Violetta Kutufa

These qualities belong to a high order of creative writing, they can
never be the property of mere talent, they have no part in concessions
to popular and superficial demands. This does not necessarily imply
a criticism of the latter: it is not a crime to prefer happiness to
misery, and certainly the tangible facts of happiness are success
and the omnipotence of love. Tales and stories exist as a source of
pleasure, but men take their pleasures with a difference; and for any
who are moved by the heroic spectacle of humanity pinned by fatality to
earth but forever struggling for release “Tales of My Native Town” must
have a deep significance.

No one has abhorred brutality and deception more passionately than
Gabriele D’Annunzio, and no one has held himself more firmly to the
exact drawing of their insuperable evils. But this is not all; it is
not, perhaps, even the most important aspect: that may well be his
fascinating art. Here, above all, the contending elements, of his
being, the brilliant genius of the Renaissance, predominate; an age
bright with blood and gold and silk, an age of poetry as delicately
cultivated as its assassinations. It was a period logical and cruel,
lovely and corrupt; and, to an extraordinary degree, it has its
reflection in D’Annunzio’s writing.

Yet, in him, it is troubled by modern apprehensions, a social
conscience unavoidable now to any fineness of perception. His tales are
no longer simply the blazing arbitrary pictures of the Quatrocento;
they possess our own vastly more burdened spirit. In this, as well,
they are as American as they are Italian; the crimes and beggars and
misery of Pescara, the problems and hopes of one, belong to the other;
the bonds of need and sympathy are complete.

The tales themselves are filled with energy and movement, the emotions
are in high keys. At times a contest of will, of temptation playing
with fear, as in The Gold Pieces, they rise to pitched battles between
whole towns; the factions, more often than not led by Holy reliques and
statues, a sacred arm in silver or the sparkling bust of a Saint with a
solar disc, massed with scythes and bars and knives, meet in sanguinary
struggle. Or again the passions smoulder into individual bitterness and
scandal and mean hatred. The Duchess of Amalfi is such a chronicle, the
record of Don Giovà’s devastating passion for Violetta Kutufa, who came
to Pescara with a company of singers at Carnival.

Nothing is omitted that could add to the veracity, the inevitable
collapse, of this almost senile Don Juan; while the psychology of the
ending is an accomplishment of arresting power and fitness. There is
in The Duchess of Amalfi a vivid presentation of Pescara itself, the
houses and Violetta’s room scented with cyprus-powder, the square with
the cobblers working and eating figs, a caged blackbird whistling the
Hymn of Garibaldi, the Casino, immersed in shadow, its tables sprinkled
with water.

Around Pescara is the level sea, the river and mountains and the broad
campagnia, the vines, the wine vats and oil presses, the dwellings of
mud and reeds; the plain is flooded with magnificent noon, and, at
night, Turlendana, drunk, is mocked by the barking of vagrant dogs;
the men linger under Violetta’s lighted windows, and the strains of her
song run through all the salons, all the heads, of the town…. It is
as far away as possible, and yet, in its truth, implied in every heart.

Already the huge standards of Saint Gonselvo had appeared on the square
and were swaying heavily in the breeze. Those who bore them in their
hands were men of herculean stature, red in the face and with their
necks swollen from effort; and they were playing with them.

After the victory over the Radusani the people of Mascalico celebrated
the feast of September with greater magnificence than ever. A
marvellous passion for religion held all souls. The entire country
sacrificed the recent richness of the corn to the glory of the Patron
Saint. Upon the streets from one window to another the women had
stretched their nuptial coverlets. The men had wreathed with vines
the doorways and heaped up the thresholds with flowers. As the wind
blew along the streets there was everywhere an immense and dazzling
undulation which intoxicated the crowd.

From the church the procession proceeded to wind in and out and to
lengthen out as far as the square. Before the altar, where Saint
Pantaleone had fallen, eight men, privileged souls, were awaiting the
moment for the lifting of the statue of Saint Gonselvo; their names
were: Giovanni Curo, l’Ummalido, Mattala, Vencenzio Guanno, Rocco
di Cenzo, Benedetto Galante, Biagio di Clisci, Giovanni Senzapaura.
They stood in silence, conscious of the dignity of their work, but
with their brains slightly confused. They seemed very strong; had the
burning eye of the fanatic, and wore in their ears, like women, two
circles of gold. From time to time they tested their biceps and wrists
as if to calculate their vigour; or smiled fugitively at one another.

The statue of the Patron Saint was enormous, very heavy, made of hollow
bronze, blackish, with the head and hands of silver.

Mattala cried:

“Ready!”

The people, everywhere, struggled to see. The windows of the church
roared at every gust of the wind. The nave was fumigated with incense
and resin. The sounds of instruments were heard now and then. A kind of
religious fever seized the eight men, in the centre of that turbulence.
They extended their arms to be ready.

Mattala cried:

“One! Two! Three!”

Simultaneously the men made the effort to raise the statue to the
altar. But its weight was overpowering, and the figure swayed to the
left. The men had not yet succeeded in getting a firm grip around the
base. They bent their backs in their endeavour to resist. Biagio di
Clisci and Giovanni Curo, the least strong, lost their hold. The statue
swerved violently to one side. L’Ummalido gave a cry.

“Take care! Take care!” vociferated the spectators on seeing the Patron
Saint so imperilled. From the square came a resounding crash that
drowned all voices.

L’Ummalido had fallen on his knees with his right arm beneath the
bronze. Thus kneeling, he held his two large eyes, full of terror
and pain, fixed on his hand which he could not free, while his mouth
twisted but no longer spoke. Drops of blood sprinkled the altar.

His companions, all together, made a second effort to raise the weight.
The operation was difficult. L’Ummalido, in a spasm of pain, twisted
his mouth. The women spectators shuddered.

At length the statue was lifted and L’Ummalido withdrew his hand,
crushed and bleeding and formless. “Go home, now! Go home!” the people
cried, while pushing him toward the door of the church.

A woman removed her apron and offered it to him for a bandage.
L’Ummalido refused it. He did not speak, but watched a group of men who
were gesticulating and disputing around the statue.

“It is my turn!”

“No!—no! It’s my turn!”

“No! let me!”

Cicco Ponno, Mattia Seafarolo and Tommaso di Clisci were contending for
the place left vacant by L’Ummalido.

He approached the disputants. Holding his bruised hand at his side, and
with the other opening a path, he said simply:

“The position is mine.”

And he placed his left shoulder as a prop for the Patron Saint. He
stifled down his pain, gritting his teeth, with fierce will-power.

Mattala asked him:

“What are you trying to do?”

He answered:

“What Saint Gonselvo wishes me to do.”

And he began to walk with the others. Dumbfounded the people watched
him pass. From time to time, someone, on seeing the wound which was
bleeding and growing black, asked him:

“L’Umma’, what is the matter?”

He did not answer. He moved forward gravely, measuring his steps by
the rhythm of the music, with his mind a little hazy, beneath the vast
coverlets that flapped in the wind and amongst the swelling crowd.

At a street corner he suddenly fell. The Saint stopped an instant and
swayed, in the centre of a momentary confusion, then continued its
progress. Mattia Scafarola supplied the vacant place. Two relations
gathered up the swooning man and carried him to a nearby house.

Anna di Cenzo, who was an old woman, expert at healing wounds, looked
at the formless and bloody member, and then shaking her head, said:

“What can I do with it?”

Her little skill was able to do nothing. L’Ummalido controlled his
feelings and said nothing. He sat down and tranquilly contemplated his
wound. The hand hung limp, forever useless, with the bones ground to
powder.

Two or three aged farmers came to look at it. Each, with a gesture or a
word, expressed the same thought.

L’Ummalido asked:

“Who carried the Saint in my place?”

They answered:

“Mattia Scafarola.”

