Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 9/Beppo, the conscript - Part 8
BEPPO, THE CONSCRIPT.
BY T. ADOLPHUS TROLLOPE.
CHAPTER XI. THE GREAT FEAR.
Signor Sandro Bertoldi, after leaving Giulia at the palazzo Bollandini, had returned home to see people from the country about the conscription, he said. The whole country, he declared, seemed to be going out of its senses about it, and everybody, especially the country-people, were wanting information on the subject, the communal authorities respecting the duties which the law required of them, and the young men and their families respecting all the possible grounds of exemption, and possibilities and cost of finding substitutes. Subsequently the government took this matter of finding substitutes into its own hands, naming a fixed sum at which the conscript might buy himself off. But at the time in question substitutes could only be had by private arrangement and bargain, and the trade of procuring them gave rise to a great many frauds and abuses.
This dreaded measure had been threatened and looked forward to with the utmost aversion; had been discussed and grumbled over for many months past; and now at last it was come. The law had been duly passed; proclamation throughout the country had been made, and all the requisite notices served on the authorities of the different communes. The mode of carrying out the measure was as follows:—
The number of men which the province is required to furnish, in due proportion to its population, having been fixed, and this amount having been notified to the authorities of the provincial capital, the mayor and syndics of the different communes received orders to return a full and complete list of all the male population of their jurisdictions within the legal age. The lists are to include all, without reference to any claims for exemption. These are afterwards preferred, examined, and allowed, if clearly good, by the authorities of the provincial capital. No exemptions, however, on the ground of physical unfitness are admitted on this first scrutiny, except such as are absolutely notorious, palpable, and unmistakeable; as, for instance, in the case of a hunchback, or a man with one leg.
When the communal lists have been thus sent in, and of course the interest of all concerned, and the mutual jealousies of those liable to be drawn are a guarantee for their completeness, a day is appointed for the drawing, in the presence of the magistrates with every provision to ensure fairness, and with all publicity, in the capital of the province. But, as the whole mass of the population (within the prescribed ages) has been submitted to this drawing, and as it is certain that a very considerable proportion of those drawn will be rejected as unfit for military service, this ceremony is by no means decisive of the lot of many of those who are anxiously awaiting the award of their destiny. Thus, if five hundred men are required, he who has drawn No. 501 is, if he be medically unexceptionable, as sure of having to serve as if he had drawn No. 1.
It will easily be understood, therefore, how sharp and anxious an interest is prolonged during the time that elapses between the drawing and the medical visit; what inquiries, what speculations, what anxious investigations into the previous health of this or that individual, what hunting-up of evidence, what canvassing of medical men.
The proportion of men rejected is considerable in every province of Italy; but it is much larger in some than in others; larger also, as might be expected, in the towns than in the rural districts. Romagna is not one of the provinces in which the rejection is heaviest. But there is another circumstance which may diminish the number of those who have drawn bad numbers, i. e., numbers within that of the quota of men required, and which may then affect the fate of those who come next on the roll—desertion! That is the time for desertion; that anxious fortnight or so, between the drawing and the inspection. And of course it is the able-bodied men who desert. And this source of failure cannot be calculated on like that arising from medical objections. And in this respect, also, there is a considerable difference between one province and another. And if the rich and healthy Romagnole hills and plains gave a light rate of medical rejections, the desertion rate was specially heavy there, for the reasons which were assigned in the first part of this story.
And the whole interest attaching to that terrible day of the inspection and final making up of the roll, immediately after which the conscripts have to join the depôts, is not confined to the simple ascertaining that this or that man is clearly unfit for military duty, as perhaps ought to be the case. Another element enters to increase the incertitude and complicate the interest.
The medical commission which examines the proposed conscripts, is composed of the medical officers attached to the military administration, and the medical men employed by the respective communes. Now these two component parts of the medical board are swayed by diametrically opposed objects and interests. The object of the colonel or other officer, who is always present, and of his medical men, is to obtain the flower and pick of the whole population. He wants, not only men capable of serving, but the finest and best men. Hence the object of him and his medical supporters is to reject on the smallest possible grounds. The desire of the communal authorities on the other hand, of their medical men, and of the population generally, is to protect those who have drawn the better or higher numbers, to limit the suffering and the discontent within as narrow a circle as may be, and not to extend them to those who have had reasonable ground to think that they had escaped. Hence arise sharp conflicts between the two authorities, ending of course very variously, according to the weight, or courage, or energy, or skill of the contending parties. And thus another element of great uncertainty is imported into the lottery.
