Lotta Schmidt, by Anthony Trollope

The Last Austrian Who Left Venice.

IN the spring and early summer of the year last past, the year 1866, the hatred felt by Venetians towards the Austrian soldiers who held their city in thraldom, had reached its culminating point. For years this hatred had been very strong; how strong can hardly be understood by those who never recognise the fact that there had been, so to say, no mingling of the conquered and the conquerors, no process of assimilation between the Italian vassals and their German masters.

Venice as a city was as purely Italian as though its barracks were filled with no Hungarian long-legged soldiers, and its cafés crowded with no white-coated Austrian officers. And the regiments which held the town, lived as completely after their own fashion as though they were quartered in Pesth, or Prague, or Vienna, with this exception, that in Venice they were enabled, and, indeed, from circumstances were compelled, to exercise a palpable ascendency which belonged to them nowhere else. They were masters, daily visible as such to the eye of every one who merely walked the narrow ways of the city or strolled through the open squares; and, as masters, they were as separate as the gaoler is separate from the prisoner.

The Austrian officers sat together in the chief theatre, having the best part of it to themselves. Few among them spoke Italian. None of the common soldiers did so. The Venetians seldom spoke German; and could hold no intercourse whatever with the Croats, Hungarians, and Bohemians, of whom the garrison was chiefly composed. It could not be otherwise than that there should be intense hatred in a city so ruled. But the hatred which had been intense for years had reached its boiling point in the May preceding the outbreak of the war.

Whatever other nations might desire to do, Italy, at any rate, was at this time resolved to fight. It was not that the King and the Government were so resolved. What was the purpose just then of the powers of the state, if any purpose had then been definitely formed by them, no one now knows. History, perhaps, may some day tell us. But the nation was determined to fight. Hitherto all had been done for the Italians by outside allies, and now the time had come in which Italians would do something for themselves.

The people hated the French aid by which they had been allowed to live, and burned with a desire to prove that they could do something great without aid. There was an enormous army, and that army should be utilised for the enfranchisement of Venetia and to the great glory of Italy. The King and the ministers appreciated the fact that the fervour of the people was too strong to be repressed, and were probably guided to such resolutions as they did make by that appreciation.

The feeling was as strong in Venice as it was in Florence or in Milan; but in Venice only, or rather in Venetia only all outward signs of such feeling were repressible, and were repressed. All through Lombardy and Tuscany any young man who pleased might volunteer with Garibaldi; but to volunteer with Garibaldi was not, at first, so easy for young men in Verona or in Venice. The more complete was this repression, the greater was this difficulty, the stronger, of course, arose the hatred of the Venetians for the Austrian soldiery. I have never heard that the Austrians were cruel in what they did; but they were determined; and, as long as they had any intention of holding the province, it was necessary that they should be so.

During the past winter there had been living in Venice a certain Captain von Vincke, Hubert von Vincke, an Austrian officer of artillery, who had spent the last four or five years among the fortifications of Verona, and who had come to Venice, originally, on account of ill health. Some military employment had kept him in Venice, and he remained there till the outbreak of the war; going backwards and forwards, occasionally, to Verona, but still having Venice as his head-quarters.

Now Captain von Vincke had shown so much consideration for the country which he assisted in holding under subjection as to learn its language, and to study its manners; and had, by these means, found his way, more or less, into Italian society. He was a thorough soldier, good-looking, perhaps eight-and-twenty or thirty years of age, well educated, ambitious, very free from the common vice of thinking that the class of mankind to which he belonged was the only class in which it would be worth a man’s while to live; but nevertheless imbued with a strong feeling that Austria ought to hold her own, that an Austrian army was indomitable, and that the quadrilateral fortresses, bound together as they were now bound by Austrian strategy, were impregnable. So much Captain von Vincke thought and believed on the part of his country; but in thinking and believing this, he was still desirous that much should be done to relieve Austrian–Italy from the grief of foreign rule. That Italy should think of succeeding in repelling Austria from Venice was to him an absurdity.

He had become intimate at the house of a widow lady, who lived in the Campo San Luca, one Signora Pepe’, whose son had first become acquainted with Captain von Vincke at Verona.

Carlo Pepe was a young advocate, living and earning his bread at Venice, but business had taken him for a time to Verona; and when leaving that city he had asked his Austrian friend to come and see him in his mother’s house.

Both Madame Pepe and her daughter Nina, Carlo’s only sister, had somewhat found fault with the young advocate’s rashness in thus seeking the close intimacy of home-life with one whom, whatever might be his own peculiar virtues, they could not but recognise as an enemy of their country.

