Unknown.

The library of choice literature : poetry and prose selected from the most admired authors (Volume 4) online

. (page 41 of 75)
Online LibraryUnknownThe library of choice literature : poetry and prose selected from the most admired authors (Volume 4) → online text (page 41 of 75)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


hour on their journey, Tomaso said to his
wife

" It's very hard for people at our time of
life to be turned out of house and home at a
week's notice, isn't it, Pepina?"

"So it is, dear," was the reply; "but still
we ought to be thankful that we have another
good home to go to, when so many poor crea-
tures are wandering about in these hard times
without a roof to shelter them."

" True, wife ; but for all that, it's a hard
thing to have to leave against one's will. I
trust we shall be as happy in our new home as
we were in our last."

"There's little fear of that," said Pepina;
"our happiness will be, in a great measure, in
our own hands. I have no doubt we shall be
as happy in the new house as we have been in
the one we have left."

" It will be no fault of mine if we are not,"
said Tomaso.

" That I know," said his wife. " You have
been a good husband to me for the last fifty
years, and I am sure there is no danger of your
changing now."

" Fifty years ! " said the driver, who, finding
his passengers had so far recovered as to allow
them the use of their tongues, had gradually
slackened his pace, and had fallen back from
the horse's head in a line with Tomaso and
Pepina as they were seated in the cart. "Fifty
years ! Why, you don't mean to say you have
been married so long as that."

"Very nearly," said Pepina; "we want
only five days of it. Next Sunday we shall
have been married fifty years."

" And a very happy time we have had of it,"
said Tomaso. " I should like to live as much
longer. "

" I don't know that we should gain much
by it," said his wife. "At our time of life we
have as many infirmities as we can well bear;
and how many we should have when we had



212



TOMASO AND PEPINA.



lived fifty, or even twenty years more, would
be even terrible to think of. No, old man, we
are better off as we are, unless we could find
somebody to make us young again, and that is
not very likely, I should think."

" I don't know that," said the driver, who
was a native of Lecco. " There is a wonderful
astrologer in our parts, who, they say, can
make people young again. Not that 1 know
any case of the kind ; though, I must say, I
have heard of some extraordinary things he
has done, which no common man could do."

" Where does he live?" inquired Pepina.

" In the slope of the mountains, behind the
horns of Cantu."

" But perhaps," said Pepina, with a pious
shudder, "he may be in league with the Evil
One."

" I know nothing about that," said the
driver in a somewhat careless tone ; ' ' but I
should rather think he is not. I never heard
of him doing any harm to any one, but I have
heard of a good many he has been kind to,
especially the poor."

" That don't look as if there was much wrong
in him," said both husband and wife at the
same time.

Conversation was carried on in this amicable
manner until the cart arrived at Lecco, when
Tomaso and his wife bade adieu to the friendly
driver. Carrying the bundle which contained
their clothes, they proceeded to a small inn,
where they engaged a room for the night, deter-
mining to continue their journey the next day.
In the evening they entered into conversation
with some of the inmates of the house ; and,
by chance, the Innominato and his wonderful
powers were mentioned. Tomaso and his wife
(who had felt greatly interested in the details
given by the driver respecting that singular
individual) listened attentively, and made
many inquiries. The answers they received
had only the effect of greatly increasing their
curiosity. When they retired for the night,
Tomaso said to his wife,

" I wish we could only find out the place
where that astrologer lives. If we could, I
should be much tempted to pay him a visit to-
morrow. "

" For what purpose?" inquired Pepina.

" I should like to know whether he could
make us young again. If he could, it would
go a great way to reconcile me to our removal. "

" I should like it as much as you," said the
old woman. "But if he can do so, I am afraid
he would require more money than we have to
give him."

"That we should know more about when



we saw him," said Tomaso. "Even though
we found that he wanted more than we could
pay, we should be no worse off than we are
now. But from what the driver told us, as
well as what we heard this evening, he is not
likely to be hard upon a poor old couple. I'll
tell you what I will do. To-morrow I will in-
quire if he lives far from here, and, if not, we
will go and see him. It will do us no harm,
even though we come back no better off than
when we went."

"With all my heart," said the old woman.
"I am sure, if we succeed, it would give me as
much pleasure as it would you."