And now the day had been fixed for the drawing up of the communal lists. Little else was talked about in the country districts, and even in the cities the conscription became the leading topic of interest to all men, and certainly not less so to all women.
At Bella Luce the anxiety was certainly as keenly felt as in any homestead of all the district. There were two sons there, but the conscription could not take them both. The monster, ruthless as it was, had some bowels of compassion. It did not deprive parents of an only son! Carlo Vanni therefore was safe! His name would be returned in the communal list, but merely for the formal fulfilment of the law. His claim to exemption would be immediately allowed as a matter of course. But Beppo was of course liable. There was no chance of any objection being made to him. On the contrary, if his number should be at all within reach, it was very certain that the military officers would make every effort to lay their hands on the finest young fellow in all the country side.
But of course it was supposed in the world of Santa Lucia that Beppo Vanni would never have to serve. What! the son of old Paolo Vanni of Bella Luce! Why he could buy a dozen substitutes if needed! The old fellows who knew Paolo Vanni well, had some doubt upon this subject. Don Evandro, who knew him thoroughly well, had no doubt at all about it. It might have been in his power to induce his old parishioner and friend to come down with a part of his hoarded scudi to buy his son’s freedom. But Don Evandro had no intention to do anything of the sort. He had more than one reason for not wishing that any part of old Paolo Vanni’s money should be spent in such a manner. In the first place it would be lending aid and support to the heretical and accursed Italian government. Don Evandro, as has been said, was a keen politician. He was a priest of that class, which, while entirely giving up the world, in so far as making themselves before all things churchmen, and having no interest, or ambition, or affection for anything save the Church can be called giving up the world, yet remain, to all spiritual interests and purposes, intensely worldly. He was a sworn, true, and loyal churchman, ready to sacrifice much, to dare all things, and to deem all things permissible for the service of the Church. But of any other meaning of the term, save the visible and bodily constitution of the great corporation to which he belonged, he had about as much idea as a Red Indian.
The curate of Santa Lucia intended, therefore, that his parish should furnish as few men to Victor Emmanuel as might be. There were the hills near at hand! There was no contending influence on the spot to thwart his—no resident land-owners, no gentry! He had always possessed a very powerful influence over his—not all very poor, but all very ignorant—parishioners; and now he meant to use it. It was necessary to be careful, however! The government was on the watch; it knew very well that the priests were almost to a man its enemies; its suspicions were fully aroused; and the game to be played was not one altogether without danger.
But the curato had in the special case of Beppo Vanni a second reason for not choosing that he should either serve his time in the army or be bought off by his father. He had thoroughly espoused his old friend’s cause in the matter of Beppo’s marriage. It was all in the line of his own duty and scheme of conduct to secure Sandro Bertoldi’s money to the right side, instead of allowing it to go entirely to swell the means of the enemy, as would be the case if Lisa married Captain Brilli: not to mention that a match between Giulia and Beppo might, as the priest shrewdly guessed from all he had ever seen of Giulia, go far to endanger the subserviency of the Vanni money also to the good cause. It was therefore on all accounts necessary that Beppo should marry Lisa, and should not marry Giulia.
Those who live in a state of society in which priestly influence has comparatively little power over the secular affairs of private life, and which is not divided into two utterly opposed parties by any such broad line of demarcation as that which separates Italian society into irreconcileably hostile camps, can hardly appreciate at its real importance the effects of such a system of tactics, as that above indicated, carved out by so powerfully an organised body as the Italian clergy consistently, perseveringly, and unfailingly.
Now, if Beppo went to serve his time, he would come back with an additional prestige in Giulia’s eyes, utterly emancipated from priestly control, and very probably in a great degree emancipated from parental control also. His return might be looked for at a fixed and known time, and there was every thing to encourage Giulia to wait for him.
If, on the other hand, his father were induced to conquer his avarice so far as to pay the sum necessary to procure a substitute, he would remain in the country free to continue his pursuit of Giulia, and it would be very difficult to keep them apart.
