Part 3 out of 6
flowers have been sweet, and now I have but this thing left, which is
a thorn!' And she opened the paper and looked inside, and saw one poor
little seed all black and shrivelled. Through that day she pondered
what to do with it, and was very unhappy. At night she said to
herself, 'I will not plant this one; I will throw it away rather than
plant it.' And she went to the window, and tore the paper, and threw
out the little seed into the darkness."
"Poor little thing!" said Hedwig. She was listening intently.
"She threw it out, and as it fell, all the air was full of music, sad
and sweet, so that she wondered greatly. The next day she looked out
of the window, and saw, between the moat and the castle wall, a new
plant growing. It looked black and uninviting, but it had come up so
fast that it had already laid hold on the rough gray stones. At the
falling of the night it reached far up towards the turret, a great
sharp-pointed vine, with only here and there a miserable leaf on it.
'I am sorry I threw it out,' said the maiden. 'It is the Thorn of the
World, and the people who pass will think it defaces my castle.' But
when it was dark again the air was full of music. The maiden went to
the window, for she could not sleep, and she called out, asking who
it was that sang. Then a sweet, low voice came up to her from the
moat. 'I am the Thorn,' it said, 'I sing in the dark, for I am
growing.'--'Sing on, Thorn,' said she, 'and grow if you will.' But in
the morning when she awoke, her window was darkened, for the Thorn had
grown to be a mighty tree, and its topmost shoots were black against
the sky. She wondered whether this uncouth plant would bear anything
but music. So she spoke to it.
"'Thorn,' she said, 'why have you no flowers?'
"'I am the Thorn of the World,' it answered, 'and I can bear no
flowers until the hand that planted me has tended me, and pruned me,
and shaped me to be its own. If you had planted me like the rest, it
would have been easy for you. But you planted me unwillingly, down
below you by the moat, and I have had far to climb.'
"'But my hands are so delicate,' said the maiden. 'You will hurt me,
I am sure.'
"'Yours is the only hand in the world that I will not hurt,' said the
voice, so tenderly and softly and sadly that the gentle fingers went
out to touch the plant and see if it were real. And touching it they
clung there, for they had no harm of it. Would you know, my lady, what
"Yes, yes--tell me!" cried Hedwig, whose imagination was fascinated by
"As her hands rested on the spiked branches, a gentle trembling went
through the Thorn, and in a moment there burst out such a blooming and
blossoming as the maiden had never seen. Every prick became a rose,
and they were so many that the light of the day was tinged with them,
and their sweetness was like the breath of paradise. But below her
window the Thorn was as black and forbidding as ever, for only the
maiden's presence could make its flowers bloom. But she smelled the
flowers, and pressed many of them to her cheek.
"'I thought you were only a Thorn,' she said, softly.
"'Nay, fairest maiden,' answered the glorious voice of the bursting
blossom, 'I am the Rose of the World for ever, since you have touched
"That is my story, signorina. Have I wearied you?"
Hedwig had unconsciously moved nearer to him as he was speaking, for
he never raised his voice, and she hung on his words. There was colour
in her face, and her breath came quickly through her parted lips. She
had never looked so beautiful.
"Wearied me, signore? Ah no; it is a gentle tale of yours."
"It is a true tale--in part," said he.
"In part? I do not understand--" But the colour was warmer in her
cheek, and she turned her face half away, as though looking out.
"I will tell you," he replied, coming closer, on the side from which
she turned. "Here is the window. You are the maiden. The thorn--it is
my love for you"; he dropped his voice to a whisper "You planted it
carelessly, far below you in the dark. In the dark it has grown and
sung to you, and grown again, until now it stands in your own castle
window. Will you not touch it and make its flowers bloom for you?" He
spoke fervently. She had turned her face quite from him now, and was
resting her forehead against one hand that leaned upon the heavy frame
of the casement. The other hand hung down by her side toward him, fair
as a lily against her dark gown. Nino touched it, then took it. He
could see the blush spread to her white throat, and fade again.
Between the half-falling curtain and the great window he bent his knee
and pressed her fingers to his lips. She made as though she would
withdraw her hand, and then left it in his. Her glance stole to him as
he kneeled there, and he felt it on him, so that he looked up. She
seemed to raise him with her fingers, and her eyes held his and drew
them; he stood up, and, still holding her hand, his face was near to
hers. Closer and closer yet, as by a spell, each gazing searchingly
into the other's glance, till their eyes could see no more for
closeness, and their lips met in life's first virgin kiss,--in the
glory and strength of a two-fold purity, each to each.
Far off at the other end of the room De Pretis struck a chord on the
piano. They started at the sound.
"When?" whispered Nino, hurriedly.
"At midnight, under my window," she answered, quickly, not thinking of
anything better in her haste. "I will tell you then. You must go; my
father will soon be here. No, not again," she protested. But he drew
her to him, and said good-bye in his own manner. She lingered an
instant, and tore herself away. De Pretis was playing loudly. Nino had
to pass near him to go out, and the maestro nodded carelessly as he
"Excuse me, maestro," said Hedwig, as Nino bowed himself out; "it was
a question of arranging certain lessons."
"Do not mention it," said he, indifferently; "my time is yours,
signorina. Shall we go through with this solfeggio once more?"
The good maestro did not seem greatly disturbed by the interruption.
Hedwig wondered, dreamily, whether he had understood. It all seemed
like a dream. The notes were upside down in her sight, and her voice
sought strange minor keys unconsciously, as she vainly tried to
concentrate her attention upon what she was doing.
"Signorina," said Ercole at last, "what you sing is very pretty, but
it is not exactly what is written here. I fear you are tired."
"Perhaps so," said she. "Let us not sing any more to-day." Ercole shut
up the music and rose. She gave him her hand, a thing she had never
done before; and it was unconscious now, as everything she did seemed
to be. There is a point when dreaming gets the mastery and appears
infinitely more real than the things we touch.
Nino, meanwhile, had descended the steps, expecting every moment to
meet the count. As he went down the street a closed carriage drove by
with the Lira liveries. The old count was in it, but Nino stepped into
the shadow of a doorway to let the equipage pass, and was not seen.
The wooden face of the old nobleman almost betrayed something akin to
emotion. He was returning from the funeral, and it had pained him;
for he had liked the wild baroness in a fatherly, reproving way. But
the sight of him sent a home thrust to Nino's heart.
"Her death is on my soul for ever," he muttered between his set teeth.
Poor innocent boy, it was not his fault if she had loved him so much.
Women have done things for great singers that they have not done for
martyrs or heroes. It seems so certain that the voice that sings so
tenderly is speaking to them individually. Music is such a fleeting,
passionate thing that a woman takes it all to herself; how could he
sing like that for anyone else? And yet there is always someone for
whom he does really pour out his heart, and all the rest are the dolls
of life, to be looked at and admired for their dress and complexion,
and to laugh at when the fancy takes him to laugh; but not to love.
At midnight Nino was at his post, but he waited long and patiently for
a sign. It was past two, and he was thinking it hopeless to wait
longer, when his quick ear caught the sound of a window moving on its
hinges, and a moment later something fell at his feet with a sharp,
metallic click. The night was dark and cloudy, so that the waning moon
gave little light. He picked up the thing and found a small pocket
handkerchief wrapped about a minute pair of scissors, apparently to
give it weight. He expected a letter, and groped on the damp pavement
with his hands. Then he struck a match, shaded it from the breeze with
his hand, and saw that the handkerchief was stained with ink, and that
the stains were letters, roughly printed to make them distinct. He
hurried away to the light of a street lamp to read the strange
He went to the light and spread out the handkerchief. It was a small
thing, of almost transparent stuff, with a plain "H.L." and a crown in
the corner. The steel pen had torn the delicate fibres here and there.
"They know you have been here. I am watched. Keep away from the house
till you hear."
That was all the message, but it told worlds. He knew from it that the
count was informed of his visit, and he tortured himself by trying to
imagine what the angry old man would do. His heart sank like a stone
in his breast when he thought of Hedwig, so imprisoned, guarded, made
a martyr of, for his folly. He groaned aloud when he understood that
it was in the power of her father to take her away suddenly and leave
no trace of their destination, and he cursed his haste and impetuosity
in having shown himself inside the house. But with all this weight of
trouble upon him, he felt the strength and indomitable determination
within him which come only to a man who loves, when he knows he is
loved again. He kissed the little handkerchief, and even the scissors
she had used to weight it with, and he put them in his breast. But he
stood irresolute, leaning against the lamppost, as a man will who is
trying to force his thoughts to overtake events, trying to shape out
of the present. Suddenly he was aware of a tall figure in a fur coat
standing near him on the sidewalk. He would have turned to go, but
something about the stranger's appearance struck him so oddly that he
stayed where he was and watched him.
The tall man searched for something in his pockets, and finally
produced a cigarette, which he leisurely lighted with a wax match. As
he did so his eyes fell upon Nino. The stranger was tall and very
thin. He wore a pointed beard and a heavy moustache, which seemed
almost dazzlingly white, as were the few locks that appeared, neatly
brushed over his temples, beneath his opera hat. His sanguine
complexion, however, had all the freshness ef youth, and his eyes
sparkled merrily, as though amused at the spectacle of his nose, which
was immense, curved, and polished, like an eagle's beak. He wore
perfectly-fitting kid gloves, and the collar of his fur wrapper,
falling a little open, showed that he was in evening dress.
It was so late--past two o'clock--that Nino had not expected anything
more than a policeman or some homeless wanderer, when he raised his
eyes to look on the stranger. He was fascinated by the strange
presence of the aged dandy, for such he seemed to be, and returned his
gaze boldly. He was still more astonished, however, when the old
gentleman came close to him, and raised his hat, displaying, as he did
so, a very high and narrow forehead, crowned with a mass of smooth
white hair. There was both grace and authority in the courteous
gesture, and Nino thought the old gentleman moved with an ease that
matched his youthful complexion rather than his hoary locks.
"Signor Cardegna, the distinguished artist, if I mistake not?" said
the stranger, with a peculiar foreign accent, the like of which Nino
had never heard. He also raised his hat, extremely surprised that a
chance passer-by should know him. He had not yet learned what it is to
be famous. But he was far from pleased at being addressed in his
"The same, signore," he replied coldly. "How can I serve you?"
"You can serve the world you so well adorn better than by exposing
your noble voice to the midnight damps and chills of this infernal--I
would say, eternal--city," answered the other. "Forgive me. I am, not
unnaturally, concerned at the prospect of loosing even a small portion
of the pleasure you know how to give to me and to many others."
"I thank you for your flattery," said Nino, drawing his cloak about
him, "but it appears to me that my throat is my own, and whatever
voice there may be in it. Are you a physician, signore? And pray why
do you tell me that Rome is an infernal city?"
