Caesar or Nothing
Part 2 out of 7
"Very good," murmured Caesar. "This youngster is like me: an advocate of
It began to rain again; Caesar decided to turn back. He took the same
route and entered a cafe on the Corso for lunch. The afternoon turned
out magnificent and Caesar went wandering about at random.
At twilight he returned to his inn, changed, and went to the salon.
Laura was conversing with a young abbe. "The Abbe Preciozi.... My
The Abbe Preciozi was one of the household of Cardinal Fort, who had
sent him to the hotel to act as cicerone to his nephew.
"Uncle has sent the abbe so that he can show you Rome." "Oh, many
thanks!" answered Caesar. "I will make use of his knowledge; but I
don't want him to neglect his occupations or to put himself out on my
account." "No, no. I am at your disposition," replied the abbe, "His
Eminence has given me orders to wait on you, and it will not put me out
in the least."
"You will have dinner with us, Preciozi?" said Laura.
"Oh, Marchesa! Thank you so much!"
And the abbe bowed ceremoniously.
The three dined together, and afterwards went to the salon to chat.
One of the San Martino young ladies played the viola and the other the
piano, and people urged them to exhibit their skill.
The talkative Neapolitan turned over the pieces of music in the
music-stand, and after discussing with the two _contessinas_, he placed
on the rack the "Intermezzo" from _Cavalleria Rusticana_.
The two sisters played, and the listeners made great eulogies about
Laura presented Caesar and the Abbe Preciozi to the Countess Brenda and
to a lady who had just arrived from Malta.
"Did you know Rome before?" the Countess asked Caesar in French.
"And how does it strike you?"
"My opinion is of no value," said Caesar. "I am not an artist. Imagine;
my specialty is financial questions. Up to the present what has given me
the greatest shock is to find that Rome has walls."
"You didn't know it?" asked Laura.
"Dear child, I find that you are very ignorant."
"What do you wish?" replied Caesar in Spanish. "I am inclined to be
ignorant of everything I don't get anything out of."
Caesar spoke jokingly of a square like a hole in the ground, out of
which rises a white column similar to the one in Paris in the Place
"What does he mean? Trajan's column?" asked Preciozi. "It must be," said
Laura. "I have a brother who's a barbarian. Weren't you in the Forum,
"Which is the Forum? An open space where there are a lot of stones?"
"I passed by there; there were a good many tourists, crowds of young
ladies peering intently into corners and a gentleman with a bag over his
shoulder who was pointing out some columns with an umbrella. Afterwards
I saw a ticket-window. 'That doubtless means that one pays to get in,' I
said, and as the ground was covered with mud and I didn't care to wet my
feet, I asked a young rascal who was selling post-cards what that place
was. I didn't quite understand his explanation, which I am sure was very
amusing. He confused Emperors with the Madonna and the saints. I gave
the lad a lira and had some trouble in escaping from there, because he
followed me around everywhere calling me Excellency."
"I think Don Caesar is making fun of us," said Preciozi.
"But really, how did Rome strike you, on the whole?" asked the abbe.
"Well, I find it like a mixture of a monumental great city and a
"That is possible," responded the abbe. "Undoubtedly the provincial city
is more of a city than the big modern capitals, where there is nothing
to see but fine hotels on one hand and horrible hovels on the other. If
you came from America, like me, you would see how agreeable you would
find the impression of a city that one gets here. To forget all the
geometry, the streets laid out with a compass, the right angles...."
The abbe seemed to have an interest in gaining Caesar's friendship.
Caesar said to him that, if he wished, they could go to his room to chat
and smoke. The abbe accepted with gusto, and Caesar, being a suspicious
person, wondered if the Cardinal might have sent the abbe to find out
what sort of man he was. Then he considered that his ideas must be of no
importance whatsoever to his uncle; but on the chance, he set himself
to throwing the abbe off the scent, talking volubly and emitting
contradictory opinions about everything.
After chattering a long while and devoting himself to free paradox,
Caesar thought that for the first session he had not done altogether
badly. Preciozi took leave, promising to come back the next day.
"If he reports our conversation to my uncle, the man won't know what to
think of me," reflected Caesar, on going to bed. "It would not be too
much to expect, if His Eminence became interested and sent to fetch me.
But I don't believe he will; my uncle cannot be intelligent enough to
have the curiosity to know a man like me."
THE LITTLE INTERESTS OF THE PEOPLE IN A ROMAN HOTEL
During some days the main interest of the people in the hotel was the
growing intimacy established between the Marchesa Sciacca, who was the
lady from Malta, and the Neapolitan with the Pulcinella air, Signor
The Maltese must have been haughty and exclusive, to judge from the
queenly air she assumed. Only with the handsome Neapolitan did she
In the dining-room the Maltese sat with her two children, a boy and a
girl, at the other end from where Caesar and Laura were accustomed
to sit. At her side, at a table close by, chattered and jested the
The Marquis of Sciacca was ill with diabetes; he had come to Rome
to take a treatment, and during these days he did not come to the
The Marchesa was one of those mixed types, unharmonious, common among
mongrel races. Her black hair shone like jet, her lips looked like an
Egyptian's, and her eyes of a very light blue showed off in a curious
way in her bronzed face. She powdered her face, she painted her lips,
she shaded her eyes with kohl. Her appearance was that of a proud,
She ate with much nicety, opening her mouth so little that she could put
no more than the tip of her spoon between her lips; with her children
she talked English and Italian in equal perfection, and when she heard
young Carminatti's facetious remarks she laughed with marked impudence.
Signer Carminatti was tall, with a black moustache, a hooked nose,
well-formed languid eyes, lively and somewhat clownish gestures; he was
at the same time sad and merry, melancholy and smiling, he changed his
expression every moment. He was in the habit of appearing in the salon
in a dinner-jacket, with a large flower in his button-hole and two or
three fat diamonds on his chest. He would come along dragging his feet,
would bow, make a joke, stand mournful; and this fluency of expression,
and these gesticulations, gave him a manner halfway between woman and
When he grew petulant, especially, he seemed like a woman. "Macche!"
he would say continually, with an acrid voice and the disgusted air of
an hysterical dame.
In spite of his frequent petulant fits, he was the person most esteemed
by the ladies of the hotel, both young and married.
"He is the darling of the ladies," the Countess Brenda said of him,
Laura had not the least use for him.
"I know that type by heart," she asserted with disdain.
During lunch and dinner Signor Carminatti did not leave off talking for
a moment with the Maltese. The Marchesa Sciacca's children often wanted
to tell their mother something; but she hushed them so as to be able to
hear the bright sayings of the handsome Neapolitan.
The San Martino young ladies and the Countess Brenda's daughter kept
trying to find a way to steal Carminatti for their group; but he always
went back to the Maltese, doubtless because her conversation was more
diverting and spicy.
_THE CONTESSINA BRENDA_
The Countess Brenda's daughter, Beatrice Brenda, in spite of her pea-hen
air, was always endeavouring to stir up the Neapolitan and to start a
conversation with him; but Carminatti in his light-hearted way would
reply with a jest or a fatuous remark and betake himself again to the
Marchesa Sciacca, who would make her disturbing children hush because
they often prevented her from catching what the Neapolitan was saying.
She was not to be despised, not by a long shot, was Signorina Bice, not
in any respect; besides being very rich, she was a beautiful girl and
promised to be more beautiful; she had the type of Titian's women, an
opaline white skin, as though made of mother-of-pearl, plump milky arms,
and dark eyes. The one thing lacking in her was expression.
She used frequently to go about in the company of an aristocratic
old maid, very ugly, with red hair and a face like a horse, but very
distinguished, who ate at the next table to Laura and Caesar.
One day Carminatti brought another Neapolitan home to dinner with him,
a fat grotesque person, whom he instigated to emit a series of
improprieties about women and matrimony. Hearing the scandalous sallies
of the rustic, the ladies said, with an amiable smile:
"He is a _benedetto_."
The Contessina Brenda, fascinated by the Neapolitan, went to the
Marchesa Sciacca's table. As she passed, Carminatti arose with his
napkin in one hand, and gesticulating with the other, said:
"Contessina. Allow me to present to you Signor Cappagutti, a merchant
Signor Cappagutti remained leaning back tranquilly in his chair, and the
Contessina burst out laughing and began to move her arms as if somebody
had put a horse-fly on her skirt. Then she raised her hand to her face,
to hide her laughter, and suddenly sat down.