But if, on the contrary, old Paolo were counselled to refuse to pay for a substitute,—counsel which he would be only too ready to follow—and if Beppo should get a bad number, and could be persuaded to go off to the hills, Victor Emmanuel would lose a first-rate soldier; a contribution to the general lawlessness, discontent, and ungovernableness of the country would be achieved, and Beppo would be effectually separated from Giulia; his return uncertain; his entire future precarious and full of difficulty; and possibly—who could tell?—Old Paolo’s succession secured to the much promising and well-disposed Carlo.
And what were the views of honest Beppo himself respecting this dreaded conscription? Unfortunately they were such as to render him but too easy a victim to the priest’s designs, should he have the misfortune to be drawn to serve. Beppo was a thorough “contadino,” with all the feelings, all the prejudices, and all the ignorance of his class. The thought of being carried away from his native hills to some unknown and strange country, was intolerable to him. He had but very hazy and vague notions as to the nature of a soldier’s life and duties. It was something, he knew, which men maimed and mutilated themselves to avoid—which men had before now killed themselves to avoid. For such stories of the desperation of the populations subjected to the remorseless conscription of Austria had reached those hills. He knew, or supposed he knew, that it involved monk-like self-abnegation, and entire subjection to the will of another in all things. None had ever, in the experience of these Romagnoli rustics, left their country in compliance with the horrible conscription, and returned to their homes. None could have done so, for the conscription was now applied to that country for the first time. But in the absence of any such experience, all possibility of return was disbelieved. To be taken by the conscription was to bid a long adieu to all that made life precious, and to go forth into some unknown but terribly imagined state of misery and torment, never more to see the beloved hills, and yet more beloved faces of Romagna!
And even if he were to believe in the possibility of a return at some distant period, how could Beppo bear to tear himself away from Giulia, as matters stood with him? If she loved him, if she would only admit that he was dear to her, and he could think of her, while he was undergoing his terrible fate in some distant land, as safe at home, thinking of him, waiting for his return, and unexposed to the pursuit of others, the misery might be more tolerable. But, as it was, to leave her unwon, to leave her a mark for the admiration and pursuit and wooing of all the young men in Fano, and he far away the while, not knowing anything, but dreading all things respecting what was going on at home—this was absolutely intolerable to him. He could not face it.
So there was but a lottery chance between poor Beppo and frantic desperation! If the chance were to go against him, the priest’s suggestions would find him but too well prepared to listen to them.
As to the hope that his father would, if the bad chance hit him, sacrifice such a sum as would liberate him from it, he had little or no hope of that. He knew his father too well! And a Romagnole peasant has too great a veneration for money, and too vivid a sense of the difficulty of obtaining it, and of the amount of toil, patience, self-denial, and time which hoarded money represents, to blame his father in his heart for his avarice as severely as another might have done. In truth, Beppo could have given the money to save himself, or to save one he loved; but he considered that in so doing he should have been reprehensible rather than otherwise, on the score of profusion and reckless extravagance. No! He had no expectation that his father would sacrifice money to buy him off his fate.
Little was known yet among the rural communes on the subject that was engrossing all their thoughts, except that the orders for making out the lists of those liable to serve had come, and that the lists were about to be made forthwith. But this first step in the business involved no action on the part of the victims, and no outward and visible sign of the action of others. It was completed silently in the bureaux of the authorities. It was like the first driving together of a herd of wild cattle, destined to be afterwards forced through some narrow pass, where the hunters will pick them off as they rush by. There was a vague knowledge among the herd that they were being driven together, and that was all as yet.
All was ignorance and doubt, and terror made worse by these. A thousand different reports were spread about the country. Some said it was only a precautionary preparation, in case there should be war with Austria, and might therefore never come to anything. Some said that the drawing was fixed for the following year; some, that it all depended on the king’s pleasure; some, that it was all a chance; some few, that it was a dreadful certainty, and that the drawing was to be proceeded with directly.
