The Flower of
Spain by Joseph Hergesheimer
From the window of the drawing-room Lavinia Sanviano could see, on
the left, the Statue of Garibaldi, where the Corso Regina Maria cut
into the Lungarno; on the right, and farther along, the gray-green
foliage of the Cascine. Before her the Arno flowed away, sluggish and
without a wrinkle or reflection on its turbid surface, into Tuscany. It
was past the middle of afternoon, and a steady procession of carriages
and mounted officers in pale blue tunics moved below toward the shade
of the Cascine.
Lavinia could not see this gay progress very well, for the
window—it had only a narrow ledge guarded by an iron grille—was
practically filled by her sister, Gheta, and Anna Mantegazza.
Occasionally she leaned forward, pressed upon Gheta's shoulder, for a
hasty unsatisfactory glimpse.
“You are crushing my sleeves!” Gheta finally and sharply complained.
“Do go somewhere else. Anna and I want to talk without your young ears
eternally about. When do you return to the convent?”
Lavinia drew back. However, she didn't leave. She was accustomed to
her sister's complaining, and—unless the other went to their
father—she ignored her hints. Lavinia's curiosity in worldly scenes
and topics was almost as full as her imagination thereof. She was
sixteen, and would have to endure another year of obscurity before her
marriage could be thought of, or she take any part in the social life
where Gheta moved with such marked success.
But, Lavinia realized with a sigh, she couldn't expect to be pursued
like Gheta, who was very beautiful. Gheta was so exceptional that she
had been introduced to the Florentine polite world without the
customary preliminary of marriage. She could, almost every one agreed,
marry very nearly whomever and whenever she willed. Even now, after the
number of years she had been going about with practically all her
friends wedded, no one seriously criticized the Sanvianos for not
insisting on a match with one of the several eligibles who had
unquestionably presented themselves.
Gheta was slender and round; her complexion had the flawless pallid
bloom of a gardenia; her eyes and hair were dark, and her lips an
enticing scarlet thread. Perhaps her chin was a trifle lacking in
definition, her voice a little devoid of warmth; but those were minor
defects in a person so precisely radiant. Her dress was always
noticeably lovely; at present she wore pink tulle over lustrous gray,
with a high silver girdle, a narrow black velvet band and diamond clasp
about her delicate full throat.
Anna Mantegazza was more elaborately gowned, in white embroidery,
with a little French hat; but Anna Mantegazza was an American with
millions, and elaboration was a commonplace with her. Lavinia wore only
a simple white slip, confined about her flexible waist with a yellow
ribbon; and she was painfully conscious of the contrast she presented
to the two women seated in the front of the window.
The fact was that a whole fifth of the Sanvianos' income was spent
on Gheta's clothes; and this left only the most meager provision for
Lavinia. But this, the latter felt, was just—still in the convent, she
required comparatively little personal adornment; while the other's
beauty demanded a worthy emphasis. Later Lavinia would have tulle and
silver lace. She wished, however, that Gheta would get married; for
Lavinia knew that even if she came home she would be held back until
the older sister was settled. It was her opinion that Gheta was very
silly to show such indifference to Cesare Orsi.... Suddenly she longed
to have men—not fat and good-natured like the Neapolitan banker, but
austere and romantic—in love with her. She clasped her hands to her
fine young breast and a delicate color stained her cheeks. She stood
very straight and her breathing quickened through parted lips.
She was disturbed by the echo of a voice from the cool depths of the
house, and turned at approaching footfalls. The room was so high and
large that its stiff gilt and brocade furnishing appeared
insignificant. Three long windows faced the Lungarno, but two were
screened with green slatted blinds and heavily draped, and the light
within was silvery and illusive. A small man in correct English
clothes, with a pointed bald head and a heavy nose, entered
“It's Bembo,” Lavinia announced flatly.
“Of course it's Bembo,” he echoed vivaciously. “Who's more faithful
to the Casa Sanviano——”
“At tea time,” Lavinia interrupted.
“Lavinia,” her sister said sharply, “don't be impertinent. There are
so many strangers driving,” she continued, to the man; “do stand and
tell us who they are. You know every second person in Europe.”
He pressed eagerly forward, and Anna Mantegazza turned and patted
“I wish you were so attentive to Pier and myself,” she remarked,
both light and serious. “I'd like to buy you—you're indispensable in
“Contessa!” he protested. “Delighted! At once.”
“Bembo,” Gheta demanded, “duty—who's that in the little carriage
with the bells bowed over the horses?”
He leaned out over the grille, his beady alert gaze sweeping the way
“Litolff,” he pronounced without a moment's hesitation—“a Russian
swell. The girl with him is——” He stopped with a side glance at
Lavinia, a slight shrug.
“Positively, Lavinia,” Gheta insisted again, more crossly, “you're a
nuisance! When do you go back to school?”
“In a week,” Lavinia answered serenely.
With Bembo added to the others, she could see almost nothing of the
scene below. Across the river the declining sun cast a rosy light on
the great glossy hedges and clipped foliage of the Boboli Gardens; far
to the left the paved height of the Piazzale Michelangelo rose above
the somber sweep of roofs and bridges; an aged bell rang harshly and
mingled with the inconsequential clatter on the Lungarno. An
overwhelming sense of the mystery of being stabbed, sharp as a knife,
at her heart; a choking longing possessed her to experience all—all
the wonders of life, but principally love.
“Look, Bembo!” Anna Mantegazza suddenly exclaimed. “No; there—
approaching! Who's that singular person in the hired carriage?”
Her interest was so roused that Lavinia, once more forgetful of
Gheta's sleeves, leaned over her sister's shoulder, and immediately
distinguished the object of their curiosity.
An open cab was moving slowly, almost directly under the window,
with a single patron—a slender man, sitting rigidly erect, in a short,
black shell jacket, open upon white linen, a long black tie, and a soft
narrow scarlet sash. He wore a wide-brimmed stiff felt hat slanted over
a thin countenance burned by the sun as dark as green bronze; his face
was as immobile as metal, too; it bore, as if permanently molded, an
expression of excessive contemptuous pride.
Bembo's voice rose in a babble of excited information.
“'Singular?' Why, that's one of the most interesting men alive. It's
Abrego y Mochales, the greatest bullfighter in existence, the Flower of
Spain. I've seen him in the ring and at San Sebastian with the King;
and I can assure you that one was hardly more important than the other.
He's idolized by every one in Spain and South America; women of all
classes fall over each other with declarations and gifts.”
As if he had heard the pronouncement of his name the man in the cab
turned sharply and looked up. Gheta was leaning out, and his gaze
fastened upon her with a sudden and extraordinary intensity. Lavinia
saw that her sister, without dissembling her interest, sat forward,
statuesque and lovely. It seemed to the former that the cab was an
intolerable time passing; she wished to draw Gheta back, to cover her
indiscretion from Anna Mantegazza's prying sight. She sighed with
inexplicable relief when she saw that the man had driven beyond them
and that he did not turn.
A bull-fighter! A blurred picture formed in Lavinia's mind from the
various details she had read and heard of the cruelty of the Spanish
national sport—torn horses, stiff on blood-soaked sand; a frenzied and
savage populace; and charging bulls, drenched with red froth. She
“What a brute!” she spoke aloud unintentionally.
Gheta glanced at her out of a cool superiority, but Anna Mantegazza
“He would be a horrid person!” she affirmed.
“How silly!” Gheta responded. “It's an art, like the opera; he's an
artist in courage. Personally I find it rather fascinating. Most men
are so—so mild.”
Lavinia knew that the other was thinking of Cesare Orsi, and she
agreed with her sister that Orsi was far too mild. Without the Orsi
fortune— he had much more even than Anna Mantegazza—Cesare would
simply get nowhere. The Spaniard—Lavinia could not recall his name,
although it hung elusively among her thoughts—was different; women of
all classes, Bembo had said, pursued him with favors. He could be
cruel, she decided, and shivered a little vicariously. She half heard
Bembo's rapid high-pitched excitement over trifles.
“You are going to the Guarinis' sale to-morrow afternoon? But, of
course, every one is. Well, if I come across Abrego y Mochales before
then, and I'm almost certain to, and he'll come, I'll bring him. He's
as proud as the devil—duchesses, you see—so no airs with him. The
Flower of Spain. A king of sport sits high at the table—” He went on,
apparently interminable; but Lavinia turned away to where tea was being
laid in a far angle.
Others approached over the tiled hall and the Marchese Sanviano
entered with Cesare Orsi. The window was deserted, and the women
trailed gracefully toward the bubbling minor note of the alcohol lamp.
Both Sanviano and Orsi were big men—the former, like Bembo, wore
English clothes; but Orsi's ungainly body had been tightly garbed by a
Southern military tailor, making him—Lavinia thought—appear
absolutely ridiculous. His collar was both too tight and too high,
although perspiration promised relief from the latter.
A general and unremarkable conversation mingled with the faint
rattle of passing cups and low directions to a servant. Lavinia was
seated next to Cesare Orsi, but she was entirely oblivious of his heavy
kindly face and almost anxiously benevolent gaze. He spoke to her, and
because she had comprehended nothing of his speech she smiled at him
with an absent and illuminating charm. He smiled back, happy in her
apparent pleasure; and his good-nature was so insistent that she was
impelled to reward it with a remark.
She thought, she said, that Gheta was particularly lovely this
afternoon. He agreed eagerly; and Lavinia wondered whether she had been
clumsy. She simply couldn't imagine marrying Cesare Orsi, but she knew
that such a match for Gheta was freely discussed, and she hoped that
her sister would not make difficulties. She wouldn't have dresses so
fussy as Gheta's—in figure, anyhow, she was perhaps her sister's
superior—fine materials, simply cut, with a ruffle at the throat and
hem, a satin wrap pointed at the back, with a soft tassel....