"I have had some experience of Rome, Signor Cardegna," returned the
foreigner, with a peculiar smile, "and I hate no place so bitterly in
all this world--save one. And as for my being a physician, I am an old
man, a very singularly old man in fact, and I know something of the
art of healing."
"When I need healing, as you call it," said Nino, rather scornfully,
"I will inquire for you. Do you desire to continue this interview amid
the 'damps and chills of our 'infernal city'? If not, I will wish you
"By no means," said the other, not in the least repulsed by Nino's
coldness. "I will accommpany you a little way, if you will allow me."
Nino stared hard at the stranger, wondering what could induce him to
take so much interest in a singer. Then he nodded gravely and turned
toward his home, inwardly hoping that his aggressive acquaintance
lived in the opposite direction. But he was mistaken. The tall man
blew a quantity of smoke through his nose and walked by his side. He
strode over the pavement with a long, elastic step.
"I live not far from here," he said, when they had gone a few steps,
"and if the Signor Cardegna will accept of a glass of old wine and a
good cigar I shall feel highly honoured." Somehow an invitation of
this kind was the last thing Nino had expected or desired, least of
all from a talkative stranger who seemed determined to make his
"I thank you, signore," he answered, "but I have supped, and I do not
"Ah--I forgot. You are a singer, and must of course be careful. That
is perhaps the reason why you wander about the streets when the nights
are dark and damp. But I can offer you something more attractive than
liquor and tobacco. A great violinist lives with me,--a queer,
nocturnal bird,--and if you will come he will be enchanted to play for
you. I assure you he is a very-good musician, the like of which you
will hardly hear nowadays. He does not play in public any longer, from
some odd fancy of his."
Nino hesitated. Of all instruments he loved the violin best, and in
Rome he had had but little opportunity of hearing it well played.
Concerts were the rarest of luxuries to him, and violinists in Rome
are rarer still.
"What is his name, signore?" he asked, unbending a little.
"You must guess that when you hear him," said the old gentleman,
with a short laugh. "But I give you my word of honour he is a
great musician. Will you come, or must I offer you still further
"What might they be?" asked Nino.
"Nay; will you come for what I offer you? If the music is not good,
you may go away again." Still Nino hesitated. Sorrowful and fearful of
the future as he was, his love gnawing cruelly at his heart, he would
have given the whole world for a strain of rare music if only he were
not forced to make it himself. Then it struck him that this might be
some pitfall. I would not have gone.
"Sir," he said at last, "if you meditate any foul play, I would advise
you to retract your invitation. I will come, and I am well armed." He
had my long knife about him somewhere. It is one of my precautions.
But the stranger laughed long and loud at the suggestion, so that his
voice woke queer echoes in the silent street. Nino did not understand
why he should laugh so much, but he found his knife under his cloak,
and made sure it was loose in its leathern sheath. Presently the
stranger stopped before the large door of an old palazzo,--every house
is a palazzo that has an entrance for carriages, and let himself in
with a key. There was a lantern on the stone pavement inside, and
seeing a light, Nino followed him boldly. The old gentleman took the
lantern and led the way up the stairs, apologising for the distance
and the darkness. At last they stopped, and, entering another door,
found themselves in the stranger's apartment.
"A cardinal lives downstairs," said he, as he turned up the light of a
couple of large lamps that burned dimly in the room they had reached.
"The secretary of a very holy order has his office on the other side
of my landing, and altogether this is a very religious atmosphere.
Pray take off your cloak; the room is warm."
Nino looked about him. He had expected to be ushered into some
princely dwelling, for he had judged his interlocutor to be some rich
and eccentric noble, unless he were an erratic scamp. He was somewhat
taken aback by the spectacle that met his eyes. The furniture was
scant, and all in the style of the last century. The dust lay half an
inch thick on the old gilded ornaments and chandeliers. A great
pier-glass was cracked from corner to corner, and the metallic backing
seemed to be scaling off behind. There were two or three open valises
on the marble floor, which latter, however, seemed to have been lately
swept. A square table was in the centre, also free from dust, and a
few high-backed leathern chairs, studded with brass nails, were ranged
about it. On the table stood one of the lamps, and the other was
placed on a marble column in a corner, that once must have supported a
bust, or something of the kind. Old curtains, moth-eaten and ragged
with age, but of a rich material, covered the windows. Nino glanced at
the open trunks on the floor, and saw that they contained a quantity
of wearing apparel and the like. He guessed that his acquaintance had
"I do not often inhabit this den," said the old gentleman, who had
divested himself of his furs, and now showed his thin figure arrayed
in the extreme of full dress. A couple of decorations hung at his
button-hole. "I seldom come here, and on my return, the other day, I
found that the man I had left in charge was dead, with, all his
family, and the place has gone to ruin. That is always my luck," he
added, with a little laugh.
"I should think he must have been dead some time," said Nino, looking
about him. "There is a great deal of dust here."
"Yes, as you say, it is some years," returned his acquaintance, still
laughing. He seemed a merry old soul, fifty years younger than his
looks. He produced from a case a bottle of wine and two silver cups,
and placed them on the table.
"But where is your friend, the violinist?" inquired Nino, who was
beginning to be impatient; for except that the place was dusty and
old, there was nothing about it sufficiently interesting to take his
thoughts from the subject nearest his heart.
"I will introduce him to you," said the other, going to one of the
valises and taking out a violin case, which he laid on the table and
proceeded to open. The instrument was apparently of great age, small
and well shaped. The stranger took it up and began to tune it.
"Do you mean to say that you are yourself the violinist?" he asked, in
astonishment. But the stranger vouchsafed no answer, as he steadied
the fiddle with his bearded chin and turned the pegs with his left
hand, adjusting the strings.
Then, suddenly and without any preluding, he began to make music, and
from the first note Nino sat enthralled and fascinated, losing himself
in the wild sport of the tones. The old man's face became ashy white
as he played, and his white hair appeared to stand away from his head.
The long, thin fingers of his left hand chased each other in pairs
and singly along the delicate strings, while the bow glanced in
the lamplight as it dashed like lightning across the instrument, or
remained almost stationary, quivering in his magic hold as quickly as
the wings of the humming-bird strike the summer air. Sometimes he
seemed to be tearing the heart from the old violin; sometimes it
seemed to murmur soft things in his old ear, as though the imprisoned
spirit of the music were pleading to be free on the wings of sound:
sweet as love that is strong as death; feverish and murderous as
jealousy that is as cruel as the grave; sobbing great sobs of a
terrible death-song, and screaming in the outrageous frenzy of a
furious foe; wailing thin cries of misery, too exhausted for strong
grief; dancing again in horrid madness, as the devils dance over some
fresh sinner they have gotten themselves for torture; and then at
last, as the strings bent to the commanding bow, finding the triumph
of a glorious rest in great, broad chords, splendid in depth and royal
harmony, grand, enormous, and massive as the united choirs of heaven.
Nino was beside himself, leaning far over the table, straining eyes
and ears to understand the wonderful music that made him drunk
with its strength. As the tones ceased he sank back in his chair,
exhausted by the tremendous effort of his senses. Instantly the old
man recovered his former appearance. With his hand he smoothed his
thick white hair; the fresh colour came back to his cheeks; and
as he tenderly laid his violin on the table, he was again the
exquisitely-dressed and courtly gentleman who had spoken to Nino in
the street. The musician disappeared, and the man of the world
returned. He poured wine into the plain silver cups, and invited Nino
to drink; but the boy pushed the goblet away, and his strange host
"You asked me for the musician's name," he said, with a merry twinkle
in his eye, from which every trace of artistic inspiration had faded;
"can you guess it now?" Nino seemed tongue-tied still, but he made an
"I have heard of Paganini," he said, "but he died years ago."
"Yes, he is dead, poor fellow! I am not Paganini."
"I am at a loss, then," said Nino, dreamily, "I do not know the names
of many violinists, but you must be so famous that I ought to know
"No; how should you? I will tell you. I am Benoni, the Jew." The tall
man's eyes twinkled more brightly than ever. Nino stared at him, and
saw that he was certainly of a pronounced Jewish type. His brown eyes
were long and oriental in shape, and his nose was unmistakably
"I am sorry to seem so ignorant," said Nino, blushing, "but I do not
know the name. I perceive, however, that you are indeed a very great
musician,--the greatest I ever heard." The compliment was perfectly
sincere, and Benoni's face beamed with pleasure. He evidently liked
"It is not extraordinary," he said smiling. "In the course of a very
long life it has been my only solace, and if I have some skill it is
the result of constant study. I began life very humbly."
"So did I," said Nino, thoughtfully, "and I am not far from the
"Tell me," said Benoni, with a show of interest, "where you come from,
and why you are a singer."
"I was a peasant's child, an orphan, and the good God gave me a voice.
That is all I know about it. A kind-hearted gentleman, who once owned
the estate where I was born, brought me up, and wanted to make a
philosopher of me. But I wanted to sing, and so I did."
"Do you always do the things you want to do?" asked the other, "You
look as though you might. You look like Napoleon--that man always
interested me. That is why I asked you to come and see me. I have
heard you sing, and you are a great artist--an additional reason. All
artists should be brothers. Do you not think so?"
"Indeed, I know very few good ones," said Nino simply; "and even among
them I would like to choose before claiming relationship--personally.
But Art is a great mother, and we are all her children."
"More especially we who began life so poorly, and love Art because she
loves us." Benoni seated himself on the arm of one of the old chairs,
and looked down across the worm-eaten table at the young singer. "We,"
he continued, "who have been wretchedly poor know better than others
that Art is real, true, and enduring; medicine in sickness and food in
famine; wings to the feet of youth and a staff for the steps of old
age. Do you think I exaggerate, or do you feel as I do?" He paused for
an answer, and poured more wine into his goblet.
"Oh, you know I feel as you do!" cried Nino, with rising enthusiasm.
"Very good; you are a genuine artist. What you have not felt yet you
will feel hereafter. You have not suffered yet."
"You do not know about me," said Nino in a low voice. "I am suffering
Benoni smiled. "Do you call that suffering? Well, it is perhaps very
real to you, though I do not know what it is. But Art will help you
through it all, as it has helped me."
"What were you?" asked Nino. "You say you were poor."
"Yes. I was a shoemaker, and a poor one at that. I have worn out more
shoes than I ever made. But I was brought up to it for many years."
"You did not study music from a child, then?"
"No. But I always loved it; and I used to play in the evenings when I
had been cobbling all day long."
"And one day you found out you were a great artist and became famous.
I see! What a strange beginning!" cried Nino.
"Not exactly that. It took a long time. I was obliged to leave my
home, for other reasons, and then I played from door to door, and from
town to town, for whatever coppers were thrown to me. I had never
heard any good music, and so I played the things that came into my
head. By and bye people would make me stay with them awhile, for my
music sake. But I never stayed long."
