By Thomas Adolphus Trollope
BOOK I Ash Wednesday Morning CHAPTER I The Last Night of Carnival II Apollo Vindex III St. Apollinare in Classe IV Father Fabiano V "The Hours passed, and still she came not" VI Gigia's Opinion VII An Attorney-at-Law in the Papal States VIII Lost in the Forest IX "Passa la bella Donna e par che dorma"
BOOK II Four Mmonth Before That Ash Wednesday Morning CHAPTER I How the Good News came to Ravenna II The Marchese Lamberto di Castelmare III The Impresario's Report IV Paolina Foscarelli V Rivalry VI The Beginning of Trouble VII The Teaching of a Great Love VIII A Change in the Situation IX Uncle and Nephew X The Coutessa Violante XI The Cardinal's Reception, and the Marchese's Ball XII The Arrival of the "Diva"
BOOK III "Sirenum Pocula" CHAPTER I "Diva Potens" II An Adopted Father and an Adopted Daughter III "Armed at All Points" IV Throwing the Line V After-thoughts VI At the Circolo VII Extremes Meet VIII The Diva shows her Cards IX One Struggle more
BOOR IV The Last Days of the Carnival
CHAPTER I In the Cardinal's Chapel II The Corso III "La Sonnambula" IV The Marchese Lamberto's Correspondence V Bianca at Home VI Paolina at Home VII Two Interviews VIII A Carnival Reception IX Paolina's Return to the City
BOOK V Who Did The Deed? CHAPTER I At the City Gate II Suspicion III Guilty or Not Guilty? IV The Marchese hears the Ill News V Doubts and Possibilities VI At the Circolo again VII A Prison Visit VIII Signor Giovacchino Fortini at Home IX The Post-Mortem Examination X Public Opinion XI In Father Fabiano's Cell XII The Case against Paolina
BOOK VI Poena Pede Claudo CHAPTER I Signor Fortini receives the Signora Steno in his Studio II Was it Paolina after all? III Could it have been the Aged Friar? IV What Ravenna thought of it V "Miserrimus" VI The Trial VII The Friar's Testimony VIII The Truth! IX Conclusion
By Thomas Adolphus Trollope
Ash Wednesday Morning
The Last Night of Carnival
It was Carnival time in the ancient and once imperial, but now provincial and remote, city of Ravenna. It was Carnival time, and the very acme and high-tide of that season of mirth and revel. For the theory of Carnival observance is, that the life of it, unlike that of most other things and beings, is intensified with a constantly crescendo movement up to the last minutes of its existence. And there now remained but an hour before midnight on the Tuesday preceding the first day of Lent, Ash Wednesday—Dies Cinerum!—that sad and sober morrow which has brought with it "sermons and soda-water" to so many generations of revellers.
Of course Carnival, according to the Calendar and Time's hour-glass, is over at twelve o'clock on the night of Shrove Tuesday. Generally, however, in the pleasure-loving cities of Italy, a few hours' law are allowed or winked at. The revellers are not supposed to become aware that it is past midnight till about three or four in the morning.
Very generally the wind-up of the season of fun and frolic consists of what is called a "Veglione," or "great making a night of it," which means a masked ball at the theatre. And the great central chandelier does not begin to descend into the body of the house, to have its lights flapped out by the handkerchiefs of the revellers amid a last frantic rondo, till some four hours after midnight. But in provincial Ravenna, a Pope's city under the rule of a Cardinal Legate, there is—or was in the days when the Pope held sway there— no Veglione. Its place was supplied, as far as "the society" of the city was concerned, by a ball at the "Circolo dei Nobili."
It was not, therefore, till four o'clock in the morning, or perhaps even a little later, that the lights would be extinguished on the night in question at the "Circolo dei Nobili," and Carnival would, in truth, be over, and the tired holiday-makers would go home to their beds.
A few hours more remained, and the revelry was at its height, and the dancers danced as knowing that their minutes were numbered.
There had been a ball on the previous night at the Palazzo of the Marchese Lamberto di Castelmare. But the scene at the Circolo was a much more brilliant, animated, and varied one than that of the night before at the Castelmare palace. The Marchese Lamberto was the wealthiest noble in Ravenna, and—putting aside his friend the Cardinal Legate—was, in many other respects, the first and foremost man of the city. He was a bachelor of some fifty years old. And bachelors' houses and bachelors' balls have the reputation of enjoying the privilege of a somewhat freer and more unreserved gaiety and jollity than those of their neighbours more heavily weighted with the cares and responsibilities of life. But such was not the case at the Palazzo Castelmare. Presided over on such occasions as that of the great annual Carnival ball by a widowed sister-in-law of the Marchese, the Castelmare palace was the most decorous and respectable house, as its master was the most decorous and respectable man, in Ravenna.
Not that it was a dull house. The Marchese Lamberto, though a grave and dignified personage in the eyes of the "jeunesse doree" of Ravenna, was looked up to as one of the best loved, as well as most respected, men in the city. And there was not a member of the "society" who would not have been sadly hurt at not being invited to the great annual Carnival ball at the Castelmare palace. But the same degree of laissez aller jollity would not have been "de mise" there as was permissible at the Circolo. The fun was not so fast and furious as it was wont to be at the club of the nobles on the last night of Carnival.
The whole society were at the latter gathering. All the nobles of Ravenna were the hosts. and everybody was there solely and entirely to amuse and enjoy themselves. Host and guests, indeed, were almost identical. There were but few persons present, and those strangers to the town, who did not belong to their own class.
To the Marchese, on the previous night, most of the company had contented themselves with going in "domino." At the Circolo ball a very large proportion of the dancers were in costume. The Conte Leandro Lombardoni,—lady-killer, Don Juan, and poet, whose fortunes and misfortunes in these characters had made him the butt of the entire society, and had perhaps contributed, together with his well- known extraordinarily pronounced propensity for cramming himself with pastry, to give him the pale, puffed, pasty face, swelling around a pair of pale fish-like eyes, that distinguished him,—the Conte Leandro Lombardoni; indeed, had gone to the Castelmare palace as "Apollo," in a costume which young Ludovico Castelmare, the Marchese Lamberto's nephew, would insist on mistaking for that of Aesop; and had now, according to a programme perfectly well known previously throughout the city, come to the Circolo as "Dante." The Tuscan "lucco," or long flowing gown, had at least the advantage of concealing from the public eye much that the Apollo costume had injudiciously exhibited.
Ludovico Castelmare had adopted the costume of a Venetian noble of the sixteenth century; and very strikingly handsome he looked in that most picturesque of all dresses. The Marchese Lamberto was at the ball, of course, but not in costume. Perhaps the most striking figure in the rooms, however, was one of those few persons who have been mentioned as present, but not belonging to Ravenna, or to the class of its nobles. This was a lady, well known at that day throughout Italy as Bianca Lalli—"La Lalli," or "La Bianca," in theatrical parlance—for she was one of the first singers of the day. Special circumstances—to be explained at a future page—had rendered it possible for remote little Ravenna to secure the celebrated artist for the Carnival, which was now expiring. The Marchese Lamberto, who, among many other avocations and occupations, all of them contributing in some way or other to the welfare and advantage of his native city, was a great lover and connoisseur of music, and patron of the theatre, had been mainly instrumental in bringing La Lalli to Ravenna. The engagement had been a most successful one. The "Diva Bianca" had sung through the Carnival, charming all ears and hearts in Ravenna with her voice, and all eyes with her very remarkable and fascinating beauty. And now, on this last night of the festive season, she was the cynosure of all eyes at the ball.
Bianca had, as it so happened, also chosen a Venetian costume of the same period as that of Ludovico—about the middle of the sixteenth century. In truth, it was mere chance that had led to this similarity. And neither of them, as it happened, had mentioned to the other the dress they intended to wear. Bianca, in fact, used as she was to wear costumes of all sorts, and to outshine all beauties near her in all or any of them, had thought nothing about her dress, till the evening before; and then had consulted the Marchese Lamberto on the subject: but had been so much occupied with him during nearly the whole of that evening at his ball, that she had not said a word about it to any one else.
It could not but seem, however, to everybody that the Marchese Ludovico and La Lalli had agreed together to represent a pair belonging to the most gorgeous and picturesque days of Venetian history. And a most magnificently handsome pair they made. Bianca's dress, or at least the general appearance and effect of it, will readily be imagined by those acquainted with the full-length portraits of Titian or Tintoretto. A more strictly "proper" costume no lady could wish to wear. And the jeunesse doree of Ravenna, who had thought it likely that the Diva would appear as some light- skirted Flora, or high-kirtled Diana, were altogether disappointed.
But there was much joking and raillery about the evident and notable pair-ship of Ludovico and Bianca; and it came to pass that, almost without any special intention on their own part, they were thrown much together, and danced together frequently. And this, under the circumstances, was still more the case than it would have otherwise been, in consequence of the Marchese Lamberto not dancing. It was a long time since he had done so. There were many men dancing less fitted than he, as far as appearance and capability, and even as far as years went, to join in such amusements. Nevertheless, all Ravenna would have been almost as much surprised to see the Marchese Lamberto dressed in mumming costume, and making one among Carnival revellers, as to see the Cardinal himself doing the same things. He had made for himself a social position, and a life so much apart from any such levities, that his participation in them would have seemed a monstrosity.