“That would be all very fine if it were put into a book,” said the Signora to her son, who had been striving to show that an Austrian, if good in himself, might be as worthy a friend as an Italian; “but it is always well to live on the safe side of the wall. It is not convenient that the sheep and the wolves should drink at the same stream.”

This she said with all that caution which everywhere forms so marked a trait in the Italian character. “Who goes softly goes soundly.” Half of the Italian nature is told in that proverb, though it is not the half which was becoming most apparent in the doings of the nation in these days. And the Signorina was quite of one mind with her mother.

“Carlo,” she said, “how is it that one never sees one of these Austrians in the house of any friend? Why is it that I have never yet found myself in a room with one of them?”

“Because men and women are generally so pig-headed and unreasonable,” Carlo had replied. “How am I, for instance, ever to learn what a German is at the core, or a Frenchman, or an Englishman, if I refuse to speak to one?”

It ended by Captain von Vincke being brought to the house in the Campo San Luca, and there becoming as intimate with the Signora and the Signorina as he was with the advocate.

Our story must be necessarily too short to permit us to see how the affair grew in all its soft and delicate growth; but by the beginning of April Nina Pepe had confessed her love to Hubert von Vincke, and both the captain and Nina had had a few words with the Signora on the subject of their projected marriage.

“Carlo will never allow it,” the old lady had said, trembling as she thought of the danger that was coming upon the family.

“He should not have brought Captain von Vincke to the house, unless he was prepared to regard such a thing as possible,” said Nina proudly.

“I think he is too good a fellow to object to anything that you will ask him,” said the captain, holding by the hand the lady whom he hoped to call his mother-in-law.

Throughout January and February Captain von Vincke had been an invalid. In March he had been hardly more than convalescent, and had then had time and all that opportunity which convalescence gives for the sweet business of love-making.

During this time, through March and in the first weeks of April, Carlo Pepe had been backwards and forwards to Verona, and had in truth had more business on hand than that which simply belonged to him as a lawyer. Those were the days in which the Italians were beginning to prepare for the great attack which was to be made, and in which correspondence was busily carried on be tween Italy and Venetia as to the enrolment of Venetian volunteers.

It will be understood that no Venetian was allowed to go into Italy without an Austrian passport, and that at this time the Austrians were becoming doubly strict in seeing that the order was not evaded. Of course it was evaded daily, and twice in that April did young Pepe travel between Verona and Bologna in spite of all that Austria could say to the contrary.

When at Venice he and Von Vincke discussed very freely the position of the country, nothing of course being said as to those journeys to Bologna. Indeed, of them no one in the Campo San Luca knew aught. They were such journeys that a man says nothing of them to his mother or his sister, or even to his wife, unless he has as much confidence in her courage as he has in her love. But of politics he would talk freely, as would also the German; and though each of them would speak of the cause as though they two were simply philosophical lookers-on, and were not and could not become actors, and though each had in his mind a settled resolve to bear with the political opinion of the other, yet it came to pass that they now and again were on the verge of quarrelling.

The fault, I think, was wholly with Carlo Pepe, whose enthusiasm of course was growing as those journeys to Bologna were made successfully, and who was beginning to feel assured that Italy at last would certainly do something for herself. But there had not come any open quarrel, not as yet, when Nina, in her lover’s presence, was arguing as to the impropriety of bringing Captain von Vincke to the house, if Captain von Vincke was to be regarded as altogether unfit for matrimonial purposes. At that moment Carlo was absent at Verona, but was to return on the following morning. It was decided at this conference between the two ladies and the lover, that Carlo should be told on his return of Captain von Vincke’s intentions. Captain von Vincke himself would tell him.

There is a certain hotel or coffee-house, or place of general public entertainment in Venice, kept by a German, and called the Hotel Bauer, probably from the name of the German who keeps it. It stands near the church of St. Moses, behind the grand piazza, between that and the great canal, in a narrow intricate throng of little streets, and is approached by a close dark waterway which robs it of any attempt at hotel grandeur. Nevertheless it is a large and commodious house, at which good dinners may be eaten at prices somewhat lower than are compatible with the grandeur of the Grand Canal. It used to be much affected by Germans, and had, perhaps, acquired among Venetians a character of being attached to Austrian interests.

There was not much in this, or Carlo Pepe would not have frequented the house, even in company with his friend Von Vincke. He did so frequent it, and now, on this occasion of his return home, Von Vincke left word for him that he would breakfast at the hotel at eleven o’clock. Pepe by that time would have gone home after his journey, and would have visited his office. Von Vincke also would have done the greatest part of his day’s work. Each understood the habits of the other, and they met at Bauer’s for breakfast.

It was the end of April, and Carlo Pepe had returned to Venice full of schemes for that revolution which he now regarded as imminent. The alliance between Italy and Prussia was already discussed. Those Italians who were most eager said that it was a thing done, and no Italian was more eager than Carlo Pepe And it was believed at this time, and more thoroughly believed in Italy than elsewhere, that Austria and Prussia would certainly go to war. Now, if ever, Italy must do something for herself.

Carlo Pepe was in this mood, full of these things, when he sat down to breakfast at Bauer’s with his friend Captain von Vincke.

“Von Vincke,” he said, “in three months time you will be out of Venice.”

“Shall I?” said the other; “and where shall I be? ”

“In Vienna, as I hope; or at Berlin if you can get there. But you will not be here, or in the Quadrilatere, unless you are left behind as a prisoner.”

The captain went on for awhile cutting his meat and drinking his wine, before he made any reply to this. And Pepe’ said more of the same kind, expressing strongly his opinion that the empire of the Austrians in Venice was at an end. Then the captain wiped his moustaches carefully with his napkin, and did speak.

“Carlo, my friend,” he said, “you are rash to say all this.”

“Why rash?” said Carlo; “you and I understand each other.”

“Just so, my friend; but we do not know how far that long-eared waiter may understand either of us.”

“The waiter has heard nothing, and I do not care if he did.”

“And beyond that,” continued the captain, ‘you make a difficulty for me. What am I to say when you tell me these things? That you should have one political opinion and I another is natural. The question between us, in an abstract point of view, I can discuss with you willingly. The possibility of Venice contending with Austria I could discuss, if no such rebellion were imminent. But when you tell me that it is imminent, that it is already here, I cannot discuss it.”

“It is imminent,” said Carlo.

“So be it,” said Von Vincke.

And then they finished their breakfast in silence. All this was very unfortunate for our friend the captain, who had come to Bauer’s with the intention of speaking on quite another subject. His friend Pepe’ had evidently taken what he had said in a bad spirit, and was angry with him. Nevertheless, as he had told Nina and her mother that he would declare his purpose to Carlo on this morning, he must do it. He was not a man to be frightened out of his purpose by his friend’s ill-humour.

“Will you come into the piazza, and smoke a cigar?” said Von Vincke, feeling that he could begin upon the other subject better as soon as the scene should be changed,

“Why not let me have my cigar and coffee here?” said Carlo.

“Because I have something to say which I can say better walking than sitting. Come along.”

Then they paid the bill and left the house, and walked in silence through the narrow ways to the piazza. Von Vincke said no word till he found himself in the broad passage leading into the great square. Then he put his hand through the other’s arm and told his tale at once.

“Carlo,” said he, “I love your sister, and would have her for my wife. Will you consent?”

“By the body of Bacchus, what is this you say?” said the other, drawing his arm away, and looking up into the German’s face.

“Simply that she has consented and your mother. Are you willing that I should be your brother?”

“This is madness,” said Carlo Pepe.

“On their part, you mean?”

“Yes, and on yours. Were there nothing else to prevent it, how could there be marriage between us when this war is coming?”

“I do not believe in the war; that is, I do not believe in war between us and Italy. No war can affect you here in Venice. If there is to be a war in which I shall be concerned, I’m quite willing to wait till it be over.”

“You understand nothing about it,” said Carlo, after a pause; “nothing! You are in the dark altogether. How should it not be so, when those who are over you never tell you anything? No, I will not consent. It is a thing out of the question.”

“Do you think that I am personally unfit to be your sister’s husband?”

“Not personally, but politically and nationally. You are not one of us; and now, at this moment, any attempt at close union between an Austrian and a Venetian must be ruinous. Von Vincke, I am heartily sorry for this. I blame the women, and not you.”

Then Carlo Pepe went home, and there was a rough scene between him and his mother, and a scene still rougher between him and his sister.

And in these interviews he told something, though not the whole of the truth as to the engagements into which he had entered. That he was to be the officer second in command in a regiment of Venetian volunteers, of those volunteers whom it was hoped that Garibaldi would lead to victory in the coming war, he did not tell them; but he did make them understand that when the straggle came he would be away from Venice, and would take a part in it.

“And how am I to do this,” he said, “if you here are joined hand and heart to an Austrian? A house divided against itself must fall.”

Let the reader understand that Nina Pepe, in spite of her love and of her lover, was as good an Italian as her brother, and that their mother was equally firm in her political desires and national antipathies. Where would you have found the Venetian, man or woman, who did not detest Austrian rule, and look forward to the good day coming when Venice should be a city of Italia?

The Signora and Nina had indeed, some six months before this, been much stronger in their hatred of all things German, than had the son and brother. It had been his liberal feeling, his declaration that even a German might be good, which had induced them to allow this Austrian to come among them.

