Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 9/Beppo, the conscript - Part 11

2880946Once a Week, Series 1, Volume IXBeppo, the conscript - Part 11
1863Thomas Adolphus Trollope




The communal lists were all made out. There was very little interest attached to that part of the business. It was a matter of course that all except the few names of those who were utterly out of the question should appear in them. Nor did they, when completed, afford to the inhabitants of each commune any even approximative indication of the amount of chances for and against them. For this depended upon the proportion of the number of men required to the number of those liable,—not in each commune, but in the entire military district; and though a tolerably fair estimate of this might be known to the authorities in the provincial capital, the contadino inhabitants of each rustic commune were wholly ignorant upon the subject.

So the lists were made out and sent to the town, and the population hardly yet realised the nature and nearness of the misfortune which was about to fall on them.

Then came news that the day for the drawing was fixed. It was a day very near at hand—a day towards the end of May.

Early on the fateful morning the men began to arrive from all sides in the city. They came up in droves from the different communes, and the comparison of them to cattle driven to the slaughterhouse was too obvious to escape many of the men themselves, and was with malicious bitterness suggested to them by many a parish priest, as his parishioners were starting from their obscure little villages in the hills, on their unwelcome errand. The appearance of the poor fellows when they arrived in the city was also suggestive enough of the comparison. They came with heavy steps and reluctant limbs, not knowing what was going to happen, or what they were to do first, stupidly jostling each other in the crowded streets, and vacantly staring with great wide eyes at the preparations that had been made for the drawing.

Some few parties were accompanied by their priests; but for the most part those gentlemen did not choose to take any overt share in the matter, or to sanction it by their presence. They preferred to do their part respecting it in the background. A greater number of the rustic parties were accompanied by the older men, and some had women with them.

If the population had looked forward to the day with terror and vague misgiving, the authorities had not been altogether free from apprehension with regard to it. It was well known how very repugnant the measure was to the almost entire population. The government were well aware that this feeling was stimulated and worked on to the utmost of their power by the clergy, and it was feared that disturbances might take place. A considerable force of military therefore were under arms at different points of the little city; and as the rustics, decked out for the sacrifice in their best holiday trim, arrived in the town, they saw bodies of soldiers drawn up, as if to show them specimens of what they were about to become.

In the large open piazza of the city—and at Fano the principal piazza is a remarkably large and fine one—the crowd was chiefly assembled in front of the palazzo pubblico—the town-hall, as we should say. For there the drawing, which was to award despair or the rejoicing of escape to many a homestead, was to take place, in the largest hall of the building. The operation was to be conducted in the presence of the civic authorities. The military powers took no part in the matter at its present stage, seeing that they were interested only in the due forthcoming of the prescribed number of men. Who those men were to be was of interest to the population and to their communal and municipal authorities, but of no interest to the military authorities. They demanded their pound of flesh; but left the cutting of it to the discretion and convenience of the patient.

It was a curious and interesting thing to thread that anxious crowd and mark the varying expression of the different groups. There were reckless faces of men, on whom, if the lot should fall, the service would gain little, and the country lose as little. There were stolid-looking boors, who seemed scarcely more capable of appreciating the nature of the change which threatened them than the great meek-eyed, dove-coloured oxen which were their most habitual companions. There were spruce-looking well-to-do youths, the hope and stay of well-regulated households, anxiously talking over the chances of the fateful urn with downcast elders. There were yet more interesting groups in which an aged mother, a sister, or one holding a yet tenderer relationship to the youth, menaced with what to her was almost equivalent to death, were the principal figures.

Beppo was there alone. The other young men from his commune had come up together; but he had felt too miserable and down-hearted to come with them. Yet there was little in their comradeship, that would have jarred upon his melancholy mood. The lads of the French rural district, though abhorring the conscription to the full as much as these Romagnoles could do will go to the fatal urn, singing and laughing, hiding the death in their hearts from every eye, and from their own consciousness as far as noise and bluster, and “Dutch courage,” will enable them to do so. But the simpler, more genuine, less vain, and less self-conscious Italian nature makes no such attempt. They go to the drawing miserable and dejected, and they make no attempt to conceal the fact. One of the most touchingly melancholy of all the popular melodies I ever heard, is the song of the Tuscan conscripts torn from their country by the first Napoleon, which is still remembered in the country districts of Tuscany. Nothing can be further from any pretence of enthusiasm or desire for French “glory.”