Again he asked:

“What are they doing now?”

They answered:

“They are singing the vespers.”

The farmers bid him good-bye and left for vespers. A great chiming came
from the mother church.

One of the relations placed near the wound a bucket of cold water,
saying:

“Every little while put your hand in it. We must go. Let us go and
listen to the vespers.”

L’Ummalido remained alone. The chiming increased, while changing its
metre. The light of day began to wane. An olive tree, blown by the
wind, beat its branches against the low window.

L’Ummalido began to bathe his hand little by little. As the blood and
concretions fell away, the injury appeared even greater. L’Ummalido
mused:

“It is entirely useless! It is lost. Saint Gonselvo, I offer it up to
you.”

He took a knife and went out. The streets were deserted. All of the
devotees were in the church. Above the houses sped, like fugitive herds
of cattle, the violet clouds of a September sunset.

In the church the united multitude sang in measured intervals as if
in chorus to the music of the instruments. An intense heat emanated
from the human bodies and the burning tapers. The silver head of Saint
Gonselvo scintillated from on high like a light house. L’Ummalido
entered. To the stupefaction of all, he walked up to the altar and
said, in a clear voice, while holding the knife in his left hand:

“Saint Gonselvo, I offer it up to you.”

And he began to cut around the right wrist, gently, in full sight of
the horrified people. The shapeless hand became detached little by
little amidst the blood. It swung an instant suspended by the last
filaments. Then it fell into a basin of copper which held the money
offerings at the feet of the Patron Saint.

L’Ummalido then raised the bloody stump and repeated in a clear voice:

“Saint Gonselvo, I offer it up to you.”

When, one day, toward two o’clock in the afternoon, Don Giovanni
Ussorio was about to set his foot on the threshold of Violetta Kutufas’
house, Rosa Catana appeared at the head of the stairs and announced in
a lowered voice, while she bent her head:

“Don Giovà, the Signora has gone.”

Don Giovanni, at this unexpected news, stood dumbfounded, and remained
thus for a moment with his eyes bulging and his mouth wide open While
gazing upward as if awaiting further explanations. Since Rosa stood
silently at the top of the stairs, twisting an edge of her apron with
her hands and dilly-dallying somewhat, he asked at length:

“But tell me why? But tell me why?” And he mounted several steps while
he kept repeating with a slight stutter:

“But why? But why?”

“Don Giovà, what have I to tell you? Only that she has gone.”

“But why?”

“Don Giovà, I do not know, so there!”

And Rosa took several steps on the landing-place toward the door of the
empty apartment. She was rather a thin woman, with reddish hair, and
face liberally scattered with freckles. Her large, ash-coloured eyes
had nevertheless a singular vitality. The excessive distance between
her nose and mouth gave to the lower part of her face the appearance of
a monkey.

Don Giovanni pushed open the partly closed door and passed through the
first room, and then the third; he walked around the entire apartment
with excited steps; he stopped at the little room, set aside for the
bath. The silence almost terrified him; a heavy anxiety weighted down
his heart.

“It can’t be true! It can’t be true!” he murmured, staring around
confusedly.

The furniture of the room was in its accustomed place, but there was
missing from the table under the round mirror, the crystal phials,
the tortoise-shell combs, the boxes, the brushes, all of those small
objects that assist at the preparation of feminine beauty. In a corner
stood a species of large, zinc kettle shaped like a guitar; and within
it sparkled water tinted a delicate pink from some essence. The water
exhaled subtle perfume that blended in the air with the perfume of
cyprus-powder. The exhalation held in it some inherent quality of
sensuousness.

“Rosa! Rosa!” Don Giovanni cried, in a voice almost extinguished by the
insurmountable anxiety that he felt surging through him.

The woman appeared.

“Tell me how it happened! To what place has she gone? And when did she
go? And why?” begged Don Giovanni, making with his mouth a grimace both
comic and childish, in order to restrain his grief and force back the
tears.

