Forget? Did such men as he forget? Other men did. What were they made of? They did not love such women, perhaps; that was the reason they forgot. Any one could forget poor Donna Tullia. And yet how was it possible to forget if one loved truly?
Giovanni had never believed himself in love before. He had known one or two women who had attracted him strongly; but he had soon found out that he had no real sympathy with them, that though they amused him they had no charm for him—most of all, that he could not imagine himself tied to any one of them for life without conceiving the situation horrible in the extreme. To his independent nature the idea of such ties was repugnant: he knew himself too courteous to break through the civilities of life with a wife he did not love; but he knew also that in marrying a woman who was indifferent to him, he would be engaging to play a part for life in the most fearful of all plays—the part of a man who strives to bear bravely the galling of a chain he is too honourable to break.
It was four o’clock in the morning when Giovanni went to bed; and even then he slept little, for his dreams were disturbed. Once he thought he stood upon a green lawn with a sword in his hand, and the blood upon its point, his opponent lying at his feet. Again, he thought he was alone in a vast drawing-room, and a dark woman came and spoke gently to him, saying, “Marry her for my sake.” He awoke with a groan. The church clocks were striking eight, and the meet was at eleven, five miles beyond the Porta Pia. Giovanni started up and rang for his servant.
It was a beautiful day, and half Rome turned out to see the meet, not because it was in any way different from other meets, but because it chanced that society had a fancy to attend it. Society is very like a fever patient in a delirium; it is rarely accountable for its actions; it scarcely ever knows what it is saying; and occasionally, without the least warning or premeditation, it leaps out of bed at an early hour of the morning and rushes frantically in pursuit of its last hallucination. The main difference is, that whereas a man in a fever has a nurse, society has none.
On the present occasion every one had suddenly conceived the idea of going to the meet, and the long road beyond the Porta Pia was dotted for miles with equipages of every description, from the four-in-hand of Prince Valdarno to the humble donkey-cart of the caterer who sells messes of boiled beans, and bread and cheese, and salad to the grooms—an institution not connected in the English mind with hunting. One after another the vehicles rolled out along the road, past Sant’ Agnese, down the hill and across the Ponte Nomentana, and far up beyond to a place where three roads met and there was a broad open stretch of wet, withered grass. Here the carriages turned in and ranged themselves side by side, as though they were pausing in the afternoon drive upon the Pincio, instead of being five miles out upon the broad Campagna.