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Title: A Roman Singer
Author: Crawford, F. Marion (Francis Marion), 1854-1909
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "A Roman Singer" ***

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A ROMAN SINGER

F. MARION CRAWFORD

1909



[Illustration: "Shut the door and double turned the lock."--Chap.
XXI.]



CHAPTER I


I, Cornelio Grandi, who tell you these things, have a story of my own,
of which some of you are not ignorant. You know, for one thing, that I
was not always poor, nor always a professor of philosophy, nor a
scribbler of pedantic articles for a living. Many of you can remember
why I was driven to sell my patrimony, the dear castello in the
Sabines, with the good corn-land and the vineyards in the valley, and
the olives, too. For I am not old yet; at least, Mariuccia is older,
as I often tell her. These are queer times. It was not any fault of
mine. But now that Nino is growing to be a famous man in the world,
and people are saying good things and bad about him, and many say that
he did wrong in this matter, I think it best to tell you all the whole
truth and what I think of it. For Nino is just like a son to me; I
brought him up from a little child, and taught him Latin, and would
have made a philosopher of him. What could I do? He had so much voice
that he did not know what to do with it.

His mother used to sing. What a piece of a woman she was! She had a
voice like a man's, and when De Pretis brought his singers to the
festa once upon a time, when I was young, he heard her far down below,
as we walked on the terrace of the palazzo, and asked me if I would
not let him educate that young tenor. And when I told him it was one
of the contadine, the wife of a tenant of mine, he would not believe
it. But I never heard her sing after Serafino--that was her
husband--was killed at the fair in Genazzano. And one day the fevers
took her, and so she died, leaving Nino a little baby. Then you know
what happened to me, about that time, and how I sold Castel Serveti
and came to live here in Rome. Nino was brought to me here. One day in
the autumn a carrettiere from Serveti, who would sometimes stop at my
door and leave me a basket of grapes in the vintage, or a pitcher of
fresh oil in winter, because he never used to pay his house-rent when
I was his landlord--but he is a good fellow, Gigi--and so he tries to
make amends now; well, as I was saying, he came one day and gave me a
great basket of fine grapes, and he brought Nino with him, a little
boy of scarce six years--just to show him to me, he said.

He was an ugly little boy, with a hat of no particular shape and a
dirty face. He had great black eyes, with ink-saucers under them,
_calamai_, as we say, just as he has now. Only the eyes are bigger
now, and the circles deeper. But he is still sufficiently ugly. If it
were not for his figure, which is pretty good, he could never have
made a fortune with his voice. De Pretis says he could, but I do not
believe it.

Well, I made Gigi come in with Nino, and Mariuccia made them each a
great slice of toasted bread and spread it with oil, and gave Gigi a
glass of the Serveti wine, and little Nino had some with water. And
Mariuccia begged to have the child left with her till Gigi went back
the next day; for she is fond of children and comes from Serveti
herself. And that is how Nino came to live with us. That old woman has
no principles of economy, and she likes children.

"What does a little creature like that eat?" said she. "A bit of
bread, a little soup--macchè! You will never notice it, I tell you.
And the poor thing has been living on charity. Just imagine whether
you are not quite as able to feed him as Gigi is!" So she persuaded
me. But at first I did it to please her, for I told her our proverb,
which says there can be nothing so untidy about a house as children
and chickens. He was such a dirty little boy, with only one shoe and a
battered hat, and he was always singing at the top of his voice, and
throwing things into the well in the cortile.

Mariuccia can read a little, though I never believed it until I found
her one day teaching Nino his letters out of the _Vite dei Santi_.
That was probably the first time that her reading was ever of any use
to her, and the last, for I think she knows the _Lives of the Saints_
by heart, and she will certainly not venture to read a new book at her
age. However, Nino very soon learned to know as much as she, and she
will always be able to say that she laid the foundation of his
education. He soon forgot to throw handfuls of mud into the well, and
Mariuccia washed him, and I bought him a pair of shoes, and we made
him look very decent. After a time he did not even remember to pull
the cat's tail in the morning, so as to make her sing with him, as he
said. When Mariuccia went to church she would take him with her, and
he seemed very fond of going, so that I asked him one day if he would
like to be a priest when he grew up, and wear beautiful robes, and
have pretty little boys to wait on him with censers in their hands.

"No," said the little urchin, stoutly, "I won't be a priest." He
found in his pocket a roast chestnut Mariuccia had given him, and
began to shell it.

"Why are you always so fond of going to church then?" I asked.

"If I were a big man," quoth he, "but really big, I would sing in
church, like Maestro De Pretis."

"What would you sing, Nino?" said I, laughing. He looked very grave,
and got a piece of brown paper and folded it up. Then he began to beat
time on my knees and sang out boldly, _Cornu ejus exaltabitur_.

It was enough to make one laugh, for he was only seven years old, and
ugly too. But Mariuccia, who was knitting in the hall-way, called out
that it was just what Maestro Ercole had sung the day before at
vespers, every syllable.

I have an old piano in my sitting-room. It is a masterpiece of an
instrument, I can tell you; for one of the legs is gone and I propped
it up with two empty boxes, and the keys are all black except those
that have lost the ivory--and those are green. It has also five
pedals, disposed as a harp underneath; but none of them make any
impression on the sound, except the middle one, which rings a bell.
The sound-board has a crack in it somewhere, Nino says, and two of the
notes are dumb since the great German maestro came home with my boy
one night, and insisted on playing an accompaniment after supper. We
had stewed chickens and a flask of Cesanese, I remember, and I knew
something would happen to the piano. But Nino would never have any
other, for De Pretis had a very good one; and Nino studies without
anything--just a common tuning-fork that he carries in his pocket. But
the old piano was the beginning of his fame. He got into the
sitting-room one day, by himself, and found out that he could make a
noise by striking the keys, and then he discovered that he could make
tunes, and pick out the ones that were always ringing in his head.
After that he could hardly be dragged away from it, so that I sent him
to school to have some quiet in the house.

He was a clever boy, and I taught him Latin and gave him our poets to
read; and as he grew up I would have made a scholar of him, but he
would not. At least, he was willing to learn and to read; but he was
always singing too. Once I caught him declaiming "Arma virumque cano"
to an air from Trovatore, and I knew he could never be a scholar then,
though he might know a great deal. Besides, he always preferred Dante
to Virgil, and Leopardi to Horace.

One day, when he was sixteen or thereabouts, he was making a noise, as
usual, shouting some motive or other to Mariuccia and the cat, while I
was labouring to collect my senses over a lecture I had to prepare.
Suddenly his voice cracked horribly and his singing ended in a sort of
groan. It happened again once or twice, the next day, and then the
house was quiet. I found him at night asleep over the old piano, his
eyes all wet with tears.

"What is the matter, Nino?" I asked. "It is time for youngsters like
you to be in bed."

"Ah, Messer Cornelio," he said, when he was awake, "I had better go to
bed, as you say. I shall never sing again, for my voice is all broken
to pieces"; and he sobbed bitterly.

"The saints be praised," thought I; "I shall make a philosopher of you
yet!"

But he would not be comforted, and for several months he went about as
if he were trying to find the moon, as we say; and though he read his
books and made progress, he was always sad and wretched, and grew
much thinner, so that Mariuccia said he was consuming himself, and I
thought he must be in love. But the house was very quiet.

I thought as he did, that he would never sing again, but I never
talked to him about it, lest he should try, now that he was as quiet
as a nightingale with its tongue cut out. But nature meant
differently, I suppose. One day De Pretis came to see me; it must have
been near the new year, for he never came often at that time. It was
only a friendly recollection of the days when I had a castello and a
church of my own at Serveti, and used to have him come from Rome to
sing at the festa, and he came every year to see me; and his head grew
bald as mine grew grey, so that at last he wears a black skull-cap
everywhere, like a priest, and only takes it off when he sings the
Gloria Patri, or at the Elevation. However, he came to see me, and
Nino sat mutely by, as we smoked a little and drank the syrup of
violets with water that Mariuccia brought us. It was one of her
eternal extravagances, but somehow, though she never understood the
value of economy, my professorship brought in more than enough for us,
and it was not long after this that I began to buy the bit of vineyard
out of Porta Salara, by instalments from my savings. And since then we
have our own wine.

De Pretis was talking to me about a new opera that he had heard. He
never sang except in church, of course, but he used to go to the
theatre of an evening; so it was quite natural that he should go to
the piano and begin to sing a snatch of the tenor air to me,
explaining the situation as he went along, between his singing.

Nino could not sit still, and went and leaned over Sor Ercole, as we
call the maestro, hanging on the notes, not daring to try and sing,
for he had lost his voice, but making the words with his lips.

"Dio mio!" he cried at last, "how I wish I could sing that!"

"Try it," said De Pretis, laughing and half interested by the boy's
earnest look. "Try it--I will sing it again." But Nino's face fell.

"It is no use," he said. "My voice is all broken to pieces now,
because I sang too much before."

"Perhaps it will come back," said the musician kindly, seeing the
tears in the young fellow's eyes. "See, we will try a scale." He
struck a chord. "Now, open your mouth--so--Do-o-o-o!" He sang a long
note. Nino could not resist any longer, whether he had any voice or
not. He blushed red and turned away, but he opened his mouth and made
a sound.

"Do-o-o-o!" He sang like the master, but much weaker.

"Not so bad; now the next, Re-e-e!" Nino followed him. And so on, up
the scale.

After a few more notes, De Pretis ceased to smile, and cried, "Go on,
go on!" after every note, authoritatively, and in quite a different
manner from his first kindly encouragement. Nino, who had not sung for
months, took courage and a long breath, and went on as he was bid, his
voice gaining volume and clearness as he sang higher. Then De Pretis
stopped and looked at him earnestly.

"You are mad," he said. "You have not lost your voice at all."

"It was quite different when I used to sing before," said the boy.

"Per Bacco, I should think so," said the maestro. "Your voice has
changed. Sing something, can't you?"

Nino sang a church air he had caught somewhere. I never heard such a
voice, but it gave me a queer sensation that I liked--it was so true,
and young, and clear. De Pretis sat open-mouthed with astonishment
and admiration. When the boy had finished, he stood looking at the
maestro, blushing very scarlet, and altogether ashamed of himself. The
other did not speak.

"Excuse me," said Nino, "I cannot sing. I have not sung for a long
time. I know it is not worth anything." De Pretis recovered himself.

"You do not sing," said he, "because you have not learned. But you
can. If you will let me teach you, I will do it for nothing."

"Me!" screamed Nino, "you teach _me_! Ah, if it were any use--if you
only would!"

"Any use?" repeated De Pretis half aloud, as he bit his long black
cigar half through in his excitement. "Any use? My dear boy, do
you know that you have a very good voice? A remarkable voice," he
continued, carried away by his admiration, "such a voice as I have
never heard. You can be the first tenor of your age, if you please--in
three years you will sing anything you like, and go to London and
Paris, and be a great man. Leave it to me."

I protested that it was all nonsense, that Nino was meant for a
scholar and not for the stage, and I was quite angry with De Pretis
for putting such ideas into the boy's head. But it was of no use. You
cannot argue with women and singers, and they always get their own way
in the end. And whether I liked it or not, Nino began to go to Sor
Ercole's house once or twice a week, and sang scales and exercises
very patiently, and copied music in the evening, because he said he
would not be dependent on me, since he could not follow my wishes in
choosing a profession. De Pretis did not praise him much to his face
after they had begun to study, but he felt sure he would succeed.

"Caro Conte,"--he often calls me Count, though I am only plain
Professore, now--"he has a voice like a trumpet and the patience of
all the angels. He will be a great singer."

"Well, it is not my fault," I used to answer; for what could I do?

When you see Nino now, you cannot imagine that he was ever a dirty
little boy from the mountains, with one shoe, and that infamous little
hat. I think he is ugly still, though you do not think so when he is
singing, and he has good strong limbs and broad shoulders, and carries
himself like a soldier. Besides, he is always very well dressed,
though he has no affectations. He does not wear his hair plastered
into a love-lock on his forehead, like some of our dandies, nor is he
eternally pulling a pair of monstrous white cuffs over his hands.
Everything is very neat about him and very quiet, so that you would
hardly think he was an artist after all; and he talks but little,
though he can talk very well when he likes, for he has not forgotten
his Dante nor his Leopardi. De Pretis says the reason he sings so well
is because he has a mouth like the slit in an organ pipe, as wide as a
letter-box at the post-office. But I think he has succeeded because he
has great square jaws like Napoleon. People like that always succeed.
My jaw is small, and my chin is pointed under my beard--but then, with
the beard, no one can see it. But Mariuccia knows.

Nino is a thoroughly good boy, and until a year ago he never cared for
anything but his art; and now he cares for something, I think, a great
deal better than art, even than art like his. But he is a singer
still, and always will be, for he has an iron throat, and never was
hoarse in his life. All those years when he was growing up, he never
had a love-scrape, or owed money, or wasted his time in the caffè.

"Take care," Mariuccia used to say to me, "if he ever takes a fancy to
some girl with blue eyes and fair hair he will be perfectly crazy. Ah,
Sor Conte, _she_ had blue eyes, and her hair was like the corn-silk.
How many years is that, Sor Conte mio?" Mariuccia is an old witch.

I am writing this story to tell you why Mariuccia is a witch, and why
my Nino, who never so much as looked at the beauties of the generone,
as they came with their fathers and brothers and mothers to eat
ice-cream in the Piazza Colonna, and listen to the music of a summer's
evening,--Nino, who stared absently at the great ladies as they rolled
over the Pincio, in their carriages, and was whistling airs to himself
for practice when he strolled along the Corso, instead of looking out
for pretty faces,--Nino, the cold in all things save in music, why he
fulfilled Mariuccia's prophecy, little by little, and became perfectly
crazy about blue eyes and fair hair. That is what I am going to tell
you, if you have the leisure to listen. And you ought to know it,
because evil tongues are more plentiful than good voices in Rome,
as elsewhere, and people are saying many spiteful things about
him--though they clap loudly enough at the theatre when he sings.

He is like a son to me, and perhaps I am reconciled, after all, to his
not having become a philosopher. He would never have been so famous
as he is now, and _he_ really knows so much more than Maestro De
Pretis--in other ways than music--that he is very presentable indeed.
What is blood, nowadays? What difference does it make to society
whether Nino Cardegna, the tenor was the son of a vine-dresser? Or
what does the University care for the fact that I, Cornelio Grandi, am
the last of a race as old as the Colonnas, and quite as honourable?
What does Mariuccia care? What does anybody care? Corpo di Bacco! if
we begin talking of race we shall waste as much time as would make us
all great celebrities! I am not a celebrity--I never shall be now,
for a man must begin at that trade young. It is a profession--being
celebrated--and it has its signal advantages. Nino will tell you so,
and he has tried it. But one must begin young, very young! I cannot
begin again.

And then, as you all know, I never began at all. I took up life in the
middle, and am trying hard to twist a rope of which I never held the
other end. I feel sometimes as though it must be the life of another
that I have taken, leaving my own unfinished, for I was never meant to
be a professor. That is the way of it; and if I am sad and inclined to
melancholy humours, it is because I miss my old self, and he seems to
have left me without even a kindly word at parting. I was fond of my
old self, but I did not respect him much. And my present self I
respect, without fondness. Is that metaphysics? Who knows? It is
vanity in either case, and the vanity of self-respect is perhaps a
more dangerous thing than the vanity of self-love, though you may call
it pride if you like, or give it any other high-sounding title. But
the heart of the vain man is lighter than the heart of the proud.
Probably Nino has always had much self-respect, but I doubt if it has
made him very happy--until lately. True, he has genius, and does what
he must by nature do or die, whereas I have not even talent, and I
make myself do for a living what I can never do well. What does it
serve, to make comparisons? I could never have been like Nino, though
I believe half my pleasure of late has been in fancying how I should
feel in his place, and living through his triumphs by my imagination.
Nino began at the very beginning, and when all his capital was one
shoe and a ragged hat, and certainly not more than a third of a shirt,
he said he would be a great singer; and he is, though he is scarcely
of age yet. I wish it had been something else than a singer, but since
he is the first already, it was worth while. He would have been great
in anything, though, for he has such a square jaw, and he looks so
fierce when anything needs to be overcome. Our forefathers must have
looked like that, with their broad eagle noses and iron mouths. They
began at the beginning, too, and they went to the very end. I wish
Nino had been a general, or a statesman, or a cardinal, or all three
like Richelieu.

But you want to hear of Nino, and you can pass on your ways, all of
you, without hearing my reflections and small-talk about goodness,
and success, and the like. Moreover, since I respect myself now, I
must not find so much fault with my own doings, or you will say that
I am in my dotage. And, truly, Nino Cardegna is a better man, for all
his peasant blood, than I ever was; a better lover, and perhaps a
better hater. There is his guitar, that he always leaves here, and it
reminds me of him and his ways. Fourteen years he lived here with me,
from child to boy and from boy to man, and now he is gone, never to
live here any more. The end of it will be that I shall go and live
with him, and Mariuccia will take her cat and her knitting, and her
_Lives of the Saints_ back to Serveti, to end her life in peace,
where there are no professors and no singers. For Mariuccia is older
than I am, and she will die before me. At all events, she will take
her tongue with her, and ruin herself at her convenience without
ruining me. I wonder what life would be without Mariuccia? Would
anybody darn my stockings, or save the peel of the mandarins to make
cordial? I certainly would not have the mandarins if she were
gone--it is a luxury. No, I would not have them. But then, there
would be no cordial, and I should have to buy new stockings every
year or two. No, the mandarins cost less than the stockings--and--well,
I suppose I am fond of Mariuccia.



CHAPTER II


It was really not so long ago--only one year. The sirocco was blowing
up and down the streets, and about the corners, with its sickening
blast, making us all feel like dead people, and hiding away the sun
from us. It is no use trying to do anything when it blows sirocco, at
least for us who are born here. But I had been persuaded to go with
Nino to the house of Sor Ercole to hear my boy sing the opera he had
last studied, and so I put my cloak over my shoulders, and wrapped its
folds over my breast, and covered my mouth, and we went out. For it
was a cold sirocco, bringing showers of tepid rain from the south, and
the drops seemed to chill themselves as they fell. One moment you are
in danger of being too cold, and the next minute the perspiration
stands on your forehead, and you are oppressed with a moist heat. Like
the prophet, when it blows a real sirocco you feel as if you were
poured out like water, and all your bones were out of joint.
Foreigners do not feel it until they have lived with us a few years,
but Romans are like dead men when the wind is in that quarter.

I went to the maestro's house and sat for two hours listening to the
singing. Nino sang very creditably, I thought, but I allow that I
was not as attentive as I might have been, for I was chilled and
uncomfortable. Nevertheless, I tried to be very appreciative, and I
complimented the boy on the great progress he had made. When I thought
of it, it struck me that I had never heard anybody sing like that
before; but still there was something lacking; I thought it sounded a
little unreal, and I said to myself that he would get admiration, but
never any sympathy. So clear, so true, so rich it was, but wanting a
ring to it, the little thrill that goes to the heart. He sings very
differently now.

Maestro Ercole De Pretis lives in the Via Paola, close to the Ponte
Sant' Angelo, in a most decent little house--that is, of course, on a
floor of a house, as we all do. But De Pretis is well-to-do, and he
has a marble door plate, engraved in black with his name, and two
sitting-rooms. They are not very large rooms, it is true, but in
one of them he gives his lessons, and the grand piano fills it up
entirely, so that you can only sit on the little black horsehair sofa
at the end, and it is very hard to get past the piano on either side.
Ercole is as broad as he is long, and takes snuff when he is not
smoking. But it never hurts his voice.

It was Sunday, I remember, for he had to sing in St. Peter's in the
afternoon; and it was so near, we walked over with him. Nino had never
lost his love for church music, though he had made up his mind that it
was a much finer thing to be a primo tenore assoluto at the Apollo
Theatre than to sing in the Pope's choir for thirty scudi a month. We
walked along over the bridge, and through the Borgo Nuovo, and across
the Piazza Rusticucci, and then we skirted the colonnade on the left,
and entered the church by the sacristy, leaving De Pretis there to put
on his purple cassock and his white cotta. Then we went into the
Capella del Coro to wait for the vespers.

All sorts of people go to St. Peter's on Sunday afternoon, but they
are mostly foreigners, and bring strange little folding chairs, and
arrange themselves to listen to the music as though it were a concert.
Now and then one of the young gentlemen-in-waiting from the Vatican
strolls in and says his prayers, and there is an old woman, very
ragged and miserable, who has haunted the chapel of the choir for many
years, and sits with perfect unconcern, telling her beads at the foot
of the great reading-desk that stands out in the middle and is never
used. Great ladies crowd in through the gate when Raimondi's hymn is
to be sung, and disreputable artists make sketches surreptitiously
during the benediction, without the slightest pretence at any devotion
that I can see. The lights shine out more brightly as the day wanes,
and the incense curls up as the little boys swing the censers, and the
priests and canons chant, and the choir answers from the organ loft;
and the crowd looks on, some saying their prayers, some pretending to,
and some looking about for the friend or lover they have come to meet.

That evening when we went over together I found myself pushed against
a tall man with an immense gray moustache standing out across his face
like the horns of a beetle. He looked down on me from time to time,
and when I apologised for crowding him his face flushed a little, and
he tried to bow as well as he could in the press, and said something
with a German accent which seemed to be courteous. But I was separated
from Nino by him. Maestro Ercole sang, and all the others, turn and
turn about, and so at last it came to the benediction. The tall old
foreigner stood erect and unbending, but most of the people around him
kneeled. As the crowd sank down I saw that on the other side of him
sat a lady on a small folding stool, her feet crossed one over the
other, and her hands folded on her knees. She was dressed entirely in
black, and her fair face stood out wonderfully clear and bright
against the darkness. Truly she looked more like an angel than a
woman, though perhaps you will think she is not so beautiful after
all, for she is so unlike our Roman ladies. She has a delicate nose,
full of sentiment, and pointed a little downward for pride; she has
deep blue eyes, wide apart and dreamy, and a little shaded by brows
that are quite level and even, with a straight pencilling over them,
that looks really as if it were painted. Her lips are very red and
gentle, and her face is very white, so that the little ringlet that
has escaped control looks like a gold tracery on a white marble
ground.

And there she sat with the last light from the tall windows and the
first from the great wax candles shining on her, while all around
seemed dark by contrast. She looked like an angel; and quite as cold,
perhaps most of you would say. Diamonds are cold things, too, but they
shine in the dark; whereas a bit of glass just lets the light through
it, even if it is coloured red and green and put in a church window,
and looks ever so much warmer than the diamond.

But though I saw her beauty and the light of her face, all in a
moment, as though it had been a dream, I saw. Nino, too; for I had
missed him, and had supposed he had gone to the organ loft with De
Pretis. But now, as the people kneeled to the benediction, imagine a
little what he did; he just dropped on his knees with his face to the
white lady, and his back to the procession; it was really disgraceful,
and if it had been lighter I am sure everyone would have noticed it.
At all events, there he knelt, not three feet from the lady, looking
at her as if his heart would break. But I do not believe she saw him,
for she never looked his way. Afterwards everybody got up again, and
we hurried to get out of the Chapel; but I noticed that the tall old
foreigner gave his arm to the beautiful lady, and when they had pushed
their way through the gate that leads into the body of the church,
they did not go away but stood aside for the crowd to pass. Nino
said he would wait for De Pretis, and immediately turned his whole
attention to the foreign girl, hiding himself in the shadow and never
taking his eyes from her.

I never saw Nino look at a woman before as though she interested him
in the least, or I would not have been surprised now to see him lost
in admiration of the fair girl. I was close to him and could see his
face, and it had a new expression on it that I did not know. The
people were almost gone and the lights were being extinguished when De
Pretis came round the corner, looking for us. But I was astonished to
see him bow low to the foreigner and the young lady, and then stop and
enter into conversation with them. They spoke quite audibly, and it
was about a lesson that the young lady had missed. She spoke like a
Roman, but the old gentleman made himself understood in a series of
stiff phrases, which he fired out of his mouth like discharges of
musketry.

"Who are they?" whispered Nino to me, breathless with excitement and
trembling from head to foot. "Who are they, and how does the maestro
know them?"

"Eh, caro mio, what am I to know?" I answered indifferently. "They are
some foreigners, some pupil of De Pretis, and her father. How should I
know?"

"She is a Roman," said Nino between his teeth. "I have heard
foreigners talk. The old man is a foreigner, but she--she is Roman,"
he repeated with certainty.

"Eh," said I, "for my part she may be Chinese. The stars will not fall
on that account." You see, I thought he had seen her before, and I
wanted to exasperate him by my indifference so that he should tell me;
but he would not, and indeed I found out afterwards that he had
really never seen her before.

Presently the lady and gentleman went away, and we called De Pretis,
for he could not see us in the gloom. Nino became very confidential
and linked an arm in his as we went away.

"Who are they, caro maestro, these enchanting people?" inquired the
boy when they had gone a few steps, and I was walking by Nino's side,
and we were all three nearing the door.

"Foreigners--my foreigners," returned the singer proudly, as he took a
colossal pinch of snuff. He seemed to say that he in his profession
was constantly thrown with people like that, whereas I--oh, I, of
course, was always occupied with students and poor devils who had no
voice, nothing but brains.

"But she," objected Nino,--"she is Roman, I am sure of it."

"Eh," said Ercole, "you know how it is. These foreigners marry and
come here and live, and their children are born here; and they grow up
and call themselves Romans, as proudly as you please. But they are not
really Italians, any more than the Shah of Persia." The maestro smiled
a pitying smile. He is a Roman of Rome, and his great nose scorns
pretenders. In his view Piedmontese, Tuscans, and Neapolitans are as
much foreigners as the Germans or the English. More so, for he likes
the Germans and tolerates the English, but he can call an enemy by no
worse name than "Napoletano" or "Piemontese."

"Then they live here?" cried Nino in delight.

"Surely."

"In fine, maestro mio, who are they?"

"What a diavolo of a boy! Dio mio!" and Ercole laughed under his big
moustache, which is black still. But he is bald, all the same, and
wears a skull-cap.

"Diavolo as much as you please, but I will know," said Nino sullenly.

"Oh bene! Now do not disquiet yourself, Nino--I will tell you all
about them. She is a pupil of mine, and I go to their house in the
Corso and give her lessons."

"And then?" asked Nino impatiently.

"Who goes slowly goes surely," said the maestro sententiously; and he
stopped to light a cigar as black and twisted as his moustache. Then
he continued, standing still in the middle of the piazza to talk at
his ease, for it had stopped raining and the air was moist and sultry,
"They are Prussians, you must know. The old man is a colonel, retired,
pensioned, everything you like, wounded at Königgratz by the
Austrians. His wife was delicate, and he brought her to live here long
before he left the service, and the signorina was born here. He has
told me about it, and he taught me to pronounce the name Königgratz,
so--Conigherazzo," said the maestro proudly, "and that is how I know."

"Capperi! What a mouthful," said I.

"You may well say that, Sor Conte, but singing teaches us all
languages. You would have found it of great use in your studies." I
pictured to myself a quarter of an hour of Schopenhauer, with a piano
accompaniment and some one beating time.

"But their name, their name I want to know," objected Nino, as he
stepped aside and flattened himself against the pillar to let a
carriage pass. As luck would have it, the old officer and his daughter
were in that very cab, and Nino could just make them out by the
evening twilight. He took off his hat, of course, but I am quite sure
they did not see him.

"Well, their name is prettier than Conigherazzo," said Ercole. "It is
Lira--Erre Gheraffe fonne Lira." (Herr Graf von Lira, I suppose he
meant. And he has the impudence to assert that singing has taught him
to pronounce German.) "And that means," he continued, "Il Conte di
Lira, as we should say."

"Ah! what a divine appellation!" exclaimed Nino enthusiastically,
pulling his hat over his eyes to meditate upon the name at his
leisure.

"And her name is Edvigia," volunteered the maestro. That is the
Italian for Hedwig, or Hadwig, you know. But we should shorten it and
call her Gigia just as though she were Luisa. Nino does not think it
so pretty. Nino was silent. Perhaps he was always shy of repeating the
familiar name of the first woman he had ever loved. Imagine! At twenty
he had never been in love! It is incredible to me,--and one of our own
people, too, born at Serveti.

Meanwhile the maestro's cigar had gone out, and he lit it with a
blazing sulphur match before he continued; and we all walked on again.
I remember it all very distinctly, because it was the beginning
of Nino's madness. Especially I call to mind his expression of
indifference when Ercole began to descant upon the worldly possessions
of the Lira household. It seemed to me that if Nino so seriously cast
his eyes on the Contessina Edvigia, he might at least have looked
pleased to hear she was so rich; or he might have looked disappointed,
if he thought that her position was an obstacle in his way. But he did
not care about it at all, and walked straight on, humming a little
tune through his nose with his mouth shut, for he does everything to a
tune.

"They are certainly gran' signor," Ercole said. "They live on the
first floor of the Palazzo Carmandola,--you know, in the Corso--and
they have a carriage, and keep two men in livery, just like a Roman
prince. Besides, the count once sent me a bottle of wine at Christmas.
It was as weak as water, and tasted like the solfatara of Tivoli, but
it came from his own vineyard in Germany, and was at least fifty years
old. If he has a vineyard, he has a castello, of course. And if he has
a castello, he is a gran' signor,--eh? what do you think, Sor Conte?
You know about such things."

"I did once, maestro mio. It is very likely."

"And as for the wine being sour, it was because it was so old. I am
sure the Germans cannot make wine well. They are not used to drinking
it good, or they would not drink so much when they come here." We were
crossing the bridge, and nearing Ercole's house.

"Maestro," said Nino, suddenly. He had not spoken for some time, and
he had finished his tune.

"Well?"

"Is not to-morrow our day for studying?"

"Diavolo! I gave you two hours to-day. Have you forgotten?"

"Ah,--it is true. But give me a lesson to-morrow, like a good maestro
as you are. I will sing like an angel if you will give me a lesson
to-morrow."

"Well, if you like to come at seven in the morning, and if you promise
to sing nothing but solfeggi of Bordogni for an hour, and not to
strain your voice, or put too much vinegar in your salad at supper, I
will think about it. Does that please you? Conte, don't let him eat
too much vinegar."

"I will do all that if I may come," said Nino readily, though he would
rather not sing at all, at most times, than sing Bordogni, De Pretis
tells me.

"Meglio cosi,--so much the better. Good-night, Sor Conte. Good-night,
Nino." And so he turned down the Via Paola, and Nino and I went our
way. I stopped to buy a cigar at the little tobacco shop just opposite
the Tordinona Theatre. They used to be only a baiocco apiece, and I
could get one at a time. But now they are two for three baiocchi; and
so I have to get two always, because there are no half baiocchi any
more--nothing but centimes. That is one of the sources of my
extravagance. Mariuccia says I am miserly; she was born poor, and
never had to learn the principles of economy.

"Nino mio," I said, as we went along, "you really make me laugh."

"Which is to say--" He was humming a tune again, and was cross because
I interrupted him.

"You are in love. Do not deny it. You are already planning how you can
make the acquaintance of the foreign contessa. You are a fool. Go
home, and get Mariuccia to give you some syrup of tamarind to cool
your blood."

"Well? Now tell me, were you never in love with anyone yourself?" he
asked, by way of answer; and I could see the fierce look come into his
eyes in the dark as he said it.

"Altro,--that is why I laugh at you. When I was your age I had been in
love twenty times. But I never fell in love at first sight--and with a
doll; really a wax doll, you know, like the Madonna in the presepio
that they set up at the Ara Coeli, at Epiphany."

"A doll!" he cried. "Who is a doll, if you please?" We stopped at the
corner of the street to argue it out.

"Do you think she is really alive?" I asked, laughing. Nino disdained
to answer me, but he looked savagely from under the brim of his hat.
"Look here," I continued, "women like that are only made to be looked
at. They never love, for they have no hearts. It is lucky if they
have souls, like Christians."

"I will tell you what I think," said he stoutly; "she is an angel."

"Oh! is that all? Did you ever hear of an angel being married?"

"You shall hear of it, Sor Cornelio, and before long. I swear to you,
here, that I will marry the Contessina di Lira--if that is her
name--before two years are out. Ah, you do not believe me. Very well.
I have nothing more to say."

"My dear son," said I,--for he is a son to me,--"you are talking
nonsense. How can anybody in your position hope to marry a great lady,
who is an heiress? Is it not true that it is all stuff and nonsense?"

"No, it is not true," cried Nino, setting his square jaw like a bit
and speaking through his teeth. "I am ugly, you say; I am dark, and I
have no position, or wealth, or anything of the kind. I am the son of
a peasant and of a peasant's wife. I am anything you please, but I
will marry her if I say I will. Do you think it is for nothing that
you have taught me the language of Dante, of Petrarca, of Silvio
Pellico? Do you think it is for nothing that Heaven has given me my
voice? Do not the angels love music, and cannot I make as good songs
as they? Or do you think that because I am bred a singer my hand is
not as strong as a fine gentleman's--contadino as I am? I will--I will
and I will, Basta!"

I never saw him look like that before. He had folded his arms, and he
nodded his head a little at each repetition of the word, looking at me
so hard, as we stood under the gas lamp in the street, that I was
obliged to turn my eyes away. He stared me out of countenance--he, a
peasant boy! Then we walked on.

"And as for her being a wax doll, as you call her," he continued
after a little time, "that is nonsense, if you want the word to be
used. Truly, a doll! And the next minute you compare her to the
Madonna! I am sure she has a heart as big as this," and he stretched
out his hands into the air. "I can see it in her eyes. Ah, what eyes!"

I saw it was no use arguing on that tack, and I felt quite sure that
he would forget all about it, though he looked so determined, and
talked so grandly about his will.

"Nino," I said, "I am older than you." I said this to impress him, of
course, for I am not really so very old.

"Diamini!" he cried impertinently, "I believe it!"

"Well, well, do not be impatient. I have seen something in my time,
and I tell you those foreign women are not like ours, a whit. I fell
in love, once, with a northern fairy,--she was not German, but she
came from Lombardy, you see,--and that is the reason why I lost
Serveti and all the rest."

"But I have no Serveti to lose," objected Nino.

"You have a career as a musician to lose. It is not much of a career
to be stamping about with a lot of figuranti and scene-shifters, and
screaming yourself hoarse every night." I was angry because he laughed
at my age. "But it is a career, after all, that you have chosen for
yourself. If you get mixed up in an intrigue now, you may ruin
yourself. I hope you will."

"Grazie! And then?"

"Eh, it might not be such a bad thing after all. For if you could be
induced to give up the stage--"

"I--_I_ give up singing?" he cried, indignantly.

"Oh, such things happen, you know. If you were to give it up, as I was
saying, you might then possibly use your mind. A mind is a much
better thing than a throat, after all."

"Ebbene! talk as much as you please, for, of course, you have the
right, for you have brought me up, and you have certainly opposed my
singing enough to quiet your conscience. But, dear professor, I will
do all that I say, and if you will give me a little help in this
matter, you will not repent it."

"Help? Dio mio! What do you take me for? As if I could help you, or
would! I suppose you want money to make yourself a dandy, a piano, to
go and stand at the corner of the Piazza Colonna and ogle her as she
goes by! In truth! You have fine projects."

"No," said Nino quietly, "I do not want any money or anything else at
present, thank you. And do not be angry, but come into the caffè and
drink some lemonade; and I will invite you to it, for I have been paid
for my last copying that I sent in yesterday." He put his arm in mine,
and we went in. There is no resisting Nino when he is affectionate.
But I would not let him pay for the lemonade. I paid for it myself.
What extravagance!



CHAPTER III


Now I ought to tell you that many things in this story were only told
me quite lately, for at first I would not help Nino at all, thinking
it was but a foolish fancy of his boy's heart and would soon pass. I
have tried to gather and to order all the different incidents into one
harmonious whole, so that you can follow the story; and you must not
wonder that I can describe some things that I did not see, and that I
know how some of the people felt; for Nino and I have talked over the
whole matter very often, and the baroness came here and told me her
share, though I wonder how she could talk so plainly of what must have
given her so much pain. But it was very kind of her to come; and she
sat over there in the old green arm-chair by the glass case that has
the artificial flowers under it, and the sugar lamb that the padre
curato gave Nino when he made his first communion at Easter. However,
it is not time to speak of the baroness yet, but I cannot forget her.

Nino was very amusing when he began to love the young countess, and
the very first morning--the day after we had been to St. Peter's--he
went out at half-past six, though it was only just sunrise, for we
were in October. I knew very well that he was going for his extra
lesson with De Pretis, but I had nothing to say about it, and I only
recommended him to cover himself well, for the sirocco had passed and
it was a bright morning, with a clear tramontana wind blowing fresh
from the north. I can always tell when it is a tramontana wind before
I open my window, for Mariuccia makes such a clattering with the
coffee-pot in the kitchen, and the goldfinch in the sitting-room sings
very loud; which he never does if it is cloudy. Nino, then, went off
to Maestro Ercole's house for his singing, and this is what happened
there.

De Pretis knew perfectly well that Nino had only asked for the extra
lesson in order to get a chance of talking about the Contessina di
Lira, and so, to tease him, as soon as he appeared, the maestro made a
great bustle about singing scales, and insisted on beginning at once.
Moreover, he pretended to be in a bad humour; and that is always
pretence with him.

"Ah, my little tenor," he began; "you want a lesson at seven in the
morning, do you? That is the time when all the washerwomen sing at the
fountain! Well, you shall have a lesson, and by the body of Bacchus it
shall be a real lesson! Now, then! Andiamo--Do-o-o!" and he roared out
a great note that made the room shake, and a man who was selling
cabbage in the street stopped his hand-cart and mimicked him for five
minutes.

"But I am out of breath, maestro," protested Nino, who wanted to talk.

"Out of breath? A singer is never out of breath. Absurd! What would
you do if you got out of breath, say, in the last act of _Lucia_,
so--Bell'alma ado--?? Then your breath ends, eh? Will you stay with
the 'adored soul' between your teeth? A fine singer you will make!
Andiamo! Do-o-o!"

Nino saw he must begin, and he set up a shout, much against his will,
so that the cabbage-vendor chimed in, making so much noise that the
old woman who lives opposite opened her window and emptied a great
dustpan full of potato peelings and refuse leaves of lettuce right on
his head. And then there was a great noise. But the maestro paid no
attention, and went on with the scale, hardly giving Nino time to
breathe. Nino, who stood behind De Pretis while he sang, saw the copy
of Bordogni's solfeggi lying on a chair, and managed to slip it under
a pile of music near by, singing so lustily all the while that the
maestro never looked round.

When he got to the end of the scale Ercole began hunting for the
music, and as he could not find it, Nino asked him questions.

"Can she sing,--this contessina of yours, maestro?" De Pretis was
overturning everything in his search.

"An apoplexy on those solfeggi and on the man who made them!" he
cried. "Sing, did you say? Yes, a great deal better than you ever
will. Why can you not look for your music, instead of chattering?"
Nino began to look where he knew it was not.

"By the by, do you give her lessons every day?" asked the boy.

"Every day? Am I crazy, to ruin people's voices like that?"

"Caro maestro, what is the matter with you this morning? You have
forgotten to say your prayers!"

"You are a donkey, Nino; here he is, this blessed Bordogni,--now
come."

"Sor Ercole mio," said Nino in despair, "I must really know something
about this angel, before I sing at all." Ercole sat down on the piano
stool, and puffed up his cheeks, and heaved a tremendous sigh, to show
how utterly bored he was by his pupil. Then he took a large pinch of
snuff, and sighed again.

"What demon have you got into your head?" he asked, at length.

"What angel, you mean," answered Nino, delighted at having forced the
maestro to a parley. "I am in love with her--crazy about her," he
cried, running his fingers through his curly hair, "and you must help
me to see her. You can easily take me to her house to sing duets as
part of her lesson. I tell you I have not slept a wink all night for
thinking of her, and unless I see her I shall never sleep again as
long as I live. Ah!" he cried, putting his hands on Ercole's
shoulders, "you do not know what it is to be in love! How everything
one touches is fire, and the sky is like lead, and one minute you are
cold and one minute you are hot, and you may turn and turn on your
pillow all night and never sleep, and you want to curse everybody you
see, or to embrace them, it makes no difference--anything to express
the--"

"Devil! and may he carry you off!" interrupted Ercole, laughing. But
his manner changed. "Poor fellow," he said presently, "it appears to
me you are in love."

"It appears to you, does it? 'Appears'--a beautiful word, in faith. I
can tell you it appears to me so, too. Ah! it 'appears' to you--very
good indeed!" And Nino waxed wroth.

"I will give you some advice, Ninetto mio. Do not fall in love with
anyone. It always ends badly."

"You come late with your counsel, Sor Ercole. In truth, a very good
piece of advice when a man is fifty, and married, and wears a
skull-cap. When I wear a skull-cap and take snuff I will follow your
instructions." He walked up and down the room, grinding his teeth, and
clapping his hands together. Ercole rose and stopped him.

"Let us talk seriously," he said.

"With all my heart; as seriously as you please."

"You have only seen this signorina once."

"Once!" cried Nino,--"as if once were not--"

"Diavolo; let me speak. You have only seen her once. She is noble, an
heiress, a great lady--worse than all, a foreigner; as beautiful as a
statue, if you please, but twice as cold. She has a father who knows
the proprieties, a piece of iron, I tell you, who would kill you just
as he would drink a glass of wine, with the greatest indifference, if
he suspected you lifted your eyes to his daughter."

"I do not believe your calumnies," said Nino still hotly, "She is not
cold, and if I can see her she will listen to me. I am sure of it."

"We will speak of that by and by. You--what are you? Nothing but a
singer, who has not even appeared before the public, without a baiocco
in the world or anything else but your voice. You are not even
handsome."

"What difference does that make to a woman of heart?" retorted Nino
angrily. "Let me only speak to her--"

"A thousand devils!" exclaimed De Pretis impatiently; "what good will
you do by speaking to her? Are you Dante, or Petrarca, or a
preacher--what are you? Do you think you can have a great lady's hand
for the asking? Do you flatter yourself that you are so eloquent that
nobody can withstand you?"

"Yes," said Nino, boldly. "If I could only speak to her--"

"Then in heaven's name, go and speak to her. Get a new hat and a pair
of lavender gloves, and walk about the Villa Borghese until you meet
her, and then throw yourself on your knees and kiss her feet, and the
dust from her shoes; and say you are dying for her, and will she be
good enough to walk as far as Santa Maria del Popolo and be married to
you! That is all; you see it is nothing you ask--a mere politeness on
her part--oh, nothing, nothing." And De Pretis rubbed his hands and
smiled, and seeing that Nino did not answer, he blew his nose with his
great blue cotton handkerchief.

"You have no heart at all, maestro," said Nino at last. "Let us sing."

They worked hard at Bordogni for half an hour, and Nino did not open
his mouth except to produce the notes. But as his blood was up from
the preceding interview he took great pains, and Ercole, who makes him
sing all the solfeggi he can from a sense of duty, himself wearied of
the ridiculous old-fashioned runs and intervals.

"Bene," he said; "let us sing a piece now, and then you will have done
enough." He put an opera on the piano, and Nino lifted up his voice
and sang, only too glad to give his heart passage to his lips. Ercole
screwed up his eyes with a queer smile he has when he is pleased.

"Capperi!" he ejaculated, when Nino had done.

"What has happened?" asked the latter.

"I cannot tell you what has happened," said Ercole, "but I will tell
you that you had better always sing like that, and you will be
applauded. Why have you never sung that piece in that way before?"

"I do not know. Perhaps it is because I am unhappy."

"Very well, never dare to be happy again, if you mean to succeed. You
can make a statue shed tears if you please." Ercole took a pinch of
snuff, and turned round to look out of the window. Nino leaned on the
piano, drumming with his fingers and looking at the back of the
maestro's head. The first rays of the sun just fell into the room and
gilded the red brick floor.

"Then instead of buying lavender kid gloves," said Nino at last, his
face relaxing a little, "and going to the Villa Borghese, you advise
me to borrow a guitar and sing to my statue? Is that it?"

"Che Diana! I did not say that!" said Ercole, still facing the window
and finishing his pinch of snuff with a certain satisfaction. "But if
you want the guitar, take it--there it lies. I will not answer for
what you do with it." His voice sounded kindly, for he was so much
pleased. Then he made Nino sing again, a little love song of Tosti,
who writes for the heart and sings so much better without a voice than
all your stage tenors put together. And the maestro looked long at
Nino when he had done, but he did not say anything. Nino put on his
hat gloomily enough, and prepared to go.

"I will take the guitar, if you will lend it to me," he said.

"Yes, if you like, and I will give you a handkerchief to wrap it up
with," said De Pretis, absently, but he did not get up from his seat.
He was watching Nino, and he seemed to be thinking. Just as the boy
was going with the instrument under his arm he called him back.

"Ebbene?" said Nino, with his hand on the lock of the door.

"I will make you a song to sing to your guitar," said Ercole.

"You?"

"Yes--but without music. Look here, Nino--sit down. What a hurry you
are in. I was young myself, once upon time."

"Once upon a time! Fairy stories--once upon a time there was a king,
and so on." Nino was not to be easily pacified.

"Well, perhaps it is a fairy tale, but it is in the future. I have an
idea."

"Oh, is that all? But it is the first time. I understand."

Listen. Have you read Dante?"

"I know the _Vita Nuova_ by heart, and some of the _Commedia_. But how
the diavolo does Dante enter into this question?"

"And Silvio Pellico, and a little literature?" continued Ercole, not
heeding the comment.

"Yes, after a fashion. And you? Do you know them?"

"Che c'entro io?" cried Ercole, impatiently; "what do I want to know
such things for? But I have heard of them."

"I congratulate you," replied Nino, ironically.

"Have patience. You are no longer an artist. You are a professor of
literature."

"I--a professor of literature? What nonsense are you talking?"

"You are a great stupid donkey, Nino. Supposing I obtain for you an
engagement to read literature with the Contessina di Lira, will you
not be a professor? If you prefer singing--" But Nino comprehended in
a flash the whole scope of the proposal, and threw his arm round
Ercole's neck and embraced him.

"What a mind! Oh, maestro mio, I will die for you! Command me, and
I will do anything for you; I will run errands for you, black
your boots, anything--" he cried in the ecstasy of delight that
overmastered him.

"Piano, piano," objected the maestro, disengaging himself from his
pupil's embrace. "It is not done yet. There is much, much to think of
first." Nino retreated, a little disconcerted at not finding his
enthusiasm returned, but radiant still.

"Calm yourself," said Ercole, smiling. "If you do this thing you must
act a part. You must manage to conceal your occupation entirely. You
must look as solemn as an undertaker and be a real professor. They
will ultimately find you out, and throw you out of the window, and
dismiss me for recommending you. But that is nothing."

"No," said Nino, "that is of no importance." And he ran his fingers
through his hair, and looked delighted.

"You shall know all about it this evening, or to-morrow--"

"This evening, Sor Ercole, this evening, or I shall die. Stay, let me
go to the house with you, when you give your lesson, and wait for you
at the door."

"Pumpkin-head! I will have nothing to do with you," said De Pretis.

"Ah, I will be as quiet as you please. I will be like a lamb, and wait
until this evening."

"If you will really be quiet, I will do what you wish. Come to me
this evening about the Ave Maria--or a little earlier. Yes, come at
twenty-three hours. In October that is about five o'clock, by French
time.

"And I may take the guitar?" said Nino, as he rose to go.

"With all my heart. But do not spoil everything by singing to her, and
betraying yourself."

So Nino thanked the maestro enthusiastically and went away, humming a
tune, as he now and again struck the strings of the guitar that he
carried under his arm, to be sure it was there.

Do not think that because De Pretis suddenly changed his mind, and
even proposed to Nino a plan for making the acquaintance of the young
countess, he is a man to veer about like a weather-cock, nor yet a bad
man, willing to help a boy to do mischief. That is not at all like
Ercole de Pretis. He has since told me he was much astonished at the
way Nino sang the love song at his lesson; and he was instantly
convinced that in order to be a great artist Nino must be in love
always. Besides, the maestro is as liberal in his views of life as he
is conservative in his ideas about government. Nino is everything the
most straight-laced father could wish him to be, and as he was then
within a few months of making his first appearance on the stage, De
Pretis, who understands those things, could very well foresee the
success he has had. Now De Pretis is essentially a man of the people,
and I am not; therefore he saw no objection in the way of a match
between a great singer and a noble damigelia. But had I known what was
going on, I would have stopped the whole affair at that point, for I
am not so weak as Mariuccia seems to think. I do not mean now that
everything is settled I would wish it undone. Heaven forbid! But I
would have stopped it then, for it is a most incongruous thing, a
peasant boy making love to a countess.

Nino, however, has one great fault, and that is his reticence. It is
true, he never does anything he would not like me, or all the world,
to know. But I would like to know, all the same. It is a habit I have
fallen into, from having to watch that old woman, for fear she should
be too extravagant. All that time he never said anything, and I
supposed he had forgotten all about the contessina, for I did not
chance to see De Pretis; and when I did he talked of nothing but
Nino's _début_ and the arrangements that were to be made. So that I
knew nothing about it, though I was pleased to see him reading so
much. He took a sudden fancy for literature, and read when he was not
singing, and even made me borrow Ambrosoli, in several volumes, from a
friend. He read every word of it, and talked very intelligently about
it too. I never thought there was any reason.

But De Pretis thinks differently. He believes that a man may be the
son of a ciociaro--a fellow who ties his legs up in rags and thongs,
and lives on goats' milk in the mountains--and that if he has brains
enough, or talent enough, he may marry any woman he likes without ever
thinking whether she is noble or not. De Pretis must be old-fashioned,
for I am sure I do not think in that way, and I know a hundred times
as much as he--a hundred times.

I suppose it must have been the very day when Nino had been to De
Pretis in the morning that he had instructions to go to the house of
Count von Lira on the morrow; for I remember very well that Nino acted
strangely in the evening, singing and making a noise for a few
minutes, and then burying himself in a book. However that may be, it
was very soon afterwards that he went to the Palazzo Carmandola,
dressed in his best clothes, he tells me, in order to make a
favourable impression on the count. The latter had spoken to De Pretis
about the lessons in literature, to which he attached great
importance, and the maestro had turned the idea to account for his
pupil. But Nino did not expect to see the young contessa on this first
day, or at least he did not hope he would be able to speak to her. And
so it turned out.

The footman, who had a red waistcoat, and opened the door with
authority, as if ready to close it again on the smallest provocation,
did not frighten Nino at all, though he eyed him suspiciously enough,
and after ascertaining his business departed to announce him to the
count. Meanwhile, Nino, who was very much excited at the idea of being
under the same roof with the object of his adoration, set himself down
on one of the carved chests that surrounded the hall. The green baize
door at the other end swung noiselessly on its hinges, closing itself
behind the servant, and the boy was left alone. He might well be
frightened, if not at the imposing appearance of the footman, at
least at the task he had undertaken. But a boy like Nino is afraid of
nothing when he is in love, and he simply looked about him, realising
that he was without doubt in the house of a gran' signor, and from
time to time brushing a particle of dust from his clothes, or trying
to smooth his curly black hair, which he had caused to be clipped a
little for the occasion; a very needless expense, for he looks better
with his hair long.

Before many moments the servant returned, and with some condescension
said that the count awaited him. Nino would rather have faced the
mayor, or the king himself, than Graf von Lira, though he was not at
all frightened--he was only very much excited, and he strove to calm
himself, as he was ushered through the apartments to the small
sitting-room where he was expected.

Graf von Lira, as I have already told you, is a foreigner of rank, who
had been a Prussian colonel, and was wounded in the war of 1866. He is
very tall, very thin, and very grey, with wooden features and a huge
moustache that stands out like the beaks on the colonna rostrata. His
eyes are small and very far apart, and fix themselves with terrible
severity when he speaks, even if he is only saying "good-morning." His
nails are very long and most carefully kept, and though he is so lame
that he could not move a step without the help of his stick, he is
still an upright and military figure. I remember well how he looked,
for he came to see me under peculiar circumstances, many months after
the time of which I am now speaking; and, besides, I had stood next to
him for an hour in the chapel of the choir in St. Peter's.

He speaks Italian intelligibly, but with the strangest German
constructions, and he rolls the letter _r_ curiously in his throat.
But he is an intelligent man for a soldier, though he thinks talent is
a matter of education, and education a matter of drill. He is the most
ceremonious man I ever saw; and Nino says he rose from his chair to
meet him, and would not sit down again until Nino was seated.

