BY FRANCES ELLIOT
AUTHOR OF “ROMANCE OF OLD COURT LIFE IN FRANCE,” “THE DIARY OF AN IDLE WOMAN IN ITALY,” ETC., ETC.
THE REAL ENRICA,
THE AUTHOR’S LOVE.
II. THE CATHEDRAL OF LUCCA
III. THE THREE WITCHES
IV. THE MARCHESA GUINIGI
VI. MARCHESA GUINIGI AT HOME
VII. COUNT MARESCOTTI
VIII. THE CABINET COUNCIL
IX. THE COUNTESS ORSETTI’S BALL
II. CHURCH OF SAN FREDIANO
III. THE GUINIGI TOWER
IV. COUNT NOBILI
V. NUMBER FOUR AT THE UNIVERSO HOTEL VI. A NEW PHILOSOPHY
VII. THE MARCHESA’S PASSION
VIII. ENRICA’S TRIAL
IX. WHAT CAME OF IT
I. A LONELY TOWN
II. WHAT SILVESTRO SAYS
III. WHAT CAME OF BURNING THE MARCHESA’S PAPERS IV. WHAT A PRIEST SHOULD BE
V. “SAY NOT TOO MUCH”
VI. THE CONTRACT
VII. THE CLUB AT LUCCA
VIII. COUNT NOBILI’S THOUGHTS
I. WAITING AND LONGING
II. A STORM AT THE VILLA
III. BETWEEN LIFE AND DEATH
IV. FRA PACIFICO AND THE MARCHESA V. TO BE, OR NOT TO BE?
VI. THE CHURCH AND THE LAW
VII. THE HOUR STRIKES
VIII. FOR THE HONOR OF A NAME
IX. HUSBAND VERSUS WIFE
X. THE LAWYER BAFFLED
XI. FACE TO FACE
XII. OH BELLO!
We are at Lucca. It is the 13th of September, 1870–the anniversary of the festival of the Volto Santo–a notable day, both in city, suburb, and province. Lucca dearly loves its festivals–no city more; and of all the festivals of the year that of the Volto Santo best. Now the Volto Santo (_Anglice_, Holy Countenance) is a miraculous crucifix, which hangs, as may be seen, all by itself in a gorgeous chapel–more like a pagoda than a chapel, and more like a glorified bird-cage than either–built expressly for it among the stout Lombard pillars in the nave of the cathedral. The crucifix is of cedar-wood, very black, and very ugly, and it was carved by Nicodemus; of this fact no orthodox Catholic entertains a doubt. But on what authority I cannot tell, nor why, nor how, the Holy Countenance reached the snug little city of Lucca, except by flying through the air like the Loretto house, or springing out of the earth like the Madonna of Feltri. But here it is, and here it has been for many a long year; and here it will remain as a miraculous relic, bringing with it blessings and immunities innumerable to the grateful city.
What a glorious morning it is! The sun rose without a cloud. Now there is a golden haze hanging over the plain, and glints as of living flame on the flanks of the mountains. From all sides crowds are pressing toward Lucca. Before six o’clock every high-road is alive. Down from the highest mountain-top of Pizzorna, overlooking Florence and its vine-garlanded campagna, comes the hermit, brown-draped, in hood and mantle; staff in hand, he trudges along the dusty road. And down, too, from his native lair among the pigs and the poultry, comes the black-eyed, black-skinned, matted-haired urchin, who makes mud pies under the tufted ilex-trees at Ponte a Moriano, and swears at the hermit.
They come! they come! From mountain-sides bordering the broad road along the Serchio–mountains dotted with bright homesteads, each gleaming out of its own cypress-grove, olive-patch, canebrake, and vine-arbor, under which the children play–they come from solitary hovels, hung up, as it were, in mid-air, over gloomy ravines, scored and furrowed with red earth, down which dark torrents dash and spray.
They come! they come! these Tuscan peasants, a trifle too fond of holiday-keeping, like their betters–but what would you have? The land is fertile, and corn and wine and oil and rosy flowering almonds grow almost as of themselves. They come–tens and tens of miles away, from out the deep shadows of primeval chestnut-woods, clothing the flanks of rugged Apennines with emerald draperies. They come–through parting rocks, bordering nameless streams–cool, delicious waters, over which bend fig, peach, and plum, delicate ferns and unknown flowers. They come–from hamlets and little burghs, gathered beside lush pastures, where tiny rivulets trickle over fresh turf and fragrant herbs, lulling the ear with softest echoes.
They come–dark-eyed mothers and smiling daughters, decked with gold pins, flapping Leghorn hats, lace veils or snowy handkerchiefs gathered about their heads, coral beads, and golden crosses as big as shields, upon their necks–escorted by lover, husband, or father–a flower behind his ear, a slouch hat on his head, a jacket thrown over one arm, every man shouldering a red umbrella, although to doubt the weather to-day is absolute sacrilege!
Carts clatter by every moment, drawn by swift Maremma nags, gay with brass harness, tinkling bells, and tassels of crimson on reins and frontlet.
The carts are laden with peasants (nine, perhaps, ranged three abreast)–treason to the gallant animal that, tossing its little head, bravely struggles with the cruel load. A priest is stuck in bodkin among his flock–a priest who leers and jests between pinches of snuff, and who, save for his seedy black coat, knee-breeches, worsted stockings, shoe-buckles, clerical hat, and smoothly-shaven chin, is rougher than a peasant himself.
Riders on Elba ponies, with heavy cloaks (for the early morning, spite of its glories, is chill), spur by, adding to the dust raised by the carts.
Genteel flies and hired carriages with two horses, and hood and foot-board–pass, repass, and out-race each other. These flies and carriages are crammed with bailiffs from the neighboring villas, shopkeepers, farmers, and small proprietors. Donkeys, too, there are in plenty, carrying men bigger than themselves (under protest, be it observed, for here, as in all countries, your donkey, though marked for persecution, suffers neither willingly nor in silence). Begging friars, tanned like red Indians, glide by, hot and grimy (thank Heaven! not many now, for “New Italy” has sacked most of the convent rookeries and dispersed the rooks), with wallets on their shoulders, to carry back such plunder as can be secured, to far-off convents and lonely churches, folded up tightly in forest fastnesses.
All are hurrying onward with what haste they may, to reach the city of Lucca, while broad shadows from the tall mountains on either hand still fall athwart the roads, and cool morning air breathes up from the rushing Serchio.
The Serchio–a noble river, yet willful as a mountain-torrent–flows round the embattled walls of Lucca, and falls into the Mediterranean below Pisa. It is calm now, on this day of the great festival, sweeping serenely by rocky capes, and rounding into fragrant bays, where overarching boughs droop and feather. But there is a sullen look about its current, that tells how wicked it can be, this Serchio, lashed into madness by winter storms, and the overflowing of the water-gates above, among the high Apennines–at the Abbetone at San Marcello, or at windy, ice-bound Pracchia.
How fair are thy banks, O mountain-bordered Serchio! How verdant with near wood and neighboring forest! How gay with cottage groups–open-galleried and garlanded with bunches of golden maize and vine-branches–all laughing in the sun! The wine-shops, too, along the road, how tempting, with snowy table-cloths spread upon dressers under shady arbors of lemon–trees; pleasant odors from the fry cooking in the stove, mixing with the perfume of the waxy flowers! Dear to the nostrils of the passers-by are these odors. They snuff them up–onions, fat, and macaroni, with delight. They can scarcely resist stopping once for all here, instead of waiting for their journey’s end to eat at Lucca.
But the butterflies–and they are many–are wiser in their generation. The butterflies have a festival of their own to-day. They do not wait for any city. They are fixed to no spot. They can hold their festival anywhere under the blue sky, in the broad sunshine.
See how they dance among the flowers! Be it spikes of wild-lavender, or yellow down within the Canterbury bell, or horn of purple cyclamens, or calyx of snowy myrtle, the soft bosom of tall lilies or glowing petals of red cloves–nothing comes amiss to the butterflies. They are citizens of the world, and can feast wherever fancy leads them.
Meanwhile, on comes the crowd, nearer and nearer to the city of their pilgrimage, laughing, singing, talking, smoking. Your Italian peasant must sleep or smoke, excepting when he plays at _morra_ (one, two, three, and away!). Then he puts his pipe into his pocket. The women are conversing in deep voices, in the _patois_ of the various villages. The men, more silent, search out who is fairest–to lead her on the way, to kneel beside her at the shrine, and, most prized of all, to conduct her home. Each village has its belle, each belle her circle of admirers. Belles and beaux all have their own particular plan of diversion for the day. For is it not a great day? And is it not stipulated in many of the marriage contracts among the mountain tribes that the husband must, under a money penalty, conduct his wife to the festival of the Holy Countenance once at least in four years? The programme is this: First, they enter the cathedral, kneel at the glistening shrine of the black crucifix, kiss its golden slipper, and hear mass. Then they will grasp such goods as the gods provide them, in street, _cafe_, eating-house, or day theatre; make purchases in the shops and booths, and stroll upon the ramparts. Later, when the sun sinks westward over the mountains, and the deep canopy of twilight falls, they will return by the way that they have come, until the coming year.
* * * * *
Within the city, from before daybreak, church-bells–and Lucca abounds in belfries fretted tier upon tier, with galleries of delicate marble colonnettes, all ablaze in the sunshine–have pealed out merrily.
Every church-door, draped with gold tissue and silken stuffs, more or less splendid, is thrown wide open. Every shop is closed, save _cafes_, hotels, and tobacco-shops (where, by command of the King of New Italy, infamous cigars are sold). Eating-tables are spread at the corners of the streets and under the trees in the piazza, benches are ranged everywhere where benches can stand. The streets are filling every moment as fresh multitudes press through the city gates–those grand old gates, where the marble lions of Lucca keep guard, looking toward the mountains.
For a carriage to pass anywhere in the streets would be impossible, so tightly are flapping Leghorn hats, and veils, snowy handkerchiefs, and red caps and brigand hats, packed together. Bells ring, and there are waftings of military music borne through the air. Trumpet-calls at the different barracks answer to each other. Cannons are fired. Each man, woman, and child shouts, screams, and laughs. All down the dark, cavernous streets, in the great piazza, at the sindaco’s, at college, at club, public offices, and hotels, at the grand old palaces, untouched since the middle ages–the glory of the city–at every house, great and small–flutter gaudy draperies; crimson, amber, violet, and gold, according to purse and condition, either of richest brocade, or of Eastern stuffs wrought in gold and needle-work, or–the family carpet or bed-furniture hung out for show. Banners wave from every house-top and tower, the Italian tricolor and the Savoy cross, white, on a red ground; flowers and garlands are wreathed on the fronts of the stern old walls. If peasants, and shopkeepers, and monks, priests, beggars, and _hoi polloi_ generally, possess the pavement, overhead every balcony, gallery, terrace, and casement, is filled with company, representatives of the historic families of Lucca, the Manfredi, Possenti, Navascoes, Bernardini, dal Portico, Bocella, Manzi, da Gia, Orsetti, Ruspoli–feudal names dear to native ears. The noble marquis, or his excellency the count, lord of broad acres on the plains, or principalities in the mountains, or of hoarded wealth at the National Bank–is he not Lucchese also to the backbone? And does he not delight in the festival as keenly as that half-naked beggar, who rattles his box for alms, with a broad grin on his dirty face?