"I cannot tell you now," said Benoni, looking grave and almost sad:
"it is a very long story. I have travelled a great deal, preferring a
life of adventure. But of late money has grown to be so important a
thing that I have given a series of great concerts, and have become
rich enough to play for my own pleasure. Besides, though I travel so
much, I like society, and I know many people everywhere. To-night, for
instance, though I have been in Rome only a week, I have been to a
dinner party, to the theatre, to a reception, and to a ball. Everybody
invites me as soon as I arrive. I am very popular,--and yet I am a
Jew," he added, laughing in an odd way.
"But you are a merry Jew," said Nino, laughing too, "besides being a
great genius. I do not wonder people invite you."
"It is better to be merry than sad," replied Benoni. "In the course of
a long life I have found out that."
"You do not look so very old," said Nino. "How old are you?"
"That is a rude question," said his host, laughing. "But I will
improvise a piece of music for you." He took his violin, and stood up
before the broken pier-glass. Then he laid the bow over the strings
and struck a chord. "What is that?" he asked, sustaining the sound.
"The common chord of A minor," answered Nino immediately.
"You have a good ear," said Benoni, still playing the same notes, so
that the constant monotony of them buzzed like a vexatious insect in
Nino's hearing. Still the old man sawed the bow over the same strings
without change. On and on, the same everlasting chord, till Nino
thought he must go mad.
"It is intolerable; for the love of heaven, stop!" he cried, pushing
back his chair and beginning to pace the room. Benoni only smiled, and
went on as unchangingly as ever. Nino could bear it no longer, being
very sensitive about sounds, and he made for the door.
"You cannot get out,--I have the key in my pocket," said Benoni,
Then Nino became nearly frantic, and made at the Jew to wrest the
instrument from his hands. But Benoni was agile, and eluded him, still
playing vigorously the one chord, till Nino cried aloud, and sank in a
chair, entirely overcome by the torture, that seemed boring its way
into his brain like a corkscrew.
"This," said Benoni, the bow still sawing the strings, "is life
without laughter. Now let us laugh a little, and see the effect."
It was indeed wonderful. With his instrument he imitated the sound of
a laughing voice, high up above the monotonous chord: softly at first,
as though far in the distance; then louder and nearer, the sustaining
notes of the minor falling away one after the other and losing
themselves, as the merriment gained ground on the sadness; till
finally, with a burst of life and vitality of which it would be
impossible to convey any idea, the whole body of mirth broke into a
wild tarantella movement, so vivid and elastic and noisy that it
seemed to Nino that he saw the very feet of the dancers, and heard the
jolly din of the tambourine and the clattering, clappering click of
"That," said Benoni, suddenly stopping, "is life with laughter, be it
ever so sad and monotonous before. Which do you prefer?"
"You are the greatest artist in the world!" cried Nino,
enthusiastically; "but I should have been a raving madman if you had
played that chord any longer."
"Of course," said Benoni, "and I should have gone mad if I had not
laughed. Poor Schumann, you know, died insane because he fancied he
always heard one note droning in his ears."
"I can understand that," said Nino. "But it is late, and I must be
going home. Forgive my rudeness and reluctance to come with you. I was
moody and unhappy. You have given me more pleasure than I can tell
"It will seem little enough to-morrow, I dare say," replied Benoni.
"That is the way with pleasures. But you should get them all the same,
when you can, and grasp them as tightly as a drowning man grasps a
straw. Pleasures and money, money and pleasures."
Nino did not understand the tone in which his host made this last
remark. He had learned different doctrines from me.
"Why do you speak so selfishly, after showing that you can give
pleasure so freely, and telling me that we are all brothers?" he
"If you are not in a hurry, I will explain to you that money is the
only thing in this world worth having," said Benoni, drinking another
cup of the wine, which appeared to have no effect whatever on his
"Well?" said Nino, curious to hear what he had to say.
"In the first place, you will allow that from the noblest moral
standpoint a man's highest aim should be to do good to his
fellow-creatures? Yes, you allow that. And to do the greatest possible
good to the greatest possible number? Yes, you allow that also. Then,
I say, other things being alike, a good man will do the greatest
possible amount of good in the world when he has the greatest possible
amount of money. The more money, the more good; the less money, the
less good. Of course money is only the means to the end, but nothing
tangible in the world can ever be anything else. All art is only a
means to the exciting of still more perfect images in the brain; all
crime is a means to the satisfaction of passion, or avarice, which is
itself a king-passion; all good itself is a means to the attainment of
heaven. Everything is bad or good in the world except art, which is a
thing separate, though having good and bad results. But the attainment
of heaven is the best object to keep in view. To that end, do the most
good; and to do it, get the most money. Therefore, as a means, money
is the only thing in the world worth having, since you can most
benefit humanity by it, and consequently be the most sure of going to
heaven when you die. Is that clear?"
"Perfectly," said Nino, "provided a man is himself good."
"It is very reprehensible to be bad," said Benoni, with a smile.
"What a ridiculous truism!" said Nino, laughing outright.
"Very likely," said the other. "But I never heard any preacher, in any
country, tell his congregation anything else. And people always listen
with attention. In countries where rain is entirely unknown, it is not
a truism to say that 'when it rains it is damp.' On the contrary, in
such countries that statement would be regarded as requiring
demonstration, and once demonstrated, it would be treasured and taught
as an interesting scientific fact. Now it is precisely the same with
congregations of men. They were never bad, and never can be; in fact,
they doubt, in their dear innocent hearts, whether they know what a
real sin is. Consequently, they listen with interest to the statement
that sin is bad, and promise themselves that if ever that piece of
information should be unexpectedly needed by any of their friends,
they will remember it."
"You are a satirist, Signor Benoni," said Nino.
"Anything you like," returned the other, "I have been called worse
names than that in my time. So much for heaven and the prospect of it.
But a gentleman has arisen in a foreign country who says that there is
no heaven, anywhere, and that no one does good except in the pursuit
of pleasure here or hereafter. But as his hereafter is nowhere,
disregard it in the argument, and say that man should only do, or
actually does, everything solely for the sake of pleasure here; say
that pleasure is good, so long as it does not interfere with the
pleasures of others, and good is pleasure. Money may help a man to
more of it, but pleasure is the thing. Well, then, my young brother
artist, what did I say?--'money and pleasure, pleasure and money.' The
means are there; and as, of course, you are good, like everybody else,
and desire pleasure, you will get to heaven hereafter, if there is
such a place; and if not, you will get the next thing to it, which is
a paradise on earth." Having reached the climax, Signor Benoni lit a
cigarette, and laughed his own peculiar laugh.
Nino shuddered involuntarily at the hideous sophistry. For Nino is a
good boy, and believes very much in heaven, as well as in a couple of
other places. Benoni's quick brown eyes saw the movement, and
understood it, for he laughed longer yet, and louder.
"Why do you laugh like that? I see nothing to laugh at. It is very
bitter and bad to hear all this that you say. I would rather hear your
music. You are badly off, whether you believe in heaven or not. For if
you do, you are not likely to get there; and if you do not believe in
it, you are a heretic, and will be burned for ever and ever."
"Not so badly answered, for an artist; and in a few words, too," said
Benoni, approvingly. "But, my dear boy, the trouble is that I shall
not get to heaven either way, for it is my great misfortune to be
already condemned to everlasting flames."
"No one is that," said Nino, gravely.
"There are some exceptions, you know," said Benoni.
"Well," answered the young man thoughtfully, "of course there is the
Wandering Jew, and such tales, but nobody believes in him."
"Good-night," said Benoni. "I am tired and most go to bed."
Nino found his way out alone, but carefully noted the position of the
palazzo before he went home through the deserted streets. It was four
in the morning.
Early in the morning after Nino's visit to Signor Benoni, De Pretis
came to my house, wringing his hands and making a great trouble and
noise. I had not yet seen Nino, who was sound asleep, though I could
not imagine why he did not wake. But De Pretis was in such a temper
that he shook the room and everything in it, as he stamped about the
brick floor. It was not long before he had told me the cause of his
trouble. He had just received a formal note from the Graf von Lira,
inclosing the amount due to him for lessons, and dispensing with his
services for the future.
Of course this was the result of the visit Nino had so rashly made; it
all came out afterwards, and I will not now go through the details
that De Pretis poured out, when we only half knew the truth. The
count's servant who admitted Nino had pocketed the five francs as
quietly as you please; and the moment the count returned he told him
how Nino had come and had stayed three-quarters of an hour just as if
it were an everyday affair. The count, being a proud old man, did not
encourage him to make further confidences, but sent him about his
business. He determined to make a prisoner of his daughter until he
could remove her from Rome. He accordingly confined her in the little
suite of apartments that were her own, and set an old soldier, whom he
had brought from Germany, as a body-servant, to keep watch at the
outer door. He did not condescend to explain even to Hedwig the cause
of his conduct, and she, poor girl, was as proud as he, and would not
ask why she was shut up, lest the answer should be a storm of abuse
against Nino. She cared not at all how her father had found out her
secret, so long as he knew it, and she guessed that submission would
be the best policy.
Meanwhile, active preparations were made for an immediate departure.
The count informed his friends that he was going to pass Lent in
Paris, on account of his daughter's health, which was very poor, and
in two days everything was ready. They would leave on the following
morning. In the evening the count entered his daughter's apartments,
after causing himself to be formally announced by a servant, and
briefly informed her that they would start for Paris on the following
morning. Her maid had been engaged in the meantime in packing her
effects, not knowing whither her mistress was going. Hedwig received
the announcement in silence, but her father saw that she was deadly
white and her eyes heavy from weeping. I have anticipated this much to
make things clearer. It was on the first morning of Hedwig's
confinement that De Pretis came to our house.
Nino was soon waked by the maestro's noise, and came to the door of
his chamber, which opens into the little sitting-room, to inquire what
the matter might be. Nino asked if the maestro were peddling cabbages,
that he should scream so loudly.
"Cabbages, indeed! cabbage yourself, silly boy!" cried Ercole, shaking
his fist at Nino's head, just visible through the crack of the door.
"A pretty mess you have made with your ridiculous love affair! Here am
"I see you are," retorted Nino; "and do not call any affair of mine
ridiculous, or I will throw you out of the window. Wait a moment!"
With that he slammed his door in the maestro's face, and went on with
his dressing. For a few minutes De Pretis raved at his ease, venting
his wrath on me. Then Nino came out.
"Now, then," said he, preparing for a tussle, "what is the matter, my
dear maestro?" but Ercole had expended most of his fury already.
"The matter!" he grumbled. "The matter is that I have lost an
excellent pupil through you. Count Lira says he does not require my
services any longer, and the man who brought the note says they are
"Diavolo!" said Nino, running his fingers through his curly black
hair, "it is indeed serious. Where are they going?"
