There was no richer man in Venice than Tommaso Tonelli, who had enough on his florin a day; and none younger than he, who owned himself forty-seven years old. He led the cheerfullest life in the world, and was quite a monster of content; but when I come to sum up his pleasures, I fear that I shall appear to my readers to be celebrating a very insipid and monotonous existence. I doubt if even a summary of his duties could be made attractive to the conscientious imagination of hard-working people; for Tonelli's labors were not killing, nor, for that matter, were those of any Venetian that I ever knew. He had a stated employment in the office of the notary Cenarotti; and he passed there so much of every working day as lies between nine and five o'clock, writing upon deeds and conveyances and petitions and other legal instruments for the notary, who sat in an adjoining room, secluded from nearly everything in this world but snuff. He called Tonelli by the sound of a little bell; and, when he turned to take a paper from his safe, he seemed to be abstracting some secret from long-lapsed centuries, which he restored again, and locked back among the dead ages when his clerk replaced the document in his hands. These hands were very soft and pale, and their owner was a colorless old man, whose silvery hair fell down a face nearly as white; but, as he has almost nothing to do with the present affair, I shall merely say that, having been compromised in the last revolution, he had been obliged to live ever since in perfect retirement, and that he seemed to have been blanched in this social darkness as a plant is blanched by growth in a cellar. His enemies said that he was naturally a timid man, but they could not deny that he had seen things to make the brave afraid, or that he had now every reason from the police to be secret and cautious in his life. He could hardly be called company for Tonelli, who must have found the day intolerably long but for the visit which the notary's pretty granddaughter contrived to pay every morning in the cheerless _mezza_. She commonly appeared on some errand from her mother, but her chief business seemed to be to share with Tonelli the modest feast of rumor and hearsay which he loved to furnish forth for her, and from which doubtless she carried back some fragments of gossip to the family apartments. Tonelli called her, with that mingled archness and tenderness of the Venetians, his Paronsina; and, as he had seen her grow up from the smallest possible of Little Mistresses, there was no shyness between them, and they were fully privileged to each other's society by her mother. When she flitted away again, Tonelli was left to a stillness broken only by the soft breathing of the old man in the next room, and by the shrill discourse of his own loquacious pen, so that he was commonly glad enough when it came five o'clock. At this hour he put on his black coat, that shone with constant use, and his faithful silk hat, worn down to the pasteboard with assiduous brushing, and caught up a very jaunty cane in his hand. Then, saluting the notary, he took his way to the little restaurant, where it was his custom to dine, and had his tripe soup and his _risotto_, or dish of fried liver, in the austere silence imposed by the presence of a few poor Austrian captains and lieutenants. It was not that the Italians feared to be overheard by these enemies; but it was good _dimostrazione_ to be silent before the oppressor, and not let him know that they even enjoyed their dinners well enough, under his government, to chat sociably over them. To tell the truth, this duty was an irksome one to Tonelli, who liked far better to dine, as he sometimes did, at a cook-shop, where he met the folk of the people (_gente del popolo_), as he called them; and where, though himself a person of civil condition, he discoursed freely with the other guests, and ate of their humble but relishing fare. He was known among them as Sior Tommaso; and they paid him a homage, which they enjoyed equally with him, as a person not only learned in the law, but a poet of gift enough to write wedding and funeral verses, and a veteran who had fought for the dead Republic of Forty-eight. They honored him as a most travelled gentleman, who had been in the Tyrol, and who could have spoken German, if he had not despised that tongue as the language of the ugly Croats, like one born to it. Who, for example, spoke Venetian more elegantly than Sior Tommaso? or Tuscan, when he chose? and yet he was poor,--a man of that genius! Patience! When Garibaldi came, we should see! The _facchini_ and gondoliers, who had been wagging their tongues all day at the church corners and ferries, were never tired of talking of this gifted friend of theirs, when, having ended some impressive discourse or some dramatic story, he left them with a sudden adieu, and walked quickly away toward the Riva degli Schiavoni.
Here, whether he had dined at the cook-shop, or at his more genteel and gloomy restaurant of the Bronze Horses, it was his custom to lounge an hour or two over a cup of coffee and a Virginia cigar at one of the many caffes, and to watch all the world as it passed to and fro on the quay. Tonelli was gray, he did not disown it; but he always maintained that his heart was still young, and that there was, moreover, a great difference in persons as to age, which told in his favor. So he loved to sit there, and look at the ladies; and he amused himself by inventing a pet name for every face he saw, which he used to teach to certain friends of his, when they joined him over his coffee. These friends were all young enough to be his sons, and wise enough to be his fathers; but they were always glad to be with him, for he had so cheery a wit and so good a heart that neither his years nor his follies could make any one sad. His kind face beamed with smiles, when Pennellini, chief among the youngsters in his affections, appeared on the top of the nearest bridge, and thence descended directly towards his little table. Then it was that he drew out the straw which ran through the centre of his long Virginia, and lighted the pleasant weed, and gave himself up to the delight of making aloud those comments on the ladies which he had hitherto stifled in his breast. Sometimes he would feign himself too deeply taken with a passing beauty to remain quiet, and would make his friend follow with him in chase of her to the Public Gardens. But he was a fickle lover, and wanted presently to get back to his caffe, where, at decent intervals of days or weeks, he would indulge himself in discovering a spy in some harmless stranger, who, in going out, looked curiously at the scar Tonelli's cheek had brought from the battle of Vicenza in 1848.
"Something of a spy, no?" he asked at these times of the waiter, who, flattered by the penetration of a frequenter of his caffe, and the implication that it was thought seditious enough to be watched by the police, assumed a pensive importance, and answered, "Something of a spy, certainly."
