Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 9/Beppo, the conscript - Part 6

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It was a walk of about two miles from the village of Santa Lucia to the farm-house of Bella Luce—a charming walk down the valley by a little path through the fields, which took its way just above the steep part of the declivity. What has already been said with regard to the position of the farm-house was equally true of the path in question. The upper ground above it rose in a gentle slope, but the side of the valley below it was much steeper; not so steep as to become a precipice, for it was all pasture land, but as steep as it could well be compatibly with such a purpose. The land on the upper side was mostly tillage and vineyard. Almost all the way, after the little village was cleared, was through fields belonging to Bella Luce.

Giulia exchanged two or three “good nights” with the cottagers standing at their own open door, or returning homewards in the immediate neighbourhood of the village; but after she had cleared it, the solitude was as perfect as if she had had all the world to herself. It was a lovely moolight night. She knew every step of the way, and every tree she passed, as well as the furniture of her own chamber; and her sense of security was as complete, and would have been so at any hour of the day or night, as if she had been there. So she walked along, in no wise hurrying, despite the priest’s last admonition, and not insensible to the beauty of the scene and the hour, and to the sense of liberty and freedom arising from the entirety of the solitude.

It was the last time, she thought, probably enough the last time for ever, that she should walk that path! She had loved Bella Luce well. Though all had not been happiness there, she was sad to leave it,—to leave it most likely never to return. Who knew what might come of this new, strange life, so different, so vague, so full of unknown elements and imperfectly-conceived chances and changes? How anxious she had been for these two days to be over. They were over now. The dreaded danger was past. Yes, they had taken good care not to expose her to that. To make all sure, she was to start before daybreak. They need not have given themselves so much trouble. Beppo must have been in bed an hour or more. Fast asleep at that moment, doubtless. Was he sleeping? Did she honestly in her heart believe that he was tranquilly sleeping, knowing that he had seen her for the last time? No, she would have no affectation. She would be honest with herself,—honest as Beppo was. She knew that he was not sleeping; more likely would not sleep that night.

Poor Beppo! She knew that he was thinking of her that minute, restless in his bed, and counting the hours till she was to start, and go away for ever. Well! It was all over now. She might think as tenderly of him as she would, now. She had fought her fight, and had conquered. Yes. Thank heaven, she had conquered. She was glad—oh! so glad—that it was over. She might own to herself now, how dearly—dearly she had loved him!—loved him most when most she had seemed to drive him from her. She marvelled how she had ever found strength and courage to fight and conquer as she had done. And if—

She started suddenly, and stopped in her sauntering walk, bending her ear to listen. There was a very large old cypress of great age, which the Bella Luce people called the half-way tree, because it was just about at an equal distance from them and the village. It stood right in the middle of the little path which swerved on either side to pass round it. The main, most used, and larger branch of the path passed on the upper side, where the slope of the valley was not steep. A smaller and very narrow passage crept round the huge old trunk on the other side, where the grassy slope fell away not more than six or eight inches from the root of the tree. No doubt, had there been no boys or goats at Santa Lucia, there would have been no trace of a path on this side.

It was as she neared this tree that Giulia was startled by a sound, it seemed to her as of somebody hidden on the other side of the trunk of it. She paused a moment; but reflecting in the next, that probably some villager had fallen asleep there while resting on his way home, and that at all events there could be nothing that she need fear, she continued her walk. When suddenly, as she came within a pace of the spot, and was about to pass on the main part of the path, Beppo stepped out from behind the trunk, and placed himself full in the centre of the broad division of the path.

Giulia, whose instant and sole impulse was to escape, made a dash at the narrow strip of uncertain path that passed on the other side of the tree, intending to run for it to the farm, and having very little doubt that she could outrun Beppo after his day’s work.

But the grass was wet with dew, and moreover slippery with the dried pin-like leaves that fell from the cypress. Her foot slipped, and she would have rolled down the grassy slope, had not Beppo with a sudden bound to that side of the path, caught her with his arm round the waist, and placed her again on the path; but so as to be himself between her and Bella Luce. Having done so, he took his arm from her, as hastily as if the touch of her had given him an electric shock.

