Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 10/Beppo, the conscript - Part 12
BEPPO, THE CONSCRIPT.
BY T. ADOLPHUS TROLLOPE.
CHAPTER XVI.—THE TWO BROTHERS.
It was early in the afternoon when Beppo left Fano, but it was far into the night before he reached Bella Luce, and he never could give any account of the intervening hours. The tidings of his bad number were known in the village before he came there. For though he had been the first of all those who returned from Fano to Santa Lucia that evening, to leave the city, find most of the others had to perform the journey on foot, they all reached home before him. Yet none of them had seen anything of Beppo Vanni by the road. He must have wandered out of it somehow. But he could give no account of himself.
Though it was past midnight, he found his mother sitting up for him. Her first idea on looking into his face as he entered the house was, that he had been drinking to drown the sense of the misfortune that had fallen upon him. The Romagnole peasantry, though not great offenders in that way, are not so wholly free from the vice of drunkenness as the Tuscan populations are. But Beppo Vanni had never been known to have been guilty of excess in that kind. So much the more heavy, thought his mother, must the blow have been that has driven him to seek such a relief.
But she soon perceived that her son was perfectly sober.
"The chance has been against me, mother; I have drawn a bad number!" he said, as he sat down on the bench by the side of the long table, just inside the kitchen door. He looked haggard, and as if worn out by fatigue.
"We have known it hours ago, my son! All the lads have been back at Santa Lucia a long time; and all free except poor Niccolo Bossi and you, my poor boy! Where have you been, and what have you been doing, Beppo mio?"
"I don't know, mother! I came away as soon as I had drawn my number! I don't know how I have been so long on the road; I was thinking of other things."
"And yet, Beppo mio," said Santa, looking wistfully at him with the tears in her eyes, "it was not for want of doing the best I could. There was not one of them," she continued, alluding to the mothers of the lads whose drawing had placed them out of danger of being called on to serve, and speaking with a strong sense of the injustice which had been done her, "there was not one of them who did as much as I did! I burned two candles of half a pound each at the altar of the Seven Sorrows, and I promised two more if things went well—best wax, and half a pound each, my son! There was no other who did so much!"
"There was no other of them, mother, who had a son with a malediction on him!" said he, looking up at her with profound dejection. "There was no other of the men as willing to go as to stay, no other that was as tired of his life as I am of mine!"
"Oh, Beppo, Beppo! my son, my son! do not speak such words. You shall not go to serve; no, not if I sell all the linen in the great press! It's mine. My hands spun the yarn, mine and the girl's together. You shall not go, my Beppo, if I sell the last bit of it; and there's the spinning of four-and-twenty years!"
"Oh, mother, mother, mother!" cried Beppo, to whose mind his mother's mention of the share "the girl" had had in producing all that linen, had brought back the vision of the quiet happy times when Giulia used to sit by the kitchen fire, or out in the loggia, plying her spindle, and when a skittish word from her was the worst grief in connection with her; "Oh, mother, I am very miserable!"
"But I tell thee, my son, that thou shalt not go! I will speak to the Curate—any way thou shalt not go!"
"Mother, I don't care to stay, I tell you! I had rather go, and never see Bella Luce again! Oh, mother, mother!"
"Don't say such words!—don't say them!" reiterated the old woman. She had poured out all the comfort she had to give, to the uttermost extent of her power; and she could say no more.
"Mother! that poor girl! Why did you send her away from you? Why did you send her to her destruction?"
"Misericordia!'" exclaimed the old woman, as this new light broke in upon her mind; "is that the reason why you don't care to stay at Bella Luce any more, or ever to see the place again? Why, Beppo, my son, she was a good-for-nought! She was not worthy of so much as a look from thee!"
"Mother! mother! She was as good a girl as ever breathed!" said Beppo, with a sob in his voice; "you know she was, mother!"
"I did think she was; but you ask his reverence! Ask the priest, my son. He knows the truth."
"Yes! and I know the truth! If she is bad now, who has made her so? Who sent her to the cursed city to her destruction? Poor child, all by herself amid good-for-nothing people! They are all bad in the cities, mother, all of them. Who sent Giulia there? when it was better,—twenty times over better,—to send her to her grave!"
"Why, you know, Beppo, as well as I do, that the priest said it was for the best. It was little enough either your father or I had to say in the matter. Signor Sandro—and he is a very good man, and a sponsible—said it was a good thing; but your father would never have sent her for all that, without the priest. He said it was the best that could be done for her?—you know he did."
And from the insistance of la Signora Sunta's pleading, it might be inferred that she was not altogether easy at heart about the sending out of the poor girl from under her roof, to what she fully believed to have been her ruin. Nevertheless, the idea that it could have been otherwise than right to do as the priest had advised in the matter, was very far from presenting itself to her mind.
"I know this," replied Beppo, "that you and babbo and the lawyer and the priest together have sent—body and soul—to ruin the poor girl who was brought up in your house, and who was once the best as well as the loveliest I ever saw, or shall see. She was! she was good!"
It was the time of his farewell meeting with her under the cypress tree in the path, that his mind recalled to him as the epoch up to which it was certain that she had been good and true. ,
"I know," he continued, with a tremor in his voice, and with tears in his eyes,—"I know that she is worthless now. And the knowledge that she is so, mother, is ten times worse to me than losing her! It makes me mad to think of it! And that is why I have no care what becomes of me, and would rather die than live! Mother! I am so miserable!"
That refrain came like the inarticulate cry which is the first-taught of all Nature's lessons to every living creature, the instinctive bringing of all pain and trouble to the mother for assuagement and consolation. But the patient's woes had got beyond the sphere of maternal surgery. Santa would have died for her first-born; and she did get to the length of articulately telling him that she would sell all the linen in the great press for him. She had no words to go beyond this. If there was anything beyond in the maternal heart, it was away in the dimly seen abysses which none of us ever fully sound, and which Santa had never so much as looked into, and had to remain unrecognised and unspoken.
"I would give thee ease, Beppo, if I knew how," she said. "To-morrow thou shalt speak with the priest; he will tell thee what is best. And now get to bed, my son! Thou look'st as if thou hadst not rested for a twelvemonth: and my eyes are so heavy!"
"Good night, mother!"
And with that the stricken man crept off to the bed-room, where his brother was soundly sleeping.
The next morning he rose to go forth to his work in the fields as usual. He found it less difficult to do that than it had been to find his blinded way through the unwonted occupations of the day before. Habit stood his friend, in guiding his limbs to do their office in the accustomed labour, unaided by any mental guidance.
There passed but short communication between the father and the son as they went forth to the field.
"So thou hadst no luck, figliuolo mio!" said the old man, with a snarl that seemed to partake of the expression of a sneer; "and the infidel man-stealers must take thee! The Vannis were never lucky!"
"The chance was against me, father, and I must take my chance," said Beppo.
That was all! The old man said nothing more, but he had many things in his mind.
Carlo appeared to be in a specially communicative mood that morning,—one would have said he was in high good humour even.
"This is a very sad business," he said to his elder brother, when their father was at a distance; "a bad business for Bella Luce! How the farm is to go on without you, Beppo, I don't see. Babbo and I put together are not worth you! And yet he don't mean to come down with the money! You'll have to march, Beppo; unless, indeed, you take the priest's advice, and do as he would have you."
"I don't care much about it, Carlo. They may settle it which way they choose for me," said Beppo, listlessly.
It was not, however, a matter of indifference to Carlo which way the matter was settled. The priest had said—and Carlo implicitly believed him—that the taking to the hills would involve no lasting consequences; that it would be but for a short time—-till the soldiers were gone out of the country. All would then be blown over, and Beppo would return to resume his place as eldest son and heir at Bella Luce. But if he were to join the army, away to the north of the mountains in Piedmont, to fight against the Austrians, perhaps even to cross the Alps, who knows what might happen! It seemed to Carlo's imagination very unlikely that any man should come back again from such a going away! And then—
"If they are to settle it for you, it'll be . . . ." and he made a gesture which was sufficiently expressive of "over the hills and far away." "But," he continued, "I don't know that if I were in your place, Beppo—and I wish with all my heart I were, for the good of the family, I do—that I would let it be settled for me that way. Soldiering is a bad trade, I know, mostly; but there is such a thing as thriving at it. And if any man in the world could, it would be such a strapping fellow as you. It would be a fine thing to come back with a title to your name, and a ample of gold epaulettes on your shoulders! Captain Vanni, or General Vanni, mayhap, who knows? would sound very well. And, per Bacco! what a handsome fellow you would look, all gold and colours, with a long sword rattling by your side, like one of those officers down in the town yonder, that all the girls look after when they pass down the street!"
"Ay, or better still, what a handsome corpse I should make, lying full length on the broad of my back with an Austrian bullet through my heart! shouldn't I, Carlo?" said his brother, with a dreary smile, which was half satire on the thoughts that he knew very well were in Carlo's heart, and half genuine acquiescence on his own part in the truth of the proposition.
"Oh!—if you are afraid of that—!" said Carlo, shrugging his shoulders.
"I don't feel as if I was very much afraid!" replied Beppo, quietly, while his eyes looked out into the distance of the seaward landscape, with that expression of vaguely searching which is so apt to accompany the musings of those who feel that all immediately around them has become flat, stale, and unprofitable.
"I know one, at all events, who would look at you in a different sort of way, and speak in a different sort of way, if you was to come back to Bella Luce, or to Fano, as the case might be, Captain, ay, or even Corporal Vanni!"
Carlo fancied that he was feeling his way delicately to hint at a consideration which he dared not urge more directly. But the spot in his brother's heart which he had ventured to touch was sore and sensitive to a degree of which he had no idea. He had already gone far beyond the tolerance of a temper which, placid as it ordinarily was, had been tried by an excess of agony that had left every nerve quivering. The allusion, especially that implied in the last words his brother had uttered, was more than he could bear.
He stood for an instant glaring at Carlo, and then brandishing the heavy triangular spade he had in his hand above his head, he after a moment's pause hurled it far away from him into the field.
Carlo, who had been at first startled and frightened by his brother's movement, recovered himself as soon as the tremendous weapon was at a distance.
"What did you throw away your spade for?" he said, with a half sneer.
"For fear of the curse of Cain!" said Beppo. "Now I am going to pick it up. Don't come after me! Let me work by myself this morning; and never dare again, if you don't want your blood to be on my head, to breathe a word or a hint to me of—of—of what you had in your mind just now."
And Beppo walked away to pick up his spade, and worked in a furrow by himself during the rest of the morning.
His brawny limbs went on with their mechanical task; but his mind was busy in meditating on the point which he had told his brother that others might settle for him. The priest was desirous, Carlo reminded him, that he should avoid the conscription by flight to the mountains. It was natural to him, and a life-long habit, to be guided obediently by any suggestions from that source. Besides, Beppo had—or rather had had, when he cared for anything—as strong a repugnance to the military service as any of his fellow Romagnoles. But now it seemed to him as if that lot was best which took him farthest away, and most irrevocably separated him from Bella Luce, and all its surroundings and memories. Nevertheless he was conscious of a longing he could not conquer to remain within the possibility of hearing of Giulia, and her future conduct. Was it that that sudden departure from the hall of the drawing, and Lisa's point-blank assertion respecting the cause of it, had again lighted up a faint spark of hope in his mind? He speculated upon it again and again; and though each time he arrived at the conclusion that it was an absurdity to allow any weight to such a chance circumstance, in the face of what he had seen and heard at the house of la Dossi, and what he had since heard from the priest himself, and also, though differently coloured, from Signor Sandro, yet he could not prevent his mind from recurring to the fact, and Lisa's explanation of it. And if there were the faintest spark of hope that, despite all, Giulia still loved him—and girls were so difficult to understand, that all things in such matters were possible;—in that case he would not quit the neighbourhood for all the world,—no, not for all the epaulettes King Victor Emmanuel had the bestowing of!
The result of these meditations was that, by the time the hour of repose arrived, he had determined on a line of conduct; and it was well that he had been able to do so, for just as the silent dinner at the farm-house had come to a conclusion, and the farmer and his sons were lounging out of the kitchen door, to enjoy as they best might the after-dinner hour of repose, Don Evandro made his appearance, and after a word of greeting to Signor Paolo, and a few of condolence for the misfortune which had fallen on the family to la sposa, intimated his desire to speak a few words to Beppo. Beppo had been about to put his hour of rest to profit by getting a little sleep, of which he stood so much in need. But of course he roused himself to do the priest's bidding; and at his invitation, strolled with him along the path leading to the village. The priest was aware of the readiness and acuteness of his friend Carlo's ears, and he chose that his conversation upon this occasion should not be overheard by them.
CHAPTER XVII. A PAIR OF CONSPIRATORS.
"Your number was one hundred and one, I hear, Signor Beppo!" said the priest.
"Yes! your reverence, that was my number!" answered the young man.
"What is the number of men demanded by the excommunicated government?"
"Somewhere between seventy and eighty from our district, I believe, your reverence. I don't know exactly."
"And it don't signify to know exactly, worse luck! Of course it is quite certain that one hundred and one will be far within the number that will be wanted to make up the roll."
"I suppose so, your reverence! no doubt of it. Of course they all know that it was as safe to have to march as number one."
"And what do you mean to do, my young friend?" asked the priest with a manner expressive of much sympathy.
"I have not thought much about it yet, your reverence," said Beppo, without being aware how far his words deviated from representing the exact truth.
"But you must think; and think very seriously too, my son! It is a matter requiring very much consideration. You are aware, from what I said the other day, that I cannot in conscience advise your father to bring forward the sum necessary for procuring a substitute. Indeed if it were his purpose to do so, I should feel it to be my bounden duty to use my utmost influence to dissuade him from it. You must have understood, I think, the nature of my views on this point. And I can i assure you that they are shared almost without exception by my brother priests throughout the country."
"I dare say your reverence is very right."
"You have not nourished any expectation then, I suppose, that your father should interfere to such a purpose?"
"Not the least, your reverence."
"Well, then we come to the question, what course you mean to pursue." said the priest, again looking hard into the young man's face. "You may speak to me, my son," he continued, "with all openness, not only as the old friend of your family, but as your own parish priest, whose bounden duty it is to assist you with his counsel in every difficulty. And remember, that what you say to me in that capacity is as sacred as if it were said in the confessional. If you feel that you could speak more freely under the protection of that holy sacrament, you have only to say so, and I am ready to hear you in confession. It is the intention and not the confessional that makes the sacredness of the rite, my son."
"In truth, father, I have little to say either in confession or otherwise. The fact is, that I do not seem to care so much about going for a soldier as I did, before—before—before I had been made very unhappy by——."
"I know what is in your heart, my son, as well as if you had spoken it," said the priest with a compassionate sigh. "My son, you have suffered and are suffering the penalty inseparable from having bestowed affection where it was not deserved,—where the older and wiser friends who knew that there were none of the qualities which should have called it forth, warned you not to place it. You cannot say, my son, that you were unwarned; or that if your heart had been more chastened and docile, the misery which has fallen on you would not have been spared you. You must feel that, Beppo mio."
There was a long pause, during which the young man kept his eyes fixed on the ground.
"Any way," he said at last, with a profound sigh, "the misery which your reverence seems to know I am suffering, has made me care little about this other trouble of the conscription."
"But it is my duty, my son, to warn you that recklessness is the frame of mind in which, above all others, the eternal enemy of our souls finds an easy conquest. I will not insist on the fact, that the day will surely come when you will look back on the feelings and passions which are now tormenting you, as on the disquietudes of a troubled dream; when new hopes and new objects will have i grown up in your mind, and all that now appears to you of such vast moment will have faded away, and be looked back on by you with a contemptuous smile. I will not preach to you of this, although it is as certain as that the weary body, when it has been refreshed by repose and food, no longer feels its weariness; because I know how difficult it is for youth to credit it, or to conceive it. But I will remind you, figliuolo mio, that there are other grounds on which this question should be decided, besides your own mere liking and inclination. There are duties of the most sacred kind in question. If you were to go for a soldier, as you say, for what cause would you be fighting?"
"There are many, your reverence, who say that it would be against the Austrians, who certainly have no right to rule over us in Italy; and that it would be for the good of the country, and to make Italy better and happier in all ways."
"Many who say!" retorted the priest, with infinite scorn in his voice; "but who are they who say so? Have you heard any of God's ministers say so? Have any of those who are your appointed guides and teachers, told you so? You cannot be expected to know much of politics or history. But you know that this country was governed by our Holy Father the Pope, and that his government has been turned out, and his property stolen by force. That cannot be right! You know that the king who has done this wrong, and who wants to take you to fight in his wrongful cause, is excommunicated. That cannot deserve the blessing of Heaven! If you do not know, it is my bounden duty to tell you, that the curses of excommunication will rest on all those who make themselves partakers of this infidel king's guilt, by taking his part, or fighting under his banner. Even taking your own view of the sorrows which have come upon you, as a consequence of refusing to be guided by your natural and appointed guides and friends, even admitting that there is no more prospect or hope for you in this world—if it were possible for an instant to suppose such folly—even if it were so, is that a reason for forfeiting all hope in the next world also? Because you see nothing but misery before you in this life, will you for that reason ensure misery in the life to come also I It is a small matter that this impious government hurries away the bodies of its unfortunate victims to slaughter on the field of battle! It carries them to die excommunicated, and lost for ever! Can you wonder at it, that we, who have the charge of your souls, should be earnest and instant to save you at all hazards from such a fate!"
The priest remained silent for awhile to give this tirade time to do its work. And Beppo remained silent also, intently striving to see his mental way among the conflicting notions and ideas that had found their entrance into his mind from different sources. But the priest's unfailing and most powerful ally in the work of subjugating a human soul—a sore conscience—was absent. It was easy to keep old Paolo Vanni in a state of subjection by the exhibition of similar threats and terrors. For he had that within which could only be drugged to sleep by sacerdotal soothing-syrup. And in the case of his son, the priest had all the advantage of a hazy and clouded intelligence to deal with. But it was curious to see how the clear conscience of honest rectitude struggled against the conclusion the priest sought to force upon it, even though the intelligence was unable to detect any one error in all his theory.
After musing for awhile, Beppo looked up with his clear blue honest eyes, not at the priest, but to the blue vault above him, and said:
"All that your reverence has said seems very true! And yet, somehow or other, I can't get to feel afraid God will be angry with me in this matter. I have no thought to do wrong!"
It did not in any way suit the priest's purpose to enter into a dissertation on any of the monstrous heresies and errors involved in this wholly irregular profession of faith. So he contented himself with saying:
"That is because He knows that you are about to be guided in the right path. The wish to do right, joined, my son, to docility towards those whom God has appointed to show you the right, is always sufficient to secure the blessing of a peaceful conscience. But, it happens in this case, as it generally does happen, that considerations of worldly prudence are also on the same side as duty towards Heaven. Remember what, when the Papal government is restored to this unhappy country, which will assuredly be the case very shortly,—in a few months, probably, as I understand,—will be the situation of those who have deserted their natural allegiance to fight for the usurper;—of them, and of their families! Surely you would not, even if there were no other consideration to influence you, you would not bring down ruin and disgrace upon your poor old father! We clergy have no commission to speak to our flocks about the intentions of the restored government. But I may tell you, Signor Beppo, between ourselves, and speaking as an old friend, rather than in my character of your pastor, that it will go very hard with the families of those who have assisted in the sacrilege of rebellion against the legitimate authority. Certainly, confiscation of all property, and most probably imprisonment also! Once again, I say, can you wonder that as a friend, as well as in the character of a priest, I should be anxious to prevent you from committing this sin, and at the same time this worldly imprudence?"
On this ground poor Beppo was more entirely unable to contend with his temper, than on the theological one. Mankind is provided with no internal voice to whisper to them of political probabilities. And Beppo had no reason for not believing every word that the priest had said on that head.
"I am sure we are all very much obliged to your reverence," he said; "of course I would not willingly do anything that should injure my father or Carlo, or bring any sorrow upon my mother."
"I am sure you would not, Beppo; and these considerations alone should suffice to decide you in favour of the course I was speaking of the other evening at the farm."
"But is your reverence sure that I might not be bringing them into trouble in some way by going against the present government? They, at all events, have the power in their hands now!"
"Yes! but they have a great deal too much upon their hands to look after one such fellow as you, Beppo! And besides that, they are too much afraid to make the people hostile to them. There is discontent against them enough, as it is. They will think twice before they do any thing to increase it. In taking part with the real government against the usurper, you will have all the really good men in the country with you. In the other case, there will be nobody to stand between you and the just anger of the Pontifical authorities!"
"Well," said Beppo, "it is a hard thing for a poor ignorant man, such as I am, your reverence, to tell how to act when popes and kings are at variance, and both parties claim his obedience; but I will be guided by your reverence in this matter, if you, on your part, will do one thing to please me;—and I am sure that it is a good Christian deed for any priest to do."
"Well, what is your condition, figliuolo mio?" said the priest, with much surprise and a little displeasure in his voice; "I am not in the habit of making conditions with my parishioners, when I find it necessary for their welfare to advise them to any particular line of conduct. Nevertheless, if it is in my power to do you a pleasure, you know that I shall be happy to do so. You need not have made a condition of it. I must say, indeed, that it would have been more becoming to have mentioned your wish in any other way."
"I humbly ask your reverence's pardon," said poor Beppo; "but I have been hard pushed by sorrow and trouble. And if your reverence would think it well to do this thing for me, it might be the saving of two souls, not of one only; for, to say the truth, I am well-nigh desperate with trouble!"
"Saving of souls, figliuolo mio, is more my business than yours. It is not seemly for the laity, let alone the uninstructed laity, to speak of such matters too lightly. It may well be, that you are a very incompetent judge of what may tend to the saving of souls, which you speak of so glibly." For the priest began to suspect, that the good deed to be asked of him might be nothing less than the taking of some step for the bringing together of Beppo and Giulia, and he had no intention to do anything for the saving of their souls in that direction. "Nevertheless," he added, "let me hear what it is that you would have me do. I should wish to content you, if it were only to soothe the pain of the misfortune that has fallen upon you. If it be anything that my duty and conscience make lawful to me, I will not refuse you."
"Your reverence no doubt remembers," said Beppo with a deep sigh, and after a little hesitation, "all the sad account you were giving my father and mother the other night of—of my unfortunate cousin?"
"Assuredly, it has been a matter of great concern to me. I fear there is little good to be hoped for her."
"She was a good girl as long as she was with us at Bella Luce, your reverence."
"She was good as long as she had no opportunity of being otherwise. What can be thought of that goodness, my son, which is apt to vanish at the first approach of temptation?"
"Yet we pray, my father, that we may not be led into temptation," said Beppo, submissively.
The priest looked at him with astonishment. He could not have imagined, that slow, simple Beppo had ever thought as much of what he was taught to pray, still less that he had the wit so to make application of the fruit of his thinking. But the priest neither guessed how intensely Beppo had suffered, nor knew what a powerful forcer and ripener of the intelligence such suffering is.
"Be cautious and chary, my son, in attempting to apply the sentiments with which we are taught to approach the heavenly throne, to the relationship of man with his fellows. We pray that our Heavenly Father may lead us not into temptation, but we must none the less try the strength of our own good resolutions, by measuring them against such temptations as he does in his wisdom nevertheless think fit to lead us into. Your cousin was placed in no circumstances of exceptional temptation, beyond that which most girls are exposed to, but—we know the result. I think it must have at last convinced you, my son, that those who strove to prevent you from so placing your affections were your best friends and wisest counsellors."
"At all events, father, it was in consequence of the wish of those friends to prevent me from doing so, that she was sent away from her home to the life which has been fatal to her. At all events, she has been sacrificed to what those friends considered to be my advantage. But now that that advantage has been secured," said the young man, speaking with increasing bitterness, "now that I have been made miserable, and she has been made worthless, surely some effort might be made to remedy as far as may be yet possible, the evil that has been done."
"I tell you, my son, such a mode of looking at the matter is mistaken. The evil you speak of was not done, it was discovered only. The girl was a bad girl, would have been a bad girl under any circumstances. The circumstances which occurred gave us an opportunity of seeing that such was the case, that is all. And as for remedy, the matter is past that, I am afraid."
"Nevertheless, although we may be afraid that it is past remedy, let us at least try. Let us at least do our part, by taking her away from the temptations which have been fatal to her!"
It is true that if poor Beppo's heart could have been anatomised and analysed, there would have been found a very considerable and indestructible residuum of Corporal Tenda in the ashes of it;—true that when he spoke of removing Giulia from temptation, the temptation he had in his mind was Corporal Tenda;—true also that, despite his representations to his own heart, all was for ever over between him and Giulia, and this talk to the priest about the object of sending her away having been secured, he would that instant have thought himself the happiest of men, and have rushed into her arms, if only Giulia would have told him that she did love him, and did not love the Corporal; nevertheless he was perfectly sincere in representing, that he had no notion of there ever more being a question of love between them; and in basing his wish that she should be taken from Fano on the ground of the simple moral and religious duty of endeavouring to reform her conduct
Poor Beppo! his mind had been so entirely abused by the report of the priest, joined to what he had himself seen, and to the few words dropped by the attorney, which, though they spoke of the Corporal in different terms from those used by the priest, yet equally testified to Giulia's monstrous falseness to himself (and when was ever lover, who did not deem that the one damning and irremissible sin against morality!), that he really felt that it was a question of snatching a brand from the burning. But I am glad for both their sakes that Giulia did not hear her respectable and moral cousin thus treating her as a Magdalen, and making her the subject of reformatory philanthropy.
"But even supposing, that any good were to be done by so removing her, what is it you would propose Signor Beppo," asked the priest in reply to his companion's last words?"
They had strolled up, during their talk, about half-way to Santa Lucia, and were now under the great cypress tree in the path. Oh! If Giulia could have known that it was just there, of all places in the world, that Beppo was concerting a scheme for rescuing her from the moral dangers of improper flirtations with—other men! Oh! if the little green lizards which were basking in the sun among the crevices of the old trunk, and were perking up their heads every now and then, evidently to listen to what was being said, could have blabbed to her what they heard,—that, if anything, might have given Corporal Tenda a chance, and the freehold farm at Cuneo a mistress!
"What would I propose, your reverence? Why simply to undo what was done. To recall Giulia back again to Bella Luce."
"Have her back again here!" said the priest, thoughtfully.
"I should be absent, you know, padre mio," urged Beppo, ruefully.
"You would be absent!" said the priest, pulling his under-lip with his forefinger and thumb, as he considered the matter.
"Since I should be either in the ranks, or away among the hills," rejoined Beppo.
"But what would Signor Paolo say?" asked the priest.
"Oh! your reverence knows that my father would be entirely guided by you in the matter. A word from you would bring her back, just as a word from you sent her away."
"And if I were to see no objection to acting in this matter as you would have me—," said the priest.
"I should see none in acting as you would have me, your reverence," said Beppo.
"I presume you would wish that Giulia should not return home till after you have left Bella Luce?" asked the priest, with a look of observation at Beppo's face as he spoke.
"Oh, certainly not—by no means. Immediately afterwards, but not before," replied Beppo, with a sincerity in his manner that quite convinced the curato of his openness and frankness in the matter.
"Well," replied the latter, "I do not see that there is much objection to it; and I do not think your father will make any difficulty about it. I am not so sure that the girl herself will be well pleased to return to her old home."
"I am afraid we have but too good reason to be sure, your reverence, that she will not return willingly. But surely that ought not to prevent us from taking the step in her best interest!" returned Beppo.
"Oh, no! no reason at all, of course. Some few days of notice, I suppose, must be given to that actress-woman with whom she has been placed. And, on the other hand, some ittle preparation and forethought will be necessary respecting your——" and the priest finished his sentence by the same expressive gesture which Carlo had used to signify being away to the mountains.
"Oh, your reverence, it's very little preparation I should need," said Beppo, speaking in a very dejected tone.
"Ay, ay! but—I told you, figliuolo mio, that the lads who go out to avoid serving this government will not want for friends; that we shall have our eyes on them; and that means will be taken to aid them in securing their safety. I shall take care—but I must have time to communicate with—in short, some little time is necessary. When is the day that is appointed for the medical examination?"
"The first week of next month, I was told, your reverence."
"Oh! we have good fifteen days, then. Very good. It is more time than enough."
"Will your reverence, then, speak to my father, and cause notice to be given to la Signora Dossi that la Giulia is to leave her? And Signor Sandro should be told also, I suppose?"
"Yes. I will come down to the farm this evening, and talk to your father after supper. I am sure I hope that a return to Bella Luce may be the means, under Heaven, of in some degree reclaiming the unhappy girl. And I most sincerely rejoice, my young friend, that your eyes have been opened on the subject; and that you are at last aware what a fatal step any engagement with such a person would have been. Good day. I will not fail to come down this evening."
So the two conspirators separated: the priest returning up the hill to the dinner which was waiting for him, to la Nunziata's great displeasure, at the Cura; and Beppo to return to his afternoon work in the fields as usual.
And in the evening the priest came down to the farm, as he said he would. And when, after a private conversation with the old farmer in the loggia, in which it was finally settled that Beppo was to be found missing some morning towards the end of the following week, Don Evandro remarked, that as he would be absent some time from Bella Luce, and as the girl seemed to be getting no good in the town, it might be as well, perhaps, if she were brought back to the farm, Signor Paolo made no objection. La padrona, when this part of the deliberations of her lord and master and his prime minister was communicated, was delighted at the prospect of having once again at her command those active and industrious fingers, the absence of which was making itself very sensibly felt in the diminished amount of the weekly produce of yarn.
The precise day for Beppo's secret departure, and the exact direction of his flight, were reserved for further and more detailed arrangement between him and the priest. Notice, however, was to be given to Signor Sandro, who was to be requested to communicate to la Signora Dossi that the farmer would come to Fanoto fetch Giulia home on the Sunday week.