Part 7 out of 11
"Yes, you bend, you bend, that you may be stiff-necked when it suits
you," he snapped her short.
"Surely that is the text of the sermon you preach to our Italy!"
"A little more, as you are running on now, madame, and our Italy will be
froth on the lips. You see, she is ruined."
"Chi lo fa, lo sa," hummed Laura; "but I would avoid quoting you as that
"After your last miserable fiasco, my dear!"
"It was another of our school exercises. We had not been good boys and
girls. We had learnt our lesson imperfectly. We have received our
punishment, and we mean to do better next time."
"Behave seasonably, fittingly; be less of a wasp; school your tongue."
"Bianca is a pattern to me, I am aware," said Laura.
"She is a good wife."
"I am a poor widow."
"She is a good daughter."
"I am a wicked rebel."
"And you are scheming at something now," said the little nobleman,
sagacious so far; but he was too eager to read the verification of the
tentative remark in her face, and she perceived that it was a guess
founded on her show of spirit.
"Scheming to contain my temper, which is much tried," she said. "But I
suppose it supports me. I can always keep up against hostility."
"You provoke it; you provoke it."
"My instinct, then, divines my medicine."
"Exactly, my dear; your personal instinct. That instigates you all. And
none are so easily conciliated as these Austrians. Conciliate them, and
you have them." Count Serabiglione diverged into a repetition of his
theory of the policy and mission of superior intelligences, as regarded
his system for dealing with the Austrians.
Nurse Assunta's jealousy was worked upon to separate the children from
Vittoria. They ran down with her no more to meet the vast bowls of
grapes in the morning and feather their hats with vine leaves. Deprived
of her darlings, the loneliness of her days made her look to Wilfrid for
commiseration. Father Bernardus was too continually exhortative, and
fenced too much to "hit the eyeball of her conscience," as he phrased it,
to afford her repose. Wilfrid could tell himself that he had already
done much for her; for if what he had done were known, his career, social
and military, was ended. This idea being accompanied by a sense of
security delighted him; he was accustomed to inquire of Angelo's
condition, and praise the British doctor who was attending him
gratuitously. "I wish I could get him out of the way," he said, and
frowned as in a mental struggle. Vittoria heard him repeat his "I wish!"
It heightened greatly her conception of the sacrifice he would be making
on her behalf and charity's. She spoke with a reverential tenderness,
such as it was hard to suppose a woman capable of addressing to other
than the man who moved her soul. The words she uttered were pure thanks;
it was the tone which sent them winged and shaking seed. She had spoken
partly to prompt his activity, but her self-respect had been sustained by
his avoidance of the dreaded old themes, and that grateful feeling made
her voice musically rich.
"I dare not go to him, but the doctor tells me the fever has left him,
Wilfrid; his wounds are healing; but he is bandaged from head to foot.
The sword pierced his side twice, and his arms and hands are cut
horribly. He cannot yet walk. If he is discovered he is lost. Count
Lenkenstein has declared that he will stay at the castle till he has him
his prisoner. The soldiers are all round us. They know that Angelo is
in the ring. They have traced him all over from the Valtellina to this
Ultenthal, and only cannot guess where he is in the lion's jaw. I rise
in the morning, thinking, 'Is this to be the black day?' He is sure to be
"If I could hit on a plan," said Wilfrid, figuring as though he had a
diorama of impossible schemes revolving before his eyes.
"I could believe in the actual whispering of an angel if you did. It was
to guard me that Angelo put himself in peril."
"Then," said Wilfrid, "I am his debtor. I owe him as much as my life is
"Think, think," she urged; and promised affection, devotion, veneration,
vague things, that were too like his own sentiments to prompt him
pointedly. Yet he so pledged himself to her by word, and prepared his
own mind to conceive the act of service, that (as he did not reflect)
circumstance might at any moment plunge him into a gulf. Conduct of this
sort is a challenge sure to be answered.
One morning Vittoria was gladdened by a letter from Rocco Ricci, who had
fled to Turin. He told her that the king had promised to give her a warm
welcome in his capital, where her name was famous. She consulted with
Laura, and they resolved to go as soon as Angelo could stand on his feet.
Turin was cold--Italy, but it was Italy; and from Turin the Italian army
was to flow, like the Mincio from the Garda lake. "And there, too, is a
stage," Vittoria thought, in a suddenly revived thirst for the stage and
a field for work. She determined to run down to Meran and see Angelo.
Laura walked a little way with her, till Wilfrid, alert for these
occasions, joined them. On the commencement of the zig-zag below, there
were soldiers, the sight of whom was not confusing. Military messengers
frequently came up to the castle where Count Lenkenstein, assisted by
Count Serabiglione, examined their depositions, the Italian in the manner
of a winding lawyer, the German of a gruff judge. Half-way down the zig-
zag Vittoria cast a preconcerted signal back to Laura. The soldiers had
a pair of prisoners between their ranks; Vittoria recognized the men who
had carried Captain Weisspriess from the ground where the duel was
fought. A quick divination told her that they held Angelo's life on
their tongues. They must have found him in the mountain-pass while
hurrying to their homes, and it was they who had led him to Meran. On
the Passeyr bridge, she turned and said to Wilfrid, "Help me now. Send
instantly the doctor in a carriage to the place where he is lying."
Wilfrid was intent on her flushed beauty and the half-compressed quiver
of her lip.
She quitted him and hurried to Angelo. Her joy broke out in a cry of
thankfulness at sight of Angelo; he had risen from his bed; he could
stand, and he smiled.
"That Jacopo is just now the nearest link to me," he said, when she
related her having seen the two men guarded by soldiers; he felt
helpless, and spoke in resignation. She followed his eye about the room
till it rested on the stilet. This she handed to him. "If they think of
having me alive!" he said softly. The Italian and his wife who had
given him shelter and nursed him came in, and approved his going, though
they did not complain of what they might chance to have incurred. He
offered them his purse, and they took it. Minutes of grievous
expectation went by; Vittoria could endure them no longer; she ran out to
the hotel, near which, in the shade of a poplar, Wilfrid was smoking
quietly. He informed her that his sister and the doctor had driven out
to meet Captain Gambier; his brother-in-law was alone upstairs. Her look
of amazement touched him more shrewdly than scorn, and he said, "What on
earth can I do?"
"Order out a carriage. Send your brother-in-law in it. If you tell him
'for your health,' he will go."
"On my honour, I don't know where those three words would not send him,"
said Wilfrid; but he did not move, and was for protesting that he really
could not guess what was the matter, and the ground for all this urgency.
Vittoria compelled her angry lips to speak out her suspicions explicitly,
whereupon he glanced at the sun-glare in a meditation, occasionally
blinking his eyes. She thought, "Oh, heaven! can he be waiting for me
to coax him?" It was the truth, though it would have been strange to him
to have heard it. She grew sure that it was the truth; never had she
despised living creature so utterly as when she murmured, "My best
friend! my brother! my noble Wilfrid! my old beloved! help me now,
without loss of a minute."
It caused his breath to come and go unevenly.
"Repeat that--once, only once," he said.
She looked at him with the sorrowful earnestness which, as its meaning
was shut from him, was so sweet.
"You will repeat it by-and-by?--another time? Trust me to do my utmost.
Old beloved! What is the meaning of 'old beloved'? One word in
explanation. If it means anything, I would die for you! Emilia, do you
hear?--die for you! To me you are nothing old or by-gone, whatever I may
be to you. To me--yes, I will order the carriage you are the Emilia--
listen! listen! Ah! you have shut your ears against me. I am bound in
all seeming, but I--you drive me mad; you know your power. Speak one
word, that I may feel--that I may be convinced . . , or not a single
word; I will obey you without. I have said that you command my life."
In a block of carriages on the bridge, Vittoria perceived a lifted hand.
It was Laura's; Beppo was in attendance on her. Laura drove up and said:
"You guessed right; where is he?" The communications between them were
more indicated than spoken. Beppo had heard Jacopo confess to his having
conducted a wounded Italian gentleman into Meran. "That means that the
houses will be searched within an hour," said Laura; "my brother-in-law
Bear is radiant." She mimicked the Lenkenstein physiognomy spontaneously
in the run of her speech. "If Angelo can help himself ever so little, he
has a fair start." A look was cast on Wilfrid; Vittoria nodded--Wilfrid
"Englishmen we can trust," said Laura, and requested him to step into her
carriage. He glanced round the open space. Beppo did the same, and
beheld the chasseur Jacob Baumwalder Feckelwitz crossing the bridge on
foot, but he said nothing. Wilfrid was on the step of the carriage, for
what positive object neither he nor the others knew, when his sister and
the doctor joined them. Captain Gambier was still missing.
"He would have done anything for us," Vittoria said in Wilfrid's hearing.
"Tell us what plan you have," the latter replied fretfully.
She whispered: "Persuade Adela to make her husband drive out. The doctor
will go too, and Beppo. They shall take Angelo. Our carriage will
follow empty, and bring Mr. Sedley back."
Wilfrid cast his eyes up in the air, at the monstrous impudence of the
project. "A storm is coming on," he suggested, to divert her reading of
his grimace; but she was speaking to the doctor, who readily answered her
aloud: "If you are certain of what you say." The remark incited Wilfrid
to be no subordinate in devotion; handing Adela from the carriage, while
the doctor ran up to Mr. Sedley, he drew her away. Laura and Vittoria
watched the motion of their eyes and lips.
"Will he tell her the purpose?" said Laura.
Vittoria smiled nervously: "He is fibbing."
Marking the energy expended by Wilfrid in this art, the wiser woman said:
"Be on your guard the next two minutes he gets you alone."
"You see his devotion."
"Does he see his compensation? But he must help us at any hazard."
Adela broke away from her brother twice, and each time he fixed her to
the spot more imperiously. At last she ran into the hotel; she was
crying. "A bad economy of tears," said Laura, commenting on the dumb
scene, to soothe her savage impatience. "In another twenty minutes we
shall have the city gates locked."
They heard a window thrown up; Mr. Sedley's head came out, and peered at
the sky. Wilfrid said to Vittoria: "I can do nothing beyond what I have
done, I fear."
She thought it was a petition for thanks, but Laura knew better; she
said: "I see Count Lenkenstein on his way to the barracks."
Wilfrid bowed: "I may be able to serve you in that quarter."
He retired: whereupon Laura inquired how her friend could reasonably
suppose that a man would ever endure being thanked in public.
"I shall never understand and never care to understand them," said
"It is a knowledge that is forced on us, my dear. May heaven make the
minds of our enemies stupid for the next five hours!--Apropos of what I
was saying, women and men are in two hostile camps. We have a sort of
general armistice and everlasting strife of individuals--Ah!" she
clapped hands on her knees, "here comes your doctor; I could fancy I see
a pointed light on his head. Men of science, my Sandra, are always the
The chill air of wind preceding thunder was driving round the head of the
vale, and Mr. Sedley, wrapped in furs, and feebly remonstrating with his
medical adviser, stepped into his carriage. The doctor followed him,
giving a grave recognition of Vittoria's gaze. Both gentlemen raised
their hats to the ladies, who alighted as soon as they had gone in the
direction of the Vintschgau road.
