They had become lovers.

To him, after the first intoxication had passed, this fact did not give any exaggerated disturbance, because he nourished a natural pride in himself and felt ready for much greater destinies. But she had fallen in love with him and lost her with an ardent love; she almost felt herself becoming a small and fragile thing in her strong hands; she liked indeed to have found this handsome dominator in her free life of her. What did she care who he was? what was he? do you know he is rich or poor? to have perhaps picked up some mocking rumor about him? She was a sweet Slav, sick with a sensual hypochondria, with a life that radiated from her womb desiring her, so that she sometimes seemed to feel herself dying under the caresses of that lover of hers. She couldn’t be a woman for everyone; she had to love her, with all the more vehemence the more this love was useless,

She was frivolous, and yet she sometimes had the savage attitudes of a true lover; she liked to be coaxed, caressed, asleep, and yet sometimes a kiss so violent was born on her mouth that it surpassed her voluptuousness; she was able to get up one morning, full of laughter, and start singing in the vapors of her perfumed bath, but she [71]minutes later, in the lewd tepidity of the bathrobe, crawling on little sandals to take refuge against him, hug his arms around his neck, kiss him and start crying …. She said she wanted to be a mother, a sister, a friend, that is, all the purest things that are in the female heart, but in truth she was nothing but a joyful lover, a refined tormentor, a woman who put in her poignant kisses some flavor of perversion, some drop of cruelty.

Those who were making a tight court around the Ruskaia saw them unexpectedly one day go to the side of the city, go out together from the opera house and appear sometimes in restaurants, sometimes show themselves in prose theaters.

A great noise was made. Who was he? which way had he come out? what was his name? what was he doing? how had he come to fall in love with Ruskaia? To really fall in love with her, it seemed! Some remembered having been to school with him; someone else made more careful inquiries and communicated his name: Arrigo del Ferrante. Del Ferrante? … They had already heard that name. One finally came to his senses: – Yes! that’s exactly what Farra and Miris the Tunisian surprised him!

And in a thousand streets the rumor ran a little everywhere. Then other details were added. Some remembered having seen him, years ago, badly dressed, in the company of dubious people; some of having come across him in gambling dens, having seen him play at the races or met with bad women in night cafes. Then he had changed spoils; lately he often came to lunch in central restaurants and they often saw him in the theater, always alone, correct, very elegant.

Long ago lived in Florence a brigade of gentlemen, who professed to know their own account in everything, and especially in playing and spending their money well, and of being the flower of the real and honored scapigliatura. They had a leader, called the Abbot, by whom they were punished when they made a mistake either in playing or in spending; they gathered in his house, where they played, [72]more for fun than for vice, they made snacks, dinners, and various joys.

They were given the gay name of Mammagnúccoli, as a historian of beautiful style narrates in his Notes.

Now the brigade that rightly, in the changed times and changed city, could boast such an honored name, since it did the same things and with the same brio, was greatly indignant that the most coveted woman of the year was taken away from her for work. of a man who was not of his number. From the Marquis of Sant’Urbino, to whom it was due for nobility, wealth and effeminacy to be the Abbot, to Don Carletto Santorre, an accomplished fop, up to Totò Rigoli, a good-natured jester and jester of the company, the comments were without end.

When the story was well known, and Ruskaia reappeared on the first evening in the stage, it was necessary for her to perform real masterpieces in order not to be faced with some hostility, so alive was the ferment that ran in the boxes scattered throughout the theater. Especially since towards the middle of the show, in an armchair in the third row, the handsome kidnapper had appeared, that mysterious character, who had so quietly deceived them.

But they did not know how much, in his heart, that young man yearned to become one of theirs and what desire pined him to belong to the same life, perhaps out of ambition rather than tendency; and to sit fraternally in the boxes where, from the beginning to the end of the work, they did not neglect to make an intrusive noise, and to have allowed to visit the ladies they visited, then to go, with them together, to the Clubs, to the games protracted until beyond the light of dawn, or at the gallant dinners where Beppe Cianella and Massimo Ravizzoli were drunk every evening, unveiling the most filthy filth that had ever been heard from human speech.

