'ALLOW me to present to you my friend Filippo Brandolini, a gentleman of Città di Castello.'
Then, turning to me, Matteo added, 'This is my cousin, Checco d'Orsi.'
Checco d'Orsi smiled and bowed.
'Messer Brandolini,' he said, 'I am most pleased to make your acquaintance; you are more than welcome to my house.'
'You are very kind,' I replied; 'Matteo has told me much of your hospitality.'
Checco bowed courteously, and asked his cousin, 'You have just arrived, Matteo?'
'We arrived early this morning. I wished to come here directly, but Filippo, who suffers from a very insufferable vanity, insisted on going to an inn and spending a couple of hours in the adornment of his person.'
'How did you employ those hours, Matteo?' asked Checco, looking rather questioningly at his cousin's dress and smiling.
Matteo looked at his boots and his coat.
'I am not elegant! But I felt too sentimental to attend to my personal appearance, and I had to restore myself with wine. You know, we are very proud of our native Forli wine, Filippo.'
'I did not think you were in the habit of being sentimental, Matteo,' remarked Checco.
'It was quite terrifying this morning, when we arrived,' said I; 'he struck attitudes and called it his beloved country, and wanted to linger in the cold morning and tell me anecdotes about his childhood.'
'You professional sentimentalists will never let anyone sentimentalise but yourselves.'
'I was hungry,' said I, laughing, 'and it didn't become you. Even your horse had his doubts.'
'Brute!' said Matteo. 'Of course, I was too excited to attend to my horse, and he slipped over those confounded stones and nearly shot me off—and Filippo, instead of sympathising, burst out laughing.'
'Evidently you must abandon sentiment,' said Checco.
'I'm afraid you are right. Now, Filippo can be romantic for hours at a stretch, and, what is worse, he is—but nothing happens to him. But on coming back to my native town after four years, I think it was pardonable.'
'We accept your apology, Matteo,' I said.
'But the fact is, Checco, that I am glad to get back. The sight of the old streets, the Palazzo, all fill me with a curious sensation of joy—and I feel—I don't know how I feel.'
'Make the utmost of your pleasure while you can; you may not always find a welcome in Forli,' said Checco, gravely.
'What the devil do you mean?' asked Matteo.
'Oh, we'll talk of these things later. You had better go and see my father now, and then you can rest yourselves. You must be tired after your journey. To-night we have here a great gathering, where you will meet your old friends. The Count has deigned to accept my invitation.'
'Deigned?' said Matteo, lifting his eyebrows and looking at his cousin.
Checco smiled bitterly.
'Times have changed since you were here, Matteo' he said; 'the Forlivesi are subjects and courtiers now.'
Putting aside Matteo's further questions, he bowed to me and left us.