"One has only to furnish you with money, my Beppo," said Vittoria,
complimenting his quick apprehensiveness. "Buy bread and cakes at one of
the shops, and buy wine. You will find me where you can, when you have
seen him safe. I have no idea of where my home will be. Perhaps
"Italy, Italy! faint heart," said Laura.
Furnished with money, Beppo rolled away gaily.
The doubt was in Laura whether an Englishman's wits were to be relied on
in such an emergency; but she admitted that the doctor had looked full
enough of serious meaning, and that the Englishman named Merthyr Powys
was keen and ready. They sat a long half-hour, that thumped itself out
like an alarm-bell, under the poplars, by the clamouring Passeyr,
watching the roll and spring of the waters, and the radiant foam, while
band-music played to a great company of visitors, and sounds of thunder
drew near. Over the mountains above the Adige, the leaden fingers of an
advance of the thunder-cloud pushed slowly, and on a sudden a mighty gale
sat heaped blank on the mountain-top and blew. Down went the heads of
the poplars, the river staggered in its leap, the vale was shuddering
grey. It was like the transformation in a fairy tale; Beauty had taken
her old cloak about her, and bent to calamity. The poplars streamed
their length sideways, and in the pauses of the strenuous wind nodded
and dashed wildly and white over the dead black water, that waxed in foam
and hissed, showing its teeth like a beast enraged. Laura and Vittoria
joined hands and struggled for shelter. The tent of a travelling circus
from the South, newly-pitched on a grassplot near the river, was caught
up and whirled in the air and flung in the face of a marching guard of
soldiery, whom it swathed and bore sheer to earth, while on them and
around them a line of poplars fell flat, the wind whistling over them.
Laura directed Vittoria's eyes to the sight. "See," she said, and her
face was set hard with cold and excitement, so that she looked a witch in
the uproar; "would you not say the devil is loose now Angelo is abroad?"
Thunder and lightning possessed the vale, and then a vertical rain. At
the first gleam of sunlight, Laura and Vittoria walked up to the
Laubengasse--the street of the arcades, where they made purchases of
numerous needless articles, not daring to enter the Italian's shop.
A woman at a fruitstall opposite to it told them that no carriage could
have driven up there. During their great perplexity, mud and rain-
stained soldiers, the same whom they had seen borne to earth by the
flying curtain, marched before the shop; the shop and the house were
searched; the Italian and his old liming wife were carried away.
"Tell me now, that storm was not Angelo's friend!" Laura muttered.
"Can he have escaped?" said Vittoria.
"He is 'on horseback.'" Laura quoted the Italian proverb to signify that
he had flown; how, she could not say, and none could inform her. The joy
of their hearts rose in one fountain.
"I shall feel better blood in my body from this moment," Laura said; and
Vittoria, "Oh! we can be strong, if we only resolve."
"You want to sing?"
"I shall find pleasure in your voice now."
"The wicked voice!"
"Yes, the very wicked voice! But I shall be glad to hear it. You can
sing to-night, and drown those Lenkensteins."
"If my Carlo could hear me!"
"Ah!" sighed the signora, musing. "He is in prison now. I remember
him, the dearest little lad, fencing with my husband for exercise after
they had been writing all day. When Giacomo was imprisoned, Carlo sat
outside the prison walls till it was time for him to enter; his chin and
upper lip were smooth as a girl's. Giacomo said to him, 'May you always
have the power of going out, or not have a wife waiting for you.' Here
they come." (She spoke of tears.) "It's because I am joyful. The
channel for them has grown so dry that they prick and sting. Oh, Sandra!
it would be pleasant to me if we might both be buried for seven days, and
have one long howl of weakness together. A little bite of satisfaction
makes me so tired. I believe there's something very bad for us in our
always being at war, and never, never gaining ground. Just one spark of
triumph intoxicates us. Look at all those people pouring out again.
They are the children of fair weather. I hope the state of their health
does not trouble them too much. Vienna sends consumptive patients here.
If you regard them attentively, you will observe that they have an
anxious air. Their constitutions are not sound; they fear they may die."
Laura's irony was unforced; it was no more than a subtle discord
naturally struck from the scene by a soul in contrast with it.
They beheld the riding forth of troopers and a knot of officers hotly
conversing together. At another point the duchess and the Lenkenstein
ladies, Count Lenkenstein, Count Serabiglione, and Wilfrid paced up and
down, waiting for music. Laura left the public places and crossed an
upper bridge over the Passeyr, near the castle, by which route she
skirted vines and dropped over sloping meadows to some shaded boulders
where the Passeyr found a sandy bay, and leaped in transparent green, and
whitened and swung twisting in a long smooth body down a narrow chasm,
and noised below. The thundering torrent stilled their sensations: and
the water, making battle against great blocks of porphyry and granite,
caught their thoughts. So strong was the impression of it on Vittoria's
mind, that for hours after, every image she conceived seemed proper to
the inrush and outpour; the elbowing, the tossing, the foaming, the burst
on stones, and silvery bubbles under and silvery canopy above, the
chattering and huzzaing; all working on to the one-toned fall beneath the
rainbow on the castle-rock.
Next day, the chasseur Jacob Baumwalder Feckelwitz deposed in full
company at Sonnenberg, that, obeying Count Serabiglione's instructions,
he had gone down to the city, and had there seen Lieutenant Pierson with
the ladies in front of the hotel; he had followed the English carriage,
which took up a man who was standing ready on crutches at the corner of
the Laubengasse, and drove rapidly out of the North-western gate, leading
to Schlanders and Mals and the Engadine. He had witnessed the transfer
of the crippled man from one carriage to another, and had raised shouts
and given hue and cry, but the intervention of the storm had stopped his
He was proceeding to say what his suppositions were. Count Lenkenstein
lifted his finger for Wilfrid to follow him out of the room. Count
Serabiglione went at their heels. Then Count Lenkenstein sent for his
wife, whom Anna and Lena accompanied.
"How many persons are you going to ruin in the course of your crusade, my
dear?" the duchess said to Laura.
"Dearest, I am penitent when I succeed," said Laura.
"If that young man has been assisting you, he is irretrievably ruined."
"I am truly sorry for him."
"As for me, the lectures I shall get in Vienna are terrible to think of.
This is the consequence of being the friend of both parties, and a peace-
Count Serabiglione returned alone from the scene at the examination,
rubbing his hands and nodding affably to his daughter. He maliciously
declined to gratify the monster of feminine curiosity in the lump, and
doled out the scene piecemeal. He might state, he observed, that it was
he who had lured Beppo to listen at the door during the examination of
the prisoners; and who had then planted a spy on him--following the
dictation of precepts exceedingly old. "We are generally beaten,
duchess; I admit it; and yet we generally contrive to show the brain. As
I say, wed brains to brute force!--but my Laura prefers to bring about a
contest instead of an union, so that somebody is certain to be struck,
and"--the count spread out his arms and bowed his head--"deserves the
blow." He informed them that Count Lenkenstein had ordered Lieutenant
Pierson down to Meran, and that the lieutenant might expect to be
cashiered within five days. "What does it matter?" he addressed
Vittoria. "It is but a shuffling of victims; Lieutenant Pierson in the
place of Guidascarpi! I do not object."
Count Lenkenstein withdrew his wife and sisters from Sonnenberg
instantly. He sent an angry message of adieu to the duchess, informing
her that he alone was responsible for the behaviour of the ladies of his
family. The poor duchess wept. "This means that I shall be summoned to
Vienna for a scolding, and have to meet my husband," she said to Laura,
who permitted herself to be fondled, and barely veiled her exultation in
her apology for the mischief she had done. An hour after the departure
of the Lenkensteins, the castle was again officially visited by Colonel
Zofel. Vittoria and Laura received an order to quit the district of
Meran before sunset. The two firebrands dropped no tears. "I really am
sorry for others when I succeed," said Laura, trying to look sad upon her
"No; the heart is eaten out of you both by excitement," said the duchess.
Her tender parting, "Love me," in the ear of Vittoria, melted one heart
of the two.
Count Serabiglione continued to be buoyed up by his own and his
daughter's recent display of a superior intellectual dexterity until the
carriage was at the door and Laura presented her cheek to him. He said,
"You will know me a wise man when I am off the table." His
gesticulations expressed "Ruin, headlong ruin!" He asked her how she
could expect him to be for ever repairing her follies. He was going to
Vienna; how could he dare to mention her name there? Not even in a
trifle would she consent to be subordinate to authority. Laura checked
her replies--the surrendering, of a noble Italian life to the Austrians
was such a trifle! She begged only that a poor wanderer might depart
with a father's blessing. The count refused to give it; he waved her off
in a fury of reproof; and so got smoothly over the fatal moment when
money, or the promise of money, is commonly extracted from parental
sources, as Laura explained his odd behaviour to her companion. The
carriage-door being closed, he regained his courtly composure; his fury
was displaced by a chiding finger, which he presently kissed. Father.
Bernardus was on the steps beside the duchess, and his blessing had not
been withheld from Vittoria, though he half confessed to her that she was
a mystery in his mind, and would always be one.
"He can understand robust hostility," Laura said, when Vittoria recalled
the look of his benevolent forehead and drooping eyelids; "but robust
ductility does astonish him. He has not meddled with me; yet I am the
one of the two who would be fair prey for an enterprising spiritual
father, as the destined roan of heaven will find out some day."
She bent and smote her lap. "How little they know us, my darling! They
take fever for strength, and calmness for submission. Here is the world
before us, and I feel that such a man, were he to pounce on me now, might
snap me up and lock me in a praying-box with small difficulty. And I am
the inveterate rebel! What is it nourishes you and keeps you always
aiming straight when you are alone? Once in Turin, I shall feel that I
am myself. Out of Italy I have a terrible craving for peace. It seems
here as if I must lean down to him, my beloved, who has left me."
Vittoria was in alarm lest Wilfrid should accost her while she drove from
gate to gate of the city. They passed under the archway of the gate
leading up to Schloss Tyrol, and along the road bordered by vines. An
old peasant woman stopped them with the signal of a letter in her hand.
"Here it is," said Laura, and Vittoria could not help smiling at her
shrewd anticipation of it.
"May I follow?"
Nothing more than that was written.
But the bearer of the missive had been provided with a lead pencil to
obtain the immediate reply.
"An admirable piece of foresight!" Laura's honest exclamation burst
Vittoria had to look in Laura's face before she could gather her will to
do the cruel thing which was least cruel. She wrote firmly:--
"Never follow me."
ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS:
An angry woman will think the worst
Be on your guard the next two minutes he gets you alone
No word is more lightly spoken than shame
O heaven! of what avail is human effort?
She thought that friendship was sweeter than love
Taint of the hypocrisy which comes with shame
They take fever for strength, and calmness for submission
Women and men are in two hostile camps
By George Meredith
XXIX. EPISODES OF THE REVOLT AND THE WAR--THE TOBACCO RIOTS
XXX. EPISODES OF THE REVOLT AND THE WAR--THE FIVE DAYS OF MILAN
XXXI. EPISODES OF THE REVOLT AND THE WAR--VITTORIA DISOBEYS HER LOVER
XXXII. EPISODES OF THE REVOLT AND THE WAR--THE TREACHERY OF
PERICLES--THE WHITE UMBRELLA--THE DEATH OF RINALDO GUIDASCARPI
EPISODES OF THE REVOLT AND THE WAR--THE TOBACCO-RIOTS--RINALDO GUIDASCARPI
Anna von Lenkenstein was one who could wait for vengeance. Lena punished
on the spot, and punished herself most. She broke off her engagement
with Wilfrid, while at the same time she caused a secret message to be
conveyed to him, telling him that the prolongation of his residence in
Meran would restore him to his position in the army.
