among the group of wine glasses, a slender opalescent Murano
vase with a single orchid in it.
' What a diabolical flower ! ' said Elena Muti, taking up the
vase and examining the orchid which seemed all blood-stained
8 THE CHILD OF PLEASURE
Her voice was of such rich full timbre that even her most
trivial remarks acquired a new significance, a mysterious
grace, like that King of Phrygia whose touch turned everything
'A symbolical flower in your hands,' murmured Andrea,
gazing at his neighbour, whose beauty in that attitude was
She was dressed in some delicate tissue of palest blue,
spangled with silver dots which glittered through antique
Burano lace of an indefinable tint of white inclining to
yellow. The flower, like something evil generated by a
malignant spell, rose quivering on its slender stalk out of the
fragile tube which might have been blown by some skilful
artificer from a liquid gem.
'Well, I prefer roses,' observed Elena, replacing the orchid
with a gesture of repulsion, very different from her former one
of curiosity. She then joined in the general conversation.
Donna Francesca was speaking of the last reception at the
' Did you see Madame de Cahen ? ' asked Elena. ' She had
on a dress of yellow tulle covered with humming birds with
ruby eyes a gorgeous dancing bird-cage. And Lady Ouless
did you notice her? in a white gauze skirt draped with
sea-weed and little red fishes, and under the sea-weed and fish
another skirt of sea-green gauze Did you see it? a most
effective aquarium ! ' and she laughed merrily.
Andrea was at a loss to understand this sudden volu-
bility. These frivolous and malicious things were uttered by
the same voice which, but a few moments, ago had stirred
his soul to its very depths ; they came from the same lips
which, in silence, had seemed to him like the mouth of the
Medusa of Leonardo, that human flower of the soul rendered
divine by the fire of passion and the anguish of death. What
then was the true essence of this creature? Had she percep-
tion and consciousness of her manifold changes, or was she
impenetrable to herself and shut from her own mystery ? In
her expression, her manifestation of herself, how much was
THE CHILD OF PLEASURE 9
artificial and how much spontaneous ? The desire to fathom
this secret pierced him even through the delight ex-
perienced by the proximity of the woman whom he was
beginning to love. But his wretched habit of analysis for
ever prevented him losing sight of himself, though every
time he yielded to its temptation he was punished, like Pysche
for her curiosity, by the swift withdrawal of love, the frowns of
the beloved object and the cessation of all delights. Would
it not be better to abandon oneself frankly to the first in-
effable sweetness of new-born love ? He saw Elena in the
act of placing her lips to a glass of pale gold wine like liquid
honey. He selected from among his own glasses the one the
servant had filled with the same wine, and drank at the same
moment that she did. They replaced their glasses on the
table together. The similarity of the action made them turn
to one another, and the glance they exchanged inflamed them
far more than the wine.
1 You are very silent,' said Elena, affecting a lightness
of tone which somewhat disguised her voice. ' You have
the reputation of being a brilliant conversationalist exert
yourself therefore a little ! '
4 Oh cousin ! cousin ! ' exclaimed Donna Francesca with a
comical air of commiseration, while Filippo del Monte
whispered something in his ear.
Andrea burst out laughing.
' Cavaliere Sakumi ; we are the silent members of this party
we must wake up ! '
The long narrow eyes of the Asiatic redder than ever now
that the wine had kindled a deeper crimson on his high cheek-
bones glittered with malice. All this time he had done
nothing but gaze at the Duchess of Scerni with the ecstatic
look of a bonze in presence of the divinity. His broad flat
face, which might have come straight out of a page of O-kou-
sai, the great classical humorist, gleamed red among the
chains of flowers like a harvest moon.
'Sakumi is in love,' said Andrea in a low voice, and leaning
over towards Elena.
io THE CHILD OF PLEASURE
' With whom ? '
* With you have you not observed it yet ? '
'Well, look at him.'
Elena looked across at him. The amorous gaze of the
disguised daimio suddenly affected her with such ill-disguised
mirth that the Japanese felt deeply hurt and humiliated
' See,' she said, and to console him she detached a white
camellia and threw it across the table to the envoy of the
Rising Sun, ' find some comparison in praise of me ! '
The Oriental carried the flower to his lips with a ludicrous
air of devotion.
'Ah ah Sakumi!' cried the little Baroness d'Isola,
' you are unfaithful to me ! '
He stammered a few words while his face flamed. Every-
body laughed unrestrainedly, as if the foreigner had been
invited solely to provide entertainment for the other guests.
