J. FENIMORE COOPER
"Know, Without star or angel for their guide, Who worship God shall find him."
It is difficult to say of which there is most in the world, a blind belief in religious dogmas, or a presumptuous and ignorant cavilling on revelation. The impression has gone abroad, that France was an example of the last, during the height of her great revolutionary mania; a charge that was scarcely true, as respects the nation, however just it might be in connection with her bolder and more unquiet spirits. Most of the excesses of France, during that momentous period, were to be attributed to the agency of a few, the bulk of the nation having little to do with any part of them, beyond yielding their physical and pecuniary aid to an audacious and mystifying political combination. One of the baneful results, however, of these great errors of the times, was the letting loose of the audacious from all the venerable and healthful restraints of the church, to set them afloat on the sea of speculation and conceit. There is something so gratifying to human vanity in fancying ourselves superior to most around us, that we believe few young men attain their majority without imbibing more or less of the taint of unbelief, and passing through the mists of a vapid moral atmosphere, before they come to the clear, manly, and yet humble perceptions that teach most of us, in the end, our own insignificance, the great benevolence as well as wisdom of the scheme of redemption, and the philosophy of the Christian religion, as well as its divinity.
Perhaps the greatest stumbling-block of the young is a disposition not to yield to their belief unless it conforms to their own crude notions of propriety and reason. If the powers of man were equal to analyzing the nature of the Deity, to comprehending His being, and power, and motives, there would be some little show of sense in thus setting up the pretence of satisfying our judgments in all things, before we yield our credence to a religious system. But the first step we take brings with it the instructive lesson of our incapacity, and teaches the wholesome lesson of humility. From arrogantly claiming a right to worship a deity we comprehend, we soon come to feel that the impenetrable veil that is cast around the Godhead is an indispensable condition of our faith, reverence, and submission, A being that can be comprehended is not a being to be worshipped.
In this book, there is an attempt to set these conflicting tendencies in a full but amicable contrast to each other, We believe there is nothing in the design opposed to probability; and it seems to us, that the amiable tenderness of a confiding but just-viewing female heart might, under the circumstances, be expected to manifest the mingled weakness and strength that it has here been our aim to portray.
We acknowledge a strong paternal feeling in behalf of this book, placing it very high in the estimate of its merits, as compared with other books from the same pen: a species of commendation that need wound no man. Perhaps some knowledge of Italian character is necessary to enjoy the vice-governatore (veechy-gov-er-na-to-re), and the podesta; but we confess they have given us, in reading over these pages for the first time since they were written, quite as much amusement as if they were altogether from an unknown hand.
As for the Mediterranean, that unrivalled sea, its pictures always afford us delight. The hue of the water; the delicious and voluptuous calm; the breathings of the storm from the Alps and Apennines; the noble mountain-sides basking in the light of the region or shrouded in mists that increase their grandeur; the picturesque craft; the islands, bays, rocks, volcanoes, and the thousand objects of art, contribute to render it the centre of all that is delightful and soothing to both the mind and the senses.
The reader will recollect the painful history of Caraccioli. We have taken some liberties with his private history, admitting frankly that we have no other authority for them than that which we share in common with all writers of romance. The grand-daughter we have given the unfortunate admiral is so much in accordance with Italian practices that no wrong is done to the morale of Naples, whatever may be the extent of the liberty taken with the individual.
Nelson seems to have lived and died under the influence of the unprincipled woman who then governed him with the arts of a siren. His nature was noble, and his moral impressions, even, were not bad; but his simple and confiding nature was not equal to contending with one as practised in profligacy as the woman into whose arms he was thrown, at a most evil moment for his reputation.
There is nothing more repugnant to the general sense of rights, than the prostitution of public justice to the purposes of private vengeance. Such would seem to have been the reason of the very general odium attached to the execution of Admiral Prince Caraccioli, who was the victim of circumstances, rather than the promoter of treason. The whole transaction makes a melancholy episode in the history of modern Europe. We have made such use of it as is permitted to fiction, neither neglecting the leading and known facts of the event, nor adhering to the minuter circumstances more closely than the connection of our tale demanded.
"Filled with the face of heaven, which from afar Comes down upon the waters; all its hues, From the rich sunset to the rising star, Their magical variety diffuse: And now they change: a paler shadow strews Its mantle o'er the mountains; parting day Dies like the dolphin, whom each pang imbues With a new color as it gasps away, The last still loveliest, till—'tis gone—and all is grey."
The charms of the Tyrrhenian Sea have been sung since the days of Homer. That the Mediterranean generally, and its beautiful boundaries of Alps and Apennines, with its deeply indented and irregular shores, forms the most delightful region of the known earth, in all that relates to climate, productions, and physical formation, will be readily enough conceded by the traveller. The countries that border on this midland water, with their promontories buttressing a mimic ocean—their mountain-sides teeming with the picturesque of human life—their heights crowned with watch-towers—their rocky shelves consecrated by hermitages, and their unrivalled sheet dotted with sails, rigged, as it might be, expressly to produce effect in a picture, form a sort of world apart, that is replete with charms which not only fascinate the beholder, but which linger in the memories of the absent like visions of a glorious past.
Our present business is with this fragment of a creation that is so eminently beautiful, even in its worst aspects, but which is so often marred by the passions of man, in its best. While all admit how much nature has done for the Mediterranean, none will deny that, until quite recently, it has been the scene of more ruthless violence, and of deeper personal wrongs, perhaps, than any other portion of the globe. With different races, more widely separated by destinies than even by origin, habits, and religion, occupying its northern and southern shores, the outwork, as it might be, of Christianity and Mohammedanism, and of an antiquity that defies history, the bosom of this blue expanse has mirrored more violence, has witnessed more scenes of slaughter, and heard more shouts of victory, between the days of Agamemnon and Nelson, than all the rest of the dominions of Neptune together. Nature and the passions have united to render it like the human countenance, which conceals by its smiles and godlike expression the furnace that so often glows within the heart, and the volcano that consumes our happiness. For centuries, the Turk and the Moor rendered it unsafe for the European to navigate these smiling coasts; and when the barbarian's power temporarily ceased, it was merely to give place to the struggles of those who drove him from the arena.
The circumstances which rendered the period that occurred between the years 1790 and 1815 the most eventful of modern times are familiar to all; though the incidents which chequered that memorable quarter of a century have already passed into history. All the elements of strife that then agitated the world appear now to have subsided as completely as if they owed their existence to a remote age; and living men recall the events of their youth as they regard the recorded incidents of other centuries. Then, each month brought its defeat or its victory; its account of a government overturned, or of a province conquered. The world was agitated like men in a tumult. On that epoch the timid look back with wonder; the young with doubt; and the restless with envy.
The years 1798 and 1799 were two of the most memorable of this ever-memorable period; and to that stirring and teeming season we must carry the mind of the reader in order to place it in the midst of the scenes it is our object to portray.
Toward the close of a fine day in the month of August, a light, fairy-like craft was fanning her way before a gentle westerly air into what is called the Canal of Piombino, steering easterly. The rigs of the Mediterranean are proverbial for their picturesque beauty and quaintness, embracing the xebeque, the felucca, the polacre, and the bombarda, or ketch; all unknown, or nearly so, to our own seas; and occasionally the lugger. The latter, a species of craft, however, much less common in the waters of Italy than in the Bay of Biscay and the British Channel, was the construction of the vessel in question; a circumstance that the mariners who eyed her from the shores of Elba deemed indicative of mischief. A three-masted lugger, that spread a wide breadth of canvas, with a low, dark hull, relieved by a single and almost imperceptible line of red beneath her channels, and a waist so deep that nothing was visible above it but the hat of some mariner taller than common, was considered a suspicious vessel; and not even a fisherman would have ventured out within reach of a shot, so long as her character was unknown. Privateers, or corsairs, as it was the fashion to term them (and the name, with even its English signification, was often merited by their acts), not unfrequently glided down that coast; and it was sometimes dangerous for those who belonged to friendly nations to meet them, in moments when the plunder that a relic of barbarism still legalizes had failed.
The lugger was actually of about one hundred and eighty tons admeasurement, but her dark paint and low hull gave her an appearance of being much smaller than she really was; still, the spread of her canvas, as she came down before the wind, wing-and-wing, as seamen term it, or with a sail fanning like the heavy pinions of a sea-fowl, on each side, betrayed her pursuits; and, as has been intimated, the mariners on the shore who watched her movements shook their heads in distrust as they communed among themselves, in very indifferent Italian, concerning her destination and object. This observation, with its accompanying discourse, occurred on the rocky bluff above the town of Porto Ferrajo, in the Island of Elba, a spot that has since become so renowned as the capital of the mimic dominion of Napoleon. Indeed, the very dwelling which was subsequently used by the fallen emperor as a palace stood within a hundred yards of the speakers, looking out toward the entrance of the canal, and the mountains of Tuscany; or rather of the little principality of Piombino, the system of merging the smaller in the larger states of Europe not having yet been brought into extensive operation. This house, a building of the size of a better sort of country residence of our own, was then, as now, occupied by the Florentine governor of the Tuscan portion of the island. It stands on the extremity of a low rocky promontory that forms the western ramparts of the deep, extensive bay, on the side of which, ensconced behind a very convenient curvature of the rocks, which here incline westward in the form of a hook, lies the small port, completely concealed from the sea, as if in dread of visits like those which might be expected from craft resembling the suspicious stranger. This little port, not as large in itself as a modern dock in places like London or Liverpool, was sufficiently protected against any probable dangers, by suitable batteries; and as for the elements, a vessel laid upon a shelf in a closet would be scarcely more secure. In this domestic little basin, which, with the exception of a narrow entrance, was completely surrounded by buildings, lay a few feluccas, that traded between the island and the adjacent main, and a solitary Austrian ship, which had come from the head of the Adriatic in quest of iron.