Wilfrid remained at Meran till the last days of December.
It was winter in Milan, turning to the new year--the year of flames for
continental Europe. A young man with a military stride, but out of
uniform, had stepped from a travelling carriage and entered a cigar-shop.
Upon calling for cigars, he was surprised to observe the woman who was
serving there keep her arms under her apron. She cast a look into the
street, where a crowd of boys and one or two lean men had gathered about
the door. After some delay, she entreated her customer to let her pluck
his cloak halfway over the counter; at the same time she thrust a cigar-
box under that concealment, together with a printed song in the Milanese
dialect. He lifted the paper to read it, and found it tough as Russ.
She translated some of the more salient couplets. Tobacco had become a
dead business, she said, now that the popular edict had gone forth
against 'smoking gold into the pockets of the Tedeschi.' None smoked
except officers and Englishmen.
"I am an Englishman," he said.
"And not an officer?" she asked; but he gave no answer. "Englishmen are
rare in winter, and don't like being mobbed," said the woman.
Nodding to her urgent petition, he deferred the lighting of his cigar.
The vetturino requested him to jump up quickly, and a howl of "No smoking
in Milan--fuori!--down with tobacco-smokers!" beset the carriage. He
tossed half-a-dozen cigars on the pavement derisively. They were
scrambled for, as when a pack of wolves are diverted by a garment dropped
from the flying sledge, but the unluckier hands came after his heels in
fuller howl. He noticed the singular appearance of the streets. Bands
of the scum of the population hung at various points: from time to time a
shout was raised at a distance, "Abasso il zigarro! "and "Away with the
cigar!" went an organized file-firing of cries along the open place.
Several gentlemen were mobbed, and compelled to fling the cigars from
their teeth. He saw the polizta in twos and threes taking counsel and
shrugging, evidently too anxious to avoid a collision. Austrian soldiers
and subalterns alone smoked freely; they puffed the harder when the yells
and hootings and whistlings thickened at their heels. Sometimes they
walked on at their own pace; or, when the noise swelled to a crisis,
turned and stood fast, making an exhibition of curling smoke, as a mute
form of contempt. Then commenced hustlings and a tremendous uproar;
sabres were drawn, the whitecoats planted themselves back to back. Milan
was clearly in a condition of raging disease. The soldiery not only
accepted the challenge of the mob, but assumed the offensive. Here and
there they were seen crossing the street to puff obnoxiously in the faces
of people. Numerous subalterns were abroad, lively for strife, and
bright with the signal of their readiness. An icy wind blew down from
the Alps, whitening the housetops and the ways, but every street, torso,
and piazza was dense with loungers, as on a summer evening; the clamour
of a skirmish anywhere attracted streams of disciplined rioters on all
sides; it was the holiday of rascals.
Our traveller had ordered his vetturino to drive slowly to his hotel,
that he might take the features of this novel scene. He soon showed his
view of the case by putting an unlighted cigar in his mouth. The
vetturino noted that his conveyance acted as a kindling-match to awaken
cries in quiet quarters, looked round, and grinned savagely at the sight
of the cigar.
"Drop it, or I drop you," he said; and hearing the command to drive on,
pulled up short.
They were in a narrow way leading to the Piazza de' Mercanti. While the
altercation was going on between them, a great push of men emerged from
one of the close courts some dozen paces ahead of the horse, bearing
forth a single young officer in their midst.
"Signore, would you like to be the froth of a boiling of that sort?" The
vetturino seized the image at once to strike home his instance of the
danger of outraging the will of the people.
Our traveller immediately unlocked a case that lay on the seat in front
of him, and drew out a steel scabbard, from which he plucked the sword,
and straightway leaped to the ground. The officer's cigar had been
dashed from his mouth: he stood at bay, sword in hand, meeting a rush
with a desperate stroke. The assistance of a second sword got him clear
of the fray. Both hastened forward as the crush melted with the hiss of
a withdrawing wave. They interchanged exclamations:
"Is it you, Jenna!"
"In the devil's name, Pierson, have you come to keep your appointment in
"Come on: I'll stick beside you."
They glanced behind them, heeding little the tail of ruffians whom they
"We shall have plenty of fighting soon, so we'll smoke a cordial cigar
together," said Lieutenant Jenna, and at once struck a light and blazed
defiance to Milan afresh--an example that was necessarily followed by his
comrade. "What has happened to you, Pierson? Of course, I knew you were
ready for our bit of play--though you'll hear what I said of you. How
the deuce could you think of running off with that opera girl, and
getting a fellow in the mountains to stab our merry old Weisspriess, just
because you fancied he was going to slip a word or so over the back of
his hand in Countess Lena's ear? No wonder she's shy of you now."
"So, that's the tale afloat," said Wilfrid. "Come to my hotel and dine
with me. I suppose that cur has driven my luggage there."
Jenna informed him that officers had to muster in barracks every evening.
"Come and see your old comrades; they'll like you better in bad luck--
there's the comfort of it: hang the human nature! She's a good old
brute, if you don't drive her hard. Our regiment left Verona in
November. There we had tolerable cookery; come and take the best we can
But this invitation Wilfrid had to decline.
"Why?" said Jenna.
He replied: "I've stuck at Meran three months. I did it, in obedience to
what I understood from Colonel Zofel to be the General's orders. When I
was as perfectly dry as a baked Egyptian, I determined to believe that I
was not only in disgrace, but dismissed the service. I posted to Botzen
and Riva, on to Milan; and here I am. The least I can do is to show
"Very well, then, come and show yourself at our table," said Jenna.
"Listen: we'll make a furious row after supper, and get hauled in by the
collar before the General. You can swear you have never been absent from
duty: swear the General never gave you forcible furlough. I'll swear it;
all our fellows will swear it. The General will say, 'Oh! a very big
lie's equal to a truth; big brother to a fact, or something; as he always
does, you know. Face it out. We can't spare a good stout sword in these
times. On with me, my Pierson."
"I would," said Wilfrid, doubtfully.
A douse of water from a window extinguished their cigars.
Lieutenant Jenna wiped his face deliberately, and lighting another cigar,
remarked--"This is the fifth poor devil who has come to an untimely end
within an hour. It is brisk work. Now, I'll swear I'll smoke this one
The cigar was scattered in sparks from his lips by a hat skilfully flung.
He picked it up miry and cleaned it, observing that his honour was
pledged to this fellow. The hat he trampled into a muddy lump. Wilfrid
found it impossible to ape his coolness. He swung about for an
adversary. Jenna pulled him on.
"A salute from a window," he said. "We can't storm the houses. The
time'll come for it--and then, you cats!"
Wilfrid inquired how long this state of things had been going on. Jenna
replied that they appeared to be in the middle of it;--nearly a week.
Another week, and their, day would arrive; and then!
"Have you heard anything of a Count Ammiani here?" said Wilfrid.
"Oh! he's one of the lot, I believe. We have him fast, as we'll have the
bundle of them. Keep eye on those dogs behind us, and manoeuvre your
cigar. The plan is, to give half-a-dozen bright puffs, and then keep it
in your fist; and when you see an Italian head, volcano him like fury.
Yes, I've heard of that Ammiani. The scoundrels, made an attempt to get
him out of prison--I fancy he's in the city prison--last Friday night.
I don't know exactly where he is; but it's pretty fair reckoning to say
that he'll enjoy a large slice of the next year in the charming solitude
of Spielberg, if Milan is restless. Is he a friend of yours?"
"Not by any means," said Wilfrid.
"Mio prigione!" Jenna mouthed with ineffable contemptuousness; "he'll
have time to write his memoirs, as, one of the dogs did. I remember my
mother crying over, the book. I read it? Not I! I never read books.
My father said--the stout old colonel--'Prison seems to make these
Italians take an interest in themselves.' 'Oh!' says my mother, 'why
can't they be at peace with us?' 'That's exactly the question,' says my
father, 'we're always putting to them.' And so I say. Why can't they
let us smoke our cigars in peace?"
Jenna finished by assaulting a herd of faces with smoke.
"Pig of a German!" was shouted; and "Porco, porco," was sung in a scale
of voices. Jenna received a blinding slap across the eyes. He staggered
back; Wilfrid slashed his sword in defence of him. He struck a man down.
"Blood! blood!" cried the gathering mob, and gave space, but hedged the
couple thickly. Windows were thrown up;, forth came a rain of household
projectiles. The cry of "Blood! blood!" was repeated by numbers pouring
on them from the issues to right and left. It is a terrible cry in a
city. In a city of the South it rouses the wild beast in men to madness.
Jenna smoked triumphantly and blew great clouds, with an eye aloft for
the stools, basins, chairs, and water descending. They were in the
middle of one of the close streets of old Milan. The man felled by
Wilfrid was raised on strong arms, that his bleeding head might be seen
of all, and a dreadful hum went round. A fire of missiles, stones, balls
of wax, lumps of dirt, sticks of broken chairs, began to play. Wilfrid
had a sudden gleam of the face of his Verona assailant. He and Jenna
called "Follow me," in one breath, and drove forward with sword-points,
which they dashed at the foremost; by dint of swift semicirclings of the
edges they got through, but a mighty voice of command thundered; the
rearward portion of the mob swung rapidly to the front, presenting a
scattered second barrier; Jenna tripped on a fallen body, lost his cigar,
and swore that he must find it. A dagger struck his sword-arm. He
staggered and flourished his blade in the air, calling "On!" without
stirring. "This infernal cigar!" he said; and to the mob, "What mongrel
of you took my cigar?" Stones thumped on his breast; the barrier-line
ahead grew denser. "I'll go at them first; you're bleeding," said
Wilfrid. They were refreshed by the sound of German cheering, as in
approach. Jenna uplifted a crow of the regimental hurrah of the charge;
it was answered; on they went and got through the second fence, saw their
comrades, and were running to meet them, when a weighted ball hit Wilfrid
on the back of the head. He fell, as he believed, on a cushion of down,
and saw thousands of saints dancing with lamps along cathedral aisles.
The next time he opened his eyes he fancied he had dropped into the
vaults of the cathedral. His sensation of sinking was so vivid that he
feared lest he should be going still further below. There was a lamp in
the chamber, and a young man sat reading by the light of the lamp.
Vision danced fantastically on Wilfrid's brain. He saw that he rocked as
in a ship, yet there was no noise of the sea; nothing save the remote
thunder haunting empty ears at strain for sound. He looked again; the
young man was gone, the lamp was flickering. Then he became conscious of
a strong ray on his eyelids; he beheld his enemy gazing down on him and
swooned. It was with joy, that when his wits returned, he found himself
looking on the young man by the lamp. "That other face was a dream," he
thought, and studied the aspect of the young man with the unwearied
attentiveness of partial stupor, that can note accurately, but cannot
deduce from its noting, and is inveterate in patience because it is
unideaed. Memory wakened first.
"Guidascarpi!" he said to himself.
The name was uttered half aloud. The young man started and closed his
"You know me?" he asked.
"You are Guidascarpi?"
"Guidascarpi, I think I helped to save your life in Meran."
The young man stooped over him. "You speak of my brother Angelo. I am
Rinaldo. My debt to you is the same, if you have served him."
"Is he safe?"
"He is in Lugano."
"The signorina Vittoria?"
"Where am I?"
The reply came from another mouth than Rinaldo's.
"You are in the poor lodging of the shoemaker, whose shoes, if you had
thought fit to wear them, would have conducted you anywhere but to this
"Who are you?" Wilfrid moaned.
"You ask who I am. I am the Eye of Italy. I am the Cat who sees in the
dark." Barto Rizzo raised the lamp and stood at his feet. "Look
straight. You know me, I think."
Wilfrid sighed, "Yes, I know you; do your worst."
His head throbbed with the hearing of a heavy laugh, as if a hammer had
knocked it. What ensued he knew not; he was left to his rest. He lay
there many days and nights, that were marked by no change of light; the
lamp burned unwearyingly. Rinaldo and a woman tended him. The sign of
his reviving strength was shown by a complaint he launched at the earthy
smell of the place.
"It is like death," said Rinaldo, coming to his side. "I am used to it,
and familiar with death too," he added in a musical undertone.
"Are you also a prisoner here?" Wilfrid questioned him.
"The brute does not kill, then?"
"No; he saves. I owe my life to him. He has rescued yours."
"Mine?" said Wilfrid.
"You would have been torn to pieces in the streets but for Barto Rizzo."
The streets were the world above to Wilfrid; he was eager to hear of the
doings in them. Rinaldo told him that the tobacco-war raged still; the
soldiery had recently received orders to smoke abroad, and street battles
were hourly occurring. "They call this government!" he interjected.
He was a soft-voiced youth; slim and tall and dark, like Angelo, but with
a more studious forehead. The book he was constantly reading was a book
of chemistry. He entertained Wilfrid with very strange talk. He spoke
of the stars and of a destiny. He cited certain minor events of his life
to show the ground of his present belief in there being a written destiny
for each individual man. "Angelo and I know it well. It was revealed to
us when we were boys. It has been certified to us up to this moment.
Mark what I tell you," he pursued in a devout sincerity of manner that
baffled remonstrance, "my days end with this new year. His end with the
year following. Our house is dead."
Wilfrid pressed his hand. "Have you not been too long underground?"
"That is the conviction I am coming to. But when I go out to breathe the
air of heaven, I go to my fate. Should I hesitate? We Italians of this
period are children of thunder and live the life of a flash. The worms
may creep on: the men must die. Out of us springs a better world.
Romara, Ammiani, Mercadesco, Montesini, Rufo, Cardi, whether they see it
or not, will sweep forward to it. To some of them, one additional day of
breath is precious. Not so for Angelo and me. We are unbeloved. We
have neither mother nor sister, nor betrothed. What is an existence that
can fly to no human arms? I have been too long underground, because,
while I continue to hide, I am as a drawn sword between two lovers."
The previous mention of Ammiani's name, together with the knowledge he
had of Ammiani's relationship to the Guidascarpi, pointed an instant
identification of these lovers to Wilfrid.
He asked feverishly who they were, and looked his best simplicity, as one
who was always interested by stories of lovers.
The voice of Barto Rizzo, singing "Vittoria!" stopped Rinaldo's reply:
but Wilfrid read it in his smile at that word. He was too weak to
restrain his anguish, and flung on the couch and sobbed. Rinaldo
supposed that he was in fear of Barto, and encouraged him to meet the man
confidently. A lusty 'Viva l'Italia! Vittoria!" heralded Barto's
entrance. "My boy! my noblest! we have beaten them the cravens! Tell me
now--have I served an apprenticeship to the devil for nothing? We have
struck the cigars out of their mouths and the monopoly-money out of their
pockets. They have surrendered. The Imperial order prohibits soldiers
from smoking in the streets of Milan, and so throughout Lombardy! Soon
we will have the prisons empty, by our own order. Trouble yourself no
more about Ammiani. He shall come out to the sound of trumpets. I hear
them! Hither, my Rosellina, my plump melon; up with your red lips, and
buss me a Napoleon salute--ha! ha!"
Barto's wife went into his huge arm, and submissively lifted her face.
He kissed her like a barbaric king, laughing as from wine.
Wilfrid smothered his head from his incarnate thunder. He was unnoticed
by Barto. Presently a silence told him that he was left to himself. An
idea possessed him that the triumph of the Italians meant the release of
Ammiani, and his release the loss of Vittoria for ever. Since her
graceless return of his devotion to her in Meran, something like a
passion--arising from the sole spring by which he could be excited to
conceive a passion--had filled his heart. He was one of those who
delight to dally with gentleness and faith, as with things that are their
heritage; but the mere suspicion of coquettry and indifference plunged
him into a fury of jealous wrathfulness, and tossed so desireable an
image of beauty before him that his mad thirst to embrace it seemed love.
By our manner of loving we are known. He thought it no meanness to
escape and cause a warning to be conveyed to the Government that there
was another attempt brewing for the rescue of Count Ammiani. Acting
forthwith on the hot impulse, he seized the lamp. The door was unlocked.
Luckier than Luigi had been, he found a ladder outside, and a square
opening through which he crawled; continuing to ascend along close
passages and up narrow flights of stairs, that appeared to him to be
fashioned to avoid the rooms of the house. At last he pushed a door, and
found himself in an armoury, among stands of muskets, swords, bayonets,
cartouche-boxes, and, most singular of all, though he observed them last,
small brass pieces of cannon, shining with polish. Shot was piled in
pyramids beneath their mouths. He examined the guns admiringly. There
were rows of daggers along shelves; some in sheath, others bare; one that
had been hastily wiped showed a smear of ropy blood. He stood debating
whether he should seize a sword for his protection. In the act of trying
its temper on the floor, the sword-hilt was knocked from his hand, and he
felt a coil of arms around him. He was in the imprisoning embrace of
Barto Rizzo's wife. His first, and perhaps natural, impression accused
her of a violent display of an eccentric passion for his manly charms;
and the tighter she locked him, the more reasonably was he held to
suppose it; but as, while stamping on the floor, she offered nothing to
his eyes save the yellow poll of her neck, and hung neither panting nor
speaking, he became undeceived. His struggles were preposterous; his
lively sense of ridicule speedily stopped them. He remained passive,
from time to time desperately adjuring his living prison to let him
loose, or to conduct him whither he had come; but the inexorable coil
kept fast--how long there was no guessing--till he could have roared out
tears of rage, and that is extremity for an Englishman. Rinaldo arrived
in his aid; but the woman still clung to him. He was freed only by the
voice of Barto Rizzo, who marched him back. Rinaldo subsequently told
him that his discovery of the armoury necessitated his confinement.
"Necessitates it!" cried Wilfrid. "Is this your Italian gratitude?"
The other answered: "My friend, you risked your fortune for my brother;
but this is a case that concerns our country."
He deemed these words to be an unquestionable justification, for he said
no more. After this they ceased to converse.
Each lay down on his strip of couch-matting; rose and ate, and passed the
dreadful untamed hours; nor would Wilfrid ask whether it was day or
night. We belong to time so utterly, that when we get no note of time,
it wears the shrouded head of death for us already. Rinaldo could quit
the place as he pleased; he knew the hours; and Wilfrid supposed that it
must be hatred that kept him from voluntarily divulging that blessed
piece of knowledge. He had to encourage a retorting spirit of hatred in
order to mask his intense craving. By an assiduous calculation of
seconds and minutes, he was enabled to judge that the lamp burned a space
of six hours before it required replenishing. Barto Rizzo's wife trimmed
it regularly, but the accursed woman came at all seasons. She brought
their meals irregularly, and she would never open her lips: she was like
a guardian of the tombs. Wilfrid abandoned his dream of the variation of
night and day, and with that the sense of life deadened, as the lamp did
toward the sixth hour. Thenceforward his existence fed on the movements
of his companion, the workings of whose mind he began to read with a
marvellous insight. He knew once, long in advance of the act or an
indication of it, that Rinaldo was bent on prayer. Rinaldo had slightly
closed his eyelids during the perusal of his book; he had taken a pencil
and traced lines on it from memory, and dotted points here and there; he
had left the room, and returned to resume his study. Then, after closing
the book softly, he had taken up the mark he was accustomed to place in
the last page of his reading, and tossed it away. Wilfrid was prepared
to clap hands when he should see the hated fellow drop on his knees; but
when that sight verified his calculation, he huddled himself exultingly
in his couch-cloth:--it was like a confirming clamour to him that he was
yet wholly alive. He watched the anguish of the prayer, and was rewarded
for the strain of his faculties by sleep. Barto Rizzo's rough voice
awakened him. Barto had evidently just communicated dismal tidings to
Rinaldo, who left the vault with him, and was absent long enough to make
Wilfrid forget his hatred in an irresistible desire to catch him by the
arm and look in his face.
"Ah! you have not forsaken me," the greeting leaped out.
"Not now," said Rinaldo.
"Do you think of going?"
"I will speak to you presently, my friend."
"Hound!" cried Wilfrid, and turned his face to the wall.
Until he slept, he heard the rapid travelling of a pen; on his awakening,
the pen vexed him like a chirping cricket that tells us that cock-crow is
long distant when we are moaning for the dawn. Great drops of sweat were
on Rinaldo's forehead. He wrote as one who poured forth a history
without pause. Barto's wife came to the lamp and beckoned him out,
bearing the lamp away. There was now for the first time darkness in this
vault. Wilfrid called Rinaldo by name, and heard nothing but the fear of
the place, which seemed to rise bristling at his voice and shrink from
it. He called till dread of his voice held him dumb. "I am, then, a
coward," he thought. Nor could he by-and-by repress a start of terror on
hearing Rinaldo speak out of the darkness. With screams for the lamp,
and cries that he was suffering slow murder, he underwent a paroxysm in
the effort to conceal his abject horror. Rinaldo sat by his side
patiently. At last, he said: "We are both of us prisoners on equal terms
now." That was quieting intelligence to Wilfrid, who asked eagerly:
"What hour is it?"
It was eleven of the forenoon. Wilfrid strove to dissociate his
recollection of clear daylight from the pressure of the hideous
featureless time surrounding him. He asked: "What week?" It was the
first week in March. Wilfrid could not keep from sobbing aloud. In the
early period of such a captivity, imagination, deprived of all other
food, conjures phantasms for the employment of the brain; but there is
still some consciousness within the torpid intellect wakeful to laugh at
them as they fly, though they have held us at their mercy. The face of
time had been imaged like the withering mask of a corpse to him. He had
felt, nevertheless, that things had gone on as we trust them to do at the
closing of our eyelids: he had preserved a mystical remote faith in the
steady running of the world above, and hugged it as his most precious
treasure. A thunder was rolled in his ears when he heard of the flight
of two months at one bound. Two big months! He would have guessed, at
farthest, two weeks. "I have been two months in one shirt? Impossible!"
he exclaimed. His serious idea (he cherished it for the support of his
reason) was, that the world above had played a mad prank since he had
been shuffled off its stage.
