Part 2 out of 6
himself who had sung. She saw his reluctance to speak about it, and
she blushed when she mentioned the night at the Pantheon; but for her
life she could not help talking of the pleasure she had had. Her
blushes seemed like the promise of spring roses to her lover, who
drank of the air of her presence till that subtle ether ran like fire
through his veins. He was nothing to her, he could see; but the singer
of the Pantheon engrossed her thoughts and brought the hot blood to
her cheek. The beam of moonlight had pierced the soft virgin darkness
of her sleeping soul, and found a heart so cold and spotless that even
a moon ray was warm by comparison. And the voice that sang "Spirto
gentil dei sogni miei" had itself become by memory the gentle spirit
of her own dreams. She is so full of imagination, this statue of
Nino's, that she heard the notes echoing after her by day and night,
till she thought she must go mad unless she could hear the reality
again. As the great solemn statue of Egyptian Memnon murmurs sweet,
soft sounds to its mighty self at sunrise, a musical whisper in the
desert, so the pure white marble of Nino's living statue vibrated with
strange harmonies all the day long.
One night, as Nino walked homeward with De Pretis, who had come to
supper with us, he induced the maestro to go out of his way at least
half a mile, to pass the Palazzo Carmandola. It was a still night,
not over-cold for December, and there were neither stars nor moon.
As they passed the great house Nino saw a light in Hedwig's
sitting-room--the room where he gave her the lessons. It was late,
and she must be alone. On a sudden he stopped.
"What is the matter?" asked De Pretis.
For all answer, Nino, standing in the dark street below, lifted up his
voice and sang the first notes of the air he always associated with
his beautiful contessina. Before he had sung a dozen bars the window
opened, and the girl's figure could be seen, black against the light
within. He went on for a few notes, and then ceased suddenly.
"Let us go," he said in a low voice to Ercole; and they went away,
leaving the contessina listening in the stillness to the echo of their
feet. A Roman girl would not have done that; she would have sat
quietly inside, and never have shown herself. But foreigners are so
Nino never heard the last of those few notes, any more than the
contessina, literally speaking, ever heard the end of the song.
"Your cousin, about whom you make so much mystery, passed under my
window last night," said the young lady the next day, with the usual
display of carnation in her cheeks at the mention of him.
"Indeed, signorina?" said Nino, calmly, for he expected the remark.
"And since you have never seen him, pray how did you know it was he?"
"How should one know?" she asked, scornfully. "There are not two such
voices as his in Italy. He sang."
"He sang?" cried Nino, with an affectation of alarm. "I must tell the
maestro not to let him sing in the open air; he will lose his voice."
"Who is his master?" asked Hedwig, suddenly.
"I cannot remember the name just now," said Nino, looking away. "But
I will find out, if you wish." He was afraid of putting De Pretis to
any inconvenience by saying that the young singer was his pupil.
"However," he continued, "you will hear him sing as often as you
please, after he makes his _debut_ next month." He sighed when he
thought that it would all so soon be over. For how could he disguise
himself any longer, when he should be singing in public every night?
But Hedwig clapped her hands.
"So soon?" she cried. "Then there will be an end of the mystery."
"Yes," said Nino, gravely "there will be an end of the mystery."
"At least you can tell me his name, now that we shall all know it."
"Oh, his name--his name is Cardegna, like mine. He is my cousin, you
know." And they went on with the lesson. But something of the kind
occurred almost every time he came, so that he felt quite sure that,
however indifferent he might be in her eyes, the singer, the Nino of
whom she knew nothing, interested her deeply.
Meanwhile he was obliged to go very often to the baroness' scented
boudoir, which smelled of incense and other Eastern perfumes, whenever
it did not smell of cigarettes; and there he sang little songs, and
submitted patiently to her demands for more and more music. She would
sit by the piano and watch him as he sang, wondering whether he were
handsome or ugly, with his square face and broad throat and the black
circles round his eyes. He had a fascination for her, as being
something utterly new to her.
One day she stood and looked over the music as he sang, almost
touching him, and his hair was so curly and soft to look at that she
was seized with a desire to stroke it, as Mariuccia strokes the old
gray cat for hours together. The action was quite involuntary, and her
fingers rested only a moment on his head.
"It is so curly," she said, half playfully, half apologetically. But
Nino started as though he had been stung, and his dark face grew pale.
A girl could not have seemed more hurt at a strange man's touch.
"Signora!" he cried, springing to his feet. The baroness, who is as
dark as he, blushed almost red, partly because she was angry, and
partly because she was ashamed.
"What a boy you are!" she said, carelessly enough, and turned away to
the window, pushing back one heavy curtain with her delicate hand, as
if she would look out.
"Pardon me, signora, I am not a boy," said Nino, speaking to the back
of her head as he stood behind her. "It is time we understood each
other better. I love like a man and I hate like a man. I love someone
"Fortunate contessina!" laughed the baroness, mockingly, without
"It does not concern you, signora, to know whom I love, nor, if you
know, to speak of her. I ask you a simple question. If you loved a man
with your whole soul and heart, would you allow another man to stand
beside you and stroke your hair, and say it was curly?" The baroness
burst out laughing. "Do not laugh," he continued. "Remember that I am
in your power only so long as it pleases me to submit to you. Do not
abuse your advantage, or I will be capable of creating for myself
situations quite as satisfactory as that of Italian master to the
Signorina di Lira."
"What do you mean?" she asked, turning suddenly upon him. "I suppose
you would tell me that you will make advantages for yourself which
you will abuse against me? What do you mean?"
"I do not mean that. I mean only that I may not wish to give lessons
to the contessina much longer." By this time the baroness had
recovered her equanimity; and as she would have been sorry to lose
Nino, who was a source of infinite pleasure and amusement to her, she
decided to pacify him instead of teasing him any more.
"Is it not very foolish for us to quarrel about your curly hair?" said
she. "We have been such good friends always." It might have been three
weeks, her "always."
"I think it is," answered Nino, gravely. "But do not stroke my hair
again, Signora Baronessa, or I shall be angry." He was quite serious,
if you believe it, though he was only twenty. He forthwith sat down to
the piano again and sang on. The baroness sat very silent and scarcely
looked at him; but she held her hands clasped on her knee, and seemed
to be thinking. After a time Nino stopped singing and sat silent also,
absently turning over the sheets of music. It was warm in the room,
and the sounds from the street were muffled and far away.
"Signor Nino," said the lady at last, in a different voice, "I am
"Yes, signora," he replied, wondering what would come next.
"It would be very foolish of me to care for you."
"It would also be very wicked," he said, calmly; for he is well
grounded in religion. The baroness stared at him in some surprise, but
seeing he was perfectly serious, she went on.
"Precisely, as you say, very wicked. That being the case, I have
decided not to care for you any more--I mean not to care for you at
all. I have made up my mind to be your friend."
"I am much obliged to your ladyship," he answered, without moving a
muscle. For you see, he did not believe her.
"Now tell me, then, Signor Nino, are you in earnest in what you are
doing? Do you really set your heart on doing this thing?"
"What?" asked Nino, annoyed at the persistence of the woman.
"Why need you be afraid to understand me? Can you not forgive me? Can
you not believe in me that I will be your friend? I have always
dreamed of being the friend of a great artist. Let me be yours, and
believe me, the thing you have in your heart shall be done."
"I would like to hope so," he said. But he smiled incredulously. "I
can only say that if you can accomplish what it is in my heart to do,
I will go through fire and water at your bidding; and if you are not
mocking me, I am very grateful for the offer. But if you please,
signora, we will not speak any more of this at present. I may be a
great artist some day. Sometimes I feel sure that I shall. But now I
am simply Giovanni Cardegna, teacher of literature; and the highest
favour you can confer on me is not to deprive me of my means of
support by revealing to the Conte di Lira my other occupation. I may
fail hopelessly at the outset of my artistic career, and in that case
I shall certainly remain a teacher of language."
"Very well," said the baroness, in a subdued voice; for, in spite of
her will and wilfulness, this square-faced boy of mine was more than a
match for her. "Very well, you will believe me another day, and now I
will ask you to go, for I am tired."
I cannot be interrupted by your silly questions about the exact way in
which things happened. I must tell this story in my own way or not at
all; and I am sacrificing a great deal to your taste in cutting out
all the little things that I really most enjoy telling. Whether you
are astonished at the conduct of the baroness, after a three weeks'
acquaintance, or not, I care not a fig. It is just the way it
happened, and I daresay she was really madly in love with Nino. If I
had been Nino I should have been in love with her. But I would like
you to admire my boy's audacity, and to review the situation, before I
go on to speak of that important event in his life, his first
appearance on the boards of the opera. At the time of his _debut_ he
was still disguised as a teacher of Italian to the young contessina.
She thought him interesting and intelligent, but that was all. Her
thoughts were entirely, though secretly, engrossed by the mysterious
singer whom she had heard twice but had not seen as far as she knew.
Nino, on the other hand, loved her to desperation, and would have
acted like a madman had he been deprived of his privilege of speaking
to her three times a week. He loved her with the same earnest
determination to win her that he had shown for years in the study of
his art, and with all the rest of his nature besides, which is saying
much--not to mention his soul, of which he thinks a great deal more
than I do.
Besides this, the baroness had apparently fallen in love with him, had
made him her intimate, and flattered him in a way to turn his head.
Then she seemed to have thought better of her passion, and had
promised him her friendship,--a promise which he himself considered of
no importance whatever. As for the old Conte de Lira, he read the
German newspapers, and cared for none of these things. De Pretis took
an extra pinch of his good snuff, when he thought that his liberal
ideas might yet be realised, and a man from the people marry a great
lady by fairly winning her. Do not, after this, complain that I have
left you in the dark, or that you do not know how it happened. It is
as clear as water, and it was about four months from the time Nino saw
Hedwig in St. Peter's to the time when he first sang in public.
Christmas passed by,--thank heaven the municipality has driven away
those most detestable pifferari who played on their discordant
bagpipes at every corner for a fortnight, and nearly drove me
erazy,--and the Befana, as we call the Epiphany in Rome, was gone,
with its gay racket, and the night fair in the Piazza Navona, and the
days for Nino's first appearance drew near. I never knew anything
about the business arrangements for the _debut_, since De Pretis
settled all that with Jacovacci, the impresario; but I know that there
were many rehearsals, and that I was obliged to stand security to the
theatrical tailor, together with De Pretis, in order that Nino might
have his dress made. As for the cowl in the last act, De Pretis has a
brother who is a monk, and between them they put together a very
decent friar's costume; and Mariuccia had a good piece of rope which
Nino used for a girdle.
"What does it matter?" he said, with much good sense. "For if I sing
well, they will not look at my monk's hood; and if I sing badly, I may
be dressed like the Holy Father and they will hiss me just the same.
But in the beginning I must look like a courtier, and be dressed like
"I suppose so," said I; "but I wish you had taken to philosophy."
