horses rang through the echoing portico. At every step,
Andrea felt the pressure of Elena's arm grow heavier; she
held her head high, and her eyes were half closed.
'As you ascended these stairs, my admiration followed
you, unknown to you. Now, as you come down, my love
accompanies you,' he said softly, almostly humbly, faltering
a little between the two last words.
She made no reply, but she lifted the bunch of violets to
her face, and inhaled the perfume. In so doing, the wide
sleeve of her evening cloak slipped back over her arm beyond
the elbow, thrilling the young man's senses almost beyond
control. His lips trembled, and he with difficulty restrained
the burning words that rose to them.
THE CHILD OF PLEASURE 21
The carriage was standing at the foot of the great stairway ;
a footman held open the door.
'To Madame Van HueffePs,' said the duchess to him,
while Andrea helped her in.
The man left the door and returned to his seat beside the
coachman. The horses stamped, striking out sparks from
'Take care!' cried Elena, holding out her hand to the
young man. Her eyes and her diamonds flashed through the
'Oh, to be in there with her in the shadow to press my
lips to her satin neck under the perfumed fur of her mantle ! '
'Take me with you !' he would like to have cried.
But the horses plunged. ' Oh, take care ! ' Elena repeated.
He kissed her hand pressing his lips to it as if to leave
the mark of his burning passion. He closed the door and
the carriage rolled rapidly away under the porch, and out
to the Forum.
And thus ended Andrea Sperelli's first meeting with the
Duchess of Scerni.
THE gray deluge of democratic mud, which swallows up so
many beautiful and rare things, is likewise gradually engulfing
that particular class of the old It lian nobility in which from
generation to generation were kept alive certain family tradi-
tions of eminent culture, refinement and art.
To this class, which I should be inclined to denominate
Arcadian because it shone with greatest splendour in the
charming atmosphere of the eighteenth century life, belonged
the Sperelli. Urbanity, hellenism, love of all that was exquisite,
a predilection for out-of-the-way studies, an aesthetic curiosity,
a passion for archaeology, and an epicurean taste in gallantry
were hereditary qualities of the house of Sperelli. An
Alessandro Sperelli brought in 1466 to Frederic of Aragon,
son of Ferdinand King of Naples, and brother to Alfonso
Duke of Calabria, a manuscript in folio containing the 'less
rude' poems of the old Tuscan writers which Lorenzo de
Medici had promised him at Pisa in 1465; and in concert
with the most erudite scholars of his time, that same
Alessandro wrote a Latin elegy on the death of the divine
Simonetta sad and melting numbers after the manner of
Tibullus. Another Sperelli Stefano, was during the same
century in Flanders, in the midst of all the pomp, the
extravagant elegance, the almost fabulous magnificence of
the court of Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, where he
remained, having allied himself with a Flemish family. A
son of his, named Giusto, learned painting under the direction
of Gossaert, in whose company he came to Italy in the suite
of Philip of Burgundy, the Ambassador of the Emperor
THE CHILD OF PLEASURE 23
Maximilian ,to Pope Julius n. in 1508. He settled in
Florence, where the chief branch of his family continued
to flourish, and had for his second master Piero di Cosimo,
that jocund and facile painter and vivid and harmonious
colourist, under whose brush the pagan deities came to life
again. This Giusto was by no means a mediocre artist, but
he consumed all his forces in the vain effort to reconcile his
primary Gothic education with the newly awakened spirit of
the Renaissance. Towards the middle of the seventeenth
century the Sperelli family migrated to Naples. There a
Bartolomeo Sperelli published in 1679 an astrological
treatise: De Nativitatibus ; in 1720 a Giovanni Sperelli
wrote for the theatre an opera bouffe entitled La Faustina
and also a lyrical tragedy entitled Progne ; 1756 a Carlo
Sperelli brought out a book of amatory verses in which much
licentious persiflage was expressed with the Horatian elegance
so much affected at that period. A better poet, and moreover
a man of exquisite gallantry, was Luigi Sperelli, attached to
the court of the lazzaroni king of Naples and his queen
Caroline. His Muse was very charming, and affected a
certain epicurean melancholy. He loved much and with
a fine discrimination, and had innumerable adventures some
of them famous as, for instance, that with the Marchesa di
Bugnano who poisoned herself out of jealousy, and with the
Countess of Chesterfield who died of consumption, and whom
he mourned in a series of odes, sonnets and elegies very
moving, if perhaps somewhat overladen with metaphor.