"How should I know?" asked De Pretis angrily. "I care much more about
losing the lesson than about where they are going. I shall not follow
them, I promise you. I cannot take the basilica of St. Peter about
with me in my pocket, can I?"
And so he was angry at first, and at length he was pacified, and
finally he advised Nino to discover immediately where the count and
his daughter were going; and if it were to any great capital, to
endeavour to make a contract to sing there. Lent came early that year,
and Nino was free at the end of Carnival,--not many days longer to
wait. This was the plan that had instantly formed itself in Nino's
brain. De Pretis is really a most obliging man, but one cannot wonder
that he should be annoyed at the result of Nino's four months'
courtship under such great difficulties, when it seemed that all their
efforts had led only to the sudden departure of his lady-love. As for
me, I advised Nino to let the whole matter drop then and there. I told
him he would soon get over his foolish passion, and that a statue
like Hedwig could never suffer anything, since she could never feel.
But he glared at me, and did as he liked, just as he always has done.
The message on the handkerchief that Nino had received the night
before warned him to keep away from the Palazzo Carmandola. Nino
reflected that this warning was probably due to Hedwig's anxiety for
his personal safety, and he resolved to risk anything rather than
remain in ignorance of her destination. It must be a case of giving
some signal. But this evening he had to sing at the theatre, and,
therefore, without more ado, he left us, and went to bed again, where
he stayed until twelve o'clock. Then he went to rehearsal, arriving an
hour behind time, at least, a matter which he treated with the coolest
indifference. After that he got a pound of small shot, and amused
himself with throwing a few at a time at the kitchen window from the
little court at the back of our house, where the well is. It seemed a
strangely childish amusement for a great singer.
Having sung successfully through his opera that night, he had supper
with us, as usual, and then went out. Of course he told me afterwards
what he did. He went to his old post under the windows of the Palazzo
Carmandola, and as soon as all was dark he began to throw small shot
up at Hedwig's window. He now profited by his practice in the
afternoon, for he made the panes rattle with the little bits of lead,
several times. At last he was rewarded. Very slowly the window opened,
and Hedwig's voice spoke in a low tone:
"Is it you?"
"Ah, dear one! Can you ask?" began Nino.
"Hush! I am still locked up. We are going away,--I cannot tell where."
"When, dearest love?"
"I cannot tell. What _shall_ we do?" very tearfully. "I will follow
you immediately; only let me know when and where."
"If you do not hear by some other means, come here to-morrow night. I
hear steps. Go at once."
"Good-night, dearest," he murmured; but the window was already closed,
and the fresh breeze that springs up after one o'clock blew from the
air the remembrance of the loving speech that had passed upon it.
On the following night he was at his post, and again threw the shot
against the pane for a signal. After a long time Hedwig opened the
window very cautiously.
"Quick!" she whispered down to him, "go! They are all awake," and she
dropped something heavy and white. Perhaps she added some word, but
Nino would not tell me, and never would read me the letter. But it
contained the news that Hedwig and her father were to leave Rome for
Paris on the following morning; and ever since that night Nino has
worn upon his little finger a plain gold ring,--I cannot tell why, and
he says he found it.
The next day he ascertained from the porter of the Palazzo Carmandola
that the count and contessina, with their servants, had actually left
Rome that morning for Paris. From that moment he was sad as death, and
went about his business heavily, being possessed of but one idea,
namely, to sign an engagement to sing in Paris as soon as possible. In
that wicked city the opera continues through Lent, and after some
haggling, in which De Pretis insisted on obtaining for Nino the most
advantageous terms, the contract was made out and signed.
I see very well that unless I hurry myself I shall never reach the
most important part of this story, which is after all the only part
worth telling I am sure I do not know how I can ever tell it so
quickly, but I will do my best, and you must have a little patience;
for though I am not old, I am not young, and Nino's departure for
Paris was a great shock to me, so that I do not like to remember it,
and the very thought of it sickens me. If you have ever had any
education, you must have seen an experiment in which a mouse is put in
a glass jar, and all the air is drawn away with a pump, so that the
poor little beast languishes and rolls pitifully on its side, gasping
and wheezing with its tiny lungs for the least whiff of air. That is
just how I felt when Nino went away. It seemed as though I could not
breathe in the house or in the streets, and the little rooms at home
were so quiet that one might hear a pin fall, and the cat purring
through the closed doors. Nino left at the beginning of the last ten
days of Carnival, when the opera closed, so that it was soon Lent; and
everything is quieter then.
But before he left us there was noise enough and bustle of
preparation, and I did not think I should miss him; for he, always was
making music, or walking about, or doing something to disturb me just
at the very moment when I was most busy with my books. Mariuccia,
indeed, would ask me from time to time what I should do when Nino was
gone, as if she could foretell what I was to feel. I suppose she knew
I was used to him, after fourteen years of it, and would be inclined
to black humours for want of his voice. But she could not know just
what Nino is to me, nor how I look on him as my own boy. These
peasants are quick-witted and foolish; they guess a great many things
better than I could, and then reason on them like idiots.
Nino himself was glad to go. I could see his face grow brighter as the
time approached; and though he appeared to be more successful than
ever in his singing, I am sure that he cared nothing for the applause
he got, and thought only of singing as well as he could for the love
of it. But when it came to the parting we were left alone.
"Messer Cornelio," he said, looking at me affectionately, "I have
something to say to you to-night before I go away."
"Speak, then, my dear boy," I answered, "for no one hears us."
"You have been very good to me. A father could not have loved me
better, and such a father as I had could not have done a thousandth
part what you have done for me. I am going out into the world for a
time, but my home is here,--or rather, where my home is will always be
yours. You have been my father, and I will be your son; and it is time
you should give up your professorship. No, not that you are at all
old; I do not mean that."
"No, indeed," said I, "I should think not."
"It would be much more proper if you retired into an elegant leisure,
so that you might write as many books as you desire without wearing
yourself out in teaching those students every day. Would you not like
to go back to Serveti?"
"Serveti!--ah, beautiful, lost Serveti, with its castle and good
"You shall have it again before long, my father," he said. He had
never called me father before, the dear boy! I suppose it was because
he was going away. But Serveti again? The thing was impossible, and I
"It is not impossible," he answered, placidly. "Successful singers
make enough money in a year to buy Serveti. A year is soon passed. But
now let us go to the station, or I shall not be in time for the
"God bless you, Nino mio," I said, as I saw him off. It seemed to me
that I saw two or three Ninos. But the train rolled away and took
them all from me,--the ragged little child who first came to me, the
strong-limbed, dark-eyed boy with his scales and trills and
enthusiasm, and the full-grown man with the face like the great
emperor, mightily triumphing in his art and daring in his love. They
were all gone in a moment, and I was left alone on the platform of the
station, a very sorrowful and weak old man. Well, I will not think
about that day.
The first I heard of Nino was by a letter he wrote me from Paris, a
fortnight after he had left me. It was characteristic of him, being
full of eager questions about home and De Pretis and Mariuccia and
Rome. Two things struck me in his writing. In the first place, he made
no mention of the count or Hedwig, which led me to suppose that he was
recovering from his passion, as boys do when they travel. And
secondly, he had so much to say about me that he forgot all about his
engagement, and never even mentioned the theatre. On looking carefully
through the letter again I found he had written across the top the
words, "Rehearsals satisfactory." That was all.
It was not long after the letter came, however, that I was very much
frightened by receiving a telegram, which must have cost several
francs to send all that distance. By this he told me that he had no
clue to the whereabouts of the Liras, and he implored me to make
inquiries and discover where they had gone. He added that he had
appeared in _Faust_ successfully. Of course he would succeed. If a
singer can please the Romans, he can please anybody. But it seemed to
me that if he had received a very especially flattering reception he
would have said so. I went to see De Pretis, whom I found at home over
his dinner. We put our heads together and debated how we might
discover the Paris address of the Graf von Lira. In a great city like
that it was no wonder Nino could not find them; but De Pretis hoped
that some of his pupils might be in correspondence with the
contessina, and would be willing to give the requisite directions for
reaching her. But days passed, and a letter came from Nino written
immediately after sending the telegram, and still we had accomplished
nothing. The letter merely amplified the telegraphic message.
"It is no use," I said to De Pretis. "And besides, it is much better
that he should forget all about it."
"You do not know that boy," said the maestro, taking snuff. And he was
quite right, as it turned out.
Suddenly Nino wrote from London. He had made an arrangement, he said,
by which he was allowed to sing there for three nights only. The two
managers had settled it between them, being friends. He wrote very
despondently, saying that although he had been far more fortunate in
his appearances than he had expected, he was in despair at not having
found the contessina, and had accepted the arrangement which took him
to London because he had hopes of finding her there. On the day which
brought me this letter I had a visitor. Nino had been gone nearly a
month. It was in the afternoon, towards sunset, and I was sitting in
the old green arm-chair watching the goldfinch in his cage, and
thinking sadly of the poor dear baroness, and of my boy, and of many
things. The bell rang and Mariuccia brought me a card in her thick
fingers which were black from peeling potatoes, so that the mark of
her thumb came off on the white pasteboard. The name on the card was
"Baron Ahasuerus Benoni," and there was no address. I told her to show
the signore into the sitting-room, and he was not long in coming. I
immediately recognised the man Nino had described, with his unearthly
freshness of complexion, his eagle nose, and his snow-white hair. I
rose to greet him.
"Signor Grandi," he said, "I trust you will pardon my intrusion. I am
much interested in your boy, the great tenor."
"Sir," I replied, "the visit of a gentleman is never an intrusion.
Permit me to offer you a chair." He sat down, and crossed one thin leg
over the other. He was dressed in the height of the fashion; he wore
patent-leather shoes, and carried a light ebony cane with a silver
head. His hat was perfectly new, and so smoothly brushed that it
reflected a circular image of the objects in the room. But he had a
certain dignity that saved his foppery from seeming ridiculous.
"You are very kind," he answered. "Perhaps you would like to hear some
news of Signor Cardegna,--your boy, for he is nothing else."
"Indeed" I said, "I should be very glad. Has he written to you,
"Oh, no! We are not intimate enough for that. But I ran on to Paris
the other day, and heard him three or four times, and had him to
supper at Bignon's. He is a great genius, your boy, and has won all
"That is a compliment of weight from so distinguished a musician as
yourself," I answered; for, as you know, Nino had told me all about
his playing. Indeed, the description was his, which is the reason why
it is so enthusiastic.
"Yes," said Benoni, "I am a great traveller, and often go to Paris for
a day or two. I know everyone there. Cardegna had a perfect ovation.
All the women sent him flowers, and all the men asked him to dinner."