Then the man and the soldier had been two; and Von Vincke had himself shown tendencies so strongly at variance with those of his comrades that he had disarmed their fears. He had read Italian, and condescended to speak it; he knew the old history of their once great city, and would listen to them when they talked of their old doges. He loved their churches, and their palaces, and their pictures. Gradually he had come to love Nina Pepe with all his heart, and Nina loved him too with all her heart.

But when her brother spoke to her and to her mother with more than his customary vehemence of what was due from them to their country, of the debt which certainly should be paid by him, of obligations to him from which they could not free themselves; and told them also, that by that time six months not an Austrian would be found in Venice, they trembled and believed him, and Nina felt that her love would not run smooth.

“You must be with us or against us,” said Carlo.

“Why then did you bring him here?” Nina replied.

“Am I to suppose that you cannot see a man without falling in love with him?”

“Carlo, that is unkind, almost unbrotherly. Was he not your friend, and were not you the first to tell us how good he is? And he is good; no man can be better.”

“He is an honest young man,” said the Signora.

“He is Austrian to the backbone,” said Carlo.

“Of course he is,” said Nina. “What should he be?”

“And will you be Austrian?” her brother asked.

“Not if I must be an enemy of Italy,” Nina said. “If an Austrian may be a friend to Italy, then I will be an Austrian. I wish to be Hubert’s wife. Of course I shall be an Austrian if he is my husband.”

“Then I trust that you may never be his wife,” said Carlo.

By the middle of May Carlo Pepe’ and Captain von Vincke had absolutely quarrelled. They did not speak, and Von Vincke had been ordered by the brother not to show himself at the house in the Campo San Luca.

Every German in Venice had now become more Austrian than before, and every Venetian more Italian. Even our friend the captain had come to believe in the war.

Not only Venice but Italy was in earnest, and Captain von Vincke foresaw, or thought that he foresaw, that a time of wretched misery was coming upon that devoted town. He would never give up Nina, but perhaps it might be well that he should cease to press his suit till he might be enabled to do so with something of the eclat of Austrian success.

And now at last it became necessary that the two women should be told of Carlo’s plans, for Carlo was going to leave Venice till the war should be over and he could reenter the city as an Italian should enter a city of his own.

“Oh! my son, my son,” said the mother; “why should it be you?”

“Many must go, mother. Why not I as well as another? ”

“In other houses there are fathers; and in other families more sons than one.”

“The time has come, mother, in which no woman should grudge either husband or son to the cause. But the thing is settled. I am already second colonel in a regiment which will serve with Garibaldi. You would not ask me to desert my colours?”

There was nothing further to be said. The Signora threw herself on her son’s neck and wept, and both mother and sister felt that their Carlo was already a second Garibaldi. When a man is a hero to women, they will always obey him. What could Nina do at such a time, but promise that she would not see Hubert von Vincke during his absence. Then there was a compact made between the brother and sister.

During three weeks past, that is, since the breakfast at Bauer’s, Nina had seen Hubert von Vincke but once, and had then seen him in the presence of her mother and brother. He had come in one evening in the old way, before the quarrel, to take his coffee, and had been received, as heretofore, as a friend, Nina sitting very silent during the evening, but with a gracious silence; and after that the mother had signified to the lover that he had better come no more for the present. He therefore came no more.

I think it is the fact that love, though no doubt it may run as strong with an Italian or with an Austrian as it does with us English, is not allowed to run with so uncontrollable a stream. Young lovers, and especially young women, are more subject to control, and are less inclined to imagine that all things should go as they would have them. Nina, when she was made to understand that the war was come, that her brother was leaving her and her mother and Venice, that he might fight for them, that an Austrian soldier must for the time be regarded as an enemy in that house, resolved with a slow, melancholy firmness that she would accept the circumstances of her destiny.

“If I fall,” said Carlo, “you must then manage for yourself. I would not wish to bind you after my death.”

“Do not talk like that, Carlo.”

“Nay, my child, but I must talk like that; and it is at least well that we should understand each other. I know that you will keep your promise to me.”

“Yes,” said Nina; “I will keep my promise.”

“Till I come back, or till I be dead, you will not again see Captain von Vincke; or till the cause be gained.”

“I will not see him, Carlo, till you come back, or till the cause be gained.”

“Or till I be dead. Say it after me.”

“Or till you be dead, if I must say it”

But there was a clause in the contract that she was to see her lover once before her brother left them. She had acknowledged the propriety of her brother’s behests, backed as they came to be at last by their mother; but she declared through it all that she had done no wrong, and that she would not be treated as though she were an offender. She would see her lover and tell him what she pleased. She would obey her brother, but she would see her lover first. Indeed, she would make no promise of obedience at all, would promise disobedience instead, unless she were allowed to see him. She would herself write to him and bid him come.

This privilege was at last acceded to her, and Captain von Vincke was summoned to the Campo San Luca. The morning sitting-room of the Signora Pepe was up two pairs of stairs, and the stairs were not paved as are the stairs of the palaces in Venice. But the room was large and lofty, and seemed to be larger than its size from the very small amount of furniture which it contained. The floor was of hard, polished cement, which looked like variegated marble, and the amount of carpet upon it was about four yards long, and was extended simply beneath the two chairs in which sat habitually the Signora and her daughter. There were two large mirrors and a large gold clock, and a large table and a small table, a small sofa and six chairs, and that was all. In England the room would have received ten times as much furniture, or it would not have been furnished at all. And there were in it no more than two small books, belonging both to Nina, for the Signora read but little. In England, in such a sitting-room, tables, various tables, would have been strewed with books; but then, perhaps, Nina Pepe’s eye required the comfort of no other volumes than those she was actually using.

Nina was alone in the room when her lover came to her. There had been a question whether her mother should or should not be present; but Nina had been imperative, and she received him alone.

“It is to bid you good-bye, Hubert,” she said, as she got up and touched his hand, just touched his hand. “Not for long, my Nina.”

“Who can say for how long, now that the war is upon Us? As far as I can see, it will be for very long. It is better that you should know it all. For myself, I think, I fear that it will be for ever.”

“For ever! why for ever?”

“Because I cannot marry an enemy of Italy. I do not think that we can ever succeed.”

“You can never succeed.”

“Then I can never be your wife. It is so, Hubert; I see that it must be so. The loss is to me, not to you.”

“No, no no. The loss is to me, to me.”

“You have your profession. You are a soldier. I am nothing.”

“You are all in all to me.”

“I can be nothing, I shall be nothing, unless I am your wife. Think how I must long for that which you say is so impossible. I do long for it; I shall long for it Oh, Hubert! go and lose your cause: let our men have their Venice. Then come to me, and your country shall be my country, and your people my people.”

As she said this she gently laid her hand upon his arm, and the touch of her fingers thrilled through his whole frame. He put out his arms as though to grasp her in his embrace.

“No, Hubert no; that must not be till Venice is our own.”

“I wish it were,” he said; “but it will never be so. You may make me a traitor in heart, but that will not drive out fifty thousand troops from the fortresses.”

“I do not understand these things, Hubert, and I have felt your country’s power to be so strong, that I cannot now doubt it.”

“It is absurd to doubt it.”

“But yet they say that we shall succeed.”

“It is impossible. Even though Prussia should be able to stand against us, we should not leave Venetia. We shall never leave the fortresses.”

“Then, my love, we may say farewell for ever. I will not forget you. I will never be false to you. But we must part.”

He stood there arguing with her, and she argued with him, but they always came round to the same point. There was to be the war, and she would not become the wife of her brother’s enemy. She had sworn, she said, and she would keep her word. When his arguments became stronger than hers, she threw herself back upon her plighted word.

“I have said it, and I must not depart from it. I have told him that my love for you should be eternal, and I tell you the same. I told him that I would see you no more, and I can only tell you so also.”

He could ask her no questions as to the cause of her resolution, because he could not make enquiries as to her brother’s purpose. He knew that Carlo was at work for the Venetian cause; or, at least, he thought that he knew it. But it was essential for his comfort that he should really know as little of this as might be possible. That Carlo Pepe was coming and going in the service of the cause he could hot but surmise; but should authenticated information reach him as to whither Carlo went, and how he came, it might become his duty to put a stop to Carlo’s comings and Carlo’s goings. On this matter, therefore, he said nothing, but merely shook his head, and smiled with a melancholy smile when she spoke of the future struggle. “And now, Hubert, you must go. I was determined that I would see you, that I might tell you that I would be true to you.”

“What good will be such truth?”

“Nay: it is for you to say that. I ask you for no pledge.”

“I shall love no other woman. I would if I could. I would if I could tomorrow.”

“Let us have our own, and then come and love me. Or you need not come. I will go to you, though it be to the furthest end of Galicia. Do not look like that at me. You should be proud when I tell you that I love you. No, you shall not kiss me. No man shall ever kiss me till Venice is our own. There, I have sworn it. Should that time come, and should a certain Austrian gentleman care for Italian kisses then, he will know where to seek for them. God bless you now, and go.”

She made her way to the door and opened it, and there was nothing for him but that he must go. He touched her hand once more as he went, but there was no other word spoken between them.

“Mother,” she said, when she found herself again with the Signora, “my little dream of life is over. It has been very short.”

“Nay, my child, life is long for you yet. There will be many dreams, and much of reality.”

“I do not complain of Carlo,” Nina continued. “He is sacrificing much, perhaps everything, for Venice. And why should his sacrifice be greater than mine? But I feel it to be severe, very severe. Why did he bring him here if he felt thus?”

June came, that month of June that was to be so fatal to Italian glory, and so fraught with success for the Italian cause, and Carlo Pepe’ was again away.

Those who knew nothing of his doings, knew only that he had gone to Verona on matters of law. Those who were really acquainted with the circumstances of his present life were aware that he had made his way out of Verona, and that he was already with his volunteers near the lakes, waiting for Garibaldi, who was then expected from Caprera. For some weeks to come, for some months probably, during the war, perhaps, the two women in the Campo San Luca would know nothing of the whereabouts or of the fate of him whom they loved. He had gone to risk all for the cause, and they too must be content to risk all in remaining desolate at home without the comfort of his presence; and she also, without the sweeter comfort of that other presence.

It is thus that women fight their battles. In these days men by hundreds were making their way out of Venice, and by thousands out of the province of Venetia, and the Austrians were endeavouring in vain to stop the emigration. Some few were caught, and kept in prison; and many Austrian threats were uttered against those who should prove themselves to be insubordinate. But it is difficult for a garrison to watch a whole people, and very difficult indeed when there is a war on hand.

It at last became a fact, that any man from the province could go and become a volunteer under Garibaldi if he pleased, and very many did go. History will say that they were successful, but their success certainly was not glorious.

It was in the month of June that all the battles of that short war were fought. Nothing will ever be said or sung in story to the honour of the volunteers who served in that campaign with Garibaldi, amidst the mountains of the Southern Tyrol; but nowhere, probably, during the war, was there so much continued fighting, or an equal amount endured of the hardships of military life.

The task they had before them, of driving the Austrians from the fortresses amidst their own mountains, was an impossible one, impossible even had Garibaldi been supplied with ordinary military equipments, but ridiculously impossible for him in all the nakedness in which he was sent. Nothing was done to enable him to succeed. That he should be successful was neither intended nor desired. He was, in fact, then, as he has been always, since the days in which he gave Naples to Italy, simply a stumbling-block in the way of the king, of the king’s ministers, and of the king’s generals. “There is that Garibaldi again, with volunteers flocking to him by thousands: what shall we do to rid ourselves of Garibaldi and his volunteers? How shall we dispose of them?” That has been the feeling of those in power in Italy, and not unnaturally their feeling, with regard to Garibaldi. A man so honest, so brave, so patriotic, so popular, and so impracticable, cannot but have been a trouble to them. And here he was with twenty-five thousand volunteers, all armed after a fashion, all supplied, at least, with a red shirt. What should be done with Garibaldi and his army? So they sent him away up into the mountains, where his game of play might at any rate detain him for some weeks; and in the meantime everything might get itself arranged by the benevolent and omnipotent interference of the emperor.

Things did get themselves arranged while Garibaldi was up among the mountains, kicking with unarmed toes against Austrian pricks with sad detriment to his feet. Things did get themselves arranged very much to the advantage of Venetia, but not exactly by the interference of the emperor.

The facts of the war became known more slowly in Venice than they did in Florence, in Paris, or in London. That the battle of Custozza had been fought and lost by the Italian troops was known. And then it was known that the battle of Lissa also had been fought and lost by Italian ships. But it was not known, till the autumn was near at hand, that Venetia had, in fact, been surrendered. There were rumours, but men in Venice doubted these rumours; and women, who knew that their husbands had been beaten, could not believe that success was to be the result of such calamities.

There were weeks in which came no news from Carlo Pepe to the women in the Campo San Luca, and then came simply tidings that he had been wounded.

“I shall see my son never again,” said the widow in her ecstasy of misery.

And Nina was able to talk to her mother only of Carlo. Of Hubert von Vincke she spoke not then a word. But she repeated to herself over and over again the last promise she had given him. She had sent him away from her, and now she knew nothing of his whereabouts. That he would be fighting she presumed. She had heard that .most of the soldiers from Venice had gone to the fortresses. He, too, might be wounded, might be dead. If alive at the end of the war, he would hardly return to her after what had passed between them. But if he did not come back no lover should ever take a kiss from her lips.

Then there was the long truce, and a letter from Carlo reached Venice. His wound had been slight, but he had been very hungry. He wrote in great anger, abusing, not the Austrians, but the Italians. There had been treachery, and the Italian general-in-chief had been the head of the traitors. The king was a traitor! The emperor was a traitor! All concerned were traitors, but yet Venetia was to be surrendered to Italy.

I think that the two ladies in the Campo San Luca never really believed that this would be so until they received that angry letter from Carlo.

