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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Children Of The King: A Tale Of Southern Italy - Chapter 8
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The Children Of The King: A Tale Of Southern Italy - Chapter 8 Post by :joekumar2003 Category :Long Stories Author :F. Marion Crawford Date :May 2012 Read :1855

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The Children Of The King: A Tale Of Southern Italy - Chapter 8


It was late on the following morning when the Marchesa came out upon her curtained terrace, moving slowly, her hands hanging listlessly down, her eyes half closed, as though regretting the sleep she might be still enjoying. Beatrice was sitting by a table, an open book beside her which she was not reading, and she hardly noticed her mother's light step. The young girl had spent a sleepless night, and for the first time since she had been a child a few tears had wet her pillow. She could not have told exactly why she had cried, for she had not felt anything like sadness, and tears were altogether foreign to her nature. But the unsought return of all the impressions of the evening had affected her strangely, and she felt all at once shame, anger and regret--shame at having been so easily deceived by the play of a man's face and voice, anger against him for the part he had acted, and regret for something unknown but dreamt of and almost understood, and which could never be. She was too young and girlish to understand that her eyes had been opened upon the workings of the human heart. She had seen two sights which neither man nor woman can ever forget, love and love's counterfeit presentment, and both were stamped indelibly upon the unspotted page of her maiden memory.

She had seen a man whom she had hitherto liked, and whom she had unconsciously respected for a certain dignity he seemed to have, degrade himself--and for money's sake, as she rightly judged--to the playing of a pitiful comedy. As the whole scene came back to her in all distinctness, she traced the deception from first to last with amazing certainty of comprehension, and she knew that San Miniato had wilfully and intentionally laid a plot to work upon her feelings and to produce the result he had obtained--a poor result enough, if he had known the whole truth, yet one of which Beatrice was sorely ashamed. She had been deceived into the expression of something which she had never felt--and which, this morning, seemed further from her than ever before. It was bitter to think that any man could say she had uttered those three words "I love you," when there was less truth in them than in the commonest, most pardonable social lie. He had planned the excursion, knowing how beautiful things in nature affected her, knowing exactly at what point the moon would rise, precisely at what hour that mysterious light would gleam upon the water, knowing the magic of the place and counting upon it to supplement his acting where it lacked reality. It had been clever of him to think it out so carefully, to plan each detail so thoughtfully, to behave so naturally until his opportunity was all prepared and ready for him. But for one little mistake, one moment's forgetfulness of tact, the impression might have remained and grown in distinctness until it would have secured the imprint of a strong reality at the beginning of a new volume in her life, to which she could always look back in the hereafter as to something true and sweet to be thought of. But his tact had failed him at the critical and supreme moment when he had got what he wanted and had not known how to keep it, even for an hour. And his mistake had been followed by a strange accident which had revealed to Beatrice the very core of a poor human heart that was beating itself to death, in true earnest, for her sake.

She had seen what many a woman longs for but may never look upon. She had seen a man, brave, strong, simple and true, with the death mark of his love for her upon his face. What matter if he were but an unlettered sailor, scarcely knowing what moved him nor the words he spoke? Beatrice was a woman and, womanlike, she knew without proof or testimony that his heart and hands were clean of the few sins which woman really despises in man.

They are not many--be it said in honour of womanly generosity and kindness--they are not many, those bad deeds which a woman cannot forgive, and that she is right is truly shown in that those are the sins which the most manly men despise in others. They are, I think, cowardice, lying for selfish ends, betraying tales of woman's weakness--almost the greatest of crimes--and, greatest of all, faithlessness in love.

Let a man be brave, honest, discreet, faithful, and a woman will forgive him all manner of evil actions, even to murder and bloodshed; but let him flinch in danger, lie to save himself, tell the name of a woman whose love for him has betrayed her, or break his faith to her without boldly saying that he loves her no more, and she will not forgive him while he lives, though she may give him a kindly thought and a few tears when he is gone for ever.

So Beatrice, who could never love Ruggiero, understood him well and judged him rightly, and set him up on a sort of pedestal as the anti-type of his scheming master. And not only this. She felt deeply for him and pitied him with all her heart, since she had seen his own almost breaking before her eyes for her sake. She had always been kind to him, but henceforth there would be something even kinder in her voice when she spoke to him, as there would be something harder in her tone when she talked with San Miniato.

