STORIES BY ENGLISH AUTHORS: ITALY By Various
Part 2 out of 3
"Oh, I am seventeen!" said Goneril.
They all laughed, and seemed at ease again.
"Yes, yes; she is very young," said the signorino.
But a little shadow had fallen across their placid entertainment: the
spirit had left their memories; they seemed to have grown shapeless,
dusty, as the fresh and comely faces of dead Etruscan kings crumble
into mould at the touch of the pitiless sunshine.
"Signorino," said Madame Petrucci, presently, "if you will accompany
me we will perform one of your charming melodies."
Signor Graziano rose a little stiffly and led the pretty, withered
little diva to the piano.
Goneril looked on, wondering, admiring. The signorino's thin white
hands made a delicate, fluent melody, reminding her of running water
under the rippled shade of trees, and, like a high, sweet bird, the
thin, penetrating notes of the singer rose, swelled, and died away,
admirably true and just even in this latter weakness. At the end
Signor Graziano stopped his playing to give time for an elaborate
cadenza. Suddenly Madame Petrucci gasped; a sharp discordant sound
cracked the delicate finish of her singing. She put her handkerchief
to her mouth.
"Bah!" she said, "this evening I am abominably husky."
The tears rose to Goneril's eyes. Was it so hard to grow old? This
doubt made her voice loudest of all in the chorus of mutual praise and
thanks which covered the song's abrupt finale.
And then there came a terrible ordeal. Miss Prunty, anxious to divert
the current of her friend's ideas, had suggested that the girl should
sing. Signor Graziano and madame insisted; they would take no refusal.
"Sing, sing, little bird!" cried the old lady.
"But, madame, how can one--after you?"
The homage in the young girl's voice made the little diva more good-
humouredly insistent than before, and Goneril was too well-bred to
make a fuss. She stood by the piano wondering which to choose, the
Handels that she always drawled or the Pinsuti that she always
galloped. Suddenly she came by an inspiration.
"Madame," she pleaded, "may I sing one of Angiolino's songs?"
"Whatever you like, /cara mia/."
And, standing by the piano, her arms hanging loose, she began a chant
such as the peasants use working under the olives. Her voice was small
and deep, with a peculiar thick sweetness that suited the song, half
humourous, half pathetic. These were the words she sang:
"Vorrei morir di morte piccinina,
Morta la sera e viva la mattina.
Vorrei morire, e non vorrei morire,
Vorrei veder chi mi piange e chi ride;
Vorrei morir, e star sulle finestre,
Vorrei veder chi mi cuce la veste;
Vorrei morir, e stare sulla scala,
Vorrei veder chi mi porta la bara:
Vorrei morir, e vorre' alzar la voce,
Vorrei veder chi mi porta la croce."
"Very well chosen, my dear," said Miss Prunty, when the song was
"And very well sung, my Gonerilla!" cried the old lady.
But the signorino went up to the piano and shook hands with her.
"Little Mees Goneril," he said, "you have the makings of an artist."
The two old ladies stared, for, after all, Goneril's performance had
been very simple. You see, they were better versed in music than in
SI VIEILLESSE POUVAIT!
Signor Graziano's usual week of holiday passed and lengthened into
almost two months, and still he stayed on at the villa. The two old
ladies were highly delighted.
"At last he has taken my advice!" cried Miss Prunty. "I always told
him those premature gray hairs came from late hours and Roman air."
Madame Petrucci shook her head and gave a meaning smile. Her
friendship with the signorino had begun when he was a lad and she a
charming married woman; like many another friendship, it had begun
with a flirtation, and perhaps (who knows?) she thought the flirtation
As for Goneril, she considered him the most charming old man she had
ever known, and liked nothing so much as to go out a walk with him.
That, indeed, was one of the signorino's pleasures; he loved to take
the young girl all over his gardens and vineyards, talking to her in
the amiable, half-petting, half-mocking manner that he had adopted
from the first; and twice a week he gave her a music lesson.
"She has a splendid organ!" he would say.
"/Vous croyez/?" fluted Madame Petrucci, with the vilest accent and
the most aggravating smile imaginable.
It was the one hobby of the signorino's that she regarded with
Goneril too was a little bored by the music lesson, but, on the other
hand, the walks delighted her.
One day Goneril was out with her friend.
"Are the peasants very much afraid of you, signore?" she asked.
"Am I such a tyrant?" counter-questioned the signorino.
"No; but they are always begging me to ask you things. Angiolino wants
to know if he may go for three days to see his uncle at Fiesole."
"But why, then, don't they ask you themselves? Is it they think me so
"Perhaps they think I can refuse you nothing."
"/Che!/ In that case they would ask Madame Petrucci."
Goneril ran on to pick some China roses. The signorino stopped
"It is impossible!" he cried. "She cannot think I am in love with
Giulia! She cannot think I am so old as that!"
The idea seemed horrible to him. He walked on very quickly till he
came up to Goneril, who was busy plucking roses in a hedge.
"For whom are those flowers?" he asked.
"Some are for you and some are for Madame Petrucci."
"She is a charming woman, Madame Petrucci."
"A dear old lady," murmured Goneril, much more interested in her posy.
"Old, do you call her?" said the signorino, rather anxiously. "I
should scarcely call her that, though of course she is a good deal
older than either of us."
"Either of us!" Goneril looked up astounded. Could the signorino have
suddenly gone mad?
He blushed a little under his brown skin that had reminded her of a
"She is a good ten years older than I am," he explained.
"Ah, well, ten years isn't much."
"You don't think so?" he cried, delighted. Who knows? she might not
think even thirty too much.
"Not at that age," said Goneril, blandly.
Signor Graziano could think of no reply.
But from that day one might have dated a certain assumption of
youthfulness in his manners. At cards it was always the signorino and
Goneril against the two elder ladies; in his conversation, too, it was
to the young girl that he constantly appealed, as if she were his
natural companion--she, and not his friends of thirty years. Madame
Petrucci, always serene and kind, took no notice of these little
changes, but they were particularly irritating to Miss Prunty, who
was, after all, only four years older than the signorino.
That lady had, indeed, become more than usually sharp and foreboding.
She received the signorino's gay effusions in ominous silence, and
would frown darkly while Madame Petrucci petted her "little bird," as
she called Goneril. Once, indeed, Miss Prunty was heard to remark that
it was tempting Providence to have dealings with a creature whose very
name was a synonym for ingratitude. But the elder lady only smiled and
declared that her Gonerilla was charming, delicious, a real sunshine
in the house.
"Now I call on you to support me, signorino," she cried one evening,
when the three elders sat together in the room, while Goneril watered
the roses on the terrace. "Is not my Gonerilla a charming little
Signor Graziano withdrew his eyes from the window.
"Most charming, certainly, but scarcely such a child. She is
seventeen, you know, my dear signora."
"Seventeen! /Santo Dio!/ And what is one at seventeen but an innocent,
playful, charming little kitten?"
"You are always right, madame," agreed the signorino, but he looked as
if he thought she were very wrong.
"Of course I am right," laughed the little lady. "Come here, my
Gonerilla, and hold my skein for me. Signor Graziano is going to charm
us with one of his delightful airs."
"I hoped she would sing," faltered the signorino.
"Who? Gonerilla? Nonsense, my friend. She winds silk much better than
Goneril laughed; she was not at all offended. But Signor Graziano made
several mistakes in his playing. At last he left the piano. "I cannot
play to-night," he cried. "I am not in the humour. Goneril, will you
come and walk with me on the terrace?"
Before the girl could reply Miss Prunty had darted an angry glance at
"Good Lord, what fools men are!" she ejaculated. "And do you think,
now, I'm going to let that girl, who's just getting rid of her
malaria, go star-gazing with any old idiot while all the mists are
curling out of the valleys?"
"Brigida, my love, you forget yourself," said Madame Petrucci.
"Bah!" cried the signorino. He was evidently out of temper.
The little lady hastened to smooth the troubled waters. "Talking of
malaria," she began, in her serenest manner, "I always remember what
my dearest Madame Lilli told me. It was at one of Prince Teano's
concerts. You remember, signorino?"
"/Che!/ How should I remember?" he exclaimed. "It was a lifetime ago,
dead and forgotten."
The old lady shrank, as if a glass of water had been rudely thrown in
her face. She said nothing, staring blindly.
"Go to bed, Goneril!" cried Miss Prunty, in a voice of thunder.
BIRDS OF A FEATHER
A few mornings after these events the postman brought a letter for
Goneril. This was such a rare occurrence that she blushed rose red at
the very sight of it and had to walk up and down the terrace several
times before she felt calm enough to read it. Then she went upstairs
and knocked at the door of Madame Petrucci's room."
"Come in, little bird."
The old lady, in pink merino and curl-papers, opened the door. Goneril
held up her letter.
"My cousin Jack is coming to Florence, and he is going to walk over to
see me this afternoon. And may he stay to dinner, /cara/ signora?"
"Why, of course, Gonerilla. I am charmed!"
Goneril kissed the old lady, and danced downstairs brimming over with
Later in the morning Signor Graziano called.
"Will you come out with me, Mees Goneril?" he said. "On my land the
earliest vintage begins to-day."
"Oh, how nice!" she cried.
"Come, then," said the signorino, smiling.
"Oh, I can't come to-day, because of Jack."
"My cousin; he may come at any time."
"Your cousin!" The signorino frowned a little. "Ah, you English," he
said, "you consider all your cousins brothers and sisters!"
"Is it not so?" he asked, a little anxiously.
"Jack is much nicer than my brothers," said the young girl.
"And who is he, this Jack?"
"He's a dear boy," said Goneril, "and very clever; he is going home
for the Indian civil-service exam; he has been out to Calcutta to see
The signorino did not pay any attention to the latter part of this
description, but he appeared to find the beginning very satisfactory.
"So he is only a boy," he muttered to himself, and went away
Goneril spent most of the day watching the road from Florence. She
might not walk on the highway, but a steep short cut that joined the
main road at the bottom of the hill was quite at her disposal. She
walked up and down for more than an hour. At last she saw some one on
the Florence road. She walked on quickly. It was the telegraph-boy.
She tore open the envelope and read: "Venice.--Exam. on Wednesday.
Start at once. /Arivederci/."
It was with very red eyes that Goneril went in to dinner.
"So the cousin hasn't come?" said Miss Prunty, kindly.
"No; he had to go home at once for his examination."
"I dare say he'll come over again soon, my dear," said that
discriminating lady. She had quite taken Goneril back into her good
They all sat together in the little parlor after dinner. At eight
o'clock the door-bell rang. It was now seven weeks since Goneril had
blushed with excitement when first she heard that ring, and now she
did not blush.
