Изображения страниц

between a dusty ditch and a mulberry bough. Vittoria and Laura were not much luckier. They were met by a band of deserters, who made no claim upon the horses, but stood for drink, and having therewith fortified their fine opinion of themselves, petitioned for money. A kiss was their next demand. Money and good humour saved the women from indignity. The band of rascals went off with a “Viva l'Italia." Such scum is ‘upon every popular rising, as Vittoria had to learn. Days of rain and an incomprehensible inactivity of the royal army kept her at a miserable inn, where the walls were bare, the cock had crowed his last. The guns of Peschiera seemed to roam over the plain like an echo unwillingly aroused that seeks a hollow for its further sleep. Laura sat pondering for hours, harsh in manner, as if she hated her. “I think," she said

once, “that women are those persons who have done evil in another world.” The “why ?” from Vittoria was uttered simply to awaken friendly talk, but Laura relapsed into her gloom. A village priest, a sleek gentle creature, who shook his head to earth when he hoped, and filled his nostrils with snuff when he desponded, gave them occasional companionship under the title of consolation. He wished the Austrians to be beaten, remarking, however, that they were good Catholics, most fervent Catholics. As the Lord decided, so it would end! “Oh, delicious creed !” Laura broke out! “Oh, dear and sweet doctrine! that results and developments in a world where there is more evil than good are approved by Heaven.” She twisted the mild man in supple steel of her irony so tenderly that Vittoria marvelled to hear her speak of him in abhorrence when they quitted the village. “Not to be born a woman, and voluntarily to be a woman!” ejaculated Laura. “IIow many, how many are we to deduct from the male population of Italy? Cross in hand, he should be at the head of our arms, not whimpering in a corner for white bread. Wretch ! he makes the marrow in my bones rage at him. He chronicled a pig that squeaked.”

Why had she been so gentle with him ?

“ Because, my dear, when I loathe a thing I never care to exhaust my detestation before I can strike it."

They were on the field of Goito; it was won. It was won against odds. At Pastrengo they witnessed an encounter; this was a battle. Vittoria perceived that there was the difference between a symphony and a lyric song. The blessedness of the sensation that death can be light and easy dispossessed her of the meaner compassion, half made

up of cowardice, which she had been nearly borne down by on the field of Pastrengo. At an angle on a height off the left wing of the royal army the face of the battle was plain to her; the movements of the troops were clear as strokes on a slate. Laura flung her life into her eyes, and knelt and watched, without summing one sole thing from what her senses received.

[ocr errors]


Vittoria said, “ We are too far away to understand it.” "No," said Laura, "we are too far away to foel it."

The savage soul of the woman was robbed of its share of tragic emotion by having to hold so far aloof. Flashes of guns were but flashes of guns up there where she knelt. She thirsted to read the thing written by them; thirsted for their mystic terrors, as souls of great prophets have craved for the full revelation of those fitful underlights which inspired their mouths.

Charles Albert's star was at its highest when the Piedmontese drums beat for an advance of the whole line at Goito.

Laura stood up, white as furnace-fire. " Women can do some good by praying,” she said. She believed that she had been praying. That was her part in the victory.

Rain fell as from the forehead of thunder. From black eve to black dawn the women were among dead and dying men, where the lanterns trailed a slow flame across faces that took the light and let it go. They returned to their carriage exhausted. The ways were almost impassible for carriage-wheels. While they were toiling on and exchanging their drenched clothes, Vittoria heard Merthyr's voice speaking to Beppo on the box. IIe was saying that Captain Gambier lay badly wounded; brandy was wanted for him. She flung a cloak over Laura, and handed out the flask with a naked arm. It

was not till she saw him again that she remembered or even felt that he had kissed the arm. A spot of sweet fire burned on it just where the soft fulness of a woman's arm slopes to the bend. He chid her for being on the field, and rejoiced in a breath, for the carriage and its contents helped to rescue his wounded brother in arms from probable death. Gambier, wounded in thigh and ankle by rifle-shot, was placed in the carriage. IIis clothes were saturated with the soil of Goito; but wounded and wet, he smiled gaily, and talked sweet boyish English. Merthyr gave the driver directions to wind along up the Mincio. “Georgiana will be at the nearest village —she has an instinct for battle-fields, or keeps spies in her pay,” he said. “Tell her I am safe. We march to cut them (the enemy) off from Verona, and I can't leave. The game is in our hands. We shall give you Venice."

