“Yes, if we were particularly well skilled in the use of that kind of instrument,” Agostino muttered.
He stood apart while the Chief said a few words to Carlo, which made the blood play vividly across the visage of the youth. Carlo tried humbly to expostulate once or twice. In the end his head was bowed, and he signified a dumb acquiescence.
“Once more, good-bye.” The Chief addressed the signorina in English.
She replied in the same tongue, “Good-bye,” tremulously; and passion mounting on it, added—“Oh! when shall I see you again?”
“When Rome is purified to be a fit place for such as you.”
In another minute he was hidden on the slope of the mountain lying toward Orta.
Beppo had effected a firm capture of his man some way down the slope. But it was a case of check that entirely precluded his own free movements. They hung together intertwisted in the characters of specious pacificator and appealing citizen, both breathless.
“There! you want to hand me up neatly; I know your vanity, my Beppo; and you don’t even know my name,” said the prisoner.
“I know your ferret of a face well enough,” said Beppo. “You dog the signorina. Come up, and don’t give trouble.”
“Am I not a sheep? You worry me. Let me go.”
“You’re a wriggling eel.”
“Catch me fast by the tail then, and don’t hold me by the middle.”
“You want frightening, my pretty fellow!”
“If that’s true, my Beppo, somebody made a mistake in sending you to do it. Stop a moment. You’re blown. I think you gulp down your minestra too hot; you drink beer.”
“You dog the signorina! I swore to scotch you at last.”
“I left Milan for the purpose—don’t you see? Act fairly, my Beppo, and let us go up to the signorina together decently.”
“Ay, ay, my little reptile! You’ll find no Austrians here. Cry out to them to come to you from Baveno. If the Motterone grew just one tree! Saints! one would serve.”
“Why don’t you—fool that you are, my Beppo!—pray to the saints earlier? Trees don’t grow from heaven.”
“You’ll be going there soon, and you’ll know better about it.”
“Thanks to the Virgin, then, we shall part at some time or other!”
The struggles between them continued sharply during this exchange of intellectual shots; but hearing Ugo Corte’s voice, the prisoner’s confident audacity forsook him, and he drew a long tight face like the mask of an admonitory exclamation addressed to himself from within.
“Stand up straight!” the soldier’s command was uttered.
Even Beppo was amazed to see that the man had lost the power to obey or to speak.
Corte grasped him under the arm-pit. With the force of his huge fist he swung him round and stretched him out at arm’s length, all collar and shanks. The man hung like a mole from the twig. Yet, while Beppo poured out the tale of his iniquities, his eyes gave the turn of a twinkle, showing that he could have answered one whom he did not fear. The charge brought against him was, that for the last six months he had been untiringly spying on the signorina.