"It can't be March," he said. "Is there sunlight overhead?"
"It is a true Milanese March," Rinaldo replied.
"Why am I kept a prisoner?"
"I cannot say. There must be some idea of making use of you."
"Have you arms?"
"I have none."
"You know where they're to be had."
"I know, but I would not take them if I could. They, my friend, are for
a better cause."
"A thousand curses on your country!" cried Wilfrid. "Give me air; give
me freedom, I am stifled; I am eaten up with dirt; I am half dead. Are
we never to have the lamp again?"
"Hear me speak," Rinaldo stopped his ravings. "I will tell you what my
position is. A second attempt has been made to help Count Ammiani's
escape; it has failed. He is detained a prisoner by the Government under
the pretence that he is implicated in the slaying of an Austrian noble by
the hands of two brothers, one of whom slew him justly--not as a dog is
slain, but according to every honourable stipulation of the code. I was
the witness of the deed. It is for me that my cousin, Count Ammiani,
droops in prison when he should be with his bride. Let me speak on, I
pray you. I have said that I stand between two lovers. I can release
him, I know well, by giving myself up to the Government. Unless I do so
instantly, he will be removed from Milan to one of their fortresses in
the interior, and there he may cry to the walls and iron-bars for his
trial. They are aware that he is dear to Milan, and these two miserable
attempts have furnished them with their excuse. Barto Rizzo bids me
wait. I have waited: I can wait no longer. The lamp is withheld from me
to stop my writing to my brother, that I may warn him of my design, but
the letter is written; the messenger is on his way to Lugano. I do not
state my intentions before I have taken measures to accomplish them. I
am as much Barto Rizzo's prisoner now as you are."
The plague of darkness and thirst for daylight prevented Wilfrid from
having any other sentiment than gladness that a companion equally
unfortunate with himself was here, and equally desirous to go forth.
When Barto's wife brought their meal, and the lamp to light them eating
it, Rinaldo handed her pen, ink, pencil, paper, all the material of
correspondence; upon which, as one who had received a stipulated
exchange, she let the lamp remain. While the new and thrice-dear rays
were illumining her dark-coloured solid beauty, I know not what touch of
man-like envy or hurt vanity led Wilfrid to observe that the woman's eyes
dwelt with a singular fulness and softness on Rinaldo. It was fulness
and softness void of fire, a true ox-eyed gaze, but human in the fall of
the eyelids; almost such as an early poet of the brush gave to the Virgin
carrying her Child, to become an everlasting reduplicated image of a
mother's strong beneficence of love. He called Rinaldo's attention to it
when the woman had gone. Rinaldo understood his meaning at once.
"It will have to be so, I fear," he said; "I have thought of it. But if
I lead her to disobey Barto, there is little hope for the poor soul." He
rose up straight, like one who would utter grace for meat. "Must we, 0
my God, give a sacrifice at every step?"
With that he resumed his seat stiffly, and bent and murmured to himself.
Wilfrid had at one time of his life imagined that he was marked by a
peculiar distinction from the common herd; but contact with this young
man taught him to feel his fellowship to the world at large, and to
rejoice at it, though it partially humbled him.
They had no further visit from Barto Rizzo. The woman tended them in the
same unswerving silence, and at whiles that adorable maternity of aspect.
Wilfrid was touched by commiseration for her. He was too bitterly
fretful on account of clean linen and the liberty which fluttered the
prospect of it, to think much upon what her fate might be: perhaps a
beating, perhaps the knife. But the vileness of wearing one shirt two
months and more had hardened his heart; and though he was considerate
enough not to prompt his companion very impatiently, he submitted
desperate futile schemes to him, and suggested--"To-night?--tomorrow?--
the next day?" Rinaldo did not heed him. He lay on his couch like one
who bleeds inwardly, thinking of the complacent faithfulness of that poor
creature's face. Barto Rizzo had sworn to him that there should be a
rising in Milan before the month was out; but he had lost all confidence
in Milanese risings. Ammiani would be removed, if he delayed; and he
knew that the moment his letter reached Lugano, Angelo would start for
Milan and claim to surrender in his stead. The woman came, and went
forth, and Rinaldo did not look at her until his resolve was firm.
He said to Wilfrid in her presence, "Swear that you will reveal nothing
of this house."
Wilfrid spiritedly pronounced his gladdest oath.
"It is dark in the streets," Rinaldo addressed the woman. "Lead us out,
for the hour has come when I must go."
She clutched her hands below her bosom to stop its great heaving, and
stood as one smitten by the sudden hearing of her sentence. The sight
was pitiful, for her face scarcely changed; the anguish was
expressionless. Rinaldo pointed sternly to the door.
"Stay," Wilfrid interposed. "That wretch may be in the house, and will
"She is not thinking of herself," said Rinaldo.
"But, stay," Wilfrid repeated. The woman's way of taking breath shocked
and enfeebled him.
Rinaldo threw the door open.
"Must you? must you?" her voice broke.
"Waste no words."
"You have not seen a priest?"
"I go to him."
"What is death to me? Be dumb, that I may think well of you till my last
"What is death tome? Be dumb!"
She had spoken with her eyes fixed on his couch. It was the figure of
one upon the scaffold, knitting her frame to hold up a strangled heart.
"What is death to me? Be dumb!" she echoed him many times on the rise
and fall of her breathing, and turned to get him in her eyes. "Be dumb!
be dumb!" She threw her arms wide out, and pressed his temples and
The scene was like hot iron to Wilfrid's senses. When he heard her
coolly asking him for his handkerchief to blind him, he had forgotten the
purpose, and gave it mechanically. Nothing was uttered throughout the
long mountings and descent of stairs. They passed across one corridor
where the walls told of a humming assemblage of men within. A current of
keen air was the first salute Wilfrid received from the world above; his
handkerchief was loosened; he stood foolish as a blind man, weak as a
hospital patient, on the steps leading into a small square of visible
darkness, and heard the door shut behind him. Rinaldo led him from the
court to the street.
"Farewell," he said. "Get some housing instantly; avoid exposure to the
air. I leave you."
Wilfrid spent his tongue in a fruitless and meaningless remonstrance.
"And you?" he had the grace to ask.
"I go straight to find a priest. Farewell."
So they parted.
EPISODES OF THE REVOLT AND THE WAR
THE FIVE DAYS OF MILAN
The same hand which brought Rinaldo's letter to his brother delivered a
message from Barto Rizzo, bidding Angelo to start at once and head a
stout dozen or so of gallant Swiss. The letter and the message appeared
to be grievous contradictions: one was evidently a note of despair, while
the other sang like a trumpet. But both were of a character to draw him
swiftly on to Milan. He sent word to his Lugano friends, naming a
village among the mountains between Como and Varese, that they might join
him there if they pleased.
Toward nightfall, on the nineteenth of the month, he stood with a small
band of Ticinese and Italian fighting lads two miles distant from the
city. There was a momentary break in long hours of rain; the air was
full of inexplicable sounds, that floated over them like a toning of
multitudes wailing and singing fitfully behind a swaying screen. They
bent their heads. At intervals a sovereign stamp on the pulsation of the
uproar said, distinct as a voice in the ear--Cannon. "Milan's alive!"
Angelo cried, and they streamed forward under the hurry of stars and
scud, till thumping guns and pattering musket-shots, the long big boom of
surgent hosts, and the muffled voluming and crash of storm-bells,
proclaimed that the insurrection was hot. A rout of peasants bearing
immense ladders met them, and they joined with cheers, and rushed to the
walls. As yet no gate was in the possession of the people. The walls
showed bayonet-points: a thin edge of steel encircled a pit of fire.
Angelo resolved to break through at once. The peasants hesitated, but
his own men were of one mind to follow, and, planting his ladder in the
ditch, he rushed up foremost. The ladder was full short; he called out
in German to a soldier to reach his hand down, and the butt-end of a
musket was dropped, which he grasped, and by this aid sprang to the
parapet, and was seized. "Stop," he said, "there's a fellow below with
my brandy-flask and portmanteau." The soldiers were Italians; they
laughed, and hauled away at man after man of the mounting troop, calling
alternately "brandy-flask!--portmanteau!" as each one raised a head
above the parapet. "The signor has a good supply of spirits and
baggage," they remarked. He gave them money for porterage, saying, "You
see, the gates are held by that infernal people, and a quiet traveller
must come over the walls. Viva l'Italia! who follows me?" He carried
away three of those present. The remainder swore that they and their
comrades would be on his side on the morrow. Guided by the new accession
to his force, Angelo gained the streets. All shots had ceased; the
streets were lighted with torches and hand-lamps; barricades were up
everywhere, like a convulsion of the earth. Tired of receiving
challenges and mounting the endless piles of stones, he sat down at the
head of the Corso di Porta Nuova,, and took refreshments from the hands
of ladies. The house-doors were all open. The ladies came forth bearing
wine and minestra, meat and bread, on trays; and quiet eating and
drinking, and fortifying of the barricades, went on. Men were rubbing
their arms and trying rusty gun-locks. Few of them had not seen Barto
Rizzo that day; but Angelo could get no tidings of his brother. He slept
on a door-step, dreaming that he was blown about among the angels of
heaven and hell by a glorious tempest. Near morning an officer of
volunteers came to inspect the barricade defences. Angelo knew him by
sight; it was Luciano Romara. He explained the position of the opposing
forces. The Marshal, he said, was clearly no street-fighter. Estimating
the army under his orders in Milan at from ten to eleven thousand men of
all arms, it was impossible for him to guard the gates and then walls,
and at the same time fight the city. Nor could he provision his troops.
Yesterday the troops had made one: charge and done mischief, but they had
immediately retired. "And if they take to cannonading us to-day, we
shall know what that means," Romara concluded. Angelo wanted to join
him. "No, stay here," said Romara. "I think you are a man who won't
give ground." He had not seen either Rinaldo or Ammiani, but spoke of
both as certain to be rescued.
Rain and cannon filled the weary space of that day. Some of the
barricades fronting the city gates had been battered down by nightfall;
they were restored within an hour. Their defenders entered the houses
right and left during the cannonade, waiting to meet the charge; but the
Austrians held off. "They have no plan," Romara said on his second visit
of inspection; "they are waiting on Fortune, and starve meanwhile. We
can beat them at that business."
Romara took Angelo and his Swiss away with him. The interior of the city
was abandoned by the Imperialists, who held two or three of the principal
buildings and the square of the Duomo. Clouds were driving thick across
the cold-gleaming sky when the storm-bells burst out with the wild
Jubilee-music of insurrection--a carol, a jangle of all discord, savage
as flame. Every church of the city lent its iron tongue to the peal; and
now they joined and now rolled apart, now joined again and clanged like
souls shrieking across the black gulfs of an earthquake; they swam aloft
with mournful delirium, tumbled together, were scattered in spray,
dissolved, renewed, died, as a last worn wave casts itself on an unfooted
shore, and rang again as through rent doorways, became a clamorous host,
an iron body, a pressure as of a down-drawn firmament, and once more a
hollow vast, as if the abysses of the Circles were sounded through and
through. To the Milanese it was an intoxication; it was the howling of
madness to the Austrians--a torment and a terror: they could neither
sing, nor laugh, nor talk under it. Where they stood in the city, the
troops could barely hear their officers' call of command. No sooner had
the bells broken out than the length of every street and Corso flashed
with the tri-coloured flag; musket-muzzles peeped from the windows; men
with great squares of pavement lined the roofs. Romara mounted a stiff
barricade and beheld a scattered regiment running the gauntlet of storms
of shot and missiles, in full retreat upon the citadel. On they came,
officers in front for the charge, as usual with the Austrians; fire on
both flanks, a furious mob at their heels, and the barricade before them.