Tormented by all this doubt and uncertainty, Beppo determined to make it partly the real motive, and partly the excuse, for a journey to Fano. He fancied that his father had been less willing than used to be the case, to allow him to go to the city. He used to go frequently on market days; but lately his father for two or three weeks past made excuses for keeping him at home; and upon one occasion during that time, when the business of the farm had required that somebody should go to Fano, the old man had chosen to go himself. Beppo understood very well that the purpose of all this was to keep him from seeing Giulia—very likely to make her think that he did not care to see her. But now his father could hardly object to his going to the city in a matter of such vital importance to himself. Poor Beppo was in truth very anxious to obtain some certainty upon the subject; but he was yet more anxious if possible to see Giulia, and ascertain how she was going on—whether she had already gathered a circle of admirers about her; whether she had made any acquaintances of any kind; whether she was turning into a fine town lady.
So, one evening as they were returning from the field, he broached the subject to his father, saying that he ought to make himself acquainted with the truth about the conscription.
Old Paolo admitted that, and said that he would consider what day he could best be spared from the farm; but his real object was to consult his spiritual adviser upon the point.
So, instead of lounging in the “loggia”—as he smoked his cigar, after supper, before going to bed—he strolled up to Santa Lucia, and saw the priest.
“Beppo has been telling me, your reverence, that he wants to go to Fano to learn about the conscription. I doubt me, he wants something else more!”
“No doubt, no doubt! I wonder you have been able to keep him quiet so long. Yes! let him go to Fano. It is right that he should learn all the particulars of the new law, since they touch him so nearly.”
“He talks of going on Saturday.”
Saturday was the Fano market-day, on which large numbers of the countrymen of the neighbouring districts (more of those from the surrounding plains, however, than of the hill-people) were wont to assemble in the great piazza of the city.
“I am going in myself, on Saturday,” replied the priest. “Suppose—or—no,” he added, after a little meditation; “tell him that there is something to be done,—that you cannot well spare him on Saturday; but that he may go on the following day. I may just as well see Signor Sandro myself, and perhaps La Giulia, too, before he goes in.”
Old farmer Vanni, who, in fact, scarcely ventured on an action, in any direction, without the advice and approbation of his friend Don Evandro, was, as is generally the case with hen-pecked husbands and priest-ridden laymen, specially unwilling to be thought to be guided by the curator’s advice. So he said nothing that night in reply to his son’s proposal; but while they were at their work the next morning, which was the Friday, he told him that he was loth that the hoeing of the bean-crop should be left till it was finished; rain might come—most likely would come—and then, where should they be. If he would stay to-morrow, and get the job finished, he should go to Fano on Sunday.
So it was settled that Beppo was to go into the city on the Sunday.
CHAPTER XII. THE CHURCH OF THE OBSERVANTINES.
On the Sunday morning, accordingly, Beppo started on his way to Fano. The priest had made his intended visit to the city on the Saturday, and had come home at night. But none of the Bella Luce family had seen him since his return. Beppo’s heart beat fast as he found himself nearing the city; and, in his nervous impatience, he could not forbear from pushing on his horse to a speed that brought him to the end of his journey a good half-hour earlier than he had calculated on arriving. In the deadest and sleepiest of Italian cities there always is a little more stir and life on a Sunday than on other days. And this extra movement is not wholly ecclesiastical in its character. Sunday is the great day for recreation and amusement of all kinds, not despite the efforts of the clergy to make it otherwise, but with their approval and sanction. But there are various sorts of secular business, not partaking in any degree of the nature of diversion, which are apt to fall into the course of the Sunday’s occupations. It is naturally the day on which the country can most easily come into town. Such shops as they may be likely to need are apt to be open; and such business as may involve interviews between them and the denizens of the city are wont to be transacted.
Beppo, having put up his horse at the osteria used by the contadini from his part of the country, hurried to the house of Signor Sandro. From him he could learn all he wanted to know about the conscription, and from Lisa he doubted not that he should be able to find out the whereabouts of the house in which his treasure was lodged;—a circumstance of which he had as yet been able to ascertain nothing;—for, of course, neither his father nor Don Evandro were likely to afford him any information upon this subject. Indeed, Signor Paolo did not himself know where the house of Giulia’s mistress was situated.
It was about eleven o’clock when Beppo reached the attorney’s house. The little man was in his office; and Beppo was told that he must wait in a passage, where three or four other countrymen, in their best Sunday attire, were already waiting, seated on a long bench against the wall, till their turn should come to be admitted to the attorney’s presence.