I shall never forget the day of Nino's first appearance. You may
imagine whether we were in a state of excitement or not, after all
these years of studying and waiting. There was much more trouble and
worry than if he had written a great book, and was just to publish it,
and receive the homage of all the learning and talent in Europe; which
is the kind of _debut_ I had hoped he would make in life, instead
of putting on a foolish dress and stamping about on a stage, and
squalling love songs to a packed house, making pantomime with his
hands, and altogether behaving like an idiot,--a crowd of people ready
to hiss him at the slightest indication of weakness, or to carry him
on their shoulders if they fancied his voice to their taste.
No wonder Nino was sad and depressed all day, and when he tried his
voice in the afternoon thought it was less clear than usual, and
stared at himself in the looking-glass, wondering whether he were not
too ugly altogether, as I always told him. To tell the truth, he was
not so ugly as he had been; for the months with the contessina had
refined him singularly, and perhaps he had caught a certain grace of
manner from the baroness. He had grown more silent too, and seemed
always preoccupied, as well he might be: but he had concealed his
affair with the Lira family from me until that day, and I supposed him
anxious about his appearance.
Early in the morning came De Pretis, and suggested that it would be
better for Nino to take a walk and breathe the fresh air a little; so
I bade him go, and I did not see him again until the afternoon. De
Pretis said that the only cause for anxiety was from stage fright, and
went away taking snuff and flourishing his immense cotton
handkerchief. I thought a man must be a fool to work for years in
order to sing, and then, when he had learned to do it quite well, to
be afraid of showing what he knew. I did not think Nino would be
Of course there was a final rehearsal at eleven, and Nino put off the
hour of the lesson with the contessina to three in the afternoon, by
some excuse or other. He must have felt very much pressed for time,
having to give her a lesson on the very day of his coming out; and
besides, he knew very well that it might be the last of his days with
her, and that a great deal would depend on the way he bore himself at
his trial. He sang badly, or thought he did, at the rehearsal, and
grew more and more depressed and grave as the day advanced. He came
out of the little stage door of the Apollo theatre at Tor di Nona, and
his eyes fell upon the broad bills and posters announcing the first
appearance of "Giovanni Cardegna, the most distinguished pupil of the
Maestro Ercole de Pretis, in Donizetti's opera the 'Favorita.'" His
heart sank at the sight of his own name, and he turned towards the
Bridge of Sant' Angelo to get away from it. He was the last to leave
the theatre, and De Pretis was with him.
At that moment he saw Hedwig von Lira sitting in an open carriage in
front of the box office. De Pretis bowed low; she smiled; and Nino
took off his hat, but would not go near her, escaping in the opposite
direction. He thought she looked somewhat surprised, but his only idea
was to get away, lest she should call him and put some awkward
An hour and a half later he entered her sitting-room. There she sat,
as usual, with her books, awaiting him perhaps for the last time, a
fair, girlish figure with gold hair, but oh, so cold!--it makes me
shiver to think of how she used to look. Possibly there was a
dreaminess about her blue eyes that made up for her manner; but how
Nino could love her I cannot understand. It must have been like making
love to a pillar of ice.
"I am much indebted to you for allowing me to come at this hour,
signorina," he said, as he bowed.
"Ah, professore, it looks almost as though it were you yourself who
were to make your _debut_" said she, laughing and leaning back in her
chair. "Your name is on every corner in Rome, and I saw you coming out
of a side door of the theatre this morning." Nino trembled, but
reflected that if she had suspected anything she would not have made
so light of it.
"The fact is, signorina, my cousin is so nervous that he begged me
earnestly to be present at the rehearsal this morning; and as it is
the great event of his life, I could not easily refuse him. I presume
you are going to hear him, since I saw your carriage at the theatre."
"Yes. At the last minute my father wanted to change our box for one
nearer the stage, and so we went ourselves. The baroness--you know,
the lady who went with us to the Pantheon--is going with us to-night."
It was the first time Hedwig had mentioned her, and it was evident
that Nino's intimacy with the baroness had been kept a secret. How
long would it be so? Mechanically he proceeded with the lesson,
thinking mournfully that he should never give her another. But Hedwig
was more animated than he had ever seen her, and often stopped to ask
questions about the coming performance. It was evident that she was
entirely absorbed with the thought of at last hearing to its fullest
extent the voice that had haunted her dreams; most of all, with the
anticipation of what this wonderful singer would be like. Dwelling on
the echo of his singing for months had roused her interest and
curiosity to such a pitch that she could hardly be quiet a moment, or
think calmly of what she was to enjoy; and yet she looked so very cold
and indifferent at most times. But Nino had noticed all this, and
rejoiced at it; young as he was, however, he understood that the
discovery she was about to make would be a shock that would certainly
produce some palpable result, when she should see him from her box in
the theatre. He trembled for the consequences.
The lesson was over all too soon, and Nino lingered a moment to see
whether the very last drops of his cup of happiness might not still be
sweet. He did not know when he should see her again, to speak with
her; and though he determined it should not be long, the future seemed
very uncertain, and he would look on her loveliness while he might.
"I hope you will like my cousin's singing," he said, rather timidly.
"If he sings as he has sung before he is the greatest artist living,"
she said calmly, as though no one would dispute it. "But I am curious
to see him as well as to hear him."
"He is not handsome," said Nino, smiling a little. "In fact, there is
a family resemblance; he is said to look like me."
"Why did you not tell me that before?" she asked quickly, and fixed
her blue eyes on Nino's face as though she wished to photograph the
features in her mind.
"I did not suppose the signorina would think twice about a singer's
appearance," said Nino quietly. Hedwig blushed and turned away,
busying herself with her books. At that moment Graf von Lira entered
from the next room. Nino bowed.
"Curious is it," said the count, "that you and the about-to-make-his-
appearance tenor should the same name have."
"He is a near relation, Signor Conte,--the same whom you heard sing in
the Pantheon. I hope you will like his voice."
"That is what we shall see, Signor Professore," answered the other
severely. He had a curious way of bowing, as though he were made only
in two pieces, from his waist to his heels, and from his waist to the
crown of his head. Nino went his way sadly, and wondering how Hedwig
would look when she should recognise him from her box in the theatre
that very evening.
It is a terrible and a heart-tearing thing to part from the woman one
loves. That is nothing new, you say. Everyone knows that, Perhaps so,
though I think not. Only those can know it who have experienced it,
and for them no explanations are in any way at all necessary. The mere
word "parting" calls up such an infinity of sorrow that it is better
to draw a veil over the sad thing and bury it out of sight and put
upon it the seal on which is graven "No Hope."
Moreover, when a man only supposes, as Nino did, that he is leaving
the woman he loves, or is about to leave her, until he can devise some
new plan for seeing her, the case is not so very serious.
Nevertheless, Nino, who is of a very tender constitution of the
affections, suffered certain pangs which are always hard to bear, and
as he walked slowly down the street he hung his head low, and did not
look like a man who could possibly be successful in anything he might
undertake that day. Yet it was the most important day of his life, and
had it not been that he had left Hedwig with little hope of ever
giving her another lesson, he would have been so happy that the whole
air would have seemed dancing with sunbeams and angels and flowers. I
think that when a man loves he cares very little for what he does.
The greatest success is indifferent to him, and he cares not at all
for failure in the ordinary undertakings of life. These are my
reflections, and they are worth something, because I once loved very
much myself, and was parted from her I loved many times before the
It was on this day that Nino came to me and told me all the history of
the past months, of which I knew nothing; but, as you know all about
it, I need not tell you what the conversation was like, until he had
finished. Then I told him he was the prince and chief of donkeys,
which was no more than the truth, as everybody will allow. He only
spread out his palms and shrugged his shoulders, putting his head on
one side, as though to say he could not help it.
"Is it perhaps my fault that you are a little donkey?" I asked; for
you may imagine whether I was angry or not.
"Certainly not, Sor Cornelio," he said. "It is entirely my own doing;
but I do not see that I am a donkey."
"Blood of Bacchus!" I ejaculated, holding up my hands. "He does not
believe he is a great stupid!" But Nino was not angry at all. He
busied himself a little with his costume, which was laid out on the
piano, with the sword and the tinsel collar and all the rest of it.
"I am in love," he said. "What would you have?"
"I would have you put a little giudizio, just a grain of judgment and
common sense, into your love affairs. Why, you go about it as though
it were the most innocent thing in the world to disguise yourself, and
present yourself as a professor in a nobleman's house, in order to
make love to his daughter! You, to make love to a noble damigella, a
young countess, with a fortune! Go back to Serveti, and marry the
first contadina girl you meet, it is much more fitting, if you must
needs marry at all. I repeat it, you are an ignorant donkey!"
"Eh!" cried Nino, perfectly unmoved, "if I am ignorant, it is not for
lack of your teaching; and as for being the beast of burden to which
you refer, I have heard it said that you were once in love yourself.
Meanwhile, I have told you this, because there will perhaps be
trouble, and I did not intend you to be surprised."
"Surprised?" said I. "I would not be surprised at anything you might
fancy doing now. No, I would not dream of being surprised!"
"So much the better," answered Nino, imperturbably. He looked sad and
weary, though, and as I am a prudent man I put my anger away to cool
for a little while, and indulged in a cigar until it should be time to
go to the theatre; for of course I went with him, and Mariuccia too,
to help him with his dress. Poor old Mariuccia! she had dressed him
when he was a ragged little boy, and she was determined to put the
finishing touches to his appearance now that he was about to be a
great man, she said. His dressing-room was a narrow little place,
sufficiently ill lighted, and there was barely space to turn round.
Mariuccia, who had brought the cat and had her pocket full of roasted
chestnuts, sat outside on a chair until he was ready for her; and I am
sure that if she had spent her life in the profession of adorning
players she could not have used her fingers more deftly in the
arrangement of the collar and sword. Nino had a fancy to wear a
moustache and a pointed beard through the first part of the opera;
saying that a courtier always had hair on his face, but that he would
naturally shave if he turned monk. I represented to him that it was
needless expense, since he must deposit the value of the false beard
with the theatre barber, who lives opposite; and it was twenty-three
francs. Besides, he would look like a different man--two separate
"I do not care a cabbage for that," said Nino. If they cannot
recognise me with their ears, they need not trouble themselves to
recognise me at all."
"It is a fact that their ears are quite long enough," said Mariuccia.
"Hush, Mariuccia!" I said. "The Roman public is the most intelligent
public in the world." And at this she grumbled.
But I knew well enough why he wanted to wear the beard. He had a fancy
to put off the evil moment as long as possible, so that Hedwig might
not recognise him till the last act,--a foolish fancy, in truth, for a
woman's eyes are not like a man's; and though Hedwig had never thought
twice about Nino's personality, she had not sat opposite him three
times a week for nearly four months without knowing all his looks and
gestures. It is an absurd idea, too, to attempt to fence with time,
when a thing must come in the course of an hour or two. What is it,
after all, the small delay you can produce? The click of a few more
seconds in the clock-work, before the hammer smites its angry warning
on the bell, and leaves echoes of pain writhing through the poor
bronze, that is Time. As for Eternity, it is a question of the
calculus, and does not enter into a singer's first appearance, nor
into the recognition of a lover. If it did, I would give you an
eloquent dissertation upon it, so that you would yawn and take snuff,
and wish me carried off by the diavolo to some place where I might
lecture on the infinite without fear of being interrupted, or of
keeping sinners like you unnecessarily long awake. There will be no
hurry then. Poor old diavolo! he must have a dull time of it amongst
all those heretics. Perhaps he has a little variety, for they say he
has written up on his door, "Ici l'on parle francais," since Monsieur
de Voltaire died. But I must go on, or you will never be any wiser
than you are now, which is not saying overmuch.
