The True Story of Luigi
A WHITE dove flew down into the market-place one summer morning, and, undisturbed among all the wheels and hoofs, followed the footsteps of Luigi.
He carried in one hand a sunflower, and thoughtlessly, while it hung there, with nervous fingers scattered the seeds as he went his way. So that the dove cooed in her little swelling throat, gathered what Luigi spilled, and, startled at last by a frisking hound, flew up and alighted on the tray which Luigi’s other hand poised airily on his head, and was borne along with all the company of fair white things there in the sunshine.
The street-urchins warned Luigi of the intruder among his wares, and then, slyly putting up his hand, the boy tossed the seeds in a shower about the tray. Off flew the dove, and back with the returning gust she fluttered, and, pausing only to catch her seed, she came and went, wheeling in flashing circles round his head as he pursued his path.
It was at the pretty picture he thus presented, as, having left the marketplace, he came upon the higher streets of the town, that a lady, looking from her window, made exclaim. The kind face, the pleasant voice, attracted him ; in a moment after, while she was yet thinking of it, the door was pushed partly open, a dark boy, smiling, appeared, followed by the unslung tray, and a voice like a flute said, —
“ Sono io, - it is I Will the lady buy ? ”
And then the image-vender showed his wares.
The lady chaffered with him a moment, and at its close he was evidently paying no attention to what she said, but was listening to a voice from the adjoining room, the clear voice of a girl singing her Italian exercises.
His face was in a glow, he bent to catch the words with signalling finger and glittering eyes; it was plainly neither the deftly sweet accompaniment nor the melody that charmed him, but the language: the language was his own.
With the cadence of the measure the sound was broken capriciously, the book had been thrown down, and the singer herself stood balancing in the doorway between the rooms, a hand on either side,—still lightly trilling her scales, smiling, beaming, blue-eyed, rosy. The sunbeam that entered behind the shade swinging in the wind fell upon the beautiful masses of her light-brown hair, and illumined all the shifting color that played with such delicate suffusion upon her cheek and chin ; her face was a deep, innocent smile of joy; she would have been dazzling but for the blushes that seemed to go and come with her breath and make her human ; and so much did she embody one’s ideal of the first woman that no one wondered when all called her Eve, although her name was Rosamond, and she was the Rose of the World.
Directly Eve saw the boy kneeling there over his tray, the cast suspended in his hand, as he leaned intently forward with the rich carmine deepening the golden tint of his brow and with that yellow fire in his wine-dark eyes, she ceased singing, and, not hesitating to mimic the well-known call, cried,—
“ Images ? ”
Then Luigi remembered where he was, and answered the question asked five minutes since.
“ Signora, seven shillings.”
“ That is reasonable, now,” said the lady. “ I will have it for that sum. Do you cast these things yourself? ”
“ My master and I.”
“ Have you been long here ? ”
“ Alas! much, much time,” said he, with melancholy earnestness.
“ And from what part of Italy did you come ? ” she kindly asked.
“ Vengo da Roma'’ replied the boy, drawing himself up proudly.
“ The Roman peasant is a prince, mamma,” said Eve quickly, in an undertone.
Luigi glanced up instantly and smiled, and offered to her a little plaster cherub, silver-gilt, just spreading wings for flight.
“ It is for her,” said he, with an appealing look at the mother. “ For her, — la principessina. I myself made it.”
No one perceived his adroit undermeaning; but Eva bethought herself of her school-phrases, and venturously selected one.
“ È grazioso ! ” said she.
Luigi’s face kindled anew ; it seemed as if the sound of his native tongue were like some magic wand that called the blind blood to his cheek or drove it into the pools of his heart; the smile broke all over his face as light dances on burnished gold ; he turned to her boldly with outstretched hands, like some one asking an alms.
“ Give to me a song,” he said.
“ Volontieri,” quoth Eve, in hesitating accent, and flitted back to her piano. Without a thought, he followed.
It was a little song of flowers and sunshine that Eve began to carol over the carolling keys; the words fell into the sweetness of the air, that seemed laden with the morning murmur of bees and blossoms; it was but a verse or two, with a refrain that went repeating all the honeyed burden, till Luigi’s face fairly burned with pleasure, where he stood at timid distance in the doorway.
“ Ciò mi fa bene ! That does me good ! ” cried he, as she rose. “ Ah, Signorina, I am happy here ! ”
Then he turned and found the elder lady counting out his money. He received the seven shillings quietly, as his due ; but when she would have paid him for the cherub, be pushed the silver swiftly back.
“ It is a gift! ” said he, with spirit.
“ No, no,” said Eve. “ I should like it, but I must pay for it. You will be so kind as to take the price ? ” she asked, her hand extended, and a winning grace irradiating all her changing rosy countenance.
A shadow fell over the boy’s face, like that of a cloud skimming down a sunny landscape.
“ A Lei non posso dar un rifiuto,” said he, meeting her shining eyes; and he gravely gathered the money and slung his tray.