As it rained a great deal the majority of the guests preferred not to go
out. In the evenings they had dances. Caesar did not appear at the first
one; but his sister told him he ought to go. Caesar was at the second
dance, so as not to seem too much of an ogre. As he had no intention of
dancing, he installed himself in a comer; and while the dance went on he
kept talking with the Countesses Brenda and San Martino.
Various young men had arrived in the room. They exhibited that Southern
vivacity which is a trifle tiresome to the onlooker, and they all
listened to themselves while they spoke. The Neapolitan and two or three
of his friends were introduced to Caesar; but they showed him a certain
rather ostentatious and impertinent coolness.
Signor Carminatti exchanged a few words with the Countess Brenda, and
purposely acted as if he did not notice Caesar's presence.
The Neapolitan's chatter did not irritate Caesar in the slightest, and
as he had no intention of being his rival, he listened to him quite
Caesar noted that the San Martino ladies and some friends of theirs
had a predilection for types like Carminatti, swarthy, prattling, and
boastful South Italians.
The ladies showed an affectionate familiarity with the girls; they
caressed them and kissed them effusively.
_YOU ARE AN INQUISITOR_
Laura, who was dancing with an officer, approached her brother, who was
wedged into a corner, behind two rows of chairs.
"What are you doing here?" she asked him, stopping and informing her
partner that she was going to sit down a moment.
"Nothing," answered Caesar, "I am waiting for this waltz to finish, so
that I can get away."
"You are not enjoying yourself?"
"Nevertheless, there are amusing things about it."
"Ah, surely. Do you know what happened to me with the Countess Brenda?"
"What did happen?"
"When she came in and gave me her hand, she said: 'How hot your hands
are; mine are frozen.' And she held my hands between hers. That was
"How do I know?"
"It is comical to you, because you see only evil motives. She held your
hand. Who knows what she may be after? Who knows if she wants to get
something out of you? She has an income of eighty or ninety thousand
lire, perhaps she wants to borrow money from you."
"No, I know she doesn't."
"Then, what are you afraid of?"
"Afraid! Afraid of nothing! Only it surprised me."
"That's because you look at everything with the eye of an inquisitor.
One must be suspicious: be always on one's guard, always on the watch.
It's the attitude of a savage."
"I don't deny it. I have no desire to be civilized like these people.
But what does come to me is that the husband of our illustrious and
wealthy friend wears in his breast that porte-bonheur, which I believe
is called horns."
"Of course; and you haven't discovered that his family is a family of
assassins? How Spanish! What a savage Spaniard I have for a brother!"
Caesar burst into laughter, and taking advantage of the moment when
everybody was going to the buffet, left the room. In the corridor, one
of the San Martino girls, the more sweet and angelic of the two, was in
a corner with one of the dancers, and there was a sound like a kiss.
The little blonde made an exclamation of fright; Caesar behaved as if he
had noticed nothing and kept on his way.
"The devil!" exclaimed Caesar, "that angelic little princess hides in
corners with one of these _briganti_. And their mother has the face to
say that they don't know how to bait a hook! I don't know what more she
could wish. Although it is possible that this is the educational scheme
of the future for marriageable girls."
In the entrance-hall of the hotel were the Marchesa Sciacca's two
children, attended by a sleeping maid; the little girl, seated on a
sofa, was watching her brother, who walked from one side to the other
with a roll of paper in his hand. In the entrance hall, opposite the
hotel door, there was a bulletin, which was changed every day, to
announce the different performances that were to be given that night at
the theatres of Rome.
The small boy walked back and forth in front of the poster, and
addressing himself to a public consisting of the sleeping maid and the
little girl, cried:
"Step up, gentlemen! Step up! Now is the time. We are about to perform
_La Geisha_, the magnificent English operetta. Walk right in! Walk right
While the mother was dancing with the Neapolitan in the ball-room, the
children were amusing themselves thus alone.
"The truth is that our civilization is an absurdity. Even the children
go mad," thought Caesar, and took refuge in his room.
During the whole night he heard from his bed the notes of the waltzes
and two-steps, and dancers' laughter and shouts and shuffling feet.
_THEY ARE JUST CHILDREN_
The next day, Laura, before going out to make a call, appeared at
lunch-time most elegantly dressed, with a gown and a hat from Paris, in
which she was truly most charming.
She had a great success: the San Martinos, the Countess Brenda, the
other ladies congratulated her. The hat, above all, seemed ideal to
Carminatti was in raptures.
"E bello, bellissimo_," he said, with great enthusiasm, and all the
ladies agreed that it was _bellissimo_, lengthening the "s" and nodding
their heads with a gesture of admiration.
"And you don't say anything to me, _bambino_?" Laura inquired of Caesar.
"I say you are all right."
"And nothing more?"
"If you want me to pay you a compliment, I will tell you that you are
pretty enough to make incest legitimate." "What a barbarian!" murmured
Laura, half laughing, half blushing.
"What has he been saying to you?" two or three people inquired.
Laura translated his words into Italian, and Carminatti found them
"Very appropriate! Very witty!" he exclaimed, laughing, and gave Caesar
a friendly slap on the shoulder.
The Marchesa Sciacca looked at Laura several times with reflective
glances and a rancorous smile.
"The truth is that these Southern people are just children," thought
Caesar, mockingly. "What an inveterate preoccupation they have in the
The Neapolitan was one of those most preoccupied with esthetics.
Caesar had a room opposite Signor Carminatti's, and the first few days
he had thought it was a woman's room. Toilet flasks, sprays, boxes of
powder; the room looked like a perfumery shop.
"It is curious," Caesar used to think, "how these people from famous
historic towns can combine powder and the _maffia_, opoponax and
Almost every night after dinner there was an improvised dance in the
salon. Somebody played the languorous waltzes of the Tzigane orchestras
on the piano. The Maltese and Carminatti used to sing romantic songs, of
the kind whose words and music seem to be always the same, and in which
there invariably is question of panting, refulgent, love, and other
One Sunday evening, when it was raining, Caesar stayed in the hotel.
In the salon Carminatti was doing sleight-of-hand to entertain the
ladies. Afterwards the Neapolitan was seen pursuing the Marchesa Sciacca
and the two San Martino girls in the corridors. They shrieked shrilly
when he grabbed them around the waist. The devil of a Neapolitan was an
expert at sleight-of-hand.
THE CONFIDENCES OF THE ABBE PRECIOZI
_NATURAL VARIETIES OF NOSES AND EXPRESSIONS_
Caesar admitted before his conscience that he had no plans, or the
slightest idea what direction to take. The Cardinal, no doubt, did not
feel any desire to know him.
Caesar often proceeded by more or less absurd hypotheses. "Suppose," he
would think, "that I had an idea, a concrete ambition. In that case it
would behoove me to be reserved on such and such topics and to hint
these and those ideas to people; let's do it that way, even though it be
only for sport."
Preciozi was the only person who was able to give him any light in
his investigations, because the guests at the hotel, most of them, on
account of their position, thought of nothing but amusing themselves and
of giving themselves airs.
Caesar discovered that Preciozi was ambitious; but besides lacking an
opening, he had not the necessary vigour and imagination to do anything.
The abbe spoke a macaronic Spanish, which he had learned in South
America, and which provoked Caesar's laughter. He was constantly saying:
"My friend," and he mingled Gallicisms with a lot of coarse expressions
of Indian or mulatto origin, and with Italian words. Preciozi's dialect
was a gibberish worthy of Babel.
The first day they went out together, the abbe wanted to show him divers
of Rome's picturesque spots. He led him behind the Quirinal, through
the Via della Panetteria and the Via del Lavatore, where there is a
fruit-market, to the Trevi fountain. "It is beautiful, eh?" said the
"Yes; what I don't understand," replied Caesar, "is why, in a town where
there is so much water, the hotel wash-basins are so small."
Preciozi shrugged his shoulders.