It may be doubted, however, whether on this occasion, at least, the dignified Marchese was satisfied with the position he had thus made for himself. It would have been too absurd and remarkable for La Bianca to have abstained from dancing and attached herself to him in the ball-room, instead of consorting with the younger folks. Of course that was entirely out of the question. But none the less for that was the evening a time of cruel suffering and martyrdom to the Marchese. Of course he believed that the adoption of so singularly similar a costume by Bianca and his nephew was the result of pre- arranged agreement. And the thought, and all that his embittered fancy built upon the thought, were making everything around him, and all the prospect of his life before him, utterly intolerable to him.
Ludovico and Bianca had been dancing together for the third time—a waltz fast and furious, which they had kept up almost incessantly till the music had ceased. Heated and breathless, he led her out of the ball-room to get some refreshment. There was a large supper-room which, on the cessation of the waltz, immediately became crowded by other couples bent on a similar errand. But there had also been established a little subsidiary buffet in a small cabinet at the furthest end of the suite of rooms, for the purpose of drawing off some of the crowd from the main supper-room. And thither Ludovico led Bianca, thinking to avoid the crush of people rushing in to the larger room.
The young Marchese—the "Marchesino," as he was often called, to distinguish him from his uncle, the Marchese Lamberto—was one of the small committee of the Circolo, who had had the management of all the arrangements for the ball; and was, accordingly, well aware of the whereabouts of this little "succursale" to the supper-room. But it is probable that the existence of it was unknown to the great majority of the company. At all events, so it happened, that when Ludovico and Bianca reached it, it was wholly untenanted, save by Dante, in his long red gown, solitarily occupied in cramming himself with pastry.
"What, Dante in exile!" cried Ludovico. "Pray, Sir Poet, which bolgia was set apart for those who are lost by the 'peccato della gola?' or is a bilious fit in the more immediate future bolgia fearful enough?"
"It is not so bad a bolgia as that appointed some other sins," said the Conte Leandro, with mouth stuffed with cake, as he moved out of room.
"What an animal it is!" said Ludovico, laughing, as he gave Bianca a glass of champagne, and filled another for himself.
"Take some of this woodcock pie, Signora Bianca? You must be starved by this time; and I can recommend it."
"How so? You have not tasted it yourself yet."
"No; but I am going to do so. And my recommendation is based on my knowledge of the qualities of our woodcocks. They are the finest in the world. The marshes in the neighbourhood of the Pineta breed them in immense quantities."
"Oh, I have heard so much of the Pineta. They say it is so lovely."
"The most beautiful forest in the world. And this is just the time when it is in its greatest beauty,—the early spring, when the wild flowers are all beginning to blossom, and the birds are all singing. There is nothing like our Pineta!"
"I should so like to see it. It does seem really a shame to leave Ravenna without ever having seen the Pineta."
"Oh, you must not dream of doing so. You must make a little excursion one of these fine spring days. It is just the time for it. Some morning, the earlier the better. But I dare say your habits are not very matutinal, Signora?"
"Well, not very, for the most part. But I would willingly make them matutinal for such a purpose at any time. How far is it?"
"Oh, a mere nothing—at the city gates almost a couple of miles, perhaps. You may go out by the Porta Nuova, at the end of the Corso, and so to that part of the forest which lies to the southward of the city; or by the northern road, which very soon enters the wood on that side. Perhaps the finest part of the Pineta is that to the southwards. Of all places in the world it is the spot for a colazione al fresco."
"I should so like it. I have heard of the Pineta di Ravenna all my life."
"What do you say to going this very morning?" said Ludovico, after thinking for a minute. "There is no time like the present. It will be a charming finish to our Carnival—new and original, too! Do you feel as if you had go enough left for it?"
"Oh, as for that," said Bianca, laughing with lips and eyes, "I am up to anything. I should like it of all things. But—"
"Ah! what a terrible word that 'but' is. But what?" said Ludovico, who had no sooner conceived the idea than he became eager to put it into execution. "But what?"
"But—a great many things. Unhappily, there is no word comes oftener into one's life than that odious 'but.' But who is to go with me? I cannot go all alone by myself?"
"Oh, that's no but at all. Of course, Signora, I did not propose such an expedition to you without proposing to myself the honour of accompanying you," said Ludovico with a profound bow.
"What a scappata! I should like it of all things. But—there it comes again! 'But' the second; will not the good people say all sorts of ill-natured and absurd things?"
"Not a bit of it—in my case, Signora. Everybody knows that we have been very good friends; and that I have not been coxcomb enough to have ever hoped to be aught more to you, having been protected, as they all know, from such danger in the only way in which a man could possibly be protected from it," said Ludovico, bowing again.
"Dear me! What way is that? It might be so useful to know. Would it be equally applicable to a lady, I wonder?" said Bianca, looking at him half laughingly, half-poutingly, with her head on one side. "Oh yes! perfectly applicable in all cases, Signora. It is only to have no heart to lose, having lost it already," returned he.
"Oh, come! This is a confidence dans les regles! And in return for it, Signor Ludovico, do you know—speaking in all seriousness—that- -if we really do put this wild scheme into execution—I have a confidence to give you, and may take that opportunity of making it— a confidence, not which may or may not be made, like yours, but which I ought to make to you, the necessity of making which furnishes, to say the truth, a very plausible reason for our projected tete-a-tete."
"Davvero, Signora! Better and better; I shall be charmed to receive such a mark of your friendship," said Ludovico, thinking and caring little on what subject it might be that the Diva purposed speaking to him: "and then, the fact is," he continued, "that to-morrow morning will be the best morning for the purpose of all the days of the year. For we shall be quite sure that every soul here will be in bed and asleep. On the first morning in Lent one is tolerably safe not to fall in with early risers. Our little trip, you may be very sure, will never be heard of by anybody, unless we choose to tell of it ourselves."
"And I am sure that I do not see why we should not," said Bianca.
"I see no reason against telling all the town, for my part," rejoined Ludovico; "afterwards though—you understand; and not beforehand, or our little escapade would be spoilt by some blockhead or other insisting on joining us. Our friend Leandro there, for instance; think of it!"
"The idea is a nightmare! No; we will not say a word till afterwards. 'Tis the most charming notion for a finale to a Carnival that ever was conceived. I make you my compliments on it, Signor Ludovico."
"So, then, all the 'buts' have been butted and rebutted?" said he.
"Well, I suppose so,"—by the help of a strong desire to yield to the temptation of so pleasant a scheme, the way 'buts' generally are answered. "But we cannot go on the expedition as we are, I suppose?" said she.
"I don't see why not. I dare say the old pines have seen similar figures beneath them before now. But you would not be comfortable without changing your dress, and the mornings are still sharp. This is how it must be. I will slip away before long, and make all preparation necessary. I will get a bagarino and a pony—not from the Castelmare stables, you understand, but from a man I know and can trust—and I will come with it to the door of your lodging at six o'clock. You will stay at the ball till the end. Everybody will go by four o'clock, or soon after. That will give you plenty of time to change your dress. By six o'clock every soul in Ravenna will be fast asleep. We shall drive to a little farm-house I know on the border of the forest, leave our bagarino there, and have our stroll under the trees just as long and as far as is agreeable to you. Won't that do?"
"Perfect! I shall enjoy it amazingly. I will be sure to be ready when you come at six o'clock."
"I will be there at six or thereabouts. Now we will go back to the ball-room; but don't dance till you have not a leg left to stand on. We must have a good long stroll in the Pineta."
"Lascia fare a me! I dare say I shan't dance another dance—unless, indeed, we have one more turn together before you go. Is there time?"
"Oh yes, for that plenty of time. If you are not afraid of tiring yourself, one more last dance by all means."
So giving her his arm, the Marchesino led his beautiful and fascinating companion back to the ballroom, where the music was again making the most of the time with another waltz.
The Conte Leandro Lombardoni had not passed a pleasant Carnival. Reconciled, as he had recently professed himself to be—after some one of the frequent misfortunes that happened to his intercourse with them—with the fair sex, he had begun his Carnival by attempting to make his merit acceptable in the eyes of La Lalli; and had failed to obtain any recognition from her, even as a poet, to say nothing of his pretensions as a Don Juan. To a certain limited degree, it had been forced upon his perception, that he had been making an ass of himself; and the appreciation of that fact by the other young men among whom he lived had been indicated with that coarse brutality, as the poet said to himself, which was the outcome of minds not "softened by the study of the ingenuous arts," as his own was. He had been consistently snubbed and flouted, he and his poetry, and his love-making, and his carefully prepared Carnival costumes.
The result was, that at the ball on that last night of the Carnival, the Conte Leandro was not in charity with all men, and, indeed, hardly with any man. He was feeling very sore, and would fain have avenged his pain by making any one else feel equally sore, if he had it in his power to do so.
He was especially angry with Ludovico di Castelmare. Had he not chaffed him unmercifully about the verses he had sent to La Bianca? Was it not, to all appearance, due to him that the Diva had never condescended to cast a glance on either him or his poetry? Had he not called him Aesop, when it was plain to all the world that he represented Apollo? And now this night, again, he had taken the opportunity of turning him into ridicule in the presence of La Bianca; and he and she had spoken of the possibility of their being troubled with his company as of a nightmare. For the painful fact was that their uncomplimentary expressions had been heard by the poet; who, when he had left Ludovico and Bianca in the little supper-room together, had retreated no further than just to the other side of a curtain, which hung, Italian fashion, by the side of the open door. Finding that there was nobody there—for the little buffet was at the end of the entire suite of rooms, and all those who were not either in the ball-room, or in the card-room, were at that moment in the principal supper-room—it had seemed well to the Conte Leandro, in his dudgeon and spite against all the world, to ensconce himself quietly behind the curtain, and hear what use Ludovico and Bianca would make of their tete-a-tete.