” Georgiana was found at the nearest village. Gambier's wounds had been dressed by an army-surgeon. She looked at the dressing, and said that it would do for six hours. This singular person had filly qualified herself to attend on a soldier-brother. She had studied medicine for that purpose, and she had served as nurse in a London hospital

. Her nerves were completely under control. She could sit in attendance by a sick-bed for hours, hearing distant cannon, and the brawl of soldiery and vagabonds in the street, without a change of countenance. Her dress was plain black from throat to heel, with

[ocr errors]

a skull cap of white, like a Moravian sister. Vittoria reverenced her; but Georgiana's manner in return was cold aversion, so much more scornful than disdain that it offended Laura, who promptly put her finger on the blot in the fair character with the word Jealousy;' but a single word is too broad a mark to be exactly true.

- She is a perfect example of your English,” Laura said. “Brave, good, devoted, admirable—ice to the heart. The judge of others, of course. I always respected her; I never liked her; and I should be afraid of a comparison with her. Her management of the household of this inn is extraordinary.”

Georgiana condescended to advise Vittoria once more not to dangle after armies.

“I wish to wait here to assist you in nursing our friend,” said Vittoria.

Georgiana replied that her strength was unlikely to fail.

After two days of incessant rain, sunshine blazed over the watery Mantuan flats. Laura drove with Beppo to see whether the army was in motion, for they were distracted by rumours. Vittoria clung to her wounded friend, whose pleasure was the hearing her speak. She expected Laura's return by set of sun.

After dark a messenger came to her, saying that the signora had sent a carriage to fetch her to Valeggio. Her immediate supposition was that Merthyr might have fallen. She found Luigi at the carriage-door, and listened to his mysterious directions and remarks that not a minute must be lost, without suspicion. He said that the signora was in great trouble, very anxious to see the signorina instantly. There was but a distance of five miles to traverse. She thought it strange that the carriage should be so luxuriously fitted with lights and silken pillows, but her ideas were all of Merthyr, until she by chance discovered a packet marked chocolate' which told her at once that she was entrapped by Antonio-Pericles. Luigi would not answer her cry to him. After some fruitless tremblings of wrath, she lay back relieved by the feeling that Merthyr was safe, come what might come to herself. Things could lead to nothing but an altercation with Pericles, and for this scene she prepared her mind. The carriage stopped while she was dozing. Too proud to supplicate in the darkness, she left it to the horses to bear her on, reserving her energies for the morning's interview, and saying “ The farther he takes me the angrier I shall be.” She dreamed of her anger while asleep, but awakened so frequently during the night that morning was at her eyelids before they divided. To her amazement she saw the carriage surrounded by Austrian troopers. Pericles was spreading cigars among them, and addressing them affably. The carriage was on a good road, between irrigated flats, that flashed a lively green and bright steel blue for miles away. She drew down the blinds to cry at leisure; her wings were clipped,


[ocr errors]

and she lost heart. Pericles came round to her when the carriage had drawn up at an inn. He was egregiously polite, but modestly kept back any expressions of triumph. A body of Austrians, cavalry and infantry, were breaking camp. Pericles accorded her an hour of rest. She perceived that he was anticipating an outbreak of the anger she had nursed overnight, and baffled him so far by keeping dumb. Luigi was sent up to her to announce the expiration of her hour of grace. “Ah, Luigi!” she said.

