Ebooks, Fiction, Non-Fiction 1000s of Free books and stories online to read now ~ Main Page

 

 

 

The Bravo Husband! A Tale of Italy by Daniel P. Thompson

 

Ludovico Salvati was the captain of a troop of bandits infesting the Lower Alps. Of lofty statute, muscular frame, and undaunted temperament, he seemed especially fitted for the desperate post in which his evil stars had placed him. We say his evil stars, for Salvati was the cadet of a noble family, of which honorable mention is made in the archives of Florence. He was a man of cultivated intellect and high aspirations: one who was never destined to tread the obscure path of mindless mediocrity. But maddened by disappointment and despair, the miseries of Salvati would have made a maniac of a less desperate nature; they made him a robber. His name was the byword of terror to the travellers and merchants, and the sound of fear by which the matrons of the Alpine hamlets soothed their wayward nurselings into submission; "Hark! Salvati!" sufficed alike to silence the most turbulent, and to subdue the most refractory.

Meanwhile, Salvati himself knew no happiness on earth, save that in the consciousness that his name could thus strike terror to the hearts of those who in early youth had taught his own to quail. He had been injured, deeply injured; and he had vowed vengeance—nor was he one to breathe such a vow lightly.

In his first manhood Ludovico had loved; not as worldlings love, but with deep devotedness. By day he walked through the marble halls of the Salvati Palace, musing on the idol of his soul; by night he closed his eyes only to dream of her. Beatrice Monti was a Florentine, with eyes like midnight when it is bright with stars, and a voice like that of the bird which loves the darkness; the brow of a Madonna, high, calm, and pale, looking as though earthly passion could never overshadow it; and a smile which shed sunshine where it rested. She was so young and gentle that it seemed as if she were scarce fitted to contend with the care's of life, and so light-hearted that she appeared never to have had one dream of sorrow. Such was she when she listened to Salvati's tale of love, as they sat together beneath the boughs of a pomegranate tree, from which he pilfered the rich red blossoms to twine them in her hair; while the sound of minstrelsy came faintly from the distant palace, swelling and dying as the wind rose and fell among the orange trees. What recks it what he said, or how he said it, beneath the moon-lighted sky, amid breeze and blossom; enough that she heard it without a frown—that she answered with a smile; and that, as Salvati pressed her to his heart, he called her his—his own! his love—his world! 'Twas a sweet dream; and they walked hand in hand, his arm around her, and her rich warm cheek resting upon his shoulder—slowly, pausingly, under the delicious night wind; and they told each other the history of their secret affection—how it had grown and strengthened since they first met; and if Beatrice blushed at the confession, he kissed away her blushes, and she did not repent her confidence. Ludovico told a less embarrassed tale, and she pressed her small hand upon his lips to stay their utterance; but the lover heeded not the gentle hindrance, and he showed her how long and how ardently he had loved her—for days are centuries in a lover's calendar; and the moon had risen high in heaven, and the orange buds were shedding the perfumed dew from their snowy cups, ere they remembered that the world was peopled by others besides themselves, and prepared again to mingle with its denizens.

A fearful year followed that blissful evening. A rival's blood crimsoned the blade of Salvati; but the stab was deeper at his own heart's core! Could it be that Beatrice loved the smooth lipped stranger? His own Beatrice? He could not think that it was thus: and yet, she wept over the corse—such tears as women weep only for those whom they have enshrined in their hearts. But Beatrice—the beautiful, the fond, the timid Beatrice? No, no; it could not be; and Salvati held her to his heart, and loathed himself that he had dared to doubt her.

He became a husband. Not a word, not a look of his young bride, but was to him all as light and music. All that tenderness which woman loves so well, he lavished upon her with a prodigality which proved that his whole heart was in the homage; and yet, she was not happy. The smile fted from her lip, her step became less buoyant, and her voice more sad. Ludovico mourned, wondered, yet never doubted; and when Beatrice placed in his arms her infant girl, he forgot all sorrow in the contemplation of its cherub face.

One day he had led his fair wife forth into the sunshine, and the child slumbered upon his bosom. He talked to Beatrice of all which that child might one day be to them, gifted as she seemed with her her mother's beauty—that mother who was to him fairer than aught else on earth. Suddenly a messenger approached them,—the bearer of strange tidings,—he was a kinsman of Salvati, and he came, with joy in his heart, to tell him that the rival whom he had smitten he had nevertheless not slain; that he yet lived, though his friends had borne him across the sea, when they rescued him from death—there was no blood upon the soul of the young husband.

Ludovico smiled scornfully in doubt, but the doubt was vain. The stranger had been seen since his return to Florence: he still bore the trace of Salvati's blade, but he lived.

Then, indeed, light returned to the eyes of Beatrice, though she uttered not a word, as Ludovico gloomily led the way back to their splendid home.

One more short month and the infant of the Count Salvati was motherless. Beatrice had fled! The father and the child were alike deserted. The wretched and bereaved man caught up the weeping child—weeping it knew not wherefore—and, in turn, abandoned the home which to him was now desolate. He wandered, he cared not whither, for many weary days; the peasants whom he encountered in his way shared with him, and with his motherless infant, their simple, and often scanty, meal; and he slept with the child nestled in his bosom, under the bright clear sky, or beneath a cotter's roof. It was thus the bandits found him. He was a reckless man. They urged him to become their chief; and he started at once from his lethargy of sorrow. By their means he might yet taste revenge! The very thought was of itself cabalistic. He told them all his wrongs, and they talked of vengeance; that was enough; he was thence-forward theirs—body and soul. He girt the pistols and the dagger in his belt; he pressed the plumed hat upon his brow; and he placed his little Beatrice in the arms of the gentlest of the bandit's wives. It is true that he shuddered as he gave her into such rude keeping, but he was anticipating vengeance; and he turned away with a smile upon his lip.