Orsi was talking to Gheta, and she was answering him with a brevity
that had cast a shade of annoyance over the Marchese Sanviano's large
features. Lavinia agreed with her father that Gheta was a fool. She
must be thirty, the younger suddenly realized. Bembo was growing
hysterical from the tea and his own shrill anecdotes. He resembled a
grotesque performing bird with a large beak. Lavinia's mind returned to
the silent dark man who had passed in a cab. She wished, now, that she
had been sitting at the front of the window—the object of his
unsparing intense gaze. She realized that he was extremely handsome,
and contrasted his erect slim carriage with Orsi's thick slouched
shoulders. The latter interrupted her look, misinterpreted it, and said
something about candy from Giacosa's.
Lavinia thanked him and rose; the discussion about the tea table
became unbearably stupid, no better than the flat chatter of the nuns
Her room was small and barely furnished, with a thin rug over the
stone floor, and opened upon the court about which the house was built.
The Sanvianos occupied the second floor. Below, the piano nobile
was rented by the proprietor of a great wine industry. It was evident
that he was going out to dinner, for his dark blue brougham was waiting
at the inner entrance. The horse, a fine sleek animal, was stamping
impatiently, with ringing shoes, on the paved court. A flowering
magnolia tree against one corner filled the thickening dusk with a
heavy palpitating sweetness.
Lavinia stayed for a long while at the ledge of her window. Her
hair, which she wore braided in a smooth heavy rope, slid out and hung
free. The brougham left, with a clatter of hoofs and a final clang of
the great iron-bound door on the street; above, white stars grew
visible in a blue dust. She dressed slowly, changing from one plain
gown to another hardly less simple. Before the mirror, in an
unsatisfactory lamplight, she studied her appearance in comparison with
She lacked the latter's lustrous pallor, the petal-like richness of
Gheta's skin. Lavinia's cheeks bore a perceptible flush, which she
detested and tried vainly to mask with powder. Her eyes, a clear bluish
gray, inherited from the Lombard strain in her mother, were not so much
fancied as her sister's brown; but at least they were more uncommon and
contrasted nicely with her straight dark bang. Her shoulders and arms
she surveyed with frank healthy approbation. Now her hair annoyed her,
swinging childishly about her waist, and she secured it in an
instinctively effective coil on the top of her head. She decided to
leave it there for dinner. Her mother was away for the night; and she
knew that Gheta's sarcasm would only stir their father to a teasing
Later, Gheta departed for a ball, together with the Marchese
Sanviano— to be dropped at his club—and Lavinia was left alone. The
scene in the court was repeated, but with less flourish than earlier in
the evening. Gheta would be nominally in the charge of Anna Mantegazza;
but Lavinia knew how laxly the American would hold her responsibility.
She wished, moving disconsolately under high painted ceilings through
the semi- gloom of still formal chambers, that she was a recognized
beauty—free, like Gheta.
The drawing-room, from which they had watched the afternoon
procession, was in complete darkness, save for the luminous rectangle
of the window they had occupied. Its drapery was still disarranged.
Lavinia crossed the room and stood at the grille. The lights strung
along the river, curving away like uniform pale bubbles, cast a thin
illumination over the Lungarno, through which a solitary vehicle moved.
Lavinia idly watched it approach, but her interest increased as it
halted directly opposite where she stood. A man got quickly out—a
lithe figure with a broad-brimmed hat slanted across his eyes. It was,
she realized with an involuntary quickening of her blood, Abrego y
Mochales. A second man followed, tendered him a curiously shaped
object, and stood by the waiting cab while the bull-fighter walked
deliberately forward. He stopped under the window and shifted the thing
in his hands.
A rich chord of strings vibrated through the night, another
followed, and then a brief pattern of sound was woven from the serious
notes of a guitar. Lavinia shrank back within the room—it was,
incredibly, a serenade on the stolid Lungarno. It was for Gheta! The
romance of the south of Spain had come to life under their window. A
voice joined the instrument, melodious and melancholy, singing an air
with little variation, but with an insistent burden of desire. The
voice and the guitar mingled and fluctuated, drifting up from the
pavement exotic and moving. Lavinia could comprehend but little of the
“I followed through the acacias,
But it was only the wind.
.... looked for you beyond the limes——”
The thrill at her heart deepened until tears wet her cheeks. It was
for Gheta, but it overwhelmed Lavinia with a formless and aching
emotion; it was for Gheta, but her response was instant and
uncontrollable. It seemed to Lavinia that the sheer beauty of life,
which had moved her so sharply, had been magnified unbearably; she had
never dreamed of the possibilities of such ecstasy or such delectable
The song ended abruptly, with a sharp jarring note. The man by the
carriage moved deferentially forward and took the guitar. She could see
the minute pulsating sparks of cigarettes; heard a direction to the
driver. Abrego y Mochales and the other got into the cab and it turned
and shambled away. Lavinia Sanviano moved forward mechanically, gazing
after the dark vanishing shape on the road. She was shaken, almost
appalled, by the feeling that stirred her. A momentary terror of living
swept over her; the thrills persisted; her hands were icy cold. She had
been safely a child until now, when she had lost that small security,
She studied herself, clad in her coarse nightgown with narrow lace,
in her inadequate mirror. The color had left her cheeks and her eyes
shone darkly from shadows. “Lavinia Sanviano!” she spoke aloud, with
the extraordinary sensation of addressing, in her reflection, a
stranger. She could never, never wear her hair down again, she thought
with an odd pang.
Gheta invariably took breakfast in her room. It was a larger chamber
by far than Lavinia's, toward the Via Garibaldi. A thick white bearskin
was spread by the canopied bed, an elaborate dressing table stood
between long windows drawn with ruffled pink silk, while the ceiling
bore a scaling ottocento frescoing of garlanded cupids. She was sitting
in bed, the chocolate pot on a painted table at her side, when Lavinia
A maid was putting soft paper in the sleeves of Gheta's ball dress,
and Lavinia, finding an unexpected reluctance to proceed with what she
had come to say, watched the servant's deft care.
“Mochales was here last night,” Lavinia finally remarked abruptly—
“that is he stood on the street and serenaded you.”
Gheta put her cup down with a clatter.
“How charming!” she exclaimed. “And I missed it for an insufferable
affair. He stood under the window—”
“With a guitar,” Lavinia proceeded evenly. “It was very beautiful.”
“Heavens! Bembo's going to fetch him to the Guarinis' sale, and I
forgot and promised Anna Mantegazza to drive out to Arcetri! But Anna
won't miss this. It was really a very pretty compliment.”
She spoke with a trivial satisfaction that jarred painfully on
Lavinia's memory of the past night. Gheta calmly accepted the serenade
as another tribute to her beauty; Lavinia could imagine what Anna
Mantegazza and her sister would say, and they both seemed commonplace—
even a little vulgar—to her acutely sensitive being. She suddenly lost
her desire to resemble Gheta; her sister diminished in her estimation.
The elder, Lavinia realized with an unsparing detachment, was enveloped
in a petty vanity acquired in an atmosphere of continuous flattery; it
had chilled her heart.
The Guarinis, who had been overtaken by misfortune, and whose
household goods were, being disposed of at public sale, occupied a
large gloomy floor on the Via Cavour. The rooms were crowded by their
friends and the merely curious; the carpets were protected by a
temporary covering; and all the furnishings, the chairs and piano,
pictures, glass and bijoux, bore gummed and numbered labels.
The sale was progressing in one of the larger salons, but the crowd
circulated in a slow solid undulation through every room. Gheta and
Anna Mantegazza had sought the familiar comfortable corner of an
entresol, and were seated. Lavinia was standing tensely, with a
laboring breast, when Bembo suddenly appeared with the man whom he had
called the Flower of Spain.
“The Contessa Mantegazza,” Bembo said suavely, “Signorina Sanviano,
this is Abrego y Mochales.”
The bull-fighter bowed with magnificent flexibility. A hot
resentment possessed Lavinia at Bembo's apparent ignoring of her; but
he had not seen her at first and hastened to repair his omission.
Lavinia inclined her head stiffly. An increasing confusion enveloped
her, but she forced herself to gaze directly into Mochales' still black
eyes. His face, she saw, was gaunt, the ridges of his skull apparent
under the bronzed skin. His hair, worn in a queue, was pinned in a flat
disk on his head, and small gold loops had been riveted in his ears;
but these peculiarities of garb were lost in the man's intense
virility, his patent brute force. His fine perfumed linen, the touch of
scarlet at his waist, his extremely high-heeled patent-leather boots
under soft uncreased trousers, served only to emphasize his resolute
metal—they resembled an embroidered and tasseled scabbard that held a
keen, thin and dangerous blade.
Anna Mantegazza extended her hand in the American fashion, and Gheta
smiled from—Lavinia saw—her best facial angle. The Spaniard regarded
Gheta Sanviano so fixedly that after a moment she turned, in a species
of constraint, to Anna. The latter spoke with her customary facility
and the man responded gravely.
They stood a little aside from Lavinia; she only partly heard their
remarks, but she saw that Abrego y Mochales' attention never strayed
from her sister. Vicariously it made her giddy. The man absolutely
summed up all that Lavinia had dreamed of a romantic and masterful
personage. She felt convinced that he had destroyed her life's
happiness—no other man could ever appeal to her now; none other could
satisfy the tumult he had aroused in her. This, she told herself,
desperately miserable, was love.
Gheta spoke of her, for the three turned to regard her. She met
their scrutiny with a doubtful half smile, which vanished as Anna
Mantegazza made a light comment upon her hair being so newly up.
Lavinia detested the latter with a sudden and absurd intensity. She saw
Anna, with a veiled glance at Gheta, make an apology and leave to join
an eddy of familiars that had formed in the human stream sweeping by.
Mochales stood very close to her sister, speaking seriously, while
Gheta nervously fingered the short veil hanging from her gay straw hat.
A familiar kindly voice sounded suddenly in Lavinia's ears, and
Cesare Orsi joined her. He was about to move forward toward Gheta; but,
before he could attract her attention, she disappeared in the crowd
with the Spaniard.
“Who was it?” he inquired. “He resembles a juggler.”
Lavinia elaborately masked her hot resentment at this fresh
stupidity. She must not, she felt, allow Orsi to discover her feeling
for Abrego y Mochales; that was a secret she must keep forever from the
profane world. She would die, perhaps at a terribly advanced age, with
it locked in her heart. But if Gheta married him she would go into a
“A bull-fighter, I believe,” she said carelessly.
“In other words, a brute,” Orsi continued. “Such men are not fit for
the society of—of your sister. One would think his mere presence would
make her ill.... Yet she seemed quite pleased.”
“Strange!” Lavinia spoke with innocent eyes.
It was like turning a knife in her wound to agree apparently with
Cesare Orsi—rather, she wanted to laugh at him coldly and leave him
standing alone; but she must cultivate her defenses. There was, too, a
sort of negative pleasure in misleading the banker, a sort of torment
not unlike that enjoyed by the early martyrs.
Cesare Orsi regarded her with new interest and approbation.
“You're a sensible girl,” he proclaimed; “and extremely pretty in
the bargain.” He added this in an accent of profound surprise, as if
she had suddenly grown presentable under his eyes. “In some ways,” he
went on, gathering conviction, “you are as handsome as Gheta.”
“Thank you, Signor Orsi,” Lavinia responded with every indication of
a modesty, which, in fact, was the indifference of a supreme contempt.
“I have been blind,” he asseverated, vivaciously gesticulating with
his thick hands.
Lavinia studied him with a remote young brutality, from his fluffy
disarranged hair, adhering to his wet brow, to his extravagantly
pointed shoes. The ridiculous coral charm hanging from his heavy watch
chain, a violent green handkerchief, an insufferable cameo pin—all
contributed pleasurably to the lowering of her opinion of him.
“I must find Gheta,” she pronounced, suddenly aware of her isolation
with Cesare Orsi in the crowd, and of curious glances. Orsi immediately
took her arm, but she eluded him. “Go first, please; we can get through
sooner that way.”
They progressed from room to room, thoroughly exploring the dense
throng about the auctioneer, but without finding either Gheta, Anna
Mantegazza or the bull-fighter.
“I can't think how she could have forgotten me!” Lavinia declared
with increasing annoyance. “It's clear that they have all gone.”
“Don't agitate yourself,” Cesare Orsi begged. “Sanviano will be
absolutely contented to have you in my care. I am delighted. You shall
go home directly in my carriage.” He conducted her, with a show of form
that in any one else or at another time she would have enjoyed hugely,
to the street, where he handed her into an immaculately glossy and
corded victoria, drawn by a big stamping bay, and stood with his hat
off until she had rolled away.
It was comfortable in the luxuriously upholstered seat and, in spite
of herself, Lavinia sank back with a contented sigh. There was in its
case a gilt hand mirror, into which she peered, and a ledge that pulled
out, with a crystal box for cigarettes and a spirit lighter. The
Sanvianos had only a landaulet, no longer in its first condition; and
Lavinia wondered why Gheta, who adored ease, had been so long in
securing for herself such comforts as Orsi's victoria.
They swept smoothly on rubber tires into the Lungarno and rapidly
approached her home. The carriage stopped before the familiar white
facade, built of marble in the pseudo-severity of the early nineteenth
century, and the porter swung open the great iron gate to the
courtyard. Lavinia mounted the square white shaft of the stairs to the
Sanvianos' floor with a deepening sense of injury. She would make it
plain to Gheta that she was no longer a child to be casually
A small room, used in connection with the dining room for coffee and
smoking, gave directly on the hall; there she saw her father sitting,
with his hat still on, his face stamped with an almost comical dismay,
and holding an unlighted cigar.
“Gheta left me at the Guarinis',” Lavinia halted impetuously. “If it
hadn't been for Signor Orsi I shouldn't be here yet; I was completely
“Heavens!” her father exclaimed, waving her away. “Another feminine
catastrophe! Go to your sister and mother. My head is in a whirl.”
Her mother, then, had returned. She went forward and was suddenly
startled by hearing Gheta's voice rise in a wail of despairing misery.
She hurried forward to her sister's room. Gheta, fully dressed, was
prostrate, face down, upon her bed, shaken by a strangled sobbing that
at intervals rose to a thin hysterical scream. The Marchesa Sanviano,
still in her traveling suit and close-fitting black hat, sat by her
elder daughter's side, trying vainly to calm the tumult. In the
background the maid, her face streaming with sympathetic tears, was
hovering distractedly with a jar of volatile salts.
“Mamma,” Lavinia demanded, torn by extravagant fears, “what has
The marchesa momentarily turned a concerned countenance.
“Your sister,” she said seriously, “has found some wrinkles on her
Lavinia with difficulty restrained a sharp giggle. Gheta's grief and
their mother's anxiety at first seemed so foolishly disproportionate to
their cause. Then a realization of what such an occurrence meant to
Gheta dawned upon her. To an acknowledged beauty like Gheta Sanviano
the marks of Time were an absolute tragedy; they threatened her on
every plane of her being.
“But when—” Lavinia began.
“They—Anna Mantegazza and she—went to the dressing room at the
Guarinis', where, it seems, Anna discovered them—sympathetically, of
Gheta's sobbing slowly subsided under the marchesa's urgent plea
that unrestrained emotion would only deepen her trouble. She did not
appear at dinner; and afterward the marchese, his wife and Lavinia sat
wrapped in a gloomy silence. The marchesa was still handsome, in spite
of increasing weight. The gray gaze inherited by Lavinia had escaped
the parent; her eyes were soft and dense, like brown velvet. She was a
woman of decision and now she brought her hands smartly together.
“We have waited too long with Gheta; we should not have counted so
confidently on her beauty; time flies so treacherously. She must marry
as soon as possible.”
“Thank God, there's Cesare Orsi!” her husband responded.
Lavinia was gazing inward at the secretly enshrined image of the
Flower of Spain.
Gheta Sanviano often passed a night at the Mantegazzas' villa on the
Height of Castena, a long mile from the city.
Lavinia, too, knew the dwelling well, for Sanviano and Pier
Mantegazza had been intimate from their similar beginnings, and she had
played there as a child. However, she had never been regularly asked
with Gheta; and when that occurred—Gheta indifferently delivered Anna
Mantegazza's message—and her mother acquiesced, Lavinia had a renewed
sense of her growing importance.
She went out early, in the heat of midday, a time that fitted best
with the involved schedule of the Sanvianos' single equipage—Anna
would take her sister directly from a luncheon at the Ginoris'. Lavinia
looked with mingled anticipation and relief at the approaching graceful
facade added scarcely a hundred and fifty years before to the otherwise
somber abode of the Mantegazzas, first established in the twelfth
The villa stood on an eminence, circled by austere pines, and
terraced with innumerable vegetable gardens and frugally planted
olives. The road mounted abruptly, turned under a frowning wall
incongruously topped with delicately painted urns, and doubled across
the massive iron-bound door that closed the arched entrance. Within, an
immensely high timbered hall was pleasantly cool and dark after the
white blaze without. It was bare of furnishing except for a number of
rude oak settles against the naked stone walls. It had been a place of
fear to Lavinia when a child; and even now she left it with a sense of
relief for the modernized interior beyond.
Pier Mantegazza was standing before a high inclined table, which
bore a number of blackened and shapeless medallions. He was a famous
numismatic—a tall stooping man, slightly lame, and enveloped in a
premature gray ill health that resembled clinging cobwebs. He bent and
brushed Lavinia's forehead with his crisp mustache, and then returned
to the delicate manipulation of a magnifying glass and a small blue
bottle of acid. She left him for a deep chair and a surprising French
romance by Remy de Gourmont. At a long philosophical dialogue the book
drooped, and she thought of Anna Mantegazza and her husband.
She wondered whether they were happy. But she decided, measuring
that condition solely by her own requirement, that such a state was
impossible for them. It had certainly been a marriage for money and
position; prior to the ceremony the Casa Mantegazza had been closed for
years, and Pier Mantegazza occupied a small establishment near the
Military Hospital, on the Via San Gallo. Anna Cane had arrived in Rome,
without family or credentials, and unknown to the American Embassy
other than by amazing deposits at the best banks. But she did have, in
addition to this, a pungent charm and undeniable force and good taste.
It was said that the moment she had seen Mantegazza's villa she had
decided to possess it, even at the price of its sere withdrawn holder.
She had gone at once into the best Florentine and Roman society.
That was ten years before, but Lavinia realized that she had never
successfully assimilated the Italian social formula. She mixed the most
diverse elements of their world willfully and found enjoyment in
bringing about amusing situations. She seemed devoid of the foundations
of proper caution; in fact, she mocked at them openly. And if she had
not been a model Catholic, and herself above the slightest moral
question, even Mantegazza could not have carried her among his own
circles. As it was, people flocked to her elaborate parties, torn
between the hope of being amazed and the fear that they should furnish
the hub of the occasion.
Gheta and her hostess arrived later. The former, it appeared to
Lavinia, looked disconcerted; and it was evident that she had been
remonstrating with Anna Mantegazza. The other laughed provokingly.
“Nonsense!” she declared. “It was too good to miss; besides, you're
an old campaigner.”
A stair of flagging, turning sharply round a stone pillar, led
incongruously from the light French furnishings to the chamber where
Lavinia was to sleep. A Renaissance bed, made of thick quilting
directly upon the floor, was covered with gilt ecclesiastical
embroidery; and a movable tub stood in a stone corner. The narrow deep
windows overlooked Florence, a somber expanse of roofing; and, coming
rapidly toward the villa, Lavinia could see a tall dogcart, with a
groom and two passengers. They were men; and, as they drew nearer,
Lavinia—with a sudden pounding of her heart—realized the cause of the
slight friction between the two women. The cart bore Cesare Orsi, and
Mochales the bull-fighter, the Flower of Spain. It was a part of Anna
Mantegazza's humor that the men, so essentially antagonistic, should
arrive together clinging precariously on the high insecure trap.
Tea was served at five on the terrace, and Lavinia dressed with
minute care. Gheta, she knew, had brought a new lavender lawn with
little gold velvet buttons and lace; while she had nothing but the
familiar coarse white mull. But she had fresh ribbons and she gazed
with satisfaction at her firm, faintly rosy countenance. She would have
no wrinkles for years to come. However, she thought, with a return to
her sense of tragic gloom, such considerations were of little moment,
as Abrego y Mochales would scarcely be aware of her existence; he would
never know.... Perhaps, years after—
She purposely delayed her appearance on the terrace until the others
had assembled, and then quietly took possession of a chair. Cesare Orsi
greeted her with effusive warmth, the Spaniard bowed ceremoniously. A
wide prospect of countryside flowed away in innumerable hills and
valleys, clothed in the silvery smoke of olives and in green-black
pines; below, a bank of cherry trees were in bloom. The air was sweet
and still and full of a warm radiance.
Lavinia luxuriated in her unhappiness. Mochales, she decided, must
be the handsomest man in existence. His unchanging gravity fascinated
her —the man's face, his voice, his dignified gestures, were all
steeped in a splendid melancholy.
“I am a peasant,” he said, apparently addressing them all, but with
his eyes upon Gheta, “from Estremadura, in the mountains. The life
there was very hard, and that was fortunate for me; the food was
scarce, and that was good too. If I ate like the grandees a bull would
end me in the hot sun of the first fiesta; I'd double up like a
pancake. I must work all the time—run for miles and play pelota.”
Lavinia was possessed by a new contempt for her kind, which she
centered upon Orsi, clumsy and stupidly smiling. It was clear that he
couldn't run a mile; in fact, he admitted that he detested all
exercise. How absurd he looked in his tight plaited jacket! It appeared
that he was always perspiring; a crime, she felt sure—with entire
disregard of its fatal consequences—that Mochales never committed.
“A friend of ours—it was Bembo—said that he saw you at San
Sebastian with your King,” Anna Mantegazza put in.
“Why not? But Alphonso is a fine boy; he understands the business of
royalty. Every year I dedicate a magnificent bull to the King on his
“Will you dedicate one to me?” Gheta asked carelessly.
“The best in Andalusia,” he responded with fire.
Cesare Orsi made a slight sharp exclamation, and Lavinia's heart
beat painfully. The former turned to her with sudden determination.
“Were you comfortable in my carriage,” he demanded, “and fetched
home at a smart pace?” Lavinia thanked him.
“You are always so quiet,” he complained. “I'm certain there's a
great deal in that wise young head worth hearing.”
“Lavinia is still in the schoolroom,” Gheta explained brutally.
“Yesterday she put up her hair, to-day Anna Mantegazza invites her, and
we have an effect.”
Anna Mantegazza turned to the younger with a new veiled scrutiny.
Her gaze rested for an instant on Orsi and then moved contemplatively
to Gheta and Abrego y Mochales. It was evident that her thoughts were
very busy; a faint sparkle appeared in her eyes, a fresh vivacity
animated her manner. Suddenly she included Lavinia in her remarks; she
put queries to the girl patently intended to draw her out. Gheta grew
uneasy and then cross.
“I'm sick of sitting here,” she declared; “let's walk about. It's
cooler, and Pier Mantegazza's place is always worth investigation.” She
rose and waited for Cesare Orsi, then led the small procession from
under the striped tea kiosk down the terrace. The way grew steep and
she rested a hand on Orsi's arm. Anna, Lavinia and the Flower of Spain
followed together, until the first moved forward to join the leaders.
Lavinia's gaze was obscured by a sort of warm mist; she clasped her
hands to keep them from trembling. In a narrow flagged turn Mochales
brushed her shoulder. He scarcely moved his eyes from Gheta's back.
Once he gazed somberly at the girl beside him and she responded with a
pale questioning smile. “I have had a great misfortune,” he told her.
“Oh, I'm terribly, terribly sorry!”
“I've lost a blessed coin that interceded for me since the first day
I went in the bull ring. I'd give a thousand wax candles for its
return. Now—when I need everything,” he continued as if to himself.
“Your sister is beautiful,” he added abruptly. “Everybody thinks so,”
Lavinia replied in a voice she endeavored to make enthusiastic. “She
has had tens of admirers here and at Rome and Lucca.” There she knew
she should stop; but she continued: “Cesare Orsi is very persistent and
Mochales made a short unintelligible remark in Spanish. He twisted a
cigarette with lightning-like rapidity and only one hand. Together they
looked at Orsi's broad ungainly back, and the bull-fighter's lips
tightened, exposing a glimmer of his immaculate teeth. They passed a
neat whitewashed cottage, where an old couple stood bowing abjectly,
and came on a series of long pale-brown buildings and walls.
“The stables and barn,” Lavinia explained.
Anna Mantegazza turned. “You may see something of interest here,”
she called to Mochales.
A series of steps, made by projecting stones, rose to the top of an
eight-foot wall, up which Anna unexpectedly led the way. The wall was
broad, afforded a comfortable footing, and enclosed a straw-littered
yard. A number of doors led into a barn, and into one some men were
urging refractory cattle. In a corner a small compact bull, with the
rapierlike horns of the mountain breeds, was secured by a nose ring and
a short chain; and to the latter the men turned when the other animals
had been confined. Two threatened the animal with long poles, while a
third unfastened the chain from the wall; and then all endeavored to
drive him within. Abrego y Mochales stood easily above, watching these
Suddenly the bull stopped, plunged his front hoofs into the soft
mold of the stable yard and swept his head from side to side with a
broken hoarse bellow. The men prodded him with urgent cries; but the
bull suddenly whirled, snapping the poles, and there was an immediate
The sight of the retreating forms apparently enraged the animal, for
he charged with astonishing speed and barely missed horning the last
man to fall over the barricade of a half door. Mochales smiled; he
called familiarly to the bull. Then he stooped and vaulted lightly down
into the yard. Lavinia gave a short exclamation; she was cold with
fear. Orsi looked on without any emotion visible on his heavy face.
Anna Mantegazza leaned forward, tense with interest. “Bravo!“
Gheta Sanviano smiled.
The bull did not see Mochales at first, then the man cried
tauntingly. The bull turned and stood with a lowered slowly-moving
head, an uneasy tail. The Spaniard found a small milking stool and,
carrying it to the middle of the yard, sat and comfortably rolled
another cigarette. He was searching for a match when the bull moved
forward a pace; he had found and was striking it when the bull
increased his pace; he was guarding the flame about the cigarette's end
when the animal broke into a charging run.
The Flower of Spain inhaled a deep breath of smoke, which he
expelled in deliberate globes.
“Oh, don't! Oh——” Lavinia exclaimed, an arm before her eyes.
Mochales shifted easily from his seat and apparently in the same
instant the bull crushed the stool to splinters.
“Bravo! Bravo!” Anna Mantegazza called again, and the man
bowed until his extended hat rested on the ground.
He straightened slowly; the bull whirled about and flung himself
forward. Abrego y Mochales now had one of the discarded poles; and,
waiting until the horns had almost encircled him, he vaulted lightly
and beautifully over the running animal's shoulder. He waited again,
avoiding the infuriated charge by a scant step; and, when the bull
stopped he had Mochales' hat placed squarely upon his horns. Lavinia
watched now in fascinated terror; she could not remove her gaze from
the slim figure in the short black jacket and narrow crimson sash. At
the moment when her tension relaxed, Mochales, with a short running
step, vaulted cleanly to the top of the wall. His cigarette was still
burning. She wanted desperately to add her praise to Anna Mantegazza's
enthusiastic plaudits, Gheta's subtle smile; but only the utmost
banalities occurred to her.
They descended the stone steps and slowly mounted toward the house.
Cesare Orsi resolutely dropped back beside Lavinia.
“You are really superb!” he told her in his highly colored
Neapolitan manner. “Most women—Anna Mantegazza for example—are like
children before such a show as that back there. Your sister, too, was
pleased; it appealed to her vanity, as the fellow intended it should.
But you only disliked it.... I could see that in your attitude. It was
the circus—that's all.”
Lavinia gazed at him out of an unfathomable contempt. She thought:
What a fool he is! It wasn't Abrego y Mochales' courage that appealed
to her most, although that had afforded her an exquisite thrill, but
his powerful grace, his absolute physical perfection. Orsi was heated
again and his tie had slipped up over the back of his collar.
She recalled the first talk she had had with him about Mochales and
the manner in which she had masked her true feeling for the latter.
How easy Orsi had been to mislead! Now she was seized by the desire
to show him the actual state of her mind; she wanted, in bitter
sentences, to tell him how infinitely superior the Spaniard was to such
fat easy grubs as himself. She longed to make clear to him exactly what
it was that women admired in men—romance and daring and splendid
strength. It might suit Gheta, who had wrinkles, to encourage such men
as Cesare Orsi; their wealth might appeal to cold and material minds,
but they could never hope to inspire passion; no one would ever cherish
for them a hopeless lifelong love.