I am not going to give you a description of the "Favorita," which you
may hear a dozen times a year at the theatre, for more or less
money--but it is only a franc if you stand; quite enough, too. I went
upon the stage before it began, and peeped through the curtain to see
what kind of an audience there was. It is an old curtain, and there is
a hole in it on the right-hand side, which De Pretis says was made by
a foreign tenor some years ago between the acts; and Jacovacci, the
impresario, tried to make him pay five francs to have it repaired, but
did not get the money. It is a better hole than the one in the middle,
which is so far from both sides of the house that you cannot see the
people well. So I looked through, and there, sure enough, in a box
very near to the stage, sat the Contessina di Lira and the baroness,
whom I had never seen before, but recognised from Nino's description;
and behind them sat the count himself, with his great gray moustaches
and a white cravat. They made me think of the time when I used to go
to the theatre myself and sit in a box, and applaud or hiss, just as I
pleased. Dio mio! what changes in this world!
I recognised also a great many of our noble ladies, with jewels and
other ornaments, and it seemed to me that some of them were much more
beautiful than the German contessina whom Nino had elected to worship,
though she was well enough, to be sure, in white silk and white fur,
with her little gold cross at her throat. To think that a statue like
that, brought up with all the proprieties, should have such a strange
chapter of life! But my eye began to smart from peering through the
little hole, and just then a rough-looking fellow connected with the
stage reminded me that, whatever relation I might be to the primo
tenore, I was not dressed to appear in the first act; then the
audience began to stamp and groan because the performance did not
begin, and I went away again to tell Nino that he had a packed house.
I found De Pretis giving him blackberry syrup, which he had brought
in a bottle, and entreating him to have courage. Indeed, it seemed
to me that Nino had the more courage of the two; for De Pretis
laughed and cried and blew his nose, and took snuff with his great
fat fingers, and acted altogether like a poor fool; while Nino sat on
a rush-bottomed chair and watched Mariuccia, who was stroking the old
cat and nibbling roasted chestnuts, declaring all the while that Nino
was the most beautiful object she had ever seen. Then the bass and the
baritone came together and spoke cheering words to Nino, and invited
him to supper afterwards; but he thanked them kindly, and told them
that he was expected at home, and would go with them after the next
performance--if there ever were a "next." He thought he might fail at
the last minute.
Nino had judged more rightly than I when he supposed that his beard
and moustaches would disguise him from Hedwig during the first two
acts. She recognised the wondrous voice, and she saw the strong
resemblance he had spoken of. Once or twice as he looked toward her,
it seemed indeed that the eyes must be his, with their deep circles
and serious gaze. But it was absurd to suppose it anything more than a
resemblance. As the opera advanced, it became evident that Nino was
making a success. Then in the second act it was clear that the success
was growing to be an ovation, and the ovation a furore, in which the
house became entirely demoralised, and vouchsafed to listen only so
long as Nino was singing--screaming with delight before he had
finished what he had to sing in each scene. People sent their servants
away in hot haste to buy flowers wherever they could, and he came back
to his dressing-room, from the second act, carrying bouquets by the
dozen, small bunches and big, such as people had been able to get or
had brought with them. His eyes shone like the coals in Mariuccia's
scaldino, as he entered, and he was pale through his paint. He could
hardly speak for joy; but, as old habits return unconsciously at great
moments in a man's life, he took the cat on his knee and pulled its
"Sing thou also, little beast," he said, gravely; and he pulled the
tail till the cat squeaked a little, and he was satisfied.
"Bene!" he cried; "and now for the tonsure and the frock." So
Mariuccia was turned out into the passage while he changed his dress.
De Pretis came back a moment later and tried to help him, but he was
so much overcome that he could only shed tears and give a last word of
advice for the next act.
"You must not sing it too loud, Nino mio," he said.
"Diavolo!" said Nino. "I should think not!"
"But you must not squeak it out in a little wee false voice, as small
as this"; the maestro held up his thumb and finger, with a pinch of
snuff between them.
"Bah? Sor Ercole, do you take me for a soprano?" cried the boy,
laughing, as he washed off the paint and the gum where the beard had
stuck. Presently he got into his frock, which, as I told you, was a
real one, provided by Ercole's brother, the Franciscan--quite quietly,
of course, for it would seem a dreadful thing to use a real monk's
frock in an opera. Then we fastened the rope round his waist, and
smoothed his curly hair a little to give him a more pious aspect. He
looked as white as a pillow when the paint was gone.
"Tell me a little, my father," said old Mariuccia, mocking him, "do
you fast on Sundays, that you look so pale?" Whereat Nino struck an
attitude, and began singing a love song to the ancient woman. Indeed,
she was joking about the fast, for she had expended my substance of
late in fattening Nino, as she called it, for his appearance, and
there was to be broiled chickens for supper that very night. He was
only pale because he was in love. As for me, I made up my mind to
stand in the slides, so that I could see the contessina; for Nino had
whispered to me that she had not yet recognised him, though she stared
hard across the footlights. Therefore I took up a good position on the
left of the stage, facing the Lira box, which was on the right.
The curtain went up, and Nino stood there, looking like a real monk,
with a book in his hand and his eyes cast down, as he began to walk
slowly along. I saw Hedwig von Lira's gaze rest on his square, pale
face at least one whole minute. Then she gave a strange little cry, so
that many people in the house looked towards her; and she leaned far
back in the shadow of the deep box, while the reflected glare of the
footlights just shone faintly on her features, making them look more
like marble than ever. The baroness was smiling to herself, amused at
her companion's surprise, and the old count stared stolidly for a
moment or two, and then turned suddenly to his daughter.
"Very curious is it," he was probably saying, "that this tenor should
so much your Italian professor resemble." I could almost see his gray
eyes sparkle angrily across the theatre. But as I looked, a sound
rose on the heated air, the like of which I have never known. To tell
the truth, I had not heard the first two acts, for I did not suppose
there was any great difference between Nino's singing on the stage and
his singing at home, and I still wished he might have chosen some
other profession. But when I heard this I yielded, at least for the
time, and I am not sure that my eyes were as clear as usual.
"Spirto gentil dei sogni miei"--the long sweet notes sighed themselves
to death on his lips, falling and rising magically like a mystic angel
song, and swaying their melody out into the world of lights and
listeners; so pathetic, so heart-breaking, so laden with death and
with love, that it was as though all the sorrowing souls in our poor
Rome breathed in one soft sigh together. Only a poor monk dying of
love in a monastery, tenderly and truly loving to the bitter end. Dio
mio! there are perhaps many such. But a monk like this, with a face
like a conqueror, set square in its whiteness, and yet so wretched to
see in his poor patched frock and his bare feet; a monk, too, not
acting love, but really and truly ready to die for a beautiful woman
not thirty feet from him in the house; above all, a monk with a voice
that speaks like the clarion call of the day of judgment in its wrath,
and murmurs more plaintively and sadly in sorrow than ever the poor
Peri sighed at the gates of Paradise--such a monk, what could he not
make people feel?
The great crowd of men and women sat utterly stilled and intent till
he had sung the very last note. Not a sound was heard to offend the
sorrow that spoke from the boy's lips. Then all those people seemed to
draw three long breaths of wonder--a pause, a thrilling tremor in the
air, and then there burst to the roof such a roar of cries, such a
huge thunder of hands and voices, that the whole house seemed to rock
with it, and even in the street outside they say the noise was
Alone on the stage stood Nino, his eyes fixed on Hedwig von Lira in
her box. I think that she alone of all that multitude made no sound,
but only gripped the edge of the balcony hard in her white hands, and
leaned far forward with straining eyes and beating heart to satisfy
her wonder. She knew well enough, now, that there was no mistake. The
humble little Professor Cardegna, who had patiently explained Dante
and Leopardi to her for months, bowing to the ground in her presence,
and apologising when he corrected her mistakes, as though his whole
life was to be devoted to teaching foreigners his language; the
decently clad young man, who was always pale, and sometimes pathetic
when he spoke of himself, was no other than Giovanni Cardegna the
tenor, singing aloud to earth and heaven with his glorious great
voice--a man on the threshold of a European fame, such as falls only
to the lot of a singer or a conqueror. More, he was the singer of her
dreams, who had for months filled her thoughts with music and her
heart with a strange longing, being until now a voice Only. There he
stood looking straight at her,--she was not mistaken,--as though to
say, "I have done it for you, and for you only." A woman must be more
than marble to feel no pride in the intimate knowledge that a great
public triumph has been gained solely for her sake. She must be colder
than ice if she cannot see her power when a conqueror loves her.
The marble had felt the fire, and the ice was in the flame at last.
Nino, with his determination to be loved, had put his statue into a
very fiery furnace, and in the young innocence of his heart had
prepared such a surprise for his lady as might have turned the head of
a hardened woman of the world, let alone an imaginative German girl,
with a taste for romance--or without; it matters little. All Germans
are full of imagination, and that is the reason they know so much. For
they not only know all that is known by other people, but also all
that they themselves imagine, which nobody else can possibly know. And
if you do not believe this, you had better read the works of one
Fichte, a philosopher.
I need not tell you any more about Nino's first appearance. It was one
of those really phenomenal successes that seem to cling to certain
people through life. He was very happy and very silent when it was
over; and we were the last to leave the theatre, for we feared the
enthusiasm of the crowd. So we waited till everyone had gone, and then
marched home together, for it was a fine night. I walked on one side
of Nino and De Pretis on the other, all of us carrying as many flowers
as we could; Mariuccia came behind, with the cat under her shawl. I
did not discover until we reached home why she had brought the beast.
Then she explained that, as there was so much food in the kitchen in
anticipation of our supper, she had been afraid to leave the cat alone
in the house, lest we should find nothing left to eat when we
returned. This was sufficiently prudent for a scatter-brained old
spendthrift like Mariuccia.
That was a merry supper, and De Pretis became highly dramatic when we
got to the second flask.
On the day following Nino's _debut_, Maestro Ercole de Pretis found
himself in hot water, and the choristers at St. Peter's noticed that
his skull-cap was awry, and that he sang out of tune; and once he
tried to take a pinch of snuff when there was only three bars' rest in
the music, so that instead of singing C sharp he sneezed very loud.
Then all the other singers giggled, and said, "Salute!"--which we
always say to a person who sneezes--quite audibly.