He watched and watched for years, and yet his longing was unappeased; and meanwhile, his child grew healthfully among the Alpine breezes, with all the loveliness and grace of her mother floating about her like an atmosphere of light, and all the hardihood of a young mountaineer.

Salvati's revenge had been so long delayed, that the thirst for its indulgence became demoniacal, when he heard that his enemy was at length within his grasp—and Beatrice, too!—she who had won his heart only to break it!—she who was once the wife of his bosom—the mother of his infant girl! She was even now with the man upon whom his curse rested—to whom it had clung for years—upon whom it was now so soon to fall. * * The seducer and the seduced were there, within arrow's flight; and they breathed the same air with the outlaw and his child. Salvati writhed with agony: the fair browed lover had been watched into a palace at the foot of the very mountain whose fastnesses were bivouacked the band of Ludovico. The false one and her guilty companion could sun themselves boldly beneath the blue sky of heaven, while the bereaved husband and his innocent babe were hidden from the gaze of men, lest the arm of justice should overtake them. The reflection was maddening; and excited by this bitter thought, engendering memories still more wretched, Ludovico took his deserted daughter by the hand, just as a glorious sunset had flashed and faded into those sober tints which steep the world in twilight, and tried to find comfort in the sweet looks and tones of the only being who loved him; but he could not support even the converse of the light-hearted child; and casting himself gloomily down, with his rifle in his hand, in a chasm of the rock, he bade Beatrice go forth and gambol in the soft air. For awhile the girl stood pensively beside him, her hands folded upon her breast, and her large dark eyes riveted on his countenance; but after a time she looked forth over the ledge of rocks against which she leant, and watched the wild birds as they winged their joyous way to their nightly resting places.

Suddenly Ludovico was startled by her scream, and he hurriedly sprang from the earth; in another instant he heard the report of a rifle, and Beatrice sunk down beside him,—the ball had entered her heart,—she was dead! Salvati laid her gently down again upon the earth from which in his first terror he had lifted her; and then fiercely gazing down into the valley from a point whence he could not be perceived from beneath, he discerned two human figures. The foremost was that of a tall cavalier, and farther in the distance the bandit distinguished a party of attendants. He saw the truth at once—the cavalier was engaged in shooting with his rifle at the birds which were flying homeward to their eyries in the rock, and the lady was witnessing his prowess. The little Beatrice had attracted their attention by her movements, and the sportsman, believing it to be some mountain eagle watching in fancied security the destruction of its feathered associates, and anxious to exhibit to his fair companion a proof of his skill as a marksman, had but too fatally taken his aim. But Ludovico, in another instant, learnt still more than this,—it was not enough that the sweet spirit which had so long and so lovingly ministered to his own, when all else had forsaken him, lay quenched at his feet—it was not enough that the pure and beautiful image in which that spirit had been enshrined, was now a ghastly, senseless, gory heap—destiny had not yet done with him. A light laugh came on his ear—a laugh of mirth as a requiem for his dead infant—he could not be mistaken— he had heard such laughter in by-gone years, ere the blight of misery had withered him—it was the voice of Beatrice— of his false wife! He turned, and looked at his lost child, bent over her for an instant, as if to convince himself that there was indeed no hope, and then seizing his rifle, he took a steady aim, and again the sharp quick sound reverberated among the heights—another peal of laughter rang out at its echo, but this time it was the laugh of Ludovico. The cavalier, the murderer of his little one, fell as that horrible mirth swelled on the evening breeze. As quick as thought the rifle of the bandit was reloaded: and he looked for a second with a glad and gloating look upon the affrighted party who cowered around the fallen man; then again he raised his weapon; but this time his hand was unsteady, and his frame shook—the strong man quivered like a leaf! Again he glanced back on the dead object of all his hope, and of all his tenderness, and that sufficed. In the next instant a shout of horror rang upward from the plain: mother and child were alike lifeless. Salvati had taken no coward aim.

A few months subsequently, Florence was thronged by curious crowds, who came to witness the execution of Ludovico, the bandit chief. He had surrendered himself to justice; he had avowed the murder of his wife; the pillage of travellers, the control of a fierce band which had long been the terror of the country. No voice was raised in mercy; it was a forgotten word in Florence; while all cried aloud for justice. Men do not judge by the racked heart and the wrung spirit; but by the peril and the spoil—what to them were the anguish and the despair which had wrought their ruin? their pity had been unchallenged, for Salvati had borne a haughty brow before his accusers— he had himself supplied them both the charge and the culprit; and the morning at length arrived—two slowly for those who were to be merely the lookers on at the legal tragedy—when all might see if his high courage would still uphold him—what marvel then that they panted for the trial? But they knew not Ludovico Salvati! he had done with the world, and the world with him. A busy throng entered his dungeon to summon him to the death scene; his chains were lying on the earth beside him, for he had wrenched them asunder, though his tortured limbs had suffered in the effort; he was no longer to be a gaze for the Florentines—his dagger had freed him.