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The Red Shirt by Warwick Deeping

 

Young Sandro Sommariva came running up the lane that led between high walls to the garden of the Villa Sabina. It was growing dark, though a yellow sky still hung like a great curtain behind the cypresses on the hill. This dying radiance from the west played upon Sommariva's face as it struggled up out of the dusk. His red shirt was torn and grimed with powder, and his eyes still had a wild light in them, fierce, patriot eyes set in a lean and haggard face.

He reached the gate in the wall, the gate that opened into the villa garden, and he stood a moment, breathing hard, and looking down upon the city. Night was falling upon Rome, a tragic darkness, as though the city had covered her face with a veil of despair. The white walls of the lane ended in a kind of blue gloom, and out of the gloom rose the dome of St. Peter's, solemn, gigantic, vaguely symbolical. The sunset lingered over the bloody and war-scarred Janiculum. They were still burying the dead over yonder, Garibaldi's dead, the brave men who had fallen for a dream.

Sommariva stretched out a hand towards the city.

"Roma—Roma——"

He choked. His eyes filled with tears, yet there was exultation in his heart. What a fight they had fought! They had lit a torch of glory that nothing could quench.

He pushed the gate open and entered the garden. It was dark and still, a little world of quiet shadows, a pool of gloom lying about the white walls of the villa. She would be waiting for him, waiting to say good-bye.

He passed through an opening in a box hedge, and up a grass walk that led to the white pillared garden-house. Suddenly he paused; his body seemed to stiffen; he stood with head thrown back, listening. Voices came to him oat of the darkness, the voices of a woman and a man. The woman was speaking; he heard her laugh.

"Oh, yes, it has been a great spectacle. But I am tired, my friend, tired of being heroic. It has amused me; it has been like playing in an opera, with all these noble fellows shouting for death or liberty."

The man's voice answered her, a thin, sarcastic voice.

"And here I am again, thanks to our good friends the French! A reactionary, one of 'Bomba's' men. It is laughable. What tales you will have to tell us—of the great Garibaldi and his rascals. And you have been wearing a red dress."

"It amused me. And one little fellow fell in love with me; a patriot, a poet, a fire-eater. Such eyes, and such noble sentiments! Poor boy—he thought me wonderful!"

The man chuckled.

"You are very heartless, Lisa."

"No; I was very kind to him. He made love like a Sicilian. It passed the time."

Sandro Sommariva stood and listened, and his face was dead white in the dusk. He had crept into the garden to kiss a woman's hands, to take a dear leave of her, even though his heart remained in Rome. So she had been playing with him, amusing herself while Rome fought and suffered, perhaps selling their secrets to the enemy outside the walls.

He drew the bayonet from his belt and crouched as though he meant to steal upon those two. He knew where they were sitting, on the stone seat under the ilexes, where he had sat and talked of Italy Redeemed. Certainly he had thought her wonderful, but now——

He hesitated, and then jerked the bayonet back into his belt, straightened himself like a soldier, and turned away. If the woman had fooled him should he betray his wound? Good God! but the end was bitter, for he was young, and this love had been part of a sacred fire.

Sandro Sommariva, of the Garibaldini, left the Villa Sabina behind him, and in leaving it he abandoned something of his beliefs and of his idealism. The reaction was fierce and impetuous. He had been betrayed; all Rome had been betrayed; no woman was to be trusted; they had all been dreaming dreams.

He was very miserable, very contemptuous.

"Ah, the men—the men. I will die with the men. They are good comrades."

Now and again he broke into a run, his bayonet clapping against his thigh, as he held towards the Lateran gate. Other figures were moving in the same direction, figures that slid swiftly under the battered brown houses and under the shadows of the walls. The city itself was silent, grievously silent, as the stars began to blink in the summer sky. Now and again a carriage clattered over the stones, or a couple of Papal dragoons cantered past.

Sandro ran, urged on by the sudden fear that he might be late for that last muster. The outline of the Lateran Palace rose against the sky. He came out upon the open space, and saw in the dim light the red shirts of the Legionaries like a great pool of blood staining the ground.

What a picture! Sandro Sommariva stopped to gaze it in. Four thousand heroes gathered there, the men who had fought for Italy and Rome, a little army of exultation and despair. There were the Red Legionaries, the Lombard bersaglieri with their dark plumes, a few of Massina's lancers, and a crowd of Papal dragoons. People were standing up in carriages or crowding round the troops. Garibaldi sat there upon his white horse, with Ugo Bassi, the friar, his hair falling upon his shoulders, his crucifix in his hand.

Tears came into Sommariva's eyes, the proud and pathetic tears of the soldier. He loved them all, these comrades of his, staunch men, patriots, good friends, martyrs. It was good to be among them once more, to forget that woman over yonder who had mocked him in playing, with his love. Never again would he trust a woman.

He dashed across and pushed into the familiar red ranks.

"Luigi—Luigi!"

"Here—here I am."

"My musket—you have got it?"

"Yes. I was afraid you would be late."

"No; not when Garibaldi leads."

He took his musket, and gripped it passionately as though the thing of wood and iron would not fail him.

"Better than a woman."

Luigi said nothing.

In half an hour they had taken their leave of Rome, marching out to the sound of the weeping of women. It was to be a night march, secret, mysterious, a dash for liberty across the desolate Campagna. Enemies had to be tricked; the men tramped in silence, no one smoked; in Rome the secret was well kept.

Sandro swung along with Luigi, his good comrade, at his side, and Sandro was thinking the thoughts of a young man who had lost some of his illusions. He went with his head bowed as though he were weary, even the beloved musket on his shoulder was not carried with any pride.

Luigi watched him like a brother, big Luigi with the long black beard.

Presently he spoke in a whisper that was smothered by the tramp of the marching men.

"Cheer up, comrade; some day you will see her again."

Sandro's head jerked itself to attention.

"Enough; I have done with women."

"Why, what's amiss?"

"They are treacherous beasts. There is only one woman in the world to be trusted—Anita yonder, Garibaldi's wife."

Luigi laid a hand on his friend's shoulder.

"Ah, she has treated you badly. Never mind; we will march together, you and I, and we will love no one but Italy."

They marched on with linked arms.

"To the end of the world, Luigi, if needs be, we two with Italy in our hearts."

It was at Arezzo that the first disaster overtook the little army that was threading its way with desperate audacity through the many enemies that hunted it on every side. The rearguard went astray in the retreat, got itself lost in the darkness and the suburbs of the town, and so fell into the arms of the Austrians who were in pursuit. There was desperate skirmishing and confused hand-to-hand fighting in the gardens and the vineyards. Men got scattered in the darkness. The "White Coats" seemed everywhere, eager to kill.

A peasant driving his donkey down a path that ran along the edge of a chestnut wood came upon a little Red Shirt sitting under a tree with another Legionary stretched full length beside him. The sun was just rising, and the blue gloom of the woods was changing to a deep green. The peasant scowled, crossed himself, and hurried on. He might meet the White Coats down yonder, and they would give him money if he told them of the two Garibaldini who were waiting to be captured in that chestnut wood.

Sandro's face had lost all his youth. He sat there, staring at nothing, holding big Luigi's hand, a hand that was growing cold. For big Luigi was dead; a chance bullet had struck him; that coal black beard of his contrasted with the grey pallor of his face. He had lain down and died, holding Sandro's hand.

Sandro's world was in ruins. He had lost the woman he had loved, he had lost Rome, the Legion, Garibaldi, and now an Austrian bullet had taken away his comrade in arms. What was life but a mass of mockery and injustice? What were a man's ideals worth? Was there such a thing as Providence when a bullet fired by some pig of a German buried itself in such a heart?

Even that peasant, an Italian, had gone by scowling.

Sandro Sommariva freed his hand from the dead man's grasp and jumped up in a passion. His eyes lit up in his white, fagged face.

"Oh! very good, very good. Why should one trouble one's head about anything? As for life—it is an abomination!"

He looked at dead Luigi.

"And I cannot even bury you, my friend. Some pigs of peasants will come along and tumble you into a hole. I have a mind to go down into the town and give myself up. I can spit in the faces of the Austrians before they shoot me."

He stood irresolute, tragically hesitating. Then a flash of his natural audacity leapt up in him. He took off his plumed hat and stared skywards as though he were looking the Supreme Being in the face.

"Tell me, Eternal One, am I to believe in anything? Listen to me—a little fellow in a red shirt. I am not afraid to die, but I'll fling a challenge to life. Up in the north, in Piedmont, there are men who can call themselves free. Very well, Supreme One, I, Sandro Sommariva, will set out for Piedmont—openly—on foot."

He laughed.

"It is a jest, Eternal One! Bring me safe into Piedmont, if you can, and I will believe that there is a God who cares. Of course, I count on the Austrians catching me, but there you are, You can do as You please."

He put on his hat, stood a moment looking at his dead comrade in arms, and then strolled up the path with an air of boyish insouciance. He had become a fatalist; he had thrown down a challenge to the Supreme One; he no longer felt any responsibility; life was an absurd affair to be put upon its trial once and for all. He had left his beloved musket lying beside dead Luigi, such a toy had become superfluous when one had challenged the Creator to a game of hazard.

Yet it must be confessed that Sandro Sommariva started that mad pilgrimage of his as a pronounced sceptic.