"The signore is the professor of Italian literature recommended to
me by Signor De Pretis?" inquired the colonel in iron tones, as he
scrutinised Nino.

"Yes, Signor Conte," was the answer.

"You are a singularly young man to be a professor." Nino trembled.
"And how have you the education obtained in order the obligations and
not-to-be-avoided responsibilities of this worthy-of-all-honour career
to meet?"

"I went to school here, Signor Conte, and the Professor Grandi, in
whose house I always have lived, has taught me everything else I
know."

"What do you know?" inquired the count, so suddenly that Nino was
taken off his guard. He did not know what to answer. The count looked
very stern and pulled his moustaches. "You have not here come,"
he continued, seeing that Nino made no answer, "without knowing
something. Evident is it, that, although a man young be, if he nothing
knows, he cannot a professor be."

"You speak justly, Signor Conte," Nino answered at last, "and I do
know some things. I know the _Commedia_ of Alighieri, and Petrarca,
and I have read the _Gerusalemme Liberata_ with Professor Grandi, and
I can repeat all of the _Vita Nuova_ by heart, and some of the--"

"For the present that is enough," said the count. "If you nothing
better to do have, will you so kind be as to begin?"

"Begin?" said Nino, not understanding.

"Yes, signore; it would unsuitable be if I my daughter to the hands of
a man committed unacquainted with the matter he to teach her proposes.
I desire to be satisfied that you all these things really know."

"Do I understand, Signor Conte, that you wish me to repeat to you some
of the things I know by heart?"

"You have me understood," said the count severely, "I have all the
books bought of which you speak. You will repeat, and I will in the
book follow. Then shall we know each other much better."

Nino was not a little astonished at this mode of procedure, and
wondered how far his memory would serve him in such an unexpected
examination.

"It will take a long time to ascertain in this way--" he began.

"This," said the count coldly, as he opened a volume of Dante, "is the
celestial play by Signor Alighieri. If you anything know, you will it
repeat."

Nino resigned himself and began repeating the first canto of the
"Inferno." When he had finished it he paused.

"Forwards," said the count, without any change of manner.

"More?" inquired Nino.

"March!" said the old gentleman in military tone, and the boy went on
with the second canto.

"Apparently know you the beginning." The count opened the book at
random in another place. "The thirtieth canto of 'Purgatory.' You will
now it repeat."

"Ah!" cried Nino, "that is where Dante meets Beatrice."

"My hitherto not-by-any-means-extensive, but always from-the-conscience-
undertaken reading, reaches not so far. You will it repeat. So shall we
know." Nino passed his hand inside his collar as though to free his
throat, and began again, losing all consciousness of his tormentor in
his own enjoyment of the verse.

"When was the Signor Alighieri born?" inquired Graf von Lira, very
suddenly, as though to catch him.

"May 1265, in Florence," answered the other, as quickly.

"I said when, not where. I know he was in Florence born. When _and_
where died he?" The question was asked fiercely.

"Fourteenth of September 1321, at Ravenna."

"I think really you something of Signor Alighieri know," said the
count, and shut up the volume of the poet and the dictionary of dates
he had been obliged to consult to verify Nino's answers. "We will
proceed."

Nino is fortunately one of those people whose faculties serve them
best at their utmost need, and during the three hours--three blessed
hours--that Graf von Lira kept him under his eye, asking questions and
forcing him to repeat all manner of things, he acquitted himself
fairly well.

"I have now myself satisfied that you something know," said the count,
in his snappish military fashion, and he shut the last book, and never
from that day referred in any manner to Nino's extent of knowledge,
taking it for granted that he had made an exhaustive investigation.
"And now," he continued, "I desire you to engage for the reading of
literature with my daughter, upon the usual terms." Nino was so much
pleased that he almost lost his self-control, but a moment restored
his reflection.

"I am honoured--" he began.

"You are not honoured at all," interrupted the count, coldly. "What
are the usual terms?"

"Three or four francs a lesson," suggested Nino.

"Three or four francs are not the usual terms. I have inquiries made.
Five francs are the usual terms. Three times in the week, at eleven.
You will on the morrow begin. Allow me to offer you some cigars." And
he ended the interview.



CHAPTER IV


In a sunny room overlooking the great courtyard of the Palazzo
Carmandola, Nino sat down to give Hedwig von Lira her first lesson in
Italian literature. He had not the remotest idea what the lesson would
be like, for in spite of the tolerably wide acquaintance with the
subject which he owed to my care and my efforts to make a scholar of
him, he knew nothing about teaching. Nevertheless, as his pupil spoke
the language fluently, though with the occasional use of words of low
origin, like all foreigners who have grown up in Rome and have learned
to speak from their servants, he anticipated little difficulty. He
felt quite sure of being able to interpret the hard places, and he had
learned from me to know the best and finest passages in a number of
authors.

But imagine the feelings of a boy of twenty, perfectly in love,
without having the smallest right to be, suddenly placed by the side
of the object of his adoration, and told to teach her all he
knows--with her father in the next room and the door open between! I
have always thought it was a proof of Nino's determined character,
that he should have got over this first lesson without accident.

Hedwig von Lira, the contessina, as we always call her, is just Nino's
age, but she seemed much younger, as the children of the North always
do. I have told you what she was like to look at, and you will not
wonder that I called her a statue. She looked as cold as a statue,
just as I said, and so I should hardly describe her as beautiful. But
then I am not a sculptor, nor do I know anything about those arts,
though I can tell a good work when I see it. I do not wish to appear
prejudiced, and so I will not say anything more about it. I like life
in living things, and sculptors may, if it please them, adore straight
noses, and level brows, and mouths that no one could possibly eat
with. I do not care in the least, and if you say that I once thought
differently, I answer that I do not wish to change your opinion, but
that I will change my own as often as I please. Moreover, if you say
that the contessina did not act like a statue in the sequel, I will
argue that if you put marble in the fire it will take longer to heat
and longer to cool than clay; only clay is made to be put into the
fire, and marble is not. Is not that a cunning answer?

The contessina is a foreigner in every way, although she was born
under our sun. They have all sorts of talents, these people, but so
little ingenuity in using them that they never accomplish anything. It
seems to amuse them to learn to do a great many things, although they
must know from the beginning that they can never excel in any one of
them. I dare say the contessina plays on the piano very creditably,
for even Nino says she plays well; but is it of any use to her?

Nino very soon found out that she meant to read literature very
seriously, and, what is more, she meant to read it in her own way. She
was as different from her father as possible in everything else, but
in a despotic determination to do exactly as she liked, she resembled
him. Nino was glad that he was not called upon to use his own
judgment, and there he sat, content to look at her, twisting his hands
together below the table to concentrate his attention and master
himself; and he read just what she told him to read, expounding the
words and phrases she could not understand. I dare say that with his
hair well brushed, and his best coat, and his eyes on the book, he
looked as proper as you please. But if the high-born young lady had
returned the glances he could not refrain from bending upon her now
and then, she would have seen a lover, if she could see at all.

She did not see. The haughty Prussian damsel hardly noticed the man,
for she was absorbed by the professor. Her small ears were all
attention, and her slender fingers made notes with a common pencil, so
that Nino wondered at the contrast between the dazzling white hand and
the smooth, black, varnished instrument of writing. He took no account
of time that day, and was startled by the sound of the mid-day gun and
the angry clashing of the bells. The contessina looked up suddenly and
met his eyes, but it was the boy that blushed.

"Would you mind finishing the canto?" she asked. "There are only ten
lines more--" Mind! Nino flushed with pleasure.

"Anzi--by all means," he cried. "My time is yours, signorina."

When they had done he rose, and his face was sad and pale again. He
hated to go, but he was only a teacher, and at his first lesson, too.
She also rose, and waited for him to leave the room. He could not hold
his tongue.

"Signorina--" he stammered, and checked himself. She looked at him, to
listen, but his heart smote him when he had thus arrested her attention.
What could he say as he stood bowing? It was sufficiently stupid, what
he said.

"I shall have the honour of returning to-morrow, the day after
to-morrow, I would say."

"Yes," said she, "I believe that is the arrangement. Good-morning,
Signor Professore." The title of professor rang strangely in his ear.
Was there the slightest tinge of irony in her voice? Was she laughing
at his boyish looks? Ugh! the thought tingled. He bowed himself out.

That was the first lesson, and the second was like it, I suppose, and
a great many others about which I knew nothing, for I was always
occupied in the middle of the day, and did not ask where he went. It
seemed to me that he was becoming a great dandy, but as he never asked
me for any money from the day he learnt to copy music I never put any
questions. He certainly had a new coat before Christmas, and gloves,
and very nice boots, that made me smile when I thought of the day when
he arrived, with only one shoe--and it had a hole in it as big as half
his foot. But now he grew to be so careful of his appearance that
Mariuccia began to call him the "signorino." De Pretis said he was
making great progress, and so I was contented, though I always thought
it was a sacrifice for him to be a singer.

Of course, as he went three times a week to the Palazzo Carmandola, he
began to be used to the society of the contessina. I never understood
how he succeeded in keeping up the comedy of being a professor. A real
Roman would have discovered him in a week. But foreigners are
different. If they are satisfied they pay their money and ask no
questions. Besides, he studied all the time, saying that if he ever
lost his voice he would turn man of letters; which sounded so prudent
that I had nothing to say. Once, we were walking in the Corso, and the
contessina with her father passed in the carriage. Nino raised his
hat, but they did not see him, for there is always a crowd in the
Corso.

"Tell me," he cried, excitedly, as they went by, "is it not true that
she is beautiful?"

"A piece of marble, my son," said I, suspecting nothing; and I turned
into a tobacconist's to buy a cigar.

One day--Nino says it was in November--the contessina began asking him
questions about the Pantheon, it was in the middle of the lesson, and
he wondered at her stopping to talk. But you may imagine whether he
was glad or not to have an opportunity of speaking about something
besides Dante.

"Yes, signorina," he answered, "Professor Grandi says it was built for
public baths; but, of course, we all think it was a temple."

"Were you ever there at night?" asked she, indifferently, and the sun
through the window so played with her golden hair that Nino wondered
how she could ever think of night at all.

"At night, signorina? No indeed! What should I go there at night to
do, in the dark! I was never there at night."

"I will go there at night," she said briefly.

"Ah--you would have it lit up with torches, as they do the Coliseum?"

"No. Is there no moon in Italy, professore?"

"The moon, there is. But there is such a little hole in the top of the
Rotonda"--that is our Roman name for the Pantheon--"that it would be
very dark."

"Precisely," said she. "I will go there at night, and see the moon
shining through the hole in the dome."

"Eh," cried Nino laughing, "you will see the moon better outside in
the piazza. Why should you go inside, where you can see so little of
it?"

"I will go," replied the contessina. "The Italians have no sense of
the beautiful--the mysterious." Her eyes grew dreamy as she tried to
call up the picture she had never seen.

"Perhaps," said Nino humbly. "But," he added, suddenly brightening at
the thought, "it is very easy, if you would like to go. I will arrange
it. Will you allow me?"

"Yes, arrange it. Let us go on with our lesson."

I would like to tell you all about it; how Nino saw the sacristan
of the Pantheon that evening, and ascertained from his little
almanac--which has all kinds of wonderful astrological predictions, as
well as the calendar--when it would be full moon. And perhaps what
Nino said to the sacristan, and what the sacristan said to Nino, might
be amusing. I am very fond of these little things, and fond of talking
too. For since it is talking that distinguishes us from other animals,
I do not see why I should not make the most of it. But you who are
listening to me have seen very little of the Contessina Hedwig as yet,
and unless I quickly tell you more, you will wonder how all the
curious things that happened to her could possibly have grown out of
the attempt of a little singer like Nino to make her acquaintance.
Well, Nino is a great singer now, of course, but he was little once;
and when he palmed himself off on the old count for an Italian master
without my knowledge, nobody had ever heard of him at all.

Therefore since I must satisfy your curiosity before anything else,
and not dwell too long on the details--the dear, commonplace
details--I will simply say that Nino succeeded without difficulty in
arranging with the sacristan of the Pantheon to allow a party of
foreigners to visit the building at the full moon, at midnight. I have
no doubt he even expended a franc with the little man, who is very old
and dirty, and keeps chickens in the vestibule--but no details!

Oh the appointed night Nino, wrapped in that old cloak of mine (which
is very warm, though it is threadbare), accompanied the party to the
temple, or church, or whatever you like to call it. The party were
simply the count and his daughter, an Austrian gentleman of their
acquaintance, and the dear baroness--that sympathetic woman who broke
so many hearts and cared not at all for the chatter of the people.
Everyone has seen her, with her slim, graceful ways, and her face that
was like a mulatto peach for darkness and fineness, and her dark eyes
and tiger-lily look. They say she lived entirely on sweetmeats and
coffee, and it is no wonder she was so sweet and so dark. She called
me "count"--which is very foolish now, but if I were going to fall in
love, I would have loved her. I would not love a statue. As for the
Austrian gentleman, it is not of any importance to describe him.

These four people Nino conducted to the little entrance at the back of
the Pantheon, and the sacristan struck a light to show them the way to
the door of the church. Then he put out his taper, and let them do as
they pleased.

Conceive if you can the darkness of Egypt, the darkness that can be
felt, impaled and stabbed through its whole thickness by one mighty
moonbeam, clear and clean and cold, from the top to the bottom. All
around, in the circle of the outer black, lie the great dead in their
tombs, whispering to each other of deeds that shook the world;
whispering in a language all their own as yet--the language of the
life to come--the language of a stillness so dread and deep that the
very silence clashes against it, and makes dull, muffled beatings
in ears that strain to catch the dead men's talk: the shadow of
immortality falling through the shadow of death, and bursting back
upon its heavenward course from the depth of the abyss; climbing
again upon its silver self to the sky above, leaving behind the horror
of the deep.

So in that lonely place at midnight falls the moon upon the floor, and
through the mystic shaft of rays ascend and descend the souls of the
dead. Hedwig stood out alone upon the white circle on the pavement
beneath the dome, and looked up as though she could see the angels
coming and going. And, as she looked, the heavy lace veil that covered
her head fell back softly, as though a spirit wooed her and would fain
look on something fairer than he, and purer. The whiteness clung to
her face, and each separate wave of hair was like spun silver. And she
looked steadfastly up. For a moment she stood, and the hushed air
trembled about her. Then the silence caught the tremor, and quivered,
and a thrill of sound hovered and spread its wings, and sailed forth
from the night.

"Spirto gentil dei sogni miei--"

Ah, Signorina Edvigia, you know that voice now, but you did not know
it then. How your heart stopped, and beat, and stopped again, when you
first heard that man sing out his whole heartful--you in the light and
he in the dark! And his soul shot out to you upon the sounds, and
died fitfully, as the magic notes dashed their soft wings against
the vaulted roof above you, and took new life again and throbbed
heavenward in broad, passionate waves, till your breath came thick and
your blood ran fiercely--ay, even your cold northern blood--in very
triumph that a voice could so move you. A voice in the dark. For a
full minute after it ceased you stood there, and the others, wherever
they might be in the shadow, scarcely breathed.

That was how Hedwig first heard Nino sing. When at last she recovered
herself enough to ask aloud the name of the singer, Nino had moved
quite close to her.

"It is a relation of mine, signorina, a young fellow who is going to
be an artist. I asked him as a favour to come here and sing to you
to-night. I thought it might please you."

"A relation of yours!" exclaimed the contessina. And the others
approached so that they all made a group in the disc of moonlight.
"Just think, my dear baroness, this wonderful voice is a relation of
Signor Cardegna, my excellent Italian master!" There was a little
murmur of admiration; then the old count spoke.

"Signore," said he, rolling in his gutturals, "it is my duty to very
much thank you. You will now, if you please, me the honour do, me to
your all-the-talents-possible-possessing relation to present." Nino
had foreseen the contingency and disappeared into the dark. Presently
he returned.

"I am so sorry, Signor Conte," he said. "The sacristan tells me that
when my cousin had finished he hurried away, saying he was afraid of
taking some ill if he remained here where it is so damp. I will tell
him how much you appreciated him."

"Curious is it," remarked the count. "I heard him not going off."

"He stood in the doorway of the sacristy, by the high altar, Signor
Conte."

"In that case is it different."

"I am sorry," said Nino. "The signorina was so unkind as to say,
lately, that we Italians have no sense of the beautiful, the
mysterious--"

"I take it back," said Hedwig, gravely, still standing in the
moonlight. "Your cousin has a very great power over the beautiful."

"And the mysterious," added the baroness, who had not spoken, "for his
departure without showing himself has left me the impression of a
sweet dream. Give me your arm, Professore Cardegna. I will not stay
here any longer, now that the dream is over." Nino sprang to her side
politely, though, to tell the truth, she did not attract him at first
sight. He freed one arm from the old cloak, and reflected that she
could not tell in the dark how very shabby it was.

"You give lessons to the Signora von Lira?" she asked, leading him
quickly away from the party.

"Yes--in Italian literature, signora."

"Ah--she tells me great things of you. Could you not spare me an hour
or two in the week, professore?"

Here was a new complication. Nino had certainly not contemplated
setting up for an Italian teacher to all the world when he undertook
to give lessons to Hedwig.

"Signora--" he began, in a protesting voice.

"You will do it to oblige me, I am sure," she said, eagerly, and her
slight hand just pressed upon his arm a little. Nino had found time to
reflect that this lady was intimate with Hedwig, and that he might
possibly gain an opportunity of seeing the girl he loved if he
accepted the offer.

"Whenever it pleases you, signora," he said at length.

"Can you come to me to-morrow at eleven?" she asked.

"At twelve, if you please, signora, or half past. Eleven is the
contessina's hour to-morrow."

"At half-past twelve, then, to-morrow," said she, and she gave him her
address, as they went out into the street. "Stop," she added, "where
do you live?"

"Number twenty-seven Santa Catarina dei Funari," he answered,
wondering why she asked. The rest of the party came out, and Nino
bowed to the ground, as he bid the contessina good-night.

He was glad to be free of that pressure on his arm, and he was glad to
be alone, to wander through the streets under the moonlight, and to
think over what he had done.

"There is no risk of my being discovered," he said to himself,
confidently. "The story of the near relation was well imagined, and
besides, it is true. Am I not my own nearest relation? I certainly
have no others that I know of. And this baroness--what can she want of
me? She speaks Italian like a Spanish cow, and indeed she needs a
professor badly enough. But why should she take a fancy for me as a
teacher. Ah! those eyes! Not the baroness'. Edvigia--Edvigia di
Lira--Edvigia Ca--Cardegna! Why not?" He stopped to think, and looked
long at the moonbeams playing on the waters of the fountain. "Why not?
But the baroness--may the diavolo fly away with her! What should I
do--I indeed! with a pack of baronesses? I will go to bed and
dream--not of a baroness! Macchè, never a baroness in my dreams, with
eyes like a snake, and who cannot speak three words properly in the
only language under the sun worth speaking! Not I--I will dream of
Edvigia di Lira--she is the spirit of my dreams. Spirto gentil--" and
away he went, humming the air from the "Favorita" in the top of his
head, as is his wont.

The next day the contessina could talk of nothing during her lesson
but the unknown singer who had made the night so beautiful for her,
and Nino flushed red under his dark skin and ran his fingers wildly
through his curly hair, with pleasure. But he set his square jaw, that
means so much, and explained to his pupil how hard it would be for her
to hear him again. For his friend, he said, was soon to make his
appearance on the stage, and of course he could not be heard singing
before that. And as the young lady insisted, Nino grew silent, and
remarked that the lesson was not progressing. Thereupon Hedwig
blushed--the first time he had ever seen her blush--and did not
approach the subject again.

After that he went to the house of the baroness, where he was
evidently expected, for the servant asked his name and immediately
ushered him into her presence. She was one of those lithe, dark women
of good race, that are to be met with all over the world, and she has
broken many a heart. But she was not like a snake at all, as Nino had
thought at first. She was simply a very fine lady who did exactly what
she pleased, and if she did not always act rightly, yet I think she
rarely acted unkindly. After all, the buon Dio has not made us all
paragons of domestic virtue. Men break their hearts for so very
little, and, unless they are ruined, they melt the pieces at the next
flame and join them together again like bits of sealing wax.

The baroness sat before a piano in a boudoir, where there was not very
much light. Every part of the room was crowded with fans, ferns,
palms, Oriental carpets and cushions, books, porcelain, majolica, and
pictures. You could hardly move without touching some ornament, and
the heavy curtains softened the sunshine, and a small open fire of
wood helped the warmth. There was also an odour of Russian tobacco.
The baroness smiled and turned on the piano seat.

"Ah, professore! You come just in time," said she. "I am trying to
sing such a pretty song to myself, and I cannot pronounce the words.
Come and teach me." Nino contrasted the whole air of this luxurious
retreat with the prim, soldierly order that reigned in the count's
establishment.

"Indeed, signora, I come to teach you whatever I can. Here I am. I
cannot sing, but I will stand beside you and prompt the words."

Nino is not a shy boy at all, and he assumed the duties required of
him immediately. He stood by her side, and she just nodded and began
to sing a little song that stood on the desk of the piano. She did not
sing out of tune, but she made wrong notes and pronounced horribly.

"Pronounce the words for me," she repeated every now and then.

"But pronouncing in singing is different from speaking," he objected
at last, and, fairly forgetting himself and losing patience, he began
softly to sing the words over. Little by little, as the song pleased
him, he lost all memory of where he was, and stood beside her singing
just as he would have done to De Pretis, from the sheet, with all
the accuracy and skill that were in him. At the end, he suddenly
remembered how foolish he was. But, after all, he had not sung to the
power of his voice, and she might not recognise in him the singer of
last night. The baroness looked up with a light laugh.

"I have found you out," she cried, clapping her hands. "I have found
you out!"

"What, signora?"

"You are the tenor of the Pantheon--that is all. I knew it. Are you
so sorry that I have found you out?" she asked, for Nino turned very
white, and his eyes flashed at the thought of the folly he had
committed.



CHAPTER V


Nino was thoroughly frightened, for he knew that discovery portended
the loss of everything most dear to him. No more lessons with Hedwig,
no more parties to the Pantheon, no more peace, no more anything. He
wrung his fingers together and breathed hard.

"Ah, signora!" he found voice to exclaim, "I am sure you cannot
believe it possible--"

"Why not, Signor Cardegna?" asked the baroness, looking up at him from
under her half-closed lids with a mocking glance. "Why not? Did you
not tell me where you lived? And does not the whole neighbourhood know
that you are no other than Giovanni Cardegna, commonly called Nino,
who is to make his _début_ in the Carnival season?"

"Dio mio!" ejaculated Nino in a hoarse voice, realising that he was
entirely found out, and that nothing could save him. He paced the room
in an agony of despair, and his square face was as white as a sheet.
The baroness sat watching him with a smile on her lips, amused at the
tempest she had created, and pretending to know much more than she
did. She thought it not impossible that Nino, who was certainly poor,
might be supporting himself by teaching Italian while studying for the
stage, and she inwardly admired his sense and twofold talent if that
were really the case. But she was willing to torment him a little,
seeing that she had the power.

"Signor Cardegna"--she called him in her soft voice. He turned
quickly, and stood facing her, his arms crossed.

"You look like Napoleon at Waterloo, when you stand like that," she
laughed. He made no answer, waiting to see what she would do with her
victory. "It seems that you are sorry I have discovered you," she
added presently, looking down at her hands.

"Is that all?" he said, with a bitter sneer on his pale young face.

"Then, since you are sorry, you must have a reason for concealment,"
she went on, as though reflecting on the situation. It was deftly
done, and Nino took heart.

"Signora," he said, in a trembling voice, "it is natural that a man
should wish to live. I give lessons now, until I have appeared in
public, to support myself."

"Ah, I begin to understand," said the baroness. In reality she began
to doubt, reflecting that if this were the whole truth Nino would be
too proud--or any other Italian--to say it so plainly. She was subtle,
the baroness!

"And do you suppose," he continued, "that if once the Conte de Lira
had an idea that I was to be a public singer he would employ me as a
teacher for his daughter?"

"No, but others might," she objected.

"But not the count--" Nino bit his lip, fearing he had betrayed
himself.

"Nor the contessina," laughed the baroness, completing the sentence.
He saw at a glance what she suspected, and instead of keeping cool
grew angry.

"I came here, Signora Baronessa, not to be cross-examined, but to
teach you Italian. Since you do not desire to study, I will say
good-morning." He took his hat and moved proudly to the door.

"Come here," she said, not raising her voice, but still commanding. He
turned, hesitated, and came back. He thought her voice was changed.
She rose and swept her silken morning-gown between the chairs and
tables till she reached a deep divan on the other side of the room.
There she sat down.

"Come and sit beside me," she said, kindly, and he obeyed in silence.

"Do you know what would have happened," she continued, when he was
seated, "if you had left me just now? I would have gone to the Graf
von Lira and told him that you were not a fit person to teach his
daughter; that you are a singer, and not a professor at all; and that
you have assumed this disguise for the sake of seeing his daughter."
But I do not believe that she would have done it.

"That would have been a betrayal," said Nino fiercely, looking away
from her. She laughed lightly.

"Is it not natural," she asked, "that I should make inquiries about my
Italian teacher before I begin lessons with him? And if I find he is
not what he pretends to be should I not warn my intimate friends?" She
spoke so reasonably that he was fain to acknowledge that she was
right.

"It is just," he said, sullenly. "But you have been very quick to make
your inquiries, as you call them."

"The time was short, since you were to come this morning."

"That is true," he answered. He moved uneasily. "And now, signora,
will you be kind enough to tell me what you intend to do with me!"

"Certainly, since you are more reasonable. You see I treat you
altogether as an artist, and not at all as an Italian master. A great
artist may idle away a morning in a woman's boudoir; a simple teacher
of languages must be more industrious."

"But I am not a great artist," said Nino, whose vanity--we all have
it--began to flutter a little.

"You will be one before long, and one of the greatest. You are a boy
yet, my little tenor," said she, looking at him with her dark eyes,
"and I might almost be your mother. How old are you, Signor Nino?"

"I was twenty on my last birthday," he answered, blushing.

"You see! I am thirty--at least," she added, with a short laugh.

"Well, signora, what of that?" said Nino, half amused. "I wish I were
thirty myself."

"I am glad you are not," said she. "Now listen. You are completely in
my power, do you understand? Yes. And you are apparently very much in
love with my young friend, the Contessina di Lira"--Nino sprang to his
feet, his face white again, but with rage this time.

"Signora," he cried, "this is too much! It is insufferable!
Good-morning," and he made as though he would go.

"Very well," said the baroness; "then I will go to the Graf and
explain who you are. Ah--you are calm again in a moment? Sit down. Now
I have discovered you, and I have a right to you, do you see? It is
fortunate for you that I like you."

"You! You like me? In truth, you act as though you did! Besides, you
are a stranger, Signora Baronessa, and a great lady. I never saw you
till yesterday." But he resumed his seat.

"Good," said she. "Is not the Signorina Edvigia a great lady, and was
there never a day when she was a stranger too?"

"I do not understand your caprices, signora. In fine, what do you want
of me?"

"It is not necessary that you should understand me," answered the
dark-eyed baroness. "Do you think I would hurt you--or rather your
voice?"

"I do not know."

"You know very well that I would not; and as for my caprices, as you
call them, do you think it is a caprice to love music? No, of course
not. And who loves music loves musicians; at least," she added, with a
most enchanting smile, "enough to wish to have them near one. That is
all. I want you to come here often and sing to me. Will you come and
sing to me, my little tenor?"

Nino would not have been human had he not felt the flattery through
the sting. And I always say that singers are the vainest kind of
people.

"It is very like singing in a cage," he said, in protest. Nevertheless,
he knew he must submit; for, however narrow his experience might be,
this woman's smile and winning grace, even when she said the hardest
things, told him that she would have her own way. He had the sense to
understand, too, that whatever her plans might be, their object was to
bring him near to herself, a reflection which was extremely soothing
to his vanity.

"If you will come and sing to me--only to me, of course, for I would
not ask you to compromise your _début_--but if you will come and sing
to me, we shall be very good friends. Does it seem to you such a
terrible penance to sing to me in my solitude?"

"It is never a penance to sing," said Nino simply. A shade of
annoyance crossed the baroness' face.

"Provided," she said, "it entails nothing. Well, we will not talk
about the terms."

They say women sometimes fall in love with a voice: _vox et proeterea
nihil_, as the poet has it. I do not know whether that is what
happened to the baroness at first, but it has always seemed strange to
me that she should have given herself so much trouble to secure Nino,
unless she had a very strong fancy for him. I, for my part, think that
when a lady of her condition takes such a sudden caprice into her
head, she thinks it necessary to maltreat the poor man a little at
first, just to satisfy her conscience, and to be able to say later
that she did not encourage him. I have had some experience, as
everybody is aware, and so I may speak boldly. On the other hand, a
man like Nino, when he is in love, is absolutely blind to other women.
There is only one idea in his soul that has any life, and everyone
outside that idea is only so much landscape; they are no better for
him--the other women--than a museum of wax dolls.

The baroness, as you have seen, had Nino in her power, and there was
nothing for it but submission; he came and went at her bidding, and
often she would send for him when he least expected it. He would do as
she commanded, somewhat sullenly and with a bad grace, but obediently,
for all that; she had his destiny in her hands, and could in a moment
frustrate all his hopes. But, of course, she knew that if she betrayed
him to the count, Nino would be lost to her also, since he came to her
only in order to maintain his relations with Hedwig.

Meanwhile the blue-eyed maiden of the North waxed fitful. Sometimes
two or three lessons would pass in severe study. Nino, who always took
care to know the passages they were reading, so that he might look at
her instead of at his book, had instituted an arrangement by which
they sat opposite each other at a small table. He would watch her
every movement and look, and carry away a series of photographs of
her,--a whole row, like the little books of Roman views they sell in
the streets, strung together on a strip of paper,--and these views of
her lasted with him for two whole days, until he saw her again. But
sometimes he would catch a glimpse of her in the interval driving with
her father.

There were other days when Hedwig could not be induced to study, but
would overwhelm Nino with questions about his wonderful cousin who
sang, so that he longed with his whole soul to tell her it was he
himself who had sung. She saw his reluctance to speak about it, and
she blushed when she mentioned the night at the Pantheon; but for her
life she could not help talking of the pleasure she had had. Her
blushes seemed like the promise of spring roses to her lover, who
drank of the air of her presence till that subtle ether ran like fire
through his veins. He was nothing to her, he could see; but the singer
of the Pantheon engrossed her thoughts and brought the hot blood to
her cheek. The beam of moonlight had pierced the soft virgin darkness
of her sleeping soul, and found a heart so cold and spotless that even
a moon ray was warm by comparison. And the voice that sang "Spirto
gentil dei sogni miei" had itself become by memory the gentle spirit
of her own dreams. She is so full of imagination, this statue of
Nino's, that she heard the notes echoing after her by day and night,
till she thought she must go mad unless she could hear the reality
again. As the great solemn statue of Egyptian Memnon murmurs sweet,
soft sounds to its mighty self at sunrise, a musical whisper in the
desert, so the pure white marble of Nino's living statue vibrated with
strange harmonies all the day long.

One night, as Nino walked homeward with De Pretis, who had come to
supper with us, he induced the maestro to go out of his way at least
half a mile, to pass the Palazzo Carmandola. It was a still night,
not over-cold for December, and there were neither stars nor moon.
As they passed the great house Nino saw a light in Hedwig's
sitting-room--the room where he gave her the lessons. It was late,
and she must be alone. On a sudden he stopped.

"What is the matter?" asked De Pretis.

For all answer, Nino, standing in the dark street below, lifted up his
voice and sang the first notes of the air he always associated with
his beautiful contessina. Before he had sung a dozen bars the window
opened, and the girl's figure could be seen, black against the light
within. He went on for a few notes, and then ceased suddenly.

"Let us go," he said in a low voice to Ercole; and they went away,
leaving the contessina listening in the stillness to the echo of their
feet. A Roman girl would not have done that; she would have sat
quietly inside, and never have shown herself. But foreigners are so
impulsive!

Nino never heard the last of those few notes, any more than the
contessina, literally speaking, ever heard the end of the song.

"Your cousin, about whom you make so much mystery, passed under my
window last night," said the young lady the next day, with the usual
display of carnation in her cheeks at the mention of him.

"Indeed, signorina?" said Nino, calmly, for he expected the remark.
"And since you have never seen him, pray how did you know it was he?"

"How should one know?" she asked, scornfully. "There are not two such
voices as his in Italy. He sang."

"He sang?" cried Nino, with an affectation of alarm. "I must tell the
maestro not to let him sing in the open air; he will lose his voice."

"Who is his master?" asked Hedwig, suddenly.

"I cannot remember the name just now," said Nino, looking away. "But
I will find out, if you wish." He was afraid of putting De Pretis to
any inconvenience by saying that the young singer was his pupil.
"However," he continued, "you will hear him sing as often as you
please, after he makes his _début_ next month." He sighed when he
thought that it would all so soon be over. For how could he disguise
himself any longer, when he should be singing in public every night?
But Hedwig clapped her hands.

"So soon?" she cried. "Then there will be an end of the mystery."

"Yes," said Nino, gravely "there will be an end of the mystery."

"At least you can tell me his name, now that we shall all know it."

"Oh, his name--his name is Cardegna, like mine. He is my cousin, you
know." And they went on with the lesson. But something of the kind
occurred almost every time he came, so that he felt quite sure that,
however indifferent he might be in her eyes, the singer, the Nino of
whom she knew nothing, interested her deeply.

Meanwhile he was obliged to go very often to the baroness' scented
boudoir, which smelled of incense and other Eastern perfumes, whenever
it did not smell of cigarettes; and there he sang little songs, and
submitted patiently to her demands for more and more music. She would
sit by the piano and watch him as he sang, wondering whether he were
handsome or ugly, with his square face and broad throat and the black
circles round his eyes. He had a fascination for her, as being
something utterly new to her.

One day she stood and looked over the music as he sang, almost
touching him, and his hair was so curly and soft to look at that she
was seized with a desire to stroke it, as Mariuccia strokes the old
gray cat for hours together. The action was quite involuntary, and her
fingers rested only a moment on his head.

"It is so curly," she said, half playfully, half apologetically. But
Nino started as though he had been stung, and his dark face grew pale.
A girl could not have seemed more hurt at a strange man's touch.

"Signora!" he cried, springing to his feet. The baroness, who is as
dark as he, blushed almost red, partly because she was angry, and
partly because she was ashamed.

"What a boy you are!" she said, carelessly enough, and turned away to
the window, pushing back one heavy curtain with her delicate hand, as
if she would look out.

"Pardon me, signora, I am not a boy," said Nino, speaking to the back
of her head as he stood behind her. "It is time we understood each
other better. I love like a man and I hate like a man. I love someone
very, much."

"Fortunate contessina!" laughed the baroness, mockingly, without
turning round.

"It does not concern you, signora, to know whom I love, nor, if you
know, to speak of her. I ask you a simple question. If you loved a man
with your whole soul and heart, would you allow another man to stand
beside you and stroke your hair, and say it was curly?" The baroness
burst out laughing. "Do not laugh," he continued. "Remember that I am
in your power only so long as it pleases me to submit to you. Do not
abuse your advantage, or I will be capable of creating for myself
situations quite as satisfactory as that of Italian master to the
Signorina di Lira."

"What do you mean?" she asked, turning suddenly upon him. "I suppose
you would tell me that you will make advantages for yourself which
you will abuse against me? What do you mean?"

"I do not mean that. I mean only that I may not wish to give lessons
to the contessina much longer." By this time the baroness had
recovered her equanimity; and as she would have been sorry to lose
Nino, who was a source of infinite pleasure and amusement to her, she
decided to pacify him instead of teasing him any more.

"Is it not very foolish for us to quarrel about your curly hair?" said
she. "We have been such good friends always." It might have been three
weeks, her "always."

"I think it is," answered Nino, gravely. "But do not stroke my hair
again, Signora Baronessa, or I shall be angry." He was quite serious,
if you believe it, though he was only twenty. He forthwith sat down to
the piano again and sang on. The baroness sat very silent and scarcely
looked at him; but she held her hands clasped on her knee, and seemed
to be thinking. After a time Nino stopped singing and sat silent also,
absently turning over the sheets of music. It was warm in the room,
and the sounds from the street were muffled and far away.

"Signor Nino," said the lady at last, in a different voice, "I am
married."

"Yes, signora," he replied, wondering what would come next.

"It would be very foolish of me to care for you."

"It would also be very wicked," he said, calmly; for he is well
grounded in religion. The baroness stared at him in some surprise, but
seeing he was perfectly serious, she went on.

"Precisely, as you say, very wicked. That being the case, I have
decided not to care for you any more--I mean not to care for you at
all. I have made up my mind to be your friend."

"I am much obliged to your ladyship," he answered, without moving a
muscle. For you see, he did not believe her.

"Now tell me, then, Signor Nino, are you in earnest in what you are
doing? Do you really set your heart on doing this thing?"

"What?" asked Nino, annoyed at the persistence of the woman.

"Why need you be afraid to understand me? Can you not forgive me? Can
you not believe in me that I will be your friend? I have always
dreamed of being the friend of a great artist. Let me be yours, and
believe me, the thing you have in your heart shall be done."

"I would like to hope so," he said. But he smiled incredulously. "I
can only say that if you can accomplish what it is in my heart to do,
I will go through fire and water at your bidding; and if you are not
mocking me, I am very grateful for the offer. But if you please,
signora, we will not speak any more of this at present. I may be a
great artist some day. Sometimes I feel sure that I shall. But now I
am simply Giovanni Cardegna, teacher of literature; and the highest
favour you can confer on me is not to deprive me of my means of
support by revealing to the Conte di Lira my other occupation. I may
fail hopelessly at the outset of my artistic career, and in that case
I shall certainly remain a teacher of language."

"Very well," said the baroness, in a subdued voice; for, in spite of
her will and wilfulness, this square-faced boy of mine was more than a
match for her. "Very well, you will believe me another day, and now I
will ask you to go, for I am tired."

I cannot be interrupted by your silly questions about the exact way in
which things happened. I must tell this story in my own way or not at
all; and I am sacrificing a great deal to your taste in cutting out
all the little things that I really most enjoy telling. Whether you
are astonished at the conduct of the baroness, after a three weeks'
acquaintance, or not, I care not a fig. It is just the way it
happened, and I daresay she was really madly in love with Nino. If I
had been Nino I should have been in love with her. But I would like
you to admire my boy's audacity, and to review the situation, before I
go on to speak of that important event in his life, his first
appearance on the boards of the opera. At the time of his _début_ he
was still disguised as a teacher of Italian to the young contessina.
She thought him interesting and intelligent, but that was all. Her
thoughts were entirely, though secretly, engrossed by the mysterious
singer whom she had heard twice but had not seen as far as she knew.
Nino, on the other hand, loved her to desperation, and would have
acted like a madman had he been deprived of his privilege of speaking
to her three times a week. He loved her with the same earnest
determination to win her that he had shown for years in the study of
his art, and with all the rest of his nature besides, which is saying
much--not to mention his soul, of which he thinks a great deal more
than I do.

Besides this, the baroness had apparently fallen in love with him, had
made him her intimate, and flattered him in a way to turn his head.
Then she seemed to have thought better of her passion, and had
promised him her friendship,--a promise which he himself considered of
no importance whatever. As for the old Conte de Lira, he read the
German newspapers, and cared for none of these things. De Pretis took
an extra pinch of his good snuff, when he thought that his liberal
ideas might yet be realised, and a man from the people marry a great
lady by fairly winning her. Do not, after this, complain that I have
left you in the dark, or that you do not know how it happened. It is
as clear as water, and it was about four months from the time Nino saw
Hedwig in St. Peter's to the time when he first sang in public.

Christmas passed by,--thank heaven the municipality has driven away
those most detestable pifferari who played on their discordant
bagpipes at every corner for a fortnight, and nearly drove me
erazy,--and the Befana, as we call the Epiphany in Rome, was gone,
with its gay racket, and the night fair in the Piazza Navona, and the
days for Nino's first appearance drew near. I never knew anything
about the business arrangements for the _début_, since De Pretis
settled all that with Jacovacci, the impresario; but I know that there
were many rehearsals, and that I was obliged to stand security to the
theatrical tailor, together with De Pretis, in order that Nino might
have his dress made. As for the cowl in the last act, De Pretis has a
brother who is a monk, and between them they put together a very
decent friar's costume; and Mariuccia had a good piece of rope which
Nino used for a girdle.

"What does it matter?" he said, with much good sense. "For if I sing
well, they will not look at my monk's hood; and if I sing badly, I may
be dressed like the Holy Father and they will hiss me just the same.
But in the beginning I must look like a courtier, and be dressed like
one."

"I suppose so," said I; "but I wish you had taken to philosophy."



CHAPTER VI


I shall never forget the day of Nino's first appearance. You may
imagine whether we were in a state of excitement or not, after all
these years of studying and waiting. There was much more trouble and
worry than if he had written a great book, and was just to publish it,
and receive the homage of all the learning and talent in Europe; which
is the kind of _début_ I had hoped he would make in life, instead
of putting on a foolish dress and stamping about on a stage, and
squalling love songs to a packed house, making pantomime with his
hands, and altogether behaving like an idiot,--a crowd of people ready
to hiss him at the slightest indication of weakness, or to carry him
on their shoulders if they fancied his voice to their taste.

No wonder Nino was sad and depressed all day, and when he tried his
voice in the afternoon thought it was less clear than usual, and
stared at himself in the looking-glass, wondering whether he were not
too ugly altogether, as I always told him. To tell the truth, he was
not so ugly as he had been; for the months with the contessina had
refined him singularly, and perhaps he had caught a certain grace of
manner from the baroness. He had grown more silent too, and seemed
always preoccupied, as well he might be: but he had concealed his
affair with the Lira family from me until that day, and I supposed him
anxious about his appearance.

Early in the morning came De Pretis, and suggested that it would be
better for Nino to take a walk and breathe the fresh air a little; so
I bade him go, and I did not see him again until the afternoon. De
Pretis said that the only cause for anxiety was from stage fright, and
went away taking snuff and flourishing his immense cotton
handkerchief. I thought a man must be a fool to work for years in
order to sing, and then, when he had learned to do it quite well, to
be afraid of showing what he knew. I did not think Nino would be
frightened.

Of course there was a final rehearsal at eleven, and Nino put off the
hour of the lesson with the contessina to three in the afternoon, by
some excuse or other. He must have felt very much pressed for time,
having to give her a lesson on the very day of his coming out; and
besides, he knew very well that it might be the last of his days with
her, and that a great deal would depend on the way he bore himself at
his trial. He sang badly, or thought he did, at the rehearsal, and
grew more and more depressed and grave as the day advanced. He came
out of the little stage door of the Apollo theatre at Tor di Nona, and
his eyes fell upon the broad bills and posters announcing the first
appearance of "Giovanni Cardegna, the most distinguished pupil of the
Maestro Ercole de Pretis, in Donizetti's opera the 'Favorita.'" His
heart sank at the sight of his own name, and he turned towards the
Bridge of Sant' Angelo to get away from it. He was the last to leave
the theatre, and De Pretis was with him.

At that moment he saw Hedwig von Lira sitting in an open carriage in
front of the box office. De Pretis bowed low; she smiled; and Nino
took off his hat, but would not go near her, escaping in the opposite
direction. He thought she looked somewhat surprised, but his only idea
was to get away, lest she should call him and put some awkward
question.

An hour and a half later he entered her sitting-room. There she sat,
as usual, with her books, awaiting him perhaps for the last time, a
fair, girlish figure with gold hair, but oh, so cold!--it makes me
shiver to think of how she used to look. Possibly there was a
dreaminess about her blue eyes that made up for her manner; but how
Nino could love her I cannot understand. It must have been like making
love to a pillar of ice.

"I am much indebted to you for allowing me to come at this hour,
signorina," he said, as he bowed.

"Ah, professore, it looks almost as though it were you yourself who
were to make your _début_" said she, laughing and leaning back in her
chair. "Your name is on every corner in Rome, and I saw you coming out
of a side door of the theatre this morning." Nino trembled, but
reflected that if she had suspected anything she would not have made
so light of it.

"The fact is, signorina, my cousin is so nervous that he begged me
earnestly to be present at the rehearsal this morning; and as it is
the great event of his life, I could not easily refuse him. I presume
you are going to hear him, since I saw your carriage at the theatre."

"Yes. At the last minute my father wanted to change our box for one
nearer the stage, and so we went ourselves. The baroness--you know,
the lady who went with us to the Pantheon--is going with us to-night."
It was the first time Hedwig had mentioned her, and it was evident
that Nino's intimacy with the baroness had been kept a secret. How
long would it be so? Mechanically he proceeded with the lesson,
thinking mournfully that he should never give her another. But Hedwig
was more animated than he had ever seen her, and often stopped to ask
questions about the coming performance. It was evident that she was
entirely absorbed with the thought of at last hearing to its fullest
extent the voice that had haunted her dreams; most of all, with the
anticipation of what this wonderful singer would be like. Dwelling on
the echo of his singing for months had roused her interest and
curiosity to such a pitch that she could hardly be quiet a moment, or
think calmly of what she was to enjoy; and yet she looked so very cold
and indifferent at most times. But Nino had noticed all this, and
rejoiced at it; young as he was, however, he understood that the
discovery she was about to make would be a shock that would certainly
produce some palpable result, when she should see him from her box in
the theatre. He trembled for the consequences.

The lesson was over all too soon, and Nino lingered a moment to see
whether the very last drops of his cup of happiness might not still be
sweet. He did not know when he should see her again, to speak with
her; and though he determined it should not be long, the future seemed
very uncertain, and he would look on her loveliness while he might.

"I hope you will like my cousin's singing," he said, rather timidly.

"If he sings as he has sung before he is the greatest artist living,"
she said calmly, as though no one would dispute it. "But I am curious
to see him as well as to hear him."

"He is not handsome," said Nino, smiling a little. "In fact, there is
a family resemblance; he is said to look like me."

"Why did you not tell me that before?" she asked quickly, and fixed
her blue eyes on Nino's face as though she wished to photograph the
features in her mind.

"I did not suppose the signorina would think twice about a singer's
appearance," said Nino quietly. Hedwig blushed and turned away,
busying herself with her books. At that moment Graf von Lira entered
from the next room. Nino bowed.

"Curious is it," said the count, "that you and the about-to-make-his-
appearance tenor should the same name have."

"He is a near relation, Signor Conte,--the same whom you heard sing in
the Pantheon. I hope you will like his voice."

"That is what we shall see, Signor Professore," answered the other
severely. He had a curious way of bowing, as though he were made only
in two pieces, from his waist to his heels, and from his waist to the
crown of his head. Nino went his way sadly, and wondering how Hedwig
would look when she should recognise him from her box in the theatre
that very evening.

It is a terrible and a heart-tearing thing to part from the woman one
loves. That is nothing new, you say. Everyone knows that, Perhaps so,
though I think not. Only those can know it who have experienced it,
and for them no explanations are in any way at all necessary. The mere
word "parting" calls up such an infinity of sorrow that it is better
to draw a veil over the sad thing and bury it out of sight and put
upon it the seal on which is graven "No Hope."

Moreover, when a man only supposes, as Nino did, that he is leaving
the woman he loves, or is about to leave her, until he can devise some
new plan for seeing her, the case is not so very serious.
Nevertheless, Nino, who is of a very tender constitution of the
affections, suffered certain pangs which are always hard to bear, and
as he walked slowly down the street he hung his head low, and did not
look like a man who could possibly be successful in anything he might
undertake that day. Yet it was the most important day of his life, and
had it not been that he had left Hedwig with little hope of ever
giving her another lesson, he would have been so happy that the whole
air would have seemed dancing with sunbeams and angels and flowers. I
think that when a man loves he cares very little for what he does.
The greatest success is indifferent to him, and he cares not at all
for failure in the ordinary undertakings of life. These are my
reflections, and they are worth something, because I once loved very
much myself, and was parted from her I loved many times before the
last parting.

It was on this day that Nino came to me and told me all the history of
the past months, of which I knew nothing; but, as you know all about
it, I need not tell you what the conversation was like, until he had
finished. Then I told him he was the prince and chief of donkeys,
which was no more than the truth, as everybody will allow. He only
spread out his palms and shrugged his shoulders, putting his head on
one side, as though to say he could not help it.

"Is it perhaps my fault that you are a little donkey?" I asked; for
you may imagine whether I was angry or not.

"Certainly not, Sor Cornelio," he said. "It is entirely my own doing;
but I do not see that I am a donkey."

"Blood of Bacchus!" I ejaculated, holding up my hands. "He does not
believe he is a great stupid!" But Nino was not angry at all. He
busied himself a little with his costume, which was laid out on the
piano, with the sword and the tinsel collar and all the rest of it.

"I am in love," he said. "What would you have?"

"I would have you put a little giudizio, just a grain of judgment and
common sense, into your love affairs. Why, you go about it as though
it were the most innocent thing in the world to disguise yourself, and
present yourself as a professor in a nobleman's house, in order to
make love to his daughter! You, to make love to a noble damigella, a
young countess, with a fortune! Go back to Serveti, and marry the
first contadina girl you meet, it is much more fitting, if you must
needs marry at all. I repeat it, you are an ignorant donkey!"

"Eh!" cried Nino, perfectly unmoved, "if I am ignorant, it is not for
lack of your teaching; and as for being the beast of burden to which
you refer, I have heard it said that you were once in love yourself.
Meanwhile, I have told you this, because there will perhaps be
trouble, and I did not intend you to be surprised."

"Surprised?" said I. "I would not be surprised at anything you might
fancy doing now. No, I would not dream of being surprised!"

"So much the better," answered Nino, imperturbably. He looked sad and
weary, though, and as I am a prudent man I put my anger away to cool
for a little while, and indulged in a cigar until it should be time to
go to the theatre; for of course I went with him, and Mariuccia too,
to help him with his dress. Poor old Mariuccia! she had dressed him
when he was a ragged little boy, and she was determined to put the
finishing touches to his appearance now that he was about to be a
great man, she said. His dressing-room was a narrow little place,
sufficiently ill lighted, and there was barely space to turn round.
Mariuccia, who had brought the cat and had her pocket full of roasted
chestnuts, sat outside on a chair until he was ready for her; and I am
sure that if she had spent her life in the profession of adorning
players she could not have used her fingers more deftly in the
arrangement of the collar and sword. Nino had a fancy to wear a
moustache and a pointed beard through the first part of the opera;
saying that a courtier always had hair on his face, but that he would
naturally shave if he turned monk. I represented to him that it was
needless expense, since he must deposit the value of the false beard
with the theatre barber, who lives opposite; and it was twenty-three
francs. Besides, he would look like a different man--two separate
characters.

"I do not care a cabbage for that," said Nino. If they cannot
recognise me with their ears, they need not trouble themselves to
recognise me at all."

"It is a fact that their ears are quite long enough," said Mariuccia.

"Hush, Mariuccia!" I said. "The Roman public is the most intelligent
public in the world." And at this she grumbled.

But I knew well enough why he wanted to wear the beard. He had a fancy
to put off the evil moment as long as possible, so that Hedwig might
not recognise him till the last act,--a foolish fancy, in truth, for a
woman's eyes are not like a man's; and though Hedwig had never thought
twice about Nino's personality, she had not sat opposite him three
times a week for nearly four months without knowing all his looks and
gestures. It is an absurd idea, too, to attempt to fence with time,
when a thing must come in the course of an hour or two. What is it,
after all, the small delay you can produce? The click of a few more
seconds in the clock-work, before the hammer smites its angry warning
on the bell, and leaves echoes of pain writhing through the poor
bronze, that is Time. As for Eternity, it is a question of the
calculus, and does not enter into a singer's first appearance, nor
into the recognition of a lover. If it did, I would give you an
eloquent dissertation upon it, so that you would yawn and take snuff,
and wish me carried off by the diavolo to some place where I might
lecture on the infinite without fear of being interrupted, or of
keeping sinners like you unnecessarily long awake. There will be no
hurry then. Poor old diavolo! he must have a dull time of it amongst
all those heretics. Perhaps he has a little variety, for they say he
has written up on his door, "Ici l'on parle français," since Monsieur
de Voltaire died. But I must go on, or you will never be any wiser
than you are now, which is not saying overmuch.