The signorino entered. He walked very straight and his lips were set.
He came in with the air of one prepared to encounter opposition.
"Mees Goneril," he said, "will you come out on the terrace?--before it
is too late," he added, with a savage glance at Miss Prunty.
"Yes," said Goneril; and they went out together.
"So the cousin did not come?" said the signorino.
They went on a little way in silence together. The night was moon-lit
and clear; not a wind stirred the leaves; the sky was like a sapphire,
containing but not shedding light. The late oleanders smelled very
sweet; the moon was so full that one could distinguish the peculiar
grayish-pink of the blossoms.
"It is a lovely night!" said Goneril.
"And a lovely place."
Then a bird sang.
"You have been here just eight weeks," said the signorino.
"I have been very happy."
He did not speak for a minute or two, and then he said:
"Would you like to live here always?"
"Ah, yes! but that is impossible."
He took her hand and turned her gently, so that her face was in the
"Dear Mees Goneril, why is it impossible?"
For a moment the young girl did not answer. She blushed very red, and
"Because of Jack!" she said.
"Nothing is settled," added the young girl, "but it is no use
pretending not to know."
"It is no use," he repeated, very sadly.
And then for a little while they listened to the bird.
"Mees Goneril," said the signorino at last, "do you know why I brought
you out here?"
"Not at all," she answered.
It was a minute before he spoke again.
"I am going to Rome to-morrow," he said, "and I wanted to bid you
good-bye. You will sing to me to-night, as it will be the last time?"
"Oh, I hope not the last time!"
"Yes, yes," he said, a little testily; "unless--and I pray it may not
be so--unless you ever need the help of an old friend."
"Dear Signor Graziano!"
"And now you will sing me my 'Nobil Amore'?"
"I will do anything you like."
The signorino sighed and looked at her for a minute. Then he led her
into the little parlour, where Madame Petrucci was singing shrilly in
THE BRIGAND'S BRIDE:
A TALE OF SOUTHERN ITALY
The Italian peninsula during the years 1859, 1860, and 1861 offered a
particularly tempting field for adventure to ardent spirits in search
of excitement; and, attracted partly by my sympathy with the popular
movement, and partly by that simple desire, which gives so much zest
to the life of youth, of risking it on all possible occasions, I had
taken an active part, chiefly as an officious spectator, in all the
principal events of those stirring years. It was in the spring of 1862
that I found matters beginning to settle down to a degree that
threatened monotony; and with the termination of the winter gaieties
at Naples and the close of the San Carlo, I seriously bethought me of
accepting the offer of a naval friend who was about to engage in
blockade-running, and offered to land me in the Confederate States,
when a recrudescence of activity on the part of the brigand bands in
Calabria induced me to turn my attention in that direction. The first
question I had to consider was, whether I should enjoy myself most by
joining the brigands, or the troops which were engaged in suppressing
them. As the former aspired to a political character, and called
themselves patriotic bands fighting for their church, their country,
and their king,--the refugee monarch of Naples,--one could espouse
their cause without exactly laying one's self open to the charge of
being a bandit; but it was notorious in point of fact that the bands
cared for neither the pope nor the exiled king nor their annexed
country, but committed the most abominable atrocities in the names of
all the three, for the simple purpose of filling their pockets. I
foresaw not only extreme difficulty in being accepted as a member of
the fraternity, more especially as I had hitherto been identified with
the Garibaldians, but also the probability of finding myself
compromised by acts from which my conscience would revolt, and for
which my life would in all likelihood pay the forfeit. On the other
hand, I could think of no friend among the officers of the bersaglieri
and cavalry regiments then engaged in brigand-hunting in the
Capitanata and Basilicata to whom I could apply for an invitation to
Under these circumstances I determined to trust to the chapter of
accidents; and, armed with a knapsack, a sketch-book, and an air-gun,
took my seat one morning in the Foggia diligence, with the vague idea
of getting as near the scene of operations as possible, and seeing
what would turn up. The air-gun was not so much a weapon of offence or
defence as a means of introduction to the inhabitants. It had the
innocent appearance of rather a thick walking-cane, with a little
brass trigger projecting; and in the afternoon I would join the group
sitting in front of the chemist's, which, for some reason or other, is
generally a sort of open-air club in a small Neapolitan town, or
stroll into the single modest cafe of which it might possibly boast,
and toy abstractedly with the trigger. This, together with my personal
appearance,--for do what I would I could never make myself look like a
Neapolitan,--would be certain to attract attention, and some one
bolder than the rest would make himself the spokesman, and politely
ask me whether the cane in my hand was an umbrella or a fishing-rod;
on which I would amiably reply that it was a gun, and that I should
have much pleasure in exhibiting my skill and the method of its
operation to the assembled company. Then the whole party would follow
me to an open space, and I would call for a pack of cards, and
possibly--for I was a good shot in those days--pink the ace of hearts
at fifteen paces. At any rate, my performances usually called forth
plaudits, and this involved a further interchange of compliments and
explanations, and the production of my sketch-book, which soon
procured me the acquaintance of some ladies, and an invitation as an
English artist to the house of some respectable citizen.
So it happened that, getting out of the diligence before it reached
Foggia, I struck south, and wandered for some days from one little
town to another, being always hospitably entertained, whether there
happened to be an /albergo/ or not, at private houses, seeing in this
way more of the manners and customs of the inhabitants than would have
been otherwise possible, gaining much information as to the haunts of
the brigands, the whereabouts of the troops, and hearing much local
gossip generally. The ignorance of the most respectable classes at
this period was astounding; it has doubtless all changed since. I have
been at a town of two thousand inhabitants, not one of whom took in a
newspaper; the whole population, therefore, was in as profound
ignorance of what was transpiring in the rest of the world as if they
had been in Novaia Zemlia. I have stayed with a mayor who did not know
that England was an island; I have been the guest of a citizen who had
never heard of Scotland, and to whom, therefore, my nationality was an
enigma; but I never met any one--I mean of this same class--who had
not heard of Palmerston. He was a mysterious personage, execrated by
the "blacks" and adored by the "reds." And I shone with a reflected
lustre as the citizen of a country of which he was the Prime Minister.
As a consequence, we had political discussions, which were protracted
far into the night; for the principal meal of the twenty-four hours
was a 10-o'clock-P.M. supper, at which, after the inevitable macaroni,
were many unwholesome dishes, such as salads made of thistles, cows'
udders, and other delicacies, which deprived one of all desire for
sleep. Notwithstanding which, we rose early, my hostess and the ladies
of the establishment appearing in the early part of the day in the
most extreme deshabille. Indeed, on one occasion when I was first
introduced into the family of a respectable citizen and shown into my
bedroom, I mistook one of the two females who were making the bed for
the servant, and was surprised to see her hand a little douceur I gave
her as an earnest of attention on her part to the other, with a smile.
She soon afterward went to bed: we all did, from 11 A.M. till about 3
P.M., at which hour I was horrified to meet her arrayed in silks and
satins, and to find that she was the wife of my host. She kindly took
me a drive with her in a carriage and pair, and with a coachman in
It was by this simple means, and by thus imposing myself upon the
hospitality of these unsophisticated people, that I worked my way, by
slow degrees, chiefly on foot, into the part of the country I desired
to visit; and I trust that I in a measure repaid them for it by the
stores of information which I imparted to them, and of which they
stood much in need, and by little sketches of their homes and the
surrounding scenery, with which I presented them. I was, indeed,
dependent in some measure for hospitality of this description, as I
had taken no money with me, partly because, to tell the truth, I had
scarcely got any, and partly because I was afraid of being robbed by
brigands of the little I had. I therefore eschewed the character of a
/milordo Inglese/; but I never succeeded in dispelling all suspicion
that I might not be a nephew of the Queen, or at least a very near
relative of Palmerston in disguise. It was so natural, seeing what a
deep interest both her Majesty and the Prime Minister took in Italy,
that they should send some one incognito whom they could trust to tell
them all about it.
Meantime, I was not surprised, when I came to know the disposition of
the inhabitants, at the success of brigandage. It has never been my
fortune before or since to live among such a timid population. One day
at a large town a leading landed proprietor received notice that if he
did not pay a certain sum in blackmail,--I forget at this distance of
time the exact amount,--his farm or /masseria/ would be robbed. This
farm, which was in fact a handsome country house, was distant about
ten miles from the town. He therefore made an appeal to the citizens
that they should arm themselves and help him to defend his property,
as he had determined not to pay, and had taken steps to be informed as
to the exact date when the attack was to be made in default of
payment. More than three hundred citizens enrolled themselves as
willing to turn out in arms. On the day preceding the attack by the
brigands, a rendezvous was given to these three hundred on the great
square for five in the morning, and thither I accordingly repaired,
unable, however, to induce my host to accompany me, although he had
signed as a volunteer. On reaching the rendezvous, I found the landed
proprietor and a friend who was living with him, and about ten minutes
afterward two other volunteers strolled up. Five was all we could
muster out of three hundred. It was manifestly useless to attempt
anything with so small a force, and no arguments could induce any of
the others to turn out; so the unhappy gentleman had the satisfaction
of knowing that the brigands had punctually pillaged his place,
carrying off all his live stock on the very day and at the very hour
they said they would. As for the inhabitants venturing any distance
from town, except under military escort, such a thing was unknown, and
all communication with Naples was for some time virtually intercepted.
I was regarded as a sort of monomaniac of recklessness because I
ventured on a solitary walk of a mile or two in search of a sketch--an
act of no great audacity on my part, for I had walked through various
parts of the country without seeing a brigand, and found it difficult
to realise that there was any actual danger in strolling a mile from a
moderately large town.
Emboldened by impunity, I was tempted one day to follow up a most
romantic glen in search of a sketch, when I came upon a remarkably
handsome peasant girl, driving a donkey before her loaded with wood.
My sudden appearance on the narrow path made the animal shy against a
projecting piece of rock, off which he rebounded to the edge of the
path, which, giving way, precipitated him and his load down the
ravine. He was brought up unhurt against a bush some twenty feet
below, the fagots of wood being scattered in his descent in all
directions. For a moment the girl's large, fierce eyes flashed upon me
with anger; but the impetuosity with which I went headlong after the
donkey, with a view of repairing my error, and the absurd attempts I
made to reverse the position of his feet, which were in the air,
converted her indignation into a hearty fit of laughter, as, seeing
that the animal was apparently uninjured, she scrambled down to my
assistance. By our united efforts we at last succeeded in hoisting the
donkey up to the path, and then I collected the wood and helped her to
load it again--an operation which involved a frequent meeting of hands
and of the eyes, which had now lost the ferocity that had startled me
at first, and seemed getting more soft and beaming every time I
glanced at them, till at last, producing my sketch-book, I ventured to
remark, "Ah, signorina, what a picture you would make! Now that the
ass is loaded, let me draw you before we part, that I may carry away
the recollection of the loveliest woman I have seen."