"What types you have in Rome!" Caesar went on. "What a variety of noses
and expressions! Jesuits with the aspect of savants and plotters;
Carmelites with the appearance of highway men; Dominicans, some with
a sensual air, others with a professorial air. Astuteness, intrigue,
brutality, intelligence, mystic stupor.... And as for priests, what a
museum! Decorative priests, tall, with white shocks of hair and big
cassocks; short priests, swarthy and greasy; noses thin as a knife;
warty, fiery noses. Gross types; distinguished types; pale bloodless
faces; red faces.... What a marvellous collection!"
Preciozi listened to Caesar's observations and wondered if the
Cardinal's nephew might be a trifle off his head.
"Point out what is noteworthy, so that I may admire it enough," Caesar
told him. "I don't care to burst out in an enthusiastic phrase for
something of no value."
Preciozi laughed at these jokes, as if they were a child's bright
sayings; but at times Caesar appeared to him to be an innocent soul, and
at other times a Machiavellian who dissembled his insidious purposes
under an extravagant demeanour.
When Preciozi was involved in some historic dissertation, Caesar used to
ask him ingenuously:
"But listen, abbe; does this really interest you?"
Preciozi would admit that the past didn't matter much to him, and then
with one accord, they would burst out laughing.
Caesar said that Preciozi and he were the most anti-historic men going
about in Rome.
One morning they went to the Piazza del Campidoglio. It was drizzling;
the wet roofs shone; the sky was grey.
"This intrusion of the country into Rome," said Caesar, "is what gives
the city its romantic aspect. These hills with trees on them are very
"Only pretty, Don Caesar? They are sublime," retorted Preciozi.
"What amazement I shall produce in you, my dear abbe, when I tell you
that all my knowledge in respect to the Capitol reduces itself to the
fact that some orator, I don't know who, said that near the Capitol is
the Tarpeian Rock."
"You know nothing more about it?"
"Nothing more. I don't know if Cicero said that, or Castelar, or Sir
Preciozi burst into merry laughter.
"What statue is that?" asked Caesar, indicating the one in the middle of
"That is Marcus Aurelius."
"Yes, an Emperor and a philosopher."
"And why have they made him riding such a little, potbellied horse?"
"I don't know, man."
"He looks like a man taking a horse to water at a trough. Why does he
ride bare-back? Hadn't they invented stirrups at that period?"
Preciozi was a bit perplexed; before making a reply he gazed at the
statue, and then said, confusedly:
"I think so."
They crossed the Piazza Campidoglio and went out by the left side of the
Palazzo del Senatore. Down the Via dell' Arco di Severo, a street that
runs down steps to the Forum, they saw a large arch that seemed sunk in
the ground, and beyond, further away, another smaller arch with only one
archway, which arose in the distance as if on top of the big arch. A
square yellow tower, burned by the sun, lifted itself among the ruins;
some hills showed rows of romantic cypresses, and in the background the
blue Alban Mountains stood out against a grey sky.
"Would you like to go down to the Forum?" said the abbe. "Down there
where the stones are? No. What for?"
"Do you wish to see the Tarpeian Rock?"
"Yes, man. But explain to me what this rock was."
Preciozi got together all his information, which was not much.
They went by the Via Monte Tarpea, and came back by the Via della
"They must have thrown people who were already dead off the Tarpeian
Rock," said Caesar, after hearing the explanation.
"But if they threw them down alive, the majority of those they chucked
down here would not have died. At most they would have dislocated an
arm, a leg, or a finger-joint. Unless they chucked them head first."
Preciozi could not permit the mortal effects of the Tarpeian Rock to be
doubted, and he said that its height had been lessened and the level of
the soil had risen.
After these explanations Caesar found the spot of Roman executions
somewhat less fantastic.
"How would you like to go to that church in the Forum?" said Preciozi.
"I was going to propose that we should go to the hotel; it must be
_THE CHURCH AND COOKING_
Caesar had Marsala and Asti brought for the abbe, who was a gourmet.
While Preciozi ate and drank with all his jaws, Caesar devoted himself
to teasing him. The waiter had brought some cream-puffs and informed
them that that was a dish every one ate that day. Laura and Preciozi
praised the puffs, and Caesar said:
"What an admirable religion ours is! For each day the church has a saint
and a special dish. The truth is that the Catholic Church is very wise;
it has broken all relations with science, but it remains in harmony with
cooking. As Preciozi was a moment ago saying with great exactitude,
this close relation that exists between the Church and the kitchen is
"I said that to you?" asked Preciozi. "What a falsehood!"
"Don't pay any attention," said Laura.
"Yes, my dear abbe," retorted Caesar, "and I even believe that you added
confidentially that sometimes the Pope in the Vatican gardens, imitating
Francis I after the battle of Pavia, is wont to say sadly to the
Secretary of State: 'All is lost, save faith and ... good cooking.'"
"What a_bufone! What a bufone!" exclaimed Preciozi, with his mouth
"You are giving a proof of irreligion which is in bad taste," said
Laura. "Only janitors talk like that."
"On such questions I am an honourary janitor."
"That's all right, but you ought to realize that there are religious
people here, like the abbe...."
"Preciozi? Why, he's a Voltairean."
"Oh! Oh! My friend...." exclaimed Preciozi, emptying a glass of wine.
"Voltaireanism," continued Caesar. "There is nobody here who has faith,
nobody who makes the little sacrifice of not eating on Fridays in Lent.
Here we are, destroying with our own teeth one of the most beautiful
works of the Church. You will both ask me what that work is...."
"No, we will not ask you anything," said Laura, waving a hand in the
"Well, it is that admirable alimentary harmony sustained by the Church.
During the whole year we are authorized to eat terrestrial animals, and
in Lent aquatic ones only. Promiscuous as we are, we are undoing the
equilibrium between the maritime and the land forces, we are attacking
the peaceful rotation of meat and fish."
"He is a child," said Preciozi, "we must leave him alone."
"Yes, but that will not impede my Spaniard's heart, my Cardinal's
nephew's heart from bleeding grievously.... Shall we go to the cafe,
"Yes, let us go."
_THE MARVELLOUS BIRD OF ROME_
They left the hotel and entered a cafe in the Piazza Esedra. Preciozi
made a vague move to pay, but Caesar would not permit him to.
"What do you wish to do?" said the abbe.
"Whatever you like."
"I have to go to the Altemps palace a moment."
"To see my uncle?"
"Yes; then, if you feel like it, we can take a long walk."
They went towards the centre of the town by the Via Nazionale. It was a
splendid sunny afternoon.
Preciozi went into the Altemps palace a moment; Caesar waited for him in
the street. Then, together they went over to opposite the Castel Sant'
Angelo, crossed the river, and approached the Piazza di San Pietro. The
atmosphere was wonderfully clear and pure; the suave blue sky seemed to
caress the pinnacles and decorations of the big square.
Preciozi met a dirty friar, dark, with a black beard and a mouth from
ear to ear. The abbe showed no great desire to stop and speak with him,
but the other detained him. This party wore a habit of a brown colour
and carried a big umbrella under his arm.
"There's a type!" said Caesar, when Preciozi rejoined him.
"Yes, he is a peasant," the abbe said with disgust.
"If that chap meets any one in the road, he plants his umbrella in his
chest, and demands his money or his ... eternal life."
"Yes, he is a disagreeable man," agreed Preciozi.
They continued their walk, through the Piazza Cavallegeri and outside
the walls. As they went up one of the hills there, they could see the
facade of Saint Peter's continually nearer, with all the huge stone
figures on the cornice. "The fact is that that poor Christ plays a sad
role there in the middle," said Caesar.
"Oh! Oh! My friend," exclaimed the abbe in protest.
"A plebeian Jew in the midst of so many princes of the Church! Doesn't
it strike you as an absurdity?"
"No, not absurd at all."
"The truth is that this religion of yours is Jewish meat with a Roman
"And yours? What is yours?"
"Mine? I have not got past fetichism. I worship the golden calf. Like
the majority of Catholics."
"I don't believe it."
They looked back; they could see the dome of the great basilica shining
in the sun; then, to one side, a little viaduct and a tower.
"What a wonderful bird you keep in this beautiful cage!" said Caesar.
"What bird?" asked Preciozi.
