There were five people in the Quirinal bar after dinner, a high- class Italian frail who sat on a stool making persistent conversation against the bartender’s bored: “Si . . . Si . . . Si,” a light, snobbish Egyptian who was lonely but chary of the woman, and the two Americans.
Dick was always vividly conscious of his surroundings, while Collis Clay lived vaguely, the sharpest impressions dissolving upon a recording apparatus that had early atrophied, so the former talked and the latter listened, like a man sitting in a breeze.
Dick, worn away by the events of the afternoon, was taking it out on the inhabitants of Italy. He looked around the bar as if he hoped an Italian had heard him and would resent his words.
“This afternoon I had tea with my sister-in-law at the Excelsior. We got the last table and two men came up and looked around for a table and couldn’t find one. So one of them came up to us and said, ‘Isn’t this table reserved for the Princess Orsini?’ and I said: ‘There was no sign on it,’ and he said: ‘But I think it’s reserved for the Princess Orsini.’ I couldn’t even answer him.”
“What’d he do?”
“He retired.” Dick switched around in his chair. “I don’t like these people. The other day I left Rosemary for two minutes in front of a store and an officer started walking up and down in front of her, tipping his hat.”
“I don’t know,” said Collis after a moment. “I’d rather be here than up in Paris with somebody picking your pocket every minute.”
He had been enjoying himself, and he held out against anything that threatened to dull his pleasure.
“I don’t know,” he persisted. “I don’t mind it here.”
Dick evoked the picture that the few days had imprinted on his mind, and stared at it. The walk toward the American Express past the odorous confectioneries of the Via Nationale, through the foul tunnel up to the Spanish Steps, where his spirit soared before the flower stalls and the house where Keats had died. He cared only about people; he was scarcely conscious of places except for their weather, until they had been invested with color by tangible events. Rome was the end of his dream of Rosemary.
A bell-boy came in and gave him a note.
“I did not go to the party,” it said. “I am in my room. We leave for Livorno early in the morning.”
Dick handed the note and a tip to the boy.
“Tell Miss Hoyt you couldn’t find me.” Turning to Collis he suggested the Bonbonieri.
They inspected the tart at the bar, granting her the minimum of interest exacted by her profession, and she stared back with bright boldness; they went through the deserted lobby oppressed by draperies holding Victorian dust in stuffy folds, and they nodded at the night concierge who returned the gesture with the bitter servility peculiar to night servants. Then in a taxi they rode along cheerless streets through a dank November night. There were no women in the streets, only pale men with dark coats buttoned to the neck, who stood in groups beside shoulders of cold stone.
“My God!” Dick sighed.
“What’s a matter?”
“I was thinking of that man this afternoon: ‘This table is reserved for the Princess Orsini.’ Do you know what these old Roman families are? They’re bandits, they’re the ones who got possession of the temples and palaces after Rome went to pieces and preyed on the people.”
“I like Rome,” insisted Collis. “Why won’t you try the races?”
“I don’t like races.”
“But all the women turn out —”
“I know I wouldn’t like anything here. I like France, where everybody thinks he’s Napoleon — down here everybody thinks he’s Christ.”
At the Bonbonieri they descended to a panelled cabaret, hopelessly impermanent amid the cold stone. A listless band played a tango and a dozen couples covered the wide floor with those elaborate and dainty steps so offensive to the American eye. A surplus of waiters precluded the stir and bustle that even a few busy men can create; over the scene as its form of animation brooded an air of waiting for something, for the dance, the night, the balance of forces which kept it stable, to cease. It assured the impressionable guest that whatever he was seeking he would not find it here.
This was plain as plain to Dick. He looked around, hoping his eye would catch on something, so that spirit instead of imagination could carry on for an hour. But there was nothing and after a moment he turned back to Collis. He had told Collis some of his current notions, and he was bored with his audience’s short memory and lack of response. After half an hour of Collis he felt a distinct lesion of his own vitality.