He seized Rosa by both wrists, and thus incited her to speak, to reveal.

“I do not know, Signor,” she answered. “This morning she put her
clothes in her portmanteau, sent for Leones’ carriage, and went away
without a word. What can you do about it? She will return.”

“Return-n-n!” sobbed Don Giovanni, raising his eyes in which already
the tears had started to overflow. “Has she told you when? Speak!” And
this last cry was almost threatening and rabid.

“Eh?… to be sure she said to me, ‘Addio, Rosa. We will never see
each other again…! But, after all … who can tell! Everything is
possible.’”

Don Giovanni sank dejectedly upon a chair at these words, and set
himself to weeping with so much force of grief that the woman was
almost touched by it.

“Now what are you doing, Don Giovà? Are there not other women in this
world? Don Giovà, why do you worry about it…?”

Don Giovanni did not hear. He persisted in weeping like a child and
hiding his face in Rosa Catana’s apron; his whole body was rent with
the upheavals of his grief.

“No, no, no…. I want Violetta! I want Violetta!” he cried.

At that stupid childishness Rosa could not refrain from smiling. She
gave assistance by stroking the bald head of Don Giovanni and murmuring
words of consolation.

“I will find Violetta for you; I will find her…. So! be quiet! Do not
weep any more, Don Giovannino. The people passing can hear. Don’t worry
about it, now.”

Don Giovanni, little by little, under the friendly caress, curbed his
tears and wiped his eyes on her apron.

“Oh! oh! what a thing to happen!” he exclaimed, after having remained
for a moment with his glance fixed on the zinc kettle, where the water
glittered now under a sunbeam. “Oh! oh! what luck! Oh!”

He took his head between his hands and swung it back and forth two or
three times, as do imprisoned monkeys.

“Now go, Don Giovanino, go!” Rosa Cantana said, taking him gently by
the arm and drawing him along.

In the little room the perfume seemed to increase. Innumerable flies
buzzed around a cup where remained the residue of some coffee. The
reflection of the water trembled on the walls like a subtle net of
gold.

“Leave everything just so!” pleaded Don Giovanni of the woman, in a
voice broken by badly suppressed sobs. He descended the stairs, shaking
his head over his fate. His eyes were swollen and red, bulging from
their sockets like those of a mongrel dog.

His round body and prominent stomach overweighted his two slightly
inverted legs. Around his bald skull ran a crown of long curling hair
that seemed not to take root in the scalp but in the shoulders, from
which it climbed upward toward the nape of the neck and the temples. He
had the habit of replacing from time to time with his bejewelled hands,
some disarranged tuft; the jewels, precious and gaudy, sparkled even on
his thumb, and a cornelian button as large as a strawberry fastened the
bosom of his shirt over the centre of his chest.

When he reached the broad daylight of the square, he experienced anew
that unconquerable confusion. Several cobblers were working near by and
eating figs. A caged blackbird was whistling the hymn of Garibaldi,
continuously, always recommencing at the beginning with painful
persistency.

“At your service, Don Giovanni!” called Don Domenico Oliva, as he
passed, and he removed his hat with an affable Neapolitan cordiality.
Stirred with curiosity by the strange expression of the _Signor_, he
repassed him in a short time and resaluted him with greater liberality
of gesture and affability. He was a man of very long body and very
short legs; the habitual expression of his mouth was involuntarily
shaped for derision. The people of Pescara called him “Culinterra.”

“At your service!” he repeated.

Don Giovanni, in whom a venomous wrath was beginning to ferment
which the laughter of the fig-eaters and the trills of the blackbird
irritated, at his second salute turned his back fiercely and moved
away, fully persuaded that those salutes were meant for taunts.

Don Domenico, astonished, followed him with these words:

“But, Don Giovà! … are you angry … but….”

Don Giovanni did not listen. He walked on with quick steps toward his
home. The fruit-sellers and the blacksmiths along the road gazed and
could not understand the strange behaviour of these two men, breathless
and dripping with perspiration under the noonday sun.

