Part 2 out of 7
him again; but, as she feared that Trenta would continue to bring him,
under pretext of making up her whist-table, she did not say so.
The medical Adonis was forced to swallow his rage, but his cheeks
tingled. He dared not quarrel either with the marchesa, Trenta, or
the count, by whose joint support alone he could hope to plant himself
firmly in the realms of Lucchese fashionable life--a life which he
felt was his element. Utterly disconcerted, however, he turned down
his eyes, and stared at his boots, which were highly glazed, then
glanced up at his own face (as faultless and impassive as a Greek
mask) in a mirror opposite, hastily arranged his hair, and finally
collapsed into silence and a corner.
At this moment Count Marescotti became suddenly aware of Enrica's
presence. She was, as I have said, sitting in the same place by
the casement, concealed by the curtain, her head bent down over her
knitting. She had only looked up once when Nobili's name had been
mentioned. No one had noticed her. It was not the usage of Casa
Guinigi to notice Enrica. Enrica was not the marchesa's daughter;
therefore, except in marriage, she was not entitled to enjoy
the honors of the house. She was never permitted to take part in
Marescotti, who had not seen her since she was fourteen, now bounded
across the room to where she sat, overshadowed by the curtain, bowed
to her formally, then touched the tips of her fingers with his lips.
Enrica raised her eyes. And what eyes they were!--large, melancholy,
brooding, of no certain color, changing as she spoke, as the summer
sky changes the color of the sea. They were more gray than blue, yet
they were blue, with long, dark eyelashes that swept upon her cheeks.
As she looked up and smiled, there was an expression of the most
perfect innocence in her face. It was like a flower that opens its
bosom frankly to the sun.
Marescotti's artistic nature was deeply stirred. He gazed at her in
silence for some minutes; he was seeking in his own mind in what type
of womanhood he should place her. Suddenly an idea struck him.--She
was the living image of the young Madonna--the young Madonna before
the visit of the archangel--pale, meditative, pathetic, but with no
shadow of the future upon her face. Marescotti was so engrossed by
this idea that he remained motionless before her. Each one present
observed his emotion, the marchesa specially; she frowned her
Trenta laughed quietly to himself, then stroked his well-shaved chin.
"Signorina," said the count, at length breaking silence, "permit me to
offer my excuses for not having sooner perceived you. Will you forgive
"Mio Dio!" muttered the marchesa to herself, "he will turn the child's
head with his fine phrases."
"I have nothing to forgive, count," answered Enrica simply. She spoke
low. Her voice matched the expression of her face; there was a natural
tone of plaintiveness in it.
"When I last saw you," continued the count, standing as if spellbound
before her, "you were only a child. Now," and his kindling eyes
riveted themselves upon her, "you are a woman. Like the magic rose
that was the guerdon of the Troubadours, you have passed in an hour
from leaf to bud, from bud to fairest flower. You were, of course, at
the Orsetti ball last night?" He asked this question, trying to rouse
himself. "What ball in Lucca would be complete without you?"
"I was not there," answered Enrica, blushing deeply and glancing
timidly at the marchesa, who, with a scowl on her face, was fanning
"Not there!" ejaculated Marescotti, with wonder.--"Why, marchesa, is
it not barbarous to shut up your beautiful niece? Is it because you
deem her too precious to be gazed upon? If so, you are right."
And again his eyes, full of ardent admiration, were bent on Enrica.
Enrica dropped her head to hide her confusion, and resumed her
It was a golden sunset. The sun was sinking behind the delicate
arcades of the Moorish garden, and spreading broad patches of rosy
light upon the marble. The shrubs, with their bright flowers, were set
against a tawny orange sky. The air was full of light--the last gleams
of parting day. The splash of the fountain upon the lion's heads was
heard in the silence, the heavy perfume of the magnolia-flowers stole
in wafts through the sculptured casements, creeping upward in the soft
Still, motionless before Enrica, Marescotti was rapidly falling into a
poetic rapture. The marchesa broke the awkward silence.
"Enrica is a child," she said, dryly. "She knows nothing about balls.
She has never been to one. Pray do not put such ideas into her head,
count," she added, looking at him angrily.
"But, marchesa, your niece is no child--she is a lovely woman,"
insisted the count, his eyes still riveted upon her. The marchesa did
not consider it necessary to answer him.
Meanwhile the cavaliere, who had returned to his seat near her, had
watched the moment when no one was looking that way, had given her a
significant glance, and placed his finger warningly upon his lip.
Not understanding what he meant by this action, the marchesa was at
first inclined to resent it as a liberty, and to rebuke him; but she
thought better of it, and only glanced at him haughtily.
It was not the first time she had found it to her advantage to accept
Trenta's hints. Trenta was a man of the world, and he had his eyes
open. What he meant, however, she could not even guess.
Meanwhile the count had drawn a chair beside Enrica.
"Yes, yes, the Orsetti ball," he said, absently, passing his hand
through the masses of black curls that rested upon his forehead.
He was following out, in his own mind, the notion of addressing an
ode to her in the character of the young Madonna--the uninstructed
Madonna--without that look of pensive suffering painters put into her
The Madonna figured prominently in Marescotti's creed, spite of his
belief in the stern precepts of Savonarola--the plastic creed of an
artist, made up of heavenly eyes, ravishing forms, melodious sounds,
rich color, sweeping rhythms, moonlight, and violent emotions.
"I was not there myself--no, or I should have been aware you had
not honored the Countess Orsetti with your presence. But in the
morning--that glorious mass in the old cathedral--you were there?"
Enrica answered that she had not left the house all day, at which the
count raised his eyebrows in astonishment.
"That mass," he continued, "in celebration of a local miracle
(respectable from its antiquity), has haunted me ever since. The
gloomy splendor of the venerable cathedral overwhelmed me; the happy
faces that met me on every side, the spontaneous rejoicing of the
whole population, touched me deeply. I longed to make them free. They
deserve freedom; they shall have it!" A dark fire glistened in his
eye. "I have been lost in day-dreams ever since; I must give them
utterance." And he gazed steadfastly at Enrica.--"I have not left my
room, marchesa, ever since"--at last Marescotti left Enrica's side,
and approached the marchesa--"until an hour ago, when Baldassare"--and
the count bowed to Adonis, still seated sulky in a corner--"came
and carried me off in the hope that you would permit me to join your
rubber. Had I known"--he added, in a lower voice, bending his head
toward Enrica. Then he stopped, suddenly aware that every one was
listening to all he said (a fact which he had been far too much
absorbed to notice previously), colored, and retreated to the sofa
with the spindle-legs.
"Per Bacco!" whispered the cavaliere to the marchesa, sitting near her
on the other side; "I am convinced poor Marescotti has never touched
a morsel of food since that mass--I am certain of it. He always lives
upon a poetical diet, poor devil!--rose-leaves and the beauties of
Nature, with a warm dish now and then in the way of a _ragout_ of
conspiracy. God help him! he's a greater lunatic than ever." This was
spoken aside into the marchesa's ear. "If you have a soul of pity,
marchesa, order him a chicken before we begin playing, or he will
faint upon the floor." The marchesa smiled.
"I don't like impressionable people at all," she responded, in the
same tone of voice. "In my opinion, feelings should be concealed, not
exhibited." And she sighed, recalling her own silent vigils on the
floor beneath, unknown to all save the cavaliere.
"But--a thousand pardons!" cried Marescotti, gradually waking up to
some social energy, "I have been talking only of myself! Talking of
myself in your presence, ladies!--What can we do to amuse your niece,
marchesa? Lucca is horribly dull. If she is to go neither to festivals
nor to balls, it will not be possible for her to exist here."
"It will be quite possible," answered the marchesa, greatly displeased
at the turn the conversation was taking. "Quite possible, if I choose
it. Enrica will exist where I please. You forget she has lived here
for seventeen years. You see she has not died of it. She stays at home
by my order, count."
Enrica cast a pleading look at her aunt, as if to say, "Can I help all
this?" As for Count Marescotti, he was far too much engrossed with his
own thoughts to be aware that he was treading on delicate ground.
"But, marchesa," he urged, "you can't really keep your niece any
longer shut up like the fairy princess in the tower. Let me be
permitted to act the part of the fairy prince and liberate her."
Again he had turned, and again his glowing eyes fixed themselves on
Enrica, who had withdrawn as much as possible behind the curtains. Her
cheeks were dyed with blushes. She shrank from the count's too ardent
glances, as though those glances were an involuntary treason to
"Something must be done," muttered the count, meditating.
"Will you trust your niece with Cavaliere Trenta, and permit me to
accompany them on some little excursion in the city, to make up for
the loss of the cathedral and the ball?"
The marchesa, who found the count decidedly troublesome, not to say
impertinent, had opened her lips to give an unqualified negative, but
another glance from Trenta checked her.
"An excellent idea," put in the cavaliere, before she could
speak. "With _me_, marchesa--with _me_" he added, looking at her
Trenta loved Enrica better than any thing in the world, but carefully
concealed it, the better to serve her with her aunt.
"As for me, I am ready for any thing." And, to show his agility, he
rose, and, with the help of his stick, made a _glissade_ on the floor.
Baldassare laughed out loud from the corner. It gratified his wounded
vanity to see his elder ridiculous.
Marescotti, greatly alarmed, started forward and offered his arm, in
order to lead the cavaliere back to his seat, but Trenta indignantly
refused his assistance. The marchesa shook her head.
"Calm yourself," she said, looking at him compassionately. "Calm
yourself, Cesarino, I should not like you to have a fit in my house."
"Fit!--che che?" cried Trenta, angrily. "Not while I am in the
presence of the young and fair," he added, recovering himself. "It is
that which has kept me alive all this time. No, marchesa, I refuse
to sit down again. I refuse to sit down, or to take a hand at your
rubber, until something is settled."
This was addressed to the marchesa, who had caught him by the tails of
his immaculate blue coat and forced him into a seat beside her.
"_Vive la bagatelle_! Where shall we go? You cannot refuse the count,"
he added, giving the marchesa a meaning look. "What shall we do? Let
us all propose something. Let me see. I propose to improve Enrica's
mind. She is young--the young have need of improvement. I propose to
take her to the church of San Frediano and to show her the ancient
fresco representing the discovery of the Holy Countenance; also
the Trenta chapel, containing the tombs of my family. I will try to
explain to her their names and history.--What do you say to this, my
And the cavaliere turned to Enrica, who, little accustomed to be
noticed at all, much less to occupy the whole conversation, looked
supplicatingly at her aunt. She would gladly have run out of the room
if she had dared.
"No, no," exclaimed the irrepressible Baldassare, from the corner.
