And then luck returned

days of plenty came to him, so that the money flowed into his pockets almost without his noticing; easy money, which comes from the board, which is won with a high point, which is spent with ease. And Ruskaia spared, because in such matters Arrigo loved to be honest and seemed to regain prestige when he could answer his Tatiana: – Thank you, I don’t need anything.

On the contrary, he gave her a beautiful ring, where there was a stone that in the days of need he had received against a bill from a usurer, for an indecent price. He had it bound by a good goldsmith; the stone shone worthily on Ruskaia’s small finger. If anyone could know the history of certain jewels, he would perhaps have something to write a comic and sad book at the same time, because around all the things that represent value there is always an extraordinary tangle of passions and human baseness.

Since he was of a liberal spirit, when he had money he spent a lot. He became aware of him, gave the family many things that he knew were in the desire of his father, mother, brother, sisters; finally, to get a little at peace with that good Riotti, who could not resign himself to the length of the wedding, he decided to do well by arriving one day in the shop with a bracelet for his patient girlfriend. He knew the human heart and knew the great prestige of golden things.

When Eugenia showed her father the bracelet of [90]Arrigo, Riotti in spite of himself let out an exclamation of surprise.

– By God, what a beautiful boss! – She said. Then she put her glasses on her nose tightly, took the bracelet, weighed it twice, three times, in the palm of her hand, with a certain doubtful air, finally put it on the scales.

– But this is not gold! – He exclaimed incredulous, seeing the heavy weight.

– Other than gold! – asserted the girl. – Do you want Arrigo to give me fake stuff?

– Then the penniless one started being a thief, because this is a great value, you know!

When he came to the threshold of the shop, he began to examine it through the lens.

– The brand is there … – he muttered.

For greater certainty he went to a small goldsmith who was nearby, and a little confused to have such an object in his hand, he asked his friend to try it with acids to find out if it was really mint gold, and eighteen carats.

– As for carats, perhaps they grow! Exclaimed the suburban goldsmith, after having tried it. – A nice bracelet, veh! … really nice!

“It’s a present my daughter gets today from her boyfriend,” said the pharmacist casually.

And he went back to the shop. For him, this partly redressed Arrigo’s wrongs and showed that, if on the one hand he was a somewhat bizarre son, on the other he had a good heart. Anyway, his intentions must have been serious, because – heck! – some gifts are not made at random.

Meanwhile, d’Arrigo’s elder sister became engaged, and the wedding was to take place in the following autumn, with a good young man who loved her almost ridiculously, and was the son of a rich grocer. The other sister was a little butterfly of just fifteen, completely different from her elder, and as frivolous, capricious, fluffy, as the other was calm, serious, and destined to be nothing more than a good housewife.

Anna Laura, on the other hand, commanded the house with an arrogance [91]from tyrant; she was pretty, so pretty, that already, when she went out into the street, a swarm of baby octopus was buzzing around her, and, from certain glances she gave them, her father and mother had thought it dangerous to leave her running alone.

On the street she did nothing but stop in front of seamstresses, milliners, perfumers; she dressed well, she combed her hair with refinement, she secretly read forbidden novels, she was a little gossip and very naughty. But since she was beautiful and because her brother Arrigo had the same noble character as her brother, neither her father nor her mother dared to be too severe with her; her mother above all her, who perhaps remembered in that last daughter of her the most recent love phallus of her. Anna Laura often spoke of Arrigo, saying that she had certainly had reasons to sell in leaving her father’s shop to enjoy a little life, the kind of life that she also liked: luxury, beautiful clothes, carriages. , theaters, love.

The other brother, Paolo, was instead a good boy, serious and sweet; he had completed his studies with a little effort and was now learning his father’s art. He was born and remained a bit coarse; the beautiful Ruskaia gave him no thrill; he was content to go on Sundays to drink white wine and eat donuts with a prosperous commoner who was not cruel to him.

Meanwhile, that season ended; the theater closed, Ruskaia, for Arrigo’s sake, neglected all the scriptures that were offered to her elsewhere, and she remained to enjoy, in the windy city, a beautiful spring of rest and love.

