Maurice Hewlett.

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house or that, half a dozen link-boys before him, and his valet behind
carrying his sword and gloves. Virginia often met him in the course of
her errands, but, as she said, was never recognised by him. We nattered
ourselves that he had forgotten our co-existence with him upon this
planet. Hope never stooped to falser cozenage; we were to be rudely
undeceived.




CHAPTER XXXIII

TREACHERY WORKS AGAINST US


One evening - I believe, as I said, that it was after nearly six months'
calm and temperate life that our troubles began - upon returning from my
day's work, I found Virginia in a pensive mood. She accepted, but hardly
returned, my salute, was very silent throughout the preparation and
eating of our supper; now and then, glancing at her, I caught her gaze
fixed upon me, and fancied that there was a hard light in her eyes. Our
companions, Gioiachino and his wife Teresa, rallied us on what they
thought to be one of those domestic differences common to the most
affectionate couples. "A tiff, a tiff!" said they, nudging each other.
"Virginia has caught him with the gardener's wife. We shall get no sleep
to-night." This gardener's wife was an obese and asthmatic matron of
some two-score years; who occupied a room in our little house, and was
kinder to me than I cared for. It was not until Gioiachino and his
Teresa were asleep that I could hope to discover what had affected
Virginia. She then told me that, as she had been at work that afternoon,
kneeling on the boards by the river with the other women, the Cavaliere
Aquamorta with a party of gentlemen had come by the meadows and stopped
to jest and bandy familiarities with the laundresses. Although he had
pretended not to recognise her, Virginia was not deceived. Finding his
opportunity, he drew near to her side, and whispered in her ear, "Can I
believe my senses? You, my charming consort of a few weeks ago, in such
a plight, in such a company!" Virginia had replied that the company had
been of her own choosing up to this hour, and that what he complained of
now could be remedied very easily, and by himself only. He said, "No, my
honour will not allow it. I must needs remember what I might have made
you, and what you have become. Count upon Aquamorta, who has never yet
failed his friends. Count upon his memory and passionate aspirations."

"I told him," said Virginia, "that I should do nothing of the kind. I
said that I was wife to a gentleman born, who also happened to be an
honest man. 'If,' I said finally, 'you wish to do Virginia a real
service, you will be pleased to forget that you ever saw her.' He
laughed, and said that that was impossible to a man of his tumultuous
passions, and went away with a profound salutation. This," said my poor
Virginia, "has troubled me more than I care to own. I think we should be
wise to leave Lucca until - evil wind that he is - he blows over."

Though I comforted her pretty well and bade her think no more about the
man, I very soon had reason to be of her opinion. Two or three days
later, as I was sawing planks in the yard, to make a trellis, that
saturnine person came in, resplendently dressed, and filled the
wholesome place with the reek of his essences. He saluted me with
extravagant politeness, telling me that he had words for my private ear
which he was sure would interest me. When I took little or no notice of
him he came to closer quarters. "Hearken, Signor Manifold," says he, "my
news concerns Donna Aurelia."

How he knew that sacred name I cannot conceive. It had never passed from
my lips into his wicked ears. But I was unprepared for it, and started
violently the moment I heard it. "Ha!" cried he, "now I have passed your
guard, Don Francis, have I? Now perhaps you will do me the honour of
conversing?" I blush to record that I led him within the workshop and
begged him to be quick with his news.

There is no need for any reader of mine to tell me my duty. I ought not
to have allowed her name to rest upon his mouth; I ought not to have
allowed it to touch mine. I ought not to have remembered Aurelia, I
ought not to have adored her. Was I not wedded? Was I not beloved? O God
of Heaven and earth, if regrets did not avail me then, how can they
avail me now? But I will no more look back than I will anticipate in
this narrative. I will repeat with what face I can that I led this hardy
ruffian into the workshop, cleared a bench for him to sit upon, and bade
him tell his story.

Then said he, "My news would at any other time than this give you great
pain, Don Francis, for it is not altogether to the credit of one to whom
you have paid the most tender of your vows. But seeking, as I have
always done, your honour and advantage, I feel that I shall really
increase both of them by what I have to say. For if I remind you that
you are a fortunate husband, it ought to enhance your consciousness of
that fact when I go on to tell you that Donna Aurelia was unworthy of
your attentions, since she took no pains to deserve them."

