Various.

Stories by Foreign Authors: Italian online

. (page 8 of 8)
Online LibraryVariousStories by Foreign Authors: Italian → online text (page 8 of 8)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


IX.

Our souls have emerged fortified from the sorrow of the lost war.

One day, surely, Italy will re-echo from end to end with the great cry,
"Come!" - and we shall spring to our feet, pale and proud, with the
answering shout, "We are ready!"

Then, in the streets of our cities, thronged with people, with
soldiers, horses, and wagons, amidst the clashing of arms and the blare
of trumpets, we classmates shall meet again. I shall see them once
more, many of them, perhaps, only for that short hour, some only for a
moment. At night, in the torchlit glare of a railway-station, we shall
meet again, and greet each other in silence, hand in hand and eye to
eye. No shouting, no songs, no joyous clamor, no vision of triumphal
marches, no veiling of death's image in the light hopefulness of
reunion; we shall say but one word to each other - good-bye - and that
good-bye will be a promise, a vow; that good-bye will mean, "This time,
there will be no descending from the mountains; you and I, lad, will be
left lying on the summit."

And often, traversing a long expanse of time, I evoke the vision of
distant battle-fields on which the lot of Italy is decided. My fancy
hastens from valley to valley, from hill to hill; and at all the most
difficult passages, at all the posts of danger, I see one of my old
classmates, a gray-haired colonel or general, at the head of his
regiment or of his brigade; and I love to picture him at the moment
when, attacked by a heavy force of the enemy, he directs the defence.

The two sides have joined battle, and from a neighboring height, he
observes the fighting below. Poor friend! At that moment, perhaps, life
and honor hang in the balance; thirty years of study, of hopes, of
sacrifices, are about to be crowned with glory or scattered like a
handful of dust down that green slope at his feet - it all hangs on a
thread. Pale and motionless he stands there watching, the sabre
trembling in his convulsive grasp. I am near him, my eye is upon his
face, I feel and see and tremble with him, I live his life.

Courage, friend! Your spirit has passed into your men, the fight is
theirs, never fear! That uncertain movement over there towards the
right wing is but the momentary confusion caused by some inequality of
the ground; they are not falling back, man. Listen, the shouts are
louder, the firing grows heavier, the last battalion has been thrown
into action, all your men are fighting. Ah! how his gaze hurries from
one end of the line to the other, how pale he has grown; life seems
suspended. What are those distant voices? What flame rushes to his
face? What is this smile, this upward glance? Victory! - but, by God,
man, rein in your horse, look at me - here I am, your old classmate who
holds out his arms to you - and now off, down to the battlefield among
your soldiers - and God be with you!

He has put his charger to the gallop and disappeared.

And who knows how many of my friends may find themselves some day, at
some hour of their lives, face to face with such an ordeal? Who knows
how many an act of patriotism will make their names illustrious, how
dear to the people some of these names may become? What if some day I
were to see the youth who sat next to me in the class-room or at table,
or slept beside me in the dormitory, riding through the streets on a
white horse, in a general's uniform, covered with flowers and
surrounded by rejoicing crowds? And who knows - may I not knock at the
door of some other, and throw my arms about the pale, sad figure, grown
ten years older in a few months; telling him that the popular verdict
is unjust, that there are many who know that he is not to blame for the
disaster, that sooner or later the excitement will subside, and the
victims of the first rash judgment be restored to honor; that his name
is still dear and respected, that he must not despond, that he must
take heart and keep on hoping?

Ah, when I think of the fierce trials that life has in store for many
of my classmates, of all that they may do to benefit their country, of
all that their glory will cost them; when I, who have left the army,
think of all this, I feel that, not to be outdone by my old
school-fellows in paying the debt of gratitude that I owe my country, I
ought to toil without ceasing, to spend my nights in study, to treasure
my youth and strength as a means of sustaining my intellectual effort;
that, in order to preach the beauty of goodness, I ought to lead a
blameless life; that I ought to keep alive that glowing affection, a
spark of which I may sometimes communicate to others; to study
children, the people, and the poor, and to write for their benefit; to
let no ignoble word fall from my pen, to sacrifice all my inclinations
to the common welfare, never to lose heart, never to strive for
approval, to hope for nothing and long for nothing but the day on which
I may at last say to myself: I have done what I could, my life has not
been useless, I am satisfied.



X.

And this is the thought that comes to me in closing: I should like to
have before me a lad of seventeen, well-bred and kindly, but ignorant
of the human heart, as we all are at that age; and putting a friendly
hand on his shoulder, I should like to say to him:

"Do you want to make sure of a peaceful and untroubled future? Treat
your friends as considerately as you would a woman, for, believe me,
every harsh word or ill-mannered act (however excusable, however
long-forgotten) will return some day to pain and trouble you. Recalling
my friends after all these years, I remember a quarrel that I had with
one of them, a sharp word exchanged with another, the resolve,
maintained for many months, not to speak to a third. Puerilities, if
you like, and yet how glad I should be not to have to reproach myself
with them! And, though I feel sure that they have made no more
impression upon others than upon myself, how much I wish for an
opportunity of convincing myself of the fact, of dissipating any slight
shadow that may have lingered in the minds of my friends!

