University of Virginia Library


Page 88


Nothing can be more striking, in common Italian life,
than the contrast between out-doors and in-doors. Without,
all is fragrant and radiant; within, mouldy, dark, and damp.
Except in the well-kept palaces of the great, houses in Italy
are more like dens than habitations, and a sight of them is
a sufficient reason to the mind of any inquirer, why their
vivacious and handsome inhabitants spend their life principally
in the open air. Nothing could be more perfectly
paradisiacal than this evening at Sorrento. The sun had
sunk, but left the air full of diffused radiance, which trembled
and vibrated over the thousand many-colored waves of
the sea. The moon was riding in a broad zone of purple,
low in the horizon, her silver forehead somewhat flushed in
the general rosiness that seemed to penetrate and suffuse
every object. The fishermen, who were drawing in their
nets, gayly singing, seemed to be floating on a violet-and-gold-colored
flooring that broke into a thousand gems at
every dash of the oar or motion of the boat. The old stone
statue of Saint Antonio looked down in the rosy air, itself
tinged and brightened by the magical colors which floated
round it. And the girls and men of Sorrento gathered in
gossiping knots on the old Roman bridge that spanned the
gorge, looked idly down into its dusky shadows, talking the
while, and playing the time-honored game of flirtation which


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has gone on in all climes and languages since man and woman

Conspicuous among them all was Giulietta, her blue-black
hair recently braided and polished to a glossy radiance, and
all her costume arranged to show her comely proportions to
the best advantage, — her great pearl ear-rings shaking as
she tossed her head, and showing the flash of the emerald in
the middle of them. An Italian peasant-woman may trust
Providence for her gown, but ear-rings she attends to herself,
— for what is life without them? The great pearl ear-rings
of the Sorrento women are accumulated, pearl by
pearl, as the price of years of labor. Giulietta, however,
had come into the world, so to speak, with a gold spoon in
her mouth, — since her grandmother, a thriving, stirring,
energetic body, had got together a pair of ear-rings of unmatched
size, which had descended as heirlooms to her,
leaving her nothing to do but display them, which she did
with the freest good-will. At present she was busily occupied
in coquetting with a tall and jauntily-dressed fellow,
wearing a plumed hat and a red sash, who seemed to be
mesmerized by the power of her charms, his large dark eyes
following every movement, as she now talked with him gayly
and freely, and now pretended errands to this and that and
the other person on the bridge, stationing herself here and
there, that she might have the pleasure of seeing herself

“Giulietta,” at last said the young man, earnestly, when
he found her accidentally standing alone by the parapet, “I
must be going to-morrow.”

“Well, what is that to me?” said Giulietta, looking wickedly
from under her eyelashes.

“Cruel girl! you know” —


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“Nonsense, Pietro! I don't know anything about you;”
but as Giulietta said this, her great, soft, dark eyes looked
out furtively, and said just the contrary.

“You will go with me?”

“Did I ever hear anything like it? One can't be civil
to a fellow but he asks her to go to the world's end. Pray,
how far is it to your dreadful old den?”

“Only two days' journey, Giulietta.”

“Two days!”

“Yes, my life; and you shall ride.”

“Thank you, Sir, — I wasn't thinking of walking. But
seriously, Pietro, I am afraid it 's no place for an honest
girl to be in.”

“There are lots of honest women there, — all our men
have wives; and our captain has put his eye on one, too,
or I 'm mistaken.”

“What! little Agnes?” said Giulietta. “He will be
bright that gets her. That old dragon of a grandmother is
as tight to her as her skin.”

“Our captain is used to helping himself,” said Pietro.
“We might carry them both off some night, and no one the
wiser; but he seems to want to win the girl to come to him
of her own accord. At any rate, we are to be sent back to
the mountains while he lingers a day or two more round

“I declare, Pietro, I think you all little better than Turks
or heathens, to talk in that way about carrying off women;
and what if one should be sick and die among you? What
is to become of one's soul, I wonder?”

“Pshaw! don't we have priests? Why, Giulietta, we are
all very pious, and never think of going out without saying
our prayers. The Madonna is a kind Mother, and will


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wink very hard on the sins of such good sons as we are.
There is n't a place in all Italy where she is kept better in
candles, and in rings and bracelets, and everything a woman
could want. We never come home without bringing her
something; and then we have lots left to dress all our
women like princesses; and they have nothing to do from
morning till night but play the lady. Come now?”

At the moment this conversation was going on in the
balmy, seductive evening air at the bridge, another was
transpiring in the Albergo della Torre, one of those dark,
musty dens of which we have been speaking. In a damp,
dirty chamber, whose brick floor seemed to have been unsuspicious
of even the existence of brooms for centuries, was
sitting the cavalier whom we have so often named in connection
with Agnes. His easy, high-bred air, his graceful,
flexible form and handsome face formed a singular contrast
to the dark and mouldy apartment, at whose single unglazed
window he was sitting. The sight of this splendid man gave
an impression of strangeness, in the general bareness, much
as if some marvellous jewel had been unaccountably found
lying on that dusty brick floor.

He sat deep in thought, with his elbow resting on a rickety
table, his large, piercing dark eyes seeming intently to
study the pavement.

The door opened, and a gray-headed old man entered,
who approached him respectfully.

