Page images
PDF
EPUB

THE GLEE-SINGERS; 1

OR,
THE GUELPHS AND GHIBELLINES.

CHAPTER XIII.

We were but children then-young happy creatures

And hardly knew how much we had to lose;
But now the dream-like memory of those features
Comes back, and bids my darkened spirit muse.

Mrs. Norton. Valdo began his narrative :

“I am a native of Sienna, and my paternal name is Leonelli. My father was of the inferior order of nobility, and very poor. He was the last of a family that had been impoverishing for a long series of years, and at the same time become gradually extinct. He married, from sympathy, a lady of the same rank as himself and similarly situated, being the last of a ruined family ; and I was their first child.

“My father, who was a Ghibelline, had entered the army under the House of Hohen Stauffen. Excepting the necessary intercouse with his brother-officers which his professional duties required, he lived perfectly retired and restricted to the society of his wife and child; for he laboured under the unsocial diseased feeling produced by pride united to poverty. Pride and poverty! as unsuitable to each other as fire and water. Why, is it not as impossible to amalgamate them? Grief, hatred, anger, remorseI verily believe that those active passions are less destructive to the health of both mind and body than these two opposing yet confederate furies, that resemble two hostile factions in a state which, in their wars with each other, jointly destroy the commonwealth.

“My father's poverty prevented his entering society on equal terms with those around him; his pride prevented it on unequal terms: therefore he relinquished society altogether, and his chief amusement, when exempt from military duty, was in educating me; and he and my mother were, in fact, my only companions, for the same feelings which drove him into retirement made him keep me also in seclusion. His poor but well-born son could not consistently be the scorned play-fellow of the prosperous, nor the degraded companion of the low. My father became, in his selfimposed solitude, silent, melancholy, and indolent, and even sometimes austere. My childhood would have been a joyless one indeed, but for the birth of one welcome companion, my sister Rosara, which took place when I was seven years old. The presence of a female child brings a charm, a delicacy, a tenderness into household feelings, and none experienced it more than the sad and reserved family of Leonelli. This child became my darling plaything, and by degrees my idolized companion. Henceforth I never thought of any other. My mother's declining energies awoke, and my father became soothed and even cheerful. We wanted no heirs to inherit family wealth and honours, but we did want a gentle, cheerful, graceful child to shine like a sunbeam in our clouded home; to make dreamy sweet futurities, and to soften down the harsher features of present realities. Rosara, as she grew up, did all this. She was not a merry and high-spirited child, but she was serene and mild, and the most kind and affectionate creature in the world.

i Continued from page 30.

“I look back to our childhood as to a lovely dream. We always accompanied my father wherever his duty called him. In our garrison abodes I taught my little sister to know the different points of war of our trumpets, and to listen to their exciting voice without fear. I taught her to know the most distinguished leaders by their crests and banners, and to lisp their names; and I gave her the first rudiments of reading by showing her how to spell their mottoes. I used to lift her up in my arms to see the martial pageant as it passed by, and applauded her when she recognised her father.

“How happy we were when our garrison lay in such a situation that we could go beyond it and penetrate into scenes of rural beauty, which, from their novelty and the contrast they offered to the stern colouring of our general life, were doubly enchanting to us! How we have sighed a full deep inspiration of pleasure when we have found ourselves in some sweet valley, amid fresh, deep, cool grass, and wild flowers, and thickly-foliaged trees ; and the clear blue sky above us, and the free wild birds singing around us, and no one there but ourselves-none to interrupt our happiness !

“We have launched our mimic fleet of fir-cones on the rippling rivulet, and watched them glide from us ; ay, as joy, hope, and peace glide away from human grasp.

But we were then no moralizers. We sat upon the rich moss at the foot of some old chesnut, while I adorned Rosara's head and neck with garlands or stringed berries, and she sat smiling, and repeating her artless assurances of childish affection. We gathered wild fruits, and filled acorn-cups with water from some pure spring, and spread our feast on leaves, and invited each other with mimic ceremony. We rambled through woods, exploring their dark recesses with an ostentatious courage, concealing from each other the somewhat of fear that we felt; and I sometimes hiding myself in a rocky nook or hollow tree to observe the eagerness with which Rosara sought me and called aloud on. Valdo.' We returned, hand in hand, to our parents; and while I related our adventures and discoveries, the quiet Rosara crept to the lap of her father or mother, silently and affectionately offering the share she had reserved of our fruits and flowers.

[graphic]

“We woke in the morning with the loud military reveillie; we lay down to sleep when the trumpet at night commanded the troops to be at rest. We sang together our vesper hymn; but I often forgot my boyish devotions in gazing with admiration on the holy look with which Rosara clasped her little hands and raised her melodious voice. I gazed, and thought I saw one of the cherubs that my mother's confessor used to describe to us. Oh! she was a creature of angelic promise. Woe to the heartless wretch that laid that promise in the dust !”

Here Brunetto solemnly uttered a fervent amen; and Valdo, looking his thanks for his comrade's sympathy, proceeded :

“Rosara was very beautiful: her features were like yours, Antonio; but you have a haggard and melancholy look, such as never crossed her sweet countenance; and your complexion is very dark, and she was singularly fair for an Italian. 'She had an exquisitely soft and flexible voice, and many of your tones remind me of hers; but still I hardly think your voice is such as hers was.

“Our parents saw our affection with delight, and my father often said, Valdo, in your love for that charming and innocent creature you have a safeguard against the temptations of evil company. After enjoying fully the pleasure of such an associate, how could you relish an inferior ?'