The whole thing had been so instantaneous, that no word had till then passed between them. For a moment they stood looking at each other.

“Stand out of the path,” said Giulia then, with the tone and attitude and gesture that a Semiramis might have used to a slave rash enough to bar her way.

Beppo moved a hair’s-breadth on one side, as if constrained against his will to obey her behest. But it was only a hair’s-breadth; he still, in fact, barred the way, not only with his person, but with his hands as he raised them, and said in a piteous voice:

“Giulia! oh, Giulia! will you leave me in this way?”

And Giulia saw in the moonlight that the whole of his great stalwart frame was shaking with the intensity of his emotion as he spoke.

The fight was not, then, fought out yet; the victory not yet won: and if Giulia would win it, it behoved her to fight again, to fight now, and that well!

“What right have you to waylay me in this way?” she said; but her voice now shook, and was that of distress and sorrow, rather than of anger. “What right have you to come here to stop me?” she continued, with great difficulty preventing herself from bursting into tears. “It is not good of you. It is not kind. You must have known that if I had wished to speak to you, I should not have kept out of your way.”

“It was your wish, then, to go from Bella Luce without saying one word of adieu,—one word of kindness! Oh, Giulia! Giulia! is it possible? Can it be that you wished and intended this!” and his strong, manly voice seemed nearer to sobbing than even her own, as he spoke.

“Of course I intended it! What did your father intend when he fixed to start before daybreak? What did your mother intend when she sent me up to the curé all day to-day? What did the priest intend when he kept me there till all at home were in bed, or ought to be? What did they all intend?”

“What do I care what they all intended? I thought only of you, Giulia; and I did think notwithstanding—notwithstanding all, that you would not have refused to speak to me,—to part in kindness this last night. Oh, Giulia! what have I ever done, that you should hate me so?”

And as he said the words he clasped his hands together, and held them out towards her, and looked at her in a way that made the fight a very hard tight indeed to poor Giulia.

Nevertheless she was still fully purposed to conquer. She made a mighty effort to crush down the rising tide of sobs, to still the tumultuous beating of the heart, that terribly threatened to become convulsive—(and if it had, the battle would have been as good as lost),—and to assume the old tone in which she had so often answered him; and by which she had given him—and herself—so many a heartache.

“Hate you! What nonsense it is talking in that way, Beppo! You know as well as I do that I do not hate you. Why should I? We have always been very good friends; and should be so still, if you would not—persist so stupidly in—wanting to be something else.”

“Something else? Yes; I do want something else, and something more. You know what I want, cousin Giulia.”

“Yes; you want, like other big babies, just what you can’t have. So now let me pass, and make haste home, or la padrona will be wondering what has become of me. I am really very angry with you for coming here to waylay me in this way. And pray what on earth shall you say to them at home?”—(a little cold spasm shot through Giulia’s heart as she said the last word)—“I suppose, as usual, I shall get the credit of this piece of foolery.”

“None of them know that I am out of the house, except Carlo. They think I am in bed and asleep,” said Beppo, hanging his head.

“Except Carlo; as if all the village would not know it to-morrow. Carlo, indeed, for a confidant.”

“I could not help it; I hoped he would go to sleep, and that I could get out of the window without his being any the wiser. But he would not go to sleep.”

“And a pretty story he will make to-morrow.”

“I think not, Giulia. He wanted to stop my coming,—said he would call up my father; but I said a few words to him,” continued Beppo, as a look came over him which Giulia had never seen on his good-humoured face before; “and he did not say any more to prevent my coming; and I do not think he will speak of it to anyone.”

“It will be very unlike him, then. And what were the words you said to him, that produced so mighty an effect, pray?”

“I told him,” said Beppo, with the stern look that seemed to change all the character of his face, and speaking with a concentrated sort of calmness unnatural to him, “I told him that if bestirred from his bed I would knock his brains out against the wall; and that if he breathed ever to any human soul that I had left the house, I would shoot him like a polecat.”

