The Vendetta/Chapter IV
"Here she is, my Ginevra, Ginevrettina, Ginevrola, mia Ginevra bella!" cried the old man.
"Oh, father, you hurt me!"
Instantly Ginevra was put down with an air of respect. She nodded her head with a graceful movement at her mother, who was frightened by her cry, as if to say, "Don't be alarmed, it was only a trick to get away."
The pale, wan face of the baroness recovered its usual tones, and even assumed a look of gayety. Piombo rubbed his hands violently,—with him the surest symptom of joy; he had taken to this habit at court when he saw Napoleon becoming angry with those of his generals and ministers who served him ill or committed blunders. When, as now, the muscles of his face relaxed, every wrinkle on his forehead expressed benevolence. These two old people presented at this moment precisely the aspect of a drooping plant to which a little water has given fresh life after long dryness.
"Now, to dinner! to dinner!" cried the baron, offering his large hand to his daughter, whom he called "Signora Piombellina,"—another symptom of gayety, to which Ginevra replied by a smile.
"Ah ca!" said Piombo, as they left the table, "your mother has called my attention to the fact that for some weeks you have stayed much longer than usual at the studio. It seems that painting is more to you than your parents—"
"Ginevra is preparing some surprise for us, I think," said the mother.
"A picture of your own! will you bring us that?" cried the Corsican, clapping his hands.
"Yes, I am very much occupied at the studio," replied Ginevra, rather slowly.
"What is the matter, Ginevra? You are turning pale!" cried her mother.
"No!" exclaimed the young girl in a tone of resolution,—"no! it shall never be said that Ginevra Piombo acted a lie."
Hearing this singular exclamation, Piombo and his wife looked at their daughter in astonishment.
"I love a young man," she added, in a voice of emotion.
Then, not venturing to look at her parents, she lowered her large eyelids as if to veil the fire of her eyes.
"Is he a prince?" asked her father, ironically, in a tone of voice which made the mother quail.
"No, father," she said, gently, "he is a young man without fortune."
"Is he very handsome?"
"He is very unfortunate."
"What is he?"
"Labedoyere's comrade; he was proscribed, without a refuge; Servin concealed him, and—"
"Servin is a good fellow, who has done well," cried Piombo; "but you, my daughter, you do wrong to love any man, except your father."
"It does not depend on me to love, or not to love," replied Ginevra, still gently.
"I flattered myself," continued her father, "that my Ginevra would be faithful to me until I died; and that my love and that of her mother would suffice her till then; I did not expect that our tenderness would find a rival in her soul, and—"
"Did I ever reproach you for your fanaticism for Napoleon?" said Ginevra. "Have you never loved any one but me? Did you not leave me for months together when you went on missions. I bore your absence courageously. Life has necessities to which we must all submit."
"No, you don't love me for myself; your reproaches betray your intolerable egotism."
"You dare to blame your father's love!" exclaimed Piombo, his eyes flashing.
"Father, I don't blame you," replied Ginevra, with more gentleness than her trembling mother expected. "You have grounds for your egotism, as I have for my love. Heaven is my witness that no girl has ever fulfilled her duty to her parents better than I have done to you. I have never felt anything but love and happiness where others often see obligation. It is now fifteen years that I have never left your protecting wing, and it has been a most dear pleasure to me to charm your life. But am I ungrateful for all this in giving myself up to the joy of loving; is it ingratitude to desire a husband who will protect me hereafter?"
"What! do you reckon benefits with your father, Ginevra?" said Piombo, in a dangerous tone.
A dreadful pause then followed, during which no one dared to speak. Bartolomeo at last broke the silence by crying out in a heart-rending tone:—
"Oh! stay with us! stay with your father, your old father! I cannot have you love another man. Ginevra, you will not have long to await your liberty."
"But, father, remember that I need not leave you; we shall be two to love you; you will learn to know the man to whose care you bequeath me. You will be doubly cherished by me and by him,—by him who is my other self, by me who am all his."
"Oh! Ginevra, Ginevra!" cried the Corsican, clenching his fists; "why did you not marry when Napoleon brought me to accept the idea? Why did you not take the counts and dukes he presented to you?"
"They loved me to order," said the girl. "Besides, they would have made me live with them, and I did not wish to leave you alone."
"You don't wish to leave me alone," said Piombo, "and yet you marry! —that is leaving me alone. I know you, my daughter; in that case, you would cease to love us. Elisa," he added, looking at his wife, who remained motionless, and as if stupefied, "we have no longer a daughter; she wishes to marry."
The old man sat down, after raising his hands to heaven with a gesture of invoking the Divine power; then he bowed himself over as if weighed down with sorrow.
Ginevra saw his agitation, and the restraint which he put upon his anger touched her to the heart; she expected some violent crisis, some ungovernable fury; she had not armed her soul against paternal gentleness.
"Father," she said, in a tender voice, "no, you shall never be abandoned by your Ginevra. But love her a little for her own sake. If you know how he loves me! Ah! He would never make me unhappy!"
"Comparisons already!" cried Piombo, in a terrible voice. "No, I can never endure the idea of your marriage. If he loved you as you deserve to be loved he would kill me; if he did not love you, I should put a dagger through him."
The hands of the old man trembled, his lips trembled, his body trembled, but his eyes flashed lightnings. Ginevra alone was able to endure his glance, for her eyes flamed also, and the daughter was worthy of the sire.
"Oh! to love you! What man is worthy of such a life?" continued Piombo. "To love you as a father is paradise on earth; who is there worthy to be your husband?"
"He," said Ginevra; "he of whom I am not worthy."
"He?" repeated Piombo, mechanically; "who is he?"
"He whom I love."
"How can he know you enough to love you?"
"Father," said Ginevra, with a gesture of impatience, "whether he loves me or not, if I love him—"
"You love him?" cried Piombo.
Ginevra bent her head softly.
"You love him more than you love us?"
"The two feelings cannot be compared," she replied.
"Is one stronger than the other?"
"I think it is," said Ginevra.
"You shall not marry him," cried the Corsican, his voice shaking the window-panes.
"I shall marry him," replied Ginevra, tranquilly.
"Oh, God!" cried the mother, "how will this quarrel end? Santa Virgina! place thyself between them!"
The baron, who had been striding up and down the room, now seated himself; an icy sternness darkened his face; he looked fixedly at his daughter, and said to her, in a gentle, weakened voice,—
"Ginevra, no! you will not marry him. Oh! say nothing more to-night —let me think the contrary. Do you wish to see your father on his knees, his white hairs prostrate before you? I supplicate you—"
"Ginevra Piombo does not pass her word and break it," she replied. "I am your daughter."
"She is right," said the baroness. "We are sent into the world to marry."
"Do you encourage her in disobedience?" said the baron to his wife, who, terrified by the word, now changed to marble.
"Refusing to obey an unjust order is not disobedience," said Ginevra.
"No order can be unjust from the lips of your father, my daughter. Why do you judge my action? The repugnance that I feel is counsel from on high, sent, it may be, to protect you from some great evil."
"The only evil could be that he did not love me."
"Yes, always," she answered. "He is my life, my good, my thought. Even if I obeyed you he would be ever in my soul. To forbid me to marry him is to make me hate you."
"You love us not!" cried Piombo.
"Oh!" said Ginevra, shaking her head.
"Well, then, forget him; be faithful to us. After we are gone—you understand?"
"Father, do you wish me to long for your death?" cried Ginevra.
"I shall outlive you. Children who do not honor their parents die early," said the father, driven to exasperation.
"All the more reason why I should marry and be happy," she replied.
This coolness and power of argument increased Piombo's trouble; the blood rushed violently to his head, and his face turned purple. Ginevra shuddered; she sprang like a bird on her father's knee, threw her arms around his neck, and caressed his white hair, exclaiming, tenderly:—
"Oh, yes, yes, let me die first! I could never survive you, my father, my kind father!"
"Oh! my Ginevra, my own Ginevra!" replied Piombo, whose anger melted under this caress like snow beneath the rays of the sun.
"It was time you ceased," said the baroness, in a trembling voice.
"Ah! Ginevretta! mia bella Ginevra!"
And the father played with his daughter as though she were a child of six. He amused himself by releasing the waving volume of her hair, by dandling her on his knee; there was something of madness in these expressions of his love. Presently his daughter scolded while kissing him, and tried, by jesting, to obtain admission for Luigi; but her father, also jesting, refused. She sulked, then returned to coax once more, and sulked again, until, by the end of the evening, she was forced to be content with having impressed upon her father's mind both her love for Luigi and the idea of an approaching marriage.