Resplendent are the ladies in the balconies, dressed in their best–like bands of fluttering ribbon stretched across the sombre-fronted palaces; aristocratic daughters, and dainty consorts. They are not chary of their charms. They laugh, fan themselves, lean over sculptured balustrades, and eye the crowded streets, talking with lip and fan, eye and gesture.
In the long, narrow street of San Simone, behind the cathedral of San Martino, stand the two Guinigi Palaces. They are face to face. One is ditto of the other. Each is in the florid style of Venetian-Gothic, dating from the beginning of the fourteenth century. Both were built by Paolo Guinigi, head of the illustrious house of that name, for forty years general and tyrant of the Republic of Lucca. Both palaces bear his arms, graven on marble tablets beside the entrance. Both are of brick, now dulled and mellowed into a reddish white. Both have walls of enormous thickness. The windows of the upper stories–quadruple casements divided, Venetian-like, by twisted pillarettes richly carved–are faced and mullioned with marble.
The lower windows (mere square apertures) are barred with iron. The arched portals opening to the streets are low, dark, and narrow. The inner courts gloomy, damp, and prison-like. Brass ornaments, sockets, rings, and torch-holders of iron, sculptured emblems, crests, and cognizances in colored marble, are let into the outer walls. In all else, ornamentation is made subservient to defense. These are city fortresses rather than ancestral palaces. They were constructed to resist either attack or siege.
Rising out of the overhanging roof (supported on wooden rafters) of the largest and most stately of the two palaces, where twenty-three groups of clustered casements, linked by slender pillars, extend in a line along a single story–rises a mediaeval tower of defense of many stories. Each story is pierced by loop-holes for firing into the street below. On the machicolated summit is a square platform, where in the course of many peaceful ages a bay-tree has come to grow of a goodly size. About this bay-tree tangled weeds and tufted grasses wave in the wind. Below, here and there, patches of blackened moss or yellow lichen, a branch of mistletoe or a bunch of fern, break the lines of the mediaeval brickwork. Sprays of wild-ivy cling to the empty loop-holes, through which the blue sky peeps.
The lesser of the two palaces–the one on the right hand as you ascend the street of San Simone coming from the cathedral–is more decorated to-day than any other in Lucca. A heavy sea of Leghorn hats and black veils, with male accompaniments, is crowded beneath. They stare upward and murmur with delight. Gold and silver stuffs, satin and taffeta, striped brocades, and rich embroideries, flutter from the clustered casement up to the overhanging roof. There are many flags (one with a coat-of-arms, amber and purple on a gold ground) blazing in the sunshine. The grim brick facade is festooned with wreaths of freshly-plucked roses. Before the low-arched entrance on the pavement there is a carpet of flower-petals fashioned into a monogram, bearing the letters “M.N.” Just within the entrance stands a porter, leaning on a gold staff, as immovable in aspect as are the mediaeval walls that close in behind him. A badge or baldric is passed across his chest; he is otherwise so enveloped with gold-lace, embroidery, buttons, trencher, and cocked-hat, that the whole inner man is absorbed, not to say invisible. Beside him, in the livery of the house, tall valets grin, lounge, and ogle the passers-by (wearers of Leghorn hats, and veils, and white head-gear generally). This particular Guinigi Palace belongs to Count Mario Nobili. He bought it of the Marchesa Guinigi, who lives opposite. Nobili is the richest young man in Lucca. No one calls upon him for help in vain; but, let it be added, no one offends him with impunity. When Nobili first came to Lucca, the old families looked coldly at him, his nobility being of very recent date. It was bestowed on his father, a successful banker–some said usurer, some said worse–by the Grand-duke Leopold, for substantial assistance toward his pet hobby–the magnificent road that zigzags up the mountain-side to Fiesole from Florence.
But young Nobili soon conquered Lucchese prejudice. Now he is well received by all–_all_ save the Marchesa Guinigi. She was, and is at this time, still irreconcilable. Nobili stands in the central window of his palace. He leans out over the street, a cigar in his mouth. A servant beside him flings down from time to time some silver coin among Leghorn hats and the beggars, who scramble for it on the pavement. Nobili’s eyes beam as the populace look up and cheer him: “Long live Count Nobili! Evviva!” He takes off his hat and bows; more silver coin comes clattering down on the pavement; there are fresh evvivas, fresh bows, and more scramblers cover the street. “No one like Nobili,” the people say; “so affable, so open-handed–yes, and so clever, too, for has he not traveled, and does he not know the world?”
Beside Count Nobili some _jeunesse doree_ of his own age (sons of the best houses in Lucca) also lean over the Venetian casements. Like the liveried giants at the entrance, these laugh, ogle, chaff, and criticise the wearers of Leghorn hats, black veils, and white head-gear, freely. They smoke, and drink _liqueurs_ and sherbet, and crack sugar-plums out of crystal cup on silver plates, set on embossed trays placed beside them.
The profession of these young men is idleness. They excel in it. Let us pause for a moment and ask what they do–this _jeunesse doree_, to whom the sacred mission is committed of regenerating an heroic people? They could teach Ovid “the art of love.” It comes to them in the air they breathe. They do not love their neighbor as themselves, but they love their neighbor’s wives. Nothing is holy to them. “All for love, and the world well lost,” is their motto. They can smile in their best friend’s face, weep with him, rejoice with him, eat with him, drink with him, and–betray him; they do this every day, and do it well. They can also lie artistically, dressing up imaginary details with great skill, gamble and sing, swear, and talk scandal. They can lead a graceful, dissolute, _far niente_ life, loll in carriages, and be whirled round for hours, say the Florence Cascine, the Roman Pincio, and the park at Milan–smoking the while, and raising their hats to the ladies. They can trot a well-broken horse–not too fresh, on a hard road, and are wonderful in ruining his legs. A very few can drive what they call a _stage_ (_Anglice_, drag) with grave and well-educated wheelers, on a very straight road–such as do this are looked upon as heroes–shoot a hare sitting, also tom-tits and sparrows. But they can neither hunt, nor fish, nor row. They are ready of tongue and easy of offense. They can fight duels (with swords), generally a harmless exercise. They can dance. They can hold strong opinions on subjects on which they are crassly ignorant, and yield neither to fact nor argument where their mediaeval usages are concerned. All this the golden youths of Young Italy can do, and do it well.
Yet from such stuff as this are to come the future ministers, prefects, deputies, financiers, diplomatists, and senators, who are to regenerate the world’s old mistress! Alas, poor Italy!
The Guinigi Palace opposite forms a striking contrast to Count Nobili’s abode. It is as silent as the grave. Every shutter is closed. The great wooden door to the street is locked; a heavy chain is drawn across it. The Marchesa Guinigi has strictly commanded that it should be so. She will have nothing to do with the festival of the Holy Countenance. She will take no part in it whatever. Indeed, she has come to Lucca on purpose to see that her orders are obeyed to the very letter, else that rascal of a secretary might have hung out something in spite of her. The marchesa, who has been for many years a widow, and is absolute possessor of the palace and lands, calls herself a liberal. But she is in practice the most thorough-going aristocrat alive. In one respect she is a liberal. She despises priests, laughs at miracles, and detests festivals. “A loss of time, and, if of time, of money,” she says. If the peasants and the people complain of the taxes, and won’t work six days in the week, “Let them starve,” says the marchesa–“let them starve; so much the better!”
In her opinion, the legend of the Holy Countenance is a lie, got up by priests for money; so she comes into the city from Corellia, and shuts up her palace, publicly to show her opinion. As far as she is concerned, she believes neither in St. Nicodemus nor in idleness.
A good deal of this, be it said, _en passant_, is sheer obstinacy. The marchesa is obstinate to folly, and full of contradictions. Besides, there is another powerful motive that influences her–she hates Count Nobili. Not that he has ever done any thing personally to offend her; of this he is incapable–indeed, he has his own reasons for desiring passionately to be on good terms with her–but he has, in her opinion, injured her by purchasing the second Guinigi Palace. That she should have been obliged to sell one of her ancestral palaces at all is to her a bitter misfortune; but that any one connected with trade should possess what had been inherited generation after generation by the Guinigi, is intolerable.
That a _parvenu_, the son of a banker, should live opposite to her, that he should abound in money, which he flings about recklessly, while she can with difficulty eke out the slender rents from the greatly-reduced patrimony of the Guinigi, is more than she can bear. His popularity and his liberality (and she cannot come to Lucca without hearing of both), even that comely young face of his, which she sees when she passes the club on the way to her afternoon drive on the ramparts, are dire offenses in her eyes. Whatever Count Nobili does, she (the Marchesa Guinigi) will do the reverse. He has opened his house for the festival. Hers shall be closed. She is thoroughly exceptional, however, in such conduct. Every one in Lucca save herself, rich and poor, noble and villain, join heart and soul in the national festival. Every one lays aside on this auspicious day differences of politics, family feuds, and social animosities. Even enemies join hands and kneel side by side at the same altar. It is the mediaeval “God’s truce” celebrated in the nineteenth century.
* * * * *
It is now eleven o’clock. A great deal of sausage and garlic, washed down by new wine and light beer, has been by this time consumed in eating-shops and on street tables; much coffee, _liqueurs_, cake, and bonbons, inside the palaces.
Suddenly all the church-bells, which have rung out since daybreak like mad, stop; only the deep-toned cathedral-bell booms out from its snowy campanile in half-minute strokes. There is an instant lull, the din and clatter of the streets cease, the crowd surges, separates, and disappears, the palace windows and balconies empty themselves, the street forms are vacant. The procession in honor of the Holy Countenance is forming; every one has rushed off to the cathedral.
THE CATHEDRAL OF LUCCA.
Martino, the cathedral of Lucca, stands on one side of a small piazza behind the principal square. At the first glance, its venerable aspect, vast proportions, and dignity of outline, do not sufficiently seize upon the imagination; but, as the eye travels over the elaborate facade, formed by successive galleries supported by truncated pillars, these galleries in their turn resting on clustered columns of richest sculpture forming the triple portals–the fine inlaid work, statues, bass-relief, arabesques of fruit, foliage, and quaint animals–the dome, and, above all, the campanile–light and airy as a dream, springing upward on open arches where the sun burns hotly–the eye comes to understand what a glorious Gothic monument it is.
The three portals are now open. From the lofty atrium raised on broad marble steps, with painted ceiling and sculptured walls–at one end a bubbling fountain falling into a marble basin, at the other an arched gate-way leading into grass-grown cloisters–the vast nave is visible from end to end. This nave is absolutely empty. Every thing tells of expectation, of anticipation. The mighty Lombard pillars on either side–supporting a triforium gallery of circular arches and slender pillars of marble fretwork, delicate as lace–are wreathed and twined with red taffetas bound with golden bands. The gallery of the triforium itself is draped with arras and rich draperies. Each dainty column is decked with flags and pennons. The aisles and transepts blaze with gorgeous hangings. Overhead saints, prophets, and martyrs, standing immovable in the tinted glories of the stained windows, fling broad patches of purple, emerald, and yellow, upon the intaglio pavement.