At the moment of which we are writing, however, but a dozen living beings were visible in or about all these craft. The intelligence that a strange lugger, resembling the one described, was in the offing, and had drawn nearly all the mariners ashore; and most of the habitues of the port had followed them up the broad steps of the crooked streets which led to the heights behind the town; or to the rocky elevation that overlooks the sea from northeast to west. The approach of the lugger produced some such effect on the mariners of this unsophisticated and little frequented port, as that of the hawk is known to excite among the timid tenants of the barn-yard. The rig of the stranger had been noted two hours before by one or two old coasters, who habitually passed their idle moments on the heights, examining the signs of the weather, and indulging in gossip; and their conjectures had drawn to the Porto Ferrajo mall some twenty men, who fancied themselves, or who actually were, cognoscenti in matters of the sea. When, however, the low, long, dark hull, which upheld such wide sheets of canvas, became fairly visible, the omens thickened, rumors spread, and hundreds collected on the spot, which, in Manhattanese parlance, would probably have been called a battery. Nor would the name have been altogether inappropriate, as a small battery was established there, and that, too, in a position which would easily throw a shot two-thirds of a league into the offing; or about the distance that the stranger was now from the shore.
Tommaso Tonti was the oldest mariner of Elba, and luckily, being a sober, and usually a discreet man, he was the oracle of the island in most things that related to the sea. As each citizen, wine-dealer, grocer, innkeeper, or worker in iron, came up on the height, he incontinently inquired for Tonti, or 'Maso, as he was generally called; and getting the bearings and distance of the gray-headed old seaman, he invariably made his way to his side, until a group of some two hundred men, women, and children had clustered near the person of the pilota, as the faithful gather about a favorite expounder of the law, in moments of religious excitement. It was worthy of remark, too, with how much consideration this little crowd of gentle Italians treated their aged seaman, on this occasion; none bawling out their questions, and all using the greatest care not to get in front of his person, lest they might intercept his means of observation. Five or six old sailors, like himself, were close at his side; these, it is true, did not hesitate to speak as became their experience. But Tonti had obtained no small part of his reputation by exercising great moderation in delivering his oracles, and perhaps by seeming to know more than he actually revealed. He was reserved, therefore; and while his brethren of the sea ventured on sundry conflicting opinions concerning the character of the stranger, and a hundred idle conjectures had flown from mouth to mouth, among the landsmen and females, not a syllable that could commit the old man escaped his lips. He let the others talk at will; as for himself, it suited his habits, and possibly his doubts, to maintain a grave and portentous silence.
We have spoken of females; as a matter of course, an event like this, in a town of some three or four thousand souls, would be likely to draw a due proportion of the gentler sex to the heights. Most of them contrived to get as near as possible to the aged seaman, in order to obtain the first intelligence, that it might be the sooner circulated; but it would seem that among the younger of these there was also a sort of oracle of their own, about whose person gathered a dozen of the prettiest girls; either anxious to hear what Ghita might have to say in the premises, or, perhaps, influenced by the pride and modesty of their sex and condition, which taught them to maintain a little more reserve than was necessary to the less refined portion of their companions. In speaking of condition, however, the words must be understood with an exceedingly limited meaning. Porto Ferrajo had but two classes of society, the tradespeople and the laborers; although there were, perhaps, a dozen exceptions in the persons of a few humble functionaries of the government, an avvocato, a medico, and a few priests. The governor of the island was a Tuscan of rank, but he seldom honored the place with his presence; and his deputy was a professional man, a native of the town, whose original position was too well known to allow him to give himself airs on the spot where he was born. Ghita's companions, then, were daughters of shopkeepers, and persons of that class who, having been taught to read, and occasionally going to Leghorn, besides being admitted by the deputy to the presence of his housekeeper, had got to regard themselves as a little elevated above the more vulgar curiosity of the less cultivated girls of the port. Ghita herself, however, owed her ascendency to her qualities, rather than to the adventitious advantage of being a grocer's or an innkeeper's daughter, her origin being unknown to most of those around her, as indeed was her family name. She had been landed six weeks before, and left by one who passed for her father, at the inn of Christoforo Dovi, as a boarder, and had acquired all her influence, as so many reach notoriety in our own simple society, by the distinction of having travelled; aided, somewhat, by her strong sense, great decision of character, perfect modesty and propriety of deportment, with a form which was singularly graceful and feminine, and a face that, while it could scarcely be called beautiful, was in the highest degree winning and attractive. No one thought of asking her family name; and she never appeared to deem it necessary to mention it. Ghita was sufficient; it was familiar to every one; and, although there were two or three others of the same appellation in Porto Ferrajo, this, by common consent, got to be the Ghita, within a week after she had landed.
Ghita, it was known, had travelled, for she had publicly reached Elba in a felucca, coming, as was said, from the Neapolitan states. If this were true, she was probably the only person of her sex in the town who had ever seen Vesuvius, or planted her eyes on the wonders of a part of Italy that has a reputation second only to that of Rome. Of course, if any girl in Porto Ferrajo could imagine the character of the stranger it must be Ghita; and it was on this supposition that she had unwittingly, and, if the truth must be owned, unwillingly, collected around her a clientelle of at least a dozen girls of her own age, and apparently of her own class. The latter, however, felt no necessity for the reserve maintained by the curious who pressed near 'Maso; for, while they respected their guest and friend, and would rather listen to her surmises than to those of any other person, they had such a prompting desire to hear their own voices that not a minute escaped without a question, or a conjecture, both volubly and quite audibly expressed. The interjections, too, were somewhat numerous, as the guesses were crude and absurd. One said it was a vessel with despatches from Livorno, possibly with "His Eccellenza" on board; but she was reminded that Leghorn lay to the north, and not to the west. Another thought it was a cargo of priests, going from Corsica to Rome; but she was told that priests were not in sufficient favor just then in France, to get a vessel so obviously superior to the ordinary craft of the Mediterranean, to carry them about. While a third, more imaginative than either, ventured to doubt whether it was a vessel at all; deceptive appearances of this sort not being of rare occurrence, and usually taking the aspect of something out of the ordinary way.
"Si," said Annina, "but that would be a miracle, Maria; and why should we have a miracle, now that Lent and most of the holidays are past? I believe it is a real vessel."
The others laughed, and, after a good deal of eager chattering on the subject, it was quite generally admitted that the stranger was a bona fide craft, of some species or another, though all agreed she was not a felucca, a bombarda, or a sparanara. All this time Ghita was thoughtful and silent; quite as much so, indeed, as Tommaso himself, though from a very different motive. Nothwithstanding all the gossip, and the many ludicrous opinions of her companions, her eyes scarcely turned an instant from the lugger, on which they seemed to be riveted by a sort of fascination. Had there been one there sufficiently unoccupied to observe this interesting girl, he might have been struck with the varying expression of a countenance that was teeming with sensibility, and which too often reflected the passing emotions of its mistress's mind. Now an expression of anxiety, and even of alarm, would have been detected by such an observer, if acute enough to separate these emotions, in the liveliness of sentiment, from the more vulgar feelings of her companions; and now, something like gleamings of delight and happiness flashed across her eloquent countenance. The color came and went often; and there was an instant, during which the lugger varied her course, hauling to the wind, and then falling off again, like a dolphin at its sports, when the radiance of the pleasure that glowed about her soft blue eyes rendered the girl perfectly beautiful. But none of these passing expressions were noticed by the garrulous group around the stranger female, who was left very much to the indulgence of the impulses that gave them birth, unquestioned, and altogether unsuspected.
Although the cluster of girls had, with feminine sensitiveness, gathered a little apart from the general crowd, there were but a few yards between the spot where it stood and that occupied by 'Maso; so that, when the latter spoke, an attentive listener among the former might hear his words. This was an office that Tonti did not choose to undertake, however, until he was questioned by the podesta, Vito Viti, who now appeared on the hill in person, puffing like a whale that rises to breathe, from the vigor of his ascent.
"What dost thou make of her, good 'Maso?" demanded the magistrate, after he had examined the stranger himself some time in silence, feeling authorized, in virtue of his office, to question whom he pleased.
"Signore, it is a lugger," was the brief, and certainly the accurate reply.
"Aye, a lugger; we all understand that, neighbor Tonti; but what sort of a lugger? There are felucca-luggers, and polacre-luggers, and bombarda-luggers, and all sorts of luggers; which sort of lugger is this?"
"Signor Podesta, this is not the language of the port. We call a felucca, a felucca; a bombarda, a bombarda; a polacre, a polacre; and a lugger, a lugger. This is therefore a lugger."
'Maso spoke authoritatively, for he felt that he was now not out of his depth, and it was grateful to him to let the public know how much better he understood all these matters than a magistrate. On the other hand, the podesta was nettled, and disappointed into the bargain, for he really imagined he was drawing nice distinctions, much as it was his wont to do in legal proceedings; and it was his ambition to be thought to know something of everything.
"Well, Tonti," answered Signor Viti, in a protecting manner, and with an affable smile, "as this is not an affair that is likely to go to the higher courts at Florence, your explanations may be taken as sufficient, and I have no wish to disturb them—a lugger is a lugger."
"Si, Signore; that is just what we say in the port. A lugger is a lugger."
"And yonder strange craft, you maintain, and at need are ready to swear, is a lugger?"
Now 'Maso seeing no necessity for any oath in the affair, and being always somewhat conscientious in such matters, whenever the custom-house officers did not hold the book, was a little startled at this suggestion, and he took another and a long look at the stranger before he answered.
"Si, Signore," he replied, after satisfying his mind once more, through his eyes, "I will swear that the stranger yonder is a lugger."
"And canst thou add, honest Tonti, of what nation? The nation is of as much moment in these troubled times, as the rig."