Had they been townsmen, they would all, however much previously strangers to each other, have been in full conversation together. But being contadini they sate in silence, with care-worn anxious faces, but with meek-eyed patience, till the great authority sitting in that awful sanctum on the other side of the partition-wall should be ready to receive them, and give them the fateful answers of the oracle. But Beppo, in his anxiety, had raised his voice in speaking with the servant-girl who had opened the door to him; and the attorney, having overheard and recognised it, came hurrying out of his den with his pen in his hand.
“What, Signor Beppo! Is it you? What good chance is it brings you to Fano? Delighted to see you, as we always are!”
“There were two or three things, Signor Sandro—” began Beppo, slowly and timidly; but the brisk little man cut him short.
“Look here, Signor Beppo!” he said, taking him by the button, and drawing him a little down the passage away from the men who were sitting there, and dropping his voice to a whisper; “you see how it is—all these people waiting to see me! Never was so busy! All through this troublesome conscription! Have not a minute to spare! But, look here; come back at one, and eat a bit of dinner with us. Poor Lisa will be so delighted to see you; and I know your visit is more to her than to me. Ah, you young fellows! Well, I was young myself once! And then we shall have leisure for a little talk. A riveder—la! At one, mind! And Beppo,” added the little man, standing on tiptoe to whisper in his ear, “Lisa is gone to mass at the Church of the Servites. If you should happen to fall in with her there, don’t tell her that I told you so.”
And so saying he opened the door for his visitor, and hurried back to the discussion of exemptions and substitutes with his clients.
Beppo, with thus nearly two hours on his hands, did not, despite his being utterly at a loss how to get rid of them, feel much inclined to go to the Servite Church. He wanted to have some conversation with Lisa, too. But the very evident hints of Signor Sandro, to the effect that it was expected of him that he should make love to her had the effect of making him feel shy. It takes so much to make an Italian of the cities feel shy, and so little to produce that effect on one of the Contadino class!
Beppo felt more inclined to spend his two hours in wandering through the city, to try if he could divine from the outward appearance of the houses which of them held his Giulia. It seemed to his imagination an absurd and incredible thing that she should be behind any one of those walls or windows, and that no recognisable difference should exist in that wall or window—that there should be no schekinah, no outward and visible glory betokening the presence of such an inmate. He went mooning through the streets at hazard, gazing at the houses and windows wistfully, but without being able to obtain the slightest satisfaction from the investigation.
At length, having wandered into a part of the city far away from the attorney’s house, he found himself in a quiet, utterly-deserted street, partly made up of dead walls. But on the opposite side to that on which he was standing, and a little in advance of him, there was a small church, and beyond that a very large and handsome palace. There was not a soul besides himself in the street; but as he stood gazing down it, and doubting whether he should go any farther in that direction, which seemed to lead to the outskirts of the town among a wilderness of garden-walls and open spaces, he saw a party of people coming out of the little church, and beginning very slowly to descend the steps that led to its door.
They moved very slowly; for the lady who came first was enormously fat: and though she had the arm of a young man to assist her—an officer of Bersaglieri, Beppo saw by his uniform, which, from a regiment of that branch of the service having been for some months stationed at Fano, was known to him—she came down the steps with some difficulty. But in the next moment all the blood in his body seemed to make a sudden rush to his heart, and there remain in a great frozen lump. Behind that enormous fat woman came—la Giulia! And—heavens and earth!—she had another of the same corps in attendance on her; not an officer, but a corporal! Yes, there was his stripe—a corporal of Bersaglieri! Was it possible! Could he believe his eyes! He must be mistaken! The beautiful creature he was looking at, as if she had been a Medusa, seemed more beautiful to his eyes than ever. Was it Giulia? She was no longer dressed altogether as a contadina; and though still wearing only a kerchief on her head it was far more coquettishly arranged than it used ever to be at Bella Luce; and there were sundry other little town-bred changes in her costume that seemed—to the eyes which had the Bella Luce Giulia so indefaceably photographed on their retina—to make the present avatar very different from the old one, though the worshipper could not deny that it was one of enhanced glory. But was it Giulia, or was he dreaming?
