Part 4 out of 11
Barto had fallen into the Southern habit of assuming ease in quasi-
rhetorical sentences, but with wary eyes over them. The peculiar,
contracting, owl-like twinkle defied Ammiani's efforts to penetrate
his look; so he took counsel of his anger, and spoke bluntly.
'She does your work?'
'Much of it, Signor Carlo: as the bullet does the work of the rifle.'
'Beast! was it your wife who pinned the butterfly to the Signorina
'Signor Carlo Ammiani, you are the son of Paolo, the General: you call me
beast? I have dandled you in my arms, my little lad, while the bands
played "There's yet a heart in Italy!" Do you remember it?' Barto sang
out half-a-dozen bars. 'You call me beast? I'm the one man in Milan who
can sing you that.'
'Beast or man, devil or whatever you are!' cried Ammiani, feeling
nevertheless oddly unnerved, 'you have committed a shameful offence: you,
or the woman, your wife, who serves you, as I see. You have thwarted the
best of plots; you have dared to act in defiance of your Chief--'
'Eyes to him!' Barto interposed, touching over his eyeballs.
'And you have thrown your accursed stupid suspicions on the Signorina
Vittoria. You are a mad fool. If I had the power, I would order you to
be shot at five this morning; and that 's the last rising of the light
you should behold. Why did you do it? Don't turn your hellish eyes in
upon one another, but answer at once! Why did you do it?'
'The Signorina Vittoria,' returned Barto--his articulation came forth
serpent-like--'she is not a spy, you think. She has been in England: I
have been in England. She writes; I can read. She is a thing of whims.
Shall she hold the goblet of Italy in her hand till it overflows? She
writes love-letters to an English whitecoat. I have read them. Who bids
her write? Her whim! She warns her friends not to enter Milan. She--
whose puppet is she? Not yours; not mine. She is the puppet of an
Barto drew back, for Ammiani was advancing.
'What is it you mean?' he cried.
'I mean,' said Ammiani, still moving on him, 'I mean to drag you first
before Count Medole, and next before the signorina; and you shall abjure
your slander in her presence. After that I shall deal with you. Mark
me! I have you: I am swifter on foot, and I am stronger. Come quietly.'
Barto smiled in grim contempt.
'Keep your foot fast on that stone, you're a prisoner,' he replied, and
seeing Ammiani coming, 'Net him, my sling-stone! my serpent!' he
signalled to his wife, who threw herself right round Ammiani in a
tortuous twist hard as wire-rope. Stung with irritation, and a sense of
disgrace and ridicule and pitifulness in one, Ammiani, after a struggle,
ceased the attempt to disentwine her arms, and dragged her clinging to
him. He was much struck by hearing her count deliberately, in her
desperation, numbers from somewhere about twenty to one hundred. One
hundred was evidently the number she had to complete, for when she had
reached it she threw her arms apart. Barto was out of sight. Ammiani
waved her on to follow in his steps: he was sick of her presence, and had
the sensations of a shame-faced boy whom a girl has kissed. She went
without uttering a word.
The dawn had now traversed the length of the streets, and thrown open the
wide spaces of the city. Ammiani found himself singing, 'There's yet a
heart in Italy!' but it was hardly the song of his own heart. He slept
that night on a chair in the private room of his office, preferring not
to go to his mother's house. 'There 's yet a heart in Italy!' was on his
lips when he awoke with scattered sensations, all of which collected in
revulsion against the song. 'There's a very poor heart in Italy!' he
said, while getting his person into decent order; 'it's like the bell in
the lunatic's tower between Venice and the Lido: it beats now and then
for meals: hangs like a carrion-lump in the vulture's beak meanwhile!'
These and some other similar sentiments, and a heat about the brows
whenever he set them frowning over what Barto had communicated concerning
an English Austrian, assured Ammiani that he had no proper command of
himself: or was, as the doctors would have told him, bilious. It seemed
to him that he must have dreamed of meeting the dark and subtle Barto
Rizzo overnight; on realizing that fact he could not realize how the man
had escaped him, except that when he thought over it, he breathed deep
and shook his shoulders. The mind will, as you may know, sometimes
refuse to work when the sensations are shameful and astonished. He
despatched a messenger with a 'good morrow' to his mother, and then went
to a fencing-saloon that was fitted up in the house of Count Medole,
where, among two or three, there was the ordinary shrugging talk of the
collapse of the projected outbreak, bitter to hear. Luciano Romara came
in, and Ammiani challenged him to small-sword and broadsword. Both being
ireful to boiling point, and mad to strike at something, they attacked
one another furiously, though they were dear friends, and the helmet-
wires and the padding rattled and smoked to the thumps. For half an hour
they held on to it, when, their blood being up, they flashed upon the men
present, including the count, crying shame to them for letting a woman
alone be faithful to her task that night. The blood forsook Count
Medole's cheeks, leaving its dead hue, as when blotting-paper is laid on
running-ink. He deliberately took a pair of foils, and offering the
handle of one to Ammiani, broke the button off the end of his own, and
stood to face an adversary. Ammiani followed the example: a streak of
crimson was on his shirt-sleeve, and his eyes had got their hard black
look, as of the flint-stone, before Romara in amazement discovered the
couple to be at it in all purity of intention, on the sharp edge of the
abyss. He knocked up their weapons and stood between them, puffing his
'I fine you both,' he said.
He touched Ammiani's sword-arm, nodded with satisfaction to find that
there was no hurt, and cried, 'You have an Austrian out on the ground by
this time tomorrow morning. So, according to the decree!'
'Captain Weisspriess is in the city,' was remarked.
'There are a dozen on the list,' said little Pietro Cardi, drawing out a
'If you are to be doing nothing else to-morrow morning,' added Leone
Rufo, 'we may as well march out the whole dozen.'
These two were boys under twenty.
'Shall it be the first hit for Captain Weisspriess?' Count Medole said
this while handing a fresh and fairly-buttoned foil to Ammiani.
Romara laughed: 'You will require to fence the round of Milan city, my
dear count, to win a claim to Captain Weisspriess. In the first place,
I yield him to no man who does not show himself a better man than I.
It's the point upon which I don't pay compliments.'
Count Medole bowed.
'But, if you want occupation,' added Luciano, closing his speech with a
merely interrogative tone.
'I scarcely want that, as those who know me will tell you,' said Medole,
so humbly, that those who knew him felt that he had risen to his high
seat of intellectual contempt. He could indulge himself, having shown
'Certainly not; if you are devising means of subsistence for the widows
and orphans of the men who will straggle out to be slaughtered to-night,'
said Luciano; 'you have occupation in that case.'
'I will do my best to provide for them,'--the count persisted in his air
of humility, 'though it is a question with some whether idiots should
live.' He paused effectively, and sucked in a soft smile of self-
approbation at the stroke. Then he pursued: 'We meet the day after
to-morrow. The Pope's Mouth is closed. We meet here at nine in the
morning. The next day at eleven at Farugino's, the barber's, in Monza.
The day following at Camerlata, at eleven likewise. Those who attend
will be made aware of the dispositions for the week, and the day we shall
name for the rising. It is known to you all, that without affixing a
stigma on our new prima-donna, we exclude her from any share in this
business. All the Heads have been warned that we yield this night to the
Austrians. Gentlemen, I cannot be more explicit. I wish that I could
please you better.'
'Oh, by all means,' said Pietro Cardi: 'but patience is the pestilence; I
shall roam in quest of adventure. Another quiet week is a tremendous
He crossed foils with Leone Rufo, but finding no stop to the drawn
'swish' of the steel, he examined the end of his weapon with a
lengthening visage, for it was buttonless. Ammiani burst into laughter
at the spontaneous boyishness in the faces of the pair of ambitious lads.
They both offered him one of the rapiers upon equal terms. Count
Medole's example of intemperate vanity was spoiling them.
'You know my opinion,' Ammiani said to the count. 'I told you last
night, and I tell you again to-day, that Barto Rizzo is guilty of gross
misconduct, and that you must plead the same to a sort of excuseable
treason. Count Medole, you cannot wind and unwind a conspiracy like a
watch. Who is the head of this one? It is the man Barto Rizzo. He took
proceedings before he got you to sanction them. You may be the vessel,
but he commands, or at least, he steers it.'
The count waited undemonstratively until Ammiani had come to an end.
'You speak, my good Ammiani, with an energy that does you credit,' he
said, 'considering that it is not in your own interest, but another
person's. Remember, I can bear to have such a word as treason ascribed
to my acts.'
Fresh visitors, more or less mixed, in the conspiracy, and generally
willing to leave the management of it to Count Medole, now entered the
saloon. These were Count Rasati, Angelo Dovili, a Piedmontese General, a
Tuscan duke, and one or two aristocratic notabilities and historic
nobodies. They were hostile to the Chief whom Luciano and Carlo revered
and obeyed. The former lit a cigarette, and saying to his friend, 'Do
you breakfast with your mother? I will come too,' slipped his hand on
Ammiani's arm; they walked out indolently together, with the smallest
shade of an appearance of tolerating scorn for those whom they left
'Medole has money and rank and influence, and a kind of I-don't-know-what
womanishness, that makes him push like a needle for the lead, and he will
have the lead and when he has got the lead, there 's the last chapter of
him,' said Luciano. 'His point of ambition is the perch of the weather-
cock. Why did he set upon you, my Carlo? I saw the big V running up
your forehead when you faced him. If you had finished him no great harm
would have been done.'
'I saw him for a short time last night, and spoke to him in my father's
style,' said Carlo. 'The reason was, that he defended Barto Rizzo for
putting the ring about the Signorina Vittoria's name, and causing the
black butterfly to be pinned to her dress.'
Luciano's brows stood up.
'If she sings to-night, depend upon it there will be a disturbance,' he
said. 'There may be a rising in spite of Medole and such poor sparks,
who're afraid to drop on powder, and twirl and dance till the wind blows
them out. And mind, the chance rising is commonly the luckiest. If I
get a command I march to the Alps. We must have the passes of the Tyrol.
It seems to me that whoever holds the Alps must ride the Lombard mare.
You spring booted and spurred into the saddle from the Alps.'
Carlo was hurt by his friend's indifference to the base injury done to
'I have told Medole that she will sing to-night in spite of him,' he was
saying, with the intention of bringing round some reproach upon Luciano
for his want of noble sympathy, when the crash of an Austrian regimental
band was heard coming up the Corso. It stirred him to love his friend
with all his warmth. 'At any rate, for my sake, Luciano, you will
respect and uphold her.'
'Yes, while she's true,' said Luciano, unsatisfactorily. The regiment,
in review uniform, followed by two pieces of artillery, passed by. Then
came a squadron of hussars and one of Uhlans, and another foot regiment,
more artillery, fresh cavalry.
'Carlo, if three generations of us pour out our blood to fertilize
Italian ground, it's not too much to pay to chase those drilled curs.'
Luciano spoke in vehement undertone.
'We 'll breakfast and have a look at them in the Piazza d'Armi, and show
that we Milanese are impressed with a proper idea of their power,' said
Carlo, brightening as he felt the correction of his morbid lover's anger
in Luciano's reaching view of their duties as Italian citizens. The heat
and whirl of the hour struck his head, for to-morrow they might be
wrestling with that living engine which had marched past, and surely all
the hate he could muster should be turned upon the outer enemy. He
gained his mother's residence with clearer feelings.
