Part 3 out of 11
The spirit of her dead husband had come to her from the grave, and warmed
a frame previously indifferent to anything save his personal merits. It
had been covertly communicated to her that if she performed due
submission to the authorities, and lived for six months in good legal,
that is to say, nonpatriotic odour, she might hope to have the estates.
The duchess had obtained this mercy for her, and it was much; for
Giacomo's scheme of revolt had been conceived with a subtlety of genius,
and contrived on a scale sufficient to incense any despotic lord of such
a glorious milch-cow as Lombardy. Unhappily the signora was more
inspired by the remembrance of her husband than by consideration for her
children. She received disaffected persons: she subscribed her money
ostentatiously for notoriously patriotic purposes; and she who, in her
father's Como villa, had been a shy speechless girl, nothing more than
beautiful, had become celebrated for her public letters, and the ardour
of declamation against the foreigner which characterized her style. In
the face of such facts, the estates continued to be withheld from her
governance. Austria could do that: she could wreak her spite against the
woman, but she respected her own law even in a conquered land: the
estates were not confiscated, and not absolutely sequestrated; and,
indeed, money coming from them had been sent to her for the education of
her children. It lay in unopened official envelopes, piled one upon
another, quarterly remittances, horrible as blood of slaughter in her
sight. Count Serabiglione made a point of counting the packets always
within the first five minutes of a visit to his daughter. He said
nothing, but was careful to see to the proper working of the lock of the
cupboard where the precious deposits were kept, and sometimes in
forgetfulness he carried off the key. When his daughter reclaimed it,
she observed, 'Pray believe me quite as anxious as yourself to preserve
these documents.' And the count answered, 'They represent the estates,
and are of legal value, though the amount is small. They represent your
protest, and the admission of your claim. They are priceless.'
In some degree, also, they compensated him for the expense he was put to
in providing for his daughter's subsistence and that of her children.
For there, at all events, visible before his eyes, was the value of the
money, if not the money expended. He remonstrated with Laura for leaving
it more than necessarily exposed. She replied,
'My people know what that money means!' implying, of course, that no one
in her house would consequently touch it. Yet it was reserved for the
count to find it gone.
The discovery was made by the astounded nobleman on the day preceding
Vittoria's appearance at La Scala. His daughter being absent, he had
visited the cupboard merely to satisfy an habitual curiosity. The
cupboard was open, and had evidently been ransacked. He rang up the
domestics, and would have charged them all with having done violence to
the key, but that on reflection he considered this to be a way of binding
faggots together, and he resolved to take them one by one, like the
threading Jesuit that he was, and so get a Judas. Laura's return saved
him from much exercise of his peculiar skill. She, with a cool 'Ebbene!'
asked him how long he had expected the money to remain there. Upon
which, enraged, he accused her of devoting the money to the accursed
patriotic cause. And here they came to a curious open division.
'Be content, my father,' she said; 'the money is my husband's, and is
expended on his behalf.'
'You waste it among the people who were the cause of his ruin!' her
'You presume me to have returned it to the Government, possibly?'
'I charge you with tossing it to your so-called patriots.'
'Sir, if I have done that, I have done well.'
'Hear her!' cried the count to the attentive ceiling; and addressing her
with an ironical 'madame,' he begged permission to inquire of her whether
haply she might be the person in the pay of Revolutionists who was about
to appear at La Scala, under the name of the Signorina Vittoria. 'For
you are getting dramatic in your pose, my Laura,' he added, familiarizing
the colder tone of his irony. 'You are beginning to stand easily in
attitudes of defiance to your own father.'
'That I may practise how to provoke a paternal Government, you mean,' she
rejoined, and was quite a match for him in dialectics.
The count chanced to allude further to the Signorina Vittoria.
'Do you know much of that lady?' she asked.
'As much as is known,' said he.
They looked at one another; the count thinking, 'I gave to this girl an
excess of brains, in my folly!'
Compelled to drop his eyes, and vexed by the tacit defeat, he pursued,
'You expect great things from her?'
'Great,' said his daughter.
'Well, well,' he murmured acquiescingly, while sounding within himself
for the part to play. 'Well-yes! she may do what you expect.'
'There is not the slightest doubt of her capacity,' said his daughter, in
a tone of such perfect conviction that the count was immediately and
irresistibly tempted to play the part of sagacious, kindly, tolerant but
foreseeing father; and in this becoming character he exposed the risks
her party ran in trusting anything of weight to a woman. Not that he
decried women. Out of their sphere he did not trust them, and he simply
objected to them when out of their sphere: the last four words being
'But we trust her to do what she has undertaken to do,' said Laura.
The count brightened prodigiously from his suspicion to a certainty; and
as he was still smiling at the egregious trap his clever but unskilled
daughter had fallen into, he found himself listening incredulously to her
plain additional sentence:--
'She has easy command of three octaves.'
By which the allusion was transformed from politics to Art. Had Laura
reserved this cunning turn a little further, yielding to the natural
temptation to increase the shock of the antithetical battery, she would
have betrayed herself: but it came at the right moment: the count gave up
his arms. He told her that this Signorina Vittoria was suspected. 'Whom
will they not suspect!' interjected Laura. He assured her that if a
conspiracy had ripened it must fail. She was to believe that he abhorred
the part of a spy or informer, but he was bound, since she was reckless,
to watch over his daughter; and also bound, that he might be of service
to her, to earn by service to others as much power as he could reasonably
hope to obtain. Laura signified that he argued excellently well. In a
fit of unjustified doubt of her sincerity, he complained, with a
'You have your own ideas; you have your own ideas. You think me this and
that. A man must be employed.'
'And this is to account for your occupation?' she remarked.
'Employed, I say!' the count reiterated fretfully. He was unmasking to
no purpose, and felt himself as on a slope, having given his adversary
'So that there is no choice for you, do you mean?'
The count set up a staggering affirmative, but knocked it over with its
natural enemy as soon as his daughter had said, 'Not being for Italy, you
must necessarily be against her:--I admit that to be the position!'
'No!' he cried; 'no: there is no question of "for" or "against," as you
are aware. "Italy, and not Revolution": that is my motto.'
'Or, in other words, "The impossible,"' said Laura. 'A perfect motto!'
Again the count looked at her, with the remorseful thought: 'I certainly
gave you too much brains.'
He smiled: 'If you could only believe it not impossible!'
'Do you really imagine that "Italy without Revolution" does not mean
"Austria"?' she inquired.
She had discovered how much he, and therefore his party, suspected, and
now she had reasons for wishing him away. Not daring to show symptoms of
restlessness, she offered him the chance of recovering himself on the
crutches of an explanation. He accepted the assistance, praising his
wits for their sprightly divination, and went through a long-winded
statement of his views for the welfare of Italy, quoting his favourite
Berni frequently, and forcing the occasion for that jolly poet. Laura
gave quiet attention to all, and when he was exhausted at the close, said
meditatively, 'Yes. Well; you are older. It may seem to you that I
shall think as you do when I have had a similar, or the same, length of
This provoking reply caused her father to jump up from his chair and spin
round for his hat. She rose to speed him forth.
'It may seem to me!' he kept muttering. 'It may seem to me that when a
daughter gets married--addio! she is nothing but her husband.'
'Ay! ay! if it might be so!' the signora wailed out.
The count hated tears, considering them a clog to all useful machinery.
He was departing, when through the open window a noise of scuffling in
the street below arrested him.
'Has it commenced?' he said, starting.
'What?' asked the signora, coolly; and made him pause.
'But-but-but!' he answered, and had the grace to spare her ears. The
thought in him was: 'But that I had some faith in my wife, and don't
admire the devil sufficiently, I would accuse him point-blank, for, by
Bacchus! you are as clever as he.'
It is a point in the education of parents that they should learn to
apprehend humbly the compliment of being outwitted by their own
Count Serabiglione leaned out of the window and saw that his horses were
safe and the coachman handy. There were two separate engagements going
on between angry twisting couples.
'Is there a habitable town in Italy?' the count exclaimed frenziedly.
First he called to his coachman to drive away, next to wait as if nailed
to the spot. He cursed the revolutionary spirit as the mother of vices.
While he was gazing at the fray, the door behind him opened, as he knew
by the rush of cool air which struck his temples. He fancied that his
daughter was hurrying off in obedience to a signal, and turned upon her
just as Laura was motioning to a female figure in the doorway to retire.
'Who is this?' said the count.
A veil was over the strange lady's head. She was excited, and breathed
quickly. The count brought forward a chair to her, and put on his best
court manner. Laura caressed her, whispering, ere she replied: 'The
Signorina Vittoria Romana!--Biancolla!--Benarriva!' and numerous other
names of inventive endearment. But the count was too sharp to be thrown
off the scent. 'Aha!' he said, 'do I see her one evening before the term
appointed?' and bowed profoundly. 'The Signorina Vittoria!'
She threw up her veil.
'Success is certain,' he remarked and applauded, holding one hand as a
snuff-box for the fingers of the other to tap on.
'Signor Conte, you--must not praise me before you have heard me.'
'To have seen you!'
'The voice has a wider dominion, Signor Conte.'
'The fame of the signorina's beauty will soon be far wider. Was Venus a
She blushed, being unable to continue this sort of Mayfly-shooting
dialogue, but her first charming readiness had affected the proficient
social gentleman very pleasantly, and with fascinated eyes he hummed and
buzzed about her like a moth at a lamp. Suddenly his head dived:
'Nothing, nothing, signorina,' he said, brushing delicately at her dress;
'I thought it might be paint.' He smiled to reassure her, and then he
dived again, murmuring: 'It must be something sticking to the dress.
Pardon me.' With that he went to the bell. 'I will ring up my
daughter's maid. Or Laura--where is Laura?'
The Signora Piaveni had walked to the window. This antiquated fussiness
of the dilettante little nobleman was sickening to her.
'Probably you expect to discover a revolutionary symbol in the lines of
the signorina's dress,' she said.
'A revolutionary symbol!--my dear! my dear!' The count reproved his
daughter. 'Is not our signorina a pure artist, accomplishing easily
three octaves? aha! Three!' and he rubbed his hands. 'But, three good
octaves!' he addressed Vittoria seriously and admonishingly. 'It is a
fortune-millions! It is precisely the very grandest heritage! It is an
'I trust that it may be!' said Vittoria, with so deep and earnest a ring
of her voice that the count himself, malicious as his ejaculations had
been, was astonished. At that instant Laura cried from the window:
'These horses will go mad.'
The exclamation had the desired effect.
'Eh?--pardon me, signorina,' said the count, moving half-way to the
window, and then askant for his hat. The clatter of the horses' hoofs
sent him dashing through the doorway, at which place his daughter stood
with his hat extended. He thanked and blessed her for the kindly
attention, and in terror lest the signorina should think evil of him as
'one of the generation of the hasty,' he said, 'Were it anything but
horses! anything but horses! one's horses!--ha!' The audible hoofs
called him off. He kissed the tips of his fingers, and tripped out.
The signora stepped rapidly to the window, and leaning there, cried a
word to the coachman, who signalled perfect comprehension, and
immediately the count's horses were on their hind-legs, chafing and
pulling to right and left, and the street was tumultuous with them.
She flung down the window, seized Vittoria's cheeks in her two hands,
and pressed the head upon her bosom. 'He will not disturb us again,'
she said, in quite a new tone, sliding her hands from the cheeks to the
shoulders and along the arms to the fingers'-ends, which they clutched
lovingly. 'He is of the old school, friend of my heart! and besides,
he has but two pairs of horses, and one he keeps in Vienna. We live in
the hope that our masters will pay us better! Tell me! you are in good
health? All is well with you? Will they have to put paint on her soft
cheeks to-morrow? Little, if they hold the colour as full as now? My
Sandra! amica! should I have been jealous if Giacomo had known you? On
my soul, I cannot guess! But, you love what he loved. He seems to live
for me when they are talking of Italy, and you send your eyes forward as
if you saw the country free. God help me! how I have been containing
myself for the last hour and a half!'
The signora dropped in a seat and laughed a languid laugh.
'The little ones? I will ring for them. Assunta shall bring them down
in their night-gowns if they are undressed; and we will muffle the
windows, for my little man will be wanting his song; and did you not
promise him the great one which is to raise Italy-his mother, from the
dead? Do you remember our little fellow's eyes as he tried to see the
picture? I fear I force him too much, and there's no need-not a bit.'
The time was exciting, and the signora spoke excitedly. Messing and
Reggio were in arms. South Italy had given the open signal. It was
near upon the hour of the unmasking of the great Lombard conspiracy,
and Vittoria, standing there, was the beacon-light of it. Her presence
filled Laura with transports of exultation; and shy of displaying it, and
of the theme itself, she let her tongue run on, and satisfied herself by
smoothing the hand of the brave girl on her chin, and plucking with
little loving tugs at her skirts. In doing this she suddenly gave a cry,
as if stung.
'You carry pins,' she said. And inspecting the skirts more closely, 'You
have a careless maid in that creature Giacinta; she lets paper stick to
your dress. What is this?'
Vittoria turned her head, and gathered up her dress to see.
'Pinned with the butterfly!' Laura spoke under her breath.
Vittoria asked what it meant.
'Nothing--nothing,' said her friend, and rose, pulling her eagerly toward
A small bronze butterfly secured a square piece of paper with clipped
corners to her dress. Two words were written on it:--
THE BRONZE BUTTERFLY
The two women were facing one another in a painful silence when Carlo
Ammiani was announced to them. He entered with a rapid stride, and
struck his hands together gladly at sight of Vittoria.
Laura met his salutation by lifting the accusing butterfly attached to
'Yes; I expected it,' he said, breathing quick from recent exertion.
'They are kind--they give her a personal warning. Sometimes the dagger
heads the butterfly. I have seen the mark on the Play-bills affixed to
the signorina's name.'
'What does it mean?' said Laura, speaking huskily, with her head bent
over the bronze insect. 'What can it mean?' she asked again, and looked
up to meet a covert answer.
'Unpin it.' Vittoria raised her arms as if she felt the thing to be
The signora loosened the pin from its hold; but dreading lest she thereby
sacrificed some possible clue to the mystery, she hesitated in her
action, and sent an intolerable shiver of spite through Vittoria's frame,
at whom she gazed in a cold and cruel way, saying, 'Don't tremble.' And
again, 'Is it the doing of that 'garritrice magrezza,' whom you call 'la
Lazzeruola?' Speak. Can you trace it to her hand? Who put the plague-
mark upon you?'
Vittoria looked steadily away from her.
'It means just this,' Carlo interposed; 'there! now it 's off; and,
signorina, I entreat you to think nothing of it,--it means that any one
who takes a chief part in the game we play, shall and must provoke all
fools, knaves, and idiots to think and do their worst. They can't
imagine a pure devotion. Yes, I see--"Sei sospetta." They would write
their 'Sei sospetta' upon St. Catherine in the Wheel. Put it out of your
mind. Pass it.'
'But they suspect her; and why do they suspect her?' Laura questioned
vehemently. 'I ask, is it a Conservatorio rival, or the brand of one of
the Clubs? She has no answer.'
'Observe.' Carlo laid the paper under her eyes.
Three angles were clipped, the fourth was doubled under. He turned it
back and disclosed the initials B. R. 'This also is the work of our man-
devil, as I thought. I begin to think that we shall be eternally
thwarted, until we first clear our Italy of its vermin. Here is a
weazel, a snake, a tiger, in one. They call him the Great Cat. He
fancies himself a patriot,--he is only a conspirator. I denounce him,
but he gets the faith of people, our Agostino among them, I believe.
The energy of this wretch is terrific. He has the vigour of a fasting
saint. Myself--I declare it to you, signora, with shame, I know what it
is to fear this man. He has Satanic blood, and the worst is, that the
Chief trusts him.'
'Then, so do I,' said Laura.
'And I,' Vittoria echoed her.
A sudden squeeze beset her fingers. 'And I trust you,' Laura said to
her. 'But there has been some indiscretion. My child, wait: give no
heed to me, and have no feelings. Carlo, my friend--my husband's boy--
brother-in-arms! let her teach you to be generous. She must have been
indiscreet. Has she friends among the Austrians? I have one, and it is
known, and I am not suspected. But, has she? What have you said or done
that might cause them to suspect you? Speak, Sandra mia.'
It was difficult for Vittoria to speak upon the theme, which made her
appear as a criminal replying to a charge. At last she said, 'English: I
have no foreign friends but English. I remember nothing that I have
done.--Yes, I have said I thought I might tremble if I was led out to be
'Pish! tush!' Laura checked her. 'They flog women, they do not shoot
them. They shoot men.'
'That is our better fortune,' said Ammiani.
'But, Sandra, my sister,' Laura persisted now, in melodious coaxing
tones. 'Can you not help us to guess? I am troubled: I am stung. It is
for your sake I feel it so. Can't you imagine who did it, for instance?'
'No, signora, I cannot,' Vittoria replied.
'You can't guess?'
I cannot help you.'
'You will not!' said the irritable woman. 'Have you noticed no one
passing near you?'
'A woman brushed by me as I entered this street. I remember no one else.
And my Beppo seized a man who was spying on me, as he said. That is all
I can remember.'
Vittoria turned her face to Ammiani.
'Barto Rizzo has lived in England,' he remarked, half to himself. 'Did
you come across a man called Barto Rizzo there, signorina? I suspect him
to be the author of this.'
At the name of Barto Rizzo, Laura's eyes widened, awakening a memory in
Ammiani; and her face had a spectral wanness.
'I must go to my chamber,' she said. 'Talk of it together. I will be
with you soon.'
She left them.
Ammiani bent over to Vittoria's ear. 'It was this man who sent the
warning to Giacomo, the signora's husband, which he despised, and which
would have saved him.
It is the only good thing I know of Barto Rizzo. Pardon her.'
'I do,' said the girl, now weeping.
'She has evidently a rooted superstitious faith in these revolutionary
sign-marks. They are contagious to her. She loves you, and believes in
you, and will kneel to you for forgiveness by-and-by. Her misery is a
disease. She thinks now, "If my husband had given heed to the warning!"
'Yes, I see how her heart works,' said Vittoria. 'You knew her husband,
'I knew him. I served under him. He was the brother of my love. I
shall have no other.'
Vittoria placed her hand for Ammiani to take it. He joined his own to
the fevered touch. The heart of the young man swelled most ungovernably,
but the perils of the morrow were imaged by him, circling her as with a
tragic flame, and he had no word for his passion.
The door opened, when a noble little boy bounded into the room; followed
by a little girl in pink and white, like a streamer in the steps of her
brother. With shouts, and with arms thrown forward, they flung
themselves upon Vittoria, the boy claiming all her lap, and the girl
struggling for a share of the kingdom. Vittoria kissed them, crying,
'No, no, no, Messer Jack, this is a republic, and not an empire, and you
are to have no rights of "first come"; and Amalia sits on one knee, and
you on one knee, and you sit face to face, and take hands, and swear to
'Then I desire not to be called an English Christian name, and you will
call me Giacomo,' said the boy.
Vittoria sang, in mountain-notes, 'Giacomo!--Giacomo--Giac-giac-giac . .
The children listened, glistening up at her, and in conjunction jumped
and shouted for more.
'More?' said Vittoria; 'but is the Signor Carlo no friend of ours? and
does he wear a magic ring that makes him invisible?'
'Let the German girl go to him,' said Giacomo, and strained his throat to
reach at kisses.
'I am not a German girl,' little Amalia protested, refusing to go to
Carlo Ammiani under that stigma, though a delightful haven of open arms
and knees, and filliping fingers, invited her.
'She is not a German girl, O Signor Giacomo,' said Vittoria, in the
'She has a German name.'
'It's not a German name!' the little girl shrieked.
Giacomo set Amalia to a miauling tune.
'So, you hate the Duchess of Graatli!' said Vittoria. 'Very well. I
The boy declared that he did not hate his mother's friend and sister's
godmother: he rather liked her, he really liked her, he loved her; but he
loathed the name 'Amalia,' and could not understand why the duchess would
be a German. He concluded by miauling 'Amalia' in the triumph of
'Cat, begone!' said Vittoria, promptly setting him down on his feet, and
little Amalia at the same time perceiving that practical sympathy only
required a ring at the bell for it to come out, straightway pulled the
wires within herself, and emitted a doleful wail that gave her sole
possession of Vittoria's bosom, where she was allowed to bring her tears
to an end very comfortingly. Giacomo meanwhile, his body bent in an
arch, plucked at Carlo Ammiani's wrists with savagely playful tugs, and
took a stout boy's lesson in the art of despising what he coveted. He
had only to ask for pardon. Finding it necessary, he came shyly up to
Vittoria, who put Amalia in his way, kissing whom, he was himself
'But girls should not cry!' Vittoria reproved the little woman.
'Why do you cry?' asked Amalia simply.
'See! she has been crying.' Giacomo appropriated the discovery, perforce
of loudness, after the fashion of his sex.
'Why does our Vittoria cry?' both the children clamoured.
'Because your mother is such a cruel sister to her,' said Laura, passing
up to them from the doorway. She drew Vittoria's head against her
breast, looked into her eyes, and sat down among them. Vittoria sang one
low-toned soft song, like the voice of evening, before they were
dismissed to their beds. She could not obey Giacomo's demand for a
martial air, and had to plead that she was tired.
When the children had gone, it was as if a truce had ended. The signora
and Ammiani fell to a brisk counterchange of questions relating to the
mysterious suspicion which had fallen upon Vittoria. Despite Laura's
love for her, she betrayed her invincible feeling that there must be some
grounds for special or temporary distrust.
'The lives that hang on it knock at me here,' she said, touching under
her throat with fingers set like falling arrows.
But Ammiani, who moved in the centre of conspiracies, met at their
councils, and knew their heads, and frequently combated their schemes,
was not possessed by the same profound idea of their potential command of
hidden facts and sovereign wisdom. He said, 'We trust too much to one
man. We are compelled to trust him, but we trust too much to him. I
mean this man, this devil, Barto Rizzo. Signora, signora, he must be
spoken of. He has dislocated the plot. He is the fanatic of the
revolution, and we are trusting him as if he had full sway of reason.