I said here that I knew beforehand his malice and the reasons for it. I
said, "You have proved yourself already so unworthy of belief that I
tell you now I shall not credit one word you say. How dare you speak of
the unworthiness of any lady, being yourself the most worthless of men?"

He smiled, and continued, "What will you do, but thank God, my dear Don
Francis, when I tell you that it was she herself who put Fra Palamone in
your way? What will you say when you know that you were not intended to
kill the Capuchin so that you might be chased out of Florence, as you
have supposed, but instead, it was hoped that he would carry off Miss
Virginia to her marchese? What will you now say to Donna Aurelia's share
in that plot, when I tell you that she - - "

He paused here, grinning his triumph.

"I will tell you what I have to say," I answered him, standing up with
folded arms. "I say that you lie. You have never done anything but lie
and cheat since the moment I saw you. You live by cheating, and will die
lying. That is what I have to say. I salute you and beg you to be gone."

"The fair and cruel-kind Aurelia - - " he began unconcernedly, but I
struck the bench on which he sat.

"Cavaliere," I said, "if you speak one word more of that lady I shall
kill you here in this place."

I had an adze in my hand, and I suppose he believed me, for he shrugged
his shoulders, got up and walked out of the carpenter's shop. He had
accomplished one part of his infamous design, at least. With every
symptom of the most exquisite torture of mind I recalled throughout that
day and night the lovely, fleeting, unattainable image of Aurelia
Gualandi. She was fatally present, every bend and turn of her head,
every motion of her bosom, the weaving of her hands, every flutter of
her breath, every sigh, every flash of her eyes danced before me,
mocking, deluding, beckoning, beguiling, enchanting me. My poor Virginia
had reason to complain of my dejection, coldness, inattention, God
knows! But He knows too, and will reward her for it, that the brave girl
never once did complain. My torment endured atrociously all night, and
all the next day; then subsided somewhat, and by the Sunday following
was almost gone. On the Monday, moreover, I had something else to think
of: this, namely - -

On Monday evening, just as I was about to leave the yard, Virginia, with
a hood over her head, came into it. This was extraordinary, and so did
she appear - vividly coloured, with the eyes of one in a fever, but not
alarmed; elated rather, and full of strong resolve. Before I could speak
she put her finger to her lip, and said, "Hush! Come with me to the
ramparts instead of going home. I have something to tell you." I
followed her at once. The ramparts were very empty, as it was nearly
dark. She took my arm and began to walk slowly under the trees, speaking
calmly, mastering the excitement which she evidently suffered.

She said, "At noon to-day, after the dinner-hour, the padrona gave me
three baskets of linen, and told me to carry them to their owners, with
the bills which were pinned upon them. I put all three on my head and
went away. The first errand was to the apartment of that old colonel of
artillery, where I have often been before. I delivered the basket,
unpacked it in his presence, received the money and my buona mano, and
departed. The second took me to Don Filiberto, the parroco of Santa
Lucia. As usual, he inquired after you, asked me that certain question
which you know, gave me two whites, patted my cheek, and hoped for
better news next week. When I came to look at my third basket, judge my
dismay to find that it was addressed to the Cavaliere Aquamorta, at the
Albergo del Sole. It was the largest by far - and that was why I had put
it at the bottom - and had a substantial bill upon it, including the
arrears of three weeks. I suppose he had planned it with the padrona,
for I had never been to him before, and did not even know that we washed
for him. However, there was no help for it. I must go.

"He received me with a grin, expressing surprise, which I knew he had
not, and pleasure, which I fear he had. I was as unconcerned as I knew
how to be, and began unpacking the linen; but he came behind me at once,
and, kneeling beside me on one knee, began to be unpleasantly attentive,
praising my beauty extravagantly, talking, joking, whispering - and
worse - doing all he could, in fact, to make me as bad as he was. He
owned that he had laid this 'little stratagem of love,' as he called it,
and that the bill, far from being in arrear, had been paid, and twice
paid. There, then, was the price of my betrayal. Then he spoke of you,
Francis, asking whether I had discovered the cause of your recent
distemperature. 'I have given him some news of his Aurelia of late,' he
said, 'which may have inclined him to neglect a far more charming
nymph.' I replied to that, that if he had put himself to the trouble of
telling you lies of Donna Aurelia, there was no wonder that you were
unhappy; for, says I, 'To have her name, which you held sacred, tripped
off lips which you knew to be profane was a horrible thing.' He laughed
at me, and called me his incorrigible charmer, his dearest tease,
delight and provocation. He grew very attentive, and would have embraced
me; whereupon, biding my time, I gave him such a slap in the left eye as
he won't soon recover from. Then, while he was cursing me and calling
for his servant, I made my escape."