Along the nave (a hedge, as it were, on either side) are hung curtains of cloth of gold.
The high altar, inclosed by a balustrade of colored marble raised on steps richly carpeted, glitters with gemmed chalices and crosses. Behind, countless wax-lights illuminate the rich frescoes of the tribune. The Chapel of the Holy Countenance (midway up the nave), inclosed by a gilded net-work, is a dazzling mountain of light flung from a thousand golden sconces. A black figure as large as life rests upon the altar. It is stretched upon a cross. The eyes are white and glassy; the thorn-crowned head leans on one side. The body is enveloped in a damascened robe spangled with jewels. This robe descends to the feet, which are cased in shoes of solid gold. The right foot rests on a sacramental cup glittering with gems. On either side are angels, with arms extended. One holds a massive sceptre, the other the silver keys of the city of Lucca.
All waits. The bride, glorious in her garment of needle-work, waits. The bridegroom waits. The sacramental banquet is spread; the guests are bidden. All waits the moment when the multitude, already buzzing without at the western entrance, shall spread themselves over the mosaic floor, and throng each chapel, altar, gallery, and transept–when anthems of praise shall peal from the double doors of the painted organ, and holy rites give a mystic language to the sacred symbols around.
Meanwhile the procession flashes from street to street. Banners flutter in the hot mid-day air, tall crucifixes and golden crosses reach to the upper stories. In the pauses the low hum of the chanted canticles is caught up here and there along the line–now the monks–then the canons with a nasal twang–then the laity.
There are the judges, twelve in number, robed in black, scarlet, and ermine, their broad crimson sashes sweeping the pavement. The _gonfaloniere_–that ancient title of republican freedom still remaining–walks behind, attired in antique robes. Next appear the municipality–wealthy, oily-faced citizens, at this moment much overcome by the heat. Following these are the Lucchese nobles, walking two-and-two, in a precedence not prescribed by length of pedigree, but of age. Next comes the prefect of the city; at his side the general in command of the garrison of Lucca, escorted by a brilliant staff. Each bears a tall lighted torch.
The law and the army are closely followed by the church. All are there, two-and-two–from the youngest deacon to the oldest canon–in his robe of purple silk edged with gold–wearing a white mitre. The church is generally corpulent; these dignitaries are no exception.
Amid a cloud of incense walks the archbishop–a tall, stately man, in the prime of life–under a canopy of crimson silk resting on gold staves, borne over him by four canons habited in purple. He moves along, a perfect mass of brocade, lace, and gold–literally aflame in the sunshine. His mitred head is bent downward; his eyes are half closed; his lips move. In his hands–which are raised almost level with his face, and reverently covered by his vestments–he bears a gemmed vessel containing the Host, to be laid by-and-by on the altar of the Holy Countenance. All the church-bells are now ringing furiously. Cannons fire, and military bands drown the low hum of the chanting. Every head is uncovered–many, specially women, are prostrate on the stones.
Arrived at the basilica of San Frediano, the procession halts under the Byzantine mosaic on a gold ground, over the entrance. The entire chapter is assembled before the open doors. They kneel before the archbishop carrying the Host. Again there is a halt before the snowy facade of the church of San Michele, pillared to the summit with slender columns of Carrara marble–on the topmost pinnacle a colossal statue of the archangel, in golden bronze, the outstretched wings glistening against the turquoise sky. Here the same ceremonies are repeated as at the church of San Frediano. The archbishop halts, the chanting ceases, the Host is elevated, the assembled priests adore it, kneeling without the portal.
It is one o’clock before the archbishop is enthroned within the cathedral. The chapter, robed in red and purple, are ranged behind him in the tribune at the back of the high altar, the grand old frescoes hovering over them. The secular dignitaries are seated on benches below the altar-steps. _Palchi_ (boxes), on either side of the nave, are filled with Lucchese ladies, dark-haired, dark-eyed, olive-skinned, backed by the crimson draperies with which the nave is dressed.
A soft fluttering of fans agitates feathers, lace, and ribbons. Fumes of incense mix with the scent of strong perfumes. Not the smallest attention is paid by the ladies to the mass which is celebrating at the high altar and the altar of the Holy Countenance. Their jeweled hands hold no missal, their knees are unbent, their lips utter no prayer. Instead, there are bright glances from lustrous eyes, and whispered words to favored golden youths (without religion, of course–what has a golden youth to do with religion?) who have insinuated themselves within the ladies seats, or lean over, gazing at them with upturned faces.
Peal after peal of musical thunder rolls from the double organs. It is caught up by the two orchestras placed in gilt galleries on either side of the nave. A vocal chorus on this side responds to exquisite voices on that. Now a flute warbles a luscious solo, then a flageolet. A grand barytone bursts forth, followed by a tenor soft as the notes of a nightingale, accompanied by a boy on the violin. Then there is the crash of many hundred voices, with the muffled roar of two organs. It is the _Gloria in Excelsis_. As the music rolls down the pillared nave out into the crowded piazza, where it dies away in harmonious murmurs, an iron cresset, suspended from the vaulted ceiling of the nave, filled with a bundle of flax, is fired. The flax blazes for a moment, then passes away in a shower of glittering sparks that glitter upon the inlaid floor. _Sic transit gloria mundi_ is the motto. (Now the lighting of this flax is a special privilege accorded to the Archbishop of Lucca by the pope, and jealously guarded by him.)
THE THREE WITCHES.
Many carriages wait outside the cathedral, in the shade near the fountain. The fountain–gushing upward joyously in the beaming sunshine out of a red-marble basin–is just beyond the atrium, and visible through the arches on that side. Beyond the fountain, terminating the piazza, there is a high wall. This wall supports a broad marble terrace, with heavy balustrades, extending from the back of a mediaeval palace. Over the wall green vine-branches trail, sweeping the pavement, like ringlets that have fallen out of curl. This wall and terrace communicate with the church of San Giovanni, an ancient Lombard basilica on that side. Under the shadow of the heavy roof some girls are trying to waltz to the sacred music from the cathedral. After a few turns they find it difficult, and leave off. The men in livery, waiting along with the carriages, laugh at them lazily. The girls retreat, and group themselves on the steps of a deeply-arched doorway with a bass-relief of the Virgin and angels, leading into the church, and talk in low voices.
A ragged boy from the Garfagnana, with a tray of plaster heads of Victor Emmanuel and Garibaldi, has put down his wares, and is turning wheels upon the pavement, before the servants, for a penny. An old man pulls out from under his cloak a dancing dog, with crimson collar and bells, and collects a little crowd under the atrium of the cathedral. A soldier, touched with compassion, takes a crust from his pocket to reward the dancing dog, which, overcome by the temptation, drops on his four legs, runs to him, and devours it, for which delinquency the old man beats him severely. His yells echo loudly among the pillars, and drown the rich tide of harmony that ebbs and flows through the open portals. The beggars have betaken themselves to their accustomed seats on the marble steps of the cathedral, San Martin of Tours, parting his cloak–carved in alt-relief, over the central entrance–looking down upon them encouragingly. These beggars clink their metal boxes languidly, or sleep, lying flat on the stones. A group of women have jammed themselves into a corner between the cathedral and the hospital adjoining it on that side. They are waiting to see the company pass out. Two of them standing close together are talking eagerly.
“My gracious! who would have thought that old witch, the Guinigi,” whispers Carlotta–Carlotta owned a little mercery-shop in a side-street running by the palace, right under the tower–to her gossip Brigitta, an occasional customer for cotton and buttons, “who would have thought that she–gracious! who would have thought she dared to shut up her palace the day of the festival? Did you see?”
“Yes, I did,” answers Brigitta.
“Curses on her!” hisses out Carlotta, showing her black teeth. “Listen to me, she will have a great misfortune–mark my words–a great misfortune soon–the stingy old devil!”
Hearing the organ at that instant, Brigitta kneels on the stones, and crosses herself; then rises and looks at Carlotta. “St. Nicodemus will have his revenge, never fear.”
Carlotta is still speaking. Brigitta shakes her head prophetically, again looking at Carlotta, whose deep-sunk eyes are fixed upon her.
“Checco says–Checco is a shoemaker, and he knows the daughter of the man who helps the butler in Casa Guinigi–Checco says she laughs at the Holy Countenance. Domine Dio! what an infamy!” cries Carlotta, in a cracked voice, raising her skinny hands and shaking them in the air. “I hate the Guinigi! I hate her! I spit on her, I curse her!”
There is such venom in Carlotta’s looks and in Carlotta’s words that Brigitta suddenly takes her eyes off a man with a red waistcoat whom she is ogling, but who by no means reciprocates her attention, and asks Carlotta sharply, “Why she hates the marchesa?”
“Listen,” answers Carlotta, holding up her finger. “One day, as I came out of my little shop, _she_”–and Carlotta points with her thumb over her shoulder toward the street of San Simone and the Guinigi Palace–“_she_ was driving along the street in her old Noah’s Ark of a carriage. Alas! I am old and feeble, and the horses came along quickly. I had no time to get into the little square of San Barnabo, out of the way; the wheel struck me on the shoulder, I fell down. Yes, I fell down on the hard pavement, Brigitta.” And Carlotta sways her grizzly head from side to side, and grasps the other’s arm so tightly that Brigitta screams. “Brigitta, the marchesa saw me. She saw me lying there, but she never stopped nor turned her head. I lay on the stones, sick and very sore, till a neighbor, Antonio the carpenter, who works in the little square, a good lad, picked me up and carried me home.”
As she speaks, Carlotta’s eyes glitter like a serpent’s. She shakes all over.
“Lord have mercy!” exclaims Brigitta, looking hard at her; “that was bad!” Carlotta was over eighty; her face was like tanned leather, her skin loose and shriveled; a handful of gray hair grew on the top of her head, and was twisted up with a silver pin. Brigitta was also of a goodly age, but younger than Carlotta, fat and portly, and round as a barrel. She was pitted by the small-pox, and had but one eye; but, being a widow, and well-to-do in the world, is not without certain pretensions. She wears a yellow petticoat and a jacket trimmed with black lace. In her hair, black and frizzly as a negro’s, a rose is stuck on one side.–The hair had been dressed that morning by a barber, to whom she paid five francs a month for this adornment.–Some rows of dirty seed-pearl are fastened round her fat throat; long gold ear-rings bob in her ears, and in her hand is a bright paper fan, with which she never ceases fanning herself.
“She’s never spent so much as a penny at my shop,” Carlotta goes on to say. “Not a penny. She’d not spare a flask of wine to a beggar dying at her door. Stuck-up old devil! But she’s ruined, ruined with lawsuits. Ruined, I say. Ha! ha! Her time will come.”
Finding Carlotta wearisome, Brigitta’s one eye has again wandered off to the man with the red waistcoat. Carlotta sees this, watching her out of her deep-set, glassy eyes. Speak Carlotta will, and Brigitta shall listen, she was determined.
“I could tell you things”–she lowers her voice and speaks into the other’s ear–“things–horrors–about Casa Guinigi!”
Brigitta starts. “Gracious! You frighten me! What things?”
“Ah, things that would make your hair stand on end. It is I who say it,” and Carlotta snaps her fingers and nods.
