Part 2 out of 11
refuse to acknowledge me as of this pattern: Barto, O shoemaker! thou
son of artifice and right-hand-man of necessity, preserve me in the
fashion of the time: Cobble me neatly: A dozen wax threads and I am
remade:--Excellent! I thank you! Now I can plant my foot bravely: Oh,
Barto, my shoemaker! between ourselves, it is unpleasant in these refined
days to be likened at all to that preposterous Adam!"
The omission of the apostrophes to Barto left it one of the ironical,
veiled Republican, semi-socialistic ballads of the time, which were sung
about the streets for the sharpness and pith of the couplets, and not
from a perception of the double edge down the length of them.
As Luigi was coming to the terminating line, the door opened. A very
handsome sullen young woman, of the dark, thick-browed Lombard type,
asked what was wanted; at the same time the deep voice of a man;
conjecturally rising from a lower floor, called, and a lock was rattled.
The woman told Luigi to enter. He sent a glance behind him; he had
evidently been drained of his sprightliness in a second; he moved in with
the slackness of limb of a gibbeted figure. The door shut; the woman led
him downstairs. He could not have danced or sung a song now for great
pay. The smell of mouldiness became so depressing to him that the smell
of leather struck his nostrils refreshingly. He thought: "Oh, Virgin!
it's dark enough to make one believe in every single thing they tell us
about the saints." Up in the light of day Luigi had a turn for careless
thinking on these holy subjects.
Barto Rizzo stood before him in a square of cellarage that was furnished
with implements of his craft, too dark for a clear discernment of
"So, here you are!" was the greeting Luigi received.
It was a tremendous voice, that seemed to issue from a vast cavity.
"Lead the gentleman to my sitting-room," said Barto. Luigi felt the wind
of a handkerchief, and guessed that his eyes were about to be bandaged by
the woman behind him. He petitioned to be spared it, on the plea,
firstly, that it expressed want of confidence; secondly, that it took him
in the stomach. The handkerchief was tight across his eyes while he was
speaking. His hand was touched by the woman, and he commenced timidly an
ascent of stairs. It continued so that he would have sworn he was a
shorter time going up the Motterone; then down, and along a passage;
lower down, deep into corpse-climate; up again, up another enormous
mountain; and once more down, as among rats and beetles, and down, as
among faceless horrors, and down, where all things seemed prostrate and
with a taste of brass. It was the poor fellow's nervous imagination,
preternaturally excited. When the handkerchief was caught away, his jaw
was shuddering, his eyes were sickly; he looked as if impaled on the
prongs of fright. It required just half a minute to reanimate this
mercurial creature, when he found himself under the light of two lamps,
and Barto Rizzo fronting him, in a place so like the square of cellarage
which he had been led to with unbandaged eyes, that it relieved his dread
by touching his humour. He cried, "Have I made the journey of the Signor
Capofinale, who visited the other end of the world by standing on his
Barto Rizzo rolled out a burly laugh.
"Sit," he said. "You're a poor sweating body, and must needs have a dry
tongue. Will you drink?"
"Dry!" quoth Luigi. "Holy San Carlo is a mash in a wine-press compared
Barto Rizzo handed him a liquor, which he drank, and after gave thanks to
Providence. Barto raised his hand.
"We're too low down here for that kind of machinery," he said. "They say
that Providence is on the side of the Austrians. Now then, what have you
to communicate to me? This time I let you come to my house trust at all,
trust entirely. I think that's the proverb. You are admitted: speak
like a guest."
Luigi's preference happened to be for categorical interrogations. Never
having an idea of spontaneously telling the whole truth, the sense that
he was undertaking a narrative gave him such emotions as a bad swimmer
upon deep seas may have; while, on the other hand, his being subjected to
a series of questions seemed at least to leave him with one leg on shore,
for then he could lie discreetly, and according to the finger-posts, and
only when necessary, and he could recover himself if he made a false
step. His ingenious mind reasoned these images out to his own
satisfaction. He requested, therefore, that his host would let him hear
what he desired to know.
Barto Rizzo's forefinger was pressed from an angle into one temple. His
head inclined to meet it: so that it was like the support to a broad
blunt pillar. The cropped head was flat as an owl's; the chest of
immense breadth; the bulgy knees and big hands were those of a dwarf
athlete. Strong colour, lying full on him from the neck to the forehead,
made the big veins purple and the eyes fierier than the movements of his
mind would have indicated. He was simply studying the character of his
man. Luigi feared him; he was troubled chiefly because he was unaware of
what Barto Rizzo wanted to know, and could not consequently tell what to
bring to the market. The simplicity of the questions put to him was
bewildering: he fell into the trap. Barto's eyes began to get terribly
oblique. Jingling money in his pocket, he said:--
"You saw Colonel Corte on the Motterone: you saw the Signor Agostino
Balderini: good men, both! Also young Count Ammiani: I served his
father, the General, and jogged the lad on my knee. You saw the
Signorina Vittoria. The English people came, and you heard them talk,
but did not understand. You came home and told all this to the Signor
Antonio, your employer number one. You have told the same to me, your
employer number two. There's your pay."
Barto summed up thus the information he had received, and handed Luigi
six gold pieces. The latter, springing with boyish thankfulness and
pride at the easy earning of them, threw in a few additional facts, as,
that he had been taken for a spy by the conspirators, and had heard one
of the Englishmen mention the Signorina Vittoria's English name. Barto
Rizzo lifted his eyebrows queerly. "We'll go through another
interrogatory in an hour," he said; "stop here till I return."
Luigi was always too full of his own cunning to suspect the same in
another, until he was left alone to reflect on a scene; when it became
overwhelmingly transparent. "But, what could I say more than I did say?"
he asked himself, as he stared at the one lamp Barto had left. Finding
the door unfastened, he took the lamp and lighted himself out, and along
a cavernous passage ending in a blank wall, against which his heart
knocked and fell, for his sensation was immediately the terror of
imprisonment and helplessness. Mad with alarm, he tried every spot for
an aperture. Then he sat down on his haunches; he remembered hearing
word of Barto Rizzo's rack:--certain methods peculiar to Barto Rizzo, by
which he screwed matters out of his agents, and terrified them into
fidelity. His personal dealings with Barto were of recent date; but
Luigi knew him by repute: he knew that the shoemaking business was a
mask. Barto had been a soldier, a schoolmaster: twice an exile; a
conspirator since the day when the Austrians had the two fine Apples of
Pomona, Lombardy and Venice, given them as fruits of peace. Luigi
remembered how he had snapped his fingers at the name of Barto Rizzo.
There was no despising him now. He could only arrive at a peaceful
contemplation of Barto Rizzo's character by determining to tell all, and
(since that seemed little) more than he knew. He got back to the
leather-smelling chamber, which was either the same or purposely rendered
exactly similar to the one he had first been led to.
At the end of a leaden hour Barto Rizzo returned.
"Now, to recommence," he said. "Drink before you speak, if your tongue
Luigi thrust aside the mention of liquor. It seemed to him that by doing
so he propitiated that ill-conceived divinity called Virtue, who lived in
the open air, and desired men to drink water. Barto Rizzo evidently
understood the kind of man he was schooling to his service.
"Did that Austrian officer, who is an Englishman, acquainted with the
Signor Antonio-Pericles, meet the lady, his sister, on the Motterone?"
Luigi answered promptly, "Yes."
"Did the Signorina Vittoria speak to the lady?"
"Not a word?"
"Not one communication to her?"
"No: she sat under her straw hat."
"She concealed her face?"
"She sat like a naughty angry girl."
"Did she speak to the officer?"
"Did she see him?"
"Of course she did! As if a woman's eyes couldn't see through straw-
Barto paused, calculatingly, eye on victim.
"The Signorina Vittoria," he resumed, "has engaged to sing on the night
of the Fifteenth; has she?"
A twitching of Luigi's muscles showed that he apprehended a necessary
straining of his invention on another tack.
"On the night of the Fifteenth, Signor Barto Rizzo? That's the night of
her first appearance. Oh, yes!"
"To sing a particular song?"
"Lots of them! ay-aie!"
Barto took him by the shoulder and pressed him into his seat till he
howled, saying, "Now, there's a slate and a pencil. Expect me at the end
of two hours, this time. Next time it will be four: then eight, then
sixteen. Find out how many hours that will be at the sixteenth
Luigi flew at the torturer and stuck at the length of his straightened
arm, where he wriggled, refusing to listen to the explanation of Barto's
system; which was that, in cases where every fresh examination taught him
more, they were continued, after regularly-lengthening intervals, that
might extend from the sowing of seed to the ripening of grain. "When
all's delivered," said Barto, "then we begin to correct discrepancies. I
expect," he added, "you and I will have done before a week's out."
"A week!" Luigi shouted. "Here's my stomach already leaping like a fish
at the smell of this hole. You brute bear! it's a smell of bones. It
turns my inside with a spoon. May the devil seize you when you're
sleeping! You shan't go: I'll tell you everything--everything. I can't
tell you anything more than I have told you. She gave me a cigarette -
there! Now you know:--gave me a cigarette; a cigarette. I smoked it--
there! Your faithful servant!"
"She gave you a cigarette, and you smoked it; ha!" said Barto Rizzo, who
appeared to see something to weigh even in that small fact. "The English
lady gave you the cigarette?"
Luigi nodded: "Yes;" pertinacious in deception. "Yes," he repeated; "the
English lady. That was the person. What's the use of your skewering me
with your eyes!"
"I perceive that you have never travelled, my Luigi," said Barto. "I am
afraid we shall not part so early as I had supposed. I double the dose,
and return to you in four hours' time."
Luigi threw himself flat on the ground, shrieking that he was ready to
tell everything--anything. Not even the apparent desperation of his
circumstances could teach him that a promise to tell the truth was a more
direct way of speaking. Indeed, the hitting of the truth would have
seemed to him a sort of artful archery, the burden of which should
devolve upon the questioner, whom he supplied with the relation of
"everything and anything."
All through a night Luigi's lesson continued. In the morning he was
still breaking out in small and purposeless lies; but Barto Rizzo had
accomplished his two objects: that of squeezing him, and that of
subjecting his imagination. Luigi confessed (owing to a singular
recovery of his memory) the gift of the cigarette as coming from the
Signorina Vittoria. What did it matter if she did give him a cigarette?
"You adore her for it?" said Barto.
"May the Virgin sweep the floor of heaven into her lap!" interjected
Luigi. "She is a good patriot."
"Are you one?" Barto asked.
"Certainly I am."
"Then I shall have to suspect you, for the good of your country."
Luigi could not see the deduction. He was incapable of guessing that it
might apply forcibly to Vittoria, who had undertaken a grave, perilous,
and imminent work. Nothing but the spontaneous desire to elude the
pursuit of a questioner had at first instigated his baffling of Barto
Rizzo, until, fearing the dark square man himself, he feared him dimly
for Vittoria's sake; he could not have said why. She was a good patriot:
wherefore the reason for wishing to know more of her? Barto Rizzo had
compelled him at last to furnish a narrative of the events of that day on
the Motterone, and, finding himself at sea, Luigi struck out boldly and
swam as well as he could. Barto disentangled one succinct thread of
incidents: Vittoria had been commissioned by the Chief to sing on the
night of the Fifteenth; she had subsequently, without speaking to any of
the English party, or revealing her features "keeping them beautifully
hidden," Luigi said, with unaccountable enthusiasm--written a warning to
them that they were to avoid Milan. The paper on which the warning had
been written was found by the English when he was the only Italian on the
height, lying thereto observe and note things in the service of Barto
Rizzo. The writing was English, but when one of the English ladies--"who
wore her hair like a planed shred of wood; like a torn vine; like a kite
with two tails; like Luxury at the Banquet, ready to tumble over marble
shoulders" (an illustration drawn probably from Luigi's study of some
allegorical picture,--he was at a loss to describe the foreign female
head-dress)--when this lady had read the writing, she exclaimed that it
was the hand of "her Emilia!" and soon after she addressed Luigi in
English, then in French, then in "barricade Italian" (by which phrase
Luigi meant that the Italian words were there, but did not present their
proper smooth footing for his understanding), and strove to obtain
information from him concerning the signorina, and also concerning the
chances that Milan would be an agitated city. Luigi assured her that
Milan was the peacefullest of cities--a pure babe. He admitted his
acquaintance with the Signorina Vittoria Campa, and denied her being "any
longer" the Emilia Alessandra Belloni of the English lady. The latter
had partly retained him in her service, having given him directions to
call at her hotel in Milan, and help her to communicate with her old
friend. "I present myself to her to-morrow, Friday," said Luigi.
