Part 3 out of 9
"There is no such person," he said gravely.
"I beg your pardon, prince," said the young diplomatist, "I have met
her. She exists."
"My dear friend," answered Montevarchi, "I do not doubt the existence of
the woman, as such, and I would certainly not think of disagreeing with
you, even if I had the slightest ground for doing so, which, I hasten to
say, I have not. Nor, of course, if she is a friend of yours, would I
like to say more on the subject. But I have taken some little interest
in genealogy and I have a modest library--about two thousand volumes,
only--consisting solely of works on the subject, all of which I have
read and many of which I have carefully annotated. I need not say that
they are all at your disposal if you should desire to make any
Montevarchi had much of his murdered father's manner, without the old
man's strength. The young secretary of embassy was rather startled at
the idea of searching through two thousand volumes in pursuit of Madame
d'Aranjuez's identity. Sant' Ilario laughed.
"I only mean that I have met the lady," said the young man. "Of course
you are right. I have no idea who she may really be. I have heard odd
stories about her."
"Oh--have you?" asked Sant' Ilario with renewed interest.
"Yes, very odd." He paused and looked round the room to assure himself
that no one else was present. "There are two distinct stories about her.
The first is this. They say that she is a South American prima donna,
who sang only a few months, at Rio de Janeiro and then at Buenos Ayres.
An Italian who had gone out there and made a fortune married her from
the stage. In coming to Europe, he unfortunately fell overboard and she
inherited all his money. People say that she was the only person who
witnessed the accident. The man's name was Aragno. She twisted it once
and made Aranjuez of it, and she turned it again and discovered that it
spelled Aragona. That is the first story. It sounds well at all events."
"Very," said Sant' Ilario, with a laugh.
"A profoundly interesting page in genealogy, if she happens to marry
somebody," observed Montevarchi, mentally noting all the facts.
"What is the other story?" asked Frangipani.
"The other story is much less concise and detailed. According to this
version, she is the daughter of a certain royal personage and of a
Polish countess. There is always a Polish countess in those stories! She
was never married. The royal personage has had her educated in a convent
and has sent her out into the wide world with a pretty fancy name of his
own invention, plentifully supplied with money and regular documents
referring to her union with the imaginary Aranjuez, and protected by a
sort of body-guard of mutes and duennas who never appear in public. She
is of course to make a great match for herself, and has come to Rome to
do it. That is also a pretty tale."
"More interesting than the other," said Montevarchi. "These side lights
of genealogy, these stray rivulets of royal races, if I may so
poetically call them, possess an absorbing interest for the student. I
will make a note of it."
"Of course, I do not vouch for the truth of a single word in either
story," observed the young man. "Of the two the first is the less
improbable. I have met her and talked to her and she is certainly not
less than five and twenty years old. She may be more. In any case she is
too old to have been just let out of a convent."
"Perhaps she has been loose for some years," observed Sant' Ilario,
speaking of her as though she were a dangerous wild animal.
"We should have heard of her," objected the other. "She has the sort of
personality which is noticed anywhere and which makes itself felt."
"Then you incline to the belief that she dropped the Signor Aragno
quietly overboard in the neighbourhood of the equator?"
"The real story may be quite different from either of those I have told
"And she is a friend of poor old Donna Tullia!" exclaimed Montevarchi
regretfully. "I am sorry for that. For the sake of her history I could
almost have gone to the length of making her acquaintance."
"How the Del Ferice would rave if she could hear you call her poor old
Donna Tullia," observed Frangipani. "I remember how she danced at the
ball when I came of age!"
"That was a long time ago, Filippo," said Montevarchi thoughtfully, "a
very long time ago. We were all young once, Filippo--but Donna Tullia is
really only fit to fill a glass case in a museum of natural history
The remark was not original, and had been in circulation some time. But
the three men laughed a little and Montevarchi was much pleased by their
appreciation. He and Frangipani began to talk together, and Sant' Ilario
took up his paper again. When the young diplomatist laid his own aside
and went out, Giovanni followed him, and they left the club together.
"Have you any reason to believe that there is anything irregular about
this Madame d'Aranjuez?" asked Sant' Ilario.
"No. Stories of that kind are generally inventions. She has not been
presented at Court--but that means nothing here. And there is a doubt
about her nationality--but no one has asked her directly about it."
"May I ask who told you the stories?"
The young man's face immediately lost all expression.
"Really--I have quite forgotten," he said. "People have been talking
Sant' Ilario justly concluded that his companion's informant was a lady,
and probably one in whom the diplomatist was interested. Discretion is
so rare that it can easily be traced to its causes. Giovanni left the
young man and walked away in the opposite direction, inwardly meditating
a piece of diplomacy quite foreign to his nature. He said to himself
that he would watch the man in the world and that it would be easy to
guess who the lady in question was. It would have been clear to any one
but himself that he was not likely to learn anything worth knowing, by
his present mode of procedure.
"Gouache," he said, entering the artist's studio a quarter of an hour
later, "do you know anything about Madame d'Aranjuez?"
"That is all I know," Gouache answered, pointing to Maria Consuelo's
portrait which stood finished upon an easel before him, set in an old
frame. He had been touching it when Giovanni entered. "That is all I
know, and I do not know that thoroughly. I wish I did. She is a
Sant' Ilario gazed at the picture in silence.
"Are her eyes really like these?" he asked at length.
"And her mouth?"
"Much larger," answered Gouache with a smile.
"She is bad," said Giovanni with conviction, and he thought of the
"Women are never bad," observed Gouache with a thoughtful air. "Some are
less angelic than others. You need only tell them all so to assure
yourself of the fact."
"I daresay. What is this person? French, Spanish--South American?"
"I have not the least idea. She is not French, at all events."
"Excuse me--does your wife know her?"
Gouache glanced quickly at his visitor's face.
Gouache was a singularly kind man, and he did his best perhaps for
reasons of his own, to convey nothing by the monosyllable beyond the
simple negation of a fact. But the effort was not altogether successful.
There was an almost imperceptible shade of surprise in the tone which
did not escape Giovanni. On the other hand it was perfectly clear to
Gouache that Sant' Ilario's interest in the matter was connected with
"I cannot find any one who knows anything definite," said Giovanni after
"Have you tried Spicca?" asked the artist, examining his work
"No. Why Spicca?"
"He always knows everything," answered Gouache vaguely. "By the way,
Saracinesca, do you not think there might be a little more light just
over the left eye?"
"How should I know?"
"You ought to know. What is the use of having been brought up under the
very noses of original portraits, all painted by the best masters and
doubtless ordered by your ancestors at a very considerable expense--if
you do not know?"
"My dear old friend," he said good-humouredly, "have you known us nearly
five and twenty years without discovering that it is our peculiar
privilege to be ignorant without reproach?"
Gouache laughed in his turn.
"You do not often make sharp remarks--but when you do!"
Giovanni left the studio very soon, and went in search of Spicca. It was
no easy matter to find the peripatetic cynic on a winter's afternoon,
but Gouache's remark had seemed to mean something, and Sant' Ilario saw
a faint glimmer of hope in the distance. He knew Spicca's habits very
well, and was aware that when the sun was low he would certainly turn
into one of the many houses where he was intimate, and spend an hour
over a cup of tea. The difficulty lay in ascertaining which particular
fireside he would select on that afternoon. Giovanni hastily sketched a
route for himself and asked the porter at each of his friends' houses if
Spicca had entered. Fortune favoured him at last. Spicca was drinking
his tea with the Marchesa di San Giacinto.
Giovanni paused a moment before the gateway of the palace in which San
Giacinto had inhabited a large hired apartment for many years. He did
not see much of his cousin, now, on account of differences in political
opinion, and he had no reason whatever for calling on Flavia, especially
as formal New Year's visits had lately been exchanged. However, as San
Giacinto was now a leading authority on questions of landed property in
the city, it struck him that he could pretend a desire to see Flavia's
husband, and make that an excuse for staying a long time, if necessary,
in order to wait for him.
He found Flavia and Spicca alone together, with a small tea-table
between them. The air was heavy with the smoke of cigarettes, which
clung to the oriental curtains and hung in clouds about the rare palms
and plants. Everything in the San Giacinto house was large, comfortable
and unostentatious. There was not a chair to be seen which might not
have held the giant's frame. San Giacinto was a wonderful judge of what
was good. If he paid twice as much as Montevarchi for a horse, the horse
turned out to be capable of four times the work. If he bought a picture
at a sale, it was discovered to be by some good master and other people
wondered why they had lost courage in the bidding for a trifle of a
hundred francs. Nothing ever turned out badly with him, but no success
had the power to shake his solid prudence. No one knew how rich he was,
but those who had watched him understood that he would never let the
world guess at half his fortune. He was a giant in all ways and he had
shown what he could do when he had dominated Flavia during the first
year of their marriage. She had at first been proud of him, but about
the time when she would have wearied of another man, she discovered that
she feared him in a way she certainly did not fear the devil. Yet lie
had never spoken a harsh, word to her in his life. But there was
something positively appalling to her in his enormous strength, rarely
exhibited and never without good reason, but always quietly present, as
the outline of a vast mountain reflected in a placid lake. Then she
discovered to her great surprise that he really loved her, which she had
not expected, and at the end of three years he became aware that she
loved him, which was still more astonishing. As usual, his investment
had turned out well.
At the time of which I am speaking Flavia was a slight, graceful woman
of forty years or thereabouts, retaining much of the brilliant
prettiness which served her for beauty, and conspicuous always for her
extremely bright eyes. She was of the type of women who live to a great
She had not expected to see Sant' Ilario, and as she gave her hand, she
looked up at him with an air of inquiry. It would have been like him to
say that he had come to see her husband and not herself, for he had no
tact with persons whom he did not especially like. There are such people
in the world.
"Will you give me a cup of tea, Flavia?" he asked, as he sat down, after
shaking hands with Spicca.
