Part 4 out of 9
"Why should I be afraid? Are you dangerous?"
"You are. You may be fatal, for all I know."
"How foolish!" she exclaimed, with a quick glance.
"You are Madame d'Aranjuez, now," he answered. "We had better change the
"What do you mean?"
"A moment ago you were Consuelo," he said boldly.
"Have I given you any right to say that?"
"I am sorry. I will be more careful. I am sure I cannot imagine why you
should think of me at all, unless when you are talking to me, and then I
do not wish to be called by my Christian name. I assure you, you are
never anything in my thoughts but His Excellency Prince Orsino
Saracinesca--with as many titles after that as may belong to you."
"I have none," said Orsino.
Her speech irritated him strongly, and the illusion which had been so
powerful a few moments earlier all but disappeared.
"Then you advise me to go and find Del Ferice at Monte Citorio," he
"If you like." She laughed. "There is no mistaking your intention when
you mean to change the subject," she added.
"You made it sufficiently clear that the other was disagreeable to you."
"I did not mean to do so."
"Then in heaven's name, what do you mean, Madame?" he asked, suddenly
losing his head in his extreme annoyance.
Maria Consuelo raised her eyebrows in surprise.
"Why are you so angry?" she asked. "Do you know that it is very rude to
speak like that?"
"I cannot help it. What have I done to-day that you should torment me as
"I? I torment you? My dear friend, you are quite mad."
"I know I am. You make me so."
"Will you tell me how? What have I done? What have I said? You Romans
are certainly the most extraordinary people. It is impossible to please
you. If one laughs, you become tragic. If one is serious, you grow gay!
I wish I understood you better."
"You will end by making it impossible for me to understand myself," said
Orsino. "You say that I am changeable. Then what are you?"
"Very much the same to-day as yesterday," said Maria Consuelo calmly.
"And I do not suppose that I shall be very different to-morrow."
"At least I will take my chance of finding that you are mistaken," said
Orsino, rising suddenly, and standing before her.
"Are you going?" she asked, as though she were surprised.
"Since I cannot please you."
"Since you will not."
"I do not know how."
"Be yourself--the same that you always are. You are affecting to be some
one else, to-day."
"I fancy it is the other way," answered Orsino, with more truth than he
really owned to himself.
"Then I prefer the affectation to the reality."
"As you will, Madame. Good evening."
He crossed the room to go out. She called him back.
He turned sharply round.
Seeing that he did not move, she rose and went to him. He looked down
into her face and saw that it was changed again.
"Are you really angry?" she asked. There was something girlish in the
way she asked the question, and, for a moment, in her whole manner.
Orsino could not help smiling. But he said nothing.
"No, you are not," she continued. "I can see it. Do you know? I am very
glad. It was foolish of me to tease you. You will forgive me? This
"If you will give me warning the next time." He found that he was
looking into her eyes.
"What is the use of warning?" she asked.
They were very close together, and there was a moment's silence.
Suddenly Orsino forgot everything and bent down, clasping her in his
arms and kissing her again and again. It was brutal, rough, senseless,
but he could not help it.
Maria Consuelo uttered a short, sharp cry, more of surprise, perhaps,
than of horror. To Orsino's amazement and confusion her voice was
immediately answered by another, which was that of the dark and usually
silent maid, whom he had seen once or twice. The woman ran into the
room, terrified by the cry she had heard.
"Madame felt faint in crossing the room, and was falling when I caught
her," said Orsino, with a coolness that did him credit.
And, in fact, Maria Consuelo closed her eyes as he let her sink into the
nearest chair. The maid fell on her knees beside her mistress and began
chafing her hands.
"The poor Signora!" she exclaimed. "She should never be left alone! She
has not been herself since the poor Signore died. You had better leave
us, sir--I will put her to bed when she revives. It often happens--pray
do not be anxious!"
Orsino picked up his hat and left the room.
"Oh--it often happens, does it?" he said to himself as he closed the
door softly behind him and walked down the corridor of the hotel.
He was more amazed at his own boldness than he cared to own. He had not
supposed that scenes of this description produced themselves so very
unexpectedly, and, as it were, without any fixed intention on the part
of the chief actor. He remembered that he had been very angry with
Madame d'Aranjuez, that she had spoken half a dozen words, and that he
had felt an irresistible impulse to kiss her. He had done so, and he
thought with considerable trepidation of their next meeting. She had
screamed, which showed that she was outraged by his boldness. It was
doubtful whether she would receive him again. The best thing to be done,
he thought, was to write her a very humble letter of apology, explaining
his conduct as best he could. This did not accord very well with his
principles, but he had already transgressed them in being so excessively
hasty. Her eyes had certainly been provoking in the extreme, and it had
been impossible to resist the expression on her lips. But at all events,
he should have begun by kissing her hand, which she would certainly not
have withdrawn again--then he might have put his arm round her and drawn
her head to his shoulder. These were preliminaries in the matter of
kissing which it was undoubtedly right to observe, and he had culpably
neglected them. He had been abominably brutal, and he ought to
apologise. Nevertheless, he would not have forfeited the recollection of
that moment for all the other recollections of his life, and he knew it.
As he walked along the street he felt a wild exhilaration such as he had
never known before. He owned gladly to himself that he loved Maria
Consuelo, and resolutely thrust away the idea that his boyish vanity was
pleased by the snatching of a kiss.
Whatever the real nature of his delight might be it was for the time so
sincere that he even forgot to light a cigarette in order to think over
Walking rapidly up the Corso he came to the Piazza Colonna, and the
glare of the electric light somehow recalled him to himself.
"Great speech of the Honourable Del Ferice!" yelled a newsboy in his
ear. "Ministerial crisis! Horrible murder of a grocer!"
Orsino mechanically turned to the right in the direction of the
Chambers. Del Ferice had probably gone home, since his speech was
already in print. But fate had ordained otherwise. Del Ferice had
corrected his proofs on the spot and had lingered to talk with his
friends before going home. Not that it mattered much, for Orsino could
have found him as well on the following day. His brougham was standing
in front of the great entrance and he himself was shaking hands with a
tall man under the light of the lamps. Orsino went up to him.
"Could you spare me a quarter of an hour?" asked the young man in a
voice constrained by excitement. He felt that he was embarked at last
upon his great enterprise.
Del Ferice looked up in some astonishment. He had reason to dread the
quarrelsome disposition of the Saracinesca as a family, and he wondered
what Orsino wanted.
"Certainly, certainly, Don Orsino," he answered, with a particularly
bland smile. "Shall we drive, or at least sit in my carriage? I am a
little fatigued with my exertions to-day."
The tall man bowed and strolled away, biting the end of an unlit cigar.
"It is a matter of business," said Orsino, before entering the carriage.
"Can you help me to try my luck--in a very small way--in one of the
building enterprises you manage?"
"Of course I can, and will," answered Del Ferice, more and more
astonished. "After you, my dear Don Orsino, after you," he repeated,
pushing the young man into the brougham. "Quiet streets--till I stop
you," he said to the footman, as he himself got in.
Del Ferice was surprised beyond measure at Orsino's request, and was not
guilty of any profoundly nefarious intention when he so readily acceded
to it. His own character made him choose as a rule to refuse nothing
that was asked of him, though his promises were not always fulfilled
afterwards. To express his own willingness to help those who asked, was
of course not the same as asserting his power to give assistance when
the time should come. In the present case he did not even make up his
mind which of two courses he would ultimately pursue. Orsino came to him
with a small sum of ready money in his hand. Del Ferice had it in his
power to make him lose that sum, and a great deal more besides, thereby
causing the boy endless trouble with his family; or else the banker
could, if he pleased, help him to a very considerable success. His
really superior talent for diplomacy inclined him to choose the latter
plan, but he was far too cautious to make any hasty decision.
The brougham rolled on through quiet and ill-lighted streets, and Del
Ferice leaned back in his corner, not listening at all to Orsino's talk,
though he occasionally uttered a polite though utterly unintelligible
syllable or two which might mean anything agreeable to his companion's
views. The situation was easy enough to understand, and he had grasped
it in a moment. What Orsino might say was of no importance whatever, but
the consequences of any action on Del Ferice's part might be serious and
Orsino stated his many reasons for wishing to engage in business, as he
had stated them more than once already during the day and during the
past weeks, and when he had finished he repeated his first question.
"Can you help me to try my luck?" he asked.
Del Ferice awoke from his reverie with characteristic readiness and
realised that he must say something. His voice had never been strong and
he leaned out of his corner of the carriage in order to speak near
"I am delighted with all you say," he began, "and I scarcely need repeat
that my services are altogether at your disposal. The only question is,
how are we to begin? The sum you mention is certainly not large, but
that does not matter. You would have little difficulty in raising as
many hundreds of thousands as you have thousands, if money were
necessary. But in business of this kind the only ready money needed is
for stamp duty and for the wages of workmen, and the banks advance what
is necessary for the latter purpose, in small sums on notes of hand
guaranteed by a general mortgage. When you have paid the stamp duties,
you may go to the club and lose the balance of your capital at baccarat
if you please. The loss in that direction will not affect your credit as
a contractor. All that is very simple. You wish to succeed, however, not
at cards, but at business. That is the difficulty."
Del Ferice paused.
"That is not very clear to me," observed Orsino.
"No--no," answered Del Ferice thoughtfully. "No--I daresay it is not so
very clear. I wish I could make it clearer. Speculation means gambling
only when the speculator is a gambler. Of course there are successful
gamblers in the world, but there are not many of them. I read somewhere
the other day that business was the art of handling other
people's-money. The remark is not particularly true. Business is the art
of creating a value where none has yet existed. That is what you wish to
do. I do not think that a Saracinesca would take pleasure in turning
over money not belonging to him."
"Certainly not!" exclaimed Orsino. "That is usury."