"Never! What a ghastly idea! Tombs and a mouldy old church! You may
find satisfaction, Signore Trenta, in the contemplation of your tomb,
but the signorina is not eighty, nor am I, nor is the count. I propose
that after being shut up so many years the Guinigi Palace be thrown
open, and a ball given on the first floor in honor of the signorina.
There should be a band from Florence and presents from Paris for the
cotillon. What do you say to _that_, Signora Marchesa?" asked the
misguided young man, with unconscious self-satisfaction.
If a mine had sprung under the marchesa's feet, she could not have
been more horrified. What she would have said to Baldassare is
difficult to guess, but fortunately for him, while she was struggling
for words in which she could suitably express her sense of his
presumption, Trenta, seeing what was coming, was beforehand.
"Be silent, Baldassare," he exclaimed, "or, per Dio, I will never
bring you here again."
Before Baldassare could offer his apologies, the count burst in--
"I propose that we shall show the signorina something that will amuse
her." He thought for a moment. "Have you ever ascended the old tower
of this palace?" he asked.
Enrica shook her head.
"Then I propose the Guinigi Tower--the stairs are rather rickety, but
they are not unsafe. I was there the last time I visited Lucca. The
view over the Apennines is superb. Will you trust yourself to us,
Enrica raised her head and looked at him hesitatingly, glanced at
her aunt, then looked at him again. Until the marchesa had spoken she
dared not reply. She longed to go. If she ascended the tower, might
she not see Nobili? She had not set her eyes on him for a whole week.
Marescotti saw her hesitation, but he misunderstood the cause. He
returned her look with an ardent glance. Where was the young Madonna
leading him? He did not stop to inquire, but surrendered himself to
the enchantment of her presence.
"Is my proposal accepted?" Count Marescotti inquired, anxiously
turning toward the marchesa, who sat listening to them with a
"And mine too?" put in the cavaliere. "Both can be combined. I should
so much like to show Enrica the tombs of the Trenta. We have been a
famous family in our time. Do not refuse us, marchesa."
All this was entirely out of the habits of Casa Guinigi. Hitherto
Enrica had been kept in absolute subjection. If she were present no
one spoke to her, or noticed her. Now all this was to be changed,
because Count Marescotti had come up from Rome. Enrica was not only to
be gazed at and flattered, but to engross attention.
The marchesa showed evident tokens of serious displeasure. Had Count
Marescotti not been present, she would assuredly have expressed this
displeasure in very strong language. In all matters connected with her
niece, with her household, and with the management of her own affairs,
she could not tolerate remark, much less interference. Every kind of
interference was offensive to her. She believed in herself, as I have
said, blindly: never, up to that time, had that belief been shaken.
All this discussion was, to her mind, worse than interference--it was
absolute revolution. She inwardly resolved to shut up her house and
go into the country, rather than submit to it. She eyed the count, who
stood waiting for an answer, as if he were an enemy, and scowled at
the excellent Trenta.
Enrica, too, had fixed her eyes upon her beseechingly; Enrica
evidently wanted to go. The marchesa had already opened her lips to
give an abrupt refusal, when she felt a warning hand laid upon her
arm. Again she was shaken in her purpose of refusal. She rose, and
approached the card-table.
"I shall take time to consider," she replied to the inquiring eyes
awaiting her reply.
The marchesa took up the pack of cards and examined the markers.
She was debating with herself what Trenta could possibly mean by his
extraordinary conduct, _twice_ repeated.
"You had better retire now," she said to Enrica, with an expression of
hostility her niece knew too well. "You have listened to quite enough
folly for one night. Men are flatterers."
"Not I! not I!" cried Marescotti. "I never say any thing but what I
And he flew toward the door in order to open it before Enrica could
"All good angels guard you!" he whispered, with a tender voice, into
her ear, as, greatly confused, she passed by him, into the anteroom.
"May you find all men as true as I! Per Dio! she is the living
image of the young Madonna!" he added, half aloud, gazing after her.
"Countenance, manner, air--it is perfect!"
A match was now produced out of Trenta's pocket. The candles were
lighted, and the casements closed. The party then sat down to whist.
The marchesa was always specially irritable when at cards. The
previous conversation had not improved her temper. Moreover, the count
was her partner, and a worse one could hardly be conceived. Twice
he did not even take up the cards dealt to him, but sat immovable,
staring at the print of the Empress Eugenie in the Spanish dress on
the green wall opposite. Called to order peremptorily by the marchesa,
he took up his cards, shuffled them, then laid them down again on
the table, his eyes wandering off to the chair hitherto occupied by
This was intolerable. The marchesa showed him that she thought so. He
apologized. He did take up his cards, and for a few deals attended
to the game. Again becoming abstracted, he forgot what were trumps,
losing thereby several tricks. Finally, he revoked. Both the marchesa
and the cavaliere rebuked him very sharply. Again he apologized, tried
to collect his thoughts, but still played abominably.
Meanwhile, Trenta and Baldassare kept up a perpetual wrangle. The
cavaliere was cool, sardonic, smiling, and provoking--Baldassare hot
and flushed with a concentration of rage he dared not express.
The cavaliere, thanks to his court education, was an admirable
whist-player. His frequent observations to his young friend were
excellent as instruction, but were conveyed in somewhat contemptuous
language. Baldassare, having been told by the cavaliere that playing
a good hand at whist was as necessary to his future social success as
dancing, was much chagrined.
Poor Baldassare!--his life was a continual conflict--a sacrifice to
his love of fine company. It might be doubted if he would not
have been infinitely happier in the atmosphere of the paternal
establishment, weighing out drugs, in shabby clothes, behind the
counter, than he was now, snubbed and affronted, and barely tolerated.
After this the marchesa and Trenta became partners; but matters did
not improve. A violent altercation ensued as to who led a certain
crucial card, which decided the game. Once seated at the whist-table,
the cavaliere was a real autocrat. _There_ he did not affect even to
submit to the marchesa. Now, provoked beyond endurance, he plainly
told her "she never had played a good game, and, what was more,
that she never would--she was too impetuous." Upon hearing this the
marchesa threw down her cards in a rage, and rose from the table.
Trenta rose also. With an imperturbable countenance he offered her his
arm, to lead her back to her seat.
The marchesa, extremely irate at what he had said, pushed him rudely
to one side and reseated herself.
Baldassare and Marescotti rose also. The count, having continued
persistently absent up to the last, was utterly unconscious of the
little fracas that had taken place between the marchesa and the
cavaliere, and the consequent sudden conclusion of the game. He had
seen her rise, and it was a great relief to him. He had been debating
in his own mind whether he should adopt the Dante rhyme for his ode to
the young Madonna, or make it in strophes. He inclined to the latter
treatment as more picturesque, and therefore more suitable to the
"May I," said he, suddenly roused to what was passing about him, and
advancing with a gracious smile upon his mobile face, lit up by the
pleasant musings of the whist-table--pleasant to him, but assuredly
not pleasant to his partner--"may I hope, marchesa, that you will
acquiesce in our little plan for to-morrow?"
The marchesa had come by this time to look on the count as a bore, of
whom she was anxious to rid herself. She was so anxious, indeed, to
rid herself of him that she actually assented.
"My niece, Signore Conte," she said, stiffly, "shall be ready with
her gouvernante and the Cavaliere Trenta, at eleven o'clock to-morrow.
Marescotti took the hint, bowed, and departed arm-in-arm with
THE CABINET COUNCIL.
When the count and Baldassare had left the room, Cavaliere Trenta made
no motion to follow them. On the contrary, he leaned back in the chair
on which he was seated, and nursed his leg with the nankeen trouser
meditatively. The expression of his face showed that his thoughts were
busy with some project he desired to communicate. Until he had done so
in his own way, and at his own time, he would continue to sit where he
was. It was this imperturbable self-possession and good-humor combined
which gave him so much influence over the irascible marchesa. They
were as iron to fire, only the iron was never heated.
The marchesa, deeply resenting his remarks upon her whist playing,
tapped her foot impatiently on the floor, fanned herself, and glowered
at him out of the darkness which the single pair of candles did not
dispel. As he still made no motion to go, she took out her watch,
looked at it, and, with an exclamation of surprise, rose. Quite
useless. Trenta did not stir.
"Marchesa," he said at last, abruptly, raising his head and looking at
her, "do me the favor to sit down. Spare me a few moments before you
"I want to go to bed," she answered, rudely. "It is already past my
"Marchesa--one moment. I permitted myself the liberty of an old friend
just now--to check your speech to Count Marescotti."
"Yes," said she, drawing up her long throat, and throwing back her
head, an action habitual to her when displeased, "you did so. I did
not understand it. We have been acquainted quite long enough for you
to know I do not like interference."
"Pardon me, noble lady"--(Trenta spoke very meekly--to soothe her
now was absolutely necessary)--"pardon me, for the sake of my good
"And pray what _were_ your good intentions, cavaliere?" she asked, in
a mocking tone, reseating herself. Her curiosity was rapidly getting
the better of her resentment.
As she asked the question, the cavaliere left off nursing his leg with
the nankeen trouser, rose, drew his chair closer to hers, then sat
down again. The light from the single pair of candles was very dim,
and scarcely extended beyond the card-table. Both their heads were
therefore in shadow, but the marchesa's eyes gleamed nevertheless, as
she waited for Trenta's explanation.
"Did you observe nothing this evening, my friend?" he
asked--"_nothing_?" His manner was unusually excited.
"No," she answered, thoughtfully. She had been so exclusively occupied
with the slights put upon herself that every thing else had escaped
her. "I observed nothing except the impertinence of Count Marescotti,
and the audacity--the--"
"Stop, marchesa," interrupted Trenta, holding up his hand. "We will
talk of all that another time. If Count Marescotti and Baldassare have
offended you, you can decline to receive them. You observed
nothing, you say? I did." He leaned forward, and spoke with
emphasis--"Marescotti is in love with Enrica."
The marchesa started violently and raised herself bolt upright.
"The Red count in love with a child like Enrica!"
"Only a child in your eyes, Signora Marchesa," rejoined Trenta,
warmly. (He had warmed with his own convictions, his benevolent heart
was deeply interested in Enrica. He had known her since she had first
come to Casa Guinigi, a baby; from his soul he pitied her.) "In the
eyes of the world Enrica is not only a woman, but promises to be a
very lovely one. She is seventeen years old, and marriageable. Young
ladies of her name and position must have fortunes, or they do not
marry well. If they do, it is a chance--quite a chance. Under these
circumstances, it would be cruel to deprive her of so suitable an
alliance as Count Marescotti. Now, allow me to ask you, seriously, how
would this marriage suit you?"
"Not at all," replied the marchesa, curtly. "The count is a
republican. I hate republicans. The Guinigi have always been
Ghibelline, and loyal. I dislike him, too, personally. I was about to
desire you never to bring him here again. Contact with low people has
spoiled him. His manners are detestable."