“Beppo!” cried Giulia, in unfeigned astonishment and dismay, “you terrify me, and make me really hate you”—(she loved him at that moment better than she ever loved him before). “I did not suppose it was in you to think such wicked, horrid thoughts.”

“Giulia, I am desperate! You make me desperate; you make me feel as if neither my own life nor any other man’s life were worth a straw. Giulia, say a word to me, look kindly on me, and I will be good and kind and gentle to all the world. Oh, Giulia, don’t leave me in my despair and misery! Give me some hope, Giulia; some little hope, and it will save me!”

Certainly the fight was a very, very hard one. It was almost going against her; and if Beppo could only have known how nearly it was going in his favour, he would have conquered. As it was, it was wholly impossible to her to keep up the light and would-be-easy tone she had attemped at first.

“Hope, Beppo,” she said sadly; “what hope can I give you? Even supposing that I felt for you all that you would have me feel, what hope could I give you? Do you not know that there can be nothing between your father’s son and the outcast pauper who has lived upon his charity?”

“Spare me, spare me, Giulia! Don’t say words which make me feel towards my father as I would not feel. He is old; and when men get old they think more of money. But I would be patient; I would never contradict him, if I only knew that you loved me.”

“But it is not only your father, Beppo. What would all the family say? What would the world say! Would they not say that the orphan who was taken in for charity had schemed to entrap the heir? Oh! I could not bear it. You could not bear it for me if you loved me, Beppo.”

“If I loved you! If I loved you! Giulia, Giulia, it makes me mad to hear you. And to talk of what the people may say, when it is to me a question of life and death. Say; why they would say that Beppo Vanni’s good luck was greater than he deserved,—that there was not a man in all Romagna who might not envy him. Only give me the right to do it, only give me a hope that you may be brought to look on me, and trust me to thrust the malignant sneers of any who dare sneer down their accursed throats. If you fear the world, Giulia, only let me stand between you and the world.”

“It cannot be, Beppo,” she said, shaking her head sadly. “It can never be. Let me go home.”

“And leave me thus. Oh, Giulia, you cannot be so cruel. Think of my wretchedness when you are gone.”

“And I am going to such happiness,” said Giulia; and the tears began to flow from her eyes and betray themselves in her voice.

“Why should you not be happy? You will find plenty to love you, and some one among them you can love,” said Beppo, bitterly.

“Their love would be loathsome to me. I’ll have no love,” said Giulia, now sobbing beyond her power to conceal it. “No love—no love—” he said amid her sobs, while a little nervous movement of her foot on the grass and the convulsive wreathing together of her fingers as she held them in front of her bosom, showed the extremity of her agitation; “no love—” she repeated,—“save yours,” was upon her tongue. She had all but said it. She felt as if she would have given worlds to say it; but she choked it down, and said instead, “Oh, Beppo, how can you make me so miserable?”

“I! I make you miserable!” said poor Beppo, in utter amazement.

“Yes; you do. You do make me—miserable—by—by—by talking about other—other men making love to me. I hate them, all—all, I do!”

Oh, poor, honest, dull, simple-minded Beppo, he did not see the truth.

“I thought it was talking about loving you myself that made you angry,” said he, in the extremity of perplexity.

“I hate that too,” pouted Giulia, as she shot at him a glance from the corner of her eye that had almost the gleam of a smile in it, struggling out half-drowned in tears.

“But you said you did not hate me, Giulia,” remonstrated he.

“No; I don’t hate you, Beppo. But now I must go home directly.

“And you do hate all other men,” said Beppo, pondering deeply, and more to himself than to Giulia.

“Do stand out of the way, Beppo, and let me go home. I must go directly, now this minute. Beppo! do you hear me!” she added, for Beppo appeared to be perfectly absorbed in the attempt to draw a conclusion from the different premises which had been afforded him.

“If you hate all other men, and don’t hate me, I am the only man you don’t hate,” said Beppo, proceeding cautiously to the construction of his syllogism, but with a strictly vigorous induction which would have done honour to an Aristotelian.

“I didn’t say that,” retorted Giulia, with her sex’s instinctive rebellion against a logical necessity. “Come, let me pass. I won’t stay talking with you here any longer.”