"Have you at last heard that your cousin's tea is good?" inquired the
latter, who was surprised by Giovanni's coming.
"I am afraid it is cold," said Flavia, looking into the teapot, as
though she could discover the temperature by inspection.
"It is no matter," answered Giovanni absently.
He was wondering how he could lead the conversation to the discussion of
"You belong to the swallowers," observed Spicca, lighting a fresh
cigarette. "You swallow something, no matter what, and you are
"It is the simplest way--one is never disappointed."
"It is a pity one cannot swallow people in the same way," said Flavia
with a laugh.
"Most people do," answered Spicca viciously.
"Were you at the Jubilee on the first day?" asked Giovanni, addressing
"Of course I was--and you spoke to me."
"That is true. By the bye, I saw that excellent Donna Tullia there. I
wonder whose ticket she had."
"She had the Princess Befana's," answered Spicca, who knew everything.
"The old lady happened to be dying--she always dies at the beginning of
the season--it used to be for economy, but it has become a habit--and so
Del Ferice bought her card of her servant for his wife."
"Who was the lady who sat with her?" asked Giovanni, delighted with his
"You ought to know!" exclaimed Flavia. "We all saw Orsino take her out.
That is the famous, the incomparable Madame d'Aranjuez--the most
beautiful of Spanish princesses according to to-day's paper. I daresay
you have seen the account of the Del Ferice party. She is no more
Spanish than Alexander the Great. Is she, Spicca?"
"No, she is not Spanish," answered the latter.
"Then what in the world is she?" asked Giovanni impatiently.
"How should I know? Of course it is very disagreeable for you." It was
Flavia who spoke.
"Why, about Orsino of course. Everybody says he is devoted to her."
"I wish everybody would mind his and her business," said Giovanni
sharply. "Because a boy makes the acquaintance of a stranger at a
"Oh--it was at a studio? I did not know that."
"Yes, at Gouache's--I fancied your sister might have told you that,"
said Giovanni, growing more and more irritable, and yet not daring to
change the subject, lest he should lose some valuable information.
"Because Orsino makes her acquaintance accidentally, every one must say
that he is in love with her."
"My dear Giovanni," she answered. "Let us be frank. I used never to
tell the truth under any circumstances, when I was a girl, but
Giovanni--my Giovanni--did not like that. Do you know what he did? He
used to cut off a hundred francs of my allowance for every fib I
told--laughing at me all the time. At the end of the first quarter I
positively had not a pair of shoes, and all my gloves had been cleaned
twice. He used to keep all the fines in a special pocket-book--if you
knew how hard I tried to steal it! But I could not. Then, of course, I
reformed. There was nothing else to be done--that or rags--fancy! And do
you know? I have grown quite used to being truthful. Besides, it is so
original, that I pose with it."
Flavia paused, laughed a little, and puffed at her cigarette.
"You do not often come to see me, Giovanni," she said, "and since you
are here I am going to tell you the truth about your visit. You are
beside yourself with rage at Orsino's new fancy, and you want to find
out all about this Madame d'Aranjuez. So you came here, because we are
Whites and you saw that she had been at the Del Ferice party, and you
know that we know them--and the rest is sung by the organ, as we say
when high mass is over. Is that the truth, or not?"
"Approximately," said Giovanni, smiling in spite of himself.
"Does Corona cut your allowance when you tell fibs?" asked Flavia. "No?
Then why say that it is only approximately true?"
"I have my reasons. And you can tell me nothing?"
"Nothing. I believe Spicca knows all about her. But he will not tell
what he knows."
Spicca made no answer to this, and Giovanni determined to outstay him,
or rather, to stay until he rose to go and then go with him. It was
tedious work for he was not a man who could talk against time on all
occasions. But he struggled bravely and Spicca at last got up from his
deep chair. They went out together, and stopped as though by common
consent upon the brilliantly lighted landing of the first floor.
"Seriously, Spicca," said Giovanni, "I am afraid Orsino is falling in
love with this pretty stranger. If you can tell me anything about her,
please do so."
Spicca stared at the wall, hesitated a moment, and then looked straight
into his companion's eyes.
"Have you any reason to suppose that I, and I especially, know anything
about this lady?" he asked.
"No--except that you know everything."
"That is a fable." Spicca turned from him and began to descend the
Giovanni followed and laid a hand upon his arm.
"You will not do me this service?" he asked earnestly.
Again Spicca stopped and looked at him.
"You and I are very old friends, Giovanni," he said slowly. "I am older
than you, but we have stood by each other very often--in places more
slippery than these marble steps. Do not let us quarrel now, old friend.
When I tell you that my omniscience exists only in the vivid
imaginations of people whose tea I like, believe me, and if you wish to
do me a kindness--for the sake of old times--do not help to spread the
idea that I know everything."
The melancholy Spicca had never been given to talking about friendship
or its mutual obligations. Indeed, Giovanni could not remember having
ever heard him speak as he had just spoken. It was perfectly clear that
he knew something very definite about Maria Consuelo, and he probably
had no intention of deceiving Giovanni in that respect. But Spicca also
knew his man, and he knew that his appeal for Giovanni's silence would
not be vain.
"Very well," said Sant' Ilario.
They exchanged a few indifferent words before parting, and then Giovanni
walked slowly homeward, pondering on the things he had heard that day.
While Giovanni was exerting himself to little purpose in attempting to
gain information concerning Maria Consuelo, she had launched herself
upon the society of which the Countess Del Ferice was an important and
influential member. Chance, and probably chance alone, had guided her in
the matter of this acquaintance, for it could certainly not be said that
she had forced herself upon Donna Tullia, nor even shown any uncommon
readiness to meet the latter's advances. The offer of a seat in her
carriage had seemed natural enough, under the circumstances, and Donna
Tullia had been perfectly free to refuse it if she had chosen to do so.
Though possessing but the very slightest grounds for believing herself
to be a born diplomatist, the Countess had always delighted in petty
plotting and scheming. She now saw a possibility of annoying all
Orsino's relations by attracting the object of Orsino's devotion to her
own house. She had no especial reason for supposing that the young man
was really very much in love with Madame d'Aranjuez, but her woman's
instinct, which far surpassed her diplomatic talents in acuteness, told
her that Orsino was certainly not indifferent to the interesting
stranger. She argued, primitively enough, that to annoy Orsino must be
equivalent to annoying his people, and she supposed that she could do
nothing more disagreeable to the young man's wishes than to induce
Madame d'Aranjuez to join that part of society from which all the
Saracinesca were separated by an insuperable barrier.
And Orsino indeed resented the proceeding, as she had expected; but his
family were at first more inclined to look upon Donna Tullia as a good
angel who had carried off the tempter at the right moment to an
unapproachable distance. It was not to be believed that Orsino could do
anything so monstrous as to enter Del Ferice's house or ask a place in
Del Ferice's circle, and it was accordingly a relief to find that Madame
d'Aranjuez had definitely chosen to do so, and had appeared in
olive-green brocade at the Del Ferice's last party. The olive-green
brocade would now assuredly not figure in the gatherings of the
Saracinesca's intimate friends.
Like every one else, Orsino read the daily chronicle of Roman life in
the papers, and until he saw Maria Consuelo's name among the Del
Ferice's guests, he refused to believe that she had taken the
irrevocable step he so much feared. He had still entertained vague
notions of bringing about a meeting between her and his mother, and he
saw at a glance that such a meeting was now quite out of the question.
This was the first severe shock his vanity had ever received and he was
surprised at the depth of his own annoyance. Maria Consuelo might indeed
have been seen once with Donna Tullia, and might have gone once to the
latter's day. That was bad enough, but might be remedied by tact and
decision in her subsequent conduct. But there was no salvation possible
after a person had been advertised in the daily paper as Madame
d'Aranjuez had been. Orsino was very angry. He had been once to see her
since his first visit, and she had said nothing about this invitation,
though Donna Tullia's name had been mentioned. He was offended with her
for not telling him that she was going to the dinner, as though he had
any right to be made acquainted with her intentions. He had no sooner
made the discovery than he determined to visit his anger upon her, and
throwing the paper aside went straight to the hotel where she was
Maria Consuelo was at home and he was ushered into the little
sitting-room without delay. To his inexpressible disgust he found Del
Ferice himself installed upon the chair near the table, engaged in
animated conversation with Madame d'Aranjuez. The situation was awkward
in the extreme. Orsino hoped that Del Ferice would go at once, and thus
avoid the necessity of an introduction. But Ugo did nothing of the kind.
He rose, indeed, but did not take his hat from the table, and stood
smiling pleasantly while Orsino shook hands with Maria Consuelo.
"Let me make you acquainted," she said with exasperating calmness, and
she named the two men to each other.
Ugo put out his hand quietly and Orsino was obliged to take it, which he
did coldly enough. Ugo had more than his share of tact, and he never
made a disagreeable impression upon any one if he could help it. Maria
Consuelo seemed to take everything for granted, and Orsino's appearance
did not disconcert her in the slightest degree. Both men sat down and
looked at her as though expecting that she would choose a subject of
conversation for them.
"We were talking of the change in Rome," she said. "Monsieur Del Ferice
takes a great interest in all that is doing, and he was explaining to me
some of the difficulties with which he has to contend."
"Don Orsino knows what they are, as well as I, though we might perhaps
differ as to the way of dealing with them," said Del Ferice.
"Yes," answered Orsino, more coldly than was necessary. "You play the
active part, and we the passive."
"In a certain sense, yes," returned the other, quite unruffled. "You
have exactly defined the situation, and ours is by far the more
disagreeable and thankless part to play. Oh--I am not going to defend
all we have done! I only defend what we mean to do. Change of any sort
is execrable to the man of taste, unless it is brought about by
time--and that is a beautifier which we have not at our disposal. We are
half Vandals and half Americans, and we are in a terrible hurry."
Maria Consuelo laughed, and Orsino's face became a shade less gloomy. He
had expected to find Del Ferice the arrogant, self-satisfied apostle of
the modern, which he was represented to be.