Count Andrea Sperelli-Fieschi d'Ugenta, sole heir to the
family, carried on its traditions. He was, in truth, the ideal
type of the young Italian nobleman of the nineteenth century,
a true representative of a race of chivalrous gentlemen and
graceful artists, the last scion of an intellectual line.
He was, so to speak, thoroughly impregnated with art.
His early youth, nourished as it was by the most varied and
profound studies, promised wonders. Up to his twentieth
year, he alternated between severe study and long journeys,
in company with his father, and could thus complete his
24 THE CHILD OF PLEASURE
extraordinary aesthetic education under paternal direction,
without the restrictions and constraints imposed by tutors.
And it was to his father that he owed his taste for everything
pertaining to art, his passionate cult of the Beautiful, his
paradoxical disdain of prejudice, and his keen appetite for
That father, who had grown up in the midst of the last
expiring splendours of the Bourbon court of Naples, under-
stood life on a large scale, was profoundly initiated into all
the arts of the voluptuary, combined with a certain Byronic
leaning towards fantastic romanticism. His marriage had
occurred under quasi tragic circumstances, the finale of a
mad passion ; then, after disturbing and undermining the
conjugal peace in every possible fashion, he had separated
from his wife, and, keeping his son always with him, had
travelled about the whole of Europe.
Andrea's education had thus been a living one ; that is to
say, derived less from books than from the study of life as
he had seen it. His mind was corrupted not only by over-
refined culture, but also by actual experiments, and in him
curiosity grew keener in proportion as his knowledge grew
wider. From the beginning, he had ever been prodigal of
his powers, for the great nervous force with which nature
had endowed him was inexhaustible in providing him with
the treasures he dispensed so lavishly. But the expansion
of that energy caused in him the destruction of another force :
the moral one, which his own father had not scrupled to
repress in him. And he never perceived that his whole life
was a steady retrogression of all his faculties, of his hopes,
his joys a species of gradual renunciation and that the
circle was slowly but inexorably narrowing round him.
Among other fundamental maxims his father had given
him the following : You must make your own life as you
would any other work of art. The life of a man of intellect
should be of his own designing. Herein lies the only true
Again: Never, let it cost what it may, lose the mastery
THE CHILD OF PLEASURE 25
over yourself even in the most intoxicating rapture of the
senses. Habere non haberi is the rule from which the man
of intellect should never swerve.
And again Regret is the idle pastime of an unoccupied
mind. The best method, therefore, to avoid regret is to keep
the mind constantly occupied with new fancies, fresh sensa-
Unfortunately, however, these voluntary axioms, which from
their ambiguity might just as easily be interpreted as lofty
moral rules, fell upon an involuntary nature ; that is to say,
one in which the will power was extremely feeble.
Another seed sown by the paternal hand had borne evil
fruit in Andrea's spirit the seed of sophistry. Sophistry,
said this imprudent teacher, is at the bottom of all human
pleasure or pain. Therefore, quicken and multiply your
sophisms and you quicken and multiply your own pleasure or
your own pain. It is possible that the whole science of life
consists in obscuring the truth. The word is a very profound
matter in which inexhaustible treasure is concealed for the
man who knows how to use it. The Greeks, who were artists
in words, were the most refined voluptuaries of antiquity.
The sophists flourished in the greatest number during the
age of Pericles, the Golden Age of pleasure.
This germ had found a favourable soil in the unhealthy
culture of the young man's mind. By degrees, insincerity
rather towards himself than towards others became such a
habit of Andrea's mind, that finally he was incapable of being
wholly sincere or of regaining dominion over himself.
The death of his father left him alone at the age of twenty,
master of a considerable fortune, separated from his mother,
and at the mercy of his passions and his tastes. He spent
fifteen months in England. His mother married again, and
he returned to Rome from choice.