"Not exactly, but it is banking; and banking, it is quite true, is usury
within legal bounds. There is no question of that here. The operation is
simple in the extreme. I sell you a piece of land on the understanding
that you will build upon it, and instead of payment you give me a
mortgage. I lend you money from month to month in small sums at a small
interest, to pay for material and labour. You are only responsible upon
one point. The money is to be used for the purpose stated. When the
building is finished you sell it. If you sell it for cash, you pay off
the mortgage, and receive the difference. If you sell it with the
mortgage, the buyer becomes the mortgager and only pays you the
difference, which remains yours, out and out. That is the whole process
from beginning to end."
"How wonderfully simple!"
"It is almost primitive in its simplicity," answered Del Ferice gravely.
"But in every case two difficulties present themselves, and I am bound
to tell you that they are serious ones."
"What are they?"
"You must know how to buy in the right part of the city and you must
have a competent assistant. The two conditions are indispensable."
"What sort of an assistant?" asked Orsino.
"A practical man. If possible, an architect, who will then have a share
of the profits instead of being paid for his work."
"Is it very hard to find such a person?"
"It is not easy."
"Do you think you could help me?"
"I do not know. I am assuming a great responsibility in doing so. You do
not seem to realise that, Don Orsino."
Del Ferice laughed a little in his quiet way, but Orsino was silent. It
was the first time that the banker had reminded him of the vast
difference in their social and political positions.
"I do not think it would be very wise of me to help you into such a
business as this," said Del Ferice cautiously. "I speak quite selfishly
and for my own sake. Success is never certain, and it would be a great
injury to me if you failed."
He was beginning to make up his mind.
"Why?" asked Orsino. His own instincts of generosity were aroused. He
would certainly not do Del Ferice an injury if he could help it, nor
allow him to incur the risk of one.
"If you fail," answered the other, "all Rome will say that I have
intentionally brought about your failure. You know how people talk.
Thousands will become millions and I shall be accused of having plotted
the destruction of your family, because your father once wounded me in a
duel, nearly five and twenty years ago."
"No, no. It is not absurd. I am afraid I have the reputation of being
vindictive. Well, well--it is in bad taste to talk of oneself. I am good
at hating, perhaps, but I have always felt that I preferred peace to
war, and now I am growing old. I am not what I once was, Don Orsino, and
I do not like quarrelling. But I would not allow people to say
impertinent things about me, and if you failed and lost money, I should
be abused by your friends, and perhaps censured by my own. Do you see?
Yes, I am selfish. I admit it. You must forgive that weakness in me. I
"It is very natural," said Orsino, "and I have no right to put you in
danger of the slightest inconvenience. But, after all, why need I appear
before the public?"
Del Ferice smiled in the dark.
"True," he answered. "You could establish an anonymous firm, so to say,
and the documents would be a secret between you and me and the notary.
Of course there are many ways of managing such an affair quietly."
He did not add that the secret could only be kept so long as Orsino was
successful. It seemed a pity to damp so much good enthusiasm.
"We will do that, then, if you will show me how. My ambition is not to
see my name on a door-plate, but to be really occupied."
"I understand, I understand," said Del Ferice thoughtfully. "I must ask
you to give me until to-morrow to consider the matter. It needs a little
"Where can I find you, to hear your decision?"
Del Ferice was silent for a moment.
"I think I once met you late in the afternoon at Madame d'Aranjuez's. We
might manage to meet there to-morrow and come away together. Shall we
name an hour? Would it suit you?"
"Perfectly," answered Orsino with alacrity.
The idea of meeting Maria Consuelo alone was very disturbing in his
present state of mind. He felt that he had lost his balance in his
relations with her, and that in order to regain it he must see her in
the presence of a third person, if only for a quarter of an hour. It
would be easier, then, to resume the former intercourse and to say
whatever he should determine upon saying. If she were offended, she
would at least not show it in any marked way before Del Ferice. Orsino's
existence, he thought, was becoming complicated for the first time, and
though he enjoyed the vague sensation of impending difficulty, he wanted
as many opportunities as possible of reviewing the situation and of
meditating upon each new move.
He got out of Del Ferice's carriage at no great distance from his own
home, and after a few words of very sincere thanks walked slowly away.
He found it very hard to arrange his thoughts in any consecutive order,
though he tried several methods of self-analysis, and repeated to
himself that he had experienced a great happiness and was probably on
the threshold of a great success. These two reflections did not help him
much. The happiness had been of the explosive kind, and the success in
the business matter was more than problematic, as well as certainly
distant in the future.
He was very restless and craved the immediate excitement of further
emotions, so that he would certainly have gone to the club that night,
had not the fear of losing his small and precious capital deterred him.
He thought of all that was coming and he determined to be careful, even
sordid if necessary, rather than lose his chance of making the great
attempt. Besides, he would cut a poor figure on the morrow if he were
obliged to admit to Del Ferice that he had lost his fifteen thousand
francs and was momentarily penniless. He accordingly shut himself up in
his own room at an early hour, and smoked in solitude until he was
sleepy, reviewing the various events of the day, or trying to do so,
though his mind reverted constantly to the one chief event of all, to
the unaccountable outburst of passion by which he had perhaps offended
Maria Consuelo beyond forgiveness. With all his affectation of
cynicism he had not learned that sin is easy only because it meets with
such very general encouragement. Even if he had been aware of that
undeniable fact, the knowledge might not have helped him very
The hours passed very slowly during the next day, and even when the
appointed time had come, Orsino allowed another quarter of an hour to go
by before he entered the hotel and ascended to the little sitting-room
in which Maria Consuelo received. He meant to be sure that Del Ferice
was there before entering, but he was too proud to watch for the
latter's coming, or to inquire of the porter whether Maria Consuelo were
alone or not. It seemed simpler in every way to appear a little late.
But Del Ferice was a busy man and not always punctual, so that to
Orsino's considerable confusion, he found Maria Consuelo alone, in spite
of his precaution. He was so much surprised as to become awkward, for
the first time in his life, and he felt the blood rising in his face,
dark as he was.
"Will you forgive me?" he asked, almost timidly, as he held out his
Maria Consuelo's tawny eyes looked curiously at him. Then she smiled
"My dear child," she said, "you should not do such things! It is very
foolish, you know."
The answer was so unexpected and so exceedingly humiliating, as Orsino
thought at first, that he grew pale and drew back a little. But Maria
Consuelo took no notice of his behaviour, and settled herself in her
"Did you find Del Ferice last night?" she asked, changing the subject
without the least hesitation.
"Yes," answered Orsino.
Almost before the word was spoken there was a knock at the door and Del
Ferice appeared. Orsino's face cleared, as though something pleasant had
happened, and Maria Consuelo observed the fact. She concluded, naturally
enough, that the two men had agreed to meet in her sitting-room, and
she resented the punctuality which she supposed they had displayed in
coming almost together, especially after what had happened on the
preceding day. She noted the cordiality with which they greeted each
other and she felt sure that she was right. On the other hand she could
not afford to show the least coldness to Del Ferice, lest he should
suppose that she was annoyed at being disturbed in her conversation with
Orsino. The situation was irritating to her, but she made the best of it
and began to talk to Del Ferice about the speech he had made on the
previous evening. He had spoken well, and she found it easy to be just
and flattering at the same time.
"It must be an immense satisfaction to speak as you do," said Orsino,
wishing to say something at least agreeable.
Del Ferice acknowledged the compliment by a deprecatory gesture.
"To speak as some of my colleagues can--yes--it must be a great
satisfaction. But Madame d'Aranjuez exaggerates. And, besides, I only
make speeches when I am called upon to do so. Speeches are wasted in
nine cases out of ten, too. They are, if I may say so, the music at the
political ball. Sometimes the guests will dance, and sometimes they will
not, but the musicians must try and suit the taste of the great invited.
The dancing itself is the thing."
"Deeds not words," suggested Maria Consuelo, glancing at Orsino, who
chanced to be looking at her.
"That is a good motto enough," he said gloomily.
"Deeds may need explanation, _post facto_," remarked Del Ferice,
unconsciously making such a direct allusion to recent events that Orsino
looked sharply at him, and Maria Consuelo smiled.
"That is true," she said.
"And when you need any one to help you, it is necessary to explain your
purpose beforehand," observed Del Ferice. "That is what happens so often
in politics, and in other affairs of life as well. If a man takes money
from me without my consent, he steals, but if I agree to his taking it,
the transaction becomes a gift or a loan. A despotic government steals,
a constitutional one borrows or receives free offerings. The fact that
the despot pays interest on a part of what he steals raises him to the
position of the magnanimous brigand who leaves his victims just enough
money to carry them to the nearest town. Possibly it is after all a
quibble of definitions, and the difference may not be so great as it
seems at first sight. But then, all morality is but the shadow cast on
one side or the other of a definition."
"Surely that is not your political creed!" said Maria Consuelo.
"Certainly not, Madame, certainly not," answered Del Ferice in gentle
protest. "It is not a creed at all, but only a very poor explanation of
the way in which most experienced people look upon the events of their
day. The idea in which we believe is very different from the results it
has brought about, and very much higher, and very much better. But the
results are not all bad either. Unfortunately the bad ones are on the
surface, and the good ones, which are enduring, must be sought in places
where the honest sunshine has not yet dispelled the early shadows."
Maria Consuelo smiled faintly, and the slight cast in her eyes was more
than usually apparent, as though her attention were wandering. Orsino
said nothing, and wondered why Del Ferice continued to talk. The latter,
indeed, was allowing himself to run on because neither of his hearers
seemed inclined to make a remark which might serve to turn the
conversation, and he began to suspect that something had occurred before
his coming which had disturbed their equanimity.