The first advantage he obtained was to hear himself spoken of as a nightmare; and that naturally: prompted him to prick up his ears to hear more. But when he had thus learned the whole secret of the projected expedition, it struck him, as well worth considering, whether there might not be found in this the means of making his tormentor pay him for some of the annoyances he had suffered at his hands.
So! the Marchese Ludovico, who ought to be paying his addresses to the Contessa Violante in the sight of all Ravenna—the Contessa Violante Marliani was great niece of the Cardinal Legate, between whom and the Marchese Ludovico their respective families had projected an alliance—was, instead of that, going off on a partie fine with the notorious Bianca Lalli! A tete-a-tete in the Pineta! Mighty fine, indeed! So sure, too, that nobody in the world would find them out on Ash Wednesday morning! And he is to be at her door at six o'clock in the morning! Very good! Capitally well arranged— were it not that Leandro Lombardoni may perhaps think fit to put a spoke in the wheel.
A little further consideration of the manner in which such spoke might be most effectually supplied, decided the angry and malicious poet—(poets, like women, will become malicious when scorned)—to seek out the Marchese Lamberto, whom he thought he should probably find in the card-room. For though the Marchese was no great card- player, and never touched a card in his own house, he was wont, at the Circolo, on such occasions as the present, to cast in his lot with those who so consoled themselves for the years that made the ball-room no longer their proper territory.
But the Conte Leandro did not find the Marchese among the card- players.
The events of the evening had already thrown him back again into a very miserable state of mind, from which the Marchese had been suffering such torments as the jealous only know, during all the latter half of the Carnival. It was strange that such a man as the Marchese Lamberto—it would have seemed passing strange to any of those his fellow-citizens who had known him, thoroughly as they supposed, all his life; very strange that such a man, so calm, so judicious, so little liable to the gusts of passion of any sort; a man, the even tenor of whose well-regulated life had ever been such as to expose him rather to the charge of almost apathetic placidity of temper, should thus suddenly, in the full meridian time of his mature years, become subject to such violent oscillations of passion; to such buffetings by storms, blowing now from one and now from the opposite quarter of the sky. But no length of prosperous navigation in the quiet waters of a land-locked harbour will give evidence of the vessel's fitness to encounter the storms and the waves of the open sea. The storm-wind of a strong passion had, all at once for the first time, blown in upon the sheltered harbour in which that placid life had been led.
And yet that storm-wind did not produce the same effect, as it would have produced, and is seen to produce every day on the strong, wide- spread canvas of some young navigator on the ocean of life, putting out into the open waters at the time when such storms are frequent. Every day we see such craft scudding with all sails spread before the blast without attempt at reefing or tacking. Right ahead they drive before the wind with no doubtful course. But it was not and could not be so in the case of the Marchese Lamberto. The whole habits of a life—the ways, notions, hopes, desires, ambitions, that time had made into a part of the nature of the man; the passions, which though calm and unviolent in their nature, had become strong, not by forcible energy, but by the deep and unconscious sinking of their roots into the depths of his character—all these things opposed a resistance to the new and suddenly-loosed passion-wind, such as that which the deep-rooted oak opposes to the tempest with no result of conquering it, only with the result of causing its own leaves and branches to be buffeted to and fro, torn, broken, and wrecked.
Thus it was that the unhappy Marchese was violently driven to and fro from hour to hour between the extremities of love and hate, till his brain reeled in the terrible conflict; and alternate attraction and repulsion bandied his soul backwards and forwards between them.
A ball-room is not a pleasant exercise-ground for a jealous man who does not dance. No "bolgia" of the hell invented by the sombre imagination of the great poet could have surpassed, in torment, the Circolo ball-room on that last Carnival night to the Marchese Lamberto.
The sight of the sorceress who had bewitched him, as he watched her in the dance, had once again scattered to the winds all resolution, all hope of the possibility of escaping from the toils. What was all else that he desired to be put in comparison with that raging, craving desire that he felt and sickened with for her? That was what he really wanted—what he must have or die. It was madness to see her, as he saw her then, in the arms of other men, laughing, sparkling, brilliant with animation and enjoyment. Worst hell of all to see her thus with his nephew, her admiration for whom she had frankly confessed; whose ways with women he knew, and whose intimacy with Bianca had already become suspicious to him.
Yet not the less did he stand and gaze, as they danced together, clearly the handsomest and best-matched couple in the room—matched so admirably evidently by design and forethought.
He had seen Ludovico and Bianca leave the ball-room, after the last dance, together with the crowd of most of those who had been joining in it, and had begun fluttering, poor moth, after the irresistible attraction, to follow them towards the supper-room. Missing sight of them in the throng for a minute, he had followed on to the principal supper-room, and not finding them there (for the reason the reader wots of) had returned on his steps, and was sitting on the end of a divan, by the door of the next room to the ball-room, through which all had to pass who wished to go thence to the supper-room. There were people passing through the centre of the room from door to door; but there was no other, save the Marchese, sitting down in it.
There the Conte Leandro found him, and came and sat down by his side; much, at first, to the Marchese's annoyance.
"What! you not in the supper-room, Signor Leandro. I thought your place was always there?" said the Marchese.
"I'm no greater a supper-eater than another; let them say what they please. But I have just been getting a glass of wine and a biscuit in the little supper-room at the further end there."
"What, are there two supper-rooms? I did not know that!"
"Only a buffet in the little room at the end, where the papers generally are. It was mainly Ludovico's doing,—in order to have less crowd in the supper-room,—and perhaps to have a quiet place for a tete-a-tete supper himself. Oh! I knew better than not to clear out, when he and La Diva Bianca came in; specially as there was nobody else there. Faith! I left them there alone together."
"Oh! that's where he is supping, then?" said the Marchese, in the most unconcerned tone he could manage.
"Yes; supping,—or enjoying himself in some other way, quite as delightful. The fact is, Signor Marchese," continued the poet, in a lowered voice, and rapidly glancing around to see that there were no ears within such a distance as to overhear his words,—"the fact is, that I am afraid Signor Ludovico is less cautious than it would be well for him to be, circumstanced as he is! I am sure I did not want to listen to what he and the Lalli were saying to each other. It is nothing to me. But they spoke with such little precaution, that I could not help overhearing what they said; and what do you think Ludovico is up to now?"
"How should I know!" said the Marchese, with the tips of his pale lips; for he was grinding his teeth together to prevent them from chattering in his head.
"He is off at six o'clock to-morrow morning tete-a-tete with La Bianca, on an excursion to the Pineta. Coming it strong, isn't it?"
"To-morrow morning!" said the Marchese under his breath, and with difficulty; for his blood seemed suddenly to rush back cold to his heart, and he was shivering all over.
"Niente meno! I heard them arrange it all. He is to slip away from the ball presently, in order to make all needful preparations, and to be at her door with a bagarino at six o'clock in the morning. Doing the thing nicely, isn't it?"
For a minute or two the Marchese was utterly unable to answer him a word. His head swam round. He felt sick. A cold perspiration broke out all over him; and he feared that he should have fallen from his seat.
"He is a great fool for his pains," he said at last, mastering himself by a great effort, sufficiently to enable himself to utter the words in an ordinary voice and manner.
"Well, it seemed to me a mad scheme, considering all things. And the truth is, that I thought your lordship would very likely think it well to put a stop to it. And that is why I have bored your lordship by mentioning it to you."
"At six o'clock, you say?" asked the Marchese.
"Yes; that was the hour they fixed. Then he is to drive her to a farm-house on the border of the forest, leave the bagarino there, and go into the wood for a stroll. Not a bad idea for a wind-up of the Carnival, upon my word!"
"I think you have done very wisely and kindly in telling me this, Signor Conte," said the Marchese, in as quiet tones as he could command; "and if you will complete your kindness by saying no word of it to anybody else, I shall esteem myself much obliged to you."
"Oh! for that you may depend on me, Signor Marchese. I should never have thought of mentioning it to you, but for thinking that it would be a real kindness to Ludovico to put a stop to it."
"Thanks, Signor Conte. A rivederla!" said the Marchese, rising.
"Felicissima notte, Signor Marchese," returned Leandro, rising also, and bowing to his companion.
St. Apollinare in Classe
The Marchese remained at the ball to see one more dance between Ludovico and Bianca after their supper; and then left the rooms. There was nothing at all to cause remark in his thus retiring before the evening. He never danced;—he happened not to be playing cards on that evening. It was quite natural that such a man should prefer going home to bed to remaining with the jeunes gens till the break- up of the ball.
How he enjoyed that last dance, which he stayed to see, the reader may perhaps imagine. Standing by a chimney-piece, on one corner of which he rested his elbow, he in great measure shaded his face with his hand, yet not so as to prevent him from seeing every movement of the persons, and every expression of the faces of the couple he was watching. There was a raging hell in his heart. And yet he stood there, and gazed eagerly, greedily one would have said. And every minute, and every movement blasted his eyes and stabbed his heart, and poured poison into his veins.
When the dance was over he did not move for some time; for he doubted his power to hold himself upright and walk steadily. Presently, however, when Ludovico and Bianca had again quitted the ball-room together, he gathered himself up, and moved slowly away, shaking in every limb, pale, fever-lipped, and haggard.
The man who gave him his cloak in the ante-room remarked to another servant, as soon as he was gone, that he would bet that the Marchese Lamberto would not be at the next Carnival ball.