Andrea turned laughing towards Elena.
Her head was raised and a little thrown back, and she was
gazing furtively at the young man under her eyelashes with
one of those indescribably feminine glances which seem to
absorb almost one would say drink in all that is most
desirable, most delectable in the man of their choice. The
long lashes veiled the soft dark eyes which were looking at
him a little sidelong, and her lower lip had a scarcely per-
ceptible tremor. The full ray of her glance seemed to rest
upon his lips as the most attractive point about him.
And in truth his mouth was very attractive. Pure and
youthful in outline and rich in colouring, a little cruel when
firmly closed, it reminded one irresistibly of that portrait of an
unknown gentleman in the Borghese gallery, that profound
and mysterious work of art in which the fascinated imagination
has sought to recognise the features of the divine Cesare
Borgia depicted by the divine Sanzio. As soon as the lips
parted in a smile the resemblance vanished, and the square,
even dazzlingly white teeth lit up a mouth as fresh and
jocund as a child's.
THE CHILD OF PLEASURE n
The moment Andrea turned, Elena withdrew her eyes,
though not so quickly but that the young man caught the
flash. His delight was so poignant that it sent the blood
flaming to his face.
' She is attracted by me ! ' he thought to himself, inwardly
exulting in the assurance of having found favour in the eyes
of this rare creature. 'This is a joy I have never experienced
before ! ' he said to himself.
There are certain glances from a woman's eye which a
lover would not exchange for anything else she can offer him
later. He who has not seen that first love-light kindle in a
limpid eye has never touched the highest point of human
bliss. No future moment can ever approach that one.
The conversation around them grew more animated, and
Elena asked him 'Are you staying the winter in Rome?'
'The whole winter and longer,' was Andrea's reply, to
whom the simple question seemed to open up a promise.
'Ah, then you have set up a home here?'
'Yes, in the Casa Zuccari domus aurea.'
' At the Trinita de' Monti ? Lucky being ! '
' Because you live on a spot I have a great liking for.'
'You are quite right I always think don't you? that
there the most perfect essence of Rome is concentrated as in
' Quite true ! I have hung up my heart both Catholic and
Pagan as an ex-voto between the obelisk of the Trinitl and
the column of the Conception.'
She laughed as she spoke. A sonnet to this suspended
heart rose instantly to his lips, but he did not give it utter-
ance, for he was in no mood to continue their conversa-
tion in this light vein of false sentiment, which broke the
sweet spell she had been weaving about him. He was silent
She, too, remained a moment pensive, and then threw herself
with renewed vivacity into the general conversation, prodigal of
wit and laughter, flashing her teeth and her bon mots at all in
12 THE CHILD OF PLEASURE
turn. Francesca was retailing spicily a piece of gossip about
the Princess di Ferentino on the subject of a recent, and
somewhat risky, adventure of hers with Giovanella Daddi.
'By the by the Ferentino announces another charity
bazaar for Epiphany,' said the Baroness d'Isola. 'Does
anybody know anything about it yet?'
'I am one of the patronesses,' said Elena Muti.
'And you are a most valuable patroness,' broke in Don
Filippo del Monte, a man of about forty, almost bald, a keen
sharpener of epigrams, whose face seemed a sort of Socratic
mask ; the right eye was for ever on the move, and flashed
with a thousand changing expressions, while the left remained
stationary and glazed behind the single eye-glass, as if
he used the one for expressing himself and the other for
seeing. ' At the May bazaar, you brought in a perfect shower
' Oh, the May bazaar what a mad affair that was ! '
exclaimed the Marchesa.
While the servants were filling the glasses with iced
champagne, she added, ' Do you remember, Elena, our stalls
were close together?'
' Five louis d'or a drink five louis d'or a bite ! ' Don
Filippo called, in the voice of a street-hawker. Elena and
the Marchesa burst out laughing.
' Why yes, of course, Filippo, you cried the wares,' said
Donna Francesca. 'Now what a pity you were not there,
cugino miol For five louis you might have eaten fruit out of
which I had had the first bite, and have drunk champagne
out of the hollow of Elena's hands for five more.'
' How scandalous ! ' broke in the Baroness d'Isola, with a
'Ah, Mary, I like that! And did you not sell cigarettes
that you lighted up first yourself fora louis?' cried Francesca
through her laughter. Then she became suddenly grave
'Every deed, with a charitable object in vie\v, is sacred,' she
observed sententiously. 'By merely biting into fruit, I
collected at least two hundred louis.'