"I shall be caught and shot before sunset," that was his conviction; "another spark gone up the chimney! Who cares?"

So he marched on, going straight across country, walking with a kind of insolent resignation, ready for any trick that Fate might choose to play upon him.

About noon he came upon a little old farmhouse standing among vineyards on the side of a hill. A stream blinked at the end of a strip of brown pasture, and there were willows growing along the stream. A couple of goats were browsing at the end of their tether ropes; they were the only live things Sandro could see.

He walked boldly up to the farmhouse and into the yard. An old woman was sitting on a stool in the rough loggia roofed with vines; she was patching some good fellow's shirt, and her crabbed hands were the colour of leather.

She dropped her work and stared at Sandro Sommariva as though he were one risen from the dead. And he took off his hat to her and calmly asked for food.

"Holy Mother! but what manner of fool are you, my child?"

She was staring at his red shirt. He explained himself with perfect serenity.

"Yes, I am one of Garibaldi's men. Some of us got lost outside Arezzo, and my comrade was killed by an Austrian bullet. I am going through Tuscany on foot, Austrians or no Austrians."

The old lady brought him food and drink into the loggia, some black bread and olives, and a flask of Chianti. She sat down beside him, and went on with her mending.

"There are no Austrians here," she Said; "you can eat in peace."

Sandro thanked her. The wine was good, and the old woman's kindness gave the lie to his new cynicism.

"So you are going through Tuscany?"

"I am."

"Then I will give you another shirt, or the one you are wearing will indeed be the colour of blood."

Sandro drank his wine, and explained the challenge he had thrown out to the Omnipotent One.

"It is God's affair. I have given Him an opportunity. I wash my hands of the business."

The old lady had shrewd things to say.

"You are too proud, young man. God may have sent you here in order that I might give you a shirt."

This was a new reading of the text, and Sandro had to acknowledge that there was some reason in it.

"But I was wearing a red shirt when I challenged the Eternal One to get me safely into Piedmont."

"You must not make it too difficult for God," said the old lady reprovingly.

The wine warmed him so pleasantly that he abated some of his high and mightiness, and even consented to take off that red shirt of his and to wear the one she gave him. They came near to quarrelling over the price of it, the farmer's wife protesting that she would take nothing, Sandro being ready to pay her twice its value.

They struck a bargain at last, and to clinch it the old lady stuffed half a loaf of bread into his knapsack. Sandro was touched.

"Truly, it was God's affair to send me this way," he said. "Will you give me a kiss, mother?"

She kissed him, and he marched off, feeling that there were some good people left in the world.

His subsequent adventures were less fortunate, and the Almighty appeared to be supervising the pilgrimage with very indifferent attention. At one farm the churls turned the dogs on him, and that new shirt of his suffered. Later he found himself in country that was infested by the White Coats, and on one critical occasion he had to spend half a day hiding at the bottom of a dry well. In one small Tuscan town certain busybodies came and cross-questioned him, and even threatened to have him arrested. Sandro's blood got heated. He pulled the red shirt out of his knapsack and flaunted it before their eyes.

"There you are, gentlemen, fine patriots, and brave Italians! Now run away and tell the Tedeschi that one of Garibaldi's men has been drinking wine in your town."

That red shirt proved a spark to tinder. The local democrats rallied to him; there was something like a free fight outside the inn where Sandro had been drinking his wine. His friends prevailed; they rushed him out of the town, and one of them shepherded him safely out of the district.

"Make for the sea coast," said this guide on taking leave of him; "you may be able to pick up a fishing boat that will carry you north."

Sandro took the democrat's advice, and that evening he saw the sun set over the sea.

He passed the night sleeping under a stone pine in the thick of a wood of evergreens, an armful of dry grass serving as a pillow. God Pan in the guise of a white goat pushed through the underwood and woke him soon after dawn. Sandro sat up with a shout, thinking the White Coats were upon him.

"Roma—Garibaldi!"

It was an heroic cry, and the goat, greatly disconcerted, fled away down the cliff.

Sandro Sommariva stretched himself and laughed.

"If one could but frighten the Germans away as easily. The swine are too fond of our country. Some day I may have the pleasure of running a bayonet into them."

When he had made a meal he continued that amazing pilgrimage of his, trudging along the coast and keeping an eye open for a sail at sea. He spent three days in that scrambling advance northwards, but though he saw no Austrians, he was out of luck in the matter of winning a passage by water. He passed through the Pisan country, avoiding Pisa itself, hiding by day and pushing on at night. The Duchy of Lucca lay before him; he entered it, and began to have glimpses of the Carrara mountains in the north. The Ligurian coast called to him; he began to believe that he would succeed.

Then the Supreme One had a fit of inattention. His eye was removed momentarily from the little trudging figure that plodded northwards towards Piedmont. Sandro had sighted White Coats during the day, and he had taken to the wild paths that climbed hither and thither along the coast. He was scrambling down one of these paths just as dusk was falling, when a loose stone rolled under his fool, and Sandro rolled with it. He went over and over down a half-precipice, crashing through thyme and broom, and clutching at the branches of the arbutus trees that grew in the stony soil. It was an abrupt descent into Hades, but he was brought up at last against the trunk of a dwarf pine with all the breath knocked out of his body. Moreover, when he tried to scramble up he found that his right foot would not carry him. He had either broken a bone or strained his ankle so badly that he could not walk.

Sandro Sommariva passed a very miserable night. He had to spend it where he lay with his back against the tree that had saved him. And when the daylight came he saw how very nearly the Supreme One had lost the game through that moment of preoccupation. Three yards beyond the pine tree the cliff broke and dropped bleakly to the blue sea below.

Sandro shivered. He discovered that life was precious to him in spite of his new-found cynicism. He wanted to live, to cheat these Austrians, and to follow Garibaldi again on some splendid adventure.

But that useless foot of his! What an execrable piece of luck just when he was within a day's march of Piedmontese territory! And he had no food in his knapsack, nothing but a piece of dry bread.

He ate part of the bread, and then decided that since the Supreme One had blundered so badly, he would have to extricate himself from this misfortune. Nothing useful could happen so long as he sat on the edge of this precipice with his back against the trunk of the pine tree, so he elected to crawl back up the hill and regain the path that he had abandoned so hurriedly. It took him half an hour to reach the path, and he was cursing that ankle of his wholeheartedly, and the rolling stone that had thrown him.

He made his way along the path. It descended gradually, curving away from the sea, and Sandro found himself in a wild and narrow valley cutting deep into the hills. A stream ran in a rocky channel at the bottom of the valley, a stream that had become a mere string of isolated pools. The sides of the valley rose steeply towards the blue of the sky; they were covered with a dense growth of arbutus, dwarf pine, heather, broom, and wild herbs, such as rosemary and thyme.

The place had a wild beauty of its own, with its glimpses of blue sea seen between the dark and twisted trunks of the pines, its masses of evergreen foliage glimmering in the sunlight. The pools in the rocky bed of the stream were green as grass and clear as crystal. The cliffs themselves thrusting out great bosses of grey stone in the midst of the foliage had a grandeur that was tranquil and unstudied. Landwards the narrow V of the valley was filled with the purple of the mountains.

All this was very pleasant and romantic, but utterly unpromising to a man with an empty knapsack and a wrenched ankle. The one thing the valley offered him was clean water, and Sandro made a crab-like descent into the bed of the stream, and drank from one of the pools, scooping the water up in his palms. The pool also served him as a mirror, and he could study the incipient black beard that was making a very virile growth upon his chin. He looked quite a picturesque ruffian, with that battered hat of his and a Bohemian head of hair.

Well, he would have to bind up that wretched ankle and make the best of the misadventure. He crawled along to another pool, took off his boot and sock, and plunged his foot into the cold water. As for a bandage, his shirt would have to provide it, that heroic red shirt that had seen the fall of Rome. He drew it out of the knapsack, held it up at arm's length, and surveyed that garment of glory with tragic regret. Plop! A stone had rolled from somewhere, leapt the bank of the stream, and landed in the pool at Sandro's feet. The green water expanded into widening ripples that flicked the rocks scattered about the margin.

Sandro's chin went up. His eyes saw something that astonished him. He sat and stared at this new apparition, still holding that red shirt at arm's length as though he were a pedlar offering it for sale.

A girl was looking down at him from the rough path that skirted the stream, a young girl with hair the colour of honey and eyes of intense blue. She belonged to the fair-haired Italian type, but her colouring was a peasant's colouring, and not the blonde pallor of a Venetian aristocrat. Her skin was tanned, but with the beautiful, radiant warmth of youth, as though the sunlight had covered it with a golden bloom. She was dressed in some white stuff dusted over with little red flowers; a red scarf was crossed over her bosom; her stockings were of sky blue.

Sandro stared at her, and she stared back at him as he sat with one naked foot in the water. Perhaps the Genius of the place had appeared in the sinister shape of a beautiful young girl.

It was she who spoke first.

"So you have come from Rome?"

Sandro fell into an immediate wilful distrust of her. Here was woman, the incipient feminine devil challenging him in this veritable wilderness. What did she know of Rome, and what business had she to come spying on him like this?

He considered her with cynical attention, and did not hurry to reply, and she accepted this reticence of his as an answer.

"You need not be afraid. I shall not betray you."

