She seized the hearts of those hard and serious men as a wind takes the strong oak-trees, and rocks them on their knotted roots, and leaves them with the song of soaring among their branches. Italy shone about her; the lake, the plains, the peaks, and the shouldering flushed snowridges. Carlo Ammiani breathed as one who draws in fire. Grizzled Agostino glittered with suppressed emotion, like a frosted thorn-bush in the sunlight. Ugo Corte had his thick brows down, as a man who is reading iron matter. The Chief alone showed no sign beyond a half lifting of the hand, and a most luminous fixed observation of the fair young woman, from whom power was an emanation, free of effort. The gaze was sad in its thoughtfulness, such as our feelings translate of the light of evening.
She ceased, and he said, “You sing on the night of the fifteenth?”
“I do, signore.”
“It is your first appearance?”
She bent her head.
“And you will be prepared on that night to sing this song?”
“Save in the event of your being forbidden?”
“Unless you shall forbid me, I will sing it, signore.”
“Should they imprison you?—”
“If they shoot me I shall be satisfied to know that I have sung a song that cannot be forgotten.”
The Chief took her hand in a gentle grasp.
“Such as you will help to give our Italy freedom. You hold the sacred flame, and know you hold it in trust.”
“Friends,”—he turned to his companions,—“you have heard what will be the signal for Milan.”
It was a surprise to all of them, save to Agostino Balderini, who passed his inspecting glance from face to face, marking the effect of the announcement. Corte gazed at her heavily, but not altogether disapprovingly. Giulio Bandinelli and Marco Sana, though evidently astonished, and to some extent incredulous, listened like the perfectly trusty lieutenants in an enterprise which they were. But Carlo Ammiani stood horror-stricken. The blood had left his handsome young olive-hued face, and his eyes were on the signorina, large with amazement, from which they deepened to piteousness of entreaty.
“Signorina!—you! Can it be true? Do you know?—do you mean it?”
“What, signor Carlo?”
“This; will you venture to do such a thing?”
“Oh, will I venture? What can you think of me? It is my own request.”
“But, signorina, in mercy, listen and consider.”
Carlo turned impetuously to the Chief. “The signorina can’t know the danger she is running. She will be seized on the boards, and shut up between four walls before a man of us will be ready,—or more than one,” he added softly. “The house is sure to be packed for a first night; and the Polizia have a suspicion of her. She has been off her guard in the Conservatorio; she has talked