The next day she said no more about her love; she was more caressing to her father than she had ever been, and testified the utmost gratitude, as if to thank him for the consent he seemed to have given by his silence. That evening she sang and played to him for a long time, exclaiming now and then: "We want a man's voice for this nocturne." Ginevra was an Italian, and that says all.
At the end of a week her mother signed to her. She went; and Elisa Piombo whispered in her ear:—
"I have persuaded your father to receive him."
"Oh! mother, how happy you have made me!"
That day Ginevra had the joy of coming home on the arm of her Luigi. The officer came out of his hiding-place for the second time only. The earnest appeals which Ginevra made to the Duc de Feltre, then minister of war, had been crowned with complete success. Luigi's name was replaced upon the roll of officers awaiting orders. This was the first great step toward better things. Warned by Ginevra of the difficulties he would encounter with her father, the young man dared not express his fear of finding it impossible to please the old man. Courageous under adversity, brave on a battlefield, he trembled at the thought of entering Piombo's salon. Ginevra felt him tremble, and this emotion, the source of which lay in her, was, to her eyes, another proof of love.
"How pale you are!" she said to him when they reached the door of the house.
"Oh! Ginevra, if it concerned my life only!—"
Though Bartolomeo had been notified by his wife of the formal presentation Ginevra was to make of her lover, he would not advance to meet him, but remained seated in his usual arm-chair, and the sternness of his brow was awful.
"Father," said Ginevra, "I bring you a person you will no doubt be pleased to see,—a soldier who fought beside the Emperor at Mont-Saint-Jean."
The baron rose, cast a sidelong glance at Luigi, and said, in a sardonic tone:—
"Monsieur is not decorated."
"I no longer wear the Legion of honor," replied Luigi, timidly, still standing.
Ginevra, mortified by her father's incivility, dragged forward a chair. The officer's answer seemed to satisfy the old servant of Napoleon. Madame Piombo, observing that her husband's eyebrows were resuming their natural position, said, by way of conversation:
"Monsieur's resemblance to a person we knew in Corsica, Nina Porta, is really surprising."
"Nothing could be more natural," replied the young man, on whose face Piombo's flaming eyes now rested. "Nina was my sister."
"Are you Luigi Porta?" asked the old man.
Bartolomeo rose, tottered, was forced to lean against a chair and beckon to his wife. Elisa Piombo came to him. Then the two old people, silently, each supporting the other, left the room, abandoning their daughter with a sort of horror.
Luigi Porta, bewildered, looked at Ginevra, who had turned as white as a marble statue, and stood gazing at the door through which her father and mother had disappeared. This departure and this silence seemed to her so solemn that, for the first time, in her whole life, a feeling of fear entered her soul. She struck her hands together with great force, and said, in a voice so shaken that none but a lover could have heard the words:—
"What misery in a word!"
"In the name of our love, what have I said?" asked Luigi Porta.
"My father," she replied, "never spoke to me of our deplorable history, and I was too young when we left Corsica to know anything about it."
"Are we in vendetta?" asked Luigi, trembling.
"Yes. I have heard my mother say that the Portas killed my brother and burned our house. My father then massacred the whole family. How is it that you survived?—for you were tied to the posts of the bed before they set fire to the house."
"I do not know," replied Luigi. "I was taken to Genoa when six years old, and given in charge of an old man named Colonna. No detail about my family was told to me. I knew only that I was an orphan, and without property. Old Colonna was a father to me; and I bore his name until I entered the army. In order to do that, I had to show my certificate of birth in order to prove my identity. Colonna then told me, still a mere child, that I had enemies. And he advised me to take Luigi as my surname, and so evade them."
"Go, go, Luigi!" cried Ginevra. "No, stay; I must go with you. So long as you are in my father's house you have nothing to fear; but the moment you leave it, take care! you will go from danger to danger. My father has two Corsicans in his service, and if he does not lie in wait to kill you, they will."
"Ginevra," he said, "this feud, does it exist between you and me?"
The girl smiled sadly and bowed her head. Presently she raised it, and said, with a sort of pride:—
"Oh, Luigi, our love must be pure and sincere, indeed, to give me strength to tread the path I am about to enter. But it involves a happiness that will last throughout our lives, will it not?"
