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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesVittoria - Book 4 - Chapter 23. First Hours Of The Flight
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Vittoria - Book 4 - Chapter 23. First Hours Of The Flight Post by :Trevor_Reed Category :Long Stories Author :George Meredith Date :May 2012 Read :1281

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Vittoria - Book 4 - Chapter 23. First Hours Of The Flight


Vittoria slept on like an outworn child, while Giacinta nodded over her, and started, and wondered what embowelled mountain they might be passing through, so cold was the air and thick the darkness; and wondered more at the old face of dawn, which appeared to know nothing of her agitation. But morning was better than night, and she ceased counting over her sins forward and backward; adding comments on them, excusing some and admitting the turpitude of others, with 'Oh! I was naughty, padre mio! I was naughty--she huddled them all into one of memory's spare sacks, and tied the neck of it, that they should keep safe for her father-confessor. At such times, after a tumult of the blood, women have tender delight in one another's beauty. Giacinta doted on the marble cheek, upturned on her lap, with the black unbound locks slipping across it; the braid of the coronal of hair loosening; the chance flitting movement of the pearly little dimple that lay at the edge of the bow of the joined lips, like the cradling hollow of a dream. At whiles it would twitch; yet the dear eyelids continued sealed.

Looking at shut eyelids when you love the eyes beneath, is more or less a teazing mystery that draws down your mouth to kiss them. Their lashes seem to answer you in some way with infantine provocation; and fine eyelashes upon a face bent sideways, suggest a kind of internal smiling. Giacinta looked till she could bear it no longer; she kissed the cheek, and crooned over it, gladdened by a sense of jealous possession when she thought of the adored thing her mistress had been overnight. One of her hugs awoke Vittoria, who said, 'Shut my window, mother,' and slept again fast. Giacinta saw that they were nearer to the mountains. Mountain-shadows were thrown out, and long lank shadows of cypresses that climbed up reddish-yellow undulations, told of the sun coming. The sun threw a blaze of light into the carriage. He shone like a good friend, and helped Giacinta think, as she had already been disposed to imagine, that the machinery by which they had been caught out of Milan was amicable magic after all, and not to be screamed at. The sound medicine of sleep and sunlight was restoring livelier colour to her mistress. Giacinta hushed her now, but Vittoria's eyes opened, and settled on her, full of repose.

'What are you thinking about?' she asked.

'Signorina, my own, I was thinking whether those people I see on the hill-sides are as fond of coffee as I am.'

Vittoria sat up and tumbled questions out headlong, pressing her eyes and gathering her senses; she shook with a few convulsions, but shed no tears. It was rather the discomfort of their position than any vestige of alarm which prompted Giacinta to project her head and interrogate the coachman and chasseur. She drew back, saying, 'Holy Virgin! they are Germans. We are to stop in half-an-hour.' With that she put her hands to use in arranging and smoothing Vittoria's hair and dress--the dress of Camilla--of which triumphant heroine Vittoria felt herself an odd little ghost now. She changed her seat that she might look back on Milan. A letter was spied fastened with a pin to one of the cushions. She opened it, and read in pencil writing:

'Go quietly. You have done all that you could do for good or for ill. The carriage will take you to a safe place, where you will soon see your friends and hear the news. Wait till you reach Meran. You will see a friend from England. Avoid the lion's jaw a second time. Here you compromise everybody. Submit, or your friends will take you for a mad girl. Be satisfied. It is an Austrian who rescues you. Think yourself no longer appointed to put match to powder. Drown yourself if a second frenzy comes. I feel I could still love your body if the obstinate soul were out of it. You know who it is that writes. I might sign "Michiella" to this: I have a sympathy with her anger at the provoking Camilla. Addio! From La Scala.'

The lines read as if Laura were uttering them. Wrapping her cloak across the silken opera garb, Vittoria leaned back passively until the carriage stopped at a village inn, where Giacinta made speedy arrangements to satisfy as far as possible her mistress's queer predilection for bathing her whole person daily in cold water. The household service of the inn recovered from the effort to assist her sufficiently to produce hot coffee and sweet bread, and new green-streaked stracchino, the cheese of the district, which was the morning meal of the fugitives. Giacinta, who had never been so thirsty in her life, became intemperately refreshed, and was seized by the fatal desire to do something: to do what she could not tell; but chancing to see that her mistress had silken slippers on her feet, she protested loudly that stouter foot-gear should be obtained for her, and ran out to circulate inquiries concerning a shoemaker who might have a pair of country overshoes for sale. She returned to say that the coachman and his comrade, the German chasseur, were drinking and watering their horses, and were not going to start until after a rest of two hours, and that she proposed to walk to a small Bergamasc town within a couple of miles of the village, where the shoes could be obtained, and perhaps a stuff to replace the silken dress. Receiving consent, Giacinta whispered, 'A man outside wishes to speak to you, signorina. Don't be frightened. He pounced on me at the end of the village, and had as little breath to speak as a boy in love. He was behind us all last night on the carriage. He mentioned you by name. He is quite commonly dressed, but he's a gallant gentleman, and exactly like our Signor Carlo. My dearest lady, he'll be company for you while I am absent. May I beckon him to come into the room?'

Vittoria supposed at once that this was a smoothing of the way for the entrance of her lover and her joy. She stood up, letting all her strength go that he might the more justly take her and cherish her. But it was not Carlo who entered. So dead fell her broken hope that her face was repellent with the effort she made to support herself. He said, 'I address the Signorina Vittoria. I am a relative of Countess Ammiani. My name is Angelo Guidascarpi. Last night I was evading the sbirri in this disguise by the private door of La Scala, from which I expected Carlo to come forth. I saw him seized in mistake for me. I jumped up on the empty box-seat behind your carriage. Before we entered the village I let myself down. If I am seen and recognized, I am lost, and great evil will befall Countess Ammiani and her son; but if they are unable to confront Carlo and me, my escape ensures his safety!

'What can I do?' said Vittoria.

He replied, 'Shall I answer you by telling you what I have done?'

'You need not, signore!

'Enough that I want to keep a sword fresh for my country. I am at your mercy, signorina; and I am without anxiety. I heard the chasseur saying at the door of La Scala that he had the night-pass for the city gates and orders for the Tyrol. Once in Tyrol I leap into Switzerland. I should have remained in Milan, but nothing will be done there yet, and quiet cities are not homes for me.'

Vittoria began to admit the existence of his likeness to her lover, though it seemed to her a guilty weakness that she should see it.

'Will nothing be done in Milan?' was her first eager question.

'Nothing, signorina, or I should be there, and safe!'

'What, signore, do you require me to help you in?'

'Say that I am your servant.'

'And take you with me?'

'Such is my petition.'

'Is the case very urgent?'

'Hardly more, as regards myself, than a sword lost to Italy if I am discovered. But, signorina, from what Countess Ammiani has told me, I believe that you will some day be my relative likewise. Therefore I appeal not only to a charitable lady, but to one of my own family.'

Vittoria reddened. 'All that I can do I will do.'

Angelo had to assure her that Carlo's release was certain the moment his identity was established. She breathed gladly, saying, 'I wonder at it all very much. I do not know where they are carrying me, but I think I am in friendly hands. I owe you a duty. You will permit me to call you Beppo till our journey ends.'

They were attracted to the windows by a noise of a horseman drawing rein under it, whose imperious shout for the innkeeper betrayed the soldier's habit of exacting prompt obedience from civilians, though there was no military character in his attire. The innkeeper and his wife came out to the summons, and then both made way for the chasseur in attendance on Vittoria. With this man the cavalier conversed.

'Have you had food?' said Vittoria. 'I have some money that will serve for both of us three days. Go, and eat and drink. Pay for us both.'

She gave him her purse. He received it with a grave servitorial bow, and retired.

Soon after the chasseur brought up a message. Herr Johannes requested that he might have the honour of presenting his homage to her: it was imperative that he should see her. She nodded. Her first glance at Herr Johannes assured her of his being one of the officers whom she had seen on the stage last night, and she prepared to act her part. Herr Johannes desired her to recall to mind his introduction to her by the Signor Antonio-Pericles at the house of the maestro Rocco Ricci. 'It is true; pardon me,' said Vittoria.

He informed her that she had surpassed herself at the opera; so much so that he and many other Germans had been completely conquered by her. Hearing, he said, that she was to be pursued, he took horse and galloped all night on the road toward Schloss Sonnenberg, whither, as it had been whispered to him, she was flying, in order to counsel her to lie 'perdu' for a short space, and subsequently to conduct her to the schloss of the amiable duchess. Vittoria thanked him, but stated humbly that she preferred to travel alone. He declared that it was impossible: that she was precious to the world of Art, and must on no account be allowed to run into peril. Vittoria tried to assert her will; she found it unstrung. She thought besides that this disguised officer, with the ill-looking eyes running into one, might easily, since he had heard her, be a devotee of her voice; and it flattered her yet more to imagine him as a capture from the enemy--a vanquished subservient Austrian. She had seen him come on horseback; he had evidently followed her; and he knew what she now understood must be her destination.

Moreover, Laura had underlined 'it is an Austrian who rescues you.' This man perchance was the Austrian. His precise manner of speech demanded an extreme repugnance, if it was to be resisted; Vittoria's reliance upon her own natural fortitude was much too secure for her to encourage the physical revulsions which certain hard faces of men create in the hearts of young women.

'Was all quiet in Milan?' she asked.

'Quiet as a pillow,' he said.

'And will continue to be?'

'Not a doubt of it.'

'Why is there not a doubt of it, signore?'

'You beat us Germans on one field. On the other you have no chance. But you must lose no time. The Croats are on your track. I have ordered out the carriage.'

The mention of the Croats struck her fugitive senses with a panic.

'I must wait for my maid,' she said, attempting to deliberate.

'Ha! you have a maid: of course you have! Where is your maid?'

'She ought to have returned by this time. If not, she is on the road.'

'On the road? Good; we will pick up the maid on the road. We have not a minute to spare. Lady, I am your obsequious servant. Hasten out, I beg of you. I was taught at my school that minutes are not to be wasted. Those Croats have been drinking and what not on the way, or they would have been here before this. You can't rely on Italian innkeepers to conceal you.'

'Signore, are you a man of honour?'

'Illustrious lady, I am.'

She listened simply to the response without giving heed to the prodigality of gesture. The necessity for flight now that Milan was announced as lying quiet, had become her sole thought. Angelo was standing by the carriage.

'What man is this?' said Herr Johannes, frowning.

'He is my servant,' said Vittoria.

'My dear good lady, you told me your servant was a maid. This will never do. We can't have him.'

'Excuse me, signore, I never travel without him.'

'Travel! This is not a case of travelling, but running; and when you run, if you are in earnest about it, you must fling away your baggage and arms.'

Herr Johannes tossed out his moustache to right and left, and stamped his foot. He insisted that the man should be left behind.

'Off, sir! back to Milan, or elsewhere,' he cried.

'Beppo, mount on the box,' said Vittoria.

Her command was instantly obeyed. Herr Johannes looked her in the face. 'You are very decided, my dear lady.' He seemed to have lost his own decision, but handing Vittoria in, he drew a long cigar from his breastpocket, lit it, and mounted beside the coachman. The chasseur had disappeared.

Vittoria entreated that a general look-out should be kept for Giacinta. The road was straight up an ascent, and she had no fear that her maid would not be seen. Presently there was a view of the violet domes of a city. 'Is it Bergamo?--is it Brescia?' she longed to ask, thinking of her Bergamasc and Brescian friends, and of those two places famous for the bravery of their sons: one being especially dear to her, as the birthplace of a genius of melody, whose blood was in her veins. 'Did he look on these mulberry trees?--did he look on these green-grassed valleys?--did he hear these falling waters?' she asked herself, and closed her spirit with reverential thoughts of him and with his music. She saw sadly that they were turning from the city. A little ball of paper was shot into her lap. She opened it and read: 'An officer of the cavalry.--Beppo.' She put her hand out of the window to signify that she was awake to the situation. Her anxiety, however, began to fret. No sight of Giacinta was to be had in any direction. Her mistress commenced chiding the absent garrulous creature, and did so until she pitied her, when she accused herself of cowardice, for she was incapable of calling out to the coachman to stop. The rapid motion subdued such energy as remained to her, and she willingly allowed her hurried feelings to rest on the faces of rocks impending over long ravines, and of perched old castles and white villas and sub-Alpine herds. She burst from the fascination as from a dream, but only to fall into it again, reproaching her weakness, and saying, 'What a thing am I!' When she did make her voice heard by Herr Johannes and the coachman, she was nervous and ashamed, and met the equivocating pacification of the reply with an assent half-way, though she was far from comprehending the consolation she supposed that it was meant to convey. She put out her hand to communicate with Beppo. Another ball of pencilled writing answered to it. She read: 'Keep watch on this Austrian. Your maid is two hours in the rear. Refuse to be separated from me. My life is at your service.--Beppo.'

Vittoria made her final effort to get a resolve of some sort; ending it with a compassionate exclamation over poor Giacinta. The girl could soon find her way back to Milan. On the other hand, the farther from Milan, the less the danger to Carlo's relative, in whom she now perceived a stronger likeness to her lover. She sank back in the carriage and closed her eyes. Though she smiled at the vanity of forcing sleep in this way, sleep came. Her healthy frame seized its natural medicine to rebuild her after the fever of recent days.

She slept till the rocks were purple, and rose-purple mists were in the valleys. The stopping of the carriage aroused her. They were at the threshold of a large wayside hostelry, fronting a slope of forest and a plunging brook. Whitecoats in all attitudes leaned about the door; she beheld the inner court full of them. Herr Johannes was ready to hand her to the ground. He said: 'You have nothing to fear. These fellows are on the march to Cremona. Perhaps it will be better if you are served up in your chamber. You will be called early in the morning.'

She thanked him, and felt grateful. 'Beppo, look to yourself,' she said, and ran to her retirement.

'I fancy that 's about all that you are fit for,' Herr Johannes remarked, with his eyes on the impersonator of Beppo, who bore the scrutiny carelessly, and after seeing that Vittoria had left nothing on the carriage-seats, directed his steps to the kitchen, as became his functions. Herr Johannes beckoned to a Tyrolese maid-servant, of whom Beppo had asked his way. She gave her name as Katchen.

'Katchen, Katchen, my sweet chuck,' said Herr Johannes, 'here are ten florins for you, in silver, if you will get me the handkerchief of that man: you have just stretched your finger out for him.'

According to the common Austrian reckoning of them, Herr Johannes had adopted the right method for ensuring the devotion of the maidens of Tyrol. She responded with an amazed gulp of her mouth and a grimace of acquiescence. Ten florins in silver shortened the migratory term of the mountain girl by full three months. Herr Johannes asked her the hour when the officers in command had supper, and deferred his own meal till that time. Katchen set about earning her money. With any common Beppo it would have been easy enough--simple barter for a harmless kiss. But this Beppo appeared inaccessible; he was so courtly and so reserved; nor is a maiden of Tyrol a particularly skilled seductress. The supper of the officers was smoking on the table when Herr Johannes presented himself among them, and very soon the inn was shaken with an uproar of greeting. Katchen found Beppo listening at the door of the salle. She clapped her hands upon him to drag him away.

'What right have you to be leaning your head there?' she said, and threatened to make his proceedings known. Beppo had no jewel to give, little money to spare. He had just heard Herr Johannes welcomed among the officers by a name that half paralyzed him. 'You shall have anything you ask of me if you will find me out in a couple of hours,' he said. Katchen nodded truce for that period, and saw her home in the Oberinnthal still nearer--twelve mountain goats and a cow her undisputed property. She found him out, though he had strayed through the court of the inn, and down a hanging garden to the borders of a torrent that drenched the air and sounded awfully in the dark ravine below. He embraced her very mildly. 'One scream and you go,' he said; she felt the saving hold of her feet plucked from her, with all the sinking horror, and bit her under lip, as if keeping in the scream with bare stitches. When he released her she was perfectly mastered. 'You do play tricks,' she said, and quaked.

'I play no tricks. Tell me at what hour these soldiers march.'

'At two in the morning.'

'Don't be afraid, silly child: you're safe if you obey me. At what time has our carriage been ordered?'

'At four.'

'Now swear to do this:--rouse my mistress at a quarter past two: bring her down to me.'

'Yes, yes,' said Kitchen, eagerly: 'give me your handkerchief, and she will follow me. I do swear; that I do; by big St. Christopher! who's painted on the walls of our house at home.'

Beppo handed her sweet silver, which played a lively tune for her temporarily--vanished cow and goats. Peering at her features in the starlight, he let her take the handkerchief from his pocket.

'Oh! what have you got in there?' she said.

He laid his finger across her mouth, bidding her return to the house.

'Dear heaven!' Katchen went in murmuring; 'would I have gone out to that soft-looking young man if I had known he was a devil.'

Angelo Guidascarpi was aware that an officer without responsibility never sleeps faster than when his brothers-in-arms have to be obedient to the reveillee. At two in the morning the bugle rang out: many lighted cigars were flashing among the dark passages of the inn; the whitecoats were disposed in marching order; hot coffee was hastily swallowed; the last stragglers from the stables, the outhouses, the court, and the straw beds under roofs of rock, had gathered to the main body. The march set forward. A pair of officers sent a shout up to the drowsy windows, 'Good luck to you, Weisspriess!' Angelo descended from the concealment of the opposite trees, where he had stationed himself to watch the departure. The inn was like a sleeper who has turned over. He made Katchen bring him bread and slices of meat and a flask of wine, which things found a place in his pockets: and paying for his mistress and himself, he awaited Vittoria's foot on the stairs. When Vittoria came she asked no questions, but said to Katchen, 'You may kiss me'; and Kitchen began crying; she believed that they were lovers daring everything for love.

'You have a clear start of an hour and a half. Leave the high-road then, and turn left through the forest and ask for Bormio. If you reach Tyrol, and come to Silz, tell people that you know Katchen Giesslinger, and they will be kind to you.'

So saying, she let them out into the black-eyed starlight.

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