While the Ruskaia sang, in those boxes we talked about Arrigo.

– He’s a handsome young man though! – Said Totò Rigoli, a man who of his small stature had made himself a formidable weapon to harass others. And maybe he said it with intention [73]to annoy Paolo del Bassano, who was extremely boasting of his andrógine beauty, and stood with one elbow resting on the sill of the stage, smoothing his small sparse and blond beard which in vain wanted to be a virile ornament in his face as sweet as rosolio and honey.

He pointed the telescope affectionately at the armchair where Arrigo was sitting, then let a half-wry “Peuh! …” drop from his lips, which made some laugh.

“It seems vulgar to me,” he said, in that falsetto voice of his, which lacked the erre. But his protests were numerous, because everything could be denied him, except that he had a clear and masculine beauty about him. The Abbot of the Mammagnúccoli, that Marquis of Sant’Urbino who even cultivated himself with many graceful customs, was more generous than his bearded brother, and admitted that his physical prowess gave him the right to the favor of any beautiful woman.

– I know of some who will risk making an illness for this matter! – said Giorgino Prémoli, the malevolent, looking at Lanzo Malatesta, who passed by to be lucky with women, then Carletto Santorre, who had fallen in love with Ruskaia and had sworn to make her his first, then Camillo Torretta, who had also hoped to seduce her, not with the charms of the spirit or with alluring banknotes, since of both things she was scarce, but by not having anything on her that did not bear the genuine English brand; since he himself went to London several times a year, sacrificing other luxuries, to be the real arbiter, in Italy, of London fashion.

– But don’t despair! Giorgino Prémoli continued, adjusting the spectacle that sharpened the sarcastic expression of his physiognomy. – Everything comes in his time: the handsome Ferrante, if I am not mistaken, must be a penniless.

– How do you know it? – some did.

– Sacco Berni, who was his schoolmate, told me. He remembers him as a young man of a very humble family; son of office workers or perhaps of suburban shopkeepers.

[74]
These Berni were two brothers, dedicated to gambling, crapula, libertinage, with an iron temper; One was called Gian Giacomo, called Bacchus, due to a certain resemblance to the jovial god of wine, the other Gian Pietro, called Sacco, because he had in his stubby and heavy person something really similar to a stuffed sack. Especially when it comes to gambling, there were many ambiguous rumors about them; but they were admitted and indeed sought after for their joyful though coarse spirit, and for that indefatigable vivacity they put into squandering life. Bacchus and Sacco were of all the dinners, of all the nocturnal hustle and bustle, of all the gayest enterprises; they never rested in carnival and Lent.

At that moment Count Raffaele Giuliani, a young man of a very noble lineage, enjoyed a certain consideration among those gentlemen, for being free of almost all their vices and liberal at the same time, so that he never sent back the innumerable stackers unsatisfied. Many mothers of good society kept their eyes on him for their marriageable daughters, and he, without disappointing any hope, was meanwhile an avid womanizer, but of such a swooning heart that at every push he fell into lost loves. So it had been with Ruskaia, of course. However, the means which procured him with extreme ease all the women of the theater and gallantry had failed him one after the other, so that the news must have particularly impressed him. And allusions and slanders were not spared.

An innate wickedness often moves us to scoff at our own torment in others: for this reason we began to magnify and exalt the singer’s passion for Arrigo del Ferrante on the stage, citing copies of imaginative details and mocking Giuliani a little with that polite insolence. which is the most formidable weapon of friends.

– I would like to meet this handsome guy! Totò Rígoli began to say. – He must not be an ordinary man after all, and to tell the truth I confess that I like him.

[75]
“I am of your opinion,” admitted Prémoli. – Especially since, in order to reach Ruskaia, it will be necessary from now on to court him. I say this for those who care … As for me, thank God, I don’t care!

He had something else to think about! Full of debt up to his neck, with no relatives to inherit from, with a meager job in an insurance company, with an old mistress on his back who had already given birth to two bastards, it was only natural that his heart was a little sour and he tried to bite, if he could, those who were better off than him.

– What do you think, Rafa? Lanzo Malatesta asked Giuliani, who had sat in a corner of the box, taciturn.

“I say,” he replied, with a kind of disconsolate resignation, “that when there are too many to circumvent a woman, she necessarily falls into the arms of a stranger.” Pity! pity! … Ruskaia would have made me commit any madness.

– That wouldn’t be entirely new to you! Replied Lanzo Malatesta urbanly.

This was a handsome young man, thin, with blond hair, with very lively eyes, an expressive mouth, a cheek divided obliquely by a deep scar. Troublesome brawler, good fencer, easy duelist, he was feared more than loved, though the too much vitality of his spirit was more guilty than the evil heart of these excessive ardors. Undoubtedly love that the danger in his life rushes, he rode to the racecourses, he ventured in the circuits, he competed with the oar and the sail, disdaining those who spent their time in quieter labors. Women, games and other amusements were nothing but idle interludes in his courageous life.

But not only in that brigade did they talk about Arrigo and his good fortune.

In the boxes where the powdered necklines blossomed like opulent flowers, adorned with limpid jewels among the laziness of the fragrant fans, made to whisper a furtive word behind you, to stifle an impudent laughter, to [76]hiding a yawn, of this, together with other frivolities we talked about. And since the loves of the singers interest the ladies at least as much as their art, Don Carletto Santorre, Don Antonino Vernazza, the Marquis Minardi and other gentlemen, had gone on a visit to visit to communicate this latest news of the theatrical chronicle with the polite circumspection which is a must in good society. Many beautiful mouths were seen smiling at it, pleased that there was a less irreproachable woman in the opinion of others, and jokes and graceful embassies were sent to those who were notoriously left in the lurch, while a certain wave of curiosity rose around the person of Arrigo and insistent telescopes bent, all evening, from the windowsills of the boxes to recognize the adventurous.

From that time on, when he entered the theater, some would say to another in a whisper: “Here is the handsome Ferrante!” And having consecrated him with this title, many, looking at him, thought in their hearts that he was truly a young man of pleasant appearance.

Meanwhile, in the dressing room of the Ruskaia, which never ceased to be besieged, Arrigo was able to meet some of that blessed lordship cluttered with stages, some of those gentlemen, who slipping out of the family boxes come into the wings to arrange a dinner there and then all together the meritorious and often the referees of the Italian opera theater, as protectors of the corps de ballet.

He was not jealous; he did not ask Ruskaia to drive away those intruders, who perhaps now thought they could take her away from him overnight, and in the meantime filled him with politeness. Rafa Giuliani, Lanzo Malatesta, the Marquis of Sant’Urbino, sometimes came to Ruskaia’s house at about five o’clock to ask her for a cup of tea. Also the prince of Albi, old patron of the opera house, Count Aimone dell’Ussero, member of the Theater Commission and frenzied lover of little dancers, the director of the theater, the orchestra conductor, many others, and Totò [77]Rígoli among these, not to woo the singer, but to poke his nose into other people’s things.

Arrigo did the honors discreetly, juggling his difficult condition with a singular skill. They found him likeable and modest, as he knew how to tickle everyone’s vanity without ever falling into flattery. The Prince of Albi took a liking to him after he had heard him play the violin, and one evening, in the foyer, he showed up in public to talk with him. This prince of Albi, as dean of the nobility, exercised a kind of supremacy over the same patriciate; the fact that he had addressed Arrigo in public forever excluded any objection that others might raise against him. The Marquis of Sant’Urbino, or Abbot of the Mammagnúccoli, but who in the past remembered having had some weakness for handsome men, perhaps felt reborn, in front of his virile beauty, some distant dark memory; and she likewise took a liking to him.

The director of the theater, the conductor of the orchestra, in turn, came into a certain familiarity with Arrigo, having the habit of tolerating, together with the artists, all their kinship and clientele, however intrusive they may be. Totò Rígoli, who from the beginning had sided with del Ferrante against his detractors by instinct of mockery, lasted in the first impulse, and a little also for that eagerness to protect or to fight that he had in his little person, began to treat Arrigo familiarly and was ready to break some lance in his favor.

Thus, making use of all these things together with caution, calculating his own moves with the prudence of those who move the pieces on a chessboard, Arrigo was finally able to break the iron circle that divided him from that golden youth, rich in every easy gift that may grant life.

His dream hadn’t been too proud. The forbidden doors opened to him, the din of worldly indiscretions began around his name. From the shop [78]humble, hidden in the distance of the suburban street, he entered the heart of his city, with a beautiful woman at his side and many hidden envies that snaked around him, curious about his mystery. The stubborn fortune of the cards offered him money widely, easily; a broader and more playful breath filled his chest capable of him.

Now, from one to the other, the acquaintances had become innumerable. They began by accepting it in the idle cliques that form on the corners of the bottle shops, where we talk about women, horses, games, and they interweave the frivolous slander aimed at unmasking the secrets of others.

Totò Rígoli invited him to lunch one evening; Carletto Santorre said to him another evening: – Why don’t you ever come to our box?

He went there a few times, but with discretion, managing to please. Often, after the theater, he took Ruskaia to dine in a famous restaurant, which from time immemorial gathered in its small circle the most dissimilar examples of class and city life.

This was a cenacle of art, a hearth of political guerrillas, a temple of quackery, where worldly gossip raged between disheveled dinners. It was at the same time an undisturbed, inevitable gambling house; a meeting place was for aristocrats after the dance and for histriones after the show; a refuge for late night owls and chilled pawns, a neutral field where the usurer skirted the indebted duke and the brazen courtesan frightened with her plumes, with her laughter, the Sunday petty bourgeois; where the playwright quarreled with his critic, the impresario with his audience, where the Jesuit played cards with the Jew and the clever man let himself be mocked by good-for-nothing or time wasters.

Often, near the Mammagnúccolo stiff in the plaster of his shirt, sat a long-haired painter, with a limp tie, who, slowly swallowing half a cálice of green brandy, was splashing outlines on the marble of the table, while the stars of all the arts, of all the professions, of all the crews, held court banned [79]with adversaries and followers. Handsome and handsome spirits became critics or heralds of the city chronicles; reporters scribbled hasty articles; doctors and lawyers came in search of clienteles; players combined matches, woman-boys spotted prey. All the regurgitation of theaters, halls, hearths, libraries, newsrooms, clubs, flowed out there transiently as in an antechamber of the most hidden nightlife, and amidst the smoke, laughter, the noises of the canteens, in impunity promiscuous of midnight, all lived a few hours of harmony and relief after the numerous anxieties of the day.

A good super-cook and an excellent cellar had originally given fame to this restaurant; then fashion had mixed with it, and some disastrous games, some frenzied drunkenness, some altercation between gentlemen had credited him steadily in the favor of the pleasure-seekers. Although it was a public place, there was a kind of familiarity among all the visitors, almost as if it were a club with wide open doors, where the entrance was for all but admission for a few. Various cliques formed there, living side by side without getting bored, but despising each other. And each one held a sector, a nucleus of tables, tightly around a head of her that gave her prestige and guided her in ideas.

At the Marquis of Sant’Urbino, lord of dinners, inventor of customs, consecrator of Mammagnúccoli, an old and disheveled Don Giovanni of forty-eight, still firm in his unshakable carcass, still flashing in his frowning eyes, a meeting of ancient gentlemen was taking place. , adversaries of new things, buttoned up in old tailcoats, who, together, of the good time spent and the beautiful youth talked, when, in the surrounding of the old walls, the city that they dominated and gentler customs held up was tighter and more joyful, so to tell them, when carnovali memorandi went crazy in the streets and with less money, more life was gained, the more warmth the women had and more luxuriance in the robust hips.

[80]
There was a table of ruddy Teutons, who alternated pale beer with sparkling Barbera; enemies, in the heart, of the city that they exploited, seizing its luxuriant trade with a slow but sure supremacy. There was a bizarre gathering of youngsters, distinguished only by the different clothes they wore, rich semenaries from which the Mammagnúccoli of tomorrow would emerge.

And further on, around the table of the Three Marys, – who were three gallant sisters, who had in so many years been baptized or acquitted almost all the beardless or decrepit sinners of the city, three sisters of a most desperate thinness, from hooked face, unearthed beyond the probable, with certain griffin hands that such a painter imitated for his Death skeletons, – five or six bored jaunty spewed filth in the most trivial jargon of plebeian brothels, and slowly feeding the hunger of the wasted mouths they thought of the painful night, in which they would have liked to be men.

