Part 11 out of 11
Merthyr gave space for her to pass into the room. She appeared
undecided, saying that she had a dismal apprehension of her not having
dismissed her coachman overnight.
"In spite of my warning," she murmured again, "he has really gone?
Surely I cannot have slept more than three hours."
"It was Count Ammiani's wish that you should enjoy your full sleep
undisturbed in his house," said Merthyr, "As regards your warning to him,
he has left Milan perfectly convinced of the gravity of a warning that
comes from you."
Violetta shrugged lightly. "Then all we have to do is to pray for the
success of Carlo Alberto."
"Oh! pardon me, countess," Merthyr rejoined, "prayers may be useful, but
you at least have something to do besides."
His eyes caught hers firmly as they were letting a wild look of
interrogation fall on him, and he continued with perfect courtesy, "You
will accompany me to see Countess Anna of Lenkenstein. You have great
influence, madame. It is not Count Ammiani's request; for, as I informed
you, it was his wish that you should enjoy your repose. The request is
mine, because his life is dear to me. Nagen, I think, is the name of the
Austrian officer who has started for Brescia."
She had in self-defence to express surprise while he spoke, which
compelled her to meet his mastering sight and submit to a struggle of
vision sufficient to show him that he had hit a sort of guilty
consciousness. Otherwise she was not discomposed, and with marvellous
sagacity she accepted the forbearance he assumed, not affecting innocence
to challenge it, as silly criminals always do when they are exposed, but
answering quite in the tone of innocence, and so throwing the burden by
an appearance of mutual consent on some unnamed third person.
"Certainly; let us go to Countess Anna of Lenkenstein, if you think fit.
I have to rely on your judgement. I quite abjure my own. If I have to
plead for anything, I am going before a woman, remember."
"I do not forget it," said Merthyr.
"The expedition to Brescia may be unfortunate," she resumed hurriedly;
"I wish it had not been undertaken. At any rate, it rescues Count
Ammiani from an expedition to Rome, and his slavish devotion to that
priest-hating man whom he calls, or called, his Chief. At Brescia he
is not outraging the head of our religion. That is a gain."
"A gain for him in the next world?" said Merthyr. "I believe that
Countess Anna of Lenkenstein is also a fervent Catholic; is she not?"
"I trust so."
"On behalf of her peace of mind, I trust so, too. In that case, she also
must be a sound sleeper."
"We shall have to awaken her. What excuse--what am I to say to her?"
"I beg you to wait for the occasion, Countess d'Isorella. The words will
Violetta bit her lip. She had consented to this extraordinary step in an
amazement. As she contemplated it now, it seemed worse than a partial
confession and an appeal to his generosity. She broke out in pity for
her horses, in dread of her coachman, declaring that it was impossible
for her to give him the order to drive her anywhere but home.
"With your permission, countess, I will undertake to give him the order,"
"But have you no compassion, signor Powys? and you are an Englishman!
I thought that Englishmen were excessively compassionate with horses."
"They have been known to kill them in the service of their friends,
"Well!"--Violetta had recourse to the expression of her shoulders--
"and I am really to see Countess Anna?"
"In my presence."
"Oh! that cannot be. Pardon me; it is impossible. She will decline the
scene. I say it with the utmost sincerity: I know that she will refuse."
"Then, countess," Merthyr's face grew hard, "if I am not to be in your
company to prompt you, allow me to instruct you beforehand."
Violetta looked at him eagerly, as one looks for tidings, with an
involuntary beseeching quiver of the strained eyelids.
"No irony!" she said, fearing horribly that he was about to throw off the
mask of irony.
This desperate effort of her wits at the crisis succeeded.
Merthyr, not knowing what design he had, hopeless of any definite end in
tormenting the woman, and never having it in his mind merely to punish,
was diverted by the exclamation to speak ironically. "You can tell
Countess Anna that it is only her temporal sovereign who is attacked,
and that therefore--" he could not continue.
"Some affection?" he murmured, in intense grief.
His manly forbearance touched her whose moral wit was too blunt to
apprehend the contempt in it.
"Much affection--much!" Violetta exclaimed. "I have a deep affection
for Count Ammiani; an old friendship. Believe me! believe me! I came
here last night to save him. Anything on earth that I can do, I will do
--on my honour; and do not smile at that--I have never pledged it without
fulfilling the oath. I will not sleep while I can aid in preserving him.
He shall know that I am not the base person he has conceived me to be.
You, signor Powys, are not a man to paint all women black that are a
little less than celestial--are you? I am told it is a trick with your,
countrymen; and they have a poet who knew us! I entreat you to confide
in me. I am at present quite unaware that Count Ammiani runs particular
--I mean personal danger. He is in danger, of course; everyone can see
it. But, on my honour--and never in my life have I spoken so earnestly,
my friends would hardly recognize me--I declare to you on my faith as a
Christian lady, I am ignorant of any plot against him. I can take a
Cross and kiss it, like a peasant, and swear to you by the Madonna that I
know nothing of it."
She corrected her ardour, half-exulting in finding herself carried so far
and so swimmingly on a tide of truth, half wondering whether the
flowering beauty of her face in excitement had struck his sensibility.
He was cold and speculative.
"Ah!" she said, "if I were to ask my compatriots to put faith in a
woman's pure friendship for a man, I should know the answer; but you,
signor Powys, who have shown us that a man is capable of the purest
friendship for a woman, should believe me."
He led her down to the gates, where her coachman sat muffled in a three-
quarter sleep. The word was given to drive to her own house; rejoiced by
which she called his attention deploringly to the condition of her
horses, requesting him to say whether he could imagine them the best
English, and confessing with regret, that she killed three sets a year--
loved them well, notwithstanding. Merthyr saw enough of her to feel that
she was one of the weak creatures who are strong through our greater
weakness; and, either by intuition or quick wit, too lively and too
subtle to be caught by simple suspicion. She even divined that
reflection might tell him she had evaded him by an artifice--a piece of
gross cajolery; and said, laughing: "Concerning friendship, I could offer
it to a boy, like Carlo Ammiani; not to you, signor Powys. I know that I
must check a youth, and I am on my guard. I should be eternally
tormented to discover whether your armour was proof."
"I dare say that a lady who had those torments would soon be able to make
them mine," said Merthyr.
"You could not pay a fairer compliment to some one else," she remarked.
In truth, the candid personal avowal seemed to her to hold up Vittoria's
sacred honour in a crystal, and the more she thought of it, the more she
respected him, for his shrewd intelligence, if not for his sincerity; but
on the whole she fancied him a loyal friend, not solely a clever maker of
phrases; and she was pleased with herself for thinking such a matter
possible, in spite of her education.
"I do most solemnly hope that you may not have to sustain Countess
Alessandra under any affliction whatsoever," she said at parting.
Violetta had escaped an exposure--a rank and naked accusation of her
character and deeds. She feared nothing but that, being quite
indifferent to opinion; a woman who would not have thought it
preternaturally sad to have to walk as a penitent in the streets,
with the provision of a very thick veil to cover her. She had escaped,
but the moment she felt herself free, she was surprised by a sharp twinge
of remorse. She summoned her maid to undress her, and smelt her
favourite perfume, and lay in her bed, to complete her period of rest,
closing her eyes there with a child's faith in pillows. Flying lights
and blood-blotches rushed within a span of her forehead. She met this
symptom promptly with a medical receipt; yet she had no sleep; nor would
coffee give her sleep. She shrank from opium as deleterious to the
constitution, and her mind settled on music as the remedy.