Having arrived at his door, Don Giovanni, scarcely stopping to knock,
turned like a serpent, yellow and green with rage, and cried:

“Don Domè, oh Don Domè, I will hit you!” With this threat, he entered
his house and closed the door violently behind him.

Don Domenico, dumbfounded, stood for a time speechless. Then he
retraced his steps, wondering what could account for this behaviour,
when Matteo Verdura, one of the fig-eaters, called:

“Come here! Come here! I have a great bit of news to tell you.”

“What news?” asked the man of the long spine, as he approached.

“Don’t you know about it?”

“About what?”

“Ah! Ah! Then you haven’t heard yet?”

“Heard what?”

Verdura fell to laughing and the other cobblers imitated him.
Spontaneously all of them shook with the same rasping and inharmonious
mirth, differing only with the personality of each man.

“Buy three cents’ worth of figs and I will tell you.”

Don Domenico, who was niggardly, hesitated slightly, but curiosity
conquered him.

“Very well, here it is.”

Verdura called a woman and had her heap up the fruit on a plate. Then
he said:

“That signora who lived up there, Donna Violetta, do you remember…?
That one of the theatre, do you remember…?”

“Well?”

“She has made off this morning. Crash!”

“Indeed?”

“Indeed, Don Domè.”

“Ah, now I understand!” exclaimed Don Domenico, who was a subtle man
and cruelly malicious.

Then, as he wished to revenge himself for the offence given him by Don
Giovanni and also to make up for the three cents expended for the news,
he went immediately to the _casino_ in order to divulge the secret and
to enlarge upon it.

The “casino,” a kind of café, stood immersed in shadow, and up from
its tables sprinkled with water, arose a singular odour of dust and
musk. There snored Doctor Punzoni, relaxed upon a chair, with his arms
dangling. The Baron Cappa, an old soul, full of affection for lame dogs
and tender girls, nodded discreetly over a newspaper. Don Ferdinando
Giordano moved little flags over a card representing the battlefields
of the Franco-Prussian war. Don Settimio de Marinis appraised with
Doctor Fiocca the works of Pietro Mettastasio, not without many vocal
explosions and a certain flowery eloquency in the use of poetical
expressions. The notary Gaiulli, not knowing with whom to play,
shuffled the cards of his game alone, and laid them out in a row on the
table. Don Paolo Seccia sauntered around the billiard table with steps
calculated to assist the digestion.

Don Domenico Oliva entered with so much vehemence, that all turned
toward him except Doctor Panzoni, who still remained in the embrace of
slumber.

“Have you heard? Have you heard?”

Don Domenico was so anxious to tell the news, and so breathless, that
at first he stuttered without making himself understood. All of these
gentlemen around him hung upon his words, anticipating with delight any
unusual occurrence that might enliven their noonday chatter.

Don Paolo Seccia, who was slightly deaf in one ear, said impatiently,
“But have they tied your tongue, Don Domè?”

Don Domenico recommenced his story at the beginning, with more calmness
and clearness. He told everything; enlarged on the rage of Don Giovanni
Ussorio; added fantastic details; grew intoxicated with his own words
as he went on.

“Now do you see? Now do you see?”

Doctor Panzoni, at the noise, opened his eyelids, rolling his huge
pupils still dull with sleep and still blowing through the monstrous
hairs of his nose, said or rather snorted nasally:

“What has happened? What has happened?”

And with much effort, bearing down on his walking stick, he raised
himself very slowly, and joined the gathering in order to hear.

The Baron Cappa now narrated, with much saliva in his mouth, a
well-nourished story apropos of Violetta Kutufa. From the pupils of
the eyes of his intent listeners gleams flashed in turn. The greenish
eyes of Don Palo Seccia scintillated as if bathed in some exhilarating
moisture. At last the laughter burst out.

But Doctor Panzoni, though standing, had taken refuge again in slumber;
since for him sleep, irresistible as a disease, always had its seat
within his own nostrils.

