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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 11

Chapter XXIV. — Onofrio to the Rescue

Chapter XXIV.

Onofrio to the Rescue.

"Well, what news from the country?" asked Signor Onofrio of Vincenzo when they met for dinner. "Far from good, I see by your face. Anybody ill, anybody dead?"

"Thank God, nobody ill—nobody page 294 dead. Except some hopes fondly and [unclear: stupidly] cherished by me," said Vincenzo.

'There are no hopes so positively deal, as not to be capable of reviving at your age," said Signor Onofrio. "Come, cone, let me feel the pulse of these said hopes, that I may judge if there is not a spark of life in them yet!"

Vicenzo's load of misery was just then so heavy, that he could not resist the temptation of sharing it with a friend; and for the first time in his life the sweet name of Hose passed his lips in connexion with his secret. Signor Onofrio listened sympathetically to be simple tale—then said, "Is money a sne qua non with your godfather in this matter?"

'Not in the least," replied Vincenzo; "he whom he has chosen for his daughter is far from rich—nay, comparatively poor."

'Does the Signor Avvocato hold to birth and rank?"

' No more than is reasonable in the son of a self-made man sprung from the popular classes. His father began Ids carer as a mason."

' If so," resumed Signor Onofrio, "we need not bury our hopes yet; the case is far from desperate. But before going furher, I want a frank reply to a preliminary question;—it is almost ridiculous to put it to a young man in love; [unclear: still] I have so high an opinion of your judgment and straightforwardness, that I do ask it. My query is this, Can you answer for this young lady not becoming a cog to a political man?"

'I don't quite catch your meaning," said Vincenzo.

'I will make it plain to you," said Onofrio. "You know the sort of poor education given to our young women, even up to this day, especially to those belonging to small provincial towns. Tale the most enlightened, the most independent, the most liberal-minded of them all, and, nevertheless, in any mixed matter, such for instance as that of the ecclesiastical jurisdiction, she will blindly follow the direction of a priest—that is to say, of a man who receives his inspiration from Rome. Now Rome is hostile to us, and likely to become more so, the more this little kingdom asserts its civil independence, as it is determined to do. Now you can fully understand my meaning when I ask; Can you foresee no day when this young lady will be on one side, and you on the other of a question—when to do your duty will cost you a severe struggle? More than one of the public men of the day are in such a predicament."

Vincenzo unhesitatingly answered that he could foresee no such day. Miss Rose, he candidly acknowledged, was no exception to the rule laid down by Signor Onofrio. She was prone to defer too much to priestly opinion, or rather had been prone to do so, for, as she had grown older and her judgment ripened, this bias of her mind had sensibly diminished. According to Vincenzo, she possessed an amount of good sense, which only required to be properly directed, to bring forth excellent fruit, and a docility equal to her good sense, which gave ample security for her listening to reason. All this the young man affirmed and re-affirmed, in the fullest belief that he was saying neither more nor less than the truth. Vincenzo was not in love for nothing.

"Supposing this to be so," at last interrupted Signor Onofrio, "and that your godfather attaches no undue weight to birth and fortune, it will be easy to demonstrate to him that a son-in-law of greater promise than Vincenzo Candia it would be difficult for him to secure. Yes—of greater promise—I speak in sober earnest; not for the world would I trifle with you," resumed Signor Onofrio, replying to the young man's deprecatory gesture—"of promise, in the noblest acceptation of the word. I mean as to social distinction, influence, and usefulness—for, as to the emoluments, you will never be enriched from such a source. "We live in a country, God be praised, where a man may hold the first offices of state for years, and leave office as poor as when he entered on it. But now to explain; only premising that what I am going to tell you I have been revolving for some time in page 295 my mind, and waited only for a fitting opportunity to make it known to you. In a rising state like ours, there is a fair field open for every noble ambition. Our ministry encourage high aspirations—particularly among our youth—they lie in wait, so to say, for talent and energy, to enlist them for the public service. The aim of those in power is to form a staff of young men imbued with their own spirit—young men able and willing to carry out their plans. You shall be one of this chosen staff; you are qualified for it, first by your general intelligence, and still more so by that precious and rarest of gifts at your age, the steadiness and the moderation of your views, which will save you from being hurried away by an impulse, however generous it may be. I will introduce you to my friend and chief, the Minister. He will discover at a glance your special aptitude, and will put you in the right place. In five or six years—by the way, how old are you?"

"Twenty-two," answered Vincenzo.

"Well, by the time you are twenty-seven or twenty-eight, you will be fairly launched either in diplomacy or in the Administration; and at thirty, the legal age for being a deputy, the patronage of the Minister, with the interest of your godfather, will secure you a seat in Parliament. Once that accomplished, there is no height to which you may not aspire. Even—if you have the mettle of one in you—even to be Premier! With such prospects, am I right or wrong, in saying that the man must be difficult indeed, who would not be proud of such a son-in-law?"