“_You_ know things, Carlotta? You pretend to know what happens in Casa Guinigi? Nonsense! You are mad!”
“Am I?” retorts the other. “We shall see. Who wins boasts. I’m not so mad, anyhow, as the marchesa, who shuts up her palace on the festival, and offends St. Nicodemus and all the saints and martyrs,” and Carlotta’s eyes flash, and her white eyebrows twitch.
“However”–and again she lays her bony hand heavily on Brigitta’s fat arm–“if you don’t want to hear what I know about Casa Guinigi, I will not tell you.” Carlotta shuts up her mouth and nods defiantly.
This was not at all what Brigitta desired. If there was any thing to be told, she would like to hear it.
“Come, come, Carlotta, don’t be angry. You may know much more than I do; you are always in your shop, except on festivals. The door is open, and you can see into the street of San Simone, up and down. But speak low; for there are Lisa and Cassandra close behind, and they will hear. Tell me, Carlotta, what is it?”
Brigitta speaks very coaxingly.
“Yes,” replies the old woman, “I can see both the Guinigi palaces from my door–both the palaces. If the marchesa knew–“
“Go on, go on!” says Brigitta, nudging her. She leans forward to listen. “Go on. People are coming out of the cathedral.”
Carlotta raises her head and grins, showing the few black teeth left in her mouth. “Are they? Well, answer me. Who lives in the street there–the street of San Simone–as well as the marchesa? Who has a fine palace that the marchesa sold him, a palace on which he has spent–ah! so much, so much? Who keeps open house, and has a French cook, and fine furniture, and new clothes, and horses in his stable, and six carriages? Who?–who?” As old Carlotta puts these questions she sways her body to and fro, and raises her finger to her nose.
“Who is strong, and square, and fair, and smooth?” “Who goes in and out with a smile on his face? Who?–who?”
“Why, Nobili, of course–Count Nobili. We all know that,” answered Brigitta, impatiently. “That’s no news. But what has Nobili to do with the marchesa?”
“What has he to do with the marchesa? Listen, Madama Brigitta. I will tell you. Do you know that, of all gentlemen in Lucca, the marchesa hates Nobili?”
“Well, and what then?”
“She hates him because he is rich and spends his money freely, and because she–the Guinigi–lives in the same street and sees it. It turns sour upon her stomach, like milk in a thunder-storm. She hates him.”
“Well, is that all?” interrupts Brigitta.
Carlotta puts up her chin close to Brigitta’s face, and clasps her tightly by the shoulder with both her skinny hands. “That is not all. The marchesa has her own niece, who lives with her–a doll of a girl, with a white face–puff! not worth a feather to look at; only a cousin of the marchesa’s husband; but, she’s the only one left, all the same. They are so thin-blooded, the Guinigi, they have come to an end. The old woman never had a child; she would have starved it.”
Carlotta lowers her voice, and speaks into Brigitta’s ear. “Nobili loves the niece. The marchesa would have the carbineers out if she knew it.”
“Oh!” breaks from Brigitta, under her breath. “This is fine! splendid! Are you sure of this, Carlotta? quite sure?”
“As sure as that I like meat, and only get it on Sundays.–Sure?–I have seen it with my own eyes. Checco knows the granddaughter of the man who helps the cook–Nobili pays like a lord, as he is!–He spends his money, he does!–Nobili writes to the niece, and she answers. Listen. To-day, the marchesa shut up her palace and put a chain on the door. But chains can be unloosed, locks broken. Enrica (that’s the niece) at daybreak comes out to the arched gate-way that opens from the street into the Moorish garden at the farther side of the palace–she comes out and talks to Nobili for half an hour, under cover of the ivy that hangs over the wall on that side. Teresa, the maid, was there too, but she stood behind. Nobili wore a long cloak that covered him all over; Enrica had a thick veil fastened round her head and face. They didn’t see me, but I watched them from behind Pietro’s house, at the corner of the street opposite. First of all, Enrica puts her head out of the gate-way. Teresa puts hers out next. Then Enrica waves her hand toward the palace opposite, a side-door opens piano, Nobili appears, and watches all round to see that no one is near–ha! ha! his young eyes didn’t spy out my old ones though, for all that–Nobili appears, I say, then he puts his hand to his heart, and gives such a look across the street!–Ahi! it makes my old blood boil to see it. I was pretty once, and liked such looks.–You may think my eyes are dim, but I can see as far as another.”
And the old hag chuckles spitefully, and winks at Brigitta, enjoying her surprise.
“Madre di Dio!” exclaims this one. “There will be fine work.”
“Yes, truly, very fine work. The marchesa shall know it; all Lucca shall know it too–mark my words, all Lucca! Curses on the Guinigi root and branch! I will humble them! Curses on them!” mumbles Carlotta.
“And what did Nobili do?” asks Brigitta.
“Do?–Why, seeing no one, he came across and kissed Enrica’s hand; I saw it. He made as if he would have knelt upon the stones, only she would not let him. Then they whispered for, as near as I can guess, half an hour–Teresa standing apart. There was the sound of a cart then coming along the street, and presto!–Enrica was within the garden in an instant, the gate was closed, and Nobili disappeared.”
Any further talk is now cut short by the approach of Cassandra, a friend of Brigitta’s. Cassandra is a servant in a neighboring eating-house, a tall, large-boned woman, a colored handkerchief tied over her head, and much tawdry jewelry about her hands and neck.
“What are you two chattering about?” asks Cassandra sharply. “It seems entertaining. What’s the news? I get paid for news at my shop. Tell me directly.”
“Lotta here was only relating to me all about her grandchild,” answers Brigitta, with a whine.–Brigitta was rather in dread of Cassandra, whose temper was fierce, and who, being strong, knocked people down occasionally if they offended her.
“Lotta was telling me, too, that she wants fresh stores for her shop, but all her money is gone to the grandchild in the hospital, who is ill, very ill!” and Brigitta sighs and turns up the whites of her eyes.
“Yes, yes,” joins in Carlotta, a dismal look upon her shriveled old face. “Yes–it is just that. All the money gone to the grandchild, the son of my Beppo–that’s the soldier who is with the king’s army.–Alas! all gone; my money, my son, and all.”
Here Carlotta affects to groan and wring her hands despairingly.
The mass was now nearly over; many people were already leaving the cathedral; but the swell of the organs and the sweet tones of voices still burst forth from time to time. Festive masses are always long. It might not seem so to the pretty ladies in the boxes, still perseveringly fanning themselves, nor to the golden youths who were diverting them; but the prospect of dinner and a siesta was a temptation stronger than the older portion of the congregation could resist. By twos and threes they slipped out.
This is the moment for the three women to use their eyes and their tongues–very softly indeed–for they were now elbowed by some of the best people in Lucca–but to use them.
“There’s Baldassare, the chemist’s son,” whispers Brigitta, who was using her one eye diligently.
“Mercy! That new coat was never cut in Lucca. They need sell many drugs at papa-chemist’s to pay for Baldassare’s clothes. Why, he’s combed and scented like a spice-tree. He’s a good-looking fellow; the great ladies like him.” This was said with a knock-me-down air by Cassandra. “He dines at our place every day. It’s a pleasure to see his black curls and smell his scented handkerchief.”
A cluster of listeners had now gathered round Cassandra, who, conscious of an audience, thought it worth her while to hold forth. Shaking out the folds of her gown, she leaned her back against the wall, and pointed with a finger on which were some trumpery rings. Cassandra knew everybody, and was determined to make those about her aware of it. “That’s young Count Orsetti and his mamma; they give a grand ball to-night.” (Cassandra is standing on tiptoe now, the better to observe those who pass.) “There she goes to her carriage. Ahi! how grand! The coachman and the valet with gold-lace and silk stockings. I would fast for a week to ride once in such a carriage. Oh! I would give any thing to splash the mud in people’s faces. She’s a fine woman–the Orsetti. Observe her light hair. Madonna mia! What a train of silk! Twelve shillings a yard–not a penny less. She’s got a cavaliere still.–He! he! a cavaliere!”
Carlotta grins, and winks her wicked old eyes. “She wants to marry her son to Teresa Ottolini. He’s a poor silly little fellow; but rich–very rich.”
“Who’s that fat man in a brown coat?” asks Brigitta. “He’s like a maggot in a fresh nut!”
“That’s my master–a fine-made man,” answers Cassandra, frowning and pinching in her lips, with an affronted air, “Take care what you say about my master, Brigitta; I shall allow no observations.”
Brigitta turns aside, puts her tongue in her cheek, and glances maliciously at Carlotta, who nods.
“How do you know how your master is made, Cassandra mia?” asks Brigitta, looking round, with a short laugh.
“Because I have eyes in my head,” replies Cassandra, defiantly. “My master, the padrone of the Pelican Hotel, is not a man one sees every day in the week!”
A tall priest now appears from within the church, coming down the nave, in company with a rosy-faced old gentleman, who, although using a stick, walks briskly and firmly. He has a calm and pleasant face, and his hair, which lies in neat little curls upon his forehead, is as white as snow. One moment the rosy old gentleman talks eagerly with the priest; the next he sinks upon his knees on the pavement, and murmurs prayers at a side altar. He does this so abruptly that the tall priest stumbles over him. There are many apologies, and many bows. Then the old gentleman rises, dusts his clothes carefully with a white handkerchief, and walks on, talking eagerly as before. Both he and the priest bend low to the high altar, dip their fingers in the holy-water, cross themselves, bend again to the altar, turning right and left–before leaving the cathedral.
“That’s Fra Pacifico,” cries Carlotta, greatly excited–“Fra Pacifico, the Marchesa Guinigi’s chaplain. He’s come down from Corellia for the festival.”–Carlotta is proud to show that she knows somebody, as well as Cassandra. “When he is in Lucca, Fra Pacifico passes my shop every morning to say mass in the marchesa’s private chapel. He knows all her sins.”
“And the old gentleman with him,” puts in Cassandra, twitching her hook nose, “is old Trenta–Cesare Trenta, the cavaliere. Bless his dear old face! The duke loved him well. He was chamberlain at the palace. He’s a gentleman all over, is Cavaliere Trenta. There–there. Look!”–and she points eagerly–“that’s the Red count, Count Marescotti, the republican.”
Cassandra lowers her voice, afraid to be overheard, and fixes her eyes on a man whose every feature and gesture proclaimed him an aristocrat.
Excited by the grandeur of the service, Marescotti’s usually pale face is suffused with color; his large black eyes shine with inner lights. Looking neither to the right nor to the left, he walks through the atrium, straight down the marble steps, into the piazza. As he passes the three women they draw back against the wall. There is a dignity about Marescotti that involuntarily awes them.
“That’s the man for the people!”–Cassandra still speaks under her breath.–“He’ll give us a republic yet.”
