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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesVittoria - Book 4 - Chapter 25. Across The Mountains
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Vittoria - Book 4 - Chapter 25. Across The Mountains Post by :Trevor_Reed Category :Long Stories Author :George Meredith Date :May 2012 Read :2468

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Vittoria - Book 4 - Chapter 25. Across The Mountains

BOOK IV CHAPTER XXV. ACROSS THE MOUNTAINS

After parting from Vittoria, Angelo made his way to an inn, where he ate and drank like a man of the fields, and slept with the power of one from noon till after morning. The innkeeper came up to his room, and, finding him awake, asked him if he was disposed to take a second holiday in bed. Angelo jumped up; as he did so, his stiletto slipped from under his pillow and flashed.

'That's a pretty bit of steel,' said the innkeeper, but could not get a word out of him. It was plain to Angelo that this fellow had suspicions. Angelo had been careful to tie up his clothes in a bundle; there was nothing for the innkeeper to see, save a young man in bed, who had a terrible weapon near his hand, and a look in his eyes of wary indolence that counselled prudent dealings. He went out, and returned a second and a third time, talking more and more confusedly and fretfully; but as he was again going to leave, 'No, no,' said Angelo, determined to give him a lesson, 'I have taken a liking to your company. Here, come here; I will show you a trick. I learnt it from the Servians when I was three feet high. Look; I lie quite still, you observe. Try to get on the other side of that door and the point of this blade shall scratch you through it.'

Angelo laid the blue stilet up his wrist, and slightly curled his arm. 'Try,' he repeated, but the innkeeper had stopped short in his movement to the door. 'Well, then, stay where you are,' said Angelo, 'and look; I'll be as good as my word. There's the point I shall strike.' With that he gave the peculiar Servian jerk of the muscles, from the wrist up to the arm, and the blade quivered on the mark. The innkeeper fell back in admiring horror. 'Now fetch it to me,' said Angelo, putting both hands carelessly under his head. The innkeeper tugged at the blade. 'Illustrious signore, I am afraid of breaking it,' he almost whimpered; 'it seems alive, does it not?'

'Like a hawk on a small bird,' said Angelo; 'that's the beauty of those blades. They kill, and put you to as little pain as a shot; and it 's better than a shot in your breast--there's something to show for it. Send up your wife or your daughter to take orders about my breakfast. It 's the breakfast of five mountaineers; and don't "Illustrious signore" me, sir, either in my hearing or out of it. Leave the knife sticking.'

The innkeeper sidled out with a dumb salute. 'I can count on his discretion for a couple of hours,' Angelo said to himself. He knew the effect of an exhibition of physical dexterity and strength upon a coward. The landlord's daughter came and received his orders for breakfast. Angelo inquired whether they had been visited by Germans of late. The girl told him that a German chasseur with a couple of soldiers had called them up last night.

'Wouldn't it have been a pity if they had dragged me out and shot me?' said Angelo.

'But they were after a lady,' she explained; 'they have gone on to Bormio, and expect to catch her there or in the mountains.'

'Better there than in the mountains, my dear; don't you think so?'

The girl said that she would not like to meet those fellows among the mountains.

'Suppose you were among the mountains, and those fellows came up with you; wouldn't you clap your hands to see me jumping down right in front of you all?' said Angelo.

'Yes, I should,' she admitted. 'What is one man, though!'

'Something, if he feeds like five. Quick! I must eat. Have you a lover?'

'Yes.'

'Fancy you are waiting on him.'

'He's only a middling lover, signore. He lives at Cles, over Val Pejo, in Val di Non, a long way, and courts me twice a year, when he comes over to do carpentering. He cuts very pretty Madonnas. He is a German.'

'Ha! you kneel to the Madonna, and give your lips to a German? Go.'

'But I don't like him much, signore; it's my father who wishes me to have him; he can make money.'

Angelo motioned to her to be gone, saying to himself, 'That father of hers would betray the Saints for a handful of florins.'