Some time after her craving for it had commenced, an Austrian foot
regiment, marching to the drum, passed under her windows. The fife is a
merry instrument; fife and drum colour the images of battle gaily; but
the dull ringing Austrian step-drum, beating unaccompanied, strikes the
mind with the real nature of battles, as the salt smell of powder strikes
it, and more in horror, more as a child's imagination realizes bloodshed,
where the scene is a rolling heaven, black and red on all sides, with
pitiable men moving up to the mouth of butchery, the insufferable
flashes, the dark illumination of red, red of black, like a vision of the
shadows Life and Death in a shadow-fight over the dear men still living.
Sensitive minds may be excited by a small stimulant to see such pictures.
This regimental drum is like a song of the flat-headed savage in man. It
has no rise or fall, but leads to the bloody business with an unvarying
note, and a savage's dance in the middle of the rhythm. Violetta
listened to it until her heart quickened with alarm lest she should be
going to have a fever. She thought of Carlo Ammiani, and of the name of
Nagen; she had seen him at the Lenkensteins. Her instant supposition was
that Anna had perhaps paid heavily for the secret of Carlo's movements an
purpose to place Major Nagen on the Brescian high-road to capture him.
Capture meant a long imprisonment, if not execution. Partly for the sake
of getting peace of mind--for she was shocked by her temporary inability
to command repose--but with some hope of convincing Carlo that she strove
to be of use to him, she sent for the spy Luigi, and at a cost of two
hundred and twenty Austrian florins, obtained his promise upon oath to
follow Count Ammiani into Brescia, if necessary, and deliver to him a
letter she had written, wherein Nagen's name was mentioned, and Carlo was
advised to avoid personal risks; the letter hinted that he might have
incurred a private enmity, and he had better keep among his friends. She
knew the writing of this letter to be the foolishest thing she had ever
done. Two hundred and twenty florins--the man originally stipulated to
have three hundred--was a large sum to pay for postage. However,
sacrifices must now and then be made for friendship, and for sleep. When
she had paid half the money, her mind was relieved, and she had the
slumber which preserves beauty. Luigi was to be paid the other half on
his return. "He may never return," she thought, while graciously
dismissing him. The deduction by mental arithmetic of the two hundred
and twenty, or the one hundred and ten florins, from the large amount
Countess Anna was bound to pay her in turn, annoyed her, though she knew
it was a trifle. For this lady, Milan, Turin, and Paris sighed deeply.
When he had left Violetta at her house in the Corso, Merthyr walked
briskly for exercise, knowing that he would have need of his health and
strength. He wanted a sight of Alps to wash out the image of the woman
from his mind, and passed the old Marshal's habitation fronting the
Gardens, wishing that he stood in the field against the fine old warrior,
for whom he had a liking. Near the walls he discovered Beppo sitting
pensively with his head between his two fists. Beppo had not seen Count
Ammiani, but he had seen Barto Rizzo, and pointing to the walls, said
that Barto had dropped down there. He had met him hurrying in the Corso
Francesco. Barto took him to the house of Sarpo, the bookseller, who
possessed a small printing-press. Beppo described vividly, with his
usual vivacity of illustration, the stupefaction of the man at the
apparition of his tormentor, whom he thought fast in prison; and how
Barto had compelled him to print a proclamation to the Piedmontese,
Lombards, and Venetians, setting forth that a battle had been fought
South of the Ticino, and that Carlo Alberto was advancing on Milan,
signed with the name of the Piedmontese Pole in command of the king's
army. A second, framed as an order of the day, spoke of victory and the
planting of the green, white and red banner on the Adige, and forward to
"I can hear nothing of Carlo Alberto's victory," Beppo said; "no one has
heard of it. Barto told us how the battle was fought, and the name of
the young lieutenant who discovered the enemy's flank march, and got the
artillery down on him, and pounded him so that--signore, it's amazing!
I'm ready to cry, and laugh, and howl!--fifteen thousand men capitulated
in a heap!"
"Don't you know you've been listening to a madman?" said Merthyr,
irritated, and thoroughly angered to see Beppo's opposition to that view.
"Signore, Barto described the whole battle. It began at five o'clock in
"When it was dark!"
"Yes; when it was dark. He said so. And we sent up rockets, and caught
the enemy coming on, and the cavalry of Alessandria fell upon two
batteries of field guns and carried them off, and Colonel Romboni was
shot in his back, and cries he, 'Best give up the ghost if you're hit in
the rear. Evviva l'Italia!'"
"A Piedmontese colonel, you fool! he would have shouted 'Viva Carlo
Alberto!'" said Merthyr, now critically disgusted with the tale, and
refusing to hear more. Two hours later, he despatched Beppo to Carlo in
Brescia, warning him that for some insane purpose these two proclamations
had been printed by Barto Rizzo, and that they were false.
It was early on the morning of a second day, before sunrise, when
Vittoria sent for Merthyr to conduct her to the cathedral. "There has
been a battle," she said. Her lips hardly joined to frame the syllables
in speech. Merthyr refrained from asking where she had heard of the
battle. As soon as the Duomo doors were open, he led her in and left her
standing shrinking under the great vault with her neck fearfully drawn on
her shoulders, as one sees birds under thunder. He thought that she was
losing courage. Choosing to go out on the steps rather than look on her,
he was struck by the sight of two horsemen, who proved to be Austrian
officers, rattling at racing speed past the Duomo up the Corso. The
sight of them made it seem possible that a battle had been fought. As
soon as he was free, Merthyr went to the Duchess of Graatli, from whom he
had the news of Novara. The officers he had seen were Prince Radocky and
Lieutenant Wilfrid Pierson, the old Marshal's emissaries of victory.
They had made a bet on the bloody field about reaching Milan first, and
the duchess affected to be full of the humour of this bet in order to
conceal her exultation. The Lenkensteins called on her; the Countess of
Lenkenstein, Anna, and Lena; and they were less considerate, and drew
their joy openly from the source of his misery--a dreadful house for
Merthyr to remain in; but he hoped to see Wilfrid, having heard the
duchess rally Lena concerning the deeds of the white umbrella, which,
Lena said, was pierced with balls, and had been preserved for her. "The
dear foolish fellow insisted on marching right into the midst of the
enemy with his absurd white umbrella; and wherever there was danger the
men were seen following it. Prince Radocky told me the whole army was
laughing. How he escaped death was a miracle!" She spoke unaffectedly
of her admiration for the owner, and as Wilfrid came in she gave him
brilliant eyes. He shook Merthyr's hand without looking at him. The
ladies would talk of nothing but the battle, so he went up to Merthyr,
and under pretext of an eager desire for English news, drew him away.
"Her husband was not there? not at Novara, I mean?" he said.
"He's at Brescia," said Merthyr.
"Well, thank goodness he didn't stand in those ranks!"
Wilfrid murmured, puffing thoughtfully over the picture they presented to
Merthyr then tried to hint to him that he had a sort of dull suspicion of
Carlo's being in personal danger, but of what kind he could not say. He
mentioned Weisspriess by name; and Nagen; and Countess Anna. Wilfrid
said, "I'll find out if there's anything, only don't be fancying it. The
man's in a bad hole at Brescia. Weisspriess, I believe, is at Verona.