"That's to-day," said Barto.
Luigi clapped his hand to his cheek, crying wofully, "You've drawn,
beastly gaoler! a night out of my life like an old jaw-tooth."
"There's day two or three fathoms above us," said Barto; "and hot coffee
is coming down."
"I believe I've been stewing in a pot while the moon looked so cool."
Luigi groaned, and touched up along the sleeves of his arms: that which
he fancied he instantaneously felt.
The coffee was brought by the heavy-browed young woman. Before she
quitted the place Barto desired her to cast her eyes on Luigi, and say
whether she thought she should know him again. She scarcely glanced, and
gave answer with a shrug of the shoulders as she retired. Luigi at the
time was drinking. He rose; he was about to speak, but yawned instead.
The woman's carelessly-dropped upper eyelids seemed to him to be reading
him through a dozen of his contortions and disguises, and checked the
idea of liberty which he associated with getting to the daylight.
"But it is worth the money!" shouted Barto Rizzo, with a splendid
divination of his thought. "You skulker! are you not paid and fattened
to do business which you've only to remember, and it'll honey your legs
in purgatory? You're the shooting-dog of that Greek, and you nose about
the bushes for his birds, and who cares if any fellow, just for exercise,
shoots a dagger a yard from his wrist and sticks you in the back? You
serve me, and there's pay for you; brothers, doctors, nurses, friends,--a
tight blanket if you fall from a housetop! and masses for your soul when
your hour strikes. The treacherous cur lies rotting in a ditch! Do you
conceive that when I employ you I am in your power? Your intelligence
will open gradually. Do you know that here in this house I can conceal
fifty men, and leave the door open to the Croats to find them? I tell
you now--you are free; go forth. You go alone; no one touches you; ten
years hence a skeleton is found with an English letter on its ribs--"
"Oh, stop! signor Barto, and be a blessed man," interposed Luigi,
doubling and wriggling in a posture that appeared as if he were shaking
negatives from the elbows of his crossed arms. "Stop. How did you know
of a letter? I forgot--I have seen the English lady at her hotel. I was
carrying the signorina's answer, when I thought "Barto Rizzo calls me,"
and I came like a lamb. And what does it matter? She is a good patriot;
you are a good patriot; here it is. Consider my reputation, do; and be
careful with the wax."
Barto drew a long breath. The mention of the English letter had been a
shot in the dark. The result corroborated his devotional belief in the
unerringness of his own powerful intuition. He had guessed the case, or
hardly even guessed it--merely stated it, to horrify Luigi. The letter
was placed in his hands, and he sat as strongly thrilled by emotion,
under the mask of his hard face, as a lover hearing music. "I read
English," he remarked.
After he had drawn the seal three or four times slowly over the lamp, the
green wax bubbled and unsnapped. Vittoria had written the following
lines in reply to her old English friend:--
"Forgive me, and do not ask to see me until we have passed the
fifteenth of the month. You will see me that night at La Scala. I
wish to embrace you, but I am miserable to think of your being in
Milan. I cannot yet tell you where my residence is. I have not met
your brother. If he writes to me it will make me happy, but I
refuse to see him. I will explain to him why. Let him not try to
see me. Let him send by this messenger. I hope he will contrive to
be out of Milan all this month. Pray let me influence you to go for
a time. I write coldly; I am tired, and forget my English. I do
not forget my friends. I have you close against my heart. If it
were prudent, and it involved me alone, I would come to you without
a moment's loss of time. Do know that I am not changed, and am your
When Barto Rizzo had finished reading, he went from the chamber and blew
his voice into what Luigi supposed to be a hollow tube.
"This letter," he said, coming back, "is a repetition of the Signorina
Vittoria's warning to her friends on the Motterone. The English lady's
brother, who is in the Austrian service, was there, you say?"
Luigi considered that, having lately been believed in, he could not
afford to look untruthful, and replied with a sprightly "Assuredly."
"He was there, and he read the writing on the paper?"
"Assuredly: right out loud, between puff-puff of his cigar."
"His name is Lieutenant Pierson. Did not Antonio-Pericles tell you his
name? He will write to her: you will be the bearer of his letter to the
signorina. I must see her reply. She is a good patriot; so am I; so are
you. Good patriots must be prudent. I tell you, I must see her reply to
this Lieutenant Pierson." Barto stuck his thumb and finger astride
Luigi's shoulder and began rocking him gently, with a horrible meditative
expression. "You will have to accomplish this, my Luigi. All fair
excuses will be made, if you fail generally. This you must do. Keep
upright while I am speaking to you! The excuses will be made; but I, not
you, must make them: bear that in mind. Is there any person whom you, my
Luigi, like best in the world?"
It was a winning question, and though Luigi was not the dupe of its
insinuating gentleness, he answered, "The little girl who carries flowers
every morning to the caffe La Scala."
"Ah! the little girl who carries flowers every morning to the caffe La
Scala. Now, my Luigi, you may fail me, and I may pardon you. Listen
attentively: if you are false; if you are guilty of one piece of
treachery:--do you see? You can't help slipping, but you can help
jumping. Restrain yourself from jumping, that's all. If you are guilty
of treachery, hurry at once, straight off, to the little girl who carries
flowers every morning to the caffe La Scala. Go to her, take her by the
two cheeks, kiss her, say to her 'addio, addio,' for, by the thunder of
heaven! you will never see her more."
Luigi was rocked forward and back, while Barto spoke in level tones, till
the voice dropped into its vast hollow, when Barto held him fast a
moment, and hurled him away by the simple lifting of his hand.
The woman appeared and bound Luigi's eyes. Barto did not utter another
word. On his journey back to daylight, Luigi comforted himself by
muttering oaths that he would never again enter into this trap. As soon
as his eyes were unbandaged, he laughed, and sang, and tossed a
compliment from his finger-tips to the savage-browed beauty; pretended
that he had got an armful, and that his heart was touched by the ecstasy;
and sang again: "Oh, Barto, Barto! my boot is sadly worn. The toe is
seen," etc., half-way down the stanzas. Without his knowing it, and
before he had quitted the court, he had sunk into songless gloom,
brooding on the scenes of the night. However free he might be in body,
his imagination was captive to Barto Rizzo. He was no luckier than a
bird, for whom the cage is open that it may feel the more keenly with its
little taste of liberty that it is tied by the leg.
The importance of the matters extracted from Luigi does not lie on the
surface; it will have to be seen through Barto Rizzo's mind. This man
regarded himself as the mainspring of the conspiracy; specially its
guardian, its wakeful Argus. He had conspired sleeplessly for thirty
years; so long, that having no ideal reserve in his nature, conspiracy
had become his professional occupation,--the wheel which it was his
business to roll. He was above jealousy; he was above vanity. No one
outstripping him cast a bad colour on him; nor did he object to bow to
another as his superior. But he was prepared to suspect every one of
insincerity and of faithlessness; and, being the master of the machinery
of the plots, he was ready, upon a whispered justification, to despise
the orders of his leader, and act by his own light in blunt disobedience.
For it was his belief that while others speculated he knew all. He knew
where the plots had failed; he knew the man who had bent and doubled. In
the patriotic cause, perfect arrangements are crowned with perfect
success, unless there is an imperfection of the instruments; for the
cause is blessed by all superior agencies. Such was his governing idea.
His arrangements had always been perfect; hence the deduction was a
denunciation of some one particular person. He pointed out the traitor
here, the traitor there; and in one or two cases he did so with a
mildness that made those fret at their beards vaguely who understood his
character. Barto Rizzo was, it was said, born in a village near Forli,
in the dominions of the Pope; according to the rumour, he was the child
of a veiled woman and a cowled paternity. If not an offender against
Government, he was at least a wanderer early in life. None could accuse
him of personal ambition. He boasted that he had served as a common
soldier with the Italian contingent furnished by Eugene to the Moscow
campaign; he showed scars of old wounds: brown spots, and blue spots, and
twisted twine of white skin, dotting the wrist, the neck, the calf, the
ankle, and looking up from them, he slapped them proudly. Nor had he
personal animosities of any kind. One sharp scar, which he called his
shoulder knot, he owed to the knife of a friend, by name Sarpo, who had
things ready to betray him, and struck him, in anticipation of that
tremendous moment of surprise and wrath when the awakened victim
frequently is nerved with devil's strength; but, striking, like a novice,
on the bone, the stilet stuck there; and Barto coolly got him to point
the outlet of escape, and walked off, carrying the blade where the
terrified assassin had planted it. This Sarpo had become a tradesman in
Milan--a bookseller and small printer; and he was unmolested. Barto said
of him, that he was as bad as a few odd persons thought himself to be,
and had in him the making of a great traitor; but, that as Sarpo hated
him and had sought to be rid of him for private reasons only, it was a
pity to waste on such a fellow steel that should serve the Cause. "While
I live," said Barto, "my enemies have a tolerably active conscience."
The absence of personal animosity in him was not due to magnanimity. He
doubted the patriotism of all booksellers. He had been twice betrayed by
women. He never attempted to be revenged on them; but he doubted the
patriotism of all women. "Use them; keep eye on them," he said. In
Venice he had conspired when he was living there as the clerk of a
notary; in Bologna subsequently while earning his bread as a petty
schoolmaster. His evasions, both of Papal sbirri and the Austrian
polizia, furnished instances of astonishing audacity that made his name a
byword for mastery in the hour of peril. His residence in Milan now,
after seven years of exile in England and Switzerland, was an act of
pointed defiance, incomprehensible to his own party, and only to be
explained by the prevalent belief that the authorities feared to provoke
a collision with the people by laying hands on him. They had only once
made a visitation to his house, and appeared to be satisfied at not
finding him. At that period Austria was simulating benevolence in her
Lombardic provinces, with the half degree of persuasive earnestness which
makes a Government lax in its vigilance, and leaves it simply open to the
charge of effeteness. There were contradictory rumours as to whether his
house had ever been visited by the polizia; but it was a legible fact
that his name was on the window, and it was understood that he was not
without elusive contrivances in the event of the authorities declaring
war against him.
Of the nature of these contrivances Luigi had just learnt something. He
had heard Barto Rizzo called 'The Miner' and 'The Great Cat,' and he now
comprehended a little of the quality of his employer. He had entered a
very different service from that of the Signor Antonio-Pericles, who paid
him for nothing more than to keep eye on Vittoria, and recount her goings
in and out; for what absolute object he was unaware, but that it was not
for a political one he was certain. "Cursed be the day when the lust of
gold made me open my hand to Barto Rizzo!" he thought; and could only
reflect that life is short and gold is sweet, and that he was in the
claws of the Great Cat. He had met Barto in a wine-shop. He cursed the
habit which led him to call at that shop; the thirst which tempted him to
drink: the ear which had been seduced to listen. Yet as all his expenses
had been paid in advance, and his reward at the instant of his
application for it; and as the signorina and Barto were both good
patriots, and he, Luigi, was a good patriot, what harm could be done to
her? Both she and Barto had stamped their different impressions on his
waxen nature. He reconciled his service to them separately by the
exclamation that they were both good patriots.
