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IL CONDE - A Pathetic Tale
"Vedi Napoli e poi mori."
The first time we got into conversation was in the National Museum in Naples, in the
rooms on the ground floor containing the famous collection of bronzes from
Herculaneum and Pompeii: that marvellous legacy of antique art whose delicate
perfection has been preserved for us by the catastrophic fury of a volcano.
He addressed me first, over the celebrated Resting Hermes which we had been looking at
side by side. He said the right things about that wholly admirable piece. Nothing
profound. His taste was natural rather than cultivated. He had obviously seen many fine
things in his life and appreciated them: but he had no jargon of a dilettante or the
connoisseur. A hateful tribe. He spoke like a fairly intelligent man of the world, a
perfectly unaffected gentleman.
We had known each other by sight for some few days past. Staying in the same hotel--
good, but not extravagantly up to date--I had noticed him in the vestibule going in and
out. I judged he was an old and valued client. The bow of the hotel-keeper was cordial in
its deference, and he acknowledged it with familiar courtesy. For the servants he was Il
Conde. There was some squabble over a man's parasol--yellow silk with white lining sort
of thing--the waiters had discovered abandoned outside the dining-room door. Our gold-
laced door-keeper recognized it and I heard him directing one of the lift boys to run after
Il Conde with it. Perhaps he was the only Count staying in the hotel, or perhaps he had
the distinction of being the Count par excellence, conferred upon him because of his tried
fidelity to the house.
Having conversed at the Museo--(and by the by he had expressed his dislike of the busts
and statues of Roman emperors in the gallery of marbles: their faces were too vigorous,
too pronounced for him)--having conversed already in the morning I did not think I was
intruding when in the evening, finding the dining-room very full, I proposed to share his
little table. Judging by the quiet urbanity of his consent he did not think so either. His
smile was very attractive.
He dined in an evening waistcoat and a "smoking" (he called it so) with a black tie. All
this of very good cut, not new--just as these things should be. He was, morning or
evening, very correct in his dress. I have no doubt that his whole existence had been
correct, well ordered and conventional, undisturbed by startling events. His white hair
brushed upwards off a lofty forehead gave him the air of an idealist, of an imaginative
man. His white moustache, heavy but carefully trimmed and arranged, was not
unpleasantly tinted a golden yellow in the middle. The faint scent of some very good
perfume, and of good cigars (that last an odour quite remarkable to come upon in Italy)
reached me across the table. It was in his eyes that his age showed most. They were a
little weary with creased eyelids. He must have been sixty or a couple of years more. And