Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

6

by, mon ami, those were rare flowers Zanina proffered to me this afternoon at the café.' Dossi shook his head ominously, and gave a long dubious whistle.

Why, Ludo, dost thou think she has a lover in high quarters ?' Nay, not exactly a lover. I do not doubt that she may have friends.' • What would

you

have me to understand? come, speak out.' ‘I would have you be more wary in her presence.' “You think, then, that she is in the pay of the Government ?' Dossi nodded a gloomy assent.

• Zanina a spy, Poverina! when the Government can find no stronger or sharper tools than poor Zanina to undermine our new-born constitution, Florence must be near the morning of her liberty.'

"Well, have it your own way, Jacopo; when that morning comes, darker things even than this may be brought to light.' Jacopo, again taking his friend's arm, passed up the steps into the verandah, and from thence into the saloon ; but Dossi could not remain as his guest for the night; he had a task of difficulty and danger before him, which he did not care to communicate to his friend; so, wishing him good-night, he went out through the dark gate beneath the acacias, and down the steep lane leading into the high-road.

It was a wonderfully calm night in the country, almost oppressively so to one whose heart was strained to the utmost. Not a leaf stirred among the pale olives. The white dust rose up spectre-like at his feet, the nightingales seemed to have forgotten their songs, only in the distant marshes the frogs croaked ominously, and the Mugnone river rushed onward to its fate.

Replying to the challenge of the sentinel, Dossi passed into the sleeping town. He did not, however, take the turn leading to his home; he had determined this night to test the truth of a rumour, vital to the cause he had at heart; and with a cautious step, he took the direction leading across the river towards the ducal palace.

Just, however, as he turned out of one of the narrowest streets leading towards the San Miniato, he was arrested by the sound of a woman's voice raised in a deprecatory and fretful key, and the low curse and hush of a man, which came out like the hiss of a serpent through the creak of an open window just beside him.

Something familiar in the sound of the woman's voice made Dossi stop for a moment longer and listen, then bend his head lower and lower, till at length his ear was on a level with the open gap left between the sashes.

'You are playing false, girl. You are reserving facts and words. There were other witnesses besides you; your account of the conversation does not tally with theirs; you must tell the whole truth or none. Come now, take courage, child—what said he at the moment that he threw the flower you gave him on the ground and crushed it with his foot? You must tell the whole truth or none. Come, now, take courage, child—what said he at the moment that he threw the flower you gave him on the ground and crushed it with his foot ?'

'I cannot remember, Signor.'

Again came the hissing sound, and a quick stamp on the stone floor inside. * But you shall be made to remember. Have you gone mad, Zanina, or are you playing us false at the hour when everything is at stake?'

'If I am playing false, it is only the trade which you have taught me yourself.'

The man's voice rose in such unrestrained threats and imprecations at this answer, that Dossi ventured with his fingers to open the folds of the venetian blind and take a glance at the occupants of the room within.

There was but little light to assist him in his research, one flickering oil-wick in a brass hand-lamp on the table, that was all; but by degrees, as he looked earnestly within, Dossi could discern the form of a woman seated on a bench, with her back to the opposite wall, her hands clasped on her knees, and her head sunk on her bosom in an attitude of listless despondency, while by the table on which stood the lamp sat a notary with papers before him-a face bleached white with passion, and a trembling hand that scarce could hold the pen.

You persist, then, in refusing to give the necessary evidence?' he asked, striking the paper before him with his hand.

The woman was silent.
The notary stood up and gathered the papers from the table.

• Then, woman, listen; by your assistance we might even at this late hour secure the safety of the Government, and strike a panic into the hearts of the people, by capturing one of their most prominent leaders ; but by to-morrow all may be changed, and when your true character is known you will be hunted down the streets like a mad dog, and probably pierced to the heart by him whom you are now foolishly seeking to save.'