“It’s a great thing to know that you don’t hate me,” said Beppo, still meditatively, but looking into Giulia’s face with wistful eyes.

“Well, be content with it, then, and let me go home at once. The priest will tell la Si’ora Sunta what time I left the village, and then she will know that I must have stopped somewhere on my way. Let me go.”

“Don’t you think we ought to shake hands at parting, Giulia?” said Beppo, hanging his head, and timidly stretching out his hand a little towards her.

“Perhaps we ought—at parting,” said Giulia; and her hand stole out from her side to meet his, while she turned her face away as coyly as if the threatened kiss of palm on palm had been the sacredest of love’s mysteries.

Nor was the mountain nymph’s instinct so far wrong. For as those two hands touched, an electric thrill shot through both frames, that made their breath come short, making Giulia feel as though she should faint.

“It could not be wrong, cousin Giulia,” continued Beppo, very gently drawing her hand towards him; “it could not be wrong, since we are cousins, and since—you don’t hate me, just at parting to give each other a cousinly kiss.” He advanced his face a little, a very little, towards hers as he spoke.

She remained perfectly still, leaving her face in the most wholly open and defenceless position. But she said very decisively:

“No man shall ever kiss me, Beppo, except one that I love with all my heart and all my soul.”

She seemed to speak determinedly enough; but yet, Beppo observed she did not take any steps whatever for withdrawing her face from the very dangerous and exposed position in which it was. Her eyes were fixed on the ground, her head was bent a little on one side, so that the rich brown and pink cheek was held up to the full incidence of the moonbeam; one hand was hanging listlessly by her side, the other was still imprisoned within his.

“But if I am the only man you don’t hate, Giulia!” pleaded Beppo.

She made no answer, but the play of the moonlight on the rounded contour of her cheek showed that it was turned up just the least in the world more towards him; and still her eyes were fixed on the ground, so entirely off guard as to be of no use whatever in giving her notice of any menacing movement on his part. The opportunity was irresistible.

“I think as cousins at parting we ought!” said Beppo, suddenly catching her round the waist, and meaning merely to have his share of that inviting cheek which the moonbeam was kissing. But somehow or other, from some little movement which she made to avoid the attack, his lips came down, not on the cheek but full on hers. “Ah, Giulia! if you would be my own!” he whispered, as not till after a second or two she drew away her face from his.

“That can never, never be,” she said, with a deep sigh and a wistful look into his face; . . . . “and this,” she added, hastily, “must never be again! And now farewell, Beppo! God bless you!”

“Let me walk with you to the house.”

“No! we part here. If we never meet again, I shall never, never, never forget the spot!” she said, with a little tremor in her voice. “Let me go! Good night, Beppo!”

And with a sudden movement she stepped past him, and saying again, “Good night! God bless you, Beppo!” she set off running along the path as fast as she could run.

Beppo flung himself down at the foot of the cypress-tree, and remained there for some hours, immersed in attempts at working out the logical problem which had been submitted to him. He did not succeed at all to his satisfaction in obtaining any clear and distinct conclusion; but he nevertheless remained with a very strong coniviction that his cousin spoke the truth in saying that she did not hate him.

Giulia arrived at the kitchen-door at Bella Luce quite out of breath with running. She saw that there was a light within it, and a little tap brought la sposa, who, as the priest had said, was patiently waiting for her, to open the door.

“His Reverence has kept you late, child. It is time you were in bed!” said the mistress, letting her in.

“He had not time to speak to me all day. It was only just before I came away that he called me into his study,” said Giulia.

“And I hope you will be a good girl, and abide by all the good advice he gave you.”

“I hope so, Si’ora Sunta.”

“And now, child, you must make haste to bed. Vanni will call you in the morning. Good night, and good-bye, and I wish you good luck and happiness.”

“Good-bye, Si’ora Sunta!”

The next morning before the sun had heaved his great disc clear of the Adriatic, Giulia was seated by the side of the farmer in his calessino, and Beppo, concealed by a corner of the house, was watching her departure with a full and heavy heart, though surely with a less heavy one than it had been before the meeting under the cypress-tree.