And now her mother had appeared and settled herself in her lazy way upon her long chair, and slowly moved her fan, from habit, though too indolent to lift it to her face. Beatrice rose and kissed her lightly on the forehead.

"Good morning, mamma carissima," she said. "Are you very tired after the excursion?"

"Exhausted, in mind and body, my angel. A cigarette, my dear--it will give me an appetite."

Beatrice brought her one, and held a match for her mother. Then the Marchesa shut her eyes, inhaled the smoke and blew out four or five puffs before speaking again.

"I want to speak to you, my child," she said at last, "but I hardly have the strength."

"Do not tire yourself, mamma. I know what you are going to say, and I have made up my mind."

"Have you? That will save me infinite trouble. I am so glad."

"Are you really? Do you know what I mean?"

"Of course. You are going to marry San Miniato, and we have the best excuse in the world for going to Paris to see about your trousseau."

"I will not marry San Miniato," said Beatrice. "I have made up my mind that I will not."

The Marchesa started slightly as she took her cigarette from her lips, and turned her head slowly so that she could look into Beatrice's eyes.

"You are engaged to marry him," she said slowly. "You cannot break your word. You know what that means. Indeed, you are quite mad!"

"Engaged? I? I never gave my word! It is not true!" The blood rose, in Beatrice's face and then sank suddenly away.

"What is this comedy?" asked the Marchesa, raising her brows. For the first time in many years she was almost angry.

"Ah! If you ask me that, I will tell you. I will tell you everything and you know that I speak the truth to you as I do to everybody--"

"Except to San Miniato when you tell him you love him," interrupted the Marchesa.

Beatrice blushed again, with anger this time.

"Yes," she said, after a short pause, "it is quite true that I said I loved him, and for one moment I meant it. But I made a mistake. I am sorry, and I will tell him so. But I will tell him other things, too. I will tell him that I saw through his acting before we left Tragara last night, and that I will never forgive him for the part he played. You know as well as I that it was all a play, from beginning to end. I liked him better than the others because I thought him more manly, more honest, more dignified. But I have changed my mind. I see the whole truth now, every detail of it. He planned it all, and he did it very well--probably he planned it the night before last, out here with you, while I was playing waltzes. You could not make me marry him, and he got leave of you to speak to me. Do you think I do not understand it all? Would you have let me go away last night and sit with him on the rocks, out of your hearing, without so much as a remark, unless you had arranged the matter between you? It is not like you, and I know you meant it. It was all a plot. He had even been there to study the place, to see the very point at which the moon would rise, the very place where he would make me sit, the very spot where your table could stand. He said to himself that I was a mere girl, that of course no man had ever made love to me and that between the beauty of the night, my liking for him, and his well arranged comedy, he might easily move me. He did. I am ashamed of it. Look at the blood in my cheeks! That tells the truth, at all events. I am utterly ashamed. I would give my right hand to have not spoken those words! I would almost give my life to undo yesterday if it could be undone--and undo it I will, so far as I can. I will tell San Miniato what I think of myself, and then I will tell him what I think of him, and that will be enough. Do you understand me? I am in earnest."

The Marchesa had listened to Beatrice's long speech with open eyes, surprised at the girl's keenness and at her determined manner. Not that the latter was new in her experience, but it was the first time that their two wills had been directly opposed in a matter of great importance. The Marchesa was a very indolent person, but somewhere in her nature there lay hidden a small store of determination which had hardly ever expressed itself clearly in her life. Now, however, she felt that much was at stake. For many reasons San Miniato was precisely the son-in-law she desired. He would give Beatrice an ancient and honourable name, a leading position in any Italian society he chose to frequent, whether in the north or the south, and he was a man of the world at all points. The last consideration had much weight with the Marchesa who, in spite of her title and fortune had seen very little of the men of the great world, and admired them accordingly. Therefore when Beatrice said she would not marry him, her mother made up her mind that she should, and the struggle commenced.

"Beatrice, my angel," she began, "you are mistaken in yourself and in San Miniato. I am quite unable to go through all the details as you have done. I only say that you are mistaken."

Beatrice's lip curled a little and she slowly shook her head.

"I am not mistaken, mamma," she answered. "I am quite right, and you know it. Can you deny that what I say is true? Can you say that you did not arrange with him to take me to Tragara, and to let him speak to me himself?"

"It is far too much trouble to deny anything, my dear child. But all that may be quite true, and yet he may love you as sincerely as he can love any one. I do not suppose you expect a man of his sense and education to roll himself at your feet and tear his hair and his clothes as they do on the stage."

"A man need not do that to show that he is in earnest, and besides he--"

"That is not the question," interrupted the Marchesa. "The real question concerns you much more than it affects him. If you break your promise--"

"There was no promise."

"You told him that you loved him, and you admit it. Under the circumstances that meant that you were willing to marry him. It meant nothing else, as you know very well."

"I never thought of it."

"You must think of it now. You know perfectly well that he wished to marry you and had my consent. I have spoken to you several times about it and you refused to have him, saying that you meant to exercise your own free will. You had an opportunity of exercising it last night. You told him clearly that you loved him, and that could only mean that your opposition was gone and that you would marry him. You know what you will be called now, if you refuse to keep your engagement."

Beatrice grew slowly pale. Her mother had, for once, a remarkably direct and clear way of putting the matter, and the young girl began to waver. If her mother succeeded in proving to her that she had really bound herself, she would submit. It is not easy to convey to the foreign mind generally the enormous importance which is attached in Italy to a distinct promise of marriage. It indeed almost amounts, morally speaking, to marriage itself, and the breaking of it is looked upon socially almost as an act of infidelity to the marriage bond. A young girl who refuses to keep her engagement is called a civetta--an owlet--probably because owlets are used as a decoy all over the country in snaring and shooting all small birds. Be that as it may, the term is a bitter reproach, it sticks to her who has earned it and often ruins her whole life. That is what the Marchesa meant when she told Beatrice that she knew what the world would call her, and the threat had weight.

The young girl rose from her seat and began to walk to and fro on the terrace, her head bent, her hands clasped together. The Marchesa slowly puffed at her cigarette and watched her daughter with half-closed eyes.

"I never meant it so!" Beatrice exclaimed in low tones, and she repeated the words again and again, pausing now and then and looking fixedly at her mother.

"Dear child," said the Marchesa, "what does it matter? If it were not such an exertion to talk, I am sure I could make you see what a good match it is, and how glad you ought to be."

"Glad! Oh, mamma, you do not understand! The degradation of it!"

"The degradation? Where is there anything degrading in it?"

"I see it well enough! To give myself up body and soul to a man I do not love! And for what? Because he has an old name, and I a new one, and I can buy his name with my money. Oh, mother, it is too horrible! Too low! Too vile!"

"My angel, you do not know what strong words you are using--"

"They are not half strong enough--I wish I could--"

But she stopped and began to walk up and down again, her sweet young face pale and weary with pain, her fingers twisting each other nervously. A long silence followed.

"It is of no use to talk about it, my child," said the Marchesa, languidly taking up a novel from the table beside her. "The thing is done. You are engaged, and you must either marry San Miniato or take the consequences and be pointed at as a faithless girl for the rest of your life."

"And who knows of this engagement, if it is one, but you and I and he?" asked Beatrice, standing still. "Would you tell, or I? Or would he dare?"

"He would be perfectly justified," answered the Marchesa. "He is a gentleman, however, and would be considerate. But who is to assure us that he has not already telegraphed the good news to his friends?"

"It is too awful!" cried Beatrice, leaning back against one of the pillars.

"Besides," said her mother without changing her tone. "You have changed to-day, you may change again to-morrow--"

"Stop, for heaven's sake! Do not make me worse than I am!"

Poor Beatrice stopped her ears with her open hands. The Marchesa looked at her and smiled a little, and shook her head, waiting for the hands to be removed. At last the young girl began her walk again.

"You should not talk about being worse when you are not bad at all, my dear," said her mother. "You have done nothing to be ashamed of, and all this is perfectly absurd. You feel a passing dislike for the idea perhaps, but that will be gone to-morrow. Meanwhile the one thing which is really sure is that you are engaged to San Miniato, who, as I say, has undoubtedly telegraphed the fact to his sister in Florence and probably to two or three old friends. By to-morrow it will be in the newspapers. You cannot possibly draw back. I have really talked enough. I am utterly exhausted."

Beatrice sank into a chair and pressed her fingers upon her eyes, not to hide them, but by sheer pressure forcing back the tears she felt coming. Her beautiful young figure bent and trembled like a willow in the wind, and the soft white throat swelled with the choking sob she kept down so bravely. There is something half divine in the grief of some women.

"Dear child," said her mother very gently, "there is nothing to cry over. Beatrice carissima, try and control yourself. It will soon pass--"

"It will soon pass--yes," answered the young girl, bringing out the words with a great effort. During fully two minutes more she pressed her eyes with all her might. Then she rose suddenly to her feet, and her face was almost calm again.

"I will marry him, since what I never meant for a promise really is one and has seemed so to you and to him. But if I am a faithless wife to him, I will lay all my sins at your door."

"Beatrice!" cried the Marchesa, in real horror this time. She crossed herself.

"I am young--shall I not love?" asked the young girl defiantly.

"Dearest child, for the love of Heaven do not talk so--"

"No--I will not. I will never say it again--and you will not forget it."

She turned to leave the terrace and met San Miniato face to face.

"Good morning," she said coldly, and passed him.

"Of course you have telegraphed the news of the engagement to your sister?" said the Marchesa as soon as she saw him, and making a sign to intimate that he must answer in the affirmative.

"Of course--and to all my best friends," he replied promptly with a ready smile. Beatrice heard his answer just as she passed through the door, but she did not turn her head. She guessed that her mother had asked the question in haste in order that San Miniato might say something which should definitely prove to Beatrice that he considered himself betrothed. Yesterday she would have believed his answer. To-day she believed nothing he said. She went to her room and bathed her eyes in cold water and sat down for a moment before her glass and looked at herself thoughtfully. There she was, the same Beatrice she saw in the mirror every day, the same clear brown eyes, the same soft brown hair, the same broad, crayon-like eyebrows, the same free pose of the head. But there was something different in the face, which she did not recognise. There was something defiant in the eyes, and hard about the mouth, which was new to her and did not altogether please her, though she could not change it. She combed the little ringlets on her forehead and dabbed a little scent upon her temples to cool them, and then she rose quickly and went out. A thought had struck her and she at once put into execution the plan it suggested.

She took a parasol and went out of the hotel, hatless and gloveless, into the garden of orange trees which lies between the buildings and the gate. She strolled leisurely along the path towards the exit, on one side of which is the porter's lodge, while the little square stone box of a building which is the telegraph office stands on the other. She knew that just before twelve o'clock Ruggiero and his brother were generally seated on the bench before the lodge waiting for orders for the afternoon. As she expected, she found them, and she beckoned to Ruggiero and turned back under the trees. In an instant he was at her side. She was startled to see how pale he was and how suddenly his face seemed to have grown thin. She stopped and he stood respectfully before her, cap in hand, looking down.

"Ruggiero," she said, "will you do me a service?"

"Yes, Excellency."

"Yes, I know--but it is something especial. You must tell no one--not even your brother."

"Speak, Excellency--not even the stones shall hear it."

"I want you to find out at the telegraph office whether your master has sent a telegram anywhere this morning. Can you ask the man and bring me word here? I will walk about under the trees."

"At once, Excellency."

He turned and left her, and she strolled up the path. She wondered a little why she was doing this underhand thing. It was not like her, and whatever answer Ruggiero brought her she would gain nothing by it. If San Miniato had spoken the truth, then he had really believed the engagement already binding, as her mother had said. If he had lied, that would not prevent his really telegraphing within the next half hour, and matters would be in just the same situation with a slight difference of time. She would, indeed, in this latter case, have a fresh proof of his duplicity. But she needed none, as it seemed to her. It was enough that he should have acted his comedy last night and got by a stratagem what he could never have by any other means. Ruggiero returned after two or three minutes.

"Well?" inquired Beatrice.

"He sent one at nine o'clock this morning, Excellency."

For one minute their eyes met. Ruggiero's were fierce, bright and clear. Beatrice's own softened almost imperceptibly under his glance. If she had seen herself at that moment she would have noticed that the hard look she had observed in her own face had momentarily vanished, and that she was her gentle self again.

"One only?" she asked.

"Only one, Excellency. No one will know that I have asked, for the man will not tell."

"Are you sure? What did you say to him? Tell me."

"I said to him, 'Don Gennaro, I am the Conte di San Miniato's sailor. Has the Conte sent any telegram this morning, to any one, anywhere?' Then he shook his head; but he looked into his book and said, 'He sent one to Florence at nine o'clock.' Then I said, 'I thank you, Don Gennaro, and I will do you a service when I can.' That was for good manners. Then I said, 'Don Gennaro, please not to tell any one that I asked the question, and if you tell any one I will make you die an evil death, for I will break all your bones and moreover drown you in the sea, and go to the galleys very gladly.' Then Don Gennaro said that he would not tell. And here I am, Excellency."

In spite of all she was suffering, Beatrice laughed at Ruggiero's account of the interview. It was quite evident that Ruggiero had repeated accurately every word that had been spoken, and he looked the man to execute the threat without the slightest hesitation. Beatrice wondered how the telegraph official had taken it.

"What did Don Gennaro do when you frightened him, Ruggiero?" she asked.

"He said he would not tell and got a little white, Excellency. But he will say nothing, and will not complain to the syndic, because he knows my brother."

"What has that to do with it?" asked Beatrice with some curiosity.

"It is natural, Excellency. For if Don Gennaro went to the syndic and said, 'Signor Sindaco, Ruggiero of the Children of the King has threatened to kill me,' then the syndic would send for the gendarmes and say, 'Take that Ruggiero of the Children of the King and put him in, as we say, and see that he does not run away, for he will do a hurt to somebody.' And perhaps they would catch me and perhaps they would not. Then Bastianello, my brother, would wait in the road in the evening for Don Gennaro, and would lay a hand on him, perhaps, or both. And I think that Don Gennaro would rather be dead in his telegraph office than alive in Bastianello's hands, because Bastianello is very strong in his hands, Excellency. And that is all the truth."

"But I do not understand it all, Ruggiero, though I see what you mean. I am afraid it is your language that is different from mine."

"It is natural, Excellency," answered the sailor, a deep blush spreading over his white forehead as he stood bareheaded before her. "You are a great lady and I am only an ignorant seaman."

"I do not mean anything of the sort, Ruggiero," said Beatrice quickly, for she saw that she had unintentionally hurt him, and the thought pained her strongly. "You speak very well and I have always understood you perfectly. But you spoke of the King's Children and I could not make out what they had to do with the story."

"Oh, if it is that, Excellency, I ask your pardon. I do not wonder that you did not understand. It is my name, Excellency."

"Your name? Still I do not understand---"

"I have no other name but that--dei figli del Re--" said Ruggiero. "That is all."

"How strange!" exclaimed Beatrice.

"It is the truth, Excellency, and to show you that it is the truth here is my seaman's license."

He produced a little flat parchment case from his pocket, untied the thong and showed Beatrice the first page on which, was inscribed his name in full.

"Ruggiero of the Children of the King, son of the late Ruggiero, native of Verbicaro, province of Calabria--you see, Excellency. It is the truth."

"I never doubt anything you say, Ruggiero," said Beatrice quietly.

"I thank you, Excellency," answered the sailor, blushing this time with pleasure. "For this and all your Excellency's kindness."

What a man he was she thought, as he stood there before her, bareheaded in the sun-shot shade under the trees, the light playing upon his fair hair and beard, and his blue eyes gleaming like drops from the sea! What boys and dwarfs other men looked beside him!

"Do you know how your family came by that strange name, Ruggiero?" she asked.

"No, Excellency. But they tell so many silly stories about us in Verbicaro. That is in Calabria where I and my brother were born. And when our mother, blessed soul, was dying--good health to your Excellency--she blessed us and said this to us. 'Ruggiero, Sebastiano, dear sons, you could not save me and I am going. God bless you,' said she. 'Our Lady help you. Remember, you are the Children of the King.' Then she said, 'Remember' again, as though she would say something more. But just at that very moment Christ took her, and she did not speak again, for she was dead--good health to your Excellency for a thousand years. And so it was."

"And what happened then?" asked Beatrice, strangely interested and charmed by the man's simple story.

"Then we beat Don Pietro Casale, Excellency, and spoiled all his face and head. We were little boys, twelve and ten years old, but there was the anger to give us strength. And so we ran away from Verbicaro, because we had no one and we had to eat, and had beaten Don Pietro Casale, who would have had us put in prison if he had caught us. But thanks to Heaven we had good legs. And so we ran away, Excellency."

"It is very interesting. But what were those stories they told about you in Verbicaro?"

"Silly stories, Excellency. They say that once upon a time King Roger came riding by with all his army and many knights; and all armed because there was war. And he took Verbicaro from the Turks and gave it to a son of his who was called the Son of the King, as I would give Bastianello half a cigar or a pipe of tobacco in the morning--it is true he always has his own--and so the Son of the King stayed in that place and lived there, and I have heard old men say that when their fathers--who were also old, Excellency--were boys, many houses in Verbicaro belonged to the Children of the King. But then they ate everything and we have had nothing but these two hands and these two arms and now we go about seeking to eat. But thanks to Heaven--and to-day is Saturday--we have been able to work enough. And that is the truth, Excellency."

"What a strange tale!" exclaimed the young girl. "But to-day is Tuesday, Ruggiero. Why do you say it is Saturday?"

"I beg pardon of your Excellency, it is a silly custom and means nothing. But when a man says he is well, or that there is a west wind, or that his boat is sound, he says 'to-day is Saturday,' because it might be Friday and he might have forgotten that. It is a silly custom, Excellency."

"Do not call me excellency, Ruggiero," said Beatrice. "I have no right to be called so."

"And what could I call you when I have to speak to you, Excellency? I have been taught so."

"Only princes and dukes and their children are excellencies," answered Beatrice. "My father was only a Marchese. So if you wish to please me, call me 'signorina.' That is the proper way to speak to me."

"I will try, Excellency," answered Ruggiero, opening his blue eyes very wide. Beatrice laughed a little.

"You see," she said, "you did it again."

"Yes, Signorina," replied Ruggiero. "But I will not forget again. When the tongue of the ignorant has learned a word it is hard to change it."

"Well, good-day Ruggiero. Your story is very interesting. I am going to breakfast, and I thank you for what you did for me."

"It is not I who deserve any thanks. And good appetite to you, Signorina." She turned and walked slowly back towards the hotel.

"And may Our Lady bless you and keep you, and send an angel to watch over every hair of your blessed head!" said Ruggiero in a low voice as he watched her graceful figure retreating in the distance.

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The Children Of The King: A Tale Of Southern Italy - Chapter 9 The Children Of The King: A Tale Of Southern Italy - Chapter 9

The Children Of The King: A Tale Of Southern Italy - Chapter 9
CHAPTER IXAfter what had happened on the previous evening Ruggiero had expected that Beatrice would treat him very differently. He had assuredly not foreseen that she would call him from his seat by the porter's lodge, ask an important service of him, and then enter into conversation with him about the origin of his family and the story of his own life. His slow but logical mind pondered on these things in spite of the disordered action of his heart, which had almost choked him while he had been talking with the young girl. Instead of going back to his brother,

The Children Of The King: A Tale Of Southern Italy - Chapter 4 The Children Of The King: A Tale Of Southern Italy - Chapter 4

The Children Of The King: A Tale Of Southern Italy - Chapter 4
CHAPTER IVRuggiero found out before long that his master for the summer was eccentric in his habits, judging from the Sorrentine point of view in regard to order and punctuality. Ruggiero's experience of fine gentlemen was limited indeed, but he could not believe that they all behaved like San Miniato, whose temper was apparently as changeable as his tastes. Sometimes he went to bed at nine o'clock and rose at dawn. Sometimes on the other hand he got up at seven in the evening and went to bed by daylight. Sometimes everything Ruggiero did was right, and sometimes everything was wrong.