I am not going to give you a description of the "Favorita," which you
may hear a dozen times a year at the theatre, for more or less
money--but it is only a franc if you stand; quite enough, too. I went
upon the stage before it began, and peeped through the curtain to see
what kind of an audience there was. It is an old curtain, and there is
a hole in it on the right-hand side, which De Pretis says was made by
a foreign tenor some years ago between the acts; and Jacovacci, the
impresario, tried to make him pay five francs to have it repaired, but
did not get the money. It is a better hole than the one in the middle,
which is so far from both sides of the house that you cannot see the
people well. So I looked through, and there, sure enough, in a box
very near to the stage, sat the Contessina di Lira and the baroness,
whom I had never seen before, but recognised from Nino's description;
and behind them sat the count himself, with his great gray moustaches
and a white cravat. They made me think of the time when I used to go
to the theatre myself and sit in a box, and applaud or hiss, just as I
pleased. Dio mio! what changes in this world!

I recognised also a great many of our noble ladies, with jewels and
other ornaments, and it seemed to me that some of them were much more
beautiful than the German contessina whom Nino had elected to worship,
though she was well enough, to be sure, in white silk and white fur,
with her little gold cross at her throat. To think that a statue like
that, brought up with all the proprieties, should have such a strange
chapter of life! But my eye began to smart from peering through the
little hole, and just then a rough-looking fellow connected with the
stage reminded me that, whatever relation I might be to the primo
tenore, I was not dressed to appear in the first act; then the
audience began to stamp and groan because the performance did not
begin, and I went away again to tell Nino that he had a packed house.
I found De Pretis giving him blackberry syrup, which he had brought
in a bottle, and entreating him to have courage. Indeed, it seemed
to me that Nino had the more courage of the two; for De Pretis
laughed and cried and blew his nose, and took snuff with his great
fat fingers, and acted altogether like a poor fool; while Nino sat on
a rush-bottomed chair and watched Mariuccia, who was stroking the old
cat and nibbling roasted chestnuts, declaring all the while that Nino
was the most beautiful object she had ever seen. Then the bass and the
baritone came together and spoke cheering words to Nino, and invited
him to supper afterwards; but he thanked them kindly, and told them
that he was expected at home, and would go with them after the next
performance--if there ever were a "next." He thought he might fail at
the last minute.

Nino had judged more rightly than I when he supposed that his beard
and moustaches would disguise him from Hedwig during the first two
acts. She recognised the wondrous voice, and she saw the strong
resemblance he had spoken of. Once or twice as he looked toward her,
it seemed indeed that the eyes must be his, with their deep circles
and serious gaze. But it was absurd to suppose it anything more than a
resemblance. As the opera advanced, it became evident that Nino was
making a success. Then in the second act it was clear that the success
was growing to be an ovation, and the ovation a furore, in which the
house became entirely demoralised, and vouchsafed to listen only so
long as Nino was singing--screaming with delight before he had
finished what he had to sing in each scene. People sent their servants
away in hot haste to buy flowers wherever they could, and he came back
to his dressing-room, from the second act, carrying bouquets by the
dozen, small bunches and big, such as people had been able to get or
had brought with them. His eyes shone like the coals in Mariuccia's
scaldino, as he entered, and he was pale through his paint. He could
hardly speak for joy; but, as old habits return unconsciously at great
moments in a man's life, he took the cat on his knee and pulled its
tail.

"Sing thou also, little beast," he said, gravely; and he pulled the
tail till the cat squeaked a little, and he was satisfied.

"Bene!" he cried; "and now for the tonsure and the frock." So
Mariuccia was turned out into the passage while he changed his dress.
De Pretis came back a moment later and tried to help him, but he was
so much overcome that he could only shed tears and give a last word of
advice for the next act.

"You must not sing it too loud, Nino mio," he said.

"Diavolo!" said Nino. "I should think not!"

"But you must not squeak it out in a little wee false voice, as small
as this"; the maestro held up his thumb and finger, with a pinch of
snuff between them.

"Bah? Sor Ercole, do you take me for a soprano?" cried the boy,
laughing, as he washed off the paint and the gum where the beard had
stuck. Presently he got into his frock, which, as I told you, was a
real one, provided by Ercole's brother, the Franciscan--quite quietly,
of course, for it would seem a dreadful thing to use a real monk's
frock in an opera. Then we fastened the rope round his waist, and
smoothed his curly hair a little to give him a more pious aspect. He
looked as white as a pillow when the paint was gone.

"Tell me a little, my father," said old Mariuccia, mocking him, "do
you fast on Sundays, that you look so pale?" Whereat Nino struck an
attitude, and began singing a love song to the ancient woman. Indeed,
she was joking about the fast, for she had expended my substance of
late in fattening Nino, as she called it, for his appearance, and
there was to be broiled chickens for supper that very night. He was
only pale because he was in love. As for me, I made up my mind to
stand in the slides, so that I could see the contessina; for Nino had
whispered to me that she had not yet recognised him, though she stared
hard across the footlights. Therefore I took up a good position on the
left of the stage, facing the Lira box, which was on the right.

The curtain went up, and Nino stood there, looking like a real monk,
with a book in his hand and his eyes cast down, as he began to walk
slowly along. I saw Hedwig von Lira's gaze rest on his square, pale
face at least one whole minute. Then she gave a strange little cry, so
that many people in the house looked towards her; and she leaned far
back in the shadow of the deep box, while the reflected glare of the
footlights just shone faintly on her features, making them look more
like marble than ever. The baroness was smiling to herself, amused at
her companion's surprise, and the old count stared stolidly for a
moment or two, and then turned suddenly to his daughter.

"Very curious is it," he was probably saying, "that this tenor should
so much your Italian professor resemble." I could almost see his gray
eyes sparkle angrily across the theatre. But as I looked, a sound
rose on the heated air, the like of which I have never known. To tell
the truth, I had not heard the first two acts, for I did not suppose
there was any great difference between Nino's singing on the stage and
his singing at home, and I still wished he might have chosen some
other profession. But when I heard this I yielded, at least for the
time, and I am not sure that my eyes were as clear as usual.

"Spirto gentil dei sogni miei"--the long sweet notes sighed themselves
to death on his lips, falling and rising magically like a mystic angel
song, and swaying their melody out into the world of lights and
listeners; so pathetic, so heart-breaking, so laden with death and
with love, that it was as though all the sorrowing souls in our poor
Rome breathed in one soft sigh together. Only a poor monk dying of
love in a monastery, tenderly and truly loving to the bitter end. Dio
mio! there are perhaps many such. But a monk like this, with a face
like a conqueror, set square in its whiteness, and yet so wretched to
see in his poor patched frock and his bare feet; a monk, too, not
acting love, but really and truly ready to die for a beautiful woman
not thirty feet from him in the house; above all, a monk with a voice
that speaks like the clarion call of the day of judgment in its wrath,
and murmurs more plaintively and sadly in sorrow than ever the poor
Peri sighed at the gates of Paradise--such a monk, what could he not
make people feel?

The great crowd of men and women sat utterly stilled and intent till
he had sung the very last note. Not a sound was heard to offend the
sorrow that spoke from the boy's lips. Then all those people seemed to
draw three long breaths of wonder--a pause, a thrilling tremor in the
air, and then there burst to the roof such a roar of cries, such a
huge thunder of hands and voices, that the whole house seemed to rock
with it, and even in the street outside they say the noise was
deafening.

Alone on the stage stood Nino, his eyes fixed on Hedwig von Lira in
her box. I think that she alone of all that multitude made no sound,
but only gripped the edge of the balcony hard in her white hands, and
leaned far forward with straining eyes and beating heart to satisfy
her wonder. She knew well enough, now, that there was no mistake. The
humble little Professor Cardegna, who had patiently explained Dante
and Leopardi to her for months, bowing to the ground in her presence,
and apologising when he corrected her mistakes, as though his whole
life was to be devoted to teaching foreigners his language; the
decently clad young man, who was always pale, and sometimes pathetic
when he spoke of himself, was no other than Giovanni Cardegna the
tenor, singing aloud to earth and heaven with his glorious great
voice--a man on the threshold of a European fame, such as falls only
to the lot of a singer or a conqueror. More, he was the singer of her
dreams, who had for months filled her thoughts with music and her
heart with a strange longing, being until now a voice Only. There he
stood looking straight at her,--she was not mistaken,--as though to
say, "I have done it for you, and for you only." A woman must be more
than marble to feel no pride in the intimate knowledge that a great
public triumph has been gained solely for her sake. She must be colder
than ice if she cannot see her power when a conqueror loves her.

The marble had felt the fire, and the ice was in the flame at last.
Nino, with his determination to be loved, had put his statue into a
very fiery furnace, and in the young innocence of his heart had
prepared such a surprise for his lady as might have turned the head of
a hardened woman of the world, let alone an imaginative German girl,
with a taste for romance--or without; it matters little. All Germans
are full of imagination, and that is the reason they know so much. For
they not only know all that is known by other people, but also all
that they themselves imagine, which nobody else can possibly know. And
if you do not believe this, you had better read the works of one
Fichte, a philosopher.

I need not tell you any more about Nino's first appearance. It was one
of those really phenomenal successes that seem to cling to certain
people through life. He was very happy and very silent when it was
over; and we were the last to leave the theatre, for we feared the
enthusiasm of the crowd. So we waited till everyone had gone, and then
marched home together, for it was a fine night. I walked on one side
of Nino and De Pretis on the other, all of us carrying as many flowers
as we could; Mariuccia came behind, with the cat under her shawl. I
did not discover until we reached home why she had brought the beast.
Then she explained that, as there was so much food in the kitchen in
anticipation of our supper, she had been afraid to leave the cat alone
in the house, lest we should find nothing left to eat when we
returned. This was sufficiently prudent for a scatter-brained old
spendthrift like Mariuccia.

That was a merry supper, and De Pretis became highly dramatic when we
got to the second flask.



CHAPTER VII


On the day following Nino's _début_, Maestro Ercole de Pretis found
himself in hot water, and the choristers at St. Peter's noticed that
his skull-cap was awry, and that he sang out of tune; and once he
tried to take a pinch of snuff when there was only three bars' rest in
the music, so that instead of singing C sharp he sneezed very loud.
Then all the other singers giggled, and said, "Salute!"--which we
always say to a person who sneezes--quite audibly.

It was not that Ercole had heard anything from the Graf von Lira as
yet; but he expected to hear, and did not relish the prospect. Indeed,
how could the Prussian gentleman fail to resent what the maestro had
done in introducing to him a singer disguised as a teacher? It
chanced, also, that the contessina took a singing lesson that very day
in the afternoon, and it was clear that the reaping of his evil deeds
was not far off. His conscience did not trouble him at all, it is
true, for I have told you that he has liberal ideas about the right
of marriage; but his vanity was sorely afflicted at the idea of
abandoning such a very noble and creditable pupil as the Contessina di
Lira. He applauded himself for furthering Nino's wild schemes, and he
blamed himself for being so reckless about his own interests. Every
moment he expected a formal notice from the count to discontinue the
lessons. But still it did not come, and at the appointed hour Ercole's
wife helped him to put on his thick winter coat, and wrapped his
comforter about his neck, and pulled his big hat over his eyes--for
the weather was threatening, and sent him trudging off to the Palazzo
Carmandola.

Though Ercole is stout of heart, and has broad shoulders to bear such
burdens as fall to his lot, he lingered long on the way, for his
presentiments were gloomy; and at the great door of the Palazzo he
even stopped to inquire of the porter whether the contessina had been
seen to go out yet, half hoping that she would thus save him the
mortification of an interview. But it turned out otherwise: the
contessina was at home, and De Pretis was expected, as usual, to give
the lesson. Slowly he climbed the great staircase, and was admitted.

"Good-day, Sor Maestro," said the liveried footman, who knew him well.
"The Signor Conte desires to speak with you to-day before you go to
the signorina."

The maestro's heart sank, and he gripped hard the roll of music in his
hand as he followed the servant to the count's cabinet. There was to
be a scene of explanation after all.

The count was seated in his great arm-chair, in a cloud of tobacco
smoke, reading a Prussian military journal. His stick leaned against
the table by his side, in painful contrast with the glittering cavalry
sabres crossed upon the dark red wall opposite. The tall windows
looked out on the piazza, and it was raining, or just beginning to
rain. The great inkstand on the table was made to represent a
howitzer, and the count looked as though he were ready to fire it
point blank at any intruder. There was an air of disciplined luxury in
the room that spoke of a rich old soldier who fed his fancy with
tit-bits from a stirring past. De Pretis felt very uncomfortable, but
the nobleman rose to greet him, as he rose to greet everything above
the rank of a servant, making himself steady with his stick. When De
Pretis was seated he sat down also. The rain pattered against the
window.

"Signor De Pretis," began the count, in tones as hard as chilled
steel, "you are an honourable man." There was something interrogative
in his voice.

"I hope so," answered the maestro modestly; "like other Christians, I
have a soul--"

"You will your soul take care of in your leisure moments," interrupted
the count. "At present you have no leisure."

"As you command, Signor Conte."

"I was yesterday evening at the theatre. The professor you recommended
for my daughter is with the new tenor one person." De Pretis spread
out his hands and bowed, as if to deprecate any share in the
transaction. The count continued, "You are of the profession, Signor
De Pretis. Evidently, you of this were aware."

"It is true," assented Ercole, not knowing what to say.

"Of course it is true. I am therefore to hear your explanation
disposed." His grey eyes fastened sternly on the maestro. But the
latter was prepared, for he had long foreseen that the count would one
day be disposed to hear an explanation, as he expressed it.

"It is quite true," repeated De Pretis. "The young man was very poor,
and desired to support himself while he was studying music. He was
well fitted to teach our literature, and I recommended him. I hope
that, in consideration of his poverty, and because he turned out a
very good teacher, you will forgive me, Signor Conte."

"This talented singer I greatly applaud," answered the count stiffly.
"As a with-the-capacity-and-learning-requisite-for-teaching-endowed
young man deserves he also some commendation. Also will I remember
his laudable-and-not-lacking independence character. Nevertheless,
unfitting would it be should I pay the first tenor of the opera five
francs an hour to teach my daughter Italian literature." De Pretis
breathed more freely.

"Then you will forgive me, Signor Conte, for endeavouring to promote
the efforts of this worthy young man in supporting himself?"

"Signor De Pretis," said the count, with a certain quaint geniality,
"I have my precautions observed. I examined Signor Cardegna in Italian
literature in my own person, and him proficient found. Had I found him
to be ignorant, and had I his talents as an operatic singer later
discovered, I would you out of that window have projected." De Pretis
was alarmed, for the old count looked as though he would have carried
out the threat. "As it is," he concluded, "you are an honourable man,
and I wish you good-morning. Lady Hedwig awaits you as usual." He rose
courteously, leaning on his stick, and De Pretis bowed himself out.

He expected that the contessina would immediately begin talking of
Nino, but he was mistaken; she never once referred to the opera or the
singer, and except that she looked pale and transparent, and sang with
a trifle less interest in her music than usual, there was nothing
noticeable in her manner. Indeed, she had every reason to be silent.

Early that morning Nino received by messenger a pretty little note,
written in execrable Italian, begging him to come and breakfast with
the baroness at twelve, as she much desired to speak with him after
his stupendous triumph of the previous night.

Nino is a very good boy, but he is mortal, and after the excitement of
the evening he thought nothing could be pleasanter than to spend a few
hours in that scented boudoir, among the palms and the beautiful
objects and the perfumes, talking with a woman who professed herself
ready to help him in his love affair. We have no perfumes or cushions
or pretty things at number twenty-seven Santa Catarina dei Funari,
though everything is very bright and neat and most proper, and the cat
is kept in the kitchen, for the most part. So it is no wonder that he
should have preferred to spend the morning with the baroness.

She was half lying, half sitting, in a deep arm-chair, when Nino
entered; and she was reading a book. When she saw him she dropped the
volume on her knee, and looked up at him from under her lids, without
speaking. She must have been a bewitching figure. Nino advanced toward
her, bowing low, so that his dark curling hair shaded his face.

"Good-day, signora," said he softly, as though fearing to hurt the
quiet air. "I trust I do not interrupt you?"

"You never interrupt me, Nino," she said, "except--except when you go
away."

"You are very good, signora."

"For heaven's sake, no pretty speeches," said she, with a little
laugh.

"It seems to me," said Nino, seating himself, "that it was you who
made the pretty speech, and I who thanked you for it." There was a
pause.

"How do you feel!" asked the baroness at last, turning her head to
him.

"Grazie--I am well," he answered, smiling.

"Oh, I do not mean that,--you are always well. But how do you enjoy
your first triumph?"

"I think," said Nino, "that a real artist ought to have the capacity
to enjoy a success at the moment, and the good sense to blame his
vanity for enjoying it after it is passed."

"How old are you, Nino?"

"Did I never tell you?" he asked innocently. "I shall be twenty-one
soon."

"You talk as though you were forty, at least."

"Heaven save us!" quoth Nino.

"But really, are you not immensely flattered at the reception you
had?"

"Yes."

"You did not look at all interested in the public at the time," said
she, "and that Roman nose of yours very nearly turned up in disdain of
the applause, I thought. I wonder what you were thinking of all the
while."

"Can you wonder, baronessa?" She knew what he meant, and there was a
little look of annoyance in her face when she answered.

"Ah, well, of course not, since _she_ was there." Her ladyship rose,
and taking a stick of Eastern pastil from a majolica dish in a corner
made Nino light it from a wax taper.

"I want the smell of the sandal-wood this morning," said she; "I have
a headache." She was enchanting to look at as she bent her
softly-shaded face over the flame to watch the burning perfume. She
looked like a beautiful lithe sorceress making a love spell,--perhaps
for her own use. Nino turned from her. He did not like to allow the
one image he loved to be even for a moment disturbed by the one he
loved not, however beautiful. She moved away, leaving the pastil on
the dish. Suddenly she paused, and turned back to look at him.

"Why did you come to-day?" she asked.

"Because you desired it," answered Nino, in some astonishment.

"You need not have come," she said, bending down to lean on the back
of a silken chair. She folded her hands and looked at him as he stood
not three paces away. "Do you not know what has happened?" she asked,
with a smile that was a little sad.

"I do not understand," said Nino simply. He was facing the entrance to
the room, and saw the curtains parted by the servant. The baroness had
her back to the door, and did not hear.

"Do you not know," she continued, "that you are free now? Your
appearance in public has put an end to it all. You are not tied to me
any longer,--unless you wish it."

As she spoke these words Nino turned white, for under the heavy
curtain, lifted to admit her, stood Hedwig von Lira, like a statue,
transfixed and immovable from what she had heard. The baroness noticed
Nino's look, and springing back to her height from the chair on which
she had been leaning, faced the door.

"My dearest Hedwig!" she cried, with a magnificent readiness. "I am so
very glad you have come. I did not expect you in the least. Do take
off your hat, and stay to breakfast. Ah, forgive me; this is Professor
Cardegna. But you know him? Yes; now that I think, we all went to the
Pantheon together." Nino bowed low, and Hedwig bent her head.

"Yes," said the young girl coldly. "Professor Cardegna gives me
lessons."

"Why, of course; how _bête_ I am! I was just telling him that, since
he has been successful, and is enrolled among the great artists, it is
a pity he is no longer tied to giving Italian lessons,--tied to coming
here three times a week to teach me literature." Hedwig smiled a
strange icy smile, and sat down by the window. Nino was still utterly
astonished, but he would not allow the baroness's quibble to go
entirely uncontradicted.

"In truth," he said, "the Signora Baronessa's lessons consisted
chiefly--"

"In teaching me pronunciation," interrupted the baroness, trying to
remove Hedwig's veil and hat, somewhat against the girl's inclination.
"Yes, you see how it is. I know a little of singing, but I cannot
pronounce--not in the least. Ah, these Italian vowels will be the
death of me! But if there is anyone who can teach a poor dilettante to
pronounce them," she added, laying the hat away on a chair, and
pushing a footstool to Hedwig's feet, "that someone is Signor
Cardegna."

By this time Nino had recognised the propriety of temporising; that is
to say, of letting the baroness's fib pass for what it was worth, lest
the discussion of the subject should further offend Hedwig, whose eyes
wandered irresolutely toward him, as though she would say something if
he addressed her.

"I hope, signorina," he said, "that it is not quite as the baroness
says. I trust our lessons are not at an end?" He knew very well that
they were.

"I think, Signor Cardegna," said Hedwig, with more courage than would
have been expected from such a mere child,--she is twenty, but
Northern people are not grown up till they are thirty, at least,--"I
think it would have been more obliging if, when I asked you so much
about your cousin, you had acknowledged that you had no cousin, and
that the singer was none other than yourself." She blushed, perhaps,
but the curtain of the window hid it.

"Alas, signorina," answered Nino, still standing before her, "such a
confession would have deprived me of the pleasure--of the honour of
giving you lessons."

"And pray, Signor Cardegna," put in the baroness, "what are a few
paltry lessons compared with the pleasure you ought to have
experienced in satisfying the Contessina di Lira's curiosity. Really,
you have little courtesy."

Nino shrank into himself, as though he were hurt, and he gave the
baroness a look which said worlds. She smiled at him, in joy of her
small triumph, for Hedwig was looking at the floor again and could not
see. But the young girl had strength in her, for all her cold looks
and white cheek.

"You can atone, Signor Cardegna," she said. Nino's face brightened.

"How, signorina?" he asked.

"By singing to us now," said Hedwig. The baroness looked grave, for
she well knew what a power Nino wielded with his music.

"Do not ask him," she protested. "He must be tired,--tired to death,
with all he went through last night."

"Tired?" ejaculated Nino, with some surprise. "I tired? I was never
tired in my life of singing. I will sing as long as you will listen."
He went to the piano. As he turned, the baroness laid her hand on
Hedwig's affectionately, as though sympathising with something she
supposed to be passing in the girl's mind. But Hedwig was passive,
unless a little shudder at the first touch of the baroness's fingers
might pass for a manifestation of feeling. Hedwig had hitherto liked
the baroness, finding in her a woman of a certain artistic sense,
combined with a certain originality. The girl was an absolute contrast
to the woman, and admired in her the qualities she thought lacking in
herself, though she possessed too much self-respect to attempt to
acquire them by imitation. Hedwig sat like a Scandinavian fairy
princess on the summit of a glass hill; her friend roamed through life
like a beautiful soft-footed wild animal, rejoicing in the sense of
being, and sometimes indulging in a little playful destruction by the
way. The girl had heard a voice in the dark singing, and ever since
then she had dreamed of the singer; but it never entered her mind to
confide to the baroness her strange fancies. An undisciplined
imagination, securely shielded from all outward disturbing causes,
will do much with a voice in the dark,--a great deal more than such a
woman as the baroness might imagine.

I do not know enough about these blue-eyed German girls to say whether
or not Hedwig had ever before thought of her unknown singer as an
unknown lover. But the emotions of the previous night had shaken her
nerves a little, and had she been older than she was she would have
known that she loved her singer, in a distant and maidenly fashion, as
soon as she heard the baroness speak of him as having been her
property. And now she was angry with herself, and ashamed of feeling
any interest in a man who was evidently tied to another woman by some
intrigue she could not comprehend. Her coming to visit the baroness
had been as unpremeditated as it was unexpected that morning, and she
bitterly repented it; but being of good blood and heart, she acted as
boldly as she could, and showed no little tact in making Nino sing,
and thus cutting short a painful conversation. Only when the baroness
tried to caress her and stroke her hand she shrank away, and the blood
mantled up to her cheeks. Add to all this the womanly indignation she
felt at having been so long deceived by Nino, and you will see that
she was in a very vacillating frame of mind.

The baroness was a subtle woman, reckless and diplomatic by turns, and
she was not blind to the sudden repulse she met with from Hedwig,
unspoken though it was. But she merely withdrew her hand, and sat
thinking over the situation. What she thought, no one knows; or at
least, we can only guess it from what she did afterwards. As for me, I
have never blamed her at all, for she is the kind of woman I should
have loved. In the meantime Nino carolled out one love song after
another. He saw, however, that the situation was untenable, and after
a while he rose to go. Strange to say, although the baroness had asked
Nino to breakfast and the hour was now at hand, she made no effort to
retain him. But she gave him her hand, and said many flattering and
pleasing things, which, however, neither flattered nor pleased him. As
for Hedwig, she bent her head a little, but said nothing, as he bowed
before her. Nino therefore went home with a heavy heart, longing to
explain to Hedwig why he had been tied to the baroness,--that it was
the price of her silence and of the privilege he had enjoyed of giving
lessons to the contessina; but knowing also that all explanation was
out of the question for the present. When he was gone Hedwig and the
baroness were left together.

"It must have been a great surprise to you, my dear," said the elder
lady kindly.

"What?"

"That your little professor should turn out a great artist in
disguise. It was a surprise to me, too,--ah, another illusion
destroyed. Dear child! You have still so many illusions,--beautiful,
pure illusions. Dieu! how I envy you!" They generally talked French
together, though the baroness knows German. Hedwig laughed bravely.

"I was certainly astonished," she said. "Poor man! I suppose he did it
to support himself. He never told me he gave you lessons too." The
baroness smiled, but it was from genuine satisfaction this time.

"I wonder at that, since he knew we were intimate, or, at least, that
we were acquainted. Of course I would not speak of it last night,
because I saw your father was angry."

"Yes, he was angry. I suppose it was natural," said Hedwig.

"Perfectly natural. And you, my dear, were you not angry too,--just a
little?"

"I? No. Why should I be angry? He was a very good teacher, for he
knows whole volumes by heart; and he understands them too."

Soon they talked of other things, and the baroness was very
affectionate. But though Hedwig saw that her friend was kind and most
friendly, she could not forget the words that were in the air when she
chanced to enter, nor could she quite accept the plausible explanation
of them which the baroness had so readily invented. For jealousy is
the forerunner of love, and sometimes its awakener. She felt a rival
and an enemy, and all the hereditary combativeness of her Northern
blood was roused.

Nino, who was in no small perplexity, reflected. He was not old enough
or observant enough to have seen the breach that was about to be
created between the baroness and Hedwig. His only thought was to clear
himself in Hedwig's eyes from the imputation of having been tied to
the dark woman in any way save for his love's sake. He at once began
to hate the baroness with all the ferocity of which his heart was
capable, and with all the calm his bold square face outwardly
expressed. But he was forced to take some action at once, and he could
think of nothing better to do than to consult De Pretis.

To the maestro he poured out his woes and his plans. He exhibited to
him his position toward the baroness and toward Hedwig in the clearest
light. He conjured him to go to Hedwig and explain that the baroness
had threatened to unmask him, and thus deprive him of his means of
support,--he dared not put it otherwise,--unless he consented to sing
for her and come to her as often as she pleased. To explain, to
propitiate, to smooth,--in a word, to reinstate Nino in her good
opinion.

"Death of a dog!" exclaimed De Pretis; "you do not ask much! After you
have allowed your lady-love, your inamorata, to catch you saying you
are bound body and soul to another woman,--and such a woman! ye
saints, what a beauty!--you ask me to go and set matters right! What
the diavolo did you want to go and poke your nose into such a
mousetrap for? Via! I am a fool to have helped you at all."

"Very likely," said Nino calmly. "But meanwhile there are two of us,
and perhaps I am the greater. You will do what I ask, maestro; is it
not true? And it was not I who said it; it was the baroness."

"The baroness--yes--and may the maledictions of the inferno overtake
her," said De Pretis, casting up his eyes and feeling in his coat-tail
pockets for his snuff-box. Once, when Nino was younger, he filled
Ercole's snuff-box with soot and pepper, so that the maestro had a
black nose and sneezed all day.

What could Ercole do? It was true that he had hitherto helped Nino.
Was he not bound to continue that assistance? I suppose so; but if the
whole affair had ended then, and this story with it, I would not have
cared a button. Do you suppose it amuses me to tell you this tale? Or
that if it were not for Nino's good name I would ever have turned
myself into a common storyteller? Bah! you do not know me. A page of
quaternions gives me more pleasure than all this rubbish put together,
though I am not averse to a little gossip now and then of an evening,
if people will listen to my details and fancies. But those are just
the things people will not listen to. Everybody wants sensation
nowadays. What is a sensation compared with a thought? What is the
convulsive gesticulation of a dead frog's leg compared with the
intellect of the man who invented the galvanic battery, and thus gave
fictitious sensation to all the countless generations of dead frogs'
legs that have since been the objects of experiment? Or if you come
down to so poor a thing as mere feeling, what are your feelings in
reading about Nino's deeds compared with what he felt in doing them? I
am not taking all this trouble to please you, but only for Nino's
sake, who is my dear boy. You are of no more interest or importance to
me than if you were so many dead frogs; and if I galvanise your
sensations, as you call them, into an activity sufficient to make you
cry or laugh, that is my own affair. You need not say "thank you" to
me. I do not want it. Ercole will thank you, and perhaps Nino will
thank me, but that is different.

I will not tell you about the interview that Ercole had with Hedwig,
nor how skilfully he rolled up his eyes and looked pathetic when he
spoke of Nino's poverty and of the fine part he had played in the
whole business. Hedwig is a woman, and the principal satisfaction she
gathered from Ercole's explanation was the knowledge that her friend
the baroness had lied to her in explaining those strange words she had
overheard. She knew it, of course, by instinct; but it was a great
relief to be told the fact by someone else, as it always is, even when
one is not a woman.



CHAPTER VIII


Several days passed after the _début_ without giving Nino an
opportunity of speaking to Hedwig. He probably saw her, for he mingled
in the crowd of dandies in the Piazza Colonna of an afternoon, hoping
she would pass in her carriage and give him a look. Perhaps she did;
he said nothing about it, but looked calm when he was silent and
savage when he spoke, after the manner of passionate people. His face
aged and grew stern in those few days, so that he seemed to change on
a sudden from boy to man. But he went about his business, and sang at
the theatre when he was obliged to; gathering courage to do his best
and to display his powers from the constant success he had. The papers
were full of his praises, saying that he was absolutely without rival
from the very first night he sang, matchless and supreme from the
moment he first opened his mouth, and all that kind of nonsense. I
dare say he is now, but he could not have been really the greatest
singer living, so soon. However, he used to bring me the newspapers
that had notices of him, though he never appeared to care much for
them, nor did he ever keep them himself. He said he hankered for an
ideal which he would never attain, and I told him that if he was never
to attain it he had better abandon the pursuit of it at once. But he
represented to me that the ideal was confined to his imagination,
whereas the reality had a great financial importance, since he daily
received offers from foreign managers to sing for them, at large
advantage to himself, and was hesitating only in order to choose the
most convenient. This seemed sensible, and I was silent. Soon
afterwards he presented me with a box of cigars and a very pretty
amber mouthpiece. The cigars were real Havanas, such as I had not
smoked for years, and must have cost a great deal.

"You may not be aware, Sor Cornelio," he said one evening, as he mixed
the oil and vinegar with the salad, at supper, "that I am now a rich
man, or soon shall be. An agent from the London opera has offered me
twenty thousand francs for the season in London this spring."

"Twenty thousand francs!" I cried, in amazement. "You must be
dreaming, Nino. That is just about seven times what I earn in a year
with my professorship and my writing."

"No dreams, caro mio. I have the offer in my pocket." He apparently
cared no more about it than if he had twenty thousand roasted
chestnuts in his pocket.

"When do you leave us?" I asked, when I was somewhat recovered.

"I am not sure that I will go," he answered, sprinkling some pepper on
the lettuce.

"Not sure! Body of Diana, what a fool you are!"

"Perhaps," said he, and he passed me the dish. Just then Mariuccia
came in with a bottle of wine, and we said no more about it, for
Mariuccia is indiscreet.

Nino thought nothing about his riches, because he was racking his
brains for some good expedient whereby he might see the contessina and
speak with her. He had ascertained from De Pretis that the count was
not so angry as he had expected, and that Hedwig was quite satisfied
with the explanations of the maestro. The day after the foregoing
conversation he wrote a note to her, wherein he said that if the
Contessina de Lira would deign to be awake at midnight that evening
she would have a serenade from a voice she was said to admire. He had
Mariuccia carry the letter to the Palazzo Cormandola.

At half-past eleven, at least two hours after supper, Nino wrapped
himself in my old cloak and took the guitar under his arm. Rome is not
a very safe place for midnight pranks, and so I made him take a good
knife in his waistbelt; for he had confided to me where he was going.
I tried to dissuade him from the plan, saying he might catch cold; but
he laughed at me.

A serenade is an everyday affair, and in the street one voice sounds
about as well as another. He reached the palace, and his heart sank
when he saw Hedwig's window dark and gloomy. He did not know that she
was seated behind it in a deep chair, wrapped in white things, and
listening for him against the beatings of her heart. The large moon
seemed to be spiked on the sharp spire of the church that is near her
house, and the black shadows cut the white light as clean as with a
knife. Nino had tuned his guitar in the other street, and stood ready,
waiting for the clocks to strike. Presently they clanged out wildly,
as though they had been waked from their midnight sleep, and were
angry; one clock answering the other, and one convent bell following
another in the call to prayers. For two full minutes the whole air was
crazy with ringing, and then it was all still. Nino struck a single
chord. Hedwig almost thought he might hear her heart beating all the
way down the street.

"Ah, del mio dolce ardor bramato ogetto," he sang,--an old air in one
of Gluck's operas that our Italian musicians say was composed by
Alessandro Stradella, the poor murdered singer. It must be a very good
air, for it pleases me; and I am not easily pleased with music of any
kind. As for Hedwig, she pressed her ear to the glass of the window
that she might not lose any note. But she would not open nor give any
sign. Nino was not so easily discouraged, for he remembered that once
before she had opened her window for a few bars he had begun to sing.
He played a few chords, and breathed out the "Salve, dimora casta e
pura," from _Faust_, high and soft and clear. There is a point in that
song, near to the end, where the words say, "Reveal to me the maiden,"
and where the music goes away to the highest note that anyone can
possibly sing. It always appears quite easy for Nino, and he does not
squeak like a dying pig as all the other tenors do on that note. He
was looking up as he sang it, wondering whether it would have any
effect. Apparently Hedwig lost her head completely, for she gently
opened the casement and looked out at the moonlight opposite, over the
carved stone mullions of her window. The song ended, he hesitated
whether to go or to sing again. She was evidently looking towards him;
but he was in the light, for the moon had risen higher, and she, on
the other side of the street, was in the dark.

"Signorina!" he called softly. No answer. "Signorina!" he said again,
coming across the empty street and standing under the window, which
might have been thirty feet from the ground.

"Hush!" came a whisper from above.

"I thank you with all my soul for listening to me," he said, in a low
voice. "I am innocent of that of which you suspect me. I love you, ah,
I love you!" But at this she left the window very quickly. She did
not close it, however, and Nino stood long, straining his eyes for a
glimpse of the white face that had been there. He sighed, and,
striking a chord, sang out boldly the old air from the _Trovatore_,
"Ah, che la morte ognora è tarda nel venir." Every blind fiddler in
the streets plays it, though he would be sufficiently scared if death
came any the quicker for his fiddling. But old and worn as it is it
has a strain of passion in it, and Nino threw more fire and voice into
the ring of it than ever did famous old Boccardè, when he sang it at
the first performance of the opera, thirty and odd years ago. As he
played the chords after the first strophe, the voice from above
whispered again:

"Hush! for Heaven's sake!" Just that, and something fell at his feet,
with a soft little padded sound on the pavement. He stooped to pick it
up, and found a single rose; and at that instant the window closed
sharply. Therefore he kissed the rose and hid it, and presently he
strode down the street, finishing his song as he went, but only
humming it, for the joy had taken his voice away. I heard him let
himself in and go to bed, and he told me about it in the morning. That
is how I know.

Since the day after the _début_ Nino had not seen the baroness. He did
not speak of her, and I am sure he wished she were at the very bottom
of the Tiber. But on the morning after the serenade he received a note
from her, which was so full of protestations of friendship and so
delicately couched that he looked grave, and reflected that it was his
duty to be courteous, and to answer such a call as that. She begged
him earnestly to come at one o'clock; she was suffering from headache,
she said, and was very weak. Had Nino loved Hedwig a whit the less he
would not have gone. But he felt himself strong enough to face
anything and everything, and therefore he determined to go.

He found her, indeed, with the manner of a person who is ill, but not
with the appearance. She was lying on a huge couch, pushed to the
fireside, and there were furs about her. A striped scarf of rich
Eastern silk was round her throat, and she held in her hand a new
novel, of which she carelessly cut the pages with a broad-hafted
Persian knife. But there was colour in her dark cheek, and a sort of
angry fire in her eyes. Nino thought the clean steel in her hand
looked as though it might be used for something besides cutting
leaves, if the fancy took her.

"So at last you have honoured me with a visit, signore," she said, not
desisting from her occupation. Nino came to her, and she put out her
hand. He touched it, but could not bear to hold it, for it burned him.

"You used to honour my hand differently from that," she half
whispered. Nino sat himself down a little way from her, blushing
slightly. It was not at what she had said, but at the thought that he
should ever have kissed her fingers.

"Signora," he replied, "there are customs, chivalrous and gentle in
themselves, and worthy for all men to practise. But from the moment a
custom begins to mean what it should not, it ought to be abandoned.
You will forgive me if I no longer kiss your hand."

"How cold you are!--how formal! What should it mean?"

"It is better to say too little than too much," he answered.

"Bah!" she cried, with a bitter little laugh. "Words are silver, but
silence--is very often nothing but silver-plated brass. Put a little
more wood on the fire; you make me cold." Nino obeyed.

"How literal you are!" said the baroness petulantly. "There is fire
enough on the hearth."

"Apparently, signora, you are pleased to be enigmatical," said Nino.

"I will be pleased to be anything I please," she answered, and looked
at him rather fiercely. "I wanted you to drive away my headache, and
you only make it worse."

"I am sorry, signora. I will leave you at once. Permit me to wish you
a very good-morning." He took his hat and went towards the door.
Before he reached the heavy curtain, she was at his side with a rush
like a falcon on the wing, her eyes burning darkly between anger and
love.

"Nino!" She laid hold of his arm, and looked into his face.

"Signora," he protested coldly, and drew back.

"You will not leave me so?"

"As you wish, signora. I desire to oblige you."

"Oh, how cold you are!" she cried, leaving his arm, and sinking into a
chair by the door, while he stood with his hand on the curtain. She
hid her eyes. "Nino, Nino! You will break my heart!" she sobbed; and a
tear, perhaps more of anger than of sorrow, burst through her fingers,
and coursed down her cheek.

Few men can bear to see a woman shed tears. Nino's nature rose up in
his throat, and bade him console her. But between him and her was a
fair, bright image that forbade him to move hand or foot.

"Signora," he said, with all the calm he could command, "if I were
conscious of having by word or deed of mine given you cause to speak
thus, I would humbly implore your forgiveness. But my heart does not
accuse me. I beg you to allow me to take leave of you. I will go
away, and you shall have no further cause to think of me." He moved
again, and lifted the curtain. But she was like a panther, so quick
and beautiful. Ah, how I could have loved that woman! She held him,
and would not let him go, her smooth fingers fastening round his
wrists like springs.

"Please to let me go," he said, between his teeth, with rising anger.

"No! I will not let you!" she cried fiercely, tightening her grasp on
him. Then the angry fire in her tearful eyes seemed suddenly to melt
into a soft flame, and the colour came faster to her cheeks. "Ah, how
can you let me so disgrace myself! how can you see me fallen so low as
to use the strength of my hands, and yet have no pity? Nino, Nino, do
not kill me!"

"Indeed, it would be the better for you if I should," he answered
bitterly, but without attempting to free his wrists from the strong,
soft grip.

"But you will," she murmured, passionately. "You are killing me by
leaving me. Can you not see it?" Her voice melted away in the tearful
cadence. But Nino stood gazing at her as stonily as though he were the
Sphinx. How could he have the heart? I cannot tell. Long she looked
into his eyes, silently; but she might as well have tried to animate a
piece of iron, so stern and hard he was. Suddenly, with a strong
convulsive movement, she flung his hands from her.

"Go!" she cried hoarsely. "Go to that wax doll you love, and see
whether she will love you, or care whether you leave her or not! Go,
go, go! Go to her!" She had sprung far back from him, and now pointed
to the door, drawn to her full height and blazing in her wrath.

"I would advise you, madam, to speak with proper respect of any lady
with whom you choose to couple my name." His lips opened and shut
mechanically, and he trembled from head to foot.

"Respect!" She laughed wildly. "Respect for a mere child whom you
happen to fancy! Respect, indeed, for anything you choose to do!
I--I--respect Hedwig von Lira? Ha! ha!" and she rested her hand on the
table behind her, as she laughed.

"Be silent, madam," said Nino, and he moved a step nearer, and stood
with folded arms.

"Ah! You would silence me now, would you? You would rather not hear me
speak of your midnight serenades, and your sweet letters dropped from
the window of her room at your feet?" But her rage overturned itself,
and with a strange cry she fell into a deep chair, and wept bitterly,
burying her face in her two hands. "Miserable woman that I am!" she
sobbed, and her whole lithe body was convulsed.

"You are indeed," said Nino, and he turned once more to go. But as he
turned, the servant threw back the curtain.

"The Signor Conte di Lira," he announced, in distinct tones. For a
moment there was a dead silence, during which, in spite of his
astonishment at the sudden appearance of the count, Nino had time to
reflect that the baroness had caused him to be watched during the
previous night. It might well be, and the mistake she made in
supposing the thing Hedwig had dropped to be a letter told him that
her spy had not ventured very near.

The tall count came forward under the raised curtains, limping and
helping himself with his stick. His face was as gray and wooden as
ever, but his moustaches had an irritated, crimped look that Nino did
not like. The count barely nodded to the young man as he stood aside
to let the old gentleman pass; his eyes turned mechanically to where
the baroness sat. She was a woman who had no need to simulate passion
in any shape, and it must have cost her a terrible effort to control
the paroxysm of anger and shame and grief that had overcome her. There
was something unnatural and terrifying in her sudden calm, as she
forced herself to rise and greet her visitor.

"I fear I come out of season," he said, apologetically, as he bent
over her hand.

"On the contrary," she answered; "but forgive me if I speak one word
to Professor Cardegna." She went to where Nino was standing.

"Go into that room," she said, in a very low voice, glancing towards a
curtained door opposite the windows, "and wait till he goes. You may
listen if you choose." She spoke authoritatively.

"I will not," answered Nino, in a determined whisper.

"You will not?" Her eyes flashed again. He shook his head.

"Count von Lira," she said aloud, turning to him, "do you know this
young man?" She spoke in Italian, and Von Lira answered in the same
language; but as what he said was not exactly humorous, I will spare
you the strange construction of his sentences.

"Perfectly," he answered. "It is precisely concerning this young man
that I desire to speak with you." The count remained standing because
the baroness had not told him to be seated.

"That is fortunate," replied the baroness, "for I wish to inform you
that he is a villain, a wretch, a miserable fellow!" Her anger was
rising again, but she struggled to control it. When Nino realised what
she said he came forward and stood near the count, facing the
baroness, his arms folded on his breast, as though to challenge
accusation. The count raised his eyebrows.

"I am aware that he concealed his real profession so long as he gave
my daughter lessons. That, however, has been satisfactorily explained,
though I regret it. Pray inform me why you designate him as a
villain." Nino felt a thrill of sympathy for this man whom he had so
long deceived.

"This man, sir," said she, in measured tones, "this low-born singer,
who has palmed himself off on us as a respectable instructor in
language, has the audacity to love your daughter. For the sake of
pressing his odious suit he has wormed himself into your house as into
mine; he has sung beneath your daughter's window, and she has dropped
letters to him,--love-letters, do you understand? And now,"--her voice
rose more shrill and uncontrollable at every word, as she saw Lira's
face turn white, and her anger gave desperate utterance to the
lie,--"and now he has the effrontery to come to me--to me--to me of
all women--and to confess his abominable passion for that pure angel,
imploring me to assist him in bringing destruction upon her and you.
Oh, it is execrable, it is vile, it is hellish!" She pressed her hands
to her temples as she stood, and glared at the two men. The count was
a strong man, easily petulant, but hard to move to real anger. Though
his face was white and his right hand clutched his crutch-stick, he
still kept the mastery of himself.

"Is what you tell me true, madam?" he asked in a strange voice.

"Before God, it is true!" she cried, desperately.

The old man looked at her for one moment, and then, as though he had
been twenty years younger, he made at Nino, brandishing his stick to
strike. But Nino is strong and young, and he is almost a Roman. He
foresaw the count's action, and his right hand stole to the table and
grasped the clean, murderous knife; the baroness had used it so
innocently to cut the leaves of her book half an hour before. With one
wrench he had disarmed the elder man, forced him back upon a lounge,
and set the razor edge of his weapon against the count's throat.

"If you speak one word, or try to strike me, I will cut off your
head," he said quietly, bringing his cold, marble face close down to
the old man's eyes. There was something so deathly in his voice, in
spite of its quiet sound, that the count thought his hour was come,
brave man as he was. The baroness tottered back against the opposite
wall, and stood staring at the two, dishevelled and horrified.

"This woman," said Nino, still holding the cold thing against the
flesh, "lies in part, and in part tells the truth I love your
daughter, it is true." The poor old man quivered beneath Nino's
weight, and his eyes rolled wildly, searching for some means of
escape. But it was of no use. "I love her, and have sung beneath her
window; but I never had a written word from her in my life, and I
neither told this woman of my love nor asked her assistance. She
guessed it at the first; she guessed the reason of my disguise, and
she herself offered to help me. You may speak now. Ask her." Nino
relaxed his hold, and stood off, still grasping the knife. The old
count breathed, shook himself and passed his handkerchief over his
face before he spoke. The baroness stood as though she were petrified.

"Thunder weather, you are a devilish young man!" said Von Lira, still
panting. Then he suddenly recovered his dignity. "You have caused me
to assault this young man by what you told me," he said, struggling to
his feet. "He defended himself, and might have killed me, had he
chosen. Be good enough to tell me whether he has spoken the truth or
you."

"He has spoken--the truth," answered the baroness, staring vacantly
about her. Her fright had taken from her even the faculty of lying.
Her voice was low, but she articulated the words distinctly. Then,
suddenly, she threw up her hands, with a short quick scream, and fell
forward, senseless, on the floor. Nino looked at the count, and
dropped his knife on a table. The count looked at Nino.

"Sir," said the old gentleman, "I forgive you for resisting my
assault. I do not forgive you for presuming to love my daughter, and I
will find means to remind you of the scandal you have brought on my
house." He drew himself up to his full height. Nino handed him his
crutch-stick civilly.

"Signor Conte," he said simply, but with all his natural courtesy, "I
am sorry for this affair, to which you forced me,--or rather the
Signora Baronessa forced us both. I have acted foolishly, perhaps, but
I am in love. And permit me to assure you, sir, that I will yet marry
the Signorina di Lira, if she consents to marry me."

"By the name of Heaven," swore the old count, "if she wants to marry a
singer, she shall." He limped to the door in sullen anger, and went
out. Nino turned to the prostrate figure of the poor baroness. The
continued strain on her nerves had broken her down, and she lay on the
floor in a dead faint. Nino put a cushion from the lounge under her
head, and rang the bell. The servant appeared instantly.

"Bring water quickly!" he cried. "The signora has fainted." He stood
looking at the senseless figure of the woman, as she lay across the
rich Persian rugs that covered the floor.

"Why did you not bring salts, cologne, her maid--run, I tell you!" he
said to the man, who brought the glass of water on a gilded tray. He
had forgotten that the fellow could not be expected to have any sense.
When her people came at last, he had sprinkled her face, and she had
unconsciously swallowed enough of the water to have some effect in
reviving her. She began to open her eyes, and her fingers moved
nervously. Nino found his hat, and, casting one glance around the room
that had just witnessed such strange doings, passed through the door
and went out. The baroness was left with her servants. Poor woman! She
did very wrong, perhaps, but anybody would have loved her--except
Nino. She must have been terribly shaken, one would have thought, and
she ought to have gone to lie down, and should have sent for the
doctor to bleed her. But she did nothing of the kind.

She came to see me. I was alone in the house, late in the afternoon,
when the sun was just gilding the tops of the houses. I heard the
door-bell ring, and I went to answer it myself. There stood the
beautiful baroness, alone, with all her dark soft things around her,
as pale as death, and her eyes swollen sadly with weeping. Nino had
come home and told me something about the scene in the morning, and I
can tell you I gave him a piece of my mind about his follies.

"Does Professor Cornelio Grandi live here?" she asked, in a low, sad
voice.

"I am he, signora," I answered. "Will you please to come in?" And so
she came into our little sitting-room, and sat over there in the old
green arm-chair. I shall never forget it as long as I live.

I cannot tell you all she said in that brief half-hour, for it pains
me to think of it. She spoke as though I were her confessor, so humbly
and quietly,--as though it had all happened ten years ago. There is
no stubbornness in those tiger women when once they break down.

She said she was going away; that she had done my boy a great wrong,
and wished to make such reparation as she could, by telling me, at
least, the truth. She did not scruple to say that she had loved him,
nor that she had done everything in her power to keep him; though he
had never so much as looked at her, she added, pathetically. She
wished to have me know exactly how it happened, no matter what I might
think of her.

"You are a nobleman, count," she said to me at last, "and I can trust
you as one of my own people, I am sure. Yes, I know: you have been
unfortunate, and are now a professor. But that does not change the
blood. I can trust you. You need not tell him I came, unless you wish
it. I shall never see him again. I am glad to have been here, to see
where he lives." She rose, and moved to go. I confess that the tears
were in my eyes. There was a pile of music on the old piano. There was
a loose leaf on the top, with his name written on it. She took it in
her hand, and looked inquiringly at me out of her sad eyes. I knew she
wanted to take it, and I nodded.

"I shall never see him again, you know." Her voice was gentle and
weak, and she hastened to the door; so that almost before I knew it
she was gone. The sun had left the red-tiled roofs opposite, and the
goldfinch was silent in his cage. So I sat down in the chair where she
had rested, and folded my hands, and thought, as I am always thinking
ever since, how I could have loved such a woman as that; so
passionate, so beautiful, so piteously sorry for what she had done
that was wrong. Ah me! for the years that are gone away so cruelly,
for the days so desperately dead! Give me but one of those golden
days, and I would make the pomp of emperors ridiculous.

A greater man than I said that,--a man over the seas, with a great
soul, who wrote in a foreign tongue, but spoke a language germane to
all human speech. But even he cannot bring back one of those dear
days. I would give much to have that one day back, when she came and
told me all her woes. But that is impossible.

When they came to wake her in the morning--the very morning after
that--she was dead in her bed; the colour gone for ever from those
velvet cheeks, the fire quenched out of those passionate eyes, past
power of love or hate to rekindle. _Requiescat in pace_, and may God
give her eternal rest and forgiveness for all her sins. Poor,
beautiful, erring woman!



CHAPTER IX


At nine o'clock on the morning of the baroness' death, as Nino was busy
singing scales, there was a ring at the door, and presently Mariuccia
came running in as fast as her poor old legs could carry her, and
whiter than a pillow-case, to say that there was a man at the door
with two gendarmes, asking for Nino; and before I could question her
the three men walked unbidden into the room, demanding which was
Giovanni Cardegna, the singer. Nino started, and then said quietly
that he was the man. I have had dealings with these people, and I know
what is best to be done. They were inclined to be rough and very
peremptory. I confess I was frightened; but I think I am more cunning
when I am a little afraid.

"Mariuccia," I said, as she stood trembling in the door-way, waiting
to see what would happen, "fetch a flask of that old wine, and serve
these gentlemen,--and a few chestnuts, if you have some. Be seated,
signori," I said to them, "and take one of these cigars. My boy is a
singer, and you would not hurt his voice by taking him out so early on
this raw morning. Sit down, Nino, and ask these gentlemen what they
desire." They all sat down, somewhat sullenly, and the gendarmes'
sabres clanked on the brick floor.

"What do you wish from me?" asked Nino, who was not much moved after
the first surprise.

"We regret to say," answered the man in plain clothes, "that we are
here to arrest you."

"May I inquire on what charge?" I asked. "But first let me fill
your glasses. Dry throats make surly answers, as the proverb says."
They drank. It chanced that the wine was good, being from my own
vineyard,--my little vineyard that I bought outside of Porta
Salara,--and the men were cold and wet, for it was raining.

"Well," said the man who had spoken before,--he was clean-shaved and
fat, and he smacked his lips over the wine,--"It is not our way to
answer questions. But since you are so civil, I will tell you that you
are arrested on suspicion of having poisoned that Russian baroness,
with the long name, at whose house you have been so intimate."

"Poisoned? The baroness poisoned? Is she very ill, then?" asked Nino,
in great alarm.

"She is dead," said the fat mat, wiping his mouth and twisting the
empty glass in his hand.

"Dead!" cried Nino and I together.

"Dead--yes; as dead as St. Peter," he answered, irreverently. "Your
wine is good, Signor Professore. Yes, I will take another glass--and
my men, too. Yes, she was found dead this morning, lying in her bed.
You were there yesterday, Signor Cardegna, and her servant says he saw
you giving her something in a glass of water." He drank a long draught
from his glass. "You would have done better to give her some of this
wine, my friend. She would certainly be alive to-day." But Nino was
dark and thoughtful. He must have been pained and terribly shocked at
the sudden news, of course, but he did not admire her as I did.

"Of course this thing will soon be over," he said at last. "I am very
much grieved to hear of the lady's death, but it is absurd to suppose
that I was concerned in it, however it happened. She fainted suddenly
in the morning when I was there, and I gave her some water to drink,
but there was nothing in it." He clasped his hands on his knee, and
looked much distressed.

"It is quite possible that you poisoned her," remarked the fat man,
with annoying indifference. "The servant says he overheard high words
between you--"

"He overheard?" cried Nino, springing to his feet. "Cursed beast, to
listen at the door!" He began to walk about excitedly, "How long is
this affair to keep me?" he asked, suddenly; "I have to sing
to-night--and that poor lady lying there dead--oh, I cannot!"

"Perhaps you will not be detained more than a couple of hours," said
the fat man. "And perhaps you will be detained until the Day of
Judgment," he added, with a sly wink at the gendarmes, who laughed
obsequiously. "By this afternoon, the doctors will know of what she
died; and if there was no poison, and she died a natural death, you
can go to the theatre and sing, if you have the stomach. I would, I am
sure. You see, she is a great lady, and the people of her embassy are
causing everything to be done very quickly. If you had poisoned that
old lady who brought us this famous wine a minute ago, you might have
had to wait till next year, innocent or guilty." It struck me that the
wine was producing its effect.

"Very well," said Nino, resolutely; "let us go. You will see that I am
perfectly ready, although the news has shaken me much; and so you will
permit me to walk quietly with you, without attracting any attention?"

"Oh, we would not think of incommoding you," said the fat man. "The
orders were expressly to give you every convenience, and we have
a private carriage below. Signor Grandi, we thank you for your
civility. Good-morning--a thousand excuses." He bowed, and the
gendarmes rose to their feet, refreshed and ruddy with the good wine.
Of course I knew I could not accompany them, and I was too much
frightened to have been of any use. Poor Mariuccia was crying in the
kitchen.

"Send word to Jacovacci, the manager, if you do not hear by twelve
o'clock," Nino called back from the landing, and the door closed
behind them all. I was left alone, sad and frightened, and I felt very
old--much older than I am.

It was tragic. Mechanically I sank into the old green arm-chair, where
she had sat but yesterday evening--she whom I had seen but twice, once
in the theatre and once here, but of whom I had heard so much. And she
was dead, so soon. If Nino could only have heard her last words and
seen her last look he would have been more hurt when he heard of her
sudden death. But he is of stone, that man, save for his love and his
art. He seems to have no room left for sympathy with human ills, nor
even for fear on his own account. Fear!--how I hate the word! Nino
did not seem frightened at all when they took him away. But as for
me--well, it was not for myself this time, at least. That is some
comfort. I think one may be afraid for other people.

Mariuccia was so much disturbed that I was obliged to go myself to
get De Pretis, who gave up all his lessons that day and came to give
me his advice. He looked grave and spoke very little, but he is a
broad-shouldered, genial man, and very comforting. He insisted on
going himself at once to see Nino, to give him all the help he could.
He would not hear of my going, for he said I ought to be bled and have
some tea of mallows to calm me. And when I offered him a cigar from
the box of good ones Nino had given me he took six or seven, and put
them in his pocket without saying a word. But I did not grudge them to
him; for though he is very ridiculous, with his skull-cap and his
snuff-box, he is a leal man, as we say, who stands by his friends and
snaps his fingers at the devil.

I cannot describe to you the anxiety I felt through all that day. I
could not eat, nor drink, nor write. I could not smoke, and when I
tried to go to sleep that cat--an apoplexy on her!--climbed up on my
shoulder and clawed my hair, Mariuccia sat moaning in the kitchen and
could not cook at all, so that I was half starved.

At three o'clock De Pretis came back.

"Courage, conte mio!" he cried; and I knew it was all right. "Courage!
Nino is at liberty again, and says he will sing to-night to show them
he is not a clay doll, to be broken by a little knocking about. Ah,
what a glorious boy Nino is!"

"But where is he!" I asked, when I could find voice to speak, for I
was all trembling.

"He is gone for a good walk, to freshen his nerves, poverino. I wonder
he has any strength left. For Heaven's sake, give me a match that I
may light my cigar, and then I will tell you all about it. Thank you.
And I will sit down comfortably--so. Now you must know that the
baroness--_requiescat_!--was not poisoned by Nino, or by anyone else."

"Of course not! Go on."

"Piano--slow and sure. They had a terrific scene yesterday. You know?
Yes. Then she went out and tired herself, poor soul, so that when she
got home she had an attack of the nerves. Now these foreigners, who
are a pack of silly people, do not have themselves bled and drink
malva water as we do when we get a fit of anger. But they take opium;
that is, a thing they call chloral. God knows what it is made of, but
it puts them to sleep, like opium. When the doctors came to look at
the poor lady they saw at once what was the matter, and called the
maid. The maid said her mistress certainly had some green stuff in a
little bottle which she often used to take; and when they inquired
further they heard that the baroness had poured out much more than
usual the night before, while the maid was combing her hair, for she
seemed terribly excited and restless. So they got the bottle and found
it nearly empty. Then the doctors said, 'At what time was this young
man who is now arrested seen to give her the glass of water?' The
man-servant said it was about two in the afternoon. So the doctors
knew that if Nino had given her the chloral she could not have gone
out afterwards, and have been awake at eleven in the evening when her
maid was with her, and yet have been hurt by what he gave her. And so,
as Jacovacci was raising a thousand devils in every corner of Rome
because they had arrested his principal singer on false pretences, and
was threatening to bring suits against everybody, including the
Russian embassy, the doctors, and the Government, if Nino did not
appear in _Faust_ to-night, according to his agreement, the result was
that, half an hour ago, Nino was conducted out of the police precincts
with ten thousand apologies, and put into the arms of Jacovacci, who
wept for joy, and carried him off to a late breakfast at Morteo's. And
then I came here. But I made Nino promise to take a good walk for his
digestion, since the weather has changed. For a breakfast at three in
the afternoon may be called late, even in Rome. And that reminds me to
ask you for a drop of wine; for I am still fasting, and this talking
is worse for the throat than a dozen high masses."

Mariuccia had been listening at the door, as usual, and she
immediately began crying for joy; for she is a weak-minded old thing,
and dotes on Nino. I was very glad myself, I can tell you; but I
could not understand how Nino could have the heart to sing, or should
lack heart so much as to be fit for it. Before the evening he came
home, silent and thoughtful. I asked him whether he were not glad to
be free so easily.

"That is not a very intelligent question for a philosopher like you to
ask," he answered. "Of course I am glad of my liberty; any man would
be. But I feel that I am as much the cause of that poor lady's death
as though I had killed her with my own hands. I shall never forgive
myself."

"Diana!" I cried, "it is a horrible tragedy; but it seems to me that
you could not help it if she chose to love you."

"Hush!" said he, so sternly that he frightened me. "She is dead. God
give her soul rest. Let us not talk of what she did."

"But," I objected, "if you feel so strongly about it, how can you sing
at the opera to-night?"

"There are plenty of reasons why I should sing. In the first place, I
owe it to my engagement with Jacovacci. He has taken endless trouble
to have me cleared at once, and I will not disappoint him. Besides, I
have not lost my voice, and might be half ruined by breaking contract
so early. Then, the afternoon papers are full of the whole affair,
some right and some wrong, and I am bound to show the Contessina di
Lira that this unfortunate accident does not touch my heart, however
sorry I may be. If I did not appear all Rome would say it was because
I was heart-broken. If she does not go to the theatre, she will at
least hear of it. Therefore I will sing." It was very reasonable of
him to think so.

"Have any of the papers got hold of the story of your giving lessons?"

"No, I think not; and there is no mention of the Lira family."

"So much the better."

Hedwig did not go to the opera. Of course she was quite right. However
she might feel about the baroness, it would have been in the worst
possible taste to go to the opera the very day after her death. That
is the way society puts it. It is bad taste; they never say it is
heartless, or unkind, or brutal. It is simply bad taste. Nino sang, on
the whole, better than if she had been there, for he put his whole
soul in his art and won fresh laurels. When it was over he was
besieged by the agent of the London manager to come to some agreement.

"I cannot tell yet," he said. "I will tell you soon." He was not
willing to leave Rome--that was the truth of the matter. He thought of
nothing, day or night, but of how he might see Hedwig, and his heart
writhed in his breast when it seemed more and more impossible. He
dared not risk compromising her by another serenade, as he felt sure
that it had been some servant of the count who had betrayed him to the
baroness. At last he hit upon a plan. The funeral of the baroness was
to take place on the afternoon of the next day. He felt sure that the
Graf von Lira would go to it, and he was equally certain that Hedwig
would not. It chanced to be the hour at which De Pretis went to the
Palazzo to give her the singing lesson.

"I suppose it is a barbarous thing for me to do," he said to himself,
"but I cannot help it. Love first, and tragedy afterwards."

In the afternoon, therefore, he sallied out, and went boldly to the
Palazzo Carmandola. He inquired of the porter whether the Signor Conte
had gone out, and just as he had expected, so he found it. Old Lira
had left the house ten minutes earlier, to go to the funeral. Nino
ran up the stairs and rang the bell. The footman opened the door, and
Nino quickly slipped a five-franc note into his hand, which he had no
difficulty in finding. On asking if the signorina were at home, the
footman nodded, and added that Professor De Pretis was with her, but
she would doubtless see Professor Cardegna as well. And so it turned
out. He was ushered into the great drawing-room, where the piano was.
Hedwig came forward a few steps from where she had been standing
beside De Pretis, and Nino bowed low before her. She had on a long
dark dress, and no ornament whatever, save her beautiful bright hair,
so that her face was like a jewel set in gold and velvet. But, when I
think of it, such a combination would seem absurdly vulgar by the side
of Hedwig von Lira. She was so pale and exquisite and sad that Nino
could hardly look at her. He remembered that there were violets,
rarest of flowers in Rome in January, in her belt.

To tell the truth, Nino had expected to find her stern and cold,
whereas she was only very quiet and sorrowful.

"Will you forgive me, signorina, for this rashness?" he asked, in a
low voice.

"In that I receive you I forgive you, sir," she said. He glanced
toward De Pretis, who seemed absorbed in some music at the piano and
was playing over bits of an accompaniment. She understood, and moved
slowly to a window at the other end of the great room, standing among
the curtains. He placed himself in the embrasure. She looked at him
long and earnestly, as if finally reconciling the singer with the man
she had known so long. She found him changed, as I had, in a short
time. His face was sterner and thinner and whiter than before, and
there were traces of thought in the deep shadows beneath his eyes.
Quietly observing him, she saw how perfectly simple and exquisitely
careful was his dress, and how his hands bespoke that attention which
only a gentleman gives to the details of his person. She saw that, if
he were not handsome, he was in the last degree striking to the eye,
in spite of all his simplicity, and that he would not lose by being
contrasted with all the dandies and courtiers in Rome. As she looked,
she saw his lip quiver slightly, the only sign of emotion he ever
gives, unless he loses his head altogether, and storms, as he
sometimes does.

"Signorina," he began, "I have come to tell you a story; will you
listen to it?"

"Tell it me," said she, still looking in his face.

"There was once a solitary castle in the mountains, with battlement
and moat both high and broad. Far up in a lonely turret dwelt a rare
maiden, of such surpassing beauty and fairness that the peasants
thought she was not mortal, but an angel from heaven, resting in that
tower from the doing of good deeds. She had flowers up there in her
chamber, and the seeds of flowers; and as the seasons passed by, she
took from her store the dry germs, and planted them one after another
in a little earth on the window-sill. And the sun shone on them and
they grew, and she breathed upon them and they were sweet. But they
withered and bore no offspring, and fell away, so that year by year
her store became diminished. At last there was but one little paper
bag of seed left, and upon the cover was written in a strange
character, 'This is the Seed of the Thorn of the World.' But the
beautiful maiden was sad when she saw this, for she said 'All my
flowers have been sweet, and now I have but this thing left, which is
a thorn!' And she opened the paper and looked inside, and saw one poor
little seed all black and shrivelled. Through that day she pondered
what to do with it, and was very unhappy. At night she said to
herself, 'I will not plant this one; I will throw it away rather than
plant it.' And she went to the window, and tore the paper, and threw
out the little seed into the darkness."

"Poor little thing!" said Hedwig. She was listening intently.

"She threw it out, and as it fell, all the air was full of music, sad
and sweet, so that she wondered greatly. The next day she looked out
of the window, and saw, between the moat and the castle wall, a new
plant growing. It looked black and uninviting, but it had come up so
fast that it had already laid hold on the rough gray stones. At the
falling of the night it reached far up towards the turret, a great
sharp-pointed vine, with only here and there a miserable leaf on it.
'I am sorry I threw it out,' said the maiden. 'It is the Thorn of the
World, and the people who pass will think it defaces my castle.' But
when it was dark again the air was full of music. The maiden went to
the window, for she could not sleep, and she called out, asking who
it was that sang. Then a sweet, low voice came up to her from the
moat. 'I am the Thorn,' it said, 'I sing in the dark, for I am
growing.'--'Sing on, Thorn,' said she, 'and grow if you will.' But in
the morning when she awoke, her window was darkened, for the Thorn had
grown to be a mighty tree, and its topmost shoots were black against
the sky. She wondered whether this uncouth plant would bear anything
but music. So she spoke to it.

"'Thorn,' she said, 'why have you no flowers?'

"'I am the Thorn of the World,' it answered, 'and I can bear no
flowers until the hand that planted me has tended me, and pruned me,
and shaped me to be its own. If you had planted me like the rest, it
would have been easy for you. But you planted me unwillingly, down
below you by the moat, and I have had far to climb.'

"'But my hands are so delicate,' said the maiden. 'You will hurt me,
I am sure.'

"'Yours is the only hand in the world that I will not hurt,' said the
voice, so tenderly and softly and sadly that the gentle fingers went
out to touch the plant and see if it were real. And touching it they
clung there, for they had no harm of it. Would you know, my lady, what
happened then?"

"Yes, yes--tell me!" cried Hedwig, whose imagination was fascinated by
the tale.

"As her hands rested on the spiked branches, a gentle trembling went
through the Thorn, and in a moment there burst out such a blooming and
blossoming as the maiden had never seen. Every prick became a rose,
and they were so many that the light of the day was tinged with them,
and their sweetness was like the breath of paradise. But below her
window the Thorn was as black and forbidding as ever, for only the
maiden's presence could make its flowers bloom. But she smelled the
flowers, and pressed many of them to her cheek.

"'I thought you were only a Thorn,' she said, softly.

"'Nay, fairest maiden,' answered the glorious voice of the bursting
blossom, 'I am the Rose of the World for ever, since you have touched
me.'

"That is my story, signorina. Have I wearied you?"

Hedwig had unconsciously moved nearer to him as he was speaking, for
he never raised his voice, and she hung on his words. There was colour
in her face, and her breath came quickly through her parted lips. She
had never looked so beautiful.

"Wearied me, signore? Ah no; it is a gentle tale of yours."

"It is a true tale--in part," said he.

"In part? I do not understand--" But the colour was warmer in her
cheek, and she turned her face half away, as though looking out.

"I will tell you," he replied, coming closer, on the side from which
she turned. "Here is the window. You are the maiden. The thorn--it is
my love for you"; he dropped his voice to a whisper "You planted it
carelessly, far below you in the dark. In the dark it has grown and
sung to you, and grown again, until now it stands in your own castle
window. Will you not touch it and make its flowers bloom for you?" He
spoke fervently. She had turned her face quite from him now, and was
resting her forehead against one hand that leaned upon the heavy frame
of the casement. The other hand hung down by her side toward him, fair
as a lily against her dark gown. Nino touched it, then took it. He
could see the blush spread to her white throat, and fade again.
Between the half-falling curtain and the great window he bent his knee
and pressed her fingers to his lips. She made as though she would
withdraw her hand, and then left it in his. Her glance stole to him as
he kneeled there, and he felt it on him, so that he looked up. She
seemed to raise him with her fingers, and her eyes held his and drew
them; he stood up, and, still holding her hand, his face was near to
hers. Closer and closer yet, as by a spell, each gazing searchingly
into the other's glance, till their eyes could see no more for
closeness, and their lips met in life's first virgin kiss,--in the
glory and strength of a two-fold purity, each to each.

Far off at the other end of the room De Pretis struck a chord on the
piano. They started at the sound.

"When?" whispered Nino, hurriedly.

"At midnight, under my window," she answered, quickly, not thinking of
anything better in her haste. "I will tell you then. You must go; my
father will soon be here. No, not again," she protested. But he drew
her to him, and said good-bye in his own manner. She lingered an
instant, and tore herself away. De Pretis was playing loudly. Nino had
to pass near him to go out, and the maestro nodded carelessly as he
went by.

"Excuse me, maestro," said Hedwig, as Nino bowed himself out; "it was
a question of arranging certain lessons."

"Do not mention it," said he, indifferently; "my time is yours,
signorina. Shall we go through with this solfeggio once more?"

The good maestro did not seem greatly disturbed by the interruption.
Hedwig wondered, dreamily, whether he had understood. It all seemed
like a dream. The notes were upside down in her sight, and her voice
sought strange minor keys unconsciously, as she vainly tried to
concentrate her attention upon what she was doing.

"Signorina," said Ercole at last, "what you sing is very pretty, but
it is not exactly what is written here. I fear you are tired."

"Perhaps so," said she. "Let us not sing any more to-day." Ercole shut
up the music and rose. She gave him her hand, a thing she had never
done before; and it was unconscious now, as everything she did seemed
to be. There is a point when dreaming gets the mastery and appears
infinitely more real than the things we touch.

Nino, meanwhile, had descended the steps, expecting every moment to
meet the count. As he went down the street a closed carriage drove by
with the Lira liveries. The old count was in it, but Nino stepped into
the shadow of a doorway to let the equipage pass, and was not seen.
The wooden face of the old nobleman almost betrayed something akin to
emotion. He was returning from the funeral, and it had pained him;
for he had liked the wild baroness in a fatherly, reproving way. But
the sight of him sent a home thrust to Nino's heart.

"Her death is on my soul for ever," he muttered between his set teeth.
Poor innocent boy, it was not his fault if she had loved him so much.
Women have done things for great singers that they have not done for
martyrs or heroes. It seems so certain that the voice that sings so
tenderly is speaking to them individually. Music is such a fleeting,
passionate thing that a woman takes it all to herself; how could he
sing like that for anyone else? And yet there is always someone for
whom he does really pour out his heart, and all the rest are the dolls
of life, to be looked at and admired for their dress and complexion,
and to laugh at when the fancy takes him to laugh; but not to love.

At midnight Nino was at his post, but he waited long and patiently for
a sign. It was past two, and he was thinking it hopeless to wait
longer, when his quick ear caught the sound of a window moving on its
hinges, and a moment later something fell at his feet with a sharp,
metallic click. The night was dark and cloudy, so that the waning moon
gave little light. He picked up the thing and found a small pocket
handkerchief wrapped about a minute pair of scissors, apparently to
give it weight. He expected a letter, and groped on the damp pavement
with his hands. Then he struck a match, shaded it from the breeze with
his hand, and saw that the handkerchief was stained with ink, and that
the stains were letters, roughly printed to make them distinct. He
hurried away to the light of a street lamp to read the strange
missive.



CHAPTER X


He went to the light and spread out the handkerchief. It was a small
thing, of almost transparent stuff, with a plain "H.L." and a crown in
the corner. The steel pen had torn the delicate fibres here and there.

"They know you have been here. I am watched. Keep away from the house
till you hear."

That was all the message, but it told worlds. He knew from it that the
count was informed of his visit, and he tortured himself by trying to
imagine what the angry old man would do. His heart sank like a stone
in his breast when he thought of Hedwig, so imprisoned, guarded, made
a martyr of, for his folly. He groaned aloud when he understood that
it was in the power of her father to take her away suddenly and leave
no trace of their destination, and he cursed his haste and impetuosity
in having shown himself inside the house. But with all this weight of
trouble upon him, he felt the strength and indomitable determination
within him which come only to a man who loves, when he knows he is
loved again. He kissed the little handkerchief, and even the scissors
she had used to weight it with, and he put them in his breast. But he
stood irresolute, leaning against the lamppost, as a man will who is
trying to force his thoughts to overtake events, trying to shape out
of the present. Suddenly he was aware of a tall figure in a fur coat
standing near him on the sidewalk. He would have turned to go, but
something about the stranger's appearance struck him so oddly that he
stayed where he was and watched him.

The tall man searched for something in his pockets, and finally
produced a cigarette, which he leisurely lighted with a wax match. As
he did so his eyes fell upon Nino. The stranger was tall and very
thin. He wore a pointed beard and a heavy moustache, which seemed
almost dazzlingly white, as were the few locks that appeared, neatly
brushed over his temples, beneath his opera hat. His sanguine
complexion, however, had all the freshness ef youth, and his eyes
sparkled merrily, as though amused at the spectacle of his nose, which
was immense, curved, and polished, like an eagle's beak. He wore
perfectly-fitting kid gloves, and the collar of his fur wrapper,
falling a little open, showed that he was in evening dress.

It was so late--past two o'clock--that Nino had not expected anything
more than a policeman or some homeless wanderer, when he raised his
eyes to look on the stranger. He was fascinated by the strange
presence of the aged dandy, for such he seemed to be, and returned his
gaze boldly. He was still more astonished, however, when the old
gentleman came close to him, and raised his hat, displaying, as he did
so, a very high and narrow forehead, crowned with a mass of smooth
white hair. There was both grace and authority in the courteous
gesture, and Nino thought the old gentleman moved with an ease that
matched his youthful complexion rather than his hoary locks.

"Signor Cardegna, the distinguished artist, if I mistake not?" said
the stranger, with a peculiar foreign accent, the like of which Nino
had never heard. He also raised his hat, extremely surprised that a
chance passer-by should know him. He had not yet learned what it is to
be famous. But he was far from pleased at being addressed in his
present mood.

"The same, signore," he replied coldly. "How can I serve you?"

"You can serve the world you so well adorn better than by exposing
your noble voice to the midnight damps and chills of this infernal--I
would say, eternal--city," answered the other. "Forgive me. I am, not
unnaturally, concerned at the prospect of loosing even a small portion
of the pleasure you know how to give to me and to many others."

"I thank you for your flattery," said Nino, drawing his cloak about
him, "but it appears to me that my throat is my own, and whatever
voice there may be in it. Are you a physician, signore? And pray why
do you tell me that Rome is an infernal city?"

"I have had some experience of Rome, Signor Cardegna," returned the
foreigner, with a peculiar smile, "and I hate no place so bitterly in
all this world--save one. And as for my being a physician, I am an old
man, a very singularly old man in fact, and I know something of the
art of healing."

"When I need healing, as you call it," said Nino, rather scornfully,
"I will inquire for you. Do you desire to continue this interview amid
the 'damps and chills of our 'infernal city'? If not, I will wish you
good-evening."

"By no means," said the other, not in the least repulsed by Nino's
coldness. "I will accommpany you a little way, if you will allow me."
Nino stared hard at the stranger, wondering what could induce him to
take so much interest in a singer. Then he nodded gravely and turned
toward his home, inwardly hoping that his aggressive acquaintance
lived in the opposite direction. But he was mistaken. The tall man
blew a quantity of smoke through his nose and walked by his side. He
strode over the pavement with a long, elastic step.

"I live not far from here," he said, when they had gone a few steps,
"and if the Signor Cardegna will accept of a glass of old wine and a
good cigar I shall feel highly honoured." Somehow an invitation of
this kind was the last thing Nino had expected or desired, least of
all from a talkative stranger who seemed determined to make his
acquaintance.

"I thank you, signore," he answered, "but I have supped, and I do not
smoke."

"Ah--I forgot. You are a singer, and must of course be careful. That
is perhaps the reason why you wander about the streets when the nights
are dark and damp. But I can offer you something more attractive than
liquor and tobacco. A great violinist lives with me,--a queer,
nocturnal bird,--and if you will come he will be enchanted to play for
you. I assure you he is a very-good musician, the like of which you
will hardly hear nowadays. He does not play in public any longer, from
some odd fancy of his."

Nino hesitated. Of all instruments he loved the violin best, and in
Rome he had had but little opportunity of hearing it well played.
Concerts were the rarest of luxuries to him, and violinists in Rome
are rarer still.

"What is his name, signore?" he asked, unbending a little.

"You must guess that when you hear him," said the old gentleman,
with a short laugh. "But I give you my word of honour he is a
great musician. Will you come, or must I offer you still further
attractions?"

"What might they be?" asked Nino.

"Nay; will you come for what I offer you? If the music is not good,
you may go away again." Still Nino hesitated. Sorrowful and fearful of
the future as he was, his love gnawing cruelly at his heart, he would
have given the whole world for a strain of rare music if only he were
not forced to make it himself. Then it struck him that this might be
some pitfall. I would not have gone.

"Sir," he said at last, "if you meditate any foul play, I would advise
you to retract your invitation. I will come, and I am well armed." He
had my long knife about him somewhere. It is one of my precautions.
But the stranger laughed long and loud at the suggestion, so that his
voice woke queer echoes in the silent street. Nino did not understand
why he should laugh so much, but he found his knife under his cloak,
and made sure it was loose in its leathern sheath. Presently the
stranger stopped before the large door of an old palazzo,--every house
is a palazzo that has an entrance for carriages, and let himself in
with a key. There was a lantern on the stone pavement inside, and
seeing a light, Nino followed him boldly. The old gentleman took the
lantern and led the way up the stairs, apologising for the distance
and the darkness. At last they stopped, and, entering another door,
found themselves in the stranger's apartment.

"A cardinal lives downstairs," said he, as he turned up the light of a
couple of large lamps that burned dimly in the room they had reached.
"The secretary of a very holy order has his office on the other side
of my landing, and altogether this is a very religious atmosphere.
Pray take off your cloak; the room is warm."

Nino looked about him. He had expected to be ushered into some
princely dwelling, for he had judged his interlocutor to be some rich
and eccentric noble, unless he were an erratic scamp. He was somewhat
taken aback by the spectacle that met his eyes. The furniture was
scant, and all in the style of the last century. The dust lay half an
inch thick on the old gilded ornaments and chandeliers. A great
pier-glass was cracked from corner to corner, and the metallic backing
seemed to be scaling off behind. There were two or three open valises
on the marble floor, which latter, however, seemed to have been lately
swept. A square table was in the centre, also free from dust, and a
few high-backed leathern chairs, studded with brass nails, were ranged
about it. On the table stood one of the lamps, and the other was
placed on a marble column in a corner, that once must have supported a
bust, or something of the kind. Old curtains, moth-eaten and ragged
with age, but of a rich material, covered the windows. Nino glanced at
the open trunks on the floor, and saw that they contained a quantity
of wearing apparel and the like. He guessed that his acquaintance had
lately arrived.

"I do not often inhabit this den," said the old gentleman, who had
divested himself of his furs, and now showed his thin figure arrayed
in the extreme of full dress. A couple of decorations hung at his
button-hole. "I seldom come here, and on my return, the other day, I
found that the man I had left in charge was dead, with, all his
family, and the place has gone to ruin. That is always my luck," he
added, with a little laugh.

"I should think he must have been dead some time," said Nino, looking
about him. "There is a great deal of dust here."

"Yes, as you say, it is some years," returned his acquaintance, still
laughing. He seemed a merry old soul, fifty years younger than his
looks. He produced from a case a bottle of wine and two silver cups,
and placed them on the table.

"But where is your friend, the violinist?" inquired Nino, who was
beginning to be impatient; for except that the place was dusty and
old, there was nothing about it sufficiently interesting to take his
thoughts from the subject nearest his heart.

"I will introduce him to you," said the other, going to one of the
valises and taking out a violin case, which he laid on the table and
proceeded to open. The instrument was apparently of great age, small
and well shaped. The stranger took it up and began to tune it.

"Do you mean to say that you are yourself the violinist?" he asked, in
astonishment. But the stranger vouchsafed no answer, as he steadied
the fiddle with his bearded chin and turned the pegs with his left
hand, adjusting the strings.

Then, suddenly and without any preluding, he began to make music, and
from the first note Nino sat enthralled and fascinated, losing himself
in the wild sport of the tones. The old man's face became ashy white
as he played, and his white hair appeared to stand away from his head.
The long, thin fingers of his left hand chased each other in pairs
and singly along the delicate strings, while the bow glanced in
the lamplight as it dashed like lightning across the instrument, or
remained almost stationary, quivering in his magic hold as quickly as
the wings of the humming-bird strike the summer air. Sometimes he
seemed to be tearing the heart from the old violin; sometimes it
seemed to murmur soft things in his old ear, as though the imprisoned
spirit of the music were pleading to be free on the wings of sound:
sweet as love that is strong as death; feverish and murderous as
jealousy that is as cruel as the grave; sobbing great sobs of a
terrible death-song, and screaming in the outrageous frenzy of a
furious foe; wailing thin cries of misery, too exhausted for strong
grief; dancing again in horrid madness, as the devils dance over some
fresh sinner they have gotten themselves for torture; and then at
last, as the strings bent to the commanding bow, finding the triumph
of a glorious rest in great, broad chords, splendid in depth and royal
harmony, grand, enormous, and massive as the united choirs of heaven.

Nino was beside himself, leaning far over the table, straining eyes
and ears to understand the wonderful music that made him drunk
with its strength. As the tones ceased he sank back in his chair,
exhausted by the tremendous effort of his senses. Instantly the old
man recovered his former appearance. With his hand he smoothed his
thick white hair; the fresh colour came back to his cheeks; and
as he tenderly laid his violin on the table, he was again the
exquisitely-dressed and courtly gentleman who had spoken to Nino in
the street. The musician disappeared, and the man of the world
returned. He poured wine into the plain silver cups, and invited Nino
to drink; but the boy pushed the goblet away, and his strange host
drank alone.

"You asked me for the musician's name," he said, with a merry twinkle
in his eye, from which every trace of artistic inspiration had faded;
"can you guess it now?" Nino seemed tongue-tied still, but he made an
effort.

"I have heard of Paganini," he said, "but he died years ago."

"Yes, he is dead, poor fellow! I am not Paganini."

"I am at a loss, then," said Nino, dreamily, "I do not know the names
of many violinists, but you must be so famous that I ought to know
yours."

"No; how should you? I will tell you. I am Benoni, the Jew." The tall
man's eyes twinkled more brightly than ever. Nino stared at him, and
saw that he was certainly of a pronounced Jewish type. His brown eyes
were long and oriental in shape, and his nose was unmistakably
Semitic.

"I am sorry to seem so ignorant," said Nino, blushing, "but I do not
know the name. I perceive, however, that you are indeed a very great
musician,--the greatest I ever heard." The compliment was perfectly
sincere, and Benoni's face beamed with pleasure. He evidently liked
praise.

"It is not extraordinary," he said smiling. "In the course of a very
long life it has been my only solace, and if I have some skill it is
the result of constant study. I began life very humbly."

"So did I," said Nino, thoughtfully, "and I am not far from the
humbleness yet."

"Tell me," said Benoni, with a show of interest, "where you come from,
and why you are a singer."

"I was a peasant's child, an orphan, and the good God gave me a voice.
That is all I know about it. A kind-hearted gentleman, who once owned
the estate where I was born, brought me up, and wanted to make a
philosopher of me. But I wanted to sing, and so I did."

"Do you always do the things you want to do?" asked the other, "You
look as though you might. You look like Napoleon--that man always
interested me. That is why I asked you to come and see me. I have
heard you sing, and you are a great artist--an additional reason. All
artists should be brothers. Do you not think so?"

"Indeed, I know very few good ones," said Nino simply; "and even among
them I would like to choose before claiming relationship--personally.
But Art is a great mother, and we are all her children."

"More especially we who began life so poorly, and love Art because she
loves us." Benoni seated himself on the arm of one of the old chairs,
and looked down across the worm-eaten table at the young singer. "We,"
he continued, "who have been wretchedly poor know better than others
that Art is real, true, and enduring; medicine in sickness and food in
famine; wings to the feet of youth and a staff for the steps of old
age. Do you think I exaggerate, or do you feel as I do?" He paused for
an answer, and poured more wine into his goblet.

"Oh, you know I feel as you do!" cried Nino, with rising enthusiasm.

"Very good; you are a genuine artist. What you have not felt yet you
will feel hereafter. You have not suffered yet."

"You do not know about me," said Nino in a low voice. "I am suffering
now."

Benoni smiled. "Do you call that suffering? Well, it is perhaps very
real to you, though I do not know what it is. But Art will help you
through it all, as it has helped me."

"What were you?" asked Nino. "You say you were poor."

"Yes. I was a shoemaker, and a poor one at that. I have worn out more
shoes than I ever made. But I was brought up to it for many years."

"You did not study music from a child, then?"

"No. But I always loved it; and I used to play in the evenings when I
had been cobbling all day long."

"And one day you found out you were a great artist and became famous.
I see! What a strange beginning!" cried Nino.

"Not exactly that. It took a long time. I was obliged to leave my
home, for other reasons, and then I played from door to door, and from
town to town, for whatever coppers were thrown to me. I had never
heard any good music, and so I played the things that came into my
head. By and bye people would make me stay with them awhile, for my
music sake. But I never stayed long."

"Why not?"

"I cannot tell you now," said Benoni, looking grave and almost sad:
"it is a very long story. I have travelled a great deal, preferring a
life of adventure. But of late money has grown to be so important a
thing that I have given a series of great concerts, and have become
rich enough to play for my own pleasure. Besides, though I travel so
much, I like society, and I know many people everywhere. To-night, for
instance, though I have been in Rome only a week, I have been to a
dinner party, to the theatre, to a reception, and to a ball. Everybody
invites me as soon as I arrive. I am very popular,--and yet I am a
Jew," he added, laughing in an odd way.

"But you are a merry Jew," said Nino, laughing too, "besides being a
great genius. I do not wonder people invite you."

"It is better to be merry than sad," replied Benoni. "In the course of
a long life I have found out that."

"You do not look so very old," said Nino. "How old are you?"

"That is a rude question," said his host, laughing. "But I will
improvise a piece of music for you." He took his violin, and stood up
before the broken pier-glass. Then he laid the bow over the strings
and struck a chord. "What is that?" he asked, sustaining the sound.

"The common chord of A minor," answered Nino immediately.

"You have a good ear," said Benoni, still playing the same notes, so
that the constant monotony of them buzzed like a vexatious insect in
Nino's hearing. Still the old man sawed the bow over the same strings
without change. On and on, the same everlasting chord, till Nino
thought he must go mad.

"It is intolerable; for the love of heaven, stop!" he cried, pushing
back his chair and beginning to pace the room. Benoni only smiled, and
went on as unchangingly as ever. Nino could bear it no longer, being
very sensitive about sounds, and he made for the door.

"You cannot get out,--I have the key in my pocket," said Benoni,
without stopping.

Then Nino became nearly frantic, and made at the Jew to wrest the
instrument from his hands. But Benoni was agile, and eluded him, still
playing vigorously the one chord, till Nino cried aloud, and sank in a
chair, entirely overcome by the torture, that seemed boring its way
into his brain like a corkscrew.

"This," said Benoni, the bow still sawing the strings, "is life
without laughter. Now let us laugh a little, and see the effect."

It was indeed wonderful. With his instrument he imitated the sound of
a laughing voice, high up above the monotonous chord: softly at first,
as though far in the distance; then louder and nearer, the sustaining
notes of the minor falling away one after the other and losing
themselves, as the merriment gained ground on the sadness; till
finally, with a burst of life and vitality of which it would be
impossible to convey any idea, the whole body of mirth broke into a
wild tarantella movement, so vivid and elastic and noisy that it
seemed to Nino that he saw the very feet of the dancers, and heard the
jolly din of the tambourine and the clattering, clappering click of
the castanets.

"That," said Benoni, suddenly stopping, "is life with laughter, be it
ever so sad and monotonous before. Which do you prefer?"

"You are the greatest artist in the world!" cried Nino,
enthusiastically; "but I should have been a raving madman if you had
played that chord any longer."

"Of course," said Benoni, "and I should have gone mad if I had not
laughed. Poor Schumann, you know, died insane because he fancied he
always heard one note droning in his ears."

"I can understand that," said Nino. "But it is late, and I must be
going home. Forgive my rudeness and reluctance to come with you. I was
moody and unhappy. You have given me more pleasure than I can tell
you."

"It will seem little enough to-morrow, I dare say," replied Benoni.
"That is the way with pleasures. But you should get them all the same,
when you can, and grasp them as tightly as a drowning man grasps a
straw. Pleasures and money, money and pleasures."

Nino did not understand the tone in which his host made this last
remark. He had learned different doctrines from me.

"Why do you speak so selfishly, after showing that you can give
pleasure so freely, and telling me that we are all brothers?" he
asked.

"If you are not in a hurry, I will explain to you that money is the
only thing in this world worth having," said Benoni, drinking another
cup of the wine, which appeared to have no effect whatever on his
brain.

"Well?" said Nino, curious to hear what he had to say.

"In the first place, you will allow that from the noblest moral
standpoint a man's highest aim should be to do good to his
fellow-creatures? Yes, you allow that. And to do the greatest possible
good to the greatest possible number? Yes, you allow that also. Then,
I say, other things being alike, a good man will do the greatest
possible amount of good in the world when he has the greatest possible
amount of money. The more money, the more good; the less money, the
less good. Of course money is only the means to the end, but nothing
tangible in the world can ever be anything else. All art is only a
means to the exciting of still more perfect images in the brain; all
crime is a means to the satisfaction of passion, or avarice, which is
itself a king-passion; all good itself is a means to the attainment of
heaven. Everything is bad or good in the world except art, which is a
thing separate, though having good and bad results. But the attainment
of heaven is the best object to keep in view. To that end, do the most
good; and to do it, get the most money. Therefore, as a means, money
is the only thing in the world worth having, since you can most
benefit humanity by it, and consequently be the most sure of going to
heaven when you die. Is that clear?"

"Perfectly," said Nino, "provided a man is himself good."

"It is very reprehensible to be bad," said Benoni, with a smile.

"What a ridiculous truism!" said Nino, laughing outright.

"Very likely," said the other. "But I never heard any preacher, in any
country, tell his congregation anything else. And people always listen
with attention. In countries where rain is entirely unknown, it is not
a truism to say that 'when it rains it is damp.' On the contrary, in
such countries that statement would be regarded as requiring
demonstration, and once demonstrated, it would be treasured and taught
as an interesting scientific fact. Now it is precisely the same with
congregations of men. They were never bad, and never can be; in fact,
they doubt, in their dear innocent hearts, whether they know what a
real sin is. Consequently, they listen with interest to the statement
that sin is bad, and promise themselves that if ever that piece of
information should be unexpectedly needed by any of their friends,
they will remember it."

"You are a satirist, Signor Benoni," said Nino.

"Anything you like," returned the other, "I have been called worse
names than that in my time. So much for heaven and the prospect of it.
But a gentleman has arisen in a foreign country who says that there is
no heaven, anywhere, and that no one does good except in the pursuit
of pleasure here or hereafter. But as his hereafter is nowhere,
disregard it in the argument, and say that man should only do, or
actually does, everything solely for the sake of pleasure here; say
that pleasure is good, so long as it does not interfere with the
pleasures of others, and good is pleasure. Money may help a man to
more of it, but pleasure is the thing. Well, then, my young brother
artist, what did I say?--'money and pleasure, pleasure and money.' The
means are there; and as, of course, you are good, like everybody else,
and desire pleasure, you will get to heaven hereafter, if there is
such a place; and if not, you will get the next thing to it, which is
a paradise on earth." Having reached the climax, Signor Benoni lit a
cigarette, and laughed his own peculiar laugh.

Nino shuddered involuntarily at the hideous sophistry. For Nino is a
good boy, and believes very much in heaven, as well as in a couple of
other places. Benoni's quick brown eyes saw the movement, and
understood it, for he laughed longer yet, and louder.

"Why do you laugh like that? I see nothing to laugh at. It is very
bitter and bad to hear all this that you say. I would rather hear your
music. You are badly off, whether you believe in heaven or not. For if
you do, you are not likely to get there; and if you do not believe in
it, you are a heretic, and will be burned for ever and ever."

"Not so badly answered, for an artist; and in a few words, too," said
Benoni, approvingly. "But, my dear boy, the trouble is that I shall
not get to heaven either way, for it is my great misfortune to be
already condemned to everlasting flames."

"No one is that," said Nino, gravely.

"There are some exceptions, you know," said Benoni.

"Well," answered the young man thoughtfully, "of course there is the
Wandering Jew, and such tales, but nobody believes in him."

"Good-night," said Benoni. "I am tired and most go to bed."

Nino found his way out alone, but carefully noted the position of the
palazzo before he went home through the deserted streets. It was four
in the morning.



CHAPTER XI


Early in the morning after Nino's visit to Signor Benoni, De Pretis
came to my house, wringing his hands and making a great trouble and
noise. I had not yet seen Nino, who was sound asleep, though I could
not imagine why he did not wake. But De Pretis was in such a temper
that he shook the room and everything in it, as he stamped about the
brick floor. It was not long before he had told me the cause of his
trouble. He had just received a formal note from the Graf von Lira,
inclosing the amount due to him for lessons, and dispensing with his
services for the future.

Of course this was the result of the visit Nino had so rashly made; it
all came out afterwards, and I will not now go through the details
that De Pretis poured out, when we only half knew the truth. The
count's servant who admitted Nino had pocketed the five francs as
quietly as you please; and the moment the count returned he told him
how Nino had come and had stayed three-quarters of an hour just as if
it were an everyday affair. The count, being a proud old man, did not
encourage him to make further confidences, but sent him about his
business. He determined to make a prisoner of his daughter until he
could remove her from Rome. He accordingly confined her in the little
suite of apartments that were her own, and set an old soldier, whom he
had brought from Germany, as a body-servant, to keep watch at the
outer door. He did not condescend to explain even to Hedwig the cause
of his conduct, and she, poor girl, was as proud as he, and would not
ask why she was shut up, lest the answer should be a storm of abuse
against Nino. She cared not at all how her father had found out her
secret, so long as he knew it, and she guessed that submission would
be the best policy.

Meanwhile, active preparations were made for an immediate departure.
The count informed his friends that he was going to pass Lent in
Paris, on account of his daughter's health, which was very poor, and
in two days everything was ready. They would leave on the following
morning. In the evening the count entered his daughter's apartments,
after causing himself to be formally announced by a servant, and
briefly informed her that they would start for Paris on the following
morning. Her maid had been engaged in the meantime in packing her
effects, not knowing whither her mistress was going. Hedwig received
the announcement in silence, but her father saw that she was deadly
white and her eyes heavy from weeping. I have anticipated this much to
make things clearer. It was on the first morning of Hedwig's
confinement that De Pretis came to our house.

Nino was soon waked by the maestro's noise, and came to the door of
his chamber, which opens into the little sitting-room, to inquire what
the matter might be. Nino asked if the maestro were peddling cabbages,
that he should scream so loudly.

"Cabbages, indeed! cabbage yourself, silly boy!" cried Ercole, shaking
his fist at Nino's head, just visible through the crack of the door.
"A pretty mess you have made with your ridiculous love affair! Here am
I--"

"I see you are," retorted Nino; "and do not call any affair of mine
ridiculous, or I will throw you out of the window. Wait a moment!"
With that he slammed his door in the maestro's face, and went on with
his dressing. For a few minutes De Pretis raved at his ease, venting
his wrath on me. Then Nino came out.

"Now, then," said he, preparing for a tussle, "what is the matter, my
dear maestro?" but Ercole had expended most of his fury already.

"The matter!" he grumbled. "The matter is that I have lost an
excellent pupil through you. Count Lira says he does not require my
services any longer, and the man who brought the note says they are
going away."

"Diavolo!" said Nino, running his fingers through his curly black
hair, "it is indeed serious. Where are they going?"

"How should I know?" asked De Pretis angrily. "I care much more about
losing the lesson than about where they are going. I shall not follow
them, I promise you. I cannot take the basilica of St. Peter about
with me in my pocket, can I?"

And so he was angry at first, and at length he was pacified, and
finally he advised Nino to discover immediately where the count and
his daughter were going; and if it were to any great capital, to
endeavour to make a contract to sing there. Lent came early that year,
and Nino was free at the end of Carnival,--not many days longer to
wait. This was the plan that had instantly formed itself in Nino's
brain. De Pretis is really a most obliging man, but one cannot wonder
that he should be annoyed at the result of Nino's four months'
courtship under such great difficulties, when it seemed that all their
efforts had led only to the sudden departure of his lady-love. As for
me, I advised Nino to let the whole matter drop then and there. I told
him he would soon get over his foolish passion, and that a statue
like Hedwig could never suffer anything, since she could never feel.
But he glared at me, and did as he liked, just as he always has done.

The message on the handkerchief that Nino had received the night
before warned him to keep away from the Palazzo Carmandola. Nino
reflected that this warning was probably due to Hedwig's anxiety for
his personal safety, and he resolved to risk anything rather than
remain in ignorance of her destination. It must be a case of giving
some signal. But this evening he had to sing at the theatre, and,
therefore, without more ado, he left us, and went to bed again, where
he stayed until twelve o'clock. Then he went to rehearsal, arriving an
hour behind time, at least, a matter which he treated with the coolest
indifference. After that he got a pound of small shot, and amused
himself with throwing a few at a time at the kitchen window from the
little court at the back of our house, where the well is. It seemed a
strangely childish amusement for a great singer.

Having sung successfully through his opera that night, he had supper
with us, as usual, and then went out. Of course he told me afterwards
what he did. He went to his old post under the windows of the Palazzo
Carmandola, and as soon as all was dark he began to throw small shot
up at Hedwig's window. He now profited by his practice in the
afternoon, for he made the panes rattle with the little bits of lead,
several times. At last he was rewarded. Very slowly the window opened,
and Hedwig's voice spoke in a low tone:

"Is it you?"

"Ah, dear one! Can you ask?" began Nino.

"Hush! I am still locked up. We are going away,--I cannot tell where."

"When, dearest love?"

"I cannot tell. What _shall_ we do?" very tearfully. "I will follow
you immediately; only let me know when and where."

"If you do not hear by some other means, come here to-morrow night. I
hear steps. Go at once."

"Good-night, dearest," he murmured; but the window was already closed,
and the fresh breeze that springs up after one o'clock blew from the
air the remembrance of the loving speech that had passed upon it.

On the following night he was at his post, and again threw the shot
against the pane for a signal. After a long time Hedwig opened the
window very cautiously.

"Quick!" she whispered down to him, "go! They are all awake," and she
dropped something heavy and white. Perhaps she added some word, but
Nino would not tell me, and never would read me the letter. But it
contained the news that Hedwig and her father were to leave Rome for
Paris on the following morning; and ever since that night Nino has
worn upon his little finger a plain gold ring,--I cannot tell why, and
he says he found it.

The next day he ascertained from the porter of the Palazzo Carmandola
that the count and contessina, with their servants, had actually left
Rome that morning for Paris. From that moment he was sad as death, and
went about his business heavily, being possessed of but one idea,
namely, to sign an engagement to sing in Paris as soon as possible. In
that wicked city the opera continues through Lent, and after some
haggling, in which De Pretis insisted on obtaining for Nino the most
advantageous terms, the contract was made out and signed.

I see very well that unless I hurry myself I shall never reach the
most important part of this story, which is after all the only part
worth telling. I am sure I do not know how I can ever tell it so
quickly, but I will do my best, and you must have a little patience;
for though I am not old, I am not young, and Nino's departure for
Paris was a great shock to me, so that I do not like to remember it,
and the very thought of it sickens me. If you have ever had any
education, you must have seen an experiment in which a mouse is put in
a glass jar, and all the air is drawn away with a pump, so that the
poor little beast languishes and rolls pitifully on its side, gasping
and wheezing with its tiny lungs for the least whiff of air. That is
just how I felt when Nino went away. It seemed as though I could not
breathe in the house or in the streets, and the little rooms at home
were so quiet that one might hear a pin fall, and the cat purring
through the closed doors. Nino left at the beginning of the last ten
days of Carnival, when the opera closed, so that it was soon Lent; and
everything is quieter then.

But before he left us there was noise enough and bustle of
preparation, and I did not think I should miss him; for he, always was
making music, or walking about, or doing something to disturb me just
at the very moment when I was most busy with my books. Mariuccia,
indeed, would ask me from time to time what I should do when Nino was
gone, as if she could foretell what I was to feel. I suppose she knew
I was used to him, after fourteen years of it, and would be inclined
to black humours for want of his voice. But she could not know just
what Nino is to me, nor how I look on him as my own boy. These
peasants are quick-witted and foolish; they guess a great many things
better than I could, and then reason on them like idiots.

Nino himself was glad to go. I could see his face grow brighter as the
time approached; and though he appeared to be more successful than
ever in his singing, I am sure that he cared nothing for the applause
he got, and thought only of singing as well as he could for the love
of it. But when it came to the parting we were left alone.

"Messer Cornelio," he said, looking at me affectionately, "I have
something to say to you to-night before I go away."

"Speak, then, my dear boy," I answered, "for no one hears us."

"You have been very good to me. A father could not have loved me
better, and such a father as I had could not have done a thousandth
part what you have done for me. I am going out into the world for a
time, but my home is here,--or rather, where my home is will always be
yours. You have been my father, and I will be your son; and it is time
you should give up your professorship. No, not that you are at all
old; I do not mean that."

"No, indeed," said I, "I should think not."

"It would be much more proper if you retired into an elegant leisure,
so that you might write as many books as you desire without wearing
yourself out in teaching those students every day. Would you not like
to go back to Serveti?"

"Serveti!--ah, beautiful, lost Serveti, with its castle and good
vine-lands!"

"You shall have it again before long, my father," he said. He had
never called me father before, the dear boy! I suppose it was because
he was going away. But Serveti again? The thing was impossible, and I
said so.

"It is not impossible," he answered, placidly. "Successful singers
make enough money in a year to buy Serveti. A year is soon passed. But
now let us go to the station, or I shall not be in time for the
train."

"God bless you, Nino mio," I said, as I saw him off. It seemed to me
that I saw two or three Ninos. But the train rolled away and took
them all from me,--the ragged little child who first came to me, the
strong-limbed, dark-eyed boy with his scales and trills and
enthusiasm, and the full-grown man with the face like the great
emperor, mightily triumphing in his art and daring in his love. They
were all gone in a moment, and I was left alone on the platform of the
station, a very sorrowful and weak old man. Well, I will not think
about that day.

The first I heard of Nino was by a letter he wrote me from Paris, a
fortnight after he had left me. It was characteristic of him, being
full of eager questions about home and De Pretis and Mariuccia and
Rome. Two things struck me in his writing. In the first place, he made
no mention of the count or Hedwig, which led me to suppose that he was
recovering from his passion, as boys do when they travel. And
secondly, he had so much to say about me that he forgot all about his
engagement, and never even mentioned the theatre. On looking carefully
through the letter again I found he had written across the top the
words, "Rehearsals satisfactory." That was all.

It was not long after the letter came, however, that I was very much
frightened by receiving a telegram, which must have cost several
francs to send all that distance. By this he told me that he had no
clue to the whereabouts of the Liras, and he implored me to make
inquiries and discover where they had gone. He added that he had
appeared in _Faust_ successfully. Of course he would succeed. If a
singer can please the Romans, he can please anybody. But it seemed to
me that if he had received a very especially flattering reception he
would have said so. I went to see De Pretis, whom I found at home over
his dinner. We put our heads together and debated how we might
discover the Paris address of the Graf von Lira. In a great city like
that it was no wonder Nino could not find them; but De Pretis hoped
that some of his pupils might be in correspondence with the
contessina, and would be willing to give the requisite directions for
reaching her. But days passed, and a letter came from Nino written
immediately after sending the telegram, and still we had accomplished
nothing. The letter merely amplified the telegraphic message.

"It is no use," I said to De Pretis. "And besides, it is much better
that he should forget all about it."

"You do not know that boy," said the maestro, taking snuff. And he was
quite right, as it turned out.

Suddenly Nino wrote from London. He had made an arrangement, he said,
by which he was allowed to sing there for three nights only. The two
managers had settled it between them, being friends. He wrote very
despondently, saying that although he had been far more fortunate in
his appearances than he had expected, he was in despair at not having
found the contessina, and had accepted the arrangement which took him
to London because he had hopes of finding her there. On the day which
brought me this letter I had a visitor. Nino had been gone nearly a
month. It was in the afternoon, towards sunset, and I was sitting in
the old green arm-chair watching the goldfinch in his cage, and
thinking sadly of the poor dear baroness, and of my boy, and of many
things. The bell rang and Mariuccia brought me a card in her thick
fingers which were black from peeling potatoes, so that the mark of
her thumb came off on the white pasteboard. The name on the card was
"Baron Ahasuerus Benoni," and there was no address. I told her to show
the signore into the sitting-room, and he was not long in coming. I
immediately recognised the man Nino had described, with his unearthly
freshness of complexion, his eagle nose, and his snow-white hair. I
rose to greet him.

"Signor Grandi," he said, "I trust you will pardon my intrusion. I am
much interested in your boy, the great tenor."

"Sir," I replied, "the visit of a gentleman is never an intrusion.
Permit me to offer you a chair." He sat down, and crossed one thin leg
over the other. He was dressed in the height of the fashion; he wore
patent-leather shoes, and carried a light ebony cane with a silver
head. His hat was perfectly new, and so smoothly brushed that it
reflected a circular image of the objects in the room. But he had a
certain dignity that saved his foppery from seeming ridiculous.

"You are very kind," he answered. "Perhaps you would like to hear some
news of Signor Cardegna,--your boy, for he is nothing else."

"Indeed" I said, "I should be very glad. Has he written to you,
baron?"

"Oh, no! We are not intimate enough for that. But I ran on to Paris
the other day, and heard him three or four times, and had him to
supper at Bignon's. He is a great genius, your boy, and has won all
hearts."

"That is a compliment of weight from so distinguished a musician as
yourself," I answered; for, as you know, Nino had told me all about
his playing. Indeed, the description was his, which is the reason why
it is so enthusiastic.

"Yes," said Benoni, "I am a great traveller, and often go to Paris for
a day or two. I know everyone there. Cardegna had a perfect ovation.
All the women sent him flowers, and all the men asked him to dinner."

"Pardon my curiosity," I interrupted, "but as you know everyone in
Paris, could you inform me whether Count von Lira and his daughter are
there at present? He is a retired Prussian officer." Benoni stretched
out one of his long arms and ran his fingers along the keys of the
piano without striking them. He could just reach so far from where he
sat. He gave no sign of intelligence, and I felt sure that Nino had
not questioned him.

"I know them very well," he said, presently, "but I thought they were
here."

"No, they left suddenly for Paris a month ago."

"I can very easily find out for you," said Benoni, his Bright eyes
turning on me with a searching look. "I can find out from Lira's
banker, who is probably also mine. What is the matter with that young
man? He is as sad as Don Quixote."

"Nino? He is probably in love," I said, rather indiscreetly.

"In love? Then of course he is in love with Mademoiselle de Lira, and
has gone to Paris to find her, and cannot. That is why you ask me." I
was so much astonished at the quickness of his guesswork that I
stared, open-mouthed.

"He must have told you!" I exclaimed at last.

"Nothing of the kind. In the course of a long life I have learned to
put two and two together, that is all. He is in love, he is your boy,
and you are looking for a certain young lady. It is as clear as day."
But in reality he had guessed the secret long before.

"Very well," said I, humbly, but doubting him, all the same, "I can
only admire your perspicacity. But I would be greatly obliged if you
would find out where they are, those good people. You seem to be a
friend of my boy's, baron. Help him, and he will be grateful to you.
It is not such a very terrible thing that a great artist should love a
noble's daughter, after all, though I used to think so." Benoni
laughed, that strange laugh which Nino had described,--a laugh that
seemed to belong to another age.

"You amuse me with your prejudices about nobility," he said, and his
brown eyes flashed and twinkled again. "The idea of talking about
nobility in this age! You might as well talk of the domestic economy
of the Garden of Eden."

"But you are yourself a noble--a baron," I objected.

"Oh, I am anything you please," said Benoni. "Some idiot made a baron
of me the other day because I lent him money and he could not pay it.
But I have some right to it, after all, for I am a Jew. The only real
nobles are Welshmen and Jews. You cannot call anything so ridiculously
recent as the European upper classes a nobility. Now I go straight
back to the creation of the world, like all my countrymen. The
Hibernians get a factitious reputation for antiquity by saying that
Eve married an Irishman after Adam died, and that is about as much
claim as your European nobles have to respectability. Bah! I know
their beginnings, very small indeed."

"You also seem to have strong prejudices on the subject," said I, not
wishing to contradict a guest in my house.

"So strong that it amounts to having no prejudices at all. Your boy
wants to marry a noble damosel. In Heaven's name let him do it. Let us
manage it amongst us. Love is a grand thing. I have loved several
women all their lives. Do not look surprised. I am a very old man;
they have all died, and at present I am not in love with anybody. I
suppose it cannot last long, however. I loved a woman once on a
time"--Benoni paused. He seemed to be on the verge of a soliloquy, and
his strange, bright face, which seemed illuminated always with a
deathless vitality, became dreamy and looked older. But he
recollected himself and rose to go. His eye caught sight of the guitar
that hung on the wall.

"Ah," he cried suddenly, "music is better than love, for it lasts; let
us make music." He dropped his hat and stick and seized the
instrument. In an instant it was tuned and he began to perform the
most extraordinary feats of agility with his fingers that I ever
beheld. Some of it was very beautiful, and some of it very sad and
wild, but I understood Nino's enthusiasm. I could have listened to the
old guitar in his hands for hours together,--I, who care little for
music; and I watched his face. He stalked about the room with the
thing in his hands, in a sort of wild frenzy of execution. His
features grew ashy pale, and his smooth white hair stood out wildly
from his head. He looked, then, more than a hundred years old, and
there was a sadness and a horror about him that would have made the
stones cry aloud for pity. I could not believe he was the same man. At
last he was tired, and stopped.

"You are a great artist, baron," I said. "Your music seems to affect
you much."

"Ah, yes, it makes me feel like other men for the time," said he, in a
low voice. "Did you know that Paganini always practised on the guitar?
It is true. Well, I will find out about the Liras for you in a day or
two, before I leave Rome again."

I thanked him and he took his leave.



CHAPTER XII


Benoni had made an impression on me that nothing could efface. His
tall thin figure and bright eyes got into my dreams and haunted me, so
that I thought my nerves were affected. For several days I could think
of nothing else, and at last had myself bled, and took some cooling
barley-water, and gave up eating salad at night, but without any
perceptible effect.

Nino wrote often, and seemed very much excited about the disappearance
of the contessina, but what could I do? I asked everyone I knew, and
nobody had heard of them, so that at last I quite gave it over, and
wrote to tell him so. A week passed, then a fortnight, and I had heard
nothing from Benoni. Nino wrote again, enclosing a letter addressed to
the Contessina di Lira, which he implored me to convey to her, if I
loved him. He said he was certain that she had never left Italy. Some
instinct seemed to tell him so, and she was evidently in neither
London nor Paris, for he had made every inquiry, and had even been to
the police about it. Two days after this, Benoni came. He looked
exactly as he did the first time I saw him.

"I have news," he said, briefly, and sat down in the arm-chair,
striking the dust from his boot with his little cane.

"News of the Graf?" I inquired.

"Yes. I have found out something. They never left Italy at all, it
seems. I am rather mystified, and I hate mystification. The old man is
a fool; all old men are fools, excepting myself. Will you smoke? No?
Allow me, then. It is a modern invention, but a very good one." He lit
a cigarette. "I wish your Liras were in Tophet," he continued,
presently. "How can people have the bad taste to hide? It only makes
ingenious persons the more determined to find them." He seemed
talkative, and as I was so sad and lonely I encouraged him by a little
stimulus of doubt. I wish I had doubted him sooner, and differently.

"What is the use?" I asked. "We shall never find them."

"'Never' is a great word,'" said Benoni. "You do not know what it
means. I do. But as for finding them, you shall see. In the first
place, I have talked with their banker. He says the count gave the
strictest orders to have his address kept a secret. But, being one of
my people he allowed himself to make an accidental allusion which gave
me a clue to what I wanted. They are hidden somewhere in the
mountains."

"Diavolo! among the brigands: they will not be very well treated,"
said I.

"The old man will be careful. He will keep clear of danger. The only
thing is to find them."

"And what then?" I asked.

"That depends on the most illustrious Signor Cardegna," said Benoni,
smiling. "He only asked you to find them. He probably did not
anticipate that I would help you."

It did not appear to me that Benoni had helped me much, after all. You
might as well look for a needle in a haystack as try to find anyone
who goes to the Italian mountains. The baron offered no further
advice, and sat calmly smoking and looking at me. I felt uneasy,
opposite him. He was a mysterious person, and I thought him disguised.
It was really not possible that, with his youthful manner, his hair
should be naturally so white, or that he should be so old as he
seemed. I asked him the question we always find it interesting to ask
foreigners, hoping to lead him into conversation.

"How do you like our Rome, Baron Benoni?"

"Rome? I loathe and detest it," he said, with a smile. "There is only
one place in the whole world that I hate more."

"What place is that?" I asked, remembering that he had made the same
remark to Nino before.

"Jerusalem," he answered, and the smile faded on his face. I thought I
guessed the reason of his dislike in his religious views. But I am
very liberal about those things.

"I think I understand you," I said; "you are a Hebrew, and the
prevailing form of religion is disagreeable to you."

"No, it is not exactly that,--and yet, perhaps, it is." He seemed to
be pondering on the reason of his dislike.

"But why do you visit these places if they do not please you?"

"I come here because I have so many agreeable acquaintances. I never
go to Jerusalem. I also come here from time to time to take a bath.
The water of the Trevi has a peculiarly rejuvenating effect upon me,
and something impels me to bathe in it."

"Do you mean in the fountain? Ah, foreigners say that if you drink the
water by moonlight you will return to Rome."

"Foreigners are all weak-minded fools. I like that word. The human
race ought to be called fools generically, as distinguished from the
more intelligent animals. If you went to England you would be as great
a fool as any Englishman that comes here and drinks Trevi water by
moonlight. But I assure you I do nothing so vulgar as to patronise the
fountain, any more than I would patronise Mazzarino's church, hard by.
I go to the source, the spring, the well where it rises."

"Ah, I know the place well," I said. "It is near to Serveti."

"Serveti? Is that not in the vicinity of Horace's villa?"

"You know the country well, I see," said I, sadly.

"I know most things," answered the Jew, with complacency. "You would
find it hard to hit upon anything I do not know. Yes, I am a vain man,
it is true, but I am very frank and open about it. Look at my
complexion. Did you ever see anything like it? It is Trevi water that
does it." I thought such excessive vanity very unbecoming in a man of
his years, but I could not help looking amused. It was so odd to hear
the old fellow descanting on his attractions. He actually took a small
mirror from his pocket and looked at himself in most evident
admiration.

"I really believe," he said at length, pocketing the little
looking-glass, "that a woman might love me still. What do you say?"

"Doubtless," I answered politely, although I was beginning to be
annoyed, "a woman might love you at first sight. But it would be more
dignified for you not to love her."

"Dignity!" He laughed long and loud, a cutting laugh, like the
breaking of glass. "There is another of your phrases. Excuse my
amusement, Signor Grandi, but the idea of dignity always makes me
smile." He called that thing a smile! "It is in everybody's
mouth,--the dignity of the State, the dignity of the king, the dignity
of woman, the dignity of father, mother, schoolmaster, soldier. Psh!
an apoplexy, as you say, on all the dignities you can enumerate. There
is more dignity in a poor patient ass toiling along a rough road under
a brutal burden that in the entire human race put together, from Adam
to myself. The conception of dignity is notional, most entirely. I
never see a poor wretch of a general, or king, or any such animal,
adorned in his toggery of dignity without laughing at him, and his
dignity again leads him to suppose that my smile is the result of the
pleasurable sensations his experience excites in me. Nature has
dignity at times; some animals have it; but man, never. What man
mistakes for it in himself is his vanity,--a vanity much more
pernicious than mine, because it deceives its possessor, who is also
wholly possessed by it, and is its slave. I have had a great many
illusions in my life, Signor Grandi."

"One would say, baron, that you had parted with them."

"Yes, and that is my chief vanity,--the vanity of vanities which I
prefer to all the others. It is only a man of no imagination who has
no vanity. He cannot imagine himself any better than he is. A creative
genius makes for his own person a 'self' which he thinks he is, or
desires other people to believe him to be. It makes little difference
whether he succeeds or not, so long as he flatters himself he does. He
complacently takes all his images from the other animals, or from
natural objects and phenomena, depicting himself bold as an eagle,
brave as a lion, strong as an ox, patient as an ass, vain as a
popinjay, talkative as a parrot, wily as a serpent, gentle as a dove,
cunning as a fox, surly as a bear; his glance is lightning, his voice
thunder, his heart stone, his hands are iron, his conscience a hell,
his sinews of steel, and his love like fire. In short, he is like
anything alive or dead, except a man, saving when he is mad. Then he
is a fool. Only man can be a fool. It distinguishes him from the
higher animals."

I cannot describe the unutterable scorn that blazed in his eyes as
Benoni poured out the vials of his wrath on the unlucky human race.
With my views, we were not likely to agree in this matter.

"Who are you?" I asked. "What right can you possibly have to abuse us
all in such particularly strong terms? Do you ever make proselytes to
your philosophy?"

"No," said he, answering my last question, and recovering his serenity
with that strange quickness of transition I had remarked when he had
made music during his previous visit. "No, they all die before I have
taught them anything."

"That does not surprise me, baron," said I. He laughed a little.

"Well, perhaps it would surprise you even less if you knew me better,"
he replied. "But really, I came here to talk about Cardegna and not to
chatter about that contemptible creature, man, who is not worth a
moment's notice, I assure you. I believe I can find these people, and
I confess it would amuse me to see the old man's face when we walk in
upon him. I must be absent for a few days on business in Austria, and
shall return immediately, for I have not taken my bath yet that I
spoke of. Now, if it is agreeable to you, I would propose that we go
to the hills, on my return, and prosecute our search together; writing
to Nino in the meantime to come here as soon as he has finished his
engagement in Paris. If he comes quickly, he may go with us; if not,
he can join us. At all events, we can have a very enjoyable tour among
the natives, who are charming people, quite like animals, as you ought
to know."

I think I must be a very suspicious person. Circumstances have made me
so, and perhaps my suspicions are very generally wrong. It may be. At
all events I did suspect the rich and dandified old baron of desiring
to have a laugh by putting Nino into some absurd situation. He had
such strange views, or, at least, he talked so oddly, that I did not
believe half he said. It is not possible that anybody should seriously
hold the opinions he professed.

When he was gone I sat alone, pondering on this situation, which was
like a very difficult problem in a nightmare, that could not or would
not look sensible, do what I would. It chanced that I got a letter
from Nino that evening, and I confess I was reluctant to open it,
fearing that he would reproach me with not having taken more pains to
help him. I felt as though, before opening the envelope, I should like
to go back a fortnight and put forth all my strength to find the
contessina, and gain a comforting sense of duty performed. If I had
only done my best how easy it would have been to face a whole sheet of
complaints! Meanwhile the letter was come, and I had done nothing
worth mentioning. I looked at the back of it, and my conscience smote
me; but it had to be accomplished, and at last I tore the cover off
and read.

Poor Nino! He said he was ill with anxiety, and feared it would injure
his voice. He said that to break his engagement and come back to
Rome would be ruin to him. He must face it out, or take the legal
consequences of a breach of contract, which are overwhelming to a
young artist. He detailed all the efforts he had made to find Hedwig,
pursuing every little sign and clue that seemed to present itself; all
to no purpose. The longer he thought of it, the more certain he was
that Hedwig was not in Paris or London. She might be anywhere else in
the whole world, but she was certainly not in either of those cities.
Of that he was convinced. He felt like a man who had pursued a
beautiful image to the foot of a precipitous cliff; the rock had
opened and swallowed up his dream, leaving him standing alone in
hopeless despair; and a great deal more poetic nonsense of that kind.

I do not believe I had ever realised what he so truly felt for Hedwig
until I sat at my table with his letter before me, overcome with the
sense of my own weakness in not having effectually checked this mad
passion at its rise; or, since it had grown so masterfully, of my
wretched procrastination in not having taken my staff in my hand and
gone out into the world to find the woman my boy loved and bring her
to him. By this time, I thought, I should have found her. I could not
bear to think of his being ill, suffering, heart-broken,--ruined, if
he lost his voice by an illness,--merely because I had not had the
strength to do the best thing for him. Poor Nino, I thought, you shall
never say again that Cornelio Grandi has not done what was in his
power to make you happy.

"That baron! an apoplexy on him! has illuded me with his promises of
help," I said to myself. "He has no more intention of helping me or
Nino than he has of carrying off the basilica of St. Peter. Courage,
Cornelio! thou must gird up thy loins, and take a little money in thy
scrip, and find Hedwig von Lira."

All that night I lay awake, trying to think how I might accomplish
this end; wondering to which point of the compass I should turn, and,
above all, reflecting that I must make great sacrifices. But my boy
must have what he wanted, since he was consuming himself, as we say,
in longing, for it. It seemed to me no time for counting the cost,
when every day might bring upon him a serious illness. If he could
only know that I was acting, he would allow his spirits to revive and
take courage.

In the watches of the night I thought over my resources, which,
indeed, were meagre enough; for I am a very poor man. It was necessary
to take a great deal of money, for once away from Rome no one could
tell when I might return. My salary as professor is paid to me
quarterly, and it was yet some weeks to the time when it was due. I
had only a few francs remaining,--not more than enough to pay my rent
and to feed Mariuccia and me. I had paid at Christmas the last
instalment due on my vineyard out of Porta Salara, and though I owed
no man anything I had no money, and no prospect of any for some time.
And yet I could not leave home on a long journey without at least two
hundred scudi in my pocket. A scudo is a dollar, and a dollar has five
francs, so that I wanted a thousand francs. You see, in spite of the
baron's hint about the mountains, I thought I might have to travel all
over Italy before I satisfied Nino.

A thousand francs is a great deal of money,--it is a Peru, as we say.
I had not the first sou toward it. I thought a long time. I wondered
if the old piano were worth anything; whether anybody would give me
money for my manuscripts, the results of patient years of labour and
study; my old gold scarf pin, my seal ring, and even my silver watch,
which keeps really very good time,--what were they worth? But it would
not be much, not the tenth part of what I wanted. I was in despair,
and I tried to sleep. Then a thought came to me.

"I am a donkey," I said. "There is the vineyard itself,--my little
vineyard beyond Porta Salara. It is mine and is worth half as much
again as I need." And I slept quietly till morning.

It is true, and I am sure it is natural, that in the daylight my
resolution looked a little differently to me than it did in the quiet
night. I had toiled and scraped a great deal more than you know to buy
that small piece of land, and it seemed much more my own than all
Serveti had ever been in my better days. Then I shut myself up in my
room and read Nino's letter over again, though it pained me very much;
for I needed courage. And when I had read it, I took some papers in my
pocket, and put on my hat and my old cloak, which Nino will never want
any more now for his midnight serenades, and I went out to sell my
little vineyard.

"It is for my boy," I said, to give myself some comfort.

But it is one thing to want to buy, and it is quite another thing to
want to sell. All day I went from one man to another with my
papers,--all the agents who deal in those things; but they only said
they thought it might be sold in time; it would take many days, and
perhaps weeks.

"But I want to sell it to-day," I explained.

"We are very sorry," said they, with a shrug of the shoulders; and
they showed me the door.

I was extremely down-hearted, and though I could not sell my piece of
land I spent three sous in buying two cigars to smoke, and I walked
about the Piazza Colonna in the sun; I would not go home to dinner
until I had decided what to do. There was only one man I had not
tried, and he was the man who had sold it to me. Of course I knew
people who do this business, for I had had enough trouble to learn
their ways when I had to sell Serveti, years ago. But this one man I
had not tried yet, because I knew that he would drive a cruel bargain
with me when he saw I wanted the money. But at last I went to him and
told him just what my wishes were.

"Well," he said, "it is a very bad time for selling land. But to
oblige you, because you are a customer, I will give you eight hundred
francs for your little place. That is really much more than I can
afford."

"Eight hundred francs!" I exclaimed, in despair. "But I have paid you
nearly twice as much for it in the last three years! What do you take
me for? To sell such a gem of a vineyard for eight hundred francs? If
you offer me thirteen hundred I will discuss the matter with you."

"I have known you a long time, Signor Grandi, and you are an honest
man. I am sure you do not wish to deceive me. I will give you eight
hundred and fifty."

Deceive him, indeed! The very man who had received fifteen hundred
from me said I deceived him when I asked thirteen hundred for the same
piece of land! But I needed it very much, and so, bargaining and
wrangling, I got one thousand and seventy-five francs in bank-notes;
and I took care they should all be good ones too. It was a poor price,
I know, but I could do no better, and I went home happy. But I dared
not tell Mariuccia. She is only my servant, to be sure, but she would
have torn me in pieces.

Then I wrote to the authorities at the university to say that I was
obliged to leave Rome suddenly, and would of course not claim my
salary during my absence. But I added that I hoped they would not
permanently supplant me. If they did I knew I should be ruined. Then I
told Mariuccia that I was going away for some days to the country, and
I left her the money to pay the rent, and her wages, and a little
more, so that she might be provided for if I were detained very long.
I went out again and telegraphed to Nino to say I was going at once in
search of the Liras, and begging him to come home as soon as he should
have finished his engagement.

To tell the truth, Mariuccia was very curious to know where I was
going, and asked me many questions, which I had some trouble in
answering. But at last it was night again, and the old woman went to
bed and left me. Then I went on tiptoe to the kitchen, and found a
skein of thread and two needles, and set to work.

I knew the country whither I was going very well, and it was necessary
to hide the money I had in some ingenious way. So I took two
waistcoats--one of them was quite good still,--and I sewed them
together, and basted the bank-notes between them. It was a clumsy
piece of tailoring, though it took me so many hours to do it. But I
had put the larger waistcoat outside very cunningly, so that when I
had put on the two, you could not see that there was anything beneath
the outer one. I think I was very clever to do this without a woman to
help me. Then I looked to my boots, and chose my oldest clothes,--and
you may guess, from what you know of me, how old they were,--and I
made a little bundle that I could carry in my hand, with a change of
linen, and the like. These things I made ready before I went to bed,
and I slept with the two waistcoats and the thousand francs under my
pillow, though I suppose nobody would have chosen that particular
night for robbing me.

All these preparations had occupied me so much that I had not found
any time to grieve over my poor little vineyard that I had sold; and,
besides, I was thinking all the while of Nino, and how glad he would
be to know that I was really searching for Hedwig. But when I thought
of the vines, it hurt me; and I think it is only long after the deed
that it seems more blessed to give than to receive.

But at last I slept, as tired folk will, leaving care to the morrow;
and when I awoke it was daybreak, and Mariuccia was clattering angrily
with the tin coffee-pot outside. It was a bright morning, and the
goldfinch sang, and I could hear him scattering the millet seed about
his cage while I dressed. And then the parting grew very near, and I
drank my coffee silently, wondering how soon it would be over, and
wishing that the old woman would go out and let me have my house
alone. But she would not, and, to my surprise, she made very little
worry or trouble, making a great show of being busy. When I was quite
ready she insisted on putting a handful of roasted chestnuts into my
pocket, and she said she would pray for me. The fact is, she thought,
foolish old creature, as she is, that I was old and in poor health,
and she had often teased me to go into the country for a few days, so
that she was not ill pleased that I should seem to take her advice.
She stood looking after me as I trudged along the street, with my
bundle and my good stick in my right hand, and a lighted cigar in my
left.

I had made up my mind that I ought first to try the direction hinted
at by the baron, since I had absolutely no other clue to the
whereabouts of the Count von Lira and his daughter. I therefore got
into the old stage that still runs to Palestrina and the neighbouring
towns, for it is almost as quick as going by rail, and much cheaper;
and half-an-hour later we rumbled out of the Porta San Lorenzo, and I
had entered upon the strange journey to find Hedwig von Lira,
concerning which frivolous people have laughed so unkindly. And you
may call me a foolish old man if you like. I did it for my boy.



CHAPTER XIII


I went to Palestrina because all foreigners go there, and are to be
heard of from other parts of the mountains in that place. It was a
long and tiresome journey; the jolting stage-coach shook me very much.
There was a stout woman inside, with a baby that squealed; there
was a very dirty old country curate, who looked as though he had not
shaved for a week, or changed his collar for a month. But he talked
intelligently, though he talked too much, and he helped to pass the
time until I was weary of him. We jolted along over the dusty roads,
and were at least thankful that it was not yet hot.

In the evening we reached Palestrina, and stopped before the inn in
the market-place, as tired and dusty as might be. The woman went one
way, and the priest the other, and I was left alone. I soon found the
fat old host, and engaged a room for the night. He was talkative and
curious, and sat by my side when he had prepared my supper in the
dingy dining-room downstairs. I felt quite sure that he would be able
to tell me what I wanted, or at least to give me a hint from hearsay.
But he at once began to talk of last year, and how much better his
business had been then than it was now, as country landlords
invariably do.

It was to no purpose that I questioned him about the people that had
passed during the fortnight, the month, the two months back; it was
clear that no one of the importance of my friends had been heard of.
At last I was tired, and he lit a wax candle, which he would carefully
charge in the bill afterwards, at double its natural price, and he
showed me the way to my room. It was a very decent little room, with
white curtains and a good bed and a table,--everything I could desire.
A storm had come up since I had been at my supper, and it seemed a
comfortable thing to go to bed, although I was disappointed at having
got no news.

But when I had blown out my candle, determining to expostulate with
the host in the morning if he attempted to make me pay for a whole
one, I lay thinking of what I should do; and, turning on my side, I
observed that a narrow crack of the door admitted rays of light into
the darkness of my chamber. Now I am very sensitive to draughts and
inclined to take cold, and the idea that there was a door open
troubled me, so that at last I made up my mind to get up and close it.
As I rose to my feet, I perceived that it was not the door by which I
had entered; and so, before shutting it, I called out, supposing there
might be someone in the next room.

"Excuse me," I said, loudly, "I will shut this door." But there was no
reply.

Curiosity is perhaps a vice, but it is a natural one. Instead of
pulling the door to its place, I pushed it a little, knocking with
my knuckles at the same time. But as no one answered, I pushed it
further, and put in my head. It was a disagreeable thing I saw.

The room was like mine in every way, save that the bed was moved to
the middle of the open space, and there were two candles on two
tables. On the bed lay a dead man. I felt what we call a brivido,--a
shiver like an ague.

It was the body of an old man, with a face like yellow wax, and a
singularly unpleasant expression even in death. His emaciated hands
were crossed on his breast, and held a small black crucifix. The
candles stood, one at the head and one at the foot, on little tables.
I entered the room and looked long at the dead old man. I thought it
strange that there should be no one to watch him, but I am not afraid
of dead men after the first shudder is past. It was a ghastly sight
enough, however, and the candles shed a glaring yellowish light over
it all.

"Poor wretch!" I said to myself, and went back to my room, closing the
door carefully behind me.

At first I thought of rousing the host, and explaining to him my
objections to being left almost in the same room with a corpse. But I
reflected that it would be foolish to seem afraid of it, when I was
really not at all timid, and so I went to bed and slept until dawn.
But when I went downstairs I found the innkeeper, and gave him a piece
of my mind.

"What sort of an inn do you keep? What manners are these?" I cried
angrily. "What diavolo put into your pumpkin head to give me a
sepulchre for a room?"

He seemed much disturbed at what I said, and broke out into a thousand
apologies. But I was not to be so easily pacified.

"Do you think," I demanded, "that I will ever come here again, or
advise any of my friends to come here? It is insufferable. I will
write to the police--" But at this he began to shed tears and to wring
his hands, saying it was not his fault.

"You see, signore, it was my wife who made me arrange it so. Oh! these
women--the devil has made them all! It was her father--the old dead
man you saw. He died yesterday morning--may he rest!--and we will
bury him to-day. You see everyone knows that unless a dead man is
watched by someone from another town his soul will not rest in peace.
My wife's father was a jettatore; he had the evil eye, and people knew
it for miles around, so I could not persuade anyone from the other
villages to sit by him and watch his body, though I sent everywhere
all day yesterday. At last that wife of mine--maledictions on her
folly!--said, 'It is my father, after all, and his soul must rest, at
any price. If you put a traveller in the next room, and leave the door
open, it will be the same thing; and so he will be in peace.' That is
the way it happened, signore," he continued, after wiping away his
tears; "you see I could not help it at all. But if you will overlook
it, I will not make any charges for your stay. My wife shall pay me.
She has poultry by the hundred. I will pay myself with her chickens."

"Very good," said I, well pleased at having got so cheap a lodging.
"But I am a just man, and I will pay for what I have eaten and drunk,
and you can take the night's lodging out of your wife's chickens, as
you say." So we were both satisfied.[Footnote: This incident actually
occurred, precisely as related.]

The storm of the night had passed away, leaving everything wet and the
air cool and fresh. I wrapped my cloak about me and went into the
market-place to see if I could pick up any news. It was already late
for the country, and there were few people about. Here and there, in
the streets, a wine-cart was halting on its way to Rome, while the
rough carter went through the usual arrangement of exchanging some of
his employer's wine for food for himself, filling up the barrel with
good pure water that never hurt anyone. I wandered about, though I
could not expect to see any face that I knew; it is so many years
since I lived at Serveti that even were the carters from my old place
I should have forgotten how they looked. Suddenly, at the corner of a
dirty street, where there was a little blue and white shrine to the
Madonna, I stumbled against a burly fellow with a gray beard carrying
a bit of salt codfish in one hand and a cake of corn bread in the
other, eating as he went.

"Gigi!" I cried, in delight, when I recognised the old carrettiere who
used to bring me grapes and wine, and still does when the fancy takes
him.

"Dio mio! Signor Conte!" he cried, with his mouth full, and holding
up the bread and fish with his two hands, in astonishment. When he
recovered himself he instantly offered to share his meal with me, as
the poorest wretch in Italy will offer his crust to the greatest
prince, out of politeness. "Vuol favorire?" he said, smiling.

I thanked him and declined, as you may imagine. Then I asked him how
he came to be in Palestrina; and he told me that he was often there in
the winter, as his sister had married a vine-dresser of the place,
of whom he bought wine occasionally. Very well-to-do people, he
explained, eagerly, proud of his prosperous relations.

We clambered along through the rough street together, and I asked him
what was the news from Serveti and from that part of the country,
well knowing that if he had heard of any rich foreigners in that
neighbourhood he would at once tell me of it. But I had not much hope.
He talked about the prospects of the vines, and such things, for some
time, and I listened patiently.

"By the by," he said at last, "there is a gran signore who is gone
to live in Fillettino,--a crazy man, they say, with a beautiful
daughter, but really beautiful, as an angel."

I was so much surprised that I made a loud exclamation.

"What is the matter?" asked Gigi.

"It is nothing, Gigi," I answered, for I was afraid lest he should
betray my secret, if I let him guess it. "It is nothing. I struck my
foot against a stone. But you were telling about a foreigner who is
gone to live somewhere. Fillettino? Where is that?"

"Oh, the place of the diavolo! I do not wonder you do not know, conte,
for gentlemen never go there. It is in the Abruzzi, beyond Trevi. Did
you ever hear of the Serra di Sant' Antonio, where so many people have
been killed?"

"Diana! I should think so! In the old days--"

"Bene," said Gigi, "Fillettino is there, at the beginning of the
pass."

"Tell me, Gigi mio," I said, "are you not very thirsty?" The way to
the heart of the wine carter lies through a pint measure. Gigi was
thirsty, as I supposed, and we sat down in the porch of my inn, and
the host brought a stoup of his best wine and set it before us.

"I would like to hear about the crazy foreigner who is gone to live in
the hills among the brigand," I said, when he had wet his throat.

"What I know I will tell you, Signor Conte," he answered, filling his
pipe with bits that he broke off a cigar. "But I know very little. He
must be a foreigner, because he goes to such a place; and he is
certainly crazy, for he shuts his daughter in the old castle, and
watches her as though she was made of wax, like the flowers you have
in Rome under glass."

"How long have they been there, these queer folks?" I asked.

"What do I know? It may be a month or two. A man told me, who had come
that way from Fucino, and that is all I know."

"Do people often travel that way, Gigi?"

"Not often, indeed," he answered, with a grin. "They are not very
civil, the people of those parts." Gigi made a gesture, or a series of
gestures. He put up his hands as though firing a gun. Then he opened
his right hand and closed it, with a kind of insinuating twirl of the
fingers, which means "to steal." Lastly he put his hand over his eyes,
and looked through his fingers as though they were bars, which means
"prison." From this I inferred that the inhabitants of Fillettino were
addicted to murder, robbery, and other pastimes, for which they
sometimes got into trouble. The place he spoke of is about thirty
miles, or something more, from Palestrina, and I began planning how I
should get there as cheaply as possible. I had never been there, and
wondered what kind of a habitation the count had found; for I knew it
must be the roughest sort of mountain town, with some dilapidated
castle or other overhanging it. But the count was rich, and he had
doubtless made himself very comfortable. I sat in silence while Gigi
finished his wine and chatted about his affairs between the whiffs of
his pipe.

"Gigi," I said at last, "I want to buy a donkey."

"Eh, your excellency can be accommodated: and a saddle, too, if you
wish."

"I think I could ride without a saddle," I said, for I thought it a
needless piece of extravagance.

"Madonna mia!" he cried. "The Signor Conte ride bareback on a donkey!
They would laugh at you. But my brother-in-law can sell you a beast
this very day, and for a mere song."

"Let us go and see the beast," I said. I felt a little ashamed of
having wished to ride without a saddle. But as I had sold all I had,
I wanted to make the money last as long as possible; or at least I
would spend as little as I could, and take something back, if I ever
went home at all. We had not far to go, and Gigi opened a door in
the street, and showed me a stable, in which something moved in the
darkness. Presently he led out an animal and began to descant upon its
merits.

"Did you ever see a more beautiful donkey?" asked Gigi, admiringly.
"It looks like a horse!" It was a little ass, with sad eyes, and ears
as long as its tail. It was also very thin, and had the hair rubbed
off its back from carrying burdens. But it had no sore places, and did
not seem lame.

"He is full of fire," said Gigi, poking the donkey in the ribs to
excite a show of animation. "You should see him gallop uphill with my
brother on his back, and a good load into the bargain. Brrrr! Stand
still, will you!" he cried, holding tight by the halter, though the
animal did not seem anxious to run away.

"And then," said Gigi, "he eats nothing,--positively nothing."

"He does not look as though he had eaten much of late," I said.

"Oh, my brother-in-law is as good to him as though he were a
Christian. He gives him corn bread and fish, just like his own
children. But this ass prefers straw."

"A frugal ass," I said, and we began to bargain. I will not tell you
what I gave Gigi's brother-in-law for the beast, because you would
laugh. And I bought an old saddle, too. It was really necessary, but
it was a dear bargain, though it was cheaper than hiring; for I sold
the donkey and the saddle again, and got back something.

It is a wild country enough that lies behind the mountains towards the
sources of the Aniene,--the river that makes the falls at Tivoli.
You could not half understand how in these times, under the new
government, and almost within a long day's ride from Rome, such things
could take place as I am about to tell you of, unless I explained to
you how very primitive that country is which lies to the south-east of
the capital, and-which we generally call the Abruzzi. The district is
wholly mountainous, and though there are no very great elevations
there are very ragged gorges and steep precipices, and now and then an
inaccessible bit of forest far up among the rocks, which no man has
ever thought of cutting down. It would be quite impossible to remove
the timber. The people are mostly shepherds in the higher regions,
where there are no vines, and when opportunity offers they will waylay
the unwary traveller and rob him, and even murder him, without
thinking very much about it. In the old days the boundary between the
Papal States and the kingdom of Naples ran through these mountains,
and the contrabbandieri--the smugglers of all sorts of wares--used to
cross from one dominion to the other by circuitous paths and steep
ways of which only a few had knowledge. The better known of these
passes were defended by soldiers and police, but there have been
bloody fights fought, within a few years, between the law and its
breakers. Foreigners never penetrate into the recesses of these hills,
and even the English guide-books, which are said to contain an account
of everything that the Buon Dio ever made, compiled from notes taken
at the time of the creation, make no mention of places which surpass
in beauty all the rest of Italy put together.

No railroad or other modern innovation penetrates into those Arcadian
regions, where the goatherd plays upon his pipe all the day long,
the picture of peace and innocence, or prowls in the passes with a
murderous long gun, if there are foreigners in the air. The women toil
at carrying their scant supply of drinking-water from great distances
during a part of the day, and in the evening they spin industriously
by their firesides or upon their doorsteps, as the season will have
it. It is an old life, the same to-day as a thousand years ago, and
perhaps as it will be a thousand years hence. The men are great
travellers, and go to Rome in the winter to sell their cheese, or to
milk a flock of goats in the street at daybreak, selling the foaming
canful for a son. But their visits to the city do not civilise them;
the outing only broadens the horizon of their views in regard to
foreigners, and makes them more ambitious to secure one, and see what
he is like, and cut off his ears, and get his money. Do not suppose
that the shepherd of the Abruzzi lies all day on the rocks in the sun,
waiting for the foreign gentleman to come within reach. He might wait
a long time. Climbing has strengthened the muscles of his legs into so
much steel, and a party of herdsmen have been known to come down from
the Serra to the plains around Velletri, and to return to their
inaccessible mountains, after doing daring deeds of violence, in
twenty-four hours from the time of starting, covering at least from
eighty to ninety miles by the way. They are extraordinary fellows, as
active as tigers, and fabulously strong, though they are never very
big.

This country begins behind the range of Sabine mountains seen from
Rome across the Campagna, and the wild character of it increases as
you go towards the south-east.

Since I have told you this much I need not weary you with further
descriptions. I do not like descriptions, and it is only when Nino
gives me his impressions that I write them, in order that you may
know how beautiful things impress him, and the better judge of his
character.

I do not think that Gigi really cheated me so very badly about the
donkey. Of course I do not believe the story of his carrying the
brother-in-law and the heavy load uphill at a gallop; but I am thin
and not very heavy, and the little ass carried me well enough through
the valleys, and when we came to a steep place I would get off and
walk, so as not to tire him too much. If he liked to crop a thistle or
a blade of grass, I would stop a moment, for I thought he would grow
fatter in that way, and I should not lose so much when I sold him
again. But he never grew very fat.

Twice I slept by the way before I reached the end of my journey,--once
at Olevano and once at Trevi; for the road from Olevano to Trevi is
long, and some parts are very rough, especially at first. I could tell
you just how every stone on the road looks--Rojate, the narrow pass
beyond, and then the long valley with the vines; then the road turns
away and rises as you go along the plateau of Arcinazzo, which is
hollow beneath, and you can hear the echoes as you tread; then at the
end of that the desperate old inn, called by the shepherds the Madre
dei Briganti,--the mother of brigands,--smoke-blackened within and
without, standing alone on the desolate heath; farther on, a broad
bend of the valley to the left, and you see Trevi rising before you,
crowned with an ancient castle, and overlooking the stream that
becomes the Aniene afterwards; from Trevi through a rising valley
that grows narrower at every step, and finally seems to end abruptly,
as indeed it does, in a dense forest far up the pass. And just below
the woods lies the town of Fillettino, where the road ends; for there
is a road which leads to Tivoli, but does not communicate with
Olevano, whence I had come.

Of course I had made an occasional inquiry by the way, when I could do
so without making people too curious. When anyone asked me where I was
going, I would say I was bound for Fucino, to buy beans for seed at
the wonderful model farm that Torlonia has made by draining the old
lake. And then I would ask about the road; and sometimes I was told
there was a strange foreigner at Fillettino, who made everybody wonder
about him by his peculiar mode of life. Therefore, when I at last saw
the town, I was quite sure that the count was there, and I got off my
little donkey, and let him drink in the stream, while I myself drank a
little higher up. The road was dusty, and my donkey and I were
thirsty.

I thought of all I would do, as I sat on the stone by the water
and the beast cropped the wretched grass, and soon I came to the
conclusion that I did not know in the least what I should do. I had
unexpectedly found what I wanted, very soon, and I was thankful enough
to have been so lucky. But I had not the first conception of what
course I was to pursue when once I had made sure of the count.
Besides, it was barely possible that it was not he, after all, but
another foreigner, with another daughter. The thought frightened me,
but I drove it away. If it were really old Lira who had chosen this
retreat in which to imprison his daughter and himself, I asked myself
whether I could do anything save send word to Nino as soon as
possible.

I felt like a sort of Don Quixote, suddenly chilled into the prosaic
requirements of common sense. Perhaps if Hedwig had been my Dulcinea,
instead of Nino's, the crazy fit would have lasted, and I would have
attempted to scale the castle wall and carry off the prize by force.
There is no telling what a sober old professor of philosophy may not
do when he is crazy. But meanwhile I was sane. Graf von Lira had a
right to live anywhere he pleased with his daughter, and the fact that
I had discovered the spot where he pleased to live did not constitute
an introduction. Or finally, if I got access to the old count, what
had I to say to him? Ought I to make a formal request for Nino? I
looked at my old clothes and almost smiled.

But the weather was cold, though the roads were dusty; so I mounted my
ass and jogged along, meditating deeply.



CHAPTER XIV


Fillettino is a trifle cleaner than most towns of the same kind.
Perhaps it rains more often, and there are fewer people. Considering
that its vicinity has been the scene of robbery, murder, and all
manner of adventurous crime from time immemorial, I had expected to
find it a villainous place. It is nothing of the kind. There is a
decent appearance about it that is surprising; and though the houses
are old and brown and poor, I did not see pigs in many rooms, nor did
the little children beg of me, as they beg of everyone elsewhere. The
absence of the pigs struck me particularly, for in the Sabine towns
they live in common with the family, and go out only in the daytime to
pick up what they can get.

I went to the apothecary--there is always an apothecary in these
places--and inquired for a lodging. Before very long I had secured a
room, and it seemed that the people were accustomed to travellers, for
it was surprisingly clean. The bed was so high that I could touch the
ceiling when I sat on it, and the walls were covered with ornaments,
such as glazed earthenware saints, each with a little basin for holy
water, some old engravings of other saints, a few paper roses from the
last fair, and a weather-beaten game-pouch of leather. The window
looked out over a kind of square, where a great quantity of water ran
into a row of masonry tanks out of a number of iron pipes projecting
from an overhanging rock. Above the rock was the castle, the place I
had come to see, towering up against the darkening sky.

It is such a strange place that I ought to describe it to you, or you
will not understand the things that happened there. There is a great
rock, as I said, rising above the town, and upon this is built the
feudal stronghold, so that the walls of the building do not begin less
than forty feet from the street level. The height of the whole castle
consequently seems enormous. The walls, for the most part, follow the
lines of the gray rock, irregularly, as chance would have it, and the
result is a three-cornered pile, having a high square tower at one
angle, where also the building recedes some yards from the edge of
the cliff, leaving on that side a broad terrace guarded by a stone
parapet. On another side of the great isolated boulder a narrow
roadway heads up a steep incline, impracticable for carriages but
passable for four-footed beasts; and this path gives access to the
castle through a heavy gate opening upon a small court within. But the
rock itself has been turned to account, and there are chambers within
it which formerly served as prisons, opening to the right and left of
a narrow staircase, hewn out of the stone, and leading from the foot
of the tower to the street below, upon which it opens through a low
square door, set in the rock and studded with heavy iron rails.

Below the castle hangs the town, and behind it rises the valley,
thickly wooded with giant beech-trees. Of course I learned the details
of the interior little by little, and I gathered also some interesting
facts regarding the history of Fillettino, which are not in any way
necessary to my story. The first thing I did was to find out what
means of communication there were with Rome. There was a postal
service twice a week, and I was told that Count von Lira, whose name
was no secret in the village, sent messengers very often to Subiaco.
The post left that very day, and I wrote to Nino to tell him that I
had found his friends in villeggiatura at Fillettino, advising him to
come as soon as he could, and recruit his health and his spirits.

I learned, further, from the woman who rented me my lodging, that
there were other people in the castle besides the count and his
daughter. At least, she had seen a tall gentleman on the terrace with
them during the last two days; and it was not true that the count kept
Hedwig a prisoner. On the contrary, they rode out together almost
every day, and yesterday the tall gentleman had gone with them. The
woman also went into many details; telling me how much money the count
had spent in a fortnight, bringing furniture and a real piano and
immense loads of baskets, which the porters were told contained glass
and crockery, and must be carefully handled. It was clear that the
count was settled for some time. He had probably taken the old place
for a year, by a lease from the Roman family to whom Fillettino and
the neighbouring estates belong. He would spend the spring and the
summer there, at least.

Being anxious to see who the tall gentleman might be, of whom my
landlady had spoken, I posted myself in the street, at the foot of the
inclined bridle-path, leading to the castle gate. I walked up and down
for two hours, about the time I supposed they would all ride, hoping
to catch a glimpse of the party. Neither the count nor his daughter
knew me by sight, I was sure, and I felt quite safe. It was a long
time to wait, but at last they appeared, and I confess that I nearly
fell down against the wall when I saw them.

There they were on their horses, moving cautiously down the narrow
way above me. First came the count, sitting in his saddle as though
he were at the head of his old regiment, his great gray moustaches
standing out fiercely from his severe wooden face. Then came Hedwig,
whom I had not seen for a long time, looking as white and sorrowful
as the angel of death, in a close black dress, or habit, so that her
golden hair was all the colour there was to be seen about her.

But the third rider,--there was no mistaking that thin, erect figure,
dressed in the affectation of youth; those fresh pink cheeks, with the
snowy moustache, and the thick white hair showing beneath the jaunty
hat; the eagle nose and the bright eyes. Baron Benoni, and no other.

My first instinct was to hide myself; but before I could retreat
Benoni recognised me, even with my old clothes. Perhaps they are not
so much older than the others, compared with his fashionable garments.
He made no sign as the three rode by; only I could see by his eyes,
that were fixed angrily upon me, that he knew me, and did not wish to
show it. As for myself I stood stock still in amazement.

I had supposed that Benoni had really gone to Austria, as he had told
me he was about to do. I had thought him ignorant of the count's
retreat, save for the hint which had so luckily led me straight to the
mark. I had imagined him to be but a chance acquaintance of the Lira
family, having little or no personal interest in their doings.
Nevertheless, I had suspected him, as I have told you. Everything
pointed to a deception on his part. He had evidently gone immediately
from Rome to Fillettino. He must be intimate with the count, or the
latter would not have invited him to share a retreat seemingly
intended to be kept a secret. He also, I thought, must have some very
strong reason for consenting to bury himself in the mountains in
company with a father and daughter who could hardly be supposed to be
on good terms with each other.

But again, why had he seemed so ready to help me and to forward
Nino's suit? Why had he given me the smallest clue to the count's
whereabouts? Now I am not a strong man in action, but I am a very
cunning reasoner. I remembered the man, and the outrageous opinions
he had expressed, both to Nino and to me. Then I understood my
suspicions. It would be folly to expect such a man to have any real
sympathy or sense of friendship for anyone. He had amused himself by
promising to come back and go with me on my search, perhaps to make a
laughing-stock of me, or even of my boy, by telling the story to the
Liras afterwards. He had entertained no idea that I would go alone, or
that, if I went, I could be successful. He had made a mistake, and was
very angry; his eyes told me that. Then I made a bold resolution. I
would see him and ask him what he intended to do; in short, why he had
deceived me.

There would probably be no difficulty in the way of obtaining an
interview, I was not known to the others of the party, and Benoni
would scarcely refuse to receive me. I thought he would excuse
himself, with ready cynicism, and pretend to continue his offers of
friendship and assistance. I confess I regretted that I was so humbly
clad, in all my old clothes; but after all, I was travelling, you
know.

It was a bold resolution, I think, and I revolved the situation in my
mind during two days, thinking over what I should say. But with all my
thought I only found that everything must depend on Benoni's answer to
my own question--"Why?"

On the third day, I made myself look as fine as I could, and though my
heart beat loudly as I mounted the bridle-path, I put on a bold look
and rang the bell. It was a clanging thing, that seemed to creak on a
hinge, as I pulled the stout string from outside. A man appeared, and
on my inquiry said I might wait in the porch behind the great wooden
gate, while he delivered my message to his excellency the baron. It
seemed to take a long time, and I sat on a stone bench, eying the
courtyard curiously from beneath the archway. It was sunny and clean,
with an old well in the middle, but I could see nothing save a few
windows opening upon it. At last the man returned and said that I
might come with him.

I found Benoni, clad in a gorgeous dressing-gown, stalking up and down
a large vaulted apartment, in which there were a few new arm-chairs, a
table covered with books, and a quantity of ancient furniture that
looked unsteady and fragile, although it had been carefully dusted. A
plain green baize carpet covered about half the floor, and the
remainder was of red brick. The morning sun streamed in through tall
windows, and played in a rainbow-like effulgence on the baron's
many-coloured dressing-gown, as he paused in his walk to greet me.

"Well, my friend," said Benoni, gaily, "how in the name of the devil
did you get here?" I thought I had been right; he was going to play at
being my friend again.

"Very easily, by the help of your little hint," I replied, and I
seated myself, for I felt that I was master of the situation.

"Ah, if I had suspected you of being so intelligent, I would not have
given you any hint at all. You see I have not been to Austria on
business, but am here in this good old flesh of mine, such as it is."

"Consequently--" I began, and then stopped. I suddenly felt that
Benoni had turned the tables upon me, I could not tell how.

"Consequently," said he, continuing my sentence, "when I told you that
I was going to Austria I was lying."

"The frankness of the statement obliges me to believe that you are now
telling the truth," I answered, angrily. I felt uneasy. Benoni laughed
in his peculiar way.

"Precisely," he continued again, "I was lying. I generally do, for so
long as I am believed I deceive people; and when they find me out,
they are confused between truth and lying, so that they do not know
what to believe at all. By the by, I am wandering, I am sorry to see
you here. I hope you understand that." He looked at me with the most
cheerful expression. I believe I was beginning to be angry at his
insulting calmness. I did not answer him.

"Signor Grandi," he said in a moment, seeing I was silent, "I am
enchanted to see you, if you prefer that I should be. But may I
imagine if I can do anything more for you, now that you have heard
from my own lips that I am a liar? I say it again,--I like the
word,--I am a liar, and I wish I were a better one. What can I do for
you?"

"Tell me why you have acted this comedy," said I, recollecting at the
right moment the gist of my reflections during the past two days.

"Why? To please myself, good sir; for the sovereign; pleasure of
myself."

"I would surmise," I retorted tartly, "that it could not have been for
the pleasure of anyone else."

"Perhaps you mean, because no one else could be base enough to take
pleasure in what amuses me?" I nodded savagely at his question. "Very
good. Knowing this of me, do you further surmise that I should be so
simple as to tell you how I propose to amuse myself in the future?"
I recognised the truth of this, and I saw myself checkmated at the
outset. I therefore smiled, and endeavoured to seem completely
satisfied, hoping that his vanity would betray him into some hint of
the future. He seemed to have before taken pleasure in misleading me
with a fragment of truth, supposing that I could not make use of it.
I would endeavour to lead him into such a trap again.

"It is a beautiful country, is it not?" I remarked, going to the
window before which he stood, and looking out. "You must enjoy it
greatly, after the turmoil of society." You see, I was once as gay as
any of them, in the old days; and so I made the reflection that seemed
natural to his case, wondering how he would answer.

"It is indeed a very passable landscape," he said, indifferently.
"With horses and a charming companion one may kill a little time here,
and find a satisfaction in killing it." I noticed the slip, by which
he spoke of a single companion instead of two.

"Yes," I replied, "the count is said to be a most agreeable man."

He paused a moment, and the hesitation seemed to show that the count
was not the companion he had in his mind.

"Oh, certainly," he said at length, "the count is very agreeable, and
his daughter is the paragon of all the virtues and accomplishments."
There was something a little disparaging in his tone as he made the
last remark, which seemed to me a clumsy device to throw me off the
scent, if scent there were. Considering his surpassing personal
vanity, of which I had received an ocular demonstration when he
visited me in Rome, I fancied that if there were nothing more serious
in his thoughts he would have given me to understand that Hedwig found
him entirely irresistible. Since he was able to control his vanity,
there must be a reason for it.

