertaken. But a boy like Nino is afraid of
nothing when he is in love, and he simply looked about him, realising
that he was without doubt in the house of a gran' signor, and from
time to time brushing a particle of dust from his clothes, or trying
to smooth his curly black hair, which he had caused to be clipped a
little for the occasion; a very needless expense, for he looks better
with his hair long.
Before many moments the servant returned, and with some condescension
said that the count awaited him. Nino would rather have faced the
mayor, or the king himself, than Graf von Lira, though he was not at
all frightened--he was only very much excited, and he strove to calm
himself, as he was ushered through the apartments to the small
sitting-room where he was expected.
Graf von Lira, as I have already told you, is a foreigner of rank, who
had been a Prussian colonel, and was wounded in the war of 1866. He is
very tall, very thin, and very grey, with wooden features and a huge
moustache that stands out like the beaks on the colonna rostrata. His
eyes are small and very far apart, and fix themselves with terrible
severity when he speaks, even if he is only saying "good-morning." His
nails are very long and most carefully kept, and though he is so lame
that he could not move a step without the help of his stick, he is
still an upright and military figure. I remember well how he looked,
for he came to see me under peculiar circumstances, many months after
the time of which I am now speaking; and, besides, I had stood next to
him for an hour in the chapel of the choir in St. Peter's.
He speaks Italian intelligibly, but with the strangest German
constructions, and he rolls the letter _r_ curiously in his throat.
But he is an intelligent man for a soldier, though he thinks talent is
a matter of education, and education a matter of drill. He is the most
ceremonious man I ever saw; and Nino says he rose from his chair to
meet him, and would not sit down again until Nino was seated.
"The signore is the professor of Italian literature recommended to
me by Signor De Pretis?" inquired the colonel in iron tones, as he
"Yes, Signor Conte," was the answer.
"You are a singularly young man to be a professor." Nino trembled.
"And how have you the education obtained in order the obligations and
not-to-be-avoided responsibilities of this worthy-of-all-honour career
"I went to school here, Signor Conte, and the Professor Grandi, in
whose house I always have lived, has taught me everything else I
"What do you know?" inquired the count, so suddenly that Nino was
taken off his guard. He did not know what to answer. The count looked
very stern and pulled his moustaches. "You have not here come,"
he continued, seeing that Nino made no answer, "without knowing
something. Evident is it, that, although a man young be, if he nothing
knows, he cannot a professor be."
"You speak justly, Signor Conte," Nino answered at last, "and I do
know some things. I know the _Commedia_ of Alighieri, and Petrarca,
and I have read the _Gerusalemme Liberata_ with Professor Grandi, and
I can repeat all of the _Vita Nuova_ by heart, and some of the--"
"For the present that is enough," said the count. "If you nothing
better to do have, will you so kind be as to begin?"
"Begin?" said Nino, not understanding.
"Yes, signore; it would unsuitable be if I my daughter to the hands of
a man committed unacquainted with the matter he to teach her proposes.
I desire to be satisfied that you all these things really know."
"Do I understand, Signor Conte, that you wish me to repeat to you some
of the things I know by heart?"
"You have me understood," said the count severely, "I have all the
books bought of which you speak. You will repeat, and I will in the
book follow. Then shall we know each other much better."
Nino was not a little astonished at this mode of procedure, and
wondered how far his memory would serve him in such an unexpected
"It will take a long time to ascertain in this way--" he began.
"This," said the count coldly, as he opened a volume of Dante, "is the
celestial play by Signor Alighieri. If you anything know, you will it
Nino resigned himself and began repeating the first canto of the
"Inferno." When he had finished it he paused.
"Forwards," said the count, without any change of manner.
"More?" inquired Nino.
"March!" said the old gentleman in military tone, and the boy went on
with the second canto.
"Apparently know you the beginning." The count opened the book at
random in another place. "The thirtieth canto of 'Purgatory.' You will
now it repeat."
"Ah!" cried Nino, "that is where Dante meets Beatrice."