He's an honourable fellow. The utmost he would do would be to demand a
duel; and I'm sure he's heartily sick of that work. Besides, he and
Countess Anna have quarrelled. Meet me;--by the way, you and I mustn't
be seen meeting, I suppose. The duchess is neutral ground. Come here
to-night. And don't talk of me, but say that a friend asks how she is,
and hopes--the best things you can say for me. I must go up to their
confounded chatter again. Tell her there's no fear, none whatever. You
all hate us, naturally; but you know that Austrian officers are
gentlemen. Don't speak my name to her just yet. Unless, of course, she
should happen to allude to me, which is unlikely. I had a dismal idea
that her husband was at Novara."
The tender-hearted duchess sent a message to Vittoria, bidding her not to
forget that she had promised her at Meran to 'love her always.'
"And tell her," she said to Merthyr, "that I do not think I shall have my
rooms open for the concert to-morrow night. I prefer to let Antonio-
Pericles go mad. She will not surely consider that she is bound by her
promise to him? He drags poor Irma from place to place to make sure the
miserable child is not plotting to destroy his concert, as that man Sarpo
did. Irma is half dead, and hasn't the courage to offend him. She
declares she depends upon him for her English reputation. She has
already caught a violent cold, and her sneezing is frightful. I have
never seen so abject a creature. I have no compassion at the sight of
That night Merthyr heard from Wilfrid that a plot against Carlo Ammiani
did exist. He repeated things he had heard pass between Countess
d'Isorella and Irma in the chamber of Pericles before the late battle.
Modestly confessing that he was 'for some reasons' in high favour with
Countess Lena, he added that after a long struggle he had brought her to
confess that her sister had sworn to have Countess Alessandra Ammiani
begging at her feet.
By mutual consent they went to consult the duchess. She repelled the
notion of Austrian women conspiring. "An Austrian noble lady--do you
think it possible that she would act secretly to serve a private hatred?
Surely I may ask you, for my sake, to think better of us?"
Merthyr showed her an opening to his ground by suggesting that Anna's
antipathy to Victoria might spring more from a patriotic than a private
"Oh! I will certainly make inquiries, if only to save Anna's reputation
with her enemies," the duchess answered rather proudly.
It would have been a Novara to Pericles if Vittoria had refused to sing.
He held the pecuniarily-embarrassed duchess sufficiently in his power to
command a concert at her house; his argument to those who pressed him to
spare Vittoria in a season of grief running seriously, with visible
contempt of their intellects, thus: "A great voice is an ocean. You
cannot drain it with forty dozen opera-hats. It is something found--an
addition to the wealth of this life. Shall we not enjoy what we find?
You do not wear out a picture by looking at it; likewise you do not wear
out a voice by listening to it. A bird has wings;--here is a voice. Why
were they given? I should say, to go into the air. Ah; but not if
grandmother is ill. What is a grandmother to the wings and the voice?
If to sing would kill,--yes, then let the puny thing be silent! But
Sandra Belloni has a soul that has not a husband--except her Art. Her
body is husbanded; but her soul is above her body. You would treat it as
below. Art is her soul's husband! Besides, I have her promise. She is
a girl who will go up to a loaded gun's muzzle if she gives her word.
And besides, her husband may be shot to-morrow. So, all she sings now is
Vittoria sent word to him that she would sing.
In the meantime a change had come upon Countess Anna. Weisspriess, her
hero, appeared at her brother's house, fresh from the field of Novara,
whither he had hurried from Verona on a bare pretext, that was a breach
of military discipline requiring friendly interposition in high quarters.
Unable to obtain an audience with Count Lenkenstein, he remained in the
hall, hoping for things which he affected to care nothing for; and so it
chanced that he saw Lena, who was mindful that her sister had suffered
much from passive jealousy when Wilfrid returned from the glorious field,
and led him to Anna, that she also might rejoice in a hero. Weisspriess
did not refrain from declaring on the way that he would rather charge
against a battery. Some time after, Anna lay in Lena's arms, sobbing out
one of the wildest confessions ever made by woman:--she adored
Weisspriess; she hated Nagen; but was miserably bound to the man she
hated. "Oh! now I know what love is." She repeated this with
transparent enjoyment of the opposing sensations by whose shock the
knowledge was revealed to her.
"How can you be bound to Major Nagan?" asked Lena.
Oh! why? except that I have been possessed by devils."
Anna moaned. "Living among these Italians has distempered my blood."
She exclaimed that she was lost.
"In what way can you be lost?" said Lena.
"I have squandered more than half that I possess. I am almost a beggar.
I am no longer the wealthy Countess Anna. I am much poorer than anyone
"But Major Weisspriess is a man of honour, and if he loves you--"
"Yes; he loves me! he loves me! or would he come to me after I have sent
him against a dozen swords? But he is poor; he must, must marry a
wealthy woman. I used to hate him because I thought he had his eye on
money. I love him for it now. He deserves wealth; he is a matchless
hero. He is more than the first swordsman of our army; he is a knightly
man. Oh my soul Johann!" She very soon fell to raving. Lena was
implored by her to give her hand to Weisspriess in reward for his
heroism--"For you are rich," Anna said; "you will not have to go to him
feeling that you have made him face death a dozen times for your sake,
and that you thank him and reward him by being a whimpering beggar in his
arms. Do, dearest! Will you? Will you, to please me, marry Johann? He
is not unworthy of you." And more of this hysterical hypocrisy, which
brought on fits of weeping. "I have lived among these savages till I
have ceased to be human--forgotten everything but my religion," she said.
"I wanted Weisspriess to show them that they dared not stand up against a
man of us, and to tame the snarling curs. He did. He is brave. He did
as much as a man could do, but I was unappeasable. They seem to have
bitten me till I had a devouring hunger to humiliate them. Lena, will
you believe that I have no hate for Carlo Ammiani or the woman he has
married? None! and yet, what have I done!" Anna smote her forehead.
"They are nothing but little dots on a field for me. I don't care
whether they live or die. It's like a thing done in sleep."
"I want to know what you have done," said Lena caressingly.
"You at least will try to reward our truest hero, and make up to him for
your sister's unkindness, will you not?" Anna replied with a cajolery
wonderfully like a sincere expression of her wishes. "He will be a good
husband.. He has proved it by having been so faithful a--a lover. So
you may be sure of him. And when he is yours, do not let him fight
again, Lena, for I have a sickening presentiment that his next duel is
"Tell me," Lena entreated her, "pray tell me what horrible thing you have
done to prevent your marrying him."
"With their pride and their laughter," Anna made answer; "the fools!
were they to sting us perpetually and not suffer for it? That woman, the
Countess Alessandra, as she's now called--have you forgotten that she
helped our Paul's assassin to escape? was she not eternally plotting
against Austria? And I say that I love Austria. I love my country; I
plot for my country. She and her husband plot, and I plot to thwart
them. I have ruined myself in doing it. Oh, my heart! why has it
commenced beating again? Why did Weisspriess come here? He offended me.
He refused to do my orders, and left me empty-handed, and if he suffers.
too," Anna relieved a hard look with a smile of melancholy, "I hope he
will not; I cannot say more."
"And I'm to console him if he does?" said Lena.
"At least, I shall be out of the way," said Anna. "I have still money
enough to make me welcome in a convent."