“Well, Paolo?” said the cavalier, suddenly starting.

“My Lord, the men are all going back to-night.”

“Let them go, then,” said the cavalier, with an impatient
movement. “I can follow in a day or two.”

“Ah, my Lord, if I might make so bold, why should you


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expose your person by staying longer? You may be recognized
and” —

“No danger,” said the other, hastily.

“My Lord, you must forgive me, but I promised my dear
lady, your mother, on her death-bed” —

“To be a constant plague to me,” said the cavalier, with a
vexed smile and an impatient movement; “but speak on,
Paolo, — for when you once get anything on your mind, one
may as well hear it first as last.”

“Well, then, my Lord, this girl, — I have made inquiries,
and every one reports her most modest and pious, — the
only grandchild of a poor old woman. Is it worthy of a
great lord of an ancient house to bring her to shame?”

“Who thinks of bringing her to shame? `Lord of an
ancient house'!” added the cavalier, laughing bitterly, —
“a landless beggar, cast out of everything, — titles, estates,
all! Am I, then, fallen so low that my wooing would disgrace
a peasant-girl?”

“My Lord, you cannot mean to woo a peasant-girl in any
other way than one that would disgrace her, — one of the
House of Sarelli, that goes back to the days of the old Roman

“And what of the `House of Sarelli that goes back to the
days of the old Roman Empire'? It is lying like weeds'
roots uppermost in the burning sun. What is left to me but
the mountains and my sword? No, I tell you, Paolo, Agostino
Sarelli, cavalier of fortune, is not thinking of bringing
disgrace on a pious and modest maiden, unless it would disgrace
her to be his wife.”

“Now may the saints above help us! Why, my Lord,
our house in days past has been allied to royal blood. I
could tell you how Joachim VI.” —


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“Come, come, my good Paolo, spare me one of your chapters
of genealogy. The fact is, my old boy, the world is all
topsy-turvy, and the bottom is the top, and it is n't much
matter what comes next. Here are shoals of noble families
uprooted and lying round like those aloes that the gardener
used to throw over the wall in spring-time; and there is
that great boar of a Cæsar Borgia turned in to batten and
riot over our pleasant places.”

“Oh, my Lord,” said the old serving-man, with a distressful
movement, “we have fallen on evil times, to be sure, and
they say his Holiness has excommunicated us. Anselmo
heard that in Naples yesterday.”

“Excommunicated!” said the young man, — every feature
of his fine face, and every nerve of his graceful form
seeming to quiver with the effort to express supreme contempt.
“Excommunicated! I should hope so! One would
hope through Our Lady's grace to act so that Alexander,
and his adulterous, incestuous, filthy, false-swearing, perjured,
murderous crew, would excommunicate us! In these
times, one's only hope of paradise lies in being excommunicated.”

“Oh, my dear master,” said the old man, falling on his
knees, “what is to become of us? That I should live to
hear you talk like an infidel and unbeliever!”

“Why, hear you, poor old fool! Did you never hear in
Dante of the Popes that are burning in hell? Was n't Dante
a Christian, I beg to know?”

“Oh, my Lord, my Lord! a religion got out of poetry,
books, and romances won't do to die by. We have no business
with the affairs of the Head of the Church, — it 's the
Lord's appointment. We have only to shut our eyes and
obey. It may all do well enough to talk so when you are


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young and fresh; but when sickness and death come, then
we must have religion, — and if we have gone out of the
only true Roman Catholic Apostolic Church, what becomes
of our souls? Ah, I misdoubted about your taking so much
to poetry, though my poor mistress was so proud of it; but
these poets are all heretics, my Lord, — that 's my firm belief.
But, my Lord, if you do go to hell, I 'm going there
with you; I 'm sure I never could show my face among the
saints, and you not there.”

“Well, come, then, my poor Paolo,” said the cavalier,
stretching out his hand to his serving-man, “don't take it to
heart so. Many a better man than I has been excommunicated
and cursed from toe to crown, and been never a whit
the worse for it. There 's Jerome Savonarola there in Florence
— a most holy man, they say, who has had revelations
straight from heaven — has been excommunicated; but he
preaches and gives the sacraments all the same, and nobody
minds it.”

“Well, it 's all a maze to me,” said the old serving-man,
shaking his white head. “I can't see into it. I don't dare
to open my eyes for fear I should get to be a heretic; it
seems to me that everything is getting mixed up together.
But one must hold on to one's religion; because, after we
have lost everything in this world, it would be too bad to
burn in hell forever at the end of that.”

“Why, Paolo, I am a good Christian. I believe, with all
my heart, in the Christian religion, like the fellow in Boccaccio,
— because I think it must be from God, or else the
Popes and Cardinals would have had it out of the world
long ago. Nothing but the Lord Himself could have kept
it against them.”

“There you are, my dear master, with your romances!


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Well, well, well! I don't know how it 'll end. I say my
prayers, and try not to inquire into what 's too high for me.
But now, dear master, will you stay lingering after this girl
till some of our enemies hear where you are and pounce
down upon us? Besides, the troop are never so well affected
when you are away; there are quarrels and divisions.”

“Well, well,” said the cavalier, with an impatient movement,
— “one day longer. I must get a chance to speak
with her once more. I must see her.”