Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

relations which should exist between Italy and Austria, derived from the friendship of those two women.

“What I wish you to see, signorina, is that such an alliance is possible ; and, if we supply the brains, as we do, is by no means likely to be degrading. These bears are absolutely on their knees to us for good fellowship. You have influence, you have amazing wit, you have unparalleled beauty, and, let me say it with the utmost sadness, you have now had experience. Why will you not recognise

. facts? It is as though the ground should revolt against the house being built on it;-and earthquakes are not common. They are not good things to entreat high heaven to bestow on us. Of what avail is this one voice of mine? I speak—who listens? Italian unity! I have exposed the fatuity—who listens ? Italian freedom! It is a bed of reeds, with the nest of a wild swan! Do you not, signorina, with your overpowering imagination, conceive the picture? A wind comes, and the reeds all try to lean together, and up goes our swan and sings a death-song; and another wind blows the reeds another way. But I drop comparisons—they are for poets, farceurs. All similes followed out are mazes : they bring us back to our own face in the glass. I do not attempt to reason with my daughter. She is pricked by an envenomed fly of Satan. Yet, behold her and the duchess! It is the very union I preach ; and I am, I declare to you, signorina, in great danger. I feel it, but I persist. I am in danger," Count Serabiglione bowed his head low, “ of the transcendent sin of scorn of my species.”

The little nobleman swayed deploringly in his chair. “Nothing is so perilous for a soul's salvation as that. The one sane among madmen! The one whose reason is left to him among thousands who have forsaken it! I beg you to realise the idea. The Emperor, as I am given to understand, is about to make public admission of my services. I shall be all the more hated. Yet it is a considerable gain. I do not deny that I esteem it as a promotion for my services. I shall not be the first martyr in this world, signorina."

Count Serabiglione produced a martyr's smile.

“The profits of my expected post will be,” he was saying, with a reckoning eye cast upward into his cranium for accuracy, when Laura returned, and Vittoria ran out to the duchess. Amalia repeated Irma's tattle. A curious little twitching of the brows at Violetta d’Isorella's name marked the reception of it.

“She is most lovely," Vittoria said.
“And absolutely reckless."
“She is an old friend of Count Ammiani's."

And you have an old friend here. But the old friend of a young woman-I need not say further than that it is different."

The duchess used the privilege of her affection, and urged Vittoria not to trifle with her lover's impatience.

Admitted to the chamber where Merthyr lay, she was enabled to make allowance for her irresolution. The face of the wounded man was like a lake-water taking light from Vittoria's presence.

“This may go on for weeks,” she said to Laura.

Three days later, Vittoria received an order from the Government to quit the city within a prescribed number of hours, and her brain was racked to discover why Laura appeared so little indignant at the barbarous act of despotism. Laura undertook to break the bad news to Merthyr. The parting was as quiet and cheerful as, in the opposite degree, Vittoria had thought it would be melancholy and regretful. "What a Government!” Merthyr said, and told her to let him hear of any changes. “All changes for the better are welcome to me. All changes that please my friends please me.”

Vittoria kissed his forehead with one grateful murmur of farewell to the bravest heart she had ever known. The going to her happiness seemed more like going to something fatal until she reached the Lago Maggiore. There she saw September beauty, and felt as if the splendour encircling her were her bridal decoration. But no bridegroom stood to greet her on the terrace-steps between the potted orange and citron trees. Countess Ammiani extended kind hands to her at arms' length.

"You have come,” she said. “I hope that it is not too late.” Vittoria was a week without sight of her lover; nor did Countess Ammiani attempt to explain her words, or speak of other than common daily things. In body and soul Vittoria had taken a chill. The silent blame resting on her in this house called up her pride, so that she would not ask any questions; and when Carlo came, she wanted warmth to melt her. Their meeting was that of two passionless creatures. Carlo kissed her loyally, and courteously inquired after her health and the health of friends in Milan, and then he rallied his mother. Agostino had arrived with him, and the old man, being in one of his soft moods, unvexed by his conceits, Vittoria had some comfort from him of a dull kind. She heard Carlo telling his mother that he must go in the morning. Agostino replied to her quick look at him, “I stay ;” and it seemed like a little saved from the wreck, for she knew that she could speak to Agostino as she could not to the countess. When his mother prepared to retire, Carlo walked over to his bride, and repeated rapidly and brightly his inquiries after friends in Milan. She, with a pure response to bis natural-unnatural manner, spoke of Merthyr Powys chiefly: to which he said several times, “ Dear fellow!” and added, “I shall always love Englishmen for his sake."

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

This gave her one throb. “I could not leave him, Carlo."

Certainly not, certainly not,” said Carlo. "I should have been happy to wait on him myself. I was busy. I am still. I dare say you have guessed that I have a new journal in my head : the Pallanza Iris is to be the name of it ;-to be printed in three colours, to advocate three principles, in three styles. The Legitimists, the Moderates, and the Republicans, are to proclaim themselves in its columns in prose, poetry, and hotch-potch. Once an editor, always an editor.

, The authorities suspect that something of the sort is about to be planted, so I can only make occasional visits here:—therefore, as you will believe,”—Carlo let his voice fall—“I have good reason to hate them still. They may cease to persecute me soon.”

He insisted upon lighting his mother to her room. Vittoria and Agostino sat talking of the Chief and the minor events of the war —of Luciano, Marco, Giulio, and Ugo Corte-till the conviction fastened on them that Carlo would not return, when Agostino stood up and said, yawning wearily, “I'll talk further to you, my child, to-morrow.”