What is the consequence? The Chief is absent he is now, as I believe, in
Genoa. All the plan for the rising is accurate; the instruments are
ready, and we are paralyzed. I have been to three houses to-night, and
where, two hours previously, there was union and concert, all are
irresolute and divided. I have hurried off a messenger to the Chief.
Until we hear from him, nothing can be done. I left Ugo Corte storming
against us Milanese, threatening, as usual, to work without us, and have
a Bergamasc and Brescian Republic of his own. Count Medole is for a
week's postponement. Agostino smiles and chuckles, and talks his
'Until you hear from the Chief, nothing is to be done?' Laura said
passionately. 'Are we to remain in suspense? Impossible! I cannot bear
it. We have plenty of arms in the city. Oh, that we had cannon! I
worship cannon! They are the Gods of battle! But if we surprise the
citadel;--one true shock of alarm makes a mob of an army. I have heard
my husband say so. Let there be no delay. That is my word.'
'But, signora, do you see that all concert about the signal is lost?'
'My friend, I see something'; Laura nodded a significant half-meaning at
him. 'And perhaps it will be as well. Go at once. See that another
signal is decided upon. Oh! because we are ready--ready. Inaction now
is uttermost anguish--kills the heart. What number of the white butchers
have we in the city to-night?'
'They are marching in at every gate. I saw a regiment of Hungarians
coming up the Borgo della Stella. Two fresh squadrons of Uhlans in the
Corso Francesco. In the Piazza d'Armi artillery is encamped.'
'The better for Brescia, for Bergamo, for Padua, for Venice!' exclaimed
Laura. 'There is a limit to their power. We Milanese can match them.
For days and days I have had a dream lying in my bosom that Milan was
soon to breathe. Go, my brother; go to Barto Rizzo; gather him and Count
Medole, Agostino, and Colonel Corte--to whom I kiss my fingers--gather
them together, and squeeze their brains for the one spark of divine fire
in this darkness which must exist where there are so many thorough men
bent upon a sacred enterprise. And, Carlo,'--Laura checked her nervous
voice, 'don't think I am declaiming to you from one of my "Midnight
Lamps."' (She spoke of the title of her pamphlets to the Italian people.)
'You feel among us women very much as Agostino and Colonel Corte feel
when the boy Carlo airs his impetuosities in their presence. Yes, my
fervour makes a philosopher of you. That is human nature. Pity me,
pardon me, and do my bidding.'
The comparison of Ammiani's present sentiments to those of the elders of
the conspiracy, when his mouth was open in their midst, was severe and
masterful, for the young man rose instantly without a thought in his
He remarked: 'I will tell them that the signorina does not give the
'Tell them that the name she has chosen shall be Vittoria still; but say,
that she feels a shadow of suspicion to be an injunction upon her at such
a crisis, and she will serve silently and humbly until she is rightly
known, and her time comes. She is willing to appear before them, and
submit to interrogation. She knows her innocence, and knowing that they
work for the good of the country, she, if it is their will, is content to
be blotted out of all participation:--all! She abjures all for the
common welfare. Say that. And say, to-morrow night the rising must be.
Oh! to-morrow night! It is my husband to me.'
Laura Piaveni crossed her arms upon her bosom.
Ammiani was moving from them with a downward face, when a bell-note of
Vittoria's voice arrested him.
'Stay, Signor Carlo; I shall sing to-morrow night.'
The widow heard her through that thick emotion which had just closed her'
speech with its symbolical sensuous rapture. Divining opposition
fiercely, like a creature thwarted when athirst for the wells, she gave
her a terrible look, and then said cajolingly, as far as absence of
sweetness could make the tones pleasant, 'Yes, you will sing, but you
will not sing that song.'
'It is that song which I intend to sing, signora.'
'When it is interdicted?'
'There is only one whose interdict I can acknowledge.'
'You will dare to sing in defiance of me?'
'I dare nothing when I simply do my duty.'
Ammiani went up to the window, and leaned there, eyeing the lights
leading down to the crowding Piazza. He wished that he were among the
crowd, and might not hear those sharp stinging utterances coming from
Laura, and Vittoria's unwavering replies, less frequent, but firmer, and
gravely solid. Laura spent her energy in taunts, but Vittoria spoke only
of her resolve, and to the point. It was, as his military instincts
framed the simile, like the venomous crackling of skirmishing rifles
before a fortress, that answered slowly with its volume of sound and
sweeping shot. He had the vision of himself pleading to secure her
safety, and in her hearing, on the Motterone, where she had seemed so
simple a damsel, albeit nobly enthusiastic: too fair, too gentle to be
stationed in any corner of the conflict at hand. Partly abased by the
remembrance of his brainless intercessions then, and of the laughter
which had greeted them, and which the signora had recently recalled, it
was nevertheless not all in self-abasement (as the momentary recognition
of a splendid character is commonly with men) that he perceived the
stature of Vittoria's soul. Remembering also what the Chief had spoken
of women, Ammiani thought 'Perhaps he has known one such as she.' The
passion of the young man's heart magnified her image. He did not wonder
to see the signora acknowledge herself worsted in the conflict.
'She talks like the edge of a sword,' cried Laura, desperately, and
dropped into a chair. 'Take her home, and convince her, if you can, on
the way, Carlo. I go to the Duchess of Graatli to-night. She has a
reception. Take this girl home. She says she will sing: she obeys the
Chief, and none but the Chief. We will not suppose that it is her desire
to shine. She is suspected; she is accused; she is branded; there is no
general faith in her; yet she will hold the torch to-morrow night:--and
what ensues? Some will move, some turn back, some run headlong over to
treachery, some hang irresolute all are for the shambles! The blood is
on her head.'
'I will excuse myself to you another time,' said Vittoria. 'I love you,
'You do, you do, or you would not think of excusing yourself to me,' said
Laura. 'But now, go. You have cut me in two. Carlo Ammiani may succeed
where I have failed, and I have used every weapon; enough to make a mean
creature hate me for life and kiss me with transports. Do your best,
Carlo, and let it be your utmost.'
It remained for Ammiani to assure her that their views were different.
'The signorina persists in her determination to carry out the programme
indicated by the Chief, and refuses to be diverted from her path by the
false suspicions of subordinates.' He employed a sententious phraseology
instinctively, as men do when they are nervous, as well as when they
justify the cynic's definition of the uses of speech. 'The signorina is,
in my opinion, right. If she draws back, she publicly accepts the blot
upon her name. I speak against my own feelings and my wishes.'
'Sandra, do you hear?' exclaimed Laura. 'This is a friend's
interpretation of your inconsiderate wilfulness.'
Vittoria was content to reply, 'The Signor Carlo judges of me
'Go, then, and be fortified by him in this headstrong folly.' Laura
motioned her hand, and laid it on her face.
Vittoria knelt and enclosed her with her arms, kissing her knees.
'Beppo waits for me at the house-door,' she said; but Carlo chose not to
hear of this shadow-like Beppo.
'You have nothing to say for her save that she clears her name by giving
the signal,' Laura burst out on his temperate 'Addio,' and started to her
feet. 'Well, let it be so. Fruitless blood again! A 'rivederla' to you
both. To-night I am in the enemy's camp. They play with open cards.
Amalia tells me all she knows by what she disguises. I may learn
something. Come to me to-morrow. My Sandra, I will kiss you. These
shudderings of mine have no meaning.'
The signora embraced her, and took Ammiani's salute upon her fingers.
'Sour fingers!' he said. She leaned her cheek to him, whispering, 'I
could easily be persuaded to betray you.'
He answered, 'I must have some merit in not betraying myself.'
'At each elbow!' she laughed. 'You show the thumps of an electric
battery at each elbow, and expect your Goddess of lightnings not to see
that she moves you. Go. You have not sided with me, and I am right, and
I am a woman. By the way, Sandra mia, I would beg the loan of your Beppo
for two hours or less.'
Vittoria placed Beppo at her disposal.
'And you run home to bed,' continued Laura. 'Reason comes to you
obstinate people when you are left alone for a time in the dark.'
She hardly listened to Vittoria's statement that the chief singers in the
new opera were engaged to attend a meeting at eleven at night at the
house of the maestro Rocco Ricci.
THE PLOT OF THE SIGNOR ANTONIO
There was no concealment as to Laura's object in making request for the
services of Beppo. She herself knew it to be obvious that she intended
to probe and cross-examine the man, and in her wilfulness she chose to be
obtuse to opinion. She did not even blush to lean a secret ear above the
stairs that she might judge, by the tones of Vittoria's voice upon her
giving Beppo the order to wait, whether she was at the same time
conveying a hint for guardedness. But Vittoria said not a word: it was
Ammiani who gave the order. 'I am despicable in distrusting her for a
single second,' said Laura. That did not the less encourage her to
question Beppo rigorously forthwith; and as she was not to be deceived by
an Italian's affectation of simplicity, she let him answer two or three
times like a plain fool, and then abruptly accused him of standing
prepared with these answers. Beppo, within his own bosom, immediately
ascribed to his sagacious instinct the mere spirit of opposition and
dislike to serve any one save his own young mistress which had caused him
to irritate the signora and be on his guard. He proffered a candid
admission of the truth of the charge; adding, that he stood likewise
prepared with an unlimited number of statements. 'Questions, illustrious
signora, invariably put me on the defensive, and seem to cry for a return
thrust; and this I account for by the fact that my mother--the blessed
little woman now among the Saints!--was questioned, brows and heels, by a
ferruginously--faced old judge at the momentous period when she carried
me. So that, a question--and I show point; but ask me for a statement,
and, ah, signora!' Beppo delivered a sweep of the arm, as to indicate the
spontaneous flow of his tongue.
'I think,' said Laura, 'you have been a soldier, and a serving-man.'
'And a scene-shifter, most noble signora, at La Scala.'
'You accompanied the Signor Mertyrio to England when he was wounded?'
'And there you beheld the Signorina Vittoria, who was then bearing the
name of Emilia Belloni?'
'Which name she changed on her arrival in Italy, illustrious signora, for
that of Vittoria Campa--"sull' campo dells gloria"--ah! ah!--her own name
being an attraction to the blow-flies in her own country. All this is
'It should be a comfort to you! The Signor Mertyrio . . .'
Beppo writhed his person at the continuance of the questionings, and
obtaining a pause, he rushed into his statement: 'The Signor Mertyrio was
well, and on the point of visiting Italy, and quitting the wave-embraced
island of fog, of beer, of moist winds, and much money, and much
kindness, where great hearts grew. The signorina corresponded with him,
and with him only.'
'You know that, and will swear to it?' Laura exclaimed.
