Page:010 Once a week Volume X Dec 1863 to Jun 64.pdf/30

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[Dec. 26, 1863.

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