It was not that Ercole had heard anything from the Graf von Lira as
yet; but he expected to hear, and did not relish the prospect. Indeed,
how could the Prussian gentleman fail to resent what the maestro had
done in introducing to him a singer disguised as a teacher? It
chanced, also, that the contessina took a singing lesson that very day
in the afternoon, and it was clear that the reaping of his evil deeds
was not far off. His conscience did not trouble him at all, it is
true, for I have told you that he has liberal ideas about the right
of marriage; but his vanity was sorely afflicted at the idea of
abandoning such a very noble and creditable pupil as the Contessina di
Lira. He applauded himself for furthering Nino's wild schemes, and he
blamed himself for being so reckless about his own interests. Every
moment he expected a formal notice from the count to discontinue the
lessons. But still it did not come, and at the appointed hour Ercole's
wife helped him to put on his thick winter coat, and wrapped his
comforter about his neck, and pulled his big hat over his eyes--for
the weather was threatening, and sent him trudging off to the Palazzo
Though Ercole is stout of heart, and has broad shoulders to bear such
burdens as fall to his lot, he lingered long on the way, for his
presentiments were gloomy; and at the great door of the Palazzo he
even stopped to inquire of the porter whether the contessina had been
seen to go out yet, half hoping that she would thus save him the
mortification of an interview. But it turned out otherwise: the
contessina was at home, and De Pretis was expected, as usual, to give
the lesson. Slowly he climbed the great staircase, and was admitted.
"Good-day, Sor Maestro," said the liveried footman, who knew him well.
"The Signor Conte desires to speak with you to-day before you go to
The maestro's heart sank, and he gripped hard the roll of music in his
hand as he followed the servant to the count's cabinet. There was to
be a scene of explanation after all.
The count was seated in his great arm-chair, in a cloud of tobacco
smoke, reading a Prussian military journal. His stick leaned against
the table by his side, in painful contrast with the glittering cavalry
sabres crossed upon the dark red wall opposite. The tall windows
looked out on the piazza, and it was raining, or just beginning to
rain. The great inkstand on the table was made to represent a
howitzer, and the count looked as though he were ready to fire it
point blank at any intruder. There was an air of disciplined luxury in
the room that spoke of a rich old soldier who fed his fancy with
tit-bits from a stirring past. De Pretis felt very uncomfortable, but
the nobleman rose to greet him, as he rose to greet everything above
the rank of a servant, making himself steady with his stick. When De
Pretis was seated he sat down also. The rain pattered against the
"Signor De Pretis," began the count, in tones as hard as chilled
steel, "you are an honourable man." There was something interrogative
in his voice.
"I hope so," answered the maestro modestly; "like other Christians, I
have a soul--"
"You will your soul take care of in your leisure moments," interrupted
the count. "At present you have no leisure."
"As you command, Signor Conte."
"I was yesterday evening at the theatre. The professor you recommended
for my daughter is with the new tenor one person." De Pretis spread
out his hands and bowed, as if to deprecate any share in the
transaction. The count continued, "You are of the profession, Signor
De Pretis. Evidently, you of this were aware."
"It is true," assented Ercole, not knowing what to say.
"Of course it is true. I am therefore to hear your explanation
disposed." His grey eyes fastened sternly on the maestro. But the
latter was prepared, for he had long foreseen that the count would one
day be disposed to hear an explanation, as he expressed it.
"It is quite true," repeated De Pretis. "The young man was very poor,
and desired to support himself while he was studying music. He was
well fitted to teach our literature, and I recommended him. I hope
that, in consideration of his poverty, and because he turned out a
very good teacher, you will forgive me, Signor Conte."
"This talented singer I greatly applaud," answered the count stiffly.
"As a with-the-capacity-and-learning-requisite-for-teaching-endowed
young man deserves he also some commendation. Also will I remember
his laudable-and-not-lacking independence character. Nevertheless,
unfitting would it be should I pay the first tenor of the opera five
francs an hour to teach my daughter Italian literature." De Pretis
breathed more freely.
"Then you will forgive me, Signor Conte, for endeavouring to promote
the efforts of this worthy young man in supporting himself?"
"Signor De Pretis," said the count, with a certain quaint geniality,
"I have my precautions observed. I examined Signor Cardegna in Italian
literature in my own person, and him proficient found. Had I found him
to be ignorant, and had I his talents as an operatic singer later
discovered, I would you out of that window have projected." De Pretis
was alarmed, for the old count looked as though he would have carried
out the threat. "As it is," he concluded, "you are an honourable man,
and I wish you good-morning. Lady Hedwig awaits you as usual." He rose
courteously, leaning on his stick, and De Pretis bowed himself out.
He expected that the contessina would immediately begin talking of
Nino, but he was mistaken; she never once referred to the opera or the
singer, and except that she looked pale and transparent, and sang with
a trifle less interest in her music than usual, there was nothing
noticeable in her manner. Indeed, she had every reason to be silent.
Early that morning Nino received by messenger a pretty little note,
written in execrable Italian, begging him to come and breakfast with
the baroness at twelve, as she much desired to speak with him after
his stupendous triumph of the previous night.
Nino is a very good boy, but he is mortal, and after the excitement of
the evening he thought nothing could be pleasanter than to spend a few
hours in that scented boudoir, among the palms and the beautiful
objects and the perfumes, talking with a woman who professed herself
ready to help him in his love affair. We have no perfumes or cushions
or pretty things at number twenty-seven Santa Catarina dei Funari,
though everything is very bright and neat and most proper, and the cat
is kept in the kitchen, for the most part. So it is no wonder that he
should have preferred to spend the morning with the baroness.
She was half lying, half sitting, in a deep arm-chair, when Nino
entered; and she was reading a book. When she saw him she dropped the
volume on her knee, and looked up at him from under her lids, without
speaking. She must have been a bewitching figure. Nino advanced toward
her, bowing low, so that his dark curling hair shaded his face.
"Good-day, signora," said he softly, as though fearing to hurt the
quiet air. "I trust I do not interrupt you?"
"You never interrupt me, Nino," she said, "except--except when you go
"You are very good, signora."
"For heaven's sake, no pretty speeches," said she, with a little
"It seems to me," said Nino, seating himself, "that it was you who
made the pretty speech, and I who thanked you for it." There was a
"How do you feel!" asked the baroness at last, turning her head to
"Grazie--I am well," he answered, smiling.
"Oh, I do not mean that,--you are always well. But how do you enjoy
your first triumph?"
"I think," said Nino, "that a real artist ought to have the capacity
to enjoy a success at the moment, and the good sense to blame his
vanity for enjoying it after it is passed."
"How old are you, Nino?"
"Did I never tell you?" he asked innocently. "I shall be twenty-one
"You talk as though you were forty, at least."
"Heaven save us!" quoth Nino.
"But really, are you not immensely flattered at the reception you
"You did not look at all interested in the public at the time," said
she, "and that Roman nose of yours very nearly turned up in disdain of
the applause, I thought. I wonder what you were thinking of all the
"Can you wonder, baronessa?" She knew what he meant, and there was a
little look of annoyance in her face when she answered.
"Ah, well, of course not, since _she_ was there." Her ladyship rose,
and taking a stick of Eastern pastil from a majolica dish in a corner
made Nino light it from a wax taper.
"I want the smell of the sandal-wood this morning," said she; "I have
a headache." She was enchanting to look at as she bent her
softly-shaded face over the flame to watch the burning perfume. She
looked like a beautiful lithe sorceress making a love spell,--perhaps
for her own use. Nino turned from her. He did not like to allow the
one image he loved to be even for a moment disturbed by the one he
loved not, however beautiful. She moved away, leaving the pastil on
the dish. Suddenly she paused, and turned back to look at him.
"Why did you come to-day?" she asked.
"Because you desired it," answered Nino, in some astonishment.
"You need not have come," she said, bending down to lean on the back
of a silken chair. She folded her hands and looked at him as he stood
not three paces away. "Do you not know what has happened?" she asked,
with a smile that was a little sad.
"I do not understand," said Nino simply. He was facing the entrance to
the room, and saw the curtains parted by the servant. The baroness had
her back to the door, and did not hear.
"Do you not know," she continued, "that you are free now? Your
appearance in public has put an end to it all. You are not tied to me
any longer,--unless you wish it."
As she spoke these words Nino turned white, for under the heavy
curtain, lifted to admit her, stood Hedwig von Lira, like a statue,
transfixed and immovable from what she had heard. The baroness noticed
Nino's look, and springing back to her height from the chair on which
she had been leaning, faced the door.
"My dearest Hedwig!" she cried, with a magnificent readiness. "I am so
very glad you have come. I did not expect you in the least. Do take
off your hat, and stay to breakfast. Ah, forgive me; this is Professor
Cardegna. But you know him? Yes; now that I think, we all went to the
Pantheon together." Nino bowed low, and Hedwig bent her head.
"Yes," said the young girl coldly. "Professor Cardegna gives me
"Why, of course; how _bete_ I am! I was just telling him that, since
he has been successful, and is enrolled among the great artists, it is
a pity he is no longer tied to giving Italian lessons,--tied to coming
here three times a week to teach me literature." Hedwig smiled a
strange icy smile, and sat down by the window. Nino was still utterly
astonished, but he would not allow the baroness's quibble to go
"In truth," he said, "the Signora Baronessa's lessons consisted
"In teaching me pronunciation," interrupted the baroness, trying to
remove Hedwig's veil and hat, somewhat against the girl's inclination.
"Yes, you see how it is. I know a little of singing, but I cannot
pronounce--not in the least. Ah, these Italian vowels will be the
death of me! But if there is anyone who can teach a poor dilettante to
pronounce them," she added, laying the hat away on a chair, and
pushing a footstool to Hedwig's feet, "that someone is Signor
By this time Nino had recognised the propriety of temporising; that is
to say, of letting the baroness's fib pass for what it was worth, lest
the discussion of the subject should further offend Hedwig, whose eyes
wandered irresolutely toward him, as though she would say something if
he addressed her.
"I hope, signorina," he said, "that it is not quite as the baroness
says. I trust our lessons are not at an end?" He knew very well that
"I think, Signor Cardegna," said Hedwig, with more courage than would
have been expected from such a mere child,--she is twenty, but
Northern people are not grown up till they are thirty, at least,--"I
think it would have been more obliging if, when I asked you so much
about your cousin, you had acknowledged that you had no cousin, and
that the singer was none other than yourself." She blushed, perhaps,
but the curtain of the window hid it.
"Alas, signorina," answered Nino, still standing before her, "such a
confession would have deprived me of the pleasure--of the honour of
giving you lessons."
"And pray, Signor Cardegna," put in the baroness, "what are a few
paltry lessons compared with the pleasure you ought to have
experienced in satisfying the Contessina di Lira's curiosity. Really,
you have little courtesy."
Nino shrank into himself, as though he were hurt, and he gave the
baroness a look which said worlds. She smiled at him, in joy of her
small triumph, for Hedwig was looking at the floor again and could not
see. But the young girl had strength in her, for all her cold looks
and white cheek.
"You can atone, Signor Cardegna," she said. Nino's face brightened.
"How, signorina?" he asked.
"By singing to us now," said Hedwig. The baroness looked grave, for
she well knew what a power Nino wielded with his music.
"Do not ask him," she protested. "He must be tired,--tired to death,
with all he went through last night."
