Page:010 Once a week Volume X Dec 1863 to Jun 64.pdf/31

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Dec. 26, 1863.
23
ONCE A WEEK.

that any man should come back again from such a going away! And then—

"If they are to settle it for you, it'll be . . . ." and he made a gesture which was sufficiently expressive of "over the hills and far away." "But," he continued, "I don't know that if I were in your place, Beppo—and I wish with all my heart I were, for the good of the family, I do—that I would let it be settled for me that way. Soldiering is a bad trade, I know, mostly; but there is such a thing as thriving at it. And if any man in the world could, it would be such a strapping fellow as you. It would be a fine thing to come back with a title to your name, and a ample of gold epaulettes on your shoulders! Captain Vanni, or General Vanni, mayhap, who knows? would sound very well. And, per Bacco! what a handsome fellow you would look, all gold and colours, with a long sword rattling by your side, like one of those officers down in the town yonder, that all the girls look after when they pass down the street!"

"Ay, or better still, what a handsome corpse I should make, lying full length on the broad of my back with an Austrian bullet through my heart! shouldn't I, Carlo?" said his brother, with a dreary smile, which was half satire on the thoughts that he knew very well were in Carlo's heart, and half genuine acquiescence on his own part in the truth of the proposition.

"Oh!—if you are afraid of that—!" said Carlo, shrugging his shoulders.

"I don't feel as if I was very much afraid!" replied Beppo, quietly, while his eyes looked out into the distance of the seaward landscape, with that expression of vaguely searching which is so apt to accompany the musings of those who feel that all immediately around them has become flat, stale, and unprofitable.

"I know one, at all events, who would look at you in a different sort of way, and speak in a different sort of way, if you was to come back to Bella Luce, or to Fano, as the case might be, Captain, ay, or even Corporal Vanni!"

Carlo fancied that he was feeling his way delicately to hint at a consideration which he dared not urge more directly. But the spot in his brother's heart which he had ventured to touch was sore and sensitive to a degree of which he had no idea. He had already gone far beyond the tolerance of a temper which, placid as it ordinarily was, had been tried by an excess of agony that had left every nerve quivering. The allusion, especially that implied in the last words his brother had uttered, was more than he could bear.

He stood for an instant glaring at Carlo, and then brandishing the heavy triangular spade he had in his hand above his head, he after a moment's pause hurled it far away from him into the field.

Carlo, who had been at first startled and frightened by his brother's movement, recovered himself as soon as the tremendous weapon was at a distance.

"What did you throw away your spade for?" he said, with a half sneer.

"For fear of the curse of Cain!" said Beppo. "Now I am going to pick it up. Don't come after me! Let me work by myself this morning; and never dare again, if you don't want your blood to be on my head, to breathe a word or a hint to me of—of—of what you had in your mind just now."

And Beppo walked away to pick up his spade, and worked in a furrow by himself during the rest of the morning.

His brawny limbs went on with their mechanical task; but his mind was busy in meditating on the point which he had told his brother that others might settle for him. The priest was desirous, Carlo reminded him, that he should avoid the conscription by flight to the mountains. It was natural to him, and a life-long habit, to be guided obediently by any suggestions from that source. Besides, Beppo had—or rather had had, when he cared for anything—as strong a repugnance to the military service as any of his fellow Romagnoles. But now it seemed to him as if that lot was best which took him farthest away, and most irrevocably separated him from Bella Luce, and all its surroundings and memories. Nevertheless he was conscious of a longing he could not conquer to remain within the possibility of hearing of Giulia, and her future conduct. Was it that that sudden departure from the hall of the drawing, and Lisa's point-blank assertion respecting the cause of it, had again lighted up a faint spark of hope in his mind? He speculated upon it again and again; and though each time he arrived at the conclusion that it was an absurdity to allow any weight to such a chance circumstance, in the face of what he had seen and heard at the house of la Dossi, and what he had since heard from the priest himself, and also, though differently coloured, from Signor Sandro, yet he could not prevent his mind from recurring to the fact, and Lisa's explanation of it. And if there were the faintest spark of hope that, despite all, Giulia still loved him—and girls were so difficult to understand, that all things in such matters were possible;—in that case he would not quit the neighbourhood for all the world,—no, not for all the epaulettes King Victor Emmanuel had the bestowing of!