Part 6 out of 11
'Haven't I served in the ranks?' said Angelo, giving a bugle-call of the
reveille of the cavalry.
He got on with them so well that they related the object of their
expedition, which was, to catch a runaway young rebel lady and hold her
fast down at Cles for the great captain--'unser tuchtiger Hauptmann.'
'Hadn't she a servant, a sort of rascal?' Angelo inquired.
'Right so; she had: but the doe's the buck in this chase.'
Angelo tossed them cigars. The valley was like a tumbled mountain, thick
with crags and eminences, through which the river worked strenuously,
sinuous in foam, hurrying at the turns. Angelo watched all the ways from
a distant height till set of sun. He saw another couple of soldiers meet
those two at the inn, and then one pair went up toward the vale-head. It
seemed as if Vittoria had disconcerted them by having chosen another
'Padrone,' said Jacopo to him abruptly, when they descended to find a
resting-place, 'you are, I speak humbly, so like the devil that I must
enter into a stipulation with you, before I continue in your company, and
take the worst at once. This is going to be the second night of my
sleeping away from my wife: I merely mention it. I pinch her, and she
beats me, and we are equal. But if you think of making me fight, I tell
you I won't. If there was a furnace behind me, I should fall into it
rather than run against a bayonet. I 've heard say that the nerves are
in the front part of us, and that's where I feel the shock. Now we're on
a plain footing. Say that I'm not to fight. I'll be your servant till
you release me, but say I 'm not to fight; padrone, say that.'
'I can't say that: I'll say I won't make you fight,' Angelo pacified him
by replying. From this moment Jacopo followed him less like a graceless
dog pulled by his chain. In fact, with the sense of prospective
security, he tasted a luxurious amazement in being moved about by a
superior will, wafted from his inn, and paid for witnessing strange
incidents. Angelo took care that he was fed well at the place where
they slept, but himself ate nothing. Early after dawn they mounted the
heights above the road. It was about noon that Angelo discerned a party
coming from the pass on foot, consisting of two women and three men.
They rested an hour at the village where he had slept overnight; the
muskets were a quarter of a mile to the rear of them. When they started
afresh, one of the muskets was discharged, and while the echoes were
rolling away, a reply to it sounded in the front. Angelo, from his post
of observation, could see that Vittoria and her party were marching
between two guards, and that she herself must have perceived both the
front and rearward couple. Yet she and her party held on their course at
an even pace. For a time he kept them clearly in view; but it was tough
work along the slopes of crag: presently Jacopo slipped and went down.
'Ah, padrone,' he said: 'I'm done for; leave me.'
'Not though I should have to haul you on my back,' replied Angelo. 'If I
do leave you, I must cut out your tongue.'
'Rather than that, I'd go on a sprained ankle,' said Jacopo, and he
strove manfully to conquer pain; limping and exclaiming, 'Oh, my little
village! Oh, my little inn! When can a man say that he has finished
running about the world! The moment he sits, in comes the devil.'
Angelo was obliged to lead him down to the open way, upon which they made
'The noble gentleman might let me return--he might trust me now,' Jacopo
'The devil trusts nobody,' said Angelo.
'Ah, padrone! there's a crucifix. Let me kneel by that.'
Angelo indulged him. Jacopo knelt by the wayside and prayed for an easy
ankle and a snoring pillow and no wakeners. After this he was refreshed.
The sun sank; the darkness spread around; the air grew icy. 'Does the
Blessed Virgin ever consider what patriots have to endure?' Jacopo
muttered to himself, and aroused a rare laugh from Angelo, who seized him
under the arm, half-lifting him on. At the inn where they rested, he
bathed and bandaged the foot.
'I can't help feeling a kindness to you for it,' said Jacopo.
'I can't afford to leave you behind,' Angelo accounted for his attention.
'Padrone, we've been understanding one another all along by our thumbs.
It's that old inn of mine--the taxes! we have to sell our souls to pay
the taxes. There's the tongue of the thing. I wouldn't betray you; I
'I'll try you,' said Angelo, and put him to proof next day, when the
soldiers stopped them as they were driving in a cart, and Jacopo swore to
them that Angelo was his intended son-in-law.
There was evidently an unusual activity among the gendarmerie of the
lower valley, the Val di Non; for Jacopo had to repeat his fable more
than once, and Angelo thought it prudent not to make inquiries about
travellers. In this valley they were again in summer heat. Summer
splendours robed the broken ground. The Val di Non lies toward the sun,
banked by the Val di Sole, like the southern lizard under a stone.
Chestnut forest and shoulder over shoulder of vineyard, and meadows of
marvellous emerald, with here and there central partly-wooded crags,
peaked with castle-ruins, and ancestral castles that are still warm
homes, and villages dropped among them, and a river bounding and rushing
eagerly through the rich enclosure, form the scene, beneath that Italian
sun which turns everything to gold. There is a fair breadth to the vale:
it enjoys a great oval of sky: the falls of shade are dispersed, dot the
hollow range, and are not at noontide a broad curtain passing over from
right to left. The sun reigns and also governs in the Val di Non.
'The, grape has his full benefit here, padrone,' said Jacopo.
But the place was too populous, and too much subjected to the general
eye, to please Angelo. At Cles they were compelled to bear an
inspection, and a little comedy occurred. Jacopo, after exhibiting
Angelo as his son-in-law, seeing doubts on the soldiers' faces, mentioned
the name of the German suitor for his daughter's hand--the carpenter,
Johann Spellmann, to whose workshop he requested to be taken. Johann,
being one of the odd Germans in the valley, was well known: he was
carving wood astride a stool, and stopped his whistling to listen to
the soldiers, who took the first word out of Jacopo's mouth, and were
convinced, by Johann's droop of the chin, that the tale had some truth in
it; and more when Johann yelled at the Valtelline innkeeper to know why,
then, he had come to him, if he was prepared to play him false. One of
the soldiers said bluntly, that as Angelo's appearance answered to the
portrait of a man for whom they were on the lookout, they would, if their
countryman liked, take him and give him a dose of marching and
'Ach! that won't make my little Rosetta love me better,' cried Johann,
who commenced taking up a string of reproaches against women, and pitched
his carving-blade and tools abroad in the wood-dust.
'Well, now, it 's queer you don't want to fight this lad,' said Jacopo;
'he's come to square it with you that way, if you think best.'
Johann spared a remark between his vehement imprecations against the sex
to say that he was ready to fight; but his idea of vengeance was directed
upon the abstract conception of a faithless womankind. Angelo, by reason
of his detestation of Germans, temporarily threw himself into the part he
was playing to the extent of despising him. Johann admitted to Jacopo
that intervals of six months' duration in a courtship were wide jumps for
Love to take.
'Yes; amor! amor!' he exclaimed with extreme dejection; 'I could wait.
Well! since you've brought the young man, we'll have it out.'
He stepped before Angelo with bare fists. Jacopo had to interpose. The
soldiers backed Johann, who now said to Angelo, 'Since you've come for
it, we'll have it out.'
Jacopo had great difficulty in bringing him to see that it was a matter
to talk over. Johann swore he would not talk about it, and was ready to
fight a dozen Italians, man up man down.
'Bare-fisted?' screamed Jacopo.
'Hey! the old way! Give him knuckles, and break his back, my boy!' cried
the soldiers; 'none of their steel this side of the mountain.'
Johann waited for Angelo to lift his hands; and to instigate his
reluctant adversary, thumped his chest; but Angelo did not move. The
'If she has you, she shall have a dolly,' said Johann, now heated with
the prospect of presenting that sort of husband to his little Rosetta.
At this juncture Jacopo threw himself between them.
'It shall be a real fight,' he said; 'my daughter can't make up her mind,
and she shall have the best man. Leave me to arrange it all fairly; and
you come here in a couple of hours, my children,' he addressed the
soldiers, who unwillingly quitted the scene where there was a certainty
of fun, on the assurance of there being a livelier scene to come.
When they had turned their heels on the shop, Jacopo made a face at
Johann; Johann swung round upon Angelo, and met a smile. Then followed
'What's that you say? She's true--she's true?' exclaimed the astounded
'True enough, but a girl at an inn wants hotter courting,' said Jacopo.
'His Excellency here is after his own sweetheart.'
Johann huzzaed, hugged at Angelo's hands, and gave a lusty filial tap to
Jacopo on the shoulder. Bread and grapes and Tyrolese wine were placed
for them, and Johann's mother soon produced a salad, eggs, and fowl; and
then and there declared her willingness to receive Rosetta into the
household, 'if she would swear at the outset never to have 'heimweh'
(home-longing); as people--men and women, both--always did when they took
a new home across a mountain.'
'She won't--will she?' Johann inquired with a dubious sparkle.
'Not she,' said Jacopo.
After the meal he drew Johann aside. They returned to Angelo, and Johann
beckoned him to leave the house by a back way, leading up a slope of
garden into high vine-poles. He said that he had seen a party pass out
of Cles from the inn early, in a light car, on for Meran. The
gendarmerie were busy on the road: a mounted officer had dashed up to the
inn an hour later, and had followed them: it was the talk of the village.
'Padrone, you dismiss me now,' said Jacopo.
'I pay you, but don't dismiss you,' said Angelo, and handed him a bank-
'I stick to you, padrone, till you do dismiss me,' Jacopo sighed.
Johann offered to conduct them as far as the Monte Pallade pass, and they
started, avoiding the high road, which was enviably broad and solid.
Within view of a village under climbing woods, they discerned an open
car, flanked by bayonets, returning to Cles. Angelo rushed ahead of them
down the declivity, and stood full in the road to meet the procession.
A girl sat in the car, who hung her head, weeping; Lorenzo was beside
her; an Englishman on foot gave employment to a pair of soldiers to get
him along. As they came near at marching pace, Lorenzo yawned and raised
his hand to his cheek, keeping the thumb pointed behind him. Including
the girl, there were four prisoners: Vittoria was absent. The
Englishman, as he was being propelled forward, addressed Angelo in
French, asking him whether he could bear to see an unoffending foreigner
treated with wanton violation of law. The soldiers bellowed at their
captive, and Angelo sent a stupid shrug after him. They rounded a bend
of the road. Angelo tightened the buckle at his waist.
'Now I trust you,' he said to Jacopo. 'Follow the length of five miles
over the pass: if you don't see me then, you have your liberty, tongue
With that he doubled his arms and set forth at a steady run, leaving his
companions to speculate on his powers of endurance. They did so
complacently enough, until Jacopo backed him for a distance and Johann
betted against him, when behold them at intervals taking a sharp trot to
keep him in view.
ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS:
A common age once, when he married her; now she had grown old
Critical in their first glance at a prima donna
Forgetfulness is like a closing sea
He is inexorable, being the guilty one of the two
Her singing struck a note of grateful remembered delight
It rarely astonishes our ears. It illumines our souls
Madness that sane men enamoured can be struck by
Obedience oils necessity
Our life is but a little holding, lent To do a mighty labour
Simple obstinacy of will sustained her
The devil trusts nobody
Was born on a hired bed
By George Meredith
XXVI. THE DUEL IN THE PASS
XXVII. A NEW ORDEAL
XXVIII. THE ESCAPE OF ANGELO
THE DUEL IN THE PASS
Meanwhile Captain Weisspriess had not been idle. Standing at a blunt
angle of the ways converging upon Vittoria's presumed destination, he had
roused up the gendarmerie along the routes to Meran by Trent on one side,
and Bormio on the other; and he soon came to the conclusion that she had
rejected the valley of the Adige for the Valtelline, whence he supposed
that she would be tempted either to cross the Stelvio or one of the
passes into Southernmost Tyrol. He was led to think that she would
certainly bear upon Switzerland, by a course of reasoning connected with
Angelo Guidascarpi, who, fleeing under the cross of blood, might be
calculated on to push for the mountains of the Republic; and he might
judging by the hazards--conduct the lady thither, to enjoy the fruits of
crime and love in security. The captain, when he had discovered Angelo's
crest and name on the betraying handkerchief, had no doubts concerning
the nature of their intimacy, and he was spurred by a new and thrice
eager desire to capture the couple--the criminal for the purposes of
justice, and the other because he had pledged his notable reputation in
the chase of her. The conscience of this man's vanity was extremely
active. He had engaged to conquer the stubborn girl, and he thought it
possible that he might take a mistress from the patriot ranks, with a
loud ha! ha! at revolutionists, and some triumph over his comrades. And
besides, he was the favourite of Countess Anna of Lenkenstein, who yet
refused to bring her estates to him; she dared to trifle; she also was a
woman who required rude lessons. Weisspriess, a poor soldier bearing the
heritage of lusty appetites, had an eye on his fortune, and served
neither Mars alone nor Venus. Countess Anna was to be among that company
assembled at the Castle of Sonnenberg in Meran; and if, while introducing
Vittoria there with a discreet and exciting reserve, he at the same time
handed over the assassin of Count Paul, a fine harvest of praise and
various pleasant forms of female passion were to be looked for--a rich
vista of a month's intrigue; at the end of it possibly his wealthy lady,
thoroughly tamed, for a wife, and redoubled triumph over his comrades.
Without these successes, what availed the fame of the keenest swordsman
in the Austrian army?--The feast as well as the plumes of vanity offered
rewards for the able exercise of his wits.
He remained at the sub-Alpine inn until his servant Wilhelm (for whom he
had despatched the duchess's chasseur, then in attendance on Vittoria)
arrived from Milan, bringing his uniform. The chasseur was directed on
the Bormio line, with orders that he should cause the arrest of Vittoria
only in the case of her being on the extreme limit of the Swiss frontier.
Keeping his communications alert, Weisspriess bore that way to meet him.
Fortune smiled on his strategy. Jacob Baumwalder Feckelwitz--full of
wine, and discharging hurrahs along the road--met him on the bridge over
the roaring Oglio, just out of Edolo, and gave him news of the fugitives.
'Both of them were at the big hotel in Bormio,' said Jacob; 'and I set up
a report that the Stelvio was watched; and so it is.' He added that he
thought they were going to separate; he had heard something to that
effect; he believed that the young lady was bent upon crossing one of the
passes to Meran. Last night it had devolved on him to kiss away the
tears of the young lady's maid, a Valtelline peasant-girl, who deplored
the idea of an expedition over the mountains, and had, with the usual
cat-like tendencies of these Italian minxes, torn his cheek in return for
his assiduities. Jacob displayed the pretty scratch obtained in the Herr
Captain's service, and got his money for having sighted Vittoria and seen
double. Weisspriess decided in his mind that Angelo had now separated
from her (or rather, she from him) for safety. He thought it very
probable that she would likewise fly to Switzerland. Yet, knowing that
there was the attraction of many friends for her at Meran, he conceived
that he should act more prudently by throwing himself on that line, and
he sped Jacob Baumwalder along the Valtelline by Val Viola, up to Ponte
in the Engadine, with orders to seize her if he could see her, and have
her conveyed to Cles, in Tyrol. Vittoria being only by the gentlest
interpretation of her conduct not under interdict, an unscrupulous
Imperial officer might in those military times venture to employ the
gendarmerie for his own purposes, if he could but give a plausible colour
of devotion to the Imperial interests.
The chasseur sped lamentingly back, and Weisspriess, taking a guide from
the skirting hamlet above Edolo, quitted the Val Camonica, climbed the
Tonale, and reached Vermiglio in the branch valley of that name,
scientifically observing the features of the country as he went. At
Vermiglio he encountered a brother officer of one of his former
regiments, a fat major on a tour of inspection, who happened to be a week
behind news of the army, and detained him on the pretext of helping him
on his car--a mockery that drove Weisspriess to the perpetual reply, 'You
are my superior officer,' which reduced the major to ask him whether he
had been degraded a step. As usual, Weisspriess was pushed to assert his
haughtiness, backed by the shadow of his sword. 'I am a man with a
family,' said the major, modestly. 'Then I shall call you my superior
officer while they allow you to remain so,' returned Weisspriess, who
scorned a married soldier.
'I aspired to the Staff once myself,' said the major. 'Unfortunately, I
grew in girth--the wrong way for ambition. I digest, I assimilate with a
fatal ease. Stout men are doomed to the obscurer paths. You may quote
Napoleon as a contrary instance. I maintain positively that his day was
over, his sun was eclipsed, when his valet had to loosen the buckles of
his waistcoat and breech. Now, what do you say?'
'I say,' Weisspriess replied, 'that if there's a further depreciation of
the paper currency, we shall none of us have much chance of digesting or
assimilating either--if I know at all what those processes mean.'
'Our good Lombard cow is not half squeezed enough,' observed the major,
confidentially in tone. 'When she makes a noise--quick! the pail at her
udders and work away; that's my advice. What's the verse?--our
Zwitterwitz's, I mean; the Viennese poet:--
"Her milk is good-the Lombard cow;
Let her be noisy when she pleases
But if she kicks the pail, I vow,
We'll make her used to sharper squeezes:
We'll write her mighty deeds in CHEESES:
(That is, if she yields milk enow)."
'Capital! capital!' the major applauded his quotation, and went on to
speak of 'that Zwitterwitz' as having served in a border regiment, after
creating certain Court scandal, and of his carrying off a Wallach lady
from her lord and selling her to a Turk, and turning Turk himself and
keeping a harem. Five years later he reappeared in Vienna with a volume
of what he called 'Black Eagle Poems,' and regained possession of his
barony. 'So far, so good,' said the major; 'but when he applied for his
old commission in the army--that was rather too cool.'
Weisspriess muttered intelligibly, 'I've heard the remark, that you can't
listen to a man five minutes without getting something out of him.'
'I don't know; it may be,' said the major, imagining that Weisspriess
demanded some stronger flavours of gossip in his talk. 'There's no stir
in these valleys. They arrested, somewhere close on Trent yesterday
afternoon, a fellow calling himself Beppo, the servant of an Italian
woman--a dancer, I fancy. They're on the lookout for her too, I'm told;
though what sort of capers she can be cutting in Tyrol, I can't even
The major's car was journeying leisurely toward Cles. 'Whip that brute!'
Weisspriess sang out to the driver, and begging the major's pardon,
requested to know whither he was bound. The major informed him that he
hoped to sup in Trent. 'Good heaven! not at this pace,' Weisspriess
shouted. But the pace was barely accelerated, and he concealed his
reasons for invoking speed. They were late in arriving at Trent, where
Weisspriess cast eye on the imprisoned wretch, who declared piteously
that he was the trusted and innocent servant of the Signorina Vittoria,
and had been visiting all the castles of Meran in search of her. The
captain's man Wilhelm had been the one to pounce on poor Beppo while the
latter was wandering disconsolately. Leaving him to howl, Weisspriess
procured the loan of a horse from a colonel of cavalry at the Buon
Consiglio barracks, and mounted an hour before dawn, followed by Wilhelm.
He reached Cles in time to learn that Vittoria and her party had passed
through it a little in advance of him. Breakfasting there, he enjoyed
the first truly calm cigar of many days. Gendarmes whom he had met near
the place came in at his heels. They said that the party would
positively be arrested, or not allowed to cross the Monte Pallade. The
passes to Meran and Botzen, and the road to Trent, were strictly guarded.
Weisspriess hurried them forward with particular orders that they should
take into custody the whole of the party, excepting the lady; her, if
arrested with the others, they were to release: her maid and the three
men were to be marched back to Cles, and there kept fast.
The game was now his own: he surveyed its pretty intricate moves as on a
map. The character of Herr Johannes he entirely discarded: an Imperial
officer in his uniform, sword in belt, could scarcely continue that meek
performance. 'But I may admire music, and entreat her to give me a
particular note, if she has it,' said the captain, hanging in
contemplation over a coming scene, like a quivering hawk about to close
its wings. His heart beat thick; which astonished him: hitherto it had
never made that sort of movement.
From Cles he despatched a letter to the fair chatelaine at Meran, telling
her that by dainty and skilful management of the paces, he was bringing
on the intractable heroine of the Fifteenth, and was to be expected in
about two or three days. The letter was entrusted to Wilhelm, who took
the borrowed horse back to Trent.
Weisspriess was on the mule-track a mile above the last village ascending
to the pass, when he observed the party of prisoners, and climbed up into
covert. As they went by he discerned but one person in female garments;
the necessity to crouch for obscurity prevented him from examining them
separately. He counted three men and beheld one of them between
gendarmes. 'That must be my villain,' he said.
It was clear that Vittoria had chosen to go forward alone. The captain
praised her spirit, and now pushed ahead with hunter's strides. He
passed an inn, closed and tenantless: behind him lay the Val di Non; in
front the darker valley of the Adige: where was the prey? A storm of
rage set in upon him with the fear that he had been befooled. He lit a
cigar, to assume ease of aspect, whatever the circumstances might be, and
gain some inward serenity by the outer reflection of it--not altogether
without success. 'My lady must be a doughty walker,' he thought; 'at
this rate she will be in the Ultenthal before sunset.' A wooded height
ranged on his left as he descended rapidly. Coming to a roll of grass
dotted with grey rock, he climbed it, and mounting one of the boulders,
beheld at a distance of half-a-dozen stone-throws downward, the figure of
a woman holding her hand cup-shape to a wayside fall of water. The path
by which she was going rounded the height he stood on. He sprang over
the rocks, catching up his clattering steel scabbard; and plunging
through tinted leafage and green underwood, steadied his heels on a
sloping bank, and came down on the path with stones and earth and
brambles, in time to appear as a seated pedestrian when Vittoria turned
the bend of the mountain way.
Gracefully withdrawing the cigar from his mouth, and touching his breast
with turned-in fingers, he accosted her with a comical operatic effort at
her high notes
She gathered her arms on her bosom and looked swiftly round: then at the
apparition of her enemy.