Rome was his passion not the Rome of the Caesars, but
the Rome of the Popes not the Rome of the Triumphal
Arches, the Forums, the Baths, but the Rome of the Villas,
the Fountains, the Churches. He would have given all the
2 6 THE CHILD OF PLEASURE
Colosseums in the world for the Villa Medici, the Campo
Vaccino for the Piazza di Spagna, the Arch of Titus for the
Fountain of the Tortoises. The princely magnificence of the
Colonnas, the Dorias, the Barberinis, attracted him far more
than the ruins of imperial grandeur. It was his dream to
possess a palace crowned by a cornice of Michael Angelo's,
and with frescos by the Carracci like the Farnese palace a
gallery of Raphaels, Titians and Domenichini like the
Borghese j a villa like that of Alessandro Albani, where deep
shadowy groves, red granite of the East, white marble from
Luni, Greek statues and Renaissance pictures should weave an
enchantment round some sumptuous amour of his. In an
album of ' Confessions ' at his cousin's, the Marchesa d'Ateleta,
against the question ' What would you most like to be ? ' he
had written, ' A Roman prince.'
Arriving in Rome about the end of September, he set up
his 'home ' in the Palazzo Zuccari, near the Trinita de' Monti,
where the obelisk of Pius vi. marks with its shadow the
passing hours. The whole of October was devoted to fur-
nishing them. When the rooms were all finished and decorated
to his taste, he passed some days of invincible melancholy
and loneliness in his new abode. It was a St. Martin's
summer, a ' Springtime of the Dead,' calmly sad and sweet, in
which Rome lay all golden, like a city of the Far East, under
a milk- white sky, diaphanous as the firmament reflected in
All this languor of atmosphere and light, in which things
seemed to lose their substance and reality, oppressed the
young man with an infinite weariness, an inexpressible sense
of discontent, of discomfort, of solitude, emptiness and home-
sickness, mostly, no doubt, the result of the change of
climate and customs.
It was just this, that he was entering upon a new phase of
life. Would he find therein the woman and the work capable
of dominating his heart and becoming an object in life to
him ? Within himself he felt neither the conviction of power
nor the presage of fame or happiness. Though penetrated,
THE CHILD OF PLEASURE 27
impregnated with art, as yet he had not produced anything
remarkable. Eager in the pursuit of pleasure and of love, he
had never yet really loved or really enjoyed whole-heartedly.
Tortured by aspirations after an Ideal, and abhorring pain
both by nature and education, he was vulnerable on every
side, accessible to pain at every point.
In the tumult of his conflicting inclinations, he had lost all
guiding will-power and moral perception. Will, in abdicat-
ing, had yielded the sceptre to instinct and the aesthetic sense
was substituted for the moral. But, it was nevertheless pre-
cisely to his aesthetic sense in him most subtle and powerful
that he owed a certain strength and equilibrium of mind, so
that one might say his existence was a perpetual struggle
between contrary forces, enclosed within the limits of that
equilibrium. Men of intellect, educated in the cult of the
beautiful, preserve a certain sense of order even in their worst
depravities. The conception of the beautiful is, so to
speak, the axis of their being, round which all their passions
Over this sadness, the recollection of Constance Land-
brooke still floated like a faded perfume. His love for
Conny had been a very delicate affair, for she was a very
sweet little creature. She was like one of Lawrence's crea-
tions, with all the dainty feminine graces so dear to that
painter of furbelows and laces and velvets, of lustrous eyes
and pouting lips, a very re-incarnation of the little Countess
of Shaftesbury. Lively, chattering, never still, lavish of
infantile diminutives and silvery peals of laughter, easily
moved to sudden caresses and as sudden melancholies and
quick bursts of anger, she contributed to her share of love a
vast amount of movement, much variety and many caprices.
But Conny Landbrooke's melodious twitterings had left no
more mark on Andrea's heart than the light musical echo left
in one's ear for a time by some gay ritornella. More than
once in some pensive hour of twilight melancholy, she had
said to him with a mist of tears before her eyes 'I know you
do not love me.' And in truth he did not love her, she did
28 THE CHILD OF PLEASURE
not by any means satisfy his longings. His ideal was less
northern in character. Ideally he felt himself attracted by
those courtesans of the sixteenth century, over whose faces
there would appear to be drawn some indefinable veil of
sorcery, some transparent mask of enchantment, some divine
The moment Andrea set eyes on the Duchess of Scerni, he
said to himself ' This is my Ideal Woman ! ' and his whole
soul went out to her in a transport of joy, in the presentiment
of the future.
