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Title: Vittoria — Complete
Author: Meredith, George
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.

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VITTORIA


By George Meredith



CONTENTS:

  BOOK 1.
  I.        UP MONTE MOTTERONE
  II.       ON THE HEIGHTS
  III.      SIGNORINA VITTORIA
  IV.       AMMIANI’S INTERCESSION
  V.        THE SPY
  VI.       THE WARNING
  VII.      BARTO RIZZO
  VIII.     THE LETTER

  BOOK 2.
  IX.       IN VERONA
  X.        THE POPE’S MOUTH
  XI.       LAURA PIAVENI
  XII.      THE BRONZE BUTTERFLY
  XIII.     THE PLOT OF THE SIGNOR ANTONIO

  BOOK 3.
  XIV.      AT THE MAESTRO’S DOOR
  XV.       AMMIANI THROUGH THE MIDNIGHT
  XVI.      COUNTESS AMMIANI
  XVII.     IN THE PIAZZA D’ARMI
  XVIII.    THE NIGHT OF THE FIFTEENTH
  XIX.      THE PRIMA DONNA

  BOOK 4.
  XX.       THE OPERA OF CAMILLA
  XXI.      THE THIRD ACT
  XXII.     WILFRID COMES FORWARD
  XXIII.    FIRST HOURS OF THE FLIGHT
  XXIV.     ADVENTURES OF VITTORIA AND ANGELO
  XXV.      ACROSS THE MOUNTAINS

  BOOK 5.
  XXVI.     THE DUEL IN THE PASS
  XXVII.    A NEW ORDEAL
  XXVIII.   THE ESCAPE OF ANGELO

  BOOK 6.
  XXIX.     EPISODES OF THE REVOLT AND THE WAR--THE TOBACCO RIOTS
            --RINALDO GUIDASCARPI
  XXX.      EPISODES OF THE REVOLT AND THE WAR--THE FIVE DAYS OF MILAN
  XXXI.     EPISODES OF THE REVOLT AND THE WAR--VITTORIA DISOBEYS HER LOVER
  XXXII.    EPISODES OF THE REVOLT AND THE WAR--THE TREACHERY OF
            PERICLES-THE WRITE UMBRELLA--THE DEATH OF RINALDO GUIDASCARPI

  BOOK 7.
  XXXIII.   EPISODES OF THE REVOLT AND THE WAR--COUNT KARL LENKENSTEIN--
            THE STORY OF THE GUIDASCARPI--THE VICTORY OF THE VOLUNTEERS
  XXXIV.    EPISODES OF THE REVOLT AND THE WAR--THE DEEDS OF BARTO RIZZO--
            THE MEETING AT ROVEREDO
  XXXV.     CLOSE OF THE LOMBARD CAMPAIGN--VITTORIA’S PERPLEXITY
  XXXVI.    A FRESH ENTANGLEMENT
  XXXVII.   ON LAGO MAGGIORE
  XXXVIII.  VIOLETTA D’ISORELLA
  XXXIX.    ANNA OF LENKENSTEIN

  BOOK 8.
  XL.       THROUGH THE WINTER
  XLI.      THE INTERVIEW
  XLII.     THE SHADOW OF CONSPIRACY
  XLIII.    THE LAST MEETING IN MILAN
  XLIV.     THE WIFE AND THE HUSBAND
  XLV.      SHOWS MANY PATHS CONVERGING TO THE END
  XLVI.     THE LAST
            EPILOGUE



CHAPTER I

From Monte Motterone you survey the Lombard plain. It is a towering dome
of green among a hundred pinnacles of grey and rust-red crags. At
dawn the summit of the mountain has an eagle eye for the far Venetian
boundary and the barrier of the Apennines; but with sunrise come the
mists. The vast brown level is seen narrowing in; the Ticino and the
Sesia waters, nearest, quiver on the air like sleepy lakes; the plain is
engulphed up to the high ridges of the distant Southern mountain range,
which lie stretched to a faint cloud-like line, in shape like a solitary
monster of old seas crossing the Deluge. Long arms of vapour stretch
across the urn-like valleys, and gradually thickening and swelling
upward, enwrap the scored bodies of the ashen-faced peaks and the
pastures of the green mountain, till the heights become islands over
a forgotten earth. Bells of herds down the hidden run of the sweet
grasses, and a continuous leaping of its rivulets, give the Motterone
a voice of youth and homeliness amid that stern company of Titan-heads,
for whom the hawk and the vulture cry. The storm has beaten at them
until they have got the aspect of the storm. They take colour from
sunlight, and are joyless in colour as in shade. When the lower world
is under pushing steam, they wear the look of the revolted sons of Time,
fast chained before scornful heaven in an iron peace. Day at last brings
vigorous fire; arrows of light pierce the mist-wreaths, the dancing
draperies, the floors of vapour; and the mountain of piled pasturages is
seen with its foot on the shore of Lago Maggiore. Down an extreme gulf
the full sunlight, as if darting on a jewel in the deeps, seizes the
blue-green lake with its isles. The villages along the darkly-wooded
borders of the lake show white as clustered swans; here and there a
tented boat is visible, shooting from terraces of vines, or hanging on
its shadow. Monte Boscero is unveiled; the semicircle of the Piedmontese
and the Swiss peaks, covering Lake Orta, behind, on along the Ticinese
and the Grisons, leftward toward and beyond the Lugano hills, stand bare
in black and grey and rust-red and purple. You behold a burnished realm
of mountain and plain beneath the royal sun of Italy. In the foreground
it shines hard as the lines of an irradiated Cellini shield. Farther
away, over middle ranges that are soft and clear, it melts, confusing
the waters with hot rays, and the forests with darkness, to where,
wavering in and out of view like flying wings, and shadowed like wings
of archangels with rose and with orange and with violet, silverwhite
Alps are seen. You might take them for mystical streaming torches on the
border-ground between vision and fancy. They lean as in a great flight
forward upon Lombardy.

The curtain of an early autumnal morning was everywhere lifted around
the Motterone, save for one milky strip of cloud that lay lizard-like
across the throat of Monte Boscero facing it, when a party of five
footfarers, who had met from different points of ascent some way below,
and were climbing the mountain together, stood upon the cropped herbage
of the second plateau, and stopped to eye the landscape; possibly also
to get their breath. They were Italians. Two were fair-haired muscular
men, bronzed by the sun and roughly bearded, bearing the stamp of breed
of one or other of the hill-cities under the Alps. A third looked a
sturdy soldier, squareset and hard of feature, for whom beauties of
scenery had few awakening charms. The remaining couple were an old
man and a youth, upon whose shoulder the veteran leaned, and with a
whimsical turn of head and eye, indicative of some playful cast of
mind, poured out his remarks upon the objects in sight, and chuckled
to himself, like one who has learnt the necessity to appreciate his own
humour if he is disposed to indulge it. He was carelessly wrapped about
in long loose woollen stuff, but the youth was dressed like a Milanese
cavalier of the first quality, and was evidently one who would have been
at home in the fashionable Corso. His face was of the sweetest virile
Italian beauty. The head was long, like a hawk’s, not too lean, and not
sharply ridged from a rapacious beak, but enough to show characteristics
of eagerness and promptitude. His eyes were darkest blue, the eyebrows
and long disjoining eyelashes being very dark over them, which made
their colour precious. The nose was straight and forward from the brows;
a fluent black moustache ran with the curve of the upper lip, and lost
its line upon a smooth olive cheek. The upper lip was firmly supported
by the under, and the chin stood freely out from a fine neck and throat.

After a space an Austrian war-steamer was discerned puffing out of the
harbour of Laveno.

“That will do,” said the old man. “Carlo, thou son of Paolo, we will
stump upward once more. Tell me, hulloa, sir! are the best peaches
doomed to entertain vile, domiciliary, parasitical insects? I ask you,
does nature exhibit motherly regard, or none, for the regions of the
picturesque? None, I say. It is an arbitrary distinction of our day. To
complain of the intrusion of that black-yellow flag and foul smoke-line
on the lake underneath us is preposterous, since, as you behold, the
heavens make no protestation. Let us up. There is comfort in exercise,
even for an ancient creature such as I am. This mountain is my brother,
and flatters me not--I am old.”

“Take my arm, dear Agostino,” said the youth.

“Never, my lad, until I need it. On, ahead of me, goat! chamois! and
teach me how the thing used to be done in my time. Old legs must be
the pupils of young ones mark that piece of humility, and listen with
respectfulness to an old head by-and-by.”

It was the autumn antecedent to that memorable Spring of the great
Italian uprising, when, though for a tragic issue, the people of Italy
first felt and acted as a nation, and Charles Albert, called the Sword
of Italy, aspired, without comprehension of the passion of patriotism
by which it was animated, to lead it quietly into the fold of his
Piedmontese kingship.

There is not an easier or a pleasanter height to climb than the
Motterone, if, in Italian heat, you can endure the disappointment of
seeing the summit, as you ascend, constantly flit away to a farther
station. It seems to throw its head back, like a laughing senior when
children struggle up for kissings. The party of five had come through
the vines from Stresa and from Baveno. The mountain was strange to them,
and they had already reckoned twice on having the topmost eminence
in view, when reaching it they found themselves on a fresh plateau,
traversed by wild water-courses, and browsed by Alpine herds; and again
the green dome was distant. They came to the highest chalet, where a
hearty wiry young fellow, busily employed in making cheese, invited
them to the enjoyment of shade and fresh milk. “For the sake of these
adolescents, who lose much and require much, let it be so,” said
Agostino gravely, and not without some belief that he consented to rest
on behalf of his companions. They allowed the young mountaineer to close
the door, and sat about his fire like sagacious men. When cooled and
refreshed, Agostino gave the signal for departure, and returned thanks
for hospitality. Money was not offered and not expected. As they
were going forth the mountaineer accompanied them to the step on the
threshold, and with a mysterious eagerness in his eyes, addressed
Agostino.

“Signore, is it true?--the king marches?”

“Who is the king, my friend?” returned Agostino. “If he marches out of
his dominions, the king confers a blessing on his people perchance.”

“Our king, signore!” The mountaineer waved his finger as from Novara
toward Milan.

Agostino seemed to awaken swiftly from his disguise of an absolute
gravity. A red light stood in his eyeballs, as if upon a fiery answer.
The intemperate fit subsided. Smoothing dawn his mottled grey beard with
quieting hands, he took refuge in his habitual sententious irony.

“My friend, I am not a hare in front of the king, nor am I a ram in the
rear of him: I fly him not, neither do I propel him. So, therefore, I
cannot predict the movements of the king. Will the wind blow from the
north to-morrow, think you?”

The mountaineer sent a quick gaze up the air, as to descry signs.

“Who knows?” Agostino continued, though not playing into the smiles of
his companions; “the wind will blow straight thither where there is
a vacuum; and all that we can state of the king is, that there is
a positive vacuum here. It would be difficult to predict the king’s
movements save by such weighty indications.”

He laid two fingers hard against the rib which shields the heart. It had
become apparently necessary for the speaker to relieve a mind surcharged
with bile at the mention of the king; for, having done, he rebuked
with an amazed frown the indiscretion of Carlo, who had shouted, “The
Carbonaro king!”

“Carlo, my son, I will lean on your arm. On your mouth were better,”
 Agostino added, under his voice, as they moved on.

“Oh, but,” Carlo remonstrated, “let us trust somebody. Milan has made me
sick of late. I like the look of that fellow.”

“You allow yourself, my Carlo, an immense indulgence in permitting
yourself to like the look of anything. Now, listen--Viva Carlo Alberto!”

The old man rang out the loyal salutation spiritedly, and awoke a prompt
response from the mountaineer, who sounded his voice wide in the keen
upper air.

“There’s the heart of that fellow!” said Agostino. “He has but one
idea--his king! If you confound it, he takes you for an enemy. These
free mountain breezes intoxicate you. You would embrace the king himself
if you met him here.”

“I swear I would never be guilty of the bad joke of crying a ‘Viva’
to him anywhere upon earth,” Carlo replied. “I offend you,” he said
quickly.

The old man was smiling.

“Agostino Balderini is too notoriously a bad joker to be offended by the
comments of the perfectly sensible, boy of mine! My limbs were stiff,
and the first three steps from a place of rest reminded me acutely of
the king’s five years of hospitality. He has saved me from all fatigue
so long, that the necessity to exercise these old joints of mine touched
me with a grateful sense of his royal bounty. I had from him a chair,
a bed, and a table: shelter from sun and from all silly chatter. Now I
want a chair or a bed. I should like to sit at a table; the sun burns
me; my ears are afflicted. I cry ‘Viva!’ to him that I may be in harmony
with the coming chorus of Italy, which I prophetically hear. That young
fellow, in whom you confide so much, speaks for his country. We poor
units must not be discordant. No! Individual opinion, my Carlo, is
discord when there is a general delirium. The tide arriving, let us make
the best of the tide. My voice is wisdom. We shall have to follow this
king!”

“Shall we!” uttered one behind them gruffly. “When I see this king
swallow one ounce of Austrian lead, I shall not be sorry to follow him!”

“Right, my dear Ugo,” said Agostino, turning round to him; “and I will
then compose his hymn of praise. He has swallowed enough of Austrian
bread. He took an Austrian wife to his bed. Who knows? he may some day
declare a preference for Austrian lead. But we shall have to follow him,
or stay at home drivelling.”

Agostino raised his eyes, that were glazed with the great heat of his
frame.

“Oh, that, like our Dante, I had lived in the days when souls were
damned! Then would I uplift another shout, believe me! As things go
now, we must allow the traitor to hope for his own future, and we simply
shrug. We cannot plant him neck-deep for everlasting in a burning marl,
and hear him howling. We have no weapons in these times--none! Our
curses come back to roost. This is one of the serious facts of the
century, and controls violent language. What! are you all gathered about
me? Oracles must be moving, too. There’s no rest even for them, when
they have got a mountain to scale.”

A cry, “He is there!” and “Do you see him?” burst from the throats of
men surrounding Agostino.

Looking up to the mountain’s top, they had perceived the figure of
one who stood with folded arms, sufficiently near for the person of an
expected friend to be descried. They waved their hats, and Carlo
shot ahead. The others trod after him more deliberately, but in glad
excitement, speculating on the time which this sixth member of the
party, who were engaged to assemble at a certain hour of the morning
upon yonder height, had taken to reach the spot from Omegna, or Orta,
or Pella, and rejoicing that his health should be so stout in despite of
his wasting labours under city smoke.

“Yes, health!” said Agostino. “Is it health, do you think? It’s the
heart of the man! and a heart with a mill-stone about it--a heart to
breed a country from! There stands the man who has faith in Italy,
though she has been lying like a corpse for centuries. God bless him! He
has no other comfort. Viva l’Italia!”

The exclamation went up, and was acknowledged by him on the eminence
overhanging them; but at a repetition of it his hand smote the air
sideways. They understood the motion, and were silent; while he, until
Carlo breathed his name in his hearing, eyed the great scene stedfastly,
with the absorbing simple passion of one who has endured long exile,
and finds his clustered visions of it confronting the strange,
beloved, visible life:--the lake in the arms of giant mountains: the
far-spreading hazy plain; the hanging forests; the pointed crags; the
gleam of the distant rose-shadowed snows that stretch for ever like an
airy host, mystically clad, and baffling the eye as with the motions of
a flight toward the underlying purple land.



CHAPTER II

He was a man of middle stature, thin, and even frail, as he stood
defined against the sky; with the complexion of the student, and the
student’s aspect. The attentive droop of his shoulders and head, the
straining of the buttoned coat across his chest, the air as of one who
waited and listened, which distinguished his figure, detracted from the
promise of other than contemplative energy, until his eyes were fairly
seen and felt. That is, until the observer became aware that those soft
and large dark meditative eyes had taken hold of him. In them lay no
abstracted student’s languor, no reflex burning of a solitary lamp; but
a quiet grappling force engaged the penetrating look. Gazing upon them,
you were drawn in suddenly among the thousand whirring wheels of a
capacious and a vigorous mind, that was both reasoning and prompt, keen
of intellect, acting throughout all its machinery, and having all under
full command: an orbed mind, supplying its own philosophy, and arriving
at the sword-stroke by logical steps,--a mind much less supple than a
soldier’s; anything but the mind of a Hamlet. The eyes were dark as the
forest’s border is dark; not as night is dark. Under favourable lights
their colour was seen to be a deep rich brown, like the chestnut, or
more like the hazel-edged sunset brown which lies upon our western rivers
in the winter floods, when night begins to shadow them.

The side-view of his face was an expression of classic beauty rarely now
to be beheld, either in classic lands or elsewhere. It was severe; the
tender serenity of the full bow of the eyes relieved it. In profile they
showed little of their intellectual quality, but what some might have
thought a playful luminousness, and some a quick pulse of feeling. The
chin was firm; on it, and on the upper lip, there was a clipped growth
of black hair. The whole visage widened upward from the chin, though not
very markedly before it reached the broad-lying brows. The temples were
strongly indented by the swelling of the forehead above them: and
on both sides of the head there ran a pregnant ridge, such as will
sometimes lift men a deplorable half inch above the earth we tread.
If this man was a problem to others, he was none to himself; and when
others called him an idealist, he accepted the title, reading himself,
notwithstanding, as one who was less flighty than many philosophers and
professedly practical teachers of his generation. He saw far, and he
grasped ends beyond obstacles: he was nourished by sovereign principles;
he despised material present interests; and, as I have said, he was less
supple than a soldier. If the title of idealist belonged to him, we will
not immediately decide that it was opprobrious. The idealized conception
of stern truths played about his head certainly for those who knew and
who loved it. Such a man, perceiving a devout end to be reached, might
prove less scrupulous in his course, possibly, and less remorseful, than
revolutionary Generals. His smile was quite unclouded, and came softly
as a curve in water. It seemed to flow with, and to pass in and out of,
his thoughts, to be a part of his emotion and his meaning when it
shone transiently full. For as he had an orbed mind, so had he an orbed
nature. The passions were absolutely in harmony with the intelligence.
He had the English manner; a remarkable simplicity contrasting with
the demonstrative outcries and gesticulations of his friends when they
joined him on the height. Calling them each by name, he received their
caresses and took their hands; after which he touched the old man’s
shoulder.

“Agostino, this has breathed you?”

“It has; it has, my dear and best one!” Agostino replied. “But here is a
good market-place for air. Down below we have to scramble for it in the
mire. The spies are stifling down below. I don’t know my own shadow. I
begin to think that I am important. Footing up a mountain corrects the
notion somewhat. Yonder, I believe, I see the Grisons, where Freedom
sits. And there’s the Monte della Disgrazia. Carlo Alberto should be on
the top of it, but he is invisible. I do not see that Unfortunate.”

“No,” said Carlo Ammiani, who chimed to his humour more readily than
the rest, and affected to inspect the Grisons’ peak through a diminutive
opera-glass. “No, he is not there.”

“Perhaps, my son, he is like a squirrel, and is careful to run up
t’other side of the stem. For he is on that mountain; no doubt of it
can exist even in the Boeotian mind of one of his subjects; myself, for
example. It will be an effulgent fact when he gains the summit.”

The others meantime had thrown themselves on the grass at the feet of
their manifestly acknowledged leader, and looked up for Agostino to
explode the last of his train of conceits. He became aware that the
moment for serious talk had arrived, and bent his body, groaning loudly,
and uttering imprecations against him whom he accused of being the
promoter of its excruciating stiffness, until the ground relieved him of
its weight. Carlo continued standing, while his eyes examined restlessly
the slopes just surmounted by them, and occasionally the deep descent
over the green-glowing Orta Lake. It was still early morning. The heat
was tempered by a cool breeze that came with scents of thyme. They had
no sight of human creature anywhere, but companionship of Alps and birds
of upper air; and though not one of them seasoned the converse with
an exclamation of joy and of blessings upon a place of free speech and
safety, the thought was in their hunted bosoms, delicious as a woodland
rivulet that sings only to the leaves overshadowing it.

They were men who had sworn to set a nation free,--free from the
foreigner, to begin with.

(He who tells this tale is not a partisan; he would deal equally toward
all. Of strong devotion, of stout nobility, of unswerving faith and
self-sacrifice, he must approve; and when these qualities are displayed
in a contest of forces, the wisdom of means employed, or of ultimate
views entertained, may be questioned and condemned; but the men
themselves may not be.)

These men had sworn their oath, knowing the meaning of it, and the
nature of the Fury against whom men who stand voluntarily pledged to any
great resolve must thenceforward match themselves. Many of the original
brotherhood had fallen, on the battle-field, on the glacis, or in
the dungeon. All present, save the youthfuller Carlo, had suffered.
Imprisonment and exile marked the Chief. Ugo Corte, of Bergamo, had seen
his family swept away by the executioner and pecuniary penalties. Thick
scars of wounds covered the body and disfigured the face of Giulio
Bandinelli. Agostino had crawled but half-a-year previously out of his
Piedmontese cell, and Marco Sana, the Brescian, had in such a place
tasted of veritable torture. But if the calamity of a great oath was
upon them, they had now in their faithful prosecution of it the support
which it gives. They were unwearied; they had one object; the mortal
anguish they had gone through had left them no sense for regrets. Life
had become the field of an endless engagement to them; and as in battle
one sees beloved comrades struck down, and casts but a glance at their
prostrate forms, they heard the mention of a name, perchance, and with
a word or a sign told what was to be said of a passionate glorious heart
at rest, thanks to Austrian or vassal-Sardinian mercy.

So they lay there and discussed their plans.

“From what quarter do you apprehend the surprise?” Ugo Corte glanced
up from the maps and papers spread along the grass to question Carlo
ironically, while the latter appeared to be keeping rigid watch over the
safety of the position. Carlo puffed the smoke of a cigarette rapidly,
and Agostino replied for him:--“From the quarter where the best donkeys
are to be had.”

It was supposed that Agostino had resumed the habit usually laid aside
by him for the discussion of serious matters, and had condescended to
father a coarse joke; but his eyes showed no spark of their well-known
twinkling solicitation for laughter, and Carlo spoke in answer
gravely:--“From Baveno it will be.”

“From Baveno! They might as well think to surprise hawks from Baveno.
Keep watch, dear Ammiani; a good start in a race is a kick from the
Gods.”

With that, Corte turned to the point of his finger on the map. He
conceived it possible that Carlo Ammiani, a Milanese, had reason to
anticipate the approach of people by whom he, or they, might not wish to
be seen. Had he studied Carlo’s face he would have been reassured. The
brows of the youth were open, and his eyes eager with expectation, that
showed the flying forward of the mind, and nothing of knotted distrust
or wary watchfulness. Now and then he would move to the other side of
the mountain, and look over upon Orta; or with the opera-glass clasped
in one hand beneath an arm, he stopped in his sentinel-march, frowning
reflectively at a word put to him, as if debating within upon all the
bearings of it; but the only answer that came was a sharp assent,
given after the manner of one who dealt conscientiously in definite
affirmatives; and again the glass was in requisition. Marco Sana was
a fighting soldier, who stated what he knew, listened, and took his
orders. Giulio Bandinelli was also little better than the lieutenant in
an enterprise. Corte, on the other hand, had the conspirator’s head,--a
head like a walnut, bulging above the ears,--and the man was of a
sallying temper. He lay there putting bit by bit of his plot before
the Chief for his approval, with a careful construction, that upon the
expression of any doubt of its working smoothly in the streets of Milan,
caused him to shout a defensive, “But Carlo says yes!”

This uniform character of Ammiani’s replies, and the smile of Agostino
on hearing them, had begun to strike the attention of the soldierly
Marco Sana. He ran his hand across his shorn head, and puffed his burnt
red mole-spotted cheeks, with a sidelong stare at the abstracted youth,
“Said yes!” he remarked. “He might say no, for a diversion. He has
yeses enough in his pay to earn a Cardinal’s hat. ‘Is Milan preparing to
rise?’ ‘Yes.’--‘Is she ready for the work?’ ‘Yes.’--‘Is the garrison
on its guard?’ ‘Yes.’--‘Have you seen Barto Rizzo?’ ‘Yes.’--‘Have the
people got the last batch of arms?’ ‘Yes.’--And ‘Yes,’ the secret is
well kept; ‘Yes,’ Barto Rizzo is steadily getting them together. We may
rely on him: Carlo is his intimate friend: Yes, Yes:--There’s a regiment
of them at your service, and you may shuffle them as you will. This is
the help we get from Milan: a specimen of what we may expect!”

Sana had puffed himself hot, and now blew for coolness.

“You are,”--Agostino addressed him,--“philosophically totally wrong, my
Marco. Those affirmatives are fat worms for the catching of fish. They
are the real pretty fruit of the Hesperides. Personally, you or I may be
irritated by them: but I’m not sure they don’t please us. Were Carlo
a woman, of course he should learn to say no;--as he will now if I
ask him, Is she in sight? I won’t do it, you know; but as a man and a
diplomatist, it strikes me that he can’t say yes too often.”

“Answer me, Count Ammiani, and do me the favour to attend to these
trifles for the space of two minutes,” said Corte. “Have you seen Barto
Rizzo? Is he acting for Medole?”

“As mole, as reindeer, and as bloody northern Raven!” ejaculated
Agostino: “perhaps to be jackal, by-and-by. But I do not care to abuse
our Barto Rizzo, who is a prodigy of nature, and has, luckily for
himself, embraced a good cause, for he is certain to be hanged if he is
not shot. He has the prophetic owl’s face. I have always a fancy of his
hooting his own death-scrip. I wrong our Barto:--Medole would be the
jackal, if it lay between the two.”

Carlo Ammiani had corrected Corte’s manner to him by a complacent
readiness to give him distinct replies. He then turned and set off at
full speed down the mountain.

“She is sighted at last,” Agostino murmured, and added rapidly some
spirited words under his breath to the Chief, whose chin was resting on
his doubled hand.

Corte, Marco, and Giulio were full of denunciations against Milan and
the Milanese, who had sent a boy to their councils. It was Brescia and
Bergamo speaking in their jealousy, but Carlo’s behaviour was odd,
and called for reproof. He had come as the deputy of Milan to meet the
Chief, and he had not spoken a serious word on the great business of
the hour, though the plot had been unfolded, the numbers sworn to, and
Brescia, and Bergamo, and Cremona, and Venice had spoken upon all points
through their emissaries, the two latter cities being represented by
Sana and Corte.

“We’ve had enough of this lad,” said Corte. “His laundress is following
him with a change of linen, I suppose, or it’s a scent-bottle. He’s an
admirable representative of the Lombard metropolis!” Corte drawled out
the words in prodigious mimicry. “If Milan has nothing better to send
than such a fellow, we’ll finish without her, and shame the beast that
she is. She has been always a treacherous beast!”

“Poor Milan!” sighed the Chief; “she lies under the beak of the vulture,
and has twice been devoured; but she has a soul: she proves it. Ammiani,
too, will prove his value. I have no doubt of him. As to boys, or even
girls, you know my faith is in the young. Through them Italy lives. What
power can teach devotion to the old?”

“I thank you, signore,” Agostino gesticulated.

“But, tell me, when did you learn it, my friend?”

In answer, Agostino lifted his hand a little boy’s height from the
earth.

The old man then said: “I am afraid, my dear Corte, you must accept the
fellowship of a girl as well as of a boy upon this occasion. See! our
Carlo! You recognize that dancing speck below there?--he has joined
himself--the poor lad wishes he could, I dare swear!--to another bigger
speck, which is verily a lady: who has joined herself to a donkey--a
common habit of the sex, I am told; but I know them not. That lady,
signor Ugo, is the signorina Vittoria. You stare? But, I tell you, the
game cannot go on without her; and that is why I have permitted you to
knock the ball about at your own pleasure for these forty minutes.”

Corte drew his under-lip on his reddish stubble moustache. “Are we to
have women in a conference?” he asked from eye to eye.

“Keep to the number, Ugo; and moreover, she is not a woman, but a noble
virgin. I discern a distinction, though you may not. The Vestal’s fire
burns straight.”

“Who is she?”

“It rejoices me that she should be so little known. All the greater
the illumination when her light shines out! The signorina Vittoria is a
cantatrice who is about to appear upon the boards.”

“Ah! that completes it.” Corte rose to his feet with an air of
desperation. “We require to be refreshed with quavers and crescendos
and trillets! Who ever knew a singer that cared an inch of flesh for
her country? Money, flowers, flattery, vivas! but, money! money!
and Austrian as good as Italian. I’ve seen the accursed wenches bow
gratefully for Austrian bouquets:--bow? ay, and more; and when the
Austrian came to them red with our blood. I spit upon their polluted
cheeks! They get us an ill name wherever they go. These singers have no
country. One--I knew her--betrayed Filippo Mastalone, and sang the night
of the day he was shot. I heard the white demon myself. I could have
taken her long neck till she twisted like a serpent and hissed. May
heaven forgive me for not levelling a pistol at her head! If God, my
friends, had put the thought into my brain that night!”

A flush had deadened Corte’s face to the hue of nightshade.

“You thunder in a clear atmosphere, my Ugo,” returned the old man, as he
fell back calmly at full length.

“And who is this signorina Vittoria?” cried Corte.

“A cantatrice who is about to appear upon the boards, as I have already
remarked: of La Scala, let me add, if you hold it necessary.”

“And what does she do here?”

“Her object in coming, my friend? Her object in coming is, first, to
make her reverence to one who happens to be among us this day; and
secondly, but principally, to submit a proposition to him and to us.”

“What’s her age?” Corte sneered.

“According to what calendar would you have it reckoned? Wisdom would say
sixty: Father Chronos might divide that by three, and would get scarce a
month in addition, hungry as he is for her, and all of us! But Minerva’s
handmaiden has no age. And now, dear Ugo, you have your opportunity to
denounce her as a convicted screecher by night. Do so.”

Corte turned his face to the Chief, and they spoke together for some
minutes: after which, having had names of noble devoted women, dead and
living, cited to him, in answer to brutal bellowings against that sex,
and hearing of the damsel under debate as one who was expected and was
welcome, he flung himself upon the ground again, inviting calamity by
premature resignation. Giulio Bandinelli stretched his hand for Carlo’s
glass, and spied the approach of the signorina.

“Dark,” he said.

“A jewel of that complexion,” added Agostino, by way of comment.

“She has scorching eyes.”

“She may do mischief; she may do mischief; let it be only on the right
Side!”

“She looks fat.”

“She sits doubled up and forward, don’t you see, to relieve the poor
donkey. You, my Giulio, would call a swan fat if the neck were not
always on the stretch.”

“By Bacchus! what a throat she has!”

“And well interjected, Giulio! It runs down like wine, like wine, to the
little ebbing and flowing wave! Away with the glass, my boy! You must
trust to all that’s best about you to spy what’s within. She makes me
young--young!”

Agostino waved his hand in the form of a salute to her on the last short
ascent. She acknowledged it gracefully; and talking at intervals to
Carlo Ammiani, who footed briskly by her side, she drew by degrees among
the eyes fixed on her, some of which were not gentle; but hers were for
the Chief, at whose feet, when dismounted by Ammiani’s solicitous aid,
she would have knelt, had he not seized her by her elbows, and put his
lips to her cheek.

“The signorina Vittoria, gentlemen,” said Agostino.



CHAPTER III

The old man had introduced her with much of the pride of a father
displaying some noble child of his for the first time to admiring
friends.

“She is one of us,” he pursued; “a daughter of Italy! My daughter also;
is it not so?”

He turned to her as for a confirmation. The signorina pressed his
fingers. She was a little intimidated, and for the moment seemed shy
and girlish. The shade of her broad straw hat partly concealed her vivid
features.

“Now, gentlemen, if you please, the number is complete, and we may
proceed to business,” said Agostino, formally but as he conducted the
signorina to place her at the feet of the Chief, she beckoned to her
servant, who was holding the animal she had ridden. He came up to her,
and presented himself in something of a military posture of attention
to her commands. These were that he should take the poor brute to
water, and then lead him back to Baveno, and do duty in waiting upon
her mother. The first injunction was received in a decidedly acquiescent
manner. On hearing the second, which directed his abandonment of his
post of immediate watchfulness over her safety, the man flatly objected
with a “Signorina, no.”

He was a handsome bright-eyed fellow, with a soldier’s frame and a smile
as broad and beaming as laughter, indicating much of that mixture of
acuteness, and simplicity which is a characteristic of the South, and
means no more than that the extreme vivacity of the blood exceeds at
times that of the brain.

A curious frown of half-amused astonishment hung on the signorina’s
face.

“When I tell you to go, Beppo!”

At once the man threw out his fingers, accompanied by an amazingly
voluble delivery of his reasons for this revolt against her authority.
Among other things, he spoke of an oath sworn by him to a foreign
gentleman, his patron,--for whom, and for whomsoever he loved, he was
ready to pour forth his heart’s blood,--to the effect that he would
never quit her side when she left the roof of her house.

“You see, Beppo,” she remonstrated, “I am among friends.”

Beppo gave a sweeping bow, but remained firm where he stood. Ammiani
cast a sharp hard look at the man.

“Do you hear the signorina’s orders?”

“I hear them, signore.”

“Will you obey them?”

She interposed. “He must not hear quick words. Beppo is only showing
his love for his master and for me. But you are wrong in this case, my
Beppo. You shall give me your protection when I require it; and now, you
are sensible, and must understand that it is not wanted. I tell you to
go.”

Beppo read the eyes of his young mistress.

“Signorina,”--he stooped forward mysteriously,--“signorina, that fellow
is in Baveno. I saw him this morning.”

“Good, good. And now go, my friend.”

“The signor Agostino,” he remarked loudly, to attract the old man; “the
signor Agostino may think proper to advise you.”

“The signor Agostino will laugh at nothing that you say to-day, Beppo.
You will obey me. Go at once,” she repeated, seeing him on tiptoe to
gain Agostino’s attention.

Beppo knew by her eyes that her ears were locked against him; and,
though she spoke softly, there was an imperiousness in her voice not to
be disregarded. He showed plainly by the lost rigidity of his attitude
that he was beaten and perplexed. Further expostulations being
disregarded, he turned his head to look at the poor panting beast under
his charge, and went slowly up to him: they walked off together, a
crest-fallen pair.

“You have gained the victory, signorina,” said Ugo Corte.

She replied, smiling, “My poor Beppo! it’s not difficult to get the best
of those who love us.”

“Ha!” cried Agostino; “here is one of their secrets, Carlo. Take heed of
it, my boy. We shall have queens when kings are fossils, mark me!”

Ammiani muttered a courtly phrase, whereat Corte yawned in very grim
fashion.

The signorina had dropped to the grass, at a short step from the Chief,
to whom her face was now seriously given. In Ammiani’s sight she looked
a dark Madonna, with the sun shining bright gold through the edges
of the summer hat, thrown back from her head. The full and steady
contemplative eyes had taken their fixed expression, after a vanishing
affectionate gaze of an instant cast upon Agostino. Attentive as they
were, light played in them like water. The countenance was vivid in
repose. She leaned slightly forward, clasping the wrist of one hand
about her knee, and the sole of one little foot showed from under her
dress.

Deliberately, but with no attempt at dramatic impressiveness, the Chief
began to speak. He touched upon the condition of Italy, and the new lilt
animating her young men and women. “I have heard many good men jeer,”
 he said, “at our taking women to our counsel, accepting their help, and
putting a great stake upon their devotion. You have read history, and
you know what women can accomplish. They may be trained, equally as we
are, to venerate the abstract idea of country, and be a sacrifice to it.
Without their aid, and the fire of a fresh life being kindled in their
bosoms, no country that has lain like ours in the death-trance can
revive. In the death-trance, I say, for Italy does not die!”

“True,” said other voices.

“We have this belief in the eternal life of our country, and the belief
is the life itself. But let no strong man among us despise the help of
women. I have seen our cause lie desperate, and those who despaired
of it were not women. Women kept the flame alive. They worship in the
temple of the cause.”

Ammiani’s eyes dwelt fervidly upon the signorina. Her look, which was
fastened upon the Chief, expressed a mind that listened to strange
matter concerning her very little. But when the plans for the rising
of the Bergamascs and Brescians, the Venetians, the Bolognese, the
Milanese, all the principal Northern cities, were recited, with a
practical emphasis thrown upon numbers, upon the readiness of the
organized bands, the dispositions of the leaders, and the amount of
resistance to be expected at the various points indicated for the
outbreak, her hands disjoined, and she stretched her fingers to the
grass, supporting herself so, while her extended chin and animated
features told how eagerly her spirit drank at positive springs, and
thirsted for assurance of the coming storm.

“It is decided that Milan gives the signal,” said the Chief; and a
light, like the reflection of a beacon-fire upon the night, flashed over
her.

He was pursuing, when Ugo Corte smote the air with his nervous fingers,
crying out passionately, “Bunglers! are we again to wait for them, and
hear that fifteen patriots have stabbed a Croat corporal, and wrestled
hotly with a lieutenant of the guard? I say they are bunglers. They
never mean the thing. Fifteen! There were just three Milanese among the
last lot--the pick of the city; and the rest were made up of Trentini,
and our lads from Bergamo and Brescia; and the order from the Council
was, ‘Go and do the business!’ which means, ‘Go and earn your ounce of
Austrian lead.’ They went, and we gave fifteen true men for one poor
devil of a curst tight blue-leg. They can play the game on if we give
them odds like that. Milan burns bad powder, and goes off like a drugged
pistol. It’s a nest of bunglers, and may it be razed! We could do
without it, and well! If it were a family failing, should not I too
be trusting them? My brother was one of the fifteen who marched out as
targets to try the skill of those hell-plumed Tyrolese: and they did it
thoroughly--shot him straight here.” Corte struck his chest. “He gave
a jump and a cry. Was it a viva for Milan? They swear that it was, and
they can’t translate from a living mouth, much more from a dead one; but
I know my Niccolo better. I have kissed his lips a thousand times, and
I know the poor boy meant, ‘Scorn and eternal distrust of such
peddling conspirators as these!’ I can deal with traitors, but these
flash-in-the-pan plotters--these shaking, jelly-bodied patriots!--trust
to them again? Rather draw lots for another fifteen to bare their
breasts and bandage their eyes, and march out in the grey morning, while
the stupid Croat corporal goes on smoking his lumpy pipe! We shall hear
that Milan is moving; we shall rise; we shall be hot at it; and the news
will come that Milan has merely yawned and turned over to sleep on the
other side. Twice she has done this trick, and the garrison there has
sent five regiments to finish us--teach us to sleep soundly likewise! I
say, let it be Bergamo; or be it Brescia, if you like; or Venice: she
is ready. You trust to Milan, and you are fore-doomed. I would swear it
with this hand in the flames. She give the signal? Shut your eyes, cross
your hands flat on your breasts: you are dead men if you move. She lead
the way? Spin on your heels, and you have followed her!”

Corte had spoken in a thick difficult voice, that seemed to require the
aid of his vehement gestures to pour out as it did like a water-pipe in
a hurricane of rain. He ceased, red almost to blackness, and knotted his
arms, that were big as the cable of a vessel. Not a murmur followed his
speech. The word was, given to the Chief, and he resumed:--“You have
a personal feeling in this case, Ugo. You have not heard me. I came
through Paris. A rocket will soon shoot up from Paris that will be
a signal for Christendom. The keen French wit is sick of its
compromise-king. All Europe is in convulsions in a few months: to-morrow
it may be. The elements are in the hearts of the people, and nothing
will contain them. We have sown them to reap them. The sowing asks for
persistency; but the reaping demands skill and absolute truthfulness.
We have now one of those occasions coming which are the flowers to
be plucked by resolute and worthy hands: they are the tests of our
sincerity. This time now rapidly approaching will try us all, and we
must be ready for it. If we have believed in it, we stand prepared. If
we have conceived our plan of action in purity of heart, we shall be
guided to discern the means which may serve us. You will know speedily
what it is that has prompted you to move. If passion blindfolds you, if
you are foiled by a prejudice, I also shall know. My friend, the
nursing of a single antipathy is a presumption that your motive force is
personal--whether the thirst for vengeance or some internal union of
a hundred indistinct little fits of egoism. I have seen brave and even
noble men fail at the ordeal of such an hour: not fail in courage, not
fail in the strength of their desire; that was the misery for them!
They failed because midway they lost the vision to select the right
instruments put in our way by heaven. That vision belongs solely to such
as have clean and disciplined hearts. The hope in the bosom of a
man whose fixed star is Humanity becomes a part of his blood, and is
extinguished when his blood flows no more. To conquer him, the principle
of life must be conquered. And he, my friend, will use all, because he
serves all. I need not touch on Milan.”

The signorina drew in her breath quickly, as if in this abrupt close she
had a revelation of the Chief’s whole meaning, and was startled by the
sudden unveiling of his mastery. Her hands hung loose; her figure was
tremulous. A murmur from Corte jarred within her like a furious discord,
but he had not offended by refusing to disclaim his error, and had
simply said in a gruff acquiescent way, “Proceed.” Her sensations of
surprise at the singular triumph of the Chief made her look curiously
into the faces of the other men; but the pronouncing of her name engaged
her attention.

“Your first night is the night of the fifteenth of next month?”

“It is, signore,” she replied, abashed to find herself speaking with him
who had so moved her.

“There is no likelihood of a postponement?”

“I am certain, signore, that I shall be ready.”

“There are no squabbles of any serious kind among the singers?”

A soft dimple played for a moment on her lips. “I have heard something.”

“Among the women?”

“Yes, and the men.”

“But the men do not concern you?”

“No, signore. Except that the women twist them.”

Agostino chuckled audibly. The Chief resumed:

“You believe, notwithstanding, that all will go well? The opera will be
acted; and you will appear in it?”

“Yes, signore. I know one who has determined on it, and can do it.”

“Good. The opera is Camilla?”

She was answering with an affirmative, when Agostino broke
in,--“Camilla! And honour to whom honour is due! Let Caesar claim
the writing of the libretto, if it be Caesar’s! It has passed the
censorship, signed Agostino Balderini--a disaffected person out of
Piedmont, rendered tame and fangless by a rigorous imprisonment. The
sources of the tale, O ye grave Signori Tedeschi? The sources are
partly to be traced to a neat little French vaudeville, very
sparkling--Camille, or the Husband Asserted; and again to a certain
Chronicle that may be mediaeval, may be modern, and is just, as the
great Shakespeare would say, ‘as you like it.’”

Agostino recited some mock verses, burlesquing the ordinary libretti,
and provoked loud laughter from Carlo Ammiani, who was familiar enough
with the run of their nonsense.

“Camilla is the bride of Camillo. I give to her all the brains, which
is a modern idea, quite! He does all the mischief, which is possibly
mediaeval. They have both an enemy, which is mediaeval and modern. None
of them know exactly what they are about; so there you have the modern,
the mediaeval, and the antique, all in one. Finally, my friends, Camilla
is something for you to digest at leisure. The censorship swallowed it
at a gulp. Never was bait so handsomely taken! At present I have the joy
of playing my fish. On the night of the fifteenth I land him. Camilla
has a mother. Do you see? That mother is reported, is generally
conceived, as dead. Do you see further? Camilla’s first song treats of a
dream she has had of that mother. Our signorina shall not be troubled to
favour you with a taste of it, or, by Bacchus and his Indian nymphs, I
should speedily behold you jumping like peas in a pan, like trout on a
bank! The earth would be hot under you, verily! As I was remarking, or
meant to be, Camilla and her husband disagree, having agreed to. ‘Tis a
plot to deceive Count Orso--aha? You are acquainted with Count Orso! He
is Camilla’s antenuptial guardian. Now you warm to it! In that condition
I leave you. Perhaps my child here will give you a taste of her voice.
The poetry does much upon reflection, but it has to ripen within you--a
matter of time. Wed this voice to the poetry, and it finds passage
‘twixt your ribs, as on the point of a driven blade. Do I cry the
sweetness and the coolness of my melons? Not I! Try them.”

The signorina put her hand out for the scroll he was unfolding, and cast
her eyes along bars of music, while Agostino called a “Silenzio tutti!”
 She sang one verse, and stopped for breath.

Between her dismayed breathings she said to the Chief:--“Believe me,
signore, I can be trusted to sing when the time comes.”

“Sing on, my blackbird--my viola!” said Agostino. “We all trust you.
Look at Colonel Corte, and take him for Count Orso. Take me for pretty
Camillo. Take Marco for Michiela; Giulio for Leonardo; Carlo for Cupid.
Take the Chief for the audience. Take him for a frivolous public. Ah, my
Pippo!” (Agostino laughed aside to him). “Let us lead off with a lighter
piece; a trifle-tra-la-la! and then let the frisky piccolo be drowned
in deep organ notes, as on some occasions in history the people overrun
certain puling characters. But that, I confess, is an illustration
altogether out of place, and I’ll simply jot it down in my notebook.”

Agostino had talked on to let her gain confidence. When he was silent
she sang from memory. It was a song of flourishes: one of those
be-flowered arias in which the notes flicker and leap like young
flames. Others might have sung it; and though it spoke favourably of her
aptitude and musical education, and was of a quality to enrapture easy,
merely critical audiences, it won no applause from these men. The
effect produced by it was exhibited in the placid tolerance shown by the
uplifting of Ugo Corte’s eyebrows, which said, “Well, here’s a voice,
certainly.” His subsequent look added, “Is this what we have come hither
to hear?”

Vittoria saw the look. “Am I on my trial before you?” she thought; and
the thought nerved her throat. She sang in strong and grave contralto
tones, at first with shut eyes. The sense of hostility left her, and
left her soul free, and she raised them. The song was of Camilla dying.
She pardons the treacherous hand, commending her memory and the strength
of her faith to her husband:--

     “Beloved, I am quickly out of sight:
     I pray that you will love more than my dust.

     Were death defeat, much weeping would be right;
     ‘Tis victory when it leaves surviving trust.
     You will not find me save when you forget
     Earth’s feebleness, and come to faith, my friend,
     For all Humanity doth owe a debt
     To all Humanity, until the end.”

Agostino glanced at the Chief to see whether his ear had caught note of
his own language.

The melancholy severity of that song of death changed to a song of
prophetic triumph. The signorina stood up. Camilla has thrown off the
mask, and has sung the name “Italia!” At the recurrence of it the men
rose likewise.

     “Italia, Italia, shall be free!”

Vittoria gave the inspiration of a dying voice: the conquest of death by
an eternal truth seemed to radiate from her. Voice and features were as
one expression of a rapture of belief built upon pathetic trustfulness.

     “Italia, Italia shall be free!”

She seized the hearts of those hard and serious men as a wind takes the
strong oak-trees, and rocks them on their knotted roots, and leaves them
with the song of soaring among their branches. Italy shone about her;
the lake, the plains, the peaks, and the shouldering flushed snowridges.
Carlo Ammiani breathed as one who draws in fire. Grizzled Agostino
glittered with suppressed emotion, like a frosted thorn-bush in the
sunlight. Ugo Corte had his thick brows down, as a man who is reading
iron matter. The Chief alone showed no sign beyond a half lifting of
the hand, and a most luminous fixed observation of the fair young woman,
from whom power was an emanation, free of effort. The gaze was sad
in its thoughtfulness, such as our feelings translate of the light of
evening.

She ceased, and he said, “You sing on the night of the fifteenth?”

“I do, signore.”

“It is your first appearance?”

She bent her head.

“And you will be prepared on that night to sing this song?”

“Yes, signore.”

“Save in the event of your being forbidden?”

“Unless you shall forbid me, I will sing it, signore.”

“Should they imprison you?--”

“If they shoot me I shall be satisfied to know that I have sung a song
that cannot be forgotten.”

The Chief took her hand in a gentle grasp.

“Such as you will help to give our Italy freedom. You hold the sacred
flame, and know you hold it in trust.”

“Friends,”--he turned to his companions,--“you have heard what will be
the signal for Milan.”



CHAPTER IV

It was a surprise to all of them, save to Agostino Balderini, who passed
his inspecting glance from face to face, marking the effect of
the announcement. Corte gazed at her heavily, but not altogether
disapprovingly. Giulio Bandinelli and Marco Sana, though evidently
astonished, and to some extent incredulous, listened like the perfectly
trusty lieutenants in an enterprise which they were. But Carlo Ammiani
stood horror-stricken. The blood had left his handsome young olive-hued
face, and his eyes were on the signorina, large with amazement, from
which they deepened to piteousness of entreaty.

“Signorina!--you! Can it be true? Do you know?--do you mean it?”

“What, signor Carlo?”

“This; will you venture to do such a thing?”

“Oh, will I venture? What can you think of me? It is my own request.”

“But, signorina, in mercy, listen and consider.”

Carlo turned impetuously to the Chief. “The signorina can’t know the
danger she is running. She will be seized on the boards, and shut up
between four walls before a man of us will be ready,--or more than one,”
 he added softly. “The house is sure to be packed for a first night; and
the Polizia have a suspicion of her. She has been off her guard in the
Conservatorio; she has talked of a country called Italy; she has been
indiscreet;--pardon, pardon, signorina! but it is true that she has
spoken out from her noble heart. And this opera! Are they fools?--they
must see through it. It will never,--it can’t possibly be reckoned on
to appear. I knew that the signorina was heart and soul with us; but
who could guess that her object was to sacrifice herself in the front
rank,--to lead a forlorn hope! I tell you it’s like a Pagan rite. You
are positively slaying a victim. I beg you all to look at the case
calmly!”

A burst of laughter checked him; for his seniors by many years could not
hear such veteran’s counsel from a hurried boy without being shrewdly
touched by the humour of it, while one or two threw a particular irony
into their tones.

“When we do slay a victim, we will come to you as our augur, my Carlo,”
 said Agostino.

Corte was less gentle. As a Milanese and a mere youth Ammiani was
antipathetic to Corte, who closed his laughter with a windy rattle of
his lips, and a “pish!” of some emphasis.

Carlo was quick to give him a challenging frown.

“What is it?” Corte bent his head back, as if inquiringly.

“It’s I who claim that question by right,” said Carlo.

“You are a boy.”

“I have studied war.”

“In books.”

“With brains, Colonel Corte.”

“War is a matter of blows, my little lad.”

“Let me inform you, signor Colonel, that war is not a game between
bulls, to be played with the horns of the head.”

“You are prepared to instruct me?” The fiery Bergamasc lifted his
eyebrows.

“Nay, nay!” said Agostino. “Between us two first;” and he grasped
Carlo’s arm, saying in an underbreath, “Your last retort was too
long-winded. In these conflicts you must be quick, sharp as a
rifle-crack that hits echo on the breast-bone and makes her cry out.
I correct a student in the art of war.” Then aloud: “My opera, young
man!--well, it’s my libretto, and you know we writers always say ‘my
opera’ when we have put the pegs for the voice; you are certainly aware
that we do. How dare you to make calumnious observations upon my opera?
Is it not the ripe and admirable fruit of five years of confinement? Are
not the lines sharp, the stanzas solid? and the stuff, is it not good?
Is not the subject simple, pure from offence to sensitive authority,
constitutionally harmless? Reply!”

“It’s transparent to any but asses,” said Carlo.

“But if it has passed the censorship? You are guilty, my boy, of
bestowing upon those highly disciplined gentlemen who govern your famous
city--what title? I trust a prophetic one, since that it comes from an
animal whose custom is to turn its back before it delivers a blow,
and is, they remark, fonder of encountering dead lions than live ones.
Still, it is you who are indiscreet,--eminently so, I must add, if you
will look lofty. If my opera has passed the censorship! eh, what have
you to say?”

Carlo endured this banter till the end of it came.

“And you--you encourage her!” he cried wrathfully. “You know what the
danger is for her, if they once lay hands on her. They will have her
in Verona in four-and-twenty hours; through the gates of the Adige in a
couple of days, and at Spielberg, or some other of their infernal dens
of groans, within a week. Where is the chance of a rescue then? They
torture, too, they torture! It’s a woman; and insult will be one mode of
torturing her. They can use rods--”

The excited Southern youth was about to cover his face, but caught back
his hands, clenching them.

“All this,” said Agostino, “is an evasion, manifestly, of the question
concerning my opera, on which you have thought proper to cast a slur.
The phrase, ‘transparent to any but asses,’ may not be absolutely
objectionable, for transparency is, as the critics rightly insist,
meritorious in a composition. And, according to the other view, if we
desire our clever opponents to see nothing in something, it is
notably skilful to let them see through it. You perceive, my Carlo.
Transparency, then, deserves favourable comment. So, I do not complain
of your phrase, but I had the unfortunate privilege of hearing it
uttered. The method of delivery scarcely conveyed a compliment. Will you
apologize?”

Carlo burst from him with a vehement question to the Chief: “Is it
decided?”

“It is, my friend,” was the reply.

“Decided! She is doomed! Signorina! what can you know of this frightful
risk? You are going to the slaughter. You will be seized before the
first verse is out of your lips, and once in their clutches, you will
never breathe free air again. It’s madness!--ah, forgive me!--yes,
madness! For you shut your eyes; you rush into the trap blindfolded. And
that is how you serve our Italy! She sees you an instant, and you are
caught away;--and you who might serve her, if you would, do you think
you can move dungeon walls?”

“Perhaps, if I have been once seen, I shall not be forgotten,” said
the signorina smoothly, and then cast her eyes down, as if she felt the
burden of a little possible accusation of vanity in this remark. She
raised them with fire.

“No; never!” exclaimed Carlo. “But, now you are ours. And--surely it is
not quite decided?”

He had spoken imploringly to the Chief. “Not irrevocably?” he added.

“Irrevocably!”

“Then she is lost!”

“For shame, Carlo Ammiani;” said old Agostino, casting his sententious
humours aside. “Do you not hear? It is decided! Do you wish to rob her
of her courage, and see her tremble? It’s her scheme and mine: a case
where an old head approves a young one. The Chief says Yes! and you
bellow still! Is it a Milanese trick? Be silent.”

“Be silent!” echoed Carlo. “Do you remember the beast Marschatska’s
bet?” The allusion was to a black incident concerning a young Italian
ballet girl who had been carried off by an Austrian officer, under the
pretext of her complicity in one of the antecedent conspiracies.

“He rendered payment for it,” said Agostino.

“He perished; yes! as we shake dust to the winds; but she!--it’s
terrible! You place women in the front ranks--girls! What can
defenceless creatures do? Would you let the van-regiment in battle be
the one without weapons? It’s slaughter. She’s like a lamb to them. You
hold up your jewel to the enemy, and cry, ‘Come and take it.’ Think
of the insults! think of the rough hands, and foul mouths! She will be
seized on the boards--”

“Not if you keep your tongue from wagging,” interposed Ugo Corte,
fevered by this unseasonable exhibition of what was to him manifestly
a lover’s frenzied selfishness. He moved off, indifferent to Carlo’s
retort. Marco Sana and Giulio Bandinelli were already talking aside with
the Chief.

“Signor Carlo, not a hand shall touch me,” said the signorina. “And I am
not a lamb, though it is good of you to think me one. I passed through
the streets of Milan in the last rising. I was unharmed. You must have
some confidence in me.”

“Signorina, there’s the danger,” rejoined Carlo. “You trust to your good
angels once, twice--the third time they fail you! What are you among
a host of armed savages? You would be tossed like weed on the sea. In
pity, do not look so scornfully! No, there is no unjust meaning in it;
but you despise me for seeing danger. Can nothing persuade you? And,
besides,” he addressed the Chief, who alone betrayed no signs of
weariness; “listen, I beg of you. Milan wants no more than a signal. She
does not require to be excited. I came charged with several proposals
for giving the alarm. Attend, you others! The night of the Fifteenth
comes; it is passing like an ordinary night. At twelve a fire-balloon is
seen in the sky. Listen, in the name of saints and devils!”

But even the Chief was observed to show signs of amusement, and the
gravity of the rest forsook them altogether at the display of this
profound and original conspiratorial notion.

“Excellent! excellent! my Carlo,” said old Agostino, cheerfully. “You
have thought. You must have thought, or whence such a conception? But,
you really mistake. It is not the garrison whom we desire to put on
their guard. By no means. We are not in the Imperial pay. Probably your
balloon is to burst in due time, and, wind permitting, disperse printed
papers all over the city?”

“What if it is?” cried Carlo fiercely.

“Exactly. I have divined your idea. You have thought, or, to correct the
tense, are thinking, which is more hopeful, though it may chance not to
seem so meritorious. But, if yours are the ideas of full-blown jackets,
bear in mind that our enemies are coated and breeched. It may be
creditable to you that your cunning is not the cunning of the serpent;
to us it would be more valuable if it were. Continue.”

“Oh! there are a thousand ways.” Carlo controlled himself with a sharp
screw of all his muscles. “I simply wish to save the signorina from an
annoyance.”

“Very mildly put,” Agostino murmured assentingly.

“In our Journal,” said Carlo, holding out the palm of one hand to
dot the forefinger of the other across it, by way of personal
illustration--“in our Journal we might arrange for certain letters to
recur at distinct intervals in Roman capitals, which might spell out,
‘This Night AT Twelve,’ or ‘At Once.’”

“Quite as ingenious, but on the present occasion erring on the side of
intricacy. Aha! you want to increase the sale of your Journal, do you,
my boy? The rogue!”

With which, and a light slap over Carlo’s shoulder, Agostino left him.

The aspect of his own futile proposals stared the young man in the face
too forcibly for him to nurse the spark of resentment which was struck
out in the turmoil of his bosom. He veered, as if to follow Agostino,
and remained midway, his chest heaving, and his eyelids shut.

“Signor Carlo, I have not thanked you.” He heard Vittoria speak. “I know
that a woman should never attempt to do men’s work. The Chief will tell
you that we must all serve now, and all do our best. If we fail, and
they put me to great indignity, I promise you that I will not live. I
would give this up to be done by anyone else who could do it better. It
is in my hands, and my friends must encourage me.”

“Ah, signorina!” the young man sighed bitterly. The knowledge that he
had already betrayed himself in the presence of others too far, and the
sob in his throat labouring to escape, kept him still.

A warning call from Ugo Corte drew their attention. Close by the chalet
where the first climbers of the mountain had refreshed themselves, Beppo
was seen struggling to secure the arms of a man in a high-crowned green
Swiss hat, who was apparently disposed to give the signorina’s faithful
servant some trouble. After gazing a minute at this singular contention,
she cried--“It’s the same who follows me everywhere!”

“And you will not believe you are suspected,” murmured Carlo in her ear.

“A spy?” Sana queried, showing keen joy at the prospect of scotching
such a reptile on the lonely height. Corte went up to the Chief. They
spoke briefly together, making use of notes and tracings on paper. The
Chief then said “Adieu” to the signorina. It was explained to the rest
by Corte that he had a meeting to attend near Pella about noon, and must
be in Fobello before midnight. Thence his way would be to Genoa.

“So, you are resolved to give another trial to our crowned
ex-Carbonaro,” said Agostino.

“Without leaving him an initiative this time!” and the Chief embraced
the old man. “You know me upon that point. I cannot trust him. I do not.
But, if we make such a tide in Lombardy that his army must be drawn into
it, is such an army to be refused? First, the tide, my friend! See to
that.”

“The king is our instrument!” cried Carlo Ammiani, brightening.

“Yes, if we were particularly well skilled in the use of that kind of
instrument,” Agostino muttered.

He stood apart while the Chief said a few words to Carlo, which made the
blood play vividly across the visage of the youth. Carlo tried humbly
to expostulate once or twice. In the end his head was bowed, and he
signified a dumb acquiescence.

“Once more, good-bye.” The Chief addressed the signorina in English.

She replied in the same tongue, “Good-bye,” tremulously; and passion
mounting on it, added--“Oh! when shall I see you again?”

“When Rome is purified to be a fit place for such as you.”

In another minute he was hidden on the slope of the mountain lying
toward Orta.



CHAPTER V

Beppo had effected a firm capture of his man some way down the slope.
But it was a case of check that entirely precluded his own free
movements. They hung together intertwisted in the characters of specious
pacificator and appealing citizen, both breathless.

“There! you want to hand me up neatly; I know your vanity, my Beppo; and
you don’t even know my name,” said the prisoner.

“I know your ferret of a face well enough,” said Beppo. “You dog the
signorina. Come up, and don’t give trouble.”

“Am I not a sheep? You worry me. Let me go.”

“You’re a wriggling eel.”

“Catch me fast by the tail then, and don’t hold me by the middle.”

“You want frightening, my pretty fellow!”

“If that’s true, my Beppo, somebody made a mistake in sending you to do
it. Stop a moment. You’re blown. I think you gulp down your minestra too
hot; you drink beer.”

“You dog the signorina! I swore to scotch you at last.”

“I left Milan for the purpose--don’t you see? Act fairly, my Beppo, and
let us go up to the signorina together decently.”

“Ay, ay, my little reptile! You’ll find no Austrians here. Cry out to
them to come to you from Baveno. If the Motterone grew just one tree!
Saints! one would serve.”

“Why don’t you--fool that you are, my Beppo!--pray to the saints
earlier? Trees don’t grow from heaven.”

“You’ll be going there soon, and you’ll know better about it.”

“Thanks to the Virgin, then, we shall part at some time or other!”

The struggles between them continued sharply during this exchange
of intellectual shots; but hearing Ugo Corte’s voice, the prisoner’s
confident audacity forsook him, and he drew a long tight face like the
mask of an admonitory exclamation addressed to himself from within.

“Stand up straight!” the soldier’s command was uttered.

Even Beppo was amazed to see that the man had lost the power to obey or
to speak.

Corte grasped him under the arm-pit. With the force of his huge fist he
swung him round and stretched him out at arm’s length, all collar and
shanks. The man hung like a mole from the twig. Yet, while Beppo poured
out the tale of his iniquities, his eyes gave the turn of a twinkle,
showing that he could have answered one whom he did not fear. The
charge brought against him was, that for the last six months he had been
untiringly spying on the signorina.

Corte stamped his loose feet to earth, shook him and told him to walk
aloft. The flexible voluble fellow had evidently become miserably
disconcerted. He walked in trepidation, speechless, and when
interrogated on the height his eyes flew across the angry visages with
dismal uncertainty. Agostino perceived that he had undoubtedly not
expected to come among them, and forthwith began to excite Giulio and
Marco to the worst suspicions, in order to indulge his royal poetic soul
with a study of a timorous wretch pushed to anticipations of extremity.

“The execution of a spy,” he preluded, “is the signal for the ringing
of joy-bells on this earth; not only because he is one of a pestiferous
excess, in point of numbers, but that he is no true son of earth. He
escaped out of hell’s doors on a windy day, and all that we do is to
puff out a bad light, and send him back. Look at this fellow in whom
conscience is operating so that he appears like a corked volcano! You
can see that he takes Austrian money; his skin has got to be the exact
colour of Munz. He has the greenish-yellow eyes of those elective,
thrice-abhorred vampyres who feed on patriot-blood. He is condemned
without trial by his villainous countenance, like an ungrammatical
preface to a book. His tongue refuses to confess, but nature is
stronger:--observe his knees. Now this is guilt. It is execrable guilt.
He is a nasty object. Nature has in her wisdom shortened his stature to
indicate that it is left to us to shorten the growth of his offending
years. Now, you dangling soul! answer me:--what name hailed you when on
earth?”

The fan, with no clearly serviceable tongue, articulated, “Luigi.”

“Luigi! the name Christian and distinctive. The name historic:-Luigi
Porco?”

“Luigi Saracco, signore.”

“Saracco: Saracco: very possibly a strip of the posterity of cut-throat
Moors. To judge by your face, a Moor undoubtedly: glib, slippery! with
a body that slides and a soul that jumps. Taken altogether, more serpent
than eagle. I misdoubt that little quick cornering eye of yours. Do you
ever remember to have blushed?”

“No, signore,” said Luigi.

“You spy upon the signorina, do you?”

“You have Beppo’s word for that,” interposed Marco Sana, growling.

“And you are found spying on the mountain this particular day! Luigi
Saracco, you are a fellow of a tremendous composition. A goose walking
into a den of foxes is alone to be compared to you,--if ever such goose
was! How many of us did you count, now, when you were, say, a quarter of
a mile below?”

Marco interposed again: “He has already seen enough up here to make a
rope of florins.”

“The fellow’s eye takes likenesses,” said Giulio.

Agostino’s question was repeated by Corte, and so sternly that Luigi,
beholding kindness upon no other face save Vittoria’s, watched her, and
muttering “Six,” blinked his keen black eyes piteously to get her sign
of assent to his hesitated naming of that number. Her mouth and the turn
of her head were expressive to him, and he cried “Seven.”

“So; first six, and next seven,” said Corte.

“Six, I meant, without the signorina,” Luigi explained.

“You saw six of us without the signorina! You see we are six here,
including the signorina. Where is the seventh?”

Luigi tried to penetrate Vittoria’s eyes for a proper response; but
she understood the grave necessity for getting the full extent of his
observations out of him, and she looked as remorseless as the men. He
feigned stupidity and sullenness, rage and cunning, in quick succession.

“Who was the seventh?” said Carlo.

“Was it the king?” Luigi asked.

This was by just a little too clever; and its cleverness, being seen,
magnified the intended evasion so as to make it appear to them that
Luigi knew well the name of the seventh.

Marco thumped a hand on his shoulder, shouting--“Here; speak out! You
saw seven of us. Where has the seventh one gone?”

Luigi’s wits made a dash at honesty. “Down Orta, signore.”

“And down Orta, I think, you will go; deeper down than you may like.”

Corte now requested Vittoria to stand aside. He motioned to her with his
hand to stand farther, and still farther off; and finally told Carlo to
escort her to Baveno. She now began to think that the man Luigi was in
some perceptible danger, nor did Ammiani disperse the idea.

“If he is a spy, and if he has seen the Chief, we shall have to detain
him for at least four-and-twenty hours,” he said, “or do worse.”

“But, Signor Carlo,”--Vittoria made appeal to his humanity,--“do they
mean, if they decide that he is guilty, to hurt him?”

“Tell me, signorina, what punishment do you imagine a spy deserves?”

“To be called one!”

Carlo smiled at her lofty method of dealing with the animal.

“Then you presume him to have a conscience?”

“I am sure, Signor Carlo, that I could make him loathe to be called a
spy.”

They were slowly pacing from the group, and were on the edge of the
descent, when the signorina’s name was shrieked by Luigi. The man came
running to her for protection, Beppo and the rest at his heels. She
allowed him to grasp her hand.

“After all, he is my spy; he does belong to me,” she said, still
speaking on to Carlo. “I must beg your permission, Colonel Corte and
Signor Marco, to try an experiment. The Signor Carlo will not believe
that a spy can be ashamed of his name.--Luigi!”

“Signorina!”--he shook his body over her hand with a most plaintive
utterance.

“You are my countryman, Luigi?”

“Yes, signorina.”

“You are an Italian?”

“Certainly, signorina!”

“A spy!”

Vittoria had not always to lift her voice in music for it to sway the
hearts of men. She spoke the word very simply in a mellow soft tone.
Luigi’s blood shot purple. He thrust his fists against his ears.

“See, Signor Carlo,” she said; “I was right. Luigi, you will be a spy no
more?”

Carlo Ammiani happened to be rolling a cigarette-paper. She put out
her fingers for it, and then reached it to Luigi, who accepted it with
singular contortions of his frame, declaring that he would confess
everything to her. “Yes, signorina, it is true; I am a spy on you. I
know the houses you visit. I know you eat too much chocolate for your
voice. I know you are the friend of the Signora Laura, the widow of
Giacomo Piaveni, shot--shot on Annunciation Day. The Virgin bless him!
I know the turning of every street from your house near the Duomo to
the signora’s. You go nowhere else, except to the maestro’s. And it’s
something to spy upon you. But think of your Beppo who spies upon me!
And your little mother, the lady most excellent, is down in Baveno, and
she is always near you when you make an expedition. Signorina, I know
you would not pay your Beppo for spying upon me. Why does he do it? I
do not sing ‘Italia, Italia shall be free!’ I have heard you when I was
under the maestro’s windows; and once you sang it to the Signor Agostino
Balderini. Indeed, signorina, I am a sort of guardian of your voice. It
is not gold of the Tedeschi I get from the Signor Antonio Pericles.”

At the mention of this name, Agostino and Vittoria laughed out.

“You are in the pay of the Signor Antonio-Pericles,” said Agostino.
“Without being in our pay, you have done us the service to come up here
among us! Bravo! In return for your disinterestedness, we kick you down,
either upon Baveno or upon Stresa, or across the lake, if you prefer
it.--The man is harmless. He is hired by a particular worshipper of the
signorina’s voice, who affects to have first discovered it when she
was in England, and is a connoisseur, a millionaire, a Greek, a rich
scoundrel, with one indubitable passion, for which I praise him. We will
let his paid eavesdropper depart, I think. He is harmless.”

Neither Ugo nor Marco was disposed to allow any description of spy to
escape unscotched. Vittoria saw that Luigi’s looks were against him, and
whispered: “Why do you show such cunning eyes, Luigi?”

He replied: “Signorina, take me out of their hearing, and I will tell
you everything.”

She walked aside. He seemed immediately to be inspired with confidence,
and stretched his fingers in the form of a grasshopper, at which sight
they cried: “He knows Barto Rizzo--this rascal!” They plied him with
signs and countersigns, and speedily let him go. There ensued a sharp
snapping of altercation between Luigi and Beppo. Vittoria had to order
Beppo to stand back.

“It is a poor dog, not of a good breed, signorina,” Luigi said, casting
a tolerant glance over his shoulder. “Faithful, but a poor nose. Ah! you
gave me this cigarette. Not the Virgin could have touched my marrow as
you did. That’s to be remembered by-and-by. Now, you are going to sing
on the night of the fifteenth of September. Change that night.
The Signor Antonio-Pericles watches you, and he is a friend of the
Government, and the Government is snoring for you to think it asleep.
The Signor Antonio-Pericles pacifies the Tedeschi, but he will know all
that you are doing, and how easy it will be, and how simple, for you to
let me know what you think he ought to know, and just enough to keep
him comfortable! So we work like a machine, signorina. Only, not through
that Beppo, for he is vain of his legs, and his looks, and his service,
and because he has carried a gun and heard it go off. Yes; I am a spy.
But I am honest. I, too, have visited England. One can be honest and
a spy. Signorina, I have two arms, but only one heart. If you will
be gracious and consider! Say, here are two hands. One hand does this
thing, one hand does that thing, and that thing wipes out this thing.
It amounts to clear reasoning! Here are two eyes. Were they meant to
see nothing but one side! Here is a tongue with a line down the middle
almost to the tip of it--which is for service. That Beppo couldn’t
deal double, if he would; for he is imperfectly designed--a mere dog’s
pattern! But, only one heart, signorina--mind that. I will never
forget the cigarette. I shall smoke it before I leave the mountain, and
think--oh!”

Having illustrated the philosophy of his system, Luigi continued: “I
am going to tell you everything. Pray, do not look on Beppo! This is
important. The Signor Antonio-Pericles sent me to spy on you, because he
expects some people to come up the mountain, and you know them; and
one is an Austrian officer, and he is an Englishman by birth, and he
is coming to meet some English friends who enter Italy from Switzerland
over the Moro, and easily up here on mules or donkeys from Pella. The
Signor Antonio-Pericles has gold ears for everything that concerns
the signorina. ‘A patriot is she!’ he says; and he is jealous of your
English friends. He thinks they will distract you from your studies;
and perhaps”--Luigi nodded sagaciously before he permitted himself to
say--“perhaps he is jealous in another way. I have heard him speak like
a sonnet of the signorina’s beauty. The Signor Antonio-Pericles thinks
that you have come here to-day to meet them. When he heard that you
were going to leave Milan for Baveno, he was mad, and with two fists up,
against all English persons. The Englishman who is an Austrian officer
is quartered at Verona, and the Signor Antonio Pericles said that the
Englishman should not meet you yet, if he could help it.”

Victoria stood brooding. “Who can it be,--who is an Englishman, and an
Austrian officer, and knows me?”

“Signorina, I don’t know names. Behold, that Beppo is approaching like
the snow! What I entreat is, that the signorina will wait a little for
the English party, if they come, so that I may have something to tell
my patron. To invent upon nothing is most unpleasant, and the Signor
Antonio can soon perceive whether one swims with corks. Signorina, I
can dance on one rope--I am a man. I am not a midge--I cannot dance upon
nothing.”

The days of Vittoria’s youth had been passed in England. It was not
unknown to her that old English friends were on the way to Italy;
the recollection of a quiet and a buried time put a veil across her
features. She was perplexed by the mention of the Austrian officer by
Luigi, as one may be who divines the truth too surely, but will not
accept it for its loathsomeness. There were Englishmen in the army of
Austria. Could one of them be this one whom she had cared for when she
was a girl? It seemed hatefully cruel to him to believe it. She spoke
to Agostino, begging him to remain with her on the height awhile to see
whether the Signor Antonio-Pericles was right; to see whether Luigi was
a truth-teller; to see whether these English persons were really coming.
“Because,” she said, “if they do come, it will at once dissolve any
suspicions you may have of this Luigi. And I always long so much to
know if the Signor Antonio is correct. I have never yet known him to be
wrong.”

“And you want to see these English,” said Agostino. He frowned.

“Only to hear them. They shall not recognize me. I have now another
name; and I am changed. My hat is enough to hide me. Let me hear them
talk a little. You and the Signor Carlo will stay with me, and when they
come, if they do come, I will remain no longer than just sufficient to
make sure. I would refuse to know any of them before the night of the
fifteenth; I want my strength too much. I shall have to hear a misery
from them; I know it, I feel it; it turns my blood. But let me hear
their voices! England is half my country, though I am so willing to
forget her and give all my life to Italy. Stay with me, dear friend, my
best father! humour me, for you know that I am always charming when I am
humoured.”

Agostino pressed his finger on a dimple in her cheeks. “You can afford
to make such a confession as that to a greybeard. The day is your own.
Bear in mind that you are so situated that it will be prudent for you
to have no fresh relations, either with foreigners or others, until your
work is done,--in which, my dear child, may God bless you!”

“I pray to him with all my might,” Vittoria said in reply.

After a consultation with Agostino, Ugo Corte and Marco and Giulio bade
their adieux to her. The task of keeping Luigi from their clutches was
difficult; but Agostino helped her in that also. To assure them, after
his fashion, of the harmlessness of Luigi, he seconded him in a contest
of wit against Beppo, and the little fellow, now that he had shaken off
his fears, displayed a quickness of retort and a liveliness “unknown
to professional spies and impossible to the race,” said Agostino; “so
absolutely is the mind of man blunted by Austrian gold. We know that
for a fact. Beppo is no match for him. Beppo is sententious; ponderously
illustrative; he can’t turn; he is long-winded; he, I am afraid, my
Carlo, studies the journals. He has got your journalistic style, wherein
words of six syllables form the relief to words of eight, and hardly one
dares to stand by itself. They are like huge boulders across a brook.
The meaning, do you, see, would run of itself, but you give us these
impedimenting big stones to help us over it, while we profess to
understand you by implication. For my part, I own, that to me, your
parliamentary, illegitimate academic, modern crocodile phraseology,
which is formidable in the jaws, impenetrable on the back, can’t
circumvent a corner, and is enabled to enter a common understanding
solely by having a special highway prepared for it,--in short, the
writing in your journals is too much for me. Beppo here is an example
that the style is useless for controversy. This Luigi baffles him at
every step.”

“Some,” rejoined Carlo, “say that Beppo has had the virtue to make you
his study.”

Agostino threw himself on his back and closed his eyes. “That, then, is
more than you have done, signor Tuquoque. Look on the Bernina yonder,
and fancy you behold a rout of phantom Goths; a sleepy rout, new risen,
with the blood of old battles on their shroud-shirts, and a North-east
wind blowing them upon our fat land. Or take a turn at the other
side toward Orta, and look out for another invasion, by no means so
picturesque, but preferable. Tourists! Do you hear them?”

Carlo Ammiani had descried the advanced troop of a procession of
gravely-heated climbers ladies upon donkeys, and pedestrian guards
stalking beside them, with courier, and lacqueys, and baskets of
provisions, all bearing the stamp of pilgrims from the great Western
Island.



CHAPTER VI

A mountain ascended by these children of the forcible Isle, is a
mountain to be captured, and colonized, and absolutely occupied for
a term; so that Vittoria soon found herself and her small body of
adherents observed, and even exclaimed against, as a sort of intruding
aborigines, whose presence entirely dispelled the sense of romantic
dominion which a mighty eminence should give, and which Britons expect
when they have expended a portion of their energies. The exclamations
were not complimentary; nevertheless, Vittoria listened with pleased
ears, as one listens by a brookside near an old home, hearing a music
of memory rather than common words. They talked of heat, of appetite, of
chill, of thirst, of the splendour of the prospect, of the anticipations
of good hotel accommodation below, of the sadness superinduced by the
reflection that in these days people were found everywhere, and poetry
was thwarted; again of heat, again of thirst, of beauty, and of chill.
There was the enunciation of matronly advice; there was the outcry
of girlish insubordination; there were sighings for English ale, and
namings of the visible ranges of peaks, and indicatings of geographical
fingers to show where Switzerland and Piedmont met, and Austria held her
grasp on Lombardy; and “to this point we go to-night; yonder to-morrow;
farther the next day,” was uttered, soberly or with excitement, as
befitted the age of the speaker.

Among these tourists there was one very fair English lady, with long
auburn curls of the traditionally English pattern, and the science of
Paris displayed in her bonnet and dress; which, if not as graceful
as severe admirers of the antique in statuary or of the mediaeval in
drapery demand, pleads prettily to be thought so, and commonly succeeds
in its object, when assisted by an artistic feminine manner. Vittoria
heard her answer to the name of Mrs. Sedley. She had once known her as
a Miss Adela Pole. Amidst the cluster of assiduous gentlemen surrounding
this lady it was difficult for Vittoria’s stolen glances to discern her
husband; and the moment she did discern him she became as indifferent
to him as was his young wife, by every manifestation of her sentiments.
Mrs. Sedley informed her lord that it was not expected of him to care,
or to pretend to care, for such scenes as the Motterone exhibited; and
having dismissed him to the shade of an umbrella near the provision
baskets, she took her station within a few steps of Vittoria, and
allowed her attendant gentlemen to talk while she remained plunged in a
meditative rapture at the prospect. The talk indicated a settled scheme
for certain members of the party to reach Milan from the Como road.
Mrs. Sedley was asked if she expected her brother to join her here or in
Milan.

“Here, if a man’s promises mean anything,” she replied languidly.

She was told that some one waved a handkerchief to them from below.

“Is he alone?” she said; and directing an operaglass upon the slope of
the mountain, pursued, as in a dreamy disregard of circumstances: “That
is Captain Gambier. My brother Wilfrid has not kept his appointment.
Perhaps he could not get leave from the General; perhaps he is married;
he is engaged to an Austrian Countess, I have heard. Captain Gambier did
me the favour to go round to a place called Stresa to meet him. He has
undertaken the journey for nothing. It is the way with all journeys
though this” (the lady had softly reverted to her rapture) “this is too
exquisite! Nature at least does not deceive.”

Vittoria listened to a bubbling of meaningless chatter, until Captain
Gambier had joined Mrs. Sedley; and at him, for she had known him
likewise, she could not forbear looking up. He was speaking to Mrs.
Sedley, but caught the look, and bent his head for a clearer view of
the features under the broad straw hat. Mrs. Sedley commanded him
imperiously to say on.

“Have you no letter from Wilfrid? Has the mountain tired you? Has
Wilfrid failed to send his sister one word? Surely Mr. Pericles will
have made known our exact route to him? And his uncle, General Pierson,
could--I am certain he did--exert his influence to procure him leave for
a single week to meet the dearest member of his family.”

Captain Gambier gathered his wits to give serviceable response to the
kindled lady, and letting his eyes fall from time to time on the broad
straw hat, made answer--“Lieutenant Pierson, or, in other words, Wilfrid
Pole--”

The lady stamped her foot and flushed.

“You know, Augustus, I detest that name.”

“Pardon me a thousandfold. I had forgotten.”

“What has happened to you?”

Captain Gambier accused the heat.

“I found a letter from Wilfrid at the hotel. He is apparently kept on
constant service between Milan, and Verona, and Venice. His quarters are
at Verona. He informs me that he is to be married in the Spring; that
is, if all continues quiet; married in the Spring. He seems to fancy
that there may be disturbances; not of a serious kind, of course. He
will meet you in Milan. He has never been permitted to remain at Milan
longer than a couple of days at a stretch. Pericles has told him that
she is in Florence. Pericles has told me that Miss Belloni has removed
to Florence.”

“Say it a third time,” the lady indulgently remarked.

“I do not believe that she has gone.”

“I dare say not.”

“She has changed her name, you know.”

“Oh, dear, yes; she has done something fantastic, naturally! For my
part, I should have thought her own good enough.”

“Emilia Alessandra Belloni is good enough, certainly,” said Captain
Gambier.

The shading straw rim had shaken once during the colloquy. It was now a
fixed defence.

“What is her new name?” Mrs. Sedley inquired.

“That I cannot tell. Wilfrid merely mentions that he has not seen her.”

“I,” said Mrs. Sedley, “when I reach Milan, shall not trust to Mr.
Pericles, but shall write to the Conservatorio; for if she is going
to be a great cantatrice, really, it will be agreeable to renew
acquaintance with her. Nor will it do any mischief to Wilfrid, now that
he is engaged. Are you very deeply attached to straw hats? They are
sweet in a landscape.”

Mrs. Sedley threw him a challenge from her blue eyes; but his reply to
it was that of an unskilled youth, who reads a lady by the letters of
her speech:--“One minute. I will be with you instantly. I want to have a
look down on the lake. I suppose this is one of the most splendid views
in Italy. Half a minute!”

Captain Gambier smiled brilliantly; and the lady, perceiving that
polished shield, checked the shot of indignation on her astonished
features, and laid it by. But the astonishment lingered there, like the
lines of a slackened bow. She beheld her ideal of an English gentleman
place himself before these recumbent foreign people, and turn to talk
across them, with a pertinacious pursuit of the face under the bent
straw hat. Nor was it singular to her that one of them at last should
rise and protest against the continuation of the impertinence.

Carlo Ammiani, in fact, had opened matters with a scrupulously-courteous
bow.

“Monsieur is perhaps unaware that he obscures the outlook?”

“Totally, monsieur,” said Captain Gambier, and stood fast.

“Will monsieur do me the favour to take three steps either to the right
or to the left?”

“Pardon, monsieur, but the request is put almost in the form of an
order.”

“Simply if it should prove inefficacious in the form of a request.”

“What, may I ask, monsieur, is your immediate object?”

“To entreat you to behave with civility.”

“I am at a loss, monsieur, to perceive any offence.”

“Permit me to say, it is lamentable you do not know when you insult a
lady.”

“I have insulted a lady?” Captain Gambier looked profoundly incredulous.
“Oh! then you will not take exception to my assuming the privilege to
apologize to her in person?”

Ammiani arrested him as he was about to pass.

“Stay, monsieur; you determine to be impudent, I perceive; you shall not
be obtrusive.”

Vittoria had tremblingly taken old Agostino’s hand, and had risen to her
feet. Still keeping her face hidden, she walked down the slope, followed
at an interval by her servant, and curiously watched by the English
officer, who said to himself, “Well, I suppose I was mistaken,” and
consequently discovered that he was in a hobble.

A short duologue in their best stilted French ensued between him and
Ammiani. It was pitched too high in a foreign tongue for Captain Gambier
to descend from it, as he would fain have done, to ask the lady’s name.
They exchanged cards and formal salutes, and parted.

The dignified altercation had been witnessed by the main body of the
tourists. Captain Gambier told them that he had merely interchanged
amicable commonplaces with the Frenchman,--“or Italian,” he added
carelessly, reading the card in his hand. “I thought she might be
somebody whom we knew,” he said to Mrs. Sedley.

“Not the shadow of a likeness to her,” the lady returned.

She had another opinion when later a scrap of paper bearing one
pencilled line on it was handed round. A damsel of the party had picked
it up near the spot where, as she remarked, “the foreigners had been
sitting.” It said:--

     “Let none who look for safety go to Milan.”



CHAPTER VII

A week following the day of meetings on the Motterone, Luigi the spy was
in Milan, making his way across the Piazza de’ Mercanti. He entered a
narrow court, one of those which were anciently built upon the Oriental
principle of giving shade at the small cost of excluding common air. It
was dusky noon there through the hours of light, and thrice night when
darkness fell. The atmosphere, during the sun’s short passage overhead,
hung with a glittering heaviness, like the twinkling iron-dust in a
subterranean smithy. On the lower window of one of the houses there
was a board, telling men that Barto Rizzo made and mended shoes, and
requesting people who wished to see him to make much noise at the door,
for he was hard of hearing. It speedily became known in the court that a
visitor desired to see Barto Rizzo. The noise produced by Luigi was
like that of a fanatical beater of the tomtom; he knocked and banged
and danced against the door, crying out for his passing amusement an
adaptation of a popular ballad:--“Oh, Barto, Barto! my boot is sadly
worn: The toe is seen that should be veiled from sight. The toe that
should be veiled like an Eastern maid: like a sultan’s daughter:
Shocking! shocking! One of a company of ten that were living a secluded
life in chaste privacy! Oh, Barto, Barto! must I charge it to thy
despicable leather or to my incessant pilgrimages? One fair toe! I fear
presently the corruption of the remaining nine: Then, alas! what do I go
on? How shall I come to a perfumed end, who walk on ten indecent toes?
Well may the delicate gentlemen sneer at me and scorn me: As for the
angelic Lady who deigns to look so low, I may say of her that her
graciousness clothes what she looks at: To her the foot, the leg, the
back: To her the very soul is bared: But she is a rarity upon earth. Oh,
Barto, Barto, she is rarest in Milan! I might run a day’s length and not
find her. If, O Barto, as my boot hints to me, I am about to be stripped
of my last covering, I must hurry to the inconvenient little chamber
of my mother, who cannot refuse to acknowledge me as of this pattern:
Barto, O shoemaker! thou son of artifice and right-hand-man of
necessity, preserve me in the fashion of the time: Cobble me neatly: A
dozen wax threads and I am remade:--Excellent! I thank you! Now I can
plant my foot bravely: Oh, Barto, my shoemaker! between ourselves, it
is unpleasant in these refined days to be likened at all to that
preposterous Adam!”

The omission of the apostrophes to Barto left it one of the ironical,
veiled Republican, semi-socialistic ballads of the time, which were sung
about the streets for the sharpness and pith of the couplets, and not
from a perception of the double edge down the length of them.

As Luigi was coming to the terminating line, the door opened. A very
handsome sullen young woman, of the dark, thick-browed Lombard type,
asked what was wanted; at the same time the deep voice of a man;
conjecturally rising from a lower floor, called, and a lock was rattled.
The woman told Luigi to enter. He sent a glance behind him; he had
evidently been drained of his sprightliness in a second; he moved in
with the slackness of limb of a gibbeted figure. The door shut; the
woman led him downstairs. He could not have danced or sung a song now
for great pay. The smell of mouldiness became so depressing to him that
the smell of leather struck his nostrils refreshingly. He thought: “Oh,
Virgin! it’s dark enough to make one believe in every single thing they
tell us about the saints.” Up in the light of day Luigi had a turn for
careless thinking on these holy subjects.

Barto Rizzo stood before him in a square of cellarage that was furnished
with implements of his craft, too dark for a clear discernment of
features.

“So, here you are!” was the greeting Luigi received.

It was a tremendous voice, that seemed to issue from a vast cavity.
“Lead the gentleman to my sitting-room,” said Barto. Luigi felt the wind
of a handkerchief, and guessed that his eyes were about to be bandaged
by the woman behind him. He petitioned to be spared it, on the plea,
firstly, that it expressed want of confidence; secondly, that it took
him in the stomach. The handkerchief was tight across his eyes while
he was speaking. His hand was touched by the woman, and he commenced
timidly an ascent of stairs. It continued so that he would have sworn
he was a shorter time going up the Motterone; then down, and along a
passage; lower down, deep into corpse-climate; up again, up another
enormous mountain; and once more down, as among rats and beetles, and
down, as among faceless horrors, and down, where all things seemed
prostrate and with a taste of brass. It was the poor fellow’s nervous
imagination, preternaturally excited. When the handkerchief was caught
away, his jaw was shuddering, his eyes were sickly; he looked as if
impaled on the prongs of fright. It required just half a minute to
reanimate this mercurial creature, when he found himself under the
light of two lamps, and Barto Rizzo fronting him, in a place so like the
square of cellarage which he had been led to with unbandaged eyes, that
it relieved his dread by touching his humour. He cried, “Have I made the
journey of the Signor Capofinale, who visited the other end of the world
by standing on his head?”

Barto Rizzo rolled out a burly laugh.

“Sit,” he said. “You’re a poor sweating body, and must needs have a dry
tongue. Will you drink?”

“Dry!” quoth Luigi. “Holy San Carlo is a mash in a wine-press compared
with me.”

Barto Rizzo handed him a liquor, which he drank, and after gave thanks
to Providence. Barto raised his hand.

“We’re too low down here for that kind of machinery,” he said. “They say
that Providence is on the side of the Austrians. Now then, what have you
to communicate to me? This time I let you come to my house trust at all,
trust entirely. I think that’s the proverb. You are admitted: speak like
a guest.”

Luigi’s preference happened to be for categorical interrogations. Never
having an idea of spontaneously telling the whole truth, the sense that
he was undertaking a narrative gave him such emotions as a bad swimmer
upon deep seas may have; while, on the other hand, his being subjected
to a series of questions seemed at least to leave him with one leg
on shore, for then he could lie discreetly, and according to the
finger-posts, and only when necessary, and he could recover himself if
he made a false step. His ingenious mind reasoned these images out to
his own satisfaction. He requested, therefore, that his host would let
him hear what he desired to know.

Barto Rizzo’s forefinger was pressed from an angle into one temple. His
head inclined to meet it: so that it was like the support to a broad
blunt pillar. The cropped head was flat as an owl’s; the chest of
immense breadth; the bulgy knees and big hands were those of a dwarf
athlete. Strong colour, lying full on him from the neck to the forehead,
made the big veins purple and the eyes fierier than the movements of his
mind would have indicated. He was simply studying the character of his
man. Luigi feared him; he was troubled chiefly because he was unaware of
what Barto Rizzo wanted to know, and could not consequently tell what
to bring to the market. The simplicity of the questions put to him was
bewildering: he fell into the trap. Barto’s eyes began to get terribly
oblique. Jingling money in his pocket, he said:--“You saw Colonel Corte
on the Motterone: you saw the Signor Agostino Balderini: good men, both!
Also young Count Ammiani: I served his father, the General, and jogged
the lad on my knee. You saw the Signorina Vittoria. The English people
came, and you heard them talk, but did not understand. You came home and
told all this to the Signor Antonio, your employer number one. You have
told the same to me, your employer number two. There’s your pay.”

Barto summed up thus the information he had received, and handed Luigi
six gold pieces. The latter, springing with boyish thankfulness and
pride at the easy earning of them, threw in a few additional facts, as,
that he had been taken for a spy by the conspirators, and had heard one
of the Englishmen mention the Signorina Vittoria’s English name.
Barto Rizzo lifted his eyebrows queerly. “We’ll go through another
interrogatory in an hour,” he said; “stop here till I return.”

Luigi was always too full of his own cunning to suspect the same in
another, until he was left alone to reflect on a scene; when it became
overwhelmingly transparent. “But, what could I say more than I did say?”
 he asked himself, as he stared at the one lamp Barto had left. Finding
the door unfastened, he took the lamp and lighted himself out, and along
a cavernous passage ending in a blank wall, against which his heart
knocked and fell, for his sensation was immediately the terror of
imprisonment and helplessness. Mad with alarm, he tried every spot for
an aperture. Then he sat down on his haunches; he remembered hearing
word of Barto Rizzo’s rack:--certain methods peculiar to Barto Rizzo,
by which he screwed matters out of his agents, and terrified them into
fidelity. His personal dealings with Barto were of recent date; but
Luigi knew him by repute: he knew that the shoemaking business was
a mask. Barto had been a soldier, a schoolmaster: twice an exile; a
conspirator since the day when the Austrians had the two fine Apples
of Pomona, Lombardy and Venice, given them as fruits of peace. Luigi
remembered how he had snapped his fingers at the name of Barto Rizzo.
There was no despising him now. He could only arrive at a peaceful
contemplation of Barto Rizzo’s character by determining to tell all,
and (since that seemed little) more than he knew. He got back to
the leather-smelling chamber, which was either the same or purposely
rendered exactly similar to the one he had first been led to.

At the end of a leaden hour Barto Rizzo returned.

“Now, to recommence,” he said. “Drink before you speak, if your tongue
is dry.”

Luigi thrust aside the mention of liquor. It seemed to him that by doing
so he propitiated that ill-conceived divinity called Virtue, who lived
in the open air, and desired men to drink water. Barto Rizzo evidently
understood the kind of man he was schooling to his service.

“Did that Austrian officer, who is an Englishman, acquainted with the
Signor Antonio-Pericles, meet the lady, his sister, on the Motterone?”

Luigi answered promptly, “Yes.”

“Did the Signorina Vittoria speak to the lady?”

“No.”

“Not a word?”

“No.”

“Not one communication to her?”

“No: she sat under her straw hat.”

“She concealed her face?”

“She sat like a naughty angry girl.”

“Did she speak to the officer?”

“Not she!”

“Did she see him?”

“Of course she did! As if a woman’s eyes couldn’t see through
straw-plait!”

Barto paused, calculatingly, eye on victim.

“The Signorina Vittoria,” he resumed, “has engaged to sing on the night
of the Fifteenth; has she?”

A twitching of Luigi’s muscles showed that he apprehended a necessary
straining of his invention on another tack.

“On the night of the Fifteenth, Signor Barto Rizzo? That’s the night of
her first appearance. Oh, yes!”

“To sing a particular song?”

“Lots of them! ay-aie!”

Barto took him by the shoulder and pressed him into his seat till he
howled, saying, “Now, there’s a slate and a pencil. Expect me at the
end of two hours, this time. Next time it will be four: then eight,
then sixteen. Find out how many hours that will be at the sixteenth
examination.”

Luigi flew at the torturer and stuck at the length of his straightened
arm, where he wriggled, refusing to listen to the explanation of Barto’s
system; which was that, in cases where every fresh examination taught
him more, they were continued, after regularly-lengthening intervals,
that might extend from the sowing of seed to the ripening of grain.
“When all’s delivered,” said Barto, “then we begin to correct
discrepancies. I expect,” he added, “you and I will have done before a
week’s out.”

“A week!” Luigi shouted. “Here’s my stomach already leaping like a fish
at the smell of this hole. You brute bear! it’s a smell of bones.
It turns my inside with a spoon. May the devil seize you when you’re
sleeping! You shan’t go: I’ll tell you everything--everything. I
can’t tell you anything more than I have told you. She gave me a
cigarette--there! Now you know:--gave me a cigarette; a cigarette. I
smoked it--there! Your faithful servant!”

“She gave you a cigarette, and you smoked it; ha!” said Barto Rizzo, who
appeared to see something to weigh even in that small fact. “The English
lady gave you the cigarette?”

Luigi nodded: “Yes;” pertinacious in deception. “Yes,” he repeated; “the
English lady. That was the person. What’s the use of your skewering me
with your eyes!”

“I perceive that you have never travelled, my Luigi,” said Barto. “I am
afraid we shall not part so early as I had supposed. I double the dose,
and return to you in four hours’ time.”

Luigi threw himself flat on the ground, shrieking that he was ready
to tell everything--anything. Not even the apparent desperation of his
circumstances could teach him that a promise to tell the truth was a
more direct way of speaking. Indeed, the hitting of the truth would
have seemed to him a sort of artful archery, the burden of which should
devolve upon the questioner, whom he supplied with the relation of
“everything and anything.”

All through a night Luigi’s lesson continued. In the morning he was
still breaking out in small and purposeless lies; but Barto Rizzo
had accomplished his two objects: that of squeezing him, and that
of subjecting his imagination. Luigi confessed (owing to a singular
recovery of his memory) the gift of the cigarette as coming from the
Signorina Vittoria. What did it matter if she did give him a cigarette?

“You adore her for it?” said Barto.

“May the Virgin sweep the floor of heaven into her lap!” interjected
Luigi. “She is a good patriot.”

“Are you one?” Barto asked.

“Certainly I am.”

“Then I shall have to suspect you, for the good of your country.”

Luigi could not see the deduction. He was incapable of guessing that it
might apply forcibly to Vittoria, who had undertaken a grave, perilous,
and imminent work. Nothing but the spontaneous desire to elude the
pursuit of a questioner had at first instigated his baffling of Barto
Rizzo, until, fearing the dark square man himself, he feared him dimly
for Vittoria’s sake; he could not have said why. She was a good patriot:
wherefore the reason for wishing to know more of her? Barto Rizzo had
compelled him at last to furnish a narrative of the events of that day
on the Motterone, and, finding himself at sea, Luigi struck out boldly
and swam as well as he could. Barto disentangled one succinct thread of
incidents: Vittoria had been commissioned by the Chief to sing on the
night of the Fifteenth; she had subsequently, without speaking to any of
the English party, or revealing her features “keeping them beautifully
hidden,” Luigi said, with unaccountable enthusiasm--written a warning to
them that they were to avoid Milan. The paper on which the warning had
been written was found by the English when he was the only Italian on
the height, lying thereto observe and note things in the service of
Barto Rizzo. The writing was English, but when one of the English
ladies--“who wore her hair like a planed shred of wood; like a torn
vine; like a kite with two tails; like Luxury at the Banquet, ready
to tumble over marble shoulders” (an illustration drawn probably from
Luigi’s study of some allegorical picture,--he was at a loss to describe
the foreign female head-dress)--when this lady had read the writing,
she exclaimed that it was the hand of “her Emilia!” and soon after she
addressed Luigi in English, then in French, then in “barricade Italian”
 (by which phrase Luigi meant that the Italian words were there, but
did not present their proper smooth footing for his understanding), and
strove to obtain information from him concerning the signorina, and
also concerning the chances that Milan would be an agitated city. Luigi
assured her that Milan was the peacefullest of cities--a pure babe. He
admitted his acquaintance with the Signorina Vittoria Campa, and denied
her being “any longer” the Emilia Alessandra Belloni of the English
lady. The latter had partly retained him in her service, having
given him directions to call at her hotel in Milan, and help her to
communicate with her old friend. “I present myself to her to-morrow,
Friday,” said Luigi.

“That’s to-day,” said Barto.

Luigi clapped his hand to his cheek, crying wofully, “You’ve drawn,
beastly gaoler! a night out of my life like an old jaw-tooth.”

“There’s day two or three fathoms above us,” said Barto; “and hot coffee
is coming down.”

“I believe I’ve been stewing in a pot while the moon looked so cool.”
 Luigi groaned, and touched up along the sleeves of his arms: that which
he fancied he instantaneously felt.

The coffee was brought by the heavy-browed young woman. Before she
quitted the place Barto desired her to cast her eyes on Luigi, and say
whether she thought she should know him again. She scarcely glanced, and
gave answer with a shrug of the shoulders as she retired. Luigi at the
time was drinking. He rose; he was about to speak, but yawned instead.
The woman’s carelessly-dropped upper eyelids seemed to him to be reading
him through a dozen of his contortions and disguises, and checked the
idea of liberty which he associated with getting to the daylight.

“But it is worth the money!” shouted Barto Rizzo, with a splendid
divination of his thought. “You skulker! are you not paid and fattened
to do business which you’ve only to remember, and it’ll honey your legs
in purgatory? You’re the shooting-dog of that Greek, and you nose
about the bushes for his birds, and who cares if any fellow, just for
exercise, shoots a dagger a yard from his wrist and sticks you in the
back? You serve me, and there’s pay for you; brothers, doctors, nurses,
friends,--a tight blanket if you fall from a housetop! and masses for
your soul when your hour strikes. The treacherous cur lies rotting in a
ditch! Do you conceive that when I employ you I am in your power? Your
intelligence will open gradually. Do you know that here in this house
I can conceal fifty men, and leave the door open to the Croats to find
them? I tell you now--you are free; go forth. You go alone; no one
touches you; ten years hence a skeleton is found with an English letter
on its ribs--”

“Oh, stop! signor Barto, and be a blessed man,” interposed Luigi,
doubling and wriggling in a posture that appeared as if he were shaking
negatives from the elbows of his crossed arms. “Stop. How did you know
of a letter? I forgot--I have seen the English lady at her hotel. I was
carrying the signorina’s answer, when I thought ‘Barto Rizzo calls me,’
and I came like a lamb. And what does it matter? She is a good patriot;
you are a good patriot; here it is. Consider my reputation, do; and be
careful with the wax.”

Barto drew a long breath. The mention of the English letter had been a
shot in the dark. The result corroborated his devotional belief in the
unerringness of his own powerful intuition. He had guessed the case, or
hardly even guessed it--merely stated it, to horrify Luigi. The letter
was placed in his hands, and he sat as strongly thrilled by emotion,
under the mask of his hard face, as a lover hearing music. “I read
English,” he remarked.

After he had drawn the seal three or four times slowly over the lamp,
the green wax bubbled and unsnapped. Vittoria had written the following
lines in reply to her old English friend:--

   “Forgive me, and do not ask to see me until we have passed the
   fifteenth of the month. You will see me that night at La Scala. I
   wish to embrace you, but I am miserable to think of your being in
   Milan. I cannot yet tell you where my residence is. I have not met
   your brother. If he writes to me it will make me happy, but I
   refuse to see him. I will explain to him why. Let him not try to
   see me. Let him send by this messenger. I hope he will contrive to
   be out of Milan all this month. Pray let me influence you to go for
   a time. I write coldly; I am tired, and forget my English. I do
   not forget my friends. I have you close against my heart. If it
   were prudent, and it involved me alone, I would come to you without
   a moment’s loss of time. Do know that I am not changed, and am your
   affectionate

                    “Emilia.”

When Barto Rizzo had finished reading, he went from the chamber and blew
his voice into what Luigi supposed to be a hollow tube.

“This letter,” he said, coming back, “is a repetition of the Signorina
Vittoria’s warning to her friends on the Motterone. The English lady’s
brother, who is in the Austrian service, was there, you say?”

Luigi considered that, having lately been believed in, he could not
afford to look untruthful, and replied with a sprightly “Assuredly.”

“He was there, and he read the writing on the paper?”

“Assuredly: right out loud, between puff-puff of his cigar.”

“His name is Lieutenant Pierson. Did not Antonio-Pericles tell you his
name? He will write to her: you will be the bearer of his letter to the
signorina. I must see her reply. She is a good patriot; so am I; so are
you. Good patriots must be prudent. I tell you, I must see her reply
to this Lieutenant Pierson.” Barto stuck his thumb and finger astride
Luigi’s shoulder and began rocking him gently, with a horrible
meditative expression. “You will have to accomplish this, my Luigi. All
fair excuses will be made, if you fail generally. This you must do. Keep
upright while I am speaking to you! The excuses will be made; but I, not
you, must make them: bear that in mind. Is there any person whom you, my
Luigi, like best in the world?”

It was a winning question, and though Luigi was not the dupe of its
insinuating gentleness, he answered, “The little girl who carries
flowers every morning to the caffe La Scala.”

“Ah! the little girl who carries flowers every morning to the caffe
La Scala. Now, my Luigi, you may fail me, and I may pardon you. Listen
attentively: if you are false; if you are guilty of one piece of
treachery:--do you see? You can’t help slipping, but you can help
jumping. Restrain yourself from jumping, that’s all. If you are guilty
of treachery, hurry at once, straight off, to the little girl who
carries flowers every morning to the caffe La Scala. Go to her, take
her by the two cheeks, kiss her, say to her ‘addio, addio,’ for, by the
thunder of heaven! you will never see her more.”

Luigi was rocked forward and back, while Barto spoke in level tones,
till the voice dropped into its vast hollow, when Barto held him fast a
moment, and hurled him away by the simple lifting of his hand.

The woman appeared and bound Luigi’s eyes. Barto did not utter another
word. On his journey back to daylight, Luigi comforted himself by
muttering oaths that he would never again enter into this trap. As
soon as his eyes were unbandaged, he laughed, and sang, and tossed a
compliment from his finger-tips to the savage-browed beauty; pretended
that he had got an armful, and that his heart was touched by the
ecstasy; and sang again: “Oh, Barto, Barto! my boot is sadly worn. The
toe is seen,” etc., half-way down the stanzas. Without his knowing it,
and before he had quitted the court, he had sunk into songless gloom,
brooding on the scenes of the night. However free he might be in body,
his imagination was captive to Barto Rizzo. He was no luckier than a
bird, for whom the cage is open that it may feel the more keenly with
its little taste of liberty that it is tied by the leg.



CHAPTER VIII

The importance of the matters extracted from Luigi does not lie on the
surface; it will have to be seen through Barto Rizzo’s mind. This man
regarded himself as the mainspring of the conspiracy; specially its
guardian, its wakeful Argus. He had conspired sleeplessly for thirty
years; so long, that having no ideal reserve in his nature, conspiracy
had become his professional occupation,--the wheel which it was his
business to roll. He was above jealousy; he was above vanity. No one
outstripping him cast a bad colour on him; nor did he object to bow to
another as his superior. But he was prepared to suspect every one of
insincerity and of faithlessness; and, being the master of the machinery
of the plots, he was ready, upon a whispered justification, to
despise the orders of his leader, and act by his own light in blunt
disobedience. For it was his belief that while others speculated he knew
all. He knew where the plots had failed; he knew the man who had bent
and doubled. In the patriotic cause, perfect arrangements are
crowned with perfect success, unless there is an imperfection of the
instruments; for the cause is blessed by all superior agencies. Such was
his governing idea. His arrangements had always been perfect; hence the
deduction was a denunciation of some one particular person. He pointed
out the traitor here, the traitor there; and in one or two cases he
did so with a mildness that made those fret at their beards vaguely
who understood his character. Barto Rizzo was, it was said, born in
a village near Forli, in the dominions of the Pope; according to the
rumour, he was the child of a veiled woman and a cowled paternity. If
not an offender against Government, he was at least a wanderer early in
life. None could accuse him of personal ambition. He boasted that he
had served as a common soldier with the Italian contingent furnished
by Eugene to the Moscow campaign; he showed scars of old wounds: brown
spots, and blue spots, and twisted twine of white skin, dotting the
wrist, the neck, the calf, the ankle, and looking up from them, he
slapped them proudly. Nor had he personal animosities of any kind. One
sharp scar, which he called his shoulder knot, he owed to the knife of
a friend, by name Sarpo, who had things ready to betray him, and struck
him, in anticipation of that tremendous moment of surprise and wrath
when the awakened victim frequently is nerved with devil’s strength;
but, striking, like a novice, on the bone, the stilet stuck there; and
Barto coolly got him to point the outlet of escape, and walked off,
carrying the blade where the terrified assassin had planted it. This
Sarpo had become a tradesman in Milan--a bookseller and small printer;
and he was unmolested. Barto said of him, that he was as bad as a few
odd persons thought himself to be, and had in him the making of a great
traitor; but, that as Sarpo hated him and had sought to be rid of him
for private reasons only, it was a pity to waste on such a fellow steel
that should serve the Cause. “While I live,” said Barto, “my enemies
have a tolerably active conscience.”

The absence of personal animosity in him was not due to magnanimity. He
doubted the patriotism of all booksellers. He had been twice betrayed
by women. He never attempted to be revenged on them; but he doubted
the patriotism of all women. “Use them; keep eye on them,” he said.
In Venice he had conspired when he was living there as the clerk of
a notary; in Bologna subsequently while earning his bread as a petty
schoolmaster. His evasions, both of Papal sbirri and the Austrian
polizia, furnished instances of astonishing audacity that made his name
a byword for mastery in the hour of peril. His residence in Milan now,
after seven years of exile in England and Switzerland, was an act of
pointed defiance, incomprehensible to his own party, and only to be
explained by the prevalent belief that the authorities feared to provoke
a collision with the people by laying hands on him. They had only once
made a visitation to his house, and appeared to be satisfied at not
finding him. At that period Austria was simulating benevolence in her
Lombardic provinces, with the half degree of persuasive earnestness
which makes a Government lax in its vigilance, and leaves it simply
open to the charge of effeteness. There were contradictory rumours as
to whether his house had ever been visited by the polizia; but it was a
legible fact that his name was on the window, and it was understood that
he was not without elusive contrivances in the event of the authorities
declaring war against him.

Of the nature of these contrivances Luigi had just learnt something. He
had heard Barto Rizzo called ‘The Miner’ and ‘The Great Cat,’ and he now
comprehended a little of the quality of his employer. He had entered
a very different service from that of the Signor Antonio-Pericles, who
paid him for nothing more than to keep eye on Vittoria, and recount her
goings in and out; for what absolute object he was unaware, but that it
was not for a political one he was certain. “Cursed be the day when the
lust of gold made me open my hand to Barto Rizzo!” he thought; and could
only reflect that life is short and gold is sweet, and that he was in
the claws of the Great Cat. He had met Barto in a wine-shop. He cursed
the habit which led him to call at that shop; the thirst which tempted
him to drink: the ear which had been seduced to listen. Yet as all his
expenses had been paid in advance, and his reward at the instant of
his application for it; and as the signorina and Barto were both good
patriots, and he, Luigi, was a good patriot, what harm could be done to
her? Both she and Barto had stamped their different impressions on
his waxen nature. He reconciled his service to them separately by the
exclamation that they were both good patriots.