It is but an ironical form of respect that you offer to the prey you have
been hotly chasing and have caught. Weisspriess conceived that he had
good reasons for addressing her in the tone best suited to his character:
he spoke with a ridiculous mincing suavity:
'My pretty sweet! are you not tired? We have not seen one another for
days! Can you have forgotten the enthusiastic Herr Johannes? You have
been in pleasant company, no doubt; but I have been all--all alone.
Think of that! What an exceedingly fortunate chance this is! I was
smoking dolefully, and imagining anything but such a rapture.--No, no,
mademoiselle, be mannerly.' The captain blocked her passage. 'You must
not leave me while I am speaking. A good governess would have taught you
that in the nursery. I am afraid you had an inattentive governess, who
did not impress upon you the duty of recognizing friends when you meet
them! Ha! you were educated in England, I have heard. Shake hands.
It is our custom--I think a better one--to kiss on the right cheek and
the left, but we will shake hands.'
'In God's name, sir, let me go on,' Vittoria could just gather voice to
'But,' cried the delighted captain, 'you address me in the tones of a
basso profundo! It is absurd. Do you suppose that I am to be deceived
by your artifice?--rogue that you are! Don't I know you are a woman?
a sweet, an ecstatic, a darling little woman!'
He laughed. She shivered to hear the solitary echoes. There was
sunlight on the farthest Adige walls, but damp shade already filled the
'I beg you very earnestly, to let me go on,' said Vittoria.
'With equal earnestness, I beg you to let me accompany you,' he replied.
'I mean no offence, mademoiselle; but I have sworn that I and no one but
I shall conduct you to the Castle of Sonnenberg, where you will meet the
Lenkenstein ladies, with whom I have the honour to be acquainted. You
see, you have nothing to fear if you play no foolish pranks, like a
kicking filly in the pasture.'
'If it is your pleasure,' she said gravely; but he obtruded the bow of an
arm. She drew back. Her first blank despair at sight of the trap she
had fallen into, was clearing before her natural high courage.
'My little lady! my precious prima donna! do you refuse the most trifling
aid from me? It's because I'm a German.'
'There are many noble gentlemen who are Germans,' said Vittoria.
'It 's because I'm a German; I know it is. But, don't you see, Germany
invades Italy, and keeps hold of her? Providence decrees it so--ask the
priests! You are a delicious Italian damsel, and you will take the arm
of a German.'
Vittoria raised her face. 'Do you mean that I am your prisoner?'
'You did not look braver at La Scala'; the captain bowed to her.
'Ah, I forgot,' said she; 'you saw me there. If, signore, you will do me
the favour to conduct me to the nearest inn, I will sing to you.'
'It is precisely my desire, signorina.
You are not married to that man Guidascarpi, I presume? No, no: you are
merely his . . . friend. May I have the felicity of hearing you call
me your friend? Why, you tremble! are you afraid of me?'
'To tell the truth, you talk too much to please me,' said Vittoria.
The captain praised her frankness, and he liked it. The trembling of her
frame still fascinated his eyes, but her courage and the absence of all
womanly play and cowering about her manner impressed him seriously. He
stood looking at her, biting his moustache, and trying to provoke her to
'Conduct you to the nearest inn; yes,' he said, as if musing. 'To the
nearest inn, where you will sing to me; sing to me. It is not an
objectionable scheme. The inns will not be choice: but the society will
be exquisite. Say first, I am your sworn cavalier?'
'It does not become me to say that,' she replied, feigning a demure
sincerity, on the verge of her patience.
'You allow me to say it?'
She gave him a look of fire and passed him; whereat, following her, he
clapped hands, and affected to regard the movement as part of an operatic
scena. 'It is now time to draw your dagger,' he said. 'You have one,
'Anything but touch me!' cried Vittoria, turning on him. 'I know that I
am safe. You shall teaze me, if it amuses you.'
'Am I not, now, the object of your detestation?'
'You are near being so.'
'You see! You put on no disguise; why should I?'
This remark struck her with force.
'My temper is foolish,' she said softly. 'I have always been used to
He vowed that she had no comprehension of kindness; otherwise would she
continue defiant of him? She denied that she was defiant: upon which he
accused the hand in her bosom of clutching a dagger. She cast the dagger
at his feet. It was nobly done, and he was not insensible to the courage
and inspiration of the act; for it checked a little example of a trial of
strength that he had thought of exhibiting to an armed damsel.
'Shall I pick it up for you?' he said.
'You will oblige me,' was her answer; but she could not control a
convulsion of her underlip that her defensive instinct told her was best
'Of course, you know you are safe,' he repeated her previous words, while
examining the silver handle of the dagger. 'Safe? certainly! Here is
C. A. to V. . . . A. neatly engraved: a gift; so that the young
gentleman may be sure the young lady will defend herself from lions and
tigers and wild boars, if ever she goes through forests and over mountain
passes. I will not obtrude my curiosity, but who is V . . . . A. ?'
The dagger was Carlo's gift to her; the engraver, by singular
misadventure, had put a capital letter for the concluding letter of her
name instead of little a; she remembered the blush on Carlo's face when
she had drawn his attention to the error, and her own blush when she had
guessed its meaning.
'It spells my name,' she said.
'Your assumed name of Vittoria. And who is C. A.?'
'Those are the initials of Count Carlo Ammiani.'
'He is my sole lover. He is my betrothed. Oh, good God!' she threw her
eyes up to heaven; 'how long am I to endure the torture of this man in my
pathway? Go, sir, or let me go on. You are intolerable. It 's the
spirit of a tiger. I have no fear of you.'
'Nay, nay,' said Weisspriess, 'I asked the question because I am under an
obligation to run Count Carlo Ammiani through the body, and felt at once
that I should regret the necessity. As to your not fearing me, really,
far from wishing to hurt you--'
Vittoria had caught sight of a white face framed in the autumnal forest
above her head. So keen was the glad expression of her face, that
Weisspriess looked up.
'Come, Angelo, come to me;' she said confidently.
Weisspriess plucked his sword out, and called to him imperiously to
Beckoned downward by white hand and flashing blade, Angelo steadied his
feet and hands among drooping chestnut boughs, and bounded to Vittoria's
'Now march on,' Weisspriess waved his sword; 'you are my prisoners.'
'You,' retorted Angelo; 'I know you; you are a man marked out for one of
us. I bid you turn back, if you care for your body's safety.'
'Angelo Guidascarpi, I also know you. Assassin! you double murderer!
Defy me, and I slay you in the sight of your paramour.'
'Captain Weisspriess, what you have spoken merits death. I implore of my
Maker that I may not have to kill you.'
'Fool! you are unarmed.'
Angelo took his stilet in his fist.
'I have warned you, Captain Weisspriess. Here I stand. I dare you to
'You pronounce my name abominably,' said the captain, dropping his
sword's point. 'If you think of resisting me, let us have no women
looking on.' He waved his left hand at Vittoria.
Angelo urged her to go. 'Step on for our Carlo's sake.' But it was
asking too much of her.
'Can you fight this man?' she asked.
'I can fight him and kill him.'
'I will not step on,' she said. 'Must you fight him?'
'There is no choice.' Vittoria walked to a distance at once.
Angelo directed the captain's eyes to where, lower in the pass, there was
a level plot of meadow.
Weisspriess nodded. 'The odds are in my favour, so you shall choose the
All three went silently to the meadow.
It was a circle of green on a projecting shoulder of the mountain,
bounded by woods that sank toward the now shadowy South-flowing Adige
vale, whose Western heights were gathering red colour above a strongly-
marked brown line. Vittoria stood at the border of the wood, leaving the
two men to their work. She knew when speech was useless.
Captain Weisspriess paced behind Angelo until the latter stopped short,
'Wherever you please,' Weisspriess responded. 'The ground is of more
importance to you than to me.'
They faced mutually; one felt the point of his stilet, the other the
temper of his sword.
'Killing you, Angelo Guidascarpi, is the killing of a dog. But there
are such things as mad dogs. This is not a duel. It is a righteous
execution, since you force me to it: I shall deserve your thanks for
saving you from the hangman. I think you have heard that I can use my
weapon. There's death on this point for you. Make your peace with your
Weisspriess spoke sternly. He delayed the lifting of his sword that the
bloody soul might pray.
Angelo said, 'You are a good soldier: you are a bad priest. Come on.'
A nod of magnanimous resignation to the duties of his office was the
captain's signal of readiness. He knew exactly the method of fighting
which Angelo must adopt, and he saw that his adversary was supple, and
sinewy, and very keen of eye. But, what can well compensate for even one
additional inch of steel? A superior weapon wielded by a trained wrist
in perfect coolness means victory, by every reasonable reckoning. In the
present instance, it meant nothing other than an execution, as he had
said. His contemplation of his own actual share in the performance was
nevertheless unpleasant; and it was but half willingly that he
straightened out his sword and then doubled his arm. He lessened the
odds in his favour considerably by his too accurate estimation of them.
He was also a little unmanned by the thought that a woman was to see him
using his advantage; but she stood firm in her distant corner, refusing
to be waved out of sight. Weisspriess had again to assure himself that
it was not a duel, but the enforced execution of a criminal who would not
surrender, and who was in his way. Fronting a creature that would vainly
assail him, and temporarily escape impalement by bounding and springing,
dodging and backing, now here now there, like a dangling bob-cherry, his
military gorge rose with a sickness of disgust. He had to remember as
vividly as he could realize it, that this man's life was forfeited, and
that the slaughter of him was a worthy service to Countess Anna; also,
that there were present reasons for desiring to be quit of him. He gave
Angelo two thrusts, and bled him. The skill which warded off the more
vicious one aroused his admiration.
'Pardon my blundering,' he said; 'I have never engaged a saltimbanque
They recommenced. Weisspriess began to weigh the sagacity of his
opponent's choice of open ground, where he could lengthen the discourse
of steel by retreating and retreating, and swinging easily to right or to
left. In the narrow track the sword would have transfixed him after a
single feint. He was amused. Much of the cat was in his combative
nature. An idea of disabling or dismembering Angelo, and forwarding him
to Meran, caused him to trifle further with the edge of the blade.
Angelo took a cut, and turned it on his arm; free of the deadly point, he
rushed in and delivered a stab; but Weisspriess saved his breast. Quick,
they resumed their former positions.
'I am really so unused to this game!' said Weisspriess, apologetically.
He was pale: his unsteady breathing, and a deflection of his dripping
sword-wrist, belied his coolness. Angelo plunged full on him, dropped,
and again reached his right arm; they hung, getting blood for blood, with
blazing interpenetrating eyes; a ghastly work of dark hands at half lock
thrusting, and savage eyes reading the fiery pages of the book of hell.
At last the Austrian got loose from the lock and hurled him off.
'That bout was hotter,' he remarked; and kept his sword-point out on the
whole length of the arm: he would have scorned another for so miserable a
form either of attack or defence.