THE CHILD OF PLEASURE 13
'And you?' Andrea Sperelli turned to Elena with a con-
strained smile ' With your human drinking-cup how much
did you get ? '
' I ? oh, two hundred and seventy louis.'
Everybody was full of fun and laughter, excepting the
Marchese d'Ateleta, who was old, and afflicted with incurable
deafness ; was padded and painted in a word, artificial from
head to foot. He was very like one of the figures one sees
at a wax work show. From time to time usually the wrong
one he would give vent to a little dry cackling laugh, like
the rattle of some rusty mechanism inside him.
' However,' Elena resumed, ' you must know, that after a
certain point in the evening, the price rose to ten louis, and
at last, that lunatic of a Galeazzo Secinaro came and offered
me a five hundred lire note, if I would dry my hands on his
great golden beard ! '
As was ever the case at the d'Ateletas', the dinner increased
in splendour towards the end ; for the true luxury of the table
is shown in the dessert. A multitude of choice and exquisite
things, delighting the eye no less than the palate, were dis-
posed with consummate art in various crystal and silver-
mounted dishes. Festoons of camellias and violets hung
between the vine-wreathed eighteenth century candelabras,
round which sported fairies and nymphs, and on the wall-
hangings more fairies and nymphs, and all the charming
figures of the pastoral mythology the Corydons, the Phylises,
the Rosalinds animated with their sylvan loves one of
those sunny Cytherean landscapes originated by the fanciful
imagination of Antoine Watteau.
The slightly erotic excitement, which is apt to take hold
upon the spirits at the end of a dinner graced by fair women
and flowers, betrayed itself in the tone of the conversations,
and the reminiscences of this bazaar, at which the ladies
urged on by a noble spirit of emulation in collecting the
largest sums employed the most unheard of audacities to
1 And did you accept it ? ' asked Andrea of the Duchess.
i 4 THE CHILD OF PLEASURE
' I sacrificed my hands on the altar of Benevolence/ she
replied. 'Twenty-five louis more to my account !'
'All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little
hand: He laughed as he quoted Lady Macbeth's words,
but, in reality, his heart was sore with a confused, ill-defined
pain, that bore a strong resemblance to jealousy. And
suddenly he became aware of something excessive, almost
it might be a touch of the courtesan, defacing the manners
of the great lady. Certain inflections of her voice, certain
tones of her laughter, here a gesture, there an attitude, certain
glances, exhaled a charm that was perhaps a trifle too
Aphrodisiac. She was, besides, somewhat over-lavish with
the visible favours of her graces, and the air she breathed was
continually surcharged with the desire she herself excited.
Andrea's heart swelled with bitterness ; he could not take
his eyes off Elena's hands. Out of those hands, so delicately,
ideally white and transparent, with their faint tracery of azure
veins from those rosy hollowed palms, wherein a chiro-
mancer would have discovered many an intricate crossing
of lines, ten, twenty different men had drunk at a price. He
could see the heads of these unknown men bending over her
and drinking the wine. But Secinaro was one of his friends
a great handsome jovial fellow, imperially bearded like a
very Lucius Verus, and a most formidable rival to have.
He felt as if the dinner would never come to an end.
'You are such an innovator,' Elena was saying to Donna
Francesca, as she dipped her fingers into warm water in a
pale blue finger-glass rimmed with silver, ' Why do you not
revive the ancient fashion of having the water offered to one
after dinner with a basin and ewer? The modern arrange-
ment is very ugly, do you not think so, Sperelli ?'
Donna Francesca rose. Every one followed her example.
Andrea, with a bow, offered his arm to Elena and she looked
at him without smiling as she slowly laid her hand on his
arm. Her last words were gaily and lightly spoken, but her
gaze was so grave and profound that the young man felt it
sink into his very soul.
THE CHILD OF PLEASURE 15
'Are you going to the French Embassy to-morrow evening?'
she asked him.
I Are you ? ' Andrea asked in return.
I 1 am.'
1 So am I.'
They smiled at one another like two lovers.
'Sit down,' she added as she sank into a seat.
The seat was far from the fire, with its back to the curve
of a grand piano which was partially draped in some rich
stuff. At one end of the divan, a tall bronze crane held in
his beak a tray hanging by three chains like one side of a pair
of scales, and on it lay a new book and a little Japanese
scimitar a waki-gashi the scabbard and hilt encrusted
with silver chrysanthemums.
Elena took up the book, which was only half cut, read the
title, and then replaced it on the tray which swung to and fro.