The plot for the rising in Milan city was two months old. It comprised
some of the nobles of the city, and enjoyed the good wishes of the
greater part of them, whose payment of fifty to sixty per cent to the
Government on the revenue of their estates was sufficient reason for
a desire to change masters, positively though they might detest
Republicanism, and dread the shadow of anarchy. These looked hopefully
to Charles Albert. Their motive was to rise, or to countenance a rising,
and summon the ambitious Sardinian monarch with such assurances of
devotion, that a Piedmontese army would be at the gates when the
banner of Austria was in the dust. Among the most active members of the
prospectively insurgent aristocracy of Milan was Count Medole, a young
nobleman of vast wealth and possessed of a reliance on his powers
of mind that induced him to take a prominent part in the opening
deliberations, and speedily necessitated his hire of the friendly
offices of one who could supply him with facts, with suggestions, with
counsel, with fortitude, with everything to strengthen his pretensions
to the leadership, excepting money. He discovered his man in Barto
Rizzo, who quitted the ranks of the republican section to serve him, and
wield a tool for his own party. By the help of Agostino Balderini, Carlo
Ammiani, and others, the aristocratic and the republican sections of
the conspiracy were brought near enough together to permit of a common
action between them, though the maintaining of such harmony demanded an
extreme and tireless delicacy of management. The presence of the Chief,
whom we have seen on the Motterone, was claimed by other cities of
Italy. Unto him solely did Barto Rizzo yield thorough adhesion. He being
absent from Milan, Barto undertook to represent him and carry out his
views. How far he was entitled to do so may be guessed when it is stated
that, on the ground of his general contempt for women, he objected to
the proposition that Vittoria should give the signal. The proposition
was Agostino’s. Count Medole, Barto, and Agostino discussed it secretly:
Barto held resolutely against it, until Agostino thrust a sly-handed
letter into his fingers and let him know that previous to any
consultation on the subject he had gained the consent of his Chief.
Barto then fell silent. He despatched his new spy, Luigi, to the
Motterone, more for the purpose of giving him a schooling on the
expedition, and on his return from it, and so getting hand and brain
and soul service out of him. He expected no such a report of Vittoria’s
indiscretion as Luigi had spiced with his one foolish lie. That she
should tell the relatives of an Austrian officer that Milan was soon to
be a dangerous place for them;--and that she should write it on paper
and leave it for the officer to read,--left her, according to Barto’s
reading of her, open to the alternative charges of imbecility or of
treachery. Her letter to the English lady, the Austrian officer’s
sister, was an exaggeration of the offence, but lent it more the look
of heedless folly. The point was to obtain sight of her letter to the
Austrian officer himself. Barto was baffled during a course of anxious
days that led closely up to the fifteenth. She had written no letter.
Lieutenant Pierson, the officer in question, had ridden into the city
once from Verona, and had called upon Antonio-Pericles to extract her
address from him; the Greek had denied that she was in Milan. Luigi
could tell no more. He described the officer’s personal appearance,
by saying that he was a recognizable Englishman in Austrian dragoon
uniform;--white tunic, white helmet, brown moustache;--ay! and eh! and
oh! and ah! coming frequently from his mouth; that he stood square while
speaking, and seemed to like his own smile; an extraordinary touch of
portraiture, or else a scoff at insular self-satisfaction; at any rate,
it commended itself to the memory. Barto dismissed him, telling him to
be daily in attendance on the English lady.

Barto Rizzo’s respect for the Chief was at war with his intense
conviction that a blow should be struck at Vittoria even upon the narrow
information which he possessed. Twice betrayed, his dreams and haunting
thoughts cried “Shall a woman betray you thrice?” In his imagination
he stood identified with Italy: the betrayal of one meant that of
both. Falling into a deep reflection, Barto counted over his hours of
conspiracy: he counted the Chief’s; comparing the two sets of figures he
discovered, that as he had suspected, he was the elder in the patriotic
work therefore, if he bowed his head to the Chief, it was a voluntary
act, a form of respect, and not the surrendering of his judgement. He
was on the spot: the Chief was absent. Barto reasoned that the Chief
could have had no experience of women, seeing that he was ready to trust
in them. “Do I trust to my pigeon, my sling-stone?” he said jovially to
the thickbrowed, splendidly ruddy young woman, who was his wife; “do I
trust her? Not half a morsel of her!” This young woman, a peasant woman
of remarkable personal attractions, served him with the fidelity of a
fascinated animal, and the dumbness of a wooden vessel. She could have
hanged him, had it pleased her. She had all his secrets: but it was not
vain speaking on Barto Rizzo’s part; he was master of her will; and on
the occasions when he showed that he did not trust her, he was careful
at the same time to shock and subdue her senses. Her report of Vittoria
was, that she went to the house of the Signora, Laura Piaveni, widow of
the latest heroic son of Milan, and to that of the maestro Rocco Ricci;
to no other. It was also Luigi’s report.

“She’s true enough,” the woman said, evidently permitting herself to
entertain an opinion; a sign that she required fresh schooling.

“So are you,” said Barto, and eyed her in a way that made her ask, “Now,
what’s for me to do?”

He thought awhile.

“You will see the colonel. Tell him to come in corporal’s uniform.
What’s the little wretch twisting her body for? Shan’t I embrace her
presently if she’s obedient? Send to the polizia. You believe your
husband is in the city, and will visit you in disguise at the corporal’s
hour. They seize him. They also examine the house up to the point where
we seal it. Your object is to learn whether the Austrians are moving
men upon Milan. If they are-I learn something. When the house has been
examined, our court here will have rest for a good month ahead; and
it suits me not to be disturbed. Do this, and we will have a red-wine
evening in the house, shut up alone, my snake! my pepper-flower!”

It happened that Luigi was entering the court to keep an appointment
with Barto when he saw a handful of the polizia burst into the house and
drag out a soldier, who was in the uniform, as he guessed it to be, of
the Prohaska regiment. The soldier struggled and offered money to
them. Luigi could not help shouting, “You fools! don’t you see he’s an
officer?” Two of them took their captive aside. The rest made a search
through the house. While they were doing so Luigi saw Barto Rizzo’s
face at the windows of the house opposite. He clamoured at the door, but
Barto was denied to him there. When the polizia had gone from the court,
he was admitted and allowed to look into every room. Not finding him, he
said, “Barto Rizzo does not keep his appointments, then!” The same words
were repeated in his ear when he had left the court, and was in
the street running parallel with it. “Barto Rizzo does not keep his
appointments, then!” It was Barto who smacked him on the back, and spoke
out his own name with brown-faced laughter in the bustling street. Luigi
was so impressed by his cunning and his recklessness that he at once
told him more than he wished to tell:--The Austrian officer was with his
sister, and had written to the signorina, and Luigi had delivered the
letter; but the signorina was at the maestro’s, Rocco Ricci’s, and there
was no answer: the officer was leaving for Verona in the morning. After
telling so much, Luigi drew back, feeling that he had given Barto his
full measure and owed to the signorina what remained.

Barto probably read nothing of the mind of his spy, but understood that
it was a moment for distrust of him. Vittoria and her mother lodged at
the house of one Zotti, a confectioner, dwelling between the Duomo and
La Scala. Luigi, at Barto’s bidding, left word with Zotti that he would
call for the signorina’s answer to a certain letter about sunrise. “I
promised my Rosellina, my poppyheaded sipper, a red-wine evening, or I
would hold this fellow under my eye till the light comes,” thought Barto
misgivingly, and let him go. Luigi slouched about the English lady’s
hotel. At nightfall her brother came forth. Luigi directed him to be
in the square of the Duomo by sunrise, and slipped from his hold; the
officer ran after him some distance. “She can’t say I was false to her
now,” said Luigi, dancing with nervous ecstasy. At sunrise Barto Rizzo
was standing under the shadow of the Duomo. Luigi passed him and went
to Zotti’s house, where the letter was placed in his hand, and the
door shut in his face. Barto rushed to him, but Luigi, with a vixenish
countenance, standing like a humped cat, hissed, “Would you destroy my
reputation and have it seen that I deliver up letters, under the noses
of the writers, to the wrong persons?--ha! pestilence!” He ran, Barto
following him. They were crossed by the officer on horseback, who
challenged Luigi to give up the letter, which was very plainly being
thrust from his hand into his breast. The officer found it no difficult
matter to catch him and pluck the letter from him; he opened it, reading
it on the jog of the saddle as he cantered off. Luigi turned in a terror
of expostulation to ward Barto’s wrath. Barto looked at him hard, while
he noted the matter down on the tablet of an ivory book. All he
said was, “I have that letter!” stamping the assertion with an oath.
Half-an-hour later Luigi saw Barto in the saddle, tight-legged about a
rusty beast, evidently bound for the South-eastern gate, his brows set
like a black wind. “Blessings on his going!” thought Luigi, and sang one
of his street-songs:--“O lemons, lemons, what a taste you leave in the
mouth! I desire you, I love you, but when I suck you, I’m all caught
up in a bundle and turn to water, like a wry-faced fountain. Why not be
satisfied by a sniff at the blossoms? There’s gratification. Why did you
grow up from the precious little sweet chuck that you were, Marietta?
Lemons, O lemons! such a thing as a decent appetite is not known after
sucking at you.”

His natural horror of a resolute man, more than fear (of which he had no
recollection in the sunny Piazza), made him shiver and gave his tongue
an acid taste at the prospect of ever meeting Barto Rizzo again. There
was the prospect also that he might never meet him again.



CHAPTER IX

IN VERONA

The lieutenant read these lines, as he clattered through the quiet
streets toward the Porta Tosa:

‘DEAR FRIEND,--I am glad that you remind me of our old affection, for
it assures me that yours is not dead. I cannot consent to see you yet. I
would rather that we should not meet.

‘I thought I would sign my name here, and say, “God bless you, Wilfrid;
go!”

‘Oh! why have you done this thing! I must write on. It seems like my
past life laughing at me, that my old friend should have come here in
Italy, to wear the detestable uniform. How can we be friends when we
must act as enemies? We shall soon be in arms, one against the other.
I pity you, for you have chosen a falling side; and when you are beaten
back, you can have no pride in your country, as we Italians have; no
delight, no love. They will call you a mercenary soldier. I remember
that I used to have the fear of your joining our enemies, when we were
in England, but it seemed too much for my reason.

‘You are with a band of butchers. If I could see you and tell you the
story of Giacomo Piaveni, and some other things, I believe you would
break your sword instantly.

‘There is time. Come to Milan on the fifteenth. You will see me then. I
appear at La Scala. Promise me, if you hear me, that you will do exactly
what I make you feel it right to do. Ah, you will not, though thousands
will! But step aside to me, when the curtain falls, and remain--oh, dear
friend! I write in honour to you; we have sworn to free the city and the
country--remain among us: break your sword, tear off your uniform; we
are so strong that we are irresistible. I know what a hero you can be on
the field: then, why not in the true cause? I do not understand that
you should waste your bravery under that ugly flag, bloody and past
forgiveness.

‘I shall be glad to have news of you all, and of England. The bearer of
this is a trusty messenger, and will continue to call at the hotel. A.
is offended that I do not allow my messenger to give my address; but I
must not only be hidden, I must have peace, and forget you all until I
have done my task. Addio. We have both changed names. I am the same. Can
I think that you are? Addio, dear friend.

                 ‘VITTORIA.’


Lieutenant Pierson read again and again the letter of her whom he had
loved in England, to get new lights from it, as lovers do when they have
lost the power to take single impressions. He was the bearer of a verbal
despatch from the commandant in Milan to the Marshal in Verona. At that
period great favour was shown to Englishmen in the Austrian service, and
the lieutenant’s uncle being a General of distinction, he had a sort of
semi-attachment to the Marshal’s staff, and was hurried to and fro,
for the purpose of keeping him out of duelling scrapes, as many of his
friendlier comrades surmised. The right to the distinction of exercising
staff-duties is, of course, only to be gained by stout competitorship in
the Austrian service; but favour may do something for a young man even
in that rigorous school of Arms. He had to turn to Brescia on his way,
and calculated that if luck should put good horses under him, he would
enter Verona gates about sunset. Meantime; there was Vittoria’s letter
to occupy him as he went.

We will leave him to his bronzing ride through the mulberries and the
grapes, and the white and yellow and arid hues of the September plain,
and make acquaintance with some of his comrades of that proud army which
Vittoria thought would stand feebly against the pouring tide of Italian
patriotism.

The fairest of the cities of the plain had long been a nest of foreign
soldiery. The life of its beauty was not more visible then than now.
Within the walls there are glimpses of it, that belong rather to the
haunting spirit than to the life. Military science has made a mailed
giant of Verona, and a silent one, save upon occasion. Its face grins
of war, like a skeleton of death; the salient image of the skull and
congregating worms was one that Italian lyrists applied naturally to
Verona.

The old Field-Marshal and chief commander of the Austrian forces in
Lombardy, prompted by the counsels of his sagacious adlatus, the chief
of the staff, was engaged at that period in adding some of those ugly
round walls and flanking bastions to Verona, upon which, when Austria
was thrown back by the first outburst of the insurrection and the
advance of the Piedmontese, she was enabled to plant a sturdy hind-foot,
daring her foes as from a rock of defence.

A group of officers, of the cavalry, with a few infantry uniforms
skirting them, were sitting in the pleasant cooling evening air, fanned
by the fresh springing breeze, outside one of the Piazza Bra caffes,
close upon the shadow of the great Verona amphitheatre. They were
smoking their attenuated long straw cigars, sipping iced lemonade or
coffee, and talking the common talk of the garrison officers, with
perhaps that additional savour of a robust immorality which a Viennese
social education may give. The rounded ball of the brilliant September
moon hung still aloft, lighting a fathomless sky as well as the fair
earth. It threw solid blackness from the old savage walls almost to a
junction with their indolent outstretched feet. Itinerant street music
twittered along the Piazza; officers walked arm-in-arm; now in moonlight
bright as day, now in a shadow black as night: distant figures twinkled
with the alternation. The light lay like a blade’s sharp edge around the
massive circle. Of Italians of a superior rank, Verona sent none to
this resort. Even the melon-seller stopped beneath the arch ending the
Stradone Porta Nuova, as if he had reached a marked limit of his popular
customers.

This isolation of the rulers of Lombardy had commenced in Milan, but,
owing to particular causes, was not positively defined there as it was
in Verona. War was already rageing between the Veronese ladies and the
officers of Austria. According to the Gallic Terpsichorean code, a
lady who permits herself to make election of her partners and to reject
applicants to the honour of her hand in the dance, when that hand is
disengaged, has no just ground of complaint if a glove should smite her
cheek. The Austrians had to endure this sort of rejection in Ballrooms.
On the promenade their features were forgotten. They bowed to statues.
Now, the officers of Austria who do not belong to a Croat regiment,
or to one drawn from any point of the extreme East of the empire, are
commonly gentlemanly men; and though they can be vindictive after much
irritation, they may claim at least as good a reputation for forbearance
in a conquered country as our officers in India. They are not
ill-humoured, and they are not peevishly arrogant, except upon
provocation. The conduct of the tender Italian dames was vexatious. It
was exasperating to these knights of the slumbering sword to hear their
native waltzes sounding of exquisite Vienna, while their legs stretched
in melancholy inactivity on the Piazza pavement, and their arms
encircled no ductile waists. They tried to despise it more than they
disliked it, called their female foes Amazons, and their male by a less
complimentary title, and so waited for the patriotic epidemic to pass.

A certain Captain Weisspriess, of the regiment named after a sagacious
monarch whose crown was the sole flourishing blossom of diplomacy,
particularly distinguished himself by insisting that a lady should
remember him in public places. He was famous for skill with his weapons.
He waltzed admirably; erect as under his Field-Marshal’s eye. In the
language of his brother officers, he was successful; that is, even
as God Mars when Bellona does not rage. Captain Weisspriess (Johann
Nepomuk, Freiherr von Scheppenhausen) resembled in appearance one in the
Imperial Royal service, a gambling General of Division, for whom
Fame had not yet blown her blast. Rumour declared that they might be
relatives; a little-scrupulous society did not hesitate to mention
how. The captain’s moustache was straw-coloured; he wore it beyond the
regulation length and caressed it infinitely. Surmounted by a pair
of hot eyes, wavering in their direction, this grand moustache was a
feature to be forgotten with difficulty, and Weisspriess was doubtless
correct in asserting that his face had endured a slight equal to a
buffet. He stood high and square-shouldered; the flame of the moustache
streamed on either side his face in a splendid curve; his vigilant head
was loftily posted to detect what he chose to construe as insult,
or gather the smiles of approbation, to which, owing to the unerring
judgement of the sex, he was more accustomed. Handsome or not, he
enjoyed the privileges of masculine beauty.

This captain of a renown to come pretended that a superb Venetian lady
of the Branciani family was bound to make response in public to his
private signals, and publicly to reply to his salutations. He refused to
be as a particle in space floating airily before her invincible aspect.
Meeting her one evening, ere sweet Italy had exiled herself from the
Piazza, he bowed, and stepping to the front of her, bowed pointedly.
She crossed her arms and gazed over him. He called up a thing to her
recollection in resonant speech. Shameful lie, or shameful truth, it was
uttered in the hearing of many of his brother officers, of three Italian
ladies, and of an Italian gentleman, Count Broncini, attending them. The
lady listened calmly. Count Broncini smote him on the face. That evening
the lady’s brother arrived from Venice, and claimed his right to defend
her. Captain Weisspriess ran him through the body, and attached a
sinister label to his corpse. This he did not so much from brutality;
the man felt that henceforth while he held his life he was at war with
every Italian gentleman of mettle. Count Broncini was his next victim.
There, for a time, the slaughtering business of the captain stopped.
His brother officers of the better kind would not have excused him at
another season, but the avenger of their irritation and fine vindicator
of the merits of Austrian steel, had a welcome truly warm, when at the
termination of his second duel he strode into mess, or what serves for
an Austrian regimental mess.

It ensued naturally that there was everywhere in Verona a sharp division
between the Italians of all classes and their conquerors. The great
green-rinded melons were never wheeled into the neighbourhood of the
whitecoats. Damsels were no longer coquettish under the military glance,
but hurried by in couples; and there was much scowling mixed with
derisive servility, throughout the city, hard to be endured without that
hostile state of the spirit which is the military mind’s refuge in
such cases. Itinerant musicians, and none but this fry, continued to be
attentive to the dispensers of soldi.

The Austrian army prides itself upon being a brotherhood. Discipline is
very strict, but all commissioned officers, when off duty, are as free
in their intercourse as big boys. The General accepts a cigar from the
lieutenant, and in return lifts his glass to him. The General takes an
interest in his lieutenant’s love-affairs: nor is the latter shy when
he feels it his duty modestly to compliment his superior officer upon a
recent conquest. There is really good fellowship both among the officers
and in the ranks, and it is systematically encouraged.

The army of Austria was in those days the Austrian Empire. Outside
the army the empire was a jealous congery of intriguing disaffected
nationalities. The same policy which played the various States against
one another in order to reduce all to subserviency to the central Head,
erected a privileged force wherein the sentiment of union was fostered
till it became a nationality of the sword. Nothing more fatal can be
done for a country; but for an army it is a simple measure of wisdom.
Where the password is MARCH, and not DEVELOP, a body of men, to be a
serviceable instrument, must consent to act as one. Hannibal is the
historic example of what a General can accomplish with tribes who are
thus, enrolled in a new citizenship; and (as far as we know of him and
his fortunes) he appears to be an example of the necessity of the fusing
fire of action to congregated aliens in arms. When Austria was fighting
year after year, and being worsted in campaign after campaign, she lost
foot by foot, but she held together soundly; and more than the baptism,
the atmosphere of strife has always been required to give her a healthy
vitality as a centralized empire. She knew it; this (apart from the
famous promptitude of the Hapsburgs) was one secret of her dauntless
readiness to fight. War did the work of a smithy for the iron and steel
holding her together; and but that war costs money, she would have been
an empire distinguished by aggressiveness. The next best medicinal thing
to war is the military occupation of insurgent provinces. The soldiery
soon feel where their home is, and feel the pride of atomies in unitive
power, when they are sneered at, hooted, pelted, stabbed upon a gross
misinterpretation of the slightest of moral offences, shamefully abused
for doing their duty with a considerate sense of it, and too accurately
divided from the inhabitants of the land they hold. In Italy, the
German, the Czech, the Magyar, the Croft, even in general instances the
Italian, clung to the standard for safety, for pay, for glory, and all
became pre-eminently Austrian soldiers; little besides.

It was against a power thus bound in iron hoops, that Italy,
dismembered, and jealous, and corrupt, with an organization promoted by
passion chiefly, was preparing to rise. In the end, a country true to
itself and determined to claim God’s gift to brave men will overmatch a
mere army, however solid its force. But an inspired energy of faith is
demanded of it. The intervening chapters will show pitiable weakness,
and such a schooling of disaster as makes men, looking on the surface
of things, deem the struggle folly. As well, they might say, let yonder
scuffling vagabonds up any of the Veronese side-streets fall upon the
patrol marching like one man, and hope to overcome them! In Vienna there
was often despair: but it never existed in the Austrian camp. Vienna was
frequently double-dealing and time-serving her force in arms was like
a trained man feeling his muscle. Thus, when the Government thought of
temporizing, they issued orders to Generals whose one idea was to strike
the blow of a mallet.

At this period there was no suspicion of any grand revolt being in
process of development. The abounding dissatisfaction was treated as
nothing more than the Italian disease showing symptoms here and there,
and Vienna counselled measures mildly repressive,--‘conciliating,’
it was her pleasure to call them. Her recent commands with respect to
turbulent Venice were the subject of criticism among the circle outside
the Piazza Gaffe. An enforced inactivity of the military legs will
quicken the military wits, it would appear, for some of the younger
officers spoke hotly as to their notion of the method of ruling Venezia.
One had bidden his Herr General to ‘look here,’ while he stretched forth
his hand and declared that Italians were like women, and wanted--yes,
wanted--(their instinct called for it) a beating, a real beating; as
the emphatic would say in our vernacular, a thundering thrashing, once a
month:-’Or so,’ the General added acquiescingly. A thundering thrashing,
once a month or so, to these unruly Italians, because they are like
women! It was a youth who spoke, but none doubted his acquaintance with
women, or cared to suggest that his education in that department of
knowledge was an insufficient guarantee for his fitness to govern
Venezia. Two young dragoon officers had approached during the fervid
allocution, and after the salute to their superior, caught up chairs
and stamped them down, thereupon calling for the loan of anybody’s
cigar-case. Where it is that an Austrian officer ordinarily keeps
this instrument so necessary to his comfort, and obnoxious, one would
suppose, to the rigid correctness of his shapely costume, we
cannot easily guess. None can tell even where he stows away his
pocket-handkerchief, or haply his purse. However, these things appear on
demand. Several elongated cigar-cases were thrust forward, and then it
was seen that the attire of the gallant youngsters was in disorder.

‘Did you hunt her to earth?’ they were asked.

The reply trenched on philosophy; and consisted in an inquiry as to who
cared for the whole basketful--of the like description of damsels, being
implied. Immoderate and uproarious laughter burst around them. Both
seemed to have been clawed impartially. Their tightfitting coats bulged
at the breast or opened at the waist, as though buttons were lacking,
and the whiteness of that garment cried aloud for the purification of
pipeclay. Questions flew. The damsel who had been pursued was known as
a pretty girl, the daughter of a blacksmith, and no prolonged resistance
was expected from one of her class. But, as it came out, she had said,
a week past, ‘I shall be stabbed if I am seen talking to you’; and
therefore the odd matter was, not that she had, in tripping down the
Piazza with her rogue-eyed cousin from Milan, looked away and declined
all invitation to moderate her pace and to converse, but that, after
doubling down and about lonely streets, the length of which she ran as
swiftly as her feet would carry her, at a corner of the Via Colomba she
allowed herself to be caught--wilfully, beyond a doubt, seeing that she
was not a bit breathed--allowed one quick taste of her lips, and then
shrieked as naturally as a netted bird, and brought a hustling crowd
just at that particular point to her rescue: not less than fifty, and
all men. ‘Not a woman among them!’ the excited young officer repeated.

A veteran in similar affairs could see that he had the wish to remain
undisturbed in his bewilderment at the damsel’s conduct. Profound
belief in her partiality for him perplexed his recent experience rather
agreeably. Indeed, it was at this epoch an article of faith with the
Austrian military that nothing save terror of their males kept
sweet Italian women from the expression of their preference for the
broad-shouldered, thick-limbed, yellow-haired warriors--the contrast
to themselves which is supposed greatly to inspirit genial Cupid in the
selection from his quiver.

‘What became of her? Did you let her go?’ came pestering remarks, too
absurd for replies if they had not been so persistent.

‘Let her go? In the devil’s name, how was I to keep my hold of her in
a crowd of fifty of the fellows, all mowing, and hustling, and
elbowing--every rascal stinking right under my nose like the pit?’

‘‘Hem!’ went the General present. ‘As long as you did not draw!
Unsheathe, a minute.’

He motioned for a sight of their naked swords.

The couple of young officers flushed.

‘Herr General! Pardon!’ they remonstrated.

‘No, no. I know how boys talk; I’ve been one myself. Tutt! You tell the
truth, of course; but the business is for me to know in what! how far!
Your swords, gentlemen.’

‘But, General!’

‘Well? I merely wish to examine the blades.’

‘Do you doubt our words?’

‘Hark at them! Words? Are you lawyers? A soldier deals in acts. I don’t
want to know your words, but your deeds, my gallant lads. I want to look
at the blades of your swords, my children. What was the last order? That
on no account were we to provoke, or, if possibly to be avoided, accept
a collision, etc., etc. The soldier in peace is a citizen, etc. No sword
on any account, or for any excuse, to be drawn, etc. You all heard it?
So, good! I receive your denial, my children. In addition, I merely
desire to satisfy curiosity. Did the guard clear a way for you?’

The answer was affirmative.

‘Your swords!’

One of them drew, and proffered the handle.

The other clasped the haft angrily, and with a resolute smack on it,
settled it in the scabbard.

‘Am I a prisoner, General?’

‘Not at all!’

‘Then I decline to surrender my sword.’

Another General officer happened to be sauntering by. Applauding with
his hands, and choosing the Italian language as the best form of speech
for the enunciation of ironical superlatives, he said:

‘Eccellentemente! most admirable! of a distinguished loftiness of moral
grandeur: “Then I decline,” etc.: you are aware that you are quoting?
“as the drummerboy said to Napoleon.” I think you forgot to add that? It
is the same young soldier who utters these immense things, which we can
hardly get out of our mouths. So the little fellow towers! His moral
greatness is as noisy as his drum. What’s wrong?’

‘General Pierson, nothing’s wrong,’ was replied by several voices; and
some explained that Lieutenant Jenna had been called upon by General
Schoneck to show his sword, and had refused.

The heroic defender of his sword shouted to the officer with whom
General Pierson had been conversing: ‘Here! Weisspriess!’

‘What is it, my dear fellow? Speak, my good Jenna!’

The explanation was given, and full sympathy elicited from Captain
Weisspriess, while the two Generals likewise whispered and nodded.

‘Did you draw?’ the captain inquired, yawning. ‘You needn’t say it
in quite so many words, if you did. I shall be asked by the General
presently; and owing to that duel pending ‘twixt you and his nephew, of
which he is aware, he may put a bad interpretation on your pepperiness.’

‘The devil fetch his nephew!’ returned the furious Lieutenant Jenna. ‘He
comes back to-night from Milan, and if he doesn’t fight me to-morrow, I
post him a coward. Well, about that business! My good Weisspriess, the
fellows had got into a thick crowd all round, and had begun to knead me.
Do you understand me? I felt their knuckles.’

‘Ah, good, good!’ said the captain. ‘Then, you didn’t draw, of course.
What officer of the Imperial service would, under similar circumstances!
That is my reply to the Emperor, if ever I am questioned. To draw would
be to show that an Austrian officer relies on his good sword in
the thick of his enemies; against which, as you know, my Jenna, the
Government have issued an express injunction button. Did you sell it
dear?’

‘A fellow parted with his ear for it.’

Lieutenant Jenna illustrated a particular cut from a turn of his wrist.

‘That oughtn’t to make a noise?’ he queried somewhat anxiously.

‘It won’t hear one any longer, at all events,’ said Captain Weisspriess;
and the two officers entered into the significance of the remark with
enjoyment.

Meantime General Pierson had concluded an apparently humorous dialogue
with his brother General, and the later, now addressing Lieutenant
Jenna, said: ‘Since you prefer surrendering your person rather than your
sword--it is good! Report yourself at the door of my room to-night, at
ten. I suspect that you have been blazing your steel, sir. They say,
‘tis as ready to flash out as your temper.’

Several voices interposed: ‘General! what if he did draw!’

‘Silence. You have read the recent order. Orlando may have his
Durindarda bare; but you may not. Grasp that fact. The Government wish
to make Christians of you, my children. One cheek being smitten, what
should you do?’

‘Shall I show you, General?’ cried a quick little subaltern.

‘The order, my children, as received a fortnight since from our old
Wien, commands you to offer the other cheek to the smiter.’

‘So that a proper balance may be restored to both sides of the face,’
General Pierson appended.

‘And mark me,’ he resumed. ‘There may be doubts about the policy of
anything, though I shouldn’t counsel you to cherish them: but there’s
no mortal doubt about the punishment for this thing.’ The General spoke
sternly; and then relaxing the severity of his tone, he said, ‘The
desire of the Government is to make an army of Christians.’

‘And a precious way of doing it!’ interjected two or three of the
younger officers. They perfectly understood how hateful the Viennese
domination was to their chiefs, and that they would meet sympathy
and tolerance for any extreme of irony, provided that they showed a
disposition to be subordinate. For the bureaucratic order, whatever it
was, had to be obeyed. The army might, and of course did, know best:
nevertheless it was bound to be nothing better than a machine in the
hands of the dull closeted men in Vienna, who judged of difficulties
and plans of action from a calculation of numbers, or from foreign
journals--from heaven knows what!

General Schoneck and General Pierson walked away laughing, and
the younger officers were left to themselves. Half-a-dozen of them
interlaced arms, striding up toward the Porta Nuova, near which, at the
corner of the Via Trinita, they had the pleasant excitement of beholding
a riderless horse suddenly in mid gallop sink on its knees and roll
over. A crowd came pouring after it, and from the midst the voice of
a comrade hailed them. ‘It’s Pierson,’ cried Lieutenant Jenna. The
officers drew their swords, and hailed the guard from the gates.
Lieutenant Pierson dropped in among their shoulders, dead from want of
breath. They held him up, and finding him sound, thumped his back. The
blade of his sword was red. He coughed with their thumpings, and sang
out to them to cease; the idle mob which had been at his heels drew back
before the guard could come up with them. Lieutenant Pierson gave no
explanation except that he had been attacked near Juliet’s tomb on his
way to General Schoneck’s quarters. Fellows had stabbed his horse, and
brought him to the ground, and torn the coat off his back. He complained
in bitter mutterings of the loss of a letter therein, during the first
candid moments of his anger: and, as he was known to be engaged to the
Countess Lena von Lenkenstein, it was conjectured by his comrades that
this lady might have had something to do with the ravishment of the
letter. Great laughter surrounded him, and he looked from man to man.
Allowance is naturally made for the irascibility of a brother officer
coming tattered out of the hands of enemies, or Lieutenant Jenna would
have construed his eye’s challenge on the spot. As it was, he cried out,
‘The letter! the letter! Charge, for the honour of the army, and rescue
the letter!’ Others echoed him: ‘The letter! the letter! the English
letter!’ A foreigner in an army can have as much provocation as he
pleases; if he is anything of a favourite with his superiors, his
fellows will task his forbearance. Wilfrid Pierson glanced at the blade
of his sword, and slowly sheathed it. ‘Lieutenant Jenna is a good actor
before a mob,’ he said. ‘Gentlemen, I rely upon you to make no noise
about that letter; it is a private matter. In an hour or so, if any
officer shall choose to question me concerning it, I will answer him.’

The last remnants of the mob had withdrawn. The officer in command at
the gates threw a cloak over Wilfrid’s shoulders; and taking the arm of
a friend Wilfrid hurried to barracks, and was quickly in a position to
report himself to his General, whose first remark, ‘Has the dead horse
been removed?’ robbed him of his usual readiness to equivocate. ‘When
you are the bearer of a verbal despatch, come straight to quarters,
if you have to come like a fig-tree on the north side of the wall in
Winter,’ said General Schoneck, who was joined presently by General
Pierson.

‘What ‘s this I hear of some letter you have been barking about all
over the city?’ the latter asked, after returning his nephew’s on-duty
salute.

Wilfrid replied that it was a letter of his sister’s treating of family
matters.

The two Generals, who were close friends, discussed the attack to which
he had been subjected. Wilfrid had to recount it with circumstance: how,
as he was nearing General Schoneck’s quarters at a military trot, six
men headed by a leader had dashed out on him from a narrow side-street,
unhorsed him after a struggle, rifled the saddlebags, and torn the coat
from his back, and had taken the mark of his sword, while a gathering
crowd looked on, hooting. His horse had fled, and he confessed that he
had followed his horse. General Schoneck spoke the name of Countess Lena
suggestively. ‘Not a bit,’ returned General Pierson; ‘the fellow courts
her too hotly. The scoundrels here want a bombardment; that ‘s where it
lies. A dose of iron pills will make Verona a healthy place. She must
have it.’

General Schoneck said, ‘I hope not,’ and laughed at the heat of Irish
blood. He led Wilfrid in to the Marshal, after which Wilfrid was free to
seek Lieutenant Jenna, who had gained the right to a similar freedom by
pledging his honour not to fight within a stipulated term of days. The
next morning Wilfrid was roused by an orderly coming from his uncle, who
placed in his hands a copy of Vittoria’s letter: at the end of it his
uncle had written, ‘Rather astonishing. Done pretty well; but by a
foreigner. “Affection” spelt with one “f.” An Italian: you will see the
letters are emphatic at “ugly flag”; also “bloody and past forgiveness”
 very large; the copyist had a dash of the feelings of a commentator, and
did his (or her) best to add an oath to it. Who the deuce, sir, is this
opera girl calling herself Vittoria? I have a lecture for you. German
women don’t forgive diversions during courtship; and if you let this
Countess Lena slip, your chance has gone. I compliment you on your power
of lying; but you must learn to show your right face to me, or the very
handsome feature, your nose, and that useful box, your skull, will
come to grief. The whole business is a mystery. The letter (copy) was
directed to you, brought to me, and opened in a fit of abstraction,
necessary to commanding uncles who are trying to push the fortunes of
young noodles pretending to be related to them. Go to Countess Lena.
Count Paul is with her, from Bologna. Speak to her, and observe her and
him. He knows English--has been attached to the embassy in London; but,
pooh! the hand’s Italian. I confess myself puzzled. We shall possibly
have to act on the intimation of the fifteenth, and profess to be
wiser than others. Something is brewing for business. See Countess Lena
boldly, and then come and breakfast with me.’

Wilfrid read the miserable copy of Vittoria’s letter, utterly unable to
resolve anything in his mind, except that he would know among a thousand
the leader of those men who had attacked him, and who bore the mark of
his sword.



CHAPTER X

THE POPE’S MOUTH

Barto Rizzo had done what he had sworn to do. He had not found it
difficult to outstrip the lieutenant (who had to visit Brescia on his
way) and reach the gates of Verona in advance of him, where he obtained
entrance among a body of grape-gatherers and others descending from the
hills to meet a press of labour in the autumnal plains. With them
he hoped to issue forth unchallenged on the following morning; but
Wilfrid’s sword had made lusty play; and, as in the case when the order
has been given that a man shall be spared in life and limb, Barto and
his fellow-assailants suffered by their effort to hold him simply half a
minute powerless. He received a shrewd cut across the head, and lay for
a couple of hours senseless in the wine-shop of one Battista--one of
the many all over Lombardy who had pledged their allegiance to the Great
Cat, thinking him scarcely vulnerable. He read the letter, dizzy with
pain, and with the frankness proper to inflated spirits after loss of
blood, he owned to himself that it was not worth much as a prize. It was
worth the attempt to get possession of it, for anything is worth what
it costs, if it be only as a schooling in resolution, energy, and
devotedness:--regrets are the sole admission of a fruitless business;
they show the bad tree;--so, according to his principle of action, he
deliberated; but he was compelled to admit that Vittoria’s letter was
little else than a repetition of her want of discretion when she was on
the Motterone. He admitted it, wrathfully: his efforts to convict this
woman telling him she deserved some punishment; and his suspicions being
unsatisfied, he resolved to keep them hungry upon her, and return to
Milan at once. As to the letter itself, he purposed, since the harm in
it was accomplished, to send it back honourably to the lieutenant, till
finding it blood-stained, he declined to furnish the gratification of
such a sight to any Austrian sword. For that reason, he copied it, while
Battista’s wife held double bandages tight round his head: believing
that the letter stood transcribed in a precisely similar hand, he
forwarded it to Lieutenant Pierson, and then sank and swooned. Two days
he lay incapable and let his thoughts dance as they would. Information
was brought to him that the gates were strictly watched, and that troops
were starting for Milan. This was in the dull hour antecedent to the
dawn. ‘She is a traitress!’ he exclaimed, and leaping from his bed, as
with a brain striking fire, screamed, ‘Traitress! traitress!’ Battista
and his wife had to fling themselves on him and gag him, guessing him
as mad. He spoke pompously and theatrically; called himself the Eye of
Italy, and said that he must be in Milan, or Milan would perish, because
of the traitress: all with a great sullen air of composure and an odd
distension of the eyelids. When they released him, he smiled and thanked
them, though they knew, that had he chosen, he could have thrown off a
dozen of them, such was his strength. The woman went down on her knees
to him to get his consent that she should dress and bandage his head
afresh. The sound of the regimental bugles drew him from the house,
rather than any immediate settled scheme to watch at the gates.

Artillery and infantry were in motion before sunrise, from various
points of the city, bearing toward the Palio and Zeno gates, and the
people turned out to see them, for it was a march that looked like the
beginning of things. The soldiers had green twigs in their hats, and
kissed their hands good-humouredly to the gazing crowd, shouting bits of
verses:

‘I’m off! I’m off! Farewell, Mariandl! if I come back a sergeant-major
or a Field-Marshal, don’t turn up your nose at me: Swear you will be
faithful all the while; because, when a woman swears, it’s a comfort,
somehow: Farewell! Squeeze the cow’s udders: I shall be thirsty enough:
You pretty wriggler! don’t you know, the first cup of wine and the
last, I shall float your name on it? Luck to the lads we leave behind!
Farewell, Mariandl!’

The kindly fellows waved their hands and would take no rebuff. The
soldiery of Austria are kindlier than most, until their blood is up.
A Tyrolese regiment passed, singing splendidly in chorus. Songs of
sentiment prevailed, but the traditions of a soldier’s experience of the
sex have informed his ballads with strange touches of irony, that help
him to his (so to say) philosophy, which is recklessness. The Tyroler’s
‘Katchen’ here, was a saturnine Giulia, who gave him no response, either
of eye or lip.

‘Little mother, little sister, little sweetheart, ‘ade! ade!’ My little
sweetheart, your meadow is half-way up the mountain; it’s such a green
spot on the eyeballs of a roving boy! and the chapel just above it, I
shall see it as I’ve seen it a thousand times; and the cloud hangs near
it, and moves to the door and enters, for it is an angel, not a cloud; a
white angel gone in to pray for Katerlein and me: Little mother, little
sister, little sweetheart, ‘ade! ade!’ Keep single, Katerlein, as long
as you can: as long as you can hold out, keep single: ‘ade!’’

Fifteen hundred men and six guns were counted as they marched on to one
gate.

Barto Rizzo, with Battista and his wife on each side of him, were among
the spectators. The black cock’s feathers of the Tyrolese were still
fluttering up the Corso, when the woman said, ‘I ‘ve known the tail of a
regiment get through the gates without having to show paper.’

Battista thereupon asked Barto whether he would try that chance. The
answer was a vacuous shake of the head, accompanied by an expression
of unutterable mournfulness. ‘There’s no other way,’ pursued Battista,
‘unless you jump into the Adige, and swim down half-a-mile under water;
and cats hate water--eh, my comico?’

He conceived that the sword-cut had rendered Barto imbecile, and pulled
his hat down his forehead, and patted his shoulder, and bade him have
cheer, patronizingly: but women do not so lightly lose their impression
of a notable man. His wife checked him. Barto had shut his eyes, and
hung swaying between them, as in drowsiness or drunkenness. Like his
body, his faith was swaying within him. He felt it borne upon the
reeling brain, and clung to it desperately, calling upon chance to aid
him; for he was weak, incapable of a physical or mental contest, and
this part of his settled creed that human beings alone failed the
patriotic cause as instruments, while circumstances constantly
befriended it--was shocked by present events. The image of Vittoria,
the traitress, floated over the soldiery marching on Milan through her
treachery. Never had an Austrian force seemed to him so terrible. He had
to yield the internal fight, and let his faith sink and be blackened,
in order that his mind might rest supine, according to his remembered
system; for the inspiration which points to the right course does not
come during mental strife, but after it, when faith summons its agencies
undisturbed--if only men will have the faith, and will teach themselves
to know that the inspiration must come, and will counsel them justly.
This was a part of Barto Rizzo’s sustaining creed; nor did he lose his
grasp of it in the torment and the darkness of his condition.

He heard English voices. A carriage had stopped almost in front of him.
A General officer was hat in hand, talking to a lady, who called him
uncle, and said that she had been obliged to decide to quit Verona on
account of her husband, to whom the excessive heat was unendurable.
Her husband, in the same breath, protested that the heat killed him.
He adorned the statement with all kinds of domestic and subterranean
imagery, and laughed faintly, saying that after the fifteenth--on which
night his wife insisted upon going to the Opera at Milan to hear a new
singer and old friend--he should try a week at the Baths of Bormio, and
only drop from the mountains when a proper temperature reigned, he being
something of an invalid.

‘And, uncle, will you be in Milan on the fifteenth?’ said the lady; ‘and
Wilfrid, too?’

‘Wilfrid will reach Milan as soon as you do, and I shall undoubtedly be
there on the fifteenth,’ said the General.

‘I cannot possibly express to you how beautiful I think your army
looks,’ said the lady.

‘Fine men, General Pierson, very fine men. I never saw such
marching--equal to our Guards,’ her husband remarked.

The lady named her Milanese hotel as the General waved his plumes,
nodded, and rode off.

Before the carriage had started, Barto Rizzo dashed up to it; and ‘Dear
good English lady,’ he addressed her, ‘I am the brother of Luigi, who
carries letters for you in Milan--little Luigi!--and I have a mother
dying in Milan; and here I am in Verona, ill, and can’t get to her, poor
soul! Will you allow me that I may sit up behind as quiet as a mouse,
and be near one of the lovely English ladies who are so kind to
unfortunate persons, and never deaf to the name of charity? It’s my
mother who is dying, poor soul!’

The lady consulted her husband’s face, which presented the total blank
of one who refused to be responsible for an opinion hostile to the
claims of charity, while it was impossible for him to fall in with
foreign habits of familiarity, and accede to extraordinary petitions.
Barto sprang up. ‘I shall be your courier, dear lady,’ he said, and
commenced his professional career in her service by shouting to the
vetturino to drive on. Wilfrid met them as he was trotting down from
the Porta del Palio, and to him his sister confided her new trouble in
having a strange man attached to her, who might be anything. ‘We don’t
know the man,’ said her husband; and Adela pleaded for him: ‘Don’t speak
to him harshly, pray, Wilfrid; he says he has a mother dying in Milan.’
Barto kept his head down on his arms and groaned; Adela gave a doleful
little grimace. ‘Oh, take the poor beggar,’ said Wilfrid; and sang out
to him in Italian: ‘Who are you--what are you, my fine fellow?’ Barto
groaned louder, and replied in Swiss-French from a smothering depth: ‘A
poor man, and the gracious lady’s servant till we reach Milan.’

‘I can’t wait,’ said Wilfrid; ‘I start in half-an-hour. It’s all right;
you must take him now you’ve got him, or else pitch him out--one of the
two. If things go on quietly we shall have the Autumn manoeuvres in a
week, and then you may see something of the army.’ He rode away. Barto
passed the gates as one of the licenced English family.

Milan was more strictly guarded than when he had quitted it. He had
anticipated that it would be so, and tamed his spirit to submit to the
slow stages of the carriage, spent a fiery night in Brescia, and entered
the city of action on the noon of the fourteenth. Safe within the walls,
he thanked the English lady, assuring her that her charitable deed would
be remembered aloft. He then turned his steps in the direction of the
Revolutionary post-office. This place was nothing other than a blank
abutment of a corner house that had long been undergoing repair, and
had a great bank of brick and mortar rubbish at its base. A stationary
melonseller and some black fig and vegetable stalls occupied the
triangular space fronting it. The removal of a square piece of
cement showed a recess, where, chiefly during the night, letters and
proclamation papers were deposited, for the accredited postman to
disperse them. Hither, as one would go to a caffe for the news, Barto
Rizzo came in the broad glare of noon, and flinging himself down like a
tired man under the strip of shade, worked with a hand behind him, and
drew out several folded scraps, of which one was addressed to him by his
initials. He opened it and read:

‘Your house is watched.

‘A corporal of the P... ka regiment was seen leaving it this morning in
time for the second bugle.

‘Reply:--where to meet.

‘Spies are doubled, troops coming.

‘The numbers in Verona; who heads them.

‘Look to your wife.

‘Letters are called for every third hour.’

Barto sneered indolently at this fresh evidence of the small amount of
intelligence which he could ever learn from others. He threw his eyes
all round the vacant space while pencilling in reply:--‘V. waits for M.,
but in a box’ (that is, Verona for Milan). ‘We take the key to her.

‘I have no wife, but a little pupil.

‘A Lieutenant Pierson, of the dragoons; Czech white coats, helmets
without plumes; an Englishman, nephew of General Pierson: speaks
crippled Italian; returns from V. to-day. Keep eye on him;--what house,
what hour.’

Meditating awhile, Barto wrote out Vittoria’s name and enclosed it in a
thick black ring.

Beneath it he wrote

‘The same on all the play-bills.

‘The Fifteenth is cancelled.

‘We meet the day after.

‘At the house of Count M. to-night.’

He secreted this missive, and wrote Vittoria’s name on numbers of slips
to divers addresses, heading them, ‘From the Pope’s Mouth,’ such being
the title of the Revolutionary postoffice, to whatsoever spot it might
in prudence shift. The title was entirely complimentary to his
Holiness. Tangible freedom, as well as airy blessings, were at that time
anticipated, and not without warrant, from the mouth of the successor of
St. Peter. From the Pope’s Mouth the clear voice of Italian liberty was
to issue. This sentiment of the period was a natural and a joyful one,
and endowed the popular ebullition with a sense of unity and a stamp of
righteousness that the abstract idea of liberty could not assure to it
before martyrdom. After suffering, after walking in the shades of death
and despair, men of worth and of valour cease to take high personages as
representative objects of worship, even when these (as the good Pope was
then doing) benevolently bless the nation and bid it to have great hope,
with a voice of authority. But, for an extended popular movement a great
name is like a consecrated banner. Proclamations from the Pope’s Mouth
exacted reverence, and Barto Rizzo, who despised the Pope (because he
was Pope, doubtless), did not hesitate to make use of him by virtue of
his office.

Barto lay against the heap of rubbish, waiting for the approach of his
trained lad, Checco, a lanky simpleton, cunning as a pure idiot, who was
doing postman’s duty, when a kick, delivered by that youth behind,
sent him bounding round with rage, like a fish in air. The marketplace
resounded with a clapping of hands; for it was here that Checco
came daily to eat figs, and it was known that the ‘povero,’ the dear
half-witted creature, would not tolerate an intruder in the place where
he stretched his limbs to peel and suck in the gummy morsels twice or
thrice a day. Barto seized and shook him. Checco knocked off his hat;
the bandage about the wound broke and dropped, and Barto put his hand to
his forehead, murmuring: ‘What ‘s come to me that I lose my temper with
a boy--an animal?’

The excitement all over the triangular space was hushed by an imperious
guttural shout that scattered the groups. Two Austrian officers,
followed by military servants, rode side by side. Dust had whitened
their mustachios, and the heat had laid a brown-red varnish on their
faces. Way was made for them, while Barto stood smoothing his forehead
and staring at Checco.

‘I see the very man!’ cried one of the officers quickly. ‘Weisspriess,
there’s the rascal who headed the attack on me in Verona the other day.
It’s the same!

‘Himmel!’ returned his companion, scrutinizing the sword-cut, ‘if that’s
your work on his head, you did it right well, my Pierson! He is very
neatly scored indeed. A clean stroke, manifestly!’

‘But here when I left Milan! at Verona when I entered the North-west
gate there; and the first man I see as I come back is this very brute.
He dogs me everywhere! By the way, there may be two of them.’

Lieutenant Pierson leaned over his horse’s neck, and looked narrowly
at the man Barto Rizzo. He himself was eyed as in retort, and with yet
greater intentness. At first Barto’s hand was sweeping the air within
a finger’s length of his forehead, like one who fought a giddiness for
steady sight. The mist upon his brain dispersing under the gaze of his
enemy, his eyeballs fixed, and he became a curious picture of passive
malice, his eyes seeming to say: ‘It is enough for me to know your
features, and I know them.’ Such a look from a civilian is exasperating:
it was scarcely to be endured from an Italian of the plebs.

‘You appear to me to want more,’ said the lieutenant audibly to himself;
and he repeated words to the same effect to his companion, in bad
German.

‘Eh? You would promote him to another epaulette?’ laughed Captain
Weisspriess. ‘Come off. Orders are direct against it. And we’re in
Milan--not like being in Verona! And my good fellow! remember your bet;
the dozen of iced Rudesheimer. I want to drink my share, and dream I’m
quartered in Mainz--the only place for an Austrian when he quits Vienna.
Come.’

‘No; but if this is the villain who attacked me, and tore my coat from
my back,’ cried Wilfrid, screwing in his saddle.

‘And took your letter took your letter; a particular letter; we have
heard of it,’ said Weisspriess.

The lieutenant exclaimed that he should overhaul and examine the man,
and see whether he thought fit to give him into custody. Weisspriess
laid hand on his bridle.

‘Take my advice, and don’t provoke a disturbance in the streets. The
truth is, you Englishmen and Irishmen get us a bad name among these
natives. If this is the man who unhorsed you and maltreated you, and
committed the rape of the letter, I’m afraid you won’t get satisfaction
out of him, to judge by his look. I’m really afraid not. Try it if you
like. In any case, if you halt, I am compelled to quit your society,
which is sometimes infinitely diverting. Let me remind you that you bear
despatches. The other day they were verbal ones; you are now carrying
paper.’

‘Are you anxious to teach me my duty, Captain Weisspriess?’

‘If you don’t know it. I said I would “remind you.” I can also teach
you, if you need it.’

‘And I can pay you for the instruction, whenever you are disposed to
receive payment.’

‘Settle your outstanding claims, my good Pierson!’

‘When I have fought Jenna?’

‘Oh! you’re a Prussian--a Prussian!’ Captain Weisspriess laughed. ‘A
Prussian, I mean, in your gross way of blurting out everything. I’ve
marched and messed with Prussians--with oxen.’

‘I am, as you are aware, an Englishman, Captain Weisspriess. I am due to
Lieutenant Jenna for the present. After that you or any one may command
me.’

‘As you please,’ said Weisspriess, drawing out one stream of his
moustache. ‘In the meantime, thank me for luring you away from the
chances of a street row.’

Barto Rizzo was left behind, and they rode on to the Duomo. Glancing up
at its pinnacles, Weisspriess said:

‘How splendidly Flatschmann’s jagers would pick them off from there,
now, if the dogs were giving trouble in this part of the city!’

They entered upon a professional discussion of the ways and means of
dealing with a revolutionary movement in the streets of a city like
Milan, and passed on to the Piazza La Scala. Weisspriess stopped before
the Play-bills. ‘To-morrow’s the fifteenth of the month,’ he said.
‘Shall I tell you a secret, Pierson? I am to have a private peep at the
new prima donna this night. They say she’s charming, and very pert.
“I do not interchange letters with Germans.” Benlomik sent her a neat
little note to the conservatorio--he hadn’t seen her only heard of
her, and that was our patriotic reply. She wants taming. I believe I
am called upon for that duty. At least, my friend Antonio-Pericles, who
occasionally assists me with supplies, hints as much to me. You’re
an engaged man, or, upon my honour, I wouldn’t trust you; but between
ourselves, this Greek--and he’s quite right--is trying to get her away
from the set of snuffy vagabonds who are prompting her for mischief, and
don’t know how to treat her.’

While he was speaking Barto Rizzo pushed roughly between them, and with
a black brush painted the circle about Vittoria’s name.

‘Do you see that?’ said Weisspriess.

‘I see,’ Wilfrid retorted, ‘that you are ready to meddle with the
reputation of any woman who is likely to be talked about. Don’t do it in
my presence.’

It was natural for Captain Weisspriess to express astonishment at this
outburst, and the accompanying quiver of Wilfrid’s lip.

‘Austrian military etiquette, Lieutenant Pierson,’ he said, ‘precludes
the suspicion that the officers of the Imperial army are subject
to dissension in public. We conduct these affairs upon a different
principle. But I’ll tell you what. That fellow’s behaviour may be
construed as a more than common stretch of incivility. I’ll do you a
service. I’ll arrest him, and then you can hear tidings of your precious
letter. We’ll have his confession published.’

Weisspriess drew his sword, and commanded the troopers in attendance to
lay hands on Barto; but the troopers called, and the officer found that
they were surrounded. Weisspriess shrugged dismally. ‘The brute must go,
I suppose,’ he said. The situation was one of those which were every
now and then occurring in the Lombard towns and cities, when a chance
provocation created a riot that became a revolt or not, according to the
timidity of the ruling powers or the readiness of the disaffected. The
extent and evident regulation of the crowd operated as a warning to the
Imperial officers. Weisspriess sheathed his sword and shouted, ‘Way,
there!’ Way was made for him; but Wilfrid lingered to scrutinize the
man who, for an unaccountable reason, appeared to be his peculiar enemy.
Barto carelessly threaded the crowd, and Wilfrid, finding it useless to
get out after him, cried, ‘Who is he? Tell me the name of that man?’ The
question drew a great burst of laughter around him, and exclamations of
‘Englishman! Englishman!’ He turned where there was a clear way left for
him in the track of his brother officer.

Comments on the petty disturbance had been all the while passing at the
Caffe La Scala, where sat Agostino Balderini, with, Count Medole and
others, who, if the order for their arrest had been issued, were as safe
in that place as in their own homes. Their policy, indeed, was to show
themselves openly abroad. Agostino was enjoying the smoke of paper
cigarettes, with all prudent regard for the well-being of an inflammable
beard. Perceiving Wilfrid going by, he said, ‘An Englishman! I continue
to hope much from his countrymen. I have no right to do so, only they
insist on it. They have promised, and more than once, to sail a fleet
to our assistance across the plains of Lombardy, and I believe they
will--probably in the watery epoch which is to follow Metternich. Behold
my Carlo approaching. The heart of that lad doth so boil the brain of
him, he can scarcely keep the lid on. What is it now? Speak, my son.’

Carlo Ammiani had to communicate that he had just seen a black circle
to Vittoria’s name on two public playbills. His endeavour to ape a
deliberate gravity while he told the tale, roused Agostino’s humouristic
ire.

‘Round her name?’ said Agostino.

‘Yes; in every bill.’

‘Meaning that she is suspected!’

‘Meaning any damnable thing you like.’

‘It’s a device of the enemy.’

Agostino, glad of the pretext to recur to his habitual luxurious irony,
threw himself back, repeating ‘It ‘s a device of the enemy. Calculate,
my son, that the enemy invariably knows all you intend to do: determine
simply to astonish him with what you do. Intentions have lungs,
Carlo, and depend on the circumambient air, which, if not designedly
treacherous, is communicative. Deeds, I need not remark, are a different
body. It has for many generations been our Italian error to imagine
a positive blood relationship--not to say maternity itself--existing
between intentions and deeds. Nothing of the sort! There is only the
intention of a link to unite them. You perceive? It’s much to be famous
for fine intentions, so we won’t complain. Indeed, it’s not our business
to complain, but Posterity’s; for fine intentions are really rich
possessions, but they don’t leave grand legacies; that is all. They mean
to possess the future: they are only the voluptuous sons of the present.
It’s my belief, Carlino, from observation, apprehension, and other gifts
of my senses, that our paternal government is not unacquainted with our
intention to sing a song in a certain opera. And it may have learnt
our clumsy method of enclosing names publicly, at the bidding of a
non-appointed prosecutor, so to, isolate or extinguish them. Who can
say? Oh, ay! Yes! the machinery that can so easily be made rickety is
to blame; we admit that; but if you will have a conspiracy like a Geneva
watch, you must expect any slight interference with the laws that
govern it to upset the mechanism altogether. Ah-a! look yonder, but
not hastily, my Carlo. Checco is nearing us, and he knows that he has
fellows after him. And if I guess right, he has a burden to deliver to
one of us.’

Checco came along at his usual pace, and it was quite evident that he
fancied himself under espionage. On two sides of the square a suspicious
figure threaded its way in the line of shade not far behind him. Checco
passed the cafe looking at nothing but the huge hands he rubbed over and
over. The manifest agents of the polizia were nearing when Checco ran
back, and began mouthing as in retort at something that had been spoken
from the cafe as he shot by. He made a gabbling appeal on either side,
and addressed the pair of apparent mouchards, in what, if intelligible,
should have been the language of earnest entreaty. At the first word
which the caffe was guilty of uttering, a fit of exasperation seized
him, and the exciteable creature plucked at his hat and sent it whirling
across the open-air tables right through the doorway. Then, with
a whine, he begged his followers to get his hat back for him. They
complied.

‘We only called “Illustrissimo!”’ said Agostino, as one of the men
returned from the interior of the caffe hat in hand.

‘The Signori should have known better--it is an idiot,’ the man replied.
He was a novice: in daring to rebuke he betrayed his office.

Checco snatched his hat from his attentive friend grinning, and was away
in a flash. Thereupon the caffe laughed, and laughed with an abashing
vehemence that disconcerted the spies. They wavered in their choice of
following Checco or not; one went a step forward, one pulled back; the
loiterer hurried to rejoin his comrade, who was now for a retrograde
movement, and standing together they swayed like two imperfectly jolly
fellows, or ballet bandits, each plucking at the other, until at last
the maddening laughter made them break, reciprocate cat-like hisses of
abuse, and escape as they best could--lamentable figures.

‘It says well for Milan that the Tedeschi can scrape up nothing better
from the gutters than rascals the like of those for their service,’
quoth Agostino. ‘Eh, Signor Conte?’

‘That enclosure about La Vittoria’s name on the bills is correct,’ said
the person addressed, in a low tone. He turned and indicated one who
followed from the interior of the caffe.

‘If Barto is to be trusted she is not safe,’ the latter remarked. He
produced a paper that had been secreted in Checco’s hat. Under the date
and the superscription of the Pope’s Mouth, ‘LA VITTORIA’ stood out in
the ominous heavily-pencilled ring: the initials of Barto Rizzo were in
a corner. Agostino began smoothing his beard.

‘He has discovered that she is not trustworthy,’ said Count Medole,
a young man of a premature gravity and partial baldness, who spoke
habitually with a forefinger pressed flat on his long pointed chin.

‘Do you mean to tell me, Count Medole, that you attach importance to a
communication of this sort?’ said Carlo, forcing an amazement to conceal
his anger.

‘I do, Count Ammiani,’ returned the patrician conspirator.

‘You really listen to a man you despise?’

‘I do not despise him, my friend.’

‘You cannot surely tell us that you allow such a man, on his sole
authority, to blacken the character of the signorina?’

‘I believe that he has not.’

‘Believe? trust him? Then we are all in his hands. What can you mean?
Come to the signorina herself instantly. Agostino, you now conduct
Count Medole to her, and save him from the shame of subscribing to the
monstrous calumny. I beg you to go with our Agostino, Count Medole. It
is time for you--I honour you for the part you have taken; but it is
time to act according to your own better judgement.’

Count Medole bowed.

‘The filthy rat!’ cried Ammiani, panting to let out his wrath.

‘A serviceable dog,’ Agostino remarked correctingly. ‘Keep true to the
form of animal, Carlo. He has done good service in his time.’

‘You listen to the man?’ Carlo said, now thoroughly amazed.

‘An indiscretion is possible to woman, my lad. She may have been
indiscreet in some way I am compelled to admit the existence of
possibilities.’

‘Of all men, you, Agostino! You call her daughter, and profess to love
her.’

‘You forget,’ said Agostino sharply. ‘The question concerns the country,
not the girl.’ He added in an underbreath, ‘I think you are professing
that you love her a little too strongly, and scarce give her much help
as an advocate. The matter must be looked into. If Barto shall be found
to have acted without just grounds, I am certain that Count Medole’--he
turned suavely to the nobleman--‘will withdraw confidence from him;
and that will be equivalent to a rope’s-end for Barto. We shall see him
to-night at your house?’

‘He will be there,’ Medole said.

‘But the harm’s done; the mischief’s done! And what’s to follow if you
shall choose to consider this vile idiot justified?’ asked Ammiani.

‘She sings, and there is no rising,’ said Medole.

‘She is detached from the patriotic battery, for the moment: it will be
better for her not to sing at all,’ said Agostino. ‘In fact, Barto has
merely given us warning that--and things look like it--the Fifteenth is
likely to be an Austrian feast-day. Your arm, my son. We will join you
to-night, my dear Count. Now, Carlo, I was observing, it appears to me
that the Austrians are not going to be surprised by us, and it affords
me exquisite comfort. Fellows prepared are never more than prepared
for one day and another day; and they are sure to be in a state of lax
preparation after a first and second disappointment. On the contrary,
fellows surprised’--Agostino had recovered his old smile again--‘fellows
surprised may be expected to make use of the inspirations pertaining to
genius. Don’t you see?’

‘Oh, cruel! I am sick of you all!’ Carlo exclaimed. ‘Look at her; think
of her, with her pure dream of Italy and her noble devotion. And you
permit a doubt to be cast on her!’

‘Now, is it not true that you have an idea of the country not being
worthy of her?’ said Agostino, slyly. ‘The Chief, I fancy, did not take
certain facts into his calculation when he pleaded that the conspiratrix
was the sum and completion of the conspirator. You will come to Medole’s
to-night, Carlo. You need not be too sweet to him, but beware of
explosiveness. I, a Republican, am nevertheless a practical exponent
of the sacrifices necessary to unity. I accept the local leadership of
Medole--on whom I can never look without thinking of an unfeathered pie;
and I submit to be assisted by the man Barto Rizzo. Do thou likewise, my
son. Let your enamoured sensations follow that duty, and with a breezy
space between. A conspiracy is an epitome of humanity, with a boiling
power beneath it. You’re no more than a bit of mechanism--happy if it
goes at all!’

Agostino said that he would pay a visit to Vittoria in the evening.
Ammiani had determined to hunt out Barto Rizzo and the heads of the
Clubs before he saw her. It was a relief to him to behold in the Piazza
the Englishman who had exchanged cards with him on the Motterone.
Captain Gambier advanced upon a ceremonious bow, saying frankly, in a
more colloquial French than he had employed at their first interview,
that he had to apologize for his conduct, and to request monsieur’s
excuse. ‘If,’ he pursued, ‘that lady is the person whom I knew formerly
in England as Mademoiselle Belloni, and is now known as Mademoiselle
Vittoria Campa, may I beg you to inform her that, according to what
I have heard, she is likely to be in some danger to-morrow?’ What the
exact nature of the danger was, Captain Gambier could not say.

Ammiani replied: ‘She is in need of all her friends,’ and took the
pressure of the Englishman’s hand, who would fair have asked more but
for the stately courtesy of the Italian’s withdrawing salute. Ammiani
could no longer doubt that Vittoria’s implication in the conspiracy was
known.



CHAPTER XI

LAURA PIAVENI

After dark on the same day antecedent to the outbreak, Vittoria, with
her faithful Beppo at her heels, left her mother to run and pass one
comforting hour in the society of the Signora Laura Piaveni and her
children.

There were two daughters of a parasitical Italian nobleman, of whom
one had married the patriot Giacomo Piaveni, and one an Austrian
diplomatist, the Commendatore Graf von Lenkenstein. Count Serabiglione
was traditionally parasitical. His ancestors all had moved in Courts.
The children of the House had illustrious sponsors. The House itself was
a symbolical sunflower constantly turning toward Royalty. Great excuses
are to be made for this, the last male descendant, whose father in
his youth had been an Imperial page, and who had been nursed in the
conception that Italy (or at least Lombardy) was a natural fief of
Austria, allied by instinct and by interest to the holders of the Alps.
Count Serabiglione mixed little with his countrymen,--the statement
might be inversed,--but when, perchance, he was among them, he talked
willingly of the Tedeschi, and voluntarily declared them to be gross,
obstinate, offensive-bears, in short. At such times he would intimate in
any cordial ear that the serpent was probably a match for the bear in
a game of skill, and that the wisdom of the serpent was shown in
his selection of the bear as his master, since, by the ordination of
circumstances, master he must have. The count would speak pityingly of
the poor depraved intellects which admitted the possibility of a coming
Kingdom of Italy united: the lunatics who preached of it he considered a
sort of self-elected targets for appointed files of Tyrolese jagers.
But he was vindictive against him whom he called the professional
doctrinaire, and he had vile names for the man. Acknowledging that
Italy mourned her present woes, he charged this man with the crime
of originating them:--and why? what was his object? He was, the count
declared in answer, a born intriguer, a lover of blood, mad for the
smell of it!--an Old Man of the Mountain; a sheaf of assassins; and
more--the curse of Italy! There should be extradition treaties all over
the world to bring this arch-conspirator to justice. The door of his
conscience had been knocked at by a thousand bleeding ghosts, and
nothing had opened to them. What was Italy in his eyes? A chess-board;
and Italians were the chessmen to this cold player with live flesh.
England nourished the wretch, that she might undermine the peace of the
Continent.

Count Serabiglione would work himself up in the climax of denunciation,
and then look abroad frankly as one whose spirit had been relieved.
He hated bad men; and it was besides necessary for him to denounce
somebody, and get relief of some kind. Italians edged away from him. He
was beginning to feel that he had no country. The detested title ‘Young
Italy’ hurried him into fits of wrath. ‘I am,’ he said, ‘one of the Old
Italians, if a distinction is to be made.’ He assured his listeners
that he was for his commune, his district, and aired his old-Italian
prejudices delightedly; clapping his hands to the quarrels of Milan and
Brescia; Florence and Siena--haply the feuds of villages--and the common
North-Italian jealousy of the chief city. He had numerous capital tales
to tell of village feuds, their date and origin, the stupid effort
to heal them, and the wider consequent split; saying, ‘We have, all
Italians, the tenacity, the unforgiveness, the fervent blood of pure
Hebrews; and a little more gaiety, perhaps; together with a love of fair
things. We can outlive ten races of conquerors.’

In this fashion he philosophized, or forced a kind of philosophy. But he
had married his daughter to an Austrian, which was what his countrymen
could not overlook, and they made him feel it. Little by little, half
acquiescing, half protesting, and gradually denationalized, the count
was edged out of Italian society, save of the parasitical class, which
he very much despised. He was not a happy man. Success at the Imperial
Court might have comforted him; but a remorseless sensitiveness of his
nature tripped his steps.

Bitter laughter rang throughout Lombardy when, in spite of his efforts
to save his daughter’s husband, Giacomo Piaveni suffered death. No
harder blow had ever befallen the count: it was as good as a public
proclamation that he possessed small influence. To have bent the knee
was not afflicting to this nobleman’s conscience: but it was an anguish
to think of having bent the knee for nothing.

Giacomo Piaveni was a noble Italian of the young blood, son of a General
loved by Eugene. In him the loss of Italy was deplorable. He perished by
treachery at the age of twenty-three years. So splendid was this youth
in appearance, of so sweet a manner with women, and altogether so-gentle
and gallant, that it was a widowhood for women to have known him: and
at his death the hearts of two women who had loved him in rivalry became
bound by a sacred tie of friendship. He, though not of distinguished
birth, had the choice of an almost royal alliance in the first blush
of his manhood. He refused his chance, pleading in excuse to Count
Serabiglione, that he was in love with that nobleman’s daughter, Laura;
which it flattered the count to hear, but he had ever after a contempt
for the young man’s discretion, and was observed to shrug, with the
smooth sorrowfulness of one who has been a prophet, on the day when
Giacomo was shot. The larger estates of the Piaveni family, then in
Giacomo’s hands, were in a famous cheese-making district, producing a
delicious cheese:--‘white as lambkins!’ the count would ejaculate most
dolefully; and in a rapture of admiration, ‘You would say, a marble
quarry when you cut into it.’ The theme was afflicting, for all the
estates of Giacomo were for the time forfeit, and the pleasant agitation
produced among his senses by the mention of the cheese reminded him at
the same instant that he had to support a widow with two children. The
Signora Piaveni lived in Milan, and the count her father visited her
twice during the summer months, and wrote to her from his fitful Winter
residences in various capital cities, to report progress in the settled
scheme for the recovery of Giacomo’s property, as well for his widow
as for the heirs of his body. ‘It is a duty,’ Count Serabiglione said
emphatically. ‘My daughter can entertain no proposal until her children
are duly established; or would she, who is young and lovely and archly
capricious, continue to decline the very best offers of the Milanese
nobility, and live on one flat in an old quarter of the city, instead of
in a bright and handsome street, musical with equipages, and full of the
shows of life?’

In conjunction with certain friends of the signora, the count worked
diligently for the immediate restitution of the estates. He was ably
seconded by the young princess of Schyll-Weilingen,--by marriage
countess of Fohrendorf, duchess of Graatli, in central Germany, by which
title she passed,--an Austrian princess; she who had loved Giacomo, and
would have given all for him, and who now loved his widow. The extreme
and painful difficulty was that the Signora Piaveni made no concealment
of her abhorrence of the House of Austria, and hatred of Austrian rule
in Italy. The spirit of her dead husband had come to her from the grave,
and warmed a frame previously indifferent to anything save his personal
merits. It had been covertly communicated to her that if she performed
due submission to the authorities, and lived for six months in good
legal, that is to say, nonpatriotic odour, she might hope to have the
estates. The duchess had obtained this mercy for her, and it was much;
for Giacomo’s scheme of revolt had been conceived with a subtlety of
genius, and contrived on a scale sufficient to incense any despotic lord
of such a glorious milch-cow as Lombardy. Unhappily the signora was more
inspired by the remembrance of her husband than by consideration for
her children. She received disaffected persons: she subscribed her money
ostentatiously for notoriously patriotic purposes; and she who, in her
father’s Como villa, had been a shy speechless girl, nothing more than
beautiful, had become celebrated for her public letters, and the ardour
of declamation against the foreigner which characterized her style. In
the face of such facts, the estates continued to be withheld from her
governance. Austria could do that: she could wreak her spite against
the woman, but she respected her own law even in a conquered land: the
estates were not confiscated, and not absolutely sequestrated; and,
indeed, money coming from them had been sent to her for the education
of her children. It lay in unopened official envelopes, piled one upon
another, quarterly remittances, horrible as blood of slaughter in her
sight. Count Serabiglione made a point of counting the packets always
within the first five minutes of a visit to his daughter. He said
nothing, but was careful to see to the proper working of the lock of
the cupboard where the precious deposits were kept, and sometimes in
forgetfulness he carried off the key. When his daughter reclaimed it,
she observed, ‘Pray believe me quite as anxious as yourself to preserve
these documents.’ And the count answered, ‘They represent the estates,
and are of legal value, though the amount is small. They represent your
protest, and the admission of your claim. They are priceless.’

In some degree, also, they compensated him for the expense he was put
to in providing for his daughter’s subsistence and that of her children.
For there, at all events, visible before his eyes, was the value of the
money, if not the money expended. He remonstrated with Laura for leaving
it more than necessarily exposed. She replied,

‘My people know what that money means!’ implying, of course, that no one
in her house would consequently touch it. Yet it was reserved for the
count to find it gone.

The discovery was made by the astounded nobleman on the day preceding
Vittoria’s appearance at La Scala. His daughter being absent, he had
visited the cupboard merely to satisfy an habitual curiosity. The
cupboard was open, and had evidently been ransacked. He rang up the
domestics, and would have charged them all with having done violence
to the key, but that on reflection he considered this to be a way of
binding faggots together, and he resolved to take them one by one, like
the threading Jesuit that he was, and so get a Judas. Laura’s return
saved him from much exercise of his peculiar skill. She, with a cool
‘Ebbene!’ asked him how long he had expected the money to remain
there. Upon which, enraged, he accused her of devoting the money to the
accursed patriotic cause. And here they came to a curious open division.

‘Be content, my father,’ she said; ‘the money is my husband’s, and is
expended on his behalf.’

‘You waste it among the people who were the cause of his ruin!’ her
father retorted.

‘You presume me to have returned it to the Government, possibly?’

‘I charge you with tossing it to your so-called patriots.’

‘Sir, if I have done that, I have done well.’

‘Hear her!’ cried the count to the attentive ceiling; and addressing
her with an ironical ‘madame,’ he begged permission to inquire of her
whether haply she might be the person in the pay of Revolutionists
who was about to appear at La Scala, under the name of the Signorina
Vittoria. ‘For you are getting dramatic in your pose, my Laura,’ he
added, familiarizing the colder tone of his irony. ‘You are beginning to
stand easily in attitudes of defiance to your own father.’

‘That I may practise how to provoke a paternal Government, you mean,’
she rejoined, and was quite a match for him in dialectics.

The count chanced to allude further to the Signorina Vittoria.

‘Do you know much of that lady?’ she asked.

‘As much as is known,’ said he.

They looked at one another; the count thinking, ‘I gave to this girl an
excess of brains, in my folly!’

Compelled to drop his eyes, and vexed by the tacit defeat, he pursued,
‘You expect great things from her?’

‘Great,’ said his daughter.

‘Well, well,’ he murmured acquiescingly, while sounding within himself
for the part to play. ‘Well-yes! she may do what you expect.’

‘There is not the slightest doubt of her capacity,’ said his daughter,
in a tone of such perfect conviction that the count was immediately and
irresistibly tempted to play the part of sagacious, kindly, tolerant but
foreseeing father; and in this becoming character he exposed the risks
her party ran in trusting anything of weight to a woman. Not that he
decried women. Out of their sphere he did not trust them, and he simply
objected to them when out of their sphere: the last four words being
uttered staccato.

‘But we trust her to do what she has undertaken to do,’ said Laura.

The count brightened prodigiously from his suspicion to a certainty; and
as he was still smiling at the egregious trap his clever but unskilled
daughter had fallen into, he found himself listening incredulously to
her plain additional sentence:--‘She has easy command of three octaves.’

By which the allusion was transformed from politics to Art. Had Laura
reserved this cunning turn a little further, yielding to the natural
temptation to increase the shock of the antithetical battery, she would
have betrayed herself: but it came at the right moment: the count gave
up his arms. He told her that this Signorina Vittoria was suspected.
‘Whom will they not suspect!’ interjected Laura. He assured her that
if a conspiracy had ripened it must fail. She was to believe that he
abhorred the part of a spy or informer, but he was bound, since she was
reckless, to watch over his daughter; and also bound, that he might
be of service to her, to earn by service to others as much power as
he could reasonably hope to obtain. Laura signified that he argued
excellently well. In a fit of unjustified doubt of her sincerity, he
complained, with a querulous snap:

‘You have your own ideas; you have your own ideas. You think me this and
that. A man must be employed.’

‘And this is to account for your occupation?’ she remarked.

‘Employed, I say!’ the count reiterated fretfully. He was unmasking to
no purpose, and felt himself as on a slope, having given his adversary
vantage.

‘So that there is no choice for you, do you mean?’

The count set up a staggering affirmative, but knocked it over with its
natural enemy as soon as his daughter had said, ‘Not being for Italy,
you must necessarily be against her:--I admit that to be the position!’

‘No!’ he cried; ‘no: there is no question of “for” or “against,” as you
are aware. “Italy, and not Revolution”: that is my motto.’

‘Or, in other words, “The impossible,”’ said Laura. ‘A perfect motto!’

Again the count looked at her, with the remorseful thought: ‘I certainly
gave you too much brains.’

He smiled: ‘If you could only believe it not impossible!’

‘Do you really imagine that “Italy without Revolution” does not mean
“Austria”?’ she inquired.

She had discovered how much he, and therefore his party, suspected, and
now she had reasons for wishing him away. Not daring to show symptoms
of restlessness, she offered him the chance of recovering himself on
the crutches of an explanation. He accepted the assistance, praising
his wits for their sprightly divination, and went through a long-winded
statement of his views for the welfare of Italy, quoting his favourite
Berni frequently, and forcing the occasion for that jolly poet. Laura
gave quiet attention to all, and when he was exhausted at the close,
said meditatively, ‘Yes. Well; you are older. It may seem to you that I
shall think as you do when I have had a similar, or the same, length of
experience.’

This provoking reply caused her father to jump up from his chair and
spin round for his hat. She rose to speed him forth.

‘It may seem to me!’ he kept muttering. ‘It may seem to me that when a
daughter gets married--addio! she is nothing but her husband.’

‘Ay! ay! if it might be so!’ the signora wailed out.

The count hated tears, considering them a clog to all useful machinery.
He was departing, when through the open window a noise of scuffling in
the street below arrested him.

‘Has it commenced?’ he said, starting.

‘What?’ asked the signora, coolly; and made him pause.

‘But-but-but!’ he answered, and had the grace to spare her ears. The
thought in him was: ‘But that I had some faith in my wife, and don’t
admire the devil sufficiently, I would accuse him point-blank, for, by
Bacchus! you are as clever as he.’

It is a point in the education of parents that they should learn
to apprehend humbly the compliment of being outwitted by their own
offspring.

Count Serabiglione leaned out of the window and saw that his horses were
safe and the coachman handy. There were two separate engagements going
on between angry twisting couples.

‘Is there a habitable town in Italy?’ the count exclaimed frenziedly.
First he called to his coachman to drive away, next to wait as if nailed
to the spot. He cursed the revolutionary spirit as the mother of vices.
While he was gazing at the fray, the door behind him opened, as he knew
by the rush of cool air which struck his temples. He fancied that his
daughter was hurrying off in obedience to a signal, and turned upon her
just as Laura was motioning to a female figure in the doorway to retire.

‘Who is this?’ said the count.

A veil was over the strange lady’s head. She was excited, and breathed
quickly. The count brought forward a chair to her, and put on his best
court manner. Laura caressed her, whispering, ere she replied: ‘The
Signorina Vittoria Romana!--Biancolla!--Benarriva!’ and numerous other
names of inventive endearment. But the count was too sharp to be thrown
off the scent. ‘Aha!’ he said, ‘do I see her one evening before the term
appointed?’ and bowed profoundly. ‘The Signorina Vittoria!’

She threw up her veil.

‘Success is certain,’ he remarked and applauded, holding one hand as a
snuff-box for the fingers of the other to tap on.

‘Signor Conte, you--must not praise me before you have heard me.’

‘To have seen you!’

‘The voice has a wider dominion, Signor Conte.’

‘The fame of the signorina’s beauty will soon be far wider. Was Venus a
cantatrice?’

She blushed, being unable to continue this sort of Mayfly-shooting
dialogue, but her first charming readiness had affected the proficient
social gentleman very pleasantly, and with fascinated eyes he hummed
and buzzed about her like a moth at a lamp. Suddenly his head dived:
‘Nothing, nothing, signorina,’ he said, brushing delicately at her
dress; ‘I thought it might be paint.’ He smiled to reassure her, and
then he dived again, murmuring: ‘It must be something sticking to the
dress. Pardon me.’ With that he went to the bell. ‘I will ring up my
daughter’s maid. Or Laura--where is Laura?’

The Signora Piaveni had walked to the window. This antiquated fussiness
of the dilettante little nobleman was sickening to her.

‘Probably you expect to discover a revolutionary symbol in the lines of
the signorina’s dress,’ she said.

‘A revolutionary symbol!--my dear! my dear!’ The count reproved his
daughter. ‘Is not our signorina a pure artist, accomplishing easily
three octaves? aha! Three!’ and he rubbed his hands. ‘But, three good
octaves!’ he addressed Vittoria seriously and admonishingly. ‘It is a
fortune-millions! It is precisely the very grandest heritage! It is an
army!’

‘I trust that it may be!’ said Vittoria, with so deep and earnest a ring
of her voice that the count himself, malicious as his ejaculations
had been, was astonished. At that instant Laura cried from the window:
‘These horses will go mad.’

The exclamation had the desired effect.

‘Eh?--pardon me, signorina,’ said the count, moving half-way to the
window, and then askant for his hat. The clatter of the horses’ hoofs
sent him dashing through the doorway, at which place his daughter
stood with his hat extended. He thanked and blessed her for the kindly
attention, and in terror lest the signorina should think evil of him
as ‘one of the generation of the hasty,’ he said, ‘Were it anything
but horses! anything but horses! one’s horses!--ha!’ The audible hoofs
called him off. He kissed the tips of his fingers, and tripped out.

The signora stepped rapidly to the window, and leaning there, cried
a word to the coachman, who signalled perfect comprehension, and
immediately the count’s horses were on their hind-legs, chafing and
pulling to right and left, and the street was tumultuous with them. She
flung down the window, seized Vittoria’s cheeks in her two hands, and
pressed the head upon her bosom. ‘He will not disturb us again,’ she
said, in quite a new tone, sliding her hands from the cheeks to the
shoulders and along the arms to the fingers’-ends, which they clutched
lovingly. ‘He is of the old school, friend of my heart! and besides, he
has but two pairs of horses, and one he keeps in Vienna. We live in
the hope that our masters will pay us better! Tell me! you are in good
health? All is well with you? Will they have to put paint on her soft
cheeks to-morrow? Little, if they hold the colour as full as now? My
Sandra! amica! should I have been jealous if Giacomo had known you? On
my soul, I cannot guess! But, you love what he loved. He seems to live
for me when they are talking of Italy, and you send your eyes forward
as if you saw the country free. God help me! how I have been containing
myself for the last hour and a half!’

The signora dropped in a seat and laughed a languid laugh.

‘The little ones? I will ring for them. Assunta shall bring them down in
their night-gowns if they are undressed; and we will muffle the windows,
for my little man will be wanting his song; and did you not promise him
the great one which is to raise Italy-his mother, from the dead? Do you
remember our little fellow’s eyes as he tried to see the picture? I fear
I force him too much, and there’s no need-not a bit.’

The time was exciting, and the signora spoke excitedly. Messing and
Reggio were in arms. South Italy had given the open signal. It was near
upon the hour of the unmasking of the great Lombard conspiracy, and
Vittoria, standing there, was the beacon-light of it. Her presence
filled Laura with transports of exultation; and shy of displaying
it, and of the theme itself, she let her tongue run on, and satisfied
herself by smoothing the hand of the brave girl on her chin, and
plucking with little loving tugs at her skirts. In doing this she
suddenly gave a cry, as if stung.

‘You carry pins,’ she said. And inspecting the skirts more closely, ‘You
have a careless maid in that creature Giacinta; she lets paper stick to
your dress. What is this?’

Vittoria turned her head, and gathered up her dress to see.

‘Pinned with the butterfly!’ Laura spoke under her breath.

Vittoria asked what it meant.

‘Nothing--nothing,’ said her friend, and rose, pulling her eagerly
toward the lamp.

A small bronze butterfly secured a square piece of paper with clipped
corners to her dress. Two words were written on it:--

             ‘SEI SOSPETTA.’



CHAPTER XII

THE BRONZE BUTTERFLY

The two women were facing one another in a painful silence when Carlo
Ammiani was announced to them. He entered with a rapid stride, and
struck his hands together gladly at sight of Vittoria.

Laura met his salutation by lifting the accusing butterfly attached to
Vittoria’s dress.

‘Yes; I expected it,’ he said, breathing quick from recent exertion.
‘They are kind--they give her a personal warning. Sometimes the dagger
heads the butterfly. I have seen the mark on the Play-bills affixed to
the signorina’s name.’

‘What does it mean?’ said Laura, speaking huskily, with her head bent
over the bronze insect. ‘What can it mean?’ she asked again, and looked
up to meet a covert answer.

‘Unpin it.’ Vittoria raised her arms as if she felt the thing to be
enveloping her.

The signora loosened the pin from its hold; but dreading lest she
thereby sacrificed some possible clue to the mystery, she hesitated in
her action, and sent an intolerable shiver of spite through Vittoria’s
frame, at whom she gazed in a cold and cruel way, saying, ‘Don’t
tremble.’ And again, ‘Is it the doing of that ‘garritrice magrezza,’
whom you call ‘la Lazzeruola?’ Speak. Can you trace it to her hand? Who
put the plague-mark upon you?’

Vittoria looked steadily away from her.

‘It means just this,’ Carlo interposed; ‘there! now it ‘s off; and,
signorina, I entreat you to think nothing of it,--it means that any one
who takes a chief part in the game we play, shall and must provoke
all fools, knaves, and idiots to think and do their worst. They can’t
imagine a pure devotion. Yes, I see--“Sei sospetta.” They would write
their ‘Sei sospetta’ upon St. Catherine in the Wheel. Put it out of your
mind. Pass it.’

‘But they suspect her; and why do they suspect her?’ Laura questioned
vehemently. ‘I ask, is it a Conservatorio rival, or the brand of one of
the Clubs? She has no answer.’

‘Observe.’ Carlo laid the paper under her eyes.

Three angles were clipped, the fourth was doubled under. He turned it
back and disclosed the initials B. R. ‘This also is the work of our
man-devil, as I thought. I begin to think that we shall be eternally
thwarted, until we first clear our Italy of its vermin. Here is a
weazel, a snake, a tiger, in one. They call him the Great Cat. He
fancies himself a patriot,--he is only a conspirator. I denounce him,
but he gets the faith of people, our Agostino among them, I believe. The
energy of this wretch is terrific. He has the vigour of a fasting saint.
Myself--I declare it to you, signora, with shame, I know what it is to
fear this man. He has Satanic blood, and the worst is, that the Chief
trusts him.’

‘Then, so do I,’ said Laura.

‘And I,’ Vittoria echoed her.

A sudden squeeze beset her fingers. ‘And I trust you,’ Laura said to
her. ‘But there has been some indiscretion. My child, wait: give no
heed to me, and have no feelings. Carlo, my friend--my husband’s
boy--brother-in-arms! let her teach you to be generous. She must have
been indiscreet. Has she friends among the Austrians? I have one, and
it is known, and I am not suspected. But, has she? What have you said or
done that might cause them to suspect you? Speak, Sandra mia.’

It was difficult for Vittoria to speak upon the theme, which made her
appear as a criminal replying to a charge. At last she said, ‘English:
I have no foreign friends but English. I remember nothing that I have
done.--Yes, I have said I thought I might tremble if I was led out to be
shot.’

‘Pish! tush!’ Laura checked her. ‘They flog women, they do not shoot
them. They shoot men.’

‘That is our better fortune,’ said Ammiani.

‘But, Sandra, my sister,’ Laura persisted now, in melodious coaxing
tones. ‘Can you not help us to guess? I am troubled: I am stung. It is
for your sake I feel it so. Can’t you imagine who did it, for instance?’

‘No, signora, I cannot,’ Vittoria replied.

‘You can’t guess?’

I cannot help you.’

‘You will not!’ said the irritable woman. ‘Have you noticed no one
passing near you?’

‘A woman brushed by me as I entered this street. I remember no one else.
And my Beppo seized a man who was spying on me, as he said. That is all
I can remember.’

Vittoria turned her face to Ammiani.

‘Barto Rizzo has lived in England,’ he remarked, half to himself. ‘Did
you come across a man called Barto Rizzo there, signorina? I suspect him
to be the author of this.’

At the name of Barto Rizzo, Laura’s eyes widened, awakening a memory in
Ammiani; and her face had a spectral wanness.

‘I must go to my chamber,’ she said. ‘Talk of it together. I will be
with you soon.’

She left them.

Ammiani bent over to Vittoria’s ear. ‘It was this man who sent the
warning to Giacomo, the signora’s husband, which he despised, and which
would have saved him.

It is the only good thing I know of Barto Rizzo. Pardon her.’

‘I do,’ said the girl, now weeping.

‘She has evidently a rooted superstitious faith in these revolutionary
sign-marks. They are contagious to her. She loves you, and believes in
you, and will kneel to you for forgiveness by-and-by. Her misery is a
disease. She thinks now, “If my husband had given heed to the warning!”

‘Yes, I see how her heart works,’ said Vittoria. ‘You knew her husband,
Signor Carlo?’

‘I knew him. I served under him. He was the brother of my love. I shall
have no other.’

Vittoria placed her hand for Ammiani to take it. He joined his own to
the fevered touch. The heart of the young man swelled most ungovernably,
but the perils of the morrow were imaged by him, circling her as with a
tragic flame, and he had no word for his passion.

The door opened, when a noble little boy bounded into the room; followed
by a little girl in pink and white, like a streamer in the steps of
her brother. With shouts, and with arms thrown forward, they flung
themselves upon Vittoria, the boy claiming all her lap, and the girl
struggling for a share of the kingdom. Vittoria kissed them, crying,
‘No, no, no, Messer Jack, this is a republic, and not an empire, and you
are to have no rights of “first come”; and Amalia sits on one knee, and
you on one knee, and you sit face to face, and take hands, and swear to
be satisfied.’

‘Then I desire not to be called an English Christian name, and you will
call me Giacomo,’ said the boy.

Vittoria sang, in mountain-notes, ‘Giacomo!--Giacomo--Giac-giac-giac..
como!’

The children listened, glistening up at her, and in conjunction jumped
and shouted for more.

‘More?’ said Vittoria; ‘but is the Signor Carlo no friend of ours? and
does he wear a magic ring that makes him invisible?’

‘Let the German girl go to him,’ said Giacomo, and strained his throat
to reach at kisses.

‘I am not a German girl,’ little Amalia protested, refusing to go to
Carlo Ammiani under that stigma, though a delightful haven of open arms
and knees, and filliping fingers, invited her.

‘She is not a German girl, O Signor Giacomo,’ said Vittoria, in the
theatrical manner.

‘She has a German name.’

‘It’s not a German name!’ the little girl shrieked.

Giacomo set Amalia to a miauling tune.

‘So, you hate the Duchess of Graatli!’ said Vittoria. ‘Very well. I
shall remember.’

The boy declared that he did not hate his mother’s friend and sister’s
godmother: he rather liked her, he really liked her, he loved her; but
he loathed the name ‘Amalia,’ and could not understand why the duchess
would be a German. He concluded by miauling ‘Amalia’ in the triumph of
contempt.

‘Cat, begone!’ said Vittoria, promptly setting him down on his feet, and
little Amalia at the same time perceiving that practical sympathy only
required a ring at the bell for it to come out, straightway pulled the
wires within herself, and emitted a doleful wail that gave her sole
possession of Vittoria’s bosom, where she was allowed to bring her tears
to an end very comfortingly. Giacomo meanwhile, his body bent in an
arch, plucked at Carlo Ammiani’s wrists with savagely playful tugs, and
took a stout boy’s lesson in the art of despising what he coveted. He
had only to ask for pardon. Finding it necessary, he came shyly up
to Vittoria, who put Amalia in his way, kissing whom, he was himself
tenderly kissed.

‘But girls should not cry!’ Vittoria reproved the little woman.

‘Why do you cry?’ asked Amalia simply.

‘See! she has been crying.’ Giacomo appropriated the discovery, perforce
of loudness, after the fashion of his sex.

‘Why does our Vittoria cry?’ both the children clamoured.

‘Because your mother is such a cruel sister to her,’ said Laura, passing
up to them from the doorway. She drew Vittoria’s head against her
breast, looked into her eyes, and sat down among them. Vittoria sang
one low-toned soft song, like the voice of evening, before they were
dismissed to their beds. She could not obey Giacomo’s demand for a
martial air, and had to plead that she was tired.

When the children had gone, it was as if a truce had ended. The signora
and Ammiani fell to a brisk counterchange of questions relating to the
mysterious suspicion which had fallen upon Vittoria. Despite Laura’s
love for her, she betrayed her invincible feeling that there must be
some grounds for special or temporary distrust.

‘The lives that hang on it knock at me here,’ she said, touching under
her throat with fingers set like falling arrows.

But Ammiani, who moved in the centre of conspiracies, met at their
councils, and knew their heads, and frequently combated their schemes,
was not possessed by the same profound idea of their potential command
of hidden facts and sovereign wisdom. He said, ‘We trust too much to one
man. We are compelled to trust him, but we trust too much to him. I mean
this man, this devil, Barto Rizzo. Signora, signora, he must be spoken
of. He has dislocated the plot. He is the fanatic of the revolution,
and we are trusting him as if he had full sway of reason. What is the
consequence? The Chief is absent he is now, as I believe, in Genoa. All
the plan for the rising is accurate; the instruments are ready, and
we are paralyzed. I have been to three houses to-night, and where, two
hours previously, there was union and concert, all are irresolute and
divided. I have hurried off a messenger to the Chief. Until we hear from
him, nothing can be done. I left Ugo Corte storming against us Milanese,
threatening, as usual, to work without us, and have a Bergamasc and
Brescian Republic of his own. Count Medole is for a week’s postponement.
Agostino smiles and chuckles, and talks his poetisms.’

‘Until you hear from the Chief, nothing is to be done?’ Laura said
passionately. ‘Are we to remain in suspense? Impossible! I cannot
bear it. We have plenty of arms in the city. Oh, that we had cannon!
I worship cannon! They are the Gods of battle! But if we surprise the
citadel;--one true shock of alarm makes a mob of an army. I have heard
my husband say so. Let there be no delay. That is my word.’

‘But, signora, do you see that all concert about the signal is lost?’

‘My friend, I see something’; Laura nodded a significant half-meaning
at him. ‘And perhaps it will be as well. Go at once. See that another
signal is decided upon. Oh! because we are ready--ready. Inaction now
is uttermost anguish--kills the heart. What number of the white butchers
have we in the city to-night?’

‘They are marching in at every gate. I saw a regiment of Hungarians
coming up the Borgo della Stella. Two fresh squadrons of Uhlans in the
Corso Francesco. In the Piazza d’Armi artillery is encamped.’

‘The better for Brescia, for Bergamo, for Padua, for Venice!’ exclaimed
Laura. ‘There is a limit to their power. We Milanese can match them. For
days and days I have had a dream lying in my bosom that Milan was soon
to breathe. Go, my brother; go to Barto Rizzo; gather him and Count
Medole, Agostino, and Colonel Corte--to whom I kiss my fingers--gather
them together, and squeeze their brains for the one spark of divine fire
in this darkness which must exist where there are so many thorough men
bent upon a sacred enterprise. And, Carlo,’--Laura checked her nervous
voice, ‘don’t think I am declaiming to you from one of my “Midnight
Lamps.”’ (She spoke of the title of her pamphlets to the Italian
people.) ‘You feel among us women very much as Agostino and Colonel
Corte feel when the boy Carlo airs his impetuosities in their presence.
Yes, my fervour makes a philosopher of you. That is human nature. Pity
me, pardon me, and do my bidding.’

The comparison of Ammiani’s present sentiments to those of the elders of
the conspiracy, when his mouth was open in their midst, was severe and
masterful, for the young man rose instantly without a thought in his
head.

He remarked: ‘I will tell them that the signorina does not give the
signal.’

‘Tell them that the name she has chosen shall be Vittoria still; but
say, that she feels a shadow of suspicion to be an injunction upon her
at such a crisis, and she will serve silently and humbly until she is
rightly known, and her time comes. She is willing to appear before them,
and submit to interrogation. She knows her innocence, and knowing that
they work for the good of the country, she, if it is their will, is
content to be blotted out of all participation:--all! She abjures all
for the common welfare. Say that. And say, to-morrow night the rising
must be. Oh! to-morrow night! It is my husband to me.’

Laura Piaveni crossed her arms upon her bosom.

Ammiani was moving from them with a downward face, when a bell-note of
Vittoria’s voice arrested him.

‘Stay, Signor Carlo; I shall sing to-morrow night.’

The widow heard her through that thick emotion which had just closed
her’ speech with its symbolical sensuous rapture. Divining opposition
fiercely, like a creature thwarted when athirst for the wells, she gave
her a terrible look, and then said cajolingly, as far as absence of
sweetness could make the tones pleasant, ‘Yes, you will sing, but you
will not sing that song.’

‘It is that song which I intend to sing, signora.’

‘When it is interdicted?’

‘There is only one whose interdict I can acknowledge.’

‘You will dare to sing in defiance of me?’

‘I dare nothing when I simply do my duty.’

Ammiani went up to the window, and leaned there, eyeing the lights
leading down to the crowding Piazza. He wished that he were among the
crowd, and might not hear those sharp stinging utterances coming from
Laura, and Vittoria’s unwavering replies, less frequent, but firmer, and
gravely solid. Laura spent her energy in taunts, but Vittoria spoke
only of her resolve, and to the point. It was, as his military instincts
framed the simile, like the venomous crackling of skirmishing rifles
before a fortress, that answered slowly with its volume of sound and
sweeping shot. He had the vision of himself pleading to secure her
safety, and in her hearing, on the Motterone, where she had seemed so
simple a damsel, albeit nobly enthusiastic: too fair, too gentle to be
stationed in any corner of the conflict at hand. Partly abased by the
remembrance of his brainless intercessions then, and of the laughter
which had greeted them, and which the signora had recently recalled, it
was nevertheless not all in self-abasement (as the momentary recognition
of a splendid character is commonly with men) that he perceived the
stature of Vittoria’s soul. Remembering also what the Chief had spoken
of women, Ammiani thought ‘Perhaps he has known one such as she.’ The
passion of the young man’s heart magnified her image. He did not wonder
to see the signora acknowledge herself worsted in the conflict.

‘She talks like the edge of a sword,’ cried Laura, desperately, and
dropped into a chair. ‘Take her home, and convince her, if you can,
on the way, Carlo. I go to the Duchess of Graatli to-night. She has a
reception. Take this girl home. She says she will sing: she obeys the
Chief, and none but the Chief. We will not suppose that it is her desire
to shine. She is suspected; she is accused; she is branded; there is no
general faith in her; yet she will hold the torch to-morrow night:--and
what ensues? Some will move, some turn back, some run headlong over to
treachery, some hang irresolute all are for the shambles! The blood is
on her head.’

‘I will excuse myself to you another time,’ said Vittoria. ‘I love you,
Signora Laura.’

‘You do, you do, or you would not think of excusing yourself to me,’
said Laura. ‘But now, go. You have cut me in two. Carlo Ammiani may
succeed where I have failed, and I have used every weapon; enough to
make a mean creature hate me for life and kiss me with transports. Do
your best, Carlo, and let it be your utmost.’

It remained for Ammiani to assure her that their views were different.

‘The signorina persists in her determination to carry out the programme
indicated by the Chief, and refuses to be diverted from her path by the
false suspicions of subordinates.’ He employed a sententious phraseology
instinctively, as men do when they are nervous, as well as when they
justify the cynic’s definition of the uses of speech. ‘The signorina is,
in my opinion, right. If she draws back, she publicly accepts the blot
upon her name. I speak against my own feelings and my wishes.’

‘Sandra, do you hear?’ exclaimed Laura. ‘This is a friend’s
interpretation of your inconsiderate wilfulness.’

Vittoria was content to reply, ‘The Signor Carlo judges of me
differently.’

‘Go, then, and be fortified by him in this headstrong folly.’ Laura
motioned her hand, and laid it on her face.

Vittoria knelt and enclosed her with her arms, kissing her knees.

‘Beppo waits for me at the house-door,’ she said; but Carlo chose not to
hear of this shadow-like Beppo.

‘You have nothing to say for her save that she clears her name by giving
the signal,’ Laura burst out on his temperate ‘Addio,’ and started to
her feet. ‘Well, let it be so. Fruitless blood again! A ‘rivederla’ to
you both. To-night I am in the enemy’s camp. They play with open
cards. Amalia tells me all she knows by what she disguises. I may learn
something. Come to me to-morrow. My Sandra, I will kiss you. These
shudderings of mine have no meaning.’

The signora embraced her, and took Ammiani’s salute upon her fingers.

‘Sour fingers!’ he said. She leaned her cheek to him, whispering, ‘I
could easily be persuaded to betray you.’

He answered, ‘I must have some merit in not betraying myself.’

‘At each elbow!’ she laughed. ‘You show the thumps of an electric
battery at each elbow, and expect your Goddess of lightnings not to see
that she moves you. Go. You have not sided with me, and I am right, and
I am a woman. By the way, Sandra mia, I would beg the loan of your Beppo
for two hours or less.’

Vittoria placed Beppo at her disposal.

‘And you run home to bed,’ continued Laura. ‘Reason comes to you
obstinate people when you are left alone for a time in the dark.’

She hardly listened to Vittoria’s statement that the chief singers in
the new opera were engaged to attend a meeting at eleven at night at the
house of the maestro Rocco Ricci.



CHAPTER XIII

THE PLOT OF THE SIGNOR ANTONIO

There was no concealment as to Laura’s object in making request for the
services of Beppo. She herself knew it to be obvious that she intended
to probe and cross-examine the man, and in her wilfulness she chose to
be obtuse to opinion. She did not even blush to lean a secret ear above
the stairs that she might judge, by the tones of Vittoria’s voice upon
her giving Beppo the order to wait, whether she was at the same time
conveying a hint for guardedness. But Vittoria said not a word: it was
Ammiani who gave the order. ‘I am despicable in distrusting her for
a single second,’ said Laura. That did not the less encourage her to
question Beppo rigorously forthwith; and as she was not to be deceived
by an Italian’s affectation of simplicity, she let him answer two or
three times like a plain fool, and then abruptly accused him of standing
prepared with these answers. Beppo, within his own bosom, immediately
ascribed to his sagacious instinct the mere spirit of opposition and
dislike to serve any one save his own young mistress which had caused
him to irritate the signora and be on his guard. He proffered a candid
admission of the truth of the charge; adding, that he stood likewise
prepared with an unlimited number of statements. ‘Questions, illustrious
signora, invariably put me on the defensive, and seem to cry for a
return thrust; and this I account for by the fact that my mother--the
blessed little woman now among the Saints!--was questioned, brows and
heels, by a ferruginously--faced old judge at the momentous period when
she carried me. So that, a question--and I show point; but ask me for a
statement, and, ah, signora!’ Beppo delivered a sweep of the arm, as to
indicate the spontaneous flow of his tongue.

‘I think,’ said Laura, ‘you have been a soldier, and a serving-man.’

‘And a scene-shifter, most noble signora, at La Scala.’

‘You accompanied the Signor Mertyrio to England when he was wounded?’

‘I did.’

‘And there you beheld the Signorina Vittoria, who was then bearing the
name of Emilia Belloni?’

‘Which name she changed on her arrival in Italy, illustrious signora,
for that of Vittoria Campa--“sull’ campo dells gloria”--ah! ah!--her own
name being an attraction to the blow-flies in her own country. All this
is true.’

‘It should be a comfort to you! The Signor Mertyrio...’

Beppo writhed his person at the continuance of the questionings, and
obtaining a pause, he rushed into his statement: ‘The Signor Mertyrio
was well, and on the point of visiting Italy, and quitting the
wave-embraced island of fog, of beer, of moist winds, and much money,
and much kindness, where great hearts grew. The signorina corresponded
with him, and with him only.’

‘You know that, and will swear to it?’ Laura exclaimed.

Beppo thereby receiving the cue he had commenced beating for, swore to
its truth profoundly, and straightway directed his statement to prove
that his mistress had not been politically (or amorously, if the
suspicion aimed at her in those softer regions) indiscreet or blameable
in any of her actions. The signorina, he said, never went out from her
abode without the companionship of her meritorious mother and his own
most humble attendance. He, Beppo, had a master and a mistress, the
Signor Mertyrio and the Signorina Vittoria. She saw no foreigners:
though--a curious thing!--he had seen her when the English language was
talked in her neighbourhood; and she had a love for that language: it
made her face play in smiles like an infant’s after it has had suck and
is full;--the sort of look you perceive when one is dreaming and hears
music. She did not speak to foreigners. She did not care to go to
foreign cities, but loved Milan, and lived in it free and happy as
an earwig in a ripe apricot. The circumvallation of Milan gave her
elbow-room enough, owing to the absence of forts all round--‘which knock
one’s funny-bone in Verona, signora.’ Beppo presented a pure smile upon
a simple bow for acceptance. ‘The air of Milan,’ he went on, with less
confidence under Laura’s steady gaze, and therefore more forcing of his
candour--‘the sweet air of Milan gave her a deep chestful, so that she
could hold her note as long as five lengths of a fiddle-bow:--by the
body of Sant’ Ambrogio, it was true!’ Beppo stretched out his arm,
and chopped his hand edgeways five testificatory times on the
shoulder-ridge. ‘Ay, a hawk might fly from St. Luke’s head (on the
Duomo) to the stone on San Primo over Como, while the signorina held
on her note! You listened, you gasped--you thought of a poet in his
dungeon, and suddenly, behold, his chains are struck off!--you
thought of a gold-shelled tortoise making his pilgrimage to a beatific
shrine!--you thought--you knew not what you thought!’

Here Beppo sank into a short silence of ecstasy, and wakening from it,
as with an ardent liveliness: ‘The signora has heard her sing? How to
describe it! Tomorrow night will be a feast for Milan.’

‘You think that the dilettanti of Milan will have a delight to-morrow
night?’ said Laura; but seeing that the man’s keen ear had caught note
of the ironic reptile under the flower, and unwilling to lose further
time, she interdicted his reply.

‘Beppo, my good friend, you are a complete Italian--you waste
your cleverness. You will gratify me by remembering that I am your
countrywoman. I have already done you a similar favour by allowing you
to air your utmost ingenuity. The reflection that it has been to no
purpose will neither scare you nor instruct you. Of that I am quite
assured. I speak solely to suit the present occasion. Now, don’t seek
to elude me. If you are a snake with friends as well as enemies, you are
nothing but a snake. I ask you--you are not compelled to answer, but
I forbid you to lie--has your mistress seen, or conversed and had
correspondence with any one receiving the Tedeschi’s gold, man or woman?
Can any one, man or woman, call her a traitress?’

‘Not twice!’ thundered Beppo, with a furrowed red forehead.

There was a noble look about the fellow as he stood with stiff legs in
a posture, frowning--theatrical, but noble also; partly the look of a
Figaro defending his honour in extremity, yet much like a statue of a
French Marshal of the Empire.

‘That will do,’ said Laura, rising. She was about to leave him, when
the Duchess of Graatli’s chasseur was ushered in, bearing a missive from
Amalia, her friend. She opened it and read:--

   ‘BEST BELOVED,--Am I soon to be reminded bitterly that there is a
   river of steel between my heart and me?

   ‘Fail not in coming to-night. Your new Bulbul is in danger. The
   silly thing must have been reading Roman history. Say not no! It
   intoxicates you all. I watch over her for my Laura’s sake: a
   thousand kisses I shower on you, dark delicious soul that you are!
   Are you not my pine-grove leading to the evening star? Come, that
   we may consult how to spirit her away during her season of peril.
   Gulfs do not close over little female madcaps, my Laura; so we must
   not let her take the leap. Enter the salle when you arrive: pass
   down it once and return upon your steps; then to my boudoir. My
   maid Aennchen will conduct you. Addio. Tell this messenger that
   you come. Laura mine, I am for ever thy

                         ‘AMALIA.’

Laura signalled to the chasseur that her answer was affirmative. As he
was retiring, his black-plumed hat struck against Beppo, who thrust
him aside and gave the hat a dexterous kick, all the while keeping a
decorous front toward the signora. She stood meditating. The enraged
chasseur mumbled a word or two for Beppo’s ear, in execrable Italian,
and went. Beppo then commenced bowing half toward the doorway, and tried
to shoot through, out of sight and away, in a final droop of excessive
servility, but the signora stopped him, telling him to consider himself
her servant until the morning; at which he manifested a surprising
readiness, indicative of nothing short of personal devotion, and
remained for two minutes after she had quitted the room. So much time
having elapsed, he ran bounding down the stairs and found the hall-door
locked, and that he was a prisoner during the signora’s pleasure.
The discovery that he was mastered by superior cunning, instead of
disconcerting, quieted him wonderfully; so he put by the resources of
his ingenuity for the next opportunity, and returned stealthily to his
starting-point, where the signora found him awaiting her with composure.
The man was in mortal terror lest he might be held guilty of a trust
betrayed, in leaving his mistress for an hour, even in obedience to her
command, at this crisis: but it was not in his nature to state the case
openly to the signora, whom he knew to be his mistress’s friend, or to
think of practising other than shrewd evasion to accomplish his duty and
satisfy his conscience.

Laura said, without smiling, ‘The street-door opens with a key,’ and
she placed the key in his hand, also her fan to carry. Once out of the
house, she was sure that he would not forsake his immediate charge of
the fan: she walked on, heavily veiled, confident of his following. The
Duchess of Graatli’s house neighboured the Corso Francesco; numerous
carriages were disburdening their freights of fair guests, and now and
then an Austrian officer in full uniform ran up the steps, glittering
under the lamps. ‘I go in among them,’ thought Laura. It rejoiced her
that she had come on foot. Forgetting Beppo, and her black fan, as no
Italian woman would have done but she who paced in an acute quivering of
the anguish of hopeless remembrances and hopeless thirst of vengeance,
she suffered herself to be conducted in the midst of the guests, and
shuddered like one who has taken a fever-chill as she fulfilled the
duchess’s directions; she passed down the length of the saloon, through
a light of visages that were not human to her sensations.

