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The House of Di Sorno

A MANUSCRIPT FOUND IN A BOX


And the box, Euphemia's. Brutally raided it was by an insensate husband,
eager for a tie and too unreasonably impatient to wait an hour or so
until she could get home and find it for him. There was, of course, no
tie at all in that box, for all his stirring--as anyone might have
known; but, if there was no tie, there were certain papers that at least
suggested a possibility of whiling away the time until the Chooser and
Distributer of Ties should return. And, after all, there is no reading
like your accidental reading come upon unawares.

It was a discovery, indeed, that Euphemia _had_ papers. At the first
glance these close-written sheets suggested a treasonable Keynote, and
the husband gripped it with a certain apprehension mingling with his
relief at the opiate of reading. It was, so to speak, the privilege of
police he exercised, so he justified himself. He began to read. But what
is this? "She stood on the balcony outside the window, while the
noblest-born in the palace waited on her every capricious glance, and
watched for an unbending look to relieve her hauteur, but in vain." None
of your snippy-snappy Keynote there!

Then he turned over a page or so of the copy, doubting if the privilege
of police still held good. Standing out by virtue of a different ink,
and coming immediately after "bear her to her proud father," were the
words, "How many yards of carpet 3/4 yds. wide will cover room, width 16
ft., length 27-1/2 ft.?" Then he knew he was in the presence of the
great romance that Euphemia wrote when she was sixteen. He had heard
something of it before. He held it doubtfully in his hands, for the
question of conscience still troubled him. "Bah!" he said abruptly, "not
to find it irresistible was to slight the authoress and her skill." And
with that he sat plump down among the things in the box very comfortably
and began reading, and, indeed, read until Euphemia arrived. But she, at
the sight of his head and legs, made several fragmentary and presumably
offensive remarks about crushing some hat or other, and proceeded with
needless violence to get him out of the box again. However, that is my
own private trouble. We are concerned now with the merits of Euphemia's
romance.

The hero of the story is a Venetian, named (for some unknown reason)
Ivan di Sorno. So far as I ascertained, he is the entire house of Di
Sorno referred to in the title. No other Di Sornos transpired. Like
others in the story, he is possessed of untold wealth, tempered by a
profound sorrow, for some cause which remains unmentioned, but which is
possibly internal. He is first displayed "pacing a sombre avenue of ilex
and arbutus that reflected with singular truth the gloom of his
countenance," and "toying sadly with the jewelled hilt of his dagger."
He meditates upon his loveless life and the burthen of riches. Presently
he "paces the long and magnificent gallery," where a "hundred
generations of Di Sornos, each with the same flashing eye and the same
marble brow, look down with the same sad melancholy upon the
beholder"--a truly monotonous exhibition. It would be too much for
anyone, day after day. He decides that he will travel. Incognito.

The next chapter is headed "In Old Madrid," and Di Sorno, cloaked to
conceal his grandeur, "moves sad and observant among the giddy throng."
But "Gwendolen"--the majestic Gwendolen of the balcony--"marked his
pallid yet beautiful countenance." And the next day at the bull-fight
she "flung her bouquet into the arena, and turning to Di Sorno"--a
perfect stranger, mind you--"smiled commandingly." "In a moment he had
flung himself headlong down among the flashing blades of the toreadors
and the trampling confusion of bulls, and in another he stood before
her, bowing low with the recovered flowers in his hand. 'Fair sir,' she
said, 'methinks my poor flowers were scarce worth your trouble.'" A very
proper remark. And then suddenly I put the manuscript down.

My heart was full of pity for Euphemia. Thus had she gone a-dreaming. A
man of imposing physique and flashing eye, who would fling you oxen here
and there, and vault in and out of an arena without catching a breath,
for his lady's sake--and here I sat, the sad reality, a lean and
slippered literary pretender, and constitutionally afraid of cattle.

Poor little Euphemia! For after all is said and done, and the New Woman
gibed out of existence, I am afraid we do undeceive these poor wives of
ours a little after the marrying is over. It may be they have deceived
themselves, in the first place, but that scarcely affects their
disappointment. These dream-lovers of theirs, these monsters of
unselfishness and devotion, these tall fair Donovans and dark
worshipping Wanderers! And then comes the rabble rout of us poor human
men, damning at our breakfasts, wiping pens upon our coat sleeves,
smelling of pipes, fearing our editors, and turning Euphemia's private
boxes into public copy. And they take it so steadfastly--most of them.
They never let us see the romance we have robbed them of, but turn to
and make the best of it--and us--with such sweet grace. Only now and
then--as in the instance of a flattened hat--may a cry escape them. And
even then----

But a truce to reality! Let us return to Di Sorno.

This individual does not become enamoured of Gwendolen, as the crude
novel reader might anticipate. He answers her "coldly," and his eye
rests the while on her "tirewoman, the sweet Margot." Then come scenes
of jealousy and love, outside a castle with heavily mullioned windows.
The sweet Margot, though she turns out to be the daughter of a bankrupt
prince, has one characteristic of your servant all the world over--she
spends all her time looking out of the window. Di Sorno tells her of his
love on the evening of the bull-fight, and she cheerfully promises to
"learn to love him," and therafter he spends all his days and nights
"spurring his fiery steed down the road" that leads by the castle
containing the young scholar. It becomes a habit with him--in all, he
does it seventeen times in three chapters. Then, "ere it is too late,"
he implores Margot to fly.

Gwendolen, after a fiery scene with Margot, in which she calls her a
"petty minion,"--pretty language for a young gentlewoman,--"sweeps with
unutterable scorn from the room," never, to the reader's huge
astonishment, to appear in the story again, and Margot flies with Di
Sorno to Grenada, where the Inquisition, consisting apparently of a
single monk with a "blazing eye," becomes extremely machinatory. A
certain Countess di Morno, who intends to marry Di Sorno, and who has
been calling into the story in a casual kind of way since the romance
began, now comes prominently forward. She has denounced Margot for
heresy, and at a masked ball the Inquisition, disguised in a yellow
domino, succeeds in separating the young couple, and in carrying off
"the sweet Margot" to a convent.

"Di Sorno, half distraught, flung himself into a cab and drove to all
the hotels in Grenada" (he overlooked the police station), and, failing
to find Margot, becomes mad. He goes about ejaculating "Mad, mad!" than
which nothing could be more eloquent of his complete mental inversion.
In his paroxysms the Countess di Morno persuades him to "lead her to the
altar," but on the way (with a certain indelicacy they go to church in
the same conveyance) she lets slip a little secret. So Di Sorno jumps
out of the carriage, "hurling the crowd apart," and, "flourishing his
drawn sword," "clamoured at the gate of the Inquisition" for Margot. The
Inquisition, represented by the fiery-eyed monk, "looked over the gate
at him." No doubt it felt extremely uncomfortable.

Now it was just at this thrilling part that Euphemia came home, and the
trouble about the flattened hat began. I never flattened her hat. It was
in the box, and so was I; but as for deliberate flattening----It was
just a thing that happened. She should not write such interesting
stories if she expects me to go on tiptoe through the world looking
about for her hats. To have that story taken away just at that
particular moment was horrible. There was fully as much as I had read
still to come, so that a lot happened after this duel of Sword _v._
Fiery Eye. I know from a sheet that came out of place that Margot
stabbed herself with a dagger ("richly jewelled"), but of all that came
between I have not the faintest suspicion. That is the peculiar interest
of it. At this particular moment the one book I want to read in all the
world is the rest of this novel of Euphemia's. And simply, on the score
of a new hat needed, she keeps it back and haggles!

H.G. Wells