AT THE MAESTRO’S DOOR
The house of the Maestro Rocco Ricci turned off the Borgo della Stella. Carlo Ammiani conducted Vittoria to the maestro’s door. They conversed very little on the way.
‘You are a good swordsman?’ she asked him abruptly.
‘I have as much skill as belongs to a perfect intimacy with the weapon,’ he answered.
‘Your father was a soldier, Signor Carlo.’
’He was a General officer in what he believed to be the army of Italy. We used to fence together every day for two hours.’
‘I love the fathers who do that,’ said Vittoria.
After such speaking Ammiani was not capable of the attempt to preach peace and safety to her. He postponed it to the next minute and the next.
Vittoria’s spirit was in one of those angry knots which are half of the intellect, half of the will, and are much under the domination of one or other of the passions in the ascendant. She was resolved to go forward; she felt justified in going forward; but the divine afflatus of enthusiasm buoyed her no longer, and she required the support of all that accuracy of insight and that senseless stubbornness which there might be in her nature. The feeling that it was she to whom it was given to lift the torch and plant the standard of Italy, had swept her as through the strings of a harp. Laura, and the horrible little bronze butterfly, and the ‘Sei sospetta,’ now made her duty seem dry and miserably fleshless, imaging itself to her as if a skeleton had been told to arise and walk: —say, the thing obeys, and fills a ghastly distension of men’s eyelids for a space, and again lies down, and men get their breath: but who is the rosier for it? where is the glory of it? what is the good? This Milan, and Verona, Padua, Vicenza, Brescia, Venice, Florence, the whole Venetian, Tuscan, and Lombardic lands, down to far Sicily, and that Rome which always lay under the crown of a dead sunset in her idea—they too might rise; but she thought of them as skeletons likewise. Even the shadowy vision of Italy Free had no bloom on it, and stood fronting the blown trumpets of resurrection Lazarus-like.
At these moments young hearts, though full of sap and fire, cannot do common nursing labour for the little suckling sentiments and hopes, the dreams, the languors and the energies hanging about them for nourishment. Vittoria’s horizon was within five feet of her. She saw neither splendid earth nor ancient heaven; nothing save a breach to be stepped over in defiance of foes and (what was harder to brave) of friends. Some wayward activity of old associations set her humming a quaint English tune, by which she was brought to her consciousness.
‘Dear friend,’ she said, becoming aware that there might be a more troubled depth in Ammiani’s absence of speech than in her own.
‘Yes?’ said he, quickly, as for a sentence to follow. None came, and he continued, ‘The Signora Laura is also your friend.’