At six o'clock, with wonderful punctuality for an Italian, Ludovico, with a neat little bagarino and fast-trotting pony, was at the door of the Diva's lodging. But Bianca was not ready. Her maid came down to the door with all sorts of apologies, and assurances that her mistress would be ready in a few minutes. The few minutes, however, became half an hour, as minutes will under such circumstances. And the result of this delay was that Ludovico and his companion were not the first travellers out of the Porta Nuova that morning.
During the whole of the past Carnival and the latter months of the previous year there had been living in Ravenna a young girl,—an artist from Venice, who had come to Ravenna with a commission given her by a travelling Englishman to make copies of some of the more remarkable of the very extraordinary and unique series of mosaics which exist in the old imperial city. She had brought with her a letter of introduction from her employer to the Marchese Lamberto,— a circumstance which had led to a degree of intimacy between the Marchesino Ludovico and the extremely attractive young artist, which threatened to stand more or less in the way of the match which had been arranged by the high-contracting parties between Ludovico and the Lady Violante, the great niece of the Cardinal. The girl's name was Paolina Foscarelli.
It is probable that in due time and season the reader may become better acquainted with Paolina. But at present there is no need of troubling him with more particulars respecting her than the above, save to mention that, having industriously and successfully completed the greater portion of her task in the churches within the city, she had determined to make her first visit to the strange old Basilica of St. Apollinare in Classe, on that same Ash Wednesday morning. She did not purpose beginning her task there on that day; but intended merely to reconnoitre the ground, look to the needful preparations that had been made for her work, and ascertain how far the spot was within her powers of walking.
Paolina, too, had felt that the morning of Ash Wednesday was a favourable time for the first experiment of an undertaking that a little alarmed her. For she also had calculated that on such a morning she should be little likely to meet anybody. It was just about six o'clock when Paolina started on her proposed walk; and she passed through the Porta Nuova, therefore, a little more than half- an-hour before Ludovico and his companion passed, travelling in the same direction.
The road, which it was necessary for her to follow in order to reach St. Apollinare in Classe, is the same for the whole of the distance between the city and the ancient church as that which Ludovico and Bianca would follow to reach the celebrated pine forest. The soil on which the forest stands is composed of the accumulation of sand which the rivers—mainly the Po—have brought from distant mountains, and deposited in the bed of the Adriatic since the old church was built "in Classe,"—where the fleet once used to be moored. The building thus stands nearly at the edge of the forest, hardly more than a stone's throw from the furthest advanced sentinels of the wood. The road coming out from the city by the Porta Nuova, on its way to the little town of Cervia, a few miles to the southward, traverses ground once thickly covered with palaces, streets, and churches, now open fields,—and passes by the western front and doorway of the almost deserted old Basilica, a little before it reaches the turning off towards the left, which enters the forest.
The walk before Paolina, when she had passed the city gate, was about two miles or rather more. So that had La Bianca taken a few less minutes to put the finishing touches to the charming morning toilette which replaced the gorgeous Venetian costume she had taken off, the bagarino which carried her and Ludovico would infallibly have overtaken the young artist. As it was, however, having more than half-an-hour's start of it, she reached the church before they came within sight of it.
Little Paolina had felt rather nervous when first stepping into the cool fresh morning air from the door of the lodging she occupied. But the street was utterly empty, and she took courage. The first human beings she saw on her way were the octroi officers at the gate. They sat apparently half asleep at the doorway of their den, by the side of the city gate, wrapped in huge cloaks; and took not even so much heed of her as to say "Good morning."
The long bit of straight flat road outside the gate was equally deserted; and Paolina, braced by the morning air, stepped out vigorously, and began to enjoy her walk.
There is little enough, however, in the country through which she was passing to delight the eye. The fields in the immediate neighbourhood of the city are cultivated, and not devoid of trees. But the cheerfulness thence arising does not last long. Very soon the trees cease, and there are no more hedge-rows. Large flat fields, imperfectly covered with coarse rank grass, and divided by the numerous branches of streams, all more or less diked to save the land from complete inundation, succeed. The road is a causeway raised above the level of the surrounding district; and presently a huge lofty bank is seen traversing the desolate scene for miles, and stretching away towards the shore of the neighbouring Adriatic. This is the dike which contains the sulkily torpid but yet dangerous Montone.
Gradually, as the traveller proceeds, the scene grows worse and worse. Soon the only kind of cultivation to be seen from the road consists of rice-grounds, looking like—what in truth they are— poisonous swamps. Then come swamps pure and simple, too bad even to be turned into rice grounds,—or rather simply swamps impure; for a stench at most times of the year comes from them, like a warning of their pestilential nature, and their unfitness for the sojourn of man. A few shaggy, wild-looking cattle may be seen wandering over the flat waste, muddy to the shoulders from wading in the soft swamps. A scene of more utter desolation it is hardly possible to meet with in such close neighbourhood to a living city.
Paolina shivered, and drew her little grey cloak more closely around her shoulders; not from cold, though a bleak wind was blowing across the marshes. She was warmed by walking; but the aspect of the scene before her almost frightened the Venetian girl by the savagery of its desolation.
The raised causeway, however, keeps on its course amid the low-lying marshes on either side of it; and presently the peculiar form of outline belonging to a forest composed entirely of the maritime pine is distinguishable on the horizon to the left. The road quickly draws nearer to it; and the large, heavy, velvet-like masses of dark verdure become visible. In a forest such as the famous Pineta, consisting of the maritime pine only, the lines, especially when seen at a distance, have more of horizontal and less of perpendicular direction than in any other assemblage of trees. And the effect produced by the continuity of spreading umbrella-like tops is peculiar.
Then, soon after the forest has become visible, the road brings the wayfarer within sight of a vast lonely structure heaving its huge long back against the low horizon, like some monster antidiluvian saurian, the fit denizen of this marsh world. It is the venerable Basilica of St. Apollinare in Classe.
Through all this dismal scene Paolina tripped lightly along with a quick step through the crisp morning air, no little awed by the dreary, voiceless desolation of it, but yet encouraged and not unpleased by the solitude of it.
The walk she found to be quite within her powers, at all events at that hour of the morning and in that season of the year; and when she stood before the western door of the ancient church, in front of which the road passes, Ludovico and Bianca were only then on the point of starting from the quarters of the latter, in the Strada di Porta Sisi.
Though knowing but little of the long and strangely diversified story which presses on the mind of a stranger read in history as he stands before the door of that desolate old church, Paolina could not but be much struck by the appearance of the building and of the scene around it. If ever a spot was expressive in every way by which a locality can speak to the imagination of the abomination of desolation, the view which spreads before the eye at the huge doorway of the Basilica of St. Apollinare in Classe is so. The general character of the country around it has been described. But the church itself is the most dreary and melancholy feature in the landscape. No desolation resulting solely from the operations of Nature, even in her least kindly mood, can ever suffice to speak to the imagination as the change and decay of the works of man's hand speak. To produce the effect of desolation in its highest degree man must have at some former period been present on the scene, and the remains of his work must be there to show that activity, life, energy, has once existed where it exists no more. Nature is always and everywhere progressive, and no sentiment of sadness belongs to progress. Man's ruined work alone imparts the suggestion—(a delusive one, indeed, but most forcible)—of falling back from the better to the worse.
Wonderfully eloquent after this fashion are the temples of Paestum, far away there to the south beyond Naples, on the flat strip of miserably cultivated soil between the Apennines and the Mediterranean. But they are too far gone in ruin and decay to speak with so living a voice of sadness as does this old Byzantine church. The human element is at Paestum too far away,—too utterly dead and forgotten. In St. Apollinare life still lingers. Life, flickering in its last spark, like the twinkling of a lamp which the next moment will extinguish, is still there. Life more suggestive of death, than any utter absence of life could be.
There are some dilapidated remains of conventual buildings on the southern side of the church, mean, and of a date some thousand years subsequent to that of the Basilica. They are nearly ruinous, but are still—or were till within a few years—inhabited by one Capucin friar, and one lay brother of the order, whose duty it was to mutter a mass, with ague-chattering jaws, at the high altar, and act as guardians of the building.
Small guardianship is needed. The huge ancient doors—made of planks from vine trunks which grew fifteen hundred years ago on the Bosphorus—are never closed; probably because their weight would defy the efforts of the two poor old friars, to whom the keeping of the building is committed, to move them. But a poor and mean low gate of iron rails has been fitted to the colossal marble door- posts, which suffices to prevent the wandering cattle of the waste from straying into the church, but does not prevent the fever-laden mists from the marshes from drifting into the huge nave, and depositing their unwholesome moisture in great trickling drops upon the green-stained walls.
But not even the low iron gateway was closed when Paolina reached the church. It stood partially open. After having stood a minute or two before the building to look round upon the scene, Paolina stepped up to the gate and looked into the church, but could see no human being. Within, as without, all was utter death-like silence. She shivered, and drew her cloak more closely round her, as she stood at the gate; for the healthy blood was running rapidly through her veins after her brisk walk, and the deadly cold damp air from the church struck her with a shudder, which was but the physical complement of the moral impression produced by the aspect of the place.
After a minute, however, wondering at the stillness, half frightened at the utter solitude, and awed by the vast gloomy grandeur of the naked but venerable building, she pushed the gate, and entered.