"I am to marry him?" Lena persisted, and half induced Anna to act a
feeble part, composed of sobs and kisses and full confession of her
plight. Anna broke from her in time to leave what she had stated of
herself vague and self-justificatory, so that she kept her pride, and
could forgive, as she was ready to do even so far as to ask forgiveness
in turn, when with her awakened enamoured heart she heard Vittoria sing
at the concert of Pericles. Countess Alessandra's divine gift, which she
would not withhold, though in a misery of apprehension; her grave eyes,
which none could accuse of coldness, though they showed no emotion; her
simple noble manner that seemed to lift her up among the forces
threatening her; these expressions of a superior soul moved Anna under
the influence of the incomparable voice to pass over envious contrasts,
and feel the voice and the nature were one in that bosom. Could it be
the same as the accursed woman who had stood before her at Meran? She
could hardly frame the question, but she had the thought sufficiently
firmly to save her dignity; she was affected by very strong emotion when
Vittoria's singing ended, and nothing but the revival of the recollection
of her old contempt preserved her from an impetuous desire to take the
singer by the hand and have all clear between them; for they were now of
equal rank to tolerating eyes. "But she has no religious warmth!" Anna
reflected with a glow of satisfaction. The concert was broken up by
Laura Piaveni. She said out loud that the presence of Major Weisspriess
was intolerable to the Countess Alessandra. It happened that Weisspriess
entered the room while Laura sat studying the effect produced by her
countrywoman's voice on the thick eyelids of Austrian Anna; and Laura,
seeing their enemy ready to weep in acknowledgment of their power,
scorned the power which could never win freedom, and broke up the
sitting, citing the offence of the presence of Weisspriess for a pretext.
The incident threw Anna back upon her old vindictiveness. It caused an
unpleasant commotion in the duchess's saloon. Count Serabiglione was
present, and ran round to Weisspriess, apologizing for his daughter's
behaviour. "Do you think I can't deal with your women as well as your
men, you ass?" said Weisspriess, enraged by the scandal of the scene.
He was overheard by Count Karl Lenkenstein, who took him to task sharply
for his rough speech; but Anna supported her lover, and they joined hands
publicly. Anna went home prostrated with despair. "What conscience is
in me that I should wish one of my Kaiser's officers killed?" she cried
enigmatically to Lena. "But I must have freedom. Oh! to be free. I am
chained to my enemy, and God blesses that woman. He makes her weep, but
he blesses her, for her body is free, and mine,--the thought of mine sets
flames creeping up my limbs as if I were tied to the stake. Losing a
husband you love--what is that to taking a husband you hate?" Still Lena
could get no plain confession from her, for Anna clung to self-
justification, and felt it abandoning her, and her soul fluttering
in a black gulf when she opened her month to disburden herself.
There came tidings of the bombardment of Brescia one of the historic
deeds of infamy. Many officers of the Imperial army perceived the shame
which it cast upon their colours, even in those intemperate hours, and
Karl Lenkenstein assumed the liberty of private friendship to go
complaining to the old Marshal, who was too true a soldier to condemn a
soldier in action, however strong his disapproval of proceedings. The
liberty assumed by Karl was excessive; he spoke out in the midst of
General officers as if his views were shared by them and the Marshal;
and his error was soon corrected; one after another reproached him, until
the Marshal, pitying his condition, sent him into his writing-closet,
where he lectured the youth on military discipline. It chanced that
there followed between them a question upon what the General in command
at Brescia would do with his prisoners; and hearing that they were
subject to the rigours of a court-martial, and if adjudged guilty, would
forthwith summarily be shot, Karl ventured to ask grace for Vittoria's
husband. He succeeded finally in obtaining his kind old Chief's promise
that Count Ammiani should be tried in Milan, and as the bearer of a paper
to that effect, be called on his sisters to get them or Wilfrid to convey
word to Vittoria of her husband's probable safety. He found Anna in a
swoon, and Lena and the duchess bending over her. The duchess's chasseur
Jacob Baumwalder Feckelwitz had been returning from Moran, when on the
Brescian high-road he met the spy Luigi, and acting promptly under the
idea that Luigi was always a pestilential conductor of detestable
correspondence, he attacked him, overthrew him, and ransacked him, and
bore the fruit of his sagacious exertions to his mistress in Milan; it
was Violetta d'Isorella's letter to Carlo Ammiani. "I have read it," the
duchess said; "contrary to any habits when letters are not addressed to
me. I bring it open to your sister Anna. She catches sight of one or
two names and falls down in the state in which you see her."
"Leave her to me," said Karl.
He succeeded in extracting from Anna hints of the fact that she had paid
a large sum of her own money to Countess d'Isorella for secrets connected
with the Bergamasc and Brescian rising. "We were under a mutual oath to
be silent, but if one has broken it the other cannot; so I confess it to
you, dearest good brother. I did this for my country at my personal
Karl believed that he had a sister magnificent in soul. She was glad to
have deluded him, but she could not endure his praises, which painted to
her imagination all that she might have been if she had not dashed her
patriotism with the low cravings of vengeance, making herself like some
abhorrent mediaeval grotesque, composed of eagle and reptile. She was
most eager in entreating him to save Count Ammiani's life. Carlo, she
said, was their enemy, but he had been their friend, and she declared
with singular earnestness that she should never again sleep or hold up
her head, if he were slain or captured.
"My Anna is justified by me in everything she has done," Karl said to the
"In that case," the duchess replied, "I have only to differ with her to
feel your sword's point at my breast."
"I should certainly challenge the man who doubted her," said Karl.
The duchess laughed with a scornful melancholy.
On the steps of the door where his horse stood saddled, he met Wilfrid,
and from this promised brother-in-law received matter for the challenge.
Wilfrid excitedly accused Anna of the guilt of a conspiracy to cause the
destruction of Count Ammiani. In the heat of his admiration for his
sister, Karl struck him on the cheek with his glove, and called him a
name by which he had passed during the days of his disgrace, signifying
one who plays with two parties. Lena's maid heard them arrange to meet
within an hour, and she having been a witness of the altercation, ran to
her mistress in advance of Wilfrid, and so worked on Lena's terrors on
behalf of her betrothed and her brother, that Lena, dropped at Anna's
feet telling her all that she had gathered and guessed in verification of
Wilfrid's charge, and imploring her to confess the truth. Anna, though
she saw her concealment pierced, could not voluntarily forego her
brother's expressed admiration of her, and clung to the tatters of
secresy. After a brief horrid hesitation, she chose to face Wilfrid.
This interview began with lively recriminations, and was resulting in
nothing--for Anna refused to be shaken by his statement that the Countess
d'Isorella had betrayed her, and perceived that she was listening to
suspicions only--when, to give his accusation force, Wilfrid said that
Brescia had surrendered and that Count Ammiani had escaped.
"And I thank God for it!" Anna exclaimed, and with straight frowning eyes
demanded the refutation of her sincerity.
"Count Ammiani and his men have five hours' grace ahead of Major Nagen
and half a regiment," said Wilfrid.
At this she gasped; she had risen her breath to deny or defy, and hung on
the top of it without a voice.
"Tell us--say, but do say--confess that you know Nagen to be a name of
mischief," Lena prayed her.
I will say anything to prevent my brother from running into danger," Anna
"She is most foully accused by one whom we permitted to aspire to be of
our own family," said Karl.