"Could you not have taken a little more time?" asked Orsino.
"I cannot see how. Besides it is our time which takes us with it. So
long as Rome was the capital of an idea there was no need of haste in
doing anything. But when it became the capital of a modern kingdom, it
fell a victim to modern facts--which are not beautiful. The most we can
hope to do is to direct the current, clumsily enough, I daresay. We
cannot stop it. Nothing short of Oriental despotism could. We cannot
prevent people from flocking to the centre, and where there is a
population it must be housed."
"Evidently," said Madame d'Aranjuez.
"It seems to me that, without disturbing the old city, a new one might
have been built beside it," observed Orsino.
"No doubt. And that is practically what we have done. I say 'we,'
because you say 'you.' But I think you will admit that, as far as
personal activity is concerned, the Romans of Rome are taking as active
a share in building ugly houses as any of the Italian Romans. The
destruction of the Villa Ludovisi, for instance, was forced upon the
owner not by the national government but by an insane municipality, and
those who have taken over the building lots are largely Roman princes of
the old stock."
The argument was unanswerable, and Orsino knew it, a fact which did not
improve his temper. It was disagreeable enough to be forced into a
conversation with Del Ferice, and it was still worse to be obliged to
agree with him. Orsino frowned and said nothing, hoping that the subject
would drop. But Del Ferice had only produced an unpleasant impression in
order to remove it and thereby improve the whole situation, which was
one of the most difficult in which he had found himself for some time.
"I repeat," he said, with a pleasant smile, "that it is hopeless to
defend all of what is actually done in our day in Rome. Some of your
friends and many of mine are building houses which even age and ruin
will never beautify. The only defensible part of the affair is the
political change which has brought about the necessity of building at
all, and upon that point I think that we may agree to differ. Do you not
think so, Don Orsino?"
"By all means," answered the young man, conscious that the proposal was
both just and fitting.
"And for the rest, both your friends and mine--for all I know, your own
family and certainly I myself--have enormous interests at stake. We may
at least agree to hope that none of us may be ruined."
"Certainly--though we have had nothing to do with the matter. Neither my
father nor my grandfather have entered into any such speculation."
"It is a pity," said Del Ferice thoughtfully.
"Why a pity?"
"On the one hand my instincts are basely commercial," Del Ferice
answered with a frank laugh. "No matter how great a fortune may be, it
may be doubled and trebled. You must remember that I am a banker in fact
if not exactly in designation, and the opportunity is excellent. But the
greater pity is that such men as you, Don Orsino, who could exercise as
much influence as it might please you to use, leave it to men--very
unlike you, I fancy--to murder the architecture of Rome and prepare the
triumph of the hideous."
Orsino did not answer the remark, although he was not altogether
displeased with the idea it conveyed. Maria Consuelo looked at him.
"Why do you stand aloof and let things go from bad to worse when you
might really do good by joining in the affairs of the day?" she asked.
"I could not join in them, if I would," answered Orsino.
"Because I have not command of a hundred francs in the world, Madame.
That is the simplest and best of all reasons."
Del Ferice laughed incredulously.
"The eldest son of Casa Saracinesca would not find that a practical
obstacle," he said, taking his hat and rising to go. "Besides, what is
needed in these transactions is not so much ready money as courage,
decision and judgment. There is a rich firm of contractors now doing a
large business, who began with three thousand francs as their whole
capital--what you might lose at cards in an evening without missing it,
though you say that you have no money at your command."
"Is that possible?" asked Orsino with some interest.
"It is a fact. There were three men, a tobacconist, a carpenter and a
mason, and they each had a thousand francs of savings. They took over a
contract last week for a million and a half, on which they will clear
twenty per cent. But they had the qualities--the daring and the prudence
combined. They succeeded."
"And if they had failed, what would have happened?"
"They would have lost their three thousand francs. They had nothing else
to lose, and there was nothing in the least irregular about their
transactions. Good evening, Madame--I have a private meeting of
directors at my house. Good evening, Don Orsino."
He went out, leaving behind him an impression which was not by any means
disagreeable. His appearance was against him, Orsino thought. His fat
white face and dull eyes were not pleasant to look at. But he had shown
tact in a difficult situation, and there was a quiet energy about him, a
settled purpose which could not fail to please a young man who hated his
Orsino found that his mood had changed. He was less angry than he had
meant to be, and he saw extenuating circumstances where he had at first
only seen a wilful mistake. He sat down again.
"Confess that he is not the impossible creature you supposed," said
Maria Consuelo with a laugh.
"No, he is not. I had imagined something very different. Nevertheless, I
wish--one never has the least right to wish what one wishes--" He
stopped in the middle of the sentence.
"That I had not gone to his wife's party, you would say? But my dear Don
Orsino, why should I refuse pleasant things when they come into my
"Was it so pleasant?"
"Of course it was. A beautiful dinner--half a dozen clever men, all
interested in the affairs of the day, and all anxious to explain them to
me because I was a stranger. A hundred people or so in the evening, who
all seemed to enjoy themselves as much as I did. Why should I refuse all
that? Because my first acquaintance in Rome--who was Gouache--is so
'indifferent,' and because you--my second--are a pronounced clerical?
That is not reasonable."
"I do not pretend to be reasonable," said Orsino. "To be reasonable is
the boast of people who feel nothing."
"Then you are a man of heart?" Maria Consuelo seemed amused.
"I make no pretence to being a man of head, Madame."
"You are not easily caught."
"Nor Del Ferice either."
"Why do you talk of him?"
"The opportunity is good, Madame. As he is just gone, we know that he is
"You can be very sarcastic, when you like," said Maria Consuelo. "But I
do not believe that you are as bitter as you make yourself out to be. I
do not even believe that you found Del Ferice so very disagreeable as
you pretend. You were certainly interested in what he said."
"Interest is not always agreeable. The guillotine, for instance,
possesses the most lively interest for the condemned man at an
"Your illustrations are startling. I once saw an execution, quite by
accident, and I would rather not think of it. But you can hardly compare
Del Ferice to the guillotine."
"He is as noiseless, as keen and as sure," said Orsino smartly.
"There is such a thing as being too clever," answered Maria Consuelo,
without a smile.
"Is Del Ferice a case of that?"
"No. You are. You say cutting things merely because they come into your
head, though I am sure that you do not always mean them. It is a bad
"Because it makes enemies, Madame?" Orsino was annoyed by the rebuke.
"That is the least good of good reasons."
"It will prevent people from loving you," said Maria Consuelo gravely.
"I never heard that--"
"No? It is true, nevertheless."
"In that case I will reform at once," said Orsino, trying to meet her
eyes. But she looked away from him.
"You think that I am preaching to you," she answered. "I have not the
right to do that, and if I had, I would certainly not use it. But I have
seen something of the world. Women rarely love a man who is bitter
against any one but himself. If he says cruel things of other women, the
one to whom he says them believes that he will say much worse of her to
the next he meets; if he abuses the men she knows, she likes it even
less--it is an attack on her judgment, on her taste and perhaps upon a
half-developed sympathy for the man attacked. One should never be witty
at another person's expense, except with one's own sex." She laughed a
"What a terrible conclusion!"
"Is it? It is the true one."
"Then the way to win a woman's love is to praise her acquaintances? That
"I never said that."
"No? I misunderstood. What is the best way?"
"Oh--it is very simple," laughed Maria Consuelo.
"Tell her you love her, and tell her so again and again--you will
certainly please her in the end."
"Madame--" Orsino stopped, and folded his hands with an air of devout
"Oh, nothing! I was about to begin. It seemed so simple, as you say."
They both laughed and their eyes met for a moment.
"Del Ferice interests me very much," said Maria Consuelo, abruptly
returning to the original subject of conversation. "He is one of those
men who will be held responsible for much that is now doing. Is it not
true? He has great influence."
"I have always heard so." Orsino was not pleased at being driven to talk
of Del Ferice again.
"Do you think what he said about you so altogether absurd?"
"Absurd, no--impracticable, perhaps. You mean his suggestion that I
should try a little speculation? Frankly, I had no idea that such things
could be begun with so little capital. It seems incredible. I fancy that
Del Ferice was exaggerating. You know how carelessly bankers talk of a
few thousands, more or less. Nothing short of a million has much meaning
for them. Three thousand or thirty thousand--it is much the same in
"I daresay. After all, why should you risk anything? I suppose it is
simpler to play cards, though I should think it less amusing. I was only
thinking how easy it would be for you to find a serious occupation if
Orsino was silent for a moment, and seemed to be thinking over the
"Would you advise me to enter upon such a business without my father's
knowledge?" he asked presently.
"How can I advise you? Besides, your father would let you do as you
please. There is nothing dishonourable in such things. The prejudice
against business is old-fashioned, and if you do not break through it
your children will."
Orsino looked thoughtfully at Maria Consuelo. She sometimes found an
oddly masculine bluntness with which to express her meaning, and which
produced a singular impression on the young man. It made him feel what
he supposed to be a sort of weakness, of which he ought to be ashamed.
"There is nothing dishonourable in the theory," he answered, "and the
practice depends on the individual."
Maria Consuelo laughed.
"You see--you can be a moralist when you please," she said.
There was a wonderful attraction in her yellow eyes just at that moment.
"To please you, Madame, I could do something much worse--or much
He was not quite in earnest, but he was not jesting, and his face was
more serious than his voice. Maria Consuelo's hand was lying on the
table beside the silver paper-cutter. The white, pointed fingers were
very tempting and he would willingly have touched them. He put out his
hand. If she did not draw hers away he would lay his own upon it. If she
did, he would take up the paper-cutter. As it turned out, he had to
content himself with the latter. She did not draw her hand away as
though she understood what he was going to do, but quietly raised it and
turned the shade of the lamp a few inches.
"I would rather not be responsible for your choice," she said quietly.