He remained with his snores, alone in the centre of the room, his head
upon his breast, while the others scattered over the entire district to
carry the news from family to family.

And the news, thus divulged, caused an uproar in Pescara. Toward
evening, with a fresh breeze from the sea and a crescent moon,
everybody frequented the streets and squares. The hum of voices was
infinite. The name of Violetta Kutufa was at every tongue’s end. Don
Giovanni Ussorio was not to be seen.

Violetta Kutufa had come to Pescara in the month of January, at the
time of the Carnival, with a company of singers. She spoke of being
a Greek from the Archipelago, of having sung in a theatre at Corfu
in the presence of the Greek king, and of having made mad with love
an English admiral. She was a woman of plump figure and very white
skin. Her arms were unusually round and full of small dimples that
became pink with every change of motion; and these little dimples,
together with her rings and all of those other graces suitable for a
youthful person, helped to make her fleshiness singularly pleasing,
fresh and tantalising. The features of her face were slightly vulgar,
the eyes tan colour, full of slothfulness; her lips large and flat
as if crushed. Her nose did not suggest Greek origin; it was short,
rather straight, and with large inflated nostrils; her black hair
was luxuriant. She spoke with a soft accent, hesitating at each word,
smiling almost constantly. Her voice often became unexpectedly harsh.

When her company arrived, the Pescaresi were frantic with expectation.
The foreign singers were lauded everywhere, for their gestures,
their gravity of movement, their costumes, and for every other
accomplishment. But the person upon whom all attention centred was
Violetta Kutufa.

She wore a kind of dark bolero bordered with fur and held together
in front with gilt aiglettes; on her head was a species of toque, all
fur, and worn a little to one side. She walked about alone, stepping
briskly, entered the shops, treated the shop-keepers with a certain
disdain, complained of the mediocrity of their wares, left without
making a purchase, hummed with indifference.

Everywhere, in the squares, on all of the walls large hand-bills
announced the performance of “The Countess of Amalfi.” The name of
Violetta Kutufa was resplendent in vermilion letters. The souls of the
Pescaresi kindled. At length the long looked-for evening arrived.

The theatre was in a room of the old military hospital, at the edge
of the town near the sea. The room was low, narrow, and as long as
a corridor; the stage, of wood with painted scenery, arose a few
hands’ breadths above the floor; along the side walls was the gallery,
consisting of boards over saw-horses covered with tricoloured flags and
decorated with festoons. The curtain, a masterpiece of Cucuzzitó, son
of Cucuzzitó, depicted tragedy, comedy and music, interwoven, like the
three Graces, and flitting over a bridge under which passed the blue
stream of Pescara. The chairs for the theatre, taken from the churches,
occupied half of the pit. The benches, taken from the schools, occupied
the remaining space.

Toward seven in the evening, the village band started its music on the
square, played until it had made the circuit of the town and at length
stopped in front of the theatre. The resounding march inspired the
souls of passers-by. The women curbed their impatience within the folds
of their beautiful silk garments. The room filled up rapidly.

The gallery was radiant with a sparkling aureole of married and
unmarried women. Teodolinda Pomarici, a sentimental, lymphatic
elocutionist, sat near Fermina Memura, called “The Masculine.” The
Fusilli girls, arrived from Castellamare, tall maidens with very
black eyes, all clothed in a uniform, pink material, with hair braided
down their backs, laughed loudly and gesticulated. Emilia d’Annunzio
used her beautiful lion-like eyes, with an air of infinite fatigue.
Marianina Cortese made signs with her fan to Donna Rachele Profeta
who sat in front of her. Donna Rachele Bucci argued with Donna
Rachele Carabba on the subjects of speaking tables and spiritualism.
The school-mistresses Del Gado, both clothed in changeable silk
with mantillas of most antique fashion, and with diverse coiffures
glittering with brass spangles, remained silent, compunctious, almost
stunned by the novelty of this experience, almost repentant for having
come to so profane a spectacle. Costanza Lesbu coughed continuously,
shivering under her red shawl, very pale, very blond and very thin.