"The Pope, friend Preciozi, the Pope. Not the popinjay, but the Pope
in white. What a very marvellous bird! He has a feather fan like a
peacock's tail; he speaks like the cockatoo, only he differs from them
in being infallible; and he is infallible, because another bird,
also marvellous, which is called the Holy Ghost, tells him by night
everything that takes place on earth and in heaven. What very
picturesque and extravagant things!"
"For you who have no faith everything must be extravagant."
Caesar and Preciozi went on encircling the walls and reading the various
marble tablets set into them, and ascended to the Janiculum, to the
terrace where Garibaldi's statue stands.
"But, are you anti-Catholic, seriously?" asked Preciozi. "But do you
believe any one can be a Catholic seriously?" said Caesar. "I can, yes;
otherwise I shouldn't be a priest."
"But are you a priest because you believe, or do you make believe that
you believe because you are a priest?"
"You are a child. I suppose you hate the Jesuits, like all Liberals."
"And I suppose you hate Masons, like all Catholics."
"No more do I hate Jesuits. What is worse, I read the life of Saint
Ignatius Loyola at school, and he seemed to me a great man."
"Well, I should think so!"
"And the Jesuits have some power still?"
"Yes, man. They give the Church its direction. Oh, nobody fools the
Society. You can see what happened to Cardinal Tindaro."
"I don't know what did happen to him," said Caesar, with indifference.
"Well, Cardinal Tindaro decided to follow the inspirations of the
Society and made many Jesuits Cardinals with the object that when Pope
Leo XIII died, they should elect him Pope; but the Jesuits smelled the
rat, and when Leo XIII got very ill, the Council of Assistants of the
Society had a meeting and decided that Tindaro should not be Pope, and
ordered the Austrian Court to oppose its veto. When the election came,
the Jesuit Cardinals gave Tindaro a fat vote, out of gratitude, but
calculated not to be enough to raise him to the throne, and in case it
was, the Austrian Cardinal and the Hungarian had their Empire's veto to
Tindaro's election in their pocket."
"And this Tindaro, is he intelligent?"
"Yes, he is indeed; very intelligent. Style Leo XIII."
"Men of weight."
"Yes, but neither of the two had Pius IX's spirit." "And the present
one? He is a poor creature, eh?"
"I don't know, I don't know...."
"And the Society of Jesus, is it on good terms with this Pope?"
"Surely. He is their creation."
"So that the Society is really powerful?"
"It certainly is! Without a doubt! It has a pleasant rule, and
obedience, and knowledge, and money...."
"It has money too, eh?"
"Has it money? More than enough."
"And in what form? In paper?"
"In paper, and in property, and industries; in steamship companies, in
"I would make an admirable business manager."
"Well, your uncle, the Cardinal, could get you put in touch with the
"Is he a friend of theirs?"
"Close as a finger-nail."
Caesar was silent a moment, and then said:
"And I have heard that the Society of Jesus was, at bottom, an
anti-Christian organization, a branch of Masonry...."
"_Macche_!" exclaimed the abbe. "How could you believe that? Oh, no, my
friend! What an absurdity!"
Then, seeing Caesar burst into laughter, he calmed himself, wondering if
he was making fun of him.
They went down the hill, where the monument to Garibaldi flaunts itself,
to the terrace of the Spanish Academy.
The view was magnificent; the evening, now falling, was clear; the sky
limpid and transparent. From that height the houses of Rome were spread
out silent, with an air of solemnity, of immobility, of calm. It
appeared a flat town; one did not notice its slopes and its hills; it
gave the impression of a city in stone set under a glass globe.
The sky itself, pure and diaphanous, augmented the sensation of
withdrawal and quietude; not a cloud on the horizon, not a spot of smoke
in the air; silence and repose everywhere. The dome of St. Peter's had
the colour of a cloud, the shrubberies on the Pincio were reddened by
the sun, and the Alban Hills disclosed the little white towns and the
smiling villas on their declivities.
Preciozi pointed out domes and towers; Caesar did not hear him, and he
was thinking, with a certain terror:
"We shall die, and these stones will continue to shine in the sunlight
of other winter evenings."
_THE VATICAN FAMILY_
Making an effort with himself, he threw off this painful idea, and
turning to Preciozi, asked:
"So you believe that I might have made a nice career in the Church?"
"You! I certainly do think so!" exclaimed Preciozi. "With a cardinal for
uncle, _che carriera_ you could have made!"
"But are there enough different jobs in the Church?"
"From the Pope to the canons and the Papal Guards, you ought to see
all the hierarchies we have at the Vatican. First the Pope, then the
Cardinals in bishop's orders, next, the Cardinals in priest's
orders, then the Cardinal's in deacon's orders, the Secretaries,
the _compisteria_ of the Holy College of Cardinals, the Patriarchs,
Archbishops, Bishops, and the Pontifical Family."
"Whose family is that? The Pope's?"
"No; it is called that, as who should say, the General Staff of the
Vatican. It is made up of the Palatine Cardinals, the Palatine Prelates,
the Participating Privy Chamberlains, the Archbishops and Bishops
assisting the Pontifical throne, the Domestic Prelates, who form
the College of Apostolic Prothonotaries, the Pontifical Masters of
Ceremonies, the Princes Assisting the Throne, the Privy Participating
Cape-and-Sword Chamberlains, the Privy Numbered Cape-and-Sword
"Cape-and-Sword! Didn't I tell you that that poor Christ plays a sorry
part on the facade of Saint Peter's?" exclaimed Caesar.
"Because all this stuff about capes and swords doesn't seem very fitting
for the soul of a Christian. Unless, of course, the knights of the sword
and cape do not use the sword to wound and the cape for a shield, but
only wield the sword of Faith and the cape of Charity.... And haven't
you any gentlemen of Bed-and-Board, as they have at the Spanish Court?"
"That's a pity. It is so expressive,... bed and board. Bed and board,
cape and sword. Who wouldn't be satisfied? One must admit that there is
nobody equal to the Church, and next to her a monarchy, when it comes
to inventing pretty things. That is why it is said, and very well said,
that there is no salvation outside of the Church."
"You are a pagan."
"And I believe you are one, too."
"What comes after all those Privy Cape-and-Sword Chamberlains, my dear
"Next, there is the Pontifical Noble Guard, the Swiss Papal Guard,
the Palatine Guard of Honour, the Corps of Papal Gendarmes, the Privy
Chaplains, the Privy Clerics, the suite of His Holiness. Next come the
members of the Palatine Administration, the Congregations, and more
"And do the Cardinals live well?"
"How much do they make?"
"They get twenty thousand lire fixed salary, besides extras."
"But that is very little!"
"Certainly! It used to be much more, at the time of the Papal States.
Out of their twenty thousand lire they have to keep a carriage."
"Those that aren't rich must have a hard time."
"Just imagine, some of them have to live in a third-floor apartment.
There have been some that bought their red robes second-hand."
"Are those robes so expensive?"
"Yes, they are expensive. Quite. They are made of a special cloth
manufactured in Cologne."
"Are there many Cardinals who are not of rich families?"
"A great many."
"Well, you people have ruined that job."
They went to Trastevere and there they took the tram. Preciozi got
out at the Piazza Venezia and Caesar went on to the end of the Via
_A TALK ABOUT MONEY_
"Where have you been?" asked Laura, on seeing him.
"I've been taking a walk with the abbe."
"It's evident that you find him more interesting than us women."
"Preciozi is very interesting. He is a Machiavellian. He has a candour
that is assumed and a dulness that is assumed. He plays a little comedy
to get out of paying, at the cafe or in the tram. He is splendid. I
think, if you will pardon me for saying so, that the Italians are damned
"People that have no money are forced to be economical."
"No, that isn't so. I have known people in Madrid who made three pesetas
a day, and spent two treating a friend."
"Yes, out of ostentation, out of a desire to show off. I don't like
"Well, I believe I prefer them to skinflints."
"Yes, that's very Spanish. A man wasting money, while his wife and
children are dying of hunger.... The man who won't learn the value of
money is not the best type."
"Money is filthy. If it were only possible to abolish it!"
"For my part, son, I should like less to have it abolished than to have
a great deal of it." "I shouldn't. If I could carry out my plans, all I
should need afterwards would be a hut to live in, a garret."
