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- Sant' Ilario - 3/92 -
Romans than the full-blooded Italians of the other classes who dwell side by side with the aristocracy in Rome.
When Lady Gwendoline Fontenoy married Don Lotario Montevarchi in the year 1834, she, no doubt, believed that her children would grow up as English as she herself, and that her husband's house would not differ materially from an establishment of the same kind in England. She laughed merrily at the provisions of the marriage contract, which even went so far as to stipulate that she was to have at least two dishes of meat at dinner, and an equivalent on fast-days, a drive every day--the traditional trottata--two new gowns every year, and a woman to wait upon her. After these and similar provisions had been agreed upon, her dowry, which was a large one for those days, was handed over to the keeping of her father-in-law and she was duly married to Don Lotario, who at once assumed the title of Duca di Bellegra. The wedding journey consisted of a fortnight's retirement in the Villa Montevarchi at Frascati, and at the end of that time the young couple were installed under the paternal roof in Rome. Before she had been in her new abode a month the young Duchessa realised the utter hopelessness of attempting to change the existing system of patriarchal government under which she found herself living. She discovered, in the first place, that she would never have five scudi of her own in her pocket, and that if she needed a handkerchief or a pair of stockings it was necessary to obtain from the head of the house not only the permission to buy such necessaries, but the money with which to pay for them. She discovered, furthermore, that if she wanted a cup of coffee or some bread and butter out of hours, those things were charged to her daily account in the steward's office, as though she had been in an inn, and were paid for at the end of the year out of the income arising from her dowry. Her husband's younger brother, who had no money of his own, could not even get a lemonade in his father's house without his father's consent.
Moreover, the family life was of such a nature as almost to preclude all privacy. The young Duchessa and her husband had their bedroom in the upper story, but Don Lotario's request that his wife might have a sitting-room of her own was looked upon as an attempt at a domestic revolution, and the privilege was only obtained at last through the formidable intervention of the Duke of Agincourt, the Duchessa's own father. All the family meals, too, were eaten together in the solemn old dining-hall, hung with tapestries and dingy with the dust of ages. The order of precedence was always strictly observed, and though the cooking was of a strange kind, no plate or dish was ever used which was not of solid silver, battered indeed, and scratched, and cleaned only after Italian ideas, but heavy and massive withal. The Duchessa soon learned that the old Roman houses all used silver plates from motives of economy, for the simple reason that metal did not break. But the sensible English woman saw also that although the most rigid economy was practised in many things, there was lavish expenditure in many departments of the establishment. There were magnificent horses in the stables, gorgeously gilt carriages in the coach-houses, scores of domestics in bright liveries at every door. The pay of the servants did not, indeed, exceed the average earnings of a shoe-black in London, but the coats they wore were exceeding glorious with gold lace.
It was clear from the first that nothing was expected of Don Lotario's wife but to live peaceably under the patriarchal rule, making no observations and offering no suggestions. Her husband told her that he was powerless to introduce any changes, and added, that since his father and all his ancestors had always lived in the same way, that way was quite good enough for him. Indeed, he rather looked forward to the time when he should be master of the house, having children under him whom he might rule as absolutely and despotically as he was ruled himself.
In the course of years the Duchessa absorbed the traditions of her new home, so that they became part of her, and as everything went on unchanged from year to year she acquired unchanging habits which corresponded with her surroundings. Then, when at last the old prince and princess were laid side by side in the vault of the family chapel and she was princess in her turn, she changed nothing, but let everything go on in the same groove, educating her children and managing them, as her husband had been educated and as she herself had been managed by the old couple. Her husband grew more and more like his father, punctilious, rigid; a strict observant in religious matters, a pedant in little things, prejudiced against all change; too satisfied to desire improvement, too scrupulously conscientious to permit any retrogression from established rule, a model of the immutability of an ancient aristocracy, a living paradigm of what always had been and a stubborn barrier against all that might be.