Paolina entered hesitatingly, and starting at the echoes of her footsteps on the flagstones, wet and green, and slimy from the water, which often in every year lies many inches deep on the floor of the church. She advanced towards a small marble altar which stands quite isolated in the middle of the huge nave. And as she neared it she perceived, with a violent start, that there was a living figure kneeling at it. So still, so utterly motionless had this solitary worshipper been, so little visible in the dim light was the hue of the Franciscan's frock that entirely covered him, that Paolina had not imagined that there had been any living creature in the church. She saw, however, in the same instant that she became aware of his presence, that the figure was that of a Capucin friar, and doubted not that he must be the guardian of the church, whom she had been told she would find there.
The little low altar, of an antiquity coeval with that of the church, which stands in the centre of the nave, is the sole exception to the entire and utter emptiness of the place. There are, indeed, ranged along the walls of the side aisles, several ancient marble coffins, curiously carved, and with semi-circular covers, which contain the bodies of the earliest Bishops of the See. But the little altar is the sole object that breaks the continuity of the open floor. The body of St. Apollinare was originally laid beneath it, but was in a subsequent age removed to a more specially honourable position under the high altar at the eastern end of the church. There is still, however, the slab deeply carved with letters of ancient form, which tells how St. Romauld, the founder of the order of Camaldoli, praying by night at that altar, saw in a vision St. Apollinare, who bade him leave the world, and become the founder of an order of hermits.
It was on the same stones that the knees of St. Romauld had pressed, that the Capucin was kneeling, as Paolina walked up the nave of the church. The peaked hood of his brown frock was drawn over his head, for the air of the church was deadly cold, and the fever and ague of many a successive autumn had done their work upon him. He was called Padre Fabiano, and was said to be, and looked to be, upwards of eighty years old. Probably, however, his age was much short of that. For the nature of his dwelling-place was such as to stand in the place of time, in its power to do worse than time's work on the human frame.
Of course, it can be no matter of question, why a monk is here or is there, does this or does that. Obedience to the will of his superiors is the only reason for all that, in the case of other human beings, depends on their own volition. The monk has no volition.
No human being who had, it might be supposed, would consent to live at St. Apollinare in Classe, with one lay brother for a companion, and discharge the duties assigned to the Padre Fabiano. But the question why his superiors sent him there, was still one that might suggest itself, though it was little likely ever to be answered. And the absence of all answer to such question was supplied by the gossips of Ravenna, by tales of some terrible crime against ecclesiastical discipline of which the Padre Fabiano had been guilty some sixty years or so ago. Certain it was that be had occupied his dreary position for many years; and it was wonderful that fever and ague and the marsh pestilence had not long since dismissed him to the reward of his long penitence on earth.
He rose from his knees as Paolina approached him, and gravely bent his cowled head to her in salutation.
"You are early, Signora," he said. "I suppose you are the person for whom yonder scaffold has been prepared."
"Yes, father, I am the artist for whom leave has been obtained to copy some of your mosaics."
"You will find it cold work, daughter. The church is damp somewhat. You would do better, methinks, not to begin your day's work till the sun has had time to warm the air a little."
"I had no thought, father, of beginning to-day. I have brought nothing with me. I only thought that I would walk out and have a look at the job before me. It is not so far from the city as I thought."
"It is far enough to be as lonely and as deserted as if it were a thousand miles from a human habitation," said the monk, looking into the girl's face with a grave smile.
"Yet you live here, from year's end to year's end all alone, Padre mio," said Paolina, timidly.
"Not quite so, daughter," replied he. "Brother Barnaba, a lay brother of our order, is my companion. But he is ill with a touch of ague at present."
"And how early would it be not inconvenient to you, Padre mio, to open the church for me?" asked Paolina.
"I spoke not of your being early on my account, daughter. If you come here at sunrise, you will find the gate open, and me where you found me this morning; and if you come at midnight you will find the same."
"At midnight, father!" said Paolina, with a glance of surprise and pity.
"Last October I was down with the fever," returned the monk; "but since that time I have not failed one night to be on my knees where the blessed St. Romauld knelt at the stroke of midnight. But I have not had his reward;—doubtless because I am not worthy of it."
"What was the reward of St. Romauld, father?" demanded Paolina.
"His midnight prayers were rewarded by the vision of St. Apollinare in glory, who spoke to him, and gave him the counsel he sought. Night after night, and hour after hour, have I knelt and prayed. And I have heard the moaning of the wind from the Adriatic among the pines of the forest yonder, and I have seen the great crucifix above the high altar sway and move in the moonlight when it comes streaming through the southern windows; and sometimes I have hoped— and prayed—and hoped—but no vision came!"
The old monk sighed, and dropped his head upon his bosom; and Paolina gazed at him with a feeling of awe, mingled with a suddenly rising fear, that the tall and emaciated old man, whose light-blue eyes gleamed out from beneath his cowl, was not wholly right in his mind. She would have been more alarmed had she been aware that the old Padre Fabiano of St. Apollinare was generally considered in Ravenna to be crazed by all those who did not, instead of that, deem him a saint.
Before she had gained courage to answer him, however, he lifted his head, with another deep sigh, and said, in a very quiet and ordinary tone and manner,
"Your scaffold is all prepared for you there, Signora, according to the directions of the Signor Marchese Ludovico di Castelmare, who brought with him an order from the Archbishop's Chancellor. Will you look at it, and see if it is as you wish, and say where you wish to have it placed."
The mosaics in the apse of the centre nave are the most remarkable of those that remain at St. Apollinare, though many of the series of medallion portraits of the Bishops of the See from the foundation of it, which circle the entire nave, are very curious. Paolina had engaged to copy two or three of the most remarkable of these; but she intended to begin her work by attacking the larger figures in the apse. And the scaffolding had been placed there on the southern side.
"I think that is just where I should wish to have it," said Paolina, looking up at the vault. "If I may, I will go up and see whether it is near enough to the figure I have to copy."
"Do so, my daughter. It looks a great height, but I have no doubt that it is quite safe. The Signor Marchese was very particular in seeing to it himself. See, I will go up first to give you courage."
And so saying, the old man with a slow but firm step began to ascend the ladder of the scaffolding. And when he had reached the platform at the top, Paolina, more used to such climbing than he, and who in truth had felt no alarm whatever, followed him with a lighter step.
"Yes, this will do nicely, Padre mio!" she said, when she had reached the top; "it is placed just where it should be, and this large window gives just all the light I want. It is a much better light than I had to work by in San Vitale."
"I never was in San Vitale," replied the monk. "I have been here fourteen years next Easter, and I have never once been in Ravenna in all that time, nor, indeed, further away from this church than just a stroll within the edge of the Pineta."
"That is the Pineta we see from this window, of course, Padre mio. What a lovely view of it! And how beautiful it is! Where does that road go to, Padre? To Venice?"
"No, figliuola mia. It goes in exactly the opposite direction, southwards, to Cervia. The Venice road lies away to the northward, through the wood that you can see on the furthest horizon. It was by that road I came to Ravenna. I shall never travel it again."
"From Venice, father? Did you come from Venice?" asked Paolina, eagerly.
"From La bella Venezia I came, daughter—fourteen years ago. And once in every month I indulge myself by going to the top of our tower—you can't see it from this window, it is on the northern side of the church—and looking out over the north Pineta as far as I can see towards it. May God and St. Mark grant that no tempter ever offer me the sight of Venice again at the price of my soul's salvation! I shall never, never see Venice more!"
"You must be a Venetian, father, surely, to love it so well?" said Paolina, after a minute or two of silence.
"A Venetian I am—or was, daughter; as I well knew you were when you first spoke. Might I ask your name?"
"Paolina Foscarelli, father. I am an orphan," said she, softly.
"No!" said the monk, shaking his head, with a deep sigh, and looking earnestly into the girl's face, but without any appearance of surprise,—"No; you are not Paolina Foscarelli."
"Indeed, father, that is my name," said Paolina, again recurring to her doubt whether the monk was altogether of sound mind, and speaking very quietly and gently; "my father's name was Foscarelli, and the baptismal name of my mother was the same as mine—Paolina."
"Jacopo and Paolina Foscarelli, who lived in the little house at the corner of the Campo di San Pietro and Paolo," rejoined the monk, speaking in a dreamy far-away kind of manner.
"I have truly heard that they lived there," said she; "but I was only four years old when they died, one very soon after the other, and since that I have lived with a friend of my mother's, Signora Steno."
"The child of Jacopo and Paolina Foscarelli," said the monk, in the same dreamy tone, and pressing his thin emaciated hands before his eyes as he spoke; "and you have come here to find me?"
"Nay, father, not to find you. I knew not that the padre guardiano of St. Apollinare was a Venetian. I came only to copy these pictures for my employer."
"Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful are the ways of God! Paolina Foscarelli, daughter of Jacopo and Paolina, I Fabiano—-"
"Look, padre min!" cried Paolina, suddenly and sharply, turning very pale, and grasping the parapet rung of the scaffolding as she spoke, "look! in the bagarino there on the road, just passing the church; certainly that must be the Signor Marchese Ludovico!—And with him— that lady?—yes, it is—it certainly is La Lalli—the prima donna, who has been singing at the theatre this Carnival."
She pointed as she spoke to a bagarino that had just passed the western front of the church, and was now moving along the bit of road visible from the high window at which the monk and Paolina were standing.
The tone in which she spoke caused the friar to look at her first, before turning his glance in the direction to which she pointed. She was pale, and evidently much moved, after a fashion that, taken together with the nature of the objects to which she drew his attention, and the fact that it was the Marchese Ludovico who had come to St. Apollinare to make the arrangements needed for the artist's work there, left but little doubt in the old man's mind as to the nature of her emotion.