"First draw the donkey," she replied, "that I may carry away a
recollection of the /galantuomo/ who first upset him over the bank,
and then helped me to load him."
Smiling at this ambiguous compliment, I gave her the sketch she
desired, and was about to claim my reward, when she abruptly remarked:
"There is not time now; it is getting late, and I must not linger, as
I have still an hour to go before reaching home. How is it that you
are not afraid to be wandering in this solitary glen by yourself? Do
you not know the risks?"
"I have heard of them, but I do not believe in them," I said;
"besides, I should be poor plunder for robbers."
"But you have friends, who would pay to ransom you, I suppose, if you
"My life is not worth a hundred scudi to any of them," I replied,
laughing; "but I am willing to forego the please of drawing you now,
/bellissima/, if you will tell me where you live, and let me come and
paint you there at my leisure."
"You're a brave one," she said, with a little laugh; "there is not
another man in all Ascoli who would dare to pay me a visit without an
escort of twenty soldiers. But I am too grateful for your amiability
to let you run such a risk. /Addio/, Signor Inglese. There are many
reasons why I can't let you draw my picture, but I am not ungrateful,
see!"--and she offered me her cheek, on which I instantly imprinted a
chaste and fraternal salute.
"Don't think that you've seen the last of me, /carrissima/," I called
out, as she turned away. "I shall live on the memory of that kiss till
I have an opportunity of repeating it."
And as I watched her retreating figure with an artist's eye, I was
struck with its grace and suppleness, combined, as I had observed
while she was helping me to lead the donkey, with an unusual degree of
muscular strength for a woman.
The spot at which this episode had taken place was so romantic that I
determined to make a sketch of it, and the shades of evening were
closing in so fast that they warned me to hurry if I would reach the
town before dark. I had just finished it and was stooping to pick up
by air-gun, when I heard a sudden rush, and before I had time to look
up I was thrown violently forward on my face, and found myself
struggling in the embrace of a powerful grasp, from which I had nearly
succeeded in freeing myself, when the arms which were clasping me were
reinforced by several more pairs, and I felt a rope being passed round
"All right, signors!" I exclaimed. "I yield to superior numbers. You
need not pull so hard; let me get up, and I promise to go with you
quietly." And by this time I had turned sufficiently on my back to see
that four men were engaged in tying me up.
"Tie his elbows together and let him get up," said one; "he is not
armed. Here, Giuseppe, carry his stick and paint-box while I feel his
pockets. /Corpo di Baccho!/ twelve bajocchi," he exclaimed, producing
those copper coins with an air of profound disgust. "It is to be hoped
he is worth more to his friends. Now, young man, trudge, and remember
that the first sign you make of attempting to run away means four
bullets through you."
As I did not anticipate any real danger, and as a prolonged detention
was a matter of no consequence to a man without an occupation, I
stepped forward with a light heart, rather pleased than otherwise with
anticipations of the brigand's cave, and turning over in my mind
whether or not I should propose to join the band.
We had walked an hour and it had become dark, when we turned off the
road, up a narrow path that led between rocky sides to a glade, at the
extremity of which, under an overhanging ledge, was a small cottage,
with what seemed to be a patch of garden in front.
"Ho! Anita!" called out the man who appeared to be the leader of the
band; "open! We have brought a friend to supper, who will require a
An old woman with a light appeared, and over her shoulder, to my
delight, I saw the face I had asked to be allowed to paint so shortly
before. I was about to recognise her with an exclamation, when I saw a
hurried motion of her finger to her lip, which looked a natural
gesture to the casual observer, but which I construed into a sign of
"Where did you pick him up, Croppo?" she asked, carelessly. "He ought
to be worth something."
"Just twelve bajocchi," he answered, with a sneering laugh. "Come,
/amico mio/, you will have to give us the names of some of your
"I am tolerably intimate with his Holiness the Pope, and I have a
bowing acquaintance with the King of Naples, whom may God speedily
restore to his own," I replied, in a light and airy fashion, which
seemed exceedingly to exasperate the man called Croppo.
"Oh, yes, we know all about that; we never catch a man who does not
profess to be a Nero of the deepest dye in order to conciliate our
sympathies. It is just as well that you should understand, my friend,
that all are fish who come into our net. The money of the pope's
friends is quite as good as the money of Garibaldi's. You need not
hope to put us off with your Italian friends of any colour; what we
want is English gold--good, solid English gold, and plenty of it."
"Ah," said I, with a laugh, "if you did but know, my friend, how long
I have wanted it too! If you could only suggest an Englishman who
would pay you for my life, I would write to him immediately, and we
would go halves in the ransom. Hold!" I said, a bright idea suddenly
striking me. "Suppose I were to write to my government--how would that
Croppo was evidently puzzled; my cheerful and unembarrassed manner
apparently perplexed him. He had a suspicion that I was even capable
of the audacity of making a fool of him, and yet that proposition
about the government rather staggered him; there might be something in
"Don't you think," he remarked, grimly, "it would add to the effect of
your communication if you were to enclose your own ears in your
letter? I can easily supply them; and if you are not a little more
guarded in your speech you may possibly have to add your tongue."
"It would not have the slightest effect," I replied, paying no heed to
his threat; "you don't know Palmerston as I do. If you wish to get
anything out of him you must be excessively civil. What does he care
about my ears?" And I laughed with such scornful contempt that Croppo
this time felt that he had made a fool of himself, and I observed the
lovely girl behind, while the corners of her mouth twitched with
suppressed laughter, make a sign of caution.
"/Per Dio!/" he exclaimed, jumping up with fury. "Understand, Signor
Inglese, that Croppo is not to be trifled with. I have a summary way
of treating disrespect," and he drew a long and exceedingly sharp-
looking two-edged knife.
"So you would kill the goose" ("and I certainly am a goose," I
reflected) "that may lay a golden egg." But my allusion was lost upon
him, and I saw my charmer touch her forehead significantly, as though
to imply to Croppo that I was weak in the upper story.
"An imbecile without friends and twelve bajocchi in his pocket," he
muttered, savagely. "Perhaps the night without food will restore his
senses. Come, fool!" and he roughly pushed me into a dark little
chamber adjoining. "Here, Valeria, hold the light."
So Valeria was the name of the heroine of the donkey episode. As she
held a small oil-lamp aloft I perceived that the room in which I was
to spend the night had more the appearance of a cellar than a chamber;
it had been excavated on two sides from the bank; on the third there
was a small hole about six inches square, apparently communicating
with another room, and on the fourth was the door by which I had
entered, and which opened into the kitchen and general living-room of
the inhabitants. There was a heap of onions running to seed, the
fagots of fire-wood which Valeria had brought that afternoon, and an
old cask or two.
"Won't you give him some kind of a bed?" she asked Croppo.
"Bah! he can sleep on the onions," responded that worthy. "If he had
been more civil and intelligent he should have had something to eat.
You three," he went on, turning to the other men, "sleep in the
kitchen, and watch that the prisoner does not escape. The door has a
strong bolt besides. Come, Valeria."
And the pair disappeared, leaving me in a dense gloom, strongly
pervaded by an ordour of fungus and decaying onions. Groping into one
of the casks, I found some straw, and spreading it on a piece of
plank, I prepared to pass the night sitting with my back to the driest
piece of wall I could find, which happened to be immediately under the
air-hole--a fortunate circumstance, as the closeness was often
stifling. I had probably been dozing for some time in a sitting
position, when I felt something tickle the top of my head. The idea
that it might be a large spider caused me to start, when, stretching
up my hand, it came in contact with what seemed to be a rag, which I
had not observed. Getting carefully up, I perceived a faint light
gleaming through the aperture, and then saw that a hand was protruded
through it, apparently waving the rag. As I felt instinctively that
the hand was Valeria's, I seized the finger-tips, which was all I
could get hold of, and pressed them to my lips. They were quickly
drawn away, and then the whisper reached my ears:
"Are you hungry?"
"Then eat this," and she passed me a tin pannikin full of cold
macaroni, which would just go through the opening.
"Dear Valeria," I said, with my mouth full, "how good and thoughtful
"Hush! he'll hear."
"Where is he?"
"Asleep in the bed just behind me."
"How do you come to be in his bedroom?"
"Because I'm his wife."
"Oh!" A long pause, during which I collapsed upon my straw seat, and
swallowed macaroni thoughtfully. As the result of my meditations,
"Can't you get me out of this infernal den?"
"Perhaps, if they all three sleep in the kitchen; at present one is
awake. Watch for my signal, and if they all three sleep I will manage
to slip the bolt. Then you must give me time to get back into bed, and
when you hear me snore you may make the attempt. They are all three
sleeping on the floor, so be very careful where you tread; I will also
leave the front door a little open, so that you can slip through
"Hand me that cane--it is my fishing-rod, you know--through this hole;
you can leave the sketch-book and paint-box under the tree that the
donkey fell against; I will call for them some day soon. And, Valeria,
don't you think we could make our lips meet through this beastly
"Impossible. There's my hand; heavens! Croppo would murder me if he
knew. Now keep quiet till I give the signal. Oh, do let go my hand!"
"Remember, Valeria, /bellissima, carissima/, whatever happens, that I
But I don't think she heard this, and I went and sat on the onions,
because I could see the hole better and the smell of them kept me
It was at least two hours after this that the faint light appeared at
the hole in the wall and a hand was pushed through. I rushed at the
"Here's your fishing-rod," she said, when I had released them and she
had passed me my air-gun. "Now be very careful how you tread. There is
one asleep across the door, but you can open it about two feet. Then
step over him; then make for a gleam of moonlight that comes through
the crack of the front door, open it very gently, and slip out.
/Addio, caro Inglese/; mind you wait till you hear me snoring."
Then she lingered, and I heard a sigh.
"What is it, sweet Valeria?" and I covered her hand with kisses.
"I wish Croppo had blue eyes like you."