"You say truly, Signor Podesta; for if an Algerine, or a Moor, or even a Frenchman, he will be an unwelcome visitor in the Canal of Elba. There are many different signs about him, that sometimes make me think he belongs to one people, and then to another; and I crave your pardon if I ask a little leisure to let him draw nearer, before I give a positive opinion."
As this request was reasonable, no objection was raised. The podesta turned aside, and observing Ghita, who had visited his niece, and of whose intelligence he entertained a favorable opinion, he drew nearer to the girl, determined to lose a moment in dignified trifling.
"Honest 'Maso, poor fellow, is sadly puzzled," he observed, smiling benevolently, as if in pity for the pilot's embarrassment; "he wishes to persuade us that the strange craft yonder is a lugger, though he cannot himself say to what country she belongs!"
"It is a lugger, Signore," returned the girl, drawing a long breath, as if relieved by hearing the sound of her own voice.
"How! dost thou pretend to be so skilled in vessels as to distinguish these particulars at the distance of a league?"
"I do not think it a league, Signore—not more than half a league; and the distance lessens fast, though the wind is so light. As for knowing a lugger from a felucca, it is as easy as to know a house from a church, or one of the reverend padri, in the streets, from a mariner."
"Aye, so I would have told 'Maso on the spot, had the obstinate old fellow been inclined to hear me. The distance is just about what you say; and nothing is easier than to see that the stranger is a lugger. As to the nation—"
"That may not be so easily told, Signore, unless the vessel show us her nag."
"By San Antonio! thou art right, child; and it is fitting she should show us her flag. Nothing has a right to approach so near the port of his Imperial and Royal Highness, that does not show its flag, thereby declaring its honest purpose and its nation. My friends, are the guns in the battery loaded as usual?"
The answer being in the affirmative, there was a hurried consultation among some of the principal men in the crowd, and then the podesta walked toward the government-house with an important air. In five minutes, soldiers were seen in the batteries, and preparations were made for levelling an eighteen-pounder in the direction of the stranger. Most of the females turned aside, and stopped their ears, the battery being within a hundred yards of the spot where they stood; but Ghita, with a face that was pale certainly, though with an eye that was steady, and without the least indications of fear, as respected herself, intensely watched every movement. When it was evident the artillerists were about to fire, anxiety induced her to break silence.
"They surely will not aim at the lugger!" she exclaimed. "That cannot be necessary, Signor Podesta, to make the stranger hoist his flag. Never have I seen that done in the south."
"You are unacquainted with our Tuscan bombardiers, Signorina," answered the magistrate, with a bland smile, and an exulting gesture. "It is well for Europe that the grand duchy is so small, since such troops might prove even more troublesome than the French!"
Ghita, however, paid no attention to this touch of provincial pride, but, pressing her hands on her heart, she stood like a statue of suspense, while the men in the battery executed their duty. In a minute the match was applied, and the gun was discharged. Though all her companions uttered invocations to the saints, and other exclamations, and some even crouched to the earth in terror, Ghita, the most delicate of any in appearance, and with more real sensibility than all united expressed in her face, stood firm and erect. The flash and the explosion evidently had no effect on her; not an artillerist among them was less unmoved in frame, at the report, than this slight girl. She even imitated the manner of the soldiers, by turning to watch the flight of the shot, though she clasped her hands as she did so, and appeared to wait the result with trembling. The few seconds of suspense were soon past, when the ball was seen to strike the water fully a quarter of a mile astern of the lugger, and to skip along the placid sea for twice that distance further, when it sank to the bottom by its own gravity.
"Santa Maria be praised!" murmured the girl, a smile half pleasure, half irony, lighting her face, as unconsciously to herself she spoke, "these Tuscan artillerists are no fatal marksmen!"
"That was most dexterously done, bella Ghita!" exclaimed the magistrate, removing his two hands from his ears; "that was amazingly well aimed! Another such shot as far ahead, with a third fairly between the two, and the stranger will learn to respect the rights of Tuscany. What say'st thou now, honest 'Maso—will this lugger tell us her country, or will she further brave our power?"
"If wise, she will hoist her ensign; and yet I see no signs of preparations for such an act."
Sure enough the stranger, though quite within effective range of shot from the heights, showed no disposition to gratify the curiosity, or to appease the apprehensions, of those in the town. Two or three of her people were visible in her rigging, but even these did not hasten their work, or in any manner seem deranged at the salutation they had just received. After a few minutes, however, the lugger jibed her mainsail, and then hauled up a little, so as to look more toward the headland, as if disposed to steer for the bay, by doubling the promontory. This movement caused the artillerists to suspend their own, and the lugger had fairly come within a mile of the cliffs, ere she lazily turned aside again, and shaped her course once more in the direction of the entrance of the Canal. This drew another shot, which effectually justified the magistrate's eulogy, for it certainly flew as much ahead of the stranger as the first had flown astern.
"There, Signore," cried Ghita eagerly, as she turned to the magistrate, "they are about to hoist their ensign, for now they know your wishes. The soldiers surely will not fire again!"
"That would be in the teeth of the law of nations, Signorina, and a blot on Tuscan civilization. Ah! you perceive the artillerists are aware of what you say, and are putting aside their tools. Cospetto! 'tis a thousand pities, too, they couldn't fire the third shot, that you might see it strike the lugger; as yet you have only beheld their preparations."
"It is enough, Signor Podesta," returned Ghita, smiling, for she could smile now that she saw the soldiers intended no further mischief; "we have all heard of your Elba gunners, and what I have seen convinces me of what they can do, when there is occasion. Look, Signore! the lugger is about to satisfy our curiosity."
Sure enough, the stranger saw fit to comply with the usages of nations. It has been said, already, that the lugger was coming down before the wind wing-and-wing, or with a sail expanded to the air on each side of her hull, a disposition of the canvas that gives to the felucca, and to the lugger in particular, the most picturesque of all their graceful attitudes. Unlike the narrow-headed sails that a want of hands has introduced among ourselves, these foreign, we might almost say classical, mariners send forth their long pointed yards aloft, confining the width below by the necessary limits of the sheet, making up for the difference in elevation by the greater breadth of their canvas. The idea of the felucca's sails, in particular, would seem to have been literally taken from the wing of the large sea-fowl, the shape so nearly corresponding that, with the canvas spread in the manner just mentioned, one of those light craft has a very close resemblance to the gull or the hawk, as it poises itself in the air or is sweeping down upon its prey. The lugger has less of the beauty that adorns a picture, perhaps, than the strictly latine rig; but it approaches so near it as to be always pleasing to the eye, and, in the particular evolution described, is scarcely less attractive. To the seaman, however, it brings with it an air of greater service, being a mode of carrying canvas that will buffet with the heaviest gales or the roughest seas, while it appears so pleasant to the eye in the blandest airs and smoothest water.
The lugger that was now beneath the heights of Elba had three masts, though sails were spread only on the two that were forward. The third mast was stepped on the taffrail; it was small, and carried a little sail, that, in English, is termed a jigger, its principal use being to press the bows of the craft up to the wind, when close-hauled, and render her what is termed weatherly. On the present occasion, there could scarcely be said to be anything deserving the name of wind, though Ghita felt her cheek, which was warmed with the rich blood of her country, fanned by an air so gentle that occasionally it blew aside tresses that seemed to vie with the floss silk of her native land. Had the natural ringlets been less light, however, so gentle a respiration of the sea air could scarcely have disturbed them. But the lugger had her lightest duck spread—reserving the heavier canvas for the storms—and it opened like the folds of a balloon, even before these gentle impulses; occasionally collapsing, it is true, as the ground-swell swung the yards to and fro, but, on the whole, standing out and receiving the air as if guided more by volition than any mechanical power. The effect on the hull was almost magical; for, notwithstanding the nearly imperceptible force of the propelling power, owing to the lightness and exquisite mould of the craft, it served to urge her through the water at the rate of some three or four knots in the hour; or quite as fast as an ordinarily active man is apt to walk. Her motion was nearly unobservable to all on board, and might rather be termed gliding than sailing, the ripple under her cut-water not much exceeding that which is made by the finger as it is moved swiftly through the element; still the slightest variation of the helm changed her course, and this so easily and gracefully as to render her deviations and inclinations like those of the duck. In her present situation, too, the jigger, which was brailed, and hung festooned from its light yard, ready for use, should occasion suddenly demand it, added singularly to the smart air which everything wore about this craft, giving her, in the seaman's eyes, that particularly knowing and suspicious look which had awakened 'Maso's distrust.
The preparations to show the ensign, which caught the quick and understanding glance of Ghita, and which had not escaped even the duller vision of the artillerists, were made at the outer end of this jigger-yard, A boy appeared on the taffrail, and he was evidently clearing the ensign-halyards for that purpose. In half a minute, however, he disappeared; then a flag rose steadily, and by a continued pull, to its station. At first the bunting hung suspended in a line, so as to evade all examination; but, as if everything on board this light craft were on a scale as airy and buoyant as herself, the folds soon expanded, showing a white field, traversed at right angles with a red cross, and having a union of the same tint in its upper and inner corner.
"Inglese!" exclaimed 'Maso, infinitely aided in this conjecture by the sight of the stranger's ensign—"Si, Signore; it is an Englishman; I thought so, from the first, but as the lugger is not a common rig for vessels of that nation, I did not like to risk anything by saying it."
"Well, honest Tommaso, it is a happiness to have a mariner as skilful as yourself, in these troublesome times, at one's elbow! I do not know how else we should ever have found out the stranger's country. An Inglese! Corpo di Bacco! Who would have thought that a nation so maritime, and which lies so far off, would send so small a craft this vast distance! Why, Ghita, it is a voyage from Elba to Livorno, and yet, I dare say England is twenty times further."
"Signore, I know little of England, but I have heard that it lies beyond our own sea. This is the flag of the country, however; for that have I often beheld. Many ships of that nation come upon the coast, further south."