The small episcopal and maritime city of Fano is situated on the flat sandy shore of the Adriatic, a little to the north of the equally episcopal and maritime city of Siniguglia, and a little to the south of the equally episcopal and maritime cities of Pesaro and Rimini. The new railroad running in a direct line from Bologna to Ancona, a distance of about a hundred and twenty-five miles, passes through no less than ten episcopal cities, most of them situated on the coast. Notwithstanding, however, the original profession of St. Peter, and the honoured memory of that profession, which has always been preserved by the Church, it would seem as if episcopacy and maritime enterprise did not go hand in hand together. For these Adriatic cities, as the episcopal element in them has become more and more preponderating, have become less and less maritime.

A strong family likeness prevails in this group of neighbouring cities; but they have also their special characteristics. Fano is one of the least unprepossessing among them to a stranger. It is not so dirty as Pesaro or Rimini, but it is still more sleepy. There are fewer mendicants in the streets, but then there are fewer living creatures altogether. The ecclesiastical establishments of Fano, comprising a wonderful assortment of convents and monasteries of both sexes, and of all sorts and colours, would seem to intimate that their spiritual interests were those uppermost in the minds of the inhabitants. And certainly the little town seems to have retired altogether from any active interest in any other matters.

Cities were placed by their founders on sea coasts with a view to the various valuable advantages afforded them by the “water privilege,” as the Americans say, of such a location. Yet Fano has not only wholly declined to avail itself of any such, but has taken care to make it manifest to the most cursory observation, that she owns no connection, or even acquaintanceship with the ocean, her near neighbour. I take it that the notorious restlessness of the Adriatic was too much at variance with the habits of sleepy tranquillity cultivated by the men of Fano.

The little town is entirely surrounded by a lofty wall, in which, one jealously small gate opens towards the coast. But even that does not afford the Fanesi any glimpse of the restless and sleepless monster which is so near them. The look-out from it is bounded at the distance of a few yards by a lofty ridge of sand-hills, arid, parched, pale brown mounds, solitary and desolate-looking. And the stranger who, having learnt that the Adriatic was somewhere in the neighbourhood, should surmount these and make his way to the shore, at the distance of perhaps half a furlong from the city gates would find himself in a solitude as complete as that of any mourner who ever went

ἀκεων παρα θινα πολυφλοισβοιο θαλασσης.

Fano and the Adriatic are forcedly neighbours; but they have agreed to see as little of each other as possible.

It seems absurd to anybody who has ever visited this very episcopal little city, to speak of a dull street in Fano: they are all so wonderfully dull. But still there are degrees. During the morning hours there are four or five old women sitting behind little vegetable stalls in the spacious grand piazza. (Fish? Che! vi pare? when we are not on speaking terms with the sea! We eat salt fish brought from—Heaven knows where, and try to fancy ourselves an inland town.) And even during the hour of the sacred siesta, there is a dog or two sleeping; or perhaps even mooning lazily about in that heart and centre of the city. There are a few shops, too, in the streets nearest to this centre, the owners of which will consent to part with an article or two from their small store, if you will put them in a good humour by dawdling and gossiping for half-an-hour first, and not attempt to obtrude commerce upon them too crudely and abruptly. And all this is life.

But there are streets in Fano—aristocratic streets of enormous palaces, where no such symptoms of life are ever met with. These are the dull streets. A stray dog in those streets would howl himself into a decline because of the intensity of the solitude! Long stretches of blank windowless wall of enormous height, shutting in convent gardens; other still loftier walls, with little windows high up in them, fitted with troughs in front of them, to prevent the inmates from distracting their minds by gazing into the too tempting world with all its pomps and vanities in the street below; immense palaces, so hugely large as to puzzle all conjecture at the motive which could have led to their construction, with handsome heavy stone mouldings and cornices around the windows, whole ranges of which may be seen boarded up with rough planks: these things make up the quiet and aristocratic streets of Fano.

And it was in one of the most quiet and most aristocratic of these that the Signora Clementina Dossi lived.