"Our ideas differ."
"These people that need clothes and jewels and perfumes fairly nauseate
me.... All such things are only fit for Jews."
"Then I must surely be a Jewess."
OLD PALACES, OLD SALONS, OLD LADIES
_THE CARDINAL UNCLE_
As the Cardinal gave no indication of curiosity to see Caesar, Caesar
several times said to Laura:
"We ought to call on uncle, eh?"
"Do as you choose. He isn't very anxious to see you. Apparently he takes
you for an unbeliever."
"All right, that has nothing to do with calling on him."
"If you like I will go with you."
The Cardinal lived in the Palazzo Altemps. That palace is situated in
the Via di S. Apellinare, opposite a seminary. The brother and sister
proceeded to the palace one morning, went up the grand staircase, and
in a reception-room they found Preciozi with two other priests, talking
together in low tones.
One was a worn, pallid old man, with his nose and the borders of his
nasal appendage extremely red. Caesar considered that so red a nose in
that livid, ghastly face resembled a lantern in a melancholy landscape
lighted by the evening twilight. This livid person was the house
"His Eminence is very busy," said Preciozi, after bowing to the callers.
He spoke with a different voice from the one he used outside. "I will go
in, in a moment, and see if you can see him."
Caesar stepped to the window of the reception-room: one could see the
court of the old palace and the colonnade surrounding it.
"This house must be very large," he said.
"You shall see it later, if you like," replied the abbe. A little after
this Preciozi disappeared, and reappeared again in the opening of a
glass door, saying, in the discreetly lowered voice which was no doubt
that of his domestic functions:
"This way, this way."
They went into a large, cold, shabby room. Through an open door they
could see another bare salon, equally dark and sombre.
The Cardinal was seated at a table; he was dressed as a monk and had the
air of being in a bad humour. Laura went promptly to him and kissed his
hand. Caesar bowed, and as the Cardinal did not deign to look at him,
remained standing, at some distance from the table.
Laura, after having saluted her uncle as a pillar of the Church, talked
to him as a relative. The Cardinal cast a rapid glance at Caesar, and
then, scowling somewhat less, asked him if his mother was well and if he
expected to be long in Rome.
Caesar, vexed by this frigid reception, answered shortly in a few cold
words, that all of them were well.
The Cardinal's secretary, who was by the window assisting at the
interview, shot angry looks at Caesar.
After a brief audience, which could not have lasted over five minutes,
the Cardinal said, addressing Laura:
"Pardon me, my daughter, but I must go on with my work"; and
immediately, without a look at his nephew or his niece, he called the
secretary, who brought him a portfolio of papers.
Caesar opened the glass door for Laura to pass.
"Would you like to see the palace?" Preciozi asked them. "There are some
antique statues, magnificent marbles, and a chapel where Saint Aniceto's
body is preserved."
"Let's leave Saint Aniceto's body for another day," Caesar replied
Laura and Caesar went down the stairway.
"There was no need to come, to behave like that," she said, upset.
"How so! You behaved like a savage, no more nor less." "No, he was the
one that behaved like a savage. I bowed to him, and he wasn't willing
even to look at me."
"You made up for it by staring at him as if he had been some curious
insect in a cage."
"It was his fault for not being even barely polite to me."
"Do you think that a Cardinal is an ordinary person to whom you say:
'Hello! How are you? How's business?'"
"I met an English Cabinet Minister in a club once and he was like
"It's not the same thing."
"Do you believe that perhaps our uncle considers that he fulfils a
providential mission, a divine mission?"
"What a question! Of course he does."
"Then he is a poor idiot. However, it's nothing to me. Our uncle is a
"You discovered that in such a little while?"
"Yes. Fanatical, vain, fatuous, pleased with himself.... He is of no use
"Ah, so you thought he would be of some use to you?"
Her brother's arbitrary manner of taking things irritated and at the
same time amused Laura.
She believed that he made it a rule to persist in always doing the
contrary to other people.
Laura and her friends of both sexes used to run across one another in
museums, out walking in the popular promenades, and at the races. Caesar
didn't go to museums, because he said he had no artistic feeling; races
didn't interest him either; and when it came to walking, he preferred to
wander at random in the streets.
As his memory was not full of historical facts, he experienced no great
esthetic or archeological thrills, and no sympathy whatsoever with the
various herds of tourists that went about examining old stones.
At night, in the salon, he used to give burlesque descriptions, in
his laconic French, of street scenes: the Italian soldiers with
cock-feathers drooping from a sort of bowler hat, the porters of
the Embassies and great houses, with their cocked hats, their blue
great-coats, and the staff with a silver knob in their hands.
The precise, jocose, biting report of his observations offended Laura
and her lady friends.
"Why do you hate Italians so much?" the Countess Brenda asked him one
"But I don't hate them."
"He speaks equally badly of everybody," explained Laura. "He has a bad
"Is it because you have had an unhappy life?" the Countess asked,
"No, I don't think so," said Caesar, feeling like smiling; instead of
which, and without knowing why and without any reason, he put on a sad
_EXERCISES IN HYPOCRISY_
Laura, with her feminine perspicacity, noted that from that day on the
Countess looked at Caesar a great deal and with melancholy smiles; and
not only the mother appeared interested, but the daughter too.
"I don't know what it is in my brother," thought Laura; "women are
attracted to him just because he pays no attention to them. And he knows
it; yes, indeed he does, even thought he acts as if he were unconscious
of it. Both mother and daughter taken with him! Carminatti has been
The Countess quickly discovered a great liking for Laura, and as they
both had friends in good Roman society, they made calls together. Laura
was astonished enough to hear Caesar say that if there was no objection,
he would go with them.
"But the majority of our friends are old ladies, devout old ladies."
"All the better."
"All right. But if you come, it is on condition that you say nothing
that would shock them." "Surely."
Caesar accompanied the Countess Brenda and his sister to various
aristocratic houses, and at every one he heard the same conversation,
about the King, the Pope, the Cardinals, and how few or how many
people there were in the hotels. These topics, together with slanders,
constituted the favourite motive for conversation in the great world.
Caesar conversed with the somewhat flaccid old ladies ("castanae
molles," as Preciozi called them) with perfect hypocrisy; he regarded
the classic decorations of the salons, and while he listened to rather
strange French and to most elegant and pure Italian, he wondered if
there might be somebody among all this Papal society whom he could use
to forward his ambitions.
Sometimes among the guests he would meet a young "monsignor," discreetly
smiling, whose emerald ring it was necessary to kiss. Caesar would kiss
it and say to himself: "Let us practise tolerance with our lips."
In many of these salons the mania for the English game called "bridge"
had caught with great violence.
Caesar hated card-games. For a man who made a study of the
stock-exchange, the mechanism of a card-game was too stupid to arouse
any interest. But he had no objection to playing and losing.
The Countesses Brenda and San Martino had "bridge-mania" very hard, and
they used to go to Brenda's room in the evening to play.
After playing bridge a week, Caesar found that his money was insensibly
"Look here," he said to Laura.
"What is it?"
"You have got to teach me bridge."
"I don't know how to play, because I have no head for such things and I
forget what cards have been played; but they gave me a little book on
the game. I will lend it to you, if you like."
"Yes, give me it."
Caesar read the book, learned the intricacies of the game, and the next
few evenings he acquitted himself so well that the Countess of San
Martino marched off to her room with burning cheeks and almost in tears.
"What a cad you are!" Laura said to him at lunch some days later,
laughing. "You are fleecing those women."
"It's their own fault. Why did they take advantage of my innocence?"
"They have decided to go and play in Carminatti's room without telling
"I'm glad of it."
"Do you know, _bambino_, I have to go away for a few days."
"To Naples. Come with me."
"No; I have things to do here. I will take you to the station."
"Ah, you rascal! You are a Don Juan."
"No, dear sister. I am a financier."
"I can see your victims from here. But I shall put them on their guard.
You are a blood-thirsty hyena. You like to collect hearts the way the
Red-skins did scalps."
"You mean coupons."
"No, hearts. You like to pretend to be simple, because you are wicked. I
will tell the Countess Brenda and her daughter."
"What are you going to tell them?"