"Tired?" ejaculated Nino, with some surprise. "I tired? I was never
tired in my life of singing. I will sing as long as you will listen."
He went to the piano. As he turned, the baroness laid her hand on
Hedwig's affectionately, as though sympathising with something she
supposed to be passing in the girl's mind. But Hedwig was passive,
unless a little shudder at the first touch of the baroness's fingers
might pass for a manifestation of feeling. Hedwig had hitherto liked
the baroness, finding in her a woman of a certain artistic sense,
combined with a certain originality. The girl was an absolute contrast
to the woman, and admired in her the qualities she thought lacking in
herself, though she possessed too much self-respect to attempt to
acquire them by imitation. Hedwig sat like a Scandinavian fairy
princess on the summit of a glass hill; her friend roamed through life
like a beautiful soft-footed wild animal, rejoicing in the sense of
being, and sometimes indulging in a little playful destruction by the
way. The girl had heard a voice in the dark singing, and ever since
then she had dreamed of the singer; but it never entered her mind to
confide to the baroness her strange fancies. An undisciplined
imagination, securely shielded from all outward disturbing causes,
will do much with a voice in the dark,--a great deal more than such a
woman as the baroness might imagine.
I do not know enough about these blue-eyed German girls to say whether
or not Hedwig had ever before thought of her unknown singer as an
unknown lover. But the emotions of the previous night had shaken her
nerves a little, and had she been older than she was she would have
known that she loved her singer, in a distant and maidenly fashion, as
soon as she heard the baroness speak of him as having been her
property. And now she was angry with herself, and ashamed of feeling
any interest in a man who was evidently tied to another woman by some
intrigue she could not comprehend. Her coming to visit the baroness
had been as unpremeditated as it was unexpected that morning, and she
bitterly repented it; but being of good blood and heart, she acted as
boldly as she could, and showed no little tact in making Nino sing,
and thus cutting short a painful conversation. Only when the baroness
tried to caress her and stroke her hand she shrank away, and the blood
mantled up to her cheeks. Add to all this the womanly indignation she
felt at having been so long deceived by Nino, and you will see that
she was in a very vacillating frame of mind.
The baroness was a subtle woman, reckless and diplomatic by turns, and
she was not blind to the sudden repulse she met with from Hedwig,
unspoken though it was. But she merely withdrew her hand, and sat
thinking over the situation. What she thought, no one knows; or at
least, we can only guess it from what she did afterwards. As for me, I
have never blamed her at all, for she is the kind of woman I should
have loved. In the meantime Nino carolled out one love song after
another. He saw, however, that the situation was untenable, and after
a while he rose to go. Strange to say, although the baroness had asked
Nino to breakfast and the hour was now at hand, she made no effort to
retain him. But she gave him her hand, and said many flattering and
pleasing things, which, however, neither flattered nor pleased him. As
for Hedwig, she bent her head a little, but said nothing, as he bowed
before her. Nino therefore went home with a heavy heart, longing to
explain to Hedwig why he had been tied to the baroness,--that it was
the price of her silence and of the privilege he had enjoyed of giving
lessons to the contessina; but knowing also that all explanation was
out of the question for the present. When he was gone Hedwig and the
baroness were left together.
"It must have been a great surprise to you, my dear," said the elder
"That your little professor should turn out a great artist in
disguise. It was a surprise to me, too,--ah, another illusion
destroyed. Dear child! You have still so many illusions,--beautiful,
pure illusions. Dieu! how I envy you!" They generally talked French
together, though the baroness knows German. Hedwig laughed bravely.
"I was certainly astonished," she said. "Poor man! I suppose he did it
to support himself. He never told me he gave you lessons too." The
baroness smiled, but it was from genuine satisfaction this time.
"I wonder at that, since he knew we were intimate, or, at least, that
we were acquainted. Of course I would not speak of it last night,
because I saw your father was angry."
"Yes, he was angry. I suppose it was natural," said Hedwig.
"Perfectly natural. And you, my dear, were you not angry too,--just a
"I? No. Why should I be angry? He was a very good teacher, for he
knows whole volumes by heart; and he understands them too."
Soon they talked of other things, and the baroness was very
affectionate. But though Hedwig saw that her friend was kind and most
friendly, she could not forget the words that were in the air when she
chanced to enter, nor could she quite accept the plausible explanation
of them which the baroness had so readily invented. For jealousy is
the forerunner of love, and sometimes its awakener. She felt a rival
and an enemy, and all the hereditary combativeness of her Northern
blood was roused.
Nino, who was in no small perplexity, reflected. He was not old enough
or observant enough to have seen the breach that was about to be
created between the baroness and Hedwig. His only thought was to clear
himself in Hedwig's eyes from the imputation of having been tied to
the dark woman in any way save for his love's sake. He at once began
to hate the baroness with all the ferocity of which his heart was
capable, and with all the calm his bold square face outwardly
expressed. But he was forced to take some action at once, and he could
think of nothing better to do than to consult De Pretis.
To the maestro he poured out his woes and his plans. He exhibited to
him his position toward the baroness and toward Hedwig in the clearest
light. He conjured him to go to Hedwig and explain that the baroness
had threatened to unmask him, and thus deprive him of his means of
support,--he dared not put it otherwise,--unless he consented to sing
for her and come to her as often as she pleased. To explain, to
propitiate, to smooth,--in a word, to reinstate Nino in her good
"Death of a dog!" exclaimed De Pretis; "you do not ask much! After you
have allowed your lady-love, your inamorata, to catch you saying you
are bound body and soul to another woman,--and such a woman! ye
saints, what a beauty!--you ask me to go and set matters right! What
the diavolo did you want to go and poke your nose into such a
mousetrap for? Via! I am a fool to have helped you at all."
"Very likely," said Nino calmly. "But meanwhile there are two of us,
and perhaps I am the greater. You will do what I ask, maestro; is it
not true? And it was not I who said it; it was the baroness."
"The baroness--yes--and may the maledictions of the inferno overtake
her," said De Pretis, casting up his eyes and feeling in his coat-tail
pockets for his snuff-box. Once, when Nino was younger, he filled
Ercole's snuff-box with soot and pepper, so that the maestro had a
black nose and sneezed all day.
What could Ercole do? It was true that he had hitherto helped Nino.
Was he not bound to continue that assistance? I suppose so; but if the
whole affair had ended then, and this story with it, I would not have
cared a button. Do you suppose it amuses me to tell you this tale? Or
that if it were not for Nino's good name I would ever have turned
myself into a common storyteller? Bah! you do not know me. A page of
quaternions gives me more pleasure than all this rubbish put together,
though I am not averse to a little gossip now and then of an evening,
if people will listen to my details and fancies. But those are just
the things people will not listen to. Everybody wants sensation
nowadays. What is a sensation compared with a thought? What is the
convulsive gesticulation of a dead frog's leg compared with the
intellect of the man who invented the galvanic battery, and thus gave
fictitious sensation to all the countless generations of dead frogs'
legs that have since been the objects of experiment? Or if you come
down to so poor a thing as mere feeling, what are your feelings in
reading about Nino's deeds compared with what he felt in doing them? I
am not taking all this trouble to please you, but only for Nino's
sake, who is my dear boy. You are of no more interest or importance to
me than if you were so many dead frogs; and if I galvanise your
sensations, as you call them, into an activity sufficient to make you
cry or laugh, that is my own affair. You need not say "thank you" to
me. I do not want it. Ercole will thank you, and perhaps Nino will
thank me, but that is different.
I will not tell you about the interview that Ercole had with Hedwig,
nor how skilfully he rolled up his eyes and looked pathetic when he
spoke of Nino's poverty and of the fine part he had played in the
whole business. Hedwig is a woman, and the principal satisfaction she
gathered from Ercole's explanation was the knowledge that her friend
the baroness had lied to her in explaining those strange words she had
overheard. She knew it, of course, by instinct; but it was a great
relief to be told the fact by someone else, as it always is, even when
one is not a woman.
Several days passed after the _debut_ without giving Nino an
opportunity of speaking to Hedwig. He probably saw her, for he mingled
in the crowd of dandies in the Piazza Colonna of an afternoon, hoping
she would pass in her carriage and give him a look. Perhaps she did;
he said nothing about it, but looked calm when he was silent and
savage when he spoke, after the manner of passionate people. His face
aged and grew stern in those few days, so that he seemed to change on
a sudden from boy to man. But he went about his business, and sang at
the theatre when he was obliged to; gathering courage to do his best
and to display his powers from the constant success he had. The papers
were full of his praises, saying that he was absolutely without rival
from the very first night he sang, matchless and supreme from the
moment he first opened his mouth, and all that kind of nonsense. I
dare say he is now, but he could not have been really the greatest
singer living, so soon. However, he used to bring me the newspapers
that had notices of him, though he never appeared to care much for
them, nor did he ever keep them himself. He said he hankered for an
ideal which he would never attain, and I told him that if he was never
to attain it he had better abandon the pursuit of it at once. But he
represented to me that the ideal was confined to his imagination,
whereas the reality had a great financial importance, since he daily
received offers from foreign managers to sing for them, at large
advantage to himself, and was hesitating only in order to choose the
most convenient. This seemed sensible, and I was silent. Soon
afterwards he presented me with a box of cigars and a very pretty
amber mouthpiece. The cigars were real Havanas, such as I had not
smoked for years, and must have cost a great deal.
"You may not be aware, Sor Cornelio," he said one evening, as he mixed
the oil and vinegar with the salad, at supper, "that I am now a rich
man, or soon shall be. An agent from the London opera has offered me
twenty thousand francs for the season in London this spring."
"Twenty thousand francs!" I cried, in amazement. "You must be
dreaming, Nino. That is just about seven times what I earn in a year
with my professorship and my writing."
"No dreams, caro mio. I have the offer in my pocket." He apparently
cared no more about it than if he had twenty thousand roasted
chestnuts in his pocket.
"When do you leave us?" I asked, when I was somewhat recovered.
"I am not sure that I will go," he answered, sprinkling some pepper on
"Not sure! Body of Diana, what a fool you are!"
"Perhaps," said he, and he passed me the dish. Just then Mariuccia
came in with a bottle of wine, and we said no more about it, for
Mariuccia is indiscreet.
Nino thought nothing about his riches, because he was racking his
brains for some good expedient whereby he might see the contessina and
speak with her. He had ascertained from De Pretis that the count was
not so angry as he had expected, and that Hedwig was quite satisfied
with the explanations of the maestro. The day after the foregoing
conversation he wrote a note to her, wherein he said that if the
Contessina de Lira would deign to be awake at midnight that evening
she would have a serenade from a voice she was said to admire. He had
Mariuccia carry the letter to the Palazzo Cormandola.
At half-past eleven, at least two hours after supper, Nino wrapped
himself in my old cloak and took the guitar under his arm. Rome is not
a very safe place for midnight pranks, and so I made him take a good
knife in his waistbelt; for he had confided to me where he was going.
I tried to dissuade him from the plan, saying he might catch cold; but
he laughed at me.