Further on, a countess of authentic lineage, in the company of a plumed maid, slowly sipped the poison of the small goblets, and got out of bed, under the glimmer of the electric street lamps, prepared to lead an almost honest and certainly noble life for the infamous ibex, accompanying the clique of night owls who delighted her with bizarre celies, sometimes delighting themselves with the easy complacencies of the unscrupulous maid.

Here a Germanic prince, exiled for an unequal love, turned around the smiling weariness of the cerulus eye, no longer mindful of the imperial pomp nor of the heavy regiments that march in fear of Europe, perhaps discontented at having closed his great fate in a little heart. Close to him, as beautiful and haughty as a sovereign, his companion ruled the court of gentlemen of honor, and the small provincial curiosity indulged in various comments, indiscreet but still genuflected, with that invincible instinct of the plebs, which always rushes like a docile herd in the streets where kings pass.

[81]
There were musicians and singers; there playwrights and stage actors; dramatists above all, because this disease is very widespread nowadays, nor can now be found any respectable person who has not written plays, who has not for once felt in his heart the fire and the cry of raising the audience. Playwrights whistled only once or whistled much more, that for that one pitched evening their whole life would remain men of pen and thought; and further on, together, in a beautiful disorder, still other playwrights and other comedies, poets and verse writers who go to the burchia, novelists and smudges of pages, valuable authors and philosophers for a dozen, thinkers of certain genius and men of letters who would be better off. agreed by nature the cobbler’s knot and twine: a whole little world of intelligence and brutality, of rare modesties and insane haughtiness; a small world of climbing men, who had been worthily or vainly toiled for that rugged steepness which the tormenting sun of glory has on its apex.

Some had come there, and they came out of that crowd to be alone, to talk about the ancient battles with the ancient emuls.

And there was one, with a beautiful forehead, a faunal profile, a rough and sarcastic mouth, who had given a nervous theater to the weakness of the Italian scene; another, full of restlessness in his narrow person, full of vivacity in his wiry face, which relentlessly amazed words like the wind on fallen leaves, and had satirised for a long time in a worldly theater before discovering the dramatic vein in himself.

Another, with a hieratic head, shining eyes in deep dark circles, with something hooked and even sweet in all his dry and frayed person, who had tormented his dream of art in many ways, abhorring the profession, running around his own visionary soul, throwing some beautiful rays into its darkness, to be able to illuminate it all, and feeling with a dead heart the liveliest beats of life. And he was there, next to it, mostly, [82]a silent man, with a grim and discontented face, who had his mouth now contracted and sealed in a smile full of indelible mockery and who, by reconciliation with his very enemy life, had retained a prodigious and taciturn appetite. A man of other times, the good temper of a fighter, the clear mind of an observer, he had amused himself in wasting himself, in tampering with a cruel voluptuousness. He put the same ingenuity into doing an outstanding work or doing something of no value; everything had suffered in life, the most wearing out of human temper: love, ambition, contempt, the torment of art, lust, and perhaps even hunger.

Another, with a delicate face, who remained young and almost monastic over the years, a poet of chiseled rhymes, an artifice of somewhat artificial verses, who seemed to be almost incapable of enduring the brutal modern life, and perhaps would have liked to live in that remote age where a beautiful rhyme was crowned with laurel branches. Another, who had brought with him the freshness of a Goldonian spirit from the calm lagoon, and was rapidly winning his battle in several dissimilar contests. Then there were the nomads, those who from time to time came from other cities, to mingle for a few evenings in the cenacles of art; come to back up a play, to propose a publication, to recite a poem. And there were, but more often on the sidelines, the young suitors of the great idol with the golden trumpet, competing in versatile oddities,

There was a novelist, with the pale and beautiful face of an ephebe, who smoothed his shiny hair with a discontinuous gesture of the shining hand, listening to the fat talk of the Bolognese who had come to fame as a libertine writer with a book of praise to the brothel and many stories of meat sold. Sometimes he was with them a pale Florentine, who had an incisive will in his meek face and had already tried himself in several honorable jousting, [83]determined to conquer his life with a desperate heroism; biting, attentive, alive, dry, sure, he gathered his feline forces within himself to give the leap that would free him from the crowd.