This was murmured so softly that I may have been mistaken, but I'm
nearly sure that was what she said; then she drew softly away, and two
minutes afterward I heard her snoring. As the first sound issued from
her lovely nostrils I stealthily approached the door, gently pushed it
open, stealthily stepped over a space which I trusted cleared the
recumbent figure that I could not see, cleared him, stole gently on
for the streak of moonlight, trod squarely on something that seemed
like an outstretched hand, for it gave under my pressure and produced
a yell, felt that I must now rush for my life, dashed the door open,
and down the path with four yelling ruffians at my heels. I was a
pretty good runner, but the moon was behind a cloud and the way was
rocky; moreover, there must have been a short cut I did not know, for
one of my pursuers gained upon me with unaccountable rapidity--he
appeared suddenly within ten yards of my heels. The others were at
least a hundred yards behind. I had nothing for it but to turn round,
let him almost run against the muzzle of my air-gun, pull the trigger,
and see him fall in his tracks. It was the work of a second, but it
checked my pursuers. They had heard no noise, but they found something
that they did not bargain for, and lingered a moment; then, they took
up the chase with redoubled fury. But I had too good a start; and
where the path joined the main road, instead of turning down toward
the town as they expected I would, I dodged round in the opposite
direction, the uncertain light this time favouring me, and I heard
their footsteps and their curses dying away on the wrong track.
Nevertheless I ran on at full speed, and it was not till the day was
dawning that I began to feel safe and relax my efforts. The sun had
been up an hour when I reached a small town, and the little /locanda/
was just opening for the day when I entered it, thankful for a hot cup
of coffee and a dirty little room, with a dirtier bed, where I could
sleep off the fatigue and excitement of the night. I was strolling
down almost the only street in the afternoon when I met a couple of
carabineers riding into it, and shortly after encountered the whole
troop, to my great delight in command of an intimate friend whom I had
left a month before in Naples.
"Ah, /caro mio/," he exclaimed, when he saw me, "well met! What on
earth are you doing here? Looking for those brigands you were so
anxious to find when you left Naples? Considering that you are in the
heart of their country, you should not have much difficulty in
gratifying your curiosity."
"I have had an adventure or two," I replied, carelessly. "Indeed, that
is partly the reason you find me here. I was just thinking how I could
get safely back to Ascoli, when your welcome escort appeared; for I
suppose you are going there and will let me take advantage of it."
"Only too delighted; and you can tell me your adventures. Let us dine
together to-night, and I will find you a horse to ride on with us in
I am afraid my account of the episode with which I have acquainted the
reader was not strictly accurate in all its details, as I did not wish
to bring down my military friends on poor Valeria; so I skipped all
allusion to her and my detention in her home, merely saying that I had
had a scuffle with brigands and had been fortunate enough to escape
under cover of the night. As we passed it next morning I recognised
the path which led up to Valeria's cottage, and shortly after observed
that young woman herself coming up the glen.
"Holloa!" I said, with great presence of mind, as she drew near, "my
lovely model, I declare! Just you ride on, old fellow, while I stop
and ask her when she can come and sit to me again."
"You artists are sad rogues; what chances your profession must give
you!" remarked my companion, as he cast an admiring glance on Valeria
and rode discreetly on.
"There is nothing to be afraid of, lovely Valeria," I said, in a low
tone, as I lingered behind; "be sure I will never betray either your
or your rascally--hem! I mean your excellent Croppo. By the by, was
that man much hurt that I was obliged to trip up?"
"Hurt! Santa Maria! he is dead, with a bullet through his heart.
Croppo says it must have been magic, for he had searched you and he
knew you were not armed, and he was within a hundred yards of you when
poor Pippo fell, and he heard no sound."
"Croppo is not far wrong," I said, glad of the opportunity thus
offered of imposing on the ignorance and credulity of the natives. "He
seemed surprised that he could not frighten me the other night. Tell
him he was much more in my power than I was in his, dear Valeria," I
added, looking tenderly into his eyes. "I didn't want to alarm you;
that was the reason I let him off so easily; but I may not be so
merciful next time. Now, sweetest, that kiss you owe me, and which the
wall prevented your giving me the other night." She held up her face
with the innocence of a child as I stooped from my saddle.
"I shall never see you again, Signor Inglese," she said, with a sigh;
"for Croppo says it is not safe, after what happened the night before
last, to stay another hour. Indeed, he went off yesterday, leaving me
orders to follow to-day; but I went first to put your sketch-book
under the bush where the donkey fell, and where you will find it."
It took us another minute or two to part after this; and when I had
ridden away I turned to look back, and there was Valeria gazing after
me. "Positively," I reflected, "I am over head and ears in love with
the girl, and I believe she is with me. I ought to have nipped my
feelings in the bud when she told me she was his wife; but then he is
a brigand, who threatened both my ears and my tongue, to say nothing
of my life. To what extent is the domestic happiness of such a ruffian
to be respected?" And I went on splitting the moral straws suggested
by this train of thought until I had recovered my sketch-book and
overtaken my escort, with whom I rode triumphantly back into Ascoli,
where my absence had been the cause of much anxiety and my fate was
even then being eagerly discussed. My friends with whom I usually sat
round the chemist's door were much exercised by the reserve which I
manifested in reply to the fire of cross-examination to which I was
subjected for the next few days; and English eccentricity, which was
proverbial even in this secluded town, received a fresh illustration
in the light and airy manner with which I treated a capture and escape
from brigands, which I regarded with such indifference that I could
not be induced even to condescend to details. "It was a mere scuffle;
there were only four; and, being an Englishman, I polished them all
off with the 'box,' " and I closed my fist and struck a scientific
attitude of self-defence, branching off into a learned disquisition on
the pugilistic art, which filled my hearers with respect and
amazement. From this time forward the sentiment with which I regarded
my air-gun underwent a change. When a friend had made me a present of
it a year before I regarded it in the light of a toy and rather
resented the gift as too juvenile. "I wonder he did not give me a kite
or a hoop," I mentally reflected. Then I had found it useful among
Italians, who are a trifling people and like playthings; but now that
it had saved my life and sent a bullet through a man's heart, I no
longer entertained the same feeling of contempt for it. Not again
would I make light of it--this potent engine of destruction which had
procured me the character of being a magician. I would hide it from
human gaze and cherish it as a sort of fetich. So I bought a walking-
stick and an umbrella, and strapped it up with them, wrapped in my
plaid; and when, shortly after, an unexpected remittance from an aunt
supplied me with money enough to buy a horse from one of the officers
of my friend's regiment, which soon after arrived, and I accepted
their invitation to accompany them on their brigand-hunting
expeditions, not one of them knew that I had such a weapon as an air-
gun in my possession.
Our /modus operandi/ on these occasions was as follows: On receiving
information from some proprietor that the brigands were threatening
his property,--it was impossible to get intelligence from the
peasantry, for they were all in league with the brigands; indeed, they
all took a holiday from regular work and joined a band for a few weeks
from time to time,--we proceeded, with a force sufficiently strong to
cope with the supposed strength of the band, to the farm in question.
The bands were all mounted, and averaged from 200 to 400 men each. It
was calculated that upward of 2000 men were thus engaged in harrying
the country, and this enabled the Neri to talk of the king's forces
engaged in legitimate warfare against those of Victor Emmanuel. Riding
over the vast plains of Capitanata, we would discern against the sky
outline the figure of a solitary horseman. This we knew to be a
picket. Then there was no time to be lost, and away we would go for
him helter-skelter across the plain; he would instantly gallop in on
the main body, probably occupying a /masseria/. If they thought they
were strong enough they would show fight. If not they would take to
their heels in the direction of the mountains, with us in full cry
after them. If they were hardly pressed they would scatter, and we
were obliged to do the same, and the result would be that the swiftest
horsemen might possibly effect a few captures. It was an exciting
species of warfare, partaking a good deal more of the character of a
hunting-field than of cavalry skirmishing. Sometimes, where the ground
was hilly, we had bersaglieri with us, and as the brigands took to the
mountains the warfare assumed a different character. Sometimes, in
default of these active little troops, we took local volunteers, whom
we found a very poor substitute. On more than one occasion when we
came upon the brigands in a farm they thought themselves sufficiently
strong to hold it against us, and once the cowardice of the volunteers
was amusingly illustrated. The band was estimated at about 200, and we
had 100 volunteers and a detachment of 50 cavalry. On coming under the
fire of the brigands the cavalry captain, who was in command, ordered
the volunteers to charge, intending when they had dislodged the enemy
to ride him down on the open; but the volunteer officer did not repeat
the word and stood stock-still, his men all imitating his example.
"Charge! I say," shouted the cavalry captain, "why don't you charge? I
believe you're afraid!"
"/E vero/," said the captain of volunteers, shrugging his shoulders.
"Here, take my horse--you're only fit to be a groom; and you, men,
dismount and let these cowards hold your horses, while you follow me."
And, jumping from his horse, the gallant fellow, followed by his men,
charged the building, from which a hot fire was playing upon them,
sword in hand. In less than a quarter of an hour the brigands were
scampering, some on foot and some on horseback, out of the farm
buildings, followed by a few stray and harmless shots from such of the
volunteers as had their hands free. We lost three men killed and five
wounded in this little skirmish, and killed six of the brigands,
besides making a dozen prisoners. When I say "we" I mean my
companions, for, having no weapon, I had discreetly remained with the
volunteers. The scene of this gallant exploit was on the classic
battle-field of Cannae. This captain, who was not the friend I had
joined the day after my brigand adventure, was a most plucky and
dashing cavalry officer, and was well seconded by his men, who were
all Piedmontese and of a very different temperament from the
Neapolitans. On one occasion a band of 250 brigands waited for us on
the top of a small hill, never dreaming that we should charge up it
with the odds five to one against us; but we did, and after firing a
volley at us, which emptied a couple of saddles, they broke and fled
when we were about twenty yards from them. Then began one of the most
exciting scurries across country it was ever my fortune to be engaged
in. The brigands scattered--so did we; and I found myself with two
troopers in chase of a pair of bandits, one of whom seemed to be the
chief of the band. A small stream wound through the plain, which we
dashed across. Just beyond was a tributary ditch, which would have
been considered a fair jump in the hunting-field: both brigands took
it in splendid style. The hindmost was not ten yards ahead of the
leading trooper, who came a cropper; on which the brigand reined up,
fired a pistol-shot into the prostrate horse and man, and was off; but
the delay cost him dear. The other trooper, who was a little ahead of
me, got safely over. I followed suit. In another moment he had fired
his carabine into the brigand's horse, and down they both came by the
run. We instantly reined up, for I saw there was no chance of
overtaking the remaining brigand, and the trooper was in the act of
cutting down the man as he struggled to his feet, when to my horror I
recognised the lovely features of--Valeria.
"Stay, man!" I shouted, throwing myself from my horse. "It's a woman!
touch her if you dare!" And then, seeing the man's eye gleam with
indignation, I added, "Brave soldiers, such as you have proved
yourself to be, do not kill women; though your traducers say you do,
do not give them cause to speak truth. I will be responsible for this
woman's safety. Here, to make it sure you had better strap us
together." I piqued myself exceedingly on this happy inspiration,
whereby I secured an arm-in-arm walk, of a peculiar kind, it is true,
with Valeria; and indeed my readiness to sacrifice myself seemed
rather to astonish the soldier, who hesitated. However, his comrade,
whose horse had been shot in the ditch, now came up, and seconded my
proposal as I offered him a mount on mine.
