« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
The story, as Vittoria knew it, had a different, though yet a dreadful colour.
“I could have hanged Rinaldo,” Count Karl said further. “I suppose the rascals feared I should use my right, and that is why they sent their mad baggage of a woman to spare any damage to the family pride. If I had been a man to enjoy vengeance, the rope would have swung for him. In spite of provocation, I shall simply shoot the other; I pledge my word to it. They shall be paid in coin. I demand no interest."
Weisspriess prudently avoided her. Wilfrid held aloof. She sat in garden shade till the bugle sounded. Tyrolese and Italian soldiers were gibing at her haggard companion when she entered the carriage. Fronting this dumb creature once more, Vittoria thought of the story of the brothers. She felt herself reading it from the very page. The woman looked that evil star incarnate which Laura said they were born under.
This is in brief the story of the Guidascarpi.
They were the offspring of a Bolognese noble house, neither wealthy nor poor. In her early womanhood, Clelia was left to the care of her brothers. She declined the guardianship of Countess Ammiani because of her love for them; and the three, with their passion of hatred to the Austrians inherited from father and mother, schemed in concert to throw off the Austrian yoke. Clelia had soft features of no great mark; by her colouring she was beautiful, being dark along the eyebrows, with dark eyes, and a surpassing richness of Venetian hair. Bologna and Venice were married in her aspect. Her brothers conceived her to possess such force of mind that they held no secrets from her. They did not know that the heart of their sister was struggling with an image of Power when she uttered hatred of it. She was in truth a woman of a soft heart, with a most impressionable imagination.
There were many suitors for the hand of Clelia Guidascarpi, though her dowry was not the portion of a fat estate. Her old nurse counselled the brothers that they should consent to her taking a husband. They fulfilled this duty as one that must be done, and she became sorrowfully the betrothed of a nobleman of Bologna; from which hour she had no cheerfulness. The brothers quitted Bologna for Venice, where there was the bed of a conspiracy. On their return they were shaken by rumours of their sister's misconduct
. An Austrian name was allied to hers in busy mouths. A lady, their distant relative, whose fame was light, had withdrawn her from the silent house, and made display of her. Since she had seen more than an Italian girl should see, the brothers proposed to the nobleman, her betrothed, to break the treaty ; but he was of a mind to hurry on the marriage, and recollecting now that she was but a woman, the
brothers fixed a day for her espousals, tenderly, without reproach. She had the choice of taking the vows or surrendering her hand. Her old nurse prayed for the day of her espousals to come with a quicker step. One night she surprised Count Paul Lenkenstein at Clelia’s window. Rinaldo was in the garden below. He moved to the shadow of a cypress, and was seen moving by the old nurse. The lover took the single kiss he had come for, was led through the chamber, and passed unchallenged into the street. Clelia sat between locked doors and darkened windows, feeling colder to the brothers she had been reared with than to all other men upon the earth. They sent for her after a lapse of hours. Her old nurse was kneeling at their feet. Rinaldo asked for the name of her lover. She answered with it. Angelo said, “It will be better for you to die: but if you cannot do so easy a thing as that, prepare widow's garments.” They forced her to write three words to Count Paul, calling him to her window at midnight. Rinaldo fetched a priest : Angelo laid out two swords. An hour before the midnight, Clelia's old nurse raised the house with her cries. Clelia was stretched dead in her chamber. The brothers kissed her in turn, and sat, one at her head, one at her feet. At midnight her lover stood among them. He was gravely saluted, and bidden to look upon the dead body. Angelo said to him, “Hæd she lived, you should have wedded her hand. She is gone of her own free choice, and one of us follows her." With the sweat of anguish on his forehead, Count Paul drew sword. The window was barred; six male domestics of the household held high lights in the chamber; the priest knelt beside one corpse, awaiting the other.
Vittoria's imagination could not go beyond that scene, but she looked out on the brother of the slain youth with great pity, and with a strange curiosity. The example given by Clelia of the possible love of an Italian girl for the white uniform, set her thinking whether so monstrous a fact could ever be doubled in this world. “Could it happen to me?" she asked herself, and smiled as she half-fashioned the words on her lips, “It is a pretty uniform.”
Her reverie was broken by a hiss of “ Traitress !” from the woman opposite.
She coloured guiltily, tried to speak, and sat trembling. A divination of intense hatred had read the thought within her breast. The woman's face was like the wearing away of smoke from a spot whence shot has issued. Vittoria walked for the remainder of the day. That fearful companion oppressed her. She felt that one who followed armies should be cast in such a frame, and now desired with all her heart to render full obedience to Carlo, and abide in Brescia, or even in Milan-a city she thought of shyly.
The march was hurried to the plains of the Vicentino, for enemies
were thick in this district. Pericles refused to quit the soldiers, though Count Karl used persuasion. The young nobleman said to Vittoria, “Be on your guard when you meet my sister Anna. I tell you, we can be as revengeful as any of you:
will exonerate me. I do my duty; I seek to do no more.”