The plot for the rising in Milan city was two months old. It comprised
some of the nobles of the city, and enjoyed the good wishes of the
greater part of them, whose payment of fifty to sixty per cent to the
Government on the revenue of their estates was sufficient reason for a
desire to change masters, positively though they might detest
Republicanism, and dread the shadow of anarchy. These looked hopefully
to Charles Albert. Their motive was to rise, or to countenance a rising,
and summon the ambitious Sardinian monarch with such assurances of
devotion, that a Piedmontese army would be at the gates when the banner
of Austria was in the dust. Among the most active members of the
prospectively insurgent aristocracy of Milan was Count Medole, a young
nobleman of vast wealth and possessed of a reliance on his powers of mind
that induced him to take a prominent part in the opening deliberations,
and speedily necessitated his hire of the friendly offices of one who
could supply him with facts, with suggestions, with counsel, with
fortitude, with everything to strengthen his pretensions to the
leadership, excepting money. He discovered his man in Barto Rizzo, who
quitted the ranks of the republican section to serve him, and wield a
tool for his own party. By the help of Agostino Balderini, Carlo
Ammiani, and others, the aristocratic and the republican sections of the
conspiracy were brought near enough together to permit of a common action
between them, though the maintaining of such harmony demanded an extreme
and tireless delicacy of management. The presence of the Chief, whom we
have seen on the Motterone, was claimed by other cities of Italy. Unto
him solely did Barto Rizzo yield thorough adhesion. He being absent from
Milan, Barto undertook to represent him and carry out his views. How far
he was entitled to do so may be guessed when it is stated that, on the
ground of his general contempt for women, he objected to the proposition
that Vittoria should give the signal. The proposition was Agostino's.
Count Medole, Barto, and Agostino discussed it secretly: Barto held
resolutely against it, until Agostino thrust a sly-handed letter into his
fingers and let him know that previous to any consultation on the subject
he had gained the consent of his Chief. Barto then fell silent. He
despatched his new spy, Luigi, to the Motterone, more for the purpose of
giving him a schooling on the expedition, and on his return from it, and
so getting hand and brain and soul service out of him. He expected no
such a report of Vittoria's indiscretion as Luigi had spiced with his one
foolish lie. That she should tell the relatives of an Austrian officer
that Milan was soon to be a dangerous place for them;--and that she
should write it on paper and leave it for the officer to read,--left her,
according to Barto's reading of her, open to the alternative charges of
imbecility or of treachery. Her letter to the English lady, the Austrian
officer's sister, was an exaggeration of the offence, but lent it more
the look of heedless folly. The point was to obtain sight of her letter
to the Austrian officer himself. Barto was baffled during a course of
anxious days that led closely up to the fifteenth. She had written no
letter. Lieutenant Pierson, the officer in question, had ridden into the
city once from Verona, and had called upon Antonio-Pericles to extract
her address from him; the Greek had denied that she was in Milan. Luigi
could tell no more. He described the officer's personal appearance, by
saying that he was a recognizable Englishman in Austrian dragoon
uniform;--white tunic, white helmet, brown moustache;--ay! and eh! and
oh! and ah! coming frequently from his mouth; that he stood square while
speaking, and seemed to like his own smile; an extraordinary touch of
portraiture, or else a scoff at insular self-satisfaction; at any rate,
it commended itself to the memory. Barto dismissed him, telling him to
be daily in attendance on the English lady.
Barto Rizzo's respect for the Chief was at war with his intense
conviction that a blow should be struck at Vittoria even upon the narrow
information which he possessed. Twice betrayed, his dreams and haunting
thoughts cried "Shall a woman betray you thrice?" In his imagination he
stood identified with Italy: the betrayal of one meant that of both.
Falling into a deep reflection, Barto counted over his hours of
conspiracy: he counted the Chief's; comparing the two sets of figures he
discovered, that as he had suspected, he was the elder in the patriotic
work therefore, if he bowed his head to the Chief, it was a voluntary
act, a form of respect, and not the surrendering of his judgement. He
was on the spot: the Chief was absent. Barto reasoned that the Chief
could have had no experience of women, seeing that he was ready to trust
in them. "Do I trust to my pigeon, my sling-stone?" he said jovially to
the thickbrowed, splendidly ruddy young woman, who was his wife; "do I
trust her? Not half a morsel of her!" This young woman, a peasant woman
of remarkable personal attractions, served him with the fidelity of a
fascinated animal, and the dumbness of a wooden vessel. She could have
hanged him, had it pleased her. She had all his secrets: but it was not
vain speaking on Barto Rizzo's part; he was master of her will; and on
the occasions when he showed that he did not trust her, he was careful at
the same time to shock and subdue her senses. Her report of Vittoria
was, that she went to the house of the Signora, Laura Piaveni, widow of
the latest heroic son of Milan, and to that of the maestro Rocco Ricci;
to no other. It was also Luigi's report.
"She's true enough," the woman said, evidently permitting herself to
entertain an opinion; a sign that she required fresh schooling.
"So are you," said Barto, and eyed her in a way that made her ask, "Now,
what's for me to do?"
He thought awhile.
"You will see the colonel. Tell him to come in corporal's uniform.
What's the little wretch twisting her body for? Shan't I embrace her
presently if she's obedient? Send to the polizia. You believe your
husband is in the city, and will visit you in disguise at the corporal's
hour. They seize him. They also examine the house up to the point where
we seal it. Your object is to learn whether the Austrians are moving men
upon Milan. If they are-I learn something. When the house has been
examined, our court here will have rest for a good month ahead; and it
suits me not to be disturbed. Do this, and we will have a red-wine
evening in the house, shut up alone, my snake! my pepper-flower!"
It happened that Luigi was entering the court to keep an appointment with
Barto when he saw a handful of the polizia burst into the house and drag
out a soldier, who was in the uniform, as he guessed it to be, of the
Prohaska regiment. The soldier struggled and offered money to them.
Luigi could not help shouting, "You fools! don't you see he's an
officer?" Two of them took their captive aside. The rest made a search
through the house. While they were doing so Luigi saw Barto Rizzo's face
at the windows of the house opposite. He clamoured at the door, but
Barto was denied to him there. When the polizia had gone from the court,
he was admitted and allowed to look into every room. Not finding him, he
said, "Barto Rizzo does not keep his appointments, then!" The same words
were repeated in his ear when he had left the court, and was in the
street running parallel with it. "Barto Rizzo does not keep his
appointments, then!" It was Barto who smacked him on the back, and spoke
out his own name with brown-faced laughter in the bustling street. Luigi
was so impressed by his cunning and his recklessness that he at once told
him more than he wished to tell:--The Austrian officer was with his
sister, and had written to the signorina, and Luigi had delivered the
letter; but the signorina was at the maestro's, Rocco Ricci's, and there
was no answer: the officer was leaving for Verona in the morning. After
telling so much, Luigi drew back, feeling that he had given Barto his
full measure and owed to the signorina what remained.
Barto probably read nothing of the mind of his spy, but understood that
it was a moment for distrust of him. Vittoria and her mother lodged at
the house of one Zotti, a confectioner, dwelling between the Duomo and La
Scala. Luigi, at Barto's bidding, left word with Zotti that he would
call for the signorina's answer to a certain letter about sunrise. "I
promised my Rosellina, my poppyheaded sipper, a red-wine evening, or I
would hold this fellow under my eye till the light comes," thought Barto
misgivingly, and let him go. Luigi slouched about the English lady's
hotel. At nightfall her brother came forth. Luigi directed him to be in
the square of the Duomo by sunrise, and slipped from his hold; the
officer ran after him some distance. "She can't say I was false to her
now," said Luigi, dancing with nervous ecstasy. At sunrise Barto Rizzo
was standing under the shadow of the Duomo. Luigi passed him and went to
Zotti's house, where the letter was placed in his hand, and the door shut
in his face. Barto rushed to him, but Luigi, with a vixenish
countenance, standing like a humped cat, hissed, "Would you destroy my
reputation and have it seen that I deliver up letters, under the noses of
the writers, to the wrong persons?--ha! pestilence!" He ran, Barto
following him. They were crossed by the officer on horseback, who
challenged Luigi to give up the letter, which was very plainly being
thrust from his hand into his breast. The officer found it no difficult
matter to catch him and pluck the letter from him; he opened it, reading
it on the jog of the saddle as he cantered off. Luigi turned in a terror
of expostulation to ward Barto's wrath. Barto looked at him hard, while
he noted the matter down on the tablet of an ivory book. All he said
was, "I have that letter!" stamping the assertion with an oath. Half-an-
hour later Luigi saw Barto in the saddle, tight-legged about a rusty
beast, evidently bound for the South-eastern gate, his brows set like a
black wind. "Blessings on his going!" thought Luigi, and sang one of his
"O lemons, lemons, what a taste you leave in the mouth! I desire you, I
love you, but when I suck you, I'm all caught up in a bundle and turn to
water, like a wry-faced fountain. Why not be satisfied by a sniff at the
blossoms? There's gratification. Why did you grow up from the precious
little sweet chuck that you were, Marietta? Lemons, O lemons! such a
thing as a decent appetite is not known after sucking at you."
His natural horror of a resolute man, more than fear (of which he had no
recollection in the sunny Piazza), made him shiver and gave his tongue an
acid taste at the prospect of ever meeting Barto Rizzo again. There was
the prospect also that he might never meet him again.
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By George Meredith
IX. IN VERONA
X. THE POPE'S MOUTH
XI. LAURA PIAVENI
XII. THE BRONZE BUTTERFLY
XIII. THE PLOT OF THE SIGNOR ANTONIO
The lieutenant read these lines, as he clattered through the quiet
streets toward the Porta Tosa:
'DEAR FRIEND,--I am glad that you remind me of our old affection, for it
assures me that yours is not dead. I cannot consent to see you yet. I
would rather that we should not meet.
'I thought I would sign my name here, and say, "God bless you, Wilfrid;
'Oh! why have you done this thing! I must write on. It seems like my
past life laughing at me, that my old friend should have come here in
Italy, to wear the detestable uniform. How can we be friends when we
must act as enemies? We shall soon be in arms, one against the other.
I pity you, for you have chosen a falling side; and when you are beaten
back, you can have no pride in your country, as we Italians have; no
delight, no love. They will call you a mercenary soldier. I remember
that I used to have the fear of your joining our enemies, when we were
in England, but it seemed too much for my reason.
'You are with a band of butchers. If I could see you and tell you the
story of Giacomo Piaveni, and some other things, I believe you would
break your sword instantly.
'There is time. Come to Milan on the fifteenth. You will see me then.
I appear at La Scala. Promise me, if you hear me, that you will do
exactly what I make you feel it right to do. Ah, you will not, though
thousands will! But step aside to me, when the curtain falls, and
remain--oh, dear friend! I write in honour to you; we have sworn to free
the city and the country--remain among us: break your sword, tear off
your uniform; we are so strong that we are irresistible. I know what a
hero you can be on the field: then, why not in the true cause? I do not
understand that you should waste your bravery under that ugly flag,
bloody and past forgiveness.
'I shall be glad to have news of you all, and of England. The bearer of
this is a trusty messenger, and will continue to call at the hotel. A.
is offended that I do not allow my messenger to give my address; but I
must not only be hidden, I must have peace, and forget you all until I
have done my task. Addio. We have both changed names. I am the same.
Can I think that you are? Addio, dear friend.