The scimitar fell to the ground. As both she and Andrea
stooped to pick it up, their hands met. She straightened
herself up and examined the beautiful weapon with some
curiosity, retaining it in her hand while Andrea talked about
the new novel, insinuating into his remarks general argu-
ments upon love ; and her fingers wandered absently over
the chasing of the weapon, her polished nails seeming a
repetition of the delicate gems that sparkled in her rings.
Presently, after a pause, Elena said without looking at him :
' You are very young have you often been in love ? '
He answered by another question ' Which do you con-
sider the truest, noblest way of love to imagine you have
discovered every aspect of the eternal Feminine combined in
one woman, or to run rapidly over the lips of woman as you
run your fingers over the keys of a piano, till, at last, you
find the sublime chord of harmony?'
' I really cannot say and you ? '
'Nor I either I am unable to solve the great problem
of sentiment. However, by personal instinct, I have followed
the latter plan and have now, I fear, struck the grand chord
judging, at least, by an inward premonition.'
1 6 THE CHILD OF PLEASURE
1 You fear ? '
*Je crains ce quefespere?
He instinctively employed this language of affected senti-
ment to cloak his really strong emotion, and Elena felt herself
caught by his voice as in a golden net and drawn forcibly
out of the life surrounding them.
' Her Excellency the Princess di Micigliano ! ' announced
' Count di Gissi ! '
' Madame Chrysoloras ! '
' The Marchese and the Marchesa Massa d'Albe ! '
The rooms began to fill rapidly. Long shimmering trains
swept over the deep red carpet, white shoulders emerged
from bodices starred with diamonds, embroidered with pearls,
covered with flowers, and in nearly every coiffure glittered
those marvellous hereditary gems for which the Roman
nobility are so much envied.
' Her Excellency the Princess of Ferentino !'
' His Excellency the Duke of Grimiti ! '
The guests formed themselves in various groups, the rally-
ing points of gossip and of flirtation. The chief group,
composed exclusively of men, was in the vicinity of the
piano, gathered round the Duchess of Scerni, who had risen
to her feet, the better to hold her own against her besiegers.
The Princess of Ferentino came over to greet her friend with
'Why did you not come to Nini Santamarta's to-day?
We all expected you.'
She was tall and thin with extraordinary green eyes sunk
deep in their shadowy sockets. Her dress was black, the
bodice open in a point back and front, and in her hair, which
was blond cendr^ she wore a great diamond crescent like
Diana. She waved a huge fan of red feathers hastily to and
fro as she spoke.
'Nini is at Madame Van Hueffel's this evening '
'I am going there later on for a little while, so I shall sec
her,' answered the Duchess.
THE CHILD OF PLEASURE 17
' Oh, Ugenta,' said the Princess turning to Andrea, ' I was
looking for you to remind you of our appointment. To-
morrow is Thursday and Cardinal Immraet's sale begins at
twelve. Will you fetch me at one ? '
' I shall not fail, Princess.'
' I simply must have that rock crystal.'
' Then you must be prepared for competition.'
' From whom ? '
' My cousin for one.
'And who else?'
' From me,' said Elena.
You? Well, we shall see.'
Several of the gentlemen asked for further enlighten-
'It is a contest between ladies of the iQth century for a
rock crystal vase which belonged to Niccolb Niccoli,' Andrea
explained with solemnity; 'a vase, on which is engraved the
Trojan Anchises untying one of the sandals of Venus
Aphrodite. The entertainment will be given gratis, at one
o'clock to-morrow afternoon, in the Public Sale-rooms
of the Via Sistina. Contending parties the Princess of
Ferentino, the Duchess of Scerni and the Marchesa
Everybody laughed, and Grimiti asked, 'Is betting
permitted ? '
' The odds ! The odds ! ' yelled Don Filippo del Monte,
imitating the strident voice of the bookmaker Stubbs.
The Princess gave him an admonitory tap on the arm with
her red fan, but the joke seemed to amuse them hugely and
the betting began at once. Hearing the bursts of laughter,
other ladies and gentlemen joined the group in order to share
the fun. The news of the approaching contest spread like
lightning and soon assumed the proportions of a society
' Give me your arm and let us take a turn through the
rooms,' said Elena to Andrea Sperelli.
As soon as they were in the west room, away from the
!8 THE CHILD OF PLEASURE
>>oisy crowd, Andrea pressed her arm and murmured,
She leaned on him, stopping now and again to reply to
some greeting. She seemed fatigued, and was as pale as the
pearls of her necklace. Each gentleman addressed her with
some hackneyed compliment.