Beppo thereby receiving the cue he had commenced beating for, swore to
its truth profoundly, and straightway directed his statement to prove
that his mistress had not been politically (or amorously, if the
suspicion aimed at her in those softer regions) indiscreet or blameable
in any of her actions. The signorina, he said, never went out from her
abode without the companionship of her meritorious mother and his own
most humble attendance. He, Beppo, had a master and a mistress, the
Signor Mertyrio and the Signorina Vittoria. She saw no foreigners:
though--a curious thing!--he had seen her when the English language was
talked in her neighbourhood; and she had a love for that language: it
made her face play in smiles like an infant's after it has had suck and
is full;--the sort of look you perceive when one is dreaming and hears
music. She did not speak to foreigners. She did not care to go to
foreign cities, but loved Milan, and lived in it free and happy as an
earwig in a ripe apricot. The circumvallation of Milan gave her elbow-
room enough, owing to the absence of forts all round--'which knock one's
funny-bone in Verona, signora.' Beppo presented a pure smile upon a
simple bow for acceptance. 'The air of Milan,' he went on, with less
confidence under Laura's steady gaze, and therefore more forcing of his
candour--'the sweet air of Milan gave her a deep chestful, so that she
could hold her note as long as five lengths of a fiddle-bow:--by the body
of Sant' Ambrogio, it was true!' Beppo stretched out his arm, and
chopped his hand edgeways five testificatory times on the shoulder-ridge.
'Ay, a hawk might fly from St. Luke's head (on the Duomo) to the stone on
San Primo over Como, while the signorina held on her note! You listened,
you gasped--you thought of a poet in his dungeon, and suddenly, behold,
his chains are struck off!--you thought of a gold-shelled tortoise making
his pilgrimage to a beatific shrine!--you thought--you knew not what you
Here Beppo sank into a short silence of ecstasy, and wakening from it, as
with an ardent liveliness: 'The signora has heard her sing? How to
describe it! Tomorrow night will be a feast for Milan.'
'You think that the dilettanti of Milan will have a delight to-morrow
night?' said Laura; but seeing that the man's keen ear had caught note of
the ironic reptile under the flower, and unwilling to lose further time,
she interdicted his reply.
'Beppo, my good friend, you are a complete Italian--you waste your
cleverness. You will gratify me by remembering that I am your
countrywoman. I have already done you a similar favour by allowing you
to air your utmost ingenuity. The reflection that it has been to no
purpose will neither scare you nor instruct you. Of that I am quite
assured. I speak solely to suit the present occasion. Now, don't seek
to elude me. If you are a snake with friends as well as enemies, you are
nothing but a snake. I ask you--you are not compelled to answer, but I
forbid you to lie--has your mistress seen, or conversed and had
correspondence with any one receiving the Tedeschi's gold, man or woman?
Can any one, man or woman, call her a traitress?'
'Not twice!' thundered Beppo, with a furrowed red forehead.
There was a noble look about the fellow as he stood with stiff legs in a
posture, frowning--theatrical, but noble also; partly the look of a
Figaro defending his honour in extremity, yet much like a statue of a
French Marshal of the Empire.
'That will do,' said Laura, rising. She was about to leave him, when the
Duchess of Graatli's chasseur was ushered in, bearing a missive from
Amalia, her friend. She opened it and read:--
'BEST BELOVED,--Am I soon to be reminded bitterly that there is a
river of steel between my heart and me?
'Fail not in coming to-night. Your new Bulbul is in danger. The
silly thing must have been reading Roman history. Say not no! It
intoxicates you all. I watch over her for my Laura's sake: a
thousand kisses I shower on you, dark delicious soul that you are!
Are you not my pine-grove leading to the evening star? Come, that
we may consult how to spirit her away during her season of peril.
Gulfs do not close over little female madcaps, my Laura; so we must
not let her take the leap. Enter the salle when you arrive: pass
down it once and return upon your steps; then to my boudoir. My
maid Aennchen will conduct you. Addio. Tell this messenger that
you come. Laura mine, I am for ever thy
Laura signalled to the chasseur that her answer was affirmative. As he
was retiring, his black-plumed hat struck against Beppo, who thrust him
aside and gave the hat a dexterous kick, all the while keeping a decorous
front toward the signora. She stood meditating. The enraged chasseur
mumbled a word or two for Beppo's ear, in execrable Italian, and went.
Beppo then commenced bowing half toward the doorway, and tried to shoot
through, out of sight and away, in a final droop of excessive servility,
but the signora stopped him, telling him to consider himself her servant
until the morning; at which he manifested a surprising readiness,
indicative of nothing short of personal devotion, and remained for two
minutes after she had quitted the room. So much time having elapsed, he
ran bounding down the stairs and found the hall-door locked, and that he
was a prisoner during the signora's pleasure. The discovery that he was
mastered by superior cunning, instead of disconcerting, quieted him
wonderfully; so he put by the resources of his ingenuity for the next
opportunity, and returned stealthily to his starting-point, where the
signora found him awaiting her with composure. The man was in mortal
terror lest he might be held guilty of a trust betrayed, in leaving his
mistress for an hour, even in obedience to her command, at this crisis:
but it was not in his nature to state the case openly to the signora,
whom he knew to be his mistress's friend, or to think of practising other
than shrewd evasion to accomplish his duty and satisfy his conscience.
Laura said, without smiling, 'The street-door opens with a key,' and she
placed the key in his hand, also her fan to carry. Once out of the
house, she was sure that he would not forsake his immediate charge of the
fan: she walked on, heavily veiled, confident of his following. The
Duchess of Graatli's house neighboured the Corso Francesco; numerous
carriages were disburdening their freights of fair guests, and now and
then an Austrian officer in full uniform ran up the steps, glittering
under the lamps. 'I go in among them,' thought Laura. It rejoiced her
that she had come on foot. Forgetting Beppo, and her black fan, as no
Italian woman would have done but she who paced in an acute quivering of
the anguish of hopeless remembrances and hopeless thirst of vengeance,
she suffered herself to be conducted in the midst of the guests, and
shuddered like one who has taken a fever-chill as she fulfilled the
duchess's directions; she passed down the length of the saloon, through a
light of visages that were not human to her sensations.
Meantime Beppo, oppressed by his custody of the fan, and expecting that
most serviceable lady's instrument to be sent for at any minute, stood
among a strange body of semi-feudal retainers below, where he was soon
singled out by the duchess's chasseur, a Styrian, who, masking his fury
under jest, in the South-German manner, endeavoured to lead him up to an
altercation. But Beppo was much too supple to be entrapped. He
apologized for any possible offences that he might have committed,
assuring the chasseur that he considered one hat as good as another, and
some hats better than others: in proof of extreme cordiality, he accepted
the task of repeating the chasseur's name, which was 'Jacob Baumwalder
Feckelwitz,' a tolerable mouthful for an Italian; and it was with
remarkable delicacy that Beppo contrived to take upon himself the whole
ridicule of his vile pronunciation of the unwieldy name. Jacob
Baumwalder Feckelwitz offered him beer to refresh him after the effort.
While Beppo was drinking, he seized the fan. 'Good; good; a thousand
thanks,' said Beppo, relinquishing it; 'convey it aloft, I beseech you.'
He displayed such alacrity and lightness of limb at getting rid of it,
that Jacob thrust it between the buttons of his shirtfront, returning it
to his possession by that aperture. Beppo's head sank. A handful of
black lace and cedarwood chained him to the spot! He entreated the men
in livery to take the fan upstairs and deliver it to the Signora Laura
Piaveni; but they, being advised by Jacob, refused. 'Go yourself,' said
Jacob, laughing, and little prepared to see the victim, on whom he
thought that for another hour at least he had got his great paw firmly,
take him at his word. Beppo sprang into the hall and up the stairs. The
duchess's maid, ivory-faced Aennchen, was flying past him. She saw a
very taking dark countenance making eyes at her, leaned her ear shyly,
and pretending to understand all that was said by the rapid foreign
tongue, acted from the suggestion of the sole thing which she did
understand. Beppo had mentioned the name of the Signora Piaveni. 'This
way,' she indicated with her finger, supposing that of course he wanted
to see the signora very urgently.
Beppo tried hard to get her to carry the fan; but she lifted her fingers
in a perfect Susannah horror of it, though still bidding him to follow.
Naturally she did not go fast through the dark passages, where the game
of the fan was once more played out, and with accompaniments. The
accompaniments she objected to no further than a fish is agitated in
escaping from the hook; but 'Nein, nein!' in her own language, and 'No,
no!' in his, burst from her lips whenever he attempted to transfer the
fan to her keeping. 'These white women are most wonderful!' thought
Beppo, ready to stagger between perplexity and impatience.
'There; in there!' said Aennchen, pointing to a light that came through
the folds of a curtain. Beppo kissed her fingers as they tugged
unreluctantly in his clutch, and knew by a little pause that the case was
hopeful for higher privileges. What to do? He had not an instant to
spare; yet he dared not offend a woman's vanity. He gave an ecstatic
pressure of her hand upon his breastbone, to let her be sure she was
adored, albeit not embraced. After this act of prudence he went toward
the curtain, while the fair Austrian soubrette flew on her previous
It was enough that Beppo found himself in a dark antechamber for him to
be instantly scrupulous in his footing and breathing. As he touched the
curtain, a door opened on the other side of the interior, and a tender
gabble of fresh feminine voices broke the stillness and ran on like a
brook coming from leaps to a level, and again leaping and making noise of
joy. The Duchess of Graatli had clasped the Signora Laura's two hands
and drawn her to an ottoman, and between kissings and warmer claspings,
was questioning of the little ones, Giacomo and her goddaughter Amalia.
'When, when did I see you last?' she exclaimed. 'Oh! not since we met
that morning to lay our immortelles upon his tomb. My soul's sister!
kiss me, remembering it. I saw you in the gateway--it seemed to me, as
in a vision, that we had both had one warning to come for him, and knock,
and the door would be opened, and our beloved would come forth! That was
many days back. It is to me like a day locked up forever in a casket of
pearl. Was it not an unstained morning, my own! If I weep, it is with
pleasure. But,' she added with precipitation, 'weeping of any kind will
not do for these eyelids of mine.' And drawing forth a tiny gold-framed
pocket-mirror she perceived convincingly that it would not do.
'They will think it is for the absence of my husband,' she said, as only
a woman can say it who deplores nothing so little as that.
'When does he return from Vienna?' Laura inquired in the fallen voice of
'I receive two couriers a week; I know not any more, my Laura. I believe
he is pushing some connubial complaint against me at the Court. We have
been married seventeen months. I submitted to the marriage because I
could get no proper freedom without, and now I am expected to abstain
from the very thing I sacrificed myself to get! Can he hear that in
Vienna?' She snapped her fingers. 'If not, let him come and behold it in
Milan. Besides, he is harmless. The Archduchess is all ears for the
very man of whom he is jealous. This is my reply: You told me to marry:
I obeyed. My heart 's in the earth, and I must have distractions. My
present distraction is De Pyrmont, a good Catholic and a good Austrian
soldier, though a Frenchman. I grieve to say--it's horrible--that it
sometimes tickles me when I reflect that De Pyrmont is keen with the
sword. But remember, Laura, it was not until after our marriage my
husband told me he could have saved Giacomo by the lifting of a finger.
Away with the man!--if it amuses me to punish him, I do so.'
The duchess kissed Laura's cheek, and continued:--
'Now to the point where we stand enemies! I am for Austria, you are for
Italy. Good. But I am always for Laura. So, there's a river between us
and a bridge across it. My darling, do you know that we are much too
strong for you, if you mean anything serious tomorrow night?'