Countess Ammiani was a Venetian lady of a famous House, the name of which
is as a trumpet sounding from the inner pages of the Republic. Her face
was like a leaf torn from an antique volume; the hereditary features told
the story of her days. The face was sallow and fireless; life had faded
like a painted cloth upon the imperishable moulding. She had neither
fire in her eyes nor colour on her skin. The thin close multitudinous
wrinkles ran up accurately ruled from the chin to the forehead's centre,
and touched faintly once or twice beyond, as you observe the ocean
ripples run in threads confused to smoothness within a space of the grey
horizon sky. But the chin was firm, the mouth and nose were firm, the
forehead sat calmly above these shows of decay. It was a most noble
face; a fortress face; strong and massive, and honourable in ruin, though
stripped of every flower.
This lady in her girlhood had been the one lamb of the family dedicated
to heaven. Paolo, the General, her lover, had wrenched her from that
fate to share with him a life of turbulent sorrows till she should behold
the blood upon his grave. She, like Laura Fiaveni, had bent her head
above a slaughtered husband, but, unlike Laura, Marcellina Ammiani had
not buried her heart with him. Her heart and all her energies had been
his while he lived; from the visage of death it turned to her son. She
had accepted the passion for Italy from Paolo; she shared it with Carlo.
Italian girls of that period had as little passion of their own as
flowers kept out of sunlight have hues. She had given her son to her
country with that intensely apprehensive foresight of a mother's love
which runs quick as Eastern light from the fervour of the devotion to the
remote realization of the hour of the sacrifice, seeing both in one.
Other forms of love, devotion in other bosoms, may be deluded, but hers
will not be. She sees the sunset in the breast of the springing dawn.
Often her son Carlo stood a ghost in her sight. With this haunting
prophetic vision, it was only a mother, who was at the same time a
supremely noble woman, that could feel all human to him notwithstanding.
Her heart beat thick and fast when Carlo and Luciano entered the morning-
room where she sat, and stopped to salute her in turn.
'Well?' she said without betraying anxiety or playing at carelessness.
Carlo answered, 'Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die. I think
that's the language of peaceful men.'
'You are to be peaceful men to-morrow, my Carlo?'
'The thing is in Count Medole's hands,' said Luciano; 'and he is
constitutionally of our Agostino's opinion that we are bound to wait till
the Gods kick us into action; and, as Agostino says, Medole has raised
himself upon our shoulders so as to be the more susceptible to their
wishes when they blow a gale.'
He informed her of the momentary thwarting of the conspiracy, and won
Carlo's gratitude by not speaking of the suspicion which had fallen on
'Medole,' he said, 'has the principal conduct of the business in Milan,
as you know, countess. Our Chief cannot be everywhere at once; so Medole
undertakes to decide for him here in old Milan. He decided yesterday
afternoon to put off our holiday for what he calls a week. Checco, the
idiot, in whom he confides, gave me the paper signifying the fact at four
o'clock. There was no appeal; for we can get no place of general meeting
under Medole's prudent management. He fears our being swallowed in a
body if we all meet.'
The news sent her heart sinking in short throbs down to a delicious rest;
but Countess Ammiani disdained to be servile to the pleasure, even as she
had strengthened herself to endure the shocks of pain. It was a
conquered heart that she and every Venetian and Lombard mother had to
carry; one that played its tune according to its nature, shaping no
action, sporting no mask. If you know what is meant by that phrase, a
conquered heart, you will at least respect them whom you call weak women
for having gone through the harshest schooling which this world can show
example of. In such mothers Italy revived. The pangs and the martyrdom
were theirs. Fathers could march to the field or to the grey glacis with
their boys; there was no intoxication of hot blood to cheer those who sat
at home watching the rise and fall of trembling scales which said life or
death for their dearest. Their least shadowy hope could be but a
shrouded contentment in prospect; a shrouded submission in feeling. What
bloom of hope was there when Austria stood like an iron wall, and their
own ones dashing against it were as little feeble waves that left a red
mark and no more? But, duty to their country had become their religion;
sacrifice they accepted as their portion; when the last stern evil befell
them they clad themselves in a veil and walked upon an earth they had
passed from for all purposes save service of hands. Italy revived in
these mothers. Their torture was that of the re-animation of her frame
from the death-trance.
Carlo and Luciano fell hungrily upon dishes of herb-flavoured cutlets,
and Neapolitan maccaroni, green figs, green and red slices of melon,
chocolate, and a dry red Florentine wine. The countess let them eat, and
then gave her son a letter that been delivered at her door an hour back
by the confectioner Zotti. It proved to be an enclosure of a letter
addressed to Vittoria by the Chief. Genoa was its superscription. From
that place it was forwarded by running relays of volunteer messengers.
There were points of Italy which the Chief could reach four-and-twenty
hours in advance of the Government with all its aids and machinery.
Vittoria had simply put her initials at the foot of the letter. Carlo
read it eagerly and cast it aside. It dealt in ideas and abstract
phraseology; he could get nothing of it between his impatient teeth; he
was reduced to a blank wonder at the reason for her sending it on to him.
It said indeed--and so far it seemed to have a meaning for her:
'No backward step. We can bear to fall; we cannot afford to draw back.'
'Remember that these uprisings are the manifested pulsations of the heart
of your country, so that none shall say she is a corpse, and knowing that
she lives, none shall say that she deserves not freedom. It is the
protest of her immortal being against her impious violator.'
Evidently the Chief had heard nothing of the counterstroke of Barto
Rizzo, and of Count Medole's miserable weakness: but how, thought Carlo,
how can a mind like Vittoria's find matter to suit her in such sentences?
He asked himself the question, forgetting that a little time gone by,
while he was aloof from the tumult and dreaming of it, this airy cloudy
language and every symbolism, had been strong sustaining food, a vital
atmosphere, to him. He did not for the moment (though by degrees he
recovered his last night's conception of her) understand that among the
noble order of women there is, when they plunge into strife, a craving
for idealistic truths, which men are apt, under the heat and hurry of
their energies, to put aside as stars that are meant merely for shining.
His mother perused the letter--holding it out at arm's length--and laid
it by; Luciano likewise. Countess Ammiani was an aristocrat: the tone
and style of the writing were distasteful to her. She allowed her son's
judgement of the writer to stand for her own, feeling that she could
surrender little prejudices in favour of one who appeared to hate the
Austrians so mortally. On the other hand, she defended Count Medole.
Her soul shrank at the thought of the revolution being yielded up to
theorists and men calling themselves men of the people--a class of men
to whom Paolo her soldier-husband's aversion had always been formidably
pronounced. It was an old and a wearisome task for Carlo to explain to
her that the times were changed and the necessities of the hour different
since the day when his father conspired and fought for freedom. Yet he
could not gainsay her when she urged that the nobles should be elected to
lead, if they consented to lead; for if they did not lead, were they not
excluded from the movement?
'I fancy you have defined their patriotism,' said Carlo.
'Nay, my son; but you are one of them.'
'Indeed, my dearest mother, that is not what they will tell you.'
'Because you have chosen to throw yourself into the opposite ranks.'
'You perceive that you divide our camp, madame my mother. For me there
is no natural opposition of ranks. What are we? We are slaves: all are
slaves. While I am a slave, shall I boast that I am of noble birth?
"Proud of a coronet with gems of paste!" some one writes. Save me from
that sort of pride! I am content to take my patent of nobility for good
conduct in the revolution. Then I will be count, or marquis, or duke;
I am not a Republican pure blood;--but not till then. And in the
'Carlo is composing for his newspaper,' the countess said to Luciano.
'Those are the leaders who can lead,' the latter replied. 'Give the men
who are born to it the first chance. Old Agostino is right--the people
owe them their vantage ground. But when they have been tried and they
have failed, decapitate them. Medole looks upon revolution as a
description of conjuring trick. He shuffles cards and arranges them for
a solemn performance, but he refuses to cut them if you look too serious
or I look too eager; for that gives him a suspicion that you know what
is going to turn up; and his object is above all things to produce a
'You are both of you unjust to Count Medole,' said the countess. 'He
imperils more than all of you.'
'Magnificent estates, it is true; but of head or of heart not quite so
much as some of us,' said Luciano, stroking his thick black pendent
moustache and chin-tuft. 'Ah, pardon me; yes! he does imperil a finer
'When he sinks, and his vanity is cut in two, Medole will bleed so as to
flood his Lombard flats. It will be worse than death to him.'
Carlo said: 'Do you know what our Agostino says of Count Medole?'
'Oh, for ever Agostino with you young men!' the countess exclaimed.
'I believe he laughs at you.'
'To be sure he does: he laughs at all. But, what he says of Count Medole
holds the truth of the thing, and may make you easier concerning the
count's estates. He says that Medole is vaccine matter which the
Austrians apply to this generation of Italians to spare us the terrible
disease. They will or they won't deal gently with Medole, by-and-by; but
for the present he will be handled tenderly. He is useful. I wish I
could say that we thought so too. And now,' Carlo stooped to her and
took her hand, 'shall we see you at La Scala to-night?'
The countess, with her hands lying in his, replied: 'I have received an
intimation from the authorities that my box is wanted.'
'So you claim your right to occupy it!'
'That is my very humble protest for personal liberty.'
'Good: I shall be there, and shall much enjoy an introduction to the
gentleman who disputes it with you. Besides, mother, if the Signorina
Vittoria sings . . .'
Countess Ammiani's gaze fixed upon her son with a level steadiness. His
voice threatened to be unequal. All the pleading force of his eyes was
thrown into it, as he said: 'She will sing: and she gives the signal;
that is certain. We may have to rescue her. If I can place her under
your charge, I shall feel that she is safe, and is really protected.'
The countess looked at Luciano before she answered:
'Yes, Carlo, whatever I can do. But you know I have not a scrap of
'Let her lie on your bosom, my mother.'
'Is this to be another Violetta?'
'Her name is Vittoria,' said Carlo, colouring deeply. A certain Violetta
had been his boy's passion.
Further distracting Austrian band-music was going by. This time it was
a regiment of Italians in the white and blue uniform. Carlo and Luciano
leaned over the balcony, smoking, and scanned the marching of their
fellow-countrymen in the livery of servitude.
'They don't step badly,' said one; and the other, with a smile of
melancholy derision, said, 'We are all brothers!'
Following the Italians came a regiment of Hungarian grenadiers, tall,
swam-faced, and particularly light-limbed men, looking brilliant in the
clean tight military array of Austria. Then a squadron of blue hussars,
and Croat regiment; after which, in the midst of Czech dragoons and
German Uhlans and blue Magyar light horsemen, with General officers and
aides about him, the veteran Austrian Field-Marshal rode, his easy hand
and erect figure and good-humoured smile belying both his age and his
reputation among Italians. Artillery, and some bravely-clad horse of the
Eastern frontier, possibly Serb, wound up the procession. It gleamed
down the length of the Corso in a blinding sunlight; brass helmets and
hussar feathers, white and violet surcoats, green plumes, maroon capes,
bright steel scabbards, bayonet-points,--as gallant a show as some
portentously-magnified summer field, flowing with the wind, might be; and
over all the banner of Austria--the black double-headed eagle ramping on
a yellow ground. This was the flower of iron meaning on such a field.
The two young men held their peace. Countess Ammiani had pushed her
chair back into a dark corner of the room, and was sitting there when
they looked back, like a sombre figure of black marble.