"And yet you have left me none," he answered with, sudden boldness.
"No? How so?"
He held up the silver knife and smiled.
"I do not understand," she said, affecting a look of surprise.
"I was going to ask your permission to take your hand."
"Indeed? Why? There it is." She held it out frankly.
He took the beautiful fingers in his and looked at them for a moment.
Then he quietly raised them to his lips.
"That was not included in the permission," she said, with a little laugh
and drawing back. "Now you ought to go away at once."
"Because that little ceremony can belong only to the beginning or the
end of a visit."
"I have only just come."
"Ah? How long the time has seemed! I fancied you had been here half an
"To me it has seemed but a minute," answered Orsino promptly.
"And you will not go?"
There was nothing of the nature of a peremptory dismissal in the look
which accompanied the words.
"No--at the most, I will practise leave-taking."
"I think not," said Maria Consuelo with sudden coldness. "You are a
little too--what shall I say?--too enterprising, prince. You had better
make use of the gift where it will be a recommendation--in business, for
"You are very severe, Madame," answered Orsino, deeming it wiser to
affect humility, though a dozen sharp answers suggested themselves to
his ready wit.
Maria Consuelo was silent for a few seconds. Her head was resting upon
the little red morocco cushion, which heightened the dazzling whiteness
of her skin and lent a deeper colour to her auburn hair. She was gazing
at the hangings above the door. Orsino watched her in quiet admiration.
She was beautiful as he saw her there at that moment, for the
irregularities of her features were forgotten in the brilliancy of her
colouring and in the grace of the attitude. Her face was serious at
first. Gradually a smile stole over it, beginning, as it seemed, from
the deeply set eyes and concentrating itself at last in the full, red
mouth. Then she spoke, still looking upwards and away from him.
"What would you think if I were not a little severe?" she asked. "I am a
woman living--travelling, I should say--quite alone, a stranger here,
and little less than a stranger to you. What would you think if I were
not a little severe, I say? What conclusion would you come to, if I let
you take my hand as often as you pleased, and say whatever suggested
itself to your imagination--your very active imagination?"
"I should think you the most adorable of women--"
"But it is not my ambition to be thought the most adorable of women by
you, Prince Orsino."
"No--of course not. People never care for what they get without an
"You are absolutely irrepressible!" exclaimed Maria Consuelo, laughing
in spite of herself.
"And you do not like that! I will be meekness itself--a lamb, if you
"Too playful--it would not suit your style."
"I detest geology."
"A lap-dog, then. Make your choice, Madame. The menagerie of the
universe is at your disposal. When Adam gave names to the animals, he
could have called a lion a lap-dog--to reassure the Africans. But he
lacked imagination--he called a cat, a cat."
"That had the merit of simplicity, at all events."
"Since you admire his system, you may call me either Cain or Abel,"
suggested Orsino. "Am I humble enough? Can submission go farther?"
"Either would be flattery--for Abel was good and Cain was interesting."
"And I am neither--you give me another opportunity of exhibiting my deep
humility. I thank you sincerely. You are becoming more gracious than I
"You are very like a woman, Don Orsino. You always try to have the last
"I always hope that the last word may be the best. But I accept the
criticism--or the reproach, with my usual gratitude. I only beg you to
observe that to let you have the last word would be for me to end the
conversation, after which I should be obliged to go away. And I do not
wish to go, as I have already said."
"You suggest the means of making you go," answered Maria Consuelo, with
a smile. "I can be silent--if you will not."
"It will be useless. If you do not interrupt me, I shall become
"How terrible! Pray do not!"
"You see! I have you in my power. You cannot get rid of me."
"I would appeal to your generosity, then."
"That is another matter, Madame," said Orsino, taking his hat.
"I only said that I would--" Maria Consuelo made a gesture to stop him.
But he was wise enough to see that the conversation had reached its
natural end, and his instinct told him that he should not outstay his
welcome. He pretended not to see the motion of her hand, and rose to
take his leave.
"You do not know me," he said. "To point out to me a possible generous
action, is to ensure my performing it without hesitation. When may I be
so fortunate as to see you again, Madame?"
"You need not be so intensely ceremonious. You know that I am always at
home at this hour."
Orsino was very much struck by this answer. There was a shade of
irritation in the tone, which he had certainly not expected, and which
flattered him exceedingly. She turned her face away as she gave him her
hand and moved a book on the table with the other as though she meant to
begin reading almost before he should be out of the room. He had not
felt by any means sure that she really liked his society, and he had not
expected that she would so far forget herself as to show her inclination
by her impatience. He had judged, rightly or wrongly, that she was a
woman who weighed every word and gesture beforehand, and who would be
incapable of such an oversight as an unpremeditated manifestation of
Very young men are nowadays apt to imagine complications of character
where they do not exist, often overlooking them altogether where they
play a real part. The passion for analysis discovers what it takes for
new simple elements in humanity's motives, and often ends by feeding on
itself in the effort to decompose what is not composite. The greatest
analysers are perhaps the young and the old, who, being respectively
before and behind the times, are not so intimate with them as those who
are actually making history, political or social, ethical or scandalous,
dramatic or comic.
It is very much the custom among those who write fiction in the English
language to efface their own individuality behind the majestic but
rather meaningless plural, "we," or to let the characters created
express the author's view of mankind. The great French novelists are
more frank, for they say boldly "I," and have the courage of their
opinions. Their merit is the greater, since those opinions seem to be
rarely complimentary to the human race in general, or to their readers
in particular. Without introducing any comparison between the fiction of
the two languages, it may be said that the tendency of the method is
identical in both cases and is the consequence of an extreme preference
for analysis, to the detriment of the romantic and very often of the
dramatic element in the modern novel. The result may or may not be a
volume of modern social history for the instruction of the present and
the future generation. If it is not, it loses one of the chief merits
which it claims; if it is, then we must admit the rather strange
deduction, that the political history of our times has absorbed into
itself all the romance and the tragedy at the disposal of destiny,
leaving next to none at all in the private lives of the actors and
their numerous relations.
Whatever the truth may be, it is certain that this love of minute
dissection is exercising an enormous influence in our time; and as no
one will pretend that a majority of the young persons in society who
analyse the motives of their contemporaries and elders are successful
moral anatomists, we are forced to the conclusion that they are
frequently indebted to their imaginations for the results they obtain
and not seldom for the material upon which they work. A real Chemistry
may some day grow out of the failures of this fanciful Alchemy, but the
present generation will hardly live to discover the philosopher's stone,
though the search for it yield gold, indirectly, by the writing of many
novels. If fiction is to be counted among the arts at all, it is not yet
time to forget the saying of a very great man: "It is the mission of all
art to create and foster agreeable illusions."
Orsino Saracinesca was no further removed from the action of the
analytical bacillus than other men of his age. He believed and desired
his own character to be more complicated than it was, and he had no
sooner made the acquaintance of Maria Consuelo than he began to
attribute to her minutest actions such a tortuous web of motives as
would have annihilated all action if it had really existed in her brain.
The possible simplicity of a strong and much tried character, good or
bad, altogether escaped him, and even an occasional unrestrained word or
gesture failed to convince him that he was on the wrong track. To tell
the truth, he was as yet very inexperienced. His visits to Maria
Consuelo passed in making light conversation. He tried to amuse her, and
succeeded fairly well, while at the same time he indulged in endless and
fruitless speculations as to her former life, her present intentions and
her sentiments with regard to himself. He would have liked to lead her
into talking of herself, but he did not know where to begin. It was not
a part of his system to believe in mysteries concerning people, but
when he reflected upon the matter he was amazed at the impenetrability
of the barrier which cut him off from all knowledge of her life. He soon
heard the tales about her which were carelessly circulated at the club,
and he listened to them without much interest, though he took the
trouble to deny their truth on his own responsibility, which surprised
the men who knew him and gave rise to the story that he was in love with
Madame d'Aranjuez. The most annoying consequence of the rumour was that
every woman to whom he spoke in society overwhelmed him with questions
which he could not answer except in the vaguest terms. In his ignorance
he did his best to evolve a satisfactory history for Maria Consuelo out
of his imagination, but the result was not satisfactory.
He continued his visits to her, resolving before each meeting that he
would risk offending her by putting some question which she must either
answer directly or refuse to answer altogether. But he had not counted
upon his own inherent hatred of rudeness, nor upon the growth of an
attachment which he had not foreseen when he had coldly made up his mind
that it would be worth while to make love to her, as Gouache had
laughingly suggested. Yet he was pleased with what he deemed his own
coldness. He assuredly did not love her, but he knew already that he
would not like to give up the half hours he spent with her. To offend
her seriously would be to forfeit a portion of his daily amusement which
he could not spare.
From time to time he risked a careless, half-jesting declaration such as
many a woman might have taken seriously. But Maria Consuelo turned such
advances with a laugh or by an answer that was admirably tempered with
quiet dignity and friendly rebuke.
"If she is not good," he said to himself at last, "she must be
enormously clever. She must be one or the other."
Orsino's twenty-first birthday fell in the latter part of January, when
the Roman season was at its height, but as the young man's majority did
not bring him any of those sudden changes in position which make epochs
in the lives of fatherless sons, the event was considered as a family
matter and no great social celebration of it was contemplated. It
chanced, too, that the day of the week was the one appropriated by the
Montevarchi for their weekly dance, with which it would have been a
mistake to interfere. The old Prince Saracinesca, however, insisted that
a score of old friends should be asked to dinner, to drink the health of
his eldest grandson, and this was accordingly done.