"Yes, it is a great country for mariners; though they tell me it has neither wine nor oil. They are allies of the emperor, too; and deadly enemies of the French, who have done so much harm in upper Italy. That is something, Ghita, and every Italian should honor the flag. I fear the stranger does not intend to enter our harbor!"
"He steers as if he did not, certainly, Signor Podesta," said Ghita, sighing so gently that the respiration was audible only to herself. "Perhaps he is in search of some of the French, of which they say so many were seen, last year, going east."
"Aye, that was truly an enterprise!" answered the magistrate, gesticulating on a large scale, and opening his eyes by way of accompaniments. "General Bonaparte, he who had been playing the devil in the Milanese and the states of the Pope, for the last two years, sailed, they sent us word, with two or three hundred ships, the saints at first knew whither. Some said, it was to destroy the holy sepulchre; some to overturn the Grand Turk; and some thought to seize the islands. There was a craft in here, the same week, which said he had got possession of the Island of Malta; in which case we might look out for trouble in Elba. I had my suspicions, from the first!"
"All this I heard at the time, Signore, and my uncle probably could tell you more—how we all felt at the tidings!"
"Well, that is all over now, and the French are in Egypt. Your uncle, Ghita, has gone upon the main, I hear?" this was said inquiringly, and it was intended to be said carelessly; but the podesta could not prevent a glance of suspicion from accompanying the question.
"Signore, I believe he has, but I know little of his affairs. The time has come, however, when I ought to expect him. See, Eccellenza," a title that never failed to mollify the magistrate, and turn his attention from others entirely to himself, "the lugger really appears disposed to look into your bay, if not actually to enter it!"
This sufficed to change the discourse. Nor was it said altogether without reason; the lugger, which by this time had passed the western promontory, actually appearing disposed to do as Ghita conjectured. She jibed her mainsail—brought both sheets of canvas on her larboard side, and luffed a little, so as to cause her head to look toward the opposite side of the bay, instead of standing on, as before, in the direction of the canal. This change in the lugger's course produced a general movement in the crowd, which began to quit the heights, hastening to descend the terraced streets, in order to reach the haven. 'Maso and the podesta led the van, in this descent; and the girls, with Ghita in their midst, followed with equal curiosity, but with eager steps. By the time the throng was assembled on the quays, in the streets, on the decks of feluccas, or at other points that commanded the view, the stranger was seen gliding past, in the centre of the wide and deep bay, with his jigger hauled out, and his sheets aft, looking up nearly into the wind's eye, if that could be called wind which was still little more than the sighing of the classical zephyr. His motion was necessarily slow, but it continued light, easy, and graceful. After passing the entrance of the port a mile or more, he tacked and looked up toward the haven. By this time, however, he had got so near in to the western cliffs, that their lee deprived him of all air; and, after keeping his canvas open half an hour in the little roads, it was all suddenly drawn to the yards, and the lugger anchored.
"His stock, a few French phrases, got by heart, With much to learn, but nothing to impart; The youth, obedient to his sire's commands, Sets off a wanderer into foreign lands."
It was now nearly dark, and the crowd, having satisfied its idle curiosity, began slowly to disperse. The Signor Viti remained till the last, conceiving it to be his duty to be on the alert in such troubled times; but, with all his bustling activity, it escaped his vigilance and means of observation to detect the circumstance that the stranger, while he steered into the bay with so much confidence, had contrived to bring up at a point where not a single gun from the batteries could be brought to bear on him; while his own shot, had he been disposed to hostilities, would have completely raked the little haven. But Vito Viti, though so enthusiastic an admirer of the art, was no gunner himself, and little liked to dwell on the effect of shot, except as it applied to others, and not at all to himself.
Of all the suspicious, apprehensive, and curious, who had been collected in and about the port, since it was known the lugger intended to come into the bay, Ghita and 'Maso alone remained on watch, after the vessel was anchored. A loud hail had been given by those intrusted with the execution of the quarantine laws, the great physical bugbear and moral mystification of the Mediterranean; and the questions put had been answered in a way to satisfy all scruples for the moment. The "From whence came ye?" asked, however, in an Italian idiom, had been answered by "Inghilterra, touching at Lisbon and Gibraltar," all regions beyond distrust, as to the plague, and all happening, at that moment, to give clean bills of health. But the name of the craft herself had been given in a way to puzzle all the proficients in Saxon English that Porto Ferrajo could produce. It had been distinctly enough pronounced by some one on board, and, at the request of the quarantine department, had been three times slowly repeated, very much after the following form; viz.:
"Come chiamate il vostro bastimento?"
A long pause, during which the officials put their heads together, first to compare the sounds of each with those of his companions' ears, and then to inquire of one who professed to understand English, but whose knowledge was such as is generally met with in a linguist of a little-frequented port, the meaning of the term.
"Ving-y-ving!" growled this functionary, not a little puzzled "what ze devil sort of name is zat! Ask zem again."
"Come si chiama la vostra barca, Signori Inglesi?" repeated he who hailed.
"Diable!" growled one back, in French; "she is called ze Wing-and-Wing—'Ala e Ala,'" giving a very literal translation of the name, in Italian.
'"Ala e ala!" repeated they of the quarantine, first looking at each other in surprise, and then laughing, though in a perplexed and doubtful manner; "Ving-y-Ving!"
This passed just as the lugger anchored and the crowd had begun to disperse. It caused some merriment, and it was soon spread in the little town that a craft had just arrived from Inghilterra, whose name, in the dialect of that island, was "Ving-y-Ving," which meant "Ala e ala" in Italian, a cognomen that struck the listeners as sufficiently absurd. In confirmation of the fact, however, the lugger hoisted a small square flag at the end of her main-yard, on which were painted, or wrought, two large wings, as they are sometimes delineated in heraldry, with the beak of a galley between them; giving the whole conceit something very like the appearance that the human imagination has assigned to those heavenly beings, cherubs. This emblem seemed to satisfy the minds of the observers, who were too much accustomed to the images of art, not to obtain some tolerably distinct notions, in the end, of what "Ala e ala" meant.
But 'Maso, as has been said, remained after the rest had departed to their homes and their suppers, as did Ghita. The pilot, for such was Tonti's usual appellation, in consequence of his familiarity with the coast, and his being principally employed to direct the navigation of the different craft in which he served, kept his station on board a felucca to which he belonged, watching the movements of the lugger; while the girl had taken her stand on the quay, in a position that better became her sex, since it removed her from immediate contact with the rough spirits of the port, while it enabled her to see what occurred about the Wing-and-Wing. More than half an hour elapsed, however, before there were any signs of an intention to land; but, by the time it was dark, a boat was ready, and it was seen making its way to the common stairs, where one or two of the regular officials were ready to receive it.
It is unnecessary to dwell on the forms of the pratique officers. These troublesome persons had their lanterns, and were vigilant in examining papers, as is customary; but it would seem the mariner in the boat had everything en regle, for he was soon suffered to land. At this instant, Ghita passed near the group, and took a close and keen survey of the stranger's form and face, her own person being so enveloped in a mantle as to render a recognition of it difficult, if not impossible. The girl seemed satisfied with this scrutiny, for she immediately disappeared. Not so with 'Maso, who by this time had hurried round from the felucca, and was at the stairs in season to say a word to the stranger.
"Signore," said the pilot, "his Eccellenza, the podesta, has bidden me say to you that he expects the honor of your company at his house, which stands so near us, hard by here, in the principle street, as will make it only a pleasure to go there; I know he would be disappointed, if he failed of the happiness of seeing you."
"His Excellenza is a man not to be disappointed," returned the stranger, in very good Italian, "and five minutes shall prove to him how eager I am to salute him"; then turning to the crew of his boat, he ordered them to return on board the lugger, and not to fail to look out for the signal by which he might call them ashore.
'Maso, as he led the way to the dwelling of Vito Viti, would fain ask a few questions, in the hope of appeasing certain doubts that beset him.
"Since when, Signor Capitano," he inquired, "have you English taken to sailing luggers? It is a novel rig for one of your craft."
"Corpo di Bacco!" answered the other, laughing, "friend of mine, if you can tell the precise day when brandy and laces were first smuggled from France into my country, I will answer your question. I think you have never navigated as far north as the Bay of Biscay and our English Channel, or you would know that a Guernsey-man is better acquainted with the rig of a lugger than with that of a ship."
"Guernsey is a country I never heard of," answered 'Maso simply; "is it like Holland—or more like Lisbon?"
"Very little of either. Guernsey is a country that was once French, and where many of the people still speak the French language, but of which the English have been masters this many an age. It is an island subject to King George, but which is still half Gallic in names and usages. This is the reason why we like the lugger better than the cutter, which is a more English rig."
'Maso was silent, for, if true, the answer at once removed many misgivings. He had seen so much about the strange craft which struck him as French, that doubts of her character obtruded; but if her captain's account could only be substantiated, there was an end of distrust. What could be more natural than the circumstance that a vessel fitted out in an island of French origin should betray some of the peculiarities of the people who built her?
The podesta was at home, in expectation of this visit, and 'Maso was first admitted to a private conference, leaving the stranger in an outer room. During this brief conference, the pilot communicated all he had to say—both his suspicions and the seeming solution of the difficulties; and then he took his leave, after receiving the boon of a paul. Vito Viti now joined his guest, but it was so dark, lights not having yet been introduced, that neither could distinguish the other's countenance.
"Signor Capitano," observed the magistrate, "the deputy-governor is at his residence, on the hill, and he will expect me to do him the favor to bring you thither, that he may do you the honors of the port."
This was said so civilly, and was, in itself, both so reasonable and so much in conformity with usage, that the other had not a word to say against it. Together, then, they left the house, and proceeded toward the government-dwelling—a building which has since become celebrated as having been the residence of a soldier who came so near subjugating Europe. Vito Viti was a short, pursy man, and he took his time to ascend the stairs-resembling street; but his companion stepped from terrace to terrace with an ease and activity that, of themselves, would have declared him to be young, had not this been made apparent by his general bearing and his mien, as seen through the obscurity.
