Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 7/A fellow-traveller's story - Part 2

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A FELLOW TRAVELLER'S STORY.

 

CHAPTER III. CONCLUSION.

The traveller often finds in Northern Italy, families of German name and origin, who, though long rooted in the soil, have never entirely abrogated the traces of a distinct race, but continue to preserve, for centuries even, some of those characteristics which indicate a nationality; in this way, the wider foreheads, yellow hair, and, blue eyes tell of a people not native to the land, long after their possessors have ceased to retain the language or the habits of the "Vaterland."

There was such a one at Gariglano. The Eisingardes, settled there for above a century, had risen from the condition of clock-makers—they had brought the craft from the Black Forest—to become the chief persons in the town. After many changes of domicile, each more pretentious than its predecessor, they had at length arrived at the dignity of the Piazza, having purchased the old palace of the Conte Grignolo—the last of a race who had once owned wide lands around the town. The Eisingardes were now, if not exactly, very nearly, "Signori:" not that in dress, mode of living, or in culture they were really above their neighbours, but they were richer. To them men came for loans or mortgages,—to them offered for sale this homestead or that farm; they were, in short, a sort of village Rothschilds, without whose aid no speculation could prosper. The family reached its culminating point in the person of Carlo Eisingarde, a man of consummate craft and acuteness, and who, by a timely loan to a person of influence in the court of the Duchess, obtained certain mining privileges of immense value. This took place in 1829; six years after that he died, leaving behind him a widow and two sons, the elder called Carlo, after himself, the second Francesco, it was said after the Emperor. They were boys of only eight and ten years of age at the time, but they were very soon made conscious that they were heirs to a large fortune. This fact, very strongly impressed upon natures not remarkable for any peculiar generosity, did not render them more amiable; nor was their popularity with the town's-folk increased by the character of their mother, who was a German-Swiss, and possessed a large share of the cold and selfish reserve so remarkable in that race. In a larger sphere of life, in a wider circle, the traits of this family would doubtless not have attracted the same notice. They would have been submerged in the conflicting waves of daily interest, and if remarked at all, only passingly, and with out anything of importance attached to the notice: but Gariglano was small, and small things were great ones in its eyes, and so these Eisingarde boys were watched, and scrutinised, and speculated on, as in a more distinguished sphere are the princes of a royal house. The time when these brothers were emerging into boyhood was a most eventful moment for Italy. It was just at that time the first movements of secret societies began to be felt, and the institution of the "Carbonari" showed the Cabinet of Vienna what dangerous troubles might come of a smouldering but inextinguishable nationality. This club had its agents throughout the entire Peninsula, from the Alps to the last cape of Calabria. They were in every city, in every town, almost in every village; men of the highest rank, of ancient lineage, and large fortune were members of the league, along with broken-down adventurers and outcasts. So artfully constructed was it, that there was a place and a sphere of action for each without any risk that the indiscretion of one should seriously compromise the others; indeed, its very objects were known only in a graduated form to the members, and, while some saw merely the prospect of certain legislative changes in favour of liberty, others knew that the great cause was the entire reconstruction of all government, and the downfall of every dynasty in Europe.

Small and insignificant as was Gariglano, it had its "Carbonari lodge," which included persons of every age, from the patriarchs of the village to young lads, scarcely entering on manhood.

Whether suggested by a deeper policy, or merely the offshoot of mischievous pleasantry, some of the leading members resolved if possible to entice the young Eisingardes into its ranks. The scheme was easy of accomplishment. The boys—who partly from an unruly disposition, and partly from the importance derived from their known fortune, assumed an unusual degree of liberty, going about how, and when, and where they liked—were easily entrapped into the league, which gratified their pride by at once classing them with grown-up men. The eldest was fifteen, and Francesco only thirteen when they took the oaths to uphold doctrines they had never heard of, and at the price of life itself be true to a bond of whose meaning they had not the vaguest conception. It is not unlikely that their initiation was accompanied with every circumstance that could render it imposing and impressive to their young minds, and certainly one result soon made itself sufficiently evident. They assumed a contempt for their mother's authority, and very plainly intimated to her that they had adopted other guidance than hers.

By their father's will they were to come of age at nineteen, and Carlo scarcely suffered a day to pass without intimating how he was counting the hours to that "bourne," and hinting at what changes would ensue upon his accession to independence. They did not even stop here, but in a variety of ways offended the feelings and prejudices which arose from her birth and education. They scoffed at Austria, ridiculed Germany, and even derided its national courage. The bust of the Emperor over the fire-place—that Franz after whom the second boy was called—they decorated with a fool's cap and bells.

A portrait of Sand was hung up in a place of honour, and the old jingling harpsichord, which in their father's day had so often vibrated to the sounds of "God preserve the Emperor," now rattled with the vulgar chords of the French "Ça ira," and all the other revolutionary strains which used to cheer the mobs around the guillotine.

None ever crossed the Eisingarde threshold. It was a house that admitted neither guest nor acquaintance; but many, as they passed in the street, could overhear the violent words of anger and altercation between the mother and her sons, terrible predictions of an evil retribution mingled with insolent mockings of senile impotence: screams and cries for help had been heard: but as these quarrels were daily events, they ceased to attract even a passing notice, and when the young fellows swaggered out, boasting that they had given the old woman "her matins," the villagers only laughed, for all hated her, and any sympathies they had were with her rebellious aud unnatural children.

A man in all the vices and dissipations of man hood before he was eighteen, Carlo had contracted heavy debts. Even village life has its share of corrupting influences, and there was a little café which had its billiard-table, and a bowling-green which had its swindlers, just as effective in their way as their higher brethren of the turf and Newmarket. No need to say how Carlo Eisingarde was welcomed at such haunts, nor what flatteries and seductions were thrown around him. His imperious temper grew every day more insolent and overbearing, for there was none to contradict or gainsay him. The hungry crowd who followed him from place to place observed all his humours, and echoed all his opinions, till he became at last that most contemptible of all things, the petty tyrant of a petty locality. It was just when his ascendancy seemed to have reached its summit that there came to the village a distant relative of the Count of Gariglano, a certain Sebastian Spada. Though not yet much more than thirty, he had passed eight years in exile, having been banished by the ducal government for his extreme opinions. He had spent; this interval in England, where he supported himself as a teacher of Italian.

He had now returned to Gariglano under a special permission, which extended to but three days, given him to dispose finally of some small property he owned in the village.

Such was the abject influence of the terrorism that prevailed at the time, that though Sebastian was well liked and esteemed in the place, none had the courage to invite to their house a man who lay under proscription by the government. Whether adversity had taught him to expect hard usage in life, or that his pride would not stoop to resent such meanness, the young man never seemed to notice the coldness of his townsfolk, and so he frequented the café and appeared at the bowling-green with the rest, not displaying in any way a sense of the injury done him.

In an evil hour Carlo Eisingarde mistook this forbearance, and read it as a tacit submission to his own sway and a humble recognition of the superior position he occupied. He thought the young Count—for he was a Count—made way for him as he passed with a studied deference; he fancied that he removed his hat in saluting him with a more than common respect; he imagined innumerable little evidences of Sebastian's homage, and persuaded himself that these were only the legitimate tributes paid by a fallen family to the representative of a rich and rising house. Nor was it a small self-flattery to feel that as he lived in the palace of the old lords of the village, a descendant of this haughty race should come to show him personally all the deference due to one above him in station.

In the three days of his stay, Sebastian had never exchanged a word with Carlo; they met frequently, joined in the same sports, and mingled in the same laughter, but never once had come into actual communication with each other. It was on the last day of Sebastian's leave that he was seated in a little arbour in the bowling-green, quietly smoking his cigar, and watching the game with the easy indolence of an idle man: while he sat thus an ill-directed ball rolled into the summer house and struck him lightly on the foot. Sebastian kicked it back carelessly, and sent it again towards the players.

"Who is it that returns my ball in this fashion?" called out Carlo Eisingarde, in the insolent tone he ever assumed towards his companions. No one replied, and he repeated his question more defiantly than before. "I wish that whoever had the temerity to be insolent would have the courage to avow it."

"It was I kicked your ball back," said Sebastian calmly, while he continued to puff his cigar with the greatest composure.

"Then I must say, sir, foreign travel does not seem to have done much for your good manners."

"I am grieved to hear you say so," said Sebastian, with mock humility.

"You shall hear it again, then," said Eisingarde, walking up to him with an insolence all the greater because he saw his opponent disposed to submission. "Is it because your family called themselves Counts that you attempt these impertinences?—Counts who have not a crown in their! coffers!"

"In the money point it were better we had been clockmakers," said the other, with a laugh.

Eisingarde, stung to madness by the retort, sprung towards him, but the other quickly bounded to his feet, and in a voice of a very different tone from what he spoke in before, said: "Have a care what you do! I have pledged my word of honour to the government of Parma to engage in no quarrel during the few hours I pass within this frontier. To-morrow I will meet you at Massa, at Lucca, on the Lombard frontier, wherever you like, anywhere but here."

"What a convenient pledge," cried out Eisingarde to the by-standers; "we ought to be very grateful to our rulers for their paternal care of us, not but that they might have gone a step further, and where they bound you not to fight, made you promise to behave like a gentleman."

"Will you tell me where it is your pleasure to meet me to-morrow?" whispered Sebastian in a very low voice.

"You shall hear, sir; you shall hear to-night," said the other, as he turned and walked away. Generosity was not a feature of the bowling-green company, and when Sebastian sauntered towards the inn, no one joined him.

The greater part of the night he sat up writing letters; he had a great deal to do, many friends to communicate with, and business details to complete. He was surprised, as time went on, to receive no tidings of Eisingarde, but occupied so deeply as he was, it was only at intervals that he remembered him. At length the grey dawn began to mingle with the lamp light; he opened his window and looked out; four post-horses were being led along by a postilion, and he asked whither they were going.

"For the Signorino Carlo," cried the man, "he's off for Parma in all haste."

Sebastian closed the window, and went to bed. He slept very soundly, and only awoke late in the afternoon by hearing some loud talking in the room next him.

Some one imperiously asked for the Count Sebastian Spada, and as he hastily slipped on a dressing-gown and presented himself, he was shown a warrant for his arrest and committal to prison at Parma, the routine words—"on the following charges"—being scratched out, and in the after I: space simply, "by order of me, Wilhelm von Essling, Commandant."

"That's enough," said Sebastian; "when I read that name on the foot of a document, I never ask for an explanation. When I saw it last, it cost me two years and four months of a dungeon, perhaps I may call myself lucky if I escape with as little now."

The grim brigadier gave no sign that he heard him, but merely urged him to be speedy, saying:

"I have five other arrests to make this morning, and came to you first, because, as a gentleman, you would like a little more time for your arrangements than these townsfolk."

"And so there are others. Who are they?"

The brigadier shook his head, and merely repeating his former caution, withdrew, leaving one of his men in charge of the prisoner.

The five leading men of the Carbonari—men of middle age, save one—and all with families, were arrested that morning and conveyed to Parma, and afterwards to Mantua. I believe it was upwards of two years before they were brought to trial, when one of them was sentenced to the gallyes for life; three others to four years' detention with hard labour, and the fifth acquitted. Of Sebastian Strada no one ever heard more.

It is scarcely necessary to say that Carlo Eisingarde returned no more to Gariglano, where his name was not uttered without a curse; nor his memory recalled save with execration. It needed not Italian subtlety to read by what vile treachery to his companions, he achieved a vengeance on his enemy. Rumour ran that he had obtained a high place under the Imperial Government, and a title. Indeed, men read in the newspapers the name of Baron Eisingarde being entrusted with this, or sent about that, and none doubted whom it to referred. With his brother Francesco, none ever interchanged a word; their very servants left, and they were replaced by Germans or Swiss. If the young fellow strolled into public places, every head was averted; if he sat down to rest, men quitted the bench beside him.

Sterner and deeper thoughts than these worked,—indeed, within the hearts of those whose fathers, husbands, or brothers, had been betrayed and ruined by Carlo's treachery; but a special charge was given to the police to watch over the safety of young Eisingarde, and all knew, or at least believed, that he was continually followed by a gendarme, and that even a passing slight to him might cost years in a dungeon.

It is not easy to say whether any pitied the youth, or tried to disconnect him from his brother's infamy; but certainly none were bold enough to avow such compassion. As for himself, though for a while he assumed an air of haughty contempt for the townsfolk, the utter isolation of his lot, the dreary misery of his companionless, friendless life preyed upon him, and he shrank from public gaze and passed all his days within the house, or the not less gloomy garden at the back of it. It was only at night that he ventured out; then, mounting his horse, he would scour the country for miles, galloping at random and recklessly, seeking less distraction from sorrow than the excitement which speed and a certain degree of peril are sure to awaken, and that amount of feverish exaltation which served to cheer him.

"Maladizione! there he goes," would be the exclamation of some startled sleeper, as the clatter of his horse's feet resounded through the silent streets, and many a wicked prayer and evil "accidente" followed him as he swept past.

At last came the time of his being of age: the period at which he was to be put in possession of his share of the fortune left by his father; and the formalities of law required that Carlo, who had latterly acted as his guardian, should declare, before the authorities of the place, that his own functions had ceased, and his brother Francesco was in full possession of his property.

Every effort was made by the Eisingardes, aided indeed by the government, to conceal the intended visit from the people of Gariglano: not that any breach of the public peace was to be apprehended—the garrison was sufficient guarantee against this—but because all recurrence to an unhappy past was to be deprecated, and the ducal government strongly desired to suppress everything that savoured of public excitement. Despite all the precautions taken, the news got wind, that, on such a day, at such an hour, Carlo Eisingarde would appear before the tribunal in the piazza, and resign his guardianship.

An occasion like this in village life would once have been a joyous ceremonial, second only to a festival of the church. Far different was the sentiment that awaited it now. Though the ceremony was not to occur before noon, the piazza was crowded from an early hour of the morning. There had been some thought of a demonstration, by having the widow of his victim, and the relatives of the other prisoners, arrayed on the steps of the court-house; but the authorities had taken steps to intimate that the very slightest show of public feeling would be severely repressed, and the instigators of it dealt with by military law. The crowd, therefore, was silent, no organisation was attempted, but a sentiment deeper than all organisation pervaded the dense mass, and every lip, and every clenched hand there, declared the pent-up thirst for vengeance that fevered them.

Has he arrived?—when did hd come?—which way did he enter the town? were questions raised on all sides: the general belief was that he had arrived during the night, and driven to the house of the chief judge, and not to his own palace. At last a movement was felt in the crowd, one of those strange impulses which seem to make masses vibrate with emotion like a single human heart; then the great massive gates of the old palazzo were seen to open, a sight not seen for many a year, and a very old woman, bent almost double, issued forth, leaning on the arm of her son. They were both in deep mourning—as, by a legal fiction, just succeeding to a lapsed heritage—and their thin cheeks, sunk and wasted, told of sorrow.

As the crowd fell back to let them pass, no touch of compassion was to be seen on any face; looks of scorn and hatred alone met them, and and a low, scarce audible mutter tracked them as they went. The young man tried to pass rapidly on, but the old woman's strength was unequal to it, and she was forced to stop to catch breath; as she did so she raised her head, and bent her eyes upon the crowd, and with a look so full of hatred and malignant passion, that the bystanders shrunk back or turned away with a sort of sickly horror; the horrible fear of the evil eye having its echo in every Italian heart! Just as the widow and her son gained the steps of the building, the clatter of horses was heard, advancing at speed, and an open calèche with four posters dashed into the piazza, and never slackening speed through the affrighted crowd, drew up at the tribunal.

An Austrian general in full uniform quickly descended, and than there followed a tall fine-looking man, well-grown and powerful, that all recognised as Carlo Eisingarde. His salutation of his mother, his embrace, the mode in which he presented his companion, the haughty dignity of his manner, were all keenly marked by those who, in their scrutiny of externals, have not their equals in Europe; nor was the look which he gave, as he turned to the crowd beneath, unnoticed. It was a glance of such contemptuous insolence, that even their hatred seemed powerless to confront it. Like men who had lost the game, the mob broke up, and retired into the side streets, so that when the ceremony was ended, and the Eisingardes recrossed the piazza, scarcely a lingerer remained to watch them.



The Eisingardes had prepared a great dinner for that day. The chief authorities of the place were invited—the judges, the delegate, the military commandant, and the chief of the police—all attended, but the festivities were soon over, and it was remarked that the company broke up very early, and that, towards the street at least, the old house wore its aspect of gloom and desolation—just as it had done for years back. As the evening wore on, a messenger appeared at the post-station to order horses for Parma, that same night; they were to be at the palace by twelve o'clock. A low whisper ran through the knot of loungers who were standing around the post-house, and soon after the news was known throughout the town that Carlo Eisingarde was about to depart.

The carriage drove out from under the arched gate at midnight, and late as it was, there were several persons about, but no demonstration of popular feeling occurred: not a cry, not a word was uttered, as the horses wheeled into the piazza, and then the postilion suddenly stopped to relight one of the lamps that had gone out.

The crowed drew somewhat near, to observe what had befallen, and one man, more eager than his fellows, gave a look within the carriage.

"I was right," muttered he, "he is not there."

The carriage swept on, and all was once more quiet throughout the town.

Two hours later, when everything seemed tranquil, a light open carriage passed out from the back gate of the old palace, and took the road that leads to Sarzana. A messenger sent on in advance had the town-gates already open, so that in less than five minutes from its departure the carriage was whirling rapidly along over the smooth high road.

In the brief space it took to raise the portcullis at the gate, two men drew nigh the carriage, and as hastily disappeared. They did not follow the main road, but at a brisk pace took a mountain path to the left of it. The traveller, meanwhile, rolled along, and soon afterwards wrapped himself comfortably in his mantle, and fell asleep. He woke after a couple of hours by the noise of the change of horses, and feeling chilled by the night air, sprung out to walk.

When the postilions followed, they were surprised not to come up with him. They spurred the horses for about a mile or two, and then returning, cautiously watched the road as they went.

"You are looking for your traveller," cried a man from a high ridge that overhung the road; "try at Ponte Serra; he was there a while ago."

They hurried on, and reached the bridge; at first they saw nothing, but on peering over the crest of the arch, perceived the body of a man, on his face, in the dry torrent course beneath. It was Carlo Eisingarde, murdered: no less than eleven poignard wounds were found upon him.

From that day to this no clue has been found to his murderers. There was something awful in the cold and emotionless attitude of the people of Gariglano as the dead body was brought back and laid within the church. Horrible and unseemly as any triumph had been, yet it would perhaps have seemed less appalling than the stern unfeeling apathy that prevailed. The aspect of the brother, as he stood beside the catafalque, excited no pity. They gazed on his pale cheeks, and saw the tears course down them, positively indifferent.

The day Carlo Eisingarde was buried, Francesco left Gariglano, and never was seen there again. The old widow lived on in the palazzo, but was seen by none; and thus year after year passed, till men ceased to think or speak of them. Great and momentous events were indeed happening in the world. There was first the rash rising of '48 with all its disasters, then came the wearisome ten years of national depression, and then the famous outburst of French sympathy for Italy, and the glorious announcement that from the Alps to the Adriatic she was to be free.

The little that now remains to be told, the priest shall say in his own words.

"I had gone to visit a brother of mine who was Parroco at Lavenza, and who had caught a bad ague in the low marshy district around that village. I found him sadly worn and wasted, and so utterly imbued by the evil influences of the place, that there was nothing but a speedy removal to better air that could give him a chance of recovery. Poor fellow! Like most sufferers from this malady, he had got to feel very indifferent about life; he consented to go when and where I wished; but it was with the apathy of one utterly indifferent, and to whom life offered nothing to care for or to hope.

"We set off at last homeward by easy stages; two miles a-day was as much as we could accomplish, and this only at early dawn or late evening, since the noonday heat overcame him completely, and even brought on fainting. It was thus that we passed Sarzana and Castelnuova and Razzano, and on the fifth evening drew nigh to Gariglano.

"'Was it not here that the Baron Eisingarde was murdered many years ago?' said my brother, as we came to the little bridge of Ponte Serra.

"I tried to dismiss the gloomy subject with a careless assent, but in vain; he would talk of it, and persisted in dwelling on the sorrowful story of that family, and the strange mystery which had shrouded every circumstance of that crime from discovery.

"'Has there ever been anything heard of the other brother?' asked he.

"'Nothing beyond his being in the Austrian service. It was said that he was wounded at Novara, and decorated on the field for bravery. The last that I can remember of him was his being a colonel, and attached to Guilay's staff.'

"'Well, well,' said my brother compassionately, 'he was never one of us: his German blood had never warmed to Italy, and in him treason is more pardonable than in many that we know of.'

"I was well pleased that we had got rid of the topic at last, and made all the haste I could to reach the town before the gates were closed.

"Had I been aware of it, I might hare spared myself all fears on this score, for the Syndic had ordered that the gates should remain open during the night to permit the peasants to pass in and out freely to see the illuminations, Gariglano having that night illuminated for a great victory, no less a one than the battle of Magenta. Three of the townsfolk had fallen, but the patriotism of the place was above personal oonsiderations, and their little town was ablaze with lights.

"The campanile, and the Syndic's house, and the 'Intendenza' were really splendid, for it was not the old days of Austrian rule, but Gariglano was now Italian, and could dare to declare to the world its sympathies and its hopes.

"Poor Pietro, my brother, was so excited by the general joy, and so enthusiastic about the event, that he insisted on going about from place to place to see the different objects, and mark how the people had contrived to make their old town so picturesque. At last we reached the piazza, but it was to witness a scene that jarred grievously with the festivity. It appeared that the old widow Eisingarde, though repeatedly called on to illuminate, had sternly resisted the demand. To the loud cry of 'lights, lights!' no answer was given, and at length the mob, grown indignant that the great dark mass of building should seem to rebuke by its sullen aspect the popular joy, assailed it with a shower of stones.

"Almost in an instant every window was smashed, the very framework was broken in some places, and the massive door resounded with the huge stones hurled against it in impotent fury. Long after destruction had done its chief work, the anger of the populace showed itself in desultory assaults, and cries and yells of triumph and derision made the old piazza ring again.

"'You have done enough, far more than enough,' cried my brother, rebukingly, to the mob: and it was only by pleading his sickness as an excuse, that I succeeded in saving him from their vengeance. I carried him away, and got him safely housed within the inn.

"Not exactly caring to face the people next morning, whose temper I could not well calculate on, I resolved that we should start an hour before daylight. It was, then, a little before two o'clock that we prepared for the road. The night was starlight, but not bright; indeed large inky masses of cloud streaked the sky in several places, and seemed to threaten rain. The air, too, was oppressive, like that which precedes a summer storm. My brother was unusually nervous and irritable: he continued to dwell upon the theme that had irritated him, and spoke harshly and severely of the popular demonstration. Our way led through the piazza, so late the scene of outrage and tumult, but now utterly deserted. There was not a single person to be seen there.

"'In Heaven's name, what did they, what could they want?' cried he, growing more and more excited as he spoke. 'Did they expect that the poor bereaved widow should light her house, and show symbols of rejoicing in her windows? Did they imagine she was to display for them some transparency of young Italy—some gaudy allegory of victory! She who, perhaps, might have had a son in that same field of carnage? Is it out of that heart of misery they want signs of joy? Good Heavens,' cried he, 'what is that?' for now a scream burst forth so fearfully wild and terrible, that we clutched each other as we heard it, and our blood seemed chilled with terror. 'You heard it?' said he. 'You heard it as well as I did?' for he was afraid lest it was some freak of his own excited brain.

"'Yes, I heard it. Come away, Pietro. Let us leave this, the place oppresses me.'

"'O God, look there!' cried he, and as he said, he raised his arm and pointed to the great balcony over the gate, and where now an officer in Austrian uniform was standing, his whole uniform all covered with blood. One hand above his head held his cap, as though cheering on his men. A blaze of light around him made everything distinct as at noonday. This was suddenly extinguished, and the figure was gone.

"'Did you see it, brother?' whispered Pietro, as he lay at my feet; but I never answered.

"With all the strength I could muster, I whipped the beast to move on, and we drove away at full gallop, not halting till we had left miles between us and the town. My brother never rallied from that shock: he is alive, but his faculties have left him! and to all seeming unconscious he sits all day without speaking, though now and then a fearful shudder will pass over him, showing that the agony of that dreadful night has not died out from his memory.

"In the 'Mantua Gazette' of June 3rd, where the casualties of Magenta are given, stands the name, 'Lieut. Eisingarde, killed by a grape-shot.'"

As the priest finished, he turned away; so I stole out into the piazza to take one more look at the old house ere I parted with it for ever. I asked myself if I could bear to hear that cry and see that figure, but I own that with all my craving desire for the supernatural, I said "No!" and as I left the spot, only prayed it might never come to me in my dreams.