"But, marchesa, che vuole?" Trenta shrugged his shoulders. "He belongs
to one of the oldest families in Rome; he is well off, handsome (he
reminds me of your ancestor, Castruccio Castracani); a wife might
improve him." The marchesa shook her head.
"He like the great Castruccio!--I do not see it."
"Permit me," resumed Trenta, "without entering into details which, as
a friend, you have confided to me, I must remind you that your affairs
are seriously embarrassed."
The marchesa winced; she guessed what was coming. She knew that she
could not deny it.
"You are embarrassed by lawsuits. Unfortunately, all have gone against
"I fought for the ancient privileges of the Guinigi!" burst out the
marchesa, imperiously. "I would do it again."
"I do not in the least doubt you would do it again, exalted lady,"
responded Trenta, with a quiet smile. "Indeed, I feel assured of it.
I merely state the fact. You have sacrificed large sums of money. You
have lost every suit. The costs have been enormous. Your income is
greatly reduced. Enrica is therefore portionless."
"No, no, not altogether." The marchesa moved nervously in her chair,
carefully avoiding meeting Trenta's steely blue eyes. "I have saved
money, Cesarino--I have indeed," she repeated. The marchesa was
becoming quite affable. "I cannot touch the heirlooms. But Enrica will
have a small portion."
"Well, well," replied Trenta. "But it is impossible you can have saved
much since the termination of that last long suit with the chapter
about your right to the second bench in the nave of the cathedral, the
bench awarded to Count Nobili when he bought the palace. The expense
was too great, and the trial too recent."
She made no reply.
"Then there was that other affair with the municipality about the
right of flying the flag from the Guinigi Tower. I do not mention
small affairs, such as disputes with your late steward at Corellia,
trials at Barga, nor litigation here at Lucca on a small scale. My
dear marchesa, you have found the law an expensive pastime." The
cavaliere's round eyes twinkled as he said this. "Enrica is therefore
virtually portionless. The choice lies between a husband who will wed
her for herself, or a convent. If I understand your views, a convent
would not suit you. Besides, you would not surely voluntarily condemn
a girl, without vocation, and brought up beside you, to the seclusion
of a convent?"
"But Enrica is a child--I tell you she is too young to think about
The marchesa spoke with anger. She would stave off as long as possible
the principal question--that of marriage. Sudden proposals,
too, emanating from others, always nettled her; it narrowed her
"Besides," objected the marchesa, still fencing with the real
question, "who can answer for Count Marescotti? He is so capricious!
Supposing he likes Enrica to-day, he may change before to-morrow. Do
you really think he can care enough about Enrica to marry her? Her
name would be nothing to him."
"I think he does care for her," replied Trenta, reflectively; "but
that can be ascertained. Enrica is a fit consort for a far greater man
than Count Marescotti. Not that he, as you say, would care about her
name. Remember, she will be your heiress--that is something."
"Yes, yes, my heiress," answered the marchesa, vaguely; for the
dreadful question rose up in her mind, "What would Enrica have to
That very day she had received a most insolent letter from a creditor.
Under the influence of the painful thoughts, she turned her head aside
and said nothing. One of her hands was raised over her eyes to shade
them from the candles; the other rested on her dark dress.
If a marriage were really in question, what could be more serious?
Was not Enrica's marriage to raise up heirs to the Guinigi--heirs to
inherit the palace and the heirlooms? If--the marchesa banished the
thought, but it would return, and haunt her like a spectre--if not the
palace, then at least the name--the historic name, revered throughout
Italy? Nothing could deprive Enrica of the name--that name was in
itself a dower. That Enrica should possess both name and palace, with
a husband of her--the marchesa's--own choosing, had been her dream,
but it had been a far-off dream--a dream to be realized in the course
Taken thus aback, the proposal made by Trenta appeared to her hurried
and premature--totally wanting in the dignified and well-considered
action that should mark the conduct of the great. Besides, if an
immediate marriage were arranged between Count Marescotti and Enrica,
only a part of her plan could be realized. Enrica was, indeed,
now almost portionless; there would be no time to pile up those
gold-pieces, or to swell those rustling sheaves of notes that she
"Portionless!" the marchesa repeated to herself, half aloud. "What a
humiliation!--my own niece!"
It will be observed that all this time the marchesa had never
considered what Enrica's feeling might be. She was to obey her--that
But in this the marchesa was not to blame. She undoubtedly carried
her idea of Enrica's subserviency too far; but custom was on her side.
Marriages among persons of high rank are "arranged" in Italy--arranged
by families or by priests, acting as go-betweens. The lady leaves the
convent, and her marriage is arranged. She is unconscious that she has
a heart--she only discovers that unruly member afterward. To love a
husband is unnecessary; there are so many "golden youths" to choose
from. And the husband has his pastime too. Cosi fan tutti! It is a
All this time the cavaliere had never taken his eyes off his friend.
To a certain extent he understood what was passing in her mind. A
portionless niece would reveal her poverty.
"A good marriage is a good thing," he suggested, as a safe general
remark, after having waited in vain for some response.
"In all I do," the marchesa answered, loftily, "I must first consider
what is due to the dignity of my position." Trenta bowed.
"Decidedly, marchesa; that is your duty. But what then?"
"No feeling _whatever_ but that will influence me _now_, or
hereafter--nothing." She dwelt upon the last word defiantly, as the
final expression of her mind. Spite of this defiance, there was,
however, a certain hesitation in her manner which did not escape the
cavaliere. As she spoke, she looked hard at him, and touched his arm
to arouse his attention.
Trenta, who knew her so well, perfectly interpreted her meaning. His
ruddy cheeks flushed crimson; his kindly eyes kindled; he felt sure
that his advice would be accepted. She was yielding, but he must
be most cautious not to let his satisfaction appear. So strangely
contradictory was the marchesa that, although nothing could possibly
be more advantageous to her own schemes than this marriage, she might,
if indiscreetly pressed, veer round, and, in spite of her interest,
refuse to listen to another syllable on the subject.
All this kept the cavaliere silent. Receiving no answer, she looked
suspiciously at him, then grasped his arm tightly.
"And you, cavaliere--how long have you been so deeply interested in
Enrica? What is she to you? Her future can only signify to you as far
as it affects myself."
She waited for a reply. What was the cavaliere to answer? He loved
Enrica dearly, but he dared not say so, lest he should offend the
marchesa. He feared that if he spoke he should assuredly say too much.
Well as he knew her, the marchesa's egotism horrified him.
"Poor Enrica!" he muttered, involuntarily, half aloud.
The marchesa caught at the name.
"Enrica?--yes. From the time of my husband's death I have sacrificed
my life to the duties imposed on me by my position. So must Enrica. No
personal feeling for her shall bias me in the least."
Her eyes were fixed on those of Trenta. She paused again, and passed
her white hand slowly one over the other. The cavaliere looked down;
he durst not meet her glance, lest she should read his thoughts.
Thinking of Enrica at that moment, he absolutely hated her!
"What would you advise me to do?" she asked, at last. Her voice fell
as she put the question.
Trenta had been waiting for this direct appeal. Now his tongue was
"I will tell you, Signora Marchesa, plainly what I would advise you
to do," was his answer. "Let Enrica marry Marescotti. Put the whole
matter into my hands, if you have sufficient confidence in me."
"Remember, Trenta, the humiliation!"
"What humiliation?" asked the cavaliere, with surprise.
"The humiliation involved in the confession that my niece is almost
portionless." The words seemed to choke her. "She will inherit all I
have to leave," and she glanced significantly at the cavaliere; "but
that is--you understand me?--uncertain."
"Bagatella!--that will be all right," he rejoined, with alacrity. "The
idea of money will not sway Marescotti in the least. He is wealthy--a
fine fellow. Have no fear of that. Leave it all to me, Enrica, and
Marescotti. I am an old courtier. Many a royal marriage has passed
through my hands. Per Bacco--though no one but the duke knew
it--through my hands! You may trust me, marchesa."
There was a proud consciousness of the past in the old man's face. He
showed such perfect confidence in himself that he imparted the same
confidence to the marchesa.
"I would trust no one else, Cesarino," she said, rising from her
chair. "But be cautious; bind me to nothing until we meet again. I
must hear all that passes between you and the count, then judge for
"I will obey you in all things, noble lady," replied Trenta,
How he dreaded betraying his secret exultation! To emancipate
Enrica from her miserable life by an honorable marriage, was, to his
benevolent heart, infinite happiness!
"Good-night, marchesa. May you repose well!"
"Good-night, Cesarino--a rivederci!"
So they parted.
THE COUNTESS ORSETTI'S BALL.
The ball at Casa Orsetti was much canvassed in Lucca. Hospitality is
by no means a cardinal virtue in Italy. Even in the greatest houses,
the bread and salt of the Arab is not offered to you--or, if offered
at all, appears in the shape of such dangerously acid lemonade or
such weak tea, it is best avoided. Every year there are dances at the
Casino dei Nobili, during the Carnival, and there are veglioni, or
balls, at the theatre, where ladies go masked and in dominoes, but
do not dance; but these annual dissipations are paid for by ticket.
A general reception, therefore, including dancing, supper, and
champagne, _gratis_, was an event.
The Orsetti Palace, a huge square edifice of reddish-gray stone, with
overtopping roof, four tiers of lofty windows, and a broad arched
entrance, or portone, with dark-green doors, stands in the street
of San Michele. You pass it, going from the railway-station to the
city-gate (where the Lucchese lions keep guard), and the road leads
onward to the peaked mountains over Spezia.
On the evening of the ball the entire street of San Michele was hung
with Chinese lanterns, arranged in festoons. Opposite the entrance
shone a gigantic star of gas. The palace itself was a blaze of
light. As the night was warm, every window was thrown open;
chandeliers--scintillating like jeweled fountains--hung from the
ceilings; wax-lights innumerable, in gilded sconces, were grouped upon
the walls; crimson-silk curtains cast a ruddy glare across the street,
and the sound of harps and violins floated through the night air. The
crowd of beggars and idlers, generally gathered in the street, saw so
much that they might be considered to "assist," in an independent
but festive capacity, at the entertainment from outside. Matches were
hawked about for the convenience of the male portion of this
extempore assembly, and fruit in baskets was on sale for the women.
"Cigars--cigars of quality!"--"Good fruit--ripe fruit!" were cries
audible even in the ballroom; and a fine aroma of coarse tobacco
mounted rapidly upward to the illuminated windows.