"Yet you, Karl, have always been the first to declare her revengeful,"
Lena turned to him.
"Help, Karl, help me," said Anna.
"Yes! " cried her sister; "there you stand, and ask for help, meanest of
women! Do you think these men are not in earnest? Karl is to help you,
and you will not speak a word to save him from a grave before night, or
me from a lover all of blood."
"Am I to be the sacrifice?" said Anna.
"Whatever you call it, Wilfrid has spoken truth of you, and to none but
members of our family; and he had a right to say it, and you are bound
now to acknowledge it."
"I acknowledge that I love and serve my country, Lena."
"Not with a pure heart: you can't forgive. Insult or a wrong makes a
madwoman of you. Confess, Anna! You know well that you can't kneel to a
priest's ear, for you've stopped your conscience. You have pledged
yourself to misery to satisfy a spite, and you have not the courage to
ask for--" Lena broke her speech like one whose wits have been kindled.
"Yes, Karl," she resumed; "Anna begged you to help her. You will. Take
her aside and save her from being miserable forever. You do mean to
fight my Wilfrid?"
"I am certainly determined to bring him to repentance leaving him the
option of the way," said Karl.
Lena took her sullen sister by the arm.
"Anna, will you let these two men go--to slaughter? Look at them; they
are both our brothers. One is dearer than a brother to me, and, oh God!
I have known what it is to half-lose him. You to lose a lover and have
to go bound by a wretched oath to be the wife of a detestable short-
sighted husband! Oh, what an abominable folly!"
This epithet, 'short-sighted,' curiously forced in by Lena, was like a
shock of the very image of Nagen's needle features thrust against Anna's
eyes; the spasm of revulsion in her frame was too quick for her habitual
At that juncture Weisspriess opened the door, and Anna's eyes met his.
"You don't spare me," she murmured to Lena.
Her voice trembled, and Wilfrid bent his head near her, pressing her
hand, and said, "Not only I, but Countess Alessandra Ammiani exonerates
you from blame. As she loves her country, you love yours. My words to
Karl were an exaggeration of what I know and think. Only tell me this;
--if Nagen captures Count Ammiani, how is he likely to deal with him?"
"How can I inform you?" Anna replied coldly; but she reflected in a fire
of terror. She had given Nagen the prompting of a hundred angry
exclamations in the days of her fever of hatred; she had nevertheless
forgotten their parting words; that is, she had forgotten her mood when
he started for Brescia, and the nature of the last instructions she had
given him. Revolting from the thought of execution being done upon Count
Ammiani, as one quickly springing out of fever dreams, all her white face
went into hard little lines, like the withered snow which wears away in
frost. "Yes," she said; and again, "Yes," to something Weisspriess
whispered in her ear, she knew not clearly what. Weisspriess told
Wilfrid that he would wait below. As he quitted the room, the duchess
entered, and went up to Anna. "My good soul," she said, "you have, I
trust, listened to Major Weisspriess. Oh, Anna! you wanted revenge.
Now take it, as becomes a high-born woman; and let your enemy come to
your feet, and don't spurn her when she is there. Must I inform you that
I have been to Countess d'Isorella myself with a man who can compel her
to speak? But Anna von Lenkenstein is not base like that Italian. Let
them think of you as they will, I believe you to have a great heart. I
am sure you will not allow personal sentiment to sully your devotion to
our country. Show them that our Austrian faces can be bright; and meet
her whom you call your enemy; you cannot fly. You must see her, or you
betray yourself. The poor creature's husband is in danger of capture or
While the duchess's stern under-breath ran on hurriedly, convincing Anna
that she had, with no further warning, to fall back upon her uttermost
strength--the name of Countess Alessandra Ammiani was called at the door.
Instinctively the others left a path between Vittoria and Anna. It was
one of the moments when the adoption of a decisive course says more in
vindication of conduct than long speeches. Anna felt that she was on her
trial. For the first time since she had looked on this woman she noticed
the soft splendour of Vittoria's eyes, and the harmony of her whole
figure; nor was the black dress of protesting Italian mourning any longer
offensive in her sight, but on a sudden pitiful, for Anna thought: "It
may at this very hour be for her husband, and she not knowing it." And
with that she had a vision under her eyelids of Nagen like a shadowy
devil in pursuit of men flying, and striking herself and Vittoria worse
than dead in one blow levelled at Carlo Ammiani. A sense of supernatural
horror chilled her blood when she considered again, facing her enemy,
that their mutual happiness was by her own act involved in the fate of
one life. She stepped farther than the half-way to greet her visitor,
whose hands she took. Before a word was uttered between them, she turned
to her brother, and with a clear voice said:
"Karl, the Countess Alessandra's husband, our old, friend Carlo Ammiani,
may need succour in his flight. Try to cross it; or better, get among
those who are pursuing him; and don't delay one minute. You understand
Count Karl bowed his head, bitterly humbled.
Anna's eyes seemed to interrogate Vittoria, "Can I do, more?" but her
own heart answered her.
Inveterate when following up her passion for vengeance, she was fanatical
in responding to the suggestions of remorse.
"Stay; I will despatch Major Weisspriess in my own name," she said. "He
is a trusty messenger, and he knows those mountains. Whoever is the
officer broken for aiding Count Ammiani's escape, he shall be rewarded by
me to the best of my ability. Countess Alessandra, I have anticipated
your petition; I hope you may not have to reproach me. Remember that my
country was in pieces when you and I declared war. You will not suffer
without my suffering tenfold. Perhaps some day you will do me the favour
to sing to me, when there is no chance of interruption. At present it is
cruel to detain you."
Vittoria said simply: "I thank you, Countess Anna."
She was led out by Count Karl to where Merthyr awaited her. All wondered
at the briefness of a scene that had unexpectedly brought the crisis to
many emotions and passions, as the broken waters of the sea beat together
and make here or there the wave which is topmost. Anna's grand
initiative hung in their memories like the throbbing of a pulse, so hotly
their sensations swarmed about it, and so intensely it embraced and led
what all were desiring. The duchess kissed Anna, saying:
"That is a noble heart to which you have become reconciled. Though you
should never be friends, as I am with one of them, you will esteem her.
Do not suppose her to be cold. She is the mother of an unborn little
one, and for that little one's sake she follows out every duty; she
checks every passion in her bosom. She will spare no sacrifice to save
her husband, but she has brought her mind to look at the worst, for fear
that a shock should destroy her motherly guard."
"Really, duchess," Anna replied, "these are things for married women to
hear;" and she provoked some contempt of her conventional delicacy, at
the same time that in her imagination the image of Vittoria struggling to
preserve this burden of motherhood against a tragic mischance, completely
humiliated and overwhelmed her, as if nature had also come to add to her
"I am ready to confess everything I have done, and to be known for what I
am," she said.
"Confess no more than is necessary, but do everything you can; that's
wisest," returned the duchess.
"Ah; you mean that you have nothing to learn." Anna shuddered.
"I mean that you are likely to run into the other extreme of disfavouring
yourself just now, my child. And," continued the duchess, "you have
behaved so splendidly that I won't think ill of you."