'Are you?' Laura said calmly.
'I know, you see, that something is meant to happen to-morrow night.'
Laura said, 'Do you?'
'We have positive evidence of it. More than that: Your Vittoria--but do
you care to have her warned? She will certainly find herself in a
pitfall if she insists on carrying out her design. Tell me, do you care
to have her warned and shielded? A year of fortress-life is not
agreeable, is not beneficial for the voice. Speak, my Laura.'
Laura looked up in the face of her friend mildly with her large dark
eyes, replying, 'Do you think of sending Major de Pyrmont to her to warn
'Are you not wicked?' cried the duchess, feeling that she blushed, and
that Laura had thrown her off the straight road of her interrogation.
'But, play cards with open hands, my darling, to-night. Look:--She is in
danger. I know it; so do you. She will be imprisoned perhaps before she
steps on the boards--who knows? Now, I--are not my very dreams all sworn
in a regiment to serve my Laura?--I have a scheme. Truth, it is hardly
mine. It belongs to the Greek, the Signor Antonio Pericles
Agriolopoulos. It is simply'--the duchess dropped her voice out of
Beppo's hearing--'a scheme to rescue her: speed her away to my chateau
near Meran in Tyrol.' 'Tyrol' was heard by Beppo. In his frenzy at the
loss of the context he indulged in a yawn, and a grimace, and a dance of
disgust all in one; which lost him the next sentence likewise. 'There we
purpose keeping her till all is quiet and her revolutionary fever has
passed. Have you heard of this Signor Antonio? He could buy up the
kingdom of Greece, all Tyrol, half Lombardy. The man has a passion for
your Vittoria; for her voice solely, I believe. He is considered, no
doubt truly, a great connoisseur. He could have a passion for nothing
else, or alas!' (the duchess shook her head with doleful drollery) 'would
he insist on written securities and mortgages of my private property when
he lends me money? How different the world is from the romances, my
Laura! But for De Pyrmont, I might fancy my smile was really incapable
of ransoming an empire; I mean an emperor. Speak; the man is waiting to
come; shall I summon him?'
Laura gave an acquiescent nod.
By this time Beppo had taken root to the floor. 'I am in the best place
after all,' he said, thinking of the duties of his service. He was
perfectly well acquainted with the features of the Signor Antonio. He
knew that Luigi was the Signor Antonio's spy upon Vittoria, and that no
personal harm was intended toward his mistress; but Beppo's heart was in
the revolt of which Vittoria was to give the signal; so, without a touch
of animosity, determined to thwart him, Beppo waited to hear the Signor
The Greek was introduced by Aennchen. She glanced at the signora's lap,
and seeing her still without her fan, her eye shot slyly up with her
shining temple, inspecting the narrow opening in the curtain furtively.
A short hush of preluding ceremonies passed.
Presently Beppo heard them speaking; he was aghast to find that he had
no comprehension of what they were uttering. 'Oh, accursed French
dialect!' he groaned; discovering the talk to be in that tongue. The
Signor Antonio warmed rapidly from the frigid politeness of his
introductory manner. A consummate acquaintance with French was required
to understand him. He held out the fingers of one hand in regimental
order, and with the others, which alternately screwed his moustache from
its constitutional droop over the corners of his mouth, he touched the
uplifted digits one by one, buzzing over them: flashing his white eyes,
and shrugging in a way sufficient to madden a surreptitious listener who
was aware that a wealth of meaning escaped him and mocked at him. At
times the Signor Antonio pitched a note compounded half of cursing, half
of crying, it seemed: both pathetic and objurgative, as if he whimpered
anathemas and had inexpressible bitter things in his mind. But there was
a remedy! He displayed the specific on a third finger. It was there.
This being done (number three on the fingers), matters might still be
well. So much his electric French and gesticulations plainly asserted.
Beppo strained all his attention for names, in despair at the riddle of
the signs. Names were pillars of light in the dark unintelligible waste.
The signora put a question. It was replied to with the name of the
Maestro Rocco Ricci. Following that, the Signor Antonio accompanied his
voluble delivery with pantomimic action which seemed to indicate the
shutting of a door and an instantaneous galloping of horses--a flight
into air, any-whither. He whipped the visionary steeds with enthusiastic
glee, and appeared to be off skyward like a mad poet, when the signora
again put a question, and at once he struck his hand flat across his
mouth, and sat postured to answer what she pleased with a glare of polite
vexation. She spoke; he echoed her, and the duchess took up the same
phrase. Beppo was assisted by the triangular recurrence of the words and
their partial relationship to Italian to interpret them: 'This night.'
Then the signora questioned further. The Greek replied: 'Mademoiselle
Irma di Karski.'
'La Lazzeruola,' she said.
The Signor Antonio flashed a bit of sarcastic mimicry, as if acquiescing
in the justice of the opprobrious term from the high point of view: but
mademoiselle might pass, she was good enough for the public.
Beppo heard and saw no more. A tug from behind recalled him to his
situation. He put out his arms and gathered Aennchen all dark in them:
and first kissing her so heartily as to set her trembling on the verge of
a betrayal, before she could collect her wits he struck the fan down the
pretty hollow of her back, between her shoulder-blades, and bounded away.
It was not his intention to rush into the embrace of Jacob Baumwalder
Feckelwitz, but that perambulating chasseur received him in a semi-
darkness where all were shadows, and exclaimed, 'Aennchen!' Beppo gave
an endearing tenderness to the few words of German known to him:
'Gottschaf-donner-dummer!' and slipped from the hold of the astonished
Jacob, sheer under his arm-pit. He was soon in the street, excited he
knew not by what, or for what object. He shuffled the names he
remembered to have just heard--'Rocco Ricci, and 'la Lazzeruola.' Why did
the name of la Lazzeruola come in advance of la Vittoria? And what was
the thing meant by 'this night,' which all three had uttered as in an
agreement?--ay! and the Tyrol! The Tyrol--this night-Rocco Ricci la
Beppo's legs were carrying him toward the house of the Maestro Rocco
Ricci ere he had arrived at any mental decision upon these imminent
ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS:
Agostino was enjoying the smoke of paper cigarettes
Anguish to think of having bent the knee for nothing
Art of despising what he coveted
Compliment of being outwitted by their own offspring
Hated tears, considering them a clog to all useful machinery
Intentions are really rich possessions
Italians were like women, and wanted--a real beating
Necessary for him to denounce somebody
Profound belief in her partiality for him
By George Meredith
XIV. AT THE MAESTRO'S DOOR
XV. AMMIANI THROUGH THE MIDNIGHT
XVI. COUNTESS AMMIANI
XVII. IN THE PIAZZA D'ARMI
XVIII. THE NIGHT OF THE FIFTEENTH
XIX. THE PRIMA DONNA
AT THE MAESTRO'S DOOR
The house of the Maestro Rocco Ricci turned off the Borgo della Stella.
Carlo Ammiani conducted Vittoria to the maestro's door. They conversed
very little on the way.
'You are a good swordsman?' she asked him abruptly.
'I have as much skill as belongs to a perfect intimacy with the weapon,'
'Your father was a soldier, Signor Carlo.'
'He was a General officer in what he believed to be the army of Italy.
We used to fence together every day for two hours.'
'I love the fathers who do that,' said Vittoria.
After such speaking Ammiani was not capable of the attempt to preach
peace and safety to her. He postponed it to the next minute and the
Vittoria's spirit was in one of those angry knots which are half of the
intellect, half of the will, and are much under the domination of one or
other of the passions in the ascendant. She was resolved to go forward;
she felt justified in going forward; but the divine afflatus of
enthusiasm buoyed her no longer, and she required the support of all that
accuracy of insight and that senseless stubbornness which there might be
in her nature. The feeling that it was she to whom it was given to lift
the torch and plant the standard of Italy, had swept her as through the
strings of a harp. Laura, and the horrible little bronze butterfly, and
the 'Sei sospetta,' now made her duty seem dry and miserably fleshless,
imaging itself to her as if a skeleton had been told to arise and walk:
--say, the thing obeys, and fills a ghastly distension of men's eyelids
for a space, and again lies down, and men get their breath: but who is
the rosier for it? where is the glory of it? what is the good? This
Milan, and Verona, Padua, Vicenza, Brescia, Venice, Florence, the whole
Venetian, Tuscan, and Lombardic lands, down to far Sicily, and that Rome
which always lay under the crown of a dead sunset in her idea--they too
might rise; but she thought of them as skeletons likewise. Even the
shadowy vision of Italy Free had no bloom on it, and stood fronting the
blown trumpets of resurrection Lazarus-like.
At these moments young hearts, though full of sap and fire, cannot do
common nursing labour for the little suckling sentiments and hopes, the
dreams, the languors and the energies hanging about them for nourishment.
Vittoria's horizon was within five feet of her. She saw neither splendid
earth nor ancient heaven; nothing save a breach to be stepped over in
defiance of foes and (what was harder to brave) of friends. Some wayward
activity of old associations set her humming a quaint English tune, by
which she was brought to her consciousness.
'Dear friend,' she said, becoming aware that there might be a more
troubled depth in Ammiani's absence of speech than in her own.
'Yes?' said he, quickly, as for a sentence to follow. None came, and he
continued, 'The Signora Laura is also your friend.'
She rejoined coldly, 'I am not thinking of her.'
Vittoria had tried to utter what might be a word of comfort for him, and
she found she had not a thought or an emotion. Here she differed from
Laura, who, if the mood to heal a favourite's little sore at any season
came upon her, would shower out lively tendernesses and all cajoleries
possible to the tongue of woman. Yet the irritation of action narrowed
Laura more than it did Vittoria; fevered her and distracted her
sympathies. Being herself a plaything at the time, she could easily play
a part for others. Vittoria had not grown, probably never would grow, to
be so plastic off the stage. She was stringing her hand to strike a blow
as men strike, and women when they do that cannot be quite feminine.
'How dull the streets are,' she remarked.
'They are, just now,' said Ammiani, thinking of them on the night to come
convulsed with strife, and of her, tossed perhaps like a weed along the
torrent of bloody deluge waters. Her step was so firm, her face so
assured, that he could not fancy she realized any prospect of the sort,
and it filled him with pity and a wretched quailing.
If I speak now I shall be talking like a coward, he said to himself: and
he was happily too prudent to talk to her in that strain. So he said
nothing of peace and safety. She was almost at liberty to believe that
he approved the wisdom of her resolution. At the maestro's door she
thanked him for his escort, and begged for it further within an hour.
'And do bring me some chocolate.' She struck her teeth together champing
in a pretty hunger for it. 'I have no chocolate in my pocket, and I
hardly know myself.'
'What will your Signor Antonio say?'
Vittoria filliped her fingers. 'His rule is over, and he is my slave:
I am not his. I will not eat much; but some some I must have.'
Ammiani laughed and promised to obtain it. 'That is, if there's any to
'Break open doors to get it for me,' she said, stamping with fun to
No sooner was she standing alone, than her elbow was gently plucked at
on the other side: a voice was sibilating: 'S-s-signorina.' She allowed
herself to be drawn out of the light of the open doorway, having no
suspicion and no fear. 'Signorina, here is chocolate.' She beheld two
hands in cup-shape, surcharged with packets of Turin chocolate.