' How stupid they all are ! it makes me feel quite ill,' she said.
As they turned, she saw Sakumi was following them noise-
lessly, her camellia in his buttonhole, his eyes full of yearn-
ing, not daring to come nearer. She thew him a compassionate
' Poor Sakumi ! '
1 Did you not notice him before ? ' asked Andrea.
' While we were sitting by the piano, he was in the recess
of the window, and never took his eyes off your hands when
you were playing with the weapon of his native country now
reduced to being a paper-cutter for a European novel.'
' Just now, do you mean ? '
'Yes, just now. Perhaps he was thinking how sweet it
would be to perform Hara-Kiri with that little scimitar, the
chrysanthemums on which seemed to blossom out of the
lacquer and steel under the touch of your fingers.'
She did not smile. A veil of sadness, almost of suffering,
seemed to have fallen over her face ; her eyes, faintly
luminous under the white lids, seemed drowned in shadow,
the corners of her mouth drooped wearily, her right arm
hung straight and languid at her side. She no longer held
out her hand to those who greeted her; she listened no longer
to their speeches.
'What is the matter?' asked Andrea.
' Nothing I must go to the Van Hueffels' now. Take me
to Francesca to say good-bye, and then come with me down
to my carriage.'
They returned to the first drawing-room, where Luigi Gulli,
a young man, swarthy and curly-haired as an Arab, who had
left his native Calabria in search of fortune, was executing,
THE CHILD OF PLEASURE 19
with much feeling, Beethoven's sonata in C# minor. The
Marchesa d'Ateleta, a patroness of his, was standing near
the piano, with her eyes fixed on the keys. By degrees, the
sweet and grave music drew all these frivolous spirits within
its magic circle, like a slow-moving but irresistible whirl-
' Beethoven ! ' exclaimed Elena in a tone of almost religious
fervour, as she stood still and drew her arm from Andrea's.
She had halted beside one of the great palms and,
extending her left hand, began very slowly to put on her
glove. In that attitude her whole figure, continued by the
train, seemed taller and more erect ; the shadow of the palm
veiled and, so to speak, spiritualised the pallor of her skin.
Andrea gazed at her in a kind of rapture, increased by the
pathos of the music.
As if drawn by the young man's impetuous desire, Elena
turned her head a little, and smiled at him a smile so subtle,
so spiritual, that it seemed rather an emanation of the soul
than a movement of the lips, while her eyes remained sad
and as if lost in a far away dream. Thus overshadowed they
were verily the eyes of the Night, such as Leonardo da Vinci
might have imagined for an allegorical figure after having seen
Lucrezia Crevelli at Milan.
During the second that the smile lasted, Andrea felt him-
self absolutely alone with her in the crowd. An immense
wave of pride flooded his heart.
Elena now prepared to put on the other glove.
' No, not that one,' he entreated in a low voice.
She understood, and left her hand bare.
He was hoping to kiss that hand before she left And
suddenly he had a vision of the May Bazaar, and the men
drinking champagne out of those hollowed palms, and for
the second time that night he felt the keen stab of jealousy.
' We will go now,' she said, taking his arm once more.
The sonata over, conversation was resumed with fresh
rigour. Three or four new names were announced, amongst
them that of the Princess Isse, who entered smiling, with funny
20 THE CHILD OF PLEASURE
little tottering steps, in European dress, her oval face as
white and tiny as a little netske figurine. A stir of curiosity
ran round the room.
Good-night, Francesca,' said Elena, taking leave of her
hostess, c I shall see you to-morrow.'
' Going so soon ? '
' I am due at the Van Hueffels'. 1 promised to go.'
'What a pity ! Mary Dyce is just going to sing.'
' I must go good-bye ! '
'Well, take this, and good-bye. Most amiable of cousins,
please look after her.'
The Marchesa pressed a bunch of double violets into her
hand and hurried away to receive the Princess Iss6 very
graciously. Mary Dyce, in a red dress, slender and undulat-
ing as a tongue of fire, began to sing.
'I am so tired ! ' murmured Elena, leaning wearily on
Andrea's arm. ' Please ask for my cloak.'
He took her cloak from the attendant, and in helping her
to put it on, touched her shoulder with the tips of his fingers,
and felt her shiver. The words of one of Schumann's songs
was borne to them on Mary Dyce's passionate soprano,
Ich kauri's nichtfassen, nicht glauben !
They descended the stairs in silence. A footman preceded
them to call the duchess's carriage. The stamping of the