"My hitherto not-by-any-means-extensive, but always from-the-conscience-
undertaken reading, reaches not so far. You will it repeat. So shall we
know." Nino passed his hand inside his collar as though to free his
throat, and began again, losing all consciousness of his tormentor in
his own enjoyment of the verse.
"When was the Signor Alighieri born?" inquired Graf von Lira, very
suddenly, as though to catch him.
"May 1265, in Florence," answered the other, as quickly.
"I said when, not where. I know he was in Florence born. When _and_
where died he?" The question was asked fiercely.
"Fourteenth of September 1321, at Ravenna."
"I think really you something of Signor Alighieri know," said the
count, and shut up the volume of the poet and the dictionary of dates
he had been obliged to consult to verify Nino's answers. "We will
Nino is fortunately one of those people whose faculties serve them
best at their utmost need, and during the three hours--three blessed
hours--that Graf von Lira kept him under his eye, asking questions and
forcing him to repeat all manner of things, he acquitted himself
"I have now myself satisfied that you something know," said the count,
in his snappish military fashion, and he shut the last book, and never
from that day referred in any manner to Nino's extent of knowledge,
taking it for granted that he had made an exhaustive investigation.
"And now," he continued, "I desire you to engage for the reading of
literature with my daughter, upon the usual terms." Nino was so much
pleased that he almost lost his self-control, but a moment restored
"I am honoured--" he began.
"You are not honoured at all," interrupted the count, coldly. "What
are the usual terms?"
"Three or four francs a lesson," suggested Nino.
"Three or four francs are not the usual terms. I have inquiries made.
Five francs are the usual terms. Three times in the week, at eleven.
You will on the morrow begin. Allow me to offer you some cigars." And
he ended the interview.
In a sunny room overlooking the great courtyard of the Palazzo
Carmandola, Nino sat down to give Hedwig von Lira her first lesson in
Italian literature. He had not the remotest idea what the lesson would
be like, for in spite of the tolerably wide acquaintance with the
subject which he owed to my care and my efforts to make a scholar of
him, he knew nothing about teaching. Nevertheless, as his pupil spoke
the language fluently, though with the occasional use of words of low
origin, like all foreigners who have grown up in Rome and have learned
to speak from their servants, he anticipated little difficulty. He
felt quite sure of being able to interpret the hard places, and he had
learned from me to know the best and finest passages in a number of
But imagine the feelings of a boy of twenty, perfectly in love,
without having the smallest right to be, suddenly placed by the side
of the object of his adoration, and told to teach her all he
knows--with her father in the next room and the door open between! I
have always thought it was a proof of Nino's determined character,
that he should have got over this first lesson without accident.
Hedwig von Lira, the contessina, as we always call her, is just Nino's
age, but she seemed much younger, as the children of the North always
do. I have told you what she was like to look at, and you will not
wonder that I called her a statue. She looked as cold as a statue,
just as I said, and so I should hardly describe her as beautiful. But
then I am not a sculptor, nor do I know anything about those arts,
though I can tell a good work when I see it. I do not wish to appear
prejudiced, and so I will not say anything more about it. I like life
in living things, and sculptors may, if it please them, adore straight
noses, and level brows, and mouths that no one could possibly eat
with. I do not care in the least, and if you say that I once thought
differently, I answer that I do not wish to change your opinion, but
that I will change my own as often as I please. Moreover, if you say
that the contessina did not act like a statue in the sequel, I will
argue that if you put marble in the fire it will take longer to heat
and longer to cool than clay; only clay is made to be put into the
fire, and marble is not. Is not that a cunning answer?
The contessina is a foreigner in every way, although she was born
under our sun. They have all sorts of talents, these people, but so
little ingenuity in using them that they never accomplish anything. It
seems to amuse them to learn to do a great many things, although they
must know from the beginning that they can never excel in any one of
them. I dare say the contessina plays on the piano very creditably,
for even Nino says she plays well; but is it of any use to her?