"I should think that the contessina must be charmed at having so
brilliant a companion as yourself in her solitude," I said, feeling my
way to the point.

"With me? I am an old man. Children of that age detest old men." I
thought his manner constrained, and it was unlike him not to laugh as
he made the speech. The conviction grew upon me that Hedwig was the
object of his visit. Moreover, I became persuaded that he was but a
poor sort of villain, for he was impulsive, as villains should never
be. We leaned over the stone sill of the window, which he had opened
during the conversation. There was a little trail of ants climbing up
and down the wall at the side, and he watched them. One of the small
creatures, heavily laden with a seed of some sort, and toiling
painfully under the burden, had been separated from the rest, and
clambered over the edge of the window-sill. On reaching the level
surface it paused, as though very weary, and looked about, moving its
tiny horns. Benoni looked at it a moment, and then with one finger he
suddenly whisked the poor little thing into space. It hurt me to see
it, and I knew he must be cruel, for he laughed aloud. Somehow it
would have seemed less cruel to have brushed away the whole trail of
insects, rather than to pitch upon this one small tired workman,
overladen and forgotten by the rest.

"Why did you do that?" I asked involuntarily.

"Why? Why do I do anything? Because I please, the best of all
reasons."

"Of course; it was foolish of me to ask you. That is probably the
cause of your presence here. You would like to hurl my boy Nino from
the height he has reached in his love, and to satisfy your cruel
instincts you have come here to attack the heart of an innocent girl."
I watched him narrowly, and I have often wondered how I had the
courage to insult him. It was a bold shot at the truth, and his look
satisfied me that I was not very wide of the mark. To accuse a
gray-haired old man of attempting to win the affections of a young
girl would seem absurd enough. But if you had ever seen Benoni, you
would understand that he was anything but old, save for his snowy
locks. Many a boy might envy the strange activity of his thin limbs,
the bloom and freshness of his eager face, and the fire of his eyes.
He was impulsive, too; for instead of laughing at the absurdity of
the thing, or at what should have been its absurdity, as a more
accomplished villain would have done, he was palpably angry. He looked
quickly at me and moved savagely, so that I drew back, and it was not
till some moments later that it occurred to him that he ought to seem
amused.

"How ridiculous!" he cried at last, mastering his anger. "You are
joking."

"Oh, of course I am joking," I answered, leaving the window. "And now
I must wish you good-morning, with many apologies for my intrusion."
He must have been glad to be rid of me, but he politely insisted on
showing me to the gate. Perhaps he wanted to be sure that I should not
ask questions of the servants. As we passed through an outer hall we
came suddenly upon Hedwig entering from the opposite direction,
dressed in black, and looking like a beautiful shadow of pain. As I
have told you, she did not know me. Benoni bowed to the ground as she
went by, making some flattering speech about her appearance. She had
started slightly on first seeing us, and then she went on without
speaking; but there was on her face a look of such sovereign scorn and
loathing as I never saw on the features of any living being. And more
than scorn, for there was fear and hatred with it: so that if a glance
could tell a whole history, there would have been no detail of her
feeling for Benoni left to guess.

This meeting produced a profound impression on me, and I saw her face
in my dreams that night. Had anything been wanting to complete, in my
judgment, the plan of the situation in the castle, that something was
now supplied. The Jew had come there to get her for himself. She hated
him for his own sake; she hated him because she was faithful to Nino;
she hated him because he perhaps knew of her secret love for my boy.
Poor maiden, shut up for days and weeks to come with a man she dreaded
and scorned at once! The sight of her recalled to me that I had in my
pocket the letter Nino had sent me for her, weeks before, and which I
had found no means of delivering since I had been in Fillettino.
Suddenly I was seized with a mad determination to deliver it at any
cost. The baron bowed me out of the gate, and I paused outside when
the ponderous door had swung on its hinges and his footsteps were
echoing back through the court.

I sat down on the parapet of the bridle-path, and with my knife cut
some of the stitches that sewed my money between my two waistcoats. I
took out one of the bills of a hundred francs that were concealed
within, I found the letter Nino had sent me for Hedwig, and I once
more rang the bell. The man who had admitted me came again, and looked
at me in some astonishment. But I gave him no time to question me.

"Here is a note for a hundred francs," I said. "Take it, and give this
letter to the Signora Contessina. If you bring me a written answer
here to-morrow at this hour I will give you as much more." The man was
dumfounded for a moment, after which he clutched the money and the
letter greedily, and hid them in his coat.

"Your excellency shall be punctually obeyed," he said, with a deep
bow, and I went away.

It was recklessly extravagant of me to do this, but there was no other
course. A small bribe would have been worse than none at all. If you
can afford to pay largely it is better to bribe a servant than to
trust a friend. Your friend has nothing to gain by keeping your
secret, whereas the servant hopes for more money in the future, and
the prospect of profit makes him as silent as the grave.

I would certainly not have acted as I did had I not met Hedwig in the
hall. But the sight of her pale face and heavy eyes went to my heart,
and I would have given the whole of my little fortune to bring some
gladness to her, even though I might not see it. The situation, too,
was so novel and alarming that I felt obliged to act quickly, not
knowing what evils delay might produce.

On the following morning I went up to the gateway again and rang the
bell. The same man appeared. He slipped a note into my hand, and I
slipped a bill into his. But, to my surprise, he did not shut the door
and retire.

"The signorina said your excellency should read the note, and I
should accompany you," he said; and I saw he had his hat in his hand
as if ready to go. I tore open the note. It merely said that the
servant was trustworthy, and would "instruct the Signor Grandi" how to
act.

"You told the contessina my name, then?" I said to the man. He had
announced me to the baron, and consequently knew who I was. He nodded,
closed the door behind him, and came with me. When we were in the
street he explained that Hedwig desired to speak with me. He expounded
the fact that there was a staircase in the rock, leading to the level
of the town. Furthermore, he said that the old count and the baron
occasionally drank deeply, as soldiers and adventurers will do, to
pass the evening. The next time it occurred he, the faithful servant,
would come to my lodging and conduct me into the castle by the
aforesaid passage, of which he had the key.

I confess I was unpleasantly alarmed at the prospect of making a
burglarious entrance in such romantic fashion. It savoured more of the
last century than of the quiet and eminently respectable age in which
we live. But then, the castle of Fillettino was built hundreds of
years ago, and it is not my fault if it has not gone to ruin, like so
many others of its kind. The man recommended me to be always at home
after eight o'clock in the evening in case I were wanted, and to avoid
seeing the baron when he was abroad. He came and saw where I lived,
and with many bows he left me.

You may imagine in what anxiety I passed my time. A whole week
elapsed, and yet I was never summoned. Every evening at seven, an hour
before the time named, I was in my room waiting for someone who never
came. I was so much disturbed in mind that I lost my appetite and
thought of being bled again. But I thought it too soon, and contented
myself with getting a little tamarind from the apothecary.

One morning the apothecary, who is also the postmaster, gave me a
letter from Nino, dated in Rome. His engagement was over, he had
reached Rome, and he would join me immediately.



CHAPTER XV


As it often happens that, in affairs of importance, the minor events
which lead to the ultimate result seem to occur rapidly, and almost to
stumble over each other in their haste, it came to pass that on the
very evening after I had got Nino's letter I was sent for by the
contessina.

When the man came to call me I was sitting in my room, from force of
habit, though the long delay had made the possibility of the meeting
seem shadowy. I was hoping that Nino might arrive in time to go in my
place, for I knew that he would not be many hours behind his letter.
He would assuredly travel as fast as he could, and if he had
understood my directions he was not likely to go astray. But in spite
of my hopes the summons came too soon, and I was obliged to go myself.

Picture to yourselves how I looked and how I felt: a sober old
professor, as I am, stealing out in the night, all wrapped in a cloak
as dark and shabby as any conspirator's; armed with a good knife in
case of accidents; with beating heart, and doubting whether I could
use my weapon if needful; and guided to the place of tryst by the
confidential servant of a beautiful and unhappy maiden. I have often
laughed since then at the figure I must have cut, but I did not laugh
at the time. It was a very serious affair.

We skirted the base of the huge rock on which the castle is built, and
reached the small, low door without meeting anyone. It was a moonlit
night,--the Paschal moon was nearly at the full,--and the whiteness
made each separate iron rivet in the door stand out distinct, thrown
into relief by its own small shadow on the seamed oak. My guide
produced a ponderous key, which screamed hoarsely in the lock under
the pressure of his two hands, as he made it turn in the rusty wards.
The noise frightened me, but the man laughed, and said they could not
hear where they sat, far up in the vaulted chamber, telling long
stories over their wine. We entered, and I had to mount a little way
up the dark steps to give him room to close the door behind us, by
which we were left in total darkness. I confess I was very nervous and
frightened until he lighted a taper which he had brought and made
enough light to show the way. The stairs were winding and steep, but
perfectly dry, and when he had passed me I followed him, feeling that
at all events the door behind was closed, and there was someone
between me and any danger ahead.

The man paused in front of me, and when I had rounded the corner of
the winding steps I saw that a brighter light than ours shone from a
small doorway opening directly upon the stair. In another moment I was
in the presence of Hedwig von Lira. The man retired and left us.

She stood, dressed in black, against the rough stone; the strong light
of a gorgeous gilt lamp that was placed on the floor streamed upward
on her white face. Her eyes caught the brightness, and seemed to burn
like deep, dark gems, though they appeared so blue in the day. She
looked like a person tortured past endurance, so that the pain of
the soul has taken shape, and the agony of the heart has assumed
substance. Tears shed had hollowed the marble cheeks, and the stronger
suffering that cannot weep had chiselled out great shadows beneath her
brows. Her thin clasped hands seemed wringing each other into strange
shapes of woe; and though she stood erect as a slender pillar against
the black rock, it was rather from the courage of despair than because
she was straight and tall by her own nature.

I bent low before her, awed by the extremity of suffering I saw.

"Are you Signor Grandi?" she asked, in a low and trembling voice.

"Most humbly at your service, Signora Contessina," I answered. She put
out her hand to me, and then drew it back quickly, with a timid
nervous look as I moved to take it.

"I never saw you," she said, "but I feel as though you _must_ be a
friend--" She paused.

"Indeed, signorina, I am here for that reason," said I, trying to
speak stoutly, and so to inspire her with some courage. "Tell me how I
can best serve you; and though I am not young and strong like Nino
Cardegna, my boy, I am not so old but that I can do whatsoever you
command."

"Then in God's name, save me from this--" But again the sentence died
upon her lips, and she glanced anxiously at the door. I reflected that
if anyone came we should be caught like mice in a trap, and I made as
though I would look out upon the stairs. But she stopped me.

"I am foolishly frightened," she said. "That man is faithful, and
will keep watch." I thought it time to discover her wishes.

"Signorina," said I, "you ask me to save you. You do not say from
what. I can at least tell you that Nino Cardegna will be here in a day
or two--" At this sudden news she gave a little cry, and the blood
rushed to her cheeks, in strange contrast with their deathly
whiteness. She seemed on the point of speaking, but checked herself,
and her eyes, that had looked me through and through a moment before,
drooped modestly under my glance.

"Is it possible?" she said at last, in a changed voice. "Yes, if he
comes, I think the Signor Cardegna will help me."

"Madam," I said, very courteously, for I guessed her embarrassment,
"I can assure you that my boy is ready to give you his life in return
for the kindness he received at your hands in Rome." She looked up,
smiling through her tears, for the sudden happiness had moistened the
drooping lids.

"You are very kind, Signor Grandi. Signor Cardegna is, I believe, a
good friend of mine. You say he will be here?"

"I received a letter from him to-day, dated in Rome, in which he tells
me that he will start immediately. He may be here to-morrow morning,"
I answered. Hedwig had regained her composure, perhaps because she
was reassured by my manner of speaking about Nino. I, however, was
anxious to hear from her own lips some confirmation of my suspicions
concerning the baron. "I have no doubt," I continued presently, "that,
with your consent, my boy will be able to deliver you from this
prison--" I used the word at a venture. Had Hedwig suffered less, and
been less cruelly tormented, she would have rebuked me for the
expression. But I recalled her to her position, and her self-control
gave way at once.

"Oh, you are right to call it a prison!" she cried. "It is as much a
prison as this chamber hewed out of the rock, where so many a wretch
has languished hopelessly; a prison from which I am daily taken out
into the sweet sun, to breathe and be kept alive, and to taste how
joyful a thing liberty must be! And every day I am brought back, and
told that I may be free if I will consent. Consent! God of mercy!" she
moaned, in a sudden tempest of passionate despair. "Consent ever to
belong, body--and soul--to be touched, polluted, desecrated, by that
inhuman monster; sold to him, to a creature without pity, whose heart
is a toad, a venomous creeping thing--sold to him for this life, and
to the vengeance of God hereafter; bartered, traded, and told that I
am so vile and lost that the very price I am offered is an honour to
me, being so much more than my value." She came toward me as she
spoke, and the passionate, unshed tears that were in her seemed to
choke her, so that her voice was hoarse.

"And for what--for what?" she cried, wildly, seizing my arm and
looking fiercely into my eyes. "For what, I say? Because I gave him a
poor rose; because I let him see me once; because I loved his sweet
voice; because--because--I love him, and will love him, and do love
him, though I die!"

The girl was in a frenzy of passion and love and hate all together,
and did not count her words. The white heat of her tormented soul
blazed from her pale face and illuminated every feature, though she
was turned from the light, and she shook my arm in her grasp so that
it pained me. The marble was burnt in the fire, and must consume
itself to ashes. The white and calm statue was become a pillar of
flame in the life-and-death struggle for love. I strove to speak, but
could not, for fear and wonder tied my tongue. And indeed she gave me
short time to think.

"I tell you I love him, as he loves me," she continued, her voice
trembling upon the rising cadence, "with all my whole being. Tell him
so. Tell him he must save me, and that only he can: that for his sake
I am tortured, and scorned, and disgraced, and sold; my body thrown to
dogs, and worse than dogs; my soul given over to devils that tempt me
to kill and be free,--by my own father, for his sake. Tell him that
these hands he kissed are wasted with wringing small pains from each
other, but the greater pain drives them to do worse. Tell him, good
sir,--you are kind and love him, but not as I do,--tell him that this
golden hair of mine has streaks of white in these terrible two months;
that these eyes he loved are worn with weeping. Tell him--"

But her voice failed her, and she staggered against the wall, hiding
her face in her hands. A trembling breath, a struggle, a great wild
sob: the long-sealed tears were free, and flowed fast over her hands.

"Oh, no, no," she moaned, "you must not tell him that." Then choking
down her agony she turned to me: "You will not--you cannot tell him of
this? I am weak, ill, but I will bear everything for--for him." The
great effort exhausted her, and I think that if I had not caught her
she would have fallen, and she would have hurt herself very much on
the stone floor. But she is young, and I am not very strong, and could
not have held her up. So I knelt, letting her weight come on my
shoulder.

The fair head rested pathetically against my old coat, and I tried to
wipe away her tears with her long golden hair; for I had not any
handkerchief. But very soon I could not see to do it. I was crying
myself, for the pity of it all, and my tears trickled down and fell on
her thin hands. And so I kneeled, and she half lay and half sat upon
the floor, with her head resting on my shoulder; I was glad then to be
old, for I felt that I had a right to comfort her.

Presently she looked up into my face, and saw that I was weeping. She
did not speak, but found her little lace handkerchief, and pressed it
to my eyes,--first to one, and then to the other; and the action
brought a faint maidenly flush to her cheeks through all her own
sorrow. A daughter could not have done it more kindly.

"My child," I said at last, "be sure that your secret is safe in me.
But there is one coming with whom it will be safer."

"You are so good," she said, and her head sank once more, and nestled
against my breast, so that I could just see the bright tresses through
my gray beard. But in a moment she looked up again, and made as though
she would rise; and then I helped her, and we both stood on our feet.

Poor, beautiful, tormented Hedwig! I can remember it, and call up the
whole picture to my mind. She still leaned on my arm, and looked up to
me, her loosened hair all falling back upon her shoulders; and the
wonderful lines of her delicate face seemed made ethereal and angelic
by her sufferings.

"My dear," I said at last, smoothing her golden hair with my hand, as
I thought her mother would do, if she had a mother,--"my dear, your
interview with my boy may be a short one, and you may not have an
opportunity to meet at all for days. If it does not pain you too
much, will you tell me just what your troubles are here? I can then
tell him, so that you can save time when you are together." She gazed
into my eyes for some seconds, as though to prove me, whether I were a
true man.

"I think you are right," she answered, taking courage. "I will tell
you in two words. My father treats me as though I had committed some
unpardonable crime, which I do not at all understand. He says my
reputation is ruined. Surely that is not true?" She asked the question
so innocently and simply that I smiled.

"No, my dear, it is not true," I replied.

"I am sure I cannot understand it," she continued; "but he says so,
and insists that my only course is to accept what he calls the
advantageous offer which has suddenly presented itself. He insists
very roughly." She shuddered slightly. "He gives me no peace. It
appears that this creature wrote to ask my father for my hand when we
left Rome two months ago. The letter was forwarded, and my father
began at once to tell me that I must make up my mind to the marriage.
At first I used to be very angry; but seeing we were alone, I finally
determined to seem indifferent, and not to answer him when he talked
about it. Then he thought my spirit was broken, and he sent for Baron
Benoni, who arrived a fortnight ago. Do you know him, Signor Grandi?
You came to see him, so I suppose you do?" The same look of hatred and
loathing came to her face that I had noticed when Benoni and I met her
in the hall.

"Yes, I know him. He is a traitor, a villain," I said earnestly.

"Yes, and more than that. But he is a great banker in Russia--"

"A banker?" I asked, in some astonishment.

"Did you not know it? Yes; he is very rich, and has a great firm, if
that is the name for it. But he wanders incessantly, and his partners
take care of his affairs. My father says that I shall marry him or end
my days here."

"Unless you end his for him!" I cried, indignantly.

"Hush!" said she, and trembled violently. "He is my father, you know,"
she added, with sudden earnestness.

"But you cannot consent--" I began.

"Consent!" she interrupted with a bitter laugh. "I will die rather
than consent."

"I mean, you cannot consent to be shut up in this valley for ever."

"If need be, I will," she said, in a low voice.

"There is no need," I whispered.

"You do not know my father. He is a man of iron," she answered,
sorrowfully.

"You do not know my boy. He is a man of his word," I replied.

We were both silent, for we both knew very well what our words meant.
From such a situation there could be but one escape.

"I think you ought to go now," she said, at last. "If I were missed it
would all be over. But I am sorry to let you go, you are so kind. How
can you let me know--" She stopped, with a blush, and stooped to raise
the lamp from the floor.

"Can you not meet here to-morrow night, when they are asleep?" I
suggested, knowing what her question would have been.

"I will send the same man to you to-morrow evening, and let you know
what is possible," she said. "And now I will show you the way out of
my house," she added, with the first faint shadow of a smile. With the
slight gilt lamp in her hand she went out of the little rock chamber,
listened a moment, and began to descend the steps.

"But the key?" I asked, following her light footsteps with my heavier
tread.

"It is in the door," she answered, and went on.

When we reached the bottom we found it as she had said. The servant
had left the key on the inside, and with some difficulty I turned the
bolts. We stood for one moment in the narrow space, where the lowest
step was set close against the door. Her eyes flashed strangely in the
lamplight.

"How easy it would be!" I said, understanding her glance. She nodded,
and pushed me gently out into the street; and I closed the door, and
leaned against it as she locked it.

"Good-night," she said from the other side, and I put my mouth to the
key-hole. "Good-night. Courage!" I answered. I could hear her lightly
mounting the stone steps. It seemed wonderful to me that she should
not be afraid to go back alone. But love makes people brave.

The moon had risen higher during the time I had been within, and I
strolled round the base of the rock, lighting a cigar as I went. The
terrible adventure I had dreaded was now over, and I felt myself
again. In truth, it was a curious thing to happen to a man of my years
and my habits; but the things I had heard had so much absorbed my
attention that, while the interview lasted, I had forgotten the
strange manner of the meeting. I was horrified at the extent of the
girl's misery, more felt than understood from her brief description
and passionate outbreaks. There is no mistaking the strength of a
suffering that wastes and consumes the mortal part of us as wax melts
at the fire.

And Benoni--the villain! He had written to ask Hedwig in marriage
before he came to see me in Rome. There was something fiendish in his
almost inviting me to see his triumph, and I cursed him as I kicked
the loose stones in the road with my heavy shoes. So he was a banker,
as well as a musician and a wanderer. Who would have thought it?

"One thing is clear," I said to myself, as I went to bed: "unless
something is done immediately, that poor girl will consume herself and
die." And all that night her poor thin face and staring eyes were in
my dreams; so that I woke up several times, thinking I was trying to
comfort her, and could not. But toward dawn I felt sure that Nino was
coming, and that all would be well.

I was chatting with my old landlady the next morning, and smoking to
pass the time, when there was suddenly a commotion in the street. That
is to say, someone was arriving, and all the little children turned
out in a body to run after the stranger, while the old women came to
their doors with their knitting, and squinted under the bright
sunlight to see what was the matter.

It was Nino, of course--my own boy, riding on a stout mule, with a
countryman by his side upon another. He was dressed in plain gray
clothes, and wore high boots. His great felt hat drooped half across
his face, and hid his eyes from me; but there was no mistaking the
stern square jaw and the close even lips. I ran toward him and called
him by name. In a moment he was off his beast, and we embraced
tenderly.

"Have you seen her?" were the first words he spoke. I nodded, and
hurried him into the house where I lived, fearful lest some mischance
should bring the party from the castle riding by. He sent his man with
the mules to the inn, and when we were at last alone together he threw
himself into a chair, and took off his hat.

Nino too was changed in the two months that had passed. He had
travelled far, had sung lustily, and had been applauded to the skies;
and he had seen the great world. But there was more than all that in
his face. There were lines of care and of thought that well became his
masculine features. There was a something in his look that told of a
set purpose, and there was a light in his dark eyes that spoke a world
of warning to anyone who might dare to thwart him. But he seemed
thinner, and his cheeks were as white as the paper I write on.

Some men are born masters, and never once relax the authority they
exercise on those around them. Nino has always commanded me, as he
seems to command everybody else, in the fewest words possible. But he
is so true and honest and brave that all who know him love him; and
that is more than can be said for most artists. As he sat in his
chair, hesitating what question to ask first, or waiting for me to
speak, I thought that if Hedwig von Lira had searched the whole world
for a man able to deliver her from her cruel father and from her hated
lover she could have chosen no better champion than Nino Cardegna, the
singer. Of course you all say that I am infatuated with the boy, and
that I helped him to do a reckless thing, simply because I was blinded
by my fondness. But I maintain, and shall ever hold, that Nino did
right in this matter, and I am telling my story merely in order that
honest men may judge.

He sat by the window, and the sun poured through the panes upon his
curling hair, his travelling dress, and his dusty boots. The woman of
the house brought in some wine and water; but he only sipped the
water, and would not touch the wine.

"You are a dear, kind father to me," he said, putting out his hand
from where he sat, "and before we talk I must tell you how much I
thank you." Simple words, as they look on paper; but another man could
not have said so much in an hour as his voice and look told me.



CHAPTER XVI


"Nino mio," I began, "I saw the contessina last night. She is in a
very dramatic and desperate situation. But she greets you, and looks
to you to save her from her troubles." Nino's face was calm, but his
voice trembled a little as he answered:

"Tell me quickly, please, what the troubles are."

"Softly--I will tell you all about it. You must know that your friend
Benoni is a traitor to you, and is here. Do not look astonished. He
has made up his mind to marry the contessina, and she says she will
die rather than take him, which is quite right of her." At the latter
piece of news Nino sprang from his chair.

"You do not seriously mean that her father is trying to make her marry
Benoni?" he cried.

"It is infamous, my dear boy; but it is true."

"Infamous! I should think you could find a stronger word. How did you
learn this?" I detailed the circumstances of our meeting on the
previous night. While I talked Nino listened with intense interest,
and his face changed its look from anger to pity, and from pity to
horror. When I had finished, he was silent.

"You can see for yourself," I said, "that the case is urgent."

"I will take her away," said Nino, at last. "It will be very
unpleasant for the count. He would have been wiser to allow her to
have her own way."

"Do nothing rash, Nino mio. Consider a little what the consequences
would be if you were caught in the act of violently carrying off the
daughter of a man as powerful as Von Lira."

"Bah! You talk of his power as though we lived under the Colonnesi and
the Orsini, instead of under a free monarchy. If I am once married to
her, what have I to fear? Do you think the count would go to law about
his daughter's reputation? Or do you suppose he would try to murder
me?"

"I would do both, in his place," I answered. "But perhaps you are
right, and he will yield when he sees that he is outwitted. Think
again, and suppose that the contessina herself objects to such a
step."

"That is a different matter. She shall do nothing save by her own free
will. You do not imagine I would try to take her away unless she were
willing?" He sat down again beside me, and affectionately laid one
hand on my shoulder.

"Women, Nino, are women," I remarked.

"Unless they are angels," he assented.

"Keep the angels for Paradise, and beware of taking them into
consideration in this working-day world. I have often told you, my
boy, that I am older than you."

"As if I doubted that!" he laughed.

"Very well. I know something about women. A hundred women will tell
you that they are ready to flee with you; but not more than one in the
hundred will really leave everything and follow you to the end of the
world when the moment comes for running away. They always make a fuss
at the last and say it is too dangerous, and you may be caught. That
is the way of them. You will be quite ready with a ladder of ropes,
like one of Boccaccio's men, and a roll of banknotes for the journey,
and smelling-salts, and a cushion for the puppy dog, and a separate
conveyance for the maid, just according to the directions she has
given you; then, at the very last, she will perhaps say that she is
afraid of hurting her father's feelings by leaving him without any
warning. Be careful, Nino!"

"As for that," he answered, sullenly enough, "if she will not, she
will not; and I would not attempt to persuade her against her
inclination. But unless you have very much exaggerated what you saw in
her face, she will be ready at five minutes' notice. It must be very
like hell up there in that castle, I should think."

"Messer Diavolo, who rules over the house, will not let his prey
escape him so easily as you think."

"Her father?" he asked.

"No; Benoni. There is no creature so relentless as an old man in
pursuit of a young woman."

"I am not afraid of Benoni."

"You need not be afraid of her father," said I, laughing. "He is lame,
and cannot run after you." I do not know why it is that we Romans
laugh at lame people; we are sorry for them, of course, as we are for
other cripples.

"There is something more than fear in the matter," said Nino,
seriously. "It is a great thing to have upon one's soul."

"What?" I asked.

"To take a daughter away from her father without his consent,--or at
least without consulting him. I would not like to do it."

"Do you mean to ask the old gentleman's consent before eloping with
his daughter? You are a little donkey, Nino, upon my word."

"Donkey, or anything else you like, but I will act like a galantuomo.
I will see the count, and ask him once more whether he is willing to
let his daughter marry me. If not, so much the worse; he will be
warned."

"Look here, Nino," I said, astonished at the idea. "I have taught you
a little logic. Suppose you meant to steal a horse instead of a woman.
Would you go to the owner of the horse, with your hat in your hand,
and say, 'I trust your worship will not be offended if I steal this
horse, which seems to be a good animal and pleases me'; and then would
you expect him to allow you to steal his horse?"

"Sor Cornelio, the case is not the same. Women have a right to be
free, and to marry whom they please; but horses are slaves. However,
as I am not a thief, I would certainly ask the man for the horse; and
if he refused it, and I conceived that I had a right to have it, I
would take it by force and not by stealth."

"It appears to me that if you meant to get possession of what was not
yours, you might as well get it in the easiest possible way," I
objected. "But we need not argue the case. There is a much better
reason why you should not consult the count."

"I do not believe it," said Nino, stubbornly.

"Nevertheless, it is so. The Contessina di Lira is desperately
unhappy, and if nothing is done she may die. Young women have died of
broken hearts before now. You have no right to endanger her life by
risking failure. Answer me that, if you can, and I will grant you are
a cunning sophist, but not a good lover."

"There is reason in what you say now," he answered. "I had not thought
of that desperateness of the case which you speak of. You have seen
her." He buried his face in his hand, and seemed to be thinking.

"Yes, I have seen her, and I wish you had been in my place. You would
think differently about asking her father's leave to rescue her." From
having been anxious to prevent anything rash, it seemed that I was now
urging him into the very jaws of danger. I think that Hedwig's face
was before me, as it had been in reality on the previous evening. "As
Curione said to Caesar, delay is injurious to anyone who is fully
prepared for action. I remember also to have read somewhere that such
waste of time in diplomacy and palavering is the favourite resource of
feeble and timid minds, who regard the use of dilatory and ambiguous
measures as an evidence of the most admirable and consummate
prudence."

"Oh, you need not use so much learning with me," said Nino. "I assure
you that I will be neither dilatory nor ambiguous. In fact, I will go
at once, without even dusting my boots, and I will say, Give me your
daughter, if you can; and if you cannot, I will still hope to marry
her. He will probably say 'No,' and then I will carry her off. It
appears to me that is simple enough."

"Take my advice, Nino. Carry her off first, and ask permission
afterwards. It is much better. The real master up there is Benoni, I
fancy, and not the count. Benoni is a gentleman who will give you much
trouble. If you go now to see Hedwig's father, Benoni will be present
at the interview." Nino was silent, and sat stretching his legs before
him, his head on his breast. "Benoni," I continued, "has made up his
mind to succeed. He has probably taken this fancy into his head out of
pure wickedness. Perhaps he is bored, and really wants a wife. But I
believe he is a man who delights in cruelty, and would as lief break
the contessina's heart by getting rid of you as by marrying her." I
saw that he was not listening.

"I have an idea," he said at last. "You are not very wise, Messer
Cornelio, and you counsel me to be prudent and to be rash in the same
breath."

"You make very pretty compliments, Sor Nino," I answered, tartly. He
put out his hand deprecatingly.

"You are as wise as any man can be who is not in love," he said,
looking at me with his great eyes. "But love is the best counsellor."

"What is your idea?" I asked, somewhat pacified.

"You say they ride together every day. Yes--very good. The contessina
will not ride to-day, partly because she will be worn out with fatigue
from last night's interview, and partly because she will make an
effort to discover whether I have arrived to-day or not. You can count
on that."

"I imagine so."

"Very well," he continued; "in that case, one or two things will
happen: either the count will go out alone, or they will all stay at
home."

"Why will Benoni not go out with the count?"

"Because Benoni will hope to see Hedwig alone if he stays at home, and
the count will be very glad to give him the opportunity."

"I think you are right, Nino. You are not so stupid as I thought."

"In war," continued the boy, "a general gains a great advantage by
separating his adversary's forces. If the count goes out alone, I will
present myself to him in the road, and tell him what I want."

"Now you are foolish again. You should, on the contrary, enter the
house when the count is away, and take the signorina with you then and
there. Before he could return you would be miles on the road to Rome."

"In the first place, I tell you once and for all, Sor Cornelio," he
said, slowly, "that such an action would be dishonourable, and I will
not do anything of the kind. Moreover, you forget that, if I followed
your advice, I should find Benoni at home,--the very man from whom you
think I have everything to fear. No; I must give the count one fair
chance." I was silent, for I saw he was determined, and yet I would
not let him think I was satisfied.

The idea of losing an advantage by giving an enemy any sort of warning
before the attack seemed to me novel in the extreme; but I comprehended
that Nino saw in his scheme a satisfaction to his conscience, and
smelled in it a musty odour of forgotten knight-errantry that he had
probably learned to love in his theatrical experiences. I had certainly
not expected that Nino Cardegna, the peasant child, would turn out to
be the pink of chivalry and the mirror of honour. But I could not help
admiring his courage, and wondering if it would not play him false at
the perilous moment. I did not half know him then, though he had been
with me for so many years. But I was very anxious to ascertain from
him what he meant to do, for I feared that his bold action would make
trouble, and I had visions of the count and Benoni together taking
sudden and summary vengeance on myself.

"Nino," I said, "I have made great sacrifices to help you in finding
these people,"--I would not tell him I had sold my vineyard to make
preparations for a longer journey, though he has since found it
out,--"but if you are going to do anything rash I will get on my
little ass and ride a few miles from the village until it is over."
Nino laughed aloud.

"My dear professor," he said, "do not be afraid. I will give you
plenty of time to get out of the way. Meanwhile, the contessina is
certain to send the confidential servant of whom you speak to give me
instructions. If I am not here, you ought to be, in order to receive
the message. Now listen to me."

I prepared to be attentive and to hear his scheme. I was by no means
expecting the plan he proposed.

"The count may take it into his head to ride at a different hour, if
he rides alone," he began. "I will therefore have my mule saddled now,
and will station my man--a countryman from Subiaco and good for any
devilry--in some place where he can watch the entrance to the house,
or the castle, or whatever you call this place. So soon as he sees the
count come out he will call me. As a man can ride in only one of two
directions in this valley, I shall have no trouble whatever in meeting
the old gentleman, even if I cannot overtake him with my mule."

"Have you any arms, Nino?"

"No. I do not want weapons to face an old man in broad daylight; and
he is too much of a soldier to attack me if I am defenceless. If the
servant comes after I am gone, you must remember every detail of what
he says, and you must also arrange a little matter with him. Here is
money, as much as will keep any Roman servant quiet. The man will be
rich before we have done with him. I will write a letter which he must
deliver; but he must also know what he has to do.

"At twelve o'clock to-night the contessina must positively be at the
door of the staircase by which you entered yesterday. _Positively_--do
you understand? She will then choose for herself between what she is
suffering now and flight with me. If she chooses to fly, my mules and
my countryman will be ready. The servant who admits me had better make
the best of his way to Rome, with the money he has got. There will be
difficulties in the way of getting the contessina to the staircase,
especially as the count will be in a towering passion with me, and
will not sleep much. But he will not have the smallest idea that I
shall act so suddenly, and he will fancy that when once his daughter
is safe within the walls for the night she will not think of escaping.
I do not believe he even knows of the existence of this staircase. At
all events, it appears, from your success in bribing the first man you
met, that the servants are devoted to her interests and their own and
not at all to those of her father."

"I cannot conceive, Nino," said I, "why you do not put this bold plan
into execution without seeing the count first, and making the whole
thing so dangerous. If he takes alarm in the night he will catch you
fast enough on his good horses before you are at Trevi."

"I am determined to act as I propose," said Nino, "because it is a
thousand times more honourable, and because I am certain that the
contessina would not have me act otherwise. She will also see for
herself that flight is best; for I am sure the count will make a scene
of some kind when he comes home from meeting me. If she knows she can
escape to-night she will not suffer from what he has to say; but she
will understand that without the prospect of freedom she would suffer
very much."

"Where did you learn to understand women, my boy?" I asked.

"I do not understand women in general," he answered, "but I
understand very well the only woman who exists for me personally. I
know that she is the soul of honour, and that at the same time she has
enough common sense to perceive the circumstances of the situation."

"But how will you make sure of not being overtaken?" I objected,
making a last feeble stand against his plan.

"That is simple enough. My countryman from Subiaco knows every inch of
these hills. He says that the pass above Fillettino is impracticable
for any animals save men, mules, and donkeys. A horse would roll down
at every turn. My mules are the best of their kind, and there are none
like them here. By sunrise I shall be over the Serra and well on the
way to Ceprano, or whatever place I may choose for joining the
railroad."

"And I? Will you leave me here to be murdered by that Prussian devil?"
I asked, in some alarm.

"Why, no, padre mio. If you like, you can start for Rome at sunset, or
as soon as I return from meeting the count; or you can get on your
donkey and go up the pass, where we shall overtake you. Nobody will
harm you, in your disguise, and your donkey is even more surefooted
than my mules. It will be a bright night, too, for the moon is full."

"Well, well, Nino," said I at last, "I suppose you will have your own
way, as you always do in the world. And if it must be so, I will go up
the pass alone, for I am not afraid at all. It would be against all
the proprieties that you should be riding through a wild country alone
at night with the young lady you intend to marry; and if I go with you
there will be nothing to be said, for I am a very proper person, and
hold a responsible position in Rome. But for charity's sake, do not
undertake anything of this kind again--"

"Again?" exclaimed Nino, in surprise. "Do you expect me to spend my
life in getting married,--not to say in eloping?"

"Well, I trust that you will have enough of it this time."

"I cannot conceive that when a man has once married the woman he loves
he should ever look at another," said Nino, gravely.

"You are a most blessed fellow," I exclaimed.

Nino found my writing materials, which consisted of a bad steel pen,
some coarse ruled paper, and a wretched little saucer of ink, and
began writing an epistle to the contessina. I watched him as he wrote,
and I smoked a little to pass the time. As I looked at him I came to
the conclusion that to-day, at least, he was handsome. His thick hair
curled about his head, and his white skin was as pale and clear as
milk. I thought that his complexion had grown less dark than it used
to be, perhaps from being so much in the theatre at night. That takes
the dark blood out of the cheeks. But any woman would have looked
twice at him. Besides, there was, as there is now, a certain
marvellous neatness and spotlessness about his dress; but for his
dusty boots you would not have guessed he had been travelling. Poor
Nino. When he had not a penny in the world but what he earned by
copying music, he used to spend it all with the washerwoman, so that
Mariuccia was often horrified, and I reproved him for the
extravagance.

At last he finished writing, and put his letter into the only envelope
there was left. He gave it to me, and said he would go out and order
his mules to be ready.

"I may be gone all day," he said, "and I may return in a few hours. I
cannot tell. In any case, wait for me, and give the letter and all
instructions to the man, if he comes." Then he thanked me once more
very affectionately, and having embraced me he went out.

I watched him from the window, and he looked up and waved his hand. I
remember it very distinctly--just how he looked. His face was paler
than ever, his lips were close set, though they smiled, and his eyes
were sad. He is an incomprehensible boy--he always was.

I was left alone, with plenty of time for meditation, and I assure you
my reflections were not pleasant. O love, love, what madness you drive
us into, by day and night! Surely it is better to be a sober professor
of philosophy than to be in love, ever so wildly, or sorrowfully, or
happily. I do not wonder that a parcel of idiots have tried to prove
that Dante loved philosophy and called it Beatrice. He would have been
a sober professor, if that were true, and a happier man. But I am sure
it is not true, for I was once in love myself.



CHAPTER XVII


It fell out as Nino had anticipated, and when he told me all the
details, some time afterwards, it struck me that he had shown an
uncommon degree of intelligence in predicting that the old count would
ride alone that day. He had, indeed, so made his arrangements that
even if the whole party had come out together nothing worse would have
occurred than a postponement of the interview he sought. But he was
destined to get what he wanted that very day, namely, an opportunity
of speaking with Von Lira alone.

It was twelve o'clock when he left me, and the mid-day bell was
ringing from the church, while the people bustled about getting their
food. Every old woman had a piece of corn cake, and the ragged
children got what they could, gathering the crumbs in their mothers'
aprons. A few rough fellows who were not away at work in the valley
munched the maize bread with a leek and a bit of salt fish, and some
of them had oil on it. Our mountain people eat scarcely anything else,
unless it be a little meat on holidays, or an egg when the hens are
laying. But they laugh and chatter over the coarse fare, and drink a
little wine when they can get it. Just now, however, was the season
for fasting, being the end of Holy Week, and the people made a virtue
of necessity, and kept their eggs and their wine for Easter.

When Nino went out he found his countryman, and explained to him what
he was to do. The man saddled one of the mules and put himself on the
watch, while Nino sat by the fire in the quaint old inn and ate some
bread. It was the end of March when these things happened, and a
little fire was grateful, though one could do very well without it. He
spread his hands to the flame of the sticks, as he sat on the wooden
settle by the old hearth, and he slowly gnawed his corn cake, as
though a week before he had not been a great man in Paris, dining
sumptuously with famous people. He was not thinking of that. He was
looking in the flame for a fair face that he saw continually before
him, day and night. He expected to wait a long time,--some hours,
perhaps.

Twenty minutes had not elapsed, however, before his man came
breathless through the door, calling to him to come at once; for the
solitary rider had gone out, as was expected, and at a pace that would
soon take him out of sight. Nino threw his corn bread to a hungry dog
that yelped as it hit him, and then fastened on it like a beast of
prey.

In the twinkling of an eye he and his man were out of the inn. As
they ran to the place where the mule was tied to an old ring in the
crumbling wall of a half-ruined house near to the ascent to the
castle, the man told Nino that the fine gentleman had ridden toward
Trevi, down the valley, Nino mounted, and hastened in the same
direction.

As he rode he reflected that it would be wiser to meet the count on
his return, and pass him after the interview, as though going away
from Fillettino. It would be a little harder for the mule; but such
an animal, used to bearing enormous burdens for twelve hours at a
stretch, could well carry Nino only a few miles of good road before
sunset, and yet be fresh again by midnight. One of those great sleek
mules, if good-tempered, will tire three horses, and never feel the
worse for it. He therefore let the beast go her own pace along the
road to Trevi, winding by the brink of the rushing torrent: sometimes
beneath great overhanging cliffs, sometimes through bits of cultivated
land, where the valley widens; and now and then passing under some
beech-trees, still naked and skeleton-like in the bright March air.

But Nino rode many miles, as he thought, without meeting the count,
dangling his feet out of the stirrups, and humming snatches of song to
himself to pass the time. He looked at his watch,--a beautiful gold
one, given him by a very great personage in Paris,--and it was
half-past two o'clock. Then, to avoid tiring his mule, he got off and
sat by a tree, at a place where he could see far along the road. But
three o'clock came, and a quarter past, and he began to fear that the
count had gone all the way to Trevi. Indeed, Trevi could not be very
far off, he thought. So he mounted again, and paced down the valley.
He says that in all that time he never thought once of what he should
say to the count when he met him, having determined in his mind once
and for all what was to be asked; to which the only answer must be
"yes" or "no."

At last, before he reached the turn in the valley, and just as the sun
was passing down behind the high mountains on the left, beyond the
stream, he saw the man he had come out to meet, not a hundred yards
away, riding toward him on his great horse, at a foot pace. It was the
count, and he seemed lost in thought, for his head was bent on his
breast, and the reins hung carelessly loose from his hand. He did not
raise his eyes until he was close to Nino, who took off his hat and
pulled up short.

The old count was evidently very much surprised, for he suddenly
straightened himself in his saddle, with a sort of jerk, and glared
savagely at Nino; his wooden features appearing to lose colour, and
his long moustache standing out and bristling. He also reined in his
horse, and the pair sat on their beasts, not five yards apart, eying
each other like a pair of duelists. Nino was the first to speak, for
he was prepared.

"Good day, Signor Conte," he said, as calmly as he could. "You have
not forgotten me, I am sure." Lira looked more and more amazed as he
observed the cool courtesy with which he was accosted. But his polite
manner did not desert him even then, for he raised his hat.

"Good-day," he said, briefly, and made his horse move on. He was too
proud to put the animal to a brisker pace than a walk, lest he should
seem to avoid an enemy. But Nino turned his mule at the same time.

"Pardon the liberty, sir," he said, "but I would take advantage of
this opportunity to have a few words with you."

"It is a liberty, as you say, sir," replied Lira, stiffly, and looking
straight before him. "But since you have met me, say what you have to
say quickly." He talked in the same curious constructions as formerly,
but I will spare you the grammatical vagaries.

"Some time has elapsed," continued Nino, "since our unfortunate
encounter. I have been in Paris, where I have had more than common
success in my profession. From being a very poor teacher of Italian to
the signorina, your daughter, I am become an exceedingly prosperous
artist. My character is blameless and free from all stain, in spite
of the sad business in which we were both concerned, and of which you
knew the truth from the dead lady's own lips."

"What then?" growled Lira, who had listened grimly, and was fast
losing his temper. "What then? Do you suppose, Signor Cardegna, that
I am still interested in your comings and goings?"

"The sequel to what I have told you, sir," answered Nino, bowing
again, and looking very grave, "is that I once more most respectfully
and honestly ask you to give me the hand of your daughter, the
Signorina Hedwig von Lira."

The hot blood flushed the old soldier's hard features to the roots of
his gray hair, and his voice trembled as he answered:

"Do you intend to insult me, sir? If so, this quiet road is a
favourable spot for settling the question. It shall never be said that
an officer in the service of his majesty the King and Emperor refused
to fight with anyone,--with his tailor, if need be." He reined his
horse from Nino's side, and eyed him fiercely.

"Signor Conte," answered Nino, calmly, "nothing could be further from
my thoughts than to insult you, or to treat you in any way with
disrespect. And I will not acknowledge that anything you can say can
convey an insult to myself." Lira smiled in a sardonic fashion. "But,"
added Nino, "if it would give you any pleasure to fight, and if you
have weapons, I shall be happy to oblige you. It is a quiet spot, as
you say, and it shall never be said that an Italian artist refused to
fight a German soldier."

"I have two pistols in my holsters," said Lira, with a smile. "The
roads are not safe, and I always carry them."

"Then, sir, be good enough to select one and to give me the other,
and we will at once proceed to business."

The count's manner changed. He looked grave.

"I have the pistols, Signor Cardegna, but I do not desire to use them.
Your readiness satisfies me that you are in earnest, and we will
therefore not fight for amusement. I need not defend myself from any
charge of unwillingness, I believe," he added, proudly.

"In that case, sir," said Nino, "and since we have convinced each
other that we are serious and desire to be courteous, let us converse
calmly."

"Have you anything more to say?" asked the count, once more allowing
his horse to pace along the dusty road, while Nino's mule walked by
his side.

"I have this to say, Signor Conte," answered Nino: "that I shall not
desist from desiring the honour of marrying your daughter, if you
refuse me a hundred times. I wish to put it to you whether with youth,
some talent,--I speak modestly,--and the prospect of a plentiful
income, I am not as well qualified to aspire to the alliance as Baron
Benoni, who has old age, much talent, an enormous fortune, and the
benefit of the Jewish faith into the bargain."

The count winced palpably at the mention of Benoni's religion. No
people are more insanely prejudiced against the Hebrew race than the
Germans. They indeed maintain that they have greater cause than
others, but it always appears to me that they are unreasonable about
it. Benoni chanced to be a Jew, but his peculiarities would have been
the same had he been a Christian or an American. There is only one
Ahasuerus Benoni in the world.

"There is no question of Baron Benoni here," said the count severely,
but hurriedly. "Your observations are beside the mark. The objections
to the alliance, as you call it, are that you are a man of the
people,--I do not desire to offend you,--a plebeian, in fact; you are
also a man of uncertain fortune, like all singers: and lastly, you are
an artist. I trust you will consider these points as a sufficient
reason for my declining the honour you propose."

"I will only say," returned Nino, "that I venture to consider your
reasons insufficient, though I do not question your decision. Baron
Benoni was ennobled for a loan made to a Government in difficulties;
he was, by his own account, a shoemaker by early occupation, and a
strolling musician--a great artist if you like--by the profession he
adopted."

"I never heard these facts," said Lira, "and I suspect that you have
been misinformed. But I do not wish to continue the discussion of the
subject."

Nino says that after the incident of the pistols the interview passed
without the slightest approach to ill-temper on either side. They both
felt that if they disagreed they were prepared to settle their
difficulties then and there, without any further ado.

"Then, sir, before we part, permit me to call your attention to a
matter which must be of importance to you," said Nino. "I refer to the
happiness of the Signorina di Lira. In spite of your refusal of my
offer, you will understand that the welfare of that lady must always
be to me of the greatest importance."

Lira bowed his head stiffly, and seemed inclined to speak, but changed
his mind, and held his tongue, to see what Nino would say.

"You will comprehend, I am sure," continued the latter, "that in the
course of those months, during which I was so far honoured as to be
of service to the contessina, I had opportunities of observing her
remarkably gifted intelligence. I am now credibly informed that she is
suffering from ill health. I have not seen her, nor made any attempt
to see her, as you might have supposed, but I have an acquaintance in
Fillettino who has seen her pass his door daily. Allow me to remark
that a mind of such rare qualities must grow sick if driven to feed
upon itself in solitude. I would respectfully suggest that some gayer
residence than Fillettino would be a sovereign remedy for her
illness."

"Your tone and manner," replied the count, "forbid my resenting your
interference. I have no reason to doubt your affection for my
daughter, but I must request you to abandon all idea of changing my
designs. If I choose to bring my daughter to a true sense of her
position by somewhat rigorous methods, it is because I am aware that
the frailty of reputation surpasses the frailty of woman. I will say
this to your credit, sir, that if she has not disgraced herself, it
has been in some measure because you wisely forbore from pressing your
suit while you were received as an instructor beneath my roof. I am
only doing my duty in trying to make her understand that her good name
has been seriously exposed, and that the best reparation she can make
lies in following my wishes, and accepting the honourable and
advantageous marriage I have provided for her. I trust that this
explanation, which I am happy to say has been conducted with the
strictest propriety, will be final, and that you will at once desist
from any further attempts toward persuading me to consent to a union
that I disapprove."

Lira once more stopped his horse in the road, and taking off his hat
bowed to Nino.

"And I, sir," said Nino, no less courteously, "am obliged to you for
your clearly-expressed answer. I shall never cease to regret your
decision, and so long as I live I shall hope that you may change your
mind. Good-day, Signor Conte," and he bowed to his saddle.

"Good-day, Signor Cardegna." So they parted: the count heading
homeward toward Fillettino, and Nino turning back toward Trevi.

By this manoeuvre he conveyed to the count's mind the impression that
he had been to Fillettino for the day, and was returning to Trevi for
the evening; and in reality the success of his enterprise, since
his representations had failed, must depend upon Hedwig being
comparatively free during the ensuing night. He determined to wait by
the roadside until it should be dark, allowing his mule to crop
whatever poor grass she could find at this season, and thus giving the
count time to reach Fillettino, even at the most leisurely pace.

He sat down upon the root of a tree, and allowed his mule to graze at
liberty. It was already growing dark in the valley; for between the
long speeches of civility the two had employed and the frequent pauses
in the interview, the meeting had lasted the greater part of an hour.

Nino says that while he waited he reviewed his past life and his
present situation.

Indeed, since he had made his first appearance in the theatre, three
months before, events had crowded thick and fast in his life. The
first sensation of a great public success is strange to one who has
long been accustomed to live unnoticed and unhonoured by the world. It
is at first incomprehensible that one should have suddenly grown to be
an object of interest and curiosity to one's fellow-creatures, after
having been so long a looker-on. At first a man does not realise that
the thing he has laboured over, and studied, and worked on, can be
actually anything remarkable. The production of the every-day task has
long grown a habit, and the details which the artist grows to admire
and love so earnestly have each brought with them their own reward.
Every difficulty vanquished, every image of beauty embodied, every new
facility of skill acquired, has been in itself a real and enduring
satisfaction for its own sake, and for the sake of its fitness to the
whole,--the beautiful perfect whole he has conceived.

But he must necessarily forget, if he loves his work, that those who
come after, and are to see the expression of his thought, or hear the
mastery of his song, see or hear it all at once; so that the
assemblage of the lesser beauties, over each of which the artist has
had great joy, must produce a suddenly multiplied impression upon the
understanding of the outside world, which sees first the embodiment of
the thought, and has then the after-pleasure of appreciating the
details. The hearer is thrilled with a sense of impassioned beauty,
which the singer may perhaps feel when he first conceives the
interpretation of the printed notes, but which goes over farther from
him as he strives to approach it and realise it; and so his admiration
for his own song is lost in dissatisfaction with the failings which
others have not time to see.

Before he is aware of the change, a singer has become famous, and all
men are striving for a sight of him, or a hearing. There are few like
Nino, whose head was not turned at all by the flattery and the praise,
being occupied with other things. As he sat by the roadside, he
thought of the many nights when the house rang with cheers and cries
and all manner of applause; and he remembered how, each time he looked
his audience in the face, he had searched for the one face of all
faces that he cared to see, and had searched in vain.

He seemed now to understand that it was his honest-hearted love for
the fair northern girl that had protected him from caring for the
outer world, and he now realised what the outer world was. He fancied
to himself what his first three months of brilliant success might have
been, in Rome and Paris, if he had not been bound by some strong tie
of the heart to keep him serious and thoughtful. He thought of the
women who had smiled upon him, and of the invitations that had
besieged him, and of the consternation that had manifested itself when
he declared his intention of retiring to Rome, after his brilliant
engagement in Paris, without signing any further contract.

Then came the rapid journey, the excitement, the day in Rome, the
difficulties of finding Fillettino; and at last he was here, sitting
by the roadside, and waiting for it to be time to carry into execution
the bold scheme he had set before him. His conscience was at rest, for
he now felt that he had done all that the most scrupulous honour could
exact of him. He had returned in the midst of his success to make an
honourable offer of marriage, and he had been refused,--because he was
a plebeian, forsooth! And he knew also that the woman he loved was
breaking her heart for him.