"I fear," said Vincenzo, blushing, "that after all this is only a brilliant dream conjured up by your friendship for me."

"Only bring a strong will to bear upon it, and, in its main features, the dream will become a reality. To give it quickly somewhat of substance, I shall begin by presenting you to the Minister no later than to-morrow, if the thing be possible. We will see afterwards whether we cannot do something for your father-in-law that is to be. Do you know at what epoch it was that he received his cross of San Maurizio and Lazzaro?"

"He has never had it—has never had any decoration," said Vincenzo.

"What! not the cross of a Knight? Did you not tell me he was a liberal of 1821?"


"Has he not been once or twice Mayor?"

"Twice, since 1848."

"Is he not a man of high character, of considerable landed property, and, besides all that, popular in his district?"

"All true—he is quite the leading man in Rumelli"

"Then it must have been an oversight," said Signor Onofrio. "According to all precedent, his right to the cross is unquestionable; unless there be some special reason militating against him, he shall owe it to you. It shall be your wedding gift to the good gentleman. Now cheer up my young friend," concluded Signor Onofrio, taking his hat to go out; "and put this well into your head, that from this moment a new era begins for you. It is I who promise you this, and it is my invariable habit to do more than I promise."

Vincenzo's body and mind were out of joint to such a degree that the ten hours of unbroken sleep which he had that night were not too much to recompose his troubled spirit, and rest his wearied limbs. All was no longer gloom in his mental vista when he awoke—there was a brilliant salient point now in it.

Rose had refused Del Palmetto—refused him "flat," as her father expressed it. Could it be that he, Vincenzo, had something to do with her refusal of the young Marquis? Could it be that she loved him, the penniless student? Barnaby had declared it was so. Barnaby, it was true, was a confirmed blunderer, but he was a favourite of hers, and it was not utterly impossible that she might have made him, to some extent or in some way, her confidant. Oh! if she loved him, what page 296 would a few years of waiting be to her—she was so young—a few years, until this new path opening before him should have led him into the Land of Premise; and, did she love him, there he feltsure it would lead him.

This train of rosy speculations was putto flight by Signor Onofrio bringing, in lot haste, the announcement that the Minster would see Vincenzo that same evening.

"Be sure to be on the western side of the arcades in Piazza Po by seven o'clock," said the excellent friend, "and wait till we come. After I have presented you, I shall leave you to a tête-à-tête."

Vincenzo knew the personage in question very well by sight from having seen him in the Chamber of Deputies, and at Signor Onofrio's bedside during the illness of the latter.

The Minister had nothing about him of tie Jupiter Tonans—far from it—he looked like everybody else; yet the mere thought of meeting him made our hero rather nervous—a sensation that increased as he took his way to the rendezvous The man on whose impression of you nay depend your whole future—and future and Miss Rose were one and the same thing for Vincenzo,—that man, were he a dwarf or a hunchback, cannot fail to inspire you with a certain awe. Vinenzo's heart beat fast when the descried under the arcades the two familiar figures walking arm-in-arm towards him, and saw himself beckoned by Signor Onorio, who for all introduction said, "Here's my young friend. I [unclear: recommend] him to thee—good night."

"I am very glad to make your acquaintance, or rather to renew our acquaintance," said the Minister graciously. "I have seen you so often at Onofrio's that I cannot consider you a stranger. Onofrio has just been telling me what a Godsend you were to him while he was ill. You have not been well yourself I hear. I hope you are quite recovered."

"Perfectly, thank you," said Vincenzo.

"You could not have bestowed care upon a more worthy person," continued the Minister. "A valuable man, is that Onofrio, and tells me many fine things of you. We'll go in here for a little quiet talk," and, as he said this, Vincenzo's interlocutor stopped before a wide entrance, drew a key from his pocket, opened the door, went in; and, as soon as Vincenzo had followed, shut the door again.

"Don't stir till I have turned darkness into light," resumed the Minister, lighting a match, and with that, a rat de cave, or coil of wax taper. This done, he led the way up to a third storey, produced another key, opened another door, and, going through a small passage, introduced Vincenzo into the salon—a well-sized room—saying,

"Here we are at last; pray sit down—where the deuce can the candles be?" looking for them in vain on the mantelpiece. "Excuse me for leaving you in the dark for an instant. Do, pray, sit down, without ceremony," added the Minister, returning with two lighted candles, and seeing Vincenzo still on his legs.