Meantime Beppo, oppressed by his custody of the fan, and expecting that
most serviceable lady’s instrument to be sent for at any minute, stood
among a strange body of semi-feudal retainers below, where he was soon
singled out by the duchess’s chasseur, a Styrian, who, masking his fury
under jest, in the South-German manner, endeavoured to lead him up to
an altercation. But Beppo was much too supple to be entrapped. He
apologized for any possible offences that he might have committed,
assuring the chasseur that he considered one hat as good as another,
and some hats better than others: in proof of extreme cordiality, he
accepted the task of repeating the chasseur’s name, which was ‘Jacob
Baumwalder Feckelwitz,’ a tolerable mouthful for an Italian; and it was
with remarkable delicacy that Beppo contrived to take upon himself the
whole ridicule of his vile pronunciation of the unwieldy name. Jacob
Baumwalder Feckelwitz offered him beer to refresh him after the effort.
While Beppo was drinking, he seized the fan. ‘Good; good; a thousand
thanks,’ said Beppo, relinquishing it; ‘convey it aloft, I beseech you.’
He displayed such alacrity and lightness of limb at getting rid of it,
that Jacob thrust it between the buttons of his shirtfront, returning
it to his possession by that aperture. Beppo’s head sank. A handful of
black lace and cedarwood chained him to the spot! He entreated the men
in livery to take the fan upstairs and deliver it to the Signora Laura
Piaveni; but they, being advised by Jacob, refused. ‘Go yourself,’
said Jacob, laughing, and little prepared to see the victim, on whom he
thought that for another hour at least he had got his great paw firmly,
take him at his word. Beppo sprang into the hall and up the stairs. The
duchess’s maid, ivory-faced Aennchen, was flying past him. She saw a
very taking dark countenance making eyes at her, leaned her ear shyly,
and pretending to understand all that was said by the rapid foreign
tongue, acted from the suggestion of the sole thing which she did
understand. Beppo had mentioned the name of the Signora Piaveni. ‘This
way,’ she indicated with her finger, supposing that of course he wanted
to see the signora very urgently.

Beppo tried hard to get her to carry the fan; but she lifted her fingers
in a perfect Susannah horror of it, though still bidding him to follow.
Naturally she did not go fast through the dark passages, where the
game of the fan was once more played out, and with accompaniments. The
accompaniments she objected to no further than a fish is agitated in
escaping from the hook; but ‘Nein, nein!’ in her own language, and ‘No,
no!’ in his, burst from her lips whenever he attempted to transfer the
fan to her keeping. ‘These white women are most wonderful!’ thought
Beppo, ready to stagger between perplexity and impatience.

‘There; in there!’ said Aennchen, pointing to a light that came
through the folds of a curtain. Beppo kissed her fingers as they tugged
unreluctantly in his clutch, and knew by a little pause that the case
was hopeful for higher privileges. What to do? He had not an instant
to spare; yet he dared not offend a woman’s vanity. He gave an ecstatic
pressure of her hand upon his breastbone, to let her be sure she was
adored, albeit not embraced. After this act of prudence he went toward
the curtain, while the fair Austrian soubrette flew on her previous
errand.

It was enough that Beppo found himself in a dark antechamber for him to
be instantly scrupulous in his footing and breathing. As he touched the
curtain, a door opened on the other side of the interior, and a tender
gabble of fresh feminine voices broke the stillness and ran on like a
brook coming from leaps to a level, and again leaping and making noise
of joy. The Duchess of Graatli had clasped the Signora Laura’s two hands
and drawn her to an ottoman, and between kissings and warmer claspings,
was questioning of the little ones, Giacomo and her goddaughter Amalia.

‘When, when did I see you last?’ she exclaimed. ‘Oh! not since we met
that morning to lay our immortelles upon his tomb. My soul’s sister!
kiss me, remembering it. I saw you in the gateway--it seemed to me,
as in a vision, that we had both had one warning to come for him, and
knock, and the door would be opened, and our beloved would come forth!
That was many days back. It is to me like a day locked up forever in a
casket of pearl. Was it not an unstained morning, my own! If I weep, it
is with pleasure. But,’ she added with precipitation, ‘weeping of any
kind will not do for these eyelids of mine.’ And drawing forth a tiny
gold-framed pocket-mirror she perceived convincingly that it would not
do.

‘They will think it is for the absence of my husband,’ she said, as only
a woman can say it who deplores nothing so little as that.

‘When does he return from Vienna?’ Laura inquired in the fallen voice of
her thoughtfulness.

‘I receive two couriers a week; I know not any more, my Laura. I believe
he is pushing some connubial complaint against me at the Court. We have
been married seventeen months. I submitted to the marriage because I
could get no proper freedom without, and now I am expected to abstain
from the very thing I sacrificed myself to get! Can he hear that in
Vienna?’ She snapped her fingers. ‘If not, let him come and behold it in
Milan. Besides, he is harmless. The Archduchess is all ears for the very
man of whom he is jealous. This is my reply: You told me to marry:
I obeyed. My heart ‘s in the earth, and I must have distractions. My
present distraction is De Pyrmont, a good Catholic and a good Austrian
soldier, though a Frenchman. I grieve to say--it’s horrible--that it
sometimes tickles me when I reflect that De Pyrmont is keen with the
sword. But remember, Laura, it was not until after our marriage my
husband told me he could have saved Giacomo by the lifting of a finger.
Away with the man!--if it amuses me to punish him, I do so.’

The duchess kissed Laura’s cheek, and continued:--‘Now to the point
where we stand enemies! I am for Austria, you are for Italy. Good. But I
am always for Laura. So, there’s a river between us and a bridge across
it. My darling, do you know that we are much too strong for you, if you
mean anything serious tomorrow night?’

‘Are you?’ Laura said calmly.

‘I know, you see, that something is meant to happen to-morrow night.’

Laura said, ‘Do you?’

‘We have positive evidence of it. More than that: Your Vittoria--but
do you care to have her warned? She will certainly find herself in a
pitfall if she insists on carrying out her design. Tell me, do you
care to have her warned and shielded? A year of fortress-life is not
agreeable, is not beneficial for the voice. Speak, my Laura.’

Laura looked up in the face of her friend mildly with her large dark
eyes, replying, ‘Do you think of sending Major de Pyrmont to her to warn
her?’

‘Are you not wicked?’ cried the duchess, feeling that she blushed, and
that Laura had thrown her off the straight road of her interrogation.
‘But, play cards with open hands, my darling, to-night. Look:--She is in
danger. I know it; so do you. She will be imprisoned perhaps before she
steps on the boards--who knows? Now, I--are not my very dreams all sworn
in a regiment to serve my Laura?--I have a scheme. Truth, it is
hardly mine. It belongs to the Greek, the Signor Antonio Pericles
Agriolopoulos. It is simply’--the duchess dropped her voice out of
Beppo’s hearing--‘a scheme to rescue her: speed her away to my chateau
near Meran in Tyrol.’ ‘Tyrol’ was heard by Beppo. In his frenzy at the
loss of the context he indulged in a yawn, and a grimace, and a dance of
disgust all in one; which lost him the next sentence likewise. ‘There
we purpose keeping her till all is quiet and her revolutionary fever
has passed. Have you heard of this Signor Antonio? He could buy up the
kingdom of Greece, all Tyrol, half Lombardy. The man has a passion for
your Vittoria; for her voice solely, I believe. He is considered, no
doubt truly, a great connoisseur. He could have a passion for nothing
else, or alas!’ (the duchess shook her head with doleful drollery)
‘would he insist on written securities and mortgages of my private
property when he lends me money? How different the world is from the
romances, my Laura! But for De Pyrmont, I might fancy my smile was
really incapable of ransoming an empire; I mean an emperor. Speak; the
man is waiting to come; shall I summon him?’

Laura gave an acquiescent nod.

By this time Beppo had taken root to the floor. ‘I am in the best place
after all,’ he said, thinking of the duties of his service. He was
perfectly well acquainted with the features of the Signor Antonio. He
knew that Luigi was the Signor Antonio’s spy upon Vittoria, and that no
personal harm was intended toward his mistress; but Beppo’s heart was in
the revolt of which Vittoria was to give the signal; so, without a touch
of animosity, determined to thwart him, Beppo waited to hear the Signor
Antonio’s scheme.

The Greek was introduced by Aennchen. She glanced at the signora’s lap,
and seeing her still without her fan, her eye shot slyly up with her
shining temple, inspecting the narrow opening in the curtain furtively.
A short hush of preluding ceremonies passed.

Presently Beppo heard them speaking; he was aghast to find that he
had no comprehension of what they were uttering. ‘Oh, accursed French
dialect!’ he groaned; discovering the talk to be in that tongue.
The Signor Antonio warmed rapidly from the frigid politeness of his
introductory manner. A consummate acquaintance with French was required
to understand him. He held out the fingers of one hand in regimental
order, and with the others, which alternately screwed his moustache from
its constitutional droop over the corners of his mouth, he touched the
uplifted digits one by one, buzzing over them: flashing his white eyes,
and shrugging in a way sufficient to madden a surreptitious listener
who was aware that a wealth of meaning escaped him and mocked at him. At
times the Signor Antonio pitched a note compounded half of cursing, half
of crying, it seemed: both pathetic and objurgative, as if he whimpered
anathemas and had inexpressible bitter things in his mind. But there
was a remedy! He displayed the specific on a third finger. It was there.
This being done (number three on the fingers), matters might still be
well. So much his electric French and gesticulations plainly asserted.
Beppo strained all his attention for names, in despair at the riddle of
the signs. Names were pillars of light in the dark unintelligible waste.
The signora put a question. It was replied to with the name of the
Maestro Rocco Ricci. Following that, the Signor Antonio accompanied his
voluble delivery with pantomimic action which seemed to indicate the
shutting of a door and an instantaneous galloping of horses--a flight
into air, any-whither. He whipped the visionary steeds with enthusiastic
glee, and appeared to be off skyward like a mad poet, when the signora
again put a question, and at once he struck his hand flat across his
mouth, and sat postured to answer what she pleased with a glare of
polite vexation. She spoke; he echoed her, and the duchess took up the
same phrase. Beppo was assisted by the triangular recurrence of the
words and their partial relationship to Italian to interpret them:
‘This night.’ Then the signora questioned further. The Greek replied:
‘Mademoiselle Irma di Karski.’

‘La Lazzeruola,’ she said.

The Signor Antonio flashed a bit of sarcastic mimicry, as if acquiescing
in the justice of the opprobrious term from the high point of view: but
mademoiselle might pass, she was good enough for the public.

Beppo heard and saw no more. A tug from behind recalled him to his
situation. He put out his arms and gathered Aennchen all dark in them:
and first kissing her so heartily as to set her trembling on the verge
of a betrayal, before she could collect her wits he struck the fan down
the pretty hollow of her back, between her shoulder-blades, and bounded
away. It was not his intention to rush into the embrace of Jacob
Baumwalder Feckelwitz, but that perambulating chasseur received him in
a semi-darkness where all were shadows, and exclaimed, ‘Aennchen!’ Beppo
gave an endearing tenderness to the few words of German known to him:
‘Gottschaf-donner-dummer!’ and slipped from the hold of the astonished
Jacob, sheer under his arm-pit. He was soon in the street, excited
he knew not by what, or for what object. He shuffled the names he
remembered to have just heard--‘Rocco Ricci, and ‘la Lazzeruola.’ Why
did the name of la Lazzeruola come in advance of la Vittoria? And what
was the thing meant by ‘this night,’ which all three had uttered as in
an agreement?--ay! and the Tyrol! The Tyrol--this night-Rocco Ricci la
Lazzeruola!

Beppo’s legs were carrying him toward the house of the Maestro Rocco
Ricci ere he had arrived at any mental decision upon these imminent
mysteries.



CHAPTER XIV

AT THE MAESTRO’S DOOR

The house of the Maestro Rocco Ricci turned off the Borgo della Stella.
Carlo Ammiani conducted Vittoria to the maestro’s door. They conversed
very little on the way.

‘You are a good swordsman?’ she asked him abruptly.

‘I have as much skill as belongs to a perfect intimacy with the weapon,’
he answered.

‘Your father was a soldier, Signor Carlo.’

‘He was a General officer in what he believed to be the army of Italy.
We used to fence together every day for two hours.’

‘I love the fathers who do that,’ said Vittoria.

After such speaking Ammiani was not capable of the attempt to preach
peace and safety to her. He postponed it to the next minute and the
next.

Vittoria’s spirit was in one of those angry knots which are half of the
intellect, half of the will, and are much under the domination of one or
other of the passions in the ascendant. She was resolved to go forward;
she felt justified in going forward; but the divine afflatus of
enthusiasm buoyed her no longer, and she required the support of all
that accuracy of insight and that senseless stubbornness which there
might be in her nature. The feeling that it was she to whom it was given
to lift the torch and plant the standard of Italy, had swept her as
through the strings of a harp. Laura, and the horrible little bronze
butterfly, and the ‘Sei sospetta,’ now made her duty seem dry and
miserably fleshless, imaging itself to her as if a skeleton had been
told to arise and walk:--say, the thing obeys, and fills a ghastly
distension of men’s eyelids for a space, and again lies down, and men
get their breath: but who is the rosier for it? where is the glory of
it? what is the good? This Milan, and Verona, Padua, Vicenza, Brescia,
Venice, Florence, the whole Venetian, Tuscan, and Lombardic lands, down
to far Sicily, and that Rome which always lay under the crown of a dead
sunset in her idea--they too might rise; but she thought of them as
skeletons likewise. Even the shadowy vision of Italy Free had no
bloom on it, and stood fronting the blown trumpets of resurrection
Lazarus-like.

At these moments young hearts, though full of sap and fire, cannot do
common nursing labour for the little suckling sentiments and hopes,
the dreams, the languors and the energies hanging about them for
nourishment. Vittoria’s horizon was within five feet of her. She saw
neither splendid earth nor ancient heaven; nothing save a breach to
be stepped over in defiance of foes and (what was harder to brave) of
friends. Some wayward activity of old associations set her humming a
quaint English tune, by which she was brought to her consciousness.

‘Dear friend,’ she said, becoming aware that there might be a more
troubled depth in Ammiani’s absence of speech than in her own.

‘Yes?’ said he, quickly, as for a sentence to follow. None came, and he
continued, ‘The Signora Laura is also your friend.’

She rejoined coldly, ‘I am not thinking of her.’

Vittoria had tried to utter what might be a word of comfort for him, and
she found she had not a thought or an emotion. Here she differed from
Laura, who, if the mood to heal a favourite’s little sore at any season
came upon her, would shower out lively tendernesses and all cajoleries
possible to the tongue of woman. Yet the irritation of action narrowed
Laura more than it did Vittoria; fevered her and distracted her
sympathies. Being herself a plaything at the time, she could easily play
a part for others. Vittoria had not grown, probably never would grow, to
be so plastic off the stage. She was stringing her hand to strike a blow
as men strike, and women when they do that cannot be quite feminine.

‘How dull the streets are,’ she remarked.

‘They are, just now,’ said Ammiani, thinking of them on the night to
come convulsed with strife, and of her, tossed perhaps like a weed along
the torrent of bloody deluge waters. Her step was so firm, her face so
assured, that he could not fancy she realized any prospect of the sort,
and it filled him with pity and a wretched quailing.

If I speak now I shall be talking like a coward, he said to himself:
and he was happily too prudent to talk to her in that strain. So he said
nothing of peace and safety. She was almost at liberty to believe that
he approved the wisdom of her resolution. At the maestro’s door she
thanked him for his escort, and begged for it further within an hour.
‘And do bring me some chocolate.’ She struck her teeth together champing
in a pretty hunger for it. ‘I have no chocolate in my pocket, and I
hardly know myself.’

‘What will your Signor Antonio say?’

Vittoria filliped her fingers. ‘His rule is over, and he is my slave: I
am not his. I will not eat much; but some some I must have.’

Ammiani laughed and promised to obtain it. ‘That is, if there’s any to
be had.’

‘Break open doors to get it for me,’ she said, stamping with fun to
inspirit him.

No sooner was she standing alone, than her elbow was gently plucked at
on the other side: a voice was sibilating: ‘S-s-signorina.’ She allowed
herself to be drawn out of the light of the open doorway, having no
suspicion and no fear. ‘Signorina, here is chocolate.’ She beheld two
hands in cup-shape, surcharged with packets of Turin chocolate.

‘Lugi, it is you?’

The Motterone spy screwed his eyelids to an expression of the shrewdest
secresy.

‘Hist! signorina. Take some. You shall have all, but wait:--by-and-by.
Aha! you look at my eyes as you did on the Monterone, because one
of them takes the shoulder-view; but, the truth is, my father was a
contrabandist, and had his eye in his ear when the frontier guard sent
a bullet through his back, cotton-bags and cutleries, and all! I inherit
from him, and have been wry-eyed ever since. How does that touch a
man’s honesty, signorina? Not at all. Don’t even suspect that you won’t
appreciate Luigi by-and-by. So, you won’t ask me a word, signorina,
but up you go to the maestro:--signorina, I swear I am your faithful
servant--up to the maestro, and down first. Come down first not
last:--first. Let the other one come down after you; and you come down
first. Leave her behind, la Lazzeruola; and here, ‘Luigi displayed a
black veil, the common head-dress of the Milanese women, and twisted his
fingers round and round on his forehead to personate the horns of the
veil; ‘take it, signorina; you know how to wear it. Luigi and the saints
watch over you.’ Vittoria found herself left in possession of the veil
and a packet of chocolate.

‘If I am watched over by the saints and Luigi,’ she thought, and bit at
the chocolate.

When the door had closed upon her, Luigi resumed his station near
it, warily casting his glances along the house-fronts, and moving his
springy little legs like a heath-cock alert. They carried him sharp to
an opposite corner of the street at a noise of some one running exposed
to all eyes right down the middle of the road, straight to the house: in
which foolish person he discerned Beppo, all of whose proceedings
Luigi observed and commented on from the safe obscurity under eaves and
starlight, while Beppo was in the light of the lamps. ‘You thunder
at the door, my Beppo. You are a fire-balloon: you are going to burn
yourself up with what you carry. You think you can do something, because
you read books and frequent the talking theatres--fourteen syllables
to a word. Mother of heaven! will you never learn anything from natural
intelligence? There you are, in at the door. And now you will disturb
the signorina, and you will do nothing but make la Lazzeruola’s ears
lively. Bounce! you are up the stairs. Bounce! you are on the landing.
Thrum! you drum at the door, and they are singing; they don’t hear you.
And now you’re meek as a mouse. That’s it--if you don’t hit the mark
when you go like a bullet, you ‘re stupid as lead. And they call you a
clever fellow! Luigi’s day is to come. When all have paid him all round,
they will acknowledge Luigi’s worth. You are honest enough, my Beppo;
but you might as well be a countryman. You are the signorina’s servant,
but I know the turnings, said the rat to the cavaliere weazel.’

In a few minutes Beppo stepped from the house, and flung himself with
his back against the lintel of the doorway.

‘That looks like determination to stop on guard,’ said Luigi.

He knew the exact feeling expressed by it, when one has come violently
on an errand and has done no good.

‘A flea, my feathery lad, will set you flying again.’

As it was imperative in Luigi’s schemes that Beppo should be set flying
again, he slipped away stealthily, and sped fast into the neighbouring
Corso, where a light English closed carriage, drawn by a pair of the
island horses, moved at a slow pace. Two men were on the driver’s seat,
one of whom Luigi hailed to come down then he laid a strip of paper on
his knee, and after thumping on the side of his nose to get a notion of
English-Italian, he wrote with a pencil, dancing upon one leg all the
while for a balance:--

   ‘Come, Beppo, daughter sake, now, at once, immediate,
   Beppo, signor.’

‘That’s to the very extremity how the little signora Inglese would
write,’ said Luigi; yet cogitating profoundly in a dubitative twinkle
of a second as to whether it might not be the English habit to wind up a
hasty missive with an expediting oath. He had heard the oath of emphasis
in that island: but he decided to let it go as it stood. The man he had
summoned was directed to take it straightway and deliver it to one who
would be found at the house-door of the Maestro Rocco Ricci.

‘Thus, like a drunken sentinel,’ said Luigi, folding his arms, crossing
his legs, and leaning back. ‘Forward, Matteo, my cherub.’

‘All goes right?’ the coachman addressed Luigi.

‘As honey, as butter, as a mulberry leaf with a score of worms on it!
The wine and the bread and the cream-cheeses are inside, my dainty one,
are they? She must not starve, nor must I. Are our hampers fastened out
side? Good. We shall be among the Germans in a day and a night. I
‘ve got the route, and I pronounce the name of the chateau very
perfectly--“Schloss Sonnenberg.” Do that if you can.’

The unpractised Italian coachman declined to attempt it. He and Luigi
compared time by their watches. In three-quarters of an hour he was to
be within hail of the maestro’s house. Thither Luigi quietly returned.

Beppo’s place there was vacant.

‘That’s better than a draught of Asti,’ said Luigi.

The lighted windows of the maestro’s house, and the piano striking
corrective notes, assured him that the special rehearsal was still going
on; and as he might now calculate on two or three minutes to spare, he
threw back his coat-collar, lifted his head, and distended his chest,
apparently to chime in with the singing, but simply to listen to it.
For him, it was imperative that he should act the thing, in order to
apprehend and appreciate it.

A hurried footing told of the approach of one whom he expected.

‘Luigi!’

‘Here, padrone.’

‘You have the chocolate?’

‘Signor Antonio, I have deposited it in the carriage.’

‘She is in up there?’

‘I beheld her entering.’

‘Good; that is fixed fact.’ The Signor Antonio drove at his moustache
right and left. ‘I give you, see, Italian money and German money: German
money in paper; and a paper written out by me to explain the value of
the German paper-money. Silence, engine that you are, and not a man! I
am preventive of stupidity, I am? Do I not know that, hein? Am I in
need of the acclamation of you, my friend? On to the Chateau
Sonnenberg:--drive on, drive on, and one who stops you, you drive over
him: the gendarmes in white will peruse this paper, if there is any
question, and will pass you and the cage, bowing; you hear? It is a
pass; the military pass you when you show this paper. My good friend,
Captain Weisspriess, on the staff of General Pierson, gives it, signed,
and it is effectual. But you lose not the paper: put it away with the
paper-money, quite safe. For yourself, this is half your pay--I give
you napoleons; ten. Count. And now--once at the Chateau Sonnenberg,
I repeat, you leave her in charge of two persons, one a woman, at the
gate, and then back--frrrrr....’

Antonio-Pericles smacked on the flat of his hand, and sounded a rapid
course of wheels.

‘Back, and drop not a crumb upon the road. You have your map. It is,
after Roveredo, straight up the Adige, by Bolzano... say “Botzen.”’

‘“Botz,”’ said Luigi, submissively.

‘“Botz”--“Botz”--ass! fool! double idiot! “Botzon!”’ Antonio-Pericles
corrected him furiously, exclaiming to the sovereign skies, ‘Though I
pay for brains, can I get them! No. But make a fiasco, Luigi, and not a
second ten for you, my friend: and away, out of my sight, show yourself
no more!’

Luigi humbly said that he was not the instrument of a fiasco.

Half spurning him, Antonio-Pericles snarled an end both to his advices
and his prophetic disgust of the miserable tools furnished unto masterly
minds upon this earth. He paced forward and back, murmuring in French,
‘Mon Dieu! was there ever such a folly as in the head of this girl? It
is her occasion:--Shall I be a Star? Shall I be a Cinder? It is tomorrow
night her moment of Birth! No; she prefers to be extinguished. For what?
For this thing she calls her country. It is infamous. Yes, vile little
cheat! But, do you know Antonio-Pericles? Not yet. I will nourish you,
I will imprison you: I will have you tortured by love, by the very devil
of love, by the red-hot pincers of love, till you scream a music, and
die to melt him with your voice, and kick your country to the gutter,
and know your Italy for a birthplace and a cradle of Song, and no more,
and enough! Bah!’

Having thus delivered himself of the effervescence of his internal
agitation, he turned sharply round upon Luigi, with a military stamp of
the foot and shout of the man’s name.

‘It is love she wants,’ Antonio-Pericles resumed his savage soliloquy.
‘She wants to be kindled on fire. Too much Government of brain; not
sufficient Insurrection of heart! There it is. There it lies. But,
little fool! you shall find people with arms and shots and cannon
running all up and down your body, firing and crying out “Victory for
Love!” till you are beaten, till you gasp “Love! love! love!” and then
comes a beatific--oh! a heaven and a hell to your voice. I will pay,’
the excited connoisseur pursued more deliberately: ‘I will pay half my
fortune to bring this about. I am fortified, for I know such a voice was
sent to be sublime.’ He exclaimed in an ecstasy: ‘It opens the skies!’
and immediately appended: ‘It is destined to suffocate the theatres!’

Pausing as before a splendid vision: ‘Money--let it go like dust! I have
an object. Sandra Belloni--you stupid Vittoria Campa!--I have millions
and the whole Austrian Government to back me, and you to be wilful,
little rebel! I could laugh. It is only Love you want. Your voice is
now in a marble chamber. I will put it in a palace of cedarwood. This
Ammiani I let visit you in the hope that he would touch you.

Bah! he is a patriot--not a man! He cannot make you wince and pine, and
be cold and be hot, and--Bah! I give a chance to some one else who is
not a patriot. He has done mischief with the inflammable little Anna von
Lenkenstein--I know it. Your proper lovers, you women, are the broad,
the business lovers, and Weisspriess is your man.’

Antonio-Pericles glanced up at the maestro’s windows. ‘Hark! it is
her voice,’ he said, and drew up his clenched fists with rage, as if
pumping. ‘Cold as ice! Not a flaw. She is a lantern with no light in
it--crystal, if you like. Hark now at Irma, the stork-neck. Aie! what
a long way it is from your throat to your head, Mademoiselle Irma!
You were reared upon lemons. The split hair of your mural crown is not
thinner than that voice of yours. It is a mockery to hear you; but you
are good enough for the people, my dear, and you do work, running up and
down that ladder of wires between your throat and your head;--you work,
it is true, you puss! sleek as a puss, bony as a puss, musical as a
puss. But you are good enough for the people. Hola!’

This exclamation was addressed to a cavalier who was dismounting from
his horse about fifty yards down the street, and who, giving the reins
to a mounted servant, advanced to meet the Signor Antonio.

‘It is you, Herr Captain von Weisspriess!’

‘When he makes an appointment you see him, as a rule, my dear Pericles,’
returned the captain.

‘You are out of uniform--good. We will go up. Remember, you are a
connoisseur, from Bonn--from Berlin--from Leipsic: not of the K.K. army!
Abjure it, or you make no way with this mad thing. You shall see her and
hear her, and judge if she is worth your visit to Schloss Sonnenberg and
a short siege. Good: we go aloft. You bow to the maestro respectfully
twice, as in duty; then a third time, as from a whisper of your soul.
Vanitas, vanitatis! You speak of the ‘UT de poitrine.’ You remark:
“Albrechtsberger has said---,” and you slap your head and stop. They
think, “He is polite, and will not quote a German authority to us”: and
they think, “He will not continue his quotation; in truth, he scornfully
considers it superfluous to talk of counterpoint to us poor Italians.”
 Your Christian name is Johann?--you are Herr Johannes. Look at her well.
I shall not expose you longer than ten minutes to their observation.
Frown meditative; the elbow propped and two fingers in the left cheek;
and walk into the room with a stoop: touch a note of the piano, leaning
your ear to it as in detection of five-fifteenths of a shade of discord.
Frown in trouble as of a tooth. So, when you smile, it is immense praise
to them, and easy for you.’

The names of the Signor Antonio-Pericles and Herr Johannes were taken up
to the maestro.

Tormented with curiosity, Luigi saw them enter the house. The face and
the martial or sanguinary reputation of Captain Weisspriess were not
unknown to him. ‘What has he to do with this affair?’ thought Luigi, and
sauntered down to the captain’s servant, who accepted a cigar from him,
but was rendered incorruptible by ignorance of his language. He observed
that the horses were fresh, and were furnished with saddle-bags as for
an expedition. What expedition? To serve as escort to the carriage?--a
nonsensical idea. But the discovery that an idea is nonsensical is not
a satisfactory solution of a difficulty. Luigi squatted on his haunches
beside the doorstep, a little under one of the lower windows of Rocco
Ricci’s house. Earlier than he expected, the captain and Signor Antonio
came out; and as soon as the door had closed behind them, the captain
exclaimed, ‘I give you my hand on it, my brave Pericles. You have done
me many services, but this is finest of all. She’s superb. She’s a nice
little wild woman to tame. I shall go to the Sonnenberg immediately.
I have only to tell General Pierson that his nephew is to be prevented
from playing the fool, and I get leave at once, if there’s no active
work.’

‘His nephew, Lieutenant Pierson, or Pole--hein?’ interposed the Greek.

‘That ‘s the man. He ‘s on the Marshal’s staff. He ‘s engaged to the
Countess Lena von Lenkenstein. She has fire enough, my Pericles.’

‘The Countess Anna, you say?’ The Greek stretched forward his ear, and
was never so near getting it vigorously cuffed.

‘Deafness is an unpardonable offence, my dear Pericles.’

Antonio-Pericles sniffed, and assented, ‘It is the stupidity of the
ear.’

‘I said, the Countess Lena.’

‘Von Lenkenstein; but I choose to be further deaf.’

‘To the devil, sir. Do you pretend to be angry?’ cried Weisspriess.

‘The devil, sir, with your recommendation, is too black for me to visit
him,’ Antonio-Pericles rejoined.

‘By heaven, Pericles, for less than what you allow yourself to say, I’ve
sent men to him howling!’

They faced one another, pulling at their moustachios. Weisspriess
laughed.

‘You’re not a fighting man, Pericles.’

The Greek nodded affably. ‘One is in my way, I have him put out of my
way. It is easiest.’

‘Ah! easiest, is it?’ Captain Weisspriess ‘frowned meditative’ over this
remarkable statement of a system. ‘Well, it certainly saves trouble.
Besides, my good Pericles, none but an ass would quarrel with you. I was
observing that General Pierson wants his nephew to marry the Countess
Lena immediately; and if, as you tell me, this girl Belloni, who is
called la Vittoria--the precious little woman!--has such power over him,
it’s quite as well, from the General’s point of view, that she should
be out of the way at Sonnenberg. I have my footing at the Duchess of
Graath’s. I believe she hopes that I shall some day challenge and kill
her husband; and as I am supposed to have saved Major de Pyrmont’s
life, I am also an object of present gratitude. Do you imagine that your
little brown-eyed Belloni scented one of her enemies in me?’

‘I know nothing of imagination,’ the Signor Antonio observed frigidly.

‘Till we meet!’ Captain Weisspriess kissed his fingers, half as up
toward the windows, and half to the Greek. ‘Save me from having to teach
love to your Irma!’

He ran to join his servant.

Luigi had heard much of the conversation, as well as the last sentence.

‘It shall be to la Irma if it is to anybody,’ Luigi muttered.

‘Let Weisspriess--he will not awake love in her--let him kindle hate,
it will do,’ said the Signor Antonio. ‘She has seen him, and if he meets
her on the route to Meran, she will think it her fascination.’

Looking at his watch and at the lighted windows, he repeated his special
injunctions to Luigi. ‘It is near the time. I go to sleep. I am getting
old: I grow nervous. Ten-twenty in addition, you shall have, if all
is done right. Your weekly pay runs on. Twenty--you shall have thirty!
Thirty napoleons additional!’

Ten fingers were flashed thrice.

Luigi gave a jump. ‘Padrone, they are mine.’

‘Animal, that shake your belly-bag and brain-box, stand!’ cried the
Greek, who desired to see Luigi standing firm that he might inspire
himself with confidence in his integrity. When Luigi’s posture had
satisfied him, he turned and went off at great strides.

‘He does pay,’ Luigi reflected, seeing that immense virtue in his
patron. ‘Yes, he pays; but what is he about? It is this question for
me--“Do I serve my hand? or, Do I serve my heart?” My hand takes the
money, and it is not German money. My heart gives the affection, and the
signorina has my heart. She reached me that cigarette on the Motterone
like the Madonna: it is never to be forgotten! I serve my heart! Now,
Beppo, you may come; come quick for her. I see the carriage, and there
are three stout fellows in it who could trip and muzzle you at a signal
from me before you could count the letters of your father’s baptismal
name. Oh! but if the signorina disobeys me and comes out last!--the
Signor Antonio will ask the maestro, who will say, “Yes, la Vittoria was
here with me last of the two”; and I lose my ten, my twenty, my thirty
napoleons.’

Luigi’s chest expanded largely with a melancholy draught of air.

The carriage meantime had become visible at the head of the street,
where it remained within hearing of a whistle. One of the Milanese hired
vehicles drove up to the maestro’s door shortly after, and Luigi
cursed it. His worst fears for the future of the thirty napoleons were
confirmed; the door opened and the Maestro Rocco Ricci, bareheaded and
in his black silk dressing-gown, led out Irma di Karski, by some called
rival to la Vittoria; a tall Slavic damsel, whose laughter was not soft
and smooth, whose cheeks were bright, and whose eyes were deep in the
head and dull. But she had vivacity both of lips and shoulders. The
shoulders were bony; the lips were sharp and red, like winter-berries in
the morning-time. Freshness was not absent from her aspect. The critical
objection was that it seemed a plastered freshness and not true bloom;
or rather it was a savage and a hard, not a sweet freshness. Hence
perhaps the name which distinguished her la Lazzeruola (crab apple). It
was a freshness that did not invite the bite; sour to Italian taste.

She was apparently in vast delight. ‘There will be a perfect inundation
to-morrow night from Prague and Vienna to see me even in so miserable a
part as Michiella,’ she said. ‘Here I am supposed to be a beginner; I am
no debutante there.’

‘I can believe it, I can believe it,’ responded Rocco, bowing for her
speedy departure.

‘You are not satisfied with my singing of Michiella’s score! Now, tell
me, kind, good, harsh old master! you think that Miss Vittoria would
sing it better. So do I. And I can sing another part better. You do not
know my capacities.’

‘I am sure there is nothing you would not attempt,’ said Rocco, bowing
resignedly.

‘There never was question of my courage.’

‘Yes, but courage, courage! away with your courage!’ Rocco was spurred
by his personal grievances against her in a manner to make him forget
his desire to be rid of her. ‘Your courage sets you flying at once at
every fioritura and bravura passage, to subdue, not to learn: not to
accomplish, but to conquer it. And the ability, let me say, is not in
proportion to the courage, which is probably too great to be easily
equalled; but you have the opportunity to make your part celebrated
to-morrow night, if, as you tell me, the house is to be packed with
Viennese, and, signorina, you let your hair down.’

The hair of Irma di Karski was of singular beauty, and so dear to her
that the allusion to the triumphant feature of her person passed off
Rocco’s irony in sugar.

‘Addio! I shall astonish you before many hours have gone by,’ she
said; and this time they bowed together, and the maestro tripped back
hurriedly, and shut his door.

Luigi’s astonishment eclipsed his chagrin when he beheld the lady step
from her place, bidding the driver move away as if he carried a freight,
and indicating a position for him at the end of the street, with an
imperative sway and deflection of her hand. Luigi heard the clear thin
sound of a key dropped to her from one of the upper windows. She was
quick to seize it; the door opened stealthily to her, and she passed
out of sight without casting a look behind. ‘That’s a woman going to
discover a secret, if she can,’ remarked the observer; meaning that
he considered the sex bad Generals, save when they have occasion to
preserve themselves secret; then they look behind them carefully enough.
The situation was one of stringent torment to a professional and natural
spy. Luigi lost count of minutes in his irritation at the mystery, which
he took as a personal offence. Some suspicion or wariness existed in
the lighted room, for the maestro threw up a window, and inspected the
street to right and left. Apparently satisfied he withdrew his head, and
the window was closed.

In a little while Vittoria’s voice rose audible out of the stillness,
though she restrained its volume.

Its effect upon Luigi was to make him protest to her, whimpering with
pathos as if she heard and must be melted: ‘Signorina! signorina, most
dear! for charity’s sake! I am one of you; I am a patriot. Every man to
his trade, but my heart is all with you.’ And so on, louder by fits, in
a running murmur, like one having his conscience ransacked, from which
he was diverted by a side-thought of Irma di Karski, la Lazzeruola,
listening, taking poison in at her ears; for Luigi had no hesitation in
ascribing her behaviour to jealousy. ‘Does not that note drive through
your bosom, excellent lady? I can fancy the tremble going all down your
legs. You are poisoned with honey. How you hate it! If you only had a
dagger!’

Vittoria sang but for a short space. Simultaneously with the cessation
of her song Ammiani reached the door, but had scarcely taken his
stand there when, catching sight of Luigi, he crossed the street, and
recognizing him, questioned him sternly as to his business opposite the
maestro’s house. Luigi pointed to a female figure emerging. ‘See! take
her home,’ he said. Ammiani released him and crossed back hurriedly,
when, smiting his forehead, Luigi cried in despair, ‘Thirty napoleons
and my professional reputation lost!’ He blew a whistle; the carriage
dashed down from the head of the street. While Ammiani was following the
swiftly-stepping figure in wonderment (knowing it could not be Vittoria,
yet supposing it must be, without any clear aim of his wits), the
carriage drew up a little in advance of her; three men--men of bulk and
sinew jumped from it; one threw himself upon Ammiani, the others
grasped the affrighted lady, tightening a veil over her face, and the
carriage-door shut sharp upon her. Ammiani’s assailant then fell away:
Luigi flung himself on the box and shouted, ‘The signorina is behind
you!’ And Ammiani beheld Vittoria standing in alarm, too joyful to know
that it was she. In the spasm of joy he kissed her hands. Before they
could intercommunicate intelligibly the carriage was out of their sight,
going at a gallop along the eastern strada of the circumvallation of the
city.



CHAPTER XV

AMMIANI THROUGH THE MIDNIGHT

Ammiani hurried Vittoria out of the street to make safety sure. ‘Home,’
she said, ashamed of her excitement, and not daring to speak more words,
lest the heart in her throat should betray itself. He saw what the
fright had done for her. Perhaps also he guessed that she was trying to
conceal her fancied cowardice from him. ‘I have kissed her hands,’ he
thought, and the memory of it was a song of tenderness in his blood by
the way.

Vittoria’s dwelling-place was near the Duomo, in a narrow thoroughfare
leading from the Duomo to the Piazza of La Scala, where a confectioner
of local fame conferred upon the happier members of the population most
piquant bocconi and tartlets, and offered by placard to give an emotion
to the nobility, the literati, and the epicures of Milan, and to all
foreigners, if the aforesaid would adventure upon a trial of his
art. Meanwhile he let lodgings. It was in the house of this famous
confectioner Zotti that Vittoria and her mother had lived after leaving
England for Italy. As Vittoria came under the fretted shadow of
the cathedral, she perceived her mother standing with Zotti at the
house-door, though the night was far advanced. She laughed, and walked
less hurriedly. Ammiani now asked her if she had been alarmed. ‘Not
alarmed,’ she said, ‘but a little more nervous than I thought I should
be.’

He was spared from putting any further question by her telling him that
Luigi, the Motterone spy, had in all probability done her a service
in turning one or other f the machinations of the Signor Antonio. ‘My
madman,’ she called this latter. ‘He has got his Irma instead of me. We
shall have to supply her place tomorrow; she is travelling rapidly, and
on my behalf! I think, Signor Carlo, you would do well by going to the
maestro when you leave me, and telling him that Irma has been
caught into the skies. Say, “Jealous that earth should possess such
overpowering loveliness,” or “Attracted in spite of themselves by that
combination of genius and beauty which is found united nowhere but in
Irma, the spirits of heaven determined to rob earth of her Lazzeruola.”
 Only tell it to him seriously, for my dear Rocco will have to work with
one of the singers all day, and I ought to be at hand by them to help
her, if I dared stir out. What do you think?’

Ammiani pronounced his opinion that it would be perilous for her to go
abroad.

‘I shall in truth, I fear, have a difficulty in getting to La Scala
unseen,’ she said; ‘except that we are cunning people in our house. We
not only practise singing and invent wonderful confectionery, but we
do conjuring tricks. We profess to be able to deceive anybody whom we
please.’

‘Do the dupes enlist in a regiment?’ said Ammiani, with an intonation
that professed his readiness to serve as a recruit. His humour striking
with hers, they smiled together in the bright fashion of young people
who can lose themselves in a ray of fancy at any season.

Vittoria heard her mother’s wailful voice. ‘Twenty gnats in one,’ she
said.

Ammiani whispered quickly to know whether she had decided for the
morrow. She nodded, and ran up to her mother, who cried:

‘At this hour! And Beppo has been here after you, and he told me I
wrote for him, in Italian, when not a word can I put to paper: I
wouldn’t!--and you are threatened by dreadful dangers, he declares. His
behaviour was mad; they are all mad over in this country, I believe.
I have put the last stitch to your dress. There is a letter or two
upstairs for you. Always letters!’

‘My dear good Zotti,’ Vittoria turned to the artist in condiments, ‘you
must insist upon my mother going to bed at her proper time when I am
out.’

‘Signorina,’ rejoined Zotti, a fat little round-headed man, with
vivacious starting brown eyes, ‘I have only to tell her to do a thing--I
pull a dog by the collar; be it said with reverence.’

‘However, I am very glad to see you both such good friends.’

‘Yes, signorina, we are good friends till we quarrel again. I regret
to observe to you that the respectable lady is incurably suspicious. Of
me--Zotti! Mother of heaven!’

‘It is you that are suspicious of me, sir,’ retorted madame. ‘Of me, of
all persons! It’s “tell me this, tell me that,” all day with you; and
because I can’t answer, you are angry.’

‘Behold! the signora speaks English; we have quarrelled again,’ said
Zotti.

‘My mother thinks him a perfect web of plots,’ Vittoria explained the
case between them, laughing, to Ammiani; ‘and Zotti is persuaded that
she is an inveterate schemer. They are both entirely innocent, only they
are both excessively timid. Out of that it grows.’

The pair dramatized her outline on the instant:

‘“Did I not see him speak to an English lady, and he will not tell me a
word about it, though she’s my own countrywoman?”’

‘“Is it not true that she received two letters this afternoon, and still
does she pretend to be ignorant of what is going on?”’

‘Happily,’ said Vittoria, ‘my mother is not a widow, or these quarrels
might some day end in a fearful reconciliation.’

‘My child,’ her mother whimpered, ‘you know what these autumn nights are
in this country; as sure as you live, Emilia, you will catch cold, and
then you’re like a shop with shutters up for the dead.’

At the same time Zotti whispered: ‘Signorina, I have kept the minestra
hot for your supper; come in, come in. And, little things, little dainty
bits!--do you live in Zotti’s house for nothing? Sweetest delicacies
that make the tongue run a stream!--just notions of a taste--the palate
smacks and forgets; the soul seizes and remembers!’

‘Oh, such seductions!’ Vittoria exclaimed.

‘It is,’ Zotti pursued his idea, with fingers picturesquely twirling in
a spider-like distension; ‘it is like the damned, and they have but a
crumb of a chance of Paradise, and down swoops St. Peter and has them
in the gates fast! You are worthy of all that a man can do for you,
signorina. Let him study, let him work, let him invent,--you are worthy
of all.’

‘I hope I am not too hungry to discriminate! Zotti I see Monte Rosa.’

‘Signorina, you are pleased to say so when you are famishing. It is
because--’ the enthusiastic confectioner looked deep and oblique, as one
who combined a remarkable subtlety of insight with profound reflection;
‘it is because the lighter you get the higher you mount; up like an
eagle of the peaks! But we’ll give that hungry fellow a fall. A dish of
hot minestra shoots him dead. Then, a tart of pistachios and chocolate
and cream--and my head to him who shall reveal to me the flavouring!’

‘When I wake in the morning, I shall have lived a month or two in
Arabia, Zotti. Tell me no more; I will come in,’ said Vittoria.

‘Then, signorina, a little crisp filbert--biscuit--a composition! You
crack it, and a surprise! And then, and then my dish; Zotti’s dish,
that is not yet christened. Signorina, let Italy rise first; the great
inventor of the dish winked and nodded temperately. ‘Let her rise. A
battle or a treaty will do. I have two or three original conceptions,
compositions, that only wait for some brilliant feat of arms, or a
diplomatic triumph, and I send them forth baptized.’

Vittoria threw large eyes upon Ammiani, and set the underlids humorously
quivering. She kissed her fingers: ‘Addio; a rivederla.’ He bowed
formally: he was startled to find the golden thread of their
companionship cut with such cruel abruptness. But it was cut; the
door had closed on her. The moment it had closed she passed into his
imagination. By what charm had she allayed the fever of his anxiety? Her
naturalness had perforce given him assurance that peace must surround
one in whom it shone so steadily, and smiling at the thought of Zotti’s
repast and her twinkle of subdued humour, he walked away comforted;
which, for a lover in the season of peril means exalted, as in a sudden
conflagration of the dry stock of his intelligence. ‘She must have
some great faith in her heart,’ he thought, no longer attributing his
exclusion from it to a lover’s rivalry, which will show that more than
imagination was on fire within him. For when the soul of a youth can be
heated above common heat, the vices of passion shrivel up and aid the
purer flame. It was well for Ammiani that he did perceive (dimly though
it was perceived) the force of idealistic inspiration by which Vittoria
was supported. He saw it at this one moment, and it struck a light to
light him in many subsequent perplexities; it was something he had never
seen before. He had read Tuscan poetry to her in old Agostino’s rooms;
he had spoken of secret preparations for the revolt; he had declaimed
upon Italy,--the poetry was good though the declamation may have been
bad,--but she had always been singularly irresponsive, with a practical
turn for ciphers. A quick reckoning, a sharp display of figures in
Italy’s cause, kindled her cheeks and took her breath. Ammiani now
understood that there lay an unspoken depth in her, distinct from her
visible nature.

He had first an interview with Rocco Ricci, whom he prepared to replace
Irma.

His way was then to the office of his Journal, where he expected to be
greeted by two members of the Polizia, who would desire him to march
before the central bureau, and exhibit proofs of articles and the items
of news for inspection, for correction haply, and possibly for approval.
There is a partial delight in the contemplated submission to an act of
servitude for the last time. Ammiani stepped in with combative gaiety,
but his stiff glance encountered no enemy. This astonished him. He
turned back into the street and meditated. The Pope’s Mouth might, he
thought, hold the key to the riddle. It is not always most comfortable
for a conspirator to find himself unsuspected: he reads the blank
significantly. It looked ill that the authorities should allow anything
whatsoever to be printed on such a morrow: especially ill, if they were
on the alert. The neighbourhood by the Pope’s Mouth was desolate under
dark starlight. Ammiani got his fingers into the opening behind the
rubbish of brick, and tore them on six teeth of a saw that had been
fixed therein. Those teeth were as voluble to him as loud tongues. The
Mouth was empty of any shred of paper. They meant that the enemy was
ready to bite, and that the conspiracy had ceased to be active. He
perceived that a stripped ivy-twig, with the leaves scattered around it,
stretched at his feet. That was another and corroborative sign, clearer
to him than printed capitals. The reading of it declared that the Revolt
had collapsed. He wound and unwound his handkerchief about his fingers
mechanically: great curses were in his throat. ‘I would start for South
America at dawn, but for her!’ he said. The country of Bolivar still had
its attractions for Italian youth. For a certain space Ammiani’s soul
was black with passion. He was the son of that fiery Paolo Ammiani who
had cast his glove at Eugene’s feet, and bade the viceroy deliver it to
his French master. (The General was preparing to break his sword on his
knee when Eugene rushed up to him and kissed him.) Carlo was of this
blood. Englishmen will hardly forgive him for having tears in his eyes,
but Italians follow the Greek classical prescription for the emotions,
while we take example by the Roman. There is no sneer due from us. He
sobbed. It seemed that a country was lost.

Ammiani had moved away slowly: he was accidentally the witness of a
curious scene. There came into the irregular triangle, and walking up
to where the fruitstalls stood by day, a woman and a man. The man was an
Austrian soldier. It was an Italian woman by his side. The sight of the
couple was just then like an incestuous horror to Ammiani. She led the
soldier straight up to the Mouth, directing his hand to it, and, what
was far more wonderful, directing it so that he drew forth a packet of
papers from where Ammiani had found none. Ammiani could see the light of
them in his hand. The Austrian snatched an embrace and ran. Ammiani was
moving over to her to seize and denounce the traitress, when he beheld
another figure like an apparition by her side; but this one was not a
whitecoat. Had it risen from the earth? It was earthy, for a cloud of
dust was about it, and the woman gave a stifled scream. ‘Barto! Barto!’
she cried, pressing upon her eyelids. A strong husky laugh came from
him. He tapped her shoulder heartily, and his ‘Ha! ha!’ rang in the
night air.

‘You never trust me,’ she whimpered from shaken nerves.

He called her, ‘Brave little woman! rare girl!’

‘But you never trust me!’

‘Do I not lay traps to praise you?’

‘You make a woman try to deceive you.’ If she could! If only she could!’

Ammiani was up with them.

‘You are Barto Rizzo,’ he spoke, half leaning over the man in his
impetuosity.

Barto stole a defensive rearward step. The thin light of dawn had in a
moment divided the extreme starry darkness, and Ammiani, who knew his
face, had not to ask a second time. It was scored by a recent sword-cut.
He glanced at the woman: saw that she was handsome. It was enough; he
knew she must be Barto’s wife, and, if not more cunning than Barto, his
accomplice, his instrument, his slave.

‘Five minutes ago I would have sworn you were a traitress he said to
her.

She was expressionless, as if she had heard nothing; which fact,
considering that she was very handsome, seemed remarkable to the young
man. Youth will not believe that stupidity and beauty can go together.

‘She is the favourite pupil of Bartolommeo Rizzo, Signor Carlo Ammiani,’
quoth Barto, having quite regained his composure. ‘She is my pretty
puppet-patriot. I am not in the habit of exhibiting her; but since you
see her, there she is.’

Barto had fallen into the Southern habit of assuming ease in
quasi-rhetorical sentences, but with wary eyes over them. The peculiar,
contracting, owl-like twinkle defied Ammiani’s efforts to penetrate his
look; so he took counsel of his anger, and spoke bluntly.

‘She does your work?’

‘Much of it, Signor Carlo: as the bullet does the work of the rifle.’

‘Beast! was it your wife who pinned the butterfly to the Signorina
Vittoria’s dress?’

‘Signor Carlo Ammiani, you are the son of Paolo, the General: you call
me beast? I have dandled you in my arms, my little lad, while the bands
played “There’s yet a heart in Italy!” Do you remember it?’ Barto sang
out half-a-dozen bars. ‘You call me beast? I’m the one man in Milan who
can sing you that.’

‘Beast or man, devil or whatever you are!’ cried Ammiani, feeling
nevertheless oddly unnerved, ‘you have committed a shameful offence:
you, or the woman, your wife, who serves you, as I see. You have
thwarted the best of plots; you have dared to act in defiance of your
Chief--’

‘Eyes to him!’ Barto interposed, touching over his eyeballs.

‘And you have thrown your accursed stupid suspicions on the Signorina
Vittoria. You are a mad fool. If I had the power, I would order you to
be shot at five this morning; and that ‘s the last rising of the light
you should behold. Why did you do it? Don’t turn your hellish eyes in
upon one another, but answer at once! Why did you do it?’

‘The Signorina Vittoria,’ returned Barto--his articulation came forth
serpent-like--‘she is not a spy, you think. She has been in England: I
have been in England. She writes; I can read. She is a thing of whims.
Shall she hold the goblet of Italy in her hand till it overflows? She
writes love-letters to an English whitecoat. I have read them. Who
bids her write? Her whim! She warns her friends not to enter Milan.
She--whose puppet is she? Not yours; not mine. She is the puppet of an
English Austrian!’

Barto drew back, for Ammiani was advancing.

‘What is it you mean?’ he cried.

‘I mean,’ said Ammiani, still moving on him, ‘I mean to drag you first
before Count Medole, and next before the signorina; and you shall abjure
your slander in her presence. After that I shall deal with you. Mark me!
I have you: I am swifter on foot, and I am stronger. Come quietly.’

Barto smiled in grim contempt.

‘Keep your foot fast on that stone, you’re a prisoner,’ he replied,
and seeing Ammiani coming, ‘Net him, my sling-stone! my serpent!’
he signalled to his wife, who threw herself right round Ammiani in a
tortuous twist hard as wire-rope. Stung with irritation, and a sense of
disgrace and ridicule and pitifulness in one, Ammiani, after a struggle,
ceased the attempt to disentwine her arms, and dragged her clinging
to him. He was much struck by hearing her count deliberately, in her
desperation, numbers from somewhere about twenty to one hundred. One
hundred was evidently the number she had to complete, for when she had
reached it she threw her arms apart. Barto was out of sight. Ammiani
waved her on to follow in his steps: he was sick of her presence, and
had the sensations of a shame-faced boy whom a girl has kissed. She went
without uttering a word.

The dawn had now traversed the length of the streets, and thrown open
the wide spaces of the city. Ammiani found himself singing, ‘There’s yet
a heart in Italy!’ but it was hardly the song of his own heart. He slept
that night on a chair in the private room of his office, preferring not
to go to his mother’s house. ‘There ‘s yet a heart in Italy!’ was on his
lips when he awoke with scattered sensations, all of which collected
in revulsion against the song. ‘There’s a very poor heart in Italy!’ he
said, while getting his person into decent order; ‘it’s like the bell in
the lunatic’s tower between Venice and the Lido: it beats now and then
for meals: hangs like a carrion-lump in the vulture’s beak meanwhile!’

These and some other similar sentiments, and a heat about the brows
whenever he set them frowning over what Barto had communicated
concerning an English Austrian, assured Ammiani that he had no proper
command of himself: or was, as the doctors would have told him, bilious.
It seemed to him that he must have dreamed of meeting the dark and
subtle Barto Rizzo overnight; on realizing that fact he could not
realize how the man had escaped him, except that when he thought over
it, he breathed deep and shook his shoulders. The mind will, as you
may know, sometimes refuse to work when the sensations are shameful
and astonished. He despatched a messenger with a ‘good morrow’ to his
mother, and then went to a fencing-saloon that was fitted up in the
house of Count Medole, where, among two or three, there was the ordinary
shrugging talk of the collapse of the projected outbreak, bitter to
hear. Luciano Romara came in, and Ammiani challenged him to small-sword
and broadsword. Both being ireful to boiling point, and mad to strike
at something, they attacked one another furiously, though they were dear
friends, and the helmet-wires and the padding rattled and smoked to the
thumps. For half an hour they held on to it, when, their blood being up,
they flashed upon the men present, including the count, crying shame to
them for letting a woman alone be faithful to her task that night.
The blood forsook Count Medole’s cheeks, leaving its dead hue, as when
blotting-paper is laid on running-ink. He deliberately took a pair of
foils, and offering the handle of one to Ammiani, broke the button off
the end of his own, and stood to face an adversary. Ammiani followed the
example: a streak of crimson was on his shirt-sleeve, and his eyes
had got their hard black look, as of the flint-stone, before Romara in
amazement discovered the couple to be at it in all purity of intention,
on the sharp edge of the abyss. He knocked up their weapons and stood
between them, puffing his cigarette leisurely.

‘I fine you both,’ he said.

He touched Ammiani’s sword-arm, nodded with satisfaction to find that
there was no hurt, and cried, ‘You have an Austrian out on the ground by
this time tomorrow morning. So, according to the decree!’

‘Captain Weisspriess is in the city,’ was remarked.

‘There are a dozen on the list,’ said little Pietro Cardi, drawing out a
paper.

‘If you are to be doing nothing else to-morrow morning,’ added Leone
Rufo, ‘we may as well march out the whole dozen.’

These two were boys under twenty.

‘Shall it be the first hit for Captain Weisspriess?’ Count Medole said
this while handing a fresh and fairly-buttoned foil to Ammiani.

Romara laughed: ‘You will require to fence the round of Milan city, my
dear count, to win a claim to Captain Weisspriess. In the first place, I
yield him to no man who does not show himself a better man than I. It’s
the point upon which I don’t pay compliments.’

Count Medole bowed.

‘But, if you want occupation,’ added Luciano, closing his speech with a
merely interrogative tone.

‘I scarcely want that, as those who know me will tell you,’ said Medole,
so humbly, that those who knew him felt that he had risen to his high
seat of intellectual contempt. He could indulge himself, having shown
his courage.

‘Certainly not; if you are devising means of subsistence for the
widows and orphans of the men who will straggle out to be slaughtered
to-night,’ said Luciano; ‘you have occupation in that case.’

‘I will do my best to provide for them,’--the count persisted in his air
of humility, ‘though it is a question with some whether idiots
should live.’ He paused effectively, and sucked in a soft smile of
self-approbation at the stroke. Then he pursued: ‘We meet the day after
to-morrow. The Pope’s Mouth is closed. We meet here at nine in the
morning. The next day at eleven at Farugino’s, the barber’s, in Monza.
The day following at Camerlata, at eleven likewise. Those who attend
will be made aware of the dispositions for the week, and the day we
shall name for the rising. It is known to you all, that without affixing
a stigma on our new prima-donna, we exclude her from any share in this
business. All the Heads have been warned that we yield this night to
the Austrians. Gentlemen, I cannot be more explicit. I wish that I could
please you better.’

‘Oh, by all means,’ said Pietro Cardi: ‘but patience is the pestilence;
I shall roam in quest of adventure. Another quiet week is a tremendous
trial.’

He crossed foils with Leone Rufo, but finding no stop to the drawn
‘swish’ of the steel, he examined the end of his weapon with a
lengthening visage, for it was buttonless. Ammiani burst into laughter
at the spontaneous boyishness in the faces of the pair of ambitious
lads. They both offered him one of the rapiers upon equal terms. Count
Medole’s example of intemperate vanity was spoiling them.

‘You know my opinion,’ Ammiani said to the count. ‘I told you last
night, and I tell you again to-day, that Barto Rizzo is guilty of gross
misconduct, and that you must plead the same to a sort of excuseable
treason. Count Medole, you cannot wind and unwind a conspiracy like a
watch. Who is the head of this one? It is the man Barto Rizzo. He took
proceedings before he got you to sanction them. You may be the vessel,
but he commands, or at least, he steers it.’

The count waited undemonstratively until Ammiani had come to an end.
‘You speak, my good Ammiani, with an energy that does you credit,’ he
said, ‘considering that it is not in your own interest, but another
person’s. Remember, I can bear to have such a word as treason ascribed
to my acts.’

Fresh visitors, more or less mixed, in the conspiracy, and generally
willing to leave the management of it to Count Medole, now entered the
saloon. These were Count Rasati, Angelo Dovili, a Piedmontese General,
a Tuscan duke, and one or two aristocratic notabilities and historic
nobodies. They were hostile to the Chief whom Luciano and Carlo revered
and obeyed. The former lit a cigarette, and saying to his friend, ‘Do
you breakfast with your mother? I will come too,’ slipped his hand on
Ammiani’s arm; they walked out indolently together, with the smallest
shade of an appearance of tolerating scorn for those whom they left
behind.

‘Medole has money and rank and influence, and a kind of
I-don’t-know-what womanishness, that makes him push like a needle for
the lead, and he will have the lead and when he has got the lead, there
‘s the last chapter of him,’ said Luciano. ‘His point of ambition is the
perch of the weather-cock. Why did he set upon you, my Carlo? I saw the
big V running up your forehead when you faced him. If you had finished
him no great harm would have been done.’

‘I saw him for a short time last night, and spoke to him in my father’s
style,’ said Carlo. ‘The reason was, that he defended Barto Rizzo for
putting the ring about the Signorina Vittoria’s name, and causing the
black butterfly to be pinned to her dress.’

Luciano’s brows stood up.

‘If she sings to-night, depend upon it there will be a disturbance,’ he
said. ‘There may be a rising in spite of Medole and such poor sparks,
who’re afraid to drop on powder, and twirl and dance till the wind blows
them out. And mind, the chance rising is commonly the luckiest. If I get
a command I march to the Alps. We must have the passes of the Tyrol. It
seems to me that whoever holds the Alps must ride the Lombard mare. You
spring booted and spurred into the saddle from the Alps.’

Carlo was hurt by his friend’s indifference to the base injury done to
Vittoria.

‘I have told Medole that she will sing to-night in spite of him,’ he was
saying, with the intention of bringing round some reproach upon Luciano
for his want of noble sympathy, when the crash of an Austrian regimental
band was heard coming up the Corso. It stirred him to love his friend
with all his warmth. ‘At any rate, for my sake, Luciano, you will
respect and uphold her.’

‘Yes, while she’s true,’ said Luciano, unsatisfactorily. The regiment,
in review uniform, followed by two pieces of artillery, passed by. Then
came a squadron of hussars and one of Uhlans, and another foot regiment,
more artillery, fresh cavalry.

‘Carlo, if three generations of us pour out our blood to fertilize
Italian ground, it’s not too much to pay to chase those drilled curs.’
Luciano spoke in vehement undertone.

‘We ‘ll breakfast and have a look at them in the Piazza d’Armi, and show
that we Milanese are impressed with a proper idea of their power,’ said
Carlo, brightening as he felt the correction of his morbid lover’s anger
in Luciano’s reaching view of their duties as Italian citizens. The
heat and whirl of the hour struck his head, for to-morrow they might be
wrestling with that living engine which had marched past, and surely
all the hate he could muster should be turned upon the outer enemy. He
gained his mother’s residence with clearer feelings.



CHAPTER XVI

COUNTESS AMMIANI

Countess Ammiani was a Venetian lady of a famous House, the name of
which is as a trumpet sounding from the inner pages of the Republic.
Her face was like a leaf torn from an antique volume; the hereditary
features told the story of her days. The face was sallow and fireless;
life had faded like a painted cloth upon the imperishable moulding.
She had neither fire in her eyes nor colour on her skin. The thin close
multitudinous wrinkles ran up accurately ruled from the chin to the
forehead’s centre, and touched faintly once or twice beyond, as you
observe the ocean ripples run in threads confused to smoothness within a
space of the grey horizon sky. But the chin was firm, the mouth and nose
were firm, the forehead sat calmly above these shows of decay. It was a
most noble face; a fortress face; strong and massive, and honourable in
ruin, though stripped of every flower.

This lady in her girlhood had been the one lamb of the family dedicated
to heaven. Paolo, the General, her lover, had wrenched her from that
fate to share with him a life of turbulent sorrows till she should
behold the blood upon his grave. She, like Laura Fiaveni, had bent her
head above a slaughtered husband, but, unlike Laura, Marcellina Ammiani
had not buried her heart with him. Her heart and all her energies had
been his while he lived; from the visage of death it turned to her son.
She had accepted the passion for Italy from Paolo; she shared it with
Carlo. Italian girls of that period had as little passion of their own
as flowers kept out of sunlight have hues. She had given her son to her
country with that intensely apprehensive foresight of a mother’s love
which runs quick as Eastern light from the fervour of the devotion to
the remote realization of the hour of the sacrifice, seeing both in one.
Other forms of love, devotion in other bosoms, may be deluded, but hers
will not be. She sees the sunset in the breast of the springing dawn.
Often her son Carlo stood a ghost in her sight. With this haunting
prophetic vision, it was only a mother, who was at the same time a
supremely noble woman, that could feel all human to him notwithstanding.
Her heart beat thick and fast when Carlo and Luciano entered the
morning-room where she sat, and stopped to salute her in turn.

‘Well?’ she said without betraying anxiety or playing at carelessness.

Carlo answered, ‘Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die. I think
that’s the language of peaceful men.’

‘You are to be peaceful men to-morrow, my Carlo?’

‘The thing is in Count Medole’s hands,’ said Luciano; ‘and he is
constitutionally of our Agostino’s opinion that we are bound to wait
till the Gods kick us into action; and, as Agostino says, Medole has
raised himself upon our shoulders so as to be the more susceptible to
their wishes when they blow a gale.’

He informed her of the momentary thwarting of the conspiracy, and won
Carlo’s gratitude by not speaking of the suspicion which had fallen on
Vittoria.

‘Medole,’ he said, ‘has the principal conduct of the business in Milan,
as you know, countess. Our Chief cannot be everywhere at once; so Medole
undertakes to decide for him here in old Milan. He decided yesterday
afternoon to put off our holiday for what he calls a week. Checco, the
idiot, in whom he confides, gave me the paper signifying the fact at
four o’clock. There was no appeal; for we can get no place of general
meeting under Medole’s prudent management. He fears our being swallowed
in a body if we all meet.’

The news sent her heart sinking in short throbs down to a delicious
rest; but Countess Ammiani disdained to be servile to the pleasure, even
as she had strengthened herself to endure the shocks of pain. It was a
conquered heart that she and every Venetian and Lombard mother had to
carry; one that played its tune according to its nature, shaping no
action, sporting no mask. If you know what is meant by that phrase, a
conquered heart, you will at least respect them whom you call weak women
for having gone through the harshest schooling which this world can show
example of. In such mothers Italy revived. The pangs and the martyrdom
were theirs. Fathers could march to the field or to the grey glacis with
their boys; there was no intoxication of hot blood to cheer those who
sat at home watching the rise and fall of trembling scales which said
life or death for their dearest. Their least shadowy hope could be but a
shrouded contentment in prospect; a shrouded submission in feeling. What
bloom of hope was there when Austria stood like an iron wall, and their
own ones dashing against it were as little feeble waves that left a red
mark and no more? But, duty to their country had become their religion;
sacrifice they accepted as their portion; when the last stern evil
befell them they clad themselves in a veil and walked upon an earth they
had passed from for all purposes save service of hands. Italy revived in
these mothers. Their torture was that of the re-animation of her frame
from the death-trance.

Carlo and Luciano fell hungrily upon dishes of herb-flavoured cutlets,
and Neapolitan maccaroni, green figs, green and red slices of melon,
chocolate, and a dry red Florentine wine. The countess let them eat, and
then gave her son a letter that been delivered at her door an hour back
by the confectioner Zotti. It proved to be an enclosure of a letter
addressed to Vittoria by the Chief. Genoa was its superscription. From
that place it was forwarded by running relays of volunteer messengers.
There were points of Italy which the Chief could reach four-and-twenty
hours in advance of the Government with all its aids and machinery.
Vittoria had simply put her initials at the foot of the letter. Carlo
read it eagerly and cast it aside. It dealt in ideas and abstract
phraseology; he could get nothing of it between his impatient teeth;
he was reduced to a blank wonder at the reason for her sending it on to
him. It said indeed--and so far it seemed to have a meaning for her:

‘No backward step. We can bear to fall; we cannot afford to draw back.’

And again:

‘Remember that these uprisings are the manifested pulsations of the
heart of your country, so that none shall say she is a corpse, and
knowing that she lives, none shall say that she deserves not freedom. It
is the protest of her immortal being against her impious violator.’

Evidently the Chief had heard nothing of the counterstroke of Barto
Rizzo, and of Count Medole’s miserable weakness: but how, thought
Carlo, how can a mind like Vittoria’s find matter to suit her in such
sentences? He asked himself the question, forgetting that a little time
gone by, while he was aloof from the tumult and dreaming of it, this
airy cloudy language and every symbolism, had been strong sustaining
food, a vital atmosphere, to him. He did not for the moment (though by
degrees he recovered his last night’s conception of her) understand that
among the noble order of women there is, when they plunge into strife,
a craving for idealistic truths, which men are apt, under the heat and
hurry of their energies, to put aside as stars that are meant merely for
shining.

His mother perused the letter--holding it out at arm’s length--and laid
it by; Luciano likewise. Countess Ammiani was an aristocrat: the tone
and style of the writing were distasteful to her. She allowed her son’s
judgement of the writer to stand for her own, feeling that she could
surrender little prejudices in favour of one who appeared to hate the
Austrians so mortally. On the other hand, she defended Count Medole.
Her soul shrank at the thought of the revolution being yielded up to
theorists and men calling themselves men of the people--a class of men
to whom Paolo her soldier-husband’s aversion had always been formidably
pronounced. It was an old and a wearisome task for Carlo to explain
to her that the times were changed and the necessities of the hour
different since the day when his father conspired and fought for
freedom. Yet he could not gainsay her when she urged that the nobles
should be elected to lead, if they consented to lead; for if they did
not lead, were they not excluded from the movement?

‘I fancy you have defined their patriotism,’ said Carlo.

‘Nay, my son; but you are one of them.’

‘Indeed, my dearest mother, that is not what they will tell you.’

‘Because you have chosen to throw yourself into the opposite ranks.’

‘You perceive that you divide our camp, madame my mother. For me there
is no natural opposition of ranks. What are we? We are slaves: all are
slaves. While I am a slave, shall I boast that I am of noble birth?
“Proud of a coronet with gems of paste!” some one writes. Save me from
that sort of pride! I am content to take my patent of nobility for good
conduct in the revolution. Then I will be count, or marquis, or duke;
I am not a Republican pure blood;--but not till then. And in the
meantime--’

‘Carlo is composing for his newspaper,’ the countess said to Luciano.

‘Those are the leaders who can lead,’ the latter replied. ‘Give the men
who are born to it the first chance. Old Agostino is right--the people
owe them their vantage ground. But when they have been tried and
they have failed, decapitate them. Medole looks upon revolution as a
description of conjuring trick. He shuffles cards and arranges them for
a solemn performance, but he refuses to cut them if you look too serious
or I look too eager; for that gives him a suspicion that you know what
is going to turn up; and his object is above all things to produce a
surprise.’

‘You are both of you unjust to Count Medole,’ said the countess. ‘He
imperils more than all of you.’

‘Magnificent estates, it is true; but of head or of heart not quite
so much as some of us,’ said Luciano, stroking his thick black pendent
moustache and chin-tuft. ‘Ah, pardon me; yes! he does imperil a finer
cock’s comb.

‘When he sinks, and his vanity is cut in two, Medole will bleed so as to
flood his Lombard flats. It will be worse than death to him.’

Carlo said: ‘Do you know what our Agostino says of Count Medole?’

‘Oh, for ever Agostino with you young men!’ the countess exclaimed. ‘I
believe he laughs at you.’

‘To be sure he does: he laughs at all. But, what he says of Count Medole
holds the truth of the thing, and may make you easier concerning
the count’s estates. He says that Medole is vaccine matter which the
Austrians apply to this generation of Italians to spare us the terrible
disease. They will or they won’t deal gently with Medole, by-and-by;
but for the present he will be handled tenderly. He is useful. I wish
I could say that we thought so too. And now,’ Carlo stooped to her and
took her hand, ‘shall we see you at La Scala to-night?’

The countess, with her hands lying in his, replied: ‘I have received an
intimation from the authorities that my box is wanted.’

‘So you claim your right to occupy it!’

‘That is my very humble protest for personal liberty.’

‘Good: I shall be there, and shall much enjoy an introduction to the
gentleman who disputes it with you. Besides, mother, if the Signorina
Vittoria sings...’

Countess Ammiani’s gaze fixed upon her son with a level steadiness. His
voice threatened to be unequal. All the pleading force of his eyes was
thrown into it, as he said: ‘She will sing: and she gives the signal;
that is certain. We may have to rescue her. If I can place her under
your charge, I shall feel that she is safe, and is really protected.’

The countess looked at Luciano before she answered:

‘Yes, Carlo, whatever I can do. But you know I have not a scrap of
influence.’

‘Let her lie on your bosom, my mother.’

‘Is this to be another Violetta?’

‘Her name is Vittoria,’ said Carlo, colouring deeply. A certain Violetta
had been his boy’s passion.

Further distracting Austrian band-music was going by. This time it was
a regiment of Italians in the white and blue uniform. Carlo and Luciano
leaned over the balcony, smoking, and scanned the marching of their
fellow-countrymen in the livery of servitude.

‘They don’t step badly,’ said one; and the other, with a smile of
melancholy derision, said, ‘We are all brothers!’

Following the Italians came a regiment of Hungarian grenadiers, tall,
swam-faced, and particularly light-limbed men, looking brilliant in the
clean tight military array of Austria. Then a squadron of blue hussars,
and Croat regiment; after which, in the midst of Czech dragoons and
German Uhlans and blue Magyar light horsemen, with General officers and
aides about him, the veteran Austrian Field-Marshal rode, his easy hand
and erect figure and good-humoured smile belying both his age and his
reputation among Italians. Artillery, and some bravely-clad horse of
the Eastern frontier, possibly Serb, wound up the procession. It gleamed
down the length of the Corso in a blinding sunlight; brass helmets and
hussar feathers, white and violet surcoats, green plumes, maroon capes,
bright steel scabbards, bayonet-points,--as gallant a show as some
portentously-magnified summer field, flowing with the wind, might
be; and over all the banner of Austria--the black double-headed eagle
ramping on a yellow ground. This was the flower of iron meaning on such
a field.

The two young men held their peace. Countess Ammiani had pushed her
chair back into a dark corner of the room, and was sitting there when
they looked back, like a sombre figure of black marble.



CHAPTER XVII

IN THE PIAZZA D’ARMI

Carlo and Luciano followed the regiments to the Piazza d’Armi, drawn
after them by that irresistible attraction to youths who have as yet
had no shroud of grief woven for them--desire to observe the aspect of a
brilliant foe.

The Piazza d’Armi was the field of Mars of Milan, and an Austrian review
of arms there used to be a tropical pageant. The place was too narrow
for broad manoeuvres, or for much more than to furnish an inspection
of all arms to the General, and a display (with its meaning) to the
populace. An unusually large concourse of spectators lined the square,
like a black border to a vast bed of flowers, nodding now this way,
now that. Carlo and Luciano passed among the groups, presenting the
perfectly smooth faces of young men of fashion, according to the
universal aristocratic pattern handed down to querulous mortals from
Olympus--the secret of which is to show a triumphant inaction of
the heart and the brain, that are rendered positively subservient to
elegance of limb. They knew the chances were in favour of their being
arrested at any instant. None of the higher members of the Milanese
aristocracy were visible; the people looked sullen. Carlo was attracted
by the tall figure of the Signor Antonio-Pericles, whom he beheld in
converse with the commandant of the citadel, out in the square, among
chatting and laughing General officers. At Carlo’s elbow there came a
burst of English tongues; he heard Vittoria’s English name spoken with
animation. ‘Admire those faces,’ he said to Luciano, but the latter was
interchanging quiet recognitions among various heads of the crowd; a
language of the eyelids and the eyebrows. When he did look round he
admired the fair island faces with an Italian’s ardour: ‘Their women are
splendid!’ and he no longer pushed upon Carlo’s arm to make way ahead.
In the English group were two sunny-haired girls and a blue-eyed lady
with the famous English curls, full, and rounding richly. This lady
talked of her brother, and pointed him out as he rode down the line in
the Marshal’s staff. The young officer indicated presently broke away
and galloped up to her, bending over his horse’s neck to join the
conversation. Emilia Belloni’s name was mentioned. He stared, and
appeared to insist upon a contrary statement.

Carlo scrutinized his features. While doing so he was accosted, and
beheld his former adversary of the Motter--one, with whom he had
yesterday shaken hands in the Piazza of La Scala. The ceremony was
cordially renewed. Luciano unlinked his arm from Carlo and left him.

‘It appears that you are mistaken with reference to Mademoiselle
Belloni,’ said Captain Gambier. ‘We hear on positive authority that she
will not appear at La Scala to-night. It’s a disappointment; though,
from what you did me the honour to hint to me, I cannot allow myself to
regret it.’

Carlo had a passionate inward prompting to trust this Englishman with
the secret. It was a weakness that he checked. When one really takes to
foreigners, there is a peculiar impulse (I speak of the people who are
accessible to impulse) to make brothers of them. He bowed, and said,
‘She does not appear?’

‘She has in fact quitted Milan. Not willingly. I would have stopped the
business if I had known anything of it; but she is better out of the
way, and will be carefully looked after, where she is. By this time she
is in the Tyrol.’

‘And where?’ asked Carlo, with friendly interest.

‘At a schloss near Meran. Or she will be there in a very few hours. I
feared--I may inform you that we were very good friends in England--I
feared that when she once came to Italy she would get into political
scrapes. I dare say you agree with me that women have nothing to do
with politics. Observe: you see the lady who is speaking to the Austrian
officer?--he is her brother. Like Mademoiselle Belloni he has adopted
a fresh name; it’s the name of his uncle, a General Pierson in the
Austrian service. I knew him in England: he has been in our service.
Mademoiselle Belloni lived with his sisters for some years two or three.
As you may suppose, they are all anxious to see her. Shall I introduce
you? They will be glad to know one of her Italian friends.’

Carlo hesitated; he longed to hear those ladies talk of Vittoria. ‘Do
they speak French?’

‘Oh, dear, yes. That is, as we luckless English people speak it. Perhaps
you will more easily pardon their seminary Italian. See there,’ Captain
Gambier pointed at some trotting squadrons; ‘these Austrians have
certainly a matchless cavalry. The artillery seems good. The infantry
are fine men--very fine men. They have a “woodeny” movement; but that’s
in the nature of the case: tremendous discipline alone gives homogeneity
to all those nationalities. Somehow they get beaten. I doubt whether
anything will beat their cavalry.’

‘They are useless in street-fighting,’ said Carlo.

‘Oh, street-fighting!’ Captain Gambier vented a soldier’s disgust at the
notion. ‘They’re not in Paris. Will you step forward?’

Just then the tall Greek approached the party of English. The
introduction was delayed.

He was addressed by the fair lady, in the island tongue, as ‘Mr.
Pericles.’ She thanked him for his extreme condescension in deigning to
notice them. But whatever his condescension had been, it did not extend
to an admitted acquaintance with the poor speech of the land of fogs. An
exhibition of aching deafness was presented to her so resolutely, that
at last she faltered, ‘What! have you forgotten English, Mr. Pericles?
You spoke it the other day.’

‘It is ze language of necessity--of commerce,’ he replied.

‘But, surely, Mr. Pericles, you dare not presume to tell me you choose
to be ignorant of it whenever you please?’

‘I do not take grits into ze teeth, madame; no more.’ ‘But you speak it
perfectly.’

‘Perfect it may be, for ze transactions of commerce. I wish to keep my
teez.’

‘Alas!’ said the lady, compelled, ‘I must endeavour to swim in French.’

‘At your service, madame,’ quoth the Greek, with an immediate doubling
of the length of his body.

Carlo heard little more than he knew; but the confirmation of what
we know will sometimes instigate us like fresh intelligence, and the
lover’s heart was quick to apprehend far more than he knew in one
direction. He divined instantaneously that the English-Austrian
spoken of by Barto Rizzo was the officer sitting on horseback within
half-a-dozen yards of him. The certainty of the thought cramped his
muscles. For the rest, it became clear to him that the attempt of the
millionaire connoisseur to carry off Vittoria had received the tacit
sanction of the Austrian authorities; for reasons quite explicable, Mr.
Pericles, as the English lady called him, distinctly hinted it, while
affirming with vehement self-laudation that his scheme had succeeded for
the vindication of Art.

‘The opera you will hear zis night,’ he said, ‘will be hissed. You will
hear a chorus of screech-owls to each song of that poor Irma, whom the
Italian people call “crabapple.” Well; she pleases German ears, and if
they can support her, it is well. But la Vittoria--your Belloni--you
will not hear; and why? She has been false to her Art, false! She has
become a little devil in politics. It is a Guy Fawkes femelle! She has
been guilty of the immense crime of ingratitude. She is dismissed to
study, to penitence, and to the society of her old friends, if they will
visit her.’

‘Of course we will,’ said the English lady; ‘either before or after our
visit to Venice--delicious Venice!’

‘Which you have not seen--hein?’ Mr. Pericles snarled; ‘and have not
smelt. There is no music in Venice! But you have nothing but street
tinkle-tinkle! A place to live in! mon Dieu!’

The lady smiled. ‘My husband insists upon trying the baths of Bormio,
and then we are to go over a pass for him to try the grape-cure at
Meran. If I can get him to promise me one whole year in Italy, our visit
to Venice may be deferred. Our doctor, monsieur, indicates our route. If
my brother can get leave of absence, we shall go to Bormio and to Meran
with him. He is naturally astonished that Emilia refused to see him;
and she refused to see us too! She wrote a letter, dated from the
Conservatorio to him, he had it in his saddlebag, and was robbed of it
and other precious documents, when the wretched, odious people set upon
him in Verona-poor boy! She said in the letter that she would see him in
a few days after the fifteenth, which is to-day!

‘Ah! a few days after the fifteenth, which is to-day,’ Mr. Pericles
repeated. ‘I saw you but the day before yesterday, madame, or I could
have brought you together.

She is now away-off--out of sight--the perfule! Ah false that she is;
speak not of her. You remember her in England. There it was trouble,
trouble; but here, we are a pot on a fire with her; speak not of her.
She has used me ill, madame. I am sick.’

His violent gesticulation drooped. In a temporary abandonment to
chagrin, he wiped the moisture from his forehead, unwilling or heedless
of the mild ironical mouthing of the ladies, and looked about; for Carlo
had made a movement to retire,--he had heard enough for discomfort.

‘Ah! my dear Ammiani, the youngest editor in Europe! how goes it with
you?’ the Greek called out with revived affability.

Captain Gambier perceived that it was time to present his Italian
acquaintance to the ladies by name, as a friend of Mademoiselle Belloni.

‘My most dear Ammiani,’ Antonio-Pericles resumed; he barely attempted
to conceal his acrid delight in casting a mysterious shadow of coming
vexation over the youth; ‘I am afraid you will not like the opera
Camilla, or perhaps it is the Camilla you will not like. But, shoulder
arms, march!’ (a foot regiment in motion suggested the form of the
recommendation) ‘what is not for to-day may be for to-morrow. Let us
wait. I think, my Ammiani, you are to have a lemon and not an orange.
Never mind. Let us wait.’

Carlo got his forehead into a show of smoothness, and said, ‘Suppose, my
dear Signor Antonio, the prophet of dark things were to say to himself,
“Let us wait?”’

‘Hein-it is deep.’ Antonio-Pericles affected to sound the sentence,
eye upon earth, as a sparrow spies worm or crumb. ‘Permit me,’ he
added rapidly; an idea had struck him from his malicious reserve
stores,--‘Here is Lieutenant Pierson, of the staff of the Field-Marshal
of Austria, unattached, an old friend of Mademoiselle Emilia
Belloni,--permit me,--here is Count Ammiani, of the Lombardia Milanese
journal, a new friend of the Signorina Vittoria Campa-Mademoiselle
Belloni the Signorina Campa--it is the same person, messieurs; permit me
to introduce you.’

Antonio-Pericles waved his arm between the two young men.

Their plain perplexity caused him to dash his fingers down each side of
his moustachios in tugs of enjoyment.

For Lieutenant Pierson, who displayed a certain readiness to bow, had
caught a sight of the repellent stare on Ammiani’s face; a still and
flat look, not aggressive, yet anything but inviting; like a shield.

Nevertheless, the lieutenant’s head produced a stiff nod. Carlo’s did
not respond; but he lifted his hat and bowed humbly in retirement to the
ladies.

Captain Gambier stepped aside with him.

‘Inform Lieutenant Pierson, I beg you,’ said Ammiani, ‘that I am at his
orders, if he should consider that I have insulted him.’

‘By all means,’ said Gambier; ‘only, you know, it’s impossible for me to
guess what is the matter; and I don’t think he knows.’

Luciano happened to be coming near. Carlo went up to him, and stood
talking for half a minute. He then returned to Captain Gambier, and
said, ‘I put myself in the hands of a man of honour. You are aware that
Italian gentlemen are not on terms with Austrian officers. If I am seen
exchanging salutes with any one of them, I offend my countrymen; and
they have enough to bear already.’

Perceiving that there was more in the background, Gambier simply bowed.
He had heard of Italian gentlemen incurring the suspicion of their
fellows by merely being seen in proximity to an Austrian officer.

As they were parting, Carlo said to him, with a very direct meaning in
his eyes, ‘Go to the opera tonight.’

‘Yes, I suppose so,’ the Englishman answered, and digested the look and
the recommendation subsequently.

Lieutenant Pierson had ridden off. The war-machine was in motion from
end to end: the field of flowers was a streaming flood; regiment by
regiment, the crash of bands went by. Outwardly the Italians conducted
themselves with the air of ordinary heedless citizens, in whose bosoms
the music set no hell-broth boiling. Patrician and plebeian, they were
chiefly boys; though here and there a middle-aged workman cast a look
of intelligence upon Carlo and Luciano, when these two passed along the
crowd. A gloom of hoarded hatred was visible in the mass of faces, ready
to spring fierily.

Arms were in the city. With hatred to prompt the blow, with arms to
strike, so much dishonour to avenge, we need not wonder that these
youths beheld the bit of liberty in prospect magnified by their mighty
obfuscating ardour, like a lantern in a fog. Reason did not act. They
were in such a state when just to say ‘Italia! Italia!’ gave them nerve
to match an athlete. So, the parading of Austria, the towering athlete,
failed of its complete lesson of intimidation, and only ruffled the
surface of insurgent hearts. It seemed, and it was, an insult to the
trodden people, who read it as a lesson for cravens: their instinct
commonly hits the bell. They felt that a secure supremacy would not have
paraded itself: so they divined indistinctly that there was weakness
somewhere in the councils of the enemy. When the show had vanished,
their spirits hung pausing, like the hollow air emptied of big sound,
and reacted. Austria had gained little more by her display than the
conscientious satisfaction of the pedagogue who lifts the rod to advise
intending juvenile culprits how richly it can be merited and how poor
will be their future grounds of complaint.

But before Austria herself had been taught a lesson she conceived that
she had but one man and his feeble instruments, and occasional frenzies,
opposed to her, him whom we saw on the Motterone, which was ceasing to
be true; though it was true that the whole popular movement flowed from
that one man. She observed travelling sparks in the embers of Italy, and
crushed them under her heel, without reflecting that a vital heat must
be gathering where the spots of fire run with such a swiftness. It
was her belief that if she could seize that one man, whom many of the
younger nobles and all the people acknowledged as their Chief--for
he stood then without a rival in his task--she would have the neck of
conspiracy in her angry grasp. Had she caught him, the conspiracy for
Italian freedom would not have crowed for many long seasons; the torch
would have been ready, but not the magazine. He prepared it; it was he
who preached to the Italians that opportunity is a mocking devil when we
look for it to be revealed; or, in other words, wait for chance; as it
is God’s angel when it is created within us, the ripe fruit of virtue
and devotion. He cried out to Italians to wait for no inspiration but
their own; that they should never subdue their minds to follow any alien
example; nor let a foreign city of fire be their beacon. Watching over
his Italy; her wrist in his meditative clasp year by year; he stood like
a mystic leech by the couch of a fair and hopeless frame, pledged to
revive it by the inspired assurance, shared by none, that life had not
forsaken it. A body given over to death and vultures-he stood by it in
the desert. Is it a marvel to you that when the carrion-wings swooped
low, and the claws fixed, and the beak plucked and savoured its morsel,
he raised his arm, and urged the half-resuscitated frame to some
vindicating show of existence? Arise! he said, even in what appeared
most fatal hours of darkness. The slack limbs moved; the body rose and
fell. The cost of the effort was the breaking out of innumerable wounds,
old and new; the gain was the display of the miracle that Italy lived.
She tasted her own blood, and herself knew that she lived.

Then she felt her chains. The time was coming for her to prove, by the
virtues within her, that she was worthy to live, when others of her
sons, subtle and adept, intricate as serpents, bold, unquestioning as
well-bestridden steeds, should grapple and play deep for her in the game
of worldly strife. Now--at this hour of which I speak--when Austrians
marched like a merry flame down Milan streets, and Italians stood like
the burnt-out cinders of the fire-grate, Italy’s faint wrist was still
in the clutch of her grave leech, who counted the beating of her pulse
between long pauses, that would have made another think life to be
heaving its last, not beginning.

The Piazza d’Armi was empty of its glittering show.



CHAPTER XVIII

THE NIGHT OF THE FIFTEENTH

We quit the Piazza d’Armi. Rumour had its home in Milan. On their way to
the caffe La Scala, Luciano and Carlo (who held together, determined
to be taken together if the arrest should come) heard it said that the
Chief was in Milan. A man passed by and uttered it, going. They stopped
a second man, who was known to them, and he confirmed the rumour. Glad
as sunlight once more, they hurried to Count Medole forgivingly. The
count’s servant assured them that his master had left the city for
Monza. ‘Is Medole a coward?’ cried Luciano, almost in the servant’s
hearing. The fleeing of so important a man looked vile, now that they
were sharpened by new eagerness. Forthwith they were off to Agostino,
believing that he would know the truth. They found him in bed. ‘Well,
and what?’ said Agostino, replying to their laughter. ‘I am old; too old
to stride across a day and night, like you giants of youth. I take my
rest when I can, for I must have it.’

‘But, you know, O conscript father,’ said Carlo, willing to fall a
little into his mood, ‘you know that nothing will be done to-night.’

‘Do I know so much?’ Agostino murmured at full length.

‘Do you know that the Chief is in the city?’ said Luciano.

‘A man who is lying in bed knows this,’ returned Agostino, ‘that he
knows less than those who are up, though what he does know he perhaps
digests better. ‘Tis you who are the fountains, my boys, while I am the
pool into which you play. Say on.’

They spoke of the rumour. He smiled at it. They saw at once that the
rumour was false, for the Chief trusted Agostino.

‘Proceed to Barto, the mole,’ he said, ‘Barto the miner; he is the
father of daylight in the city: of the daylight of knowledge, you
understand, for which men must dig deep. Proceed to him;--if you can
find him.’

But Carlo brought flame into Agostino’s eyes.

‘The accursed beast! he has pinned the black butterfly to the
signorina’s dress.’

Agostino rose on his elbow. He gazed at them. ‘We are followers of
a blind mole,’ he uttered with an inner voices while still gazing
wrathfully, and then burst out in grief, ‘“Patria o mea creatrix, patria
o mea genetrix!”’

‘The signorina takes none of his warnings, nor do we. She escaped a plot
last night, and to-night she sings.’

‘She must not,’ said Agostino imperiously.

‘She does.’

‘I must stop that.’ Agostino jumped out of bed.

The young men beset him with entreaties to leave the option to her.

‘Fools!’ he cried, plunging a rageing leg into his garments. ‘Here,
Iris! Mercury! fly to Jupiter and say we are all old men and boys in
Italy, and are ready to accept a few middleaged mortals as Gods, if they
will come and help us. Young fools! Do you know that when you conspire
you are in harness, and yoke-fellows, every one?’

‘Yoked to that Barto Rizzo!’

‘Yes; and the worse horse of the two. Listen, you pair of Nuremberg
puppet-heads! If the Chief were here, I would lie still in my bed.
Medole has stopped the outbreak. Right or wrong, he moves a mass; we are
subordinates--particles. The Chief can’t be everywhere. Milan is too hot
for him. Two men are here, concealed--Rinaldo and Angelo Guidascarpi.
The rumour springs from that. They have slain Count Paul Lenkenstein,
and rushed to old Milan for work, with the blood on their swords. Oh,
the tragedy!--when I have time to write it. Let me now go to my girl, to
my daughter! The blood of the Lenkenstein must rust on the steel. Angelo
slew him: Rinaldo gave him the cross to kiss. You shall have the whole
story by-and-by; but this will be a lesson to Germans not to court our
Italian damsels. Lift not that curtain, you Pannonian burglars! Much
do we pardon; but bow and viol meet not, save that they be of one wood;
especially not when signor bow is from yonderside the Rhoetian Alps, and
donzella Viol is a growth of warm Lombardy. Witness to it, Angelo and
Rinaldo Guidascarpi! bravo! You boys there--you stand like two Tyrolese
salad-spoons! I say that my girl, my daughter, shall never help to fire
blank shot. I sent my paternal commands to her yesterday evening. Does
the wanton disobey her father and look up to a pair of rocket-headed
rascals like you? Apes! if she sings that song to-night, the ear of
Italy will be deaf to her for ever after. There’s no engine to stir
to-night; all the locks are on it; she will send half-a-dozen milkings
like you to perdition, and there will be a circle of black blood about
her name in the traditions of the insurrection--do you hear? Have I
cherished her for that purpose? to have her dedicated to a brawl!’

Agostino fumed up and down the room in a confusion of apparel, savouring
his epithets and imaginative peeps while he stormed, to get a relish
out of something, as beseems the poetic temperament. The youths were
silenced by him; Carlo gladly.

‘Troop!’ said the old man, affecting to contrast his attire with theirs;
‘two graces and a satyr never yet went together, and we’ll not frighten
the classic Government of Milan. I go out alone. No, Signor Luciano, I
am not sworn to Count Medole. I see your sneer contain it. Ah! what a
thing is hurry to a mind like mine. It tears up the trees by the roots,
floods the land, darkens utterly my poor quiet universe. I was composing
a pastoral when you came in. Observe what you have done with my “Lovely
Age of Gold!”’

Agostino’s transfigurement from lymphatic poet to fiery man of action,
lasted till his breath was short, when the necessity for taking a deep
draught of air induced him to fall back upon his idle irony. ‘Heads,
you illustrious young gentlemen!--heads, not legs and arms, move a
conspiracy. Now, you--think what you will of it--are only legs and arms
in this business. And if you are insubordinate, you present the shocking
fabular spirit of the members of the body in revolt; which is not the
revolt we desire to see. I go to my daughter immediately, and we shall
all have a fat sleep for a week, while the Tedeschi hunt and stew and
exhaust their naughty suspicions. Do you know that the Pope’s Mouth is
closed? We made it tell a big lie before it shut tight on its teeth--a
bad omen, I admit; but the idea was rapturously neat. Barto, the
sinner--be sure I throttle him for putting that blot on my swan; only,
not yet, not yet: he’s a blind mole, a mad patriot; but, as I say, our
beast Barto drew an Austrian to the Mouth last night, and led the dog
to take a letter out of it, detailing the whole plot of tonight, and
how men will be stationed at the vicolo here, ready to burst out on
the Corso, and at the vicolo there, and elsewhere, all over the city,
carrying fire and sword; a systematic map of the plot. It was addressed
to Count Serabiglione--my boys! my boys! what do you think of it? Bravo!
though Barto is a deadly beast if he--‘Agostino paused. ‘Yes, he went
too far! too far!’

‘Has he only gone too far, do you say?’

Carlo spoke sternly. His elder was provoked enough by his deadness of
enthusiasm, and that the boy should dare to stalk on a bare egoistical
lover’s sentiment to be critical of him, Agostino, struck him as
monstrous. With the treachery of controlled rage, Agostino drew near
him, and whispered some sentences in his ear.

Agostino then called him his good Spartan boy for keeping brave
countenance. ‘Wait till you comprehend women philosophically. All’s
trouble with them till then. At La Scala tonight, my sons! We have
rehearsed the fiasco; the Tedeschi perform it. Off with you, that I may
go out alone!’

He seemed to think it an indubitable matter that he would find Vittoria
and bend her will.

Agostino had betrayed his weakness to the young men, who read him with
the keen eyes of a particular disapprobation. He delighted in the dark
web of intrigue, and believed himself to be no ordinary weaver of that
sunless work. It captured his imagination, filling his pride with a
mounting gas. Thus he had become allied to Medole on the one hand,
and to Barto Rizzo on the other. The young men read him shrewdly, but
speaking was useless.

Before Carlo parted from Luciano, he told him the burden of the whisper,
which had confirmed what he had heard on the Piazzi d’Armi. It was this:
Barto Rizzo, aware that Lieutenant Pierson was the bearer of despatches
from the Archduke in Milan to the marshal, then in Verona, had followed,
and by extraordinary effort reached Verona in advance; had there tricked
and waylaid him, and obtained, instead of despatches, a letter of
recent date, addressed to him by Vittoria, which compromised the
insurrectionary project.

‘If that’s the case, my Carlo!’ said his friend, and shrugged, and spoke
in a very worldly fashion of the fair sex.

Carlo shook him off. For the rest of the day he was alone, shut up with
his journalistic pen. The pen traversed seas and continents like an old
hack to whom his master has thrown the reins. Apart from the desperate
perturbation of his soul, he thought of the Guidascarpi, whom he knew,
and was allied to, and of the Lenkensteins, whom he knew likewise,
or had known in the days when Giacomo Piaveni lived, and Bianca von
Lenkenstein, Laura’s sister, visited among the people of her country.
Countess Anna and Countess Lena von Lenkenstein were the German beauties
of Milan, lively little women, and sweet. Between himself and Countess
Lena there had been tender dealings about the age when sweetmeats have
lost their attraction, and the charm has to be supplied. She was rich,
passionate for Austria, romantic concerning Italy, a vixen in temper,
but with a pearly light about her temples that kept her picture in his
memory. And besides, during those days when women are bountiful to us
as Goddesses, give they never so little, she had deigned to fondle
hands with him; had set the universe rocking with a visible heave of
her bosom; jingled all the keys of mystery; and had once (as to embalm
herself in his recollection), once had surrendered her lips to him.
Countess Lena would have espoused Ammiani, believing in her power to
make an Austrian out of such Italian material. The Piaveni revolt had
stopped that and all their intercourse by the division of the White
Hand, as it was called; otherwise, the hand of the corpse. Ammiani had
known also Count Paul von Lenkenstein. To his mind, death did not mean
much, however pleasant life might be: his father and his friend had
gone to it gaily; and he himself stood ready for the summons: but the
contemplation of a domestic judicial execution, which the Guidascarpi
seemed to have done upon Count Paul, affrighted him, and put an end
to his temporary capacity for labour. He felt as if a spent shot were
striking on his ribs; it was the unknown sensation of fear. Changeing,
it became pity. ‘Horrible deaths these Austrians die!’ he said.

For a while he regarded their lot as the hardest. A shaft of sunlight
like blazing brass warned him that the day dropped. He sent to his
mother’s stables, and rode at a gallop round Milan, dining alone in one
of the common hotel gardens, where he was a stranger. A man may have
good nerve to face the scene which he is certain will be enacted, who
shrinks from an hour that is suspended in doubt. He was aware of the
pallor and chill of his looks, and it was no marvel to him when two
sbirri in mufti, foreign to Milan, set their eyes on him as they passed
by to a vacant table on the farther side of the pattering gold-fish
pool, where he sat. He divined that they might be in pursuit of the
Guidascarpi, and alive to read a troubled visage. ‘Yet neither Rinaldo
nor Angelo would look as I do now,’ he thought, perceiving that these
men were judging by such signs, and had their ideas. Democrat as he
imagined himself to be, he despised with a nobleman’s contempt creatures
who were so dead to the character of men of birth as to suppose that
they were pale and remorseful after dealing a righteous blow, and that
they trembled! Ammiani looked at his hand: no force of his will could
arrest its palsy. The Guidascarpi were sons of Bologna. The stupidity
of Italian sbirri is proverbial, or a Milanese cavalier would have been
astonished to conceive himself mistaken for a Bolognese. He beckoned to
the waiter, and said, ‘Tell me what place has bred those two fellows on
the other side of the fountain.’ After a side-glance of scrutiny, the
reply was, ‘Neapolitans.’ The waiter was ready to make an additional
remark, but Ammiani nodded and communed with a toothpick. He was sure
that those Neapolitans were recruits of the Bolognese Polizia; on
the track of the Guidascarpi, possibly. As he was not unlike Angelo
Guidascarpi in figure, he became uneasy lest they should blunder ‘twixt
him and La Scala; and the notion of any human power stopping him short
of that destination, made Ammiani’s hand perfectly firm. He drew on his
gloves, and named the place whither he was going, aloud. ‘Excellency,’
said the waiter, while taking up and pretending to reckon the money for
the bill: ‘they have asked me whether there are two Counts Ammiani in
Milan.’ Carlo’s eyebrows started. ‘Can they be after me?’ he thought,
and said: ‘Certainly; there is twice anything in this world, and Milan
is the epitome of it.’

Acting a part gave him Agostino’s catching manner of speech. The waiter,
who knew him now, took this for an order to say ‘Yes.’ He had evidently
a respect for Ammiani’s name: Carlo supposed that he was one of Milan’s
fighting men. A sort of answer leading to ‘Yes’ by a circuit and the
assistance of the hearer, was conveyed to the sbirri. They were true
Neapolitans quick to suspect, irresolute upon their suspicions. He was
soon aware that they were not to be feared more than are the general
race of bunglers, whom the Gods sometimes strangely favour. They
perplexed him: for why were they after him? and what had made them ask
whether he had a brother? He was followed, but not molested, on his way
to La Scala.

Ammiani’s heart was in full play as he looked at the curtain of the
stage. The Night of the Fifteenth had come. For the first few moments
his strong excitement fronting the curtain, amid a great host of hearts
thumping and quivering up in the smaller measures like his own, together
with the predisposing belief that this was to be a night of events,
stopped his consciousness that all had been thwarted; that there
was nothing but plot, plot, counterplot and tangle, disunion, silly
subtlety, jealousy, vanity, a direful congregation of antagonistic
elements; threads all loose, tongues wagging, pressure here, pressure
there, like an uncertain rage in the entrails of the undirected earth,
and no master hand on the spot to fuse and point the intense distracted
forces.

The curtain, therefore, hung like any common opera-screen; big only with
the fate of the new prima donna. He was robbed even of the certainty
that Vittoria would appear. From the blank aspect of the curtain he
turned to the house, which was crowding fast, and was not like listless
Milan about to criticize an untried voice. The commonly empty boxes
of the aristocracy were full of occupants, and for a wonder the white
uniforms were not in excess, though they were to be seen. The first
person whom Ammiani met was Agostino, who spoke gruffly. Vittoria had
been invisible to him. Neither the maestro, nor the impresario, nor the
waiting-woman had heard of her. Uncertainty was behind the curtain, as
well as in front; but in front it was the uncertainty which is tipped
with expectation, hushing the usual noisy chatter, and setting a
daylight of eyes forward. Ammiani spied about the house, and caught
sight of Laura Piaveni with Colonel Corte by her side. The Lenkensteins
were in the Archduke’s box. Antonio-Pericles, and the English lady and
Captain Gambier, were next to them. The appearance of a white uniform in
his mother’s box over the stage caused Ammiani to shut up his glass. He
was making his way thither for the purpose of commencing the hostilities
of the night, when Countess Ammiani entered the lobby, and took her
son’s arm with a grave face and a trembling touch.



CHAPTER XIX

THE PRIMA DONNA

‘Whover is in my box is my guest,’ said the countess, adding a
convulsive imperative pressure on Carlo’s arm, to aid the meaning of her
deep underbreath. She was a woman who rarely exacted obedience, and she
was spontaneously obeyed. No questions could be put, no explanations
given in the crash, and they threaded on amid numerous greetings in a
place where Milanese society had habitually ceased to gather, and found
itself now in assembly with unconcealed sensations of strangeness. A
card lay on the table of the countess’s private retiring-room: it bore
the name of General Pierson. She threw off her black lace scarf.
‘Angelo Guidascarpi is in Milan,’ she said. ‘He has killed one of the
Lenkensteins, sword to sword. He came to me an hour after you left;
the sbirri were on his track; he passed for my son. He is now under the
charge of Barto Rizzo, disguised; probably in this house. His brother
is in the city. Keep the cowl on your head as long as possible; if these
hounds see and identify you, there will be mischief.’ She said no more,
satisfied that she was understood, but opening the door of the box,
passed in, and returned a stately acknowledgement of the salutations of
two military officers. Carlo likewise bent his head to them; it was like
bending his knee, for in the younger of the two intruders he recognized
Lieutenant Pierson. The countess accepted a vacated seat; the cavity of
her ear accepted the General’s apologies. He informed her that he deeply
regretted the intrusion; he was under orders to be present at the
opera, and to be as near the stage as possible, the countess’s box being
designated. Her face had the unalterable composure of a painted head
upon an old canvas. The General persisted in tendering excuses. She
replied, ‘It is best, when one is too weak to resist, to submit to an
outrage quietly.’ General Pierson at once took the position assigned to
him; it was not an agreeable one. Between Carlo and the lieutenant no
attempt at conversation was made.

The General addressed his nephew in English. ‘Did you see the girl
behind the scenes, Wilfrid?’

The answer was ‘No.’

‘Pericles has her fast shut up in the Tyrol: the best habitat for her if
she objects to a whipping. Did you see Irma?’

‘No; she has disappeared too.’

‘Then I suppose we must make up our minds to an opera without head or
tail. As Pat said of the sack of potatoes, “‘twould be a mighty fine
beast if it had them.”’

The officers had taken refuge in their opera-glasses, and spoke while
gazing round the house.

‘If neither this girl nor Irma is going to appear, there is no positive
necessity for my presence here,’ said the General, reduced to excuse
himself to himself. ‘I’ll sit through the first scene and then beat a
retreat. I might be off at once; the affair looks harmless enough only,
you know, when there’s nothing to see, you must report that you have
seen it, or your superiors are not satisfied.’

The lieutenant was less able to cover the irksomeness of his situation
with easy talk. His glance rested on Countess Len a von Lenkenstein, a
quick motion of whose hand made him say that he should go over to her.

‘Very well,’ said the General; ‘be careful that you give no hint of
this horrible business. They will hear of it when they get home: time
enough!’

Lieutenant Pierson touched at his sister’s box on the way. She was very
excited, asked innumerable things,--whether there was danger? whether he
had a whole regiment at hand to protect peaceable persons? ‘Otherwise,’
she said, ‘I shall not be able to keep that man (her husband) in Italy
another week. He refused to stir out to-night, though we know that
nothing can happen. Your prima donna celestissima is out of harm’s way.’

‘Oh, she is safe,--ze minx’; cried Antonio-Pericles, laughing and
saluting the Duchess of Graatli, who presented herself at the front of
her box. Major de Pyrmont was behind her, and it delighted the Greek
to point them out to the English lady, with a simple intimation of the
character of their relationship, at which her curls shook sadly.

‘Pardon, madame,’ said Pericles. ‘In Italy, a husband away, ze friend
takes title: it is no more.’

‘It is very disgraceful,’ she said.

‘Ze morales, madame, suit ze sun.’

Captain Gambier left the box with Wilfrid, expressing in one sentence
his desire to fling Pericles over to the pit, and in another his belief
that an English friend, named Merthyr Powys, was in the house.

‘He won’t be in the city four-and-twenty hours,’ said Wilfrid.

‘Well; you’ll keep your tongue silent.’

‘By heavens! Gambier, if you knew the insults we have to submit to! The
temper of angels couldn’t stand it. I’m sorry enough for these fellows,
with their confounded country, but it’s desperate work to be civil to
them; upon my honour, it is! I wish they would stand up and let us have
it over. We have to bear more from the women than the men.’

‘I leave you to cool,’ said Gambier.

The delayed absence of the maestro from his post at the head of the
orchestra, where the musicians sat awaiting him, seemed to confirm a
rumour that was now circling among the audience, warning all to prepare
for a disappointment. His baton was brought in and laid on the book of
the new overture. When at last he was seen bearing onward through the
music-stands, a low murmur ran round. Rocco paid no heed to it. His
demeanour produced such satisfaction in the breast of Antonio-Pericles
that he rose, and was guilty of the barbarism of clapping his hands.
Meeting Ammiani in the lobby, he said, ‘Come, my good friend, you shall
help me to pull Irma through to-night. She is vinegar--we will mix her
with oil. It is only for to-night, to save that poor Rocco’s opera.’

‘Irma!’ said Ammiani; ‘she is by this time in Tyrol. Your Irma will have
some difficulty in showing herself here within sixty hours.’

‘How!’ cried Pericles, amazed, and plucking after Carlo to stop him. ‘I
bet you--’

‘How much?’

‘I bet you a thousand florins you do not see la Vittoria to-night.’

‘Good. I bet you a thousand florins you do not see Irma.’

‘No Vittoria, I say!’

‘And I say, no Lazzeruola!’

Agostino, who was pacing the lobby, sent Pericles distraught with the
same tale of the rape of Irma. He rushed to Signora Piaveni’s box and
heard it repeated. There he beheld, sitting in the background, an old
English acquaintance, with whom Captain Gambier was conversing.

‘My dear Powys, you have come all the way from England to see your
favourite’s first night. You will be shocked, sir. She has neglected
her Art. She is exiled, banished, sent away to study and to compose her
mind.’

‘I think you are mistaken,’ said Laura. ‘You will see her almost
immediately.’

‘Signora, pardon me; do I not know best?’

‘You may have contrived badly.’

Pericles blinked and gnawed his moustache as if it were food for
patience.

‘I would wager a milliard of francs,’ he muttered. With absolute pathos
he related to Mr. Powys the aberrations of the divinely-gifted voice,
the wreck which Vittoria strove to become, and from which he alone
was striving to rescue her. He used abundant illustrations, coarse and
quaint, and was half hysterical; flashing a white fist and thumping
the long projection of his knee with a wolfish aspect. His grotesque
sincerity was little short of the shedding of tears.

‘And your sister, my dear Powys?’ he asked, as one returning to the
consideration of shadows.

‘My sister accompanies me, but not to the opera.’

‘For another campaign--hein?’

‘To winter in Italy, at all events.’