“When I may get home, I cannot tell,” he said. “I hardly care to return, and I shall remain with the General as long as he may wish to have anyone remaining with him. But you may be sure that I shall never go soldiering again. Venetia, may, perhaps, prosper, and become a part of Italy; but there will be no glory for us. Italy has been allowed to do nothing for herself.” The mother and sister endeavoured to feel some sympathy for the young soldier who spoke so sadly of his own career, but they could hardly be unhappy because his fighting was over and the cause was won.

The cause was won. Gradually there came to be no doubt about that.

It was now September, and as yet it had not come to pass that shop-windows were filled with wonderful portraits of Victor Emmanuel and Garibaldi, cheek by jowl they being the two men who at that moment were perhaps, in all Italy, the most antagonistic to each other; nor were there as yet fifty different new journals cried day and night under the arcades of the Grand Piazza, all advocating the cause of Italy, one and indivisible, as there came to be a month afterwards; but still it was known that Austria was to cede Venetia, and that Venice would henceforth be a city of Italy. This was known; and it was also known in the Campo San Luca that Carlo Pepe, though very hungry up among the mountains, was still safe.

Then Nina thought that the time had come in which it would become her to speak of her lover. “Mother,” she said, “I must know something of Hubert.”

“But how, Nina? how will you learn? Will you not wait till Carlo comes back?”

“No,” she said. “I cannot wait longer. I have kept my promise. Venice is no longer Austrian, and I will seek him. I have kept my word to Carlo, and now I will keep my word to Hubert.”

But how to seek him? The widow, urged by her daughter, went out and asked at barrack doors; but new regiments had come and gone, and everything was in confusion. It was supposed that any officer of artillery who had been in Venice and had left it during the war must be in one of the four fortresses.

“Mother,” she said, “I shall go to Verona.” And to Verona she went, all alone, in search of her lover. At that time the Austrians still maintained a sort of rule in the province; and there were still current orders against private travelling, orders that passports should be investigated, orders that the communication with the four fortresses should be specially guarded; but there was an intense desire on the part of the Austrians themselves that the orders should be regarded as little as possible. They had to go, and the more quietly they went the better. Why should they care now who passed hither and thither? It must be confessed on their behalf that in their surrender of Venetia they gave as little trouble as it was possible in them to cause.

The chief obstruction to Nina’s journey she experienced in the Campo San Luca itself. But in spite of her mother, in spite of the not yet defunct Austrian mandates, she did make her way to Verona. “As I was true in giving him up,” she said to herself, “so will I be true in clinging to him.”

Even in Verona her task was not easy, but she did at last find all that she sought. Captain von Vincke had been in command of a battery at Custozza, and was now lying wounded in an Austrian hospital. Nina contrived to see an old gray-haired surgeon before she saw Hubert himself. Captain von Vincke had been terribly mauled; so the surgeon told her; his left arm had been amputated, and—and—and—

It seemed as though wounds had been showered on him. The surgeon did not think that his patient would die; but he did think that he must be left in Verona when the Austrians were marched out of the fortress. “Can he not be taken to Venice?” said Nina Pepe.

At last she found herself by her lover’s bedside j but with her there were two hospital attendants, both of them worn-out Austrian soldiers, and there was also there the gray-haired surgeon. How was she to tell her love, all that she had in her heart, before such witnesses? The surgeon was the first to speak. “Here is your friend, captain,” he said; but as he spoke in German Nina did not understand him.

“Is it really you, Nina?” said her lover. “I could hardly believe that you should be in Verona.”

“Of course it is I. Who could have so much business to be in Verona as I have? Of course I am here.”

“But, but what has brought you here, Nina?”

“If you do not know I cannot tell you.”

“And Carlo?”

“Carlo is still with the general; but he is well.”

“And the Signora?”

“She also is well; well, but not easy in mind while I am here.”

“And when do you return?”

“Nay; I cannot tell you that. It may be today. It may be tomorrow. It depends not on myself at all.”

He spoke not a word of love to her then, nor she to him, unless there was love in such greeting as has been here repeated. Indeed, it was not till after that first interview that he fully understood that she had made her journey to Verona, solely in quest of him. The words between them for the first day or two were very tame, as though neither had full confidence in the other; and she had taken her place as nurse by his side, as a sister might have done by a brother, and was established in her work, nay, had nearly completed her work, before there came to be any full understanding between them. More than once she had told herself that she would go back to Venice and let there be an end of it. “The great work of the war,” she said to herself, “has so filled his mind, that the idleness of his days in Venice and all that he did then, are forgotten. If so, my presence here is surely a sore burden to him, and I will go.” But she could not now leave him without a word of farewell. “Hubert,” she said, for she had called him Hubert when she first came to his bedside, as though she had been his sister, “I think I must return now to Venice. My mother will be lonely without me.”