And what sweeter spring than that which comes in a city that is usually cold and foggy, a city without trees, with sparse parks, short walks, hidden gardens? Then when the sky, not vast among the neighboring roofs, takes on that bright mother-of-pearl color that makes the pavements shine and sparkles on the closed windows, inflaming them, as if to say: – Open! I pass! I, divine, spring! …

But these were not things that softened Arrigo’s heart. He did not abandon himself hopelessly to sweetness [ninety two]of an inert love, but he was rather careful to take advantage of every day and every hour, feeling by now close to the fulfillment of his beautiful immodest dream. On the contrary, he dared to look further away, as it seemed to him that what he had hitherto dreamed of as his goal was only the beginning of a greater ambition. Forcing the entrance of a club, sitting at dinners or in the boxes of the Mammagnúccoli, saying good morning without taking off the hat to the Marquis of Sant’Urbino, going to the racecourse in Lanzo Malatesta’s car, and doing all the other things that from a distance they had seemed to him a dizzying mirage, was no longer enough to satisfy the cravings of his reckless heart.

He would come to that, and he was almost close by now. But the battle was worthy of being fought for a better cause, as it was felt in the spirit to be born wings for a greater flight.

And he meditated to reach the rooms best guarded by the double power of the coat of arms and gold, in the somewhat tedious rooms of disguised honesty and bowing deception, where the ancient screens could perhaps tell some salacious fairy tale, where the chimneys from the great bronze andirons yawn with infinite boredom over the eternal comedy of life. He wanted the powdered ladies to welcome him, who had been famous for beauty and adventure at the time of the Risorgimento and who had perhaps danced on the arm of some Austrian uniform; he wanted the grumpy old gentlemen to welcome him, that gout and podagra avenged the good time that had passed; he wanted to sit at the quarterly lunches of the Duchess of Benevento, to be invited to the ball of the Altomarino palace on the evening of Sant’Eufemia; go to the masked parties that take place several times a year in the Aimone dell’Ussero house, a rich and hospitable house, which housed four beautiful daughters-in-law among a host of kinships. She wanted, even if it were to bore him, to be among the few and heroic noblemen who at least three times in the season attended the Fridays of the old Countess of Sedriano, who, infirm and almost deaf, kept her circle from a similar high chair. [93]to a throne, having a niece already over thirty years old to marry, a wretched niece, thin, crooked and stammering, on which all the ailments of the Sedrianos, renowned for centuries for their impeccable ugliness, had unleashed. In the summer he wanted the Mazzoleni, ancient perfumers who became marquises by themselves, to invite him to the countryside, or the Anselmi, who were a tribe without number, distinguished by the round-headed males, the frighteningly thin females: or the Nonaro del Monte , who passed for the richest family in the city.

He was thinking of visiting Donna Ottavia Malespini on the platform, of whom it was said that, in order to save certain speculations of her husband, she had skilfully traded to a very rich Jewish banker; Donna Eleonora Salvati, who had, it was said, the most beautiful and most visited collection of real lace underwear; the two Gozzani sisters, Marchesa Marta and Marchesa Federica, of whom, in truth, the second had been widowed, although the husband of the first had died instead, if, according to what was said, it was true that the baron Captain Guerrazzo had deserted the marital bed for the widow’s bed of his lovely sister-in-law.

He thought he had been received at the intimate teas of Rosanella Piacentini, this frivolous one, who had fallen in love with her hairdresser; to the less intimate teas of Graziana Buonconte, who loved playing on the stock market, talking about politics, betting on horses, smoking Havana cigars, and also loved, according to the chronicles, the cramped beds of her beautiful maids.

She would have liked, on spring mornings, to trudge beside that accomplished Amazon who was Miretta Sansalvato, who was especially sorry for not finding riders intrepid enough to gallop as she pleased, but who certainly possessed a hand as strong as she pleased. delicate, and this had been recognized by many lieutenants of cavalry on the moor. She would have liked to make music in the mysterious parlor of pale Clara Michelis, who was already a widow at that time, and she was visibly pining for an ill widow.

