88 THE CHILD OF PLEASURE
of glittering steel instruments within. One of them was a
youngish man, pale, bald, and with feminine hands and a
hard mouth, with a continual and visible contraction of the
lower jaw, which was extraordinarily developed. The other
was a thickset man of mature years with a freckled face,
bushy red beard and the neck of an ox. The one seemed
the antithesis of the other, and their disparity excited Sperelli's
curiosity and attention. They set out upon a table bandages
and carbolic acid for disinfecting the weapons. The smell
of the acid diffused itself through the room.
As soon as Sperelli was ready, he went out accompanied
by his second and the surgeons. Once again, the view of
Rome seen through the laurels attracted his eyes and made
his heart beat fast. He was full of impatience. He wished
he could put himself on guard at that very instant, and hear
the signal for the attack. He seemed to have the decisive
thrust, the victory in his hand.
' Ready ? ' asked Santa Margherita advancing to meet
' Quite ready.'
The spot chosen for the encounter was a path at the side
of the villa, in the shade, and covered with fine rolled gravel.
Rutolo was already stationed there, at the further end, with
Roberto Casteldieri and Carlo di Souza. Everybody wore
a grave, not to say solemn, air. The two adversaries were
placed opposite to one another and their eyes met. Santa
Margherita, who had the direction of the combat, noticed
that Rutolo's shirt was very stiffly starched and the collar too
high. He remarked upon it to Casteldieri who exchanged
a few words with his principal, and Sperelli saw the blood
rush to his adversary's face while he proceeded resolutely to
divest himself of his shirt. Andrea with cold composure
followed his example. He then turned up his trousers and
Santa Margherita handed him the glove, the strap and the
rapier. He armed himself with scrupulous care, and shook
his weapon slightly to see that he had it well in hand. The
movement brought out the play of his biceps very visibly.
THE CHILD OF PLEASURE 89
bearing witness to long practice of the arm and the strength
it had thereby acquired.
When the two combatants measured their swords for
the distance, that of Giannetto Rutolo shook convulsively.
After the usual set phrases as to the honour and good faith
of the combatants, Santa Margherita gave the word in a
ringing powerful voice.
' Gentlemen on guard ! '
The duellists threw themselves on guard simultaneously;
Rutolo, with a stamp of the foot, Sperelli, bending forward
lightly. Rutolo was of medium height, very slender, all
nerves, with an olive face, to which the curled moustaches
and the little pointed beard a la Charles i. in Van Dyck's
pictures lent a certain piquant and dashing air. Sperelli
was taller, more dignified, admirable of attitude, calm and
collected, perfectly balanced between grace and strength, his
whole person proclaiming the grand seigneur. They looked
each other full in the eye, and each experienced a curious
internal thrill at the sight of the bare flesh against which
he pointed his sharp blade. Through the silence came the
fresh murmur of the fountain mingled with the rustle of the
breeze among the climbing rose-bushes, where innumerable
yellow and white roses nodded their fragrant heads.
' Play ! ' cried the Baron.
Andrea was prepared for an impetuous attack from Rutolo,
but the latter did not move. For about a minute, they stood
watching each other closely without ever crossing swords,
almost motionless. Sperelli bending his knees still more, on
guard with the point low, assumed the tierce guard and
sought to provoke his adversary by the insolent challenge of
his eyes and by stamping his foot. Rutolo made a step
forward with a menace of straight thrust, accompanying it
with a cry after the manner of certain Sicilian fencers. The
Sperelli avoided any decisive movement, restricting himself
to parrying only, forcing his opponent to discover his inten-
tions, to exhaust all his methods, to bring out his whole
9 o THE CHILD OF PLEASURE
repertoire of sword-play. His parries were neat and rapid,
never yielding a foot of ground, admirable in precision, as if
he were taking part in a fencing match in the school with
blunt foils; whereas Rutolo attacked him warmly, accom-
panying each thrust with a hearse cry like that of the wood-
cutters when they use their hatchets.
' Halt ! ' cried Santa Margherita, whose vigilant eye marked
every flash of the blades.
He went up to Rutolo. 'You are touched, if I am not
mistaken,' he said.
True, Rutolo had a scratch on the forearm, but so slight
that there was no need even of sticking-plaster. Nevertheless,
he was breathing hard, and his livid pallor bore witness to his
' I know my man thoroughly now,' whispered Sperelli with
a smile to Barbarisi. 'You watch the second round. I
mean to pink him on the right breast.'
