Read SIENA : CHAPTER VIII of Olive in Italy , free online book, by Moray Dalton, on

Olive was careful to sit down with Carmela on one side of their box on the second tier, leaving two chairs in front for the fidanzati, but the young man made several efforts to include her in the conversation and she understood that she had put herself in a false position. Orazio had misunderstood her because her manners were not the manners of Lucca, and he knew no others. It annoyed her to see that he plumed himself on his conquest, but her sense of humour enabled her to avoid his glances with a good grace, especially as she realised that she had brought them on herself.

She felt nothing but pity for her cousin now. It would be terrible to marry a man like that, she thought, and she wondered that so many women could rush in where angels feared to tread. She believed that there were infinite possibilities of happiness in the holy state of matrimony, but it seemed to her that perhaps the less said of some actualities the better.

Carmela was right. At this time she pastured on dreams and fancies. Her emotions were not starved, but they were kept down and only allowed to nibble. She thought often of the man who had been kind to her, and sometimes she wished that he had kissed her. It would have been something to remember. Often, if she closed her eyes, she could almost cheat herself into believing him there close beside her, his brown gaze upon her, his lips quivering with a strange eagerness that troubled her and yet made her glad. Jean Avenel. It was a good name.

He had gone to America and she assured herself that he must have forgotten her, but she did not try to forget him. She nursed the little wistful sorrow for what might have been, as women will, and would not bind up the scratch he had inflicted. Already she had learned that some pain is pleasant, and that a stinging sweetness may be distilled from tears. Sometimes at night, when it was too hot to sleep and she lay watching the fine silver lines of moonlight passing across the floor, she asked herself if she would see him again, and when, and how, and wove all manner of cobweb fancies about what might be.

She ripened quickly as fruit ripens in the hot sunshine of Italy; her lips were more sweetly curved and coloured, and her blue eyes were shadowed now. They were like sapphires seen through a veil.

Maria gave her the opera-glasses and she raised them to scan the house. It was a gala night and the theatre was hung with flags and brilliantly illuminated. There were candles everywhere, and the great chandelier that hung from the ceiling was lit. The heat was stifling, and the incessant fluttering of fans gave the women in the parterre and in the crowded boxes a look of unrest that was belied by their placid, expressionless faces. Many glanced up at the Menotti in their box. There was some criticism of Gemma’s Lucchese.

“He is ugly, but she could not expect to get a husband here where she is so well known. They say ”

“The Capuan Psyche and a rose from the garden of Eden,” said a man in the stage box, who had discerned Olive’s fresh, eager prettiness beyond the pale beauty of the Odalisque.

He handed the glasses to his neighbour. “Choose.”

“The rôle of Paris is a thankless one; it involved death in the end for the shepherd prince.”

“Yes, but you are not a shepherd prince.”

The man addressed was handsome as a faun might be and as a tiger is. Not sleek, but lean and brown, with hot, insolent eyes and a fine and cruel mouth. A great emerald sparkled on the little finger of his left hand. He was one of the few in the house who wore evening dress, and he was noticeable on that account, but he had been standing talking with some other men at the back of his box hitherto. He came forward now and Gemma saw him. Her set lips relaxed and seemed to redden as she met his bold, lifted gaze, but as his eyes left hers and he raised his glasses to stare past her at Olive her face contracted so that for the moment she was almost ugly.

The performance was timed to begin at nine, but at twenty minutes past the hour newsvendors were still going to and fro with bundles of evening papers, and the orchestra was represented by a melancholy bald-headed man with a cornet. The other musicians came in leisurely, one by one, and at last the conductor took his place and the audience settled down and was comparatively quiet while the Royal March was being played. The orchestra had begun the overture to Rigoletto when some of the men who stood in the packed arena behind the palchi cried out and their friends in other parts of the house joined in. They howled like wolves, and for a few minutes the uproar was terrific, and Verdi’s music was overwhelmed by the clamour of voices until the conductor, turning towards the audience, said something inaudible with a deprecating bow and a quick movement of his hands.

Ora, zittì!” yelled a voice from the gallery.

Silence was instant, and the whole house rose and stood reverently, listening to a weird and confused jumble of broken chords that yet could stir the pulses and quicken the beating of young hearts.

Olive had risen with the rest. “What is it?” she whispered to Maria.

“Garibaldi’s Hymn.”

It seemed a red harmony of rebellious souls, climbing, struggling, clutching at the skirts of Freedom. The patter of spent shot, the heavy breathing of hunted fugitives, the harsh crying of dying men, the rush of feet that stumbled as they came over the graves of the Past; all these sounds of bygone strife rang, as it were, faintly, beyond the strange music, as the sea echoes, sighing, in a shell.

Signora Aurelia had told Olive how in the years before Italy was free and united under the king, when Guiseppe Verdi was a young man, the students would call his name in the theatre until the house rang to the cry of “Viva Verdi! Viva Verdi!” A little because they loved their music-maker, more because V. E. R. D. I. meant Vittor Emanuele, Re D’Italia, and they liked to sing his forbidden praises in the very ears of the white-coat Austrians.

They had their Victor. Had he not sufficed? Olive knew that the authorities scarcely countenanced the playing of the Republican hymn. Was it because it made men long for some greater ruler than a king, or for no ruler at all? Freedom is more elusive even than happiness. Never yet has she yielded herself to men, though she makes large promises and exacts sacrifices as cruel as ever those of Moloch could have been. Her altars stream with blood, but she ... she is talking, or she is pursuing, or she is on a journey, or peradventure she sleepeth ... and her prophets must still call upon her and cut themselves with knives.

As the curtain went up Olive leant forward that she might see the stage. It was her first opera. Music is a necessity in Italy, but in England it is a luxury, and somehow she and her mother had never been able to afford even seats in the gallery at Covent Garden.

Now all her thoughts, all her fancies, were swept away in the flood of charming melody. The story, when she understood it, shocked and repelled her. It seemed strange that crime should be set to music, and that one should have to see abduction, treachery, vice, and a murder brutally committed in full view of the audience, while the tenor sang the lightest of all his lyrics: “La donna e mobile.”

Gemma asked for an ice during the second entr’acte, and Orazio hurried out to get one for her at the buffet. The girl looked tired, but she was kind to her lover in her silent, languid way, listening to his whispered inanitiés, and allowing him to hold her hand, though her flesh shrank from the damp clamminess of his grasp, and she hated his nearness and wished him away.

The man who sat alone now in the stage box could see no flaw in her composure, and she seemed to him as perfectly calm as she was perfectly beautiful, though he had noticed that not once had she looked towards the stage. She kept her eyes down, and they were shadowed by the long black lashes. Ah, she was beautiful! The man’s lean brown face was troubled and he sighed under his breath. He went out in the middle of the third act, and he did not come back again.

After a while Gemma moved restlessly. “Orazio, per carità! Your hand is so hot and sticky! I shall change places with Carmela,” she said. She released her fingers from the young man’s grasp with the air of one crushing a forward insect or removing a bramble from the path, and she actually beckoned to her sister to come.

Orazio flushed red and he seemed about to speak as Carmela rose from her seat, but the aunt interposed hurriedly.

“Sit still, Gemma, you are tired or you would not speak so. The lights hurt your eyes and make your head ache.”

“Yes, I am tired,” the girl said wearily. “I slept ill last night. Forgive me, Orazio, if I was cross. I am sorry.”

Her dull submission touched Olive with a sudden sense of pity and of fear, but Orazio was blind and deaf to all things written between the lines of life, and he could not interpret it.

“I do not always understand you,” he said stiffly, and he would not relax until presently she drew nearer to him of her own accord.