Orsino always looked back to that banquet as one of the dullest at which
he ever assisted. The friends were literally old, and their conversation
was not brilliant. Each one on arriving addressed to him a few
congratulatory and moral sentiments, clothed in rounded periods and
twanging of Cicero in his most sermonising mood. Each drank his especial
health at the end of the dinner in a teaspoonful of old "vin santo," and
each made a stiff compliment to Corona on her youthful appearance. The
men were almost all grandees of Spain of the first class and wore their
ribbons by common consent, which lent the assembly an imposing
appearance; but several of them were of a somnolent disposition and
nodded after dinner, which did not contribute to prolong the effect
produced. Orsino thought their stories and anecdotes very long-winded
and pointless, and even the old prince himself seemed oppressed by the
solemnity of the affair, and rarely laughed. Corona, with serene good
humour did her best to make conversation, and a shade of animation
occasionally appeared at her end of the table; but Sant' Ilario was
bored to the verge of extinction and talked of nothing but archaeology
and the trial of the Cenci, wondering inwardly why he chose such
exceedingly dry subjects. As for Orsino, the two old princesses between
whom he was placed paid very little attention to him, and talked across
him about the merits of their respective confessors and directors. He
frivolously asked them whether they ever went to the theatre, to which
they replied very coldly that they went to their boxes when the piece
was not on the Index and when there was no ballet. Orsino understood why
he never saw them at the opera, and relapsed into silence. The butler, a
son of the legendary Pasquale of earlier days, did his best to cheer the
youngest of his masters with a great variety of wines; but Orsino would
not be comforted either by very dry champagne or very mellow claret. But
he vowed a bitter revenge and swore to dance till three in the morning
at the Montevarchi's and finish the night with a rousing baccarat at the
club, which projects he began to put into execution as soon as was
In due time the guests departed, solemnly renewing their expressions of
good wishes, and the Saracinesca household was left to itself. The old
prince stood before the fire in the state drawing-room, rubbing his
hands and shaking his head. Giovanni and Corona sat on opposite sides of
the fireplace, looking at each other and somewhat inclined to laugh.
Orsino was intently studying a piece of historical tapestry which had
never interested him before.
The silence lasted some time. Then old Saracinesca raised his head and
gave vent to his feelings, with all his old energy.
"What a museum!" he exclaimed. "I would not have believed that I should
live to dine in my own house with a party of stranded figure-heads, set
up in rows around my table! The paint is all worn off and the brains are
all worn out and there is nothing left but a cracked old block of wood
with a ribbon around its neck. You will be just like them, Giovanni, in
a few years, for you will be just like me--we all turn into the same
shape at seventy, and if we live a dozen years longer it is because
Providence designs to make us an awful example to the young."
"I hope you do not call yourself a figure-head," said Giovanni.
"They are calling me by worse names at this very minute as they drive
home. 'That old Methuselah of a Saracinesca, how has he the face to go
on living?' That is the way they talk. 'People ought to die decently
when other people have had enough of them, instead of sitting up at the
table like death's-heads to grin at their grandchildren and
great-grandchildren!' They talk like that, Giovanni. I have known some
of those old monuments for sixty years and more--since they were babies
and I was of Orsino's age. Do you suppose I do not know how they talk?
You always take me for a good, confiding old fellow, Giovanni. But then,
you never understood human nature."
Giovanni laughed and Corona smiled. Orsino turned round to enjoy the
rare delight of seeing the old gentleman rouse himself in a fit of
"If you were ever confiding it was because you were too good," said
"Yes--good and confiding--that is it! You always did agree with me as to
my own faults. Is it not true, Corona? Can you not take my part against
that graceless husband of yours? He is always abusing me--as though I
were his property, or his guest. Orsino, my boy, go away--we are all
quarrelling here like a pack of wolves, and you ought to respect your
elders. Here is your father calling me by bad names--"
"I said you were too good," observed Giovanni.
"Yes--good and confiding! If you can find anything worse to say, say
it--and may you live to hear that good-for-nothing Orsino call you good
and confiding when you are eighty-two years old. And Corona is laughing
at me. It is insufferable. You used to be a good girl, Corona--but you
are so proud of having four sons that there is no possibility of talking
to you any longer. It is a pity that you have not brought them up
better. Look at Orsino. He is laughing too."
"Certainly not at you, grandfather," the young man hastened to say.
"Then you must be laughing at your father or your mother, or both, since
there is no one else here to laugh at. You are concocting sharp speeches
for your abominable tongue. I know it. I can see it in your eyes. That
is the way you have brought up your children, Giovanni. I congratulate
you. Upon my word, I congratulate you with all my heart! Not that I ever
expected anything better. You addled your own brains with curious
foreign ideas on your travels--the greater fool I for letting you run
about the world when you were young. I ought to have locked you up in
Saracinesca, on bread and water, until you understood the world well
enough to profit by it. I wish I had."
None of the three could help laughing at this extraordinary speech.
Orsino recovered his gravity first, by the help of the historical
tapestry. The old gentleman noticed the fact.
"Come here, Orsino, my boy," he said. "I want to talk to you."
Orsino came forward. The old prince laid a hand on his shoulder and
looked up into his face.
"You are twenty-one years old to-day," he said, "and we are all
quarrelling in honour of the event. You ought to be flattered that we
should take so much trouble to make the evening pass pleasantly for you,
but you probably have not the discrimination to see what your amusement
His grey beard shook a little, his rugged features twitched, and then a
broad good-humoured smile lit up the old face.
"We are quarrelsome people," he continued in his most Cheerful and
hearty tone. "When Giovanni and I were young--we were young together,
you know--we quarrelled every day as regularly as we ate and drank. I
believe it was very good for us. We generally made it up before
night--for the sake of beginning again with a clear conscience. Anything
served us--the weather, the soup, the colour of a horse."
"You must have led an extremely lively life," observed Orsino,
"It was very well for us, Orsino. But it will not do for you. You are
not so much like your father, as he was like me at your age. We fought
with the same weapons, but you two would not, if you fought at all. We
fenced for our own amusement and we kept the buttons on the foils. You
have neither my really angelic temper nor your father's stony
coolness--he is laughing again--no matter, he knows it is true. You have
a diabolical tongue. Do not quarrel with your father for amusement,
Orsino. His calmness will exasperate you as it does me, but you will not
laugh at the right moment as I have done all my life. You will bear
malice and grow sullen and permanently disagreeable. And do not say all
the cutting things you think of, because with your disposition you will
get into serious trouble. If you have really good cause for being angry,
it is better to strike than to speak, and in such cases I strongly
advise you to strike first. Now go and amuse yourself, for you must have
had enough of our company. I do not think of any other advice to give
you on your coming of age."
Thereupon he laughed again and pushed his grandson away, evidently
delighted with the lecture he had given him. Orsino was quick to profit
by the permission and was soon in the Montevarchi ballroom, doing his
best to forget the lugubrious feast in his own honour at which he had
He was not altogether successful, however. He had looked forward to the
day for many months as one of rejoicing as well as of emancipation, and
he had been grievously disappointed. There was something of ill augury,
he thought, in the appalling dulness of the guests, for they had
congratulated him upon his entry into a life exactly similar to their
own. Indeed, the more precisely similar it proved to be, the more he
would be respected when he reached their advanced age. The future
unfolded to him was not gay. He was to live forty, fifty or even sixty
years in the same round of traditions and hampered by the same net of
prejudices. He might have his romance, as his father had had before him,
but there was nothing beyond that. His father seemed perfectly satisfied
with his own unruffled existence and far from desirous of any change.
The feudalism of it all was still real in fact, though abolished in
theory, and the old prince was as much a great feudal lord as ever,
whose interests were almost tribal in their narrowness, almost sordid in
their detail, and altogether uninteresting to his presumptive heir in
the third generation. What was the peasant of Aquaviva, for instance, to
Orsino? Yet Sant' Ilario and old Saracinesca took a lively interest in
his doings and in the doings of four or five hundred of his kind, whom
they knew by name and spoke of as belongings, much as they would have
spoken of books in the library. To collect rents from peasants and to
ascertain in person whether their houses needed repair was not a career.
Orsino thought enviously of San Giacinto's two sons, leading what seemed
to him a life of comparative activity and excitement in the Italian
army, and having the prospect of distinction by their own merits. He
thought of San Giacinto himself, of his ceaseless energy and of the
great position he was building up. San Giacinto was a Saracinesca as
well as Orsino, bearing the same name and perhaps not less respected
than the rest by the world at large, though he had sullied his hands
with finance. Even Del Ferice's position would have been above
criticism, but for certain passages in his earlier life not immediately
connected with his present occupation. And as if such instances were not
enough there were, to Orsino's certain knowledge, half a dozen men of
his father's rank even now deeply engaged in the speculations of the
day. Montevarchi was one of them, and neither he nor the others made any
secret of their doings.
"Surely," thought Orsino, "I have as good a head as any of them, except,
perhaps, San Giacinto."
And he grew more and more discontented with his lot, and more and more
angry at himself for submitting to be bound hand and foot and sacrificed
upon the altar of feudalism. Everything had disappointed and irritated
him on that day, the weariness of the dinner, the sight of his parents'
placid felicity, the advice his grandfather had given him--good of its
kind, but lamentably insufficient, to say the least of it. He was
rapidly approaching that state of mind in which young men do the most
unexpected things for the mere pleasure of surprising their relations.
He grew tired of the ball, because Madame d'Aranjuez was not there. He
longed to dance with her and he wished that he were at liberty to
frequent the houses la which she was asked. But as yet she saw only the
Whites and had not made the acquaintance of a single Grey family, in
spite of his entreaties. He could not tell whether she had any fixed
reason in making her choice, or whether as yet it had been the result of
chance, but he discovered that he was bored wherever he went because she
was not present. At supper-time on this particular evening, he entered
into a conspiracy with certain choice spirits to leave the party and
adjourn to the club and cards.
The sight of the tables revived him and he drew a long breath as he sat
down with a cigarette in his mouth and a glass at his elbow. It seemed
as though the day were beginning at last.
Orsino was no more a born gambler than he was disposed to be a hard
drinker. He loved excitement in any shape, and being so constituted as
to bear it better than most men, he took it greedily in whatever form it
was offered to him. He neither played nor drank every day, but when he
did either he was inclined to play more than other people and to consume
more strong liquor. Yet his judgment was not remarkable, nor his head
much stronger than the heads of his companions. Great gamblers do not
drink, and great drinkers are not good players, though they are
sometimes amazingly lucky when in their cups.
It is of no use to deny the enormous influence of brandy and games of
chance on the men of the present day, but there is little profit in
describing such scenes as take place nightly in many clubs all over
Europe. Something might be gained, indeed, if we could trace the causes
which have made gambling especially the vice of our generation, for that
discovery might show us some means of influencing the next. But I do not
believe that this is possible. The times have undoubtedly grown more
dull, as civilisation has made them more alike, but there is, I think,
no truth in the common statement that vice is bred of idleness. The
really idle man is a poor creature, incapable of strong sins. It is far
more often the man of superior gifts, with faculties overwrought and
nerves strained above concert pitch by excessive mental exertion, who
turns to vicious excitement for the sake of rest, as a duller man falls
asleep. Men whose lives are spent amidst the vicissitudes, surprises and
disappointments of the money market are assuredly less idle than country
gentlemen; the busy lawyer has less time to spare than the equally
gifted fellow of a college; the skilled mechanic works infinitely
harder, taking the average of the whole year, than the agricultural
labourer; the life of a sailor on an ordinary merchant ship is one of
rest, ease and safety compared with that of the collier. Yet there can
hardly be a doubt as to which individual in each example is the one to
seek relaxation in excitement, innocent or the reverse, instead of in
sleep. The operator in the stock market, the barrister, the mechanic,
the miner, in every case the men whose faculties are the more severely
strained, are those who seek strong emotions in their daily leisure, and
who are the more inclined to extend that leisure at the expense of
bodily rest. It may be objected that the worst vice is found in the
highest grades of society, that is to say, among men who have no settled
occupation. I answer that, in the first place, this is not a known fact,
but a matter of speculation, and that the conclusion is principally
drawn from the circumstance that the evil deeds of such persons, when
they become known, are very severely criticised by those whose criticism
has the most weight, namely by the equals of the sinners in question--as
well as by writers of fiction whose opinions may or may not be worth
considering. For one Zola, historian of the Rougon-Macquart family,
there are a hundred would-be Zolas, censors of a higher class, less
unpleasantly fond of accurate detail, perhaps, but as merciless in
intention. But even if the case against society be proved, which is
possible, I do not think that society can truly be called idle, because
many of those who compose it have no settled occupation. The social day
is a long one. Society would not accept the eight hours' system demanded
by the labour unions. Society not uncommonly works at a high pressure
for twelve, fourteen and even sixteen hours at a stretch. The mental
strain, though, not of the most intellectual order, is incomparably more
severe than that required for success in many lucrative professions or
crafts. The general absence of a distinct aim sharpens the faculties in
the keen pursuit of details, and lends an importance to trifles which
overburdens at every turn the responsibility borne by the nerves. Lazy
people are not favourites in drawing-rooms, and still less at the
dinner-table. Consider also that the average man of the world, and many
women, daily sustain an amount of bodily fatigue equal perhaps to that
borne by many mechanics and craftsmen and much greater than that
required in the liberal professions, and that, too, under far less
favourable conditions. Recapitulate all these points. Add together the
physical effort, the mental activity, the nervous strain. Take the sum
and compare it with that got by a similar process from other conditions
of existence. I think there can be little doubt of the verdict. The
force exerted is wasted, if you please, but it is enormously great, and
more than sufficient to prove that those who daily exert it are by no
means idle. Besides, none of the inevitable outward and visible results
of idleness are apparent in the ordinary society man or woman. On the
contrary, most of them exhibit the peculiar and unmistakable signs of
physical exhaustion, chief of which is cerebral anaemia. They are
overtrained and overworked. In the language of training they are
Men like Orsino Saracinesca are not vicious at his age, though they may
become so. Vice begins when the excitement ceases to be a matter of
taste and turns into a necessity. Orsino gambled because it amused him
when no other amusement was obtainable, and he drank while he played
because it made the amusement seem more amusing. He was far too young
and healthy and strong to feel an irresistible longing for anything not
On the present occasion he cared very little, at first, whether he won
or lost, and as often happens to a man in that mood he won a
considerable sum during the first hour. The sight of the notes before
him strengthened an idea which had crossed his mind more than once of
late, and the stimulants he drank suddenly fixed it into a purpose. It
was true that he did not command any sum of money which could be
dignified by the name of capital, but he generally had enough in his
pocket to play with, and to-night he had rather more than usual. It
struck him that if he could win a few thousands by a run of luck, he
would have more than enough to try his fortune in the building
speculations of which Del Ferice had talked. The scheme took shape and
at once lent a passionate interest to his play.
Orsino had no system and generally left everything to chance, but he
had no sooner determined that he must win than he improvised a method,
and began to play carefully. Of course he lost, and as he saw his heap
of notes diminishing, he filled his glass more and more often. By two
o'clock he had but five hundred francs left, his face was deadly pale,
the lights dazzled him and his hands moved uncertainly. He held the bank
and he knew that if he lost on the card he must borrow money, which he
did not wish to do.
He dealt himself a five of spades, and glanced at the stakes. They were
considerable. A last sensation of caution prevented him from taking
another card. The table turned up a six and he lost.
"Lend me some money, Filippo," he said to the man nearest him, who
immediately counted out a number of notes.
Orsino paid with the money and the bank passed. He emptied his glass and
lit a cigarette. At each succeeding deal he staked a small sum and lost
it, till the bank came to him again. Once more he held a five. The other
men saw that he was losing and put up all they could. Orsino hesitated.
Some one observed justly that he probably held a five again. The lights
swam indistinctly before him and he drew another card. It was a four.
Orsino laughed nervously as he gathered the notes and paid back what he
He did not remember clearly what happened afterwards. The faces of the
cards grew less distinct and the lights more dazzling. He played blindly
and won almost without interruption until the other men dropped off one
by one, having lost as much as they cared to part with at one sitting.
At four o'clock in the morning Orsino went home in a cab, having about
fifteen thousand francs in his pockets. The men he had played with were
mostly young fellows like himself, having a limited allowance of pocket
money, and Orsino's winnings were very large under the circumstances.
The night air cooled his head and he laughed gaily to himself as he
drove through the deserted streets. His hand was steady enough now, and
the gas lamps did not move disagreeably before his eyes. But he had
reached the stage of excitement in which a fixed idea takes hold of the
brain, and if it had been possible he would undoubtedly have gone as he
was, in evening dress, with his winnings in his pocket, to rouse Del
Ferice, or San Giacinto, or any one else who could put him in the way of
risking his money on a building lot. He reluctantly resigned himself to
the necessity of going to bed, and slept as one sleeps at twenty-one
until nearly eleven o'clock on the following morning.
While he dressed he recalled the circumstances of the previous night and
was surprised to find that his idea was as fixed as ever. He counted the
money. There was five times as much as the Del Ferice's carpenter,
tobacconist and mason had been able to scrape together amongst them. He
had therefore, according to his simple calculation, just five times as
good a chance of succeeding as they. And they had been successful. His
plan fascinated him, and he looked forward to the constant interest and
occupation with a delight which was creditable to his character. He
would be busy and the magic word "business" rang in his ears. It was
speculation, no doubt, but he did not look upon it as a form of
gambling; if he had done so, he would not have cared for it on two
consecutive days. It was something much better in his eyes. It was to do
something, to be some one, to strike out of the everlastingly dull road
which lay before him and which ended in the vanishing point of an
insignificant old age.
He had not the very faintest conception of what that business was with
which he aspired to occupy himself. He was totally ignorant of the
methods of dealing with money, and he no more knew what a draft at three
months meant than he could have explained the construction of the watch
he carried in his pocket. Of the first principles of building he knew,
if possible, even less and he did not know whether land in the city
were worth a franc or a thousand francs by the square foot. But he said
to himself that those things were mere details, and that he could learn
all he needed of them in a fortnight. Courage and judgment, Del Ferice
had said, were the chief requisites for success. Courage he possessed,
and he believed himself cool. He would avail himself of the judgment of
others until he could judge for himself.
He knew very well what his father would think of the whole plan, but he
had no intention of concealing his project. Since yesterday, he was of
age and was therefore his own master to the extent of his own small
resources. His father had not the power to keep him from entering upon
any honourable undertaking, though he might justly refuse to be
responsible for the consequences. At the worst, thought Orsino, those
consequences might be the loss of the money he had in hand. Since he had
nothing else to risk, he had nothing else to lose. That is the light in
which most inexperienced people regard speculation. Orsino therefore
went to his father and unfolded his scheme, without mentioning Del
Sant' Ilario listened rather impatiently and laughed when Orsino had
finished. He did not mean to be unkind, and if he had dreamed of the
effect his manner would produce, he would have been more careful. But he
did not understand his son, as he himself had been understood by his own
"This is all nonsense, my boy," he answered. "It is a mere passing
fancy. What do you know of business or architecture, or of a dozen other
matters which you ought to understand thoroughly before attempting
anything like what you propose?"
Orsino was silent, and looked out of the window, though he was evidently
"You say you want an occupation. This is not one. Banking is an
occupation, and architecture is a career, but what we call affairs in
Rome are neither one nor the other. If you want to be a banker you must
go into a bank and do clerk's work for years. If you mean to follow
architecture as a profession you must spend four or five years in study
at the very least."
"San Giacinto has not done that," observed Orsino coldly.
"San Giacinto has a very much better head on his shoulders than you, or
I, or almost any other man in Rome. He has known how to make use of
other men's talents, and he had a rather more practical education than I
would have cared to give you. If he were not one of the most honest men
alive he would certainly have turned out one of the greatest
"I do not see what that has to do with it," said Orsino.
"Not much, I confess. But his early life made him understand men as you
and I cannot understand them, and need not, for that matter."
"Then you object to my trying this?"
