And when he reached his patient, a very few minutes sufficed for the old surgeon to pronounce the case an absolutely hopeless one. After a few hours of agony, the bully, who had insisted on bringing this fate on himself, died that same afternoon.
Then came the question who was to tell the Duke. Who it was that undertook that disagreeable but necessary task, I forget. But the Duke came out to the little osteria immediately on hearing of the catastrophe; also the English clergyman officiating at the Baths came out. And the scene in that large, nearly bare, upper chamber of the little inn was a strange one. The clergyman began praying by the dying man’s bedside, while the numerous assemblage in the room all kneeled, and the Duke kneeled with them, interrupting the prayers with his sobs after the uncontrolled fashion of the Italians.
He was very, very angry. But in unblushing defiance of all equity and reason, his anger turned wholly against Plowden, who, of course, had placed himself out of the small potentate’s reach within a very few minutes after the catastrophe. But the Duke strove by personal application to induce the Grand Duke of Tuscany to banish Plowden from his dominions, which, to the young banker, one branch of whose business was at Florence and one at Rome, would have been a very serious matter. But this, poor old ciuco, more just and reasonable in this case than his brother potentate, the Protestant Don Giovanni of Lucca, refused to do.
So our pleasant time at the Baths, for that season at least, ended tragically enough; and whenever I have since visited that singularly romantic glen of Turrite Cava, its deep rock-sheltered shadows have been peopled for me by the actors in that day’s bloody work.
It was, to the best of my recollection, much about the same time as that visit of Charles Dickens which I have chronicled in the last chapter but one, which turned out to be eventually so fateful a one to me, as the correspondence there given shows, that my mother received another visit, which was destined to play an equally influential part in the directing and fashioning of my life. Equally influential perhaps I ought not to say, inasmuch as one-and-twenty years (with the prospect I hope of more) are more important than seventeen. But both the visits I am speaking of, as having occurred within a few days of each other, were big with fate, to me, in the same department of human affairs.
The visit of Dickens was destined eventually to bring me my second wife, as the reader has seen. The visit of Mr. and Mrs. Garrow to the Via dei Malcontenti, much about the same time, brought me my first.
The Arno and the Tiber both take their rise in the flanks of Falterona. It was on the banks of the first that my first married life was passed; on those of the more southern river that the largest portion of my second wedded happiness was enjoyed.