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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesCaptain Mansana - Chapter 13
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Captain Mansana - Chapter 13 Post by :rlscott Category :Long Stories Author :Bjornstjerne Bjornson Date :May 2012 Read :2590

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Captain Mansana - Chapter 13

CHAPTER XIII

The Brandinis had sought refuge in the house of Nina Borghi, the old man's sister, and the mother of Luigi, and it so happened that the train by which they fled was the same in which the hero Luigi also took his flight. It was, however, only early the next morning, at a station, just as Luigi was leaving the train, that they discovered each other. The unexpected sight of them so put Luigi off his balance, he would have passed them without speaking, but that the old man seized him by the arm and obliged him to listen to his tale of perplexity.

In reply, Luigi merely answered shortly, "Go to my mother," and hurried away. The first thing he did, however, on arriving at his own garrison, was to go straight to the telegraph-office, and, in a message teeming with excitement, forewarn his mother of the arrival of her brother. So alarming was the tone of the telegram, that on receiving it the poor lady, who lived by herself outside Castellamere, near Naples, was seriously concerned, and her anxiety was not lessened by hearing from her brother and his daughter of the danger that was threatening them as well as her own son.

Captain Mansana had surmised that the Brandini family must have journeyed southwards, as there were night trains only on the southern lines. He therefore followed on their track, but, after two days spent in a vain attempt at finding a starting-point for further investigations, he turned back and made for the town where Luigi Borghi was stationed. He would probably know where the two were in hiding, and he should be made to give the information, or take the consequences.

As Mansana himself was well known, he set to work with great circumspection, in order that he might take Luigi unawares. He had already spent two days in the town before he came across the young officer in a street, where he had been watching for him, in one of the quiet little _cafes frequented by the townsfolk.

To Mansana's surprise, Luigi was not so much alarmed on seeing him as might have been expected, and he further added to Mansana's astonishment by telling him without reserve where the Brandini family was then staying. This candour aroused Mansana's suspicions, and he pointed out to Luigi the possible consequences of deception; but the little lieutenant swore with unmoved countenance that he was speaking truth, and Mansana, therefore, preferring to leave any further reckoning with Luigi for the future, started by rail that same day for the south.

What was his purpose? It was still unshaken. Amanda was to be his! For this reason only had he spared Luigi. Since Amanda's flight, so artfully carried out, his mind had chafed under the determination that such an act should not be allowed to go unpunished. He did not love her, he said to himself. He hated her, and for this very reason he would have possession of her--or else----!

With these thoughts, from which he could not free himself, were mingled visions of his fellow officers laughing and scoffing at him. He had been led by the nose and worsted by a little maiden fresh from a convent, and a little lieutenant who had only just left school! But he could not himself understand how it had come about that this contest with two insignificant children was the termination of his proud career. The image of the Princess, which lately, during his estrangement from her, had but seldom come into his mind, and then only to be angrily repulsed, seemed now, as the sense of his weakness and humiliation grew, to take stronger hold of him. She was the goal, the destiny of his life! Such was the height to which she was now raised in his estimation. And in these high thoughts of her he was influenced, not by her rank, but by the glow and brilliancy of her ideas, and, as it were, the glamour that surrounded her whole being, exalted as she was by the universal admiration that was tendered her. But, as the charms of the Princess took firmer hold upon his mind, those of Amanda waned; he did not even feel quite certain that she was not a little round-shouldered; at any rate, he was able calmly to speculate upon the point. Those who have contrived to make us ridiculous in our own and other people's eyes are not always gainers by their efforts. So it happened that Mansana, having come to the conclusion that Amanda's figure was clumsy, her face and conversation insignificant, her voice monotonous, her hair extravagantly dressed, and her wheedling manner foolish and silly, began to ask himself if, after all, he would not be making himself still more ludicrous by trying to force such a person to become the Signora Mansana. Even more ridiculous did it seem that he should be willing to sacrifice himself on her account. What, then, was he to do? Return to the Princess? The road to her lay blocked--blocked a hundred thousand times, by his own pride! Break with Amanda and speed further afield, perhaps to the Spanish civil war? This would be the life of an adventurer, mere folly; he might almost as well commit suicide quietly at home. Should he retrace his steps and let things be as they were before? The Princess lost to him, the envy and admiration of his comrades foregone, his confidence in himself destroyed? There was no means of retreat open to him, except and only through the much despised Amanda, the cause of all his trouble. As her patron and protector, he might at least pose as a victorious hero, and even though the price that he must pay for such a position were a life of unhappiness--well, if it must be so, it must! His honour would at any rate be saved, and no one would ever be able to penetrate the true secret of his heart. It would surely redound to his credit that he had rejected a rich princess for the daughter of an impoverished pensioner--that he had won her in open combat, in combat even against her own desire. But he had no sooner come to this conclusion than his mind grew disturbed at the thought of all the falsehoods which must be involved in the preservation of this show of honour to the world. He jumped up from his seat in the _coupe_, but there were others in the carriage with him, and he seated himself again. The train was carrying him nearer and nearer to his goal; and what a goal! The certain ruin of his whole life, as a mere sacrifice to honour, although, even at the best, it was extremely doubtful whether the object of the sacrifice would be attained. The merciful power of sleep intervened amid these gloomy thoughts; he slept and dreamed of his mother, who, with her true and loving eyes, seemed to watch over him like an angel. His tears fell fast till, at the moment when the train drew up, just outside Naples, he was awakened by an old man in the _coupe_, who could not bear to hear his sobs. Mansana sprang out of the carriage. It was a glorious morning, and the relentless clearness of the sky, bounded by the faintly defined outlines of the mountain chains, seemed to Mansana ruthlessly to expose his misery; he shivered in the chilly morning air, and returned to the atmosphere of the smoky engine, just then preparing to steam out again, to the rattling and racket of the noisy train, and to his own stifling thoughts.

A few minutes later, and they were coasting close beside the sea; what would he not have given for the train to have slipped from its rails and glided quietly, gently, out into the depths of the blue water. What peace! What blessed release in such a death!

As the train stopped on reaching Naples, he hid himself in the corner of his carriage, lest in the crowd of loiterers there might be some one who knew and might recognise him. The day seemed to grow more and more beautiful as they threaded their way through the little sea-coast towns. The sun shone as warmly as on a summer's morning, and the bright rays refracted through the soft sea mist tinged with exquisite colour the mountains, sea and landscape. He left the train and drove towards his destination; then, dismissing the carriage, began to climb the steep rock-hewn steps leading to the place which was to be his journey's end. In those moments--with the waters of the Bay beneath him, and beyond the beautiful view of the distant islands like shapeless sea monsters guarding the approach, with the mountains capped by Vesuvius, and the towns gleaming white under the shimmer of the lazy smoke wreaths--he felt the reality of life. But it was not his own life spent in a vain chase after glory, a struggle for something he could not have defined, now that he knew it was to end in nothing; no, it was the power of a life such as was designed for him by the God of the vaulted heaven above, with the brightness of His glory that transfigures and irradiates everything, even to the end and limit ordained for mortality.

He made his way up towards the highest point, and before long saw the house, surrounded by a high spiked railing, standing just beyond the brow of the hill. His heart beat fast; he knew there could be no mistake, as the road and the house answered exactly to the description just given him by his driver. No, there he was, for good or evil. And, before he had clearly realised what his actual feelings were, he caught sight of her--Amanda--dressed in her light morning gown, with a smile upon her lips, at something she had apparently heard or said, as she stepped out on to the balcony. But almost immediately, she saw him, and, giving one of her familiar little screams, ran inside the house again.

Just as an exhausted sportsman, brought unexpectedly in view of his long-hunted quarry, feels his lost buoyancy and energy return, so now Mansana felt suddenly within him an uncontrollable strength, an indomitable purpose, and, before he really knew what he was doing, he had reached the iron gate within the railing and, without stopping to ring and ask admission, had clambered over to the other side. His pent-up feelings relieved by this exertion, all his old military instincts revived, he looked round, saw the key attached to the inside fastening, and promptly took it into his own possession. She was now a prisoner in his hands. The door of the house was only half closed; he opened it, and saw before him a large, bright, corridor, with inlaid mosaic stone floor, stained-glass windows which reflected curious lights and shadows on the statuettes, and on the vases, which were filled with flowers, palms and a variety of waving plants. His eye caught sight of a couple of quaint, old-fashioned settees, and on one of these he noticed a straw hat with blue ribbons--did it belong to her?--and on the other, he saw a parasol of a certain peculiar watered silk, with carved, costly handle, set with a large blue stone. Where had he seen this parasol before? A painful presentiment seized him, and, without giving himself time to clear his recollection, he hastily rang the bell. What he would do, he must do quickly. But no one came in answer, and there he stood, waiting, trembling, unable to control himself. He grew desperate, he felt inaction no longer endurable, he must do something or give himself up for lost; he rang the bell again, and even this slight effort seemed to put fresh vigour into his will; come what might, he would now lose or win, there should be no middle course. And at that moment a door opened, and from the room behind, the light streamed into the inner entrance hall--and showed him some one moving towards him. He could only distinguish, through the coloured glass, that she was tall and dressed in blue; he heard her shut the door behind her, and then everything in the corridor grew clouded and confused. Who was this? A genuine fear came over him at a sudden alarming thought; was the house full of people, and was he, perhaps, the victim of some plot? Who could tell in what confusion of perplexing circumstances he might find himself involved, what importunate individuals he might come across here? These thoughts stirred a strong spirit of indignation and resistance. Was it a fool's journey he had undertaken? Not this time! He summoned all his powers of will and determination, and was in the act of feeling in his pocket to make sure of a weapon, when the large door opened and through the doorway he saw--yes, without a doubt it was--Theresa Leaney, who, in a blue dress and with pale face, now drew nearer to him.