Within the archway groups of servants were ranged in the Orsetti
livery. Also a magnificent personage, not to be classed with any of
the other domestics, wearing a silver chain with a key passed across
his breast. The personage called a major-domo, in the discharge of
his duty, divested the ladies of their shawls, and arranged their
All this was witnessed with much glee by the plebs outside--the men
smoking, the women eating and talking. As the guests arrived in rapid
succession, the plebs pressed more and more forward, until at last
some of the boldest stood within the threshold. The giants in
livery not only tolerated this, but might be said to observe them
individually with favor--seeing how much of their admiration was
bestowed on themselves and their fine clothes. The major-domo also,
with amiable condescension, affected not to notice them--no, not even
when one tall fellow, a butcher, with eyes as black as sloes, a pipe
in his mouth, and a coarse cloak wrapped round him, took off his
hat to the Princess Cardeneff, as she passed by him glittering with
diamonds, and cried in her face, "Oh! bella, bella!"
When the major-domo had performed those mysteries intrusted to him,
attendant giants threw open folding doors at the farther end of the
court, and the bright visions disappeared into a long gallery on the
ground-floor, painted in brilliant frescoes, to the reception-room.
The suite of rooms on the ground-floor are the summer apartments,
specially arranged for air and coolness. Rustic chairs stand against
walls painted with fruit and flowers, the stems and leaves represented
as growing out of the floor, as at Pompeii. The whole saloon is like
a _parterre_. Settees, sofas, and cozy Paris chairs covered with rich
satins, are placed under arbors of light-gilt trellis-work, wreathed
with exquisite creepers in full flower. Palms, orange and lemon trees,
flowering cacti, and large-leaved cane-plants, are grouped about;
consoles and marble tables, covered with the loveliest cut flowers.
Near the door, in the first of these floral saloons where sweet scents
made the air heavy, stands the Countess Orsetti. Although she had
certainly passed that great female climacteric, forty, a stately
presence, white skin, abundant hair, and good features treated
artistically, gave her still a certain claim to matronly beauty. She
greets each guest with compliments and phrases which would have been
deemed excessive out of Italy. Here in Lucca, where she met most of
her guests every day, these compliments and phrases were not only
excessive, but wearisome and out of place. Yet such is the custom of
the country, and to such fulsome flattery do the language and common
usage lend themselves. Countess Orsetti, therefore, is not responsible
for this absurdity.
Her son is beside her. He is short, stout, and smiling, with a
hesitating manner, and a habit of referring every thing to his
magnificent mamma. Away from his mamma, he is frank, talkative, and
amusing. It is to be hoped that he will marry soon, and escape from
the leading-strings. If he marries Teresa Ottolini--and it is said
such a result is certain--no palace in Lucca would be big enough to
hold Teresa and the countess-mother at one time.
Group after group enters, bows to the countess, and passes on among
the flowers: the Countess Navascoes (with her lord), pale, statuesque,
dark-eyed, raven-haired--a type of Italian womanhood; Marchesa
Manzi--born of the noble house of Buoncampagni--looking as if she
had walked out of a picture by Titian; the Da Gia, separated from
her husband--a little habit, this, of Italian ladies, consequent upon
intimacy with the _jeunesse doree_, who prefer the wives of their best
friends to all other women--it saves trouble, and a "golden youth"
is essentially idle. This little habit, moreover, of separation from
husbands does not damage the lady in the least; no one inquires what
has happened, or who is in the wrong. Society receives and pets her
just the same, and, quite impartial, receives and pets the husband
also.--Luisa Bernardini, a glowing little countess, as plump as an
ortolan, dimpling with smiles, an ugly old husband at her side--comes
next. It is whispered, unless the ugly old husband is blind as well
as deaf, they will be separated, too, very shortly. Young Civilla,
a "golden youth," is so very pressing. He could live with Luisa
at Naples--a cheap place. They might have gone on for years as a
triangular household--but for Civilla's carelessness. Civilla would
always put out old Bernardini about the dinner. (Civilla dined at
Bernardini's house every day, as he would at a _cafe_.) Now, old
Bernardini did not care a button that his little wife had a lover; it
would not have been _en regle_ if she had not--nor did he care that
his wife's lover should dine with him every day--not a bit--but old
Bernardini is a gourmand, and he does care to be kept waiting for his
dinner. He has lately confided to a friend, that he should be sorry
to cause a scandal, but that he must separate from his wife if Civilla
will not reform in the matter of the dinner-hour. "He is getting old,"
Bernardini says, "and his digestion suffers." No man keeps a French
cook to be kept waiting for his dinner.
Luisa, who looks the picture of innocence, wears an unexceptionable
pink dress, with a train that bodes ill-luck, and many apologies, to
her partners. A long train is Luisa's little game. (Spite of Civilla,
she has many other little games.) Fragments of the train fly about the
room all the evening, and admirers take care that she shall see
these picked up, fervently kissed, and stowed away as relics in
breast-pockets. One enthusiast pinned his fragment to his shoulder,
like an order--a knight of San Luisa, he called himself.
Teresa Ottolini, with her mother, has just arrived. Being single,
Teresa either is, or affects to be, excessively steady; no one would
marry her if she were not--not even the good-natured Orsetti. Your
Italian husband _in futuro_ will pardon nothing in his wife that
may be--not even that her dress should be conspicuous, much less
her manners. Neither is it expedient that she should be seen much
in society. That dangerous phalanx of "golden youth" are ever on the
watch, "gentlemen sportsmen," to a man; their sport, woman. If she
goes out much these "golden youth" might compromise her. Less than
a breath upon a maiden's name is social death. That name must not be
coupled with any man's--not coupled even in lightest parlance. So the
lady waits, waits until she has a husband--it is more piquant to be
a naughty wife than a fast miss--then she makes her choice--one, or
a dozen--it is a matter of taste. Danger is added to vice; and that
element of intrigue dear to the Italian soul, both male and female.
The _jeunesse doree_ delight in mild danger--a duel with swords,
not pistols, with a foolish husband. Why cannot he grin and bear
But to return to Teresa. She is courtesying very low to the Countess
Orsetti. Although it is well known that these ladies hate each other,
Countess Orsetti receives Teresa with a special welcome, kisses her
on both cheeks, addresses more compliments to her, and makes her more
courtesies than to any one else. How beautiful she is, the Ottolini,
with those white flowers twisted into the braids of her chestnut
hair!--those large, lazy eyes, too--like sleeping volcanoes!--Count
Orsetti thinks her beautiful, clearly; for, under the full battery of
his mother's glances, he advances to meet her, blushing like a girl.
He presses Teresa's hand, and whispers in her ear that "she must
not forget her promise about the cotillon. He has lived upon it ever
since." Her reply has apparently satisfied him, for the honest fellow
breaks out all over into smiles and bows and amorous glances. Then
she passes on, the fair Teresa, like a queen, followed by looks of
unmistakable admiration--much more unmistakable looks of admiration
than would be permitted elsewhere; but we are in Italy, where men are
born artists and have artistic feelings.
The men, as a rule, are neither as distinguished looking nor as well
dressed as the women. The type of the Lucchese nobleman is dark,
short, and commonplace--rustic is the word.
There is the usual crowding in doorways, and appropriation of seats
whence arrivals can be seen and criticised. But there is no line
of melancholy young girls wanting partners. The gentlemen decidedly
predominate, and all the ladies, except Teresa Ottolini and the
Boccarini, are married.
The Marchesa Boccarini had already arrived, accompanied by her three
daughters. They are seated near the door leading from the first
saloon, where Countess Orsetti is stationed. In front of them is
a group of flowering plants and palm-trees. Madame Boccarini peers
through the leaves, glass in eye. As a general scans the advance
of the enemy's troops from behind an ambush, calculates what their
probable movements will be, and how he can foil them--either by open
attack or feigned retreat, skirmish or manoeuvre--so Madame Boccarini
scans the various arrivals between the dark-green foliage.
To her every young and pretty woman is a rival to her daughters; if
a rival, an enemy--if an enemy, to be annihilated if possible, or at
least disabled, and driven ignominiously from the field.
It is well known that the Boccarini girls are poor. They will have no
portions--every one understands that. The Boccarini girls must marry
as they can; no priest will interest himself in their espousals. It
was this that made Nera so attractive. She was perfectly natural and
unconventionally bold--"like an English mees," it was said--with
looks of horror. (The Americans have much to answer for; they have
emancipated young ladies; all their sins, and our own to boot, we have
to answer for abroad.)
The Boccarini were in reality so poor that it was no uncommon thing
for them to remain at home because they could not afford to buy new
dresses in which to display themselves. (Poor Madame Boccarini felt
this far more than the girls did themselves.) To be seen more than
thrice in the same dress is impossible. Lucca is so small, every one's
clothes are known. There was no throwing dust in the eyes of dear
female friends in this particular.
On the present occasion the Boccarini girls had made great efforts to
produce a brilliant result. Madame Boccarini had told her daughters
that they must expect no fresh dresses for six months at least, so
great had been the outlay. Nera, on hearing this, had tossed her
stately head, and had inwardly resolved that before six months she
would marry--and that, dress or no dress, she would go wherever she
had a chance of meeting Count Nobili. Her mother tacitly concurred in
these views, as far as Count Nobili was concerned, but said nothing.
A Belgravian mother who frankly drills her daughter and points out,
_viva voce_, when to advance and when to retreat, and to whom the
honors of war are to be accorded--is an article not yet imported into
classic Italy with the current Anglomania.
Beside Nera sat Prince Ruspoli, a young Roman of great wealth. Ruspoli
aspired to lead the fashion, but not even Poole could well tailor him.
(Ruspoli was called _poule mouillee_.) Nature had not intended it.
His tall, gaunt figure, long arms, and thin legs, rendered him
artistically unavailable. The music has just sounded from a large
saloon at the end of the suite, and Prince Ruspoli has offered his arm
to Nera for the first waltz. If Count Nobili had arrived, she would
have refused Ruspoli, even on the chance of losing the dance; but he
had not come. Her sisters, who are older, and less attractive than
herself, had as yet found no partners; but they were habitually
resigned and amiable, and submitted with perfect meekness to be
obliterated by Nera.
A knot of young men have now formed near the door of the
dancing-saloon. They are eagerly discussing the cotillon, the final
dance of the evening. Count Orsetti had left his mother's side and
The cotillon is a matter of grave consideration--the very gravest.
Indeed it was very seldom these young heads considered any thing
so grave. On the success of the cotillon depends the success of the
evening. All the "presents" had come from Paris. Some of the figures
were new and required consultation.
"I mean to dance with Teresa Ottolini," announced Count Orsetti,
timidly--he could not name Teresa without reddening. "We arranged it
together a month ago."
"And I am engaged to Countess Navascoes," said Count Malatesta.
This engagement was said to have begun some years back, and to be very
enthralling. No one objected, least of all the husband, who worshiped
at the shrine of the blooming Bernardini when she quarreled with
Civilla. A lady of fashion has a choice of lovers, as she has a choice
of dresses--for all emergencies.