They drank a bottle of Italian mousseaux, and Dick became pale and somewhat noisy. He called the orchestra leader over to their table; this was a Bahama Negro, conceited and unpleasant, and in a few minutes there was a row.
“You asked me to sit down.”
“All right. And I gave you fifty lire, didn’t I?”
“All right. All right. All right.”
“All right, I gave you fifty lire, didn’t I? Then you come up and asked me to put some more in the horn!”
“You asked me to sit down, didn’t you? Didn’t you?”
“I asked you to sit down but I gave you fifty lire, didn’t I?”
“All right. All right.”
The Negro got up sourly and went away, leaving Dick in a still more evil humor. But he saw a girl smiling at him from across the room and immediately the pale Roman shapes around him receded into decent, humble perspective. She was a young English girl, with blonde hair and a healthy, pretty English face and she smiled at him again with an invitation he understood, that denied the flesh even in the act of tendering it.
“There’s a quick trick or else I don’t know bridge,” said Collis.
Dick got up and walked to her across the room.
“Won’t you dance?”
The middle-aged Englishman with whom she was sitting said, almost apologetically: “I’m going out soon.”
Sobered by excitement Dick danced. He found in the girl a suggestion of all the pleasant English things; the story of safe gardens ringed around by the sea was implicit in her bright voice and as he leaned back to look at her, he meant what he said to her so sincerely that his voice trembled. When her current escort should leave, she promised to come and sit with them. The Englishman accepted her return with repeated apologies and smiles.
Back at his table Dick ordered another bottle of spumante.
“She looks like somebody in the movies,” he said. “I can’t think who.” He glanced impatiently over his shoulder. “Wonder what’s keeping her?”
“I’d like to get in the movies,” said Collis thoughtfully. “I’m supposed to go into my father’s business but it doesn’t appeal to me much. Sit in an office in Birmingham for twenty years —”
His voice resisted the pressure of materialistic civilization.
“Too good for it?” suggested Dick.
“No, I don’t mean that.”
“Yes, you do.”
“How do you know what I mean? Why don’t you practise as a doctor, if you like to work so much?”
Dick had made them both wretched by this time, but simultaneously they had become vague with drink and in a moment they forgot; Collis left, and they shook hands warmly.
“Think it over,” said Dick sagely.
“Think what over?”
“You know.” It had been something about Collis going into his father’s business — good sound advice.
Clay walked off into space. Dick finished his bottle and then danced with the English girl again, conquering his unwilling body with bold revolutions and stern determined marches down the floor. The most remarkable thing suddenly happened. He was dancing with the girl, the music stopped — and she had disappeared.
“Have you seen her?”
“The girl I was dancing with. Su’nly disappeared. Must be in the building.”
“No! No! That’s the ladies’ room.”
He stood up by the bar. There were two other men there, but he could think of no way of starting a conversation. He could have told them all about Rome and the violent origins of the Colonna and Gaetani families but he realized that as a beginning that would be somewhat abrupt. A row of Yenci dolls on the cigar counter fell suddenly to the floor; there was a subsequent confusion and he had a sense of having been the cause of it, so he went back to the cabaret and drank a cup of black coffee. Collis was gone and the English girl was gone and there seemed nothing to do but go back to the hotel and lie down with his black heart. He paid his check and got his hat and coat.
There was dirty water in the gutters and between the rough cobblestones; a marshy vapor from the Campagna, a sweat of exhausted cultures tainted the morning air. A quartet of taxi- drivers, their little eyes bobbing in dark pouches, surrounded him. One who leaned insistently in his face he pushed harshly away.
“Quanto a Hotel Quirinal?”
Six dollars. He shook his head and offered thirty lire which was twice the day-time fare, but they shrugged their shoulders as one pair, and moved off.
“Trente-cinque lire e mancie,” he said firmly.
He broke into English.
“To go half a mile? You’ll take me for forty lire.”
He was very tired. He pulled open the door of a cab and got in.