Luigi answered by a smile, and pressed her hand.
Ginevra comprehended that true love could despise all vulgar protestations at such a moment. This calm and restrained expression of his feelings foreshadowed, in some sense, their strength and their duration.
The destiny of the pair was then and there decided. Ginevra foresaw a cruel struggle, but the idea of abandoning Luigi—an idea which may have floated in her soul—vanished completely. His forever, she dragged him suddenly, with a desperate sort of energy, from her father's house, and did not leave him till she saw him reach the house where Servin had engaged a modest lodging.
By the time she reached home, Ginevra had attained to that serenity which is caused by a firm resolution; no sign in her manner betrayed uneasiness. She turned on her father and mother, whom she found in the act of sitting down to dinner, a glance of exceeding gentleness devoid of hardihood. She saw that her mother had been weeping; the redness of those withered eyelids shook her heart, but she hid her emotion. No one touched the dinner which was served to them. A horror of food is one of the chief symptoms which reveal a great crisis in life. All three rose from table without having addressed a single word to one another.
When Ginevra had placed herself between her father and mother in the great and gloomy salon, Piombo tried to speak, but his voice failed him; he tried to walk, but he had no strength in his legs. He returned to his seat and rang the bell.
"Pietro," he said, at last, to the footman, "light the fire; I am cold."
Ginevra trembled, and looked at her father anxiously. The struggle within him must have been horrible, for his face was distorted. Ginevra knew the extent of the peril before her, but she did not flinch. Bartolomeo, meanwhile, cast furtive glances at his daughter, as if he feared a character whose violence was the work of his own hands.
Between such natures all things must be extreme. The certainty of some impending change in the feelings of father and daughter gave to the worn and weary face of the baroness an expression of terror.
"Ginevra, you love the enemy of your family," said Piombo, at last, not daring to look at his daughter.
"That is true," she replied.
"You must choose between us. Our vendetta is a part of our being. Whoso does not share my vengeance is not a member of my family."
"My choice is made," replied Ginevra, calmly.
His daughter's tranquillity misled Bartolomeo.
"Oh! my dear child!" he cried, letting her see his eyes moistened with tears, the first and only tears he ever shed in life.
"I shall be his wife," said Ginevra, abruptly.
Bartolomeo seemed dazed for a moment, but he recovered his coolness instantly, and replied:—
"The marriage will not take place in my lifetime; I will never consent to it."
Ginevra kept silence.
"Ginevra," continued the baron, "have you reflected that Luigi is the son of the man who killed your brother?"
"He was six years old when that crime was committed; he was, therefore, not guilty of it," she replied.
"He is a Porta!" cried Bartolomeo.
"I have never shared that hatred," said Ginevra, eagerly. "You did not bring me up to think a Porta must be a monster. How could I know that one of those whom you thought you had killed survived? Is it not natural that you should now yield your vendetta to my feelings?"
"A Porta!" repeated Piombo. "If his father had found you in your bed you would not be living now; he would have taken your life a hundred times."
"It may be so," she answered; "but his son has given me life, and more than life. To see Luigi is a happiness without which I cannot live. Luigi has revealed to me the world of sentiments. I may, perhaps, have seen faces more beautiful than his, but none has ever charmed me thus; I may have heard voices—no, no, never any so melodious! Luigi loves me; he will be my husband."
"Never," said Piombo. "I would rather see you in your coffin, Ginevra."
The old Corsican rose and began to stride up and down the salon, dropping the following sentences, one by one, after pauses which betrayed his agitation.
"You think you can bend my will. Undeceive yourself. A Porta shall never be my son; that is my decree. Let there be no further question of this between us. I am Bartolomeo di Piombo; do you hear me, Ginevra?"
"Do you attach some mysterious meaning to those words?" she asked, coldly.
"They mean that I have a dagger, and that I do not fear man's justice. Corsicans explain themselves to God."
"And I," said the daughter, rising, "am Ginevra Piombo, and I declare that within six months I shall be the wife of Luigi Porta. You are a tyrant, my father," she added, after a terrifying pause.
Bartolomeo clenched his fists and struck them on the marble of the chimneypiece.
"Ah! we are in Paris!" he muttered.
Then he was silent, crossed his arms, bowed his head on his breast, and said not another word during the whole evening.