Before the day darkened, Wilfrid obtained, through Prince Radocky's
influence, an order addressed to Major Nagen for the surrender of
prisoners into his hands. He and Count Karl started for the Val Camonica
on the chance of intercepting the pursuit. These were not much wiser
than their guesses and their apprehensions made them; but Weisspriess
started on the like errand after an interview with Anna, and he had drawn
sufficient intelligence out of sobs, and broken sentences, and torture of
her spirit, to understand that if Count Ammiani fell alive or dead into
Nagen's hands, Nagen by Anna's scrupulous oath, had a claim on her person
and her fortune: and he knew Nagen to be a gambler. As he was now by
promotion of service Nagen's superior officer, and a near relative of the
Brescian commandant, who would be induced to justify his steps, his
object was to reach and arbitrarily place himself over Nagen, as if upon
a special mission, and to get the lead of the expedition. For that
purpose he struck somewhat higher above the Swiss borders than Karl and
Wilfrid, and gained a district in the mountains above the vale, perfectly
familiar to him. Obeying directions forwarded to her by Wilfrid,
Vittoria left Milan for the Val Camonica no later than the evening; Laura
was with her in the carriage; Merthyr took horse after them as soon as he
had succeeded in persuading Countess Ammiani to pardon her daughter's
last act of wilfulness, and believe that, during the agitation of
unnumbered doubts, she ran less peril in the wilds where her husband
fled, than in her home.
"I will trust to her idolatrously, as you do," Countess Ammiani said;
"and perhaps she has already proved to me that I may."
Merthyr saw Agostino while riding out of Milan, and was seen by him; but
the old man walked onward, looking moodily on the stones, and merely
waved his hand behind.
There is hard winter overhead in the mountains when Italian Spring walks
the mountain-sides with flowers, and hangs deep valley-walls with flowers
half fruit; the sources of the rivers above are set about with fangs of
ice, while the full flat stream runs to a rose of sunlight. High among
the mists and snows were the fugitives of Brescia, and those who for love
or pity struggled to save them wandered through the blooming vales,
sometimes hearing that they had crossed the frontier into freedom, and as
often that they were scattered low in death and captivity. Austria here,
Switzerland yonder, and but one depth between to bound across and win
calm breathing. But mountain might call to mountain, peak shine to peak;
a girdle of steel drove the hunted men back to frosty heights and clouds,
the shifting bosom of snows and lightnings. They saw nothing of hands
stretched out to succour. They saw a sun that did not warm them, a home
of exile inaccessible, crags like an earth gone to skeleton in hungry
air; and below, the land of their birth, beautiful, and sown everywhere
for them with torture and captivity, or death, the sweetest. Fifteen men
numbered the escape from Brescia. They fought their way twice through
passes of the mountains, and might easily, in their first dash Northward
from the South-facing hills, have crossed to the Valtelline and Engadine,
but that in their insanity of anguish they meditated another blow, and
were readier to march into the plains with the tricolour than to follow
any course of flight. When the sun was no longer in their blood they
thought of reason and of rest; they voted the expedition to Switzerland,
that so they should get round to Rome, and descended from the crags of
the Tonale, under which they were drawn to an ambush, suffering three of
their party killed, and each man bloody with wounds. The mountain
befriended them, and gave them safety, as truth is given by a bitter
friend. Among icy crags and mists, where the touch of life grows dull as
the nail of a fore-finger, the features of the mountain were stamped on
them, and with hunger they lost pride, and with solitude laughter; with
endless fleeing they lost the aim of flight; some became desperate, a few
craven. Companionship was broken before they parted in three bodies,
commanded severally by Colonel Corte, Carlo Ammiani, and Barto Rizzo.
Corte reached the plains, masked by the devotion of Carlo's band, who
lured the soldiery to a point and drew a chase, while Corte passed the
line and pushed on for Switzerland. Carlo told off his cousin Angelo
Guidascarpi in the list of those following Corte; but when he fled up to
the snows again, he beheld Angelo spectral as the vapour on a jut of rock
awaiting him. Barto Rizzo had chosen his own way, none knew whither.
Carlo, Angelo, Marco Sana, and a sharply-wounded Brescian lad, conceived
the scheme of traversing the South Tyrol mountain-range toward Friuli,
whence Venice, the still-breathing republic, might possibly be gained.
They carried the boy in turn till his arms drooped long down, and when
they knew the soul was out of him they buried him in snow, and thought
him happy. It was then that Marco Sana took his death for an omen, and
decided them to turn their heads once more for Switzerland; telling them
that the boy, whom he last had carried, uttered "Rome" with the flying
breath. Angelo said that Sana would get to Rome; and Carlo, smiling on
Angelo, said they were to die twins though they had been born only
cousins. The language they had fallen upon was mystical, scarce
intelligible to other than themselves. On a clear morning, with the
Swiss peaks in sight, they were condemned by want of food to quit their
fastness for the valley.
Vittoria read the faces of the mornings as human creatures base tried to
gather the sum of their destinies off changing surfaces, fair not meaning
fair, nor black black, but either the mask upon the secret of God's
terrible will; and to learn it and submit, was the spiritual burden of
her motherhood, that the child leaping with her heart might live. Not to
hope blindly, in the exceeding anxiousness of her passionate love, nor
blindly to fear; not to bet her soul fly out among the twisting chances;
not to sap her great maternal duty by affecting false stoical serenity:--
to nurse her soul's strength, and suckle her womanly weakness with the
tsars which are poison--when repressed; to be at peace with a disastrous
world for the sake of the dependent life unborn; lay such pure efforts
she clung to God. Soft dreams of sacred nuptial tenderness, tragic
images, wild pity, were like phantoms encircling her, plucking at her as
she went, lest they were beneath her feet, and she kept them from lodging
between her breasts. The thought that her husband, though he should have
perished, was not a life lost if their child lived, sustained her
powerfully. It seemed to whisper at times almost as it were Carlo's
ghost breathing in her ears: "On thee!" On her the further duty devolved;
and she trod down hope, lest it should build her up and bring a shock to
surprise her fortitude; she put back alarm.
The mountains and the valleys scarce had names for her understanding;
they were but a scene where the will of her Maker was at work. Rarely
has a soul been so subjected to its own force. She certainly had the
image of God in her mind.
Yet when her ayes lingered on any mountain gorge, the fate of her husband
sang within it a strange chant, ending in a key that rang sounding
through all her being, and seemed to question heaven. This music framed
itself; it was still when she looked at the shrouded mountain-tops. A
shadow meting sunlight on the long green slopes aroused it, and it hummed
above the tumbling hasty foam, and penetrated hanging depths of foliage,
sad-hued rock-clefts, dark green ravines; it became convulsed where the
mountain threw forward in a rushing upward line against the sky, there to
be severed at the head by cloud. It was silent among the vines.
Most painfully did human voices affect her when she had this music;
speech was a scourge to her sense of hearing, and touch distressed her:
an edge of purple flame would then unfold the vision of things to her
eyes. She had lost memory; and if by hazard unawares one idea was
projected by some sudden tumult of her enslaved emotions beyond known and
visible circumstances, her intelligence darkened with am oppressive dread
like that of zealots of the guilt of impiety.