"When one's youth is almost past, and one thinks of the years that have
flown so quickly and of those that will fly faster yet, of the little
good one has done and the little there is still time to accomplish, the
pride that set one against one's friends seems so petty, ridiculous and
contemptible a sentiment, that one longs for the power of returning to
the past, of renewing the old discussions in a friendly tone, of
extending a conciliatory hand in place of every angry shrug, of seeking
out the friends one has offended, looking them in the face and saying,
'Shall bygones be bygones, old man?'"



XI.

Dear friends! If only because it was in your company that I first
wandered over my country, how could my thoughts cease to seek you out,
my heart to desire you?

When, from the ship's deck, I saw the gulf of Naples whiten in the
distance, and clasping my hands, laughing and thinking of my mother, I
cried out, It is a dream! - when, from the summit of the Noviziate pass
my gaze for the first time embraced Messina, the straits, the
Appennines and the cape of Spartivento, and I said to myself,
half-sadly, Here Italy ends; - when, from the top of Monte Croce, beyond
the vast plain swarming with German regiments, I first beheld the
towers of Verona, and stretching out my arms, as though fearful of
their vanishing, cried out to them, Wait! - when, from the dike of
Fusina, I saw Venice, far-off, azure, fantastic, and cried with wet
eyes, Heavenly! - when Rome, surrounded by the smoke of our batteries,
first burst upon me from the height of Monterondo, and I shouted, She
is ours! - always, everywhere, one of you was beside me, to seize my arm
and cry out: How beautiful is Italy! - always one of you to mingle your
tears, your laughter and your poetry with mine!

There is not a spot of Italy, not a joyful occurrence, nor profound
emotion, which is not associated in my mind with the clank of a sword
saying, 'I am here!' - and the hand-clasp of one of you, making me pause
and wonder what has become of such an one, what he is doing and
thinking, and whether he too remembers the good days we spent together.

It may fall to my lot to meet, in the future, many faithful, dear and
generous friends, whose smiling images I already picture to myself; but
beyond their throng I shall always see your plumes waving and the
numbers glittering on your caps; I shall always hurry towards you,
crying out: Let us talk of our college days, of our travels, of war, of
soldiers, and of Italy!



XII.

We old classmates will many of us doubtless live to see the twentieth
century. Strange thought! I know, of course, that the transition from
nineteen hundred to nineteen hundred and one will seem as natural as
that from ninety-nine to a hundred, or from this year to next. And yet
it seems to me that to see the first dawn of the new century will be
like reaching the summit of some high mountain, and looking out over
new countries and new horizons. I feel as though, that morning,
something unexpected and marvellous would be revealed to us; as though
there would be a sense almost of terror in finding one's self face to
face with it; a sense of having been hurled, by some unseen power, from
brink to brink of a measureless abyss.

Idle fancies! I know well enough what we shall be like when that time
comes. I see a sitting-room with a fireplace in the corner, or rather
many sitting-rooms with many fireplaces, and many old men seated, chin
in hand, in arm-chairs near the hearth. Near by stands a table with a
lamp on it, surrounded by a circle of children, or of nephews and
nieces, who nudge each other and point to their father or uncle,
whispering, "Hush - he's asleep;" - and laughing at the grotesque
expression that sleep has given to our wrinkled faces.

And then perhaps we shall wake, and the children will surround us,
begging, as usual, for stories of "a long time ago," and asking with
eager curiosity, "Uncle, did you ever see General Garibaldi?" - "Father,
were you ever close to King Victor Emmanuel?" - "Grandpapa, did you ever
hear Count Cavour speak?"

"Why, yes, child, many and many a time!"

"Oh, do tell us, what were they like? Did they look like their
portraits? How did they talk?"

And we shall tell them everything, and gradually, as we talk, our
voices will regain their old vigor, our cheeks will glow, and we shall
watch with delight the brightening of those eager eyes, the proud
uplifting of those innocent brows, and the impatient movement of the
little hands, signing to us, at each pause, to go on with the story.

And what will have befallen the world by that time? Will a Victor
Emmanuel III. rule over Italy? Will the Bersaglieri be at Trent? Will
one of our old friends, attached to the Ministry of the Interior, have
been made Governor of Tunis? Will France have passed through another
series of empires, republics, communes, and monarchies? Will the
threatened invasion of northern barbarians have taken place? Will
England also have received her coup-de-grace? Shall we have
experimented with a Commune? Will our great poet have been born? The
Church have been reformed? Rome rebuilt? Will there be any armies in
those days? And we - what standing shall we have in our village or town?
What shall we have done? How shall we have lived?

Ah, whatever has happened, whatever fate awaits us, if we have worked,
and loved, and believed - then, when we sit at sunset in the big
arm-chair on the terrace, and think of our families, of our friends, of
the mountains, of the carnivals, of the Tyrrhenian islands that we
dreamed of in our college days, we shall be sad, indeed, at the thought
of parting before long from such dear souls and from so beautiful a
country; but our faces will brighten with a smile serene and quiet as
the dawn of a new youth, and tempering the bitterness of farewell with
the tacit pledge of reunion.












1 2 3 4 5 6 8

Online LibraryVariousStories by Foreign Authors: Italian → online text (page 8 of 8)