Andrea Barrofaldi, the vice-governatore, was a very different sort of person from his friend the podesta. Although little more acquainted with the world, by practice, the vice-governatore was deeply read in books; owing his situation, in short, to the circumstance of his having written several clever works, of no great reputation, certainly, for genius, but which were useful in their way, and manifested scholarship. It is very seldom that a man of mere letters is qualified for public life; and yet there is an affectation, in all governments, most especially in those which care little for literature in general, of considering some professions of respect for it necessary to their own characters. Andrea Barrofaldi had been inducted into his present office without even the sentimental profession of never having asked for it. The situation had been given to him by the Fossombrone of his day, without a word having been said in the journals of Tuscany of his doubts about accepting it, and everything passed, as things are apt to pass when there are true simplicity and good faith at the bottom, without pretension or comment. He had now been ten years in office, and had got to be exceedingly expert in discharging all the ordinary functions of his post, which he certainly did with zeal and fidelity. Still, he did not desert his beloved books, and, quite apropos of the matter about to come before him, the Signor Barrofaldi had just finished a severe, profound, and extensive course of study in geography.
The stranger was left in the ante-chamber, while Vito Viti entered an inner room, and had a short communication with his friend, the vice-governatore. As soon as this was ended, the former returned, and ushered his companion into the presence of the substitute for the grand duke. As this was the sailor's first appearance within the influence of a light sufficiently strong to enable the podesta to examine his person, both he and Andrea Barrofaldi turned their eyes on him with lively curiosity, the instant the rays of a strong lamp enabled them to scrutinize his appearance. Neither was disappointed, in one sense, at least; the countenance, figure, and mien of the mariner much more than equalling his expectations.
The stranger was a man of six-and-twenty, who stood five feet ten in his stockings, and whose frame was the very figure of activity, united to a muscle that gave very fair indications of strength. He was attired in an undress naval uniform, which he wore with a smart air, that one who understood these matters, more by means of experience, and less by means of books, than Andrea Barrofaldi, would at once have detected did not belong to the manly simplicity of the English wardrobe. Nor were his features in the slightest degree those of one of the islanders, the outline being beautifully classical, more especially about the mouth and chin, while the cheeks were colorless, and the skin swarthy. His eye, too, was black as jet, and his cheek was half covered in whiskers of a hue dark as the raven's wing. His face, as a whole, was singularly beautiful—for handsome is a word not strong enough to express all the character that was conveyed by a conformation that might be supposed to have been copied from some antique medal, more especially when illuminated by a smile that, at times, rendered the whole countenance almost as bewitching as that of a lovely woman. There was nothing effeminate in the appearance of the young stranger, notwithstanding; his manly, though sweet voice, well-knit frame, and firm look affording every pledge of resolution and spirit.
Both the vice-governatore and the podesta were struck with the unusual personal advantages and smart air of the stranger, and each stood looking at him half a minute in silence, after the usual salutations had passed, and before the party were seated. Then, as the three took chairs, on a motion from Signor Barrofaldi, the latter opened the discourse.
"They tell me that we have the honor to receive into our little haven a vessel of Inghilterra, Signor Capitano," observed the vice-governatore, earnestly regarding the other through his spectacles as he spoke, and that, too, in a manner not altogether free from distrust.
"Signer Vice-governatore, such is the flag under which I have the honor to serve," returned the mariner.
"You are an Inglese, yourself, I trust, Signor Capitano—what name shall I enter in my book, here?"
"Jaques Smeet," answered the other, betraying what might have proved two very fatal shibboleths, in the ears of those who were practised in the finesse of our very unmusical language, by attempting to say "Jack Smith."
"Jaques Smeet," repeated the vice-governatore—"that is, Giacomo, in our Italian—"
"No—no—Signore," hastily interrupted Captain Smeet; "not Jaqueomo, but Jaques—Giovanni turned into Jaques by the aid of a little salt water."
"Ah!—I begin to understand you, Signore; you English have this usage in your language, though you have softened the word a little, in mercy to our ears. But we Italians are not afraid of such sounds; and I know the name.—'Giac Smeet'—Il Capitano Giac Smeet—I have long suspected my English master of ignorance, for he was merely one of our Leghorn pilots, who has sailed in a bastimento de guerra of your country—he called your honorable name 'Smees,' Signore."
"He was very wrong, Signor Vice-governatore," answered the other, clearing his throat by a slight effort; "we always call our family 'Smeet.'"
"And the name of your lugger, Signor Capitano Smeet?" suspending his pen over the paper in expectation of the answer.
"Ze Ving-and-Ving"; pronouncing the w's in a very different way from what they had been sounded in answering the hails.
"Ze Ving-y-Ving," repeated Signor Barrofaldi, writing the name in a manner to show it was not the first time he had heard it; "ze Ving-y-Ving; that is a poetical appellation, Signor Capitano; may I presume to ask what it signifies?"
"Ala e ala, in your Italian, Mister Vice-governatore. When a craft like mine has a sail spread on each side, resembling a bird, we say, in English, that she marches 'Ving-and-Ving,'"
Andrea Barrofaldi mused, in silence, near a minute. During this interval, he was thinking of the improbability of any but a bona-fide Englishman's dreaming of giving a vessel an appellation so thoroughly idiomatic, and was fast mystifying himself, as so often happens by tyros in any particular branch of knowledge, by his own critical acumen. Then he half whispered a conjecture on the subject to Vito Viti, influenced quite as much by a desire to show his neighbor his own readiness in such matters, as by any other feeling. The podesta was less struck by the distinction than his superior; but, as became one of his limited means, he did not venture an objection.
"Signor Capitano," resumed Andrea Barrofaldi, "since when have you English adopted the rig of the lugger? It is an unusual craft for so great a naval nation, they tell me."
"Bah! I see how it is, Signor Vice-governatore—you suspect me of being a Frenchman, or a Spaniard, or something else than I claim to be. On this head, however, you may set your heart at rest, and put full faith in what I tell you. My name is Capitaine Jaques Smeet; my vessel is ze Ving-and-Ving; and my service that of the king of England."
"Is your craft, then, a king's vessel; or does she sail with the commission of a corsair?"
"Do I look like a corsair, Signor?" demanded le Capitaine Smeet, with an offended air; "I have reason to feel myself injured by so unworthy an imputation!"
"Your pardon, Signor Capitano Smees—but our duty is a very delicate one, on this unprotected island, in times as troubled as these in which we live. It has been stated to me, as coming from the most experienced pilot of our haven, that your lugger has not altogether the appearance of a vessel of the Inglese, while she has many that belong to the corsairs of France; and a prudent caution imposes on me the office of making certain of your nation. Once assured of that, it will be the delight of the Elbans to prove how much we honor and esteem our illustrious allies."
"This is so reasonable, and so much according to what I do myself, when I meet a stranger at sea," cried the captain, stretching forth both arms in a frank and inviting manner, "that none but a knave would object to it. Pursue your own course, Signor Vice-governatore, and satisfy all your scruples, in your own manner. How shall this be done—will you go on board ze Ving-and-Ving, and look for yourself—send this honorable magistrate, or shall I show you my commission? Here is the last, altogether at your service, and that of his Imperial Highness, the Grand Duke."
"I flatter myself with having sufficient knowledge of Inghilterra, Signor Capitano, though it be by means of books, to discover an impostor, could I believe you capable of appearing in so unworthy a character; and that, too, in a very brief conversation. We bookworms," added Andrea Barrofaldi, with a glance of triumph at his neighbor, for he now expected to give the podesta an illustration of the practical benefits of general learning, a subject that had often been discussed between them, "we bookworms can manage these trifles in our own way; and if you will consent to enter into a short dialogue on the subject of England, her habits, language, and laws, this question will be speedily put at rest."
"You have me at command; and nothing would delight me more than to chat for a few minutes about that little island. It is not large, Signore, and is doubtless of little worth; but, as my country, it is much in my eyes."
"This is natural. And now, Signor Capitano," added Andrea, glancing at, the podesta, to make sure that he was listening, "will you have the goodness to explain to me what sort of a government this Inghilterra possesses—whether monarchy, aristocracy, or democracy?"
"Peste!—that is not so easily answered. There is a king, and yet there are powerful lords; and a democracy, too, that sometimes gives trouble enough. Your question might puzzle a philosopher, Signor Vice-governatore."
"This may be true enough, neighbor Vito Viti, for the constitution of Inghilterra is an instrument of many strings. Your answer convinces me you have thought on the subject of your government, Capitano, and I honor a reflecting man in all situations in life. What is the religion of the country?"
"Corpo di Bacco! that is harder to answer than all the rest! We have as many religions in England as we have people. It is true the law says one thing on this head, but then the men, women, and children say another. Nothing has troubled me more than this same matter of religion."
"Ah! you sailors do not disquiet your souls with such thoughts, if the truth must be said. Well, we will be indulgent on this subject—though, out of doubt, you and all your people are Luterani?"
"Set us down as what you please," answered the captain, with an ironical smile. "Our fathers, at any rate, were all good Catholics once. But seamanship and the altar are the best of friends, living quite independent of each other."
"That I will answer for. It is much the same here, caro Vito Viti, though our mariners do burn so many lamps and offer up so many aves."
"Your pardon, Signor Vice-governatore," interrupted the Signor Smeet, with a little earnestness; "this is the great mistake of your seamen in general. Did they pray less, and look to their duties more, their voyages would be shorter, and the profits more certain."
"Scandalous!" exclaimed the podesta, in hotter zeal than it was usual for him to betray.