Such was the home to which Donna Faustina Montevarchi returned to live after spending eight years in the convent of the Sacro Cuore. During that time she had acquired the French language, a slight knowledge of music, a very limited acquaintance with the history of her own country, a ready memory for prayers and litanies--and her manners. Manners among the Italians are called education. What we mean by the latter word, namely, the learning acquired, is called, more precisely, instruction. An educated person means a person who has acquired the art of politeness. An instructed person means some one who has learnt rather more than the average of what is generally learnt by the class of people to whom he belongs. Donna Faustina was extremely well educated, according to Roman ideas, but her instruction was not, and was not intended to be, any better than that imparted to the young girls with whom she was to associate in the world.
As far as her character was concerned, she herself knew very little of it, and would probably have found herself very much embarrassed if called upon to explain what character meant. She was new and the world was very old. The nuns had told her that she must never care for the world, which was a very sinful place, full of thorns, ditches, pitfalls and sinners, besides the devil and his angels. Her sister Flavia, on the contrary, assured her that the world was very agreeable, when mamma happened to go to sleep in a corner during a ball; that all men were deceivers, but that when a man danced well it made no difference whether he were a deceiver or not, since he danced with his legs and not with his conscience; that there was no happiness equal to a good cotillon, and that there were a number of these in every season; and, finally, that provided one did not spoil one's complexion one might do anything, so long as mamma was not looking.
To Donna Faustina, these views, held by the nuns on the one hand and by Flavia on the other, seemed very conflicting. She would not, indeed, have hesitated in choosing, even if she had been permitted any choice; for it was clear that, since she had seen the convent side of the question, it would be very interesting to see the other. But, having been told so much about sinners, she was on the look-out for them, and looked forward to making the acquaintance of one of them with a pardonable excitement. Doubtless she would hate a sinner if she saw one, as the nuns had taught her, although the sinner of her imagination was not a very repulsive personage. Flavia probably knew a great many, and Flavia said that society was very amusing. Faustina wished that the autumn months would pass a little more quickly, so that the carnival season might begin.
Prince Montevarchi, for his part, intended his youngest daughter to be a model of prim propriety. He attributed to Flavia's frivolity of behaviour the difficulty he experienced in finding her a husband, and he had no intention of exposing himself to a second failure in the case of Faustina. She should marry in her first season, and if she chose to be gay after that, the responsibility thereof might fall upon her husband, or her father- in-law, or upon whomsoever it should most concern; he himself would have fulfilled his duty so soon as the nuptial benediction was pronounced. He knew the fortune and reputation of every marriageable young man in society, and was therefore eminently fitted for the task he undertook. To tell the truth, Faustina herself expected to be married before Easter, for it was eminently fitting that a young girl should lose no time in such matters. But she meant to choose a man after her own heart, if she found one; at all events, she would not submit too readily to the paternal choice nor appear satisfied with the first tolerable suitor who should be presented to her.
Under these circumstances it seemed probable that Donna Faustina's first season, which had begun with the unexpected adventure at the corner of the old Orso, would not come to a close without some passage of arms between herself and her father, even though the ultimate conclusion should lead to the steps of the altar.
The men carried the wounded Zouave away to a distant room, and Faustina entered the main apartments by the side of the old prince. She sighed a little as she went.
"I hope the poor man will get well!" she exclaimed.
"Do not disturb your mind about the young man," answered her father. "He will be attended by the proper persons, and the doctor will bleed him and the will of Heaven will be done. It is not the duty of a well-conducted young woman to be thinking of such things, and you may dismiss the subject at once."
"Yes, papa," said Faustina submissively. But in spite of the dutiful tone of voice in which she spoke, the dim light of the tall lamps in the antechambers showed a strange expression of mingled amusement and contrariety in the girl's ethereal face.
"You know Gouache?" asked old Prince Saracinesca, in a tone which implied that he had news to tell. He looked from his daughter-in- law to his son as he put the question, and then went on with his breakfast.
"Very well," answered Giovanni. "What about him?"
"He was knocked down by a carriage last night. The carriage belonged to Montevarchi, and Gouache is at his house, in danger of his life."
"Poor fellow!" exclaimed Corona in ready sympathy. "I am so sorry! I am very fond of Gouache."
Giovanni Saracinesca, known to the world since his marriage as Prince of Sant' Ilario, glanced quickly at his wife, so quickly that neither she nor the old gentleman noticed the fact.
The three persons sat at their midday breakfast in the dining-room
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