The male pride in Sandro Sommariva felt itself challenged.

"You overwhelm me, signorina. No doubt I was filled with terror when I looked up and saw you standing there. And perhaps you will permit me to breathe again."

His irony blew over and past her unnoticed, and those blue eyes of hers continued to regard him with supreme interest.

"You are one of Garibaldi's men."

She spoke with such naïve conviction that Sandro had no answer to give her for the moment.

"Indeed! You know many things. Assuredly—you are infallible."

"The red shirt betrays you."

He struck an attitude.

"Great Cæsar! is a man to be known by the colour of an old shirt? If there are any White Coats in the neighbourhood go and tell them that you have seen a man preparing to tear up an old red shirt in order to bandage his ankle."

She flushed sensitively.

"How dare you hint that I would betray you to the Austrians."

"My child!"—and he smiled at his own sententiousness—"a man of my experience can dare anything. Women have no terrors for me. I detest them."

She laughed, and prepared to come down into the bed of the stream.

"How you talk! Of course you have come from Rome. We know more than you imagine; news comes across the sea. And my brother Carlo was with Garibaldi."

She swooped down, jumping from rock to rock, her yellow hair dancing in the sunlight. And Sandro Sommariva stiffened himself suddenly. He had no intention of being made a fool of by a girl.

"There were three hundred and twenty-seven Carlos in the Legion," he said.

"My brother is Carlo Roselli. Of course, you knew him."

Sandro shook his head. He had a vague idea that he had known a Carlo Roselli, but he was not going to confess to anything and give the girl encouragement.

"There were four thousand men in the Legion. I knew no Carlo Roselli."

She looked incredulous, a little disappointed.

"How strange! And we have been longing for news. My name is Cesca; we live in the farmhouse up there in the valley, my mother and I. Carlo could not stay at home when he heard what was happening in Rome. Oh, if he has been killed!"'

She gazed at him so appealingly that Sandro felt embarrassed. But his fanatical distrust of anything in petticoats came to his assistance; he refused to be melted by her distress, or to be persuaded by those eyes of hers.

"No doubt he is safe enough. I lost the Legion at Arezzo—where the Austrians tumbled upon some of us. The rest have gone with Garibaldi—where, God alone knows! Leave dear Carlo with Garibaldi."

"You are a strange man."

"Not at all. I have sprained my ankle; I am in a bad temper; I have a crust of bread left, and I want to get into Piedmont. Execrable luck! I fell down the cliff last night. I think I told you that I detest women."

She was puzzled, and she sat down on a flat stone, refusing to be driven away.

"Why do you hate women?"

"Because they deserve it."

"Oh, come, that is silly."

He looked at her with eloquent pity, and began to tear his red shirt into strips.

"You are very innocent, my child, and innocence is a very dangerous companion. Now—for a more serious matter."

He prepared to bandage his ankle, and the girl saw that he was making a fumbling job of it. He seemed to be annoyed by the fact that she was sitting there watching him.

"Let me bind it up for you."

"On no account——"

But she was on her knees, authoritative, and she pushed his hands aside.

"Men are so clumsy."

Most certainly she bandaged his ankle better than he could have bandaged it, and Sandro watched her hands at work, and moralised upon the sympathetic officiousness of the feminine soul. He refused to recognise the girl's impulsive sincerity. She was a minx, a little Circe, playing those inevitable, feminine tricks. The lady of the Villa Sabina had cured him of any belief in such pretty, bubbling froth.

"There!"

She knelt back, very pleased With her work, and Sandro studied it with uncompromising candour.

"Not so bad, my child. I expect it will come undone in half an hour, but no matter. It is time for me to push on a little towards Piedmont."

"The paths are very steep and rough."

"Life is like that."

"And the Austrians are guarding the roads. Some of them keep watch at the coastguard station on the cape."

Sandro shrugged his shoulders.

"I have left thousands of White Coats behind me; I can cheat the rest of them. Now let us see how this ankle of mine will behave."

He stood with a certain swaggering confidence, put his weight upon his bandaged foot, and promptly subsided on the rocks with a little yelp of pain. His pride turned that involuntary cry into a string of full-flavoured and picturesque imprecations.

"Bones of Jupiter—toe of the Pope, the infernal thing is red-hot!"

"There, you see, I was right."

"Of course. Was woman ever in the wrong? It began with Eve."

"You will have to rest—for days and days."

"Like John in the wilderness. Thank you. But where are the locusts and the honey?"

She looked at him with intensely serious blue eyes.

"I know; the very place. There is a little cave up there, it used to be a hermit's cave; it is all hidden by shrubs. You can live there till your foot is strong enough to carry you. As for food—I can see to that."

He sat on a flat stone, rubbing that bandaged ankle of his and reviewing the whole situation with an air of sulky resignation. Certain facts could not be denied. He was crippled; he had no food; the Austrians were in the neighbourhood; he was at the mercy of this girl's tongue.

"Signorina," and he bowed to her as he sat, "it seems to me that I shall have to trust you."

"Of course you will trust me."

"It is my necessity. I promise you I have no desire to be set up in front of a row of Austrian muskets or to see the inside of an Austrian prison, pure prejudice if you like. As to this cave of yours——"

"I will show it you. You will have to let me help you. Put your arm over my shoulder; I will serve as a crutch."

He gave her a flash of his dark eyes.

"Oh, insidious one! Well, I will dare it."

He hoisted himself up, and she came and stood beside him, her sun-kissed face close to his shoulder.

"Lean your weight on me. You know you are quite a little fellow, and I am very strong."

"A little fellow! Thank you. I have marched my thirty miles in a day——"

"It seems so easy to offend you."

"Offend me! I am incapable of being offended by anything in petticoats."

She laughed.

"Now, put your arm over my shoulder."

He obeyed her, and she seemed to mould her supple figure to his, putting one arm about him and bracing herself to take his weight.

"It will be easy when we reach the path."

She helped him from rock to rock, holding him firmly, her honey-coloured hair lying on his shoulder. She was very strong and wonderfully surefooted, and Sandro Sommariva found himself leaning his weight on her with a confidence that surprised his cynical mistrust.

They reached the path.

"There—we managed that splendidly!"

She was triumphant. He glanced at her flushed face, and into her eyes that were so near to his, and a most human thrill went through him. There seemed to be a wild perfume in that hair of hers; her red lips were like ripe, fresh fruit.

He smothered this sentimental impulse, and forced upon himself an attitude of cynical and world-wise severity. Nature was the supreme trickster. The Apple of the Garden of Eden was no more than a girl's cheek warmed and tinted by the sun.

They made their way along the path till they reached a group of stone pines.

"This way."

She swung him aside along a still narrower path that disappeared into a thicket of evergreens.

"Mind your face."

They pushed through myrtle and arbutus and came suddenly on an upstanding face of rock bearded with ivy and climbing plants. A hole that had been squared up with rough stones served as a doorway, and two loopholes squinted like half-closed eyes on either side of the main entry. In front of the cave there was a stretch of short, sweet turf that had been kept green by the shade of the cliff and the oozings of a spring; one could get a glimpse of the sea from this little green platform, but the cave itself was screened by the underwood from anyone climbing the path on the opposite side of the valley.

Cesca left Sandro sitting on the grass and went to explore the cave.

"It is quite dry in here. If I fetch you some grass you can make yourself a bed."

She acted on the inspiration, and, adventuring forth, returned again and again with her arms full of a dry grass that grew on the hillside. Her labours on his behalf became an embarrassment to Sandro Sommariva. He began to wish she would make an end to it.

"There. I have furnished your house for you."

He looked at her with a certain whimsical impatience.

"Assuredly you are the good Samaritan. But why should you trouble yourself on my account?"

Her blue eyes met his frankly.

"Why? I do not know. I never asked myself such a question. Do we ask ourselves why we eat when we are hungry?"

He smiled.

"Just innocent and unconscious benevolence! I take off my hat to you, signorina; you bear fruit like an olive tree, because you cannot help it. Most of us ask ourselves how much money or fame the fruit will fetch if we trouble to produce it. You see, I am a philosopher. Well, go home to your good mother and tell her that there is a ragged rogue, one of Garibaldi's men, playing the wolf in this cave of yours. Perhaps she will send a boy with some polenta and a bottle of wine, and I will bless her. And so—good-bye to you."

She answered him instantly.

"I shall bring the food. There will be less danger for you."

Sandro nodded his head with sceptical resignation.

"Less danger! Oh, very good; it is God's affair. I leave it to Him."

When she had gone Sandro Sommariva crawled into the cave and explored his new refuge. It was just a rough, box-like chamber carved out of the rock by Nature and by man, with a rude stone seat running along one wall, and its floor covered with fine sand. Cesca had thrown her armfuls of grass down in a corner, and there was enough of the stuff to make a luxurious bed.

Sandro still had his bayonet with him; he had carried it hidden under his shirt; he pulled it out and thrust its point into a crack in the rock wall.

He stared at the pile of grass.

"What an adventure! Why on earth should she be taking so much trouble? I suppose it is a new sort of excitement. Women must have their fingers in everything."

The cave might be romantic, packed full of holy memories, and of the sanctity of the old gentleman who had mortified the flesh therein, but Sandro preferred the sunlight and the open sky. He crawled out, and sat with his back against the rock where the grass spread itself like a green carpet, and the arbutus leaves glistened in the sunlight. Lizards were sunning themselves and scuttling in and out of the ivy and creeping plants, and Sandro sat so still that one green fellow ran round his shoulders and down his arm to the ground.