But Beppo had a far worse heartache than any of them,—a heartache which he could not discuss with any of them; and he had therefore come up from Bella Luce alone. He was standing at the further side of the piazza, opposite to the palazzo pubblico, leaning against the corner of a house, which makes the angle of a street there opening into the piazza, with his broad-leafed contadino hat drawn over his brows, moodily and almost absently watching the moving crowd in front of him, and the floating of the tri-coloured banner which adorned the front of the palazzo.

The drawing was appointed to commence at eleven. But nothing ever yet, in Italy, commenced at the hour named for the commencement of it. It was now past eleven, and the crowd were patiently waiting, in no wise displeased or surprised at being detained there. The gonfalonière was still taking his cup of coffee at some café; or the official who kept the key of the hall, in which the drawing was to take place, had mislaid, and could not find it; or the clerk who should have prepared the balloting urn, and who having had a month or more to do some ten minutes’ job, had not yet completed it; or everything was perfectly ready, everybody assembled, and there was no reason whatsoever for not proceeding to business directly,—except that it is always pleasanter to put off doing anything than to do it, and it was still possible to put off the beginning of the present business in hand a little longer. Any one of these, or fifty other such reasons, would have been quite sufficient. It was half-past eleven; there were no signs of any beginning being made yet, and nobody of any sort, neither of those who had to operate, nor of those who had to be operated on, was, in the least degree, either angry, or surprised, or impatient. The groups of peasants stood about the wide piazza as patiently as if they were ruminating like their own oxen; and now and then some official came to the balcony in front of the great central window of the palazzo pubblico, gazed out for awhile on the crowd below, and retired again.

At last, at about half-an-hour after noon, a bell was rung as a signal that the business of the day really was about to commence. There was a swaying movement amongst the crowd, and some pressed on to enter the building and ascend the great stairs into the principal hall of it, in which the drawing was to take place; and others hung back, as lacking courage to look their destiny in the face.

It is not absolutely necessary that any one of those liable to the conscription should come to the drawing. He comes therefor his own satisfaction and not for that of the government. He may, if he please, commission any relative or friend to draw for him, or, failing this, if the individual does not present himself, nor anybody on his behalf, the gonfalonière puts his own hand into the urn and draws a number for him.

The operation is performed in public. Any one may enter the hall who pleases; and there generally is a large concourse of the friends of those about to draw, or of merely curious loungers. On the occasion in question a great number of the townspeople, who had no especial interest in the proceedings, had gathered in the hall. For the Fano beau-monde have not many sources of amusement, and the conscription at all events offered them the means of getting rid of a day—an advantage not to be despised in one of those little Adriatic cities.

At the upper end of the huge hall, within a space railed off, is a long green baize-covered table, on the middle of which is the urn, containing a quantity of folded slips of paper, all scrupulously alike, equal in number to the number of men liable to serve. Each of these contains simply a number, from one up to the last of the series. The gonfalonière, who is equivalent to our mayor, sits on a somewhat raised chair immediately behind this apparatus. By his side are municipal councillors, and close behind him is the pubblicatore, the publisher or crier, whose duty it is to announce the names with their numbers, as they are drawn. The patient puts his hand into the urn, draws it forth, holding one slip of paper between his fingers; he unfolds it himself, reads himself first his fate, then hands it to the gonfalonière, who reads and passes it to the pubblicatore to be cried aloud; after which it is duly registered, and then sent to the printer.

The hall of the Fano palazzo pubblico was crowded, as has been said, in great part by townspeople who had no interest in the ceremony save one of simple curiosity. Towards the upper part of the large space—which had probably been used as a banqueting-hall in the old days, when there was more of feasting and less of fasting done in Italy than in these latter centuries—there was at a height of some feet from the floor of the hall a sort of tribune, or small gallery, enclosed by a light parapet of iron scroll-work, the elegance of which plainly declared it to be the work of the sixteenth century. In all probability the place thus contrived had been intended for the accommodation of musicians during the Fano feastings. Now it afforded a very convenient place for any one who wished to look on at the proceedings in the body of the hall, without being exposed to contact with the crowd which thronged the floor.

Of course the small privilege of occupying this sort of private box at the representation of the tragi-comedy about to come off was in the gift of the members of the municipality, of whom our friend Signor Alessandro Bartoldi, the attorney, was one of the most active and influential. It was of course also under these circumstances that the desirable place in question should be at the disposition of the fair Lisa. And there accordingly was Lisa, accompanied by her friend Giulia, between whom and the attorney’s daughter a considerable intimacy had sprung up out of the frequent visits of the latter to the house of la Dossi, to which she was drawn by—the reader knows what attraction.