In the foremost chairs of the pit sat the wealthiest citizens. Don
Giovanni Ussorio was most prominent because of his well-groomed
appearance, his splendid black and white checkered trousers, his
coat of shining wool, his quantity of false jewelry on fingers and
shirt-front. Don Antonio Brattella, a member of the Areopagus of
Marseilles, a man exhaling importance from every pore and especially
from the lobe of his left ear, which was as thick as a green apricot,
recited in a loud voice the lyric drama of Giovanni Peruzzini, and
his words as they fell from his lips acquired a certain Ciceronian
resonance. The auditors, lolling in their chairs, stirred with more or
less impatience. Dr. Panzoni wrestled all to no purpose with the wiles
of sleep, and from time to time made a noise that blended with the “la”
of the tuning instruments.

“Pss! psss! pssss!”

The silence in the theatre grew profound. At the lifting of the curtain
the stage was empty. The sound of a Violoncello came from the wings.
Tilde appeared and sang. Afterwards Sertorio came out and sang. After
him, a crowd of supernumeraries and friends, entered and intoned a
song. After them, Tilde drew toward a window and sang:

“Oh how tedious the hours
To the desirous one…!”

In the audience a slight movement was perceptible, since all felt a
love duet to be imminent. Tilde, in truth, was a first soprano, none
too young; she wore a blue costume, had a blond wig that insufficiently
covered her head, and her face, whitened with powder, resembled a raw
cutlet besprinkled with flour and partially hidden behind a hempen wig.

Egidio came on. He was the young tenor. As he had a chest singularly
hollow and legs slightly curved, he resembled a double-handed spoon
upon which hung a calf’s head, scraped and polished like those which
one sees at times over the butcher-shops. He began:

“Tilde! thy lips are mute,
Thy lowered glances dismay me,
Tell me, why you delay me?
Why do I see thy hand now
A-tremble? Why should that be?”

And Tilde, with great force of sentiment, replied:

“At such a solemn moment, how
Can you ask why of me?”

The duet increased in tenderness. The melody of the cavalier Petrella
delighted the ears of the audience. All of the women leaned intently
over the rails of the gallery and their faces, throbbing in the green
reflection of the flags, were pallid.

“Like a journey from paradise
Death will appear to us.”

Tilde appeared; and now entered, singing, the Duke Carnioli, who was a
man fat, fierce, and long haired enough, to be suited to the part of
baritone. He sang with many flourishes, running over the syllables,
sometimes moreover boldly suppressing.

“Dost thou not know the conjugal chain
Is like lead on the feet?”

But, when in the song, he mentioned at length the Countess of Amalfi,
a long applause broke from the audience. The Countess was desired,
demanded.

Don Giovanni Ussorio asked of Don Antonio Brattella:

“When is she coming?”

Don Antonio, in a lofty tone, replied:

“Oh! Dio mio, Don Giovà! Don’t you know? In the second act! In the
second act!”

The speech of Sertorio was listened to with half-impatience. The
curtain fell in the midst of weak applause. Thus began the triumphs
of Violetta Kutufa. A prolonged murmur ran through the pit, through
the gallery, and increased when the audience heard the blows of the
scene-shifters’ hammers behind the curtain. That invisible hustling
increased their expectation.

When the curtain went up a kind of spell held the audience in its grip.
The scenic effect was marvellous. Three illuminated arches stretched
themselves in perspective, and the middle one bordered a fantastic
garden.

Several pages were dispersed here and there, and were bowing. The
Countess of Amalfi, clothed in red velvet, with her regal train, her
arms and shoulders bare, her face ruddy, entered with agitated step and
sang:

“It was an evening of ravishment, which still
Fills my soul….”

Her voice was uneven, sometimes twanging, but always powerful and
penetrating. It produced on the audience a singular effect after the
whine of Tilde. Immediately the audience was divided into two factions;
the women were for Tilde, the men for Leonora.