'Lugi, it is you?'
The Motterone spy screwed his eyelids to an expression of the shrewdest
'Hist! signorina. Take some. You shall have all, but wait:--by-and-by.
Aha! you look at my eyes as you did on the Monterone, because one of
them takes the shoulder-view; but, the truth is, my father was a
contrabandist, and had his eye in his ear when the frontier guard sent a
bullet through his back, cotton-bags and cutleries, and all! I inherit
from him, and have been wry-eyed ever since. How does that touch a man's
honesty, signorina? Not at all. Don't even suspect that you won't
appreciate Luigi by-and-by. So, you won't ask me a word, signorina, but
up you go to the maestro:--signorina, I swear I am your faithful servant
--up to the maestro, and down first. Come down first not last:--first.
Let the other one come down after you; and you come down first. Leave
her behind, la Lazzeruola; and here, 'Luigi displayed a black veil, the
common head-dress of the Milanese women, and twisted his fingers round
and round on his forehead to personate the horns of the veil; 'take it,
signorina; you know how to wear it. Luigi and the saints watch over you.'
Vittoria found herself left in possession of the veil and a packet of
'If I am watched over by the saints and Luigi,' she thought, and bit at
When the door had closed upon her, Luigi resumed his station near it,
warily casting his glances along the house-fronts, and moving his springy
little legs like a heath-cock alert. They carried him sharp to an
opposite corner of the street at a noise of some one running exposed to
all eyes right down the middle of the road, straight to the house: in
which foolish person he discerned Beppo, all of whose proceedings Luigi
observed and commented on from the safe obscurity under eaves and
starlight, while Beppo was in the light of the lamps. 'You thunder at
the door, my Beppo. You are a fire-balloon: you are going to burn
yourself up with what you carry. You think you can do something, because
you read books and frequent the talking theatres--fourteen syllables to a
word. Mother of heaven! will you never learn anything from natural
intelligence? There you are, in at the door. And now you will disturb
the signorina, and you will do nothing but make la Lazzeruola's ears
lively. Bounce! you are up the stairs. Bounce! you are on the landing.
Thrum! you drum at the door, and they are singing; they don't hear you.
And now you're meek as a mouse. That's it--if you don't hit the mark
when you go like a bullet, you 're stupid as lead. And they call you a
clever fellow! Luigi's day is to come. When all have paid him all
round, they will acknowledge Luigi's worth. You are honest enough, my
Beppo; but you might as well be a countryman. You are the signorina's
servant, but I know the turnings, said the rat to the cavaliere weazel.'
In a few minutes Beppo stepped from the house, and flung himself with his
back against the lintel of the doorway.
'That looks like determination to stop on guard,' said Luigi.
He knew the exact feeling expressed by it, when one has come violently on
an errand and has done no good.
'A flea, my feathery lad, will set you flying again.'
As it was imperative in Luigi's schemes that Beppo should be set flying
again, he slipped away stealthily, and sped fast into the neighbouring
Corso, where a light English closed carriage, drawn by a pair of the
island horses, moved at a slow pace. Two men were on the driver's seat,
one of whom Luigi hailed to come down then he laid a strip of paper on
his knee, and after thumping on the side of his nose to get a notion of
English-Italian, he wrote with a pencil, dancing upon one leg all the
while for a balance:--
'Come, Beppo, daughter sake, now, at once, immediate,
'That's to the very extremity how the little signora Inglese would
write,' said Luigi; yet cogitating profoundly in a dubitative twinkle of
a second as to whether it might not be the English habit to wind up a
hasty missive with an expediting oath. He had heard the oath of emphasis
in that island: but he decided to let it go as it stood. The man he had
summoned was directed to take it straightway and deliver it to one who
would be found at the house-door of the Maestro Rocco Ricci.
'Thus, like a drunken sentinel,' said Luigi, folding his arms, crossing
his legs, and leaning back. 'Forward, Matteo, my cherub.'
'All goes right?' the coachman addressed Luigi.
'As honey, as butter, as a mulberry leaf with a score of worms on it!
The wine and the bread and the cream-cheeses are inside, my dainty one,
are they? She must not starve, nor must I. Are our hampers fastened out
side? Good. We shall be among the Germans in a day and a night. I 've
got the route, and I pronounce the name of the chateau very perfectly--
"Schloss Sonnenberg." Do that if you can.'
The unpractised Italian coachman declined to attempt it. He and Luigi
compared time by their watches. In three-quarters of an hour he was to
be within hail of the maestro's house. Thither Luigi quietly returned.
Beppo's place there was vacant.
'That's better than a draught of Asti,' said Luigi.
The lighted windows of the maestro's house, and the piano striking
corrective notes, assured him that the special rehearsal was still going
on; and as he might now calculate on two or three minutes to spare, he
threw back his coat-collar, lifted his head, and distended his chest,
apparently to chime in with the singing, but simply to listen to it. For
him, it was imperative that he should act the thing, in order to
apprehend and appreciate it.
A hurried footing told of the approach of one whom he expected.
'You have the chocolate?'
'Signor Antonio, I have deposited it in the carriage.'
'She is in up there?'
'I beheld her entering.'
'Good; that is fixed fact.' The Signor Antonio drove at his moustache
right and left. 'I give you, see, Italian money and German money: German
money in paper; and a paper written out by me to explain the value of the
German paper-money. Silence, engine that you are, and not a man! I am
preventive of stupidity, I am? Do I not know that, hein? Am I in need
of the acclamation of you, my friend? On to the Chateau Sonnenberg:--
drive on, drive on, and one who stops you, you drive over him: the
gendarmes in white will peruse this paper, if there is any question, and
will pass you and the cage, bowing; you hear? It is a pass; the military
pass you when you show this paper. My good friend, Captain Weisspriess,
on the staff of General Pierson, gives it, signed, and it is effectual.
But you lose not the paper: put it away with the paper-money, quite safe.
For yourself, this is half your pay--I give you napoleons; ten. Count.
And now--once at the Chateau Sonnenberg, I repeat, you leave her in
charge of two persons, one a woman, at the gate, and then back--frrrrr..'
Antonio-Pericles smacked on the flat of his hand, and sounded a rapid
course of wheels.
'Back, and drop not a crumb upon the road. You have your map. It is,
after Roveredo, straight up the Adige, by Bolzano . . . say "Botzen."'
'"Botz,"' said Luigi, submissively.
'"Botz"--"Botz"--ass! fool! double idiot! "Botzon!"' Antonio-Pericles
corrected him furiously, exclaiming to the sovereign skies, 'Though I pay
for brains, can I get them! No. But make a fiasco, Luigi, and not a
second ten for you, my friend: and away, out of my sight, show yourself
Luigi humbly said that he was not the instrument of a fiasco.
Half spurning him, Antonio-Pericles snarled an end both to his advices
and his prophetic disgust of the miserable tools furnished unto masterly
minds upon this earth. He paced forward and back, murmuring in French,
'Mon Dieu! was there ever such a folly as in the head of this girl? It
is her occasion:--Shall I be a Star? Shall I be a Cinder? It is
tomorrow night her moment of Birth! No; she prefers to be extinguished.
For what? For this thing she calls her country. It is infamous. Yes,
vile little cheat! But, do you know Antonio-Pericles? Not yet. I will
nourish you, I will imprison you: I will have you tortured by love, by
the very devil of love, by the red-hot pincers of love, till you scream.
a music, and die to melt him with your voice, and kick your country to
the gutter, and know your Italy for a birthplace and a cradle of Song,
and no more, and enough! Bah!'
Having thus delivered himself of the effervescence of his internal
agitation, he turned sharply round upon Luigi, with a military stamp of
the foot and shout of the man's name.
'It is love she wants,' Antonio-Pericles resumed his savage soliloquy.
'She wants to be kindled on fire. Too much Government of brain; not
sufficient Insurrection of heart! There it is. There it lies. But,
little fool! you shall find people with arms and shots and cannon
running all up and down your body, firing and crying out "Victory for
Love!" till you are beaten, till you gasp "Love! love! love!" and then
comes a beatific--oh! a heaven and a hell to your voice. I will pay,'
the excited connoisseur pursued more deliberately: 'I will pay half my
fortune to bring this about. I am fortified, for I know such a voice was
sent to be sublime.' He exclaimed in an ecstasy: 'It opens the skies!'
and immediately appended: 'It is destined to suffocate the theatres!'
Pausing as before a splendid vision: 'Money--let it go like dust! I have
an object. Sandra Belloni--you stupid Vittoria Campa!--I have millions
and the whole Austrian Government to back me, and you to be wilful,
little rebel! I could laugh. It is only Love you want. Your voice is
now in a marble chamber. I will put it in a palace of cedarwood. This
Ammiani I let visit you in the hope that he would touch you.
Bah! he is a patriot--not a man! He cannot make you wince and pine, and
be cold and be hot, and--Bah! I give a chance to some one else who is
not a patriot. He has done mischief with the inflammable little Anna von
Lenkenstein--I know it. Your proper lovers, you women, are the broad,
the business lovers, and Weisspriess is your man.'
Antonio-Pericles glanced up at the maestro's windows. 'Hark! it is her
voice,' he said, and drew up his clenched fists with rage, as if pumping.
'Cold as ice! Not a flaw. She is a lantern with no light in it--
crystal, if you like. Hark now at Irma, the stork-neck. Aie! what a
long way it is from your throat to your head, Mademoiselle Irma! You
were reared upon lemons. The split hair of your mural crown is not
thinner than that voice of yours. It is a mockery to hear you; but you
are good enough for the people, my dear, and you do work, running up and
down that ladder of wires between your throat and your head;--you work,
it is true, you puss! sleek as a puss, bony as a puss, musical as a puss.
But you are good enough for the people. Hola!'
This exclamation was addressed to a cavalier who was dismounting from his
horse about fifty yards down the street, and who, giving the reins to a
mounted servant, advanced to meet the Signor Antonio.
'It is you, Herr Captain von Weisspriess!'
'When he makes an appointment you see him, as a rule, my dear Pericles,'
returned the captain.
'You are out of uniform--good. We will go up. Remember, you are a
connoisseur, from Bonn--from Berlin--from Leipsic: not of the K.K. army!
Abjure it, or you make no way with this mad thing. You shall see her and
hear her, and judge if she is worth your visit to Schloss Sonnenberg and
a short siege. Good: we go aloft. You bow to the maestro respectfully
twice, as in duty; then a third time, as from a whisper of your soul.
Vanitas, vanitatis! You speak of the 'UT de poitrine.' You remark:
"Albrechtsberger has said---," and you slap your head and stop. They
think, "He is polite, and will not quote a German authority to us": and
they think, "He will not continue his quotation; in truth, he scornfully
considers it superfluous to talk of counterpoint to us poor Italians."
Your Christian name is Johann?--you are Herr Johannes. Look at her well.
I shall not expose you longer than ten minutes to their observation.
Frown meditative; the elbow propped and two fingers in the left cheek;
and walk into the room with a stoop: touch a note of the piano, leaning
your ear to it as in detection of five-fifteenths of a shade of discord.