He dressed, and wrenched his knife from the door. Hearing the clatter of a horse at the porch, he stopped as he was descending the stairs. A German voice said, 'Sure enough, my jolly landlord, she's there, in Worms--your Bormio. Found her at the big hotel: spoke not a syllable; stole away, stole away. One chopin of wine! I'm off on four legs to the captain. Those lads who are after her by Roveredo and Trent have bad noses. "Poor nose--empty belly." Says the captain, "I stick at the point of the cross-roads." Says I, "Herr Captain, I'm back to you first of the lot." My business is to find the runaway lady-pretty Fraulein! pretty Fraulein! lai-ai! There's money on her servant, too; he's a disguised Excellency--a handsome boy; but he has cut himself loose, and he go hang. Two birds for the pride of the thing; one for satisfaction--I 'm satisfied. I've killed chamois in my time. Jacob, I am; Baumwalder, I am; Feckelwitz, likewise; and the very devil for following a track. Ach! the wine is good. You know the song?


"He who drinks wine, he may cry with a will,
Fortune is mine, may she stick to me still."


I give it you in German--the language of song! my own, my native 'lai-ai-lai-ai-la-la-lai-ai-i-ie!'


"While stars still sit
On mountain tops,
I take my gun,
Kiss little one
On mother's breast.
Ai-iu-e!

"My pipe is lit,
I climb the slopes,
I meet the dawn
A little one
On mother's breast.
Ai-aie: ta-ta-tai: iu-iu-iu-e!"


Another chopin, my jolly landlord. What's that you're mumbling? About the servant of my runaway young lady? He go hang! What----?'

Angelo struck his foot heavily on the stairs; the innkeeper coughed and ran back, bowing to his guest. The chasseur cried, 'I 'll drink farther on-wine between gaps!' A coin chinked on the steps in accompaniment to the chasseur's departing gallop. 'Beast of a Tedesco,' the landlord exclaimed as he picked up the money; 'they do the reckoning--not we. If I had served him with the worth of this, I should have had the bottle at my head. What a country ours is! We're ridden over, ridden over!' Angelo compelled the landlord to sit with him while he ate like five mountaineers. He left mere bones on the table. 'It's wonderful,' said the innkeeper; 'you can't know what fear is.'

'I think I don't,' Angelo replied; 'you do; cowards have to serve every party in turn. Up, and follow at my heels till I dismiss you. You know the pass into the Val Pejo and the Val di Sole.' The innkeeper stood entrenched behind a sturdy negative. Angelo eased him to submission by telling him that he only wanted the way to be pointed out. 'Bring tobacco; you're going to have an idle day,' said Angelo: 'I pay you when we separate.' He was deaf to entreaties and refusals, and began to look mad about the eyes; his poor coward plied him with expostulations, offered his wife, his daughter, half the village, for the service: he had to follow, but would take no cigars. Angelo made his daughter fetch bread and cigars, and put a handful in his pocket, upon which, after two hours of inactivity at the foot of the little chapel, where Angelo waited for the coming of Vittoria's messenger, the innkeeper was glad to close his fist. About noon Lorenzo came, and at once acted a play of eyes for Angelo to perceive his distrust of the man and a multitude of bad things about him he was reluctant, notwithstanding Angelo's ready nod, to bring out a letter; and frowned again, for emphasis to the expressive comedy. The letter said:

'I have fallen upon English friends. They lend me money. Fly to Lugano by the help of these notes: I inclose them, and will not ask pardon for it. The Valtellina is dangerous; the Stelvio we know to be watched. Retrace your way, and then try the Engadine. I should stop on a breaking bridge if I thought my companion, my Carlo's cousin, was near capture. I am well taken care of: one of my dearest friends, a captain in the English army, bears me company across. I have a maid from one of the villages, a willing girl. We ride up to the mountains; to-morrow we cross the pass; there is a glacier. Val di Non sounds Italian, but I am going into the enemy's land. You see I am well guarded. My immediate anxiety concerns you; for what will our Carlo ask of me? Lose not one moment. Away, and do not detain Lorenzo. He has orders to meet us up high in the mountain this evening. He is the best of servants but I always meet the best everywhere--that is, in Italy. Leaving it, I grieve. No news from Milan, except of great confusion there. I judge by the quiet of my sleep that we have come to no harm there.

'Your faithfullest

'VITTORIA.'

Lorenzo and the innkeeper had arrived at an altercation before Angelo finished reading. Angelo checked it, and told Lorenzo to make speed: he sent no message.

'My humanity,' Angelo then addressed his craven associate, 'counsels me that it's better to drag you some distance on than to kill you. You 're a man of intelligence, and you know why I have to consider the matter. I give you guide's pay up to the glacier, and ten florins buon'mano. Would you rather earn it with the blood of a countryman? I can't let that tongue of yours be on the high-road of running Tedeschi: you know it.

'Illustrious signore, obedience oils necessity,' quoth the innkeeper. 'If we had but a few more of my cigars!'

'Step on,' said Angelo sternly.

They walked till dark and they were in keen air. A hut full of recent grass-cuttings, on the border of a sloping wood, sheltered them. The innkeeper moaned for food at night and in the morning, and Angelo tossed him pieces of bread. Beyond the wood they came upon bare crag and commenced a sharper ascent, reached the height, and roused an eagle. The great bird went up with a sharp yelp, hanging over them with knotted claws. Its shadow stretched across sweeps of fresh snow. The innkeeper sent a mocking yelp after the eagle.

'Up here, one forgets one is a father--what's more, a husband,' he said, striking a finger on the side of his nose.

'And a cur, a traitor, carrion,' said Angelo.

'Ah, signore, one might know you were a noble. You can't understand our troubles, who carry a house on our heads, and have to fill mouths agape.'

'Speak when you have better to say,' Angelo replied.

'Padrone, one would really like to have your good opinion; and I'm lean as a wolf for a morsel of flesh. I could part with my buon'mano for a sight of red meat--oh! red meat dripping.'

'If,' cried Angelo, bringing his eyebrows down black on the man, 'if I knew that you had ever in your life betrayed one of us look below; there you should lie to be pecked and gnawed at.'

'Ah, Jacopo Cruchi, what an end for you when you are full of good meanings!' the innkeeper moaned. 'I see your ribs, my poor soul!'

Angelo quitted him. The tremendous excitement of the Alpine solitudes was like a stringent wine to his surcharged spirit. He was one to whom life and death had become as the yes and no of ordinary men: not more than a turning to the right or to the left. It surprised him that this fellow, knowing his own cowardice and his conscience, should consent to live, and care to eat to live.

When he returned to his companion, he found the fellow drinking from the flask of an Austrian soldier. Another whitecoat was lying near. They pressed Angelo to drink, and began to play lubberly pranks. One clapped hands, while another rammed the flask at the reluctant mouth, till Angelo tripped him and made him a subject for derision; whereupon they were all good friends. Musket on shoulder, the soldiers descended, blowing at their finger-nails and puffing at their tobacco--lauter kaiserlicher (rank Imperial), as with a sad enforcement of resignation they had, while lighting, characterized the universally detested Government issue of the leaf.

'They are after her,' said Jacopo, and he shot out his thumb and twisted an eyelid. His looks became insolent, and he added: 'I let them go on; but now, for my part, I must tell you, my worthy gentleman, I've had enough of it. You go your way, I go mine. Pay me, and we part. With the utmost reverence, I quit you. Climbing mountains at my time of life is out of all reason. If you want companions, I 'll signal to that pair of Tedeschi; they're within hail. Would you like it? Say the word, if you would--hey!'

Angelo smiled at the visible effect of the liquor.

'Barto Rizzo would be the man to take you in hand,' he remarked.