La Dossi herself had declined to accompany the girls. She was very far from locomotive in her habits, and had much preferred, when allowing Giulia to accompany her friend to the drawing, to undertake herself, in a spirit of thoughtful and experimental investigation, the preparation of the day’s dinner. So there, amid some other lady connections of the municipal magnates, was the superb Giulia, by far the most noticeable person in the little pulpit, or gallery, or whatever it may be called, with the pale and delicate little Lisa by her side, each admirably serving the office of a foil to the beauty of the other: for though poor little Lisa was terribly eclipsed by the magnificently-developed and brilliantly-coloured beauty of the daughter of the Apennine, the pale little town-bred girl was not without her beauty too, of a kind more attractive to some men, perhaps, than the sun-steeped gorgeousness of the other.

What Giulia’s feelings may have been, when after her unpleasant interview with Beppo he refused to enter la Signora Dossi’s dwelling, and she told him to please himself in the matter; whether the somewhat boisterous gaiety with which she and Corporal Tenda laughed and talked, while Lisa and Captain Brilli were more quietly engaged in their flirtation in the sitting-room, was as completely and genuinely enjoyed by her as by the corporal; whether, when she found herself alone in her room that night, there may have been a little of what in medical phrase is termed “reaction;” and, finally, whether this day of the drawing may have been looked forward to by her with something more of interest than attaches to a mere spectacle of the interests of others, need not at present be too curiously inquired into. This much, at least, is certain, that if anybody had thought to spy any, the smallest sign or symptom of willow-wearing, or down-heartedness of any sort, in Giulia’s face or bearing, as she sate by the side of her little friend on the occasion of the drawing, they would have been, agreeably or disagreeably as the case may have been, but very certainly, disappointed. She sat there radiant in beauty, chattering with Lisa and others around her—the contadina shyness and taciturnity having been already got rid of under the discipline and forcing process of her town life.

The process of drawing began. The city of Fano stands in the midst of a rich and populous region; and the number to be drawn was large. The number of men to be furnished to the army of Italy from that district was not far short of a hundred. But to ensure the certainty of obtaining that number of efficient and unobjectionable soldiers, at least three times that number would be required by the military authorities to present themselves on the day fixed for the medical examination. The probability would be that the last sixty or seventy of these,—that is to say, those holding the highest numbers—would be tolerably safe. Those ranging from a hundred to a hundred and fifty or so, would be pretty sure to be called on to supply the place of those rejected (or those who might have made themselves scarce) among the first hundred. The fate of those holding the numbers between, say, a hundred and fifty and two hundred and twenty or thirty, would be very doubtful, the chances of escape becoming greater of course, as the higher numbers were reached. Though all those liable draw their numbers from the same urn, and when drawn form part of one and the same numerically-arranged roll, the operation is performed commune by commune. The young men from each commune come up in a body and draw in alphabetical order.

Santa Lucia was not among the communes that came first to the urn.

The business went on regularly, and the spectators had plenty of occupation and amusement watching the look and bearing of the men as they drew, and as they read their fate. The most remarkable feature of the scene was the absence of bravado. The young fellows who came up to the urn for the decision whether they were to be enrolled among the heroes and defenders of their country, or were to return to the plough, made no attempt whatever to conceal their strong preference for the latter destiny. The presence of female relatives and friends, and the “galaxy of beauty in the gallery” produced no effect of this kind whatever. The old jousting herald’s reminder to the brave knights, that “bright eyes behold your deeds,” would have been quite thrown away on the occasion.

The naïve acceptance, admission, and avowal of feelings and affections of all kinds is a very noticeable and curious trait in the Italian character. Sometimes this striking peculiarity seems to our more reserved and secretive northern nature to approach to cynicism; and sometimes to be evidence of an open unaffected simplicity of character worthy of the golden age. The fact is, that in all respects the Italian nature does partake far more than any other of the characteristics of the golden age of childhood.

The majority accordingly of those who drew the lower numbers made no effort to conceal their chagrin—in one or two instances rising to really tragic manifestations of despair. More than one stout hulking fellow retired from the table sobbing; nor was he felt by any one present to disgrace himself or forfeit their sympathy by such a display of his emotions. On the contrary, those who displayed the most striking and visible signs of grief were deemed to grieve most deeply, and were accordingly most pitied. In a few cases, when it was well known that the drawer would serve by proxy, and that his interest in the matter was only one of money, his disgust at drawing a number which put him to the expense of providing a substitute, was a matter rather of merriment than of sympathy to the bystanders. In several cases doltish stupidity seemed to prevent all manifestation of feeling and even of interest in the matter. They came up to the urn, did as they were bid absolutely with the slow, lumbering, impassible docility of their cattle, without seeming to comprehend the nature of the consequences which had been decided for them.

To those meanwhile who had already drawn numbers ranging from about a hundred and fifty or so to some two hundred and twenty or thirty, the remainder of the drawing was still a matter of anxious interest. For of course their own chances very materially depended on the sort of men who drew the numbers below them. And every time a low number was drawn by some man who it was pretty clear would be rejected by the medical examiners, a murmur of disappointment might be heard among the crowd. And now and then the proclamation of some name with a number that manifestly condemned the drawer of it to serve, was received with significant interchange of glances among such of the doubtful ones as knew him, which might very easily be interpreted to express their shrewd doubts whether the individual in question would be of any avail to stand between them and the danger.

He is no good!” one of these anxious watchers would whisper to another, while a glance and an expressive gesture, performed by some scarcely visible movement of finger, eyebrow, or shoulder, said clearly enough to the friend addressed that Victor Emmanuel would have to look very sharp if he meant his army to be increased by that drawing.

And many were even then at work with all their mental faculties deciding the momentous question whether they should “take to the hills” or not. For if such a step were to be adopted, it must be done in the interval between the drawing and the medical examination. After the final making up of the roll in accordance with the decisions then arrived at on each separate case, the men whose names are on it are no more lost sight of by the military authorities. Between the first drawing and the examination they return to their villages, though they are bound not to quit them. And it is in the course of those days, generally from about fourteen to twenty in number, that the desertions take place. Those who had drawn low numbers, had before this made up their minds what they would do in case of their drawing such. But with those who were in the category of the doubtful, it was a matter of anxious question, and mature consideration of the chances as affected by the nature and character of the men below them, whether they should stay and abide the chances of the examination or not.

Never was medical insight into the constitution and temperament of one’s neighbours so valuable.

At last it came to the turn of the Santa Lucia lads to march up to the table.

They came up the hall, some eight or ten in number, fine-looking follows all of them. The hill populations give but a small percentage of the medical rejections. They are the sort of men the military authorities want; and to get at whom they would willingly reject the townsmen wholesale, if they could find any excuse for doing so. All that little company from the Apennine village of Santa Lucia were fine men, but Beppo Vanni was conspicuous among them both by his superior stature and by the comeliness of his features.

“There’s a fellow for a sergeant-major!” said Captain Brilli to Corporal Tenda, who was in the hall with him, amid the crowd of lookers-on, as the little Santa Lucia squad marched up the floor. “I hope we shall nab him!”

“Why, that’s my old acquaintance, Signor Beppo Vanni. I little thought, when I told him that we should meet again, how soon there would be a chance of our making so much closer an acquaintance with him. But I am afraid there is not much prospect of making a soldier of him, captain. His father is a rich man, I am told.”

“Why, how do you know anything about it? And how upon earth came he to be an acquaintance of yours?”

“Don’t you remember, Signor Capitano, my telling you of the visit we had that Sunday, at the house of la Signora Dossi? That is the angry gentleman who was as jealous as a Turk because he found me in company with the superb Giulia. He is a cousin of hers, it seems; and from what I saw then, he would very much like to be nearer related to her; but I saw no signs of any similar intention on the part of la bella Giulia. She did not appear inclined to have anything to say to him.”

“Oh yes, I remember all about it now,” said the captain, scanning Beppo with his eye as he spoke. “And yet,” he added, “he is not the sort of fellow a pretty girl would turn away from. I should not much fancy having Signor Beppo Vanni for a rival myself, corporal!”

“Oh, as for that,” said the little corporal, drawing himself up, “it’s not always the big hulking fellows that the girls like best—not at all! And besides, Master Beppo did not go the right way to make any girl fancy him. He was as savage as a bear, and seemed more inclined to blow her up, the poor little darling! by way of making love, than anything else. Now Giulia is not the girl to stand that sort of thing. She is as good as gold. But she won’t stand preaching from her cousin Beppo, if I know her.”

“And she will stand a different sort of talk from a smart corporal of Bersaglieri, eh?”

“Not in the way of anything free and easy, you understand, captain. Lord bless you! She is a real good girl, I tell you. I should as soon think of saying anything that one does not say to an honest woman, to la Giulia, as I should to the colonel’s wife. She will laugh as much as you please; but all right and proper, mind you!”

“Well, yes; I suppose so. La Lisa says that she is a good girl. But I don’t feel so sure about her caring nothing for that strapping cousin of hers.”

“That, for her cousin!” said the little corporal, snapping his fingers. “We shall see, Signor Capitano, some of these fine days.”

“One of these fine days, I suppose, when the old uncle at Cuneo has hopped the twig, and the corporal has turned his sword into a ploughshare, eh?” said the captain, laughing.

“Well, don’t you think I might do worse, Signor Capitano? Did you ever see a better mistress for the little farm at Cuneo?”

“Have you proposed that enviable position to Giulia, la magnifica, yet, corporal?”

“No, not yet; but I have serious thoughts of doing so—freehold land, every foot of it! Why should I not? There’s plenty would jump at it.”

“No doubt. But you would have to jump at la Giulia. I swear she is a head taller than you are, corporal!”

“Not a bit of it! Parcel of nonsense! We are exactly of a height, she and I,” said the little man, holding up his head.

“Have you measured?”

“No; but I can see, I suppose.”

“A corporal of Bersaglieri ought to know that one always sights a mark less above one’s eye than it is. I’d wager she is taller than you.”

“Stuff and nonsense! Look, he is going to draw now!”

Beppo, in passing up the hall, had caught sight of Giulia in her tribune, and no doubt she had marked him as he walked up, a head taller than his companions. But no mark of recognition had taken place between them, and the only effect that the knowledge of her presence had produced upon him was to make him feel as if he were walking in a dream, and as if all the scene around him were hazy and unintelligible. His eyes swam, and there was a buzzing in his ears, and he seemed to himself to have a difficulty in bringing his mind to bear upon the business in hand sufficiently to go through with his share in it. As for any care about the result, or any care about anything save the fact that Giulia sat there looking on at the ceremony he was called to take part in, and that though a few yards of space only separated them, there was an impassable gulf between them which must part them for ever—he was wholly dead to it!

He felt as if he was staggering as he stepped up to the table, and the last among the Santa Lucia men (for they drew alphabetically) put his hand into the urn. The evident trouble he was in was of course attributed by the spectators to his dread of the chance which the urn was about to award him. Others had in different ways showed as much emotion, and had excited the pity of the crowd. And now there was a little hush of anxiety and sympathy, especially among the female part of the assembly, with the magnificently handsome contadino.

He put his hand into the urn, and drawing forth a cartel, handed it in a dreamy sort of manner, without opening it, as he should have done, to the presiding magistrate.

“Read your number,” said the gonfalonière.

Beppo opened and read, “One Hundred and One!”

The announcement did not seem to produce any visible effect upon him. He continued in the same sort of stunned dreamy condition as before. He passed the paper to the gonfalonière, who, after casting his eye on it, handed it to the pubblicatore, who held it up before the people, crying out at the same time,

Giuseppe Vanni; One Hundred and One!”

Of course this was a certain condemnation to the ranks.

There was a perceptible and momentary stir among the audience, which seemed in some degree to recall Beppo to himself. He cast his eyes, despite himself, towards the place where Giulia had been sitting, and perceived that her conspicuously noble head and bust were no longer in the spot which they had filled, and that there was a little movement among the women who crowded the tribune.

His look however was but momentary, and he turned from the table, together with the others from his commune, one only of whom besides himself had drawn a bad number, and slowly made his way to the bottom of the hall, and out of the palazzo pubblico.

Per Bacco! We have caught our sergeant-major,” said Corporal Tenda to Captain Brill, “and to judge by the look of him I should say that he knows his father don’t mean to fork out to save him.”

“He didn’t seem to like it, poor devil!” returned the captain; “but I say, corporal, while you, like a zealous officer, were looking after the recruits, I was looking somewhere else, and I’ll tell you what I saw. I saw the future mistress of the little freehold farm at Cuneo turn as pale as death when her cousin drew his bad number, and then she and la Lisa left the tribune all in a hurry. I tell you again I should not like Sergeant-Major Beppo Vanni for a rival with his superb cousin, if I was Corporal Tenda.”

“Ah! bah! I have seen them together. She can’t endure him, I tell you. Turned pale! I dare say—the room is infernally hot!”

Beppo purposed, as far as he could be said in the condition in which he was to purpose anything, to find his way to the inn, get his horse, and start at once on his return to Bella Luce. He had not been near Signor Sandro’s house, and had with much difficulty forced himself to abstain from the temptation of passing down the street in which la Dossi’s house was situated. It would be only pain to him to look on that fine big house again; yet he was sorely tempted to do so.

As he was passing out from the door of the palazzo pubblico, he encountered the little attorney himself, full of business and in a great bustle.

“Oh, Signor Beppo, so you are hit! Never mind it, man. Signor Paolo can afford it, and never know the difference. It is a very different matter with some of these poor fellows. What! cheer up, man! Why have you not been in to see us? Lisa is up in the hall there. Ah, I know one that had a lump in her throat when you drew the bad number. You’ll come home with us?”

“If you will excuse me, Signor Sandro, I think I must go home. They will be anxious to hear the upshot of the drawing, you know.”

“Well, as you will. But cheer up, man! I shall see you soon, no doubt; for you will be coming in about the finding of a substitute. By-the-bye, have you seen your cousin, Giulia? From all I hear, I did better for her than I thought, in bringing her into the city. I am told she and a certain Signor Tenda, a corporal in the Bersaglieri, are likely to make a match of it! A very decent man, I hear, though he is but a corporal, and likely one day to have a pretty little property of his own.”

“I have seen nothing of her,” replied Beppo, in a tone of profound dejection. “Good evening, Signor Sandro.”

“Well, if you won’t stay, I must say good evening, I suppose. A pleasant ride home!”

Beppo went plodding heavily through the streets, with his eyes fixed to the pavement, till just at the corner of the lane in which his inn was situated, he was roused by hearing himself suddenly called by his name, and looking up found himself face to face with Lisa and Giulia.

It was Lisa who had called to him. She had done so in spite of Giulia’s earnest remonstrances and entreaties to her, by look and gesture, not to speak.

“Oh, Signor Vanni! I declare I believe you were going to pass us without speaking to us. Ah! you little think what a pain it was to us when we saw the horrid number. Not but what Signor Paolo will get a substitute, of course!”

“It is not his intention to do so. Addio! Signora Lisa! I am in haste to return home.”

And he was turning to leave them without further speech.

“But, Signor Beppo,” said Lisa, in a tone of petulant remonstrance, “are you going away without saying a word to your cousin?”

“I said too many the last time I had the—the pain of seeing her!”

Giulia had continued all this time with her eyes fixed to the ground, and gave no sign of having heard anything that had been said. But at these last words she looked up suddenly for half an instant, and seemed as if she was going to speak. But she changed her purpose, and said nothing, again casting down her eyes to the pavement.

“Ah! Signor Beppo!” rejoined Lisa, “I wish you could have seen her when you drew that odious number! I could hardly get her from the hall.”

“Lisa, what nonsense are you talking!” said Giulia, indignantly. “Are you mad? You know yourself that I was fainting from the heat.”

“I am not the least likely to suppose that it was from any other cause!” said Beppo, with icy sternness.

“But, Signor Beppo,” said poor Lisa, beseechingly, and beginning to fear that she had done more harm than good by stopping him in his walk, “you don’t really mean that Signor Paolo will suffer you to join the army?”

“I neither know nor care, Signora Lisa, what may become of me. My life is a weary burthen to me. I would as soon be rid of it by an Austrian bullet as in any other way. I am a lost and ruined man. My heart has been broken by a cruel, a faithless, false, and worthless woman!”

Lisa, whose arm was within Giulia’s, felt her tremble all over, as these words passed Beppo’s lips. She again raised her face, which was as pale as death, as if to speak; but again she checked herself, and remained silent.

“I despise myself,” continued Beppo, raising his hand as if in denunciation, and inspired by strong passion with an eloquence that no one who knew him would have believed him capable of; “I despise myself for still caring for one so monstrously false and so vile! I despise myself; yet I know that I can cease to do so only by ceasing to live; and I pray to God that he will soon give me that release!”

He turned from them and rushed down the little lane, at the corner of which Lisa had stopped him.

Giulia stood for a minute, rigid yet tottering, like some tall column mined at its base and swaying to its fall, and then, without word or sound, fell heavily on the pavement.