They rushed at Romara, and were hurled back, and stood in a riddled lump.
Suddenly Romara knocked up the rifles of the couching Swiss; he yelled to
the houses to stop firing. "Surrender your prisoners,--you shall pass,"
he called. He had seen one dear head in the knot of the soldiery. No
answer was given. Romara, with Angelo and his Swiss and the ranks of the
barricade, poured over and pierced the streaming mass, steel for steel.
"Ammiani! Ammiani!" Romara cried; a roar from the other side, "Barto!
Barto! the Great Cat!" met the cry. The Austrians struck up a cheer
under the iron derision of the bells; it was ludicrous, it was as if a
door had slammed on their mouths, ringing tremendous echoes in a vaulted
roof. They stood sweeping fire in two oblong lines; a show of military
array was preserved like a tattered robe, till Romara drove at their
centre and left the retreat clear across the barricade. Then the
whitecoats were seen flowing over, the motley surging hosts from the city
in pursuit--foam of a storm-torrent hurled forward by the black tumult of
precipitous waters. Angelo fell on his brother's neck; Romara clasped
Carlo Ammiani. These two were being marched from the prison to the
citadel when Barto Rizzo, who had prepared to storm the building,
assailed the troops. To him mainly they were indebted for their rescue.
Even in that ecstasy of meeting, the young men smiled at the
preternatural transport on his features as he bounded by them, mad for
slaughter, and mounting a small brass gun on the barricade, sent the
charges of shot into the rear of the enemy. He kissed the black lip of
his little thunderer in, a rapture of passion; called it his wife, his
naked wife; the best of mistresses, who spoke only when he charged her to
speak; raved that she was fair, and liked hugging; that she was true, and
the handsomest daughter of Italy; that she would be the mother of big
ones--none better than herself, though they were mountains of sulphur big
enough to make one gulp of an army.
His wife in the flesh stood at his feet with a hand-grenade and a rifle,
daggers and pistols in her belt. Her face was black with powder-smoke as
the muzzle of the gun. She looked at Rinaldo once, and Rinaldo at her;
both dropped their eyes, for their joy at seeing one another alive was
Dead Austrians were gathered in a heap. Dead and wounded Milanese were
taken into the houses. Wine was brought forth by ladies and household
women. An old crutched beggar, who had performed a deed of singular
intrepidity in himself kindling a fire at the door of one of the
principal buildings besieged by the people, and who showed perforated
rags with a comical ejaculation of thanks to the Austrians for knowing
how to hit a scarecrow and make a beggar holy, was the object of
particular attention. Barto seated him on his gun, saying that his
mistress and beauty was honoured; ladies were proud in waiting on the
fine frowzy old man. It chanced during that morning that Wilfrid Pierson
had attached himself to Lieutenant Jenna's regiment as a volunteer. He
had no arms, nothing but a huge white umbrella, under which he walked dry
in the heavy rain, and passed through the fire like an impassive
spectator of queer events. Angelo's Swiss had captured them, and the mob
were maltreating them because they declined to shout for this valorous
ancient beggarman. "No doubt he's a capital fellow," said Jenna; "but
'Viva Scottocorni' is not my language;" and the spirited little subaltern
repeated his "Excuse me," with very good temper, while one knocked off
his shako, another tugged at his coat-skirts. Wilfrid sang out to the
Guidascarpi, and the brothers sprang to him and set them free; but the
mob, like any other wild beast gorged with blood, wanted play, and urged
Barto to insist that these victims should shout the viva in exaltation of
"Is there a finer voice than mine?" said Barto, and he roared the 'viva'
like a melodious bull. Yet Wilfrid saw that he had been recognized. In
the hour of triumph Barto Rizzo had no lust for petty vengeance. The
magnanimous devil plumped his gorge contentedly on victory. His ardour
blazed from his swarthy crimson features like a blown fire, when scouts
came running down with word that all about the Porta Camosina, Madonna
del Carmine, and the Gardens, the Austrians were reaping the white flag
of the inhabitants of that district. Thitherward his cry of "Down with
the Tedeschi!" led the boiling tide. Rinaldo drew Wilfrid and Jenna to
an open doorway, counselling the latter to strip the gold from his coat
and speak his Italian in monosyllables. A woman of the house gave her
promise to shelter and to pass them forward. Romara, Ammiani, and the
Guidascarpi, went straight to the Casa Gonfalonieri, where they hoped to
see stray members of the Council of War, and hear a correction of certain
unpleasant rumours concerning the dealings of the Provisional Government
with Charles Albert.
The first crack of a division between the patriot force and the
aristocracy commenced this day; the day following it was a breach.
A little before dusk the bells of the city ceased their hammering, and
when they ceased, all noises of men and musketry seemed childish. The
woman who had promised to lead Wilfrid and Jenna to the citadel, feared
no longer either for herself or them, and passed them on up the Corso
Francesco past the Contrada del Monte. Jenna pointed out the Duchess of
Graatli's house, saying, "By the way, the Lenkensteins are here; they
left Venice last week. Of course you know, or don't you?--and there they
must stop, I suppose." Wilfrid nodded an immediate good-bye to him, and
crossed to the house-door. His eccentric fashion of acting had given him
fame in the army, but Jenna stormed at it now, and begged him to come on
and present himself to General Schoneck, if not to General Pierson.
Wilfrid refused even to look behind him. In fact, it was a part of the
gallant fellow's coxcombry (or nationality) to play the Englishman. He
remained fixed by the housedoor till midnight, when a body of men in the
garb of citizens, volubly and violently Italian in their talk, struck
thrice at the door. Wilfrid perceived Count Lenkenstein among them.
The ladies Bianca, Anna, and Lena issued mantled and hooded between the
lights of two barricade watchfires. Wilfrid stepped after them. They
had the password, for the barricades were crossed. The captain of the
head-barricade in the Corso demurred, requiring a counter-sign.
Straightway he was cut down. He blew an alarm-call, when up sprang a
hundred torches. The band of Germans dashed at the barricade as at the
tusks of a boar. They were picked men, most of them officers, but a
scanty number in the thick of an armed populace. Wilfrid saw the lighted
passage into the great house, and thither, throwing out his arms, he bore
the affrighted group of ladies, as a careful shepherd might do.
Returning to Count Lenkenstein's side, "Where are they?" the count said,
in mortal dread. "Safe," Wilfrid replied. The count frowned at him
inquisitively. "Cut your way through, and on!" he cried to three or four
who hung near him; and these went to the slaughter.
"Why do you stand by me, sir?" said the count. Interior barricades were
pouring their combatants to the spot; Count Lenkenstein was plunged upon
the door-steps. Wilfrid gained half-a-minute's parley by shouting in his
foreign accent, "Would you hurt an Englishman?" Some one took him by the
arm, and helping to raise the count, hurried them both into the house.
"You must make excuses for popular fury in times like these," the
The Austrian nobleman asked him stiffly for his name. The name of Count
Ammiani was given. "I think you know it," Carlo added.
"You escaped from your lawful imprisonment this day, did you not?--you
and your cousin, the assassin. I talk of law! I might as justly talk of
honour. Who lives here?" Carlo contained himself to answer, "The
present occupant is, I believe, if I have hit the house I was seeking,
the Countess d'Isorella."
"My family were placed here, sir?" Count Lenkenstein inquired of Wilfrid.
But Wilfrid's attention was frozen by the sight of Vittoria's lover. A
wifely call of "Adalbert" from above quieted the count's anxiety.
"Countess d'Isorella," he said. "I know that woman. She belongs to the
secret cabinet of Carlo Alberto--a woman with three edges. Did she not
visit you in prison two weeks ago? I speak to you, Count Ammiani. She
applied to the Archduke and the Marshal for permission to visit you. It
was accorded. To the devil with our days of benignity! She was from
Turin. The shuffle has made her my hostess for the nonce. I will go to
her. You, sir," the count turned to Wilfrid--"you will stay below. Are
you in the pay of the insurgents?"
Wilfrid, the weakest of human beings where women were involved with him,
did one of the hardest things which can task a young man's fortitude: he
looked his superior in the face, and neither blenched, nor frowned, nor
Ammiani spoke for him. "There is no pay given in our ranks."
"The licence to rob is supposed to be an equivalent," said the count.
Countess d'Isorella herself came downstairs, with profuse apologies for
the absence of all her male domestics, and many delicate dimples about
her mouth in uttering them. Her look at Ammiani struck Wilfrid as having
a peculiar burden either of meaning or of passion in it. The count
grimaced angrily when he heard that his sister Lena was not yet able to
bear the fatigue of a walk to the citadel. "I fear you must all be my
guests, for an hour at least," said the countess.
Wilfrid was left pacing the hall. He thought he had never beheld so
splendid a person, or one so subjugatingly gracious. Her speech and
manner poured oil on the uncivil Austrian nobleman. What perchance had
He guessed; and guessed it rightly. A folded scrap of paper signed by
the Countess of Lenkenstein was brought to him.
It said:--"Are you making common cause with the rebels? Reply. One asks
who should be told."
He wrote:--"I am an outcast of the army. I fight as a volunteer with the
K. K. troops. Could I abandon them in their peril?"
The touch of sentiment he appended for Lena's comfort. He was too
strongly impressed by the new vision of beauty in the house for his
imagination to be flushed by the romantic posture of his devotion to a
No other message was delivered. Ammiani presently descended and obtained
a guard from the barricade; word was sent on to the barricades in advance
toward the citadel. Wilfrid stood aside as Count Lenkenstein led the
ladies to the door, bearing Lena on his arm. She passed her lover
veiled. The count said, "You follow." He used the menial second person
plural of German, and repeated it peremptorily.
"I follow no civilian," said Wilfrid.
"Remember, sir, that if you are seen with arms in your hands, and are not
in the ranks, you run the chances of being hanged."
Lena broke loose from her brother; in spite of Anna's sharp remonstrance
and the count's vexed stamp of the foot, she implored her lover:--"Come
with us; pardon us; protect me--me! You shall not be treated harshly.
They shall not Oh! be near me. I have been ill; I shrink from danger.
Be near me!"
Such humble pleading permitted Wilfrid's sore spirit to succumb with the
requisite show of chivalrous dignity. He bowed, and gravely opened his
enormous umbrella, which he held up over the heads of the ladies, while
Ammiani led the way. All was quiet near the citadel. A fog of plashing
rain hung in red gloom about the many watchfires of the insurgents, but
the Austrian head-quarters lay sombre and still. Close at the gates,
Ammiani saluted the ladies. Wilfrid did the same, and heard Lena's call
to him unmoved.
