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Wednesday, February 14, 2024



EXCERPT FROM “THE FLORENTINE DAGGER” via The Project Gutenberg eBook/ 

Chapter 2: The Veiled Aphrodite

 In which a lady of barbaric eyes smiles, sighs, and weeps—In which Eros obliges with a saxophone solo—A morning of golden shadows and an off-stage pizzicato. 

New York on a spring morning.... A leap of windows toward a gay sky, a carnival of windows, windows fluttering like silver pennants, unwinding in checkerboards and domino lines. A deluge of signs, a sweep of acrobatic advertisements, a circus of roof tops and a fanfare of stone, the city flings itself into a glittering panorama. It stands in bewildered pantomime. Gigantic and amazing, it hovers like an inverted abyss over a wavering pavement of hats. 

De Medici turned his eyes from the trumpeting geometries of the skyscrapers and looked at the young woman beside him. 

“We’re an intrusion,” he said close to her. The crowds drifted tenaciously around them. “Paolo and Francesca,” he smiled, “murmuring in Bedlam. Can’t we go somewhere?” 

His lean face regarded her dreamily as she answered: 

“The morning is wonderful.” 

“The morning is a nuisance,” he demurred. “But you! Beautiful—yes, your eyes are like gardens, night gardens. Come, we’ll go somewhere. We’ll take a cab. I want to talk to you in a gentle and persuasive voice.” 

The young woman, Florence Ballau, nodded. De Medici stared excitedly at her. Her presence delighted and warmed him. An amazing woman. She wore her youth like a banner. Her gypsy face under a blue toque stamped itself like an exotic flower on the gray and yellow background of the crowd. Her lips were parted, her deep eyes were laughing darkly. 

De Medici restrained the ecstasy that threatened to start him stammering. She was tonic. Her body, luxurious and vibrant under the silver cloth of her dress, bewildered him. He was in love. But more than that, the flamboyant life of the girl, the gay and dominant poise of her manner, her voice, her head, exhilarated him in a curious way. A sense of awe came to him as he studied for an instant the exotically masked vigor of his companion. His own subtle and convoluted nature prostrated itself blissfully before her vivid dominance. 

“Let’s go to father’s office,” she said. He found it difficult to object. Nevertheless he blurted an objection. 


 “Well, why not just walk to the park and sit down?” she persisted. 

De Medici shook his head. “Damn it all!” he exclaimed. “I’m going to make love and I don’t want a lot of fat policemen walking up and down in front of me or a parade of squirrel-feeding old maids staring rebukefully. I’ve set my mind on a cab. It’s distinctly modern.” 

“But a fearful waste of money,” the girl smiled. 

“Ah,” De Medici murmured, “then you do love me.” 

“Of course,” she answered. They stood silently in the press of the crowds moving down Fifth Avenue, their fingers touching. De Medici’s eyes grew misty. He felt curiously at peace, as if he had escaped forever the dark things inside him. “We’ll take a cab, anyway,” he said finally. 

Then, as the girl raised her luminous face to him, he grew buoyant. He looked about him with a feeling of surprise. He had awakened from a bad dream. Prince Julien the cynical and tormented survivor of an evil race had vanished. Here was an ecstatic and humorous youth making love to a marvelous creature under the towers of a new civilization. “I’ve a lot of speeches I’ve always wanted to include as a part of my first and last proposal. We’ll get into a cab and I’ll propose.” He hailed a taxi and they entered. “Drive,” he smiled at the chauffeur, “slowly and carefully, anywhere you want.” 

The man nodded, grinned, and pocketed a bill. They were silent as the cab moved away. “Well,” said Florence at last, “you may begin.” 

De Medici looked at her. “I love you,” he whispered. “Will you marry me?” 

“You promised speeches,” she laughed. 

“I’ve changed my mind,” he said, staring at her. “I can’t think of anything to say.” 

They were silent again. The cab entered a park. Turning to her, De Medici raised her hand to his lips. His restless, burning eyes remained on her face. He felt intoxicated. Her profile with its parted red lips, its tiny line of white teeth, her eyes dark and desirous as they avoided him, her aromatic hair in black coils under the toque. 