As he raised it, Eve laid along its side a branch of unsullied day-lilies that had been filling the room with their heavy fragrance. The image-boy interested her; he was a visible creature of those foreign fairy - shores of which she had dreamed ; that she did anything but show kindness to a vagrant whom she would not see again never crossed her mind; perhaps, too, she liked that Italy, in his person, should admire her, — that was pardonable. But, at the action, the shadow swept away from the boy’s face again, all his lights and darks came flashing out, eyes and teeth and color sparkling in his smile, like sunshine after rain ; he made his low obeisance, poised the tray upon his head, and, with a wave of his hand, went out.
“ A rivederla ! ” he called back to her from the door, and was gone.
And soon far down the street they heard his musical cry again; and perhaps the little distant dove, who had forsaken him on entrance, also caught the sound, and was reminded by it, as he pecked along the dusty thoroughfare, of some remote and pleasant memory of morning and the market-place.
It was a week afterward, that, as Eve and her mother loitered over luncheon, the door again softly opened, and they saw Luigi standing erect on the threshold, and holding with both hands above the brightly bronzed face a tall, slender, white jar of ancient and exquisite shape, carefully painted, and having a glass suspended within, lest any water it might receive should penetrate the porous plaster.
He did not look at Eve, but marched to her mother, and deposited it upon the floor at her feet.
“ For the Signora’s lilies,” said he.
And remembering the silver pieces of the week before, and fearing lest she should really grieve him, the Signora perforce accepted it with admiring words ; while Eve ran to fill it from the garden, into which abode of bliss — as gardens always are — the long casement of the music-room opened. Luigi hesitated, his hand upon the door, wistful wishes in his face; then he cast a smiling, deprecating glance at the mother, lightly crossed the floor, was over the sill, and stood beside Eve in the walk.
To right and left the long, straight stems rose in rank, and bore their floral crown of listening lilies, calm, majestic, pure, and only stirring now and then when the wind shook a waft of gold-dust down the shining leaf, or rifled the inmost heart of its delicious wealth of odor; on either side of the path the snowy bloom lay like a fallen cloud.
“ It is a company of angels,” said Luigi, brokenly, “ a cloud of seraphs with their gold harps ! If they should sing,” hazarded he, “ it would be the song the Signorina gave me, — alas, it is long since! ”
“ It is a week,” said she, laughing and lingering.
“ Eve !” came a warning voice.
“ That is the Signorina’s name ? ” questioned Luigi, as he bent to help her cut the stems.
“ Eve, — yes, they call me so.”
“ Certainly I had not thought it,” he repeated to himself.
“ Why, what did you suppose it was ? ” she heedlessly asked.
“ Luigia ! ” said he. And his low, rapt tone was indescribably simple, sweet, and intense.
Eve did not know what the boy himself was called.
“ I wish it were,” said she. “ That is a pleasant sound.”
And rising with her armful, she went in and heaped the jar with honor, while Luigi, pleased and proud, lifted it to the level of the black-walnut bracket.
“Signora, behold what is beautiful!” said he, stepping back.
The Signora looked at the lilies, but Luigi looked at Eve.
They had lunched. Eve went into the other room to her exercises. Her mother poured out a glass of wine for the unbidden guest. He repulsed it with an angry eye and a disdainful gesture. But then there rose the sound of Eve’s voice just beyond ; — while he stayed, he could listen. With sudden change from frown to smile, he stepped forward and took the plate.
“ To the Signora’s health,” said he, with a courtesy that sat well on the supple shape and the dark beauty of the boy, whose homely garb, whose poverty, and whose profession seemed only the disguise of some young prince,—and sipped the wine, and broke the fine, white bread, while his cheek was scarlet with delight at recurrence of the familiar sounds, even though in such simple phrase.
“ That is a proud boy,” said Eve’s mother, when he had gone, and she paused a moment to see how Eve went on.
“ He urges no one.”
“ Italy is full of its troubles, mia madre. He is the exile of a noble family, - no other beggar would be so haughty,” looked up and answered Eve, laughing between her bars. “ Mamma, what different beings different meridians make!” she exclaimed, dropping her music. “Is he so sweet and lofty and fiery because he has lived in the shadow of old temples, — because, if he stumbled over a pebble in the street, it was the marble fragment of a goddess,—because the clay of which he is made has so many times been moulded into heroes ? ”
“ Are there no further fancies with which you can invest an image-vender ? ”
“ But he is unique. Did you ever see any one like him ? Daily beauty has made him beautiful. Is that what the Doctor means, when he says a Corinthian pillar in the market-place would educate a generation better than a pulpit would ? ”
“They have both in Rome,” said her mother, with meaning.
“ And, in spite of them, perhaps our hero cannot spell ! Yet he is more accomplished than we, mamma. He speaks Italian beautifully,” said she, with espièglerie.
“ But hardly Tuscan.”
“ Silver speech for all that. I have reached the end of my idioms, though. I always said school was good for something, if one could only find it out,” she archly cried, her little fingers running in arpeggios up the keys. “ To think he understood them so ! Then Dante’s women would.”
“ Heaven forbid ! ”
“ How his face glows at them,—like a light behind a mask! It is quite the opera, when he comes. I will sing to him an aria, and then it will make a scene.”