“Do you know,” Orsi declared with firm conviction, “you are even
handsomer than your sister!”
“Fool! fool! fool!” But she could not, of course, say a word of what
was in her thoughts. She met his admiring gaze with a blank face,
conscious of how utterly her exterior belied and hid the actual Lavinia
Sanviano. She felt wearily old, sophisticated. In her room, dressing
for the evening, she made up her mind that she must have a black dinner
gown—later she would wear no other shade.
Anna Mantegazza knocked and entered just as Lavinia had finished
with her hair and was slipping into the familiar white dress. There had
been, within the last few hours, a perceptible change in the former's
attitude toward her. Lavinia realized that Anna Mantegazza regarded her
with a new interest, a greater and more personal friendliness.
“My dear Lavinia!” she exclaimed, critically overlooking the other's
preparations. “You look very appealing—like a snowdrop; exactly. I
should say the toilet for Sunday at the convent; but no longer
appropriate outside. Really, I must speak to the marchesa—parents are
so slow to see the differences in their own family. Gheta has been a
“I wonder,” she continued with glowing vivacity, “if you would allow
me—I assure you it would give me the greatest pleasure in the
world.... Your figure is a thousand times better than mine; but, thank
heaven, I'm still slender.... A little evening dress from Vienna! It
should really do you very well. Will you accept it from me? I'd like to
give you something, Lavinia; and it has never been out of its box.”
She turned and was out of the room before Lavinia could reply. There
was no reason why she shouldn't take a present from Anna—Pier
Mantegazza and her father had been lifelong friends, and his wife was
an intimate of the Sanvianos. It would not, probably, be black. It
wasn't. Anna returned, followed by her maid, who bore carefully over
her arm a shimmering mass of glowing pink.
“Now!” Anna Mantegazza cried. “Your hair is very pretty, very
original —but hardly for a dress by Verlat. Sara!”
The maid moved quietly forward and directed an appraising gaze at
Lavinia. She was a flat-hipped Englishwoman, with a cleft chin and
enigmatic greenish eyes. “I see exactly, madame,” she assured Anna; and
with her deft dry hands she took down Lavinia's laboriously arranged
She drew it back from the brow apparently as simply as before,
twisted it into a low knot slightly eccentric in shape, and recut a
bang. Lavinia's eyes seemed bluer, her delicate flush more elusive; the
shape of her face appeared changed, it was more pointed and had a new
“The stockings,” Anna commanded.
Dressed, Lavinia Sanviano stood curiously before the long mirror;
she saw a fresh Lavinia that was yet the old; and she was absorbing her
first great lesson in the magic of clothes. Verlat, a celebrated
dressmaker, was typical of the Viennese spirit—the gown Lavinia wore
resembled, in all its implications, an orchid. There was a whisper here
of satin, a pale note of green, a promise of chiffon. Her crisp round
shoulders were bare; her finely molded arms were clouded, as it were,
with a pink mist; the skirt was full, incredibly airy; yet every
movement was draped by a suave flowing and swaying.
Lavinia recognized that she had been immensely enriched in effect;
it was not a question of mere beauty—beauty here gave way to a more
subtle and potent consideration. It was a potency which she
instinctively shrank from probing. For a moment she experienced,
curiously enough, a gust of passionate resentment, followed by a
quickly passing melancholy, a faint regret.
Anna Mantegazza and the maid radiated with satisfaction at the
result of their efforts. The former murmured a phrase that bore Gheta's
name, but Lavinia caught nothing else. The maid said:
“Without a doubt, madame.”
Lavinia lingered in her room, strangely reluctant to go down and see
her sister. She was embarrassed by her unusual appearance and dreaded
the prominence of the inevitable exclamations. At last she was obliged
to proceed. The rest stood by the entrance of the dining room. Anna
Mantegazza was laughing at a puzzled expression on the good-natured
countenance of Cesare Orsi; Gheta was slowly waving a fan of gilded
feathers; Abrego y Mochales was standing rigid and somberly handsome;
and, as usual, Pier Mantegazza was late.
Gheta Sanviano turned and saw Lavinia approaching, and the elder's
face, always pale, grew suddenly chalky; it was drawn, and the
wrinkles, carefully treated with paste, became visible about her eyes.
Her hands shook a little as she took a step forward.
“What does this mean, Lavinia?” she demanded. “Why did I know
nothing about that dress?”
“I knew nothing myself until a little bit ago,” Lavinia explained
apologetically, filled with a formless pity for Gheta. “Isn't it
pretty? Anna Mantegazza gave it to me.”
She could see, over Gheta's shoulder, Cesare Orsi staring at her in
“Don't you like it, Gheta?” Anna asked.
Gheta Sanviano didn't answer, but closed her eyes for a moment in an
effort to control the anger that shone in them. The silence deepened to
constraint, and then she laughed lightly.
“Quite a woman of fashion!” she observed of Lavinia. “Fancy! It's a
pity that she must go back to the convent so soon.”
Her eyes while she was speaking were directed toward Anna Mantegazza
and the resentment changed to hatred. The other shrugged her shoulders
indifferently and moved toward the dining room, catching Lavinia's arm
in her own.
Mantegazza entered at the soup and was seated on Gheta's right;
Cesare Orsi was on Anna's left; and Lavinia sat between the two men,
with Mochales opposite. Whatever change had taken place in her looks
made absolutely no impression upon the latter; it was clear that he saw
no one besides Gheta Sanviano.
In the candlelight his face more than ever resembled bronze; his
hair was dead-black; above the white linen his head was like a superb
effigy of an earlier and different race from the others. It was almost
savage in its still austerity. Cesare Orsi, too, said little, which was
extraordinary for him. If Lavinia had made small mark on Mochales, at
least she had overpowered the other to a ludicrous degree. It seemed
that he had never before half observed her; he even muttered to himself
and smiled uncertainly when she chanced to gaze at him.
But what the others lacked conversationally Anna Mantegazza more
than supplied; she was at her best, and that was very sparkling,
touched with malice and understanding, and absolute independence. She
insisted on including Lavinia in every issue. At first Lavinia was only
confused by the attention pressed on her; she retreated, growing more
inarticulate at every sally. Then she became easier; spurred partly by
Gheta's direct unpleasantness and partly by the consciousness of her
becoming appearance, she retorted with spirit; engaged Pier Mantegazza
in a duet of verbal confetti. She gazed challengingly at Abrego y
Mochales, but got no other answer than a grave perfunctory inclination.
She thought of an alternative to the black gowns and unrelieved
melancholy—she might become the gayest member of the gay Roman world,
be known throughout Italy for her reckless exploits, her affairs and
Vienna gowns, all the while hiding her passion for the Flower of Spain.
It would be a vain search for forgetfulness, with an early death in an
atmosphere of roses and champagne. Gheta was gazing at her so crossly
that she took a sip of Mantegazza's brandy; it burned her throat
cruelly, but she concealed the choking with a smile of high bravado.
After dinner they progressed to a drawing-room that filled an entire
end of the villa; it lay three steps below the hall, the imposing walls
and floor covered with tapestries and richly dark rugs. Lavinia more
than ever resembled an orchid, here in a gloom of towering trees
curiously suggested by the draperies and space. She went forward with
Anna Mantegazza to an amber blur of lamplight, the others following
Cesare Orsi sat at Lavinia's side, quickly finishing one long black
cigar and lighting another; Pier Mantegazza and Mochales smoked
cigarettes. Anna was smoking, but Gheta had refused. Lavinia's feeling
for her sister had changed from pity to total indifference. The elder
had been an overbearing and thoughtless superior; and now, when Lavinia
felt in some subtle inexplicable manner that Gheta was losing rank, her
store of sympathy was small. Lavinia hoped that she would marry Orsi
immediately and leave the field free for herself. She wondered whether
her father would buy her a dress by Verlat.
“Honestly,” Orsi murmured, “more beautiful than your—”
She stopped him with an impatient gesture, wondering what Mochales
was saying to Gheta. A possibility suddenly filled her with dread—it
was evident that the Spaniard was growing hourly more absorbed in
Gheta, and the latter might——Lavinia could not support the
possibility of Abrego y Mochales married to her sister. But, she
reassured herself, there was little danger of that—Gheta would never
make a sacrifice for emotion; she would be sure of the comfortable
material thing, and now more than ever.
Anna Mantegazza moved to a piano, which, in the obscurity, she began
to play. The notes rose deliberate and melodious. Gheta Sanviano told
“That's Iris. Do you remember, we heard it at the Pergola in the
“Do go over to her,” Lavinia whispered.
He rose heavily and went to Gheta's side, and Lavinia waited
expectantly for Mochales to change too. The Spaniard shifted, but it
was toward the piano, where he stood with the rosy reflection of his
cigarette on a moody countenance. It was Pier Mantegazza who sat beside
her, with a quizzical expression on his long gray visage. He said
something to her in Latin, which she only partly understood, but which
alluded to the changing of water into wine.
“I am a subject of jest,” he continued in Italian, “because I prefer
She smiled with polite vacuity, wondering what he meant.
“You always satisfied me, Lavinia, with your dark smooth plait and
white simplicity; you were cool and refreshing. Now they have made you
only disturbing. I suppose it was inevitable, and with you the change
will be temporary.”
“I'll never let my hair down again,” she retorted. “I've settled
that with Gheta. Mother didn't care, really.”
She was annoyed by the implied criticism, his entire lack of
response to her new being. He had grown blind staring at his stupid old
A step sounded behind her; she turned hopefully, but it was only
“The others have gone outside,” he told her, and she noticed that
the piano had stopped.
Mantegazza rose and bowed in mock serious formality, at which
Lavinia shrugged an impatient shoulder and walked with Orsi across the
room and out upon the terrace.