Following close on Count Marescotti comes Count Nobili. There are ease and conscious strength and freedom in his every movement. He pauses for a moment on the uppermost step under the central arch of the atrium and gazes round. The sun strikes upon his fresh-complexioned face and lights up his fair hair and restless eyes.–It is clear to see no care has yet troubled that curly head of his.–Nobili is closely followed by a lady of mature age, dark, thin, and sharp-featured. She has a glass in her eye, with which she peers at every thing and everybody. This is the Marchesa Boccarini. She is followed by her three daughters; two of them of no special attraction, but the youngest, Nera, dark and strikingly handsome. These three young ladies, all matrimonially inclined, but Nera specially, had carefully watched the instant when Nobili left his seat. Then they had followed him closely. It was intended that he should escort them home. Nera has already decided what she will say to him touching the Orsetti ball that evening and the cotillon, which she means to dance with him if she can. But Nobili, with whom they come up under the portico, merely responds to their salutation with a low bow, raises his hat, and stands aside to make way for them. He does not even offer to hand them to their carriage. They pass, and are gone.
As Count Nobili descends the three steps into the piazza, he is conscious that all eyes are fixed upon him; that every head is uncovered. He pauses, casts his eyes round at the upturned faces, raises his hat and smiles, then puts his hand into his pocket, and takes out a gold-piece, which he gives to the nearest beggar. The beggar, seizing the gold-piece, blesses him, and hopes that “Heaven will render to him according to his merits.” Other beggars, from every corner, are about to rush upon him; but Nobili deftly escapes from these as he had escaped from the Marchesa Boccarini and her daughters, and is gone.
“A lucky face,” mumbles old Carlotta, working her under lip, as she fixes her bleared eyes on him–“a lucky face! He will choose the winning number in the lottery, and the evil eye will never harm him.”
The music had now ceased. The mass was over. The vast congregation poured through the triple doors into the piazza, and mingled with the outer crowd. For a while both waved to and fro, like billows on a rolling sea, then settled down into one compact current, which, flowing onward, divided and dispersed itself through the openings into the various streets abutting on the piazza.
Last of all, Carlotta, Brigitta, and Cassandra, leave their corner. They are speedily engulfed in the shadows of a neighboring alley, and are seen no more.
THE MARCHESA GUINIGI.
The stern and repulsive aspect of the exterior of the Marchesa Guinigi’s palace belied the antique magnificence within.
Turning to the right under an archway from the damp, moss-grown court over which the tower throws a perpetual shadow, a broad staircase, closed by a door of open ironwork, leads to the first story (the _piano nobile_). Here an anteroom, with Etruscan urns and fragments of mediaeval sculpture let into the walls, gives access to a great _sala_, or hall, where Paolo Guinigi entertained the citizens and magnates of Lucca with sumptuous hospitality.
The vaulted ceiling, divided into compartments by heavy panels, is profusely gilt, and painted in fresco by Venetian masters; but the gold is dulled by age, and the frescoes are but dingy patches of what once was color. The walls, ornamented with Flemish tapestry, represent the Seven Labors of Hercules–the bright colors all faded out and blurred like the frescoes. Above, on the surface of polished walnut-wood, between the tapestry and the ceiling, are hung suits of mail, helmets, shields, swords, lances, and tattered banners.
Every separate piece has its history. Each lance, in the hand of some mediaeval hero of the name, has transfixed a foe, every sword has been dyed in the life-blood of a Ghibelline.
At the four corners of the hall are four doorways corresponding to each other. Before each doorway hang curtains of Genoa velvet, embroidered in gold with the Guinigi arms surmounted by a princely coronet. Time has mellowed these once crimson curtains to dingy red. From the hall, entered by these four doors, open out endless suites of rooms, enriched with the spoils of war and the splendor of feudal times. Not a chair, not a table, has been renewed, or even shifted from its place, since the fourteenth century, when Paolo Guinigi reigned absolute in Lucca.
On first entering, it is difficult to distinguish any thing in the half-light. The narrow Gothic casements of the whole floor are closed, both those toward the street and those facing inward upon the inner court. The outer wooden shutters are also closely fastened. The marchesa would consider it a sacrilege to allow light or even outer air to penetrate in these rooms, sacred to the memory of her great ancestors.
First in order after the great hall is a long gallery paneled with dark marble. It has a painted ceiling, and a mosaic floor. Statues and antique busts, presented by the emperor to Paolo Guinigi, are ranged on either side. This gallery leads through various antechambers to the retiring-room, where, in feudal times, the consort of the reigning lord presided when the noble dames of Lucca visited her on state occasions–a victory gained over the Pisans or Florentines–the conquest of a rebellious city, Pistoia perhaps–the birth of a son; or–the anniversary of national festivals. Pale-blue satin stuffs and delicate brocades, crossed with what was once glittering threads of gold, cover the walls. Rows of Venetian-glass chandeliers, tinted in every shade of loveliest color, fashioned into colored knots, pendants, and flowers, hang from the painted rafters. Mirrors, set in ponderous frames of old Florentine gilding, dimly reflect every object; narrow, high-backed chairs and carved wooden benches, sculptured mosaic tables and ponderous sideboards covered with choice pottery from Gubbio and Savona, and Lucca della Robbia ware. Sunk in recesses there are dark cupboards filled with mediaeval salvers, goblets, and flagons, gold dishes, and plates, and vessels of filigree and silver. Ivory carvings hang on the walls beside dingy pictures, or are ranged on tables of Sicilian agate and Oriental jasper. Against the walls are also placed cabinets and caskets of carved walnut-wood and ebony inlaid with lapis-lazuli, jasper, and precious stones; also long, narrow coffers, richly carved, within which the _corredo_, or _trousseau_, of rich brides who had matched with a Guinigi, was laid.
Beyond the retiring-room is the presence-chamber. On a dais, raised on three broad steps, stands a chair of state, surmounted by a dark-velvet canopy. Above appear the Guinigi arms, worked in gold and black, tarnished now, as is the glory of the illustrious house they represent. Overhead are suspended two cardinal’s hats, dropping to pieces with moth and mildew. On the wall opposite the dais, between two ranges of narrow Venetian windows, looking into the court-yard, hangs the historic portrait of Castruccio Castracani degli Antimelli, the Napoleon of the middle ages, whose rapid conquests raised Lucca to a sovereign state.
The name of the great Castruccio (whose mother was a Guinigi) is the glory of the house, his portrait more precious than any other possession.
A gleam of ruddy light strikes through a crevice in a red curtain opposite; it falls full upon the chair of state. That chair is not empty; a tall, dark figure is seated there. It is the Marchesa Guinigi. She is so thin and pale and motionless, she might pass for a ghost herself, haunting the ghosts of her ancestors!
It is her custom twice a year, on the anniversary of the birth and death of Castruccio Castracani–to-day is the anniversary of his death–to unlock the door leading from the hall into these state-apartments, and to remain here alone for many hours. The key is always about her person, attached to her girdle. No other foot but her own is ever permitted to tread these floors.
She sits in the half-light, lost in thought as in a dream. Her head is raised, her arms are extended over the sides of the antique chair; her long, white hands hang down listlessly. Her eyes wander vaguely along the floor; gradually they raise themselves to the portrait of her great ancestor opposite. How well she knows every line and feature of that stern but heroic countenance, every dark curl upon that classic head, wreathed with ivy-leaves; that full, expressive eye, aquiline nose, open nostril, and chiseled lip; every fold in that ermine-bordered mantle–a present from the emperor, after the victory of Altopasso, and the triumph of the Ghibellines! Looking into the calmness of that impressive face, in the mystery of the darkened presence-chamber, she can forget that the greatness of her house is fallen, the broad lands sold or mortgaged, the treasures granted by the state lavished, one even of the ancestral palaces sold; nay, worse, not only sold, but desecrated by commerce in the person of Count Nobili.
Seated there, on the seigneurial chair, under the regal canopy, she can forget all this. For a few short hours she can live again in the splendor of the past–the past, when a Guinigi was the equal of kings, his word more absolute than law, his frown more terrible than death!
Before the marchesa is a square table of dark marble, on which in old time was laid the sword of state (a special insignia of office), borne before the Lord of Lucca in public processions, embassies, and tournaments. This table is now covered with small piled-up heaps of gold and silver coin (the gold much less in quantity than the silver). There are a few jewels, and some diamond pendants in antique settings, a diamond necklace, crosses, medals, and orders, and a few uncut gems and antique intaglios.
The marchesa takes up each object and examines it. She counts the gold-pieces, putting them back again one by one in rows, by tens and twenties. She handles the crisp bank-notes. She does this over and over again so slowly and so carefully, it would seem, as if she expected the money to grow under her fingers. She has placed all in order before her–the jewels on one side, the money and the notes on the other. As she moves them to and fro on the smooth marble with the points of her long fingers, she shakes her head and sighs. Then she touches a secret spring, and a drawer opens from under the table. Into this drawer she deposits all that lies before her, her fingers still clinging to the gold.
After a while she rises, and casting a parting glance at the portrait of Castruccio–among all her ancestors Castruccio was the object of her special reverence–she moves leisurely onward through the various apartments lying beyond the presence-chamber.
The doors, draped with heavy tapestry curtains, are all open. It is a long, gloomy suite of rooms, where the sun never shines, looking into the inner court.
The marchesa’s steps are noiseless, her countenance grave and pale. Here and there she pauses to gaze into the face of a picture, or to brush off the dust from some object specially dear to her. She pauses, minutely observing every thing around her.
There is a dark closet, with a carved wooden cornice and open raftered roof, the walls covered with stamped leather. Here the family councils assembled. Next comes a long, narrow, low-roofed gallery, where row after row of portraits and pictures illustrate the defunct Guinigi. In that centre panel hangs Francesco dei Guinigi, who, for courtesy and riches, surpassed all others in Lucca. (Francesco was the first to note the valor of his young cousin Castruccio, to whom he taught the art of war.) Near him hangs the portrait of Ridolfo, who triumphantly defeated Uguccione della Faggiola, the tyrant of Pisa, under the very walls of that city. Farther on, at the top of the room, is the likeness of the great Paolo himself–a dark, olive-skinned man, with a hard-lipped mouth, and resolute eyes, clad in a complete suit of gold-embossed armor. By Paolo’s side appears Battista, who followed the Crusades, and entered Jerusalem with Godfrey de Bouillon; also Gianni, grand-master of the Knights Hospitallers of St. John–the golden rose presented to him by the pope in the corner of the picture.
After the gallery come the armory and the chapel. Beyond at the end of the vaulted passage, lighted from above, there is a closed door of dark walnut-wood.
When the marchesa enters this vaulted passage, her firm, quick step falters. As she approaches the door, she is visibly agitated. Her hand trembles as she places it on the heavy outside lock. The lock yields; the door opens with a creak. She draws aside a heavy curtain, then stands motionless.
There is such a mist of dust, such a blackness of shadow, that at first nothing is visible. Gradually, as the daylight faintly penetrates by the open door, the shadows form themselves into definite shapes.
Within a deep alcove, inclosed by a balustrade, stands a bed–its gilt cornice reaching to the ceiling, heavily curtained. This is the nuptial-chamber of the Guinigi. Within that alcove, and in that bed, generation after generation have seen the light. Not to be born in the nuptial-chamber, and in that bed within the ancestral palace, is not to be a true Guinigi.
The marchesa has taken a step or two forward into the room. There, wrapped in the shadows, she stands still and trembles. A terrible look has come into her face–sorrow, and longing, and remorse. The history of her whole life rises up before her.
“Is the end, then, come?” she asks herself–“and with me?”