It was a long day, but Sandro shortened it somewhat by curling himself up and going to sleep. When he opened his eyes again the sun had swung well into the west, and the full blaze of light was pouring down over the ridge of the opposite hill, and making the fringe of arbutus boughs blaze like silver.

A stone went rattling down the hillside below him. He heard a rustling in the bushes; the boughs were put back, and Cesca appeared with that glowing face of hers mysteriously exultant.

"You see, I have come."

She had a flask of wine under one arm, and she carried a basket covered with a white cloth. Sandro nodded his head gravely.

"I both see you," he said, "and realise that you are a solid body, and that you have wine in that flask and food in that basket. Of course, I am supremely grateful."

She went on her knees, put the flask of wine on the grass, and began to unpack the basket.

"White Coats have been at our farm. I had to be very careful, but they have gone back to Monte Celio."

Sandro persisted in behaving like a severe philosopher.

"And does your good mother know, my child, that you have come here to bring that wine and food to a scamp of a patriot?"

Her eyes held his.

"Of course. What a strange fellow you are! If my brother Carlo is a fugitive and in hiding somewhere, we know that there are Italian women who will take him food in spite of all the White Coats."

She uttered the words so simply, looking him straight in the eyes, that Sandro Sommariva's sententious scepticism crumbled into a sudden sensitive humility. The hot blood rose to his face. The half-sneering lines about his mouth melted away like shadows under the more generous glow of a chivalrous compassion.

He stretched out a hand.

"You call me a strange fellow. I have not given you a word of gratitude. Listen to me, little sister. I am so grateful that I forbid you to come here again, to put yourself in danger of being caught by the accursed Austrians. In a day or two I shall be well enough to hobble along somehow. I shall take my chance. But you are going to promise me not to come here again."

She knelt and gazed at him with a new expression in her eyes.

"No; I shall not promise that. I am not afraid."

"It is I, Cesca, who have the right to be afraid. Now, you will leave the wine and food with me and run home, and never come back again."

His man's eyes looked into hers, and she saw that his eyes had changed. There was a new passion, too, in his voice, and his face had softened, lost its harsh audacity.

"What has happened to you?" Cesca asked him.

"That might take long in the telling. Go home, Cesca, and promise not to come here again."

She shook her head, and her hair glimmered in the sunlight.

"No. You must stay here till your foot is well. I could send Giovanni, but I would rather trust myself. Besides, it is quite safe. The Austrians never trouble to come down this valley."

"Very well, I shall be angry with you."

"Then be angry with me. I shall not be afraid of you even if you are angry."

He reasoned with her, appealed to her, even threatened to crawl away in the night and risk capture, but when she left him it was with a provoking and frank faith in her right to help a man who had fought under Garibaldi.

Sandro Sommariva made a bed of the grass that Cesca had carried into the cave, and the sweet smell of it made him think of her drifting, yellow hair. He lay awake a long while, with the stars blinking at him through the black square of the open doorway. He had forbidden her to come again to the cave, but there was a secret hope in him that she would come.

And come she did, bringing her mother with her, a big woman with a soft voice and mild eyes.

Carlotta Roselli seemed amused at the adventure. She had that quiet sort of courage that does not rush excitedly to meet imaginary disasters. She talked to Sandro Sommariva as though he were her son, and Sandro threw all his male pretentiousness aside, and allowed himself to be mothered by her.

"I would have you brought to my house, but you are safer here. Cesca can bring you food."

The mother's eyes swept him appraisingly, and Sandro understood the look.

"You shall never regret it. But it would be safer to send a boy or a man."

"Our Giovanni has a foolish tongue. Women can keep a secret, even better than men can. Trust to us, my son, and we will trust you."

Sandro glanced at Cesca.

"She will not be in danger from me—but because of me."

"The danger is trifling. There are paths that no Austrian has ever trodden."

For a week Sandro Sommariva lived in that cave in the valley by the sea, and Cesca Roselli brought him his food. Sometimes she came when the dew was still on the grass, sometimes when the sun was sinking behind the hills, but to Sandro Sommariva her coming became the one and only event of the day.

She brought him a new mystery, something more potent than wine and bread. Her yellow hair flashed in his thoughts, and into her blue eyes he dreamed a new belief in the worth of women.

And very suddenly she became shy of him. The arbutus boughs seemed to pass less boldly; she would pause and call to him: "Sandro, are you there?"

He would answer her, raise himself up, and stand, hat in hand, waiting for her to come stealing out of the green shadows of the thickets. She would set her basket on the grass, and look at him with eyes that betrayed a new self-consciousness. Sandro always kissed her hand, a brown hand with long slim fingers.

A certain grave politeness characterised these meetings. Sandro behaved to her as though she were a great lady visiting him at his country villa. He brought out a bundle of dry grass for her to sit upon; his manners were the manners of an aristocratic young cardinal.

"It has been very hot to-day. How is the signora?"

She would answer him with equal gravity.

"Mother is in the best of health, but she is worrying about my brother Carlo."

"I begin to remember your brother, a tall fellow with a little pointed beard."

"Yes, that is Carlo."

"He went with us on the retreat. He is with Garibaldi, which is as good as being with God."

They would sit there talking in this solemn fashion, and looking at each other with solemn eyes. The wild valley was full of a new mystery, and Sandro had forgotten the lady of the Villa Sabina.

That ankle of his was nearly able to bear him, but he was much less eager now to reach Piedmont and liberty. He even temporised most shamelessly. The valley was wild and deserted; no one wandered along the cliff paths save an occasional goatherd with his goats; the Austrians, when they came down from the town of Monte Celio, followed the roads in the richer valleys where wine was to be had.

But someone else had discovered that there was a strange man hiding in the cave, a man to whom Cesca Roselli took food. Jealousy had prompted the lad Giovanni to spy upon the girl; he was but a labourer in Signora Carlotta's garden and vineyards, but he was a male thing with the hot dreams of youth in him.

The lad was cunning. On two evenings he shadowed Cesca down the valley, but it was not easy for him to get a glimpse of the stranger without betraying himself, yet his jealous curiosity discovered how it could be done. He made his way along the ridge of the hill and crawled down silently till he reached the edge of the cliff above the cave. By lying flat and craning his head forward he saw all that he had come to see.

Giovanni was sent to Monte Celio next day with an ass, whose panniers were laden with vegetables and fruit. Such stuff found a ready sale in the hill town, and Giovanni was tempted to play the Judas. An Austrian sergeant sat drinking wine outside the little wine-shop on the piazza, and Giovanni blabbed to the White Coat about the man hiding in the hermit's cave, but he said nothing about Cesca.

Cesca did not go to the cave that morning, she had brought Sandro food overnight, and he did not expect her till the evening. She had taught him to plait straw, and he spent the day plaiting some of the coarse grass into a pair of sandals to wear on the steep hill paths along the coast.

There was a strong wind from the sea, a wind that set the pines rocking on the hillside, and the massed foliage of the myrtle and arbutus rolling like green waves. The narrow valley was full of the sound of the rustling of the foliage, the whispering of the sun-dried grass, and the deeper roar of the pines. The sea itself had white flecks of foam chasing each other, and Sandro could hear the waves breaking upon the rocks.

The wind had made him restless, though there was no reason for his restlessness. He kept listening for the sound of footsteps in the path, and the rustling of the green boughs tantalised him by making him fancy that he heard Cesca pushing her way through them.

He had finished plaiting his sandals, and had tossed them into the cave when he heard a cry that seemed to rise out of the bushes like the cry of a wounded bird.

Sandro scrambled to his feet and stood listening. Vague sounds came from the path below, but they were half smothered by the rustling of the leaves. He cursed the wind.

"Let me go—let me go!"

It was Cesca's voice, quick and appealing.

"No, no; not that! Have pity!"

Other voices answered her, harsh, Germanic voices that bullied and threatened. They spoke in broken Italian, blurting out words as though they were hurling stones at her.

"You know where this cave is. Show us."

"What cave, signore?"

"No nonsense, you little witch! There is a man hiding there, and you know it."

"I know of no man."

"Then why do you carry food in a basket?"

Sandro heard them jeering and laughing.

"Come, be quick, where is the path?"

Cesca did not answer. Her silence was a refusal to betray him and an attempt to gain time, so that Sandro might slip away into the bushes and escape. But thought of escape did not enter Sandro Sommariva's head. He had a vision of Cesca struggling in the hands of those Austrians, those German brutes who could behave like devils out of hell.

"Hallo, Fritz, she is sulky, is she? A man can amuse himself with a girl who does not know how to behave."

They laughed.

"A fine young heifer. Tie her up!"

"We can report on her to the captain."

Sandro heard Cesca cry out like a bird caught in a snare. An unthinking fury seized him. He dashed into the cave, caught up his bayonet, and, rushing out, went beating through the bushes towards the path.

Those Austrians—there were but three of them—saw a little man with a stark, pale face and shining eyes come thrusting out of the green gloom. He had a bayonet in his right fist, and one foot was all muffled up in red bandages.