Vittoria beheld Angelo circling round the point, which met him
everywhere; like the minute hand of a clock about to sound his hour, she
He let fall both his arms, as if beaten, which brought on the attack: by
sheer evasion he got away from the sword's lunge, and essayed a second
trial of the bite of steel at close quarters; but the Austrian backed and
kept him to the point, darting short alluring thrusts, thinking to tempt
him on, or to wind him, and then to have him. Weisspriess was chilled by
a more curious revulsion from this sort of engagement than he at first
experienced. He had become nervously incapable of those proper niceties
of sword-play which, without any indecent hacking or maiming, should have
stretched Angelo, neatly slain, on the mat of green, before he had a
chance. Even now the sight of the man was distressing to an honourable
duellist. Angelo was scored with blood-marks. Feeling that he dared not
offer another chance to a fellow so desperately close-dealing,
Weisspriess thrust fiercely, but delayed his fatal stroke. Angelo
stooped and pulled up a handful of grass and soft earth in his left hand.
'We have been longer about it than I expected,' said Weisspriess.
Angelo tightened his fingers about the stringy grasstuft; he stood like a
dreamer, leaning over to the sword; suddenly he sprang on it, received
the point right in his side, sprang on it again, and seized it in his
hand, and tossed it up, and threw it square out in time to burst within
guard and strike his stilet below the Austrian's collar-bone. The blade
took a glut of blood, as when the wolf tears quick at dripping flesh. It
was at a moment when Weisspriess was courteously bantering him with the
question whether he was ready, meaning that the affirmative should open
the gates of death to him.
The stilet struck thrice. Weisspriess tottered, and hung his jaw like a
man at a spectre: amazement was on his features.
'Remember Broncini and young Branciani!'
Angelo spoke no other words throughout the combat.
Weisspriess threw himself forward on a feeble lunge of his sword, and let
the point sink in the ground, as a palsied cripple supports his frame,
swayed, and called to Angelo to come on, and try another stroke, another
--one more! He fell in a lump: his look of amazement was surmounted by a
His enemy was hanging above him panting out of wide nostrils, like a
hunter's horse above the long-tongued quarry, when Vittoria came to them.
She reached her strength to the wounded man to turn his face to heaven.
He moaned, 'Finish me'; and, as he lay with his back to earth, 'Good-
evening to the old army!'
A vision of leaping tumbrils, and long marching columns about to deploy,
passed before his eyelids: he thought he had fallen on the battle-field,
and heard a drum beat furiously in the back of his head; and on streamed
the cavalry, wonderfully caught away to such a distance that the figures
were all diminutive, and the regimental colours swam in smoke, and the
enemy danced a plume here and there out of the sea, while his mother and
a forgotten Viennese girl gazed at him with exactly the same unfamiliar
countenance, and refused to hear that they were unintelligible in the
roaring of guns and floods and hurrahs, and the thumping of the
tremendous big drum behind his head--'somewhere in the middle of the
earth': he tried to explain the locality of that terrible drumming noise
to them, and Vittoria conceived him to be delirious; but he knew that he
was sensible; he knew her and Angelo and the mountain-pass, and that he
had a cigar-case in his pocket worked in embroidery of crimson, blue, and
gold, by the hands of Countess Anna. He said distinctly that he desired
the cigar-case to be delivered to Countess Anna at the Castle of
Sonnenberg, and rejoiced on being assured that his wish was comprehended
and should be fulfilled; but the marvel was, that his mother should still
refuse to give him wine, and suppose him to be a boy: and when he was so
thirsty and dry-lipped that though Mina was bending over him, just fresh
from Mariazell, he had not the heart to kiss her or lift an arm to her!--
His horse was off with him-whither?--He was going down with a company of
infantry in the Gulf of Venice: cards were in his hands, visible, though
he could not feel them, and as the vessel settled for the black plunge,
the cards flushed all honours, and his mother shook her head at him: he
sank, and heard Mina sighing all the length of the water to the bottom,
which grated and gave him two horrid shocks of pain: and he cried for a
doctor, and admitted that his horse had managed to throw him; but wine
was the cure, brandy was the cure, or water, water! Water was sprinkled
on his forehead and put to his lips.
He thanked Vittoria by name, and imagined himself that General, serving
under old Wurmser, of whom the tale is told that being shot and lying
grievously wounded on the harsh Rivoli ground, he obtained the help of a
French officer in as bad case as himself, to moisten his black tongue and
write a short testamentary document with his blood, and for a way of
returning thanks to the Frenchman, he put down among others, the name of
his friendly enemy's widow; whereupon both resigned their hearts to
death; but the Austrian survived to find the sad widow and espouse her.
His mutterings were full of gratitude, showing a vividly transient
impression to what was about him, that vanished in a narrow-headed flight
through clouds into lands of memory. It pained him, he said, that he
could not offer her marriage; but he requested that when his chin was
shaved his moustache should be brushed up out of the way of the clippers,
for he and all his family were conspicuous for the immense amount of life
which they had in them, and his father had lain six-and-thirty hours
bleeding on the field of Wagram, and had yet survived to beget a race as
hearty as himself:--'Old Austria! thou grand old Austria!'
The smile was proud, though faint, which accompanied the apostrophe,
addressed either to his country or to his father's personification of it;
it was inexpressibly pathetic to Vittoria, who understood his
'Oesterreich,' and saw the weak and helpless bleeding man, with his
eyeballs working under the lids, and the palms of his hands stretched out
open-weak as a corpse, but conquering death.
The arrival of Jacopo and Johann furnished help to carry him onward to
the nearest place of shelter. Angelo would not quit her side until he
had given money and directions to both the trembling fellows, together
with his name, that they might declare the author of the deed at once if
questioned. He then bowed to Vittoria slightly and fled. They did not
The last sunbeams burned full crimson on the heights of the Adige
mountains as Vittoria followed the two pale men who bore the wounded
officer between them at a slow pace for the nearest village in the
descent of the pass.
Angelo watched them out of sight. The far-off red rocks spun round his
eyeballs; the meadow was a whirling thread of green; the brown earth
heaved up to him. He felt that he was diving, and had the thought that
there was but water enough to moisten his red hands when his senses left
A NEW ORDEAL
The old city of Meran faces Southward to the yellow hills of Italy,
across a broad vale, between two mountain-walls and torrent-waters.
With one hand it takes the bounding green Passeyr, and with the other the
brown-rolling Adige, and plunges them together in roaring foam under the
shadow of the Western wall. It stands on the spur of a lower central
eminence crowned by a grey castle, and the sun has it from every aspect.
The shape of a swan in water may describe its position, for the
Vintschgau and the stony Passeyrthal make a strong curve on two sides as
they descend upon it with their rivers, and the bosom of the city
projects, while the head appears bending gracefully backward. Many
castles are in view of it; the loud and tameless Passeyr girdles it with
an emerald cincture; there is a sea of arched vineyard foliage at his
Vittoria reached the Castle of Sonnenberg about noon, and found empty
courts and open doors. She sat in the hall like a supplicant,
disregarded by the German domestics, who beheld a travel-stained humble-
faced young Italian woman, and supposed that their duty was done in
permitting her to rest; but the duchess's maid Aennchen happening to come
by, questioned her in moderately intelligible Italian, and hearing her
name gave a cry, and said that all the company were out hunting,
shooting, and riding, in the vale below or the mountain above. "Ah,
dearest lady, what a fright we have all been in about you! Signora
Piaveni has not slept a wink, and the English gentleman has made great
excursions every day to find you. This morning the soldier Wilhelm
arrived with news that his master was bringing you on."
Vittoria heard that Laura and her sister and the duchess had gone down to
Meran. Countess Lena von Lenkenstein was riding to see her betrothed
shoot on a neighbouring estate. Countess Anna had disappeared early,
none knew where. Both these ladies, and their sister-in-law, were in
mourning for the terrible death of their brother, Count Paul Aennchen
repeated what she knew of the tale concerning him.
The desire to see Laura first, and be embraced and counselled by her, and
lie awhile in her arms to get a breath of home, made Vittoria refuse to
go up to her chamber, and notwithstanding Aennchen's persuasions, she
left the castle, and went out and sat in the shaded cart-track. On the
winding ascent she saw a lady in a black riding habit, leading her horse
and talking to a soldier, who seemed to be receiving orders from her, and
presently saluted and turned his steps downward. The lady came on, and
passed her without a glance. After entering the courtyard, where she
left her horse, she reappeared, and stood hesitating, but came up to
Vittoria and said bluntly, in Italian:
"Are you the signorina Campa, or Belloni, who is expected here?"
The Austrian character and colouring of her features told Vittoria that
this must be the Countess Anna or her sister.
"I think I have been expected," she replied.
"You come alone?"
"I am alone."
"I am Countess Anna von Lenkenstein; one of the guests of the castle."
"My message is to the Countess Anna."
"You have a message?"
Vittoria lifted the embroidered cigar-case. Countess Anna snatched it
from her hand.
"What does this mean? Is it insolence? Have the kindness, if you
please, not to address me in enigmas. Do you"--Anna was deadly pale as
she turned the cigarcase from side to side--"do you imagine that I smoke,
'par hasard?'" She tried to laugh off her intemperate manner of speech;
the laugh broke at sight of a blood-mark on one corner of the case; she
started and said earnestly, "I beg you to let me hear what the meaning of
this may be?"
"He lies in the Ultenthal, wounded; and his wish was that I should
deliver it to you." Vittoria spoke as gently as the harsh tidings would
"Wounded? My God! my God!" Anna cried in her own language. "Wounded?-
in the breast, then! He carried it in his breast. Wounded by what? by
"I can tell you no more."
"Wounded by whom?"
"It was an honourable duel."
"Are you afraid to tell me he has been assassinated?"
"It was an honourable duel."
"None could match him with the sword."
"His enemy had nothing but a dagger."
"Who was his enemy?"
"It is no secret, but I must leave him to say."
"You were a witness of the fight?"
"I saw it all."
"The man was one of your party!
"Ah!" exclaimed Vittoria, "lose no time with me, Countess Anna, go to
him at once, for though he lived when I left him, he was bleeding; I
cannot say that he was not dying, and he has not a friend near."
Anna murmured like one overborne by calamity. "My brother struck down
one day--he the next!" She covered her face a moment, and unclosed it to
explain that she wept for her brother, who had been murdered, stabbed in
"Was it Count Ammiani who did this?" she asked passionately.
Vittoria shook her head; she was divining a dreadful thing in relation to
the death of Count Paul.
"It was not?" said Anna. "They had a misunderstanding, I know. But you
tell me the man fought with a dagger. It could not be Count Ammiani.
The dagger is an assassin's weapon, and there are men of honour in Italy
She called to a servant in the castle-yard, and sent him down with orders
to stop the soldier Wilhelm.