What wonder that he set his teeth, and said to himself that she should
be his, at any price! Nino has no absurd ideas about the ridicule that
attaches to loving a woman, and taking her if necessary. He has not
been trained up in the heart of the wretched thing they call society,
which ruined me long ago. What he wants he asks for, like a child, and
if it is refused, and his good heart tells him that he has a right to
it, he takes it like a man, or like what a man was in the old time
before the Englishman discovered that he is an ape. Ah, my learned
colleagues, we are not so far removed from the ancestral monkey but
that there is serious danger of our shortly returning to that
primitive and caudal state! And I think that my boy and the Prussian
officer, as they sat on their beasts and bowed, and smiled, and
offered to fight each other, or to shake hands, each desiring to
oblige the other, like a couple of knights of the old ages, were a
trifle farther removed from our common gorilla parentage than some of
us.

But it grew dark, and Nino caught his mule and rode slowly back to the
town, wondering what would happen before the sun rose on the other
side of the world. Now, lest you fail to understand wholly how the
matter passed, I must tell you a little of what took place during the
time that Nino was waiting for the count, and Hedwig was alone in the
castle with Baron Benoni. The way I came to know is this: Hedwig told
the whole story to Nino, and Nino told it to me,--but many months
after that eventful day, which I shall always consider as one of the
most remarkable in my life. It was Good Friday, last year, and you may
find out the day of the month for yourselves.



CHAPTER XVIII


As Nino had guessed, the count was glad of a chance to leave his
daughter alone with Benoni, and it was for this reason that he had
ridden out so early. The baron's originality and extraordinary musical
talent seemed to Lira gifts which a woman needed only to see in order
to appreciate, and which might well make her forget his snowy locks.
During the time of Benoni's visit the count had not yet been
successful in throwing the pair together, for Hedwig's dislike for the
baron made her exert her tact to the utmost in avoiding his society.

It so happened that Hedwig, rising early, and breathing the sweet,
cool air from the window of her chamber, had seen Nino ride by on his
mule, when he arrived in the morning. He did not see her, for the
street merely passed the corner of the great pile, and it was only by
stretching her head far out that Hedwig could get a glimpse of it. But
it amused her to watch the country people going by, with their mules
and donkeys and hampers, or loads of firewood; and she would often
lean over the window-sill for half an hour at a time gazing at the
little stream of mountain life, and sometimes weaving small romances
of the sturdy brown women and their active, dark-browed shepherd
lovers. Moreover, she fully expected that Nino would arrive that day,
and had some faint hope of seeing him go along the road. So she was
rewarded, and the sight of the man she loved was the first breath of
freedom.

In a great house like the strange abode Lira had selected for the
seclusion of his daughter, it constantly occurs that one person is in
ignorance of the doings of the others; and so it was natural that when
Hedwig heard the clatter of hoofs in the courtyard, and the echoing
crash of the great doors as they opened and closed, she should think
both her father and Benoni had ridden away, and would be gone for the
morning. She would not look out, lest she should see them and be seen.

I cannot tell you exactly what she felt when she saw Nino from her
lofty window, but she was certainly glad with her whole heart. If she
had not known of his coming from my visit the previous evening, she
would perhaps have given way to some passionate outburst of happiness;
but as it was, the feeling of anticipation, the sweet, false dawn of
freedom, together with the fact that she was prepared, took from this
first pleasure all that was overwhelming. She only felt that he had
come, and that she would soon be saved from Benoni; she could not tell
how, but she knew it, and smiled to herself for the first time in
months, as she held a bit of jewelry to her slender throat before the
glass, wondering whether she had not grown too thin and pale to please
her lover, who had been courted by the beauties of the world since he
had left her.

She was ill, perhaps, and tired. That was why she looked pale; but she
knew that the first day of freedom would make her as beautiful as
ever. She spent the morning hours in her rooms; but when she heard the
gates close she fancied herself alone in the great house, and went
down into the sunny courtyard to breathe the air, and to give certain
instructions to her faithful man. She sent him to my house to speak
with me; and that was all the message he had for the present. However,
he knew well enough what he was to do. There was a strong smell of
banknotes in the air, and the man kept his nose up.

Having despatched this important business, Hedwig set herself to walk
up and down the paved quadrangle on the sunny side. There was a stone
bench in a warm corner that looked inviting. She entered the house and
brought out a book, with which she established herself to read. She
had often longed to sit there in the afternoon and watch the sun
creeping across the flags, pursued by the shadow, till each small bit
of moss and blade of grass had received its daily portion of warmth.
For though the place had been cleared and weeded, the tiny green
things still grew in the chinks of the pavement. In the middle of the
court was a well with a cover and yoke of old-fashioned twisted iron
and a pulley to draw the water. The air was bright and fresh outside
the castle, but the reverberating rays of the sun made the quiet
courtyard warm and still.

Sick with her daily torture of mind the fair, pale girl rested her, at
last, and dreaming of liberty drew strength from the soft stillness.
The book fell on her lap, her head leaned back against the rough
stones of the wall, and gradually, as she watched from beneath her
half-closed lids the play of the stealing sunlight, she fell into a
sweet sleep.

She was soon disturbed by that indescribable ununeasiness that creeps
through our dreams when we are asleep in the presence of danger. A
weird horror possesses us, and makes the objects in the dream appear
unnatural. Gradually the terror grows on us and thrills us, and we
wake, with bristling hair and staring eyes, to the hideous
consciousness of unexpected peril.

Hedwig started and raised her lids, following the direction of her
dream. She was not mistaken. Opposite her stood her arch-horror,
Benoni. He leaned carelessly against the stone well, and his bright
brown eyes were riveted upon her. His tall, thin figure was clad, as
usual, in all the extreme of fashion, and one of his long, bony hands
toyed with his watch-chain. His animated face seemed aglow with the
pleasure of contemplation, and the sunshine lent a yellow tinge to his
snowy hair.

"An exquisite picture, indeed, countess," he said, without moving. "I
trust your dreams were as sweet as they looked?"

"They were sweet, sir," she answered coldly, after a moment's pause,
during which she looked steadily toward him.

"I regret that I should have disturbed them," he said, with a
deferential bow; and he came and sat by her side, treading as lightly
as a boy across the flags. Hedwig shuddered and drew her dark skirts
about her as he sat down.

"You cannot regret it more than I do," she said, in tones of ice. She
would not take refuge in the house, for it would have seemed like an
ignominious flight. Benoni crossed one leg over the other, and asked
permission to smoke, which she granted by an indifferent motion of her
fair head.

"So we are left all alone to-day, countess," remarked Benoni, blowing
rings of smoke in the quiet air.

Hedwig vouchsafed no answer.

"We are left alone," he repeated, seeing that she was silent, "and I
make it hereby my business and my pleasure to amuse you."

"You are good, sir. But I thank you. I need no entertainment of your
devising."

"That is eminently unfortunate," returned the baron, with his
imperturbable smile, "for I am universally considered to be the most
amusing of mortals,--if, indeed, I am mortal at all, which I sometimes
doubt."

"Do you reckon yourself with the gods, then?" asked Hedwig scornfully.
"Which of them are you? Jove? Dionysus? Apollo?"

"Nay, rather Phaethon, who soared too high--"

"Your mythology is at fault, sir,--he drove too low; and besides, he
was not immortal."

"It is the same. He was wide of the mark, as I am. Tell me, countess,
are your wits always so ready?"

"You, at least, will always find them so," she answered, bitterly.

"You are unkind. You stab my vanity, as you have pierced my heart."

At this speech Hedwig raised her eyebrows and stared at him in
silence. Any other man would have taken the chilling rebuke and left
her. Benoni put on a sad expression.

"You used not to hate me as you do now," he said.

"That is true. I hated you formerly because I hated you."

"And now?" asked Benoni, with a short laugh.

"I hate you now because I loathe you." She uttered this singular
saying indifferently, as being part of her daily thoughts.

"You have the courage of your opinions, countess," he replied, with a
very bitter smile.

"Yes? It is only the courage a woman need have." There was a pause,
during which Benoni puffed much smoke and stroked his white
moustache. Hedwig turned over the leaves of her book, as though
hinting to him to go. But he had no idea of that. A man who will not
go because a woman loathes him will certainly not leave her for a
hint.

"Countess," he began again, at last, "will you listen to me?"

"I suppose I must. I presume my father has left you here to insult me
at your noble leisure."

"Ah, countess, dear countess,"--she shrank away from him,--"you should
know me better than to believe me capable of anything so monstrous. I
insult you? Gracious heaven! I, who adore you; who worship the holy
ground whereon you tread; who would preserve the precious air you have
breathed in vessels of virgin crystal; who would give a drop of my
blood for every word you vouchsafe me, kind or cruel,--I, who look on
you as the only divinity in this desolate heathen world, who reverence
you and do you daily homage, who adore you--"

"You manifest your adoration in a singular manner, sir," said Hedwig,
interrupting him with something of her father's severity.

"I show it as best I can," the old scoundrel pleaded, working himself
into a passion of words. "My life, my fortune, my name, my honour,--I
cast them at your feet. For you I will be a hermit, a saint, dwelling
in solitary places and doing good works; or I will brave every danger
the narrow earth holds, by sea and land, for you. What? Am I decrepit,
or bent, or misshapen, that my white hair should cry out against me?
Am I hideous, or doting, or half-witted, as old men are? I am young; I
am strong, active, enduring. I have all the gifts, for you."

The baron was speaking French, and perhaps these wild praises of
himself might pass current in a foreign language. But when Nino
detailed the conversation to me in our good, simple Italian speech, it
sounded so amazingly ridiculous that I nearly broke my sides with
laughing.

Hedwig laughed also, and so loudly that the foolish old man was
disconcerted. He had succeeded in amusing her sooner than he had
expected. As I have told you, the baron is a most impulsive person,
though he is poisoned with evil from his head to his heart.

"All women are alike," he said, and his manner suddenly changed.

"I fancy," said Hedwig, recovering from her merriment, "that if you
address them as you have addressed me you will find them very much
alike indeed."

"What good can women do in the world?" sighed Benoni, as though
speaking with himself. "You do nothing but harm with your cold
calculations and your bitter jests." Hedwig was silent. "Tell me," he
continued presently, "if I speak soberly, by the card as it were, will
you listen to me?"

"Oh, I have said that I will listen to you!" cried Hedwig, losing
patience.

"Hedwig von Lira, I hereby offer you my fortune, my name, and myself.
I ask you to marry me of your own good will and pleasure." Hedwig once
more raised her brows.

"Baron Benoni, I will not marry you, either for your fortune, your
name, or yourself,--nor for any other consideration under heaven. And
I will ask you not to address me by my Christian name." There was a
long silence after this speech, and Benoni carefully lighted a second
cigarette. Hedwig would have risen and entered the house, but she
felt safer in the free air of the sunny court. As for Benoni, he had
no intention of going.

"I suppose you are aware, countess," he said at last, coldly eying
her, "that your father has set his heart upon our union?"

"I am aware of it."

"But you are not aware of the consequences of your refusal. I am your
only chance of freedom. Take me, and you have the world at your feet.
Refuse me, and you will languish in this hideous place so long as your
affectionate father pleases."

"Do you know my father so little, sir," asked Hedwig very proudly, "as
to suppose that his daughter will ever yield to force?"

"It is one thing to talk of not yielding, and it is quite another to
bear prolonged suffering with constancy," returned Benoni coolly, as
though he were discussing a general principle instead of expounding to
a woman the fate she had to expect if she refused to marry him. "I
never knew anyone who did not talk bravely of resisting torture until
it was applied. Oh, you will be weak at the end, countess, believe me.
You are weak now; and changed, though perhaps you would be better
pleased if I did not notice it. Yes, I smile now,--I laugh. I can
afford to. You can be merry over me because I love you, but I can be
merry at what you must suffer if you will not love me. Do not look so
proud, countess. You know what follows pride, if the proverb lies
not."

During this insulting speech Hedwig had risen to her feet, and in the
act to go she turned and looked at him in utter scorn. She could not
comprehend the nature of a man who could so coldly threaten her. If
ever anyone of us can fathom Benoni's strange character we may hope to
understand that phase of it along with the rest.

He seemed as indifferent to his own mistakes and follies as to the
sufferings of others.

"Sir," she said, "whatever may be the will of my father, I will not
permit you to discuss it, still less to hold up his anger as a threat
to scare me. You need not follow me," she added, as he rose.

"I will follow you, whether you wish it or not, countess," he said,
fiercely; and, as she flew across the court to the door he strode
swiftly by her side, hissing his words into her ear. "I will follow
you to tell you that I know more of you than you think, and I know how
little right you have to be so proud. I know your lover. I know of
your meetings, your comings and your goings--" They reached the door,
but Benoni barred the way with his long arm, and seemed about to lay a
hand upon her wrist, so that she shrank back against the heavy
doorpost in an agony of horror and loathing and wounded pride. "I know
Cardegna, and I knew the poor baroness who killed herself because he
basely abandoned her. Ah, you never heard the truth before? I trust it
is pleasant to you. As he left her he has left you. He will never come
back. I saw him in Paris three weeks ago. I could tell tales not fit
for your ears. And for him you will die in this horrible place unless
you consent. For him you have thrown away everything,--name, fame, and
happiness,--unless you will take all these from me. Oh, I know you
will cry out that it is untrue; but my eyes are good, though you call
me old! For this treacherous boy, with his curly hair, you have lost
the only thing that makes woman human,--your reputation!" And Benoni
laughed that horrid laugh of his, till the court rang again, as though
there were devils in every corner, and beneath every eave and
everywhere.

People who are loud in their anger are sometimes dangerous, for it is
genuine while it lasts. People whose anger is silent are generally
either incapable of honest wrath or cowards. But there are some in the
world whose passion shows itself in few words but strong ones, and
proceeds instantly to action.

Hedwig had stood back against the stone casing of the entrance, at
first, overcome with the intensity of what she suffered. But as Benoni
laughed she moved slowly forward till she was close to him, and only
his outstretched arm barred the doorway.

"Every word you have spoken is a lie, and you know it. Let me pass, or
I will kill you with my hands!"

The words came low and distinct to his excited ear, like the tolling
of a passing bell. Her face must have been dreadful to see, and Benoni
was suddenly fascinated and terrified at the concentrated anger that
blazed in her blue eyes. His arm dropped to his side, and Hedwig
passed proudly through the door, in all the majesty of innocence
gathering her skirts, lest they should touch his feet or any part of
him. She never hastened her step as she ascended the broad stairs
within and went to her own little sitting-room, made gay with books
and flowers and photographs from Rome. Nor was her anger followed by
any passionate outburst of tears. She sat herself down by the window
and looked out, letting the cool breeze from the open casement fan her
face.

Hedwig, too, had passed through a violent scene that day, and, having
conquered, she sat down to think over it. She reflected that Benoni
had but used the same words to her that she had daily heard from her
father's lips. False as was their accusation, she submitted to hearing
her father speak them, for she had no knowledge of their import, and
only thought him cruelly hard with her. But that a stranger--above
all, a man who aspired, or pretended to aspire, to her hand--should
attempt to usurp the same authority of speech was beyond all human
endurance. She felt sure that her father's anger would all be turned
against Benoni when he heard her story.

As for what her tormentor had said of Nino, she could have killed him
for saying it, but she knew that it was a lie; for she loved Nino with
all her heart, and no one can love wholly without trusting wholly.
Therefore she put away the evil suggestion from herself, and loaded
all its burden of treachery upon Benoni.

How long she sat by the window, compelling her strained thoughts into
order, no one can tell. It might have been an hour, or more, for she
had lost the account of the hours. She was roused by a knock at the
door of her sitting-room, and at her bidding the man entered who, for
the trifling consideration of about a thousand francs, first and last
made communication possible between Hedwig and myself.

This man's name is Temistocle,--Themistocles, no less. All servants
are Themistocles, or Orestes, or Joseph, just as all gardeners are
called Antonio. Perhaps he deserves some description. He is a type,
short, wiry, and broad-shouldered, with a cunning eye, a long hooked
nose, and very plentiful black whiskers, surmounted by a perfectly
bald crown. His motions are servile to the last degree, and he
addresses everyone in authority as "excellency," on the principle that
it is better to give too much titular homage than too little. He is as
wily as a fox, and so long as you have money in your pocket, as
faithful as a hound and as silent as the grave. I perceive that these
are precisely the epithets at which the baron scoffed, saying that a
man can be praised only by comparing him with the higher animals, or
insulted by comparison with himself and his kind. We call a man a
fool, an idiot, a coward, a liar, a traitor, and many other things
applicable only to man himself. However, I will let my description
stand, for it is a very good one; and Temistocle could be induced, for
money, to adapt himself to almost any description, and he certainly
had earned, at one time or another, most of the titles I have
enumerated.

He told me, months afterwards, that when he passed through the
courtyard, on his way to Hedwig's apartment, he found Benoni seated on
the stone bench, smoking a cigarette and gazing into space, so that he
passed close before him without being noticed.



CHAPTER XIX


Temistocle closed the door, then opened it again, and looked out,
after which he finally shut it, and seemed satisfied. He advanced with
cautious tread to where Hedwig sat by the window.

"Well? What have you done?" she inquired, without looking at him. It
is a hard thing for a proud and noble girl to be in the power of a
servant. The man took Nino's letter from his pocket, and handed it to
her upon his open palm. Hedwig tried hard to take it with
indifference, but she acknowledges that her fingers trembled and her
heart beat fast.

"I was to deliver a message to your excellency from the old
gentleman," said Temistocle, coming close to her and bending down.

"Ah!" said Hedwig, beginning to break the envelope.

"Yes, excellency. He desired me to say that it was absolutely and most
indubitably necessary that your excellency should be at the little
door to-night at twelve o'clock. Do not fear, Signora Contessina; we
can manage it very well."

"I do not wish to know what you advise me to fear, or not to fear,"
answered Hedwig, haughtily; for she could not bear to feel that the
man should counsel her or encourage her.

"Pardon, excellency; I thought--" began Temistocle humbly; but Hedwig
interrupted him.

"Temistocle," she said, "I have no money to give you, as I told you
yesterday. But here is another stone, like the other. Take it, and
arrange this matter as best you can."

Temistocle took the jewel and bowed to the ground, eying curiously the
little case from which she had taken it.

"I have thought and combined everything," he said. "Your excellency
will see that it is best you should go alone to the staircase; for, as
we say, a mouse makes less noise than a rat. When you have descended,
lock the door at the top behind you; and when you reach the foot of
the staircase, keep that door open. I will have brought the old
gentleman by that time, and you will let me in. I shall go out by the
great gate."

"Why not go with me?" inquired Hedwig.

"Because, your excellency, one person is less likely to be seen than
two. Your excellency will let me pass you. I will mount the staircase,
unlock the upper door, and change the key to the other side. Then I
will keep watch, and if anyone comes I will lock the door and slip
away till he is gone."

"I do not like the plan," said Hedwig. "I would rather let myself in
from the staircase."

"But suppose anyone were waiting on the inside, and saw you come
back?"

"That is true. Give me the keys, Temistocle, and a taper and some
matches."

"Your excellency is a paragon of courage," replied the servant,
obsequiously. "Since yesterday I have carried the keys in my pocket. I
will bring you the taper this evening."

"Bring it now. I wish to be ready."

Temistocle departed on the errand. When he returned Hedwig ordered him
to give a message to her father.

"When the count comes home, ask him to see me," she said. Temistocle
bowed once more, and was gone.

Yes, she would see her father, and tell him plainly what she had
suffered from Benoni. She felt that no father, however cruel, would
allow his daughter to be so treated, and she would detail the
conversation to him.

She had not been able to read Nino's letter, for she feared the
servant, knowing the writing to be Italian and legible to him. Now she
hastened to drink in its message of love. You cannot suppose that I
know exactly what he said, but he certainly set forth at some length
his proposal that she should leave her father, and escape with her
lover from the bondage in which she was now held. He told her modestly
of his success, in so far as it was necessary that she should
understand his position. It must have been a very eloquent letter, for
it nearly persuaded her to a step of which she had wildly dreamed,
indeed, but which in her calmer moments she regarded as impossible.

The interminable afternoon was drawing to a close, and once more she
sat by the open window, regardless of the increasing cold. Suddenly it
all came over her,--the tremendous importance of the step she was
about to take, if she should take Nino at his word, and really break
from one life into another. The long restrained tears, that had been
bound from flowing through all Benoni's insults and her own anger,
trickled silently down her cheek, no longer pale, but bright and
flushed at the daring thought of freedom.

At first it seemed far off, as seen in the magician's glass. She
looked and saw herself as another person, acting a part only half
known and half understood. But gradually her own individual soul
entered into the figure of her imagination; her eager heart beat fast;
she breathed and moved and acted in the future. She was descending the
dark steps alone, listening with supernatural sense of sound for her
lover's tread without. It came; the door opened, and she was in his
arms,--in those strong arms that could protect her from insult and
tyranny and cruel wooing; out in the night, on the road, in Rome,
married, free, and made blessed for ever. On a sudden the artificial
imagery of her labouring brain fell away, and the thought crossed her
mind that henceforth she must be an orphan. Her father would never
speak to her again, or ever own for his a daughter that had done such
a deed. Like icy water poured upon a fevered body, the idea chilled
her and woke her to reality.

Did she love her father? She had loved him--yes, until she crossed his
will. She loved him still, when she could be so horror-struck at the
thought of incurring his lasting anger. Could she bear it? Could she
find in her lover all that she must renounce of a father's care and a
father's affection,--stern affection, that savoured of the
despot,--but could she hurt him so?

The image of her father seemed to take another shape, and gradually to
assume the form and features of the one man of the world whom she
hated, converting itself little by little into Benoni. She hid her
face in her hands and terror staunched the tears that had flown afresh
at the thought of orphanhood.

A knock at the door. She hastily concealed the crumpled letter.

"Come in!" she answered, boldly; and her father, moving mechanically,
with his stick in his hand, entered the room. He came as he had
dismounted from his horse, in his riding boots, and his broad felt hat
caught by the same fingers that held the stick.

"You wished to see me, Hedwig," he said, coldly, depositing his hat
upon the table. Then, when he had slowly sat himself down in an
arm-chair, he added, "Here I am." Hedwig had risen respectfully, and
stood before him in the twilight. "What do you wish to say?" he asked
in German. "You do not often honour your father by requesting his
society."

Hedwig stood one moment in silence. Her first impulse was to throw
herself at his feet and implore him to let her marry Nino. The thought
swept away for the time the remembrance of Benoni and of what she had
to tell. But a second sufficed to give her the mastery of her tongue
and memory, which women seldom lose completely, even at the most
desperate moments.

"I desired to tell you," she said, "that Baron Benoni took advantage
of your absence to-day to insult me beyond my endurance." She looked
boldly into her father's eyes as she spoke.

"Ah!" said he, with great coolness. "Will you be good enough to light
one of those candles on the table, and to close the window?"

Hedwig obeyed in silence, and once more planted herself before him,
her slim figure looking ghostly between the fading light of the
departing day and the yellow flame of the candle.

"You need not assume this theatrical air," said Lira, calmly. "I
presume you mean that Baron Benoni asked you to marry him?"

"Yes, that is one thing, and is an insult in itself," replied Hedwig,
without changing her position. "I suspect that it is the principal
thing," remarked the count. "Very good; he asked you to marry him. He
has my full authority to do so. What then?"

"You are my father," answered Hedwig, standing like a statue before
him, "and you have the right to offer me whom you please for a
husband, but you have no authority to allow me to be wantonly
insulted."

"I think that you are out of your mind," said the count, with
imperturbable equanimity. "You grant that I may propose a suitor to
you, and you call it a wanton insult when that suitor respectfully
asks the honour of your hand, merely because he is not young enough to
suit your romantic tastes, which have been fostered by this wretched
southern air. It is unfortunate that my health requires me to reside
in Italy. Had you enjoyed an orderly Prussian education, you would
have held different views in regard to filial duty. Refuse Baron
Benoni as often as you like. I will stay here, and so will he, I
fancy, until you change your mind. I am not tired of this lordly
mountain scenery, and my health improves daily. We can pass the summer
and winter, and more summers and winters, very comfortably here. If
there is anything you would like to have brought from Rome, inform me,
and I will satisfy any reasonable request."

"The baron has already had the audacity to inform me that you would
keep me a prisoner until I should marry him," said Hedwig; and her
voice trembled as she remembered how Benoni had told her so.

"I doubt not that Benoni, who is a man of consummate tact, hinted
delicately that he would not desist from pressing his suit. You, well
knowing my determination, and carried away by your evil temper, have
magnified into a threat what he never intended as such. Pray let me
hear no more about these fancied insults." The old man smiled grimly
at his keen perception.

"You shall hear me, nevertheless," said Hedwig, in a low voice, coming
close to the table and resting one hand upon it as though for support.

"My daughter," said the count, "I desire you to abandon this highly
theatrical and melodramatic tone. I am not to be imposed upon."

"Baron Benoni did not confine himself to the course you describe. He
said many things to me that I did not understand, but I comprehended
their import. He began by making absurd speeches, at which I laughed.
Then he asked me to marry him, as I had long known he would do as soon
as you gave him the opportunity. I refused his offer. Then he
insisted, saying that you, sir, had determined on this marriage, and
would keep me a close prisoner here until the torture of the situation
broke down my strength. I assured him that I would never yield to
force. Then he broke out angrily, telling me to my face that I had
lost everything--name, fame, and honour,--how, I cannot tell; but he
said those words; and he added that I could regain my reputation only
by consenting to marry him."

The old count had listened at first with a sarcastic smile, then with
increased attention. Finally, as Hedwig repeated the shameful insult,
his brave old blood boiled up in his breast, and he sat gripping the
two arms of his chair fiercely, while his gray eyes shot fire from
beneath the shaggy brows.

"Hedwig," he cried, hoarsely, "are you speaking the truth? Did he say
those words?"

"Yes, my father, and more like them. Are you surprised?" she asked
bitterly. "You have said them yourself to me."

The old man's rage rose furiously, and he struggled to his feet. He
was stiff with riding and rheumatism, but he was too angry to sit
still.

"I? Yes, I have tried to show you what might have happened, and to
warn you and frighten you, as you should be frightened. Yes, and I was
right, for you shall not drag my name in the dirt. But another
man--Benoni!" He could not speak for his wrath, and his tall figure
moved rapidly about the room, his heart seeking expression in action.
He looked like some forgotten creature of harm, suddenly galvanised
into destructive life. It was well that Benoni was not within reach.

Hedwig stood calmly by the table, proud in her soul that her father
should be roused to such fury. The old man paused in his walk, came to
her, and with his hand turned her face to the light, gazing savagely
into her eyes.

"You never told me a lie," he growled out.

"Never," she said, boldly, as she faced him scornfully. He knew his
own temper in his child, and was satisfied. The soldier's habit of
self-control was strong in him, and the sardonic humour of his nature
served as a garment to the thoughts he harboured.

"It appears," he said, "that I am to spend the remainder of an
honourable life in fighting with a pack of hounds. I nearly killed
your old acquaintance, the Signor Professore Cardegna, this
afternoon." Hedwig staggered back, and turned pale.

"What! Is he wounded?" she gasped out, pressing her hand to his side.

"Ha! That touches you almost as closely as Benoni's insult," he said,
savagely. "I am glad of it. I repent me, and wish that I had killed
him. We met on the road, and he had the impertinence to ask me for
your hand,--I am sick of these daily proposals of marriage; and then I
inquired if he meant to insult me."

Hedwig leaned heavily on the table in an agony of suspense.

"The fellow answered that if I were insulted he was ready to fight
then and there, in the road, with my pistols. He is no coward, your
lover,--I will say that. The end of it was that I came home and he did
not."

Hedwig sank into the chair that her father had left, and hid her face.

"Oh, you have killed him!" she moaned.

"No," said the count shortly; "I did not touch a hair of his head. But
he rode away toward Trevi." Hedwig breathed again. "Are you
satisfied?" he asked, with a hard smile, enjoying the terror he had
excited.

"Oh, how cruel you are, my father!" she said, in a broken voice.

"I tell you that if I could cure you of your insane passion for this
singer fellow, I would be as cruel as the Inquisition," retorted the
count. "Now listen to me. You will not be troubled any longer with
Benoni,--the beast! I will teach him a lesson of etiquette. You need
not appear at dinner to-night. But you are not to suppose that our
residence here is at an end. When you have made up your mind to act
sensibly, and to forget the Signor Cardegna, you shall return to
society, where you may select a husband of your own position and
fortune, if you choose; or you may turn Romanist, and go into a
convent, and devote yourself to good works and idolatry, or anything
else. I do not pretend to care what becomes of you, so long as you
show any decent respect for your name. But if you persist in pining
and moaning and starving yourself, because I will not allow you to
turn dancer and marry a strolling player, you will have to remain
here. I am not such pleasant company when I am bored, I can tell you,
and my enthusiasm for the beauties of nature is probably transitory."

"I can bear anything if you will remove Benoni," said Hedwig, quietly,
as she rose from her seat. But the pressure of the iron keys that she
had hidden in her bosom gave her a strange sensation.

"Never fear," said the count, taking his hat from the table. "You
shall be amply avenged of Benoni and his foul tongue. I may not love
my daughter, but no one shall insult her. I will have a word with him
this evening."

"I thank you for that, at least," said Hedwig, as he moved to the
door.

"Do not mention it," said he, and put his hand on the lock.

A sudden impulse seized Hedwig. She ran swiftly to him, and clasped
her hands upon his arm.

"Father?" she cried, pleadingly.

"What?"

"Father, do you love me?" He hesitated one moment.

"No," he said, sternly; "you disobey me"; and he went out in rough
haste. The door closed behind him, and she was left standing alone.
What could she do, poor child? For months he had tormented her and
persecuted her, and now she had asked him plainly if she still held a
place in his heart, and he had coldly denied it.

A gentle, tender maiden, love-sick and mind-sick, yearning so
piteously for a little mercy, or sympathy, or kindness, and treated
like a mutinous soldier, because she loved so honestly and purely,--is
it any wonder that her hand went to her bosom and clasped the cold,
hard keys that promised her life and freedom? I think not. I have no
patience with young women who allow themselves to be carried away by
an innate bad taste and love for effect, quarrelling with the peaceful
destiny that a kind Providence has vouchsafed them, and with an
existence which they are too dull to make interesting to themselves or
to anyone else; finally making a desperate and foolish dash at
notoriety by a runaway marriage with the first scamp they can find,
and repenting in poverty and social ostracism the romance they
conceived in wealth and luxury. They deserve their fate. But when a
sensitive girl is motherless, cut off from friends and pleasures,
presented with the alternative of solitude or marriage with some
detested man, or locked up to forget a dream which was half realised
and very sweet, then the case is different. If she breaks her bonds,
and flies to the only loving heart she knows, forgive her, and pray
Heaven to have mercy on her, for she takes a fearful leap into the
dark.

Hedwig felt the keys, and took them from her dress, and pressed them
to her cheek, and her mind was made up. She glanced at the small gilt
clock, and saw that the hands pointed to seven. Five hours were before
her in which to make her preparations, such as they could be.

In accordance with her father's orders, given when he left her,
Temistocle served her dinner in her sitting-room; and the uncertainty
of the night's enterprise demanded that she should eat something,
lest her strength should fail at the critical moment. Temistocle
volunteered the information that her father had gone to the baron's
apartment, and had not been seen since. She heard in silence, and bade
the servant leave her as soon as he had ministered to her wants. Then
she wrote a short letter to her father, telling him that she had left
him, since he had no place for her in his heart, and that she had gone
to the one man who seemed ready both to love and to protect her. This
missive she folded, sealed, and laid in a prominent place upon the
table addressed to the count.

She made a small bundle,--very neatly, for she is clever with her
fingers,--and put on a dark travelling dress, in the folds of which
she sewed such jewels as were small and valuable and her own. She
would take nothing that her father had given her. In all this she
displayed perfect coolness and foresight.

The castle became intensely quiet as the evening advanced. She sat
watching the clock. At five minutes before midnight she took her
bundle and her little shoes in her hand, blew out her candle, and
softly left the room.



CHAPTER XX


I need not tell you how I passed all the time from; Nino's leaving me
until he came back in the evening, just as I could see from my window
that the full moon was touching the tower of the castle. I sat looking
out, expecting him, and I was the most anxious professor that ever
found himself in a ridiculous position. Temistocle had come, and you
know what had passed between us, and how we had arranged the plan of
the night. Most heartily did I wish myself in the little amphitheatre
of my lecture-room at the University, instead of being pledged to this
wild plot of my boy's invention. But there was no drawing back. I had
been myself to the little stable next door, where I had kept my
donkey, and visited him daily since my arrival, and I had made sure
that I could have him at a moment's notice by putting on the cumbrous
saddle. Moreover, I had secretly made a bundle of my effects, and had
succeeded in taking it unobserved to the stall, and I tied it to the
pommel. I also told my landlady that I was going away in the morning
with the young gentleman who had visited me, and who, I said, was the
engineer who was going to make a new road to the Serra. This was not
quite true; but lies that hurt no one are not lies at all, as you all
know, and the curiosity of the old woman was satisfied. I also paid
for my lodging, and gave her a franc for herself, which pleased her
very much. I meant to steal away about ten o'clock, or as soon as I
had seen Nino and communicated to him the result of my interview with
Temistocle.

The hours seemed endless, in spite of my preparations, which occupied
some time; so I went out when I had eaten my supper, and visited my
ass, and gave him a little bread that was left, thinking it would
strengthen him for the journey. Then I came back to my room, and
watched. Just as the moonlight was shooting over the hill, Nino rode
up the street. I knew him in the dusk by his broad hat, and also
because he was humming a little tune through his nose, as he generally
does. But he rode past my door without looking up, for he meant to put
his mule in the stable for a rest.

At last he came in, still humming, and apologised for the delay,
saying he had stopped a few minutes at the inn to get some supper. It
could not have been a very substantial meal that he ate in that short
time.

"What did the man say?" was his first question, as he sat down.

"He said it should be managed as I desired," I answered. "Of course
I did not mention you. Temistocle--that is his name--will come at
midnight, and take you to the door. There you will find this
inamorata, this lady-love of yours, for whom you are about to turn
the world upside down."

"What will you do yourself, Sor Cornelio?" he asked, smiling.

"I will go now and get my donkey, and quietly ride up the valley to
the Serra di Sant' Antonio," I said. "I am sure that the signorina
will be more at her ease if I accompany you. I am a very proper
person, you see."

"Yes," said Nino, pensively, "you are very proper. And besides, you
can be a witness of the civil marriage."

"Diavolo!" I cried, "a marriage! I had not thought of that."

"Blood of a dog!" exclaimed Nino, "what on earth did you think of?" He
was angry all in a moment.

"Piano,--do not disquiet yourself, my boy. I had not realised that the
wedding was so near,--that is all. Of course you will be married in
Rome, as soon as ever we get there."

"We shall be married in Ceprano to-morrow night, by the sindaco, or
the mayor, or whatever civil bishop they support in that God-forsaken
Neopolitan town," said Nino, with great determination.

"Oh, very well; manage it as you like. Only be careful that it is
properly done, and have it registered," I added. "Meanwhile, I will
start."

"You need not go yet, caro mio; it is not nine o'clock."

"How far do you think I ought to go, Nino?" I inquired. To tell the
truth, the idea of going up the Serra alone was not so attractive in
the evening as it had been in the morning light. I thought it would be
very dark among those trees, and I had still a great deal of money
sewn between my waistcoats.

"Oh, you need not go so very far," said Nino. "Three or four miles
from the town will be enough. I will wait in the street below, after
eleven."

We sat in silence for some time afterwards, and if I was thinking of
the gloomy ride before me, I am sure that Nino was thinking of Hedwig.
Poor fellow! I dare say he was anxious enough to see her, after being
away for two months, and spending so many hours almost within her
reach. He sat low in his chair, and the dismal rays of the solitary
tallow candle cast deep shadows on his thoughtful face. Weary,
perhaps, with waiting and with long travel, yet not sad, but very
hopeful he looked. No fatigue could destroy the strong, manly
expression of his features, and even in that squalid room, by the
miserable light, dressed in his plain gray clothes, he was still the
man of success, who could hold thousands in the suspense of listening
to his slightest utterance. Nino is a wonderful man, and I am
convinced that there is more in him than music, which is well enough
when one can be as great as he, but is not all the world holds. I am
sure that massive head of his was not hammered so square and broad by
the great hands that forge the thunderbolts of nations, merely that he
should be a tenor and an actor, and give pleasure to his fellow-men. I
see there the power and the strength of a broader mastery than that
which bends the ears of a theatre audience. One day we may see it. It
needs the fire of hot times to fuse the elements of greatness in the
crucible of revolution. There is not such another head in all Italy as
Nino's that I have ever seen, and I have seen the best in Rome. He
looked so grand, as he sat there, thinking over the future. I am not
praising his face for its beauty; there is little enough of that, as
women might judge. And besides, you will laugh at my ravings, and say
that a singer is a singer, and nothing more, for all his life. Well,
we shall see in twenty years; you will,--perhaps I shall not.

"Nino," I asked, irrelevantly, following my own train of reflection,
"have you ever thought of anything but music--and love?" He roused
himself from his reverie, and stared at me.

"How should you be able to guess my thoughts?" he asked at last.

"People who have lived much together often read each other's minds.
What were you thinking of?" Nino sighed, and hesitated a moment before
he answered.

"I was thinking," he said, "that a musician's destiny, even the
highest, is a poor return for a woman's love."

"You see: I was thinking of you, and wondering whether, after all, you
will always be a singer."

"That is singular," he answered slowly. "I was reflecting how utterly
small my success on the stage will look to me when I have married
Hedwig von Lira."

"There is a larger stage, Nino mio, than yours."

"I know it," said he, and fell back in his chair again, dreaming.

I fancy that at any other time we might have fallen into conversation
and speculated on the good old-fashioned simile which likens life to a
comedy, or a tragedy, or a farce. But the moment was ill-chosen, and
we were both silent, being much preoccupied with the immediate future.

A little before ten I made up my mind to start. I glanced once more
round the room to see if I had left anything. Nino was still sitting
in his chair, his head bent, and his eyes staring at the floor.

"Nino," I said, "I am going now. Here is another candle, which you
will need before long, for these tallow things are very short."
Indeed, the one that burned was already guttering low in the old brass
candlestick. Nino rose and shook himself.

"My dear friend," he said, taking me by both hands, "you know that I
am grateful to you. I thank you and thank you again with all my heart.
Yes, you ought to go now, for the time is approaching. We shall join
you, if all goes well, by one o'clock."

"But, Nino, if you do not come?"

"I will come, alone, or with her. If--if I should not be with you by
two in the morning, go on alone, and get out of the way. It will be
because I am caught by that old Prussian devil. Good-bye." He embraced
me affectionately, and I went out. A quarter of an hour later I was
out of the town, picking my way, with my little donkey, over the
desolate path that leads toward the black Serra. The clatter of the
beast's hoofs over the stones kept time with the beatings of my heart,
and I pressed my thin legs close to his thinner sides for company.

When Nino was left alone,--and all this I know from him,--he sat again
in the chair and meditated; and although the time of the greatest
event in his life was very near, he was so much absorbed that he was
startled when he looked at his watch and found that it was half-past
eleven. He had barely time to make his preparations. His man was
warned, but was waiting near the inn, not knowing where he was
required, as Nino himself had not been to ascertain the position of
the lower door, fearing lest he might be seen by Benoni. He now
hastily extinguished the light and let himself out of the house
without noise. He found his countryman ready with the mules, ordered
him to come with him, and returned to the house, instructing him to
follow and wait at a short distance from the door he would enter.
Muffled in his cloak, he stood in the street awaiting the messenger
from Hedwig.

The crazy old clock of the church tolled the hour, and a man wrapped
in a nondescript garment, between a cloak and an overcoat, stole along
the moonlit street to where Nino stood, in front of my lodging.

"Temistocle!" called Nino, in a low voice, as the fellow hesitated.

"Excellency"--answered the man, and then drew back. "You are not the
Signor Grandi!" he cried, in alarm.

"It is the same thing," replied Nino. "Let us go."

"But how is this?" objected Temistocle, seeing a new development. "It
was the Signor Grandi whom I was to conduct." Nino was silent, but
there was a crisp sound in the air as he took a banknote from his
pocket-book. "Diavolo!" muttered the servant, "perhaps it may be
right, after all." Nino gave him the note.

"That is my passport," said he.

"I have doubts," answered Temistocle, taking it, nevertheless, and
examining it by the moonlight. "It has no _visa_," he added, with a
cunning leer. Nino gave him another. Then Temistocle had no more
doubts.

"I will conduct your excellency," he said. They moved away, and
Temistocle was so deaf that he did not hear the mules and the tramp of
the man who led them not ten paces behind him.

Passing round the rock they found themselves in the shadow; a fact
which Nino noted with much satisfaction, for he feared lest someone
might be keeping late hours in the castle. The mere noise of the mules
would attract no attention in a mountain town where the country people
start for their distant work at all hours of the day and night. They
came to the door. Nino called softly to the man with the mules to wait
in the shadow, and Temistocle knocked at the door. The key ground in
the lock from within, but the hands that held it seemed weak. Nino's
heart beat fast.

"Temistocle!" cried Hedwig's trembling voice.

"What is the matter, your excellency?" asked the servant through the
keyhole, not forgetting his manners.

"Oh, I cannot turn the key! What _shall_ I do?"

Nino heard, and pushed the servant aside.

"Courage, my dear lady," he said, aloud, that she might know his
voice. Hedwig appeared to make a frantic effort, and a little sound of
pain escaped her as she hurt her hands.

"Oh, what _shall_ I do!" she cried, piteously. "I locked it last
night, and now I cannot turn the key!"

Nino pressed with all his weight against the door. Fortunately it was
strong, or he would have broken it in, and it would have fallen upon
her. But it opened outward, and was heavily bound with iron. Nino
groaned.

"Has your excellency a taper?" asked Temistocle suddenly, forcing his
head between Nino's body and the door, in order to be heard.

"Yes. I put it out."

"And matches?" he asked again.

"Yes."

"Then let your excellency light the taper, and drop some of the
burning wax on the end of the key. It will be like oil." There was a
silence. The key was withdrawn, and a light appeared through the hole
where it had been. Nino instantly fastened his eye to the aperture,
hoping to catch a glimpse of Hedwig. But he could not see anything
save two white hands trying to cover the key with wax. He withdrew his
eye quickly, as the hands pushed the key through again.

Again the lock groaned,--a little sob of effort, another trial, and
the bolts flew back to their sockets. The prudent Temistocle, who did
not wish to be a witness of what followed, pretended to exert gigantic
strength in pulling the door open, and Nino, seeing him, drew back a
moment to let him pass.

"Your excellency need only knock at the upper door," he said to
Hedwig, "and I will open. I will watch, lest anyone should enter from
above."

"You may watch till the rising of the dead," thought Nino, and Hedwig
stood aside on the narrow step, while Temistocle went up. One instant
more, and Nino was at her feet, kissing the hem of her dress, and
speechless with happiness, for his tears of joy flowed fast.

Tenderly Hedwig bent to him, and laid her two hands on his bare head,
pressing down the thick and curly hair with a trembling, passionate
motion.

"Signor Cardegna, you must not kneel there,--nay, sir, I know you love
me! Would I have come to you else? Give me your hand--now--do not kiss
it so hard--no--Oh, Nino, my own dear Nino--"

What should have followed in her gentle speech is lacking, for many
and most sweet reasons. I need not tell you that the taper was
extinguished, and they stood locked in each other's arms against the
open door, with only the reflection of the moon from the houses
opposite to illuminate their meeting.

There was and is to me something divinely perfect and godlike in these
two virgin hearts, each so new to their love, and each so true and
spotless of all other. I am old to say sweet things of loving, but I
cannot help it; for though I never was as they are, I have loved much
in my time. Like our own dear Leopardi, I loved not the woman, but the
angel which is the type of all women, and whom not finding I perished
miserably as to my heart. But in my breast there is still the temple
where the angel dwelt, and the shrine is very fragrant still with the
divine scent of the heavenly roses that were about her. I think, also,
that all those who love in this world must have such a holy place of
worship in their hearts. Sometimes the kingdom of the soul and the
palace of the body are all Love's, made beautiful and rich with rare
offerings of great constancy and faith; and all the countless
creations of transcendent genius, and all the vast aspirations of
far-reaching power, go up in reverent order to do homage at Love's
altar, before they come forth, like giants, to make the great world
tremble and reel in its giddy grooves.

And with another it is different. The world is not his; he is the
world's, and all his petty doings have its gaudy stencil blotched upon
them. Yet haply even he has a heart, and somewhere in its fruitless
fallows stands a poor ruin, that never was of much dignity at its
best,--poor and broken, and half choked with weeds and briers; but
even thus the weeds are fragrant herbs, and the briers are wild roses,
of few and misshapen petals, but sweet, nevertheless. For this ruin
was once a shrine too, that his mean hands and sterile soul did try
most ineffectually to build up as a shelter for all that was ever
worthy in him.

Now, therefore, I say, Love, and love truly and long,--even for ever;
and if you can do other things well, do them; but if not, at least
learn to do that, for it is a very gentle thing and sweet in the
learning. Some of you laugh at me, and say, Behold, this old-fashioned
driveller, who does not even know that love is no longer in the
fashion! By Saint Peter, Heaven will soon be out of the fashion too,
and Messer Satanas will rake in the just and the unjust alike, so that
he need no longer fast on Fridays, having a more savoury larder! And
no doubt some of you will say that hell is really so antiquated that
it should be put in the museum at the University of Rome, for a
curious old piece of theological furniture. Truth! it is a wonder it
is not worn out with digesting the tough morsels it gets, when people
like you are finally gotten rid of from this world! But it is made of
good material, and it will last, never fear! This is not the gospel of
peace, but it is the gospel of truth.

Loving hearts and gentle souls shall rule the world some day, for all
your pestiferous fashions; and old as I am,--I do not mean aged, but
well on in years,--I believe in love still, and I always will. It is
true that it was not given to me to love as Nino loves Hedwig, for
Nino is even now a stronger, sterner man than I. His is the nature
that can never do enough; his the hands that never tire for her;
his the art that would surpass, for her, the stubborn bounds of
possibility. He is never weary of striving to increase her joy of him.
His philosophy is but that. No quibbles of "being" and "not being," or
wretched speculations concerning the object of existence; he has found
the true unity of unities, and he holds it fast.

Meanwhile, you object that I am not proceeding with my task, and
telling you more facts, recounting more conversations, and painting
more descriptions. Believe me, this one fact, that to love well is to
be all man can be, is greater than all the things men have ever
learned and classified in dictionaries. It is, moreover, the only fact
that has consistently withstood the ravages of time and social
revolution; it is the wisdom that has opened, as if by magic, the
treasures of genius, of goodness, and of all greatness, for everyone
to see; it is the vital elixir that has made men of striplings, and
giants of cripples, and heroes of the poor in heart though great in
spirit. Nino is an example; for he was but a boy, yet he acted like a
man; a gifted artist in a great city, courted by the noblest, yet he
kept his faith.

But when I have taken breath I will tell you what he and Hedwig said
to each other at the gate, and whether at the last she went with him,
or stayed in dismal Fillettino for her father's sake.



CHAPTER XXI


"Let us sit upon the step and talk," said Hedwig, gently disengaging
herself from his arms.

"The hour is advancing, and it is damp here, my love. You will be
cold," said Nino, protesting against delay as best he could.

"No; and I must talk to you." She sat down, but Nino pulled off his
cloak and threw it round her. She motioned him to sit beside her, and
raised the edge of the heavy mantle with her hand. "I think it is big
enough," said she.

"I think so," returned Nino; and so the pair sat side by side and hand
in hand, wrapped in the same garment, deep in the shadow of the rocky
doorway. "You got my letter, dearest?" asked Nino, hoping to remind
her of his proposal.

"Yes, it reached me safely. Tell me, Nino, have you thought of me in
all this time?" she asked, in her turn; and there was the joy of the
answer already in the question.

"As the earth longs for the sun, my love, through all the dark night.
You have never been out of my thoughts. You know that I went away to
find you in Paris, and I went to London, too; and everywhere I sang to
you, hoping you might be somewhere in the great audiences. But you
never went to Paris at all. When I got Professor Grandi's letter
saying that he had discovered you, I had but one night more to sing,
and then I flew to you."

"And now you have found me," said Hedwig, looking lovingly up to him
through the shadow.

"Yes, dear one; and I have come but just in time. You are in great
trouble now, and I am here to save you from it all. Tell me, what is
it all about?"

"Ah, Nino dear, it is very terrible. My father declared I must marry
Baron Benoni, or end my days here, in this dismal castle." Nino ground
his teeth, and drew her even closer to him, so that her head rested on
his shoulder.

"Infamous wretch!" he muttered.

"Hush, Nino," said Hedwig gently; "he is my father."

"Oh, I mean Benoni, of course," exclaimed Nino quickly.

"Yes, dear, of course you do," Hedwig responded. "But my father has
changed his mind. He no longer wishes me to marry the Jew."

"Why is that, sweetheart?"

"Because Benoni was very rude to me to-day, and I told my father, who
said he should leave the house at once."

"I hope he will kill the hound!" cried Nino, with rising anger. "And I
am glad your father has still the decency to protect you from insult."

"My father is very unkind, Nino mio, but he is an officer and a
gentleman."

"Oh, I know what that means,--a gentleman! Fie on your gentleman! Do
you love me less, Hedwig, because I am of the people?"

For all answer Hedwig threw her arms round his neck, passionately.

"Tell me, love, would you think better of me if I were noble?"

"Ah, Nino, how most unkind! Oh, no: I love you, and for your sake I
love the people,--the strong, brave people, whose man you are."

"God bless you, dear, for that," he answered tenderly. "But say, will
your father take you back to Rome, now that he has sent away Benoni?"

"No, he will not. He swears that I shall stay here until I can forget
you." The fair head rested again on his shoulder.

"It appears to me that your most high and noble father has amazingly
done perjury in his oath," remarked Nino, resting his hand on her
hair, from which the thick black veil that had muffled it had slipped
back. "What do you think, love?"

"I do not know," replied Hedwig, in a low voice.

"Why, dear, you have only to close this door behind you, and you may
laugh at your prison and your jailer!"

"Oh, I could not, Nino; and besides, I am weak, and cannot walk very
far. And we should have to walk very far, you know."

"You, darling? Do you think I would not and could not bear you from
here to Rome in these arms?" As he spoke he lifted her bodily from the
step.

"Oh!" she cried, half frightened, half thrilled, "how strong you are,
Nino!"

"Not I; it is my love. But I have beasts close by, waiting even now;
good stout mules, that will think you are only a little silver
butterfly that has flitted down from the moon for them to carry."

"Have you done that, dear?" she asked, doubtfully, while her heart
leaped at the thought. "But my father has horses," she added, on a
sudden, in a very anxious voice.

"Never fear, my darling. No horse could scratch a foothold in the
place where our mules are as safe as in a meadow. Come, dear heart,
let us be going." But Hedwig hung her head, and did not stir. "What is
it, Hedwig?" he asked, bending down to her and softly stroking her
hair. "Are you afraid of me?"

"No,--oh no! Not of you, Nino,--never of you!" She pushed her face
close against him, very lovingly.

"What then, dear? Everything is ready for us. Why should we wait?"

"Is it quite right, Nino?"

"Ah, yes, love, it is right,--the rightest right that ever was! How
can such love as ours be wrong? Have I not to-day implored your father
to relent and let us marry? I met him in the road--"

"He told me, dear. It was brave of you. And he frightened me by making
me think he had killed you. Oh, I was so frightened, you do not know!"

"Cruel--" Nino checked the rising epithet. "He is your father, dear,
and I must not speak my mind. But since he will not let you go, what
will you do? Will you cease to love me, at his orders?"

"Oh, Nino, never, never, never!"

"But will you stay here, to die of solitude and slow torture?" He
pleaded passionately.

"I--I suppose so, Nino," she said, in a choking sob.

"Now, by Heaven, you shall not!" He clasped her in his arms, raising
her suddenly to her feet. Her head fell back upon his shoulder, and
he could see her turn pale to the very lips, for his sight was
softened to the gloom, and her eyes shone like stars of fire at him
from beneath the half-closed lids. But the faint glory of coming
happiness was already on her face, and he knew that the last fight was
fought for love's mastery.