I praised her warmly, as she deserved. She had done what became her with
the only weapon she possessed. "The rest," I said, "is mine. I shall
know how to maintain your honour and my own. This very night I shall
send a friend to the cavaliere, and leave him the choice of weapons."

She stopped our walk, and faced me with agitation. "Dio mio, my lord,
what are you saying?" I repeated my words, and she became dry, as she
always did when she disapproved.

"Good, my lord," she said; "and may your handmaid know the name of the
friend whom you propose to send with your cartel to the Cavaliere
Aquamorta?"

I said that I should ask Gioiachino, our fellow-lodger, to oblige me.

"Excellent," said Virginia with irony, "excellent indeed! Gioiachino, a
cat's-meat man, waits upon the Cavaliere Aquamorta on behalf of his
friend Francesco, a journeyman carpenter!"

This made me more angry than I had any business to be, for she was
perfectly right from the cavaliere's view of the thing. I said,
"Virginia, my condition in this world has never been hidden from you.
Apart from my birthright, which is an advantage not of my own making, I
hope I have never been to you other than an honourable man. Gioiachino,
who has been a good friend to you and me, certainly deserves no less
credit. If a gentleman, as I claim to be, is condescending enough to
send a person perfectly honest to a vulgar, libidinous, lying bully and
cheat, who happens to have robbed to better purpose than I have worked -
then, I say, you should agree with me that I am paying more honour to a
thief than he can hope to deserve. I am sorry to have to speak so
plainly to you, but it is not for you, any more than for me, to reproach
Gioiachino with being an honest man."

She was silent for a few minutes, then knelt down and kissed my hand.
When I raised her up and embraced her, I found tears on her cheeks. We
walked home in the dark without another word said, and I prevailed upon
Gioiachino to convey my challenge, though he did what he could to
dissuade me. "This," he said, "is madness. Do you not know that the less
your man is assured of his gentility the more exacting he will be in the
profession of it? Do you know what will occur? He will call for some
lacquey or another to kick me downstairs."

My answer to that was that such conduct to the bearer of a gentleman's
cartel was unheard of. I added that if the cavaliere prided himself,
against all evidence, upon being a gentleman, he was not at all likely
to convict himself of being a ruffian. Very ruefully, in the end, the
good-natured Gioiachino went out to oblige me.

It happens that I was right, or had good grounds for thinking so. The
cavaliere received the poor fellow with perfect affability, and after a
short colloquy with some of his companions, introduced a certain Prince
Gandolfo Dolfini, with whom Gioiachino was to arrange a meeting in the
fields for seven o'clock on the Wednesday morning. The cavaliere having
the choice of weapons, his friend the prince decided for WHIPS.

If this was to make me feel ridiculous it failed. I was much too angry.
"Whips he shall have," said I, and went to bed.

On the morning appointed I rose at my usual hour and went to the
workshop, intending to go on with my duties until the time appointed. I
left Virginia in tears, and Teresa, no less wretched, clinging to her in
her bed. At a quarter before seven, Gioiachino with me, armed with a
stout cart-whip, I left the Porta del Vescovo and walked briskly over
one or two water-meadows towards a retired grove of trees not far from
the Pisa road. I flattered myself that we were first in the field; but
there I was mistaken. I found a numerous company assembled - tall persons
in cocked hats, coats and badges, a posse of police, and the villainous
cavaliere smirking in the midst. So soon as we entered the grove he
pointed to me with his cane and said in a loud voice: "There, Signor
Sindaco, there is the fugitive assassin, the betrayer of an innocent
girl. Speed him back to Tuscany with the added wages he has richly
earned in Lucca." The police advanced, seized me, bound my wrists. An
old gentleman without teeth read a long legal instrument without stops,
at the end of which I was stripped to the shirt, horsed upon
Gioiachino's back and vigorously whipped. I was then haled by my harsh
executioners some league or more over the marshes to the confines of the
Republic of Lucca and told to take myself out of sight unless I wished
for more taste of the whip. Without prayers, without words, without a
coat, without money, rich in nothing but innocence and despair, I
reached the hillside and flung myself face downwards upon the sward.
There I lay far into the night.




