Yes; I had done all I could for those who had never wronged me. I had acquitted myself of my debt to Vincenzo for his affection and fidelity; the rest of my way was clear. I had no more to do save the one thing, the one deed which had clamored so long for accomplishment. Revenge, like a beckoning ghost, had led me on step by step for many weary days and months, which to me had seemed cycles of suffering; but now it paused—it faced me—and turning its blood-red eyes upon my soul said, “Strike!”
The ball opened brilliantly. The rooms were magnificently decorated, and the soft luster of a thousand lamps shone on a scene of splendor almost befitting the court of a king. Some of the stateliest nobles in all Italy were present, their breasts glittering with jeweled orders and ribbons of honor; some of the loveliest women to be seen anywhere in the world flitted across the polished floors, like poets’ dreams of the gliding sylphs that haunt rivers and fountains by moonlight.
But fairest where all were fair, peerless in the exuberance of her triumphant vanity, and in the absolute faultlessness of her delicate charms, was my wife—the bride of the day, the heroine of the night. Never had she looked so surpassingly beautiful, and I, even I, felt my pulse beat quicker, and the blood course more hotly through my veins, as I beheld her, radiant, victorious, and smiling—a veritable queen of the fairies, as dainty as a drop of dew, as piercing to the eye as a flash of light. Her dress was some wonderful mingling of misty lace, with the sheen of satin and glimmering showers of pearl; diamonds glittered on her bodice like sunlight on white foam; the brigand’s jewels flashed gloriously on her round white throat and in her tiny shell-like ears, while the masses of her gold hair were coiled to the top of her small head and there caught by a priceless circlet of rose-brilliants—brilliants that I well remembered—they had belonged to my mother. Yet more lustrous than the light of the gems she wore was the deep, ardent glory of her eyes, dark as night and luminous as stars; more delicate than the filmy robes that draped her was the pure, pearl-like whiteness of her neck, which was just sufficiently displayed to be graceful without suggesting immodesty.
For Italian women do not uncover their bosoms for the casual inspection of strangers, as is the custom of their English and German sisters; they know well enough that any lady venturing to wear a decollete dress would find it impossible to obtain admittance to a court ball at the Palazzo Quirinale. She would be looked upon as one of a questionable class, and no matter how high her rank and station, would run the risk of ejection from the doors, as on one occasion did unfortunately happen to an English peeress, who, ignorant of Italian customs, went to an evening reception in Rome arrayed in a very low bodice with straps instead of sleeves. Her remonstrances were vain; she was politely but firmly refused admittance, though told she might gain her point by changing her costume, which I believe she wisely did.