"Shall we ever part again, love?" he whispered, close to her. She
shook her head, her starry eyes still fastened on his.

"Then come, my own dear one,--come," and he gently drew her with him.
He glanced, naturally enough, at the step where they had sat, and
something dark caught his eye just above it. Holding her hand in one
of his, as though fearful lest she should escape him, he stooped
quickly and snatched the thing from the stair with the other. It was
Hedwig's little bundle.

"What have you here?" he asked. "Oh, Hedwig, you said you would not
come?" he added, half laughing, as he discovered what it was.

"I was not sure that I should like you, Nino," she said, as he again
put his arm about her. Hedwig started violently. "What is that?" she
exclaimed, in a terrified whisper.

"What, love?"

"The noise! Oh, Nino, there is someone on the staircase, coming down.
Quick,--quick! Save me, for love's sake!"

But Nino had heard, too, the clumsy but rapid groping of heavy feet on
the stairs above, far up in the winding stone steps, but momentarily
coming nearer. Instantly he pushed Hedwig out to the street, tossing
the bundle on the ground, withdrew the heavy key, shut the door, and
double turned the lock from the outside, removing the key again at
once. Nino is a man who acts suddenly and infallibly in great
emergencies. He took Hedwig in his arms, and ran with her to where the
mules were standing, twenty yards away.

The stout countryman from Subiaco, who had spent some years in
breaking stones out of consideration for the Government, as a general
confession of the inaccuracy of his views regarding foreigners, was by
no means astonished when he saw Nino appear with a woman in his arms.
Together they seated her on one of the mules, and ran beside her, for
there was no time for Nino to mount. They had to pass the door, and
through all its oaken thickness they could hear the curses and
imprecations of someone inside, and the wood and iron shook with
repeated blows and kicks. The quick-witted muleteer saw the bundle
lying where Nino had tossed it, and he picked it up as he ran.

Both Nino and Hedwig recognised Benoni's voice, but neither spoke as
they hurried up the street into the bright moonlight, she riding and
Nino running as he led the other beast at a sharp trot. In five
minutes they were out of the little town, and Nino, looking back,
could see that the broad white way behind them was clear of all
pursuers. Then he himself mounted, and the countryman trotted by his
side.

Nino brought his mule close to Hedwig's. She was an accomplished
horsewoman, and had no difficulty in accommodating herself to the
rough country saddle. Their hands met, and the mules, long accustomed
to each other's company, moved so evenly that the gentle bond was not
broken. But although Hedwig's fingers twined lovingly with his, and
she often turned and looked at him from beneath her hanging veil, she
was silent for a long time. Nino respected her mood, half guessing
what she felt, and no sound was heard save an occasional grunt from
the countryman as he urged the beasts, and the regular clatter of the
hoofs on the stony road.

To tell the truth, Nino was overwhelmed with anxiety; for his quick
wits had told him that Benoni, infuriated by the check he had
received, would lose no time in remounting the stairs, saddling a
horse, and following them. If only they could reach the steeper part
of the ravine they could bid defiance to any horse that ever galloped,
for Benoni must inevitably come to grief if he attempted a pursuit
into the desolate Serra. He saw that Hedwig had not apprehended the
danger, when once the baron was stopped by the door, conceiving in
her heart the impression that he was a prisoner in his own trap.
Nevertheless, they urged the beasts onward hotly, if one may use the
word of the long, heavy trot of a mountain mule. The sturdy countryman
never paused or gasped for breath, keeping pace in a steady,
determined fashion.

But they need not have been disturbed, for Hedwig's guess was nearer
the truth than Nino's reasoning. They knew it later, when Temistocle
found them in Rome, and I may as well tell you how it happened. When
he reached the head of the staircase, he took the key from the one
side to the other, locked the door, as agreed, and sat down to wait
for Hedwig's rap. He indeed suspected that it would never come, for he
had only pretended not to see the mules; but the prospect of further
bribes made him anxious not to lose sight of his mistress, and
certainly not to disobey her, in case she really returned. The
staircase opened into the foot of the tower, a broad stone chamber,
with unglazed windows.

Temistocle sat himself down to wait on an old bench that had been put
there, and the light of the full moon made the place as bright as day.
Now the lock on the door was rusty, like the one below, and creaked
loudly every time it was turned. But Temistocle fancied it would not
be heard in the great building, and felt quite safe. Sitting there, he
nodded and fell asleep, tired with the watching.

Benoni had probably passed a fiery half hour with the count. But I
have no means of knowing what was said on either side; at all events,
he was in the castle still, and, what is more, he was awake. When
Hedwig opened the upper door and closed it behind her, the sound was
distinctly audible to his quick ears, and he probably listened and
speculated, and finally yielded to his curiosity.

However that may have been, he found Temistocle asleep in the tower
basement, saw the key in the lock, guessed whence the noise had come,
and turned it. The movement woke Temistocle, who started to his feet,
and recognised the tall figure of the baron just entering the door.
Too much confused for reflection, he called aloud, and the baron
disappeared down the stairs. Temistocle listened at the top, heard
distinctly the shutting and locking of the lower door, and a moment
afterwards Benoni's voice, swearing in every language at once, came
echoing up.

"They have escaped," said Temistocle to himself. "If I am not
mistaken, I had better do the same." With that he locked the upper
door, put the key in his pocket, and departed on tiptoe. Having his
hat and his overcoat with him, and his money in his pocket, he
determined to leave the baron shut up in the staircase. He softly left
the castle by the front gate, of which he knew the tricks, and he was
not heard of for several weeks afterwards. As for Benoni, he was
completely caught, and probably spent the remainder of the night in
trying to wake the inmates of the building. So you see that Nino need
not have been so much disturbed after all.

While these things were happening Nino and Hedwig got fairly away, and
no one but a mountaineer of the district could possibly have overtaken
them. Just as they reached the place where the valley suddenly narrows
to a gorge, the countryman spoke. It was the first word that had been
uttered by any of the party in an hour, so great had been their haste
and anxiety.

"I see a man with a beast," he said, shortly.

"So do I," answered Nino. "I expect to meet a friend here." Then he
turned to Hedwig. "Dear one," he said, "we are to have a companion
now, who says he is a very proper person."

"A companion?" repeated Hedwig, anxiously.

"Yes. We are to have the society of no less a person than the
Professor Cornelio Grandi, of the University of Rome. He will go with
us, and be a witness."

"Yes," said Hedwig, expecting more, "a witness--"

"A witness of our marriage, dear lady; I trust to-morrow,--or to-day,
since midnight is past." He leaned far over his saddle-bow, as the
mules clambered up the rough place. Her hand went out to him, and he
took it. They were so near that I could see them. He dropped the reins
and bared his head, and so, riding, he bent himself still farther, and
pressed his lips upon her hand: and that was all the marriage contract
that was sealed between them. But it was enough.

There I sat, upon a stone in the moonlight, just below the trees,
waiting for them. And there I had been for two mortal hours or more,
left to meditate upon the follies of professors in general and of
myself in particular. I was beginning to wonder whether Nino would
come at all, and I can tell you I was glad to see the little caravan.
Ugh! it is an ugly place to be alone in.

They rode up, and I went forward to meet them.

"Nino mio," said I, "you have made me pass a terrible time here. Thank
Heaven, you are come; and the contessina, too! Your most humble
servant, signorina." I bowed low and Hedwig bent a little forward, but
the moon was just behind her, and I could not see her face.

"I did not think we should meet so soon, Signor Grandi. But I am very
glad." There was a sweet shyness in the little speech that touched me.
I am sure she was afraid that it was not yet quite right, or at least
that there should be some other lady in the party.

"Courage, Messer Cornelio," said Nino. "Mount your donkey, and let us
be on our way."

"Is not the contessina tired?" I inquired. "You might surely rest a
little here."

"Caro mio," answered Nino, "we must be safe at the top of the pass
before we rest. We were so unfortunate as to wake his excellency the
Baron Benoni out of some sweet dream or other, and perhaps he is not
far behind us."

An encounter with the furious Jew was not precisely attractive to me,
and I was on my donkey before you could count a score. I suggested to
Nino that it would be wiser if the countryman led the way through the
woods, and I followed him. Then the contessina would be behind me,
and Nino would bring up the rear. It occurred to me that the mules
might outstrip my donkey if I went last, and so I might be left to
face the attack, if any came; whereas, if I were in front, the others
could not go any faster than I.



CHAPTER XXII


The gorge rises steep and precipitous between the lofty mountains on
both sides, and it is fortunate that we had some light from the moon,
which was still high at two o'clock, being at the full.

It is a ghastly place enough. In the days of the Papal States the
Serra di Sant' Antonio, as it is called, was the shortest passage to
the kingdom of Naples, and the frontier line ran across its summit. To
pass from one dominion to the other it would be necessary to go out of
the way some forty or fifty miles, perhaps, unless one took this
route; and the natural consequence was that outlaws, smugglers,
political fugitives, and all such manner of men, found it a great
convenience. Soldiers were stationed in Fillettino and on the other
side, to check illicit traffic and brigandage, and many were the
fights that were fought among these giant beeches.

The trees are of primeval dimensions, for no one has yet been
enterprising enough to attempt to fell the timber. The gorge is so
steep, and in many places so abruptly precipitous, that the logs could
never be removed; and so they have grown undisturbed for hundreds of
years, rotting and falling away as they stand. The beech is a lordly
tree, with its great smooth trunk and its spreading branches, and
though it never reaches the size of the chestnut, it is far more
beautiful and long-lived.

Here and there, at every hundred yards or so, it seemed to me, the
countryman would touch his hat and cross himself as he clambered up
the rocky path, and then I did likewise; for there was always some
rude cross or rough attempt at the inscription of a name at such
spots, which marked where a man had met his untimely end. Sometimes
the moonbeams struggled through the branches, still bare of leaves,
and fell on a few bold initials and a date; and sometimes we came to a
broad ledge where no trees were, but only a couple of black sticks
tied at right angles for a cross. It was a dismal place, and the owls
hooted at us.

Besides, it grew intensely cold towards morning, so that the
countryman wanted to stop and make a fire to warm ourselves. Though it
was the end of March, the ground was frozen as hard as any stone
wherever it was free from rocks. But Nino dismounted, and insisted
upon wrapping his cloak about Hedwig; and then he walked, for fear of
catching cold, and the countryman mounted his mule and clambered away
in front. In this way Hedwig and Nino lagged behind, conversing in low
tones that sounded very soft; and when I looked round, I could see how
he held his hand on her saddle and supported her in the rough places.
Poor child, who would have thought she could bear such terrible work!
But she had the blood of a soldierly old race in her veins, and would
have struggled on silently till she died.

I think it would be useless to describe every stone on the desolate
journey, but when the morning dawned we were at the top, and we found
the descent much easier. The rosy streaks came first, quite suddenly,
and in a few minutes the sun was up, and the eventful night was past.
I was never so glad to get rid of a night in my life. It is fortunate
that I am so thin and light, for I could never have reached the
high-road alive had I been as fat as De Pretis is; and certainly the
little donkey would have died by the way. He was quite as thin when I
sold him again as when I bought him, a fortnight before, in spite of
the bread I had given him.

Hedwig drew her veil close about her face as the daylight broke, for
she would not let Nino see how pale and tired she was. But when at
last we were in the broad, fertile valley which marks the beginning of
the old kingdom of Naples, we reached a village where there was an
inn, and Nino turned everyone out of the best room with a high hand,
and had a couch of some sort spread for Hedwig. He himself walked up
and down outside the door for five whole hours, lest she should be
disturbed in her sleep. As for me I lay, on a bench, rolled in my
cloak, and slept as I have not slept since I was twenty.

Nino knew that the danger of pursuit was past now, and that the first
thing necessary was to give Hedwig rest; for she was so tired that she
could not eat, though there were very good eggs to be had, of which I
ate three, and drank some wine, which does not compare to that on the
Roman side.

The sturdy man from Subiaco seemed like iron, for he ate sparingly and
drank less, and went out into the village to secure a conveyance and
to inquire the nearest way to Ceprano.

But when, as I have said, Nino had guarded Hedwig's door for five
hours he woke me from my sleep, and by that time it was about two in
the afternoon.

"Hi, Messer Cornelio! wake up!" he cried pulling my arm. And I rubbed
my eyes.

"What do you want, Nino?" I inquired.

"I want to be married immediately," he replied, still pulling at my
elbow.

"Well, pumpkin-head," I said angrily, "marry, then, in Heaven's name,
and let me sleep! I do not want to marry anybody."

"But I do," retorted Nino, sitting down on the bench and laying a hand
on my shoulder. He could still see Hedwig's door from where he sat.

"In this place?" I asked. "Are you serious?"

"Perfectly. This is a town of some size, and there must be a mayor
here who marries people when they take the fancy."

"Diavolo! I suppose so," I assented.

"A sindaco,--there must be one, surely."

"Very well, go and find him, good-for-nothing!" I exclaimed.

"But I cannot go away and leave that door until she wakes," he
objected. "Dear Messer Cornelio, you have done so much for me, and are
so kind,--will you not go out and find the sindaco, and bring him here
to marry us?"

"Nino," I said, gravely, "the ass is a patient beast, and very
intelligent, but there is a limit to his capabilities. So long as it
is merely a question of doing things you cannot do, very well. But if
it comes to this, that I must find not only the bride, but also the
mayor and the priest, I say, with good Pius IX.,--rest his soul,--_non
possumus_." Nino laughed. He could afford to laugh now.

"Messer Cornelio, a child could tell you have been asleep. I never
heard such a string of disconnected sentences in my life. Come, be
kind, and get me a mayor that I may be married."

"I tell you I will not," I cried, stubbornly. "Go yourself."

"But I cannot leave the door. If anything should happen to her--"

"Macchè! What should happen to her, pray? I will put my bench across
the door, and sit there till you come back."

"I am not quite sure--" he began.

"Idiot!" I exclaimed.

"Well, let us see how it looks." And with that he ousted me from my
bench, and carried it, walking on tiptoe, to the entrance of Hedwig's
room. Then he placed it across the door. "Now sit down," he said,
authoritatively, but in a whisper; and I took my place in the middle
of the long seat. He stood back and looked at me with an artistic
squint.

"You look so proper," he said, "that I am sure nobody will think of
trying the door while you sit there. Will you remain till I come
back?"

"Like Saint Peter in his chair," I whispered, for I wanted to get rid
of him.

"Well, then, I must risk whatever may happen, and leave you here." So
he went away. Now I ask you if this was not a ridiculous position. But
I had discovered, in the course of my fortnight's wanderings, that I
was really something of a philosopher in practice, and I am proud to
say that on this occasion I smoked in absolute indifference to the
absurdity of the thing. People came and stood at a distance in the
passage, and eyed me curiously. But they knew I belonged to the party
of foreigners, and doubtless they supposed it was the custom of my
country to guard doors in that way.

An hour passed, and I heard Hedwig stirring in the room. After a time
she came close to the door and put her hand on the lock, so that it
began to rattle, but she hesitated, and went away again. I once more
heard her moving about. Then I heard her open the window, and at last
she came boldly and opened the door, which turned inward. I sat like a
rock, not knowing whether Nino would like me to turn round and look.

"Signor Grandi!" she cried at last in laughing tones.

"Yes, signorina!" I replied, respectfully, without moving. She
hesitated.

"What are you doing in that strange position?" she asked.

"I am mounting guard," I answered. "I promised Nino that I would sit
here till he came back." She fairly laughed now, and it was the most
airy, silvery laugh in the world.

"But why do you not look at me?"

"I am not sure that Nino would let me," said I. "I promised not to
move, and I will keep my promise."

"Will you let me out?" she asked, struggling with her merriment.

"By no means," I answered; "anymore than I would let anybody in."

"Then we must make the best of it," said she. "But I will bring a
chair and sit down, while you tell me the news."

"Will you assume all responsibility toward Nino, signorina, if I turn
so that I can see you?" I asked, as she sat down.

"I will say that I positively ordered you to do so," she answered,
gaily. "Now look, and tell me where Signor Cardegna is gone."

I looked indeed, and it was long before I looked away. The rest, the
freedom, and the happiness had done their work quickly, in spite of
all the dreadful anxiety and fatigue. The fresh, transparent colour
was in her cheeks, and her blue eyes were clear and bright. The statue
had been through the fire, and was made a living thing, beautiful, and
breathing, and real.

"Tell me," she said, the light dancing in her eyes, "where is he
gone?"

"He is gone to find the mayor of this imposing capital," I replied.
Hedwig suddenly blushed, and turned her glistening eyes away. She was
beautiful so.

"Are you very tired, signorina? I ought not to ask the question, for
you look as though you had never been tired in your life."

There is no saying what foolish speeches I might have made had not
Nino returned. He was radiant, and I anticipated that he must have
succeeded in his errand.

"Ha! Messer Cornelio, is this the way you keep watch?" he cried.

"I found him here," said Hedwig, shyly, "and he would not even glance
at me until I positively insisted upon it." Nino laughed, as he would
have laughed at most things in that moment, for sheer superfluity of
happiness.

"Signorina," he said, "would it be agreeable to you to walk for a few
minutes after your sleep? The weather is wonderfully fine, and I am
sure you owe it to the world to show the roses which rest has given
you."

Hedwig blushed softly, and I rose and went away, conceiving that I had
kept watch long enough. But Nino called after me, as he moved the
bench from the door.

"Messer Cornelio, will you not come with us? Surely you need a walk
very much, and we can ill spare your company. My lady, let me offer
you my arm."

In this manner we left the inn, a wedding procession which could not
have been much smaller, and the singing of an old woman, who sat with
her distaff in front of her house, was the wedding march. Nino seemed
in no great haste, I thought, and I let them walk as they would, while
I kept soberly in the middle of the road, a little way behind.

It was not far that we had to go, however, and soon we came to a large
brick house, with an uncommonly small door, over which hung a wooden
shield with the arms of Italy brightly painted in green and red and
white.

Nino and Hedwig entered arm in arm, and I slunk guiltily in after
them. Hedwig had drawn her veil, which was the only head-dress she
had, close about her face.

In a quarter of an hour the little ceremony was over, and the
registers were signed by us all. Nino also got a stamped certificate,
which he put very carefully in his pocket-book. I never knew what it
cost Nino to overcome the scruples of the sindaco about marrying a
strange couple from Rome in that outlandish place, where the peasants
stared at us as though we had been the most unnatural curiosities, and
even the pigs in the street jogged sullenly out of our way as though
not recognising that we were human.

At all events, the thing was done, and Hedwig von Lira became for the
rest of her life Edvigia Cardegna. And I felt very guilty. The pair
went down the steps of the house together in front of me, and stopped
as they reached the street; forgetting my presence, I presume. They
had not forgotten me so long as I was needed to be of use to them;
but I must not complain.

"We can face the world together now, my dear lady," said Nino, as he
drew her little hand through his arm. She looked up at him, and I
could see her side face. I shall never forget the expression. There
was in it something I really never saw before, which made me feel as
though I were in church; and I knew then that there was no wrong in
helping such love as that to its fulfilment.

By the activity of the man from Subiaco a curious conveyance was ready
for us, being something between a gig and a cart, and a couple of
strong horses were hired for the long drive. The countryman, who had
grown rich in the last three days, offered to buy the thin little ass
which had carried me so far and so well. He observed that he was blind
of one eye, which I had never found out, and I do not believe it was
true. The way he showed it was by snapping his fingers close to the
eye in question. The donkey winked, and the countryman said that if
the eye were good the beast would see that the noise was made by the
fingers, and would not be frightened, and would therefore not wink.

"You see," said he, "he thinks it is a whip cracking, and so he is
afraid."

"Do donkeys always wink when they are frightened?" I inquired. "It is
very interesting."

"Yes," said the countryman, "they mostly do." At all events, I was
obliged to take the man's own price, which was little enough,--not a
third of what I had given.

The roads were good, and the long and the short of the matter, without
any more details, is that we reached Rome very early the next
morning, having caught the night train from Naples. Hedwig slept most
of the time in the carriage and all the time in the train, while Nino,
who never seemed to tire or to need sleep, sat watching her with wide,
happy eyes. But perhaps he slept a little too, for I did, and I cannot
answer for his wakefulness through every minute of the night.

Once I asked him what he intended to do in Rome.

"We will go to the hotel Costanzi," he answered, which is a
foreigners' resort. And if she is rested enough we will come down to
you, and see what we can do about being married properly in church by
the old curato."

"The marriage by the sindaco is perfectly legal," I remarked.

"It is a legal contract, but it is not a marriage that pleases me," he
said, gravely.

"But, caro mio, without offence, your bride is a Protestant, a
Lutheran; not to mince matters, a heretic. They will make objections."

"She is an angel," said Nino, with great conviction.

"But the angels neither marry nor are given in marriage," I objected,
arguing the point to pass the time.

"What do you make of it, then, Messer Cornelio?" he asked, with a
smile.

"Why, as a heretic she ought to burn, and as an angel she ought not to
marry."

"It is better to marry than to burn," retorted Nino, triumphantly.

"Diavolo! Have you had St. Paul for a tutor?" I asked, for I knew the
quotation, being fond of Greek.

"I heard a preacher cite it once at the Gesù, and I thought it a good
saying."

Early in the morning we rolled into the great station of Rome, and
took an affectionate leave of each other, with the promise that Hedwig
and Nino would visit me in the course of the day. I saw them into a
carriage, with Nino's small portmanteau, and Hedwig's bundle, and then
mounted a modest omnibus that runs from the termini to St. Peter's,
and goes very near my house.

All the bells were ringing gladly, as if to welcome us, for it was
Easter morning; and though it is not so kept as it used to be, it is
nevertheless a great feast. Besides, the spring was at hand, and the
acacia-trees in the great square were budding, though everything was
still so backward in the hills. April was at hand, which the
foreigners think is our best month; but I prefer June and July, when
the weather is warm, and the music plays in the Piazza Colonna of an
evening. For all that, April is a glad time, after the disagreeable
winter.

There was with me much peace on that Easter day, for I felt that my
dear boy was safe after all his troubles. At least he was safe from
anything that could be done to part him from Hedwig; for the civil
laws are binding, and Hedwig was of the age when a young woman is
legally free to marry whom she pleases. Of course old Lira might still
make himself disagreeable, but I fancied him too much a man of the
world to desire a scandal, when no good could follow. The one shadow
in the future was the anger of Benoni, who would be certain to seek
some kind of revenge for the repulse he had suffered. I was still
ignorant of his whereabouts, not yet knowing what I knew long
afterwards, and have told you, because otherwise you would have been
as much in the dark as he was himself, when Temistocle cunningly
turned the lock of the staircase door and left him to his curses and
his meditations. I have had much secret joy in thinking what a
wretched night he must have passed there, and how his long limbs must
have ached with sitting about on the stones, and how hoarse he must
have been from the dampness and the swearing.

I reached home, the dear old number twenty-seven in Santa Catarina dei
Funari, by half-past seven, or even earlier; and I was glad when I
rang the bell on the landing, and called through the keyhole in my
impatience.

"Mariuccia, Mariuccia, come quickly! It is I!" I cried.

"O Madonna mia!' I heard her exclaim, and there was a tremendous
clatter, as she dropped the coffee-pot. She was doubtless brewing
herself a quiet cup with my best Porto-Rico, which I do not allow her
to use. She thought I was never coming back, the cunning old hag!

"Dio mio, Signor Professore! A good Easter to you!" she cried, as I
heard the flat pattering of her old feet inside, running to the door.
"I thought the wolves had eaten you, padrone mio!" And at last she let
me in.



CHAPTER XXIII


"A tall gentleman came here late last night, Signor Professore," said
Mariuccia, as I sat down in the old green arm-chair. "He seemed very
angry about something, and said he must positively see you." The idea
of Benoni flashed uneasily across my brain.

"Was he the grave signore who came a few days before I left?" I asked.

"Heaven preserve us!" ejaculated Mariuccia. "This one was much older,
and seemed to be lame; for when he tried to shake his stick at me, he
could not stand without it. He looked like one of the old Swiss guards
at Palazzo." By which she meant the Vatican, as you know.

"It must have been the count," I said, thinking aloud.

"A count! A pretty sort of count, indeed, to come waking people from
their beds in the night! He had not even a high hat like the one you
wear when you go to the University. A count, indeed!"

"Go and make me some good coffee, Mariuccia," I said, eying her
severely to show I suspected her of having used mine; "and be careful
to make it of my best Porto-Rico, if you have any left, without any
chicory."

"A count, indeed!" she muttered angrily as she hobbled away, not in
the least heeding my last remark, which I believed to be withering.

I had not much time for reflection that morning. My old clothes were
in tatters, and the others looked very fine by contrast, so that when
I had made my toilet I felt better able to show myself to the
distinguished company I expected. I had seen so much extraordinary
endurance in Nino and Hedwig during the last two or three days that I
was prepared to see them appear at any moment, brushed and curled and
ready for anything. The visit of the count, however, had seriously
disturbed me, and I hardly knew what to look for from him. As it
turned out, I had not long to wait.

I was resting myself in the arm-chair, and smoking one of those
infamous cigars that nearly suffocate me, just for company, and I was
composing in my mind a letter to the authorities of the University,
requesting that I might begin to lecture again. I did not find out
until later that I need not have written to them at all when I went
away, as ten days are always allowed at Easter, in any case. It is
just like my forgetfulness, to have made such a mistake. I really only
missed four lectures. But my composition was interrupted by the
door-bell, and my heart sank in my breast. Mariuccia opened, and I
knew by the sound of the stick on the bricks that the lame count had
come to wreak his vengeance.

Being much frightened, I was very polite, and bowed a great many times
as he came toward me. It was he, looking much the same as ever, wooden
and grizzly.

"I am much honoured, sir," I began, "by seeing you here."

"You are Signor Grandi?" he inquired, with a stiff bow.

"The same, Signor Conte, and very much at your service," I answered,
rubbing my hands together to give myself an air of satisfaction.

"Let us not waste time," he said, severely but not roughly. "I have
come to you on business. My daughter has disappeared with your son, or
whatever relation the Signor Giovanni Cardegna is to you."

"He is no relation, Signor Conte. He was an orphan, and I--"

"It is the same," he interrupted. "You are responsible for his
doings."

I responsible! Good heavens, had I not done all in my power to prevent
the rashness of that hot-headed boy?

"Will you not sit down, sir?" I said, moving a chair for him. He took
the seat rather reluctantly.

"You do not seem much astonished at what I tell you," he remarked. "It
is evident that you are in the plot."

"Unless you will inform me of what you know, Signor Conte," I replied
with urbanity, "I cannot see how I can be of service to you."

"On the contrary," said he, "I am the person to ask questions. I wake
up in the morning and find my daughter gone. I naturally inquire where
she is."

"Most naturally, as you say, sir. I would do the same."

"And you, also very naturally, answer my questions," he continued
severely.

"In that case, sir," I replied, "I would call to your attention the
fact that you have asked but one question,--whether I were Signor
Grandi. I answered that in the affirmative." You see I was
apprehensive of what he might do, and desired to gain time. But he
began to lose his temper.

"I have no patience with you Italians," he said, gruffly; "you bandy
words and play with them as if you enjoyed it."

Diavolo, thought I, he is angry at my silence. What will he be if I
speak?

"What do you wish to know, Signor Conte?" I inquired, in suave tones.

"I wish to know where my daughter is. Where is she? Do you understand?
I am asking a question now, and you cannot deny it."

I was sitting in front of him, but I rose and pretended to shut the
door, thus putting the table and the end of the piano between us,
before I answered.

"She is in Rome, Signor Conte," I said.

"With Cardegna?" he asked, not betraying any emotion.

"Yes."

"Very well. I will have them arrested at once. That is all I wanted."
He put his crutch-stick to the floor as though about to rise. Seeing
that his anger was not turned against me, I grew bold.

"You had better not do that," I mildly observed, across the table.

"And why not, sir?" he asked, quickly, hesitating whether to get upon
his feet or to remain seated.

"Because they are married already," I answered, retreating toward the
door. But there was no need for flight. He sank back in the chair, and
the stick fell from his hands upon the bricks with a loud rattle. Poor
old man! I thought he was quite overcome by the news I had
communicated. He sat staring at the window, his hands lying idly on
his knees. I moved to come toward him, but he raised one hand and
began to twirl his great gray moustache fiercely; whereat I resumed my
former position of safety.

"How do you know this?" he demanded on a sudden.

"I was present at the civil marriage yesterday," I answered, feeling
very much scared. He began to notice my manoeuvre.

"You need not be so frightened," he said, coldly. "It would be no use
to kill any of you now, though I would like to."

"I assure you that no one ever frightened me in my own house, sir," I
answered. I think my voice must have sounded very bold, for he did not
laugh at me.

"I suppose it is irrevocable," he said, as if to himself.

"Oh, yes--perfectly irrevocable," I answered, promptly. "They are
married, and have come back to Rome. They are at the Hotel Costanzi. I
am sure that Nino would give you every explanation."

"Who is Nino?" he asked.

"Nino Cardegna, of course--"

"And do you foolishly imagine that I am going to ask him to explain
why he took upon himself to carry away my daughter?" The question was
scornful enough.

"Signor Conte," I protested, "you would do well to see them, for she
is your daughter, after all."

"She is not my daughter any longer," growled the count. "She is
married to a singer, a tenor, an Italian with curls and lies and
grins, as you all have. Fie!" And he pulled his moustache again.

"A singer," said I, "if you like, but a great singer, and an honest
man."

"Oh, I did not come here to listen to your praises of that scoundrel!"
he exclaimed, hotly. "I have seen enough of him to be sick of him."

"I wish he were in this room to hear you call him by such names," I
said; for I began to grow angry, as I sometimes do, and then my fear
grows small and my heart grows big.

"Ah!" said he, ironically. "And pray, what would he do to me?"

"He would probably ask you again for that pistol you refused to lend
him the other day." I thought I might as well show that I knew all
about the meeting in the road. But Lira laughed grimly, and the idea
of a fight seemed to please him.

"I would not refuse it this time. In fact, since you mention it, I
think I will go and offer it to him now. Do you think I should be
justified, Master Censor?"

"No," said I, coming forward and facing him. "But if you like you can
fight me. I am your own age, and a better match." I would have fought
him then and there, with the chairs, if he had liked.

"Why should I fight you?" he inquired, in some astonishment. "You
strike me as a very peaceable person indeed."

"Diavolo! do you expect me to stand quietly and hear you call my boy a
scoundrel? What do you take me for, signore? Do you know that I am the
last of the Conti Grandi, and as noble as any of you, and as fit to
fight, though my hair is gray?"

"I knew, indeed, that one member of that illustrious family survived
in Rome," he answered, gravely, "but I was not aware that you were he.
I am glad to make your acquaintance, and I sincerely wish that you
were the father of the young man who has married my daughter. If you
were, I would be ready to arrange matters." He looked at me
searchingly.

"Unfortunately, I am not any relation of his," I answered. "His father
and mother were peasants on my estate of Serveti, when it still was
mine. They died when he was a baby, and I took care of him and
educated him."

"Yes, he is well educated," reflected the count, "for I examined him
myself. Let us talk no more about fighting. You are quite sure that
the marriage is legal?"

"Quite certain. You can do nothing, and any attempt would be a useless
scandal. Besides, they are so happy, you do not know."

"So happy, are they? Do you think I am happy too?

"A man has every reason to be so, when his daughter marries an honest
man. It is a piece of good luck that does not happen often."

"Probably from the scarcity of daughters who are willing to drive
their fathers to distraction by their disobedience and contempt of
authority,'" he said, savagely.

"No,--from the scarcity of honest men," I said. "Nino is a very honest
man. You may go from one end of Italy to the other and not meet one
like him."

"I sincerely hope so," growled Lira. "Otherwise Italy would be as
wholly unredeemed and unredeemable as you pretend that some parts of
it are now. But I will tell you, Conte Grandi, you cannot walk across
the street, in my country, without meeting a dozen men who would
tremble at the idea of such depravity as an elopement."

"Our ideas of honesty differ, sir," I replied. "When a man loves a
woman, I consider it honest in him to act as though he did, and not to
go and marry another for consolation, beating her with a thick stick
whenever he chances to think of the first. That seems to be the
northern idea of domestic felicity." Lira laughed gruffly, supposing
that my picture was meant for a jest. "I am glad you are amused," I
added.

"Upon my honour, sir," he replied, "you are so vastly amusing that I
am half inclined to forgive my daughter's rashness, for the sake of
enjoying your company. First you entrench yourself behind your
furniture; then you propose to fight me; and now you give me the most
original views upon love and marriage that I ever heard. Indeed I have
cause to be amused."

"I am happy to oblige you," I said, tartly, for I did not like his
laughter. "So long as you confine your amusement to me, I am
satisfied; but pray avoid using any objectionable language about
Nino."

"Then my only course is to avoid the subject?"

"Precisely," I replied, with a good deal of dignity.

"In that case I will go," he said. I was immensely relieved, for his
presence was most unpleasant, as you may readily guess. He got upon
his feet, and I showed him to the door, with all courtesy. I expected
that he would say something about the future before leaving me, but I
was mistaken. He bowed in silence, and stumped down the steps with his
stick.

I sank into my arm-chair with a great sigh of relief, for I felt that,
for me at least, the worst was over. I had faced the infuriated
father, and I might now face anybody with the consciousness of power.
I always feel conscious of great power when danger is past. Once more
I lit my cigar, and stretched myself out to take some rest. The
constant strain on the nerves was becoming very wearing, and I knew
very well that on the morrow I should need bleeding and mallows tea.
Hardly was I settled and comfortable when I heard that dreadful bell
again.

"This is the day of the resurrection indeed," cried Mariuccia
frantically from the kitchen. And she hurried to the door. But I
cannot describe to you the screams of joy and the strange sounds,
between laughing and crying, that her leathern throat produced when
she found Nino and Hedwig on the landing, waiting for admission. And
when Nino explained that he had been married, and that this beautiful
lady with the bright eyes and the golden hair was his wife, the old
woman fairly gave way, and sat upon a chair in an agony of amazement
and admiration. But the pair came toward me, and I met them with a
light heart.

"Nino," said Hedwig, "we have not been nearly grateful enough to
Signor Grandi for all he has done. I have been very selfish," she
said, penitently turning to me.

"Ah no, signora," I replied,--for she was married now, and no longer
"signorina,"--"it is never selfish of such as you to let an old man do
you service. You have made me very happy." And then I embraced Nino,
and Hedwig gave me her hand, which I kissed in the old fashion.

"And so this is your old home, Nino?" said Hedwig presently, looking
about her, and touching the things in the room, as a woman will when
she makes acquaintance with a place she has often heard of. "What a
dear room it is! I wish we could live here!" How very soon a woman
learns that "we" that means so much! It is never forgotten, even when
the love that bred it is dead and cold.

"Yes," I said, for Nino seemed so enraptured, as he watched her, that
he could not speak. "And there is the old piano, with the end on the
boxes because it has no leg, as I dare say Nino has often told you."

"Nino said it was a very good piano," said she.

"And indeed it is," he said, with enthusiasm. "It is out of tune now,
perhaps, but it is the source of all my fortune." He leaned over the
crazy instrument and seemed to caress it.

"Poor old thing!" said Hedwig, compassionately. "I am sure there is
music in it still--the sweet music of the past."

"Yes," said he laughing, "it must be the music of the past, for it
would not stand the 'music of the future,' as they call it, for five
minutes. All the strings would break." Hedwig sat down on the chair
that was in front of it, and her fingers went involuntarily to the
keys, though she is no great musician.

"I can play a little, you know, Nino," she said shyly, and looked up
to his face for a response, not venturing to strike the chords. And it
would have done you good to see how brightly Nino smiled and
encouraged her little offer of music--he, the great artist, in whose
life music was both sword and sceptre. But he knew that she had
greatness also of a different kind, and he loved the small jewels in
his crown as well as the glorious treasures of its larger wealth.

"Play to me, my love," he said, not caring now whether I heard the
sweet words or not. She blushed a little, nevertheless, and glanced at
me; then her fingers strayed over the keys, and drew out music that
was very soft and yet very gay. Suddenly she ceased, and leaned
forward on the desk of the piano, looking at him.

"Do you know, Nino, it was once my dream to be a great musician. If I
had not been so rich I should have taken the profession in earnest.
But now, you see, it is different, is it not?"

"Yes, it is all different now," he answered, not knowing exactly what
she meant, but radiantly happy, all the same.

"I mean," she said, hesitating--"I mean that now that we are to be
always together, what you do I do, and what I do you do. Do you
understand?"

"Yes, perfectly," said Nino, rather puzzled, but quite satisfied.

"Ah no, dear," said she, forgetting my presence, and letting her hand
steal into his as he stood, "you do not understand--quite. I mean that
so long as one of us can be a great musician it is enough, and I am
just as great as though I did it all myself."

Thereupon Nino forgot himself altogether, and kissed her golden hair.
But then he saw me looking, for it was so pretty a sight that I could
not help it, and he remembered.

"Oh!" he said in a tone of embarrassment that I had never heard
before. Then Hedwig blushed very much too, and looked away, and Nino
put himself between her and me, so that I might not see her.

"Could you play something for me to sing, Hedwig?" he asked suddenly.

"Oh, yes! I can play 'Spirto gentil,' by heart," she cried, hailing
the idea with delight.

In a moment they were both lost, and indeed so was I, in the dignity
and beauty of the simple melody. As he began to sing, Nino bent down
to her, and almost whispered the first words into her ear. But soon he
stood erect, and let the music flow from his lips just as God made it.
His voice was tired with the long watching and the dust and cold and
heat of the journey; but, as De Pretis said when he began, he has an
iron throat, and the weariness only made the tones soft and tender and
thrilling, that would perhaps have been too strong for my little room.

Suddenly he stopped short in the middle of a note, and gazed
open-mouthed at the door. And I looked, too, and was horrified; and
Hedwig, looking also, screamed and sprang back to the window,
overturning the chair she had sat on.

In the doorway stood Ahasuerus Benoni, the Jew.

Mariuccia had imprudently forgotten to shut the door when Hedwig and
Nino came, and the baron had walked in unannounced. You may imagine
the fright I was in. But, after all, it was natural enough that after
what had occurred he, as well as the count, should seek an interview
with me, to obtain what information I was willing to give.

There he stood in his gray clothes, tall and thin and smiling as of
yore.



CHAPTER XXIV


Nino is a man for great emergencies, as I have had occasion to say,
and when he realised who the unwelcome visitor was, he acted as
promptly as usual. With a face like marble he walked straight across
the room to Benoni and faced him.

"Baron Benoni," he said, in a low voice, "I warn you that you are most
unwelcome here. If you attempt to say any word to my wife, or to force
an entrance, I will make short work of you." Benoni eyed him with a
sort of pitying curiosity as he made this speech:--

"Do not fear, Signor Cardegna. I came to see Signor Grandi, and to
ascertain from him precisely what you have voluntered to tell me. You
cannot suppose that I have any object in interrupting the leisure of a
great artist, or the privacy of his very felicitous domestic
relations. I have not a great deal to say. That is, I have always a
great deal to say about everything, but I shall at present confine
myself to a very little."

"You will be wise," said Nino, scornfully, "and you would be wiser if
you confined yourself to nothing at all."

"Patience, Signor Cardegna," protested Benoni. "You will readily
conceive that I am a little out of breath with the stairs, for I am a
very old man."

"In that case," I said, from the other side of the room, "I may as
well occupy your breathing time by telling you that any remarks you
are likely to make to me have been forestalled by the Graf von Lira,
who has been with me this morning." Benoni smiled, but both Hedwig and
Nino looked at me in surprise.

"I only wished to say," returned Benoni, "that I consider you in the
light of an interesting phenomenon. Nay, Signor Cardegna, do not look
so fierce. I am an old man--"

"An old devil," said Nino hotly.

"An old fool," said I.

"An old reprobate," said Hedwig, from her corner, in deepest
indignation.

"Precisely," returned Benoni, smilingly. "Many people have been good
enough to tell me so before. Thanks, kind friends, I believe you with
all my heart. Meanwhile, man, devil, fool, or reprobate, I am very
old. I am about to leave Rome for St. Petersburg, and I will take this
last opportunity of informing you that in a very singularly long life
I have met with only two or three such remarkable instances as this of
yours."

"Say what you wish to say, and go," said Nino, roughly.

"Certainly. And whenever I have met with such an instance I have done
my very utmost to reduce it to the common level, and to prove to
myself that no such thing really exists. I find it a dangerous thing,
however; for an old man in love is likely to exhibit precisely the
agreeable and striking peculiarities you have so aptly designated."
There was something so odd about his manner and about the things he
said that Nino was silent, and allowed him to proceed.

"The fact is," he continued, "that love is a very rare thing,
nowadays, and is so very generally an abominable sham that I have
often amused myself by diabolically devising plans for its
destruction. On this occasion I very nearly came to grief myself. The
same thing happened to me some time ago--about forty years, I should
say,--and I perceive that it has not been forgotten. It may amuse you
to look at this paper, which I chance to have with me. Good-morning. I
leave for St. Petersburg at once."

"I believe you are really the Wandering Jew!" cried Nino, as Benoni
left the room.

"His name was certainly Ahasuerus," Benoni replied from the outer
door. "But it may be a coincidence, after all. Good-day." He was gone.

I was the first to take up the paper he had thrown upon a chair. There
was a passage marked with a red pencil. I read it aloud:--

"... Baron Benoni, the wealthy banker of St. Petersburg, who was many
years ago an inmate of a private lunatic asylum in Paris, is reported
to be dangerously insane in Rome." That was all. The paper was the
_Paris Figaro_.

"Merciful Heavens!" exclaimed Hedwig, "and I was shut up with that
madman in Fillettino!" Nino was already by her side, and in his strong
arms she forgot Benoni, and Fillettino, and all her troubles. We were
all silent for some time. At last Nino spoke.

"Is it true that the count was here this morning?" he asked, in a
subdued voice, for the extraordinary visit and its sequel had made him
grave.

"Quite true," I said. "He was here a long time. I would not spoil your
pleasure by telling you of it, when you first came."

"What did he--what did my father say?" asked Hedwig, presently.

"My dear children," I answered, thinking I might well call them so,
"he said a great many unpleasant things, so that I offered to fight
him if he said any more." At this they both laid hold of me and began
to caress me; and one smoothed my hair, and the other embraced me, so
that I was half smothered.

"Dear Signor Grandi," cried Hedwig, anxiously, "how good and brave you
are!" She does not know what a coward I am, you see, and I hope she
will never find out, for nothing was ever said to me that gave me half
so much pleasure as to be called brave by her, the dear child; and if
she never finds out she may say it again, some day. Besides, I really
did offer to fight Lira, as I have told you.

"And what is he going to do?" asked Nino, in some anxiety.

"I do not know. I told him it was all legal, and that he could not
touch you at all. I also said you were staying at the Hotel Costanzi,
where he might find you if he wished."

"Oh! Did you tell him that?" asked Hedwig.

"It was quite right," said Nino. "He ought to know, of course. And
what else did you tell him?"

"Nothing especial, Nino mio. He went away in a sort of ill temper
because I would not let him abuse you as much as he pleased."

"He may abuse me and be welcome," said Nino. "He has some right to be
angry with me. But he will think differently some day." So we chatted
away for an hour, enjoying the rest and the peace and the sweet
sunshine of the Easter afternoon. But this was the day of
interruptions. There was one more visitor to come,--one more scene for
me to tell you, and then I have done.

A carriage drove down the street and seemed to stop at the door of my
house. Nino looked idly out of the window. Suddenly he started.

"Hedwig, Hedwig!" he cried, "here is your father coming back!" She
would not look out, but stood back from the window, turning pale. If
there was one thing she dreaded, it was a meeting with her father. All
the old doubt as to whether she had done right seemed to come back to
her face in a moment. But Nino turned and looked at her, and his face
was so triumphant that she got back her courage, and, clasping his
hand, bravely awaited what was to come.

I went myself to the door, and heard Lira's slow tread on the stairs.
Before long he appeared, and glanced up at me from the steps, which he
climbed, one at a time, with his stick.

"Is my daughter here?" he asked, as soon as he reached me; and his
voice sounded subdued, just as Nino's did when Benoni had gone, I
conducted him into the room. It was the strangest meeting. The proud
old man bowed stiffly to Hedwig, as though he had never before seen
her. They also bent their heads, and there was a silence as of death
in the sunny room.

"My daughter," said Von Lira at last, and with evident effort, "I wish
to have a word with you. These two gentlemen--the younger of whom is
now, as I understand it, your husband--may well hear what I wish to
say."

I moved a chair so that he might sit down, but he stood up to his full
height, as though not deigning to be older than the rest. I watched
Hedwig, and saw how with both hands she clung to Nino's arm, and her
lip trembled, and her face wore the look it had when I saw her in
Fillettino.

As for Nino, his stern, square jaw was set, and his brow bent, but he
showed no emotion, unless the darkness in his face and the heavy
shadows beneath his eyes foretold ready anger.

"I am no trained, reasoner, like Signor Grandi," said Lira, looking
straight at Hedwig, "but I can say plainly what I mean, for all that.
There was a good old law in Sparta, whereby disobedient children were
put to death without mercy. Sparta was a good country,--very like
Prussia, but less great. You know what I mean. You have cruelly
disobeyed me,--cruelly, I say, because you have shown me that all my
pains and kindness and discipline have been in vain. There is nothing
so sorrowful for a good parent as to discover that he has made a
mistake."

(The canting old proser, I thought, will he never finish?)

"The mistake I refer to is not in the way I have dealt with you," he
went on, "for on that score I have nothing to reproach myself. But I
was mistaken in supposing you loved me. You have despised all I have
done for you."

"Oh, father! How can you say that?" cried poor Hedwig, clinging closer
to Nino.

"At all events, you have acted as though you did. On the very day when
I promised you to take signal action upon Baron Benoni you left me by
stealth, saying in your miserable letter that you had gone to a man
who could both love and protect you."

"You did neither the one nor the other, sir," said Nino, boldly, "when
you required of your daughter to marry such a man as Benoni."

"I have just seen Benoni; I saw him also on the night you left me,
madam,"--he looked severely at Hedwig,--"and I am reluctantly forced
to confess that he is not sane, according to the ordinary standard of
the mind."

We had all known from the paper of the suspicion that rested on
Benoni's sanity, yet somehow there was a little murmur in the room
when the old count so clearly stated his opinion.

"That does not, however, alter the position in the least," continued
Lira, "for you knew nothing of this at the time I desired you to marry
him, and I should have found it out soon enough to prevent mischief.
Instead of trusting to my judgment you took the law into your own
hands, like a most unnatural daughter, as you are, and disappeared in
the night with a man whom I consider totally unfit for you, however
superior," he added, glancing at Nino, "he may have proved himself in
his own rank of life."

Nino could not hold his tongue any longer. It seemed absurd that there
should be a battle of words when all the realities of the affair were
accomplished facts; but for his life he could not help speaking.

"Sir," he said, addressing Lira, "I rejoice that this opportunity is
given me of once more speaking clearly to you. Months ago, when I was
betrayed into a piece of rash violence, for which I at once apologised
to you, I told you under somewhat peculiar circumstances that I would
yet marry your daughter, if she would have me. I stand here to-day
with her by my side, my wedded wife, to tell you that I have kept my
word, and that she is mine by her own free consent. Have you any cause
to show why she is not my wedded wife? If so, show it. But I will not
let you stand there and say bitter and undeserved things to this same
wife of mine, abusing the name of father and the terms 'authority' and
'love,' forsooth! And if you wish to take vengeance on me personally,
do so if you can. I will not fight duels with you now, as I was ready
to do the day before yesterday. For then--so short a time ago--I had
but offered her my life, and so that I gave it for her I cared not how
nor when. But now she has taken me for hers, and I have no more right
to let you kill me than I have to kill myself, seeing that she and I
are one. Therefore, good sir, if you have words of conciliation to
speak, speak them; but if you would only tell her harsh and cruel
things, I say you shall not!"

As Nino uttered these hot words in good, plain Italian, they had a
bold and honest sound of strength that was glorious to hear. A weaker
man than the old count would have fallen into a fury of rage, and
perhaps would have done some foolish violence. But he stood silent,
eying his antagonist coolly, and when the words were spoken he
answered.

"Signor Cardegna," he said, "the fact that I am here ought to be to
you the fullest demonstration that I acknowledge your marriage with my
daughter. I have certainly no intention of prolonging a painful
interview. When I have said that my child has disobeyed me, I have
said all that the question holds. As for the future of you two, I have
naturally nothing more to say about it. I cannot love a disobedient
child, nor ever shall again. For the present, we will part; and if at
the end of a year my daughter is happy with you, and desires to see
me, I shall make no objection to such a meeting. I need not say that
if she is unhappy with you my house will always be open to her, if she
chooses to return to it."

"No, sir, most emphatically, you need not say it!" cried Nino, with
blazing eyes. Lira took no notice of him, but turned to go.

Hedwig would try once more to soften him, though she knew it was
useless.

"Father," she said, in tones of passionate entreaty, "will you not say
you wish me well? Will you not forgive me?" She sprang to him and
would have held him back.

"I wish you no ill," he answered shortly, pushing her aside, and he
marched to the door, where he paused, bowed as stiffly as ever, and
disappeared.

It was very rude of us, perhaps, but no one accompanied him to the
stairs. As for me, I would not have believed it possible that any
human being could be so hard and relentlessly virtuous; and if I had
wondered at first that Hedwig should have so easily made up her mind
to flight, I was no longer surprised when I saw with my own eyes how
he could treat her.

I cannot, indeed, conceive how she could have borne it so long, for
the whole character of the man came out, hard, cold, and narrow,--such
a character as must be more hideous than any description can paint it,
when seen in the closeness of daily conversation. But when he was gone
the sun appeared to shine again, as he had shone all day, though it
had sometimes seemed so dark. The storms were in that little room.

As Lira went out, Nino, who had followed Hedwig closely, caught her in
his arms, and once more her face rested on his broad breast. I sat
down and pretended to be busy with a pile of old papers that lay near
by on the table, but I could hear what they said. The dear children,
they forgot all about me.

"I am so sorry, dear one," said Nino soothingly.

"I know you are, Nino. But it cannot be helped."

"But are you sorry, too, Hedwig?" he asked, stroking her hair.

"That my father is angry? Yes. I wish he were not," said she, looking
wistfully toward the door.

"No, not that," said Nino. "Sorry that you left him, I mean."

"Ah, no, I am not sorry for that. Oh, Nino, dear Nino, your love is
best." And again she hid her face.

"We will go away at once, darling," he said, after a minute, during
which I did not see what was going on. "Would you like to go away?"

Hedwig moved her head to say "Yes."

"We will go, then, sweetheart. Where shall it be?" asked Nino, trying
to distract her thoughts from what had just occurred. "London? Paris?
Vienna? I can sing anywhere now, but you must always choose, love."

"Anywhere, anywhere; only always with you, Nino, till we die
together."

"Always, till we die, my beloved," he repeated. The small white hands
stole up and clasped about his broad throat, tenderly drawing his face
to hers, and hers to his. And it will be "always," till they die
together, I think.

       *       *       *       *       *

This is the story of that Roman singer whose great genius is making
such a stir in the world. I have told it to you, because he is my own
dear boy, as I have often said in these pages; and because people must
not think that he did wrong to carry Hedwig von Lira away from her
father, nor that Hedwig was so very unfilial and heartless. I know
that they were both right, and the day will come when old Lira will
acknowledge it. He is a hard old man, but he must have some affection
for her; and if not, he will surely have the vanity to own so famous
an artist as Nino for his son-in-law.

I do not know how it was managed, for Hedwig was certainly a heretic
when she left her father, though she was an angel, as Nino said. But
before they left Rome for Vienna there was a little wedding, early in
the morning, in our parish church, for I was there; and De Pretis, who
was really responsible for the whole thing, got some of his best
singers from St. Peter and St. John on the Lateran to come and sing a
mass over the two. I think that our good Mother Church found room for
the dear child very quickly, and that is how it happened.

They are happy and glad together, those two hearts that never knew
love save for each other, and they will be happy always. For it was
nothing but love with them from the very first, and so it must be to
the very last. Perhaps you will say that there is nothing in this
story either but love. And if so, it is well; for where there is
naught else there can surely be no sinning, or wrongdoing, or
weakness, or meanness; nor yet anything that is not quite pure and
undefiled.

Just as I finish this writing, there comes a letter from Nino to say
that he has taken steps about buying Serveti, and that I must go there
in the spring with Mariuccia and make it ready for him. Dear Serveti,
of course I will go.


THE END





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