As he spoke, he absently rested the point of his rapier on
the ground. The bald young surgeon with the strong jaw
immediately came up to him with a sponge soaked in carbolic
acid and proceeded to purify the weapon again.
' Good heavens ! ' Andrea exclaimed in a low voice to
Barbarisi, ' he has all the air of a jettatore. This rapier is
certain to break.'
A thrush began to sing somewhere in the trees. Here
and there a rose scattered its petals on the breeze. Some
low-lying fleecy clouds rose to meet the sun, broke up into
airy flakes and gradually dispersed.
On guard ! '
Conscious of his inferiority, Rutolo determined to hamper
his opponent's play, to attack him at close quarters and so
break his continuity of action. For this he enjoyed the
advantage of shorter stature and a frame which, being wiry,
thin and flexible, offered but little mark to the other's weapon.
A.ndrea foresaw that Rutolo would adopt this plan. He
stooo-xon guard, bent like a taut bow, watching for the right
THE CHILD OF PLEASURE 91
' Halt ! ' cried Santa Margherita.
A streak of blood showed on Rutolo's breast. The rapier
had penetrated, just under the right breast, almost to the rib.
The surgeons hurried over, but the wounded man instantly
turned to Casteldieri, and with a tremor of anger in his voice
said roughly :
' It is a mere scratch. I shall go on.'
He refused to go inside to have the wound dressed. The
bald doctor, after squeezing the small hole, which scarcely bled,
and sponging it with antiseptic lotion, applied a simple piece
of lint and said :
'You may go on now.'
At Casteldieri's invitation, the Baron gave the word with-
out delay for the third round.
' On guard ! '
Sperelli perceived his danger. Directly in front of him
stood his adversary, his knees firmly bent, masked, as it were,
behind his rapier, his whole strength resolutely collected for
one supreme effort. His eyes had a singular glitter, and the
calf of his left leg quivered perceptibly under the excessive
tension of the muscles. This time, in order to avoid the
shock of his opponent's impetus, Andrea determined to throw
himself to one side and repeat the thrust which Cassibile had
employed so successfully, the white patch of lint on Rutolo's
breast serving him as a mark. It was there he proposed
wounding him again, but, this time, the rapier should enter
the intercostal space and not be deterred by the rib. The
silence all about them deepened, the spectators felt the homi-
cidal desire that animated the two men, and were seized with
apprehension, their hearts sinking at the thought that doubtless
they would have to carry away a dead or dying man. The sun,
veiled by fleecy cloudlets, shed a milky light over the scene,
the trees rustled fitfully, the thrush sang on invisible.
' Play ! '
Rutolo charged his adversary with a double derobe.
Sperelli parried and returned, giving way a step. Rutolo
followed up furiously with a rush of rapid thrusts, nearly all
92 THE CHILD OF PLEASURE
in the low line, without uttering the usual cries. Sperelli,
nothing daunted by this onslaught, and wishing to avoid an
actual hand-to-hand fight, parried vigorously, and returned
with such directness that he might, had he so wished, have
run his adversary through the body each time. Rutolo's leg
was bleeding near the groin.
' Halt ! ' cried Santa Margherita the moment he perceived it.
But in the same instant Sperelli, parrying low quarte and
not encountering his adversary's blade, received a thrust full
in the breast. He fell back into Barbarisi's arms and fainted.
'Wound penetrating the thorax through the fourth inter-
costal space on the right side with superficial wound of the
lung,' pronounced the bull-necked surgeon, after his examina-
tion in the room to which they had conveyed the wounded
CONVALESCENCE is a purification, a new birth. Never is life
so sweet as after the pangs of physical suffering, and never is
the human soul so inclined towards purity and faith as after
having had a glimpse into the abyss of death.
After his terrible wound, after a long, slow, agonising
struggle, Andrea Sperelli came back to life renewed in body
and spirit like another man, like a creature risen out of the
icy waters of death, with a mind swept bare of all that has
gone before. The past had receded into the dim perspective,
the troubled waters had calmed, the mud sunk to the
bcttom ; his soul was cleansed. He returned to the bosom
of Mother Nature, and he felt her re-inforce him maternally
with goodness and with strength.