IN THE PIAZZA D'ARMI
Carlo and Luciano followed the regiments to the Piazza d'Armi, drawn
after them by that irresistible attraction to youths who have as yet had
no shroud of grief woven for them--desire to observe the aspect of a
The Piazza d'Armi was the field of Mars of Milan, and an Austrian review
of arms there used to be a tropical pageant. The place was too narrow
for broad manoeuvres, or for much more than to furnish an inspection of
all arms to the General, and a display (with its meaning) to the
populace. An unusually large concourse of spectators lined the square,
like a black border to a vast bed of flowers, nodding now this way, now
that. Carlo and Luciano passed among the groups, presenting the
perfectly smooth faces of young men of fashion, according to the
universal aristocratic pattern handed down to querulous mortals from
Olympus--the secret of which is to show a triumphant inaction of the
heart and the brain, that are rendered positively subservient to elegance
of limb. They knew the chances were in favour of their being arrested at
any instant. None of the higher members of the Milanese aristocracy were
visible; the people looked sullen. Carlo was attracted by the tall
figure of the Signor Antonio-Pericles, whom he beheld in converse with
the commandant of the citadel, out in the square, among chatting and
laughing General officers. At Carlo's elbow there came a burst of
English tongues; he heard Vittoria's English name spoken with animation.
'Admire those faces,' he said to Luciano, but the latter was
interchanging quiet recognitions among various heads of the crowd;
a language of the eyelids and the eyebrows. When he did look round he
admired the fair island faces with an Italian's ardour: 'Their women are
splendid!' and he no longer pushed upon Carlo's arm to make way ahead.
In the English group were two sunny-haired girls and a blue-eyed lady
with the famous English curls, full, and rounding richly. This lady
talked of her brother, and pointed him out as he rode down the line in
the Marshal's staff. The young officer indicated presently broke away
and galloped up to her, bending over his horse's neck to join the
conversation. Emilia Belloni's name was mentioned. He stared, and
appeared to insist upon a contrary statement.
Carlo scrutinized his features. While doing so he was accosted, and
beheld his former adversary of the Motter--one, with whom he had
yesterday shaken hands in the Piazza of La Scala. The ceremony was
cordially renewed. Luciano unlinked his arm from Carlo and left him.
'It appears that you are mistaken with reference to Mademoiselle
Belloni,' said Captain Gambier. 'We hear on positive authority that
she will not appear at La Scala to-night. It's a disappointment; though,
from what you did me the honour to hint to me, I cannot allow myself to
Carlo had a passionate inward prompting to trust this Englishman with the
secret. It was a weakness that he checked. When one really takes to
foreigners, there is a peculiar impulse (I speak of the people who are
accessible to impulse) to make brothers of them. He bowed, and said,
'She does not appear?'
'She has in fact quitted Milan. Not willingly. I would have stopped the
business if I had known anything of it; but she is better out of the way,
and will be carefully looked after, where she is. By this time she is in
'And where?' asked Carlo, with friendly interest.
'At a schloss near Meran. Or she will be there in a very few hours.
I feared--I may inform you that we were very good friends in England--
I feared that when she once came to Italy she would get into political
scrapes. I dare say you agree with me that women have nothing to do with
politics. Observe: you see the lady who is speaking to the Austrian
officer?--he is her brother. Like Mademoiselle Belloni he has adopted a
fresh name; it's the name of his uncle, a General Pierson in the Austrian
service. I knew him in England: he has been in our service.
Mademoiselle Belloni lived with his sisters for some years two or three.
As you may suppose, they are all anxious to see her. Shall I introduce.
you? They will be glad to know one of her Italian friends.'
Carlo hesitated; he longed to hear those ladies talk of Vittoria. 'Do
they speak French?'
'Oh, dear, yes. That is, as we luckless English people speak it.
Perhaps you will more easily pardon their seminary Italian. See there,'
Captain Gambier pointed at some trotting squadrons; 'these Austrians have
certainly a matchless cavalry. The artillery seems good. The infantry
are fine men--very fine men. They have a "woodeny" movement; but that's
in the nature of the case: tremendous discipline alone gives homogeneity
to all those nationalities. Somehow they get beaten. I doubt whether
anything will beat their cavalry.'
'They are useless in street-fighting,' said Carlo.
'Oh, street-fighting!' Captain Gambier vented a soldier's disgust at the
notion. 'They're not in Paris. Will you step forward?'
Just then the tall Greek approached the party of English. The
introduction was delayed.
He was addressed by the fair lady, in the island tongue, as
'Mr. Pericles.' She thanked him for his extreme condescension in deigning
to notice them. But whatever his condescension had been, it did not
extend to an admitted acquaintance with the poor speech of the land of
fogs. An exhibition of aching deafness was presented to her so
resolutely, that at last she faltered, ' What! have you forgotten
English, Mr. Pericles? You spoke it the other day.'
'It is ze language of necessity--of commerce,' he replied.
'But, surely, Mr. Pericles, you dare not presume to tell me you choose to
be ignorant of it whenever you please?'
'I do not take grits into ze teeth, madame; no more.' 'But you speak it
'Perfect it may be, for ze transactions of commerce. I wish to keep my
'Alas!' said the lady, compelled, 'I must endeavour to swim in French.'
'At your service, madame,' quoth the Greek, with an immediate doubling of
the length of his body.
Carlo heard little more than he knew; but the confirmation of what we
know will sometimes instigate us like fresh intelligence, and the lover's
heart was quick to apprehend far more than he knew in one direction. He
divined instantaneously that the English-Austrian spoken of by Barto
Rizzo was the officer sitting on horseback within half-a-dozen yards of
him. The certainty of the thought cramped his muscles. For the rest,
it became clear to him that the attempt of the millionaire connoisseur to
carry off Vittoria had received the tacit sanction of the Austrian
authorities; for reasons quite explicable, Mr. Pericles, as the English
lady called him, distinctly hinted it, while affirming with vehement
self-laudation that his scheme had succeeded for the vindication of Art.
'The opera you will hear zis night,' he said, 'will be hissed. You will
hear a chorus of screech-owls to each song of that poor Irma, whom the
Italian people call "crabapple." Well; she pleases German ears, and if
they can support her, it is well. But la Vittoria--your Belloni--you
will not hear; and why? She has been false to her Art, false! She has
become a little devil in politics. It is a Guy Fawkes femelle! She has
been guilty of the immense crime of ingratitude. She is dismissed to
study, to penitence, and to the society of her old friends, if they will
'Of course we will,' said the English lady; 'either before or after our
visit to Venice--delicious Venice!'
'Which you have not seen--hein?' Mr. Pericles snarled; 'and have not
smelt. There is no music in Venice! But you have nothing but street
tinkle-tinkle! A place to live in! mon Dieu!'
The lady smiled. 'My husband insists upon trying the baths of Bormio,
and then we are to go over a pass for him to try the grape-cure at Meran.
If I can get him to promise me one whole year in Italy, our visit to
Venice may be deferred. Our doctor, monsieur, indicates our route. If
my brother can get leave of absence, we shall go to Bormio and to Meran
with him. He is naturally astonished that Emilia refused to see him; and
she refused to see us too! She wrote a letter, dated from the
Conservatorio to him, he had it in his saddlebag, and was robbed of it
and other precious documents, when the wretched, odious people set upon
him in Verona-poor boy! She said in the letter that she would see him in
a few days after the fifteenth, which is to-day.!
'Ah! a few days after the fifteenth, which is to-day,' Mr. Pericles
repeated. 'I saw you but the day before yesterday, madame, or I could
have brought you together.
She is now away-off--out of sight--the perfule! Ah false that she is;
speak not of her. You remember her in England. There it was trouble,
trouble; but here, we are a pot on a fire with her; speak not of her.
She has used me ill, madame. I am sick.'
His violent gesticulation drooped. In a temporary abandonment to
chagrin, he wiped the moisture from his forehead, unwilling or heedless
of the mild ironical mouthing of the ladies, and looked about; for Carlo
had made a movement to retire,--he had heard enough for discomfort.
'Ah! my dear Ammiani, the youngest editor in Europe! how goes it with
you?' the Greek called out with revived affability.
Captain Gambier perceived that it was time to present his Italian
acquaintance to the ladies by name, as a friend of Mademoiselle Belloni.
'My most dear Ammiani,' Antonio-Pericles resumed; he barely attempted to
conceal his acrid delight in casting a mysterious shadow of coming
vexation over the youth; 'I am afraid you will not like the opera
Camilla, or perhaps it is the Camilla you will not like. But, shoulder
arms, march!' (a foot regiment in motion suggested the form of the
recommendation) 'what is not for to-day may be for to-morrow. Let us
wait. I think, my Ammiani, you are to have a lemon and not an orange.
Never mind. Let us wait.'
Carlo got his forehead into a show of smoothness, and said, 'Suppose, my
dear Signor Antonio, the prophet of dark things were to say to himself,
"Let us wait?"'
'Hein-it is deep.' Antonio-Pericles affected to sound the sentence, eye
upon earth, as a sparrow spies worm or crumb. 'Permit me,' he added
rapidly; an idea had struck him from his malicious reserve stores,--
'Here is Lieutenant Pierson, of the staff of the Field-Marshal of
Austria, unattached, an old friend of Mademoiselle Emilia Belloni,--
permit me,--here is Count Ammiani, of the Lombardia Milanese journal, a
new friend of the Signorina Vittoria Campa-Mademoiselle Belloni the
Signorina Campa--it is the same person, messieurs; permit me to introduce
Antonio-Pericles waved his arm between the two young men.
Their plain perplexity caused him to dash his fingers down each side of
his moustachios in tugs of enjoyment.
For Lieutenant Pierson, who displayed a certain readiness to bow, had
caught a sight of the repellent stare on Ammiani's face; a still and flat
look, not aggressive, yet anything but inviting; like a shield.
Nevertheless, the lieutenant's head produced a stiff nod. Carlo's did
not respond; but he lifted his hat and bowed humbly in retirement to the
Captain Gambier stepped aside with him.
'Inform Lieutenant Pierson, I beg you,' said Ammiani, 'that I am at his
orders, if he should consider that I have insulted him.'
'By all means,' said Gambier; 'only, you know, it's impossible for me to
guess what is the matter; and I don't think he knows.'
Luciano happened to be coming near. Carlo went up to him, and stood
talking for half a minute. He then returned to Captain Gambier, and
said, 'I put myself in the hands of a man of honour. You are aware that
Italian gentlemen are not on terms with Austrian officers. If I am seen
exchanging salutes with any one of them, I offend my countrymen; and they
have enough to bear already.'
Perceiving that there was more in the background, Gambier simply bowed.
He had heard of Italian gentlemen incurring the suspicion of their
fellows by merely being seen in proximity to an Austrian officer.
As they were parting, Carlo said to him, with a very direct meaning in
his eyes, 'Go to the opera tonight.'
'Yes, I suppose so,' the Englishman answered, and digested the look and
the recommendation subsequently.
Lieutenant Pierson had ridden off. The war-machine was in motion from
end to end: the field of flowers was a streaming flood; regiment by
regiment, the crash of bands went by. Outwardly the Italians conducted
themselves with the air of ordinary heedless citizens, in whose bosoms
the music set no hell-broth boiling. Patrician and plebeian, they were
chiefly boys; though here and there a middle-aged workman cast a look of
intelligence upon Carlo and Luciano, when these two passed along the
crowd. A gloom of hoarded hatred was visible in the mass of faces, ready
to spring fierily.