"How on earth am I to let you escape, dear Valeria?" I whispered,
giving her a sort of affectionate nudge; the position of our arms
prevented my squeezing hers as I could have wished, and the two
troopers kept behind us, watching us, I thought, suspiciously.
"It is quite impossible now--don't attempt it," she answered; "perhaps
there may be an opportunity later."
"Was that Croppo who got away?" I asked.
"Yes. He could not get his cowardly men to stand on that hill."
"What a bother those men are behind, dearest! Let me pretend to
scratch my nose with this hand that is tied to yours, which I can thus
bring to my lips."
I accomplished this manoeuvre rather neatly, but parties now came
straggling in from other directions, and I was obliged to give up
whispering and become circumspect. They all seemed rather astonished
at our group, and the captain laughed heartily as he rode up and
called out, "Who have you got tied to you there, /caro mio/?"
"Croppo's wife. I had her tied to me for fear she should escape;
besides, she is not bad-looking."
"What a prize!" he exclaimed. "We have made a tolerable haul this time
--twenty prisoners in all, among them the priest of the band. Our
colonel has just arrived, so I am in luck; he will be delighted. See
the prisoners are being brought up to him now; but you had better
remount and present yours in a less singular fashion."
When we reached the colonel we found him examining the priest. His
breviary contained various interesting notes written on some of the
"Administered extreme unction to A----, shot by Croppo's order; my
share ten scudi.
"Ditto, ditto, to R----, hung by Croppo's order, my share two scudi.
"Ditto, ditto, to S----, roasted by Croppo's order to make him name an
agent to bring his ransom; overdone by mistake, and died, so got
"Ditto, ditto, to P----, executed by the knife by Croppo's order for
"M---- and F---- and D----, three new members, joined to-day;
confessed them, and received the usual fees."
He was a dark, beetle-browed-looking ruffian, this holy man; and the
colonel, when he had finished examining his book of prayer and crime,
tossed it to me, saying, "There! that will show your friends in
England the kind of politicians we make war against. Ha! what have we
here? This is more serious." And he unfolded a piece of paper which
had been concealed in the breast of the priest. "This contains a
little valuable information," he added, with a grim smile. "Nobody
like priests and women for carrying about political secrets, so you
may have made a valuable capture," and he turned to where I stood with
Valeria; "let her be carefully searched."
Now the colonel was a very pompous man, and the document he had just
discovered on the priest added to his sense of self-importance. When,
therefore, a large, carefully folded paper was produced from the
neighbourhood of Valeria's lovely bosom his eyes sparkled with
admiration. "Ho, ho!" he exclaimed, as he clutched it eagerly, "the
plot is thickening!" And he spread out triumphantly, before he had
himself seen what it was, the exquisitely drawn portrait of a donkey.
There was a suppressed titter, which exploded into a shout when the
bystanders looked into the colonel's indignant face. I only was
affected differently as my gaze fell upon this touching evidence of
dear Valeria's love for me, and I glanced at her tenderly. "This has a
deeper significance than you think for," said the colonel, looking
round angrily. "Croppo's wife does not carefully secrete a drawing
like that on her person for nothing. See, it is done by no common
artist. It means something, and must be preserved."
"It may have a biblical reference to the state of Italy. You remember
Issachar was likened to an ass between two burdens. In that case it
probably emanated from Rome," I remarked; but nobody seemed to see the
point of the allusion, and the observation fell flat.
That night I dined with the colonel, and after dinner I persuaded him
to let me visit Valeria in prison, as I wished to take the portrait of
the wife of the celebrated brigand chief. I thanked my stars that my
friend who had seen her when we met in the glen was away on duty with
his detachment and could not testify to our former acquaintance.
My meeting with Valeria on this occasion was too touching and full of
tender passages to be of any general interest. Valeria told me that
she was still a bride, that she had only been married a few months,
and that she had been compelled to become Croppo's wife against her
choice, as the brigand's will was too powerful to be resisted; but
that, though he was jealous and attached to her, he was stern and
cruel, and, so far from winning her love since her marriage, he had
rather estranged it by his fits of passion and ferocity. As may be
imagined, the portrait, which was really very successful, took some
time in execution, the more especially as we had to discuss the
possibilities of Valeria's escape.
"We are going to be transferred to-morrow to the prison at Foggia,"
she said. "If while we were passing through the market-place a
disturbance of some sort could be created, as it is market-day and all
the country people know me and are my friends, a rescue might be
attempted. I know how to arrange for that, only they must see some
chance of success."
A bright thought suddenly struck me; it was suggested by a trick I had
played shortly after my arrival in Italy.
"You know I am something of a magician, Valeria; you have had proof of
that. If I create a disturbance by magic to-morrow when you are
passing through the market-place, you won't stay to wonder what is the
cause of the confusion, but instantly take advantage of it to escape."
"Trust me for that, /caro mio/."
"And if you escape when shall we meet again?"
"I am known too well now to risk another meeting. I shall be in hiding
with Croppo, where it will be impossible for you to find me, nor while
he lives could I ever dare to think of leaving him; but I shall never
forget you,"--and she pressed my hands to her lips,--"though I shall
no longer have the picture of the donkey to remember you by."
"See, here's my photograph; that will be better," said I, feeling a
little annoyed--foolishly, I admit. Then we strained each other to our
respective hearts and parted. Now it so happened that my room in the
/lacanda/ in which I was lodging overlooked the market-place. Here at
ten o'clock in the morning I posted myself; for that was the hour, as
I had been careful to ascertain, when the prisoners were to start for
Foggia. I opened the window about three inches and fixed it there; I
took out my gun, put eight balls in it, and looked down upon the
square. It was crowded with the country people in their bright-
coloured costumes chaffering over their produce. I looked above them
to the tall campanile of the church which filled one side of the
square. I receded a step and adjusted my gun on the ledge of the
window to my satisfaction. I then looked down the street in which the
prison was situated, and which debouched on the square, and awaited
events. At ten minutes past ten I saw the soldiers at the door of the
prison form up, and then I knew that the twenty prisoners of whom they
formed the escort were starting; but the moment they began to move I
fired at the big bell in the campanile, which responded with a loud
clang. All the people in the square looked up. As the prisoners
entered the square, which they had begun to cross in its whole
breadth, I fired again and again. The bell banged twice, and the
people began to buzz about. "Now," I thought, "I must let the old bell
have it." By the time five more balls had struck the bell with a
resounding din the whole square was in commotion. A miracle was
evidently in progress or the campanile was bewitched. People began to
run hither and thither; all the soldiers forming the escort gaped
open-mouthed at the steeple as the clangour continued. As soon as the
last shot had been fired I looked down into the square and saw all
this, and I saw that the prisoners were attempting to escape, and in
more than one instance had succeeded, for the soldiers began to
scatter in pursuit, and the country people to form themselves into
impeding crowds as though by accident; but nowhere could I see
Valeria. When I was quite sure she had escaped I went down and joined
the crowd. I saw three prisoners captured and brought back, and when I
asked the officer in command how many had escaped he said three--
Croppo's wife, the priest, and another.
When I met my cavalry friends at dinner that evening it was amusing to
hear them speculate upon the remarkable occurrence which had, in fact,
upset the wits of the whole town. Priests and vergers and sacristans
had visited the campanile, and one of them had brought away a
flattened piece of lead, which looked as if it might have been a
bullet; but the suggestion that eight bullets could have hit the bell
in succession without anybody hearing a sound was treated with
ridicule. I believe the bell was subsequently exorcised with holy
water. I was afraid to remain with the regiment with my air-gun after
this, lest some one should discover it and unravel the mystery;
besides, I felt a sort of traitor to the brave friends who had so
generously offered me their hospitality; so I invented urgent private
affairs which demanded my immediate return to Naples, and on the
morning of my departure found myself embraced by all the officers of
the regiment from the colonel downward, who in the fervour of their
kisses thrust sixteen waxed moustache-points against my cheeks.
About eighteen months after this I heard of the capture and execution
of Croppo, and I knew that Valeria was free; but I had unexpectedly
inherited a property and was engaged to be married. I am now a country
gentleman with a large family. My sanctum is stocked with various
mementos of my youthful adventures, but none awakens in me such
thrilling memories as are excited by the breviary of the brigand
priest and the portrait of the brigand's bride.
MRS. GENERAL TALBOYS
Why Mrs. General Talboys first made up her mind to pass the winter of
1859 at Rome I never clearly understood. To myself she explained her
purposes soon after her arrival at the Eternal City, by declaring, in
her own enthusiastic manner, that she was inspired by a burning desire
to drink fresh at the still living fountains of classical poetry and
sentiment. But I always thought that there was something more than
this in it. Classical poetry and sentiment were doubtless very dear to
her, but so also, I imagine, were the substantial comforts of Hardover
Lodge, the general's house in Berkshire; and I do not think that she
would have emigrated for the winter had there not been some slight
domestic misunderstanding. Let this, however, be fully made clear--
that such misunderstanding, if it existed, must have been simply an
affair of temper. No impropriety of conduct has, I am very sure, ever
been imputed to the lady. The general, as all the world knows, is hot;
and Mrs. Talboys, when the sweet rivers of her enthusiasm are unfed by
congenial waters, can, I believe, make herself disagreeable.
But be this as it may, in November, 1859, Mrs. Talboys came among us
English at Rome, and soon succeeded in obtaining for herself a
comfortable footing in our society. We all thought her more remarkable
for her mental attributes than for physical perfection, but
nevertheless she was in her own way a sightly woman. She had no
special brilliance, either of eye or complexion, such as would produce
sudden flames in susceptible hearts, nor did she seem to demand
instant homage by the form and step of a goddess; but we found her to
be a good-looking woman of some thirty or thirty-three years of age,
with soft, peach-like cheeks,--rather too like those of a cherub,--
with sparkling eyes which were hardly large enough, with good teeth, a
white forehead, a dimpled chin, and a full bust. Such outwardly was
Mrs. General Talboys. The description of the inward woman is the
purport to which these few pages will be devoted.
There are two qualities to which the best of mankind are much subject,
which are nearly related to each other, and as to which the world has
not yet decided whether they are to be classed among the good or evil
attributes of our nature. Men and women are under the influence of
them both, but men oftenest undergo the former, and women the latter.