He presently began to talk of people instead of ideas, for he had no
intention of being thought a bore by Madame d'Aranjuez, and the man who
is foolish enough to talk of anything but his neighbours, when he has
more than one hearer, is in danger of being numbered with the
Half an hour passed quickly enough after the common chord had been
struck, and Del Ferice and Orsino exchanged glances of intelligence,
meaning to go away together as had been agreed. Del Ferice rose first,
and Orsino took up his hat. To his surprise and consternation Maria
Consuelo made a quick and imperative sign to him to remain. Del Ferice's
dull blue eyes saw most things that happened within the range of their
vision, and neither the gesture nor the look that accompanied it escaped
Orsino's position was extremely awkward. He had put Del Ferice to some
inconvenience on the understanding that they were to go away together
and did not wish to offend him by not keeping his engagement. On the
other hand it was next to impossible to disobey Maria Consuelo, and to
explain his difficulty to Del Ferice was wholly out of the question. He
almost wished that the latter might have seen and understood the signal.
But Del Ferice made no sign and took Maria Consuelo's offered hand, in
the act of leavetaking. Orsino grew desperate and stood beside the two,
holding his hat. Del Ferice turned to shake hands with him also.
"But perhaps you are going too," he said, with a distinct interrogation.
Orsino glanced at Maria Consuelo as though imploring her permission to
take his leave, but her face was impenetrable, calm and indifferent.
Del Ferice understood perfectly what was taking place, but he found a
moment while Orsino hesitated. If the latter had known how completely he
was in Del Ferice's power throughout the little scene, he would have
then and there thrown over his financial schemes in favour of Maria
Consuelo. But Del Ferice's quiet, friendly manner did not suggest
despotism, and he did not suffer Orsino's embarrassment to last more
than five seconds.
"I have a little proposition to make," said the fat count, turning
again to Maria Consuelo. "My wife and I are alone this evening. Will you
not come and dine with us, Madame? And you, Don Orsino, will you not
come too? We shall just make a party of four, if you will both come."
"I shall be enchanted!" exclaimed Maria Consuelo without hesitation.
"I shall be delighted!" answered Orsino with an alacrity which surprised
"At eight then," said Del Ferice, shaking hands with him again, and in a
moment he was gone.
Orsino was too much confused, and too much delighted at having escaped
so easily from his difficulty to realise the importance of the step he
was taking in going to Del Fence's house, or to ask himself why the
latter had so opportunely extended the invitation. He sat down in his
place with a sigh of relief.
"You have compromised yourself for ever," said Maria Consuelo with a
scornful laugh. "You, the blackest of the Black, are to be numbered
henceforth with the acquaintances of Count Del Ferice and Donna Tullia."
"What difference does it make? Besides, I could not have done
"You might have refused the dinner."
"I could not possibly have done that. To accept was the only way out of
a great difficulty."
"What difficulty?" asked Maria Consuelo relentlessly.
Orsino was silent, wondering how he could explain, as explain he must,
without offending her.
"You should not do such things," she said suddenly. "I will not always
A gleam of light which, indeed, promised little forgiveness, flashed in
"What things?" asked Orsino.
"Do not pretend that you think me so simple," she said, in a tone of
irritation. "You and Del Ferice come here almost at the same moment.
When he goes, you show the utmost anxiety to go too. Of course you have
agreed to meet here. It is evident. You might have chosen the steps of
the hotel for your place of meeting instead of my sitting-room."
The colour rose slowly in her cheeks. She was handsome when she was
"If I had imagined that you could be displeased--"
"Is it so surprising? Have you forgotten what happened yesterday? You
should be on your knees, asking my forgiveness for that--and instead,
you make a convenience of your visit to-day in order to meet a man of
business. You have very strange ideas of what is due to a woman."
"Del Fence suggested it," said Orsino, "and I accepted the suggestion."
"What is Del Ferice to me, that I should be made the victim of his
suggestions, as you call them? Besides, he does not know anything of
your folly of yesterday, and he has no right to suspect it."
"I cannot tell you how sorry I am."
"And yet you ought to tell me, if you expect that I will forget all
this. You cannot? Then be so good as to do the only other sensible thing
in your power, and leave me as soon as possible."
"Forgive me, this once!" Orsino entreated in great distress, but not
finding any words to express his sense of humiliation.
"You are not eloquent," she said scornfully. "You had better go. Do not
come to the dinner this evening, either. I would rather not see you. You
can easily make an excuse."
Orsino recovered himself suddenly.
"I will not go away now, and I will not give up the dinner to-night," he
"I cannot make you do either--but I can leave you," said Maria Consuelo,
with a movement as though she were about to rise from her chair.
"You will not do that," Orsino answered.
She raised her eyebrows in real or affected surprise at his persistence.
"You seem very sure of yourself," she said. "Do not be so sure of me."
"I am sure that I love you. Nothing else matters." He leaned forward and
took her hand, so quickly that she had not time to prevent him. She
tried to draw it away, but he held it fast.
"Let me go!" she cried. "I will call, if you do not!"
"Call all Rome if you will, to see me ask your forgiveness. Consuelo--do
not be so hard and cruel--if you only knew how I love you, you would be
sorry for me, you would see how I hate myself, how I despise myself for
"You might show a little more feeling," she said, making a final effort
to disengage her hand, and then relinquishing the struggle.
Orsino wondered whether he were really in love with her or not. Somehow,
the words he sought did not rise to his lips, and he was conscious that
his speech was not of the same temperature, so to say, as his actions.
There was something in Maria Consuelo's manner which disturbed him
disagreeably, like a cold draught blowing unexpectedly through a warm
room. Still he held her hand and endeavoured to rise to the occasion.
"Consuelo!" he cried in a beseeching tone. "Do not send me away--see how
I am suffering--it is so easy for you to say that you forgive!"
She looked at him a moment, and her eyelids drooped suddenly.
"Will you let me go, if I forgive you?" she asked in a low voice.
"I forgive you then. Well? Do you still hold my hand?"
He leaned forward and tried to draw her toward him, looking into her
eyes. She yielded a little, and their faces came a little nearer to
each other, and still a little nearer. All at once a deep blush rose in
her cheeks, she turned her head away and drew back quickly.
"Not for all the world!" she exclaimed, in a tone that was new to
He tried to take her hand again, but she would not give it.
"No, no! Go--you are not to be trusted!" she cried, avoiding him.
"Why are you so unkind?" he asked, almost passionately.
"I have been kind enough for this day," she answered. "Pray go--do not
stay any longer--I may regret it."
"No--my kindness. And do not come again for the present. I would rather
see you at Del Ferice's than here."
Orsino was quite unable to understand her behaviour, and an older and
more experienced man might have been almost as much puzzled as he. A
long silence followed, during which he sat quite still and she looked
steadily at the cover of a book which lay on the table.
"Please go," she said at last, in a voice which was not unkind.
Orsino rose from his seat and prepared to obey her, reluctantly enough
and feeling that he was out of tune with himself and with everything.
"Will you not even tell me why you send me away?" he asked.
"Because I wish to be alone," she answered. "Good-bye."
She did not look up as he left the room, and when he was gone she did
not move from her place, but sat as she had sat before, staring at the
yellow cover of the novel on the table.
Orsino went home in a very unsettled frame of mind, and was surprised to
find that the lighted streets looked less bright and cheerful than on
the previous evening, and his own immediate prospects far less
pleasing. He was angry with himself for having been so foolish as to
make his visit to Maria Consuelo a mere appointment with Del Ferice, and
he was surprised beyond measure to find himself suddenly engaged in a
social acquaintance with the latter, when he had only meant to enter
into relations of business with him. Yet it did not occur to him that
Del Ferice had in any way entrapped him into accepting the invitation.
Del Ferice had saved him from a very awkward situation. Why? Because Del
Ferice had seen the gesture Maria Consuelo had made, and had understood
it, and wished to give Orsino another opportunity of discussing his
project. But if Del Ferice had seen the quick sign, he had probably
interpreted it in a way compromising to Madame d'Aranjuez. This was
serious, though it was assuredly not Orsino's fault if she compromised
herself. She might have let him go without question, and since an
explanation of some sort was necessary she might have waited until the
next day to demand it of him. He resented what she had done, and yet
within the last quarter of an hour, he had been making a declaration of
love to her. He was further conscious that the said declaration had been
wholly lacking in spirit, in passion and even in eloquence. He probably
did not love her after all, and with an attempt at his favourite
indifference he tried to laugh at himself.
But the effort was not successful, and he felt something approaching to
pain as he realised that there was nothing to laugh at. He remembered
her eyes and her face and the tones of her voice, and he imagined that
if he could turn back now and see her again, he could say in one breath
such things as would move a statue to kisses. The very phrases rose to
his lips and he repeated them to himself as he walked along.
Most unaccountable of all had been Maria Consuelo's own behaviour. Her
chief preoccupation seemed to have been to get rid of him as soon as
possible. She had been very seriously offended with him to-day, much
more deeply, indeed, than yesterday, though, the cause appeared to his
inexperience to be a far less adequate one. It was evident, he thought,
that she had not really pardoned his want of tact, but had yielded to
the necessity of giving a reluctant forgiveness, merely because she did
not wish to break off her acquaintance with him. On the other hand, she
had allowed him to say again and again that he loved her, and she had
not forbidden him to call her by her name.
He had always heard that it was hard to understand women, and he began
to believe it. There was one hypothesis which he had not considered. It
was faintly possible that she loved him already, though he was slow to
believe that, his vanity lying in another direction. But even if she
did, matters were not clearer. The supposition could not account for her
sending him away so abruptly and with such evident intention. If she
loved him, she would naturally, he supposed, wish him to stay as long as
possible. She had only wished to keep him long enough to tell him how
angry she was. He resented that again, for he was in the humour to
resent most things.
It was all extremely complicated, and Orsino began to think that he
might find the complication less interesting than he had expected a few
hours earlier. He had little time for reflection either, since he was to
meet both Maria Consuelo and Del Ferice at dinner. He felt as though the
coming evening were in a measure to decide his future existence, and it
was indeed destined to exercise a great influence upon his life, as any
person not disturbed by the anxieties which beset him might easily have
Before leaving the house he made an excuse to his mother, saying that he
had unexpectedly been asked to dine with friends, and at the appointed
hour he rang at Del Ferice's door.