CHAPTER XXXIV

I FALL IN WITH THE PLAYERS


My present situation was of that shocking description which defies
thought and paralyses the will. I was utterly alone, deprived of the
means of joining the only person in Italy who loved me, utterly
destitute of means, placed in a country from which I had been banished
as a criminal. I shall be understood, then, when I say that for a week
or more I wandered over the face of the land, not regarding whither I
went (so only that I avoided my kind), nor what became of me. How I
subsisted I am at a loss to tell; I have no clear recollections - nothing
but a confused sense of abiding despair, hunger, haste and desolation. I
know not through what regions I passed, the names of what villages I
avoided, the names of what farm-houses I pillaged of eggs and milk in
order that I might keep a soul in my body. It is true that I became a
common thief; it is very true that during this most dreadful period I
spoke not to one living person - for whenever I saw man, woman or child I
crouched in whatsoever shelter I could find, and lay there trembling
like a beast of chase until the enemy (as I deemed him) had passed and I
could venture out again to seek for food. Providentially for me, my
banishment from Lucca had taken place in the summer; I suffered nothing
from exposure, and had no real lack of sustenance. I used to rummage the
streets of villages at night to get broken meat; as I have said, I did
not scruple to rob henroosts, or to suck the teats of cows and goats in
the byres. During this time I neither prayed to God nor thought of
Virginia in her horrid peril. All my efforts of mind and sense were
directed to hiding and finding food. I was very near losing my wits.

Gradually, however, I recovered my self-possession, and with that, one
by one, my proper faculties returned. I was surprised at myself when one
day, seeing a man hoeing in a field, I felt the desire to speak to him
and ask my whereabouts. I was in a dreadful fright when it came to the
point that I had gone too far towards him to recede; but I mastered
myself by an effort and brought myself to accost him. Without any
surprise at my appearance, which was, indeed, no worse than his own, he
told me that I was in the Vale of Chianti, between Certaldo and
Poggibonsi, and that if I persevered upon the road I saw before me I
should reach the latter place by nightfall. "But, brother," said he,
"you look to have seen better days, and I advise you to push on to
Siena. May be you'll find employment there - for that is a rich city.
Here I tell you there is nothing. It is little use my offering you a
crust, for I have not got one." I thanked him, and having broken cover,
stoutly took the road and limped along as best I could.

Perhaps I had gone a league and a half when I came to a village full of
people. Half a dozen miserable houses placed streetwise, one of them a
disreputable inn, formed a background to a motley assembly of tattered
vagrants, of which peasants of the countryside of both sexes, children,
pigs and turkeys formed a small part. The others were men and women of
the most extravagant attire and behaviour it is possible to imagine. I
saw a punchinello on stilts wading among the rest; there were women
flaunting feathers on their tousled heads, and moustachioed bullies who
might have come from the ruck of some army on the march; pages, minions,
magicians, astrologers, women's ruffians, castrati - it was as if one of
the wildest hours of the Piazzetta of Venice had been transported by
witchcraft to this quiet place. As I approached, wondering at what I
saw, a creature, I knew not then whether man or woman, came and stood in
my path, and with a great gesture of the arm greeted me in this
remarkable apostrophe: "Hail, all hail, Bombaces, King of the
Halicarnassians!" He, or she, repeated this shrilly three or four times,
but nobody took any notice.

This hermaphrodite had a face of the most vivid and regular beauty I
ever saw - a face of perfect oval, freshly and rarely coloured, a pair of
dark and lustrous eyes, a straight, fine nose and a mouth exquisitely
shaped, provokingly red. Its hair, which was dark brown, fell in a tide
of wealth far over its shoulders. It wore a woman's bodice cut square in
the neck, after the fashion of unmarried women in Venice, and short in
the sleeves; but at the waist that sex stopped and the male began, for
it had on a pair of man's breeches, worsted stockings and Venice
slippers, and its shape as revealed by these garments was not that of a
woman. The creature, as a fact, declared itself to be a male; and when
he began to declaim against me again, I addressed him for what he was.
"My good young man," I said, "I am too weary, too desperate and too
hungry to be entertained by your antics, and too poor to reward you for
them - being, as you see me, an exile and a stranger. If you can find me
something to eat, I shall be grateful; if you cannot, go in peace, and
leave me to do the same."