Carlo Ammiani entered and embraced Merthyr Powys warmly. The Englishman
was at home among Italians: Pericles, feeling that he was not so, and
regarding them all as a community of fever-patients without hospital,
retired. To his mind it was the vilest treason, the grossest
selfishness, to conspire or to wink at the sacrifice of a voice
like Vittoria’s to such a temporal matter as this, which they called
patriotism. He looked on it as one might look on the Hindoo drama of a
Suttee. He saw in it just that stupid action of a whole body of fanatics
combined to precipitate the devotion of a precious thing to extinction.
And worse; for life was common, and women and Hindoo widows were common;
but a Vittorian voice was but one in a generation--in a cycle of
years. The religious belief of the connoisseur extended to the devout
conception that her voice was a spiritual endowment, the casting of
which priceless jewel into the bloody ditch of patriots was far more
tragic and lamentable than any disastrous concourse of dedicated lives.
He shook the lobby with his tread, thinking of the great night this
might have been but for Vittoria’s madness. The overture was coming to
an end. By tightening his arms across his chest he gained some outward
composure, and fixed his eyes upon the stage.

While sitting with Laura Piaveni and Merthyr Powys, Ammiani saw the
apparition of Captain Weisspriess in his mother’s box. He forgot her
injunction, and hurried to her side, leaving the doors open. His passion
of anger spurned her admonishing grasp of his arm, and with his glove
he smote the Austrian officer on the face. Weisspriess plucked his sword
out; the house rose; there was a moment like that of a wild beast’s
show of teeth. It passed: Captain Weisspriess withdrew in obedience to
General Pierson’s command. The latter wrote on a slip of paper that two
pieces of artillery should be placed in position, and a squad of men
about the doors: he handed it out to Weisspriess.

‘I hope,’ the General said to Carlo, ‘we shall be able to arrange things
for you without the interposition of the authorities.’

Carlo rejoined, ‘General, he has the blood of our family on his hands. I
am ready.’

The General bowed. He glanced at the countess for a sign of maternal
weakness, saw none, and understood that a duel was down in the morrow’s
bill of entertainments, as well as a riot possibly before dawn. The
house had revealed its temper in that short outburst, as a quivering of
quick lightning-flame betrays the forehead of the storm.

Countess Ammiani bade her son make fast the outer door. Her sedate
energies could barely control her agitation. In helping Angelo
Guidascarpi to evade the law, she had imperilled her son and herself.
Many of the Bolognese sbirri were in pursuit of Angelo. Some knew his
person; some did not; but if those two before whom she had identified
Angelo as being her son Carlo chanced now to be in the house, and to
have seen him, and heard his name, the risks were great and various.

‘Do you know that handsome young Count Ammiani?’ Countess Lena said to
Wilfrid. ‘Perhaps you do not think him handsome? He was for a short time
a play-fellow of mine. He is more passionate than I am, and that does
not say a little; I warn you! Look how excited he is. No wonder. He
is--everybody knows it--he is la Vittoria’s lover.’

Countess Lena uttered that sentence in Italian. The soft tongue sent it
like a coiling serpent through Wilfrid’s veins. In English or in German
it would not have possessed the deadly meaning.

She may have done it purposely, for she and her sister Countess Anna
studied his face. The lifting of the curtain drew all eyes to the stage.

Rocco Ricci’s baton struck for the opening of one of his spirited
choruses; a chorus of villagers, who sing to the burden that Happiness,
the aim of all humanity, has promised to visit the earth this day, that
she may witness the union of the noble lovers, Camillo and Camilla. Then
a shepherd sings a verse, with his hand stretched out to the impending
castle. There lives Count Orso: will he permit their festivities to pass
undisturbed? The puling voice is crushed by the chorus, which protests
that the heavens are above Count Orso. But another villager tells of
Orso’s power, and hints at his misdeeds. The chorus rises in reply,
warning all that Count Orso has ears wherever three are congregated; the
villagers break apart and eye one another distrustfully, reuniting
to the song of Happiness before they disperse. Camillo enters solus.
Montini, as Camillo, enjoyed a warm reception; but as he advanced to
deliver his canzone, it was seen that he and Rocco interchanged glances
of desperate resignation. Camillo has had love passages with Michiella,
Count Orso’s daughter, and does not hesitate to declare that he dreads
her. The orphan Camilla, who has been reared in yonder castle with her,
as her sister, is in danger during all these last minutes which still
retain her from his arms.

‘If I should never see her--I who, like a poor ghost upon the shores of
the dead river, have been flattered with the thought that she would fall
upon my breast like a ray of the light of Elysium--if I should never see
her more!’ The famous tenore threw his whole force into that outcry of
projected despair, and the house was moved by it: there were many in the
house who shared his apprehension of a foul mischance.

Thenceforward the opera and the Italian audience were as one. All that
was uttered had a meaning, and was sympathetically translated.
Camilla they perceived to be a grave burlesque with a core to it. The
quick-witted Italians caught up the interpretation in a flash. ‘Count
Orso’ Austria; ‘Michiella’ is Austria’s spirit of intrigue; ‘Camillo’ is
indolent Italy, amorous Italy, Italy aimless; ‘Camilla’ is YOUNG ITALY!

Their eagerness for sight of Vittoria was now red-hot, and when Camillo
exclaimed ‘She comes!’ many rose from their seats.

A scrap of paper was handed to Antonio-Pericles from Captain
Weisspriess, saying briefly that he had found Irma in the carriage
instead of the little ‘v,’ thanked him for the joke, and had brought her
back. Pericles was therefore not surprised when Irma, as Michiella, came
on, breathless, and looking in an excitement of anger; he knew that he
had been tricked.

Between Camillo and Michiella a scene of some vivacity
ensued--reproaches, threats of calamity, offers of returning endearment
upon her part; a display of courtly scorn upon his. Irma made her voice
claw at her quondam lover very finely; it was a voice with claws, that
entered the hearing sharp-edged, and left it plucking at its repose.
She was applauded relishingly when, after vainly wooing him, she turned
aside and said--

       ‘What change is this in one who like a reed
        Bent to my twisting hands? Does he recoil?
        Is this the hound whom I have used to feed
        With sops of vinegar and sops of oil?’

Michiella’s further communications to the audience make it known that
she has allowed the progress toward the ceremonies of espousal between
Camillo and Camilla, in order, at the last moment, to show her power
over the youth and to plunge the detested Camilla into shame and
wretchedness.

Camillo retires: Count Orso appears. There is a duet between father and
daughter: she confesses her passion for Camillo, and entreats her father
to stop the ceremony; and here the justice of the feelings of Italians,
even in their heat of blood, was noteworthy. Count Orso says that he
would willingly gratify his daughter, as it would gratify himself, but
that he must respect the law. ‘The law is of your own making,’ says
Michiella. ‘Then, the more must I respect it,’ Count Orso replies.

The audience gave Austria credit for that much in a short murmur.

Michiella’s aside, ‘Till anger seizes him I wait!’ created laughter; it
came in contrast with an extraordinary pomposity of self-satisfaction
exhibited by Count Orso--the flower-faced, tun-bellied basso, Lebruno.
It was irresistible. He stood swollen out like a morning cock. To make
it further telling, he took off his yellow bonnet with a black-gloved
hand, and thumped the significant colours prominently on his immense
chest--an idea, not of Agostino’s, but Lebruno’s own; and Agostino
cursed with fury. Both he and Rocco knew that their joint labour would
probably have only one night’s display of existence in the Austrian
dominions, but they grudged to Lebruno the chief merit of despatching it
to the Shades.

The villagers are heard approaching. ‘My father!’ cries Michiella,
distractedly; ‘the hour is near: it will be death to your daughter!
Imprison Camillo: I can bring twenty witnesses to prove that he has
sworn you are illegally the lord of this country. You will rue the
marriage. Do as you once did. Be bold in time. The arrow-head is on the
string-cut the string!’

‘As I once did?’ replies Orso with frown terrific, like a black crest.
He turns broadly and receives the chorus of countrymen in paternal
fashion--an admirably acted bit of grave burlesque.

By this time the German portion of the audience had, by one or other
of the senses, dimly divined that the opera was a shadow of something
concealed--thanks to the buffo-basso Lebruno. Doubtless they would
have seen this before, but that the Austrian censorship had seemed so
absolute a safeguard.

‘My children! all are my children in this my gladsome realm!’ Count Orso
says, and marches forth, after receiving the compliment of a choric song
in honour of his paternal government. Michiella follows him.

Then came the deep suspension of breath. For, as upon the midnight you
count bell-note after bell-note of the toiling hour, and know not in the
darkness whether there shall be one beyond it, so that you hang over
an abysm until Twelve is sounded, audience and actors gazed with equal
expectation at the path winding round from the castle, waiting for the
voice of the new prima donna.

‘Mia madre!’ It issued tremblingly faint. None could say who was to
appear.

Rocco Ricci struck twice with his baton, flung a radiant glance across
his shoulders for all friends, and there was joy in the house. Vittoria
stood before them.



CHAPTER XX

THE OPERA OF CAMILLA

She was dressed like a noble damsel from the hands of Titian. An Italian
audience cannot but be critical in their first glance at a prima donna,
for they are asked to do homage to a queen who is to be taken on her
merits: all that they have heard and have been taught to expect of
her is compared swiftly with the observation of her appearance and
her manner. She is crucially examined to discover defects. There is
no boisterous loyalty at the outset. And as it was now evident that
Vittoria had chosen to impersonate a significant character, her
indications of method were jealously watched for a sign of inequality,
either in her, motion, or the force of her eyes. So silent a reception
might have seemed cruel in any other case; though in all cases the
candidate for laurels must, in common with the criminal, go through the
ordeal of justification. Men do not heartily bow their heads until
they have subjected the aspirant to some personal contest, and find
themselves overmatched. The senses, ready to become so slavish in
adulation and delight, are at the beginning more exacting than the
judgement, more imperious than the will. A figure in amber and pale blue
silk was seen, such as the great Venetian might have sketched from his
windows on a day when the Doge went forth to wed the Adriatic a superb
Italian head, with dark banded hair-braid, and dark strong eyes under
unabashed soft eyelids! She moved as, after long gazing at a painting
of a fair woman, we may have the vision of her moving from the frame.
It was an animated picture of ideal Italia. The sea of heads right up to
the highest walls fronted her glistening, and she was mute as moonrise.
A virgin who loosens a dove from her bosom does it with no greater
effort than Vittoria gave out her voice. The white bird flutters
rapidly; it circles and takes its flight. The voice seemed to be as
little the singer’s own.

The theme was as follows:--Camilla has dreamed overnight that her lost
mother came to her bedside to bless her nuptials. Her mother was folded
in a black shroud, looking formless as death, like very death, save
that death sheds no tears. She wept, without change of voice, or mortal
shuddering, like one whose nature weeps: ‘And with the forth-flowing of
her tears the knowledge of her features was revealed to me.’ Behold the
Adige, the Mincio, Tiber, and the Po!--such great rivers were the tears
pouring from her eyes. She threw apart the shroud: her breasts and her
limbs were smooth and firm as those of an immortal Goddess: but breasts
and limbs showed the cruel handwriting of base men upon the body of
a martyred saint. The blood from those deep gashes sprang out at
intervals, mingling with her tears. She said:

‘My child! were I a Goddess, my wounds would heal. Were I a Saint, I
should be in Paradise. I am no Goddess, and no Saint: yet I cannot
die. My wounds flow and my tears. My tears flow because of no fleshly
anguish: I pardon my enemies. My blood flows from my body, my tears from
my soul. They flow to wash out my shame. I have to expiate my soul’s
shame by my body’s shame. Oh! how shall I tell you what it is to walk
among my children unknown of them, though each day I bear the sun abroad
like my beating heart; each night the moon, like a heart with no blood
in it. Sun and moon they see, but not me! They know not their mother. I
cry to God. The answer of our God is this:--“Give to thy children one by
one to drink of thy mingled tears and blood:--then, if there is virtue
in them, they shall revive, thou shaft revive. If virtue is not in them,
they and thou shall continue prostrate, and the ox shall walk over you.”
 From heaven’s high altar, O Camilla, my child, this silver sacramental
cup was reached to me. Gather my tears in it, fill it with my blood, and
drink.’

The song had been massive in monotones, almost Gregorian in its severity
up to this point.

‘I took the cup. I looked my mother in the face. I filled the cup from
the flowing of her tears, the flowing of her blood; and I drank!’

Vittoria sent this last phrase ringing out forcefully. From the
inveterate contralto of the interview, she rose to pure soprano in
describing her own action. ‘And I drank,’ was given on a descent of the
voice: the last note was in the minor key--it held the ear as if
more must follow: like a wail after a triumph of resolve. It was
a masterpiece of audacious dramatic musical genius addressed with
sagacious cunning and courage to the sympathizing audience present. The
supposed incompleteness kept them listening; the intentness sent that
last falling (as it were, broken) note travelling awakeningly through
their minds. It is the effect of the minor key to stir the hearts of
men with this particular suggestiveness. The house rose, Italians--and
Germans together. Genius, music, and enthusiasm break the line of
nationalities. A rain of nosegays fell about Vittoria; evvivas, bravas,
shouts--all the outcries of delirious men surrounded her. Men and women,
even among the hardened chorus, shook together and sobbed. ‘Agostino!’
and ‘Rocco!’ were called; ‘Vittoria!’ ‘Vittoria!’ above all, with
increasing thunder, like a storm rushing down a valley, striking in
broad volume from rock to rock, humming remote, and bursting up again
in the face of the vale. Her name was sung over and over--‘Vittoria!
Vittoria!’ as if the mouths were enamoured of it.

‘Evviva la Vittoria a d’ Italia!’ was sung out from the body of the
house.

An echo replied--‘“Italia a il premio della VITTORIA!”’ a well-known
saying gloriously adapted, gloriously rescued from disgrace.

But the object and source of the tremendous frenzy stood like one frozen
by the revelation of the magic the secret of which she has studiously
mastered. A nosegay, the last of the tributary shower, discharged from
a distance, fell at her feet. She gave it unconsciously preference over
the rest, and picked it up. A little paper was fixed in the centre.
She opened it with a mechanical hand, thinking there might be patriotic
orders enclosed for her. It was a cheque for one thousand guineas, drawn
upon an English banker by the hand of Antonio-Pericles Agriolopoulos;
freshly drawn; the ink was only half dried, showing signs of the
dictates of a furious impulse. This dash of solid prose, and its
convincing proof that her Art had been successful, restored Vittoria’s
composure, though not her early statuesque simplicity. Rocco gave an
inquiring look to see if she would repeat the song. She shook her head
resolutely. Her opening of the paper in the bouquet had quieted the
general ebullition, and the expression of her wish being seen, the
chorus was permitted to usurp her place. Agostino paced up and down the
lobby, fearful that he had been guilty of leading her to anticlimax.

He met Antonio-Pericles, and told him so; adding (for now the mask had
been seen through, and was useless any further) that he had not had the
heart to put back that vision of Camilla’s mother to a later scene, lest
an interruption should come which would altogether preclude its being
heard. Pericles affected disdain of any success which Vittoria had
yet achieved. ‘Wait for Act the Third,’ he said; but his irritable
anxiousness to hold intercourse with every one, patriot or critic,
German, English, or Italian, betrayed what agitation of exultation
coursed in his veins. ‘Aha!’ was his commencement of a greeting; ‘was
Antonio-Pericles wrong when he told you that he had a prima donna for
you to amaze all Christendom, and whose notes were safe and firm as the
footing of the angels up and down Jacob’s ladder, my friends? Aha!’

‘Do you see that your uncle is signalling to you?’ Countess Lena said to
Wilfrid. He answered like a man in a mist, and looked neither at her
nor at the General, who, in default of his obedience to gestures, came
good-humouredly to the box, bringing Captain Weisspriess with him.

‘We ‘re assisting at a pretty show,’ he said.

‘I am in love with her voice,’ said Countess Anna.

‘Ay; if it were only a matter of voices, countess.’

‘I think that these good people require a trouncing,’ said Captain
Weisspriess.

‘Lieutenant Pierson is not of your opinion,’ Countess Anna remarked.
Hearing his own name, Wilfrid turned to them with a weariness well
acted, but insufficiently to a jealous observation, for his eyes were
quick under the carelessly-dropped eyelids, and ranged keenly over the
stage while they were affecting to assist his fluent tongue.

Countess Lena levelled her opera-glass at Carlo Ammiani, and then placed
the glass in her sister’s hand. Wilfrid drank deep of bitterness. ‘That
is Vittoria’s lover,’ he thought; ‘the lover of the Emilia who once
loved me!’

General Pierson may have noticed this by-play: he said to his nephew in
the brief military tone: ‘Go out; see that the whole regiment is handy
about the house; station a dozen men, with a serjeant, at each of the
backdoors, and remain below. I very much mistake, or we shall have to
make a capture of this little woman to-night.’

‘How on earth,’ he resumed, while Wilfrid rose savagely and went out
with his stiffest bow, ‘this opera was permitted to appear, I can’t
guess! A child could see through it. The stupidity of our civil
authorities passes my understanding--it’s a miracle! We have stringent
orders not to take any initiative, or I would stop the Fraulein Camilla
from uttering another note.’

‘If you did that, I should be angry with you, General,’ said Countess
Anna.

‘And I also think the Government cannot do wrong,’ Countess Lena joined
in.

The General contented himself by saying: ‘Well, we shall see.’

Countess Lena talked to Captain Weisspriess in an undertone, referring
to what she called his dispute with Carlo Ammiani. The captain was
extremely playful in rejoinders.

‘You iron man!’ she exclaimed.

‘Man of steel would be the better phrase,’ her sister whispered.

‘It will be an assassination, if it happens.’

‘No officer can bear with an open insult, Lena.’

‘I shall not sit and see harm done to my old playmate, Anna.’

‘Beware of betraying yourself for one who detests you.’

A grand duo between Montini and Vittoria silenced all converse. Camilla
tells Camillo of her dream. He pledges his oath to discover her mother,
if alive; if dead, to avenge her. Camilla says she believes her mother
is in the dungeons of Count Orso’s castle. The duo tasked Vittoria’s
execution of florid passages; it gave evidence of her sound artistic
powers.

‘I was a fool,’ thought Antonio-Pericles; ‘I flung my bouquet with the
herd. I was a fool! I lost my head!’

He tapped angrily at the little ink-flask in his coat-pocket. The first
act, after scenes between false Camillo and Michiella, ends with
the marriage of Camillo and Camilla;--a quatuor composed of Montini,
Vittoria, Irma, and Lebruno. Michiella is in despair; Count Orso is
profoundly sonorous with paternity and devotion to the law. He has
restored to Camilla a portion of her mother’s sequestrated estates.
A portion of the remainder will be handed over to her when he has
had experience of her husband’s good behaviour. The rest he considers
legally his own by right of (Treaties), and by right of possession and
documents his sword. Yonder castle he must keep. It is the key of
all his other territories. Without it, his position will be insecure.
(Allusion to the Austrian argument that the plains of Lombardy are the
strategic defensive lines of the Alps.)

Agostino, pursued by his terror of anticlimax, ran from the sight of
Vittoria when she was called, after the fall of the curtain. He made his
way to Rocco Ricci (who had given his bow to the public from his
perch), and found the maestro drinking Asti to counteract his natural
excitement. Rocco told Agostino, that up to the last moment, neither he
nor any soul behind the scenes knew Vittoria would be able to appear,
except that she had sent a note to him with a pledge to be in readiness
for the call. Irma had come flying in late, enraged, and in disorder,
praying to take Camilla’s part; but Montini refused to act with
the seconda donna as prima donna. They had commenced the opera in
uncertainty whether it could go on beyond the situation where Camilla
presents herself. ‘I was prepared to throw up my baton,’ said Rocco,
‘and publicly to charge the Government with the rape of our prima donna.
Irma I was ready to replace. I could have filled that gap.’ He spoke of
Vittoria’s triumph. Agostino’s face darkened. ‘Ha!’ said he, ‘provided
we don’t fall flat, like your Asti with the cork out. I should have
preferred an enthusiasm a trifle more progressive. The notion of
travelling backwards is upon me forcibly, after that tempest of
acclamation.’

‘Or do you think that you have put your best poetry in the first Act?’
Rocco suggested with malice.

‘Not a bit of it!’ Agostino repudiated the idea very angrily, and puffed
and puffed. Yet he said, ‘I should not be lamenting if the opera were
stopped at once.’

‘No!’ cried Rocco; ‘let us have our one night. I bargain for that.
Medole has played us false, but we go on. We are victims already, my
Agostino.’

‘But I do stipulate,’ said Agostino, ‘that my jewel is not to melt
herself in the cup to-night. I must see her. As it is, she is inevitably
down in the list for a week’s or a month’s incarceration.’

Antonio-Pericles had this, in his case, singular piece of delicacy, that
he refrained from the attempt to see Vittoria immediately after he
had flung his magnificent bouquet of treasure at her feet. In his
intoxication with the success which he had foreseen and cradled to its
apogee, he was now reckless of any consequences. He felt ready to take
patriotic Italy in his arms, provided that it would succeed as Vittoria
had done, and on the spot. Her singing of the severe phrases of the
opening chant, or hymn, had turned the man, and for a time had put a new
heart in him. The consolation was his also, that he had rewarded it the
most splendidly--as it were, in golden italics of praise; so that
her forgiveness of his disinterested endeavour to transplant her was
certain, and perhaps her future implicit obedience or allegiance bought.
Meeting General Pierson, the latter rallied him.

‘Why, my fine Pericles, your scheme to get this girl out of the way
was capitally concerted. My only fear is that on another occasion the
Government will take another view of it and you.’

Pericles shrugged. ‘The Gods, my dear General, decree. I did my best to
lay a case before them; that is all.’

‘Ah, well! I am of opinion you will not lay many other cases before the
Gods who rule in Milan.’

‘I have helped them to a good opera.’

‘Are you aware that this opera consists entirely of political
allusions?’

General Pierson spoke offensively, as the urbane Austrian military
permitted themselves to do upon occasion when addressing the conquered
or civilians.

‘To me,’ returned Pericles, ‘an opera--it is music. I know no more.’

‘You are responsible for it,’ said the General, harshly. ‘It was taken
upon trust from you.’

‘Brutal Austrians!’ Pericles murmured. ‘And you do not think much of her
voice, General?’

‘Pretty fair, sir.’

‘What wonder she does not care to open her throat to these swine!’
thought the changed Greek.

Vittoria’s door was shut to Agostino. No voice within gave answer. He
tried the lock of the door, and departed. She sat in a stupor. It was
harder for her to make a second appearance than it was to make the
first, when the shameful suspicion cruelly attached to her had helped to
balance her steps with rebellious pride; and more, the great collected
wave of her ambitious years of girlhood had cast her forward to the
spot, as in a last effort for consummation. Now that she had won the
public voice (love, her heart called it) her eyes looked inward; she
meditated upon what she had to do, and coughed nervously. She frightened
herself with her coughing, and shivered at the prospect of again going
forward in the great nakedness of stagelights and thirsting eyes. And,
moreover, she was not strengthened by the character of the music and the
poetry of the second Act:--a knowledge of its somewhat inferior quality
may possibly have been at the root of Agostino’s dread of an anticlimax.
The seconda donna had the chief part in it--notably an aria (Rocco had
given it to her in compassion) that suited Irma’s pure shrieks and the
tragic skeleton she could be. Vittoria knew how low she was sinking when
she found her soul in the shallows of a sort of jealousy of Irma. For a
little space she lost all intimacy with herself; she looked at her face
in the glass and swallowed water, thinking that she had strained a dream
and confused her brain with it. The silence of her solitary room coming
upon the blaze of light the colour and clamour of the house, and the
strange remembrance of the recent impersonation of an ideal character,
smote her with the sense of her having fallen from a mighty eminence,
and that she lay in the dust. All those incense-breathing flowers heaped
on her table seemed poisonous, and reproached her as a delusion. She sat
crouching alone till her tirewomen called; horrible talkative things!
her own familiar maid Giacinta being the worst to bear with.

Now, Michiella, by making love to Leonardo, Camillo’s associate,
discovers that Camillo is conspiring against her father. She utters to
Leonardo very pleasant promises indeed, if he will betray his friend.
Leonardo, a wavering baritono, complains that love should ask for
any return save in the coin of the empire of love. He is seduced, and
invokes a malediction upon his head should he accomplish what he has
sworn to perform. Camilla reposes perfect confidence in this wretch, and
brings her more doubtful husband to be of her mind.

Camillo and Camilla agree to wear the mask of a dissipated couple.
They throw their mansion open; dicing, betting, intriguing, revellings,
maskings, commence. Michiella is courted ardently by Camillo; Camilla
trifles with Leonardo and with Count Orso alternately. Jealous again
of Camilla, Michiella warns and threatens Leonardo; but she becomes
Camillo’s dupe, partly from returning love, partly from desire for
vengeance on her rival. Camilla persuades Orso to discard Michiella. The
infatuated count waxes as the personification of portentous burlesque;
he is having everything his own way. The acting throughout--owing to
the real gravity of the vast basso Lebruno’s burlesque, and Vittoria’s
archness--was that of high comedy with a lurid background. Vittoria
showed an enchanting spirit of humour. She sang one bewitching barcarole
that set the house in rocking motion. There was such melancholy in her
heart that she cast herself into all the flippancy with abandonment.
The Act was weak in too distinctly revealing the finger of the poetic
political squib at a point here and there. The temptation to do it of
an Agostino, who had no other outlet, had been irresistible, and he sat
moaning over his artistic depravity, now that it stared him in the face.
Applause scarcely consoled him, and it was with humiliation of mind that
he acknowledged his debt to the music and the singers, and how little
they owed to him.

Now Camillo is pleased to receive the ardent passion of his wife, and
the masking suits his taste, but it is the vice of his character that
he cannot act to any degree subordinately in concert; he insists upon
positive headship!--(allusion to an Italian weakness for sovereignties;
it passed unobserved, and chuckled bitterly over his excess of
subtlety). Camillo cannot leave the scheming to her. He pursues
Michiella to subdue her with blandishments. Reproaches cease upon her
part. There is a duo between them. They exchange the silver keys, which
express absolute intimacy, and give mutual freedom of access. Camillo
can now secrete his followers in the castle; Michiella can enter
Camilla’s blue-room, and ravage her caskets for treasonable
correspondence. Artfully she bids him reflect on what she is forfeiting
for him; and so helps him to put aside the thought of that which he also
may be imperilling.

Irma’s shrill crescendos and octave-leaps, assisted by her peculiar
attitudes of strangulation, came out well in this scene. The murmurs
concerning the sour privileges to be granted by a Lazzeruola were
inaudible. But there has been a witness to the stipulation. The
ever-shifting baritono, from behind a pillar, has joined in with an
aside phrase here and there. Leonardo discovers that his fealty to
Camilla is reviving. He determines to watch over her. Camillo now tosses
a perfumed handkerchief under his nose, and inhales the coxcombical
incense of the idea that he will do all without Camilla’s aid, to
surprise her; thereby teaching her to know him to be somewhat a hero.
She has played her part so thoroughly that he can choose to fancy her
a giddy person; he remarks upon the frequent instances of girls who in
their girlhood were wild dreamers becoming after marriage wild wives.
His followers assemble, that he may take advantage of the exchanged
key of silver. He is moved to seek one embrace of Camilla before the
conflict:--she is beautiful! There was never such beauty as hers! He
goes to her in the fittest preparation for the pangs of jealousy. But he
has not been foremost in practising the uses of silver keys. Michiella,
having first arranged with her father to be before Camillo’s doors at a
certain hour with men-at-arms, is in Camilla’s private chamber, with her
hand upon a pregnant box of ebony wood, when she is startled by a noise,
and slips into concealment. Leonardo bursts through the casement window.
Camilla then appears. Leonardo stretches the tips of his fingers out to
her; on his knees confesses his guilt and warns her. Camillo comes in.
Thrusting herself before him, Michiella points to the stricken couple
‘See! it is to show you this that I am here.’ Behold occasion for a
grand quatuor!

While confessing his guilt to Camilla, Leonardo has excused it by an
emphatic delineation of Michiella’s magic sway over him. (Leonardo, in
fact, is your small modern Italian Machiavelli, overmatched in cunning,
for the reason that he is always at a last moment the victim of his
poor bit of heart or honesty: he is devoid of the inspiration of great
patriotic aims.) If Michiella (Austrian intrigue) has any love, it is
for such a tool. She cannot afford to lose him. She pleads for him; and,
as Camilla is silent on his account, the cynical magnanimity of Camillo
is predisposed to spare a fangless snake. Michiella withdraws him from
the naked sword to the back of the stage. The terrible repudiation scene
ensues, in which Camillo casts off his wife. If it was a puzzle to one
Italian half of the audience, the other comprehended it perfectly, and
with rapture. It was thus that YOUNG ITALY had too often been treated
by the compromising, merely discontented, dallying aristocracy. Camilla
cries to him, ‘Have faith in me! have faith in me! have faith in me!’
That is the sole answer to his accusations, his threats of eternal
loathing, and generally blustering sublimities. She cannot defend
herself; she only knows her innocence. He is inexorable, being the
guilty one of the two. Turning from him with crossed arms, Camilla
sings:

‘Mother! it is my fate that I should know Thy miseries, and in thy
footprints go. Grief treads the starry places of the earth: In thy long
track I feel who gave me birth. I am alone; a wife without a lord; My
home is with the stranger--home abhorr’d!--But that I trust to meet thy
spirit there. Mother of Sorrows! joy thou canst not share: So let me
wander in among the tombs, Among the cypresses and the withered blooms.
Thy soul is with dead suns: there let me be; A silent thing that shares
thy veil with thee.’

The wonderful viol-like trembling of the contralto tones thrilled
through the house. It was the highest homage to Vittoria that no longer
any shouts arose nothing but a prolonged murmur, as when one tells
another a tale of deep emotion, and all exclamations, all ulterior
thoughts, all gathered tenderness of sensibility, are reserved for the
close, are seen heaping for the close, like waters above a dam.
The flattery of beholding a great assembly of human creatures bound
glittering in wizard subservience to the voice of one soul, belongs to
the artist, and is the cantatrice’s glory, pre-eminent over whatever
poor glory this world gives. She felt it, but she felt it as something
apart. Within her was the struggle of Italy calling to Italy: Italy’s
shame, her sadness, her tortures, her quenchless hope, and the view of
Freedom. It sent her blood about her body in rebellious volumes. Once it
completely strangled her notes. She dropped the ball of her chin in her
throat; paused without ceremony; and recovered herself. Vittoria had too
severe an artistic instinct to court reality; and as much as she could
she from that moment corrected the underlinings of Agostino’s libretto.

On the other hand, Irma fell into all his traps, and painted her
Austrian heart with a prodigal waste of colour and frank energy:

          ‘Now Leonardo is my tool:
          Camilla is my slave:
          And she I hate goes forth to cool
          Her rage beyond the wave.
                  Joy! joy!
     Paid am I in full coin for my caressing;
     I take, but give nought, ere the priestly blessing.’

A subtle distinction. She insists upon her reverence for the priestly
(papistical) blessing, while she confides her determination to have
it dispensed with in Camilla’s case. Irma’s known sympathies with the
Austrian uniform seasoned the ludicrousness of many of the double-edged
verses which she sang or declaimed in recitative. The irony of
applauding her vehemently was irresistible.

Camilla is charged with conspiracy, and proved guilty by her own
admission.

The Act ends with the entry of Count Orso and his force; conspirators
overawed; Camilla repudiated; Count Orso imperially just; Leonardo
chagrined; Camillo pardoned; Michiella triumphant. Camillo sacrifices
his wife for safety. He holds her estates; and therefore Count Orso,
whose respect for law causes him to have a keen eye for matrimonial
alliances, is now paternally willing, and even anxious to bestow
Michiella upon him when the Pontifical divorce can be obtained; so that
the long-coveted fruitful acres may be in the family. The chorus sings
a song of praise to Hymen, the ‘builder of great Houses.’ Camilla goes
forth into exile. The word was not spoken, but the mention of ‘bread of
strangers, strange faces, cold climes,’ said sufficient.

‘It is a question whether we ought to sit still and see a firebrand
flashed in our faces,’ General Pierson remarked as the curtain fell. He
was talking to Major de Pyrmont outside the Duchess of Graatli’s box.
Two General officers joined them, and presently Count Serabiglione, with
his courtly semi-ironical smile, on whom they straightway turned their
backs. The insult was happily unseen, and the count caressed his shaven
chin and smiled himself onward. The point for the officers to decide
was, whether they dared offend an enthusiastic house--the fiery core
of the population of Milan--by putting a stop to the opera before worse
should come.

Their own views were entirely military; but they were paralyzed by the
recent pseudo-liberalistic despatches from Vienna; and agreed, with
some malice in their shrugs, that the odium might as well be left on the
shoulders of the bureau which had examined the libretto. In fact, they
saw that there would be rank peril in attempting to arrest the course of
things within the walls of the house.

‘The temper this people is changeing oddly,’ said General Pierson. Major
de Pyrmont listened awhile to what they had to say, and returned to the
duchess. Amalia wrote these lines to Laura:--‘If she sings that song she
is to be seized on the wings of the stage. I order my carriage to be in
readiness to take her whither she should have gone last night. Do you
contrive only her escape from the house. Georges de P. will aid you. I
adore the naughty rebel!’

Major de Pyrmont delivered the missive at Laura’s box. He went down to
the duchess’s chasseur, and gave him certain commands and money for a
journey. Looking about, he beheld Wilfrid, who implored him to take his
place for two minutes. De Pyrmont laughed. ‘She is superb, my friend.
Come up with me. I am going behind the scenes. The unfortunate
impresario is a ruined man; let us both condole with him. It is possible
that he has children, and children like bread.’

Wilfrid was linking his arm to De Pyrmont’s, when, with a vivid
recollection of old times, he glanced at his uniform with Vittoria’s
eyes. ‘She would spit at me!’ he muttered, and dropped behind.

Up in her room Vittoria held council with Rocco, Agostino, and the
impresario, Salvolo, who was partly their dupe. Salvolo had laid a
freshly-written injunction from General Pierson before her, bidding
him to exclude the chief solo parts from the Third Act, and to bring
it speedily to a termination. His case was, that he had been ready
to forfeit much if a rising followed; but that simply to beard the
authorities was madness. He stated his case by no means as a pleader,
although the impression made on him by the prima donna’s success caused
his urgency to be civil.

‘Strike out what you please,’ said Vittoria.

Agostino smote her with a forefinger. ‘Rogue! you deserve an imperial
crown. You have been educated for monarchy. You are ready enough to
dispense with what you don’t care for, and what is not your own.’

Much of the time was lost by Agostino’s dispute with Salvolo. They
haggled and wrangled laughingly over this and that printed aria, but
it was a deplorable deception of the unhappy man; and with Vittoria’s
stronger resolve to sing the incendiary song, the more necessary it was
for her to have her soul clear of deceit. She said, ‘Signor Salvolo,
you have been very kind to me, and I would do nothing to hurt your
interests. I suppose you must suffer for being an Italian, like the rest
of us. The song I mean to sing is not written or printed. What is in
the book cannot harm you, for the censorship has passed it; and surely
I alone am responsible for singing what is not in the book--I and the
maestro. He supports me. We have both taken precautions’ (she smiled)
‘to secure our property. If you are despoiled, we will share with you.
And believe, oh! in God’s name, believe that you will not suffer to no
purpose!’

Salvolo started from her in a horror of amazement. He declared that he
had been miserably deceived and entrapped. He threatened to send the
company to their homes forthwith. ‘Dare to!’ said Agostino; and to judge
by the temper of the house, it was only too certain, that if he did so,
La Scala would be a wrecked tenement in the eye of morning. But Agostino
backed his entreaty to her to abjure that song; Rocco gave way, and
half shyly requested her to think of prudence. She remembered Laura, and
Carlo, and her poor little frightened foreign mother. Her intense
ideal conception of her duty sank and danced within her brain as the
pilot-star dances on the bows of a tossing vessel. All were against her,
as the tempest is against the ship. Even light above (by which I would
image that which she could appeal to pleading in behalf of the wisdom
of her obstinate will) was dyed black in the sweeping obscuration; she
failed to recollect a sentence that was to be said to vindicate her
settled course. Her sole idea was her holding her country by an unseen
thread, and of the everlasting welfare of Italy being jeopardized if she
relaxed her hold. Simple obstinacy of will sustained her.

You mariners batten down the hatchways when the heavens are dark and
seas are angry. Vittoria, with the same faith in her instinct, shut the
avenues to her senses--would see nothing, hear nothing. The impresario’s
figure of despair touched her later. Giacinta drove him forth in the act
of smiting his forehead with both hands. She did the same for Agostino
and Rocco, who were not demonstrative.

They knew that by this time the agents of the Government were in all
probability ransacking their rooms, and confiscating their goods.

‘Is your piano hired?’ quoth the former.

‘No,’ said the latter, ‘are your slippers?’

They went their separate ways, laughing.



CHAPTER XXI

THE THIRD ACT

The libretto of the Third Act was steeped in the sentiment of Young
Italy. I wish that I could pipe to your mind’s hearing any notion of the
fine music of Rocco Ricci, and touch you to feel the revelations which
were in this new voice. Rocco and Vittoria gave the verses a life that
cannot belong to them now; yet, as they contain much of the vital spirit
of the revolt, they may assist you to some idea of the faith animating
its heads, and may serve to justify this history.

Rocco’s music in the opera of Camilla had been sprung from a fresh
Italian well; neither the elegiac-melodious, nor the sensuous-lyrical,
nor the joyous buffo; it was severe as an old masterpiece, with veins
of buoyant liveliness threading it, and with sufficient distinctness of
melody to enrapture those who like to suck the sugarplums of sound.
He would indeed have favoured the public with more sweet things, but
Vittoria, for whom the opera was composed, and who had been at his
elbow, was young, and stern in her devotion to an ideal of classical
music that should elevate and never stoop to seduce or to flatter
thoughtless hearers. Her taste had directed as her voice had inspired
the opera. Her voice belonged to the order of the simply great voices,
and was a royal voice among them. Pure without attenuation, passionate
without contortion, when once heard it exacted absolute confidence.
On this night her theme and her impersonation were adventitious
introductions, but there were passages when her artistic pre-eminence
and the sovereign fulness and fire of her singing struck a note of
grateful remembered delight. This is what the great voice does for us.
It rarely astonishes our ears. It illumines our souls, as you see
the lightning make the unintelligible craving darkness leap into long
mountain ridges, and twisting vales, and spires of cities, and inner
recesses of light within light, rose-like, toward a central core of
violet heat.

At the rising of the curtain the knights of the plains, Rudolfo,
Romualdo, Arnoldo, and others, who were conspiring to overthrow Count
Orso at the time when Camillo’s folly ruined all, assemble to deplore
Camilla’s banishment, and show, bereft of her, their helplessness
and indecision. They utter contempt of Camillo, who is this day to be
Pontifically divorced from his wife to espouse the detested Michiella.
His taste is not admired.

They pass off. Camillo appears. He is, as he knows, little better than
a pensioner in Count Orso’s household. He holds his lands on sufferance.
His faculties are paralyzed. He is on the first smooth shoulder-slope
of the cataract. He knows that not only was his jealousy of his wife
groundless, but it was forced by a spleenful pride. What is there to
do? Nothing, save resignedly to prepare for his divorce from the
conspiratrix Camilla and espousals with Michiella. The cup is bitter,
and his song is mournful. He does the rarest thing a man will do in such
a predicament--he acknowledges that he is going to get his deserts. The
faithfulness and purity of Camilla have struck his inner consciousness.
He knows not where she may be. He has secretly sent messengers in all
directions to seek her, and recover her, and obtain her pardon: in vain.
It is as well, perhaps, that he should never see her more. Accursed, he
has cast off his sweetest friend. The craven heart could never beat in
unison with hers.

‘She is in the darkness: I am in the light. I am a blot upon the light;
she is light in the darkness.’

Montini poured this out with so fine a sentiment that the impatience
of the house for sight of its heroine was quieted. But Irma and Lebruno
came forward barely under tolerance.

‘We might as well be thumping a tambourine,’ said Lebruno, during a
caress. Irma bit her underlip with mortification. Their notes fell flat
as bullets against a wall.

This circumstance aroused the ire of Antonio-Pericles against the
libretto and revolutionists. ‘I perceive,’ he said, grinning savagely,
‘it has come to be a concert, not an opera; it is a musical harangue in
the marketplace. Illusion goes: it is politics here!’

Carlo Ammiani was sitting with his mother and Luciano breathlessly
awaiting the entrance of Vittoria. The inner box-door was rudely shaken:
beneath it a slip of paper had been thrust. He read a warning to him
to quit the house instantly. Luciano and his mother both counselled his
departure. The detestable initials ‘B. R.,’ and the one word ‘Sbirri,’
revealed who had warned, and what was the danger. His friend’s advice
and the commands of his mother failed to move him. ‘When I have seen her
safe; not before,’ he said.

Countess Ammiani addressed Luciano: ‘This is a young man’s love for a
woman.’

‘The woman is worth it,’ Luciano replied.

‘No woman is worth the sacrifice of a mother and of a relative.’

‘Dearest countess,’ said Luciano, ‘look at the pit; it’s a cauldron.
We shall get him out presently, have no fear: there will soon be hubbub
enough to let Lucifer escape unseen. If nothing is done to-night, he
and I will be off to the Lago di Garda to-morrow morning, and fish and
shoot, and talk with Catullus.’

The countess gazed on her son with sorrowful sternness. His eyes had
taken that bright glazed look which is an indication of frozen brain and
turbulent heart--madness that sane men enamoured can be struck by. She
knew there was no appeal to it.

A very dull continuous sound, like that of an angry swarm, or more like
a rapid mufed thrumming of wires, was heard. The audience had caught
view of a brown-coated soldier at one of the wings. The curious Croat
had merely gratified a desire to have a glance at the semicircle of
crowded heads; he withdrew his own, but not before he had awakened the
wild beast in the throng. Yet a little while and the roar of the beasts
would have burst out. It was thought that Vittoria had been seized
or interdicted from appearing. Conspirators--the knights of the
plains--meet: Rudolfos, Romualdos, Arnoldos, and others,--so that you
know Camilla is not idle. She comes on in the great scene which closes
the opera.

It is the banqueting hall of the castle. The Pontifical divorce is
spread upon the table. Courtly friends, guards, and a choric bridal
company, form a circle.

‘I have obtained it,’ says Count Orso: ‘but at a cost.’

Leonardo, wavering eternally, lets us know that it is weighted with a
proviso: IF Camilla shall not present herself within a certain term,
this being the last day of it. Camillo comes forward. Too late, he has
perceived his faults and weakness. He has cast his beloved from his arms
to clasp them on despair. The choric bridal company gives intervening
strophes. Cavaliers enter. ‘Look at them well,’ says Leonardo. They
are the knights of the plains. ‘They have come to mock me,’ Camillo
exclaims, and avoids them.

Leonardo, Michiella, and Camillo now sing a trio that is tricuspidato,
or a three-pointed manner of declaring their divergent sentiments in
harmony. The fast-gathering cavaliers lend masculine character to
the choric refrains at every interval. Leonardo plucks Michiella
entreatingly by the arm. She spurns him. He has served her; she needs
him no more; but she will recommend him in other quarters, and bids
him to seek them. ‘I will give thee a collar for thy neck, marked
“Faithful.” It is the utmost I can do for thy species.’ Leonardo thinks
that he is insulted, but there is a vestige of doubt in him still. ‘She
is so fair! she dissembles so magnificently ever!’ She has previously
told him that she is acting a part, as Camilla did. Irma had shed all
her hair from a golden circlet about her temples, barbarian-wise. Some
Hunnish grandeur pertained to her appearance, and partly excused the
infatuated wretch who shivered at her disdain and exulted over her
beauty and artfulness.

In the midst of the chorus there is one veiled figure and one voice
distinguishable. This voice outlives the rest at every strophe, and
contrives to add a supplemental antiphonic phrase that recalls in turn
the favourite melodies of the opera. Camillo hears it, but takes it as
a delusion of impassioned memory and a mere theme for the recurring
melodious utterance of his regrets. Michiella hears it. She chimes with
the third notes of Camillo’s solo to inform us of her suspicions that
they have a serpent among them. Leonardo hears it. The trio is formed.
Count Orso, without hearing it, makes a quatuor by inviting the bridal
couple to go through the necessary formalities. The chorus changes its
measure to one of hymeneals. The unknown voice closes it ominously with
three bars in the minor key. Michiella stalks close around the rank
singers like an enraged daughter of Attila. Stopping in front of the
veiled figure, she says: ‘Why is it thou wearest the black veil at my
nuptials?’

‘Because my time of mourning is not yet ended.’

‘Thou standest the shadow in my happiness.’

‘The bright sun will have its shadow.’

‘I desire that all rejoice this day.’

‘My hour of rejoicing approaches.’

‘Wilt thou unveil?’

‘Dost thou ask to look the storm in the face?’

‘Wilt thou unveil?’

‘Art thou hungry for the lightning?’

‘I bid thee unveil, woman!’

Michiella’s ringing shriek of command produces no response.

‘It is she!’ cries Michiella, from a contracted bosom; smiting it with
clenched hands.

‘Swift to the signatures. O rival! what bitterness hast thou come hither
to taste.’

Camilla sings aside: ‘If yet my husband loves me and is true.’

Count Orso exclaims: ‘Let trumpets sound for the commencement of the
festivities. The lord of his country may slumber while his people dance
and drink!’

Trumpets flourish. Witnesses are called about the table. Camillo, pen
in hand, prepares for the supreme act. Leonardo at one wing watches
the eagerness of Michiella. The chorus chants to a muted measure of
suspense, while Camillo dips pen in ink.

‘She is away from me: she scorns me: she is lost to me. Life without
honour is the life of swine. Union without love is the yoke of savage
beasts. O me miserable! Can the heavens themselves plumb the depth of my
degradation?’

Count Orso permits a half-tone of paternal severity to point his kindly
hint that time is passing. When he was young, he says, in the broad
and benevolently frisky manner, he would have signed ere the eye of the
maiden twinkled her affirmative, or the goose had shed its quill.

Camillo still trifles. Then he dashes the pen to earth.

‘Never! I have but one wife. Our marriage is irrevocable. The
dishonoured man is the everlasting outcast. What are earthly possessions
to me, if within myself shame faces me? Let all go. Though I have lost
Camilla, I will be worthy of her. Not a pen no pen; it is the sword that
I must write with. Strike, O count! I am here: I stand alone. By the
edge of this sword, I swear that never deed of mine shall rob Camilla of
her heritage; though I die the death, she shall not weep for a craven!’

The multitude break away from Camilla--veiled no more, but radiant;
fresh as a star that issues through corrupting vapours, and with her
voice at a starry pitch in its clear ascendency:

       ‘Tear up the insufferable scroll!--
        O thou, my lover and my soul!
        It is the Sword that reunites;
        The Pen that our perdition writes.’

She is folded in her husband’s arms.

Michiella fronts them, horrid of aspect:--

       ‘Accurst divorced one! dost thou dare
        To lie in shameless fondness there?
        Abandoned! on thy lying brow
        Thy name shall be imprinted now.’

Camilla parts from her husband’s embrace:

       ‘My name is one I do not fear;
        ‘Tis one that thou wouldst shrink to hear.
        Go, cool thy penitential fires,
        Thou creature, foul with base desires!’

          CAMILLO (facing Count Orso).

       ‘The choice is thine!’

          COUNT ORSO (draws).

       ‘The choice is made!’

          CHORUS (narrowing its circle).

       ‘Familiar is that naked blade.
        Of others, of himself, the fate
        How swift ‘tis Provocation’s mate!’

          MICHIELLA (torn with jealous rage).

       ‘Yea; I could smite her on the face.
        Father, first read the thing’s disgrace.
        I grudge them, honourable death.
        Put poison in their latest breath!’

          ORSO (his left arm extended).

       ‘You twain are sundered: hear with awe
        The judgement of the Source of Law.’

          CAMILLA (smiling confidently).

       ‘Not such, when I was at the Source,
        It said to me;--but take thy course.’

          ORSO (astounded).

       ‘Thither thy steps were bent?’

          MICHIELLA (spurning verbal controversy).

                  ‘She feigns!
        A thousand swords are in my veins.
        Friends! soldiers I strike them down, the pair!’

          CAMILLO (on guard, clasping his wife).

       ‘‘Tis well! I cry, to all we share.
        Yea, life or death, ‘tis well! ‘tis well!’

          MICHIELLA (stamps her foot).

        ‘My heart ‘s a vessel tossed on hell!’

          LEONARDO (aside).

        ‘Not in glad nuptials ends the day.’

          ORSO (to Camilla).

        ‘What is thy purpose with us?--say!’

          CAMILLA (lowly).
       ‘Unto my Father I have crossed
        For tidings of my Mother lost.’

          ORSO.
        ‘Thy mother dead!’

          CAMILLA.
                  ‘She lives!’

          MICHIELLA.
                  ‘Thou liest!
        The tablets of the tomb defiest!
        The Fates denounce, the Furies chase
        The wretch who lies in Reason’s face.’

          CAMILLA.
       ‘Fly, then; for we are match’d to try
        Which is the idiot, thou or I’

          MICHIELLA.
        Graceless Camilla!’

          ORSO
               ‘Senseless girl!
        I cherished thee a precious pearl,
        And almost owned thee child of mine.’

          CAMILLA.
       ‘Thou kept’st me like a gem, to shine,
        Careless that I of blood am made;
        No longer be the end delay’d.
        ‘Tis time to prove I have a heart--
        Forth from these walls of mine depart!
        The ghosts within them are disturb’d
        Go forth, and let thy wrath be curb’d,
        For I am strong: Camillo’s truth
        Has arm’d the visions of our youth.
        Our union by the Head Supreme
        Is blest: our severance was the dream.
        We who have drunk of blood and tears,
        Knew nothing of a mortal’s fears.
        Life is as Death until the strife
        In our just cause makes Death as Life.’

          ORSO
        ‘‘Tis madness?’

          LEONARDO.
             ‘Is it madness?’

          CAMILLA.
                         ‘Men!
        ‘Tis Reason, but beyond your ken.
        There lives a light that none can view
        Whose thoughts are brutish:--seen by few,
        The few have therefore light divine
        Their visions are God’s legions!--sign,
        I give you; for we stand alone,
        And you are frozen to the bone.
        Your palsied hands refuse their swords.
        A sharper edge is in my words,
        A deadlier wound is in my cry.
        Yea, tho’ you slay us, do we die?
        In forcing us to bear the worst,
        You made of us Immortals first.
        Away! and trouble not my sight.’

   Chorus of Cavaliers: RUDOLFO, ROMUALDO, ARNOLDO, and others.

       ‘She moves us with an angel’s might.
        What if his host outnumber ours!
        ‘Tis heaven that gives victorious powers.’

   [They draw their steel. ORSO, simulating gratitude for their
   devotion to him, addresses them as to pacify their friendly ardour.]

          MICHIELLA to LEONARDO (supplicating).
       ‘Ever my friend I shall I appeal
        In vain to see thy flashing steel?’

          LEONARDO (finally resolved).
       ‘Traitress! pray, rather, it may rest,
        Or its first home will be thy breast.’

          Chorus of Bridal Company.
       ‘The flowers from bright Aurora’s head
        We pluck’d to strew a happy bed,
        Shall they be dipp’d in blood ere night?
        Woe to the nuptials! woe the sight!’

Rudolfo, Romualdo, Arnoldo, and the others, advance toward Camillo.
Michiella calls to them encouragingly that it were well for the deed to
be done by their hands. They bid Camillo to direct their lifted swords
upon his enemies. Leonardo joins them. Count Orso, after a burst of
upbraidings, accepts Camillo’s offer of peace, and gives his bond to
quit the castle. Michiella, gazing savagely at Camilla, entreats her for
an utterance of her triumphant scorn. She assures Camilla that she knows
her feelings accurately.

‘Now you think that I am overwhelmed; that I shall have a restless
night, and lie, after all my crying’s over, with my hair spread out
on my pillow, on either side my face, like green moss of a withered
waterfall: you think you will bestow a little serpent of a gift from
my stolen treasures to comfort me. You will comfort me with a lock of
Camillo’s hair, that I may have it on my breast to-night, and dream, and
wail, and writhe, and curse the air I breathe, and clasp the abominable
emptiness like a thousand Camillos. Speak!’

The dagger is seen gleaming up Michiella’s wrist; she steps on in a bony
triangle, faced for mischief: a savage Hunnish woman, with the hair of a
Goddess--the figure of a cat taking to its forepaws. Close upon Camilla
she towers in her whole height, and crying thrice, swift as the assassin
trebles his blow, ‘Speak,’ to Camilla, who is fronting her mildly, she
raises her arm, and the stilet flashes into Camilla’s bosom.

        ‘Die then, and outrage me no more.’

Camilla staggers to her husband. Camillo receives her falling.
Michiella, seized by Leonardo, presents a stiffened shape of vengeance
with fierce white eyes and dagger aloft. There are many shouts, and
there is silence.

          CAMILLA, supported by CAMILLO.
       ‘If this is death, it is not hard to bear.
        Your handkerchief drinks up my blood so fast
        It seems to love it. Threads of my own hair
        Are woven in it. ‘Tis the one I cast
        That midnight from my window, when you stood
        Alone, and heaven seemed to love you so!
        I did not think to wet it with my blood
        When next I tossed it to my love below.’

          CAMILLO (cherishing her).
       ‘Camilla, pity! say you will not die.
        Your voice is like a soul lost in the sky.’

          CAMILLA.

       ‘I know not if my soul has flown; I know
        My body is a weight I cannot raise:
        My voice between them issues, and
        I go Upon a journey of uncounted days.
        Forgetfulness is like a closing sea;
        But you are very bright above me still.
        My life I give as it was given to me
        I enter on a darkness wide and chill.’

          CAMILLO.
       ‘O noble heart! a million fires consume
        The hateful hand that sends you to your doom.’

          CAMILLA.
       ‘There is an end to joy: there is no end
        To striving; therefore ever let us strive
        In purity that shall the toil befriend,
        And keep our poor mortality alive.
        I hang upon the boundaries like light
        Along the hills when downward goes the day
        I feel the silent creeping up of night.
        For you, my husband, lies a flaming way.’

          CAMILLO.
       ‘I lose your eyes: I lose your voice: ‘tis faint.
        Ah, Christ! see the fallen eyelids of a saint.’

          CAMILLA.
       ‘Our life is but a little holding, lent
        To do a mighty labour: we are one
        With heaven and the stars when it is spent
        To serve God’s aim: else die we with the sun.’

She sinks. Camillo droops his head above her.

The house was hushed as at a veritable death-scene. It was more like a
cathedral service than an operatic pageant. Agostino had done his best
to put the heart of the creed of his Chief into these last verses.
Rocco’s music floated them in solemn measures, and Vittoria had been
careful to articulate throughout the sacred monotony so that their full
meaning should be taken.

In the printed book of the libretto a chorus of cavaliers, followed by
one harmless verse of Camilla’s adieux to them, and to her husband and
life, concluded the opera.

‘Let her stop at that--it’s enough!--and she shall be untouched,’ said
General Pierson to Antonio-Pericles.

‘I have information, as you know, that an extremely impudent song is
coming.’

The General saw Wilfrid hanging about the lobby, in flagrant
disobedience to orders. Rebuking his nephew with a frown, he commanded
the lieutenant to make his way round to the stage and see that the
curtain was dropped according to the printed book.

‘Off, mon Dieu! off!’ Pericles speeded him; adding in English, ‘Shall
she taste prison-damp, zat voice is killed.’

The chorus of cavaliers was a lamentation: the keynote being despair:
ordinary libretto verses.

Camilla’s eyes unclose. She struggles to be lifted, and, raised on
Camillo’s arm, she sings as if with the last pulsation of her voice,
softly resonant in its rich contralto. She pardons Michiella. She tells
Count Orso that when he has extinguished his appetite for dominion,
he will enjoy an unknown pleasure in the friendship of his neighbours.
Repeating that her mother lives, and will some day kneel by her
daughter’s grave--not mournfully, but in beatitude--she utters her adieu
to all.

At the moment of her doing so, Montini whispered in Vittoria’s ear.
She looked up and beheld the downward curl of the curtain. There was
confusion at the wings: Croats were visible to the audience. Carlo
Ammiani and Luciano Romara jumped on the stage; a dozen of the noble
youths of Milan streamed across the boards to either wing, and caught
the curtain descending. The whole house had risen insurgent with cries
of ‘Vittoria.’ The curtain-ropes were in the hands of the Croats, but
Carlo, Luciano, and their fellows held the curtain aloft at arm’s length
at each side of her. She was seen, and she sang, and the house listened.

The Italians present, one and all, rose up reverently and murmured the
refrain. Many of the aristocracy would, doubtless, have preferred that
this public declaration of the plain enigma should not have rung forth
to carry them on the popular current; and some might have sympathized
with the insane grin which distorted the features of Antonio-Pericles,
when he beheld illusion wantonly destroyed, and the opera reduced to be
a mere vehicle for a fulmination of politics. But the general enthusiasm
was too tremendous to permit of individual protestations. To sit, when
the nation was standing, was to be a German. Nor, indeed, was there an
Italian in the house who would willingly have consented to see Vittoria
silenced, now that she had chosen to defy the Tedeschi from the boards
of La Scala. The fascination of her voice extended even over the German
division of the audience. They, with the Italians, said: ‘Hear her! hear
her!’ The curtain was agitated at the wings, but in the centre it was
kept above Vittoria’s head by the uplifted arms of the twelve young
men:--

       ‘I cannot count the years,
        That you will drink, like me,
        The cup of blood and tears,
        Ere she to you appears:--
        Italia, Italia shall be free!’

So the great name was out, and its enemies had heard it.

       ‘You dedicate your lives
        To her, and you will be
        The food on which she thrives,
        Till her great day arrives
        Italia, Italia shall be free!

       ‘She asks you but for faith!
        Your faith in her takes she
        As draughts of heaven’s breath,
        Amid defeat and death:--
        Italia, Italia shall be free!’

The prima donna was not acting exhaustion when sinking lower in
Montini’s arms. Her bosom rose and sank quickly, and she gave the
terminating verse:--

       ‘I enter the black boat
        Upon the wide grey sea,
        Where all her set suns float;
        Thence hear my voice remote
        Italia, Italia shall be free!’

The curtain dropped.



CHAPTER XXII

WILFRID COMES FORWARD

An order for the immediate arrest of Vittoria was brought round to the
stage at the fall of the curtain by Captain Weisspriess, and delivered
by him on the stage to the officer commanding, a pothered lieutenant of
Croats, whose first proceeding was dictated by the military instinct to
get his men in line, and who was utterly devoid of any subsequent idea.
The thunder of the house on the other side of the curtain was enough to
disconcert a youngster such as he was; nor have the subalterns of
Croat regiments a very signal reputation for efficiency in the Austrian
Service. Vittoria stood among her supporters apart; pale, and ‘only very
thirsty,’ as she told the enthusiastic youths who pressed near her, and
implored her to have no fear. Carlo was on her right hand; Luciano
on her left. They kept her from going off to her room. Montini was
despatched to fetch her maid Giacinta with cloak and hood for her
mistress. The young lieutenant of Croats drew his sword, but hesitated.
Weisspriess, Wilfrid, and Major de Pyrmont were at one wing, between the
Italian gentlemen and the soldiery. The operatic company had fallen into
the background, or stood crowding the side places of exit. Vittoria’s
name was being shouted with that angry, sea-like, horrid monotony
of iteration which is more suggestive of menacing impatience and the
positive will of the people, than varied, sharp, imperative calls. The
people had got the lion in their throats. One shriek from her would
bring them, like a torrent, on the boards, as the officers well knew;
and every second’s delay in executing the orders of the General added to
the difficulty of their position. The lieutenant of Croats strode up
to Weisspriess and Wilfrid, who were discussing a plan of action
vehemently; while, amid hubbub and argument, De Pyrmont studied
Vittoria’s features through his opera-glass, with an admirable simple
languor.

Wilfrid turned back to him, and De Pyrmont, without altering the level
of his glass, said, ‘She’s as cool as a lemon-ice. That girl will be a
mother of heroes. To have volcanic fire and the mastery of her nerves at
the same time, is something prodigious. She is magnificent. Take a peep
at her. I suspect that the rascal at her right is seizing his occasion
to plant a trifle or so in her memory--the animal! It’s just the moment,
and he knows it.’

De Pyrmont looked at Wilfrid’s face.

‘Have I hit you anywhere accidentally?’ he asked, for the face had grown
dead-white.

‘Be my friend, for heaven’s sake!’ was the choking answer. ‘Save her!
Get her away! She is an old acquaintance of mine--of mine, in England.
Do; or I shall have to break my sword.’

‘You know her? and you don’t go over to her?’ said De Pyrmont.

‘I--yes, she knows me.’

‘Then, why not present yourself?’

‘Get her away. Talk Weisspriess down. He is for seizing her at all
hazards. It ‘s madness to provoke a conflict. Just listen to the house!
I may be broken, but save her I will. De Pyrmont, on my honour, I will
stand by you for ever if you will help me to get her away.’

‘To suggest my need in the hour of your own is not a bad notion,’ said
the cool Frenchman. ‘What plan have you?’

Wilfrid struck his forehead miserably.

‘Stop Lieutenant Zettlisch. Don’t let him go up to her. Don’t--’

De Pyrmont beheld in astonishment that a speechlessness such as affects
condemned wretches in the supreme last minutes of existence had come
upon the Englishman.

‘I’m afraid yours is a bad case,’ he said; ‘and the worst of it is, it’s
just the case women have no compassion for. Here comes a parlementaire
from the opposite camp. Let’s hear him.’

It was Luciano Romara. He stood before them to request that the curtain
should be raised. The officers debated together, and deemed it prudent
to yield consent.

Luciano stipulated further that the soldiers were to be withdrawn.

‘On one wing, or on both wings?’ said Captain Weisspriess, twinkling
eyes oblique.

‘Out of the house,’ said Luciano.

The officers laughed.

‘You must confess,’ said De Pyrmont, affably, ‘that though the drum does
issue command to the horse, it scarcely thinks of doing so after a rent
in the skin has shown its emptiness. Can you suppose that we are
likely to run when we see you empty-handed? These things are matters of
calculation.’

‘It is for you to calculate correctly,’ said Luciano.

As he spoke, a first surge of the exasperated house broke upon the stage
and smote the curtain, which burst into white zigzags, as it were a
breast stricken with panic.

Giacinta came running in to her mistress, and cloaked and hooded her
hurriedly.

Enamoured; impassioned, Ammiani murmured in Vittoria’s ear: ‘My own
soul!’

She replied: ‘My lover!’

So their first love-speech was interchanged with Italian simplicity, and
made a divine circle about them in the storm.

Luciano returned to his party to inform them that they held the key of
the emergency.

‘Stick fast,’ he said. ‘None of you move. Whoever takes the first step
takes the false step; I see that.’

‘We have no arms, Luciano.’

‘We have the people behind us.’

There was a fiercer tempest in the body of the house, and, on a
sudden, silence. Men who had invaded the stage joined the Italian guard
surrounding Vittoria, telling that the lights had been extinguished;
and then came the muffled uproar of universal confusion. Some were for
handing her down into the orchestra, and getting her out through the
general vomitorium, but Carlo and Luciano held her firmly by them. The
theatre was a rageing darkness; and there was barely a light on the
stage. ‘Santa Maria!’ cried Giacinta, ‘how dreadful that steel does
look in the dark! I wish our sweet boys would cry louder.’ Her mistress,
almost laughing, bade her keep close, and be still. ‘Oh! this must be
like being at sea,’ the poor creature whined, stopping her ears and
shutting her eyes. Vittoria was in a thick gathering of her defenders;
she could just hear that a parley was going on between Luciano and the
Austrians. Luciano made his way back to her. ‘Quick!’ he said; ‘nothing
cows a mob like darkness. One of these officers tells me he knows you,
and gives his word of honour--he’s an Englishman--to conduct you out:
come.’

Vittoria placed her hands in Carlo’s one instant. Luciano cleared a
space for them. She heard a low English voice.

‘You do not recognize me? There is no time to lose. You had another name
once, and I have had the honour to call you by it.’

‘Are you an Austrian?’ she exclaimed, and Carlo felt that she was
shrinking back.

‘I am the Wilfrid Pole whom you knew. You are entrusted to my charge; I
have sworn to conduct you to the doors in safety, whatever it may cost
me.’

Vittoria looked at him mournfully. Her eyes filled with tears. ‘The
night is spoiled for me!’ she murmured.

‘Emilia!’

‘That is not my name.’

‘I know you by no other. Have mercy on me. I would do anything in the
world to serve you.’

Major de Pyrmont came up to him and touched his arm. He said briefly:
‘We shall have a collision, to a certainty, unless the people hear from
one of her set that she is out of the house.’

Wilfrid requested her to confide her hand to him.

‘My hand is engaged,’ she said.

Bowing ceremoniously, Wilfrid passed on, and Vittoria, with Carlo
and Luciano and her maid Giacinta, followed between files of bayonets
through the dusky passages, and downstairs into the night air.

Vittoria spoke in Carlo’s ear: ‘I have been unkind to him. I had a great
affection for him in England.’

‘Thank him; thank him,’ said Carlo.

She quitted her lover’s side and went up to Wilfrid with a shyly
extended hand. A carriage was drawn up by the kerbstone; the doors of
it were open. She had barely made a word intelligible; when Major de
Pyrmont pointed to some officers approaching. ‘Get her out of the
way while there’s time,’ he said in French to Luciano. ‘This is her
carriage. Swiftly, gentlemen, or she’s lost.’

Giacinta read his meaning by signs, and caught her mistress by
the sleeve, using force. She and Major de Pyrmont placed Vittoria,
bewildered, in the carriage; De Pyrmont shut the door, and signalled to
the coachman. Vittoria thrust her head out for a last look at her lover,
and beheld him with the arms of dark-clothed men upon him. La Scala
was pouring forth its occupants in struggling roaring shoals from every
door. Her outcry returned to her deadened in the rapid rolling of the
carriage across the lighted Piazza. Giacinta had to hold her down with
all her might. Great clamour was for one moment heard by them, and then
a rushing voicelessness. Giacinta screamed to the coachman till she was
exhausted. Vittoria sank shuddering on the lap of her maid, hiding her
face that she might plunge out of recollection.

The lightnings shot across her brain, but wrote no legible thing; the
scenes of the opera lost their outlines as in a white heat of fire.
She tried to weep, and vainly asked her heart for tears, that this dry
dreadful blind misery of mere sensation might be washed out of her, and
leave her mind clear to grapple with evil; and then, as the lurid breaks
come in a storm-driven night sky, she had the picture of her lover in
the hands of enemies, and of Wilfrid in the white uniform; the torment
of her living passion, the mockery of her passion by-gone. Recollection,
when it came back, overwhelmed her; she swayed from recollection to
oblivion, and was like a caged wild thing. Giacinta had to be as a
mother with her. The poor trembling girl, who had begun to perceive that
the carriage was bearing them to some unknown destination, tore open the
bands of her corset and drew her mistress’s head against the full
warmth of her bosom, rocked her, and moaned over her, mixing comfort and
lamentation in one offering, and so contrived to draw the tears out from
her, a storm of tears; not fitfully hysterical, but tears that poured a
black veil over the eyeballs, and fell steadily streaming. Once subdued
by the weakness, Vittoria’s nature melted; she shook piteously with
weeping; she remembered Laura’s words, and thought of what she had done,
in terror and remorse, and tried to ask if the people would be fighting
now, but could not. Laura seemed to stand before her like a Fury
stretching her finger at the dear brave men whom she had hurled upon
the bayonets and the guns. It was an unendurable anguish. Giacinta
was compelled to let her cry, and had to reflect upon their present
situation unaided. They had passed the city gates. Voices on the
coachman’s box had given German pass-words. She would have screamed then
had not the carriage seemed to her a sanctuary from such creatures as
foreign soldiers, whitecoats; so she cowered on. They were in the starry
open country, on the high-road between the vine-hung mulberry trees. She
held the precious head of her mistress, praying the Saints that strength
would soon come to her to talk of their plight, or chatter a little
comfortingly at least; and but for the singular sweetness which it
shot thrilling to her woman’s heart, she would have been fretted when
Vittoria, after one long-drawn wavering sob, turned her lips to the
bared warm breast, and put a little kiss upon it, and slept.



CHAPTER XXIII

FIRST HOURS OF THE FLIGHT

Vittoria slept on like an outworn child, while Giacinta nodded over her,
and started, and wondered what embowelled mountain they might be passing
through, so cold was the air and thick the darkness; and wondered
more at the old face of dawn, which appeared to know nothing of her
agitation. But morning was better than night, and she ceased counting
over her sins forward and backward; adding comments on them, excusing
some and admitting the turpitude of others, with ‘Oh! I was naughty,
padre mio! I was naughty--she huddled them all into one of memory’s
spare sacks, and tied the neck of it, that they should keep safe for her
father-confessor. At such times, after a tumult of the blood, women have
tender delight in one another’s beauty. Giacinta doted on the marble
cheek, upturned on her lap, with the black unbound locks slipping across
it; the braid of the coronal of hair loosening; the chance flitting
movement of the pearly little dimple that lay at the edge of the bow of
the joined lips, like the cradling hollow of a dream. At whiles it would
twitch; yet the dear eyelids continued sealed.

Looking at shut eyelids when you love the eyes beneath, is more or less
a teazing mystery that draws down your mouth to kiss them. Their lashes
seem to answer you in some way with infantine provocation; and fine
eyelashes upon a face bent sideways, suggest a kind of internal smiling.
Giacinta looked till she could bear it no longer; she kissed the cheek,
and crooned over it, gladdened by a sense of jealous possession when she
thought of the adored thing her mistress had been overnight. One of her
hugs awoke Vittoria, who said, ‘Shut my window, mother,’ and slept
again fast. Giacinta saw that they were nearer to the mountains.
Mountain-shadows were thrown out, and long lank shadows of cypresses
that climbed up reddish-yellow undulations, told of the sun coming.
The sun threw a blaze of light into the carriage. He shone like a good
friend, and helped Giacinta think, as she had already been disposed to
imagine, that the machinery by which they had been caught out of Milan
was amicable magic after all, and not to be screamed at. The sound
medicine of sleep and sunlight was restoring livelier colour to her
mistress. Giacinta hushed her now, but Vittoria’s eyes opened, and
settled on her, full of repose.

‘What are you thinking about?’ she asked.

‘Signorina, my own, I was thinking whether those people I see on the
hill-sides are as fond of coffee as I am.’

Vittoria sat up and tumbled questions out headlong, pressing her eyes
and gathering her senses; she shook with a few convulsions, but shed no
tears. It was rather the discomfort of their position than any vestige
of alarm which prompted Giacinta to project her head and interrogate
the coachman and chasseur. She drew back, saying, ‘Holy Virgin! they are
Germans. We are to stop in half-an-hour.’ With that she put her hands to
use in arranging and smoothing Vittoria’s hair and dress--the dress of
Camilla--of which triumphant heroine Vittoria felt herself an odd little
ghost now. She changed her seat that she might look back on Milan. A
letter was spied fastened with a pin to one of the cushions. She opened
it, and read in pencil writing:

‘Go quietly. You have done all that you could do for good or for ill.
The carriage will take you to a safe place, where you will soon see your
friends and hear the news. Wait till you reach Meran. You will see
a friend from England. Avoid the lion’s jaw a second time. Here you
compromise everybody. Submit, or your friends will take you for a mad
girl. Be satisfied. It is an Austrian who rescues you. Think yourself
no longer appointed to put match to powder. Drown yourself if a second
frenzy comes. I feel I could still love your body if the obstinate soul
were out of it. You know who it is that writes. I might sign “Michiella”
 to this: I have a sympathy with her anger at the provoking Camilla.
Addio! From La Scala.’

The lines read as if Laura were uttering them. Wrapping her cloak across
the silken opera garb, Vittoria leaned back passively until the carriage
stopped at a village inn, where Giacinta made speedy arrangements to
satisfy as far as possible her mistress’s queer predilection for bathing
her whole person daily in cold water. The household service of the inn
recovered from the effort to assist her sufficiently to produce hot
coffee and sweet bread, and new green-streaked stracchino, the cheese of
the district, which was the morning meal of the fugitives. Giacinta, who
had never been so thirsty in her life, became intemperately refreshed,
and was seized by the fatal desire to do something: to do what she could
not tell; but chancing to see that her mistress had silken slippers on
her feet, she protested loudly that stouter foot-gear should be obtained
for her, and ran out to circulate inquiries concerning a shoemaker who
might have a pair of country overshoes for sale. She returned to say
that the coachman and his comrade, the German chasseur, were drinking
and watering their horses, and were not going to start until after a
rest of two hours, and that she proposed to walk to a small Bergamasc
town within a couple of miles of the village, where the shoes could be
obtained, and perhaps a stuff to replace the silken dress. Receiving
consent, Giacinta whispered, ‘A man outside wishes to speak to you,
signorina. Don’t be frightened. He pounced on me at the end of the
village, and had as little breath to speak as a boy in love. He was
behind us all last night on the carriage. He mentioned you by name. He
is quite commonly dressed, but he’s a gallant gentleman, and exactly
like our Signor Carlo. My dearest lady, he’ll be company for you while I
am absent. May I beckon him to come into the room?’

Vittoria supposed at once that this was a smoothing of the way for
the entrance of her lover and her joy. She stood up, letting all her
strength go that he might the more justly take her and cherish her. But
it was not Carlo who entered. So dead fell her broken hope that her face
was repellent with the effort she made to support herself. He said, ‘I
address the Signorina Vittoria. I am a relative of Countess Ammiani. My
name is Angelo Guidascarpi. Last night I was evading the sbirri in this
disguise by the private door of La Scala, from which I expected Carlo to
come forth. I saw him seized in mistake for me. I jumped up on the
empty box-seat behind your carriage. Before we entered the village I let
myself down. If I am seen and recognized, I am lost, and great evil will
befall Countess Ammiani and her son; but if they are unable to confront
Carlo and me, my escape ensures his safety!

‘What can I do?’ said Vittoria.

He replied, ‘Shall I answer you by telling you what I have done?’

‘You need not, signore!

‘Enough that I want to keep a sword fresh for my country. I am at your
mercy, signorina; and I am without anxiety. I heard the chasseur saying
at the door of La Scala that he had the night-pass for the city gates
and orders for the Tyrol. Once in Tyrol I leap into Switzerland. I
should have remained in Milan, but nothing will be done there yet, and
quiet cities are not homes for me.’

Vittoria began to admit the existence of his likeness to her lover,
though it seemed to her a guilty weakness that she should see it.

‘Will nothing be done in Milan?’ was her first eager question.

‘Nothing, signorina, or I should be there, and safe!’

‘What, signore, do you require me to help you in?’

‘Say that I am your servant.’

‘And take you with me?’

‘Such is my petition.’

‘Is the case very urgent?’

‘Hardly more, as regards myself, than a sword lost to Italy if I am
discovered. But, signorina, from what Countess Ammiani has told me,
I believe that you will some day be my relative likewise. Therefore I
appeal not only to a charitable lady, but to one of my own family.’

Vittoria reddened. ‘All that I can do I will do.’

Angelo had to assure her that Carlo’s release was certain the moment his
identity was established. She breathed gladly, saying, ‘I wonder at it
all very much. I do not know where they are carrying me, but I think I
am in friendly hands. I owe you a duty. You will permit me to call you
Beppo till our journey ends.’

They were attracted to the windows by a noise of a horseman drawing rein
under it, whose imperious shout for the innkeeper betrayed the soldier’s
habit of exacting prompt obedience from civilians, though there was no
military character in his attire. The innkeeper and his wife came out
to the summons, and then both made way for the chasseur in attendance on
Vittoria. With this man the cavalier conversed.

‘Have you had food?’ said Vittoria. ‘I have some money that will serve
for both of us three days. Go, and eat and drink. Pay for us both.’

She gave him her purse. He received it with a grave servitorial bow, and
retired.

Soon after the chasseur brought up a message. Herr Johannes requested
that he might have the honour of presenting his homage to her: it was
imperative that he should see her. She nodded. Her first glance at Herr
Johannes assured her of his being one of the officers whom she had seen
on the stage last night, and she prepared to act her part. Herr Johannes
desired her to recall to mind his introduction to her by the Signor
Antonio-Pericles at the house of the maestro Rocco Ricci. ‘It is true;
pardon me,’ said Vittoria.

He informed her that she had surpassed herself at the opera; so much
so that he and many other Germans had been completely conquered by her.
Hearing, he said, that she was to be pursued, he took horse and galloped
all night on the road toward Schloss Sonnenberg, whither, as it had been
whispered to him, she was flying, in order to counsel her to lie ‘perdu’
for a short space, and subsequently to conduct her to the schloss of
the amiable duchess. Vittoria thanked him, but stated humbly that she
preferred to travel alone. He declared that it was impossible: that she
was precious to the world of Art, and must on no account be allowed
to run into peril. Vittoria tried to assert her will; she found it
unstrung. She thought besides that this disguised officer, with the
ill-looking eyes running into one, might easily, since he had heard her,
be a devotee of her voice; and it flattered her yet more to imagine him
as a capture from the enemy--a vanquished subservient Austrian. She had
seen him come on horseback; he had evidently followed her; and he knew
what she now understood must be her destination.

Moreover, Laura had underlined ‘it is an Austrian who rescues you.’ This
man perchance was the Austrian. His precise manner of speech demanded an
extreme repugnance, if it was to be resisted; Vittoria’s reliance upon
her own natural fortitude was much too secure for her to encourage the
physical revulsions which certain hard faces of men create in the hearts
of young women.

‘Was all quiet in Milan?’ she asked.

‘Quiet as a pillow,’ he said.

‘And will continue to be?’

‘Not a doubt of it.’

‘Why is there not a doubt of it, signore?’

‘You beat us Germans on one field. On the other you have no chance. But
you must lose no time. The Croats are on your track. I have ordered out
the carriage.’

The mention of the Croats struck her fugitive senses with a panic.

‘I must wait for my maid,’ she said, attempting to deliberate.

‘Ha! you have a maid: of course you have! Where is your maid?’

‘She ought to have returned by this time. If not, she is on the road.’

‘On the road? Good; we will pick up the maid on the road. We have not a
minute to spare. Lady, I am your obsequious servant. Hasten out, I beg
of you. I was taught at my school that minutes are not to be wasted.
Those Croats have been drinking and what not on the way, or they would
have been here before this. You can’t rely on Italian innkeepers to
conceal you.’

‘Signore, are you a man of honour?’

‘Illustrious lady, I am.’

She listened simply to the response without giving heed to the
prodigality of gesture. The necessity for flight now that Milan was
announced as lying quiet, had become her sole thought. Angelo was
standing by the carriage.

‘What man is this?’ said Herr Johannes, frowning.

‘He is my servant,’ said Vittoria.

‘My dear good lady, you told me your servant was a maid. This will never
do. We can’t have him.’

‘Excuse me, signore, I never travel without him.’

‘Travel! This is not a case of travelling, but running; and when you
run, if you are in earnest about it, you must fling away your baggage
and arms.’

Herr Johannes tossed out his moustache to right and left, and stamped
his foot. He insisted that the man should be left behind.

‘Off, sir! back to Milan, or elsewhere,’ he cried.

‘Beppo, mount on the box,’ said Vittoria.

Her command was instantly obeyed. Herr Johannes looked her in the face.
‘You are very decided, my dear lady.’ He seemed to have lost his
own decision, but handing Vittoria in, he drew a long cigar from his
breastpocket, lit it, and mounted beside the coachman. The chasseur had
disappeared.

Vittoria entreated that a general look-out should be kept for Giacinta.
The road was straight up an ascent, and she had no fear that her maid
would not be seen. Presently there was a view of the violet domes of a
city. ‘Is it Bergamo?--is it Brescia?’ she longed to ask, thinking of
her Bergamasc and Brescian friends, and of those two places famous for
the bravery of their sons: one being especially dear to her, as the
birthplace of a genius of melody, whose blood was in her veins. ‘Did
he look on these mulberry trees?--did he look on these green-grassed
valleys?--did he hear these falling waters?’ she asked herself, and
closed her spirit with reverential thoughts of him and with his music.
She saw sadly that they were turning from the city. A little ball of
paper was shot into her lap. She opened it and read: ‘An officer of the
cavalry.--Beppo.’ She put her hand out of the window to signify that
she was awake to the situation. Her anxiety, however, began to fret. No
sight of Giacinta was to be had in any direction. Her mistress commenced
chiding the absent garrulous creature, and did so until she pitied her,
when she accused herself of cowardice, for she was incapable of calling
out to the coachman to stop. The rapid motion subdued such energy as
remained to her, and she willingly allowed her hurried feelings to rest
on the faces of rocks impending over long ravines, and of perched
old castles and white villas and sub-Alpine herds. She burst from the
fascination as from a dream, but only to fall into it again, reproaching
her weakness, and saying, ‘What a thing am I!’ When she did make her
voice heard by Herr Johannes and the coachman, she was nervous and
ashamed, and met the equivocating pacification of the reply with an
assent half-way, though she was far from comprehending the consolation
she supposed that it was meant to convey. She put out her hand to
communicate with Beppo. Another ball of pencilled writing answered to
it. She read: ‘Keep watch on this Austrian. Your maid is two hours
in the rear. Refuse to be separated from me. My life is at your
service.--Beppo.’

Vittoria made her final effort to get a resolve of some sort; ending it
with a compassionate exclamation over poor Giacinta. The girl could soon
find her way back to Milan. On the other hand, the farther from Milan,
the less the danger to Carlo’s relative, in whom she now perceived a
stronger likeness to her lover. She sank back in the carriage and closed
her eyes. Though she smiled at the vanity of forcing sleep in this way,
sleep came. Her healthy frame seized its natural medicine to rebuild her
after the fever of recent days.

She slept till the rocks were purple, and rose-purple mists were in
the valleys. The stopping of the carriage aroused her. They were at the
threshold of a large wayside hostelry, fronting a slope of forest and a
plunging brook. Whitecoats in all attitudes leaned about the door; she
beheld the inner court full of them. Herr Johannes was ready to hand her
to the ground. He said: ‘You have nothing to fear. These fellows are on
the march to Cremona. Perhaps it will be better if you are served up in
your chamber. You will be called early in the morning.’

She thanked him, and felt grateful. ‘Beppo, look to yourself,’ she said,
and ran to her retirement.

‘I fancy that ‘s about all that you are fit for,’ Herr Johannes
remarked, with his eyes on the impersonator of Beppo, who bore the
scrutiny carelessly, and after seeing that Vittoria had left nothing
on the carriage-seats, directed his steps to the kitchen, as became his
functions. Herr Johannes beckoned to a Tyrolese maid-servant, of whom
Beppo had asked his way. She gave her name as Katchen.

‘Katchen, Katchen, my sweet chuck,’ said Herr Johannes, ‘here are ten
florins for you, in silver, if you will get me the handkerchief of that
man: you have just stretched your finger out for him.’

According to the common Austrian reckoning of them, Herr Johannes had
adopted the right method for ensuring the devotion of the maidens of
Tyrol. She responded with an amazed gulp of her mouth and a grimace of
acquiescence. Ten florins in silver shortened the migratory term of the
mountain girl by full three months. Herr Johannes asked her the hour
when the officers in command had supper, and deferred his own meal till
that time. Katchen set about earning her money. With any common Beppo it
would have been easy enough--simple barter for a harmless kiss. But this
Beppo appeared inaccessible; he was so courtly and so reserved; nor is
a maiden of Tyrol a particularly skilled seductress. The supper of the
officers was smoking on the table when Herr Johannes presented himself
among them, and very soon the inn was shaken with an uproar of greeting.
Katchen found Beppo listening at the door of the salle. She clapped her
hands upon him to drag him away.

‘What right have you to be leaning your head there?’ she said, and
threatened to make his proceedings known. Beppo had no jewel to give,
little money to spare. He had just heard Herr Johannes welcomed among
the officers by a name that half paralyzed him. ‘You shall have anything
you ask of me if you will find me out in a couple of hours,’ he
said. Katchen nodded truce for that period, and saw her home in the
Oberinnthal still nearer--twelve mountain goats and a cow her undisputed
property. She found him out, though he had strayed through the court
of the inn, and down a hanging garden to the borders of a torrent
that drenched the air and sounded awfully in the dark ravine below. He
embraced her very mildly. ‘One scream and you go,’ he said; she felt the
saving hold of her feet plucked from her, with all the sinking horror,
and bit her under lip, as if keeping in the scream with bare stitches.
When he released her she was perfectly mastered. ‘You do play tricks,’
she said, and quaked.

‘I play no tricks. Tell me at what hour these soldiers march.’

‘At two in the morning.’

‘Don’t be afraid, silly child: you’re safe if you obey me. At what time
has our carriage been ordered?’

‘At four.’

‘Now swear to do this:--rouse my mistress at a quarter past two: bring
her down to me.’

‘Yes, yes,’ said Kitchen, eagerly: ‘give me your handkerchief, and she
will follow me. I do swear; that I do; by big St. Christopher! who’s
painted on the walls of our house at home.’

Beppo handed her sweet silver, which played a lively tune for her
temporarily--vanished cow and goats. Peering at her features in the
starlight, he let her take the handkerchief from his pocket.

‘Oh! what have you got in there?’ she said.

He laid his finger across her mouth, bidding her return to the house.

‘Dear heaven!’ Katchen went in murmuring; ‘would I have gone out to that
soft-looking young man if I had known he was a devil.’

Angelo Guidascarpi was aware that an officer without responsibility
never sleeps faster than when his brothers-in-arms have to be obedient
to the reveillee. At two in the morning the bugle rang out: many lighted
cigars were flashing among the dark passages of the inn; the whitecoats
were disposed in marching order; hot coffee was hastily swallowed; the
last stragglers from the stables, the outhouses, the court, and the
straw beds under roofs of rock, had gathered to the main body. The march
set forward. A pair of officers sent a shout up to the drowsy windows,
‘Good luck to you, Weisspriess!’ Angelo descended from the concealment
of the opposite trees, where he had stationed himself to watch the
departure. The inn was like a sleeper who has turned over. He made
Katchen bring him bread and slices of meat and a flask of wine, which
things found a place in his pockets: and paying for his mistress and
himself, he awaited Vittoria’s foot on the stairs. When Vittoria came
she asked no questions, but said to Katchen, ‘You may kiss me’;
and Kitchen began crying; she believed that they were lovers daring
everything for love.

‘You have a clear start of an hour and a half. Leave the high-road then,
and turn left through the forest and ask for Bormio. If you reach Tyrol,
and come to Silz, tell people that you know Katchen Giesslinger, and
they will be kind to you.’

So saying, she let them out into the black-eyed starlight.



CHAPTER XXIV

ADVENTURES OF VITTORIA AND ANGELO

Nothing was distinguishable for the flying couple save the high-road
winding under rock and forest, and here and there a coursing water in
the depths of the ravines, that showed like a vein in black marble.
They walked swiftly, keeping brisk ears for sound of hoof or foot behind
them. Angelo promised her that she should rest after the morning light
had come; but she assured him that she could bear fatigue, and her firm
cheerfulness lent his heart vigour. At times they were hooded with the
darkness, which came on them as if, as benighted children fancy, their
faces were about to meet the shaggy breast of the forest. Rising up to
lighter air, they had sight of distant twinklings: it might be city, or
autumn weed, or fires of the woodmen, or beacon fires: they glimmered
like eyelets to the mystery of the vast unseen land. Innumerable brooks
went talking to the night: torrents in seasons of rain, childish voices
now, with endless involutions of a song of three notes and a sort of
unnoted clanging chorus, as if a little one sang and would sing on
through the thumping of a tambourine and bells. Vittoria had these
fancies: Angelo had none. He walked like a hunted man whose life is at
stake.

‘If we reach a village soon we may get some conveyance,’ he said.

‘I would rather walk than drive,’ said Vittoria; ‘it keeps me from
thinking!

‘There is the dawn, signorina!

Vittoria frightened him by taking a seat upon a bench of rock; while
it was still dark about them, she drew off Camilla’s silken shoes and
stockings, and stood on bare feet.

‘You fancied I was tired,’ she said. ‘No, I am thrifty; and I want to
save as much of my finery as I can. I can go very well on naked feet.
These shoes are no protection; they would be worn out in half-a-day, and
spoilt for decent wearing in another hour.’

The sight of fair feet upon hard earth troubled Angelo; he excused
himself for calling her out to endure hardship; but she said, ‘I trust
you entirely.’ She looked up at the first thin wave of colour while
walking.

‘You do not know me,’ said he.

‘You are the Countess Ammiani’s nephew.’

‘I have, as I had the honour to tell you yesterday, the blood of your
lover in my veins.’

‘Do not speak of him now, I pray,’ said Vittoria; ‘I want my strength!

‘Signorina, the man we have left behind us is his enemy;--mine. I would
rather see you dead than alive in his hands. Do you fear death?’

‘Sometimes; when I am half awake,’ she confessed. ‘I dislike thinking of
it.’

He asked her curiously: ‘Have you never seen it?’

‘Death?’ said she, and changed a shudder to a smile; ‘I died last
night.’

Angelo smiled with her. ‘I saw you die!

‘It seems a hundred years ago.’

‘Or half-a-dozen minutes. The heart counts everything’

‘Was I very much liked by the people, Signor Angelo?’

‘They love you.’

‘I have done them no good.’

‘Every possible good. And now, mine is the duty to protect you.’

‘And yesterday we were strangers! Signor Angelo, you spoke of sbirri.
There is no rising in Bologna. Why are they after you? You look too
gentle to give them cause.’

‘Do I look gentle? But what I carry is no burden. Who that saw you last
night would know you for Camilla? You will hear of my deeds, and judge.
We shall soon have men upon the road; you must be hidden. See, there:
there are our colours in the sky. Austria cannot wipe them out. Since I
was a boy I have always slept in a bed facing East, to keep that truth
before my eyes. Black and yellow drop to the earth: green, white, and
red mount to heaven. If more of my countrymen saw these meanings!--but
they are learning to. My tutor called them Germanisms. If so, I have
stolen a jewel from my enemy.’

Vittoria mentioned the Chief.

‘Yes,’ said Angelo; ‘he has taught us to read God’s handwriting. I
revere him. It’s odd; I always fancy I hear his voice from a dungeon,
and seeing him looking at one light. He has a fault: he does not
comprehend the feelings of a nobleman. Do you think he has made a
convert of our Carlo in that? Never! High blood is ineradicable.’

‘I am not of high blood,’ said Vittoria.

‘Countess Ammiani overlooks it. And besides, low blood may be elevated
without the intervention of a miracle. You have a noble heart,
signorina. It may be the will of God that you should perpetuate our
race. All of us save Carlo Ammiani seem to be falling.’

Vittoria bent her head, distressed by a broad beam of sunlight. The
country undulating to the plain lay under them, the great Alps above,
and much covert on all sides. They entered a forest pathway, following
chance for safety. The dark leafage and low green roofing tasted
sweeter to their senses than clear air and sky. Dark woods are home
to fugitives, and here there was soft footing, a surrounding
gentleness,--grass, and moss with dead leaves peacefully flat on it. The
birds were not timorous, and when a lizard or a snake slipped away from
her feet, it was amusing to Vittoria and did not hurt her tenderness to
see that they were feared. Threading on beneath the trees, they wound by
a valley’s incline, where tumbled stones blocked the course of a green
water, and filled the lonely place with one onward voice. When the sun
stood over the valley they sat beneath a chestnut tree in a semicircle
of orange rock to eat the food which Angelo had procured at the inn. He
poured out wine for her in the hollow of a stone, deep as an egg-shell,
whereat she sipped, smiling at simple contrivances; but no smile crossed
the face of Angelo. He ate and drank to sustain his strength, as a
weapon is sharpened; and having done, he gathered up what was left, and
lay at her feet with his eyes fixed upon an old grey stone. She, too,
sat brooding. The endless babble and noise of the water had hardened
the sense of its being a life in that solitude. The floating of a hawk
overhead scarce had the character of an animated thing. Angelo turned
round to look at her, and looking upward as he lay, his sight was
smitten by spots of blood upon one of her torn white feet, that was but
half-nestled in the folds of her dress. Bending his head down, like
a bird beaking at prey, he kissed the foot passionately. Vittoria’s
eyelids ran up; a chord seemed to snap within her ears: she stole the
shamed foot into concealment, and throbbed, but not fearfully,
for Angelo’s forehead was on the earth. Clumps of grass, and sharp
flint-dust stuck between his fists, which were thrust out stiff on
either side of him. She heard him groan heavily. When he raised his
face, it was white as madness. Her womanly nature did not shrink from
caressing it with a touch of soothing hands.

She chanced to say, ‘I am your sister.’

‘No, by God! you are not my sister,’ cried the young man. ‘She died
without a stain of blood; a lily from head to foot, and went into the
vault so. Our mother will see that. She will kiss the girl in heaven
and see that.’ He rose, crying louder: ‘Are there echoes here?’ But his
voice beat against the rocks undoubted.

She saw that a frenzy had seized him. He looked with eyes drained of
human objects; standing square, with stiff half-dropped arms, and an
intense melody of wretchedness in his voice.

‘Rinaldo, Rinaldo!’ he shouted: ‘Clelia!--no answer from man or ghost.
She is dead. We two said to her die! and she died. Therefore she
is silent, for the dead have not a word. Oh! Milan, Milan! accursed
betraying city! I should have found my work in you if you had kept
faith. Now here am I, talking to the strangled throat of this place, and
can get no answer. Where am I? The world is hollow: the miserable shell!
They lied. Battle and slaughter they promised me, and enemies like ripe
maize for the reaping-hook. I would have had them in thick to my hands.
I would have washed my hands at night, and eaten and drunk and slept,
and sung again to work in the morning. They promised me a sword and
a sea to plunge it in, and our mother Italy to bless me. I would have
toiled: I would have done good in my life. I would have bathed my
soul in our colours. I would have had our flag about my body for a
winding-sheet, and the fighting angels of God to unroll me. Now here am
I, and my own pale mother trying at every turn to get in front of me.
Have her away! It’s a ghost, I know. She will be touching the strength
out of me. She is not the mother I love and I serve. Go: cherish your
daughter, you dead woman!’

Angelo reeled. ‘A spot of blood has sent me mad,’ he said, and caught
for a darkness to cross his sight, and fell and lay flat.

Vittoria looked around her; her courage was needed in that long silence.

She adopted his language: ‘Our mother Italy is waiting for us. We must
travel on, and not be weary. Angelo, my friend, lend me your help over
these stones.’

He rose quietly. She laid her elbow on his hand; thus supported she left
a place that seemed to shudder. All the heavy day they walked almost
silently; she not daring to probe his anguish with a question; and he
calm and vacant as the hour following thunder. But, of her safety by his
side she had no longer a doubt. She let him gather weeds and grasses,
and bind them across her feet, and perform friendly services, sure
that nothing earthly could cause such a mental tempest to recur. The
considerate observation which at all seasons belongs to true courage
told her that it was not madness afflicting Angelo.

Near nightfall they came upon a forester’s hut, where they were welcomed
by an old man and a little girl, who gave them milk and black bread, and
straw to rest on. Angelo slept in the outer air. When Vittoria awoke she
had the fancy that she had taken one long dive downward in a well;
and on touching the bottom found her head above the surface. While her
surprise was wearing off, she beheld the woodman’s little girl at her
feet holding up one end of her cloak, and peeping underneath, overcome
by amazement at the flashing richness of the dress of the heroine
Camilla. Entering into the state of her mind spontaneously, Vittoria
sought to induce the child to kiss her; but quite vainly. The child’s
reverence for the dress allowed her only to be within reach of the hem
of it, so as to delight her curiosity. Vittoria smiled when, as she sat
up, the child fell back against the wall; and as she rose to her feet,
the child scampered from the room. ‘My poor Camilla! you can charm
somebody, yet,’ she said, limping; her visage like a broken water with
the pain of her feet. ‘If the bell rings for Camilla now, what sort
of an entry will she make?’ Vittoria treated her physical weakness and
ailments with this spirit of humour. ‘They may say that Michiella has
bewitched you, my Camilla. I think your voice would sound as if it were
dragging its feet after it just as a stork flies. O my Camilla! don’t
I wish I could do the same, and be ungraceful and at ease! A moan is
married to every note of your treble, my Camilla, like December and May.
Keep me from shrieking!’

The pangs shooting from her feet were scarce bearable, but the
repression of them helped her to meet Angelo with a freer mind than,
after the interval of separation, she would have had. The old woodman
was cooking a queer composition of flour and milk sprinkled with salt
for them. Angelo cut a stout cloth to encase each of her feet, and bound
them in it. He was more cheerful than she had ever seen him, and now
first spoke of their destination. His design was to conduct her near
to Bormio, there to engage a couple of men in her service who would
accompany her to Meran, by the Val di Sole, while he crossed the Stelvio
alone, and turning leftward in the Tyrolese valley, tried the passage
into Switzerland.

Bormio, if, when they quitted the forest, a conveyance could be
obtained, was no more than a short day’s distance, according to the old
woodman’s directions. Vittoria induced the little girl to sit upon her
knee, and sang to her, but greatly unspirited the charm of her dress.
The sun was rising as they bade adieu to the hut.

About mid-day they quitted the shelter of forest trees and stood on
broken ground, without a path to guide them. Vittoria did her best to
laugh at her mishaps in walking, and compared herself to a Capuchin
pilgrim; but she was unused to going bareheaded and shoeless, and though
she held on bravely, the strong beams of the sun and the stony ways
warped her strength. She had to check fancies drawn from Arabian tales,
concerning the help sometimes given by genii of the air and enchanted
birds, that were so incessant and vivid that she found herself sulking
at the loneliness and helplessness of the visible sky, and feared that
her brain was losing its hold of things. Angelo led her to a half-shaded
hollow, where they finished the remainder of yesterday’s meat and wine.
She set her eyes upon a gold-green lizard by a stone and slept.

‘The quantity of sleep I require is unmeasured,’ she said, a minute
afterwards, according to her reckoning of time, and expected to see
the lizard still by the stone. Angelo was near her; the sky was full of
colours, and the earth of shadows.

‘Another day gone!’ she exclaimed in wonderment, thinking that the days
of human creatures had grown to be as rapid and (save toward the one
end) as meaningless as the gaspings of a fish on dry land. He told her
that he had explored the country as far as he had dared to stray from
her. He had seen no habitation along the heights. The vale was too
distant for strangers to reach it before nightfall. ‘We can make a
little way on,’ said Vittoria, and the trouble of walking began again.
He entreated her more than once to have no fear. ‘What can I fear?’ she
asked. His voice sank penitently: ‘You can rely on me fully when there
is anything to do for you.’

‘I am sure of that,’ she replied, knowing his allusion to be to his
frenzy of yesterday. In truth, no woman could have had a gentler
companion.

On the topmost ridge of the heights, looking over an interminable gulf
of darkness they saw the lights of the vale. ‘A bird might find his
perch there, but I think there is no chance for us,’ said Vittoria. ‘The
moment we move forward to them the lights will fly back. It is their way
of behaving.’

Angelo glanced round desperately. Farther on along the ridge his eye
caught sight of a low smouldering fire. When he reached it he had a
great disappointment. A fire in the darkness gives hopes that men will
be at hand. Here there was not any human society. The fire crouched on
its ashes. It was on a little circular eminence of mossed rock; black
sticks, and brushwood, and dry fern, and split logs, pitchy to the
touch, lay about; in the centre of them the fire coiled sullenly among
its ashes, with a long eye like a serpent’s.

‘Could you sleep here?’ said Angelo.

‘Anywhere!’ Vittoria sighed with droll dolefulness.

‘I can promise to keep you warm, signorina.’

‘I will not ask for more till to-morrow, my friend.’

She laid herself down sideways, curling up her feet, with her cheek on
the palm of her hand.

Angelo knelt and coaxed the fire, whose appetite, like that which is
said to be ours, was fed by eating, for after the red jaws had taken
half-a-dozen sticks, it sang out for more, and sent up flame leaping
after flame and thick smoke. Vittoria watched the scene through a thin
division of her eyelids; the fire, the black abyss of country, the
stars, and the sentinel figure. She dozed on the edge of sleep, unable
to yield herself to it wholly. She believed that she was dreaming when
by-and-by many voices filled her ears. The fire was sounding like an
angry sea, and the voices were like the shore, more intelligible, but
confused in shriller clamour. She was awakened by Angelo, who knelt on
one knee and took her outlying hand; then she saw that men surrounded
them, some of whom were hurling the lighted logs about, some trampling
down the outer rim of flames. They looked devilish to a first awakening
glance. He told her that the men were friendly; they were good Italians.
This had been the beacon arranged for the night of the Fifteenth, when
no run of signals was seen from Milan; and yesterday afternoon it
had been in mockery partially consumed. ‘We have aroused the country,
signorina, and brought these poor fellows out of their beds. They
supposed that Milan must be up and at work. I have explained everything
to them.’

Vittoria had rather to receive their excuses than to proffer her own.
They were mostly youths dressed like the better class of peasantry. They
laughed at the incident, stating how glad they would have been to behold
the heights all across the lakes ablaze and promising action for the
morrow. One square-shouldered fellow raised her lightly from the ground.
She felt herself to be a creature for whom circumstance was busily
plotting, so that it was useless to exert her mind in thought. The long
procession sank down the darkness, leaving the low red fire to die out
behind them.

Next morning she awoke in a warm bed, possessed by odd images of flames
that stood up like crowing cocks, and cowered like hens above the brood.
She was in the house of one of their new friends, and she could hear
Angelo talking in the adjoining room. A conveyance was ready to take her
on to Bormio. A woman came to her to tell her this, appearing to have
a dull desire to get her gone. She was a draggled woman, with a face of
slothful anguish, like one of the inner spectres of a guilty man. She
said that her husband was willing to drive the lady to Bormio for a sum
that was to be paid at once into his wife’s hand; and little enough
it was which poor persons could ever look for from your patriots and
disturbers who seduced orderly men from their labour, and made widows
and ruined households. This was a new Italian language to Vittoria,
and when the woman went on giving instances of households ruined by a
husband’s vile infatuation about his country, she did not attempt to
defend the reckless lord, but dressed quickly that she might leave the
house as soon as she could. Her stock of money barely satisfied the
woman’s demand. The woman seized it, and secreted it in her girdle.
When they had passed into the sitting-room, her husband, who was sitting
conversing with Angelo, stretched out his hand and knocked the girdle.

‘That’s our trick,’ he said. ‘I guessed so. Fund up, our little Maria of
the dirty fingers’-ends! We accept no money from true patriots. Grub in
other ground, my dear!’

The woman stretched her throat awry, and set up a howl like a dog; but
her claws came out when he seized her.

‘Would you disgrace me, old fowl?’

‘Lorenzo, may you rot like a pumpkin!’

The connubial reciprocities were sharp until the money lay on the table,
when the woman began whining so miserably that Vittoria’s sensitive
nerves danced on her face, and at her authoritative interposition,
Lorenzo very reluctantly permitted his wife to take what he chose to
reckon a fair portion of the money, and also of his contempt. She seemed
to be licking the money up, she bent over it so greedily.

‘Poor wretch!’ he observed; ‘she was born on a hired bed.’

Vittoria felt that the recollection of this woman would haunt her. It
was inconceivable to her that a handsome young man like Lorenzo should
ever have wedded the unsweet creature, who was like a crawling image of
decay; but he, as if to account for his taste, said that they had been
of a common age once, when he married her; now she had grown old. He
repeated that she ‘was born on a hired bed.’ They saw nothing further of
her.

Vittoria’s desire was to get to Meran speedily, that she might see
her friends, and have tidings of her lover and the city. Those baffled
beacon-flames on the heights had become an irritating indicative vision:
she thirsted for the history. Lorenzo offered to conduct her over the
Tonale Pass into the Val di Sole, or up the Val Furva, by the pass of
the Corno dei Tre Signori, into the Val del Monte to Pejo, thence by
Cles, or by Bolzano, to Meran. But she required shoeing and refitting;
and for other reasons also, she determined to go on to Bormio. She
supposed that Angelo had little money, and that in a place such as
Bormio sounded to her ears she might possibly obtain the change for
the great money-order which the triumph of her singing had won from
Antonio-Pericles. In spite of Angelo’s appeals to her to hurry on to
the end of her journey without tempting chance by a single pause, she
resolved to go to Bormio. Lorenzo privately assured her that there were
bankers in Bormio. Many bankers, he said, came there from Milan, and
that fact she thought sufficient for her purpose. The wanderers parted
regretfully. A little chapel, on a hillock off the road, shaded by
chestnuts, was pointed out to Lorenzo where to bring a letter for
Angelo. Vittoria begged Angelo to wait till he heard from her; and then,
with mutual wavings of hands, she was driven out of his sight.



CHAPTER XXV

ACROSS THE MOUNTAINS

After parting from Vittoria, Angelo made his way to an inn, where he ate
and drank like a man of the fields, and slept with the power of one from
noon till after morning. The innkeeper came up to his room, and, finding
him awake, asked him if he was disposed to take a second holiday in
bed. Angelo jumped up; as he did so, his stiletto slipped from under his
pillow and flashed.

‘That’s a pretty bit of steel,’ said the innkeeper, but could not get a
word out of him. It was plain to Angelo that this fellow had suspicions.
Angelo had been careful to tie up his clothes in a bundle; there was
nothing for the innkeeper to see, save a young man in bed, who had a
terrible weapon near his hand, and a look in his eyes of wary indolence
that counselled prudent dealings. He went out, and returned a second and
a third time, talking more and more confusedly and fretfully; but as he
was again going to leave, ‘No, no,’ said Angelo, determined to give him
a lesson, ‘I have taken a liking to your company. Here, come here; I
will show you a trick. I learnt it from the Servians when I was three
feet high. Look; I lie quite still, you observe. Try to get on the other
side of that door and the point of this blade shall scratch you through
it.’

Angelo laid the blue stilet up his wrist, and slightly curled his arm.
‘Try,’ he repeated, but the innkeeper had stopped short in his movement
to the door. ‘Well, then, stay where you are,’ said Angelo, ‘and look;
I’ll be as good as my word. There’s the point I shall strike.’ With that
he gave the peculiar Servian jerk of the muscles, from the wrist up to
the arm, and the blade quivered on the mark. The innkeeper fell back in
admiring horror. ‘Now fetch it to me,’ said Angelo, putting both
hands carelessly under his head. The innkeeper tugged at the blade.
‘Illustrious signore, I am afraid of breaking it,’ he almost whimpered;
‘it seems alive, does it not?’

‘Like a hawk on a small bird,’ said Angelo; ‘that’s the beauty of those
blades. They kill, and put you to as little pain as a shot; and it ‘s
better than a shot in your breast--there’s something to show for it.
Send up your wife or your daughter to take orders about my breakfast. It
‘s the breakfast of five mountaineers; and don’t “Illustrious signore”
 me, sir, either in my hearing or out of it. Leave the knife sticking.’

The innkeeper sidled out with a dumb salute. ‘I can count on his
discretion for a couple of hours,’ Angelo said to himself. He knew
the effect of an exhibition of physical dexterity and strength upon
a coward. The landlord’s daughter came and received his orders for
breakfast. Angelo inquired whether they had been visited by Germans of
late. The girl told him that a German chasseur with a couple of soldiers
had called them up last night.

‘Wouldn’t it have been a pity if they had dragged me out and shot me?’
said Angelo.

‘But they were after a lady,’ she explained; ‘they have gone on to
Bormio, and expect to catch her there or in the mountains.’

‘Better there than in the mountains, my dear; don’t you think so?’

The girl said that she would not like to meet those fellows among the
mountains.

‘Suppose you were among the mountains, and those fellows came up with
you; wouldn’t you clap your hands to see me jumping down right in front
of you all?’ said Angelo.

‘Yes, I should,’ she admitted. ‘What is one man, though!’

‘Something, if he feeds like five. Quick! I must eat. Have you a lover?’

‘Yes.’

‘Fancy you are waiting on him.’

‘He’s only a middling lover, signore. He lives at Cles, over Val Pejo,
in Val di Non, a long way, and courts me twice a year, when he comes
over to do carpentering. He cuts very pretty Madonnas. He is a German.’

‘Ha! you kneel to the Madonna, and give your lips to a German? Go.’

‘But I don’t like him much, signore; it’s my father who wishes me to
have him; he can make money.’

Angelo motioned to her to be gone, saying to himself, ‘That father of
hers would betray the Saints for a handful of florins.’

He dressed, and wrenched his knife from the door. Hearing the clatter
of a horse at the porch, he stopped as he was descending the stairs.
A German voice said, ‘Sure enough, my jolly landlord, she’s there, in
Worms--your Bormio. Found her at the big hotel: spoke not a syllable;
stole away, stole away. One chopin of wine! I’m off on four legs to the
captain. Those lads who are after her by Roveredo and Trent have bad
noses. “Poor nose--empty belly.” Says the captain, “I stick at the point
of the cross-roads.” Says I, “Herr Captain, I’m back to you first of the
lot.” My business is to find the runaway lady-pretty Fraulein! pretty
Fraulein! lai-ai! There’s money on her servant, too; he’s a disguised
Excellency--a handsome boy; but he has cut himself loose, and he go
hang. Two birds for the pride of the thing; one for satisfaction--I ‘m
satisfied. I’ve killed chamois in my time. Jacob, I am; Baumwalder, I
am; Feckelwitz, likewise; and the very devil for following a track. Ach!
the wine is good. You know the song?

       “He who drinks wine, he may cry with a will,
        Fortune is mine, may she stick to me still.”

I give it you in German--the language of song! my own, my native
‘lai-ai-lai-ai-la-la-lai-ai-i-ie!’