“You are a madcap. What do you want a scene for ? ”
“ Spice. When my voice fills his handsome eyes with tears, he makes me an artist; when he turns upon you in that sudden, ardent air, he brings a sting of foreign fire into this quiet summer noon.”
“ Amuse yourself sparingly with other people’s emotions, Eve.”
“ Especially when they are suave as olive-oil, pungent as cherry-cordial, and ready to blaze with a spark, you know. Ah, it is all as interesting to me as when the little sweep last year looked out from the chimney-top and made the whole sky brim over with his wild music.”
Here a clock chimed silverly from below.
“ There is the half-hour striking, and you have lost all this time,” said the caressing mother, her Angel’s lost in the bright locks she lifted.
“ Never mind, mother mine,” said she, turning in elfish mood to brush her lips across the frustrated fingers. “ Art is long, if time is fleeting,” she sang to the measure of her Non più mesta, beginning again to shower its diamonds about till all the air seemed bright with her young and sparkling voice.
Summer days are never too long for the fortunes of health and happiness, and at the sunset following tills same morning Eve leaned from the casement, watching the retiring rays as if she fain would pursue. A tender after-glow impurpled all the heaven like a remembered passion, and bathed field and fallow in its bloom. It gave to her a kind of aureole, as if her beauty shed a lustre round her. The window where she leaned was separated from the street only by a narrow inclosure, where grew a single sumach, whose stem went straight and bare to the eaves, and there branched out, like the picture of a palm-tree, in tossing plumes. Blossoming honeysuckles wreathed this stem and sweetened every breath.
A figure came sauntering down the street, an upright and pliant form, laden with green boughs. It was Luigi, with whom it had been a holiday, and who, roaming in the woods, had come across a wild stock on whose rude flavor the kindly freak of some wayfarer had grafted that of pulpy wax-heart cherries, tart ruddiness and sugared snow. Pausing before Eve, be gazed at her lingeringly, then sprang half-way up the adjacent door-steps, and proffered her his fragrant freight. Eve deliberated for a moment, but the fruit was tempting, the act would be kind. As he stood there, he wore a certain humility, and yet a certain assurance, — the lover’s complicate timidity, that seems to say he will defend her against all the -world, for there is nothing in the world he fears except herself. Eve bent and broke a little spray of the nearest branch.
“ They are all for you,” pleaded he, — “ all.”
“ I have enough,” said Eve.
“ I brought them for the Signorina from the wood. Behold ! the tints are hers. The cream upon Madonna’s shoulder, — here ; the soft red flame upon her cheek is there.”
“ Ah ! I thank you,” said Eve. “ Good night.”
“ Scusi, — I beg that the Signorina take them.”
“No, no,” answered Eve, obliged to speak, and, hanging on her foot, half turned away, a moment before flight; “ why should I rob you so ? ”
“ It is not take, — but give ! Why ? Only that to me you are so kind. O quanta bontà! You speak the speech I love. You sing its songs. I was a wanderer. Jo era solo. Alone and sad. But since I heard your voice, I am at home again, and life is sweet! ”
And suddenly and dexterously he flung the boughs past her in at the open window, laughed at his success till the teeth flashed again in his dusky face, kissed both his hands and ran down the steps, singing in a ringing recitative something where the bella bellas echoed and reëchoed each other through the evening as far as they could be heard at all.
Eve smiled to herself, gathered up the scattered boughs, and went into the lighted room behind, where her gay companions clustered, appearing at the door thus laden, and with a blush upon her brow.
“Mamma,” said she, her lovely head bent on one side and ringed with gloss beneath the burner, “ the fruit is fresh, whether you call it cherry or ciriegia,” And straightway planting herself at her mother’s feet, taper fingers twinkled among shadowy leaves till the boughs were bare of their juicy burden, and they all made merry together upon the spoils of Luigi.
July was following June in sunshine down the slope of the year, and Eve, pursuing her pleasures, might almost have forgotten that an image-boy existed, had Luigi allowed her to forget. But he was omnipresent as a gnat.
As she walked from church on the next Sunday afternoon alone, gazing at her shadow by the way, she started to see another shadow fall beside it. In spite of Ins festal midsummer attire of white linen, a sidelong glance assured her that it was Luigi; yet she did not raise her eyes. He continued by her, in silence, several steps.
“Signorina Eve,” said be then, “I went that I might worship with you.”
But Eve had no reply.
“ My prayer mounted with yours, — may he forgive, il padre mio,” said Luigi. “ Ebbene ! It is not lovely there. It is cold. Your heaven would be a dreary place, perhaps. Come rather to mine ! ” For they approached a little chapel, the crystallization in stone of a devout fancy, and through the open doors rolling organ, purple incense, and softened light invited entrance. “It is the holy vespers,” said the boy. “ Ciascuno alia sua volta. The Signorina enters, — forse ? ”
“Not to-day,” answered Eve, gently.
“ Kneel we not,” then faltered he, “before one shrine, — although,” and he grew angry with his hesitation, “ at different gates ? ”
“ Ah, certainly,” said Eve. “ But now I must go home.”
“The Signorina refuses to come with me, then ! ” he exclaimed, springing-forward so that he opposed her progress.
“ Her foot is too holy! she herself has said it. Her eyes are too lofty, — gli occhi azzurri! It is true ; stood she there, who would look at the blessed saints? Ah! you have a fair face, but it is — traditrice ! ”
And as he confronted her, with his clenched hands slightly raised and advanced from his side, the lithe figure drawn back, the swarthy cheek, the eager eves, aglow, and made more vivid by his spotless attire, Eve bethought herself that a scene in public had fewer charms than one in private, and, casting about for escape, quietly stepped across the street. For an instant Luigi gazed after her like one thunderstruck; then he dashed into the vestibule and was lost in its shadows.
It was at midnight that Eve’s mother, rising to close an open window, caught sight of an outline in the obscurity, and discerned Luigi leaning on the railing below, with one arm supporting his upturned face. “ Ah, the sad day! the sad day! ” he was sighing in his native speech. “ Pardon, pardon, Signorina ! Alas! I was beside myself!”
And on the next twilight Eve stood at the gate, her arms and hands full of a flush of rosy wild azaleas from the swamps, bounty that had been silently laid upon her by a fast and fleeting shadow. She doubted for a moment, then dropped them where she stood. But a tint as deep as theirs was broken by the arch and dimpling smile that flickered round her mouth as she went in, laughing because this devotion was so strange, and blushing because it was so genuine. “Mamma,” said she, her eyes cast down, her head askant like a shy bird’s, “ I am afraid I have a lover!” And then to think of it the child grew sad. It pained her to grieve him with the beautiful pink blossoms she had dropped, and which she knew he would return to find; but better trivial sting than lasting ache, she had heard. And perhaps in his tropical nature the passion would be brief as the pair!.
The broad, bright river flowing past the town by summer noon or night was never left unflecked with sails. And of all who loved its swinging bridge, its stately shores, its breezy expanses, none sought them more frequently than Eve.
She had gone out one day with her companions—who, beside her, seemed like the moss that clusters on a rose-bud — to watch the shoal in the weir as the treacherous ebb forsook it. It was a favorite diversion of Eve’s,—for she always felt as if she were Scheherazade looking into the pools of her fancy, and viewing the submerged city with its princes and its populace transformed to fish, when, having entered the heart-shaped inclosure, she leaned over the boat-side and noted the twin tides of life whose facile and luminous career followed all the outline of the weir. For the mackerel, swimming in at the two eddies of the mouth, struck straight across in transverse courses till they met the barrier on either side, and then each slowly felt the way along to the end of the lobe, where, instead of escaping, they struck freely across again, and thus pursued their round in everlasting interchase of lustre,— through the darkly transparent surface each current glancing on its swift and silent way, an arrow of emerald and silver. Curving, racing, rippling with tints, they circled, till, warned by some subtile instinct that the river was betraying them, fresh fear swept faster and faster their lines of light, the rich dyes deepened in the splendid scales, and some huddled into herds, and some, more frantic than the rest, leaped from the water in shining streaks, and darted away like stars into outer safety. There the sail-boat already had preceded them, and the master of the weir, having taken its place, from the dip-net was loading his dory with massive fare of frosted silver and fusing jewel. As Eve and her friends lingered yet a moment there, watching the picturesque figure splashing barelegged in the shallow water, one of the droll little craft known as Joppa-chaises came up beside them, a fulvous face appeared at its helm, a, tawny hand was extended, and they left Luigi bargaining for fish, and stringing these simulations of massed turquoise and scale-ruby at a penny apiece.
What little wind there was that day blew from the southeast, and sheathed the brightness of the noonday sky in a soft veil of haze; and having made this pretty sight their own, Eve’s party spread their sail for tacking to and fro, meaning to reach the sea. This, for some hidden reason, the wind refused to let them do, and when it found them obstinate brought an accomplice upon the scene, and they suddenly surprised themselves rocking this side the bar, and caught in the vapory fringes of a dark sea-turn, that, creeping round about, had soon so wrapped and folded them that they could scarcely see the pennon drooping at their mast-head. This done, the wind fell altogether, and they lay there a part of the great bank of mist that all day brooded above the bar. Everywhere around them the gray cloud hung and curled and curdled; it was impossible to see an oar’s-length on either side ; their very faces were unfamiliar, and seemed to be looking like the faces of spirits from a different atmosphere ; their little boat was the whole world, and beyond it was only void. Now and then an idle puff parted the bank to right and left, their sail flapped impatiently, and in the sudden space they saw the barge that dashed along with the great white seine-boat heaped high with nets towering in its midst, the oars of the six red-shirted rowers flashing in the sun as it cut the channel and rushed by to join the fishing-fleet outside, — or they caught a glimpse of some little gunning-float, covered with wisps of hay and carrying its single occupant couched perdu along its length,— or, while they lunched and trifled and jested, Eve with her crumbs tolled about them the dwellers in the depths, and in the falling flake of sunshine laughed to see a stately aldermanic flounder, that came paddling after a chicken - bone, put to rout by a satanic sculpin, whereat an eel swiftly snaked the prize away, and the frostfish, collecting at a chance of civil war, mingled in the mêlée, tooth and nail, or rather fin and tail. Then the vapors would darken round them again, till, with the stray rays naught and refracted in their fleece, it seemed like living In an opal full of cloudy color and fire. Far off they heard the great ground-swell of the surf upon the beach, or there came the dull report of the sportsmen in the marsh, or they exchanged first a laugh and then a yawn with some other unseen party becalmed in the fog and drifting with the currents; and all day long, on this side and on that, the cloud rang with near and distant music, as if Ariel and his sprites had lost their way in it, the tinkling of a mandolin, the singing of a clear, rich voice that had the tenor’s golden strain, and yet, in floating through the mist, was sweet and sighing as a flute. The melody and the undistinguished words it bore upon its wings, delicious tune arid passionate meaning, seemed the speech of another planet, an orb of song, the delicate sound lost when at sunset the threaded mist broke up and streamed away in fire, but coming again, as if they were haunted by the viewless voices of the air, when star-beam and haze tangled together at last in the dusk of summer night and found them still rocking on the swell, vainly whistling for the wind, and slowly tiding up with the flood.
It was one of those days so long in the experience, but so charming to remember. Eve, with her wilful, fearless ways, her quips and joyousness, had been the life and the delight of it; now, chilled and weary, she hailed the sight of the lamps that seemed to be hung out along the shore to light them home: for their boatmen were inexperienced, and, though wind failed them, had not dared before to lift the oars, ignorant as they were of their precise whereabouts, and even now made no progress like that of the unseen voice still hovering around them. There had been a season of low tides, and when, to save the weary work of rowing a heavy sail-boat farther, it was decided to make the shore, they were hindered by a length of shallow water and weedy flat, through which the ladies of the party must consent to be carried. A late weird moon was rising down behind the light-houses, all red and angry in the mist still brooding over the horizon, the boat lay in the deep shade it cast, the river beyond was breaking into light, reach after reach, like a blossom into bloom. Two of her friends had already been taken to the bank; Eve stood in the bow, awaiting her bearers, and watching the distant bays of the stream, each one of which seemed just on the verge of opening into air impossible midnight glory. She heard the plash of feet in the water, but did not heed it other than to fold her cloak more conveniently about her, her eye caught the contour of a vague approaching form, and then shadowy arms were reaching up to encircle her. She was bending, and just yielding herself to the clasp, when the hearty voice of her bearers sounded at hand, bidding her be of good cheer; the adumbration shrank back into the gloom, and, before she recovered from her start, firm arms had borne her to firm land.
“Well, Eve,” said one of her awaiting friends, “is the earth going up and down with you ? As for me, my head swims like a buoy. I feel as if I had waltzed all day.”
“ Nympholeptic, then,” said Eve,—
“ ' When you do dance, I wish you A wave of the sea, that you might ever do Nothingbut that.’ ”
“ I thought they threw out the anchor down there,” said the other. “ Are they tying her up for the night, too ? How long it takes them! Oh, for an inquisition and a rack, — I am so cramped ! Eve, here, is extinguished. What a day it has been! ”
When up the immeasurable height
The thin cloud wanders with the breeze
That shakes the splendor from the star,
That stoops and crisps the darkling seas,
And drives the daring keel afar
Where loneliness and silence are!
To cleave the crested wave, and mark
Drowned in its depth the shattered spark,
On airy swells to soar, and rise
Where nothing but the foam-bell flies,
O'er freest tracts of wild delight,
Oh, sweet the flight at dead of night! ’ ”
sang Eve. “ Ah, there they are ! I am so tired that I could fall asleep here, if there were but a reed to lean against! ”
“ Appoggialevi a me,” sighed a murmurous voice in her ear, with musical monotone.
A little shiver ran over Eve, but no soul saw it; in an instant she knew the sound that had all day haunted the seaturn ; yet she could neither smile nor be angry at Luigi’s simplicity; with a peremptory motion of her hand, she only waved him away, and fortified herself among her companions, who, thoroughly awakened, made the night ring as they wended along. They rallied Eve, then grew vexed that she refused the sport, and kept silence awhile, only to break it with gayer laughter, elate with life while half the world was stretched in white repose. At length they paused to rest in the lee of a cottage that seemed more like a hulk drawn up on shore than any house, but matted from ground to chimney in a smother of woodbine.
“ A picturesque place,” said one of the chevaliers.
“ And a picturesque body lives in it,” replied another. “The beauty of the fisher-maidens. I have seen her out upon the flats at low tide digging for clams, barefooted, the short petticoats fluttering, a handkerchief across her ears, — and outline could do no more.”
“ I have seen her, too,” said Eve. “ Though she lives in the belt of sunburn, she is white as snow,—milk-white, with hazel eyes. She has hair like Sordello’s Elys. She is a girl that dreams. Let us serenade her till she sees visions.”
And Eve’s voice went warbling lightly up, till the others joined, as if the oriole in his hanging nest not far away had stirred to sing out the seasons of the dark.
Star after star sinks numbering, —
The laden wind at thy lattice sighs
To find thee slumbering, slumbering!
That love would fain be borrowing?
Soon youth and joy must fall like flowers,
And leave thee sorrowing, sorrowing!
Shake slowly into glistening,
Let her, O magic midnight hours,
In dreams be listening, listening! ”
And their voices blended so together as they sang, and the plunge of the sea came on the east-wind in such chiming chord, that they never heeded the old mandolin whose strings in humble remoteness Luigi struck to their tune. But mingling the sound of the sea and the sound of the strings in her memory, it seemed to Eve that Luigi was fast becoming the undertone of her life.
But Luigi was not to be abashed. Faint heart never won fair lady, he said to himself, in some answering'apophthegm. And thereat he summoned his reserves.
At noon of the next day, Eve, having run down-stairs into the room where her mother sat, stood before her during the inspection of the attire she had proposed as possible for an approaching masquerade some weeks hence. She wore a white robe of classic make, and over its trailing folds her bright hair, all unbound from the heavy braids, streamed in a thousand ripples of scattered lustre, the brown breaking into gold, the gloss lurking in tremulous jacinth shadows, tresses like a cascade of ravelled light falling to her feet, shrouding her in a long and luminous veil,—such “sweet shaken hair” as was never seen since Spenser and Ariosto put their heads together.
“ Come sta?” said some one in the doorway. And there stood Luigi, having deposited his tray of images on the steps, holding up a long string of birds’eggs blown, tiny varicolored globes plundered from the thrushes, bobolinks, bluejays, and cedar-birds, and trembling upon the thread as if their concrete melody quivered to open into tune.
For an indignant-instant Eve felt her seclusion unwarrantably violated ; she turned upon the invader with her blushes, and the venturesome Luigi blenched before the gaze. Still, though he retreated, a part of him remained : a slender brown hand, that stretched back in relief against the white door - post, yet suspended the pretty rosary ; and there it caught Eve’s eye.
Now it was Euterpe that Eve was to represent at the masquerade; and what ornament so fit and fanciful as this amulet of spring-time, whose charm commanded all that hour of freshness, fragrance, and dew, when the burdened heart of the dawn bubbles over wit h music ? Yet the enticement was brief. Eve looked and longed, and then hurriedly turned her back upon the tempting treasure, her two hands thrusting it off. “ Behind me, Satan ! ” cried she, tossing a laugh at her mother; and Paula, the stately servant who had followed her down, signified to Luigi that the door awaited his movements.
Then the hand quietly withdrew, and his footstep was heard upon the threshold. It was arrested by a sound : Eve stood in the doorway, gathering her locks in one hand, and blushing and smiling upon him like sunshine, whether she would or no-
“ You are very kind,” said she, hesitating, and fluttering out the broad, snowy love-ribbon that was to ornament her lute, “ but, if you please, — indeed ”-
“Indeed, the Signorina cares not for such bawbles,” said Luigi, sadly, covering her with his gaze. Then he turned, mounted his tray again, and went slowly down the street, forgetting to cry his wares.
Perhaps, after this, Luigi felt that his situation was desperate ; perhaps despair made him bold, — for, having already spoiled Eve’s pleasure for the day, that same evening found him in her mother’s garden, half hidden in the grape-vines, and watching the movements in thelighted room opposite, through the long window, whose curtain was seldom dropped.
It was a gay old town in those days, kind to its lads and lasses, and if the streets were grass-grown, it seemed only that so they might give softer footing to the young feet that trod them. Almost every night there was a festival at one house or another, and this evening the rendezvous was with Eve. The guests gathered and dallied, the dancers floated round the room, the lovers uttered their weighty trifles in such seclusion or shadow as they could secure, the voices melted in happy unison. Eve, with snowy shoulders and faultless arms escaping from the ruffle of her rosy gauzes, where skirt over skirt, like clinging petals, made her seem the dryad of a wild rose-tree just rising and looking from her blushing cup, Eve flitted to and fro among them, and, all the time, Luigi’s gaze brooded over the scene. Sometimes her shadow fell in the lighted space of turf, and then Luigi went and laid his cheek upon it; it passed, and he returned once more to his hiding-place, and the dark, motionless countenance, with its wandering, glittering eyes, appeared to hang upon the dense leafage that sheltered all the rest of him like a vizard in whose cavities glowworms had gathered. And more than once, in passing, Eve delayed a moment, and almost caught that gaze ; she was sensible of his presence there, felt it, as she might have felt an apparition, as if the eyes were those of a basilisk and she were fascinated to look and look again, till filled with a strange fear and unrest. It grew late; by - and - by, before they separated, Eve sang. It would have been impossible for her to say why she chose a luscious little Italian air, one that many a time at home, perhaps, Luigi had heard some midnight lover sing. Through it, as he listened now, he could fancy the fountain’s fall, the rustle of the bough, the half-checked gurgle of the nightingale, upon the scented waft almost the slow down-floating of the scattered corolla of the full-blown flower. The tears sparkled over his face, first of delight, and then of anger. Something was wanting in the song,—he missed the passionate utterance of the lover standing by the gate and pouring his soul in his singing.
Suddenly the room was startled by the ring of a voice from the garden, a voice that, outbroke sweet and strong, that snatched the measure from Eve’s lips, flung a fervor into its flow, a depth into its burden, and carried it on with impetuous fire, lingering with tenderness here, swift with ardor there, till all hearts bounded in quicker palpitation when the air again was still. For deep feeling has a potency of its own, and all that careless group felt as if some deific cloud had passed by.
As for Eve, what coquetry there was in her nature was but the innocent coruscation of happy spirits, the desire to see her power, the necessity of being dear to all she touched. Far from pleasant was this vehemence of devotion; the approach of it oppressed her; she comprehended Luigi as a creature of another species, another race, than herself; she shrank before him now with a kind of horror. That night in a nervous excitation she did not close an eye, and in the morning she was wan as a flower after rain.
This state of things found at least one observer, a personage of no less authority in household matters than Paula, the tall and stately woman of Nubian lineage who had been the nurse of Eve, and who every morning now stood behind her chair at breakfast, familiarly joining in and gathering what she chose of the conversation. Erect as a palm-tree, slender, queenly, with her thin and clearly cut features, and her head like that of some Circassian carved in black marble, she had a kinship of picturesqueness with Luigi, and could meet him more nearly on his own ground than another, for her voice was as sweet as his, and he was only less dark than she. Breakfast over, she took her way into the garden, set open the gate, and busied herself pinching the fresh shoots of the grape-vine, too luxuriant in leaves. She did not wait long before Luigi came up the sidestreet, his tray upon his head, his gait less elastic than beseemed the fresh, fragrant morning. Paula stepped forward and gave him pause, with a gesture.
“ Sir ! ” said she, commandingly.
Luigi looked up at her inquiringly. Then a pleasant expectation overshot his gloomy face ; he smiled, and his teeth glittered, and his eyes. Instantly he unslung his tray and set it upon the level gate-post.
“ Sir,” said Paula, “ do you come here often ? ”
“ Tutti i giorni,'” answered Luigi, scarcely considering her worth wasting his sparse and precious English upon.
“ You come here often,” said Paula. “ Will you come here no more ? ”
Luigi opened his eyes in amaze.
“ You will come here no more,” said Paula.
“ Chi lo,— who wishes it ? ” stammered Luigi.
“ My mistress,” answered Paula, proudly, as if to be her servant were more than enough distinction, and to mention her name were sovereign.
“ Who commands ? ” he demanded, imperatively.
“ Still my mistress.”
“ She said —— Tell me that! ”
“ She said, ‘ Paula, if the boy disturbs us further, we must take measures.’ ”
“ The Signorina ? ”
“ Her mother.”
“ Not the Signorina, then ! ” And Luigi’s gloomy face grew radiant.
“ She and her mother are one,” replied Paula.
Luigi was silent for a moment. One could see the shadows falling over him. Then he said, softly,—
“ My Paula, you will befriend me ? ”
Paula bridled at the address; arrogant in family-place, she would have assured him plainly that she was none of his, to begin with, had he been an atom less disconsolate.
“ Never more than now ! ” said she, loftily.
Luigi did not understand her ; her tone was kind, but there was a “ never ” in her words.
“ I should be the most a friend,” said Paula, unbending, “ in urging you to forget us.”
“ Ah, never ! ”
“ Let me say. Can you read ? ”
“ Some things,” replied Luigi quickly, his brow brightening.
“ Can you write ? ”
“ It may be. Alas ! I have not tried.”
“ You see.”
There was no appeal from Paula’s dictatorial demeanor.
“ Dio ! I am unfit! Ah, Jesu, I am unfit! But if she eared not — if I learned ”and he paused, striving now
for the purest, most intelligible speech, while his face beamed with his smiling hope.
“ Listen,” interposed Paula, with the dignity of the headsman. “ You have no truer friend than me at this moment, as some day you will discover. Come, now, will you do me a favor ? ”
“ Di tutlo cuore ! ”
“ Then leave us to ourselves.”
“ Not possible ! ” cried Luigi, stung with disappointment.
“ What would you do, then ? Would you wear her life out ? Would you keep her in a terror ? She has said to me that she must go away. It suffocates one to be pursued in this manner. You are not pleasant to her. Hark. She dislikes you !” And Paula bent toward him with uplifted finger, and, having delivered her stroke, after watching its effect a moment, reared herself and adjusted her gay turban with internal satisfaction.
Luigi cast his eyes slowly about him ; they fell on the smooth grass-plats rising with webs of shaking sparkle, the opening flowers half-bowed beneath the weight of the shining spheres they held, the brilliant garden bathed in dew, the waving boughs tossing off light spray on every ravaging gust, the far fair sky bending over all. Then he hid his face against the great gate-post, murmuring only in a dry and broken sob, —
“ C’ è sole ? ”
Paula herself was touched. She put her hand on his shoulder.
“ It is a silly thing,” said she. “ Do not take it so to heart. Put it out of sight. There is many a pretty tambourinetosser to smile upon you, I ’ll warrant ! ”
But Luigi vouchsafed no response.
“ Come,” said she, “ pluck up your courage. You will soon be better of it.”
“ Non sarò meglio ! ” answered Luigi. “ I shall never be better.”