A serenade is an everyday affair, and in the street one voice sounds
about as well as another. He reached the palace, and his heart sank
when he saw Hedwig's window dark and gloomy. He did not know that she
was seated behind it in a deep chair, wrapped in white things, and
listening for him against the beatings of her heart. The large moon
seemed to be spiked on the sharp spire of the church that is near her
house, and the black shadows cut the white light as clean as with a
knife. Nino had tuned his guitar in the other street, and stood ready,
waiting for the clocks to strike. Presently they clanged out wildly,
is though they had been waked from their midnight sleep, and were
angry; one clock answering the other, and one convent bell following
another in the call to prayers. For two full minutes the whole air was
crazy with ringing, and then it was all still. Nino struck a single
chord. Hedwig almost thought he might hear her heart beating all the
way down the street.
"Ah, del mio dolce ardor bramato ogetto," he sang,--an old air in one
of Gluck's operas that our Italian musicians say was composed by
Alessandro Stradella, the poor murdered singer. It must be a very good
air, for it pleases me; and I am not easily pleased with music of any
kind. As for Hedwig, she pressed her ear to the glass of the window
that she might not lose any note. But she would not open nor give any
sign. Nino was not so easily discouraged, for he remembered that once
before she had opened her window for a few bars he had begun to sing.
He played a few chords, and breathed out the "Salve, dimora casta e
pura," from _Faust_, high and soft and clear. There is a point in that
song, near to the end, where the words say, "Reveal to me the maiden,"
and where the music goes away to the highest note that anyone can
possibly sing. It always appears quite easy for Nino, and he does not
squeak like a dying pig as all the other tenors do on that note. He
was looking up as he sang it, wondering whether it would have any
effect. Apparently Hedwig lost her head completely, for she gently
opened the casement and looked out at the moonlight opposite, over the
carved stone mullions of her window. The song ended, he hesitated
whether to go or to sing again. She was evidently looking towards him;
but he was in the light, for the moon had risen higher, and she, on
the other side of the street, was in the dark.
"Signorina!" he called softly. No answer. "Signorina!" he said again,
coming across the empty street and standing under the window, which
might have been thirty feet from the ground.
"Hush!" came a whisper from above.
"I thank you with all my soul for listening to me," he said, in a low
voice. "I am innocent of that of which you suspect me. I love you, ah,
I love you!" But at this she left the window very quickly. She did
not close it, however, and Nino stood long, straining his eyes for a
glimpse of the white face that had been there. He sighed, and,
striking a chord, sang out boldly the old air from the _Trovatore_,
"Ah, che la morte ognora e tarda nel venir." Every blind fiddler in
the streets plays it, though he would be sufficiently scared if death
came any the quicker for his fiddling. But old and worn as it is it
has a strain of passion in it, and Nino threw more fire and voice into
the ring of it than ever did famous old Boccarde, when he sang it at
the first performance of the opera, thirty and odd years ago. As he
played the chords after the first strophe, the voice from above
"Hush! for Heaven's sake!" Just that, and something fell at his feet,
with a soft little padded sound on the pavement. He stooped to pick it
up, and found a single rose; and at that instant the window closed
sharply. Therefore he kissed the rose and hid it, and presently he
strode down the street, finishing his song as he went, but only
humming it, for the joy had taken his voice away. I heard him let
himself in and go to bed, and he told me about it in the morning. That
is how I know.
Since the day after the _debut_ Nino had not seen the baroness. He did
not speak of her, and I am sure he wished she were at the very bottom
of the Tiber. But on the morning after the serenade he received a note
from her, which was so full of protestations of friendship and so
delicately couched that he looked grave, and reflected that it was his
duty to be courteous, and to answer such a call as that. She begged
him earnestly to come at one o'clock; she was suffering from headache,
she said, and was very weak. Had Nino loved Hedwig a whit the less he
would not have gone. But he felt himself strong enough to face
anything and everything, and therefore he determined to go.
He found her, indeed, with the manner of a person who is ill, but not
with the appearance. She was lying on a huge couch, pushed to the
fireside, and there were furs about her. A striped scarf of rich
Eastern silk was round her throat, and she held in her hand a new
novel, of which she carelessly cut the pages with a broad-hafted
Persian knife. But there was colour in her dark cheek, and a sort of
angry fire in her eyes. Nino thought the clean steel in her hand
looked as though it might be used for something besides cutting
leaves, if the fancy took her.
"So at last you have honoured me with a visit, signore," she said, not
desisting from her occupation. Nino came to her, and she put out her
hand. He touched it, but could not bear to hold it, for it burned him.
"You used to honour my hand differently from that," she half
whispered. Nino sat himself down a little way from her, blushing
slightly. It was not at what she had said, but at the thought that he
should ever have kissed her fingers.
"Signora," he replied, "there are customs, chivalrous and gentle in
themselves, and worthy for all men to practise. But from the moment a
custom begins to mean what it should not, it ought to be abandoned.
You will forgive me if I no longer kiss your hand."
"How cold you are!--how formal! What should it mean?"
"It is better to say too little than too much," he answered.
"Bah!" she cried, with a bitter little laugh. "Words are silver, but
silence--is very often nothing but silver-plated brass. Put a little
more wood on the fire; you make me cold." Nino obeyed.
"How literal you are!" said the baroness petulantly. "There is fire
enough on the hearth."
"Apparently, signora, you are pleased to be enigmatical," said Nino.
"I will be pleased to be anything I please," she answered, and looked
at him rather fiercely. "I wanted you to drive away my headache, and
you only make it worse."
"I am sorry, signora. I will leave you at once. Permit me to wish you
a very good-morning." He took his hat and went towards the door.
Before he reached the heavy curtain, she was at his side with a rush
like a falcon on the wing, her eyes burning darkly between anger and
"Nino!" She laid hold of his arm, and looked into his face.
"Signora," he protested coldly, and drew back.
"You will not leave me so?"
"As you wish, signora. I desire to oblige you."
"Oh, how cold you are!" she cried, leaving his arm, and sinking into a
chair by the door, while he stood with his hand on the curtain. She
hid her eyes. "Nino, Nino! You will break my heart!" she sobbed; and a
tear, perhaps more of anger than of sorrow, burst through her fingers,
and coursed down her cheek.
Few men can bear to see a woman shed tears. Nino's nature rose up in
his throat, and bade him console her. But between him and her was a
fair, bright image that forbade him to move hand or foot.
"Signora," he said, with all the calm he could command, "if I were
conscious of having by word or deed of mine given you cause to speak
thus, I would humbly implore your forgiveness. But my heart does not
accuse me. I beg you to allow me to take leave of you. I will go
away, and you shall have no further cause to think of me." He moved
again, and lifted the curtain. But she was like a panther, so quick
and beautiful. Ah, how I could have loved that woman! She held him,
and would not let him go, her smooth fingers fastening round his
wrists like springs.
"Please to let me go," he said, between his teeth, with rising anger.
"No! I will not let you!" she cried fiercely, tightening her grasp on
him. Then the angry fire in her tearful eyes seemed suddenly to melt
into a soft flame, and the colour came faster to her cheeks. "Ah, how
can you let me so disgrace myself! how can you see me fallen so low as
to use the strength of my hands, and yet have no pity? Nino, Nino, do
not kill me!"
"Indeed, it would be the better for you if I should," he answered
bitterly, but without attempting to free his wrists from the strong,
"But you will," she murmured, passionately. "You are killing me by
leaving me. Can you not see it?" Her voice melted away in the tearful
cadence. But Nino stood gazing at her as stonily as though he were the
Sphinx. How could he have the heart? I cannot tell. Long she looked
into his eyes, silently; but she might as well have tried to animate a
piece of iron, so stern and hard he was. Suddenly, with a strong
convulsive movement, she flung his hands from her.
"Go!" she cried hoarsely. "Go to that wax doll you love, and see
whether she will love you, or care whether you leave her or not! Go,
go, go! Go to her!" She had sprung far back from him, and now pointed
to the door, drawn to her full height and blazing in her wrath.
"I would advise you, madam, to speak with proper respect of any lady
with whom you choose to couple my name." His lips opened and shut
mechanically, and he trembled from head to foot.
"Respect!" She laughed wildly. "Respect for a mere child whom you
happen to fancy! Respect, indeed, for anything you choose to do!
I--I--respect Hedwig von Lira? Ha! ha!" and she rested her hand on the
table behind her, as she laughed.
"Be silent, madam," said Nino, and he moved a step nearer, and stood
with folded arms.
"Ah! You would silence me now, would you? You would rather not hear me
speak of your midnight serenades, and your sweet letters dropped from
the window of her room at your feet?" But her rage overturned itself,
and with a strange cry she fell into a deep chair, and wept bitterly,
burying her face in her two hands. "Miserable woman that I am!" she
sobbed, and her whole lithe body was convulsed.
"You are indeed," said Nino, and he turned once more to go. But as he
turned, the servant threw back the curtain.
"The Signor Conte di Lira," he announced, in distinct tones. For a
moment there was a dead silence, during which, in spite of his
astonishment at the sudden appearance of the count, Nino had time to
reflect that the baroness had caused him to be watched during the
previous night. It might well be, and the mistake she made in
supposing the thing Hedwig had dropped to be a letter told him that
her spy had not ventured very near.
The tall count came forward under the raised curtains, limping and
helping himself with his stick. His face was as gray and wooden as
ever, but his moustaches had an irritated, crimped look that Nino did
not like. The count barely nodded to the young man as he stood aside
to let the old gentleman pass; his eyes turned mechanically to where
the baroness sat. She was a woman who had no need to simulate passion
in any shape, and it must have cost her a terrible effort to control
the paroxysm of anger and shame and grief that had overcome her. There
was something unnatural and terrifying in her sudden calm, as she
forced herself to rise and greet her visitor.
"I fear I come out of season," he said, apologetically, as he bent
over her hand.
"On the contrary," she answered; "but forgive me if I speak one word
to Professor Cardegna." She went to where Nino was standing.
"Go into that room," she said, in a very low voice, glancing towards a
curtained door opposite the windows, "and wait till he goes. You may
listen if you choose." She spoke authoritatively.
"I will not," answered Nino, in a determined whisper.
"You will not?" Her eyes flashed again. He shook his head.
"Count von Lira," she said aloud, turning to him, "do you know this
young man?" She spoke in Italian, and Von Lira answered in the same
language; but as what he said was not exactly humorous, I will spare
you the strange construction of his sentences.
"Perfectly," he answered. "It is precisely concerning this young man
that I desire to speak with you." The count remained standing because
the baroness had not told him to be seated.
"That is fortunate," replied the baroness, "for I wish to inform you
that he is a villain, a wretch, a miserable fellow!" Her anger was
rising again, but she struggled to control it. When Nino realised what
she said he came forward and stood near the count, facing the
baroness, his arms folded on his breast, as though to challenge
accusation. The count raised his eyebrows.