Nino very soon found out that she meant to read literature very
seriously, and, what is more, she meant to read it in her own way. She
was as different from her father as possible in everything else, but
in a despotic determination to do exactly as she liked, she resembled
him. Nino was glad that he was not called upon to use his own
judgment, and there he sat, content to look at her, twisting his hands
together below the table to concentrate his attention and master
himself; and he read just what she told him to read, expounding the
words and phrases she could not understand. I dare say that with his
hair well brushed, and his best coat, and his eyes on the book, he
looked as proper as you please. But if the high-born young lady had
returned the glances he could not refrain from bending upon her now
and then, she would have seen a lover, if she could see at all.
She did not see. The haughty Prussian damsel hardly noticed the man,
for she was absorbed by the professor. Her small ears were all
attention, and her slender fingers made notes with a common pencil, so
that Nino wondered at the contrast between the dazzling white hand and
the smooth, black, varnished instrument of writing. He took no account
of time that day, and was startled by the sound of the mid-day gun and
the angry clashing of the bells. The contessina looked up suddenly and
met his eyes, but it was the boy that blushed.
"Would you mind finishing the canto?" she asked. "There are only ten
lines more--" Mind! Nino flushed with pleasure.
"Anzi--by all means," he cried. "My time is yours, signorina."
When they had done he rose, and his face was sad and pale again. He
hated to go, but he was only a teacher, and at his first lesson, too.
She also rose, and waited for him to leave the room. He could not hold
"Signorina--" he stammered, and checked himself. She looked at him, to
listen, but his heart smote him when he had thus arrested her attention.
What could he say as he stood bowing? It was sufficiently stupid, what
"I shall have the honour of returning to-morrow, the day after
to-morrow, I would say."
"Yes," said she, "I believe that is the arrangement. Good-morning,
Signor Professore." The title of professor rang strangely in his ear.
Was there the slightest tinge of irony in her voice? Was she laughing
at his boyish looks? Ugh! the thought tingled. He bowed himself out.
That was the first lesson, and the second was like it, I suppose, and
a great many others about which I knew nothing, for I was always
occupied in the middle of the day, and did not ask where he went. It
seemed to me that he was becoming a great dandy, but as he never asked
me for any money from the day he learnt to copy music I never put any
questions. He certainly had a new coat before Christmas, and gloves,
and very nice boots, that made me smile when I thought of the day when
he arrived, with only one shoe--and it had a hole in it as big as half
his foot. But now he grew to be so careful of his appearance that
Mariuccia began to call him the "signorino." De Pretis said he was
making great progress, and so I was contented, though I always thought
it was a sacrifice for him to be a singer.
Of course, as he went three times a week to the Palazzo Carmandola, he
began to be used to the society of the contessina. I never understood
how he succeeded in keeping up the comedy of being a professor. A real
Roman would have discovered him in a week. But foreigners are
different. If they are satisfied they pay their money and ask no
questions. Besides, he studied all the time, saying that if he ever
lost his voice he would turn man of letters; which sounded so prudent
that I had nothing to say. Once, we were walking in the Corso, and the
contessina with her father passed in the carriage. Nino raised his
hat, but they did not see him, for there is always a crowd in the
"Tell me," he cried, excitedly, as they went by, "is it not true that
she is beautiful?"
"A piece of marble, my son," said I, suspecting nothing; and I turned
into a tobacconist's to buy a cigar.
One day--Nino says it was in November--the contessina began asking him
questions about the Pantheon, it was in the middle of the lesson, and
he wondered at her stopping to talk. But you may imagine whether he
was glad or not to have an opportunity of speaking about something
"Yes, signorina," he answered, "Professor Grandi says it was built for
public baths; but, of course, we all think it was a temple."
"Were you ever there at night?" asked she, indifferently, and the sun
through the window so played with her golden hair that Nino wondered
how she could ever think of night at all.
"At night, signorina? No indeed! What should I go there at night to
do, in the dark! I was never there at night."
"I will go there at night," she said briefly.
"Ah--you would have it lit up with torches, as they do the Coliseum?"
"No. Is there no moon in Italy, professore?"
"The moon, there is. But there is such a little hole in the top of the
Rotonda"--that is our Roman name for the Pantheon--"that it would be
"Precisely," said she. "I will go there at night, and see the moon
shining through the hole in the dome."
