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 his affections. At last she was convinced that she had scored a triumph, for Blair gave her a book that had once been mentioned in casual conversation. She began going to his rooms uninvited. When Blair became upset, Samuele suggested that the only way out was for him to leave Rome. After Blair left on a trip to Spain, Alix proceeded to lose herself in the life of the city. She accepted all sorts of invitations, even asking to be introduced to various people. She seemed happy in a round of pleasure. Samuele hoped that she had forgotten Blair.
A month later, Blair wrote to Samuele, saying that he was returning to Rome. Samuele warned him to stay away, but Blair insisted that his researches into ancient secret societies made his return necessary. One night, both of them went to visit a famous seer who was holding a seance in an old Roman palace. While they were there, a heavily veiled woman came in, rushed to the seer, and implored his help in some matter. Recognizing Alix, Samuele and Blair attempted to leave, but the woman saw them before they could get out of the room. Abruptly and angrily, she went away. Later Samuele heard that she had become interested in the fine arts and that she was studying music. She started on a trip to Greece but returned suddenly without an explanation. Some said that she continued to search for a lover. More and more, she was spoken of in a derogatory manner.
One day in her presence, a Danish archeologist said that he had met Blair. Upon hearing his name, Alix fainted.
Samuele also spent much of his time with Astree-Luce de Morfontaine, a deeply religious woman. She saw some spiritual meaning in the initials of an American teacher named Irene H. Spencer, and on one occasion, she was deeply offended when someone spoke slightingly of the pelican, because to her the bird was a holy symbol. She had great faith in prayer. One day, the cardinal spoke derisively of prayer, and she broke down. The cardinal said that she had never suffered and that she did not know the meaning of suffering. The woman’s faith was badly shaken. She invited the cardinal to her house for a party. During the evening, she accused him of being the devil, took out a pistol, and shot at him. He was not hurt; but a later reconciliation was impossible. The cardinal decided to go back to his mission in China. En route, he caught a fever, died, and was buried at sea.
Before Samuele left Rome, he called on Miss Elizabeth Grier, an American member of the Cabala. From her, he learned at last who the men and women of the Cabala really were. They were the pagan gods of Europe grown old, deities whose brooding ancient wisdom could not save them from the sufferings and follies of ordinary humanity. Miss Grier confused Samuele by stating her belief that he was the new god Mercury, an idea vaguely upsetting to a young American of New England ancestry.