A flush had deadened Corte’s face to the hue of nightshade.
“You thunder in a clear atmosphere, my Ugo,” returned the old man, as he fell back calmly at full length.
“And who is this signorina Vittoria?” cried Corte.
“A cantatrice who is about to appear upon the boards, as I have already remarked: of La Scala, let me add, if you hold it necessary.”
“And what does she do here?”
“Her object in coming, my friend? Her object in coming is, first, to make her reverence to one who happens to be among us this day; and secondly, but principally, to submit a proposition to him and to us.”
“What’s her age?” Corte sneered.
“According to what calendar would you have it reckoned? Wisdom would say sixty: Father Chronos might divide that by three, and would get scarce a month in addition, hungry as he is for her, and all of us! But Minerva’s handmaiden has no age. And now, dear Ugo, you have your opportunity to denounce her as a convicted screecher by night. Do so.”
Corte turned his face to the Chief, and they spoke together for some minutes: after which, having had names of noble devoted women, dead and living, cited to him, in answer to brutal bellowings against that sex, and hearing of the damsel under debate as one who was expected and was welcome, he flung himself upon the ground again, inviting calamity by premature resignation. Giulio Bandinelli stretched his hand for Carlo’s glass, and spied the approach of the signorina.
“Dark,” he said.
“A jewel of that complexion,” added Agostino, by way of comment.
“She has scorching eyes.”
“She may do mischief; she may do mischief; let it be only on the right Side!”
“She looks fat.”
“She sits doubled up and forward, don’t you see, to relieve the poor donkey. You, my Giulio, would call a swan fat if the neck were not always on the stretch.”
“By Bacchus! what a throat she has!”
“And well interjected, Giulio! It runs down like wine, like wine, to the little ebbing and flowing wave! Away with the glass, my boy! You must trust to all that’s best about you to spy what’s within. She makes me young—young!”
Agostino waved his hand in the form of a salute to her on the last short ascent. She acknowledged it gracefully; and talking at intervals to Carlo Ammiani, who footed briskly by her side, she drew by degrees among the eyes fixed on her, some of which were not gentle; but hers were for the Chief, at whose feet, when dismounted by Ammiani’s solicitous aid, she would have knelt, had he not seized her by her elbows, and put his lips to her cheek.
“The signorina Vittoria, gentlemen,” said Agostino.
The old man had introduced her with much of the pride of a father displaying some noble child of his for the first time to admiring friends.