"Eh," cried Nino laughing, "you will see the moon better outside in
the piazza. Why should you go inside, where you can see so little of
"I will go," replied the contessina. "The Italians have no sense of
the beautiful--the mysterious." Her eyes grew dreamy as she tried to
call up the picture she had never seen.
"Perhaps," said Nino humbly. "But," he added, suddenly brightening at
the thought, "it is very easy, if you would like to go. I will arrange
it. Will you allow me?"
"Yes, arrange it. Let us go on with our lesson."
I would like to tell you all about it; how Nino saw the sacristan
of the Pantheon that evening, and ascertained from his little
almanac--which has all kinds of wonderful astrological predictions, as
well as the calendar--when it would be full moon. And perhaps what
Nino said to the sacristan, and what the sacristan said to Nino, might
be amusing. I am very fond of these little things, and fond of talking
too. For since it is talking that distinguishes us from other animals,
I do not see why I should not make the most of it. But you who are
listening to me have seen very little of the Contessina Hedwig as yet,
and unless I quickly tell you more, you will wonder how all the
curious things that happened to her could possibly have grown out of
the attempt of a little singer like Nino to make her acquaintance.
Well, Nino is a great singer now, of course, but he was little once;
and when he palmed himself off on the old count for an Italian master
without my knowledge, nobody had ever heard of him at all.
Therefore since I must satisfy your curiosity before anything else,
and not dwell too long on the details--the dear, commonplace
details--I will simply say that Nino succeeded without difficulty in
arranging with the sacristan of the Pantheon to allow a party of
foreigners to visit the building at the full moon, at midnight. I have
no doubt he even expended a franc with the little man, who is very old
and dirty, and keeps chickens in the vestibule--but no details!
Oh the appointed night Nino, wrapped in that old cloak of mine (which
is very warm, though it is threadbare), accompanied the party to the
temple, or church, or whatever you like to call it. The party were
simply the count and his daughter, an Austrian gentleman of their
acquaintance, and the dear baroness--that sympathetic woman who broke
so many hearts and cared not at all for the chatter of the people.
Everyone has seen her, with her slim, graceful ways, and her face that
was like a mulatto peach for darkness and fineness, and her dark eyes
and tiger-lily look. They say she lived entirely on sweetmeats and
coffee, and it is no wonder she was so sweet and so dark. She called
me "count"--which is very foolish now, but if I were going to fall in
love, I would have loved her. I would not love a statue. As for the
Austrian gentleman, it is not of any importance to describe him.
These four people Nino conducted to the little entrance at the back of
the Pantheon, and the sacristan struck a light to show them the way to
the door of the church. Then he put out his taper, and let them do as
Conceive if you can the darkness of Egypt, the darkness that can be
felt, impaled and stabbed through its whole thickness by one mighty
moonbeam, clear and clean and cold, from the top to the bottom. All
around, in the circle of the outer black, lie the great dead in their
tombs, whispering to each other of deeds that shook the world;
whispering in a language all their own as yet--the language of the
life to come--the language of a stillness so dread and deep that the
very silence clashes against it, and makes dull, muffled beatings
in ears that strain to catch the dead men's talk: the shadow of
immortality falling through the shadow of death, and bursting back
upon its heavenward course from the depth of the abyss; climbing
again upon its silver self to the sky above, leaving behind the horror
of the deep.
So in that lonely place at midnight falls the moon upon the floor, and
through the mystic shaft of rays ascend and descend the souls of the
dead. Hedwig stood out alone upon the white circle on the pavement
beneath the dome, and looked up as though she could see the angels
coming and going. And, as she looked, the heavy lace veil that covered
her head fell back softly, as though a spirit wooed her and would fain
look on something fairer than he, and purer. The whiteness clung to
her face, and each separate wave of hair was like spun silver. And she
looked steadfastly up. For a moment she stood, and the hushed air
trembled about her. Then the silence caught the tremor, and quivered,
and a thrill of sound hovered and spread its wings, and sailed forth
from the night.