At an inn that they reached towards evening she saw the innkeeper shoot a little ball of paper at an Italian corporal, who put his foot on it, and picked it up. This soldier subsequently passed through the ranks of his comrades, gathering winks and grins. They were to have rested at the inn, but Count Karl was warned by scouts, which was sufficient to make Pericles cling to him in avoidance of the volunteers, of whom mainly he was in terror. He looked aguestricken. He would not listen to her, or to reason in
any shape. “I am on the sea-shall I trust a boat? I stick to a ship,” he said. The soldiers marched till midnight. It was arranged that the carriage should strike off for Schio at dawn. The soldiers bivouacked on the slope of one of the low undulations falling to the Vicentino plain. Vittoria spread her cloak, and lay under bare sky, not suffering the woman to be ejected from the carriage. Hitherto Luigi had avoided her. Under pretence of doubling Count Karl's cloak as a pillow for her head, he whispered, “ If the signorina hears shots, let her lie on the ground flat as a sheet.” The peacefulness surrounding her precluded alarm. There was brilliant moonlight, and the host of stars, all dim; and first they beckoned her up to come away from trouble, and then, through long gazing, she had the fancy that they bent and swam about her, making her feel that she lay in the hollows of a warm hushed sea. She wished for her lover,
Men and officers were lying at a stone's-throw distant. The Tyrolese had lit a fire for cooking purposes, by which four of them stood, and, lifting hands, sang one of their mountain songs, that seemed to her to spring like clear water into air, and fall wavering as a feather falls, or the light about a stone in water. It lulled her to a half sleep, during which she fancied hearing a broad imitation of a cat's-call from the mountains, that was answered out of the camp; and a talk of officers arose in connection with the response, and subsided. The carriage was in the shadows of the fire. In a little while Luigi and the driver began putting the horses to, and she saw Count Karl and Weisspriess go up to Luigi, who declared loudly that it was time. The woman inside was aroused. Weisspriess helped to drag her out. Luigi kept making much noise, and apologised for it by saying that he desired to awaken his master, who was stretched in a secure circle among the Tyrolese. Presently Vittoria beheld the woman's arms thrown out free; the next minute they were around the body of Weisspriess, and a shrewd cry issued from Count Karl. Shots rang from the outposts ; the Tyrolese sprang to arms;
“Sandra !” was shouted by Pericles; and once more she heard the Venite fratelli ! of the bull's voice, and a stream of volunteers dashed at the Tyrolese with sword and dagger and bayonet. The AustroItalians stood in a crescent-line—the ominous form of incipient military insubordination. Their officers stormed at them, and called for Count Karl and for Weisspriess. The latter replied like a man stifling, but Count Karl's voice was silent.
“ Weisspriess! here, to me!” the captain sang out in Italian. “ Ammiani ! here, to me!” was replied.
Vittoria struck her hands together in electrical gladness at her lover's voice and name. It rang most cheerfully. Her home was in the conflict where her lover fought, and she muttered with ecstasy, We have met! we have met !” The sound of the keen steel, so exciting to dream of, paralysed her nerves in a way that powder, more terrible for a woman's imagination, would not have done, and she could only feebly advance. It was spacious moonlight, but the moonlight appeared to have got of a brassy hue to her eyes, though the sparkle of the steel was white; and she felt, too, and wondered at it, that the cries and the noise went to her throat, as if threatening to choke her. Very soon she found herself standing there, watching for the issue of the strife, almost as dead as a weight in scales, quite incapable of clear vision.
Matched against the Tyrolese alone, the volunteers had an equal fight in point of numbers, and the advantage of possessing a leader ; for Count Karl was down, and Weisspriess was still entangled in the woman's arms. When at last Wilfrid got him free, the unsupported Tyrolese were giving ground before Carlo Ammiani and his followers. These fought with stern fury, keeping close up to their enemy, rarely
, shouting. They presented something like the line of a classic bow, with its arrow-head; while the Tyrolese were huddled in groups, and clubbed at them, and fell back for space, and ultimately crashed upon their betraying brothers-in-arms, swinging rifles and flying. The Austro-Italians rang out a viva for Italy, and let them fly: they were swept from the scene.
Vittoria heard her lover addressing his followers. Then he and Angelo stood over Count Karl, whom she had forgotten. Angelo ran up to her, but gave place the moment Carlo came; and Carlo drew her by the hand swiftly to an obscure bend of the rolling ground, and stuck his sword in the earth, and there put his arms round her and held her fast.
“ Obey me now,” were his first words. “ Yes,” she answered.
He was harsh of eye and tongue, not like the gentle youth she had been torn from at the door of La Scala.
“ Return; make your way to Brescia. My mother is in Brescia.
Milan is hateful. I throw myself into Vicenza. Can I trust you to
“ Carlo, what evil have you heard of me?” “I listen to no tales.”
“Let me follow you to Vicenza and be your handmaid, my beloved."
“Say that you obey.” “ I have said it.” He seemed to shut her in his heart, so closely was she enfolded.
“Since La Scala,” she murmured; and he bent his lips to her ear, whispering: “Not one thought of another woman ! and never till I die."
“And I only of you, Carlo, and for you, my lover, my lover!” “ You love me absolutely ?” “I belong to you.” “I could be a coward and pray for life to live to hear you say it." “I feel I breathe another life when you are away from me." “You belong to me; you are my own ?” “ You take my voice, beloved.” “ And when I claim
! “O my Carlo! Do you go to Vicenza ? And did you know I was among these people ?”
“ You will hear everything from little Leone Rufo, who is wounded and accompanies you to Brescia. Speak of nothing. Speak my name,
. and look at me. I deserve two minutes of blessedness."
Ah, my dearest, if I am sweet to you, you might have many!”
No; they begin to hum a reproach at me already, for I must be marching. Vicenza will soon bubble on a fire, I suspect. Comfort my mother ; she wants a young heart at her elbow. If she is alone, she feeds on every rumour; other women scatter in emotions what poisons her. And when my bride is with her, I am between them.”
“Yes, Carlo, I will go," said Vittoria, seeing her duty at last through tenderness.
Carlo sprang from her side to meet Angelo, with whom he exchanged some quick words. The bugle was sounding, and Barto Rizzo was audible. Luigi came to her, ruefully announcing that the volunteers had sacked the carriage—behaved worse than the Austrians ; and that his padrone, the Signor Antonio-Pericles, was off like a gossamer. Angelo induced her to remain on the spot where she stood till the carriage was seen on the Schio road, when he led her