"Pardon my curiosity," I interrupted, "but as you know everyone in
Paris, could you inform me whether Count von Lira and his daughter are
there at present? He is a retired Prussian officer." Benoni stretched
out one of his long arms and ran his fingers along the keys of the
piano without striking them. He could just reach so far from where he
sat. He gave no sign of intelligence, and I felt sure that Nino had
not questioned him.
"I know them very well," he said, presently, "but I thought they were
"No, they left suddenly for Paris a month ago."
"I can very easily find out for you," said Benoni, his Bright eyes
turning on me with a searching look. "I can find out from Lira's
banker, who is probably also mine. What is the matter with that young
man? He is as sad as Don Quixote."
"Nino? He is probably in love," I said, rather indiscreetly.
"In love? Then of course he is in love with Mademoiselle de Lira, and
has gone to Paris to find her, and cannot. That is why you ask me." I
was so much astonished at the quickness of his guesswork that I
"He must have told you!" I exclaimed at last.
"Nothing of the kind. In the course of a long life I have learned to
put two and two together, that is all. He is in love, he is your boy,
and you are looking for a certain young lady. It is as clear as day."
But in reality he had guessed the secret long before.
"Very well," said I, humbly, but doubting him, all the same, "I can
only admire your perspicacity. But I would be greatly obliged if you
would find out where they are, those good people. You seem to be a
friend of my boy's, baron. Help him, and he will be grateful to you.
It is not such a very terrible thing that a great artist should love a
noble's daughter, after all, though I used to think so." Benoni
laughed, that strange laugh which Nino had described,--a laugh that
seemed to belong to another age.
"You amuse me with your prejudices about nobility," he said, and his
brown eyes flashed and twinkled again. "The idea of talking about
nobility in this age! You might as well talk of the domestic economy
of the Garden of Eden."
"But you are yourself a noble--a baron," I objected.
"Oh, I am anything you please," said Benoni. "Some idiot made a baron
of me the other day because I lent him money and he could not pay it.
But I have some right to it, after all, for I am a Jew. The only real
nobles are Welshmen and Jews. You cannot call anything so ridiculously
recent as the European upper classes a nobility. Now I go straight
back to the creation of the world, like all my countrymen. The
Hibernians get a factitious reputation for antiquity by saying that
Eve married an Irishman after Adam died, and that is about as much
claim as your European nobles have to respectability. Bah! I know
their beginnings, very small indeed."
"You also seem to have strong prejudices on the subject," said I, not
wishing to contradict a guest in my house.
"So strong that it amounts to having no prejudices at all. Your boy
wants to marry a noble damosel. In Heaven's name let him do it. Let us
manage it amongst us. Love is a grand thing. I have loved several
women all their lives. Do not look surprised. I am a very old man;
they have all died, and at present I am not in love with anybody. I
suppose it cannot last long, however. I loved a woman once on a
time"--Benoni paused. He seemed to be on the verge of a soliloquy, and
his strange, bright face, which seemed illuminated always with a
deathless vitality, became dreamy and looked older. But he
recollected himself and rose to go. His eye caught sight of the guitar
that hung on the wall.
"Ah," he cried suddenly, "music is better than love, for it lasts; let
us make music." He dropped his hat and stick and seized the
instrument. In an instant it was tuned and he began to perform the
most extraordinary feats of agility with his fingers that I ever
beheld. Some of it was very beautiful, and some of it very sad and
wild, but I understood Nino's enthusiasm. I could have listened to the
old guitar in his hands for hours together,--I, who care little for
music; and I watched his face. He stalked about the room with the
thing in his hands, in a sort of wild frenzy of execution. His
features grew ashy pale, and his smooth white hair stood out wildly
from his head. He looked, then, more than a hundred years old, and
there was a sadness and a horror about him that would have made the
stones cry aloud for pity. I could not believe he was the same man. At
last he was tired, and stopped.
"You are a great artist, baron," I said. "Your music seems to affect
"Ah, yes, it makes me feel like other men for the time," said he, in a
low voice. "Did you know that Paganini always practised on the guitar?
It is true. Well, I will find out about the Liras for you in a day or
two, before I leave Rome again."
I thanked him and he took his leave.
Benoni had made an impression on me that nothing could efface. His
tall thin figure and bright eyes got into my dreams and haunted me, so
that I thought my nerves were affected. For several days I could think
of nothing else, and at last had myself bled, and took some cooling
barley-water, and gave up eating salad at night, but without any
Nino wrote often, and seemed very much excited about the disappearance
of the contessina, but what could I do? I asked everyone I knew, and
nobody had heard of them, so that at last I quite gave it over, and
wrote to tell him so. A week passed, then a fortnight, and I had heard
nothing from Benoni. Nino wrote again, enclosing a letter addressed to
the Contessina di Lira, which he implored me to convey to her, if I
loved him. He said he was certain that she had never left Italy. Some
instinct seemed to tell him so, and she was evidently in neither
London nor Paris, for he had made every inquiry, and had even been to
the police about it. Two days after this, Benoni came. He looked
exactly as he did the first time I saw him.
"I have news," he said, briefly, and sat down in the arm-chair,
striking the dust from his boot with his little cane.
"News of the Graf?" I inquired.
"Yes. I have found out something. They never left Italy at all, it
seems. I am rather mystified, and I hate mystification. The old man is
a fool; all old men are fools, excepting myself. Will you smoke? No?
Allow me, then. It is a modern invention, but a very good one." He lit
a cigarette. "I wish your Liras were in Tophet," he continued,
presently. "How can people have the bad taste to hide? It only makes
ingenious persons the more determined to find them." He seemed
talkative, and as I was so sad and lonely I encouraged him by a little
stimulus of doubt. I wish I had doubted him sooner, and differently.
"What is the use?" I asked. "We shall never find them."
"'Never' is a great word,'" said Benoni. "You do not know what it
means. I do. But as for finding them, you shall see. In the first
place, I have talked with their banker. He says the count gave the
strictest orders to have his address kept a secret. But, being one of
my people he allowed himself to make an accidental allusion which gave
me a clue to what I wanted. They are hidden somewhere in the
"Diavolo! among the brigands: they will not be very well treated,"
"The old man will be careful. He will keep clear of danger. The only
thing is to find them."
"And what then?" I asked.
"That depends on the most illustrious Signor Cardegna," said Benoni,
smiling. "He only asked you to find them. He probably did not
anticipate that I would help you."
It did not appear to me that Benoni had helped me much, after all. You
might as well look for a needle in a haystack as try to find anyone
who goes to the Italian mountains. The baron offered no further
advice, and sat calmly smoking and looking at me. I felt uneasy,
opposite him. He was a mysterious person, and I thought him disguised.
It was really not possible that, with his youthful manner, his hair
should be naturally so white, or that he should be so old as he
seemed. I asked him the question we always find it interesting to ask
foreigners, hoping to lead him into conversation.
"How do you like our Rome, Baron Benoni?"
"Rome? I loathe and detest it," he said, with a smile. "There is only
one place in the whole world that I hate more."
"What place is that?" I asked, remembering that he had made the same
remark to Nino before.
"Jerusalem," he answered, and the smile faded on his face. I thought I
guessed the reason of his dislike in his religious views. But I am
very liberal about those things.
"I think I understand you," I said; "you are a Hebrew, and the
prevailing form of religion is disagreeable to you."
"No, it is not exactly that,--and yet, perhaps, it is." He seemed to
be pondering on the reason of his dislike.
"But why do you visit these places if they do not please you?"
"I come here because I have so many agreeable acquaintances. I never
go to Jerusalem. I also come here from time to time to take a bath.
The water of the Trevi has a peculiarly rejuvenating effect upon me,
and something impels me to bathe in it."
"Do you mean in the fountain? Ah, foreigners say that if you drink the
water by moonlight you will return to Rome."
"Foreigners are all weak-minded fools. I like that word. The human
race ought to be called fools generically, as distinguished from the
more intelligent animals. If you went to England you would be as great
a fool as any Englishman that comes here and drinks Trevi water by
moonlight. But I assure you I do nothing so vulgar as to patronise the
fountain, any more than I would patronise Mazzarino's church, hard by.
I go to the source, the spring, the well where it rises."
"Ah, I know the place well," I said. "It is near to Serveti."
"Serveti? Is that not in the vicinity of Horace's villa?"
"You know the country well, I see," said I, sadly.
"I know most things," answered the Jew, with complacency. "You would
find it hard to hit upon anything I do not know. Yes, I am a vain man,
it is true, but I am very frank and open about it. Look at my
complexion. Did you ever see anything like it? It is Trevi water that
does it." I thought such excessive vanity very unbecoming in a man of
his years, but I could not help looking amused. It was so odd to hear
the old fellow descanting on his attractions. He actually took a small
mirror from his pocket and looked at himself in most evident
"I really believe," he said at length, pocketing the little
looking-glass, "that a woman might love me still. What do you say?"
"Doubtless," I answered politely, although I was beginning to be
annoyed, "a woman might love you at first sight. But it would be more
dignified for you not to love her."
"Dignity!" He laughed long and loud, a cutting laugh, like the
breaking of glass. "There is another of your phrases. Excuse my
amusement, Signor Grandi, but the idea of dignity always makes me
smile." He called that thing a smile! "It is in everybody's
mouth,--the dignity of the State, the dignity of the king, the dignity
of woman, the dignity of father, mother, schoolmaster, soldier. Psh!
an apoplexy, as you say, on all the dignities you can enumerate. There
is more dignity in a poor patient ass toiling along a rough road under
a brutal burden that in the entire human race put together, from Adam
to myself. The conception of dignity is notional, most entirely. I
never see a poor wretch of a general, or king, or any such animal,
adorned in his toggery of dignity without laughing at him, and his
dignity again leads him to suppose that my smile is the result of the
pleasurable sensations his experience excites in me. Nature has
dignity at times; some animals have it; but man, never. What man
mistakes for it in himself is his vanity,--a vanity much more
pernicious than mine, because it deceives its possessor, who is also
wholly possessed by it, and is its slave. I have had a great many
illusions in my life, Signor Grandi."
"One would say, baron, that you had parted with them."
"Yes, and that is my chief vanity,--the vanity of vanities which I
prefer to all the others. It is only a man of no imagination who has
no vanity. He cannot imagine himself any better than he is. A creative
genius makes for his own person a 'self' which he thinks he is, or
desires other people to believe him to be. It makes little difference
whether he succeeds or not, so long as he flatters himself he does. He
complacently takes all his images from the other animals, or from
natural objects and phenomena, depicting himself bold as an eagle,
brave as a lion, strong as an ox, patient as an ass, vain as a
popinjay, talkative as a parrot, wily as a serpent, gentle as a dove,
cunning as a fox, surly as a bear; his glance is lightning, his voice
thunder, his heart stone, his hands are iron, his conscience a hell,
his sinews of steel, and his love like fire. In short, he is like
anything alive or dead, except a man, saving when he is mad. Then he
is a fool. Only man can be a fool. It distinguishes him from the
I cannot describe the unutterable scorn that blazed in his eyes as
Benoni poured out the vials of his wrath on the unlucky human race.