Orsino looked about him with some curiosity as he entered Del Fence's
abode. He had never expected to find himself the guest of Donna Tullia
and her husband and when he took the robust countess's hand he was
inclined to wish that the whole affair might turn out to be a dream. In
vain he repeated to himself that he was no longer a boy, but a grown
man, of age in the eyes of the law to be responsible for his own
actions, and old enough in fact to take what steps he pleased for the
accomplishment of his own ends. He found no solace in the reflection,
and he could not rid himself of the idea that he had got himself into a
very boyish scrape. It would indeed have been very easy to refuse Del
Ferice's invitation and to write him a note within the hour explaining
vaguely that circumstances beyond his control obliged him to ask another
interview for the discussion of business matters. But it was too late
now. He was exchanging indifferent remarks with Donna Tullia, while Del
Ferice looked on benignantly, and all three waited for Madame
Five minutes had not elapsed before she came, and her appearance
momentarily dispelled Orsino's annoyance at his own rashness. He had
never before seen her dressed for the evening, and he had not realised
how much to her advantage the change from the ordinary costume, or the
inevitable "tea-garment," to a dinner gown would be. She was assuredly
not over-dressed, for she wore black without colours and her only
ornament was a single string of beautiful pearls which Donna Tullia
believed to be false, but which Orsino accepted as real. Possibly he
knew even more about pearls than the countess, for his mother had many
and wore them often, whereas Donna Tullia preferred diamonds and rubies.
But his eyes did not linger on the necklace, for Maria Consuelo's whole
presence affected him strangely. There was something light-giving and
even dazzling about her which he had not expected, and he understood for
the first time that the language of the newspaper paragraphs was not so
grossly flattering as he had supposed. In spite of the great artistic
defects of feature, which could not long escape an observer of ordinary
taste, it was clear that Maria Consuelo must always be a striking and
central figure in any social assembly, great or small. There had been
moments in Orsino's acquaintance with her, when he had thought her
really beautiful; as she now appeared, one of those moments seemed to
have become permanent. He thought of what he had dared on the preceding
day, his vanity was pleased and his equanimity restored. With a sense of
pride which was very far from being delicate and was by no means well
founded, he watched her as she walked in to dinner before him, leaning
on Del Ferice's arm.
"Beautiful--eh? I see you think so," whispered Donna Tullia in his ear.
The countess treated him at once as an old acquaintance, which put him
at his ease, while it annoyed his conscience.
"Very beautiful," he answered, with a grave nod.
"And so mysterious," whispered the countess again, just as they reached
the door of the dining-room. "She is very fascinating--take care!"
She tapped his arm familiarly with her fan and laughed, as he left her
at her seat.
"What are you two laughing at?" asked Del Ferice, smiling pleasantly as
he surveyed the six oysters he found upon his plate, and considered
which should be left until the last as the crowning tit-bit. He was fond
of good eating, and especially fond of oysters as an introduction to the
"What we were laughing at? How indiscreet you are, Ugo! You always want
to find out all my little secrets. Consuelo, my dear, do you like
oysters, or do you not? That is the question. You do, I know--a little
lemon and a very little red pepper--I love red, even to adoring
Orsino glanced at Madame d'Aranjuez, for he was surprised to hear Donna
Tullia call her by her first name. He had not known that the two women
had reached the first halting place of intimacy.
Maria Consuelo smiled rather vaguely as she took the advice in the shape
of lemon juice and pepper. Del Ferice could not interrupt his enjoyment
of the oysters by words, and Orsino waited for an opportunity of saying
"I have lately formed the highest opinion of the ancient Romans," said
Donna Tullia, addressing him. "Do you know why?"
Orsino professed his ignorance.
"Ugo tells me that in a recent excavation twenty cartloads of oyster
shells were discovered behind one house. Think of that! Twenty cartloads
to a single house! What a family must have lived there--indeed the
Romans were a great people!"
Orsino thought that Donna Tullia herself might pass for a heroine in
future ages, provided that the shells of her victims were deposited
together in a safe place. He laughed politely and hoped that the
conversation might not turn upon archaeology, which was not his strong
"I wonder how long it will be before modern Rome is excavated and the
foreigner of the future pays a franc to visit the ruins of the modern
house of parliament," suggested Maria Consuelo, who had said nothing as
"At the present rate of progress, I should think about two years would
be enough," answered Donna Tullia. "But Ugo says we are a great nation.
"Ah, my angel, you do not understand those things," said Del Ferice.
"How shall I explain? There is no development without decay of the
useless parts. The snake casts its old skin before it appears with a new
one. And there can be no business without an occasional crisis.
Unbroken fair weather ends in a dead calm. Why do you take such a gloomy
"One should never talk of things--only people are amusing," said Donna
Tullia, before Madame d'Aranjuez could answer. "Whom have you seen
to-day, Consuelo? And you, Don Orsino? And you, Ugo? Are we to talk for
ever of oysters, and business and snakes? Come, tell me, all of you,
what everybody has told you. There must be something new. Of course that
poor Carantoni is going to be married again, and the Princess Befana is
dying, as usual, and the same dear old people have run away with each
other, and all that. Of course. I wish things were not always just going
to happen. One would like to hear what is said on the day after the
events which never come off. It would be a novelty."
Donna Tullia loved talk and noise, and gossip above all things, and she
was not quite at her ease. The news that Orsino was to come to dinner
had taken her breath away. Ugo had advised her to be natural, and she
was doing her best to follow his advice.
"As for me," he said, "I have been tormented all day, and have spent but
one pleasant half hour. I was so fortunate as to find Madame d'Aranjuez
at home, but that was enough to indemnify me for many sacrifices."
"I cannot do better than say the same," observed Orsino, though with far
less truth. "I believe I have read through a new novel, but I do not
remember the title and I have forgotten the story."
"How satisfactory!" exclaimed Maria Consuelo, with a little scorn.
"It is the only way to read novels," answered Orsino, "for it leaves
them always new to you, and the same one may be made to last several
"I have heard it said that one should fear the man of one book,"
observed Maria Consuelo, looking at him.
"For my part, I am more inclined to fear the woman of many."
"Do you read much, my dear Consuelo?" asked Donna Tullia, laughing.
"And is Don Orsino afraid of you?"
"Mortally," answered Orsino. "Madame d'Aranjuez knows everything."
"Is she blue, then?" asked Donna Tullia.
"What shall I say, Madame?" inquired Orsino, turning to Maria Consuelo.
"Is it a compliment to compare you to the sky of Italy?"
"No--for brightness and serenity."
"Thanks. That is pretty. I accept."
"And have you nothing for me?" asked Donna Tullia, with an engaging
The other two looked at Orsino, wondering what he would say in answer to
such a point-blank demand for flattery.
"Juno is still Minerva's ally," he said, falling back upon mythology,
though it struck him that Del Ferice would make a poor Jupiter, with his
fat white face and dull eyes.
"Very good!" laughed Donna Tullia. "A little classic, but I pressed you
hard. You are not easily caught. Talking of clever men," she added with
another meaning glance at Orsino, "I met your friend to-day, Consuelo."
"My friend? Who is he?"
"Spicca, of course. Whom did you think I meant? We always laugh at her,"
she said, turning to Orsino, "because she hates him so. She does not
know him, and has never spoken to him. It is his cadaverous face that
frightens her. One can understand that--we of old Rome, have been used
to him since the deluge. But a stranger is horrified at the first sight
of him. Consuelo positively dreads to meet him in the street. She says
that he makes her dream of all sorts of horrors."
"It is quite true," said Maria Consuelo, with a slight movement of her
beautiful shoulders. "There are people one would rather not see, merely
because they are not good to look at. He is one of them and if I see him
coming I turn away."
"I know, I told him so to-day," continued Donna Tullia cheerfully. "We
are old friends, but we do not often meet nowadays. Just fancy! It was
in that little antiquary's shop in the Monte Brianzo--the first on the
left as you go, he has good things--and I saw a bit of embroidery in the
window that took my fancy, so I stopped the carriage and went in. Who
should be there but Spicca, hat and all, looking like old Father Time.
He was bargaining for something--a wretched old bit of
brass--bargaining, my dear! For a few sous! One may be poor, but one has
no right to be mean--I thought he would have got the miserable
"Antiquaries can generally take care of themselves," observed Orsino
"Oh, I daresay--but it looks so badly, you know. That is all I mean.
When he saw me he stopped wrangling and we talked a little, while I had
the embroidery wrapped up. I will show it to you after dinner. It is
sixteenth century, Ugo says--a piece of a chasuble--exquisite flowers on
claret-coloured satin, a perfect gem, so rare now that everything is
imitated. However, that is not the point. It was Spicca. I was
forgetting my story. He said the usual things, you know--that he had
heard that I was very gay this year, but that it seemed to agree with
me, and so on. And I asked him why he never came to see me, and as an
inducement I told him of our great beauty here--that is you, Consuelo,
so please look delighted instead of frowning--and I told him that she
ought to hear him talk, because his face had frightened her so that she
ran away when she saw him coming towards her in the street. You see, if
one flatters his cleverness he does not mind being called ugly--or at
least I thought not, until to-day. But to my consternation he seemed
angry, and he asked me almost savagely if it were true that the
Countess d'Aranjuez--that is what he called you, my dear--really tried
to avoid him in the street. Then I laughed and said I was only joking,
and he began to bargain again for the little brass frame and I went
away. When I last heard his voice he was insisting upon seventy-five
centimes, and the antiquary was jeering at him and asking a franc and a
half. I wonder which got the better of the fight in the end. I will ask
him the next time I see him."
