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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
"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
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
"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
"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
"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
"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
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?"
"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
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
They struck a bargain at last, and to clinch it the old lady
stuffed half a loaf of bread into his knapsack. Sandro was
"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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
"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
"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
"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
"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
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
"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,
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
"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
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
"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
"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
"It seems so easy to offend you."
"Offend me! I am incapable of being offended by anything in
"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
"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
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
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
"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?"
"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
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
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
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
"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
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
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
"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
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
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
"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
"I begin to remember your brother, a tall fellow with a little
"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
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
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
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."
"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
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
"Gently with the girl, Fritz. The fellow heard you smacking your
lips, and that was too much for him. Leave something for the
Corporal Fritz let the girl go, pushing her from him with rough
impatience, but he kept himself between her and the man with the
"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
"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."
"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
"Come now, that is better. In a minute you will be running to
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
"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
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
"Viva Italia!" he said. "I am one of the red fellows, one of
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
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
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
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
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?"
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."
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
"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
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
"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
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
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
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
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
"What's amiss, neighbour?"
But Corporal Fritz jabbed at him with the butt of his
"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."
"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
"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
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
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
"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?"
"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
"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.
"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?"
"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
"Yes; I did not know."
"Speak up, speak up! You did not know this fellow was a Red
Shirt?" Goltz asked, harshly.
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
"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.
She drew nearer, and in that dark place the sheen of her hair
"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
"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
"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
He put her hair back with one hand and looked at her dearly.
"Oh, some day, some day! Perhaps you will see it, little
"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."
"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
One of the doors had been, opened cautiously, and Captain Goltz
was standing there in the shadow, rubbing his chin, and
"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
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
He stamped his heel on the floor, and his men came crowding
"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
"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.
"I can put you in prison."
She said nothing.
"I can put your mother in prison."
"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
Her lips moved, but no words came. She was as white as milk.
Captain Goltz stamped on the floor, and Corporal Fritz
"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."
"Post a sentry on the wall."
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
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
"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
"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
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
"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
"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
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
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
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
"Good night, you Red Shirt. Enjoy yourself. We will come for you
Sandro had started up from his bed, and his eyes looked
questioningly at Cesca. What did it mean?
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
"Why have they brought you here?"
She covered her face with her hands, and would not answer him.
He began to understand.
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
"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
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."
"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."
"One stroke of a knife—that might be easy. But to choke
you! I cannot."
"But you love me?"
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
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
"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
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
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
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?"
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
"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
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
"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
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
"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
"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
"I dare say I could go with you, if you will have me," he
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
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.
He scrambled up, and knelt, holding her hands. They kissed.
"To march all night and sleep half the day. Where are we, I
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
She jumped up and threw her arms about his neck.
"Oh, if all Italy were like this. Not a White Coat to be
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.