With my views, we were not likely to agree in this matter.
"Who are you?" I asked. "What right can you possibly have to abuse us
all in such particularly strong terms? Do you ever make proselytes to
"No," said he, answering my last question, and recovering his serenity
with that strange quickness of transition I had remarked when he had
made music during his previous visit. "No, they all die before I have
taught them anything."
"That does not surprise me, baron," said I. He laughed a little.
"Well, perhaps it would surprise you even less if you knew me better,"
he replied. "But really, I came here to talk about Cardegna and not to
chatter about that contemptible creature, man, who is not worth a
moment's notice, I assure you. I believe I can find these people, and
I confess it would amuse me to see the old man's face when we walk in
upon him. I must be absent for a few days on business in Austria, and
shall return immediately, for I have not taken my bath yet that I
spoke of. Now, if it is agreeable to you, I would propose that we go
to the hills, on my return, and prosecute our search together; writing
to Nino in the meantime to come here as soon as he has finished his
engagement in Paris. If he comes quickly, he may go with us; if not,
he can join us. At all events, we can have a very enjoyable tour among
the natives, who are charming people, quite like animals, as you ought
I think I must be a very suspicious person. Circumstances have made me
so, and perhaps my suspicions are very generally wrong. It may be. At
all events I did suspect the rich and dandified old baron of desiring
to have a laugh by putting Nino into some absurd situation. He had
such strange views, or, at least, he talked so oddly, that I did not
believe half he said. It is not possible that anybody should seriously
hold the opinions he professed.
When he was gone I sat alone, pondering on this situation, which was
like a very difficult problem in a nightmare, that could not or would
not look sensible, do what I would. It chanced that I got a letter
from Nino that evening, and I confess I was reluctant to open it,
fearing that he would reproach me with not having taken more pains to
help him. I felt as though, before opening the envelope, I should like
to go back a fortnight and put forth all my strength to find the
contessina, and gain a comforting sense of duty performed. If I had
only done my best how easy it would have been to face a whole sheet of
complaints! Meanwhile the letter was come, and I had done nothing
worth mentioning. I looked at the back of it, and my conscience smote
me; but it had to be accomplished, and at last I tore the cover off
Poor Nino! He said he was ill with anxiety, and feared it would injure
his voice. He said that to break his engagement and come back to
Rome would be ruin to him. He must face it out, or take the legal
consequences of a breach of contract, which are overwhelming to a
young artist. He detailed all the efforts he had made to find Hedwig,
pursuing every little sign and clue that seemed to present itself; all
to no purpose. The longer he thought of it, the more certain he was
that Hedwig was not in Paris or London. She might be anywhere else in
the whole world, but she was certainly not in either of those cities.
Of that he was convinced. He felt like a man who had pursued a
beautiful image to the foot of a precipitous cliff; the rock had
opened and swallowed up his dream, leaving him standing alone in
hopeless despair; and a great deal more poetic nonsense of that kind.
I do not believe I had ever realised what he so truly felt for Hedwig
until I sat at my table with his letter before me, overcome with the
sense of my own weakness in not having effectually checked this mad
passion at its rise; or, since it had grown so masterfully, of my
wretched procrastination in not having taken my staff in my hand and
gone out into the world to find the woman my boy loved and bring her
to him. By this time, I thought, I should have found her. I could not
bear to think of his being ill, suffering, heart-broken,--ruined, if
he lost his voice by an illness,--merely because I had not had the
strength to do the best thing for him. Poor Nino, I thought, you shall
never say again that Cornelio Grandi has not done what was in his
power to make you happy.
"That baron! an apoplexy on him! has illuded me with his promises of
help," I said to myself. "He has no more intention of helping me or
Nino than he has of carrying off the basilica of St. Peter. Courage,
Cornelio! thou must gird up thy loins, and take a little money in thy
scrip, and find Hedwig von Lira."
All that night I lay awake, trying to think how I might accomplish
this end; wondering to which point of the compass I should turn, and,
above all, reflecting that I must make great sacrifices. But my boy
must have what he wanted, since he was consuming himself, as we say,
in longing, for it. It seemed to me no time for counting the cost,
when every day might bring upon him a serious illness. If he could
only know that I was acting, he would allow his spirits to revive and
In the watches of the night I thought over my resources, which,
indeed, were meagre enough; for I am a very poor man. It was necessary
to take a great deal of money, for once away from Rome no one could
tell when I might return. My salary as professor is paid to me
quarterly, and it was yet some weeks to the time when it was due. I
had only a few francs remaining,--not more than enough to pay my rent
and to feed Mariuccia and me. I had paid at Christmas the last
instalment due on my vineyard out of Porta Salara, and though I owed
no man anything I had no money, and no prospect of any for some time.
And yet I could not leave home on a long journey without at least two
hundred scudi in my pocket. A scudo is a dollar, and a dollar has five
francs, so that I wanted a thousand francs. You see, in spite of the
baron's hint about the mountains, I thought I might have to travel all
over Italy before I satisfied Nino.
A thousand francs is a great deal of money,--it is a Peru, as we say.
I had not the first sou toward it. I thought a long time. I wondered
if the old piano were worth anything; whether anybody would give me
money for my manuscripts, the results of patient years of labour and
study; my old gold scarf pin, my seal ring, and even my silver watch,
which keeps really very good time,--what were they worth? But it would
not be much, not the tenth part of what I wanted. I was in despair,
and I tried to sleep. Then a thought came to me.
"I am a donkey," I said. "There is the vineyard itself,--my little
vineyard beyond Porta Salara. It is mine and is worth half as much
again as I need." And I slept quietly till morning.
It is true, and I am sure it is natural, that in the daylight my
resolution looked a little differently to me than it did in the quiet
night. I had toiled and scraped a great deal more than you know to buy
that small piece of land, and it seemed much more my own than all
Serveti had ever been in my better days. Then I shut myself up in my
room and read Nino's letter over again, though it pained me very much;
for I needed courage. And when I had read it, I took some papers in my
pocket, and put on my hat and my old cloak, which Nino will never want
any more now for his midnight serenades, and I went out to sell my
"It is for my boy," I said, to give myself some comfort.
But it is one thing to want to buy, and it is quite another thing to
want to sell. All day I went from one man to another with my
papers,--all the agents who deal in those things; but they only said
they thought it might be sold in time; it would take many days, and
"But I want to sell it to-day," I explained.
"We are very sorry," said they, with a shrug of the shoulders; and
they showed me the door.
I was extremely down-hearted, and though I could not sell my piece of
land I spent three sous in buying two cigars to smoke, and I walked
about the Piazza Colonna in the sun; I would not go home to dinner
until I had decided what to do. There was only one man I had not
tried, and he was the man who had sold it to me. Of course I knew
people who do this business, for I had had enough trouble to learn
their ways when I had to sell Serveti, years ago. But this one man I
had not tried yet, because I knew that he would drive a cruel bargain
with me when he saw I wanted the money. But at last I went to him and
told him just what my wishes were.
"Well," he said, "it is a very bad time for selling land. But to
oblige you, because you are a customer, I will give you eight hundred
francs for your little place. That is really much more than I can
"Eight hundred francs!" I exclaimed, in despair. "But I have paid you
nearly twice as much for it in the last three years! What do you take
me for? To sell such a gem of a vineyard for eight hundred francs? If
you offer me thirteen hundred I will discuss the matter with you."
"I have known you a long time, Signor Grandi, and you are an honest
man. I am sure you do not wish to deceive me. I will give you eight
hundred and fifty."
Deceive him, indeed! The very man who had received fifteen hundred
from me said I deceived him when I asked thirteen hundred for the same
piece of land! But I needed it very much, and so, bargaining and
wrangling, I got one thousand and seventy-five francs in bank-notes;
and I took care they should all be good ones too. It was a poor price,
I know, but I could do no better, and I went home happy. But I dared
not tell Mariuccia. She is only my servant, to be sure, but she would
have torn me in pieces.
Then I wrote to the authorities at the university to say that I was
obliged to leave Rome suddenly, and would of course not claim my
salary during my absence. But I added that I hoped they would not
permanently supplant me. If they did I knew I should be ruined. Then I
told Mariuccia that I was going away for some days to the country, and
I left her the money to pay the rent, and her wages, and a little
more, so that she might be provided for if I were detained very long.
I went out again and telegraphed to Nino to say I was going at once in
search of the Liras, and begging him to come home as soon as he should
have finished his engagement.
To tell the truth, Mariuccia was very curious to know where I was
going, and asked me many questions, which I had some trouble in
answering. But at last it was night again, and the old woman went to
bed and left me. Then I went on tiptoe to the kitchen, and found a
skein of thread and two needles, and set to work.
I knew the country whither I was going very well, and it was necessary
to hide the money I had in some ingenious way. So I took two
waistcoats--one of them was quite good still,--and I sewed them
together, and basted the bank-notes between them. It was a clumsy
piece of tailoring, though it took me so many hours to do it. But I
had put the larger waistcoat outside very cunningly, so that when I
had put on the two, you could not see that there was anything beneath
the outer one. I think I was very clever to do this without a woman to
help me. Then I looked to my boots, and chose my oldest clothes,--and
you may guess, from what you know of me, how old they were,--and I
made a little bundle that I could carry in my hand, with a change of
linen, and the like. These things I made ready before I went to bed,
and I slept with the two waistcoats and the thousand francs under my
pillow, though I suppose nobody would have chosen that particular
night for robbing me.
All these preparations had occupied me so much that I had not found
any time to grieve over my poor little vineyard that I had sold; and,
besides, I was thinking all the while of Nino, and how glad he would
be to know that I was really searching for Hedwig. But when I thought
of the vines, it hurt me; and I think it is only long after the deed
that it seems more blessed to give than to receive.
But at last I slept, as tired folk will, leaving care to the morrow;
and when I awoke it was daybreak, and Mariuccia was clattering angrily
with the tin coffee-pot outside. It was a bright morning, and the
goldfinch sang, and I could hear him scattering the millet seed about
his cage while I dressed. And then the parting grew very near, and I
drank my coffee silently, wondering how soon it would be over, and
wishing that the old woman would go out and let me have my house
alone. But she would not, and, to my surprise, she made very little
worry or trouble, making a great show of being busy. When I was quite
ready she insisted on putting a handful of roasted chestnuts into my
pocket, and she said she would pray for me. The fact is, she thought,
foolish old creature, as she is, that I was old and in poor health,
and she had often teased me to go into the country for a few days, so
that she was not ill pleased that I should seem to take her advice.