After once giving utterance to her will, Ginevra affected inconceivable coolness. She opened the piano and sang, played charming nocturnes and scherzos with a grace and sentiment which displayed a perfect freedom of mind, thus triumphing over her father, whose darkling face showed no softening. The old man was cruelly hurt by this tacit insult; he gathered in this one moment the bitter fruits of the training he had given to his daughter. Respect is a barrier which protects parents as it does children, sparing grief to the former, remorse to the latter.
The next day, when Ginevra sought to leave the house at the hour when she usually went to the studio, she found the gates of the mansion closed to her. She said nothing, but soon found means to inform Luigi Porta of her father's severity. A chambermaid, who could neither read nor write, was able to carry letters between the lovers. For five days they corresponded thus, thanks to the inventive shrewdness of the youth.
The father and daughter seldom spoke to each other. Both were nursing in the depths of their heart a sentiment of hatred; they suffered, but they suffered proudly, and in silence. Recognizing how strong were the ties of love which bound them to each other, they each tried to break them, but without success. No gentle thought came, as formerly, to brighten the stern features of Piombo when he contemplated his Ginevra. The girl had something savage in her eye when she looked at her father; reproach sat enthroned on that innocent brow; she gave herself up, it is true, to happy thoughts, and yet, at times, remorse seemed to dull her eyes. It was not difficult to believe that she could never enjoy, peacefully, any happiness which caused sorrow to her parents.
With Bartolomeo, as with his daughter, the hesitations of this period caused by the native goodness of their souls were, nevertheless, compelled to give way before their pride and the rancor of their Corsican nature. They encouraged each other in their anger, and closed their eyes to the future. Perhaps they mutually flattered themselves that the one would yield to the other.
At last, on Ginevra's birthday, her mother, in despair at the estrangement which, day by day, assumed a more serious character, meditated an attempt to reconcile the father and daughter, by help of the memories of this family anniversary. They were all three sitting in Bartolomeo's study. Ginevra guessed her mother's intention by the timid hesitation on her face, and she smiled sadly.
At this moment a servant announced two notaries, accompanied by witnesses. Bartolomeo looked fixedly at these persons, whose cold and formal faces were grating to souls so passionately strained as those of the three chief actors in this scene. The old man turned to his daughter and looked at her uneasily. He saw upon her face a smile of triumph which made him expect some shock; but, after the manner of savages, he affected to maintain a deceitful indifference as he gazed at the notaries with an assumed air of calm curiosity. The strangers sat down, after being invited to do so by a gesture of the old man.
"Monsieur is, no doubt, M. le Baron di Piombo?" began the oldest of the notaries.
Bartolomeo bowed. The notary made a slight inclination of the head, looked at Ginevra with a sly expression, took out his snuff-box, opened it, and slowly inhaled a pinch, as if seeking for the words with which to open his errand; then, while uttering them, he made continual pauses (an oratorical manoeuvre very imperfectly represented by the printer's dash—).
"Monsieur," he said, "I am Monsieur Roguin, your daughter's notary, and we have come—my colleague and I—to fulfil the intentions of the law and—put an end to the divisions which—appear—to exist—between yourself and Mademoiselle, your daughter,—on the subject—of—her —marriage with Monsieur Luigi Porta."
This speech, pedantically delivered, probably seemed to Monsieur Roguin so fine that his hearer could not at once understand it. He paused, and looked at Bartolomeo with that peculiar expression of the mere business lawyer, a mixture of servility with familiarity. Accustomed to feign much interest in the persons with whom they deal, notaries have at last produced upon their features a grimace of their own, which they take on and off as an official "pallium." This mask of benevolence, the mechanism of which is so easy to perceive, irritated Bartolomeo to such an extent that he was forced to collect all the powers of his reason to prevent him from throwing Monsieur Roguin through the window. An expression of anger ran through his wrinkles, which caused the notary to think to himself: "I've produced an effect."