"But how about these new figures?" asked Orsetti.
"Per Bacco--hear the music!" cried Malatesta. "What a delicious waltz!
I want to dance. Let's settle it at once. Who's to lead?"
"Oh! Baldassare, of course," replied Franchi, a sallow, languid young
man, who looked as if he had been raised in a hot-house, and had lost
all his color. "Nobody else would take the trouble. Who is he to dance
"Let him see who will have him. I shall not interfere. He'll dance
for both, anyhow," answered Orsetti, laughing. "No one competes with
"Where is he?"
"Oh! dancing, of course," returned Orsetti. "Don't you see him
twirling round like a teetotum, with Marchesa Amici 'of the
swan-neck?'" And he pointed to a pair who were waltzing with
such precision that they never by a single step broke the
circle--Baldassare gallantly receiving the charge of any free lancers
who flung themselves in their path.
Baldassare is much elated at being permitted to dance with "the
swan-neck," a little faded now, but once a noted beauty. The swan-neck
is a famous lady. Ill-natured persons might have added an awkward
syllable to _famous._ She had been very dear to a great Russian
magnate who lived in a villa lined with malachite, and loaded her
with gifts. But as the marquis, her husband, was always with her and
invariably spoke of his wife as an angel, where was the harm? Now the
Russian magnate was dead, and the Marchesa Amici had retired to Lucca,
to enjoy the spoils along with her discreet and complaisant marquis.
"How that young fellow does push himself!" observes the cynical
Franchi. "Dancing with the Amici--such a great lady! Nothing is sacred
"I wish Nobili were come." It was Orsetti who spoke now. "I should
have liked him to lead instead of Baldassare. Adonis is getting
forward. He wants keeping in order. Will no one else lead? I cannot,
in my own house."
"Oh! but you would mortally offend poor Trenta if you did not let
Baldassare lead. The women will keep him in order," was the immediate
reply of a young man who had not yet spoken. "The cavaliere must
marshal the dancers, and Baldassare must lead, or the old man would
break his heart."
"I wish Nobili were here all the same," replied Orsetti. "If he does
not come soon, we must select his partner for him. Whom is he to
"Oh! Nera Boccarini, of course," responded two or three voices, amid a
"I don't think Nobili cares a straw about Nera," put in the languid
Franchi, drawling out his words. "I have heard quite another story
about Nobili. Give Nera to Ruspoli. He seems about to take her for
life. I wish him joy!" with a sneer. "Ruspoli likes English manners.
Nera won't get Nobili, my word upon _that_--there are too many stories
But these remarks at the moment passed unnoticed. No one asked what
Franchi had heard, all being intent about the cotillon and the choice
"Well," burst out Orsetti, no longer able to resist the music (the
waltz had been turned into a galop), "I am sure I don't care if Nobili
or Ruspoli likes Nera. I shall not try to cut them out."
"No, no, not you, Orsetti! We know your taste does not lie in that
quarter. Yours is the domestic style, chaste and frigid!" cried
Malatesta, with a sardonic smile. There was a laugh. Malatesta was
so bad, even according to the code of the "golden youths," that he
compromised any lady by his attentions. Orsetti blushed crimson.
"Pardon me," he replied, much confused, "I must go; my partner is
looking daggers at me. Call up old Trenta and tell him what he has
to do." Orsetti rushes off to the next room, where Teresa Ottolini is
waiting for him, with a look of gentle reproach in her sleepy eyes,
where lies the hidden fire.
Meanwhile Cavaliere Trenta's white head, immaculate blue coat and gold
buttons--to which coat were attached several orders--had been seen
hovering about from chair to chair through the rooms. He attached
himself specially to elderly ladies, his contemporaries. To these he
repeated the identical high-flown compliments he had addressed to
them thirty years before, in the court circle of the Duke of
Lucca--compliments such as elderly ladies love, though conscious all
the time of their absurd inappropriateness.
Like the dried-up rose-bud of one's youth, religiously preserved as a
relic, there is a faint flavor of youth and pleasure about them,
sweet still, as a remembrance of the past. "Always beautiful, always
amiable!" murmured the cavaliere, like a rhyme, a placid smile upon
his rosy face.
Summoned to the cabinet council held near the door, Trenta becomes
intensely interested. He weighs each detail, he decides every point
with the gravity of a judge: how the new figures are to be danced, and
with whom Baldassare is to lead--no one else could do it. He himself
would marshal the dances.
The double orchestra now play as if they were trying to drown each
other. Half a dozen rooms are full of dancers. The matrons, and older
men, have subsided into whist up-stairs. All the ladies have found
partners; there is not a single wall-flower.
Nothing could exceed the stately propriety of the ball. It was a grand
and stately gathering. Nobody but Nera Boccarini was natural. "To
save appearances" is the social law. "Do what you like, but save
appearances." A dignified hypocrisy none disobey. These men and women,
with the historic names, dare not show each other what they are. There
was no flirting, no romping, no loud laughter; not a loud word--no
telltale glances, no sitting in corners. It was a pose throughout. Men
bowed ceremoniously, and addressed as strangers ladies with whom they
spent every evening. Husbands devoted themselves to wives whom they
never saw but in public. Innocence _may_ betray itself, _seems_ to
betray itself--guilt never. Guilt is cautious.
At this moment Count Nobili entered. He was received with lofty
courtesy by the countess. Her manner implied a gentle protest. Count
Nobili was a banker's son; his mother was not--_nee_--any thing. Still
he was welcome. She graciously bent her head, on which a tiara of
diamonds glittered--in acknowledgment of his compliments on the
brilliancy of her ball.
Nobili's address was frank and manly. There was an ease and freedom
about him that contrasted favorably with the effeminate appearance
and affected manners of the _jeunesse doree_. His voice, too, was a
pleasant voice, and gave a value to all he said. A sunny smile lighted
up his fair-complexioned face, the face old Carlotta had called
"You are very late," the countess had said, with the slightest tone
of annoyance in her voice--fanning herself languidly as she spoke. "My
son has been looking for you."
"It has been my loss, Signora Contessa," replied Nobili, bowing.
"Pardon me. I was delayed. With your permission, I will find your
son." He bowed again, then walked on into the dancing-rooms beyond.
Nobili had come late. "Why should he go at all?" he had asked himself,
sighing, as he sat at home, smoking a solitary cigar. "What was the
Orsetti ball, or any other ball, to him, when Enrica was not there?"
Nevertheless, he did dress, and he did go, telling himself, however,
that he was simply fulfilling a social duty by so doing. Now that he
is here, standing in the ballroom, the incense of the flowers in his
nostrils, the music thrilling in his ear--now that flashing eyes,
flushed cheeks, graceful forms palpitating with the fury of the
dance--and hands with clasping fingers, are turned toward him--does he
still feel regretful--sad? Not in the least.
No sooner had he arrived than he found himself the object of a species
of ovation. This put him into the highest possible spirits. It was
most gratifying. He could not possibly do less than return these
salutations with the same warmth with which they were offered.
Not that Count Nobili acknowledged any inferiority to those among whom
he moved as an equal. Count Nobili held that, in New Italy, every
man is a gentleman who is well educated and well mannered. As to the
language the Marchesa Guinigi used about him, he shook with laughter
whenever it was mentioned.
So it fell out that, before he had arrived many minutes, the
remembrance of Enrica died out, and Nobili flung himself into the
spirit of the ball with all the ardor of his nature.
"Why did you come so late, Nobili?" asked Orsetti, turning his head,
and speaking in the pause of a waltz with Luisa Bernardini. "You must
go at once and talk to Trenta about the cotillon."
"Well, Nobili, you gave us a splendid entertainment for the festival,"
said Franchi. "Per Dio! there were no women to trouble us."
"No women!" exclaimed Civilla--"that was the only fault. Divine
woman!--Otherwise it was superb. Who has been ill-treating you,
Franchi, to make you so savage?"
Franchi put up his eye-glass and stared at him.
"When there is good wine, I prefer to drink it without women. They
"Never saw such a reception in Lucca," said Count Malatesta; "never
drank such wine. Go on, caro mio, go on, and prosper. We will all
support you, but we cannot imitate you."
Nobili, passing on quickly, nearly ran over Cavaliere Trenta. He was
in the act of making a profound obeisance, as he handed an ice to one
of his contemporaries.
"Ah, youth! youth!" exclaimed poor Trenta, softly, with difficulty
recovering his equilibrium by the help of his stick.--"Never mind,
Count Nobili, don't apologize; I can bear any thing from a young
man who celebrates the festival of the Holy Countenance with such
magnificence. Per Bacco! you are the best Lucchese in Lucca. I have
seen nothing like it since the duke left. My son, it was worthy of the
palace you inhabit."
Ah! could the marchesa have heard this, she would never have spoken to
"You gratify me exceedingly, cavaliere," replied Nobili, really
pleased at the old man's praise. "I desire, as far as I can, to become
Lucchese at heart. Why should not the festivals of New Italy exceed
those of the old days? At least, I shall do my best that it be so."
"Eh? eh?" replied Trenta, rubbing his nose with a doubtful expression;
"difficult--very difficult. In the old days, my young friend, society
was a system. Each sovereign was the centre of a permanent court
circle. There were many sovereigns and many circles--many purses,
too, to pay the expenses of each circle. Now it is all hap-hazard; no
money, no court, no king."
"No king?" exclaimed Nobili, with surprise.
"I beg pardon, count," answered the urbane Trenta, remembering
Nobili's liberal politics--"I mean no society. Society, as a system,
has ceased to exist in Italy. But we must think of the cotillon. It
is now twelve o'clock. There will be supper. Then we must soon begin.
You, count, are to dance with Nera Boccarini. You came so late we were
obliged to arrange it for you."
Nobili colored crimson.
"Does the lady--does Nera Boccarini know this?" he asked, and as he
asked his color heightened.
"Well, I cannot tell you, but I presume she does. Count Orsetti will
have told her. The cotillon was settled early. You have no objection
to dance with her, I presume?"
"None--none in the world. Why should I?" replied Nobili, hastily (now
the color of his cheeks had grown crimson). "Only--only I might
not have selected her." The cavaliere looked up at him with evident
surprise. "Am I obliged to dance the cotillon at all, cavaliere?"
added Nobili, more and more confused. "Can't I sit out?"
"Oh, impossible--simply impossible!" cried Trenta, authoritatively.
"Every couple is arranged. Not a man could fill your place; the whole
thing would be a failure."
"I am sorry," answered Nobili, in a low voice--"sorry all the same."
"Now go, and find your partner," said Trenta, not heeding this little
speech. "I am about to have the chairs arranged. Go and find your
"Now what could make Nobili object to dance with Nera Boccarini?"
Trenta asked himself, when Nobili was gone, striking his stick loudly
on the floor, as a sign for the music to cease.