          “While stars still sit
          On mountain tops,
          I take my gun,
          Kiss little one
             On mother’s breast.
               Ai-iu-e!

          “My pipe is lit,
          I climb the slopes,
          I meet the dawn
          A little one
             On mother’s breast.
             Ai-aie: ta-ta-tai: iu-iu-iu-e!”

Another chopin, my jolly landlord. What’s that you’re mumbling? About
the servant of my runaway young lady? He go hang! What----?’

Angelo struck his foot heavily on the stairs; the innkeeper coughed and
ran back, bowing to his guest. The chasseur cried, ‘I ‘ll drink farther
on-wine between gaps!’ A coin chinked on the steps in accompaniment
to the chasseur’s departing gallop. ‘Beast of a Tedesco,’ the landlord
exclaimed as he picked up the money; ‘they do the reckoning--not we. If
I had served him with the worth of this, I should have had the bottle at
my head. What a country ours is! We’re ridden over, ridden over!’
Angelo compelled the landlord to sit with him while he ate like five
mountaineers. He left mere bones on the table. ‘It’s wonderful,’ said
the innkeeper; ‘you can’t know what fear is.’

‘I think I don’t,’ Angelo replied; ‘you do; cowards have to serve every
party in turn. Up, and follow at my heels till I dismiss you. You know
the pass into the Val Pejo and the Val di Sole.’ The innkeeper stood
entrenched behind a sturdy negative. Angelo eased him to submission
by telling him that he only wanted the way to be pointed out. ‘Bring
tobacco; you’re going to have an idle day,’ said Angelo: ‘I pay you when
we separate.’ He was deaf to entreaties and refusals, and began to
look mad about the eyes; his poor coward plied him with expostulations,
offered his wife, his daughter, half the village, for the service: he
had to follow, but would take no cigars. Angelo made his daughter fetch
bread and cigars, and put a handful in his pocket, upon which, after
two hours of inactivity at the foot of the little chapel, where Angelo
waited for the coming of Vittoria’s messenger, the innkeeper was glad
to close his fist. About noon Lorenzo came, and at once acted a play of
eyes for Angelo to perceive his distrust of the man and a multitude of
bad things about him he was reluctant, notwithstanding Angelo’s ready
nod, to bring out a letter; and frowned again, for emphasis to the
expressive comedy. The letter said:

‘I have fallen upon English friends. They lend me money. Fly to Lugano
by the help of these notes: I inclose them, and will not ask pardon
for it. The Valtellina is dangerous; the Stelvio we know to be watched.
Retrace your way, and then try the Engadine. I should stop on a breaking
bridge if I thought my companion, my Carlo’s cousin, was near capture.
I am well taken care of: one of my dearest friends, a captain in the
English army, bears me company across. I have a maid from one of the
villages, a willing girl. We ride up to the mountains; to-morrow we
cross the pass; there is a glacier. Val di Non sounds Italian, but I
am going into the enemy’s land. You see I am well guarded. My immediate
anxiety concerns you; for what will our Carlo ask of me? Lose not one
moment. Away, and do not detain Lorenzo. He has orders to meet us up
high in the mountain this evening. He is the best of servants but
I always meet the best everywhere--that is, in Italy. Leaving it, I
grieve. No news from Milan, except of great confusion there. I judge by
the quiet of my sleep that we have come to no harm there.

             ‘Your faithfullest

                       ‘VITTORIA.’

Lorenzo and the innkeeper had arrived at an altercation before Angelo
finished reading. Angelo checked it, and told Lorenzo to make speed: he
sent no message.

‘My humanity,’ Angelo then addressed his craven associate, ‘counsels me
that it’s better to drag you some distance on than to kill you. You ‘re
a man of intelligence, and you know why I have to consider the matter. I
give you guide’s pay up to the glacier, and ten florins buon’mano. Would
you rather earn it with the blood of a countryman? I can’t let that
tongue of yours be on the high-road of running Tedeschi: you know it.

‘Illustrious signore, obedience oils necessity,’ quoth the innkeeper.
‘If we had but a few more of my cigars!’

‘Step on,’ said Angelo sternly.

They walked till dark and they were in keen air. A hut full of recent
grass-cuttings, on the border of a sloping wood, sheltered them. The
innkeeper moaned for food at night and in the morning, and Angelo
tossed him pieces of bread. Beyond the wood they came upon bare crag and
commenced a sharper ascent, reached the height, and roused an eagle.
The great bird went up with a sharp yelp, hanging over them with knotted
claws. Its shadow stretched across sweeps of fresh snow. The innkeeper
sent a mocking yelp after the eagle.

‘Up here, one forgets one is a father--what’s more, a husband,’ he said,
striking a finger on the side of his nose.

‘And a cur, a traitor, carrion,’ said Angelo.

‘Ah, signore, one might know you were a noble. You can’t understand
our troubles, who carry a house on our heads, and have to fill mouths
agape.’

‘Speak when you have better to say,’ Angelo replied.

‘Padrone, one would really like to have your good opinion; and I’m lean
as a wolf for a morsel of flesh. I could part with my buon’mano for a
sight of red meat--oh! red meat dripping.’

‘If,’ cried Angelo, bringing his eyebrows down black on the man, ‘if I
knew that you had ever in your life betrayed one of us look below; there
you should lie to be pecked and gnawed at.’

‘Ah, Jacopo Cruchi, what an end for you when you are full of good
meanings!’ the innkeeper moaned. ‘I see your ribs, my poor soul!’

Angelo quitted him. The tremendous excitement of the Alpine solitudes
was like a stringent wine to his surcharged spirit. He was one to whom
life and death had become as the yes and no of ordinary men: not more
than a turning to the right or to the left. It surprised him that this
fellow, knowing his own cowardice and his conscience, should consent to
live, and care to eat to live.

When he returned to his companion, he found the fellow drinking from
the flask of an Austrian soldier. Another whitecoat was lying near. They
pressed Angelo to drink, and began to play lubberly pranks. One clapped
hands, while another rammed the flask at the reluctant mouth, till
Angelo tripped him and made him a subject for derision; whereupon they
were all good friends. Musket on shoulder, the soldiers descended,
blowing at their finger-nails and puffing at their tobacco--lauter
kaiserlicher (rank Imperial), as with a sad enforcement of resignation
they had, while lighting, characterized the universally detested
Government issue of the leaf.

‘They are after her,’ said Jacopo, and he shot out his thumb and twisted
an eyelid. His looks became insolent, and he added: ‘I let them go on;
but now, for my part, I must tell you, my worthy gentleman, I’ve had
enough of it. You go your way, I go mine. Pay me, and we part. With the
utmost reverence, I quit you. Climbing mountains at my time of life is
out of all reason. If you want companions, I ‘ll signal to that pair of
Tedeschi; they’re within hail. Would you like it? Say the word, if you
would--hey!’

Angelo smiled at the visible effect of the liquor.

‘Barto Rizzo would be the man to take you in hand,’ he remarked.

The innkeeper flung his head back to ejaculate, and murmured, ‘Barto
Rizzo! defend me from him! Why, he levies contribution upon us in the
Valtellina for the good of Milan; and if we don’t pay, we’re all of us
down in a black book. Disobey, and it’s worse than swearing you won’t
pay taxes to the legitimate--perdition to it!--Government. Do you know
Barto Rizzo, padrone? You don’t know him, I hope? I’m sure you wouldn’t
know such a fellow.’

‘I am his favourite pupil,’ said Angelo.

‘I’d have sworn it,’ groaned the innkeeper, and cursed the day and hour
when Angelo crossed his threshold. That done, he begged permission to
be allowed to return, crying with tears of entreaty for mercy: ‘Barto
Rizzo’s pupils are always out upon bloody business!’ Angelo told him
that he had now an opportunity of earning the approval of Barto Rizzo,
and then said, ‘On,’ and they went in the track of the two whitecoats;
the innkeeper murmuring all the while that he wanted the approval of
Barto Rizzo as little as his enmity; he wanted neither frost nor fire.
The glacier being traversed, they skirted a young stream, and arrived at
an inn, where they found the soldiers regaling. Jacopo was informed by
them that the lady whom they were pursuing had not passed. They pushed
their wine for Angelo to drink: he declined, saying that he had sworn
not to drink before he had shot the chamois with the white cross on his
back.

‘Come: we’re two to one,’ they said, ‘and drink you shall this time!’

‘Two to two,’ returned Angelo: ‘here is my Jacopo, and if he doesn’t
count for one, I won’t call him father-in-law, and the fellow living at
Cles may have his daughter without fighting for her.’

‘Right so,’ said one of the soldiers, ‘and you don’t speak bad German
already.’

‘Haven’t I served in the ranks?’ said Angelo, giving a bugle-call of the
reveille of the cavalry.

He got on with them so well that they related the object of their
expedition, which was, to catch a runaway young rebel lady and hold her
fast down at Cles for the great captain--‘unser tuchtiger Hauptmann.’

‘Hadn’t she a servant, a sort of rascal?’ Angelo inquired.

‘Right so; she had: but the doe’s the buck in this chase.’

Angelo tossed them cigars. The valley was like a tumbled mountain, thick
with crags and eminences, through which the river worked strenuously,
sinuous in foam, hurrying at the turns. Angelo watched all the ways from
a distant height till set of sun. He saw another couple of soldiers meet
those two at the inn, and then one pair went up toward the vale-head.
It seemed as if Vittoria had disconcerted them by having chosen another
route.

‘Padrone,’ said Jacopo to him abruptly, when they descended to find a
resting-place, ‘you are, I speak humbly, so like the devil that I must
enter into a stipulation with you, before I continue in your company,
and take the worst at once. This is going to be the second night of my
sleeping away from my wife: I merely mention it. I pinch her, and she
beats me, and we are equal. But if you think of making me fight, I tell
you I won’t. If there was a furnace behind me, I should fall into it
rather than run against a bayonet. I ‘ve heard say that the nerves are
in the front part of us, and that’s where I feel the shock. Now we’re
on a plain footing. Say that I’m not to fight. I’ll be your servant till
you release me, but say I ‘m not to fight; padrone, say that.’

‘I can’t say that: I’ll say I won’t make you fight,’ Angelo pacified him
by replying. From this moment Jacopo followed him less like a graceless
dog pulled by his chain. In fact, with the sense of prospective
security, he tasted a luxurious amazement in being moved about by a
superior will, wafted from his inn, and paid for witnessing strange
incidents. Angelo took care that he was fed well at the place where
they slept, but himself ate nothing. Early after dawn they mounted the
heights above the road. It was about noon that Angelo discerned a party
coming from the pass on foot, consisting of two women and three men.
They rested an hour at the village where he had slept overnight; the
muskets were a quarter of a mile to the rear of them. When they started
afresh, one of the muskets was discharged, and while the echoes were
rolling away, a reply to it sounded in the front. Angelo, from his post
of observation, could see that Vittoria and her party were marching
between two guards, and that she herself must have perceived both the
front and rearward couple. Yet she and her party held on their course at
an even pace. For a time he kept them clearly in view; but it was tough
work along the slopes of crag: presently Jacopo slipped and went down.
‘Ah, padrone,’ he said: ‘I’m done for; leave me.’

‘Not though I should have to haul you on my back,’ replied Angelo. ‘If I
do leave you, I must cut out your tongue.’

‘Rather than that, I’d go on a sprained ankle,’ said Jacopo, and he
strove manfully to conquer pain; limping and exclaiming, ‘Oh, my little
village! Oh, my little inn! When can a man say that he has finished
running about the world! The moment he sits, in comes the devil.’

Angelo was obliged to lead him down to the open way, upon which they
made slow progress.

‘The noble gentleman might let me return--he might trust me now,’ Jacopo
whimpered.

‘The devil trusts nobody,’ said Angelo.

‘Ah, padrone! there’s a crucifix. Let me kneel by that.’

Angelo indulged him. Jacopo knelt by the wayside and prayed for an easy
ankle and a snoring pillow and no wakeners. After this he was refreshed.
The sun sank; the darkness spread around; the air grew icy. ‘Does the
Blessed Virgin ever consider what patriots have to endure?’ Jacopo
muttered to himself, and aroused a rare laugh from Angelo, who seized
him under the arm, half-lifting him on. At the inn where they rested, he
bathed and bandaged the foot.

‘I can’t help feeling a kindness to you for it,’ said Jacopo.

‘I can’t afford to leave you behind,’ Angelo accounted for his
attention.

‘Padrone, we’ve been understanding one another all along by our thumbs.
It’s that old inn of mine--the taxes! we have to sell our souls to pay
the taxes. There’s the tongue of the thing. I wouldn’t betray you; I
wouldn’t.’

‘I’ll try you,’ said Angelo, and put him to proof next day, when the
soldiers stopped them as they were driving in a cart, and Jacopo swore
to them that Angelo was his intended son-in-law.

There was evidently an unusual activity among the gendarmerie of the
lower valley, the Val di Non; for Jacopo had to repeat his fable more
than once, and Angelo thought it prudent not to make inquiries about
travellers. In this valley they were again in summer heat. Summer
splendours robed the broken ground. The Val di Non lies toward the
sun, banked by the Val di Sole, like the southern lizard under a stone.
Chestnut forest and shoulder over shoulder of vineyard, and meadows of
marvellous emerald, with here and there central partly-wooded crags,
peaked with castle-ruins, and ancestral castles that are still warm
homes, and villages dropped among them, and a river bounding and rushing
eagerly through the rich enclosure, form the scene, beneath that Italian
sun which turns everything to gold. There is a fair breadth to the vale:
it enjoys a great oval of sky: the falls of shade are dispersed, dot the
hollow range, and are not at noontide a broad curtain passing over from
right to left. The sun reigns and also governs in the Val di Non.

‘The grape has his full benefit here, padrone,’ said Jacopo.

But the place was too populous, and too much subjected to the
general eye, to please Angelo. At Cles they were compelled to bear
an inspection, and a little comedy occurred. Jacopo, after exhibiting
Angelo as his son-in-law, seeing doubts on the soldiers’ faces,
mentioned the name of the German suitor for his daughter’s hand--the
carpenter, Johann Spellmann, to whose workshop he requested to be taken.
Johann, being one of the odd Germans in the valley, was well known: he
was carving wood astride a stool, and stopped his whistling to listen
to the soldiers, who took the first word out of Jacopo’s mouth, and were
convinced, by Johann’s droop of the chin, that the tale had some truth
in it; and more when Johann yelled at the Valtelline innkeeper to know
why, then, he had come to him, if he was prepared to play him false. One
of the soldiers said bluntly, that as Angelo’s appearance answered to
the portrait of a man for whom they were on the lookout, they would,
if their countryman liked, take him and give him a dose of marching and
imprisonment.

‘Ach! that won’t make my little Rosetta love me better,’ cried Johann,
who commenced taking up a string of reproaches against women, and
pitched his carving-blade and tools abroad in the wood-dust.

‘Well, now, it ‘s queer you don’t want to fight this lad,’ said Jacopo;
‘he’s come to square it with you that way, if you think best.’

Johann spared a remark between his vehement imprecations against the
sex to say that he was ready to fight; but his idea of vengeance was
directed upon the abstract conception of a faithless womankind. Angelo,
by reason of his detestation of Germans, temporarily threw himself into
the part he was playing to the extent of despising him. Johann admitted
to Jacopo that intervals of six months’ duration in a courtship were
wide jumps for Love to take.

‘Yes; amor! amor!’ he exclaimed with extreme dejection; ‘I could wait.
Well! since you’ve brought the young man, we’ll have it out.’

He stepped before Angelo with bare fists. Jacopo had to interpose. The
soldiers backed Johann, who now said to Angelo, ‘Since you’ve come for
it, we’ll have it out.’

Jacopo had great difficulty in bringing him to see that it was a matter
to talk over. Johann swore he would not talk about it, and was ready to
fight a dozen Italians, man up man down.

‘Bare-fisted?’ screamed Jacopo.

‘Hey! the old way! Give him knuckles, and break his back, my boy!’ cried
the soldiers; ‘none of their steel this side of the mountain.’

Johann waited for Angelo to lift his hands; and to instigate his
reluctant adversary, thumped his chest; but Angelo did not move. The
soldiers roared.

‘If she has you, she shall have a dolly,’ said Johann, now heated with
the prospect of presenting that sort of husband to his little Rosetta.
At this juncture Jacopo threw himself between them.

‘It shall be a real fight,’ he said; ‘my daughter can’t make up her
mind, and she shall have the best man. Leave me to arrange it all
fairly; and you come here in a couple of hours, my children,’ he
addressed the soldiers, who unwillingly quitted the scene where there
was a certainty of fun, on the assurance of there being a livelier scene
to come.

When they had turned their heels on the shop, Jacopo made a face at
Johann; Johann swung round upon Angelo, and met a smile. Then followed
explanations.

‘What’s that you say? She’s true--she’s true?’ exclaimed the astounded
lover.

‘True enough, but a girl at an inn wants hotter courting,’ said Jacopo.
‘His Excellency here is after his own sweetheart.’

Johann huzzaed, hugged at Angelo’s hands, and gave a lusty filial tap to
Jacopo on the shoulder. Bread and grapes and Tyrolese wine were placed
for them, and Johann’s mother soon produced a salad, eggs, and fowl;
and then and there declared her willingness to receive Rosetta into the
household, ‘if she would swear at the outset never to have ‘heimweh’
(home-longing); as people--men and women, both--always did when they
took a new home across a mountain.’

‘She won’t--will she?’ Johann inquired with a dubious sparkle.

‘Not she,’ said Jacopo.

After the meal he drew Johann aside. They returned to Angelo, and Johann
beckoned him to leave the house by a back way, leading up a slope of
garden into high vine-poles. He said that he had seen a party pass
out of Cles from the inn early, in a light car, on for Meran. The
gendarmerie were busy on the road: a mounted officer had dashed up to
the inn an hour later, and had followed them: it was the talk of the
village.

‘Padrone, you dismiss me now,’ said Jacopo.

‘I pay you, but don’t dismiss you,’ said Angelo, and handed him a
bank-note.

‘I stick to you, padrone, till you do dismiss me,’ Jacopo sighed.

Johann offered to conduct them as far as the Monte Pallade pass, and
they started, avoiding the high road, which was enviably broad and
solid. Within view of a village under climbing woods, they discerned an
open car, flanked by bayonets, returning to Cles. Angelo rushed ahead
of them down the declivity, and stood full in the road to meet the
procession. A girl sat in the car, who hung her head, weeping; Lorenzo
was beside her; an Englishman on foot gave employment to a pair of
soldiers to get him along. As they came near at marching pace, Lorenzo
yawned and raised his hand to his cheek, keeping the thumb pointed
behind him. Including the girl, there were four prisoners: Vittoria was
absent. The Englishman, as he was being propelled forward, addressed
Angelo in French, asking him whether he could bear to see an unoffending
foreigner treated with wanton violation of law. The soldiers bellowed at
their captive, and Angelo sent a stupid shrug after him. They rounded a
bend of the road. Angelo tightened the buckle at his waist.

‘Now I trust you,’ he said to Jacopo. ‘Follow the length of five miles
over the pass: if you don’t see me then, you have your liberty, tongue
and all.’

With that he doubled his arms and set forth at a steady run, leaving
his companions to speculate on his powers of endurance. They did so
complacently enough, until Jacopo backed him for a distance and Johann
betted against him, when behold them at intervals taking a sharp trot to
keep him in view.



CHAPTER XXVI

THE DUEL IN THE PASS

Meanwhile Captain Weisspriess had not been idle. Standing at a blunt
angle of the ways converging upon Vittoria’s presumed destination, he
had roused up the gendarmerie along the routes to Meran by Trent on one
side, and Bormio on the other; and he soon came to the conclusion that
she had rejected the valley of the Adige for the Valtelline, whence he
supposed that she would be tempted either to cross the Stelvio or one of
the passes into Southernmost Tyrol. He was led to think that she would
certainly bear upon Switzerland, by a course of reasoning connected
with Angelo Guidascarpi, who, fleeing under the cross of blood, might
be calculated on to push for the mountains of the Republic; and he might
judging by the hazards--conduct the lady thither, to enjoy the fruits of
crime and love in security. The captain, when he had discovered Angelo’s
crest and name on the betraying handkerchief, had no doubts concerning
the nature of their intimacy, and he was spurred by a new and thrice
eager desire to capture the couple--the criminal for the purposes of
justice, and the other because he had pledged his notable reputation
in the chase of her. The conscience of this man’s vanity was extremely
active. He had engaged to conquer the stubborn girl, and he thought it
possible that he might take a mistress from the patriot ranks, with a
loud ha! ha! at revolutionists, and some triumph over his comrades. And
besides, he was the favourite of Countess Anna of Lenkenstein, who yet
refused to bring her estates to him; she dared to trifle; she also was a
woman who required rude lessons. Weisspriess, a poor soldier bearing
the heritage of lusty appetites, had an eye on his fortune, and served
neither Mars alone nor Venus. Countess Anna was to be among that
company assembled at the Castle of Sonnenberg in Meran; and if, while
introducing Vittoria there with a discreet and exciting reserve, he at
the same time handed over the assassin of Count Paul, a fine harvest of
praise and various pleasant forms of female passion were to be looked
for--a rich vista of a month’s intrigue; at the end of it possibly his
wealthy lady, thoroughly tamed, for a wife, and redoubled triumph over
his comrades. Without these successes, what availed the fame of the
keenest swordsman in the Austrian army?--The feast as well as the plumes
of vanity offered rewards for the able exercise of his wits.

He remained at the sub-Alpine inn until his servant Wilhelm (for whom he
had despatched the duchess’s chasseur, then in attendance on Vittoria)
arrived from Milan, bringing his uniform. The chasseur was directed on
the Bormio line, with orders that he should cause the arrest of
Vittoria only in the case of her being on the extreme limit of the Swiss
frontier. Keeping his communications alert, Weisspriess bore that way
to meet him. Fortune smiled on his strategy. Jacob Baumwalder
Feckelwitz--full of wine, and discharging hurrahs along the road--met
him on the bridge over the roaring Oglio, just out of Edolo, and gave
him news of the fugitives. ‘Both of them were at the big hotel in
Bormio,’ said Jacob; ‘and I set up a report that the Stelvio was
watched; and so it is.’ He added that he thought they were going to
separate; he had heard something to that effect; he believed that the
young lady was bent upon crossing one of the passes to Meran. Last night
it had devolved on him to kiss away the tears of the young lady’s maid,
a Valtelline peasant-girl, who deplored the idea of an expedition over
the mountains, and had, with the usual cat-like tendencies of these
Italian minxes, torn his cheek in return for his assiduities. Jacob
displayed the pretty scratch obtained in the Herr Captain’s service, and
got his money for having sighted Vittoria and seen double. Weisspriess
decided in his mind that Angelo had now separated from her (or rather,
she from him) for safety. He thought it very probable that she would
likewise fly to Switzerland. Yet, knowing that there was the attraction
of many friends for her at Meran, he conceived that he should act more
prudently by throwing himself on that line, and he sped Jacob Baumwalder
along the Valtelline by Val Viola, up to Ponte in the Engadine, with
orders to seize her if he could see her, and have her conveyed to Cles,
in Tyrol. Vittoria being only by the gentlest interpretation of her
conduct not under interdict, an unscrupulous Imperial officer might
in those military times venture to employ the gendarmerie for his own
purposes, if he could but give a plausible colour of devotion to the
Imperial interests.

The chasseur sped lamentingly back, and Weisspriess, taking a guide from
the skirting hamlet above Edolo, quitted the Val Camonica, climbed
the Tonale, and reached Vermiglio in the branch valley of that name,
scientifically observing the features of the country as he went.
At Vermiglio he encountered a brother officer of one of his former
regiments, a fat major on a tour of inspection, who happened to be a
week behind news of the army, and detained him on the pretext of helping
him on his car--a mockery that drove Weisspriess to the perpetual
reply, ‘You are my superior officer,’ which reduced the major to ask him
whether he had been degraded a step. As usual, Weisspriess was pushed to
assert his haughtiness, backed by the shadow of his sword. ‘I am a man
with a family,’ said the major, modestly. ‘Then I shall call you
my superior officer while they allow you to remain so,’ returned
Weisspriess, who scorned a married soldier.

‘I aspired to the Staff once myself,’ said the major. ‘Unfortunately, I
grew in girth--the wrong way for ambition. I digest, I assimilate with
a fatal ease. Stout men are doomed to the obscurer paths. You may quote
Napoleon as a contrary instance. I maintain positively that his day was
over, his sun was eclipsed, when his valet had to loosen the buckles of
his waistcoat and breech. Now, what do you say?’

‘I say,’ Weisspriess replied, ‘that if there’s a further depreciation of
the paper currency, we shall none of us have much chance of digesting or
assimilating either--if I know at all what those processes mean.’

‘Our good Lombard cow is not half squeezed enough,’ observed the major,
confidentially in tone. ‘When she makes a noise--quick! the pail at
her udders and work away; that’s my advice. What’s the verse?--our
Zwitterwitz’s, I mean; the Viennese poet:--

       “Her milk is good-the Lombard cow;
        Let her be noisy when she pleases
        But if she kicks the pail, I vow,
        We’ll make her used to sharper squeezes:
        We’ll write her mighty deeds in CHEESES:
        (That is, if she yields milk enow).”

‘Capital! capital!’ the major applauded his quotation, and went on to
speak of ‘that Zwitterwitz’ as having served in a border regiment, after
creating certain Court scandal, and of his carrying off a Wallach lady
from her lord and selling her to a Turk, and turning Turk himself and
keeping a harem. Five years later he reappeared in Vienna with a volume
of what he called ‘Black Eagle Poems,’ and regained possession of his
barony. ‘So far, so good,’ said the major; ‘but when he applied for his
old commission in the army--that was rather too cool.’

Weisspriess muttered intelligibly, ‘I’ve heard the remark, that you
can’t listen to a man five minutes without getting something out of
him.’

‘I don’t know; it may be,’ said the major, imagining that Weisspriess
demanded some stronger flavours of gossip in his talk. ‘There’s no stir
in these valleys. They arrested, somewhere close on Trent yesterday
afternoon, a fellow calling himself Beppo, the servant of an Italian
woman--a dancer, I fancy. They’re on the lookout for her too, I’m told;
though what sort of capers she can be cutting in Tyrol, I can’t even
guess.’

The major’s car was journeying leisurely toward Cles. ‘Whip that brute!’
Weisspriess sang out to the driver, and begging the major’s pardon,
requested to know whither he was bound. The major informed him that
he hoped to sup in Trent. ‘Good heaven! not at this pace,’ Weisspriess
shouted. But the pace was barely accelerated, and he concealed his
reasons for invoking speed. They were late in arriving at Trent, where
Weisspriess cast eye on the imprisoned wretch, who declared piteously
that he was the trusted and innocent servant of the Signorina Vittoria,
and had been visiting all the castles of Meran in search of her. The
captain’s man Wilhelm had been the one to pounce on poor Beppo while the
latter was wandering disconsolately. Leaving him to howl, Weisspriess
procured the loan of a horse from a colonel of cavalry at the Buon
Consiglio barracks, and mounted an hour before dawn, followed by
Wilhelm. He reached Cles in time to learn that Vittoria and her party
had passed through it a little in advance of him. Breakfasting there, he
enjoyed the first truly calm cigar of many days. Gendarmes whom he had
met near the place came in at his heels. They said that the party would
positively be arrested, or not allowed to cross the Monte Pallade.
The passes to Meran and Botzen, and the road to Trent, were strictly
guarded. Weisspriess hurried them forward with particular orders that
they should take into custody the whole of the party, excepting the
lady; her, if arrested with the others, they were to release: her maid
and the three men were to be marched back to Cles, and there kept fast.

The game was now his own: he surveyed its pretty intricate moves as on
a map. The character of Herr Johannes he entirely discarded: an Imperial
officer in his uniform, sword in belt, could scarcely continue that
meek performance. ‘But I may admire music, and entreat her to give me
a particular note, if she has it,’ said the captain, hanging in
contemplation over a coming scene, like a quivering hawk about to close
its wings. His heart beat thick; which astonished him: hitherto it had
never made that sort of movement.

From Cles he despatched a letter to the fair chatelaine at Meran,
telling her that by dainty and skilful management of the paces, he was
bringing on the intractable heroine of the Fifteenth, and was to
be expected in about two or three days. The letter was entrusted to
Wilhelm, who took the borrowed horse back to Trent.

Weisspriess was on the mule-track a mile above the last village
ascending to the pass, when he observed the party of prisoners, and
climbed up into covert. As they went by he discerned but one person in
female garments; the necessity to crouch for obscurity prevented him
from examining them separately. He counted three men and beheld one of
them between gendarmes. ‘That must be my villain,’ he said.

It was clear that Vittoria had chosen to go forward alone. The captain
praised her spirit, and now pushed ahead with hunter’s strides. He
passed an inn, closed and tenantless: behind him lay the Val di Non;
in front the darker valley of the Adige: where was the prey? A storm of
rage set in upon him with the fear that he had been befooled. He lit a
cigar, to assume ease of aspect, whatever the circumstances might
be, and gain some inward serenity by the outer reflection of it--not
altogether without success. ‘My lady must be a doughty walker,’ he
thought; ‘at this rate she will be in the Ultenthal before sunset.’ A
wooded height ranged on his left as he descended rapidly. Coming to a
roll of grass dotted with grey rock, he climbed it, and mounting one
of the boulders, beheld at a distance of half-a-dozen stone-throws
downward, the figure of a woman holding her hand cup-shape to a wayside
fall of water. The path by which she was going rounded the height he
stood on. He sprang over the rocks, catching up his clattering steel
scabbard; and plunging through tinted leafage and green underwood,
steadied his heels on a sloping bank, and came down on the path with
stones and earth and brambles, in time to appear as a seated pedestrian
when Vittoria turned the bend of the mountain way.

Gracefully withdrawing the cigar from his mouth, and touching his breast
with turned-in fingers, he accosted her with a comical operatic effort
at her high notes

                      ‘Italia!’

She gathered her arms on her bosom and looked swiftly round: then at the
apparition of her enemy.

It is but an ironical form of respect that you offer to the prey you
have been hotly chasing and have caught. Weisspriess conceived that
he had good reasons for addressing her in the tone best suited to his
character: he spoke with a ridiculous mincing suavity:

‘My pretty sweet! are you not tired? We have not seen one another for
days! Can you have forgotten the enthusiastic Herr Johannes? You have
been in pleasant company, no doubt; but I have been all--all alone.
Think of that! What an exceedingly fortunate chance this is! I was
smoking dolefully, and imagining anything but such a rapture.--No, no,
mademoiselle, be mannerly.’ The captain blocked her passage. ‘You must
not leave me while I am speaking. A good governess would have taught you
that in the nursery. I am afraid you had an inattentive governess, who
did not impress upon you the duty of recognizing friends when you meet
them! Ha! you were educated in England, I have heard. Shake hands. It
is our custom--I think a better one--to kiss on the right cheek and the
left, but we will shake hands.’

‘In God’s name, sir, let me go on,’ Vittoria could just gather voice to
utter.

‘But,’ cried the delighted captain, ‘you address me in the tones of a
basso profundo! It is absurd. Do you suppose that I am to be deceived
by your artifice?--rogue that you are! Don’t I know you are a woman? a
sweet, an ecstatic, a darling little woman!’

He laughed. She shivered to hear the solitary echoes. There was
sunlight on the farthest Adige walls, but damp shade already filled the
East-facing hollows.

‘I beg you very earnestly, to let me go on,’ said Vittoria.

‘With equal earnestness, I beg you to let me accompany you,’ he replied.
‘I mean no offence, mademoiselle; but I have sworn that I and no one but
I shall conduct you to the Castle of Sonnenberg, where you will meet the
Lenkenstein ladies, with whom I have the honour to be acquainted. You
see, you have nothing to fear if you play no foolish pranks, like a
kicking filly in the pasture.’

‘If it is your pleasure,’ she said gravely; but he obtruded the bow of
an arm. She drew back. Her first blank despair at sight of the trap she
had fallen into, was clearing before her natural high courage.

‘My little lady! my precious prima donna! do you refuse the most
trifling aid from me? It’s because I’m a German.’

‘There are many noble gentlemen who are Germans,’ said Vittoria.

‘It ‘s because I’m a German; I know it is. But, don’t you see, Germany
invades Italy, and keeps hold of her? Providence decrees it so--ask the
priests! You are a delicious Italian damsel, and you will take the arm
of a German.’

Vittoria raised her face. ‘Do you mean that I am your prisoner?’

‘You did not look braver at La Scala’; the captain bowed to her.

‘Ah, I forgot,’ said she; ‘you saw me there. If, signore, you will do me
the favour to conduct me to the nearest inn, I will sing to you.’

‘It is precisely my desire, signorina.

You are not married to that man Guidascarpi, I presume? No, no: you are
merely his... friend. May I have the felicity of hearing you call me
your friend? Why, you tremble! are you afraid of me?’

‘To tell the truth, you talk too much to please me,’ said Vittoria.

The captain praised her frankness, and he liked it. The trembling of her
frame still fascinated his eyes, but her courage and the absence of all
womanly play and cowering about her manner impressed him seriously. He
stood looking at her, biting his moustache, and trying to provoke her to
smile.

‘Conduct you to the nearest inn; yes,’ he said, as if musing. ‘To
the nearest inn, where you will sing to me; sing to me. It is not an
objectionable scheme. The inns will not be choice: but the society will
be exquisite. Say first, I am your sworn cavalier?’

‘It does not become me to say that,’ she replied, feigning a demure
sincerity, on the verge of her patience.

‘You allow me to say it?’

She gave him a look of fire and passed him; whereat, following her,
he clapped hands, and affected to regard the movement as part of an
operatic scena. ‘It is now time to draw your dagger,’ he said. ‘You have
one, I’m certain.’

‘Anything but touch me!’ cried Vittoria, turning on him. ‘I know that I
am safe. You shall teaze me, if it amuses you.’

‘Am I not, now, the object of your detestation?’

‘You are near being so.’

‘You see! You put on no disguise; why should I?’

This remark struck her with force.

‘My temper is foolish,’ she said softly. ‘I have always been used to
kindness.’

He vowed that she had no comprehension of kindness; otherwise would she
continue defiant of him? She denied that she was defiant: upon which he
accused the hand in her bosom of clutching a dagger. She cast the dagger
at his feet. It was nobly done, and he was not insensible to the courage
and inspiration of the act; for it checked a little example of a trial
of strength that he had thought of exhibiting to an armed damsel.

‘Shall I pick it up for you?’ he said.

‘You will oblige me,’ was her answer; but she could not control a
convulsion of her underlip that her defensive instinct told her was best
hidden.

‘Of course, you know you are safe,’ he repeated her previous words,
while examining the silver handle of the dagger. ‘Safe? certainly!
Here is C. A. to V.... A. neatly engraved: a gift; so that the young
gentleman may be sure the young lady will defend herself from lions
and tigers and wild boars, if ever she goes through forests and over
mountain passes. I will not obtrude my curiosity, but who is V.... A.?’

The dagger was Carlo’s gift to her; the engraver, by singular
misadventure, had put a capital letter for the concluding letter of her
name instead of little a; she remembered the blush on Carlo’s face when
she had drawn his attention to the error, and her own blush when she had
guessed its meaning.

‘It spells my name,’ she said.

‘Your assumed name of Vittoria. And who is C. A.?’

‘Those are the initials of Count Carlo Ammiani.’

‘Another lover?’

‘He is my sole lover. He is my betrothed. Oh, good God!’ she threw her
eyes up to heaven; ‘how long am I to endure the torture of this man in
my pathway? Go, sir, or let me go on. You are intolerable. It ‘s the
spirit of a tiger. I have no fear of you.’

‘Nay, nay,’ said Weisspriess, ‘I asked the question because I am under
an obligation to run Count Carlo Ammiani through the body, and felt
at once that I should regret the necessity. As to your not fearing me,
really, far from wishing to hurt you--’

Vittoria had caught sight of a white face framed in the autumnal forest
above her head. So keen was the glad expression of her face, that
Weisspriess looked up.

‘Come, Angelo, come to me;’ she said confidently.

Weisspriess plucked his sword out, and called to him imperiously to
descend.

Beckoned downward by white hand and flashing blade, Angelo steadied his
feet and hands among drooping chestnut boughs, and bounded to Vittoria’s
side.

‘Now march on,’ Weisspriess waved his sword; ‘you are my prisoners.’

‘You,’ retorted Angelo; ‘I know you; you are a man marked out for one of
us. I bid you turn back, if you care for your body’s safety.’

‘Angelo Guidascarpi, I also know you. Assassin! you double murderer!
Defy me, and I slay you in the sight of your paramour.’

‘Captain Weisspriess, what you have spoken merits death. I implore of my
Maker that I may not have to kill you.’

‘Fool! you are unarmed.’

Angelo took his stilet in his fist.

‘I have warned you, Captain Weisspriess. Here I stand. I dare you to
advance.’

‘You pronounce my name abominably,’ said the captain, dropping his
sword’s point. ‘If you think of resisting me, let us have no women
looking on.’ He waved his left hand at Vittoria.

Angelo urged her to go. ‘Step on for our Carlo’s sake.’ But it was
asking too much of her.

‘Can you fight this man?’ she asked.

‘I can fight him and kill him.’

‘I will not step on,’ she said. ‘Must you fight him?’

‘There is no choice.’ Vittoria walked to a distance at once.

Angelo directed the captain’s eyes to where, lower in the pass, there
was a level plot of meadow.

Weisspriess nodded. ‘The odds are in my favour, so you shall choose the
ground.’

All three went silently to the meadow.

It was a circle of green on a projecting shoulder of the mountain,
bounded by woods that sank toward the now shadowy South-flowing
Adige vale, whose Western heights were gathering red colour above a
strongly-marked brown line. Vittoria stood at the border of the wood,
leaving the two men to their work. She knew when speech was useless.

Captain Weisspriess paced behind Angelo until the latter stopped short,
saying, ‘Here!’

‘Wherever you please,’ Weisspriess responded. ‘The ground is of more
importance to you than to me.’

They faced mutually; one felt the point of his stilet, the other the
temper of his sword.

‘Killing you, Angelo Guidascarpi, is the killing of a dog. But there
are such things as mad dogs. This is not a duel. It is a righteous
execution, since you force me to it: I shall deserve your thanks for
saving you from the hangman. I think you have heard that I can use my
weapon. There’s death on this point for you. Make your peace with your
Maker.’

Weisspriess spoke sternly. He delayed the lifting of his sword that the
bloody soul might pray.

Angelo said, ‘You are a good soldier: you are a bad priest. Come on.’

A nod of magnanimous resignation to the duties of his office was the
captain’s signal of readiness. He knew exactly the method of fighting
which Angelo must adopt, and he saw that his adversary was supple, and
sinewy, and very keen of eye. But, what can well compensate for even one
additional inch of steel? A superior weapon wielded by a trained wrist
in perfect coolness means victory, by every reasonable reckoning. In the
present instance, it meant nothing other than an execution, as he had
said. His contemplation of his own actual share in the performance
was nevertheless unpleasant; and it was but half willingly that he
straightened out his sword and then doubled his arm. He lessened the
odds in his favour considerably by his too accurate estimation of them.
He was also a little unmanned by the thought that a woman was to see him
using his advantage; but she stood firm in her distant corner, refusing
to be waved out of sight. Weisspriess had again to assure himself that
it was not a duel, but the enforced execution of a criminal who would
not surrender, and who was in his way. Fronting a creature that would
vainly assail him, and temporarily escape impalement by bounding and
springing, dodging and backing, now here now there, like a dangling
bob-cherry, his military gorge rose with a sickness of disgust. He had
to remember as vividly as he could realize it, that this man’s life
was forfeited, and that the slaughter of him was a worthy service to
Countess Anna; also, that there were present reasons for desiring to be
quit of him. He gave Angelo two thrusts, and bled him. The skill which
warded off the more vicious one aroused his admiration.

‘Pardon my blundering,’ he said; ‘I have never engaged a saltimbanque
before.’

They recommenced. Weisspriess began to weigh the sagacity of his
opponent’s choice of open ground, where he could lengthen the discourse
of steel by retreating and retreating, and swinging easily to right or
to left. In the narrow track the sword would have transfixed him after
a single feint. He was amused. Much of the cat was in his combative
nature. An idea of disabling or dismembering Angelo, and forwarding
him to Meran, caused him to trifle further with the edge of the blade.
Angelo took a cut, and turned it on his arm; free of the deadly point,
he rushed in and delivered a stab; but Weisspriess saved his breast.
Quick, they resumed their former positions.

‘I am really so unused to this game!’ said Weisspriess, apologetically.

He was pale: his unsteady breathing, and a deflection of his dripping
sword-wrist, belied his coolness. Angelo plunged full on him, dropped,
and again reached his right arm; they hung, getting blood for blood,
with blazing interpenetrating eyes; a ghastly work of dark hands at half
lock thrusting, and savage eyes reading the fiery pages of the book of
hell. At last the Austrian got loose from the lock and hurled him off.

‘That bout was hotter,’ he remarked; and kept his sword-point out on the
whole length of the arm: he would have scorned another for so miserable
a form either of attack or defence.

Vittoria beheld Angelo circling round the point, which met him
everywhere; like the minute hand of a clock about to sound his hour, she
thought.

He let fall both his arms, as if beaten, which brought on the attack: by
sheer evasion he got away from the sword’s lunge, and essayed a second
trial of the bite of steel at close quarters; but the Austrian backed
and kept him to the point, darting short alluring thrusts, thinking
to tempt him on, or to wind him, and then to have him. Weisspriess was
chilled by a more curious revulsion from this sort of engagement than he
at first experienced. He had become nervously incapable of those proper
niceties of sword-play which, without any indecent hacking or maiming,
should have stretched Angelo, neatly slain, on the mat of green, before
he had a chance. Even now the sight of the man was distressing to an
honourable duellist. Angelo was scored with blood-marks. Feeling that he
dared not offer another chance to a fellow so desperately close-dealing,
Weisspriess thrust fiercely, but delayed his fatal stroke. Angelo
stooped and pulled up a handful of grass and soft earth in his left
hand.

‘We have been longer about it than I expected,’ said Weisspriess.

Angelo tightened his fingers about the stringy grasstuft; he stood like
a dreamer, leaning over to the sword; suddenly he sprang on it, received
the point right in his side, sprang on it again, and seized it in his
hand, and tossed it up, and threw it square out in time to burst within
guard and strike his stilet below the Austrian’s collar-bone. The blade
took a glut of blood, as when the wolf tears quick at dripping flesh. It
was at a moment when Weisspriess was courteously bantering him with the
question whether he was ready, meaning that the affirmative should open
the gates of death to him.

The stilet struck thrice. Weisspriess tottered, and hung his jaw like a
man at a spectre: amazement was on his features.

‘Remember Broncini and young Branciani!’

Angelo spoke no other words throughout the combat.

Weisspriess threw himself forward on a feeble lunge of his sword, and
let the point sink in the ground, as a palsied cripple supports his
frame, swayed, and called to Angelo to come on, and try another
stroke, another--one more! He fell in a lump: his look of amazement was
surmounted by a strong frown.

His enemy was hanging above him panting out of wide nostrils, like a
hunter’s horse above the long-tongued quarry, when Vittoria came to
them.

She reached her strength to the wounded man to turn his face to heaven.

He moaned, ‘Finish me’; and, as he lay with his back to earth,
‘Good-evening to the old army!’

A vision of leaping tumbrils, and long marching columns about to deploy,
passed before his eyelids: he thought he had fallen on the battle-field,
and heard a drum beat furiously in the back of his head; and on streamed
the cavalry, wonderfully caught away to such a distance that the figures
were all diminutive, and the regimental colours swam in smoke, and the
enemy danced a plume here and there out of the sea, while his mother and
a forgotten Viennese girl gazed at him with exactly the same unfamiliar
countenance, and refused to hear that they were unintelligible in
the roaring of guns and floods and hurrahs, and the thumping of the
tremendous big drum behind his head--‘somewhere in the middle of the
earth’: he tried to explain the locality of that terrible drumming noise
to them, and Vittoria conceived him to be delirious; but he knew that he
was sensible; he knew her and Angelo and the mountain-pass, and that he
had a cigar-case in his pocket worked in embroidery of crimson, blue,
and gold, by the hands of Countess Anna. He said distinctly that he
desired the cigar-case to be delivered to Countess Anna at the Castle of
Sonnenberg, and rejoiced on being assured that his wish was comprehended
and should be fulfilled; but the marvel was, that his mother should
still refuse to give him wine, and suppose him to be a boy: and when
he was so thirsty and dry-lipped that though Mina was bending over him,
just fresh from Mariazell, he had not the heart to kiss her or lift an
arm to her!--His horse was off with him-whither?--He was going down with
a company of infantry in the Gulf of Venice: cards were in his hands,
visible, though he could not feel them, and as the vessel settled for
the black plunge, the cards flushed all honours, and his mother shook
her head at him: he sank, and heard Mina sighing all the length of the
water to the bottom, which grated and gave him two horrid shocks of
pain: and he cried for a doctor, and admitted that his horse had managed
to throw him; but wine was the cure, brandy was the cure, or water,
water! Water was sprinkled on his forehead and put to his lips.

He thanked Vittoria by name, and imagined himself that General, serving
under old Wurmser, of whom the tale is told that being shot and lying
grievously wounded on the harsh Rivoli ground, he obtained the help of
a French officer in as bad case as himself, to moisten his black tongue
and write a short testamentary document with his blood, and for a way of
returning thanks to the Frenchman, he put down among others, the name
of his friendly enemy’s widow; whereupon both resigned their hearts to
death; but the Austrian survived to find the sad widow and espouse her.

His mutterings were full of gratitude, showing a vividly transient
impression to what was about him, that vanished in a narrow-headed
flight through clouds into lands of memory. It pained him, he said, that
he could not offer her marriage; but he requested that when his chin
was shaved his moustache should be brushed up out of the way of the
clippers, for he and all his family were conspicuous for the immense
amount of life which they had in them, and his father had lain
six-and-thirty hours bleeding on the field of Wagram, and had yet
survived to beget a race as hearty as himself:--‘Old Austria! thou grand
old Austria!’

The smile was proud, though faint, which accompanied the apostrophe,
addressed either to his country or to his father’s personification
of it; it was inexpressibly pathetic to Vittoria, who understood his
‘Oesterreich,’ and saw the weak and helpless bleeding man, with his
eyeballs working under the lids, and the palms of his hands stretched
out open-weak as a corpse, but conquering death.

The arrival of Jacopo and Johann furnished help to carry him onward to
the nearest place of shelter. Angelo would not quit her side until he
had given money and directions to both the trembling fellows, together
with his name, that they might declare the author of the deed at once
if questioned. He then bowed to Vittoria slightly and fled. They did not
speak.

The last sunbeams burned full crimson on the heights of the Adige
mountains as Vittoria followed the two pale men who bore the wounded
officer between them at a slow pace for the nearest village in the
descent of the pass.

Angelo watched them out of sight. The far-off red rocks spun round his
eyeballs; the meadow was a whirling thread of green; the brown earth
heaved up to him. He felt that he was diving, and had the thought that
there was but water enough to moisten his red hands when his senses left
him.



CHAPTER XXVII

A NEW ORDEAL

The old city of Meran faces Southward to the yellow hills of Italy,
across a broad vale, between two mountain-walls and torrent-waters. With
one hand it takes the bounding green Passeyr, and with the other the
brown-rolling Adige, and plunges them together in roaring foam under
the shadow of the Western wall. It stands on the spur of a lower central
eminence crowned by a grey castle, and the sun has it from every
aspect. The shape of a swan in water may describe its position, for the
Vintschgau and the stony Passeyrthal make a strong curve on two sides
as they descend upon it with their rivers, and the bosom of the city
projects, while the head appears bending gracefully backward. Many
castles are in view of it; the loud and tameless Passeyr girdles it with
an emerald cincture; there is a sea of arched vineyard foliage at his
feet.

Vittoria reached the Castle of Sonnenberg about noon, and found
empty courts and open doors. She sat in the hall like a supplicant,
disregarded by the German domestics, who beheld a travel-stained
humble-faced young Italian woman, and supposed that their duty was done
in permitting her to rest; but the duchess’s maid Aennchen happening to
come by, questioned her in moderately intelligible Italian, and hearing
her name gave a cry, and said that all the company were out hunting,
shooting, and riding, in the vale below or the mountain above. “Ah,
dearest lady, what a fright we have all been in about you! Signora
Piaveni has not slept a wink, and the English gentleman has made great
excursions every day to find you. This morning the soldier Wilhelm
arrived with news that his master was bringing you on.”

Vittoria heard that Laura and her sister and the duchess had gone down
to Meran. Countess Lena von Lenkenstein was riding to see her betrothed
shoot on a neighbouring estate. Countess Anna had disappeared early,
none knew where. Both these ladies, and their sister-in-law, were in
mourning for the terrible death of their brother, Count Paul Aennchen
repeated what she knew of the tale concerning him.

The desire to see Laura first, and be embraced and counselled by her,
and lie awhile in her arms to get a breath of home, made Vittoria refuse
to go up to her chamber, and notwithstanding Aennchen’s persuasions, she
left the castle, and went out and sat in the shaded cart-track. On the
winding ascent she saw a lady in a black riding habit, leading her horse
and talking to a soldier, who seemed to be receiving orders from her,
and presently saluted and turned his steps downward. The lady came on,
and passed her without a glance. After entering the courtyard, where
she left her horse, she reappeared, and stood hesitating, but came up to
Vittoria and said bluntly, in Italian:

“Are you the signorina Campa, or Belloni, who is expected here?”

The Austrian character and colouring of her features told Vittoria that
this must be the Countess Anna or her sister.

“I think I have been expected,” she replied.

“You come alone?”

“I am alone.”

“I am Countess Anna von Lenkenstein; one of the guests of the castle.”

“My message is to the Countess Anna.”

“You have a message?”

Vittoria lifted the embroidered cigar-case. Countess Anna snatched it
from her hand.

“What does this mean? Is it insolence? Have the kindness, if you please,
not to address me in enigmas. Do you”--Anna was deadly pale as she
turned the cigarcase from side to side--“do you imagine that I smoke,
‘par hasard?’” She tried to laugh off her intemperate manner of speech;
the laugh broke at sight of a blood-mark on one corner of the case; she
started and said earnestly, “I beg you to let me hear what the meaning
of this may be?”

“He lies in the Ultenthal, wounded; and his wish was that I should
deliver it to you.” Vittoria spoke as gently as the harsh tidings would
allow.

“Wounded? My God! my God!” Anna cried in her own language. “Wounded?-in
the breast, then! He carried it in his breast. Wounded by what? by
what?”

“I can tell you no more.”

“Wounded by whom?”

“It was an honourable duel.”

“Are you afraid to tell me he has been assassinated?”

“It was an honourable duel.”

“None could match him with the sword.”

“His enemy had nothing but a dagger.”

“Who was his enemy?”

“It is no secret, but I must leave him to say.”

“You were a witness of the fight?”

“I saw it all.”

“The man was one of your party!

“Ah!” exclaimed Vittoria, “lose no time with me, Countess Anna, go to
him at once, for though he lived when I left him, he was bleeding; I
cannot say that he was not dying, and he has not a friend near.”

Anna murmured like one overborne by calamity. “My brother struck down
one day--he the next!” She covered her face a moment, and unclosed it to
explain that she wept for her brother, who had been murdered, stabbed in
Bologna.

“Was it Count Ammiani who did this?” she asked passionately.

Vittoria shook her head; she was divining a dreadful thing in relation
to the death of Count Paul.

“It was not?” said Anna. “They had a misunderstanding, I know. But you
tell me the man fought with a dagger. It could not be Count Ammiani.
The dagger is an assassin’s weapon, and there are men of honour in Italy
still.”

She called to a servant in the castle-yard, and sent him down with
orders to stop the soldier Wilhelm.

“We heard this morning that you were coming, and we thought it curious,”
 she observed; and called again for her horse to be saddled. “How far is
this place where he is lying? I have no knowledge of the Ultenthal.
Has he a doctor attending him? When was he wounded? It is but common
humanity to see that he is attended by an efficient doctor. My nerves
are unstrung by the recent blow to our family; that is why--Oh, my
father! my holy father!” she turned to a grey priest’s head that was
rising up the ascent, “I thank God for you! Lena is away riding; she
weeps constantly when she is within four walls. Come in and give me
tears, if you can; I am half mad for the want of them. Tears first;
teach me patience after.”

The old priest fanned his face with his curled hat, and raised one hand
as he uttered a gentle chiding in reproof of curbless human sorrow. Anna
said to Vittoria, coldly, “I thank you for your message:” she walked
into the castle by his side, and said to him there: “The woman you
saw outside has a guilty conscience. You will spend your time more
profitably with her than with me. I am past all religious duties at this
moment. You know, father, that I can open my heart. Probe this Italian
woman; search her through and through. I believe her to be blood-stained
and abominable. She hates us. She has sworn an oath against us. She is
malignant.”

It was not long before Anna issued forth and rode down to the vale. The
priest beckoned to Vittoria from the gates. He really supposed her to
have come to him with a burdened spirit.

“My daughter,” he addressed her. The chapter on human error was opened:
“We are all of one family--all of us erring children--all of us bound
to abnegate hatred: by love alone are we saved. Behold the Image of
Love--the Virgin and Child. Alas! and has it been visible to man these
more than eighteen hundred years, and humankind are still blind to it?
Are their ways the ways of comfort and blessedness? Their ways are the
ways of blood; paths to eternal misery among howling fiends. Why have
they not chosen the sweet ways of peace, which are strewn with flowers,
which flow with milk?”--The priest spread his hand open for Vittoria’s,
which she gave to his keeping, and he enclosed it softly, smoothing it
with his palms, and retaining it as a worldly oyster between spiritual
shells. “Why, my daughter, why, but because we do not bow to that Image
daily, nightly, hourly, momently! We do not worship it that its seed
may be sown in us. We do not cling to it, that in return it may cling to
us.”

He spoke with that sensuous resource of rich feeling which the
contemplation of the Image does inspire. And Vittoria was not led
reluctantly into the oratory of the castle to pray with him; but she
refused to confess. Thereupon followed a soft discussion that was as
near being acerb as nails are near velvet paws.

Vittoria perceived his drift, and also the dear good heart of the old
man, who meant no harm to her, and believed that he was making use of
his professional weapons for her ultimate good. The inquisitions and
the kindness went musically together; she responded to the kindness, but
rebutted the inquisitions; at which he permitted a shade of discontent
to traverse his features, and asked her with immense tenderness whether
she had not much on her mind; she expressing melodious gratitude for
his endeavours to give her comfort. He could not forbear directing an
admonishment to her stubborn spirit, and was obliged, for the sake
of impressiveness, to speak it harshly; until he saw, that without
sweetness of manner and unction of speech, he left her untouched; so he
was driven back to the form of address better suited to his nature and
habits; the end of which was that both were cooing.

Vittoria was ashamed to tell herself how much she liked him and his
ghostly brethren, whose preaching was always of peace, while the world
was full of lurid hatred, strife, and division. She begged the baffled
old man to keep her hand in his. He talked in Latinized Italian,
and only appeared to miss the exact meaning of her replies when his
examination of the state of her soul was resumed. They sat in the soft
colour of the consecrated place like two who were shut away from earth.
Often he thought that her tears were about to start and bring her low;
for she sighed heavily; at the mere indication of the displacement of
her hand, she looked at him eagerly, as if entreating him not to let it
drop.

“You are a German, father?” she said.

“I am of German birth, my daughter.”

“That makes it better. Remain beside me. The silence is sweet music.”

The silence was broken at intervals by his murmur of a call for
patience! patience!

This strange scene concluded with the entry of the duchess, who retired
partly as soon as she saw them. Vittoria smiled to the old man, and left
him: the duchess gave her a hushed welcome, and took her place. Vittoria
was soon in Laura’s arms, where, after a storm of grief, she related the
events of the journey following her flight from Milan. Laura interrupted
her but once to exclaim, “Angelo Guidascarpi!” Vittoria then heard from
her briefly that Milan was quiet, Carlo Ammiani in prison. It had been
for tidings of her lover that she had hastened over the mountains to
Meran. She craved for all that could be told of him, but Laura repeated,
as in a stupefaction, “Angelo Guidascarpi!” She answered Vittoria’s
question by saying, “You could not have had so fatal a companion.”

“I could not have had so devoted a protector.”

“There is such a thing as an evil star. We are all under it at present,
to some degree; but he has been under it from his birth. My Sandra, my
beloved, I think I have pardoned you, if I ever pardon anyone! I doubt
it; but it is certain that I love you. You have seen Countess Anna, or I
would have told you to rest and get over your fatigue. The Lenkensteins
are here--my poor sister among them. You must show yourself. I was
provident enough to call at your mother’s for a box of your clothes
before I ran out of wretched Milan.”

Further, the signora stated that Carlo might have to remain in prison.
She made no attempt to give dark or fair colour to the misery of the
situation; telling Vittoria to lie on her bed and sleep, if sleep could
be persuaded to visit her, she went out to consult with the duchess.
Vittoria lay like a dead body on the bed, counting the throbs of her
heart. It helped her to fall into a state of insensibility. When she
awoke, the room was dark; she felt that some one had put a silken
cushion across her limbs. The noise of a storm traversing the vale rang
through the castle, and in the desolation of her soul, that stealthy act
of kindness wrought in her till she almost fashioned a vow upon her lips
that she would leave the world to toss its wrecks, and dedicate her life
to God.

For, O heaven! of what avail is human effort? She thought of the Chief,
whose life was stainless, but who stood proscribed because his aim was
too high to be attained within compass of a mortal’s years. His error
seemed that he had ever aimed at all. He seemed less wise than the
old priest of the oratory. She could not disentangle him from her own
profound humiliation and sense of fallen power. Her lover’s imprisonment
accused her of some monstrous culpability, which she felt unrepentingly,
not as we feel a truth, but as we submit to a terrible force of
pressure.

The morning light made her realize Carlo’s fate, to whom it would
penetrate through a hideous barred loophole--a defaced and dreadful
beam. She asked herself why she had fled from Milan. It must have been
some cowardly instinct that had prompted her to fly. “Coward, coward!
thing of vanity! you, a mere woman!” she cried out, and succeeded
in despising herself sufficiently to think it possible that she had
deserved to forfeit her lover’s esteem.

It was still early when the duchess’s maid came to her, bringing word
that her mistress would be glad to visit her. From the duchess Vittoria
heard of the charge against Angelo. Respecting Captain Weisspriess,
Amalia said that she had perceived his object in wishing to bring the
great cantatrice to the castle; and that it was a well-devised audacious
scheme to subdue Countess Anna:--“We Austrians also can be jealous.
The difference between us is, that it makes us tender, and you Italians
savage.” She asked pointedly for an affirmative, that Vittoria was
glad to reply with, when she said: “Captain Weisspriess was perfectly
respectful to you?” She spoke comforting words of Carlo Ammiani, whom
she hoped to see released as soon as the excitement had subsided.
The chief comfort she gave was by saying that he had been originally
arrested in mistake for his cousin Angelo.

“I will confide what is now my difficulty here frankly to you,” said the
duchess. “The Lenkensteins are my guests; I thought it better to bring
them here. Angelo Guidascarpi has slain their brother--a base deed! It
does not affect you in my eyes; you can understand that in theirs it
does. Your being present--Laura has told me everything--at the duel,
or fight, between that young man and Captain Weisspriess, will make you
appear as his accomplice--at least, to Anna it will; she is the most
unreasoning, the most implacable of women. She returned from the
Ultenthal last night, and goes there this morning, which is a sign
that Captain Weisspriess lives. I should be sorry if we lost so good
an officer. As she is going to take Father Bernardus with her, it is
possible that the wound is serious. Do you know you have mystified
the worthy man exceedingly? What tempted you to inform him that your
conscience was heavily burdened, at the same time that you refused to
confess?”

“Surely he has been deluded about me,” said Vittoria.

“I do but tell you his state of mind in regard to you,” the duchess
pursued. “Under all the circumstances, this is what I have to ask: you
are my Laura’s guest, therefore the guest of my heart. There is another
one here, an Englishman, a Mr. Powys; and also Lieutenant Pierson, whom,
naughty rebel that you are, you have been the means of bringing into
disgrace; naturally you would wish to see them: but my request is, that
you should keep to these rooms for two or three days: the Lenkensteins
will then be gone. They can hardly reproach me for retaining an invalid.
If you go down among them, it will be a cruel meeting.”

Vittoria thankfully consented to the arrangement. They agreed to act in
accordance with it.

The signora was a late riser. The duchess had come on a second visit to
Vittoria when Laura joined them, and hearing of the arrangement, spurned
the notion of playing craven before the Lenkensteins, who, she said,
might think as it pleased them to think, but were never to suppose that
there was any fear of confronting them. “And now, at this very moment,
when they have their triumph, and are laughing over Viennese squibs at
her, she has an idea of hiding her head--she hangs out the white flag!
It can’t be. We go or we stay; but if we stay, the truth is that we are
too poor to allow our enemies to think poorly of us. You, Amalia, are
victorious, and you may snap your fingers at opinion. It is a luxury
we cannot afford. Besides, I wish her to see my sister and make
acquaintance with the Austrianized-Italian--such a wonder as is nowhere
to be seen out of the Serabiglione and in the Lenkenstein family.
Marriage is, indeed, a tremendous transformation. Bianca was once
declared to be very like me.”

The brow-beaten duchess replied to the outburst that she had considered
it right to propose the scheme for Vittoria’s seclusion on account of
the Guidascarpi.

“Even if that were a good reason, there are better on the other side,”
 said Laura; adding, with many little backward tosses of the head, “That
story has to be related in full before I denounce Angelo and Rinaldo.”

“It cannot be denied that they are assassins,” returned the duchess.

“It cannot be denied that they have killed one man or more. For you,
Justice drops from the bough: we have to climb and risk our necks for
it. Angelo stood to defend my darling here. Shall she be ashamed of
him?”

“You will never persuade me to tolerate assassination,” said the duchess
colouring.

“Never, never; I shall never persuade you; never persuade--never attempt
to persuade any foreigner that we can be driven to extremes where their
laws do not apply to us--are not good for us--goad a subjected people
till their madness is pardonable. Nor shall I dream of persuading you
that Angelo did right in defending her from that man.”

“I maintain that there are laws applicable to all human creatures,” said
the duchess. “You astonish me when you speak compassionately of such a
criminal.”

“No; not of such a criminal, of such an unfortunate youth, and my
countryman, when every hand is turned against him, and all tongues are
reviling him. But let Angelo pass; I pray to heaven he may escape. All
who are worth anything in our country are strained in every fibre,
and it’s my trick to be half in love with anyone of them when he is
persecuted. I fancy he is worth more than the others, and is simply
luckless. You must make allowances for us, Amalia--pity captive Judah!”

“I think, my Laura, you will never be satisfied till I have ceased to
be Babylonian,” said the duchess, smiling and fondling Vittoria, to whom
she said, “Am I not a complaisant German?”

Vittoria replied gently, “If they were like you!”

“Yes, if they were like the duchess,” said Laura, “nothing would be left
for us then but to hate ourselves. Fortunately, we deal with brutes.”

She was quite pitiless in prompting Vittoria to hasten down, and
marvelled at the evident reluctance in doing this slight duty, of one
whose courage she had recently seen rise so high. Vittoria was equally
amazed by her want of sympathy, which was positive coldness, and her
disregard for the sentiments of her hostess. She dressed hesitatingly,
responding with forlorn eyes to Laura’s imperious “Come.” When at last
she was ready to descend, Laura took her dawn, full of battle. The
duchess had gone in advance to keep the peace.

The ladies of the Lenkenstein family were standing at one window of the
morning room conversing. Apart from them, Merthyr Powys and Wilfrid were
examining one of the cumbrous antique arms ranged along the wall. The
former of these old English friends stepped up to Vittoria quickly and
kissed her forehead. Wilfrid hung behind him; he made a poor show of
indifference, stammered English and reddened; remembering that he was
under observation he recovered wonderfully, and asked, like a patron,
“How is the voice?” which would have been foolish enough to Vittoria’s
more attentive hearing. She thanked him for the service he had rendered
her at La Scala. Countess Lena, who looked hard at both, saw nothing to
waken one jealous throb.

“Bianca, you expressed a wish to give a salute to my eldest daughter,”
 said Laura.

The Countess of Lenkenstein turned her head. “Have I done so?”

“It is my duty to introduce her,” interposed the duchess, and conducted
the ceremony with a show of its embracing these ladies, neither one of
whom changed her cold gaze.

Careful that no pause should follow, she commenced chatting to the
ladies and gentlemen alternately, keeping Vittoria under her peculiar
charge. Merthyr alone seconded her efforts to weave the web of converse,
which is an armistice if not a treaty on these occasions.

“Have you any fresh caricatures from Vienna?” Laura continued to address
her sister.

“None have reached me,” said the neutral countess.

“Have they finished laughing?”

“I cannot tell.”

“At any rate, we sing still,” Laura smiled to Vittoria. “You shall hear
us after breakfast. I regret excessively that you were not in Milan on
the Fifteenth. We will make amends to you as much as possible. You shall
hear us after breakfast. You will sing to please my sister, Sandra mia,
will you not?”

Vittoria shook her head. Like those who have become passive, she read
faces--the duchess’s imploring looks thrown from time to time to
the Lenkenstein ladies, Wilfrid’s oppressed forehead, the resolute
neutrality of the countess--and she was not only incapable of seconding
Laura’s aggressive war, but shrank from the involvement and sickened at
the indelicacy. Anna’s eyes were fixed on her and filled her with dread
lest she should be resolving to demand a private interview.

“You refuse to sing?” said Laura; and under her breath, “When I bid you
not, you insist!”

“Can she possibly sing before she grows accustomed to the air of the
place?” said the duchess.

Merthyr gravely prescribed a week’s diet on grapes antecedent to the
issuing of a note. “Have you never heard what a sustained grape-diet
will do for the bullfinches?”

“Never,” exclaimed the duchess. “Is that the secret of their German
education?”

“Apparently, for we cannot raise them to the same pitch of perfection in
England.”

“I will try it upon mine. Every morning they shall have two big
bunches.”

“Fresh plucked, and with the first sunlight on them. Be careful of the
rules.”

Wilfrid remarked, “To make them exhibit the results, you withdraw the
benefit suddenly, of course?”

“We imitate the general run of Fortune’s gifts as much as we can,” said
Merthyr.

“That is the training for little shrill parrots: we have none in Italy,”
 Laura sighed, mock dolefully; “I fear the system would fail among us.”

“It certainly would not build Como villas,” said Lena.

Laura cast sharp eyes on her pretty face.

“It is adapted for caged voices that are required to chirrup to tickle
the ears of boors.”

Anna said to the duchess: “I hope your little birds are all well this
morning.”

“Come to them presently with me and let our ears be tickled,” the
duchess laughed in answer; and the spiked dialogue broke, not to revive.

The duchess had observed the constant direction of Anna’s eyes upon
Vittoria during the repast, and looked an interrogation at Anna, who
replied to it firmly. “I must be present,” the duchess whispered. She
drew Vittoria away by the hand, telling Merthyr Powys that it was unkind
to him, but that he should be permitted to claim his fair friend from
noon to the dinner-bell.

Laura and Bianca were discussing the same subject as the one for which
Anna desired an interview with Vittoria. It was to know the conditions
and cause of the duel between Angelo Guidascarpi and Captain
Weisspriess, and whither Angelo had fled. “In other words, you cry for
vengeance under the name of justice,” Laura phrased it, and put up a
prayer for Angelo’s escape.

The countess rebuked her. “It is men like Angelo who are a scandal to
Italy.”

“Proclaimed so; but by what title are they judged?” Laura retorted. “I
have heard that his duel with Count Paul was fair, and that the grounds
for it were just. Deplore it; but to condemn an Italian gentleman
without hearing his personal vindication, is infamous; nay, it is
Austrian. I know next to nothing of the story. Countess Ammiani has
assured me that the brothers have a clear defence--not from your Vienna
point of view: Italy and Vienna are different sides of the shield.”

Vittoria spoke most humbly before Anna; her sole irritating remark was,
that even if she were aware of the direction of Angelo’s flight, she
would not betray him.

The duchess did her utmost to induce her to see that he was a criminal,
outlawed from common charity. “These Italians are really like the Jews,”
 she said to Anna; “they appear to me to hold together by a bond of race:
you cannot get them to understand that any act can be infamous when one
of their blood is guilty of it.”

Anna thought gloomily: “Then, why do you ally yourself to them?”

The duchess, with Anna, Lena, and Wilfrid, drove to the Ultenthal.
Vittoria and Merthyr had a long afternoon of companionship. She had been
shyer in meeting him than in meeting Wilfrid, whom she had once loved.
The tie between herself and Wilfrid was broken; but Merthyr had remained
true to his passionless affection, which ennobled him to her so that her
heart fluttered, though she was heavily depressed. He relieved her by
letting her perceive that Carlo Ammiani’s merits were not unknown to
him. Merthyr smiled at Carlo for abjuring his patrician birth. He said:
“Count Ammiani will be cured in time of those little roughnesses of his
adopted Republicanism. You must help to cure him. Women are never so
foolish as men in these things.”

When Merthyr had spoken thus, she felt that she might dare to press
his hand. Sharing friendship with this steadfast nature and brotherly
gentleman; who was in the ripe manhood of his years; who loved Italy and
never despaired; who gave great affection, and took uncomplainingly the
possible return for it;--seemed like entering on a great plain open to
boundless heaven. She thought that friendship was sweeter than love.
Merthyr soon left the castle to meet his sister at Coire. Laura and
Vittoria drove some distance up the Vintschgau, on the way to the
Engadine, with him. He affected not to be downcast by the failure of the
last attempt at a rising in Milan. “Keep true to your Art; and don’t let
it be subservient to anything,” he said, and his final injunction to her
was that she should get a German master and practise rigidly.

Vittoria could only look at Laura in reply.

“He is for us, but not of us,” said Laura, as she kissed her fingers to
him.

“If he had told me to weep and pray,” Vittoria murmured, “I think I
should by-and-by lift up my head.”

“By-and-by! By-and-by I think I see a convent for me,” said Laura.

Their faces drooped.

Vittoria cried: “Ah! did he mean that my singing at La Scala was below
the mark?”

At this, Laura’s laughter came out in a volume. “And that excellent
Father Bernardus thinks he is gaining a convert!” she said.

Vittoria’s depression was real, though her strong vitality appeared to
mock it. Letters from Milan, enclosed to the duchess, spoke of Carlo
Ammiani’s imprisonment as a matter that might be indefinitely prolonged.
His mother had been subjected to an examination; she had not hesitated
to confess that she had received her nephew in her house, but it could
not be established against her that it was not Carlo whom she had passed
off to the sbirri as her son. Countess Ammiani wrote to Laura, telling
her she scarcely hoped that Carlo would obtain his liberty save upon the
arrest of Angelo:--“Therefore, what I most desire, I dare not pray for!”
 That line of intense tragic grief haunted Vittoria like a veiled head
thrusting itself across the sunlight. Countess Ammiani added that she
must give her son what news she could gather;--“Concerning you,” said
Laura, interpreting the sentence: “Bitter days do this good, they make
a proud woman abjure the traditions of her caste.” A guarded answer
was addressed, according to the countess’s directions, to Sarpo the
bookseller, in Milan. For purposes of such a nature, Barto Rizzo turned
the uneasy craven to account.

It happened that one of the maids at Sonnenberg was about to marry a
peasant, of Meran, part proprietor of a vineyard, and the nuptials were
to be celebrated at the castle. Among those who thronged the courtyard
on the afternoon of the ceremony, Vittoria beheld her faithful Beppo,
who related the story of his pursuit of her, and the perfidy of
Luigi;--a story so lengthy, that his voluble tongue running at full
speed could barely give the outlines of it. He informed her, likewise,
that he had been sent for, while lying in Trent, by Captain Weisspriess,
whom he had seen at an inn of the Ultenthal, weak but improving. Beppo
was the captain’s propitiatory offering to Vittoria. Meanwhile the
ladies sat on a terrace, overlooking the court, where a stout fellow
in broad green braces and blue breeches lay half across a wooden table,
thrumming a zither, which set the groups in motion. The zither is a
melancholy little instrument; in range of expression it is to the harp
what the winchat is to the thrush; or to the violin, what that bird is
to the nightingale; yet few instruments are so exciting: here and there
along these mountain valleys you may hear a Tyrolese maid set her voice
to its plaintive thin tones; but when the strings are swept madly
there is mad dancing; it catches at the nerves. “Andreas! Andreas!” the
dancers shouted to encourage the player. Some danced with vine-poles;
partners broke and wandered at will, taking fresh partners, and
occasionally huddling in confusion, when the poles were levelled and
tilted at them, and they dispersed. Beppo, dancing mightily to recover
the use of his legs, met his acquaintance Jacob Baumwalder Feckelwitz,
and the pair devoted themselves to a rivalry of capers; jump, stamp,
shuffle, leg aloft, arms in air, yell and shriek: all took hands around
them and streamed, tramping the measure, and the vine-poles guarded
the ring. Then Andreas raised the song: “Our Lady is gracious,” and
immediately the whole assemblage were singing praise to the Lady of the
castle. Following which, wine being brought to Andreas, he drank to
his lady, to his lady’s guests, to the bride, to the bridegroom, to
everybody. He was now ready to improvize, and dashed thumb and finger on
the zither, tossing up his face, swarthy-flushed: “There was a steinbock
with a beard.” Half-a-dozen voices repeated it, as to proclaim the
theme.

“Alas! a beard indeed, for there is no end to this animal. I know him;”
 said the duchess dolefully.

       “There was a steinbock with a beard;
        Of no gun was he afeard
        Piff-paff left of him: piff-paff right of him
        Piff-paff everywhere, where you get a sight of him.”

The steinbock led through the whole course of a mountaineer’s emotions
and experiences, with piff-paff continually left of him and right of him
and nothing hitting him. The mountaineer is perplexed; an able man, a
dead shot, who must undo the puzzle or lose faith in his skill, is a
tremendous pursuer, and the mountaineer follows the steinbock ever. A
‘sennderin’ at a ‘sennhutchen’ tells him that she admitted the steinbock
last night, and her curled hair frizzled under the steinbock’s eyes. The
case is only too clear: my goodness! the steinbock is the--“Der Teu!...”
 said Andreas, with a comic stop of horror, the rhyme falling cleverly to
“ai.” Henceforth the mountaineer becomes transformed into a champion
of humanity, hunting the wicked bearded steinbock in all corners;
especially through the cabinet of those dark men who decree the taxes
detested in Tyrol.

The song had as yet but fairly commenced, when a break in the
‘piff-paff’ chorus warned Andreas that he was losing influence, women
and men were handing on a paper and bending their heads over it; their
responses hushed altogether, or were ludicrously inefficient.

“I really believe the poor brute has come to a Christian finish--this
Ahasuerus of steinbocks!” said the duchess.

The transition to silence was so extraordinary and abrupt, that she
called to her chasseur to know the meaning of it. Feckelwitz fetched
the paper and handed it up. It exhibited a cross done in blood under the
word ‘Meran,’ and bearing that day’s date. One glance at it told Laura
what it meant. The bride in the court below was shedding tears:
the bridegroom was lighting his pipe and consoling her; women were
chattering, men shrugging. Some said they had seen an old grey-haired
hag (hexe) stand at the gates and fling down a piece of paper. A little
boy whose imagination was alive with the tale of the steinbock, declared
that her face was awful, and that she had only the use of one foot. A
man patted him on the shoulder, and gave him a gulp of wine, saying with
his shrewdest air: “One may laugh at the devil once too often, though!”
 and that sentiment was echoed; the women suggested in addition the
possibility of the bride Lisa having something on her conscience,
seeing that she had lived in a castle two years and more. The potential
persuasions of Father Bernardus were required to get the bride to
go away to her husband’s roof that evening: when she did make her
departure, the superstitious peasantry were not a merry party that
followed at her heels.

At the break-up of the festivities Wilfrid received an intimation that
his sister had arrived in Meran from Bormio. He went down to see her,
and returned at a late hour. The ladies had gone to rest. He wrote a few
underlined words, entreating Vittoria to grant an immediate interview
in the library of the castle. The missive was entrusted to Aennchen.
Vittoria came in alarm.

“My sister is perfectly well,” said Wilfrid. “She has heard that
Captain Gambier has been arrested in the mountains; she had some fears
concerning you, which I quieted. What I have to tell you, does not
relate to her. The man Angelo Guidascarpi is in Meran. I wish you to let
the signora know that if he is not carried out of the city before sunset
to-morrow, I must positively inform the superior officer of the district
of his presence there.”

This was their first private interview. Vittoria (for she knew him) had
acceded to it, much fearing that it would lead to her having to put on
her sex’s armour. To collect her wits, she asked tremblingly how Wilfrid
had chanced to see Angelo. An old Italian woman, he said, had accosted
him at the foot of the mountain, and hearing that he was truly an
Englishman--“I am out of my uniform,” Wilfrid remarked with intentional
bitterness--had conducted him to the house of an Italian in the city,
where Angelo Guidascarpi was lying.

“Ill?” said Vittoria.

“Just recovering. After that duel, or whatever it may be called with
Weisspriess, he lay all night out on the mountains. He managed to get
the help of a couple of fellows, who led him at dusk into Meran, saw an
Italian name over a shop, and--I will say for them that the rascals hold
together. There he is, at all events.”

“Would you denounce a sick man, Wilfrid?”

“I certainly cannot forget my duty upon every point”

“You are changed!”

“Changed! Am I the only one who is changed?”

“He must have supposed that it would be Merthyr. I remember speaking of
Merthyr to him as our unchangeable friend. I told him Merthyr would be
here.”

“Instead of Merthyr, he had the misfortune to see your changeable
friend, if you will have it so.”

“But how can it be your duty to denounce him, Wilfrid. You have quitted
that army.”

“Have I? I have forfeited my rank, perhaps.”

“And Angelo is not guilty of a military offence.”

“He has slain one of a family that I am bound to respect.”

“Certainly, certainly,” said Vittoria hurriedly.

Her forehead showed distress of mind; she wanted Laura’s counsel.

“Wilfrid, do you know the whole story?”

“I know that he inveigled Count Paul to his house and slew him; either
he or his brother, or both.”

“I have been with him for days, Wilfrid. I believe that he would do no
dishonourable thing. He is related----“.

“He is the cousin of Count Ammiani.”

“Ah! would you plunge us in misery?”

“How?”

“Count Ammiani is my lover.”

She uttered it unblushingly, and with tender eyes fixed on him.

“Your lover!” he exclaimed, with vile emphasis.

“He will be my husband,” she murmured, while the mounting hot colour
burned at her temples.

“Changed--who is changed?” he said, in a vehement underneath. “For that
reason I am to be false to her who does me the honour to care for me!”

“I would not have you false to her in thought or deed.”

“You ask me to spare this man on account of his relationship to your
lover, and though he has murdered the brother of the lady whom I esteem.
What on earth is the meaning of the petition? Really, you amaze me.”

“I appeal to your generosity, Wilfrid, I am Emilia.”

“Are you?”

She gave him her hand. He took it, and felt at once the limit of all
that he might claim. Dropping the hand, he said:

“Will nothing less than my ruin satisfy you? Since that night at La
Scala, I am in disgrace with my uncle; I expect at any moment to hear
that I am cashiered from the army, if not a prisoner. What is it that
you ask of me now? To conspire with you in shielding the man who has
done a mortal injury to the family of which I am almost one. Your reason
must perceive that you ask too much. I would willingly assist you in
sparing the feelings of Count Ammiani; and, believe me, gratitude is
the last thing I require to stimulate my services. You ask too much; you
must see that you ask too much.”

“I do,” said Vittoria. “Good-night, Wilfrid.”

He was startled to find her going, and lost his equable voice in
trying to detain her. She sought relief in Laura’s bosom, to whom she
recapitulated the interview.

“Is it possible,” Laura said, looking at her intently, “that you do not
recognize the folly of telling this Lieutenant Pierson that you were
pleading to him on behalf of your lover? Could anything be so monstrous,
when one can see that he is malleable to the twist of your little
finger? Are you only half a woman, that you have no consciousness of
your power? Probably you can allow yourself--enviable privilege!--to
suppose that he called you down at this late hour simply to inform you
that he is compelled to do something which will cause you unhappiness!
I repeat, it is an enviable privilege. Now, when the real occasion has
come for you to serve us, you have not a single weapon--except these
tears, which you are wasting on my lap. Be sure that if he denounces
Angelo, Angelo’s life cries out against you. You have but to quicken
your brain to save him. Did he expose his life for you or not? I knew
that he was in Meran,” the signora continued sadly. “The paper which
frightened the silly peasants, revealed to me that he was there,
needing help. I told you Angelo was under an evil star. I thought my day
to-morrow would be a day of scheming. The task has become easy, if you
will.”

“Be merciful; the task is dreadful,” said Vittoria.

“The task is simple. You have an instrument ready to your hands. You
can do just what you like with him--make an Italian of him; make him
renounce his engagement to this pert little Lena of Lenkenstein, break
his sword, play Arlecchino, do what you please. He is not required for
any outrageous performance. A week, and Angelo will have recovered his
strength; you likewise may resume the statuesque demeanour which you
have been exhibiting here. For the space of one week you are asked for
some natural exercise of your wits and compliancy. Hitherto what have
you accomplished, pray?” Laura struck spitefully at Vittoria’s
degraded estimation of her worth as measured by events. “You have done
nothing--worse than nothing. It gives me horrors to find it necessary to
entreat you to look your duty in the face and do it, that even three
or four Italian hearts--Carlo among them--may thank you. Not Carlo, you
say?” (Vittoria had sobbed, “No, not Carlo.”) “How little you know men!
How little do you think how the obligations of the hour should affect
a creature deserving life! Do you fancy that Carlo wishes you to be for
ever reading the line of a copy-book and shaping your conduct by it?
Our Italian girls do this; he despises them. Listen to me; do not I
know what is meant by the truth of love? I pass through fire, and keep
constant to it; but you have some vile Romance of Chivalry in your head;
a modern sculptor’s figure, ‘MEDITATION;’ that is the sort of bride you
would give him in the stirring days of Italy. Do you think it is only
a statue that can be true? Perceive--will you not--that this Lieutenant
Pierson is your enemy. He tells you as much; surely the challenge is
fair? Defeat him as you best can. Angelo shall not be abandoned.”

“O me! it is unendurable; you are merciless,” said Vittoria, shuddering.

She saw the vile figure of herself aping smirks and tender meanings to
her old lover. It was a picture that she dared not let her mind rest
on: how then could she personate it? All through her life she had been
frank; as a young woman, she was clear of soul; she felt that her,
simplicity was already soiled by the bare comprehension of the
abominable course indicated by Laura. Degradation seemed to have been a
thing up to this moment only dreamed of; but now that it was demanded of
her to play coquette and trick her womanhood with false allurements,
she knew the sentiment of utter ruin; she was ashamed. No word is more
lightly spoken than shame. Vittoria’s early devotion to her Art, and
subsequently to her Italy, had carried her through the term when she
would otherwise have showed the natural mild attack of the disease.
It came on her now in a rush, penetrating every chamber of her heart,
overwhelming her; she could see no distinction between being ever so
little false and altogether despicable. She had loathings of her body
and her life. With grovelling difficulty of speech she endeavoured
to convey the sense of her repugnance to Laura, who leaned her ear,
wondering at such bluntness of wit in a woman, and said, “Are you quite
deficient in the craft of your sex, child? You can, and you will, guard
yourself ten times better when your aim is simply to subject him.” But
this was not reason to a spirit writhing in the serpent-coil of fiery
blushes.

Vittoria said, “I shall pity him so.”

She meant she would pity Wilfrid in deluding him. It was a taint of the
hypocrisy which comes with shame.

The signora retorted: “I can’t follow the action of your mind a bit.”

Pity being a form of tenderness, Laura supposed that she would
intuitively hate the man who compelled her to do what she abhorred.

They spent the greater portion of the night in this debate.



CHAPTER XXVIII

THE ESCAPE OF ANGELO

Vittoria knew better than Laura that the task was easy; she had but to
override her aversion to the show of trifling with a dead passion; and
when she thought of Angelo lying helpless in the swarm of enemies, and
that Wilfrid could consent to use his tragic advantage to force her to
silly love-play, his selfishness wrought its reflection, so that she
became sufficiently unjust to forget her marvellous personal influence
over him. Even her tenacious sentiment concerning his white uniform was
clouded. She very soon ceased to be shamefaced in her own fancy. At dawn
she stood at her window looking across the valley of Meran, and felt the
whole scene in a song of her heart, with the faintest recollection of
her having passed through a tempest overnight. The warm Southern glow
of the enfoliaged valley recalled her living Italy, and Italy her voice.
She grew wakefully glad: it was her nature, not her mind, that had
twisted in the convulsions of last night’s horror of shame. The chirp
of healthy blood in full-flowing veins dispersed it; and as a tropical
atmosphere is cleared by the hurricane, she lost her depression and went
down among her enemies possessed by an inner delight, that was again of
her nature, not of her mind. She took her gladness for a happy sign that
she had power to rise buoyant above circumstances; and though aware that
she was getting to see things in harsh outlines, she was unconscious of
her haggard imagination.

The Lenkensteins had projected to escape the blandishments of Vienna by
residing during the winter in Venice, where Wilfrid and his sister were
to be the guests of the countess:--a pleasant prospect that was dashed
out by an official visit from Colonel Zofel of the Meran garrison,
through whom it was known that Lieutenant Pierson, while enjoying his
full liberty to investigate the charms of the neighbourhood, might not
extend his excursions beyond a pedestrian day’s limit;--he was, in fact,
under surveillance. The colonel formally exacted his word of honour that
he would not attempt to pass the bounds, and explained to the duchess
that the injunction was favourable to the lieutenant, as implying
that he must be ready at any moment to receive the order to join his
regiment. Wilfrid bowed with a proper soldierly submission. Respecting
the criminal whom his men were pursuing, Colonel Zofel said that he was
sparing no efforts to come on his traces; he supposed, from what he
had heard in the Ultenthal, that Guidascarpi was on his back somewhere
within a short range of Meran. Vittoria strained her ears to the
colonel’s German; she fancied his communication to be that he suspected
Angelo’s presence in Meran.

The official part of his visit being terminated, the colonel addressed
some questions to the duchess concerning the night of the famous
Fifteenth at La Scala. He was an amateur, and spoke with enthusiasm of
the reports of the new prima donna. The duchess perceived that he was
asking for an introduction to the heroine of the night, and graciously
said that perhaps that very prima donna would make amends, to him for
his absence on the occasion. Vittoria checked a movement of revolt in
her frame. She cast an involuntary look at Wilfrid. “Now it begins,”
 she thought, and went to the piano: she had previously refused to
sing. Wilfrid had to bend his head over his betrothed and listen to her
whisperings. He did so, carelessly swaying his hand to the measure of
the aria, with an increasing bitter comparison of the two voices.
Lena persisted in talking; she was indignant at his abandonment of
the journey to Venice; she reproached him as feeble, inconsiderate,
indifferent. Then for an instant she would pause to hear the voice, and
renew her assault. “We ought to be thankful that she is not singing
a song of death and destruction to us! The archduchess is coming to
Venice. If you are presented to her and please her, and get the writs
of naturalization prepared, you will be one of us completely, and your
fortune is made. If you stay here--why should you stay? It is nothing
but your uncle’s caprice. I am too angry to care for music. If you stay,
you will earn my contempt. I will not be buried another week in such a
place. I am tired of weeping. We all go to Venice: Captain Weisspriess
follows us. We are to have endless Balls, an opera, a Court there--with
whom am I to dance, pray, when I am out of mourning? Am I to sit and
govern my feet under a chair, and gaze like an imbecile nun? It is too
preposterous. I am betrothed to you; I wish, I wish to behave like a
betrothed. The archduchess herself will laugh to see me chained to a
chair. I shall have to reply a thousand times to ‘Where is he?’ What can
I answer? ‘Wouldn’t come,’ will be the only true reply.”

During this tirade, Vittoria was singing one of her old songs, well
known to Wilfrid, which brought the vision of a foaming weir, and
moonlight between the branches of a great cedar-tree, and the lost love
of his heart sitting by his side in the noising stillness. He was sure
that she could be singing it for no one but for him. The leap taken by
his spirit from this time to that, was shorter than from the past back
to the present.

“You do not applaud,” said Lena, when the song had ceased.

He murmured: “I never do, in drawing-rooms.”

“A cantatrice expects it everywhere; these creatures live on it.”

“I’ll tell her, if you like, what we thought of it, when I take her down
to my sister, presently.”

“Are you not to take me down?”

“The etiquette is to hand her up to you.”

“No, no!” Lena insisted, in abhorrence of etiquette; but Wilfrid said
pointedly that his sister’s feelings must be spared. “Her husband is an
animal: he is a millionaire city-of-London merchant; conceive him!
He has drunk himself gouty on Port wine, and here he is for the
grape-cure.”

“Ah! in that England of yours, women marry for wealth,” said Lena.

“Yes, in your Austria they have a better motive” he interpreted her
sentiment.

“Say, in our Austria.”

“In our Austria, certainly.”

“And with our holy religion?”

“It is not yet mine.”

“It will be?” She put the question eagerly.

Wilfrid hesitated, and by his adept hesitation succeeded in throwing her
off the jealous scent.

“Say that it will be, my Wilfrid!”

“You must give me time”

“This subject always makes you cold.”

“My own Lena!”

“Can I be, if we are doomed to be parted when we die?”

There is small space for compunction in a man’s heart when he is in
Wilfrid’s state, burning with the revival of what seemed to him a
superhuman attachment. He had no design to break his acknowledged
bondage to Countess Lena, and answered her tender speech almost as
tenderly.

It never occurred to him, as he was walking down to Meran with Vittoria,
that she could suppose him to be bartering to help rescue the life of a
wretched man in return for soft confidential looks of entreaty; nor did
he reflect, that when cast on him, they might mean no more than the
wish to move him for a charitable purpose. The completeness of her
fascination was shown by his reading her entirely by his own emotions,
so that a lowly-uttered word, or a wavering unwilling glance, made him
think that she was subdued by the charm of the old days.

“Is it here?” she said, stopping under the first Italian name she saw in
the arcade of shops.

“How on earth have you guessed it?” he asked, astonished.

She told him to wait at the end of the arcade, and passed in. When she
joined him again, she was downcast. They went straight to Adela’s hotel,
where the one thing which gave her animation was the hearing that Mr.
Sedley had met an English doctor there, and had placed himself in his
hands. Adela dressed splendidly for her presentation to the duchess.
Having done so, she noticed Vittoria’s depressed countenance and
difficult breathing. She commanded her to see the doctor. Vittoria
consented, and made use of him. She could tell Laura confidently at
night that Wilfrid would not betray Angelo, though she had not spoken
one direct word to him on the subject.

Wilfrid was peculiarly adept in the idle game he played. One who is
intent upon an evil end is open to expose his plan. But he had none in
view; he lived for the luxurious sensation of being near the woman who
fascinated him, and who was now positively abashed when by his side.
Adela suggested to him faintly--she believed it was her spontaneous
idea--that he might be making his countess jealous. He assured her that
the fancy sprang from scenes which she remembered, and that she could
have no idea of the pride of a highborn Austrian girl, who was incapable
of conceiving jealousy of a person below her class. Adela replied
that it was not his manner so much as Emilia’s which might arouse the
suspicion; but she immediately affected to appreciate the sentiments
of a highborn Austrian girl toward a cantatrice, whose gifts we regard
simply as an aristocratic entertainment. Wilfrid induced his sister to
relate Vittoria’s early history to Countess Lena; and himself almost
wondered, when he heard it in bare words, at that haunting vision of the
glory of Vittoria at La Scala--where, as he remembered, he would have
run against destruction to cling to her lips. Adela was at first alarmed
by the concentrated wrathfulness which she discovered in the bosom of
Countess Anna, who, as their intimacy waxed, spoke of the intruding
opera siren in terms hardly proper even to married women; but it seemed
right, as being possibly aristocratic. Lena was much more tolerant.
“I have just the same enthusiasm for soldiers that my Wilfrid has for
singers,” she said; and it afforded Adela exquisite pleasure to hear
her tell how that she had originally heard of the ‘eccentric young
Englishman,’ General Pierson’s nephew, as a Lustspiel--a comedy; and of
his feats on horseback, and his duels, and his--“he was very wicked
over here, you know;” Lena laughed. She assumed the privileges of her
four-and-twenty years and her rank. Her marriage was to take place in
the Spring. She announced it with the simplicity of an independent woman
of the world, adding, “That is, if my Wilfrid will oblige me by not
plunging into further disgrace with the General.”

“No; you will not marry a man who is under a cloud,” Anna subjoined.

“Certainly not a soldier,” said Lena. “What it was exactly that he
did at La Scala, I don’t know, and don’t care to know, but he was then
ignorant that she had touched the hand of that Guidascarpi. I decide by
this--he was valiant; he defied everybody: therefore I forgive him. He
is not in disgrace with me. I will reinstate him.”

“You have your own way of being romantic,” said Anna. “A soldier who
forgets his duty is in my opinion only a brave fool.”

“It seems to me that a great many gallant officers are fond of fine
voices,” Lena retorted.

“No doubt it is a fashion among them,” said Anna.

Adela recoiled with astonishment when she began to see the light in
which the sisters regarded Vittoria; and she was loyal enough to hint
and protest on her friend’s behalf. The sisters called her a very good
soul. “It may not be in England as over here,” said Anna. “We have to
submit to these little social scourges.”

Lena whispered to Adela, “An angry woman will think the worst. I have no
doubt of my Wilfrid. If I had!--”

Her eyes flashed. Fire was not wanting in her.

The difficulties which tasked the amiable duchess to preserve an outward
show of peace among the antagonistic elements she gathered together were
increased by the arrival at the castle of Count Lenkenstein, Bianca’s
husband, and head of the family, from Bologna. He was a tall and courtly
man, who had one face for his friends and another for the reverse party;
which is to say, that his manners could be bad. Count Lenkenstein was
accompanied by Count Serabiglione, who brought Laura’s children with
their Roman nurse, Assunta. Laura kissed her little ones, and sent them
out of her sight. Vittoria found her home in their play and prattle.
She needed a refuge, for Count Lenkenstein was singularly brutal in
his bearing toward her. He let her know that he had come to Meran to
superintend the hunt for the assassin, Angelo Guidascarpi. He attempted
to exact her promise in precise speech that she would be on the spot
to testify against Angelo when that foul villain should be caught. He
objected openly to Laura’s children going about with her. Bitter talk
on every starting subject was exchanged across the duchess’s table.
She herself was in disgrace on Laura’s account, and had to practise
an overflowing sweetness, with no one to second her efforts. The two
noblemen spoke in accord on the bubble revolution. The strong hand--ay,
the strong hand! The strong hand disposes of vermin. Laura listened
to them, pallid with silent torture. “Since the rascals have taken
to assassination, we know that we have them at the dregs,” said Count
Lenkenstein. “A cord round the throats of a few scores of them, and the
country will learn the virtue of docility.”

Laura whispered to her sister: “Have you espoused a hangman?”

Such dropping of deadly shells in a quiet society went near to
scattering it violently; but the union was necessitous. Count
Lenkenstein desired to confront Vittoria with Angelo; Laura would not
quit her side, and Amalia would not expel her friend. Count Lenkenstein
complained roughly of Laura’s conduct; nor did Laura escape her father’s
reproof. “Sir, you are privileged to say what you will to me,” she
responded, with the humility which exasperated him.

“Yes, you bend, you bend, that you may be stiff-necked when it suits
you,” he snapped her short.

“Surely that is the text of the sermon you preach to our Italy!”

“A little more, as you are running on now, madame, and our Italy will be
froth on the lips. You see, she is ruined.”

“Chi lo fa, lo sa,” hummed Laura; “but I would avoid quoting you as that
authority.”

“After your last miserable fiasco, my dear!”

“It was another of our school exercises. We had not been good boys
and girls. We had learnt our lesson imperfectly. We have received our
punishment, and we mean to do better next time.”

“Behave seasonably, fittingly; be less of a wasp; school your tongue.”

“Bianca is a pattern to me, I am aware,” said Laura.

“She is a good wife.”

“I am a poor widow.”

“She is a good daughter.”

“I am a wicked rebel.”

“And you are scheming at something now,” said the little nobleman,
sagacious so far; but he was too eager to read the verification of the
tentative remark in her face, and she perceived that it was a guess
founded on her show of spirit.

“Scheming to contain my temper, which is much tried,” she said. “But I
suppose it supports me. I can always keep up against hostility.”

“You provoke it; you provoke it.”

“My instinct, then, divines my medicine.”

“Exactly, my dear; your personal instinct. That instigates you all. And
none are so easily conciliated as these Austrians. Conciliate them, and
you have them.” Count Serabiglione diverged into a repetition of his
theory of the policy and mission of superior intelligences, as regarded
his system for dealing with the Austrians.

Nurse Assunta’s jealousy was worked upon to separate the children from
Vittoria. They ran down with her no more to meet the vast bowls of
grapes in the morning and feather their hats with vine leaves. Deprived
of her darlings, the loneliness of her days made her look to Wilfrid
for commiseration. Father Bernardus was too continually exhortative, and
fenced too much to “hit the eyeball of her conscience,” as he phrased
it, to afford her repose. Wilfrid could tell himself that he had already
done much for her; for if what he had done were known, his career,
social and military, was ended. This idea being accompanied by a sense
of security delighted him; he was accustomed to inquire of Angelo’s
condition, and praise the British doctor who was attending him
gratuitously. “I wish I could get him out of the way,” he said, and
frowned as in a mental struggle. Vittoria heard him repeat his “I wish!”
 It heightened greatly her conception of the sacrifice he would be making
on her behalf and charity’s. She spoke with a reverential tenderness,
such as it was hard to suppose a woman capable of addressing to other
than the man who moved her soul. The words she uttered were pure thanks;
it was the tone which sent them winged and shaking seed. She had spoken
partly to prompt his activity, but her self-respect had been sustained
by his avoidance of the dreaded old themes, and that grateful feeling
made her voice musically rich.

“I dare not go to him, but the doctor tells me the fever has left him,
Wilfrid; his wounds are healing; but he is bandaged from head to
foot. The sword pierced his side twice, and his arms and hands are cut
horribly. He cannot yet walk. If he is discovered he is lost. Count
Lenkenstein has declared that he will stay at the castle till he has him
his prisoner. The soldiers are all round us. They know that Angelo is
in the ring. They have traced him all over from the Valtellina to this
Ultenthal, and only cannot guess where he is in the lion’s jaw. I rise
in the morning, thinking, ‘Is this to be the black day?’ He is sure to
be caught.”

“If I could hit on a plan,” said Wilfrid, figuring as though he had a
diorama of impossible schemes revolving before his eyes.

“I could believe in the actual whispering of an angel if you did. It was
to guard me that Angelo put himself in peril.”

“Then,” said Wilfrid, “I am his debtor. I owe him as much as my life is
worth.”

“Think, think,” she urged; and promised affection, devotion, veneration,
vague things, that were too like his own sentiments to prompt him
pointedly. Yet he so pledged himself to her by word, and prepared his
own mind to conceive the act of service, that (as he did not reflect)
circumstance might at any moment plunge him into a gulf. Conduct of this
sort is a challenge sure to be answered.

One morning Vittoria was gladdened by a letter from Rocco Ricci, who had
fled to Turin. He told her that the king had promised to give her a warm
welcome in his capital, where her name was famous. She consulted with
Laura, and they resolved to go as soon as Angelo could stand on his
feet. Turin was cold--Italy, but it was Italy; and from Turin the
Italian army was to flow, like the Mincio from the Garda lake. “And
there, too, is a stage,” Vittoria thought, in a suddenly revived thirst
for the stage and a field for work. She determined to run down to Meran
and see Angelo. Laura walked a little way with her, till Wilfrid, alert
for these occasions, joined them. On the commencement of the zig-zag
below, there were soldiers, the sight of whom was not confusing.
Military messengers frequently came up to the castle where Count
Lenkenstein, assisted by Count Serabiglione, examined their depositions,
the Italian in the manner of a winding lawyer, the German of a gruff
judge. Half-way down the zig-zag Vittoria cast a preconcerted signal
back to Laura. The soldiers had a pair of prisoners between their ranks;
Vittoria recognized the men who had carried Captain Weisspriess from the
ground where the duel was fought. A quick divination told her that they
held Angelo’s life on their tongues. They must have found him in the
mountain-pass while hurrying to their homes, and it was they who had
led him to Meran. On the Passeyr bridge, she turned and said to Wilfrid,
“Help me now. Send instantly the doctor in a carriage to the place where
he is lying.”

Wilfrid was intent on her flushed beauty and the half-compressed quiver
of her lip.

She quitted him and hurried to Angelo. Her joy broke out in a cry of
thankfulness at sight of Angelo; he had risen from his bed; he could
stand, and he smiled.

“That Jacopo is just now the nearest link to me,” he said, when she
related her having seen the two men guarded by soldiers; he felt
helpless, and spoke in resignation. She followed his eye about the room
till it rested on the stilet. This she handed to him. “If they think of
having me alive!” he said softly. The Italian and his wife who had given
him shelter and nursed him came in, and approved his going, though they
did not complain of what they might chance to have incurred. He offered
them his purse, and they took it. Minutes of grievous expectation went
by; Vittoria could endure them no longer; she ran out to the hotel,
near which, in the shade of a poplar, Wilfrid was smoking quietly.
He informed her that his sister and the doctor had driven out to meet
Captain Gambier; his brother-in-law was alone upstairs. Her look of
amazement touched him more shrewdly than scorn, and he said, “What on
earth can I do?”

“Order out a carriage. Send your brother-in-law in it. If you tell him
‘for your health,’ he will go.”

“On my honour, I don’t know where those three words would not send him,”
 said Wilfrid; but he did not move, and was for protesting that he
really could not guess what was the matter, and the ground for all this
urgency.

Vittoria compelled her angry lips to speak out her suspicions
explicitly, whereupon he glanced at the sun-glare in a meditation,
occasionally blinking his eyes. She thought, “Oh, heaven! can he be
waiting for me to coax him?” It was the truth, though it would have been
strange to him to have heard it. She grew sure that it was the truth;
never had she despised living creature so utterly as when she murmured,
“My best friend! my brother! my noble Wilfrid! my old beloved! help me
now, without loss of a minute.”

It caused his breath to come and go unevenly.

“Repeat that--once, only once,” he said.

She looked at him with the sorrowful earnestness which, as its meaning
was shut from him, was so sweet.

“You will repeat it by-and-by?--another time? Trust me to do my
utmost. Old beloved! What is the meaning of ‘old beloved’? One word in
explanation. If it means anything, I would die for you! Emilia, do you
hear?--die for you! To me you are nothing old or by-gone, whatever I
may be to you. To me--yes, I will order the carriage you are the
Emilia--listen! listen! Ah! you have shut your ears against me. I am
bound in all seeming, but I--you drive me mad; you know your power.
Speak one word, that I may feel--that I may be convinced,... or not a
single word; I will obey you without. I have said that you command my
life.”

In a block of carriages on the bridge, Vittoria perceived a lifted hand.
It was Laura’s; Beppo was in attendance on her. Laura drove up and said:
“You guessed right; where is he?” The communications between them were
more indicated than spoken. Beppo had heard Jacopo confess to his having
conducted a wounded Italian gentleman into Meran. “That means that the
houses will be searched within an hour,” said Laura; “my brother-in-law
Bear is radiant.” She mimicked the Lenkenstein physiognomy spontaneously
in the run of her speech. “If Angelo can help himself ever so little, he
has a fair start.” A look was cast on Wilfrid; Vittoria nodded--Wilfrid
was entrapped.

“Englishmen we can trust,” said Laura, and requested him to step into
her carriage. He glanced round the open space. Beppo did the same, and
beheld the chasseur Jacob Baumwalder Feckelwitz crossing the bridge on
foot, but he said nothing. Wilfrid was on the step of the carriage, for
what positive object neither he nor the others knew, when his sister and
the doctor joined them. Captain Gambier was still missing.

“He would have done anything for us,” Vittoria said in Wilfrid’s
hearing.

“Tell us what plan you have,” the latter replied fretfully.

She whispered: “Persuade Adela to make her husband drive out. The doctor
will go too, and Beppo. They shall take Angelo. Our carriage will follow
empty, and bring Mr. Sedley back.”

Wilfrid cast his eyes up in the air, at the monstrous impudence of the
project. “A storm is coming on,” he suggested, to divert her reading of
his grimace; but she was speaking to the doctor, who readily answered
her aloud: “If you are certain of what you say.” The remark incited
Wilfrid to be no subordinate in devotion; handing Adela from the
carriage, while the doctor ran up to Mr. Sedley, he drew her away. Laura
and Vittoria watched the motion of their eyes and lips.

“Will he tell her the purpose?” said Laura.

Vittoria smiled nervously: “He is fibbing.”

Marking the energy expended by Wilfrid in this art, the wiser woman
said: “Be on your guard the next two minutes he gets you alone.”

“You see his devotion.”

“Does he see his compensation? But he must help us at any hazard.”

Adela broke away from her brother twice, and each time he fixed her
to the spot more imperiously. At last she ran into the hotel; she was
crying. “A bad economy of tears,” said Laura, commenting on the dumb
scene, to soothe her savage impatience. “In another twenty minutes we
shall have the city gates locked.”

They heard a window thrown up; Mr. Sedley’s head came out, and peered at
the sky. Wilfrid said to Vittoria: “I can do nothing beyond what I have
done, I fear.”

She thought it was a petition for thanks, but Laura knew better; she
said: “I see Count Lenkenstein on his way to the barracks.”

Wilfrid bowed: “I may be able to serve you in that quarter.”

He retired: whereupon Laura inquired how her friend could reasonably
suppose that a man would ever endure being thanked in public.

“I shall never understand and never care to understand them,” said
Vittoria.

“It is a knowledge that is forced on us, my dear. May heaven make the
minds of our enemies stupid for the next five hours!--Apropos of what
I was saying, women and men are in two hostile camps. We have a sort
of general armistice and everlasting strife of individuals--Ah!” she
clapped hands on her knees, “here comes your doctor; I could fancy I see
a pointed light on his head. Men of science, my Sandra, are always the
humanest.”

The chill air of wind preceding thunder was driving round the head of
the vale, and Mr. Sedley, wrapped in furs, and feebly remonstrating with
his medical adviser, stepped into his carriage. The doctor followed him,
giving a grave recognition of Vittoria’s gaze. Both gentlemen raised
their hats to the ladies, who alighted as soon as they had gone in the
direction of the Vintschgau road.

“One has only to furnish you with money, my Beppo,” said Vittoria,
complimenting his quick apprehensiveness. “Buy bread and cakes at one of
the shops, and buy wine. You will find me where you can, when you
have seen him safe. I have no idea of where my home will be. Perhaps
England.”

“Italy, Italy! faint heart,” said Laura.

Furnished with money, Beppo rolled away gaily.

The doubt was in Laura whether an Englishman’s wits were to be relied on
in such an emergency; but she admitted that the doctor had looked full
enough of serious meaning, and that the Englishman named Merthyr Powys
was keen and ready. They sat a long half-hour, that thumped itself
out like an alarm-bell, under the poplars, by the clamouring Passeyr,
watching the roll and spring of the waters, and the radiant foam, while
band-music played to a great company of visitors, and sounds of thunder
drew near. Over the mountains above the Adige, the leaden fingers of
an advance of the thunder-cloud pushed slowly, and on a sudden a mighty
gale sat heaped blank on the mountain-top and blew. Down went the heads
of the poplars, the river staggered in its leap, the vale was shuddering
grey. It was like the transformation in a fairy tale; Beauty had taken
her old cloak about her, and bent to calamity. The poplars streamed
their length sideways, and in the pauses of the strenuous wind nodded
and dashed wildly and white over the dead black water, that waxed in
foam and hissed, showing its teeth like a beast enraged. Laura
and Vittoria joined hands and struggled for shelter. The tent of a
travelling circus from the South, newly-pitched on a grassplot near the
river, was caught up and whirled in the air and flung in the face of
a marching guard of soldiery, whom it swathed and bore sheer to earth,
while on them and around them a line of poplars fell flat, the wind
whistling over them. Laura directed Vittoria’s eyes to the sight. “See,”
 she said, and her face was set hard with cold and excitement, so that
she looked a witch in the uproar; “would you not say the devil is loose
now Angelo is abroad?” Thunder and lightning possessed the vale, and
then a vertical rain. At the first gleam of sunlight, Laura and Vittoria
walked up to the Laubengasse--the street of the arcades, where they
made purchases of numerous needless articles, not daring to enter the
Italian’s shop. A woman at a fruitstall opposite to it told them that no
carriage could have driven up there. During their great perplexity, mud
and rain-stained soldiers, the same whom they had seen borne to earth by
the flying curtain, marched before the shop; the shop and the house were
searched; the Italian and his old liming wife were carried away.

“Tell me now, that storm was not Angelo’s friend!” Laura muttered.

“Can he have escaped?” said Vittoria.

“He is ‘on horseback.’” Laura quoted the Italian proverb to signify that
he had flown; how, she could not say, and none could inform her. The joy
of their hearts rose in one fountain.

“I shall feel better blood in my body from this moment,” Laura said; and
Vittoria, “Oh! we can be strong, if we only resolve.”

“You want to sing?”

“I do.”

“I shall find pleasure in your voice now.”

“The wicked voice!”

“Yes, the very wicked voice! But I shall be glad to hear it. You can
sing to-night, and drown those Lenkensteins.”

“If my Carlo could hear me!”

“Ah!” sighed the signora, musing. “He is in prison now. I remember him,
the dearest little lad, fencing with my husband for exercise after they
had been writing all day. When Giacomo was imprisoned, Carlo sat outside
the prison walls till it was time for him to enter; his chin and upper
lip were smooth as a girl’s. Giacomo said to him, ‘May you always have
the power of going out, or not have a wife waiting for you.’ Here they
come.” (She spoke of tears.) “It’s because I am joyful. The channel for
them has grown so dry that they prick and sting. Oh, Sandra! it would be
pleasant to me if we might both be buried for seven days, and have one
long howl of weakness together. A little bite of satisfaction makes
me so tired. I believe there’s something very bad for us in our always
being at war, and never, never gaining ground. Just one spark of triumph
intoxicates us. Look at all those people pouring out again. They are
the children of fair weather. I hope the state of their health does not
trouble them too much. Vienna sends consumptive patients here. If you
regard them attentively, you will observe that they have an anxious air.
Their constitutions are not sound; they fear they may die.”

Laura’s irony was unforced; it was no more than a subtle discord
naturally struck from the scene by a soul in contrast with it.

They beheld the riding forth of troopers and a knot of officers hotly
conversing together. At another point the duchess and the Lenkenstein
ladies, Count Lenkenstein, Count Serabiglione, and Wilfrid paced up and
down, waiting for music. Laura left the public places and crossed an
upper bridge over the Passeyr, near the castle, by which route she
skirted vines and dropped over sloping meadows to some shaded boulders
where the Passeyr found a sandy bay, and leaped in transparent green,
and whitened and swung twisting in a long smooth body down a narrow
chasm, and noised below. The thundering torrent stilled their
sensations: and the water, making battle against great blocks of
porphyry and granite, caught their thoughts. So strong was the
impression of it on Vittoria’s mind, that for hours after, every image
she conceived seemed proper to the inrush and outpour; the elbowing, the
tossing, the foaming, the burst on stones, and silvery bubbles under and
silvery canopy above, the chattering and huzzaing; all working on to the
one-toned fall beneath the rainbow on the castle-rock.

Next day, the chasseur Jacob Baumwalder Feckelwitz deposed in full
company at Sonnenberg, that, obeying Count Serabiglione’s instructions,
he had gone down to the city, and had there seen Lieutenant Pierson with
the ladies in front of the hotel; he had followed the English carriage,
which took up a man who was standing ready on crutches at the corner
of the Laubengasse, and drove rapidly out of the North-western gate,
leading to Schlanders and Mals and the Engadine. He had witnessed the
transfer of the crippled man from one carriage to another, and had
raised shouts and given hue and cry, but the intervention of the storm
had stopped his pursuit.

He was proceeding to say what his suppositions were. Count Lenkenstein
lifted his finger for Wilfrid to follow him out of the room. Count
Serabiglione went at their heels. Then Count Lenkenstein sent for his
wife, whom Anna and Lena accompanied.

“How many persons are you going to ruin in the course of your crusade,
my dear?” the duchess said to Laura.

“Dearest, I am penitent when I succeed,” said Laura.

“If that young man has been assisting you, he is irretrievably ruined.”

“I am truly sorry for him.”

“As for me, the lectures I shall get in Vienna are terrible to think
of. This is the consequence of being the friend of both parties, and a
peace-maker.”

Count Serabiglione returned alone from the scene at the examination,
rubbing his hands and nodding affably to his daughter. He maliciously
declined to gratify the monster of feminine curiosity in the lump, and
doled out the scene piecemeal. He might state, he observed, that it was
he who had lured Beppo to listen at the door during the examination
of the prisoners; and who had then planted a spy on him--following
the dictation of precepts exceedingly old. “We are generally beaten,
duchess; I admit it; and yet we generally contrive to show the brain. As
I say, wed brains to brute force!--but my Laura prefers to bring about
a contest instead of an union, so that somebody is certain to be struck,
and”--the count spread out his arms and bowed his head--“deserves the
blow.” He informed them that Count Lenkenstein had ordered Lieutenant
Pierson down to Meran, and that the lieutenant might expect to be
cashiered within five days. “What does it matter?” he addressed
Vittoria. “It is but a shuffling of victims; Lieutenant Pierson in the
place of Guidascarpi! I do not object.”

Count Lenkenstein withdrew his wife and sisters from Sonnenberg
instantly. He sent an angry message of adieu to the duchess, informing
her that he alone was responsible for the behaviour of the ladies of his
family. The poor duchess wept. “This means that I shall be summoned to
Vienna for a scolding, and have to meet my husband,” she said to Laura,
who permitted herself to be fondled, and barely veiled her exultation in
her apology for the mischief she had done. An hour after the departure
of the Lenkensteins, the castle was again officially visited by Colonel
Zofel. Vittoria and Laura received an order to quit the district of
Meran before sunset. The two firebrands dropped no tears. “I really am
sorry for others when I succeed,” said Laura, trying to look sad upon
her friend.

“No; the heart is eaten out of you both by excitement,” said the
duchess.

Her tender parting, “Love me,” in the ear of Vittoria, melted one heart
of the two.

Count Serabiglione continued to be buoyed up by his own and his
daughter’s recent display of a superior intellectual dexterity until the
carriage was at the door and Laura presented her cheek to him. He
said, “You will know me a wise man when I am off the table.” His
gesticulations expressed “Ruin, headlong ruin!” He asked her how she
could expect him to be for ever repairing her follies. He was going
to Vienna; how could he dare to mention her name there? Not even in a
trifle would she consent to be subordinate to authority. Laura checked
her replies--the surrendering, of a noble Italian life to the Austrians
was such a trifle! She begged only that a poor wanderer might depart
with a father’s blessing. The count refused to give it; he waved her
off in a fury of reproof; and so got smoothly over the fatal moment
when money, or the promise of money, is commonly extracted from parental
sources, as Laura explained his odd behaviour to her companion. The
carriage-door being closed, he regained his courtly composure; his fury
was displaced by a chiding finger, which he presently kissed. Father.
Bernardus was on the steps beside the duchess, and his blessing had not
been withheld from Vittoria, though he half confessed to her that she
was a mystery in his mind, and would always be one.

“He can understand robust hostility,” Laura said, when Vittoria recalled
the look of his benevolent forehead and drooping eyelids; “but robust
ductility does astonish him. He has not meddled with me; yet I am the
one of the two who would be fair prey for an enterprising spiritual
father, as the destined roan of heaven will find out some day.”

She bent and smote her lap. “How little they know us, my darling! They
take fever for strength, and calmness for submission. Here is the world
before us, and I feel that such a man, were he to pounce on me now,
might snap me up and lock me in a praying-box with small difficulty. And
I am the inveterate rebel! What is it nourishes you and keeps you always
aiming straight when you are alone? Once in Turin, I shall feel that I
am myself. Out of Italy I have a terrible craving for peace. It seems
here as if I must lean down to him, my beloved, who has left me.”

Vittoria was in alarm lest Wilfrid should accost her while she drove
from gate to gate of the city. They passed under the archway of the gate
leading up to Schloss Tyrol, and along the road bordered by vines. An
old peasant woman stopped them with the signal of a letter in her hand.
“Here it is,” said Laura, and Vittoria could not help smiling at her
shrewd anticipation of it.

“May I follow?”

Nothing more than that was written.

But the bearer of the missive had been provided with a lead pencil to
obtain the immediate reply.

“An admirable piece of foresight!” Laura’s honest exclamation burst
forth.

Vittoria had to look in Laura’s face before she could gather her will
to do the cruel thing which was least cruel. She wrote firmly:--“Never
follow me.”



CHAPTER XXIX

EPISODES OF THE REVOLT AND THE WAR--THE TOBACCO-RIOTS--RINALDO
GUIDASCARPI

Anna von Lenkenstein was one who could wait for vengeance. Lena punished
on the spot, and punished herself most. She broke off her engagement
with Wilfrid, while at the same time she caused a secret message to be
conveyed to him, telling him that the prolongation of his residence in
Meran would restore him to his position in the army.

Wilfrid remained at Meran till the last days of December.

It was winter in Milan, turning to the new year--the year of flames
for continental Europe. A young man with a military stride, but out
of uniform, had stepped from a travelling carriage and entered a
cigar-shop. Upon calling for cigars, he was surprised to observe the
woman who was serving there keep her arms under her apron. She cast a
look into the street, where a crowd of boys and one or two lean men had
gathered about the door. After some delay, she entreated her customer to
let her pluck his cloak halfway over the counter; at the same time she
thrust a cigar-box under that concealment, together with a printed song
in the Milanese dialect. He lifted the paper to read it, and found it
tough as Russ. She translated some of the more salient couplets. Tobacco
had become a dead business, she said, now that the popular edict had
gone forth against ‘smoking gold into the pockets of the Tedeschi.’ None
smoked except officers and Englishmen.

“I am an Englishman,” he said.

“And not an officer?” she asked; but he gave no answer. “Englishmen are
rare in winter, and don’t like being mobbed,” said the woman.

Nodding to her urgent petition, he deferred the lighting of his cigar.
The vetturino requested him to jump up quickly, and a howl of “No
smoking in Milan--fuori!--down with tobacco-smokers!” beset the
carriage. He tossed half-a-dozen cigars on the pavement derisively. They
were scrambled for, as when a pack of wolves are diverted by a garment
dropped from the flying sledge, but the unluckier hands came after his
heels in fuller howl. He noticed the singular appearance of the streets.
Bands of the scum of the population hung at various points: from time
to time a shout was raised at a distance, “Abasso il zigarro!” and “Away
with the cigar!” went an organized file-firing of cries along the open
place. Several gentlemen were mobbed, and compelled to fling the cigars
from their teeth. He saw the polizta in twos and threes taking counsel
and shrugging, evidently too anxious to avoid a collision. Austrian
soldiers and subalterns alone smoked freely; they puffed the harder
when the yells and hootings and whistlings thickened at their heels.
Sometimes they walked on at their own pace; or, when the noise swelled
to a crisis, turned and stood fast, making an exhibition of curling
smoke, as a mute form of contempt. Then commenced hustlings and a
tremendous uproar; sabres were drawn, the whitecoats planted themselves
back to back. Milan was clearly in a condition of raging disease. The
soldiery not only accepted the challenge of the mob, but assumed the
offensive. Here and there they were seen crossing the street to puff
obnoxiously in the faces of people. Numerous subalterns were abroad,
lively for strife, and bright with the signal of their readiness. An icy
wind blew down from the Alps, whitening the housetops and the ways, but
every street, torso, and piazza was dense with loungers, as on a
summer evening; the clamour of a skirmish anywhere attracted streams of
disciplined rioters on all sides; it was the holiday of rascals.

Our traveller had ordered his vetturino to drive slowly to his hotel,
that he might take the features of this novel scene. He soon showed
his view of the case by putting an unlighted cigar in his mouth. The
vetturino noted that his conveyance acted as a kindling-match to awaken
cries in quiet quarters, looked round, and grinned savagely at the sight
of the cigar.

“Drop it, or I drop you,” he said; and hearing the command to drive on,
pulled up short.

They were in a narrow way leading to the Piazza de’ Mercanti. While the
altercation was going on between them, a great push of men emerged from
one of the close courts some dozen paces ahead of the horse, bearing
forth a single young officer in their midst.

“Signore, would you like to be the froth of a boiling of that sort?” The
vetturino seized the image at once to strike home his instance of the
danger of outraging the will of the people.

Our traveller immediately unlocked a case that lay on the seat in front
of him, and drew out a steel scabbard, from which he plucked the sword,
and straightway leaped to the ground. The officer’s cigar had been
dashed from his mouth: he stood at bay, sword in hand, meeting a rush
with a desperate stroke. The assistance of a second sword got him clear
of the fray. Both hastened forward as the crush melted with the hiss of
a withdrawing wave. They interchanged exclamations: “Is it you, Jenna!”

“In the devil’s name, Pierson, have you come to keep your appointment in
mid-winter?”

“Come on: I’ll stick beside you.”

“On, then!”

They glanced behind them, heeding little the tail of ruffians whom they
had silenced.

“We shall have plenty of fighting soon, so we’ll smoke a cordial cigar
together,” said Lieutenant Jenna, and at once struck a light and blazed
defiance to Milan afresh--an example that was necessarily followed by
his comrade. “What has happened to you, Pierson? Of course, I knew you
were ready for our bit of play--though you’ll hear what I said of you.
How the deuce could you think of running off with that opera girl, and
getting a fellow in the mountains to stab our merry old Weisspriess,
just because you fancied he was going to slip a word or so over the back
of his hand in Countess Lena’s ear? No wonder she’s shy of you now.”

“So, that’s the tale afloat,” said Wilfrid. “Come to my hotel and dine
with me. I suppose that cur has driven my luggage there.”

Jenna informed him that officers had to muster in barracks every
evening.

“Come and see your old comrades; they’ll like you better in bad
luck--there’s the comfort of it: hang the human nature! She’s a good
old brute, if you don’t drive her hard. Our regiment left Verona in
November. There we had tolerable cookery; come and take the best we can
give you.”

But this invitation Wilfrid had to decline.

“Why?” said Jenna.

He replied: “I’ve stuck at Meran three months. I did it, in obedience to
what I understood from Colonel Zofel to be the General’s orders. When I
was as perfectly dry as a baked Egyptian, I determined to believe that I
was not only in disgrace, but dismissed the service. I posted to Botzen
and Riva, on to Milan; and here I am. The least I can do is to show
myself here.”

“Very well, then, come and show yourself at our table,” said Jenna.
“Listen: we’ll make a furious row after supper, and get hauled in by the
collar before the General. You can swear you have never been absent from
duty: swear the General never gave you forcible furlough. I’ll swear
it; all our fellows will swear it. The General will say, ‘Oh! a very
big lie’s equal to a truth; big brother to a fact, or something; as he
always does, you know. Face it out. We can’t spare a good stout sword in
these times. On with me, my Pierson.”

“I would,” said Wilfrid, doubtfully.

A douse of water from a window extinguished their cigars.

Lieutenant Jenna wiped his face deliberately, and lighting another
cigar, remarked--“This is the fifth poor devil who has come to an
untimely end within an hour. It is brisk work. Now, I’ll swear I’ll
smoke this one out.”

The cigar was scattered in sparks from his lips by a hat skilfully
flung. He picked it up miry and cleaned it, observing that his honour
was pledged to this fellow. The hat he trampled into a muddy lump.
Wilfrid found it impossible to ape his coolness. He swung about for an
adversary. Jenna pulled him on.

“A salute from a window,” he said. “We can’t storm the houses. The
time’ll come for it--and then, you cats!”

Wilfrid inquired how long this state of things had been going on. Jenna
replied that they appeared to be in the middle of it;--nearly a week.
Another week, and their day would arrive; and then!

“Have you heard anything of a Count Ammiani here?” said Wilfrid.

“Oh! he’s one of the lot, I believe. We have him fast, as we’ll have
the bundle of them. Keep eye on those dogs behind us, and manoeuvre your
cigar. The plan is, to give half-a-dozen bright puffs, and then keep it
in your fist; and when you see an Italian head, volcano him like fury.
Yes, I’ve heard of that Ammiani. The scoundrels, made an attempt to get
him out of prison--I fancy he’s in the city prison--last Friday night.
I don’t know exactly where he is; but it’s pretty fair reckoning to say
that he’ll enjoy a large slice of the next year in the charming solitude
of Spielberg, if Milan is restless. Is he a friend of yours?”

“Not by any means,” said Wilfrid.

“Mio prigione!” Jenna mouthed with ineffable contemptuousness; “he’ll
have time to write his memoirs, as, one of the dogs did. I remember my
mother crying over, the book. I read it? Not I! I never read books. My
father said--the stout old colonel--‘Prison seems to make these Italians
take an interest in themselves.’ ‘Oh!’ says my mother, ‘why can’t they
be at peace with us?’ ‘That’s exactly the question,’ says my father,
‘we’re always putting to them.’ And so I say. Why can’t they let us
smoke our cigars in peace?”

Jenna finished by assaulting a herd of faces with smoke.

“Pig of a German!” was shouted; and “Porco, porco,” was sung in a scale
of voices. Jenna received a blinding slap across the eyes. He staggered
back; Wilfrid slashed his sword in defence of him. He struck a man down.
“Blood! blood!” cried the gathering mob, and gave space, but hedged the
couple thickly. Windows were thrown up; forth came a rain of household
projectiles. The cry of “Blood! blood!” was repeated by numbers pouring
on them from the issues to right and left. It is a terrible cry in a
city. In a city of the South it rouses the wild beast in men to madness.
Jenna smoked triumphantly and blew great clouds, with an eye aloft
for the stools, basins, chairs, and water descending. They were in
the middle of one of the close streets of old Milan. The man felled by
Wilfrid was raised on strong arms, that his bleeding head might be seen
of all, and a dreadful hum went round. A fire of missiles, stones, balls
of wax, lumps of dirt, sticks of broken chairs, began to play. Wilfrid
had a sudden gleam of the face of his Verona assailant. He and Jenna
called “Follow me,” in one breath, and drove forward with sword-points,
which they dashed at the foremost; by dint of swift semicirclings of
the edges they got through, but a mighty voice of command thundered;
the rearward portion of the mob swung rapidly to the front, presenting
a scattered second barrier; Jenna tripped on a fallen body, lost his
cigar, and swore that he must find it. A dagger struck his sword-arm.
He staggered and flourished his blade in the air, calling “On!” without
stirring. “This infernal cigar!” he said; and to the mob, “What mongrel
of you took my cigar?” Stones thumped on his breast; the barrier-line
ahead grew denser. “I’ll go at them first; you’re bleeding,” said
Wilfrid. They were refreshed by the sound of German cheering, as in
approach. Jenna uplifted a crow of the regimental hurrah of the charge;
it was answered; on they went and got through the second fence, saw
their comrades, and were running to meet them, when a weighted ball hit
Wilfrid on the back of the head. He fell, as he believed, on a cushion
of down, and saw thousands of saints dancing with lamps along cathedral
aisles.

The next time he opened his eyes he fancied he had dropped into the
vaults of the cathedral. His sensation of sinking was so vivid that he
feared lest he should be going still further below. There was a lamp
in the chamber, and a young man sat reading by the light of the lamp.
Vision danced fantastically on Wilfrid’s brain. He saw that he rocked
as in a ship, yet there was no noise of the sea; nothing save the remote
thunder haunting empty ears at strain for sound. He looked again; the
young man was gone, the lamp was flickering. Then he became conscious of
a strong ray on his eyelids; he beheld his enemy gazing down on him and
swooned. It was with joy, that when his wits returned, he found himself
looking on the young man by the lamp. “That other face was a dream,”
 he thought, and studied the aspect of the young man with the unwearied
attentiveness of partial stupor, that can note accurately, but cannot
deduce from its noting, and is inveterate in patience because it is
unideaed. Memory wakened first.

“Guidascarpi!” he said to himself.

The name was uttered half aloud. The young man started and closed his
book.

“You know me?” he asked.

“You are Guidascarpi?”

“I am.”

“Guidascarpi, I think I helped to save your life in Meran.”

The young man stooped over him. “You speak of my brother Angelo. I am
Rinaldo. My debt to you is the same, if you have served him.”

“Is he safe?”

“He is in Lugano.”

“The signorina Vittoria?”

“In Turin.”

“Where am I?”

The reply came from another mouth than Rinaldo’s.

“You are in the poor lodging of the shoemaker, whose shoes, if you had
thought fit to wear them, would have conducted you anywhere but to this
place.”

“Who are you?” Wilfrid moaned.

“You ask who I am. I am the Eye of Italy. I am the Cat who sees in
the dark.” Barto Rizzo raised the lamp and stood at his feet. “Look
straight. You know me, I think.”

Wilfrid sighed, “Yes, I know you; do your worst.”

His head throbbed with the hearing of a heavy laugh, as if a hammer had
knocked it. What ensued he knew not; he was left to his rest. He lay
there many days and nights, that were marked by no change of light; the
lamp burned unwearyingly. Rinaldo and a woman tended him. The sign of
his reviving strength was shown by a complaint he launched at the earthy
smell of the place.

“It is like death,” said Rinaldo, coming to his side. “I am used to it,
and familiar with death too,” he added in a musical undertone.

“Are you also a prisoner here?” Wilfrid questioned him.

“I am.”

“The brute does not kill, then?”

“No; he saves. I owe my life to him. He has rescued yours.”

“Mine?” said Wilfrid.

“You would have been torn to pieces in the streets but for Barto Rizzo.”

The streets were the world above to Wilfrid; he was eager to hear of the
doings in them. Rinaldo told him that the tobacco-war raged still;
the soldiery had recently received orders to smoke abroad, and
street battles were hourly occurring. “They call this government!” he
interjected.

He was a soft-voiced youth; slim and tall and dark, like Angelo, but
with a more studious forehead. The book he was constantly reading was
a book of chemistry. He entertained Wilfrid with very strange talk. He
spoke of the stars and of a destiny. He cited certain minor events
of his life to show the ground of his present belief in there being a
written destiny for each individual man. “Angelo and I know it well. It
was revealed to us when we were boys. It has been certified to us up to
this moment. Mark what I tell you,” he pursued in a devout sincerity of
manner that baffled remonstrance, “my days end with this new year. His
end with the year following. Our house is dead.”

Wilfrid pressed his hand. “Have you not been too long underground?”

“That is the conviction I am coming to. But when I go out to breathe the
air of heaven, I go to my fate. Should I hesitate? We Italians of this
period are children of thunder and live the life of a flash. The worms
may creep on: the men must die. Out of us springs a better world.
Romara, Ammiani, Mercadesco, Montesini, Rufo, Cardi, whether they see it
or not, will sweep forward to it. To some of them, one additional day of
breath is precious. Not so for Angelo and me. We are unbeloved. We have
neither mother nor sister, nor betrothed. What is an existence that can
fly to no human arms? I have been too long underground, because, while I
continue to hide, I am as a drawn sword between two lovers.”

The previous mention of Ammiani’s name, together with the knowledge he
had of Ammiani’s relationship to the Guidascarpi, pointed an instant
identification of these lovers to Wilfrid.

He asked feverishly who they were, and looked his best simplicity, as
one who was always interested by stories of lovers.

The voice of Barto Rizzo, singing “Vittoria!” stopped Rinaldo’s reply:
but Wilfrid read it in his smile at that word. He was too weak to
restrain his anguish, and flung on the couch and sobbed. Rinaldo
supposed that he was in fear of Barto, and encouraged him to meet the
man confidently. A lusty “Viva l’Italia! Vittoria!” heralded Barto’s
entrance. “My boy! my noblest! we have beaten them the cravens! Tell me
now--have I served an apprenticeship to the devil for nothing? We have
struck the cigars out of their mouths and the monopoly-money out of
their pockets. They have surrendered. The Imperial order prohibits
soldiers from smoking in the streets of Milan, and so throughout
Lombardy! Soon we will have the prisons empty, by our own order. Trouble
yourself no more about Ammiani. He shall come out to the sound of
trumpets. I hear them! Hither, my Rosellina, my plump melon; up with
your red lips, and buss me a Napoleon salute--ha! ha!”

Barto’s wife went into his huge arm, and submissively lifted her face.
He kissed her like a barbaric king, laughing as from wine.

Wilfrid smothered his head from his incarnate thunder. He was unnoticed
by Barto. Presently a silence told him that he was left to himself. An
idea possessed him that the triumph of the Italians meant the release
of Ammiani, and his release the loss of Vittoria for ever. Since her
graceless return of his devotion to her in Meran, something like a
passion--arising from the sole spring by which he could be excited
to conceive a passion--had filled his heart. He was one of those who
delight to dally with gentleness and faith, as with things that are
their heritage; but the mere suspicion of coquettry and indifference
plunged him into a fury of jealous wrathfulness, and tossed so
desireable an image of beauty before him that his mad thirst to embrace
it seemed love. By our manner of loving we are known. He thought it no
meanness to escape and cause a warning to be conveyed to the Government
that there was another attempt brewing for the rescue of Count Ammiani.
Acting forthwith on the hot impulse, he seized the lamp. The door was
unlocked. Luckier than Luigi had been, he found a ladder outside, and
a square opening through which he crawled; continuing to ascend along
close passages and up narrow flights of stairs, that appeared to him to
be fashioned to avoid the rooms of the house. At last he pushed a
door, and found himself in an armoury, among stands of muskets, swords,
bayonets, cartouche-boxes, and, most singular of all, though he observed
them last, small brass pieces of cannon, shining with polish. Shot was
piled in pyramids beneath their mouths. He examined the guns admiringly.
There were rows of daggers along shelves; some in sheath, others bare;
one that had been hastily wiped showed a smear of ropy blood. He stood
debating whether he should seize a sword for his protection. In the act
of trying its temper on the floor, the sword-hilt was knocked from his
hand, and he felt a coil of arms around him. He was in the imprisoning
embrace of Barto Rizzo’s wife. His first, and perhaps natural,
impression accused her of a violent display of an eccentric passion for
his manly charms; and the tighter she locked him, the more reasonably
was he held to suppose it; but as, while stamping on the floor, she
offered nothing to his eyes save the yellow poll of her neck, and hung
neither panting nor speaking, he became undeceived. His struggles were
preposterous; his lively sense of ridicule speedily stopped them. He
remained passive, from time to time desperately adjuring his living
prison to let him loose, or to conduct him whither he had come; but the
inexorable coil kept fast--how long there was no guessing--till he could
have roared out tears of rage, and that is extremity for an Englishman.
Rinaldo arrived in his aid; but the woman still clung to him. He was
freed only by the voice of Barto Rizzo, who marched him back. Rinaldo
subsequently told him that his discovery of the armoury necessitated his
confinement.

“Necessitates it!” cried Wilfrid. “Is this your Italian gratitude?”

The other answered: “My friend, you risked your fortune for my brother;
but this is a case that concerns our country.”

He deemed these words to be an unquestionable justification, for he said
no more. After this they ceased to converse.

Each lay down on his strip of couch-matting; rose and ate, and passed
the dreadful untamed hours; nor would Wilfrid ask whether it was day or
night. We belong to time so utterly, that when we get no note of time,
it wears the shrouded head of death for us already. Rinaldo could quit
the place as he pleased; he knew the hours; and Wilfrid supposed that
it must be hatred that kept him from voluntarily divulging that blessed
piece of knowledge. He had to encourage a retorting spirit of hatred
in order to mask his intense craving. By an assiduous calculation of
seconds and minutes, he was enabled to judge that the lamp burned a
space of six hours before it required replenishing. Barto Rizzo’s wife
trimmed it regularly, but the accursed woman came at all seasons. She
brought their meals irregularly, and she would never open her lips: she
was like a guardian of the tombs. Wilfrid abandoned his dream of the
variation of night and day, and with that the sense of life deadened, as
the lamp did toward the sixth hour. Thenceforward his existence fed on
the movements of his companion, the workings of whose mind he began to
read with a marvellous insight. He knew once, long in advance of the
act or an indication of it, that Rinaldo was bent on prayer. Rinaldo had
slightly closed his eyelids during the perusal of his book; he had taken
a pencil and traced lines on it from memory, and dotted points here and
there; he had left the room, and returned to resume his study.
Then, after closing the book softly, he had taken up the mark he was
accustomed to place in the last page of his reading, and tossed it away.
Wilfrid was prepared to clap hands when he should see the hated fellow
drop on his knees; but when that sight verified his calculation, he
huddled himself exultingly in his couch-cloth:--it was like a confirming
clamour to him that he was yet wholly alive. He watched the anguish of
the prayer, and was rewarded for the strain of his faculties by sleep.
Barto Rizzo’s rough voice awakened him. Barto had evidently just
communicated dismal tidings to Rinaldo, who left the vault with him,
and was absent long enough to make Wilfrid forget his hatred in an
irresistible desire to catch him by the arm and look in his face.

“Ah! you have not forsaken me,” the greeting leaped out.

“Not now,” said Rinaldo.

“Do you think of going?”

“I will speak to you presently, my friend.”

“Hound!” cried Wilfrid, and turned his face to the wall.

Until he slept, he heard the rapid travelling of a pen; on his
awakening, the pen vexed him like a chirping cricket that tells us that
cock-crow is long distant when we are moaning for the dawn. Great drops
of sweat were on Rinaldo’s forehead. He wrote as one who poured forth
a history without pause. Barto’s wife came to the lamp and beckoned him
out, bearing the lamp away. There was now for the first time darkness
in this vault. Wilfrid called Rinaldo by name, and heard nothing but
the fear of the place, which seemed to rise bristling at his voice and
shrink from it. He called till dread of his voice held him dumb. “I am,
then, a coward,” he thought. Nor could he by-and-by repress a start of
terror on hearing Rinaldo speak out of the darkness. With screams for
the lamp, and cries that he was suffering slow murder, he underwent a
paroxysm in the effort to conceal his abject horror. Rinaldo sat by his
side patiently. At last, he said: “We are both of us prisoners on
equal terms now.” That was quieting intelligence to Wilfrid, who asked
eagerly: “What hour is it?”

It was eleven of the forenoon. Wilfrid strove to dissociate his
recollection of clear daylight from the pressure of the hideous
featureless time surrounding him. He asked: “What week?” It was the
first week in March. Wilfrid could not keep from sobbing aloud. In the
early period of such a captivity, imagination, deprived of all other
food, conjures phantasms for the employment of the brain; but there is
still some consciousness within the torpid intellect wakeful to laugh at
them as they fly, though they have held us at their mercy. The face of
time had been imaged like the withering mask of a corpse to him. He had
felt, nevertheless, that things had gone on as we trust them to do at
the closing of our eyelids: he had preserved a mystical remote faith
in the steady running of the world above, and hugged it as his most
precious treasure. A thunder was rolled in his ears when he heard of
the flight of two months at one bound. Two big months! He would have
guessed, at farthest, two weeks. “I have been two months in one shirt?
Impossible!” he exclaimed. His serious idea (he cherished it for the
support of his reason) was, that the world above had played a mad prank
since he had been shuffled off its stage.

“It can’t be March,” he said. “Is there sunlight overhead?”

“It is a true Milanese March,” Rinaldo replied.

“Why am I kept a prisoner?”

“I cannot say. There must be some idea of making use of you.”

“Have you arms?”

“I have none.”

“You know where they’re to be had.”

“I know, but I would not take them if I could. They, my friend, are for
a better cause.”

“A thousand curses on your country!” cried Wilfrid. “Give me air; give
me freedom, I am stifled; I am eaten up with dirt; I am half dead. Are
we never to have the lamp again?”

“Hear me speak,” Rinaldo stopped his ravings. “I will tell you what
my position is. A second attempt has been made to help Count Ammiani’s
escape; it has failed. He is detained a prisoner by the Government under
the pretence that he is implicated in the slaying of an Austrian noble
by the hands of two brothers, one of whom slew him justly--not as a dog
is slain, but according to every honourable stipulation of the code. I
was the witness of the deed. It is for me that my cousin, Count Ammiani,
droops in prison when he should be with his bride. Let me speak on, I
pray you. I have said that I stand between two lovers. I can release
him, I know well, by giving myself up to the Government. Unless I do so
instantly, he will be removed from Milan to one of their fortresses in
the interior, and there he may cry to the walls and iron-bars for his
trial. They are aware that he is dear to Milan, and these two miserable
attempts have furnished them with their excuse. Barto Rizzo bids me
wait. I have waited: I can wait no longer. The lamp is withheld from me
to stop my writing to my brother, that I may warn him of my design, but
the letter is written; the messenger is on his way to Lugano. I do not
state my intentions before I have taken measures to accomplish them. I
am as much Barto Rizzo’s prisoner now as you are.”

The plague of darkness and thirst for daylight prevented Wilfrid from
having any other sentiment than gladness that a companion equally
unfortunate with himself was here, and equally desirous to go forth.
When Barto’s wife brought their meal, and the lamp to light them eating
it, Rinaldo handed her pen, ink, pencil, paper, all the material
of correspondence; upon which, as one who had received a stipulated
exchange, she let the lamp remain. While the new and thrice-dear rays
were illumining her dark-coloured solid beauty, I know not what touch
of man-like envy or hurt vanity led Wilfrid to observe that the woman’s
eyes dwelt with a singular fulness and softness on Rinaldo. It was
fulness and softness void of fire, a true ox-eyed gaze, but human in the
fall of the eyelids; almost such as an early poet of the brush gave to
the Virgin carrying her Child, to become an everlasting reduplicated
image of a mother’s strong beneficence of love. He called Rinaldo’s
attention to it when the woman had gone. Rinaldo understood his meaning
at once.

“It will have to be so, I fear,” he said; “I have thought of it. But if
I lead her to disobey Barto, there is little hope for the poor soul.” He
rose up straight, like one who would utter grace for meat. “Must we, O
my God, give a sacrifice at every step?”

With that he resumed his seat stiffly, and bent and murmured to himself.
Wilfrid had at one time of his life imagined that he was marked by a
peculiar distinction from the common herd; but contact with this young
man taught him to feel his fellowship to the world at large, and to
rejoice at it, though it partially humbled him.

They had no further visit from Barto Rizzo. The woman tended them in
the same unswerving silence, and at whiles that adorable maternity
of aspect. Wilfrid was touched by commiseration for her. He was too
bitterly fretful on account of clean linen and the liberty which
fluttered the prospect of it, to think much upon what her fate might be:
perhaps a beating, perhaps the knife. But the vileness of wearing one
shirt two months and more had hardened his heart; and though he was
considerate enough not to prompt his companion very impatiently,
he submitted desperate futile schemes to him, and
suggested--“To-night?--tomorrow?--the next day?” Rinaldo did not heed
him. He lay on his couch like one who bleeds inwardly, thinking of the
complacent faithfulness of that poor creature’s face. Barto Rizzo had
sworn to him that there should be a rising in Milan before the month was
out; but he had lost all confidence in Milanese risings. Ammiani would
be removed, if he delayed; and he knew that the moment his letter
reached Lugano, Angelo would start for Milan and claim to surrender in
his stead. The woman came, and went forth, and Rinaldo did not look at
her until his resolve was firm.

He said to Wilfrid in her presence, “Swear that you will reveal nothing
of this house.”

Wilfrid spiritedly pronounced his gladdest oath.

“It is dark in the streets,” Rinaldo addressed the woman. “Lead us out,
for the hour has come when I must go.”

She clutched her hands below her bosom to stop its great heaving, and
stood as one smitten by the sudden hearing of her sentence. The
sight was pitiful, for her face scarcely changed; the anguish was
expressionless. Rinaldo pointed sternly to the door.

“Stay,” Wilfrid interposed. “That wretch may be in the house, and will
kill her.”

“She is not thinking of herself,” said Rinaldo.

“But, stay,” Wilfrid repeated. The woman’s way of taking breath shocked
and enfeebled him.

Rinaldo threw the door open.

“Must you? must you?” her voice broke.

“Waste no words.”

“You have not seen a priest?”

“I go to him.”

“You die.”

“What is death to me? Be dumb, that I may think well of you till my last
moment.”

“What is death tome? Be dumb!”

She had spoken with her eyes fixed on his couch. It was the figure of
one upon the scaffold, knitting her frame to hold up a strangled heart.

“What is death to me? Be dumb!” she echoed him many times on the rise
and fall of her breathing, and turned to get him in her eyes. “Be dumb!
be dumb!” She threw her arms wide out, and pressed his temples and
kissed him.

The scene was like hot iron to Wilfrid’s senses. When he heard her
coolly asking him for his handkerchief to blind him, he had forgotten
the purpose, and gave it mechanically. Nothing was uttered throughout
the long mountings and descent of stairs. They passed across one
corridor where the walls told of a humming assemblage of men within. A
current of keen air was the first salute Wilfrid received from the world
above; his handkerchief was loosened; he stood foolish as a blind man,
weak as a hospital patient, on the steps leading into a small square of
visible darkness, and heard the door shut behind him. Rinaldo led him
from the court to the street.

“Farewell,” he said. “Get some housing instantly; avoid exposure to the
air. I leave you.”

Wilfrid spent his tongue in a fruitless and meaningless remonstrance.
“And you?” he had the grace to ask.

“I go straight to find a priest. Farewell.”

So they parted.



CHAPTER XXX

EPISODES OF THE REVOLT AND THE WAR THE FIVE DAYS OF MILAN

The same hand which brought Rinaldo’s letter to his brother delivered
a message from Barto Rizzo, bidding Angelo to start at once and head a
stout dozen or so of gallant Swiss. The letter and the message appeared
to be grievous contradictions: one was evidently a note of despair,
while the other sang like a trumpet. But both were of a character to
draw him swiftly on to Milan. He sent word to his Lugano friends, naming
a village among the mountains between Como and Varese, that they might
join him there if they pleased.

Toward nightfall, on the nineteenth of the month, he stood with a small
band of Ticinese and Italian fighting lads two miles distant from the
city. There was a momentary break in long hours of rain; the air was
full of inexplicable sounds, that floated over them like a toning of
multitudes wailing and singing fitfully behind a swaying screen. They
bent their heads. At intervals a sovereign stamp on the pulsation of the
uproar said, distinct as a voice in the ear--Cannon. “Milan’s alive!”
 Angelo cried, and they streamed forward under the hurry of stars and
scud, till thumping guns and pattering musket-shots, the long big boom
of surgent hosts, and the muffled voluming and crash of storm-bells,
proclaimed that the insurrection was hot. A rout of peasants bearing
immense ladders met them, and they joined with cheers, and rushed to
the walls. As yet no gate was in the possession of the people. The walls
showed bayonet-points: a thin edge of steel encircled a pit of fire.
Angelo resolved to break through at once. The peasants hesitated, but
his own men were of one mind to follow, and, planting his ladder in the
ditch, he rushed up foremost. The ladder was full short; he called out
in German to a soldier to reach his hand down, and the butt-end of a
musket was dropped, which he grasped, and by this aid sprang to the
parapet, and was seized. “Stop,” he said, “there’s a fellow below with
my brandy-flask and portmanteau.” The soldiers were Italians; they
laughed, and hauled away at man after man of the mounting troop, calling
alternately “brandy-flask!--portmanteau!” as each one raised a head
above the parapet. “The signor has a good supply of spirits and
baggage,” they remarked. He gave them money for porterage, saying, “You
see, the gates are held by that infernal people, and a quiet traveller
must come over the walls. Viva l’Italia! who follows me?” He carried
away three of those present. The remainder swore that they and their
comrades would be on his side on the morrow. Guided by the new accession
to his force, Angelo gained the streets. All shots had ceased; the
streets were lighted with torches and hand-lamps; barricades were
up everywhere, like a convulsion of the earth. Tired of receiving
challenges and mounting the endless piles of stones, he sat down at the
head of the Corso di Porta Nuova, and took refreshments from the hands
of ladies. The house-doors were all open. The ladies came forth bearing
wine and minestra, meat and bread, on trays; and quiet eating and
drinking, and fortifying of the barricades, went on. Men were rubbing
their arms and trying rusty gun-locks. Few of them had not seen Barto
Rizzo that day; but Angelo could get no tidings of his brother. He slept
on a door-step, dreaming that he was blown about among the angels
of heaven and hell by a glorious tempest. Near morning an officer of
volunteers came to inspect the barricade defences. Angelo knew him by
sight; it was Luciano Romara. He explained the position of the opposing
forces. The Marshal, he said, was clearly no street-fighter. Estimating
the army under his orders in Milan at from ten to eleven thousand men of
all arms, it was impossible for him to guard the gates and then walls,
and at the same time fight the city. Nor could he provision his troops.
Yesterday the troops had made one: charge and done mischief, but they
had immediately retired. “And if they take to cannonading us to-day,
we shall know what that means,” Romara concluded. Angelo wanted to join
him. “No, stay here,” said Romara. “I think you are a man who won’t give
ground.” He had not seen either Rinaldo or Ammiani, but spoke of both as
certain to be rescued.

Rain and cannon filled the weary space of that day. Some of the
barricades fronting the city gates had been battered down by nightfall;
they were restored within an hour. Their defenders entered the houses
right and left during the cannonade, waiting to meet the charge; but the
Austrians held off. “They have no plan,” Romara said on his second visit
of inspection; “they are waiting on Fortune, and starve meanwhile. We
can beat them at that business.”

Romara took Angelo and his Swiss away with him. The interior of the
city was abandoned by the Imperialists, who held two or three of the
principal buildings and the square of the Duomo. Clouds were driving
thick across the cold-gleaming sky when the storm-bells burst out
with the wild Jubilee-music of insurrection--a carol, a jangle of all
discord, savage as flame. Every church of the city lent its iron tongue
to the peal; and now they joined and now rolled apart, now joined
again and clanged like souls shrieking across the black gulfs of an
earthquake; they swam aloft with mournful delirium, tumbled together,
were scattered in spray, dissolved, renewed, died, as a last worn
wave casts itself on an unfooted shore, and rang again as through rent
doorways, became a clamorous host, an iron body, a pressure as of a
down-drawn firmament, and once more a hollow vast, as if the abysses of
the Circles were sounded through and through. To the Milanese it was an
intoxication; it was the howling of madness to the Austrians--a torment
and a terror: they could neither sing, nor laugh, nor talk under
it. Where they stood in the city, the troops could barely hear their
officers’ call of command. No sooner had the bells broken out than the
length of every street and Corso flashed with the tri-coloured flag;
musket-muzzles peeped from the windows; men with great squares of
pavement lined the roofs. Romara mounted a stiff barricade and beheld a
scattered regiment running the gauntlet of storms of shot and missiles,
in full retreat upon the citadel. On they came, officers in front for
the charge, as usual with the Austrians; fire on both flanks, a furious
mob at their heels, and the barricade before them. They rushed at
Romara, and were hurled back, and stood in a riddled lump. Suddenly
Romara knocked up the rifles of the couching Swiss; he yelled to the
houses to stop firing. “Surrender your prisoners,--you shall pass,” he
called. He had seen one dear head in the knot of the soldiery. No
answer was given. Romara, with Angelo and his Swiss and the ranks of the
barricade, poured over and pierced the streaming mass, steel for steel.

“Ammiani! Ammiani!” Romara cried; a roar from the other side, “Barto!
Barto! the Great Cat!” met the cry. The Austrians struck up a cheer
under the iron derision of the bells; it was ludicrous, it was as if a
door had slammed on their mouths, ringing tremendous echoes in a vaulted
roof. They stood sweeping fire in two oblong lines; a show of military
array was preserved like a tattered robe, till Romara drove at their
centre and left the retreat clear across the barricade. Then the
whitecoats were seen flowing over, the motley surging hosts from the
city in pursuit--foam of a storm-torrent hurled forward by the black
tumult of precipitous waters. Angelo fell on his brother’s neck; Romara
clasped Carlo Ammiani. These two were being marched from the prison to
the citadel when Barto Rizzo, who had prepared to storm the building,
assailed the troops. To him mainly they were indebted for their rescue.

Even in that ecstasy of meeting, the young men smiled at the
preternatural transport on his features as he bounded by them, mad for
slaughter, and mounting a small brass gun on the barricade, sent the
charges of shot into the rear of the enemy. He kissed the black lip of
his little thunderer in, a rapture of passion; called it his wife, his
naked wife; the best of mistresses, who spoke only when he charged her
to speak; raved that she was fair, and liked hugging; that she was true,
and the handsomest daughter of Italy; that she would be the mother
of big ones--none better than herself, though they were mountains of
sulphur big enough to make one gulp of an army.

His wife in the flesh stood at his feet with a hand-grenade and a rifle,
daggers and pistols in her belt. Her face was black with powder-smoke as
the muzzle of the gun. She looked at Rinaldo once, and Rinaldo at her;
both dropped their eyes, for their joy at seeing one another alive was
mighty.

Dead Austrians were gathered in a heap. Dead and wounded Milanese were
taken into the houses. Wine was brought forth by ladies and household
women. An old crutched beggar, who had performed a deed of singular
intrepidity in himself kindling a fire at the door of one of the
principal buildings besieged by the people, and who showed perforated
rags with a comical ejaculation of thanks to the Austrians for knowing
how to hit a scarecrow and make a beggar holy, was the object of
particular attention. Barto seated him on his gun, saying that his
mistress and beauty was honoured; ladies were proud in waiting on the
fine frowzy old man. It chanced during that morning that Wilfrid Pierson
had attached himself to Lieutenant Jenna’s regiment as a volunteer. He
had no arms, nothing but a huge white umbrella, under which he walked
dry in the heavy rain, and passed through the fire like an impassive
spectator of queer events. Angelo’s Swiss had captured them, and the mob
were maltreating them because they declined to shout for this valorous
ancient beggarman. “No doubt he’s a capital fellow,” said Jenna;
“but ‘Viva Scottocorni’ is not my language;” and the spirited little
subaltern repeated his “Excuse me,” with very good temper, while one
knocked off his shako, another tugged at his coat-skirts. Wilfrid sang
out to the Guidascarpi, and the brothers sprang to him and set them
free; but the mob, like any other wild beast gorged with blood, wanted
play, and urged Barto to insist that these victims should shout the viva
in exaltation of their hero.

“Is there a finer voice than mine?” said Barto, and he roared the ‘viva’
like a melodious bull. Yet Wilfrid saw that he had been recognized. In
the hour of triumph Barto Rizzo had no lust for petty vengeance. The
magnanimous devil plumped his gorge contentedly on victory. His ardour
blazed from his swarthy crimson features like a blown fire, when scouts
came running down with word that all about the Porta Camosina, Madonna
del Carmine, and the Gardens, the Austrians were reaping the white flag
of the inhabitants of that district. Thitherward his cry of “Down with
the Tedeschi!” led the boiling tide. Rinaldo drew Wilfrid and Jenna to
an open doorway, counselling the latter to strip the gold from his coat
and speak his Italian in monosyllables. A woman of the house gave her
promise to shelter and to pass them forward. Romara, Ammiani, and the
Guidascarpi, went straight to the Casa Gonfalonieri, where they hoped
to see stray members of the Council of War, and hear a correction of
certain unpleasant rumours concerning the dealings of the Provisional
Government with Charles Albert.

The first crack of a division between the patriot force and the
aristocracy commenced this day; the day following it was a breach.

A little before dusk the bells of the city ceased their hammering, and
when they ceased, all noises of men and musketry seemed childish. The
woman who had promised to lead Wilfrid and Jenna to the citadel, feared
no longer either for herself or them, and passed them on up the Corso
Francesco past the Contrada del Monte. Jenna pointed out the Duchess of
Graatli’s house, saying, “By the way, the Lenkensteins are here; they
left Venice last week. Of course you know, or don’t you?--and there they
must stop, I suppose.” Wilfrid nodded an immediate good-bye to him, and
crossed to the house-door. His eccentric fashion of acting had given him
fame in the army, but Jenna stormed at it now, and begged him to come
on and present himself to General Schoneck, if not to General Pierson.
Wilfrid refused even to look behind him. In fact, it was a part of the
gallant fellow’s coxcombry (or nationality) to play the Englishman. He
remained fixed by the housedoor till midnight, when a body of men in the
garb of citizens, volubly and violently Italian in their talk, struck
thrice at the door. Wilfrid perceived Count Lenkenstein among them.
The ladies Bianca, Anna, and Lena issued mantled and hooded between the
lights of two barricade watchfires. Wilfrid stepped after them. They
had the password, for the barricades were crossed. The captain of
the head-barricade in the Corso demurred, requiring a counter-sign.
Straightway he was cut down. He blew an alarm-call, when up sprang a
hundred torches. The band of Germans dashed at the barricade as at the
tusks of a boar. They were picked men, most of them officers, but a
scanty number in the thick of an armed populace. Wilfrid saw the lighted
passage into the great house, and thither, throwing out his arms, he
bore the affrighted group of ladies, as a careful shepherd might do.
Returning to Count Lenkenstein’s side, “Where are they?” the count
said, in mortal dread. “Safe,” Wilfrid replied. The count frowned at him
inquisitively. “Cut your way through, and on!” he cried to three or four
who hung near him; and these went to the slaughter.

“Why do you stand by me, sir?” said the count. Interior barricades were
pouring their combatants to the spot; Count Lenkenstein was plunged upon
the door-steps. Wilfrid gained half-a-minute’s parley by shouting in his
foreign accent, “Would you hurt an Englishman?” Some one took him by the
arm, and helping to raise the count, hurried them both into the house.

“You must make excuses for popular fury in times like these,” the
stranger observed.

The Austrian nobleman asked him stiffly for his name. The name of Count
Ammiani was given. “I think you know it,” Carlo added.

“You escaped from your lawful imprisonment this day, did you not?--you
and your cousin, the assassin. I talk of law! I might as justly talk of
honour. Who lives here?” Carlo contained himself to answer, “The present
occupant is, I believe, if I have hit the house I was seeking, the
Countess d’Isorella.”

“My family were placed here, sir?” Count Lenkenstein inquired of
Wilfrid. But Wilfrid’s attention was frozen by the sight of Vittoria’s
lover. A wifely call of “Adalbert” from above quieted the count’s
anxiety.

“Countess d’Isorella,” he said. “I know that woman. She belongs to the
secret cabinet of Carlo Alberto--a woman with three edges. Did she not
visit you in prison two weeks ago? I speak to you, Count Ammiani. She
applied to the Archduke and the Marshal for permission to visit you.
It was accorded. To the devil with our days of benignity! She was from
Turin. The shuffle has made her my hostess for the nonce. I will go to
her. You, sir,” the count turned to Wilfrid--“you will stay below. Are
you in the pay of the insurgents?”

Wilfrid, the weakest of human beings where women were involved with him,
did one of the hardest things which can task a young man’s fortitude: he
looked his superior in the face, and neither blenched, nor frowned, nor
spoke.

Ammiani spoke for him. “There is no pay given in our ranks.”

“The licence to rob is supposed to be an equivalent,” said the count.

Countess d’Isorella herself came downstairs, with profuse apologies for
the absence of all her male domestics, and many delicate dimples about
her mouth in uttering them. Her look at Ammiani struck Wilfrid as having
a peculiar burden either of meaning or of passion in it. The count
grimaced angrily when he heard that his sister Lena was not yet able to
bear the fatigue of a walk to the citadel. “I fear you must all be my
guests, for an hour at least,” said the countess.

Wilfrid was left pacing the hall. He thought he had never beheld so
splendid a person, or one so subjugatingly gracious. Her speech and
manner poured oil on the uncivil Austrian nobleman. What perchance had
stricken Lena?

He guessed; and guessed it rightly. A folded scrap of paper signed by
the Countess of Lenkenstein was brought to him.

It said:--“Are you making common cause with the rebels? Reply. One asks
who should be told.”

He wrote:--“I am an outcast of the army. I fight as a volunteer with the
K. K. troops. Could I abandon them in their peril?”

The touch of sentiment he appended for Lena’s comfort. He was too
strongly impressed by the new vision of beauty in the house for his
imagination to be flushed by the romantic posture of his devotion to a
trailing flag.

No other message was delivered. Ammiani presently descended and obtained
a guard from the barricade; word was sent on to the barricades in
advance toward the citadel. Wilfrid stood aside as Count Lenkenstein led
the ladies to the door, bearing Lena on his arm. She passed her lover
veiled. The count said, “You follow.” He used the menial second person
plural of German, and repeated it peremptorily.

“I follow no civilian,” said Wilfrid.

“Remember, sir, that if you are seen with arms in your hands, and are
not in the ranks, you run the chances of being hanged.”

Lena broke loose from her brother; in spite of Anna’s sharp remonstrance
and the count’s vexed stamp of the foot, she implored her lover:--“Come
with us; pardon us; protect me--me! You shall not be treated harshly.
They shall not Oh! be near me. I have been ill; I shrink from danger. Be
near me!”

Such humble pleading permitted Wilfrid’s sore spirit to succumb with the
requisite show of chivalrous dignity. He bowed, and gravely opened his
enormous umbrella, which he held up over the heads of the ladies, while
Ammiani led the way. All was quiet near the citadel. A fog of plashing
rain hung in red gloom about the many watchfires of the insurgents, but
the Austrian head-quarters lay sombre and still. Close at the gates,
Ammiani saluted the ladies. Wilfrid did the same, and heard Lena’s call
to him unmoved.

“May I dare to hint to you that it would be better for you to join your
party?” said Ammiani.

Wilfrid walked on. After appearing to weigh the matter, he answered,
“The umbrella will be of no further service to them to-night.”

Ammiani laughed, and begged to be forgiven; but he could have done
nothing more flattering.

Sore at all points, tricked and ruined, irascible under the sense of his
injuries, hating everybody and not honouring himself, Wilfrid was fast
growing to be an eccentric by profession. To appear cool and careless
was the great effort of his mind.

“We were introduced one day in the Piazza d’Armi,” said Ammiani. “I
would have found means to convey my apologies to you for my behaviour
on that occasion, but I have been at the mercy of my enemies. Lieutenant
Pierson, will you pardon me? I have learnt how dear you and your family
should be to me. Pray, accept my excuses and my counsel. The Countess
Lena was my friend when I was a boy. She is in deep distress.”

“I thank you, Count Ammiani, for your extremely disinterested advice,”
 said Wilfrid; but the Italian was not cut to the quick by his irony; and
he added: “I have hoisted, you perceive, the white umbrella instead of
wearing the white coat. It is almost as good as an hotel in these times;
it gives as much shelter and nearly as much provision, and, I may say,
better attendance. Good-night. You will be at it again about daylight, I
suppose?”

“Possibly a little before,” said Ammiani, cooled by the false ring of
this kind of speech.

“It’s useless to expect that your infernal bells will not burst out like
all the lunatics on earth?”

“Quite useless, I fear. Good-night.”

Ammiani charged one of the men at an outer barricade to follow the white
umbrella and pass it on.

He returned to the Countess d’Isorella, who was awaiting him, and alone.

This glorious head had aroused his first boyish passion. Scandal was
busy concerning the two, when Violetta d’Asola, the youthfullest widow
in Lombardy and the loveliest woman, gave her hand to Count d’Isorella,
who took it without question of the boy Ammiani. Carlo’s mother assisted
in that arrangement; a maternal plot, for which he could thank her only
after he had seen Vittoria, and then had heard the buzz of whispers
at Violetta’s name. Countess d’Isorella proved her friendship to have
survived the old passion, by travelling expressly from Turin to obtain
leave to visit him in prison. It was a marvellous face to look upon
between prison walls. Rescued while the soldiers were marching him to
the citadel that day, he was called by pure duty to pay his respects to
the countess as soon as he had heard from his mother that she was in
the city. Nor was his mother sorry that he should go. She had patiently
submitted to the fact of his betrothal to Vittoria, which was his
safeguard in similar perils; and she rather hoped for Violetta to wean
him from his extreme republicanism. By arguments? By influence, perhaps.
Carlo’s republicanism was preternatural in her sight, and she presumed
that Violetta would talk to him discreetly and persuasively of the noble
designs of the king.

Violetta d’Isorella received him with a gracious lifting of her fingers
to his lips; congratulating him on his escape, and on the good fortune
of the day. She laughed at the Lenkensteins and the singular Englishman;
sat down to a little supper-tray, and pouted humorously as she asked him
to feed on confects and wine; the huge appetites of the insurgents had
devoured all her meat and bread.

“Why are you here?” he said.

She did well in replying boldly, “For the king.”

“Would you tell another that it is for the king?”

“Would I speak to another as I speak to you?”

Ammiani inclined his head.

They spoke of the prospects of the insurrection, of the expected
outbreak in Venice, the eruption of Paris and Vienna, and the new life
of Italy; touching on Carlo Alberto to explode the truce in a laughing
dissension. At last she said seriously, “I am a born Venetian, you know;
I am not Piedmontese. Let me be sure that the king betrays the country,
and I will prefer many heads to one. Excuse me if I am more womanly just
at present. The king has sent his accredited messenger Tartini to the
Provisional Government, requesting it to accept his authority. Why not?
why not? on both sides. Count Medole gives his adhesion to the king, but
you have a Council of War that rejects the king’s overtures--a revolt
within a revolt.

“It is deplorable. You must have an army. The Piedmontese once over the
Ticino, how can you act in opposition to it? You must learn to take a
master. The king is only, or he appears, tricksy because you compel him
to wind and counterplot. I swear to you, Italy is his foremost thought.
The Star of Italy sits on the Cross of Savoy.”

Ammiani kept his eyelids modestly down. “Ten thousand to plead for him,
such as you!” he said. “But there is only one!”

“If you had been headstrong once upon a time, and I had been weak, you
see, my Carlo, you would have been a domestic tyrant, I a rebel. You
will not admit the existence of a virtue in an opposite opinion. Wise
was your mother when she said ‘No’ to a wilful boy!”

Violetta lit her cigarette and puffed the smoke lightly.

“I told you in that horrid dungeon, my Carlo Amaranto--I call you by
the old name--the old name is sweet!--I told you that your Vittoria is
enamoured of the king. She blushes like a battle-flag for the king. I
have heard her ‘Viva il Re!’ It was musical.”

“So I should have thought.”

“Ay, but my amaranto-innamorato, does it not foretell strife? Would
you ever--ever take a heart with a king’s head stamped on it into your
arms?”

“Give me the chance!”

He was guilty of this ardent piece of innocence though Violetta had
pitched her voice in the key significant of a secret thing belonging to
two memories that had not always flowed dividedly.

“Like a common coin?” she resumed.

“A heart with a king’s head stamped on it like a common coin.”

He recollected the sentence. He had once, during the heat of his grief
for Giacomo Piaveni, cast it in her teeth.

Violetta repeated it, as to herself, tonelessly; a method of making an
old unkindness strike back on its author with effect.

“Did we part good friends? I forget,” she broke the silence.

“We meet, and we will be the best of friends,” said Ammiani.

“Tell your mother I am not three years older than her son,--I am thirty.
Who will make me young again? Tell her, my Carlo, that the genius for
intrigue, of which she accuses me, develops at a surprising rate. As
regards my beauty,” the countess put a tooth of pearl on her soft under
lip.

Ammiani assured her that he would find words of his own for her beauty.

“I hear the eulogy, I know the sonnet,” said Violetta, smiling, and
described the points of a brunette: the thick black banded hair,
the full brown eyes, the plastic brows couching over them;--it was
Vittoria’s face: Violetta was a flower of colour, fair, with but one
shade of dark tinting on her brown eye-brows and eye-lashes, as you
may see a strip of night-cloud cross the forehead of morning. She was
yellow-haired, almost purple-eyed, so rich was the blue of the pupils.
Vittoria could be sallow in despondency; but this Violetta never failed
in plumpness and freshness. The pencil which had given her aspect the
one touch of discord, endowed it with a subtle harmony, like mystery;
and Ammiani remembered his having stood once on the Lido of Venice, and
eyed the dawn across the Adriatic, and dreamed that Violetta was born of
the loveliness and held in her bosom the hopes of morning. He dreamed of
it now, feeling the smooth roll of a torrent.

A cry of “Arms!” rang down the length of the Corso.

He started to his feet thankfully.

“Take me to your mother,” she said. “I loathe to hear firing and be
alone.”

Ammiani threw up the window. There was a stir of lamps and torches
below, and the low sky hung red. Violetta stood quickly thick-shod and
hooded.

“Your mother will admit my companionship, Carlo?”

“She desires to thank you.”

“She has no longer any fear of me?”

“You will find her of one mind with you.”

“Concerning the king!”

“I would say, on most subjects.”

“But that you do not know my mind! You are modest. Confess that you are
thinking the hour you have passed with me has been wasted.”

“I am, now I hear the call to arms.”

“If I had all the while entertained you with talk of your Vittoria! It
would not have been wasted then, my amaranto. It is not wasted for me.
If a shot should strike you--”

“Tell her I died loving her with all my soul!” cried Ammiani.

Violetta’s frame quivered as if he had smitten her.

They left the house. Countess Ammiani’s door was the length of a
barricade distant: it swung open to them, like all the other house-doors
which were, or wished to be esteemed, true to the cause, and hospitable
toward patriots.

“Remember, when you need a refuge, my villa is on Lago Maggiore,”
 Violetta said, and kissed her finger-tips to him.

An hour after, by the light of this unlucky little speech, he thought
of her as a shameless coquette. “When I need a refuge? Is not Milan
in arms?--Italy alive? She considers it all a passing epidemic; or,
perhaps, she is to plead for me to the king!”

That set him thinking moodily over the things she had uttered of
Vittoria’s strange and sudden devotion to the king.

Rainy dawn and the tongues of the churches ushered in the last day of
street fighting. Ammiani found Romara and Colonel Corte at the head of
strong bodies of volunteers, well-armed, ready to march for the Porta
‘rosa. All three went straight to the house where the Provisional
Government sat, and sword in hand denounced Count Medole as a traitor
who sold his country to the king. Corte dragged him to the window to
hear the shouts for the Republic. Medole wrote their names down one by
one, and said, “Shall I leave the date vacant?” They put themselves
at the head of their men, and marched in the ringing of the bells. The
bells were their sacro-military music. Barto Rizzo was off to make a
spring at the Porta Ticinese. Students, peasants, noble youths of the
best blood, old men and young women, stood ranged in the drenching rain,
eager to face death for freedom. At mid-day the bells were answered by
cannon and the blunt snap of musketry volleys; dull, savage responses,
as of a wounded great beast giving short howls and snarls by the
interminable over-roaring of a cataract. Messengers from the gates came
running to the quiet centre of the city, where cool men discoursed and
plotted. Great news, big lies, were shouted:--Carlo Alberto thundered
in the plains; the Austrians were everywhere retiring; the Marshal was
a prisoner; the flag of surrender was on the citadel! These things were
for the ears of thirsty women, diplomatists, and cripples.

Countess Ammiani and Countess d’Isorella sat together throughout the
agitation of the day.

The life prayed for by one seemed a wisp of straw flung on this humming
furnace.

Countess Ammiani was too well used to defeat to believe readily in
victory, and had shrouded her head in resignation too long to hope for
what she craved. Her hands were joined softly in her lap. Her visage had
the same unmoved expression when she conversed with Violetta as when she
listened to the ravings of the Corso.

Darkness came, and the bells ceased not rolling by her open windows: the
clouds were like mists of conflagration.

She would not have the windows closed. The noise of the city had become
familiar and akin to the image of her boy. She sat there cloaked.

Her heart went like a time-piece to the two interrogations to heaven:
“Alive?--or dead?”

The voice of Luciano Romara was that of an angel’s answering. He entered
the room neat and trim as a cavalier dressed for social evening duty,
saying with his fine tact, “We are all well;” and after talking like
a gazette of the Porta Tosa taken by the volunteers, Barto Rizzo’s
occupation of the gate opening on the Ticino, and the bursting of the
Porta Camosina by the freebands of the plains, he handed a letter to
Countess Ammiani.

“Carlo is on the march to Bergamo and Brescia, with Corte, Sana, and
about fifty of our men,” he said.

“And is wounded--where?” asked Violetta.

“Slightly in the hand--you see, he can march,” Romara said, laughing
at her promptness to suspect a subterfuge, until he thought, “Now, what
does this mean, madam?”

A lamp was brought to Countess Ammiani. She read:

   “MY MOTHER!

   “Cotton-wool on the left fore-finger. They deigned to give me no
   other memorial of my first fight. I am not worthy of papa’s two
   bullets. I march with Corte and Sana to Brescia. We keep the
   passes of the Tyrol. Luciano heads five hundred up to the hills
   to-morrow or next day. He must have all our money. Then go from
   door to door and beg subscriptions. Yes, my Chief! it is to be
   like God, and deserving of his gifts to lay down all pride, all
   wealth. This night send to my betrothed in Turin. She must be with
   no one but my mother. It is my command. Tell her so. I hold
   imperatively to it.

   “I breathe the best air of life. Luciano is a fine leader in
   action, calm as in a ball-room. What did I feel? I will talk of it
   with you by-and-by;--my father whispered in my ears; I felt him at
   my right hand. He said, ‘I died for this day.’ I feel now that I
   must have seen him. This is imagination. We may say that anything
   is imagination. I certainly heard his voice. Be of good heart, my
   mother, for I can swear that the General wakes up when I strike
   Austrian steel. He loved Brescia; so I go there. God preserve my
   mother! The eyes of heaven are wide enough to see us both.
   Vittoria by your side, remember! It is my will.

                       “CARLO.”

Countess Ammiani closed her eyes over the letter, as in a dead sleep.
“He is more his father than himself, and so suddenly!” she said. She
was tearless. Violetta helped her to her bed-room under the pretext of a
desire to hear the contents of the letter.

That night, which ended the five days of battle in Milan, while fires
were raging at many gates, bells were rolling over the roof-tops,
the army of Austria coiled along the North-eastern walls of the city,
through rain and thick obscurity, and wove its way like a vast worm into
the outer land.



CHAPTER XXXI

EPISODES OF THE REVOLT AND THE WAR VITTORIA DISOBEYS HER LOVER

Countess d’Isorella’s peculiar mission to Milan was over with the
victory of the city. She undertook personally to deliver Carlo’s
injunction to Vittoria on her way to the king. Countess Ammiani deemed
it sufficient that her son’s wishes should be repeated verbally; and
as there appeared to be no better messenger than one who was bound for
Turin and knew Vittoria’s place of residence, she entrusted the duty to
Violetta.

The much which hangs on little was then set in motion:

Violetta was crossing the Ticino when she met a Milanese nobleman who
had received cold greeting from the king, and was returning to Milan
with word that the Piedmontese declaration of war against Austria had
been signed. She went back to Milan, saw and heard, and gathered
a burden for the royal ears. This was a woman, tender only to the
recollection of past days, who used her beauty and her arts as weapons
for influence. She liked kings because she saw neither master nor dupe
in a republic; she liked her early lover because she could see nothing
but a victim in any new one. She was fond of Carlo, as greatly occupied
minds may be attached to an old garden where they have aforetime sown
fair seed. Jealousy of a rival in love that was disconnected with
political business and her large expenditure, had never yet disturbed
the lady’s nerves.

At Turin she found Vittoria singing at the opera, and winning marked
applause from the royal box. She thought sincerely that to tear a prima
donna from her glory would be very much like dismissing a successful
General to his home and gabbling family. A most eminent personage agreed
with her. Vittoria was carelessly informed that Count Ammiani had gone
to Brescia, and having regard for her safety, desired her to go to Milan
to be under the protection of his mother, and that Countess Ammiani was
willing to receive her.

Now, with her mother, and her maid Giacinta, and Beppo gathered about
her, for three weeks Vittoria had been in full operatic career, working,
winning fame, believing that she was winning influence, and establishing
a treasury. The presence of her lover in Milan would have called her
to the noble city; but he being at Brescia, she asked herself why she
should abstain from labours which contributed materially to the strength
of the revolution and made her helpful. It was doubtful whether Countess
Ammiani would permit her to sing at La Scala; or whether the city could
support an opera in the throes of war. And Vittoria was sending money
to Milan. The stipend paid to her by the impresario, the jewels, the
big bouquets--all flowed into the treasury of the insurrection.
Antonio-Pericles advanced her a large sum on the day when the news of
the Milanese uprising reached Turin: the conditions of the loan had
simply been that she should continue her engagement to sing in Turin.
He was perfectly slavish to her, and might be trusted to advance more.
Since the great night at La Scala, she had been often depressed by a
secret feeling that there was divorce between her love of her country
and devotion to her Art. Now that both passions were in union, both
active, each aiding the fire of the other, she lived a consummate life.
She could not have abandoned her path instantly though Carlo had
spoken his command to her in person. Such were her first spontaneous
seasonings, and Laura Piaveni seconded them; saying, “Money, money! we
must be Jews for money. We women are not allowed to fight, but we can
manage to contribute our lire and soldi; we can forge the sinews of
war.”

Vittoria wrote respectfully to Countess Ammiani stating why she declined
to leave Turin. The letter was poorly worded. While writing it she had
been taken by a sentiment of guilt and of isolation in presuming to
disobey her lover. “I am glad he will not see it,” she remarked to
Laura, who looked rapidly across the lines, and said nothing. Praise
of the king was in the last sentence. Laura’s eyes lingered on it
half-a-minute.

“Has he not drawn his sword? He is going to march,” said Vittoria.

“Oh, yes,” Laura replied coolly; “but you put that to please Countess
Ammiani.”

Vittoria confessed she had not written it purposely to defend the king.
“What harm?” she asked.

“None. Only this playing with shades allows men to call us hypocrites.”

The observation angered Vittoria. She had seen the king of late; she had
breathed Turin incense and its atmosphere; much that could be pleaded
on the king’s behalf she had listened to with the sympathetic pity which
can be woman’s best judgement, and is the sentiment of reason. She had
also brooded over the king’s character, and had thought that if the
Chief could have her opportunities for studying this little impressible,
yet strangely impulsive royal nature, his severe condemnation of him
would be tempered. In fact, she was doing what makes a woman excessively
tender and opinionated; she was petting her idea of the misunderstood
one: she was thinking that she divined the king’s character by mystical
intuition; I will dare to say, maternally apprehended it. And it was
a character strangely open to feminine perceptions, while to masculine
comprehension it remained a dead blank, done either in black or in
white.

Vittoria insisted on praising the king to Laura.

“With all my heart,” Laura said, “so long as he is true to Italy.”

“How, then, am I hypocritical?”

“My Sandra, you are certainly perverse. You admitted that you did
something for the sake of pleasing Countess Ammiani.”

“I did. But to be hypocritical one must be false.”

“Oh!” went Laura.

“And I write to Carlo. He does not care for the king; therefore it is
needless for me to name the king to him; and I shall not.”

Laura said, “Very well.” She saw a little deeper than the perversity,
though she did not see the springs. In Vittoria’s letter to her lover,
she made no allusion to the Sword of Italy.

Countess Ammiani forwarded both letters on to Brescia.

When Carlo had finished reading them, he heard all Brescia clamouring
indignantly at the king for having disarmed volunteers on Lago Maggiore
and elsewhere in his dominions. Milan was sending word by every post of
the overbearing arrogance of the Piedmontese officers and officials, who
claimed a prostrate submission from a city fresh with the ardour of the
glory it had won for itself, and that would fain have welcomed them as
brothers. Romara and others wrote of downright visible betrayal. It was
a time of passions;--great readiness for generosity, equal promptitude
for undiscriminating hatred. Carlo read Vittoria’s praise of the king
with insufferable anguish. “You--you part of me, can write like this!”
 he struck the paper vehemently. The fury of action transformed the
gentle youth. Countess Ammiani would not have forwarded the letter
addressed to herself had she dreamed the mischief it might do. Carlo
saw double-dealing in the absence of any mention of the king in his own
letter.

   “Quit Turin at once,” he dashed hasty lines to Vittoria; “and no
   ‘Viva il Re’ till we know what he may merit. Old delusions are
   pardonable; but you must now look abroad with your eyes. Your words
   should be the echoes of my soul. Your acts are mine. For the sake
   of the country, do nothing to fill me with shame. The king is a
   traitor. I remember things said of him by Agostino; I subscribe to
   them every one. Were you like any other Italian girl, you might cry
   for him--who would care! But you are Vittoria. Fly to my mother’s
   arms, and there rest. The king betrays us. Is a stronger word
   necessary? I am writing too harshly to you;--and here are the lines
   of your beloved letter throbbing round me while I write; but till
   the last shot is fired I try to be iron, and would hold your hand
   and not kiss it--not be mad to fall between your arms--not wish for
   you--not think of you as a woman, as my beloved, as my Vittoria; I
   hope and pray not, if I thought there was an ace of work left to do
   for the country. Or if one could say that you cherished a shred of
   loyalty for him who betrays it. Great heaven! am I to imagine that
   royal flatteries--My hand is not my own! You shall see all that
   it writes. I will seem to you no better than I am. I do not tell
   you to be a Republican, but an Italian. If I had room for myself in
   my prayers--oh! one half-instant to look on you, though with chains
   on my limbs. The sky and the solid ground break up when I think of
   you. I fancy I am still in prison. Angelo was music to me for two
   whole days (without a morning to the first and a night to the
   second). He will be here to-morrow and talk of you again. I long
   for him more than for battle--almost long for you more than for
   victory for our Italy.

   “This is Brescia, which my father said he loved better than his
   wife.

   “General Paolo Ammiani is buried here. I was at his tombstone this
   morning. I wish you had known him.

   “You remember, we talked of his fencing with me daily. ‘I love the
   fathers who do that.’ You said it. He will love you. Death is the
   shadow--not life. I went to his tomb. It was more to think of
   Brescia than of him. Ashes are only ashes; tombs are poor places.
   My soul is the power.

   “If I saw the Monte Viso this morning, I saw right over your head
   when you were sleeping.

   “Farewell to journalism--I hope, for ever. I jump at shaking off
   the journalistic phraseology Agostino laughs at. Yet I was right in
   printing my ‘young nonsense.’ I did, hold the truth, and that was
   felt, though my vehicle for delivering it was rubbish.

   “In two days Corte promises to sing his song, ‘Avanti.’ I am at his
   left hand. Venice, the passes of the Adige, the Adda, the Oglio are
   ours. The room is locked; we have only to exterminate the reptiles
   inside it. Romara, D’Arci, Carnischi march to hold the doors.
   Corte will push lower; and if I can get him to enter the plains and
   join the main army I shall rejoice.”

The letter concluded with a postscript that half an Italian regiment,
with white coats swinging on their bayonet-points, had just come in.

It reached Vittoria at a critical moment.

Two days previously, she and Laura Piaveni had talked with the king.
It was an unexpected honour. Countess, d’Isorella conducted them to
the palace. The lean-headed sovereign sat booted and spurred, his
sword across his knees; he spoke with a peculiar sad hopefulness of the
prospects of the campaign, making it clear that he was risking more than
anyone risked, for his stake was a crown. The few words he uttered of
Italy had a golden ring in them; Vittoria knew not why they had it. He
condemned the Republican spirit of Milan more regretfully than severely.
The Republicans were, he said, impracticable. Beyond the desire for
change, they knew not what they wanted. He did not state that he should
avoid Milan in his march. On the contrary, he seemed to indicate that he
was about to present himself to the people of Milan. “To act against the
enemy successfully, we must act as one, under one head, with one aim.”
 He said this, adding that no heart in Italy had yearned more than his
own for the signal to march for the Mincio and the Adige.

Vittoria determined to put him to one test. She summoned her boldness to
crave grace for Agostino Balderini to return to Piedmont. The petition
was immediately granted. Alluding to the libretto of Camilla, the king
complimented Vittoria for her high courage on the night of the Fifteenth
of the foregoing year. “We in Turin were prepared, though we had only
then the pleasure of hearing of you,” he said.

“I strove to do my best to help. I wish to serve our cause now,” she
replied, feeling an inexplicable new sweetness running in her blood.

He asked her if she did not know that she had the power to move
multitudes.

“Sire, singing appears so poor a thing in time of war.”

He remarked that wine was good for soldiers, singing better, such a
voice as hers best of all.

For hours after the interview, Vittoria struggled with her deep blushes.
She heard the drums of the regiments, the clatter of horses, the
bugle-call of assembly, as so many confirmatory notes that it was a
royal hero who was going forth.

“He stakes a crown,” she said to Laura.

“Tusk! it tumbles off his head if he refuses to venture something,” was
Laura’s response.

Vittoria reproached her for injustice.

“No,” Laura said; “he is like a young man for whom his mother has made a
match. And he would be very much in love with his bride if he were quite
certain of winning her, or rather, if she would come a little more than
halfway to meet him. Some young men are so composed. Genoa and Turin
say, ‘Go and try.’ Milan and Venice say, ‘Come and have faith in us.’ My
opinion is that he is quite as much propelled as attracted.”

“This is shameful,” said Vittoria.

“No; for I am quite willing to suspend my judgement. I pray that fortune
may bless his arms. I do think that the stir of a campaign, and a
certain amount of success will make him in earnest.”

“Can you look on his face and not see pure enthusiasm?”

“I see every feminine quality in it, my dear.”

“What can it be that he is wanting in?”

“Masculine ambition.”

“I am not defending him,” said Vittoria hastily.

“Not at all; and I am not attacking him. I can excuse his dread of
Republicanism. I can fancy that there is reason for him just now to
fear Republicanism worse than Austria. Paris and Milan are two grisly
phantoms before him. These red spectres are born of earthquake, and are
more given to shaking thrones than are hostile cannonshot. Earthquakes
are dreadfuller than common maladies to all of us. Fortune may help
him, but he has not the look of one who commands her. The face is not
aquiline. There’s a light over him like the ray of a sickly star.”

“For that reason!” Vittoria burst out.

“Oh, for that reason we pity men, assuredly, my Sandra, but not kings.
Luckless kings are not generous men, and ungenerous men are mischievous
kings.”

“But if you find him chivalrous and devoted; if he proves his noble
intentions, why not support him?”

“Dandle a puppet, by all means,” said Laura.

Her intellect, not her heart, was harsh to the king; and her heart was
not mistress of her intellect in this respect, because she beheld riding
forth at the head of Italy one whose spirit was too much after the
pattern of her supple, springing, cowering, impressionable sex,
alternately ardent and abject, chivalrous and treacherous, and not to be
confided in firmly when standing at the head of a great cause.

Aware that she was reading him very strictly by the letters of his past
deeds, which were not plain history to Vittoria, she declared that she
did not countenance suspicion in dealing with the king, and that
it would be a delight to her to hear of his gallant bearing on the
battle-field. “Or to witness it, my Sandra, if that were possible;--we
two! For, should he prove to be no General, he has the courage of his
family.”

Vittoria took fire at this. “What hinders our following the army?”

“The less baggage the better, my dear.”

“But the king said that my singing--I have no right to think it myself.”
 Vittoria concluded her sentence with a comical intention of humility.

“It was a pretty compliment,” said Laura. “You replied that singing is
a poor thing in time of war, and I agree with you. We might serve as
hospital nurses.”

“Why do we not determine?”

“We are only considering possibilities.”

“Consider the impossibility of our remaining quiet.”

“Fire that goes to flame is a waste of heat, my Sandra.”

The signora, however, was not so discreet as her speech. On all sides
there was uproar and movement. High-born Italian ladies were offering
their hands for any serviceable work. Laura and Vittoria were not alone
in the desire which was growing to be resolution to share the hardships
of the soldiers, to cherish and encourage them, and by seeing, to have
the supreme joy of feeling the blows struck at the common enemy.

The opera closed when the king marched. Carlo Ammiani’s letter was
handed to Vittoria at the fall of the curtain on the last night.

Three paths were open to her: either that she should obey her lover,
or earn an immense sum of money from Antonio-Pericles by accepting an
immediate engagement in London, or go to the war. To sit in submissive
obedience seemed unreasonable; to fly from Italy impossible. Yet the
latter alternative appealed strongly to her sense of duty, and as it
thereby threw her lover’s commands into the background, she left it
to her heart to struggle with Carlo, and thought over the two final
propositions. The idea of being apart from Italy while the living
country streamed forth to battle struck her inflamed spirit like the
shock of a pause in martial music. Laura pretended to take no part
in Vittoria’s decision, but when it was reached, she showed her
a travelling-carriage stocked with lint and linen, wine in jars,
chocolate, cases of brandy, tea, coffee, needles, thread, twine,
scissors, knives; saying, as she displayed them, “there, my dear, all my
money has gone in that equipment, so you must pay on the road.”

“This doesn’t leave me a choice, then,” said Victoria, joining her
humour.

“Ah, but think over it,” Laura suggested.

“No! not think at all,” cried Vittoria.

“You do not fear Carlo’s anger?”

“If I think, I am weak as water. Let us go.”

Countess d’Isorella wrote to Carlo: “Your Vittoria is away after the
king to Pavia. They tell me she stood up in her carriage on the Ponte
del Po-’Viva il Re d’Italia!’ waving the cross of Savoy. As I have
previously assured you, no woman is Republican. The demonstration was
a mistake. Public characters should not let their personal preferences
betrumpeted: a diplomatic truism:--but I must add, least of all a
cantatrice for a king. The famous Greek amateur--the prop of failing
finances--is after her to arrest her for breach of engagement. You
wished to discover an independent mind in a woman, my Carlo; did you
not? One would suppose her your wife--or widow. She looked a superb
thing the last night she sang. She is not, in my opinion, wanting in
height. If, behind all that innocence and candour, she has any trained
artfulness, she will beat us all. Heaven bless your arms!”

The demonstration mentioned by the countess had not occurred.

Vittoria’s letter to her lover missed him. She wrote from Pavia, after
she had taken her decisive step.

Carlo Ammiani went into the business of the war with the belief that his
betrothed had despised his prayer to her.

He was under Colonel Corte, operating on the sub-Alpine range of hills
along the line of the Chiese South-eastward. Here the volunteers, formed
of the best blood of Milan, the gay and brave young men, after marching
in the pride of their strength to hold the Alpine passes and bar Austria
from Italy while the fight went on below, were struck by a sudden
paralysis. They hung aloft there like an arm cleft from the body.
Weapons, clothes, provisions, money, the implements of war, were
withheld from them. The Piedmontese officers despatched to watch their
proceedings laughed at them like exasperating senior scholars examining
the accomplishments of a lower form. It was manifest that Count Medole
and the Government of Milan worked everywhere to conquer the people for
the king before the king had done a stroke to conquer the Austrians
for the people; while, in order to reduce them to the condition of
Piedmontese soldiery, the flame of their patriotic enthusiasm was
systematically damped, and instead of apprentices in war, who possessed
at any rate the elementary stuff of soldiers, miserable dummies were
drafted into the royal service. The Tuscans and the Romans had good
reason to complain on behalf of their princes, as had the Venetians and
the Lombards for the cause of their Republic. Neither Tuscans, Romans,
Venetians, nor Lombards were offering up their lives simply to obtain a
change of rulers; though all Italy was ready to bow in allegiance to a
king of proved kingly quality. Early in the campaign the cry of treason
was muttered, and on all sides such became the temper of the Alpine
volunteers, that Angelo and Rinaldo Guidascarpi were forced to join
their cousin under Corte, by the dispersion of their band, amounting to
something more than eighteen hundred fighting lads, whom a Piedmontese
superior officer summoned peremptorily to shout for the king. They
thundered as one voice for the Italian Republic, and instantly broke up
and disbanded. This was the folly of the young: Carlo Ammiani confessed
that it was no better; but he knew that a breath of generous confidence
from the self-appointed champion of the national cause would have
subdued his impatience at royalty and given heart and cheer to his
sickening comrades. He began to frown angrily when he thought of
Vittoria. “Where is she now?--where now?” he asked himself in the season
of his most violent wrath at the king. Her conduct grew inseparable in
his mind from the king’s deeds. The sufferings, the fierce irony, the
very deaths of the men surrounding him in aims, rose up in accusation
against the woman he loved.



CHAPTER XXXI

EPISODES OF THE REVOLT AND THE WAR

THE TREACHERY OF PERICLES--THE WHITE UMBRELLA--THE DEATH OF RINALDO
GUIDASCARPI

The king crossed the Mincio. The Marshal, threatened on his left flank,
drew in his line from the farther Veronese heights upon a narrowed
battle front before Verona. Here they manoeuvred, and the opening
successes fell to the king. Holding Peschiera begirt, with one sharp
passage of arms he cleared the right bank of the Adige and stood on the
semicircle of hills, master of the main artery into Tyrol.

The village of Pastrengo has given its name to the day. It was a day of
intense heat coming after heavy rains. The arid soil steamed; the white
powder-smoke curled in long horizontal columns across the hazy ring of
the fight. Seen from a distance it was like a huge downy ball, kicked
this way and that between the cypresses by invisible giants. A pair of
eager-eyed women gazing on a battle-field for the first time could but
ask themselves in bewilderment whether the fate of countries were verily
settled in such a fashion. Far in the rear, Vittoria and Laura heard the
cannon-shots; a sullen dull sound, as of a mallet striking upon rotten
timber. They drove at speed. The great thumps became varied by musketry
volleys, that were like blocks of rockboulder tumbled in the roll of
a mountain torrent. These, then, were the voices of Italy and Austria
speaking the devilish tongue of the final alternative. Cannon, rockets,
musketry, and now the run of drums, now the ring of bugles, now the
tramp of horses, and the field was like a landslip. A joyful bright
black death-wine seemed to pour from the bugles all about. The women
strained their senses to hear and see; they could realize nothing of
a reality so absolute; their feelings were shattered, and crowded over
them in patches;--horror, glory, panic, hope, shifted lights within
their bosoms. The fascination and repulsion of the image of Force
divided them. They feared; they were prostrate; they sprang in praise.
The image of Force was god and devil to their souls. They strove to
understand why the field was marked with blocks of men who made a plume
of vapour here, and hurried thither. The action of their intellects
resolved to a blank marvel at seeing an imminent thing--an interrogation
to almighty heaven treated with method, not with fury streaming forward.
Cleave the opposing ranks! Cry to God for fire? Cut them through! They
had come to see the Song of Deborah performed before their eyes, and
they witnessed only a battle. Blocks of infantry gathered densely,
thinned to a line, wheeled in column, marched: blocks of cavalry changed
posts: artillery bellowed from one spot and quickly selected another.
Infantry advanced in the wake of tiny smokepuffs, halted, advanced
again, rattled files of shots, became struck into knots, faced half
about as from a blow of the back of a hand, retired orderly. Cavalry
curved like a flickering scimetar in their rear; artillery plodded to
its further station. Innumerable tiny smoke-puffs then preceded a fresh
advance of infantry. The enemy were on the hills and looked mightier,
for they were revealed among red flashes of their guns, and stood partly
visible above clouds of hostile smoke and through clouds of their own,
which grasped viscously by the skirts of the hills. Yet it seemed a
strife of insects, until, one by one, soldiers who had gone into yonder
white pit for the bloody kiss of death, and had got it on their faces,
were borne by Vittoria and Laura knelt in this horrid stream of mortal
anguish to give succour from their stores in the carriage. Their
natural emotions were distraught. They welcomed the sight of suffering
thankfully, for the poor blotted faces were so glad at sight of them.
Torture was their key to the reading of the battle. They gazed on the
field no longer, but let the roaring wave of combat wash up to them what
it would.

The hill behind Pastrengo was twice stormed. When the bluecoats first
fell back, a fine charge of Piedmontese horse cleared the slopes for a
second effort, and they went up and on, driving the enemy from hill to
hill. The Adige was crossed by the Austrians under cover of Tyrolese
rifleshots.

Then, with Beppo at their heels, bearing water, wine, and brandy, the
women walked in the paths of carnage, and saw the many faces of death.
Laura whispered strangely, “How light-hearted they look!” The wounded
called their comforters sweet names. Some smoked and some sang,
some groaned; all were quick to drink. Their jokes at the dead were
universal. They twisted their bodies painfully to stick a cigar between
dead lips, and besprinkle them with the last drops of liquor in their
cups, laughing a benediction. These scenes put grievous chains on
Vittoria’s spirit, but Laura evidently was not the heavier for them.
Glorious Verona shone under the sunset as their own to come; Peschiera,
on the blue lake, was in the hollow of their hands. “Prizes worth any
quantity of blood,” said Laura. Vittoria confessed that she had seen
enough of blood, and her aspect provoked Laura to utter, “For God’s
sake, think of something miserable;--cry, if you can!”

Vittoria’s underlip dropped sickly with the question, “Why?”

Laura stated the physical necessity with Italian naivete.

“If I can,” said Vittoria, and blinked to get a tear; but laughter
helped as well to relieve her, and it came on their return to the
carriage. They found the spy Luigi sitting beside the driver. He
informed them that Antonio-Pericles had been in the track of the army
ever since their flight from Turin; daily hurrying off with whip of
horses at the sound of cannon-shot, and gradually stealing back to the
extreme rear. This day he had flown from Oliosi to Cavriani, and was,
perhaps, retracing his way already as before, on fearful toe-tips. Luigi
acted the caution of one who stepped blindfolded across hot iron plates.
Vittoria, without a spark of interest, asked why the Signor Antonio
should be following the army.

“Why, it’s to find you, signorina.”

Luigi’s comical emphasis conjured up in a jumbled picture the devotion,
the fury, the zeal, the terror of Antonio-Pericles--a mixture of
demoniacal energy and ludicrous trepidation. She imagined his long
figure, fantastical as a shadow, off at huge strides, and back, with
eyes sliding swiftly to the temples, and his odd serpent’s head raised
to peer across the plains and occasionally to exclaim to the reasonable
heavens in anger at men and loathing of her. She laughed ungovernably.
Luigi exclaimed that, albeit in disgrace with the signor Antonio, he
had been sent for to serve him afresh, and had now been sent forward to
entreat the gracious signorina to grant her sincerest friend and adorer
an interview. She laughed at Pericles, but in truth she almost loved the
man for his worship of her Art, and representation of her dear peaceful
practice of it.

The interview between them took place at Oliosi. There, also, she met
Georgiana Ford, the half-sister of Merthyr Powys, who told her that
Merthyr and Augustus Gambier were in the ranks of a volunteer contingent
in the king’s army, and might have been present at Pastrengo. Georgiana
held aloof from battle-fields, her business being simply to serve as
Merthyr’s nurse in case of wounds, or to see the last of him in case
of death. She appeared to have no enthusiasm. She seconded strongly the
vehement persuasions addressed by Pericles to Vittoria. Her disapproval
of the presence of her sex on fields of battle was precise. Pericles had
followed the army to give Vittoria one last chance, he said, and drag
her away from this sick country, as he called it, pointing at the dusty
land from the windows of the inn. On first seeing her he gasped like
one who has recovered a lost thing. To Laura he was a fool; but Vittoria
enjoyed his wildest outbursts, and her half-sincere humility encouraged
him to think that he had captured her at last. He enlarged on the perils
surrounding her voice in dusty bellowing Lombardy, and on the ardour
of his friendship in exposing himself to perils as tremendous, that he
might rescue her. While speaking he pricked a lively ear for the noise
of guns, hearing a gun in everything, and jumping to the window with
horrid imprecations. His carriage was horsed at the doors below. Let
the horses die, he said, let the coachman have sun-stroke. Let
hundreds perish, if Vittoria would only start in an hour-in
two--to-night--to-morrow.

“Because, do you see,”--he turned to Laura and Georgiana, submitting to
the vexatious necessity of seeming reasonable to these creatures,--“she
is a casket for one pearl. It is only one, but it is ONE, mon Dieu! and
inscrutable heaven, mesdames, has made the holder of it mad. Her voice
has but a sole skin; it is not like a body; it bleeds to death at a
scratch. A spot on the pearl, and it is perished--pfoof! Ah, cruel
thing! impious, I say. I have watched, I have reared her. Speak to me
of mothers! I have cherished her for her splendid destiny--to see it go
down, heels up, among quarrels of boobies! Yes; we have war in Italy.
Fight! Fight in this beautiful climate that you may be dominated by a
blue coat, not by a white coat. We are an intelligent race; we are a
civilized people; we will fight for that. What has a voice of the very
heavens to do with your fighting? I heard it first in England, in
a firwood, in a month of Spring, at night-time, fifteen miles and a
quarter from the city of London--oh, city of peace! Sandra you will come
there. I give you thousands additional to the sum stipulated. You have
no rival. Sandra Belloni! no rival, I say”--he invoked her in English,
“and you hear--you, to be a draggle-tail vivandiere wiz a brandy-bottle
at your hips and a reputation going like ze brandy. Ah! pardon,
mesdames; but did mankind ever see a frenzy like this girl’s? Speak,
Sandra. I could cry it like Michiella to Camilla--Speak!”

Vittoria compelled him to despatch his horses to stables. He had relays
of horses at war-prices between Castiglione and Pavia, and a retinue
of servants; nor did he hesitate to inform the ladies that, before
entrusting his person to the hazards of war, he had taken care to be
provided with safe-conduct passes for both armies, as befitted a prudent
man of peace--“or sense; it is one, mesdames.”

Notwithstanding his terror at the guns, and disgust at the soldiery and
the bad fare at the inn, Vittoria’s presence kept him lingering in
this wretched place, though he cried continually, “I shall have
heart-disease.” He believed at first that he should subdue her; then it
became his intention to carry her off.

It was to see Merthyr that she remained. Merthyr came there the day
after the engagement at Santa Lucia. They had not met since the days at
Meran. He was bronzed, and keen with strife, and looked young, but spoke
not over-hopefully. He scolded her for wishing to taste battle, and
compared her to a bad swimmer on deep shores. Pericles bounded with
delight to hear him, and said he had not supposed there was so much
sense in Powys. Merthyr confessed that the Austrians had as good as
beaten them at Santa Lucia. The tactical combinations of the Piedmontese
were wretched. He was enamoured of the gallantly of the Duke of Savoy,
who had saved the right wing of the army from rout while covering the
backward movement. Why there had been any fight at all at Santa Lucia,
where nothing was to be gained, much to be lost, he was incapable of
telling; but attributed it to an antique chivalry on the part of the
king, that had prompted the hero to a trial of strength, a bout of
blood-letting.

“You do think he is a hero?” said Vittoria.

“He is; and he will march to Venice.”

“And open the opera at Venice,” Pericles sneered. “Powys, mon cher,
cure her of this beastly dream. It is a scandal to you to want a woman’s
help. You were defeated at Santa Lucia. I say bravo to anything that
brings you to reason. Bravo! You hear me.”

The engagement at Santa Lucia was designed by the king to serve as an
instigating signal for the Veronese to rise in revolt; and this was the
secret of Charles Albert’s stultifying manoeuvres between Peschiera
and Mantua. Instead of matching his military skill against the wary old
Marshal’s, he was offering incentives to conspiracy. Distrusting the
revolution, which was a force behind him, he placed such reliance on its
efforts in his front as to make it the pivot of his actions.

“The volunteers North-east of Vicenza are doing the real work for us,
I believe,” said Merthyr; and it seemed so then, as it might have been
indeed, had they not been left almost entirely to themselves to do it.

These tidings of a fight lost set Laura and Vittoria quivering with
nervous irritation. They had been on the field of Pastrengo, and it was
won. They had been absent from Santa Lucia. What was the deduction? Not
such as reason would have made for them; but they were at the mercy of
the currents of the blood. “Let us go on,” said Laura. Merthyr refused
to convoy them. Pericles drove with him an hour on the road, and
returned in glee, to find Vittoria and Laura seated in their carriage,
and Luigi scuffling with Beppo.

“Padrone, see how I assist you,” cried Luigi.

Upon this Beppo instantly made a swan’s neck of his body and trumpeted:
“A sally from the fortress for forage.”

“Whip! whip!” Pericles shouted to his coachman, and the two carriages
parted company at the top of their speed.

Pericles fell a victim to a regiment of bersaglieri that wanted horses,
and unceremoniously stopped his pair and took possession of them on the
route for Peschiera. He was left in a stranded carriage between a dusty
ditch and a mulberry bough. Vittoria and Laura were not much luckier.
They were met by a band of deserters, who made no claim upon the horses,
but stood for drink, and having therewith fortified their fine opinion
of themselves, petitioned for money. A kiss was their next demand. Money
and good humour saved the women from indignity. The band of rascals went
off with a ‘Viva l’Italia.’ Such scum is upon every popular rising, as
Vittoria had to learn. Days of rain and an incomprehensible inactivity
of the royal army kept her at a miserable inn, where the walls were
bare, the cock had crowed his last. The guns of Peschiera seemed to roam
over the plain like an echo unwillingly aroused that seeks a hollow for
its further sleep. Laura sat pondering for hours, harsh in manner, as if
she hated her. “I think,” she said once, “that women are those persons
who have done evil in another world:” The “why?” from Vittoria was
uttered simply to awaken friendly talk, but Laura relapsed into her
gloom. A village priest, a sleek gentle creature, who shook his head
to earth when he hoped, and filled his nostrils with snuff when he
desponded, gave them occasional companionship under the title of
consolation. He wished the Austrians to be beaten, remarking, however,
that they were good Catholics, most fervent Catholics. As the Lord
decided, so it would end! “Oh, delicious creed!” Laura broke out: “Oh,
dear and sweet doctrine! that results and developments in a world where
there is more evil than good are approved by heaven.” She twisted
the mild man in supple steel of her irony so tenderly that Vittoria
marvelled to hear her speak of him in abhorrence when they quitted
the village. “Not to be born a woman, and voluntarily to be a woman!”
 ejaculated Laura. “How many, how many are we to deduct from the male
population of Italy? Cross in hand, he should be at the head of our
arms, not whimpering in a corner for white bread. Wretch! he makes the
marrow in my bones rage at him. He chronicled pig that squeaked.”

“Why had she been so gentle with him?”

“Because, my dear, when I loathe a thing I never care to exhaust my
detestation before I can strike it,” said the true Italian.

They were on the field of Goito; it was won. It was won against odds.
At Pastrengo they witnessed an encounter; this was a battle. Vittoria
perceived that there was the difference between a symphony and a lyric
song. The blessedness of the sensation that death can be light and easy
dispossessed her of the meaner compassion, half made up of cowardice,
which she had been nearly borne down by on the field of Pastrengo. At
an angle on a height off the left wing of the royal army the face of
the battle was plain to her: the movements of the troops were clear as
strokes on a slate. Laura flung her life into her eyes, and knelt and
watched, without summing one sole thing from what her senses received.

Vittoria said, “We are too far away to understand it.”

“No,” said Laura, “we are too far away to feel it.”

The savage soul of the woman was robbed of its share of tragic emotion
by having to hold so far aloof. Flashes of guns were but flashes of guns
up there where she knelt. She thirsted to read the things written by
them; thirsted for their mystic terrors, somewhat as souls of great
prophets have craved for the full revelation of those fitful underlights
which inspired their mouths.

Charles Albert’s star was at its highest when the Piedmontese drums beat
for an advance of the whole line at Goito.

Laura stood up, white as furnace-fire. “Women can do some good by
praying,” she said. She believed that she had been praying. That was her
part in the victory.

Rain fell as from the forehead of thunder. From black eve to black dawn
the women were among dead and dying men, where the lanterns trailed a
slow flame across faces that took the light and let it go. They returned
to their carriage exhausted. The ways were almost impassable for
carriage-wheels. While they were toiling on and exchanging their
drenched clothes, Vittoria heard Merthyr’s voice speaking to Beppo on
the box. He was saying that Captain Gambier lay badly wounded; brandy
was wanted for him. She flung a cloak over Laura, and handed out the
flask with a naked arm. It was not till she saw him again that she
remembered or even felt that he had kissed the arm. A spot of sweet fire
burned on it just where the soft fulness of a woman’s arm slopes to the
bend. He chid her for being on the field and rejoiced in a breath, for
the carriage and its contents helped to rescue his wounded brother
in arms from probable death. Gambier, wounded in thigh and ankle by
rifle-shot, was placed in the carriage. His clothes were saturated with
the soil of Goito; but wounded and wet, he smiled gaily, and talked
sweet boyish English. Merthyr gave the driver directions to wind along
up the Mincio. “Georgiana will be at the nearest village--she has an
instinct for battle-fields, or keeps spies in her pay,” he said.

“Tell her I am safe. We march to cut them (the enemy) off from Verona,
and I can’t leave. The game is in our hands. We shall give you Venice.”

Georgiana was found at the nearest village. Gambier’s wounds had been
dressed by an army-surgeon. She looked at the dressing, and said that it
would do for six hours. This singular person had fully qualified herself
to attend on a soldier-brother. She had studied medicine for that
purpose, and she had served as nurse in a London hospital. Her nerves
were completely under control. She could sit in attendance by a sick-bed
for hours, hearing distant cannon, and the brawl of soldiery and
vagabonds in the street, without a change of countenance. Her dress
was plain black from throat to heel, with a skull cap of white, like
a Moravian sister. Vittoria reverenced her; but Georgiana’s manner in
return was cold aversion, so much more scornful than disdain that it
offended Laura, who promptly put her finger on the blot in the fair
character with the word ‘Jealousy;’ but a single word is too broad a
mark to be exactly true. “She is a perfect example of your English,”
 Laura said. “Brave, good, devoted, admirable--ice at the heart. The
judge of others, of course. I always respected her; I never liked her;
and I should be afraid of a comparison with her. Her management of the
household of this inn is extraordinary.”

Georgiana condescended to advise Vittoria once more not to dangle after
armies.

“I wish to wait here to assist you in nursing our friend,” said
Vittoria.

Georgiana replied that her strength was unlikely to fail.

After two days of incessant rain, sunshine blazed over ‘the watery
Mantuan flats. Laura drove with Beppo to see whether the army was in
motion, for they were distracted by rumours. Vittoria clung to her
wounded friend, whose pleasure was the hearing her speak. She expected
Laura’s return by set of sun. After dark a messenger came to her, saying
that the signora had sent a carriage to fetch her to Valeggio. Her
immediate supposition was that Merthyr might have fallen. She found
Luigi at the carriage-door, and listened to his mysterious directions
and remarks that not a minute must be lost, without suspicion. He said
that the signora was in great trouble, very anxious to see the signorina
instantly; there was but a distance of five miles to traverse.

She thought it strange that the carriage should be so luxuriously fitted
with lights and silken pillows, but her ideas were all of Merthyr, until
she by chance discovered a packet marked I chocolate, which told her at
once that she was entrapped by Antonio-Pericles. Luigi would not answer
her cry to him. After some fruitless tremblings of wrath, she lay back
relieved by the feeling that Merthyr was safe, come what might come to
herself. Things could lend to nothing but an altercation with Pericles,
and for this scene she prepared her mind. The carriage stopped while she
was dozing. Too proud to supplicate in the darkness, she left it to
the horses to bear her on, reserving her energies for the morning’s
interview, and saying, “The farther he takes me the angrier I shall be.”
 She dreamed of her anger while asleep, but awakened so frequently during
the night that morning was at her eyelids before they divided. To
her amazement, she saw the carriage surrounded by Austrian troopers.
Pericles was spreading cigars among them, and addressing them affably.
The carriage was on a good road, between irrigated flats, that flashed
a lively green and bright steel blue for miles away. She drew down the
blinds to cry at leisure; her wings were clipped, and she lost heart.
Pericles came round to her when the carriage had drawn up at an inn.
He was egregiously polite, but modestly kept back any expressions of
triumph. A body of Austrians, cavalry and infantry, were breaking
camp. Pericles accorded her an hour of rest. She perceived that he was
anticipating an outbreak of the anger she had nursed overnight, and
baffled him so far by keeping dumb. Luigi was sent up to her to announce
the expiration of her hour of grace.

“Ah, Luigi!” she said. “Signorina, only wait, and see how Luigi can
serve two,” he whispered, writhing under the reproachfulness of her
eyes. At the carriage-door she asked Pericles whither he was taking her.
“Not to Turin, not to London, Sandra Belloni!” he replied; “not to a
place where you are wet all night long, to wheeze for ever after it. Go
in.” She entered the carriage quickly, to escape from staring officers,
whose laughter rang in her ears and humbled her bitterly; she felt
herself bringing dishonour on her lover. The carriage continued in the
track of the Austrians. Pericles was audibly careful to avoid the border
regiments. He showered cigars as he passed; now and then he exhibited
a paper; and on one occasion he brought a General officer to the
carriage-door, opened it and pointed in. A white-helmeted dragoon rode
on each side of the carriage for the remainder of the day. The delight
of the supposition that these Austrians were retreating before the
invincible arms of King Carlo Alberto kept her cheerful; but she heard
no guns in the rear. A blocking of artillery and waggons compelled a
halt, and then Pericles came and faced her. He looked profoundly ashamed
of himself, ready as he was for an animated defence of his proceedings.

“Where are you taking me, sir?” she said in English.

“Sandra, will you be a good child? It is anywhere you please, if you
will promise--”

“I will promise nothing.”

“Zen, I lock you up in Verona.”

“In Verona!”

“Sandra, will you promise to me?”

“I will promise nothing.”

“Zen I lock you up in Verona. It is settled. No more of it. I come to
say, we shall not reach a village. I am sorry. We have soldiers for
a guard. You draw out a board and lodge in your carriage as in a bed.
Biscuits, potted meats, prunes, bon-bona, chocolate, wine--you shall
find all at your right hand and your left. I am desolate in offending
you. Sandra, if you will promise--”

“I will promise--this is what I will promise,” said Vittoria.

Pericles thrust his ear forward, and withdrew it as if it had been
slapped.

She promised to run from him at the first opportunity, to despise him
ever after, and never to sing again in his hearing. With the darkness
Luigi appeared to light her lamp; he mouthed perpetually, “To-morrow,
to-morrow.” The watch-fires of Austrians encamped in the fields
encircled her; and moving up and down, the cigar of Antonio-Pericles was
visible. He had not eaten or drunk, and he was out there sleepless; he
walked conquering his fears in the thick of war troubles: all for her
sake. She watched critically to see whether the cigar-light was
puffed in fretfulness. It burned steadily; and the thought of Pericles
supporting patience quite overcame her. In a fit of humour that was
almost tears, she called to him and begged him to take a place in the
carriage and have food. “If it is your pleasure,” he said; and threw off
his cloak. The wine comforted him. Thereupon he commenced a series of
strange gesticulations, and ended by blinking at the window, saying,
“No, no; it is impossible to explain. I have no voice; I am not, gifted.
It is,” he tapped at his chest, “it is here. It is, imprisoned in me.”

“What?” said Vittoria, to encourage him.

“It can never be explained, my child. Am I not respectful to you? Am I
not worshipful to you? But, no! it can never be explained. Some do call
me mad. I know it; I am laughed at. Oh! do I not know zat? Perfectly
well. My ancestors adored Goddesses. I discover ze voice of a Goddess:
I adore it. So you call me mad; it is to me what you call me--juste ze
same. I am possessed wiz passion for her voice. So it will be till I go
to ashes. It is to me ze one zsing divine in a pig, a porpoise world. It
is to me--I talk! It is unutterable--impossible to tell.”

“But I understand it; I know you must feel it,” said Vittoria.

“But you hate me, Sandra. You hate your Pericles.”

“No, I do not; you are my good friend, my good Pericles.”

“I am your good Pericles? So you obey me?”

“In what?”

“You come to London?”

“I shall not.”

“You come to Turin?”

“I cannot promise.”

“To Milan?”

“No; not yet.”

“Ungrateful little beast! minx! temptress! You seduce me into your
carriage to feed me, to fill me, for to coax me,” cried Pericles.

“Am I the person to have abuse poured on me?” Vittoria rejoined, and
she frowned. “Might I not have called you a wretched whimsical
money-machine, without the comprehension of a human feeling? You are
doing me a great wrong--to win my submission, as I see, and it half
amuses me; but the pretence of an attempt to carry me off from my
friends is an offence that I should take certain care to punish in
another. I do not give you any promise, because the first promise of
all--the promise to keep one--is not in my power. Shut your eyes and
sleep where you are, and in the morning think better of your conduct!”

“Of my conduct, mademoiselle!” Pericles retained this sentence in his
head till the conclusion of her animated speech,--“of my conduct I judge
better zan to accept of such a privilege as you graciously offer to me;”
 and he retired with a sour grin, very much subdued by her unexpected
capacity for expression. The bugles of the Austrians were soon ringing.
There was a trifle of a romantic flavour in the notes which Vittoria
tried not to feel; the smart iteration of them all about her rubbed it
off, but she was reduced to repeat them, and take them in various keys.
This was her theme for the day.

They were in the midst of mulberries, out of sight of the army; green
mulberries, and the green and the bronze young vine-leaf. It was a
delicious day, but she began to fear that she was approaching Verona,
and that Pericles was acting seriously. The bronze young vine-leaf
seemed to her like some warrior’s face, as it would look when beaten by
weather, burned by the sun. They came now to inns which had been visited
by both armies. Luigi established communication with the innkeepers
before the latter had stated the names of villages to Pericles, who
stood map in hand, believing himself at last to be no more conscious of
his position than an atom in a whirl of dust. Vittoria still refused to
give him any promise, and finally, on a solitary stretch of the road, he
appealed to her mercy. She was the mistress of the carriage, he said;
he had never meant to imprison her in Verona; his behaviour was simply
dictated by his adoration--alas! This was true or not true, but it was
certain that the ways were confounded to them. Luigi, despatched
to reconnoitre from a neighbouring eminence, reported a Piedmontese
encampment far ahead, and a walking tent that was coming on their route.
The walking tent was an enormous white umbrella. Pericles advanced to
meet it; after an interchange of opening formalities, he turned about
and clapped hands. The umbrella was folded. Vittoria recognized the last
man she would then have thought of meeting; he seemed to have jumped out
of an ambush from Meran in Tyrol:--it was Wilfrid. Their greeting was
disturbed by the rushing up of half-a-dozen troopers. The men claimed
him as an Austrian spy. With difficulty Vittoria obtained leave to drive
him on to their commanding officer. It appeared that the white umbrella
was notorious for having been seen on previous occasions threading the
Piedmontese lines into and out of Peschiera. These very troopers swore
to it; but they could not swear to Wilfrid, and white umbrellas were not
absolutely uncommon. Vittoria declared that Wilfrid was an old English
friend; Pericles vowed that Wilfrid was one of their party. The prisoner
was clearly an Englishman. As it chanced, the officer before whom
Wilfrid was taken had heard Vittoria sing on the great night at La
Scala. “Signorina, your word should pass the Austrian Field-Marshal
himself,” he said, and merely requested Wilfrid to state on his word
of honour that he was not in the Austrian service, to which Wilfrid
unhesitatingly replied, “I am not.”

