“Yes, yes,” called Lisetta, lifting high her glass. “Yes, yes,” cried all, and Mae drank as heartily as any of them. Then she shook her head and gazed very scornfully down on her dark, stylish clothes. “I am not thoroughly Italian yet,” she cried. “Here, and here, and here,” cried one and another, proffering bits of their own gay costumes, and in a moment Mae had received all sorts of tributes—a string of red beads from one, a long sash from another, a big-balled stiletto from a third, so that she was able from the gleanings to trim herself up into at least a grotesque and un-American Carnival figure. Then the Italians with their soft tongues began to flatter her.
“How lovely the Signorina would look in a contadina costume—the home costume,” said Lisetta gravely. “It is so beautiful, is it not?” And then those two or three privileged ones, who had seen Lisetta’s home, went into ecstasies over its many charms. Lisetta, next to the Signorina, was the heroine of the occasion. She was from a distance, was handsome and clever, and the padrona gave glowing accounts of her full purse, and two pretty donkeys, and house by the sea.
They had a very gay time. Such singing, and then dancing and frolicking, and such a feline softness in all their gaiety. None of the German or Saxon bullying, and barking and showing of teeth; in no wise a game of dogs, which always ends in a fight; but a truly kittenish play, with sharp claws safely tucked out of sight behind the very softest paws, and a rich, gentle curve of motion, inexpressibly witching to our little northern maiden, who was fast losing her head amid it all. Mae did not reflect that felines are treacherous. She only drew a quick, mental picture of the parlor on the other side of the hall, which she compared to this gay scene. Mrs. Jerrold filling in dull row after row of her elaborate sofa cushion, which was bought in all its gorgeousness of floss fawn’s head and bead eyes, Edith and Albert hard at work over their note books, or reading up for the sights of to-morrow, Mr. Mann with his open book also, all quiet and studious. Eric, alone, might be softly whistling, or writing an invitation to Miss Hopkins to climb up St. Peter’s dome with him, or to visit the tomb of Cecilia Metella, or the Corso, as the case might be, while here—
As Mae reached this point in her musings, the Italians were forming for a dance, so she sprang up to join them. Two or three peasants from the country south had wandered up with the world to Rome, for Carnival time, then for Lent. They had brought with them their pipes and zitterns. In the mornings they made short pilgrimages, playing in front of the shrines about the city, or roaming out on the campagna to some quiet church. In the evening time they wandered up the stone stairways of the great houses, and paused on the landings before the different homes. If all was still they passed on, but if there was noise, laughter, sound of voices, they laid aside their penitential manner, and struck into dance music, flashing their velvety eyes, and striking pretty attitudes, aided greatly by their Alpine hats and sheep-skins and scarlet-banded stockings.