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Page:The Prose Tales of Alexander Poushkin (Bell, 1916).djvu/427

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tall young beauty, seated at the end of the second row. She rose without the slightest confusion, and, with the greatest simplicity in the world, plunged her aristocratic hand into the urn and drew out a roll of paper.

"Will you please unfold it and read," said the improvisatore to her.

The young lady unrolled the paper and read aloud:

"Cleopatra e i suoi amanti."

These words were uttered in a gentle voice, but such a deep silence reigned in the room, that everybody heard them. The improvisatore bowed profoundly to the young lady, with an air of the deepest gratitude, and returned to his platform.

"Gentlemen," said he, turning to the audience: "the lot has indicated as the subject of improvisation: 'Cleopatra and her lovers.' I humbly request the person who has chosen this theme, to explain to me his idea: what lovers is it here a question of, perchè la grande regina haveva molto?"

At these words, several gentlemen burst out laughing. The improvisatore became somewhat confused.

"I should like to know," he continued, "to what historical feature does the person, who has chosen this theme, allude? . . . I should feel very grateful if he would kindly explain."

Nobody hastened to reply. Several ladies directed their glances towards the plain-looking girl who had written a theme at the command of her mother. The poor girl observed this hostile attention, and became so confused, that the tears came into her eyes. . . . Charsky could not endure this, and turning to the improvisatore, he said to him in Italian:

"It was I who proposed the theme. I had in view a passage in Aurelius Victor, who speaks as if Cleopatra used to