She stood looking after me as I trudged along the street, with my
bundle and my good stick in my right hand, and a lighted cigar in my
I had made up my mind that I ought first to try the direction hinted
at by the baron, since I had absolutely no other clue to the
whereabouts of the Count von Lira and his daughter. I therefore got
into the old stage that still runs to Palestrina and the neighbouring
towns, for it is almost as quick as going by rail, and much cheaper;
and half-an-hour later we rumbled out of the Porta San Lorenzo, and I
had entered upon the strange journey to find Hedwig von Lira,
concerning which frivolous people have laughed so unkindly. And you
may call me a foolish old man if you like. I did it for my boy.
I went to Palestrina because all foreigners go there, and are to be
heard of from other parts of the mountains in that place. It was a
long and tiresome journey; the jolting stage-coach shook me very much.
There was a stout woman inside, with a baby that squealed; there
was a very dirty old country curate, who looked as though he had not
shaved for a week, or changed his collar for a month. But he talked
intelligently, though he talked too much, and he helped to pass the
time until I was weary of him. We jolted along over the dusty roads,
and were at least thankful that it was not yet hot.
In the evening we reached Palestrina, and stopped before the inn in
the market-place, as tired and dusty as might be. The woman went one
way, and the priest the other, and I was left alone. I soon found the
fat old host, and engaged a room for the night. He was talkative and
curious, and sat by my side when he had prepared my supper in the
dingy dining-room downstairs. I felt quite sure that he would be able
to tell me what I wanted, or at least to give me a hint from hearsay.
But he at once began to talk of last year, and how much better his
business had been then than it was now, as country landlords
It was to no purpose that I questioned him about the people that had
passed during the fortnight, the month, the two months back; it was
clear that no one of the importance of my friends had been heard of.
At last I was tired, and he lit a wax candle, which he would carefully
charge in the bill afterwards, at double its natural price, and he
showed me the way to my room. It was a very decent little room, with
white curtains and a good bed and a table,--everything I could desire.
A storm had come up since I had been at my supper, and it seemed a
comfortable thing to go to bed, although I was disappointed at having
got no news.
But when I had blown out my candle, determining to expostulate with
the host in the morning if he attempted to make me pay for a whole
one, I lay thinking of what I should do; and, turning on my side, I
observed that a narrow crack of the door admitted rays of light into
the darkness of my chamber. Now I am very sensitive to draughts and
inclined to take cold, and the idea that there was a door open
troubled me, so that at last I made up my mind to get up and close it.
As I rose to my feet, I perceived that it was not the door by which I
had entered; and so, before shutting it, I called out, supposing there
might be someone in the next room.
"Excuse me," I said, loudly, "I will shut this door." But there was no
Curiosity is perhaps a vice, but it is a natural one. Instead of
pulling the door to its place, I pushed it a little, knocking with
my knuckles at the same time. But as no one answered, I pushed it
further, and put in my head. It was a disagreeable thing I saw.
The room was like mine in every way, save that the bed was moved to
the middle of the open space, and there were two candles on two
tables. On the bed lay a dead man. I felt what we call a brivido,--a
shiver like an ague.
It was the body of an old man, with a face like yellow wax, and a
singularly unpleasant expression even in death. His emaciated hands
were crossed on his breast, and held a small black crucifix. The
candles stood, one at the head and one at the foot, on little tables.
I entered the room and looked long at the dead old man. I thought it
strange that there should be no one to watch him, but I am not afraid
of dead men after the first shudder is past. It was a ghastly sight
enough, however, and the candles shed a glaring yellowish light over
"Poor wretch!" I said to myself, and went back to my room, closing the
door carefully behind me.
At first I thought of rousing the host, and explaining to him my
objections to being left almost in the same room with a corpse. But I
reflected that it would be foolish to seem afraid of it, when I was
really not at all timid, and so I went to bed and slept until dawn.
But when I went downstairs I found the innkeeper, and gave him a piece
of my mind.
"What sort of an inn do you keep? What manners are these?" I cried
angrily. "What diavolo put into your pumpkin head to give me a
sepulchre for a room?"
He seemed much disturbed at what I said, and broke out into a thousand
apologies. But I was not to be so easily pacified.
"Do you think," I demanded, "that I will ever come here again, or
advise any of my friends to come here? It is insufferable. I will
write to the police--" But at this he began to shed tears and to wring
his hands, saying it was not his fault.
"You see, signore, it was my wife who made me arrange it so. Oh! these
women--the devil has made them all! It was her father--the old dead
man you saw. He died yesterday morning--may he rest!--and we will
bury him to-day. You see everyone knows that unless a dead man is
watched by someone from another town his soul will not rest in peace.
My wife's father was a jettatore; he had the evil eye, and people knew
it for miles around, so I could not persuade anyone from the other
villages to sit by him and watch his body, though I sent everywhere
all day yesterday. At last that wife of mine--maledictions on her
folly!--said, 'It is my father, after all, and his soul must rest, at
any price. If you put a traveller in the next room, and leave the door
open, it will be the same thing; and so he will be in peace.' That is
the way it happened, signore," he continued, after wiping away his
tears; "you see I could not help it at all. But if you will overlook
it, I will not make any charges for your stay. My wife shall pay me.
She has poultry by the hundred. I will pay myself with her chickens."
"Very good," said I, well pleased at having got so cheap a lodging.
"But I am a just man, and I will pay for what I have eaten and drunk,
and you can take the night's lodging out of your wife's chickens, as
you say." So we were both satisfied.[Footnote: This incident actually
occurred, precisely as related.]
The storm of the night had passed away, leaving everything wet and the
air cool and fresh. I wrapped my cloak about me and went into the
market-place to see if I could pick up any news. It was already late
for the country, and there were few people about. Here and there, in
the streets, a wine-cart was halting on its way to Rome, while the
rough carter went through the usual arrangement of exchanging some of
his employer's wine for food for himself, filling up the barrel with
good pure water that never hurt anyone. I wandered about, though I
could not expect to see any face that I knew; it is so many years
since I lived at Serveti that even were the carters from my old place
I should have forgotten how they looked. Suddenly, at the corner of a
dirty street, where there was a little blue and white shrine to the
Madonna, I stumbled against a burly fellow with a gray beard carrying
a bit of salt codfish in one hand and a cake of corn bread in the
other, eating as he went.
"Gigi!" I cried, in delight, when I recognised the old carrettiere who
used to bring me grapes and wine, and still does when the fancy takes
"Dio mio! Signor Conte!" he cried, with his mouth full, and holding
up the bread and fish with his two hands, in astonishment. When he
recovered himself he instantly offered to share his meal with me, as
the poorest wretch in Italy will offer his crust to the greatest
prince, out of politeness. "Vuol favorire?" he said, smiling.
I thanked him and declined, as you may imagine. Then I asked him how
he came to be in Palestrina; and he told me that he was often there in
the winter, as his sister had married a vine-dresser of the place,
of whom he bought wine occasionally. Very well-to-do people, he
explained, eagerly, proud of his prosperous relations.
We clambered along through the rough street together, and I asked him
what was the news from Serveti and from that part of the country,
well knowing that if he had heard of any rich foreigners in that
neighbourhood he would at once tell me of it. But I had not much hope.
He talked about the prospects of the vines, and such things, for some
time, and I listened patiently.
"By the by," he said at last, "there is a gran signore who is gone
to live in Fillettino,--a crazy man, they say, with a beautiful
daughter, but really beautiful, as an angel."
I was so much surprised that I made a loud exclamation.
"What is the matter?" asked Gigi.
"It is nothing, Gigi," I answered, for I was afraid lest he should
betray my secret, if I let him guess it. "It is nothing. I struck my
foot against a stone. But you were telling about a foreigner who is
gone to live somewhere. Fillettino? Where is that?"
"Oh, the place of the diavolo! I do not wonder you do not know, conte,
for gentlemen never go there. It is in the Abruzzi, beyond Trevi. Did
you ever hear of the Serra di Sant' Antonio, where so many people have
"Diana! I should think so! In the old days--"
"Bene," said Gigi, "Fillettino is there, at the beginning of the
"Tell me, Gigi mio," I said, "are you not very thirsty?" The way to
the heart of the wine carter lies through a pint measure. Gigi was
thirsty, as I supposed, and we sat down in the porch of my inn, and
the host brought a stoup of his best wine and set it before us.
"I would like to hear about the crazy foreigner who is gone to live in
the hills among the brigand," I said, when he had wet his throat.
"What I know I will tell you, Signor Conte," he answered, filling his
pipe with bits that he broke off a cigar. "But I know very little. He
must be a foreigner, because he goes to such a place; and he is
certainly crazy, for he shuts his daughter in the old castle, and
watches her as though she was made of wax, like the flowers you have
in Rome under glass."
"How long have they been there, these queer folks?" I asked.
"What do I know? It may be a month or two. A man told me, who had come
that way from Fucino, and that is all I know."
"Do people often travel that way, Gigi?"
"Not often, indeed," he answered, with a grin. "They are not very
civil, the people of those parts." Gigi made a gesture, or a series of
gestures. He put up his hands as though firing a gun. Then he opened
his right hand and closed it, with a kind of insinuating twirl of the
fingers, which means "to steal." Lastly he put his hand over his eyes,
and looked through his fingers as though they were bars, which means
"prison." From this I inferred that the inhabitants of Fillettino were
addicted to murder, robbery, and other pastimes, for which they
sometimes got into trouble. The place he spoke of is about thirty
miles, or something more, from Palestrina, and I began planning how I
should get there as cheaply as possible. I had never been there, and
wondered what kind of a habitation the count had found; for I knew it
must be the roughest sort of mountain town, with some dilapidated
castle or other overhanging it. But the count was rich, and he had
doubtless made himself very comfortable. I sat in silence while Gigi
finished his wine and chatted about his affairs between the whiffs of
"Gigi," I said at last, "I want to buy a donkey."
"Eh, your excellency can be accommodated: and a saddle, too, if you
"I think I could ride without a saddle," I said, for I thought it a
needless piece of extravagance.
"Madonna mia!" he cried. "The Signor Conte ride bareback on a donkey!
They would laugh at you. But my brother-in-law can sell you a beast
this very day, and for a mere song."
"Let us go and see the beast," I said. I felt a little ashamed of
having wished to ride without a saddle. But as I had sold all I had,
I wanted to make the money last as long as possible; or at least I
would spend as little as I could, and take something back, if I ever
went home at all. We had not far to go, and Gigi opened a door in
the street, and showed me a stable, in which something moved in the
darkness. Presently he led out an animal and began to descant upon its
"Did you ever see a more beautiful donkey?" asked Gigi, admiringly.