From pale she had turned ashy. The long shadows from the dark curtains stretch out and engulf her. She feels their dark touch, like a visible presence of evil, she shivers all over. The cold damp air of the chill room comes to her like wafts of deadly poison. She cannot breathe; a convulsive tremor passes over her.
She totters to the door, and leans for support against the side. Yet she will not go; she forces herself to remain. To stand here, in this room, before that bed, is her penance. To stand here like a criminal! Ah, God! is she not childless? Why has she (and her hands are clinched, and her breath comes thick), why has she been stricken with barrenness?
“Why, why?” she asks herself now, as she has asked herself year after year, each year with a fresh agony. Until she came, a son had never failed under that roof. Why was she condemned to be alone? She had done nothing to deserve it. Had she not been a blameless wife? Why, why was she so punished? Her haughty spirit stirs within her.
“God is unjust,” she mutters, half aloud. “God is my enemy.”
As the impious words fall from her lips they ring round the dark bed, and die away among the black draperies. The echo of her own voice fills her with dread. She rushes out. The door closes heavily after her.
Once removed from that fatal chamber, with its death-like shadows, she gradually collects herself. She has so long fortified herself against all sign of outward emotion, she has so hardened herself in an inner life of secret remorse, this is easy–at least to outward appearance. The calm, frigid look natural to her face returns. Her eyes have again their dark sparkle. Not a trace remains to tell what her self-imposed penance has cost her.
Again she is the proud marchesa, the mistress of the feudal palace and all its glorious memories.–Yes; and she casts her eyes round where she stands, back again in the retiring-room. Yes–all is yet her own. True, she is impoverished–worse, she is laden with debt, harassed by creditors. The lands that are left are heavily mortgaged; the money received from Count Nobili, as the price of the palace, already spent in law. The hoard she has just counted–her savings–destined to dower her niece Enrica, in whose marriage lies the sole remaining hope of the preservation of the name (and that depending on the will of a husband, who may, or may not, add the name of Guinigi to his own) is most slender. She has been able to add nothing to it during these last years–not a farthing. But there is one consolation. While she lives, all is safe from spoliation. While she lives, no creditor lives bold enough to pass that threshold. While she lives–and then?
Further she forbids her thoughts to wander. She will not admit, even to herself, that there is danger–that even, during her own life, she may be forced to sell what is dearer to her than life–the palace and the heirlooms!
Meanwhile the consciousness of wealth is pleasant to her. She opens the cupboards in the wall, and handles the precious vessels of Venetian glass, the silver plates and golden flagons, the jeweled cups; she examines the ancient bronzes and ivory carvings; unlocks the caskets and the inlaid cabinets, and turns over the gold guipure lace, the rich mediaeval embroideries, the christening-robes–these she flings quickly by–and the silver ornaments. She uncloses the carved coffers, and passes through her long fingers the wedding garments of brides turned to dust centuries ago–the silver veils, bridal crowns, and quaintly-cut robes of taffetas and brocade, once white, now turned to dingy yellow. She assures herself that all is in its place.
As she moves to and fro she catches sight of herself reflected in one of the many mirrors encased in what were once gorgeous frames hanging on the wall. She stops and fixes her keen black eyes upon her own worn face. “I am not old,” she says aloud, “only fifty-five this year. I may live many years yet. Much may happen before I die! Cesare Trenta says I am ruined”–as she speaks, she turns her face toward the streaks of light that penetrate the shutters.–“Not yet, not ruined yet. Who knows? I may live to redeem all. Cesare said I was ruined after that last suit with the chapter. He is a fool! The money was well spent. I would do it again. While I live the name of Guinigi shall be honored.” She pauses, as if listening to the sound of her own voice. Then her thoughts glance off to the future. “Who knows? Enrica shall marry; that may set all right. She shall have all–all!” And she turns and gazes earnestly through the open doors of the stately rooms on either hand. “Enrica shall marry; marry as I please. She must have no will in the matter.”
She stops suddenly, remembering certain indications of quiet self-well which she thinks she has already detected in her niece.
“If not”–(the mere supposition that her plans should be thwarted–thwarted by her niece, Enrica–a child, a tool–brought up almost upon her charity–rouses in her a tempest of passion; her face darkens, her eyes flash; she clinches her fist with sudden vehemence, she shakes it in the air)–“if not–let her die!” Her shrill voice wakes the echoes. “Let her die!” resounds faintly through the gilded rooms.
At this moment the cathedral-clock strikes four. This is the first sound that has reached the marchesa from the outer world since she has entered these rooms. It rouses her from the thralldom of her thoughts. It recalls her to the outer world. Four o’clock! Then she has been shut up for five hours! She must go at once, or she may be missed by her household. If she is missed, she may be followed–watched. Casting a searching look round, to assure herself that all is in its place, she takes from her girdle the key she always wears, and lets herself out into the great hall. She relocks the door, drawing the velvet curtains carefully over it. With greater caution she unfastens the other door (the entrance) on the staircase. Peeping through the curtains, she assures herself that no one is on the stairs. Then she softly recloses it, and rapidly ascends the stairs to the second story.
That day six months, on the anniversary of Castruccio’s birth, which falls in the month of March, she will return again to the state-rooms. No one has ever accompanied her on these strange vigils. Only her friend, the Cavaliere Trenta, knows that she goes there. Even to him she rarely alludes to it. It is her own secret. Her inner life is with the past. Her thoughts rest with the dead. It is the living who are but shadows.
The marchesa was in a very bad humor. Not only did she stay at home all the day of the festival of the Holy Countenance by reason of the solemn anniversary which occurred at that time, but she shut herself up the following day also. When the old servant (old inside and out) in his shabby livery, who acted as butler, crept into her room, and asked at what time “the eccellenza would take her airing on the ramparts”–the usual drive of the Lucchese ladies–when they not only drive, but draw up under the plane-trees, gossip, and eat sweetmeats and ices–she had answered, in a tone she would have used to a decrepit dog who troubled her, “Shut the door and begone!”
She had been snappish to Enrica. She had twitted her with wanting to go to the Orsetti ball, although Enrica had never been to any ball or any assembly whatever in her life, and no word had been spoken about it. Enrica never did speak; she had been disciplined into silence.
Enrica, as has been said, was the marchesa’s niece, and lived with her. She was the only child of her sister, who died when she was born. This sister (herself, as well as the marchesa, _born_ Guinigi Ruscellai) had also married a Guinigi, a distant cousin of the marchesa’s husband, belonging to a third branch of the family, settled at Mantua. Of this collateral branch, all had died out. Antonio Guinigi, of Mantua, Enrica’s father, in the prime of life, was killed in a duel, resulting from one of those small social affronts that so frequently do provoke duels in Italy. (I knew a certain T—- who called out a certain G—- because G—- had said T—-‘s rooms were not properly carpeted.) Generally these encounters with swords are as trifling in their results as in their origin. But the duel in question, fought by Antonio Guinigi, was unfortunately not so. He died on the spot. Enrica, when two years old, was an orphan. Thus it came that she had known no home but the home of her aunt. The marchesa had never shown her any particular kindness. She had ordered her servants to take care of her. That was all. Scarcely ever had she kissed her; never passed her hand among the sunny curls that fell upon the quiet child’s face and neck. The marchesa, in fact, had not so much as noticed her childish beauty and enticing ways.
Enrica had grown up accustomed to bear with her aunt’s haughty, ungracious manners and capricious temper. She scarcely knew that there was any thing to bear. She had been left to herself as long as she could remember any thing. A peasant–Teresa, her foster-mother–had come with her from Mantua, and from Teresa alone she received such affection as she had ever known. A mere animal affection, however, which lost its value as she grew into womanhood.
Thus it was that Enrica came to accept the marchesa’s rough tongue, her arrogance, and her caprices, as a normal state of existence. She never complained. If she suffered, it was in silence. To reason with the marchesa, much more dispute with her, was worse than useless. She was not accustomed to be talked to, certainly not by her niece. It only exasperated her and fixed her more doggedly in whatever purpose she might have in hand. But there was a certain stern sense of justice about her when left to herself–if only the demon of her family pride were not aroused, then she was inexorable–that would sometimes come to the rescue. Yet, under all the tyranny of this neutral life which circumstances had imposed on her, Enrica, unknown to herself–for how should she, who knew so little, know herself?–grew up to have a strong will. She might be bent, but she would never break. In this she resembled the marchesa. Gentle, loving, and outwardly submissive, she was yet passively determined. Even the marchesa came to be dimly conscious of this, although she considered it as utterly unimportant, otherwise than to punish and to repress.
Shut up within the dreary palace at Lucca, or in the mountain solitude of Corellia, Enrica yearned for freedom. She was like a young bird, full-fledged and strong, that longs to leave the parent-nest–to stretch its stout wings on the warm air–to soar upward into the light!
Now the light had come to Enrica. It came when she first saw Count Nobili. It shone in her eyes, it dazzled her, it intoxicated her. On that day a new world opened before her–a fair and pleasant world, light with the dawn of love–a world as different as golden summer to the winter of her home. How she gloried in Nobili! How she loved him!–his comely looks, his kindling smile (like sunshine everywhere), his lordly ways, his triumphant prosperity! He had come to her, she knew not how. She had never sought him. He had come–come like fate. She never asked herself if it was wrong or right to love him. How could she help it? Was he not born to be loved? Was he not her own–a thousand times her own–as he told her–“forever?” She believed in him as she believed in God. She neither knew nor cared whither she was drifting, so that it was with him! She was as one sailing with a fair wind on an endless sea–a sea full of sunlight–sailing she knew not where! Think no evil of her, I pray you. She was not wicked nor deceitful–only ignorant, with such ignorance as made the angels fall.
As yet Nobili and Enrica had only met in such manner as has been told by old Carlotta to her gossip Brigitta. Letters, glances, sighs, had passed across the street, from palace to palace at the Venetian casements–under the darkly-ivied archway of the Moorish garden–at the cathedral in the gray evening light, or in the earliest glow of summer mornings–and this, so seldom! Every time they had met Nobili implored Enrica, passionately, to escape from the thralldom of her life, implored her to become his wife. With his pleading eyes fixed upon her, he asked her “why she should sacrifice him to the senseless pride of her aunt? He whose whole life was hers?”
But Enrica shrank from compliance, with a secret sense that she had no right to do what he asked; no right to marry without her aunt’s consent. Her love was her own to give. She had thought it all out for herself, pacing up and down under the cool marble arcades of the Moorish garden, the splash of the fountain in her ears–Teresa had told her the same–her love was her own to give. What had her aunt done for her, her sister’s child, but feed and clothe her? Indeed, as Teresa said, the marchesa had done but little else. Enrica was as unconscious as Teresa of those marriage schemes of her aunt which centred in herself. Had she known what was reserved for her, she would better have understood the marchesa’s nature; then she might have acted differently. But heretofore there had been no question of her marriage. Although she was seventeen, she had always been treated as a mere child. She scarcely dared to speak in her aunt’s presence, or to address a question to her. Her love, then, she thought, was her own to bestow; but more?–No, no even to Nobili. He urged, he entreated, he reproached her, but in vain. He implored her to inform the marchesa of their engagement. (Nobili could not offer to do this himself; the marchesa would have refused to admit him within her door.) But Enrica would not consent to do even this. She knew her aunt too well to trust her with her secret. She knew that she was both subtle, and, where her own plans were concerned, or her will thwarted, treacherous also.