"We heard this morning that you were coming, and we thought it curious,"
she observed; and called again for her horse to be saddled. "How far is
this place where he is lying? I have no knowledge of the Ultenthal. Has
he a doctor attending him? When was he wounded? It is but common
humanity to see that he is attended by an efficient doctor. My nerves
are unstrung by the recent blow to our family; that is why--Oh, my
father! my holy father!" she turned to a grey priest's head that was
rising up the ascent, "I thank God for you! Lena is away riding; she
weeps constantly when she is within four walls. Come in and give me
tears, if you can; I am half mad for the want of them. Tears first;
teach me patience after."
The old priest fanned his face with his curled hat, and raised one hand
as he uttered a gentle chiding in reproof of curbless human sorrow. Anna
said to Vittoria, coldly, "I thank you for your message:" she walked into
the castle by his side, and said to him there: "The woman you saw outside
has a guilty conscience. You will spend your time more profitably with
her than with me. I am past all religious duties at this moment.
You know, father, that I can open my heart. Probe this Italian woman;
search her through and through. I believe her to be blood-stained and
abominable. She hates us. She has sworn an oath against us. She is
It was not long before Anna issued forth and rode down to the vale. The
priest beckoned to Vittoria from the gates. He really supposed her to
have come to him with a burdened spirit.
"My daughter," he addressed her. The chapter on human error was opened:"
We are all of one family--all of us erring children--all of us bound to
abnegate hatred: by love alone are we saved. Behold the Image of Love--
the Virgin and Child. Alas! and has it been visible to man these more
than eighteen hundred years, and humankind are still blind to it? Are
their ways the ways of comfort and blessedness? Their ways are the ways
of blood; paths to eternal misery among howling fiends. Why have they
not chosen the sweet ways of peace, which are strewn with flowers, which
flow with milk?"--The priest spread his hand open for Vittoria's, which
she gave to his keeping, and he enclosed it softly, smoothing it with his
palms, and retaining it as a worldly oyster between spiritual shells.
"Why, my daughter, why, but because we do not bow to that Image daily,
nightly, hourly, momently! We do not worship it that its seed may be
sown in us. We do not cling to it, that in return it may cling to us."
He spoke with that sensuous resource of rich feeling which the
contemplation of the Image does inspire. And Vittoria was not led
reluctantly into the oratory of the castle to pray with him; but she
refused to confess. Thereupon followed a soft discussion that was as
near being acerb as nails are near velvet paws.
Vittoria perceived his drift, and also the dear good heart of the old
man, who meant no harm to her, and believed that he was making use of his
professional weapons for her ultimate good. The inquisitions and the
kindness went musically together; she responded to the kindness, but
rebutted the inquisitions; at which he permitted a shade of discontent to
traverse his features, and asked her with immense tenderness whether she
had not much on her mind; she expressing melodious gratitude for his
endeavours to give her comfort. He could not forbear directing an
admonishment to her stubborn spirit, and was obliged, for the sake of
impressiveness, to speak it harshly; until he saw, that without sweetness
of manner and unction of speech, he left her untouched; so he was driven
back to the form of address better suited to his nature and habits; the
end of which was that both were cooing.
Vittoria was ashamed to tell herself how much she liked him and his
ghostly brethren, whose preaching was always of peace, while the world
was full of lurid hatred, strife, and division. She begged the baffled
old man to keep her hand in his. He talked in Latinized Italian, and
only appeared to miss the exact meaning of her replies when his
examination of the state of her soul was resumed. They sat in the soft
colour of the consecrated place like two who were shut away from earth.
Often he thought that her tears were about to start and bring her low;
for she sighed heavily; at the mere indication of the displacement of her
hand, she looked at him eagerly, as if entreating him not to let it drop.
"You are a German, father?" she said.
"I am of German birth, my daughter."
"That makes it better. Remain beside me. The silence is sweet music."
The silence was broken at intervals by his murmur of a call for patience!
This strange scene concluded with the entry of the duchess, who retired
partly as soon as she saw them. Vittoria smiled to the old man, and left
him: the duchess gave her a hushed welcome, and took her place. Vittoria
was soon in Laura's arms, where, after a storm of grief, she related the
events of the journey following her flight from Milan. Laura interrupted
her but once to exclaim, "Angelo Guidascarpi!" Vittoria then heard from
her briefly that Milan was quiet, Carlo Ammiani in prison. It had been
for tidings of her lover that she had hastened over the mountains to
Meran. She craved for all that could be told of him, but Laura repeated,
as in a stupefaction, "Angelo Guidascarpi!" She answered Vittoria's
question by saying, "You could not have had so fatal a companion."
"I could not have had so devoted a protector."
"There is such a thing as an evil star. We are all under it at present,
to some degree; but he has been under it from his birth. My Sandra, my
beloved, I think I have pardoned you, if I ever pardon anyone! I doubt
it; but it is certain that I love you. You have seen Countess Anna, or I
would have told you to rest and get over your fatigue. The Lenkensteins
are here--my poor sister among them. You must show yourself. I was
provident enough to call at your mother's for a box of your clothes
before I ran out of wretched Milan."
Further, the signora stated that Carlo might have to remain in prison.
She made no attempt to give dark or fair colour to the misery of the
situation; telling Vittoria to lie on her bed and sleep, if sleep could
be persuaded to visit her, she went out to consult with the duchess.
Vittoria lay like a dead body on the bed, counting the throbs of her
heart. It helped her to fall into a state of insensibility. When she
awoke, the room was dark; she felt that some one had put a silken cushion
across her limbs. The noise of a storm traversing the vale rang through
the castle, and in the desolation of her soul, that stealthy act of
kindness wrought in her till she almost fashioned a vow upon her lips
that she would leave the world to toss its wrecks, and dedicate her life
For, O heaven! of what avail is human effort? She thought of the Chief,
whose life was stainless, but who stood proscribed because his aim was
too high to be attained within compass of a mortal's years. His error
seemed that he had ever aimed at all. He seemed less wise than the old
priest of the oratory. She could not disentangle him from her own
profound humiliation and sense of fallen power. Her lover's imprisonment
accused her of some monstrous culpability, which she felt unrepentingly,
not as we feel a truth, but as we submit to a terrible force of pressure.
The morning light made her realize Carlo's fate, to whom it would
penetrate through a hideous barred loophole--a defaced and dreadful beam.
She asked herself why she had fled from Milan. It must have been some
cowardly instinct that had prompted her to fly. "Coward, coward! thing
of vanity! you, a mere woman!" she cried out, and succeeded in despising
herself sufficiently to think it possible that she had deserved to
forfeit her lover's esteem.
It was still early when the duchess's maid came to her, bringing word
that her mistress would be glad to visit her. From the duchess Vittoria
heard of the charge against Angelo. Respecting Captain Weisspriess,
Amalia said that she had perceived his object in wishing to bring the
great cantatrice to the castle; and that it was a well-devised audacious
scheme to subdue Countess Anna:--"We Austrians also can be jealous. The
difference between us is, that it makes us tender, and you Italians
savage." She asked pointedly for an affirmative, that Vittoria was glad
to reply with, when she said: "Captain Weisspriess was perfectly
respectful to you?" She spoke comforting words of Carlo Ammiani, whom
she hoped to see released as soon as the excitement had subsided. The
chief comfort she gave was by saying that he had been originally arrested
in mistake for his cousin Angelo.
"I will confide what is now my difficulty here frankly to you," said the
duchess. "The Lenkensteins are my guests; I thought it better to bring
them here. Angelo Guidascarpi has slain their brother--a base deed!
It does not affect you in my eyes; you can understand that in theirs it
does. Your being present--Laura has told me everything--at the duel,
or fight, between that young man and Captain Weisspriess, will make you
appear as his accomplice--at least, to Anna it will; she is the most
unreasoning, the most implacable of women. She returned from the
Ultenthal last night, and goes there this morning, which is a sign that
Captain Weisspriess lives. I should be sorry if we lost so good an
officer. As she is going to take Father Bernardus with her, it is
possible that the wound is serious. Do you know you have mystified the
worthy man exceedingly? What tempted you to inform him that your
conscience was heavily burdened, at the same time that you refused to
"Surely he has been deluded about me," said Vittoria.
"I do but tell you his state of mind in regard to you," the duchess
pursued. "Under all the circumstances, this is what I have to ask: you
are my Laura's guest, therefore the guest of my heart. There is another
one here, an Englishman, a Mr. Powys; and also Lieutenant Pierson, whom,
naughty rebel that you are, you have been the means of bringing into
disgrace; naturally you would wish to see them: but my request is, that
you should keep to these rooms for two or three days: the Lenkensteins
will then be gone. They can hardly reproach me for retaining an invalid.
If you go down among them, it will be a cruel meeting."
Vittoria thankfully consented to the arrangement. They agreed to act in
accordance with it.
The signora was a late riser. The duchess had come on a second visit to
Vittoria when Laura joined them, and hearing of the arrangement, spurned
the notion of playing craven before the Lenkensteins, who, she said,
might think as it pleased them to think, but were never to suppose that
there was any fear of confronting them. "And now, at this very moment,
when they have their triumph, and are laughing over Viennese squibs at
her, she has an idea of hiding her head--she hangs out the white flag!
It can't be. We go or we stay; but if we stay, the truth is that we are
too poor to allow our enemies to think poorly of us. You, Amalia, are
victorious, and you may snap your fingers at opinion. It is a luxury
we cannot afford. Besides, I wish her to see my sister and make
acquaintance with the Austrianized-Italian--such a wonder as is nowhere
to be seen out of the Serabiglione and in the Lenkenstein family.
Marriage is, indeed, a tremendous transformation. Bianca was once
declared to be very like me."
The brow-beaten duchess replied to the outburst that she had considered
it right to propose the scheme for Vittoria's seclusion on account of the
"Even if that were a good reason, there are better on the other side,"
said Laura; adding, with many little backward tosses of the head, "That
story has to be related in full before I denounce Angelo and Rinaldo."
"It cannot be denied that they are assassins," returned the duchess.
"It cannot be denied that they have killed one man or more. For you,
Justice drops from the bough: we have to climb and risk our necks for it.
Angelo stood to defend my darling here. Shall she be ashamed of him?"
"You will never persuade me to tolerate assassination," said the duchess
"Never, never; I shall never persuade you; never persuade--never attempt
to persuade any foreigner that we can be driven to extremes where their
laws do not apply to us--are not good for us--goad a subjected people
till their madness is pardonable. Nor shall I dream of persuading you
that Angelo did right in defending her from that man."
"I maintain that there are laws applicable to all human creatures," said
the duchess. "You astonish me when you speak compassionately of such a
"No; not of such a criminal, of such an unfortunate youth, and my
countryman, when every hand is turned against him, and all tongues are
reviling him. But let Angelo pass; I pray to heaven he may escape. All
who are worth anything in our country are strained in every fibre, and
it's my trick to be half in love with anyone of them when he is
persecuted. I fancy he is worth more than the others, and is simply
luckless. You must make allowances for us, Amalia--pity captive Judah!"