Lieutenant Pierson read again and again the letter of her whom he had
loved in England, to get new lights from it, as lovers do when they have
lost the power to take single impressions. He was the bearer of a verbal
despatch from the commandant in Milan to the Marshal in Verona. At that
period great favour was shown to Englishmen in the Austrian service, and
the lieutenant's uncle being a General of distinction, he had a sort of
semi-attachment to the Marshal's staff, and was hurried to and fro, for
the purpose of keeping him out of duelling scrapes, as many of his
friendlier comrades surmised. The right to the distinction of exercising
staff-duties is, of course, only to be gained by stout competitorship in
the Austrian service; but favour may do something for a young man even in
that rigorous school of Arms. He had to turn to Brescia on his way, and
calculated that if luck should put good horses under him, he would enter
Verona gates about sunset. Meantime; there was Vittoria's letter to
occupy him as he went.
We will leave him to his bronzing ride through the mulberries and the
grapes, and the white and yellow and arid hues of the September plain,
and make acquaintance with some of his comrades of that proud army which
Vittoria thought would stand feebly against the pouring tide of Italian
The fairest of the cities of the plain had long been a nest of foreign
soldiery. The life of its beauty was not more visible then than now.
Within the walls there are glimpses of it, that belong rather to the
haunting spirit than to the life. Military science has made a mailed
giant of Verona, and a silent one, save upon occasion. Its face grins of
war, like a skeleton of death; the salient image of the skull and
congregating worms was one that Italian lyrists applied naturally to
The old Field-Marshal and chief commander of the Austrian forces in
Lombardy, prompted by the counsels of his sagacious adlatus, the chief of
the staff, was engaged at that period in adding some of those ugly round
walls and flanking bastions to Verona, upon which, when Austria was
thrown back by the first outburst of the insurrection and the advance of
the Piedmontese, she was enabled to plant a sturdy hind-foot, daring her
foes as from a rock of defence.
A group of officers, of the cavalry, with a few infantry uniforms
skirting them, were sitting in the pleasant cooling evening air, fanned
by the fresh springing breeze, outside one of the Piazza Bra caffes,
close upon the shadow of the great Verona amphitheatre. They were
smoking their attenuated long straw cigars, sipping iced lemonade or
coffee, and talking the common talk of the garrison officers, with
perhaps that additional savour of a robust immorality which a Viennese
social education may give. The rounded ball of the brilliant September
moon hung still aloft, lighting a fathomless sky as well as the fair
earth. It threw solid blackness from the old savage walls almost to a
junction with their indolent outstretched feet. Itinerant street music
twittered along the Piazza; officers walked arm-in-arm; now in moonlight
bright as day, now in a shadow black as night: distant figures twinkled
with the alternation. The light lay like a blade's sharp edge around the
massive circle. Of Italians of a superior rank, Verona sent none to this
resort. Even the melon-seller stopped beneath the arch ending the
Stradone Porta Nuova, as if he had reached a marked limit of his popular
This isolation of the rulers of Lombardy had commenced in Milan, but,
owing to particular causes, was not positively defined there as it was in
Verona. War was already rageing between the Veronese ladies and the
officers of Austria. According to the Gallic Terpsichorean code, a lady
who permits herself to make election of her partners and to reject
applicants to the honour of her hand in the dance, when that hand is
disengaged, has no just ground of complaint if a glove should smite her
cheek. The Austrians had to endure this sort of rejection in Ballrooms.
On the promenade their features were forgotten. They bowed to statues.
Now, the officers of Austria who do not belong to a Croat regiment, or to
one drawn from any point of the extreme East of the empire, are commonly
gentlemanly men; and though they can be vindictive after much irritation,
they may claim at least as good a reputation for forbearance in a
conquered country as our officers in India. They are not ill-humoured,
and they are not peevishly arrogant, except upon provocation. The
conduct of the tender Italian dames was vexatious. It was exasperating
to these knights of the slumbering sword to hear their native waltzes
sounding of exquisite Vienna, while their legs stretched in melancholy
inactivity on the Piazza pavement, and their arms encircled no ductile
waists. They tried to despise it more than they disliked it, called
their female foes Amazons, and their male by a less complimentary title,
and so waited for the patriotic epidemic to pass.
A certain Captain Weisspriess, of the regiment named after a sagacious
monarch whose crown was the sole flourishing blossom of diplomacy,
particularly distinguished himself by insisting that a lady should
remember him in public places. He was famous for skill with his weapons.
He waltzed admirably; erect as under his Field-Marshal's eye. In the
language of his brother officers, he was successful; that is, even as God
Mars when Bellona does not rage. Captain Weisspriess (Johann Nepomuk,
Freiherr von Scheppenhausen) resembled in appearance one in the Imperial
Royal service, a gambling General of Division, for whom Fame had not yet
blown her blast. Rumour declared that they might be relatives; a little-
scrupulous society did not hesitate to mention how. The captain's
moustache was straw-coloured; he wore it beyond the regulation length and
caressed it infinitely. Surmounted by a pair of hot eyes, wavering in
their direction, this grand moustache was a feature to be forgotten with
difficulty, and Weisspriess was doubtless correct in asserting that his
face had endured a slight equal to a buffet. He stood high and square-
shouldered; the flame of the moustache streamed on either side his face
in a splendid curve; his vigilant head was loftily posted to detect what
he chose to construe as insult, or gather the smiles of approbation, to
which, owing to the unerring judgement of the sex, he was more
accustomed. Handsome or not, he enjoyed the privileges of masculine
This captain of a renown to come pretended that a superb Venetian lady of
the Branciani family was bound to make response in public to his private
signals, and publicly to reply to his salutations. He refused to be as a
particle in space floating airily before her invincible aspect. Meeting
her one evening, ere sweet Italy had exiled herself from the Piazza, he
bowed, and stepping to the front of her, bowed pointedly. She crossed
her arms and gazed over him. He called up a thing to her recollection in
resonant speech. Shameful lie, or shameful truth, it was uttered in the
hearing of many of his brother officers, of three Italian ladies, and of
an Italian gentleman, Count Broncini, attending them. The lady listened
calmly. Count Broncini smote him on the face. That evening the lady's
brother arrived from Venice, and claimed his right to defend her.
Captain Weisspriess ran him through the body, and attached a sinister
label to his corpse. This he did not so much from brutality; the man
felt that henceforth while he held his life he was at war with every
Italian gentleman of mettle. Count Broncini was his next victim. There,
for a time, the slaughtering business of the captain stopped. His
brother officers of the better kind would not have excused him at another
season, but the avenger of their irritation and fine vindicator of the
merits of Austrian steel, had a welcome truly warm, when at the
termination of his second duel he strode into mess, or what serves for an
Austrian regimental mess.
It ensued naturally that there was everywhere in Verona a sharp division
between the Italians of all classes and their conquerors. The great
green-rinded melons were never wheeled into the neighbourhood of the
whitecoats. Damsels were no longer coquettish under the military glance,
but hurried by in couples; and there was much scowling mixed with
derisive servility, throughout the city, hard to be endured without that
hostile state of the spirit which is the military mind's refuge in such
cases. Itinerant musicians, and none but this fry, continued to be
attentive to the dispensers of soldi.
The Austrian army prides itself upon being a brotherhood. Discipline is
very strict, but all commissioned officers, when off duty, are as free in
their intercourse as big boys. The General accepts a cigar from the
lieutenant, and in return lifts his glass to him. The General takes an
interest in his lieutenant's love-affairs: nor is the latter shy when he
feels it his duty modestly to compliment his superior officer upon a
recent conquest. There is really good fellowship both among the officers
and in the ranks, and it is systematically encouraged.
The army of Austria was in those days the Austrian Empire. Outside the
army the empire was a jealous congery of intriguing disaffected
nationalities. The same policy which played the various States against
one another in order to reduce all to subserviency to the central Head,
erected a privileged force wherein the sentiment of union was fostered
till it became a nationality of the sword. Nothing more fatal can be
done for a country; but for an army it is a simple measure of wisdom.
Where the password is MARCH, and not DEVELOP, a body of men, to be a
serviceable instrument, must consent to act as one. Hannibal is the
historic example of what a General can accomplish with tribes who are
thus, enrolled in a new citizenship; and (as far as we know of him and
his fortunes) he appears to be an example of the necessity of the fusing
fire of action to congregated aliens in arms. When Austria was fighting
year after year, and being worsted in campaign after campaign, she lost
foot by foot, but she held together soundly; and more than the baptism,
the atmosphere of strife has always been required to give her a healthy
vitality as a centralized empire. She knew it; this (apart from the
famous promptitude of the Hapsburgs) was one secret of her dauntless
readiness to fight. War did the work of a smithy for the iron and steel
holding her together; and but that war costs money, she would have been
an empire distinguished by aggressiveness. The next best medicinal thing
to war is the military occupation of insurgent provinces. The soldiery
soon feel where their home is, and feel the pride of atomies in unitive
power, when they are sneered at, hooted, pelted, stabbed upon a gross
misinterpretation of the slightest of moral offences, shamefully abused
for doing their duty with a considerate sense of it, and too accurately
divided from the inhabitants of the land they hold. In Italy, the
German, the Czech, the Magyar, the Croft, even in general instances the
Italian, clung to the standard for safety, for pay, for glory, and all
became pre-eminently Austrian soldiers; little besides.
It was against a power thus bound in iron hoops, that Italy, dismembered,
and jealous, and corrupt, with an organization promoted by passion
chiefly, was preparing to rise. In the end, a country true to itself and
determined to claim God's gift to brave men will overmatch a mere army,
however solid its force. But an inspired energy of faith is demanded of
it. The intervening chapters will show pitiable weakness, and such a
schooling of disaster as makes men, looking on the surface of things,
deem the struggle folly. As well, they might say, let yonder scuffling
vagabonds up any of the Veronese side-streets fall upon the patrol
marching like one man, and hope to overcome them! In Vienna there was
often despair: but it never existed in the Austrian camp. Vienna was
frequently double-dealing and time-serving her force in arms was like a
trained man feeling his muscle. Thus, when the Government thought of
temporizing, they issued orders to Generals whose one idea was to strike
the blow of a mallet.
At this period there was no suspicion of any grand revolt being in
process of development. The abounding dissatisfaction was treated as
nothing more than the Italian disease showing symptoms here and there,
and Vienna counselled measures mildly repressive,--'conciliating,' it was
her pleasure to call them. Her recent commands with respect to turbulent
Venice were the subject of criticism among the circle outside the Piazza
Gaffe. An enforced inactivity of the military legs will quicken the
military wits, it would appear, for some of the younger officers spoke
hotly as to their notion of the method of ruling Venezia. One had bidden
his Herr General to 'look here,' while he stretched forth his hand and
declared that Italians were like women, and wanted--yes, wanted--(their
instinct called for it) a beating, a real beating; as the emphatic would
say in our vernacular, a thundering thrashing, once a month:-'Or so,' the
General added acquiescingly. A thundering thrashing, once a month or so,
to these unruly Italians, because they are like women! It was a youth
who spoke, but none doubted his acquaintance with women, or cared to
suggest that his education in that department of knowledge was an
insufficient guarantee for his fitness to govern Venezia. Two young
dragoon officers had approached during the fervid allocution, and after
the salute to their superior, caught up chairs and stamped them down,
thereupon calling for the loan of anybody's cigar-case. Where it is that
an Austrian officer ordinarily keeps this instrument so necessary to his
comfort, and obnoxious, one would suppose, to the rigid correctness of
his shapely costume, we cannot easily guess. None can tell even where he
stows away his pocket-handkerchief, or haply his purse. However, these
things appear on demand. Several elongated cigar-cases were thrust
forward, and then it was seen that the attire of the gallant youngsters
was in disorder.
'Did you hunt her to earth?' they were asked.