Vincenzo in silent admiration of this wonderful simplicity obeyed. The furniture was of the most unwieldy and old-fashioned kind; as far as Vincenzo could judge, there was not an article therewith any pretensions to be gay, or elegant, either as to form or colour. The armchairs, if the one on which he sat was to be taken as a specimen, were anything but soft and comfortable. The Minister took up a newspaper from the table, examined the date, made a roll of it, lighted it at one of the candles, and with it set fire to the faggot and logs of wood ready laid on the hearth, commenting upon the operation with the remark, that the evenings were very chilly. "Do you smoke?" he asked Vincenzo. "No." "Very wise of you—an uncommon virtue in a young man now-a-days. Do you mind others smoking in the same room with you?" "Not at all." "Then I will have a cigar;" and the Minister lit one, and then threw himself into a corner of a sofa, and puffed away for some time in silence. "You were brought up at a seminary, if I don't mistake?" at last issued from the cloud of smoke.

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"At the seminary of Ibella, up to the age of seventeen," replied Vincenzo.

"Was it from your own wish, or from some other cause, that you studied for the priesthood?"

"It was solely because of my father's desire that I should be a priest."

"You felt none of what is called a vocation?"

"Decidedy none," said Vincenzo.

"And how did you manage to get out of the seminary?" asked the minister.

"It is a long story, and I fear little edifying," said Vincenzo, smiling.

"Never mind the length," returned the minister; "and, as for edification, there is nothing more conducive to that, alike for listener and narrator, than the history of past blunders."

Thus encouraged, Vincenzo complied. He described the intoxication produced in him by the mere names of the innovations of 1848, told of his admiration for the Seminarists of Milan and their barricades, and of his unconquerable antipathy for the calling to which he was destined, which had grown and developed with the growth and development of these new feelings. He recounted his failure in his examination, his godfather's anger, the episode of the purse, and, avoiding any mention of names, his ill-fated expedition to Ibella, his foolish escapade at the Caffé della Posta, his consequent determination to enlist, his meeting with Colonel Roganti, and his wanderings in company with that worthy.

Vincenzo did not tell his tale in one breath; but, whenever he stopped, fearing to tire out his listener's patience, the minister would urge him to go on, professing much interest in the narrative; and, that he was amused, his hearty bursts of laughter at Vincenzo's description of Colonel Roganti's manoeuvre, and his own sale of scapularies and songs, testified beyond all doubt.

"And, after your leader's arrest, what became of you?"

Vincenzo, in answer to this question, gave a summary account of his flight with Ambrogio, of their journey to Novara, of their taking part in the festival, and being captured in the very moment of forgetfulness of such a danger, of his return to the palace, the further struggle he had there, his eleven days' apprenticeship to the hoe, and the relenting of his godfather, who had finally sent him to study law in Turin.

"You have shown throughout all this a rare degree of perseverance, that ladder to all success," said the minister; "and, pray, what practical lessons did your experience teach you?"

"To be on my guard against boasters and perpetual fault-finders," answered Vincenzo; "and yet to give even such credit for acting better than they speak."

"You are thinking of your colonel," said the minister, smiling.

"Well," returned Vincenzo, "even he had his good points; but I was alluding to the student who was so violent against the government, yet in spite of his declamation was hastening to peril life and limb in defence of the country guided by that very government."

"Your theory," observed the minister, somewhat epigrammatically, "has at least the advantage of being pleasant. When are you to be received as barrister-at-law?"

"About this time next year."

"Have you paid any particular attention to political economy?"

"Not more than to the other branches of my course of study."

"Then, for the future, do so, and to statistics also. Do you know anything of English?"

"Not a word."

"Well, then, I advise you to set about learning it. You can teach it to yourself; it is the least complex of any language. You could easily master it sufficiently to be able in a short time to read the English blue-books, a study of which will be of the greatest future utility to you. I should like also to be able to form some idea of your style and manner of setting forth a subject When you next pay me a visit, bring me a few pages of your composing."

"On what subject?" asked Vincenzo.

"On any that you choose. Are you for absolute freedom as to education, or not?"

page 298

"In theory, for freedom; practically, for our own country, I think it best for some time yet, that public instruction should remain under the control of the government."

"Put down in writing your reasons for this way of thinking, and let me have it." The minister considered for a few minutes, then went on: "I need scarcely say that it is my intention to do honour to Onofrio's recommendation of you in the amplest manner in my power. I might give you a place under me forthwith; but to do so would be to interfere materially with your studies. I think it better, therefore, to postpone all active interference in your behalf until you have taken your degree of doctor of laws. The title itself, though there is not much in it, will smooth the road to many things. In the mean time I shall ascertain what are your talents, and see how best to utilize them for the service of the country. That I may be able to do this, you must come and see me often. Do not be over scrupulous or discreet; for I tell you plainly, if you do not remind me of yourself by calling, I am not sure that I shall not forget you. On Saturday evenings—I tell you this for your own private use—I generally make my escape from work at dusk. If you like to come and wait for me here, we can have a little quiet conversation. I may sometimes be prevented from returning home, and you may have had your walk for nothing; but you will not mind that, I dare say. Lastly, let me give you one piece of advice; do not tell any one that you are in the habit of seeing the Minister, or you will be deluged with applications for introductions and recommendations, which I shall not be able to attend to: on this point I rely on your absolute discretion."