Upon this Tonelli was commonly encouraged to proceed: "Did I ever tell you how I once sent one of those ugly muzzles out of a caffe? I knew him as soon as I saw him,--I am never mistaken in a spy,--and I went with my newspaper, and sat down close at his side. Then I whispered to him across the sheet, 'We are two.' 'Eh?' says he. 'It is a very small caffe, and there is no need of more than one,' and then I stared at him and frowned. He looks at me fixedly a moment, then gathers up his hat and gloves, and takes his pestilency off."
The waiter, who had heard this story, man and boy, a hundred times, made a quite successful show of enjoying it, as he walked away with Tonelli's fee of half a cent in his pocket. Tonelli then had left from his day's salary enough to pay for the ice which he ate at ten o'clock, but which he would sometimes forego, in order to give the money in charity, though more commonly he indulged himself, and put off the beggar with, "Another time, my dear. I have no leisure now to discuss those matters with thee."
On holidays this routine of Tonelli's life was varied. In the forenoon he went to mass at St. Mark's, to see the beauty and fashion of the city; and then he took a walk with his four or five young friends, or went with them to play at bowls, or even made an excursion to the main land, where they hired a carriage, and all those Venetians got into it, like so many seamen, and drove the horse with as little mercy as if he had been a sail-boat. At seven o'clock Tonelli dined with the notary, next whom he sat at table, and for whom his quaint pleasantries had a zest that inspired the Paronsina and her mother to shout them into his dull ears, that he might lose none of them. He laughed a kind of faded laugh at them, and, rubbing his pale hands together, showed by his act that he did not think his best wine too good for his kindly guest. The signora feigned to take the same delight shown by her father and daughter in Tonelli's drolleries; but I doubt if she had a great sense of his humor, or, indeed, cared anything for it save as she perceived that it gave pleasure to those she loved. Otherwise, however, she had a sincere regard for him, for he was most useful and devoted to her in her quality of widowed mother; and if she could not feel wit, she could feel gratitude, which is perhaps the rarer gift, if not the more respectable.
The Little Mistress was dependent upon him for nearly all the pleasures and for the only excitements of her life. As a young girl she was at best a sort of caged bird, who had to be guarded against the youth of the other sex as if they, on their part, were so many marauding and ravening cats. During most days of the year the Paronsina's parrot had almost as much freedom as she. He could leave his gilded prison when he chose, and promenade the notary's house as far down as the marble well in the sunless court, and the Paronsina could do little more. The signora would as soon have thought of letting the parrot walk across their campo alone as her daughter, though the local dangers, either to bird or beauty, could not have been very great. The green-grocer of that sequestered campo was an old woman, the apothecary was gray, and his shop was haunted by none but superannuated physicians; the baker, the butcher, the waiters at the caffe were all professionally, and, as purveyors to her family, out of the question; the sacristan, who sometimes appeared at the perruquier's to get a coal from under the curling-tongs to kindle his censer, had but one eye, which he kept single to the service of the Church, and his perquisite of candle-drippings; and I hazard little in saying that the Paronsina might have danced a polka around Campo San Giuseppe without jeopardy so far as concerned the handsome wood-carver, for his wife always sat in the shop beside him. Nevertheless, a custom is not idly handed down by mother to daughter from the dawn of Christianity to the middle of the nineteenth century; and I cannot deny that the local perruquier, though stricken in years, was still so far kept fresh by the immortal youth of the wax heads in his window as to have something beauish about him; or that, just at the moment the Paronsina chanced to go into the campo alone, a _leone_ from Florian's might not have been passing through it, when he would certainly have looked boldly at her, perhaps spoken to her, and possibly pounced at once upon her fluttering heart. So by day the Paronsina rarely went out, and she never emerged unattended from the silence and shadow of her grandfather's house.
If I were here telling a story of the Paronsina, or indeed any story at all, I might suffer myself to enlarge somewhat upon the daily order of her secluded life, and show how the seclusion of other Venetian girls was the widest liberty as compared with hers; but I have no right to play with the reader's patience in a performance that can promise no excitement of incident, no charm of invention. Let him figure to himself, if he will, the ancient and half-ruined palace in which the notary dwelt, with a gallery running along one side of its inner court, the slender pillars supporting upon the corroded sculpture of their capitals a clinging vine, that dappled the floor with palpitant light and shadow in the afternoon sun. The gate, whose exquisite Saracenic arch grew into a carven flame, was surmounted by the armorial bearings of a family that died of its sins against the Serenest Republic long ago; the marble cistern which stood in the middle of the court had still a ducal rose upon either of its four sides; and little lions of stone perched upon the posts at the head of the marble stairway climbing to the gallery, their fierce aspects worn smooth and amiable by the contact of hands that for many ages had mouldered in tombs. Toward the canal the palace windows had been immemorially bricked up for some reason or caprice, and no morning sunlight, save such as shone from the bright eyes of the Paronsina, ever looked into the dim halls. It was a fit abode for such a man as the notary, exiled in the heart of his native city, and it was not unfriendly in its influences to a quiet vegetation like the signora's; but to the Paronsina it was sad as Venice itself, where, in some moods, I have wondered that any sort of youth could have the courage to exist. Nevertheless, the Paronsina had contrived to grow up here a child of the gayest and archest spirit, and to lead a life of due content, till after her return home from the comparative freedom and society of Madame Prateux's school, where she spent three years in learning all polite accomplishments, and whence she came, with brilliant hopes and romances ready imagined, for any possible exigency of the future. She adored all the modern Italian poets, and read their verse with that stately and rhythmical fulness of voice which often made it sublime and always pleasing. She was a relentless patriot, an Italianissima of the vividest green, white, and red; and she could interpret the historical novels of her countrymen in their subtilest application to the modern enemies of Italy. But all the Paronsina's gifts and accomplishments were to poor purpose, if they brought no young men a-wooing under her balcony; and it was to no effect that her fervid fancy peopled the palace's empty halls with stately and gallant company out of Marco Visconti, Nicolo de' Lapi, Margherita Pusterla, and the other romances, since she could not hope to receive any practicable offer of marriage from the heroes thus assembled. Her grandfather invited no guests of more substantial presence to his house. In fact, the police watched him too narrowly to permit him to receive society, even had he been so minded, and for kindred reasons his family paid few visits in the city. To leave Venice, except for the autumnal _villeggiatura_ was almost out of the question; repeated applications at the Luogotenenza won the two ladies but a tardy and scanty grace; and the use of the passport allowing them to spend a few weeks in Florence was attended with so much vexation, in coming and going upon the imperial confines, and when they returned home they were subject to so great fear of perquisition from the police, that it was after all rather a mortification than a pleasure that the government had given them. The signora received her few acquaintances once a week; but the Paronsina found the old ladies tedious over their cups of coffee or tumblers of lemonade, and declared that her mamma's reception days were a martyrdom,--actually a martyrdom, to her. She was full of life and the beautiful and tender longing of youth; she had a warm heart and a sprightly wit; but she led an existence scarce livelier than a ghost's, and she was so poor in friends and resources that she shuddered to think what must become of her if Tonelli should die. It was not possible, thanks to God! that he should marry.