“Such was, with little variation, the tenor of our childhood; but it was not exempt from the sorrows that are the lot of humanity. Once Rosara and I were playing on the very verge

of cipice; a projecting stone gave way under me, and I was sliding down. Poor Rosara caught me and arrested my fall. I seized an old stump of a tree, but Rosara rolled down the face of the precipice. She was taken up by some peasants at the bottom, bruised and insensible, and with a severe cut on the back of her head. With what anguish of mind I followed her as she was carried home! With what agony she was received by her distracted parents! She had a dangerous illness, and we feared to lose her. Oh! with what a beating heart have I crept to her couch every morning to examine her countenance and with what terror I stole the first look, lest it should discover to me the approach of death! With what intensity of feeling have I prayed for her recovery, till tears and zeal choked my utterance, and I rolled myself on the

a pre

with us.

ground half-suffocated! With what sleepless anxiety have I lain all night listening to every sound in her chamber! And she, dear child, spoke of death with sense beyond her years; comforted us with all the arguments she was able to draw from her religious instructions; repeated her little prayers ; told us not to grieve for her, for she would like to be out of pain; and entreated her father to find some one to play with poor Valdo, or he would be so very lonely."

The narrator interrupted himself to dash the tears from his eyes, which he did with the manner of a person half angry with himself at being betrayed into feeling for one who had proved unworthy. Then, re-assuming his tranquillity, he continued,

"After long suspense, Rosara was spared to our prayers. Ah! how little does man know what he asks from Heaven! how little does he suspect, that while he exhausts himself in prayers for what he thinks a blessing, he is imploring a curse! Thus it was

Had Rosara died in infancy, we might have wept over her flowery grave with tender sorrow; we might have looked back with pensive pleasure upon her memory, as on a lovely but distant star; and I, the sole survivor of my race, should not have had the bitter pang of reflecting on my paternal name, my only inheritance, sullied by her, our darling.

“Well, Rosara was at length completely restored; and the danger we had so narrowly escaped of losing our treasure, only made us value it the more. Never shall I forget our ecstasy of delight on the first day that Rosara was again able to enjoy with us the pure open air of heaven, and to partake of the little festival we made to celebrate her recovery. There was a sheltered spot in a favourite valley, without the garrison, where some ilex and chesnut trees formed a natural bower. We wreathed their trunks with garlands of fresh flowers, and arranged roots of felled trees and large moss-covered stones for a table and seats. We spread a feast of the choicest grapes, figs, and melons, with honey, and bread, and iced water, and bowls of milk: and we carried Rosara thither in our arms (my father and myself), and a lively air from my mother's long-neglected lute welcomed her arrival. Alas! alas! I have heard some minstrel sing, or some wise man say, that the serpent leaves his slime on the fairest flowers. From her, from Rosara, that source of sweet and innocent feelings, my sorrows and my shame have arisen.

When I was about sixteen, I obtained an appointment in the same regiment with my father; and I still continued the companion of Rosara; though, when she saw me first in my military garb, she was half inclined to cry, as she said I was now become a man, and would not mind her any more. But when I re-assured her on this point, she gazed with childish admiration on my altered appearance, and declared how much my military trappings became me.

[graphic]

“The first small pittance of pay that I received, I applied to the purchase of a gift for Rosara- the first I could ever offer her from my own money. Ah! what a pleasant sound that has to the poor and dependant man! ‘my own money-my own honest earnings!' The rich man has a great loss, that he can never know this honest pride, this fulfilment of hope deferred.

“The gift I bought for Rosara was a silver chain of delicate workmanship. How rich I felt when I was able to make this offering! and how richly repaid I thought myself by her delighted thanks!

“In the course of the following year, we experienced an irreparable misfortune in the loss of our good and gentle mother, For some time we had seen her cheek growing pale, and her form wasting. Her energy became extinct—her breathing oppressed; a heart sickness was upon her. She had been worn out in trying to make scanty means answer disproportionate demands. She had seen hundreds pass by her husband and her son in the career of life--she had suffered privations—she had endured slights from those to whom wealth alone is everything-she saw her children walking in the same narrow path, without a single cheering prospect to open before them. She shuddered, in particular, at the futurity of her beautiful and portionless daughter. She now vainly lamented the voluntary retirement in which she had lived for the sake of that unnaturally secluded girl. These things preyed upon her in secret; and she had not a moment's abstraction from them in even the most temporary amusement, or the shortest intercourse with society. In one undeviating scene, the home of poverty, she plodded on her cheerless round of struggles, and privations, and disappointments—but she never complained she would not add one cloud to our atmosphere. We only read the truth in her increasing lassitude-her languid and unfrequent smile-her long silences—her involuntary sighs.

She never complained, for she was patiently, quietly religious—she was resigned to earthly sorrows, and her hopes were raised to a better world, and to that alone—she could have no rational earthly hope. But though the spirit was chastened and purified, the frail weak flesh succumbed.

“One day my father had been absent on military duty, but was to return home in the evening. I was at liberty, and remained to keep my mother and Rosara company. My mother had been more than usually languid and depressed all day, and disinclined to conversation. Our regiment was then stationed in a fortress on the river Ombrone. The principal apartment of our quarters was a rather dark stone room with an arched roof, and small windows that looked out upon the river. We seated my mother in her arm-chair, near one of the open windows, for air: we shaded the light from her eyes, and she slumbered. Rosara sat near her

« PreviousContinue »