"I think, my Laura, you will never be satisfied till I have ceased to be
Babylonian," said the duchess, smiling and fondling Vittoria, to whom she
said, "Am I not a complaisant German?"
Vittoria replied gently, "If they were like you!"
"Yes, if they were like the duchess," said Laura, nothing would be left
for us then but to hate ourselves. Fortunately, we deal with brutes."
She was quite pitiless in prompting Vittoria to hasten down, and
marvelled at the evident reluctance in doing this slight duty, of one
whose courage she had recently seen rise so high. Vittoria was equally
amazed by her want of sympathy, which was positive coldness, and her
disregard for the sentiments of her hostess. She dressed hesitatingly,
responding with forlorn eyes to Laura's imperious "Come." When at last
she was ready to descend, Laura took her dawn, full of battle. The
duchess had gone in advance to keep the peace.
The ladies of the Lenkenstein family were standing at one window of the
morning room conversing. Apart from them, Merthyr Powys and Wilfrid were
examining one of the cumbrous antique arms ranged along the wall. The
former of these old English friends stepped up to Vittoria quickly and
kissed her forehead. Wilfrid hung behind him; he made a poor show of
indifference, stammered English and reddened; remembering that he was
under observation he recovered wonderfully, and asked, like a patron,
"How is the voice?" which would have been foolish enough to Vittoria's
more attentive hearing. She thanked him for the service he had rendered
her at La Scala. Countess Lena, who looked hard at both, saw nothing to
waken one jealous throb.
"Bianca, you expressed a wish to give a salute to my eldest daughter,"
The Countess of Lenkenstein turned her head. "Have I done so?"
"It is my duty to introduce her," interposed the duchess, and conducted
the ceremony with a show of its embracing these ladies, neither one of
whom changed her cold gaze.
Careful that no pause should follow, she commenced chatting to the ladies
and gentlemen alternately, keeping Vittoria under her peculiar charge.
Merthyr alone seconded her efforts to weave the web of converse, which is
an armistice if not a treaty on these occasions.
"Have you any fresh caricatures from Vienna?" Laura continued to address
"None have reached me," said the neutral countess.
"Have they finished laughing?"
"I cannot tell."
"At any rate, we sing still," Laura smiled to Vittoria. "You shall hear
us after breakfast. I regret excessively that you were not in Milan on
the Fifteenth. We will make amends to you as much as possible. You
shall hear us after breakfast. You will sing to please my sister, Sandra
mia, will you not?"
Vittoria shook her head. Like those who have become passive, she read
faces--the duchess's imploring looks thrown from time to time to the
Lenkenstein ladies, Wilfrid's oppressed forehead, the resolute neutrality
of the countess--and she was not only incapable of seconding Laura's
aggressive war, but shrank from the involvement and sickened at the
indelicacy. Anna's eyes were fixed on her and filled her with dread lest
she should be resolving to demand a private interview.
"You refuse to sing?" said Laura; and under her breath, "When I bid you
not, you insist!"
"Can she possibly sing before she grows accustomed to the air of the
place?" said the duchess.
Merthyr gravely prescribed a week's diet on grapes antecedent to the
issuing of a note. "Have you never heard what a sustained grape-diet
will do for the bullfinches?"
"Never," exclaimed the duchess. "Is that the secret of their German
"Apparently, for we cannot raise them to the same pitch of perfection in
"I will try it upon mine. Every morning they shall have two big
"Fresh plucked, and with the first sunlight on them. Be careful of the
Wilfrid remarked, "To make them exhibit the results, you withdraw the
benefit suddenly, of course?"
"We imitate the general run of Fortune's gifts as much as we can," said
"That is the training for little shrill parrots: we have none in Italy,"
Laura sighed, mock dolefully; "I fear the system would fail among us."
"It certainly would not build Como villas," said Lena.
Laura cast sharp eyes on her pretty face.
"It is adapted for caged voices that are required to chirrup to tickle
the ears of boors."
Anna said to the duchess: "I hope your little birds are all well this
"Come to them presently with me and let our ears be tickled," the duchess
laughed in answer; and the spiked dialogue broke, not to revive.
The duchess had observed the constant direction of Anna's eyes upon
Vittoria during the repast, and looked an interrogation at Anna, who
replied to it firmly. "I must be present," the duchess whispered. She
drew Vittoria away by the hand, telling Merthyr Powys that it was unkind
to him, but that he should be permitted to claim his fair friend from
noon to the dinner-bell.
Laura and Bianca were discussing the same subject as the one for which
Anna desired an interview with Vittoria. It was to know the conditions
and cause of the duel between Angelo Guidascarpi and Captain Weisspriess,
and whither Angelo had fled. "In other words, you cry for vengeance
under the name of justice," Laura phrased it, and put up a prayer for
The countess rebuked her. "It is men like Angelo who are a scandal to
"Proclaimed so; but by what title are they judged?" Laura retorted.
"I have heard that his duel with Count Paul was fair, and that the
grounds for it were just. Deplore it; but to condemn an Italian
gentleman without hearing his personal vindication, is infamous; nay, it
is Austrian. I know next to nothing of the story. Countess Ammiani has
assured me that the brothers have a clear defence--not from your Vienna
point of view: Italy and Vienna are different sides of the shield."
Vittoria spoke most humbly before Anna; her sole irritating remark was,
that even if she were aware of the direction of Angelo's flight, she
would not betray him.
The duchess did her utmost to induce her to see that he was a criminal,
outlawed from common charity. "These Italians are really like the Jews,"
she said to Anna; "they appear to me to hold together by a bond of race:
you cannot get them to understand that any act can be infamous when one
of their blood is guilty of it."
Anna thought gloomily: "Then, why do you ally yourself to them?"
The duchess, with Anna, Lena, and Wilfrid, drove to the Ultenthal.
Vittoria and Merthyr had a long afternoon of companionship. She had been
shyer in meeting him than in meeting Wilfrid, whom she had once loved.
The tie between herself and Wilfrid was broken; but Merthyr had remained
true to his passionless affection, which ennobled him to her so that her
heart fluttered, though she was heavily depressed. He relieved her by
letting her perceive that Carlo Ammiani's merits were not unknown to him.
Merthyr smiled at Carlo for abjuring his patrician birth. He said:
"Count Ammiani will be cured in time of those little roughnesses of his
adopted Republicanism. You must help to cure him. Women are never so
foolish as men in these things."
When Merthyr had spoken thus, she felt that she might dare to press his
hand. Sharing friendship with this steadfast nature and brotherly
gentleman; who was in the ripe manhood of his years; who loved Italy and
never despaired; who gave great affection, and took uncomplainingly the
possible return for it;--seemed like entering on a great plain open to
boundless heaven. She thought that friendship was sweeter than love.
Merthyr soon left the castle to meet his sister at Coire. Laura and
Vittoria drove some distance up the Vintschgau, on the way to the
Engadine, with him. He affected not to be downcast by the failure of the
last attempt at a rising in Milan. "Keep true to your Art; and don't let
it be subservient to anything," he said, and his final injunction to her
was that she should get a German master and practise rigidly.
Vittoria could only look at Laura in reply.
"He is for us, but not of us," said Laura, as she kissed her fingers to
"If he had told me to weep and pray," Vittoria murmured, "I think I
should by-and-by lift up my head."
"By-and-by! By-and-by I think I see a convent for me," said Laura.
Their faces drooped.
Vittoria cried: "Ah! did he mean that my singing at La Scala was below
At this, Laura's laughter came out in a volume. "And that excellent
Father Bernardus thinks he is gaining a convert!" she said.
Vittoria's depression was real, though her strong vitality appeared to
mock it. Letters from Milan, enclosed to the duchess, spoke of Carlo
Ammiani's imprisonment as a matter that might be indefinitely prolonged.
His mother had been subjected to an examination; she had not hesitated to
confess that she had received her nephew in her house, but it could not
be established against her that it was not Carlo whom she had passed off
to the sbirri as her son. Countess Ammiani wrote to Laura, telling her
she scarcely hoped that Carlo would obtain his liberty save upon the
arrest of Angelo:--"Therefore, what I most desire, I dare not pray for!"
That line of intense tragic grief haunted Vittoria like a veiled head
thrusting itself across the sunlight. Countess Ammiani added that she
must give her son what news she could gather;--"Concerning you," said
Laura, interpreting the sentence: "Bitter days do this good, they make
a proud woman abjure the traditions of her caste." A guarded answer
was addressed, according to the countess's directions, to Sarpo the
bookseller, in Milan. For purposes of such a nature, Barto Rizzo
turned the uneasy craven to account.
It happened that one of the maids at Sonnenberg was about to marry a
peasant, of Meran, part proprietor of a vineyard, and the nuptials were
to be celebrated at the castle. Among those who thronged the courtyard
on the afternoon of the ceremony, Vittoria beheld her faithful Beppo, who
related the story of his pursuit of her, and the perfidy of Luigi;--a
story so lengthy, that his voluble tongue running at full speed could
barely give the outlines of it. He informed her, likewise, that he had
been sent for, while lying in Trent, by Captain Weisspriess, whom he had
seen at an inn of the Ultenthal, weak but improving. Beppo was the
captain's propitiatory offering to Vittoria. Meanwhile the ladies sat
on a terrace, overlooking the court, where a stout fellow in broad green
braces and blue breeches lay half across a wooden table, thrumming a
zither, which set the groups in motion. The zither is a melancholy
little instrument; in range of expression it is to the harp what the
winchat is to the thrush; or to the violin, what that bird is to the
nightingale; yet few instruments are so exciting: here and there along
these mountain valleys you may hear a Tyrolese maid set her voice to its
plaintive thin tones; but when the strings are swept madly there is mad
dancing; it catches at the nerves. "Andreas! Andreas!" the dancers
shouted to encourage the player. Some danced with vine-poles; partners
broke and wandered at will, taking fresh partners, and occasionally
huddling in confusion, when the poles were levelled and tilted at them,
and they dispersed. Beppo, dancing mightily to recover the use of his
legs, met his acquaintance Jacob Baumwalder Feckelwitz, and the pair
devoted themselves to a rivalry of capers; jump, stamp, shuffle, leg
aloft, arms in air, yell and shriek: all took hands around them and
streamed, tramping the measure, and the vine-poles guarded the ring.
Then Andreas raised the song: "Our Lady is gracious," and immediately
the whole assemblage were singing praise to the Lady of the castle.
Following which, wine being brought to Andreas, he drank to his lady,
to his lady's guests, to the bride, to the, bridegroom, to everybody.
He was now ready to improvize, and dashed thumb and finger on the zither,
tossing up his face, swarthy-flushed: "There was a steinbock with a
beard." Half-a-dozen voices repeated it, as to proclaim the theme.
Alas! a beard indeed, for there is no end to this animal. I know him;"
said the duchess dolefully.
"There was a steinbock with a beard;
Of no gun was he afeard
Piff-paff left of him: piff-paff right of him
Piff-paff everywhere, where you get a sight of him."