Del Ferice supported his wife with a laugh at her story, but it was not
very genuine. He had unpleasant recollections of Spicca in earlier days,
and his name recalled events which Ugo would willingly have forgotten.
Orsino smiled politely, but resented the way in which Donna Tullia spoke
of his father's old friend. As for Maria Consuelo, she was a little
pale, and looked tired. But the countess was irrepressible, for she
feared lest Orsino should go away and think her dull.
"Of course we all really like Spicca," she said. "Every one does."
"I do, for my part," said Orsino gravely. "I have a great respect for
him, for his own sake, and he is one of my father's oldest friends."
Maria Consuelo looked at him very suddenly, as though she were surprised
by what he said. She did not remember to have heard him mention the
melancholy old duellist. She seemed about to say something, but changed
"Yes," said Ugo, turning the subject, "he is one of the old tribe that
is dying out. What types there were in those days, and how those who are
alive have changed! Do you remember, Tullia? But of course you cannot,
my angel, it was far before your time."
One of Ugo's favourite methods of pleasing his wife was to assert that
she was too young to remember people who had indeed played a part as
lately as after the death of her first husband. It always soothed her.
"I remember them all," he continued. "Old Montevarchi, and Frangipani,
and poor Casalverde--and a score of others."
He had been on the point of mentioning old Astrardente, too, but checked
"Then there were the young ones, who are in middle age now," he went on,
"such as Valdarno and the Montevarchi whom you know, as different from
their former selves as you can well imagine. Society was different too."
Del Ferice spoke thoughtfully and slowly, as though wishing that some
one would interrupt him or take up the subject, for he felt that his
wife's long story about Spicca and the antiquary had not been a success,
and his instinct told him that Spicca had better not be mentioned again,
since he was a friend of Orsino's and since his name seemed to exert a
depressing influence on Maria Consuelo. Orsino came to the rescue and
began to talk of current social topics in a way which showed that he was
not so profoundly prejudiced by traditional ideas as Del Ferice had
expected. The momentary chill wore off quickly enough, and when the
dinner ended Donna Tullia was sure that it had been a success. They all
returned to the drawing-room and then Del Ferice, without any remark,
led Orsino away to smoke with him in a distant apartment.
"We can smoke again, when we go back," he said. "My wife does not mind
and Madame d'Aranjuez likes it. But it is an excuse to be alone together
for a little while, and besides, my doctor makes me lie down for a
quarter of an hour after dinner. You will excuse me?"
Del Ferice extended himself upon a leathern lounge, and Orsino sat down
in a deep easy-chair.
"I was so sorry not to be able to come away with you to-day," said
Orsino. "The truth is, Madame d'Aranjuez wanted some information and I
was just going to explain that I would stay a little longer, when you
asked us both to dinner. You must have thought me very forgetful."
"Not at all, not at all," answered Del Ferice. "Indeed, I quite supposed
that you were coming with me, when it struck me that this would be a
much more pleasant place for talking. I cannot imagine why I had not
thought of it before--but I have so many details to think of."
Not much could be said for the veracity of either of the statements
which the two men were pleased to make to each other, but Orsino had the
small advantage of being nearer to the letter, if not to the spirit of
the truth. Each, however, was satisfied with the other's tact.
"And so, Don Orsino," continued Del Ferice after a short pause, "you
wish to try a little operation in business. Yes. Very good. You have, as
we said yesterday, a sum of money ample for a beginning. You have the
necessary courage and intelligence. You need a practical assistant,
however, and it is indispensable that the point selected for the first
venture should be one promising speedy profit. Is that it?"
"Very good, very good. I think I can offer you both the land and the
partner, and almost guarantee your success, if you will be guided by
"I have come to you for advice," said Orsino. "I will follow it
gratefully. As for the success of the undertaking, I will assume the
"Yes. That is better. After all, everything is uncertain in such
matters, and you would not like to feel that you were under an
obligation to me. On the other hand, as I told you, I am selfish and
cautious. I would rather not appear in the transaction."
If any doubt as to Del Ferice's honesty of purpose crossed Orsino's mind
at that moment, it was fully compensated by the fact that he himself
distinctly preferred not to be openly associated with the banker.
"I quite agree with you," he said.
"Very well. Now for business. Do you know that it is sometimes more
profitable to take over a half-finished building, than to begin a new
one? Often, I assure you, for the returns are quicker and you get a
great deal at half price. Now, the man whom I recommend to you is a
practical architect, and was employed by a certain baker to build a
tenement building in one of the new quarters. The baker dies, the house
is unfinished, the heirs wish to sell it as it is--there are at least a
dozen of them--and meanwhile the work is stopped. My advice is this. Buy
this house, go into partnership with the unemployed architect, agreeing
to give him a share of the profits, finish the building and sell it as
soon as it is habitable. In six months you will get a handsome return."
"That sounds very tempting," answered Orsino, "but it would need more
capital than I have."
"Not at all, not at all. It is a mere question of taking over a mortgage
and paying stamp duty."
"And how about the difference in ready money, which ought to go to the
"I see that you are already beginning to understand the principles of
business," said Del Ferice, with an encouraging smile. "But in this case
the owners are glad to get rid of the house on any terms by which they
lose nothing, for they are in mortal fear of being ruined by it, as they
probably will be if they hold on to it."
"Then why should I not lose, if I take it?"
"That is just the difference. The heirs are a number of incapable
persons of the lower class, who do not understand these matters. If they
attempted to go on they would soon find themselves entangled in the
greatest difficulties. They would sink where you will almost certainly
Orsino was silent for a moment. There was something despicable, to his
thinking, in profiting by the loss of a wretched baker's heirs.
"It seems to me," he said presently, "that if I succeed in this, I ought
to give a share of the profits to the present owners."
Not a muscle of Del Ferice's face moved, but his dull eyes looked
curiously at Orsino's young face.
"That sort of thing is not commonly done in business," he said quietly,
after a short pause. "As a rule, men who busy themselves with affairs do
so in the hope of growing rich, but I can quite understand that where
business is a mere pastime, as it is to be in your case, a man of
generous instincts may devote the proceeds to charity."
"It looks more like justice than charity to me," observed Orsino.
"Call it what you will, but succeed first and consider the uses of your
success afterwards. That is not my affair. The baker's heirs are not
especially deserving people, I believe. In fact they are said to have
hastened his death in the hope of inheriting his wealth and are
disappointed to find that they have got nothing. If you wish to be
philanthropic you might wait until you have cleared a large sum and then
give it to a school or a hospital."
"That is true," said Orsino. "In the meantime it is important to begin."
"We can begin to-morrow, if you please. You will find me at the bank at
mid-day. I will send for the architect and the notary and we can manage
everything in forty-eight hours. Before the week is out you can be at
"So soon as that?"
"Certainly. Sooner, by hurrying matters a little."
"As soon as possible then. And I will go to the bank at twelve o'clock
to-morrow. A thousand thanks for all your good offices, my dear count."
"It is a pleasure, I assure you."
Orsino was so much pleased with Del Ferice's quick and business-like way
of arranging matters that he began to look upon him as a model to
imitate, so far as executive ability was concerned. It was odd enough
that any one of his name should feel anything like admiration for Ugo,
but friendship and hatred are only the opposite points at which the
social pendulum pauses before it swings backward, and they who live long
may see many oscillations.
The two men went back to the drawing-room where Donna Tullia and Maria
Consuelo were discussing the complicated views of the almighty
dressmaker. Orsino knew that there was little chance of his speaking a
word alone with Madame d'Aranjuez and resigned himself to the effort of
helping the general conversation. Fortunately the time to be got over in
this way was not long, as all four had engagements in the evening. Maria
Consuelo rose at half-past ten, but Orsino determined to wait five
minutes longer, or at least to make a show of meaning to do so. But
Donna Tullia put out her hand as though she expected him to take his
leave at the same time. She was going to a ball and wanted at least an
hour in which to screw her magnificence up to the dancing pitch.
The consequence was that Orsino found himself helping Maria Consuelo
into the modest hired conveyance which awaited her at the gate. He hoped
that she would offer him a seat for a short distance, but he was
"May I come to-morrow?" he asked, as he closed the door of the carriage.
The night was not cold and the window was down.
"Please tell the coachman to take me to the Via Nazionale," she said
"Never mind--he knows--I have forgotten. Good-night."
She tried to draw up the window, but Orsino held his hand on it.
"May I come to-morrow?" he asked again.
"Are you angry with me still?"
"Let me shut the window. Take your hand away."
Her voice was very imperative in the dark. Orsino relinquished his hold
on the frame, and the pane ran up suddenly into its place with a
rattling noise. There was obviously nothing more to be said.
"Via Nazionale. The Signora says you know the house," he called to the
The man looked surprised, shrugged his shoulders after the manner of
livery stable coachmen and drove slowly off in the direction indicated.
Orsino stood looking after the carriage and a few seconds later he saw
that the man drew rein and bent down to the front window as though
asking for orders. Orsino thought he heard Maria Consuelo's voice,
answering the question, but he could not distinguish what she said, and
the brougham drove on at once without taking a new direction.
He was curious to know whither she was going, and the idea of following
her suggested itself but he instantly dismissed it, partly because it
seemed unworthy and partly, perhaps, because he was on foot, and no cab
was passing within hail.
Orsino was very much puzzled. During the dinner she had behaved with her
usual cordiality but as soon as they were alone she spoke and acted as
she had done in the afternoon. Orsino turned away and walked across the
deserted square. He was greatly disturbed, for he felt a sense of
humiliation and disappointment quite new to him. Young as he was, he had
been accustomed already to a degree of consideration very different from
that which Maria Consuelo thought fit to bestow, and it was certainly
the first time in his life that a door--even the door of a carriage--had
been shut in his face without ceremony. What would have been an
unpardonable insult, coming from a man, was at least an indignity when
it came from a woman. As Orsino walked along, his wrath rose, and he
wondered why he had not been angry at once.