"Spirto gentil dei sogni miei--"
Ah, Signorina Edvigia, you know that voice now, but you did not know
it then. How your heart stopped, and beat, and stopped again, when you
first heard that man sing out his whole heartful--you in the light and
he in the dark! And his soul shot out to you upon the sounds, and
died fitfully, as the magic notes dashed their soft wings against
the vaulted roof above you, and took new life again and throbbed
heavenward in broad, passionate waves, till your breath came thick and
your blood ran fiercely--ay, even your cold northern blood--in very
triumph that a voice could so move you. A voice in the dark. For a
full minute after it ceased you stood there, and the others, wherever
they might be in the shadow, scarcely breathed.
That was how Hedwig first heard Nino sing. When at last she recovered
herself enough to ask aloud the name of the singer, Nino had moved
quite close to her.
"It is a relation of mine, signorina, a young fellow who is going to
be an artist. I asked him as a favour to come here and sing to you
to-night. I thought it might please you."
"A relation of yours!" exclaimed the contessina. And the others
approached so that they all made a group in the disc of moonlight.
"Just think, my dear baroness, this wonderful voice is a relation of
Signor Cardegna, my excellent Italian master!" There was a little
murmur of admiration; then the old count spoke.
"Signore," said he, rolling in his gutturals, "it is my duty to very
much thank you. You will now, if you please, me the honour do, me to
your all-the-talents-possible-possessing relation to present." Nino
had foreseen the contingency and disappeared into the dark. Presently
"I am so sorry, Signor Conte," he said. "The sacristan tells me that
when my cousin had finished he hurried away, saying he was afraid of
taking some ill if he remained here where it is so damp. I will tell
him how much you appreciated him."
"Curious is it," remarked the count. "I heard him not going off."
"He stood in the doorway of the sacristy, by the high altar, Signor
"In that case is it different."
"I am sorry," said Nino. "The signorina was so unkind as to say,
lately, that we Italians have no sense of the beautiful, the
"I take it back," said Hedwig, gravely, still standing in the
moonlight. "Your cousin has a very great power over the beautiful."
"And the mysterious," added the baroness, who had not spoken, "for his
departure without showing himself has left me the impression of a
sweet dream. Give me your arm, Professore Cardegna. I will not stay
here any longer, now that the dream is over." Nino sprang to her side
politely, though, to tell the truth, she did not attract him at first
sight. He freed one arm from the old cloak, and reflected that she
could not tell in the dark how very shabby it was.
"You give lessons to the Signora von Lira?" she asked, leading him
quickly away from the party.
"Yes--in Italian literature, signora."
"Ah--she tells me great things of you. Could you not spare me an hour
or two in the week, professore?"
Here was a new complication. Nino had certainly not contemplated
setting up for an Italian teacher to all the world when he undertook
to give lessons to Hedwig.
"Signora--" he began, in a protesting voice.
"You will do it to oblige me, I am sure," she said, eagerly, and her
slight hand just pressed upon his arm a little. Nino had found time to
reflect that this lady was intimate with Hedwig, and that he might
possibly gain an opportunity of seeing the girl he loved if he
accepted the offer.
"Whenever it pleases you, signora," he said at length.
"Can you come to me to-morrow at eleven?" she asked.
"At twelve, if you please, signora, or half past. Eleven is the
contessina's hour to-morrow."
"At half-past twelve, then, to-morrow," said she, and she gave him her
address, as they went out into the street. "Stop," she added, "where
do you live?"
"Number twenty-seven Santa Catarina dei Funari," he answered,
wondering why she asked. The rest of the party came out, and Nino
bowed to the ground, as he bid the contessina good-night.
He was glad to be free of that pressure on his arm, and he was glad to
be alone, to wander through the streets under the moonlight, and to
think over what he had done.