The steinbock led through the whole course of a mountaineer's emotions
and experiences, with piff-paff continually left of him and right of him
and nothing hitting him. The mountaineer is perplexed; an able man, a
dead shot, who must undo the puzzle or lose faith in his skill, is a
tremendous pursuer, and the mountaineer follows the steinbock ever. A
'sennderin' at a 'sennhutchen' tells him that she admitted the steinbock
last night, and her curled hair frizzled under the steinbock's eyes. The
case is only too clear: my goodness! the steinbock is the----. "Der Teu
. . . !" said Andreas, with a comic stop of horror, the rhyme falling
cleverly to "ai." Henceforth the mountaineer becomes transformed into a
champion of humanity, hunting the wicked bearded steinbock in all
corners; especially through the cabinet of those dark men who decree the
taxes detested in Tyrol.
The song had as yet but fairly commenced, when a break in the 'piff-paff'
chorus warned Andreas that he was losing influence, women and men were
handing on a paper and bending their heads over it; their responses
hushed altogether, or were ludicrously inefficient.
"I really believe the poor brute has come to a Christian finish--this
Ahasuerus of steinbocks!" said the duchess.
The transition to silence was so extraordinary and abrupt, that she
called to her chasseur to know the meaning of it. Feckelwitz fetched the
paper and handed it up. It exhibited a cross done in blood under the
word 'Meran,' and bearing that day's date. One glance at it told Laura
what it meant. The bride in the court below was shedding tears:
the bridegroom was lighting his pipe and consoling her; women were
chattering, men shrugging. Some said they had seen an old grey-haired
hag (hexe) stand at the gates and fling down a piece of paper. A little
boy whose imagination was alive with the tale of the steinbock, declared
that her face was awful, and that she had only the, use of one foot. A
man patted him on the shoulder, and gave him a gulp of wine, saying with
his shrewdest air: "One may laugh at the devil once too often, though!"
and that sentiment was echoed; the women suggested in addition the
possibility of the bride Lisa having something on her conscience,
seeing that she had lived in a castle two years and more. The potential
persuasions of Father Bernardus were required to get the bride to go away
to her husband's roof that evening: when she did make her departure, the
superstitious peasantry were not a merry party that followed at her
At the break-up of the festivities Wilfrid received an intimation that
his sister had arrived in Meran from Bormio. He went down to see her,
and returned at a late hour. The ladies had gone to rest. He wrote a
few underlined words, entreating Vittoria to grant an immediate interview
in the library of the castle. The missive was entrusted to Aennchen.
Vittoria came in alarm.
"My sister is perfectly well," said Wilfrid. "She has heard that Captain
Gambier has been arrested in the mountains; she had some fears concerning
you, which I quieted. What I have to tell you, does not relate to her.
The man Angelo Guidascarpi is in Meran. I wish you to let the signora
know that if he is not carried out of the city before sunset to-morrow,
I must positively inform the superior officer of the district of his
This was their first private interview. Vittoria (for she knew him) had
acceded to it, much fearing that it would lead to her having to put on
her sex's armour. To collect her wits, she asked tremblingly how Wilfrid
had chanced to see Angelo. An old Italian woman, he said, had accosted
him at the foot of the mountain, and hearing that he was truly an
Englishman--"I am out of my uniform," Wilfrid remarked with intentional
bitterness--had conducted him to the house of an Italian in the city,
where Angelo Guidascarpi was lying.
"Ill?" said Vittoria.
"Just recovering. After that duel, or whatever it may be called with
Weisspriess, he lay all night out on the mountains. He managed to get
the help of a couple of fellows, who led him at dusk into Meran, saw an
Italian name over a shop, and--I will say for them that the rascals hold
together. There he is, at all events."
"Would you denounce a sick man, Wilfrid?"
"I certainly cannot forget my duty upon every point"
"You are changed!"
"Changed! Am I the only one who is changed?"
"He must have supposed that it would be Merthyr. I remember speaking of
Merthyr to him as our unchangeable friend. I told him Merthyr would be
"Instead of Merthyr, he had the misfortune to see your changeable friend,
if you will have it so."
"But how can it be your duty to denounce him, Wilfrid. You have quitted
"Have I? I have forfeited my rank, perhaps."
"And Angelo is not guilty of a military offence."
"He has slain one of a family that I am bound to respect."
"Certainly, certainly," said Vittoria hurriedly.
Her forehead showed distress of mind; she wanted Laura's counsel.
"Wilfrid, do you know the whole story?"
"I know that he inveigled Count Paul to his house and slew him; either he
or his brother, or both."
"I have been with him for days, Wilfrid. I believe that he would do no
dishonourable thing. He is related----".
"He is the cousin of Count Ammiani."
"Ah! would you plunge us in misery?"
"Count Ammiani is my lover."
She uttered it unblushingly, and with tender eyes fixed on him.
"Your lover!" he exclaimed, with vile emphasis.
"He will be my husband," she murmured, while the mounting hot colour
burned at her temples.
"Changed--who is changed?" he said, in a vehement underneath. "For that
reason I am to be false to her who does me the honour to care for me!"
"I would not have you false to her in thought or deed."
"You ask me to spare this man on account of his relationship to your
lover, and though he has murdered the brother of the lady whom I esteem.
What on earth is the meaning of the petition? Really, you amaze me."
"I appeal to your generosity, Wilfrid, I am Emilia."
She gave him her hand. He took it, and felt at once the limit of all
that he might claim. Dropping the hand, he said:
"Will nothing less than my ruin satisfy you? Since that night at La
Scala, I am in disgrace with my uncle; I expect at any moment to hear
that I am cashiered from the army, if not a prisoner. What is it that
you ask of me now? To conspire with you in shielding the man who has
done a mortal injury to the family of which I am almost one. Your reason
must perceive that you ask too much. I would willingly assist you in
sparing the feelings of Count Ammiani; and, believe me, gratitude is the
last thing I require to stimulate my services. You ask too much; you
must see that you ask too much."
"I do," said Vittoria. "Good-night, Wilfrid."
He was startled to find her going, and lost his equable voice in trying
to detain her. She sought relief in Laura's bosom, to whom she
recapitulated the interview.
"Is it possible," Laura said, looking at her intently, "that you do not
recognize the folly of telling this Lieutenant Pierson that you were
pleading to him on behalf of your lover? Could anything be so monstrous,
when one can see that he is malleable to the twist of your little finger?
Are you only half a woman, that you have no consciousness of your power?
Probably you can allow yourself--enviable privilege!--to suppose that
he called you down at this late hour simply to inform you that he is
compelled to do something which will cause you unhappiness! I repeat,
it is an enviable privilege. Now, when the real occasion has come for
you to serve us, you have not a single weapon--except these tears, which
you are wasting on my lap. Be sure that if he denounces Angelo, Angelo's
life cries out against you. You have but to quicken your brain to save
him. Did he expose his life for you or not? I knew that he was in
Meran," the signora continued sadly. "The paper which frightened the
silly peasants, revealed to me that he was there, needing help. I told
you Angelo was under an evil star. I thought my day to-morrow would be
a day of scheming. The task has become easy, if you will."
"Be merciful; the task is dreadful," said Vittoria.
"The task is simple. You have an instrument ready to your hands. You
can do just what you like with him--make an Italian of him; make him
renounce his engagement to this pert little Lena of Lenkenstein, break
his sword, play Arlecchino, do what you please. He is not required for
any outrageous performance. A week, and Angelo will have recovered his
strength; you likewise may resume the statuesque demeanour which you have
been exhibiting here. For the space of one week you are asked for some
natural exercise of your wits and compliancy. Hitherto what have you
accomplished, pray?" Laura struck spitefully at Vittoria's degraded
estimation of her worth as measured by events. "You have done nothing--
worse than nothing. It gives me horrors to find it necessary to entreat
you to look your duty in the face and do it, that even three or four
Italian hearts--Carlo among them--may thank you. Not Carlo, you say?"
(Vittoria had sobbed, "No, not Carlo.") "How little you know men! How
little do you think how the obligations of the hour should affect a
creature deserving life! Do you fancy that Carlo wishes you to be for
ever reading the line of a copy-book and shaping your conduct by it? Our
Italian girls do this; he despises them. Listen to me; do not I know
what is meant by the truth of love? I pass through fire, and keep
constant to it; but you have some vile Romance of Chivalry in your head;
a modern sculptor's figure, 'MEDITATION;' that is the sort of bride you
would give him in the stirring days of Italy. Do you think it is only a
statue that can be true? Perceive--will you not--that this Lieutenant
Pierson is your enemy. He tells you as much; surely the challenge is
fair? Defeat him as you best can. Angelo shall not be abandoned."
"O me! it is unendurable; you are merciless," said Vittoria, shuddering.
She saw the vile figure of herself aping smirks and tender meanings to
her old lover. It was a picture that she dared not let her mind rest on:
how then could she personate it? All through her life she had been
frank; as a young woman, she was clear of soul; she felt that her,
simplicity was already soiled by the bare comprehension of the abominable
course indicated by Laura. Degradation seemed to have been a thing up to
this moment only dreamed of; but now that it was demanded of her to play
coquette and trick her womanhood with false allurements, she knew the
sentiment of utter ruin; she was ashamed. No word is more lightly spoken
than shame. Vittoria's early devotion to her Art, and subsequently to
her Italy, had carried her through the term when she would otherwise have
showed the natural mild attack of the disease. It came on her now in a
rush, penetrating every chamber of her heart, overwhelming her; she could
see no distinction between being ever so little false and altogether
despicable. She had loathings of her body and her life. With grovelling
difficulty of speech she endeavoured to convey the sense of her
repugnance to Laura, who leaned her ear, wondering at such bluntness of
wit in a woman, and said, "Are you quite deficient in the craft of your
sex, child? You can, and you will, guard yourself ten times better when
your aim is simply to subject him." But this was not reason to a spirit
writhing in the serpent-coil of fiery blushes.
Vittoria said, "I shall pity him so."
She meant she would pity Wilfrid in deluding him. It was a taint of the
hypocrisy which comes with shame.
The signora retorted: "I can't follow the action of your mind a bit."
Pity being a form of tenderness, Laura supposed that she would
intuitively hate the man who compelled her to do what she abhorred.
They spent the greater portion of the night in this debate.
THE ESCAPE OF ANGELO
Vittoria knew better than Laura that the task was easy; she had but to
override her aversion to the show of trifling with a dead passion; and
when she thought of Angelo lying helpless in the swarm of enemies, and
that Wilfrid could consent to use his tragic advantage to force her to
silly love-play, his selfishness wrought its reflection, so that she
became sufficiently unjust to forget her marvellous personal influence
over him. Even her tenacious sentiment concerning his white uniform was
clouded. She very soon ceased to be shamefaced in her own fancy. At
dawn she stood at her window looking across the valley of Meran, and felt
the whole scene in a song of her heart, with the faintest recollection of
her having passed through a tempest overnight. The warm Southern glow
of the enfoliaged valley recalled her living Italy, and Italy her voice.