Vincenzo professed his readiness to abide religiously on this as on all other matters by the directions the minister was so good as to give him, and, with many expressions of gratitude, rose to take his leave. The minister went with him to the passage door, cut a bit from the coil of wax taper which had served to let them see their way up stairs, gave it lighted to Vincenzo, and with a last caution not to run down too fast so as to put the light out, wished him a good night.

We should not be giving Barnaby his due if, in the enumeration of the agencies at work in favour of Vincenzo, we did not assign a signal place to the old blunderer. It often happens in this world that a blunder serves some particular end better than the most skilfully calculated move. Vincenzo's mysterious flying visit, combined with his disturbed looks and her father's pre-ocupation, had not been without arousing in Miss Pose a certain amount of curiosity—a curiosity which Barnaby had the means and the most resolute determination to satisfy; for, as you have already guessed, Ugly and Good had listened, with malice prepense, at the door of the Signor Avvocato's sancta sanctorum, and overheard the dialogue between godfather and godson. Barnaby so managed next morning as to be at work in the alley of nut trees, which was the shortest way to the summer-house, the infallible goal of Miss Rose's morning stroll.

Miss Rose came as usual, and as usual stopped for a little chat with Barnaby. In times of yore—that is, only two or three years ago—she would have taken the bull by the horns, and bluntly asked Barnaby, "Do you know why Vincenzo came last night and went away again in such a hurry?" As it was, being no longer an enfant terrible, but a grown-up young lady of nineteen, with the sense and reserve of that age, she said instead, "Did you see Vincenzo before he left?"

Barnaby, with the most comical would-be gloomy grimace at his command, said "he had not seen Vincenzo; he must have started before dawn."

"I merely wanted to know how he looked, in case you had seen him," observed Miss Rose. "I fear he has not yet recovered from his last illness. He was so pale and flurried last night."

"I don't wonder at that," replied Barnaby, with increasing gloom, "considering what he was told. Pale, indeed! It's a miracle he is still in this world, poor fellow!"

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"You frighten me, Barnaby; what was he told?" asked Rose—"that is," she added, checking herself, "if I may know."

"Not only you may, but you must know," affirmed Barnaby. "The matter concerns you as well as Vincenzo. He is gone away to return no more; he is banished for ever from this place!"

"Banished!" repeated Rose, turning the colour of ashes. "It cannot be true; it is one of your mistakes, Barnaby."

"I tell you I heard the Signor Padrone say so to him in so many words. The poor lad's eyes rained tears."

"But what can he have done?" exclaimed Rose.

"Well, I can tell you that also," continued Barnaby. "The Signor Padrone wanted to persuade him to speak to you in favour of the young Marquis. Vincenzo said he wouldn't, he couldn't, it was impossible. The Signor Avvocato asked him why. 'Because,' says Vincenzo, 'I won't play a double game with you—because I love your daughter myself.'"

Rose turned scarlet, and the heaving of her bosom bore witness to the intensity of her agitation. Barnaby availed himself of her silence to go on.

"'Sir,' says the Signor Avvocato,' you love my daughter—sir—and so you have taken advantage of the intimacy I allowed to make love to my daughter.'"

"Stop," said Rose; "how did you come at the knowledge of all this, Barnaby?"

"Never mind how," growled the old man.

"Ah! I guess only too well," resumed Rose. "It was wrong, very wrong, of you to surprise a secret which was never intended for your ears; and it is wrong, very wrong, of you to repeat it to me. Good day." And she walked away.

"Wrong! wrong! wrong!" cried Barnaby, looking ruefully after her. "When that poor lad has broken his heart, which he will do one of these fine days, we'll see then who is right and who is wrong."

Barnaby's indiscretion, though punished by a whole week's severance from his young signorina's pleasant chat and bright smiles, had not the less hit the mark. A girl of nineteen does not hear with impunity that a young man is pining away for love of her, that he sheds showers of tears, and is, moreover, likely to die of a broken heart for her sake—especially if the young man be a handsome, well-figured fellow, and a tried friend of old standing. More than once did blooming Miss Rose, in her secret thoughts, revert to and dwell upon Vincenzo's plight; and the more she dwelt upon it, the more she found it hard, hard, very hard.