Enrica had been taught not only to obey the marchesa implicitly, but never to dispute her will. Hitherto she had had no will but hers. How, then, could she all at once shake off the feeling of awe, almost terror, with which her aunt inspired her? Besides, was not the very sound of Nobili’s name abhorrent to her? Why the marchesa should abhor him or his name, Enrica could not tell. It was a mystery to her altogether beyond her small experience of life. But it was so. No, she would say nothing; that was safest. The marchesa, if displeased, was quite capable of carrying her away from Lucca to Corellia–perhaps leaving her there alone in the mountains. She might even shut her up in a convent for life!–Then she should die!
No, she would say nothing.
MARCHESA GUINIGI AT HOME.
The marchesa was, as I have said, in a very bad humor. She had by no means recovered from what she conceived to be the affront put upon her by the brilliant display made by Count Nobili, at the festival of the Holy Countenance, nor, indeed, from the festival itself.
She had had the satisfaction of shutting up her palace, it is true; but she was not quite sure if this had impressed the public mind of Lucca as she had intended. She felt painful doubts as to whether the splendors opposite had not so entirely engrossed public attention that no eye was left to observe any thing else–at least, in that street. It was possible, she thought, that another year it might be wiser not to shut up her palace at all, but so far to overcome her feelings as to exhibit the superb hangings, the banners, the damask, and cloth of gold, used in the mediaeval festivals and processions, and thus outdo the modern tinsel of Count Nobili.
Besides the festival, and Count Nobili’s audacity, the marchesa had a further cause for ill-humor. No one had come on that evening to play her usual game of whist. Even Trenta had deserted her. She had said to herself that when she–the Marchesa Guinigi–“received,” no other company, no other engagement whatever, ought to interfere with the honor that her company conferred. These were valid causes of ill-humor to any lady of the marchesa’s humor.
She was seated now in the sitting-room of her own particular suite, one of three small and rather stuffy rooms, on the second floor. These rooms consisted of an anteroom, covered with a cretonne paper of blue and brown, a carpetless floor, a table, and some common, straw chairs placed against the wall. From the anteroom two doors led into two bedrooms, one on either side. Another door, opposite the entrance, opened into the sitting-room.
All the windows this way faced toward the garden, the wall of which ran parallel to the palace and to the street. The marchesa’s room had flaunting green walls with a red border; the ceiling was gaudily painted with angels, flowers, and festoons. Some colored prints hung on the walls–a portrait of the Empress Eugenie on horseback, in a Spanish dress, and four glaring views of Vesuvius in full eruption. A divan, covered with well-worn chintz, ran round two sides of the room. Between the ranges of the graceful casements stood a marble console-table, with a mirror in a black frame. An open card-table was placed near the marchesa. On the table there was a pack of not over-clean cards, some markers, and a pair of candles (the candles still unlighted, for the days are long, and it is only six o’clock). There was not a single ornament in the whole room, nor any object whatever on which the eye could rest with pleasure. White-cotton curtains concealed the delicate tracery and the interlacing columns of the Venetian windows. Beneath lay the Moorish garden, entered from the street by an arched gate-way, over which long trails of ivy hung. Beautiful in itself, the Moorish garden was an incongruous appendage to a Gothic palace. One of the Guinigi, commanding for the Emperor Charles V. in Spain, saw Granada and the Alhambra. On his return to Lucca, he built this architectural plaisance on a bare plot of ground, used for jousts and tilting. That is its history. There it has been since. It is small–a city garden–belted inside by a pointed arcade of black-and-white marble.
In the centre is a fountain. The glistening waters shoot upward refreshingly in the warm evening air, to fall back on the heads of four marble lions, supporting a marble basin. Fine white gravel covers the ground, broken by statues and vases, and tufts of flowering shrubs growing luxuriantly under the shelter of the arcade–many-colored altheas, flaming pomegranates, graceful pepper-trees with bright, beady seeds, and magnolias, as stalwart as oaks, hanging over the fountain.
The strong perfume of the magnolia-blossoms, still white upon the boughs, is wafted upward to the open window of the marchesa’s sitting-room; the sun is low, and the shadows of the pointed arches double themselves upon the ground. Shadows, too, high up the horizon, penetrate into the room, and strike across the variegated scagliola floor, and upon a table in the centre, on which a silver tray is placed, with glasses of lemonade. Round the table are ranged chairs of tarnished gilding, and a small settee with spindle-legs.
In her present phase of life, the squalor of these rooms is congenial to the marchesa. Hitherto reckless of expense, especially in law, she has all at once grown parsimonious to excess. As to the effect this change may produce on others, and whether this mode of life is in keeping with the stately palace she inhabits, the marchesa does not care in the least; it pleases her, that is enough. All her life she has been quite clear on two points–her belief in herself, and her belief in the name she bears.
The marchesa leans back on a high-backed chair and frowns. To frown is so habitual to her that the wrinkles on her forehead and between her eyebrows are prematurely deepened. She has a long, sallow face, a straight nose, keen black eyes, a high forehead, and a thin-lipped mouth. She is upright, and well made; and the folds of her plain black dress hang about her tall figure with a certain dignity. Her dark hair, now sprinkled with white, is fully dressed, the bands combed low on her forehead. She wears no ornament, except the golden cross of a _chanoinesse._
As she leans back on her high-backed chair she silently observes her niece, seated near the open window, knitting.
“If she had been my child!” was the marchesa’s thought. “Why was I denied a child?” And she sighed.
The rays of the setting sun dance among the ripples of Enrica’s blond hair, and light up the dazzling whiteness of her skin. Seen thus in profile, although her features are regular, and her expression full of sweetness, it is rather the promise than the perfection of actual beauty–the rose-bud–by-and-by to expand into the perfect flower.
There was a knock at the door, and a ruddy old face looked in. It is the Cavaliere Trenta, in his official blue coat and gold buttons, nankeen inexpressibles, a broad-brimmed white hat and a gold-headed cane in his hand. Whatever speck of dust might have had the audacity to venture to settle itself upon any part of the cavaliere’s official blue coat, must at once have hidden its diminished head after peeping at the cavaliere’s beaming countenance, so scrubbed and shiny, the white hair so symmetrically arranged upon his forehead in little curls–his whole appearance so neat and trim.
“Is it permitted to enter?” he asked, smiling blandly at the marchesa, as, leaning upon his stick, he made her a ceremonious bow.
“Yes, Cesarino, yes, you may enter,” she replied, stiffly. “I cannot very well send you away now–but you deserve it.”
“Why, most distinguished lady?” again asked Trenta, submissively, closing the door, and advancing to where she sat. He bent down his head and kissed her hand, then smiled at Enrica. “What have I done?”
“Done? You know you never came last night at all. I missed my game of whist. I do not sleep well without it.”
“But, marchesa,” pleaded Trenta, in the gentlest voice, “I am desolated, as you can conceive–desolated; but what could I do? Yesterday was the festival of the Holy Countenance, that solemn anniversary that brings prosperity to our dear city!” And the cavaliere cast up his mild blue eyes, and crossed himself upon the breast. “I was most of the day in the cathedral. Such a service! Better music than last year. In the evening I had promised to arrange the cotillon at Countess Orsetti’s ball. As chamberlain to his late highness the Duke of Lucca, it is expected of me to organize every thing. One can leave nothing to that animal Baldassare–he has no head, no system; he dances well, but like a machine. The ball was magnificent–a great success,” he continued, speaking rapidly, for he saw that a storm was gathering on the marchesa’s brow, by the deepening of the wrinkles between her eyes. “A great success. I took a few turns myself with Teresa Ottolini–tra la la la la,” and he swayed his head and shoulders to and fro as he hummed a waltz-tune.
“_You_!” exclaimed the marchesa, staring at him with a look of contempt–“_you_!”
“Yes. Why not? I am as young as ever, dear marchesa–eighty, the prime of life!”
“The festival of the Holy Countenance and the cotillon!” cried the marchesa, with great indignation. “Tell me nothing about the Orsetti ball. I won’t listen to it. Good Heavens!” she continued, reddening, “I am thirty years younger than you are, but I left off dancing fifteen years ago. You ought to be ashamed of yourself, Cesarino!”
Cesarino only smiled at her benignantly in reply. She had called him a fool so often! He seated himself beside her without speaking. He had come prepared to entertain her with an account of every detail of the ball; but seeing the temper she was in, he deemed it more prudent to be silent–to be silent specially about Count Nobili. The mention of his name would, he knew, put her in a fury, so, being a prudent man, and a courtier, he entirely dropped the subject of the ball. Yet Trenta was a privileged person. He never voluntarily contradicted the marchesa, but when occasion arose he always spoke his mind, fearless of consequences. As he and the marchesa disagreed on almost every possible subject, disputes often arose between them; but, thanks to Trenta’s pliant temper and perfect good-breeding, they were always amicably settled.
“Count Marescotti and Baldassare are outside,” continued Trenta, looking at her inquiringly, as the marchesa had not spoken. “They are waiting to know if the illustrious lady receives this evening, and if she will permit them to join her usual whist-party.”
“Marescotti!–where may he come from?–the clouds, perhaps–or the last balloon?” asked the marchesa, looking up.
“From Rome; he arrived two days ago. He is no longer so erratic. Will you allow him to join us?”
“I shall certainly play my rubber if I am permitted,” answered the marchesa, drawing herself up.
This was intended as a sarcastic reminder of the disregard shown to her by the cavaliere the evening before; but the sarcasm was quite thrown away upon Trenta; he was very simple and straightforward.
“The marchesa has only to command me,” was his polite reply. “I wonder Marescotti and Baldassare are not here already,” he added, looking toward the door. “I left them both in the street; they were to follow me up-stairs immediately.”
“Ah!” said the marchesa, smiling sarcastically, “Count Marescotti is not to be trusted. He is a genius–he may be back on his way to Rome by this time.”
“No, no,” answered Trenta, rising and walking toward the door, which he opened and held in his hand, while he kept his eyes fixed on the staircase; “Marescotti is disgusted with Rome–with the Parliament, with the Government–with every thing. He abuses the municipality because a secret republican committee which he headed, in correspondence with Paris, has been discovered by the police and denounced. He had to escape in disguise.”
“Well, well, I rejoice to hear it!” broke in the marchesa. “It is a good Government; let him find a better. Why has he come to Lucca? We want no _sans-culottes_ here.”
“Marescotti declares,” continued the cavaliere, “that even now Rome is still in bondage, and sunk in superstition. He calls it superstition. He would like to shut up all the churches. He believes in nothing but poetry and Red republicans. Any kind of Christian belief he calls superstition.”
“Marescotti is quite right,” said the marchesa, angrily; she was determined to contradict the cavaliere. “You are a bigot, Trenta–an old bigot. You believe every thing a priest tells you. A fine exhibition we had yesterday of what that comes to! The Holy Countenance! Do you think any educated person in Lucca believes in the Holy Countenance? I do not. It is only an excuse for idleness–for idleness, I say. Priests love idleness; they go into the Church because they are too idle to work.” She raised her voice, and looked defiantly at Trenta, who stood before her the picture of meek endurance–holding the door-handle. “I hope I shall live to see all festivals abolished. Why didn’t the Government do it altogether when they were about it?–no convents, no monks, no holidays, except on Sunday! Make the people work–work for their bread! We should have fewer taxes, and no beggars.”