He stood motionless, agitated and dismayed.

The door between them stood wide open, and for an instant they remained one on either side of the threshold. Outside as well as within the house, all was as silent as themselves: and in this silence she held her right hand towards him. A sudden thrill shook him. He stretched out his arms, and, with a wailing, plaintive sound, as of a stringed instrument struck unawares, rushed into her wide-open arms. Then, taking her by both hands, he led her to the sofa, took her on his knee, buried his face in her bosom, and, pressing her tightly to him, lifted her in his strong arms, and finally, placing her beside him once again, with his head upon her breast, let his tears flow unrestrained. Still without a word of explanation, he threw himself upon his knees before her and gazed up into the face, that now smiled down on him in wondering admiration. Then, indeed--and the experience was all essential to his future happiness--did Giuseppe Mansana feel himself humiliated, vanquished! Purified and humbled, his eyes filled with gratitude, he looked up once more and was greeted silently, not by Theresa, but by his own mother, who stood behind her!

He and Theresa rose and turned towards her, and involuntarily he took her hands between his own, kissed them, and, sinking upon his knees, pressed them to his forehead. How much had he not lived through since that day when he had cast that look of proud defiance across his father's grave!

* * *

Mansana never got beyond the corridor of that house. When his mother and Theresa left him, to take farewell of their hostess, he hurried out before them, secretly anxious to replace a certain key within a gate, unseen; anxious also to fling from him, to the bottom of the sea, a revolver, the very thought of which now filled him with shame and remorse. This act accomplished, he sank down by the roadside, overwhelmed by emotions in which fear, joy, thankfulness and self-distrust were all inextricably mingled; and in this position, with his face buried in his hands, he was discovered by the other two, who, followed by the servant with the luggage, soon overtook him, on their way to the railway station. They travelled together, and in a few words Mansana heard how this meeting had come about. After information which Sardi had given them, they had sought Luigi, in the belief that he would know what had become of the Brandinis, and that, sooner or later, Mansana would be certain to make his way to them. Luigi's valiant candour had, no doubt, been due to his knowledge that Mansana's mother and Theresa had already discovered the Brandinis, and were even then with them.

Mansana listened to all this, but remained speechless still. His mother, watching him, grew anxious, and pleading her own fatigue as an excuse, insisted on resting awhile in Naples. She selected for this purpose an hotel that was in a quiet and secluded part of the town, and there at last, after much resistance, she succeeded in inducing Mansana to go to bed. Once asleep it seemed as though he would never wake, and it was not until late the following day that he at last opened his eyes. He found himself alone and felt confused and nervous, but a few small things about the room soon brought Theresa and his mother to his recollection, and with his thoughts on them, he lay back quietly and slept like a contented child. This time, however, it was not long before he was awakened by a feeling of hunger, and this satisfied, he slept again, almost unintermittently, for several days and nights. When at last he awoke he was quite calm, but oppressed by a gloomy reserve and desire to shrink more and more within himself. This was exactly what his mother had expected.

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CHAPTER XIVThe sequel shall be told in a letter written by Theresa Leaney to Mansana's mother, and sent from the princess's Hungarian estate not long after the events set forth in the last chapter: "DEAREST MOTHER,"At last you shall have a connected account of all that has happened since we parted at Naples. Excuse me if at times I repeat what I have told you already."Well, then, you must know that after our wedding Giuseppe's gloomy reserve was replaced by a devoted and humble zeal to do me service which made me anxious; it seemed so strange in him. His old
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CHAPTER XIIGiuseppe Mansana had gone to Borghi's quarters without finding him, and had searched for him in vain at the _cafe frequented by the officers of the garrison, and later in the day, among the crowds of holiday-makers. During these wanderings he encountered many officers of his acquaintance, some of them accompanied by civilian friends, and it struck him that they relapsed into silence when they saw him, and spoke to one another in whispers as he passed them. Yet he felt that, whatever might be thought of the enterprise on which he was now embarked, he was in honour bound
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