There was an instant silence. The gentlemen handed the ladies to a
long gallery, the last of the suite of the rooms on the ground-floor.
Here a buffet was arranged. The musicians also were refreshed with
good wine and liquors, before the arduous labors of the cotillon
commenced. No brilliant cotillon ends before 8 A.M.; then there is
breakfast and driving home by daylight at ten o'clock.
Nobili, his cheeks still tingling, felt that the moment had come
when he must seek his partner. It would be difficult to define the
contending feelings that made him reluctant to do so. Nera Boccarini
had taken no pains to conceal how much she liked him. This was
flattering; perhaps he felt it was too flattering. There was a
determination about Nera, a power of eye and tongue, an exuberance of
sensuous youth, that repelled while it allured him. It was like new
wine, luscious to the taste, but strong and heavy. New wine is very
intoxicating. Nobili loved Enrica. At that moment every woman that
did not in some subtile way remind him of her, was distasteful to him.
Now, it was not possible to find two women more utterly different,
more perfect contrasts, than the dreamy, reserved, tender Enrica--so
seldom seen, so little known--and the joyous, outspoken Nera--to be
met with at every mass, every _fete_, in the shops, on the Corso, on
Now, Nera, who had been dancing much with Prince Ruspoli, had heard
from him that Nobili was selected as her partner in the cotillon.
"Another of your victims," Prince Ruspoli had said, with a kindling
Nera had laughed gayly.
"My victims?" she retorted. "I wish you would tell me who they are."
This question was accompanied by a most inviting glance. Prince
Ruspoli met her glance, but said nothing. (Nera greatly preferred
Nobili, but it is well to have two strings to one's bow, and Ruspoli
was a prince with a princely revenue.)
When Nobili appeared, Prince Ruspoli, who had handed Nera to a seat
near a window, bowed to her and retired.
"To the devil with Nobili!" was Prince Ruspoli's thought, as he
resigned her. "I do like that girl--she is so English!" and Ruspoli
glanced at Poole's dress-clothes, which fitted him so badly, and
remembered with satisfaction certain balls in London, and certain
water-parties at Maidenhead (Ruspoli had been much in England),
where he had committed the most awful solecisms, according to Italian
etiquette, with frank, merry-hearted girls, whose buoyant spirits were
Nobili's eyes fell instinctively to the ground as he approached Nera.
The rosy shadow of the red-silk curtains behind her fell upon her
face, bosom, and arms, with a ruddy glow.
"I am to have the honor of dancing the cotillon with you, I believe?"
he said, still looking down.
"Yes, I believe so," she responded--"at least so I am told; but you
have not asked me yet. Perhaps you would prefer some one else. I
confess _I_ am satisfied."
As she spoke, Nera riveted her full black eyes upon Nobili. If he
only would look up, she would read his thoughts, and tell him her
own thoughts also. But Nobili did not look up; he felt her gaze,
nevertheless; it thrilled him through and through.
At this moment, the melody of a voluptuous waltz, the opening of the
cotillon, burst from the orchestra with an _entrain_ that might have
moved an anchorite. As the sounds struck upon his ear, Nobili grew
dizzy under the magnetism of those unseen eyes. His cheeks flushed
suddenly, and the blood stirred itself tumultuously in his veins.
"Why should I repulse this girl because she loves me?" he asked
This question came to him, wafted, as it were, upon the wings of the
"Count Nobili, you have not answered me," insisted Nera. She had not
moved. "You are very absent this evening. Do you _wish_ to dance with
me? Tell me."
She dwelt upon the words. Her voice was low and very pleading. Nobili
had not yet spoken.
"I ask you again," she said.
This time her voice sounded most enticing. She touched his arm, too,
laying her soft fingers upon it, and gazed up into his face. Still no
"Will you not speak to me, Nobili?" She leaned forward, and grasped
his arm convulsively. "Nobili, tell me, I implore you, what have I
done to offend you?"
Tears gathered in her eyes. Nobili felt her hand tremble.
He looked up; their eyes met. There was a fire in hers that was
contagious. His heart gave a great bound. Pressing within his own the
hand that still rested so lovingly upon his arm, Nobili gave a rapid
glance round. The room was empty; they were standing alone near the
window, concealed by the ample curtains. Now the red shadow fell upon
"This shall be my answer, Nera--siren," whispered Nobili.
As he speaks he clasps her in his arms; a passionate kiss is imprinted
upon her lips.
* * * * *
Hours have passed; one intoxicating waltz-measure has been exchanged
for another, that falls upon the ear as enthralling as the last. Not
an instant had the dances ceased. The Cavaliere Trenta, his round
face beaming with smiles, is seated in an arm-chair at the top of the
largest ballroom. He keeps time with his foot. Now and then he raps
loudly with his stick on the floor and calls out the changes of the
figures. Baldassare and Luisa Bernardini lead with the grace and
precision of practised dancers.
"Brava! brava! a thousand times! Brava!" calls out the cavaliere
from his arm-chair, clapping his hands. "You did that beautifully,
marchesa!"--This was addressed to the swan's-neck, who had circled
round, conducted by her partner, selecting such gentlemen as she
pleased, and grouping them in one spot, in order to form a _bouquet_.
"You couldn't have done it better if you had been taught in
Paris.--Forward! forward!" to a timid couple, to whom the intricacies
of the figure were evidently distracting. "Belle donne! belle donne!
Victory to the brave! Fear nothing.--Orsetti, keep the circle down
there; you are out of your place. You will never form the _bouquet_ if
you don't--Louder! louder!" to the musicians, holding up his stick
at them like a marshal's baton--"loud as they advance--then
piano--diminuendo--pia-nis-si-mo--as they retreat. That sort of
thing gives picturesqueness--light and shade, like a picture. Hi! hi!
Malatesta! The devil! You are spoiling every thing! Didn't I tell you
to present the flowers to your partner? So--so. The flowers--they are
there." Trenta pointed to a table. He struggled to rise to fetch the
bouquets himself. Malatesta was too quick for him, however.
"Now bring up all the ladies and place them in chairs; bow to them,"
Thanks to the energy of the cavaliere, and the agility of
Baldassare--who, it is admitted on all hands, had never distinguished
himself so much as on this occasion--all the difficulties of the new
figures have been triumphantly surmounted. Gentlemen had become spokes
of a gigantic wheel that whirled round a lady seated on a chair in
the centre of the room. They had been named as roots, trees, and even
vegetables; they had answered to such names, seeking corresponding
weeds as their partners. At a clap of the cavaliere's hands they had
dashed off wildly, waltzing. Gentlemen had worn paper nightcaps, put
on masks, and been led about blindfold. They had crept under chairs,
waved flags from tables, thrown up colored balls, and unraveled
puzzles--all to the rhythm of the waltz-measure babbling on like a
summer brooklet under the sun, through emerald meadows.
And now the exciting moment of the ribbons is come--the moment
when the best presents are to be produced--the ribbons--a sheaf of
rainbow-colors, fastened into a strong golden ring, which ring is to
be held by a single lady, each gentleman grasping (as best he can) a
single ribbon. As long as the lady seated on the chair in the centre
pleases, the gentlemen are to gyrate round her. When she drops the
ring holding the sheaf of ribbons, the Cavaliere Trenta is to clap his
hands, and each gentleman is instantly to select that lady who wears
a rosette corresponding in color to his ribbon--the lady in the chair
being claimed by her partner.
Nobili has placed Nera Boccarini on the chair in the centre. (Ever
since the flavor of that fervid kiss has rested on his lips, Nobili
has been lost in a delicious dream. "Why should not he and Nera
dance on--on--on--forever?--Into indefinite space, if possible--only
together?" He asks himself this question vaguely, as she rests within
his arms--as he drinks in the subtile perfume of the red roses bound
in her glossy hair.)
Nera is triumphant. Nobili is her own! As she sits in that chair
when he has placed her, she is positively radiant. Love has given
an unknown tenderness to her eyes, a more delicate brilliancy to her
cheeks, a softness, almost a languor, to her movements. (Look out,
acknowledged _belle_ of Lucca--look out, Teresa Ottolini--here is
a dangerous rival to your supremacy! If Nobili loves Nera as Nera
believes he does--Nera will ripen quickly into yet more transcendent
Now Nobili has left Nera, seated in the chair. He is distributing
the various ribbons among the dancers. As there are over a hundred
couples, and there is some murmuring and struggling to secure certain
ladies, who match certain ribbons, this is difficult, and takes time.
See--it is done; again Nobili retires behind Nera's chair, to wait the
moment when he shall claim her himself.
How the men drag at the ribbons, whirling round and round,
hand-in-hand!--Nera's small hand can scarcely hold them--the men
whirling round every instant faster--tumbling over each other, indeed;
each moment the ribbons are dragged harder. Nera laughs; she sways
from side to side, her arms extended. Faster and more furiously the
men whirl round--like runaway horses now, bearing dead upon the reins.
The strain is too great, Nera lets fall the ring. The cavaliere claps
his hands. Each gentleman rushes toward the lady wearing a rosette
matching his ribbon. Nera rises. Already she is encircled by Nobili's
arm. He draws her to him; she makes one step forward. Nera is a bold,
firm dancer, but, unknown to her, the ribbons in falling have become
entangled about her feet; she, is bound, she cannot stir; she gives
a little scream. Nobili, startled, suddenly loosens his hold upon her
waist. Nera totters, extends her arms, then falls heavily backward,
her head striking on the _parquet_ floor. There is a cry of horror.
Every dancer stops. They gather round her where she lies. Her face is
turned upward, her eyes are set and glassy, her cheeks are ashen.
"Holy Virgin!" cries Nobili, in a voice of anguish, "I have killed
her!" He casts himself on the floor beside her--he raises her in his
strong arms. "Air, air!--give her air, or she will die!" he cries.
Putting every one aside, he carries Nera to the nearest window, he
lays her tenderly on a sofa. It is the very spot where he had kissed
her--under the fiery shadow of the red curtain. Alas! Nobili is
sobered now from the passion of that moment. The glamour has departed
with the light of Nera's eyes. He is ashamed of himself; but there
is a swelling at his heart, nevertheless--an impulse of infinite
compassion toward the girl who lies senseless before him--her beauty,
her undisguised love for him, plead powerfully for her. Does he love
The Countess Boccarini and Nera's sisters are by her side. The poor
mother at first is speechless; she can only chafe her child's cold
hands, and kiss her white lips.
"Nera, Nera," at last she whispers, "Nera, speak to me--speak to
me--one word--only one word!"
But, alas! there is no sign of animation--to all appearance Nera is
dead. Nobili, convinced that he alone is responsible, and too much
agitated to care what he does, kneels beside her, and places his hand
upon her heart.