“Dearest,” he whispered, “I adore you.” 

She nodded, still avoiding his eyes. Then, “When do you want to get married?” she asked. 

De Medici extricated himself from his emotions. “Tomorrow,” he answered calmly. 

“That’s too soon. I’ll have to tell father first.” 

“I’ve told him all about it,” he smiled. 


De Medici nodded and looked fearfully at her. She was angry. Her face had grown bright with color. “What did he say?” she asked. 

Ignoring the change in her voice, De Medici answered: “He gave me some advice. He advised me against starting any arguments with you.” 

Florence turned her eyes to him. They were burning and enigmatic. 

“Curious,” he thought. “She’s like him. She hides something.” He felt miserable again. But his hand caressed her arm. 

“Arguments about what?” she asked quietly. 

“Oh, this and that,” De Medici answered smiling. “Never mind asking me. Let’s save up all the arguments for another time, when we have nothing else to talk about.” 

“What did he say?” she persisted. Then: “Excuse me. We’ll tell him and have him announce the engagement. He’ll love that.” Her face was again gay and dominant. 

De Medici nodded. “I’ll telephone him,” he said quickly, and tapped on the driver’s window. The cab stopped. Leaning out of the door, De Medici gave a vague direction.  “Take us to a telephone,” he said. 

The driver nodded as if he appreciated the details of the situation. 

They started again. “Julien,” the girl exclaimed suddenly. She was laughing. Her arms embraced the surprised young man. He felt himself powerless for an instant. The warmth of her body was against him. Her lips waited intimately for his kiss. 

“Oh, I adore you,” he murmured. His arms tightened around her and they remained embraced as the cab rolled jerkily on. 

The driver was talking. 

De Medici removed his eyes bewilderedly from Florence. “What is it?” he inquired. 

“I think there’s a telephone in that drugstore,” the driver repeated. 

De Medici stepped out of the cab. 

Several minutes later he returned, smiling broadly. “The parent thaws,” he announced exuberantly. “We have his consent and his blessing.” 

“But you told me you had all that in advance,” Florence laughed. “I know,” he went on excitedly, “but our talk last night was only sort of a rehearsal.” 

“What did he say?” she asked as he sat down beside her. “Going to announce it tonight. Says he’ll summon a gathering worthy of the event.” 

“Poor father,” murmured Florence. Her face had grown sad. 

“He’s delightful,” cried De Medici. “He’s the most charming man in the world,” she added. 

The driver put in an apologetic appearance. “Where to?” he asked. 

“I think we’d better go back to the theater,” Florence murmured. 

De Medici gave the direction. 

“Well,” she smiled as they started again, “from a literary point of view your proposal has been a decided failure. I rather expected something—bizarre.” 

“Give me time,” De Medici smiled. “I’ll improve. But why to the theater now?” 

“There’s a matinée today.” 

He frowned. “You don’t mean you’re going to play this afternoon?” 

“Are you insane? Of course I am.” 

“And let that bounder Mitchell make love to you in the second act ... after this?” 

“I swear you’re out of your head, Julien.” 

“You kiss him,” he growled. “You wrote the play, my dear.” 

“Hm.” He looked at her whimsically thoughtful. “I’ll rewrite it. The kiss isn’t necessary. I’ll go back and take it out. You don’t have to kiss him. You can just look at him—with feigned tenderness. It’ll be enough. How do you suppose I’m going to feel watching you embrace that bounder and kiss him every night?” 

“You told me last week I did the part wonderfully,” she smiled. They were in front of the theater. 

De Medici held her arm. “When shall I see you again?” he asked. 

“I promised to have dinner with Fedya this evening. Why don’t you go and help father arrange his party and call for me after the performance tonight?” 

De Medici nodded. He appeared to have grown speechless. He looked with infatuated silence at the girl. Then, with a sigh, he bowed, removing his fedora and placing it cavalierly over his heart. “Until we meet again, beloved,” he whispered and, turning, walked away. 

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