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for sumptuous equipages, there poured a stream of filth which rotted in stagnant pools in the roads, where there was neither pavement nor footpath.
On two occasions already Dario had caused his companions to retrace their steps. He was losing. his way and becoming more and more gloomy. “I ought to have taken to the left," said he, "but how is one to know amidst such a set as that!"
Parties of verminous children were now to be seen rolling in the dust; they were wondrously dirty, almost naked, with black skins and tangled locks as coarse as horsehair. There were also women in sordid skirts and with their loose jackets unhooked. Many stood talking together in yelping voices, whilst others, seated on old chairs with their hands on their knees, remained like that idle for hours. Not many men were met; but a few lay on the scorched grass, sleeping heavily in the sunlight. However, the stench was becoming unbearable - a stench of misery as when the human animal eschews all cleanliness to wallow in filth. And matters were made worse by the smell from a small, improvised market-the emanations of the rotting fruit, cooked and sour vegetables, and stale fried fish which a few poor women had set out on the ground amidst a throng of famished, covetous children.
"Ah! well, my dear, I really don't know where it is," all at once exclaimed the Prince, addressing his cousin. "Be reasonable; we've surely seen enough; let's go back to the carriage."
He was really suffering, and, as Benedetta had said, he did not know how to suffer. It seemed to him
monstrous that one should sadden one's life by such an excursion as this. Life ought to be buoyant and benign under the clear sky, brightened by pleasant sights, by dance and song. And he, with his naïve egotism, had a positive horror of ugliness, poverty, and suffering, the sight of which caused him both mental and physical pain.
Benedetta shuddered even as he did, but in presence of Pierre she desired to be brave. Glancing at him, and seeing how deeply interested and compassionate he looked, she desired to persevere in her effort to sympathise with the humble and the wretched. "No, no, Dario, we must stay. These gentlemen wish to see everything- is it not so?"
"Oh, the Rome of to-day is here," exclaimed Pierre; "this tells one more about it than all the promenades among the ruins and the monuments."
"You exaggerate, my dear Abbé," declared Narcisse. "Still, I will admit that it is very interesting. Some of the old women are particularly expressive."
At this moment Benedetta, seeing a superbly beautiful girl in front of her, could not restrain a cry of enraptured admiration: "O che bellezza!"
And then Dario, having recognised the girl, exclaimed with the same delight: "Why, it's La Pierina; she'll show us the way."
The girl had been following the party for a moment already without daring to approach. Her eyes, glittering with the joy of a loving slave, had at first darted towards the Prince, and then had hastily scrutinised the Contessina - not, however, with any show of jealous anger, but with an expression of affectionate
submission and resigned happiness at seeing that she also was very beautiful. And the girl fully answered to the Prince's description of her tall, sturdy, with the bust of a goddess, a real antique, a Juno of twenty, her chin somewhat prominent, her mouth and nose perfect in contour, her eyes large and full like a heifer's, and her whole face quite dazzling — gilded, so to say, by a sunflash — beneath her casque of heavy jet-black hair.
"So you will show us the way?" said Benedetta, familiar and smiling, already consoled for all the surrounding ugliness by the thought that there should be such beautiful creatures in the world.
"Oh yes, signora, yes, at once!" And thereupon. Pierina ran off before them, her feet in shoes which at any rate had no holes, whilst the old brown woollen dress which she wore appeared to have been recently washed and mended. One seemed to divine in her a certain coquettish care, a desire for cleanliness, which none of the others displayed; unless, indeed, it were simply that her great beauty lent radiance to her humble garments and made her appear a goddess.
"Che bellezza! che bellezza!" the Contessina repeated without wearying. "That girl, Dario mio, is a real feast for the eyes!"
"I knew she would please you," he quietly replied, flattered at having discovered such a beauty, and no longer talking of departure, since he could at last rest his eyes on something pleasant.
Behind them came Pierre, likewise full of admiration, whilst Narcisse spoke to him of the scrupulosity of his own tastes, which were for the rare and the
subtle. "She's beautiful, no doubt," said he; "but at bottom nothing can be more gross than the Roman style of beauty; there's no soul, none of the infinite. in it. These girls simply have blood under their skins without ever a glimpse of heaven."
Meantime Pierina had stopped, and with a wave of the hand directed attention to her mother, who sat on a broken box beside the lofty doorway of an unfinished mansion. She also must have once been very beautiful, but at forty she was already a wreck, with dim eyes, drawn mouth, black teeth, broadly wrinkled countenance, and huge fallen bosom. And she was also fearfully dirty, her grey wavy hair dishevelled and her skirt and jacket soiled and slit, revealing glimpses of grimy flesh. On her knees she held a sleeping infant, her last-born, at whom she gazed like one overwhelmed and courageless, like a beast of burden resigned to her fate.
"Bene, bene," said she, raising her head, "it's the gentleman who came to give me a crown because he saw you crying. And he's come back to see us with some friends. Well, well, there are some good hearts in the world after all."
Then she related their story, but in a spiritless way, without seeking to move her visitors. She was called Giacinta, it appeared, and had married a mason, one Tomaso Gozzo, by whom she had had seven children, Pierina, then Tito, a big fellow of eighteen, then four more girls, each at an interval of two years, and finally the infant, a boy, whom she now had on her lap. They had long lived in the Trastevere district, in an old house which had lately been pulled down;
and their existence seemed to have then been shattered, for since they had taken refuge in the Quartiere dei Prati the crisis in the building trade had reduced Tomaso and Tito to absolute idleness, and the bead factory where Pierina had earned as much as tenpence a day just enough to prevent them from dying of hunger had closed its doors. At present not one of them had any work; they lived purely by chance. "If you like to go up," the woman added, "you'll find Tomaso there with his brother Ambrogio, whom we've taken to live with They'll know better than I what to say to you. Tomaso is resting; but what else can he do? It's like Tito - he's dozing over there."
So saying she pointed towards the dry grass amidst which lay a tall young fellow with a pronounced nose, hard mouth, and eyes as admirable as Pierina's. had raised his head to glance suspiciously at the visitors, a fierce frown gathering on his forehead when he remarked how rapturously his sister contemplated the Prince. Then he let his head fall again, but kept his eyes open, watching the pair stealthily.
"Take the lady and gentlemen upstairs, Pierina, since they would like to see the place," said the mother.
Other women had now drawn near, shuffling along with bare feet in old shoes; bands of children, too, were swarming around; little girls but half clad, amongst whom, no doubt, were Giacinta's four. However, with their black eyes under their tangled mops they were all so much alike that only their mothers could identify them. And the whole resem