“He who resists my charms
Has not easy matter…!”

Leonora possessed in her personality, in her gestures, her movements,
a sauciness that intoxicated and kindled those unmarried men who were
accustomed to the flabby Venuses of the lanes of Sant’ Agostino, and to
those husbands who were wearied with conjugal monotony.

All gazed at the singer’s every motion, at her large white shoulders,
where, with the movements of her round arms, two dimples tried to
smile.

At the end of her solo, applause broke forth with a crash. Later, the
swooning of the Countess, her dissimulation before the Duke Carnioli
(the leader of the duet), the whole scene aroused applause. The heat
in the room had become intense; in the galleries fans fluttered
confusedly, and among the fans the women’s faces appeared and
disappeared.

When the Countess leaned against a column in an attitude of sentimental
contemplation, illuminated by the calcium light, and Egidio sang his
gentle love song, Don Antonio Brattella called loudly, “She is great!”

Don Giovanni Ussorio, with a sudden impulse, fell to clapping his hands
alone. The others shouted at him to be silent, as they wished to hear.
Don Giovanni became confused.

“All is for love, everything speaks:
The moon, the zephyrs, the stars, the sea….”

The heads of the listeners swayed with the rhythm of this melody of
the Petrella style, even though the voice of Egidio was indifferent;
and even though the light was glaring and yellowish their eyes drank in
the scene. But when, after this last contrast of passion and seduction,
the Countess of Amalfi, walking toward the garden, took up the melody
alone, the melody that still vibrated in the minds of all, the delight
of the audience had risen to such a height that many raised their heads
and inclined them slightly backward as if to trill together with the
siren, who was now concealed among the flowers. She sang:

“The bark is now ready … ah, come beloved!
Is not Love calling … to live is to love?”

At this climax, Violetta Kutufa made a complete conquest of Don
Giovanni Ussorio, who beside himself, seized with a species of
passionate, musical madness, clamoured continuously:

“Brava! Brava! Brava!”

Don Paolo Seccia called loudly:

“Oh, see here! see here! Ussorio has gone mad for her!”

All the women gazed at Ussorio, amazed and confused. The
school-mistresses Del Gado shook their rosaries under their mantillas.
Teodolinda Pomarici remained ecstatic. Only the Fasilli girls, in
their red paint, preserved their vivacity, and chattered, shaking their
serpentine braids with every movement.

In the third act, neither the dying sighs of Tilde, whom the women
defended, nor the rebuffs of Sertorio and Carnioli, nor the songs
of the chorus, nor the monologue of the melancholy Egidio, nor the
joyfulness of the dames and cavaliers, held any power to distract the
public from the preceding voluptuousness.

“Leonora! Leonora! Leonora!” they cried.

Leonora reappeared on the arm of the Count of Lara and descended from a
pavilion. Thus she reached the very culmination of her triumph.

She wore now a violet gown, trimmed with silver ribbons and enormous
clasps. She turned to the pit, while with her foot she gave a quick,
backward stroke to her train, and exposed in the act her instep.

Then, mingling with her words, a thousand charms and a thousand
affectations, she sang half-jestingly,

“I am the butterfly that sports within the flowers….”

The public grew almost delirious at this well-known song.

The Countess of Amalfi, on feeling mount up to her the ardent
admiration of the men, became intoxicated, multiplied her seductive
gestures, and raised her voice to the highest altitude of which she
was capable. Her fleshly throat, uncovered, marked with the necklace of
Venus, shook with trills.

“I, the bee, who alone on the honey is nourished,
Am inebriate under the blue of the sky….”

Don Giovanni Ussorio stared with so much intensity, that his eyes
seemed to start from their sockets. The Baron Cappa was equally
enchanted. Don Antonio Brattella, a member of the Areopagus of
Marseilles, swelled and swelled, until at length burst from him the
exclamation:

“Colossal!”