Florence had sunk into a dark chasm of night, except for the curving
double row of lights that marked the Lungarno and the indifferent
illumination of a few principal squares. The stars seemed big and near
in deep blue space. Orsi was standing very close to her, and she moved
away; but he followed.
“Lavinia,” he muttered, and suddenly his arm was about her waist.
She leaned back, pushing with both hands against his chest; but he
swept her irresistibly up to him and kissed her clumsily. A cold rage
possessed her. She stopped struggling; yet there was no need to
continue—he released her immediately and opened a stammering apology.
“I am a madman,” he admitted abjectly—“a little animal that ought
to be shot. I don't know what came over me; my head was in a carnival.
You must forgive or I shall be a maniac, I——”
She turned and walked swiftly into the house and mounted to her
room. All the pleasure she had had in the evening, the Viennese gown,
evaporated, left her possessed by an utter loathing of self. Now, in
the mirror, she seemed hateful, the clouded chiffon and airy clinging
satin unspeakable. Looking back out of the dim glass was a stranger who
had betrayed and cheapened her. Her pure serenity revolted against the
currents of life sweeping down upon her, threatening to inundate her.
She unhooked the Verlat gown with trembling fingers and—once more
in simple white—dropped into a deep chair, where she cried with short
painful inspirations, her face pressed against her arm. Her emotion
subsided, changed to a formless dread, and again to a black sense of
helplessness. Suddenly she rose and mechanically shook loose her hair—
footsteps were approaching. Her sister entered, pale and vindictive.
“You are to be congratulated,” she proceeded thinly; “you made a
success with everybody—that is, with all but Mochales. It was for him,
wasn't it? You were very clever, but you failed ridiculously.”
Lavinia made no reply.
“I hope Mochales excuses you because of your greenness.”
“Youth isn't any longer your crime,” Lavinia retorted at last.
“That dress—it would suit Anna Mantegazza; but you looked only
“Perhaps you're right, Gheta,” Lavinia said unexpectedly. “I'm going
to bed now, please.”
Her balance, restored by sleep, was once more normal when she
returned to the Lungarno. It was again late afternoon, the daily
procession was returning from the Cascine, and Gheta was at the window,
looking coldly down. The Marchesa Sanviano was knitting at prodigious
speed a shapeless gray garment. They all turned when a servant entered:
Signer Orsi wished to see the marchese.
This unusual formality on the part of Cesare Orsi could have but one
purpose, and Lavinia and their mother gazed significantly at the elder
“The marchese is dressing,” his wife directed.
She drew a long breath of relief and nodded over her needles. Gheta
raised her chin; her lips bore the half-contemptuous expression that
lately had become habitual; her eyes were half closed.
Lavinia sat with her hands loose in her lap. She was wondering
whether or not, should she make a vigorous protest, they would send her
back to the convent. The Verlat gown was carefully hung in her closet.
Last night she had been idiotic.
The Marchese Sanviano appeared hurriedly and alone; his tie was
crooked and his expression very much disturbed. His wife looked up,
“What!” she demanded directly. “Didn't he——”
“Yes,” Sanviano replied, “he did! He wants to marry Lavinia.”
Lavinia half rose, with a horrified protest; Gheta seemed suddenly
turned to stone; the knitting fell unheeded from the marchesa's lap.
Sanviano spread out his hands helplessly.
“Well,” he demanded, “what could I do?... A man with Orsi's
blameless character and the Orsi banks!”
The house to which Cesare Orsi took Lavinia was built over the rim
of a small steep island in the Bay of Naples, opposite Castellamare. It
faced the city, rising in an amphitheater of bright stucco and almond
blossoms, across an expanse of glassy and incredibly blue water. It was
evening, the color of sky and bay was darkening, intensified by a
vaporous rosy column where the ascending smoke of Vesuvius held the
last upflung glow of the vanished sun. Lavinia could see from her
window the pale distant quiver of the electric lights springing up
along the Villa Nazionale.
The dwelling itself drew a long irregular facade of white marble on
its abrupt verdant screen—a series of connected pavilions, galleries,
pergolas, belvedere, flowering walls and airy chambers. There were
tesselated remains from the time of the great pleasure-saturated Roman
emperors, a later distinctly Moorish influence, quattrocento-painted
eaves, an eighteenth-century sodded court, and a smoking room with the
startling colored glass of the nineteenth.
The windows of Lavinia's room had no sashes; they were composed of a
double marble arch, supported in the center by a slender twisted marble
column, with Venetian blinds. She stood in the opening, gazing fixedly
over the water turning into night. She could hear, from the room
beyond, her husband's heavy deliberate footfalls; and the sound filled
her with a formless resentment. She wished to be justifiably annoyed by
them, or him; but there was absolutely no cause. Cesare Orsi's
character and disposition were alike beyond reproach—transparent and
heroically optimistic. Since their marriage she had been insolent, she
had been both captious and continuously indifferent, without unsettling
the determined eager good-nature with which he met her moods.
During the week he went by launch into Naples in the interests of
his banking, and did not return for luncheon; and she had long
uninterrupted hours for the enjoyment of her pleasant domain.
Altogether, his demands upon her were reasonable to the point of self-effacement. He laughed a great deal; this annoyed her youthful gravity
and she remonstrated sharply more than once, but he only leaned back
and laughed harder. Then she would either grow coldly disdainful or
leave the room, followed by the echo of his merriment. There was
something impervious, like armor, in his excellent humor. Apparently
she could not get through it to wound him as she would have liked; and
she secretly wondered.
He was prodigal in his generosity—the stores of the Via Roma were
prepared to empty themselves at her desire. Cesare Orsi's wife was a
figure of importance in Naples. She had been made welcome by the
Neapolitan society—lawn fetes had been given in villas under the
burnished leaves of magnolias on the height of Vomero. The Cavaliere
Nelli, Orsi's cousin and a retired colonel of Bersaglieri, entertained
lavishly at dinner on the terrace of Bertolini's; she went out to old
houses looking through aged and riven pines at the sea.
She would have enjoyed all this hugely if she had not been married
to Orsi; but the continual reiteration of the fact that she was Orsi's
wife filled her with an accumulating resentment. The implication that
she had been exceedingly fortunate became more than she could bear. The
consequence was that, as soon as it could be managed, she ceased going
She was now at the window, immersed in a melancholy sense of total
isolation; the water stirring along the masonry below, a call from a
shadowy fishing boat dropping down the bay, filled her with longing for
the cheerful existence of the Lungarno. She had had a letter from Gheta
that morning, the first from her sister since she had left Florence,
brief but without any actual expression of ill will. After all was
said, she had brought Gheta a great disappointment; if she had been in
the elder's place probably she would have behaved no better.... It
occurred to her to ask Gheta to Naples. At least then she would have
some one with whom to recall the pleasant trifles of past years. She
would have liked to ask Anna Mantegazza, too; but this she knew was
impossible—Gheta had not forgiven Anna for her part on the night that
had resulted in Orsi's proposal for Lavinia.
She wondered, more obscurely, whether Abrego y Mochales was still in
Florence. He loomed at the back of her thoughts, inscrutably dark and
romantic. It piqued her that he had not made the slightest response to
her palpable admiration. But he had been tremendously stirred by Gheta,
who was never touched by such emotions.
A desire to see Mochales grew insidiously out of her speculations; a
desire to talk about him, hear his name. Lavinia deliberately shut her
eyes to the fact that this last became her principal reason for wishing
to see Gheta.
She told Cesare, with a diffidence which she was unable to overcome,
that she had written asking her sister for a visit. Seemingly he didn't
hear her. They were at breakfast, on the wine-red tiling of a pergola
by the water, and he had shaken his fist, with a rueful curse, in the
direction of Naples. Before him lay an open letter with an engraved
“I said,” Lavinia repeated impatiently, “that Gheta will probably be
here the last of the week.”
“The sacred camels!” Orsi exclaimed; then: “Oh, Gheta—good!” But he
fell immediately into an angry reverie. “If I dared—” he muttered.
“What has stirred you up so?”
“It's difficult to explain to any one not born in Naples. Here, you
see, all is not in order, like Florence; we have had a stormy time
between brigands and secret factions and foreign rulers; and certain
societies sprang up, necessary once, but now—when one still exists—a
source of bribery and nuisance. This letter, for example, congratulates
me on the possession of a charming bride; it expresses the devotion of
a hidden organization, but points out that in order to guarantee your
safety in a city where the guards are admittedly insufficient it will
be necessary for me to forward two thousand lire at once.”
“You will, of course, ignore it.”
“I will certainly send the money at once.”
“What a cowardly attitude!” Lavinia declared contemptuously. “You
allow yourself to be blackmailed like a common criminal.”
Orsi laughed, his equilibrium quickly restored.
“I warned you that a stranger could not understand,” he reminded
her. “If the money weren't sent, in ten days or two weeks perhaps,
there would be a little accident on the Chiaja—your carriage would be
run into; you would be upset, confused, angry. There would be profuse
apologies, investigation, perhaps arrests; but nothing would come of
it. If the money was still held back something a little more serious
would occur. Nothing really dangerous, you understand; but finally the
two thousand lire would be gladly paid over and the accidents would
“An outrage!” Lavinia asserted, and Orsi nodded.
“If you had an enemy,” he continued, “you could have her gown ruined
in the foyer of the San Carlos; if it were a man he would be caught at
his club with an uncomfortable ace in his cuff. At least so I'm
assured. I haven't had any reason to look the society up yet.” He
laughed prodigiously. “Even murders are ascribed to it. Careful,
Cesare, or a new valet will cut your throat some fine morning and your
widow walk away with a more graceful man!”
“Your jokes are so stupid.” Lavinia shrugged her shoulders.