"I am aware that he concealed his real profession so long as he gave
my daughter lessons. That, however, has been satisfactorily explained,
though I regret it. Pray inform me why you designate him as a
villain." Nino felt a thrill of sympathy for this man whom he had so
"This man, sir," said she, in measured tones, "this low-born singer,
who has palmed himself off on us as a respectable instructor in
language, has the audacity to love your daughter. For the sake of
pressing his odious suit he has wormed himself into your house as into
mine; he has sung beneath your daughter's window, and she has dropped
letters to him,--love-letters, do you understand? And now,"--her voice
rose more shrill and uncontrollable at every word, as she saw Lira's
face turn white, and her anger gave desperate utterance to the
lie,--"and now he has the effrontery to come to me--to me--to me of
all women--and to confess his abominable passion for that pure angel,
imploring me to assist him in bringing destruction upon her and you.
Oh, it is execrable, it is vile, it is hellish!" She pressed her hands
to her temples as she stood, and glared at the two men. The count was
a strong man, easily petulant, but hard to move to real anger. Though
his face was white and his right hand clutched his crutch-stick, he
still kept the mastery of himself.
"Is what you tell me true, madam?" he asked in a strange voice.
"Before God, it is true!" she cried, desperately.
The old man looked at her for one moment, and then, as though he had
been twenty years younger, he made at Nino, brandishing his stick to
strike. But Nino is strong and young, and he is almost a Roman. He
foresaw the count's action, and his right hand stole to the table and
grasped the clean, murderous knife; the baroness had used it so
innocently to cut the leaves of her book half an hour before. With one
wrench he had disarmed the elder man, forced him back upon a lounge,
and set the razor edge of his weapon against the count's throat.
"If you speak one word, or try to strike me, I will cut off your
head," he said quietly, bringing his cold, marble face close down to
the old man's eyes. There was something so deathly in his voice, in
spite of its quiet sound, that the count thought his hour was come,
brave man as he was. The baroness tottered back against the opposite
wall, and stood staring at the two, dishevelled and horrified.
"This woman," said Nino, still holding the cold thing against the
flesh, "lies in part, and in part tells the truth I love your
daughter, it is true." The poor old man quivered beneath Nino's
weight, and his eyes rolled wildly, searching for some means of
escape. But it was of no use. "I love her, and have sung beneath her
window; but I never had a written word from her in my life, and I
neither told this woman of my love nor asked her assistance. She
guessed it at the first; she guessed the reason of my disguise, and
she herself offered to help me. You may speak now. Ask her." Nino
relaxed his hold, and stood off, still grasping the knife. The old
count breathed, shook himself and passed his handkerchief over his
face before he spoke. The baroness stood as though she were petrified.
"Thunder weather, you are a devilish young man!" said Von Lira, still
panting. Then he suddenly recovered his dignity. "You have caused me
to assault this young man by what you told me," he said, struggling to
his feet. "He defended himself, and might have killed me, had he
chosen. Be good enough to tell me whether he has spoken the truth or
"He has spoken--the truth," answered the baroness, staring vacantly
about her. Her fright had taken from her even the faculty of lying.
Her voice was low, but she articulated the words distinctly. Then,
suddenly, she threw up her hands, with a short quick scream, and fell
forward, senseless, on the floor. Nino looked at the count, and
dropped his knife on a table. The count looked at Nino.
"Sir," said the old gentleman, "I forgive you for resisting my
assault. I do not forgive you for presuming to love my daughter, and I
will find means to remind you of the scandal you have brought on my
house." He drew himself up to his full height. Nino handed him his
"Signor Conte," he said simply, but with all his natural courtesy, "I
am sorry for this affair, to which you forced me,--or rather the
Signora Baronessa forced us both. I have acted foolishly, perhaps, but
I am in love. And permit me to assure you, sir, that I will yet marry
the Signorina di Lira, if she consents to marry me."
"By the name of Heaven," swore the old count, "if she wants to marry a
singer, she shall." He limped to the door in sullen anger, and went
out. Nino turned to the prostrate figure of the poor baroness. The
continued strain on her nerves had broken her down, and she lay on the
floor in a dead faint. Nino put a cushion from the lounge under her
head, and rang the bell. The servant appeared instantly.
"Bring water quickly!" he cried. "The signora has fainted." He stood
looking at the senseless figure of the woman, as she lay across the
rich Persian rugs that covered the floor.
"Why did you not bring salts, cologne, her maid--run, I tell you!" he
said to the man, who brought the glass of water on a gilded tray. He
had forgotten that the fellow could not be expected to have any sense.
When her people came at last, he had sprinkled her face, and she had
unconsciously swallowed enough of the water to have some effect in
reviving her. She began to open her eyes, and her fingers moved
nervously. Nino found his hat, and, casting one glance around the room
that had just witnessed such strange doings, passed through the door
and went out. The baroness was left with her servants. Poor woman! She
did very wrong, perhaps, but anybody would have loved her--except
Nino. She must have been terribly shaken, one would have thought, and
she ought to have gone to lie down, and should have sent for the
doctor to bleed her. But she did nothing of the kind.
She came to see me. I was alone in the house, late in the afternoon,
when the sun was just gilding the tops of the houses. I heard the
door-bell ring, and I went to answer it myself. There stood the
beautiful baroness, alone, with all her dark soft things around her,
as pale as death, and her eyes swollen sadly with weeping. Nino had
come home and told me something about the scene in the morning, and I
can tell you I gave him a piece of my mind about his follies.
"Does Professor Cornelio Grandi live here?" she asked, in a low, sad
"I am he, signora," I answered. "Will you please to come in?" And so
she came into our little sitting-room, and sat over there in the old
green arm-chair. I shall never forget it as long as I live.
I cannot tell you all she said in that brief half-hour, for it pains
me to think of it. She spoke as though I were her confessor, so humbly
and quietly,--as though it had all happened ten years ago. There is
no stubbornness in those tiger women when once they break down.
She said she was going away; that she had done my boy a great wrong,
and wished to make such reparation as she could, by telling me, at
least, the truth. She did not scruple to say that she had loved him,
nor that she had done everything in her power to keep him; though he
had never so much as looked at her, she added, pathetically. She
wished to have me know exactly how it happened, no matter what I might
think of her.
"You are a nobleman, count," she said to me at last, "and I can trust
you as one of my own people, I am sure. Yes, I know: you have been
unfortunate, and are now a professor. But that does not change the
blood. I can trust you. You need not tell him I came, unless you wish
it. I shall never see him again. I am glad to have been here, to see
where he lives." She rose, and moved to go. I confess that the tears
were in my eyes. There was a pile of music on the old piano. There was
a loose leaf on the top, with his name written on it. She took it in
her hand, and looked inquiringly at me out of her sad eyes. I knew she
wanted to take it, and I nodded.
"I shall never see him again, you know." Her voice was gentle and
weak, and she hastened to the door; so that almost before I knew it
she was gone. The sun had left the red-tiled roofs opposite, and the
goldfinch was silent in his cage. So I sat down in the chair where she
had rested, and folded my hands, and thought, as I am always thinking
ever since, how I could have loved such a woman as that; so
passionate, so beautiful, so piteously sorry for what she had done
that was wrong. Ah me! for the years that are gone away so cruelly,
for the days so desperately dead! Give me but one of those golden
days, and I would make the pomp of emperors ridiculous.
A greater man than I said that,--a man over the seas, with a great
soul, who wrote in a foreign tongue, but spoke a language germane to
all human speech. But even he cannot bring back one of those dear
days. I would give much to have that one day back, when she came and
told me all her woes. But that is impossible.
When they came to wake her in the morning--the very morning after
that--she was dead in her bed; the colour gone for ever from those
velvet cheeks, the fire quenched out of those passionate eyes, past
power of love or hate to rekindle. _Requiescat in pace_, and may God
give her eternal rest and forgiveness for all her sins. Poor,
beautiful, erring woman!
At nine o'clock on the morning of the baroness' death, as Nino was busy
singing scales, there was a ring at the door, and presently Mariuccia
came running in as fast as her poor old legs could carry her, and
whiter than a pillow-case, to say that there was a man at the door
with two gendarmes, asking for Nino; and before I could question her
the three men walked unbidden into the room, demanding which was
Giovanni Cardegna, the singer. Nino started, and then said quietly
that he was the man. I have had dealings with these people, and I know
what is best to be done. They were inclined to be rough and very
peremptory. I confess I was frightened; but I think I am more cunning
when I am a little afraid.
"Mariuccia," I said, as she stood trembling in the door-way, waiting
to see what would happen, "fetch a flask of that old wine, and serve
these gentlemen,--and a few chestnuts, if you have some. Be seated,
signori," I said to them, "and take one of these cigars. My boy is a
singer, and you would not hurt his voice by taking him out so early on
this raw morning. Sit down, Nino, and ask these gentlemen what they
desire." They all sat down, somewhat sullenly, and the gendarmes'
sabres clanked on the brick floor.
"What do you wish from me?" asked Nino, who was not much moved after
the first surprise.
"We regret to say," answered the man in plain clothes, "that we are
here to arrest you."
"May I inquire on what charge?" I asked. "But first let me fill
your glasses. Dry throats make surly answers, as the proverb says."
They drank. It chanced that the wine was good, being from my own
vineyard,--my little vineyard that I bought outside of Porta
Salara,--and the men were cold and wet, for it was raining.
"Well," said the man who had spoken before,--he was clean-shaved and
fat, and he smacked his lips over the wine,--"It is not our way to
answer questions. But since you are so civil, I will tell you that you
are arrested on suspicion of having poisoned that Russian baroness,
with the long name, at whose house you have been so intimate."
"Poisoned? The baroness poisoned? Is she very ill, then?" asked Nino,
in great alarm.
"She is dead," said the fat mat, wiping his mouth and twisting the
empty glass in his hand.
"Dead!" cried Nino and I together.
"Dead--yes; as dead as St. Peter," he answered, irreverently. "Your
wine is good, Signor Professore. Yes, I will take another glass--and
my men, too. Yes, she was found dead this morning, lying in her bed.
You were there yesterday, Signor Cardegna, and her servant says he saw
you giving her something in a glass of water." He drank a long draught
from his glass. "You would have done better to give her some of this
wine, my friend. She would certainly be alive to-day." But Nino was
dark and thoughtful. He must have been pained and terribly shocked at
the sudden news, of course, but he did not admire her as I did.
"Of course this thing will soon be over," he said at last. "I am very
much grieved to hear of the lady's death, but it is absurd to suppose
that I was concerned in it, however it happened. She fainted suddenly
in the morning when I was there, and I gave her some water to drink,
but there was nothing in it." He clasped his hands on his knee, and
looked much distressed.
"It is quite possible that you poisoned her," remarked the fat man,
with annoying indifference. "The servant says he overheard high words
"He overheard?" cried Nino, springing to his feet. "Cursed beast, to
listen at the door!" He began to walk about excitedly, "How long is
this affair to keep me?" he asked, suddenly; "I have to sing
to-night--and that poor lady lying there dead--oh, I cannot!"