In short, he would have liked to enter the intimacy of that well-known society, to which everything is lawful, because no one is above her, in the small circle of a city, to judge her; where ingenuity makes less breach than accomplished manners, and sometimes makes you yawn, where impetuous passion gives way to elegant whim, angry revenge covers your hands with delicate gloves and friendship becomes urban like complimenting flattery. In that gleaming, painted society, where one sings, dances, laughs, loves, hates, takes revenge and even betrays one another, but all this politely, with a nice reserve, between four walls, so that no news is spread. for the mouths of the contemptible plebs.

And he saw, as in the dream of a marvelous future, the day when he would have for his table a table laden with transparent porcelain, served around by a crowd of silent butlers, and he saw himself, in that mirage of crystals, of mirrors, of silverware, to push the lustful eye into the white of a shameless neckline, feeling the fragrance of fragrant powder pass around, the warmth of a glimpsed breast, the ardor of an ambiguous look … from which a few years earlier he had come out, with some rag and a few copper coins; the semi-dark shop, which was destined to be his whole kingdom; and instead he set up for his idleness the deep armchairs, stuffed with soft cushions, for his dances he dreamed of the sparkling halls of candelabra,

It was necessary to walk, to walk with temerity, without allowing oneself rest, making his way among the many who would have hindered his way, breaking the bonds that bound his foot, alone, and certainly not to fail.

Why had he chosen this dream as the temptation of his courageous life? Neither did he know it, nor did he care to know it. This ambition had gushed in him from a dark source of the soul, tormented him and spurred him on with fierce excitement.

Later he would think of crowning his tenacious ambition with a few less fleeting laurels, since he had come out of nowhere with the desire and the indisputable virtue of not being mediocre. He wanted, even if it were lawful for him, to make a noisy passage in the world, to attract some envy upon himself, to reach as far as he could from the obscure and forgotten origin.

Some of his new friends had already vaguely promised him to propose him to the club next autumn, since in the meantime it was better for him to let the summer pass by deftly grabbing a certain number of sympathies among those members of greater credit, who could have to their talent to open or close forever the access to the sublime door. Full of self-confidence, Arrigo set about with all his power to this slow and ingenious effort. In recent years the Club had slowed down its narrow disciplines a lot, opening its doors to a large crowd of new and less severely chosen members, out of the need to keep themselves alive. It was essential to rekindle the game, to add to the teaching ranks of the ancient members a more vital youth, which had come up with the new times in the city that had become bourgeois, and which reflected the slow rise of the trafficking class on the decline of patrician families. Against the fame of the family, the fame of full coffers was now winning; the secular palaces inevitably fell into the possession of the enriched plebs. Names that still felt the stench of every low commercial speculation held the dictatorship of the city, procuring the most illustrious offices for their children, marrying well-endowed daughters in the oldest relatives.

Over the hoarse sobbing of the feudal trumpet the sirens of the workshop triumphed with wider shouts: to the hunting horns lost in the echo of the bandits, the laborious roar of the hammers, the antesite and the snort of the great generating machines answered; against the paean of the bloodthirsty armies the Hymn of the Workers burst out from the invaded square.

And among these new customs, the path opened easier for those who came from below; the man no longer wore the seal and the mark of his birth on his forehead, [96]but in the race of life he was worth for the path he knew how to take, he was worth in the human fair for his dexterity as a juggler, for his faculty as a charlatan, and thus he could fish or defraud the greatest die in the cartridge case of his fortune. The tyrannical people threw their robust champions into all their jousting, and since they were thirsty for life, greedy for daily abstinence, calloused and resentful of the yokes they suffered, they put on stubborn anger in overcoming, boasted a noisy temerity in all victories.

Now summer came; with the summer the exodus towards the countryside, towards the lake and mountain idleness, towards the beaches that burn with sparkling arenas, in the red months of idleness and bathing. The depopulated city remained at the mercy of its most tenacious workers, it became the kingdom of cheerful husbands and idlers, who, out of laziness, did not have the courage to take a train. Life became more familiar among all those who were afflicted by the same heat sickness, and it was heard sworn in good faith that the city was never so pleasant to live in as when it is cleared of its major citizenship.

The longer the night was awake, there were long siestas in the sultry afternoons; the purpose of the evening walks was to go in search of a breath of air, and all the curses of the year gave the tormented a brief respite, as the calendar of every life marked the time of blissful vacations.