The reply trenched on philosophy; and consisted in an inquiry as to who
cared for the whole basketful--of the like description of damsels, being
implied. Immoderate and uproarious laughter burst around them. Both
seemed to have been clawed impartially. Their tightfitting coats bulged
at the breast or opened at the waist, as though buttons were lacking,
and the whiteness of that garment cried aloud for the purification of
pipeclay. Questions flew. The damsel who had been pursued was known as
a pretty girl, the daughter of a blacksmith, and no prolonged resistance
was expected from one of her class. But, as it came out, she had said,
a week past, 'I shall be stabbed if I am seen talking to you'; and
therefore the odd matter was, not that she had, in tripping down the
Piazza with her rogue-eyed cousin from Milan, looked away and declined
all invitation to moderate her pace and to converse, but that, after
doubling down and about lonely streets, the length of which she ran as
swiftly as her feet would carry her, at a corner of the Via Colomba she
allowed herself to be caught--wilfully, beyond a doubt, seeing that she
was not a bit breathed--allowed one quick taste of her lips, and then
shrieked as naturally as a netted bird, and brought a hustling crowd just
at that particular point to her rescue: not less than fifty, and all men.
'Not a woman among them!' the excited young officer repeated.
A veteran in similar affairs could see that he had the wish to remain
undisturbed in his bewilderment at the damsel's conduct. Profound belief
in her partiality for him perplexed his recent experience rather
agreeably. Indeed, it was at this epoch an article of faith with the
Austrian military that nothing save terror of their males kept sweet
Italian women from the expression of their preference for the broad-
shouldered, thick-limbed, yellow-haired warriors--the contrast to
themselves which is supposed greatly to inspirit genial Cupid in the
selection from his quiver.
'What became of her? Did you let her go?' came pestering remarks, too
absurd for replies if they had not been so persistent.
'Let her go? In the devil's name, how was I to keep my hold of her in a
crowd of fifty of the fellows, all mowing, and hustling, and elbowing--
every rascal stinking right under my nose like the pit?'
''Hem!' went the General present. 'As long as you did not draw!
Unsheathe, a minute.'
He motioned for a sight of their naked swords.
The couple of young officers flushed.
'Herr General! Pardon!' they remonstrated.
'No, no. I know how boys talk; I've been one myself. Tutt! You tell
the truth, of course; but the business is for me to know in what! how
far! Your swords, gentlemen.'
'Well? I merely wish to examine the blades.'
'Do you doubt our words?'
'Hark at them! Words? Are you lawyers? A soldier deals in acts. I
don't want to know your words, but your deeds, my gallant lads. I want
to look at the blades of your swords, my children. What was the last
order? That on no account were we to provoke, or, if possibly to be
avoided, accept a collision, etc., etc. The soldier in peace is a
citizen, etc. No sword on any account, or for any excuse, to be drawn,
etc. You all heard it? So, good! I receive your denial, my children.
In addition, I merely desire to satisfy curiosity. Did the guard clear a
way for you?'
The answer was affirmative.
One of them drew, and proffered the handle.
The other clasped the haft angrily, and with a resolute smack on it,
settled it in the scabbard.
'Am I a prisoner, General?'
'Not at all!'
'Then I decline to surrender my sword.'
Another General officer happened to be sauntering by. Applauding with
his hands, and choosing the Italian language as the best form of speech
for the enunciation of ironical superlatives, he said:
'Eccellentemente! most admirable! of a distinguished loftiness of moral
grandeur: "Then I decline," etc.: you are aware that you are quoting?
"as the drummerboy said to Napoleon." I think you forgot to add that?
It is the same young soldier who utters these immense things, which we
can hardly get out of our mouths. So the little fellow towers! His
moral greatness is as noisy as his drum. What's wrong?'
'General Pierson, nothing's wrong,' was replied by several voices; and
some explained that Lieutenant Jenna had been called upon by General
Schoneck to show his sword, and had refused.
The heroic defender of his sword shouted to the officer with whom General
Pierson had been conversing: 'Here! Weisspriess!'
'What is it, my dear fellow? Speak, my good Jenna!'
The explanation was given, and full sympathy elicited from Captain
Weisspriess, while the two Generals likewise whispered and nodded.
'Did you draw?' the captain inquired, yawning. 'You needn't say it
in quite so many words, if you did. I shall be asked by the General
presently; and owing to that duel pending 'twixt you and his nephew, of
which he is aware, he may put a bad interpretation on your pepperiness.'
'The devil fetch his nephew!' returned the furious Lieutenant Jenna.
'He comes back to-night from Milan, and if he doesn't fight me to-morrow,
I post him a coward. Well, about that business! My good Weisspriess,
the fellows had got into a thick crowd all round, and had begun to knead
me. Do you understand me? I felt their knuckles.'
'Ah, good, good!' said the captain. 'Then, you didn't draw, of course.
What officer of the Imperial service would, under similar circumstances!
That is my reply to the Emperor, if ever I am questioned. To draw would
be to show that an Austrian officer relies on his good sword in the thick
of his enemies; against which, as you know, my Jenna, the Government have
issued an express injunction button. Did you sell it dear?'
'A fellow parted with his ear for it.'
Lieutenant Jenna illustrated a particular cut from a turn of his wrist.
'That oughtn't to make a noise?' he queried somewhat anxiously.
'It won't hear one any longer, at all events,' said Captain Weisspriess;
and the two officers entered into the significance of the remark with
Meantime General Pierson had concluded an apparently humorous dialogue
with his brother General, and the later, now addressing Lieutenant Jenna,
said: 'Since you prefer surrendering your person rather than your sword--
it is good! Report yourself at the door of my room to-night, at ten. I
suspect that you have been blazing your steel, sir. They say, 'tis as
ready to flash out as your temper.'
Several voices interposed: 'General! what if he did draw!'
'Silence. You have read the recent order. Orlando may have his
Durindarda bare; but you may not. Grasp that fact. The Government wish
to make Christians of you, my children. One cheek being smitten, what
should you do?'
'Shall I show you, General?' cried a quick little subaltern.
'The order, my children, as received a fortnight since from our old Wien,
commands you to offer the other cheek to the smiter.'
'So that a proper balance may be restored to both sides of the face,'
General Pierson appended.
'And mark me,' he resumed. 'There may be doubts about the policy of
anything, though I shouldn't counsel you to cherish them: but there's no
mortal doubt about the punishment for this thing.' The General spoke
sternly; and then relaxing the severity of his tone, he said, 'The desire
of the Government is to make an army of Christians.'
'And a precious way of doing it!' interjected two or three of the younger
officers. They perfectly understood how hateful the Viennese domination
was to their chiefs, and that they would meet sympathy and tolerance for
any extreme of irony, provided that they showed a disposition to be
subordinate. For the bureaucratic order, whatever it was, had to be
obeyed. The army might, and of course did, know best: nevertheless it
was bound to be nothing better than a machine in the hands of the dull
closeted men in Vienna, who judged of difficulties and plans of action
from a calculation of numbers, or from foreign journals--from heaven
General Schoneck and General Pierson walked away laughing, and the
younger officers were left to themselves. Half-a-dozen of them
interlaced arms, striding up toward the Porta Nuova, near which, at the
corner of the Via Trinita, they had the pleasant excitement of beholding
a riderless horse suddenly in mid gallop sink on its knees and roll over.
A crowd came pouring after it, and from the midst the voice of a comrade
hailed them. 'It's Pierson,' cried Lieutenant Jenna. The officers drew
their swords, and hailed the guard from the gates. Lieutenant Pierson
dropped in among their shoulders, dead from want of breath. They held
him up, and finding him sound, thumped his back. The blade of his sword
was red. He coughed with their thumpings, and sang out to them to cease;
the idle mob which had been at his heels drew back before the guard could
come up with them. Lieutenant Pierson gave no explanation except that he
had been attacked near Juliet's tomb on his way to General Schoneck's
quarters. Fellows had stabbed his horse, and brought him to the ground,
and torn the coat off his back. He complained in bitter mutterings of
the loss of a letter therein, during the first candid moments of his
anger: and, as he was known to be engaged to the Countess Lena von
Lenkenstein, it was conjectured by his comrades that this lady might have
had something to do with the ravishment of the letter. Great laughter
surrounded him, and he looked from man to man. Allowance is naturally
made for the irascibility of a brother officer coming tattered out of the
hands of enemies, or Lieutenant Jenna would have construed his eye's
challenge on the spot. As it was, he cried out, 'The letter! the letter!
Charge, for the honour of the army, and rescue the letter!' Others echoed
him: 'The letter! the letter! the English letter!' A foreigner in an army
can have as much provocation as he pleases; if he is anything of a
favourite with his superiors, his fellows will task his forbearance.
Wilfrid Pierson glanced at the blade of his sword, and slowly sheathed
it. 'Lieutenant Jenna is a good actor before a mob,' he said.
'Gentlemen, I rely upon you to make no noise about that letter; it is a
private matter. In an hour or so, if any officer shall choose to
question me concerning it, I will answer him.'
The last remnants of the mob had withdrawn. The officer in command at
the gates threw a cloak over Wilfrid's shoulders; and taking the arm of a
friend Wilfrid hurried to barracks, and was quickly in a position to
report himself to his General, whose first remark, 'Has the dead horse
been removed?' robbed him of his usual readiness to equivocate. 'When
you are the bearer of a verbal despatch, come straight to quarters, if
you have to come like a fig-tree on the north side of the wall in
Winter,' said General Schoneck, who was joined presently by General
'What 's this I hear of some letter you have been barking about all over
the city?' the latter asked, after returning his nephew's on-duty salute.
Wilfrid replied that it was a letter of his sister's treating of family
The two Generals, who were close friends, discussed the attack to which
he had been subjected. Wilfrid had to recount it with circumstance: how,
as he was nearing General Schoneck's quarters at a military trot, six men
headed by a leader had dashed out on him from a narrow side-street,
unhorsed him after a struggle, rifled the saddlebags, and torn the coat
from his back, and had taken the mark of his sword, while a gathering
crowd looked on, hooting. His horse had fled, and he confessed that he
had followed his horse. General Schoneck spoke the name of Countess Lena
suggestively. 'Not a bit,' returned General Pierson; 'the fellow courts
her too hotly. The scoundrels here want a bombardment; that 's where it
lies. A dose of iron pills will make Verona a healthy place. She must
General Schoneck said, 'I hope not,' and laughed at the heat of Irish
blood. He led Wilfrid in to the Marshal, after which Wilfrid was free to
seek Lieutenant Jenna, who had gained the right to a similar freedom by
pledging his honour not to fight within a stipulated term of days. The
next morning Wilfrid was roused by an orderly coming from his uncle, who
placed in his hands a copy of Vittoria's letter: at the end of it his
uncle had written, 'Rather astonishing. Done pretty well; but by a
foreigner. "Affection" spelt with one "f." An Italian: you will see the
letters are emphatic at "ugly flag"; also "bloody and past forgiveness"
very large; the copyist had a dash of the feelings of a commentator, and
did his (or her) best to add an oath to it. Who the deuce, sir, is this
opera girl calling herself Vittoria? I have a lecture for you. German
women don't forgive diversions during courtship; and if you let this
Countess Lena slip, your chance has gone. I compliment you on your power
of lying; but you must learn to show your right face to me, or the very
handsome feature, your nose, and that useful box, your skull, will come
to grief. The whole business is a mystery. The letter (copy) was
directed to you, brought to me, and opened in a fit of abstraction,
necessary to commanding uncles who are trying to push the fortunes of
young noodles pretending to be related to them. Go to Countess Lena.