"Nay, worthy Vito Viti, it is even so," interrupted the deputy, with a wave of the hand that was as authoritative as the concession was liberal, and indicative of a spirit enlightened by study; "the fact must be conceded. There is the fable of Hercules and the wagoner to confirm it. Did our men first strive, and then pray, more would be done than by first praying and then striving; and now, Signor Capitano, a word on your language, of which I have some small knowledge, and which, doubtless, you speak like a native."
"Sairtainlee," answered the captain, with perfect self-composure, changing the form of speech from the Italian to the English with a readiness that proved how strong he felt himself on this point; "one cannot fail to speak ze tongue of his own muzzair."
This was said without any confusion of manner, and with an accent that might very well mislead a foreigner, and it sounded imposing to the vice-governatore, who felt a secret consciousness that he could not have uttered such a sentence to save his own life, without venturing out of his depth; therefore, he pursued the discourse in Italian.
"Your language, Signore," observed Andrea Barrofaldi, with warmth, "is no doubt a very noble one, for the language in which Shakespeare and Milton wrote cannot be else; but you will permit me to say that it has a uniformity of sound, with words of different letters, that I find as unreasonable as it is embarrassing to a foreigner."
"I have heard such complaints before," answered the captain, not at all sorry to find the examination which had proved so awkward to himself likely to be transferred to a language about which he cared not at all, "and have little to say in its defence. But as an example of what you mean—"
"Why, Signore, here are several words that I have written on this bit of paper, which sound nearly alike, though, as you perceive, they are quite differently spelled. Bix, bax, box, bux, and bocks," continued Andrea, endeavoring to pronounce, "big," "bag," "bog," "bug," and "box," all of which, it seemed to him, had a very close family resemblance in sound, though certainly spelled with different letters; "these are words, Signore, that are enough to drive a foreigner to abandon your tongue in despair."
"Indeed they are; and I often told the person who taught me the language—"
"How! did you not learn your own tongue as we all get our native forms of speech, by ear, when a child?" demanded the vice-governatore, his suspicions suddenly revived.
"Without question, Signore, but I speak of books, and of learning to read. When 'big,' 'bag,' 'bog,' bug,' and 'box,'" reading from the paper in a steady voice, and a very tolerable pronunciation, "first came before me, I felt all the embarrassment of which you speak."
"And did you only pronounce these words when first taught to read them?"
This question was awkward to answer; but Vito Viti began to weary of a discourse in which he could take no part, and most opportunely he interposed an objection of his own.
"Signor Barrofaldi," he said, "stick to the lugger. All our motives of suspicion came from Tommaso Tonti, and all of his from the rig of Signor Smees' vessel. If the lugger can be explained, what do we care about bixy, buxy, boxy!"
The vice-governatore was not sorry to get creditably out of the difficulties of the language, and, smiling on his friend, he made a gentle bow of compliance. Then he reflected a moment, in order to plan another mode of proceeding, and pursued the inquiry.
"My neighbor Vito Viti is right," he said, "and we will stick to the lugger. Tommaso Tonti is a mariner of experience, and the oldest pilot of Elba. He tells us that the lugger is a craft much in use among the French, and not at all among the English, so far as he has ever witnessed."
"In that Tommaso Tonti is no seaman. Many luggers are to be found among the English; though more, certainly, among the French. But I have already given the Signor Viti to understand that there is such an island as Guernsey, which was once French, but which is now English, and that accounts for the appearances he has observed. We are Guernsey-men—the lugger is from Guernsey—and, no doubt, we have a Guernsey look. This is being half French, I allow."
"That alters the matter altogether. Neighbor Viti, this is all true about the island, and about its habits and its origin; and if one could be as certain about the names, why, nothing more need be said. Are Giac Smees, and Ving-y-Ving, Guernsey names?"
"They are not particularly so," returned the sailor, with difficulty refraining from laughing in the vice-governatore's face; "Jaques Smeet' being so English, that we are the largest family, perhaps, in all Inghilterra. Half the nobles of the island are called Smeet', and not a few are named Jaques. But little Guernsey was conquered; and our ancestors who performed that office brought their names with them, Signore. As for Ving-and-Ving, it is capital English."
"I do not see, Vito, but this is reasonable. If the capitano, now, only had his commission with him, you and I might go to bed in peace, and sleep till morning."
"Here, then, Signore, are your sleeping potions," continued the laughing sailor, drawing from his pocket several papers. "These are my orders from the admiral; and, as they are not secret, you can cast your eyes over them. This is my commission, Signor Vice-governatore—this is the signature of the English minister of marine—and here is my own, 'Jaques Smeet'' as you see, and here is the order to me, as a lieutenant, to take command of the Ving-and-Ving."
All the orders and names were there, certainly, written in a clear, fair hand, and in perfectly good English. The only thing that one who understood the language would have been apt to advert to, was the circumstance that the words which the sailor pronounced "Jaques Smeet'" were written, plainly enough, "Jack Smith"—an innovation on the common practice, which, to own the truth, had proceeded from his own obstinacy, and had been done in the very teeth of the objections of the scribe who forged the papers. But Andrea was still too little of an English scholar to understand the blunder, and the Jack passed, with him, quite as currently as would "John," "Edward," or any other appellation. As to the Wing-and-Wing, all was right; though, as the words were pointed out and pronounced by both parties, one pertinaciously insisted on calling them "Ving-and-Ving," and the other, "Ving-y-Ving." All this evidence had a great tendency toward smoothing down every difficulty, and 'Maso Tonti's objections were pretty nearly forgotten by both the Italians, when the papers were returned to their proper owner.
"It was an improbable thing that an enemy, or a corsair, would venture into this haven of ours, Vito Viti," said the vice-governatore, in a self-approving manner; "we have a reputation for being vigilant, and for knowing our business, as well as the authorities of Livorno, or Genova, or Napoli."
"And that too, Signore, with nothing in the world to gain but hard knocks and a prison," added the Captain Smeet', with one of his most winning smiles—a smile that even softened the heart of the podesta, while it so far warmed that of his superior as to induce him to invite the stranger to share his own frugal supper. The invitation was accepted as frankly as it had been given, and, the table being ready in an adjoining room, in a few minutes Il Capitano Smees and Vito Viti were sharing the vice-governatore's evening meal.
From that moment, if distrust existed any longer in the breasts of the two functionaries of Porto Ferrajo, it was so effectually smothered as to be known only to themselves. The light fare of an Italian kitchen, and the light wines of Tuscany, just served to strengthen the system and enliven the spirits; the conversation becoming general and lively, us the business of the moment proceeded. At that day, tea was known throughout southern Europe as an ingredient only for the apothecary's keeping; nor was it often to be found among his stores; and the convives used, as a substitute, large draughts of the pleasant mountain liquors of the adjacent main, which produced an excitement scarcely greater, while it may be questioned if it did as much injury to the health. The stranger, however, both ate and drank sparingly, for, while he affected to join cordially in the discourse and the business of restoration, he greatly desired to be at liberty to pursue his own designs.
Andrea Barrofaldi did not let so excellent an opportunity to show his acquirements to the podesta go by neglected. He talked much of England, its history, its religion, government, laws, climate, and industry; making frequent appeals to the Capitano Smees for the truth of his opinions. In most cases the parties agreed surprisingly, for the stranger started with a deliberate intention to assent to everything; but even this compliant temper had its embarrassments, since the vice-governatore so put his interrogatories as occasionally to give to acquiescence the appearance of dissent. The other floundered through his difficulties tolerably well, notwithstanding; and so successful was he, in particular, in flattering Andrea's self-love by expressions of astonishment that a foreigner should understand his own country so well—better, indeed, in many respects, than he understood it himself—and that he should be so familiar with its habits, institutions, and geography, that, by the time the flask was emptied, the superior functionary whispered to his inferior, that the stranger manifested so much information and good sense, he should not be surprised if he turned out, in the long run, to be some secret agent of the British government, employed to make philosophical inquiries as to the trade and navigation of Italy, with a view to improve the business relations between the two countries.
"You are an admirer of nobility, and a devotee of aristocracy," added Andrea Barrofaldi, in pursuit of the subject then in hand; "if the truth were known, a scion of some Noble house yourself, Signor?"
"I?—Peste!—I hate an aristocrat, Signor Vice-governatore, as I do the devil!"
This was said just after the freest draught the stranger had taken, and with an unguarded warmth that he himself immediately regretted.
"This is extraordinary, in an Inglese! Ah—I see how it is—you are in the opposizione, and find it necessary to say this. It is most extraordinary, good Vito Viti, that these Inglese are divided into two political castes, that contradict each other in everything. If one maintains that an object is white, the other side swears it is black; and so vice versa. Both parties profess to love their country better than anything else; but the one that is out of power abuses even power itself, until it falls into its own hands."
"This is so much like Giorgio Grondi's course toward me, Signore, that I could almost swear he was one of these very opposizione! I never approve of a thing that he does not condemn, or condemn that he does not approve. Do you confess this much, Signor Capitano?"
"Il vice-governatore knows us better than we know ourselves, I fear. There is too much truth in his account of our politics; but, Signori," rising from his chair, "I now crave your permission to look at your town, and to return to my vessel. The darkness has come, and discipline must be observed."
As Andrea Barrofaldi had pretty well exhausted his stores of knowledge, no opposition was made; and, returning his thanks, the stranger took his departure, leaving the two functionaries to discuss his appearance and character over the remainder of the flask.
"There's Jonathan, that lucky lad, Who knows it from the root, sir;— He sucks in all that's to be had, And always trades for boot, sir."
14,763D VERSE OF YANKEE DOODLE.
Il Capitano Smeet' was not sorry to get out of the government house—palazzo, as some of the simple people of Elba called the unambitious dwelling. He had been well badgered by the persevering erudition of the vice-governatore; and, stored as he was with nautical anecdotes and a tolerable personal acquaintance with sundry seaports, for any expected occasion of this sort, he had never anticipated a conversation which would aspire as high as the institutions, religion, and laws of his adopted country. Had the worthy Andrea heard the numberless maledictions that the stranger muttered between his teeth, as he left the house, it would have shocked all his sensibilities, if it did not revive his suspicions.
