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- Sant' Ilario - 4/92 -
of the Palazzo Saracinesca. After much planning and many discussions the young couple had determined to take up their abode with Giovanni's father. There were several reasons which had led them to this decision, but the two chief ones were that they were both devotedly attached to the old man; and secondly, that such a proceeding was strictly fitting and in accordance with the customs of Romans. It was true that Corona, while her old husband, the Duca d'Astrardente, was alive, had grown used to having an establishment exclusively her own, and both the Saracinesca had at first feared that she would be unwilling to live in her father-in- law's house. Then, too, there was the Astrardente palace, which, could not lie shut up and allowed to go to ruin; but this matter was compromised advantageously by Corona's letting it to an American millionaire who wished to spend the winter in Rome. The rent paid was large, and Corona never could have too much money for her improvements out at Astrardente. Old Saracinesca wished that the tenant might have been at least a diplomatist, and cursed the American by his gods, but Giovanni said that his wife had shown good sense in getting as much as she could for the palace.
"We shall not need it till Orsino grows up--unless you marry again," said Sant' Ilario to his father, with a laugh.
Now, Orsino was Giovanni's son and heir, aged, at the time of this tale, six months and a few days. In spite of his extreme youth, however, Orsino played a great and important part in the doings of the Saracinesca household. In the first place, he was the heir, and the old prince had been found sitting by his cradle with an expression never seen in his face since Giovanni had been a baby. Secondly, Orsino was a very fine child, swarthy of skin, and hard as a tiger cub, yet having already his mother's eyes, large, coal- black and bright, but deep and soft withal. Thirdly, Orsino had a will of his own, admirably seconded by an enormous lung power. Hot that he cried, when he wanted anything. His baby eyes had not yet been seen to shed tears. He merely shouted, loud and long, and thumped the sides of his cradle with his little clenched fists, or struck out straight at anybody who chanced to be within reach. Corona rejoiced in the child, and used to say that he was like his grandfather, his father and his mother all put together. The old prince thought that if this were true the boy would do very well; Corona was the most beautiful dark woman of her time; he himself was a sturdy, tough old man, though his hair and beard were white as snow, and Giovanni was his father's ideal of what a man of his race should be. The arrival of the baby Orsino had been an additional argument in favour of living together, for the child's grandfather could not have been separated from him even by the quarter of a mile which lay between the two palaces.
And so it came to pass that they all dwelt under the same roof, and were sitting together at breakfast on the morning of the 24th of September, when the old prince told them of the accident which had happened to Gouache.
"How did you hear the news?" asked Giovanni.
"Montevarchi told me this morning. He was very much disturbed at the idea of having an interesting young man in his house, with Plavia and Faustina at home." Old Saracmesca smiled grimly
"Why should that trouble him?" inquired Corona.
"He has the ancient ideas," replied her father-in-law.
"Yes Flavia, after all--"
"I shall be curious to see how the other one turns out," remarked Giovanni. "There seems to be a certain unanimity in our opinion of Flavia. However, I daresay it is mere gossip, and Casa Montevarchi is not a gay place for a girl of her age."
"Not gay? How do you know?" asked the old prince. "Does the girl want Carnival to last till All Souls'? Did you ever dine there, Giovannino?"
"No--nor any one else who is not a member of the most Excellent Casa Montevarchi."
"Then how do you know whether it is gay or not?"
"You should hear Ascanio Bellegra describe their life," retorted Giovanni.
"And I suppose you describe your life to him, in exchange?" Prince Saracmesca was beginning to lose his temper, as he invariably did whenever he could induce his son to argue any question with him. "I suppose you deplore each other's miserable condition. I tell you what I think, Giovanni. You had better go and live in Corona's house if you are not happy here."
"It is let," replied Giovanni with imperturbable calm, but his wife bit her lip to control her rising laughter.
"You might travel," growled the old gentleman.
"But I am very happy here."
"Then what do you mean by talking like that about Casa Montevarchi?"
"I fail to see the connection between the two ideas," observed Giovanni.
"You live in precisely the same circumstances as Ascanio Bellegra. I think the connection is clear enough. If his life is sad, so is yours." "For downright good logic commend me to my beloved father!" cried Giovanni, breaking into a laugh at last.
