Then she felt her chains. The time was coming for her to prove, by the virtues within her, that she was worthy to live, when others of her sons, subtle and adept, intricate as serpents, bold, unquestioning as well-bestridden steeds, should grapple and play deep for her in the game of worldly strife. Now—at this hour of which I speak—when Austrians marched like a merry flame down Milan streets, and Italians stood like the burnt-out cinders of the fire-grate, Italy’s faint wrist was still in the clutch of her grave leech, who counted the beating of her pulse between long pauses, that would have made another think life to be heaving its last, not beginning.
The Piazza d’Armi was empty of its glittering show.
THE NIGHT OF THE FIFTEENTH
We quit the Piazza d’Armi. Rumour had its home in Milan. On their way to the caffe La Scala, Luciano and Carlo (who held together, determined to be taken together if the arrest should come) heard it said that the Chief was in Milan. A man passed by and uttered it, going. They stopped a second man, who was known to them, and he confirmed the rumour. Glad as sunlight once more, they hurried to Count Medole forgivingly. The count’s servant assured them that his master had left the city for Monza. ‘Is Medole a coward?’ cried Luciano, almost in the servant’s hearing. The fleeing of so important a man looked vile, now that they were sharpened by new eagerness. Forthwith they were off to Agostino, believing that he would know the truth. They found him in bed. ’Well, and what?’ said Agostino, replying to their laughter. ’I am old; too old to stride across a day and night, like you giants of youth. I take my rest when I can, for I must have it.’
‘But, you know, O conscript father,’ said Carlo, willing to fall a little into his mood, ‘you know that nothing will be done to-night.’
‘Do I know so much?’ Agostino murmured at full length.
‘Do you know that the Chief is in the city?’ said Luciano.
‘A man who is lying in bed knows this,’ returned Agostino, ’that he knows less than those who are up, though what he does know he perhaps digests better. ’Tis you who are the fountains, my boys, while I am the pool into which you play. Say on.’
They spoke of the rumour. He smiled at it. They saw at once that the rumour was false, for the Chief trusted Agostino.
‘Proceed to Barto, the mole,’ he said, ’Barto the miner; he is the father of daylight in the city: of the daylight of knowledge, you understand, for which men must dig deep. Proceed to him;—if you can find him.’
But Carlo brought flame into Agostino’s eyes.
’The accursed beast! he has pinned the black butterfly to the signorina’s dress.’
Agostino rose on his elbow. He gazed at them. ’We are followers of a blind mole,’ he uttered with an inner voices while still gazing wrathfully, and then burst out in grief, ’"Patria o mea creatrix, patria o mea genetrix!"’