How exquisitely lovely, but yet how detestable—how horrible was the vision! Who and what was that horrid corporal—brisk, smart, tight little man—who wore his round plumed hat in the most jaunty manner? Corporals of Bersaglieri are all brisk, smart, tight little men, who wear their hats in a jaunty manner. And he danced and skipped by Giulia’s side, chattering and gesticulating, and looking up into her face; and she was laughing, and looking as happy as a queen. She had never laughed when he had looked into her face. And now that disgusting corporal! evidently a very witty and agreeable corporal;—she was listening to all he said, and evidently amused by it. She could have bounded down the church-steps like one of the Bella Luce goats, and so could the corporal of Bersaglieri too, for that matter. But slow as the fat woman in front of them was, they seemed to be in no hurry; but stopped, and laughed, and sauntered on again, clearly well pleased to linger over the matter as long as might be.
Beppo, at the first moment of catching sight of her, had thrown himself precipitately behind a pillar by the side of a palace-door, on the side of the street on which he was standing; and had watched all the above dreadful spectacle, cautiously looking out from behind it. But, as he bitterly said to himself, there was no danger of her seeing him: she was far too much occupied by listening to that odious corporal!
But, once again, could it be Giulia? Or was it possible that his eyes, even at the distance at which he was, could see Giulia and doubt whether it were really she, or not?
While he was still gazing out from behind his shelter, with fixed stony eyes and open mouth, the fat lady achieved the descent of the steps, and, waddling along the pavement with the assistance of the captain’s arm, turned in at the grand door of the palace next door to the church. Giulia—if it was Giulia—and the corporal followed her; and Beppo was left staring after them, among the people, who had by that time begun to leave the church.
Surely it could not be that Giulia lived in such a grand house as that! Signor Sandro had spoken of the lady, in whose service she was to live as by no means a rich person;—a widow-lady living quite in a modest manner. It could not be that that was her residence: he must have been mistaken! Now the glorious yet hateful vision was no longer before his eyes, he began to persuade himself that it must have been a mistake—an hallucination! Yet, again—his head swam round!—he was determined to know the worst. He had already made a step or two across the street with the intention of entering the alarmingly magnificent porch, in which the party he had seen had vanished (captain, corporal and all), when he was arrested by the thought of how he was to accomplish his purpose. He must ring at the great door; when the servant came what was he to say?—ask if one Giulia Vanni lived there? And if the reply were in the affirmative, what then? His contadini timidity and shyness dared not thus beard the city magnificences. Besides, he should soon know all! There was another way. He would go at once to the Church of the Servites, and see if he could meet Lisa; if not, he should probably find her at home. From her he should be able to learn the truth.
So he asked one of the people who were coming from the church, from which the fat lady and her attendants had issued, and obtained a direction to the Servite church. The high-mass was just over there also, by the time he reached it; and he had not watched at the door long before little Lisa, accompanied by her maid, came out. She looked so smart in her Sunday-dress, that poor Beppo felt shy of accosting her there, in the street, amid all the people thronging out of the church. But the emergency was too pressing to admit of hesitation. So he stepped up to her, and instantly disobeyed her father’s injunction by saying:
“Signorina, your father told me that I should most likely find you here. I came in from Bella Luce this morning.”
“Oh, Signor Beppo! I am so glad to see you! I have been thinking that you were never coming to Fano any more! And yet—one would have thought that you would have found more to do in the city than ever! What on earth has become of you? You have not come a bit too soon, I can tell you.”
“What do you mean, Signora Lisa?” replied Beppo, while a cold sweat came over him. “Is there—anything new?”
“Altro! You should not have stayed away so long. Out of sight out of mind, you know!”
“May I walk home with you, Signorina? Your father has kindly asked me to dine there. But I came here because I was so anxious; and—I knew that you would—tell me—tell me—all!” faltered Beppo, whose words seemed to stick in his throat as he uttered them.
“But first tell me why you have been so long without coming to Fano? I thought, of course, that you would have come in to see Giulia at least every market-day. And I am sure she expected it, too, though she has never said a word. And in all this time you have never been near her once.”
“Because I could not! They would not let me leave the farm. Oh, Signora Lisa! can you doubt that I was anxious to come—? But, now that I have come—what am I the better? What can I do? But, do you know, Lisa,” he continued, dropping his voice to a shuddering whisper, “I think I have seen her—I think I saw her in the street this morning.”
“Think you saw Giulia! Why, Signor Beppo, what do you mean?” said Lisa, looking up at him in amazement. “Don’t you know whether you saw her or not? Did you not speak to her if you saw her?”