"Very well," he said to himself. "She says she does not want me. I will
take her at her word and I will not go to see her any more. We shall see
what happens. She will find out that I am not a child, as she was good
enough to call me to-day, and that I am not in the habit of having
windows put up in my face. I have much more serious business on hand
than making love to Madame d'Aranjuez."
The more he reflected upon the situation, the more angry he grew, and
when he reached the door of the club he was in a humour to quarrel with
everything and everybody. Fortunately, at that early hour, the place was
in the sole possession of half a dozen old gentlemen whose conversation
diverted his thoughts though it was the very reverse of edifying.
Between the stories they told and the considerable number of cigarettes
he smoked while listening to them he was almost restored to his normal
frame of mind by midnight, when four or five of his usual companions
straggled in and proposed baccarat. After his recent successes he could
not well refuse to play, so he sat down rather reluctantly with the
rest. Oddly enough he did not lose, though he won but little.
"Lucky at play, unlucky in love," laughed one of the men carelessly.
"What do you mean?" asked Orsino, turning sharply upon the speaker.
"Mean? Nothing," answered the latter in great surprise. "What is the
matter with you, Orsino? Cannot one quote a common proverb?"
"Oh--if you meant nothing, let us go on," Orsino answered gloomily.
As he took up the cards again, he heard a sigh behind him and turning
round saw that Spicca was standing at his shoulder. He was shocked by
the melancholy count's face, though he was used to meeting him almost
every day. The haggard and cadaverous features, the sunken and careworn
eyes, contrasted almost horribly with the freshness and gaiety of
Orsino's companions, and the brilliant light in the room threw the
man's deadly pallor into strong relief.
"Will you play, Count?" asked Orsino, making room for him.
"Thanks--no. I never play nowadays," answered Spicca quietly.
He turned and left the room. With all his apparent weakness his step was
not unsteady, though it was slower than in the old days.
"He sighed in that way because we did not quarrel," said the man whose
quoted proverb had annoyed Orsino.
"I am ready and anxious to quarrel with everybody to-night," answered
Orsino. "Let us play baccarat--that is much better."
Spicca left the club alone and walked slowly homewards to his small
lodging in the Via della Croce. A few dying embers smouldered in the
little fireplace which warmed his sitting-room. He stirred them slowly,
took a stick of wood from the wicker basket, hesitated a moment, and
then put it back again instead of burning it. The night was not cold and
wood was very dear. He sat down under the light of the old lamp which
stood upon the mantelpiece, and drew a long breath. But presently,
putting his hand into the pocket of his overcoat in search of his
cigarette case, he drew out something else which he had almost
forgotten, a small something wrapped in coarse paper. He undid it and
looked at the little frame of chiselled brass which Donna Tullia had
found him buying in the afternoon, turning it over and over, absently,
as though thinking of something else.
Then he fumbled in his pockets again and found a photograph which he had
also bought in the course of the day--the photograph of Gouache's latest
portrait, obtained in a contraband fashion and with some difficulty from
Without hesitation Spicca took a pocket-knife and began to cut the head
out, with that extraordinary neatness and precision which characterised
him when he used any sharp instrument. The head just fitted the frame.
He fastened it in with drops of sealing-wax and carefully burned the
rest of the picture in the embers.
The face of Maria Consuelo smiled at him in the lamplight, as he turned
it in different ways so as to find the best aspect of it. Then he hung
it on a nail above the mantelpiece just under a pair of crossed foils.
"That man Gouache is a very clever fellow," he said aloud. "Between
them, he and nature have made a good likeness."
He sat down again and it was a long time before he made up his mind to
take away the lamp and go to bed.
Del Ferice kept his word and arranged matters for Orsino with a speed
and skill which excited the latter's admiration. The affair was not
indeed very complicated though it involved a deed of sale, the transfer
of a mortgage and a deed of partnership between Orsino Saracinesca and
Andrea Contini, architect, under the style "Andrea Contini and Company,"
besides a contract between this firm of the one party and the bank in
which Del Ferice was a director, of the other, the partners agreeing to
continue the building of the half-finished house, and the bank binding
itself to advance small sums up to a certain amount for current expenses
of material and workmen's wages. Orsino signed everything required of
him after reading the documents, and Andrea Contini followed his
The architect was a tall man with bright brown eyes, a dark and somewhat
ragged beard, close cropped hair, a prominent, bony forehead and large,
coarsely shaped, thin ears oddly set upon his head. He habitually wore a
dark overcoat, of which the collar was generally turned up on one side
and not on the other. Judging from the appearance of his strong shoes he
had always been walking a long distance over bad roads, and when it had
rained within the week his trousers were generally bespattered with mud
to a considerable height above the heel. He habitually carried an
extinguished cigar between his teeth of which he chewed the thin black
end uneasily. Orsino fancied that he might be about eight and twenty
years old, and was not altogether displeased with his appearance. He was
not at all like the majority of his kind, who, in Rome at least, usually
affect a scrupulous dandyism of attire and an uncommon refinement of
manner. Whatever Contini's faults might prove to be, Orsino did not
believe that they would turn out to be those of idleness or vanity. How
far he was right in his judgment will appear before long, but he
conceived his partner to be gifted, frank, enthusiastic and careless of
As for the architect himself, he surveyed Orsino with a sort of
sympathetic curiosity which the latter would have thought unpleasantly
familiar if he had understood it. Contini had never spoken before with
any more exalted personage than Del Ferice, and he studied the young
aristocrat as though he were a being from another world. He hesitated
some time as to the proper mode of addressing him and at last decided to
call him "Signor Principe." Orsino seemed quite satisfied with this, and
the architect was inwardly pleased when the young man said "Signor
Contini" instead of Contini alone. It was quite clear that Del Ferice
had already acquainted him with all the details of the situation, for he
seemed to understand all the documents at a glance, picking out and
examining the important clauses with unfailing acuteness, and pointing
with his finger to the place where Orsino was to sign his name.
At the end of the interview Orsino shook hands with Del Ferice and
thanked him warmly for his kindness, after which, he and his partner
went out together. They stood side by side upon the pavement for a few
seconds, each wondering what the other was going to say.
"Perhaps we had better go and look at the house, Signor Principe,"
observed Contini, in the midst of an ineffectual effort to light the
stump of his cigar.
"I think so, too," answered Orsino, realising that since he had acquired
the property it would be as well to know how it looked. "You see I have
trusted my adviser entirely in the matter, and I am ashamed to say I do
not know where the house is."
Andrea Contini looked at him curiously.
"This is the first time that you have had anything to do with business
of this kind, Signor Principe," he observed. "You have fallen into good
"Yours?" inquired Orsino, a little stiffly.
"No. I mean that Count Del Ferice is a good adviser in this matter."
"I hope so."
"I am sure of it," said Contini with conviction. "It would be a great
surprise to me if we failed to make a handsome profit by this contract."
"There is luck and ill-luck in everything," answered Orsino, signalling
to a passing cab.
The two men exchanged few words as they drove up to the new quarter in
the direction indicated to the driver by Contini. The cab entered a sort
of broad lane, the sketch of a future street, rough with the unrolled
metalling of broken stones, the space set apart for the pavement being
an uneven path of trodden brown earth. Here and there tall detached
houses rose out of the wilderness, mostly covered by scaffoldings and
swarming with workmen, but hideous where so far finished as to be
visible in all the isolation of their six-storied nakedness. A strong
smell of lime, wet earth and damp masonry was blown into Orsino's
nostrils by the scirocco wind. Contini stopped the cab before an
unpromising and deserted erection of poles, boards and tattered
"This is our house," he said, getting out and immediately making another
attempt to light his cigar.
"May I offer you a cigarette?" asked Orsino, holding out his case.
Contini touched his hat, bowed a little awkwardly and took one of the
cigarettes, which he immediately transferred to his coat pocket.
"If you will allow me I will smoke it by and by," he said. "I have not
finished my cigar."
Orsino stood on the slippery ground beside the stones and contemplated
his purchase. All at once his heart sank and he felt a profound disgust
for everything within the range of his vision. He was suddenly aware of
his own total and hopeless ignorance of everything connected with
building, theoretical or practical. The sight of the stiff, angular
scaffoldings, draped with torn straw mattings that flapped fantastically
in the south-east wind, the apparent absence of anything like a real
house behind them, the blades of grass sprouting abundantly about the
foot of each pole and covering the heaps of brown pozzolana earth
prepared for making mortar, even the detail of a broken wooden hod
before the boarded entrance--all these things contributed at once to
increase his dismay and to fill him with a bitter sense of inevitable
failure. He found nothing to say, as he stood with his hands in his
pockets staring at the general desolation, but he understood for the
first time why women cry for disappointment. And moreover, this
desolation was his own peculiar property, by deed of purchase, and he
could not get rid of it.
Meanwhile Andrea Contini stood beside him, examining the scaffoldings
with his bright brown eyes, in no way disconcerted by the prospect.
"Shall we go in?" he asked at last.
"Do unfinished houses always look like this?" inquired Orsino, in a
hopeless tone, without noticing his companion's proposition.
"Not always," answered Contini cheerfully. "It depends upon the amount
of work that has been done, and upon other things. Sometimes the
foundations sink and the buildings collapse."
"Are you sure nothing of the kind has happened here?" asked Orsino with
"I have been several times to look at it since the baker died and I have
not noticed any cracks yet," answered the architect, whose coolness
seemed almost exasperating.
"I suppose you understand these things, Signor Contini?"
Contini laughed, and felt in his pockets for a crumpled paper box of
"It is my profession," he answered. "And then, I built this house from
the foundations. If you will come in, Signor Principe, I will show you
how solidly the work is done."