Count Paul is with her, from Bologna. Speak to her, and observe her and
him. He knows English--has been attached to the embassy in London; but,
pooh! the hand's Italian. I confess myself puzzled. We shall possibly
have to act on the intimation of the fifteenth, and profess to be wiser
than others. Something is brewing for business. See Countess Lena
boldly, and then come and breakfast with me.'
Wilfrid read the miserable copy of Vittoria's letter, utterly unable to
resolve anything in his mind, except that he would know among a thousand
the leader of those men who had attacked him, and who bore the mark of
THE POPE'S MOUTH
Barto Rizzo had done what he had sworn to do. He had not found it
difficult to outstrip the lieutenant (who had to visit Brescia on his
way) and reach the gates of Verona in advance of him, where he obtained
entrance among a body of grape-gatherers and others descending from the
hills to meet a press of labour in the autumnal plains. With them he
hoped to issue forth unchallenged on the following morning; but Wilfrid's
sword had made lusty play; and, as in the case when the order has been
given that a man shall be spared in life and limb, Barto and his fellow-
assailants suffered by their effort to hold him simply half a minute
powerless. He received a shrewd cut across the head, and lay for a
couple of hours senseless in the wine-shop of one Battista--one of the
many all over Lombardy who had pledged their allegiance to the Great Cat,
thinking him scarcely vulnerable. He read the letter, dizzy with pain,
and with the frankness proper to inflated spirits after loss of blood, he
owned to himself that it was not worth much as a prize. It was worth the
attempt to get possession of it, for anything is worth what it costs, if
it be only as a schooling in resolution, energy, and devotedness:--
regrets are the sole admission of a fruitless business; they show the bad
tree;--so, according to his principle of action, he deliberated; but he
was compelled to admit that Vittoria's letter was little else than a
repetition of her want of discretion when she was on the Motterone. He
admitted it, wrathfully: his efforts to convict this woman telling him
she deserved some punishment; and his suspicions being unsatisfied, he
resolved to keep them hungry upon her, and return to Milan at once. As
to the letter itself, he purposed, since the harm in it was accomplished,
to send it back honourably to the lieutenant, till finding it blood-
stained, he declined to furnish the gratification of such a sight to any
Austrian sword. For that reason, he copied it, while Battista's wife
held double bandages tight round his head: believing that the letter
stood transcribed in a precisely similar hand, he forwarded it to
Lieutenant Pierson, and then sank and swooned. Two days he lay incapable
and let his thoughts dance as they would. Information was brought to him
that the gates were strictly watched, and that troops were starting for
Milan. This was in the dull hour antecedent to the dawn. 'She is a
traitress!' he exclaimed, and leaping from his bed, as with a brain
striking fire, screamed, 'Traitress! traitress!' Battista and his wife
had to fling themselves on him and gag him, guessing him as mad. He
spoke pompously and theatrically; called himself the Eye of Italy, and
said that he must be in Milan, or Milan would perish, because of the
traitress: all with a great sullen air of composure and an odd distension
of the eyelids. When they released him, he smiled and thanked them,
though they knew, that had he chosen, he could have thrown off a dozen of
them, such was his strength. The woman went down on her knees to him to
get his consent that she should dress and bandage his head afresh. The
sound of the regimental bugles drew him from the house, rather than any
immediate settled scheme to watch at the gates.
Artillery and infantry were in motion before sunrise, from various points
of the city, bearing toward the Palio and Zeno gates, and the people
turned out to see them, for it was a march that looked like the beginning
of things. The soldiers had green twigs in their hats, and kissed their
hands good-humouredly to the gazing crowd, shouting bits of verses:
'I'm off! I'm off! Farewell, Mariandl! if I come back a sergeant-major
or a Field-Marshal, don't turn up your nose at me: Swear you will be
faithful all the while; because, when a woman swears, it's a comfort,
somehow: Farewell! Squeeze the cow's udders: I shall be thirsty enough:
You pretty wriggler! don't you know, the first cup of wine and the last,
I shall float your name on it? Luck to the lads we leave behind!
The kindly fellows waved their hands and would take no rebuff. The
soldiery of Austria are kindlier than most, until their blood is up.
A Tyrolese regiment passed, singing splendidly in chorus. Songs of
sentiment prevailed, but the traditions of a soldier's experience of the
sex have informed his ballads with strange touches of irony, that help
him to his (so to say) philosophy, which is recklessness. The Tyroler's
'Katchen' here, was a saturnine Giulia, who gave him no response, either
of eye or lip.
'Little mother, little sister, little sweetheart, 'ade! ade!' My little
sweetheart, your meadow is half-way up the mountain; it's such a green
spot on the eyeballs of a roving boy! and the chapel just above it, I
shall see it as I've seen it a thousand times; and the cloud hangs near
it, and moves to the door and enters, for it is an angel, not a cloud; a
white angel gone in to pray for Katerlein and me: Little mother, little
sister, little sweetheart, 'ade! ade!' Keep single, Katerlein, as long
as you can: as long as you can hold out, keep single: 'ade!''
Fifteen hundred men and six guns were counted as they marched on to one
Barto Rizzo, with Battista and his wife on each side of him, were among
the spectators. The black cock's feathers of the Tyrolese were still
fluttering up the Corso, when the woman said, 'I 've known the tail of a
regiment get through the gates without having to show paper.'
Battista thereupon asked Barto whether he would try that chance. The
answer was a vacuous shake of the head, accompanied by an expression of
unutterable mournfulness. 'There's no other way,' pursued Battista,
'unless you jump into the Adige, and swim down half-a-mile under water;
and cats hate water--eh, my comico?'
He conceived that the sword-cut had rendered Barto imbecile, and pulled
his hat down his forehead, and patted his shoulder, and bade him have
cheer, patronizingly: but women do not so lightly lose their impression
of a notable man. His wife checked him. Barto had shut his eyes, and
hung swaying between them, as in drowsiness or drunkenness. Like his
body, his faith was swaying within him. He felt it borne upon the
reeling brain, and clung to it desperately, calling upon chance to aid
him; for he was weak, incapable of a physical or mental contest, and this
part of his settled creed that human beings alone failed the patriotic
cause as instruments, while circumstances constantly befriended it--was
shocked by present events. The image of Vittoria, the traitress, floated
over the soldiery marching on Milan through her treachery. Never had an
Austrian force seemed to him so terrible. He had to yield the internal
fight, and let his faith sink and be blackened, in order that his mind
might rest supine, according to his remembered system; for the
inspiration which points to the right course does not come during mental
strife, but after it, when faith summons its agencies undisturbed--if
only men will have the faith, and will teach themselves to know that the
inspiration must come, and will counsel them justly. This was a part of
Barto Rizzo's sustaining creed; nor did he lose his grasp of it in the
torment and the darkness of his condition.
He heard English voices. A carriage had stopped almost in front of him.
A General officer was hat in hand, talking to a lady, who called him
uncle, and said that she had been obliged to decide to quit Verona on
account of her husband, to whom the excessive heat was unendurable. Her
husband, in the same breath, protested that the heat killed him. He
adorned the statement with all kinds of domestic and subterranean
imagery, and laughed faintly, saying that after the fifteenth--on which
night his wife insisted upon going to the Opera at Milan to hear a new
singer and old friend--he should try a week at the Baths of Bormio, and
only drop from the mountains when a proper temperature reigned, he being
something of an invalid.
'And, uncle, will you be in Milan on the fifteenth?' said the lady; 'and
'Wilfrid will reach Milan as soon as you do, and I shall undoubtedly be
there on the fifteenth,' said the General.
'I cannot possibly express to you how beautiful I think your army looks,'
said the lady.
'Fine men, General Pierson, very fine men. I never saw such marching--
equal to our Guards,' her husband remarked.
The lady named her Milanese hotel as the General waved his plumes,
nodded, and rode off.
Before the carriage had started, Barto Rizzo dashed up to it; and 'Dear
good English lady,' he addressed her, 'I am the brother of Luigi, who
carries letters for you in Milan--little Luigi!--and I have a mother
dying in Milan; and here I am in Verona, ill, and can't get to her, poor
soul! Will you allow me that I may sit up behind as quiet as a mouse,
and be near one of the lovely English ladies who are so kind to
unfortunate persons, and never deaf to the name of charity? It's my
mother who is dying, poor soul!'
The lady consulted her husband's face, which presented the total blank of
one who refused to be responsible for an opinion hostile to the claims of
charity, while it was impossible for him to fall in with foreign habits
of familiarity, and accede to extraordinary petitions. Barto sprang up.
'I shall be your courier, dear lady,' he said, and commenced his
professional career in her service by shouting to the vetturino to drive
on. Wilfrid met them as he was trotting down from the Porta del Palio,
and to him his sister confided her new trouble in having a strange man
attached to her, who might be anything. 'We don't know the man,' said
her husband; and Adela pleaded for him: 'Don't speak to him harshly,
pray, Wilfrid; he says he has a mother dying in Milan.' Barto kept his
head down on his arms and groaned; Adela gave a doleful little grimace.
'Oh, take the poor beggar,' said Wilfrid; and sang out to him in Italian:
'Who are you--what are you, my fine fellow?' Barto groaned louder, and
replied in Swiss-French from a smothering depth: 'A poor man, and the
gracious lady's servant till we reach Milan.'
'I can't wait,' said Wilfrid; 'I start in half-an-hour. It's all right;
you must take him now you've got him, or else pitch him out--one of the
two. If things go on quietly we shall have the Autumn manoeuvres in a
week, and then you may see something of the army.' He rode away. Barto
passed the gates as one of the licenced English family.
Milan was more strictly guarded than when he had quitted it. He had
anticipated that it would be so, and tamed his spirit to submit to the
slow stages of the carriage, spent a fiery night in Brescia, and entered
the city of action on the noon of the fourteenth. Safe within the walls,
he thanked the English lady, assuring her that her charitable deed would
be remembered aloft. He then turned his steps in the direction of the
Revolutionary post-office. This place was nothing other than a blank
abutment of a corner house that had long been undergoing repair, and had
a great bank of brick and mortar rubbish at its base. A stationary
melonseller and some black fig and vegetable stalls occupied the
triangular space fronting it. The removal of a square piece of cement
showed a recess, where, chiefly during the night, letters and
proclamation papers were deposited, for the accredited postman to
disperse them. Hither, as one would go to a caffe for the news, Barto
Rizzo came in the broad glare of noon, and flinging himself down like a
tired man under the strip of shade, worked with a hand behind him, and
drew out several folded scraps, of which one was addressed to him by his
initials. He opened it and read:
'Your house is watched.
'A corporal of the P . . . ka regiment was seen leaving it this
morning in time for the second bugle.
'Reply:--where to meet.
'Spies are doubled, troops coming.
'The numbers in Verona; who heads them.
'Look to your wife.
'Letters are called for every third hour.'
Barto sneered indolently at this fresh evidence of the small amount of
intelligence which he could ever learn from others. He threw his eyes
all round the vacant space while pencilling in reply:--
'V. waits for M., but in a box' (that is, Verona for Milan). 'We take
the key to her.
'I have no wife, but a little pupil.
'A Lieutenant Pierson, of the dragoons; Czech white coats, helmets
without plumes; an Englishman, nephew of General Pierson: speaks crippled
Italian; returns from V. to-day. Keep eye on him;--what house, what
Meditating awhile, Barto wrote out Vittoria's name and enclosed it in a
thick black ring.
Beneath it he wrote
'The same on all the play-bills.
'The Fifteenth is cancelled.
'We meet the day after.
'At the house of Count M. to-night.'
He secreted this missive, and wrote Vittoria's name on numbers of slips
to divers addresses, heading them, 'From the Pope's Mouth,' such being
the title of the Revolutionary postoffice, to whatsoever spot it might in
prudence shift. The title was entirely complimentary to his Holiness.