The innkeeper flung his head back to ejaculate, and murmured, 'Barto Rizzo! defend me from him! Why, he levies contribution upon us in the Valtellina for the good of Milan; and if we don't pay, we're all of us down in a black book. Disobey, and it's worse than swearing you won't pay taxes to the legitimate--perdition to it!--Government. Do you know Barto Rizzo, padrone? You don't know him, I hope? I'm sure you wouldn't know such a fellow.'

'I am his favourite pupil,' said Angelo.

'I'd have sworn it,' groaned the innkeeper, and cursed the day and hour when Angelo crossed his threshold. That done, he begged permission to be allowed to return, crying with tears of entreaty for mercy: 'Barto Rizzo's pupils are always out upon bloody business!' Angelo told him that he had now an opportunity of earning the approval of Barto Rizzo, and then said, 'On,' and they went in the track of the two whitecoats; the innkeeper murmuring all the while that he wanted the approval of Barto Rizzo as little as his enmity; he wanted neither frost nor fire. The glacier being traversed, they skirted a young stream, and arrived at an inn, where they found the soldiers regaling. Jacopo was informed by them that the lady whom they were pursuing had not passed. They pushed their wine for Angelo to drink: he declined, saying that he had sworn not to drink before he had shot the chamois with the white cross on his back.

'Come: we're two to one,' they said, 'and drink you shall this time!'

'Two to two,' returned Angelo: 'here is my Jacopo, and if he doesn't count for one, I won't call him father-in-law, and the fellow living at Cles may have his daughter without fighting for her.'

'Right so,' said one of the soldiers, 'and you don't speak bad German already.'

'Haven't I served in the ranks?' said Angelo, giving a bugle-call of the reveille of the cavalry.

He got on with them so well that they related the object of their expedition, which was, to catch a runaway young rebel lady and hold her fast down at Cles for the great captain--'unser tuchtiger Hauptmann.'

'Hadn't she a servant, a sort of rascal?' Angelo inquired.

'Right so; she had: but the doe's the buck in this chase.'

Angelo tossed them cigars. The valley was like a tumbled mountain, thick with crags and eminences, through which the river worked strenuously, sinuous in foam, hurrying at the turns. Angelo watched all the ways from a distant height till set of sun. He saw another couple of soldiers meet those two at the inn, and then one pair went up toward the vale-head. It seemed as if Vittoria had disconcerted them by having chosen another route.

'Padrone,' said Jacopo to him abruptly, when they descended to find a resting-place, 'you are, I speak humbly, so like the devil that I must enter into a stipulation with you, before I continue in your company, and take the worst at once. This is going to be the second night of my sleeping away from my wife: I merely mention it. I pinch her, and she beats me, and we are equal. But if you think of making me fight, I tell you I won't. If there was a furnace behind me, I should fall into it rather than run against a bayonet. I 've heard say that the nerves are in the front part of us, and that's where I feel the shock. Now we're on a plain footing. Say that I'm not to fight. I'll be your servant till you release me, but say I 'm not to fight; padrone, say that.'

'I can't say that: I'll say I won't make you fight,' Angelo pacified him by replying. From this moment Jacopo followed him less like a graceless dog pulled by his chain. In fact, with the sense of prospective security, he tasted a luxurious amazement in being moved about by a superior will, wafted from his inn, and paid for witnessing strange incidents. Angelo took care that he was fed well at the place where they slept, but himself ate nothing. Early after dawn they mounted the heights above the road. It was about noon that Angelo discerned a party coming from the pass on foot, consisting of two women and three men. They rested an hour at the village where he had slept overnight; the muskets were a quarter of a mile to the rear of them. When they started afresh, one of the muskets was discharged, and while the echoes were rolling away, a reply to it sounded in the front. Angelo, from his post of observation, could see that Vittoria and her party were marching between two guards, and that she herself must have perceived both the front and rearward couple. Yet she and her party held on their course at an even pace. For a time he kept them clearly in view; but it was tough work along the slopes of crag: presently Jacopo slipped and went down. 'Ah, padrone,' he said: 'I'm done for; leave me.'

'Not though I should have to haul you on my back,' replied Angelo. 'If I do leave you, I must cut out your tongue.'

