All that year musicians took especial care of their instruments, and repairs did not bring in enough to enable the poor couple to pay their way; the wife, too, did not earn much by her needle, and they were compelled to turn their talents to account in the lowest form of employment. They would go out together in the dark to the Champs Elysees and sing duets, which Gambara, poor fellow, accompanied on a wretched guitar. On the way, Marianna, who on these expeditions covered her head with a sort of veil of coarse muslin, would take her husband to the grocer’s shop in the Faubourg Saint-Honore and give him two or three thimblefuls of brandy to make him tipsy; otherwise he could not play. Then they would stand up together in front of the smart people sitting on the chairs, and one of the greatest geniuses of the time, the unrecognized Orpheus of Modern Music, would perform passages from his operas—pieces so remarkable that they would extract a few half-pence from Parisian supineness. When some dilettante of comic operas happened to be sitting there and did not recognize from what work they were taken, he would question the woman dressed like a Greek priestess, who held out a bottle-stand of stamped metal in which she collected charity.
“I say, my dear, what is that music out of?”
“The opera of Mahomet,” Marianna would reply.
As Rossini composed an opera called Mahomet II., the amateur would say to his wife, sitting at his side:
“What a pity it is that they will never give us at the Italiens any operas by Rossini but those we know. That is really fine music!”
And Gambara would smile.
Only a few days since, this unhappy couple had to pay the trifling sum of thirty-six francs as arrears for rent for the cock-loft in which they lived resigned. The grocer would not give them credit for the brandy with which Marianna plied her husband to enable him to play. Gambara was, consequently, so unendurably bad that the ears of the wealthy were irresponsive, and the tin bottle-stand remained empty.
It was nine o’clock in the evening. A handsome Italian, the Principessa Massimilla De Varese, took pity on the poor creatures; she gave them forty francs and questioned them, discerning from the woman’s thanks that she was a Venetian. Prince Emilio would know the history of their woes, and Marianna told it, making no complaints of God or men.
“Madame,” said Gambara, as she ended, for he was sober, “we are victims of our own superiority. My music is good. But as soon as music transcends feeling and becomes an idea, only persons of genius should be the hearers, for they alone are capable of responding to it! It is my misfortune that I have heard the chorus of angels, and believed that men could understand the strains. The same thing happens to women when their love assumes a divine aspect: men cannot understand them.”
This speech was well worth the forty francs bestowed by Massimilla; she took out a second gold piece, and told Marianna she would write to Andrea Marcosini.