Arrigo and Ruskaia did not linger long in the city. Besides, she was bored. Since the theater had closed she had been deeply bored; the day above all, because the nights always had some amusement.

He was perhaps a little despotic, and sometimes irritated her; then he wasn’t jealous at all, and that humiliated her. A few clouds had already risen between them about a thousand trifles; they didn’t have the same way of thinking, they didn’t like the same books, they didn’t like the same people. Arrigo spent too many hours away from home, he devoted too much time to friends, to papers, to his ambitious care, he always had a certain worried and closed attitude, which [97]the jealousy of the lover; he was also not a man capable of lending himself to all the whims of a spoiled woman, and sometimes, even in the most intimate hours, he already showed that he was in a certain hurry. Sometimes she began by feeling a little alone … And yet they still loved each other. Light clouds, which disappeared rapidly in the heat of a temptation.

They were at the water, they were in the mountains, then they went down to a lake shore not far from the city, and, to finish the summer, they rented a small house like a nest, which bathed its flowered rosebushes in the placid water.

The shore was often full of festive villas, of very popular hotels; all day along the long road bordering the lake was a passing of carriages or automobiles from one gate to the other, as the holiday lordship honored itself with mutual visits, lavished parties in sumptuous parks, sometimes danced, recited, he masked, ran sailing regattas, caroused on tennis courts and also took care of suffering humanity by setting up some charity fair with great noise.

Amid that din of worldly life, the lovers lived on the sidelines, almost hidden in the intimacy of their nest.

The summer, already crossed by some shivering, already worn with some yellow leaves, the summer that burst into the vineyards with a red ripening of clusters and seemed to burn in the gardens with absurd magnificence of flowers, consumed in the ardor of its post-extreme flames veins of lovers, who in that overwhelming life felt an unconsumable voluptuousness spring from all the surrounding things.

Nothing is more tormenting for the traveler than to meet, on sunny afternoons, a small house with half-closed shutters, with lowered curtains, around which a silence of living things murmurs, a fresh fountain sings in the green, glitters among the gravels of the avenue some shattered glass …

Nothing is more tiring for the oarsman than passing by his boat under a fragrant garden, when the windows of the house reopen in the dying sun, and together, close together, half-dressed, two look out over the windowsill, looking [98]in the trembling blueness of that hour when they begin and ring bells, because all afternoon they have slept, dreamed, loved, in a closed quiet room, where nevertheless the enormous cruelty of summer, that dizzying flash of the sun on the inert water, that motionless tribulation that invades everything in the blaze, when the fire gràvita on the hour stops consuming its own splendor.

And the lonely, the lazy, the enervated, those who torment a hidden desire, those who have to be either wayfarers or rowers along infinite roads, think with a melancholy envy of those two who are inside the house, who they slept, dreamed, loved, in the hidden refuge, during a long sunny afternoon.

Then envy becomes curious; go, spy, look, speak, tell … The low roof, enclosed among the trees of the lake garden, becomes the sweet place of sin, which disturbs the imaginations of others, which moves a legend of love all around.

Through the closed gate run furtive glances; many other people’s dreams fly to those enchanted windows; everything in that innocent house seems bewitched and guilty, since from every twig, from every stone, hangs the voluptuous secret of two young people who love each other.

In the crowded halls there was talk of that taciturn house; some young gentleman, bored with family life, pushed his audacity to the point of attempting to siege the beautiful lover; some old maid gossiped about those two with the greenest bile; some fluffy girl, in the sleepless bed, saw at the foot of the garden the overflowing headboards of roses and that clump of jasmine that embraced the half-closed windows; some wife, a widow during the week, when it was Saturday evening, before putting out the light, tormented her sleepy husband …

And all this made it possible for that indiscreet chatter that had spread the loves of Arrigo and Tatiana from the beginning, when the happy group of Mammagnúccoli had first moved on the lake shore, in a new circle of people. his adventure.

He was, among others, a baron, who was in the villa with his old mother, a baron with a frizzy beard, reached the limit of forty years with an adolescent heart, who was very jealous of that idyll. summer, so much restlessness of love gripped him for the beautiful singer.