THE next day the public sale-room of the Via Sistina was
thronged with fashionable people, come to look on at the
It was raining hard; the light in the low-roofed damp
rooms was dull and gray. Along the walls were ranged
various pieces of carved furniture, several large diptychs and
triptychs of the Tuscan school of the fourteenth century ; four
pieces of Flemish tapestry representing the Story of Narcissus
hung from ceiling to floor; Metaurensian majolicas occupied
two long shelves ; stuffs for the most part ecclesiastical lay
spread out on chairs or heaped up on tables ; antiquities of
the rarest kind ivories, enamels, crystals, engraved gems,
medals, coins, breviaries, illuminated manuscripts, silver of
delicate workmanship were massed together in high cabinets
behind the auctioneer's table. A peculiar musty odour,
arising from the clamminess of the atmosphere and this
collection of ancient things, pervaded the air.
When Andrea Sperelli entered the room with the Princess
di Ferentino, he looked about him rapidly with a secret
tremor Is she here? he said to himself.
She was there, seated at the table between the Cavaliere
Davila and Don Filippo del Monte. Before her on the table
lay her gloves and her muff, to which a little bunch of violets
was fastened. She held in her hand a little bas-relief in silver,
attributed to Caradosso Foppa, which she was examining with
great attention. Each article passed from hand to hand along
the table while the auctioneer proclaimed its merits in a loud
voice, those standing behind the line of chairs leaning over
3 o THE CHILD OF PLEASURE
The sale began.
' Make your bids, gentlemen ! make your bids ! ' cried the
auctioneer from time to time.
Some amateur encouraged by this cry bid a higher sum
with his eye on his competitors. The auctioneer raised his
1 Going Going Gone ! '
He rapped the table. The article fell to the last bidder.
A murmur went round the assemblage, then the bidding re-
commenced. The Cavaliere Davila, a Neapolitan gentleman
of gigantic stature and almost femininely gentle manners, a
noted collector and connoisseur of majolica, gave his opinion
on each article of importance. Three lots in this sale of the
Cardinal's effects were really of ' superior ' quality : the Story
of Narcissus, the rock-crystal goblet, and an embossed silver
helmet by Antonio del Pollajuolo presented by the City of
Florence to the Count of Urbino in 1472 for services rendered
during the taking of Volterra.
'Here is the Princess,' said Filippo del Monte to the
Elena rose and shook hands with her friend.
'Already in the field ! ' exclaimed the Princess.
' She has not come yet.'
Four or five young men the Duke of Grimiti, Roberto
Casteldieri, Ludovico Barbarisi, Gianetto Rutolo drew up
round them. Others joined them. The rattle of the rain
against the windows almost drowned their voices.
Elena held out her hand frankly to Sperelli as to everybody
else, but somehow he felt that that handshake set him at a
distance from her. Elena seemed to him cold and grave.
That instant sufficed to freeze and destroy all his dreams ; his
memories of the preceding evening grew confused and dim,
the torch of hope was extinguished. What had happened to
her ? She was not the same woman. She was wrapped in
the folds of a long otter-skin coat, and wore a toque of the
THE CHILD OF PLEASURE 31
same fur on her head. There was something hard, almost
contemptuous, in the expression of her face.
'The goblet will not come on for some time yet/ she
observed to the Princess, as she resumed her seat.
Every object passed through her hands. She was much
tempted by a centaur cut in a sardonyx, a very exquisite piece
of workmanship, part, perhaps, of the scattered collection of
Lorenzo the Magnificent. She took part in the bidding,
communicating her offers to the auctioneer in a low voice
without raising her eyes to him. Presently the competition
stopped ; she obtained the intaglio for a good price.
'A most admirable acquisition,' observed Andrea Sperelli
from behind her chair.
Elena could not repress a slight start. She took up the
sardonyx and handed it to him to look at over her shoulder
without turning round. It was really a very beautiful thing.
'It might be the centaur copied by Donatello,' Andrea
And in his heart, with his admiration for the work of art,
there rose up also a sincere admiration for the noble taste of
the lady who now filled all his thoughts. 'What a rare
creature both in mind and body!' he thought. But the
higher she rose in his imagination, the further she seemed
removed from him in reality. All the security of the preced-
ing evening was transformed into uneasiness, and his first
doubts reawoke. He had dreamed too much last night with
waking eyes, bathed in a felicity that knew no bounds, while
the memory of a gesture, a smile, a turn of the head, a fold
of her raiment held him captive as in a net. Now all this
imaginary world had tumbled miserably about his ears at the
touch of reality. In Elena's eyes there had been no sign of
that special greeting to which he had so ardently looked
forward ; she had in no wise singled him out from the crowd,
had offered him no mark of favour. Why not ? He felt himself
slighted, humiliated. All these fatuous people irritated him,
he was exasperated by the things which seemed to engross
Elena's attention, and more particularly by Filippo del Monte,
32 THE CHILD OF PLEASURE
who leaned towards her every now and then to whisper some-
thing to her scandal no doubt. The Marchesa d'Ateleta
now arrived, cheerful as ever. Her laugh, out of the centre
of the circle of men who hastened to surround her, caused
Don Filippo to turn round.