Not that la Clementina Dossi, properly speaking, belonged to the aristocratic classes of society, though the position she now occupied was so eminently respectable as to entitle her to admittance among the easy-going aristocracy, which mostly confined its exclusiveness and its prerogative to occasions of high state and public solemnities, and the matrimonial alliances of its sons and daughters.

Forty years or so before the date of Giulia Vanni’s arrival in Fano, Tina Tratti, as she was then called, had been well and favourably known through a tolerably large circuit of the cities of Italy as an actress of no little talent. She had been a beauty in her day, specially celebrated for her sylph-like figure; and had for several years of her spring-tide flitted from city to city, the favourite of garrisons and universities, and the queen of a whole galaxy of green-rooms.

Tina Tratti, however, amid her flittings and her flirtings, and her triumphs on and behind the scenes, had kept a sufficiently shrewd eye to the main chance, and had been a sufficiently valuable component part of the successive companies to which she had belonged, to have laid by a very snug little competence by the time her spring-tide was over. The period had arrived, too, by that time, however, when the same shrewd appreciation of the world and its ways, which, amid all the “bohemianism” of her early days, had caused one record at least of that pleasant time—her banker’s book—to be such as could be afterwards perused with satisfaction, led her to the decision that it was time to “regularise” her position in the world. She did so by marrying Signor Amadeo Dossi, the well-known impresario, who was not above ten years her senior, who had also laid by a snug little fortune, and who in finding a wife, and retiring from work, was well pleased to meet with so charming a person as La Tina, whose good sense led him to think that she would be duly aware of all that ought to accompany “regularising her position,” and whose little fortune was a very pleasant and convenient addition to his own.

So they quitted the theatre together, and came to settle at Fano. And Signor Dossi had never had reason to repent the step he had taken. The ex-sylph Tina Tratti had made him a very good wife during the remainder of his days; which had come to a conclusion some fifteen years before the time at which her history touches that to be narrated in these pages.

In taking a husband, the actress had looked to the regularising of her worldly position, as has been said; and had successfully achieved that object. When she became a widow, however, it appeared to her that the time had come for a further regularising process. She now inclined to regularise her spiritual position, as regarded the stage to which the next shifting of the scene would introduce her. And she set about doing so with the same practical purpose-like good sense which had presided over her previous metamorphosis. She made selection of a well recommended “director,” became a member of one or two sisterhoods, made certain little changes in her style of dress, was not niggard in “benefactions,” was constant at morning mass in all weathers, and invited more priests and rather fewer officers to her house than had been the case during the lifetime of her husband. With regard to more intimately personal changes, there really was not very much to be done. She took up a copy of the “Confessor’s Manual,” and ran over the authorised list of sins, with their weights and degrees of blackness. And she could find but one which seemed to stand in her way at all. La gola![1] La Signora Clementina did like a good dinner; and was specially fond of a bit of something nice for supper! But after all! The first glance showed that “la gola” was in the list of venial and not in that of mortal sins. And a consultation upon the subject with her new “director” showed her that, properly managed, it was so very, very venial a sin, that really there were some virtues that seemed more dangerous. There were the ordinances of the Church respecting certain days and certain meats, it is true. But then the Church knew that fasting was not adapted to all constitutions. There were dispensations; and really on the whole very cheap! The Church had no wish to injure anybody’s health. It would be a sin to do so! And if, after all was said and done, the tender conscience of so exemplary a member of the flock as La Signora Dossi, should still give her the slightest uneasiness—why, there was the confessional!—what for, save for the ease and comfort of tender consciences? Yes! but about repenting? “If one knows that one is looking forward to one’s little partridge à la Milanese at night?” suggested La Clementina, doubtfully. Then it was that the director was put on his mettle, and showed that he was worth his hire. He plunged at once with the utmost intrepidity into a turbid ocean of metaphysics, splashing about long Latin words that sounded to the patient as if he were exorcising a whole legion of devils; distinguishing; dividing mental acts with a dexterity of scalpel equal to the highest feats of moral surgery; striking the boundary line between foreknowledge and intention with masterly precision; taking human volition in his teeth, and shaking it to that degree that it was a mere tangle of rags when he had done with it; and, finally, convincing his much edified though utterly puzzled hearer, that she might look forward to her partridge à la Milanese as fondly as she pleased, with the safest possible conscience.