Not infrequently he saw her in the garden, more often he heard her throwing her harmonious trills aloft, since the baronial possession bordered on the garden of lovers and there was only a low wall of a few stones between them. .

Baron Silvestro Piaggi was a tall and complex man, with a handsome rosy face, like a good boy, whose blond curly beard grew with joviality. Honored and very rich, he had been shot without mercy by the marriageable girls; but for a filial love more devoted than any other affection of him had never wanted to marry, fearing that a family of his own would force him to lack assiduity with his old mother.

This man, however, fell in love; and since he possessed in the highest degree what women supremely like: chivalry of manners and extreme prodigality – love in his life had been a joyful thing.

To woo Ruskaia, Baron Silvestro took up that great fighting air of his from the good weather when he was a thin cavalry officer; he darted at her with flattering glances, it seemed as if he wanted to prostrate at her feet, with a single talkative act, himself, his money, his more than devout urbanity.

This did not bother Ruskaia, nor even Arrigo, who, instead of being angry, showed a singular complacency about these dangers.

Along that low wall, how many times did Baron Silvestro pass! His handsome frizzy beard shone in the rays of the sun with true magnificence. One day he greeted. Ruskaia smiled. All things in the world have their reason for being: that smile perhaps meant:


Who knows? … The soul of a woman is so full of mystery [100]in love! She sometimes feels the need to mix in her own feeling even the subtle joy that comes from mocking another man. Then, to a man whom she greets, – a lord in her fiefdom – why not smile? This smile is as light as innocence; nothing promises, nothing prevents; she passes, flies away, does not touch, but she says ambiguously: “Who knows …”

Life is so bizarre, and in the end anything can happen! …

Even the good case that a great love goes to ashes. Then it may be useful to have said: “Who knows …” And then it is sweet, for the slightly frivolous woman, to sleep in her own bed with a beloved lover, but with the thought of another – a gentleman in his fiefdom – who for love of her watches and sighs … It is sweet to think; “There are those who watch while I comb my braids at the window; there are those who tremble if I pass in the garden in a dressing gown … Yes, that baron makes me laugh a little with his bald head and his blond beard … but the people of the village greet him and bow to him like a little king. After all, I would like to know why Arrigo is not jealous? Indeed, he does nothing but sleep. How much this Arrigo sleeps in the summer days! … ”

Once finally Baron Silvestro dared to cross the threshold. With his forty years and his crisp beard he was still confused as a college boy.

Arrigo was in pajamas and hurried to get dressed. She received it from Ruskaia, all flushed in the face because she had paddled for two long hours in the sun.

When he was embarrassed, she laughed. First of all she then she began to laugh openly, with that little doll of hers full of an inexpressible grace. In the room she was a little dark.

– Please sit down, Baron.

He remained standing. It hardly seemed real to him that he was there. On the contrary, he forgot the reason for his visit. Finally he recovered from it.

– I’m in charge … – They put him in charge of a commission. The noble ladies of the charity had sent him to parley with the singer with the golden voice. [101]A great party was being prepared, in the theater of a nearby hotel, in favor of certain derelicts … This was a performance every year. Would you like to sing Ruskaia? She didn’t say no! The patroness was Donna Claudia del Borgo; she would sing the marquisina Farulli, Donna Francesca Monteguti … Then she would even give herself a little comedy … she Don’t say no!

What a horrible pronunciation that Baron Silvestro had in French! … – Ruskaia observed to herself even before thinking about whether it would be convenient for her to accept or not. She also had something artifact and comical about her body. No, she was better off in the distance, with his curly beard behind the low wall. She thought she was foolish to let him believe …

“We are neighbors, luckily for me …” he said in a gallant tone.

– Oh, what luck!

– Every morning, at the window, I catch a glimpse of her …

– Well well…

She was a little restless, perhaps irritated; she annoyed that polite and dull suitor. These fervent slaves feel man and man’s masculinity in a singular way.

– Yet I had to wait until today for the opportunity to get to know her.

– Sure … – And she smiled at him, like the first time, in the garden.

Arrigo arrived. The baron introduced himself to him. An affable man, a knight of great world, he could get stuck in front of a beautiful woman, but in all other circumstances he remained master of himself. The proposal was repeated, and after much hesitation, persuaded by Arrigo’s insistence, Ruskaia ended up accepting.