She begged that it might be now. “No; to-morrow," said he.

Now, now!” she reiterated, and brought down a reproof from his forefinger.

“The poetic definition of ‘now' is that it is a small boat, my daughter, in which the female heart is constantly pushing out to sea and sinking. "To-morrow' is an island in the deeps, where grain grows. When I land you there, I will talk to you."

She knew that he went to join Carlo after he had quitted her.

Agostino was true to his promise next day. He brought her nearer to what she had to face, though he did not help her vision much. Carlo had gone before sunrise.

They sat on the terrace above the lake, screened from the sunlight by thick myrtle bushes. Agostino smoked his loosely-rolled cigarettes, and Vittoria sipped chocolate and looked upward to the summit of the Motterone, with many thoughts and images in her mind

He commenced by giving her a love-message from Carlo. “Hold fast to it that he means it: conduct is never a straight index where the heart's involved," said the chuckling old man; “or, it is not in times like ours. You have been in the wrong, and your having

, a good excuse will not help you before the deciding fates. Woman that

you are ! did you not think that because we were beaten we were going to rest for a very long while, and that your Carlo of yesterday was going to be your Carlo of to-day?"

Vittoria tacitly confessed to it.

“Ay,” he pursued, “and when you wrote to him in the Val d'Intelvi, you supposed you had only to say 'I am ready,' which was then the case. You made your summer and left the fruits to hang, and now you are astounded that seasons pass and fruits drop. You should have come to this place, if but for a pair of days, and so have fixed one matter in the chapter. This is how the chapter has run on. I see I talk to a stunned head; you are thinking that Carlo's love for you can't have changed; and it has not, but occasion has gone and times have changed. Now listen. The countess desired the marriage. Carlo could not go to you in Milan with the sword in his hand. Therefore you had to come to him. He waited for

you, perhaps for his own preposterous lover's sake as much as to make his mother's heart easy. If she loses him she loses everything, unless he leaves a wife to her care and the hope that her House will not be extinct, which is possibly not much more the weakness of old aristocracy than of human nature. “Meantime, his brothers-in-arms were broken up and entered Pied

mont, and he remained waiting for you still. You are thinking that he had not waited a month. But if four months finished Lombardy, less than one month is quite sufficient to do the same for us little beings. He met the Countess d’Isorella here. You have to thank her for seeing him at all, so don't wrinkle your forehead yet. Luciano Romara is drilling his men in Piedmont. Angelo Guidascarpi has gone there. Carlo was considering it his duty to join Luciano, when he met this lady, and she has apparently succeeded in altering his plans. Luciano and his band will go to Rome. Carlo fancies that another blow will be struck for Lombardy. This lady should know; the point is, whether she can be trusted. She persists in declaring that Carlo's duty is to remain, and—I cannot tell how, for I am as a child among women—she has persuaded him of her sincerity. Favour me now with your clearest understanding, and deliver it from feminine sensations of any description for just two minutes."

Agostino threw away the end of a cigarette and looked for firmness in Vittoria's eyes.

“This Countess d’Isorella is opposed to Carlo's marriage at present. She says that she is betraying the king's secrets, and has no reliance on a woman. As a woman you will pardon her, for it is the language of your sex.

You are also denounced by Barto Rizzo, a madman—he went mad as fire, and had to be chained at Varese. In some way or other Countess d’Isorella got possession of him. She has managed to subdue him. A sword-cut he received once in Verona has undoubtedly affected his brain, or caused it to be affected under strong excitement. He is at her villa, and she says -perhaps with some truth—that Carlo would in several ways lose his influence by his immediate marriage with you. The reason must have weight; otherwise he would fulfil his mother's principal request and be at the bidding of his own desire. There ; I hope I have spoken plainly.”

Agostino puffed a sigh of relief at the conclusion of his task.

Vittoria had been too strenuously engaged in defending the steadiness of her own eyes to notice the shadow of an assumption of frankness in his.

She said that she understood.

She got away to her room like an insect carrying a load thrice its own size. All that she could really gather from Agostino's words was, that she felt herself rocking in a tower, and that Violetta d'Isorella was beautiful. She had striven hard to listen to him with her wits alone, and her sensations subsequently revenged themselves in this fashion. The tower rocked and struck a bell that she discovered to be her betraying voice uttering cries of pain. She was for hours incapable of meeting Agostino again. His delicate intuition took the harshness off the meeting. He led her even to examine her state of mind, and to discern the fancies from the feelings by which she was agitated. He said shrewdly and bluntly, “ You can master pain, but not doubt. If you show a sign of unhappiness, remember that I shall know you doubt both what I have told you, and Carlo as well.”

Vittoria fenced : “But is there such a thing as happiness ? "

“I should imagine so,” said Agostino, touching her cheek, “ and slipperiness likewise. There's patience at any rate; only you must dig for it. You arrive at nothing, but the eternal digging constitutes the object gained. I recollect when I was a raw lad, full of ambition, in love, and without a franc in my pockets, one night in Paris, I found myself looking up at a street lamp; there was a moth in it

. He couldn't get out, so he had very little to trouble his conscience. I think he was near happiness: he ought to have been happy. My luck was not so good, or you wouldn't see me still alive, my dear." Vittoria sighed for a plainer speaker.

GEORGE MEREDITH.

a

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »