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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 11


A word now as to the present dispositions of him to whom this letter was destined. At the moment of its arrival, Miss Rose's vis inertiœ? had won the day. Her father, nill-he-will-he, had abandoned virtually, if not formally, his favourite plan for her, and a passing thought of throwing the handle after the hatchet, that is, of giving his daughter to Vincenzo, and having done with all this tear and wear of spirits, had of late crossed his mind more than once. Why not, in fact? A thousand times rather to Vincenzo than to that sneaking intendente of Ibella, or to that fop, the son of the fiscal, who had no thought in his wooden head but of the cut of his clothes! Once Del Palmetto out of the question, it was a matter of relative indifference to Rose's father who should have his daughter.

But why did he so hold to Del Palmetto? The Piedmontese have of late been much likened, and not inappropriately, to the English—they have, in feet, some of the striking qualities of these latter—steadiness, perseverance, practical spirit, innate distaste of idle speculations, and last, not least, if that be a quality, the profoundest respect for the advantages of birth and title. The Signor Avvocato was not a Piedmontese for nothing, and the perspective of turning his daughter into a marchioness, and hearing her addressed as such, tickled his amour propre to an amazing degree. There was another, though secondary consideration, which militated in favour of the alliance with the young marquis, and that was the making of the two estates into one, and that one, mutatis mutandis, second to none in the kingdom.

But now that this fond dream was over, Vincenzo's aspirations after the great prize were no longer met by the non possumus of a few months back, but were beginning to force themselves upon the old gentleman's consideration. Signor Onofrio's letter was exactly calculated to make Vincenzo's chances rise twenty per cent. "Well may they call that godson of mine a wonderful lad," muttered to himself, according to his fashion, the Signor Avvocato, "and lucky as well as clever. If any one ever deserved it to be said of him that he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, Vincenzo does: he bewitches every one he comes across. This Signor Onofrio, for instance, one of the busiest and most independent members of parliament—the right hand of the minister—goes out of his way, and turns suitor for the boy. The minister, in his turn, takes a fancy to the boy at first sight—not much doubt of his getting on, indeed—he has only to will it, and if he takes it into his head that he will have my daughter, have her he will. However, it is only fair to say he deserves his good fortune; he has not his equal, that I know of, for ability, mettle, and real goodness. And this other original, who asks me for a sanatoria! if the request did not come from a grave legislator, I should take it for a joke. I have half a mind to go and thank this Signor Onofrio in person, and at the same time I could see Dr. Moreri."

Dr. Moreri was at that time the most celebrated physician in Turin. The Signor Avvocato had been advised, and had made up his mind to go and consult him these last two years, without ever finding the opportune moment. Growing obesity, and the slow but steady weakening of the whole left side of his body, were the Signor Avvocato's ailments. They had intensified the man's natural indolence and repugnance to exertion to a morbid degree; and the half project of a trip to Turin was no sooner shadowed forth than given up. page 302 The Signor Avvocato had never travelled on railroads, and did not consider them safe. A letter will do as well, thought he, and he wrote one; wrote it in his best hand, and most flowery style, to befit the occasion and the recipient. It began thus:—"How can you talk of sanatoria, my dear sir, when all the ancient honours of the capitol would not equal your deserts? Not though I had the eloquence of Demosthenes and Cicero combined, could I thank you adequately for all that you have done"—and so on for two pages. Happily for the writer and his grandiloquent style, Vincenzo gave Signor Onofrio the epistle to read, which he had received from his godfather, and which proved, beyond all doubt, that, off his Pegasus, the Signor Avvocato could write naturally, simply, and feelingly. Nay, there were in this second letter touches of felicitous humour, as when he expressed a hope that his godson, when he became Secretary for the Home Department, would not visit too heavily a poor rustic mayor's peccadilloes.

The Signor Avvocato was too full of his subject not to let something of it ooze out in Rose's presence. Rose did not seem at all dazzled by Vincenzo's [unclear: brilliant] worldly prospects. Indeed, she cook the whole matter very coolly, and all she said was, that she was glad of it.

Shortly after, Vincenzo applied for a sanatoria in his turn. He had taken the liberty, he wrote, acting on the advice of his experienced friend, Signor Onofrio, to send in a request for the [unclear: bestowal] of the Cross of SS. Maurice and Lazare on the Signor Avvocato. The application had not met, and could not meet, with any difficulty. It was only affording the Government the opportunity of repairing an unjust oversight. He was now happy to say, that his Majesty had signed the nomination the day before, and he rejoiced to be the first to salute his dear godfather as Cavaliere. Official information of the honour conferred on him would be sent by the Minister of the Interior to Rumelli in a day or two, unless the Signor Avvocato could bring himself to come to Turin for forty-eight hours, which would simplify all formalities. On the great pleasure such a visit would give to Signor Onofrio and the writer, the latter would not enlarge. The Signor Avvocato had for some time expressed the wish to consult one of the eminent physicians of the capital—would not that be another inducement for coming? In that hope Vincenzo remained, &c.

Let not the reader suppose for an instant that this crescendo of stirring tidings was the result of a preconcerted plot, artfully contrived with a view to gradually heating the Signor Avvocato to the proper degree of malleability for being moulded to a purpose. No such thing. Both Signor Onofrio and Vincenzo, as we know, pursued a certain object, but pursued it by legitimate means, and without the alloy of any, the least particle, of humbug. Signor Onofrio's letter to the Signor Avvocato had not been written one single day sooner or later than it would have been, had the Signor Avvocato not had a daughter, nor did it contain any single statement that was not in perfect accordance with truth: it was, in fact, only the reproduction of Signor Onofrio's conversation with Vincenzo. On his side, Vincenzo had drawn up the memorial in his godfather's behalf, when his patron, the minister, had told him to do so, and had apprised his godfather of the Cross being conferred on him the moment he had heard the news from the minister. Likewise, Vincenzo's hint to his godfather about coming to town proceeded from no deeper laid scheme, than the natural wish of seeing and partaking the gratification of one to whom his heart clung tenderly and deeply.

So far said, we resume our narrative. For the nonce, the excitement produced by Vincenzo's intelligence proved stronger than habit, ailments, and distrust of railways. The Signor Avvocato found a remnant of his activity of better days. He started immediately for Ibella, took the first train for the capital, and, by the evening of the same day, was comfortably installed, not a little to his own amazement, in one of page 303 the hotels in Piazza Castello. Vincenzo, summoned by a note, was by his side in no time.

The Signor Avvocato's stay in town was short, but full and fraught with none but agreeable impressions. Turin was so much enlarged, so much altered for the better, since he had seen it last, that it was a real pleasure to drive through it. Then the Home Secretary, through whom he had received the decoration, welcomed him so courteously, complimented him with such tact, and used so flattering an emphasis in begging the favour of the Signor Cavaliere's company at dinner! He would have done just the same to any one, to whom he gave audience on a similar occasion; but the Signor Cavaliere took it all as a mark of personal distinction. His recollections of men in authority dated from an epoch when stiffness, self-importance, and haughtiness seemed the distinguishing attributes of power.

Still more gracious than his colleague of the Home Department, and equally hospitable to the new knight, was the minister, Vincenzo's patron, from whose official lips there fell into his guest's ear, after dinner, a confidential confirmation (not the less effective for its laconism, and the somewhat guarded tone in which it was delivered) of all the good he thought of, and the hopes he founded on young Vincenzo. Signor Onofrio took the new Cavaliere to the Chamber, found him a seat in the ambassadors' gallery, and pointed out to him all the remarkable men of the Assembly. The relations of the old gentleman's deceased wife, and the few old friends he visited, vied with each other as to who should show him most regard and cordiality. Doctor Moreri treated the indisposition, of which he complained, very lightly, and merely recommended daily exercise, and light diet, principally of vegetables. The very waiters at the hotel seemed bent on contributing their share to his happiness by never failing to call him Signor Cavaliere. Nothing pleases and flatters people accustomed to live in the country more, than the being paid a certain degree of attention by the dwellers in great cities.

In short, the Signor Avvocato left town enchanted with everything and everybody, and within an ace of throwing the handle after the hatchet, according to his favourite figure of speech—only the fear of committing himself by a promise, which Rose, after all, might not ratify, kept him from binding himself more explicitly than by what might be implied from his parting words to Vincenzo, "By the way, mind you come to the palace for the vacation." Vincenzo, for all answer, grasped the old gentleman's hand within both his own, and pressed it to his heart. The gates of Eden were open again. "But—"added the Signor Avvocato, placing his finger significantly across his lips—

"Were my secret to suffocate me," said Vincenzo, fervently, "it shall not pass my lips without your leave."

"And if I never give it?" asked the Signor Avvocato, slyly.

"Then it shall die with me."

"Yes, sixty years hence," wound up the godfather, laughing outright. In this happy mood, the Signor Avvocato set off on his journey home.

All Ibella by this time knew, from having read of both events in the Gazette, of his visit to the capital, and of his having been made a knight, and at least half of Ibella equally knew of the exact moment of his return, from having seen Guiseppe with the gig on his way to the station. This was a task de jure devolving on Barnaby, but Barnaby was in one of his most intense fits of ignorance of his master's existence, and not to have saved his own soul would he have so much as lifted his little finger in that master's service. This the Signor Avvocato well knew, "though unable to fathom the cause, and had accordingly sent word to Rose to despatch Guiseppe to the station. Well, one of those who had seen the gig pass in front of the Caffe della Posta, while sipping his coffee, was the Commandant of the National Guard of Ibella, a great friend, as we are aware, of the Signor Avvocato. "Hurrah! here page 304 comes the new cavaliere," said he to the company, "let us go and do him honour who does honour to the country." All present adopted the motion by acclamation, with the exception of two or three very young men, who shrugged their shoulders and declared that they were not going to stir for a Codino. The Signor Avvocato's growing conservative tendencies since 1849, and more than that, his close alliance with that Arcicodino, the late Marquis, had greatly damaged the popularity of the owner of the palace with the youth of Ibella.