The signora herself seldom cared to go out, for the reason that it was too cold in winter and too hot in summer. In the one season she clung all day to her wadded arm-chair, with her _scaldino_ in her lap; and in the other season she found it a sufficient diversion to sit in the great hall of the palace, and be fanned by the salt breeze that came from the Adriatic through the vine-garlanded gallery. But besides this habitual inclemency of the weather, which forbade out-door exercise nearly the whole year, it was a displeasure to walk in Venice on account of the stairways of the bridges; and the signora much preferred to wait till they went to the country in the autumn, when she always rode to take the air. The exceptions to her custom were formed by those after-dinner promenades which she sometimes made on holidays, in summer. Then she put on her richest black, and the Paronsina dressed herself in her best, and they both went to walk on the Molo, before the pillars of the lion and the saint, under the escort of Tonelli.
It often happened that, at the hour of their arrival on the Molo, the moon was coming up over the low bank of the Lido in the east, and all that prospect of ship-bordered quay, island, and lagoon, which, at its worst, is everything that heart can wish, was then at its best, and far beyond words to paint. On the right stretched the long Giudecca, with the domes and towers of its Palladian church, and the swelling foliage of its gardens, and its line of warehouses--painted pink, as if even Business, grateful to be tolerated amid such lovely scenes, had striven to adorn herself. In front lay San Giorgio, picturesque with its church and pathetic with its political prisons; and, farther away to the east again, the gloomy mass of the madhouse at San Servolo, and then the slender campanili of the Armenian convent rose over the gleaming and tremulous water. Tonelli took in the beauty of the scene with no more consciousness than a bird; but the Paronsina had learnt from her romantic poets and novelists to be complimentary to prospects, and her heart gurgled out in rapturous praises of this. The unwonted freedom exhilarated her; there was intoxication in the encounter of faces on the promenade, in the dazzle and glimmer of the lights, and even in the music of the Austrian band playing in the Piazza, as it came purified to her patriotic ear by the distance. There were none but Italians upon the Molo, and one might walk there without so much as touching an officer with the hem of one's garment; and, a little later, when the band ceased playing, she should go with the other Italians and possess the Piazza for one blessed hour. In the mean time, the Paronsina had a sharp little tongue; and, after she had flattered the landscape, and had, from her true heart, once for all, saluted the promenaders as brothers and sisters in Italy, she did not mind making fun of their peculiarities of dress and person. She was signally sarcastic upon such ladies as Tonelli chanced to admire, and often so stung him with her jests that he was glad when Pennellini appeared, as he always did exactly at nine o'clock, and joined the ladies in their promenade, asking and answering all those questions of ceremony which form Venetian greeting. He was a youth of the most methodical exactness in his whole life, and could no more have arrived on the Molo a moment before or after nine than the bronze giants on the clock-tower could have hastened or lingered in striking the hour. Nature, which had made him thus punctual and precise, gave him also good looks, and a most amiable kindness of heart. The Paronsina cared nothing at all for him in his quality of handsome young fellow; but she prized him as an acquaintance whom she might salute, and be saluted by, in a city where her grandfather's isolation kept her strange to nearly all the faces she saw. Sometimes her evenings on the Molo wasted away without the exchange of a word save with Tonelli, for her mother seldom talked; and then it was quite possible her teasing was greater than his patience, and that he grew taciturn under her tongue. At such times she hailed Pennellini's appearance with a double delight; for, if he never joined in her attacks upon Tonelli's favorites, he always enjoyed them, and politely applauded them. If his friend reproached him for this treason, he made him every amend in answering, "She is jealous, Tonelli,"--a wily compliment, which had the most intense effect in coming from lips ordinarily so sincere as his.