"There is no risk of my being discovered," he said to himself,
confidently. "The story of the near relation was well imagined, and
besides, it is true. Am I not my own nearest relation? I certainly
have no others that I know of. And this baroness--what can she want of
me? She speaks Italian like a Spanish cow, and indeed she needs a
professor badly enough. But why should she take a fancy for me as a
teacher. Ah! those eyes! Not the baroness'. Edvigia--Edvigia di
Lira--Edvigia Ca--Cardegna! Why not?" He stopped to think, and looked
long at the moonbeams playing on the waters of the fountain. "Why not?
But the baroness--may the diavolo fly away with her! What should I
do--I indeed! with a pack of baronesses? I will go to bed and
dream--not of a baroness! Macche, never a baroness in my dreams, with
eyes like a snake, and who cannot speak three words properly in the
only language under the sun worth speaking! Not I--I will dream of
Edvigia di Lira--she is the spirit of my dreams. Spirto gentil--" and
away he went, humming the air from the "Favorita" in the top of his
head, as is his wont.
The next day the contessina could talk of nothing during her lesson
but the unknown singer who had made the night so beautiful for her,
and Nino flushed red under his dark skin and ran his fingers wildly
through his curly hair, with pleasure. But he set his square jaw, that
means so much, and explained to his pupil how hard it would be for her
to hear him again. For his friend, he said, was soon to make his
appearance on the stage, and of course he could not be heard singing
before that. And as the young lady insisted, Nino grew silent, and
remarked that the lesson was not progressing. Thereupon Hedwig
blushed--the first time he had ever seen her blush--and did not
approach the subject again.
After that he went to the house of the baroness, where he was
evidently expected, for the servant asked his name and immediately
ushered him into her presence. She was one of those lithe, dark women
of good race, that are to be met with all over the world, and she has
broken many a heart. But she was not like a snake at all, as Nino had
thought at first. She was simply a very fine lady who did exactly what
she pleased, and if she did not always act rightly, yet I think she
rarely acted unkindly. After all, the buon Dio has not made us all
paragons of domestic virtue. Men break their hearts for so very
little, and, unless they are ruined, they melt the pieces at the next
flame and join them together again like bits of sealing wax.
The baroness sat before a piano in a boudoir, where there was not very
much light. Every part of the room was crowded with fans, ferns,
palms, Oriental carpets and cushions, books, porcelain, majolica, and
pictures. You could hardly move without touching some ornament, and
the heavy curtains softened the sunshine, and a small open fire of
wood helped the warmth. There was also an odour of Russian tobacco.
The baroness smiled and turned on the piano seat.
"Ah, professore! You come just in time," said she. "I am trying to
sing such a pretty song to myself, and I cannot pronounce the words.
Come and teach me." Nino contrasted the whole air of this luxurious
retreat with the prim, soldierly order that reigned in the count's
"Indeed, signora, I come to teach you whatever I can. Here I am. I
cannot sing, but I will stand beside you and prompt the words."
Nino is not a shy boy at all, and he assumed the duties required of
him immediately. He stood by her side, and she just nodded and began
to sing a little song that stood on the desk of the piano. She did not
sing out of tune, but she made wrong notes and pronounced horribly.
"Pronounce the words for me," she repeated every now and then.
"But pronouncing in singing is different from speaking," he objected
at last, and, fairly forgetting himself and losing patience, he began
softly to sing the words over. Little by little, as the song pleased
him, he lost all memory of where he was, and stood beside her singing
just as he would have done to De Pretis, from the sheet, with all
the accuracy and skill that were in him. At the end, he suddenly
remembered how foolish he was. But, after all, he had not sung to the
power of his voice, and she might not recognise in him the singer of
last night. The baroness looked up with a light laugh.
"I have found you out," she cried, clapping her hands. "I have found
"You are the tenor of the Pantheon--that is all. I knew it. Are you
so sorry that I have found you out?" she asked, for Nino turned very
white, and his eyes flashed at the thought of the folly he had
Nino was thoroughly frightened, for he knew that discovery portended
the loss of everything most dear to him. No more lessons with Hedwig,
no more parties to the Pantheon, no more peace, no more anything. He
wrung his fingers together and breathed hard.
