THE SHADOW ON CONSPIRACY
Merthyr left the house at Laura’s whispered suggestion. He was agitated beyond control, for Vittoria had fallen with her eyes fixed on him; and at times the picture of his beloved, her husband, and Countess Ammiani, and the children bending over her still body, swam before him like a dark altar-piece floating in incense, so lost was he to the reality of that scene. He did not hear Beppo, his old servant, at his heels. After a while he walked calmly, and Beppo came up beside him. Merthyr shook his hand.
“Ah, signor Mertyrio! ah, padrone!” said Beppo.
Merthyr directed his observation to a regiment of Austrians marching down the Corso Venezia to the Ticinese gate.
“Yes, they are ready enough for us,” Beppo remarked. “Perhaps Carlo Alberto will beat them this time. If he does, viva to him! If they beat him, down goes another Venetian pyramid. The Countess Alessandra—” Beppo’s speech failed.
“What of your mistress?” said Merthyr.
“When she dies, my dear master, there’s no one for me but the Madonna to serve.”
“Why should she die, silly fellow?”
“Because she never cries.”
Merthyr was on the point of saying, “Why should she cry?” His heart was too full, and he shrank from inquisitive shadows of the thing known to him.
“Sit down at this caffe with me,” he said. It’s fine weather for March. The troops will camp comfortably. Those Hungarians never require tents. Did you see much sacking of villages last year?”
“Padrone, the Imperial command is always to spare the villages.”
“Padrone, yes; if policy is humanity.”
“It’s humanity not carried quite as far as we should wish it.”
Beppo shrugged and said: “It won’t leave much upon the conscience if we kill them.”
“Do you expect a rising?” said Merthyr.
“If the Ticino overflows, it will flood Milan,” was the answer.
“And your occupation now is to watch the height of the water?”
“My occupation, padrone? I am not on the watch-tower.” Beppo winked, adding: “I have my occupation.” He threw off the effort or pretence to be discreet. “Master of my soul! this is my occupation. I drink coffee, but I do not smoke, because I have to kiss a pretty girl, who means to object to the smell of the smoke. Via! I know her! At five she draws me into the house.”
“Are you relating your amours to me, rascal?” Merthyr interposed.
“Padrone, at five precisely she draws me into the house. She is a German girl. Pardon me if I make no war on women. Her name is Aennchen, which one is able to say if one grimaces;—why not? It makes her laugh; and German girls are amiable when one can make them laugh. ’Tis so that they begin to melt. Behold the difference of races! I must kiss her to melt her, and then have a quarrel. I could have it after the first, or the fiftieth with an Italian girl; but my task will be excessively difficult with a German girl, if I am compelled to allow myself to favour her with one happy solicitation for a kiss, to commence with. We shall see. It is, as my abstention from tobacco declares, an anticipated catastrophe.”