The signora was weary of the promenade long before the Austrian music ceased in the Piazza, and was very glad when it came time for them to leave the Molo, and go and sit down to an ice at the Caffe Florian. This was the supreme hour to the Paronsina, the one heavenly excess of her restrained and eventless life. All about her were scattered tranquil Italian idlers, listening to the music of the strolling minstrels who had succeeded the military band; on either hand sat her friends, and she had thus the image of that tender devotion without which a young girl is said not to be perfectly happy; while the very heart of adventure seemed to bound in her exchange of glances with a handsome foreigner at a neighboring table. On the other side of the Piazza a few officers still lingered at the Caffe Quadri; and at the Specchi sundry groups of citizens in their dark dress contrasted well with these white uniforms; but, for the most part, the moon and gas-jets shone upon the broad, empty space of the Piazza, whose loneliness the presence of a few belated promenaders only served to render conspicuous. As the giants hammered eleven upon the great bell, the Austrian sentinel, under the Ducal Palace, uttered a long, reverberating cry; and soon after a patrol of soldiers clanked across the Piazza, and passed with echoing feet through the arcade into the narrow and devious streets beyond. The young girl found it hard to rend herself from the dreamy pleasure of the scene, or even to turn from the fine impersonal pain which the presence of the Austrians in the spectacle inflicted. All gave an impression something like that of the theatre, with the advantage that here one's self was part of the pantomime; and in those days, when nearly everything but the puppet-shows was forbidden to patriots, it was altogether the greatest enjoyment possible to the Paronsina. The pensive charm of the place imbued all the little company so deeply that they scarcely broke it, as they loitered slowly homeward through the deserted Merceria. When they reached the Campo San Salvatore, on many a lovely summer's midnight, their footsteps seemed to waken a nightingale whose cage hung from a lofty balcony there; for suddenly, at their coming, the bird broke into a wild and thrilling song, that touched them all, and suffused the tender heart of the Paronsina with an inexpressible pathos.
Alas! she had so often returned thus from the Piazza, and no stealthy footstep had followed hers homeward with love's persistence and diffidence! She was young, she knew, and she thought not quite dull or hideous; but her spirit was as sole in that melancholy city as if there were no youth but hers in the world. And a little later than this, when she had her first affair, it did not originate in the Piazza, nor at all respond to her expectations in a love-affair. In fact, it was altogether a business affair, and was managed chiefly by Tonelli, who having met a young doctor, laurelled the year before at Padua, had heard him express so pungent a curiosity to know what the Paronsina would have to her dower, that he perceived he must be madly in love with her. So with the consent of the signora he had arranged a correspondence between the young people; and all went on well at first,--the letters from both passing through his hands. But his office was anything but a sinecure, for while the Doctor was on his part of a cold temperament, and disposed to regard the affair merely as a proper way of providing for the natural affections, the Paronsina cared nothing for him personally, and only viewed him favorably as abstract matrimony,--as the means of escaping from the bondage of her girlhood and the sad seclusion of her life into the world outside her grandfather's house. So presently the correspondence fell almost wholly upon Tonelli, who worked up to the point of betrothal with an expense of finesse and sentiment that would have made his fortune in diplomacy or poetry. What should he say now? that stupid young Doctor would cry in a desperation, when Tonelli delicately reminded him that it was time to answer the Paronsina's last note. Say this, that, and the other, Tonelli would answer, giving him the heads of a proper letter, which the Doctor took down on square bits of paper, neatly fashioned for writing prescriptions. "And for God's sake, caro dottore, put a little warmth into it!" The poor Doctor would try, but it must always end in Tonelli's suggesting and almost dictating every sentence; and then the letter, being carried to the Paronsina made her laugh: "This is very pretty, my poor Tonelli, but it was never my onoratissimo dottore who thought of these tender compliments. Ah! that allusion to my mouth and eyes could only have come from the heart of a great poet. It is yours, Tonelli, don't deny it." And Tonelli, taken in his weak point of literature, could make but a feeble pretence of disclaiming the child of his fancy, while the Paronsina, being in this reckless humor, more than once responded to the Doctor in such fashion that in the end the inspiration of her altered and amended letter was Tonelli's. Even after the betrothal, the lovemaking languished, and the Doctor was indecently patient of the late day fixed for the marriage by the notary. In fact, the Doctor was very busy; and, as his practice grew, the dower of the Paronsina dwindled in his fancy, till one day he treated the whole question of their marriage with such coldness and uncertainty in his talk with Tonelli, that the latter saw whither his thoughts were drifting, and went home with an indignant heart to the Paronsina, who joyfully sat down and wrote her first sincere letter to the Doctor, dismissing him.
"It is finished," she said, "and I am glad. After all, perhaps, I don't want to be any freer than I am; and while I have you, Tonelli, I don't want a younger lover. Younger? Diana! You are in the flower of youth, and I believe you will never wither. Did that rogue of a Doctor, then, really give you the elixir of youth for writing him those letters? Tell me, Tonelli, as a true friend, how long have you been forty-seven? Ever since your fiftieth birthday? Listen! I have been more afraid of losing you than my sweetest Doctor. I thought you would be so much in love with lovemaking that you would go break-neck and court some one in earnest on your own account!"
Thus the Paronsina made a jest of the loss she had sustained; but it was not pleasant to her, except as it dissolved a tie which love had done nothing to form. Her life seemed colder and vaguer after it, and the hour very far away when the handsome officers of her king (all good Venetians in those days called Victor Emanuel "our king") should come to drive out the Austrians, and marry their victims. She scarcely enjoyed the prodigious privilege, offered her at this time in consideration of her bereavement, of going to the comedy, under Tonelli's protection and along with Pennellini and his sister, while the poor signora afterwards had real qualms of patriotism concerning the breach of public duty involved in this distraction of her daughter. She hoped that no one had recognized her at the theatre, otherwise they might have a warning from the Venetian Committee. "Thou knowest," she said to the Paronsina, "that they have even admonished the old Conte Tradonico, who loves the comedy better than his soul, and who used to go every evening. Thy aunt told me, and that the old rogue, when people ask him why he doesn't go to the play, answers, 'My mistress won't let me.' But fie! I am saying what young girls ought not to hear."
