« VorigeDoorgaan »
• If what ?' Zanina stopped on the threshold.
'If he is not worse, my poor child; why should I not speak openly? within an hour or so, when the doctors return, if he is no better they purpose to summon the Misericordia * to take him to the hospital.'
Zanina leaned against the door for a moment to steady herself; then with a sound of ill-concealed pain, she stepped into the street and moved on to the bridge.
The tables in front of the Café Doni, in the Piazza Santa Trinita, which bad been deserted all day during the heat, were filling briskly this evening with those of the nobility and gentry who preferred an ice and a quiet chat with a friend, to sunning themselves in the glances of the fair noblesse, or the favour of the great; by half-past five there was scarcely a vacant place to be had outside; the waiters were to be seen fitting in and out ceaselessly at the open door-way, carrying out fresh chairs and tables from the saloons.
Jacopo Federighi, noble, handsome, and rich enough to shine in the highest circles of Florence, was one of those who preferred this social gathering outside the door of the Café Doni to the fashionable promenade by the Arno.
He, whose grey-haired father had lain for ten long years in a state prison, was not likely to hang on the skirts of royalty, or follow in the wake of young arch-dukes and duchesses. He had sauntered down in the cool of this evening with his friend, Ludovico Dossi ; and calling for ices and cigars, had chosen a table somewhat art from the rest, preferring to enjoy himself with his companion after his own fashion.
The two friends were, however, not long seated before the earnest conversation and excited gestures of Jacopo began to attract the attention of those nearest to their table; and Dossi, more cautious than his companion, tried dexterously to warn him of his danger.
• Pazienza, pazienza! we can talk of this on our way home; you are right, no doubt, my friend—wait awhile till we can talk with greater freedom.'
* Pazienza! I know not that word ! cried Jacopo, trying to subdue his voice, though his eyes flashed forth their angry zeal; “how can one have patience in such times as these ? He calls himself the father of his people, and boasts that he governs us by love. Heaven sare me from such a father! And as to his love, it is a jealous love indeed; so jealous, he would thrust half his people into prison rather than lose one-pazienza! nay, per bacco! I shall yet live to see the day when my true father shall
*The Order of the Misericordia includes persons of all ranks, from the Grandduke downwards. When on duty they wear a black dress, with a hood which conceals the countenance. All, however they inay be engaged, attend at a moment's warning on being summoned by the toll of their great bell, to perform the duties required. The principal duty of the brotherhood is to convey the sick to the hospital, and to relieve their families during the illness. So great is the respect in which the Misericordia is held, that as it passes through the streets, all persons take off their bats, and the military carry arms.'
come forth from his prison to make room for this false one—when the hairs which have grown white in darkness shall be crowned with laurels in the sun-when- Suddenly arrested by a warning gesture of his friend, Jacopo looked impatiently orer his shoulder in the direction of the café.
"Is it only thou, pretty Zanina!-By thy glance of terror, Ludo, I thought thou hadst been stung by a scorpion, or seen one creeping up my shoulder. Zanina is no spy.—Say, pretty child, wouldst thou not exchange thy basket of flowers this evening for a branch off the tree of liberty ?
• I have never seen that tree, Signor.'
"No, Poverina, thou sayest truly; but there are many of them, nevertheless, growing in our land; they are budding just now, but they will blossom by-and-by.'
• My Signor speaks in parables ; I cannot understand all that he says. But here is a bunch of violets and a rose ; see this one striped with white -take it, Signor!
Zanina laid a bunch of flowers on the marble slab before him, and moved on to the group seated at the next table.
Jacopo drew the flowers towards him with a pre-occupied manner, and raised them in his hand. "Ma, certo! this is a rare specimen,' he cried, suddenly arrested by the strange marking of the rose she had given him. I wonder where the girl obtained this flower.--Here, Zanina carissima mia, tell me where thou didst procure this rose ?'
'I bought it in the market, Signor.' • In the market ?'
• Yes, truly;' but Zanina's cheek grew crimson red as the flower which Jacopo held in his hand.
Nay, nay, who would send such a gem to the market? speak the truth, Poveretta, say thy love gave it thee. Come now, is it not so ?'