But, good God! … this commitment worried her … For several months she had not sung anymore. The baron said:

– Oh, don’t tell your neighbor these things!

Yes, but those were trills in the open air; now he had to prepare himself.

– In short, I promised: I will sing.

And here they are both closer to ladies and gentlemen, in the promiscuity of a large hotel, under the wing of the good Fairy Charity. Here she is, celebrated, in the midst of groups of chatty ladies, fervent in the work undertaken, all day in business, happy more than ever to think once what they were not, performing from the stage to the spectacle of a large audience. And here they are, curious about this foreign singer who dragged behind her a story of sensational adventures, who during the winter had made the city to noise with her singing and with her passion. She liked it; they found her nice, witty, fine; they enjoyed being with her, breathing a little of that golden, prestigious dust, which seemed to envelop her in splendor, made of so many dissimilar things: from the applause he had aroused around her in her wandering life, to the gold they had sprinkled on her feet and on which she had walked; from her stubborn honesty which was sometimes an inextricable knot, to the strange lusts of those who believed her capable of her in her blanket of beautiful wandering woman. They made her sing, they applauded her, they flattered her, they crowded around her, towards tea time; finally, if some gruff husband had not interfered, they might have come to invite her into their homes.

By reflex, Arrigo took advantage of the festive welcome that was made everywhere in Ruskaia. He kept as far away from her as he could, so as not to damage good appearances, and the world, which, if it pleases him, sometimes indulges beyond what is necessary, pretended to ignore even that they were lovers and that they had lake a sweet villa with half-closed windows.

During the rehearsal of the play he stood aside in the large atrium of the hotel, sometimes in the garden, showing himself full of grace and gentle modesty.

The young ladies buzzed around him in swarms, curious about him, for what they had intended to tell about him in a low voice during the austerity of the family meals. Among the groups of ladies there was discussion about his person. He had reached that nickname of “bel Ferrante” that had been awarded him in the boxes of the theater, when his [103]name had spread for the first times, joined to that of Ruskaia. In fact, without comparison he surpassed the two most adventurous seducers of the lake season: Cencio Baracco, winner of regattas, and Massimo Randa, who every evening crossed the lake in a petrol launch, for a bond he had on the other shore. He won them over with beauty and novelty, but he was perhaps a little too virile for the taste of those refined ladies. Undoubtedly he lacked that ethical air, that yellowish pallor of indigestion, that tired going on limp legs, which heralds distant spinitis; in short, he lacked much of what he likes most in modern young gentlemen, and which sometimes gives them the reputation of being irresistible. But with his swift person, with his handsome muscular neck, with the precise and clear mask of his face,

On the other hand, he was not, or did not seem to be, in vain. Beyond him she pushed his drawings than to hurt the heart of this or that admirer; in less difficult times he kept the idle tournaments of love. His battle was one that is fought with taciturn patience, and he saw in front of him only a necessary, distant goal. Pushing himself with skilful elbows into that reluctant world: this was his fatigue in the meantime. And for this, everything had to serve him; also the beautiful voice of Ruskaia, even the interested courtesies of Baron Silvestro, even the gossip that he heard running around like lizards in the grass, and also the unambiguous pricks of Donna Claudia del Borgo, who sponsored the party.

This woman Claudia was already beyond her famous and dissolute beauty in the autumn; but not with the years did her tumultuous heart fall asleep; no less ardently liked her young and steadfast temperament for having somewhat wasted in her long vices of her. An inconclusive husband, rich without borders, had been the silent patron of her mad whims. Young, she had given herself to whoever wanted her, to whom she liked; she had given herself in the most ways [104]strange and more perverse, with an insatiable volubility. He had once scandalized the city by holding the most beautiful horse-rider of Hungary as a bridegroom, and to those who murmured, to those who were horrified, he responded by opening the halls of his palace to a grandiose and sumptuous hospitality, well thinking that eating, drinking, making people dance, making people live by latch, are the offerings that best eradicate the raging slander of others. But now she, aged and not tired, she put some study in choosing for her last banquets the tastiest dips of her. She almost had a virile desire to satisfy every whim, and in certain gatherings of dudes it was rumored that Donna Claudia was sometimes a liberal. A lieutenant, who had played and lost to the point of risking his shoulder pads, was thus saved; many strangers had entered society for his bedroom. Since she, not being able to go down to them, she sometimes raised them up to herself. Furthermore, Donna Claudia took care of marriages, and when she was tired of a lover, she often got him a wife from among the ranks of the noble ladies who she kept in her protection of her. At least in some respects, they were thus quite sure they would not come across badly.