The Signora Clementina Dossi, when she thus regularised for the second time, was no longer the sylph-like creature that she had been some twenty-five or thirty years before. On the contrary, she had become remarkably stout. And what was odd was that she seemed now to be as fond of calling attention to this latter peculiarity, as she had once been proud of her as remarkably slender figure. She had preserved a girdle which she had formerly worn, and hung it up in her drawing-room by the side of one which showed the circumference of her present portly person. The former, which had girdled the unregularised Tina Tratti, measured some twenty inches; the latter, showing the extent to which worthy Clementina Dossi had prospered under her twofold process of regularising, exhibited a length of some sixty. La Dossi was very fond of pointing to these two records, especially if any slim young girls came into her room. She would make them try on the ex-sylph’s girdle, and then say, “That is what I was when I was your age, my dear! but t’other is the girth of me now! The Lord has been graciously pleased to increase me threefold!”

And the opportunities for such experiments and warnings were not rare, for young people liked La Dossi. She was goodnature itself. She had still pretty, gentle, dove-like eyes, and the complexion of her large fat face was almost as delicately pink and white and as smooth as it had ever been. She had not a wrinkle in it—as, indeed, it would have been difficult for her skin to find the means of making one, so entirely filled out was it by fat. Her small mouth, too, and still perfect teeth, had suffered but little from the effects of time. But underneath the sweet-tempered looking mouth there was a double-chin of the most tremendous proportions.

All the young people liked her; and though, as has been said, the complexion of the society which she was wont to gather around her was in some degree modified after her husband’s death, the more mundane element was not altogether excluded. (It had been at her house, for example, now I think of it, that Lisa Bertoldi had first met Captain Giacopo Brilli). There was nothing ascetic about her temper or her devotion. She had no sort of notion that because she was virtuous there were to be no more cakes and ale in the world. She thought, on the contrary, that youth was the proper period of enjoyment, and was desirous, to the utmost of her power, to contribute to enabling them to make the most of it.

La Signora Clementina Dossi inhabited at the time of which we are speaking a portion of the first floor of an enormous palace, the rest of which was untenanted. The residence was one capable of surrounding with legions of blue-devils any tenant capable of harbouring such imps. But Italians are little troubled with blue devils; and to La Clementina such devils, unrecognised by her spiritual advisers, were entirely unknown. She had for a small rent as many vast lofty rooms as she chose to occupy. There was no noise in the street to disturb her daily siesta, or mar the comfortable process of her digestion, and the palace was next door to the church she attended, and to which her “director” belonged.

La Signora had lost her one servant, who had married, and was in want of another. That was the simple statement of the case, and all Signor Sandro’s euphemisms about a companion, and a douceur, and such like, were all mere bosh, intended to make the proposal acceptable to the farmer’s family pride—a sentiment which many an Italian peasant nourishes in as high a degree as any long-descended noble.

Nevertheless, the character and kindly nature of Signora Dossi made much of what he had said as good as true. The distance between employers and their servants is much less in Italy than among ourselves, especially between a mistress and her female servants; and both the position and the temper of Signora Dossi were calculated to make the connection in her case really more like one of companionship than anything else. She did most of her own cooking herself—did it con amore, and with as much skill as pleasure. It was, after the religious duties of the morning had been attended to, the great occupation of her day; and Giulia, if she profited in no other way by the engagement the attorney had made for her, was sure to carry away with her from La Dossi, whenever she might leave her, a very useful knowledge of the mysteries of the kitchen. La Dossi had no greater pleasure than teaching the young idea to shoot in this direction—unless, indeed, it were in discussing the results of their united labours;—a part of the business in which she very commonly invited the partner of her toils to share, the more especially as she loved to discuss also at the same time all the rationale of the process of preparation.

Such was the mistress, and such the house, to which Giulia was coming, by the recommendation of Signora Dossi’s old friend, Signor Sandro Bertoldi.

  1. The technical theological term for gluttony.