He laid the letter on the table's edge and a wandering air bore it
slanting to the floor, but he promptly recovered it.
“That must go in the safe,” he ended; “it is well to have a slight
grasp on those gentlemen.”
He rose; and a few minutes later Lavinia saw his trim brown launch,
with its awning and steersman in gleaming white, rushing through the
bay toward Naples.
The basin from which the launch plied lay inside a seawall inclosing
a small placid rectangle with a walk all about and iron benches. Steps
at the back, guarded by two great Pompeian sandstone urns, and pressed
by a luxuriant growth, led up to the villa. Gheta looked curiously
about as she stepped from the launch and went forward with her
brother-in- law. Lavinia followed, with Gheta's maid and a porter in
Lavinia realized that her sister looked badly; in the unsparing
blaze of midday the wrinkles about her eyes were apparent, and they had
multiplied. Although it was past the first of June, Gheta was wearing a
linen suit of last year; and—as her maid unpacked—Lavinia saw the
familiar pink tulle and the lavender gown with the gold velvet buttons.
“Your dressmaker is very late,” she observed thoughtlessly.
A slow flush spread over the other's countenance; she did not reply
immediately and Lavinia would have given a great deal to unsay her
“It isn't that,” Gheta finally explained; “the family find that I am
too expensive. You see, I haven't justified their hopes and they have
been cutting down.”
Her voice was thin, metallic; her features had sharpened like folded
paper creased between the fingers.
“It's very good form here,” she went on, dancing about her room. It
was hardly more than a marble gallery, the peristyle choked with
flowering bushes, camellias and althea and hibiscus, barely furnished,
and filled with drifting perfumes and the savor of the sea. “What a
shame that these things must be got at a price!”
Lavinia glanced at her sharply; until the present moment that would
have expressed her own attitude, but said by Gheta it seemed a little
crude. It was, anyhow, painfully obvious, and she had no intention of
showing Gheta the true state of her being.
“Isn't that so of everything—worth having?” she asked, adding the
latter purely as a counter.
The elder drew up her fine shoulders.
“That's very courageous of you,” she admitted—“especially since
everybody knew your opinion of Orsi. Heaven knows you made no effort to
disguise your feeling to others.”
Lavinia smiled calmly; Cesare was really very thoughtful, and she
said so. Gheta replied at a sudden tangent:
“Mochales has been a great nuisance.”
Lavinia was gazing through an opening in the leaves at the sparkling
blue plane of the bay. She made no movement, aware of her sister's
unsparing curiosity turned upon her, and only said:
“Spaniards are so tempestuous,” Gheta continued; “he's been
whispering a hundred mad schemes in my ear. He gave up an important
engagement in Madrid rather than leave Florence. I have been almost
stirred by him, he is so slender and handsome.
“Simply every woman—except perhaps me—is in love with him.”
“There's no danger of your loving any one besides yourself.”
“I saw him the day before I left; told him where I was going. Then I
had to beg him not to take the same train. He said he was going to
Naples, anyhow, to sail from there for Spain. He will be at the Grand
Hotel and I gave him permission to see me here once.”
Lavinia revolved slowly.
“Why not? He turned my head round at least twice.” She moved toward
the door. “Ring whenever you like,” she said; “there are servants for
In her room she wondered, with burning cheeks, when Abrego y
Mochales would come. Her sentimental interest in him had waned a trifle
during the past busy weeks; but, in spite of that, he was the great
romantic attachment of her life. If he had returned her love no
whispered scheme would have been too mad. What would he think of her
now? But she knew instinctively that there would be no change in
Mochales' attitude. He was in love with Gheta; blind to the rest of the
She sat lost in a day-dream—how different her life would have been,
married to the bull-fighter! She would have become a part of the fierce
Spanish crowds at the ring, traveled to South America, seen the people
heap roses, jewels, upon her idol....
Cesare Orsi stood in the doorway, smiling with oppressive
“Lavinia,” he told her, “I've done something, and now I'm in the
devil of a doubt.” He advanced, holding a small package, and sat on the
edge of a chair, mopping his brow. “You see,” he began diffidently,
“that is, as you must know, at first—you were at the convent—I
thought something of proposing for your sister. Thank God,” he added
vigorously, “I waited! Well, I didn't; although, to be completely
honest, I knew that it came to be expected. I could see the surprise in
your father's face. It occurred to me afterward that if I had brought
Gheta any embarrassment I'd like to do something in a small way, a sort
of acknowledgment. And to-day I saw this,” he held out the package; “it
was pretty and I bought it for her at once. But now, when the moment
arrives, I hesitate to give it to her. Gheta has grown so—so formal
that I'm afraid of her,” he laughed.
Lavinia unwrapped the paper covering from a green morocco box and,
releasing the catch, saw a shimmering string of delicately pink pearls.
“Cesare!” she exclaimed. “How gorgeous!” She lifted the necklace,
letting it slide cool and fine through her fingers. “It's too good of
you. This has cost hundreds and hundreds. I'll keep it myself.”
He laughed, shaking all over; then fell serious.
“Everything I have—all, all—is yours,” he assured her. Lavinia
turned away with an uncomfortable feeling of falseness. “What do you
predict— will Gheta take it, understand, or will she play the frozen
“If I know Gheta, she'll take it,” Lavinia promptly replied.
Orsi presented Gheta Sanviano with the necklace at dinner. She took
it slowly from its box and glanced at the diamond clasp.
“Thank you, Cesare, immensely! What a shame that pink pearls so
closely resemble coral! No one gives you credit for them.”
A feeling of shame for her sister's ungraciousness possessed Lavinia
and mounted to angry resentment. She had no particular desire to
champion Cesare, but the simplicity and kindness of his thought
demanded more than a superficial admission. At the same time she had no
intention of permitting Gheta any display of superiority here.
“You need only say they were from Cesare,” she observed coldly;
“with him, it is always pearls.”
Such a tide of pleasure swept over her husband's countenance that
Lavinia bit her lip in annoyance. She had intended only to rebuke Gheta
and had not calculated the effect of her speech upon Cesare. She was
scrupulously careful not to mislead the latter with regard to her
feeling for him. She went to a rather needless extreme to demonstrate
that she conducted herself from a sense of duty and propriety alone.
Her married life, she assured herself, already resembled the
Mantegazzas', whose indifferent courtesy she had marked and wondered
at. Perhaps in time, like them, she would grow accustomed to it; but
now it took all her determination to maintain the smallest daily
amenities. It was not that her actual condition was unbearable, but
only that it was so tragically removed from what she had imagined; she
had dreamed of romance, it had been embodied for her eager gaze—and
she had married Cesare Orsi!
Gheta returned the necklace to its box and the dinner progressed in
silence. The coffee was on when the elder sister said:
“I had a card from the Grand Hotel a while ago; Abrego y Mochales is
“And there,” Orsi put in promptly, “I hope he'll stay, or sail for
Spain. I don't want the clown about here.”
“But you will regret that,” she addressed Lavinia; “you always found
him so fascinating.”
Lavinia's husband cleared his throat sharply; he was clearly
“What foolishness!” he cried. “From the first, Lavinia has been
scarcely conscious of his existence.”
Lavinia avoided her sister's mocking gaze, disturbed and angry.
“Certainly Signore Mochales must be asked here,” she declared.
“I suppose it can't be avoided,” Orsi muttered.
It was arranged that the Spaniard should dine with them on the
following evening and Lavinia spent the intervening time in exploring
her emotions. She recognized now that Gheta hated both Cesare and
herself, and that she would miss no opportunity to force an awkward or
even dangerously unpleasant situation upon them. Gheta had sharpened in
being as well as in countenance to such a degree that Lavinia lost what
natural affection for her sister she had retained.
This, in a way, allied her with Cesare. She was now able at least to
survey him in a detached manner, with an impersonal comprehension of
his good qualities and aesthetic shortcomings; and in pointing out to
Gheta the lavish beauty of her—Lavinia's—surroundings, she engendered
in herself a slight proprietary pride. She met Abrego y Mochales at the
basin with a direct bright smile, standing firmly upon her wall.
Against the blue water shadowed by the promise of dusk he was a
somber and splendid figure. Her heart undeniably beat faster and she
was vexed when he turned immediately to Gheta. His greeting was
intensely serious, his gaze so hungry that Lavinia looked away. It was
vulgar, she told herself. Cesare met them above and greeted Mochales
with a superficial heartiness. It was difficult for Cesare Orsi to
conceal his opinions and feelings. The other man's gravity was superb.
At dinner conversation languished. Gheta, in a very low dress, had a
bright red scarf about her shoulders, and was painted. This was so
unusual that it had almost the effect of a disguise; her eyes were
staring and brilliant, her fingers constantly fidgeting and creasing
her napkin. Afterward she walked with Mochales to the corner of the
belvedere, where they had all been sitting, and from there drifted the
low continuous murmur of her voice, briefly punctuated by a deep
masculine note of interrogation. Below, the water was invisible in the
wrap of night. Naples shone like a pale gold net drawn about the sweep
of its hills. A glow like a thumb print hung over Vesuvius; the hidden
column of smoke smudged the stars.
Lavinia grew restless and descended to her room, where she procured
a fan. Returning, she was partly startled by a pale still figure in the
gloom of a passage. She saw that it was Gheta, and spoke; but the other
moved away without reply and quickly vanished. Above, Lavinia halted at
the strange spectacle—clearly drawn against the luminous depths of
space—of Mochales and her husband rigidly facing each other.
“I must admit,” Orsi said in an exasperated voice, “that I don't
Lavinia saw that he was holding something in a half-extended hand.
Moving closer, she identified the object as the necklace he had given
“What is it that you don't understand, Cesare?” she asked.
“Some infernal joke or foolishness!”