'Rather than that, I'd go on a sprained ankle,' said Jacopo, and he strove manfully to conquer pain; limping and exclaiming, 'Oh, my little village! Oh, my little inn! When can a man say that he has finished running about the world! The moment he sits, in comes the devil.'

Angelo was obliged to lead him down to the open way, upon which they made slow progress.

'The noble gentleman might let me return--he might trust me now,' Jacopo whimpered.

'The devil trusts nobody,' said Angelo.

'Ah, padrone! there's a crucifix. Let me kneel by that.'

Angelo indulged him. Jacopo knelt by the wayside and prayed for an easy ankle and a snoring pillow and no wakeners. After this he was refreshed. The sun sank; the darkness spread around; the air grew icy. 'Does the Blessed Virgin ever consider what patriots have to endure?' Jacopo muttered to himself, and aroused a rare laugh from Angelo, who seized him under the arm, half-lifting him on. At the inn where they rested, he bathed and bandaged the foot.

'I can't help feeling a kindness to you for it,' said Jacopo.

'I can't afford to leave you behind,' Angelo accounted for his attention.

'Padrone, we've been understanding one another all along by our thumbs. It's that old inn of mine--the taxes! we have to sell our souls to pay the taxes. There's the tongue of the thing. I wouldn't betray you; I wouldn't.'

'I'll try you,' said Angelo, and put him to proof next day, when the soldiers stopped them as they were driving in a cart, and Jacopo swore to them that Angelo was his intended son-in-law.

There was evidently an unusual activity among the gendarmerie of the lower valley, the Val di Non; for Jacopo had to repeat his fable more than once, and Angelo thought it prudent not to make inquiries about travellers. In this valley they were again in summer heat. Summer splendours robed the broken ground. The Val di Non lies toward the sun, banked by the Val di Sole, like the southern lizard under a stone. Chestnut forest and shoulder over shoulder of vineyard, and meadows of marvellous emerald, with here and there central partly-wooded crags, peaked with castle-ruins, and ancestral castles that are still warm homes, and villages dropped among them, and a river bounding and rushing eagerly through the rich enclosure, form the scene, beneath that Italian sun which turns everything to gold. There is a fair breadth to the vale: it enjoys a great oval of sky: the falls of shade are dispersed, dot the hollow range, and are not at noontide a broad curtain passing over from right to left. The sun reigns and also governs in the Val di Non.

'The grape has his full benefit here, padrone,' said Jacopo.

But the place was too populous, and too much subjected to the general eye, to please Angelo. At Cles they were compelled to bear an inspection, and a little comedy occurred. Jacopo, after exhibiting Angelo as his son-in-law, seeing doubts on the soldiers' faces, mentioned the name of the German suitor for his daughter's hand--the carpenter, Johann Spellmann, to whose workshop he requested to be taken. Johann, being one of the odd Germans in the valley, was well known: he was carving wood astride a stool, and stopped his whistling to listen to the soldiers, who took the first word out of Jacopo's mouth, and were convinced, by Johann's droop of the chin, that the tale had some truth in it; and more when Johann yelled at the Valtelline innkeeper to know why, then, he had come to him, if he was prepared to play him false. One of the soldiers said bluntly, that as Angelo's appearance answered to the portrait of a man for whom they were on the lookout, they would, if their countryman liked, take him and give him a dose of marching and imprisonment.

'Ach! that won't make my little Rosetta love me better,' cried Johann, who commenced taking up a string of reproaches against women, and pitched his carving-blade and tools abroad in the wood-dust.

'Well, now, it 's queer you don't want to fight this lad,' said Jacopo; 'he's come to square it with you that way, if you think best.'

Johann spared a remark between his vehement imprecations against the sex to say that he was ready to fight; but his idea of vengeance was directed upon the abstract conception of a faithless womankind. Angelo, by reason of his detestation of Germans, temporarily threw himself into the part he was playing to the extent of despising him. Johann admitted to Jacopo that intervals of six months' duration in a courtship were wide jumps for Love to take.

