The Carnival Ball


Steffanina cried all night after her Mother had insisted that she should go to the Saturday Carnival Ball. She did not want to be a princess, and certainly not for the person she suspected her Mother wanted her to marry. She would rather not be married at all than have to marry Federico Montebello. Not that there was anything particularly wrong with him, he was a good horseman, a first class shot, he liked telling jokes, he was rich and he was clever.

“No!” Steffanina said, “Federico is too tall and I’m shy of him. How could we ever be friends? Anyway, I shan’t dance with him – we look silly together. Mama can dance with him and Aunt Elena – I won’t, I’m warning you, I won’t!”

“Don’t be ridiculous my shy little darling, he will sweep you off your feet. He is a lovely boy.”

“He’s not a boy; he is ten years older than I am!”

“Well, how nice. Do you like the ribbons I have chosen for your hair?”

“Mama, will you please listen to me, I do not want to marry him.”

“Well, my little one, are you trying to upset your Father? And what about me? Don’t you care? Do you want to send us to our graves? Don’t you realise that we love you – and what a lot we do for you? How much we care for you? How can you treat us like this?”

There is no doubt about the fact that parents, if they were both kind and intelligent, were in a better position to see the potential of happiness for an innocent young virgin daughter, than the girl herself who had little idea of what marriage might have in store for her. Many arranged marriages were successful because they were well arranged. In such a case the reason for success being that there would be a smaller chance of confutation if the partners had enough in common, like their religion, their class and style of living.

When parents became too ambitious and tried to marry off a young daughter to an old man for his title or his money or both, they would often court disaster and create unhappiness. One real life elderly lady who was in her nineties half a century ago explained to her granddaughter – it was more than an explanation, it was a sharing of her experience; she had had a happy marriage which produced five children, she said: “Love comes after marriage.” Then she added, “I promise.”

There is no question of anybody being able to turn back the clock, however we should be careful about judging the past, and we should be curious to try to discover what makes a relationship survive. The present day situation is alarming. Years ago a man wanted to prove that he was a man, not just in bed, but by being able to support a wife and family. A woman flaunted her fragility. Are we more civilised now? Are we making a better job of marriage?

Federico arrived on time. He was dressed as a Spanish Grandee, and Steffanina could not help noticing what a fine pair of legs he had. She now looked like a grown up version of Velasquez’s Infanta Margarita, and Federico made her a low bow which made everybody laugh.

The ball was a success. Federico danced like a dashing torero. He swirled Steffanina round and round, and as she looked up and relaxed the chandeliers almost put her into a trance. Federico held her. When he invited Aunt Elena to dance, her mother’s youngest sister and only five years older than him, she suddenly felt unhappy. And then, when she danced with her cousin Petrino she found him a little too short and couldn’t imagine what she had seen in him. Finally Federico asked her for another dance. She felt a little faint; her knees knocked and she knew she was blushing. She tried to look calm and she smiled in distress.

After the ball, she sat up and chatted with her Mother. She then went to her sister’s room, but her sister was asleep. She returned to her Mother who had a look of triumph on her face. “There, my little darling,” she said, “Now go back to bed and try to get some sleep. Don’t worry your little head about anything and remember what you Mama always said – you don’t have to marry anybody you don’t want to.”