They are ambition and enthusiasm. Now Mrs. Talboys was an enthusiastic
As to ambition, generally as the world agrees with Mark Antony in
stigmatising it as a grievous fault, I am myself clear that it is a
virtue; but with ambition at present we have no concern. Enthusiasm
also, as I think, leans to virtue's side, or, at least, if it be a
fault, of all faults it is the prettiest. But then, to partake at all
of virtue or even to be in any degree pretty, the enthusiasm must be
Bad coin is known from good by the ring of it, and so is bad
enthusiasm. Let the coiner be ever so clever at his art, in the
coining of enthusiasm the sound of true gold can never be imparted to
the false metal; and I doubt whether the cleverest she in the world
can make false enthusiasm palatable to the taste of man; to the taste
of any woman the enthusiasm of another woman is never very palatable.
We understood at Rome that Mrs. Talboys had a considerable family,--
four or five children, we were told,--but she brought with her only
one daughter, a little girl about twelve years of age. She had torn
herself asunder, as she told me, from the younger nurslings of her
heart, and had left them to the care of a devoted female attendant,
whose love was all but maternal. And then she said a word or two about
the general in terms which made me almost think that this quasi-
maternal love extended itself beyond the children. The idea, however,
was a mistaken one, arising from the strength of her language, to
which I was then unaccustomed. I have since become aware that nothing
can be more decorous than old Mrs. Upton, the excellent head nurse at
Hardover Lodge; and no gentleman more discreet in his conduct than
And I may as well here declare also that there could be no more
virtuous woman than the general's wife. Her marriage vow was to her
paramount to all other vows and bonds whatever. The general's honour
was quite safe when he sent her off to Rome by herself, and he no
doubt knew that it was so. /Illi robur et oes triplex/, of which I
believe no weapons of any assailant could get the better. But
nevertheless we used to fancy that she had no repugnance to
impropriety in other women--to what the world generally calls
impropriety. Invincibly attached herself to the marriage tie, she
would constantly speak of it as by no means necessarily binding on
others; and virtuous herself as any griffin of propriety, she
constantly patronised, at any rate, the theory of infidelity in her
neighbours. She was very eager in denouncing the prejudices of the
English world, declaring that she found existence among them to be no
longer possible for herself. She was hot against the stern
unforgiveness of British matrons, and equally eager in reprobating the
stiff conventionalities of a religion in which she said that none of
its votaries had faith, though they all allowed themselves to be
We had at that time a small set at Rome consisting chiefly of English
and Americans, who habitually met at one another's rooms, and spent
many of our evening hours in discussing Italian politics. We were,
most of us, painters, poets, novelists, or sculptors--perhaps I should
say would-be painters, poets, novelists, and sculptors, aspirants
hoping to become some day recognised; and among us Mrs. Talboys took
her place naturally enough on account of a very pretty taste she had
for painting. I do not know that she ever originated anything that was
grand, but she made some nice copies and was fond, at any rate, of art
conversation. She wrote essays too, which she showed in confidence to
various gentlemen, and had some idea of taking lessons in modelling.
In all our circle Conrad Mackinnon, an American, was perhaps the
person most qualified to be styled its leader. He was one who
absolutely did gain his living, and an ample living too, by his pen,
and was regarded on all sides as a literary lion, justified by success
in roaring at any tone he might please. His usual roar was not exactly
that of a sucking dove or a nightingale, but it was a good-humoured
roar, not very offensive to any man and apparently acceptable enough
to some ladies. He was a big, burly man, near to fifty, as I suppose,
somewhat awkward in his gait, and somewhat loud in his laugh. But
though nigh to fifty, and thus ungainly, he liked to be smiled on by
pretty women, and liked, as some said, to be flattered by them also.
If so he should have been happy, for the ladies at Rome at that time
made much of Conrad Mackinnon.
Of Mrs. Mackinnon no one did make very much, and yet she was one of
the sweetest, dearest, quietest little creatures that ever made glad a
man's fireside. She was exquisitely pretty, always in good humour,
never stupid, self-denying to a fault, and yet she was generally in
the background. She would seldom come forward of her own will, but was
contented to sit behind her teapot and hear Mackinnon do his roaring.
He was certainly much given to what the world at Rome called flirting,
but this did not in the least annoy her. She was twenty years his
junior, and yet she never flirted with any one. Women would tell her--
good-natured friends--how Mackinnon went on, but she received such
tidings as an excellent joke, observing that he had always done the
same, and no doubt always would until he was ninety. I do believe that
she was a happy woman, and yet I used to think that she should have
been happier. There is, however, no knowing the inside of another
man's house or reading the riddles of another man's joy and sorrow.
We had also there another lion,--a lion cub,--entitled to roar a
little, and of him also I must say something. Charles O'Brien was a
young man about twenty-five years of age, who had sent out from his
studio in the preceding year a certain bust supposed by his admirers
to be unsurpassed by any effort of ancient or modern genius. I am no
judge of sculpture, and will not therefore pronounce an opinion, but
many who considered themselves to be judges declared that it was a
"goodish head and shoulders" and nothing more. I merely mention the
fact, as it was on the strength of that head and shoulders that
O'Brien separated himself from a throng of others such as himself in
Rome, walked solitary during the days, and threw himself at the feet
of various ladies when the days were over. He had ridden on the
shoulders of his bust into a prominent place in our circle, and there
encountered much feminine admiration--from Mrs. General Talboys and
Some eighteen or twenty of us used to meet every Sunday evening in
Mrs. Mackinnon's drawing-room. Many of us, indeed, were in the habit
of seeing one another daily and of visiting together the haunts in
Rome which are best loved by art-loving strangers; but here in this
drawing-room we were sure to come together, and here before the end of
November Mrs. Talboys might always be found, not in any accustomed
seat, but moving about the room as the different male mental
attractions of our society might chance to move themselves. She was at
first greatly taken by Mackinnon, who also was, I think, a little
stirred by her admiration, though he stoutly denied the charge. She
became, however, very dear to us all before she left us, and certainly
we owed to her our love, for she added infinitely to the joys of our
"I have come here to refresh myself," she said to Mackinnon one
evening--to Mackinnon and myself, for we were standing together.
"Shall I get you tea?" said I.
"And will you have something to eat?" Mackinnon asked.
"No, no, no," she answered. "Tea, yes; but for heaven's sake let
nothing solid dispel the associations of such a meeting as this!"
"I thought you might have dined early," said Mackinnon. Now Mackinnon
was a man whose own dinner was very dear to him. I have seen him
become hasty and unpleasant, even under the pillars of the Forum, when
he thought that the party were placing his fish in jeopardy by their
desire to linger there too long.
"Early! Yes--no; I know not when it was. One dines and sleeps in
obedience to that dull clay which weighs down so generally the
particle of our spirit; but the clay may sometimes be forgotten; here
I can always forget it."
"I thought you asked for refreshment," I said. She only looked at me,
whose small attempts at prose composition had up to that time been
altogether unsuccessful, and then addressed herself to reply to
"It is the air which we breathe that fills our lungs and gives us life
and light; it is that which refreshes us if pure or sinks us into
stagnation if it be foul. Let me for a while inhale the breath of an
invigorating literature. Sit down, Mr. Mackinnon; I have a question
that I must put to you." And then she succeeded in carrying him off
into a corner. As far as I could see he went willingly enough at that
time, though he soon became averse to any long retirement in company
with Mrs. Talboys.
We none of us quite understood what were her exact ideas on the
subject of revealed religion. Somebody, I think, had told her that
there were among us one or two whose opinions were not exactly
orthodox according to the doctrines of the established English church.
If so she was determined to show us that she also was advanced beyond
the prejudices of an old and dry school of theology. "I have thrown
down all the barriers of religion," she said to poor Mrs. Mackinnon,
"and am looking for the sentiments of a pure Christianity."
"Thrown down all the barriers of religion!" said Mrs. Mackinnon, in a
tone of horror which was not appreciated.
"Indeed, yes," said Mrs. Talboys, with an exulting voice. "Are not the
days for such trammels gone by?"
"But yet you hold by Christianity?"
"A pure Christianity, unstained by blood and perjury, by hypocrisy and
verbose genuflection. Can I not worship and say my prayers among the
clouds?" And she pointed to the lofty ceiling and the handsome
"But Ida goes to church," said Mrs. Mackinnon. Ida Talboys was her
daughter. Now it may be observed that many who throw down the barriers
of religion, so far as those barriers may affect themselves, still
maintain them on behalf of their children. "Yes," said Mrs. Talboys;
"dear Ida! her soft spirit is not yet adapted to receive the perfect
truth. We are obliged to govern children by the strength of their
prejudices." And then she moved away, for it was seldom that Mrs.
Talboys remained long in conversation with any lady.
Mackinnon, I believe, soon became tired of her. He liked her flattery,
and at first declared that she was clever and nice, but her niceness
was too purely celestial to satisfy his mundane tastes. Mackinnon
himself can revel among the clouds in his own writings, and can leave
us sometimes in doubt whether he ever means to come back to earth, but
when his foot is on terra firma he loves to feel the earthy substratum
which supports his weight. With women he likes a hand that can remain
an unnecessary moment within his own, an eye that can glisten with the
sparkle of champagne, a heart weak enough to make its owner's arm
tremble within his own beneath the moonlight gloom of the Colosseum
arches. A dash of sentiment the while makes all these things the
sweeter, but the sentiment alone will not suffice for him. Mrs.
Talboys did, I believe, drink her glass of champagne, as do other
ladies, but with her it had no such pleasing effect. It loosened only
her tongue, but never her eyes. Her arm, I think, never trembled and
her hand never lingered. The general was always safe, and happy
perhaps in his solitary safety.
It so happened that we had unfortunately among us two artists who had
quarrelled with their wives. O'Brien, whom I have before mentioned,
was one of them. In his case I believe him to have been almost as free
from blame as a man can be whose marriage was in itself a fault.
However, he had a wife in Ireland some ten years older than himself,
and though he might sometimes almost forget the fact, his friends and
neighbours were well aware of it. In the other case the whole fault
probably was with the husband. He was an ill-tempered, bad-hearted
man, clever enough, but without principle; and he was continually
guilty of the great sin of speaking evil of the woman whose name he
should have been anxious to protect. In both cases our friend, Mrs.
Talboys, took a warm interest, and in each of them she sympathised
with the present husband against the absent wife.
Of the consolation which she offered in the latter instance we used to
hear something from Mackinnon. He would repeat to his wife and to me
and my wife the conversations which she had with him. "Poor Brown!"
she would say; "I pity him with my very heart's blood."
"You are aware that he has comforted himself in his desolation,"
"I know very well to what you allude. I think I may say that I am
conversant with all the circumstances of this heart-blighting
sacrifice." Mrs. Talboys was apt to boast of the thorough confidence
reposed in her by all those in whom she took an interest. "Yes, he has
sought such comfort in another love as the hard cruel world would
"Or perhaps something more than that," said Mackinnon. "He has a
family here in Rome, you know; two little babies."