In short, Donna Claudia’s pleasure could not be a damage to all those who were in Arrigo’s shoes. And he knew it. This thought came to him instinctively the first day she looked at him. There are certain women who dare to look at us with more insolence than we do not look at the most desired of women. On the contrary, he had a subtle fear of that ancient experience. But in the following days he felt a whim arise in the soul of that dissolute woman, and with his bourgeois habit of calculating, he immediately evaluated the profit that would derive from it. She would certainly have raised him on a shield right into the halls of her palace, she would have defended him and made him receive him in that closed world. As for the gossip of the people? … bah! … he could only go up through a fraud: – whatever it was

Donna Claudia was one day presented by [105]Baron Silvestro after the rehearsals of the play, and now amiably took pleasure in teasing him with his spirit full of vivacity and irony. During those weeks Arrigo had close a lot of acquaintances, but since he was in a very difficult condition, given his link with Ruskaia, he used them with great caution, so as not to offend any susceptibility.

Beautiful Tatiana was jealous. If a little weariness was about to arise in her, these facts dissipated her. She hated all those who looked at Arrigo with too much insistence, and many times she became jealous without a shadow of reason, as the woman in love completely lost the sense of her own worth, if not that of her own vanity. Every evening, in the intimate cottage, there were quarrels and tears. Arrigo always managed to cheer her up with some skilful caress, with a few persuasive words; but the next day he was all over again. She became short-tempered, suspicious, restless; during the hours they spent at the hotel she never lost sight of him for a moment; if he went out alone, all of a sudden he happened to be with her, and furthermore he had ordered the maid not to deliver any letter that reached her house to her alone.

That day it took him no small effort to be able to calm her down.

Meanwhile the good Baron Silvestro, designated victim of those discontent, had to receive a lot of rudeness. But she didn’t despair. She knew that everything comes to her time of her: the fruit on the unripe tree and the kiss of love on the lips of the reluctant woman.

If the day of the performance had been late, certainly the play would not have been a happy ending. Those mischievous noblewomen cheerfully put themselves to the test in provoking the jealousy of the singer, so that they made Arrigo more dull than ever. Donna Claudia, proud and brash, did not take it for granted. With that air of [106]a great lady who had never lost in the most disheveled adventures, flirted with Arrigo under the flashing eyes of Ruskaia and seemed to amuse half the world to see the embarrassment of the perplexed lover. She had told him one day:

– I would like to invite you to my place in the villa; but maybe your little friend wouldn’t let you …

And he laughed, with his laughter full of insolence.

Then, another day:

– I go to town once a week, on Thursdays, on the eleven o’clock train …

Arrigo pretended not to understand. It seemed to him that it was sometimes a job for men too to defend their honesty.

But when Ruskaia sang, on the day of the performance, the scene was covered with flowers. To make her a basket, Baron Silvestro had harvested the most beautiful flower beds in his garden. And they paid her applause for how much they had made her suffer.

Since then no one has seen them again. They had returned to live hidden in the villa that smelled of jasmine.

In the meantime, autumn began to throw its yellow carpets on the sloping meadows of the mountain; he embroidered the calm waters with freezing shivers as evening approached. The open magnolias fell apart, fell from the tall branches, into the shiny foliage. The roses of the espaliers peeled off flower by flower on the white wave, and dispersed, one by one, across the lake, among the dry leaves.