Tangible freedom, as well as airy blessings, were at that time
anticipated, and not without warrant, from the mouth of the successor of
St. Peter. From the Pope's Mouth the clear voice of Italian liberty was
to issue. This sentiment of the period was a natural and a joyful one,
and endowed the popular ebullition with a sense of unity and a stamp of
righteousness that the abstract idea of liberty could not assure to it
before martyrdom. After suffering, after walking in the shades of death
and despair, men of worth and of valour cease to take high personages as
representative objects of worship, even when these (as the good Pope was
then doing) benevolently bless the nation and bid it to have great hope,
with a voice of authority. But, for an extended popular movement a great
name is like a consecrated banner. Proclamations from the Pope's Mouth
exacted reverence, and Barto Rizzo, who despised the Pope (because he was
Pope, doubtless), did not hesitate to make use of him by virtue of his
Barto lay against the heap of rubbish, waiting for the approach of his
trained lad, Checco, a lanky simpleton, cunning as a pure idiot, who was
doing postman's duty, when a kick, delivered by that youth behind, sent
him bounding round with rage, like a fish in air. The marketplace
resounded with a clapping of hands; for it was here that Checco came
daily to eat figs, and it was known that the 'povero,' the dear half-
witted creature, would not tolerate an intruder in the place where he
stretched his limbs to peel and suck in the gummy morsels twice or thrice
a day. Barto seized and shook him. Checco knocked off his hat; the
bandage about the wound broke and dropped, and Barto put his hand to his
forehead, murmuring: 'What 's come to me that I lose my temper with a
The excitement all over the triangular space was hushed by an imperious
guttural shout that scattered the groups. Two Austrian officers,
followed by military servants, rode side by side. Dust had whitened
their mustachios, and the heat had laid a brown-red varnish on their
faces. Way was made for them, while Barto stood smoothing his forehead
and staring at Checco.
'I see the very man!' cried one of the officers quickly. 'Weisspriess,
there's the rascal who headed the attack on me in Verona the other day.
It's the same!
'Himmel!' returned his companion, scrutinizing the sword-cut, 'if that's
your work on his head, you did it right well, my Pierson! He is very
neatly scored indeed. A clean stroke, manifestly!'
'But here when I left Milan! at Verona when I entered the North-west gate
there; and the first man I see as I come back is this very brute. He
dogs me everywhere! By the way, there may be two of them.'
Lieutenant Pierson leaned over his horse's neck, and looked narrowly at
the man Barto Rizzo. He himself was eyed as in retort, and with yet
greater intentness. At first Barto's hand was sweeping the air within a
finger's length of his forehead, like one who fought a giddiness for
steady sight. The mist upon his brain dispersing under the gaze of his
enemy, his eyeballs fixed, and he became a curious picture of passive
malice, his eyes seeming to say: 'It is enough for me to know your
features, and I know them.' Such a look from a civilian is exasperating:
it was scarcely to be endured from an Italian of the plebs.
'You appear to me to want more,' said the lieutenant audibly to himself;
and he repeated words to the same effect to his companion, in bad German.
'Eh? You would promote him to another epaulette?' laughed Captain
Weisspriess. 'Come off. Orders are direct against it. And we're in
Milan--not like being in Verona! And my good fellow! remember your bet;
the dozen of iced Rudesheimer. I want to drink my share, and dream I'm
quartered in Mainz--the only place for an Austrian when he quits Vienna.
'No; but if this is the villain who attacked me, and tore my coat from my
back,' cried Wilfrid, screwing in his saddle.
'And took your letter took your letter; a particular letter; we have
heard of it,' said Weisspriess.
The lieutenant exclaimed that he should overhaul and examine the man, and
see whether he thought fit to give him into custody. Weisspriess laid
hand on his bridle.
'Take my advice, and don't provoke a disturbance in the streets. The
truth is, you Englishmen and Irishmen get us a bad name among these
natives. If this is the man who unhorsed you and maltreated you, and
committed the rape of the letter, I'm afraid you won't get satisfaction
out of him, to judge by his look. I'm really afraid not. Try it if you
like. In any case, if you halt, I am compelled to quit your society,
which is sometimes infinitely diverting. Let me remind you that you bear
despatches. The other day they were verbal ones; you are now carrying
'Are you anxious to teach me my duty, Captain Weisspriess?'
'If you don't know it. I said I would "remind you." I can also teach
you, if you need it.'
'And I can pay you for the instruction, whenever you are disposed to
'Settle your outstanding claims, my good Pierson!'
'When I have fought Jenna?'
'Oh! you're a Prussian--a Prussian!' Captain Weisspriess laughed.
'A Prussian, I mean, in your gross way of blurting out everything.
I've marched and messed with Prussians--with oxen.'
'I am, as you are aware, an Englishman, Captain Weisspriess. I am due to
Lieutenant Jenna for the present. After that you or any one may command
'As you please,' said Weisspriess, drawing out one stream of his
moustache. 'In the meantime, thank me for luring you away from the
chances of a street row.'
Barto Rizzo was left behind, and they rode on to the Duomo. Glancing up
at its pinnacles, Weisspriess said:
'How splendidly Flatschmann's jagers would pick them off from there, now,
if the dogs were giving trouble in this part of the city!'
They entered upon a professional discussion of the ways and means of
dealing with a revolutionary movement in the streets of a city like
Milan, and passed on to the Piazza La Scala. Weisspriess stopped before
the Play-bills. 'To-morrow's the fifteenth of the month,' he said.
'Shall I tell you a secret, Pierson? I am to have a private peep at
the new prima donna this night. They say she's charming, and very pert.
"I do not interchange letters with Germans." Benlomik sent her a neat
little note to the conservatorio--he hadn't seen her only heard of her,
and that was our patriotic reply. She wants taming. I believe I am
called upon for that duty. At least, my friend Antonio-Pericles, who
occasionally assists me with supplies, hints as much to me. You're an
engaged man, or, upon my honour, I wouldn't trust you; but between
ourselves, this Greek--and he's quite right--is trying to get her away
from the set of snuffy vagabonds who are prompting her for mischief, and
don't know how to treat her.'
While he was speaking Barto Rizzo pushed roughly between them, and with a
black brush painted the circle about Vittoria's name.
'Do you see that?' said Weisspriess.
'I see,' Wilfrid retorted, 'that you are ready to meddle with the
reputation of any woman who is likely to be talked about. Don't do it
in my presence.'
It was natural for Captain Weisspriess to express astonishment at this
outburst, and the accompanying quiver of Wilfrid's lip.
'Austrian military etiquette, Lieutenant Pierson,' he said, 'precludes
the suspicion that the officers of the Imperial army are subject to
dissension in public. We conduct these affairs upon a different
principle. But I'll tell you what. That fellow's behaviour may be
construed as a more than common stretch of incivility. I'll do you a
service. I'll arrest him, and then you can hear tidings of your precious
letter. We'll have his confession published.'
Weisspriess drew his sword, and commanded the troopers in attendance to
lay hands on Barto; but the troopers called, and the officer found that
they were surrounded. Weisspriess shrugged dismally. 'The brute must
go, I suppose,' he said. The situation was one of those which were every
now and then occurring in the Lombard towns and cities, when a chance
provocation created a riot that became a revolt or not, according to the
timidity of the ruling powers or the readiness of the disaffected. The
extent and evident regulation of the crowd operated as a warning to the
Imperial officers. Weisspriess sheathed his sword and shouted, 'Way,
there!' Way was made for him; but Wilfrid lingered to scrutinize the man
who, for an unaccountable reason, appeared to be his peculiar enemy.
Barto carelessly threaded the crowd, and Wilfrid, finding it useless
to get out after him, cried, 'Who is he? Tell me the name of that man?'
The question drew a great burst of laughter around him, and exclamations
of 'Englishman! Englishman!' He turned where there was a clear way left
for him in the track of his brother officer.
Comments on the petty disturbance had been all the while passing at the
Caffe La Scala, where sat Agostino Balderini, with, Count Medole and
others, who, if the order for their arrest had been issued, were as safe
in that place as in their own homes. Their policy, indeed, was to show
themselves openly abroad. Agostino was enjoying the smoke of paper
cigarettes, with all prudent regard for the well-being of an inflammable
beard. Perceiving Wilfrid going by, he said, 'An Englishman! I continue
to hope much from his countrymen. I have no right to do so, only they
insist on it. They have promised, and more than once, to sail a fleet
to our assistance across the plains of Lombardy, and I believe they will
--probably in the watery epoch which is to follow Metternich. Behold my
Carlo approaching. The heart of that lad doth so boil the brain of him,
he can scarcely keep the lid on. What is it now? Speak, my son.'
Carlo Ammiani had to communicate that he had just seen a black circle
to Vittoria's name on two public playbills. His endeavour to ape a
deliberate gravity while he told the tale, roused Agostino's humouristic
'Round her name?' said Agostino.
'Yes; in every bill.'
'Meaning that she is suspected!'
'Meaning any damnable thing you like.'
'It's a device of the enemy.'
Agostino, glad of the pretext to recur to his habitual luxurious irony,
threw himself back, repeating 'It 's a device of the enemy. Calculate,
my son, that the enemy invariably knows all you intend to do: determine
simply to astonish him with what you do. Intentions have lungs, Carlo,
and depend on the circumambient air, which, if not designedly
treacherous, is communicative. Deeds, I need not remark, are a different
body. It has for many generations been our Italian error to imagine a
positive blood relationship--not to say maternity itself--existing
between intentions and deeds. Nothing of the sort! There is only the
intention of a link to unite them. You perceive? It's much to be famous
for fine intentions, so we won't complain. Indeed, it's not our business
to complain, but Posterity's; for fine intentions are really rich
possessions, but they don't leave grand legacies; that is all. They mean
to possess the future: they are only the voluptuous sons of the present.
It's my belief, Carlino, from observation, apprehension, and other gifts
of my senses, that our paternal government is not unacquainted with our
intention to sing a song in a certain opera. And it may have learnt our
clumsy method of enclosing names publicly, at the bidding of a non-
appointed prosecutor, so to, isolate or extinguish them. Who can say?
Oh, ay! Yes! the machinery that can so easily be made rickety is to
blame; we admit that; but if you will have a conspiracy like a Geneva
watch, you must expect any slight interference with the laws that govern
it to upset the mechanism altogether. Ah-a! look yonder, but not
hastily, my Carlo. Checco is nearing us, and he knows that he has
fellows after him. And if I guess right, he has a burden to deliver to
one of us.'
Checco came along at his usual pace, and it was quite evident that he
fancied himself under espionage. On two sides of the square a suspicious
figure threaded its way in the line of shade not far behind him. Checco
passed the caf‚ looking at nothing but the huge hands he rubbed over and
over. The manifest agents of the polizia were nearing when Checco ran
back, and began mouthing as in retort at something that had been spoken
from the caf‚ as he shot by. He made a gabbling appeal on either side,
and addressed the pair of apparent mouchards, in what, if intelligible,
should have been the language of earnest entreaty. At the first word
which the caffe was guilty of uttering, a fit of exasperation seized him,
and the exciteable creature plucked at his hat and sent it whirling
across the open-air tables right through the doorway. Then, with a
whine, he begged his followers to get his hat back for him. They
'We only called "Illustrissimo!"' said Agostino, as one of the men
returned from the interior of the caffe hat in hand.
'The Signori should have known better--it is an idiot,' the man replied.
He was a novice: in daring to rebuke he betrayed his office.
Checco snatched his hat from his attentive friend grinning, and was away
in a flash. Thereupon the caffe laughed, and laughed with an abashing
vehemence that disconcerted the spies. They wavered in their choice of
following Checco or not; one went a step forward, one pulled back; the
loiterer hurried to rejoin his comrade, who was now for a retrograde
movement, and standing together they swayed like two imperfectly jolly
fellows, or ballet bandits, each plucking at the other, until at last the
maddening laughter made them break, reciprocate cat-like hisses of abuse,
and escape as they best could--lamentable figures.