"I do nothing of the kind. When I object to the doing of anything I
prevent it, by fair words or by force. I am not inclined for a pitched
battle with you, Orsino, and I might not get the better of you after
all. I will be perfectly neutral. I will have nothing to do with this
business. If I believed in it, I would give you all the capital you
could need, but I shall not diminish your allowance in order to hinder
you from throwing it away. If you want more money for your amusements or
luxuries, say so. I am not fond of counting small expenses, and I have
not brought you up to count them either. Do not gamble at cards any more
than you can help, but if you lose and must borrow, borrow of me. When I
think you are going too far, I will tell you so. But do not count upon
me for any help in this scheme of yours. You will not get it. If you
find yourself in a commercial scrape, find your own way out of it. If
you want better advice than mine, go to San Giacinto. He will give you a
practical man's view of the case."
"You are frank, at all events," said Orsino, turning from the window
and facing his father.
"Most of us are in this house," answered Sant' Ilario. "That will make
it all the harder for you to deal with the scoundrels who call
themselves men of business."
"I mean to try this, father," said the young man. "I will go and see San
Giacinto, as you suggest, and I will ask his opinion. But if he
discourages me I will try my luck all the same. I cannot lead this life
any longer. I want an occupation and I will make one for myself."
"It is not an occupation that you want, Orsino. It is another
excitement. That is all. If you want an occupation, study, learn
something, find out what work means. Or go to Saracinesca and build
houses for the peasants--you will do no harm there, at all events. Go
and drain that land in Lombardy--I can do nothing with it and would sell
it if I could. But that is not what you want. You want an excitement for
the hours of the morning. Very well. You will probably find more of it
than you like. Try it, that is all I have to say."
Like many very just men Giovanni could state a case with alarming
unfairness when thoroughly convinced that he was right. Orsino stood
still for a moment and then walked towards the door without another
word. His father called him back.
"What is it?" asked Orsino coldly.
Sant' Ilario held out his hand with a kindly look in his eyes.
"I do not want you to think that I am angry, my boy. There is to be no
ill feeling between us about this."
"None whatever," said the young man, though without much alacrity, as he
shook hands with his father. "I see you are not angry. You do not
understand me, that is all."
He went out, more disappointed with the result of the interview than he
had expected, though he had not looked forward to receiving any
encouragement. He had known very well what his father's views were but
he had not foreseen that he would be so much irritated by the
expression of them. His determination hardened and he resolved that
nothing should hinder him. But he was both willing and ready to consult
San Giacinto, and went to the latter's house immediately on leaving
Sant' Ilario's study.
As for Giovanni, he was dimly conscious that he had made a mistake,
though he did not care to acknowledge it. He was a good horseman and he
was aware that he would have used a very different method with a restive
colt. But few men are wise enough to see that there is only one
universal principle to follow in the exertion of strength, moral or
physical; and instead of seeking analogies out of actions familiar to
them as a means of accomplishing the unfamiliar, they try to discover
new theories of motion at every turn and are led farther and farther
from the right line by their own desire to reach the end quickly.
"At all events," thought Sant' Ilario, "the boy's new hobby will take
him to places where he is not likely to meet that woman."
And with this discourteous reflection upon Madame d'Aranjuez he consoled
himself. He did not think it necessary to tell Corona of Orsino's
intentions, simply because he did not believe that they would lead to
anything serious, and there was no use in disturbing her unnecessarily
with visions of future annoyance. If Orsino chose to speak of it to her,
he was at liberty to do so.
Orsino went directly to San Giacinto's house, and found him in the room
which he used for working and in which he received the many persons whom
he was often obliged to see on business. The giant was alone and was
seated behind a broad polished table, occupied in writing. Orsino was
struck by the extremely orderly arrangement of everything he saw. Papers
were tied together in bundles of exactly like shape, which lay in two
lines of mathematical precision. The big inkstand was just in the middle
of the rows and a paper-cutter, a pen-rack and an erasing knife lay side
by side in front of it. The walls were lined with low book-cases of a
heavy and severe type, filled principally with documents neatly filed in
volumes and marked on the back in San Giacinto's clear handwriting. The
only object of beauty in the room was a full-length portrait of Flavia
by a great artist, which hung above the fireplace. The rigid symmetry of
everything was made imposing by the size of the objects--the table was
larger than ordinary tables, the easy-chairs were deeper, broader and
lower than common, the inkstand was bigger, even the penholder in San
Giacinto's fingers was longer and thicker than any Orsino had ever seen.
And yet the latter felt that there was no affectation about all this.
The man to whom these things belonged and who used them daily was
himself created on a scale larger than other men.
Though he was older than Sant' Ilario and was, in fact, not far from
sixty years of age San Giacinto might easily have passed for less than
fifty. There was hardly a grey thread in his short, thick, black hair,
and he was still as lean and strong, and almost as active, as he had
been thirty years earlier. The large features were perhaps a little more
bony and the eyes somewhat deeper than they had been, but these changes
lent an air of dignity rather than of age to the face.
He rose to meet Orsino and then made him sit down beside the table. The
young man suddenly felt an unaccountable sense of inferiority and
hesitated as to how he should begin.
"I suppose you want to consult me about something," said San Giacinto
"Yes. I want to ask your advice, if you will give it to me--about a
matter of business."
"Willingly. What is it?"
Orsino was silent for a moment and stared at the wall. He was conscious
that the very small sum of which he could dispose must seem even smaller
in the eyes of such a man, but this did not disturb him. He was
oppressed by San Giacinto's personality and prepared himself to speak as
though he had been a student undergoing oral examination. He stated his
case plainly, when he at last spoke. He was of age and he looked forward
with dread to an idle life. All careers were closed to him. He had
fifteen thousand francs in his pocket. Could San Giacinto help him to
occupy himself by investing the sum in a building speculation? Was the
sum sufficient as a beginning? Those were the questions.
San Giacinto did not laugh as Sant' Ilario had done. He listened very
attentively to the end and then deliberately offered Orsino a cigar and
lit one himself, before he delivered his answer.
"You are asking the same question which is put to me very often," he
said at last. "I wish I could give you any encouragement. I cannot."
Orsino's face fell, for the reply was categorical. He drew back a little
in his chair, but said nothing.
"That is my answer," continued San Giacinto thoughtfully, "but when one
says 'no' to another the subject is not necessarily exhausted. On the
contrary, in such a case as this I cannot let you go without giving you
my reasons. I do not care to give my views to the public, but such as
they are, you are welcome to them. The time is past. That is why I
advise you to have nothing to do with any speculation of this kind. That
is the best of all reasons."
"But you yourself are still engaged in this business," objected Orsino.
"Not so deeply as you fancy. I have sold almost everything which I do
not consider a certainty, and am selling what little I still have as
fast as I can. In speculation there are only two important moments--the
moment to buy and the moment to sell. In my opinion, this is the time
to sell, and I do not think that the time for buying will come again
without a crisis."
"But everything is in such a flourishing state--"
"No doubt it is--to-day. But no one can tell what state business will be
in next week, nor even to-morrow."
"There is Del Ferice--"
"No doubt, and a score like him," answered San Giacinto, looking quietly
at Orsino. "Del Ferice is a banker, and I am a speculator, as you wish
to be. His position is different from ours. It is better to leave him
out of the question. Let us look at the matter logically. You wish to
"Excuse me," said Orsino, interrupting him. "I want to try what I can do
"You wish to risk money, in one way or another. You therefore wish one
or more of three things--money for its own sake, excitement or
occupation. I can hardly suppose that you want money. Eliminate that.
Excitement is not a legitimate aim, and you can get it more safely in
other ways. Therefore you want occupation."
"That is precisely what I said at the beginning," observed Orsino with a
shade of irritation.
"Yes. But I like to reach my conclusions in my own way. You are then a
young man in search of an occupation. Speculation, and what you propose
is nothing else, is no more an occupation than playing at the public
lottery and much less one than playing at baccarat. There at least you
are responsible for your own mistakes and in decent society you are safe
from the machinations of dishonest people. That would matter less if the
chances were in your favour, as they might have been a year ago and as
they were in mine from the beginning. They are against you now, because
it is too late, and they are against me. I would as soon buy a piece of
land on credit at the present moment, as give the whole sum in cash to
the first man I met in the street."
"Yet there is Montevarchi who still buys--"
"Montevarchi is not worth the paper on which he signs his name," said
San Giacinto calmly.
Orsino uttered an exclamation of surprise and incredulity.
"You may tell him so, if you please," answered the giant with perfect
indifference. "If you tell any one what I have said, please to tell him
first, that is all. He will not believe you. But in six months he will
know it, I fancy, as well as I know it now. He might have doubled his
fortune, but he was and is totally ignorant of business. He thought it
enough to invest all he could lay hands on and that the returns would be
sure. He has invested forty millions and owns property which he believes
to be worth sixty, but which will not bring ten in six months, and those
remaining ten millions he owes on all manner of paper, on mortgages on
his original property, in a dozen ways which he has forgotten himself."
"I do not see how that is possible!" exclaimed Orsino.
"I am a plain man, Orsino, and I am your cousin. You may take it for
granted that I am right. Do not forget that I was brought up in a
hand-to-hand struggle for fortune such as you cannot dream of. When I
was your age I was a practical man of business, and I had taught myself,
and it was all on such a small scale that a mistake of a hundred francs
made the difference between profit and loss. I dislike details, but I
have been a man of detail all my life, by force of circumstances.
Successful business implies the comprehension of details. It is tedious
work, and if you mean to try it you must begin at the beginning. You
ought to do so. There is an enormous business before you, with
considerable capabilities in it. If I were in your place, I would take
what fell naturally to my lot."
"What is that?"