He paused, like a wild beast gathering itself to spring. One of the Austrians had Cesca in his arms. The girl's body was bent back, her face straining away from him, but he was kissing her brown throat with a kind of savage zest.

Sandro's bayonet flashed, but two muskets were swung forward, covering him, and he saw the grinning faces behind the black circles of those menacing muzzles.

"Hallo! we've tempted Master Boar out of his cave."

"Stand fast, my little one. That bayonet of yours is out of date."

"Gently with the girl, Fritz. The fellow heard you smacking your lips, and that was too much for him. Leave something for the captain."

Corporal Fritz let the girl go, pushing her from him with rough impatience, but he kept himself between her and the man with the bayonet.

"Hallo! Who the devil are you?"

Sandro had halted in the middle of the path, white with rage, and yet not too furious to realise the folly of rushing blindly against those muskets. The corporal looked him over, and grinned when he saw the red bandages round his foot.

"One of Garibaldi's rascals, the first we have laid our hands on. Don't pretend, my lad, that you are a beggar."

Sandro's patriot fire flared up, and blazed into fierce irony.

"I am one of Garibaldi's men, gentlemen; I shall boast of it to the day of my death. Do you think that I am going to snivel and tell lies to you Tedeschi? Let the girl go and send her home. She has nothing to do with this business. You can arrest me, and that will settle it."

They laughed.

"Just listen to the little cockerel."

"Hand over your toothpick."

Sandro was looking meaningly at Cesca. His eyes said, "Run, vanish, take yourself out of the way. This is my affair. I will talk to the soldiers."

She was trembling. Her face flushed a sudden crimson; she turned to the man who had kissed her.

"You will let him go. Why should you take him prisoner? What harm has he done you?"

They laughed. The corporal twirled the ends of his moustache and leered complacently.

"Come now, that is better. In a minute you will be running to kiss me."

"Cesca!"

Sandro's voice made her start and turn pale. His eyes frightened her, there was so fierce a light in them.

"Listen, and obey me. I never told you that I had been with Garibaldi; I deceived you and your mother; I traded upon your pity; I am sorry. Now go; leave me with these fine fellows. I can take care of myself without being whimpered over by a lot of women."

He turned sharply to the corporal and threw his bayonet at the man's feet.

"There you are. You are decent fellows; don't interfere with the girl. I told her and her mother that I was a wandering beggar of a student, and they brought me food; they knew nothing; leave them alone. Run home, child; this foot of mine will carry me; in fact, I shall enjoy the walk with these gentlemen."

Cesca seemed dominated by those eyes of his. "Go," they said, "and pretend that I am telling the truth."

She faltered, her lips quivering. Then she turned away; the Austrians stood aside and let her pass up the stony path.

Sandro saluted them, and his eyes shone.

"Thank you, gentlemen. Who wants to drag a slip of a girl into such an affair? A soldier of the Legion can stand on his own feet."

Two hours later Sandro Sommariva was climbing the mule path to Monte Celio, a grey, stone-paved path that hurt that stiff ankle of his. The corporal marched in front, the two privates behind, and the peasants they passed on the way stopped and stared at their ragamuffin of a prisoner.

Sandro carried his head high, and looked into the brown faces of these peasants.

"Viva Italia!" he said. "I am one of the red fellows, one of Garibaldi's children."

But the corporal turned on him, and the two soldiers behind prodded him persuasively with the butts of their muskets.

"Basta, basta, do you think these fools want to hear about Garibaldi? Perhaps the captain will let you make a speech when we put you up against a wall and shoot you to-morrow morning."

Monte Celio was a white town, but Sandro Sommariva saw it black against the sunset, its campanile soaring against a yellow sky. They marched in at the east gate of the town and up the narrow street between the pale-walled houses to the piazza below the castle. The castle was a rambling place with one grim, battlemented tower standing out against the sky. A few soldiers lounged at the gate. They bantered Corporal Fritz, and asked him if he had caught Garibaldi.

Sandro was taken across the courtyard, up a flight of steps, along an open walk at the top of a curtain wall. The corporal unlocked a door, and with a thrust of the foot introduced Sandro to his lodging for the night. It was a bare cell, not much bigger than the inside of a coach, and the iron bars of its narrow window cut the sunset into three red panels.

Sandro Sommariva sat on a straw pallet in a corner of this cell and watched the colour fade behind the iron bars.

"So this is the end of it all," he thought; "most certainly they will shoot me."

Then he smiled.

"They let the girl go. I am glad I told those lies."

But at the valley farm Carlotta Roselli sat in the vine-covered loggia and looked into the eyes of a child's tragedy. For Cesca had come running up the path between the cypresses, and had thrown herself at her mother's knees.

"They have taken him; the Austrians have taken him!"

Her hair trailed like a golden light over her mother's knees, and her blue eyes were wet with tears.

"He was so brave. He would have fought with them, only they pointed their muskets at him. What could he do? And then he told lies to shield us, and swore that we did not know that he had been with Garibaldi."

It was a child's tragedy, for Sandro Sommariva himself was little more than a boy. And Cesca wept out this newly discovered love of hers, holding her mother's hands, while Carlotta Roselli stared at the blue hills floating in a haze of gold, and thought of her own son who had challenged fate in this great adventure.

"They have taken him to Monte Celio, mother. Someone must have betrayed us."

Carlotta Roselli frowned.

"The good God makes us bear many bitter burdens. Why should our country be cursed with these Austrians? Some day Italy will be free."

Behind the loggia wall a boy lay flat on his stomach, listening. He had crawled there, noiseless as a lizard. And as he listened the grin of triumph left his face; his eyes darkened, his lips closed sullenly over his white teeth. Giovanni had ridden his jealousy, and it had brought him to shame.

Captain Goltz, who commanded the White Coats at Monte Celio, was at supper when the corporal went to make his report, a thick-set square-headed man with a brutal mouth and narrow eyes. Corporal Fritz stood at attention, waiting for his officer to speak.

"Got the fellow?"

"Yes, captain."

"Good."

Goltz was one of those men who eat savagely, as though his plate had insulted him and he were attacking it with his knife and fork. He made a great clatter, his elbows cocked well above the table, and he thrust out his lower lip whenever he raised a piece of food to his mouth.

"What is the fellow?"

"One of Garibaldi's rascals! Boasted of it, captain."

"More fool he; save us trouble. Locked him up, Fritz?"

"Yes, captain. The people have been helping him on the sly."

"What people?"

The corporal gave his version of the affair, dragging in Cesca Roselli and describing her as a "golden pippin." Captain Goltz's great jaw seemed to move more slowly, and his little eyes twinkled.

"An accessory, eh? Pretty wench, is she? Have her brought up here to-morrow, Fritz."

"Yes, captain. And will you see the fellow to-night?"

"Good God, man, no! To-morrow will do. I'll have the two of them up together."

It was Giovanni who caught sight of the White Coats coming along the road that led to the valley farm. He was driving a couple of cows down to the river pastures, and he left the beasts and raced for the farm with naked brown feet, sending up little spurts of dust.

"White Coats are coming!"

His excitement betrayed a guilty conscience and too personal a knowledge of the whole affair, but the women asked no questions. It was enough for them to know that the Tedeschi were so near.

Carlotta Roselli met them in the loggia. Corporal Fritz had been sent with six men to fetch the "golden pippin" to Monte Celio.

"What is it you want, sirs?"

Her placidity was well assumed; she carried herself as though she had nothing to fear.

Corporal Fritz spat on the stones.

"That girl of yours. Bring her out. The captain has sent for her."

Carlotta stared at him.

"But I do not understand."

"That's nothing, old lady. We have taken a prisoner, that fellow who was hiding in a cave, and this girl of yours with the yellow hair was feeding him and helping him to lie low. Women should not meddle. Fetch the girl out. The captain wants her as a witness."

Carlotta Roselli knew her own helplessness, and she knew the Austrians. It did not do to anger the beasts.

"I will bring her. I will come with her myself."

The corporal laughed.

"Twenty years ago," he said, "you might have made a fool of the captain."

Mother and daughter rode to Monte Celio, mounted on a couple of black donkeys, with the soldiers sweating behind them up the steep path under the glare of the summer sun. It was noon when they reached the hill town, and just within the eastern gate they passed Big Tommaso watering his mule at the stone cistern.

Now many years ago Big Tommaso had been Carlotta's lover. They had quarrelled, and Carlotta had married another man, but time had made them very good friends again, and Big Tommaso, now that his hair was grizzled, had some tenderness left for the love of his youth.

He stood forward, a big man, with his brown chest showing between the flaps of his unbuttoned shirt, his fine throat the colour of leather, his black eyes looking questioningly at Carlotta Roselli.

"What's amiss, neighbour?"

But Corporal Fritz jabbed at him with the butt of his musket.

"Out of the way. It's no business of yours."

Big Tommaso took the blow and the taunt with stolid patience. His eyes gleamed momentarily, but he did not speak.

When they reached the piazza Corporal Fritz called a halt.

"We will leave you the donkeys, old lady. Go and drink some wine at the inn, and then get off home. You are not wanted yonder."

"I am going to stay with the child."

Fritz grinned.

"I'll be a father to her. No, no, you are not coming with us; it is against orders."

Carlotta's face darkened.

"I shall not leave the town till I leave it with my daughter."