"Ah, signora!" he found voice to exclaim, "I am sure you cannot
believe it possible--"
"Why not, Signor Cardegna?" asked the baroness, looking up at him from
under her half-closed lids with a mocking glance. "Why not? Did you
not tell me where you lived? And does not the whole neighbourhood know
that you are no other than Giovanni Cardegna, commonly called Nino,
who is to make his _debut_ in the Carnival season?"
"Dio mio!" ejaculated Nino in a hoarse voice, realising that he was
entirely found out, and that nothing could save him. He paced the room
in an agony of despair, and his square face was as white as a sheet.
The baroness sat watching him with a smile on her lips, amused at the
tempest she had created, and pretending to know much more than she
did. She thought it not impossible that Nino, who was certainly poor,
might be supporting himself by teaching Italian while studying for the
stage, and she inwardly admired his sense and twofold talent if that
were really the case. But she was willing to torment him a little,
seeing that she had the power.
"Signor Cardegna"--she called him in her soft voice. He turned
quickly, and stood facing her, his arms crossed.
"You look like Napoleon at Waterloo, when you stand like that," she
laughed. He made no answer, waiting to see what she would do with her
victory. "It seems that you are sorry I have discovered you," she
added presently, looking down at her hands.
"Is that all?" he said, with a bitter sneer on his pale young face.
"Then, since you are sorry, you must have a reason for concealment,"
she went on, as though reflecting on the situation. It was deftly
done, and Nino took heart.
"Signora," he said, in a trembling voice, "it is natural that a man
should wish to live. I give lessons now, until I have appeared in
public, to support myself."
"Ah, I begin to understand," said the baroness. In reality she began
to doubt, reflecting that if this were the whole truth Nino would be
too proud--or any other Italian--to say it so plainly. She was subtle,
"And do you suppose," he continued, "that if once the Conte de Lira
had an idea that I was to be a public singer he would employ me as a
teacher for his daughter?"
"No, but others might," she objected.
"But not the count--" Nino bit his lip, fearing he had betrayed
"Nor the contessina," laughed the baroness, completing the sentence.
He saw at a glance what she suspected, and instead of keeping cool
"I came here, Signora Baronessa, not to be cross-examined, but to
teach you Italian. Since you do not desire to study, I will say
good-morning." He took his hat and moved proudly to the door.
"Come here," she said, not raising her voice, but still commanding. He
turned, hesitated, and came back. He thought her voice was changed.
She rose and swept her silken morning-gown between the chairs and
tables till she reached a deep divan on the other side of the room.
There she sat down.
"Come and sit beside me," she said, kindly, and he obeyed in silence.
"Do you know what would have happened," she continued, when he was
seated, "if you had left me just now? I would have gone to the Graf
von Lira and told him that you were not a fit person to teach his
daughter; that you are a singer, and not a professor at all; and that
you have assumed this disguise for the sake of seeing his daughter."
But I do not believe that she would have done it.
"That would have been a betrayal," said Nino fiercely, looking away
from her. She laughed lightly.
"Is it not natural," she asked, "that I should make inquiries about my
Italian teacher before I begin lessons with him? And if I find he is
not what he pretends to be should I not warn my intimate friends?" She
spoke so reasonably that he was fain to acknowledge that she was
"It is just," he said, sullenly. "But you have been very quick to make
your inquiries, as you call them."
"The time was short, since you were to come this morning."
"That is true," he answered. He moved uneasily. "And now, signora,
will you be kind enough to tell me what you intend to do with me!"
"Certainly, since you are more reasonable. You see I treat you
altogether as an artist, and not at all as an Italian master. A great
artist may idle away a morning in a woman's boudoir; a simple teacher
of languages must be more industrious."
"But I am not a great artist," said Nino, whose vanity--we all have
it--began to flutter a little.
"You will be one before long, and one of the greatest. You are a boy
yet, my little tenor," said she, looking at him with her dark eyes,
"and I might almost be your mother. How old are you, Signor Nino?"
"I was twenty on my last birthday," he answered, blushing.
"You see! I am thirty--at least," she added, with a short laugh.