Thus destitute, her eye took innumerable pictures sharp as on a brass-
plate: torrents, goat-tracks winding up red earth, rocks veiled with
water, cottage and children, strings of villagers mounting to the church,
one woman kneeling before a wayside cross, her basket at her back, and
her child gazing idly by; perched hamlets, rolling pasture-fields, the
vast mountain lines. She asked all that she saw, "Does he live?" but
the life was out of everything, and these shows told of no life, neither
of joy nor of grief. She could only distantly connect the appearance of
the white-coated soldiery with the source of her trouble. They were no
more than figures on a screen that hid the flashing of the sword which
renders dumb. She had charity for one who was footsore and sat
cherishing his ankle by a village spring, and she fed him, and not until
he was far behind, thought that he might have seen the white face of her
Accurate tidings could not be obtained, though the whole course of the
vale was full of stories of escapes, conflicts, and captures. Merthyr
learnt positively that some fugitives had passed the cordon. He came
across Wilfrid and Count Karl, who both verified it in the most sanguine
manner. They knew, however, that Major Nagen continued in the mountains.
Riding by a bend of the road, Merthyr beheld a man playing among
children, with one hand and his head down apparently for concealment at
his approach. It proved to be Beppo. The man believed that Count
Ammiani had fled to Switzerland. Barto Rizzo, he said, was in the
mountains still, and Beppo invoked damnation on him, as the author of
those lying proclamations which had ruined Brescia. He had got out of
the city later than the others and was seeking to evade the outposts,
that he might join his master--"that is, my captain, for I have only one
master;" he corrected the slip of his tongue appealingly to Merthyr. His
left hand was being continually plucked at by the children while he
talked, and after Merthyr had dispersed them with a shower of small coin,
he showed the hand, saying, glad of eye, that it had taken a sword-cut
intended for Count Ammiani. Merthyr sent him back to mount the carriage,
enjoining him severely not to speak.
When Carlo and his companions descended from the mountains, they entered
a village where there was an inn recognized by Angelo as the abode of
Jacopo Cruchi. He there revived Carlo's animosity toward Weisspriess by
telling the tale of the passage to Meran, and his good reasons for
determining to keep guard over the Countess Alessandra all the way.
Subsequently Angelo went to Jacopo for food. This he procured, but he
was compelled to leave the man behind, and unpaid. It was dark when he
left the inn; he had some difficulty in evading a flock of whitecoats,
and his retreat from the village was still on the Austrian side.
Somewhat about midnight Merthyr reached the inn, heralding the carriage.
As Jacopo caught sight of Vittoria's face, he fell with his shoulders
straightened against the wall, and cried out loudly that he had betrayed
no one, and mentioned Major Weisspriess by name as having held the point
of his sword at him and extracted nothing better than a nave of the hand
and a lie; in other words, that the fugitives had retired to the Tyrolese
mountains, and that he had shammed ignorance of who they were. Merthyr
read at a glance that Jacopo had the large swallow and calm digestion for
bribes, and getting the fellow alone he laid money in view, out of which,
by doubling the sum to make Jacopo correct his first statement, and then
by threatening to withdraw it altogether, he gained knowledge of the fact
that Angelo Guidascarpi had recently visited the inn, and had started
from it South-eastward, and that Major Weisspriess was following on his
track. He wrote a line of strong entreaty to Weisspriess, lest that
officer should perchance relapse into anger at the taunts of prisoners
abhorring him with the hatred of Carlo and Angelo. At the same time he
gave Beppo a considerable supply of money, and then sent him off, armed
as far as possible to speed Count Ammiani safe across the borders, if a
fugitive; or if a prisoner, to ensure the best which could be hoped for
him from an adversary become generous. That evening Vittoria lay with
her head on Laura's lap, and the pearly little crescent of her ear in
moonlight by the window. So fair and young and still she looked that
Merthyr feared for her, and thought of sending her back to Countess
Her first question with the lifting of her eyelids was if he had ceased
to trust to her courage.
"No," said Merthyr; "there are bounds to human strength; that is all."
She answered: "There would be to mine--if I had not more than human
strength beside me. I bow my head, dearest; it is that. I feel that I
cannot break down as long as I know what is passing. Does my husband
"Yes, he lives," said Merthyr; and she gave him her hand, and went to her
He learnt from Laura that when Beppo mounted the carriage in silence, a
fit of ungovernable wild trembling had come on her, broken at intervals
by a cry that something was concealed. Laura could give no advice; she
looked on Merthyr and Vittoria as two that had an incomprehensible
knowledge of the power of one another's natures, and the fiery creature
remained passive in perplexity of minds as soft an attendant as a
suffering woman could have:
Merthyr did not sleep, and in the morning Vittoria said to him, "You want
to be active, my friend. Go, and we will wait for you here. I know that
I am never deceived by you, and when I see you I know that the truth
speaks and bids me be worthy of it Go up there," she pointed with shut
eyes at the mountains; "leave me to pray for greater strength. I am
among Italians at this inn; and shall spend money here; the poor people
love it." She smiled a little, showing a glimpse of her old charitable
Merthyr counselled Laura that in case of evil tidings during his absence
she should reject her feminine ideas of expediency, and believe that she
was speaking to a brave soul firmly rooted in the wisdom of heaven.
"Tell her?--she will die," said Laura, shuddering.
"Get tears from her," Merthyr rejoined; "but hide nothing from her for a
single instant; keep her in daylight. For God's sake, keep her in
"It's too sharp a task for me." She repeated that she was incapable of
"Ah," said he, "look at your Italy, how she weeps! and she has cause.
She would die in her grief, if she had no faith for what is to come.
I dare say it is not, save in the hearts of one or two, a conscious
faith, but it's real divine strength; and Alessandra Ammiani has it.
Do as I bid you. I return in two days."
Without understanding him, Laura promised that she would do her utmost to
obey, and he left her muttering to herself as if she were schooling her
lips to speak reluctant words. He started for the mountains with
gladdened limbs, taking a guide, who gave his name as Lorenzo, and talked
of having been 'out' in the previous year. "I am a patriot, signore!
and not only in opposition to my beast of a wife, I assure you: a
downright patriot, I mean." Merthyr was tempted to discharge him at
first, but controlled his English antipathy to babblers, and discovered
him to be a serviceable fellow. Toward nightfall they heard shots up a
rock-strewn combe of the lower slopes; desultory shots indicating rifle-
firing at long range. Darkness made them seek shelter in a pine-hut;
starting from which at dawn, Lorenzo ran beating about like a dog over
the place where the shots had sounded on the foregoing day; he found a
stone spotted with blood. Not far from the stone lay a military glove
that bore brown-crimson finger-ends. They were striking off to a dairy-
but for fresh milk, when out of a crevice of rock overhung by shrubs a
man's voice called, and Merthyr climbing up from perch to perch, saw
Marco Sana lying at half length, shot through hand and leg. From him
Merthyr learnt that Carlo and Angelo had fled higher up; yesterday they
had been attacked by coming who tried to lure there to surrender by
coming forward at the head of his men and offering safety, and "other
gabble," said Marco. He offered a fair shot at his heart, too, while he
stood below a rock that Marco pointed at gloomily as a hope gone for
ever; but Carlo would not allow advantage to be taken of even the
treacherous simulation of chivalry, and only permitted firing after he
had returned to his men. "I was hit here and here," said Marco, touching
his wounds, as men can hardly avoid doing when speaking of the fresh
wound. Merthyr got him on his feet, put money in his pocket, and led him
off the big stones painfully. "They give no quarter," Marco assured him,
and reasoned that it must be so, for they had not taken him prisoner,
though they saw him fall, and ran by or in view of him in pursuit of
Carlo. By this Merthyr was convinced that Weisspriess meant well. He
left his guide in charge of Marco to help him into the Engadine. Greatly
to his astonishment, Lorenzo tossed the back of his hand at the offer of
money. "There shall be this difference between me and my wife," he
remarked; "and besides, gracious signore, serving my countrymen for
nothing, that's for love, and the Tedeschi can't punish me for it, so
it's one way of cheating them, the wolves! "Merthyr shook his hand and
said, "Instead of my servant, be my friend;" and Lorenzo made no feeble
mouth, but answered, "Signore, it is much to my honour," and so they went
Left to himself Merthyr set step vigorously upward. Information from
herdsmen told him that he was an hour off the foot of one of the passes.