And the lovers returned to the city. Ruskaia was cast for the new season; Arrigo gradually regained greater freedom. By now it seemed to him that his house was too modest, so that he took another, far more luxurious apartment and had a servant in livery serve him. A certain apparatus was needed to receive Donna Claudia and all the others that would follow. The usurers began by giving him credit, seeing him living among wealthy people, and when the cards did not meet the deadlines, it was Tatiana who [107]paid the bills. But no longer with the serene unconsciousness of the first few times. Now she was darkening, crying discreetly for misery, and there had already been some bitter arguments, above all about the expenses of the apartment which seemed excessive to her. Then he acted as a braggart, he took offense, swore that he would repay her, and with surplus, of every money he had, then, for a few days, she disappeared. But she, Tatiana, returned to look for him, although it had been a moment in doubt whether she would take advantage of that occasion to welcome the enticing offerings of Baron Silvestro, who had, in front of women, two supreme virtues: patience and money.

Tatiana was certainly not interested; but she spent no less than fifty thousand lire a year on her clothes; she adored jewels and soon got tired of them, her luxury, her waste were more necessary to her than bread. For a year now her earnings had been reduced to almost nothing, since the wages of an Italian theater, for her needs, were very poor; from Paris her banker, at every request for money, sent her almost fatherly letters, warning her that her current account was dwindling with frightening speed. And in short, if love can, in proverbs, be satisfied with a hut, the word of a provident banker often succeeds in upsetting an entire order of ideas. That baron Sylvester, with the frizzy beard, was indeed a little ridiculous, with his great air of a king of puppets, – but what a serious support for a little woman,

Arrigo was asleep one morning when the servant came to wake him up, bringing him a business card which he looked at with sleepy eyes. At the same time two knuckles were heard knocking familiarly at the door.

“It’s me,” said a voice from outside, which he thought he recognized as Beppe Cianella’s.

– Oh, come on ahead!

With urbanity they excused each other, the first for having come, the other for receiving him while lying in bed.

Arrigo noticed that for the first time Cianella was calling him tu.

– I came for two reasons: one …

– But sit down!

– Tell me sit down; it’s easier. And since you must be sleepy, I’ll try to explain quickly.

Arrigo had already understood: the morning visit, the tone, that familiarity … then he had been expecting it for a long time.

– So I’ll start with the worst. I’m coming to bother you about a loan. If you can, thank you very much; if not, never mind.

Arrigo lit a cigarette.

“It’s a question of numbers,” he said with an amiable smile.

“Five thousand,” said Cianella, who loved to go fast. And he began to contemplate the physiognomy of his recent friend.

Arrigo meditated for a moment.

“Maybe I can get there, but with a little effort,” he said. – At the moment I don’t have them, but before lunch I hope to get them to you.

“Thank you,” replied the other simply, as if he had already pocketed them. Then he thought he was obliged to some explanation.

– I took a beating last night. That devil Sacco Berni has put us all on the pavement. If you only knew you are fanning, my dear! He has returned from the countryside with more frightening luck than ever. On the other hand, for a month now, I’ve been doing nothing but losing. Patience! In the meantime, thank you. I came to you, knowing that you have a good heart and that you are a discreet man. But I didn’t just come to store you …

He paused and assumed an air of protection:

– Totò Rigoli told me about your presentation at the Club; he asked me if I would agree to sign your card together with him … above all in this moment that I am in the position of temporary secretary. Totò [109]Rígoli loves you. And I, of course, accepted. I’ll sign the application today and start campaigning for you. You know, sometimes, to receive a new partner, they raise a thousand difficulties … In your case there will be a fight, because you have aroused a lot of envy … By the way, how is Ruskaia?

Ruskaia was very well, and she paid, of course, the five thousand lire that Beppe Cianella needed so that he would agree to introduce his friend Totò’s friend to the Club.

And the urn, sometimes unjustly cruel, was propitious to this man who had the courage to believe in luck. He had a very mixed vote, but for a small excess of white balls the doors of that noble circle were opened for him that for many years had been the privilege of a truly secluded caste. The highest barriers fell in front of the adventurer’s step; over his name had been fought one of those little worldly battles which decide the future of a man.

What did it matter to him if someone murmured behind his back, someone even shouted at the abuse? He would have silenced them, he would have won them, either with persuasion or with arrogance, because he could now divide the profits from the useless and the friends from the enemies.

Then he did a good wash of all his dirty things, and looking confidently into the clear future said for the first time to himself:

– It will come!