She grew wakefully glad: it was her nature, not her mind, that had
twisted in the convulsions of last night's horror of shame. The chirp
of healthy blood in full-flowing veins dispersed it; and as a tropical
atmosphere is cleared by the hurricane, she lost her depression and went
down among her enemies possessed by an inner delight, that was again of
her nature, not of her mind. She took her gladness for a happy sign that
she had power to rise buoyant above circumstances; and though aware that
she was getting to see things in harsh outlines, she was unconscious of
her haggard imagination.
The Lenkensteins had projected to escape the blandishments of Vienna by
residing during the winter in Venice, where Wilfrid and his sister were
to be the guests of the countess:--a pleasant prospect that was dashed
out by an official visit from Colonel Zofel of the Meran garrison,
through whom it was known that Lieutenant Pierson, while enjoying his
full liberty to investigate the charms of the neighbourhood, might not
extend his excursions beyond a pedestrian day's limit;--he was, in fact,
under surveillance. The colonel formally exacted his word of honour that
he would not attempt to pass the bounds, and explained to the duchess
that the injunction was favourable to the lieutenant, as implying that he
must be ready at any moment to receive the order to join his regiment.
Wilfrid bowed with a proper soldierly submission. Respecting the
criminal whom his men were pursuing, Colonel Zofel said that he was
sparing no efforts to come on his traces; he supposed, from what he had
heard in the Ultenthal, that Guidascarpi was on his back somewhere within
a short range of Meran. Vittoria strained her ears to the colonel's
German; she fancied his communication to be that he suspected Angelo's
presence in Meran.
The official part of his visit being terminated, the colonel addressed
some questions to the duchess concerning the night of the famous
Fifteenth at La Scala. He was an amateur, and spoke with enthusiasm of
the reports of the new prima donna. The duchess perceived that he was
asking for an introduction to the heroine of the night, and graciously
said that perhaps that very prima donna would make amends, to him for his
absence on the occasion. Vittoria checked a movement of revolt in her
frame. She cast an involuntary look at Wilfrid. "Now it begins," she
thought, and went to the piano: she had previously refused to sing.
Wilfrid had to bend his head over his betrothed and listen to her
whisperings. He did so, carelessly swaying his hand to the measure of
the aria, with an increasing bitter comparison of the two voices. Lena
persisted in talking; she was indignant at his abandonment of the journey
to Venice; she reproached him as feeble, inconsiderate, indifferent.
Then for an instant she would pause to hear the voice, and renew her
assault. "We ought to be thankful that she is not singing a song of
death and destruction to us! The archduchess is coming to Venice.
If you are presented to her and please her, and get the writs of
naturalization prepared, you will be one of us completely, and your
fortune is made. If you stay here--why should you stay? It is nothing
but your uncle's caprice. I am too angry to care for music. If you
stay, you will earn my contempt. I will not be buried another week in
such a place. I am tired of weeping. We all go to Venice: Captain
Weisspriess follows us. We are to have endless Balls, an opera, a Court
there--with whom am I to dance, pray, when I am out of mourning? Am I to
sit and govern my feet under a chair, and gaze like an imbecile nun? It
is too preposterous. I am betrothed to you; I wish, I wish to behave
like a betrothed. The archduchess herself will laugh to see me chained
to a chair. I shall have to reply a thousand times to 'Where is he?'
What can I answer? 'Wouldn't come,' will be the only true reply."
During this tirade, Vittoria was singing one of her old songs, well known
to Wilfrid, which brought the vision of a foaming weir, and moonlight
between the branches of a great cedar-tree, and the lost love of his
heart sitting by his side in the noising stillness. He was sure that she
could be singing it for no one but for him. The leap taken by his spirit
from this time to that, was shorter than from the past back to the
"You do not applaud," said Lena, when the song had ceased.
He murmured: "I never do, in drawing-rooms."
"A cantatrice expects it everywhere; these creatures live on it."
"I'll tell her, if you like, what we thought of it, when I take her down
to my sister, presently."
"Are you not to take me down?"
"The etiquette is to hand her up to you."
"No, no!" Lena insisted, in abhorrence of etiquette; but Wilfrid said
pointedly that his sister's feelings must be spared. "Her husband is an
animal: he is a millionaire city-of-London merchant; conceive him! He
has drunk himself gouty on Port wine, and here he is for the grape-cure."
"Ah! in that England of yours, women marry for wealth," said Lena.
"Yes, in your Austria they have a better motive" he interpreted her
"Say, in our Austria."
"In our Austria, certainly."
"And with our holy religion?"
"It is not yet mine."
"It will be?" She put the question eagerly.
Wilfrid hesitated, and by his adept hesitation succeeded in throwing her
off the jealous scent.
"Say that it will be, my Wilfrid!"
"You must give me time"
"This subject always makes you cold."
"My own Lena!"
"Can I be, if we are doomed to be parted when we die?"
There is small space for compunction in a man's heart when he is in
Wilfrid's state, burning with the revival of what seemed to him a
superhuman attachment. He had no design to break his acknowledged
bondage to Countess Lena, and answered her tender speech almost as
It never occurred to him, as he was walking down to Meran with Vittoria,
that she could suppose him to be bartering to help rescue the life of a
wretched man in return for soft confidential looks of entreaty; nor did
he reflect, that when cast on him, they might mean no more than the
wish to move him for a charitable purpose. The completeness of her
fascination was shown by his reading her entirely by his own emotions,
so that a lowly-uttered word, or a wavering unwilling glance, made him
think that she was subdued by the charm of the old days.
"Is it here?" she said, stopping under the first Italian name she saw in
the arcade of shops.
"How on earth have you guessed it?" he asked, astonished.
She told him to wait at the end of the arcade, and passed in. When she
joined him again, she was downcast. They went straight to Adela's hotel,
where the one thing which gave her animation was the hearing that Mr.
Sedley had met an English doctor there, and had placed himself in his
hands. Adela dressed splendidly for her presentation to the duchess.
Having done so, she noticed Vittoria's depressed countenance and
difficult breathing. She commanded her to see the doctor. Vittoria
consented, and made use of him. She could tell Laura confidently at
night that Wilfrid would not betray Angelo, though she had not spoken
one direct word to him on the subject.
Wilfrid was peculiarly adept in the idle game he played. One who is
intent upon an evil end is open to expose his plan. But he had none in
view; he lived for the luxurious sensation of being near the woman who
fascinated him, and who was now positively abashed when by his side.
Adela suggested to him faintly--she believed it was her spontaneous idea
--that he might be making his countess jealous. He assured her that the
fancy sprang from scenes which she remembered, and that she could have no
idea of the pride of a highborn Austrian girl, who was incapable of
conceiving jealousy of a person below her class. Adela replied that it
was not his manner so much as Emilia's which might arouse the suspicion;
but she immediately affected to appreciate the sentiments of a highborn
Austrian girl toward a cantatrice, whose gifts we regard simply as an
aristocratic entertainment. Wilfrid induced his sister to relate
Vittoria's early history to Countess Lena; and himself almost wondered,
when he heard it in bare words, at that haunting vision of the glory of
Vittoria at La Scala--where, as he remembered, he would have run against
destruction to cling to her lips. Adela was at first alarmed by the
concentrated wrathfulness which she discovered in the bosom of Countess
Anna, who, as their intimacy waxed, spoke of the intruding opera siren in
terms hardly proper even to married women; but it seemed right, as being
possibly aristocratic. Lena was much more tolerant. "I have just the
same enthusiasm for soldiers that my Wilfrid has for singers," she said;
and it afforded Adela exquisite pleasure to hear her tell how that she
had originally heard of the 'eccentric young Englishman,' General
Pierson's nephew, as a Lustspiel--a comedy; and of his feats on
horseback, and his duels, and his--he was very wicked over here, you
know;" Lena laughed. She assumed the privileges of her four-and-twenty
years and her rank. Her marriage was to take place in the Spring. She
announced it with the simplicity of an independent woman of the world,
adding, "That is, if my Wilfrid will oblige me by not plunging into
further disgrace with the General."
"No; you will not marry a man who is under a cloud," Anna subjoined.
"Certainly not a soldier," said Lena. "What it was exactly that he did
at La Scala, I don't know, and don't care to know, but he was then
ignorant that she had touched the hand of that Guidascarpi. I decide by
this--he was valiant; he defied everybody: therefore I forgive him. He
is not in disgrace with me. I will reinstate him."
"You have your own way of being romantic," said Anna. "A soldier who
forgets his duty is in my opinion only a brave fool."
"It seems to me that a great many gallant officers are fond of fine
voices," Lena retorted.
"No doubt it is a fashion among them," said Anna.
Adela recoiled with astonishment when she began to see the light in which
the sisters regarded Vittoria; and she was loyal enough to hint and
protest on her friend's behalf. The sisters called her a very good soul.
"It may not be in England as over here," said Anna. "We have to submit
to these little social scourges."
Lena whispered to Adela, "An angry woman will think the worst. I have no
doubt of my Wilfrid. If I had!--"
Her eyes flashed. Fire was not wanting in her.
The difficulties which tasked the amiable duchess to preserve an outward
show of peace among the antagonistic elements she gathered together were
increased by the arrival at the castle of Count Lenkenstein, Bianca's
husband, and head of the family, from Bologna. He was a tall and courtly
man, who had one face for his friends and another for the reverse party;
which is to say, that his manners could be bad. Count Lenkenstein was
accompanied by Count Serabiglione, who brought Laura's children with
their Roman nurse, Assunta. Laura kissed her little ones, and sent them
out of her sight. Vittoria found her home in their play and prattle.
She needed a refuge, for Count Lenkenstein was singularly brutal in his
bearing toward her. He let her know that he had come to Meran to
superintend the hunt for the assassin, Angelo Guidascarpi. He attempted
to exact her promise in precise speech that she would be on the spot to
testify against Angelo when that foul villain should be caught. He
objected openly to Laura's children going about with her. Bitter talk
on every starting subject was exchanged across the duchess's table.
She herself was in disgrace on Laura's account, and had to practise
an overflowing sweetness, with no one to second her efforts. The two
noblemen spoke in accord on the bubble revolution. The strong hand--ay,
the strong hand! The strong hand disposes of vermin. Laura listened to
them, pallid with silent torture. "Since the rascals have taken to
assassination, we know that we have them at the dregs," said Count
Lenkenstein. "A cord round the throats of a few scores of them, and the
country will learn the virtue of docility."
Laura whispered to her sister: "Have you espoused a hangman?"
Such dropping of deadly shells in a quiet society went near to scattering
it violently; but the union was necessitous. Count Lenkenstein desired
to confront Vittoria with Angelo; Laura would not quit her side, and
Amalia would not expel her friend. Count Lenkenstein complained roughly
of Laura's conduct; nor did Laura escape her father's reproof. "Sir, you
are privileged to say what you will to me," she responded, with the
humility which exasperated him.