It was now night; but a starry, calm, voluptuous evening, such as are familiar to those who are acquainted with the Mediterranean and its shores. There was scarcely a breath of wind, though the cool air, that appeared to be a gentle respiration of the sea, induced a few idlers still to linger on the heights, where there was a considerable extent of land that might serve for a promenade. Along this walk the mariner proceeded, undetermined, for the moment, what to do next. He had scarcely got into the open space, however, before a female, with her form closely enveloped in a mantle, brushed near him, anxiously gazing into his face. Her motions were too quick and sudden for him to obtain a look in return; but, perceiving that she held her way along the heights, beyond the spot most frequented by the idlers, he followed until she stopped.
"Ghita!" said the young man, in a tone of delight, when he had got near enough to the female to recognize a face and form she no longer attempted to conceal; "this is being fortunate, indeed, and saves a vast deal of trouble. A thousand, thousand thanks, dearest Ghita, for this one act of kindness. I might have brought trouble on you, as well as on myself, in striving to find your residence."
"It is for that reason, Raoul, that I have ventured so much more than is becoming in my sex, to meet you. A thousand eyes, in this gossiping little town, are on your lugger, at this moment, and be certain they will also be on its captain, as soon as it is known he has landed. I fear you do not know for what you and your people are suspected, at this very instant!"
"For nothing discreditable, I hope, dear Ghita, if it be only not to dishonor your friends!"
"Many think, and say, you are Frenchmen, and that the English flag is only a disguise."
"If that be all, we must bear the infamy," answered Raoul Yvard, laughing. "Why, this is just what we are to a man, a single American excepted, who is an excellent fellow to make out British commissions, and help us to a little English when harder pushed than common; and why should we be offended, if the good inhabitants of Porto Ferrajo take us for what we are?"
"Not offended, Raoul, but endangered. If the vice-governatore gets this notion, he will order the batteries to fire upon you, and will destroy you as an enemy."
"Not he, Ghita. He is too fond of le Capitaine Smeet', to do so cruel a thing; and then he must shift all his guns, before they will hurt le Feu-Follet where she lies. I never leave my little Jack-o'-Lantern within reach of an enemy's hand. Look here, Ghita; you can see her through this opening in the houses—that dark spot on the bay, there—and you will perceive no gun from any battery in Porto Ferrajo can as much as frighten, much less harm her."
 The English of Feu Follet.
"I know her position, Raoul, and understand why you anchored in that spot. I knew, or thought I knew you, from the first moment you came in plain sight; and so long as you remained outside, I was not sorry to look on so old a friend—nay, I will go further, and say I rejoiced, for it seemed to me you passed so near the island just to let some whom you knew to be on it understand you had not forgotten them; but when you came into the bay, I thought you mad!"
"Mad I should have been, dearest Ghita, had I lived longer without seeing you. What are these miserables of Elbans, that I should fear them! They have no cruiser—only a few feluccas—all of which are not worth the trouble of burning. Let them but point a finger at us, and we will tow their Austrian polacre out into the bay, and burn her before their eyes. Le Feu-Follet deserves her name; she is here, there, and everywhere, before her enemies suspect her."
"But her enemies suspect her now, and you cannot be too cautious. My heart was in my throat a dozen times, while the batteries were firing at you this evening."
"And what harm did they? they cost the Grand Duke two cartridges, and two shot, without even changing the lugger's course! You have seen too much of these things, Ghita, to be alarmed by smoke and noise."
"I have seen enough of these things, Raoul, to know that a heavy shot, fired from these heights, would have gone through your little Feu-Follet, and, coming out under water, would have sunk you to the bottom of the Mediterranean."
"We should have had our boats, then," answered Raoul Yvard, with an indifference that was not affected, for reckless daring was his vice, rather than his virtue; "besides, a shot must first hit before it can harm, as the fish must be taken before it can be cooked. But enough of this, Ghita; I get quite enough of shot, and ships, and sinkings, in everyday life, and, now I have at last found this blessed moment, we will not throw away the opportunity by talking of such matters—"
"Nay, Raoul, I can think of nothing else, and therefore can talk of nothing else. Suppose the vice-governatore should suddenly take it into his head to send a party of soldiers to le Feu-Follet, with orders to seize her—what would then be your situation?"
"Let him; and I would send a boat's crew to his palazzo, here"—the conversation was in French, which Ghita spoke fluently, though with an Italian accent—"and take him on a cruise after the English and his beloved Austrians! Bah!—the idea will not cross his constitutional brain, and there is little use in talking about it. In the morning, I will send my prime minister, mon Barras, mon Carnot, mon Cambaceres, mon Ithuel Bolt, to converse with him on politics and religion."
"Religion," repeated Ghita, in a saddened tone; "the less you say on that holy subject, Raoul, the better I shall like it, and the better it will be for yourself, in the end. The state of your country makes your want of religion matter of regret, rather than of accusation, but it is none the less a dreadful evil."
"Well, then," resumed the sailor, who felt he had touched a dangerous ground, "we will talk of other things. Even supposing we are taken, what great evil have we to apprehend? We are honest corsairs, duly commissioned, and acting under the protection of the French Republic, one and undivided, and can but be made prisoners of war. That is a fortune which has once befallen me, and no greater calamity followed than my having to call myself le Capitaine Smeet', and finding out the means of mystifying le vice-governatore."
Ghita laughed, in spite of the fears she entertained, for it was one of the most powerful of the agencies the sailor employed in making others converts to his opinions, to cause them to sympathize with his light-hearted gayety, whether it suited their natural temperaments or not. She knew that Raoul had already been a prisoner in England two years, where, as he often said himself, he stayed just long enough to acquire a very respectable acquaintance with the language, if not with the institutions, manners, and religion, when he made his escape aided by the American called Ithuel Bolt, an impressed seaman of our own Republic, who, fully entering into all the plans imagined by his more enterprising friend and fellow-sufferer, had cheerfully enlisted in the execution of his future schemes of revenge. States, like powerful individuals in private life, usually feel themselves too strong to allow any considerations of the direct consequences of departures from the right to influence their policy; and a nation is apt to fancy its power of such a character, as to despise all worldly amends, while its moral responsibility is divided among too many to make it a matter of much concern to its particular citizens. Nevertheless, the truth will show that none are so low but they may become dangerous to the highest; and even powerful communities seldom fail to meet with their punishment for every departure from justice. It would seem, indeed, that a principle pervades nature, which renders it impossible for man to escape the consequences of his own evil deeds, even in this life; as if God had decreed the universal predominance of truth and the never-failing downfall of falsehood from the beginning; the success of wrong being ever temporary, while the triumph of the right is eternal. To apply these consoling considerations to the matter more immediately before us: The practice of impressment, in its day, raised a feeling among the seamen of other nations, as well as, in fact, among those of Great Britain herself, that probably has had as much effect in destroying the prestige of her nautical invincibility, supported, as was that prestige, by a vast existing force, as any other one cause whatever. It was necessary to witness the feeling of hatred and resentment that was raised by the practice of this despotic power, more especially among those who felt that their foreign birth ought at least to have insured them immunity from the abuse, in order fully to appreciate what might so readily become its consequences. Ithuel Bolt, the seaman just mentioned, was a proof, in a small way, of the harm that even an insignificant individual can effect, when his mind is fully and wholly bent on revenge. Ghita knew him well; and, although she little liked either his character or his appearance, she had often been obliged to smile at the narrative of the deceptions he practised on the English, and of the thousand low inventions he had devised to do them injury. She was not slow, now, to imagine that his agency had not been trifling in carrying on the present fraud.
"You do not openly call your lugger le Feu-Follet, Raoul," she answered, after a minute's pause; "that would be a dangerous name to utter, even in Porto Ferrajo. It is not a week since I heard a mariner dwelling on her misdeeds, and the reasons that all good Italians have to detest her. It is fortunate the man is away, or he could not fail to know you."
"Of that I am not so certain, Ghita. We alter our paint often, and, at need, can alter our rig. You may be certain, however, that we hide our Jack-o'-Lantern, and sail under another name. The lugger, now she is in the English service, is called the 'Ving-and-Ving.'"
"I heard the answer given to the hail from the shore, but it sounded different from this."
"Non—Ving-and-Ving. Ithuel answered for us, and you may be sure he can speak his own tongue. Ving-and-Ving is the word, and he pronounces it as I do."
"Ving-y-Ving!" repeated Ghita, in her pretty Italian tones, dropping naturally into the vice-governatore's fault of pronunciation—"it is an odd name, and I like it less than Feu-Follet."
"I wish, dearest Ghita, I could persuade you to like the name of Yvard," rejoined the young man, in a half-reproachful, half-tender manner, "and I should care nothing for any other. You accuse me of disrespect for priests; but no son could ever kneel to a father for his blessing, half so readily or half so devoutly, as I could kneel with thee before any friar in Italy, to receive that nuptial benediction which I have so often asked at your hand, but which you have so constantly and so cruelly refused."
"I am afraid the name would not then be Feu-Follet, but Ghita-Folie," said the girl, laughing, though she felt a bitter pang at the heart, that cost her an effort to control; "no more of this now, Raoul; we may be observed and watched; it is necessary that we separate."
A hurried conversation, of more interest to the young couple themselves than it would prove to the reader, though it might not have been wholly without the latter, but which it would be premature to relate, now followed, when Ghita left Raoul on the hill, insisting that she knew the town too well to have any apprehensions about threading its narrow and steep streets, at any hour, by herself. This much, in sooth, must be said in favor of Andrea Barrofaldi's administration of justice; he had made it safe for the gentle, the feeble, and the poor, equally, to move about the island by day or by night; it seldom happening that so great an enemy to peace and tranquillity appeared among his simple dependants, as was the fact at this precise moment.
