It was a sunny day early in February. Antonio Caesarelli had saddled an uncommonly hoary and wise-looking donkey, named Abraham, and, as was his wont every Saturday, had repaired with it to the Piazza del Fiori, where he sold broccoli and other vegetables of the cabbage species. About noon, Annunciata came to bring him his dinner, and after having enjoyed for a while the sensation she made among the cabbage-dealers, betook herself on a journey of exploration through the city. Pietro’s tale of the miracles performed at the monkey theatre had given a lively impetus to her imagination, and being unable to endure any longer his irritating airs of superior knowledge, she had formed the daring resolution to put his veracity to the test. She arrived quite breathless in the Piazza delle Terme, and with much flutter and palpitation inquired the price of a ticket. The door-keeper paused in his stentorian address to the multitude that was gathered about him, and informed her that ten soldi would admit her to the enchanted realm within. Poor Annunciata’s countenance fell; she pulled her seven soldi from her pocket, counted them three or four times deliberately in her hand, and cast appealing glances at the stony-hearted Cerberus. At this moment she discovered a handsome young gentleman who, with his eyes fixed on her face, was elbowing his way through the crowd.
“Come along, my pretty lass,” he said, in doubtful Italian. “Put those coppers in your pocket and let me get your ticket for you.”
Annunciata was well aware that it was a dangerous thing to accept favors from unknown gentlemen, but just then her conscience refused to assert itself. Nevertheless, she summoned courage to answer, though in a voice which betrayed inward wavering:
“No, I thank you, signore; I would rather not.”
“Oh, stuff, my child! I won’t harm you, and your mother need never know.”
He seized her gently by the arm and pointed toward the canvas door which was drawn aside to admit another spectator. A gorgeously attired monkey, riding on a poodle, became visible for an instant through the aperture. That was too much for Annunciata’s conscience.
“But really, signore, I ought not!” she murmured, feebly.
“But we all do so many things that we ought not to do,” answered he, with a brusque laugh. “However, I won’t bite you; you needn’t be afraid of me.”
And before she knew it he had pushed her in through the door, and she found herself standing in a large tent, with long circular rows of benches which rose ampitheatrically from the arena toward the canvas walls. It was not quite to her taste that he conducted her to a seat near the roof, but she did not feel at liberty to remonstrate. She sat staring rigidly at the performances of the poodles and the monkeys, which were, no doubt, very wonderful, but which, somehow, failed to impress her as such, for she felt all the while that the gentleman at her side was regarding