After the affair with the Doctor, I say, life refused to return exactly to its old expression, and I suppose that, if what presently happened was ever to happen, it could not have occurred at a more appropriate time for a disaster, or at a time when its victims were less able to bear it I do not know whether I have yet sufficiently indicated the fact, but the truth is both the Paronsina and her mother had from long use come to regard Tonelli as a kind of property of theirs, which had no right in any way to alienate itself. They would have felt an attempt of this sort to be not only very absurd, but very wicked, in view of their affection for him and dependence upon him; and while the Paronsina thanked God that he would never marry, she had a deep conviction that he ought not to marry, even if he desired. It was at the same time perfectly natural, nay, filial, that she should herself be ready to desert this old friend, whom she felt so strictly bound to be faithful to her loneliness. As matters fell out, she had herself primarily to blame for Tonelli's loss; for, in that interval of disgust and ennui following the Doctor's dismissal, she had suffered him to seek his own pleasure on holiday evenings; and he had thus wandered alone to the Piazza, and so, one night, had seen a lady eating an ice there, and fallen in love without more ado than another man should drink a lemonade.
This facility came of habit, for Tonelli had now been falling in love every other day for some forty years; and in that time had broken the hearts of innumerable women of all nations and classes. The prettiest water-carriers in his neighborhood were in love with him, as their mothers had been before them, and ladies of noble condition were believed to cherish passions for him. Especially, gay and beautiful foreigners, as they sat at Florian's, were taken with hopeless love of him; and he could tell stories of very romantic adventure in which he figured as hero, though nearly always with moral effect. For example, there was the countess from the mainland,--she merited the sad distinction of being chief among those who had vainly loved him, if you could believe the poet who both inspired and sang her passion. When she took a palace in Venice, he had been summoned to her on the pretended business of a secretary; but when she presented herself with those idle accounts of her factor and tenants on the mainland, her household expenses and her correspondence with her advocate, Tonelli perceived at once that it was upon a wholly different affair that she had desired to see him. She was a rich widow of forty, of a beauty supernaturally preserved and very great. "This is no place for thee, Tonelli mine," the secretary had said to himself, after a week had passed, and he had understood all the waywardness of that unhappy lady's intentions. "Thou art not too old, but thou art too wise, for these follies, though no saint"; and so had gathered up his personal effects, and secretly quitted the palace. But such was the countess's fury at his escape that she never paid him his week's salary; nor did she manifest the least gratitude that Tonelli, out of regard for her son, a very honest young man, refused in any way to identify her, but, to all except his closest friends, pretended that he had passed those terrible eight days on a visit to the country village where he was born. It showed Pennellini's ignorance of life that he should laugh at this history; and I prefer to treat it seriously, and to use it in explaining the precipitation with which Tonelli's latest inamorata returned his love.
Though, indeed, why should a lady of thirty, and from an obscure country town, hesitate to be enamored of any eligible suitor who presented himself in Venice? It is not my duty to enter upon a detail or summary of Carlotta's character or condition, or to do more than indicate that, while she did not greatly excel in youth, good looks, or worldly gear, she had yet a little property, and was of that soft prettiness which is often more effective than downright beauty. There was, indeed, something very charming about her; and, if she was a blonde, I have no reason to think she was as fickle as the Venetian proverb paints that complexion of woman; or that she had not every quality which would have excused any one but Tonelli for thinking of marrying her.
After their first mute interview in the Piazza, the two lost no time in making each other's acquaintance; but though the affair was vigorously conducted, no one could say that it was not perfectly in order. Tonelli on the following day, which chanced to be Sunday, repaired to St. Mark's at the hour of the fashionable mass, where he gazed steadfastly at the lady during her orisons, and whence, at a discreet distance, he followed her home to the house of the friends whom she was visiting. Somewhat to his discomfiture at first, these proved to be old acquaintances of his; and when he came at night to walk up and down under their balconies, as bound in true love to do, they made nothing of asking him indoors, and presenting him to his lady. But the pair were not to be entirely balked of their romance, and they still arranged stolen interviews at church, where one furtively whispered word had the value of whole hours of unrestricted converse under the roof of their friends. They quite refused to take advantage of their anomalously easy relations, beyond inquiry on his part as to the amount of the lady's dower, and on hers as to the permanence of Tonelli's employment. He in due form had Pennellini to his confidant, and Carlotta unbosomed herself to her hostess; and the affair was thus conducted with such secrecy that not more than two thirds of Tonelli's acquaintance knew anything about it when their engagement was announced.
There were now no circumstances to prevent their early union, yet the happy conclusion was one to which Tonelli urged himself after many secret and bitter displeasures of spirit. I am persuaded that his love for Carlotta must have been most ardent and sincere, for there was everything in his history and reason against marriage. He could not disown that he had hitherto led a joyous and careless life, or that he was exactly fitted for the modest delights, the discreet variety, of his present state,--for his daily routine at the notary's, his dinner at the Bronze Horses or the cook-shop, his hour at the caffe, his walks and excursions, for his holiday banquet with the Cenarotti, and his formal promenade with the ladies of that family upon the Molo. He had a good employment, with a salary that held him above want, and afforded him the small luxuries already named; and he had fixed habits of work and of relaxation, which made both a blessing. He had his chosen circle of intimate equals, who regarded him for his good-heartedness and wit and foibles; and his little following of humble admirers, who looked upon him as a gifted man in disgrace with fortune. His friendships were as old as they were secure and cordial; he was established in the kindliness of all who knew him; and he was flattered by the dependence of the Paronsina and her mother, even when it was troublesome to him. He had his past of sentiment and war, his present of story-telling and romance. He was quite independent: his sins, if he had any, began and ended in himself, for none was united to him so closely as to be hurt by them; and he was far too imprudent a man to be taken for an example by any one. He came and went as he listed, he did this or that without question. With no heart chosen yet from the world of woman's love, he was still a young man, with hopes and affections as pliable as a boy's. He had, in a word, that reputation of good-fellow which in Venice gives a man the title of _buon diavolo_, but on which he does not anywhere turn his back with impunity, either from his own consciousness or from public opinion. There never was such a thing in the world as both good devil and good husband; and even with his betrothal Tonelli felt that his old, careless, merry life of the hour ended, and that he had tacitly recognized a future while he was yet unable to cut the past. If one has for twenty years made a jest of women, however amiably and insincerely, one does not propose to marry a woman without making a jest of one's self. The avenging remembrance of elderly people whose late matrimony had furnished food for Tonelli's wit now rose up to torment him, and in his morbid fancy the merriment he had caused was echoed back in his own derision.
It shocked him to find how quickly his secret took wing, and it annoyed him that all his acquaintances were so prompt to felicitate him. He imagined a latent mockery in their speeches, and he took them with an argumentative solemnity. He reasoned separately with his friends; to all who spoke to him of his marriage he presented elaborate proofs that it was the wisest thing he could possibly do, and tried to give the affair a cold air of prudence. "You see, I am getting old; that is to say, I am tired of this bachelor life in which I have no one to take care of me, if I fall sick, and to watch that the doctors do not put me to death. My pay is very little, but, with Carlotta's dower well invested, we shall both together live better than either of us lives alone. She is a careful woman, and will keep me neat and comfortable. She is not so young as some women I had thought to marry,--no, but so much the better; nobody will think her half so charming as I do, and at my time of life that is a great point gained. She is good, and has an admirable disposition. She is not spoiled by Venice, but as innocent as a dove. O, I shall find myself very well with her!"
This was the speech which with slight modification Tonelli made over and over again to all his friends but Pennellini. To him he unmasked, and said boldly that at last he was really in love; and being gently discouraged in what seemed his folly, and incredulously laughed at, he grew angry, and gave such proofs of his sincerity that Pennellini was convinced, and owned to himself, "This madman is actually enamored,--enamored,--like a cat! Patience! What will ever those Cenarotti say?"
In a little while poor Tonelli lost the philosophic mind with which he had at first received the congratulations of his friends, and, from reasoning with them, fell to resenting their good wishes. Very little things irritated him, and pleasantries which he had taken in excellent part, time out of mind, now raised his anger. His barber had for many years been in the habit of saying, as he applied the stick of fixature to Tonelli's mustache, and gave it a jaunty upward curl, "Now we will bestow that little dash of youthfulness"; and it both amazed and hurt him to have Tonelli respond with a fierce "Tsit!" and say that this jest was proper in its antiquity to the times of Romulus rather than our own period, and so go out of the shop without that "Adieu, old fellow," which he had never failed to give in twenty years. "Capperi!" said the barber, when he emerged from a profound revery into which this outbreak had plunged him, and in which he had remained holding the nose of his next customer, and tweaking it to and fro in the violence of his emotions, regardless of those mumbled maledictions which the lather would not permit the victim to articulate. "If Tonelli is so savage in his betrothal, we must wait for his marriage to tame him. I am sorry. He was always such a good devil."
But if many things annoyed Tonelli, there were some that deeply wounded him, and chiefly the fact that his betrothal seemed to have fixed an impassable gulf of years between him and all those young men whose company he loved so well. He had really a boy's heart, and he had consorted with them because he felt himself nearer their age than his own. Hitherto they had in no wise found his presence a restraint. They had always laughed, and told their loves, and spoken their young men's thoughts, and made their young men's jokes, without fear or shame, before the merry-hearted sage, who never offered good advice, if indeed he ever dreamed that there was a wiser philosophy than theirs. It had been as if he were the youngest among them; but now, in spite of all that he or they could do, he seemed suddenly and irretrievably aged. They looked at him strangely, as if for the first time they saw that his mustache was gray, that his brow was not smooth like theirs, that there were crow's-feet at the corners of his kindly eyes. They could not phrase the vague feeling that haunted their hearts, or they would have said that Tonelli, in offering to marry, had voluntarily turned his back upon his youth; that love, which would only have brought a richer bloom to their age, had breathed away forever the autumnal blossom of his.
Something of this made itself felt in Tonelli's own consciousness, whenever he met them, and he soon grew to avoid these comrades of his youth. It was therefore after a purely accidental encounter with one of them, and as he was passing into the Campo Sant' Angelo, head down, and supporting himself with an inexplicable sense of infirmity upon the cane he was wont so jauntily to flourish, that he heard himself addressed with, "I say, master!" He looked up, and beheld the fat madman who patrols that campo, and who has the license of his affliction to utter insolences to whomsoever he will, leaning against the door of a tobacconist's shop, with his arms folded, and a lazy, mischievous smile loitering down on his greasy face. As he caught Tonelli's eye he nodded, "Eh! I have heard, master"; while the idlers of that neighborhood, who relished and repeated his incoherent pleasantries like the _mots_ of some great diner-out, gathered near with expectant grins. Had Tonelli been altogether himself, as in other days, he would have been far too wise to answer, "What hast thou heard, poor animal?"
"That you are going to take a mate when most birds think of flying away," said the madman. "Because it has been summer a long time with you, master, you think it will never be winter. Look out: the wolf doesn't eat the season."