"Well, signora, what of that?" said Nino, half amused. "I wish I were
"I am glad you are not," said she. "Now listen. You are completely in
my power, do you understand? Yes. And you are apparently very much in
love with my young friend, the Contessina di Lira"--Nino sprang to his
feet, his face white again, but with rage this time.
"Signora," he cried, "this is too much! It is insufferable!
Good-morning," and he made as though he would go.
"Very well," said the baroness; "then I will go to the Graf and
explain who you are. Ah--you are calm again in a moment? Sit down. Now
I have discovered you, and I have a right to you, do you see? It is
fortunate for you that I like you."
"You! You like me? In truth, you act as though you did! Besides, you
are a stranger, Signora Baronessa, and a great lady. I never saw you
till yesterday." But he resumed his seat.
"Good," said she. "Is not the Signorina Edvigia a great lady, and was
there never a day when she was a stranger too?"
"I do not understand your caprices, signora. In fine, what do you want
"It is not necessary that you should understand me," answered the
dark-eyed baroness. "Do you think I would hurt you--or rather your
"I do not know."
"You know very well that I would not; and as for my caprices, as you
call them, do you think it is a caprice to love music? No, of course
not. And who loves music loves musicians; at least," she added, with a
most enchanting smile, "enough to wish to have them near one. That is
all. I want you to come here often and sing to me. Will you come and
sing to me, my little tenor?"
Nino would not have been human had he not felt the flattery through
the sting. And I always say that singers are the vainest kind of
"It is very like singing in a cage," he said, in protest. Nevertheless,
he knew he must submit; for, however narrow his experience might be,
this woman's smile and winning grace, even when she said the hardest
things, told him that she would have her own way. He had the sense to
understand, too, that whatever her plans might be, their object was to
bring him near to herself, a reflection which was extremely soothing
to his vanity.
"If you will come and sing to me--only to me, of course, for I would
not ask you to compromise your _debut_--but if you will come and sing
to me, we shall be very good friends. Does it seem to you such a
terrible penance to sing to me in my solitude?"
"It is never a penance to sing," said Nino simply. A shade of
annoyance crossed the baroness' face.
"Provided," she said, "it entails nothing. Well, we will not talk
about the terms."
They say women sometimes fall in love with a voice: _vox et proeterea
nihil_, as the poet has it. I do not know whether that is what
happened to the baroness at first, but it has always seemed strange to
me that she should have given herself so much trouble to secure Nino,
unless she had a very strong fancy for him. I, for my part, think that
when a lady of her condition takes such a sudden caprice into her
head, she thinks it necessary to maltreat the poor man a little at
first, just to satisfy her conscience, and to be able to say later
that she did not encourage him. I have had some experience, as
everybody is aware, and so I may speak boldly. On the other hand, a
man like Nino, when he is in love, is absolutely blind to other women.
There is only one idea in his soul that has any life, and everyone
outside that idea is only so much landscape; they are no better for
him--the other women--than a museum of wax dolls.
The baroness, as you have seen, had Nino in her power, and there was
nothing for it but submission; he came and went at her bidding, and
often she would send for him when he least expected it. He would do as
she commanded, somewhat sullenly and with a bad grace, but obediently,
for all that; she had his destiny in her hands, and could in a moment
frustrate all his hopes. But, of course, she knew that if she betrayed
him to the count, Nino would be lost to her also, since he came to her
only in order to maintain his relations with Hedwig.
Meanwhile the blue-eyed maiden of the North waxed fitful. Sometimes
two or three lessons would pass in severe study. Nino, who always took
care to know the passages they were reading, so that he might look at
her instead of at his book, had instituted an arrangement by which
they sat opposite each other at a small table. He would watch her
every movement and look, and carry away a series of photographs of
her,--a whole row, like the little books of Roman views they sell in
the streets, strung together on a strip of paper,--and these views of
her lasted with him for two whole days, until he saw her again. But
sometimes he would catch a glimpse of her in the interval driving with
There were other days when Hedwig could not be induced to study, but
would overwhelm Nino with questions about his wonderful cousin who
sang, so that he longed with his whole soul to tell her it was he