"That you are wicked, that you have a hyena's heart, that you want to
"Don't tell them that, because it will make them fall in love with me. A
hyena-hearted man is always run after by the ladies."
"You are right. Come along, go to Naples with me."
"Is your husband such a terrible bore, little sister?"
"A little more cream and a little less impertinence, _bambino_," said
Laura, holding out her plate with a comic gesture.
Caesar burst out laughing, and after lunch he took Laura to the station
and remained in Rome alone. His two chief occupations consisted in
making love respectfully to the Countess Brenda and going to walk with
The Countess Brenda was manifestly coming around; in the evening Caesar
would take a seat beside her and start a serious conversation about
religious and philosophical matters. The Countess was a well-educated
and religious woman; but beneath all her culture one could see the
ardent dark woman, still young, and with intense eyes.
Caesar made it a spiritual training to talk to the Countess. She often
turned the conversation to questions of love, and discussed them with
apparent keenness and insight, but it was evident that all her ideas
about love came out of novels. Beyond a doubt, her calm, vulgar husband
did not fill up the emptiness of her soul, because the Countess was
discontented and had a vague hope that somewhere, above or beneath
the commonplaces of the day, there was a mysterious region where the
Caesar, who hadn't much faith in the ineffable, used to listen to her
with a certain amazement, as if the plump, strong woman had been a
visionary incapable of understanding reality.
In the daytime Caesar went walking with Preciozi and they talked of
their respective plans.
Often Caesar went out alone, chewing the end of his thoughts as he
strolled in the streets, working out possible schemes of investments or
When he got away from the main streets, he kept finding some corner at
every step that left him astonished at its fantastic, theatrical air.
Suddenly he would discover himself before a high wall, on top of
which were statues covered with moss, or huge terra-cotta jars. Those
decorations would stand out against the dark foliage of the Roman ilex
and the tall, black cypresses. At the end of a street would rise a tall
palm, drooping its branches over a little square, or a stone pine, like
the one in the Aldobrandini garden.
"These people were real artists," Caesar would murmur, and mean it as a
fact, not taking it for either praise or blame.
His curiosity got excited, despite his determination not to resemble a
tourist in any way. The low windows of a palace would let him see lofty
ceilings with great stretches of painting, or decorated with medallions
and legends; a balcony would display a thick curtain of ivy that hid the
railings; here he would read a Latin inscription cut in a marble tablet,
there he would come upon a black lane between two old houses, with a
battered lantern at its entrance. In the part of town between the Corso
and the Tiber, which is full of narrow, crooked old streets, he loved to
wander until he was lost.
Some details already familiar, he was delighted to see again; he always
halted to look down the Via della Pillotta, with its arches over the
street; and the little flower-market in the Piazza di Spagna always gave
him a sensation of joy.
At dusk Caesar would walk in the centre of town; the bars filled up with
people who loved to take cakes and sweet wine; on the sidewalks the
itinerant merchants cried their trifling wares; along the Corso a
procession of carriages full of tourists passed rapidly, and a few
well-appointed victorias came driving back from the Pincio and the Villa
Once in a while Caesar went out in the evening after dinner. There was
scant animation in the streets, theatres didn't interest him, and he
would soon return to the hotel salon to chat with the Countess Brenda.
Later, in his room, he would write to Alzugaray, giving him his
"I PROTESTANTI DELLA SIMPATIA"
It began again to rain disastrously; the days were made up of downpours
and squalls, to the great despair of the foreigners.
At night the Piazza Esedra was a fine sight from the hotel balcony. The
arc lights reflected their glow in the lakes of rain beneath them, and
the great jet of the fountain in the centre took on tones of blue and
mother-of-pearl, where the rays of the electric light pierced through
In the hotel parlour one dance followed another. Everybody complained
gaily of the bad weather.
Shortly before the middle of Lent there arrived a Parisian family at the
hotel, composed of a mother with two daughters and a companion.
This family might be considered a representation of the _entente
cordiale_. The mother was French, the widow first of a Spaniard, Senor
Sandoval, by whom she had had one daughter, and then of an Englishman,
Mr. Dawson, by whom she had had another.
Mme. Dawson was a fat, imposing lady, with tremendous brilliants in
her ears and somewhat theatrical clothes; Mile. Sandoval, the elder
daughter, was of Arab type, with black eyes, an aquiline nose, pale
rose-coloured lips, and a malicious smile, full of mystery, as if it
revealed restless and diabolical intentions.
Her half-sister, Mile. Dawson, was a contrast, being the perfect type of
a grotesque Englishwoman, with a skin like a beet, and freckles.
The governess, Mile. Cadet, was not at all pretty, but she was gay and
sprightly. These four women seated in the middle of the dining-room, a
little stiff, a little out of temper, seemed, particularly the first
few days, to defy anybody that might have wished to approach them. They
replied coolly to the formal bows of the other guests, and none of them
cared to take part in the dances.
The handsome Signor Carminatti shot incendiary glances at Mlle. de
Sandoval; but she remained scornful; so one evening, as the Dawson
family came out of the dining-room, the Neapolitan waved his hand toward
them and said:
"I protestante della simpatia."
Caesar made much of this phrase, because it was apt, and he took it
that Carminatti considered the ladies protestants against friendliness,
because they had paid no attention to the charms that he displayed in
_CONSEQUENCES OF THE RAIN_
Two or three days later Mme. Dawson bowed to Caesar on passing him in
the hall, and asked him:
"Aren't you Spanish?"
"But don't you speak French?"
"My daughter is Spanish too."
"She is a perfect Spanish type."
"Really?" asked the daughter referred to.
"Then I am happy."
In the evening, after dinner, Caesar again joined Mme. Dawson and began
to talk with her. The Frenchwoman had a tendency to philosophize, to
criticize, and to find out everything. She had no great capacity for
admiration, and nothing she saw succeeded in dragging warm eulogies from
her lips. There was none of the "_bello! bellissimo!_" of the Italian
ladies in her talk, but a series of exact epithets.
Mme. Dawson had left all her capacity for admiration in France, and was
visiting Italy for the purpose of arriving as soon as possible at the
conclusion that there is no town like Paris, no nation like the French,
and it didn't matter much to Caesar whether he agreed or denied it.
Mlle. de Sandoval had a great curiosity about things in Spain and an
absurd idea about everything Spanish.
"It seems impossible," thought Caesar, "how stupid French people are
about whatsoever is not French."
Mlle. de Sandoval asked Caesar a lot of questions, and finally, with an
ironic gesture, said to him:
"You mustn't let us keep you from going to talk with the Countess
Brenda. She is looking over at you a great deal."
Caesar became a trifle dubious; indeed, the Countess was looking at him
in a fixed and disdainful way.
"The Countess is a very intelligent woman," said Caesar; "I think you
would all like her very much."
Mme. Dawson said nothing; Caesar rose, took his leave of the family, and
went over to speak to the Countess and her daughter. She received him
coldly. Caesar thought he would stay long enough to be polite and then
get away, when Carminatti, speaking to him in a very friendly way and
calling him "_mio caro_," asked him to introduce him to Mme. Dawson.
He did so, and when he had left the handsome Neapolitan leaning back
in a chair beside the French ladies, he made the excuse that he had a
letter to write, and said good-night.
"I see that you are an ogre," said Mlle. de Sandoval.
"Do you want me for anything?"
"No, no; you may go when you choose."
Caesar repaired to his room.
"I don't mind those people," he said; "but if they think I am a man made
for entertaining ladies, they are very clever."
The next day Mme. Dawson talked with Caesar very affably, and Mlle. de
Sandoval made a few ironical remarks about his savage ways.
Of all the family Caesar conceived that Mlle. Cadet was the most
intelligent. She was a French country girl, very jovial, blond, with a
turned-up nose, and on the whole insignificant looking. When she spoke,
her voice had certain falsetto inflexions that were very comical.
Mlle. Cadet was on to everything the moment it happened. Caesar asked
her jokingly about the people in the hotel, and he was thunderstruck to
find that she had discovered in three or four days who all the guests
were and where they came from.
Mlle. Cadet also told him that Carminatti had sent an ardent declaration
of love to the Sandoval girl the first day he saw her.
"The devil!" exclaimed Caesar. "What an inflammable Neapolitan it is!