"She lives! she lives!" he cries--"her heart beats! Thank God, I have
not killed her!"
This leap from death to life is too much for him; he staggers to his
feet, falls into a chair, and sobs aloud. Nera's eyelids tremble; she
opens her eyes, her lips move.
"Nera, my child, my darling, speak to me!" cries Madame Boccarini.
"Tell me that you can hear me."
Nera tries to raise her head, but in vain. It falls back upon the
"Home, mamma--home!" her lips feebly whisper.
At the sound of her voice Nobili starts up; he brushes away the tears
that still roll down his cheeks. Again he lifts Nera tenderly in his
arms. For that night Nera belongs to him; no one else shall touch her.
He bears her down-stairs to a carriage. Then he disappears into the
darkness of the night.
No one will leave the ball until there is some report of Nera's
condition from the doctor who has been summoned. The gay groups sit
around the glittering ballroom, and whisper to each other. The "golden
youth" offer bets as to Nera's recovery; the ladies, who are jealous,
back freely against it. In half an hour, however, Countess Orsetti is
able to announce that "Nera Boccarini is better, and that, beyond the
shock, it is hoped that she is not seriously hurt."
"You see, Malatesta, I was right," drawls out the languid Franchi as
he descends the stairs. "You will believe me another time. You know
I told you and Orsetti that Nera Boccarini and Nobili understood each
other. He's desperately in love with her."
"I don't believe it, all the same," answers Malatesta, shaking his
head. "A man can't half kill a girl and show no compunction--specially
not Nobili--the best-hearted fellow breathing. Nobili is just the man
to feel such an accident as that dreadfully. How splendid Nera looked
to-night! She quite cut out the Ottolini." Malatesta spoke with
enthusiasm; he had a practised eye for woman's fine points. "Here,
Adonis--I beg your pardon--Baldassare, I mean--where are you going?"
"Home," replies the Greek mask.
"Never mind home; we are all obliged to you. You lead the cotillon
Baldassare smiles, and shows two rows of faultless teeth.
"Come and have some supper with us at the Universo. Franchi is coming,
and all our set."
"With the greatest pleasure," replies Baldassare, smiling.
Baldassare was, of course, invited by the cavaliere to join the
proposed expedition to the tombs of the Trenta and to the Guinigi
Tower. Half an hour before the time appointed he appeared at the
Palazzo Trenta. The cavaliere was ready, and they went out into the
"If you have not been asleep since the ball, Baldassare--which is
probable--perhaps you can tell me how Nera Boccarini is this morning?"
"She is quite well, I understand," answered Adonis, with an air of
great mystery, as he smoothed his scented beard. "She is only a little
"By Jove!" exclaimed the cavaliere. "Never was I present at any thing
like that! A love-scene in public! Once, indeed, I remember, on one
occasion, when her highness Paulina threw herself into the arms of his
"Have you heard the news?" asked Baldassare, interrupting him.
He dreaded a long tirade from the old chamberlain on the subject
of his court reminiscences; besides, Baldassare was bursting with a
startling piece of intelligence as yet evidently unknown to Trenta.
"News!--no," answered the cavaliere, contemptuously. "I dare say it is
some lie. You have, I am sorry to say, Baldassare, all the faults of a
person new to society; you believe every thing."
Baldassare eyed the cavaliere defiantly; but he pulled at his curled
mustache in silence.
The cavaliere stopped short, raised his head, and scanned him
"Out with it, my boy, out with it, or it will choke you! I see you are
dying to tell me!"
"Not at all, cavaliere," replied Baldassare, with assumed
indifference; "only I must say that I believe you are the only person
in Lucca who has not heard it."
"Heard what?" demanded Trenta, angrily.
Baldassare knew the cavaliere's weak point; he delighted to tease him.
Trenta considered himself, and was generally considered by others, as
a universal news-monger; it was a habit that had remained to him
from his former life at court. From the time of Polonius downward a
court-chamberlain has always been a news-monger.
"Heard? Why, the news--the great news," Baldassare spoke in the
same jeering tone. He drew himself up, affecting to look over the
cavaliere's head as he bent on his stick before him.
"Go on," retorted the cavaliere, doggedly.
"How strange you have not heard any thing!" Trenta now looked so
enraged, Baldassare thought it was time to leave off bantering him.
"Well, then, cavaliere, since you really appear to be ignorant, I will
tell you. After you left the Orsetti ball, Malatesta asked me and the
other young men of their set to supper at the Universo Hotel."
"Mercy on us!" ejaculated the cavaliere, who was now thoroughly
irritated, "you consider yourself one of _their set_, do you? I
congratulate you, young man. This is news to me."
"Certainly, cavaliere, if you ask me, I do consider myself one of
The cavaliere shrugged his shoulders contemptuously.
"We talked of the accident," continued Baldassare, affecting not to
notice his sneers, "and we talked of Nobili. Many said, as you
do, that Nobili is in love with Nera Boccarini, and that he would
certainly marry her. Malatesta laughed, as is his way, then he swore
a little. Nobili would do no such thing, he declared, he would
answer for it. He had it on the best authority, he said, that of an
eye-witness." (Ah, cruel old Carlotta, you have made good your threat
of vengeance!) "An eye-witness had said that Nobili was in love
with some one else--some one who wrote to him; that they had been
watched--that he met some one secretly, and that by-and-by all the
city would know it, and that there would be a great scandal."
"And who may the lady be?" asked the cavaliere carelessly, raising
his head as he put the question, with a sardonic glance at Baldassare.
"Not that I believe one word Malatesta says. He is a young coxcomb,
and you, Baldassare, are a parrot, and repeat what you hear. Per
Bacco! if there had been any thing serious, I should have known it
long ago. Who is the lady?" Spite of himself, however, his blue eyes
sparkled with curiosity.
"The marchesa's niece, Enrica Guinigi."
"What!" roared out the cavaliere, striking his stick so violently on
the ground that the sound echoed through the solitary street. "Enrica
Guinigi, whom I see every day! What a lie!--what a base lie! How dare
Malatesta--the beast--say so? I will chastise him myself!--with my own
hand, old as I am, I will chastise him! Enrica Guinigi!"
Baldassare shrugged his shoulders and made a grimace. This incensed
the cavaliere more violently.
"Now, listen to me, Baldassare Lena," shouted the cavaliere,
advancing, and putting his fist almost into his face. "Your father is
a chemist; and keeps a shop. He is not a doctor, though you call
him so. If ever you presume again to repeat scandals such as
this--scandals, I say, involving the reputation of noble ladies, my
friends--ladies into whose houses I have introduced you, there shall
be no more question of your being of their '_set_.' I will take care
that you never enter one of their doors again. By the body of my holy
ancestor, San Riccardo, I will disgrace you--publicly disgrace you!"
Trenta's rosy face had grown purple, his lips worked convulsively. He
raised his stick, and flourished it in the air, as if about to make it
descend like a truncheon on Baldassare's shoulders. Adonis drew back a
step or two, following with his eyes the cavaliere's movements. He
was quite unmoved by his threats. Not a day passed that Trenta did not
threaten him with his eternal displeasure. Adonis was used to it, and
bore it patiently. He bore it because he could not help it. Although
by no means overburdened with brains, he was conscious that as yet he
was not sufficiently established in society to stand alone. Still,
he had too high an opinion of his personal beauty, fine clothes, and
general merits, to believe that the ladies of Lucca would permit of
his banishment by any arbitrary decree of the cavaliere.
"You had better find out the truth, cavaliere," he muttered, keeping
well out of the range of Trenta's stick, "before you put yourself in
such a passion."
"Domine Dio! that they should dare to utter such abominations!"
ejaculated the cavaliere. "Why, Enrica lives the life of a nun! I
doubt if she has ever seen Nobili--certainly she has never spoken to
him. Let Malatesta, and the young scoundrels at the club, attack
the married women. They can defend themselves. But, to calumniate an
innocent girl!--it is horrible!--it is unmanly! His highness the Duke
of Lucca would have banished the wretch forthwith. Ah! Italy is going
to the devil!--Now, Baldassare," he continued, turning round and
glaring upon Adonis, who still retreated cautiously before him, "I
have a great mind to send you home. We are about to meet the young
lady herself. You are not worthy to be in her company."
"I only repeated what Malatesta told me," urged Baldassare,
plaintively, looking very blank. "I am not answerable for him. Go and
quarrel with Malatesta, if you like, but leave me alone. You asked me
a question, and I answered you. That is all."
Baldassare had dressed himself with great care; his hair was
exquisitely curled for the occasion. He had nothing to do all day, and
the prospect of returning home was most depressing.
"You are not answerable for being born a fool!" was the rejoinder. "I
grant that. Who told Malatesta?" asked the cavaliere, turning sharply
"He said he had heard it in many quarters. He insisted on having heard
it from one who had seen them together."
(Old Carlotta, sitting in her shop-door at the corner of the street of
San Simone, like an evil spider in its web, could have answered that
The cavaliere was still standing on the same spot, in the centre of
"Baldassare," he said, addressing him more calmly, "this is a wicked
calumny. The marchesa must not hear it. Upon reflection, I shall not
notice it. Malatesta is a chattering fool--an ape! I dare say he was
tipsy when he said it. But, as you value my protection, swear to
me not to repeat one word of all this. If you hear it mentioned,
contradict it--flatly contradict it, on my authority--the authority
of the Marchesa Guinigi's oldest friend. Nobili will marry Nera
Boccarini, and there will be an end of it; and Enrica--yes,
Baldassare," continued the cavaliere, with an air of immense
dignity--"yes, to prove to you how ridiculous this report is, Enrica
is about to marry also. I am at this very time authorized by the
family to arrange an alliance with--"
"I guess!" burst out Baldassare, reddening with delight at being
intrusted with so choice a piece of news--"with Count Marescotti!"
Trenta gave a conscious smile, and nodded. This was done with a
certain reserve, but still graciously. "To be sure; it was easy to see
how much he admired her, but I did not know that the lady--"
"Oh, yes, the lady is all right--she will agree," rejoined Trenta.
"She knows no one else; she will obey her aunt's commands and my
"I am delighted!" cried Baldassare. "Why, there will be a ball at
Palazzo Guinigi--a ball, after all!"
"But the marchesa must never hear this scandal about Nobili," added
Trenta, suddenly relapsing into gravity. "She hates him so much, it
might give her a fit. Have a care, Baldassare--have a care, or you may
yet incur my severest displeasure."
"I am sure I don't want the marchesa or any one else to know it,"
replied Baldassare, greatly reassured as to the manner in which he
would pass his day by the change in Trenta's manner. "I would not
annoy her or injure the signorina for all the world. I am sure you
know that, cavaliere. No word shall pass my lips, I promise you."