"Bless you, please yourself. You may have to stay here a few days. Do you think we keep a nunnery up yonder? You will have her back again when the captain has made up his mind that the little patriot shall be shot."

Carlotta tried to follow them through the castle gate, but the guard turned her back, and she and Cesca were parted. A small crowd had gathered in the piazza, and Big Tommaso was there, holding his mule by the halter. Carlotta led her two donkeys to the inn under the arcade; the crowd followed her, sympathetically inquisitive.

Captain Goltz was dining, and a siesta was not to be lost because the "golden pippin" had been brought to Monte Celio. Cesca was taken into the hall of the castle and left there quite alone. There was a sentry outside the door; she heard him humming a tune and rattling his heels on the stone floor.

The hall of the castle was a great, bleak vault of a place, with a barrel roof and narrow windows cut in the thickness of the stonework. Its whitewashed walls were all stained and peeling. A long table, hacked and worm-eaten, stood in the centre; there were benches along the walls, and another and smaller table at the far end with a leather-padded chair set behind it.

Cesca sat there on one of those long, empty benches, like a fairy in a giant's castle. The place chilled her; mere strands of yellow light entered the narrow windows; the silence was massive, sullen, threatening. For two hours she sat there, wondering what would happen, what they desired of her, whether she would see Sandro.

Presently she heard heavy footsteps and voices in the gallery. Corporal Fritz and several soldiers appeared, and they stood and stared at her as though she were a thing in a cage. Their eyes frightened her; they were the eyes of men who were brutally amused.

"Attention! The captain."

Captain Goltz strolled in, smothering a yawn. He paused, stared fixedly at Cesca, like a slave merchant appraising a slave.

She stood up.

"So this is the girl, corporal?"

"Yes, captain."

"Golden pippin! Not a bad name, eh? Bring the man in."

He walked on, and sat down in the leathern chair behind the small table at the end of the hall.

Cesca's eyes were watching the doorway. In a minute she saw Sandro brought in, Sandro who carried himself with the pride of a patriot. He was pale, and he limped as he walked, but the indomitable and divine fire in him had not been quenched.

He caught sight of Cesca, and instantly his whole face changed. He had striven to put fear out of his heart, but a new fear attacked him at the sight of this girl.

Captain Goltz was watching them with those narrow, cynical eyes of his.

"Well, my friend, what have you to say for yourself?"

They had marched Sandro up the hall, and he found himself standing between two soldiers and looking across the table into the hard face of the Austrian. It was a clashing of temperaments.

"Everything—and nothing."

"Very clever, very clever! Begin."

"I am an Italian. What more is there to be said?"

Captain Goltz smiled at him.

"So you were with Garibaldi?"

"True."

"A rebel, an adventurer, a traitor?"

Sandro shrugged his shoulders.

"Oh, what you please! I expect neither justice nor mercy; I do not ask for them. Some day the white swine will be driven out of Italy; till then—you can root at your pleasure."

The Austrian nodded with an air of cynical tolerance.

"Very fine, my friend, but mere bombast. You accuse yourself; you condemn yourself; I can see no reason why we should not shoot you. But before we put you up against a wall there is another matter to be looked into. You were planning to escape into Piedmont; you were helped by certain persons; they have rendered themselves liable to punishment."

Sandro rocked slightly on his heels.

"Let me confess, sir, that I told lies to these good people. I pretended to be a wandering student. They did not know that I had served with Garibaldi."

Goltz thrust out his lower lip.

"Bring that girl here; put them face to face."

It was done. They stood there within a yard of each other. Cesca's face had a mysterious, tragic radiance, but Sandro Sommariva betrayed no emotion.

"You can tell the officer, child, that I deceived you and your mother. I said nothing about Garibaldi."

His eyes willed her to bear him out, to carry the pretence through. He wanted to save her, to help her to save herself, but those trembling lips of hers yearned to tell the truth.

"Don't be afraid, Cesca; it is very simple. You brought me food, thinking that I was just a mad student on a pilgrimage, and that I had slipped and hurt my ankle."

She looked at him mutely. Then her lips moved; she spoke in a whisper.

"Yes; I did not know."

"Speak up, speak up! You did not know this fellow was a Red Shirt?" Goltz asked, harshly.

"No, sir."

Captain Goltz sat back in his chair and looked at them with half-closed eyes. He had a brutal sense of humour, had this Austrian; his astuteness had detected a situation that piqued his appetite for sensual things, and to open the comedy he pretended to be convinced.

"Very good. I suppose I must take the girl's word. And no doubt you young people would like to speak to each other. Take your men away, corporal. I have letters to write in my room. We will give these children half an hour."

They were alone in that great, gaunt room, with its bare benches and tables, and its walls that were like the human skin after a fever. Sandro did not move. He kept his place by the table, and his look betrayed a listening distrust.

"Sandro!"

She drew nearer, and in that dark place the sheen of her hair troubled him.

"Stay where you are, child."

"Why did you not let me tell the truth?"

"S-sh! Do you think I trust these fellows? That bully behind the table has something in that square head of his. Go and sit down on that bench—and say nothing."

"You are angry with me."

"Angry? How you dream! It is better to be hard—sometimes; softness may be treachery."

She stretched out her hands.

"But there is no one here. These walls are solid, and we can speak in whispers. You have been so brave—for our sakes."

He struck the floor angrily with his heel, but his mouth was quivering.

"Little temptress! Why will women make things so difficult? Go and sit down over there, and keep quiet——"

She turned from him, and burst into tears, yet for one moment Sandro's stoicism held. He shrugged his shoulders and began to walk up and down the hall, his hands in his pockets, his lips puckered up as though he were about to whistle a tune.

"Oh, you do not care! You despise me—because I let you tell lies and shield us."

She confronted him, her wet eyes passionately reproachful, and Sandro's stoicism was undone. He threw one quick glance at the two doors that opened into the hall, and then turned to her with a face that was transfigured.

"Cesca. I shall be shot to-morrow. Come and kiss me."

Her brown arms went round his neck, and her hair smothered his face.

"It is horrible. Perhaps they will not shoot you. Why should these Austrian brutes have the right to shoot you? If only Garibaldi had thousands and thousands of men, men like you and Carlo——"

He put her hair back with one hand and looked at her dearly.

"Oh, some day, some day! Perhaps you will see it, little sweetheart."

"But I want you to see it too. You are not cross with me, now, Sandro? Do you remember how cross you were that morning when I found you at that pool, and saw that red-shirt of yours?"

"Dear, not so loud."

"You said you hated all women."

"I had had cause to then. I do not hate you, Cesca."

"No!"

"By my soul—give me a piece of your hair. I will put it over my heart, and the sunlight shall go with me over the dark river."

One of the doors had been, opened cautiously, and Captain Goltz was standing there in the shadow, rubbing his chin, and smiling.

"Can I lend you a knife, Mr. Patriot?"

Sandro thrust Cesca from him as though she were Goltz's wife. He drew himself up, and his face was like a white flame.

"Come in, sir. It is better to stand in the open than to listen behind doors."

Captain Goltz walked towards them, his face smeared with a gleam of cynical complacency.

"So you knew all the time, my innocent, that this fellow had been with Garibaldi?"

He looked mockingly at Sandro.

"Very noble of you, my friend. You drove me to play the Solomon; you began very well, but the girl spoilt it all. Do not reproach yourself."

He stamped his heel on the floor, and his men came crowding in.

"You can take the fellow back to his cell, corporal. You will have a firing party ready at six o'clock to-morrow morning. Shall I send you a priest, man? Yes, I had better allow you that. I will see to it that you receive the last consolation."

The corporal laid a hand on Sandro's arm and swung him round.

"Come on."

"You can leave the girl, corporal; I have something to say to her. Come back for orders in half an hour."

Sandro was marched off with a man on either side of him gripping his arm. His last glance of Cesca left him with a picture of her standing like a cataleptic, her arms hanging limply, her eyes staring at him with a kind of incredulous anguish. His own helplessness maddened him; he had to set his teeth to save himself from breaking into an impotent frenzy of curses.

Captain Goltz sat down in his leather-backed chair. He looked at Cesca under drooping eyelids, that lower lip of his thrust out.

"Well, my dear, let us have a little talk together. Stand there by the table. Now I am going to be very kind to you, though you have been a bad girl. Do you understand?"

She stared at him in a dazed way.

"No, sir."

"I can put you in prison."

She said nothing.

"I can put your mother in prison."

"Yes."

"Very well, then. I am going to be very kind to you. Mr. Sandro is to have someone to console him; I am going to send you to him. Now listen—very carefully."

He leant forward with his elbows resting on the table, the forefinger of his right hand pointing at her like the muzzle of a pistol, and spoke with an incisive and threatening directness. At first she failed to catch his meaning; her innocence prevented her understanding him to the full. Goltz had to repeat himself, and his face seemed to grow harder and more brutal. He left her no chance of misunderstanding his meaning. Her eyes dilated. She looked at him with horror.

Words seemed to fail her. What could she say to this man, how could she appeal to him?

Goltz leant back in his chair.

"So you will obey me; you understand? In three days you will be at home with your mother, and I shall not trouble to have either of you punished."

Her lips moved, but no words came. She was as white as milk.

Captain Goltz stamped on the floor, and Corporal Fritz appeared.

"Take this girl and put her in one of the cells. At sunset you will move her to that fellow's cell. You will lock them in together for the night."