Arms were in the city. With hatred to prompt the blow, with arms
to strike, so much dishonour to avenge, we need not wonder that these
youths beheld the bit of liberty in prospect magnified by their mighty
obfuscating ardour, like a lantern in a fog. Reason did not act. They
were in such a state when just to say 'Italia! Italia!' gave them nerve
to match an athlete. So, the parading of Austria, the towering athlete,
failed of its complete lesson of intimidation, and only ruffled the
surface of insurgent hearts. It seemed, and it was, an insult to the
trodden people, who read it as a lesson for cravens: their instinct
commonly hits the bell. They felt that a secure supremacy would not
have paraded itself: so they divined indistinctly that there was weakness
somewhere in the councils of the enemy. When the show had vanished,
their spirits hung pausing, like the hollow air emptied of big sound,
and reacted. Austria had gained little more by her display than the
conscientious satisfaction of the pedagogue who lifts the rod to advise
intending juvenile culprits how richly it can be merited and how poor
will be their future grounds of complaint.
But before Austria herself had been taught a lesson she conceived that
she had but one man and his feeble instruments, and occasional frenzies,
opposed to her, him whom we saw on the Motterone, which was ceasing to be
true; though it was true that the whole popular movement flowed from that
one man. She observed travelling sparks in the embers of Italy, and
crushed them under her heel, without reflecting that a vital heat must be
gathering where the spots of fire run with such a swiftness. It was her
belief that if she could seize that one man, whom many of the younger
nobles and all the people acknowledged as their Chief--for he stood then
without a rival in his task--she would have the neck of conspiracy in her
angry grasp. Had she caught him, the conspiracy for Italian freedom
would not have crowed for many long seasons; the torch would have been
ready, but not the magazine. He prepared it; it was he who preached to
the Italians that opportunity is a mocking devil when we look for it to
be revealed; or, in other words, wait for chance; as it is God's angel
when it is created within us, the ripe fruit of virtue and devotion. He
cried out to Italians to wait for no inspiration but their own; that they
should never subdue their minds to follow any alien example; nor let a
foreign city of fire be their beacon. Watching over his Italy; her wrist
in his meditative clasp year by year; he stood like a mystic leech by the
couch of a fair and hopeless frame, pledged to revive it by the inspired
assurance, shared by none, that life had not forsaken it. A body given
over to death and vultures-he stood by it in the desert. Is it a marvel
to you that when the carrion-wings swooped low, and the claws fixed, and
the beak plucked and savoured its morsel, he raised his arm, and urged
the half-resuscitated frame to some vindicating show of existence?
Arise! he said, even in what appeared most fatal hours of darkness.
The slack limbs moved; the body rose and fell. The cost of the effort
was the breaking out of innumerable wounds, old and new; the gain was the
display of the miracle that Italy lived. She tasted her own blood, and
herself knew that she lived.
Then she felt her chains. The time was coming for her to prove, by the
virtues within her, that she was worthy to live, when others of her sons,
subtle and adept, intricate as serpents, bold, unquestioning as well-
bestridden steeds, should grapple and play deep for her in the game of
worldly strife. Now--at this hour of which I speak--when Austrians
marched like a merry flame down Milan streets, and Italians stood like
the burnt-out cinders of the fire-grate, Italy's faint wrist was still
in the clutch of her grave leech, who counted the beating of her pulse
between long pauses, that would have made another think life to be
heaving its last, not beginning.
The Piazza d'Armi was empty of its glittering show.
THE NIGHT OF THE FIFTEENTH
We quit the Piazza d'Armi. Rumour had its home in Milan. On their way
to the caffe La Scala, Luciano and Carlo (who held together, determined
to be taken together if the arrest should come) heard it said that the
Chief was in Milan. A man passed by and uttered it, going. They stopped
a second man, who was known to them, and he confirmed the rumour. Glad
as sunlight once more, they hurried to Count Medole forgivingly. The
count's servant assured them that his master had left the city for Monza.
'Is Medole a coward?' cried Luciano, almost in the servant's hearing.
The fleeing of so important a man looked vile, now that they were
sharpened by new eagerness. Forthwith they were off to Agostino,
believing that he would know the truth. They found him in bed. 'Well,
and what?' said Agostino, replying to their laughter. 'I am old; too old
to stride across a day and night, like you giants of youth. I take my
rest when I can, for I must have it.'
'But, you know, O conscript father,' said Carlo, willing to fall a little
into his mood, 'you know that nothing will be done to-night.'
'Do I know so much?' Agostino murmured at full length.
'Do you know that the Chief is in the city?' said Luciano.
'A man who is lying in bed knows this,' returned Agostino, 'that he knows
less than those who are up, though what he does know he perhaps digests
better. 'Tis you who are the fountains, my boys, while I am the pool
into which you play. Say on.'
They spoke of the rumour. He smiled at it. They saw at once that the
rumour was false, for the Chief trusted Agostino.
'Proceed to Barto, the mole,' he said, 'Barto the miner; he is the father
of daylight in the city: of the daylight of knowledge, you understand,
for which men must dig deep. Proceed to him;--if you can find him.'
But Carlo brought flame into Agostino's eyes.
'The accursed beast! he has pinned the black butterfly to the signorina's
Agostino rose on his elbow. He gazed at them. 'We are followers of a
blind mole,' he uttered with an inner voices while still gazing
wrathfully, and then burst out in grief, '"Patria o mea creatrix, patria
o mea genetrix!"'
'The signorina takes none of his warnings, nor do we. She escaped a plot
last night, and to-night she sings.'
'She must not,' said Agostino imperiously.
'I must stop that.' Agostino jumped out of bed.
The young men beset him with entreaties to leave the option to her.
'Fools!' he cried, plunging a rageing leg into his garments. 'Here,
Iris! Mercury! fly to Jupiter and say we are all old men and boys in
Italy, and are ready to accept a few middleaged mortals as Gods, if they
will come and help us. Young fools! Do you know that when you conspire
you are in harness, and yoke-fellows, every one?'
'Yoked to that Barto Rizzo!'
'Yes; and the worse horse of the two. Listen, you pair of Nuremberg
puppet-heads! If the Chief were here, I would lie still in my bed.
Medole has stopped the outbreak. Right or wrong, he moves a mass;
we are subordinates--particles. The Chief can't be everywhere. Milan
is too hot for him. Two men are here, concealed--Rinaldo and Angelo
Guidascarpi. The rumour springs from that. They have slain Count Paul
Lenkenstein, and rushed to old Milan for work, with the blood on their
swords. Oh, the tragedy!--when I have time to write it. Let me now go
to my girl, to my daughter! The blood of the Lenkenstein must rust on
the steel. Angelo slew him: Rinaldo gave him the cross to kiss. You
shall have the whole story by-and-by; but this will be a lesson to
Germans not to court our Italian damsels. Lift not that curtain, you
Pannonian burglars! Much do we pardon; but bow and viol meet not, save
that they be of one wood; especially not when signor bow is from
yonderside the Rhoetian Alps, and donzella Viol is a growth of warm
Lombardy. Witness to it, Angelo and Rinaldo Guidascarpi! bravo! You
boys there--you stand like two Tyrolese salad-spoons! I say that my
girl, my daughter, shall never help to fire blank shot. I sent my
paternal commands to her yesterday evening. Does the wanton disobey her
father and look up to a pair of rocket-headed rascals like you? Apes!
if she sings that song to-night, the ear of Italy will be deaf to her for
ever after. There's no engine to stir to-night; all the locks are on it;
she will send half-a-dozen milkings like you to perdition, and there will
be a circle of black blood about her name in the traditions of the
insurrection--do you hear? Have I cherished her for that purpose? to
have her dedicated to a brawl!'
Agostino fumed up and down the room in a confusion of apparel, savouring
his epithets and imaginative peeps while he stormed, to get a relish out
of something, as beseems the poetic temperament. The youths were
silenced by him; Carlo gladly.
'Troop!' said the old man, affecting to contrast his attire with theirs;
'two graces and a satyr never yet went together, and we'll not frighten
the classic Government of Milan. I go out alone. No, Signor Luciano, I
am not sworn to Count Medole. I see your sneer contain it. Ah! what a
thing is hurry to a mind like mine. It tears up the trees by the roots,
floods the land, darkens utterly my poor quiet universe. I was composing
a pastoral when you came in. Observe what you have done with my "Lovely
Age of Gold!"'
Agostino's transfigurement from lymphatic poet to fiery man of action,
lasted till his breath was short, when the necessity for taking a deep
draught of air induced him to fall back upon his idle irony. 'Heads,
you illustrious young gentlemen!--heads, not legs and arms, move a
conspiracy. Now, you--think what you will of it--are only legs and arms
in this business. And if you are insubordinate, you present the shocking
fabular spirit of the members of the body in revolt; which is not the
revolt we desire to see. I go to my daughter immediately, and we shall
all have a fat sleep for a week, while the Tedeschi hunt and stew and
exhaust their naughty suspicions. Do you know that the Pope's Mouth is
closed? We made it tell a big lie before it shut tight on its teeth--a
bad omen, I admit; but the idea was rapturously neat. Barto, the sinner
--be sure I throttle him for putting that blot on my swan; only, not yet,
not yet: he's a blind mole, a mad patriot; but, as I say, our beast Barto
drew an Austrian to the Mouth last night, and led the dog to take a
letter out of it, detailing the whole plot of tonight, and how men will
be stationed at the vicolo here, ready to burst out on the Corso, and at
the vicolo there, and elsewhere, all over the city, carrying fire and
sword; a systematic map of the plot. It was addressed to Count
Serabiglione--my boys! my boys! what do you think of it? Bravo! though
Barto is a deadly beast if he--'Agostino paused. 'Yes, he went too far!
'Has he only gone too far, do you say?'
Carlo spoke sternly. His elder was provoked enough by his deadness of
enthusiasm, and that the boy should dare to stalk on a bare egoistical
lover's sentiment to be critical of him, Agostino, struck him as
monstrous. With the treachery of controlled rage, Agostino drew near
him, and whispered some sentences in his ear.
Agostino then called him his good Spartan boy for keeping brave
countenance. 'Wait till you comprehend women philosophically. All's
trouble with them till then. At La Scala tonight, my sons! We have
rehearsed the fiasco; the Tedeschi perform it. Off with you, that I may
go out alone!'
He seemed to think it an indubitable matter that he would find Vittoria
and bend her will.
Agostino had betrayed his weakness to the young men, who read him with
the keen eyes of a particular disapprobation. He delighted in the dark
web of intrigue, and believed himself to be no ordinary weaver of that
sunless work. It captured his imagination, filling his pride with a
mounting gas. Thus he had become allied to Medole on the one hand, and
to Barto Rizzo on the other. The young men read him shrewdly, but
speaking was useless.
Before Carlo parted from Luciano, he told him the burden of the whisper,
which had confirmed what he had heard on the Piazzi d'Armi. It was this:
Barto Rizzo, aware that Lieutenant Pierson was the bearer of despatches
from the Archduke in Milan to the marshal, then in Verona, had followed,
and by extraordinary effort reached Verona in advance; had there tricked
and waylaid him, and obtained, instead of despatches, a letter of recent
date, addressed to him by Vittoria, which compromised the insurrectionary
'If that's the case, my Carlo!' said his friend, and shrugged, and spoke
in a very worldly fashion of the fair sex.