The poor fool in these words seemed to utter a public voice of disapprobation and derision; and as the pitiless bystanders, who had many a time laughed with Tonelli, now laughed at him, joining in the applause which the madman himself led off, the miserable good devil walked away with a shiver, as if the weather had actually turned cold. It was not till he found himself in Carlotta's presence that the long summer appeared to return to him. Indeed, in her tenderness and his real love for her he won back all his youth again; and he found it of a truer and sweeter quality than he had known even when his years were few, while the gay old-bachelor life he had long led seemed to him a period of miserable loneliness and decrepitude. Mirrored in her fond eyes, he saw himself alert and handsome; and, since for the time being they were to each other all the world, we may be sure there was nothing in the world then to vex or shame Tonelli. The promises of the future, too, seemed not improbable of fulfilment, for they were not extravagant promises. These people's castle in the air was a house furnished from Carlotta's modest portion, and situated in a quarter of the city not too far from the Piazza, and convenient to a decent caffe, from which they could order a lemonade or a cup of coffee for visitors. Tonelli's stipend was to pay the housekeeping, as well as the minute wage of a servant-girl from the country; and it was believed that they could save enough from that, and a little of Carlotta's money at interest, to go sometimes to the Malibran theatre or the Marionette, or even make an excursion to the mainland upon a holiday; but if they could not, it was certainly better Italianism to stay at home; and at least they could always walk to the Public Gardens. At one time, religious differences threatened to cloud this blissful vision of the future; but it was finally agreed that Carlotta should go to mass and confession as often as she liked, and should not tease Tonelli about his soul; while he, on his part, was not to speak ill of the pope except as a temporal prince, or of any of the priesthood except of the Jesuits when in company, in order to show that marriage had not made him a _codino_. For the like reason, no change was to be made in his custom of praising Garibaldi and reviling the accursed Germans upon all safe occasions.
As Tonelli had nothing in the world but his salary and his slender wardrobe, Carlotta eagerly accepted the idea of a loss of family property during the revolution. Of Tonelli's scar she was as proud as Tonelli himself.
When she came to speak of the acquaintance of all those young men, it seemed again like a breath from the north to her betrothed; and he answered, with a sigh, that this was an affair that had already finished itself. "I have long thought them too boyish for me," he said, "and I shall keep none of them but Pennellini, who is even older than I,--who, I believe, was never born, but created middle-aged out of the dust of the earth, like Adam. He is not a good devil, but he has every good quality."
While he thus praised his friend, Tonelli was meditating a service, which when he asked it of Pennellini, had almost the effect to destroy their ancient amity. This was no less than the composition of those wedding-verses, without which, printed and exposed to view in all the shop-windows, no one in Venice feels himself adequately and truly married. Pennellini had never willingly made a verse in his life; and it was long before he understood Tonelli, when he urged the delicate request. Then in vain he protested, recalcitrated. It was all an offence to Tonelli's morbid soul, already irritated by his friend's obtuseness, and eager to turn even the reluctance of nature into insult. He took his refusal for a sign that he, too, deserted him; and must be called back, after bidding Pennellini adieu, to hear the only condition on which the accursed sonnet would be furnished, namely, that it should not be signed Pennellini, but An Affectionate Friend. Never was sonnet cost poet so great anguish as this: Pennellini went at it conscientiously as if it were a problem in mathematics; he refreshed his prosody, he turned over Carrer, he toiled a whole night, and in due time appeared as Tonelli's affectionate friend in all the butchers' and bakers' windows. But it had been too much to ask of him, and for a while he felt the shock of Tonelli's unreason and excess so much that there was a decided coolness between them.
This important particular arranged, little remained for Tonelli to do but to come to that open understanding with the Paronsina and her mother which he had long dreaded and avoided. He could not conceal from himself that his marriage was a kind of desertion of the two dear friends so dependent upon his singleness, and he considered the case of the Paronsina with a real remorse. If his meditated act sometimes appeared to him a gross inconsistency and a satire upon all his former life, he had still consoled himself with the truth of his passion, and had found love its own apology and comfort; but in its relation to these lonely women, his love itself had no fairer aspect than that of treason, and he shrank from owning it before them with a sense of guilt. Some wild dreams of reconciling his future with his past occasionally haunted him; but in his saner moments, he perceived their folly. Carlotta, he knew, was good and patient, but she was nevertheless a woman, and she would never consent that he should be to the Cenarotti all that he had been; these ladies also were very kind and reasonable, but they too were women, and incapable of accepting a less perfect devotion. Indeed, was not his proposed marriage too much like taking her only son from the signora and giving the Paronsina a stepmother? It was worse, and so the ladies of the notary's family viewed it, cherishing a resentment that grew with Tonelli's delay to deal frankly with them; while Carlotta, on her part, was wounded that these old friends should ignore his future wife so utterly. On both sides evil was stored up.
When Tonelli would still make a show of fidelity to the Paronsina and her mother, they accepted his awkward advances, the latter with a cold visage, the former with a sarcastic face and tongue. He had managed particularly ill with the Paronsina, who, having no romance of her own, would possibly have come to enjoy the autumnal poetry of his love if he had permitted. But when she first approached him on the subject of those rumors she had heard, and treated them with a natural derision, as involving the most absurd and preposterous ideas, he, instead of suffering her jests, and then turning her interest to his favor, resented them, and closed his heart and its secret against her. What could she do, thereafter, but feign to avoid the subject, and adroitly touch it with constant, invisible stings? Alas! it did not need that she should ever speak to Tonelli with the wicked intent she did; at this time he would have taken ill whatever most innocent thing she said. When friends are to be estranged, they do not require a cause. They have but to doubt one another, and no forced forbearance or kindness between them can do aught but confirm their alienation. This is on the whole fortunate, for in this manner neither feels to blame for the broken friendship, and each can declare with perfect truth that he did all he could to maintain it. Tonelli said to himself, "If the Paronsina had treated the affair properly at first!" and the Paronsina thought, "If he had told me frankly about it to begin with!" Both had a latent heartache over their trouble, and both a sense of loss the more bitter because it was of loss still unacknowledged.
As the day fixed for Tonelli's wedding drew near, the rumor of it came to the Cenarotti from all their acquaintance. But when people spoke to them of it, as of something they must be fully and particularly informed of, the signora answered coldly, "It seems that we have not merited Tonelli's confidence"; and the Paronsina received the gossip with an air of clearly affected surprise, and a "_Davvero!_" that at least discomfited the tale-bearers.