Trenta’s benignant face had gradually assumed as severe an aspect as it was capable of bearing. He pointed to Enrica, of whom he had up to this time taken no notice beyond a friendly smile–the marchesa did not like Enrica to be noticed–now he pointed to her, and shook his head deprecatingly. Could he have read Enrica’s thoughts, he need have feared no contamination to her from the marchesa; her thoughts were far away–she had not listened to a single word.
“Dio Santo!” he exclaimed at last, clasping his hands together and speaking low, so as not to be overheard by Enrica–“that I should live to hear a Guinigi talk so! Do you forget, marchesa, that it was under the banner of the blessed Holy Countenance (_Vulturum di Lucca_), miraculously cast on the shores of the Ligurian Sea, that your great ancestor Castruccio Castracani degli Antimelli overcame the Florentines at Alto Passo?”
“The banner didn’t help him, nor St. Nicodemus either–I affirm that,” answered she, angrily. Her temper was rising. “I will not be contradicted, cavaliere–don’t attempt it. I never allow it. Even my husband never contradicted me–and he was a Guinigi. Is the city to go mad, eat, drink, and hang out old curtains because the priests bid them? Did _you_ see Nobili’s house?” She asked this question so eagerly, she suddenly forgot her anger in the desire she felt to relate her injuries. “A Guinigi palace dressed out like a booth at a fair!–What a scandal! This comes of usury and banking. He will be a deputy soon. Will no one tell him he is a presumptuous young idiot?” she cried, with a burst of sudden rage, remembering the crowds that filled the streets, and the admiration and display excited. Then, turning round and looking Trenta full in the face, she added spitefully, “You may worship painted dolls, and kiss black crucifixes, if you like: I would not give them house-room.”
“Mercy!” cried poor Trenta, putting his hands to his ears. “For pity’s sake–the palace _will_ fall about your ears! Remember your niece is present.”
And again he pointed to Enrica, whose head was bent down over her work.
“Ha! ha!” was all the reply vouchsafed by the marchesa, followed by a scornful laugh. “I shall say what I please in my own house. Poor Cesarino! You are very ignorant. I pity you!”
But Trenta was not there–he had rushed down-stairs as quickly as his old legs and his stick would carry him, and was out of hearing. At the mention of Nobili’s name Enrica looked stealthily from under her long eyelashes, and turned very white. The sharp eyes of her aunt might have detected it had she been less engrossed by her passage of arms with the cavaliere.
“Ha! ha!” she repeated, grimly laughing to herself. “He is gone! Poor old soul! But I am going to have my rubber for all that.–Ring the bell, Enrica. He must come back. Trenta takes too much upon himself; he is always interfering.”
As Enrica rose to obey her aunt, the sound of feet was heard in the anteroom. The marchesa made a sign to her to reseat herself, which she did in the same place as before, behind the thick cotton curtains of the Venetian casement.
Count Marescotti, the Red count (the marchesa had said _sans-culotte_; Trenta had spoken of him as an atheist), was, unhappily, something of all this, but he was much more. He was a poet, an orator, and a patriot. Nature had gifted him with qualities for each vocation. He had a rich, melodious voice, with soft inflections; large dark eyes, that kindled with the impress of every emotion; finely-cut features, and a pale, bloodless face, that tells of a passionate nature. His manners were gracious, and he had a commanding presence. He was born to be a leader among men. Not only did he converse with ease and readiness on every conceivable topic–not only did strophe after strophe of musical verse flow from his lips with the facility of an _improvisatore_, but he possessed the supreme art of moving the multitude by an eloquence born of his own impassioned soul. While that suave voice rung in men’s ears, it was impossible not to be convinced by his arguments. As a patriot, he worshiped Italy. His fervid imagination reveled in her natural beauties–art, music, history, poetry. He worshiped Italy, and he devoted his whole life to what he conceived to be her good.
Marescotti was no atheist; he was a religious reformer, sincerely and profoundly pious, and conscientious to the point of honor. Indeed, his conscience was so sensitive, that he had been known to confess two and three times on the same day. The cavaliere called him an atheist because he was a believer in Savonarola, and because he positively refused to bind himself to any priestly dogma, or special form of worship whatever. But he had never renounced the creed of his ancestors. The precepts of Savonarola did, indeed, afford him infinite consolation; they were to him a _via media_ between Protestant latitude and dogmatic belief.
The republican simplicity, stern morals, and sweeping reforms both in Church and state preached by Savonarola (reforms, indeed, as radical as were consistent with Catholicism), were the objects of his special reverence. Savonarola had died at the stake for practising and for teaching them; Marescotti declared, with characteristic enthusiasm, that he was ready to do likewise. Wrong or right, he believed that, if Savonarola had lived in the nineteenth century, he would have acted as he himself had done. In the same manner, although an avowed republican, he was no _sans-culotte._ His strong sense of personal independence and of freedom, political and religious, caused him to revolt against what he conceived tyranny or coercion of any kind. Even constitutional monarchy was not sufficiently free for him. A king and a court, the royal prerogative of ministers, patent places, pensions, favors, the unacknowledged influence of a reigning house–represented to his mind a modified system of tyranny–therefore of corruption. Constant appeals to the sovereign people, a form of government where the few yielded to the many, and the rich divided their riches voluntarily with the poor–was in theory what he advocated.
Yet with these lofty views, these grand aspirations, with unbounded faith, and unbounded energy and generosity, Marescotti achieved nothing. He wanted the power of concentration, of bringing his energies to bear on any one particular object. His mind was like an old cabinet, crowded with artistic rubbish–gems and rarities, jewels of price and pearls of the purest water, hidden among faded flowers; old letters, locks of hair, daggers, tinsel reliquaries, crosses, and modern grimcracks–all that was incongruous, piled together pell-mell in hopeless confusion.
His countrymen, singularly timid and conventional, and always unwilling to admit new ideas upon any subject unless imperatively forced upon them, did not understand him. They did not appreciate either his originality or the real strength of his character. He differed from them and their mediaeval usages–therefore he must be wrong. He was called eccentric by his friends, a lunatic by his enemies. He was neither. But he lived much alone; he had dreamed rather than reflected, and he had planned instead of acting.
“Count Marescotti,” said the marchesa, holding out her hand, “I salute you.–Baldassare, you are welcome.”
The intonation of her voice, the change in her manner, gave the exact degree of consideration proper to accord to the head of an ancient Roman family, and the dandy son of a Lucca chemist. And, lest it should be thought strange that the Marchesa Guinigi should admit Baldassare at all to her presence, I must explain that Baldassare was a _protege_, almost a double, of the cavaliere, who insisted upon taking him wherever he went. If you received the cavaliere, you must, perforce, receive Baldassare also. No one could explain why this was so. They were continually quarreling, yet they were always together. Their intimacy had been the subject of many jokes and some gossip; but the character of the cavaliere was immaculate, and Baldassare’s mother (now dead) had never lived at Lucca. Trenta, when spoken to on the subject of his partiality, said he was “educating him” to fill his place as master of the ceremonies in Lucchese society. Except when specially bullied by the cavaliere–who greatly enjoyed tormenting him in public–Baldassare was inoffensive and useful.
Now he pressed forward to the front.
“Signora Marchesa,” he said, eagerly, “allow me to make my excuses to you.”
The marchesa turned a surprised and distant gaze upon him; but Baldassare was not to be discouraged. He had that tough skin of true vulgarity which is impervious to any thing but downright hard blows.
“Allow me to make my excuses,” he continued. “The cavaliere here has been scolding me all the way up-stairs for not bringing Count Marescotti sooner to you. I could not.”
Marescotti bowed an acquiescence.
“While we were standing in the street, waiting to know if the noble lady received, an old beggar, known in Lucca as the Hermit of Pizzorna, come down from the mountains for the festival, passed by.”
“Yes, it was a providence,” broke in the count–“a real hermit, not one of those fat friars, with shaven crowns, we have in Rome, but a genuine recluse, a man whose life is one long act of practical piety.”
When Marescotti had entered, he seemed only the calm, high-bred gentleman; now, as he spoke, his eye sparkled, and his pale cheeks flushed.
“Yes, I addressed the hermit,” he continued, and he raised his fine head and crossed his hands on his breast as if he were still before him. “I kissed his bare feet, road-stained with errands of charity. ‘My father,’ I said to him, ‘bless me’–“
“Not only so,” interrupted Baldassare, “but, would you believe it, madame, the count cast himself down on the dusty street to receive his blessing!”
“And why not?” asked the count, looking at him severely. “It came to me like a voice from heaven. The hermit is a holy man. Would I were like him! I have heard of him for thirty years past. Winter after winter, among those savage mountains, in roaring winds, in sweeping storms, in frost and snow, and water-floods, he has assisted hundreds, who, but for him, must infallibly have perished. What courage! what devotion! It is a poem.” Marescotti spoke hurriedly and in a low voice. “Yes, I craved his blessing. I kissed his hands, his feet. I would have kissed the ground on which he stood.” As he proceeded, Marescotti grew more and more abstracted. All that he described was passing like a vision before him. “Those venerable hands–yes, I kissed them.”
“How much money did you leave in them, count?” asked the marchesa, with a sneer.
“Great is the mercy of God!” ejaculated the count, earnestly, not heeding her. “Sinner as I am, the touch of those hands–that blessing–purified me. I feel it.”
“Incredible! Well,” cried Baldassare, “the price of that blessing will keep the good man in bread and meat for a year. Let the old beggar go to the devil, count, his own way. He must soon appear there, anyhow. A good-for-nothing old cheat! His blessing, indeed! I can get you a dozen begging friars who will bless you all day for a few farthings.”
The count’s brow darkened.
“Baldassare,” said he, very gravely, “you are young, and, like your age, inconsiderate. I request that, in my presence, you speak with becoming respect of this holy man.”
“Per Bacco!” exclaimed the cavaliere, advancing from where he had been standing behind the marchesa’s chair, and patting Baldassare patronizingly on the shoulder, “I never heard you talk so much before at one time, Baldassare. Now, you had better have held your tongue, and listened to Count Marescotti. Leading the cotillon last night has turned your head. Take my advice, however–an old man’s advice–stick to your dancing. You understand that. Every man has his _forte_–yours is the ballroom.”
Baldassare smiled complaisantly at this allusion to the swiftness of his heels.
“Out of the ballroom,” continued Trenta, eying him with quiet scorn, “I advise caution–great caution. Out of the ballroom you are capable of any imbecility.”
“Cavaliere!” cried Baldassare, turning very red and looking at him reproachfully.
“You have deserved this reproof, young man,” said the marchesa, harshly. “Learn your place in addressing the Count Marescotti.”
That the son of a shopkeeper should presume to dispute in her presence with a Roman noble, was a thing so unsuitable that, even in her own house, she must put it down authoritatively. She had never liked Baldassare–never wanted to receive him, now she resolved never to see