Frown in trouble as of a tooth. So, when you smile, it is immense praise
to them, and easy for you.'
The names of the Signor Antonio-Pericles and Herr Johannes were taken up
to the maestro.
Tormented with curiosity, Luigi saw them enter the house. The face and
the martial or sanguinary reputation of Captain Weisspriess were not
unknown to him. 'What has he to do with this affair?' thought Luigi, and
sauntered down to the captain's servant, who accepted a cigar from him,
but was rendered incorruptible by ignorance of his language. He observed
that the horses were fresh, and were furnished with saddle-bags as for an
expedition. What expedition? To serve as escort to the carriage?--a
nonsensical idea. But the discovery that an idea is nonsensical is not a
satisfactory solution of a difficulty. Luigi squatted on his haunches
beside the doorstep, a little under one of the lower windows of Rocco
Ricci's house. Earlier than he expected, the captain and Signor Antonio
came out; and as soon as the door had closed behind them, the captain
exclaimed, 'I give you my hand on it, my brave Pericles. You have done
me many services, but this is finest of all. She's superb. She's a nice
little wild woman to tame. I shall go to the Sonnenberg immediately. I
have only to tell General Pierson that his nephew is to be prevented from
playing the fool, and I get leave at once, if there's no active work.'
'His nephew, Lieutenant Pierson, or Pole--hein?' interposed the Greek.
'That 's the man. He 's on the Marshal's staff. He 's engaged to the
Countess Lena von Lenkenstein. She has fire enough, my Pericles.'
'The Countess Anna, you say?' The Greek stretched forward his ear, and
was never so near getting it vigorously cuffed.
'Deafness is an unpardonable offence, my dear Pericles.'
Antonio-Pericles sniffed, and assented, 'It is the stupidity of the ear.'
'I said, the Countess Lena.'
'Von Lenkenstein; but I choose to be further deaf.'
'To the devil, sir. Do you pretend to be angry?' cried Weisspriess.
'The devil, sir, with your recommendation, is too black for me to visit
him,' Antonio-Pericles rejoined.
'By heaven, Pericles, for less than what you allow yourself to say, I've
sent men to him howling!'
They faced one another, pulling at their moustachios. Weisspriess
'You're not a fighting man, Pericles.'
The Greek nodded affably. 'One is in my way, I have him put out of my
way. It is easiest.'
'Ah! easiest, is it?' Captain Weisspriess 'frowned meditative' over this
remarkable statement of a system. 'Well, it certainly saves trouble.
Besides, my good Pericles, none but an ass would quarrel with you. I was
observing that General Pierson wants his nephew to marry the Countess
Lena immediately; and if, as you tell me, this girl Belloni, who is
called la Vittoria--the precious little woman!--has such power over him,
it's quite as well, from the General's point of view, that she should be
out of the way at Sonnenberg. I have my footing at the Duchess of
Graath's. I believe she hopes that I shall some day challenge and kill
her husband; and as I am supposed to have saved Major de Pyrmont's life,
I am also an object of present gratitude. Do you imagine that your
little brown-eyed Belloni scented one of her enemies in me?'
'I know nothing of imagination,' the Signor Antonio observed frigidly.
'Till we meet!' Captain Weisspriess kissed his fingers, half as up toward
the windows, and half to the Greek. 'Save me from having to teach love
to your Irma!'
He ran to join his servant.
Luigi had heard much of the conversation, as well as the last sentence.
'It shall be to la Irma if it is to anybody,' Luigi muttered.
'Let Weisspriess--he will not awake love in her--let him kindle hate, it
will do,' said the Signor Antonio. 'She has seen him, and if he meets
her on the route to Meran, she will think it her fascination.'
Looking at his watch and at the lighted windows, he repeated his special
injunctions to Luigi. 'It is near the time. I go to sleep. I am
getting old: I grow nervous. Ten-twenty in addition, you shall have, if
all is done right. Your weekly pay runs on. Twenty--you shall have
thirty! Thirty napoleons additional!'
Ten fingers were flashed thrice.
Luigi gave a jump. 'Padrone, they are mine.'
'Animal, that shake your belly-bag and brain-box, stand!' cried the
Greek, who desired to see Luigi standing firm that he might inspire
himself with confidence in his integrity. When Luigi's posture had
satisfied him, he turned and went off at great strides.
'He does pay,' Luigi reflected, seeing that immense virtue in his patron.
'Yes, he pays; but what is he about? It is this question for me--"Do I
serve my hand? or, Do I serve my heart?" My hand takes the money, and it
is not German money. My heart gives the affection, and the signorina has
my heart. She reached me that cigarette on the Motterone like the
Madonna: it is never to be forgotten! I serve my heart! Now, Beppo, you
may come; come quick for her. I see the carriage, and there are three
stout fellows in it who could trip and muzzle you at a signal from me
before you could count the letters of your father's baptismal name. Oh!
but if the signorina disobeys me and comes out last!--the Signor Antonio
will ask the maestro, who will say, "Yes, la Vittoria was here with me
last of the two"; and I lose my ten, my twenty, my thirty napoleons.'
Luigi's chest expanded largely with a melancholy draught of air.
The carriage meantime had become visible at the head of the street,
where it remained within hearing of a whistle. One of the Milanese hired
vehicles drove up to the maestro's door shortly after, and Luigi cursed
it. His worst fears for the future of the thirty napoleons were
confirmed; the door opened and the Maestro Rocco Ricci, bareheaded and in
his black silk dressing-gown, led out Irma di Karski, by some called
rival to la Vittoria; a tall Slavic damsel, whose laughter was not soft
and smooth, whose cheeks were bright, and whose eyes were deep in the
head and dull. But she had vivacity both of lips and shoulders. The
shoulders were bony; the lips were sharp and red, like winter-berries in
the morning-time. Freshness was not absent from her aspect. The critical
objection was that it seemed a plastered freshness and not true bloom; or
rather it was a savage and a hard, not a sweet freshness. Hence perhaps
the name which distinguished her la Lazzeruola (crab apple). It was a
freshness that did not invite the bite; sour to Italian taste.
She was apparently in vast delight. 'There will be a perfect inundation
to-morrow night from Prague and Vienna to see me even in so miserable a
part as Michiella,' she said. 'Here I am supposed to be a beginner; I am
no debutante there.'
'I can believe it, I can believe it,' responded Rocco, bowing for her
'You are not satisfied with my singing of Michiella's score! Now, tell
me, kind, good, harsh old master! you think that Miss Vittoria would
sing it better. So do I. And I can sing another part better. You do
not know my capacities.'
'I am sure there is nothing you would not attempt,' said Rocco, bowing
'There never was question of my courage.'
'Yes, but courage, courage! away with your courage!' Rocco was spurred
by his personal grievances against her in a manner to make him forget his
desire to be rid of her. 'Your courage sets you flying at once at every
fioritura and bravura passage, to subdue, not to learn: not to
accomplish, but to conquer it. And the ability, let me say, is not
in proportion to the courage, which is probably too great to be easily
equalled; but you have the opportunity to make your part celebrated
to-morrow night, if, as you tell me, the house is to be packed with
Viennese, and, signorina, you let your hair down.'
The hair of Irma di Karski was of singular beauty, and so dear to her
that the allusion to the triumphant feature of her person passed off
Rocco's irony in sugar.
'Addio! I shall astonish you before many hours have gone by,' she said;
and this time they bowed together, and the maestro tripped back
hurriedly, and shut his door.
Luigi's astonishment eclipsed his chagrin when he beheld the lady step
from her place, bidding the driver move away as if he carried a freight,
and indicating a position for him at the end of the street, with an
imperative sway and deflection of her hand. Luigi heard the clear thin
sound of a key dropped to her from one of the upper windows. She was
quick to seize it; the door opened stealthily to her, and she passed out
of sight without casting a look behind. 'That's a woman going to
discover a secret, if she can,' remarked the observer; meaning that he
considered the sex bad Generals, save when they have occasion to preserve
themselves secret; then they look behind them carefully enough. The
situation was one of stringent torment to a professional and natural spy.
Luigi lost count of minutes in his irritation at the mystery, which he
took as a personal offence. Some suspicion or wariness existed in the
lighted room, for the maestro threw up a window, and inspected the street
to right and left. Apparently satisfied he withdrew his head, and the
window was closed.
In a little while Vittoria's voice rose audible out of the stillness,
though she restrained its volume.
Its effect upon Luigi was to make him protest to her, whimpering with
pathos as if she heard and must be melted: 'Signorina! signorina, most
dear! for charity's sake! I am one of you; I am a patriot. Every man to
his trade, but my heart is all with you.' And so on, louder by fits, in
a running murmur, like one having his conscience ransacked, from which he
was diverted by a side-thought of Irma di Karski, la Lazzeruola,
listening, taking poison in at her ears; for Luigi had no hesitation in
ascribing her behaviour to jealousy. 'Does not that note drive through
your bosom, excellent lady? I can fancy the tremble going all down your
legs. You are poisoned with honey. How you hate it! If you only had a
Vittoria sang but for a short space. Simultaneously with the cessation
of her song Ammiani reached the door, but had scarcely taken his stand
there when, catching sight of Luigi, he crossed the street, and
recognizing him, questioned him sternly as to his business opposite the
maestro's house. Luigi pointed to a female figure emerging. 'See! take
her home,' he said. Ammiani released him and crossed back hurriedly,
when, smiting his forehead, Luigi cried in despair, 'Thirty napoleons and
my professional reputation lost!' He blew a whistle; the carriage dashed
down from the head of the street. While Ammiani was following the
swiftly-stepping figure in wonderment (knowing it could not be Vittoria,
yet supposing it must be, without any clear aim of his wits), the
carriage drew up a little in advance of her; three men--men of bulk and
sinew jumped from it; one threw himself upon Ammiani, the others grasped
the affrighted lady, tightening a veil over her face, and the carriage-
door shut sharp upon her. Ammiani's assailant then fell away: Luigi
flung himself on the box and shouted, 'The signorina is behind you!'
And Ammiani beheld Vittoria standing in alarm, too joyful to know that
it was she. In the spasm of joy he kissed her hands. Before they could
intercommunicate intelligibly the carriage was out of their sight, going
at a gallop along the eastern strada of the circumvallation of the city.
AMMIANI THROUGH THE MIDNIGHT
Ammiani hurried Vittoria out of the street to make safety sure. 'Home,'
she said, ashamed of her excitement, and not daring to speak more words,
lest the heart in her throat should betray itself. He saw what the
fright had done for her. Perhaps also he guessed that she was trying to
conceal her fancied cowardice from him. ' I have kissed her hands,' he
thought, and the memory of it was a song of tenderness in his blood by
Vittoria's dwelling-place was near the Duomo, in a narrow thoroughfare
leading from the Duomo to the Piazza of La Scala, where a confectioner of
local fame conferred upon the happier members of the population most
piquant bocconi and tartlets, and offered by placard to give an emotion
to the nobility, the literati, and the epicures of Milan, and to all
foreigners, if the aforesaid would adventure upon a trial of his art.