"Yes, captain."

"Post a sentry on the wall."

"Yes, captain."


The soldier on guard at the gate lost his temper with the woman; she had pestered him for half an hour and had refused to be driven away.

He called to a comrade who was sitting in the doorway of the guardhouse cleaning his musket.

"Kurt, hallo there! Send Fritz along; this is his affair. This fool will go on talking till midnight."

Kurt went for the corporal, and Fritz appeared in a full-blooded rage. The lieutenant had been sent to a neighbouring town with half the company; Fritz's sergeant was in hospital; he was the small man in authority, badgered to death.

"The devil, but what's wrong now?"

"The woman here wants her daughter."

The corporal discovered a victim.

"Thunder, you old fool, get home with you, and leave well alone. The baggage will be sent back to you in three days."

Carlotta Roselli flushed at his insolence.

"What right have you to keep her here?"

"What right! Haven't both of you been hiding and feeding that fellow? Well, he is to be shot to-morrow morning. To-morrow, the captain will have something to say to her, and when he has finished—she will be sent back to you. Don't grumble when a gentleman has his joke and lets you off so easily."

Carlotta Roselli said nothing. She looked at the Austrian with helpless scorn, crossed herself, turned, and made her way back to the wine-shop under the arcade.

Big Tommaso sat there at one of the tables, an impassive, mahogany-faced man with dreamy eyes.

All the passionate anger in Carlotta Roselli's heart seemed to flame up at the sight of him.

"If the Italians were men these things would not happen to us. Oh, my God! to have to bear it, while our men slink round the street corners or shrug their shoulders. I shall sell the farm and go to a new country."

Big Tommaso looked at her patiently, good-temperedly.

"What has happened?"

She told him, resting her hands on the table and looking at him as though she accused him and every man in Italy of being a shirker and a coward.

Tommaso drew patterns on the table with a straw that he dipped into his wine.

"Have patience, Lotta," he said; "wine for a hundred years is not gained at one vintage."

"Patience! That is how you men talk. The Piedmontese have had more courage. Why did not all Italy rush to Garibaldi? Patience! And my girl is over there—at the mercy of those German devils, and the boy is to be shot to-morrow because he had the courage to call himself a true Italian!"

"Pain makes you bitter, Lotta. I am neither a fool nor a coward. You shall come to my house. It may be possible to do something."

"What can you do?"

"And yet you rail at me. One has to think, to consider, and not kick out blindly like a mule."

His patience and his calmness had their effect upon her, and her face softened.

"Old friend, my heart is sore."

He nodded his big head.

"Follow me—presently. They had better not see us together. Take the steps leading up from the lane by the big water cistern."

Now Monte Celio was a hill town that had flowed over and about a world of rocks and stony plateaux. It was irregular, circuitous, ascending steeply or descending with picturesque abruptness. Some of the houses were fitted like bits of mosaic into the solid rock. Its lanes and streets wound up and down and in and out, and flights of interminable steps went climbing like stone ladders into the blue of the sky.

The tiled roof of Big Tommaso's house was on the same level as his garden, that was how things settled themselves in Monte Celio. Moreover, his garden, with its clump of cypresses, its fig and fruit trees and vines, all crowded together with quaint compactness, lay at the foot of the castle wall, and this wall was not more than twenty feet high. Big Tommaso knew a great deal more about the castle of Monte Celio than the Austrians suspected. A man cannot work in his garden, and sit under his vine trellis, year in year out, without learning something about his neighbours on the other side of the wall.

Big Tommaso was a bachelor; a very old woman, who was stone deaf, kept house for him, and when Carlotta Roselli knocked at his door he opened it himself, and led the way to a room, or parlour, that overlooked the red roofs of the town. He pointed to a chair.

"You can rest there, Lotta. Do not show yourself at the window. I have work to do in my garden."

"Is that how you help me, by working in your garden?"

"The Austrians and I are near neighbours. Sometimes I hear things from up above. I am a quiet fellow, but I keep my ears open."

"Ah! Of course; I had forgotten. Forgive me, Tommaso. The wine has turned sour in me to-day."

He left her there and climbed the steep steps that led up to his garden. He did not raise his head or lift his eyes to look up at the castle wall, but went straight to the shed where he kept his tools, took off his coat, brought out a spade, and started to dig a strip of ground with the methodical purposefulness of a man who had no thoughts above the work in hand. He kept on with his digging for an hour or more, sometimes stopping to rest, leaning on his spade. Once or twice he threw a cautious side glance at the top of the castle wall, and Big Tommaso saw something that was distinctly suggestive. A soldier's shako, and the barrel of a musket kept going to and fro above the parapet. A sentry there, and that was significant.

As the sun sank low in the west Tommaso put on his coat, and went and sat in the vine arbour that he had built at the foot of the wall.

Presently the dream died out of Big Tommaso's eyes. Voices came from above, and they brought him back to practical and mundane things. He sat and listened. It was a still evening, and the words from the top of the wall came down to him quite clearly. There were other sounds to help him to a conclusion, the grounding of musket butts on the stones, the grating squeak of rusty hinges, a rough voice making a mock of someone, and then the slamming and locking of a door.

Big Tommaso remained in the arbour till it was dark. He did not want the sentry fellow up above to see him cross the garden to his house. In an hour or so a moon would be rising, and the moon might prove either an enemy or a friend.

Hanging on the wall of Big Tommaso's house were two light ladders that he used for fruit picking and pruning his trees. He lifted them down, carried them up into the garden, and screened behind the group of cypresses he lashed the two ladders firmly together with a length of rope.

Then Big Tommaso returned to the house to tell Carlotta Roselli what might be done by a man of craft and courage.


Sandro Sommariva was sitting on the pallet bed in his room staring at the window, whose black bars cut the sunset into lengths of gold. The colour made him think of Cesca's hair, and the thought of Cesca tortured him. What would they do with her?

So they were going to shoot him to-morrow morning. He realised it in a kind of muffled, impersonal way; and he was surprised that he did not fear death more, that lonely death with no zest of battle to hearten it. He would look those Austrians straight in the eyes; he would refuse to be blindfolded; he would teach them to respect a man who had followed Garibaldi.

The sentry was tramping to and fro along the wall outside his door. The light began to pale beyond the bars of the window.

Sandro straightened as he sat. He heard voices, a jeering laugh. Footsteps approached; a key was pushed into the lock, and the door thrust open.

Corporal Fritz stood there.

"Hallo! You wanted a priest. Here's something better. You can confess all right, and make her give you absolution."

The corporal was holding a strand of yellow hair. Laughing, he drew Cesca towards him, thrust her into the cell, and locked the door.

"Good night, you Red Shirt. Enjoy yourself. We will come for you at dawn."

Sandro had started up from his bed, and his eyes looked questioningly at Cesca. What did it mean?

"Cesca!"

She stood just within the door, leaning against the wall, mute and dazed. Her eyes avoided his. All that frank innocence of hers seemed to have left her; she had become conscious of some possible shame.

"Why have they brought you here?"

She covered her face with her hands, and would not answer him. He began to understand.

"Cesca!"

He had her in his arms, her head resting upon his shoulder, but she was limp and lifeless, as though all the pride had gone out of her heart.

"These devils! They have been frightening you. If only we had the power to be revenged."

She clung to him with sudden passion.

"How can I tell you! He is a devil—that captain. It amuses him to torture us."

"Tell me. I love you, child. And all this has happened because of me."

She hid her face against his shoulder and whispered to him between deep, tragic breaths. Sandro's arms tightened about her; his face grew grim; the pupils of his eyes showed red.

"The devil! If I could get at that fellow! The devil!"

His fury was followed by a surge of tenderness.

"Cesca, forgive me for this."

He lifted her face and kissed her mouth and closed lids.

"Sandro, I do not want to live. If only we had a knife."

"Cesca!"

"Here—here—I have a scarf. Put it round my neck. It will soon be over; don't be afraid."

He shook at the knees, and there was horror in his eyes.

"Do that? My God, child! I cannot."

"Yes—yes."

"One stroke of a knife—that might be easy. But to choke you! I cannot."

"But you love me?"

"Cesca—have pity."

It was she who had to comfort him.

"Poor Sandro, I am cruel. No, no, I will not ask you to do it. I will bear everything; I will go back to my mother, perhaps that will show more courage."

He led her to the pallet bed, and they sat there like children, holding each other close, speaking in whispers. The light died out of the cell; the window changed from gold to the colour of steel. Their faces grew dim and grey in the dusk.

Cesca put up a hand and began to stroke Sandra's face. He was miserable, heart-broken, holding himself to be responsible for all that had happened.

"Poor Sandro. You take it so to heart. But was it not my fault in the beginning? You tried to send me away. You tried to deceive them. Do you think of me; but I shall think of you always."

"Oh, my God! if we could only cheat these White Coats, you and I. Just that locked door—and a prowling sentry between us—and life! Does one want to die when love has come?"

He jumped up and raged about the cell, threw himself against the door, hammered at it with his fists. The noise he made brought the sentry to the spot.

"Hallo, in there! What's all this row?"

"You Austrian pig, open the door and I will choke you."

The man laughed derisively.

"Has the little cat shown her claws?"

Cesca glided up to Sandro, put an arm about him, and laid her cheek against his shoulder.