Carlo shook him off. For the rest of the day he was alone, shut up with
his journalistic pen. The pen traversed seas and continents like an old
hack to whom his master has thrown the reins. Apart from the desperate
perturbation of his soul, he thought of the Guidascarpi, whom he knew,
and was allied to, and of the Lenkensteins, whom he knew likewise, or had
known in the days when Giacomo Piaveni lived, and Bianca von Lenkenstein,
Laura's sister, visited among the people of her country. Countess Anna
and Countess Lena von Lenkenstein were the German beauties of Milan,
lively little women, and sweet. Between himself and Countess Lena there
had been tender dealings about the age when sweetmeats have lost their
attraction, and the charm has to be supplied. She was rich, passionate
for Austria, romantic concerning Italy, a vixen in temper, but with a
pearly light about her temples that kept her picture in his memory. And
besides, during those days when women are bountiful to us as Goddesses,
give they never so little, she had deigned to fondle hands with him; had
set the universe rocking with a visible heave of her bosom; jingled all
the keys of mystery; and had once (as to embalm herself in his
recollection), once had surrendered her lips to him. Countess Lena would
have espoused Ammiani, believing in her power to make an Austrian out of
such Italian material. The Piaveni revolt had stopped that and all their
intercourse by the division of the White Hand, as it was called;
otherwise, the hand of the corpse. Ammiani had known also Count Paul von
Lenkenstein. To his mind, death did not mean much, however pleasant life
might be: his father and his friend had gone to it gaily; and he himself
stood ready for the summons: but the contemplation of a domestic judicial
execution, which the Guidascarpi seemed to have done upon Count Paul,
affrighted him, and put an end to his temporary capacity for labour. He
felt as if a spent shot were striking on his ribs; it was the unknown
sensation of fear. Changeing, it became pity. 'Horrible deaths these
Austrians die!' he said.
For a while he regarded their lot as the hardest. A shaft of sunlight
like blazing brass warned him that the day dropped. He sent to his
mother's stables, and rode at a gallop round Milan, dining alone in one
of the common hotel gardens, where he was a stranger. A man may have
good nerve to face the scene which he is certain will be enacted, who
shrinks from an hour that is suspended in doubt. He was aware of the
pallor and chill of his looks, and it was no marvel to him when two
sbirri in mufti, foreign to Milan, set their eyes on him as they passed
by to a vacant table on the farther side of the pattering gold-fish pool,
where he sat. He divined that they might be in pursuit of the
Guidascarpi, and alive to read a troubled visage. 'Yet neither Rinaldo
nor Angelo would look as I do now,' he thought, perceiving that these men
were judging by such signs, and had their ideas. Democrat as he imagined
himself to be, he despised with a nobleman's contempt creatures who were
so dead to the character of men of birth as to suppose that they were
pale and remorseful after dealing a righteous blow, and that they
trembled! Ammiani looked at his hand: no force of his will could arrest
its palsy. The Guidascarpi were sons of Bologna. The stupidity of
Italian sbirri is proverbial, or a Milanese cavalier would have been
astonished to conceive himself mistaken for a Bolognese. He beckoned to
the waiter, and said, 'Tell me what place has bred those two fellows on
the other side of the fountain.' After a side-glance of scrutiny, the
reply was, 'Neapolitans.' The waiter was ready to make an additional
remark, but Ammiani nodded and communed with a toothpick. He was sure
that those Neapolitans were recruits of the Bolognese Polizia; on the
track of the Guidascarpi, possibly. As he was not unlike Angelo
Guidascarpi in figure, he became uneasy lest they should blunder 'twixt
him and La Scala; and the notion of any human power stopping him short
of that destination, made Ammiani's hand perfectly firm. He drew on his
gloves, and named the place whither he was going, aloud. 'Excellency,'
said the waiter, while taking up and pretending to reckon the money for
the bill: 'they have asked me whether there are two Counts Ammiani in
Milan.' Carlo's eyebrows started. 'Can they be after me?' he thought,
and said: 'Certainly; there is twice anything in this world, and Milan is
the epitome of it.'
Acting a part gave him Agostino's catching manner of speech. The waiter,
who knew him now, took this for an order to say 'Yes.' He had evidently a
respect for Ammiani's name: Carlo supposed that he was one of Milan's
fighting men. A sort of answer leading to 'Yes' by a circuit and the
assistance of the hearer, was conveyed to the, sbirri. They were true
Neapolitans quick to suspect, irresolute upon their suspicions. He was
soon aware that they were not to be feared more than are the general race
of bunglers, whom the Gods sometimes strangely favour. They perplexed
him: for why were they after him? and what had made them ask whether he
had a brother? He was followed, but not molested, on his way to La
Ammiani's heart was in full play as he looked at the curtain of the
stage. The Night of the Fifteenth had come. For the first few moments
his strong excitement fronting the curtain, amid a great host of hearts
thumping and quivering up in the smaller measures like his own, together
with the predisposing belief that this was to be a night of events,
stopped his consciousness that all had been thwarted; that there was
nothing but plot, plot, counterplot and tangle, disunion, silly subtlety,
jealousy, vanity, a direful congregation of antagonistic elements;
threads all loose, tongues wagging, pressure here, pressure there, like
an uncertain rage in the entrails of the undirected earth, and no master
hand on the spot to fuse and point the intense distracted forces.
The curtain, therefore, hung like any common opera-screen; big only with
the fate of the new prima donna. He was robbed even of the certainty
that Vittoria would appear. From the blank aspect of the curtain he
turned to the house, which was crowding fast, and was not like listless
Milan about to criticize an untried voice. The commonly empty boxes of
the aristocracy were full of occupants, and for a wonder the white
uniforms were not in excess, though they were to be seen. The first
person whom Ammiani met was Agostino, who spoke gruffly. Vittoria had
been invisible to him. Neither the maestro, nor the impresario, nor the
waiting-woman had heard of her. Uncertainty was behind the curtain, as
well as in front; but in front it was the uncertainty which is tipped
with expectation, hushing the usual noisy chatter, and setting a daylight
of eyes forward. Ammiani spied about the house, and caught sight of
Laura Piaveni with Colonel Corte by her side. The Lenkensteins were in
the Archduke's box. Antonio-Pericles, and the English lady and Captain
Gambier, were next to them. The appearance of a white uniform in his
mother's box over the stage caused Ammiani to shut up his glass. He was
making his way thither for the purpose of commencing the hostilities of
the night, when Countess Ammiani entered the lobby, and took her son's
arm with a grave face and a trembling touch.
THE PRIMA DONNA
'Whover is in my box is my guest,' said the countess, adding a convulsive
imperative pressure on Carlo's arm, to aid the meaning of her deep
underbreath. She was a woman who rarely exacted obedience, and she was
spontaneously obeyed. No questions could be put, no explanations given
in the crash, and they threaded on amid numerous greetings in a place
where Milanese society had habitually ceased to gather, and found itself
now in assembly with unconcealed sensations of strangeness. A card lay
on the table of the countess's private retiring-room: it bore the name
of General Pierson. She threw off her black lace scarf. 'Angelo
Guidascarpi is in Milan,' she said. 'He has killed one of the
Lenkensteins, sword to sword. He came to me an hour after you left;
the sbirri were on his track; he passed for my son. He is now under the
charge of Barto Rizzo, disguised; probably in this house. His brother is
in the city. Keep the cowl on your head as long as possible; if these
hounds see and identify you, there will be mischief.' She said no more,
satisfied that she was understood, but opening the door of the box,
passed in, and returned a stately acknowledgement of the salutations of
two military officers. Carlo likewise bent his head to them; it was like
bending his knee, for in the younger of the two intruders he recognized
Lieutenant Pierson. The countess accepted a vacated seat; the cavity of
her ear accepted the General's apologies. He informed her that he deeply
regretted the intrusion; he was under orders to be present at the opera,
and to be as near the stage as possible, the countess's box being
designated. Her face had the unalterable composure of a painted head
upon an old canvas. The General persisted in tendering excuses. She
replied, 'It is best, when one is too weak to resist, to submit to an
outrage quietly.' General Pierson at once took the position assigned to
him; it was not an agreeable one. Between Carlo and the lieutenant no
attempt at conversation was made.
The General addressed his nephew in English. 'Did you see the girl
behind the scenes, Wilfrid?'
The answer was 'No.'
'Pericles has her fast shut up in the Tyrol: the best habitat for her if
she objects to a whipping. Did you see Irma?'
'No; she has disappeared too.'
'Then I suppose we must make up our minds to an opera without head or
tail. As Pat said of the sack of potatoes, "'twould be a mighty fine
beast if it had them."'
The officers had taken refuge in their opera-glasses, and spoke while
gazing round the house.
'If neither this girl nor Irma is going to appear, there is no positive
necessity for my presence here,' said the General, reduced to excuse
himself to himself. 'I'll sit through the first scene and then beat a
retreat. I might be off at once; the affair looks harmless enough only,
you know, when there's nothing to see, you must report that you have seen
it, or your superiors are not satisfied.'
The lieutenant was less able to cover the irksomeness of his situation
with easy talk. His glance rested on Countess Len a von Lenkenstein, a
quick motion of whose hand made him say that he should go over to her.
'Very well,' said the General; 'be careful that you give no hint of this
horrible business. They will hear of it when they get home: time
Lieutenant Pierson touched at his sister's box on the way. She was very
excited, asked innumerable things,--whether there was danger? whether he
had a whole regiment at hand to protect peaceable persons? 'Otherwise,'
she said, 'I shall not be able to keep that man (her husband) in Italy
another week. He refused to stir out to-night, though we know that
nothing can happen. Your prima donna celestissima is out of harm's way.'
'Oh, she is safe,--ze minx'; cried Antonio-Pericles, laughing and
saluting the Duchess of Graatli, who presented herself at the front of
her box. Major de Pyrmont was behind her, and it delighted the Greek to
point them out to the English lady, with a simple intimation of the
character of their relationship, at which her curls shook sadly.
'Pardon, madame,' said Pericles. 'In Italy, a husband away, ze friend
takes title: it is no more.'
'It is very disgraceful,' she said.
'Ze morales, madame, suit ze sun.'
Captain Gambier left the box with Wilfrid, expressing in one sentence his
desire to fling Pericles over to the pit, and in another his belief that
an English friend, named Merthyr Powys, was in the house.
'He won't be in the city four-and-twenty hours,' said Wilfrid.
'Well; you'll keep your tongue silent.'
'By heavens! Gambier, if you knew the insults we have to submit to! The
temper of angels couldn't stand it. I'm sorry enough for these fellows,
with their confounded country, but it's desperate work to be civil to
them; upon my honour, it is! I wish they would stand up and let us have
it over. We have to bear more from the women than the men.'
'I leave you to cool,' said Gambier.
The delayed absence of the maestro from his post at the head of the
orchestra, where the musicians sat awaiting him, seemed to confirm a
rumour that was now circling among the audience, warning all to prepare
for a disappointment. His baton was brought in and laid on the book of
the new overture. When at last he was seen bearing onward through the
music-stands, a low murmur ran round. Rocco paid no heed to it. His
demeanour produced such satisfaction in the breast of Antonio-Pericles
that he rose, and was guilty of the barbarism of clapping his hands.
Meeting Ammiani in the lobby, he said, 'Come, my good friend, you shall
help me to pull Irma through to-night. She is vinegar--we will mix her
with oil. It is only for to-night, to save that poor Rocco's opera.'
'Irma!' said Ammiani; 'she is by this time in Tyrol. Your Irma will have
some difficulty in showing herself here within sixty hours.'
'How!' cried Pericles, amazed, and plucking after Carlo to stop him. 'I
'I bet you a thousand florins you do not see la Vittoria to-night.'
'Good. I bet you a thousand florins you do not see Irma.'
'No Vittoria, I say!'
'And I say, no Lazzeruola!'
Agostino, who was pacing the lobby, sent Pericles distraught with the
same tale of the rape of Irma. He rushed to Signora Piaveni's box and
heard it repeated. There he beheld, sitting in the background, an old
English acquaintance, with whom Captain Gambier was conversing.