"May I dare to hint to you that it would be better for you to join your
party?" said Ammiani.
Wilfrid walked on. After appearing to weigh the matter, he answered,
"The umbrella will be of no further service to them to-night."
Ammiani laughed, and begged to be forgiven; but he could have done
nothing more flattering.
Sore at all points, tricked and ruined, irascible under the sense of his
injuries, hating everybody and not honouring himself, Wilfrid was fast
growing to be an eccentric by profession. To appear cool and careless
was the great effort of his mind.
"We were introduced one day in the Piazza d'Armi," said Ammiani.
"I would have found means to convey my apologies to you for my behaviour
on that occasion, but I have been at the mercy of my enemies. Lieutenant
Pierson, will you pardon me? I have learnt how dear you and your family
should be to me. Pray, accept my excuses and my counsel. The Countess
Lena was my friend when I was a boy. She is in deep distress."
"I thank you, Count Ammiani, for your extremely disinterested advice,"
said Wilfrid; but the Italian was not cut to the quick by his irony; and
he added: "I have hoisted, you perceive, the white umbrella instead of
wearing the white coat. It is almost as good as an hotel in these times;
it gives as much shelter and nearly as much provision, and, I may say,
better attendance. Good-night. You will be at it again about daylight,
"Possibly a little before," said Ammiani, cooled by the false ring of
this kind of speech.
"It's useless to expect that your infernal bells will not burst out like
all the lunatics on earth?"
"Quite useless, I fear. Good-night."
Ammiani charged one of the men at an outer barricade to follow the white
umbrella and pass it on.
He returned to the Countess d'Isorella, who was awaiting him, and alone.
This glorious head had aroused his first boyish passion. Scandal was
busy concerning the two, when Violetta d'Asola, the youthfullest widow in
Lombardy and the loveliest woman, gave her hand to Count d'Isorella, who
took it without question of the boy Ammiani. Carlo's mother assisted in
that arrangement; a maternal plot, for which he could thank her only
after he had seen Vittoria, and then had heard the buzz of whispers at
Violetta's name. Countess d'Isorella proved her friendship to have
survived the old passion, by travelling expressly from Turin to obtain
leave to visit him in prison. It was a marvellous face to look upon
between prison walls. Rescued while the soldiers were marching him to
the citadel that day, he was called by pure duty to pay his respects to
the countess as soon as he had heard from his mother that she was in the
city. Nor was his mother sorry that he should go. She had patiently
submitted to the fact of his betrothal to Vittoria, which was his
safeguard in similar perils; and she rather hoped for Violetta to wean
him from his extreme republicanism. By arguments? By influence,
perhaps. Carlo's republicanism was preternatural in her sight, and she
presumed that Violetta would talk to him discreetly and persuasively of
the noble designs of the king.
Violetta d'Isorella received him with a gracious lifting of her fingers
to his lips; congratulating him on his escape, and on the good fortune of
the day. She laughed at the Lenkensteins and the singular Englishman;
sat down to a little supper-tray, and pouted humorously as she asked him
to feed on confects and wine; the huge appetites of the insurgents had
devoured all her meat and bread.
"Why are you here?" he said.
She did well in replying boldly, "For the king."
"Would you tell another that it is for the king?"
"Would I speak to another as I speak to you?"
Ammiani inclined his head.
They spoke of the prospects of the insurrection, of the expected outbreak
in Venice, the eruption of Paris and Vienna, and the new life of Italy;
touching on Carlo Alberto to explode the truce in a laughing dissension.
At last she said seriously, "I am a born Venetian, you know; I am not
Piedmontese. Let me be sure that the king betrays the country, and I
will prefer many heads to one. Excuse me if I am more womanly just at
present. The king has sent his accredited messenger Tartini to the
Provisional Government, requesting it to accept his authority. Why not?
why not? on both sides. Count Medole gives his adhesion to the king,
but you have a Council of War that rejects the king's overtures--a revolt
within a revolt.
It is deplorable. You must have an army. The Piedmontese once over the
Ticino, how can you act in opposition to it? You must learn to take a
master. The king is only, or he appears, tricksy because you compel him
to wind and counterplot. I swear to you, Italy is his foremost thought.
The Star of Italy sits on the Cross of Savoy."
Ammiani kept his eyelids modestly down. "Ten thousand to plead for him,
such as you!" he said. "But there is only one!"
"If you had been headstrong once upon a time, and I had been weak, you
see, my Carlo, you would have been a domestic tyrant, I a rebel. You
will not admit the existence of a virtue in an opposite opinion. Wise
was your mother when she said 'No' to a wilful boy!"
Violetta lit her cigarette and puffed the smoke lightly.
"I told you in that horrid dungeon, my Carlo Amaranto--I call you by the
old name--the old name is sweet!--I told you that your Vittoria is
enamoured of the king. She blushes like a battle-flag for the king.
I have heard her 'Viva il Re!' It was musical."
"So I should have thought."
"Ay, but my amaranto-innamorato, does it not foretell strife? Would you
ever--ever take a heart with a king's head stamped on it into your arms?"
"Give me the chance!"
He was guilty of this ardent piece of innocence though Violetta had
pitched her voice in the key significant of a secret thing belonging to
two memories that had not always flowed dividedly.
"Like a common coin?" she resumed.
"A heart with a king's head stamped on it like a common coin."
He recollected the sentence. He had once, during the heat of his grief
for Giacomo Piaveni, cast it in her teeth.
Violetta repeated it, as to herself, tonelessly; a method of making an
old unkindness strike back on its author with effect.
"Did we part good friends? I forget," she broke the silence.
"We meet, and we will be the best of friends," said Ammiani.
"Tell your mother I am not three years older than her son,--I am thirty.
Who will make me young again? Tell her, my Carlo, that the genius for
intrigue, of which she accuses me, develops at a surprising rate. As
regards my beauty," the countess put a tooth of pearl on her soft under
Ammiani assured her that he would find words of his own for her beauty.
"I hear the eulogy, I know the sonnet," said Violetta, smiling, and
described the points of a brunette: the thick black banded hair, the full
brown eyes, the plastic brows couching over them;--it was Vittoria's
face: Violetta was a flower of colour, fair, with but one shade of dark
tinting on her brown eye-brows and eye-lashes, as you may see a strip of
night-cloud cross the forehead of morning. She was yellow-haired, almost
purple-eyed, so rich was the blue of the pupils. Vittoria could be
sallow in despondency; but this Violetta never failed in plumpness and
freshness. The pencil which had given her aspect the one touch of
discord, endowed it with a subtle harmony, like mystery; and Ammiani
remembered his having stood once on the Lido of Venice, and eyed the dawn
across the Adriatic, and dreamed that Violetta was born of the loveliness
and held in her bosom the hopes of morning. He dreamed of it now,
feeling the smooth roll of a torrent.
A cry of "Arms!" rang down the length of the Corso.
He started to his feet thankfully.
"Take me to your mother," she said. "I loathe to hear firing and be
Ammiani threw up the window. There was a stir of lamps and torches
below, and the low sky hung red. Violetta stood quickly thick-shod and
"Your mother will admit my companionship, Carlo?"
"She desires to thank you."
"She has no longer any fear of me?"
"You will find her of one mind with you."
"Concerning the king!"
"I would say, on most subjects."
"But that you do not know my mind! You are modest. Confess that you are
thinking the hour you have passed with me has been wasted."
"I am, now I hear the call to arms."
"If I had all the while entertained you with talk of your Vittoria! It
would not have been wasted then, my amaranto. It is not wasted for me.
If a shot should strike you--"
"Tell her I died loving her with all my soul!" cried Ammiani.
Violetta's frame quivered as if he had smitten her.
They left the house. Countess Ammiani's door was the length of a
barricade distant: it swung open to them, like all the other house-doors
which were, or wished to be esteemed, true to the cause, and hospitable
"Remember, when you need a refuge, my villa is on Lago Maggiore,"
Violetta said, and kissed her finger-tips to him.
An hour after, by the light of this unlucky little speech, he thought of
her as a shameless coquette. "When I need a refuge? Is not Milan in
arms?--Italy alive? She considers it all a passing epidemic; or,
perhaps, she is to plead for me to the king!"
That set him thinking moodily over the things she had uttered of
Vittoria's strange and sudden devotion to the king.
Rainy dawn and the tongues of the churches ushered in the last day of
street fighting. Ammiani found Romara and Colonel Corte at the head of
strong bodies of volunteers, well-armed, ready to march for the Porta
'rosa. All three went straight to the house where the Provisional
Government sat, and sword in hand denounced Count Medole as a traitor who
sold his country to the king. Corte dragged him to the window to hear
the shouts for the Republic. Medole wrote their names down one by one,
and said, "Shall I leave the date vacant?" They put themselves at the
head of their men, and marched in the ringing of the bells. The bells
were their sacro-military music. Barto Rizzo was off to make a spring at
the Porta Ticinese. Students, peasants, noble youths of the best blood,
old men and young women, stood ranged in the drenching rain, eager to
face death for freedom. At mid-day the bells were answered by cannon and
the blunt snap of musketry volleys; dull, savage responses, as of a
wounded great beast giving short howls and snarls by the interminable
over-roaring of a cataract. Messengers from the gates came running to
the quiet centre of the city, where cool men discoursed and plotted.
Great news, big lies, were shouted:--Carlo Alberto thundered in the
plains; the Austrians were everywhere retiring; the Marshal was a
prisoner; the flag of surrender was on the citadel! These things were
for the ears of thirsty women, diplomatists, and cripples.
Countess Ammiani and Countess d'Isorella sat together throughout the
agitation of the day.
The life prayed for by one seemed a wisp of straw flung on this humming
Countess Ammiani was too well used to defeat to believe readily in
victory, and had shrouded her head in resignation too long to hope for
what she craved. Her hands were joined softly in her lap. Her visage
had the same unmoved expression when she conversed with Violetta as when
she listened to the ravings of the Corso.
Darkness came, and the bells ceased not rolling by her open windows: the
clouds were like mists of conflagration.
She would not have the windows closed. The noise of the city had become
familiar and akin to the image of her boy. She sat there cloaked.
Her heart went like a time-piece to the two interrogations to heaven:
The voice of Luciano Romara was that of an angel's answering. He entered
the room neat and trim as a cavalier dressed for social evening duty,
saying with his fine tact, "We are all well;" and after talking like a
gazette of the Porta Tosa taken by the volunteers, Barto Rizzo's
occupation of the gate opening on the Ticino, and the bursting of the
Porta Camosina by the freebands of the plains, he handed a letter to
"Carlo is on the march to Bergamo and Brescia, with Corte, Sana, and
about fifty of our men," he said.
"And is wounded--where?" asked Violetta.
"Slightly in the hand--you see, he can march," Romara said, laughing at
her promptness to suspect a subterfuge, until he thought, "Now, what does
this mean, madam?"
A lamp was brought to Countess Ammiani. She read:
"Cotton-wool on the left fore-finger. They deigned to give me no
other memorial of my first fight. I am not worthy of papa's two
bullets. I march with Corte and Sana to Brescia. We keep the
passes of the Tyrol. Luciano heads five hundred up to the hills
to-morrow or next day. He must have all our money. Then go from
door to door and beg subscriptions. Yes, my Chief! it is to be
like God, and deserving of his gifts to lay down all pride, all
wealth. This night send to my betrothed in Turin. She must be with
no one but my mother. It is my command. Tell her so. I hold
imperatively to it.