The girl raised her head slowly and looked up. Dossi recognized the features of Zanina, the flower-girl of Florence. His suspicions, laughed at an bour ago by Jacopo, were now confirmed, and his worst fears realized, as, either through a sudden impulse of terror or under the conviction of some powerful emotion, word by word, without the error of a syllable, Zanina retailed the treasonable speeches uttered by his friend that evening in front of the Café Doni.

“Ah! that is well! Bravo! Zanina, these words of thine will cage our bird, if I mistake not. The notary rose, and strapping his papers together, moved towards the door. But Zanina cast herself forward on the ground in profound despair.

Dossi dropped the venetian blind, and stepped aside in the shadow of a door-way. We will nip this piece of midnight treachery in the bud, if I mistake not.'

He waited till the valiant notary had passed out of sight; then, turning down the nearest street, he hurried homewards.

The morning dawned on Florence bright as its predecessor. The roofs glistened, the birds sang, the river rushed on to the green Cascine like a sea of gold, while Zanina, pale, weak, and dispirited, handed in her basket at the gate of the Boboli gardens, to be replenished according to long custom by the gardener within.

Zanina, the flower-girl of Florence, and the spy—beautiful, graceful, and young-who would have changed places with her this morning, as with dim envious eyes she watched the happy face of a boy astride upon the shaft of a waggon, devouring his morning meal of coarse bread and white glistening onion.

'You will have to go to the market for your flowers after to-day, I fear, Zanina,' observed the gardener, as he opened the gate and replaced her basket in her hand. “When the swallows forsake the country, the sparrows will soon come and build in their nests.'

• What meanest thou, Pedro ? answer me! cried Zanina, suddenly rousing herself from her lethargy. But the garden door was shut, and the grating sound of the bolt pushed across it from within was her only

answer.

After this warning, Zanina almost feared to pursue her usual course towards the Piazza Santa Trinita. She saw with uneasiness groups gathering on the bridge near the Palace, and fancied she could discern the eyes of all flashing with triumph and scorn cast openly towards the ducal mansion.

Her uneasiness grew upon her, so that she sought the most retired streets and lanes leading to her destination. She crossed the river by the jeweller's bridge, and hurried along under the dark arches of the Uffizi, but in the grand square the crowd was already dense, and the roar of a thousand voices went up into the sunshine overhead.

What is it?' asked Zanina, of a hump-backed pedlar, who stood unmoved among the crowd, extolling his goods in a cracked tone to the passers-by. What has happened to cause all this commotion ?'

“Why, have you not heard, my child? There is a rumour that the Grand-duke has fled !'

* Fled ?' Zanina laid her basket on the ground, and leaned against one of the pillars.

Ay, fled, like a great coward as he is, afraid of his pope, and still more afraid of his people; the news has come back a quarter of an hour across the river; and the people, as you see, are gone mad. They will never stop till they have drunk some blood to quench their thirst ; a mob is already hurrying down the town to the police office. Heaven help those whom they find to-day in the pay of the Government!'

Zanina cast one quick inquiring glance into the pedlar's face, and forsaking her basket of flowers, pushed forward into the crowd.

She felt now that she must fly to some place of safety, or the rabble, eager for revenge, would be upon her heels. But it was difficult to advance; the swarming excited crowd hustled her from side to side, and

[ocr errors]

people whose tongues and thoughts were no longer held in bondage gave vent to noisy imprecations or shouts of savage joy; still with trembling knees she pushed forward.

It was not that the life she sought to save was sweet to the poor girl this bright spring morning of freedom, but that death was terrible. It was the hereafter for those whose actions have been false or foul, which frowned at her through the scorching sunshine, and appalled her in the voice of the multitude.

All at once there came a lull, the rabble ceased their imprecations, and the people held their breaths to listen as once again with two solemn booms the Misericordia bell swung its warning cry over the town.

"Ah! misericordia, misericordia mia,' cried Zanina involuntarily, as the thought flashed through her mind; there was help being summoned for some poor dying wretch in the town, but there was none for her.

Misericordia, misericordia mia,' she called with white lips, as wild with fright, she rushed down one street and up another. It was as the notary had said, she was like a mad dog, rushing hither and thither without other object save to escape from her pursuers.