At that moment it appeared almost miraculous to her that she should be sitting there by his bedside, that she should have loved him, that she should have had the courage to leave her home and seek him after the war, that she should have found him, and that she should now be about to leave him, almost without a word between them.

“She must be very lonely,” said the wounded man.

“And you, I think, are stronger than you were?”

“For me, I am strong enough. I have lost my arm, and I shall carry this gaping scar athwart my face to the grave, as my cross of honour won in the Italian war; but otherwise I shall soon be well.”

“It is a fair cross of honour.”

“Yes; they cannot rob us of our wounds when our service is over. And so you will go, Signorina?”

“Yes; I will go. Why should I remain here? I will go, and Carlo will return, and I will tend upon him. Carlo also was wounded.”

“But you have told me that he is well again.”

“Nevertheless, he will value the comfort of a woman’s care after his sufferings. May I say farewell to you now, my friend?” And she put her hand down upon the bed so that he might reach it. She had been with him for days, and there had been no word of love. It had seemed as though he had understood nothing of what she had done in coming to him; that he had failed altogether in feeling that she had come as a wife goes to a husband. She had made a mistake in this journey, and must now rectify her error with as much of dignity as might be left to her.

He took her hand in his, and held it for a moment before he answered her. “Nina,” he said, “why did you come hither?”

“Why did I come?”

“Why are you here in Verona, while your mother is alone in Venice?”

“I had business here; a matter of some moment. It is finished now, and I shall return.”

“Was it other business than to sit at my bedside?”

She paused a moment before she answered him.

“Yes,” she said; “it was other business than that.”

“And you have succeeded?”

“No; I have failed.”

He still held her hand; and she, though she was thus fencing with him, answering him with equivoques, felt that at last there was coming from him some word which would at least leave her no longer in doubt.

“And I too, have I failed?” he said. “When I left Venice I told myself heartily that I had failed.”

“You told yourself, then,” said she, “that Venetia never would be ceded. You know that I would not triumph over you, now that your cause has been lost. We Italians have not much cause for triumphing.”

“You will admit always that the fortresses have not been taken from us,” said the sore-hearted soldier.

“Certainly we shall admit that.”

“And my own fortress, the stronghold that I thought I had made altogether mine, is that, too, lost for ever to the poor German?”

“You speak in riddles, Captain von Vincke,” she said.

She had now taken back her hand; but she was sitting quietly by his bedside, and made no sign of leaving him.

“Nina,” he said, “Nina, my own Nina. In losing a single share of Venice, one soldier’s share of the province, shall I have gained all the world for myself? Nina, tell me truly, what brought you to Verona?”

She knelt slowly down by his bedside, and again taking his one hand in hers, pressed it first to her lips and then to her bosom. “It was an unmaidenly purpose,” she said. — “I came to find the man I loved.”

“But you said you had failed?”

“And I now say that I have succeeded. Do you not know that success in great matters always trembles in the balance before it turns the beam, thinking, fearing, all but knowing that failure has weighed down the scale?”

“But now?”

“Now I am sure that Venice has been won.” It was three months after this, and half of December had passed away, and all Venetia had in truth been ceded, and Victor Emmanuel had made his entry in to Venice and exit out of it, with as little of real triumph as ever attended a king’s progress through a new province, and the Austrian army had moved itself off very quietly, and the city had become as thoroughly Italian as Florence itself, and was in a way to be equally discontented, when a party of four, two ladies and two gentlemen, sat down to breakfast in the Hotel Bauer.

The ladies were the Signora Pepe and her daughter, and the men were Carlo Pepe and his brother-in-law, Hubert von Vincke. It was but a poor fete, this family breakfast at an obscure inn, but it was intended as a gala feast to mark the last day of Nina’s Italian life.

To-morrow, very early in the morning, she was to leave Venice for Trieste, so early that it would be necessary that she should be on board this very night.

My child,” said the Signora, “do not say so; you will never cease to be Italian. Surely, Hubert, she may still call herself Venetian?”

“Mother,” she said, “I love a losing cause. I will be Austrian now. I told him that he could not have both. If he kept his Venice, he could not have me; but as he has lost his province, he shall have his wife entirely.”

“I told him that it was fated that he should lose Venetia,” said Carlo, “but he would never believe me.”

“Because I knew how true were our soldiers,” said Hubert, “and could not understand how false were our statesmen.”

“See how he regrets it,” said Nina; “what he has lost, and what he has won, will, together, break his heart for him.”

“Nina,” he said, “I learned this morning in the city, that I shall be the last Austrian soldier to leave Venice, and I hold that of all who have entered it, and all who have left it, I am the most successful and the most triumphant”


Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01