'Yes; amor! amor!' he exclaimed with extreme dejection; 'I could wait. Well! since you've brought the young man, we'll have it out.'

He stepped before Angelo with bare fists. Jacopo had to interpose. The soldiers backed Johann, who now said to Angelo, 'Since you've come for it, we'll have it out.'

Jacopo had great difficulty in bringing him to see that it was a matter to talk over. Johann swore he would not talk about it, and was ready to fight a dozen Italians, man up man down.

'Bare-fisted?' screamed Jacopo.

'Hey! the old way! Give him knuckles, and break his back, my boy!' cried the soldiers; 'none of their steel this side of the mountain.'

Johann waited for Angelo to lift his hands; and to instigate his reluctant adversary, thumped his chest; but Angelo did not move. The soldiers roared.

'If she has you, she shall have a dolly,' said Johann, now heated with the prospect of presenting that sort of husband to his little Rosetta. At this juncture Jacopo threw himself between them.

'It shall be a real fight,' he said; 'my daughter can't make up her mind, and she shall have the best man. Leave me to arrange it all fairly; and you come here in a couple of hours, my children,' he addressed the soldiers, who unwillingly quitted the scene where there was a certainty of fun, on the assurance of there being a livelier scene to come.

When they had turned their heels on the shop, Jacopo made a face at Johann; Johann swung round upon Angelo, and met a smile. Then followed explanations.

'What's that you say? She's true--she's true?' exclaimed the astounded lover.

'True enough, but a girl at an inn wants hotter courting,' said Jacopo. 'His Excellency here is after his own sweetheart.'

Johann huzzaed, hugged at Angelo's hands, and gave a lusty filial tap to Jacopo on the shoulder. Bread and grapes and Tyrolese wine were placed for them, and Johann's mother soon produced a salad, eggs, and fowl; and then and there declared her willingness to receive Rosetta into the household, 'if she would swear at the outset never to have 'heimweh' (home-longing); as people--men and women, both--always did when they took a new home across a mountain.'

'She won't--will she?' Johann inquired with a dubious sparkle.

'Not she,' said Jacopo.

After the meal he drew Johann aside. They returned to Angelo, and Johann beckoned him to leave the house by a back way, leading up a slope of garden into high vine-poles. He said that he had seen a party pass out of Cles from the inn early, in a light car, on for Meran. The gendarmerie were busy on the road: a mounted officer had dashed up to the inn an hour later, and had followed them: it was the talk of the village.

'Padrone, you dismiss me now,' said Jacopo.

'I pay you, but don't dismiss you,' said Angelo, and handed him a bank-note.

'I stick to you, padrone, till you do dismiss me,' Jacopo sighed.

Johann offered to conduct them as far as the Monte Pallade pass, and they started, avoiding the high road, which was enviably broad and solid. Within view of a village under climbing woods, they discerned an open car, flanked by bayonets, returning to Cles. Angelo rushed ahead of them down the declivity, and stood full in the road to meet the procession. A girl sat in the car, who hung her head, weeping; Lorenzo was beside her; an Englishman on foot gave employment to a pair of soldiers to get him along. As they came near at marching pace, Lorenzo yawned and raised his hand to his cheek, keeping the thumb pointed behind him. Including the girl, there were four prisoners: Vittoria was absent. The Englishman, as he was being propelled forward, addressed Angelo in French, asking him whether he could bear to see an unoffending foreigner treated with wanton violation of law. The soldiers bellowed at their captive, and Angelo sent a stupid shrug after him. They rounded a bend of the road. Angelo tightened the buckle at his waist.

'Now I trust you,' he said to Jacopo. 'Follow the length of five miles over the pass: if you don't see me then, you have your liberty, tongue and all.'

With that he doubled his arms and set forth at a steady run, leaving his companions to speculate on his powers of endurance. They did so complacently enough, until Jacopo backed him for a distance and Johann betted against him, when behold them at intervals taking a sharp trot to keep him in view.

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