"It looks like a horse!" It was a little ass, with sad eyes, and ears
as long as its tail. It was also very thin, and had the hair rubbed
off its back from carrying burdens. But it had no sore places, and did
not seem lame.
"He is full of fire," said Gigi, poking the donkey in the ribs to
excite a show of animation. "You should see him gallop uphill with my
brother on his back, and a good load into the bargain. Brrrr! Stand
still, will you!" he cried, holding tight by the halter, though the
animal did not seem anxious to run away.
"And then," said Gigi, "he eats nothing,--positively nothing."
"He does not look as though he had eaten much of late," I said.
"Oh, my brother-in-law is as good to him as though he were a
Christian. He gives him corn bread and fish, just like his own
children. But this ass prefers straw."
"A frugal ass," I said, and we began to bargain. I will not tell you
what I gave Gigi's brother-in-law for the beast, because you would
laugh. And I bought an old saddle, too. It was really necessary, but
it was a dear bargain, though it was cheaper than hiring; for I sold
the donkey and the saddle again, and got back something.
It is a wild country enough that lies behind the mountains towards the
sources of the Aniene,--the river that makes the falls at Tivoli.
You could not half understand how in these times, under the new
government, and almost within a long day's ride from Rome, such things
could take place as I am about to tell you of, unless I explained to
you how very primitive that country is which lies to the south-east of
the capital, and-which we generally call the Abruzzi. The district is
wholly mountainous, and though there are no very great elevations
there are very ragged gorges and steep precipices, and now and then an
inaccessible bit of forest far up among the rocks, which no man has
ever thought of cutting down. It would be quite impossible to remove
the timber. The people are mostly shepherds in the higher regions,
where there are no vines, and when opportunity offers they will waylay
the unwary traveller and rob him, and even murder him, without
thinking very much about it. In the old days the boundary between the
Papal States and the kingdom of Naples ran through these mountains,
and the contrabbandieri--the smugglers of all sorts of wares--used to
cross from one dominion to the other by circuitous paths and steep
ways of which only a few had knowledge. The better known of these
passes were defended by soldiers and police, but there have been
bloody fights fought, within a few years, between the law and its
breakers. Foreigners never penetrate into the recesses of these hills,
and even the English guide-books, which are said to contain an account
of everything that the Buon Dio ever made, compiled from notes taken
at the time of the creation, make no mention of places which surpass
in beauty all the rest of Italy put together.
No railroad or other modern innovation penetrates into those Arcadian
regions, where the goatherd plays upon his pipe all the day long,
the picture of peace and innocence, or prowls in the passes with a
murderous long gun, if there are foreigners in the air. The women toil
at carrying their scant supply of drinking-water from great distances
during a part of the day, and in the evening they spin industriously
by their firesides or upon their doorsteps, as the season will have
it. It is an old life, the same to-day as a thousand years ago, and
perhaps as it will be a thousand years hence. The men are great
travellers, and go to Rome in the winter to sell their cheese, or to
milk a flock of goats in the street at daybreak, selling the foaming
canful for a son. But their visits to the city do not civilise them;
the outing only broadens the horizon of their views in regard to
foreigners, and makes them more ambitious to secure one, and see what
he is like, and cut off his ears, and get his money. Do not suppose
that the shepherd of the Abruzzi lies all day on the rocks in the sun,
waiting for the foreign gentleman to come within reach. He might wait
a long time. Climbing has strengthened the muscles of his legs into so
much steel, and a party of herdsmen have been known to come down from
the Serra to the plains around Velletri, and to return to their
inaccessible mountains, after doing daring deeds of violence, in
twenty-four hours from the time of starting, covering at least from
eighty to ninety miles by the way. They are extraordinary fellows, as
active as tigers, and fabulously strong, though they are never very
This country begins behind the range of Sabine mountains seen from
Rome across the Campagna, and the wild character of it increases as
you go towards the south-east.
Since I have told you this much I need not weary you with further
descriptions. I do not like descriptions, and it is only when Nino
gives me his impressions that I write them, in order that you may
know how beautiful things impress him, and the better judge of his
I do not think that Gigi really cheated me so very badly about the
donkey. Of course I do not believe the story of his carrying the
brother-in-law and the heavy load uphill at a gallop; but I am thin
and not very heavy, and the little ass carried me well enough through
the valleys, and when we came to a steep place I would get off and
walk, so as not to tire him too much. If he liked to crop a thistle or
a blade of grass, I would stop a moment, for I thought he would grow
fatter in that way, and I should not lose so much when I sold him
again. But he never grew very fat.
Twice I slept by the way before I reached the end of my journey,--once
at Olevano and once at Trevi; for the road from Olevano to Trevi is
long, and some parts are very rough, especially at first. I could tell
you just how every stone on the road looks--Rojate, the narrow pass
beyond, and then the long valley with the vines; then the road turns
away and rises as you go along the plateau of Arcinazzo, which is
hollow beneath, and you can hear the echoes as you tread; then at the
end of that the desperate old inn, called by the shepherds the Madre
dei Briganti,--the mother of brigands,--smoke-blackened within and
without, standing alone on the desolate heath; farther on, a broad
bend of the valley to the left, and you see Trevi rising before you,
crowned with an ancient castle, and overlooking the stream that
becomes the Aniene afterwards; from Trevi through a rising valley
that grows narrower at every step, and finally seems to end abruptly,
as indeed it does, in a dense forest far up the pass. And just below
the woods lies the town of Fillettino, where the road ends; for there
is a road which leads to Tivoli, but does not communicate with
Olevano, whence I had come.
Of course I had made an occasional inquiry by the way, when I could do
so without making people too curious. When anyone asked me where I was
going, I would say I was bound for Fucino, to buy beans for seed at
the wonderful model farm that Torlonia has made by draining the old
lake. And then I would ask about the road; and sometimes I was told
there was a strange foreigner at Fillettino, who made everybody wonder
about him by his peculiar mode of life. Therefore, when I at last saw
the town, I was quite sure that the count was there, and I got off my
little donkey, and let him drink in the stream, while I myself drank a
little higher up. The road was dusty, and my donkey and I were
I thought of all I would do, as I sat on the stone by the water
and the beast cropped the wretched grass, and soon I came to the
conclusion that I did not know in the least what I should do. I had
unexpectedly found what I wanted, very soon, and I was thankful enough
to have been so lucky. But I had not the first conception of what
course I was to pursue when once I had made sure of the count.
Besides, it was barely possible that it was not he, after all, but
another foreigner, with another daughter. The thought frightened me,
but I drove it away. If it were really old Lira who had chosen this
retreat in which to imprison his daughter and himself, I asked myself
whether I could do anything save send word to Nino as soon as
I felt like a sort of Don Quixote, suddenly chilled into the prosaic
requirements of common sense. Perhaps if Hedwig had been my Dulcinea,
instead of Nino's, the crazy fit would have lasted, and I would have
attempted to scale the castle wall and carry off the prize by force.
There is no telling what a sober old professor of philosophy may not
do when he is crazy. But meanwhile I was sane. Graf von Lira had a
right to live anywhere he pleased with his daughter, and the fact that
I had discovered the spot where he pleased to live did not constitute
an introduction. Or finally, if I got access to the old count, what
had I to say to him? Ought I to make a formal request for Nino? I
looked at my old clothes and almost smiled.
But the weather was cold, though the roads were dusty; so I mounted my
ass and jogged along, meditating deeply.
Fillettino is a trifle cleaner than most towns of the same kind.
Perhaps it rains more often, and there are fewer people. Considering
that its vicinity has been the scene of robbery, murder, and all
manner of adventurous crime from time immemorial, I had expected to
find it a villainous place. It is nothing of the kind. There is a
decent appearance about it that is surprising; and though the houses
are old and brown and poor, I did not see pigs in many rooms, nor did
the little children beg of me, as they beg of everyone elsewhere. The
absence of the pigs struck me particularly, for in the Sabine towns
they live in common with the family, and go out only in the daytime to
pick up what they can get.
I went to the apothecary--there is always an apothecary in these
places--and inquired for a lodging. Before very long I had secured a
room, and it seemed that the people were accustomed to travellers, for
it was surprisingly clean. The bed was so high that I could touch the
ceiling when I sat on it, and the walls were covered with ornaments,
such as glazed earthenware saints, each with a little basin for holy
water, some old engravings of other saints, a few paper roses from the
last fair, and a weather-beaten game-pouch of leather. The window
looked out over a kind of square, where a great quantity of water ran
into a row of masonry tanks out of a number of iron pipes projecting
from an overhanging rock. Above the rock was the castle, the place I
had come to see, towering up against the darkening sky.
It is such a strange place that I ought to describe it to you, or you
will not understand the things that happened there. There is a great
rock, as I said, rising above the town, and upon this is built the
feudal stronghold, so that the walls of the building do not begin less
than forty feet from the street level. The height of the whole castle
consequently seems enormous. The walls, for the most part, follow the
lines of the gray rock, irregularly, as chance would have it, and the
result is a three-cornered pile, having a high square tower at one
angle, where also the building recedes some yards from the edge of
the cliff, leaving on that side a broad terrace guarded by a stone
parapet. On another side of the great isolated boulder a narrow
roadway heads up a steep incline, impracticable for carriages but
passable for four-footed beasts; and this path gives access to the
castle through a heavy gate opening upon a small court within. But the
rock itself has been turned to account, and there are chambers within
it which formerly served as prisons, opening to the right and left of
a narrow staircase, hewn out of the stone, and leading from the foot
of the tower to the street below, upon which it opens through a low
square door, set in the rock and studded with heavy iron rails.
Below the castle hangs the town, and behind it rises the valley,
thickly wooded with giant beech-trees. Of course I learned the details
of the interior little by little, and I gathered also some interesting
facts regarding the history of Fillettino, which are not in any way
necessary to my story. The first thing I did was to find out what
means of communication there were with Rome. There was a postal
service twice a week, and I was told that Count von Lira, whose name
was no secret in the village, sent messengers very often to Subiaco.
The post left that very day, and I wrote to Nino to tell him that I
had found his friends in villeggiatura at Fillettino, advising him to
come as soon as he could, and recruit his health and his spirits.
I learned, further, from the woman who rented me my lodging, that
there were other people in the castle besides the count and his
daughter. At least, she had seen a tall gentleman on the terrace with
them during the last two days; and it was not true that the count kept
Hedwig a prisoner. On the contrary, they rode out together almost
every day, and yesterday the tall gentleman had gone with them. The
woman also went into many details; telling me how much money the count
had spent in a fortnight, bringing furniture and a real piano and
immense loads of baskets, which the porters were told contained glass
and crockery, and must be carefully handled. It was clear that the
count was settled for some time. He had probably taken the old place
for a year, by a lease from the Roman family to whom Fillettino and
the neighbouring estates belong. He would spend the spring and the