“Hotel Quirinal!” he said to the driver who stood obstinately outside the window. “Wipe that sneer off your face and take me to the Quirinal.”
Dick got out. By the door of the Bonbonieri some one was arguing with the taxi-drivers, some one who now tried to explain their attitude to Dick; again one of the men pressed close, insisting and gesticulating and Dick shoved him away.
“I want to go to the Quirinal Hotel.”
“He says wan huner lire,” explained the interpreter.
“I understand. I’ll give him fif’y lire. Go on away.” This last to the insistent man who had edged up once more. The man looked at him and spat contemptuously.
The passionate impatience of the week leaped up in Dick and clothed itself like a flash in violence, the honorable, the traditional resource of his land; he stepped forward and slapped the man’s face.
They surged about him, threatening, waving their arms, trying ineffectually to close in on him — with his back against the wall Dick hit out clumsily, laughing a little and for a few minutes the mock fight, an affair of foiled rushes and padded, glancing blows, swayed back and forth in front of the door. Then Dick tripped and fell; he was hurt somewhere but he struggled up again wrestling in arms that suddenly broke apart. There was a new voice and a new argument but he leaned against the wall, panting and furious at the indignity of his position. He saw there was no sympathy for him but he was unable to believe that he was wrong.
They were going to the police station and settle it there. His hat was retrieved and handed to him, and with some one holding his arm lightly he strode around the corner with the taxi-men and entered a bare barrack where carabinieri lounged under a single dim light.
At a desk sat a captain, to whom the officious individual who had stopped the battle spoke at length in Italian, at times pointing at Dick, and letting himself be interrupted by the taxi-men who delivered short bursts of invective and denunciation. The captain began to nod impatiently. He held up his hand and the hydra-headed address, with a few parting exclamations, died away. Then he turned to Dick.
“Spick Italiano?” he asked.
“Oui,” said Dick, glowering.
“Alors. Écoute. Va au Quirinal. Espèce d’endormi. Écoute: vous êtes saoûl. Payez ce que le chauffeur demande. Comprenez-vous?”
Diver shook his head.
“Non, je ne veux pas.”
“Je paierai quarante lires. C’est bien assez.”
The captain stood up.
“Écoute!” he cried portentously. “Vous êtes saoûl. Vous avez battu le chauffeur. Comme ci, comme ça.” He struck the air excitedly with right hand and left, “C’est bon que je vous donne la liberté. Payez ce qu’il a dit — cento lire. Va au Quirinal.”
Raging with humiliation, Dick stared back at him.
“All right.” He turned blindly to the door — before him, leering and nodding, was the man who had brought him to the police station. “I’ll go home,” he shouted, “but first I’ll fix this baby.”
He walked past the staring carabinieri and up to the grinning face, hit it with a smashing left beside the jaw. The man dropped to the floor.
For a moment he stood over him in savage triumph — but even as a first pang of doubt shot through him the world reeled; he was clubbed down, and fists and boots beat on him in a savage tattoo. He felt his nose break like a shingle and his eyes jerk as if they had snapped back on a rubber band into his head. A rib splintered under a stamping heel. Momentarily he lost consciousness, regained it as he was raised to a sitting position and his wrists jerked together with handcuffs. He struggled automatically. The plainclothes lieutenant whom he had knocked down, stood dabbing his jaw with a handkerchief and looking into it for blood; he came over to Dick, poised himself, drew back his arm and smashed him to the floor.
When Doctor Diver lay quite still a pail of water was sloshed over him. One of his eyes opened dimly as he was being dragged along by the wrists through a bloody haze and he made out the human and ghastly face of one of the taxi-drivers.
“Go to the Excelsior hotel,” he cried faintly. “Tell Miss Warren. Two hundred lire! Miss Warren. Due centi lire! Oh, you dirty — you God —”
Still he was dragged along through the bloody haze, choking and sobbing, over vague irregular surfaces into some small place where he was dropped upon a stone floor. The men went out, a door clanged, he was alone.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:50