Plus que vous ne pensez ce moment est terrible.
La Harpe, “Le Comte de Warwick,” Act 3, sc. 5.
(The moment is more terrible than you think.)
For the first time since their union, Zanoni and Viola were separated — Zanoni went to Rome on important business. “It was,” he said, “but for a few days;” and he went so suddenly that there was little time either for surprise or sorrow. But first parting is always more melancholy than it need be: it seems an interruption to the existence which Love shares with Love; it makes the heart feel what a void life will be when the last parting shall succeed, as succeed it must, the first. But Viola had a new companion; she was enjoying that most delicious novelty which ever renews the youth and dazzles the eyes of woman. As the mistress — the wife — she leans on another; from another are reflected her happiness, her being — as an orb that takes light from its sun. But now, in turn, as the mother, she is raised from dependence into power; it is another that leans on her — a star has sprung into space, to which she herself has become the sun!
A few days — but they will be sweet through the sorrow! A few days — every hour of which seems an era to the infant, over whom bend watchful the eyes and the heart. From its waking to its sleep, from its sleep to its waking, is a revolution in Time. Every gesture to be noted — every smile to seem a new progress into the world it has come to bless! Zanoni has gone — the last dash of the oar is lost, the last speck of the gondola has vanished from the ocean-streets of Venice! Her infant is sleeping in the cradle at the mother’s feet; and she thinks through her tears what tales of the fairy-land, that spreads far and wide, with a thousand wonders, in that narrow bed, she shall have to tell the father! Smile on, weep on, young mother! Already the fairest leaf in the wild volume is closed for thee, and the invisible finger turns the page!
. . . .
By the bridge of the Rialto stood two Venetians — ardent Republicans and Democrats — looking to the Revolution of France as the earthquake which must shatter their own expiring and vicious constitution, and give equality of ranks and rights to Venice.
“Yes, Cottalto,” said one; “my correspondent of Paris has promised to elude all obstacles, and baffle all danger. He will arrange with us the hour of revolt, when the legions of France shall be within hearing of our guns. One day in this week, at this hour, he is to meet me here. This is but the fourth day.”
He had scarce said these words before a man, wrapped in his roquelaire, emerging from one of the narrow streets to the left, halted opposite the pair, and eying them for a few moments with an earnest scrutiny, whispered, “Salut!”
“Et fraternite,” answered the speaker.
“You, then, are the brave Dandolo with whom the Comite deputed me to correspond? And this citizen —”
“Is Cottalto, whom my letters have so often mentioned.” (I know not if the author of the original MSS. designs, under these names, to introduce the real Cottalto and the true Dandolo, who, in 1797, distinguished themselves by their sympathy with the French, and their democratic ardor. — Ed.)
“Health and brotherhood to him! I have much to impart to you both. I will meet you at night, Dandolo. But in the streets we may be observed.”
“And I dare not appoint my own house; tyranny makes spies of our very walls. But the place herein designated is secure;” and he slipped an address into the hand of his correspondent.
“To-night, then, at nine! Meanwhile I have other business.” The man paused, his colour changed, and it was with an eager and passionate voice that he resumed —
“Your last letter mentioned this wealthy and mysterious visitor — this Zanoni. He is still at Venice?”
“I heard that he had left this morning; but his wife is still here.”
“His wife! — that is well!”
“What know you of him? Think you that he would join us? His wealth would be-”
“His house, his address — quick!” interrupted the man.
“The Palazzo di — on the Grand Canal.”
“I thank you — at nine we meet.”
The man hurried on through the street from which he had emerged; and, passing by the house in which he had taken up his lodging (he had arrived at Venice the night before), a woman who stood by the door caught his arm.
“Monsieur,” she said in French, “I have been watching for your return. Do you understand me? I will brave all, risk all, to go back with you to France — to stand, through life or in death, by my husband’s side!”
“Citoyenne, I promised your husband that, if such your choice, I would hazard my own safety to aid it. But think again! Your husband is one of the faction which Robespierre’s eyes have already marked; he cannot fly. All France is become a prison to the ‘suspect.’ You do not endanger yourself by return. Frankly, citoyenne, the fate you would share may be the guillotine. I speak (as you know by his letter) as your husband bade me.”
“Monsieur, I will return with you,” said the woman, with a smile upon her pale face.
“And yet you deserted your husband in the fair sunshine of the Revolution, to return to him amidst its storms and thunder,” said the man, in a tone half of wonder, half rebuke.
“Because my father’s days were doomed; because he had no safety but in flight to a foreign land; because he was old and penniless, and had none but me to work for him; because my husband was not then in danger, and my father was! HE is dead — dead! My husband is in danger now. The daughter’s duties are no more — the wife’s return!”
“Be it so, citoyenne; on the third night I depart. Before then you may retract your choice.”
A dark smile passed over the man’s face.
“O guillotine!” he said, “how many virtues hast thou brought to light! Well may they call thee ‘A Holy Mother!’ O gory guillotine!”
He passed on muttering to himself, hailed a gondola, and was soon amidst the crowded waters of the Grand Canal.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:06