"If it were my love gave it me, it would be ungrateful not to keep it,' replied Zanina, recovering quickly her composure, and entering her usual promise of banter, 'I should be giving you the preference over him, Signor, which would not be just.'
Bravo! thou hast well answered him, Zanina,' laughed Ludovico, taking the rose from his friend's hand and examining it carefully ; but stay, if I mistake not, I know the tree from whence this flower was cut. It grows in the Boboli gardens, just by the palace fountain. I can tell thee who planted it also; no less a personage than the Dowager Grandduchess herself, who brought the graft from her own country; is it not so, Zanina ?'
'I bought it in the market, Signor,' replied Zanina angrily; have I not told thee so thrice?'
'No doubt you are both right,' cried Jacopo, with a bitter laugh; 'why should not our illustrious Grand-duke send his goods to the market like other honest folk; those who buy and sell human lives, and barter flesh and blood erery day, must understand the tricks of trade. Here,
Zanina, child, shew me thy basket; I will have another flower instead, for this one smells of tyranny and falsehood.' Jacopo threw the offending rose on the ground, and crushed it with his foot.
The flower-girl's black eyes flashed with a strange light as she drew a second rose from her basket, almost as uncommon in its colour and markings, and placed it in his hands, watching with a curious interest, whilst he fastened it in his button-hole.
Enough of this ! let us light our cigars and dream of the golden ages. Zanina, thou art a good girl, and thy roses are no doubt of as humble but honest an origin as thyself.'
Zanina's lips were parted to reply; a smile of strange import hovered round them, when suddenly the words she would have uttered were arrested, and all ears were on the stretch to count the throbs of the Misericordia bell, now booming ominously over the city, telling those assembled for earthly pleasure, greed, or warfare, that one immortal soul amongst them stood even now on the brink of the valley and shadow of death.
‘Once-twice-it is an urgent case.' Jacopo started from his chair, threw his newly-lighted cigar on the ground. 'Farewell! Dossi ; addio, Zanina, a rivederla! I am on the duty of the Misericordia this week.' And before either could utter a word in reply, Jacopo was already halfway across the Piazza, bound on his errand of charity, a willing member of this noble freemasonhood of mercy.
'Per bacco ! he is a brave kind-hearted fellow, ejaculated Dossi, stamping out the embers of his friend's cigar.
It is Andrea, Andrea mio! murmured Zanina, crossing herself thrice on her bosom; 'Andrea mio, morendo sta.'
Before eleven o'clock the carriages were beginning to roll homewards from the Cascine ; the people were moving inside of the cafés from the keen east wind, which had sprung up at sun-set; and Zanina, with her basket half full of flowers, had moved out of the Piazza.
She was in no mood this evening to smile and joke, and thrust her goods into the hands of passers-by. She was sick at heart, and loathed her lovely burden of flowers. And as she stood on the Ponte Trinita, and gazed down into the depths of the river beneath, she passionately flung the bright blossoms by handfuls into the water, and watched them floating away.
Everything she looked on this evening seemed tainted with fear and death; all the bloom of young life was chilled, and the quivering sound of the Misericordia bell still vibrated on her ear.
It was the knell of all that she had loved on earth; and yet the thought that Andrea was dying was not the bitterest which overwhelmed her heart that night. Shame and feeble repentance were struggling with a wild fear in her breast; and this shadowy fear, and this foreboding of evil, had been growing on her of late. As hope and light dawned in the breasts of her fellow countrymen and women, her soul became a prey to
terror and nervous forebodings : a hasty step behind her on the pavement -a sudden shout—a crowd gathered in the streets-each of these trifles were enough to send the life-blood bounding to the heart, till her knees trembled beneath her, and she was often forced to cling to the walls or door-ways for support.
She stood long on the bridge this evening, doubting which course to pursue, whether to call and learn from the old jeweller whether they had carried Andrea to the hospital or to the Casa dei Morti, or to finish her day's work, the heaviest part of which remained still to be carried out. For Zanina's occupation was not altogether flower-selling, or smiling, or bandying repartees; this was a suitable enough occupation for a bright young girl, scarcely entered into her seventeenth year. She had other and darker duties to fulfil; let us not inquire just now too closely into their nature. It is enough to know that to-night her soul recoiled from the self-imposed task.
• Would that I had never consented ! she groaned in her heartwould that I had never begun this hateful life. To have deceived Andrea as I have done—worse, to be ever sinning, day after day to be blackening my heart with crimes which would make him turn from me with horror if he knew them; and yet! oh! Andrea! Andrea, it was for you—it was to bring the bome and the life with you nearera dower of gold, which I meant to have brought to you, and instead of that it is a sore hard weight which I shall ever have to carry alone. Would you have bated me if you had known all ?—will you know it when you go to GOD ?' and shuddering at the thought, Zanina walked on restlessly for a few paces. Then she paused suddenly, 'Is it too late ?' she thought; could I not give up my life's lie to-night? Even now, a voice from Heaven seems to bid me give it up, and perhaps God would let Andrea live if I did; but no! I dare not! I have gone too far. Neither side would shew me pity now if I turned back. My patrons are bound to protect me if I do their work, and soon their hour of power will come. Signor Federighi is too rash; but, poor soul, how he fled to the succour of my Andrea !' Then, impelled by a feverish anxiety, she hurried to the court-way where Zarti lived, and entered the door of the jeweller's shop.
'What news hast thou for me this evening, Zarti?' she asked.
The old man shook his head despondingly. "The Misericordia have been here, my child, and have taken him away. I tell thee the truth when I say he will never return to this poor place again ; but they left this gift for thee, Poverina! Zarti pointed to a heap of silver on the counter. “They asked “if Andrea had any friends.” I answered, “Yes ! one poor soul who loved him from her heart.” They inquired if you were rich. I answered No! for after all thine is a thankless trade, Zanina, buying flowers and giving half of them away. I told no lie, Poverina. The tallest of the set, he who was evidently at the head, left this present for thee, and said he would give thee more if Andrea died.'
Zanina looked at the silver with eyes from which the light of life seemed to have utterly died out; she placed her fingers hesitatingly on the glittering coins.
"Take it, my child, in the spirit of charity in which it was given; never, no never, have I seen such courage and tenderness combined. He lifted him in his arms like a brother, and spoke pitifully as woman.'
“What is that on the floor ?' asked Zanina, over whose eyes a film was gathering
“A rose which fell from beneath the cloak of him who stooped to raise the litter; nay, if I mistake not, it is one I saw in thy basket this morning.'
Zanina lifted the heap of silver with a sudden movement from the counter, and flinging it across the room with a passionate cry, went out through the open door-way.
It was night now, and Florence was asleep. Carriages had long ceased to rattle over its pavements; lights were extinguished in the houses ; and sentinels challenged at the gates the few foot passengers who, belated in the country, sought to return to their houses within the walls.
But outside the town, in a villa on one of the hills, where such strict scrutiny could not be maintained, lights were still burning up to the early hour of one in the morning, and the drawing-room windows lay wide open to the ground.
Three or four gentlemen were seated outside, in the long verandah which overlooked the pleasure-ground; others were gathered inside, round a table, on which were papers and writing materials; whilst, strolling up and down the garden, beneath the white and purple lilacs heavily fragrant in the night air, linked in the arm of Ludovico Dossi, walked Jacopo Federighi, still eagerly discoursing on the subject of the Italian Constitution, and vehemently declaiming against the vacillating conduct of the Grand-duke. The moon was shining brightly over the garden, so brightly that the gold-fish could be seen sound asleep at the bottom of their tanks; the white roses on the trees gleamed out like stars, and the fire-flies' darting lamp could only be descried now and again beneath the shade of the cypress alley.
Jacopo paused in his excited walk, and freeing his hand from his friend's arm, lifted the drooping head of a sumptuous standard rose. “See, Dossi,' he said, exposing the flower to the full light of the moon, 'how my roses are destroyed this year by insects; here are three in the heart of this one.' Jacopo shook the rose, two of the green beetles fell heavily to the ground, while one boomed out into his very face. 'I had hoped,' he continued, lifting another flower, “that my roses would carry off the palm this year above all others, till this plague came upon them ; by-the