"Farming. They call it agriculture in parliament, because they do not
know what farming means. The men who think that Italy can live without
farmers are fools. We are not a manufacturing people any more than we
are a business people. The best dictator for us would be a practical
farmer, a ploughman like Cincinnatus. Nobody who has not tried to raise
wheat on an Italian mountain-side knows the great difficulties or the
great possibilities of our country. Do you know that bad as our farming
is, and absurd as is our system of land taxation, we are food exporters,
to a small extent? The beginning is there. Take my advice, be a farmer.
Manage one of the big estates you have amongst you for five or six
years. You will not do much good to the land in that time, but you will
learn what land really means. Then go into parliament and tell people
facts. That is an occupation and a career as well, which cannot be said
of speculation in building lots, large or small. If you have any ready
money keep it in government bonds until you have a chance of buying
something worth keeping."
Orsino went away disappointed and annoyed. San Giacinto's talk about
farming seemed very dull to him. To bury himself for half a dozen years
in the country in order to learn the rotation of crops and the
principles of land draining did not present itself as an attractive
career. If San Giacinto thought farming the great profession of the
future, why did he not try it himself? Orsino dismissed the idea rather
indignantly, and his determination to try his luck became stronger by
the opposition it met. Moreover he had expected very different language
from San Giacinto, whose sober view jarred on Orsino's enthusiastic
But he now found himself in considerable difficulty. He was ignorant
even of the first steps to be taken, and knew no one to whom he could
apply for information. There was Prince Montevarchi indeed, who though
he was San Giacinto's brother-in-law, seemed by the latter's account to
have got into trouble. He did not understand how San Giacinto could
allow his wife's brother to ruin himself without lending him a helping
hand, but San Giacinto was not the kind of man of whom people ask
indiscreet questions, and Orsino had heard that the two men were not on
the best of terms. Possibly good advice had been offered and refused.
Such affairs generally end in a breach of friendship. However that might
be, Orsino would not go to Montevarchi.
He wandered aimlessly about the streets, and the money seemed to burn in
his pocket, though he had carefully deposited it in a place of safety at
home. Again and again Del Ferice's story of the carpenter and his two
companions recurred to his mind. He wondered how they had set about
beginning, and he wished he could ask Del Ferice himself. He could not
go to the man's house, but he might possibly meet him at Maria
Consuelo's. He was surprised to find that he had almost forgotten her in
his anxiety to become a man of business. It was too early to call yet,
and in order to kill the time he went home, got a horse from the stables
and rode out into the country for a couple of hours.
At half-past five o'clock he entered the familiar little sitting-room in
the hotel. Madame d'Aranjuez was alone, cutting a new book with the
jewelled knife which continued to be the only object of the kind visible
in the room. She smiled as Orsino entered, and she laid aside the volume
as he sat down in his accustomed place.
"I thought you were not coming," she said.
"You always come at five. It is half-past to-day." Orsino looked at his
"Do you notice whether I come or not?" he asked.
Maria Consuelo glanced at his face, and laughed.
"What have you been doing to-day?" she asked. "That is much more
"Is it? I am afraid not. I have been listening to those disagreeable
things which are called truths by the people who say them. I have
listened to two lectures delivered by two very intelligent men for my
especial benefit. It seems to me that as soon as I make a good
resolution it becomes the duty of sensible people to demonstrate that I
am a fool."
"You are not in a good humour. Tell me all about it."
"And weary you with my grievances? No. Is Del Ferice coming this
"How can I tell? He does not come often."
"I thought he came almost every day," said Orsino gloomily.
He was disappointed, but Maria Consuelo did not understand what was the
matter. She leaned forward in her low seat, her chin resting upon one
hand, and her tawny eyes fixed on Orsino's.
"Tell me, my friend--are you unhappy? Can I do anything? Will you tell
It was not easy to resist the appeal. Though the two had grown intimate
of late, there had hitherto always been something cold and reserved
behind her outwardly friendly manner. To-day she seemed suddenly willing
to be different. Her easy, graceful attitude, her soft voice full of
promised sympathy, above all the look in her strange eyes revealed a
side of her character which Orsino had not suspected and which affected
him in a way he could not have described.
Without hesitation he told her his story, from beginning to end, simply,
without comment and without any of the cutting phrases which came so
readily to his tongue on most occasions. She listened very thoughtfully
to the end.
"Those things are not misfortunes," she said. "But they may be the
beginnings of unhappiness. To be unhappy is worse than any misfortune.
What right has your father to laugh at you? Because he never needed to
do anything for himself, he thinks it absurd that his son should dislike
the lazy life that is prepared for him. It is not reasonable--it is not
"Yet he means to be both, I suppose," said Orsino bitterly.
"Oh, of course! People always mean to be the soul of logic and the
paragon of charity! Especially where their own children are concerned."
Maria Consuelo added the last words with more feeling than seemed
justified by her sympathy for Orsino's woes. The moment was perhaps
favourable for asking a leading question about herself, and her answer
might have thrown light on her problematic past. But Orsino was too busy
with his own troubles to think of that, and the opportunity slipped by
and was lost.
"You know now why I want to see Del Ferice," he said. "I cannot go to
his house. My only chance of talking to him lies here."
"And that is what brings you? You are very flattering!"
"Do not be unjust! We all look forward to meeting our friends in
"Very pretty. I forgive you. But I am afraid that you will not meet Del
Ferice. I do not think he has left the Chambers yet. There was to be a
debate this afternoon in which he had to speak."
"Does he make speeches?"
"Very good ones. I have heard him."
"I have never been inside the Chambers," observed Orsino.
"You are not very patriotic. You might go there and ask for Del Ferice.
You could see him without going to his house--without compromising your
"Why do you laugh?"
"Because it all seems to me so absurd. You know that you are perfectly
free to go and see him when and where you will. There is nothing to
prevent you. He is the one man of all others whose advice you need. He
has an unexceptional position in the world--no doubt he has done strange
things, but so have dozens of people whom you know--his present
reputation is excellent, I say. And yet, because some twenty years ago,
when you were a child, he held one opinion and your father held another,
you are interdicted from crossing his threshold! If you can shake hands
with him here, you can take his hand in his own house. Is not that
"Theoretically, I daresay, but not in practice. You see it yourself. You
have chosen one side from the first, and all the people on the other
side know it. As a foreigner, you are not bound to either, and you can
know everybody in time, if you please. Society is not so prejudiced as
to object to that. But because you begin with the Del Ferice in a very
uncompromising way, it would take a long time for you to know the
Montevarchi, for instance."
"Who told you that I was a foreigner?" asked Maria Consuelo, rather
"That is good authority!" She laughed. "I do not remember--ah! because I
do not speak Italian? You mean that? One may forget one's own language,
or for that matter one may never have learned it."
"Are you Italian, then, Madame?" asked Orsino, surprised that she should
lead the conversation so directly to a point which he had supposed must
be reached by a series of tactful approaches.
"Who knows? I am sure I do not. My father was Italian. Does that
"Yes. But the woman takes the nationality of her husband, I believe,"
said Orsino, anxious to hear more.
"Ah yes--poor Aranjuez!" Maria Consuelo's voice suddenly took that
sleepy tone which Orsino had heard more than once. Her eyelids drooped a
little and she lazily opened and shut her hand, and spread out the
fingers and looked at them.
But Orsino was not satisfied to let the conversation drop at this point,
and after a moment's pause he put a decisive question.
"And was Monsieur d'Aranjuez also Italian?" he asked.
"What does it matter?" she asked in the same indolent tone. "Yes, since
you ask me, he was Italian, poor man."
Orsino was more and more puzzled. That the name did not exist in Italy
he was almost convinced. He thought of the story of the Signor Aragno,
who had fallen overboard in the south seas, and then he was suddenly
aware that he could not believe in anything of the sort. Maria Consuelo
did not betray a shade of emotion, either, at the mention of her
deceased husband. She seemed absorbed in the contemplation of her hands.
Orsino had not been rebuked for his curiosity and would have asked
another question if he had known how to frame it. An awkward silence
followed. Maria Consuelo raised her eyes slowly and looked thoughtfully
into Orsino's face.
"I see," she said at last. "You are curious. I do not know whether you
have any right to be--have you?"
"I wish I had!" exclaimed Orsino thoughtlessly.
Again she looked at him in silence for some moments.
"I have not known you long enough," she said. "And if I had known you
longer, perhaps it would not be different. Are other people curious,
too? Do they talk about me?"
"The people I know do--but they do not know you. They see your name in
the papers, as a beautiful Spanish princess. Yet everybody is aware that
there is no Spanish nobleman of your name. Of course they are curious.
They invent stories about you, which I deny. If I knew more, it would be
"Why do you take the trouble to deny such things?"
She asked the question with a change of manner. Once more she leaned
forward and her face softened wonderfully as she looked at him.
"Can you not guess?" he asked.
He was conscious of a very unusual emotion, not at all in harmony with
the imaginary character he had chosen for himself, and which he
generally maintained with considerable success. Maria Consuelo was one
person when she leaned back in her chair, laughing or idly listening to
his talk, or repulsing the insignificant declarations of devotion which
were not even meant to be taken altogether in earnest. She was pretty
then, attractive, graceful, feminine, a little artificial, perhaps, and
Orsino felt that he was free to like her or not, as he pleased, but that
he pleased to like her for the present. She was quite another woman
to-day, as she bent forward, her tawny eyes growing darker and more
mysterious every moment, her auburn hair casting wonderful shadows upon
her broad pale forehead, her lips not closed as usual, but slightly
parted, her fragrant breath just stirring the quiet air Orsino breathed.
Her features might be irregular. It did not matter. She was beautiful
for the moment with a kind of beauty Orsino had never seen, and which
produced a sudden and overwhelming effect upon him.
"Do you not know?" he asked again, and his voice trembled unexpectedly.
"Thank you," she said softly and she touched his hand almost
But when he would have taken it, she drew back instantly and was once
more the woman whom he saw every day, careless, indifferent, pretty.
"Why do you change so quickly?" he asked in a low voice, bending towards
her. "Why do you snatch your hand away? Are you afraid of me?"