In the mean time, there was not quite as much tranquillity in Porto Ferrajo as the profound silence which reigned in the place might have induced a stranger to imagine. Tommaso Tonti was a man of influence, within his sphere, as well, as the vice-governatore; and having parted from Vito Viti, as has been related, he sought the little clientelle of padroni and piloti, who were in the habit of listening to his opinions as if they were oracles. The usual place of resort of this set, after dark, was a certain house kept by a widow of the name of Benedetta Galopo, the uses of which were plainly enough indicated by a small bush that hung dangling from a short pole, fastened above the door. If Benedetta knew anything of the proverb that "good wine needs no bush," she had not sufficient faith in the contents of her own casks to trust to their reputation; for this bush of hers was as regularly renewed as its withering leaves required. Indeed, it was a common remark among her customers, that her bush was always as fresh as her face, and that the latter was one of the most comely that was to be met with on the island; a circumstance that aided much indifferent wine in finding a market. Benedetta bore a reasonably good name, nevertheless, though it was oftener felt, perhaps, than said, that she was a confirmed coquette. She tolerated 'Maso principally on two accounts; because, if he were old and unattractive in his own person, many of his followers were among the smartest seamen of the port, and because he not only drank his full proportion, but paid with punctuality. These inducements rendered the pilot always a welcome guest at La Santa Maria degli Venti, as the house was called, though it had no other sign than the often-renewed bush already mentioned.
At the very moment, then, when Raoul Yvard and Ghita parted on the hill, 'Maso was seated in his usual place at the table in Benedetta's upper room, the windows of which commanded as full a view of the lugger as the hour permitted; that craft being anchored about a cable's length distant, and, as a sailor might have expressed it, just abeam. On this occasion he had selected the upper room, and but three companions, because it was his wish that as few should enter into his counsels as at all comported with the love of homage to his own experience. The party had been assembled a quarter of an hour, and there had been time to cause the tide to ebb materially in the flask, which, it may be well to tell the reader at once, contained very little less than half a gallon of liquor, such as it was.
"I have told it all to the podesta," said 'Maso, with an important manner, as he put down his glass, after potation the second, which quite equalled potation the first in quantity; "yes, I have told it all to Vito Viti, and no doubt he has told it to Il Signor Vice-governatore, who now knows as much about the whole matter as either of us four. Cospetto!—to think such a thing dare happen in a haven like Porto Ferrajo! Had it come to pass over on the other side of the island, at Porto Longone, one wouldn't think so much of it, for they are never much on the lookout: but to take place here, in the very capital of Elba, I should as soon have expected it in Livorno!"
"But, 'Maso," put in Daniele Bruno, in the manner of one who was a little sceptical, "I have often seen the pavilion of the Inglese, and this is as much like that which all their frigates and corvettes wear, as one of our feluccas is like another. The flag, at least, is right."
"What signifies a flag, Daniele, when a French hand can hoist an English ensign as easily as the king of Inghilterra himself? If that lugger was not built by the Francese, you were not built by an Italian father and mother. But I should not think so much of the hull, for that may have been captured, as the English take many of their enemies on the high seas; but look at the rigging and sails—Santa Maria! I could go to the shop of the very sailmaker, in Marseilles, who made that foresail! His name is Pierre Benoit, and a very good workman he is, as all will allow who have had occasion to employ him."
This particularity greatly aided the argument; common minds being seldom above yielding to the circumstances which are so often made to corroborate imaginary facts. Tommaso Tonti, though so near the truth as to his main point—the character of the visitor—was singularly out as to the sail, notwithstanding; le Feu-Follet having been built, equipped, and manned at Nantes, and Pierre Benoit never having seen her or her foresail either; but it mattered not, in the way of discussion and assertion, one sailmaker being as good as another, provided he was French.
"And have you mentioned t his to the podesta?" inquired Benedetta, who stood with the empty flask in her hand, listening to the discourse; "I should think that sail would open his eyes."
"I cannot say I have; but then I told him so many other things more to the point, that he cannot do less than believe this, when he hears it. Signor Viti promised to meet me here, after he has had a conversation with the vice-governatore; and we may now expect him every minute."
"Il Signor Podesta will be welcome," said Benedetta, wiping off a spare table, and bustling round the room to make things look a little smarter than they ordinarily did; "he may frequent grander wine-houses than this, but he will hardly find better liquor."
"Poverina!—Don't think that the podesta comes here on any such errand; he comes to meet me," answered 'Maso, with an indulgent smile; "he takes his wine too often on the heights, to wish to come as low as this after a glass. Friends of mine (amigi mii), there is wine up at that house, that, when the oil is once out of the neck of the flask, goes down a man's throat as smoothly as if it were all oil itself! I could drink a flask of it without once stopping to take breath. It is that liquor which makes the nobles so light and airy."
 It is a practice in Tuscany to put a few drops of oil in the neck of each flask of the more delicate wines, to exclude the air.
"I know the washy stuff," put in Benedetta, with more warmth than she was used to betray to her customers; "well may you call it smooth, a good spring running near each of the wine-presses that have made it. I have seen some of it that even oil would not float on!"
This assertion was a fair counterpoise to that of the sail, being about as true. But Benedetta had too much experience in the inconstancy of men, not to be aware that if the three or four customers who were present should seriously take up the notion that the island contained any better liquor than that she habitually placed before them, her value might be sensibly diminished in their eyes. As became a woman who had to struggle singly with the world, too, her native shrewdness taught her, that the best moment to refute a calumny was to stop it as soon as it began to circulate, and her answer was as warm in manner as it was positive in terms. This was an excellent opening for an animated discussion, and one would have been very likely to occur, had there not fortunately been steps heard without, that induced 'Maso to expect the podesta. Sure enough, the door opened, and Vito Viti appeared, followed, to the astonishment of all the guests, and to the absolute awe of Benedetta, by the vice-governatore himself.
The solution of this unexpected visit is very easily given. After the departure of the Capitano Smees, Vito Viti returned to the subject of 'Maso's suspicions, and by suggesting certain little circumstances in the mariner's manner, that he had noted during the interview, he so far succeeded in making an impression on himself, that, in the end, his own distrust revived, and with it that of the deputy-governor. Neither, however, could be said to be more than uneasy, and the podesta happening to mention his appointment with the pilot, Andrea determined to accompany him, in order to reconnoitre the strange craft in person. Both the functionaries wore their cloaks, by no means an unusual thing in the cool night air of the coast, even in midsummer, which served them for all the disguise that circumstances required.
"Il Signor Vice-governatore!" almost gasped Benedetta, dusting a chair, and then the table, and disposing the former near the latter by a sort of mechanical process, as if only one errand could ever bring a guest within her doors; "your eccellenza is most welcome; and it is an honor I could oftener ask. We are humble people down here at the water side, but I hope we are just as good Christians as if we lived upon the hill."
"Doubt it not, worthy Bettina—"
"My name is Benedetta, at your eccellenza's command-Benedittina if it please the vice-governatore; but not Bettina. We think much of our names, down here at the water side, eccellenza."
"Let it be so, then, good Benedetta, and I make no doubt you are excellent Christians.—A flask of your wine, if it be convenient."
The woman dropped a curtsey that was full of gratitude; and the glance of triumph that she cast at her other guests may be said to have terminated the discussion that was about to commence, as the dignitaries appeared. It disposed of the question of the wine at once, and for ever silenced cavilling. If the vice-governatore could drink her liquor, what mariner would henceforth dare calumniate it!
"Eccellenza, with a thousand welcomes," Benedetta continued, as she placed the flask on the table, after having carefully removed the cotton and the oil with her own plump hand; this being one of half a dozen flasks of really sound, well-flavored, Tuscan liquor, that she kept for especial occasions; as she well might, the cost being only a paul, or ten cents for near half a gallon; "Eccellenza, a million times welcome. This is an honor that don't befall the Santa Maria degli Venti more than once in a century; and you, too, Signor Podesta, once before only have you ever had leisure to darken my poor door."
"We bachelors"—the podesta, as well as the vice-governor, belonged to the fraternity—"we bachelors are afraid to trust ourselves too often in the company of a sprightly widow like yourself, whose beauty has rather improved than lessened by a few years."
This brought a coquettish answer, during which time Andrea Barrofaldi, having first satisfied himself that the wine might be swallowed with impunity, was occupied in surveying the party of silent and humble mariners, who were seated at the other table. His object was to ascertain how far he might have committed himself, by appearing in such a place, when his visit could not well be attributed to more than one motive. 'Maso he knew, as the oldest pilot of the place, and he had also some knowledge of Daniele Bruno; but the three other seamen were strangers to him.
"Inquire if we are among friends, here, and worthy subjects of the Grand Duke, all," observed Andrea to Vito Viti, in a low voice.
"Thou hearest, 'Maso," observed the podesta; "canst thou answer for all of thy companions?"
"Every one of them, Signore: this is Daniele Bruno, whose father was killed in a battle with the Algerines, and whose mother was the daughter of a mariner, as well known in Elba as—"
"Never mind the particulars, Tommaso Tonti," interrupted the vice-governatore—"it is sufficient that thou knowest all thy companions to be honest men, and faithful servants of the sovrano. You all know, most probably, the errand which has brought the Signor Viti and myself to this house, to-night?"
The men looked at each other, as the ill-instructed are apt to do, when it becomes necessary to answer a question that concerns many; assisting the workings of their minds, as it might be, with the aid of the senses; and then Daniele Bruno took on himself the office of spokesman.
"Signore, vostro eccellenza, we think we do," answered the man. "Our fellow, 'Maso here, has given us to understand that he suspects the Inglese that is anchored in the bay to be no Inglese at all, but either a pirate or a Frenchman. The blessed Maria preserve us! but in these troubled times it does not make much difference which."