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قراءة كتاب Vittoria — Volume 6

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‏اللغة: English
Vittoria — Volume 6

Vittoria — Volume 6

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دار النشر: Project Gutenberg
الصفحة رقم: 4

id="id00103">"Very well, then, come and show yourself at our table," said Jenna. "Listen: we'll make a furious row after supper, and get hauled in by the collar before the General. You can swear you have never been absent from duty: swear the General never gave you forcible furlough. I'll swear it; all our fellows will swear it. The General will say, 'Oh! a very big lie's equal to a truth; big brother to a fact, or something; as he always does, you know. Face it out. We can't spare a good stout sword in these times. On with me, my Pierson."

"I would," said Wilfrid, doubtfully.

A douse of water from a window extinguished their cigars.

Lieutenant Jenna wiped his face deliberately, and lighting another cigar, remarked—"This is the fifth poor devil who has come to an untimely end within an hour. It is brisk work. Now, I'll swear I'll smoke this one out."

The cigar was scattered in sparks from his lips by a hat skilfully flung. He picked it up miry and cleaned it, observing that his honour was pledged to this fellow. The hat he trampled into a muddy lump. Wilfrid found it impossible to ape his coolness. He swung about for an adversary. Jenna pulled him on.

"A salute from a window," he said. "We can't storm the houses. The time'll come for it—and then, you cats!"

Wilfrid inquired how long this state of things had been going on. Jenna replied that they appeared to be in the middle of it;—nearly a week. Another week, and their, day would arrive; and then!

"Have you heard anything of a Count Ammiani here?" said Wilfrid.

"Oh! he's one of the lot, I believe. We have him fast, as we'll have the bundle of them. Keep eye on those dogs behind us, and manoeuvre your cigar. The plan is, to give half-a-dozen bright puffs, and then keep it in your fist; and when you see an Italian head, volcano him like fury. Yes, I've heard of that Ammiani. The scoundrels, made an attempt to get him out of prison—I fancy he's in the city prison—last Friday night. I don't know exactly where he is; but it's pretty fair reckoning to say that he'll enjoy a large slice of the next year in the charming solitude of Spielberg, if Milan is restless. Is he a friend of yours?"

"Not by any means," said Wilfrid.

"Mio prigione!" Jenna mouthed with ineffable contemptuousness; "he'll have time to write his memoirs, as, one of the dogs did. I remember my mother crying over, the book. I read it? Not I! I never read books. My father said—the stout old colonel—'Prison seems to make these Italians take an interest in themselves.' 'Oh!' says my mother, 'why can't they be at peace with us?' 'That's exactly the question,' says my father, 'we're always putting to them.' And so I say. Why can't they let us smoke our cigars in peace?"

Jenna finished by assaulting a herd of faces with smoke.

"Pig of a German!" was shouted; and "Porco, porco," was sung in a scale of voices. Jenna received a blinding slap across the eyes. He staggered back; Wilfrid slashed his sword in defence of him. He struck a man down. "Blood! blood!" cried the gathering mob, and gave space, but hedged the couple thickly. Windows were thrown up; forth came a rain of household projectiles. The cry of "Blood! blood!" was repeated by numbers pouring on them from the issues to right and left. It is a terrible cry in a city. In a city of the South it rouses the wild beast in men to madness. Jenna smoked triumphantly and blew great clouds, with an eye aloft for the stools, basins, chairs, and water descending. They were in the middle of one of the close streets of old Milan. The man felled by Wilfrid was raised on strong arms, that his bleeding head might be seen of all, and a dreadful hum went round. A fire of missiles, stones, balls of wax, lumps of dirt, sticks of broken chairs, began to play. Wilfrid had a sudden gleam of the face of his Verona assailant. He and Jenna called "Follow me," in one breath, and drove forward with sword-points, which they dashed at the foremost; by dint of swift semicirclings of the edges they got through, but a mighty voice of command thundered; the rearward portion of the mob swung rapidly to the front, presenting a scattered second barrier; Jenna tripped on a fallen body, lost his cigar, and swore that he must find it. A dagger struck his sword-arm. He staggered and flourished his blade in the air, calling "On!" without stirring. "This infernal cigar!" he said; and to the mob, "What mongrel of you took my cigar?" Stones thumped on his breast; the barrier-line ahead grew denser. "I'll go at them first; you're bleeding," said Wilfrid. They were refreshed by the sound of German cheering, as in approach. Jenna uplifted a crow of the regimental hurrah of the charge; it was answered; on they went and got through the second fence, saw their comrades, and were running to meet them, when a weighted ball hit Wilfrid on the back of the head. He fell, as he believed, on a cushion of down, and saw thousands of saints dancing with lamps along cathedral aisles.

The next time he opened his eyes he fancied he had dropped into the vaults of the cathedral. His sensation of sinking was so vivid that he feared lest he should be going still further below. There was a lamp in the chamber, and a young man sat reading by the light of the lamp. Vision danced fantastically on Wilfrid's brain. He saw that he rocked as in a ship, yet there was no noise of the sea; nothing save the remote thunder haunting empty ears at strain for sound. He looked again; the young man was gone, the lamp was flickering. Then he became conscious of a strong ray on his eyelids; he beheld his enemy gazing down on him and swooned. It was with joy, that when his wits returned, he found himself looking on the young man by the lamp. "That other face was a dream," he thought, and studied the aspect of the young man with the unwearied attentiveness of partial stupor, that can note accurately, but cannot deduce from its noting, and is inveterate in patience because it is unideaed. Memory wakened first.

"Guidascarpi!" he said to himself.

The name was uttered half aloud. The young man started and closed his book.

"You know me?" he asked.

"You are Guidascarpi?"

"I am."

"Guidascarpi, I think I helped to save your life in Meran."

The young man stooped over him. "You speak of my brother Angelo. I am
Rinaldo. My debt to you is the same, if you have served him."

"Is he safe?"

"He is in Lugano."

"The signorina Vittoria?"

"In Turin."

"Where am I?"

The reply came from another mouth than Rinaldo's.

"You are in the poor lodging of the shoemaker, whose shoes, if you had thought fit to wear them, would have conducted you anywhere but to this place."

"Who are you?" Wilfrid moaned.

"You ask who I am. I am the Eye of Italy. I am the Cat who sees in the dark." Barto Rizzo raised the lamp and stood at his feet. "Look straight. You know me, I think."

Wilfrid sighed, "Yes, I know you; do your worst."

His head throbbed with the hearing of a heavy laugh, as if a hammer had knocked it. What ensued he knew not; he was left to his rest. He lay there many days and nights, that were marked by no change of light; the lamp burned unwearyingly. Rinaldo and a woman tended him. The sign of his reviving strength was shown by a complaint he launched at the earthy smell of the place.

"It is like death," said Rinaldo, coming to his side. "I am used to it, and familiar with death too," he added in a musical undertone.