He looked shrewdly and earnestly into her face for a moment; and then turning his eyes to the stretch of road below, answered her:
"Certainly, my daughter, that is the Marchese Ludovico. The lady I never saw before as far as I am aware. They are going towards Cervia."
"No! See, father! They are turning off from the road to the left. Where does that turning to the left go?"
"Only into the forest, daughter,—or to that little farm-house you see there just at the edge of it. You may get as far as the sea- shore through the Pineta; but the road is very bad for a carriage."
"To the sea-shorn!" said Paolina, dreamily.
"Yes, by keeping the track due east. The shore is not above a couple of miles away. But there is no port, or even landing-place there. And there are many tracks through the forest. You may get to Cervia, too, that way. But it is hardly likely that any one would leave the road to find a longer way by worse ways through the forest. More likely the object of the Signor Marchese is only to show the lady the famous Pineta."
Paolina, while the monk was thus speaking, had kept her eyes fixed upon the little carriage, which was making its way along a by-road constructed on the top of a dike by the side of one of the numerous streams that intersect all the district; and she continued to watch it till she saw it stop at the entrance to the yard of the little farmhouse, to which the monk had called her attention. She then saw Ludovico and his companion descend from the carriage, and leave it apparently in the charge of a man, who came out from the farm-yard. And they then left the spot where they had alighted on foot, and in another minute were no longer visible from the window at which Paolina and the monk stood.
"How long a walk is it, father, from here into the wood?" asked Paolina, musingly.
"It is a very short distance, daughter. There is a footpath practicable in dry weather like this, a good deal nearer than the road we saw the bagarino follow. You might get to the edge of the Pineta in that way in less than ten minutes."
"And would it be possible to return to the city that way, instead of coming back to the road?" enquired Paolina.
"Yes; for a part of the way there is a path along the border of the wood. Then you must fall back into the road. The way lies by the gate of the farm-house."
"I think I will go back to the city now, father. This scaffold is just where it will suit me. And tomorrow, a little later perhaps than this, I hope to come and begin my work. I shall have to come in a carriage, at all events, the first time, because of bringing my things. I am so much obliged to you, father, for your kindness. And I am so glad that you are a Venetian. I little thought to find a fellow-countryman here."
"Or I to see this morning a Venetian—much less—but we will speak more of that another time—if you will permit an old man sometimes to speak to you when you are at your work?"
"Ma come—I can talk while I work. It will be a real pleasure to me to hear the dear home tongue. I will go down the ladder first. I am not the least afraid."
So Paolina left the church, and the monk stood at the yawning ever- open western door, looking after her as she took the path he had indicated to her towards the forest.
"The Hours passed, and still she came not"
There was misgiving in the heart of the old man as he stood at the door of the Basilica looking after the light little form of Paolina as she moved along the path, raised above the swamp on either side, that led towards the edge of the forest.
The rays of the sun slanting from the eastward lighted up all the path on which she was walking; and though the western front of the church was still in shade, had begun to suck up the mists, and to make the air feel at least somewhat more genial and wholesome. The monk pushed back the cowl of his frock, which had hitherto been drawn over his head, the better to watch the receding figure of the girl as she moved slowly along the path; and still, as he gazed after her, he shook his head from time to time with an uneasy sense of misgiving.
It was not that the mere fact of the girl's entering the Pineta alone seemed to him, accustomed as he was to the place and its surroundings, to involve any danger to her of any sort, beyond, indeed, the possibility of losing herself for a few hours in the forest. The whole extent of it is very frequently traversed by the men in the employment of the farmers to whom the Papal government was in the practice of letting out the right of pasturage and management of the wood. And these people were all known. There were, it is true, encroachers on these rights, who might well be less known, and less responsible persons; and possibly the forest paths might sometimes be traversed by people bound on some errand of smuggling. But nothing had ever happened of late years in the forest to suggest the probability of any danger.
It was rather the nature of Paolina's own motives for her expedition, as they were patent to the old monk, that disquieted him on her behalf. He had marked the expression of her face when she had seen the bagarino with Ludovico and his companion pass along the road towards the forest, and the change in her whole manner after that. And monk, and octogenarian as he was, he had been at no loss to comprehend the nature of the emotions which had been aroused in her mind by the sight. And he feared that evil might arise from the collision of passions, which it seemed likely were about to be brought into the presence of each other.
Perhaps, monk and aged as he was, the apprehensions with which his mind was busy seemed more big with possible evil than they might to another. Perhaps it was so long since he had had aught to do with stormy passions that the contemplation of them affrighted his stagnant mind all the more by reason of the long years of passionless placidity to which it was accustomed. Perhaps he had known passions stormy enough in the long long past, and had experience of the harvest of evils which might be expected to be produced by them.
Report said, that when Father Fabiano had been sent by his superiors to occupy the miserable and forlorn sentinel's post at the church- door of St. Apollinare, amid inundations in winter, and fever and ague in summer, his appointment to the dreary office had been of the nature of a penance and an exile. It was said, too, that the sentence of exile, which placed him in his present position, had been an alleviation of a more rigorous punishment; that he had been allowed, after a period of many years of imprisonment in a monastery of his order at Venice, to change that punishment for the duty to which he had been appointed, and which would scarcely have seemed an amelioration of destiny to any one save a man who had for years been deprived of the light of the sun and the scent of the free air. Some deed there had been in that life which had called for such monastic discipline; some outcome of human passion when the blood, that now crept slowly, while the aged monk passed the hours in waiting for visions before the altar of St. Apollinare, was running in his veins too rapidly for monastic requirements.
It was evident from the few words that he had let drop, when he became aware who the young Venetian visitor to the church under his care was, that some special circumstances caused him to feel a more than ordinary interest in her. Some connection there must have been between some portion of his life and that of some member or members of her family. Of what nature was it? Monkish tribunals, however else they may treat those subjected to them, at least keep their secrets. Frailties must be expiated; but they need not be exposed. And the true story of the fault which condemned Father Fabiano to end his days amid the swamps of St. Apollinare, as well as the precise nature of the connection which had existed between him and Paolina's parents, can be only matter of conjecture.
Paolina, as has been said, pursued her path slowly. She had tripped along much more lightly on her way from the city to St. Apollinare. And yet she was urged on by a burning anxiety to know whither Ludovico and Bianca had gone, and for what purpose they had come thither. But, despite this nervous anxiety, she stepped slowly, because her heart disapproved of the course she was taking. It seemed as if she was drawn on towards the forest by some mysterious mechanical force, which she had not the strength to resist. Again and again she had well nigh made up her mind to turn aside from the path she was following. She would go only a few steps further towards the edge of the forest. She looked out eagerly before her, standing on tip-toe on every little bit of vantage ground which the path afforded. She would only go as far as that next bend in the path. But the bend in the path disclosed a stile a little further on, from which surely a view of all the ground between the path she was on and the farmhouse at which Ludovico and his companion had descended, might be had. She would go so far and no further. And thus, poor child, she went on and on, long and long after the monk had lost sight of her, and with a deep sigh, had turned to go back again into the church.
It had been six o'clock when Paolina started on her walk to the church, and nothing had been settled with any accuracy between her and the old friend and protectress, with whom she had come to Ravenna, and lived during her stay there, as to the exact time at which she might be expected to return. The name of the protectress in question was Signora Orsola Steno, an old friend of her mother's, who, when Paolina Foscarelli had been left an orphan, had, for pure charity and friendship's sake, taken the child, and brought her up. Latterly, by the exercise of the talent inherited from her father, Paolina had been able to do something, not only towards meeting her own expenses, but towards making some return for all that the good Orsola had done for her out of her own poverty. And now this commission of the Englishman who had sent her to Ravenna would go far towards improving the prospects of both Paolina and her old friend.
Old Orsola did not know exactly at what time to expect Paolina back; but she knew that Paolina's purpose on that Ash Wednesday morning was merely to walk to the church, and, having seen the preparations that had been made for her work, to return, without on that occasion remaining to begin her task. So that when the hour of the midday meal arrived, and her young friend had not returned, old Orsola began to be a little uneasy about her.
Nor was her uneasiness lessened by her entire ignorance as to there being little or much, or no cause at all for it. Never having left Venice before in her life, old Orsola was as much a stranger in Ravenna, and felt herself to be in an unknown world, as completely as an Englishman would in Japan. Since she had been in Ravenna she had frequently heard the Pineta spoken of, and the old church out there in which her young friend was to do a portion of her task. But she had heard them both mentioned as strange and wild places, not exactly like all the rest of the world. And the old woman felt, that, for aught she knew, this Pineta, and the old church in the wilderness on the borders of it, might be a place full of dangers for a young girl all by herself.
And as the hours crept on, and no Paolina came, her uneasiness increased till she felt it impossible to sit quietly at home waiting for her any longer. She must go out, and—do what? The poor old woman did not in the least know what to do; or of whom to make any inquiry. The only person with whom the two Venetian strangers had become at all intimate in Ravenna was the Marchese Ludovico. And the only step in her difficulty which old Orsola could think of taking, after much doubt and hesitation, was to go to the Palazzo Castelmare, and endeavour to speak with the Marchesino. The letter of introduction, which they had brought from the English patron, was addressed to the Marchese Lamberto. But the acquaintance of the Venetians with him had remained very slight; and Orsola felt so much awe of so grand and reverend a Signor, that it was to the nephew only that she thought of applying.