'My dear Powys, you have come all the way from England to see your
favourite's first night. You will be shocked, sir. She has neglected
her Art. She is exiled, banished, sent away to study and to compose her
'I think you are mistaken,' said Laura. 'You will see her almost
'Signora, pardon me; do I not know best?'
'You may have contrived badly.'
Pericles blinked and gnawed his moustache as if it were food for
'I would wager a milliard of francs,' he muttered. With absolute pathos
he related to Mr. Powys the aberrations of the divinely-gifted voice,
the wreck which Vittoria strove to become, and from which he alone was
striving to rescue her. He used abundant illustrations, coarse and
quaint, and was half hysterical; flashing a white fist and thumping the
long projection of his knee with a wolfish aspect. His grotesque
sincerity was little short of the shedding of tears.
'And your sister, my dear Powys?' he asked, as one returning to the
consideration of shadows.
'My sister accompanies me, but not to the opera.'
'For another campaign--hein?'
'To winter in Italy, at all events.'
Carlo Ammiani entered and embraced Merthyr Powys warmly. The Englishman
was at home among Italians: Pericles, feeling that he was not so, and
regarding them all as a community of fever-patients without hospital,
retired. To his mind it was the vilest treason, the grossest
selfishness, to conspire or to wink at the sacrifice of a voice like
Vittoria's to such a temporal matter as this, which they called
patriotism. He looked on it as one might look on the Hindoo drama of a
Suttee. He saw in it just that stupid action of a whole body of fanatics
combined to precipitate the devotion of a precious thing to extinction.
And worse; for life was common, and women and Hindoo widows were common;
but a Vittorian voice was but one in a generation--in a cycle of years.
The religious belief of the connoisseur extended to the devout conception
that her voice was a spiritual endowment, the casting of which priceless
jewel into the bloody ditch of patriots was far more tragic and
lamentable than any disastrous concourse of dedicated lives. He shook
the lobby with his tread, thinking of the great night this might have
been but for Vittoria's madness. The overture was coming to an end. By
tightening his arms across his chest he gained some outward composure,
and fixed his eyes upon the stage.
While sitting with Laura Piaveni and Merthyr Powys, Ammiani saw the
apparition of Captain Weisspriess in his mother's box. He forgot her
injunction, and hurried to her side, leaving the doors open. His passion
of anger spurned her admonishing grasp of his arm, and with his glove he
smote the Austrian officer on the face. Weisspriess plucked his sword
out; the house rose; there was a moment like that of a wild beast's show
of teeth. It passed: Captain Weisspriess withdrew in obedience to
General Pierson's command. The latter wrote on a slip of paper that two
pieces of artillery should be placed in position, and a squad of men
about the doors: he handed it out to Weisspriess.
'I hope,' the General said to Carlo, 'we shall be able to arrange things
for you without the interposition of the authorities.'
Carlo rejoined, 'General, he has the blood of our family on his hands.
I am ready.'
The General bowed. He glanced at the countess for a sign of maternal
weakness, saw none, and understood that a duel was down in the morrow's
bill of entertainments, as well as a riot possibly before dawn. The
house had revealed its temper in that short outburst, as a quivering of
quick lightning-flame betrays the forehead of the storm.
Countess Ammiani bade her son make fast the outer door. Her sedate
energies could barely control her agitation. In helping Angelo
Guidascarpi to evade the law, she had imperilled her son and herself.
Many of the Bolognese sbirri were in pursuit of Angelo. Some knew his
person; some did not; but if those two before whom she had identified
Angelo as being her son Carlo chanced now to be in the house, and to have
seen him, and heard his name, the risks were great and various.
'Do you know that handsome young Count Ammiani?' Countess Lena said to
Wilfrid. 'Perhaps you do not think him handsome? He was for a short
time a play-fellow of mine. He is more passionate than I am, and that
does not say a little; I warn you! Look how excited he is. No wonder.
He is--everybody knows it--he is la Vittoria's lover.'
Countess Lena uttered that sentence in Italian. The soft tongue sent it
like a coiling serpent through Wilfrid's veins. In English or in German
it would not have possessed the deadly meaning.
She may have done it purposely, for she and her sister Countess Anna
studied his face. The lifting of the curtain drew all eyes to the stage.
Rocco Ricci's baton struck for the opening of one of his spirited
choruses; a chorus of villagers, who sing to the burden that Happiness,
the aim of all humanity, has promised to visit the earth this day, that
she may witness the union of the noble lovers, Camillo and Camilla. Then
a shepherd sings a verse, with his hand stretched out to the impending
castle. There lives Count Orso: will he permit their festivities to pass
undisturbed? The puling voice is crushed by the chorus, which protests
that the heavens are above Count Orso. But another villager tells of
Orso's power, and hints at his misdeeds. The chorus rises in reply,
warning all that Count Orso has ears wherever three are congregated; the
villagers break apart and eye one another distrustfully, reuniting to the
song of Happiness before they disperse. Camillo enters solus. Montini,
as Camillo, enjoyed a warm reception; but as he advanced to deliver his
canzone, it was seen that he and Rocco interchanged glances of desperate
resignation. Camillo has had love passages with Michiella, Count Orso's
daughter, and does not hesitate to declare that he dreads her. The
orphan Camilla, who has been reared in yonder castle with her, as her
sister, is in danger during all these last minutes which still retain her
from his arms.
'If I should never see her--I who, like a poor ghost upon the shores of
the dead river, have been flattered with the thought that she would fall
upon my breast like a ray of the light of Elysium--if I should never see
her more!' The famous tenore threw his whole force into that outcry of
projected despair, and the house was moved by it: there were many in the
house who shared his apprehension of a foul mischance.
Thenceforward the opera and the Italian audience were as one. All that
was uttered had a meaning, and was sympathetically translated. Camilla
they perceived to be a grave burlesque with a core to it. The quick-
witted Italians caught up the interpretation in a flash. 'Count Orso'
Austria; 'Michiella' is Austria's spirit of intrigue; 'Camillo' is
indolent Italy, amorous Italy, Italy aimless; 'Camilla' is YOUNG ITALY!
Their eagerness for sight of Vittoria was now red-hot, and when Camillo
exclaimed 'She comes!' many rose from their seats.
A scrap of paper was handed to Antonio-Pericles from Captain Weisspriess,
saying briefly that he had found Irma in the carriage instead of the
little 'v,' thanked him for the joke, and had brought her back. Pericles
was therefore not surprised when Irma, as Michiella, came on, breathless,
and looking in an excitement of anger; he knew that he had been tricked.
Between Camillo and Michiella a scene of some vivacity ensued--
reproaches, threats of calamity, offers of returning endearment upon her
part; a display of courtly scorn upon his. Irma made her voice claw at
her quondam lover very finely; it was a voice with claws, that entered
the hearing sharp-edged, and left it plucking at its repose. She was
applauded relishingly when, after vainly wooing him, she turned aside and
'What change is this in one who like a reed
Bent to my twisting hands? Does he recoil?
Is this the hound whom I have used to feed
With sops of vinegar and sops of oil?'
Michiella's further communications to the audience make it known that she
has allowed the progress toward the ceremonies of espousal between
Camillo and Camilla, in order, at the last moment, to show her power over
the youth and to plunge the detested Camilla into shame and wretchedness.
Camillo retires: Count Orso appears. There is a duet between father and
daughter: she confesses her passion for Camillo, and entreats her father
to stop the ceremony; and here the justice of the feelings of Italians,
even in their heat of blood, was noteworthy. Count Orso says that he
would willingly gratify his daughter, as it would gratify himself, but
that he must respect the law. 'The law is of your own making,' says
Michiella. 'Then, the more must I respect it,' Count Orso replies.
The audience gave Austria credit for that much in a short murmur.
Michiella's aside, 'Till anger seizes him I wait!' created laughter; it
came in contrast with an extraordinary pomposity of self-satisfaction
exhibited by Count Orso--the flower-faced, tun-bellied basso, Lebruno.
It was irresistible. He stood swollen out like a morning cock. To make
it further telling, he took off his yellow bonnet with a black-gloved
hand, and thumped the significant colours prominently on his immense
chest--an idea, not of Agostino's, but Lebruno's own; and Agostino cursed
with fury. Both he and Rocco knew that their joint labour would probably
have only one night's display of existence in the Austrian dominions, but
they grudged to Lebruno the chief merit of despatching it to the Shades.
The villagers are heard approaching. 'My father!' cries Michiella,
distractedly; 'the hour is near: it will be death to your daughter!
Imprison Camillo: I can bring twenty witnesses to prove that he has sworn
you are illegally the lord of this country. You will rue the marriage.
Do as you once did. Be bold in time. The arrow-head is on the string-
cut the string!'
'As I once did?' replies Orso with frown terrific, like a black crest.
He turns broadly and receives the chorus of countrymen in paternal
fashion--an admirably acted bit of grave burlesque.
By this time the German portion of the audience had, by one or other of
the senses, dimly divined that the opera was a shadow of something
concealed--thanks to the buffo-basso Lebruno. Doubtless they would have
seen this before, but that the Austrian censorship had seemed so absolute
'My children! all are my children in this my gladsome realm!' Count Orso
says, and marches forth, after receiving the compliment of a choric song
in honour of his paternal government. Michiella follows him.
Then came the deep suspension of breath. For, as upon the midnight you
count bell-note after bell-note of the toiling hour, and know not in the
darkness whether there shall be one beyond it, so that you hang over an
abysm until Twelve is sounded, audience and actors gazed with equal
expectation at the path winding round from the castle, waiting for the
voice of the new prima donna.
'Mia madre!' It issued tremblingly faint. None could say who was to
Rocco Ricci struck twice with his baton, flung a radiant glance across
his shoulders for all friends, and there was joy in the house. Vittoria
stood before them.
ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS:
A fortress face; strong and massive, and honourable in ruin
Defiance of foes and (what was harder to brave) of friends
Do I serve my hand? or, Do I serve my heart?
Good nerve to face the scene which he is certain will be enacted
Government of brain; not sufficient Insurrection of heart
Had taken refuge in their opera-glasses
He postponed it to the next minute and the next
I hope I am not too hungry to discriminate
I know nothing of imagination
In Italy, a husband away, ze friend takes title
Morales, madame, suit ze sun
No intoxication of hot blood to cheer those who sat at home
Not to be feared more than are the general race of bunglers
Patience is the pestilence
People who can lose themselves in a ray of fancy at any season
Question with some whether idiots should live
Rarely exacted obedience, and she was spontaneously obeyed
The divine afflatus of enthusiasm buoyed her no longer
Too weak to resist, to submit to an outrage quietly
We are good friends till we quarrel again
We can bear to fall; we cannot afford to draw back
Who shrinks from an hour that is suspended in doubt
Whole body of fanatics combined to precipitate the devotion
Youth will not believe that stupidity and beauty can go together
By George Meredith
XX. THE OPERA OF CAMILLA
XXI. THE THIRD ACT
XXII. WILFRID COMES FORWARD
XXIII. FIRST HOURS OF THE FLIGHT
XXIV. ADVENTURES OF VITTORIA AND ANGELO
XXV. ACROSS THE MOUNTAINS
THE OPERA OF CAMILLA
She was dressed like a noble damsel from the hands of Titian. An Italian
audience cannot but be critical in their first glance at a prima donna,
for they are asked to do homage to a queen who is to be taken on her
merits: all that they have heard and have been taught to expect of her is
compared swiftly with the observation of her appearance and her manner.