He took a key from his pocket and thrust it into a hole in the boarding,
which latter proved to be a rough door and opened noisily upon rusty
hinges. Orsino followed him in silence. To the young man's inexperienced
eye the interior of the building was even more depressing than the
outside. It smelt like a vault, and a dim grey light entered the square
apertures from the curtained scaffoldings without, just sufficient to
help one to find a way through the heaps of rubbish that covered the
unpaved floors. Contini explained rapidly and concisely the arrangement
of the rooms, calling one cave familiarly a dining-room and another a
"conjugal bedroom," as he expressed it, and expatiating upon the
facilities of communication which he himself had carefully planned.
Orsino listened in silence and followed his guide patiently from place
to place, in and out of dark passages and up flights of stairs as yet
unguarded by any rail, until they emerged upon a sort of flat terrace
intersected by low walls, which was indeed another floor and above which
another story and a garret were yet to be built to complete the house.
Orsino looked gloomily about him, lighted a cigarette and sat down upon
a bit of masonry.
"To me, it looks very like failure," he remarked. "But I suppose there
is something in it."
"It will not look like failure next month," said Contini carelessly.
"Another story is soon built, and then the attic, and then, if you like,
a Gothic roof and a turret at one corner. That always attracts buyers
first and respectable lodgers afterwards."
"Let us have a turret, by all means," answered Orsino, as though his
tailor had proposed to put an extra button on the cuff of his coat. "But
how in the world are you going to begin? Everything looks to me as
though it were falling to pieces."
"Leave all that to me, Signor Principe. We will begin to-morrow. I have
a good overseer and there are plenty of workmen to be had. We have
material for a week at least, and paid for, excepting a few cartloads of
lime. Come again in ten days and you will see something worth looking
"In ten days? And what am I to do in the meantime?" asked Orsino, who
fancied that he had found an occupation.
Andrea Contini looked at him in some surprise, not understanding in the
least what he meant.
"I mean, am I to have nothing to do with the work?" asked Orsino.
"Oh--as far as that goes, you will come every day, Signor Principe, if
it amuses you, though as you are not a practical architect, your
assistance is not needed until questions of taste have to be considered,
such as the Gothic roof for instance. But there are the accounts to be
kept, of course, and there is the business with the bank from week to
week, office work of various kinds. That becomes naturally your
department, as the practical superintendence of the building is mine,
but you will of course leave it to the steward of the Signor Principe di
Sant' Ilario, who is a man of affairs."
"I will do nothing of the kind!" exclaimed Orsino. "I will do it myself.
I will learn how it is done. I want occupation."
"What an extraordinary wish!" Andrea Contini opened his eyes in real
"Is it? You work. Why should not I?"
"I must, and you need not, Signor Principe," observed the architect.
"But if you insist, then you had better get a clerk to explain the
details to you at first."
"Do you not understand them? Can you not teach me?" asked Orsino,
displeased with the idea of employing a third person.
"Oh yes--I have been a clerk myself. I should be too much honoured
but--the fact is, my spare time--"
He hesitated and seemed reluctant to explain.
"What do you do with your spare time?" asked Orsino, suspecting some
"The fact is--I play a second violin at one of the theatres--and I give
lessons on the mandolin, and sometimes I do copying work for my uncle
who is a clerk in the Treasury. You see, he is old, and his eyes are not
as good as they were."
Orsino began to think that his partner was a very odd person. He could
not help smiling at the enumeration of his architect's secondary
"You are very fond of music, then?" he asked.
"Eh--yes--as one can be, without talent--a little by necessity. To be an
architect one must have houses to build. You see the baker died
unexpectedly. One must live somehow."
"And could you not--how shall I say? Would you not be willing to give me
lessons in book-keeping instead of teaching some one else to play the
"You would not care to learn the mandolin yourself, Signor Principe? It
is a very pretty instrument, especially for country parties, as well as
Orsino laughed. He did not see himself in the character of a
"I have not the slightest ear for music," he answered. "I would much
rather learn something about business."
"It is less amusing," said Andrea Contini regretfully.
"But I am at your service. I will come to the office when work is over
and we will do the accounts together. You will learn in that way very
"Thank you. I suppose we must have an office. It is necessary, is it
"Indispensable--a room, a garret--anything. A habitation, a legal
domicile, so to say."
"Where do you live, Signor Contini? Would not your lodging do?"
"I am afraid not, Signor Principe. At least not for the present. I am
not very well lodged and the stairs are badly lighted."
"Why not here, then?" asked Orsino, suddenly growing desperately
practical, for he felt unaccountably reluctant to hire an office in the
"We should pay no rent," said Contini. "It is an idea. But the walls are
dry downstairs, and we only need a pavement, and plastering, and doors
and windows, and papering and some furniture to make one of the rooms
quite habitable. It is an idea, undoubtedly. Besides, it would give the
house an air of being inhabited, which is valuable."
"How long will all that take? A month or two?"
"About a week. It will be a little fresh, but if you are not rheumatic,
Signor Principe, we can try it."
"I am not rheumatic," laughed Orsino, who was pleased with the idea of
having his office on the spot, and apparently in the midst of a
wilderness. "And I suppose you really do understand architecture, Signor
Contini, though you do play the fiddle."
In this exceedingly sketchy way was the firm of Andrea Contini and
Company established and lodged, being at the time in a very shadowy
state, theoretically and practically, though it was destined to play a
more prominent part in affairs than either of the young partners
anticipated. Orsino discovered before long that his partner was a man of
skill and energy, and his spirits rose by degrees as the work began to
advance. Contini was restless, untiring and gifted, such a character as
Orsino had not yet met in his limited experience of the world. The man
seemed to understand his business to the smallest details and could show
the workmen how to mix mortar in the right proportions, or how to
strengthen a scaffolding at the weak point much better than the overseer
or the master builder. At the books he seemed to be infallible, and he
possessed, moreover, such a power of stating things clearly and neatly
that Orsino actually learnt from him in a few weeks what he would have
needed six months to learn anywhere else. As soon as the first dread of
failure wore off, Orsino discovered that he was happier than he had ever
been in the course of his life before. What he did was not, indeed, of
much use in the progress of the office work and rather hindered than
helped Contini, who was obliged to do everything slowly and sometimes
twice over in order to make his pupil understand; but Orsino had a clear
and practical mind, and did not forget what he had learned once. An odd
sort of friendship sprang up between the two men, who under ordinary
circumstances would never have met, or known each other by sight. The
one had expected to find in his partner an overbearing, ignorant
patrician; the other had supposed that his companion would turn out a
vulgar, sordid, half-educated builder. Both were equally surprised when
each discovered the truth about the other.
Though Orsino was reticent by nature, he took no especial pains to
conceal his goings and comings, but as his occupation took him out of
the ordinary beat followed by his idle friends, it was a long time
before any of them discovered that he was engaged in practical business.
In his own home he was not questioned, and he said nothing. The
Saracinesca were considered eccentric, but no one interfered with them
nor ventured to offer them suggestions. If they chose to allow their
heir absolute liberty of action, merely because he had passed his
twenty-first birthday, it was their own concern, and his ruin would be
upon their own heads. No one cared to risk a savage retort from the aged
prince, or a cutting answer from Sant' Ilario for the questionable
satisfaction of telling either that Orsino was going to the bad. The
only person who really knew what Orsino was about, and who could have
claimed the right to speak to his family of his doings was San Giacinto,
and he held his peace, having plenty of important affairs of his own to
occupy him and being blessed with an especial gift for leaving other
people to themselves.
Sant' Ilario never spied upon his son, as many of his contemporaries
would have done in his place. He preferred to trust him to his own
devices so long as these led to no great mischief. He saw that Orsino
was less restless than formerly, that he was less at the club, and that
he was stirring earlier in the morning than had been his wont, and he
was well satisfied.
It was not to be expected, however, that Orsino should take Maria
Consuelo literally at her word, and cease from visiting her all at once.
If not really in love with her, he was at least so much interested in
her that he sorely missed the daily half hour or more which he had been
used to spend in her society.
Three several times he went to her hotel at the accustomed hour, and
each time he was told by the porter that she was at home; but on each
occasion, also, when he sent up his card, the hotel servant returned
with a message from the maid to the effect that Madame d'Aranjuez was
tired and did not receive. Orsino's pride rebelled equally against
making a further attempt and against writing a letter requesting an
explanation. Once only, when he was walking alone she passed him in a
carriage, and she acknowledged his bow quietly and naturally, as though
nothing had happened. He fancied she was paler than usual, and that
there were shadows under her eyes which he had not formerly noticed.
Possibly, he thought, she was really not in good health, and the excuses
made through her maid were not wholly invented. He was conscious that
his heart beat a little faster as he watched the back of the brougham
disappearing in the distance, but he did not feel an irresistible
longing to make another and more serious attempt to see her. He tried to
analyse his own sensations, and it seemed to him that he rather dreaded
a meeting than desired it, and that he felt a certain humiliation for
which he could not account. In the midst of his analysis, his cigarette
went out and he sighed. He was startled by such an expression of
feeling, and tried to remember whether he had ever sighed before in his
life, but if he had, he could not recall the circumstances. He tried to
console himself with the absurd supposition that he was sleepy and that
the long-drawn breath had been only a suppressed yawn. Then he walked
on, gazing before him into the purple haze that filled the deep street
just as the sun was setting, and a vague sadness and longing touched him
which had no place in his catalogue of permissible emotions and which
were as far removed from the cold cynicism which he admired in others
and affected in himself as they were beyond the sphere of his analysis.
There is an age, not always to be fixed exactly, at which the really
masculine nature craves the society of womankind, in one shape or
another, as a necessity of existence, and by the society of womankind no
one means merely the daily and hourly social intercourse which consists
in exchanging the same set of remarks half a dozen times a day with as
many beings of gentle sex who, to the careless eye of ordinary man,
differ from each other in dress rather than in face or thought. There
are eminently manly men, that is to say men fearless, strong, honourable
and active, to whom the common five o'clock tea presents as much
distraction and offers as much womanly sympathy as they need; who choose
their intimate friends among men, rather than among women, and who die
at an advanced age without ever having been more than comfortably in
love--and of such is the Kingdom of Heaven. The masculine man may be as
brave, as strong and as scrupulously just in all his dealings, but on
the other hand he may be weak, cowardly and a cheat, and he is apt to
inherit the portion of sinners, whatever his moral characteristics may
be, good or bad.