“It is no joke, signore,” Mochales responded; “and it is better,—
perhaps, for your wife to leave us.”
Orsi turned to Lavinia.
“He gives me back this necklace of Gheta's,” he explained; “he says
that he has every right. It appears that Gheta is going to marry him,
and he already objects to presents from her brother-in-law.”
“But what stuff!” Lavinia pronounced.
A swift surprise overtook her at Cesare's announcement—Gheta and
Mochales to marry! She was certain that the arrangement had not existed
that morning. A fleet inchoate sorrow numbed her heart and fled.
“Orsi has been only truthful enough to suit his own purpose,”
Mochales stated, “Signora, please——” He indicated the descent from
She moved closer to him, smiling appealingly.
“What is it all about?” she queried.
“Forgive me; it is impossible to answer.”
“Cesare?” She addressed her husband.
“Why, this—this donkey hints that there was something improper in
my present. It seems that I have been annoying Gheta by my attentions,
flattering her with pearls.”
“Did Gheta tell you that?” Lavinia demanded. A growing resentment
took possession of her. “Because if she did, she lied!”
“Ah!” Mochales whispered sharply.
“They're both mad,” Orsi told her, “and should be dipped in the
Never had Abrego y Mochales appeared handsomer; never more like fine
bronze. That latter fact struck her forcibly. His face was no more
mutable than a mask of metal. Its stark rigidity sent a cold tremor to
“And,” she went on impetuously, “since Gheta said that, I'll tell
you really about this necklace: Cesare gave it to her because he was
sorry for her; because he thought that perhaps he had misled her. He
spoke of it to me first.”
“No, signora,” the Spaniard responded deliberately; “it is not your
sister who lies.”
Cesare Orsi exclaimed angrily. He took a hasty step; but Lavinia,
quicker, moved between the two men.
“This is impossible,” she declared, “and must stop immediately! It
There was now a metallic ring in Mochales' voice that disturbed her
even more than his words. The bull-fighter, completely immobile, seemed
a little inhuman; he was without a visible stir of emotion, but Orsi
looked more puzzled and angry every moment.
“This,” he ejaculated, “in my own house—infamous!”
“Signor Mochales,” Lavinia reiterated, “what I have told you is
“Your sister, signora, has said something different.... She did not
want to tell me, but I persisted—I saw that something was wrong—and
forced it from her.”
“Enough!” Orsi commanded. “One can see plainly that you have been
duped; some things may be overlooked.... You have talked enough.”
Mochales moved easily forward.
“You pudding!” he said in a low even voice. “Do you talk to
me—Abrego y Mochales?”
A dark tide of passion, visible even in the night, flooded Orsi's
“Leave!” he insisted, “Or I'll have you flung into the bay.”
A deep silence followed, in which Lavinia could hear the stir of the
water against the walls below. A sharp fear entered her heart, a new
dread of the Spaniard. He was completely outside the circle of impulses
which she understood and to which she reacted. He was not a part of her
world; he coldly menaced the foundations of all right and security. Her
worship of romance died miserably. In a way, she thought, she was
responsible for the present horrible situation; it was the result of
the feeling she had had for Mochales. Lavinia was certain that if Gheta
had not known of it the Spaniard would have been quickly dropped by the
elder. She was suddenly conscious of the perfume he always bore; that,
curiously, lent him a strange additional oppression.
“Mochales,” he said in a species of strained wonderment, “threatened
... thrown into the bay! Mochales—the Flower of Spain! And by a
helpless mound of fat, a tub of entrails——”
“Cesare!” Lavinia cried in an energy of desperation. “Come! Don't
listen to him.”
Orsi released her grasp.
“I believe you are at the Grand Hotel?” he addressed the other man.
“Until I hear from you.”
All the heat had apparently evaporated from their words; they spoke
with a perfunctory politeness. Cesare Orsi said:
“I will order the launch.”
In a few minutes the palpitations of the steam died in the direction
Lavinia followed her husband to their rooms, where he sat smoking
one of his long black cigars. He was pale; his brow was wet and his
collar wilted. She stood beside him and he patted her arm.
“Everything is in order,” he assured her.
A species of blundering tenderness for him possessed her; an
unexpected throb of her being startled and robbed her of words. He
mistook her continued silence.
“All I have is yours,” he explained; “it is your right. I can see
now that—that my money was all I had to offer you. The only thing of
value I possess. I should have realized that a girl, charming like
yourself, couldn't care for a mound of fat.” Her tenderness rose till
it choked in her throat, blurred what she had to say.
“Cesare,” she told him, “Gheta was right; at one time I was in love
with Mochales.” He turned with a startled exclamation; but she silenced
him. “He was, it seemed, all that a girl might admire—dark and
mysterious and handsome. He was romantic. I demanded nothing else then;
now something has happened that I don't altogether understand, but it
has changed everything for me. Cesare, your money never made any
difference in my feeling for you—it didn't before and it doesn't to-night—” She hesitated and blushed painfully, awkwardly.
The cigar fell from his hand and he rose, eagerly facing her.
“Lavinia,” he asked, “is it possible—do you mean that you care the
least about me?”
“It must be that, Cesare, because I am so terribly afraid.”
Later he admitted ruefully:
“But no man should resemble, as I do, a great oyster. I shall pay
very dearly for my laziness.”
“You are not going to fight Mochales!” she protested. “It would be
“Insanity,” he agreed promptly. “Yet I can't permit myself to be the
target for vile tongues.”
Lavinia abruptly left him and hurried to her sister's room. The door
was locked; she knocked, but got no response.
“Gheta,” she called, low and urgently, “open at once! Your plans
have gone dreadfully wrong. Gheta!” she said more sharply into the
answering silence. “Cesare has had a terrific argument with Mochales,
and worse may follow. Open!” There was still no answer, and suddenly
she beat upon the door with her fists. “Liar!” she cried thinly through
the wood. “Liar! You bitter old stick! I'll make you eat that necklace,
pearl for pearl, sorrow for sorrow!”
A feeling of impotence overwhelmed her at the implacable stillness
that succeeded her hysterical outburst. She stood with a pounding
heart, and clasped straining fingers.
Abrego y Mochales could kill Cesare without the slightest shadow of
a question. There was, she recognized, something essentially feminine
in the saturnine bullfighter; his pride had been severely assaulted;
and therefore he would be—in his own, less subtle manner—as dangerous
as Gheta. Cesare's self-esteem, too, had been wounded in its most
vulnerable place—he had been insulted before her. But, even if the
latter refused to proceed, Mochales, she knew, would force an acute
conclusion. There was nothing to be got from her sister and she slowly
returned to her chamber, from which she could hear Orsi's heavy
She mechanically removed the square emerald that hung from a
platinum thread about her neck, took off her rings, and proceeded to
the small iron safe where valuables were kept. As she swung open the
door a sheet of paper slipped forward from an upper compartment. It
bore a printed address ... in the Strada San Lucia. She saw that it was
the blackmailing letter Cesare had received from the Neapolitan secret
society, demanding two thousand lire. She recalled what he had said at
the time—if she had an enemy her gown could be spoiled in the foyer of
the opera; a man ruined at his club.... Even murders were ascribed to
She held the letter, gazing fixedly at the address, mentally
repeating again and again the significance of its contents. She thought
of showing it to Cesare, suggesting——But she realized that, bound by
a conventional honor, he would absolutely refuse to listen to her.
Almost subconsciously she folded the sheet and hid it in her dress.
Kneeling before the safe she procured a long red envelope. It contained
the sum of money her father had given her at the wedding. It was her
dot—a comparatively small amount, he had said at the time with an
apologetic smile; but it was absolutely, unquestionably her own. This,
when she locked the safe, remained outside.
When she had hidden the letter and envelope in her dressing table
Cesare stood in the doorway. He was still pale, but composed, and held
himself with simple dignity.
“Some men,” he said, “are not so happy, even for an hour.”
A sudden passionate necessity to save him swept over her.
In the morning Orsi remained at the villa, but he sent the launch in
early with an urgent summons for the Cavaliere Nelli. Later, when he
asked for Lavinia, he was told that she had gone to Naples; and when
the boat returned, Nelli—a military figure, with hair and mustache
like yellowish white silk—assisted her to the wall. She was closely
veiled against the sparkling flood of light and bay, and hurried
directly to her room.
There she knelt on a praying chair before a small alcoved altar with
tall wax tapers, and remained a long while. She was disturbed by a
sudden ringing report below; it was Cesare practising with a dueling
pistol. Lavinia remembered, from laughing comments in Florence, that
her husband was an atrocious shot. The sound was repeated at irregular
intervals through an unbearably long morning.
Gheta, she learned, had refused the morning chocolate and, with her
maid, had collected and packed all her effects. Lavinia had no desire
to see her. The situation now was past Gheta's mending.
After luncheon Lavinia remained in her room, Nelli departed for
Naples and Cesare joined her. It was evident that he was greatly
disturbed; but he spoke to her evenly. He was possessed by an impotent
rage at his unwieldy body and clumsy hand. This alternated with an
evident wonderment at the position in which he found himself and a
great tenderness for Lavinia.
At dusk they were in Lavinia's room waiting for a message from
Naples. Lavinia was leaning across the marble ledge of her window,
gazing over the dim blue sweep of water to the distant flowering
lights. She heard sudden footsteps and, half turning, saw her husband
tearing open an envelope.
“Lavinia!” he cried. “There has been an accident in the elevator of
the Grand Hotel, and Mochales—is dead!” She hung upon the ledge now
for support. “The attendant, a new man, started the car too soon and
caught Mochales——” She sank down upon her knees in an attitude of
prayer, and Cesare Orsi stood reverently bowed.
“The will of God!” he muttered.
A long slow shiver passed over Lavinia, and he bent and lifted her
in his arms.