Meanwhile he let lodgings. It was in the house of this famous
confectioner Zotti that Vittoria and her mother had lived after leaving
England for Italy. As Vittoria came under the fretted shadow of the
cathedral, she perceived her mother standing with Zotti at the house-
door, though the night was far advanced. She laughed, and walked less
hurriedly. Ammiani now asked her if she had been alarmed. 'Not
alarmed,' she said, 'but a little more nervous than I thought I should
He was spared from putting any further question by her telling him that
Luigi, the Motterone spy, had in all probability done her a service in
turning one or other f the machinations of the Signor Antonio. 'My
madman,' she called this latter. 'He has got his Irma instead of me.
We shall have to supply her place tomorrow; she is travelling rapidly,
and on my behalf! I think, Signor Carlo, you would do well by going to
the maestro when you leave me, and telling him that Irma has been caught
into the skies. Say, "Jealous that earth should possess such
overpowering loveliness," or "Attracted in spite of themselves by that
combination of genius and beauty which is found united nowhere but in
Irma, the spirits of heaven determined to rob earth of her Lazzeruola."
Only tell it to him seriously, for my dear Rocco will have to work with
one of the singers all day, and I ought to be at hand by them to help
her, if I dared stir out. What do you think?'
Ammiani pronounced his opinion that it would be perilous for her to go
'I shall in truth, I fear, have a difficulty in getting to La Scala
unseen,' she said; 'except that we are cunning people in our house. We
not only practise singing and invent wonderful confectionery, but we do
conjuring tricks. We profess to be able to deceive anybody whom we
'Do the dupes enlist in a regiment?' said Ammiani, with an intonation
that professed his readiness to serve as a recruit. His humour striking
with hers, they smiled together in the bright fashion of young people who
can lose themselves in a ray of fancy at any season.
Vittoria heard her mother's wailful voice. 'Twenty gnats in one,' she
Ammiani whispered quickly to know whether she had decided for the morrow.
She nodded, and ran up to her mother, who cried:
'At this hour! And Beppo has been here after you, and he told me I wrote
for him, in Italian, when not a word can I put to paper: I wouldn't!--and
you are threatened by dreadful dangers, he declares. His behaviour was
mad; they are all mad over in this country, I believe. I have put the
last stitch to your dress. There is a letter or two upstairs for you.
'My dear good Zotti,' Vittoria turned to the artist in condiments, 'you
must insist upon my mother going to bed at her proper time when I am
'Signorina,' rejoined Zotti, a fat little round-headed man, with
vivacious starting brown eyes, 'I have only to tell her to do a thing--
I pull a dog by the collar; be it said with reverence.'
'However, I am very glad to see you both such good friends.'
'Yes, signorina, we are good friends till we quarrel again. I regret to
observe to you that the respectable lady is incurably suspicious. Of me
--Zotti! Mother of heaven!'
'It is you that are suspicious of me, sir,' retorted madame. 'Of me, of
all persons! It's "tell me this, tell me that," all day with you; and
because I can't answer, you are angry.'
'Behold! the signora speaks English; we have quarrelled again,' said
'My mother thinks him a perfect web of plots,' Vittoria explained the
case between them, laughing, to Ammiani; 'and Zotti is persuaded that she
is an inveterate schemer. They are both entirely innocent, only they are
both excessively timid. Out of that it grows.'
The pair dramatized her outline on the instant:
'"Did I not see him speak to an English lady, and he will not tell me a
word about it, though she's my own countrywoman?"'
'"Is it not true that she received two letters this afternoon, and still
does she pretend to be ignorant of what is going on?"'
'Happily,' said Vittoria, 'my mother is not a widow, or these quarrels
might some day end in a fearful reconciliation.'
'My child,' her mother whimpered, 'you know what these autumn nights are
in this country; as sure as you live, Emilia, you will catch cold, and
then you're like a shop with shutters up for the dead.'
At the same time Zotti whispered: 'Signorina, I have kept the minestra
hot for your supper; come in, come in. And, little things, little dainty
bits!--do you live in Zotti's house for nothing? Sweetest delicacies
that make the tongue run a stream!--just notions of a taste--the palate
smacks and forgets; the soul seizes and remembers!'
'Oh, such seductions!' Vittoria exclaimed.
'It is,' Zotti pursued his idea, with fingers picturesquely twirling in a
spider-like distension; 'it is like the damned, and they have but a crumb
of a chance of Paradise, and down swoops St. Peter and has them in the
gates fast! You are worthy of all that a man can do for you, signorina.
Let him study, let him work, let him invent,--you are worthy of all.'
'I hope I am not too hungry to discriminate! Zotti I see Monte Rosa.'
'Signorina, you are pleased to say so when you are famishing. It is
because--' the enthusiastic confectioner looked deep and oblique, as one
who combined a remarkable subtlety of insight with profound reflection;
'it is because the lighter you get the higher you mount; up like an eagle
of the peaks! But we'll give that hungry fellow a fall. A dish of hot
minestra shoots him dead. Then, a tart of pistachios and chocolate and
cream--and my head to him who shall reveal to me the flavouring!'
'When I wake in the morning, I shall have lived a month or two in Arabia,
Zotti. Tell me no more; I will come in,' said Vittoria.
'Then, signorina, a little crisp filbert--biscuit--a composition! You
crack it, and a surprise! And then, and then my dish; Zotti's dish, that
is not yet christened. Signorina, let Italy rise first; the great
inventor of the dish winked and nodded temperately. 'Let her rise. A
battle or a treaty will do. I have two or three original conceptions,
compositions, that only wait for some brilliant feat of arms, or a
diplomatic triumph, and I send them forth baptized.'
Vittoria threw large eyes upon Ammiani, and set the underlids humorously
quivering. She kissed her fingers: 'Addio; a rivederla.' He bowed
formally: he was startled to find the golden thread of their
companionship cut with such cruel abruptness. But it was cut; the door
had closed on her. The moment it had closed she passed into his
imagination. By what charm had she allayed the fever of his anxiety?
Her naturalness had perforce given him assurance that peace must surround
one in whom it shone so steadily, and smiling at the thought of Zotti's
repast and her twinkle of subdued humour, he walked away comforted;
which, for a lover in the season of peril means exalted, as in a sudden
conflagration of the dry stock of his intelligence. 'She must have some
great faith in her heart,' he thought, no longer attributing his
exclusion from it to a lover's rivalry, which will show that more than
imagination was on fire within him. For when the soul of a youth can be
heated above common heat, the vices of passion shrivel up and aid the
purer flame. It was well for Ammiani that he did perceive (dimly though
it was perceived) the force of idealistic inspiration by which Vittoria
was supported. He saw it at this one moment, and it struck a light to
light him in many subsequent perplexities; it was something he had never
seen before. He had read Tuscan poetry to her in old Agostino's rooms;
he had spoken of secret preparations for the revolt; he had declaimed
upon Italy,--the poetry was good though the declamation may have been
bad,--but she had always been singularly irresponsive, with a practical
turn for ciphers. A quick reckoning, a sharp display of figures in
Italy's cause, kindled her cheeks and took her breath. Ammiani now
understood that there lay an unspoken depth in her, distinct from her
He had first an interview with Rocco Ricci, whom he prepared to replace
His way was then to the office of his Journal, where he expected to be
greeted by two members of the Polizia, who would desire him to march
before the central bureau, and exhibit proofs of articles and the items
of news for inspection, for correction haply, and possibly for approval.
There is a partial delight in the contemplated submission to an act of
servitude for the last time. Ammiani stepped in with combative gaiety,
but his stiff glance encountered no enemy. This astonished him. He
turned back into the street and meditated. The Pope's Mouth might, he
thought, hold the key to the riddle. It is not always most comfortable
for a conspirator to find himself unsuspected: he reads the blank
significantly. It looked ill that the authorities should allow anything
whatsoever to be printed on such a morrow: especially ill, if they were
on the alert. The neighbourhood by the Pope's Mouth was desolate under
dark starlight. Ammiani got his fingers into the opening behind the
rubbish of brick, and tore them on six teeth of a saw that had been fixed
therein. Those teeth were as voluble to him as loud tongues. The Mouth
was empty of any shred of paper. They meant that the enemy was ready to
bite, and that the conspiracy had ceased to be active. He perceived that
a stripped ivy-twig, with the leaves scattered around it, stretched at
his feet. That was another and corroborative sign, clearer to him than
printed capitals. The reading of it declared that the Revolt had
collapsed. He wound and unwound his handkerchief about his fingers
mechanically: great curses were in his throat. 'I would start for South
America at dawn, but for her!' he said. The country of Bolivar still had
its attractions for Italian youth. For a certain space Ammiani's soul
was black with passion. He was the son of that fiery Paolo Ammiani who
had cast his glove at Eugene's feet, and bade the viceroy deliver it to
his French master. (The General was preparing to break his sword on his
knee when Eugene rushed up to him and kissed him.) Carlo was of this
blood. Englishmen will hardly forgive him for having tears in his eyes,
but Italians follow the Greek classical prescription for the emotions,
while we take example by the Roman. There is no sneer due from us. He
sobbed. It seemed that a country was lost.
Ammiani had moved away slowly: he was accidentally the witness of a
curious scene. There came into the irregular triangle, and walking up
to where the fruitstalls stood by day, a woman and a man. The man was
an Austrian soldier. It was an Italian woman by his side. The sight of
the couple was just then like an incestuous horror to Ammiani. She led
the soldier straight up to the Mouth, directing his hand to it, and, what
was far more wonderful, directing it so that he drew forth a packet of
papers from where Ammiani had found none. Ammiani could see the light of
them in his hand. The Austrian snatched an embrace and ran. Ammiani was
moving over to her to seize and denounce the traitress, when he beheld
another figure like an apparition by her side; but this one was not a
whitecoat. Had it risen from the earth? It was earthy, for a cloud of
dust was about it, and the woman gave a stifled scream. 'Barto! Barto!'
she cried, pressing upon her eyelids. A strong husky laugh came from
him. He tapped her shoulder heartily, and his 'Ha! ha!' rang in the
'You never trust me,' she whimpered from shaken nerves.
He called her, 'Brave little woman! rare girl!'
'But you never trust me!'
'Do I not lay traps to praise you?'
'You make a woman try to deceive you.' If she could! If only she
Ammiani was up with them.
'You are Barto Rizzo,' he spoke, half leaning over the man in his
Barto stole a defensive rearward step. The thin light of dawn had in a
moment divided the extreme starry darkness, and Ammiani, who knew his
face, had not to ask a second time. It was scored by a recent sword-cut.
He glanced at the woman: saw that she was handsome. It was enough; he
knew she must be Barto's wife, and, if not more cunning than Barto, his
accomplice, his instrument, his slave.
'Five minutes ago I would have sworn you were a traitress he said to her.
She was expressionless, as if she had heard nothing; which fact,
considering that she was very handsome, seemed remarkable to the young
man. Youth will not believe that stupidity and beauty can go together.
'She is the favourite pupil of Bartolommeo Rizzo, Signor Carlo Ammiani,'
quoth Barto, having quite regained his composure. 'She is my pretty
puppet-patriot. I am not in the habit of exhibiting her; but since you
see her, there she is.'