And more others who fought in vain for the same mirage, disciples of nearby arts, who would have tenaciously shaken their wavering torch in the perpetual darkness, and yet delighted in raging with a bizarre fury against the most distant and the highest, to the which glory had already wrapped its brow with its marvelous veils.

But there were, among these discordant voices, some calm, steady voices, which very rarely spoke to defend or to injure, with the same serene justice. Solitary men, who delighted in the spectacle of that sensational hall, and came to pick up some significant human attitude in it or to temper you in silence, very sharp arrows.

Among all these, Arrigo del Ferrante was slowly welcomed. He knotted from evening to evening the most varied acquaintances, so that after some time he found himself a local family member, well accepted by the various companies, for that singular charm that he knew how to spread around himself. The artists welcomed him thanks to that fine musical taste of his which made him say profound things with a pleasant modesty, and also because he had the innate gift of non-servile flattery, of that flattery that lets itself be believed, that caresses, that you like. The merrymakers wanted him to be a companion in dinners because of his cheerful spirit and his easy familiarity; the womanizers wooed him for his beautiful woman; the players tolerated it in games because no one could find the excuse or the courage to ban it.

Then habit did the rest, and no one thought he was an intruder anymore.

All this opened the way for him to go further. From there, on the threshold of badly forbidden circles, to the halls of badly guarded buildings, the journey was no more than a short distance. It only needed luck of the cards or versatility [84]of his folds were enough to keep him in balance during this last decisive battle.

Things went well and badly; but he always remedied it with infinite stratagems. Everything served him to find money on days of need, and since he knew he was walking in balance along the edge of a precipice, he fought with his nails, with his teeth, without rest and without pay. He robbed his father, his mother, devoured his sisters’ small savings, even borrowed the housekeeping economies, signed bills of exchange to his father’s friends, who, knowing the optician was quite wealthy, pretended to believe in his fairy tales and some gave a lot, some a little. He even managed to reconcile himself with the terrible Riotti and maneuvered in such a way as to be able to create a small debt with him.

The pharmacist, enticed by the closest promises of marriage, was troubled by the imaginative tale that Arrigo made him of his compromised honor, of that name that Arrigo gave him, calling him his second father, until, scraping his throat a lot to hide a stupid emotion, the good pharmacist ended up giving in and untied the purse strings.

But all this was not enough. The expenses of his life grew out of all proportion. Under many good pretexts, he had let his parents understand that it was no longer possible for him to live in that out-of-the-way suburb, and he had only taken a nice little neighborhood in the city center for himself. He had furnished it with furniture taken on credit, but chosen with elegance, almost with luxury. He wished that it would be impossible for his new friends to find the winding road by which he had come to them, and he wished that for nothing in the world they could ever learn of his shopkeeper lineage.

At that moment the cards turned badly, and it was black misery, absolute, irreparable, that came after him. But his character nevertheless remained apparently gay and hopeful. With a few francs in his pocket, he could be seen, very elegant in his black suit, wandering through the theaters alongside the sparkling Ruskaia with jewels, [85]around the city, have lunch in the more expensive restaurants. He had the gesture of the great gentleman even in paying the last penny, and no one, much less his sweet Tatiana, was to know how much effort and cunning cost him those few tens of lire that she made him spend, for example to dinner, in capricious delicacies. He had debts small and large for every corner; in the meantime his bold presence and his convincing word paid for the most avaricious impatience. From night to night he could happen to go home with his pockets swollen with gold, his spirit cheerful; but in the meantime he had to endure the adverse weeks, fighting with heroism and without risking not being able to pay a loss in the game, which would have lost and banished him forever.

He knew that after all there was a salvation for him: that of asking the lover. She would have given him, without any objection, perhaps with joy.

In her frivolous feminine unconsciousness she did not even suspect the battles of her staff: she knew he was not very rich, but by now, seeing him spend like a great lord, she had almost forgotten them. The woman often does not have the gift of counting the money that is squandered around her.