"Good! good!" responded Trenta, now quite pacified (it was not in
Trenta's nature to be angry long). Now he moved forward, and as he did
so he took Baldassare's arm, in token of forgiveness. "No names must
be mentioned," he continued, tripping along--"mind, no names; but I
authorize you, on my authority, if you hear this abominable nonsense
repeated--I authorize you to say that you have it from me--that Enrica
Guinigi is to be married, _and not to Nobili_. He! he! That will
surprise them--those chattering young blackguards at the club."
Thus, once more on the most amiable terms, the cavaliere and
Baldassare proceeded leisurely arm-in-arm toward the street of San
CHURCH OF SAN FREDIANO.
Count Marescotti was walking rapidly up and down in the shade before
the Guinigi Palace when the cavaliere and Baldassare appeared. He was
so absorbed in his own thoughts that he did not perceive them.
"I must speak to him as soon as possible about Enrica," was Trenta's
thought on seeing him. "With this report going about, there is not an
hour to lose."
"You have kept your appointment punctually, count," he said, laying
his hand on Marescotti's shoulder.
"Punctual, my dear cavaliere? I never missed an appointment in my life
when made with a lady. I was up long before daylight, looking over
some books I have with me, in order to be able the better to describe
any object of interest to the Signorina Enrica."
"An opportunity for you, my boy," said Trenta, nodding his head
roguishly at Baldassare. "You will have a lesson in Lucchese history.
Of course, you know nothing about it."
"Every man has his forte," observed the count, good-naturedly, seeing
Baldassare's embarrassment at having his ignorance exposed. (The
cavaliere never could leave poor Adonis alone.) "We all know your
forte is the ballroom; there you beat us all."
"Taught by me, taught by me," muttered the cavaliere; "he owes it all
Leaving the count and Baldassare standing together in the street,
the cavaliere knocked at the door of the Guinigi Palace. When it was
opened he entered the gloomy court. Within he found Enrica and Teresa
awaiting his arrival.
At the sight of her whom he so much loved, and of whom he had just
heard what he conceived to be such an atrocious calumny, the cavaliere
was quite overcome. Tears gathered in his eyes; he could hardly reply
to her when she addressed him.
"My Enrica," he said at last, taking her by the hand and imprinting a
kiss upon her forehead, "you are a good child. Heaven bless you, and
keep you always as you are!" A conscious blush overspread Enrica's
"If he knew all, would he say this?" she asked herself; and her pretty
head with the soft curls dropped involuntarily.
Enrica was very simply attired, but the flowing lines of her graceful
figure were not to be disguised by any mere accident of dress. A black
veil, fastened upon her hair like a mantilla (a style much affected
by the Lucca ladies), fell in thick folds upon her shoulders, and
partially shaded her face.
Teresa stood by her young mistress, prepared to follow her. Trenta
perceived this. He did not like Teresa. If she went with them, the
whole conversation might be repeated in Casa Guinigi. This, with
Count Marescotti in the company, would be--to say the least of
"You may retire," he said to Teresa. "I will take charge of the
"But--Signore Cavaliere"--and Teresa, feeling the affront, colored
scarlet--"the marchesa's positive orders were, I was not to leave the
"Never mind," answered the cavaliere, authoritatively, "I will take
that on myself. You can retire."
Teresa, swelling with anger, remained in the court. The cavaliere
offered his arm to Enrica. She turned and addressed a few words to the
exasperated Teresa; then, led by Trenta, she passed into the street.
Upon the threshold, Count Marescotti met them.
"This is indeed an honor," he said, addressing Enrica--his face
beamed, and he bowed to the ground. "I trembled lest the marchesa
should have forbidden your coming."
"So did I," answered Enrica, frankly. "I am so glad. I fear that my
aunt is not altogether pleased; but she has said nothing, and I came."
She spoke with such eagerness, she saw that the count was surprised.
This made her blush. At any other time such an expedition as that they
were about to make would have been delightful to her for its own sake,
Enrica was so shut up within the palace, except on the rare occasions
when she accompanied Teresa to mass, or took a formal drive on the
ramparts at sundown with her aunt. But now she was full of anxiety
about Nobili. They had not met for a week--he had not written to her
even. Should she see him in the street? Should she see him from the
top of the tower? Perhaps he was at home at that very moment watching
her. She gave a furtive glance upward at the stern old palace before
her. The thick walls of sun-dried bricks looked cruel; the massive
Venetian casements mocked her. The outer blinds shut out all hope.
Alas! there was not a chink anywhere. Even the great doors were
"Ah! if Teresa could have warned him that I was coming!"--and she gave
a great sigh. "If he only knew that I was here, standing in the very
street! Oh, for one glimpse of his dear, bright face!"
Again Enrica sighed, and again she gazed up wistfully at the closed
Meanwhile the cavaliere and Baldassare were engaged in a violent
altercation. Baldassare had proposed walking to the church of San
Frediano, which, in consideration of the cavaliere's wishes, they were
to visit first. "No one would think of driving such a short distance,"
he insisted. "The sun was not hot, and the streets were all in shade."
The cavaliere retorted that "it was too hot for any lady to walk,"
swung his stick menacingly in the air, called Baldassare "an
imbecile," and peremptorily ordered him to call a _fiacre_. Baldassare
turned scarlet in the face, and rudely refused to move.
"He was not a servant," he said. "He would do nothing unless treated
like a gentleman."
This was spoken as he hurled what he intended to be a tremendous
glance of indignation at the cavaliere. It produced no effect
whatever. With an exasperating smile, the cavaliere again desired
Baldassare to do as he was bid, or else to go home. The count
interposed, a _fiacre_ was called, in which they all seated
* * * * *
San Frediano, a basilica in the Lombard style, is the most ancient
church in Lucca. The mid-day sun now flashed full upon the front, and
lighted up the wondrous colors of a mosaic on a gold ground, over the
entrance. At one corner of the building a marble campanile, formed by
successive tiers of delicate arcades, springs upward into the azure
sky. Flocks of gray pigeons circled about the upper gallery (where
hang the bells), or rested, cooing softly in the warm air, upon the
sculptured cornice bordering the white arches. It was a quiet scene
of tranquil beauty, significant of repose in life and of peace in
death--the church, with its wide portals, offering an everlasting home
to all who sought shelter within its walls.
The cavaliere was so impatient to do the honors that he actually
jumped unaided from the carriage.
"This, dear Enrica, is my parish church," he said, as he handed her
out, pointing upward to the richly-tinted pile, which the suns of
many centuries had dyed of a golden hue. "I know every stone in the
building. From a child I have played in this piazza, under these
venerable walls. My earliest prayers were said at the altar of the
Sacrament within. Here I confessed my youthful sins. Here I received
my first communion. Here I hope to lay my bones, when it shall please
God to call me."
Trenta spoke with a tranquil smile. It was clear neither life nor
death had any terrors for him. "The very pigeons know me," he added,
placidly. He looked up to the campanile, gave a peculiar whistle, and,
putting his hand into his pocket, threw down some grains of corn
upon the pavement. The pigeons, whirling round in many circles (the
sunlight flashing upon their burnished breasts, and upon the soft gray
and purple feathers of their wings), gradually--in little groups of
twos and threes--flew down, and finally settled themselves in a knot
upon the pavement, to peck up the corn.
"Good, pious old man, how I honor you!" ejaculated Count Marescotti,
fervently, as he watched the timid gray-coated pigeons gathering
round the cavaliere's feet, as he stood apart from the rest, serenely
smiling as he fed them. "May thy placid spirit be unruffled in time
and in eternity!"
The interior of the church, in the Longobardic style, is bare almost
to plainness. On entering, the eye ranges through a long broad nave
with rounded arches, the arches surmounted by narrow windows; these
dividing arches, supported on single columns with monumental capitals,
forming two dark and rather narrow aisles. The high altar is raised on
three broad steps. Here burn a few lights, dimmed into solitary specks
by the brightness of the sun. The walls on either side of the aisles
are broken by various chapels. These lie in deep shadow. The roof,
formed of open rafters, bearing marks of having once been elaborately
gilded, is now but a mass of blackened timbers. The floor is of brick,
save where oft-recurring sepulchral slabs are cut into the surface.
These slabs, of black-and-white marble, or of alabaster stained
and worn from its native whiteness into a dingy brown, are almost
obliterated by the many footsteps which have come and gone upon them
for so many centuries. Not a single name remains to record whom they
commemorate. Dimly seen under a covering of dirt and dust deposited by
the living, lie the records of these unknown dead: here a black lion
rampant on a white shield; there a coat-of-arms on an escutcheon, with
the fragment of a princely coronet; beyond, a life-sized monk, his
shadowy head resting on a cushion--a matron with her robes soberly
gathered about her feet, her hands crossed on her bosom--a bishop,
under a painted canopy, mitre on head and staff in hand--a warrior,
grimly helmeted, carrying his drawn sword in his hand. Who are these?
Whence came they? None can tell.
Beside one of the most worn and defaced of these slabs the cavaliere
"On this stone," he said, his smiling countenance suddenly grown
solemn--"on this very stone, where you see the remains of a
mosaic"--and he pointed to some morsels of color still visible,
crossing himself as he did so--"a notable miracle was performed.
Before I relate it, let us adore the goodness of the Blessed Virgin,
from whom all good gifts come."
Cavaliere Trenta was on his knees before he had done speaking; again
he fervently crossed himself, reciting the "Maria Santissima." Enrica
bowed her head, and timidly knelt beside him; Baldassare bent his
knees, but, remembering that his trousers were new, and that they
might take an adverse crease that could never be ironed out, he did
not allow himself to touch the floor; then, with open eyes and ears,
he rose and stood waiting for the cavaliere to proceed. Baldassare
was uneducated and superstitious. The latter quality recommended him
strongly to Trenta. He was always ready to believe every word the
cavaliere uttered with unquestioning faith. At the mention of a church
legend Count Marescotti turned away with an expression of disgust, and
leaned against a pillar, his eyes fixed on Enrica.
The cavaliere, having risen from his knees, and carefully dusted
himself with a snowy pocket-handkerchief, took Enrica by the hand, and
placed her in such a position that the sunshine, striking through the
windows of the nave, fell full upon the monumental stone before them.
"My Enrica," he said, in a subdued voice, "and you, Baldassare"--he
motioned to him to approach nearer--"you are both young. Listen to me.
Lay to heart what an old man tells you. Such a miracle as I am about
to relate must touch even the count's hard heart."
He glanced round at Marescotti, but it was evident he was chagrined by
what he saw. Marescotti neither heard him, nor even affected to do
so. Trenta's voice in the great church was weak and piping--indistinct
even to those beside him. Finding the count unavailable either
for instruction or reproof, the cavaliere shook his head, and his
countenance fell. Then he turned his mild blue eyes upon Enrica,