"I know it, I know it," she said; "cherub angels!" And as she spoke
she looked up into the ugly face of Marcus Aurelius, for they were
standing at the moment under the figure of the great horseman on the
Campidoglio. "I have seen them, and they are children of innocence. If
all the blood of all the Howards ran in their veins it could not make
their birth more noble!"
"Not if the father and mother of all the Howards had never been
married," said Mackinnon.
"What! that from you, Mr. Mackinnon!" said Mrs. Talboys, turning her
back with energy upon the equestrian statue and looking up into the
faces first of Pollux and then of Castor, as though from them she
might gain some inspiration on the subject, which Marcus Aurelius in
his coldness had denied to her. "From you, who have so nobly claimed
for mankind the divine attributes of free action! From you, who have
taught my mind to soar above the petty bonds which one man in his
littleness contrives for the subjection of his brother. Mackinnon--you
who are so great!" And she now looked up into his face. "Mackinnon,
unsay those words."
"They /are/ illegitimate," said he, "and if there was any landed
"Landed property! and that from an American!"
"The children are English, you know."
"Landed property! The time will shortly come--ay, and I see it coming
--when that hateful word shall be expunged from the calendar, when
landed property shall be no more. What! shall the free soul of a God-
born man submit itself for ever to such trammels as that? Shall we
never escape from the clay which so long has manacled the subtler
particles of the divine spirit? Ay, yes, Mackinnon!" and then she took
him by the arm, and led him to the top of the huge steps which lead
down from the Campidoglio into the streets of modern Rome. "Look down
upon that countless multitude." Mackinnon looked down, and saw three
groups of French soldiers, with three or four little men in each
group; he saw also a couple of dirty friars, and three priests very
slowly beginning the side ascent to the church of the Ara Coeli. "Look
down upon that countless multitude," said Mrs. Talboys, and she
stretched her arms out over the half-deserted city. "They are escaping
now from those trammels--now, now--now that I am speaking."
"They have escaped long ago from all such trammels as that of landed
property," said Mackinnon.
"Ay, and from all terrestrial bonds," she continued, not exactly
remarking the pith of his last observation; "from bonds quasi-
terrestrial and quasi-celestial. The full-formed limbs of the present
age, running with quick streams of generous blood, will no longer bear
the ligatures which past time have woven for the decrepit. Look down
upon that multitude, Mackinnon; they shall all be free." And then,
still clutching him by the arm and still standing at the top of those
stairs, she gave forth her prophecy with the fury of a sibyl.
"They shall all be free. O Rome, thou eternal one! thou who hast bowed
thy neck to imperial pride and priestly craft, thou who has suffered
sorely even to this hour, from Nero down to Pio Nono, the days of
thine oppression are over. Gone from thy enfranchised ways for ever is
the clang of the praetorian cohorts and the more odious drone of
meddling monks!" And yet, as Mackinnon observed, there still stood the
dirty friars and the small French soldiers, and there still toiled the
slow priests, wending their tedious way up to the church of the Ara
Coeli. But that was the mundane view of the matter, a view not
regarded by Mrs. Talboys in her ecstasy. "O Italia," she continued, "O
Italia una, one and indivisible in thy rights, and indivisible also in
thy wrongs! to us is it given to see the accomplishment of thy glory.
A people shall arise around thine altars greater in the annals of the
world than thy Scipios, thy Gracchi, or thy Caesars. Not in torrents
of blood or with screams of bereaved mothers shall thy new triumphs be
stained; but mind shall dominate over matter, and, doomed together
with popes and Bourbons, with cardinals, diplomatists, and police
spies, ignorance and prejudice shall be driven from thy smiling
terraces. And then Rome shall again become the fair capital of the
fairest region of Europe. Hither shall flock the artisans of the
world, crowding into thy marts all that God and man can give. Wealth,
beauty, and innocence shall meet in thy streets--"
"There will be a considerable change before that takes place," said
"There shall be a considerable change," she answered. "Mackinnon, to
thee it is given to read the signs of the time; and hast thou not
read? Why have the fields of Magenta and Solferino been piled with the
corpses of dying heroes? Why have the waters of the Mincio run red
with the blood of martyrs? That Italy might be united and Rome
immortal. Here, standing on the Capitolium of the ancient city, I say
that it shall be so; and thou, Mackinnon, who hearest me knowest that
my words are true."
There was not then in Rome--I may almost say there was not in Italy--
an Englishman or an American who did not wish well to the cause for
which Italy was and is still contending, as also there is hardly one
who does not now regard that cause as well-nigh triumphant; but
nevertheless it was almost impossible to sympathise with Mrs. Talboys.
As Mackinnon said, she flew so high that there was no comfort in
flying with her.
"Well," said he, "Brown and the rest of them are down below. Shall we
go and join them?"
"Poor Brown! How was it that in speaking of his troubles we were led
on to this heart-stirring theme? Yes, I have seen them, the sweet
angels; and I tell you also that I have seen their mother. I insisted
on going to her when I heard her history from him."
"And what was she like, Mrs. Talboys?"
"Well, education has done more for some of us than for others, and
there are those from whose morals and sentiments we might thankfully
draw a lesson, whose manners and outward gestures are not such as
custom has made agreeable to us. You, I know, can understand that. I
have seen her, and feel sure that she is pure in heart and high in
principle. Has she not sacrificed herself, and is not self-sacrifice
the surest guarantee for true nobility of character? Would Mrs.
Mackinnon object to my bringing them together?"
Mackinnon was obliged to declare that he thought his wife would
object, and from that time forth he and Mrs. Talboys ceased to be very
close in their friendship. She still came to the house every Sunday
evening, still refreshed herself at the fountains of his literary
rills, but her special prophecies from henceforth were poured into
other ears; and it so happened that O'Brien now became her chief ally.
I do not remember that she troubled herself much further with the
cherub angels or with their mother, and I am inclined to think that,
taking up warmly as she did the story of O'Brien's matrimonial wrongs,
she forgot the little history of the Browns. Be that as it may, Mrs.
Talboys and O'Brien now became strictly confidential, and she would
enlarge by the half-hour together on the miseries of her friend's
position to any one whom she could get to hear her.
"I'll tell you what, Fanny," Mackinnon said to his wife one day--to
his wife and to mine, for we were all together--"we shall have a row
in the house if we don't take care. O'Brien will be making love to
"Nonsense," said Mrs. Mackinnon; "you are always thinking that
somebody is going to make love to some one."
"Somebody always is," said he.
"She's old enough to be his mother," said Mrs. Mackinnon.
"What does that matter to an Irishman?" said Mackinnon. "Besides, I
doubt if there is more than five years' difference between them."
"There must be more than that," said my wife. "Ida Talboys is twelve,
I know, and I am not quite sure that Ida is the eldest."
"If she had a son in the Guards it would make no difference," said
Mackinnon. "There are men who consider themselves bound to make love
to a woman under certain circumstances, let the age of the lady be
what it may. O'Brien is such a one; and if she sympathises with him
much oftener he will mistake the matter and go down on his knees. You
ought to put him on his guard," he said, addressing himself to his
"Indeed, I shall do no such thing," said she; "if they are two fools
they must, like other fools, pay the price of their folly." As a rule
there could be no softer creature than Mrs. Mackinnon, but it seemed
to me that her tenderness never extended itself in the direction of
Just at this time, toward the end, that is, of November, we made a
party to visit the tombs which lie along the Appian Way beyond that
most beautiful of all sepulchres, the tomb of Cecilia Metella. It was
a delicious day, and we had driven along this road for a couple of
miles beyond the walls of the city, enjoying the most lovely view
which the neighborhood of Rome affords, looking over the wondrous
ruins of the old aqueducts up toward Tivoli and Palestrina. Of all the
environs of Rome this is, on a fair day, the most enchanting; and here
perhaps, among a world of tombs, thoughts and almost memories of the
old, old days come upon one with the greatest force. The grandeur of
Rome is best seen and understood from beneath the walls of the
Colosseum, and its beauty among the pillars of the Forum and the
arches of the Sacred Way; but its history and fall become more
palpable to the mind and more clearly realised out here among the
tombs, where the eyes rest upon the mountains, whose shades were cool
to the old Romans as to us, than anywhere within the walls of the
city. Here we look out at the same Tivoli and the same Praeneste
glittering in the sunshine, embowered among the far-off valleys, which
were dear to them; and the blue mountains have not crumbled away into
ruins. Within Rome itself we can see nothing as they saw it.
Our party consisted of some dozen or fifteen persons, and, as a hamper
with luncheon in it had been left on the grassy slope at the base of
the tomb of Cecilia Metella, the expedition had in it something of the
nature of a picnic. Mrs. Talboys was of course with us, and Ida
Talboys. O'Brien also was there. The hamper had been prepared in Mrs.
Mackinnon's room under the immediate eye of Mackinnon himself, and
they therefore were regarded as the dominant spirits of the party. My
wife was leagued with Mrs. Mackinnon, as was usually the case; and
there seemed to be a general opinion, among those who were closely in
confidence together, that something would happen in the O'Brien-
Talboys matter. The two had been inseparable on the previous evening,
for Mrs. Talboys had been urging on the young Irishman her counsels
respecting his domestic troubles. Sir Cresswell Cresswell, she had
told him, was his refuge. "Why should his soul submit to bonds which
the world had now declared to be intolerable? Divorce was not now the
privilege of the dissolute rich. Spirits which were incompatible need
no longer be compelled to fret beneath the same couples." In short,
she had recommended him to go to England and get rid of his wife, as
she would with a little encouragement have recommended any man to get
rid of anything. I am sure that, had she been skilfully brought on to
the subject, she might have been induced to pronounce a verdict
against such ligatures for the body as coats, waistcoats, and
trousers. Her aspirations for freedom ignored all bounds, and in
theory there were no barriers which she was not willing to demolish.
Poor O'Brien, as we all now began to see, had taken the matter amiss.
He had offered to make a bust of Mrs. Talboys, and she had consented,
expressing a wish that it might find a place among those who had
devoted themselves to the enfranchisement of their fellow-creatures. I
really think she had but little of a woman's customary personal
vanity. I know she had an idea that her eye was lighted up in her
warmer moments by some special fire, that sparks of liberty shone
round her brow, and that her bosom heaved with glorious aspirations;
but all these feelings had reference to her inner genius, not to any
outward beauty. But O'Brien misunderstood the woman, and thought it
necessary to gaze into her face and sigh as though his heart were
breaking. Indeed, he declared to a young friend that Mrs. Talboys was
perfect in her style of beauty, and began the bust with this idea. It
was gradually becoming clear to us all that he would bring himself to
grief; but in such a matter who can caution a man?