Sometimes, seeing him a little dark, she thought he was tired of loving her; she twisted around him, jealous and whimpering, she wanted some oaths, a kiss, a long kiss, and everything passed. But if he had asked, he would certainly have given, and Arrigo knew it. However, he had been hesitating for a long time, perhaps not out of scruple, but out of that innate mistrust which suggested that he never give himself materially to the mercy of a woman. A natural common sense made him reflect that a lover’s heart is changeable, like her uncertain secrecy.

Today, in love, she gives, and it seems simple to her; but tomorrow, tired or abandoned, she remembers, in the invincible avarice of her sex, that she paid, and in vain, so that she grieves. She gossip, and, perhaps to take revenge, with two rash words she loses a man. You know: a woman passes from one lover to the other, above all when she believes [86]to belong to only one for life; and the blanket of the bed is a bad guardian of secrets.

On the other hand, it was already rumored that Ruskaia was giving him help. But they were timid, far-fetched rumors that could not harm him much. In the absence of concrete evidence, many considered above all how the affable Arrigo had in any case two well-square shoulders, a certain air of a cheerful beater, so that the murmuring that was made of him remained distant and subdued, in that kind of d ‘ an intermediate atmosphere that already surpasses common slander but is not yet the public pillory, from which there is no longer any salvation.

And yet the need was pressing; on all sides he was bound in an iron circle; he had run out of other devices; he just had to try the latter, whatever the risk, as a great love sometimes stops in front of a small expense, and he had no illusions. Besides, there was almost a vestige of righteousness or pride in him, which prevented him from this trivial action. Say to his Tatiana, to his capricious and voluptuous little lover, this horrible word: “Give me!” to see the money passed from that soft white hand of hers into her own strong and rapacious one, not being able to look into her eyes with that absolute empire that gave him such beautiful pride in himself, having to confess to her the anguished nights her,

But the thing arose of itself, necessarily, in the simplest way. She could not tolerate those great shadows that sometimes thickened in her lover’s luminous eyes, nor that bitter mark that she often saw on the edge of her mouth, nor that taste of anguish that so often emanated from her ‘ violent kisses from her. She was a sweet one [87]lover, curious about all the small vibrations of the hidden soul, jealous of every secret, afraid of being able to lose all the voluptuousness of that love in a single day, for the least thing; and she would say to him sometimes, wrapping him with her limp arms, giving him the hottest breath of hers over her mouth:

– What do you have? what do you have? Why don’t you want to tell me what you torment yourself with?

He confessed nothing from the beginning; he was silent, he consoled her. But then, once, he let slip a few half words, between instinctive and calculated, that came from his brain and heart together, one of those ambiguous words that hurt so much in love ….

And he dropped his head as if to chase away a mob of dark thoughts, as if to rebel against that principle of confession that had come to his lips. Another time, speaking of the future, he said that he knew nothing of the future, he could now know nothing, and indeed he did not dare to look beyond tomorrow, to push his desire beyond the oblivion of their voluptuous caresses … And he vaguely hinted at the day when it would be necessary for him to disappear, to go who knows where, in search of who knows what luck, alone and lost, with this terrible love of his, which would devastate his soul until the last day of his life .. In the thought of all this, which in the end could be reality, a few tears glistened in his steady eye, a few strong beats broke his violent heart, because, despite his coldness,

And all this ended with a violent scene, in the middle of which, being cornered, he came to confess to her, disheveled and convulsed, with a rattle in his voice:

– Well, if you want to know, here … I have no more money, I am drowning in debt, I am in full swing with my [88]family … I must leave you, I must go away, I must not see you again, do not kiss you anymore … leave! Do you understand what it means to “leave”? And I would have done it already … but I can’t! I would have been silent again, as I have been silent for a long time, but you have also claimed to give me this humiliation … here, and now you know!

For a week she offered, he refused. Then she got involved with an expiring bill, a disastrous lot, a long night of love, and from that time, on critical days, Ruskaia provided for Arrigo’s life, letting him squander in her with the most beautiful tranquility.

Indeed, this became the most natural thing in the world for both of them.