The consciousness of the unworthy part he was acting toward these ladies had come at last to poison the pleasure of Tonelli's wooing, even in Carlotta's presence; yet I suppose he would still have let his wedding-day come and go, and been married beyond hope of atonement, so loath was he to inflict upon himself and them the pain of an explanation, if one day, within a week of that time, the notary had not bade his clerk dine with him on the morrow. It was a holiday, and as Carlotta was at home, making ready for the marriage, Tonelli consented to take his place at the table from which he had been a long time absent. But it turned out such a frigid and melancholy banquet as never was known before. The old notary, to whom all things came dimly, finally missed the accustomed warmth of Tonelli's fun, and said, with a little shiver, "Why, what ails you, Tonelli? You are as moody as a man in love."
The notary had been told several times of Tonelli's affair, but it was his characteristic not to remember any gossip later than that of 'Forty-eight.
The Paronsina burst into a laugh full of the cruelty and insult of a woman's long-smothered sense of injury. "Caro nonno," she screamed into her grandfather's dull ear, "he is really in despair how to support his happiness. He is shy, even of his old friends,--he has had so little experience. It is the first love of a young man. Bisogna compatire la gioventu, caro nonno." And her tongue being finally loosed, the Paronsina broke into incoherent mockeries, that hurt more from their purpose than their point, and gave no one greater pain than herself.
Tonelli sat sad and perfectly mute under the infliction, but he said in his heart, "I have merited worse."
At first the signora remained quite aghast; but when she collected herself, she called out peremptorily, "Madamigella, you push the affair a little beyond. Cease!"
The Paronsina, having said all she desired, ceased, panting.
The old notary, for whose slow sense all but her first words had been too quick, though all had been spoken at him, said dryly, turning to Tonelli, "I imagine that my deafness is not always a misfortune."
It was by an inexplicable, but hardly less inevitable, violence to the inclinations of each that, after this miserable dinner, the signora, the Paronsina, and Tonelli should go forth together for their wonted promenade on the Molo. Use, which is the second, is also very often the stronger nature, and so these parted friends made a last show of union and harmony. In nothing had their amity been more fatally broken than in this careful homage to its forms; and now, as they walked up and down in the moonlight, they were of the saddest kind of apparitions,--not mere disembodied spirits, which, however, are bad enough, but disanimated bodies, which are far worse, and of which people are not more afraid only because they go about in society so commonly. As on many and many another night of summers past, the moon came up and stood over the Lido, striking far across the glittering lagoon, and everywhere winning the flattered eye to the dark masses of shadow upon the water; to the trees of the Gardens, to the trees and towers and domes of the cloistered and templed isles. Scene of pensive and incomparable loveliness! giving even to the stranger, in some faint and most unequal fashion, a sense of the awful meaning of exile to the Venetian, who in all other lands in the world is doubly an alien, from their unutterable unlikeness to his sole and beautiful city. The prospect had that pathetic unreality to the friends which natural things always assume to people playing a part, and I imagine that they saw it not more substantial than it appears to the exile in his dreams. In their promenade they met again and again the unknown, wonted faces; they even encountered some acquaintances, whom they greeted, and with whom they chatted for a while; and when at nine the bronze giants beat the hour upon their bell,--with as remote effect as if they were giants of the times before the flood,--they were aware of Pennellini, promptly appearing like an exact and methodical spectre.
But to-night the Paronsina, who had made the scene no compliments, did not insist as usual upon the ice at Florian's; and Pennellini took his formal leave of the friends under the arch of the Clock Tower, and they walked silently homeward through the echoing Merceria.
At the notary's gate Tonelli would have said good-night, but the signora made him enter with them, and then abruptly left him standing with the Paronsina in the gallery, while she was heard hurrying away to her own apartment. She reappeared, extending toward Tonelli both hands, upon which glittered and glittered manifold skeins of the delicate chain of Venice.
She had a very stately and impressive bearing, as she stood there in the moonlight, and addressed him with a collected voice. "Tonelli," she said, "I think you have treated your oldest and best friends very cruelly. Was it not enough that you should take yourself from us, but you must also forbid our hearts to follow you even in sympathy and good wishes? I had almost thought to say adieu forever to-night; but," she continued, with a breaking utterance, and passing tenderly to the familiar form of address, "I cannot part so with thee. Thou hast been too like a son to me, too like a brother to my poor Clarice. Maybe thou no longer lovest us, yet I think thou wilt not disdain this gift for thy wife. Take it, Tonelli, if not for our sake, perhaps then for the sake of sorrows that in times past we have shared together in this unhappy Venice."
Here the signora ended perforce the speech, which had been long for her, and the Paronsina burst into a passion of weeping,--not more at her mamma's words than out of self-pity and from the national sensibility.
Tonelli took the chain, and reverently kissed it and the hands that gave it. He had a helpless sense of the injustice the signora's words and the Paronsina's tears did him; he knew that they put him with feminine excess further in the wrong than even his own weakness had; but he tried to express nothing of this,--it was but part of the miserable maze in which his life was involved. With what courage he might he owned his error, but protested his faithful friendship, and poured out all his troubles,--his love for Carlotta, his regret for them, his shame and remorse for himself. They forgave him, and there was everything in their words and will to restore their old friendship, and keep it; and when the gate with a loud clang closed upon Tonelli, going from them, they all felt that it had irrevocably perished.
I do not say that there was not always a decent and affectionate bearing on the part of the Paronsina and her mother towards Tonelli and his wife; I acknowledge that it was but too careful and faultless a tenderness, ever conscious of its own fragility. Far more natural was the satisfaction they took in the delayed fruitfulness of Tonelli's marriage, and then in the fact that his child was a girl, and not a boy. It was but human that they should doubt his happiness, and that the signora should always say, when hard pressed with questions upon the matter: "Yes, Tonelli is married; but if it were to do again, I think he would do it to-morrow rather than to-day."
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