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26

(1921) Author: Sigrid Undset
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now, shaking her head at Ahlin, who insisted that his were
better. Jenny, who had ordered some fruit, was eating
tangerines, and now and again she put a slice in Francesca’s mouth.
How perfectly lovely she looked as she lay with her sad,
childish face on Jenny’s shoulder, letting herself be fed by
her friend. Ahlin sat and stared at her and Heggen played
absent-mindedly with the match-ends.

“Have you been in town long, Mr. Gram?” he asked.

“I have taken to saying that I came from Florence this
morning by train.”

Jenny gave a polite little laugh, and Francesca smiled
faintly.

At this moment a bare-headed, dark-haired woman with a
bold, yellow, greasy face entered the room with a mandolin.
She was accompanied by a small man in the threadbare finery
of a waiter, and carrying a guitar.

“I was right, you see, Cesca,” said Jenny, speaking as to
a child. “There is Emilia; now we are going to have some
music.”

“That’s jolly,” said Helge. “Do the ballad singers really
still go about here in Rome singing in the taverns?”

The singers tuned up “The Merry Widow.” The woman
had a high, clear, metallic voice.

“Oh, how horrid,” cried Francesca, awakening; “we don’t
want that, we want something Italian — la luna con palido
canto,
or what do you think?”

She went up to the singers and greeted them like old friends
— laughed and gesticulated, seizing the guitar, and played,
humming a few bars of one or two songs.

The Italian woman sang. The melody floated sweet and
insinuating to the accompaniment of twanging metal strings,
and Helge’s four new friends joined in the refrain. It was
about amore and bacciare.

“It is a love song, is it not?”

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