"I breathe the best air of life. Luciano is a fine leader in
action, calm as in a ball-room. What did I feel? I will talk of it
with you by-and-by;--my father whispered in my ears; I felt him at
my right hand. He said, 'I died for this day.' I feel now that I
must have seen him. This is imagination. We may say that anything
is imagination. I certainly heard his voice. Be of good heart, my
mother, for I can swear that the General wakes up when I strike
Austrian steel. He loved Brescia; so I go there. God preserve my
mother! The eyes of heaven are wide enough to see us both.
Vittoria by your side, remember! It is my will.
Countess Ammiani closed her eyes over the letter, as in a dead sleep.
"He is more his father than himself, and so suddenly!" she said. She was
tearless. Violetta helped her to her bed-room under the pretext of a
desire to hear the contents of the letter.
That night, which ended the five days of battle in Milan, while fires
were raging at many gates, bells were rolling over the roof-tops, the
army of Austria coiled along the North-eastern walls of the city, through
rain and thick obscurity, and wove its way like a vast worm into the
EPISODES OF THE REVOLT AND THE WAR
VITTORIA DISOBEYS HER LOVER
Countess d'Isorella's peculiar mission to Milan was over with the victory
of the city. She undertook personally to deliver Carlo's injunction to
Vittoria on her way to the king. Countess Ammiani deemed it sufficient
that her son's wishes should be repeated verbally; and as there appeared
to be no better messenger than one who was bound for Turin and knew
Vittoria's place of residence, she entrusted the duty to Violetta.
The much which hangs on little was then set in motion:
Violetta was crossing the Ticino when she met a Milanese nobleman who had
received cold greeting from the king, and was returning to Milan with
word that the Piedmontese declaration of war against Austria had been
signed. She went back to Milan, saw and heard, and gathered a burden for
the royal ears. This was a woman, tender only to the recollection of
past days, who used her beauty and her arts as weapons for influence.
She liked kings because she saw neither master nor dupe in a republic;
she liked her early lover because she could see nothing but a victim in
any new one. She was fond of Carlo, as greatly occupied minds may be
attached to an old garden where they have aforetime sown fair seed.
Jealousy of a rival in love that was disconnected with political business
and her large expenditure, had never yet disturbed the lady's nerves.
At Turin she found Vittoria singing at the opera, and winning marked
applause from the royal box. She thought sincerely that to tear a prima
donna from her glory would be very much like dismissing a successful
General to his home and gabbling family. A most eminent personage agreed
with her. Vittoria was carelessly informed that Count Ammiani had gone
to Brescia, and having regard for her safety, desired her to go to Milan
to be under the protection of his mother, and that Countess Ammiani was
willing to receive her.
Now, with her mother, and her maid Giacinta, and Beppo gathered about
her, for three weeks Vittoria had been in full operatic career, working,
winning fame, believing that she was winning influence, and establishing
a treasury. The presence of her lover in Milan would have called her to
the noble city; but he being at Brescia, she asked herself why she should
abstain from labours which contributed materially to the strength of the
revolution and made her helpful. It was doubtful whether Countess
Ammiani would permit her to sing at La Scala; or whether the city could
support an opera in the throes of war. And Vittoria was sending money to
Milan. The stipend paid to her by the impresario, the jewels, the big
bouquets--all flowed into the treasury of the insurrection. Antonio-
Pericles advanced her a large sum on the day when the news of the
Milanese uprising reached Turin: the conditions of the loan had simply
been that she should continue her engagement to sing in Turin. He was
perfectly slavish to her, and might be trusted to advance more. Since
the great night at La Scala, she had been often depressed by a secret
feeling that there was divorce between her love of her country and
devotion to her Art. Now that both passions were in union, both active,
each aiding the fire of the other, she lived a consummate life. She
could not have abandoned her path instantly though Carlo had spoken his
command to her in person. Such were her first spontaneous seasonings,
and Laura Piaveni seconded them; saying, "Money, money!, we must be Jews
for money. We women are not allowed to fight, but we can manage to
contribute our lire and soldi; we can forge the sinews of war."
Vittoria wrote respectfully to Countess Ammiani stating why she declined
to leave Turin. The letter was poorly worded. While writing it she had
been taken by a sentiment of guilt and of isolation in presuming to
disobey her lover. "I am glad he will not see it," she remarked to
Laura, who looked rapidly across the lines, and said nothing. Praise of
the king was in the last sentence. Laura's eyes lingered on it half-a-
"Has he not drawn his sword? He is going to march," said Vittoria.
"Oh, yes," Laura replied coolly; "but you put that to please Countess
Vittoria confessed she had not written it purposely to defend the king.
"What harm?" she asked.
"None. Only this playing with shades allows men to call us hypocrites."
The observation angered Vittoria. She had seen the king of late; she had
breathed Turin incense and its atmosphere; much that could be pleaded on
the king's behalf she had listened to with the sympathetic pity which can
be woman's best judgement, and is the sentiment of reason. She had also
brooded over the king's character, and had thought that if the Chief
could have her opportunities for studying this little impressible, yet
strangely impulsive royal nature, his severe condemnation of him would be
tempered. In fact, she was doing what makes a woman excessively tender
and opinionated; she was petting her idea of the misunderstood one: she
was thinking that she divined the king's character by mystical intuition;
I will dare to say, maternally apprehended it. And it was a character
strangely open to feminine perceptions, while to masculine comprehension
it remained a dead blank, done either in black or in white.
Vittoria insisted on praising the king to Laura.
"With all my heart," Laura said, "so long as he is true to Italy."
"How, then, am I hypocritical?"
"My Sandra, you are certainly perverse. You admitted that you did
something for the sake of pleasing Countess Ammiani."
"I did. But to be hypocritical one must be false."
"Oh!" went Laura.
"And I write to Carlo. He does not care for the king; therefore it is
needless for me to name the king to him; and I shall not."
Laura said, "Very well." She saw a little deeper than the perversity,
though she did not see the springs. In Vittoria's letter to her lover,
she made no allusion to the Sword of Italy.
Countess Ammiani forwarded both letters on to Brescia.
When Carlo had finished reading them, he heard all Brescia clamouring
indignantly at the king for having disarmed volunteers on Lago Maggiore
and elsewhere in his dominions. Milan was sending word by every post of
the overbearing arrogance of the Piedmontese officers and officials, who
claimed a prostrate submission from a city fresh with the ardour of the
glory it had won for itself, and that would fain have welcomed them as
brothers. Romara and others wrote of downright visible betrayal. It was
a time of passions;--great readiness for generosity, equal promptitude
for undiscriminating hatred. Carlo read Vittoria's praise of the king
with insufferable anguish. "You--you part of me, can write like this!"
he struck the paper vehemently. The fury of action transformed the
gentle youth. Countess Ammiani would not have forwarded the letter
addressed to herself had she dreamed the mischief it might do. Carlo
saw double-dealing in the absence of any mention of the king in his own
"Quit Turin at once," he dashed hasty lines to Vittoria; "and no
'Viva il Re' till we know what he may merit. Old delusions are
pardonable; but you must now look abroad with your eyes. Your words
should be the echoes of my soul. Your acts are mine. For the sake
of the country, do nothing to fill me with shame. The king is a
traitor. I remember things said of him by Agostino; I subscribe to
them every one. Were you like any other Italian girl, you might cry
for him--who would care! But you are Vittoria. Fly to my mother's
arms, and there rest. The king betrays us. Is a stronger word
necessary? I am writing too harshly to you;--and here are the lines
of your beloved letter throbbing round me while I write; but till
the last shot is fired I try to be iron, and would hold your hand
and not kiss it--not be mad to fall between your arms--not wish for
you--not think of you as a woman, as my beloved, as my Vittoria; I
hope and pray not, if I thought there was an ace of work left to do
for the country. Or if one could say that you cherished a shred of
loyalty for him who betrays it. Great heaven! am I to imagine that
royal flatteries----- My hand is not my own! You shall see all that
it writes. I will seem to you no better than I am. I do not tell
you to be a Republican, but an Italian. If I had room for myself in
my prayers--oh! one half-instant to look on you, though with chains
on my limbs. The sky and the solid ground break up when I think of
you. I fancy I am still in prison. Angelo was music to me for two
whole days (without a morning to the first and a night to the
second). He will be here to-morrow and talk of you again. I long
for him more than for battle--almost long for you more than for
victory for our Italy.
"This is Brescia, which my father said he loved better than his
"General Paolo Ammiani is buried here. I was at his tombstone this
morning. I wish you had known him.
"You remember, we talked of his fencing with me daily. 'I love the
fathers who do that.' You said it. He will love you. Death is the
shadow--not life. I went to his tomb. It was more to think of
Brescia than of him. Ashes are only ashes; tombs are poor places.
My soul is the power.
"If I saw the Monte Viso this morning, I saw right over your head
when you were sleeping.
"Farewell to journalism--I hope, for ever. I jump at shaking off
the journalistic phraseology Agostino laughs at. Yet I was right in
printing my 'young nonsense.' I did, hold the truth, and that was
felt, though my vehicle for delivering it was rubbish.
"In two days Corte promises to sing his song, 'Avanti.' I am at his
left hand. Venice, the passes of the Adige, the Adda, the Oglio are
ours. The room is locked; we have only to exterminate the reptiles
inside it. Romara, D'Arci, Carnischi march to hold the doors.
Corte will push lower; and if I can get him to enter the plains and
join the main army I shall rejoice."
The letter concluded with a postscript that half an Italian regiment,
with white coats swinging on their bayonet-points, had just come in.
It reached Vittoria at a critical moment.
Two days previously, she and Laura Piaveni had talked with the king.
It was an unexpected honour. Countess, d'Isorella conducted them to the
palace. The lean-headed sovereign sat booted and spurred, his sword
across his knees; he spoke with a peculiar sad hopefulness of the
prospects of the campaign, making it clear that he was risking more than
anyone risked, for his stake was a crown. The few words he uttered of
Italy had a golden ring in them; Vittoria knew not why they had it. He
condemned the Republican spirit of Milan more regretfully than severely.
The Republicans were, he said, impracticable. Beyond the desire for
change, they knew not what they wanted. He did not state that he should
avoid Milan in his march. On the contrary, he seemed to indicate that he
was about to present himself to the people of Milan. "To act against the
enemy successfully, we must act as one, under one head, with one aim."
He said this, adding that no heart in Italy had yearned more than his own
for the signal to march for the Mincio and the Adige.
Vittoria determined to put him to one test. She summoned her boldness to
crave grace for Agostino Balderini to return to Piedmont. The petition
was immediately granted. Alluding to the libretto of Camilla, the king
complimented Vittoria for her high courage on the night of the Fifteenth
of the foregoing year. "We in Turin were prepared, though we had only
then the pleasure of hearing of you," he said.
"I strove to do my best to help. I wish to serve our cause now," she
replied, feeling an inexplicable new sweetness running in her blood.
Back to Full Books