"But," he continued, in a honeyed tone, "Monsieur le baron, on such occasions our duties are preceded by—efforts at—conciliation—Deign, therefore, to have the goodness to listen to me—It is in evidence that Mademoiselle Ginevra di Piombo—attains this very day—the age at which the law allows a respectful summons before proceeding to the celebration of a marriage—in spite of the non-consent of the parents. Now—it is usual in families—who enjoy a certain consideration—who belong to society—who preserve some dignity—to whom, in short, it is desirable not to let the public into the secret of their differences —and who, moreover, do not wish to injure themselves by blasting with reprobation the future of a young couple (for—that is injuring themselves), it is usual, I say—among these honorable families—not to allow these summonses—to take place—or remain—a monument to —divisions which should end—by ceasing—Whenever, monsieur, a young lady has recourse to respectful summons, she exhibits a determination too marked to allow of a father—of a mother," here he turned to the baroness, "hoping or expecting that she will follow their wishes —Paternal resistance being null—by reason of this fact—in the first place—and also from its being nullified by law, it is customary—for every sensible man—after making a final remonstrance to his child —and before she proceeds to the respectful summons—to leave her at liberty to—"
Monsieur Roguin stopped, perceiving that he might talk on for two hours without obtaining any answer; he felt, moreover, a singular emotion at the aspect of the man he was attempting to convert. An extraordinary revolution had taken place on Piombo's face; his wrinkles, contracting into narrow lines, gave him a look of indescribable cruelty, and he cast upon the notary the glance of a tiger. The baroness was mute and passive. Ginevra, calm and resolute, waited silently; she knew that the notary's voice was more potent than hers, and she seemed to have decided to say nothing. At the moment when Roguin ceased speaking, the scene had become so terrifying that the men who were there as witnesses trembled; never, perhaps, had they known so awful a silence. The notaries looked at each other, as if in consultation, and finally rose and walked to the window.
"Did you ever meet people born into the world like that?" asked Roguin of his brother notary.
"You can't get anything out of him," replied the younger man. "In your place, I should simply read the summons. That old fellow isn't a comfortable person; he is furious, and you'll gain nothing whatever by arguing with him."
Monsieur Roguin then read a stamped paper, containing the "respectful summons," prepared for the occasion; after which he proceeded to ask Bartolomeo what answer he made to it.
"Are there laws in France which destroy paternal authority?—" demanded the Corsican.
"Monsieur—" said Roguin, in his honeyed tones.
"Which tear a daughter from her father?—"
"Which deprive an old man of his last consolation?—"
"Monsieur, your daughter only belongs to you if—"
"And kill him?—"
"Monsieur, permit me—"
There is nothing more horrible than the coolness and precise reasoning of notaries amid the many passionate scenes in which they are accustomed to take part.
The forms that Piombo saw about him seemed, to his eyes, escaped from hell; his repressed and concentrated rage knew no longer any bounds as the calm and fluted voice of the little notary uttered the words: "permit me." By a sudden movement he sprang to a dagger that was hanging to a nail above the fireplace, and rushed toward his daughter. The younger of the two notaries and one of the witnesses threw themselves before Ginevra; but Piombo knocked them violently down, his face on fire, and his eyes casting flames more terrifying than the glitter of the dagger. When Ginevra saw him approach her she looked at him with an air of triumph, and advancing slowly, knelt down. "No, no! I cannot!" he cried, flinging away the weapon, which buried itself in the wainscot.
"Well, then! have mercy! have pity!" she said. "You hesitate to be my death, and you refuse me life! Oh! father, never have I loved you as I do at this moment; give me Luigi! I ask for your consent upon my knees: a daughter can humiliate herself before her father. My Luigi, give me my Luigi, or I die!"
The violent excitement which suffocated her stopped her words, for she had no voice; her convulsive movements showed plainly that she lay, as it were, between life and death. Bartolomeo roughly pushed her from him.
"Go," he said. "The wife of Luigi Porta cannot be a Piombo. I have no daughter. I have not the strength to curse you, but I cast you off; you have no father. My Ginevra Piombo is buried here," he said, in a deep voice, pressing violently on his heart. "Go, leave my house, unhappy girl," he added, after a moment's silence. "Go, and never come into my sight again."
So saying, he took Ginevra by the arm to the gate of the house and silently put her out.
"Luigi!" cried Ginevra, entering the humble lodging of her lover,—"my Luigi, we have no other fortune than our love."
"Then am I richer than the kings of the earth!" he cried.
"My father and my mother have cast me off," she said, in deepest sadness.
"I will love you in place of them."
"Then let us be happy,—we WILL be happy!" she cried, with a gayety in which there was something dreadful.