As Luigi was coming to the terminating line, the door opened. A very handsome sullen young woman, of the dark, thick-browed Lombard type, asked what was wanted; at the same time the deep voice of a man; conjecturally rising from a lower floor, called, and a lock was rattled. The woman told Luigi to enter. He sent a glance behind him; he had evidently been drained of his sprightliness in a second; he moved in with the slackness of limb of a gibbeted figure. The door shut; the woman led him downstairs. He could not have danced or sung a song now for great pay. The smell of mouldiness became so depressing to him that the smell of leather struck his nostrils refreshingly. He thought: “Oh, Virgin! it’s dark enough to make one believe in every single thing they tell us about the saints.” Up in the light of day Luigi had a turn for careless thinking on these holy subjects.
Barto Rizzo stood before him in a square of cellarage that was furnished with implements of his craft, too dark for a clear discernment of features.
“So, here you are!” was the greeting Luigi received.
It was a tremendous voice, that seemed to issue from a vast cavity. “Lead the gentleman to my sitting-room,” said Barto. Luigi felt the wind of a handkerchief, and guessed that his eyes were about to be bandaged by the woman behind him. He petitioned to be spared it, on the plea, firstly, that it expressed want of confidence; secondly, that it took him in the stomach. The handkerchief was tight across his eyes while he was speaking. His hand was touched by the woman, and he commenced timidly an ascent of stairs. It continued so that he would have sworn he was a shorter time going up the Motterone; then down, and along a passage; lower down, deep into corpse-climate; up again, up another enormous mountain; and once more down, as among rats and beetles, and down, as among faceless horrors, and down, where all things seemed prostrate and with a taste of brass. It was the poor fellow’s nervous imagination, preternaturally excited. When the handkerchief was caught away, his jaw was shuddering, his eyes were sickly; he looked as if impaled on the prongs of fright. It required just half a minute to reanimate this mercurial creature, when he found himself under the light of two lamps, and Barto Rizzo fronting him, in a place so like the square of cellarage which he had been led to with unbandaged eyes, that it relieved his dread by touching his humour. He cried, “Have I made the journey of the Signor Capofinale, who visited the other end of the world by standing on his head?”
Barto Rizzo rolled out a burly laugh.
“Sit,” he said. “You’re a poor sweating body, and must needs have a dry tongue. Will you drink?”
“Dry!” quoth Luigi. “Holy San Carlo is a mash in a wine-press compared with me.”
Barto Rizzo handed him a liquor, which he drank, and after gave thanks to Providence. Barto raised his hand.