Orsino was certainly not unmanly, but he was also eminently masculine
and he began to suffer from the loss of Maria Consuelo's conversation in
a way that surprised himself. His acquaintance with her, to give it a
mild name, had been the first of the kind which he had enjoyed, and it
contrasted too strongly with the crude experiences of his untried youth
not to be highly valued by him and deeply regretted. He might pretend to
laugh at it, and repeat to himself that his Egeria had been but a very
superficial person, fervent in the reading of the daily novel and
possibly not even worldly wise; he did not miss her any the less for
that. A little sympathy and much patience in listening will go far to
make a woman of small gifts indispensable even to a man of superior
talent, especially when he thinks himself misunderstood in his ordinary
surroundings. The sympathy passes for intelligence and the patience for
assent and encouragement--a touch of the hand, and there is friendship,
a tear, a sigh, and devotion stands upon the stage, bearing in her arms
an infant love who learns to walk his part at the first suspicion of a
Orsino did not imagine that he had exhausted the world's capabilities of
happiness. The age of Byronism, as it used to be called, is over.
Possibly tragedies are more real and frequent in our day than when the
century was young; at all events those which take place seem to draw a
new element of horror from those undefinable, mechanical, prosaic,
psuedo-scientific conditions which make our lives so different from
those of our fathers. Everything is terribly sudden nowadays, and
alarmingly quick. Lovers make love across Europe by telegraph, and
poetic justice arrives in less than forty-eight hours by the Oriental
Express. Divorce is our weapon of precision, and every pack of cards at
the gaming table can distil a poison more destructive than that of the
Borgia. The unities of time and place are preserved by wire and rail in
a way which would have delighted the hearts of the old French tragics.
Perhaps men seek dramatic situations in their own lives less readily
since they have found out means of making the concluding act more swift,
sudden and inevitable. At all events we all like tragedy less and comedy
more than our fathers did, which, I think, shows that we are sadder and
possibly wiser men than they.
However this may be, Orsino was no more inclined to fancy himself
unhappy than any of his familiar companions, though he was quite willing
to believe that he understood most of life's problems, and especially
the heart of woman. He continued to go into the world, for it was new to
him and if he did not find exactly the sort of sympathy he secretly
craved, he found at least a great deal of consideration, some flattery
and a certain amount of amusement. But when he was not actually being
amused, or really engaged in the work which he had undertaken with so
much enthusiasm, he felt lonely and missed Maria Consuelo more than
ever. By this time she had taken a position in society from which there
could be no drawing back, and he gave up for ever the hope of seeing her
in his own circle. She seemed to avoid even the grey houses where they
might have met on neutral ground, and Orsino saw that his only chance of
finding her in the world lay in going frequently and openly to Del
Ferice's house. He had called on Donna Tullia after the dinner, of
course, but he was not prepared to do more, and Del Ferice did not seem
to expect it.
Three or four weeks after he had entered into partnership with Andrea
Contini, Orsino found himself alone with his mother in the evening.
Corona was seated near the fire in her favourite boudoir, with a book in
her hand, and Orsino stood warming himself on one side of the
chimney-piece, staring into the flames and occasionally glancing at his
mother's calm, dark face. He was debating whether he should stay at home
Corona became conscious that he looked at her from time to time and
dropped her novel upon her knee.
"Are you going out, Orsino?" she asked.
"I hardly know," he answered. "There is nothing particular to do, and it
is too late for the theatre."
"Then stay with me. Let us talk." She looked at him affectionately and
pointed to a low chair near her.
He drew it up until he could see her face as she spoke, and then sat
"What shall we talk about, mother?" he asked, with a smile.
"About yourself, if you like, my dear. That is, if you have anything
that you know I would like to hear. I am not curious, am I, Orsino? I
never ask you questions about yourself."
"No, indeed. You never tease me with questions--nor does my father
either, for that matter. Would you really like to know what I am doing?"
"If you will tell me."
"I am building a house," said Orsino, looking at her to see the effect
of the announcement.
"A house?" repeated Corona in surprise. "Where? Does your father know
"He said he did not care what I did." Orsino spoke rather bitterly.
"That does not sound like him, my dear. Tell me all about it. Have you
quarrelled with him, or had words together?"
Orsino told his story quickly, concisely and with a frankness he would
perhaps not have shown to any one else in the world, for he did not even
conceal his connection with Del Ferice. Corona listened intently, and
her deep eyes told him plainly enough that she was interested. On his
part he found an unexpected pleasure in telling her the tale, and he
wondered why it had never struck him that his mother might sympathise
with his plans and aspirations. When he had finished, he waited for her
first word almost as anxiously as he would have waited for an expression
of opinion from Maria Consuelo.
Corona did not speak at once. She looked into his eyes, smiled, patted
his lean brown hand lovingly and smiled again before she spoke.
"I like it," she said at last. "I like you to be independent and
determined. You might perhaps have chosen a better man than Del Ferice
for your adviser. He did something once--well, never mind! It was long
ago and it did us no harm."
"What did he do, mother? I know my father wounded him in a duel before
you were married--"
"It was not that. I would rather not tell you about it--it can do no
good, and after all, it has nothing to do with the present affair. He
would not be so foolish as to do you an injury now. I know him very
well. He is far too clever for that."
"He is certainly clever," said Orsino. He knew that it would be quite
useless to question his mother further after what she had said. "I am
glad that you do not think I have made a mistake in going into this
"No. I do not think you have made a mistake, and I do not believe that
your father will think so either when he knows all about it."
"He need not have been so icily discouraging," observed Orsino.
"He is a man, my dear, and I am a woman. That is the difference. Was San
Giacinto more encouraging than he? No. They think alike, and San
Giacinto has an immense experience besides. And yet they are both wrong.
You may succeed, or you may fail--I hope you will succeed--but I do not
care much for the result. It is the principle I like, the idea, the
independence of the thing. As I grow old, I think more than I used to do
when I was young."
"How can you talk of growing old!" exclaimed Orsino indignantly.
"I think more," said Corona again, not heeding him. "One of my thoughts
is that our old restricted life was a mistake for us, and that to keep
it up would be a sin for you. The world used to stand still in those
days, and we stood at the head of it, or thought we did. But it is
moving now and you must move with it or you will not only have to give
up your place, but you will be left behind altogether."
"I had no idea that you were so modern, dearest mother," laughed Orsino.
He felt suddenly very happy and in the best of humours with himself.
"Modern--no, I do not think that either your father or I could ever be
that. If you had lived our lives you would see how impossible it is. The
most I can hope to do is to understand you and your brothers as you grow
up to be men. But I hate interference and I hate curiosity--the one
breeds opposition and the other dishonesty--and if the other boys turn
out to be as reticent as you, Orsino, I shall not always know when they
want me. You do not realise how much you have been away from me since
you were a boy, nor how silent you have grown when you are at home."
"Am I, mother? I never meant to be."
"I know it, dear, and I do not want you to be always confiding in me. It
is not a good thing for a young man. You are strong and the more you
rely upon yourself, the stronger you will grow. But when you want
sympathy, if you ever do, remember that I have my whole heart full of it
for you. For that, at least, come to me. No one can give you what I can
give you, dear son."
Orsino was touched and pressed her hand, kissing it more than once. He
did not know whether in her last words she had meant any allusion to
Maria Consuelo, or whether, indeed, she had been aware of his intimacy
with the latter. But he did not ask the question of her nor of himself.
For the moment he felt that a want in his nature had been satisfied, and
he wondered again why he had never thought of confiding in his mother.
They talked of his plans until it was late, and from that time they were
more often together than before, each growing daily more proud of the
other, though perhaps Orsino had better reasons for his pride than
Corona could have found, for the love of mother for son is more
comprehensive and not less blind than the passion of woman for man.
The short Roman season was advancing rapidly to its premature fall,
which is on Ash Wednesday, after which it struggles to hold up its head
against the overwhelming odds of a severely observed Lent, to revive
only spasmodically after Easter and to die a natural death on the first
warm day. In that year, too, the fatal day fell on the fifteenth of
February, and progressive spirits talked of the possibility of fixing
the movable Feasts and Fasts of the Church in a more convenient part of
the calendar. Easter might be made to fall in June, for instance, and
society need not be informed of its inevitable and impending return to
dust and ashes until it had enjoyed a good three months, or even four,
of what an eminent American defines as "brass, sass, lies and sin."
Rome was very gay that year, to compensate for the shortness of its
playtime. Everything was successful, and every one was rich. People
talked of millions less soberly than they had talked of thousands a few
years earlier, and with less respect than they mentioned hundreds twelve
months later. Like the vanity-struck frog, the franc blew itself up to
the bursting point, in the hope of being taken for the louis, and
momentarily succeeded, even beyond its own expectations. No one walked,
though horse-flesh was enormously dear and a good coachman's wages
amounted to just twice the salary of a government clerk. Men who, six
months earlier, had climbed ladders with loads of brick or mortar, were
now transformed into flourishing sub-contractors, and drove about in
smart pony-carts, looking the picture of Italian prosperity, rejoicing
in the most flashy of ties and smoking the blackest and longest of long
black cigars. During twenty hours out of the twenty-four the gates of
the city roared with traffic. From all parts of the country labourers
poured in, bundle in hand and tools on shoulder to join in the enormous
work and earn their share of the pay that was distributed so liberally.
A certain man who believed in himself stood up and said that Rome was
becoming one of the greatest of cities, and he smacked his lips and said