She is crucially examined to discover defects. There is no boisterous
loyalty at the outset. And as it was now evident that Vittoria had
chosen to impersonate a significant character, her indications of method
were jealously watched for a sign of inequality, either in her, motion,
or the force of her eyes. So silent a reception might have seemed cruel
in any other case; though in all cases the candidate for laurels must, in
common with the criminal, go through the ordeal of justification. Men do
not heartily bow their heads until they have subjected the aspirant to
some personal contest, and find themselves overmatched. The senses,
ready to become so slavish in adulation and delight, are at the beginning
more exacting than the judgement, more imperious than the will. A figure
in amber and pale blue silk was seen, such as the great Venetian might
have sketched from his windows on a day when the Doge went forth to wed
the Adriatic a superb Italian head, with dark banded hair-braid, and dark
strong eyes under unabashed soft eyelids! She moved as, after long
gazing at a painting of a fair woman, we may have the vision of her
moving from the frame. It was an animated picture of ideal Italia.
The sea of heads right up to the highest walls fronted her glistening,
and she was mute as moonrise. A virgin who loosens a dove from her bosom
does it with no greater effort than Vittoria gave out her voice. The
white bird flutters rapidly; it circles and takes its flight. The voice
seemed to be as little the singer's own.
The theme was as follows:--Camilla has dreamed overnight that her lost
mother came to her bedside to bless her nuptials. Her mother was folded
in a black shroud, looking formless as death, like very death, save that
death sheds no tears. She wept, without change of voice, or mortal
shuddering, like one whose nature weeps: 'And with the forth-flowing of
her tears the knowledge of her features was revealed to me.' Behold the
Adige, the Mincio, Tiber, and the Po!--such great rivers were the tears
pouring from her eyes. She threw apart the shroud: her breasts and her
limbs were smooth and firm as those of an immortal Goddess: but breasts
and limbs showed the cruel handwriting of base men upon the body of a
martyred saint. The blood from those deep gashes sprang out at
intervals, mingling with her tears. She said:
'My child! were I a Goddess, my wounds would heal. Were I a Saint, I
should be in Paradise. I am no Goddess, and no Saint: yet I cannot die.
My wounds flow and my tears. My tears flow because of no fleshly
anguish: I pardon my enemies. My blood flows from my body, my tears from
my soul. They flow to wash out my shame. I have to expiate my soul's
shame by my body's shame. Oh! how shall I tell you what it is to walk
among my children unknown of them, though each day I bear the sun abroad
like my beating heart; each night the moon, like a heart with no blood in
it. Sun and moon they see, but not me! They know not their mother. I
cry to God. The answer of our God is this:--"Give to thy children one by
one to drink of thy mingled tears and blood:--then, if there is virtue in
them, they shall revive, thou shaft revive. If virtue is not in them,
they and thou shall continue prostrate, and the ox shall walk over you."
From heaven's high altar, O Camilla, my child, this silver sacramental
cup was reached to me. Gather my tears in it, fill it with my blood, and
The song had been massive in monotones, almost Gregorian in its severity
up to this point.
'I took the cup. I looked my mother in the face. I filled the cup from
the flowing of her tears, the flowing of her blood; and I drank!'
Vittoria sent this last phrase ringing out forcefully. From the
inveterate contralto of the interview, she rose to pure soprano in
describing her own action. 'And I drank,' was given on a descent of the
voice: the last note was in the minor key--it held the ear as if more
must follow: like a wail after a triumph of resolve. It was a
masterpiece of audacious dramatic musical genius addressed with sagacious
cunning and courage to the sympathizing audience present. The supposed
incompleteness kept them listening; the intentness sent that last falling
(as it were, broken) note travelling awakeningly through their minds.
It is the effect of the minor key to stir the hearts of men with this
particular suggestiveness. The house rose, Italians--and Germans
together. Genius, music, and enthusiasm break the line of nationalities.
A rain of nosegays fell about Vittoria; evvivas, bravas, shouts--all the
outcries of delirious men surrounded her. Men and women, even among the
hardened chorus, shook together and sobbed. 'Agostino!' and 'Rocco!'
were called; 'Vittoria!' 'Vittoria!' above all, with increasing thunder,
like a storm rushing down a valley, striking in broad volume from rock to
rock, humming remote, and bursting up again in the face of the vale. Her
name was sung over and over--'Vittoria! Vittoria!' as if the mouths were
enamoured of it.
'Evviva la Vittoria a d' Italia!' was sung out from the body of the
An echo replied--
'"Italia a il premio della VITTORIA!"' a well-known saying gloriously
adapted, gloriously rescued from disgrace.
But the object and source of the tremendous frenzy stood like one frozen
by the revelation of the magic the secret of which she has studiously
mastered. A nosegay, the last of the tributary shower, discharged from a
distance, fell at her feet. She gave it unconsciously preference over
the rest, and picked it up. A little paper was fixed in the centre. She
opened it with a mechanical hand, thinking there might be patriotic
orders enclosed for her. It was a cheque for one thousand guineas, drawn
upon an English banker by the hand of Antonio-Pericles Agriolopoulos;
freshly drawn; the ink was only half dried, showing signs of the dictates
of a furious impulse. This dash of solid prose, and its convincing proof
that her Art had been successful, restored Vittoria's composure, though
not her early statuesque simplicity. Rocco gave an inquiring look to see
if she would repeat the song. She shook her head resolutely. Her
opening of the paper in the bouquet had quieted the general ebullition,
and the expression of her wish being seen, the chorus was permitted to
usurp her place. Agostino paced up and down the lobby, fearful that he
had been guilty of leading her to anticlimax.
He met Antonio-Pericles, and told him so; adding (for now the mask had
been seen through, and was useless any further) that he had not had the
heart to put back that vision of Camilla's mother to a later scene, lest
an interruption should come which would altogether preclude its being
heard. Pericles affected disdain of any success which Vittoria had yet
achieved. 'Wait for Act the Third,' he said; but his irritable
anxiousness to hold intercourse with every one, patriot or critic,
German, English, or Italian, betrayed what agitation of exultation
coursed in his veins. 'Aha!' was his commencement of a greeting; 'was
Antonio-Pericles wrong when he told you that he had a prima donna for you
to amaze all Christendom, and whose notes were safe and firm as the
footing of the angels up and down Jacob's ladder, my friends? Aha!'
'Do you see that your uncle is signalling to you?' Countess Lena said to
Wilfrid. He answered like a man in a mist, and looked neither at her nor
at the General, who, in default of his obedience to gestures, came good-
humouredly to the box, bringing Captain Weisspriess with him.
'We 're assisting at a pretty show,' he said.
'I am in love with her voice,' said Countess Anna.
'Ay; if it were only a matter of voices, countess.'
'I think that these good people require a trouncing,' said Captain
'Lieutenant Pierson is not of your opinion,' Countess Anna remarked.
Hearing his own name, Wilfrid turned to them with a weariness well acted,
but insufficiently to a jealous observation, for his eyes were quick
under the carelessly-dropped eyelids, and ranged keenly over the stage
while they were affecting to assist his fluent tongue.
Countess Lena levelled her opera-glass at Carlo Ammiani, and then placed
the glass in her sister's hand. Wilfrid drank deep of bitterness. 'That
is Vittoria's lover,' he thought; 'the lover of the Emilia who once loved
General Pierson may have noticed this by-play: he said to his nephew in
the brief military tone: 'Go out; see that the whole regiment is handy
about the house; station a dozen men, with a serjeant, at each of the
backdoors, and remain below. I very much mistake, or we shall have to
make a capture of this little woman to-night.'
'How on earth,' he resumed, while Wilfrid rose savagely and went out with
his stiffest bow, 'this opera was permitted to appear, I can't guess! A
child could see through it. The stupidity of our civil authorities
passes my understanding--it's a miracle! We have stringent orders not to
take any initiative, or I would stop the Fraulein Camilla from uttering
'If you did that, I should be angry with you, General,' said Countess
'And I also think the Government cannot do wrong,' Countess Lena joined
The General contented himself by saying: 'Well, we shall see.'
Countess Lena talked to Captain Weisspriess in an undertone, referring to
what she called his dispute with Carlo Ammiani. The captain was
extremely playful in rejoinders.
'You iron man!' she exclaimed.
'Man of steel would be the better phrase,' her sister whispered.
'It will be an assassination, if it happens.'
'No officer can bear with an open insult, Lena.'
'I shall not sit and see harm done to my old playmate, Anna.'
'Beware of betraying yourself for one who detests you.'
A grand duo between Montini and Vittoria silenced all converse. Camilla
tells Camillo of her dream. He pledges his oath to discover her mother,
if alive; if dead, to avenge her. Camilla says she believes her mother
is in the dungeons of Count Orso's castle. The duo tasked Vittoria's
execution of florid passages; it gave evidence of her sound artistic
'I was a fool,' thought Antonio-Pericles; 'I flung my bouquet with the
herd. I was a fool! I lost my head!'
He tapped angrily at the little ink-flask in his coat-pocket. The first
act, after scenes between false Camillo and Michiella, ends with the
marriage of Camillo and Camilla;--a quatuor composed of Montini,
Vittoria, Irma, and Lebruno. Michiella is in despair; Count Orso is
profoundly sonorous with paternity and devotion to the law. He has
restored to Camilla a portion of her mother's sequestrated estates.
A portion of the remainder will be handed over to her when he has had
experience of her husband's good behaviour. The rest he considers
legally his own by right of (Treaties), and by right of possession and
documents his sword. Yonder castle he must keep. It is the key of all
his other territories. Without it, his position will be insecure.
(Allusion to the Austrian argument that the plains of Lombardy are the
strategic defensive lines of the Alps.)
Agostino, pursued by his terror of anticlimax, ran from the sight of
Vittoria when she was called, after the fall of the curtain. He made his
way to Rocco Ricci (who had given his bow to the public from his perch),
and found the maestro drinking Asti to counteract his natural excitement.
Rocco told Agostino, that up to the last moment, neither he nor any soul
behind the scenes knew Vittoria would be able to appear, except that she
had sent a note to him with a pledge to be in readiness for the call.
Irma had come flying in late, enraged, and in disorder, praying to take
Camilla's part; but Montini refused to act with the seconda donna as
prima donna. They had commenced the opera in uncertainty whether it
could go on beyond the situation where Camilla presents herself. 'I was
prepared to throw up my baton,' said Rocco, 'and publicly to charge the
Government with the rape of our prima donna. Irma I was ready to
replace. I could have filled that gap.' He spoke of Vittoria's triumph.
Agostino's face darkened. 'Ha!' said he, 'provided we don't fall flat,
like your Asti with the cork out. I should have preferred an enthusiasm
a trifle more progressive. The notion of travelling backwards is upon me
forcibly, after that tempest of acclamation.'
'Or do you think that you have put your best poetry in the first Act?'
Rocco suggested with malice.
'Not a bit of it!' Agostino repudiated the idea very angrily, and puffed
and puffed. Yet he said, 'I should not be lamenting if the opera were
stopped at once.'
'No!' cried Rocco; 'let us have our one night. I bargain for that.
Medole has played us false, but we go on. We are victims already, my
'But I do stipulate,' said Agostino, 'that my jewel is not to melt
herself in the cup to-night. I must see her. As it is, she is
inevitably down in the list for a week's or a month's incarceration.'
Antonio-Pericles had this, in his case, singular piece of delicacy, that
he refrained from the attempt to see Vittoria immediately after he had
flung his magnificent bouquet of treasure at her feet. In his
intoxication with the success which he had foreseen and cradled to its
apogee, he was now reckless of any consequences. He felt ready to take
patriotic Italy in his arms, provided that it would succeed as Vittoria
had done, and on the spot. Her singing of the severe phrases of the
opening chant, or hymn, had turned the man, and for a time had put a new
heart in him. The consolation was his also, that he had rewarded it the
most splendidly--as it were, in golden italics of praise; so that her
forgiveness of his disinterested endeavour to transplant her was certain,
and perhaps her future implicit obedience or allegiance bought. Meeting
General Pierson, the latter rallied him.