And what did she reply?"
"What would she reply? Nothing."
"As you are already familiar with everything going on here," said
Caesar, "I am going to ask you a question: what is the noise in the
court every night? I am always thinking of asking somebody."
"Why, it is charging the accumulator of the lift," replied Mlle. Cadet.
"You have relieved me from a terrible doubt which worried me."
"I have never heard a noise," said Mlle. de Sandoval, breaking into the
"That's because your room is on the square," Caesar answered, "and the
noise is in the court; on the poor side of the house."
"Pshaw! There is no reason to complain," remarked Mlle. Cadet, "if they
give us a serenade."
"Do you consider yourself poor?" Mlle. de Sandoval asked Caesar,
"Yes, I consider myself poor, because I am."
During the following days Mme. Dawson and her daughters were introduced
to the rest of the people in the hotel, and became intimate with them.
The "Contessina" Brenda and the San Martino girls made friends with the
French girls, and the Neapolitan and his gentlemen friends flitted among
The Countess Brenda at first behaved somewhat stiff with Mme. Dawson and
her daughters, but later she little by little submitted and permitted
them to be her friends.
She introduced the French ladies to the other ladies in the hotel; but
doubtless her aristocratic ideas would not allow her to consider Mlle.
Cadet a person worthy to be introduced, for whenever she got to her she
acted as if she didn't know her.
The governess, noticing this repeated contempt, would blush at it, and
once she murmured, addressing Caesar with tears ready to escape from her
"That's a nice thing to do! Just because I am poor, I don't think they
ought to despise me."
"Don't pay any attention," said Caesar, quite aloud; "these middle-class
people are often very rude."
Mlle. de Sandoval gave Caesar a look half startled and half reproving;
and he explained, smiling:
"I was telling Mlle. Cadet a funny story."
Mme. Dawson and her daughters soon became friends with the most
distinguished persons in the hotel; only the Marchesa Sciacca, the
Maltese, avoided them as if they inspired her with profound contempt.
In a few days the Countess Brenda and Caesar's friendship passed beyond
the bonds of friendship; but in the course of time it cooled off again.
_INFLUENCE OF THE INCLINATION OF THE EARTH'S AXIS ON WHAT IS CALLED
One evening, when the Countess Brenda's daughter had left Rome to go
with her father to a villa they owned in the North, the Countess and
Caesar had a long conversation in the salon. They were alone; a great
tenor was singing at the Costanzi, and the whole hotel was at the
theatre. The Countess chatted with Caesar, she reclining in a chaise
longue, and he seated in a low chair. That evening the Countess was
feeling in a provocative humour, and she made fun of Caesar's mode of
life and his ideas, not with the phrases and the manners of a great
lady, but with the boldness and spice of a woman of the people.
The angle that the earth's axis makes with the trajectory of the
ecliptic, and which produces those absurd phenomena that we Spaniards
call seasons, determined at that period the arrival of spring, and
spring had no doubt shaken the Countess Brenda's nerves.
Spring gave cooling inflexions to the lady's voice and made her express
herself with warmth and with a shamelessly libertine air.
No doubt the core of her personality was joyful, provoking, and somewhat
Her eyes flashed, and on her lips there was a sensual expression of
challenge and mockery.
Caesar, that evening, without knowing why, was dull at expressing
himself, and depressed. Some of the Countess's questions left him in a
"Poor child; I am sorry for you," she suddenly said.
"Because you are so weak; you have such an air of exhaustion. What do
you do to make you like this? I am sure you ought to be given some sort
of iron tonic, like the anaemic girls."
"Do you really think I am so weak?" asked Caesar.
"Isn't it written all over you?"
"Well, anyway, I am stronger than you, Countess."
"In a discussion, perhaps. But otherwise.... You have no strength except
in your brains."
"And in my hands. Give me your hand."
The Countess gave him her hand and Caesar pressed it tighter and
"You are strong after all," she said.
"That is nothing. You wait," and Caesar squeezed the Countess's hand
until he made her give a sharp scream. A servant entered the salon.
"It's nothing," said the Countess, getting up; "I seemed to have turned
"I will take you to your room," exclaimed Caesar, offering her his arm.
"No, no. Thanks very much."
"Yes. It has to be."
"Then, all right," she murmured, and added, "Now you frighten me."
"Bah, you will get over that!" and Caesar went into her room with
The next day Caesar appeared in the salon looking as if he had been
buried and dug up.
"What is the matter?" Mme. Dawson and her daughters asked him.
"Nothing; only I had a headache and I took a big dose of antipyrine."
The relations of the Brenda lady and Caesar soon cooled. Their
temperaments were incompatible: there was no harmony between their
imaginations or between their skins. In reality, the Countess, with all
her romanticism, did not care for long and compromising liaisons, but
for hotel adventures, which leave neither vivid memories nor deep
imprints. Caesar noted that despite her lyricism and her sentimental
talk, there was a great deal of firmness in this plump woman, and a lack
Moreover, this woman, so little aristocratic in intimacy, had much
vanity about stupid things and a great passion for jewelry; but what
contributed most to making Caesar feel a profound hatred for her was
his discovering what good health she enjoyed. This good health seemed
offensive to Caesar, above all when he compared it to his own, to his
weak nerves and his restless brain.
From considering her a spiritual and delicate lady he passed to
considering her a powerful mare, which deserved no more than a whip and
The love-affair contributed to upsetting Caesar and making him more
sarcastic and biting. This spiritual ulceration of Caesar's profoundly
astonished Mlle. Cadet.
One day a Roman aristocrat, nothing less than a prince, came to call on
Mme. Dawson. He talked with her, with her daughters, and the Countess
Brenda, and held forth about whether the hotels in Rome were full or
empty, about the _pensions_, and the food in the restaurants, with a
great wealth of details; afterwards he lamented that Mme. Dawson, as a
relative of his, even though a very distant one, should have gone to a
ricevimento_ at the French Embassy, and he boasted of belonging to the
Black party in Rome.
When he was gone, Mlle. Cadet came over to Caesar, who was sunk in an
arm-chair gazing at the ceiling, and asked him:
"What did you think of the prince?"
"The gentleman who was here talking a moment ago."
"Ah, was he a prince?"
"As he talked about nothing but hotels, I took him to be the proprietor
Mlle. Cadet told Mme. Dawson what Caesar had said, and she and her
daughters were amused at his error.
A little later than the real day, they got up a ball at the hotel in
celebration of the French holiday Micareme.
When Caesar was asked if he thought of going to the ball, he said no;
but Mlle. de Sandoval warned him that if he didn't go she would never
speak to him again, and Mme. Dawson and the governess threatened him
with like excommunication.
"But you know, these balls are very amusing," said Mme. Dawson.
"Do you think so?"
"I do, and so do you."
"Besides, an observer like you," added Mlle. Cadet, "can devote himself
to taking notes."
"And why do you conclude that I am an observer?" asked Caesar.
"The idea! Because it is evident."
"And an observer with very evil intentions," insisted Mlle. de Sandoval.
"You credit me with qualities I haven't got."
Caesar had to accede, and the Dawson ladies and he were the first to
enter the salon and take their seats. In one corner was a glass vase
hung from the ceiling by a pulley.
"What is that?" Mme. Dawson asked a servant.
"It is a glass vase full of bonbons, which you have to break with a pole
with your eyes closed."
Since nobody else came in, the Dawson girls and Caesar wandered about
looking into the cupboards and finding the Marchesa Sciacca's music and
the Neapolitan's. They looked out one of the salon windows. It was a
detestable night, raining and hailing; the great drops were bouncing on
the sidewalks of the Piazza Esedra. Water and hail fell mixed together,
and for moments at a time the ground would stay white, as if covered
with a thin coating of pearls.
The fountain in the centre cast up its streams of water, which mingled
with the rain, and the central jet shone in the lays of the arc-lights;
now and again the livid brilliance of lightning illuminated the stone
arches and the rumbling of thunder was heard ...
Still nobody else came to the salon. Doubtless the ladies were preparing
their toilets very carefully.
The first to appear, dressed for the ball, were the Marchesa Sciacca and
her husband, accompanied by the inevitable Carminatti.