The guest of his cousin at her villa of Schifanoja, Andrea
returned to life again in sight of the sea. The convalescent
drew his breath in harmony with the deep, calm breath of
the ocean ; his mind was tranquillised by the serenity of the
horizon. Little by little, in these hours of enforced idleness
and retirement, his spirit expanded, bloomed out, erected
itself slowly, like the grass trodden under foot on the path-
way, and he returned to truth and simple faith, became
natural and free of heart, open to the knowledge and
disposed to the contemplation of pure things.
August was drawing to a close. An ecstatic serenity
reigned over the sea; the waters were so transparent that
they repeated every image with absolute fidelity, and their
ultimate line melted so imperceptibly into the sky that the
two elements seemed as one, impalpable and supernatural
96 THE CHILD OF PLEASURE
The wide amphitheatre of hills, clothed with olives, oranges
and pines and all the noblest forms of Italian vegetation, em-
braced the silent sea, and seemed not a multiplicity of things,
but a single vast object under the all-pervading sunshine.
Lying on the grass, or sitting on a rock or under a tree,
the young man felt the river of life flow within him ; as in a
trance, he seemed to feel the whole universe throb and
palpitate in his breast; in a species of religious rapture,
he felt that he possessed the infinite. That which he ex-
perienced was ineffable, divine. The vista before him opened
out by degrees into a profound and long continued vision,
the branches of the trees overhead supported the firmament,
filling the blue, and shining like the garlands of immortal
poets. And he gazed and listened and breathed with the
sea and the earth, placid as a god.
Where were now all his vanities and his cruelties, his schemes
and his duplicities ? What had become of all his loves and
his illusions, his disappointments and his disgusts, and the
implacable reaction after pleasure? He remembered none
of them. His spirit had renounced them all, and with the
absence of desire, he had found peace.
Desire had abandoned its throne and intellect was free to
follow its proper course, and reflect the objective world purely
from the outside point of view ; things appeared clearly and
precisely under their true form, in their true colours, in all
their real significance and beauty ; every personal sentiment
was in abeyance.
' Die Sterne, die begehrt man nicht Man freut sich ihrer
One desires not the stars, but rejoices in their splendour
and for the first time in his life the young man really recog-
nised the poetic harmony of summer skies at night.
These were the last nights of August, and there was no
moon. Innumerable in the deep starry vault, the constella-
tions throbbed and palpitated with ardent life. The two
Bears, Hercules, Cassiopeia, glittered with so rapid a palpita-
tion that they seemed almost to approach the earth, to
THE CHILD OF PLEASURE 97
penetrate the terrestrial atmosphere. The Milky Way flowed
wide like a regal ae'rian river, a confluence of the waters of
Paradise, over a bed of crystal between starry banks. Brilliant
meteors cleft the motionless air from time to time, gliding
lightly and silently as a drop of water over a sheet of glass.
The slow and solemn respiration of the sea sufficed to
measure the peace of the night without disturbing it, and
the pauses were almost sweeter than the music.
In every aspect of the things around him he beheld some
analogy to his own inner life. The landscape became to him
a symbol, an emblem, a sign to guide him through the
labyrinthine passes of his own soul. He discovered secret
affinities between the visible life around him and the intimate
life of his desires and memories. 'To me, high mountains
are a feeling? and as the mountains were to Byron, so the
sea was to him a sentiment.
Oh, that limpid September sea ! Calm and guileless as a
sleeping child, it lay outstretched beneath the pearly sky
now green, the delicate and precious green of malachite, the
little red sails upon it like flickering tongues of fire, now
intensely almost one might call it heraldically blue, and
veined with gold like lapis-lazuli, with pictured sails upon it
as in a church procession. At other times, it took on a dull
metallic lustre as polished silver mingled with the greenish-
yellow tint of ripe lemons, indefinable, strange and delicate,
and the sails would come crowding like the wings of the
cherubim in the background of a Giotto picture.
Forgotten sensations of early youth came back to him, that
impression of freshness which the salt breath of the sea
infuses into young blood, the indescribable effects produced
by the changing lights and shadows, the tints, the smell of
the salt water upon the unsullied soul. The sea was not
only a delight to his eyes, but also an inexhaustible well-
spring of peace, a magic fount Of youth wherein his body
regained health, and his spirit nobility. The ocean had for
him the mysterious attraction of a mother country, and he
abandoned himself to it with filial confidence, as a feeble
98 THE CHILD OF PLEASURE
child might sink into the arms of an omnipotent mother.