“No! I did not speak to her. I—I—I did not feel certain—she seemed so changed. But tell me first of all where she lives? Is it a very large house?”
“Yes. The Palazzo Bollandini; one of the largest palaces in Fano!”
“Yes; a very fine house.”
“And is it next door to a church?” asked Beppo, in increasing agony, while his great stalwart legs seemed to tremble under him.
“Yes, it is next door to the Church of the Observantines. Why, what of it?”
“And is—the lady she is living with a very stout woman?” asked he, still hoping against hope, and longing to hear that Giulia’s mistress was by no means particularly stout.
But Lisa ruthlessly destroyed the last gleam of hope.
“Yes, La Signora Dossi is a very stout woman,” she said.
“Then it is all over with me!” said Beppo, in a voice of the deepest despair; “there can never be anything again between me and Giulia!”
“What do you mean, Signor Beppo? All over between you and Giulia, because Signora Dossi is very fat! What can you mean? I do not understand you this morning! If it was after dining with papa, instead of before——”
(The Romagnoles are not marked to the same degree by that exemplary sobriety which distinguishes the Tuscans.)
“I am sober enough, pur troppo!” returned Beppo, with intense sadness in his voice. “Then I did see Giulia, just now. She was coming out of a church with a monstrously fat woman, and they went into an enormous palace next door.”
“Well! and why did you not speak to her?”
“Lisa,” said Beppo, in a low voice of the deepest tragedy, “Lisa, there was a corporal with her!”
“Ah, the corporal!” said Lisa, in a voice which indicated that the corporal was no new phenomenon to her.
“And who was with the fat lady?” asked Lisa, rather hurriedly.
“The fat lady had hold of the arm of a captain of Bersaglieri.”
“Dear me! I wonder what o’clock it is!” said Lisa. “I wonder whether there could be time. We don’t dine till one, and cook is always a quarter of an hour behindhand.”
“Time for what, Signorina Lisa? It is striking the quarter to one, now, by the clock in the piazza. Oh, Lisa! I am very miserable!” said poor Beppo, in a tone which seemed to convey a little reproach for the manner in which she had received his communication of the misfortune of the corporal.
“Time to go and see—Giulia before dinner. I was thinking we could go together, and pay a visit to Signora Dossi; but I am afraid we have not time,” she added, with a voice of much disappointment.
“Me! I could not think of doing such a thing!” said Beppo, with terror and horror in his voice.
“What! not go and see Giulia!”
“With that corporal there!” shuddered Beppo.
“Oh! the corporal is only with Captain Brilli. That was Captain Brilli that you saw with La Signora Dossi,” blushing a little, and laughing a little more.
“Oh—h—h! Ah—h—h!” with a varying intonation that marked the progressive development of enlightenment in his mind; “that is why you would go there. But, Signora Lisa, I can’t go there to see that corporal and Giulia together. It would make me mad!”
“But that is just the reason you should go there, Signor Beppo,” reasoned little Lisa. “Perhaps, if you had not stayed away from Fano so long, the corporal would not have had so good a chance. But take my word for it, Giulia don’t care a fig for him. He does go on with her, to be sure. And he is a very amusing man, the corporal. And what is a poor girl to do?—and such a girl as Giulia is, too! How can you think that she is to live in a town like Fano,—specially when the place is full of officers and soldiers,—and not be admired and run after?”
Poor Beppo groaned deeply. “How long has she known the man?” he asked despondingly.
“Oh! Captain Brilli goes very often to La Dossi. I hardly ever can see him anywhere else to speak to him. And Corporal Tenda is very much with him. I believe the corporal at home in Piedmont is rather above his position in the army. He is a very respectable sort of man, I fancy. And so he made acquaintance with Giulia, you see. And how could she help it? But I don’t believe she cares a bit about him,—not to say, really care,” pleaded Lisa.
But Beppo had seen the corporal’s manner and his look, as he seemed, to Beppo’s imagination, to surround her on all sides at once with his accursed agile assiduity; he had seen the attention Giulia was according to him, and had observed the merry laughing intelligence in her eye. He had contrasted with this his own physical and mental attitude when near her, and her manner towards him; and the iron had entered into his soul!
- It may be observed, also, that the social distance between an officer and a non-commissioned officer is very much less in the Italian Army than in our own.