"A laughing-stock for my children! I have come to this!" exclaimed his father gruffly. But his features relaxed into a good-humoured smile, that was pleasant to see upon his strong dark face.
"But, really, I am very sorry to hear this of poor Gouache," said Corona at last, returning to the original subject of their conversation. "I hope it is nothing really dangerous."
"It is always dangerous to be run over by a carriage," answered Giovanni. "I will go and see him, if they will let me in."
At this juncture Orsino was brought in by his nurse, a splendid creature from Saracinesca, with bright blue eyes and hair as fair as any Goth's, a contrast to the swarthy child she carried in her arms. Immediately the daily ovation began, and each of the three persons began to worship the baby in an especial way. There was no more conversation, after that, for some time. The youngest of the Saracinesca absorbed the attention of the family. Whether he clenched his little fists, or opened his small fat fingers, whether he laughed and crowed at his grandfather's attempts to amuse him, or struck his nurse's rosy cheeks with his chubby hands, the result was always applause and merriment from those who looked on. The scene recalled Joseph's dream, in which the sheaves of his brethren bowed down to his sheaf.
After a while, however, Orsino grew sleepy and had to be taken away. Then the little party broke up and separated. The old prince went to his rooms to read and doze for an hour. Corona was called away to see one of the numberless dressmakers whose shadows darken the beginning of a season in town, and Giovanni took his hat and went out.
In those days young men of society had very little to do. The other day a German diplomatist was heard to say that Italian gentlemen seemed to do nothing but smoke, spit, and criticise. Twenty years ago their manners might have been described less coarsely, but there was even more truth in the gist of the saying. Not only they did nothing. There was nothing for them to do. They floated about in a peaceful millpool, whose placid surface reflected nothing but their own idle selves, little guessing that the dam whereby their mimic sea was confined, would shortly break with a thundering crash and empty them all into the stream of real life that flowed below. For the few who disliked idleness there was no occupation but literature, and literature, to the Roman mind of 1867, and in the Roman meaning of the word, was scholarship. The introduction to a literary career was supposed to be obtained only by a profound study of the classics, with a view to avoiding everything classical, both in language and ideas, except Cicero, the apostle of the ancient Roman Philistines; and the tendency to clothe stale truisms and feeble sentiments in high-sounding language is still found in Italian prose and is indirectly traceable to the same source. As for the literature of the country since the Latins, it consisted, and still consists, in the works of the four poets, Dante, Tasso, Ariosto, and Petrarch. Leopardi is more read now than then, but is too unhealthily melancholy to be read long by any one. There used to be Roman princes who spent years in committing to memory the verses of those four poets, just as the young Brahman of to-day learns to recite the Rig Veda. That was called the pursuit of literature.
The Saracinesca were thought very original and different from other men, because they gave some attention to their estates. It seemed very like business to try and improve the possessions one had inherited or acquired by marriage, and business was degradation. Nevertheless, the Saracinesca were strong enough to laugh at other people's scruples, and did what seemed best in their own eyes without troubling themselves to ask what the world thought. But the care of such matters was not enough to occupy Giovanni all day. He had much time on his hands, for he was an active man, who slept little and rarely needed rest. Formerly he had been used to disappear from Rome periodically, making long journeys, generally ending in shooting expeditions in some half- explored country. That was in the days before his marriage, and his wanderings had assuredly done him no harm. He had seen much of the world not usually seen by men of his class and prejudices, and the acquaintance he had thus got with things and people was a source of great satisfaction to him. But the time had come to give up all this. He was now not only married and settled in his own home, but moreover he loved his wife with his whole heart, and these facts were serious obstacles against roughing it in Norway, Canada, or Transylvania. To travel with Corona and little Orsino seemed a very different matter from travelling with Corona alone. Then there was his father's growing affection for the child, which had to be taken into account in all things. The four had become inseparable, old Saracinesca, Giovanni, Corona, and the baby.
Now Giovanni did not regret his old liberty. He knew that he was far happier than he had ever been in his life before. But there were days when the time hung heavily on his hands and his restless nature craved some kind of action which should bring with it a generous excitement. This was precisely what he could not find
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