< Ah so the trinity is complete ! ' he exclaimed, rising from
Andrea instantly slipped into it at Elena Muti's side. As
the subtle perfume of the violets reached him, he murmured
' These are not those of last night, are they ? '
' No,' she answered coldly.
In all her varying moods, changeful and caressing as the
waves of the sea, there always lay a hidden menace of rebuff.
She was often taken with fits of cold restraint. Andrea held
his tongue, bewildered.
' Make your bids, gentlemen,' cried the auctioneer.
The bids rose higher. Antonio del Pollajuolo's silver
helmet was being hotly contested. Even the Cavaliere
Davila entered the lists. The very air seemed gradually to
become hotter ; the feverish desire to possess so beautiful an
object seemed to spread like a contagion.
In that year the craze for bibelots and bric-a-brac reached
the point of madness. The drawing-rooms of the nobility
and the upper middle classes were crammed with curios;
every lady must needs cover the cushions of her sofas and
chairs with some piece of church vestment, and put her roses
into an Umbrian ointment pot, or a chalcedony jar. The sale-
rooms were the favourite meeting-places, and every sale
crowded. It was the fashion for the ladies when they
dropped in anywhere for tea in the afternoon, to enter with
some such remark as ' I have just come from the sale of
the painter Campos' things. Tremendous bidding ! Such
Hispano-Moresque plaques ! I secured a jewel belonging to
Maria Leczinska. Look ! '
. The bidding continued . Fashionable purchasers crowded
round the table, vieing with each other in artistic and critical
comparisons between theGiottoesque Nativities and Annuncia-
THE CHILD OF PLEASURE 33
tions. Into this atmosphere of mustiness and antiquity the
ladies brought the perfume of their furs, and more especially
of the violets which each one wore on her muff, according to
the then prevailing charming fashion, and their presence
diffused a delicious air of warmth and fragrance. Outside,
the rain continued to fall, and the light to fade. Here and
there a little flame of gas struggled feebly with such daylight
' Going going gone ! ' The stroke of the hammer put
Lord Humphrey Heathfield in possession of the Florentine
helmet. The bidding then began for smaller articles, which
passed in turn from hand to hand down the long table.
Elena handled them carefully, examined them, and placed
them in front of Andrea without remark. There were
enamels, ivories, eighteenth century watches, Milanese gold-
smiths' work of the time of Ludovico the Moor, Books of
Hours inscribed in gold letters on pale blue vellum. These
precious things seemed to increase in value under the touch
of Elena's fingers; her little hands had a faint tremor of
eagerness when they came in contact with some specially
desirable object. Andrea watched them intently, and his
imagination transformed every movement of her hands into a
caress. ' But why did she place each thing upon the table
instead of passing it to him ? '
He forestalled her next time by holding out his hand.
And from thenceforth the ivories, the enamels, the ornaments
passed from the hands of the lady to those of her lover, to
whom they communicated an ineffable thrill of delight. He
felt that thus some particle of the charm of the beloved
woman entered into these objects, just as a portion of the
virtue of the magnet enters into the iron. It was, in truth,
the magnetic sense of love one of those acute and profound
sensations which are rarely felt but at love's beginning, and
which, differing essentially from all others, seem to have no
physical or moral seat, but to exist in some neutral element of
our being an element that is intermediate, and the nature of
which is unknown.
34 THE CHILD OF PLEASURE
' Here again is a rapture I have never felt before,' thought
A kind of torpor seemed creeping over him. Little by little,
he was losing consciousness of time and place.
' I recommend this clock to your notice,' Elena was saying
to him, with a look the full significance of which he did not
for the first moment understand.
It was a small Death's-head, carved in ivory with extra-
ordinary power and anatomical skill. Each jaw was furnished
with a row of diamonds, and two rubies flashed from the deep