Mrs. Mackinnon had contrived to separate them in making the carriage
arrangements on this day, but this only added fuel to the fire which
was now burning within O'Brien's bosom. I believe that he really did
love her in his easy, eager, susceptible Irish way. That he would get
over the little episode without any serious injury to his heart no one
doubted; but then what would occur when the declaration was made? How
would Mrs. Talboys bear it?"
"She deserves it," said Mrs. Mackinnon.
"And twice as much," my wife added. Why is it that women are so
spiteful to one another?
Early in the day Mrs. Talboys clambered up to the top of a tomb, and
made a little speech, holding a parasol over her head. Beneath her
feet, she said, reposed the ashes of some bloated senator, some
glutton of the empire, who had swallowed into his maw the provision
necessary for a tribe. Old Rome had fallen through such selfishness as
that, but new Rome would not forget the lesson. All this was very
well, and then O'Brien helped her down; but after this there was no
separating them. For her own part, she would sooner have had Mackinnon
at her elbow; but Mackinnon now had found some other elbow. "Enough of
that was as good as a feast," he had said to his wife. And therefore
Mrs. Talboys, quite unconscious of evil, allowed herself to be
engrossed by O'Brien.
And then, about three o'clock, we returned to the hamper. Luncheon
under such circumstances always means dinner, and we arranged
ourselves for a very comfortable meal. To those who know the tomb of
Cecilia Metella no description of the scene is necessary, and to those
who do not no description will convey a fair idea of its reality. It
is itself a large low tower of great diameter, but of beautiful
proportion, standing far outside the city, close on to the side of the
old Roman way. It has been embattled on the top by some latter-day
baron in order that it might be used for protection to the castle
which has been built on and attached to it. If I remember rightly,
this was done by one of the Frangipani, and a very lovely ruin he has
made of it. I know no castellated old tumble-down residence in Italy
more picturesque than this baronial adjunct to the old Roman tomb, or
which better tallies with the ideas engendered within our minds by
Mrs. Radcliffe and "The Mysteries of Udolpho." It lies along the road,
protected on the side of the city by the proud sepulchre of the Roman
matron, and up to the long ruined walls of the back of the building
stretches a grassy slope, at the bottom of which are the remains of an
old Roman circus. Beyond that is the long, thin, graceful line of the
Claudian aqueduct, with Soracte in the distance to the left, and
Tivoli, Palestrina, and Frascati lying among the hills which bound the
view. That Frangipani baron was in the right of it, and I hope he got
the value of his money out of the residence which he built for
himself. I doubt, however, that he did but little good to those who
lived in his close neighbourhood.
We had a very comfortable little banquet seated on the broken lumps of
stone which lie about under the walls of the tomb. I wonder whether
the shade of Cecilia Metella was looking down upon us. We have heard
much of her in these latter days, and yet we know nothing about her,
nor can conceive why she was honoured with a bigger tomb than any
other Roman matron. There were those then among our party who believed
that she might still come back among us, and, with due assistance from
some cognate susceptible spirit, explain to us the cause of her
widowed husband's liberality. Alas, alas! if we may judge of the
Romans by ourselves the true reason for such sepulchral grandeur would
redound little to the credit of the lady Cecilia Metella herself or to
that of Crassus, her bereaved and desolate lord.
She did not come among us on the occasion of this banquet, possibly
because we had no tables there to turn in preparation for her
presence; but had she done so, she could not have been more eloquent
of things of the other world than was Mrs. Talboys. I have said that
Mrs. Talboys's eye never glanced more brightly after a glass of
champagne, but I am inclined to think that on this occasion it may
have done so. O'Brien enacted Ganymede, and was perhaps more liberal
than other latter-day Ganymedes to whose services Mrs. Talboys had
been accustomed. Let it not, however, be suspected by any one that she
exceeded the limits of a discreet joyousness. By no means! The
generous wine penetrated, perhaps, to some inner cells of her heart,
and brought forth thoughts in sparkling words which otherwise might
have remained concealed; but there was nothing in what she thought or
spoke calculated to give umbrage either to an anchoret or to a vestal.
A word or two she said or sung about the flowing bowl, and once she
called for Falernian; but beyond this her converse was chiefly of the
rights of man and the weakness of women, of the iron ages that were
past, and of the golden time that was to come.
She called a toast and drank to the hopes of the latter historians of
the nineteenth century. Then it was that she bade O'Brien "fill high
the bowl with Samian wine." The Irishman took her at her word, and she
raised the bumper and waved it over her head before she put it to her
lips. I am bound to declare that she did not spill a drop. "The true
'Falernian grape,' " she said, as she deposited the empty beaker on
the grass beneath her elbow. Viler champagne I do not think I ever
swallowed; but it was the theory of the wine, not its palpable body
present there, as it were in the flesh, which inspired her. There was
really something grand about her on that occasion, and her enthusiasm
almost amounted to reality.
Mackinnon was amused, and encouraged her, as I must confess did I
also. Mrs. Mackinnon made useless little signs to her husband, really
fearing that the Falernian would do its good offices too thoroughly.
My wife, getting me apart as I walked round the circle distributing
viands, remarked that "the woman was a fool and would disgrace
herself." But I observed that after the disposal of that bumper she
worshipped the rosy god in theory only, and therefore saw no occasion
to interfere. "Come, Bacchus," she said, "and come, Silenus, if thou
wilt; I know that ye are hovering round the graves of your departed
favourites. And ye, too, nymphs of Egeria," and she pointed to the
classic grove which was all but close to us as we sat there. "In olden
days ye did not always despise the abodes of men. But why should we
invoke the presence of the gods--we who can become godlike ourselves!
We ourselves are the deities of the present age. For us shall the
tables be spread with ambrosia, for us shall the nectar flow."
Upon the whole it was a very good fooling--for a while; and as soon as
we were tired of it we arose from our seats and began to stroll about
the place. It was beginning to be a little dusk and somewhat cool, but
the evening air was pleasant, and the ladies, putting on their shawls,
did not seem inclined at once to get into the carriages. At any rate,
Mrs. Talboys was not so inclined, for she started down the hill toward
the long low wall of the old Roman circus at the bottom, and O'Brien,
close at her elbow, started with her.
"Ida, my dear, you had better remain here," she said to her daughter;
"you will be tired if you come as far as we are going."
"Oh no, mamma, I shall not," said Ida; "you get tired much quicker
than I do."
"Oh yes, you will; besides, I do not wish you to come." There was an
end of it for Ida, and Mrs. Talboys and O'Brien walked off together,
while we all looked into one another's faces.
"It would be a charity to go with them," said Mackinnon.
"Do you be charitable then," said his wife.
"It should be a lady," said he.
"It is a pity that the mother of the spotless cherubim is not here for
the occasion," said she. "I hardly think that any one less gifted will
undertake such a self-sacrifice." Any attempt of the kind would,
however, now have been too late, for they were already at the bottom
of the hill. O'Brien had certainly drunk freely of the pernicious
contents of those long-necked bottles, and, though no one could fairly
accuse him of being tipsy, nevertheless that which might have made
others drunk had made him bold, and he dared to do perhaps more than
might become a man. If under any circumstances he could be fool enough
to make an avowal of love to Mrs. Talboys he might be expected, as we
all thought, to do it now.
We watched them as they made for a gap in the wall which led through
into the large enclosed space of the old circus. It had been an arena
for chariot games, and they had gone down with the avowed purpose of
searching where might have been the meta and ascertaining how the
drivers could have turned when at their full speed. For a while we had
heard their voices, or rather her voice especially. "The heart of a
man, O'Brien, should suffice for all emergencies," we had heard her
say. She had assumed a strange habit of calling men by their simple
names, as men address one another. When she did this to Mackinnon, who
was much older than herself, we had been all amused by it, and other
ladies of our party had taken to call him "Mackinnon" when Mrs.
Talboys was not by; but we had felt the comedy to be less safe with
O'Brien, especially when on one occasion we heard him address her as
Arabella. She did not seem to be in any way struck by his doing so,
and we supposed therefore that it had become frequent between them.
What reply he made at the moment about the heart of a man I do not
know, and then in a few minutes they disappeared through the gap in
None of us followed them, although it would have seemed the most
natural thing in the world to do so had nothing out of the way been
expected. As it was, we remained there round the tomb quizzing the
little foibles of our dear friend and hoping that O'Brien would be
quick in what he was doing. That he would undoubtedly get a slap in
the face, metaphorically, we all felt certain, for none of us doubted
the rigid propriety of the lady's intentions. Some of us strolled into
the buildings and some of us got out on to the road, but we all of us
were thinking that O'Brien was very slow a considerable time before we
saw Mrs. Talboys reappear through the gap.
At last, however, she was there, and we at once saw that she was
alone. She came on, breasting the hill with quick steps, and when she
drew near we could see that there was a frown as of injured majesty on
her brow. Mackinnon and his wife went forward to meet her. If she were
really in trouble it would be fitting in some way to assist her, and
of all women Mrs. Mackinnon was the last to see another woman suffer
from ill usage without attempting to aid her. "I certainly never liked
her," Mrs. Mackinnon said afterward, "but I was bound to go and hear
her tale when she really had a tale to tell."
And Mrs. Talboys now had a tale to tell--if she chose to tell it. The
ladies of our party declared afterward that she would have acted more
wisely had she kept to herself both O'Brien's words to her and her
answer. "She was well able to take care of herself," Mrs. Mackinnon
said; "and after all the silly man had taken an answer when he got
it." Not, however, that O'Brien had taken his answer quite
immediately, as far as I could understand from what we heard of the
At the present moment Mrs. Talboys came up the rising ground all alone
and at a quick pace. "The man has insulted me," she said aloud, as
well as her panting breath would allow her, and as soon as she was
near enough to Mrs. Mackinnon to speak to her.
"I am sorry for that," said Mrs. Mackinnon. "I suppose he has taken a
little too much wine."
"No; it was a premeditated insult. The base-hearted churl has failed
to understand the meaning of true, honest sympathy."
"He will forget all about it when he is sober," said Mackinnon,
meaning to comfort her.
"What care I what he remembers or what he forgets?" she said, turning
upon poor Mackinnon indignantly. "You men grovel so in your ideas--"
("And yet," as Mackinnon said afterward, "she had been telling me that
I was a fool for the last three weeks.") "You men grovel so in your
ideas that you cannot understand the feelings of a true-hearted woman.
What can his forgetfulness or his remembrance be to me? Must not I
remember this insult? Is it possible that I should forget it?"
Mr. and Mrs. Mackinnon only had gone forward to meet her, but
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