"Perhaps you will not be detained more than a couple of hours," said
the fat man. "And perhaps you will be detained until the Day of
Judgment," he added, with a sly wink at the gendarmes, who laughed
obsequiously. "By this afternoon, the doctors will know of what she
died; and if there was no poison, and she died a natural death, you
can go to the theatre and sing, if you have the stomach. I would, I am
sure. You see, she is a great lady, and the people of her embassy are
causing everything to be done very quickly. If you had poisoned that
old lady who brought us this famous wine a minute ago, you might have
had to wait till next year, innocent or guilty." It struck me that the
wine was producing its effect.
"Very well," said Nino, resolutely; "let us go. You will see that I am
perfectly ready, although the news has shaken me much; and so you will
permit me to walk quietly with you, without attracting any attention?"
"Oh, we would not think of incommoding you," said the fat man. "The
orders were expressly to give you every convenience, and we have
a private carriage below. Signor Grandi, we thank you for your
civility. Good-morning--a thousand excuses." He bowed, and the
gendarmes rose to their feet, refreshed and ruddy with the good wine.
Of course I knew I could not accompany them, and I was too much
frightened to have been of any use. Poor Mariuccia was crying in the
"Send word to Jacovacci, the manager, if you do not hear by twelve
o'clock," Nino called back from the landing, and the door closed
behind them all. I was left alone, sad and frightened, and I felt very
old--much older than I am.
It was tragic. Mechanically I sank into the old green arm-chair, where
she had sat but yesterday evening--she whom I had seen but twice, once
in the theatre and once here, but of whom I had heard so much. And she
was dead, so soon. If Nino could only have heard her last words and
seen her last look he would have been more hurt when he heard of her
sudden death. But he is of stone, that man, save for his love and his
art. He seems to have no room left for sympathy with human ills, nor
even for fear on his own account. Fear!--how I hate the word! Nino
did not seem frightened at all when they took him away. But as for
me--well, it was not for myself this time, at least. That is some
comfort. I think one may be afraid for other people.
Mariuccia was so much disturbed that I was obliged to go myself to
get De Pretis, who gave up all his lessons that day and came to give
me his advice. He looked grave and spoke very little, but he is a
broad-shouldered, genial man, and very comforting. He insisted on
going himself at once to see Nino, to give him all the help he could.
He would not hear of my going, for he said I ought to be bled and have
some tea of mallows to calm me. And when I offered him a cigar from
the box of good ones Nino had given me he took six or seven, and put
them in his pocket without saying a word. But I did not grudge them to
him; for though he is very ridiculous, with his skull-cap and his
snuff-box, he is a leal man, as we say, who stands by his friends and
snaps his fingers at the devil.
I cannot describe to you the anxiety I felt through all that day. I
could not eat, nor drink, nor write. I could not smoke, and when I
tried to go to sleep that cat--an apoplexy on her!--climbed up on my
shoulder and clawed my hair, Mariuccia sat moaning in the kitchen and
could not cook at all, so that I was half starved.
At three o'clock De Pretis came back.
"Courage, conte mio!" he cried; and I knew it was all right. "Courage!
Nino is at liberty again, and says he will sing to-night to show them
he is not a clay doll, to be broken by a little knocking about. Ah,
what a glorious boy Nino is!"
"But where is he!" I asked, when I could find voice to speak, for I
was all trembling.
"He is gone for a good walk, to freshen his nerves, poverino. I wonder
he has any strength left. For Heaven's sake, give me a match that I
may light my cigar, and then I will tell you all about it. Thank you.
And I will sit down comfortably--so. Now you must know that the
baroness--_requiescat_!--was not poisoned by Nino, or by anyone else."
"Of course not! Go on."
"Piano--slow and sure. They had a terrific scene yesterday. You know?
Yes. Then she went out and tired herself, poor soul, so that when she
got home she had an attack of the nerves. Now these foreigners, who
are a pack of silly people, do not have themselves bled and drink
malva water as we do when we get a fit of anger. But they take opium;
that is, a thing they call chloral. God knows what it is made of, but
it puts them to sleep, like opium. When the doctors came to look at
the poor lady they saw at once what was the matter, and called the
maid. The maid said her mistress certainly had some green stuff in a
little bottle which she often used to take; and when they inquired
further they heard that the baroness had poured out much more than
usual the night before, while the maid was combing her hair, for she
seemed terribly excited and restless. So they got the bottle and found
it nearly empty. Then the doctors said, 'At what time was this young
man who is now arrested seen to give her the glass of water?' The
man-servant said it was about two in the afternoon. So the doctors
knew that if Nino had given her the chloral she could not have gone
out afterwards, and have been awake at eleven in the evening when her
maid was with her, and yet have been hurt by what he gave her. And so,
as Jacovacci was raising a thousand devils in every corner of Rome
because they had arrested his principal singer on false pretences, and
was threatening to bring suits against everybody, including the
Russian embassy, the doctors, and the Government, if Nino did not
appear in _Faust_ to-night, according to his agreement, the result was
that, half an hour ago, Nino was conducted out of the police precincts
with ten thousand apologies, and put into the arms of Jacovacci, who
wept for joy, and carried him off to a late breakfast at Morteo's. And
then I came here. But I made Nino promise to take a good walk for his
digestion, since the weather has changed. For a breakfast at three in
the afternoon may be called late, even in Rome. And that reminds me to
ask you for a drop of wine; for I am still fasting, and this talking
is worse for the throat than a dozen high masses."
Mariuccia had been listening at the door, as usual, and she
immediately began crying for joy; for she is a weak-minded old thing,
and dotes on Nino. I was very glad myself, I can tell you; but I
could not understand how Nino could have the heart to sing, or should
lack heart so much as to be fit for it. Before the evening he came
home, silent and thoughtful. I asked him whether he were not glad to
be free so easily.
"That is not a very intelligent question for a philosopher like you to
ask," he answered. "Of course I am glad of my liberty; any man would
be. But I feel that I am as much the cause of that poor lady's death
as though I had killed her with my own hands. I shall never forgive
"Diana!" I cried, "it is a horrible tragedy; but it seems to me that
you could not help it if she chose to love you."
"Hush!" said he, so sternly that he frightened me. "She is dead. God
give her soul rest. Let us not talk of what she did."
"But," I objected, "if you feel so strongly about it, how can you sing
at the opera to-night?"
"There are plenty of reasons why I should sing. In the first place, I
owe it to my engagement with Jacovacci. He has taken endless trouble
to have me cleared at once, and I will not disappoint him. Besides, I
have not lost my voice, and might be half ruined by breaking contract
so early. Then, the afternoon papers are full of the whole affair,
some right and some wrong, and I am bound to show the Contessina di
Lira that this unfortunate accident does not touch my heart, however
sorry I may be. If I did not appear all Rome would say it was because
I was heart-broken. If she does not go to the theatre, she will at
least hear of it. Therefore I will sing." It was very reasonable of
him to think so.
"Have any of the papers got hold of the story of your giving lessons?"
"No, I think not; and there is no mention of the Lira family."
"So much the better."
Hedwig did not go to the opera. Of course she was quite right. However
she might feel about the baroness, it would have been in the worst
possible taste to go to the opera the very day after her death. That
is the way society puts it. It is bad taste; they never say it is
heartless, or unkind, or brutal. It is simply bad taste. Nino sang, on
the whole, better than if she had been there, for he put his whole
soul in his art and won fresh laurels. When it was over he was
besieged by the agent of the London manager to come to some agreement.
"I cannot tell yet," he said. "I will tell you soon." He was not
willing to leave Rome--that was the truth of the matter. He thought of
nothing, day or night, but of how he might see Hedwig, and his heart
writhed in his breast when it seemed more and more impossible. He
dared not risk compromising her by another serenade, as he felt sure
that it had been some servant of the count who had betrayed him to the
baroness. At last he hit upon a plan. The funeral of the baroness was
to take place on the afternoon of the next day. He felt sure that the
Graf von Lira would go to it, and he was equally certain that Hedwig
would not. It chanced to be the hour at which De Pretis went to the
Palazzo to give her the singing lesson.
"I suppose it is a barbarous thing for me to do," he said to himself,
"but I cannot help it. Love first, and tragedy afterwards."
In the afternoon, therefore, he sallied out, and went boldly to the
Palazzo Carmandola. He inquired of the porter whether the Signor Conte
had gone out, and just as he had expected, so he found it. Old Lira
had left the house ten minutes earlier, to go to the funeral. Nino
ran up the stairs and rang the bell. The footman opened the door, and
Nino quickly slipped a five-franc note into his hand, which he had no
difficulty in finding. On asking if the signorina were at home, the
footman nodded, and added that Professor De Pretis was with her, but
she would doubtless see Professor Cardegna as well. And so it turned
out. He was ushered into the great drawing-room, where the piano was.
Hedwig came forward a few steps from where she had been standing
beside De Pretis, and Nino bowed low before her. She had on a long
dark dress, and no ornament whatever, save her beautiful bright hair,
so that her face was like a jewel set in gold and velvet. But, when I
think of it, such a combination would seem absurdly vulgar by the side
of Hedwig von Lira. She was so pale and exquisite and sad that Nino
could hardly look at her. He remembered that there were violets,
rarest of flowers in Rome in January, in her belt.
To tell the truth, Nino had expected to find her stern and cold,
whereas she was only very quiet and sorrowful.
"Will you forgive me, signorina, for this rashness?" he asked, in a
"In that I receive you I forgive you, sir," she said. He glanced
toward De Pretis, who seemed absorbed in some music at the piano and
was playing over bits of an accompaniment. She understood, and moved
slowly to a window at the other end of the great room, standing among
the curtains. He placed himself in the embrasure. She looked at him
long and earnestly, as if finally reconciling the singer with the man
she had known so long. She found him changed, as I had, in a short
time. His face was sterner and thinner and whiter than before, and
there were traces of thought in the deep shadows beneath his eyes.
Quietly observing him, she saw how perfectly simple and exquisitely
careful was his dress, and how his hands bespoke that attention which
only a gentleman gives to the details of his person. She saw that, if
he were not handsome, he was in the last degree striking to the eye,
in spite of all his simplicity, and that he would not lose by being
contrasted with all the dandies and courtiers in Rome. As she looked,
she saw his lip quiver slightly, the only sign of emotion he ever
gives, unless he loses his head altogether, and storms, as he
"Signorina," he began, "I have come to tell you a story; will you
listen to it?"
"Tell it me," said she, still looking in his face.
"There was once a solitary castle in the mountains, with battlement
and moat both high and broad. Far up in a lonely turret dwelt a rare
maiden, of such surpassing beauty and fairness that the peasants
thought she was not mortal, but an angel from heaven, resting in that
tower from the doing of good deeds. She had flowers up there in her
chamber, and the seeds of flowers; and as the seasons passed by, she
took from her store the dry germs, and planted them one after another
in a little earth on the window-sill. And the sun shone on them and
they grew, and she breathed upon them and they were sweet. But they
withered and bore no offspring, and fell away, so that year by year
her store became diminished. At last there was but one little paper
bag of seed left, and upon the cover was written in a strange
character, 'This is the Seed of the Thorn of the World.' But the
beautiful maiden was sad when she saw this, for she said 'All my