Permission was then accorded to him to proceed in the carriage.

Vittoria held her hand to Wilfrid. He took the fingers and bowed over
them.

He was perfectly self-possessed, and cool even under her eyes. Like
a pedlar he carried a pack on his back, which was his life; for his
business was a combination of scout and spy.

“You have saved me from a ditch to-day,” he said; “every fellow has some
sort of love for his life, and I must thank you for the odd luck of your
coming by. I knew you were on this ground somewhere. If the rascals had
searched me, I should not have come off so well. I did not speak falsely
to that officer; I am not in the Austrian service. I am a volunteer spy.
I am an unpaid soldier. I am the dog of the army--fetching and carrying
for a smile and a pat on the head. I am ruined, and I am working my way
up as best I can. My uncle disowns me. It is to General Schoneck that
I owe this chance of re-establishing myself. I followed the army out
of Milan. I was at Melegnano, at Pastrengo, at Santa Lucia. If I get
nothing for it, the Lenkensteins at least shall not say that I abandoned
the flag in adversity. I am bound for Rivoli. The fortress (Peschiera)
has just surrendered. The Marshal is stealing round to make a dash on
Vicenza.” So far he spoke like one apart from her, but a flush crossed
his forehead. “I have not followed you. I have obeyed your brief
directions. I saw this carriage yesterday in the ranks of our troops. I
saw Pericles. I guessed who might be inside it. I let it pass me. Could
I do more?”

“Not if you wanted to punish me,” said Vittoria.

She was afflicted by his refraining from reproaches in his sunken state.

Their talk bordered the old life which they had known, like a rivulet,
coming to falls where it threatens to be e, torrent and a flood; like
flame bubbling the wax of a seal. She was surprised to find herself
expecting tenderness from him: and, startled by the languor in her
veins, she conceived a contempt for her sex and her own weak nature. To
mask that, an excessive outward coldness was assumed. “You can serve as
a spy, Wilfrid!”

The answer was ready: “Having twice served as a traitor, I need not be
particular. It is what my uncle and the Lenkensteins call me. I do my
best to work my way up again. Despise me for it, if you please.”

On the contrary, she had never respected him so much. She got herself
into opposition to him by provoking him to speak with pride of his army;
but the opposition was artificial, and she called to Carlo Ammiani in
heart. “I will leave these places, cover up my head, and crouch till the
struggle is decided.”

The difficulty was now to be happily rid of Wilfrid by leaving him in
safety. Piedmontese horse scoured the neighbourhood, and any mischance
that might befall him she traced to her hand. She dreaded at every
instant to hear him speak of his love for her; yet how sweet it would
have been to hear it,--to hear him speak of passionate love; to shape
it in deep music; to hear one crave for what she gave to another! “I am
sinking: I am growing degraded,” she thought. But there was no other way
for her to quicken her imagination of her distant and offended lover.
The sights on the plains were strange contrasts to these conflicting
inner emotions: she seemed to be living in two divided worlds.

Pericles declared anew that she was mistress of the carriage. She issued
orders: “The nearest point to Rivoli, and then to Brescia.”

Pericles broke into shouts. “She has arrived at her reason! Hurrah for
Brescia! I beheld you,” he confessed to Wilfrid,--“it was on ze right
of Mincio, my friend. I did not know you were so true for Art, or what
a hand I would have reached to you! Excuse me now. Let us whip on. I
am your banker. I shall desire you not to be shot or sabred. You are
deserving of an effigy on a theatral grand stair-case!” His gratitude
could no further express itself. In joy he whipped the horses on. Fools
might be fighting--he was the conqueror. From Brescia, one leap took
him in fancy to London. He composed mentally a letter to be forwarded
immediately to a London manager, directing him to cause the appearance
of articles in the journals on the grand new prima donna, whose singing
had awakened the people of Italy.

Another day brought them in view of the Lago di Garda. The flag of
Sardinia hung from the walls of Peschiera. And now Vittoria saw the
Pastrengo hills--dear hills, that drove her wretched languor out of her,
and made her soul and body one again. The horses were going at a gallop.
Shots were heard. To the left of them, somewhat in the rear, on higher
ground, there was an encounter of a body of Austrians and Italians:
Tyrolese riflemen and the volunteers. Pericles was raving. He refused
to draw the reins till they had reached the village, where one of the
horses dropped. From the windows of the inn, fronting a clear space,
Vittoria beheld a guard of Austrians surrounding two or more prisoners.
A woman sat near them with her head buried in her lap. Presently an
officer left the door of the inn and spoke to the soldiers. “That is
Count Karl von Lenkenstein,” Wilfrid said in a whisper. Pericles had
been speaking with Count Karl and came up to the room, saying, “We
are to observe something; but we are safe; it is only fortune of war.”
 Wilfrid immediately went out to report himself. He was seen giving his
papers, after which Count Karl waved his finger back to the inn, and he
returned. Vittoria sprang to her feet at the words he uttered. Rinaldo
Guidascarpi was one of the prisoners. The others Wilfrid professed not
to know. The woman was the wife of Barto Rizzo.

In the great red of sunset the Tyrolese riflemen and a body of Italians
in Austrian fatigue uniform marched into the village. These formed in
the space before the inn. It seemed as if Count Karl were declaiming an
indictment. A voice answered, “I am the man.” It was clear and straight
as a voice that goes up in the night. Then a procession walked some
paces on. The woman followed. She fell prostrate at the feet of Count
Karl. He listened to her and nodded. Rinaldo Guidascarpi stood alone
with bandaged eyes. The woman advanced to him; she put her mouth on his
ear; there she hung.

Vittoria heard a single shot. Rinaldo Guidascarpi lay stretched upon the
ground and the woman stood over him.



CHAPTER XXXIII

EPISODES OF THE REVOLT AND THE WAR

COUNT KARL LENKENSTEIN--THE STORY OF THE GUIDASCARPI--THE VICTORY OF THE
VOLUNTEERS

The smoke of a pistol-shot thinned away while there was yet silence.

“It is a saving of six charges of Austrian ammunition,” said Pericles.

Vittoria stared at the scene, losing faith in her eyesight. She could in
fact see no distinct thing beyond what appeared as an illuminated copper
medallion, held at a great distance from her, with a dead man and a
towering female figure stamped on it.

The events following were like a rush of water on her senses. There was
fighting up the street of the village, and a struggle in the space
where Rinaldo had fallen; successive yellowish shots under the rising
moonlight, cries from Italian lips, quick words of command from German
in Italian, and one sturdy bull’s roar of a voice that called across
the tumult to the Austro-Italian soldiery, “Venite fratelli!--come,
brothers, come under our banner!” She heard “Rinaldo!” called.

This was a second attack of the volunteers for the rescue of their
captured comrades. They fought more desperately than on the hill outside
the village: they fought with steel. Shot enfiladed them; yet they bore
forward in a scattered body up to that spot where Rinaldo lay, shouting
for him. There they turned,--they fled.

Then there was a perfect stillness, succeeding the strife as quickly,
Vittoria thought, as a breath yielded succeeds a breath taken.

She accused the heavens of injustice.

Pericles, prostrate on the floor, moaned that he was wounded. She said,
“Bleed to death!”

“It is my soul, it is my soul is wounded for you, Sandra.”

“Dreadful craven man!” she muttered.

“When my soul is shaking for your safety, Sandra Belloni!” Pericles
turned his ear up. “For myself--not; it is for you, for you.”

Assured of the cessation of arms by delicious silence he jumped to his
feet.

“Ah! brutes to fight. It is ‘immonde;’ it is unnatural!”

He tapped his finger on the walls for marks of shot, and discovered a
shot-hole in the wood-work, that had passed an arm’s length above
her head, into which he thrust his finger in an intense speculative
meditation, shifting eyes from it to her, and throwing them aloft.

He was summoned to the presence of Count Karl, with whom he found
Captain Weisspriess, Wilfrid, and officers of jagers and the Italian
battalion. Barto Rizzo’s wife was in a corner of the room. Weisspriess
met him with a very civil greeting, and introduced him to Count Karl,
who begged him to thank Vittoria for the aid she had afforded to General
Schoneck’s emissary in crossing the Piedmontese lines. He spoke in
Italian. He agreed to conduct Pericles to a point on the route of his
march, where Pericles and his precious prima donna--“our very good
friend,” he said, jovially--could escape the risk of unpleasant mishaps,
and arrive at Trent and cities of peace by easy stages. He was marching
for the neighbourhood of Vicenza.

A little before dawn Vittoria came down to the carriage. Count Karl
stood at the door to hand her in. He was young and handsome, with a soft
flowing blonde moustache and pleasant eyes, a contrast to his brother
Count Lenkenstein. He repeated his thanks to her, which Pericles had not
delivered; he informed her that she was by no means a prisoner, and was
simply under the guardianship of friends--“though perhaps, signorina,
you will not esteem this gentleman to be one of your friends.” He
pointed to Weisspriess. The officer bowed, but kept aloof. Vittoria
perceived a singular change in him: he had become pale and sedate. “Poor
fellow! he has had his dose,” Count Karl said. “He is, I beg to assure
you, one of your most vehement admirers.”

A piece of her property that flushed her with recollections, yet made
her grateful, was presently handed to her, though not in her old
enemy’s presence, by a soldier. It was the silver-hilted dagger,
Carlo’s precious gift, of which Weisspriess had taken possession in
the mountain-pass over the vale of Meran, when he fought the duel
with Angelo. Whether intended as a peace-offering, or as a simple
restitution, it helped Vittoria to believe that Weisspriess was no
longer the man he had been.

The march was ready, but Barto Rizzo’s wife refused to move a foot. The
officers consulted. She, was brought before them. The soldiers swore
with jesting oaths that she had been carefully searched for weapons, and
only wanted a whipping. “She must have it,” said Weisspriess. Vittoria
entreated that she might have a place beside her in the carriage. “It is
more than I would have asked of you; but if you are not afraid of her,”
 said Count Karl, with an apologetic shrug.

Her heart beat fast when she found herself alone with the terrible
woman.

Till then she had never seen a tragic face. Compared with this tawny
colourlessness, this evil brow, this shut mouth, Laura, even on the
battle-field, looked harmless. It was like the face of a dead savage.
The eyeballs were full on Vittoria, as if they dashed at an obstacle,
not embraced an image. In proportion as they seemed to widen about her,
Vittoria shrank. The whole woman was blood to her gaze.

When she was capable of speaking, she said entreatingly:

“I knew his brother.”

Not a sign of life was given in reply.

Companionship with this ghost of broad daylight made the flattering
Tyrolese feathers at both windows a welcome sight.

Precautions had been taken to bind the woman’s arms. Vittoria offered to
loosen the cords, but she dared not touch her without a mark of assent.

“I know Angelo Guidascarpi, Rinaldo’s brother,” she spoke again.

The woman’s nostrils bent inward, as when the breath we draw is keen as
a sword to the heart. Vittoria was compelled to look away from her.

At the mid-day halt Count Karl deigned to justify to her his intended
execution of Rinaldo--the accomplice in the slaying of his brother Count
Paula. He was evidently eager to obtain her good opinion of the Austrian
military. “But for this miserable spirit of hatred against us,” he said,
“I should have espoused an Italian lady;” and he asked, “Why not? For
that matter, in all but blood we Lenkensteins are half Italian, except
when Italy menaces the empire. Can you blame us for then drawing the
sword in earnest?”

He proffered his version of the death of Count Paul. She kept her own
silent in her bosom.

Clelia Guidascarpi, according to his statement, had first been slain by
her brothers. Vittoria believed that Clelia had voluntarily submitted to
death and died by her own hand. She was betrothed to an Italian nobleman
of Bologna, the friend of the brothers. They had arranged the marriage;
she accepted the betrothal. “She loved my brother, poor thing!” said
Count Karl. “She concealed it, and naturally. How could she take a
couple of wolves into her confidence? If she had told the pair of
ruffians that she was plighted to an Austrian, they would have quieted
her at an earlier period. A woman! a girl--signorina! The intolerable
cowardice amazes me. It amazes me that you or anyone can uphold the
character of such brutes. And when she was dead they lured my brother to
the house and slew him; fell upon him with daggers, stretched him at the
foot of her coffin, and then--what then?--ran! ran for their lives. One
has gone to his account. We shall come across the other. He is among
that volunteer party which attacked us yesterday. The body was carried
off by them; it is sufficient testimony that Angelo Guidascarpi is
in the neighbourhood. I should be hunting him now but that I am under
orders to march South-east.”

The story, as Vittoria knew it, had a different, though yet a dreadful,
colour.

“I could have hanged Rinaldo,” Count Karl said further. “I suppose the
rascals feared I should use my right, and that is why they sent their
mad baggage of a woman to spare any damage to the family pride. If I
had been a man to enjoy vengeance, the rope would have swung for him. In
spite of provocation, I shall simply shoot the other; I pledge my word
to it. They shall be paid in coin. I demand no interest.”

Weisspriess prudently avoided her. Wilfrid held aloof. She sat in garden
shade till the bugle sounded. Tyrolese and Italian soldiers were gibing
at her haggard companion when she entered the carriage. Fronting this
dumb creature once more, Vittoria thought of the story of the brothers.
She felt herself reading it from the very page. The woman looked that
evil star incarnate which Laura said they were born under.

This is in brief the story of the Guidascarpi.

They were the offspring of a Bolognese noble house, neither wealthy
nor poor. In her early womanhood, Clelia was left to the care of her
brothers. She declined the guardianship of Countess Ammiani because of
her love for them; and the three, with their passion of hatred to the
Austrians inherited from father and mother, schemed in concert to throw
off the Austrian yoke. Clelia had soft features of no great mark; by her
colouring she was beautiful, being dark along the eyebrows, with dark
eyes, and a surpassing richness of Venetian hair. Bologna and Venice
were married in her aspect. Her brothers conceived her to possess such
force of mind that they held no secrets from her. They did not know that
the heart of their sister was struggling with an image of Power when she
uttered hatred of it. She was in truth a woman of a soft heart, with a
most impressionable imagination.

There were many suitors for the hand of Clelia Guidascarpi, though her
dowry was not the portion of a fat estate. Her old nurse counselled
the brothers that they should consent to her taking a husband. They
fulfilled this duty as one that must be done, and she became sorrowfully
the betrothed of a nobleman of Bologna; from which hour she had no
cheerfulness. The brothers quitted Bologna for Venice, where there was
the bed of a conspiracy. On their return they were shaken by rumours of
their sister’s misconduct. An Austrian name was allied to hers in
busy mouths. A lady, their distant relative, whose fame was light, had
withdrawn her from the silent house, and made display of her. Since she
had seen more than an Italian girl should see, the brothers proposed to
the nobleman her betrothed to break the treaty; but he was of a mind to
hurry on the marriage, and recollecting now that she was but a woman,
the brothers fixed a day for her espousals, tenderly, without reproach.
She had the choice of taking the vows or surrendering her hand. Her old
nurse prayed for the day of her espousals to come with a quicker step.

One night she surprised Count Paul Lenkenstein at Clelia’s window.
Rinaldo was in the garden below. He moved to the shadow of a cypress,
and was seen moving by the old nurse. The lover took the single kiss he
had come for, was led through the chamber, and passed unchallenged
into the street. Clelia sat between locked doors and darkened windows,
feeling colder to the brothers she had been reared with than to all
other men upon the earth. They sent for her after a lapse of hours. Her
old nurse was kneeling at their feet. Rinaldo asked for the name of her
lover. She answered with it. Angelo said, “It will be better for you
to die: but if you cannot do so easy a thing as that, prepare widow’s
garments.” They forced her to write three words to Count Paul, calling
him to her window at midnight. Rinaldo fetched a priest: Angelo laid out
two swords. An hour before the midnight, Clelia’s old nurse raised the
house with her cries. Clelia was stretched dead in her chamber. The
brothers kissed her in turn, and sat, one at her head, one at her feet.
At midnight her lover stood among them. He was gravely saluted, and
bidden to look upon the dead body. Angelo said to him, “Had she lived
you should have wedded her hand. She is gone of her own free choice, and
one of us follows her.” With the sweat of anguish on his forehead,
Count Paul drew sword. The window was barred; six male domestics of the
household held high lights in the chamber; the priest knelt beside one
corpse, awaiting the other.

Vittoria’s imagination could not go beyond that scene, but she looked
out on the brother of the slain youth with great pity, and with a
strange curiosity. The example given by Clelia of the possible love
of an Italian girl for the white uniform, set her thinking whether so
monstrous a fact could ever be doubled in this world. “Could it happen
to me?” she asked herself, and smiled, as she half-fashioned the words
on her lips, “It is a pretty uniform.”

Her reverie was broken by a hiss of “Traitress!” from the woman
opposite.

She coloured guiltily, tried to speak, and sat trembling. A divination
of intense hatred had perhaps read the thought within her breast: or it
was a mere outburst of hate. The woman’s face was like the wearing away
of smoke from a spot whence shot has issued. Vittoria walked for the
remainder of the day. That fearful companion oppressed her. She felt
that one who followed armies should be cast in such a frame, and now
desired with all her heart to render full obedience to Carlo, and abide
in Brescia, or even in Milan--a city she thought of shyly.

The march was hurried to the slopes of the Vicentino, for enemies were
thick in this district. Pericles refused to quit the soldiers, though
Count Karl used persuasion. The young nobleman said to Vittoria, “Be
on your guard when you meet my sister Anna. I tell you, we can be as
revengeful as any of you: but you will exonerate me. I do my duty; I
seek to do no more.”

At an inn that they reached toward evening she saw the innkeeper shoot a
little ball of paper at an Italian corporal, who put his foot on it and
picked it up. The soldier subsequently passed through the ranks of his
comrades, gathering winks and grins. They were to have rested at the
inn, but Count Karl was warned by scouts, which was sufficient to make
Pericles cling to him in avoidance of the volunteers, of whom mainly he
was in terror. He looked ague-stricken. He would not listen to her, or
to reason in any shape. “I am on the sea--shall I trust a boat? I stick
to a ship,” he said. The soldiers marched till midnight. It was arranged
that the carriage should strike off for Schio at dawn. The soldiers
bivouacked on the slope of one of the low undulations falling to the
Vicentino plain. Vittoria spread her cloak, and lay under bare sky, not
suffering the woman to be ejected from the carriage. Hitherto Luigi had
avoided her. Under pretence of doubling Count Karl’s cloak as a pillow
for her head, he whispered, “If the signorina hears shots let her lie on
the ground flat as a sheet.” The peacefulness surrounding her precluded
alarm. There was brilliant moonlight, and the host of stars, all dim;
and first they beckoned her up to come away from trouble, and then,
through long gazing, she had the fancy that they bent and swam about
her, making her feel that she lay in the hollows of a warm hushed sea.
She wished for her lover.

Men and officers were lying at a stone’s-throw distant. The Tyrolese
had lit a fire for cooking purposes, by which four of them stood, and,
lifting hands, sang one of their mountain songs, that seemed to her to
spring like clear water into air, and fall wavering as a feather falls,
or the light about a stone in water. It lulled her to a half-sleep,
during which she fancied hearing a broad imitation of a cat’s-call from
the mountains, that was answered out of the camp, and a talk of officers
arose in connection with the response, and subsided. The carriage was
in the shadows of the fire. In a little while Luigi and the driver began
putting the horses to, and she saw Count Karl and Weisspriess go up
to Luigi, who declared loudly that it was time. The woman inside was
aroused. Weisspriess helped to drag her out. Luigi kept making much
noise, and apologized for it by saying that he desired to awaken
his master, who was stretched in a secure circle among the Tyrolese.
Presently Vittoria beheld the woman’s arms thrown out free; the next
minute they were around the body of Weisspriess, and a shrewd cry issued
from Count Karl. Shots rang from the outposts; the Tyrolese sprang to
arms; “Sandra!” was shouted by Pericles; and once more she heard the
‘Venite fratelli!’ of the bull’s voice, and a stream of volunteers
dashed at the Tyrolese with sword and dagger and bayonet. The
Austro-Italians stood in a crescent line--the ominous form of incipient
military insubordination. Their officers stormed at them, and called for
Count Karl and for Weisspriess. The latter replied like a man stifling,
but Count Karl’s voice was silent.

“Weisspriess! here, to me!” the captain sang out in Italian.

“Ammiani! here, to me!” was replied.

Vittoria struck her hands together in electrical gladness at her lover’s
voice and name. It rang most cheerfully. Her home was in the conflict
where her lover fought, and she muttered with ecstasy, “We have met!
we have met!” The sound of the keen steel, so exciting to dream of,
paralyzed her nerves in a way that powder, more terrible for a woman’s
imagination, would not have done, and she could only feebly advance. It
was a spacious moonlight, but the moonlight appeared to have got of a
brassy hue to her eyes, though the sparkle of the steel was white; and
she felt too, and wondered at it, that the cries and the noise went to
her throat, as if threatening to choke her. Very soon she found herself
standing there, watching for the issue of the strife, almost as dead as
a weight in scales, incapable of clear vision.

Matched against the Tyrolese alone, the volunteers had an equal fight
in point of numbers, and the advantage of possessing a leader; for Count
Karl was down, and Weisspriess was still entangled in the woman’s arms.
When at last Wilfrid got him free, the unsupported Tyrolese were giving
ground before Carlo Ammiani and his followers. These fought with stern
fury, keeping close up to their enemy, rarely shouting. They presented
something like the line of a classic bow, with its arrow-head; while the
Tyrolese were huddled in groups, and clubbed at them, and fell back for
space, and ultimately crashed upon their betraying brothers in arms,
swinging rifles and flying. The Austro-Italians rang out a Viva for
Italy, and let them fly: they were swept from the scene.

Vittoria heard her lover addressing his followers. Then he and Angelo
stood over Count Karl, whom she had forgotten. Angelo ran up to her, but
gave place the moment Carlo came; and Carlo drew her by the hand swiftly
to an obscure bend of the rolling ground, and stuck his sword in the
earth, and there put his arms round her and held her fast.

“Obey me now,” were his first words.

“Yes,” she answered.

He was harsh of eye and tongue, not like the gentle youth she had been
torn from at the door of La Scala.

“Return; make your way to Brescia. My mother is in Brescia. Milan is
hateful. I throw myself into Vicenza. Can I trust you to obey?”

“Carlo, what evil have you heard of me?”

“I listen to no tales.”

“Let me follow you to Vicenza and be your handmaid, my beloved.”

“Say that you obey.”

“I have said it.”

He seemed to shut her in his heart, so closely was she enfolded.

“Since La Scala,” she murmured; and he bent his lips to her ear,
whispering, “Not one thought of another woman! and never till I die.”

“And I only of you, Carlo, and for you, my lover, my lover!”

“You love me absolutely?”

“I belong to you.”

“I could be a coward and pray for life to live to hear you say it.”

“I feel I breathe another life when you are away from me.”

“You belong to me; you are my own?”

“You take my voice, beloved.”

“And when I claim you, I am to have you?”

“Am I not in your hands?”

“The very instant I make my claim you will say yes?”

“I shall not have strength for more than to nod.”

Carlo shuddered at the delicious image of her weakness.

“My Sandra! Vittoria, my soul! my bride!”

“O my Carlo! Do you go to Vicenza? And did you know I was among these
people?”

“You will hear everything from little Leone Rufo, who is wounded and
accompanies you to Brescia. Speak of nothing. Speak my name, and look at
me. I deserve two minutes of blessedness.”

“Ah! my dearest, if I am sweet to you, you might have many!”

“No; they begin to hum a reproach at me already, for I must be marching.
Vicenza will soon bubble on a fire, I suspect. Comfort my mother; she
wants a young heart at her elbow. If she is alone, she feeds on every
rumour; other women scatter in emotions what poisons her. And when my
bride is with her, I am between them.”

“Yes, Carlo, I will go,” said Vittoria, seeing her duty at last through
tenderness.

Carlo sprang from her side to meet Angelo, with whom he exchanged some
quick words. The bugle was sounding, and Barto Rizzo audible. Luigi came
to, her, ruefully announcing that the volunteers had sacked the carriage
behaved worse than the Austrians; and that his padrone, the signor
Antonio-Pericles, was off like a gossamer. Angelo induced her to remain
on the spot where she stood till the carriage was seen on the Schio
road, when he led her to it, saying that Carlo had serious work to do.
Count Karl Lenkenstein was lying in the carriage, supported by Wilfrid
and by young Leone Rufo, who sat laughing, with one eye under a
cross-bandage and an arm slung in a handkerchief. Vittoria desired to
wait that she might see her lover once more; but Angelo entreated her
that she should depart, too earnestly to leave her in doubt of there
being good reason for it and for her lover’s absence. He pointed to
Wilfrid: “Barto Rizzo captured this man; Carlo has released him. Take
him with you to attend on his superior officer.” She drew Angelo’s
observation to the first morning colours over the peaks. He looked up,
and she knew that he remembered that morning of their flight from the
inn. Perhaps he then had the image of his brother in his mind, for the
colours seemed to be plucking at his heart, and he said, “I have lost
him.”

“God help you, my friend!” said Vittoria, her throat choking.

Angelo pointed at the insensible nobleman: “These live. I do not grudge
him his breath or his chances; but why should these men take so much
killing? Weisspriess has risen, as though I struck the blow of a babe.
But we one shot does for us! Nevertheless, signorina,” Angelo smiled
firmly, “I complain of nothing while we march forward.”

He kissed his hand to her, and turned back to his troop. The carriage
was soon under the shadows of the mountains.



CHAPTER XXXIV

EPISODES OF THE REVOLT AND THE WAR THE DEEDS OF BARTO RIZZO--THE MEETING
AT ROVEREDO

At Schio there was no medical attendance to be obtained for Count Karl,
and he begged so piteously to be taken on to Roveredo, that, on his
promising to give Leone Rufo a pass, Vittoria decided to work her way
round to Brescia by the Alpine route. She supposed Pericles to have gone
off among the Tyrolese, and wished in her heart that Wilfrid had gone
likewise, for he continued to wear that look of sad stupefaction which
was the harshest reproach to her. Leone was unconquerably gay in spite
of his wounds. He narrated the doings of the volunteers, with proud
eulogies of Carlo Ammiani’s gallant leadership; but the devices of Barto
Rizzo appeared to have struck his imagination most. “He is positively a
cat--a great cat,” Leone said. “He can run a day; he can fast a week;
he can climb a house; he can drop from a crag; and he never lets go his
hold. If he says a thing to his wife, she goes true as a bullet to the
mark. The two make a complete piece of artillery. We are all for Barto,
though our captain Carlo is often enraged with him. But there’s no
getting on without him. We have found that.”

Rinaldo and Angelo Guidascarpi and Barto Rizzo had done many daring
feats. They had first, heading about a couple of dozen out of a force
of sixty, endeavoured to surprise the fortress Rocca d’Anfo in Lake
Idro--an insane enterprise that touched on success, and would have been
an achievement had all the men who followed them been made of the same
desperate stuff. Beaten off, they escaped up the Val di Ledro, and
secretly entered Trent, where they hoped to spread revolt, but the
Austrian commandant knew what a quantity of dry wood was in the city,
and stamped his heel on sparks. A revolt was prepared notwithstanding
the proclamation of imprisonment and death. Barto undertook to lead
a troop against the Buon Consiglio barracks, while Angelo and
Rinaldo cleared the ramparts. It chanced, whether from treachery or
extra-vigilance was unknown, that the troops paid domiciliary visits an
hour before the intended outbreak, and the three were left to accomplish
their task alone. They remained in the city several days, hunted from
house to house, and finally they were brought to bay at night on the
roof of a palace where the Lenkenstein ladies were residing. Barto
took his dagger between his teeth and dropped to the balcony of Lena’s
chamber. The brothers soon after found the rooftrap opened to them, and
Lena and Anna conducted them to the postern-door. There Angelo asked
whom they had to thank. The terrified ladies gave their name; upon
hearing which, Rinaldo turned and said that he would pay for a
charitable deed to the extent of his power, and would not meanly allow
them to befriend persons who were to continue strangers to them. He gave
the name of Guidascarpi, and relieved his brother, as well as himself,
of a load of obligation, for the ladies raised wild screams on the
instant. In falling from the walls to the road, Rinaldo hurt his foot.
Barto lifted him on his back, and journeyed with him so till at the
appointed place he met his wife, who dressed the foot, and led them
out of the line of pursuit, herself bending under the beloved load. Her
adoration of Rinaldo was deep as a mother’s, pure as a virgin’s, fiery
as a saint’s. Leone Rufo dwelt on it the more fervidly from seeing
Vittoria’s expression of astonishment. The woman led them to a cave in
the rocks, where she had stored provision and sat two days expecting the
signal from Trent. They saw numerous bands of soldiers set out along the
valleys--merry men whom it was Barto’s pleasure to beguile by shouts, as
a relief for his parched weariness upon the baking rock. Accident made
it an indiscretion. A glass was levelled at them by a mounted officer,
and they had quickly to be moving. Angelo knew the voice of Weisspriess
in the word of command to the soldiers, and the call to him to
surrender. Weisspriess followed them across the mountain track,
keeping at their heels, though they doubled and adopted all possible
contrivances to shake him off. He was joined by Count Karl Lenkenstein
on the day when Carlo Ammiani encountered them, with the rear of
Colonel Corte’s band marching for Vicenza. In the collision between
the Austrians and the volunteers, Rinaldo was taken fighting upon his
knee-cap. Leone cursed the disabled foot which had carried the hero in
action, to cast him at the mercy of his enemies; but recollection of
that sight of Rinaldo fighting far ahead and alone, half-down-like a
scuttled ship, stood like a flower in the lad’s memory. The volunteers
devoted themselves to liberate or avenge him. It was then that Barto
Rizzo sent his wife upon her mission. Leone assured Vittoria that Angelo
was aware of its nature, and approved it--hoped that the same might
be done for himself. He shook his head when she asked if Count Ammiani
approved it likewise.

“Signorina, Count Ammiani has a grudge against Barto, though he can’t
help making use of him. Our captain Carlo is too much of a mere soldier.
He would have allowed Rinaldo to be strung up, and Barto does not owe
him obedience in those things.”

“But why did this Barto Rizzo employ a woman’s hand?”

“The woman was capable. No man could have got permission to move freely
among the rascal Austrians, even in the character of a deserter. She
did, and she saved him from the shame of execution. And besides, it was
her punishment. You are astonished? Barto Rizzo punishes royally. He
never forgives, and he never persecutes; he waits for his opportunity.
That woman disobeyed him once--once only; but once was enough.
It occurred in Milan, I believe. She released an Austrian, or did
something--I don’t know the story exactly--and Barto said to her, ‘Now
you can wash out your crime and send your boy to heaven unspotted, with
one blow.’ I saw her set out to do it. She was all teeth and eyes, like
a frightened horse; she walked like a Muse in a garden.”

Vittoria discovered that her presence among the Austrians had been known
to Carlo. Leone alluded slightly to Barto Rizzo’s confirmed suspicion
of her, saying that it was his weakness to be suspicious of women. The
volunteers, however, were all in her favour, and had jeered at Barto on
his declaring that she might, in proof of her willingness to serve the
cause, have used her voice for the purpose of subjugating the wavering
Austro-Italians, who wanted as much coaxing as women. Count Karl had
been struck to earth by Barto Rizzo. “Not with his boasted neatness, I
imagine,” Leone said. In fact, the dagger had grazed an ivory portrait
of a fair Italian head wreathed with violets in Count Karl’s breast.

Vittoria recognized the features of Violetta d’Isorella as the original
of the portrait.

They arrived at Roveredo late in the evening. The wounded man again
entreated Vittoria to remain by him till a messenger should bring one
of his sisters from Trent. “See,” she said to Leone, “how I give grounds
for suspicion of me; I nurse an enemy.”

“Here is a case where Barto is distinctly to blame,” the lad replied.
“The poor fellow must want nursing, for he can’t smoke.”

Anna von Lenkenstein came from Trent to her brother’s summons. Vittoria
was by his bedside, and the sufferer had fallen asleep with his head
upon her arm. Anna looked upon this scene with more hateful amazement
than her dull eyelids could express. She beckoned imperiously for her
to come away, but Vittoria would not allow him to be disturbed, and Anna
sat and faced her. The sleep was long. The eyes of the two women met
from time to time, and Vittoria thought that Barto Rizzo’s wife, though
more terrible, was pleasanter to behold, and less brutal, than Anna.
The moment her brother stirred, Anna repeated her imperious gesture,
murmuring, “Away! out of my sight!” With great delicacy of touch she
drew the arm from the pillow and thrust it back, and then motioning in
an undisguised horror, said, “Go.” Vittoria rose to go.

“Is it my Lena?” came from Karl’s faint lips.

“It is your Anna.”

“I should have known,” he moaned.

Vittoria left them.

Some hours later, Countess Lena appeared, bringing a Trentino doctor.
She said when she beheld Vittoria, “Are you our evil genius, then?”
 Vittoria felt that she must necessarily wear that aspect to them.

Still greater was Lena’s amazement when she looked on Wilfrid. She
passed him without a sign.

Vittoria had to submit to an interview with both sisters before her
departure. Apart from her distress on their behalf, they had always
seemed as very weak, flippant young women to her, and she could have
smiled in her heart when Anna pointed to a day of retribution in the
future.

“I shall not seek to have you assassinated,” Anna said; “do not suppose
that I mean the knife or the pistol. But your day will come, and I can
wait for it. You murdered my brother Paul: you have tried to murder
my brother Karl. I wish you to leave this place convinced of one
thing:--you shall be repaid for it.”

There was no direct allusion either to Weisspriess or to Wilfrid.

Lena spoke of the army. “You think our cause is ruined because we have
insurrection on all sides of us: you do not know our army. We can fight
the Hungarians with one hand, and you Italians with the other--with a
little finger. On what spot have we given way? We have to weep, it is
true; but tears do not testify to defeat; and already I am inclined to
pity those fools who have taken part against us. Some have experienced
the fruits of their folly.”

This was the nearest approach to a hint at Wilfrid’s misconduct.

Lena handed Leone’s pass to Vittoria, and drawing out a little pocket
almanac, said, “You proceed to Milan, I presume. I do not love your
society; mademoiselle Belloni or Campa: yet I do not mind making an
appointment--the doctor says a month will set my brother on his feet
again,--I will make an appointment to meet you in Milan or Como, or
anywhere in your present territories, during the month of August. That
affords time for a short siege and two pitched battles.”

She appeared to be expecting a retort.

Vittoria replied, “I could beg one thing on my knees of you, Countess
Lena.”

“And that is--?” Lena threw her head up superbly.

“Pardon my old friend the service he did me through friendship.”

The sisters interchanged looks. Lena flushed angrily.

Anna said, “The person to whom you allude is here.”

“He is attending on your brother.”

“Did he help this last assassin to escape, perchance?”

Vittoria sickened at the cruel irony, and felt that she had perhaps done
ill in beginning to plead for Wilfrid.

“He is here; let him speak for himself: but listen to him, Countess
Lena.”

“A dishonourable man had better be dumb,” interposed Anna.

“Ah! it is I who have offended you.”

“Is that his excuse?”

Vittoria kept her eyes on the fiercer sister, who now declined to speak.

“I will not excuse my own deeds; perhaps I cannot. We Italians are in a
hurricane; I cannot reflect. It may be that I do not act more thinkingly
than a wild beast.”

“You have spoken it,” Anna exclaimed.

“Countess Lena, he fights in your ranks as a common soldier. He
encounters more than a common soldier’s risks.”

“The man is brave,--we knew that,” said Anna.

“He is more than brave, he is devoted. He fights against us, without
hope of reward from you. Have I utterly ruined him?”

“I imagine that you may regard it as a fact that you have utterly ruined
him,” said Anna, moving to break up the parting interview. Lena turned
to follow her.

“Ladies, if it is I who have hardened your hearts, I am more guilty than
I thought.” Vittoria said no more. She knew that she had been speaking
badly, or ineffectually, by a haunting flatness of sound, as of
an unstrung instrument, in her ears: she was herself unstrung and
dispirited, while the recollection of Anna’s voice was like a sombre
conquering monotony on a low chord, with which she felt insufficient to
compete.

Leone was waiting in the carriage to drive to the ferry across the
Adige. There was news in Roveredo of the king’s advance upon Rivoli;
and Leone sat trying to lift and straighten out his wounded arm, with
grimaces of laughter at the pain of the effort, which resolutely refused
to acknowledge him to be an able combatant. At the carriage-door Wilfrid
bowed once over Vittoria’s hand.

“You see that,” Anna remarked to her sister.

“I should have despised him if he had acted indifference,” replied Lena.

She would have suspected him--that was what her heart meant; the artful
show of indifference had deceived her once. The anger within her
drew its springs much more fully from his refusal to respond to her
affection, when she had in a fit of feminine weakness abased herself
before him on the night of the Milanese revolt, than from the
recollection of their days together in Meran. She had nothing of her
sister’s unforgivingness. And she was besides keenly curious to discover
the nature of the charm Vittoria threw on him, and not on him solely.
Vittoria left Wilfrid to better chances than she supposed. “Continue
fighting with your army,” she said, when they parted. The deeper shade
which traversed his features told her that, if she pleased, her sway
might still be active; but she had no emotion to spare for sentimental
regrets. She asked herself whether a woman who has cast her lot in
scenes of strife does not lose much of her womanhood and something of
her truth; and while her imagination remained depressed, her answer
was sad. In that mood she pitied Wilfrid with a reckless sense of her
inability to repay him for the harm she had done him. The tragedies
written in fresh blood all about her, together with that ever-present
image of the fate of Italy hanging in the balance, drew her away from
personal reflections. She felt as one in a war-chariot, who has not time
to cast more than a glance on the fallen. At the place where the ferry
is, she was rejoiced by hearing positive news of the proximity of the
Royal army. There were none to tell her that Charles Albert had here
made his worst move by leaving Vicenza to the operations of the enemy,
that he might become master of a point worthless when Vicenza fell into
the enemy’s hands. The old Austrian Field-Marshal had eluded him at
Mantua on that very night when Vittoria had seen his troops in motion.
The daring Austrian flank-march on Vicenza, behind the fortresses of the
Quadrilateral, was the capital stroke of the campaign. But the presence
of a Piedmontese vanguard at Rivoli flushed the Adige with confidence,
and Vittoria went on her way sharing the people’s delight. She reached
Brescia to hear that Vicenza had fallen. The city was like a landscape
smitten black by the thunder-cloud. Vittoria found Countess Ammiani at
her husband’s tomb, stiff, colourless, lifeless as a monument attached
to the tomb.



CHAPTER XXXV

CLOSE OF THE LOMBARD CAMPAIGN--VITTORIA’S PERPLEXITY

The fall of Vicenza turned a tide that had overflowed its barriers with
force enough to roll it to the Adriatic. From that day it was as if a
violent wind blew East over Lombardy; flood and wind breaking here
and there a tree, bowing everything before them. City, fortress, and
battle-field resisted as the eddy whirls. Venice kept her brave colours
streaming aloft in a mighty grasp despite the storm, but between Venice
and Milan there was this unutterable devastation,--so sudden a change,
so complete a reversal of the shield, that the Lombards were at first
incredulous even in their agony, and set their faces against it as at a
monstrous eclipse, as though the heavens were taking false oath of its
being night when it was day. From Vicenza and Rivoli, to Sommacampagna,
and across Monte Godio to Custozza, to Volta on the right of the Mincio,
up to the gates of Milan, the line of fire travelled, with a fantastic
overbearing swiftness that, upon the map, looks like the zig-zag
elbowing of a field-rocket. Vicenza fell on the 11th of June; the
Austrians entered Milan on the 6th of August. Within that short time the
Lombards were struck to the dust.

Countess Ammiani quitted Brescia for Bergamo before the worst had
happened; when nothing but the king’s retreat upon the Lombard capital,
after the good fight at Volta, was known. According to the king’s
proclamation the Piedmontese army was to defend Milan, and hope was not
dead. Vittoria succeeded in repressing all useless signs of grief in
the presence of the venerable lady, who herself showed none, but simply
recommended her accepted daughter to pray daily. “I can neither confess
nor pray,” Vittoria said to the priest, a comfortable, irritable
ecclesiastic, long attached to the family, and little able to deal with
this rebel before Providence, that would not let her swollen spirit
be bled. Yet she admitted to him that the countess possessed resources
which she could find nowhere; and she saw the full beauty of such
inimitable grave endurance. Vittoria’s foolish trick of thinking for
herself made her believe, nevertheless, that the countess suffered
more than she betrayed, was less consoled than her spiritual comforter
imagined. She continued obstinate and unrepentant, saying, “If my
punishment is to come, it will at least bring experience with it, and I
shall know why I am punished. The misery now is that I do not know, and
do not see, the justice of the sentence.”

Countess Ammiani thought better of her case than the priest did; or
she was more indulgent, or half indifferent. This girl was Carlo’s
choice;--a strange choice, but the times were strange, and the girl was
robust. The channels of her own and her husband’s house were drying on
all sides; the house wanted resuscitating. There was promise that the
girl would bear children of strong blood. Countess Ammiani would not for
one moment have allowed the spiritual welfare of the children to hang
in dubitation, awaiting their experience of life; but a certain
satisfaction was shown in her faint smile when her confessor lamented
over Vittoria’s proud stony state of moral revolt. She said to her
accepted daughter, “I shall expect you to be prepared to espouse my son
as soon as I have him by my side;” nor did Vittoria’s silent bowing of
her face assure her that strict obedience was implied. Precise words--“I
will,” and “I will not fail”--were exacted. The countess showed some
emotion after Vittoria had spoken. “Now, may God end this war quickly,
if it is to go against us,” she exclaimed, trembling in her chair
visibly a half-minute, with dropped eyelids and lips moving.

Carlo had sent word that he would join his mother as early as he was
disengaged from active service, and meantime requested her to proceed to
a villa on Lago Maggiore. Vittoria obtained permission from the countess
to order the route of the carriage through Milan, where she wished to
take up her mother and her maid Giacinta. For other reasons she would
have avoided the city. The thought of entering it was painful with the
shrewdest pain. Dante’s profoundly human line seemed branded on the
forehead of Milan.

The morning was dark when they drove through the streets of Bergamo.
Passing one of the open places, Vittoria beheld a great concourse of
volunteer youth and citizens, all of them listening to the voice of one
who stood a few steps above them holding a banner. She gave an outcry
of bitter joy. It was the Chief. On one side of him was Agostino, in the
midst of memorable heads that were unknown to her. The countess refused
to stay, though Vittoria strained her hands together in extreme entreaty
that she might for a few moments hear what the others were hearing. “I
speak for my son, and I forbid it,” Countess Ammiani said. Vittoria fell
back and closed her eyes to cherish the vision. All those faces raised
to the one speaker under the dark sky were beautiful. He had breathed
some new glory of hope in them, making them shine beneath the overcast
heavens, as when the sun breaks from an evening cloud and flushes the
stems of a company of pine-trees.

Along the road to Milan she kept imagining his utterance until her heart
rose with music. A delicious stream of music, thin as poor tears, passed
through her frame, like a life reviving. She reached Milan in a mood to
bear the idea of temporary defeat. Music had forsaken her so long that
celestial reassurance seemed to return with it.

Her mother was at Zotti’s, very querulous, but determined not to
leave the house and the few people she knew. She had, as she told her
daughter, fretted so much on her account that she hardly knew whether
she was glad to see her. Tea, of course, she had given up all thoughts
of; but now coffee was rising, and the boasted sweet bread of Lombardy
was something to look at! She trusted that Emilia would soon think of
singing no more, and letting people rest: she might sing when she wanted
money. A letter recently received from Mr. Pericles said that Italy was
her child’s ruin, and she hoped Emilia was ready to do as he advised,
and hurry to England, where singing did not upset people, and people
lived like real Christians, not----Vittoria flapped her hand, and
would not hear of the unchristian crimes of the South. As regarded the
expected defence of Milan, the little woman said, that if it brought on
a bombardment, she would call it unpardonable wickedness, and only hoped
that her daughter would repent.

Zotti stood by, interpreting the English to himself by tones. “The
amiable donnina is not of our persuasion,” he observed. “She remains
dissatisfied with patriotic Milan. I have exhibited to her my dabs of
bread through all the processes of making and baking. It is in vain. She
rejects analogy. She is wilful as a principessina: ‘Tis so! ‘tis not so!
‘tis my will! be silent, thou! Signora, I have been treated in that way
by your excellent mother.”

“Zotti has not been paid for three weeks, and he certainly has not
mentioned it or looked it, I will say, Emilia.”

“Zotti has had something to think of during the last three weeks,” said
Vittoria, touching him kindly on the arm.

The confectioner lifted his fingers and his big brown eyes after them,
expressive of the unutterable thoughts. He informed her that he had laid
in a stock of flour, in the expectation that Carlo Alberto would defend
the city: The Milanese were ready to aid him, though some, as Zotti
confessed, had ceased to effervesce; and a great number who were
perfectly ready to fight regarded his tardy appeal to Italian patriotism
very coldly. Zotti set out in person to discover Giacinta. The girl
could hardly fetch her breath when she saw her mistress. She was in
Laura’s service, and said that Laura had brought a wounded Englishman
from the field of Custozza. Vittoria hurried to Laura, with whom she
found Merthyr, blue-white as a corpse, having been shot through the
body. His sister was in one of the Lombard hamlets, unaware of his fall;
Beppo had been sent to her.

They noticed one another’s embrowned complexions, but embraced silently.
“Twice widowed!” Laura said when they sat together. Laura hushed all
speaking of the war or allusion to a single incident of the miserable
campaign, beyond the bare recital of Vittoria’s adventures; yet when
Vicenza by chance was mentioned, she burst out: “They are not cities,
they are living shrieks. They have been made impious for ever. Burn them
to ashes, that they may not breathe foul upon heaven!” She had clung to
the skirts of the army as far as the field of Custozza. “He,” she said,
pointing to the room where Merthyr lay,--“he groans less than the others
I have nursed. Generally, when they looked at me, they appeared obliged
to recollect that it was not I who had hurt them. Poor souls! some ended
in great torment. ‘I think of them as the happiest; for pain is a cloak
that wraps you about, and I remember one middle-aged man who died softly
at Custozza, and said, ‘Beaten!’ To take that thought as your travelling
companion into the gulf, must be worse than dying of agony; at least, I
think so.”

Vittoria was too well used to Laura’s way of meeting disaster to expect
from her other than this ironical fortitude, in which the fortitude
leaned so much upon the irony. What really astonished her was the
conception Laura had taken of the might of Austria. Laura did not
directly speak of it, but shadowed it in allusive hints, much as if
she had in her mind the image of an iron roller going over a field of
flowers--hateful, imminent, irresistible. She felt as a leaf that has
been flying before the gale.

Merthyr’s wound was severe: Vittoria could not leave him. Her resolution
to stay in Milan brought her into collision with Countess Ammiani, when
the countess reminded her of her promise, sedately informing her that
she was no longer her own mistress, and had a primary duty to fulfil.
She offered to wait three days, or until the safety of the wounded man
was medically certified to. It was incomprehensible to her that Vittoria
should reject her terms; and though it was true that she would not have
listened to a reason, she was indignant at not hearing one given in
mitigation of the offence. She set out alone on her journey, deeply
hurt. The reason was a feminine sentiment, and Vittoria was naturally
unable to speak it. She shrank with pathetic horror from the thought of
Merthyr’s rising from his couch to find her a married woman, and desired
most earnestly that her marriage should be witnessed by him. Young women
will know how to reconcile the opposition of the sentiment. Had Merthyr
been only slightly wounded, and sound enough to seem to be able to bear
a bitter shock, she would not have allowed her personal feelings to
cause chagrin to the noble lady. The sight of her dear steadfast friend
prostrate in the cause of Italy, and who, if he lived to rise again,
might not have his natural strength to bear the thought of her loss with
his old brave firmness, made it impossible for her to act decisively in
one direct line of conduct.

Countess Ammiani wrote brief letters from Luino and Pallanza on Lago
Maggiore. She said that Carlo was in the Como mountains; he would expect
to find his bride, and would accuse his mother; “but his mother will be
spared those reproaches,” she added, “if the last shot fired kills, as
it generally does, the bravest and the dearest.”

“If it should!”--the thought rose on a quick breath in Vittoria’s bosom,
and the sentiment which held her away dispersed like a feeble smoke, and
showed her another view of her features. She wept with longing for love
and dependence. She was sick of personal freedom, tired of the exercise
of her will, only too eager to give herself to her beloved. The
blessedness of marriage, of peace and dependence, came on her
imagination like a soft breeze from a hidden garden, like sleep. But
this very longing created the resistance to it in the depths of her
soul. ‘There was a light as of reviving life, or of pain comforted, when
it was she who was sitting by Merthyr’s side, and when at times she saw
the hopeless effort of his hand to reach to hers, or during the long
still hours she laid her head on his pillow, and knew that he breathed
gratefully. The sweetness of helping him, and of making his breathing
pleasant to him, closed much of the world which lay beyond her windows
to her thoughts, and surprised her with an unknown emotion, so strange
to her that when it first swept up her veins she had the fancy of her
having been touched by a supernatural hand, and heard a flying accord of
instruments. She was praying before she knew what prayer was. A crucifix
hung over Merthyr’s head. She had looked on it many times, and looked on
it still, without seeing more than the old sorrow. In the night it was
dim. She found herself trying to read the features of the thorn-crowned
Head in the solitary night. She and it were alone with a life that
was faint above the engulphing darkness. She prayed for the life, and
trembled, and shed tears, and would have checked them; they seemed to
be bearing away her little remaining strength. The tears streamed. No
answer was given to her question, “Why do I weep?” She wept when Merthyr
had passed the danger, as she had wept when the hours went by, with
shrouded visages; and though she felt the difference m the springs of
her tears, she thought them but a simple form of weakness showing shade
and light.

These tears were a vanward wave of the sea to follow; the rising of her
voice to heaven was no more than a twitter of the earliest dawn before
the coming of her soul’s outcry.

“I have had a weeping fit,” she thought, and resolved to remember it
tenderly, as being associated with her friend’s recovery, and a singular
masterful power absolutely to look on the Austrians marching up the
streets of Milan, and not to feel the surging hatred, or the nerveless
despair, which she had supposed must be her alternatives.

It is a mean image to say that the entry of the Austrians into the
reconquered city was like a river of oil permeating a lake of vinegar,
but it presents the fact in every sense. They demanded nothing more than
submission, and placed a gentle foot upon the fallen enemy; and wherever
they appeared they were isolated. The deepest wrath of the city was,
nevertheless, not directed against them, but against Carlo Alberto,
who had pledged his honour to defend it, and had forsaken it. Vittoria
committed a public indiscretion on the day when the king left Milan to
its fate: word whereof was conveyed to Carlo Ammiani, and he wrote to
her.

“It is right that I should tell you what I have heard,” the letter said.
“I have heard that my bride drove up to the crowned traitor, after he
had unmasked himself, and when he was quitting the Greppi palace, and
that she kissed his hand before the people--poor bleeding people of
Milan! This is what I hear in the Val d’Intelvi:--that she despised
the misery and just anger of the people, and, by virtue of her name and
mine, obtained a way for him. How can she have acted so as to give a
colour to this infamous scandal? True or false, it does not affect my
love for her. Still, my dearest, what shall I say? You keep me divided
in two halves. My heart is out of me; and if I had a will, I think I
should be harsh with you. You are absent from my mother at a time when
we are about to strike another blow. Go to her. It is kindness; it is
charity: I do not say duty. I remember that I did write harshly to you
from Brescia. Then our march was so clear in view that a little thing
ruffled me. Was it a little thing? But to applaud the Traitor now! To
uphold him who has spilt our blood only to hand the country over to the
old gaolers! He lent us his army like a Jew, for huge interest. Can
you not read him? If not, cease, I implore you, to think at all for
yourself.

“Is this a lover’s letter? I know that my beloved will see the love in
it. To me your acts are fair and good as the chronicle of a saint. I
find you creating suspicion--almost justifying it in others, and putting
your name in the mouth of a madman who denounces you. I shall not speak
more of him. Remember that my faith in you is unchangeable, and I pray
you to have the same in me.

“I sent you a greeting from the Chief. He marched in the ranks from
Bergamo. I saw him on the line of march strip off his coat to shelter a
young lad from the heavy rain. He is not discouraged; none are who have
been near him.

“Angelo is here, and so is our Agostino; and I assure you he loads and
fires a carbine much more deliberately than he composes a sonnet. I am
afraid that your adored Antonio-Pericles fared badly among our fellows,
but I could gather no particulars.

“Oh! the bright two minutes when I held you right in my heart. That spot
on the Vicentino is alone unclouded. If I live I will have that bit of
ground. I will make a temple of it. I could reach it blindfolded.”

A townsman of Milan brought this letter to Vittoria. She despatched
Luigi with her reply, which met the charge in a straightforward
affirmative.

“I was driving to Zotti’s by the Greppi palace, when I saw the king come
forth, and the people hooted him. I stood up, and petitioned to kiss his
hand. The people knew me. They did not hoot any more for some time.

“So that you have heard the truth, and you must judge me by it. I cannot
even add that I am sorry, though I strive to wish that I had not been
present. I might wish it really, if I did not feel it to be a cowardly
wish.

“Oh, my Carlo! my lover! my husband! you would not have me go against
my nature? I have seen the king upon the battle-field. He has deigned to
speak to me of Italy and our freedom. I have seen him facing our enemy;
and to see him hooted by the people, and in misfortune and with sad
eyes!--he looked sad and nothing else--and besides, I am sure I know
the king. I mean that I understand him. I am half ashamed to write so
boldly, even to you. I say to myself you should know me, at least; and
if I am guilty of a piece of vanity, you should know that also. Carlo
Alberto is quite unlike other men. He worships success as, much; but
they are not, as he is, so much bettered by adversity. Indeed I do
not believe that he has exact intentions of any sort, or ever had the
intention to betray us, or has done so in reality, that is, meaningly,
of his own will. Count Medole and his party did, as you know, offer
Lombardy to him; and Venice gave herself--brave, noble Venice! Oh! if we
two were there--Venice has England’s sea-spirit. But, did we not flatter
the king? And ask yourself, my Carlo, could a king move in such
an enterprise as a common person? Ought we not to be in union with
Sardinia? How can we be if we reject her king? Is it not the only
positive army that, we can look to--I mean regular army? Should we not;
make some excuses for one who is not in our position?

“I feel that I push my questions like waves that fall and cannot get
beyond--they crave so for answers agreeing to them. This should make
me doubt myself, perhaps; but they crowd again, and seem so conclusive
until I have written them down. I am unworthy to struggle with your
intellect; but I say to myself, how unworthy of you I should be if I
did not use my own, such as it is! The poor king; had to conclude an
armistice to save his little kingdom. Perhaps we ought to think of that
sternly. My heart is; filled with pity.

“It cannot but be right that you should know the worst; of me. I call
you my husband, and tremble to be permitted to lean my head on your
bosom for hours, my sweet lover! And yet my cowardice, if I had let the
king go by without a reverential greeting from me, in his adversity,
would have rendered me insufferable to myself. You are hearing me, and
I am compelled to say, that rather than behave so basely I would forfeit
your love, and be widowed till death should offer us for God to join us.
Does your face change to me?

“Dearest, and I say it when the thought of you sets me almost swooning.
I find my hands clasped, and I am muttering I know not what, and I am
blushing. The ground seems to rock; I can barely breathe; my heart is
like a bird caught in the hands of a cruel boy: it will not rest. I fear
everything. I hear a whisper, ‘Delay not an instant!’ and it is like
a furnace; ‘Hasten to him! Speed!’ and I seem to totter forward and
drop--I think I have lost you--I am like one dead.

“I remain here to nurse our dear friend Merthyr. For that reason I am
absent from your mother. It is her desire that we should be married.

“Soon, soon, my own soul!

“I seem to be hanging on a tree for you, swayed by such a teazing wind.

“Oh, soon! or I feel that I shall hate any vestige of will that I have
in this head of mine. Not in the heart--it is not there!

“And sometimes I am burning to sing. The voice leaps to my lips; it is
quite like a thing that lives apart--my prisoner.

“It is true, Laura is here with Merthyr.

“Could you come at once?--not here, but to Pallanza? We shall both make
our mother happy. This she wishes, this she lives for, this consoles
her--and oh, this gives me peace! Yes, Merthyr is recovering! I can
leave him without the dread I had; and Laura confesses to the feminine
sentiment, if her funny jealousy of a rival nurse is really simply
feminine. She will be glad of our resolve, I am sure. And then you will
order all my actions; and I shall be certain that they are such as I
would proudly call mine; and I shall be shut away from the world.
Yes; let it be so! Addio. I reserve all sweet names for you. Addio. In
Pallanza:--no not Pallanza--Paradise!

“Hush! and do not smile at me:--it was not my will, I discover, but my
want of will, that distracted me.

“See my last signature of--not Vittoria; for I may sign that again and
still be Emilia Alessandra Ammiani.

                    “SANDRA BELLONI”

The letter was sealed; Luigi bore it away, and a brief letter to
Countess Ammiani, in Pallanza, as well.

Vittoria was relieved of her anxiety concerning Merthyr by the arrival
of Georgiana, who had been compelled to make her way round by Piacenza
and Turin, where she had left Gambier, with Beppo in attendance on him.
Georgiana at once assumed all the duties of head-nurse, and the more
resolutely because of her brother’s evident moral weakness in sighing
for the hand of a fickle girl to smooth his pillow. “When he is stronger
you can sit beside him a little,” she said to Vittoria, who surrendered
her post without a struggle, and rarely saw him, though Laura told her
that his frequent exclamation was her name, accompanied by a soft look
at his sister--“which would have stirred my heart like poor old Milan
last March,” Laura added, with a lift of her shoulders.

Georgiana’s icy manner appeared infinitely strange to Vittoria when
she heard from Merthyr that his sister had become engaged to Captain
Gambier.

“Nothing softens these women,” said Laura, putting Georgiana in a class.

“I wish you could try the effect of your winning Merthyr,” Vittoria
suggested.

“I remember that when I went to my husband, I likewise wanted every
woman of my acquaintance to be married.” Laura sighed deeply. “What
is this poor withered body of mine now? It feels like an old volcano,
cindery, with fire somewhere:--a charming bride! My dear, if I live till
my children make me a grandmother, I shall look on the love of men and
women as a toy that I have played with. A new husband? I must be dragged
through the Circles of Dante before I can conceive it, and then I should
loathe the stranger.”

News came that the volunteers were crushed. It was time for Vittoria
to start for Pallanza, and she thought of her leave-taking; a final
leave-taking, in one sense, to the friends who had cared too much for
her. Laura delicately drew Georgiana aside in the sick-room, which she
would not quit, and alluded to the necessity for Vittoria’s departure
without stating exactly wherefore: but Georgiana was a Welshwoman.
Partly to show her accurate power of guessing, and chiefly that she
might reprove Laura’s insulting whisper, which outraged and irritated
her as much as if “Oh! your poor brother!” had been exclaimed, she made
display of Merthyr’s manly coldness by saying aloud, “You mean, that
she is going to her marriage.” Laura turned her face to Merthyr. He had
striven to rise on his elbow, and had dropped flat in his helplessness.
Big tears were rolling down his cheeks. His articulation failed him,
beyond a reiterated “No, no,” pitiful to hear, and he broke into
childish sobs. Georgiana hurried Laura from the room. By-and-by the
doctor was promptly summoned, and it was Georgiana herself, miserably
humbled, who obtained Vittoria’s sworn consent to keep the life in
Merthyr by lingering yet awhile.

Meantime Luigi brought a letter from Pallanza in Carlo’s handwriting.
This was the burden of it:

“I am here, and you are absent. Hasten!”



CHAPTER XXXVI

A FRESH ENTANGLEMENT

The Lenkenstein ladies returned to Milan proudly in the path of the
army which they had followed along the city walls on the black March
midnight. The ladies of the Austrian aristocracy generally had to be
exiles from Vienna, and were glad to flock together even in an alien
city. Anna and Lena were aware of Vittoria’s residence in Milan, through
the interchange of visits between the Countess of Lenkenstein and her
sister Signora Piaveni. They heard also of Vittoria’s prospective and
approaching marriage to Count Ammiani. The Duchess of Graatli, who had
forborne a visit to her unhappy friends, lest her Austrian face should
wound their sensitiveness, was in company with the Lenkensteins one day,
when Irma di Karski called on them. Irma had come from Lago
Maggiore, where she had left her patron, as she was pleased to term
Antonio-Pericles. She was full of chatter of that most worthy man’s
deplorable experiences of Vittoria’s behaviour to him during the war,
and of many things besides. According to her account, Vittoria had
enticed him from place to place with promises that the next day, and the
next day, and the day after, she would be ready to keep her engagement
to go to London, and at last she had given him the slip and left him to
be plucked like a pullet by a horde of volunteer banditti, out of whose
hands Antonio-Pericles-“one of our richest millionaires in Europe,
certainly our richest amateur,” said Irma--escaped in fit outward
condition for the garden of Eden.

Count Karl was lying on the sofa, and went into endless invalid’s
laughter at the picture presented by Irma of the ‘wild man’ wanderings
of poor infatuated Pericles, which was exaggerated, though not
intentionally, for Irma repeated the words and gestures of Pericles in
the recital of his tribulations. Being of a somewhat similar physical
organization, she did it very laughably. Irma declared that Pericles was
cured of his infatuation. He had got to Turin, intending to quit Italy
for ever, when--“he met me,” said Irma modestly.

“And heard that the war was at an end,” Count Karl added.

“And he has taken the superb Villa Ricciardi, on Lago Maggiore, where he
will have a troupe of singers, and perform operas, in which I believe
I may possibly act as prima donna. The truth is, I would do anything to
prevent him from leaving the country.”

But Irma had more to say; with “I bear no malice,” she commenced it. The
story she had heard was that Count Ammiani, after plighting himself to
a certain signorina, known as Vittoria Campa, had received tidings that
she was one of those persons who bring discredit on Irma’s profession.
“Gifted by nature, I can acknowledge,” said Irma; “but devoured by
vanity--a perfect slave to the appetite for praise; ready to forfeit
anything for flattery! Poor signor Antonio-Pericles!--he knows her.” And
now Count Ammiani, persuaded to reason by his mother, had given her up.
There was nothing more positive, for Irma had seen him in the society of
Countess Violetta d’Isorella.

Anna and Lena glanced at their brother Karl.

“I should not allude to what is not notorious,” Irma pursued. “They
are always together. My dear Antonio-Pericles is most amusing in his
expressions of delight at it. For my part, though she served me an evil
turn once,--you will hardly believe, ladies, that in her jealousy of me
she was guilty of the most shameful machinations to get me out of the
way on the night of the first performance of Camilla,--but, for my part,
I bear no malice. The creature is an inveterate rebel, and I dislike her
for that, I do confess.”

“The signorina Vittoria Campa is my particular and very dear friend,”
 said the duchess.

“She is not the less an inveterate rebel,” said Anna.

Count Karl gave a long-drawn sigh. “Alas, that she should have brought
discredit on Fraulein di Karski’s profession!”

The duchess hurried straightway to Laura, with whom was Count
Serabiglione, reviewing the present posture of affairs from the
condescending altitudes of one that has foretold it. Laura and Amalia
embraced and went apart. During their absence Vittoria came down to
the count and listened to a familiar illustration of his theory of the
relations which should exist between Italy and Austria, derived from the
friendship of those two women.

“What I wish you to see, signorina, is that such an alliance is
possible; and, if we supply the brains, as we do, is by no means likely
to be degrading. These bears are absolutely on their knees to us for
good fellowship. You have influence, you have amazing wit, you have
unparalleled beauty, and, let me say it with the utmost sadness, you
have now had experience. Why will you not recognize facts? Italian
unity! I have exposed the fatuity--who listens? Italian freedom! I do
not attempt to reason with my daughter. She is pricked by an envenomed
fly of Satan. Yet, behold her and the duchess! It is the very union I
preach; and I am, I declare to you, signorina, in great danger. I feel
it, but I persist. I am in danger” (Count Serabiglione bowed his head
low) “of the transcendent sin of scorn of my species.”

The little nobleman swayed deploringly in his chair. “Nothing is so
perilous for a soul’s salvation as that. The one sane among madmen! The
one whose reason is left to him among thousands who have forsaken it! I
beg you to realize the idea. The Emperor, as I am given to understand,
is about to make public admission of my services. I shall be all the
more hated. Yet it is a considerable gain. I do not deny that I esteem
it as a promotion for my services. I shall not be the first martyr in
this world, signorina.”

Count Serabiglione produced a martyr’s smile.

“The profits of my expected posts will be,” he was saying, with a
reckoning eye cast upward into his cranium for accuracy, when Laura
returned, and Vittoria ran out to the duchess. Amalia repeated Irma’s
tattle. A curious little twitching of the brows at Violetta d’Isorella’s
name marked the reception of it.

“She is most lovely,” Vittoria said.

“And absolutely reckless.”

“She is an old friend of Count Ammiani’s.”

“And you have an old friend here. But the old friend of a young woman--I
need not say further than that it is different.”

The duchess used the privilege of her affection, and urged Vittoria not
to trifle with her lover’s impatience.

Admitted to the chamber where Merthyr lay, she was enabled to make
allowance for her irresolution. The face of the wounded man was like a
lake-water taking light from Vittoria’s presence.

“This may go on for weeks,” she said to Laura.

Three days later, Vittoria received an order from the Government to quit
the city within a prescribed number of hours, and her brain was racked
to discover why Laura appeared so little indignant at the barbarous
act of despotism. Laura undertook to break the bad news to Merthyr. The
parting was as quiet and cheerful as, in the opposite degree, Vittoria
had thought it would be melancholy and regretful. “What a Government!”
 Merthyr said, and told her to let him hear of any changes. “All changes
that please my friends please me.”

Vittoria kissed his forehead with one grateful murmur of farewell to the
bravest heart she had ever known. The going to her happiness seemed more
like going to something fatal until she reached the Lago Maggiore. There
she saw September beauty, and felt as if the splendour encircling her
were her bridal decoration. But no bridegroom stood to greet her on
the terrace-steps between the potted orange and citron-trees. Countess
Ammiani extended kind hands to her at arms’ length.

“You have come,” she said. “I hope that it is not too late.”

Vittoria was a week without sight of her lover: nor did Countess Ammiani
attempt to explain her words, or speak of other than common daily
things. In body and soul Vittoria had taken a chill. The silent blame
resting on her in this house called up her pride, so that she would not
ask any questions; and when Carlo came, she wanted warmth to melt her.
Their meeting was that of two passionless creatures. Carlo kissed her
loyally, and courteously inquired after her health and the health of
friends in Milan, and then he rallied his mother. Agostino had arrived
with him, and the old man, being in one of his soft moods, unvexed by
his conceits, Vittoria had some comfort from him of a dull kind. She
heard Carlo telling his mother that he must go in the morning. Agostino
replied to her quick look at him, “I stay;” and it seemed like a little
saved from the wreck, for she knew that she could speak to Agostino as
she could not to the countess. When his mother prepared to retire,
Carlo walked over to his bride, and repeated rapidly and brightly his
inquiries after friends in Milan. She, with a pure response to his
natural-unnatural manner, spoke of Merthyr Powys chiefly: to which
he said several times, “Dear fellow!” and added, “I shall always love
Englishmen for his sake.”

This gave her one throb. “I could not leave him, Carlo.”

“Certainly not, certainly not,” said Carlo. “I should have been happy to
wait on him myself. I was busy; I am still. I dare say you have guessed
that I have a new journal in my head: the Pallanza Iris is to be
the name of it;--to be printed in three colours, to advocate three
principles, in three styles. The Legitimists, the Moderates, and the
Republicans are to proclaim themselves in its columns in prose, poetry,
and hotch-potch. Once an editor, always an editor. The authorities
suspect that something of the sort is about to be planted, so I can only
make occasional visits here:--therefore, as you will believe,”--Carlo
let his voice fall--“I have good reason to hate them still. They may
cease to persecute me soon.”

He insisted upon lighting his mother to her room. Vittoria and Agostino
sat talking of the Chief and the minor events of the war--of Luciano,
Marco, Giulio, and Ugo Corte--till the conviction fastened on them
that Carlo would not return, when Agostino stood up and said, yawning
wearily, “I’ll talk further to you, my child, tomorrow.”

She begged that it might be now.

“No; to-morrow,” said he.

“Now, now!” she reiterated, and brought down a reproof from his
fore-finger.

“The poetic definition of ‘now’ is that it is a small boat, my daughter,
in which the female heart is constantly pushing out to sea and sinking.
‘To-morrow’ is an island in the deeps, where grain grows. When I land
you there, I will talk to you.”

She knew that he went to join Carlo after he had quitted her.

Agostino was true to his promise next day. He brought her nearer to what
she had to face, though he did not help her vision much. Carlo had gone
before sunrise.

They sat on the terrace above the lake, screened from the sunlight by
thick myrtle bushes. Agostino smoked his loosely-rolled cigarettes, and
Vittoria sipped chocolate and looked upward to the summit of Motterone,
with many thoughts and images in her mind.

He commenced by giving her a love-message from Carlo. “Hold fast to it
that he means it: conduct is never a straight index where the heart’s
involved,” said the chuckling old man; “or it is not in times like ours.
You have been in the wrong, and your having a good excuse will not help
you before the deciding fates. Woman that you are! did you not think
that because we were beaten we were going to rest for a very long while,
and that your Carlo of yesterday was going to be your Carlo of to-day?”

Vittoria tacitly confessed to it.

“Ay,” he pursued, “when you wrote to him in the Val d’Intelvi, you
supposed you had only to say, ‘I am ready,’ which was then the case. You
made your summer and left the fruits to hang, and now you are astounded
that seasons pass and fruits drop. You should have come to this place,
if but for a pair of days, and so have fixed one matter in the chapter.
This is how the chapter has run on. I see I talk to a stunned head; you
are thinking that Carlo’s love for you can’t have changed: and it has
not, but occasion has gone and times have changed. Now listen. The
countess desired the marriage. Carlo could not go to you in Milan with
the sword in his hand. Therefore you had to come to him. He waited for
you, perhaps for his own preposterous lover’s sake as much as to make
his mother’s heart easy. If she loses him she loses everything, unless
he leaves a wife to her care and the hope that her House will not be
extinct, which is possibly not much more the weakness of old aristocracy
than of human nature.

“Meantime, his brothers in arms had broken up and entered Piedmont,
and he remained waiting for you still. You are thinking that he had
not waited a month. But if four months finished Lombardy, less than one
month is quite sufficient to do the same for us little beings. He met
the Countess d’Isorella here. You have to thank her for seeing him at
all, so don’t wrinkle your forehead yet. Luciano Romara is drilling
his men in Piedmont; Angelo Guidascarpi has gone there. Carlo was
considering it his duty to join Luciano, when he met this lady, and she
has apparently succeeded in altering his plans. Luciano and his band
will go to Rome. Carlo fancies that another blow will be struck for
Lombardy. This lady should know; the point is, whether she can be
trusted. She persists in declaring that Carlo’s duty is to remain,
and--I cannot tell how, for I am as a child among women--she has
persuaded him of her sincerity. Favour me now with your clearest
understanding, and deliver it from feminine sensations of any
description for just two minutes.”

Agostino threw away the end of a cigarette and looked for firmness in
Vittoria’s eyes.

“This Countess d’Isorella is opposed to Carlo’s marriage at present. She
says that she is betraying the king’s secrets, and has no reliance on
a woman. As a woman you will pardon her, for it is the language of your
sex. You are also denounced by Barto Rizzo, a madman--he went mad as
fire, and had to be chained at Varese. In some way or other Countess
d’Isorella got possession of him; she has managed to subdue him. A
sword-cut he received once in Verona has undoubtedly affected his brain,
or caused it to be affected under strong excitement. He is at her villa,
and she says--perhaps with some truth--that Carlo would in several ways
lose his influence by his immediate marriage with you. The reason must
have weight; otherwise he would fulfil his mother’s principal request,
and be at the bidding of his own desire. There; I hope I have spoken
plainly.”

Agostino puffed a sigh of relief at the conclusion of his task.

Vittoria had been too strenuously engaged in defending the steadiness of
her own eyes to notice the shadow of an assumption of frankness in his.

She said that she understood.

She got away to her room like an insect carrying a load thrice its own
size. All that she could really gather from Agostino’s words was, that
she felt herself rocking in a tower, and that Violetta d’Isorella was
beautiful. She had striven hard to listen to him with her wits alone,
and her sensations subsequently revenged themselves in this fashion. The
tower rocked and struck a bell that she discovered to be her betraying
voice uttering cries of pain. She was for hours incapable of meeting
Agostino again. His delicate intuition took the harshness off the
meeting. He led her even to examine her state of mind, and to discern
the fancies from the feelings by which she was agitated. He said
shrewdly and bluntly, “You can master pain, but not doubt. If you show
a sign of unhappiness, remember that I shall know you doubt both what I
have told you, and Carlo as well.”

Vittoria fenced: “But is there such a thing as happiness?”

“I should imagine so,” said Agostino, touching her cheek, “and
slipperiness likewise. There’s patience at any rate; only you must dig
for it. You arrive at nothing, but the eternal digging constitutes the
object gained. I recollect when I was a raw lad, full of ambition, in
love, and without a franc in my pockets, one night in Paris, I found
myself looking up at a street lamp; there was a moth in it. He couldn’t
get out, so he had very little to trouble his conscience. I think he was
near happiness: he ought to have been happy. My luck was not so good, or
you wouldn’t see me still alive, my dear.”

Vittoria sighed for a plainer speaker.



CHAPTER XXXVII

ON LAGO MAGGIORE

Carlo’s hours were passed chiefly across the lake, in the Piedmontese
valleys. When at Pallanza he was restless, and he shunned the two or
three minutes of privacy with his betrothed which the rigorous Italian
laws besetting courtship might have allowed him to take. He had
perpetually the look of a man starting from wine. It was evident that he
and Countess d’Isorella continued to hold close communication, for she
came regularly to the villa to meet him. On these occasions Countess
Ammiani accorded her one ceremonious interview, and straightway locked
herself in her room. Violetta’s grace of ease and vivacity soared too
high to be subject to any hostile judgement of her character. She seemed
to rely entirely on the force of her beauty, and to care little for
those who did not acknowledge it. She accepted public compliments quite
royally, nor was Agostino backward in offering them. “And you have
a voice, you know,” he sometimes said aside to Vittoria; but she had
forgotten how easily she could swallow great praise of her voice; she
had almost forgotten her voice. Her delight was to hang her head above
inverted mountains in the lake, and dream that she was just something
better than the poorest of human creatures. She could not avoid putting
her mind in competition with this brilliant woman’s, and feeling
eclipsed; and her weakness became pitiable. But Countess d’Isorella
mentioned once that Pericles was at the Villa Ricciardi, projecting
magnificent operatic entertainments. The reviving of a passion to sing
possessed Vittoria like a thirst for freedom, and instantly confused all
the reflected images within her, as the fury of a sudden wind from the
high Alps scourges the glassy surface of the lake. She begged Countess
Ammiani’s permission that she might propose to Pericles to sing in his
private operatic company, in any part, at the shortest notice.

“You wish to leave me?” said the countess, and resolutely conceived it.

Speaking to her son on this subject, she thought it necessary to make
some excuse for a singer’s instinct, who really did not live save on the
stage. It amused Carlo; he knew when his mother was really angry with
persons she tried to shield from the anger of others; and her not seeing
the wrong on his side in his behaviour to his betrothed was laughable.
Nevertheless she had divined the case more correctly than he: the
lover was hurt. After what he had endured, he supposed, with all his
forgiveness, that he had an illimitable claim upon his bride’s patience.
He told his another to speak to her openly.

“Why not you, my Carlo?” said the countess.

“Because, mother, if I speak to her, I shall end by throwing out my arms
and calling for the priest.”

“I would clap hands to that.”

“We will see; it may be soon or late, but it can’t be now.”

“How much am I to tell her, Carlo?”

“Enough to keep her from fretting.”

The countess then asked herself how much she knew. Her habit of
receiving her son’s word and will as supreme kept her ignorant of
anything beyond the outline of his plans; and being told to speak openly
of them to another, she discovered that her acquiescing imagination
supplied the chief part of her knowledge. She was ashamed also to have
it thought, even by Carlo, that she had not gathered every detail of his
occupation, so that she could not argue against him, and had to submit
to see her dearest wishes lightly swept aside.

“I beg you to tell me what you think of Countess d’Isorella; not the
afterthought,” she said to Vittoria.

“She is beautiful, dear Countess Ammiani.”

“Call me mother now and then. Yes; she is beautiful. She has a bad
name.”

“Envy must have given it, I think.”

“Of course she provokes envy. But I say that her name is bad, as envy
could not make it. She is a woman who goes on missions, and carries
a husband into society like a passport. You have only thought of her
beauty?”

“I can see nothing else,” said Vittoria, whose torture at the sight of
the beauty was appeased by her disingenuous pleading on its behalf.

“In my time Beauty was a sinner,” the countess resumed. “My confessor
has filled my ears with warnings that it is a net to the soul, a weapon
for devils. May the saints of Paradise make bare the beauty of this
woman. She has persuaded Carlo that she is serving the country. You have
let him lie here alone in a fruitless bed, silly girl. He stayed for you
while his comrades called him to Vercelli, where they are assembled.
The man whom he salutes as his Chief gave him word to go there. They
are bound for Rome. Ah me! Rome is a great name, but Lombardy is Carlo’s
natal home, and Lombardy bleeds. You were absent--how long you were
absent! If you could know the heaviness of those days of his waiting for
you. And it was I who kept him here! I must have omitted a prayer, for
he would have been at Vercelli now with Luciano and Emilio, and you
might have gone to him; but he met this woman, who has convinced him
that Piedmont will make a Winter march, and that his marriage must be
delayed.” The countess raised her face and drooped her hands from the
wrists, exclaiming, “If I have lately omitted one prayer, enlighten me,
blessed heaven! I am blind; I cannot see for my son; I am quite blind. I
do not love the woman; therefore I doubt myself. You, my daughter, tell
me your thought of her, tell me what you think. Young eyes observe;
young heads are sometimes shrewd in guessing.”

Vittoria said, after a pause, “I will believe her to be true, if she
supports the king.” It was hardly truthful speaking on her part.

“How can Carlo have been persuaded!” the countess sighed.

“By me?” Victoria asked herself, and for a moment she was exulting.

She spoke from that emotion when it had ceased to animate her.

“Carlo was angry with the king. He echoed Agostino, but Agostino does
not sting as he did, and Carlo cannot avoid seeing what the king has
sacrificed. Perhaps the Countess d’Isorella has shown him promises of
fresh aid in the king’s handwriting. Suffering has made Carlo Alberto
one with the Republicans, if he had other ambitions once. And Carlo
dedicates his blood to Lombardy: he does rightly. Dear countess--my
mother! I have made him wait for me; I will be patient in waiting for
him. I know that Countess d’Isorella is intimate with the king. There
is a man named Barto Rizzo, who thinks me a guilty traitress, and she
is making use of this man. That must be her reason for prohibiting
the marriage. She cannot be false if she is capable of uniting extreme
revolutionary agents and the king in one plot, I think; I do not know.”
 Vittoria concluded her perfect expression of confidence with this
atoning doubtfulness.

Countess Ammiani obtained her consent that she would not quit her side.

After Violetta had gone, Carlo, though he shunned secret interviews,
addressed his betrothed as one who was not strange to his occupation
and the trial his heart was undergoing. She could not doubt that she was
beloved, in spite of the colourlessness and tonelessness of a love that
appealed to her intellect. He showed her a letter he had received from
Laura, laughing at its abuse of Countess d’Isorella, and the sarcasms
levelled at himself.

In this letter Laura said that she was engaged in something besides
nursing.

Carlo pointed his finger to the sentence, and remarked, “I must have
your promise--a word from you is enough--that you will not meddle with
any intrigue.”

Vittoria gave the promise, half trusting it to bring the lost bloom of
their love to him; but he received it as a plain matter of necessity.
Certain of his love, she wondered painfully that it should continue so
barren of music.

“Why am I to pledge myself that I will be useless?” she asked. “You
mean, my Carlo, that I am to sit still, and watch, and wait.”

He answered, “I will tell you this much: I can be struck vitally through
you. In the game I am playing, I am able to defend myself. If you enter
it, distraction begins. Stay with my mother.”

“Am I to know nothing?”

“Everything--in good time.”

“I might--might I not help you, my Carlo?”

“Yes; and nobly too. And I show you the way.”

Agostino and Carlo made an expedition to Turin. Before he went, Carlo
took her in his arms.

“Is it coming?” she said, shutting her eyelids like a child expecting
the report of firearms.

He pressed his lips to the closed eyes. “Not yet; but are you growing
timid?”

His voice seemed to reprove her.

She could have told him that keeping her in the dark among unknown
terrors ruined her courage; but the minutes were too precious, his touch
too sweet. In eyes and hands he had become her lover again. The blissful
minutes rolled away like waves that keep the sunshine out at sea.

Her solitude in the villa was beguiled by the arrival of the score of an
operatic scena, entitled “HAGAR,” by Rocco Ricci, which she fancied that
either Carlo or her dear old master had sent, and she devoured it. She
thought it written expressly for her. With HAGAR she communed during
the long hours, and sang herself on to the verge of an imagined desert
beyond the mountain-shadowed lake and the last view of her beloved
Motterone. Hagar’s face of tears in the Brerawas known to her; and Hagar
in her ‘Addio’ gave the living voice to that dumb one. Vittoria revelled
in the delicious vocal misery. She expanded with the sorrow of poor
Hagar, whose tears refreshed her, and parted her from her recent
narrowing self-consciousness. The great green mountain fronted her
like a living presence. Motterone supplied the place of the robust and
venerable patriarch, whom she reproached, and worshipped, but with a
fathomless burdensome sense of cruel injustice, deeper than the tears or
the voice which spoke of it: a feeling of subjected love that was like
a mother’s giving suck to a detested child. Countess Ammiani saw the
abrupt alteration of her step and look with a dim surprise. “What do
you conceal from me?” she asked, and supplied the answer by charitably
attributing it to news that the signora Piaveni was coming.

When Laura came, the countess thanked her, saying, “I am a wretched
companion for this boiling head.”

Laura soon proved to her that she had been the best, for after very few
hours Vittoria was looking like the Hagar on the canvas.

A woman such as Violetta d’Isorella was of the sort from which Laura
shrank with all her feminine power of loathing; but she spoke of her
with some effort at personal tolerance until she heard of Violetta’s
stipulation for the deferring of Carlo’s marriage, and contrived to
guess that Carlo was reserved and unfamiliar with his betrothed. Then
she cried out, “Fool that he is! Is it ever possible to come to the end
of the folly of men? She has inflamed his vanity. She met him when you
were holding him waiting, and no doubt she commenced with lamentations
over the country, followed by a sigh, a fixed look, a cheerful air, and
the assurance to him that she knew it--uttered as if through the keyhole
of the royal cabinet--she knew that Sardinia would break the Salasco
armistice in a mouth:--if only, if the king could be sure of support
from the youth of Lombardy.”

“Do you suspect the unhappy king?” Vittoria interposed.

“Grasp your colours tight,” said Laura, nodding sarcastic approbation of
such fidelity, and smiling slightly. “There has been no mention of the
king. Countess d’Isorella is a spy and a tool of the Jesuits, taking
pay from all parties--Austria as well, I would swear. Their object is
to paralyze the march on Rome, and she has won Carlo for them. I am told
that Barto Rizzo is another of her conquests. Thus she has a madman and
a fool, and what may not be done with a madman and a fool? However, I
have set a watch on her. She must have inflamed Carlo’s vanity. He has
it, just as they all have. There’s trickery: I would rather behold the
boy charging at the head of a column than putting faith in this base
creature. She must have simulated well,” Laura went on talking to
herself.

“What trickery?” said Vittoria.

“He was in love with the woman when he was a lad,” Laura replied, and
pertinently to Vittoria’s feelings. This threw the moist shade across
her features.

Beppo in Turin and Luigi on the lake were the watch set on Countess
d’Isorella; they were useless except to fortify Laura’s suspicions. The
Duchess of Graatli wrote mere gossip from Milan. She mentioned that Anna
of Lenkenstein had visited with her the tomb of her brother Count
Paul at Bologna, and had returned in double mourning; and that Madame
Sedley--“the sister of our poor ruined Pierson”--had obtained grace,
for herself at least, from Anna, by casting herself at Anna’s feet,--and
that they were now friends.

Vittoria felt ashamed of Adela.

When Carlo returned, the signora attacked him boldly with all her
weapons; reproached him; said, “Would my husband have treated me in such
a manner?” Carlo twisted his moustache and stroked his young beard
for patience. They passed from room to balcony and terrace, and Laura
brought him back into company without cessation of her fire of questions
and sarcasms, saying, “No, no; we will speak of these things publicly.”
 She appealed alternately to Agostino, Vittoria, and Countess Ammiani for
support, and as she certainly spoke sense, Carlo was reduced to gloom
and silence. Laura then paused. “Surely you have punished your bride
enough?” she said; and more softly, “Brother of my Giacomo! you are
under an evil spell.”

Carlo started up in anger. Bending to Vittoria, he offered her his hand
to lead her out, They went together.

“A good sign,” said the countess.

“A bad sign!” Laura sighed. “If he had taken me out for explanation! But
tell me, my Agostino, are you the woman’s dupe?”

“I have been,” Agostino admitted frankly.

“You did really put faith in her?”

“She condescends to be so excessively charming.”

“You could not advance a better reason.”

“It is one of our best; perhaps our very best, where your sex is
concerned, signora.”

“You are her dupe no more?”

“No more. Oh, dear no!”

“You understand her now, do you?”

“For the very reason, signora, that I have been her dupe. That is, I am
beginning to understand her. I am not yet in possession of the key.”

“Not yet in possession!” said Laura contemptuously; “but, never mind.
Now for Carlo.”

“Now for Carlo. He declares that he never has been deceived by her.”

“He is perilously vain,” sighed the signora.

“Seriously”--Agostino drew out the length of his beard--“I do not
suppose that he has been--boys, you know, are so acute. He fancies he
can make her of service, and he shows some skill.”

“The skill of a fish to get into the net!”

“My dearest signora, you do not allow for the times. I
remember”--Agostino peered upward through his eyelashes in a way that
he had--“I remember seeing in a meadow a gossamer running away with a
spider-thread. It was against all calculation. But, observe: there were
exterior agencies at work: a stout wind blew. The ordinary reckoning
is based on calms. Without the operation of disturbing elements, the
spider-thread would have gently detained the gossamer.”

“Is that meant for my son?” Countess Ammiani asked slowly, with
incredulous emphasis.

Agostino and Laura, laughing in their hearts at the mother’s mysterious
veneration for Carlo, had to explain that ‘gossamer’ was a poetic,
generic term, to embrace the lighter qualities of masculine youth.

A woman’s figure passed swiftly by the window, which led Laura to
suppose that the couple outside had parted. She ran forth, calling to
one of them, but they came hand in hand, declaring that they had seen
neither woman nor man. “And I am happy,” Vittoria whispered. She looked
happy, pale though she was.

“It is only my dreadful longing for rest which makes me pale,” she said
to Laura, when they were alone. “Carlo has proved to me that he is wiser
than I am.”

“A proof that you love Carlo, perhaps,” Laura rejoined.

“Dearest, he speaks more gently of the king.”

“It may be cunning, or it may be carelessness.”

“Will nothing satisfy you, wilful sceptic? He is quite alive to the
Countess d’Isorella’s character. He told me how she dazzled him once.”

“Not how she has entangled him now?”

“It is not true. He told me what I should like to dream over without
talking any more to anybody. Ah, what a delight! to have known him, as
you did, when he was a boy. Can one who knew him then mean harm to him?
I am not capable of imagining it. No; he will not abandon poor broken
Lombardy, and he is right; and it is my duty to sit and wait. No shadow
shall come between us. He has said it, and I have said it. We have but
one thing to fear, which is contemptible to fear; so I am at peace.”

“Love-sick,” was Laura’s mental comment. Yet when Carlo explained his
position to her next day, she was milder in her condemnation of him, and
even admitted that a man must be guided by such brains as he possesses.
He had conceived that his mother had a right to claim one month from
him at the close of the war; he said this reddening. Laura nodded. He
confessed that he was irritated when he met the Countess d’Isorella,
with whom, to his astonishment, he found Barto Rizzo. She had picked him
up, weak from a paroxysm, on the high-road to Milan. “And she tamed the
brute,” said Carlo, in admiration of her ability; “she saw that he was
plot-mad, and she set him at work on a stupendous plot; agents running
nowhere, and scribblings concentring in her work-basket. You smile at
me, as if I were a similar patient, signora. But I am my own agent. I
have personally seen all my men in Turin and elsewhere. Violetta has not
one grain of love for her country; but she can be made to serve it. As
for me, I have gone too far to think of turning aside and drilling with
Luciano. He may yet be diverted from Rome, to strike another blow for
Lombardy. The Chief, I know, has some religious sentiment about Rome. So
might I have; it is the Head of Italy. Let us raise the body first. And
we have been beaten here. Great Gods! we will have another fight for it
on the same spot, and quickly. Besides, I cannot face Luciano and tell
him why I was away from him in the dark hour. How can I tell him that I
was lingering to bear a bride to the altar? while he and the rest--poor
fellows! Hard enough to have to mention it to you, signora!”

She understood his boyish sense of shame. Making smooth allowances for a
feeling natural to his youth and the circumstances, she said, “I am your
sister, for you were my husband’s brother in arms, Carlo. We two speak
heart to heart: I sometimes fancy you have that voice: you hurt me with
it more than you know; gladden me too! My Carlo, I wish to hear why
Countess d’Isorella objects to your marriage.”

“She does not object.”

“An answer that begins by quibbling is not propitious. She opposes it.”

“For this reason: you have not forgotten the bronze butterfly?”

“I see more clearly,” said Laura, with a start.

“There appears to be no cure for the brute’s mad suspicion of her,”
 Carlo pursued: “and he is powerful among the Milanese. If my darling
takes my name, he can damage much of my influence, and--you know what
there is to be dreaded from a fanatic.”

Laura nodded, as if in full agreement with him, and said, after
meditating a minute, “What sort of a lover is this!”

She added a little laugh to the singular interjection.

“Yes, I have also thought of a secret marriage,” said Carlo, stung by
her penetrating instinct so that he was enabled to read the meaning in
her mind.

“The best way, when you are afflicted by a dilemma of such a character,
my Carlo,” the signora looked at him, “is to take a chess-table and
make your moves on it. ‘King--my duty;’ ‘Queen--my passion;’ ‘Bishop--my
social obligation;’ ‘Knight--my what-you-will and my round-the-corner
wishes.’ Then, if you find that queen may be gratified without
endangering king, and so forth, why, you may follow your inclinations;
and if not, not. My Carlo, you are either enviably cool, or you are an
enviable hypocrite.”

“The matter is not quite so easily settled as that,” said Carlo.

On the whole, though against her preconception, Laura thought him an
honest lover, and not the player of a double game. She saw that Vittoria
should have been with him in the critical hour of defeat, when his
passions were down, and heaven knows what weakness of our common
manhood, that was partly pride, partly love-craving, made his nature
waxen to every impression; a season, as Laura knew, when the mistress of
a loyal lover should not withhold herself from him. A nature tender like
Carlo’s, and he bearing an enamoured heart, could not, as Luciano Romara
had done, pass instantly from defeat to drill. And vain as Carlo was
(the vanity being most intricate and subtle, like a nervous fluid), he
was very open to the belief that he could diplomatize as well as fight,
and lead a movement yet better than follow it. Even so the signora tried
to read his case.

They were all, excepting Countess Ammiani (“who will never, I fear, do
me this honour,” Violetta wrote, and the countess said, “Never,” and
quoted a proverb), about to pass three or four days at the villa of
Countess d’Isorella. Before they set out, Vittoria received a portentous
envelope containing a long scroll, that was headed “YOUR CRIMES,”
 and detailing a lest of her offences against the country, from the
revelation of the plot in her first letter to Wilfrid, to services
rendered to the enemy during the war, up to the departure of Charles
Albert out of forsaken Milan.

“B. R.” was the undisguised signature at the end of the scroll.

Things of this description restored her old war-spirit to Vittoria.
She handed the scroll to Laura; Laura, in great alarm, passed it on to
Carlo. He sent for Angelo Guidascarpi in haste, for Carlo read it as
an ante-dated justificatory document to some mischievous design, and
he desired that hands as sure as his own, and yet more vigilant eyes,
should keep watch over his betrothed.



CHAPTER XXXVIII

VIOLETTA D’ISORELLA

The villa inhabited by Countess d’Isorella was on the water’s
edge, within clear view of the projecting Villa Ricciardi, in that
darkly-wooded region of the lake which leads up to the Italian-Swiss
canton.

Violetta received here an envoy from Anna of Lenkenstein, direct out of
Milan: an English lady, calling herself Mrs. Sedley, and a particular
friend of Countess Anna. At the first glance Violetta saw that her
visitor had the pretension to match her arts against her own; so, to
sound her thoroughly, she offered her the hospitalities of the villa
for a day or more. The invitation was accepted. Much to Violetta’s
astonishment, the lady betrayed no anxiety to state the exact terms
of her mission: she appeared, on the contrary, to have an unbounded
satisfaction in the society of her hostess, and prattled of herself and
Antonio-Pericles, and her old affection for Vittoria, with the wiliest
simplicity, only requiring to be assured at times that she spoke
intelligible Italian and exquisite French. Violetta supposed her to feel
that she commanded the situation. Patient study of this woman
revealed to Violetta the amazing fact that she was dealing with a
born bourgeoise, who, not devoid of petty acuteness, was unaffectedly
enjoying her noble small-talk, and the prospect of a footing in Italian
high society. Violetta smiled at the comedy she had been playing in,
scarcely reproaching herself for not having imagined it. She proceeded
to the point of business without further delay.

Adela Sedley had nothing but a verbal message to deliver. The Countess
Anna of Lenkenstein offered, on her word of honour as a noblewoman,
to make over the quarter of her estate and patrimony to the Countess
d’Isorella, if the latter should succeed in thwarting--something.

Forced to speak plainly, Adela confessed she thought she knew the nature
of that something.

To preclude its being named, Violetta then diverged from the subject.

“We will go round to your friend the signor Antonio-Pericles at Villa
Ricciardi,” she said. “You will see that he treats me familiarly, but he
is not a lover of mine. I suspect your ‘something’ has something to do
with the Jesuits.”

Adela Sedley replied to the penultimate sentence: “It would not surprise
me, indeed, to hear of any number of adorers.”

“I have the usual retinue, possibly,” said Violetta.

“Dear countess, I could be one of them myself!” Adela burst out with
tentative boldness.

“Then, kiss me.”

And behold, they interchanged that unsweet feminine performance.

Adela’s lips were unlocked by it.

“How many would envy me, dear Countess d’Isorella!”

She really conceived that she was driving into Violetta’s heart by the
great high-road of feminine vanity. Violetta permitted her to think as
she liked.

“Your countrywomen, madame, do not make large allowances for beauty, I
hear.”

“None at all. But they are so stiff! so frigid! I know one, a Miss Ford,
now in Italy, who would not let me have a male friend, and a character,
in conjunction.”

“You are acquainted with Count Karl Lenkenstein?”

Adela blushingly acknowledged it.

“The whisper goes that I was once admired by him,” said Violetta.

“And by Count Ammiani.”

“By count? by milord? by prince? by king?”

“By all who have good taste.”

“Was it jealousy, then, that made Countess Anna hate me?”

“She could not--or she cannot now.”

“Because I have not taken possession of her brother.”

“I could not--may I say it?--I could not understand his infatuation
until Countess Anna showed me the portrait of Italy’s most beautiful
living woman. She told me to look at the last of the Borgia family.”

Violetta laughed out clear music. “And now you see her?”

“She said that it had saved her brother’s life. It has a star and a
scratch on the left cheek from a dagger. He wore it on his heart, and an
assassin struck him there: a true romance. Countess Anna said to me that
it had saved one brother, and that it should help to avenge the other.
She has not spoken to me of Jesuits.”

“Nothing at all of the Jesuits?” said Violetta carelessly. “Perhaps she
wishes to use my endeavours to get the Salaseo armistice prolonged, and
tempts me, knowing I am a prodigal. Austria is victorious, you know, but
she wants peace. Is that the case? I do not press you to answer.”

Adela replied hesitatingly: “Are you aware, countess, whether there
is any truth in the report that Countess Lena has a passion for Count
Ammiani?”

“Ah, then,” said Violetta, “Countess Lena’s sister would naturally wish
to prevent his contemplated marriage! We may have read the riddle at
last. Are you discreet? If you are, you will let it be known that I had
the honour of becoming intimate with you in Turin--say, at the Court. We
shall meet frequently there during winter, I trust, if you care to make
a comparison of the Italian with the Austrian and the English nobility.”

An eloquent “Oh!” escaped from Adela’s bosom. She had certainly not
expected to win her way with this estimable Italian titled lady thus
rapidly. Violetta had managed her so well that she was no longer sure
whether she did know the exact nature of her mission, the words of which
she had faithfully transmitted as having been alone confided to her. It
was with chagrin that she saw Pericles put his fore-finger on a salient
dimple of the countess’s cheek when he welcomed them. He puffed and
blew like one working simultaneously at bugle and big drum on hearing
an allusion to Victoria. The mention of the name of that abominable
traitress was interdicted at Villa Ricciardi, he said; she had dragged
him at two armies’ tails to find his right senses at last: Pericles
was cured of his passion for her at last. He had been mad, but he was
cured--and so forth, in the old strain. His preparations for a private
operatic performance diverted him from these fierce incriminations,
and he tripped busily from spot to spot, conducting the ladies over the
tumbled lower floors of the spacious villa, and calling their admiration
on the desolation of the scene. Then they went up to the maestro’s room.
Pericles became deeply considerate for the master’s privacy. “He is my
slave; the man has ruined himself for la Vittoria; but I respect the
impersonation of art,” he said under his breath to the ladies as they
stood at the door; “hark!” The piano was touched, and the voice of
Irma di Karski broke out in a shrill crescendo. Rocco Ricci within gave
tongue to the vehement damnatory dance of Pericles outside. Rocco
struck his piano again encouragingly for a second attempt, but Irma
was sobbing. She was heard to say: “This is the fifteenth time you have
pulled me down in one morning. You hate me; you do; you hate me.” Rocco
ran his fingers across the keys, and again struck the octave for Irma.
Pericles wiped his forehead, when, impenitent and unteachable, she took
the notes in the manner of a cock. He thumped at the door violently and
entered.

“Excellent! horrid! brava! abominable! beautiful! My Irma, you have
reached the skies. You ascend like a firework, and crown yourself at the
top. No more to-day; but descend at your leisure, my dear, and we will
try to mount again by-and-by, and not so fast, if you please. Ha!
your voice is a racehorse. You will learn to ride him with temper and
judgement, and you will go. Not so, my Rocco? Irma, you want repose, my
dear. One thing I guarantee to you--you will please the public. It is a
minor thing that you should please me.”

Countess d’Isorella led Irma away, and had to bear with many fits of
weeping, and to assent to the force of all the charges of vindictive
conspiracy and inveterate malice with which the jealous creature
assailed Vittoria’s name. The countess then claimed her ear for
half-a-minute.

“Have you had any news of Countess Anna lately?”

Irma had not; she admitted it despondently. “There is such a vile
conspiracy against me in Italy--and Italy is a poor singer’s fame--that
I should be tempted to do anything. And I detest la Vittoria. She has
such a hold on this Antonio-Pericles, I don’t see how I can hurt her,
unless I meet her and fly at her throat.”

“You naturally detest her,” said the countess. “Repeat Countess Anna’s
proposal to you.”

“It was insulting--she offered me money.”

“That you should persuade me to assist you in preventing la Vittoria’s
marriage to Count Ammiani?”

“Dear lady, you know I did not try to persuade you.”

“You knew that you would not succeed, my Irma. But Count Ammiani will
not marry her; so you will have a right to claim some reward. I do not
think that la Vittoria is quite idle. Look out for yourself, my child.
If you take to plotting, remember it is a game of two.”

“If she thwarts me in one single step, I will let loose that madman on
her,” said Irma, trembling.

“You mean the signor Antonio-Pericles?”

“No; I mean that furious man I saw at your villa, dear countess.”

“Ah! Barto Rizzo. A very furious man. He bellowed when he heard her
name, I remember. You must not do it. But, for Count Ammiani’s sake, I
desire to see his marriage postponed, at least.”

“Where is she?” Irma inquired.

The countess shrugged. “Even though I knew, I could not prudently tell
you in your present excited state.”

She went to Pericles for a loan of money. Pericles remarked that there
was not much of it in Turin. “But, countess, you whirl the gold-pieces
like dust from your wheels; and a spy, my good soul, a lovely secret
emissary, she will be getting underpaid if she allows herself to want
money. There is your beauty; it is ripe, but it is fresh, and it is
extraordinary. Yes; there is your beauty.” Before she could obtain
a promise of the money, Violetta had to submit to be stripped to her
character, which was hard; but on the other hand, Pericles exacted no
interest on his money, and it was not often that he exacted a return of
it in coin. Under these circumstances, ladies in need of money can find
it in their hearts to pardon mere brutality of phrase. Pericles
promised to send it to the countess on one condition; which condition
he cancelled, saying dejectedly, “I do not care to know where she is. I
will not know.”

“She has the score of Hagar, wherever she is,” said Violetta, “and when
she hears that you have done the scene without her aid, you will have
stuck a dagger in her bosom.”

“Not,” Pericles cried in despair, “not if she should hear Irma’s Hagar!
To the desert with Irma. It is the place for a crab-apple. Bravo,
Abraham! you were wise.”

Pericles added that Montini was hourly expected, and that there was to
be a rehearsal in the evening.

When she had driven home, Violetta found Barto Rizzo’s accusatory
paper laid on her writing-desk. She gathered the contents in a careless
glance, and walked into the garden alone, to look for Carlo.

He was leaning on the balustrade of the terrace, near the water-gate,
looking into the deep clear lake-water. Violetta placed herself beside
him without a greeting.

“You are watching fish for coolness, my Carlo?”

“Yes,” he said, and did not turn to her face.

“You were very angry when you arrived?”

She waited for his reply.

“Why do you not speak, Carlino?”

“I am watching fish for coolness,” he said.

“Meantime,” said Violetta, “I am scorched.”

He looked up, and led her to an arch of shade, where he sat quite
silent.

“Can anything be more vexing than this?” she was reduced to exclaim.

“Ah!” said he, “you would like the catalogue to be written out for you
in a big bold hand, possibly, with a terrific initials at the end of the
page.”

“Carlo, you have done worse than that. When I saw you first here, what
crimes did you not accuse me of? what names did you not scatter on my
head? and what things did I not, confess to? I bore the unkindness,
for you were beaten, and you wanted a victim. And, my dear friend,
considering that I am after all a woman, my forbearance has subsequently
been still greater.”

“How?” he asked. Her half-pathetic candour melted him.

“You must, have a lively memory for the uses of forgetfulness, Carlo,
When you had scourged me well, you thought it proper to raise me up and
give me comfort. I was wicked for serving the king, and therefore the
country, as a spy; but I was to persevere, and cancel my iniquities by
betraying those whom I served to you. That was your instructive precept.
Have I done it or not? Answer, too have I done it for any payment beyond
your approbation? I persuaded you to hope for Lombardy, and without any
vaunting of my own patriotism. You have seen and spoken to the men
I directed you to visit. If their heads master yours, I shall be
reprobated for it, I know surely; but I am confident as yet that you can
match them. In another month I expect to see the king over the Ticino
once more, and Carlo in Brescia with his comrades. You try to penetrate
my eyes. That’s foolish; I can make them glass. Read me by what I say
and what I do. I do not entreat you to trust me; I merely beg that you
will trust your own judgement of me by what I have helped you to do
hitherto. You and I, my dear boy, have had some trifling together. Admit
that another woman would have refused to surrender you as I did when
your unruly Vittoria was at last induced to come to you from Milan. Or,
another woman would have had her revenge on discovering that she had
been a puppet of soft eyes and a lover’s quarrel with his mistress.
Instead of which, I let you go. I am opposed to the marriage, it’s true;
and you know why.”

Carlo had listened to Violetta, measuring the false and the true in this
recapitulation of her conduct with cool accuracy until she alluded to
their personal relations. Thereat his brows darkened.

“We had I some trifling together,” he said, musingly.

“Is it going to be denied in these sweeter days?” Violetta reddened.

“The phrase is elastic. Suppose my bride were to hear it?”

“It was addressed to your ears, Carlo.”

“It cuts two ways. Will you tell me when it was that I last had the
happiness of saluting you, lip to lip?”

“In Brescia--before I had espoused an imbecile--two nights before my
marriage--near the fountain of the Greek girl with a pitcher.”

Pride and anger nerved the reply. It was uttered in a rapid low
breath. Coming altogether unexpectedly, it created an intense momentary
revulsion of his feelings by conjuring up his boyish love in a scene
more living than the sunlight.

He lifted her hand to his mouth. He was Italian enough, though a lover,
to feel that she deserved more. She had reddened deliciously, and
therewith hung a dewy rosy moisture on her underlids. Raising her eyes,
she looked like a cut orange to a thirsty lip. He kissed her, saying,
“Pardon.”

“Keep it secret, you mean?” she retorted. “Yes, I pardon that wish of
yours. I can pardon much to my beauty.”

She stood up as majestically as she had spoken.

“You know, my Violetta, that I am madly in love.”

“I have learnt it.”

“You know it:--what else would?... If I were not lost in love, could I
see you as I do and let Brescia be the final chapter?”

Violetta sighed. “I should have preferred its being so rather than this
superfluous additional line to announce an end, like a foolish staff on
the edge of a cliff. You thought that you were saluting a leper, or a
saint?”

“Neither. If ever we can talk together again, as we have done,” Carlo
said gloomily, “I will tell you what I think of myself.”

“No, but Richelieu might have behaved.... Ah! perhaps not quite in the
same way,” she corrected her flowing apology for him. “But then, he was
a Frenchman. He could be flighty without losing his head. Dear Italian
Carlo! Yes, in the teeth of Barto Rizzo, and for the sake of the
country, marry her at once. It will be the best thing for you; really
the best. You want to know from me the whereabout of Barto Rizzo. He may
be in the mountain over Stresa, or in Milan. He also has thrown off my
yoke, such as it was! I do assure you, Carlo, I have no command over
him: but, mind, I half doat on the wretch. No man made me desperately
in love with myself before he saw me, when I stopped his raving in the
middle of the road with one look of my face. There was foam on his beard
and round his eyes; the poor wretch took out his handkerchief, and he
sobbed. I don’t know how many luckless creatures he had killed on his
way; but when I took him into my carriage--king, emperor, orator on
stilts, minister of police not one has flattered me as he did, by just
gazing at me. Beauty can do as much as music, my Carlo.”

Carlo thanked heaven that Violetta had no passion in her nature. She had
none: merely a leaning toward evil, a light sense of shame, a desire
for money, and in her heart a contempt for the principles she did not
possess, but which, apart from the intervention of other influences,
could occasionally sway her actions. Friendship, or rather the shadowy
recovery of a past attachment that had been more than friendship,
inclined her now and then to serve a master who failed distinctly to
represent her interests; and when she met Carlo after the close of the
war, she had really set to work in hearty kindliness to rescue him from
what she termed “shipwreck with that disastrous Republican crew.” He had
obtained greater ascendency over her than she liked; yet she would have
forgiven it, as well as her consequent slight deviation from direct
allegiance to her masters in various cities, but for Carlo’s commanding
personal coolness. She who had tamed a madman by her beauty, was
outraged, and not unnaturally, by the indifference of a former lover.

Later in the day, Laura and Vittoria, with Agostino, reached the villa;
and Adela put her lips to Vittoria’s ear, whispering: “Naughty! when
are you to lose your liberty to turn men’s heads?” and then she heaved
a sigh with Wilfrid’s name. She had formed the acquaintance of Countess
d’Isorella in Turin, she said, and satisfactorily repeated her lesson,
but with a blush. She was little more than a shade to Vittoria, who
wondered what she had to live for. After the early evening dinner, when
sunlight and the colours of the sun were beyond the western mountains,
they pushed out on the lake. A moon was overhead, seeming to drop lower
on them as she filled with light.

Agostino and Vittoria fell upon their theme of discord, as usual--the
King of Sardinia.

“We near the vesper hour, my daughter,” said Agostino; “you would
provoke me to argumentation in heaven itself. I am for peace. I remember
looking down on two cats with arched backs in the solitary arena of the
Verona amphitheatre. We men, my Carlo, will not, in the decay of time,
so conduct ourselves.”

Vittoria looked on Laura and thought of the cannon-sounding hours, whose
echoes rolled over their slaughtered hope. The sun fell, the moon shone,
and the sun would rise again, but Italy lay face to earth. They had seen
her together before the enemy. That recollection was a joy that stood,
though the winds beat at it, and the torrents. She loved her friend’s
worn eyelids and softly-shut mouth; the after-glow of battle seemed on
them; the silence of the field of carnage under heaven;--and the patient
turning of Laura’s eyes this way and that to speakers upon common
things, covered the despair of her heart as with a soldier’s cloak.

Laura met the tender study of Vittoria’s look, and smiled.

They neared the Villa Ricciardi, and heard singing. The villa was
lighted profusely, so that it made a little mock-sunset on the lake.