Next morning Tomaso rose at daybreak, and
made many inquiries respecting the astrologer's
abode, and the best method of reaching it.
He found that they could arrive at it in the
course of the day ; so the old couple, after
making a hearty breakfast, Tomaso shouldering
his bundle, started for the castle of the Inno-
minato ["the Wizard of the Mountain"]. It
was late in the afternoon when they reached
the Hospice, where they remained while a ser-
vant took in their message. In a few minutes
he returned and informed them that, if they
would follow him to the castle, his master
would see them immediately. On their arrival
they were ushered into the presence of the
Innominato, whom they found in his study,
engaged in some chemical experiments, assis-
ted by one of his servants. So deeply intent
was he in his work, that it was some minutes
before he was aware of their presence a some-
what fortunate circumstance for them ; for
they were so overwhelmed by the mysterious
aspect of the place, and the imposing appear-
ance of the astrologer, that it is probable
neither would have been able to address him.
But presently the astrologer turned round, and
seeing his two visitors, and the expression of
bewilderment on their countenances, he ad-
dressed them with great kindness of tone and
manner. After requesting them to be seated,
he inquired the purpose of their visit.

"Learned sir," said Tomaso rising from
his seat, and, evidently in great fear, bowing to
the astrologer most obsequiously "we have
heard that you are very kind to poor people,
and that you can perform very wonderful
things, so we have come to ask you to do us
a great favour. At the same time, we hope
you will not be offended at our boldness ; and
we are ready to pay you as much as we can
afford."

" As you say you do not intend to offend
me," said the astrologer, " I will take no
offence. At the same time, understand that I



TOMASO AND PEPINA.



213



accept money from no one. Tell me plainly
and conscientiously what you wish, and I will
oblige you if I can ; for, by aid of my science,
I know you are a worthy old couple."

" Many thanks, Illustrissimo," said Tomaso,
greatly encouraged by his kind reception ; "we
are much obliged to you for your good opinion.
The truth is, we are much attached to each
other, and have lived a very happy life together
for many years. What we want to ask you is,
whether you could make us young again, as
we are now getting very old. We have been
married fifty years come next Sunday."

" I am sorry I have not the power to oblige
you," said the astrologer. "One of you I
could make young again, but not both; that
is far beyond my power. If that will meet
your views, and you can settle between you
which of the two it shall be, I am ready to
oblige you."

For some seconds Tomaso and his wife re-
mained silent, looking at each other in a state
of great perplexity. At last Pepina- said

" I am obliged to your excellency for the
offer, but, for my own part, I decline it. I
should like to be young again if my husband
could be so too ; but I have no wish to change
if he must remain old. Whatever good I may
get I always like to share it with him."

"And I am of the same opinion," said
Tomaso. " I have no wish to be young if she
is to remain old. We will now leave you, sir,
if you cannot make us both young; but, at
the same time, we are much obliged to you for
your condescension in receiving us." So say-
ing, he rose, and taking up his bundle, pre-
pared to depart.

"Stop one moment," said the astrologer.
" I wish to oblige you as far as I can, and I
have another proposition to make, though I
hardly think you will agree to it. I cannot
make you both young my power being limi-
ted but 1 can divide the gift. I can make
one of you young and beautiful in appearance,
but whichever of you it may be, must retain
the grave method of thinking and speaking of
old age. The other must keep the appearance
of age, but shall have the mind arid spirits of
youth gay, buoyant, and enthusiastic. Now
what do you say to my offer? If you are
satisfied with it, you can decide between your-
selves which portion of the gift you would each
like to accept."

Again Tomaso and his wife were silent for
some seconds, both being evidently inclined to
accept the offer of the astrologer.

" I see," he continued, "that you both like
the idea. Before you definitely decide, how-



ever, let me urge you to consider well what
you are about to accept, as very likely you will
both be exposed to the ridicule of your friends
when you return home."

" We are not going to our old home," said
Tomaso, " but to a farm near Menaggio, where
nobody knows us. We have hitherto lived in
the Bresciano."

" That entirely alters the case," said the
astrologer. " But other inconveniences may
possibly arise, therefore think well over the
matter before you decide."

"I have made up my mind, sir," said
Tomaso. " Give me but the spirits of youth,
and I am perfectly content to wear the appear-
ance of old age."

" And what do you say ?" said the astrologer,
addressing Pepina.

The old woman hung her head with an ab-
surd appearance of modesty, but made no
reply.

" If you do not give me an answer," said the
astrologer, " I can do nothing for either."

Still Pepina was silent.

"Then the bargain is dropped," said the
astrologer, turning again to the experiment he
was performing, "and we will say no more
about it."

" I will do just as my husband pleases, sir,"
said Pepina quickly, and evidently alarmed.

" And I wish her to be young and beautiful,"
said Tomaso, "but to remain discreet and
steady, as she now is."

" Very well," said the astrologer, " then we
are all agreed. Go now to the Hospice, where
you can remain for the night. But remember,
you must, without a lamp or any other light,
rise before daybreak and start on your journey.
As the sun rises, you will gradually undergo
the transformation you wish the one in mind
and the other in body. One word more. You
are a good old couple, and in case you should
find that you do not like your altered condition
after you have tried it, I will give you an
opportunity of returning to your present state,
should you desire it. On Sunday next you say
you will have been married fifty years. If at
any time before midnight on Saturday you
should both wish to be restored to your former
condition of life, you can do so ; but remember,
you must be agreed on the subject. Now you
can leave me."

The old couple now quitted the presence of
the Innominate, and descended to the Hospice,
where a good supper had been prepared for
them. After partaking of it they retired to
their room, but not to sleep so fearful and
anxious were they lest the sun might rise be-



214



TOMASO AND PEPINA.



fore they awoke and were able to carry out the
instructions of the astrologer.

It wanted considerably more than an hour of
daybreak when they left the house to commence
their journey. For some time their progress
was trifling, for the night was dark, their eye-
sight dim, and the path somewhat difficult to
keep. After they had proceeded about a mile
from the castle, the old man commenced to
sing, at the top of his cracked voice, a warrior's
song, which drew from Pepina rather a sharp
remark on the folly of his behaviour singing
in such an absurd manner, instead of carefully
looking which way they were going, while
they were on the edge of a precipice. Tomaso,
in obedience to his wife's wishes, stopped his
singing for some minutes, but he soon burst
out again still louder than before, at the same
time using the most ludicrous gesticulations,
as if he saw an enemy before him whom he was
about to attack. Pepina now got fairly angry,
and fractiously told him not to make an old
fool of himself. Tomaso stopped his singing a
second time, and good-naturedly turned round
to say something conciliator}' to his wife, when
a faint ray of the coming dawn passing through
a cleft in the mountains allowed him to gain a
tolerably distinct view of her face. He gazed
at her in silent astonishment, for she now ap-
peared a buxom woman of about fifty years of
age stout, \vell-made, erect, and hearty.
Pepina seemed at a loss to understand her hus-
band's astonishment, and somewhat angrily
inquired what he saw to make him stare at her
in that silly manner.

"See in you?" said Tomaso, almost breath-
less with surprise " see in you? Why, a very
handsome woman. Don't you think that is a
very good excuse for staring at you? I declare
you are twice as plump as you were before we
went to the astrologer."

Pepina now felt her own arms, and then took
as good a look at her person as the faint light
of day would enable her to do. She could
easily perceive that her form was greatly
changed for the better. She. however, ex-
pressed no pleasure at this, but said, in a frac-
tious tone

" It was well worth while, indeed, to spend
the whole of yesterday, wearing the soles off
one's feet, to find out that conjuror, and then
to be made fifty years of age! I suspect he is
only a cheat after all. He promised me I
should become young and beautiful, and he
has made me fifty, if I'm a day. I would just
as soon have kept as I was."

"Come, come, wife," said Tomaso, " don't be
ungrateful. For a person at your time of life



to have twenty years taken off their head in
less than an hour is really a good deal gained."

" My time of life!" said Pepiua, " my time
of life, indeed! Look at your own. I can
walk upright, at any rate, and that's more
than you can do, try as much as you please."

They now entered a narrow valley hung with
high trees, which so completely shut out the
little light as to leave them again in total dark-
ness. Here Pepina, finding that her husband
moved along with great difficulty, offered to
carry the bundle for him, saying that she was
far stronger than he was. Tomaso took this
offer very ill, and he told her he was not a man
to require assistance from her or any other
woman ; and by way of proving his words
hurried on before her, stumbling continually
as he went. His ill-humour, however, soon
vanished, and he again commenced to sing his
warrior's song in the same absurd manner as
before.

The road now opened up, being no longer
overshadowed by trees. The daylight had now
also increased so much that they could see a
considerable distance before them. Tomaso
still continued in front, singing his song, and
taking no notice of his wife, who followed him
silently and sedately.

Again their path lay along the side of a deep
precipice, at the bottom of which rushed a
swollen mountain-stream. Tomaso, on hearing
the noise, looked below for a moment, and
then continued his road, singing as lustily as
ever. He also amused himself by walking at
the extreme edge of the precipice, to Pepina's
intense terror, for he stumbled incessantly, and
appeared much fatigued.

" Come away from that dangerous place, you
silly old man," she said. " Do you wish to
break your neck? Come away, I say, and give
me the bundle, for I see you are so tired you
can hardly get along."

" That is not true," said Tomaso, turning
round; "I was never stronger." Here he
stopped speaking, and looked for some minutes
in speechless astonishment at his wife, who now
appeared a very handsome woman of thirty
years of age. When she had reached him, she
inquired what was the matter, that he had so
suddenly become silent.

" Pepina," he said, " I cannot take my eyes
off you. I never in my life saw a more beau-
tiful woman than you have become. Give me
a kiss."

" Nonsense, j - ou silly old man," was her
reply ; " hold your tongue, and do not make a
fool of yourself. Go on again, and keep away
from the edge of the precipice. "



TOMASO AND PEPINA.



215



But far from obeying her, Tomaso walked
by her side, and attempted to make himself as
agreeable as possible by saying all the sweet
things which came into his head ; to all of
which Pepina lent either a deaf ear, or up-
braided him for his folly. Finding his compli-
ments had no other effect on her than to make
her still more ill-tempered, he determined to
try what singing would do, and immediately
commenced a love-song, which he sang in a
most impressive manner, but in so cracked a
voice that he made himself perfectly ridiculous.
It was not, however, without its effect on
Pepina, who began to cry, and her husband,
mistaking the cause, attempted to give a still
more impassioned and pathetic tone to his
voice, and by so doing made himself more ab-
surd than ever.

Pepina still continuing to cry, her husband
said to her, " Why do you weep, my dear?
Are you unhappy?" evidently thinking at the
moment that she had melted into tears at the
sweetness of his singing.

" Unhappy?" she replied; "how can I be
otherwise, when I see an old man, who ought
to know better, behaving so absurdly ? You
ought to be ashamed, croaking there like an
old raven, and imagining that you are singing.
If you have no respect for yourself, you ought
at least to have a little for your wife's feelings. "

Tomaso turned round to return her a sharp
answer, but she looked so beautiful that he had
not the heart to say anything unkind, and the
pair walked on together for some time in
silence; Tomaso, however, keeping close by
the side of his wife.

Pepina, who had now dried her tears, wished
in her turn to say something agreeable to her
spouse, by way of smoothing away any little
rancour against her that might still remain in
his mind, and asked him in a kind tone
whether he found his rheumatism better.

"My rheumatism!" he replied, tartly;
" when I complain to you of it, you may then
speak to me about it. I am no more rheu-
matic than you are. At the same time, I hope
you don't suffer from your corns this morning
as you did yesterday?"

"My corns, indeed!" said Pepina, with a
toss of her head, and stopping to put out one
of the prettiest little feet that could be seen in
all Lombardy. " I should like to know where
you would find them. But don't let us quarrel
any more : but give me the bundle, for you
must be getting tired, and I am a good deal
stronger than you are."

Tomaso had too much gallantry to allow her
to carry the bundle; and they now continued



amicably enough on their road till they came
to a roadside inn, at which they determined to
stop for breakfast. They seated themselves at
a table near the door, and the landlord soon
spread before Tomaso some bread, cheese, and
wine; his wife contenting herself with a cup
of new milk, some fruit, and bread. When
they had finished their meal, their host entered
into conversation with them by asking how far
they had travelled that morning. Tomaso told
him only a few miles, saying nothing about
his visit to the castle of the Innominato, and
he then asked the landlord if they were far dis-
tant from Bellaggio.

" About four hours' walk," said the landlord,
"Are you going to see any of the gay doings
which are going on there?"

" I did not know that there were any," said
Tomaso, delighted at the idea, while Pepina
appeared to receive the news with perfect in-
difference. "What sort of gay doings are
they?"

"Oh! there are a number of soldiers there,
and very handsome young fellows they are ; and
they have excellent music."

" How fortunate! " said Tomaso.

"All the pretty girls for miles round are
gathering there," continued the landlord;
' ' and the soldiers, who are very gallant, dance
with them every evening."

Tomaso's expression of countenance fell con-
siderably at this information.

"If you are going to stop there any time,
you had better take care," said the landlord,
laughing, "or one of them will be running
away with your pretty grand-daughter, as L
suppose she is."

" You have made a very great mistake, my
friend," said Tomaso, angrily. "She is my
wife. "

The landlord had so much difficulty in re-
straining his laughter at this information, that
Tomaso noticed it, and was upon the point of
saying something uncivil, when Pepina, fear-
ing there might be an altercation, put in that
they only intended stopping the night at Bel-
laggio, and then crossing over to the other side
of the lake next morning.

" I think you would do wisely, old gentle-
man, if you kept to that resolution," said the
landlord ; " for, otherwise, I can assure you
your pretty wife will have a great many
admirers."

Tomaso was exceedingly displeased at the
landlord's remark, and answered him very
sharply. Even Pepina told him that he ought
not to talk such nonsense, and that there was
no one handsomer in her eyes than her husband;



TOMASO AND PEPINA.



at which the landlord burst into a very loud
and rude laugh. Tomaso now got thoroughly
into a passion, and after abusing the landlord
soundly, he threw their reckoning on the table,
and, snatching up his bundle, he and Pepina
started on their journey again.

For some time they walked on silently to-
gether ; Tomaso evidently sulky, though he
said nothing. The truth was, he felt annoyed
at the indifference Pepina showed to the land-
lord's remarks when he spoke of her beauty ;
and he seemed to think that she ought to have
considered them as an insult, and shown pro-
per and becoming spirit on the occasion. He
then began to conjure up in his mind the pos-
sibility of her wishing to dance with the hand-
some young soldiers at Bellaggio. In all this,
however, he did his wife a great injustice.
The fact was, she ca'red nothing for gaieties of
the kind. Her feelings were those of advanced
age, she having, of course, undergone no men-
tal change when she became beautiful ; and al-
though she might not have been, at the moment,
angry when the landlord paid her the compli-
ments (what woman would have been?), they
had scarcely been uttered than they were for-
gotten, and her mind had reverted to the
domestic duties she would have to perform at
the new house, and what sort of a dwelling it
Would prove.

When they had arrived within two or three
miles of Bellaggio, Tomaso, who had remained
sullen and uneasy during the whole of the after-
noon, suddenly complained of fatigue, and pro-
posed to stay the night at a poor-looking little
inn, instead of going further on. Pepina, how-
ever, not liking the appearance of the place,
advised that they should continue their jour-
ney ; whereupon Tomaso got into a great pas-
sion, and accused her of wishing to mix in the
gaieties of Bellaggio, when nothing could have
been further from the poor woman's thoughts.
Her idea was simply that they would be able
to find a more comfortable bed at Bellaggio
than at the house where her husband proposed
to remain. After they had passed the little
inn a few hundred yards, Tbmaso positively
refused to go further, and Pepina, getting
angry in her turn, was determined to go on ;
and her husband, telling her that she should,
in that case, do it by herself, returned alone
and inquired of the landlord whether he could
give him a beu, and received in reply that he
had not an unoccupied room in the house, it
being full of soldiers who had been quartered
on him.

On hearing this, Tomaso immediately left
and hurried on after his wife. When they had



arrived within two miles of their destination^
they seated themselves on a bank by the side
of the path, as they both began to feel fatigued
by the unusual amount of exertion they had
undergone. Presently they heard a noise in a
thick clump of shrubs before them, as if some
one was, with difficulty, making a way through,
and a moment afterwards a young .soldier made
his appearance. He was remarkably hand-
some, and his fine figure appeared to still
greater advantage from the attractive style of
his uniform. His features were regular, and
though he was somewhat sunburnt, this in no
way detracted from his martial look ; but his



Online LibraryUnknownThe library of choice literature : poetry and prose selected from the most admired authors (Volume 4) → online text (page 41 of 75)