The Marchesa, with her habitual brutality toward everybody that lived in
the house, bowed with formal coolness to Mme. Dawson, and sat down by
the piano, as far away as possible from the French ladies.
She wore a gown of green silk, with lace and gold ornaments. She was
very decolletee and had a fretful air. Her husband was small and
stooped, with a long moustache and shiny eyes; on his cheek-bones were
the red spots frequent in consumptives, and he spoke in a sharp voice.
"Are you acquainted with the Marquis?" Mme. Dawson asked Caesar.
"Yes, he is a tiresome busybody," said Caesar, "the most boresome fellow
you could find. He stops you in the street to tell you things. The
other day he made me wait a quarter of an hour at the door of a tourist
agency, while he inquired the quickest way of getting to Moscow. 'Are
you thinking of going there?' I asked him. 'No; I just wanted to find
out ....' He is an idiot."
"God preserve us from your comments. What will you be saying about us?"
exclaimed Mlle. de Sandoval.
The Countess Brenda entered, with her husband, her daughter, and a
friend. She was dressed in black, low in the neck, and wore a collar of
brilliants as big as filberts, which surrounded her bosom with rays of
light and blinding reflections.
Her friend was a young lady of consummate beauty; a brunette with colour
in her skin and features of flawless perfection; with neither the
serious air nor the statuesqueness of a great beauty, and with none
of the negroid tone of most brunettes. When she smiled she showed her
teeth, which were a burst of whiteness. She was rather loaded with
jewels, which gave her the aspect of an ancient goddess.
"You, who find everything wrong," said Mlle. Cadet to Caesar, "what have
you to say of that woman? I have been looking at her ever since she came
in, and I don't find the slightest defect."
"Nor I. It is a face which gives no indication that the least shadow of
sorrow has ever crossed it. It is beauty as serene as a landscape or as
the sea when calm. Moreover, that very perfection robs it of character.
It seems to be less a human face than a symbol of an apathetic being and
an apathetic beauty."
"We have found her defect," said Mlle. Cadet.
After introducing her friend to the ladies and to the young men, who
were all dazzled, the Countess Brenda sat down near Mme. Dawson, in an
She was imposing.
"You look like a queen holding audience," Mlle. de Sandoval said to her.
"Your beloved is like an actual monument," Mlle. Cadet murmured
jokingly, aside to Caesar.
"Yes, I think we ought to station a veteran at the door," retorted
"A veteran! No, for mercy's sake! Poor lady! A warrior in active
service, one on whom all the antipyrine in the world would make no
impression," Mlle. Cadet replied maliciously.
Caesar smiled at the allusion.
Among the people there was one gentlerman that attracted Mlle. Cadet's
special attention. He was apart from any group, but he knew everybody
that arrived. This gentleman was fat, smiling, smooth-shaven, with a
round, chubby, rosy face and the body of a Silenus. When he spoke
he arched and lowered his eyebrows alternately, rolled his eyes,
gesticulated with his fat, soft hands, and smiled and showed his teeth.
His way of greeting people was splendid.
"Come sta, marchesa?" he would say. "Cavaliere!" "Commendatore!"
"La contessina va bene?" "Oh! Egregio!"
And the good gentleman would spread his arms, and close them, and
look as if he wanted to embrace the whole of humanity to his abdomen,
covered with a white waistcoat.
"Who can that gentleman be?" Mlle. Cadet asked various times.
"That? That is Signor Sileno Macarroni," said Caesar, "Commander of the
Order of the Mighty Belly, Knight of the Round Buttocks, and of other
"He is a singer," said the Countess Brenda to Mlle. de Sandoval in a low
"He is a singer," repeated Mlle. de Sandoval to her governess in a
"Sileno Macarroni is a singer," said Mlle. Cadet, with equal
mysteriousness, addressing Caesar.
"But is our friend Macarroni going to sung?" asked Caesar.
The question was passed from one person to another, and it was
discovered that Macarroni was going to sing. As a matter of fact, the
fat Silenus did sing, and everybody was startled to hear a high tenor
voice issue from within that voluminous human being. The fat Silenus had
the misfortune to sing false in the midst of his bravest trills, and the
poor soul was overcome, despite the applause.
"Poor Macarroni!" said Caesar, "his high tenor heart must be broken
to bits." "He is going," put in Mlle. Cadet. "What a shame!" Sileno
vanished and the pianist began to play waltzes.
_THE WORLD AS A ZOOLOGICAL GARDEN_
Carminatti was the first on the floor with his partner, who was the
The Maltese lady danced with an abandon and a feline languor that
imposed respect. One of the San Martino girls, dressed in white, like
a vaporous fairy, danced with an officer in a blue uniform, a slim,
distinguished person with languid eyes and rosy cheeks, who caused a
veritable sensation among the ladies.
The other San Martino, in pale pink, was on a sofa chatting with a man
of the cut-throat type, of jaundiced complexion, with bright eyes and a
moustache so long as almost to touch his eyebrows.
"He is a Sicilian," Mlle. Cadet told Caesar; "behind us here they are
saying rather curious things about the two of them."
The Countess Brenda's daughter was magnificent, with her milk-white
skin, and her arms visible through gauze. Despite her beauty she didn't
count many admirers; she was too insipid, and the majority of the young
men turned with greater enthusiasm to the married women and to those of
a very provocative type.
Mlle. de Sandoval, the most sought after of all, didn't wish to dance.
"My daughter is really very stiff," Mme. Dawson remarked. "Spanish women
are like that."
"Yes, they often are," said Caesar.
Among all these Italians, who were rather theatrical and ridiculous,
insincere and exaggerated, but who had great pliancy and great agility
in their movements and their expression, there was one German family,
consisting of several persons: a married couple with sons and daughters
who seemed to be all made from one piece, cut from the same block. While
the rest were busy with the little incidents of the ball, they were
talking about the Baths of Caracalla, the aqueducts, the Colosseum. The
father, the mother, and the children repeated their lesson in Roman
archeology, which they had learned splendidly.
"What very absurd people they are," murmured Caesar, watching them.
"Why?" said Mlle. de Sandoval.
"It appeals to these Germans as their duty to make one parcel of
everything artistic there is in a country and swallow it whole; which
seems to an ignoramus like me, a stupid piece of pretentiousness. The
French, on the contrary, are on more solid ground; they don't understand
anything that is not French, and they travel to have the pleasure of
saying that Paris is the finest thing on earth."
"It's great luck to be so perfect as you are," retorted Mlle. de
Sandoval, violently, "you can see other people's faults so clearly."
"You mistake," replied Caesar, coldly, "I do not rely on my own good
qualities to enable me to speak badly of others."
"Then what do you rely on?"
"On my defects."
"Ah, have you defects? Do you admit it?"
"I not only admit it, but I take pride in having them."
Mlle. de Sandoval turned her head away contemptuously; the twist Caesar
gave to her questions appeared to irritate her.
"Mlle. de Sandoval doesn't like me much," said Caesar to Mlle. Cadet.
"No? She generally says nice things about you."
"Perhaps my clothes appeal to her, or the way I tie my cravat; but my
ideas displease her."
"Because you say such severe things."
"Why do you say that at this moment? Because I spoke disparagingly of
those Germans? Are they attractive to you?"
"Oh, no! Not at all."
"They look like hunting dogs." "But whom do you approve of? The
"Not the English, either. They are a herd of cattle; sentimental,
ridiculous people who are in ecstatics over their aristocracy and over
their king. Latin peoples are something like cats, they are of the
feline race; a Frenchman is like a fat, well-fed cat; an Italian is like
an old Angora which has kept its beautiful fur; and the Spaniard is like
the cats on a roof, skinny, bare of fur, almost too weak to howl with
despair and hunger.... Then there are the ophidians, the Jews, the
Greeks, the Armenians...."
"Then for you the world is a zoological garden?"
"Well, isn't it?"
At midnight they tried to break the glass jar of bonbons. They
blindfolded various men, and one by one they made them turn around a
couple of times and then try to break the jar with a stick.
It was the Marquis Sciacca that did break the glass vase, and the pieces
fell on his head.
"Have you hurt yourself?" people asked him.
"No," said Caesar, reassuringly, but aside; "his head is protected."
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