So, not without much doubt and misgiving, the old woman put on her bonnet and cloak and made the best of her way to the Castelmare palace. There she found a porter lounging before the door, to whom she made her petition to be allowed to speak to the Signor Marchese Ludovico.
"My name is Orsola Steno," said the old woman humbly, a little in awe of the majestic porter, chosen for that situation for his size; "and the Signor Marchesino knows me very well. I am sure he would not refuse to see me."
Insolent servants in a great house are generally a sure symptom of something amiss in the moral nature of their masters. Good and kindly masters have and make civil and kindly servants; and the big porter of the palazzo Castelmare was accordingly by no means a terrible personage.
"Signora Orsola Steno! To be sure. I remember you very well, Signora, when you called on the padrone last summer. I am sure the Signor Marchesino would have pleasure in seeing you, if he were at home. But he is not here. And to tell you the truth, we have no idea where he is. He came home early this morning after the ball, and instead of going to bed, changed his dress, and went out again at once; and has not been back since. Some devilry or other! Che vuole! We were all young once upon a time, eh, Signora Orsola? And as for the Marchesino, he is as good a gentleman as any in Ravenna or out of it, for that matter. But he is young, Signora, he is young! And that's all the fault he has. Can I give him any message for you, Signora?"
"The fact is," said old Orsola, after a few moments of rapid reflection as to the expediency of telling her trouble to the porter, and a decision prompted by the good-natured manner of the man, and by the poor woman's extreme need of some one to tell her trouble to,—"the fact is, that I wanted to ask the advice of the Signor Marchesino about a young friend of mine, the Signora Paolina Foscarelli, who went out of the city early this morning to go to St. Apollinare in Classe, and ought to have been back hours ago. And I am quite uneasy about her."
"Why, your trouble, Signora, is of a piece with our own," said the porter, with a burly laugh; "and it seems to me like enough we can help each other. You miss a young lady; and we miss a young gentleman. When I used to go out into the marshes a-shooting with the Marchese, we used to be sure, when we had put up the cock bird, that the hen was not far off; or, if we got the hen, we knew we had not far to look for the cock. Do you see, Signora? Two to one the pair of runaways are together; and they'll come home safe enough when they've had their fun out. I dare say the Signor Marchesino and the Signorina you speak of are old friends?"
"Why, yes, Signore. For that matter they are old friends!" replied Orsola, adopting the porter's phrase for want of one which could express the meaning she had in her mind more desirably.
"To be sure—to be sure. And if you will take my advice, Signora, you will go home, and give yourself no trouble at all about the young lady. Lord bless us! what though 'tis Lenten-tide? Young folks will be young, Signora Orsola. They'll come home safe enough. And maybe I might as well say nothing to the Signor Marchesino about your coming here, you know. When folks have come to that time of life, Signora, as brings sense with it, they mostly learn that least said is soonest mended," said the old porter, with a nod of deep meaning.
And Signora Orsola was fain to take the porter's advice, so far as returning to her home went. But it was not equally easy to give herself no further trouble about Paolina. It might be as the porter said; and if she could have been sure that it was so the old lady would have been perfectly easy. But it was not at all like Paolina to have planned such an escapade without telling her old friend anything about it. She felt sure that when Paolina said she was going to St. Apollinare to look after the preparations for her copying there, she had no other or further intention in her thoughts. To be sure there was the possibility that Ludovico might have known her purpose of going thither, and might have planned to accompany her on her expedition, without having apprized her of any such scheme. And it might not be unlikely that in such a case they had been tempted to spend a few hours in the Pineta. And with these possibilities Signora Steno was obliged to tranquillize herself as she best might.
She returned home not without some hope that she might find that Paolina had returned during her absence; but such was not the case— Paolina was still absent. And though it was now some eight or nine hours from the time she had left home, old Orsola had nothing for it but to wait for tidings of her as patiently as she could.
The aged monk of St. Apollinare, after watching Paolina as she departed from the Basilica, and took the path towards the forest, returned into the church to his devotions at the altar of the saint, as has been said. But he found himself unable to concentrate his attention as usual, not on the meaning of the words of the litanies he uttered,—that, it may be imagined, few such worshippers do, or even attempt to do,—but on such devotional thoughts as, on other occasions, constituted his mental attitude during the hours he spent before the altar.
He could not prevent his mind from straying to thoughts of the girl who had just left him; of certain long-sleeping recollections of his own past, which her name had recalled to him; of her very manifest emotion at the sight of the couple in the bagarino, and the too easy interpretation of the meaning of that emotion; and specially of her implied intention of taking the same route that they had taken.
He thought of these things, and a certain sense of uneasiness and misgiving came over him. The young artist had spoken kindly and sweetly to him. She had seemed to him wonderfully pretty,—and that is not without its influence even on eyes over which the cowl had been drawn for more than three-score years; she was a fellow- Venetian too,—and that with Italians, who find themselves in a stranger city, is a stronger tie of fellowship than the people of less divided nations can readily appreciate; and, above all, there were motives connected with those awakened remembrances of the old man which made her an object of interest to him. And the result of all this was, that he was uneasy at seeing her depart on the errand on which he suspected that she had gone.
After awhile he arose from his knees, and, returning to the great open door of the church, stood awhile irresolutely gazing out towards the forest to the southward. He could not see the farmhouse, which has been so frequently mentioned, from where he stood, because it is to the eastward of the church. After awhile he strolled out and along the road, till he came in sight of the house on the border of the forest. But there was no human being to be seen. Then, apparently having taken a resolution, he went into the dilapidated remains of the old convent, and ascended a stair to the room where his sole companion, the lay brother, was ill in bed. He gave the sick man a potion, placed a cup with drink by his side, smoothed his pillow, and replaced a crucifix at the bed-foot before the patient's eyes; and then, with a word of consolation, descended again to the road, and after a long look towards the forest, slowly moved off the nearest border of it.
It was between eight and nine when Father Fabiano, moving slowly and irresolutely, thus sauntered off in the direction of the forest; but it was nearly time for him to sound the "Angelus" at midday before he returned.
Perhaps it was the fear that he might be late for this duty,—a task which devolved on him, the lay brother being ill,—that made his steps, as he returned, very different from those with which he had set forth. He came back hurrying, with a haggard, wild terror in his eyes, shaking in every limb, and with great drops of perspiration standing on his brow. One would have said that all this evident perturbation could not be caused only by the fear of being late to ring the "Angelus." His first care, however, was to pay another visit to his patient.
"Ah! Padre, you are going to have your turn again. It is early this year. All this wet weather. Why, your hand is shaking worse than mine!" said the sick man, as the old monk handed him his draught. And it was true enough that not only Father Fabiano's hands were shaking, but he was, indeed, trembling all over; and any one but a sick man, lying as the fevered lay-brother was lying, could not have failed to see that it was from mental agitation, rather than from the shivering of incipient ague, that he was suffering.
"You think of getting well yourself, brother Simone. I have not got the fever yet," said the monk, making an effort to control himself and speak in his ordinary manner.
"May the saints grant that your reverence do not fall ill before I am able to get up, or I don't know what we should do."
"It is years, brother Simone, that make my hand shake, more than ague this time, years, and many a former touch of the fever. I am not ill this time yet. And now I must go and ring the 'Angelus.'"
And the old monk did go, and the "Angelus" was duly rung. But Brother Simone, as he lay upon his fevered bed, was very well able to tell that the rope was pulled by a very uncertain and unsteady hand. "Poor old fellow! he's going fast! I wonder whether there's any chance of their moving me when he's gone?" thought Brother Simone to himself.
But Father Fabiano, for his own part, judged that prayer and penance were more needed for the healing of his present disorder, than either bark or quinine. And when he had rung the bell, he betook himself again to the altar of St. Apollinare, and with cowl drawn over his head, and frequent prostrations till his forehead touched the marble flags of the altar-step, spent before it most of the remaining hours of that day. Nevertheless, it was true that, be the cause what it might, the aged friar was ill, not in mind only, but also in the body. And before the hour of evensong came,—his coadjutor, Fra Simone, the lay-brother, being by that time so much better as to be able to crawl out,—Father Fabiano was fain to stretch himself on the pallet in his cell. And Fra Simone took it quite as a matter of course in the ordinary order of things, that the father was laid up in his turn with an attack of fever and ague.
It was much about the same time that Father Fabiano had set out on that walk to the forest, from which he had returned in such a state of agitation, that old Quinto Lalli, the prima donna's travelling companion, was made acquainted with the escapade of his adopted daughter. Though she bore his name, the fact was that the old man was in no way related to the famous singer. But they had lived together in the relationship first of teacher and pupil, and then of father and daughter, by mutual adoption ever since the first beginning of the singer's public career; and they mutually represented to each other the only family ties which either of them knew or recognized in the world. The old man had been several hours in bed, when Bianca had returned from the ball, at about five in the morning of that Ash Wednesday. And it was not till he came from his room, between eight and nine, that he heard from Gigia, Bianca's maid, that her mistress had not gone to bed, but had only changed her dress, and taken a cup of coffee before going out with the Marchese Ludovico more than an hour ago in a bagarino.
There was nothing sufficiently strange to the former habits of his adopted daughter in such an escapade, or so unlike to many another frolic of the brilliant Diva in former days, as to cause any very great surprise to the old singing-master—for such had been the original vocation of Signor Lalli. Yet he seemed on this occasion to be not a little annoyed at what she had done.
"And a very great fool she is for her pains," cried the old man, with an oath; "it is just the last thing she ought to have done—the very last. I really thought she had more sense!"