And he received comfort and encouragement ; for who ever
confided his pain, his yearnings or his dreams to her in
For him the sea had ever a profound word, some sudden
revelation, some unlocked for enlightenment, some unexpected
significance. She revealed to him, in the secret recesses of
his soul, a wound still gaping though quiescent, and she made
it bleed again, but only to heal it with balm that was doubly
sweet. She reawakened the dragon that slumbered within
him, till he felt once more the terrible grip of its claws, and
then she slew it once for all and buried it deep in his heart
never to rise again. No corner of his being but lay open to
the great Consolatrix.
But at times, under the continuous dominion of this influ-
ence, under the persistent tyranny of this fascination, the con-
ralescent was conscious of a sort of bewilderment and fear, as
if both the dominion and fascination were insupportable to his
weak state. The incessant colloquy between him and the
sea gave him a vague sense of prostration, as if the sublime
language were beyond his restricted powers, so eager to
grasp the meaning of the incomprehensible.
But this period of visions, of abstractions, of pure con-
templativeness was of short duration. By degrees, he began
to resume his attitude of self-consciousness, to recover the
sensation of his personality, to return to his original frame of
mind. One day at the hour of high noon, the vast and
terrible silence when all life seems suspended, a sudden
glimpse into his own heart revealed shuddering abysses, in-
extinguishable desires, ineffaceable memories, accumulations
of suffering and regret all the wretchedness he had gone
through, all the inevitable scars of his vices, all the results of
his passions. He seemed to be witnessing the shipwreck of
his whole life. A thousand voices cried to him for succour,
imploring aid, cursing death voices that he knew, that he
had listened to in days gone by. But they cried and im-
plored and cursed in vain, feeling that they were perishing,
THE CHILD OF PLEASURE 99
choked by the hungry waves; then the voices grew faint,
broken, irrecognisable and died away into silence.
He was alone. Of all his youth, of all his boasted fulness
of inner life, of all his ideality, not a vestige remained ; within
a black and yawning abyss, around him impassive nature,
endless source of pain to solitary souls. Every hope was
dead, every voice mute, every anchor gone what use was
Suddenly the image of Elena rose up before him, then that
of other women whom he had known and loved. Each of
them smiled a hostile smile, and each one, as she vanished,
seemed to carry away something of him what, he could not
definitely say. An unspeakable distress weighed upon him,
an icy breath of age swept over him, a tragic, warning voice
rang through his heart Too late ! Too late !
All his recent comfort and peace seemed now a vain
delusion, a dream that had flown, a pleasure enjoyed by
some other spirit. Every wound he had ruthlessly dealt to
his soul's dignity bled afresh ; every degradation he had
inflicted upon his conscience started out and spread like
a leprosy. Every violation he had committed upon his
ideality roused an endless, despairing, terrible remorse in him.
He had lied too flagrantly, had deceived, debased himself
beyond all power of redress. He loathed himself and all his
evil works Shame ! Shame ! Nothing could wipe out
those dishonouring stains, no balm could ever heal those
wounds, he must for ever endure the torment of that self-
loathing. Shame !
His eyes filled with tears, and dropping his head upon his
arms he abandoned himself to the weight of his misery,
prostrate as a man who has no hope of salvation.
With the new day, he awoke to new life, one of those
awakenings, so fresh and limpid, that are only vouchsafed to
adolescence in its triumphant springtide. It was a marvel-
lous morning only to breathe the air was pure delight.
The whole earth rejoiced in the living light ; the Lilis were
wrapped about \\ith a diaphanous silvery veil and seemed to
ioo THE CHILD OF PLEASURE
quiver with life, the sea appeared to be traversed by riv-
ulets of milk, by rivers of crystal and of emerald, by a
thousand currents forming the rippling intricacies of a
watery labyrinth. A sense of nuptial joy and religious
grace emanated from the concord between earth and sky.
And he breathed and gazed and listened, not a little sur-
prised. During his sleep the fever had left him. He had
slumbered, lulled by the voice of the waters as if by the
voice of a faithful friend and he who sleeps to the sound
of that lullaby enjoys a repose that is full of healing peace.