“Irma!” said Vittoria, astonished at the ring of a well-known voice that
shot up in firework fashion, as Pericles had said of it. Incredulous,
she listened till she was sure; and then glanced hurried questions at
all eyes. Violetta laughed, saying, “You have the score of Rocco Ricci’s
Hagar.”

The boat drew under the blazing windows, and half guessing, half
hearing, Vittoria understood that Pericles was giving an entertainment
here, and had abjured her. She was not insensible to the slight. This
feeling, joined to her long unsatisfied craving to sing, led her to be
intolerant of Irma’s style, and visibly vexed her.

Violetta whispered: “He declares that your voice is cracked: show him!
Burst out with the ‘Addio’ of Hagar. May she not, Carlo? Don’t you
permit the poor soul to sing? She cannot contain herself.”

Carlo, Adela, Agostino, and Violetta prompted her, and, catching a pause
in the villa, she sang the opening notes of Hagar’s ‘Addio’ with her old
glorious fulness of tone and perfect utterance.

The first who called her name was Rocco Ricci, but Pericles was the
first to rush out and hang over the boat. “Witch! traitress!
infernal ghost! heart of ice!” and in English “humbug!” and in French
“coquin!”:--these were a few of the titles he poured on her. Rocco Ricci
and Montini kissed hands to her, begging her to come to them. She was
very willing outwardly, and in her heart most eager; but Carlo bade
the rowers push off. Then it was pitiful to hear the shout of abject
supplication from Pericles. He implored Count Ammiani’s pardon,
Vittoria’s pardon, for telling her what she was; and as the boat drew
farther away, he offered her sums of money to enter the villa and sing
the score of Hagar. He offered to bear the blame of her bad behaviour to
him, said he would forget it and stamp it out; that he would pay for
the provisioning of a regiment of volunteers for a whole month; that
he would present her marriage trousseau to her--yes, and let her marry.
“Sandra! my dear! my dear!” he cried, and stretched over the parapet
speechless, like a puppet slain.

So strongly did she comprehend the sincerity of his passion for
her voice that she could or would see nothing extravagant in this
demonstration, which excited unrestrained laughter in every key from her
companions in the boat. When the boat was about a hundred yards from the
shore, and in full moonlight, she sang the great “Addio” of Hagar. At
the close of it, she had to feel for her lover’s hand blindly. No one
spoke, either at the Villa Ricciardi, or about her. Her voice possessed
the mountain-shadowed lake.

The rowers pulled lustily home through chill air.

Luigi and Beppo were at the villa, both charged with news from Milan.
Beppo claiming the right to speak first, which Luigi granted with a
magnificent sweep of his hand, related that Captain Weisspriess, of
the garrison, had wounded Count Medole in a duel severely. He brought a
letter to Vittoria from Merthyr, in which Merthyr urged her to prevent
Count Ammiani’s visiting Milan for any purpose whatever, and said that
he was coming to be present at, her marriage. She was reading this while
Luigi delivered his burden; which was, that in a subsequent duel, the
slaughtering captain had killed little Leone Rufo, the gay and gallant
boy, Carlo’s comrade, and her friend.

Luigi laughed scornfully at his rival, and had edged away--out of sight
before he could be asked who had sent him. Beppo ignominiously confessed
that he had not heard of this second duel. At midnight he was on
horseback, bound for Milan, with a challenge to the captain from Carlo,
who had a jealous fear that Luciano at Vercelli might have outstripped
him. Carlo requested the captain to guarantee him an hour’s immunity in
the city on a stated day, or to name any spot on the borders of
Piedmont for the meeting. The challenge was sent with Countess Ammiani’s
approbation and Laura’s. Vittoria submitted.

That done, Carlo gave up his heart to his bride. A fight in prospect was
the hope of wholesome work after his late indecision and double
play. They laughed at themselves, accused hotly, and humbly excused
themselves, praying for mutual pardon.

She had behaved badly in disobeying his mandate from Brescia.

Yes, but had he not been over-imperious?

True; still she should have remembered her promise in the Vicentino.

She did indeed; but how could she quit her wounded friend Merthyr?

Perhaps not: then, why had she sent word to him from Milan that she
would be at Pallanza?

This question knocked at a sealed chamber. She was silent, and Carlo had
to brood over something as well. He gave her hints of his foolish pique,
his wrath and bitter baffled desire for her when, coming to Pallanza, he
came to an empty house. But he could not help her to see, for he did
not himself feel, that he had been spurred by silly passions, pique, and
wrath, to plunge instantly into new political intrigue; and that some of
his worst faults had become mixed up with his devotion to his country.
Had he taken Violetta for an ally in all purity of heart? The kiss he
had laid on the woman’s sweet lips had shaken his absolute belief
in that. He tried to set his brain travelling backward, in order to
contemplate accurately the point of his original weakness. It being
almost too severe a task for any young head, Carlo deemed it sufficient
that he should say--and this he felt--that he was unworthy of his
beloved.

Could Vittoria listen to such stuff? She might have kissed him to stop
the flow of it, but kissings were rare between them; so rare, that when
they had put mouth to mouth, a little quivering spire of flame, dim at
the base, stood to mark the spot in their memories. She moved her hand,
as to throw aside such talk. Unfretful in blood, chaste and keen, she at
least knew the foolishness of the common form of lovers’ trifling when
there is a burning love to keep under, and Carlo saw that she did, and
adored her for this highest proof of the passion of her love.

“In three days you will be mine, if I do not hear from Milan? within
five, if I do?” he said.

Vittoria gave him the whole beauty of her face a divine minute, and
bowed it assenting. Carlo then led her to his mother, before whom he
embraced her for the comfort of his mother’s heart. They decided that
there should be no whisper of the marriage until the couple were one.
Vittoria obtained the countess’s permission to write for Merthyr to
attend her at the altar. She had seen Weisspriess fall in combat, and
she had perfect faith in her lover’s right hand.



CHAPTER XXXIX

ANNA OF LENKENSTEIN

Captain Weisspriess replied to Carlo Ammiani promptly, naming Camerlata
by Como, as the place where he would meet him.

He stated at the end of some temperate formal lines, that he had given
Count Ammiani the preference over half-a-dozen competitors for the
honour of measuring swords with him; but that his adversary must not
expect him to be always ready to instruct the young gentlemen of the
Lombardo-Venetian province in the arts of fence; and therefore he begged
to observe, that his encounter with Count Ammiani would be the last
occasion upon which he should hold himself bound to accept a challenge
from Count Ammiani’s countrymen.

It was quite possible, the captain said, drawing a familiar illustration
from the gaming-table, to break the stoutest Bank in the world by a
perpetual multiplication of your bets, and he was modest enough to
remember that he was but one man against some thousands, to contend with
all of whom would be exhausting.

Consequently the captain desired Count Ammiani to proclaim to his
countrymen that the series of challenges must terminate; and he
requested him to advertize the same in a Milanese, a Turin, and a
Neapolitan journal.

“I am not a butcher,” he concluded. “The task you inflict upon me is
scarcely bearable. Call it by what name you will, it is having ten shots
to one, which was generally considered an equivalent to murder. My sword
is due to you, Count Ammiani; and, as I know you to be an honourable
nobleman, I would rather you were fighting in Venice, though your cause
is hopeless, than standing up to match yourself against me. Let me add,
that I deeply respect the lady who is engaged to be united to you, and
would not willingly cross steel either with her lover or her husband. I
shall be at Camerlata at the time appointed. If I do not find you there,
I shall understand that you have done me the honour to take my humble
advice, and have gone where your courage may at least appear to have
done better service. I shall sheathe my sword and say no more about it.”

All of this, save the concluding paragraph, was written under the eyes
of Countess Anna of Lenkenstein.

He carried it to his quarters, where he appended the as he deemed
it--conciliatory passage: after which he handed it to Beppo, in a square
of the barracks, with a buon’mano that Beppo received bowing, and
tossed to an old decorated regimental dog of many wounds and a veteran’s
gravity. For this offence a Styrian grenadier seized him by the
shoulders, lifting him off his feet and swinging him easily, while the
dog arose from his contemplation of the coin and swayed an expectant
tail. The Styrian had dashed Beppo to earth before Weisspriess could
interpose, and the dog had got him by the throat. In the struggle Beppo
tore off the dog’s medal for distinguished conduct on the field of
battle. He restored it as soon as he was free, and won unanimous
plaudits from officers and soldiers for his kindly thoughtfulness and
the pretty manner with which he dropped on one knee, and assuaged the
growls, and attached the medal to the old dog’s neck. Weisspriess walked
away. Beppo then challenged his Styrian to fight. The case was laid
before a couple of sergeants, who shook their heads on hearing his
condition to be that of a serving-man, the Styrian was ready to waive
considerations of superiority; but the “judge” pronounced their veto. A
soldier in the Imperial Royal service, though he was merely a private in
the ranks, could not accept a challenge from civilians below the rank
of notary, secretary, hotel- or inn-keeper, and suchlike: servants and
tradesmen he must seek to punish in some other way; and they also had
their appeal to his commanding officer. So went the decision of the
military tribunal, until the Styrian, having contrived to make Beppo
understand, by the agency of a single Italian verb, that he wanted a
blow, Beppo spun about and delivered a stinging smack on the Styrian’s
cheek; which altered the view of the case, for, under peculiar
circumstances--supposing that he did not choose to cut him down--a
soldier might condescend to challenge his civilian inferiors: “in
our regiment,” said the sergeants, meaning that they had relaxed the
stringency of their laws.

Beppo met his Styrian outside the city walls, and laid him flat. He
declined to fight a second; but it was represented to him, by the aid
of an interpreter, that the officers of the garrison were subjected to
successive challenges, and that the first trial of his skill might have
been nothing finer than luck; and besides, his adversary had a right
to call a champion. “We all do it,” the soldiers assured him. “Now your
blood’s up you’re ready for a dozen of us;” which was less true of
a constitution that was quicker in expending its heat. He stood out
against a young fellow almost as limber as himself, much taller, and
longer in the reach, by whom he was quickly disabled with cuts on thigh
and head. Seeing this easy victory over him, the soldiers, previously
quite civil, cursed him for having got the better of their fallen
comrade, and went off discussing how he had done the trick, leaving him
to lie there. A peasant carried him to a small suburban inn, where
he remained several days oppressed horribly by a sense that he had
forgotten something. When he recollected what it was, he entrusted the
captain’s letter to his landlady;--a good woman, but she chanced to
have a scamp of a husband, who snatched it from her and took it to his
market. Beppo supposed the letter to be on its Way to Pallauza, when it
was in General Schoneck’s official desk; and soon after the breath of a
scandalous rumour began to circulate.

Captain Weisspriess had gone down to Camerlata, accompanied by a Colonel
Volpo, of an Austro-Italian regiment, and by Lieutenant Jenna. At
Camerlata a spectacled officer, Major Nagen, joined them. Weisspriess
was the less pleased with his company on hearing that he had come to
witness the meeting, in obedience to an express command of a person
who was interested in it. Jenna was the captain’s friend: Volpo was
seconding him for the purpose of getting Count Ammiani to listen to
reason from the mouth of a countryman. There could be no doubt in the
captain’s mind that this Major Nagen was Countess Anna’s spy as well
as his rival, and he tried to be rid of him; but in addition to
the shortness of sight which was Nagen’s plea for pushing his thin
transparent nose into every corner, he enjoyed at will an intermittent
deafness, and could hear anything without knowing of it. Brother
officers said of Major Nagen that he was occasionally equally senseless
in the nose, which had been tweaked without disturbing the repose of his
features. He waited half-an-hour on the ground after the appointed time,
and then hurried to Milan. Weisspriess waited an hour. Satisfied that
Count Ammiani was not coming, he exacted from Volpo and from Jenna their
word of honour as Austrian officers that they would forbear-to cast any
slur on the courage of his adversary, and would be so discreet on the
subject as to imply that the duel was a drawn affair. They pledged
themselves accordingly. “There’s Nagen, it’s true,” said Weisspriess,
as a man will say and feel that he has done his best to prevent a thing
inevitable.

Milan, and some of the journals of Milan, soon had Carlo Ammiani’s name
up for challenging Weisspriess and failing to keep his appointment. It
grew to be discussed as a tremendous event. The captain received fifteen
challenges within two days; among these a second one from Luciano
Romara, whom he was beginning to have a strong desire to encounter. He
repressed it, as quondam drunkards fight off the whisper of their lips
for liquor. “No more blood,” was his constant inward cry. He wanted
peace; but as he also wanted Countess Anna of Lenkenstein and her
estates, it may possibly be remarked of him that what he wanted he did
not want to pay for.

At this period Wilfrid had resumed the Austrian uniform as a common
soldier in the ranks of the Kinsky regiment. General Schoneck had
obtained the privilege for him from the Marshal, General Pierson
refusing to lift a finger on his behalf. Nevertheless the uncle was not
sorry to hear the tale of his nephew’s exploits during the campaign, or
of the eccentric intrepidity of the white umbrella; and both to please
him, and to intercede for Wilfrid, the tatter’s old comrades recited
his deeds as a part of the treasured familiar history of the army in its
late arduous struggle.

General Pierson was chiefly anxious to know whether Countess Lena would
be willing to give her hand to Wilfrid in the event of his restoration
to his antecedent position in the army. He found her extremely excited
about Carlo Ammiani, her old playmate, and once her dear friend. She
would not speak of Wilfrid at all. To appease the chivalrous little
woman, General Pierson hinted that his nephew, being under the
protection of General Schoneck, might get some intelligence from
that officer. Lena pretended to reject the notion of her coming into
communication with Wilfrid for any earthly purpose. She said to herself,
however, that her object was pre-eminently unselfish; and as the General
pointedly refused to serve her in a matter that concerned an Italian
nobleman, she sent directions to Wilfrid to go before General Schoeneck
the moment he was off duty, and ask his assistance, in her name, to
elucidate the mystery of Count Ammiani’s behaviour. The answer was a
transmission of Captain Weisspriess’s letter to Carlo. Lena caused
the fact of this letter having missed its way to be circulated in the
journals, and then she carried it triumphantly to her sister, saying:

“There! I knew these reports were abase calumny.”

“Reports, to what effect?” said Anna.

“That Carlo Ammiani had slunk from a combat with your duellist.”

“Oh! I knew that myself,” Anna remarked.

“You were the loudest in proclaiming it.”

“Because I intend to ruin him.”

“Carlo Ammiani? What has he done to you?”

Anna’s eyes had fallen on the additional lines of the letter which she
had not dictated. She frowned and exclaimed:

“What is this? Does the man play me false? Read those lines, Lena, and
tell me, does the man mean to fight in earnest who can dare to write
them? He advises Ammiani to go to Venice. It’s treason, if it is not
cowardice. And see here--he has the audacity to say that he deeply
respects the lady Ammiani is going to marry. Is Ammiani going to marry
her? I think not.”

Anna dashed the letter to the floor.

“But I will make use of what’s within my reach,” she said, picking it
up.

“Carlo Ammiani will marry her, I presume,” said Lena.

“Not before he has met Captain Weisspriess, who, by the way, has
obtained his majority. And, Lena, my dear, write to inform him that we
wish to offer him our congratulations. He will be a General officer in
good time.”

“Perhaps you forget that Count Ammiani is a perfect swordsman, Anna.”

“Weisspriess remembers it for me, perhaps;--is that your idea, Lena?”

“He might do so profitably. You have thrown him on two swords.”

“Merely to provoke the third. He is invincible. If he were not, where
would his use be?”

“Oh, how I loathe revenge!” cried Lena.

“You cannot love!” her sister retorted. “That woman calling herself
Vittoria Campa shall suffer. She has injured and defied me. How was it
that she behaved to us at Meran? She is mixed up with assassins; she is
insolent--a dark-minded slut; and she catches stupid men. My brother, my
country, and this weak Weisspriess, as I saw him lying in the Ultenthal,
cry out against her. I have no sleep. I am not revengeful. Say it, say
it, all of you! but I am not. I am not unforgiving. I worship justice,
and a black deed haunts me. Let the wicked be contrite and washed in
tears, and I think I can pardon them. But I will have them on their
knees. I hate that woman Vittoria more than I hate Angelo Guidascarpi.
Look, Lena. If both were begging for life to me, I would send him to the
gallows and her to her bedchamber; and all because I worship justice,
and believe it to be the weapon of the good and pious. You have a baby’s
heart; so has Karl. He declines to second Weisspriess; he will have
nothing to do with duelling; he would behold his sisters mocked in the
streets and pass on. He talks of Paul’s death like a priest. Priests
are worthy men; a great resource! Give me a priests lap when I need it.
Shall I be condemned to go to the priest and leave that woman singing?
If I did, I might well say the world’s a snare, a sham, a pitfall, a
horror! It’s what I don’t think in any degree. It’s what you think,
though. Yes, whenever you are vexed you think it. So do the priests, and
so do all who will not exert themselves to chastise. I, on the contrary,
know that the world is not made up of nonsense. Write to Weisspriess
immediately; I must have him here in an hour.”

Weisspriess, on visiting the ladies to receive their congratulations,
was unprepared for the sight of his letter to Carlo Ammiani, which Anna
thrust before him after he had saluted her, bidding him read it aloud.
He perused it in silence. He was beginning to be afraid of his mistress.

“I called you Austria once, for you were always ready,” Anna said, and
withdrew from him, that the sung of her words might take effect.

“God knows, I have endeavoured to earn the title in my humble way,”
 Weisspriess appealed to Lena.

“Yes, Major Weisspriess, you have,” she said. “Be Austria still, and
forbear toward these people as much as you can. To beat them is enough,
in my mind. I am rejoiced that you have not met Count Ammiani, for if
you had, two friends of mine, equally dear and equally skilful, would
have held their lives at one another’s mercy.”

“Equally!” said Weisspriess, and pulled out the length of his moustache.

“Equally courageous,” Lena corrected herself. “I never distrusted Count
Ammiani’s courage, nor could distrust yours.”

“Equally dear!” Weisspriess tried to direct a concentrated gaze on her.

Lena evaded an answer by speaking of the rumour of Count Ammiani’s
marriage.

Weisspriess was thinking with all the sagacious penetration of the
military mind, that perhaps this sister was trying to tell him that she
would be willing to usurp the piece of the other in his affections; and
if so, why should she not?

“I may cherish the idea that I am dear to you, Countess Lena?”

“When you are formally betrothed to my sister, you will know you are
very dear to me, Major Weisspriess.”

“But,” said he, perceiving his error, “how many persons am I to call out
before she will consent to a formal betrothal?”

Lena was half smiling at the little tentative bit of sentiment she had
so easily turned aside. Her advice to him was to refuse to fight, seeing
that he had done sufficient for glory and his good name.

He mentioned Major Nagen as a rival.

Upon this she said: “Hear me one minute. I was in my sister’s bed-room
on the first night when she knew of your lying wounded in the Ultenthal.
She told you just now that she called you Austria. She adores our
Austria in you. The thought that you had been vanquished seemed like our
Austria vanquished, and she is so strong for Austria that it is really
out of her power to fancy you as defeated without suspecting foul play.
So when she makes you fight, she thinks you safe. Many are to go down
because you have gone down. Do you not see? And now, Major Weisspriess,
I need not expose my sister to you any more, I hope, or depreciate Major
Nagen for your satisfaction.”

Weisspriess had no other interview with Anna for several days. She
shunned him openly. Her carriage moved off when he advanced to meet her
at the parade, or review of arms; and she did not scruple to speak in
public with Major Nagen, in the manner of those who have begun to speak
together in private. The offender received his punishment gracefully,
as men will who have been taught that it flatters them. He refused every
challenge. From Carlo Ammiani there came not a word.

It would have been a deadly lull to any fiery temperament engaged in
plotting to destroy a victim, but Anna had the patience of hatred--that
absolute malignity which can measure its exultation rather by the
gathering of its power to harm than by striking. She could lay it aside,
or sink it to the bottom of her emotions, at will, when circumstances
appeared against it. And she could do this without fretful regrets,
without looking to the future. The spirit of her hatred extracted its
own nourishment from things, like an organized creature. When foiled
she became passive, and she enjoyed--forced herself compliantly to
enjoy--her redoubled energy of hatred voluptuously, if ever a turn in
events made wreck of her scheming. She hated Vittoria for many reasons,
all of them vague within her bosom because the source of them was
indefinite and lay in the fact of her having come into collision with an
opposing nature, whose rivalry was no visible rivalry, whose triumph
was an ignorance of scorn--a woman who attracted all men, who scattered
injuries with insolent artlessness, who never appealed to forgiveness,
and was a low-born woman daring to be proud. By repute Anna was
implacable, but she had, and knew she had, the capacity for magnanimity
of a certain kind; and her knowledge of the existence of this
unsuspected fund within her justified in some degree her reckless
efforts to pull her enemy down on her knees. It seemed doubly right that
she should force Vittoria to penitence, as being good for the woman, and
an end that exonerated her own private sins committed to effect it.

Yet she did not look clearly forward to the day of Vittoria’s imploring
for mercy. She had too many vexations to endure: she was an insufficient
schemer, and was too frequently thwarted to enjoy that ulterior
prospect. Her only servile instruments were Major Nagen, and Irma, who
came to her from the Villa Ricciardi, hot to do her rival any deadly
injury; but though willing to attempt much, these were apparently able
to perform little more than the menial work of vengeance. Major Nagen
wrote in the name of Weisspriess to Count Ammiani, appointing a second
meeting at Como, and stating that he would be at the villa of the
Duchess of Graatli there. Weisspriess was unsuspectingly taken down to
the place by Anna and Lena. There was a gathering of such guests as the
duchess alone among her countrywomen could assemble, under the patronage
of the conciliatory Government, and the duchess projected to give a
series of brilliant entertainments in the saloons of the Union, as
she named her house-roof. Count Serabiglione arrived, as did numerous
Moderates and priest-party men, Milanese garrison officers and others.
Laura Piaveni travelled with Countess d’Isorella and the happy Adela
Sedley, from Lago Maggiore.

Laura came, as she cruelly told her friend, for the purpose of making
Victoria’s excuses to the duchess. “Why can she not come herself?”
 Amalia persisted in asking, and began to be afflicted with womanly
curiosity. Laura would do nothing but shrug and smile, and repeat
her message. A little after sunset, when the saloons were lighted,
Weisspriess, sitting by his Countess Anna’s side, had a slip of paper
placed in his hands by one of the domestics. He quitted his post
frowning with astonishment, and muttered once, “My appointment!” Laura
noticed that Anna’s heavy eyelids lifted to shoot an expressive glance
at Violetta d’Isorella. She said: “Can that have been anything hostile,
do you suppose?” and glanced slyly at her friend.

“No, no,” said Amalia; “the misunderstanding is explained, and Major
Weisspriess is just as ready as Count Ammiani to listen to reason.
Besides, Count Ammiani is not so unfriendly but that if he came so near
he would come up to me, surely.”

Laura brought Amalia’s observation to bear upon Anna and Violetta by
turning pointedly from one to the other as she said: “As for reason,
perhaps you have chosen the word. If Count Ammiani attended an
appointment this time, he would be unreasonable.”

A startled “Why?”--leaped from Anna’s lips. She reddened at her
impulsive clumsiness.

Laura raised her shoulders slightly: “Do you not know?” The expression
of her face reproved Violetta, as for remissness in transmitting secret
intelligence. “You can answer why, countess,” she addressed the
latter, eager to exercise her native love of conflict with this
doubtfully-faithful countrywoman;--the Austrian could feel that she had
beaten her on the essential point, and afford to give her any number of
dialectical victories.

“I really cannot answer why,” Violetta said; “unless Count Ammiani is,
as I venture to hope, better employed.”

“But the answer is charming and perfect,” said Laura.

“Enigmatical answers are declared to be so when they come from us
women,” the duchess remarked; “but then, I fancy, women must not be the
hearers, or they will confess that they are just as much bewildered and
irritated as I am. Do speak out, my dearest. How is he better employed?”

Laura passed her eyes around the group of ladies. “If any hero of yours
had won the woman he loves, he would be right in thinking it folly to be
bound by the invitation to fight, or feast, or what you will, within a
space of three months or so; do you not agree with me?”

The different emotions on many visages made the scene curious.

“Count Ammiani has married her!” exclaimed the duchess.

“My old friend Carlo is really married!” said Lena.

Anna stared at Violetta.

The duchess, recovering from her wonder, confirmed the news by saying
that she now knew why M. Powys had left Milan in haste, three or four
days previously, as she was aware that the bride had always wished him
to be present at the ceremony of her marriage.

“Signora, may I ask you, were you present?” Violetta addressed Laura.

“I will answer most honestly that I was not,” said Laura.

“The marriage was a secret one; perhaps?”

“Even for friends, you see.”

“Necessarily, no doubt,” Lena said, with an idea of easing her sister’s
stupefaction by a sarcasm foreign to her sentiments.

Adela Sedley, later in exactly comprehending what had been spoken,
glanced about for some one who would not be unsympathetic to her
exclamation, and suddenly beheld her brother entering the room with
Weisspriess. “Wilfrid! Wilfrid! do you know she is married?”

“So they tell me,” Wilfrid replied, while making his bow to the duchess.
He was much broken in appearance, but wore his usual collected manner.
Who had told him of the marriage? A person downstairs, he said; not
Count Ammiani; not signor Balderini; no one whom he saw present, no one
whom he knew.

“A very mysterious person,” said the duchess.

“Then it’s true after all,” cried Laura. “I did but guess it.” She
assured Violetta that she had only guessed it.

“Does Major Weisspriess know it to be true?” The question came from
Anna.

Weisspriess coolly verified it, on the faith of a common servant’s
communication.

The ladies could see that some fresh piece of mystery lay between him
and Wilfrid.

“With whom have you had an interview, and what have you heard?” asked
Lena, vexed by Wilfrid’s pallid cheeks.

Both men stammered and protested, out of conceit, and were as foolish as
men are when pushed to play at mutual concealment.

The duchess’s chasseur, Jacob Baumwalder Feckelwitz, stepped up to his
mistress and whispered discreetly. She gazed straight at Laura. After
hesitation she shook her head, and the chasseur retired. Amalia then
came to the rescue of the unhappy military wits that were standing a
cross-fire of sturdy interrogation.

“Do you not perceive what it is?” she said to Anna. “Major Weisspriess
meets Private Pierson at the door of my house, and forgets that he is
well-born and my guest. I may be revolutionary, but I declare that in
plain clothes Private Pierson is the equal of Major Weisspriess. If
bravery made men equals, who would be Herr Pierson’s superior? Ire has
done me the honour, at a sacrifice of his pride, I am sure, to come here
and meet his sister, and rejoice me with his society. Major Weisspriess,
if I understand the case correctly, you are greatly to blame.”

“I beg to assert,” Weisspriess was saying as the duchess turned her
shoulder on him.

“There is really no foundation,” Wilfrid began, with similar simplicity.

“What will sharpen the wits of these soldiers!” the duchess murmured
dolefully to Laura.

“But Major Weisspriess was called out of his room by a message--was that
from Private Pierson?” said Anna.

“Assuredly; I should presume so,” the duchess answered for them.

“Ay; undoubtedly,” Weisspriess supported her.

“Then,” Laura smiled encouragement to Wilfrid, “you know nothing of
Count Ammiani’s marriage after all?”

Wilfrid launched his reply on a sharp repression of his breath, “Nothing
whatever.”

“And the common servant’s communication was not made to you?” Anna
interrogated Weisspriess.

“I simply followed in the track of Pierson,” said that officer, masking
his retreat from the position with a duck of his head and a smile, tooth
on lip.

“How could you ever suppose, child, that a common servant would be
sent to deliver such tidings? and to Major Weisspriess!” the duchess
interposed.

This broke up the Court of inquiry.

Weisspriess shortly after took his leave, on the plea that he wished to
prove his friendliness by accompanying Private Pierson, who had to be on
duty early next day in Milan. Amalia had seen him breaking from Anna
in extreme irritation, and he had only to pledge his word that he was
really bound for Milan to satisfy her. “I believe you to be at heart
humane,” she said meaningly.

“Duchess, you may be sure that I would not kill an enemy save on the
point of my sword,” he answered her.

“You are a gallant man,” said Amalia, and pride was in her face as she
looked on him.

She willingly consented to Wilfrid’s sudden departure, as it was evident
that some shot had hit him hard.

On turning to Laura, the duchess beheld an aspect of such shrewd disgust
that she was provoked to exclaim: “What on earth is the matter now?”

Laura would favour her with no explanation until they were alone in the
duchess’s boudoir, when she said that to call Weisspriess a gallant man
was an instance of unblushing adulation of brutal strength: “Gallant for
slaying a boy? Gallant because he has force of wrist?”

“Yes; gallant;--an honour to his countrymen: and an example to some of
yours,” Amalia rejoined.

“See,” cried Laura, “to what a degeneracy your excess of national
sentiment reduces you!”

While she was flowing on, the duchess leaned a hand across her shoulder,
and smiling kindly, said she would not allow her to utter words that she
would have to eat. “You saw my chasseur step up to me this evening, my
Laura? Well, not to torment you, he wished to sound an alarm cry after
Angelo Guidascarpi. I believe my conjecture is correct, that Angelo
Guidascarpi was seen by Major Weisspriess below, and allowed to pass
free. Have you no remark to make?”

“None,” said Laura.

“You cannot admit that he behaved like a gallant man?” Laura sighed
deeply. “Perhaps it was well for you to encourage him!”

The mystery of Angelo’s interview with Weisspriess was cleared the
next night, when in the midst of a ball-room’s din, Aennchen, Amalia’s
favourite maid, brought a letter to Laura from Countess Ammiani. These
were the contents:

“DEAREST SIGNORA,

“You now learn a new and blessed thing. God make the marriage fruitful!
I have daughter as well as son. Our Carlo still hesitated, for hearing
of the disgraceful rumours in Milan, he fancied a duty lay there for him
to do. Another menace came to my daughter from the madman Barto Rizzo.
God can use madmen to bring about the heavenly designs. We decided that
Carlo’s name should cover her. My son was like a man who has awakened
up. M. Powys was our good genius. He told her that he had promised you
to bring it about. He, and Angelo, and myself, were the witnesses. So
much before heaven! I crossed the lake with them to Stress. I was her
tirewoman, with Giacinta, to whom I will give a husband for the tears of
joy she dropped upon the bed. Blessed be it! I placed my daughter in my
Carlo’s arms. Both kissed their mother at parting.

“This is something fixed. I had great fears during the war. You do not
yet know what it is to have a sonless son in peril. Terror and remorse
haunted me for having sent the last Ammiani out to those fields,
unattached to posterity.

“An envelope from Milan arrived on the morning of his nuptials. It was
intercepted by me. The German made a second appointment at Como. Angelo
undertook to assist me in saving my son’s honour. So my Carlo had
nothing to disturb his day. Pray with me, Laura Piaveni, that the day
and the night of it may prove fresh springs of a river that shall pass
our name through the happier mornings of Italy! I commend you to God, my
dear, and am your friend,

                  “MARCCELLINA, COUNTESS AMMIANI.

“P.S. Countess Alessandra will be my daughter’s name.”

The letter was read and re-read before the sweeter burden it contained
would allow Laura to understand that Countess Ammiani had violated a
seal and kept a second hostile appointment hidden from her son.

“Amalia, you detest me,” she said, when they had left the guests for a
short space, and the duchess had perused the letter, “but acknowledge
Angelo Guidascarpi’s devotion. He came here in the midst of you Germans,
at the risk of his life, to offer battle for his cousin.”

The duchess, however, had much more to say for the magnanimity of Major
Weisspriess, who, if he saw him, had spared him; she compelled Laura to
confess that Weisspriess must have behaved with some nobleness, which
Laura did, humming and I ‘brumming,’ and hinting at the experience he
had gained of Angelo’s skill. Her naughtiness provoked first, and then
affected Amalia; in this mood the duchess had the habit of putting on a
grand air of pitying sadness. Laura knew it well, and never could make
head against it. She wavered, as a stray floating thing detached from an
eddy whirls and passes on the flood. Close on Amalia’s bosom she sobbed
out: “Yes; you Austrians have good qualities some: many! but you choose
to think us mean because we can’t readily admit them when we are under
your heels. Just see me; what a crumb feeds me! I am crying with delight
at a marriage!”

The duchess clasped her fondly.

“It’s not often one gets you so humble, my Laura.”

“I am crying with delight at a marriage! Amalia, look at me: you would
suppose it a mighty triumph. A marriage! two little lovers lying cheek
to cheek! and me blessing heaven for its goodness! and there may be dead
men unburied still on the accursed Custozza hill-top!”

Amalia let her weep. The soft affection which the duchess bore to her
was informed with a slight touch of envy of a complexion that could be
torn with tears one minute, and the next be fit to show in public.
No other thing made her regard her friend as a southern--that is, a
foreign-woman.

“Be patient,” Laura said.

“Cry; you need not be restrained,” said Amalia.

“You sighed.”

“No!”

“A sort of sigh. My fit’s over. Carlo’s marriage is too surprising and
delicious. I shall be laughing presently. I hinted at his marriage--I
thought it among the list of possible things, no more--to see if that
crystal pool, called Violetta d’Isorella, could be discoloured by
stirring. Did you watch her face? I don’t know what she wanted with
Carlo, for she’s cold as poison--a female trifler; one of those women
whom I, and I have a chaste body, despise as worse than wantons; but
she certainly did not want him to be married. It seems like a
victory--though we’re beaten. You have beaten us, my dear!”

“My darling! it is your husband kisses you,” said Amalia, kissing
Laura’s forehead from a full heart.



CHAPTER XL

THROUGH THE WINTER

Weisspriess and Wilfrid made their way toward Milan together, silently
smoking, after one attempt at conversation, which touched on Vittoria’s
marriage; but when they reached Monza the officer slapped his degraded
brother in arms upon the shoulder, and asked him whether he had any
inclination to crave permission to serve in Hungary. For his own part,
Weisspriess said that he should quit Italy at once; he had here to
skewer the poor devils, one or two weekly, or to play the mightily
generous; in short, to do things unsoldierly; and he was desirous of
getting away from the country. General Schoneck was at Monza, and might
arrange the matter for them both. Promotion was to be looked for in
Hungary; the application would please the General; one battle would
restore the lieutenant’s star to Wilfrid’s collar. Wilfrid, who had been
offended by his companion’s previous brooding silence, nodded briefly,
and they stopped at Monza, where they saw General Schoneck in the
morning, and Wilfrid being by extraordinary favour in civilian’s dress
during his leave of absence, they were jointly invited to the General’s
table at noon, though not to meet any other officer. General Schoneck
agreed with Weisspriess that Hungary would be a better field for
Wilfrid; said he would do his utmost to serve them in the manner they
wished, and dismissed them after the second cigar. They strolled about
the city, glad for reasons of their own to be out of Milan as long as
the leave permitted. At night, when they were passing a palace in one
of the dark streets, a feather, accompanied by a sharp sibilation from
above, dropped on Wilfrid’s face. Weisspriess held the feather up, and
judged by its length that it was an eagle’s, and therefore belonging to
the Hungarian Hussar regiment stationed in Milan. “The bird’s aloft,” he
remarked. His voice aroused a noise of feet that was instantly still.
He sent a glance at the doorways, where he thought he discerned men.
Fetching a whistle in with his breath, he unsheathed his sword, and
seeing that Wilfrid had no weapon, he pushed him to a gate of the
palace-court that had just cautiously turned a hinge. Wilfrid found his
hand taken by a woman’s hand inside. The gate closed behind him. He was
led up to an apartment where, by the light of a darkly-veiled lamp,
he beheld a young Hungarian officer and a lady clinging to his neck,
praying him not to go forth. Her Italian speech revealed how matters
stood in this house. The officer accosted Wilfrid: “But you are not one
of us!” He repeated it to the lady: “You see, the man is not one of us!”

She assured him that she had seen the uniform when she dropped the
feather, and wept protesting it.

“Louis, Louis! why did you come to-night! why did I make you come! You
will be slain. I had my warning, but I was mad.”

The officer hushed her with a quick squeeze of her inter-twisted
fingers.

“Are you the man to take a sword and be at my back, sir?” he said;
and resumed in a manner less contemptuous toward the civil costume: “I
request it for the sole purpose of quieting this lady’s fears.”

Wilfrid explained who and what he was. On hearing that he was General
Pierson’s nephew the officer laughed cheerfully, and lifted the veil
from the lamp, by which Wilfrid knew him to be Colonel Prince Radocky,
a most gallant and the handsomest cavalier in the Imperial service.
Radocky laughed again when he was told of Weisspriess keeping guard
below.

“Aha! we are three, and can fight like a pyramid.”

He flourished his hand above the lady’s head, and called for a sword.
The lady affected to search for one while he stalked up and down in
the jaunty fashion of a Magyar horseman; but the sword was not to be
discovered without his assistance, and he was led away in search of it.
The moment he was alone Wilfrid burst into tears. He could bear anything
better than the sight of fondling lovers. When they rejoined him,
Radocky had evidently yielded some point; he stammered and worked his
underlip on his moustache. The lady undertook to speak for him. Happily
for her, she said, Wilfrid would not compromise her; and taking her
lover’s hand, she added with Italian mixture of wit and grace: “Happily
for me, too, he does. The house is surrounded by enemies; it is a reign
of terror for women. I am dead, if they slay him; but if they recognize
him, I am lost.”

Wilfrid readily leaped to her conclusion. He offered his opera-hat and
civil mantle to Radocky, who departed in them, leaving his military
cloak in exchange. During breathless seconds the lady hung kneeling at
the window. When the gate opened there was a noise as of feet preparing
to rush; Weisspriess uttered an astonished cry, but addressed Radocky as
“my Pierson!” lustily and frequently; and was heard putting a number of
meaningless questions, laughing and rallying Pierson till the two passed
out of hearing unmolested. The lady then kissed a Cross passionately,
and shivered Wilfrid’s manhood by asking him whether he knew what love
was. She went on:

“Never, never love a married woman! It’s a past practice. Never! Thrust
a spike in the palm of your hands drink scalding oil, rather than do
that.”

“The Prince Radocky is now safe,” Wilfrid said.

“Yes, he is safe; and he is there, and I am here: and I cannot follow
him; and when will he come to me?”

The tones were lamentable. She struck her forehead, after she had mutely
thrust her hand to right and left to show the space separating her from
her lover.

Her voice changed when she accepted Wilfrid’s adieux, to whose fate in
the deadly street she appeared quite indifferent, though she gave him
one or two prudent directions, and expressed a hope that she might be of
service to him.

He was set upon as soon as he emerged from the gateway; the cavalry
cloak was torn from his back, and but for the chance circumstance of his
swearing in English, he would have come to harm. A chill went through
his blood on hearing one of his assailants speak the name of Barto
Rizzo. The English oath stopped an arm that flashed a dagger half its
length. Wilfrid obeyed a command to declare his name, his country,
and his rank. “It’s not the prince! it’s not the Hungarian!” went many
whispers; and he was drawn away by a man who requested him to deliver
his reasons for entering the palace, and who appeared satisfied by
Wilfrid’s ready mixture of invention and fact. But the cloak! Wilfrid
stated boldly that the cloak was taken by him from the Duchess of
Graatli’s at Como; that he had seen a tall Hussar officer slip it off
his shoulders; that he had wanted a cloak, and had appropriated it.
He had entered the gate of the palace because of a woman’s hand that
plucked at the skirts of this very cloak.

“I saw you enter,” said the man; “do that no more. We will not have
the blood of Italy contaminated--do you hear? While that half-Austrian
Medole is tip-toeing ‘twixt Milan and Turin, we watch over his honour,
to set an example to our women and your officers. You have outwitted us
to-night. Off with you!”

Wilfrid was twirled and pushed through the crowd till he got free of
them. He understood very well that they were magnanimous rascals who
could let an accomplice go, though they would have driven steel into the
principal.

Nothing came of this adventure for some time. Wilfrid’s reflections
(apart from the horrible hard truth of Vittoria’s marriage, against
which he dashed his heart perpetually, almost asking for anguish) had
leisure to examine the singularity of his feeling a commencement of
pride in the clasping of his musket;--he who on the first day of his
degradation had planned schemes to stick the bayonet-point between his
breast-bones: he thought as well of the queer woman’s way in Countess
Medole’s adjuration to him that he should never love a married
woman;--in her speaking, as it seemed, on his behalf, when it was but an
outcry of her own acute wound. Did he love a married woman? He wanted
to see one married woman for the last time; to throw a frightful look on
her; to be sublime in scorn of her; perhaps to love her all the better
for the cruel pain, in the expectation of being consoled. While doing
duty as a military machine, these were the pictures in his mind; and
so well did his routine drudgery enable him to bear them, that when
he heard from General Schoneck that the term of his degradation was to
continue in Italy, and from his sister that General Pierson refused
to speak of him or hear of him until he had regained his gold
shoulder-strap, he revolted her with an ejaculation of gladness, and
swore brutally that he desired to have no advancement; nothing but sleep
and drill; and, he added conscientiously, Havannah cigars. “He has
grown to be like a common soldier,” Adela said to herself with an
amazed contemplation of the family tie. Still, she worked on his behalf,
having, as every woman has, too strong an instinct as to what is natural
to us to believe completely in any eccentric assertion. She carried the
tale of his grief and trials and his romantic devotion to the Imperial
flag, daily to Countess Lena; persisting, though she could not win a
responsive look from Lena’s face.

One day on the review-ground, Wilfrid beheld Prince Radocky bending from
his saddle in conversation with Weisspriess. The prince galloped up to
General Pierson, and stretched his hand to where Wilfrid was posted
as marker to a wheeling column, kept the hand stretched out, and spoke
furiously, and followed the General till he was ordered to head his
regiment. Wilfrid began to hug his musket less desperately. Little
presents--feminine he knew by the perfumes floating round them,--gloves
and cigars, fine handkerchiefs, and silks for wear, came to his
barracks. He pretended to accuse his sister of sending them. She in
honest delight accused Lena. Lena then accused herself of not having
done so.

It was winter: Vittoria had been seen in Milan. Both Lena and Wilfrid
spontaneously guessed her to be the guilty one. He made a funeral pyre
of the gifts and gave his sister the ashes, supposing that she had
guessed with the same spirited intuition. It suited Adela to relate this
lover’s performance to Lena. “He did well!” Lena said, and kissed Adela
for the first time. Adela was the bearer of friendly messages to the
poor private in the ranks. From her and from little Jenna, Wilfrid heard
that he was unforgotten by Countess Lena, and new hopes mingled with
gratitude caused him to regard his situation seriously. He confessed to
his sister that the filthy fellows, his comrades, were all but too much
for him, and asked her to kiss him, that he might feel he was not one
of them. But he would not send a message in reply to Lena. “That is also
well!” Lena said. Her brother Karl was a favourite with General Pierson.
She proposed that Adela and herself should go to Count Karl, and urge
him to use his influence with the General. This, however, Adela was
disinclined to do; she could not apparently say why. When Lena went to
him, she was astonished to hear that he knew every stage of her advance
up to the point of pardoning her erratic lover; and even knew as much
as that Wilfrid’s dejected countenance on the night when Vittoria’s
marriage was published in the saloon of the duchess on Lake Como, had
given her fresh offence. He told her that many powerful advocates were
doing their best for the down-fallen officer, who, if he were shot, or
killed, would still be gazetted an officer. “A nice comfort!” said Lena,
and there was a rallying exchange of banter between them, out of
which she drew the curious discovery that Karl had one of his strong
admirations for the English lady. “Surely!” she said to herself; “I
thought they were all so cold.” And cold enough the English lady seemed
when Lena led to the theme. “Do I admire your brother, Countess Lena?
Oh! yes;--in his uniform exceedingly.”

Milan was now full. Wilfrid had heard from Adela that Count Ammiani
and his bride were in the city and were strictly watched. Why did not
conspirators like these two take advantage of the amnesty? Why were they
not in Rome? Their Chief was in Rome; their friends were in Rome. Why
were they here? A report, coming from Countess d’Isorella, said that
they had quarrelled with their friends, and were living for love alone.
As she visited the Lenkensteins--high Austrians--some believed her; and
as Count Ammiani and his bride had visited the Duchess of Graatli, it
was thought possible. Adela had refused to see Vittoria; she did not
even know the house where Count Ammiani dwelt; so Wilfrid was reduced
to find it for himself. Every hour when off duty the miserable
sentimentalist wandered in that direction, nursing the pangs of a
delicious tragedy of emotions; he was like a drunkard going to his
draught. As soon as he had reached the head of the Corso, he wheeled
and marched away from it with a lofty head, internally grinning at his
abject folly, and marvelling at the stiff figure of an Austrian common
soldier which flashed by the windows as he passed. He who can unite
prudence and madness, sagacity and stupidity, is the true buffoon; nor,
vindictive as were his sensations, was Wilfrid unaware of the contrast
of Vittoria’s soul to his own, that was now made up of antics. He could
not endure the tones of cathedral music; but he had at times to kneel
and listen to it, and be overcome.

On a night in the month of February, a servant out of livery addressed
him at the barrack-gates, requesting him to go at once to a certain
hotel, where his sister was staying. He went, and found there, not his
sister, but Countess Medole. She smiled at his confusion. Both she and
the prince, she said, had spared no effort to get him reinstated in
his rank; but his uncle continually opposed the endeavours of all his
friends to serve him. This interview was dictated by the prince’s wish,
so that he might know them to be a not ungrateful couple. Wilfrid’s
embarrassment in standing before a lady in private soldier’s uniform,
enabled him with very peculiar dignity to declare that his present
degradation, from the General’s point of view, was a just punishment,
and he did not crave to have it abated. She remarked that it must end
soon. He made a dim allusion to the littleness of humanity. She laughed.
“It’s the language of an unfortunate lover,” she said, and straightway,
in some undistinguished sentence, brought the name of Countess
Alessandra Ammiani tingling to his ears. She feared that she could
not be of service to him there; “at least, not just yet,” the lady
astonished him by remarking. “I might help you to see her. If you take
my advice you will wait patiently. You know us well enough to understand
what patience will do. She is supposed to have married for love. Whether
she did or not, you must allow a young married woman two years’ grace.”

The effect of speech like this, and more in a similar strain of frank
corruptness, was to cleanse Wilfrid’s mind, and nerve his heart, and he
denied that he had any desire to meet the Countess Ammiani, unless he
could perform a service that would be agreeable to her.

The lady shrugged. “Well, that is one way. She has enemies, of course.”

Wilfrid begged for their names.

“Who are they not?” she replied. “Chiefly women, it is true.”

He begged most earnestly for their names; he would have pleaded
eloquently, but dreaded that the intonation of one in his low garb might
be taken for a whine; yet he ventured to say that if the countess did
imagine herself indebted to him in a small degree, the mention of two
or three of the names of Countess Alessandra Ammiani’s enemies would
satisfy him.

“Countess Lena von Lenkenstein, Countess Violetta d’Isorella, signorina
Irma di Karski.”

She spoke the names out like a sum that she was paying down in gold
pieces, and immediately rang the bell for her servant and carriage,
as if she had now acquitted her debt. Wilfrid bowed himself forth. A
resolution of the best kind, quite unconnected with his interests or his
love, urged him on straight to the house of the Lenkensteins, where he
sent up his name to Countess Lena. After a delay of many minutes, Count
Lenkenstein accompanied by General Pierson came down, both evidently
affecting not to see him. The General barely acknowledged his salute.

“Hey! Kinsky!” the count turned in the doorway to address him by
the title of his regiment; “here; show me the house inhabited by the
Countess d’Isorella during the revolt.”

Wilfrid followed them to the end of the street, pointing his finger to
the house, and saluted.

“An Englishman did me the favour--from pure eccentricity, of course--to
save my life on that exact spot, General,” said the count. “Your
countrymen usually take the other side; therefore I mention it.”

As Wilfrid was directing his steps to barracks (the little stir to
his pride superinduced by these remarks having demoralized him), Count
Lenkenstein shouted: “Are you off duty?” Wilfrid had nearly replied that
he was, but just mastered himself in time. “No, indeed!” said the count,
“when you have sent up your name to a lady.” This time General Pierson
put two fingers formally to his cap, and smiled grimly at the private’s
rigid figure of attention. If Wilfrid’s form of pride had consented
to let him take delight in the fact, he would have seen at once that
prosperity was ready to shine on him. He nursed the vexations much too
tenderly to give prosperity a welcome; and even when along with Lena,
and convinced of her attachment, and glad of it, he persisted in driving
at the subject which had brought him to her house; so that the veil
of opening commonplaces, pleasant to a couple in their position, was
plucked aside. His business was to ask her why she was the enemy of
Countess Alessandra Ammiani, and to entreat her that she should not seek
to harm that lady. He put it in a set speech. Lena felt that it ought to
have come last, not in advance of their reconciliation. “I will answer
you,” she said. “I am not the Countess Alessandra Ammiani’s enemy.”

He asked her: “Could you be her friend?”

“Does a woman who has a husband want a friend?”

“I could reply, countess, in the case of a man who has a bride.”

By dint of a sweet suggestion here and there, love-making crossed the
topic. It appeared that General Pierson had finally been attacked, on
the question of his resistance to every endeavour to restore Wilfrid to
his rank, by Count Lenkenstein, and had barely spoken the words--that if
Wilfrid came to Countess Lena of his own free-will, unprompted, to beg
her forgiveness, he would help to reinstate him, when Wilfrid’s name was
brought up by the chasseur. All had laughed, “Even I,” Lena confessed.
And then the couple had a pleasant petitish wrangle;--he was requested
to avow that he had came solely, or principally, to beg forgiveness of
her, who had such heaps to forgive. No; on his honour, he had come for
the purpose previously stated, and on the spur of his hearing that she
was Countess Alessandra Ammiani’s deadly enemy. “Could you believe that
I was?” said Lena; “why should I be?” and he coloured like a lad, which
sign of an ingenuousness supposed to belong to her set, made Lena bold
to take the upper hand. She frankly accused herself of jealousy, though
she did not say of whom. She almost admitted that when the time for
reflection came, she should rejoice at his having sought her to plead
for his friend rather than for her forgiveness. In the end, but with
a drooping pause of her bright swift look at Wilfrid, she promised to
assist him in defeating any machinations against Vittoria’s happiness,
and to keep him informed of Countess d’Isorella’s movements. Wilfrid
noticed the withdrawing fire of the look. “By heaven! she doubts me
still,” he ejaculated inwardly.

These half-comic little people have their place in the history of higher
natures and darker destinies. Wilfrid met Pericles, from whom he heard
that Vittoria, with her husband’s consent, had pledged herself to sing
publicly. “It is for ze Lombard widows,” Pericles apologized on her
behalf; “but, do you see, I only want a beginning. She thaerst for ze
stage; and it is, after marriage, a good sign. Oh! you shall hear, my
friend; marriage have done her no hurt--ze contrary! You shall hear
Hymen--Cupids--not a cold machine; it is an organ alaif! She has privily
sung to her Pericles, and ser, and if I wake not very late on Judgement.
Day, I shall zen hear--but why should I talk poetry to you, to make you
laugh? I have a divin’ passion for zat woman. Do I not give her to a
husband, and say, Be happy! onnly sing! Be kissed! be hugged! only give
Pericles your voice. By Saint Alexandre! it is to say to ze heavens,
Move on your way, so long as you drop rain on us r--you smile--you look
kind.”

Pericles accompanied him into a caffe, the picture of an enamoured happy
man. He waived aside contemptuously all mention of Vittoria’s having
enemies. She had them when, as a virgin, she had no sense. As a woman,
she had none, for she now had sense. Had she not brought her husband to
be sensible, so that they moved together in Milanese society, instead
of stupidly fighting at Rome? so that what he could not take to
himself--the marvellous voice--he let bless the multitude! “She is the
Beethoven of singers,” Pericles concluded. Wilfrid thought so on the
night when she sang to succour the Lombard widows. It was at a concert,
richly thronged; ostentatiously thronged with Austrian uniforms.
He fancied that he could not bear to look on her. He left the house
thinking that to hear her and see her and feel that she was one upon the
earth, made life less of a burden.

This evening was rendered remarkable by a man’s calling out, “You are a
traitress!” while Vittoria stood before the seats. She became pale, and
her eyelids closed. No thinness was subsequently heard in her voice.
The man was caught as he strove to burst through the crowd at the
entrance-door, and proved to be a petty bookseller of Milan, by name
Sarpo, known as an orderly citizen. When taken he was inflamed with
liquor. Next day the man was handed from the civil to the military
authorities, he having confessed to the existence of a plot in the city.
Pericles came fuming to Wilfrid’s quarters. Wilfrid gathered from him
that Sarpo’s general confession had been retracted: it was too foolish
to snare the credulity of Austrian officials. Sarpo stated that he had
fabricated the story of a plot, in order to escape the persecutions of a
terrible man, and find safety in prison lodgings vender Government. The
short confinement for a civic offence was not his idea of safety; he
desired to be sheltered by Austrian soldiers and a fortress, and said
that his torments were insupportable while Barto Rizzo was at large.
This infamous Republican had latterly been living in his house, eating
his bread, and threatening death to him unless he obeyed every command.
Sarpo had undertaken his last mission for the purpose of supplying his
lack of resolution to release himself from his horrible servitude by any
other means; not from personal animosity toward the Countess Alessandra
Ammiani, known as la Vittoria. When seized, fear had urged him to
escape. Such was his second story. The points seemed irreconcilable
to those who were not in the habit of taking human nature into their
calculations of a possible course of conduct; even Wilfrid, though he
was aware that Barto Rizzo hated Vittoria inveterately, imagined Sarpo’s
first lie to have necessarily fathered a second. But the second story
was true: and the something like lover’s wrath with which the outrage
to Vittoria fired Pericles, prompted him to act on it as truth. He
told Wilfrid that he should summon Barto Rizzo to his presence. As
the Government was unable to exhibit so much power, Wilfrid looked
sarcastic; whereupon Pericles threw up his chin crying: “Oh! you shall
know my resources. Now, my friend, one bit of paper, and a messenger,
and zen home to my house, to Tokay and cigarettes, and wait to see.”
 He remarked after pencilling a few lines, “Countess d’Isorella is her
enemy? hein!”

“Why, you wouldn’t listen to me when I told you,” said Wilfrid.

“No,” Pericles replied while writing and humming over his pencil; “my
ear is a pelican-pouch, my friend; it--and Irma is her enemy also?--it
takes and keeps, but does not swallow till it wants. I shall hear you,
and I shall hear my Sandra Vittoria, and I shall not know you have
spoken, when by-and-by I tinkle, tinkle, a bell of my brain, and your
word walks in,--‘quite well?’--‘very well! ‘--sit down’--‘if it is
ze same to you, I prefer to stand’--‘good; zen I examine you.’
My motto:--‘Time opens ze gates: my system: ‘it is your doctor of
regiment’s system when your twelve, fifteen, forty recruits strip to
him:--‘Ah! you, my man, have varicose vein: no soldier in our regiment,
you!’ So on. Perhaps I am not intelligible; but, hear zis. I speak not
often of my money; but I say--it is in your ear--a man of millions, he
is a king!” The Greek jumped up and folded a couple of notes. “I will
not have her disturbed. Let her sing now and awhile to Pericles and his
public: and to ze Londoners, wiz your permission, Count Ammiani, one
saison. I ask no more, and I am satisfied, and I endow your oldest
child, signor Conte--it is said! For its mama was a good girl, a brave
girl; she troubled Pericles, because he is an intellect; but he forgives
when he sees sincerity--rare zing! Sincerity and genius: it may be zey
are as man and wife in a bosom. He forgives; it is not onnly voice he
craves, but a soul, and Sandra, your countess, she has a soul--I am not
a Turk. I say, it is a woman in whom a girl I did see a soul! A woman
when she is married, she is part of ze man; but a soul, it is for ever
alone, apart, confounded wiz nobody! For it I followed Sandra, your
countess. It was a sublime devotion of a dog. Her voice tsrilled, her
soul possessed me, Your countess is my Sandra still. I shall be pleased
if child-bearing trouble her not more zan a very little; but, enfin! she
is married, and you and I, my friend Wilfrid, we must accept ze decree,
and say, no harm to her out of ze way of nature, by Saint Nicolas! or
any what saint you choose for your invocation. Come along. And speed my
letters by one of your militaires at once off. Are Pericles’ millions
gold of bad mint? If so, he is an incapable. He presumes it is not so.
Come along; we will drink to her in essence of Tokay. You shall witness
two scenes. Away!”

Wilfrid was barely to be roused from his fit of brooding into which
Pericles had thrown him. He sent the letters, and begged to be left to
sleep. The image of Vittoria seen through this man’s mind was new, and
brought a new round of torments. “The devil take you,” he cried when
Pericles plucked at his arm, “I’ve sent the letters; isn’t that enough?”
 He was bitterly jealous of the Greek’s philosophic review of the
conditions of Vittoria’s marriage; for when he had come away from the
concert, not a thought of her being a wife had clouded his resignation
to the fact. He went with Pericles, nevertheless, and was compelled to
acknowledge the kindling powers of the essence of Tokay. “Where do you
get this stuff?” he asked several times. Pericles chattered of England,
and Hagar’s ‘Addio,’ and ‘Camilla.’ What cabinet operas would he not
give! What entertainments! Could an emperor offer such festivities to
his subjects? Was a Field Review equal to Vittoria’s voice? He stung
Wilfrid’s ears by insisting on the mellowed depth, the soft human
warmth, which marriage had lent to the voice. At a late hour his valet
announced Countess d’Isorella. “Did I not say so?” cried Pericles, and
corrected himself: “No, I did not say so; it was a surprise to you, my
friend. You shall see; you shall hear. Now you shall see what a friend
Pericles can be when a person satisfy him.” He pushed Wilfrid into his
dressing-room, and immediately received the countess with an outburst
of brutal invectives--pulling her up and down the ranked regiment of
her misdeeds, as it were. She tried dignity, tried anger, she affected
amazement, she petitioned for the heads of his accusations, and, as
nothing stopped him, she turned to go. Pericles laughed when she
had left the room. Irma di Karski was announced the next minute, and
Countess d’Isorella re-appeared beside her. Irma had a similar greeting.
“I am lost,” she exclaimed. “Yes, you are lost,” said Pericles; “a word
from me, and the back of the public is humped at you--ha! contessa,
you touched Mdlle. Irma’s hand? She is to be on her guard, and never to
think she is lost till down she goes? You are a more experienced woman!
I tell you I will have no nonsense. I am Countess Alessandra Ammiani’s
friend. You two, you women, are her enemies. I will ruin you both. You
would prevent her singing in public places--you, Countess d’Isorella,
because you do not forgive her marriage to Count Ammiani; you, Irma,
to spite her for her voice. You would hiss her out of hearing, you two
miserable creatures. Not another soldo for you! Not one! and to-morrow,
countess, I will see my lawyer. Irma, begone, and shriek to your
wardrobe! Countess d’Isorella, I have the extreme honour.”

Wilfrid marvelled to hear this titled and lovely woman speaking almost
in tones of humility in reply to such outrageous insolence. She craved
a private interview. Irma was temporarily expelled, and then Violetta
stooped to ask what the Greek’s reason for his behaviour could be. She
admitted that it was in his power to ruin her, as far as money went.
“Perhaps a little farther,” said Pericles; “say two steps. If one is
on a precipice, two steps count for something.” But, what had she done?
Pericles refused to declare it. This set her guessing with a charming
naivete. Pericles called Irma back to assist her in the task, and
quitted them that they might consult together and hit upon the right
thing. His object was to send his valet for Luigi Saracco. He had
seen that no truth could be extracted from these women, save forcibly.
Unaware that he had gone out, Wilfrid listened long enough to hear
Irma say, between sobs: “Oh! I shall throw myself upon his mercy. Oh,
Countess d’Isorella, why did you lead me to think of vengeance! I am
lost! He knows everything. Oh, what is it to me whether she lives with
her husband! Let them go on plotting. I am not the Government. I am sure
I don’t much dislike her. Yes, I hate her, but why should I hurt myself?
She will wear those jewels on her forehead; she will wear that necklace
with the big amethysts, and pretend she’s humble because she doesn’t
carry earrings, when her ears have never been pierced! I am lost! Yes,
you may say, lookup! I am only a poor singer, and he can ruin me. Oh!
Countess d’Isorella, oh! what a fearful punishment. If Countess Anna
should betray Count Ammiani to-night, nothing, nothing, will save me.
I will confess. Let us both be beforehand with her--or you, it does not
matter for a noble lady.”

“Hush!” said Violetta. “What dreadful fool is this I sit with? You may
have done what you think of doing already.”

She walked to the staircase door, and to that of the suite. An
honourable sentiment, conjoined to the knowledge that he had heard
sufficient, induced Wilfrid to pass on into the sleeping apartment a
moment or so before Violetta took this precaution. The potent liquor of
Pericles had deprived him of consecutive ideas; he sat nursing a thunder
in his head, imagining it to be profound thought, till Pericles flung
the door open. Violetta and Irma had departed. “Behold! I have it; ze
address of your rogue Barto Rizzo,” said Pericles, in the manner of one
whose triumph is absolutely due to his own shrewdness. “Are two women a
match for me? Now, my friend, you shall see. Barto Rizzo is too clever
for zis government, which cannot catch him. I catch him, and I teach him
he may touch politics--it is not for him to touch Art. What! to hound
men to interrupt her while she sings in public places? What next! But
I knew my Countess d’Isorella could help me, and so I sent for her to
confront Irma, and dare to say she knew not Barto’s dwelling--and why? I
will tell you a secret. A long-flattered woman, my friend, she has had,
you will think, enough of it; no! she is like avarice. If it is worship
of swine, she cannot refuse it. Barto Rizzo worships her; so it is a
deduction--she knows his abode--I act upon that, and I arrive at my end.
I now send him to ze devil.”

Barto Rizzo, after having evaded the polizia of the city during a
three months’ steady chase, was effectually captured on the doorstep of
Vittoria’s house in the Corso Francesco, by gendarmes whom Pericles had
set on his track. A day later Vittoria was stabbed at about the same
hour, on the same spot. A woman dealt the blow. Vittoria was returning
from an afternoon drive with Laura Piaveni and the children. She saw a
woman seated on the steps as beggarwomen sit, face in lap. Anxious to
shield her from the lacquey, she sent the two little ones up to her with
small bits of money. But, as the woman would not lift her head, she and
Laura prepared to pass her, Laura coming last. The blow, like all such
unexpected incidents, had the effect of lightning on those present;
the woman might have escaped, but after she had struck she sat down
impassive as a cat by the hearth, with a round-eyed stare.

The news that Vittoria had been assassinated traversed the city. Carlo
was in Turin, Merthyr in Rome. Pericles was one of the first who reached
the house; he was coming out when Wilfrid and the Duchess of Graatli
drove up; and he accused the Countess d’Isorella flatly of having
instigated the murder. He was frantic. They supposed that she must have
succumbed to the wound. The duchess sent for Laura. There was a press
of carriages and soft-humming people in the street; many women and
men sobbing. Wilfrid had to wait an hour for the duchess, who brought
comfort when she came. Her first words were reassuring. “Ah!” she said,
“did I not do well to make you drive here with me instead of with Lena?
Those eyes of yours would be unpardonable to her. Yes, indeed; though a
corpse were lying in this house; but Countess Alessandra is safe. I have
seen her. I have held her hand.”

Wilfrid kissed the duchess’s hand passionately.

What she had said of Lena was true: Lena could only be generous upon the
after-thought; and when the duchess drove Wilfrid back to her, he had
to submit to hear scorn: and indignation against all Italians, who
were denounced as cut-throats, and worse and worse and worse, males
and females alike. This way grounded on her sympathy for Vittoria. But
Wilfrid now felt toward the Italians through his remembrance of that
devoted soul’s love of them, and with one direct look he bade his
betrothed good-bye, and they parted.

It was in the early days of March that Merthyr, then among the
Republicans of Rome, heard from Laura Piaveni. Two letters reached him,
one telling of the attempted assassination, and a second explaining
circumstances connected with it. The first summoned him to Milan; the
other left it to his option to make the journey. He started, carrying
kind messages from the Chief to Vittoria, and from Luciano Ramara the
offer of a renewal of old friendship to Count Ammiani. His political
object was to persuade the Lombard youth to turn their whole strength
upon Rome. The desire of his heart was again to see her, who had been so
nearly lost to all eyes for ever.

Laura’s first letter stated brief facts. “She was stabbed this
afternoon, at half-past two, on the steps of her house, by a woman
called the wife of Barto Rizzo. She caught her hands up under her throat
when she saw the dagger. Her right arm was penetrated just above the
wrist, and half-an-inch in the left breast, close to the centre bone.
She behaved firmly. The assassin only struck once. No visible danger;
but you should come, if you have no serious work.”

“Happily,” ran the subsequent letter, of two days’ later date, “the
assassin was a woman, and one effort exhausts a woman; she struck
only once, and became idiotic. Sandra has no fever. She had her wits
ready--where were mine?--when she received the wound. While I had her in
my arms, she gave orders that the woman should be driven out of the city
in her carriage. The Greek, her mad musical adorer, accuses Countess
d’Isorella. Carlo has seen this person--returns convinced of her
innocence. That is not an accepted proof; but we have one. It seems that
Rizzo (Sandra was secret about it and about one or two other things)
sent to her commanding her to appoint an hour detestable style! I can
see it now; I fear these conspiracies no longer:--she did appoint an
hour; and was awaiting him when the gendarmes sprang on the man at her
door.

“He had evaded them several weeks, so we are to fancy that his wife
charged Countess Alessandra with the betrayal. This appears a reasonable
and simple way of accounting for the deed. So I only partly give credit
to it. But it may be true.

“The wound has not produced a shock to her system--very, very
fortunately. On the whole, a better thing could not have happened.
Should I be more explicit? Yes, to you; for you are not of those who see
too much in what is barely said. The wound, then, my dear good friend,
has healed another wound, of which I knew nothing. Bergamasc and
Brescian friends of her husband’s, have imagined that she interrupted or
diverted his studies. He also discovered that she had an opinion of her
own, and sometimes he consulted it; but alas! they are lovers, and he
knew not when love listened, or she when love spoke; and there was grave
business to be done meanwhile. Can you kindly allow that the case was
open to a little confusion? I know that you will. He had to hear many
violent reproaches from his fellow-students. These have ceased. I send
this letter on the chance of the first being lost on the road; and it
will supplement the first pleasantly to you in any event. She lies here
in the room where I write, propped on high pillows, the right arm bound
up, and says: ‘Tell Merthyr I prayed to be in Rome with my husband,
and him, and the Chief. Tell him I love my friend. Tell him I think he
deserves to be in Rome. Tell him--’ Enter Countess Ammiani to reprove
her for endangering the hopes of the house by fatiguing herself. Sandra
sends a blush at me, and I smile, and the countess kisses her. I send
you a literal transcript of one short scene, so that you may feel at
home with us.

“There is a place called Venice, and there is a place called Rome, and
both places are pretty places and famous places; and there is a thing
called the fashion; and these pretty places and famous places set the
fashion: and there is a place called Milan, and a place called Bergamo,
and a place called Brescia, and they all want to follow the fashion, for
they are giddy-pated baggages. What is the fashion, mama? The fashion,
my dear, is &c. &c. &c.:--Extract of lecture to my little daughter,
Amalia, who says she forgets you; but Giacomo sends his manly love. Oh,
good God! should I have blood in my lips when I kissed him, if I knew
that he was old enough to go out with a sword in his hand a week hence?
I seem every day to be growing more and more all mother. This month in
front of us is full of thunder. Addio!”

When Merthyr stood in sight of Milan an army was issuing from the gates.



CHAPTER XLI

THE INTERVIEW

Merthyr saw Laura first. He thought that Vittoria must be lying on her
couch: but Laura simply figured her arm in a sling, and signified, more
than said, that Vittoria was well and taking the air. She then begged
hungrily for news of Rome, and again of Rome, and sat with her hands
clasped in her lap to listen. She mentioned Venice in a short breath of
praise, as if her spirit could not repose there. Rome, its hospitals,
its municipal arrangements, the names of the triumvirs, the prospects of
the city, the edicts, the aspects of the streets, the popularity of
the Government, the number of volunteers ranked under the magical
Republic--of these things Merthyr talked, at her continual instigation,
till, stopping abruptly, he asked her if she wished to divert him from
any painful subject. “No, no!” she cried, “it’s only that I want to feel
an anchor. We are all adrift. Sandra is in perfect health. Our bodies,
dear Merthyr, are enjoying the perfection of comfort. Nothing is done
here except to keep us from boiling over.”

“Why does not Count Ammiani come to Rome?” said Merthyr.

“Why are we not all in Rome? Yes, why! why! We should make a carnival of
our own if we were.”

“She would have escaped that horrible knife,” Merthyr sighed.

“Yes, she would have escaped that horrible knife. But see the difference
between Milan and Rome, my friend! It was a blessed knife here. It has
given her husband back to her; it has destroyed the intrigues against
her. It seems to have been sent--I was kneeling in the cathedral this
morning, and had the very image crossing my eyes--from the saints of
heaven to cut the black knot. Perhaps it may be the means of sending us
to Rome.”

Laura paused, and, looking at him, said, “It is so utterly impossible
for us women to comprehend love without folly in a man; the trait by
which we recognize it! Merthyr, you dear Englishman, you shall know
everything. Do we not think a tisane a weak washy drink, when we are
strong? But we learn, when we lie with our chins up, and our ten toes
like stopped organ-pipes--as Sandra says--we learn then that it means
fresh health and activity, and is better than rivers of your fiery
wines. You love her, do you not?”

The question came with great simplicity.

“If I can give a proof of it, I am ready to answer,” said Merthyr, in
some surprise.

“Your whole life is the proof of it. The women of your country are
intolerable to me, Merthyr: but I do see the worth of the men. Sandra
has taught me. She can think of you, talk of you, kiss the vision of
you, and still be a faithful woman in our bondage of flesh; and to us
you know what a bondage it is: How can that be? I should have asked, if
I had not seen it. Dearest, she loves her husband, and she loves you.
She has two husbands, and she turns to the husband of her spirit when
that, or any, dagger strikes her bosom. Carlo has an unripe mind. They
have been married but a little more than four months; and he reveres
her and loves her.”.... Laura’s voice dragged. “Multiply the months by
thousands, we shall not make those two lives one. It is the curse of
man’s education in Italy? He can see that she has wits and courage. He
will not consent to make use of them. You know her: she is not one to
talk of these things. She, who has both heart and judgement--she is
merely a little boat tied to a big ship. Such is their marriage. She
cannot influence him. She is not allowed to advise him. And she is the
one who should lead the way. And--if she did, we should now be within
sight of the City.”

Laura took his hand. She found it moist, though his face was calm and
his chest heaved regularly. An impish form of the pity women feel for us
at times moved her to say, “Your skin is as bronzed as it was last
year. Sandra spoke of it. She compared it to a young vine-leaf. I wonder
whether girls have really an admonition of what is good for them while
they are going their ways like destined machines?”

“Almost all men are of flesh and blood,” said Merthyr softly.

“I spoke of girls.”

“I speak of men.”

“Blunt--witted that I am! Of course you did. But do not imagine that she
is not happy with her husband. They are united firmly.”

“The better for her, and him, and me,” said Merthyr.

Laura twisted an end of her scarf with fretful fingers. “Carlo Albert
has crossed the Ticino?”

“Is about to do so,” Merthyr rejoined.

“Will Rome hold on if he is defeated?”

“Rome has nothing to fear on that side.”

“But you do not speak hopefully of Rome.”

“I suppose I am thinking of other matters.”

“You confess it!”

The random conversation wearied him. His foot tapped the floor.

“Why do you say that?” he asked.

“Verily, for no other reason than that I have a wicked curiosity, and
that you come from Rome,” said Laura, now perfectly frank, and believing
that she had explained her enigmatical talk, if she had not furnished an
excuse for it. Merthyr came from the City which was now encircled by
an irradiating halo in her imagination, and a fit of spontaneous
inexplicable feminine tenderness being upon her at the moment of their
meeting, she found herself on a sudden prompted to touch and probe and
brood voluptuously over an unfortunate lover’s feelings, supposing that
they existed. For the glory of Rome was on him, and she was at the same
time angry with Carlo Ammiani. It was the form of passion her dedicated
widowhood could still be subject to in its youth; the sole one. By this
chance Merthyr learnt what nothing else would have told him.

Her tale of the attempted assassination was related with palpable
indifference. She stated the facts. “The woman seemed to gasp while
she had her hand up; she struck with no force; and she has since been
inanimate, I hear. The doctor says that a spasm of the heart seized her
when she was about to strike. It has been shaken--I am not sure that he
does not say displaced, or unseated--by some one of her black tempers.
She shot Rinaldo Guidascarpi dead. Perhaps it was that. I am informed
that she worshipped the poor boy, and has been like a trapped she-wolf
since she did it. In some way she associated our darling with Rinaldo’s
death, like the brute she is. The ostensible ground for her futile
bit of devilishness was that she fancied Sandra to have betrayed Barto
Rizzo, her husband, into the hands of the polizia. He wrote to the
Countess Alessandra--such a letter!--a curiosity!--he must see her and
cross-examine her to satisfy himself that she was a true patriot, &c.
You know the style: we neither of us like it. Sandra was waiting to
receive him when they pounced on him by the door. Next day the woman
struck at her. Decidedly a handsome woman. She is the exact contrast
to the Countess Violetta in face, in everything. Heart-disease will
certainly never affect that pretty spy! But, mark,” pursued
Laura, warming, “when Carlo arrived, tears, penitence, heaps of
self-accusations: he had been unkind to her even on Lake Orta, where
they passed their golden month; he had neglected her at Turin; he had
spoken angry words in Milan; in fact, he had misused his treasure, and
begged pardon;--‘If you please, my poor bleeding angel, I am sorry. But
do not, I entreat, distract me with petitions of any sort, though I will
perform anything earthly to satisfy you. Be a good little boat in the
wake of the big ship. I will look over at you, and chirrup now and
then to you, my dearest, when I am not engaged in piloting
extraordinary.’--Very well; I do not mean to sneer at the unhappy boy,
Merthyr; I love him; he was my husband’s brother in arms; the sweetest
lad ever seen. He is in the season of faults. He must command; he must
be a chief; he fancies he can intrigue poor thing! It will pass. And so
will the hour to be forward to Rome. But I call your attention to this:
when he heard of the dagger--I have it from Colonel Corte, who was with
him at the time in Turin--he cried out Violetta d’Isorella’s name.
Why? After he had buried his head an hour on Sandra’s pillow, he went
straight to Countess d’Isorella, and was absent till night. The woman is
hideous to me. No; don’t conceive that I think her Sandra’s rival. She
is too jealous. She has him in some web. If she has not ruined him, she
will. She was under my eyes the night she heard of his marriage: I saw
how she will look at seventy! Here is Carlo at the head of a plot she
has prepared for him; and he has Angelo Guidascarpi, and Ugo Corte,
Marco Sana, Giulio Bandinelli, and about fifty others. They have all
been kept away from Rome by that detestable -----, you object to hear
bad names cast on women, Merthyr. Hear Agostino! The poor old man comes
daily to this house to persuade Carlo to lead his band to Rome. It is
so clearly Rome--Rome, where all his comrades are; where the chief stand
must be made by the side of Italy’s Chief. Worst sign of all, it has
been hinted semi-officially to Carlo that he may upon application
be permitted to re-issue his journal. Does not that show that the
Government wishes to blindfold him, and keep him here, and knows his
plans?”

Laura started up as the door opened, and Vittoria appeared leaning upon
Carlo’s arm. Countess Ammiani, Countess d’Isorella, and Pericles were
behind them. Laura’s children followed.

When Merthyr rose, Vittoria was smiling in Carlo’s face at something
that had been spoken. She was pale, and her arm was in a sling, but
there was no appearance of her being unnerved. Merthyr waited for her
recognition of him. She turned her eyes from Carlo slowly. The soft
dull smile in them died out as it were with a throb, and then her head
drooped on one shoulder, and she sank to the floor.



CHAPTER XLII

THE SHADOW ON CONSPIRACY

Merthyr left the house at Laura’s whispered suggestion. He was agitated
beyond control, for Vittoria had fallen with her eyes fixed on him; and
at times the picture of his beloved, her husband, and Countess Ammiani,
and the children bending over her still body, swam before him like a
dark altar-piece floating in incense, so lost was he to the reality of
that scene. He did not hear Beppo, his old servant, at his heels. After
a while he walked calmly, and Beppo came up beside him. Merthyr shook
his hand.

“Ah, signor Mertyrio! ah, padrone!” said Beppo.

Merthyr directed his observation to a regiment of Austrians marching
down the Corso Venezia to the Ticinese gate.

“Yes, they are ready enough for us,” Beppo remarked. “Perhaps Carlo
Alberto will beat them this time. If he does, viva to him! If they beat
him, down goes another Venetian pyramid. The Countess Alessandra--”
 Beppo’s speech failed.

“What of your mistress?” said Merthyr.

“When she dies, my dear master, there’s no one for me but the Madonna to
serve.”

“Why should she die, silly fellow?”

“Because she never cries.”

Merthyr was on the point of saying, “Why should she cry?” His heart was
too full, and he shrank from inquisitive shadows of the thing known to
him.

“Sit down at this caffe with me,” he said. “It’s fine weather for March.
The troops will camp comfortably. Those Hungarians never require tents.
Did you see much sacking of villages last year?”

“Padrone, the Imperial command is always to spare the villages.”

“That’s humane.”

“Padrone, yes; if policy is humanity.”

“It’s humanity not carried quite as far as we should wish it.”

Beppo shrugged and said: “It won’t leave much upon the conscience if we
kill them.”

“Do you expect a rising?” said Merthyr.

“If the Ticino overflows, it will flood Milan,” was the answer.

“And your occupation now is to watch the height of the water?”

“My occupation, padrone? I am not on the watch-tower.” Beppo winked,
adding: “I have my occupation.” He threw off the effort or pretence to
be discreet. “Master of my soul! this is my occupation. I drink coffee,
but I do not smoke, because I have to kiss a pretty girl, who means to
object to the smell of the smoke. Via! I know her! At five she draws me
into the house.”

“Are you relating your amours to me, rascal?” Merthyr interposed.

“Padrone, at five precisely she draws me into the house. She is a German
girl. Pardon me if I make no war on women. Her name is Aennchen, which
one is able to say if one grimaces;--why not? It makes her laugh; and
German girls are amiable when one can make them laugh. ‘Tis so that they
begin to melt. Behold the difference of races! I must kiss her to melt
her, and then have a quarrel. I could have it after the first, or the
fiftieth with an Italian girl; but my task will be excessively difficult
with a German girl, if I am compelled to allow myself to favour her with
one happy solicitation for a kiss, to commence with. We shall see. It
is, as my abstention from tobacco declares, an anticipated catastrophe.”

“Long-worded, long-winded, obscure, affirmatizing by negatives,
confessing by implication!--where’s the beginning and end of you, and
what’s your meaning?” said Merthyr, who talked to him as one may talk to
an Italian servant.

“The contessa, my mistress, has enemies. Padrone, I devote myself to her
service.”

“By making love to a lady’s maid?”

“Padrone, a rat is not born to find his way up the grand staircase. She
has enemies. One of them was the sublime Barto Rizzo--admirable--though
I must hate him. He said to his wife: ‘If a thing happens to me, stab to
the heart the Countess Alessandra Ammiani.’”

“Inform me how you know that?” said Merthyr.

Beppo pointed to his head, and Merthyr smiled. To imagine, invent, and
believe, were spontaneous with Beppo when has practical sagacity was not
on the stretch. He glanced at the caffe clock.

“Padrone, at eleven to-night shall I see you here? At eleven I shall
come like a charged cannon. I have business. I have seen my mistress’s
blood! I will tell you: this German girl lets me know that some one
detests my mistress. Who? I am off to discover. But who is the damned
creature? I must coo and kiss, while my toes are dancing on hot plates,
to find her out. Who is she? If she were half Milan...”

His hands waved in outline the remainder of the speech, and he rose, but
sat again. He had caught sight of the spy, Luigi Saracco, addressing the
signor Antonio-Pericles in his carriage. Pericles drove on. The horses
presently turned, and he saluted Merthyr.

“She has but one friend in Milan: it is myself,” was his introductory
remark. “My poor child! my dear Powys, she is the best--‘I cannot sing
to you to-day, dear Pericles’--she said that after she had opened her
eyes; after the first mist, you know. She is the best child upon earth.
I could wish she were a devil, my Powys. Such a voice should be in an
iron body. But she has immense health. The doctor, who is also mine,
feels her pulse. He assures me it goes as Time himself, and Time, my
friend, you know, has the intention of going a great way. She is good:
she is too good. She makes a baby of Pericles, to whom what is woman?
Have I not the sex in my pocket? Her husband, he is a fool, ser.”
 Pericles broke thundering into a sentence of English, fell in love with
it, and resumed in the same tongue: “I--it is I zat am her guard, her
safety. Her husband--oh! she must marry a young man, little donkey zat
she is! We accept it as a destiny, my Powys. And he plays false to her.
Good; I do not object. But, imagine in your own mind, my Powys--instead
of passion, of rage, of tempest, she is frozen wiz a repose. Do you,
hein? sink it will come out,”--Pericles eyed Merthyr with a subtle
smile askew,--“I have sot so;--it will come out when she is one day in
a terrible scene ... Mon Dieu! it was a terrible scene for me when I
looked on ze clout zat washed ze blood of ze terrible assassination. So
goes out a voice, possibly! Divine, you say? We are a machine. Now,
you behold, she has faints. It may happen at my concert where she sings
to-morrow night. You saw me in my carriage speaking to a man. He is my
spy--my dog wiz a nose. I have set him upon a woman. If zat woman has a
plot for to-morrow night to spoil my concert, she shall not know
where she shall wake to-morrow morning after. Ha! here is military
music--twenty sossand doors jam on horrid hinge; and right, left,
right, left, to it, confound! like dolls all wiz one face. Look at
your soldiers, Powys. Put zem on a stage, and you see all background
people--a bawling chorus. It shows to you how superior it is--a stage
to life! Hark to such music! I cannot stand it; I am driven away; I am
violent; I rage.”

Pericles howled the name of his place of residence, with an offer of
lodgings in it, and was carried off writhing his body as he passed a
fine military marching band.

The figure of old Agostino Balderini stood in front of Merthyr.
They exchanged greetings. At the mention of Rome, Agostino frowned
impatiently. He spoke of Vittoria in two or three short exclamations,
and was about to speak of Carlo, but checked his tongue. “Judge for
yourself. Come, and see, and approve, if you can. Will you come? There’s
a meeting; there’s to be a resolution. Question--Shall we second the
King of Sardinia, Piedmont, and Savoy? If so, let us set this pumpkin,
called Milan, on its legs. I shall be an attentive listener like you, my
friend. I speak no more.”

Merthyr went with him to the house of a carpenter, where in one of the
uppermost chambers communicating with the roof, Ugo Corte, Marco Sana,
Giulio Bandinelli, and others, sat waiting for the arrival of Carlo
Ammiani; when he came Carlo had to bear with the looks of mastiffs for
being late. He shook Merthyr’s hand hurriedly, and as soon as the door
was fastened, began to speak. His first sentence brought a grunt of
derision from Ugo Corte. It declared that there was no hope of a rising
in Milan. Carlo swung round upon the Bergamasc. “Observe our leader,”
 Agostino whispered to Merthyr; “it would be kindness to give him a
duel.” More than one tumult of outcries had to be stilled before Merthyr
gathered any notion of the designs of the persons present. Bergamasc
sneered at Brescian, and both united in contempt of the Milanese, who,
having a burden on their minds, appealed at once to their individual
willingness to use the sword in vindication of Milan against its
traducers. By a great effort, Carlo got some self-mastery. He admitted,
colouring horribly, that Brescia and Bergamo were ready, and Milan was
not; therefore those noble cities (he read excerpts from letters showing
their readiness) were to take the lead, and thither on the morrow-night
he would go, let the tidings from the king’s army be what they might.

Merthyr quitted the place rather impressed by his eloquence, but
unfavourably by his feverish look. Countess d’Isorella had been referred
to as one who served the cause ably and faithfully. In alluding to
her, Carlo bit his lip; he did not proceed until surrounding murmurs of
satisfaction encouraged him to continue a sort of formal eulogy of the
lady, which proved to be a defence against foregone charges, for Corte
retracted an accusation, and said that he had no fault to find with the
countess. A proposal to join the enterprise was put to Merthyr, but his
engagement with the Chief in Rome saved him from hearing much of the
marvellous facilities of the plot. “I should have wished to see you
to-night,” Carlo said as they were parting. Merthyr named his hotel.
Carlo nodded. “My wife is still slightly feeble,” he said.

“I regret it,” Merthyr rejoined.

“She is not ill.”

“No, it cannot be want of courage,” Merthyr spoke at random.

“Yes, that’s true,” said Carlo, as vacantly. “You will see her while I
am travelling.”

“I hope to find the Countess Alessandra well enough to receive me.”

“Always; always,” said Carlo, wishing apparently to say more. Merthyr
waited an instant, but Carlo broke into a conventional smile of adieu.

“While he is travelling,” Merthyr repeated to Agostino, who had stood by
during the brief dialogue, and led the way to the Corso.

“He did not say how far!” was the old man’s ejaculation.

“But, good heaven! if you think he’s on an unfortunate errand, why don’t
you stop him, advise him?” Merthyr broke out.

“Advise him! stop him! my friend. I would advise him, if I had the
patience of angels; stop him, if I had the power of Lucifer. Did you not
see that he shunned speaking to me? I have been such a perpetual dish of
vinegar under his nose for the last month, that the poor fellow sniffs
when I draw near. He must go his way. He leads a torrent that must sweep
him on. Corte, Sana, and the rest would be in Rome now, but for him. So
should I. Your Agostino, however, is not of Bergamo, or of Brescia; he
is not a madman; simply a poor rheumatic Piedmontese, who discerns the
point where a united Italy may fix its standard. I would start for Rome
to-morrow, if I could leave her--my soul’s child!” Agostino raised his
hand: “I do love the woman, Countess Alessandra Ammiani. I say, she is a
peerless woman. Is she not?”

“There is none like her,” said Merthyr.

“A peerless woman, recognized and sacrificed! I cannot leave her. If the
Government here would lay hands on Carlo and do their worst at once, I
would be off. They are too wary. I believe that they are luring him to
his ruin. I can give no proofs, but I judge by the best evidence. What
avails my telling him? I lose my temper the moment I begin to speak. A
curst witch beguiles the handsome idiot--poor darling lad that he is!
She has him--can I tell you how? She has got him--got him fast!--The
nature of the chains are doubtless innocent, if those which a woman
throws round us be ever distinguishable. He loves his wife--he is not a
monster.”

“He appears desperately feverish,” said Merthyr.

“Did you not notice it? Yes, like a man pushed by his destiny out of the
path. He is ashamed to hesitate; he cannot turn back. Ahead of him he
sees a gulf. That army of Carlo Alberto may do something under its Pole.
Prophecy is too easy. I say no more. We may have Lombardy open; and if
so, my poor boy’s vanity will be crowned: he will only have the king and
his army against him then.”

Discoursing in this wise, they reached the caffe where Beppo had
appointed to meet his old master, and sat amid here and there a
whitecoat, and many nods and whispers over such news as the privileged
journals and the official gazette afforded.

Beppo’s destination was to the Duchess of Graatli’s palace. Nearing it,
he perceived Luigi endeavouring to gain a passage beside the burly form
of Jacob Baumwalder Feckelwitz, who presently seized him and hurled him
into the road. As Beppo was sidling up the courtway, Jacob sprang back;
Luigi made a rush; Jacob caught them both, but they wriggled out of his
clutch, and Luigi, being the fearfuller, ran the farthest. While he was
out of hearing, Beppo told Jacob to keep watch upon Luigi, as the bearer
of an amorous letter from a signor of quality to Aennchen, the which he
himself desired to obtain sight of; “for the wench has caused me
three sleepless nights,” he confessed frankly. Jacob affected not to
understand. Luigi and Beppo now leaned against the wall on either side
of him and baited him till he shook with rage.

“He is the lord of the duchess, his mistress--what a lucky fellow!”
 said Luigi. “When he’s dog at the gates no one can approach her. When he
isn’t, you can fancy what!”--“He’s only a mechanical contrivance; he’s
not a man,” said Beppo. “He’s the principal flea-catcher of the palace,”
 said Luigi--“here he is all day, and at night the devil knows where he
hunts.”--Luigi hopped in a half-circle round the exacerbated Jacob, and
finally provoked an assault that gave an opening to Beppo. They all
ran in, Luigi last. Jacob chased Beppo up the stairs, lost him, and
remembered what he had said of the letter borne by Luigi, for whom
he determined to lie in waiting. “Better two in there than one,” he
thought. The two courted his Aennchen openly; but Luigi, as the bearer
of an amorous letter from the signor of quality, who could be no other
than signor Antonio-Pericles, was the one to be intercepted. Like other
jealous lovers, Jacob wanted to read Aennchen’s answer, to be cured of
his fatal passion for the maiden, and on this he set the entire force of
his mind.

Running up by different staircases, Beppo and Luigi came upon Aennchen
nearly at the same time. She turned a cold face on Beppo, and requested
Luigi to follow her. Astonished to see him in such favour, Beppo was
ready to provoke the quarrel before the kiss when she returned; but
she said that she had obeyed her mistress’s orders, and was obeying the
duchess in refusing to speak of them, or of anything relating to them.
She had promised him an interview in that little room leading into the
duchess’s boudoir. He pressed her to conduct him. “Ah; then it’s not for
me you come,” she said. Beppo had calculated that the kiss would open
his way to the room, and the quarrel disembarrass him of his pretty
companion when there. “You have come to listen to conversation again,”
 said Aennchen. “Ach! the fool a woman is to think that you Italians have
any idea except self-interest when you, when you... talk nonsense to
us. Go away, if you please. Good-evening.” She dropped a curtsey with a
surly coquetry, charming of its kind. Beppo protested that the room
was dear to him because there first he had known for one blissful
half-second the sweetness of her mouth.

“Who told you that persons who don’t like your mistress are going to
talk in there?” said Aennchen.

“You,” said Beppo.

Aennchen drew up in triumph: “And now will you pretend that you didn’t
come up here to go in there to listen to what they say?”

Beppo clapped hands at her cleverness in trapping him. “Hush,” said all
her limbs and features, belying the previous formal “good-evening.”
 He refused to be silent, thinking it a way of getting to the little
antechamber. “Then, I tell you, downstairs you go,” said Aennchen
stiffly.

“Is it decided?” Beppo asked. “Then, good-evening. You detestable
German girls can’t love. One step--a smile: another step--a kiss. You
tit-for-tat minx! Have you no notion of the sacredness of the sentiments
which inspires me to petition that the place for our interview should be
there where I tasted ecstatic joy for the space of a flash of lightning?
I will go; but it is there that I will go, and I will await you there,
signorina Aennchen. Yes, laugh at me! laugh at me!”

“No; really, I don’t laugh at you, signor Beppo,” said Aennchen,
protesting in denial of what she was doing. “This way.”

“No, it’s that way,” said Beppo.

“It’s through here.” She opened a door. “The duchess has a reception
to-night, and you can’t go round. Ach! you would not betray me?”

“Not if it were the duchess herself,” said Beppo; “he would refuse to
satisfy man’s natural vanity, in such a case.”

Eager to advance to the little antechamber, he allowed Aennchen to wait
behind him. He heard the door shut and a lock turn, and he was in the
dark, and alone, left to take counsel of his fingers’ ends.

“She was born to it,” Beppo remarked, to extenuate his outwitted
cunning, when he found each door of the room fast against him.

On the following night Vittoria was to sing at a concert in the Duchess
of Graatli’s great saloon, and the duchess had humoured Pericles by
consenting to his preposterous request that his spy should have an
opportunity of hearing Countess d’Isorella and Irma di Karski in private
conversation together, to discover whether there was any plot of any
sort to vex the evening’s entertainment; as the jealous spite of those
two women, Pericles said, was equal to any devilry on earth. It happened
that Countess d’Isorella did not come. Luigi, in despair,--was the
hearer of a quick question and answer dialogue, in the obscure German
tongue, between Anna von Lenkenstein and Irma di Karski; but a happy
peep between the hanging curtains gave him sight of a letter passing
from Anna’s hands to Irma’s. Anna quitted her. Irma, was looking at the
superscription of the letter, an the act of passing in her steps, when
Luigi tore the curtains apart, and sprang on her arm like a cat. Before
her shrieks could bring succour, Luigi was bounding across the court
with the letter in his possession. A dreadful hug awaited him; his
pockets were ransacked, and he was pitched aching into the street. Jacob
Baumwalder Feckelwitz went straightway under a gas-lamp, where he read
the address of the letter to Countess d’Isorella. He doubted; he had
a half-desire to tear the letter open. But a rumour of the attack upon
Irma had spread among the domestics and Jacob prudently went up to his
mistress. The duchess was sitting with Laura. She received the letter,
eyed: it all over, and held it to a candle.

Laura’s head was bent in dark meditation. The sudden increase of light
aroused her, and she asked, “What is that?”

“A letter from Countess Anna to Countess d’Isorella,” said the duchess.

“Burnt!” Laura screamed.

“It’s only fair,” the duchess remarked.

“From her to that woman! It may be priceless. Stop! Let me see what
remains. Amalia! are you mad? Oh! you false friend. I would have
sacrificed my right hand to see it.”

“Try and love me still,” said the duchess, letting her take one unburnt
corner, and crumble the black tissuey fragments to smut in her hands.

There was no writing; the unburnt corner of the letter was a blank.

Laura fooled the wretched ashes between her palms. “Good-night,” she
said. “Your face will be of this colour to me, my dear, for long.”

“I cannot behave disgracefully, even to keep your love, my beloved,”
 said the duchess.

“You cannot betray a German, you mean,” Laura retorted. “You could let a
spy into the house.”

“That was a childish matter--merely to satisfy a whim.”

“I say you could let a spy into the house. Who is to know where the
scruples of you women begin? I would have given my jewels, my head, my
husband’s sword, for a sight of that letter. I swear that it concerns
us. Yes, us. You are a false friend. Fish-blooded creature! may it be a
year before I look on you again. Hide among your miserable set!”

“Judge me when you are cooler, dearest,” said the duchess, seeking to
detain the impetuous sister of her affection by the sweeping skirts; but
Laura spurned her touch, and went from her.

Irma drove to Countess d’Isorella’s. Violetta was abed, and lay fair
and placid as a Titian Venus, while Irma sputtered out her tale, with
intermittent sobs. She rose upon her elbow, and planting it in her
pillow, took half-a-dozen puffs of a cigarette, and then requested Irma
to ring for her maid. “Do nothing till you see me again,” she said;
“and take my advice: always get to bed before midnight, or you’ll have
unmanageable wrinkles in a couple of years. If you had been in bed at a
prudent hour to-night, this scandal would not have occurred.”

“How can I be in bed? How could I help it?” moaned Irma, replying to the
abstract rule, and the perplexing illustration of its force.

Violetta dismissed her. “After all, my wish is to save my poor
Amaranto,” she mused. “I am only doing now what I should have been doing
in the daylight; and if I can’t stop him, the Government must; and they
will. Whatever the letter contained, I can anticipate it. He knows my
profession and my necessities. I must have money. Why not from the rich
German woman whom he jilted?”

She attributed Anna’s apparent passion of revenge to a secret passion of
unrequited love. What else was implied by her willingness to part with
land and money for the key to his machinations?

Violetta would have understood a revenge directed against Angelo
Guidascarpi, as the slayer of Anna’s brother. But of him Anna had only
inquired once, and carelessly, whether he was in Milan. Anna’s mystical
semi-patriotism--prompted by her hatred of Vittoria, hatred of Carlo as
Angelo’s cousin and protector, hatred of the Italy which held the three,
who never took the name Tedesco on their tongues without loathing--was
perfectly hidden from this shrewd head.

Some extra patrols were in the streets. As she stepped into the
carriage, a man rushed up, speaking hoarsely and inarticulately, and
jumped in beside her. She had discerned Barto Rizzo in time to give
directions to her footman, before she was addressed by a body of
gendarmes in pursuit, whom she mystified by entreating them to enter
her house and search it through, if they supposed that any evil-doer
had taken advantage of the open door. They informed her that a man had
escaped from the civil prison. “Poor creature!” said the countess, with
womanly pity; “but you must see that he is not in my house. How could
three of you let one escape?” She drove off laughing at their vehement
assertion that he would not have escaped from them. Barto Rizzo made her
conduct him to Countess Ammiani’s gates.

Violetta was frightened by his eyes when she tried to persuade him in
her best coaxing manner to avoid Count Ammiani. In fact she apprehended
that he would be very much in her way. She had no time for chagrin at
her loss of power over him, though she was sensible of vexation. Barto
folded his arms and sat with his head in his chest, silent, till they
reached the’ gates, when he said in French, “Madame, I am a nameless
person in your train. Gabble!” he added, when the countess advised him
not to enter; nor would he allow her to precede him by more than one
step. Violetta sent up her name. The man had shaken her nerves. “At
least, remember that your appearance should be decent,” she said,
catching sight of blood on his hands, and torn garments. “I expect,
madame,” he replied, “I shall not have time to wash before I am
laid out. My time is short. I want tobacco. The washing can be done
by-and-by, but not the smoking.”

They were ushered up to the reception-room, where Countess Ammiani,
Vittoria, and Carlo sat, awaiting the visitor whose unexpected name,
cast in their midst at so troubled a season, had clothed her with some
of the midnight’s terrors.



CHAPTER XLIII

THE LAST MEETING IN MILAN

Barto Rizzo had silence about him without having to ask for it, when he
followed Violetta into Countess Ammiani’s saloon of reception. Carlo was
leaning over his mother’s chair, holding Vittoria’s wrist across it,
and so enclosing her, while both young faces were raised to the bowed
forehead of the countess. They stood up. Violetta broke through the
formal superlatives of an Italian greeting. “Speak to me alone,” she
murmured for Carlo’s ear and glancing at Barto: “Here is a madman; a
mild one, I trust.” She contrived to show that she was not responsible
for his intrusion. Countess Ammiani gathered Vittoria in her arms; Carlo
stepped a pace before them. Terror was on the venerable lady’s face,
wrath on her son’s. As he fronted Barto, he motioned a finger to the
curtain hangings, and Violetta, quick at reading signs, found his bare
sword there. “But you will not want it,” she remarked, handing the hilt
to him, and softly eyeing the impression of her warm touch on the steel
as it passed.

“Carlo, thou son of Paolo! Countess Marcellina, wife of a true patriot!
stand aside, both of you. It is between the Countess Alessandra and
myself,” so the man commenced, with his usual pomp of interjection.
“Swords and big eyes,--are they things to stop me?” Barto laughed
scornfully. He had spoken in the full roll of his voice, and the sword
was hard back for the thrust.

Vittoria disengaged herself from the countess. “Speak to me,” she said,
dismayed by the look of what seemed an exaltation of madness in Barto’s
visage, but firm as far as the trembling of her limbs would let her be.

He dropped to her feet and kissed them.

“Emilia Alessandra Belloni! Vittoria! Countess Alessandra Ammiani! pity
me. Hear this:--I hated you as the devil is hated. Yesterday I woke
up in prison to hear that I must adore you. God of all the pits of
punishment! was there ever one like this? I had to change heads.”

It was the language of a distorted mind, and lamentable to hear when a
sob shattered his voice.

“Am I mad?” he asked piteously, clasping his temples.

“You are as we are, if you weep,” said Vittoria, to sooth him.

“Then I have been mad!” he cried, starting. “I knew you a wicked
virgin--signora contessa, confess to me, marriage has changed you. Has
it not changed you? In the name of the Father of the Saints, help me out
of it:--my brain reels backwards. You were false, but marriage--It acts
in this way with you women; yes, that we know--you were married, and you
said, ‘Now let us be faithful.’ Did you not say that? I am forgiving,
though none think it. You have only to confess. If you will not,--oh!”
 He smote his face, groaning.

Carlo spoke a stern word in an undertone; counselling him to be gone.

“If you will not--what was she to do?” Barto cut the question to
interrogate his strayed wits. “Look at me, Countess Alessandra. I was in
the prison. I heard that my Rosellina had a tight heart. She cried
for her master, poor heathen, and I sprang out of the walls to her.
There--there--she lay like a breathing board; a woman with a body like a
coffin half alive; not an eye to show; nothing but a body and a whisper.
She perished righteously, for she disobeyed. She acted without my
orders: she dared to think! She will be damned, for she would have
vengeance before she went. She glorified you over me--over Barto Rizzo.
Oh! she shocked my soul. But she is dead, and I am her slave. Every word
was of you. Take another head, Barto Rizzo your old one was mad: she
said that to my soul. She died blessing you above me. I saw the last bit
of life go up from her mouth blessing you. It’s heard by this time in
heaven, and it’s written. Then I have had two years of madness. If she
is right, I was wrong; I was a devil of hell. I know there’s an eye
given to dying creatures, and she looked with it, and she said, the soul
of Rinaldo Guidascarpi, her angel, was glorifying you; and she thanked
the sticking of her heart, when she tried to stab you, poor fool!”

Carlo interrupted: “Now go; you have said enough.”

“No, let him speak,” said Vittoria. She supposed that Barto was going to
say that he had not given the order for her assassination. “You do not
wish me dead, signore?”

“Nothing that is not standing in my way, signora contessa,” said Barto;
and his features blazed with a smile of happy self-justification. “I
have killed a sentinel this night: Providence placed him there. I wish
for no death, but I punish, and--ah! the cursed sight of the woman who
calls me mad for two years. She thrusts a bar of iron in an engine at
work, and says, Work on! work on! Were you not a traitress? Countess
Alessandra, were you not once a traitress? Oh! confess it; save my head.
Reflect, dear lady! it’s cruel to make a man of a saintly sincerity
look back--I count the months--seventeen months! to look back seventeen
months, and see that his tongue was a clapper,--his will, his eyes,
his ears, all about him, everything, stirred like a pot on the fire. I
traced you. I saw your treachery. I said--I, I am her Day of Judgement.
She shall look on me and perish, struck down by her own treachery.
Were my senses false to me? I had lived in virtuous fidelity to
my principles. None can accuse me. Why were my senses false, if my
principles were true? I said you were a traitress. I saw it from the
first. I had the divine contempt for women. My distrust of a woman was
the eye of this brain, and I said--Follow her, dog her, find her out! I
proved her false; but her devilish cunning deceived every other man
in the world. Oh! let me bellow, for it’s me she proves the mass of
corruption! Tomorrow I die, and if I am mad now, what sort of a curse is
that?

“Now to-morrow is an hour--a laugh! But if I’ve not been shot from a
true bow--if I’ve been a sham for two years--if my name, and nature,
bones, brains, were all false things hunting a shadow, Countess
Alessandra, see the misery of Barto Rizzo! Look at those two years, and
say that I had my head. Answer me, as you love your husband: are you
heart and soul with him in the fresh fight for Lombardy?” He said
this with a look penetrating and malignant, and then by a sudden flash
pitifully entreating.

Carlo feared to provoke, revolted from the thought of slaying him. “Yes,
yes,” he interposed, “my wife is heart and soul in it. Go.”

Barto looked from him to her with the eyes of a dog that awaits an
order.

Victoria gathered her strength, and said: “I am not.”

“It is her answer!” Barto roared, and from deep dejection his whole
countenance radiated. “She says it--she might give the lie to a saint! I
was never mad. I saw the spot, and put my finger on it, and not a madman
can do that. My two years are my own. Mad now, for, see!

“I worship the creature. She is not heart and soul in it. She is not in
it at all. She is a little woman, a lovely thing, a toy, a cantatrice.
Joy to the big heart of Barto Rizzo! I am for Brescia!”

He flung his arm like a banner, and ran out.

Carlo laid his sword on a table. Vittoria’s head was on his mother’s
bosom.

The hour was too full of imminent grief for either of the three to
regard this scene as other than a gross intrusion ended.

“Why did you deny my words?” Carlo said coldly.

“I could not lie to make him wretched,” she replied in a low murmur.

“Do you know what that ‘I am for Brescia’ means? He goes to stir the
city before a soul is ready.”

“I warned you that I should speak the truth of myself to-night,
dearest.”

“You should discern between speaking truth to a madman, and to a man.”

Vittoria did not lift her eyes, and Carlo beckoned to Violetta, with
whom he left the room.

“He is angry,” Countess Ammiani murmured. “My child, you cannot
deal with men in a fever unless you learn to dissemble; and there is
exemption for doing it, both in plain sense, and in our religion. If I
could arrest him, I would speak boldly. It is, alas! vain to dream of
that; and it is therefore an unkindness to cause him irritation.
Carlo has given way to you by allowing you to be here when his friends
assemble. He knows your intention to speak. He has done more than would
have been permitted by my husband to me, though I too was well-beloved.”

Vittoria continued silent that her head might be cherished where it lay.
She was roused from a stupor by hearing new voices. Laura’s lips came
pressing to her cheek. Colonel Corte, Agostino, Marco Sana, and Angelo
Guidascarpi, saluted her. Angelo she kissed.

“That lady should be abed and asleep,” Corte was heard to say.

The remark passed without notice. Angelo talked apart with Vittoria. He
had seen the dying of the woman whose hand had been checked in the act
of striking by the very passion of animal hatred which raised it. He
spoke of her affectionately, attesting to the fact that Barto Rizzo had
not prompted her guilt. Vittoria moaned at a short outline that he gave
of the last minutes between those two, in which her name was dreadfully
and fatally, incomprehensibly prominent.

All were waiting impatiently for Carlo’s return.

When he appeared he informed his mother that the Countess d’Isorella
would remain in the house that night, and his mother passed out to her
abhorred guest, who, for the time at least, could not be doing further
mischief.

It was a meeting for the final disposition of things before the
outbreak. Carlo had begun to speak when Corte drew his attention to the
fact that ladies were present, at which Carlo put out his hand as if
introducing them, and went on speaking.

“Your wife is here,” said Corte.

“My wife and signora Piaveni,” Carlo rejoined. “I have consented to my
wife’s particular wish to be present.”

“The signora Piaveni’s opinions are known: your wife’s are not.”

“Countess Alessandra shares mine,” said Laura, rather tremulously.

Countess Ammiani at the same time returned and took Vittoria’s hand and
pressed it with force. Carlo looked at them both.

“I have to ask your excuses, gentlemen. My wife, my mother, and signora
Piaveni, have served the cause we worship sufficiently to claim a
right--I am sorry to use such phrases; you understand my meaning. Permit
them to remain. I have to tell you that Barto Rizzo has been here: he
has started for Brescia. I should have had to kill him to stop him--a
measure that I did not undertake.”

“Being your duty!” remarked Corte.

Agostino corrected him with a sarcasm.

“I cannot allow the presence of ladies to exclude a comment on manifest
indifference,” said Corte. “Pass on to the details, if you have any.”

“The details are these,” Carlo resumed, too proud to show a shade
of self-command; “my cousin Angelo leaves Milan before morning. You,
Colonel Corte, will be in Bergamo at noon to-morrow. Marco and Angelo
will await my coming in Brescia, where we shall find Giulio and the
rest. I join them at five on the following afternoon, and my arrival
signals the revolt. We have decided that the news from the king’s army
is good.”

A perceptible shudder in Vittoria’s frame at this concluding sentence
caught Corte’s eye.

“Are you dissatisfied with that arrangement?” he addressed her boldly.

“I am, Colonel Corte,” she replied. So simple was the answering tone of
her voice that Corte had not a word.

“It is my husband who is going,” Vittoria spoke on steadily; “him I am
prepared to sacrifice, as I am myself. If he thinks it right to throw
himself into Brescia, nothing is left for me but to thank him for having
done me the honour to consult me. His will is firm. I trust to God
that he is wise. I look on him now as one of many brave men whose lives
belong to Italy, and if they all are misdirected and perish, we have no
more; we are lost. The king is on the Ticino; the Chief is in Rome. I
desire to entreat you to take counsel before you act in anticipation of
the king’s fortune. I see that it is a crushed life in Lombardy. In Rome
there is one who can lead and govern. He has suffered and is calm.
He calls to you to strengthen his hands. My prayer to you is to take
counsel. I know the hour is late; but it is not too late for wisdom.
Forgive me if I am not speaking humbly. Brescia is but Brescia; Rome
is Italy. I have understood little of my country until these last days,
though I have both talked and sung of her glories. I know that a deep
duty binds you to Bergamo and to Brescia--poor Milan we must not think
of. You are not personally pledged to Rome: yet Rome may have the
greatest claims on you. The heart of our country is beginning to beat
there. Colonel Corte! signor Marco! my Agostino! my cousin Angelo! it is
not a woman asking for the safety of her husband, but one of the blood
of Italy who begs to offer you her voice, without seeking to disturb
your judgement.”

She ceased.

“Without seeking to disturb their judgement!” cried Laura. “Why not,
when the judgement is in error?”

To Laura’s fiery temperament Vittoria’s speech had been feebleness.
She was insensible to that which the men felt conveyed to them by the
absence of emotion in the language of a woman so sorrowfully placed.
“Wait,” she said, “wait for the news from Carlo Alberto, if you
determine to play at swords and guns in narrow streets.” She spoke long
and vehemently, using irony, coarse and fine, with the eloquence which
was her gift. In conclusion she apostrophized Colonel Corte as one who
had loved him might have done. He was indeed