The droll beauty changed his tone in an instant. "Follow me, sir," said
he, "and you shall have everything you want. I entreat your pardon for
inflicting my impertinences upon you at such an ill-judged moment." He
took me by the hand and addressed himself to the crowd about the inn
doors; by pushing, punching, jostling, cursing, praying and coaxing in
turns, he made a way into the house. But that was full to suffocation of
the actors and their belongings, and of the peasantry who had come to
gape at them. Everybody was engaged in getting drunk who was not drunk
already. Some were fighting, some lovemaking, some filching. I saw a
curious sight. A man dressed like a harlequin was picking a countryman's
pocket, and having his own picked, while he was in the act, by some
sharp-featured imp of a castrato. In fine, the whole house from floor to
rafters was full; the bedchambers, to call them so which had no beds in
them, were worse than the kitchen. I could not see that I had gained
anything by following my questionable guide; but he, who had more
resources than I knew of, having snatched a half-loaf and bottle of wine
from the lower quarters, trampled and fought his way upstairs with them,
showed me a ladder which gave on to the roof, and went up it like a
bird, without using his hands. I followed him, and saw a proud light in
his eyes as he invited me to survey my private room. We were in the
valley formed by the two pitches of the roof, nothing between our heads
and the evening sky. The revellings and blasphemies of the house were
not to be heard; pigeons clustered on the chimney-pots or strutted the
ridges of the house; a cat, huddled up, watched them from a corner.
Stars showed faintly here and there; we were sheltered from the wind; I
heard far off the angelus bell ringing.

"Here, at any rate, you won't be disturbed," said my protector. "Eat,
sir, drink, and repose yourself. When you feel inclined you shall tell
me how I can serve you further."

The evening bell, and this kindness of the lad's, had reminded me of
what I was. I said, "My friend, I shall first thank God for having made
your nation the boldest, the most ingenious, the gentlest, the most
modest, most open-hearted in the world. You see before you a man of all
men most unfortunate; but yet I say to you in the presence of God and of
his household, whose lights are kindling even now, that, but for the
like of you, many and many a time I should have died unannealed."

He was confused and, boylike, tried to laugh off my praises. "You give
me too high a character, sir," said he. "I am a graceless devil of the
Veneto, without prospect or retrospect to be proud of, a poor creature
who has to go to market with what wares he has. If I can look forward it
is because I dare not look back. What I am doing for you now, for which
you are so kind as to praise me, is not virtue. I wish to Heaven virtue
were so easy got. Eat, however, drink and rest. If I am no better than I
should be, I suppose I am not worse than I could be. And I cannot allow
you to praise me for that."

"You are of the race of the Samaritans," said I, "whether you hail from
Venice or Tuscany. I am an Englishman, my name is Francis. How are you
called?"

He said, "I believe my name is Daniele; but they call me here, in the
company, Belviso."

"And they do well," I returned, "for that you certainly are, and, as far
as I am concerned, you prove as good as you are good-looking."

He shrugged his shoulders. "No one is better than he can help, I fancy,
sir," he said. "There is every inducement to be wicked in this world.
But I will say this of myself - and I dare say everybody else can say the
same - that when I am good I am as good as gold, for I realise perfectly
well my unusual estate and become a very usurer of virtue. But this is
of rare occurrence, seeing that I am an actor. By ordinary, for the
fifteen years that I have been in the world, I am remarkably vicious."

"I cannot hear you say that, Belviso," I told him, "without giving you
warning that, so long as I am in your company, and to the utmost of my
powers, I shall restrain you from being anything of the sort."

He started, looked at me for a moment, then kissed my hand. "I believe
our Saviour sent you here to be his vicar in my regard," he said. "I
don't know how long you may be in my company, for it depends mostly upon
yourself. But I promise you in my turn that I shall never take ill


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