He gazed and listened mutely, fondly, letting the flood
of immortal life penetrate to his heart's core. Never had
the sacred music of a great master an Offertory of
Haydn, a Te Deum of Mozart produced in him the
emotion caused now by the simple chimes of the distant
village churches, as they greeted the rising of the sun into
the heavens. His soul swelled and o'erflowed with un-
speakable emotion. Some vision, vague but sublime,
hovered over him like a rippling veil through which
gleamed the splendour of the mysterious treasure of ulti-
mate felicity. Up till now, he had always known exactly
what he wished for, and had never found any pleasure in
desiring vainly. Now, he could not have named his desire,
but he had no doubts that the thing wished for was infinite-
ly sweet, since the very act of wishing was bliss. The words
of the Chimera in ' The King of Cyprus ' old world, half-
forgotten verses, recurred to him with all the force of a
'Would'st thou fight?
Would'st kill? would'st thou behold rivers of blood?
Great heaps of gold? white herds of captive women?
Slaves? other, and far other spoils? Would'st thou
Bid marble breathe? Would'st thou set up a temple?
Would'st fashion an immortal hymn? Would'st (hearken,
Hearken, O youth, hearken!) would'st thou divinely
He smiled faintly to himself. ' Whom should I love ?
Art? a woman? what woman? ' Elena seemed far re-
moved from him, lost to him, a stranger dead. The others
THE CHILD OF PLEASURE 101
still further off, dead for evermore. Therefore he was free.
But why renew a pursuit so useless and so perilous ? Why
stretch out his hand again towards the tree of knowledge?
' The tree of knowledge has been plucked all 's known ! ' as
Byron said in Don Juan. What he desired, at the bottom of
his heart, was to give himself freely, gratefully to some higher
and purer being. But where to find that being was the
Truly his salvation in the future lay rather in the practice
of caution, prudence, sagacity. His tone of mind seemed to
him admirably expressed in a sonnet of a contemporary poet,
whom, from a certain affinity of literary tastes and similar
aesthetic education, he particularly affected^
* I am as one who lays himself to rest
Under the shadow of a laden tree ;
Above his head hangs the ripe fruit, and he
Is weary of drawing bow or arbalest.
He shakes not the fair bough that lowliest
Droops, neither lifts he hand, nor turns to see ;
But lies, and gathers to him indolently
The fruits that drop into his very breast.
In that juiced sweetness, over-exquisite,
He bites not deep ; he fears the bitterness ;
Yet sets it to his lips, that he may smell,
Sucks it with pleasure, not with greediness,
And he is neither grieved nor glad at it.
This is the ending of the parable. '
Art ! Art ! She was the only faithful mistress forever
young immortal ; there was the Fountain of all pure joys,
closed to the multitude but freely open to the elect ; that was
the precious Food which makes a man like unto a god ! How
could he have quaffed from other cups after having pressed
his lips to that one? how have followed after other joys
when he had tasted that supreme one ?
'But what if my intellect has become decadent? if my
THE CHILD OF PLEASURE
hand has lost its cunning? What if I am no
He was seized with such panic at the thought, that he set
himself wildly to find some immediate means of proving to
himself the irrational nature of his fears. He would instantly
compose some difficult verses, draw a figure, engrave a plate,
solve some problem of form. Well and what then ? Might
not the result be entirely fallacious? The slow decay of
power may be imperceptible to the possessor that is the
terrible thing about it. The artist who loses his genius little
by little is unaware of his progressive feebleness, for as he
loses his power of production he also loses his critical faculty,
his judgment. He no longer perceives the defects of his
work does not know that it is mediocre or bad. That is
the horror of it ! The artist who has fallen from his original
high estate is no more conscious of his failings than the
lunatic is aware of his mental aberration.
Andrea was seized with terror. Better far better be dead !
Never, as at this moment, had he so fully grasped the divine
nature of that gift, never had the spark of genius appeared to
him so sacred. His whole being was shaken to its founda-
tions by the mere suggestion that that gift might be destroyed,
that spark extinguished. Better to die !
He lifted his head and shook off his inertia, then he went
down to the park and walked slowly under the trees, unable
to form a definite plan. A light breeze rippled through the
tree tops, now and again the leaves rustled as if a band of
squirrels were passing through them ; patches of blue sky
gleamed between the branches like eyes beneath their lids.
Arrived at a favourite spot of his, a sort of tiny lucus pre-
sided over by a four-fronted Hermes plunged in quadruple
meditation, he stopped and seated himself on the grass, with
his back against the pedestal of the statue and his face turned