He waved his glass in the air three times—every one followed his example and drank the toast with enthusiasm. I bowed my thanks and acknowledgments—and the superstitious dread which at first bad undoubtedly seized the company passed away quickly—the talking, the merriment, and laughter were resumed, and soon it seemed as though the untoward circumstance were entirely forgotten. Only Guido Ferrari seemed still somewhat disturbed in his mind—but even his uneasiness dissipated itself by degrees, and heated by the quantity of wine he had taken, he began to talk with boastful braggartism of his many successful gallantries, and related his most questionable anecdotes in such a manner as to cause some haughty astonishment in the mind of the Duke di Marina, who eyed him from time to time with ill-disguised impatience that bordered on contempt. I, on the contrary, listened to everything he said with urbane courtesy—I humored him and drew him out as much as possible—I smiled complacently at his poor jokes and vulgar witticisms—and when he said something that was more than usually outrageous, I contented myself with a benevolent shake of my head, and the mild remark:
“Ah! young blood! young blood!” uttered in a bland sotto-voce.
The dessert was now served, and with it came the costly wines which I had ordered to be kept back till then. Priceless “Chateau Yquem,” “Clos Vougeot,” of the rarest vintages, choice “Valpulcello” and an exceedingly superb “Lacrima Cristi”—one after the other, these were tasted, criticised, and heartily appreciated. There was also a very unique brand of champagne costing nearly forty francs a bottle, which was sparkling and mellow to the palate, but fiery in quality. This particular beverage was so seductive in flavor that every one partook of it freely, with the result that the most discreet among the party now became the most uproarious. Antonio Biscardi, the quiet and unobtrusive painter, together with his fellow-student, Crispiano Dulci, usually the shyest of young men, suddenly grew excited, and uttered blatant nothings concerning their art. Captain Freccia argued the niceties of sword-play with the Marquis D’Avencourt, both speakers illustrating their various points by thrusting their dessert-knives skillfully into the pulpy bodies of the peaches they had on their plates. Luziano Salustri lay back at ease in his chair, his classic head reclining on the velvet cushions, and recited in low and measured tones one of his own poems, caring little or nothing whether his neighbors attended to him or not. The glib tongue of the Marchese Gualdro ran on smoothly and incessantly, though he frequently lost the thread of his anecdotes and became involved in a maze of contradictory assertions. The rather large nose of the Chevalier Mancini reddened visibly as he laughed joyously to himself at nothing in particular—in short, the table had become a glittering whirlpool of excitement and feverish folly, which at a mere touch, or word out of season, might rise to a raging storm of frothy dissension. The Duke di Marina and myself alone of all the company were composed as usual—he had resisted the champagne, and as for me, I had let all the splendid wines go past me, and had not taken more than two glasses of a mild Chianti.