'Why, my fine Pericles, your scheme to get this girl out of the way was
capitally concerted. My only fear is that on another occasion the
Government will take another view of it and you.'
Pericles shrugged. 'The Gods, my dear General, decree. I did my best to
lay a case before them; that is all.'
'Ah, well! I am of opinion you will not lay many other cases before the
Gods who rule in Milan.'
'I have helped them to a good opera.'
'Are you aware that this opera consists entirely of political allusions?'
General Pierson spoke offensively, as the urbane Austrian military
permitted themselves to do upon occasion when addressing the conquered or
'To me,' returned Pericles, 'an opera--it is music. I know no more.'
'You are responsible for it,' said the General, harshly. 'It was taken
upon trust from you.'
'Brutal Austrians!' Pericles murmured. 'And you do not think much of her
'Pretty fair, sir.'
'What wonder she does not care to open her throat to these swine!'
thought the changed Greek.
Vittoria's door was shut to Agostino. No voice within gave answer. He
tried the lock of the door, and departed. She sat in a stupor. It was
harder for her to make a second appearance than it was to make the first,
when the shameful suspicion cruelly attached to her had helped to balance
her steps with rebellious pride; and more, the great collected wave of
her ambitious years of girlhood had cast her forward to the spot, as in a
last effort for consummation. Now that she had won the public voice
(love, her heart called it) her eyes looked inward; she meditated upon
what she had to do, and coughed nervously. She frightened herself with
her coughing, and shivered at the prospect of again going forward in the
great nakedness of stagelights and thirsting eyes. And, moreover, she
was not strengthened by the character of the music and the poetry of the
second Act:--a knowledge of its somewhat inferior quality may possibly
have been at the root of Agostino's dread of an anticlimax. The seconda
donna had the chief part in it--notably an aria (Rocco had given it to
her in compassion) that suited Irma's pure shrieks and the tragic
skeleton she could be. Vittoria knew how low she was sinking when she
found her soul in the shallows of a sort of jealousy of Irma. For a
little space she lost all intimacy with herself; she looked at her face
in the glass and swallowed water, thinking that she had strained a dream
and confused her brain with it. The silence of her solitary room coming
upon the blaze of light the colour and clamour of the house, and the
strange remembrance of the recent impersonation of an ideal character,
smote her with the sense of her having fallen from a mighty eminence,
and that she lay in the dust. All those incense-breathing flowers heaped
on her table seemed poisonous, and reproached her as a delusion. She sat
crouching alone till her tirewomen called; horrible talkative things!
her own familiar maid Giacinta being the worst to bear with.
Now, Michiella, by making love to Leonardo, Camillo's associate,
discovers that Camillo is conspiring against her father. She utters to
Leonardo very pleasant promises indeed, if he will betray his friend.
Leonardo, a wavering baritono, complains that love should ask for any
return save in the coin of the empire of love. He is seduced, and
invokes a malediction upon his head should he accomplish what he has
sworn to perform. Camilla reposes perfect confidence in this wretch, and
brings her more doubtful husband to be of her mind.
Camillo and Camilla agree to wear the mask of a dissipated couple.
They throw their mansion open; dicing, betting, intriguing, revellings,
maskings, commence. Michiella is courted ardently by Camillo; Camilla
trifles with Leonardo and with Count Orso alternately. Jealous again
of Camilla, Michiella warns and threatens Leonardo; but she becomes
Camillo's dupe, partly from returning love, partly from desire for
vengeance on her rival. Camilla persuades Orso to discard Michiella.
The infatuated count waxes as the personification of portentous
burlesque; he is having everything his own way. The acting throughout--
owing to the real gravity of the vast basso Lebruno's burlesque, and
Vittoria's archness--was that of high comedy with a lurid background.
Vittoria showed an enchanting spirit of humour. She sang one bewitching
barcarole that set the house in rocking motion. There was such
melancholy in her heart that she cast herself into all the flippancy with
abandonment. The Act was weak in too distinctly revealing the finger of
the poetic political squib at a point here and there. The temptation to
do it of an Agostino, who had no other outlet, had been irresistible, and
he sat moaning over his artistic depravity, now that it stared him in the
face. Applause scarcely consoled him, and it was with humiliation of
mind that he acknowledged his debt to the music and the singers, and how
little they owed to him.
Now Camillo is pleased to receive the ardent passion of his wife, and the
masking suits his taste, but it is the vice of his character that he
cannot act to any degree subordinately in concert; he insists upon
positive headship!--(allusion to an Italian weakness for sovereignties;
it passed unobserved, and chuckled bitterly over his excess of subtlety).
Camillo cannot leave the scheming to her. He pursues Michiella to subdue
her with blandishments. Reproaches cease upon her part. There is a duo
between them. They exchange the silver keys, which express absolute
intimacy, and give mutual freedom of access. Camillo can now secrete his
followers in the castle; Michiella can enter Camilla's blue-room, and
ravage her caskets for treasonable correspondence. Artfully she bids him
reflect on what she is forfeiting for him; and so helps him to put aside
the thought of that which he also may be imperilling.
Irma's shrill crescendos and octave-leaps, assisted by her peculiar
attitudes of strangulation, came out well in this scene. The murmurs
concerning the sour privileges to be granted by a Lazzeruola were
inaudible. But there has been a witness to the stipulation. The ever-
shifting baritono, from behind a pillar, has joined in with an aside
phrase here and there. Leonardo discovers that his fealty to Camilla is
reviving. He determines to watch over her. Camillo now tosses a
perfumed handkerchief under his nose, and inhales the coxcombical incense
of the idea that he will do all without Camilla's aid, to surprise her;
thereby teaching her to know him to be somewhat a hero. She has played
her part so thoroughly that he can choose to fancy her a giddy person;
he remarks upon the frequent instances of girls who in their girlhood
were wild dreamers becoming after marriage wild wives. His followers
assemble, that he may take advantage of the exchanged key of silver.
He is moved to seek one embrace of Camilla before the conflict:--she is
beautiful! There was never such beauty as hers! He goes to her in the
fittest preparation for the pangs of jealousy. But he has not been
foremost in practising the uses of silver keys. Michiella, having first
arranged with her father to be before Camillo's doors at a certain hour
with men-at-arms, is in Camilla's private chamber, with her hand upon a
pregnant box of ebony wood, when she is startled by a noise, and slips
into concealment. Leonardo bursts through the casement window. Camilla
then appears. Leonardo stretches the tips of his fingers out to her; on
his knees confesses his guilt and warns her. Camillo comes in.
Thrusting herself before him, Michiella points to the stricken couple
'See! it is to show you this that I am here.' Behold occasion for a
While confessing his guilt to Camilla, Leonardo has excused it by an
emphatic delineation of Michiella's magic sway over him. (Leonardo, in
fact, is your small modern Italian Machiavelli, overmatched in cunning,
for the reason that he is always at a last moment the victim of his poor
bit of heart or honesty: he is devoid of the inspiration of great
patriotic aims.) If Michiella (Austrian intrigue) has any love, it is for
such a tool. She cannot afford to lose him. She pleads for him; and, as
Camilla is silent on his account, the cynical magnanimity of Camillo is
predisposed to spare a fangless snake. Michiella withdraws him from the
naked sword to the back of the stage. The terrible repudiation scene
ensues, in which Camillo casts off his wife. If it was a puzzle to one
Italian half of the audience, the other comprehended it perfectly, and
with rapture. It was thus that YOUNG ITALY had too often been treated by
the compromising, merely discontented, dallying aristocracy. Camilla
cries to him, 'Have faith in me! have faith in me! have faith in me!'
That is the sole answer to his accusations, his threats of eternal
loathing, and generally blustering sublimities. She cannot defend
herself; she only knows her innocence. He is inexorable, being the
guilty one of the two. Turning from him with crossed arms, Camilla
'Mother! it is my fate that I should know
Thy miseries, and in thy footprints go.
Grief treads the starry places of the earth:
In thy long track I feel who gave me birth.
I am alone; a wife without a lord;
My home is with the stranger--home abhorr'd!--
But that I trust to meet thy spirit there.
Mother of Sorrows! joy thou canst not share:
So let me wander in among the tombs,
Among the cypresses and the withered blooms.
Thy soul is with dead suns: there let me be;
A silent thing that shares thy veil with thee.'
The wonderful viol-like trembling of the contralto tones thrilled through
the house. It was the highest homage to Vittoria that no longer any
shouts arose nothing but a prolonged murmur, as when one tells another a
tale of deep emotion, and all exclamations, all ulterior thoughts, all
gathered tenderness of sensibility, are reserved for the close, are seen
heaping for the close, like waters above a dam. The flattery of
beholding a great assembly of human creatures bound glittering in wizard
subservience to the voice of one soul, belongs to the artist, and is the
cantatrice's glory, pre-eminent over whatever poor glory this world
gives. She felt it, but she felt it as something apart. Within her was
the struggle of Italy calling to Italy: Italy's shame, her sadness, her
tortures, her quenchless hope, and the view of Freedom. It sent her
blood about her body in rebellious volumes. Once it completely strangled
her notes. She dropped the ball of her chin in her throat; paused
without ceremony; and recovered herself. Vittoria had too severe an
artistic instinct to court reality; and as much as she could she from
that moment corrected the underlinings of Agostino's libretto.
On the other hand, Irma fell into all his traps, and painted her Austrian
heart with a prodigal waste of colour and frank energy:
'Now Leonardo is my tool:
Camilla is my slave:
And she I hate goes forth to cool
Her rage beyond the wave.
Paid am I in full coin for my caressing;
I take, but give nought, ere the priestly blessing.'
A subtle distinction. She insists upon her reverence for the priestly
(papistical) blessing, while she confides her determination to have it
dispensed with in Camilla's case. Irma's known sympathies with the
Austrian uniform seasoned the ludicrousness of many of the double-edged
verses which she sang or declaimed in recitative. The irony of
applauding her vehemently was irresistible.
Camilla is charged with conspiracy, and proved guilty by her own
The Act ends with the entry of Count Orso and his force; conspirators
overawed; Camilla repudiated; Count Orso imperially just; Leonardo
chagrined; Camillo pardoned; Michiella triumphant. Camillo sacrifices
his wife for safety. He holds her estates; and therefore Count Orso,
whose respect for law causes him to have a keen eye for matrimonial
alliances, is now paternally willing, and even anxious to bestow
Michiella upon him when the Pontifical divorce can be obtained; so that
the long-coveted fruitful acres may be in the family. The chorus sings a
song of praise to Hymen, the 'builder of great Houses.' Camilla goes
forth into exile. The word was not spoken, but the mention of 'bread of
strangers, strange faces, cold climes,' said sufficient.
'It is a question whether we ought to sit still and see a firebrand
flashed in our faces,' General Pierson remarked as the curtain fell. He
was talking to Major de Pyrmont outside the Duchess of Graatli's box.
Two General officers joined them, and presently Count Serabiglione, with
his courtly semi-ironical smile, on whom they straightway turned their
backs. The insult was happily unseen, and the count caressed his shaven
chin and smiled himself onward. The point for the officers to decide
was, whether they dared offend an enthusiastic house--the fiery core of
the population of Milan--by putting a stop to the opera before worse