And so it came to pass that, on alighting on the platform, the Signor Avvocato met with a cluster of friendly faces, and a barricade of friendly hands, eager to press his, and bid him welcome back. Behold him presently walking up the High-street, the centre of a momentarily augmenting body guard, stopping to shake hands at every step, and nodding his head right and left to the tradesmen standing on the threshold of their shops. Other friendly faces, and other friendly hands are waiting for him at the Caffe della Posta, which cannot and will not be disappointed. A halt there becomes indispensable. "Come in, come in welcome, Signor Avvocato, welcome Signor Cavaliere." The new knight enters the Caffe, his train follows him, salutations recommence—hallo, waiters, a dozen of wine, if you please. For in this blessed world of ours there's no possible rejoicing without drinking. Corks pop, "the health of the Signor Cavaliere—long live the Signor Cavaliere." Glass clinks against glass, and the health, is drunk with hearty cheers, in which the two or three dissentient youths join. Who could find it in his heart to dim the satisfaction beaming in that honest benevolent old countenance?

In the mean time the Rumellians had not been idle; that is, in one sense they had, inasmuch as they had been dancing attendance on the Signor Avvocato for these three hours. All the population of Rumelli was there, from the parish priest, D. Natale, and the Mayor at the head of the Town Council, down to the babies at the breast. "When the Signor Avvocato reached his own gate he had to get out of the gig, which he did amid the deafening cheers of the crowd, the "present arms" of the National Guard, and a flourish from the local band, which struck up with better will than success. After that, the Mayor in esse—a rich miller retired from business—came forward and read the ex-Mayor an address; and then D. Natale stepped forth, and read the ex-Mayor another address, or rather began to read it, for at the end of the second line he took to stammering and blubbering, seeing which the personage addressed took to stammering and blubbering also, and, to save decorum as much as possible, cut short all further orations by passing one arm under D. Natale's and the other under the Mayor's, and thus supported and supporting, limped up the avenue. D. Natale, if the truth must be told, was more than half in his dotage, and with him all emotion resolved itself into tears. Rose presently appeared, and there were plaudits and acclamations again, when the crowd beheld the father and daughter in each other's arms.

The whole household, including the out-door servants, were assembled on the flight of steps leading into the palace, and came to kiss the Signor Padrone's hand, and to offer their congratulations. One familiar face alone was wanting among the number—Barnaby was conspicuous by his absence. Was he then indifferent to his master's good fortune? Far from it. Barnaby, hidden in a corner, was melting away in tears of pride and joy—Barnaby would fain have kissed the Signor Padrone's footprints, but Barnaby had fancied grievances against this adored Padrone of his, and could not, and would not give them up—no, rather die first.

By this time the conquering hero, well-nigh spent with fatigue and emotion, after ushering into the great hall D. Natale, the Mayor, the Town Council and other notabilities, sank exhausted into a chair. The scene of the Caffe-della-Posta was re-acted, bottles appeared, corks were drawn, bumpers of wine handed round, and toasts drunk secundum morem. "Thank you," said the page 305 hospitable host, who felt past speechifying, "thank you from the bottom of my heart. I can say no more for the present; my strength is not equal to my goodwill; come and dine with me to-morrow, when I hope I shall be able to acknowledge your kind welcome more formally, if not more sincerely,—no, no, my dear friends, you needn't go—stay and make yourselves at home—only, excuse me for not entertaining you, as I ought to do." The company tarried yet a little, glasses went round once more, and then they all discreetly withdrew. The folks outside had, each and all, in the meantime, partaken of the traditional hospitality of the family. Miss Rose was an invaluable mistress of the house on such occasions.

"Well, and how is Vincenzo?" asked she, as she was lighting her father up to his bedroom.

"Vincenzo is as brisk as a bee," said papa, "and in a fair way of becoming somebody. I wish you had seen him, my dear, at the table of the Minister, so self-possessed, every inch a gentleman. No one would ever have imagined him to be the son of a peasant."

"What does that signify?" observed Miss Rose. "Grandpapa was a peasant, was he not, and haven't you the manners of a Prince?"

"You little flatterer!" said the Signor Avvocato, pleased; "but, my dear, the figure of a man counts for a good deal in all that has to do with manners; and allow me to say, though I say it who should not, that between my figure and that of Vincenzo, that is when I was young, there is some difference—a great difference."

"I allow it, papa—Vincenzo is handsome in his way, though."

Papa looked searchingly at her; then said, "I see how it is; had I proposed him to you instead of that poor Del Palmetto, you would have given me quite another answer."

"Who knows?" said she, laughing; "but I am not in a hurry to marry."

"Do you mean to tell me you would have refused him?" urged her father.

"Him? Who?" asked Rose.

"I speak of Vincenzo, of course."

"How can one refuse that which is not offered?" said she, laughing again.

"Ah! you hypocrite—suppose, for supposing's sake, that I offer him to you?"

"What is the use of answering suppositions? Good night, papa;" and she tripped away.

To be continued.