'It says well for Milan that the Tedeschi can scrape up nothing better
from the gutters than rascals the like of those for their service,' quoth
Agostino. 'Eh, Signor Conte?'
'That enclosure about La Vittoria's name on the bills is correct,' said
the person addressed, in a low tone. He turned and indicated one who
followed from the interior of the caffe.
'If Barto is to be trusted she is not safe,' the latter remarked. He
produced a paper that had been secreted in Checco's hat. Under the date
and the superscription of the Pope's Mouth, 'LA VITTORIA' stood out in
the ominous heavily-pencilled ring: the initials of Barto Rizzo were in a
corner. Agostino began smoothing his beard.
'He has discovered that she is not trustworthy,' said Count Medole, a
young man of a premature gravity and partial baldness, who spoke
habitually with a forefinger pressed flat on his long pointed chin.
'Do you mean to tell me, Count Medole, that you attach importance to a
communication of this sort?' said Carlo, forcing an amazement to conceal
'I do, Count Ammiani,' returned the patrician conspirator.
'You really listen to a man you despise?'
'I do not despise him, my friend.'
'You cannot surely tell us that you allow such a man, on his sole
authority, to blacken the character of the signorina?'
'I believe that he has not.'
'Believe? trust him? Then we are all in his hands. What can you mean?
Come to the signorina herself instantly. Agostino, you now conduct Count
Medole to her, and save him from the shame of subscribing to the
monstrous calumny. I beg you to go with our Agostino, Count Medole. It
is time for you--I honour you for the part you have taken; but it is time
to act according to your own better judgement.'
Count Medole bowed.
'The filthy rat!' cried Ammiani, panting to let out his wrath.
'A serviceable dog,' Agostino remarked correctingly. 'Keep true to the
form of animal, Carlo. He has done good service in his time.'
'You listen to the man?' Carlo said, now thoroughly amazed.
'An indiscretion is possible to woman, my lad. She may have been
indiscreet in some way I am compelled to admit the existence of
'Of all men, you, Agostino! You call her daughter, and profess to love
'You forget,' said Agostino sharply. 'The question concerns the country,
not the girl.' He added in an underbreath, 'I think you are professing
that you love her a little too strongly, and scarce give her much help as
an advocate. The matter must be looked into. If Barto shall be found to
have acted without just grounds, I am certain that Count Medole'--he
turned suavely to the nobleman--'will withdraw confidence from him; and
that will be equivalent to a rope's-end for Barto. We shall see him to-
night at your house?'
'He will be there,' Medole said.
'But the harm's done; the mischief's done! And what's to follow if you
shall choose to consider this vile idiot justified?' asked Ammiani.
'She sings, and there is no rising,' said Medole.
'She is detached from the patriotic battery, for the moment: it will be
better for her not to sing at all,' said Agostino. 'In fact, Barto has
merely given us warning that--and things look like it--the Fifteenth is
likely to be an Austrian feast-day. Your arm, my son. We will join you
to-night, my dear Count. Now, Carlo, I was observing, it appears to me
that the Austrians are not going to be surprised by us, and it affords
me exquisite comfort. Fellows prepared are never more than prepared for
one day and another day; and they are sure to be in a state of lax
preparation after a first and second disappointment. On the contrary,
fellows surprised'--Agostino had recovered his old smile again--'fellows
surprised may be expected to make use of the inspirations pertaining to
genius. Don't you see?'
'Oh, cruel! I am sick of you all!' Carlo exclaimed. 'Look at her; think
of her, with her pure dream of Italy and her noble devotion. And you
permit a doubt to be cast on her!'
'Now, is it not true that you have an idea of the country not being
worthy of her?' said Agostino, slyly. 'The Chief, I fancy, did not take
certain facts into his calculation when he pleaded that the conspiratrix
was the sum and completion of the conspirator. You will come to Medole's
to-night, Carlo. You need not be too sweet to him, but beware of
explosiveness. I, a Republican, am nevertheless a practical exponent
of the sacrifices necessary to unity. I accept the local leadership of
Medole--on whom I can never look without thinking of an unfeathered pie;
and I submit to be assisted by the man Barto Rizzo. Do thou likewise, my
son. Let your enamoured sensations follow that duty, and with a breezy
space between. A conspiracy is an epitome of humanity, with a boiling
power beneath it. You're no more than a bit of mechanism--happy if it
goes at all!'
Agostino said that he would pay a visit to Vittoria in the evening.
Ammiani had determined to hunt out Barto Rizzo and the heads of the Clubs
before he saw her. It was a relief to him to behold in the Piazza the
Englishman who had exchanged cards with him on the Motterone. Captain
Gambier advanced upon a ceremonious bow, saying frankly, in a more
colloquial French than he had employed at their first interview, that he
had to apologize for his conduct, and to request monsieur's excuse.
'If,' he pursued, 'that lady is the person whom I knew formerly in
England as Mademoiselle Belloni, and is now known as Mademoiselle
Vittoria Campa, may I beg you to inform her that, according to what I
have heard, she is likely to be in some danger to-morrow?' What the
exact nature of the danger was, Captain Gambier could not say.
Ammiani replied: 'She is in need of all her friends,' and took the
pressure of the Englishman's hand, who would fair have asked more but for
the stately courtesy of the Italian's withdrawing salute. Ammiani could
no longer doubt that Vittoria's implication in the conspiracy was known.
After dark on the same day antecedent to the outbreak, Vittoria, with her
faithful Beppo at her heels, left her mother to run and pass one
comforting hour in the society of the Signora Laura Piaveni and her
There were two daughters of a parasitical Italian nobleman, of whom one
had married the patriot Giacomo Piaveni, and one an Austrian diplomatist,
the Commendatore Graf von Lenkenstein. Count Serabiglione was
traditionally parasitical. His ancestors all had moved in Courts.
The children of the House had illustrious sponsors. The House itself
was a symbolical sunflower constantly turning toward Royalty. Great
excuses are to be made for this, the last male descendant, whose father
in his youth had been an Imperial page, and who had been nursed in the
conception that Italy (or at least Lombardy) was a natural fief of
Austria, allied by instinct and by interest to the holders of the Alps.
Count Serabiglione mixed little with his countrymen,--the statement might
be inversed,--but when, perchance, he was among them, he talked willingly
of the Tedeschi, and voluntarily declared them to be gross, obstinate,
offensive-bears, in short. At such times he would intimate in any
cordial ear that the serpent was probably a match for the bear in a game
of skill, and that the wisdom of the serpent was shown in his selection
of the bear as his master, since, by the ordination of circumstances,
master he must have. The count would speak pityingly of the poor
depraved intellects which admitted the possibility of a coming Kingdom of
Italy united: the lunatics who preached of it he considered a sort of
self-elected targets for appointed files of Tyrolese jagers. But he was
vindictive against him whom he called the professional doctrinaire, and
he had vile names for the man. Acknowledging that Italy mourned her
present woes, he charged this man with the crime of originating them:--
and why? what was his object? He was, the count declared in answer, a
born intriguer, a lover of blood, mad for the smell of it!--an Old Man of
the Mountain; a sheaf of assassins; and more--the curse of Italy! There
should be extradition treaties all over the world to bring this arch-
conspirator to justice. The door of his conscience had been knocked at
by a thousand bleeding ghosts, and nothing had opened to them. What was
Italy in his eyes? A chess-board; and Italians were the chessmen to this
cold player with live flesh. England nourished the wretch, that she
might undermine the peace of the Continent.
Count Serabiglione would work himself up in the climax of denunciation,
and then look abroad frankly as one whose spirit had been relieved. He
hated bad men; and it was besides necessary for him to denounce somebody,
and get relief of some kind. Italians edged away from him. He was
beginning to feel that he had no country. The detested title 'Young
Italy' hurried him into fits of wrath. 'I am,' he said, 'one of the Old
Italians, if a distinction is to be made.' He assured his listeners that
he was for his commune, his district, and aired his old-Italian
prejudices delightedly; clapping his hands to the quarrels of Milan and
Brescia; Florence and Siena--haply the feuds of villages--and the common
North-Italian jealousy of the chief city. He had numerous capital tales
to tell of village feuds, their date and origin, the stupid effort to
heal them, and the wider consequent split; saying, 'We have, all
Italians, the tenacity, the unforgiveness, the fervent blood of pure
Hebrews; and a little more gaiety, perhaps; together with a love of fair
things. We can outlive ten races of conquerors.'
In this fashion he philosophized, or forced a kind of philosophy. But he
had married his daughter to an Austrian, which was what his countrymen
could not overlook, and they made him feel it. Little by little, half
acquiescing, half protesting, and gradually denationalized, the count was
edged out of Italian society, save of the parasitical class, which he
very much despised. He was not a happy man. Success at the Imperial
Court might have comforted him; but a remorseless sensitiveness of his
nature tripped his steps.
Bitter laughter rang throughout Lombardy when, in spite of his efforts to
save his daughter's husband, Giacomo Piaveni suffered death. No harder
blow had ever befallen the count: it was as good as a public proclamation
that he possessed small influence. To have bent the knee was not
afflicting to this nobleman's conscience: but it was an anguish to think
of having bent the knee for nothing.
Giacomo Piaveni was a noble Italian of the young blood, son of a General
loved by Eugene. In him the loss of Italy was deplorable. He perished
by treachery at the age of twenty-three years. So splendid was this
youth in appearance, of so sweet a manner with women, and altogether so-
gentle and gallant, that it was a widowhood for women to have known him:
and at his death the hearts of two women who had loved him in rivalry
became bound by a sacred tie of friendship. He, though not of
distinguished birth, had the choice of an almost royal alliance in the
first blush of his manhood. He refused his chance, pleading in excuse to
Count Serabiglione, that he was in love with that nobleman's daughter,
Laura; which it flattered the count to hear, but he had ever after a
contempt for the young man's discretion, and was observed to shrug, with
the smooth sorrowfulness of one who has been a prophet, on the day when
Giacomo was shot. The larger estates of the Piaveni family, then in
Giacomo's hands, were in a famous cheese-making district, producing a
delicious cheese:--'white as lambkins!' the count would ejaculate most
dolefully; and in a rapture of admiration, 'You would say, a marble
quarry when you cut into it.' The theme was afflicting, for all the
estates of Giacomo were for the time forfeit, and the pleasant agitation
produced among his senses by the mention of the cheese reminded him at
the same instant that he had to support a widow with two children. The
Signora Piaveni lived in Milan, and the count her father visited her
twice during the summer months, and wrote to her from his fitful Winter
residences in various capital cities, to report progress in the settled
scheme for the recovery of Giacomo's property, as well for his widow as
for the heirs of his body. 'It is a duty,' Count Serabiglione said
emphatically. 'My daughter can entertain no proposal until her children
are duly established; or would she, who is young and lovely and archly
capricious, continue to decline the very best offers of the Milanese
nobility, and live on one flat in an old quarter of the city, instead of
in a bright and handsome street, musical with equipages, and full of the
shows of life?'
In conjunction with certain friends of the signora, the count worked
diligently for the immediate restitution of the estates. He was ably
seconded by the young princess of Schyll-Weilingen,--by marriage countess
of Fohrendorf, duchess of Graatli, in central Germany, by which title she
passed,--an Austrian princess; she who had loved Giacomo, and would have
given all for him, and who now loved his widow. The extreme and painful
difficulty was that the Signora Piaveni made no concealment of her
abhorrence of the House of Austria, and hatred of Austrian rule in Italy.
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