(Critical Survey of Literature, Revised Edition)

When Samuele went to Rome with his friend, James Blair, he learned of the existence there of a certain group known as the Cabala, talented and wealthy aristocrats, clever esoterics who had mysterious influence in affairs of Church and State. Blair, a bookish person, was familiar with some of its members, and he introduced his friend into that strange circle of Roman society. Samuele soon became a favorite of the Cabalists.

One of them, the Duchess d’Aquilanera, had a great problem on her mind. Her sixteen-year-old son Marcantonio had had five or six love affairs with various women, and she was disturbed by his unsettled habits. She had arranged a marriage for him, but the wedding would not take place unless Marcantonio changed his ways. She pleaded with Samuele to spend a weekend at her villa and to talk to the boy in an effort to show him the errors of the life he was leading. Samuele refused, thinking the whole matter ridiculous. Then he had a talk with Cardinal Vaini, a friend of the Duchess, who said that Marcantonio had begun his wild career by imitating his older friends. Later his vicious morality had become a habit and, finally, a mania. Samuele was so shocked by the cardinal’s description of the boy’s character that he finally agreed to go to the villa, as the Duchess had requested.

Marcantonio liked to drive automobiles as fast as possible. He also told Samuele that he wished to train for the Olympics. Samuele, in a passionate outburst, denounced the boy’s loose loves. The next day, Marcantonio jumped from a balcony and killed himself.

Samuele was shocked and grieved. Yet, he was soon to become involved in the strange conduct of another Cabalist, the Princess Alix d’Espoli. Alix always had the habit of falling in love with men who could not possibly be attracted to her. She had beauty and charm, but little intelligence. To make up for her lack, she cultivated a way of speaking that was interesting and appealing. Although people enjoyed having her at dinner, she accepted few invitations.

One day, she went to visit Samuele and found James Blair in his apartment. Although Blair was rude, she fell in love with him and proceeded to lay siege to...

(The entire section is 901 words.)