"Don't—don't! They only mock at us. I will stand by you to-morrow, Sandro—if they will let me—and hold your hand."

He turned and caught her to him fiercely.

"Yes. What a fool I am to lose my temper with these savages. I'll carry my head high; I'll smile in their faces; they shall not have the pleasure of seeing me flinch."

They went and stood together at the open window; they could see nothing but the sky, for Monte Celio fell away so steeply, and the window was high up in the wall. A few stars throbbed in the blue blackness of the summer night; as yet the moon had not risen; the cell was very dark.

Cesca's hand stole into Sandro's.

"If only we could forget to-morrow."

Her warm touch troubled him, made him draw his breath more deeply.

"Perhaps I love you better because of to-morrow."

Her warm touch troubled him.

"I am yours, Sandro. I want to think of myself always as belonging to you."

Just before the moon rose a figure crossed Big Tommaso's garden, a figure carrying something that looked like a long beam on its shoulder.

Big Tommaso laid his double ladder down at the foot of the wall, and at the same moment the sentry up above thrust his head and shoulders through an embrasure and yawned as though he meant to swallow the whole town.

Tommaso kept very still.

"That's right," he thought, "if only that fellow will go to sleep I shall be able to do something."

When the sentry drew back, and began to patrol the wall again, Big Tommaso slipped into his arbour and sat down on the bench to wait.

The night was very still, though down in the lower vineyards a couple of dogs were baying the moon. Big Tommaso had made himself a loophole through which he could keep a watch on the sharp, black outline of the top of the wall, but in this adventure his ears carried the chief responsibility. It was a matter of patient and cautious waiting for a chance that might never come.

For an hour or more the sentry up above continued to give signs of animation by occasional pacings to and fro, prodigious yawns, or the whistling of a song. Then these sounds ceased. For fully half an hour Big Tommaso remained hidden in his shelter, listening like a cat for the nibblings of a mouse.

He had stuck a narrow-bladed pruning saw, a big auger, and a hatchet into his belt, and he was no more than a gliding shadow as he slipped out of the vine arbour. For a minute he stood listening. Then he lifted the ladder, and here his great strength served him, and placed it noiselessly against the wall. The top reached just below the edge of the parapet.

Big Tommaso climbed it, his naked feet making no sound upon the rungs, and paused when his eyes reached the level of the parapet. His right hand went to his girdle and pulled out the short axe, a useful club in a strong hand.

He could hear nothing, see nothing. Very cautiously he mounted the parapet, straddled it, and, leaning over, peered along the walk that ran along the top of the wall. Two legs thrust out of an embrasure not three yards from him were wholly suggestive. The sentry had put his musket against the wall, stretched himself in the embrasure and gone to sleep.

Big Tommaso came down from the wall like a cat, crept along in the shadow, and thrust a hand into the embrasure. That axe of his went up; he used the hammer end and not the edge, being a merciful man, content to stun his enemy and put him out of the way of interference. And Big Tommaso did the job cleanly and well; there was a momentary jerking of the sentry's legs, but he did not utter a sound.

It was Cesca who heard a cautious knocking at the door, and someone whispering through the keyhole:

"Sandro, Sandro Sommariva!"

She ran to the door and answered.

"Who is it?"

"Big Tommaso."

Cesca gave a low cry.

"We are here—Sandro and I. Oh, save us, Tommaso!"

"That's what I am here for," he answered softly.

Big Tommaso set to work with that auger of his and bored two holes in the woodwork so that he could use his narrow-bladed saw. Sandro and Cesca knew what the sound of sawing meant. They stood close together, gripping hands, tantalised by hope.

Now and again Big Tommaso stopped to listen, and to dash olive oil from a flask he carried over the woodwork and the saw. In a few minutes he had cut out the lock, and a shaft of moonlight streamed through and touched Cesca's dress.

Big Tommaso thrust the door open, and Cesca's arms went round his neck.

"Tommaso, you have saved us."

"Quick, come along, youngsters. I guessed you might be in here, child. Now, no talking."

He led the way along the wall, and when he came to where the ladder stood, he picked Cesca up and set her on the wall. Straddling the parapet beside her, he helped her on to the ladder, and then steadied it with one hand.

"Now, friend Sandro."

Sandro followed the girl. They found themselves in Big Tommaso's garden, and Big Tommaso joined them like a giant out of the sky. He lowered the ladder, balanced it on his shoulder, and led the way towards the house.

Someone was waiting at the foot of the steps, and Cesca ran into her mother's arms. They clung to each other, while Sandro helped Tommaso to lower the ladder into the deep passage at the back of the house.

But Big Tommaso was a man of action when once that dreamy brain of his had begun to work; he had thought things out, and had made his preparations; nor was there any time to be lost. He clapped Sandro on the shoulder.

"We must get you and the girl out of Monte Celio. Come. Cesca knows the paths. You must make for Piedmont along the coast."

"But what will happen to you, my friend?"

"Why should anything happen to me? Why should the Austrians find out who has fooled them? And even if they discover the truth—I am not so young as I was—I should shrug my shoulders. God will have no quarrel with me."

His old deaf housekeeper was asleep in the attic, and Big Tommaso shepherded the two women out of the house, telling them to wait in the lane and keep in the shadow.

"Come here, Sandro Sommariva."

They had to grope their way in the darkness, but Big Tommaso had laid everything ready on the table in his living-room. There was a clinking of coins. Sandro felt a little bag of money pressed into his hand.

"Take it; I have plenty."

"You are too generous, Tommaso. I shall not forget."

"And these; they might be useful."

He passed Sandro a pistol and a stiletto.

"Good. And here is a bundle of food and my coil of rope. Come along."

He locked the door, and they joined the women. Tommaso made a gesture with his hand; they understood that they were to follow him and to keep in the shadow of the houses. Monte Celio was asleep; the moonlight alone lit the windows.

Tommaso led them to the little piazza, in front of the church of Santa Maria that stood on the town wall. A lane ran at the bottom of the wall, with chestnut woods beyond it.

Tommaso uncoiled the rope, knotted one end and threw it over.

"Now, child, you are not afraid?"

Cesca threw her arms round his neck.

"No, no. I love you—brave Tommaso."

Mother and child kissed each other.

"Sandro will take care of me."

"Yes; I will trust you to Sandro. I shall sell the farm and follow you."

"And perhaps Tommaso will come too."

Big Tommaso smiled.

"Perhaps," he said.

Cesca went down the rope as glibly as a boy; Sandro followed her, after kissing Carlotta Roselli.

"Trust her to me, mother. I love her better than life."

Big Tommaso and Carlotta were left standing alone in the moonlight that flooded the piazza. He looked at her dreamily.

She stretched out a hand to him.

"Am I forgiven, Tommaso, for my bitter words?"

"I have forgotten them."

"You are generous. If I sell the farm and follow those two children——"

"I dare say I could go with you, if you will have me," he answered.

There was a short silence. Then Tommaso spoke.

"You must go home to-night, Lotta. It is better that they should not find you in Monte Celio to-morrow."

"I am not too old to do what Cesca has done. God bless you, Tommaso," she said.

Big Tommaso went back to his house, a romantic old fellow with his head full of dreams.


The amazing thing was that Sandro Sommariva forgot all about that sprained ankle of his, and made a night march that would have filled the Legion itself with complacency. Cesca was at his side, a Cesca all tremulous with hope and eagerness, her eyes and hair shining in the light of the moon. All night they pressed on towards the north-east.

Dawn came, and caught them in the trough of a great green valley, where a white campanile rose above the chestnut woods and the groves of olives. The hills were all purple about them, and down the midst of the valley a river flashed.

They threw themselves down in a wood, weary, but very happy.

They made a meal, blessing Tommaso for his forethought, and then Sandro fell asleep with his head in Cesca's lap, and Cesca herself went to sleep, leaning against the trunk of a chestnut tree.

It was broad day when Cesca woke. She yawned, tossed her hair back, and then bent half laughingly over Sandro, who had opened his eyes and was looking up into her face.

"Hallo!"

He scrambled up, and knelt, holding her hands. They kissed.

"To march all night and sleep half the day. Where are we, I wonder?"

A road ran beside the river down there in the valley, and Cesca saw a column of dark figures moving along the road.

"See, there is a procession—or a funeral."

He stood up, shading his eyes with his hand. His face sharpened; then he gave a kind of triumphant and astonished laugh.

"A funeral! Those are soldiers."

"Soldiers! But they are not White Coats?"

"White Coats—White Coats! They are Italians—Piedmontese! We are over the Border, we are free!"

She jumped up and threw her arms about his neck.

"Oh, if all Italy were like this. Not a White Coat to be seen."

He kissed her red mouth and her warm, sun-browned face.

"Why, here we are, in Arcady, you and I, in a valley, a piece of Italy. Listen to the bells too. And look at that white campanile down there. Surely that church was built for us to be married in! Let us go at once—like good children—and ask the good padre to help us."

She looked at him shyly through her hair.

"It will be a beggars' wedding, Sandro."

"Why, bless me, are not beggars the happiest people in the world? Besides, you don't know what a clever fellow you are marrying. Some day people will speak of me as Il Maestro."

Nor was this an idle boast, for the new Italy was to thrill to Sandro Sommariva's songs.

 
 
 

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