Suddenly there came a gleam of hope; could she but reach the rallying point of the Misericordia, they might extend to her also the arm of mercy. She turned almost recklessly into the Piazza del Duomo, filled with the densest crowd she had yet encountered.

Pale, panic-stricken, half fainting, she knew by the yell which greeted her appearance that the mask had been rent from her face for ever. ‘Down with the spy, down with the false

spy

Zanina ! She staggered a few steps forward, but her limbs refused their office; in vain she strove to climb the steps of the sanctuary of mercy. • Misericordia! Dio mio, misericordia !' burst from her lips.

The appeal for mercy was heard and answered. The door of the Cereria, on whose steps she had fallen, opened, and one of the Order, enveloped in his long black gown and hood of office, hastened to her assistance.

The crowd paused for a moment, accustomed to view with reverential awe the garb of this noble body; some even crossed themselves, but a cry of ill-concealed rage burst from all lips, as the hooded figure, bending over the prostrate spy, lifted her in his arms and carried her within the sanctuary, where, safe from the pursuit of the infuriated mob, Zanina lay white and trembling at the feet of Jacopo Federighi, her deliverer.

Then the sound of the voice which had many a time before spoken to her words of kindness—the voice of the man whom she had betrayed only the night before-speaking to her now in accents of forgiving pity, touched the springs of real repentance in her heart, and the spy saw, as by a sudden flash, the horrors of the life which she had been leading, and in agonized sorrow she sobbed out, Mercy! mercy! Signor. I deserve death from you, but let me not die with sin upon my soul; have mercy!

!' and she tried to clasp his feet in her heart-wrung prayer for forgiveness.

6

Signor Federighi raised her gently, and said with grave kindness, "My child, ask God's and your country's forgiveness, not mine; it is they whom

you

have wronged by your life of deceit.' Zanina hid her face, as the angry cries from the crowd outside again reached her ears through the barred doors. The deep bell again sounded forth overhead, and some of the brotherhood prepared to obey its summons; there was no time for delay, or lengthy consultation, and after a few words interchanged in whispers Signor Federighi again came to Zanina's side. •You cannot stay here, Zanina; we must convey you to some place of safety; I think I know of a quiet house where you would be sheltered until the fury of the mob is over. Will you trust yourself to me? and do as we desire you?'

“You are too good, Signor! sobbed Zanina ; 'I will do your bidding, whatever it is.'

“Then you must enter this litter, which we are taking to bring home the sick or the dying who are needing us now; you must lie perfectly still! and no one will dare to interfere with you."

Zanina shuddered slightly, but did not dispute the words of her deliverer, and entered the litter.

Thus, borne like a corpse on the shoulders of some of the brotherhood, she was taken down the steps on which she had thrown herself in her despair a short while before, and was carried out through the unsuspecting crowd, in the dark narrow box which seemed to her as if it might have been her coffin, so entirely was she cut off from the tide of human life, which was surging all around her.

At length the procession stopped at the house of Zarti, the jeweller, to which the Misericordia had again been summoned ; and here, after a few brief words of explanation, the captain of the band gave directions that the litter should be carried within, and Signor Federighi opened the lid of the box, and lifted out the terrified Zanina.

She looked round her in scared bewilderment till her eye rested on the well-known and benevolent countenance of Zarti ; then, with a sudden rush of anguish, the source of which lay deeper than either terror or remorse, she exclaimed in broken words, “Andrea! what of him? Andrea, my beloved !'

He is dead.'

Zanina covered her face with her hands, while she groaned forth, 'Dead! Now God be thanked, who has saved his pure soul from the knowledge of my guilt!'

*Ay, dead, my child; and the good wife within is even now preparing to follow him, I fear. The old jeweller bowed his head low upon the counter before him, as the brotherhood, entering the chamber beyond, carried forth in the litter the aged partner of his life, who was stricken with the fatal fever; for something told him that she would never return.

For many days, till the wild fury of the populace had subsided, old

« VorigeDoorgaan »