Page:010 Once a week Volume X Dec 1863 to Jun 64.pdf/88

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[Jan. 9, 1864.
ONCE A WEEK.

was to bear with the tortuosity of the bridle-paths, and submit to be conducted to each hill-side hamlet in succession. Those to the manner born, however, knew how to reach the upper hills at need by a much more direct and a shorter route.

It was about three o’clock in the morning of a day some five or six days later than the date of the conversation given in the last chapter, that Beppo was standing in the deep shade of the western wall of the old tower above mentioned. The gloom was deepest on that side, and it was the side furthest away from the habitations of the village. But the precaution, if precaution it was, which had led him to choose that side for his watch, was little needed; for the moon that had lighted him home on his return from Fano after the day of the drawing, had waned; and the night was dark enough on all sides for the purposes of any who had deeds of darkness to do.

And Beppo Vanni, honest Beppo, who had never done anything that all the world might not have been witness to, for aught he cared—(save and except, indeed, that never-to-be-forgotten deed perpetrated in the moonlight under the half-way cypress!)—frank-eyed, up-looking Beppo, who had never quailed or dropped his glance before the eye of any man, was now to be numbered among those who loved not the light, because their deeds were evil.

Evil! In all honesty and truth he did not know it to be such; had every reason, indeed, to believe it to be the reverse. He was acting according to the best of his lights, and according to the counsel of the guide he had been taught to look up to, revere, and obey from his childhood upwards! Nevertheless, the honest, upright, open instincts of the man protested against the enterprise he was engaged in! It was exceedingly painful to him to be sneaking in the dark like a malefactor, fearing to be seen, and starting at every sound. It was not the idea of breaking the law that was shocking to him. The Romagnole peasant, ex-subject of the Papal Government, had small reverence for law as such; no idea that honour or morality was in anywise connected with the observance of it. It was the darkness, the skulking, the consciousness that it behoved him to be unseen, not only by the myrmidons of the law—an honest man’s natural enemies, according to Romagnole peasant-philosophy—but by his own comrades and fellows, that oppressed him. And specially it was inexpressibly painful to him to leave Bella Luce under such circumstances. In talking to the priest upon the subject previously, he had never realised how it would feel, this sneaking away, and leaving his friends and acquaintance to discover in the morning that he was missing. Now, the step he had taken was so repugnant to him, that he was on the point of returning to the farm-house while it was yet time, and telling the priest in the morning that he had finally determined on accepting service in the army as his lot in life, when the recollection came over him, that it was only by conforming to the priest’s counsel that he could obtain the recall of Giulia from the city. To shrink from the course he had embarked in would be to ensure her continuance in the society of that accursed man. The blood rushed to his head and clouded his eyes as the thought shaped itself with maddening distinctness of representation in his mind. No! come what come might to him—let him himself become what he might—that should not be. He would save her from that, at all events. It was horrible to think that even during these days they were together; and he was in a hurry to start at once on his path of exile, as if the performance of his part of the pact would hasten the coming of the moment when she should be snatched out of that man’s reach .

There was yet, however, one more thing to be done before Beppo could start on the journey that was to make an outlaw and a bandit of him. He was waiting there behind the old tower, by appointment, for a last meeting with the priest. That active and enterprising intriguer chose to see his man off, and to give him certain instructions for the facilitation of the object in view, when there should be no possibility of his making any confidences at Bella Luce or at Santa Lucia on the subject. It was necessary that these instructions should be precise with regard to certain names of places and persons which were to serve as pass-words and means of recognition. For, as may be imagined, Don Evandro was not the man to put anything in writing in such a business.

It has been mentioned that one other Santa Lucia man besides Beppo had drawn a number which condemned him to serve. But Don Evandro did not intend that any parishioner of his should swell the ranks of the excommunicate army. He had taken duo care that this companion in Beppo’s misfortune should also be found wanting when the day of the examination came. But he had avoided saying anything to Beppo on this subject. The man in question was of a different class, and of a very different character from Beppo; and it appeared to his reverence that the two cases had better be treated separately. It would not be likely by any means to commend the course of action in question to Beppo, to find