"I am sure, Signor Quinto, she has not had one bit of pleasure all this Carnival. A nun couldn't have lived a quieter life, nor more shut up than she has. With the exception of the old gentleman and the Marchese Ludovico, she has never seen a soul!"
The old gentleman thus alluded to, it may be necessary to explain, was the Marchese Lamberto. "And where's the use of never seeing a single soul, if she throws all that she has gained by it away in this manner?"
"Why, Santa Virgine, Signor Quinto! Where's the harm? Isn't the Signor Ludovico the old one's own nephew?" expostulated Gigia shrilly.
"The old one, as you call him, is not a bit the more likely to like it for that. It is just the very last thing she should have done. I do wonder she should not have more sense," grumbled Quinto.
"Misericordia! why what a piece of work about nothing! The old gentleman will never know anything about it, you may be very sure. He is safe enough in bed and asleep after his late hours, you may swear. Besides, it's both best and honestest to begin as you mean to go on, and accustom him to what he's got to expect," said Gigia, fighting loyally for her side.
"All very well in good time. But it would be as well for Bianca to make sure first what she has got to expect."
"Why, you don't suppose, Signor Quinto, nor yet that old Marchese don't suppose, I should think, that he's going to marry a woman like my mistress, to keep her caged up like a bird that's never to sing, except for him?"
"I tell you, Gigia, and you would do well to tell her, and make her understand, that she is not Marchesa di Castelmare yet, and is not likely to be, if this morning's work were to come to the ears of the Marchese. It is just the very worst thing she could have done; and I should have thought she must know that. I had rather that she should have gone with any other man in the town."
"I am sure," said Gigia, with a virtuous toss of the head, "she would not wish to go with any one of them."
"And she would wish to go with the Marchese Ludovico! There's all the mischief. Just what I am afraid of. I tell you, Gigia, that if the Marchese Lamberto hears of her going off in this manner with his nephew, the game is all up. He would never forgive it."
"You will excuse me, Signor Quinto," said Gigia, with a demure air of speaking modestly on a subject which she perfectly well understood—"You will excuse me, if I tell you that I know a great deal better than that. There's men, Signor Quinto, who are in love because they like it; and there's others who are in love whether they like it or no, because they can't help themselves!"
"And you fancy the Marchese Lamberto is one of those who can't help himself, eh?" grumbled Quinto discontentedly.
"If I ever saw a man who was so limed that he couldn't help himself, it's that poor creature of a Marchese! He's caught safe enough, you may take my word for that, Signor Quinto. He's caught, and can't budge, I tell you—hand nor foot, body nor soul! Lord bless you, I know 'em. Why, do you think he'd ever have come near my mistress a second time if he could have helped himself? He's not like your young 'uns, who come to amuse themselves. Likely enough, he'd give half of all he's worth this day never to have set eyes on her; but, as for giving her up, he could as soon give himself up!"
"Humph!" grunted the old singer, with a shrug, and a sound that was half a sneer and half a chuckle. "I suppose he don't above half like the price he has to pay for his plaything! But that don't make it wise in Bianca to drive him to the wall more than need be. Limed and caught as he is, he's one that may give her some trouble yet. For my part, I wish she had not gone on this fool's errand this morning. Now, I will go and get my breakfast. I shall be back in half-an- hour. I expect Signor Ercole Stadione here this morning."
Signor Ercole Stadione was the impresario of the Ravenna theatre.
"And if he comes before you are back, Signor Quinto?" asked Gigia.
"If he should come before I am back, let the boy call me from the cafe. And, Gigia, whenever he comes, you can let him understand, you know, that your mistress is in her own room,—resting after the ball, you know. He's hand and glove with the Marchese."
"I wasn't born yesterday, Signor Quinto, though you seem to think so," returned Gigia, as the old man began to descend the stairs.
Signor Quinto went to the cafe, and consumed his little cup of black coffee, with its abominable potion of so-called "rhum" in it, and the morsel of dry bread, which constituted his accustomed breakfast; and then, as he was returning to his lodging, encountered the "impresario" in the street.
"Well met, Signor Lalli!" cried little Signor Ercole, cheerily. "I was on my way to your house to settle our little matters. I have not seen you, I think, since Sunday night. The bustle of these last days of the Carnival! How divinely she sang that night! If Bellini could have heard her, it would have been the happiest day of his life."
"I am glad that you were contented, Signor Ercole."
"Contented! The whole city was enraptured. There never was such a success. You have got that little memorandum of articles—?"
"No. I've got the paper signed at Milan; but not—"
"Stay, let me see. True, true. I remember now. It remained with the Marchese. We shall want it, you know, just to put all in order. We can call at the Palazzo Castelmare on our way, and ask the Marchese for it?"
"Will he be up at this hour, after last night's ball?" asked Quinto.
"He? The Marchese? One sees you are a stranger in Ravenna, my dear sir. I don't suppose the Marchese has ever been in bed after eight o'clock the last quarter of a century. He is an early man, the Marchese,—an example to us all in that, as in all else."
"Very well; then we can call for the paper on our way to my lodging; it is not much out of the way."
So they walked together to the Palazzo Castelmare, talking of the brilliant success of the past theatrical season, and of the eminent qualities and virtues of the Marchese Lamberto; and when they reached the door the impresario desired the servant who answered the bell to tell the Marchese that he, Signor Ercole, wished to speak with him, but would not detain him a moment.
The Marchese, the man said, was not up yet. He, the servant, had been to his door at the usual hour, but had received no answer to his knock; so that it was evident that his master was still sleeping. He had been very late the night before,—far later than was usual with him,—and no doubt he would ring his bell as soon as he waked.
"The fact is," said Signor Ercole, as he and Quinto Lalli turned away from the door, "that the Marchese has not been well of late. He very often does me the honour of conversing with me,—I may say indeed of consulting me on subjects of art;—and I grieve to say that I have of late observed a change in him. He is not like the same man."
"Getting old, I suppose, like the rest of us," said Quinto.
"Like some of us," corrected Signor Ercole; "but, Lord bless you! the Marchese is a young man—a young man, so to speak,—he's not above fifty, and a very young man of his years; at least he was so a month or two ago. But changed he is. Everybody has seen it. Let us hope that it is merely some temporary indisposition. Ravenna can't afford to lose the Marchese."
"I suppose we had better put off settling our little bit of business till another time?" said Quinto. "Shall we say to-morrow, at the same hour? And I will get that paper from the Marchese in the meantime," returned Signor Ercole.
"That will suit me perfectly well; to-morrow, then, at my lodgings at ten, shall we say?"
"At ten; I will not fail to wait upon you, Signor Lalli, at that hour. In the meantime I beg you to present my most distinguished homage to the divina Cantatrice," said the little impresario, taking off his hat and holding it at arm's length above his head, as he made a very magnificent bow.
"Servitore suo, stimatissimo Signor Ercole! A dimane!" replied old Quinto, as he returned the impresario's salutation, with a slighter and less provincial bow.
"A dimane alle dieci!" rejoined the impresario; and so the two men parted.
"Not a bad bit of luck," thought the old singing master to himself, as he sauntered towards his lodging, "that the Marchese should be in bed this morning. It gives a chance that he may never hear of this mad scappata with the Signor Ludovico. Lose the Marchese Lamberto! No, per Bacco! there are other people, beside the good folks of the city of Ravenna, who can't afford to lose the Marchese Lamberto just yet!"
An Attorney-at-law in the Papal States
At a little after twelve o'clock on that same Ash Wednesday morning, a servant in the Castelmare livery brought a verbal message to the "studio" of Signor Giovacchino Fortini, "procurators,"—attorney-at- law, as we should say,—requesting that gentleman to step as far as the Palazzo Castelmare, as the Marchese would be glad to speak with him.
The message was not one calculated to excite any surprise either in the servant who carried it, or in Signor Fortini himself. Signor Giovacchino was, and had been for many years, the confidential lawyer of the Castelmare family. And the various business connected with large landed possessions made frequent conferences necessary between the lawyer and such a client as the Marchese, who, among his other activities, had always been active in the management and care of his estates.
Signor Giovacchino Fortini was very decidedly the first man of his profession in Ravenna, as indeed might be expected of the person who had been honoured for more than one generation by the confidence of the Castelmare family. For the lawyer was a much older man than the Marchese, and had been the confidential adviser of his father. And old Giovacchino Fortini's father and grandfather had sat in the same "studio" before him, and had held the same position towards previous generations of the Castelmare family.
For three generations also the Fortini, grandfather, father, and son, had been lawyers to the Chapter of Ravenna; a fact which vouched the very high standing and consideration they held in the city, and at the same time explained the circumstances under which it had come to pass that the "studio" they had occupied for so many years, seemed more like some public building than the private offices of a provincial attorney.
In fact the "Studio Fortini" was a portion of an ancient building attached to the Cathedral, in which some of the less dignified members of the Chapter had their residences. The building in question encircled a small cloistered court, the soil of which was on a lower level than that of the street outside it; and the residences, to which a series of little doors around this cloister gave access, looked as if they must have been miserably damp and unwholesome. But the "Studio Fortini" was not situated in any part of this damp lower floor. In the corner of the cloister nearest to the Cathedral, there was a wide and picturesque old stone staircase, which led to an upper cloister, as sunny and pleasant looking as the lower one was the reverse. There, near the head of the stair, was a round arched deeply sunk stone doorway, closed by a black door, bearing a bright brass plate on it, conveying the information, altogether superfluous to every man, woman, and child in Ravenna, that there was situated the "Studio Fortini."