He begged them to tell any hunted men who might come within hail that a
friend ran seeking them. Farther up, while thinking of the fine nature
of that Lorenzo, and the many men like him who could not by the very
existence of nobility in their bosoms suffer their country to go through
another generation of servitude, his heart bounded immensely, for he
heard a shout and his name, and he beheld two figures on a rock near the
gorge where the mountain opened to its heights. But they were not Carlo
and Angelo. They were Wilfrid and Count Karl, the latter of whom had
discerned him through a telescope. They had good news to revive him,
however: good at least in the main. Nagen had captured Carlo and Angelo,
they believed; but they had left Weisspriess near on Nagen's detachment,
and they furnished sound military reasons to show why, if Weisspriess
favoured the escape, they should not be present. They supposed that they
were not half-a-mile from the scene in the pass where Nagen was being
forcibly deposed from his authority: Merthyr borrowed Count Karl's glass,
and went as they directed him round a bluff of the descending hills, that
faced the vale, much like a blown and beaten sea-cliff. Wilfrid and Karl
were so certain of Count Ammiani's safety, that their only thought was to
get under good cover before nightfall, and haply into good quarters,
where the three proper requirements of the soldier-meat, wine, and
tobacco--might be furnished to them. After an imperative caution that
they should not present themselves before the Countess Alessandra,
Merthyr sped quickly over the broken ground. How gaily the two young men
cheered to him as he hurried on! He met a sort of pedlar turning the
bluntfaced mountain-spur, and this man said, "Yes, sure enough, prisoners
had been taken," and he was not aware of harm having been done to them;
he fancied there was a quarrel between two captains. His plan being
always to avoid the military, he had slunk round and away from them as
fast as might be. An Austrian common soldier, a good-humoured German,
distressed by a fall that had hurt his knee-cap, sat within the gorge,
which was very wide at the mouth. Merthyr questioned him, and he, while
mending one of his gathered cigar-ends, pointed to a meadow near the
beaten track, some distance up the rocks. Whitecoats stood thick on it.
Merthyr lifted his telescope and perceived an eager air about the men,
though they stood ranged in careless order. He began to mount forthwith,
but amazed by a sudden ringing of shot, he stopped, asking himself in
horror whether it could be an execution. The shots and the noise
increased, until the confusion of a positive mellay reigned above. The
fall of the meadow swept to a bold crag right over the pathway, and with
a projection that seen sideways made a vulture's head and beak of it.
There rolled a corpse down the precipitous wave of green grass on to the
crag, where it lodged, face to the sky; sword dangled from swordknot at
one wrist, heels and arms were in the air, and the body caught midway
hung poised and motionless. The firing deadened. Then Merthyr drawing
nearer beneath the crag, saw one who had life in him slipping down toward
the body, and knew the man for Beppo. Beppo knocked his hands together
and groaned miserably, but flung himself astride the beak of the crag,
and took the body in his arms, sprang down with it, and lay stunned at
Merthyr's feet. Merthyr looked on the face of Carlo Ammiani.
No uncontested version of the tragedy of Count Ammiani's death passed
current in Milan during many years. With time it became disconnected
from passion, and took form in a plain narrative. He and Angelo were
captured by Major Nagen, and were, as the soldiers of the force
subsequently let it be known, roughly threatened with what he termed I
'Brescian short credit.' The appearance of Major Weisspriess and his
claim to the command created a violent discussion between the two
officers. For Nagen, by all military rules, could well contest it.
But Weisspriess had any body of the men of the army under his charm,
and seeing the ascendency he gained with them over an unpopular officer,
he dared the stroke for the charitable object he had in view. Having
established his command, in spite of Nagen's wrathful protests and
menaces, he spoke to the prisoners, telling Carlo that for his wife's
sake he should be spared, and Angelo that he must expect the fate of a
murderer. His address to them was deliberate, and quite courteous: he
expressed himself sorry that a gallant gentleman like Angelo Guidascarpi
should merit a bloody grave, but so it was. At the same time he
entreated Count Ammiani to rely on his determination to save him. Major
Nagen did not stand far removed from them. Carlo turned to him and
repeated the words of Weisspriess; nor could Angelo restrain his cousin's
vehement renunciation of hope and life in doing this. He accused
Weisspriess of a long evasion of a brave man's obligation to repair an
injury, charged him with cowardice, and requested Major Nagen, as a man
of honour, to drag his brother officer to the duel. Nagen then said that
Major Weisspriess was his superior, adding that his gallant brother
officer had only of late objected to vindicate his reputation with his
sword. Stung finally beyond the control of an irritable temper,
Weisspriess walked out of sight of the soldiery with Carlo, to whom, at a
special formal request from Weisspriess, Nagen handed his sword. Again
he begged Count Ammiani to abstain from fighting; yea, to strike him and
disable him, and fly, rather--than provoke the skill of his right hand.
Carlo demanded his cousin's freedom. It was denied to him, and Carlo
claimed his privilege. The witnesses of the duel were Jenna and another
young subaltern: both declared it fair according to the laws of honour,
when their stupefaction on beholding the proud swordsman of the army
stretched lifeless on the brown leaves of the past year left them with
power to speak. Thus did Carlo slay his old enemy who would have served
as his friend. A shout of rescue was heard before Carlo had yielded up
his weapon. Four haggard and desperate men, headed by Barto Rizzo, burst
from an ambush on the guard encircling Angelo. There, with one thought
of saving his doomed cousin and comrade, Carlo rushed, and not one
Italian survived the fight.
An unarmed spectator upon the meadow-borders, Beppo, had but obscure
glimpses of scenes shifting like a sky in advance of hurricane winds.
Merthyr delivered the burden of death to Vittoria. Her soul had crossed
the darkness of the river of death in that quiet agony preceding the
revelation of her Maker's will, and she drew her dead husband to her
bosom and kissed him on the eyes and the forehead, not as one who had
quite gone away from her, but as one who lay upon another shore whither
she would come. The manful friend, ever by her side, saved her by his
absolute trust in her fortitude to bear the burden of the great sorrow
undeceived, and to walk with it to its last resting-place on earth
unobstructed. Clear knowledge of her, the issue of reverent love,
enabled him to read her unequalled strength of nature, and to rely on her
fidelity to her highest mortal duty in a conflict with extreme despair.
She lived through it as her Italy had lived through the hours which
brought her face to face with her dearest in death; and she also on the
day, ten years later, when an Emperor and a King stood beneath the vault
of the grand Duomo, and the organ and a peal of voices rendered thanks to
heaven for liberty, could show the fruit of her devotion in the dark-eyed
boy, Carlo Merthyr Ammiani, standing between Merthyr and her, with old
blind Agostino's hands upon his head. And then once more, and but for
once, her voice was heard in Milan.
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