He lifted his head and looked at her where she stood in the light, black, but comely, transfixing her on the burning glances of his bold eyes. “ In your need,” said he, “ may you find just sueh friend as I have found!” The words were of his native language, but the malediction was universal. Paula half shivered, and fingered the amulet that her princely Nubian ancestor had fingered before her, while he spoke. Then he bowed his head to its burden, fastened the straps, and went bent and stooping upon his way, repeating sadly to himself, “ And does the sun shine ? ”
A week passed. Part of another. Eve saw no more of Luigi, but was yet all the time uncomfortably conscious of his espionage. He was hardly a living being to her, but, as soon as night fell, the soft starry nights now in which there was no moon, she felt him like a darker film of spirit haunting the shadow. In the daytime, sunshine reassured her, and she remained almost at peace.
She was sitting one warm afternoon at the open window up-stairs, looking over a box of airy trifles, flowers and bows and laces, searching for a parcel of sheer white love-ribbon, a slip of woven hoarfrost that was not to be found. There was none like it to be procured ; this was the night of the little masquerade ; it was indispensable ; and immediately she proceeded to raise the house. In answer to her descriptive inquiry, Paula, who every noon nestled as near the sun as possible, responded in a high key from the attic a descriptive negative ; neither had her mother, waking from a siesta in the garden, seen any white gauze folderols. The three voices made the air well acquainted with the affair.
However, Eve was not to be baffled ; she remembered distinctly having had the love-ribbon in her hands on the day she first proposed the dress ; it must be found, and she sat down again at the open casement, intrenched behind twenty boxes of like treasure, in any one of which the thing might have hidden itself away, while her mother came up and established herself with a fan at the other window, and Paula, descending from her perch, rummaged the neighboring dressi ng-room.
On the opposite side of the street stretched a long strip of shaven turf, known as the Parade, yet seldom used for anything but summer-evening strolls, and below its velvet terraces, in a green dimple, lay a pool, borrowing all manner of umberous stains from the shore, and yet in its very heart contriving to reflect a part of heaven. Languishing elm-trees lined its edge, and beneath the boughs, whose heavily drooping masses seemed like the grapes of Eshcol, rude benches offered rest to the weary.
On one of these benches now sat a person profoundly occupied in carving something into its seat. If he could easily have heard the voices in the dwelling opposite, he had not once glanced up. Now and then he paused and leaned his head upon the arm that lay along the rail, then again he pursued his task. Once, when his progress, perhaps, had exceeded expectation, or the striking of a clock beneath some distant spire announced no need of haste, he laid down his knife, left his occupation, and came to lean against the low fence beneath Eve’s window and gaze daringly up. Eve did not see him. Her mother did, and held her breath lest Eve should turn that way, and, having directed Eve’s glance elsewhere, shook her fan at the bold boy. But there was no insolence in Luigi’s gaze. He seemed merely wishing that his work should be marked; and, having attracted fit attention, he returned quietly to the bench and the carving once more.
At length the sun hung high over the west, preparing to fall into his hidden resting-place that colored all the cloudless heaven with its mounting tinge. Luigi rose and inspected his work. Then again he crossed the street and stood below Eve’s window. It was a long time that he leaned with his arms folded on the bar of the low paling. Perhaps he meant that she should look at him. She had closed the last of her receptacles, and, dismissing the matter, for want of better employment, her scissors were tinkering upon a tiny hand-glass with a setting thickly crusted in crystals, a trifle that one clear day a sailor diving from her father’s ship had found upon the bottom of the sea, a very mermaid’s glass dropped in some shallow place for Eve herself, a glass that had reflected the rushing of the storm, the sliding of the keel above, the face of many a drowning mariner. Careless of all that, at the moment, she held it up now to the light to see if further furbishing could brighten it, and as she did so was hastily checked. She had caught sight of a dark face just framed and mirrored, the sad eyes raised and resting on her own, luminous no more, but heavy, and longing, and dull with a weight of woe. At the same moment, Paula, who had by no means abandoned the lost love-ribbon, cried from within,—
“Well, Miss, the lutestring has been spirited away, and no less. I’ve searched the house through, and nobody has it.”
“ Qualcheduno F ha” breathed a sweet, melancholy tone from below ; and they turned and saw it in Luigi’s hands, the frosty film of gossamer. He held it up a moment, pressed it to his lips, folded it again into his breast; and if it was plain that somebody had it, it was plainer still that somebody meant to keep it. And then, as if twin stars were bending over him out of the bluest deeps of heaven, Luigi kept Eve’s eyes awhile suspended on his despairing gaze, and without other word or gesture turned and went away.
Many days afterward, when it was certain that the little foreign image-vend er had indeed departed, Eve stole over to the bench beneath the lofty arches of the elm-tree, all checkered with flickering sunlight, and endeavored to read the sentence carved thereon. It was at first undecipherable, and then, the text conquered, not easy for her to comprehend. But when she had made it hers, she rose, bathed with blushes, and stole away home again, feeling only as if Luigi had laid a chain upon her heart.
I ears have fled. The little legend yet remains cut deep into the wood, though he returns no more, and though, since then, her
The circuit of the summer hills
Is that her grave is green.”
Rain and snow have not effaced its intaglio, nor summer’s dust, nor winter’s wind ; and if you ever pass it, you yet may read, —
AMOR QUE A NULLO AMATO AMAR PERDONA.