“Ah, Luigi!” she said. “Signorina, only wait, and see how Luigi can serve two,” he whispered, writhing under the reproachfulness of her eyes. At the carriage door she asked Pericles whither he was taking her. “Not to Turin, not to London, Sandra Belloni !” he replied ; “not to a place where you are wet all night long, to wheeze for ever after it. Go in.” She entered the carriage quickly, to escape from staring officers, whose laughter rang in her ears and humbled her bitterly; she felt herself bringing dishonour on her lover. The carriage continued in the track of the Austrians. Pericles was audibly careful to avoid the border regiments. He showered cigars as he passed; now and then he exhibited a paper ; and on one occasion he brought a general officer to the carriage-door, opened it and pointed in. A white-helmeted dragoon rode on each side of the carriage for the remainder of the day. The delight of the supposition that these Austrians were retreating before the invincible arms of King Carlo Alberto kept her cheerful; but she heard no guns in the rear. A blocking of artillery and waggons compelled a halt, and then Pericles came and faced her. He looked profoundly ashamed of himself, ready as he was for an animated defence of his proceedings. “Where are you taking me, sir,” she said in English.

Sandra, will you be a good child ? It is anywhere you please, if you will promise

“I will promise nothing."
"Zen, I lock you up in Verona."
"In Verona!"
"Sandra, will you promise to me?”
"I will promise nothing."

“ Zen, I lock you up in Verona. It is settled. No more of it. I come to say, we shall not reach a village. I am sorry. We have soldiers for a guard. You draw out a board and lodge in your carriage as in a bed. Biscuits, potted meats, prunes, bon-bons, chocolate, wine-you shall find all at your right hand and your left. I am desolate in offending you. Sandra, if you will promise

" I will promise this is what I will promise,” said Vittoria.

Pericles thrust his car forward, and withdrew it as if it had been slapped.

She promised to run from him at the first opportunity, to despise

[ocr errors]



[ocr errors]

him ever after, and never to sing again in his hearing. With the darkness Luigi appeared to light her lamp; he mouthed perpetually, “To-morrow, to-morrow.” The watch-fires of Austrians encamped in the fields encircled her; and moving up and down, the cigar of Antonio-Pericles was visible. He had not eaten or drunk, and he was out there sleepless ; he walked conquering his fears in the thick of war-troubles : all for her sake. She watched critically to see whether the cigar-light was puffed in fretfulness. It burned steadily; and the thought of Pericles supporting patience quite overcame her. In a fit of humour that was almost tears, she called to him and begged him to take a place in the carriage and have food. “If it is your pleasure,” he said; and threw off his cloak. The wine comforted him. Thereupon he commenced a series of strange gesticulations, and ended by blinking at the window, saying, “No, no; it is impossible to explain. I have no voice ; I am not gifted. It is,” he tapped at his chest, “it is here. It is imprisoned in me."

“What?” said Vittoria, to encourage him.

“It can never be explained, my child. Am I not respectful to you? Am I not worshipful to you? But, no! it can never be explained. Some do call me mad. I know it; I am laughed at. Oh! do I not know zat? Perfectly well. My ancestors adored goddesses. I discover ze voice of a goddess: I adore it. So you call me mad! It is to me what you call me—juste ze same. I am possessed wiz passion for her voice. So it will be till I go to ashes. It is to me ze one zsing divine in a pig, a porpoise world. It is to me—I talk! It is unutterable—impossible to tell.”

“ But I understand it; I know you must feel it,” said Vittoria. “But you hate me, Sandra. You hate your Pericles.” “ No, I do not : you are my good friend, my good Pericles.” "I am your good Pericles ? So you obey me?” “ In what?“ You come to London ?“I shall not.” “ You come to Turin ?" “I cannot promise.” " To Milan ?« No; not yet.”

Ungrateful little beast ! minx ! temptress! You seduce me into your carriage to feed me, to fill me, for to coax me,” cried Pericles.

“Am I the person to have abuse poured on me ?” Vittoria rejoined, and she frowned. “Might I not have called you a wretched whimsical money-machine, without the comprehension of a human feeling? You are doing me a great wrong—to win my submission, as I see, and it half amuses me; but the pretence of an attempt to carry me off from my friends is an offence that I should take certain care to punish in

[ocr errors]


« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »