Page:010 Once a week Volume X Dec 1863 to Jun 64.pdf/29

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Dec. 26, 1863.






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